Part 2 out of 4
French and English fluently. In brief, I doubt if you could have
found the equal of this Pagan shopkeeper among the Christian
traders of San Francisco.
There were a few others present,--a judge of the Federal Court, an
editor, a high government official, and a prominent merchant.
After we had drunk our tea, and tasted a few sweetmeats from a
mysterious jar, that looked as if it might contain a preserved
mouse among its other nondescript treasures, Hop Sing arose, and,
gravely beckoning us to follow him, began to descend to the
basement. When we got there, we were amazed at finding it
brilliantly lighted, and that a number of chairs were arranged in a
half-circle on the asphalt pavement. When he had courteously
seated us, he said,--
"I have invited you to witness a performance which I can at least
promise you no other foreigners but yourselves have ever seen.
Wang, the court-juggler, arrived here yesterday morning. He has
never given a performance outside of the palace before. I have
asked him to entertain my friends this evening. He requires no
theatre, stage accessories, or any confederate,--nothing more than
you see here. Will you be pleased to examine the ground
Of course we examined the premises. It was the ordinary basement
or cellar of the San Francisco storehouse, cemented to keep out the
damp. We poked our sticks into the pavement, and rapped on the
walls, to satisfy our polite host--but for no other purpose. We
were quite content to be the victims of any clever deception. For
myself, I knew I was ready to be deluded to any extent, and, if I
had been offered an explanation of what followed, I should have
probably declined it.
Although I am satisfied that Wang's general performance was the
first of that kind ever given on American soil, it has, probably,
since become so familiar to many of my readers, that I shall not
bore them with it here. He began by setting to flight, with the
aid of his fan, the usual number of butterflies, made before our
eyes of little bits of tissue-paper, and kept them in the air
during the remainder of the performance. I have a vivid
recollection of the judge trying to catch one that had lit on his
knee, and of its evading him with the pertinacity of a living
insect. And, even at this time, Wang, still plying his fan, was
taking chickens out of hats, making oranges disappear, pulling
endless yards of silk from his sleeve, apparently filling the whole
area of the basement with goods that appeared mysteriously from the
ground, from his own sleeves, from nowhere! He swallowed knives to
the ruin of his digestion for years to come; he dislocated every
limb of his body; he reclined in the air, apparently upon nothing.
But his crowning performance, which I have never yet seen repeated,
was the most weird, mysterious, and astounding. It is my apology
for this long introduction, my sole excuse for writing this
article, and the genesis of this veracious history.
He cleared the ground of its encumbering articles for a space of
about fifteen feet square, and then invited us all to walk forward,
and again examine it. We did so gravely. There was nothing but
the cemented pavement below to be seen or felt. He then asked for
the loan of a handkerchief; and, as I chanced to be nearest him, I
offered mine. He took it, and spread it open upon the floor. Over
this he spread a large square of silk, and over this, again, a
large shawl nearly covering the space he had cleared. He then took
a position at one of the points of this rectangle, and began a
monotonous chant, rocking his body to and fro in time with the
somewhat lugubrious air.
We sat still and waited. Above the chant we could hear the
striking of the city clocks, and the occasional rattle of a cart in
the street overhead. The absolute watchfulness and expectation,
the dim, mysterious half-light of the cellar falling in a grewsome
way upon the misshapen bulk of a Chinese deity in the back ground,
a faint smell of opium-smoke mingling with spice, and the dreadful
uncertainty of what we were really waiting for, sent an uncomfortable
thrill down our backs, and made us look at each other with a forced
and unnatural smile. This feeling was heightened when Hop Sing
slowly rose, and, without a word, pointed with his finger to the
centre of the shawl.
There was something beneath the shawl. Surely--and something that
was not there before; at first a mere suggestion in relief, a faint
outline, but growing more and more distinct and visible every
moment. The chant still continued; the perspiration began to roll
from the singer's face; gradually the hidden object took upon
itself a shape and bulk that raised the shawl in its centre some
five or six inches. It was now unmistakably the outline of a small
but perfect human figure, with extended arms and legs. One or two
of us turned pale. There was a feeling of general uneasiness,
until the editor broke the silence by a gibe, that, poor as it was,
was received with spontaneous enthusiasm. Then the chant suddenly
ceased. Wang arose, and with a quick, dexterous movement, stripped
both shawl and silk away, and discovered, sleeping peacefully upon
my handkerchief, a tiny Chinese baby.
The applause and uproar which followed this revelation ought to
have satisfied Wang, even if his audience was a small one: it was
loud enough to awaken the baby,--a pretty little boy about a year
old, looking like a Cupid cut out of sandal-wood. He was whisked
away almost as mysteriously as he appeared. When Hop Sing returned
my handkerchief to me with a bow, I asked if the juggler was the
father of the baby. "No sabe!" said the imperturbable Hop Sing,
taking refuge in that Spanish form of non-committalism so common in
"But does he have a new baby for every performance?" I asked.
"Perhaps: who knows?"--"But what will become of this one?"--
"Whatever you choose, gentlemen," replied Hop Sing with a courteous
inclination. "It was born here: you are its godfathers."
There were two characteristic peculiarities of any Californian
assemblage in 1856,--it was quick to take a hint, and generous to
the point of prodigality in its response to any charitable appeal.
No matter how sordid or avaricious the individual, he could not
resist the infection of sympathy. I doubled the points of my
handkerchief into a bag, dropped a coin into it, and, without a
word, passed it to the judge. He quietly added a twenty-dollar
gold-piece, and passed it to the next. When it was returned to me,
it contained over a hundred dollars. I knotted the money in the
handkerchief, and gave it to Hop Sing.
"For the baby, from its godfathers."
"But what name?" said the judge. There was a running fire of
"Erebus," "Nox," "Plutus," "Terra Cotta," "Antaeus," &c. Finally
the question was referred to our host.
"Why not keep his own name?" he said quietly,--"Wan Lee." And he
And thus was Wan Lee, on the night of Friday, the 5th of March,
1856, born into this veracious chronicle.
The last form of "The Northern Star" for the 19th of July, 1865,--
the only daily paper published in Klamath County,--had just gone to
press; and at three, A.M., I was putting aside my proofs and
manuscripts, preparatory to going home, when I discovered a letter
lying under some sheets of paper, which I must have overlooked.
The envelope was considerably soiled: it had no post-mark; but I
had no difficulty in recognizing the hand of my friend Hop Sing. I
opened it hurriedly, and read as follows:--
"MY DEAR SIR,--I do not know whether the bearer will suit you; but,
unless the office of 'devil' in your newspaper is a purely
technical one, I think he has all the qualities required. He is
very quick, active, and intelligent; understands English better
than he speaks it; and makes up for any defect by his habits of
observation and imitation. You have only to show him how to do a
thing once, and he will repeat it, whether it is an offence or a
virtue. But you certainly know him already. You are one of his
godfathers; for is he not Wan Lee, the reputed son of Wang the
conjurer, to whose performances I had the honor to introduce you?
But perhaps you have forgotten it.
"I shall send him with a gang of coolies to Stockton, thence by
express to your town. If you can use him there, you will do me a
favor, and probably save his life, which is at present in great
peril from the hands of the younger members of your Christian and
highly-civilized race who attend the enlightened schools in San
"He has acquired some singular habits and customs from his experience
of Wang's profession, which he followed for some years,--until he
became too large to go in a hat, or be produced from his father's
sleeve. The money you left with me has been expended on his
education. He has gone through the Tri-literal Classics, but, I
think, without much benefit. He knows but little of Confucius, and
absolutely nothing of Mencius. Owing to the negligence of his
father, he associated, perhaps, too much with American children.
"I should have answered your letter before, by post; but I thought
that Wan Lee himself would be a better messenger for this.
And this was the long-delayed answer to my letter to Hop Sing. But
where was "the bearer"? How was the letter delivered? I summoned
hastily the foreman, printers, and office-boy, but without
eliciting any thing. No one had seen the letter delivered, nor
knew any thing of the bearer. A few days later, I had a visit from
my laundry-man, Ah Ri.
"You wantee debbil? All lightee: me catchee him."
He returned in a few moments with a bright-looking Chinese boy,
about ten years old, with whose appearance and general intelligence
I was so greatly impressed, that I engaged him on the spot. When
the business was concluded, I asked his name.
"Wan Lee," said the boy.
"What! Are you the boy sent out by Hop Sing? What the devil do
you mean by not coming here before? and how did you deliver that
Wan Lee looked at me, and laughed. "Me pitchee in top side
I did not understand. He looked for a moment perplexed, and then,
snatching the letter out of my hand, ran down the stairs. After a
moment's pause, to my great astonishment, the letter came flying in
the window, circled twice around the room, and then dropped gently,
like a bird upon my table. Before I had got over my surprise, Wan
Lee re-appeared, smiled, looked at the letter and then at me, said,
"So, John," and then remained gravely silent. I said nothing
further; but it was understood that this was his first official
His next performance, I grieve to say, was not attended with equal
success. One of our regular paper-carriers fell sick, and, at a
pinch, Wan Lee was ordered to fill his place. To prevent mistakes,
he was shown over the route the previous evening, and supplied at
about daylight with the usual number of subscribers' copies. He
returned, after an hour, in good spirits, and without the papers.
He had delivered them all, he said.
Unfortunately for Wan Lee, at about eight o'clock, indignant
subscribers began to arrive at the office. They had received their
copies; but how? In the form of hard-pressed cannon-balls,
delivered by a single shot, and a mere tour de force, through the
glass of bedroom-windows. They had received them full in the face,
like a base ball, if they happened to be up and stirring; they had
received them in quarter-sheets, tucked in at separate windows;
they had found them in the chimney, pinned against the door, shot
through attic-windows, delivered in long slips through convenient
keyholes, stuffed into ventilators, and occupying the same can with
the morning's milk. One subscriber, who waited for some time at
the office-door to have a personal interview with Wan Lee (then
comfortably locked in my bedroom), told me, with tears of rage in
his eyes, that he had been awakened at five o'clock by a most
hideous yelling below his windows; that, on rising in great
agitation, he was startled by the sudden appearance of "The
Northern Star," rolled hard, and bent into the form of a boomerang,
or East-Indian club, that sailed into the window, described a
number of fiendish circles in the room, knocked over the light,
slapped the baby's face, "took" him (the subscriber) "in the jaw,"
and then returned out of the window, and dropped helplessly in the
area. During the rest of the day, wads and strips of soiled paper,
purporting to be copies of "The Northern Star" of that morning's
issue, were brought indignantly to the office. An admirable
editorial on "The Resources of Humboldt County," which I had
constructed the evening before, and which, I had reason to believe,
might have changed the whole balance of trade during the ensuing
year, and left San Francisco bankrupt at her wharves, was in this
way lost to the public.
It was deemed advisable for the next three weeks to keep Wan Lee
closely confined to the printing-office, and the purely mechanical
part of the business. Here he developed a surprising quickness and
adaptability, winning even the favor and good will of the printers
and foreman, who at first looked upon his introduction into the
secrets of their trade as fraught with the gravest political
significance. He learned to set type readily and neatly, his
wonderful skill in manipulation aiding him in the mere mechanical
act, and his ignorance of the language confining him simply to the
mechanical effort, confirming the printer's axiom, that the printer
who considers or follows the ideas of his copy makes a poor
compositor. He would set up deliberately long diatribes against
himself, composed by his fellow-printers, and hung on his hook as
copy, and even such short sentences as "Wan Lee is the devil's own
imp," "Wan Lee is a Mongolian rascal," and bring the proof to me
with happiness beaming from every tooth, and satisfaction shining
in his huckleberry eyes.
It was not long, however, before he learned to retaliate on his
mischievous persecutors. I remember one instance in which his
reprisal came very near involving me in a serious misunderstanding.
Our foreman's name was Webster; and Wan Lee presently learned to
know and recognize the individual and combined letters of his name.
It was during a political campaign; and the eloquent and fiery Col.
Starbottle of Siskyou had delivered an effective speech, which was
reported especially for "The Northern Star." In a very sublime
peroration, Col. Starbottle had said, "In the language of the
godlike Webster, I repeat"--and here followed the quotation, which
I have forgotten. Now, it chanced that Wan Lee, looking over the
galley after it had been revised, saw the name of his chief
persecutor, and, of course, imagined the quotation his. After the
form was locked up, Wan Lee took advantage of Webster's absence to
remove the quotation, and substitute a thin piece of lead, of the
same size as the type, engraved with Chinese characters, making a
sentence, which, I had reason to believe, was an utter and abject
confession of the incapacity and offensiveness of the Webster
family generally, and exceedingly eulogistic of Wan Lee himself
The next morning's paper contained Col. Starbottle's speech in
full, in which it appeared that the "godlike" Webster had, on one
occasion, uttered his thoughts in excellent but perfectly
enigmatical Chinese. The rage of Col. Starbottle knew no bounds.
I have a vivid recollection of that admirable man walking into my
office, and demanding a retraction of the statement.
"But my dear sir," I asked, "are you willing to deny, over your own
signature, that Webster ever uttered such a sentence? Dare you
deny, that, with Mr. Webster's well-known attainments, a knowledge
of Chinese might not have been among the number? Are you willing
to submit a translation suitable to the capacity of our readers,
and deny, upon your honor as a gentleman, that the late Mr. Webster
ever uttered such a sentiment? If you are, sir, I am willing to
publish your denial."
The colonel was not, and left, highly indignant.
Webster, the foreman, took it more coolly. Happily, he was
unaware, that, for two days after, Chinamen from the laundries,
from the gulches, from the kitchens, looked in the front office-
door, with faces beaming with sardonic delight; that three hundred
extra copies of the "Star" were ordered for the wash-houses on the
river. He only knew, that, during the day, Wan Lee occasionally
went off into convulsive spasms, and that he was obliged to kick
him into consciousness again. A week after the occurrence, I
called Wan Lee into my office.
"Wan," I said gravely, "I should like you to give me, for my own
personal satisfaction, a translation of that Chinese sentence which
my gifted countryman, the late godlike Webster, uttered upon a
public occasion." Wan Lee looked at me intently, and then the
slightest possible twinkle crept into his black eyes. Then he
replied with equal gravity,--
"Mishtel Webstel, he say, 'China boy makee me belly much foolee.
China boy makee me heap sick.'" Which I have reason to think was
But I fear I am giving but one side, and not the best, of Wan Lee's
character. As he imparted it to me, his had been a hard life. He
had known scarcely any childhood: he had no recollection of a
father or mother. The conjurer Wang had brought him up. He had
spent the first seven years of his life in appearing from baskets,
in dropping out of hats, in climbing ladders, in putting his little
limbs out of joint in posturing. He had lived in an atmosphere of
trickery and deception. He had learned to look upon mankind as
dupes of their senses: in fine, if he had thought at all, he would
have been a sceptic; if he had been a little older, he would have
been a cynic; if he had been older still, he would have been a
philosopher. As it was, he was a little imp. A good-natured imp
it was, too,--an imp whose moral nature had never been awakened,--
an imp up for a holiday, and willing to try virtue as a diversion.
I don't know that he had any spiritual nature. He was very
superstitious. He carried about with him a hideous little
porcelain god, which he was in the habit of alternately reviling
and propitiating. He was too intelligent for the commoner Chinese
vices of stealing or gratuitous lying. Whatever discipline he
practised was taught by his intellect.
I am inclined to think that his feelings were not altogether
unimpressible, although it was almost impossible to extract an
expression from him; and I conscientiously believe he became
attached to those that were good to him. What he might have become
under more favorable conditions than the bondsman of an overworked,
under-paid literary man, I don't know: I only know that the scant,
irregular, impulsive kindnesses that I showed him were gratefully
received. He was very loyal and patient, two qualities rare in the
average American servant. He was like Malvolio, "sad and civil"
with me. Only once, and then under great provocation, do I
remember of his exhibiting any impatience. It was my habit, after
leaving the office at night, to take him with me to my rooms, as
the bearer of any supplemental or happy after-thought, in the
editorial way, that might occur to me before the paper went to
press. One night I had been scribbling away past the usual hour of
dismissing Wan Lee, and had become quite oblivious of his presence
in a chair near my door, when suddenly I became aware of a voice
saying in plaintive accents, something that sounded like "Chy Lee."
I faced around sternly.
"What did you say?"
"Me say, 'Chy Lee.'"
"Well?" I said impatiently.
"You sabe, 'How do, John?'"
"You sabe, 'So long, John'?"
"Well, 'Chy Lee' allee same!"
I understood him quite plainly. It appeared that "Chy Lee" was a
form of "good-night," and that Wan Lee was anxious to go home. But
an instinct of mischief, which, I fear, I possessed in common with
him, impelled me to act as if oblivious of the hint. I muttered
something about not understanding him, and again bent over my work.
In a few minutes I heard his wooden shoes pattering pathetically
over the floor. I looked up. He was standing near the door.
"You no sabe, 'Chy Lee'?"
"No," I said sternly.
"You sabe muchee big foolee! allee same!"
And, with this audacity upon his lips, he fled. The next morning,
however, he was as meek and patient as before, and I did not recall
his offence. As a probable peace-offering, he blacked all my
boots,--a duty never required of him,--including a pair of buff
deer-skin slippers and an immense pair of horseman's jack-boots, on
which he indulged his remorse for two hours.
I have spoken of his honesty as being a quality of his intellect
rather than his principle, but I recall about this time two
exceptions to the rule. I was anxious to get some fresh eggs as a
change to the heavy diet of a mining-town; and, knowing that Wan
Lee's countrymen were great poultry-raisers, I applied to him. He
furnished me with them regularly every morning, but refused to take
any pay, saying that the man did not sell them,--a remarkable
instance of self-abnegation, as eggs were then worth half a dollar
apiece. One morning my neighbor Forster dropped in upon me at
breakfast, and took occasion to bewail his own ill fortune, as his
hens had lately stopped laying, or wandered off in the bush.
Wan Lee, who was present during our colloquy, preserved his
characteristic sad taciturnity. When my neighbor had gone, he
turned to me with a slight chuckle: "Flostel's hens--Wan Lee's hens
allee same!" His other offence was more serious and ambitious. It
was a season of great irregularities in the mails, and Wan Lee had
heard me deplore the delay in the delivery of my letters and
newspapers. On arriving at my office one day, I was amazed to find
my table covered with letters, evidently just from the post-office,
but, unfortunately, not one addressed to me. I turned to Wan Lee,
who was surveying them with a calm satisfaction, and demanded an
explanation. To my horror he pointed to an empty mail-bag in the
corner, and said, "Postman he say, 'No lettee, John; no lettee,
John.' Postman plentee lie! Postman no good. Me catchee lettee
last night allee same!" Luckily it was still early: the mails had
not been distributed. I had a hurried interview with the
postmaster; and Wan Lee's bold attempt at robbing the United States
mail was finally condoned by the purchase of a new mail-bag, and
the whole affair thus kept a secret.
If my liking for my little Pagan page had not been sufficient, my
duty to Hop Sing was enough, to cause me to take Wan Lee with me
when I returned to San Francisco after my two years' experience
with "The Northern Star." I do not think he contemplated the
change with pleasure. I attributed his feelings to a nervous dread
of crowded public streets (when he had to go across town for me on
an errand, he always made a circuit of the outskirts), to his
dislike for the discipline of the Chinese and English school to
which I proposed to send him, to his fondness for the free, vagrant
life of the mines, to sheer wilfulness. That it might have been a
superstitious premonition did not occur to me until long after.
Nevertheless it really seemed as if the opportunity I had long
looked for and confidently expected had come,--the opportunity of
placing Wan Lee under gently restraining influences, of subjecting
him to a life and experience that would draw out of him what good
my superficial care and ill-regulated kindness could not reach.
Wan Lee was placed at the school of a Chinese missionary,--an
intelligent and kind-hearted clergyman, who had shown great
interest in the boy, and who, better than all, had a wonderful
faith in him. A home was found for him in the family of a widow,
who had a bright and interesting daughter about two years younger
than Wan Lee. It was this bright, cheery, innocent, and artless
child that touched and reached a depth in the boy's nature that
hitherto had been unsuspected; that awakened a moral susceptibility
which had lain for years insensible alike to the teachings of
society, or the ethics of the theologian.
These few brief months--bright with a promise that we never saw
fulfilled--must have been happy ones to Wan Lee. He worshipped his
little friend with something of the same superstition, but without
any of the caprice, that he bestowed upon his porcelain Pagan god.
It was his delight to walk behind her to school, carrying her
books--a service always fraught with danger to him from the little
hands of his Caucasian Christian brothers. He made her the most
marvellous toys; he would cut out of carrots and turnips the most
astonishing roses and tulips; he made life-like chickens out of
melon-seeds; he constructed fans and kites, and was singularly
proficient in the making of dolls' paper dresses. On the other
hand, she played and sang to him, taught him a thousand little
prettinesses and refinements only known to girls, gave him a yellow
ribbon for his pig-tail, as best suiting his complexion, read to
him, showed him wherein he was original and valuable, took him to
Sunday school with her, against the precedents of the school, and,
small-woman-like, triumphed. I wish I could add here, that she
effected his conversion, and made him give up his porcelain idol.
But I am telling a true story; and this little girl was quite
content to fill him with her own Christian goodness, without
letting him know that he was changed. So they got along very well
together,--this little Christian girl with her shining cross
hanging around her plump, white little neck; and this dark little
Pagan, with his hideous porcelain god hidden away in his blouse.
There were two days of that eventful year which will long be
remembered in San Francisco,--two days when a mob of her citizens
set upon and killed unarmed, defenceless foreigners because they
were foreigners, and of another race, religion, and color, and
worked for what wages they could get. There were some public men
so timid, that, seeing this, they thought that the end of the world
had come. There were some eminent statesmen, whose names I am
ashamed to write here, who began to think that the passage in the
Constitution which guarantees civil and religious liberty to every
citizen or foreigner was a mistake. But there were, also, some men
who were not so easily frightened; and in twenty-four hours we had
things so arranged, that the timid men could wring their hands in
safety, and the eminent statesmen utter their doubts without
hurting any body or any thing. And in the midst of this I got a
note from Hop Sing, asking me to come to him immediately.
I found his warehouse closed, and strongly guarded by the police
against any possible attack of the rioters. Hop Sing admitted me
through a barred grating with his usual imperturbable calm, but, as
it seemed to me, with more than his usual seriousness. Without a
word, he took my hand, and led me to the rear of the room, and
thence down stairs into the basement. It was dimly lighted; but
there was something lying on the floor covered by a shawl. As I
approached he drew the shawl away with a sudden gesture, and
revealed Wan Lee, the Pagan, lying there dead.
Dead, my reverend friends, dead,--stoned to death in the streets of
San Francisco, in the year of grace 1869, by a mob of half-grown
boys and Christian school-children!
As I put my hand reverently upon his breast, I felt something
crumbling beneath his blouse. I looked inquiringly at Hop Sing.
He put his hand between the folds of silk, and drew out something
with the first bitter smile I had ever seen on the face of that
It was Wan Lee's porcelain god, crushed by a stone from the hands
of those Christian iconoclasts!
HOW OLD MAN PLUNKETT WENT HOME
I think we all loved him. Even after he mismanaged the affairs of
the Amity Ditch Company, we commiserated him, although most of us
were stockholders, and lost heavily. I remember that the
blacksmith went so far as to say that "them chaps as put that
responsibility on the old man oughter be lynched." But the
blacksmith was not a stockholder; and the expression was looked
upon as the excusable extravagance of a large, sympathizing nature,
that, when combined with a powerful frame, was unworthy of notice.
At least, that was the way they put it. Yet I think there was a
general feeling of regret that this misfortune would interfere with
the old man's long-cherished plan of "going home."
Indeed, for the last ten years he had been "going home." He was
going home after a six-months' sojourn at Monte Flat; he was going
home after the first rains; he was going home when the rains were
over; he was going home when he had cut the timber on Buckeye Hill,
when there was pasture on Dow's Flat, when he struck pay-dirt on
Eureka Hill, when the Amity Company paid its first dividend, when
the election was over, when he had received an answer from his
wife. And so the years rolled by, the spring rains came and went,
the woods of Buckeye Hill were level with the ground, the pasture
on Dow's Flat grew sear and dry, Eureka Hill yielded its pay-dirt
and swamped its owner, the first dividends of the Amity Company
were made from the assessments of stockholders, there were new
county officers at Monte Flat, his wife's answer had changed into a
persistent question, and still old man Plunkett remained.
It is only fair to say that he had made several distinct essays
toward going. Five years before, he had bidden good-by to Monte
Hill with much effusion and hand-shaking. But he never got any
farther than the next town. Here he was induced to trade the
sorrel colt he was riding for a bay mare,--a transaction that at
once opened to his lively fancy a vista of vast and successful
future speculation. A few days after, Abner Dean of Angel's
received a letter from him, stating that he was going to Visalia to
buy horses. "I am satisfied," wrote Plunkett, with that elevated
rhetoric for which his correspondence was remarkable,--"I am
satisfied that we are at last developing the real resources of
California. The world will yet look to Dow's Flat as the great
stock-raising centre. In view of the interests involved, I have
deferred my departure for a month." It was two before he again
returned to us--penniless. Six months later, he was again enabled
to start for the Eastern States; and this time he got as far as San
Francisco. I have before me a letter which I received a few days
after his arrival, from which I venture to give an extract: "You
know, my dear boy, that I have always believed that gambling, as it
is absurdly called, is still in its infancy in California. I have
always maintained that a perfect system might be invented, by which
the game of poker may be made to yield a certain percentage to the
intelligent player. I am not at liberty at present to disclose the
system; but before leaving this city I intend to perfect it." He
seems to have done so, and returned to Monte Flat with two dollars
and thirty-seven cents, the absolute remainder of his capital after
It was not until 1868 that he appeared to have finally succeeded in
going home. He left us by the overland route,--a route which he
declared would give great opportunity for the discovery of
undeveloped resources. His last letter was dated Virginia City.
He was absent three years. At the close of a very hot day in
midsummer, he alighted from the Wingdam stage, with hair and beard
powdered with dust and age. There was a certain shyness about his
greeting, quite different from his usual frank volubility, that did
not, however, impress us as any accession of character. For some
days he was reserved regarding his recent visit, contenting himself
with asserting, with more or less aggressiveness, that he had
"always said he was going home, and now he had been there." Later
he grew more communicative, and spoke freely and critically of the
manners and customs of New York and Boston, commented on the social
changes in the years of his absence, and, I remember, was very hard
upon what he deemed the follies incidental to a high state of
civilization. Still later he darkly alluded to the moral laxity of
the higher planes of Eastern society; but it was not long before he
completely tore away the veil, and revealed the naked wickedness of
New York social life in a way I even now shudder to recall. Vinous
intoxication, it appeared, was a common habit of the first ladies
of the city. Immoralities which he scarcely dared name were daily
practised by the refined of both sexes. Niggardliness and greed
were the common vices of the rich. "I have always asserted," he
continued, "that corruption must exist where luxury and riches are
rampant, and capital is not used to develop the natural resources
of the country. Thank you--I will take mine without sugar." It is
possible that some of these painful details crept into the local
journals. I remember an editorial in "The Monte Flat Monitor,"
entitled "The Effete East," in which the fatal decadence of New
York and New England was elaborately stated, and California offered
as a means of natural salvation. "Perhaps," said "The Monitor,"
"we might add that Calaveras County offers superior inducements to
the Eastern visitor with capital."
Later he spoke of his family. The daughter he had left a child had
grown into beautiful womanhood. The son was already taller and
larger than his father; and, in a playful trial of strength, "the
young rascal," added Plunkett, with a voice broken with paternal
pride and humorous objurgation, had twice thrown his doting parent
to the ground. But it was of his daughter he chiefly spoke.
Perhaps emboldened by the evident interest which masculine Monte
Flat held in feminine beauty, he expatiated at some length on her
various charms and accomplishments, and finally produced her
photograph,--that of a very pretty girl,--to their infinite peril.
But his account of his first meeting with her was so peculiar, that
I must fain give it after his own methods, which were, perhaps,
some shades less precise and elegant than his written style.
"You see, boys, it's always been my opinion that a man oughter be
able to tell his own flesh and blood by instinct. It's ten years
since I'd seen my Melindy; and she was then only seven, and about
so high. So, when I went to New York, what did I do? Did I go
straight to my house, and ask for my wife and daughter, like other
folks? No, sir! I rigged myself up as a peddler, as a peddler,
sir; and I rung the bell. When the servant came to the door, I
wanted--don't you see?--to show the ladies some trinkets. Then
there was a voice over the banister says, 'Don't want any thing:
send him away.'--'Some nice laces, ma'am, smuggled,' I says,
looking up. 'Get out, you wretch!' says she. I knew the voice,
boys: it was my wife, sure as a gun. Thar wasn't any instinct
thar. 'Maybe the young ladies want somethin',' I said. 'Did you
hear me?' says she; and with that she jumps forward, and I left.
It's ten years, boys, since I've seen the old woman; but somehow,
when she fetched that leap, I naterally left."
He had been standing beside the bar--his usual attitude--when he
made this speech; but at this point he half faced his auditors with
a look that was very effective. Indeed, a few who had exhibited
some signs of scepticism and lack of interest, at once assumed an
appearance of intense gratification and curiosity as he went on,--
"Well, by hangin round there for a day or two, I found out at last
it was to be Melindy's birthday next week, and that she was goin'
to have a big party. I tell ye what, boys, it weren't no slouch of
a reception. The whole house was bloomin' with flowers, and
blazin' with lights; and there was no end of servants and plate and
refreshments and fixin's"--
"Where did they get the money?"
Plunkett faced his interlocutor with a severe glance. "I always
said," he replied slowly, "that, when I went home, I'd send on
ahead of me a draft for ten thousand dollars. I always said that,
didn't I? Eh? And I said I was goin' home--and I've been home,
haven't I? Well?"
Either there was something irresistibly conclusive in this logic,
or else the desire to hear the remainder of Plunkett's story was
stronger; but there was no more interruption. His ready good-humor
quickly returned, and, with a slight chuckle, he went on,--
"I went to the biggest jewelry shop in town, and I bought a pair of
diamond ear-rings, and put them in my pocket, and went to the
house. 'What name?' says the chap who opened the door; and he
looked like a cross 'twixt a restaurant waiter and a parson.
'Skeesicks,' said I. He takes me in; and pretty soon my wife comes
sailin' into the parlor, and says, 'Excuse me; but I don't think I
recognize the name.' She was mighty polite; for I had on a red wig
and side-whiskers. 'A friend of your husband's from California,
ma'am, with a present for your daughter, Miss--,' and I made as I
had forgot the name. But all of a sudden a voice said, 'That's too
thin;' and in walked Melindy. 'It's playin' it rather low down,
father, to pretend you don't know your daughter's name; ain't it,
now? How are you, old man?' And with that she tears off my wig
and whiskers, and throws her arms around my neck--instinct, sir,
Emboldened by the laughter which followed his description of the
filial utterances of Melinda, he again repeated her speech, with
more or less elaboration, joining in with, and indeed often
leading, the hilarity that accompanied it, and returning to it,
with more or less incoherency, several times during the evening.
And so, at various times and at various places, but chiefly in bar-
rooms, did this Ulysses of Monte Flat recount the story of his
wanderings. There were several discrepancies in his statement;
there was sometimes considerable prolixity of detail; there was
occasional change of character and scenery; there was once or twice
an absolute change in the denoument: but always the fact of his
having visited his wife and children remained. Of course, in a
sceptical community like that of Monte Flat,--a community
accustomed to great expectation and small realization,--a community
wherein, to use the local dialect, "they got the color, and struck
hardpan," more frequently than any other mining-camp,--in such a
community, the fullest credence was not given to old man Plunkett's
facts. There was only one exception to the general unbelief,--
Henry York of Sandy Bar. It was he who was always an attentive
listener; it was his scant purse that had often furnished Plunkett
with means to pursue his unprofitable speculations; it was to him
that the charms of Melinda were more frequently rehearsed; it was
he that had borrowed her photograph; and it was he that, sitting
alone in his little cabin one night, kissed that photograph, until
his honest, handsome face glowed again in the firelight.
It was dusty in Monte Flat. The ruins of the long dry season were
crumbling everywhere: everywhere the dying summer had strewn its
red ashes a foot deep, or exhaled its last breath in a red cloud
above the troubled highways. The alders and cottonwoods, that
marked the line of the water-courses, were grimy with dust, and
looked as if they might have taken root in the open air. The
gleaming stones of the parched water-courses themselves were as dry
bones in the valley of death. The dusty sunset at times painted
the flanks of the distant hills a dull, coppery hue: on other days,
there was an odd, indefinable earthquake halo on the volcanic cones
of the farther coast-spurs. Again an acrid, resinous smoke from
the burning wood on Heavytree Hill smarted the eyes, and choked the
free breath of Monte Flat; or a fierce wind, driving every thing,
including the shrivelled summer, like a curled leaf before it,
swept down the flanks of the Sierras, and chased the inhabitants to
the doors of their cabins, and shook its red fist in at their
windows. And on such a night as this, the dust having in some way
choked the wheels of material progress in Monte Flat, most of the
inhabitants were gathered listlessly in the gilded bar-room of the
Moquelumne Hotel, spitting silently at the red-hot stove that
tempered the mountain winds to the shorn lambs of Monte Flat, and
waiting for the rain.
Every method known to the Flat of beguiling the time until the
advent of this long-looked-for phenomenon had been tried. It is
true, the methods were not many, being limited chiefly to that form
of popular facetiae known as practical joking; and even this had
assumed the seriousness of a business-pursuit. Tommy Roy, who had
spent two hours in digging a ditch in front of his own door, into
which a few friends casually dropped during the evening, looked
ennuye and dissatisfied. The four prominent citizens, who,
disguised as foot-pads, had stopped the county treasurer on the
Wingdam road, were jaded from their playful efforts next morning.
The principal physician and lawyer of Monte Flat, who had entered
into an unhallowed conspiracy to compel the sheriff of Calaveras
and his posse to serve a writ of ejectment on a grizzly bear,
feebly disguised under the name of one "Major Ursus," who haunted
the groves of Heavytree Hill, wore an expression of resigned
weariness. Even the editor of "The Monte Flat Monitor," who had
that morning written a glowing account of a battle with the Wipneck
Indians, for the benefit of Eastern readers,--even HE looked grave
and worn. When, at last, Abner Dean of Angel's, who had been on a
visit to San Francisco, walked into the room, he was, of course,
victimized in the usual way by one or two apparently honest
questions, which ended in his answering them, and then falling into
the trap of asking another, to his utter and complete shame and
mortification; but that was all. Nobody laughed; and Abner,
although a victim, did not lose his good-humor. He turned quietly
on his tormentors, and said,--
"I've got something better than that--you know old man Plunkett?"
Everybody simultaneously spat at the stove, and nodded his head.
"You know he went home three years ago?" Two or three changed the
position of their legs from the backs of different chairs; and one
man said, "Yes."
"Had a good time, home?"
Everybody looked cautiously at the man who had said, "Yes;" and he,
accepting the responsibility with a faint-hearted smile, said,
"Yes," again, and breathed hard. "Saw his wife and child--purty
gal?" said Abner cautiously. "Yes," answered the man doggedly.
"Saw her photograph, perhaps?" continued Abner Dean quietly.
The man looked hopelessly around for support. Two or three, who
had been sitting near him, and evidently encouraging him with a
look of interest, now shamelessly abandoned him and looked another
way. Henry York flushed a little, and veiled his gray eyes. The
man hesitated, and then with a sickly smile, that was intended to
convey the fact that he was perfectly aware of the object of this
questioning, and was only humoring it from abstract good feeling,
returned, "Yes," again.
"Sent home--let's see--ten thousand dollars, wasn't it?" Abner Dean
went on. "Yes," reiterated the man with the same smile.
"Well, I thought so," said Abner quietly. "But the fact is, you
see, that he never went home at all--nary time."
Everybody stared at Abner in genuine surprise and interest, as,
with provoking calmness and a half-lazy manner, he went on,--
"You see, thar was a man down in 'Frisco as knowed him, and saw him
in Sonora during the whole of that three years. He was herding
sheep, or tending cattle, or spekilating all that time, and hadn't
a red cent. Well it 'mounts to this,--that 'ar Plunkett ain't been
east of the Rocky Mountains since '49."
The laugh which Abner Dean had the right to confidently expect
came; but it was bitter and sardonic. I think indignation was
apparent in the minds of his hearers. It was felt, for the first
time, that there was a limit to practical joking. A deception
carried on for a year, compromising the sagacity of Monte Flat, was
deserving the severest reprobation. Of course, nobody had believed
Plunkett; but then the supposition that it might be believed in
adjacent camps that they HAD believed him was gall and bitterness.
The lawyer thought that an indictment for obtaining money under
false pretences might be found. The physician had long suspected
him of insanity, and was not certain but that he ought to be
confined. The four prominent merchants thought that the business-
interests of Monte Flat demanded that something should be done. In
the midst of an excited and angry discussion, the door slowly
opened, and old man Plunkett staggered into the room.
He had changed pitifully in the last six months. His hair was a
dusty, yellowish gray, like the chemisal on the flanks of Heavytree
Hill; his face was waxen white, and blue and puffy under the eyes;
his clothes were soiled and shabby, streaked in front with the
stains of hurriedly eaten luncheons, and fluffy behind with the
wool and hair of hurriedly-extemporized couches. In obedience to
that odd law, that, the more seedy and soiled a man's garments
become, the less does he seem inclined to part with them, even
during that portion of the twenty-four hours when they are deemed
less essential, Plunkett's clothes had gradually taken on the
appearance of a kind of a bark, or an outgrowth from within, for
which their possessor was not entirely responsible. Howbeit, as he
entered the room, he attempted to button his coat over a dirty
shirt, and passed his fingers, after the manner of some animal,
over his cracker-strewn beard, in recognition of a cleanly public
sentiment. But, even as he did so, the weak smile faded from his
lips; and his hand, after fumbling aimlessly around a button,
dropped helplessly at his side. For as he leaned his back against
the bar, and faced the group, he, for the first time, became aware
that every eye but one was fixed upon him. His quick, nervous
apprehension at once leaped to the truth. His miserable secret was
out, and abroad in the very air about him. As a last resort, he
glanced despairingly at Henry York; but his flushed face was turned
toward the windows.
No word was spoken. As the bar-keeper silently swung a decanter
and glass before him, he took a cracker from a dish, and mumbled it
with affected unconcern. He lingered over his liquor until its
potency stiffened his relaxed sinews, and dulled the nervous edge
of his apprehension, and then he suddenly faced around. "It don't
look as if we were goin' to hev any rain much afore Christmas," he
said with defiant ease.
No one made any reply.
"Just like this in '52, and again in '60. It's always been my
opinion that these dry seasons come reg'lar. I've said it afore.
I say it again. It's jist as I said about going home, you know,"
he added with desperate recklessness.
"Thar's a man," said Abner Dean lazily, ez sez you never went home.
Thar's a man ez sez you've been three years in Sonora. Thar's a
man ez sez you hain't seen your wife and daughter since '49.
Thar's a man ez sez you've been playin' this camp for six months."
There was a dead silence. Then a voice said quite as quietly,--
"That man lies."
It was not the old man's voice. Everybody turned as Henry York
slowly rose, stretching out his six feet of length, and, brushing
away the ashes that had fallen from his pipe upon his breast,
deliberately placed himself beside Plunkett, and faced the others.
"That man ain't here," continued Abner Dean, with listless
indifference of voice, and a gentle pre-occupation of manner, as he
carelessly allowed his right hand to rest on his hip near his
revolver. "That man ain't here; but, if I'm called upon to make
good what he says, why, I'm on hand."
All rose as the two men--perhaps the least externally agitated of
them all--approached each other. The lawyer stepped in between
"Perhaps there's some mistake here. York, do you KNOW that the old
man has been home?"
"How do you know it?"
York turned his clear, honest, frank eyes on his questioner, and
without a tremor told the only direct and unmitigated lie of his
life. "Because I've seen him there."
The answer was conclusive. It was known that York had been visiting
the East during the old man's absence. The colloquy had diverted
attention from Plunkett, who, pale and breathless, was staring at
his unexpected deliverer. As he turned again toward his tormentors,
there was something in the expression of his eye that caused those
that were nearest to him to fall back, and sent a strange,
indefinable thrill through the boldest and most reckless. As he made
a step forward, the physician, almost unconsciously, raised his hand
with a warning gesture; and old man Plunkett, with his eyes fixed
upon the red-hot stove, and an odd smile playing about his mouth,
"Yes--of course you did. Who says you didn't? It ain't no lie. I
said I was goin' home--and I've been home. Haven't I? My God! I
have. Who says I've been lyin'? Who says I'm dreamin'? Is it
true--why don't you speak? It is true, after all. You say you saw
me there: why don't you speak again? Say, say!--is it true? It's
going now. O my God! it's going again. It's going now. Save me!"
And with a fierce cry he fell forward in a fit upon the floor.
When the old man regained his senses, he found himself in York's
cabin. A flickering fire of pine-boughs lit up the rude rafters,
and fell upon a photograph tastefully framed with fir-cones, and
hung above the brush whereon he lay. It was the portrait of a
young girl. It was the first object to meet the old man's gaze;
and it brought with it a flush of such painful consciousness, that
he started, and glanced quickly around. But his eyes only
encountered those of York,--clear, gray, critical, and patient,--
and they fell again.
"Tell me, old man," said York not unkindly, but with the same cold,
clear tone in his voice that his eye betrayed a moment ago,--"tell
me, is THAT a lie too?" and he pointed to the picture.
The old man closed his eyes, and did not reply. Two hours before,
the question would have stung him into some evasion or bravado.
But the revelation contained in the question, as well as the tone
of York's voice, was to him now, in his pitiable condition, a
relief. It was plain, even to his confused brain, that York had
lied when he had indorsed his story in the bar-room; it was clear
to him now that he had not been home, that he was not, as he had
begun to fear, going mad. It was such a relief, that, with
characteristic weakness, his former recklessness and extravagance
returned. He began to chuckle, finally to laugh uproariously.
York, with his eyes still fixed on the old man, withdrew the hand
with which he had taken his.
"Didn't we fool 'em nicely; eh, Yorky! He, he! The biggest thing
yet ever played in this camp! I always said I'd play 'em all some
day, and I have--played 'em for six months. Ain't it rich?--ain't
it the richest thing you ever seed? Did you see Abner's face when
he spoke 'bout that man as seed me in Sonora? Warn't it good as
the minstrels? Oh, it's too much!" and, striking his leg with the
palm of his hand, he almost threw himself from the bed in a
paroxysm of laughter,--a paroxysm that, nevertheless, appeared to
be half real and half affected.
"Is that photograph hers?" said York in a low voice, after a slight
"Hers? No! It's one of the San Francisco actresses. He, he!
Don't you see? I bought it for two bits in one of the bookstores.
I never thought they'd swaller THAT too; but they did! Oh, but the
old man played 'em this time didn't he--eh?" and he peered
curiously in York's face.
"Yes, and he played ME too," said York, looking steadily in the old
"Yes, of course," interposed Plunkett hastily; "but you know,
Yorky, you got out of it well! You've sold 'em too. We've both
got em on a string now--you and me--got to stick together now. You
did it well, Yorky: you did it well. Why, when you said you'd seen
me in York City, I'm d----d if I didn't"--
"Didn't what?" said York gently; for the old man had stopped with a
pale face and wandering eye.
"You say when I said I had seen you in New York you thought"--
"You lie!" said the old man fiercely. "I didn't say I thought any
thing. What are you trying to go back on me for, eh?" His hands
were trembling as he rose muttering from the bed, and made his way
toward the hearth.
"Gimme some whiskey," he said presently "and dry up. You oughter
treat anyway. Them fellows oughter treated last night. By hookey,
I'd made 'em--only I fell sick."
York placed the liquor and a tin cup on the table beside him, and,
going to the door, turned his back upon his guest, and looked out
on the night. Although it was clear moonlight, the familiar
prospect never to him seemed so dreary. The dead waste of the
broad Wingdam highway never seemed so monotonous, so like the days
that he had passed, and were to come to him, so like the old man in
its suggestion of going sometime, and never getting there. He
turned, and going up to Plunkett put his hand upon his shoulder,
"I want you to answer one question fairly and squarely."
The liquor seemed to have warmed the torpid blood in the old man's
veins, and softened his acerbity; for the face he turned up to York
was mellowed in its rugged outline, and more thoughtful in
expression, as he said,--
"Go on, my boy."
"Have you a wife and--daughter?"
"Before God I have!"
The two men were silent for a moment, both gazing at the fire.
Then Plunkett began rubbing his knees slowly.
"The wife, if it comes to that, ain't much," he began cautiously,
"being a little on the shoulder, you know, and wantin', so to speak
a liberal California education, which makes, you know, a bad
combination. It's always been my opinion, that there ain't any
worse. Why, she's as ready with her tongue as Abner Dean is with
his revolver, only with the difference that she shoots from
principle, as she calls it; and the consequence is, she's always
layin' for you. It's the effete East, my boy, that's ruinin' her.
It's them ideas she gets in New York and Boston that's made her and
me what we are. I don't mind her havin' 'em, if she didn't shoot.
But, havin' that propensity, them principles oughtn't to be lying
round loose no more'n firearms."
"But your daughter?" said York.
The old man's hands went up to his eyes here, and then both hands
and head dropped forward on the table. "Don't say any thing 'bout
her, my boy, don't ask me now." With one hand concealing his eyes,
he fumbled about with the other in his pockets for his handkerchief--
but vainly. Perhaps it was owing to this fact, that he repressed
his tears; for, when he removed his hand from his eyes, they were
quite dry. Then he found his voice.
"She's a beautiful girl, beautiful, though I say it; and you shall
see her, my boy,--you shall see her sure. I've got things about
fixed now. I shall have my plan for reducin' ores perfected a day
or two; and I've got proposals from all the smeltin' works here"
(here he hastily produced a bundle of papers that fell upon the
floor), "and I'm goin' to send for 'em. I've got the papers here
as will give me ten thousand dollars clear in the next month," he
added, as he strove to collect the valuable documents again. "I'll
have 'em here by Christmas, if I live; and you shall eat your
Christmas dinner with me, York, my boy,--you shall sure."
With his tongue now fairly loosened by liquor and the suggestive
vastness of his prospects, he rambled on more or less incoherently,
elaborating and amplifying his plans, occasionally even speaking of
them as already accomplished, until the moon rode high in the
heavens, and York led him again to his couch. Here he lay for some
time muttering to himself, until at last he sank into a heavy
sleep. When York had satisfied himself of the fact, he gently took
down the picture and frame, and, going to the hearth, tossed them
on the dying embers, and sat down to see them burn.
The fir-cones leaped instantly into flame; then the features that
had entranced San Francisco audiences nightly, flashed up and
passed away (as such things are apt to pass); and even the cynical
smile on York's lips faded too. And then there came a supplemental
and unexpected flash as the embers fell together, and by its light
York saw a paper upon the floor. It was one that had fallen from
the old man's pocket. As he picked it up listlessly, a photograph
slipped from its folds. It was the portrait of a young girl; and
on its reverse was written in a scrawling hand, "Melinda to father."
It was at best a cheap picture, but, ah me! I fear even the deft
graciousness of the highest art could not have softened the rigid
angularities of that youthful figure, its self-complacent
vulgarity, its cheap finery, its expressionless ill-favor. York
did not look at it a second time. He turned to the letter for
It was misspelled; it was unpunctuated; it was almost illegible; it
was fretful in tone, and selfish in sentiment. It was not, I fear,
even original in the story of its woes. It was the harsh recital
of poverty, of suspicion, of mean makeshifts and compromises, of
low pains and lower longings, of sorrows that were degrading, of a
grief that was pitiable. Yet it was sincere in a certain kind of
vague yearning for the presence of the degraded man to whom it was
written,--an affection that was more like a confused instinct than
York folded it again carefully, and placed it beneath the old man's
pillow. Then he returned to his seat by the fire. A smile that
had been playing upon his face, deepening the curves behind his
mustache, and gradually overrunning his clear gray eyes, presently
faded away. It was last to go from his eyes; and it left there,
oddly enough to those who did not know him, a tear.
He sat there for a long time, leaning forward, his head upon his
hands. The wind that had been striving with the canvas roof all at
once lifted its edges, and a moonbeam slipped suddenly in, and lay
for a moment like a shining blade upon his shoulder; and, knighted
by its touch, straightway plain Henry York arose, sustained, high-
purposed and self-reliant.
The rains had come at last. There was already a visible greenness
on the slopes of Heavytree Hill; and the long, white track of the
Wingdam road was lost in outlying pools and ponds a hundred rods
from Monte Flat. The spent water-courses, whose white bones had
been sinuously trailed over the flat, like the vertebrae of some
forgotten saurian, were full again; the dry bones moved once more
in the valley; and there was joy in the ditches, and a pardonable
extravagance in the columns of "The Monte Flat Monitor." "Never
before in the history of the county has the yield been so
satisfactory. Our contemporary of 'The Hillside Beacon,' who
yesterday facetiously alluded to the fact (?) that our best
citizens were leaving town in 'dugouts,' on account of the flood,
will be glad to hear that our distinguished fellow-townsman, Mr.
Henry York, now on a visit to his relatives in the East, lately
took with him in his 'dugout' the modest sum of fifty thousand
dollars, the result of one week's clean-up. We can imagine,"
continued that sprightly journal, "that no such misfortune is
likely to overtake Hillside this season. And yet we believe 'The
Beacon' man wants a railroad." A few journals broke out into
poetry. The operator at Simpson's Crossing telegraphed to "The
Sacramento Universe" "All day the low clouds have shook their
garnered fulness down." A San Francisco journal lapsed into noble
verse, thinly disguised as editorial prose: "Rejoice: the gentle
rain has come, the bright and pearly rain, which scatters blessings
on the hills, and sifts them o'er the plain. Rejoice," &c.
Indeed, there was only one to whom the rain had not brought
blessing, and that was Plunkett. In some mysterious and darksome
way, it had interfered with the perfection of his new method of
reducing ores, and thrown the advent of that invention back another
season. It had brought him down to an habitual seat in the bar-
room, where, to heedless and inattentive ears, he sat and
discoursed of the East and his family.
No one disturbed him. Indeed, it was rumored that some funds had
been lodged with the landlord, by a person or persons unknown,
whereby his few wants were provided for. His mania--for that was
the charitable construction which Monte Flat put upon his conduct--
was indulged, even to the extent of Monte Flat's accepting his
invitation to dine with his family on Christmas Day,--an invitation
extended frankly to every one with whom the old man drank or
talked. But one day, to everybody's astonishment, he burst into
the bar-room, holding an open letter in his hand. It read as
"Be ready to meet your family at the new cottage on Heavytree Hill
on Christmas Day. Invite what friends you choose.
The letter was handed round in silence. The old man, with a look
alternating between hope and fear, gazed in the faces of the group.
The doctor looked up significantly, after a pause. "It's a forgery
evidently," he said in a low voice. "He's cunning enough to
conceive it (they always are); but you'll find he'll fail in
executing it. Watch his face!--Old man," he said suddenly, in a
loud peremptory tone, "this is a trick, a forgery, and you know it.
Answer me squarely, and look me in the eye. Isn't it so?"
The eyes of Plunkett stared a moment, and then dropped weakly.
Then, with a feebler smile, he said, "You're too many for me, boys.
The Doc's right. The little game's up. You can take the old man's
hat;" and so, tottering, trembling, and chuckling, he dropped into
silence and his accustomed seat. But the next day he seemed to
have forgotten this episode, and talked as glibly as ever of the
And so the days and weeks passed until Christmas--a bright, clear
day, warmed with south winds, and joyous with the resurrection of
springing grasses--broke upon Monte Flat. And then there was a
sudden commotion in the hotel bar-room; and Abner Dean stood beside
the old man's chair, and shook him out of a slumber to his feet.
"Rouse up, old man. York is here, with your wife and daughter, at
the cottage on Heavytree. Come, old man. Here, boys, give him a
lift;" and in another moment a dozen strong and willing hands had
raised the old man, and bore him in triumph to the street up the
steep grade of Heavytree Hill, and deposited him, struggling and
confused, in the porch of a little cottage. At the same instant
two women rushed forward, but were restrained by a gesture from
Henry York. The old man was struggling to his feet. With an
effort at last, he stood erect, trembling, his eye fixed, a gray
pallor on his cheek, and a deep resonance in his voice.
"It's all a trick, and a lie! They ain't no flesh and blood or kin
o' mine. It ain't my wife, nor child. My daughter's a beautiful
girl--a beautiful girl, d'ye hear? She's in New York with her
mother, and I'm going to fetch her here. I said I'd go home, and
I've been home: d'ye hear me? I've been home! It's a mean trick
you're playin' on the old man. Let me go: d'ye hear? Keep them
women off me! Let me go! I'm going--I'm going--home!"
His hands were thrown up convulsively in the air, and, half turning
round, he fell sideways on the porch, and so to the ground. They
picked him up hurriedly, but too late. He had gone home.
THE FOOL OF FIVE FORKS
He lived alone. I do not think this peculiarity arose from any
wish to withdraw his foolishness from the rest of the camp, nor was
it probable that the combined wisdom of Five Forks ever drove him
into exile. My impression is, that he lived alone from choice,--a
choice he made long before the camp indulged in any criticism of
his mental capacity. He was much given to moody reticence, and,
although to outward appearances a strong man, was always complaining
of ill-health. Indeed, one theory of his isolation was, that it
afforded him better opportunities for taking medicine, of which
he habitually consumed large quantities.
His folly first dawned upon Five Forks through the post-office
windows. He was, for a long time, the only man who wrote home by
every mail; his letters being always directed to the same person,--
a woman. Now, it so happened that the bulk of the Five Forks
correspondence was usually the other way. There were many letters
received (the majority being in the female hand), but very few
answered. The men received them indifferently, or as a matter of
course. A few opened and read them on the spot, with a barely
repressed smile of self-conceit, or quite as frequently glanced
over them with undisguised impatience. Some of the letters began
with "My dear husband;" and some were never called for. But the
fact that the only regular correspondent of Five Forks never
received any reply became at last quite notorious. Consequently,
when an envelope was received, bearing the stamp of the "dead
letter office," addressed to "The Fool," under the more
conventional title of "Cyrus Hawkins," there was quite a fever of
excitement. I do not know how the secret leaked out; but it was
eventually known to the camp, that the envelope contained Hawkins's
own letters returned. This was the first evidence of his weakness.
Any man who repeatedly wrote to a woman who did not reply must be a
fool. I think Hawkins suspected that his folly was known to the
camp; but he took refuge in symptoms of chills and fever, which he
at once developed, and effected a diversion with three bottles of
Indian cholagogue and two boxes of pills. At all events, at the
end of a week, he resumed a pen stiffened by tonics, with all his
old epistolatory pertinacity. This time the letters had a new
In those days a popular belief obtained in the mines, that luck
particularly favored the foolish and unscientific. Consequently,
when Hawkins struck a "pocket" in the hillside near his solitary
cabin, there was but little surprise. "He will sink it all in the
next hole" was the prevailing belief, predicated upon the usual
manner in which the possessor of "nigger luck" disposed of his
fortune. To everybody's astonishment, Hawkins, after taking out
about eight thousand dollars, and exhausting the pocket, did not
prospect for another. The camp then waited patiently to see what
he would do with his money. I think, however, that it was with the
greatest difficulty their indignation was kept from taking the form
of a personal assault when it became known that he had purchased a
draft for eight thousand dollars, in favor of "that woman." More
than this, it was finally whispered that the draft was returned to
him as his letters had been, and that he was ashamed to reclaim the
money at the express-office. "It wouldn't be a bad specilation to
go East, get some smart gal, for a hundred dollars, to dress
herself up and represent that 'Hag,' and jest freeze onto that
eight thousand," suggested a far-seeing financier. I may state
here, that we always alluded to Hawkins's fair unknown as the "Hag"
without having, I am confident, the least justification for that
That the "Fool" should gamble seemed eminently fit and proper.
That he should occasionally win a large stake, according to that
popular theory which I have recorded in the preceding paragraph,
appeared, also, a not improbable or inconsistent fact. That he
should, however, break the faro bank which Mr. John Hamlin had set
up in Five Forks, and carry off a sum variously estimated at from
ten to twenty thousand dollars, and not return the next day, and
lose the money at the same table, really appeared incredible. Yet
such was the fact. A day or two passed without any known
investment of Mr. Hawkins's recently-acquired capital. "Ef he
allows to send it to that 'Hag,'" said one prominent citizen,
"suthin' ought to be done. It's jest ruinin' the reputation of
this yer camp,--this sloshin' around o' capital on non-residents ez
don't claim it!" "It's settin' an example o' extravagance," said
another, "ez is little better nor a swindle. Thais mor'n five men
in this camp, thet, hearin' thet Hawkins hed sent home eight
thousand dollars, must jest rise up and send home their hard
earnings too! And then to think thet thet eight thousand was only
a bluff, after all, and thet it's lyin' there on call in Adams &
Co.'s bank! Well, I say it's one o' them things a vigilance
committee oughter look into."
When there seemed no possibility of this repetition of Hawkins's
folly, the anxiety to know what he had really done with his money
became intense. At last a self-appointed committee of four
citizens dropped artfully, but to outward appearances carelessly,
upon him in his seclusion. When some polite formalities had been
exchanged, and some easy vituperation of a backward season offered
by each of the parties, Tom Wingate approached the subject.
"Sorter dropped heavy on Jack Hamlin the other night, didn't ye?
He allows you didn't give him no show for revenge. I said you
wasn't no such d----d fool; didn't I, Dick?" continued the artful
Wingate, appealing to a confederate.
"Yes," said Dick promptly. "You said twenty thousand dollars
wasn't goin' to be thrown around recklessly. You said Cyrus had
suthin' better to do with his capital," super-added Dick with
gratuitous mendacity. "I disremember now what partickler
investment you said he was goin' to make with it," he continued,
appealing with easy indifference to his friend.
Of course Wingate did not reply, but looked at the "Fool," who,
with a troubled face, was rubbing his legs softly. After a pause,
he turned deprecatingly toward his visitors.
"Ye didn't enny of ye ever hev a sort of tremblin' in your legs, a
kind o' shakiness from the knee down? Suthin'," he continued,
slightly brightening with his topic,--"suthin' that begins like
chills, and yet ain't chills? A kind o' sensation of goneness
here, and a kind o' feelin' as it you might die suddint?--when
Wright's Pills don't somehow reach the spot, and quinine don't
"No!" said Wingate with a curt directness, and the air of
authoritatively responding for his friends,--"no, never had. You
was speakin' of this yer investment."
"And your bowels all the time irregular?" continued Hawkins,
blushing under Wingate's eye, and yet clinging despairingly to his
theme, like a shipwrecked mariner to his plank.
Wingate did not reply, but glanced significantly at the rest.
Hawkins evidently saw this recognition of his mental deficiency,
and said apologetically, "You was saying suthin' about my
"Yes," said Wingate, so rapidly as to almost take Hawkins's breath
away,--"the investment you made in"--
"Rafferty's Ditch," said the "Fool" timidly.
For a moment, the visitors could only stare blankly at each other.
"Rafferty's Ditch," the one notorious failure of Five Forks!--
Rafferty's Ditch, the impracticable scheme of an utterly
unpractical man!--Rafferty's Ditch, a ridiculous plan for taking
water that could not be got to a place where it wasn't wanted!--
Rafferty's Ditch, that had buried the fortunes of Rafferty and
twenty wretched stockholders in its muddy depths!
"And thet's it, is it?" said Wingate, after a gloomy pause.
"Thet's it! I see it all now, boys. That's how ragged Pat
Rafferty went down to San Francisco yesterday in store-clothes, and
his wife and four children went off in a kerridge to Sacramento.
Thet's why them ten workmen of his, ez hadn't a cent to bless
themselves with, was playin' billiards last night, and eatin'
isters. Thet's whar that money kum frum,--one hundred dollars to
pay for the long advertisement of the new issue of ditch stock in
the "Times" yesterday. Thet's why them six strangers were booked
at the Magnolia hotel yesterday. Don't you see? It's thet money--
and that 'Fool'!"
The "Fool" sat silent. The visitors rose without a word.
"You never took any of them Indian Vegetable Pills?" asked Hawkins
timidly of Wingate.
"No!" roared Wingate as he opened the door.
"They tell me, that, took with the Panacea,--they was out o' the
Panacea when I went to the drug-store last week,--they say, that,
took with the Panacea, they always effect a certin cure." But by
this time, Wingate and his disgusted friends had retreated,
slamming the door on the "Fool" and his ailments.
Nevertheless, in six months the whole affair was forgotten: the
money had been spent; the "Ditch" had been purchased by a company
of Boston capitalists, fired by the glowing description of an
Eastern tourist, who had spent one drunken night at Five Forks; and
I think even the mental condition of Hawkins might have remained
undisturbed by criticism, but for a singular incident.
It was during an exciting political campaign, when party-feeling
ran high, that the irascible Capt. McFadden of Sacramento visited
Five Forks. During a heated discussion in the Prairie Rose Saloon,
words passed between the captain and the Hon. Calhoun Bungstarter,
ending in a challenge. The captain bore the infelicitous
reputation of being a notorious duellist and a dead-shot. The
captain was unpopular. The captain was believed to have been sent
by the opposition for a deadly purpose; and the captain was,
moreover, a stranger. I am sorry to say that with Five Forks this
latter condition did not carry the quality of sanctity or reverence
that usually obtains among other nomads. There was, consequently,
some little hesitation when the captain turned upon the crowd, and
asked for some one to act as his friend. To everybody's
astonishment, and to the indignation of many, the "Fool" stepped
forward, and offered himself in that capacity. I do not know
whether Capt. McFadden would have chosen him voluntarily; but he
was constrained, in the absence of a better man, to accept his
The duel never took place. The preliminaries were all arranged,
the spot indicated; the men were present with their seconds; there
was no interruption from without; there was no explanation or
apology passed--but the duel did not take place. It may be readily
imagined that these facts, which were all known to Five Forks,
threw the whole community into a fever of curiosity. The
principals, the surgeon, and one second left town the next day.
Only the "Fool" remained. HE resisted all questioning, declaring
himself held in honor not to divulge: in short, conducted himself
with consistent but exasperating folly. It was not until six
months had passed, that Col. Starbottle, the second of Calhoun
Bungstarter, in a moment of weakness, superinduced by the social
glass, condescended to explain. I should not do justice to the
parties, if I did not give that explanation in the colonel's own
words. I may remark, in passing, that the characteristic dignity
of Col. Starbottle always became intensified by stimulants, and
that, by the same process, all sense of humor was utterly eliminated.
"With the understanding that I am addressing myself confidentially
to men of honor," said the colonel, elevating his chest above the
bar-room counter of the Prairie Rose Saloon, "I trust that it will
not be necessary for me to protect myself from levity, as I was
forced to do in Sacramento on the only other occasion when I
entered into an explanation of this delicate affair by--er--er--
calling the individual to a personal account--er. I do not
believe," added the colonel, slightly waving his glass of liquor in
the air with a graceful gesture of courteous deprecation, "knowing
what I do of the present company, that such a course of action is
required here. Certainly not, sir, in the home of Mr. Hawkins--er--
the gentleman who represented Mr. Bungstarter, whose conduct, ged,
sir, is worthy of praise, blank me!"
Apparently satisfied with the gravity and respectful attention of
his listeners, Col. Starbottle smiled relentingly and sweetly,
closed his eyes half-dreamily, as if to recall his wandering
thoughts, and began,--
"As the spot selected was nearest the tenement of Mr. Hawkins, it
was agreed that the parties should meet there. They did so
promptly at half-past six. The morning being chilly, Mr. Hawkins
extended the hospitalities of his house with a bottle of Bourbon
whiskey, of which all partook but myself. The reason for that
exception is, I believe, well known. It is my invariable custom to
take brandy--a wineglassful in a cup of strong coffee--immediately
on rising. It stimulates the functions, sir, without producing any
blank derangement of the nerves."
The barkeeper, to whom, as an expert, the colonel had graciously
imparted this information, nodded approvingly; and the colonel,
amid a breathless silence, went on.
"We were about twenty minutes in reaching the spot. The ground was
measured, the weapons were loaded, when Mr. Bungstarter confided to
me the information that he was unwell, and in great pain. On
consultation with Mr. Hawkins, it appeared that his principal, in a
distant part of the field, was also suffering, and in great pain.
The symptoms were such as a medical man would pronounce 'choleraic.'
I say WOULD have pronounced; for, on examination, the surgeon was
also found to be--er--in pain, and, I regret to say, expressing
himself in language unbecoming the occasion. His impression was,
that some powerful drug had been administered. On referring the
question to Mr. Hawkins, he remembered that the bottle of whiskey
partaken by them contained a medicine which he had been in the habit
of taking, but which, having failed to act upon him, he had
concluded to be generally ineffective, and had forgotten. His
perfect willingness to hold himself personally responsible to each
of the parties, his genuine concern at the disastrous effect of the
mistake, mingled with his own alarm at the state of his system,
which--er--failed to--er--respond to the peculiar qualities of the
medicine, was most becoming to him as a man of honor and a
gentleman. After an hour's delay, both principals being completely
exhausted, and abandoned by the surgeon, who was unreasonably
alarmed at his own condition, Mr. Hawkins and I agreed to remove our
men to Markleville. There, after a further consultation with Mr.
Hawkins, an amicable adjustment of all difficulties, honorable to
both parties, and governed by profound secrecy, was arranged. I
believe," added the colonel, looking around, and setting down his
glass, "no gentleman has yet expressed himself other than satisfied
with the result."
Perhaps it was the colonel's manner; but, whatever was the opinion
of Five Forks regarding the intellectual display of Mr. Hawkins in
this affair, there was very little outspoken criticism at the
moment. In a few weeks the whole thing was forgotten, except as
part of the necessary record of Hawkins's blunders, which was
already a pretty full one. Again, some later follies conspired to
obliterate the past, until, a year later, a valuable lead was
discovered in the "Blazing Star" tunnel, in the hill where he
lived; and a large sum was offered him for a portion of his land on
the hilltop. Accustomed as Five Forks had become to the exhibition
of his folly, it was with astonishment that they learned that he
resolutely and decidedly refused the offer. The reason that he
gave was still more astounding,--he was about to build.
To build a house upon property available for mining-purposes was
preposterous; to build at all, with a roof already covering him,
was an act of extravagance; to build a house of the style he
proposed was simply madness.
Yet here were facts. The plans were made, and the lumber for the
new building was already on the ground, while the shaft of the
"Blazing Star" was being sunk below. The site was, in reality, a
very picturesque one, the building itself of a style and quality
hitherto unknown in Five Forks. The citizens, at first sceptical,
during their moments of recreation and idleness gathered doubtingly
about the locality. Day by day, in that climate of rapid growths,
the building, pleasantly known in the slang of Five Forks as the
"Idiot Asylum," rose beside the green oaks and clustering firs of
Hawkins Hill, as if it were part of the natural phenomena. At last
it was completed. Then Mr. Hawkins proceeded to furnish it with an
expensiveness and extravagance of outlay quite in keeping with his
former idiocy. Carpets, sofas, mirrors, and finally a piano,--the
only one known in the county, and brought at great expense from
Sacramento,--kept curiosity at a fever-heat. More than that, there
were articles and ornaments which a few married experts declared
only fit for women. When the furnishing of the house was
complete,--it had occupied two months of the speculative and
curious attention of the camp,--Mr. Hawkins locked the front-door,
put the key in his pocket, and quietly retired to his more humble
roof, lower on the hillside.
I have not deemed it necessary to indicate to the intelligent
reader all of the theories which obtained in Five Forks during the
erection of the building. Some of them may be readily imagined.
That the "Hag" had, by artful coyness and systematic reticence, at
last completely subjugated the "Fool," and that the new house was
intended for the nuptial bower of the (predestined) unhappy pair,
was, of course, the prevailing opinion. But when, after a
reasonable time had elapsed, and the house still remained
untenanted, the more exasperating conviction forced itself upon the
general mind, that the "Fool" had been for the third time imposed
upon; when two months had elapsed, and there seemed no prospect of
a mistress for the new house,--I think public indignation became so
strong, that, had the "Hag" arrived, the marriage would have been
publicly prevented. But no one appeared that seemed to answer to
this idea of an available tenant; and all inquiry of Mr. Hawkins as
to his intention in building a house, and not renting it, or
occupying it, failed to elicit any further information. The
reasons that he gave were felt to be vague, evasive, and
unsatisfactory. He was in no hurry to move, he said. When he WAS
ready, it surely was not strange that he should like to have his
house all ready to receive him. He was often seen upon the
veranda, of a summer evening, smoking a cigar. It is reported that
one night the house was observed to be brilliantly lighted from
garret to basement; that a neighbor, observing this, crept toward
the open parlor-window, and, looking in, espied the "Fool"
accurately dressed in evening costume, lounging upon a sofa in the
drawing-room, with the easy air of socially entertaining a large
party. Notwithstanding this, the house was unmistakably vacant
that evening, save for the presence of the owner, as the witness
afterward testified. When this story was first related, a few
practical men suggested the theory that Mr. Hawkins was simply
drilling himself in the elaborate duties of hospitality against a
probable event in his history. A few ventured the belief that the
house was haunted. The imaginative editor of the Five Forks
"Record" evolved from the depths of his professional consciousness
a story that Hawkins's sweetheart had died, and that he regularly
entertained her spirit in this beautifully furnished mausoleum.
The occasional spectacle of Hawkins's tall figure pacing the
veranda on moonlight nights lent some credence to this theory,
until an unlooked-for incident diverted all speculation into
It was about this time that a certain wild, rude valley, in the
neighborhood of Five Forks, had become famous as a picturesque
resort. Travellers had visited it, and declared that there were
more cubic yards of rough stone cliff, and a waterfall of greater
height, than any they had visited. Correspondents had written it
up with extravagant rhetoric and inordinate poetical quotation.
Men and women who had never enjoyed a sunset, a tree, or a flower,
who had never appreciated the graciousness or meaning of the yellow
sunlight that flecked their homely doorways, or the tenderness of a
midsummer's night, to whose moonlight they bared their shirt-
sleeves or their tulle dresses, came from thousands of miles away
to calculate the height of this rock, to observe the depth of this
chasm, to remark upon the enormous size of this unsightly tree, and
to believe with ineffable self-complacency that they really admired
Nature. And so it came to pass, that, in accordance with the
tastes or weaknesses of the individual, the more prominent and
salient points of the valley were christened; and there was a "Lace
Handkerchief Fall," and the "Tears of Sympathy Cataract," and one
distinguished orator's "Peak," and several "Mounts" of various
noted people, living or dead, and an "Exclamation-Point," and a
"Valley of Silent Adoration." And, in course of time, empty soda-
water bottles were found at the base of the cataract, and greasy
newspapers, and fragments of ham-sandwiches, lay at the dusty roots
of giant trees. With this, there were frequent irruptions of
closely-shaven and tightly-cravated men, and delicate, flower-faced
women, in the one long street of Five Forks, and a scampering of
mules, and an occasional procession of dusty brown-linen cavalry.
A year after "Hawkins's Idiot Asylum" was completed, one day there
drifted into the valley a riotous cavalcade of "school-marms,"
teachers of the San Francisco public schools, out for a holiday.
Not severely-spectacled Minervas, and chastely armed and mailed
Pallases, but, I fear, for the security of Five Forks, very human,
charming, and mischievous young women. At least, so the men
thought, working in the ditches, and tunnelling on the hillside;
and when, in the interests of science, and the mental advancement
of juvenile posterity, it was finally settled that they should stay
in Five Forks two or three days for the sake of visiting the
various mines, and particularly the "Blazing Star" tunnel, there
was some flutter of masculine anxiety. There was a considerable
inquiry for "store-clothes," a hopeless overhauling of old and
disused raiment, and a general demand fox "boiled shirts" and the
Meanwhile, with that supreme audacity and impudent hardihood of the
sex when gregarious, the school-marms rode through the town,
admiring openly the handsome faces and manly figures that looked up
from the ditches, or rose behind the cars of ore at the mouths of
tunnels. Indeed, it is alleged that Jenny Forester, backed and
supported by seven other equally shameless young women, had openly
and publicly waved her handkerchief to the florid Hercules of Five
Forks, one Tom Flynn, formerly of Virginia, leaving that good-
natured but not over-bright giant pulling his blonde mustaches in
It was a pleasant June afternoon that Miss Milly Arnot, principal
of the primary department of one of the public schools of San
Francisco, having evaded her companions, resolved to put into
operation a plan which had lately sprung up in her courageous and
mischief-loving fancy. With that wonderful and mysterious instinct
of her sex, from whom no secrets of the affections are hid, and to
whom all hearts are laid open, she had heard the story of Hawkins's
folly, and the existence of the "Idiot Asylum." Alone, on Hawkins
Hill, she had determined to penetrate its seclusion. Skirting the
underbrush at the foot of the hill, she managed to keep the
heaviest timber between herself and the "Blazing Star" tunnel at
its base, as well as the cabin of Hawkins, half-way up the ascent,
until, by a circuitous route, at last she reached, unobserved, the
summit. Before her rose, silent, darkened, and motionless, the
object of her search. Here her courage failed her, with all the
characteristic inconsequence of her sex. A sudden fear of all the
dangers she had safely passed--bears, tarantulas, drunken men, and
lizards--came upon her. For a moment, as she afterward expressed
it, "she thought she should die." With this belief, probably, she
gathered three large stones, which she could hardly lift, for the
purpose of throwing a great distance; put two hair-pins in her
mouth; and carefully re-adjusted with both hands two stray braids
of her lovely blue-black mane, which had fallen in gathering the
stones. Then she felt in the pockets of her linen duster for her
card-case, handkerchief, pocketbook, and smelling-bottle, and,
finding them intact, suddenly assumed an air of easy, ladylike
unconcern, went up the steps of the veranda, and demurely pulled
the front doorbell, which she knew would not be answered. After a
decent pause, she walked around the encompassing veranda, examining
the closed shutters of the French windows until she found one that
yielded to her touch. Here she paused again to adjust her
coquettish hat by the mirror-like surface of the long sash-window,
that reflected the full length of her pretty figure. And then she
opened the window, and entered the room.
Although long closed, the house had a smell of newness and of fresh
paint, that was quite unlike the mouldiness of the conventional
haunted house. The bright carpets, the cheerful walls, the
glistening oil-cloths, were quite inconsistent with the idea of a
ghost. With childish curiosity, she began to explore the silent
house, at first timidly,--opening the doors with a violent push,
and then stepping back from the threshold to make good a possible
retreat,--and then more boldly, as she became convinced of her
security and absolute loneliness. In one of the chambers--the
largest--there were fresh flowers in a vase, evidently gathered
that morning; and, what seemed still more remarkable, the pitchers
and ewers were freshly filled with water. This obliged Miss Milly
to notice another singular fact, namely, that the house was free
from dust, the one most obtrusive and penetrating visitor of Five
Forks. The floors and carpets had been recently swept, the chairs
and furniture carefully wiped and dusted. If the house WAS
haunted, it was possessed by a spirit who had none of the usual
indifference to decay and mould. And yet the beds had evidently
never been slept in, the very springs of the chair in which she sat
creaked stiffly at the novelty; the closet-doors opened with the
reluctance of fresh paint and varnish; and in spite of the warmth,
cleanliness, and cheerfulness of furniture and decoration, there
was none of the ease of tenancy and occupation. As Miss Milly
afterward confessed, she longed to "tumble things around;" and,
when she reached the parlor or drawing-room again, she could hardly
resist the desire. Particularly was she tempted by a closed piano,
that stood mutely against the wall. She thought she would open it
just to see who was the maker. That done, it would be no harm to
try its tone. She did so, with one little foot on the soft pedal.
But Miss Milly was too good a player, and too enthusiastic a
musician, to stop at half-measures. She tried it again, this time
so sincerely, that the whole house seemed to spring into voice.
Then she stopped and listened. There was no response: the empty
rooms seemed to have relapsed into their old stillness. She
stepped out on the veranda. A woodpecker recommenced his tapping
on an adjacent tree: the rattle of a cart in the rocky gulch below
the hill came faintly up. No one was to be seen far or near. Miss
Milly, re-assured, returned. She again ran her fingers over the
keys, stopped, caught at a melody running in her mind, half played
it, and then threw away all caution. Before five minutes had
elapsed, she had entirely forgotten herself, and with her linen
duster thrown aside, her straw hat flung on the piano, her white
hands bared, and a black loop of her braided hair hanging upon her
shoulder, was fairly embarked upon a flowing sea of musical
She had played, perhaps, half an hour, when having just finished an
elaborate symphony, and resting her hands on the keys, she heard
very distinctly and unmistakably the sound of applause from
without. In an instant the fires of shame and indignation leaped
into her cheeks; and she rose from the instrument, and ran to the
window, only in time to catch sight of a dozen figures in blue and
red flannel shirts vanishing hurriedly through the trees below.
Miss Milly's mind was instantly made up. I think I have already
intimated, that, under the stimulus of excitement, she was not
wanting in courage; and as she quietly resumed her gloves, hat, and
duster, she was not, perhaps, exactly the young person that it
would be entirely safe for the timid, embarrassed, or inexperienced
of my sex to meet alone. She shut down the piano; and having
carefully reclosed all the windows and doors, and restored the
house to its former desolate condition, she stepped from the
veranda, and proceeded directly to the cabin of the unintellectual
Hawkins, that reared its adobe chimney above the umbrage a quarter
of a mile below.
The door opened instantly to her impulsive knock, and the "Fool of
Five Forks" stood before her. Miss Milly had never before seen the
man designated by this infelicitous title; and as he stepped
backward, in half courtesy and half astonishment, she was, for the
moment, disconcerted. He was tall, finely formed, and dark-
bearded. Above cheeks a little hollowed by care and ill-health
shone a pair of hazel eyes, very large, very gentle, but
inexpressibly sad and mournful. This was certainly not the kind
of man Miss Milly had expected to see; yet, after her first
embarrassment had passed, the very circumstance, oddly enough,
added to her indignation, and stung her wounded pride still more
deeply. Nevertheless, the arch hypocrite instantly changed her
tactics with the swift intuition of her sex.
"I have come," she said with a dazzling smile, infinitely more
dangerous than her former dignified severity,--"I have come to ask
your pardon for a great liberty I have just taken. I believe the
new house above us on the hill is yours. I was so much pleased
with its exterior, that I left my friends for a moment below here,"
she continued artfully, with a slight wave of the hand, as if
indicating a band of fearless Amazons without, and waiting to
avenge any possible insult offered to one of their number, "and
ventured to enter it. Finding it unoccupied, as I had been told, I
am afraid I had the audacity to sit down and amuse myself for a few
moments at the piano, while waiting for my friends."
Hawkins raised his beautiful eyes to hers. He saw a very pretty
girl, with frank gray eyes glistening with excitement, with two
red, slightly freckled cheeks glowing a little under his eyes, with
a short scarlet upper-lip turned back, like a rose-leaf, over a
little line of white teeth, as she breathed somewhat hurriedly in
her nervous excitement. He saw all this calmly, quietly, and, save
for the natural uneasiness of a shy, reticent man, I fear without a
quickening of his pulse.
"I knowed it," he said simply. "I heerd ye as I kem up."
Miss Milly was furious at his grammar, his dialect, his coolness,
and, still more, at the suspicion that he was an active member of
her in visible elaque.
"Ah!" she said, still smiling. "Then I think I heard YOU"--
"I reckon not," he interrupted gravely. "I didn't stay long. I
found the boys hanging round the house, and I allowed at first I'd
go in and kinder warn you; but they promised to keep still: and you
looked so comfortable, and wrapped up in your music, that I hadn't
the heart to disturb you, and kem away. I hope," he added
earnestly, "they didn't let on ez they heerd you. They ain't a bad
lot,--them Blazin' Star boys--though they're a little hard at
times. But they'd no more hurt ye then they would a--a--a cat!"
continued Mr. Hawkins, blushing with a faint apprehension of the
inelegance of his simile.
"No, no!" said Miss Milly, feeling suddenly very angry with
herself, the "Fool," and the entire male population of Five Forks.
"No! I have behaved foolishly, I suppose--and, if they HAD, it
would have served me right. But I only wanted to apologize to you.
You'll find every thing as you left it. Good-day!"
She turned to go. Mr. Hawkins began to feel embarrassed. "I'd
have asked ye to sit down," he said finally, "if it hed been a
place fit for a lady. I oughter done so, enny way. I don't know
what kept me from it. But I ain't well, miss. Times I get a sort
o' dumb ager,--it's the ditches, I think, miss,--and I don't seem
to hev my wits about me."
Instantly Miss Arnot was all sympathy: her quick woman's heart was
"Can I--can any thing be done?" she asked more timidly than she had
"No--not onless ye remember suthin' about these pills." He
exhibited a box containing about half a dozen. "I forget the
direction--I don't seem to remember much, any way, these times.
They're 'Jones's Vegetable Compound.' If ye've ever took 'em,
ye'll remember whether the reg'lar dose is eight. They ain't but
six here. But perhaps ye never tuk any," he added deprecatingly.
"No," said Miss Milly curtly. She had usually a keen sense of the
ludicrous; but somehow Mr. Hawkins's eccentricity only pained her.
"Will you let me see you to the foot of the hill?" he said again,
after another embarrassing pause.
Miss Arnot felt instantly that such an act would condone her
trespass in the eyes of the world. She might meet some of her
invisible admirers, or even her companions; and, with all her
erratic impulses, she was, nevertheless, a woman, and did not
entirely despise the verdict of conventionality. She smiled
sweetly, and assented; and in another moment the two were lost in
the shadows of the wood.
Like many other apparently trivial acts in an uneventful life, it
was decisive. As she expected, she met two or three of her late
applauders, whom, she fancied, looked sheepish and embarrassed; she
met, also, her companions looking for her in some alarm, who really
appeared astonished at her escort, and, she fancied, a trifle
envious of her evident success. I fear that Miss Arnot, in
response to their anxious inquiries, did not state entirely the
truth, but, without actual assertion, led them to believe that she
had, at a very early stage of the proceeding, completely subjugated
this weak-minded giant, and had brought him triumphantly to her
feet. From telling this story two or three times, she got finally
to believing that she had some foundation for it, then to a vague
sort of desire that it would eventually prove to be true, and then
to an equally vague yearning to hasten that consummation. That it
would redound to any satisfaction of the "Fool" she did not stop to
doubt. That it would cure him of his folly she was quite confident.
Indeed, there are very few of us, men or women, who do not believe
that even a hopeless love for ourselves is more conducive to the
salvation of the lover than a requited affection for another.
The criticism of Five Forks was, as the reader may imagine, swift
and conclusive. When it was found out that Miss Arnot was not the
"Hag" masquerading as a young and pretty girl, to the ultimate
deception of Five Forks in general, and the "Fool" in particular,
it was at once decided that nothing but the speedy union of the
"Fool" and the "pretty school-marm" was consistent with ordinary
common sense. The singular good-fortune of Hawkins was quite in
accordance with the theory of his luck as propounded by the camp.
That, after the "Hag" failed to make her appearance, he should
"strike a lead" in his own house, without the trouble of
"prospectin'," seemed to these casuists as a wonderful but
inevitable law. To add to these fateful probabilities, Miss Arnot
fell, and sprained her ankle, in the ascent of Mount Lincoln, and
was confined for some weeks to the hotel after her companions had
departed. During this period, Hawkins was civilly but grotesquely
attentive. When, after a reasonable time had elapsed, there still
appeared to be no immediate prospect of the occupancy of the new
house, public opinion experienced a singular change in regard to
its theories of Mr. Hawkins's conduct. The "Hag" was looked upon
as a saint-like and long-suffering martyr to the weaknesses and
inconsistency of the "Fool." That, after erecting this new house
at her request, he had suddenly "gone back" on her; that his
celibacy was the result of a long habit of weak proposal and
subsequent shameless rejection; and that he was now trying his hand
on the helpless schoolmarm, was perfectly plain to Five Forks.
That he should be frustrated in his attempts at any cost was
equally plain. Miss Milly suddenly found herself invested with a
rude chivalry that would have been amusing, had it not been at
times embarrassing; that would have been impertinent, but for the
almost superstitious respect with which it was proffered. Every
day somebody from Five Forks rode out to inquire the health of the
fair patient. "Hez Hawkins bin over yer to-day?" queried Tom
Flynn, with artful ease and indifference, as he leaned over Miss
Milly's easy-chair on the veranda. Miss Milly, with a faint pink
flush on her cheek, was constrained to answer, "No." "Well, he
sorter sprained his foot agin a rock yesterday," continued Flynn
with shameless untruthfulness. "You mus'n't think any thing o'
that, Miss Arnot. He'll be over yer to-morrer; and meantime he
told me to hand this yer bookay with his re-gards, and this yer
specimen." And Mr. Flynn laid down the flowers he had picked en
route against such an emergency, and presented respectfully a piece
of quartz and gold, which he had taken that morning from his own
sluice-box. "You mus'n't mind Hawkins's ways, Miss Milly," said
another sympathizing miner. "There ain't a better man in camp than
that theer Cy Hawkins--but he don't understand the ways o' the
world with wimen. He hasn't mixed as much with society as the rest
of us," he added, with an elaborate Chesterfieldian ease of manner;
"but he means well." Meanwhile a few other sympathetic tunnelmen
were impressing upon Mr. Hawkins the necessity of the greatest
attention to the invalid. "It won't do, Hawkins," they explained,
"to let that there gal go back to San Francisco and say, that, when
she was sick and alone, the only man in Five Forks under whose roof
she had rested, and at whose table she had sat" (this was
considered a natural but pardonable exaggeration of rhetoric) "ever
threw off on her; and it sha'n't be done. It ain't the square
thing to Five Forks." And then the "Fool" would rush away to the
valley, and be received by Miss Milly with a certain reserve of
manner that finally disappeared in a flush of color, some increased
vivacity, and a pardonable coquetry. And so the days passed. Miss
Milly grew better in health, and more troubled in mind; and Mr.
Hawkins became more and more embarrassed; and Five Forks smiled,
and rubbed its hands, and waited for the approaching denoument.
And then it came--but not, perhaps, in the manner that Five Forks
It was a lovely afternoon in July that a party of Eastern tourists
rode into Five Forks. They had just "done" the Valley of Big
Things; and, there being one or two Eastern capitalists among the
party, it was deemed advisable that a proper knowledge of the
practical mining-resources of California should be added to their
experience of the merely picturesque in Nature. Thus far every
thing had been satisfactory; the amount of water which passed over
the Fall was large, owing to a backward season; some snow still
remained in the canyons near the highest peaks; they had ridden
round one of the biggest trees, and through the prostrate trunk of
another. To say that they were delighted is to express feebly the
enthusiasm of these ladies and gentlemen, drunk with the champagny
hospitality of their entertainers, the utter novelty of scene, and
the dry, exhilarating air of the valley. One or two had already
expressed themselves ready to live and die there; another had
written a glowing account to the Eastern press, depreciating all
other scenery in Europe and America; and, under these circumstances,
it was reasonably expected that Five Forks would do its duty,
and equally impress the stranger after its own fashion.
Letters to this effect were sent from San Francisco by prominent
capitalists there; and, under the able superintendence of one of
their agents, the visitors were taken in hand, shown "what was to
be seen," carefully restrained from observing what ought not to be
visible, and so kept in a blissful and enthusiastic condition. And
so the graveyard of Five Forks, in which but two of the occupants
had died natural deaths; the dreary, ragged cabins on the
hillsides, with their sad-eyed, cynical, broken-spirited occupants,
toiling on day by day for a miserable pittance, and a fare that a
self-respecting Eastern mechanic would have scornfully rejected,--
were not a part of the Eastern visitors' recollection. But the
hoisting works and machinery of the "Blazing Star Tunnel Company"
was,--the Blazing Star Tunnel Company, whose "gentlemanly
superintendent" had received private information from San Francisco
to do the "proper thing" for the party. Wherefore the valuable
heaps of ore in the company's works were shown; the oblong bars of
gold, ready for shipment, were playfully offered to the ladies who
could lift and carry them away unaided; and even the tunnel itself,
gloomy, fateful, and peculiar, was shown as part of the experience;
and, in the noble language of one correspondent, "The wealth of
Five Forks, and the peculiar inducements that it offered to Eastern
capitalists," were established beyond a doubt. And then occurred a
little incident, which, as an unbiassed spectator, I am free to say
offered no inducements to anybody whatever, but which, for its
bearing upon the central figure of this veracious chronicle, I
cannot pass over.
It had become apparent to one or two more practical and sober-
minded in the party, that certain portions of the "Blazing Star"
tunnel (owing, perhaps, to the exigencies of a flattering annual
dividend) were economically and imperfectly "shored" and supported,
and were, consequently, unsafe, insecure, and to be avoided.
Nevertheless, at a time when champagne corks were popping in dark
corners, and enthusiastic voices and happy laughter rang through
the half-lighted levels and galleries, there came a sudden and
mysterious silence. A few lights dashed swiftly by in the
direction of a distant part of the gallery, and then there was a
sudden sharp issuing of orders, and a dull, ominous rumble. Some
of the visitors turned pale: one woman fainted.
Something had happened. What? "Nothing" (the speaker is fluent,
but uneasy)--"one of the gentlemen, in trying to dislodge a
'specimen' from the wall, had knocked away a support. There had
been a 'cave'--the gentleman was caught, and buried below his
shoulders. It was all right, they'd get him out in a moment--only
it required great care to keep from extending the 'cave.' Didn't
know his name. It was that little man, the husband of that lively
lady with the black eyes. Eh! Hullo, there! Stop her! For God's
sake! Not that way! She'll fall from that shaft. She'll be
But the lively lady was already gone. With staring black eyes,
imploringly trying to pierce the gloom, with hands and feet that
sought to batter and break down the thick darkness, with incoherent
cries and supplications following the moving of ignis fatuus lights
ahead, she ran, and ran swiftly!--ran over treacherous foundations,
ran by yawning gulfs, ran past branching galleries and arches, ran
wildly, ran despairingly, ran blindly, and at last ran into the
arms of the "Fool of Five Forks."
In an instant she caught at his hand. "Oh, save him!" she cried.
"You belong here; you know this dreadful place: bring me to him.
Tell me where to go, and what to do, I implore you! Quick, he is
He raised his eyes to hers, and then, with a sudden cry, dropped
the rope and crowbar he was carrying, and reeled against the wall.
"Annie!" he gasped slowly. "Is it you?"
She caught at both his hands, brought her face to his with staring
eyes, murmured, "Good God, Cyrus!" and sank upon her knees before
He tried to disengage the hand that she wrung with passionate