Part 3 out of 4
"No, no! Cyrus, you will forgive me--you will forget the past!
God has sent you here to-day. You will come with me. You will--
you must--save him!"
"Save who?" cried Cyrus hoarsely.
The blow was so direct, so strong and overwhelming, that, even
through her own stronger and more selfish absorption, she saw it in
the face of the man, and pitied him.
"I thought--you--knew--it," she faltered.
He did not speak, but looked at her with fixed, dumb eyes. And
then the sound of distant voices and hurrying feet started her
again into passionate life. She once more caught his hand.
"O Cyrus, hear me! If you have loved me through all these years,
you will not fail me now. You must save him! You can! You are
brave and strong--you always were, Cyrus. You will save him,
Cyrus, for my sake, for the sake of your love for me! You will--
I know it. God bless you!"
She rose as if to follow him, but, at a gesture of command, she
stood still. He picked up the rope and crowbar slowly, and in a
dazed, blinded way, that, in her agony of impatience and alarm,
seemed protracted to cruel infinity. Then he turned, and, raising
her hand to his lips, kissed it slowly, looked at her again, and
the next moment was gone.
He did not return; for at the end of the next half-hour, when they
laid before her the half-conscious, breathing body of her husband,
safe and unharmed, but for exhaustion and some slight bruises, she
learned that the worst fears of the workmen had been realized. In
releasing him, a second cave had taken place. They had barely time
to snatch away the helpless body of her husband, before the strong
frame of his rescuer, Cyrus Hawkins, was struck and smitten down in
For two hours he lay there, crushed and broken-limbed, with a heavy
beam lying across his breast, in sight of all, conscious and
patient. For two hours they had labored around him, wildly,
despairingly, hopefully, with the wills of gods and the strength of
giants; and at the end of that time they came to an upright timber,
which rested its base upon the beam. There was a cry for axes, and
one was already swinging in the air, when the dying man called to
"Don't cut that upright!"
"It will bring down the whole gallery with it."
"It's one of the foundations of my house."
The axe fell from the workman's hand, and with a blanched face he
turned to his fellows. It was too true. They were in the
uppermost gallery; and the "cave" had taken place directly below
the new house. After a pause, the "Fool" spoke again more feebly.
They brought her,--a wretched, fainting creature, with pallid face
and streaming eyes,--and fell back as she bent her face above him.
"It was built for you, Annie darling," he said in a hurried
whisper, "and has been waiting up there for you and me all these
long days. it's deeded to you, Annie; and you must--live there--
with HIM! He will not mind that I shall be always near you; for it
stands above--my grave."
And he was right. In a few minutes later, when he had passed away,
they did not move him, but sat by his body all night with a torch
at his feet and head. And the next day they walled up the gallery
as a vault; but they put no mark or any sign thereon, trusting,
rather, to the monument, that, bright and cheerful, rose above him
in the sunlight of the hill. And those who heard the story said,
"This is not an evidence of death and gloom and sorrow, as are
other monuments, but is a sign of life and light and hope,
wherefore shall all know that he who lies under it is what men
It was at a little mining-camp in the California Sierras that he
first dawned upon me in all his grotesque sweetness.
I had arrived early in the morning, but not in time to intercept
the friend who was the object of my visit. He had gone
"prospecting,"--so they told me on the river,--and would not
probably return until late in the afternoon. They could not say
what direction he had taken; they could not suggest that I would be
likely to find him if I followed. But it was the general opinion
that I had better wait.
I looked around me. I was standing upon the bank of the river;
and apparently the only other human beings in the world were my
interlocutors, who were even then just disappearing from my
horizon, down the steep bank, toward the river's dry bed. I
approached the edge of the bank.
Where could I wait?
Oh! anywhere,--down with them on the river-bar, where they were
working, if I liked. Or I could make myself at home in any of
those cabins that I found lying round loose. Or perhaps it would
be cooler and pleasanter for me in my friend's cabin on the hill.
Did I see those three large sugar-pines, and, a little to the
right, a canvas roof and chimney, over the bushes? Well, that was
my friend's,--that was Dick Sylvester's cabin. I could stake my
horse in that little hollow, and just hang round there till he
came. I would find some books in the shanty. I could amuse myself
with them or I could play with the baby.
But they had already gone. I leaned over the bank, and called
after their vanishing figures,--"What did you say I could do?" The
answer floated slowly up on the hot, sluggish air,--
"Pla-a-y with the ba-by."
The lazy echoes took it up, and tossed it languidly from hill to
hill, until Bald Mountain opposite made some incoherent remark
about the baby; and then all was still.
I must have been mistaken. My friend was not a man of family;
there was not a woman within forty miles of the river camp; he
never was so passionately devoted to children as to import a luxury
so expensive. I must have been mistaken.
I turned my horse's head toward the hill. As we slowly climbed the
narrow trail, the little settlement might have been some exhumed
Pompeiian suburb, so deserted and silent were its habitations. The
open doors plainly disclosed each rudely-furnished interior,--the
rough pine table, with the scant equipage of the morning meal still
standing; the wooden bunk, with its tumbled and dishevelled
blankets. A golden lizard, the very genius of desolate stillness,
had stopped breathless upon the threshold of one cabin; a squirrel
peeped impudently into the window of another; a woodpecker, with
the general flavor of undertaking which distinguishes that bird,
withheld his sepulchral hammer from the coffin-lid of the roof on
which he was professionally engaged, as we passed. For a moment I
half regretted that I had not accepted the invitation to the river-
bed; but, the next moment, a breeze swept up the long, dark canyon,
and the waiting files of the pines beyond bent toward me in
salutation. I think my horse understood, as well as myself, that
it was the cabins that made the solitude human, and therefore
unbearable; for he quickened his pace, and with a gentle trot
brought me to the edge of the wood, and the three pines that stood
like vedettes before the Sylvester outpost.
Unsaddling my horse in the little hollow, I unslung the long riata
from the saddle-bow, and, tethering him to a young sapling, turned
toward the cabin. But I had gone only a few steps, when I heard a
quick trot behind me; and poor Pomposo, with every fibre tingling
with fear, was at my heels. I looked hurriedly around. The breeze
had died away; and only an occasional breath from the deep-chested
woods, more like a long sigh than any articulate sound, or the dry
singing of a cicala in the heated canyon, were to be heard. I
examined the ground carefully for rattlesnakes, but in vain. Yet
here was Pomposo shivering from his arched neck to his sensitive
haunches, his very flanks pulsating with terror. I soothed him as
well as I could, and then walked to the edge of the wood, and
peered into its dark recesses. The bright flash of a bird's wing,
or the quick dart of a squirrel, was all I saw. I confess it was
with something of superstitious expectation that I again turned
towards the cabin. A fairy-child, attended by Titania and her
train, lying in an expensive cradle, would not have surprised me: a
Sleeping Beauty, whose awakening would have repeopled these
solitudes with life and energy, I am afraid I began to confidently
look for, and would have kissed without hesitation.
But I found none of these. Here was the evidence of my friend's
taste and refinement, in the hearth swept scrupulously clean, in
the picturesque arrangement of the fur-skins that covered the floor
and furniture, and the striped serape lying on the wooden couch.
Here were the walls fancifully papered with illustrations from "The
London News;" here was the woodcut portrait of Mr. Emerson over the
chimney, quaintly framed with blue-jays' wings; here were his few
favorite books on the swinging-shelf; and here, lying upon the
couch, the latest copy of "Punch." Dear Dick! The flour-sack was
sometimes empty; but the gentle satirist seldom missed his weekly
I threw myself on the couch, and tried to read. But I soon
exhausted my interest in my friend's library, and lay there staring
through the open door on the green hillside beyond. The breeze
again sprang up; and a delicious coolness, mixed with the rare
incense of the woods, stole through the cabin. The slumbrous
droning of bumblebees outside the canvas roof, the faint cawing of
rooks on the opposite mountain, and the fatigue of my morning ride,
began to droop my eyelids. I pulled the serape over me, as a
precaution against the freshening mountain breeze, and in a few
moments was asleep.
I do not remember how long I slept. I must have been conscious,
however, during my slumber, of my inability to keep myself covered
by the serape; for I awoke once or twice, clutching it with a
despairing hand as it was disappearing over the foot of the couch.
Then I became suddenly aroused to the fact that my efforts to
retain it were resisted by some equally persistent force; and,
letting it go, I was horrified at seeing it swiftly drawn under the
couch. At this point I sat up, completely awake; for immediately
after, what seemed to be an exaggerated muff began to emerge from
under the couch. Presently it appeared fully, dragging the serape
after it. There was no mistaking it now: it was a baby-bear,--a
mere suckling, it was true, a helpless roll of fat and fur, but
unmistakably a grizzly cub!
I cannot recall any thing more irresistibly ludicrous than its
aspect as it slowly raised its small, wondering eyes to mine. It
was so much taller on its haunches than its shoulders, its forelegs
were so disproportionately small, that, in walking, its hind-feet
invariably took precedence. It was perpetually pitching forward
over its pointed, inoffensive nose, and recovering itself always,
after these involuntary somersaults with the gravest astonishment.
To add to its preposterous appearance, one of its hind-feet was
adorned by a shoe of Sylvester's, into which it had accidentally
and inextricably stepped. As this somewhat impeded its first
impulse to fly, it turned to me; and then, possibly recognizing in
the stranger the same species as its master, it paused. Presently
it slowly raised itself on its hind-legs, and vaguely and
deprecatingly waved a baby-paw, fringed with little hooks of steel.
I took the paw, and shook it gravely. From that moment we were
friends. The little affair of the serape was forgotten.
Nevertheless, I was wise enough to cement our friendship by an act
of delicate courtesy. Following the direction of his eyes, I had
no difficulty in finding on a shelf near the ridge-pole the sugar-
box and the square lumps of white sugar that even the poorest miner
is never without. While he was eating them, I had time to examine
him more closely. His body was a silky, dark, but exquisitely-
modulated gray, deepening to black in his paws and muzzle. His fur
was excessively long, thick, and soft as eider-down; the cushions
of flesh beneath perfectly infantine in their texture and contour.
He was so very young, that the palms of his half-human feet were
still tender as a baby's. Except for the bright blue, steely
hooks, half sheathed in his little toes, there was not a single
harsh outline or detail in his plump figure. He was as free from
angles as one of Leda's offspring. Your caressing hand sank away
in his fur with dreamy languor. To look at him long was an
intoxication of the senses; to pat him was a wild delirium; to
embrace him, an utter demoralization of the intellectual faculties.
When he had finished the sugar, he rolled out of the door with a
half-diffident, half-inviting look in his eyes as if he expected me
to follow. I did so; but the sniffing and snorting of the keen-
scented Pomposo in the hollow not only revealed the cause of his
former terror, but decided me to take another direction. After a
moment's hesitation, he concluded to go with me, although I am
satisfied, from a certain impish look in his eye, that he fully
understood and rather enjoyed the fright of Pomposo. As he rolled
along at my side, with a gait not unlike a drunken sailor, I
discovered that his long hair concealed a leather collar around his
neck, which bore for its legend the single word "Baby!" I recalled
the mysterious suggestion of the two miners. This, then, was the
"baby" with whom I was to "play."
How we "played;" how Baby allowed me to roll him down hill,
crawling and puffing up again each time with perfect good-humor;
how he climbed a young sapling after my Panama hat, which I had
"shied" into one of the topmost branches; how, after getting it, he
refused to descend until it suited his pleasure; how, when he did
come down, he persisted in walking about on three legs, carrying my
hat, a crushed and shapeless mass, clasped to his breast with the
remaining one; how I missed him at last, and finally discovered him
seated on a table in one of the tenantless cabins, with a bottle of
sirup between his paws, vainly endeavoring to extract its
contents,--these and other details of that eventful day I shall not
weary the reader with now. Enough that, when Dick Sylvester
returned, I was pretty well fagged out, and the baby was rolled up,
an immense bolster, at the foot of the couch, asleep. Sylvester's
first words after our greeting were,--
"Isn't he delicious?"
"Perfectly. Where did you get him?"
"Lying under his dead mother, five miles from here," said Dick,
lighting his pipe. "Knocked her over at fifty yards: perfectly
clean shot; never moved afterwards. Baby crawled out, scared, but
unhurt. She must have been carrying him in her mouth, and dropped
him when she faced me; for he wasn't more than three days old, and
not steady on his pins. He takes the only milk that comes to the
settlement, brought up by Adams Express at seven o'clock every
morning. They say he looks like me. Do you think so?" asked Dick
with perfect gravity, stroking his hay-colored mustachios, and
evidently assuming his best expression.
I took leave of the baby early the next morning in Sylvester's
cabin, and, out of respect to Pomposo's feelings, rode by without
any postscript of expression. But the night before I had made
Sylvester solemnly swear, that, in the event of any separation
between himself and Baby, it should revert to me. "At the same
time," he had added, "it's only fair to say that I don't think of
dying just yet, old fellow; and I don't know of any thing else that
would part the cub and me."
Two months after this conversation, as I was turning over the
morning's mail at my office in San Francisco, I noticed a letter
bearing Sylvester's familiar hand. But it was post-marked
"Stockton," and I opened it with some anxiety at once. Its
contents were as follows:--
"O FRANK!--Don't you remember what we agreed upon anent the baby?
Well, consider me as dead for the next six months, or gone where
cubs can't follow me,--East. I know you love the baby; but do you
think, dear boy,--now, really, do you think you COULD be a father
to it? Consider this well. You are young, thoughtless, well-
meaning enough; but dare you take upon yourself the functions of
guide, genius, or guardian to one so young and guileless? Could
you be the Mentor to this Telemachus? Think of the temptations of
a metropolis. Look at the question well, and let me know speedily;
for I've got him as far as this place, and he's kicking up an awful
row in the hotel-yard, and rattling his chain like a maniac. Let
me know by telegraph at once.
"P.S.--Of course he's grown a little, and doesn't take things
always as quietly as he did. He dropped rather heavily on two of
Watson's 'purps' last week, and snatched old Watson himself bald
headed, for interfering. You remember Watson? For an intelligent
man, he knows very little of California fauna. How are you fixed
for bears on Montgomery Street, I mean in regard to corrals and
"P.P.S.--He's got some new tricks. The boys have been teaching him
to put up his hands with them. He slings an ugly left. S."
I am afraid that my desire to possess myself of Baby overcame all
other considerations; and I telegraphed an affirmative at once to
Sylvester. When I reached my lodgings late that afternoon, my
landlady was awaiting me with a telegram. It was two lines from
"All right. Baby goes down on night-boat. Be a father to him.
It was due, then, at one o'clock that night. For a moment I was
staggered at my own precipitation. I had as yet made no
preparations, had said nothing to my landlady about her new guest.
I expected to arrange every thing in time; and now, through
Sylvester's indecent haste, that time had been shortened twelve
Something, however, must be done at once. I turned to Mrs. Brown.
I had great reliance in her maternal instincts: I had that still
greater reliance common to our sex in the general tender-
heartedness of pretty women. But I confess I was alarmed. Yet,
with a feeble smile, I tried to introduce the subject with
classical ease and lightness. I even said, "If Shakspeare's
Athenian clown, Mrs. Brown, believed that a lion among ladies was a
dreadful thing, what must"-- But here I broke down; for Mrs.
Brown, with the awful intuition of her sex, I saw at once was more
occupied with my manner than my speech. So I tried a business
brusquerie, and, placing the telegram in her hand, said hurriedly,
"We must do something about this at once. It's perfectly absurd;
but he will be here at one to-night. Beg thousand pardons; but
business prevented my speaking before"--and paused out of breath
Mrs. Brown read the telegram gravely, lifted her pretty eyebrows,
turned the paper over, and looked on the other side, and then, in a
remote and chilling voice, asked me if she understood me to say
that the mother was coming also.
"Oh, dear no!" I exclaimed with considerable relief. "The mother
is dead, you know. Sylvester, that is my friend who sent this,
shot her when the baby was only three days old." But the
expression of Mrs. Brown's face at this moment was so alarming,
that I saw that nothing but the fullest explanation would save me.
Hastily, and I fear not very coherently, I told her all.
She relaxed sweetly. She said I had frightened her with my talk
about lions. Indeed, I think my picture of poor Baby, albeit a
trifle highly colored, touched her motherly heart. She was even a
little vexed at what she called Sylvester's "hard-heartedness."
Still I was not without some apprehension. It was two months since
I had seen him; and Sylvester's vague allusion to his "slinging an
ugly left" pained me. I looked at sympathetic little Mrs. Brown;
and the thought of Watson's pups covered me with guilty confusion.
Mrs. Brown had agreed to sit up with me until he arrived. One
o'clock came, but no Baby. Two o'clock, three o'clock, passed. It
was almost four when there was a wild clatter of horses' hoofs
outside, and with a jerk a wagon stopped at the door. In an
instant I had opened it, and confronted a stranger. Almost at the
same moment, the horses attempted to run away with the wagon.
The stranger's appearance was, to say the least, disconcerting.
His clothes were badly torn and frayed; his linen sack hung from
his shoulders like a herald's apron; one of his hands was bandaged;
his face scratched; and there was no hat on his dishevelled head.
To add to the general effect, he had evidently sought relief from
his woes in drink; and he swayed from side to side as he clung to
the door-handle, and, in a very thick voice, stated that he had
"suthin" for me outside. When he had finished, the horses made
Mrs. Brown thought they must be frightened at something.
"Frightened!" laughed the stranger with bitter irony. "Oh, no!
Hossish ain't frightened! On'y ran away four timesh comin' here.
Oh, no! Nobody's frightened. Every thin's all ri'. Ain't it,
Bill?" he said, addressing the driver. "On'y been overboard twish;
knocked down a hatchway once. Thash nothin'! On'y two men unner
doctor's han's at Stockton. Thash nothin'! Six hunner dollarsh
cover all dammish."
I was too much disheartened to reply, but moved toward the wagon.
The stranger eyed me with an astonishment that almost sobered him.
"Do you reckon to tackle that animile yourself?" he asked, as he
surveyed me from head to foot.
I did not speak, but, with an appearance of boldness I was far from
feeling, walked to the wagon, and called "Baby!"
"All ri'. Cash loose them straps, Bill, and stan' clear."
The straps were cut loose; and Baby, the remorseless, the terrible,
quietly tumbled to the ground, and, rolling to my side, rubbed his
foolish head against me.
I think the astonishment of the two men was beyond any vocal
expression. Without a word, the drunken stranger got into the
wagon, and drove away.
And Baby? He had grown, it is true, a trifle larger; but he was
thin, and bore the marks of evident ill usage. His beautiful coat
was matted and unkempt; and his claws, those bright steel hooks,
had been ruthlessly pared to the quick. His eyes were furtive and
restless; and the old expression of stupid good humor had changed
to one of intelligent distrust. His intercourse with mankind had
evidently quickened his intellect, without broadening his moral
I had great difficulty in keeping Mrs. Brown from smothering him in
blankets, and ruining his digestion with the delicacies of her
larder; but I at last got him completely rolled up in the corner of
my room, and asleep. I lay awake some time later with plans for
his future. I finally determined to take him to Oakland--where I
had built a little cottage, and always spent my Sundays--the very
next day. And in the midst of a rosy picture of domestic felicity,
I fell asleep.
When I awoke, it was broad day. My eyes at once sought the corner
where Baby had been lying; but he was gone. I sprang from the bed,
looked under it, searched the closet, but in vain. The door was
still locked; but there were the marks of his blunted claws upon
the sill of the window that I had forgotten to close. He had
evidently escaped that way. But where? The window opened upon a
balcony, to which the only other entrance was through the hall. He
must be still in the house.
My hand was already upon the bell-rope; but I stayed it in time.
If he had not made himself known, why should I disturb the house?
I dressed myself hurriedly, and slipped into the hall. The first
object that met my eyes was a boot lying upon the stairs. It bore
the marks of Baby's teeth; and, as I looked along the hall, I saw
too plainly that the usual array of freshly-blackened boots and
shoes before the lodgers' doors was not there. As I ascended the
stairs, I found another, but with the blacking carefully licked
off. On the third floor were two or three more boots, slightly
mouthed; but at this point Baby's taste for blacking had evidently
palled. A little farther on was a ladder, leading to an open
scuttle. I mounted the ladder, and reached the flat roof, that
formed a continuous level over the row of houses to the corner of
the street. Behind the chimney on the very last roof, something
was lurking. It was the fugitive Baby. He was covered with dust
and dirt and fragments of glass. But he was sitting on his hind-
legs, and was eating an enormous slab of peanut candy, with a look
of mingled guilt and infinite satisfaction. He even, I fancied,
slightly stroked his stomach with his disengaged fore-paw as I
approached. He knew that I was looking for him; and the expression
of his eye said plainly, "The past, at least, is secure."
I hurried him, with the evidences of his guilt, back to the
scuttle, and descended on tiptoe to the floor beneath. Providence
favored us: I met no one on the stairs; and his own cushioned tread
was inaudible. I think he was conscious of the dangers of
detection; for he even forebore to breathe, or much less chew the
last mouthful he had taken; and he skulked at my side with the
sirup dropping from his motionless jaws. I think he would have
silently choked to death just then, for my sake; and it was not
until I had reached my room again, and threw myself panting on the
sofa, that I saw how near strangulation he had been. He gulped
once or twice apologetically, and then walked to the corner of his
own accord, and rolled himself up like an immense sugarplum,
sweating remorse and treacle at every pore.
I locked him in when I went to breakfast, when I found Mrs. Brown's
lodgers in a state of intense excitement over certain mysterious
events of the night before, and the dreadful revelations of the
morning. It appeared that burglars had entered the block from the
scuttles; that, being suddenly alarmed, they had quitted our house
without committing any depredation, dropping even the boots they
had collected in the halls; but that a desperate attempt had been
made to force the till in the confectioner's shop on the corner,
and that the glass show-cases had been ruthlessly smashed. A
courageous servant in No. 4 had seen a masked burglar, on his hands
and knees, attempting to enter their scuttle; but, on her shouting,
"Away wid yees!" he instantly fled.
I sat through this recital with cheeks that burned uncomfortably;
nor was I the less embarrassed, on raising my eyes, to meet Mrs.
Brown's fixed curiously and mischievously on mine. As soon as I
could make my escape from the table, I did so, and, running rapidly
up stairs, sought refuge from any possible inquiry in my own room.
Baby was still asleep in the corner. It would not be safe to
remove him until the lodgers had gone down town; and I was
revolving in my mind the expediency of keeping him until night
veiled his obtrusive eccentricity from the public eye, when there
came a cautious tap at my door. I opened it. Mrs. Brown slipped
in quietly, closed the door softly, stood with her back against it,
and her hand on the knob, and beckoned me mysteriously towards her.
Then she asked in a low voice,--
"Is hair-dye poisonous?"
I was too confounded to speak.
"Oh, do! you know what I mean," she said impatiently. "This
stuff." She produced suddenly from behind her a bottle with a
Greek label so long as to run two or three times spirally around it
from top to bottom. "He says it isn't a dye: it's a vegetable
preparation, for invigorating"--
"Who says?" I asked despairingly.
"Why, Mr. Parker, of course!" said Mrs. Brown severely, with the
air of having repeated the name a great many times,--"the old
gentleman in the room above. The simple question I want to ask,"
she continued with the calm manner of one who has just convicted
another of gross ambiguity of language, "is only this: If some of
this stuff were put in a saucer, and left carelessly on the table,
and a child, or a baby, or a cat, or any young animal, should come
in at the window, and drink it up,--a whole saucer full,--because
it had a sweet taste, would it be likely to hurt them?"
I cast an anxious glance at Baby, sleeping peacefully in the
corner, and a very grateful one at Mrs. Brown, and said I didn't
think it would.
"Because," said Mrs. Brown loftily as she opened the door, "I
thought, if it was poisonous, remedies might be used in time.
Because," she added suddenly, abandoning her lofty manner, and
wildly rushing to the corner with a frantic embrace of the
unconscious Baby, "because, if any nasty stuff should turn its
booful hair a horrid green, or a naughty pink, it would break its
own muzzer's heart, it would!"
But, before I could assure Mrs. Brown of the inefficiency of hair-
dye as an internal application, she had darted from the room.
That night, with the secrecy of defaulters, Baby and I decamped
from Mrs. Brown's. Distrusting the too emotional nature of that
noble animal, the horse, I had recourse to a handcart, drawn by a
stout Irishman, to convey my charge to the ferry. Even then, Baby
refused to go, unless I walked by the cart, and at times rode in it.
"I wish," said Mrs. Brown, as she stood by the door, wrapped in an
immense shawl, and saw us depart, "I wish it looked less solemn,--
less like a pauper's funeral."
I must admit, that, as I walked by the cart that night, I felt very
much as if I were accompanying the remains of some humble friend to
his last resting-place; and that, when I was obliged to ride in it,
I never could entirely convince myself that I was not helplessly
overcome by liquor, or the victim of an accident, en route to the
hospital. But at last we reached the ferry. On the boat, I think
no one discovered Baby, except a drunken man, who approached me to
ask for a light for his cigar, but who suddenly dropped it, and
fled in dismay to the gentlemen's cabin, where his incoherent
ravings were luckily taken for the earlier indications of delirium
It was nearly midnight when I reached my little cottage on the
outskirts of Oakland; and it was with a feeling of relief and
security that I entered, locked the door, and turned him loose in
the hall, satisfied that henceforward his depredations would be
limited to my own property. He was very quiet that night; and
after he had tried to mount the hatrack, under the mistaken
impression that it was intended for his own gymnastic exercise, and
knocked all the hats off, he went peaceably to sleep on the rug.
In a week, with the exercise afforded him by the run of a large,
carefully-boarded enclosure, he recovered his health, strength,
spirits, and much of his former beauty. His presence was unknown
to my neighbors, although it was noticeable that horses invariably
"shied" in passing to the windward of my house, and that the baker
and milkman had great difficulty in the delivery of their wares in
the morning, and indulged in unseemly and unnecessary profanity in
At the end of the week, I determined to invite a few friends to see
the Baby, and to that purpose wrote a number of formal invitations.
After descanting, at some length, on the great expense and danger
attending his capture and training, I offered a programme of the
performance, of the "Infant Phenomenon of Sierran Solitudes," drawn
up into the highest professional profusion of alliteration and
capital letters. A few extracts will give the reader some idea of
his educational progress:--
1. He will, rolled up in a Round Ball, roll down the Wood-Shed
Rapidly, illustrating His manner of Escaping from His Enemy in His
2. He will Ascend the Well-Pole, and remove from the Very Top a
Hat, and as much of the Crown and Brim thereof, as May be Permitted.
3. He will perform in a pantomime, descriptive of the Conduct of
the Big Bear, The Middle-Sized Bear, and The Little Bear of the
Popular Nursery Legend.
4. He will shake his chain Rapidly, showing his Manner of striking
Dismay and Terror in the Breasts of Wanderers in Ursine Wildernesses.
The morning of the exhibition came; but an hour before the
performance the wretched Baby was missing. The Chinese cook could
not indicate his whereabouts. I searched the premises thoroughly;
and then, in despair, took my hat, and hurried out into the narrow
lane that led toward the open fields and the woods beyond. But I
found no trace nor track of Baby Sylvester. I returned, after an
hour's fruitless search, to find my guests already assembled on the
rear veranda. I briefly recounted my disappointment, my probable
loss, and begged their assistance.
"Why," said a Spanish friend, who prided himself on his accurate
knowledge of English, to Barker, who seemed to be trying vainly to
rise from his reclining position on the veranda, "why do you not
disengage yourself from the veranda of our friend? And why, in the
name of Heaven, do you attach to yourself so much of this thing,
and make to yourself such unnecessary contortion? Ah," he
continued, suddenly withdrawing one of his own feet from the
veranda with an evident effort, "I am myself attached! Surely it
is something here!"
It evidently was. My guests were all rising with difficulty. The
floor of the veranda was covered with some glutinous substance. It
I saw it all in a flash. I ran to the barn. The keg of "golden
sirup," purchased only the day before, lay empty upon the floor.
There were sticky tracks all over the enclosure, but still no Baby.
"There's something moving the ground over there by that pile of
dirt," said Barker.
He was right. The earth was shaking in one corner of the enclosure
like an earthquake. I approached cautiously. I saw, what I had
not before noticed, that the ground was thrown up; and there, in
the middle of an immense grave-like cavity, crouched Baby
Sylvester, still digging, and slowly but surely sinking from sight
in a mass of dust and clay.
What were his intentions? Whether he was stung by remorse, and
wished to hide himself from my reproachful eyes, or whether he was
simply trying to dry his sirup-besmeared coat, I never shall know;
for that day, alas! was his last with me.
He was pumped upon for two hours, at the end of which time he still
yielded a thin treacle. He was then taken, and carefully inwrapped
in blankets, and locked up in the store-room. The next morning he
was gone! The lower portion of the window sash and pane were gone
too. His successful experiments on the fragile texture of glass at
the confectioner's, on the first day of his entrance to civilization,
had not been lost upon him. His first essay at combining cause
and effect ended in his escape.
Where he went, where he hid, who captured him, if he did not
succeed in reaching the foothills beyond Oakland, even the offer of
a large reward, backed by the efforts of an intelligent police,
could not discover. I never saw him again from that day until--
Did I see him? I was in a horse-car on Sixth Avenue, a few days
ago, when the horses suddenly became unmanageable, and left the
track for the sidewalk, amid the oaths and execrations of the
driver. Immediately in front of the car a crowd had gathered
around two performing bears and a showman. One of the animals,
thin, emaciated, and the mere wreck of his native strength,
attracted my attention. I endeavored to attract his. He turned a
pair of bleared, sightless eyes in my direction; but there was no
sign of recognition. I leaned from the car-window, and called
softly, "Baby!" But he did not heed. I closed the window. The
car was just moving on, when he suddenly turned, and, either by
accident or design, thrust a callous paw through the glass.
"It's worth a dollar and half to put in a new pane," said the
conductor, "if folks will play with bears!"
AN EPISODE OF FIDDLETOWN.
In 1858 Fiddletown considered her a very pretty woman. She had a
quantity of light chestnut hair, a good figure, a dazzling
complexion, and a certain languid grace which passed easily for
gentlewomanliness. She always dressed becomingly, and in what
Fiddletown accepted as the latest fashion. She had only two
blemishes: one of her velvety eyes, when examined closely, had a
slight cast; and her left cheek bore a small scar left by a single
drop of vitriol--happily the only drop of an entire phial--thrown
upon her by one of her own jealous sex, that reached the pretty
face it was intended to mar. But, when the observer had studied
the eyes sufficiently to notice this defect, he was generally
incapacitated for criticism; and even the scar on her cheek was
thought by some to add piquancy to her smile. The youthful editor
of "The Fiddletown Avalanche" had said privately that it was "an
exaggerated dimple." Col. Starbottle was instantly "reminded of
the beautifying patches of the days of Queen Anne, but more
particularly, sir, of the blankest beautiful women, that, blank
you, you ever laid your two blank eyes upon,--a Creole woman, sir,
in New Orleans. And this woman had a scar,--a line extending,
blank me, from her eye to her blank chin. And this woman, sir,
thrilled you, sir; maddened you, sir; absolutely sent your blank
soul to perdition with her blank fascination! And one day I said
to her, 'Celeste, how in blank did you come by that beautiful scar,
blank you?' And she said to me, 'Star, there isn't another white
man that I'd confide in but you; but I made that scar myself,
purposely, I did, blank me.' These were her very words, sir, and
perhaps you think it a blank lie, sir; but I'll put up any blank
sum you can name and prove it, blank me."
Indeed, most of the male population of Fiddletown were or had been
in love with her. Of this number, about one-half believed that
their love was returned, with the exception, possibly, of her own
husband. He alone had been known to express scepticism.
The name of the gentleman who enjoyed this infelicitous distinction
was Tretherick. He had been divorced from an excellent wife to
marry this Fiddletown enchantress. She, also, had been divorced;
but it was hinted that some previous experiences of hers in that
legal formality had made it perhaps less novel, and probably less
sacrificial. I would not have it inferred from this that she was
deficient in sentiment, or devoid of its highest moral expression.
Her intimate friend had written (on the occasion of her second
divorce), "The cold world does not understand Clara yet;" and Col.
Starbottle had remarked blankly, that with the exception of a
single woman in Opelousas Parish, La., she had more soul than the
whole caboodle of them put together. Few indeed could read those
lines entitled "Infelissimus," commencing, "Why waves no cypress
o'er this brow?" originally published in "The Avalanche," over the
signature of "The Lady Clare," without feeling the tear of
sensibility tremble on his eyelids, or the glow of virtuous
indignation mantle his cheek, at the low brutality and pitiable
jocularity of "The Dutch Flat Intelligencer," which the next week
had suggested the exotic character of the cypress, and its entire
absence from Fiddletown, as a reasonable answer to the query.
Indeed, it was this tendency to elaborate her feelings in a
metrical manner, and deliver them to the cold world through the
medium of the newspapers, that first attracted the attention of
Tretherick. Several poems descriptive of the effects of California
scenery upon a too sensitive soul, and of the vague yearnings for
the infinite, which an enforced study of the heartlessness of
California society produced in the poetic breast, impressed Mr.
Tretherick, who was then driving a six-mule freight-wagon between
Knight's Ferry and Stockton, to seek out the unknown poetess. Mr.
Tretherick was himself dimly conscious of a certain hidden
sentiment in his own nature; and it is possible that some
reflections on the vanity of his pursuit,--he supplied several
mining-camps with whiskey and tobacco,--in conjunction with the
dreariness of the dusty plain on which he habitually drove, may
have touched some chord in sympathy with this sensitive woman.
Howbeit, after a brief courtship,--as brief as was consistent with
some previous legal formalities,--they were married; and Mr.
Tretherick brought his blushing bride to Fiddletown, or
"Fideletown," as Mrs. Tretherick preferred to call it in her poems.
The union was not a felicitous one. It was not long before Mr.
Tretherick discovered that the sentiment he had fostered while
freighting between Stockton and Knight's Ferry was different from
that which his wife had evolved from the contemplation of
California scenery and her own soul. Being a man of imperfect
logic, this caused him to beat her; and she, being equally faulty
in deduction, was impelled to a certain degree of unfaithfulness on
the same premise. Then Mr. Tretherick began to drink, and Mrs.
Tretherick to contribute regularly to the columns of "The
Avalanche." It was at this time that Col. Starbottle discovered a
similarity in Mrs. Tretherick's verse to the genius of Sappho, and
pointed it out to the citizens of Fiddletown in a two-columned
criticism, signed "A. S.," also published in "The Avalanche," and
supported by extensive quotation. As "The Avalanche" did not
possess a font of Greek type, the editor was obliged to reproduce
the Leucadian numbers in the ordinary Roman letter, to the intense
disgust of Col. Starbottle, and the vast delight of Fiddletown, who
saw fit to accept the text as an excellent imitation of Choctaw,--a
language with which the colonel, as a whilom resident of the Indian
Territories, was supposed to be familiar. Indeed, the next week's
"Intelligencer" contained some vile doggerel, supposed to be an
answer to Mrs. Tretherick's poem, ostensibly written by the wife of
a Digger Indian chief, accompanied by a glowing eulogium, signed
"A. S. S."
The result of this jocularity was briefly given in a later copy of
"The Avalanche." "An unfortunate rencounter took place on Monday
last, between the Hon. Jackson Flash of "The Dutch Flat
Intelligencer" and the well-known Col. Starbottle of this place, in
front of the Eureka saloon. Two shots were fired by the parties
without injury to either, although it is said that a passing
Chinaman received fifteen buckshot in the calves of his legs from
the colonel's double-barrelled shot-gun, which were not intended
for him. John will learn to keep out of the way of Melican man's
fire-arms hereafter. The cause of the affray is not known,
although it is hinted that there is a lady in the case. The rumor
that points to a well-known and beautiful poetess whose lucubrations
have often graced our columns seems to gain credence from those
that are posted."
Meanwhile the passiveness displayed by Tretherick under these
trying circumstances was fully appreciated in the gulches. "The
old man's head is level," said one long-booted philosopher. "Ef
the colonel kills Flash, Mrs. Tretherick is avenged: if Flash drops
the colonel, Tretherick is all right. Either way, he's got a sure
thing." During this delicate condition of affairs, Mrs. Tretherick
one day left her husband's home, and took refuge at the Fiddletown
Hotel, with only the clothes she had on her back. Here she staid
for several weeks, during which period it is only justice to say
that she bore herself with the strictest propriety.
It was a clear morning in early spring that Mrs. Tretherick,
unattended, left the hotel, and walked down the narrow street
toward the fringe of dark pines which indicated the extreme limits
of Fiddletown. The few loungers at that early hour were pre-
occupied with the departure of the Wingdown coach at the other
extremity of the street; and Mrs. Tretherick reached the suburbs of
the settlement without discomposing observation. Here she took a
cross street or road, running at right angles with the main
thoroughfare of Fiddletown, and passing through a belt of woodland.
It was evidently the exclusive and aristocratic avenue of the town.
The dwellings were few, ambitious, and uninterrupted by shops. And
here she was joined by Col. Starbottle.
The gallant colonel, notwithstanding that he bore the swelling port
which usually distinguished him, that his coat was tightly
buttoned, and his boots tightly fitting, and that his cane, hooked
over his arm, swung jauntily, was not entirely at his ease. Mrs.
Tretherick, however, vouchsafed him a gracious smile and a glance
of her dangerous eyes; and the colonel, with an embarrassed cough
and a slight strut, took his place at her side.
"The coast is clear," said the colonel, "and Tretherick is over at
Dutch Flat on a spree. There is no one in the house but a
Chinaman; and you need fear no trouble from him. I," he continued,
with a slight inflation of the chest that imperilled the security
of his button, "I will see that you are protected in the removal of
"I'm sure it's very kind of you, and so disinterested!" simpered
the lady as they walked along. "It's so pleasant to meet some one
who has soul,--some one to sympathize with in a community so
hardened and heartless as this." And Mrs. Tretherick cast down her
eyes, but not until they wrought their perfect and accepted work
upon her companion.
"Yes, certainly, of course," said the colonel, glancing nervously
up and down the street,--"yes, certainly." Perceiving, however,
that there was no one in sight or hearing, he proceeded at once to
inform Mrs. Tretherick that the great trouble of his life, in fact,
had been the possession of too much soul. That many women--as a
gentleman she would excuse him, of course, from mentioning names--
but many beautiful women had often sought his society, but being
deficient, madam, absolutely deficient, in this quality, he could
not reciprocate. But when two natures thoroughly in sympathy,
despising alike the sordid trammels of a low and vulgar community,
and the conventional restraints of a hypocritical society,--when
two souls in perfect accord met and mingled in poetical union,
then--but here the colonel's speech, which had been remarkable for
a certain whiskey-and-watery fluency, grew husky, almost inaudible,
and decidedly incoherent. Possibly Mrs. Tretherick may have heard
something like it before, and was enabled to fill the hiatus.
Nevertheless, the cheek that was on the side of the colonel was
quite virginal and bashfully conscious until they reached their
It was a pretty little cottage, quite fresh and warm with paint,
very pleasantly relieved against a platoon of pines, some of whose
foremost files had been displaced to give freedom to the fenced
enclosure in which it sat. In the vivid sunlight and perfect
silence, it had a new, uninhabited look, as if the carpenters and
painters had just left it. At the farther end of the lot, a
Chinaman was stolidly digging; but there was no other sign of
occupancy. "The coast," as the colonel had said, was indeed
"clear." Mrs. Tretherick paused at the gate. The colonel would
have entered with her, but was stopped by a gesture. "Come for me
in a couple of hours, and I shall have every thing packed," she
said, as she smiled, and extended her hand. The colonel seized and
pressed it with great fervor. Perhaps the pressure was slightly
returned; for the gallant colonel was impelled to inflate his
chest, and trip away as smartly as his stubby-toed, high-heeled
boots would permit. When he had gone, Mrs. Tretherick opened the
door, listened a moment in the deserted hall, and then ran quickly
up stairs to what had been her bedroom.
Every thing there was unchanged as on the night she left it. On
the dressing-table stood her bandbox, as she remembered to have
left it when she took out her bonnet. On the mantle lay the other
glove she had forgotten in her flight. The two lower drawers of
the bureau were half open (she had forgotten to shut them); and on
its marble top lay her shawl-pin and a soiled cuff. What other
recollections came upon her I know not; but she suddenly grew quite
white, shivered, and listened with a beating heart, and her hand
upon the door. Then she stepped to the mirror, and half fearfully,
half curiously, parted with her fingers the braids of her blonde
hair above her little pink ear, until she came upon an ugly, half-
healed scar. She gazed at this, moving her pretty head up and down
to get a better light upon it, until the slight cast in her velvety
eyes became very strongly marked indeed. Then she turned away with
a light, reckless, foolish laugh, and ran to the closet where hung
her precious dresses. These she inspected nervously, and missing
suddenly a favorite black silk from its accustomed peg, for a
moment, thought she should have fainted. But discovering it the
next instant lying upon a trunk where she had thrown it, a feeling
of thankfulness to a superior Being who protects the friendless,
for the first time sincerely thrilled her. Then, albeit she was
hurried for time, she could not resist trying the effect of a
certain lavender neck-ribbon upon the dress she was then wearing,
before the mirror. And then suddenly she became aware of a child's
voice close beside her, and she stopped. And then the child's
voice repeated, "Is it mamma?"
Mrs. Tretherick faced quickly about. Standing in the doorway was a
little girl of six or seven. Her dress had been originally fine,
but was torn and dirty; and her hair, which was a very violent red,
was tumbled serio-comically about her forehead. For all this, she
was a picturesque little thing, even through whose childish timidity
there was a certain self-sustained air which is apt to come upon
children who are left much to themselves. She was holding under her
arm a rag doll, apparently of her own workmanship, and nearly as
large as herself,--a doll with a cylindrical head, and features
roughly indicated with charcoal. A long shawl, evidently belonging
to a grown person, dropped from her shoulders, and swept the floor.
The spectacle did not excite Mrs. Tretherick's delight. Perhaps
she had but a small sense of humor. Certainly, when the child,
still standing in the doorway, again asked, "Is it mamma?" she
answered sharply, "No, it isn't," and turned a severe look upon the
The child retreated a step, and then, gaining courage with the
distance, said in deliciously imperfect speech,--
"Dow 'way then! why don't you dow away?"
But Mrs. Tretherick was eying the shawl. Suddenly she whipped it
off the child's shoulders, and said angrily,--
"How dared you take my things, you bad child?"
"Is it yours? Then you are my mamma; ain't you? You are mamma!"
she continued gleefully; and, before Mrs. Tretherick could avoid
her, she had dropped her doll, and, catching the woman's skirts
with both hands, was dancing up and down before her.
"What's your name, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick coldly, removing
the small and not very white hands from her garments.
"Yeth. Tarry. Tarowline."
"Yeth. Tarowline Tretherick."
"Whose child ARE you?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick still more coldly,
to keep down a rising fear.
"Why, yours," said the little creature with a laugh. "I'm your
little durl. You're my mamma, my new mamma. Don't you know my ole
mamma's dorn away, never to turn back any more? I don't live wid
my ol' mamma now. I live wid you and papa."
"How long have you been here?" asked Mrs. Tretherick snappishly.
"I fink it's free days," said Carry reflectively.
"You think! Don't you know?" sneered Mrs. Tretherick. "Then,
where did you come from?"
Carry's lip began to work under this sharp cross-examination. With
a great effort and a small gulp, she got the better of it, and
"Papa, papa fetched me,--from Miss Simmons--from Sacramento, last
"Last week! You said three days just now," returned Mrs. Tretherick
with severe deliberation.
"I mean a monf," said Carry, now utterly adrift in sheer
helplessness and confusion.
"Do you know what you are talking about?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick
shrilly, restraining an impulse to shake the little figure before
her, and precipitate the truth by specific gravity.
But the flaming red head here suddenly disappeared in the folds of
Mrs. Tretherick's dress, as if it were trying to extinguish itself
"There now--stop that sniffling," said Mrs. Tretherick, extricating
her dress from the moist embraces of the child, and feeling
exceedingly uncomfortable. "Wipe your face now, and run away, and
don't bother. Stop," she continued, as Carry moved away. "Where's
"He's dorn away too. He's sick. He's been dorn"--she hesitated--
"two, free, days."
"Who takes care of you, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick, eying her
"John, the Chinaman. I tresses myselth. John tooks and makes the
"Well, now, run away and behave yourself, and don't bother me any
more," said Mrs. Tretherick, remembering the object of her visit.
"Stop--where are you going?" she added, as the child began to
ascend the stairs, dragging the long doll after her by one helpless
"Doin up stairs to play and be dood, and no bother mamma."
"I ain't your mamma," shouted Mrs. Tretherick, and then she swiftly
re-entered her bedroom, and slammed the door.
Once inside, she drew forth a large trunk from the closet, and set
to work with querulous and fretful haste to pack her wardrobe. She
tore her best dress in taking it from the hook on which it hung:
she scratched her soft hands twice with an ambushed pin. All the
while, she kept up an indignant commentary on the events of the
past few moments. She said to herself she saw it all. Tretherick
had sent for this child of his first wife--this child of whose
existence he had never seemed to care--just to insult her, to fill
her place. Doubtless the first wife herself would follow soon, or
perhaps there would be a third. Red hair, not auburn, but RED,--of
course the child, this Caroline, looked like its mother, and, if
so, she was any thing but pretty. Or the whole thing had been
prepared: this red-haired child, the image of its mother, had been
kept at a convenient distance at Sacramento, ready to be sent for
when needed. She remembered his occasional visits there on--
business, as he said. Perhaps the mother already was there; but
no, she had gone East. Nevertheless, Mrs. Tretherick, in her then
state of mind, preferred to dwell upon the fact that she might be
there. She was dimly conscious, also, of a certain satisfaction in
exaggerating her feelings. Surely no woman had ever been so
shamefully abused. In fancy, she sketched a picture of herself
sitting alone and deserted, at sunset, among the fallen columns of
a ruined temple, in a melancholy yet graceful attitude, while her
husband drove rapidly away in a luxurious coach-and-four, with a
red-haired woman at his side. Sitting upon the trunk she had just
packed, she partly composed a lugubrious poem, describing her
sufferings, as, wandering alone, and poorly clad, she came upon her
husband and "another" flaunting in silks and diamonds. She
pictured herself dying of consumption, brought on by sorrow,--a
beautiful wreck, yet still fascinating, gazed upon adoringly by the
editor of "The Avalanche," and Col. Starbottle. And where was Col.
Starbottle all this while? Why didn't he come? He, at least,
understood her. He--she laughed the reckless, light laugh of a few
moments before; and then her face suddenly grew grave, as it had
not a few moments before.
What was that little red-haired imp doing all this time? Why was
she so quiet? She opened the door noiselessly, and listened. She
fancied that she heard, above the multitudinous small noises and
creakings and warpings of the vacant house, a smaller voice singing
on the floor above. This, as she remembered, was only an open
attic that had been used as a storeroom. With a half-guilty
consciousness, she crept softly up stairs, and, pushing the door
partly open, looked within.
Athwart the long, low-studded attic, a slant sunbeam from a single
small window lay, filled with dancing motes, and only half
illuminating the barren, dreary apartment. In the ray of this
sunbeam she saw the child's glowing hair, as if crowned by a red
aureola, as she sat upon the floor with her exaggerated doll
between her knees. She appeared to be talking to it; and it was
not long before Mrs. Tretherick observed that she was rehearsing
the interview of a half-hour before. She catechised the doll
severely, cross-examining it in regard to the duration of its stay
there, and generally on the measure of time. The imitation of Mrs.
Tretherick's manner was exceedingly successful, and the
conversation almost a literal reproduction, with a single
exception. After she had informed the doll that she was not her
mother, at the close of the interview she added pathetically, "that
if she was dood, very dood, she might be her mamma, and love her
I have already hinted that Mrs. Tretherick was deficient in a sense
of humor. Perhaps it was for this reason that this whole scene
affected her most unpleasantly; and the conclusion sent the blood
tingling to her cheek. There was something, too, inconceivably
lonely in the situation. The unfurnished vacant room, the half-
lights, the monstrous doll, whose very size seemed to give a
pathetic significance to its speechlessness, the smallness of the
one animate, self-centred figure,--all these touched more or less
deeply the half-poetic sensibilities of the woman. She could not
help utilizing the impression as she stood there, and thought what
a fine poem might be constructed from this material, if the room
were a little darker, the child lonelier,--say, sitting beside a
dead mother's bier, and the wind wailing in the turrets. And then
she suddenly heard footsteps at the door below, and recognized the
tread of the colonel's cane.
She flew swiftly down the stairs, and encountered the colonel in
the hall. Here she poured into his astonished ear a voluble and
exaggerated statement of her discovery, and indignant recital of
her wrongs. "Don't tell me the whole thing wasn't arranged
beforehand; for I know it was!" she almost screamed. "And think,"
she added, "of the heartlessness of the wretch, leaving his own
child alone here in that way."
"It's a blank shame!" stammered the colonel without the least idea
of what he was talking about. In fact, utterly unable as he was to
comprehend a reason for the woman's excitement with his estimate of
her character, I fear he showed it more plainly than he intended.
He stammered, expanded his chest, looked stern, gallant, tender,
but all unintelligently. Mrs. Tretherick, for an instant,
experienced a sickening doubt of the existence of natures in
"It's of no use," said Mrs. Tretherick with sudden vehemence, in
answer to some inaudible remark of the colonel's, and withdrawing
her hand from the fervent grasp of that ardent and sympathetic man.
"It's of no use: my mind is made up. You can send for my trunk as
soon as you like; but I shall stay here, and confront that man with
the proof of his vileness. I will put him face to face with his
I do not know whether Col. Starbottle thoroughly appreciated the
convincing proof of Tretherick's unfaithfulness and malignity
afforded by the damning evidence of the existence of Tretherick's
own child in his own house. He was dimly aware, however, of some
unforeseen obstacle to the perfect expression of the infinite
longing of his own sentimental nature. But, before he could say
any thing, Carry appeared on the landing above them, looking
timidly, and yet half-critically at the pair.
"That's her," said Mrs. Tretherick excitedly. In her deepest
emotions, either in verse or prose, she rose above a consideration
of grammatical construction.
"Ah!" said the colonel, with a sudden assumption of parental
affection and jocularity that was glaringly unreal and affected.
"Ah! pretty little girl, pretty little girl! How do you do? How
are you? You find yourself pretty well, do you, pretty little
girl?" The colonel's impulse also was to expand his chest, and
swing his cane, until it occurred to him that this action might be
ineffective with a child of six or seven. Carry, however, took no
immediate notice of this advance, but further discomposed the
chivalrous colonel by running quickly to Mrs. Tretherick, and
hiding herself, as if for protection, in the folds of her gown.
Nevertheless, the colonel was not vanquished. Falling back into an
attitude of respectful admiration, he pointed out a marvellous
resemblance to the "Madonna and Child." Mrs. Tretherick simpered,
but did not dislodge Carry as before. There was an awkward pause
for a moment; and then Mrs. Tretherick, motioning significantly to
the child, said in a whisper, "Go now. Don't come here again, but
meet me to-night at the hotel." She extended her hand: the colonel
bent over it gallantly, and, raising his hat, the next moment was
"Do you think," said Mrs. Tretherick with an embarrassed voice and
a prodigious blush, looking down, and addressing the fiery curls
just visible in the folds of her dress,--"do you think you will be
'dood,' if I let you stay in here and sit with me?"
"And let me tall you mamma?" queried Carry, looking up.
"And let you call me mamma!" assented Mrs. Tretherick with an
"Yeth," said Carry promptly.
They entered the bedroom together. Carry's eye instantly caught
sight of the trunk.
"Are you dowin away adain, mamma?" she said with a quick nervous
look, and a clutch at the woman's dress.
"No-o," said Mrs. Tretherick, looking out of the window.
"Only playing your dowin away," suggested Carry with a laugh. "Let
me play too."
Mrs. Tretherick assented. Carry flew into the next room, and
presently re-appeared, dragging a small trunk, into which she
gravely proceeded to pack her clothes. Mrs. Tretherick noticed
that they were not many. A question or two regarding them brought
out some further replies from the child; and, before many minutes
had elapsed, Mrs. Tretherick was in possession of all her earlier
history. But, to do this, Mrs. Tretherick had been obliged to take
Carry upon her lap, pending the most confidential disclosures.
They sat thus a long time after Mrs. Tretherick had apparently
ceased to be interested in Carry's disclosures; and, when lost in
thought, she allowed the child to rattle on unheeded, and ran her
fingers through the scarlet curls.
"You don't hold me right, mamma," said Carry at last, after one or
two uneasy shiftings of position.
"How should I hold you?" asked Mrs. Tretherick with a half-amused,
"Dis way," said Carry, curling up into position, with one arm
around Mrs. Tretherick's neck, and her cheek resting on her bosom,--
"dis way,--dere." After a little preparatory nestling, not unlike
some small animal, she closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
For a few moments the woman sat silent, scarcely daring to breathe
in that artificial attitude. And then, whether from some occult
sympathy in the touch, or God best knows what, a sudden fancy began
to thrill her. She began by remembering an old pain that she had
forgotten, an old horror that she had resolutely put away all these
years. She recalled days of sickness and distrust,--days of an
overshadowing fear,--days of preparation for something that was to
be prevented, that WAS prevented, with mortal agony and fear. She
thought of a life that might have been,--she dared not say HAD
been,--and wondered. It was six years ago: if it had lived, it
would have been as old as Carry. The arms which were folded
loosely around the sleeping child began to tremble, and tighten
their clasp. And then the deep potential impulse came, and with a
half-sob, half-sigh, she threw her arms out, and drew the body of
the sleeping child down, down, into her breast, down again and
again as if she would hide it in the grave dug there years before.
And the gust that shook her passed, and then, ah me! the rain.
A drop or two fell upon the curls of Carry, and she moved uneasily
in her sleep. But the woman soothed her again,--it was so easy to
do it now,--and they sat there quiet and undisturbed, so quiet that
they might have seemed incorporate of the lonely silent house, the
slowly-declining sunbeams, and the general air of desertion and
abandonment, yet a desertion that had in it nothing of age, decay,
Col. Starbottle waited at the Fiddletown hotel all that night in
vain. And the next morning, when Mr. Tretherick returned to his
husks, he found the house vacant and untenanted, except by motes
When it was fairly known that Mrs. Tretherick had run away, taking
Mr. Tretherick's own child with her, there was some excitement, and
much diversity of opinion, in Fiddletown. "The Dutch Flat
Intelligencer" openly alluded to the "forcible abduction" of the
child with the same freedom, and it is to be feared the same
prejudice, with which it had criticised the abductor's poetry. All
of Mrs. Tretherick's own sex, and perhaps a few of the opposite
sex, whose distinctive quality was not, however, very strongly
indicated, fully coincided in the views of "The Intelligencer."
The majority, however, evaded the moral issue: that Mrs. Tretherick
had shaken the red dust of Fiddletown from her dainty slippers was
enough for them to know. They mourned the loss of the fair
abductor more than her offence. They promptly rejected Tretherick
as an injured husband and disconsolate father, and even went so far
as to openly cast discredit on the sincerity of his grief. They
reserved an ironical condolence for Col. Starbottle, overbearing
that excellent man with untimely and demonstrative sympathy in bar-
rooms, saloons, and other localities not generally deemed favorable
to the display of sentiment. "She was alliz a skittish thing,
kernel," said one sympathizer, with a fine affectation of gloomy
concern, and great readiness of illustration; "and it's kinder
nat'ril thet she'd get away some day, and stampede that theer colt:
but thet she should shake YOU, kernel, thet she should just shake
you--is what gits me. And they do say thet you jist hung around
thet hotel all night, and payrolled them corriders, and histed
yourself up and down them stairs, and meandered in and out o' thet
piazzy, and all for nothing?" It was another generous and tenderly
commiserating spirit that poured additional oil and wine on the
colonel's wounds. "The boys yer let on thet Mrs. Tretherick
prevailed on ye to pack her trunk and a baby over from the house to
the stage-offis, and that the chap ez did go off with her thanked
you, and offered you two short bits, and sed ez how he liked your
looks, and ud employ you agin--and now you say it ain't so? Well,
I'll tell the boys it aint so, and I'm glad I met you, for stories
DO get round."
Happily for Mrs. Tretherick's reputation, however, the Chinaman in
Tretherick's employment, who was the only eye-witness of her
flight, stated that she was unaccompanied, except by the child. He
further deposed, that, obeying her orders, he had stopped the
Sacramento coach, and secured a passage for herself and child to
San Francisco. It was true that Ah Fe's testimony was of no legal
value. But nobody doubted it. Even those who were sceptical of
the Pagan's ability to recognize the sacredness of the truth
admitted his passionless, unprejudiced unconcern. But it would
appear, from a hitherto unrecorded passage of this veracious
chronicle, that herein they were mistaken.
It was about six months after the disappearance of Mrs. Tretherick,
that Ah Fe, while working in Tretherick's lot, was hailed by two
passing Chinamen. They were the ordinary mining coolies, equipped
with long poles and baskets for their usual pilgrimages. An
animated conversation at once ensued between Ah Fe and his brother
Mongolians,--a conversation characterized by that usual shrill
volubility and apparent animosity which was at once the delight and
scorn of the intelligent Caucasian who did not understand a word of
it. Such, at least, was the feeling with which Mr. Tretherick on
his veranda, and Col. Starbottle who was passing, regarded their
heathenish jargon. The gallant colonel simply kicked them out of
his way: the irate Tretherick, with an oath, threw a stone at the
group, and dispersed them. but not before one or two slips of
yellow rice-paper, marked with hieroglyphics, were exchanged, and a
small parcel put into Ah Fe's hands. When Ah Fe opened this in the
dim solitude of his kitchen, he found a little girl's apron,
freshly washed, ironed, and folded. On the corner of the hem were
the initials "C. T." Ah Fe tucked it away in a corner of his
blouse, and proceeded to wash his dishes in the sink with a smile
of guileless satisfaction.
Two days after this, Ah Fe confronted his master. "Me no likee
Fiddletown. Me belly sick. Me go now." Mr. Tretherick violently
suggested a profane locality. Ah Fe gazed at him placidly, and
Before leaving Fiddletown, however, he accidentally met Col.
Starbottle, and dropped a few incoherent phrases which apparently
interested that gentleman. When he concluded, the colonel handed
him a letter and a twenty-dollar gold-piece. "If you bring me an
answer, I'll double that--Sabe, John?" Ah Fe nodded. An interview
equally accidental, with precisely the same result, took place
between Ah Fe and another gentleman, whom I suspect to have been
the youthful editor of "The Avalanche." Yet I regret to state,
that, after proceeding some distance on his journey, Ah Fe calmly
broke the seals of both letters, and, after trying to read them
upside down and sideways, finally divided them into accurate
squares, and in this condition disposed of them to a brother
Celestial whom he met on the road, for a trifling gratuity. The
agony of Col. Starbottle on finding his wash-bill made out on the
unwritten side of one of these squares, and delivered to him with
his weekly clean clothes, and the subsequent discovery that the
remaining portions of his letter were circulated by the same method
from the Chinese laundry of one Fung Ti of Fiddletown, has been
described to me as peculiarly affecting. Yet I am satisfied that a
higher nature, rising above the levity induced by the mere
contemplation of the insignificant details of this breach of trust,
would find ample retributive justice in the difficulties that
subsequently attended Ah Fe's pilgrimage.
On the road to Sacramento he was twice playfully thrown from the
top of the stage-coach by an intelligent but deeply-intoxicated
Caucasian, whose moral nature was shocked at riding with one
addicted to opium-smoking. At Hangtown he was beaten by a passing
stranger,--purely an act of Christian supererogation. At Dutch
Flat he was robbed by well-known hands from unknown motives. At
Sacramento he was arrested on suspicion of being something or
other, and discharged with a severe reprimand--possibly for not
being it, and so delaying the course of justice. At San Francisco
he was freely stoned by children of the public schools; but, by
carefully avoiding these monuments of enlightened progress, he at
last reached, in comparative safety, the Chinese quarters, where
his abuse was confined to the police, and limited by the strong arm
of the law.
The next day he entered the wash-house of Chy Fook as an assistant,
and on the following Friday was sent with a basket of clean clothes
to Chy Fook's several clients.
It was the usual foggy afternoon as he climbed the long wind-swept
hill of California Street,--one of those bleak, gray intervals that
made the summer a misnomer to any but the liveliest San Franciscan
fancy. There was no warmth or color in earth or sky, no light nor
shade within or without, only one monotonous, universal neutral
tint over every thing. There was a fierce unrest in the wind-
whipped streets: there was a dreary vacant quiet in the gray
houses. When Ah Fe reached the top of the hill, the Mission Ridge
was already hidden; and the chill sea-breeze made him shiver. As
he put down his basket to rest himself, it is possible, that, to
his defective intelligence and heathen experience, this "God's own
climate," as it was called, seemed to possess but scant tenderness,
softness, or mercy. But it is possible that Ah Fe illogically
confounded this season with his old persecutors, the school-
children, who, being released from studious confinement, at this
hour were generally most aggressive. So he hastened on, and,
turning a corner, at last stopped before a small house.
It was the usual San Franciscan urban cottage. There was the
little strip of cold green shrubbery before it; the chilly, bare
veranda, and above this, again, the grim balcony, on which no one
sat. Ah Fe rang the bell. A servant appeared, glanced at his
basket, and reluctantly admitted him, as if he were some necessary
domestic animal. Ah Fe silently mounted the stairs, and, entering
the open door of the front-chamber, put down the basket, and stood
passively on the threshold.
A woman, who was sitting in the cold gray light of the window, with
a child in her lap, rose listlessly, and came toward him. Ah Fe
instantly recognized Mrs. Tretherick; but not a muscle of his
immobile face changed, nor did his slant eyes lighten as he met her
own placidly. She evidently did not recognize him as she began to
count the clothes. But the child, curiously examining him,
suddenly uttered a short, glad cry.
"Why, it's John, mamma! It's our old John what we had in
For an instant Ah Fe's eyes and teeth electrically lightened. The
child clapped her hands, and caught at his blouse. Then he said
shortly, "Me John--Ah Fe--allee same. Me know you. How do?"
Mrs. Tretherick dropped the clothes nervously, and looked hard at
Ah Fe. Wanting the quick-witted instinct of affection that
sharpened Carry's perception, she even then could not distinguish
him above his fellows. With a recollection of past pain, and an
obscure suspicion of impending danger, she asked him when he had
"Longee time. No likee Fiddletown, no likee Tlevelick. Likee San
Flisco. Likee washee. Likee Tally."
Ah Fe's laconics pleased Mrs. Tretherick. She did not stop to
consider how much an imperfect knowledge of English added to his
curt directness and sincerity. But she said, "Don't tell anybody
you have seen me," and took out her pocket-book.
Ah Fe, without looking at it, saw that it was nearly empty. Ah Fe,
without examining the apartment, saw that it was scantily
furnished. Ah Fe, without removing his eyes from blank vacancy,
saw that both Mrs. Tretherick and Carry were poorly dressed. Yet
it is my duty to state that Ah Fe's long fingers closed promptly
and firmly over the half-dollar which Mrs. Tretherick extended to
Then he began to fumble in his blouse with a series of extraordinary
contortions. After a few moments, he extracted from apparently no
particular place a child's apron, which he laid upon the basket with
"One piecee washman flagittee."
Then he began anew his fumblings and contortions. At last his
efforts were rewarded by his producing, apparently from his right
ear, a many-folded piece of tissue-paper. Unwrapping this
carefully, he at last disclosed two twenty-dollar gold-pieces,
which he handed to Mrs. Tretherick.
"You leavee money topside of blulow, Fiddletown. Me findee money.
Me fetchee money to you. All lightee."
"But I left no money on the top of the bureau, John," said Mrs.
Tretherick earnestly. "There must be some mistake. It belongs to
some other person. Take it back, John."
Ah Fe's brow darkened. He drew away from Mrs. Tretherick's
extended hand, and began hastily to gather up his basket.
"Me no takee it back. No, no! Bimeby pleesman he catchee me. He
say, 'God damn thief!--catchee flowty dollar: come to jailee.' Me
no takee back. You leavee money top-side blulow, Fiddletown. Me
fetchee money you. Me no takee back."
Mrs. Tretherick hesitated. In the confusion of her flight, she
MIGHT have left the money in the manner he had said. In any event,
she had no right to jeopardize this honest Chinaman's safety by
refusing it. So she said, "Very well. John, I will keep it. But
you must come again and see me"--here Mrs. Tretherick hesitated
with a new and sudden revelation of the fact that any man could
wish to see any other than herself--"and, and--Carry."
Ah Fe's face lightened. He even uttered a short ventriloquistic
laugh without moving his mouth. Then shouldering his basket, he
shut the door carefully, and slid quietly down stairs. In the
lower hall he, however, found an unexpected difficulty in opening
the front-door, and, after fumbling vainly at the lock for a
moment, looked around for some help or instruction. But the Irish
handmaid who had let him in was contemptuously oblivious of his
needs, and did not appear.
There occurred a mysterious and painful incident, which I shall
simply record without attempting to explain. On the hall-table a
scarf, evidently the property of the servant before alluded to, was
lying. As Ah Fe tried the lock with one hand, the other rested
lightly on the table. Suddenly, and apparently of its own
volition, the scarf began to creep slowly towards Ah Fe's hand;
from Ah Fe's hand it began to creep up his sleeve slowly, and with
an insinuating, snake-like motion; and then disappeared somewhere
in the recesses of his blouse. Without betraying the least
interest or concern in this phenomenon, Ah Fe still repeated his
experiments upon the lock. A moment later the tablecloth of red
damask, moved by apparently the same mysterious impulse, slowly
gathered itself under Ah Fe's fingers, and sinuously disappeared by
the same hidden channel. What further mystery might have followed,
I cannot say; for at this moment Ah Fe discovered the secret of the
lock, and was enabled to open the door coincident with the sound of
footsteps upon the kitchen-stairs. Ah Fe did not hasten his
movements, but, patiently shouldering his basket, closed the door
carefully behind him again, and stepped forth into the thick
encompassing fog that now shrouded earth and sky.
From her high casement-window, Mrs. Tretherick watched Ah Fe's
figure until it disappeared in the gray cloud. In her present
loneliness, she felt a keen sense of gratitude toward him, and may
have ascribed to the higher emotions and the consciousness of a
good deed, that certain expansiveness of the chest, and swelling of
the bosom, that was really due to the hidden presence of the scarf
and tablecloth under his blouse. For Mrs. Tretherick was still
poetically sensitive. As the gray fog deepened into night, she
drew Carry closer towards her, and, above the prattle of the child,
pursued a vein of sentimental and egotistic recollection at once
bitter and dangerous. The sudden apparition of Ah Fe linked her
again with her past life at Fiddletown. Over the dreary interval
between, she was now wandering,--a journey so piteous, wilful,
thorny, and useless, that it was no wonder that at last Carry
stopped suddenly in the midst of her voluble confidences to throw
her small arms around the woman's neck, and bid her not to cry.
Heaven forefend that I should use a pen that should be ever
dedicated to an exposition of unalterable moral principle to
transcribe Mrs. Tretherick's own theory of this interval and
episode, with its feeble palliations, its illogical deductions, its
fond excuses, and weak apologies. It would seem, however, that her
experience had been hard. Her slender stock of money was soon
exhausted. At Sacramento she found that the composition of verse,
although appealing to the highest emotions of the human heart, and
compelling the editorial breast to the noblest commendation in the
editorial pages, was singularly inadequate to defray the expenses
of herself and Carry. Then she tried the stage, but failed
signally. Possibly her conception of the passions was different
from that which obtained with a Sacramento audience; but it was
certain that her charming presence, so effective at short range,
was not sufficiently pronounced for the footlights. She had
admirers enough in the green-room, but awakened no abiding
affection among the audience. In this strait, it occurred to her
that she had a voice,--a contralto of no very great compass or
cultivation, but singularly sweet and touching; and she finally
obtained position in a church-choir. She held it for three months,
greatly to her pecuniary advantage, and, it is said, much to the
satisfaction of the gentlemen in the back-pews, who faced toward
her during the singing of the last hymn.
I remember her quite distinctly at this time. The light that
slanted through the oriel of St. Dives choir was wont to fall very
tenderly on her beautiful head with its stacked masses of deerskin-
colored hair, on the low black arches of her brows, and to deepen
the pretty fringes that shaded her eyes of Genoa velvet. Very
pleasant it was to watch the opening and shutting of that small
straight mouth, with its quick revelation of little white teeth,
and to see the foolish blood faintly deepen her satin cheek as you
watched. For Mrs. Tretherick was very sweetly conscious of
admiration, and, like most pretty women, gathered herself under
your eye like a racer under the spur.
And then, of course, there came trouble. I have it from the
soprano,--a little lady who possessed even more than the usual
unprejudiced judgment of her sex,--that Mrs. Tretherick's conduct
was simply shameful; that her conceit was unbearable; that, if she
considered the rest of the choir as slaves, she (the soprano) would
like to know it; that her conduct on Easter Sunday with the basso
had attracted the attention of the whole congregation; and that she
herself had noticed Dr. Cope twice look up during the service; that
her (the soprano's) friends had objected to her singing in the
choir with a person who had been on the stage, but she had waived
this. Yet she had it from the best authority that Mrs. Tretherick
had run away from her husband, and that this red-haired child who
sometimes came in the choir was not her own. The tenor confided to
me behind the organ, that Mrs. Tretherick had a way of sustaining a
note at the end of a line in order that her voice might linger
longer with the congregation,--an act that could be attributed only
to a defective moral nature; that as a man (he was a very popular
dry-goods clerk on week-days, and sang a good deal from apparently
behind his eyebrows on the sabbath)--that as a man, sir, he would
put up with it no longer. The basso alone--a short German with a
heavy voice, for which he seemed reluctantly responsible, and
rather grieved at its possession--stood up for Mrs. Tretherick, and
averred that they were jealous of her because she was "bretty."
The climax was at last reached in an open quarrel, wherein Mrs.
Tretherick used her tongue with such precision of statement and
epithet, that the soprano burst into hysterical tears, and had to
be supported from the choir by her husband and the tenor. This act
was marked intentionally to the congregation by the omission of the
usual soprano solo. Mrs. Tretherick went home flushed with
triumph, but on reaching her room frantically told Carry that they
were beggars henceforward; that she--her mother--had just taken the
very bread out of her darling's mouth, and ended by bursting into a
flood of penitent tears. They did not come so quickly as in her
old poetical days; but when they came they stung deeply. She was
roused by a formal visit from a vestryman,--one of the music
committee. Mrs. Tretherick dried her long lashes, put on a new
neck-ribbon, and went down to the parlor. She staid there two
hours,--a fact that might have occasioned some remark, but that the
vestryman was married, and had a family of grown-up daughters.
When Mrs. Tretherick returned to her room, she sang to herself in
the glass and scolded Carry--but she retained her place in the
It was not long, however. In due course of time, her enemies
received a powerful addition to their forces in the committee-man's
wife. That lady called upon several of the church-members and on
Dr. Cope's family. The result was, that, at a later meeting of the
music committee, Mrs. Tretherick's voice was declared inadequate to
the size of the building and she was invited to resign. She did
so. She had been out of a situation for two months, and her scant
means were almost exhausted, when Ah Fe's unexpected treasure was
tossed into her lap.
The gray fog deepened into night, and the street-lamps started into
shivering life, as, absorbed in these unprofitable memories, Mrs.
Tretherick still sat drearily at her window. Even Carry had
slipped away unnoticed; and her abrupt entrance with the damp
evening paper in her hand roused Mrs. Tretherick, and brought her
back to an active realization of the present. For Mrs. Tretherick
was wont to scan the advertisements in the faint hope of finding
some avenue of employment--she knew not what--open to her needs;
and Carry had noted this habit.
Mrs. Tretherick mechanically closed the shutters, lit the lights,
and opened the paper. Her eye fell instinctively on the following
paragraph in the telegraphic column:--
"FIDDLETOWN, 7th.--Mr. James Tretherick, an old resident of this
place, died last night of delirium tremens. Mr. Tretherick was
addicted to intemperate habits, said to have been induced by
Mrs. Tretherick did not start. She quietly turned over another
page of the paper, and glanced at Carry. The child was absorbed in
a book. Mrs. Tretherick uttered no word, but, during the remainder
of the evening, was unusually silent and cold. When Carry was
undressed and in bed, Mrs. Tretherick suddenly dropped on her knees
beside the bed, and, taking Carry's flaming head between her hands,
"Should you like to have another papa, Carry darling?"
"No," said Carry, after a moment's thought.
"But a papa to help mamma take care of you, to love you, to give
you nice clothes, to make a lady of you when you grow up?"
Carry turned her sleepy eyes toward the questioner. "Should YOU,
Mrs. Tretherick suddenly flushed to the roots of her hair. "Go to
sleep," she said sharply, and turned away.
But at midnight the child felt two white arms close tightly around
her, and was drawn down into a bosom that heaved, fluttered, and at
last was broken up by sobs.
"Don't ky, mamma," whispered Carry, with a vague retrospect of
their recent conversation. "Don't ky. I fink I SHOULD like a new
papa, if he loved you very much--very, very much!"
A month afterward, to everybody's astonishment, Mrs. Tretherick was
married. The happy bridegroom was one Col. Starbottle, recently
elected to represent Calaveras County in the legislative councils
of the State. As I cannot record the event in finer language than
that used by the correspondent of "The Sacramento Globe," I venture
to quote some of his graceful periods. "The relentless shafts of
the sly god have been lately busy among our gallant Solons. We
quote 'one more unfortunate.' The latest victim is the Hon. C.
Starbottle of Calaveras. The fair enchantress in the case is a
beautiful widow, a former votary of Thespis, and lately a
fascinating St. Cecilia of one of the most fashionable churches of
San Francisco, where she commanded a high salary."
"The Dutch Flat Intelligencer" saw fit, however, to comment upon
the fact with that humorous freedom characteristic of an unfettered
press. "The new Democratic war-horse from Calaveras has lately
advented in the legislature with a little bill to change the name
of Tretherick to Starbottle. They call it a marriage-certificate
down there. Mr. Tretherick has been dead just one month; but we
presume the gallant colonel is not afraid of ghosts." It is but
just to Mrs. Tretherick to state that the colonel's victory was by
no means an easy one. To a natural degree of coyness on the part
of the lady was added the impediment of a rival,--a prosperous
undertaker from Sacramento, who had first seen and loved Mrs.
Tretherick at the theatre and church; his professional habits
debarring him from ordinary social intercourse, and indeed any
other than the most formal public contact with the sex. As this
gentleman had made a snug fortune during the felicitous prevalence
of a severe epidemic, the colonel regarded him as a dangerous
rival. Fortunately, however, the undertaker was called in
professionally to lay out a brother-senator, who had unhappily
fallen by the colonel's pistol in an affair of honor; and either
deterred by physical consideration from rivalry, or wisely
concluding that the colonel was professionally valuable, he
withdrew from the field.
The honeymoon was brief, and brought to a close by an untoward
incident. During their bridal-trip, Carry had been placed in the
charge of Col. Starbottle's sister. On their return to the city,
immediately on reaching their lodgings, Mrs. Starbottle announced
her intention of at once proceeding to Mrs. Culpepper's to bring
the child home. Col. Starbottle, who had been exhibiting for some
time a certain uneasiness which he had endeavored to overcome by
repeated stimulation, finally buttoned his coat tightly across his
breast, and, after walking unsteadily once or twice up and down the
room, suddenly faced his wife with his most imposing manner.
"I have deferred," said the colonel with an exaggeration of port
that increased with his inward fear, and a growing thickness of
speech,--"I have deferr--I may say poshponed statement o' fack
thash my duty ter dishclose ter ye. I did no wish to mar sushine
mushal happ'ness, to bligh bud o' promise, to darken conjuglar sky
by unpleasht revelashun. Musht be done--by G-d, m'm, musht do it
now. The chile is gone!"
"Gone!" echoed Mrs. Starbottle.
There was something in the tone of her voice, in the sudden
drawing-together of the pupils of her eyes, that for a moment
nearly sobered the colonel, and partly collapsed his chest.
"I'll splain all in a minit," he said with a deprecating wave of
the hand. "Every thing shall be splained. The-the-the-melencholly
event wish preshipitate our happ'ness--the myster'us prov'nice wish
releash you--releash chile! hunerstan?--releash chile. The mom't
Tretherick die--all claim you have in chile through him--die too.
Thash law. Whose chile b'long to? Tretherick? Tretherick dead.
Chile can't b'long dead man. Damn nonshense b'long dead man. I'sh
your chile? no! who's chile then? Chile b'long to 'ts mother.
"Where is she?" said Mrs. Starbottle with a very white face and a
very low voice.
"I'll splain all. Chile b'long to 'ts mother. Thash law. I'm
lawyer, leshlator, and American sis'n. Ish my duty as lawyer, as
leshlator, and 'merikan sis'n to reshtore chile to suff'rin mother
at any coss--any coss."
"Where is she?" repeated Mrs. Starbottle with her eyes still fixed
on the colonel's face.
"Gone to 'ts m'o'r. Gone East on shteamer, yesserday. Waffed by
fav'rin gales to suff'rin p'rent. Thash so!"
Mrs. Starbottle did not move. The colonel felt his chest slowly
collapsing, but steadied himself against a chair, and endeavored to
beam with chivalrous gallantry not unmixed with magisterial
firmness upon her as she sat.
"Your feelin's, m'm, do honor to yer sex, but conshider situashun.
Conshider m'or's feelings--conshider MY feelin's." The colonel
paused, and, flourishing a white handkerchief, placed it
negligently in his breast, and then smiled tenderly above it, as
over laces and ruffles, on the woman before him. "Why should dark
shedder cass bligh on two sholes with single beat? Chile's fine
chile, good chile, but summonelse chile! Chile's gone, Clar'; but
all ish'n't gone, Clar'. Conshider dearesht, you all's have me!"
Mrs. Starbottle started to her feet. "YOU!" she cried, bringing
out a chest note that made the chandeliers ring,--"you that I
married to give my darling food and clothes,--YOU! a dog that I
whistled to my side to keep the men off me,--YOU!"
She choked up, and then dashed past him into the inner room, which
had been Carry's; then she swept by him again into her own bedroom,
and then suddenly re-appeared before him, erect, menacing, with a
burning fire over her cheek-bones, a quick straightening of her
arched brows and mouth, a squaring of jaw, and ophidian flattening
of the head.
"Listen!" she said in a hoarse, half-grown boy's voice. "Hear me!
If you ever expect to set eyes on me again, you must find the
child. If you ever expect to speak to me again, to touch me, you
must bring her back. For where she goes, I go: you hear me! Where
she has gone, look for me."
She struck out past him again with a quick feminine throwing-out of
her arms from the elbows down, as if freeing herself from some
imaginary bonds, and, dashing into her chamber, slammed and locked
the door. Col. Starbottle, although no coward, stood in
superstitious fear of an angry woman, and, recoiling as she swept
by, lost his unsteady foothold, and rolled helplessly on the sofa.
Here, after one or two unsuccessful attempts to regain his
foothold, he remained, uttering from time to time profane but not
entirely coherent or intelligible protests, until at last he
succumbed to the exhausting quality of his emotions, and the
narcotic quantity of his potations.
Meantime, within, Mrs. Starbottle was excitedly gathering her
valuables, and packing her trunk, even as she had done once before
in the course of this remarkable history. Perhaps some
recollection of this was in her mind; for she stopped to lean her
burning cheeks upon her hand, as if she saw again the figure of the
child standing in the doorway, and heard once more a childish voice
asking, "Is it mamma?" But the epithet now stung her to the quick
and with a quick, passionate gesture she dashed it away with a tear
that had gathered in her eye. And then it chanced, that, in
turning over some clothes, she came upon the child's slipper with a
broken sandal-string. She uttered a great cry here,--the first she
had uttered,--and caught it to her breast, kissing it passionately
again and again, and rocking from side to side with a motion
peculiar to her sex. And then she took it to the window, the
better to see it through her now streaming eyes. Here she was
taken with a sudden fit of coughing that she could not stifle with
the handkerchief she put to her feverish lips. And then she
suddenly grew very faint. The window seemed to recede before her,
the floor to sink beneath her feet; and, staggering to the bed, she
fell prone upon it with the sandal and handkerchief pressed to her
breast. Her face was quite pale, the orbit of her eyes dark; and
there was a spot upon her lip, another on her handkerchief, and
still another on the white counterpane of the bed.
The wind had risen, rattling the window-sashes, and swaying the
white curtains in a ghostly way. Later, a gray fog stole softly
over the roofs, soothing the wind-roughened surfaces, and
inwrapping all things in an uncertain light and a measureless
peace. She lay there very quiet--for all her troubles, still a
very pretty bride. And on the other side of the bolted door the
gallant bridegroom, from his temporary couch, snored peacefully.
A week before Christmas Day, 1870, the little town of Genoa, in the
State of New York, exhibited, perhaps more strongly than at any
other time, the bitter irony of its founders and sponsors. A
driving snow-storm, that had whitened every windward hedge, bush,
wall, and telegraph-pole, played around this soft Italian Capitol,
whirled in and out of the great staring wooden Doric columns of its
post-office and hotel, beat upon the cold green shutters of its
best houses, and powdered the angular, stiff, dark figures in its
streets. From the level of the street, the four principal churches
of the town stood out starkly, even while their misshapen spires
were kindly hidden in the low, driving storm. Near the railroad-
station, the new Methodist chapel, whose resemblance to an enormous
locomotive was further heightened by the addition of a pyramidal
row of front-steps, like a cowcatcher, stood as if waiting for a
few more houses to be hitched on to proceed to a pleasanter
location. But the pride of Genoa--the great Crammer Institute for
Young Ladies--stretched its bare brick length, and reared its
cupola plainly from the bleak Parnassian hill above the principal
avenue. There was no evasion in the Crammer Institute of the fact
that it was a public institution. A visitor upon its doorsteps, a
pretty face at its window, were clearly visible all over the
The shriek of the engine of the four-o'clock Northern express
brought but few of the usual loungers to the depot. Only a single
passenger alighted, and was driven away in the solitary waiting
sleigh toward the Genoa Hotel. And then the train sped away again,
with that passionless indifference to human sympathies or curiosity
peculiar to express-trains; the one baggage-truck was wheeled into
the station again; the station-door was locked; and the station-
master went home.
The locomotive-whistle, however, awakened the guilty consciousness
of three young ladies of the Crammer Institute, who were even then
surreptitiously regaling themselves in the bake-shop and
confectionery-saloon of Mistress Phillips in a by-lane. For even
the admirable regulations of the Institute failed to entirely
develop the physical and moral natures of its pupils. They
conformed to the excellent dietary rules in public, and in private
drew upon the luxurious rations of their village caterer. They
attended church with exemplary formality, and flirted informally
during service with the village beaux. They received the best and
most judicious instruction during school-hours, and devoured the
trashiest novels during recess. The result of which was an
aggregation of quite healthy, quite human, and very charming young
creatures, that reflected infinite credit on the Institute. Even
Mistress Phillips, to whom they owed vast sums, exhilarated by the
exuberant spirits and youthful freshness of her guests, declared
that the sight of "them young things" did her good; and had even
been known to shield them by shameless equivocation.
"Four o'clock, girls! and, if we're not back to prayers by five,
we'll be missed," said the tallest of these foolish virgins, with
an aquiline nose, and certain quiet elan that bespoke the leader,
as she rose from her seat. "Have you got the books, Addy?" Addy
displayed three dissipated-looking novels under her waterproof.
"And the provisions, Carry?" Carry showed a suspicious parcel
filling the pocket of her sack. "All right, then. Come girls,
trudge.--Charge it," she added, nodding to her host as they passed
toward the door. "I'll pay you when my quarter's allowance comes."
"No, Kate," interposed Carry, producing her purse, "let me pay:
it's my turn."
"Never!" said Kate, arching her black brows loftily, "even if you
do have rich relatives, and regular remittances from California.
Never!--Come, girls, forward, march!"
As they opened the door, a gust of wind nearly took them off their
feet. Kind-hearted Mrs. Phillips was alarmed. "Sakes alive,
galls! ye mussn't go out in sich weather. Better let me send word
to the Institoot, and make ye up a nice bed to-night in my parlor."
But the last sentence was lost in a chorus of half-suppressed
shrieks, as the girls, hand in hand, ran down the steps into the
storm, and were at once whirled away.
The short December day, unlit by any sunset glow, was failing fast.
It was quite dark already; and the air was thick with driving snow.
For some distance their high spirits, youth, and even inexperience,
kept them bravely up; but, in ambitiously attempting a short-cut
from the high-road across an open field, their strength gave out,
the laugh grew less frequent, and tears began to stand in Carry's
brown eyes. When they reached the road again, they were utterly
exhausted. "Let us go back," said Carry.
"We'd never get across that field again," said Addy.
"Let's stop at the first house, then," said Carry.
"The first house," said Addy, peering through the gathering
darkness, "is Squire Robinson's." She darted a mischievous glance
at Carry, that, even in her discomfort and fear, brought the quick
blood to her cheek.
"Oh, yes!" said Kate with gloomy irony, "certainly; stop at the
squire's by all means, and be invited to tea, and be driven home
after tea by your dear friend Mr. Harry, with a formal apology from
Mrs. Robinson, and hopes that the young ladies may be excused this
time. No!" continued Kate with sudden energy. "That may suit YOU;
but I'm going back as I came,--by the window, or not at all." Then
she pounced suddenly, like a hawk, on Carry, who was betraying a
tendency to sit down on a snowbank, and whimper, and shook her
briskly. "You'll be going to sleep next. Stay, hold your tongues,
all of you,--what's that?"
It was the sound of sleigh-bells. Coming down toward them out of
the darkness was a sleigh with a single occupant. "Hold down your
heads, girls: if it's anybody that knows us, we're lost." But it
was not; for a voice strange to their ears, but withal very kindly
and pleasant, asked if its owner could be of any help to them. As
they turned toward him, they saw it was a man wrapped in a handsome
sealskin cloak, wearing a sealskin cap; his face, half concealed by
a muffler of the same material, disclosing only a pair of long
mustaches, and two keen dark eyes. "It's a son of old Santa
Claus!" whispered Addy. The girls tittered audibly as they tumbled
into the sleigh: they had regained their former spirits. "Where
shall I take you?" said the stranger quietly. There was a hurried
whispering; and then Kate said boldly, "To the Institute." They
drove silently up the hill, until the long, ascetic building loomed
up before them. The stranger reined up suddenly. "You know the
way better than I," he said. "Where do you go in?"--"Through the
back-window," said Kate with sudden and appalling frankness. "I
see!" responded their strange driver quietly, and, alighting
quickly, removed the bells from the horses. "We can drive as near
as you please now," he added by way of explanation. "He certainly
is a son of Santa Claus," whispered Addy. "Hadn't we better ask
after his father?" "Hush!" said Kate decidedly. "He is an angel,
I dare say." She added with a delicious irrelevance, which was,
however, perfectly understood by her feminine auditors, "We are
looking like three frights."
Cautiously skirting the fences, they at last pulled up a few feet
from a dark wall. The stranger proceeded to assist them to alight.
There was still some light from the reflected snow; and, as he
handed his fair companions to the ground, each was conscious of
undergoing an intense though respectful scrutiny. He assisted them
gravely to open the window, and then discreetly retired to the
sleigh until the difficult and somewhat discomposing ingress was
made. He then walked to the window, "Thank you and good-night!"
whispered three voices. A single figure still lingered. The
stranger leaned over the window-sill. "Will you permit me to light
my cigar here? it might attract attention if I struck a match
outside." By the upspringing light he saw the figure of Kate very
charmingly framed in by the window. The match burnt slowly out in
his fingers. Kate smiled mischievously. The astute young woman
had detected the pitiable subterfuge. For what else did she stand
at the head of her class, and had doting parents paid three years'
The storm had passed, and the sun was shining quite cheerily in the
eastern recitation-room the next morning, when Miss Kate, whose
seat was nearest the window, placing her hand pathetically upon her
heart, affected to fall in bashful and extreme agitation upon the
shoulder of Carry her neighbor. "HE has come," she gasped in a
thrilling whisper. "Who?" asked Carry sympathetically, who never
clearly under stood when Kate was in earnest. "Who?--why, the man
who rescued us last night! I saw him drive to the door this
moment. Don't speak: I shall be better in a moment--there!" she
said; and the shameless hypocrite passed her hand pathetically
across her forehead with a tragic air.
"What can he want?" asked Carry, whose curiosity was excited.
"I don't know," said Kate, suddenly relapsing into gloomy cynicism.
"Possibly to put his five daughters to school; perhaps to finish
his young wife, and warn her against us."
"He didn't look old, and he didn't seem like a married man,"
rejoined Addy thoughtfully.
"That was his art, you poor creature!" returned Kate scornfully.
"You can never tell any thing of these men, they are so deceitful