Part 1 out of 3
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH and Other Tales
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH
A KNIGHT-ERRANT OF THE FOOT-HILLS
A SECRET OF TELEGRAPH HILL
CAPTAIN JIM'S FRIEND
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH.
The sun was going down on the Dedlow Marshes. The tide was
following it fast as if to meet the reddening lines of sky and
water in the west, leaving the foreground to grow blacker and
blacker every moment, and to bring out in startling contrast the
few half-filled and half-lit pools left behind and forgotten. The
strong breath of the Pacific fanning their surfaces at times
kindled them into a dull glow like dying embers. A cloud of sand-
pipers rose white from one of the nearer lagoons, swept in a long
eddying ring against the sunset, and became a black and dropping
rain to seaward. The long sinuous line of channel, fading with the
light and ebbing with the tide, began to give off here and there
light puffs of gray-winged birds like sudden exhalations. High in
the darkening sky the long arrow-headed lines of geese and 'brant'
pointed towards the upland. As the light grew more uncertain the
air at times was filled with the rush of viewless and melancholy
wings, or became plaintive with far-off cries and lamentations. As
the Marshes grew blacker the far-scattered tussocks and accretions
on its level surface began to loom in exaggerated outline, and two
human figures, suddenly emerging erect on the bank of the hidden
channel, assumed the proportion of giants.
When they had moored their unseen boat, they still appeared for
some moments to be moving vaguely and aimlessly round the spot
where they had disembarked. But as the eye became familiar with
the darkness it was seen that they were really advancing inland,
yet with a slowness of progression and deviousness of course that
appeared inexplicable to the distant spectator. Presently it was
evident that this seemingly even, vast, black expanse was traversed
and intersected by inky creeks and small channels, which made human
progression difficult and dangerous. As they appeared nearer and
their figures took more natural proportions, it could be seen that
each carried a gun; that one was a young girl, although dressed so
like her companion in shaggy pea-jacket and sou'wester as to be
scarcely distinguished from him above the short skirt that came
halfway down her high india-rubber fishing-boots. By the time they
had reached firmer ground, and turned to look back at the sunset,
it could be also seen that the likeness between their faces was
remarkable. Both, had crisp, black, tightly curling hair; both had
dark eyes and heavy eyebrows; both had quick vivid complexions,
slightly heightened by the sea and wind. But more striking than
their similarity of coloring was the likeness of expression and
bearing. Both wore the same air of picturesque energy; both bore
themselves with a like graceful effrontery and self-possession.
The young man continued his way. The young girl lingered for a
moment looking seaward, with her small brown hand lifted to shade
her eyes,--a precaution which her heavy eyebrows and long lashes
seemed to render utterly gratuitous.
"Come along, Mag. What are ye waitin' for?" said the young man
"Nothin'. Lookin' at that boat from the Fort." Her clear eyes
were watching a small skiff, invisible to less keen-sighted
observers, aground upon a flat near the mouth of the channel.
"Them chaps will have a high ole time gunnin' thar, stuck in the
mud, and the tide goin' out like sixty!"
"Never you mind the sodgers," returned her companion, aggressively,
"they kin take care o' their own precious skins, or Uncle Sam will
do it for 'em, I reckon. Anyhow the people--that's you and me,
Mag--is expected to pay for their foolishness. That's what they're
sent yer for. Ye oughter to be satisfied with that," he added with
"I reckon they ain't expected to do much off o' dry land, and they
can't help bein' queer on the water," returned the young girl with
a reflecting sense of justice.
"Then they ain't no call to go gunnin', and wastin' Guv'nment
powder on ducks instead o' Injins."
"Thet's so," said the girl thoughtfully. "Wonder ef Guv'nment pays
for them frocks the Kernel's girls went cavortin' round Logport in
last Sunday--they looked like a cirkis."
"Like ez not the old Kernel gets it outer contracts--one way or
another. WE pay for it all the same," he added gloomily.
"Jest the same ez if they were MY clothes," said the girl, with a
quick, fiery, little laugh, "ain't it? Wonder how they'd like my
sayin' that to 'em when they was prancin' round, eh, Jim?"
But her companion was evidently unprepared for this sweeping
feminine deduction, and stopped it with masculine promptitude.
"Look yer--instead o' botherin' your head about what the Fort girls
wear, you'd better trot along a little more lively. It's late
"But these darned boots hurt like pizen," said the girl, limping.
"They swallowed a lot o' water over the tops while I was wadin'
down there, and my feet go swashin' around like in a churn every
"Lean on me, baby," he returned, passing his arm around her waist,
and dropping her head smartly on his shoulder. "Thar!" The act
was brotherly and slightly contemptuous, but it was sufficient to
at once establish their kinship.
They continued on thus for some moments in silence, the girl, I
fear, after the fashion of her sex, taking the fullest advantage of
this slightly sentimental and caressing attitude. They were moving
now along the edge of the Marsh, parallel with the line of rapidly
fading horizon, following some trail only known to their keen
youthful eyes. It was growing darker and darker. The cries of the
sea-birds had ceased; even the call of a belated plover had died
away inland; the hush of death lay over the black funereal pall of
marsh at their side. The tide had run out with the day. Even the
sea-breeze had lulled in this dead slack-water of all nature, as if
waiting outside the bar with the ocean, the stars, and the night.
Suddenly the girl stopped and halted her companion. The faint far
sound of a bugle broke the silence, if the idea of interruption
could have been conveyed by the two or three exquisite vibrations
that seemed born of that silence itself, and to fade and die in it
without break or discord. Yet it was only the 'retreat' call from
the Fort two miles distant and invisible.
The young girl's face had become irradiated, and her small mouth
half opened as she listened. "Do you know, Jim," she said with a
confidential sigh, "I allus put words to that when I hear it--it's
so pow'ful pretty. It allus goes to me like this: 'Goes the day,
Far away, With the light, And the night Comes along--Comes along--
Comes along--Like a-a so-o-ong.'" She here lifted her voice, a
sweet, fresh, boyish contralto, in such an admirable imitation of
the bugle that her brother, after the fashion of more select
auditors, was for a moment quite convinced that the words meant
something. Nevertheless, as a brother, it was his duty to crush
this weakness. "Yes; and it says:'shut your head, Go to bed,'" he
returned irascibly; "and YOU'D better come along, if we're goin' to
hev any supper. There's Yeller Bob hez got ahead of us over there
with the game already."
The girl glanced towards a slouching burdened figure that now
appeared to be preceding them, straightened herself suddenly, and
then looked attentively towards the Marsh.
"Not the sodgers again?" said her brother impatiently.
"No," she said quickly; "but if that don't beat anythin'! I'd hev
sworn, Jim, that Yeller Bob was somewhere behind us. I saw him
only jest now when 'Taps' sounded, somewhere over thar." She
pointed with a half-uneasy expression in quite another direction
from that in which the slouching Yellow Bob had just loomed.
"Tell ye what, Mag, makin' poetry outer bugle calls hez kinder
muddled ye. THAT'S Yeller Bob ahead, and ye orter know Injins well
enuff by this time to remember that they allus crop up jest when ye
don't expect them. And there's the bresh jest afore us. Come!"
The 'bresh,' or low bushes, was really a line of stunted willows
and alders that seemed to have gradually sunk into the level of the
plain, but increased in size farther inland, until they grew to the
height and density of a wood. Seen from the channel it had the
appearance of a green cape or promontory thrust upon the Marsh.
Passing through its tangled recesses, with the aid of some unerring
instinct, the two companions emerged upon another and much larger
level that seemed as illimitable as the bay. The strong breath of
the ocean lying just beyond the bar and estuary they were now
facing came to them salt and humid as another tide. The nearer
expanse of open water reflected the after-glow, and lightened the
landscape. And between the two wayfarers and the horizon rose,
bleak and startling, the strange outlines of their home.
At first it seemed a ruined colonnade of many pillars, whose base
and pediment were buried in the earth, supporting a long
parallelogram of entablature and cornices. But a second glance
showed it to be a one-storied building, upheld above the Marsh by
numberless piles placed at regular distances; some of them sunken
or inclined from the perpendicular, increasing the first illusion.
Between these pillars, which permitted a free circulation of air,
and, at extraordinary tides, even the waters of the bay itself, the
level waste of marsh, the bay, the surges of the bar, and finally
the red horizon line, were distinctly visible. A railed gallery or
platform, supported also on piles, and reached by steps from the
Marsh, ran around the building, and gave access to the several
rooms and offices.
But if the appearance of this lacustrine and amphibious dwelling
was striking, and not without a certain rude and massive grandeur,
its grounds and possessions, through which the brother and sister
were still picking their way, were even more grotesque and
remarkable. Over a space of half a dozen acres the flotsam and
jetsam of years of tidal offerings were collected, and even guarded
with a certain care. The blackened hulks of huge uprooted trees,
scarcely distinguishable from the fragments of genuine wrecks
beside them, were securely fastened by chains to stakes and piles
driven in the marsh, while heaps of broken and disjointed bamboo
orange crates, held together by ropes of fibre, glistened like
ligamented bones heaped in the dead valley. Masts, spars,
fragments of shell-encrusted boats, binnacles, round-houses and
galleys, and part of the after-deck of a coasting schooner, had
ceased their wanderings and found rest in this vast cemetery of the
sea. The legend on a wheel-house, the lettering on a stern or bow,
served for mortuary inscription. Wailed over by the trade winds,
mourned by lamenting sea-birds, once every year the tide visited
its lost dead and left them wet with its tears.
To such a spot and its surroundings the atmosphere of tradition and
mystery was not wanting. Six years ago Boone Culpepper had built
the house, and brought to it his wife--variously believed to be a
gypsy, a Mexican, a bright mulatto, a Digger Indian, a South Sea
princess from Tahiti, somebody else's wife--but in reality a little
Creole woman from New Orleans, with whom he had contracted a
marriage, with other gambling debts, during a winter's vacation
from his home in Virginia. At the end of two years she had died,
succumbing, as differently stated, from perpetual wet feet, or the
misanthropic idiosyncrasies of her husband, and leaving behind her
a girl of twelve and a boy of sixteen to console him. How futile
was this bequest may be guessed from a brief summary of Mr.
Culpepper's peculiarities. They were the development of a singular
form of aggrandizement and misanthropy. On his arrival at Logport
he had bought a part of the apparently valueless Dedlow Marsh from
the Government at less than a dollar an acre, continuing his
singular investment year by year until he was the owner of three
leagues of amphibious domain. It was then discovered that this
property carried with it the WATER FRONT of divers valuable and
convenient sites for manufactures and the commercial ports of a
noble bay, as well as the natural embarcaderos of some 'lumbering'
inland settlements. Boone Culpepper would not sell. Boone
Culpepper would not rent or lease. Boone Culpepper held an
invincible blockade of his neighbors, and the progress and
improvement he despised--granting only, after a royal fashion,
occasional license, revocable at pleasure, in the shape of tolls,
which amply supported him, with the game he shot in his
kingfisher's eyrie on the Marsh. Even the Government that had made
him powerful was obliged to 'condemn' a part of his property at an
equitable price for the purposes of Fort Redwood, in which the
adjacent town of Logport shared. And Boone Culpepper, unable to
resist the act, refused to receive the compensation or quit-claim
the town. In his scant intercourse with his neighbors he always
alluded to it as his own, showed it to his children as part of
their strange inheritance, and exhibited the starry flag that
floated from the Fort as a flaunting insult to their youthful eyes.
Hated, feared, and superstitiously shunned by some, regarded as a
madman by others, familiarly known as 'The Kingfisher of Dedlow,'
Boone Culpepper was one day found floating dead in his skiff, with
a charge of shot through his head and shoulders. The shot-gun
lying at his feet at the bottom of the boat indicated the
'accident' as recorded in the verdict of the coroner's jury--but
not by the people. A thousand rumors of murder or suicide
prevailed, but always with the universal rider, 'Served him right.'
So invincible was this feeling that but few attended his last
rites, which took place at high water. The delay of the
officiating clergyman lost the tide; the homely catafalque--his own
boat--was left aground on the Marsh, and deserted by all mourners
except the two children. Whatever he had instilled into them by
precept and example, whatever took place that night in their lonely
watch by his bier on the black marshes, it was certain that those
who confidently looked for any change in the administration of the
Dedlow Marsh were cruelly mistaken. The old Kingfisher was dead,
but he had left in the nest two young birds, more beautiful and
graceful, it was true, yet as fierce and tenacious of beak and
Arriving at the house, the young people ascended the outer flight
of wooden steps, which bore an odd likeness to the companion-way of
a vessel, and the gallery, or 'deck,' as it was called--where a
number of nets, floats, and buoys thrown over the railing completed
the nautical resemblance. This part of the building was evidently
devoted to kitchen, dining-room, and domestic offices; the
principal room in the centre serving as hall or living-room, and
communicating on the other side with two sleeping apartments. It
was of considerable size, with heavy lateral beams across the
ceiling--built, like the rest of the house, with a certain maritime
strength--and looked not unlike a saloon cabin. An enormous open
Franklin stove between the windows, as large as a chimney, blazing
with drift-wood, gave light and heat to the apartment, and brought
into flickering relief the boarded walls hung with the spoils of
sea and shore, and glittering with gun-barrels. Fowling-pieces of
all sizes, from the long ducking-gun mounted on a swivel for boat
use to the light single-barrel or carbine, stood in racks against
the walls; game-bags, revolvers in their holsters, hunting and
fishing knives in their sheaths, depended from hooks above them.
In one corner stood a harpoon; in another, two or three Indian
spears for salmon. The carpetless floor and rude chairs and
settles were covered with otter, mink, beaver, and a quantity of
valuable seal-skins, with a few larger pelts of the bear and elk.
The only attempt at decoration was the displayed wings and breasts
of the wood and harlequin duck, the muir, the cormorant, the gull,
the gannet, and the femininely delicate half-mourning of petrel and
plover, nailed against the wall. The influence of the sea was
dominant above all, and asserted its saline odors even through the
spice of the curling drift-wood smoke that half veiled the ceiling.
A berry-eyed old Indian woman with the complexion of dried salmon;
her daughter, also with berry eyes, and with a face that seemed
wholly made of a moist laugh; 'Yellow Bob,' a Digger 'buck,' so
called from the prevailing ochre markings of his cheek, and
'Washooh,' an ex-chief; a nondescript in a blanket, looking like a
cheap and dirty doll whose fibrous hair was badly nailed on his
carved wooden head, composed the Culpepper household. While the
two former were preparing supper in the adjacent dining-room,
Yellow Bob, relieved of his burden of game, appeared on the gallery
and beckoned mysteriously to his master through the window. James
Culpepper went out, returned quickly, and after a minute's
hesitation and an uneasy glance towards his sister, who had
meantime pushed back her sou'wester from her forehead, and without
taking off her jacket had dropped into a chair before the fire with
her back towards him, took his gun noiselessly from the rack, and
saying carelessly that he would be back in a moment, disappeared.
Left to herself, Maggie coolly pulled off her long boots and
stockings, and comfortably opposed to the fire two very pretty feet
and ankles, whose delicate purity was slightly blue-bleached by
confinement in the tepid sea-water. The contrast of their waxen
whiteness with her blue woolen skirt, and with even the skin of her
sunburnt hands and wrists, apparently amused her, and she sat for
some moments with her elbows on her knees, her skirts slightly
raised, contemplating them, and curling her toes with evident
satisfaction. The firelight playing upon the rich coloring of her
face, the fringe of jet-black curls that almost met the thick sweep
of eyebrows, and left her only a white strip of forehead, her short
upper lip and small chin, rounded but resolute, completed a piquant
and striking figure. The rich brown shadows on the smoke-stained
walls and ceiling, the occasional starting into relief of the
scutcheons of brilliant plumage, and the momentary glitter of the
steel barrels, made a quaint background to this charming picture.
Sitting there, and following some lingering memory of her tramp on
the Marsh, she hummed to herself a few notes of the bugle call that
had impressed her--at first softly, and finally with the full pitch
of her voice.
Suddenly she stopped.
There was a faint and unmistakable rapping on the floor beneath
her. It was distinct, but cautiously given, as if intended to be
audible to her alone. For a moment she stood upright, her feet
still bare and glistening, on the otter skin that served as a rug.
There were two doors to the room, one from which her brother had
disappeared, which led to the steps, the other giving on the back
gallery, looking inland. With a quick instinct she caught up her
gun and ran to that one, but not before a rapid scramble near the
railing was followed by a cautious opening of the door. She was
just in time to shut it on the extended arm and light blue sleeve
of an army overcoat that protruded through the opening, and for a
moment threw her whole weight against it.
"A dhrop of whiskey, Miss, for the love of God."
She retained her hold, cocked her weapon, and stepped back a pace
from the door. The blue sleeve was followed by the rest of the
overcoat, and a blue cap with the infantry blazoning, and the
letter H on its peak. They were for the moment more
distinguishable than the man beneath them--grimed and blackened
with the slime of the Marsh. But what could be seen of his mud-
stained face was more grotesque than terrifying. A combination of
weakness and audacity, insinuation and timidity struggled through
the dirt for expression. His small blue eyes were not ill-natured,
and even the intruding arm trembled more from exhaustion than
"On'y a dhrop, Miss," he repeated piteously, "and av ye pleeze,
quick! afore I'm stharved with the cold entoirely."
She looked at him intently--without lowering her gun.
"Who are you?"
"Thin, it's the truth I'll tell ye, Miss--whisth then!" he said in
a half-whisper; "I'm a desarter!"
"Then it was YOU that was doggin' us on the Marsh?"
"It was the sarjint I was lavin', Miss."
She looked at him hesitatingly.
"Stay outside there; if you move a step into the room, I'll blow
you out of it."
He stepped back on the gallery. She closed the door, bolted it,
and still holding the gun, opened a cupboard, poured out a glass of
whiskey, and returning to the door, opened it and handed him the
She watched him drain it eagerly, saw the fiery stimulant put life
into his shivering frame, trembling hands, and kindle his dull eye--
and--quietly raised her gun again.
"Ah, put it down, Miss, put it down! Fwhot's the use? Sure the
bullets yee carry in them oiyes of yours is more deadly! It's out
here oi'll sthand, glory be to God, all night, without movin' a fut
till the sarjint comes to take me, av ye won't levil them oiyes at
me like that. Ah, whirra! look at that now! but it's a gooddess
she is--the livin' Jaynus of warr, standin' there like a statoo,
wid her alybaster fut put forward."
In her pride and conscious superiority, any suggestion of shame at
thus appearing before a common man and a mendicant was as
impossible to her nature as it would have been to a queen or the
goddess of his simile. His presence and his compliment alike
passed her calm modesty unchallenged. The wretched scamp
recognized the fact and felt its power, and it was with a
superstitious reverence asserting itself through his native
extravagance that he raised his grimy hand to his cap in military
salute and became respectfully rigid.
"Then the sodgers were huntin' YOU?" she said thoughtfully,
lowering her weapon.
"Thrue for you, Miss--they worr, and it's meself that was lyin'
flat in the ditch wid me faytures makin' an illigant cast in the
mud--more betoken, as ye see even now--and the sarjint and his
daytail thrampin' round me. It was thin that the mortial cold
sthruck thro' me mouth, and made me wake for the whiskey that would
"What did you desert fer?"
"Ah, list to that now! Fwhat did I desart fer? Shure ev there was
the ghost of an inemy round, it's meself that would be in the front
now! But it was the letthers from me ould mother, Miss, that is
sthruck wid a mortial illness--long life to her!--in County Clare,
and me sisthers in Ninth Avenue in New York, fornint the daypo,
that is brekken their harruts over me listin' in the Fourth
Infanthry to do duty in a haythen wilderness. Av it was the
cavalry--and it's me own father that was in the Innishkillen
Dthragoons, Miss--oi wouldn't moind. Wid a horse betune me legs,
it's on parade oi'd be now, Miss, and not wandhering over the bare
flure of the Marsh, stharved wid the cold, the thirst, and hunger,
wid the mud and the moire thick on me; facin' an illigant young
leddy as is the ekal ov a Fayld Marshal's darter--not to sphake ov
Kernal Preston's--ez couldn't hold a candle to her."
Brought up on the Spanish frontier, Maggie Culpepper was one of the
few American girls who was not familiar with the Irish race. The
rare smile that momentarily lit up her petulant mouth seemed to
justify the intruder's praise. But it passed quickly, and she
"That means you want more drink, suthin' to eat, and clothes.
Suppose my brother comes back and ketches you here?"
"Shure, Miss, he's just now hunten me, along wid his two haythen
Diggers, beyond the laygoon there. It worr the yellar one that
sphotted me lyin' there in the ditch; it worr only your own oiyes,
Miss--more power to their beauty for that!--that saw me folly him
unbeknownst here; and that desaved them, ye see!"
The young girl remained for an instant silent and thoughtful.
"We're no friends of the Fort," she said finally, "but I don't
reckon for that reason my brother will cotton to YOU. Stay out
thar where ye are, till I come to ye. If you hear me singin'
again, you'll know he's come back, and ye'd better scoot with what
you've already got, and be thankful."
She shut the door again and locked it, went into the dining-room,
returned with some provisions wrapped in paper, took a common
wicker flask from the wall, passed into her brother's bedroom, and
came out with a flannel shirt, overalls, and a coarse Indian
blanket, and, reopening the door, placed them before the astonished
and delighted vagabond. His eye glistened; he began, "Glory be to
God," but for once his habitual extravagance failed him. Nature
triumphed with a more eloquent silence over his well-worn art. He
hurriedly wiped his begrimed face and eyes with the shirt she had
given him, and catching the sleeve of her rough pea-jacket in his
dirty hand, raised it to his lips.
"Go!" she said imperiously. "Get away while you can."
"Av it vas me last words--it's speechless oi am," he stammered, and
disappeared over the railing.
She remained for a moment holding the door half open, and gazing
into the darkness that seemed to flow in like a tide. Then she
shut it, and going into her bedroom resumed her interrupted
toilette. When she emerged again she was smartly stockinged and
slippered, and even the blue serge skirt was exchanged for a bright
print, with a white fichu tied around her throat. An attempt to
subdue her rebellious curls had resulted in the construction from
their ruins of a low Norman arch across her forehead with pillared
abutments of ringlets. When her brother returned a few moments
later she did not look up, but remained, perhaps a little
ostentatiously, bending over the fire.
"Bob allowed that the Fort boat was huntin' MEN--deserters, I
reckon," said Jim aggrievedly. "Wanted me to believe that he SAW
one on the Marsh hidin'. On'y an Injin lie, I reckon, to git a
little extra fire-water, for toting me out to the bresh on a fool's
"Oh, THAT'S where you went!" said Maggie, addressing the fire.
"Since when hev you tuk partnership with the Guv'nment and Kernel
Preston to hunt up and take keer of their property?"
"Well, I ain't goin' to hev such wreckage as they pick up and
enlist set adrift on our marshes, Mag," said Jim decidedly.
"What would you hev done had you ketched him?" said Maggie, looking
suddenly into her brother's face.
"Given him a dose of snipe-shot that he'd remember, and be thankful
it wasn't slugs," said Jim promptly. Observing a deeper
seriousness in her attitude, he added, "Why, if it was in war-time
he'd get a BALL from them sodgers on sight."
"Yes; but YOU ain't got no call to interfere," said Maggie.
"Ain't I? Why, he's no better than an outlaw. I ain't sure that
he hasn't been stealin' or killin' somebody over theer."
"Not that man!" said Maggie impulsively.
"Not what man?" said her brother, facing her quickly.
"Why," returned Maggie, repairing her indiscretion with feminine
dexterity, "not ANY man who might have knocked you and me over on
the marshes in the dusk, and grabbed our guns."
"Wish he'd hev tried it," said the brother, with a superior smile,
but a quickly rising color. "Where d'ye suppose I'D hev been all
Maggie saw her mistake, and for the first time in her life resolved
to keep a secret from her brother--overnight. "Supper's gettin'
cold," she said, rising.
They went into the dining-room--an apartment as plainly furnished
as the one they had quitted, but in its shelves, cupboards, and
closely fitting boarding bearing out the general nautical
suggestion of the house--and seated themselves before a small table
on which their frugal meal was spread. In this tete-a-tete
position Jim suddenly laid down his knife and fork and stared at
"What's the matter?" said Maggie, starting slightly. "How you do
"Who's been prinkin', eh?"
"My ha'r was in kinks all along o' that hat," said Maggie, with a
return of higher color, "and I had to straighten it. It's a boy's
hat, not a girl's."
But that necktie and that gown--and all those frills and tuckers?"
continued Jim generalizing, with a rapid twirling of his fingers
over her. "Are you expectin' Judge Martin, or the Expressman this
Judge Martin was the lawyer of Logport, who had proven her father's
will, and had since raved about his single interview with the
Kingfisher's beautiful daughter; the Expressman was a young fellow
who was popularly supposed to have left his heart while delivering
another valuable package on Maggie in person, and had "never been
the same man since." It was a well-worn fraternal pleasantry that
had done duty many a winter's evening, as a happy combination of
moral admonition and cheerfulness. Maggie usually paid it the
tribute of a quick little laugh and a sisterly pinch, but that
evening those marks of approbation were withheld.
"Jim dear," said she, when their Spartan repast was concluded and
they were reestablished before the living-room fire. "What was it
the Redwood Mill Kempany offered you for that piece near Dead Man's
Jim took his pipe from his lips long enough to say, "Ten thousand
dollars," and put it back again.
"And what do ye kalkilate all our property, letting alone this yer
house, and the driftwood front, is worth all together?"
"Includin' wot the Gov'nment owes us?--for that's all ours, ye
know?" said Jim quickly.
"No--leavin' that out--jest for greens, you know," suggested
"Well nigh onter a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, I
reckon, by and large."
"That's a heap o' money, Jim! I reckon old Kernel Preston wouldn't
raise that in a hundred years," continued Maggie, warming her knees
by the fire.
"In five million years," said Jim, promptly sweeping away further
discussion. After a pause he added, "You and me, Mag, kin see
anybody's pile, and go 'em fifty thousand better."
There were a few moments of complete silence, in which Maggie
smoothed her knees, and Jim's pipe, which seemed to have become
gorged and apoplectic with its owner's wealth, snored unctuously.
"Jim dear, what if--it's on'y an idea of mine, you know--what if
you sold that piece to the Redwood Mill, and we jest tuk that money
and--and--and jest lifted the ha'r offer them folks at Logport?
Jest astonished 'em! Jest tuk the best rooms in that new hotel,
got a hoss and buggy, dressed ourselves, you and me, fit to kill,
and made them Fort people take a back seat in the Lord's
Tabernacle, oncet for all. You see what I mean, Jim," she said
hastily, as her brother seemed to be succumbing, like his pipe, in
apoplectic astonishment, "jest on'y to SHOW 'em what we COULD do if
we keerd. Lord! when we done it and spent the money we'd jest snap
our fingers and skip back yer ez nat'ral ez life! Ye don't think,
Jim," she said, suddenly turning half fiercely upon him, "that I'd
allow to LIVE among 'em--to stay a menet after that!"
Jim laid down his pipe and gazed at his sister with stony
deliberation. "And--what--do--you--kalkilate--to make by all
that?" he said with scornful distinctness.
"Why, jest to show 'em we HAVE got money, and could buy 'em all up
if we wanted to," returned Maggie, sticking boldly to her guns,
albeit with a vague conviction that her fire was weakened through
elevation, and somewhat alarmed at the deliberation of the enemy.
"And you mean to say they don't know it now," he continued with
"No," said Maggie. "Why, theer's that new school-marm over at
Logport, you know, Jim, the one that wanted to take your picter in
your boat for a young smuggler or fancy pirate or Eyetalian
fisherman, and allowed that you'r handsomed some, and offered to
pay you for sittin'--do you reckon SHE'D believe you owned the land
her schoolhouse was built on. No! Lots of 'em don't. Lots of 'em
thinks we're poor and low down--and them ez doesn't, thinks"--
"What?" asked her brother sharply.
"That we're MEAN."
The quick color came to Jim's cheek. "So," he said, facing her
quickly, "for the sake of a lot of riff-raff and scum that's
drifted here around us--jest for the sake of cuttin' a swell before
them--you'll go out among the hounds ez allowed your mother was a
Spanish nigger or a kanaka, ez called your father a pirate and
landgrabber, ez much as allowed he was shot by some one or killed
himself a purpose, ez said you was a heathen and a looney because
you didn't go to school or church along with their trash, ez kept
away from Maw's sickness ez if it was smallpox, and Dad's fun'ral
ez if he was a hoss-thief, and left you and me to watch his coffin
on the marshes all night till the tide kem back. And now you--YOU
that jined hands with me that night over our father lyin' there
cold and despised--ez if he was a dead dog thrown up by the tide--
and swore that ez long ez that tide ebbed and flowed it couldn't
bring you to them, or them to you agin! You now want--what? What?
Why, to go and cast your lot among 'em, and live among 'em, and
join in their God-forsaken holler foolishness, and--and--and"--
"Stop! It's a lie! I DIDN'T say that. Don't you dare to say it!"
said the girl, springing to her feet, and facing her brother in
turn, with flashing eyes.
For a moment the two stared at each other--it might have been as in
a mirror, so perfectly were their passions reflected in each line,
shade, and color of the other's face. It was as if they had each
confronted their own passionate and willful souls, and were
frightened. It had often occurred before, always with the same
invariable ending. The young man's eyes lowered first; the girl's
filled with tears.
"Well, ef ye didn't mean that, what did ye mean?" said Jim,
sinking, with sullen apology, back into his chair.
"I--only--meant it--for--for--revenge!" sobbed Maggie.
"Oh!" said Jim, as if allowing his higher nature to be touched by
this noble instinct. "But I didn't jest see where the revenge kem
"No? But, never mind now, Jim," said Maggie, ostentatiously
ignoring, after the fashion of her sex, the trouble she had
provoked; "but to think--that--that--you thought"--(sobbing).
"But I didn't, Mag"--(caressingly).
With this very vague and impotent conclusion, Maggie permitted
herself to be drawn beside her brother, and for a few moments they
plumed each other's ruffled feathers, and smoothed each other's
lifted crests, like two beautiful young specimens of that halcyon
genus to which they were popularly supposed to belong. At the end
of half an hour Jim rose, and, yawning slightly, said in a
"Where's the book?"
The book in question was the Bible. It had been the self-imposed
custom of these two young people to read aloud a chapter every
night as their one vague formula of literary and religious
discipline. When it was produced, Maggie, presuming on his
affectionate and penitential condition, suggested that to-night he
should pick out "suthin' interestin'." But this unorthodox
frivolity was sternly put aside by Jim--albeit, by way of
compromise, he agreed to "chance it," i. e., open its pages at
He did so. Generally he allowed himself a moment's judicious pause
for a certain chaste preliminary inspection necessary before
reading aloud to a girl. To-night he omitted that modest
precaution, and in a pleasant voice, which in reading was
singularly free from colloquial infelicities of pronunciation,
began at once:
"'Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the
inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.'"
"Oh, you looked first," said Maggie.
"I didn't now--honest Injin! I just opened."
"Go on," said Maggie, eagerly shoving him and interposing her neck
over his shoulder.
And Jim continued Deborah's wonderful song of Jael and Sisera to
the bitter end of its strong monosyllabic climax.
"There," he said, closing the volume, "that's what I call revenge.
That's the real Scripture thing--no fancy frills theer."
"Yes; but, Jim dear, don't you see that she treated him first--
sorter got round him with free milk and butter, and reg'larly
blandished him," argued Maggie earnestly.
But Jim declined to accept this feminine suggestion, or to pursue
the subject further, and after a fraternal embrace they separated
for the night. Jim lingered long enough to look after the
fastening of the door and windows, and Maggie remained for some
moments at her casement, looking across the gallery to the Marsh
The moon had risen, the tide was half up. Whatever sign or trace
of alien footprint or occupation had been there was already
smoothly obliterated; even the configuration of the land had
changed. A black cape had disappeared, a level line of shore had
been eaten into by teeth of glistening silver. The whole dark
surface of the Marsh was beginning to be streaked with shining
veins as if a new life was coursing through it. Part of the open
bay before the Fort, encroaching upon the shore, seemed in the
moonlight to be reaching a white and outstretched arm towards the
nest of the Kingfisher.
The reveille at Fort Redwood had been supplemented full five
minutes by the voice of Lieutenant George Calvert's servant, before
that young officer struggled from his bed. His head was splitting,
his tongue and lips were dry and feverish, his bloodshot eyes were
shrinking from the insufferable light of the day, his mind a
confused medley of the past night and the present morning, of cards
and wild revelry, and the vision of a reproachfully trim orderly
standing at his door with reports and orders which he now held
composedly in his hand. For Lieutenant Calvert had been enjoying a
symposium variously known as "Stag Feed" and "A Wild Stormy Night"
with several of his brother officers, and a sickening conviction
that it was not the first or the last time he had indulged in these
festivities. At that moment he loathed himself, and then after the
usual derelict fashion cursed the fate that had sent him, after
graduating, to a frontier garrison--the dull monotony of whose
duties made the Border horse-play of dissipation a relief. Already
he had reached the miserable point of envying the veteran
capacities of his superiors and equals. "If I could drink like
Kirby or Crowninshield, or if there was any other cursed thing a
man could do in this hole," he had wretchedly repeated to himself,
after each misspent occasion, and yet already he was looking
forward to them as part of a 'sub's' duty and worthy his emulation.
Already the dream of social recreation fostered by West Point had
been rudely dispelled. Beyond the garrison circle of Colonel
Preston's family and two officers' wives, there was no society.
The vague distrust and civil jealousy with which some frontier
communities regard the Federal power, heightened in this instance
by the uncompromising attitude the Government had taken towards the
settlers' severe Indian policy, had kept the people of Logport
aloof from the Fort. The regimental band might pipe to them on
Saturdays, but they would not dance.
Howbeit, Lieutenant Calvert dressed himself with uncertain hands
but mechanical regularity and neatness, and, under the automatic
training of discipline and duty, managed to button his tunic
tightly over his feelings, to pull himself together with his sword-
belt, compressing a still cadet-like waist, and to present that
indescribable combination of precision and jauntiness which his
brother officers too often allowed to lapse into frontier
carelessness. His closely clipped light hair, yet dripping from a
plunge in the cold water, had been brushed and parted with military
exactitude, and when surmounted by his cap, with the peak in an
artful suggestion of extra smartness tipped forward over his eyes,
only his pale face--a shade lighter than his little blonde
moustache--showed his last night's excesses. He was mechanically
reaching for his sword and staring confusedly at the papers on his
table when his servant interrupted:
"Major Bromley arranged that Lieutenant Kirby takes your sash this
morning, as you're not well, sir; and you're to report for special
to the colonel," he added, pointing discreetly to the envelope.
Touched by this consideration of his superior, Major Bromley, who
had been one of the veterans of last night's engagement, Calvert
mastered the contents of the envelope without the customary
anathema of specials, said, "Thank you, Parks," and passed out on
The glare of the quiet sunlit quadrangle, clean as a well-swept
floor, the whitewashed walls and galleries of the barrack buildings
beyond, the white and green palisade of officers' cottages on
either side, and the glitter of a sentry's bayonet, were for a
moment intolerable to him. Yet, by a kind of subtle irony, never
before had the genius and spirit of the vocation he had chosen
seemed to be as incarnate as in the scene before him. Seclusion,
self-restraint, cleanliness, regularity, sobriety, the atmosphere
of a wholesome life, the austere reserve of a monastery without its
mysterious or pensive meditation, were all there. To escape which,
he had of his own free will successively accepted a fool's
distraction, the inevitable result of which was, the viewing of
them the next morning with tremulous nerves and aching eyeballs.
An hour later, Lieutenant George Calvert had received his final
instructions from Colonel Preston to take charge of a small
detachment to recover and bring back certain deserters, but notably
one, Dennis M'Caffrey of Company H, charged additionally with
mutinous solicitation and example. As Calvert stood before his
superior, that distinguished officer, whose oratorical powers had
been considerably stimulated through a long course of "returning
thanks for the Army," slightly expanded his chest and said
"I am aware, Mr. Calvert, that duties of this kind are somewhat
distasteful to young officers, and are apt to be considered in the
light of police detail; but I must remind you that no one part of a
soldier's duty can be held more important or honorable than
another, and that the fulfilment of any one, however trifling,
must, with honor to himself and security to his comrades, receive
his fullest devotion. A sergeant and a file of men might perform
your duty, but I require, in addition, the discretion, courtesy,
and consideration of a gentleman who will command an equal respect
from those with whom his duty brings him in contact. The unhappy
prejudices which the settlers show to the military authority here
render this, as you are aware, a difficult service, but I believe
that you will, without forgetting the respect due to yourself and
the Government you represent, avoid arousing these prejudices by
any harshness, or inviting any conflict with the civil authority.
The limits of their authority you will find in your written
instructions; but you might gain their confidence, and impress
them, Mr. Calvert, with the idea of your being their AUXILIARY in
the interests of justice--you understand. Even if you are
unsuccessful in bringing back the men, you will do your best to
ascertain if their escape has been due to the sympathy of the
settlers, or even with their preliminary connivance. They may not
be aware that inciting enlisted men to desert is a criminal
offence; you will use your own discretion in informing them of the
fact or not, as occasion may serve you. I have only to add, that
while you are on the waters of this bay and the land covered by its
tides, you have no opposition of authority, and are responsible to
no one but your military superiors. Good-bye, Mr. Calvert. Let me
hear a good account of you."
Considerably moved by Colonel Preston's manner, which was as
paternal and real as his rhetoric was somewhat perfunctory, Calvert
half forgot his woes as he stepped from the commandant's piazza.
But he had to face a group of his brother officers, who were
"Good-bye, Calvert," said Major Bromley; "a day or two out on grass
won't hurt you--and a change from commissary whiskey will put you
all right. By the way, if you hear of any better stuff at Westport
than they're giving us here, sample it and let us know. Take care
of yourself. Give your men a chance to talk to you now and then,
and you may get something from them, especially Donovan. Keep your
eye on Ramon. You can trust your sergeant straight along."
"Good-bye, George," said Kirby. "I suppose the old man told you
that, although no part of a soldier's duty was better than another,
your service was a very delicate one, just fitted for you, eh? He
always does when he's cut out some hellish scrub-work for a chap.
And told you, too, that as long as you didn't go ashore, and kept
to a dispatch-boat, or an eight-oared gig, where you couldn't
deploy your men, or dress a line, you'd be invincible."
"He did say something like that," smiled Calvert, with an uneasy
recollection, however, that it was THE part of his superior's
speech that particularly impressed him.
"Of course," said Kirby gravely, "THAT, as an infantry officer, is
clearly your duty."
"And don't forget, George," said Rollins still more gravely, "that,
whatever may befall you, you belong to a section of that
numerically small but powerfully diversified organization--the
American Army. Remember that in the hour of peril you can address
your men in any language, and be perfectly understood. And
remember that when you proudly stand before them, the eyes not only
of your own country, but of nearly all the others, are upon you!
Good-bye, Georgey. I heard the major hint something about whiskey.
They say that old pirate, Kingfisher Culpepper, had a stock of the
real thing from Robertson County laid in his shebang on the Marsh
just before he died. Pity we aren't on terms with them, for the
cubs cannot drink it, and might be induced to sell. Shouldn't
wonder, by the way, if your friend M'Caffrey was hanging round
somewhere there; he always had a keen scent. You might confiscate
it as an "incitement to desertion," you know. The girl's pretty,
and ought to be growing up now."
But haply at this point the sergeant stopped further raillery by
reporting the detachment ready; and drawing his sword, Calvert,
with a confused head, a remorseful heart, but an unfaltering step,
marched off his men on his delicate mission.
It was four o'clock when he entered Jonesville. Following a
matter-of-fact idea of his own, he had brought his men the greater
distance by a circuitous route through the woods, thus avoiding the
ostentatious exposure of his party on the open bay in a well-manned
boat to an extended view from the three leagues of shore and marsh
opposite. Crossing the stream, which here separated him from the
Dedlow Marsh by the common ferry, he had thus been enabled to halt
unperceived below the settlement and occupy the two roads by which
the fugitives could escape inland. He had deemed it not impossible
that, after the previous visit of the sergeant, the deserters
hidden in the vicinity might return to Jonesville in the belief
that the visit would not be repeated so soon. Leaving a part of
his small force to patrol the road and another to deploy over the
upland meadows, he entered the village. By the exercise of some
boyish diplomacy and a certain prepossessing grace, which he knew
when and how to employ, he became satisfied that the objects of his
quest were not THERE--however, their whereabouts might have been
known to the people. Dividing his party again, he concluded to
take a corporal and a few men and explore the lower marshes
The preoccupation of duty, exercise, and perhaps, above all, the
keen stimulus of the iodine-laden salt air seemed to clear his mind
and invigorate his body. He had never been in the Marsh before,
and enjoyed its novelty with the zest of youth. It was the hour
when the tide of its feathered life was at its flood. Clouds of
duck and teal passing from the fresh water of the river to the salt
pools of the marshes perpetually swept his path with flying
shadows; at times it seemed as if even the uncertain ground around
him itself arose and sped away on dusky wings. The vicinity of
hidden pools and sloughs was betrayed by startled splashings; a few
paces from their marching feet arose the sunlit pinions of a swan.
The air was filled with multitudinous small cries and pipings. In
this vocal confusion it was some minutes before he recognized the
voice of one of his out-flankers calling to the other.
An important discovery had been made. In a long tongue of bushes
that ran down to the Marsh they had found a mud-stained uniform,
complete even to the cap, bearing the initial of the deserter's
"Is there any hut or cabin hereabouts, Schmidt?" asked Calvert.
"Dot vos schoost it, Lefdennun," replied his corporal. "Dot vos de
shanty from der Kingvisher--old Gulbebber. I pet a dollar, py
shimminy, dot der men haf der gekommt."
He pointed through the brake to a long, low building that now
raised itself, white in the sunlight, above the many blackened
piles. Calvert saw in a single reconnoitring glance that it had
but one approach--the flight of steps from the Marsh. Instructing
his men to fall in on the outer edge of the brake and await his
orders, he quickly made his way across the space and ascended the
steps. Passing along the gallery he knocked at the front door.
There was no response. He repeated his knock. Then the window
beside it opened suddenly, and he was confronted with the double-
muzzle of a long ducking-gun. Glancing instinctively along the
barrels, he saw at their other extremity the bright eyes, brilliant
color, and small set mouth of a remarkably handsome girl. It was
the fact, and to the credit of his training, that he paid more
attention to the eyes than to the challenge of the shining tubes
"Jest stop where you are--will you!" said the girl determinedly.
Calvert's face betrayed not the slightest terror or surprise.
Immovable as on parade, he carried his white gloved hand to his
cap, and said gently, "With pleasure."
"Oh yes," said the girl quickly; "but if you move a step I'll jest
blow you and your gloves offer that railin' inter the Marsh."
"I trust not," returned Calvert, smiling.
"Because it would deprive me of the pleasure of a few moments'
conversation with you--and I've only one pair of gloves with me."
He was still watching her beautiful eyes--respectfully, admiringly,
and strategically. For he was quite convinced that if he DID move
she would certainly discharge one or both barrels at him.
"Where's the rest of you?" she continued sharply.
"About three hundred yards away, in the covert, not near enough to
"Will they come here?"
"I trust not."
"You trust not?" she repeated scornfully. "Why?
"Because they would be disobeying orders."
She lowered her gun slightly, but kept her black brows levelled at
him. "I reckon I'm a match for YOU," she said, with a slightly
contemptuous glance at his slight figure, and opened the door. For
a moment they stood looking at each other. He saw, besides the
handsome face and eyes that had charmed him, a tall slim figure,
made broader across the shoulders by an open pea-jacket that showed
a man's red flannel shirt belted at the waist over a blue skirt,
with the collar knotted by a sailor's black handkerchief, and
turned back over a pretty though sunburnt throat. She saw a rather
undersized young fellow in a jaunty undress uniform, scant of gold
braid, and bearing only the single gold shoulder-bars of his rank,
but scrupulously neat and well fitting. Light-colored hair cropped
close, the smallest of light moustaches, clear and penetrating blue
eyes, and a few freckles completed a picture that did not
prepossess her. She was therefore the more inclined to resent the
perfect ease and self-possession with which the stranger carried
off these manifest defects before her.
She laid aside the gun, put her hands deep in the pockets of her
pea-jacket, and, slightly squaring her shoulders, said curtly,
"What do you want?"
"A very little information, which I trust it will not trouble you
to give me. My men have just discovered the uniform belonging to a
deserter from the Fort lying in the bushes yonder. Can you give me
the slightest idea how it came there?"
"What right have you trapseing over our property?" she said,
turning upon him sharply, with a slight paling of color.
"Then what did you come for?"
"To ask that permission, in case you would give me no information."
"Why don't you ask my brother, and not a woman? Were you afraid?"
"He could hardly have done me the honor of placing me in more peril
than you have," returned Calvert, smiling. "Then I have the
pleasure of addressing Miss Culpepper?"
"I'm Jim Culpepper's sister."
"And, I believe, equally able to give or refuse the permission I
"And what if I refuse?"
"Then I have only to ask pardon for having troubled you, go back,
and return here with the tide. You don't resist THAT with a shot-
gun, do you?" he asked pleasantly.
Maggie Culpepper was already familiar with the accepted theory of
the supreme jurisdiction of the Federal Sea. She half turned her
back upon him, partly to show her contempt, but partly to evade the
domination of his clear, good-humored, and self-sustained little
"I don't know anythin' about your deserters, nor what rags o'
theirs happen to be floated up here," she said, angrily, "and don't
care to. You kin do what you like."
"Then I'm afraid I should remain here a little longer, Miss
Culpepper; but my duty"--
"Your wot?" she interrupted, disdainfully.
"I suppose I AM talking shop," he said smilingly. "Then my
"Your business--pickin' up half-starved runaways!"
"And, I trust, sometimes a kind friend," he suggested, with a grave
"You TRUST? Look yer, young man, she said, with her quick, fierce,
little laugh, "I reckon you TRUST a heap too much!" She would like
to have added, "with your freckled face, red hair, and little
eyes"--but this would have obliged her to face them again, which
she did not care to do.
Calvert stepped back, lifted his hand to his cap, still pleasantly,
and then walked gravely along the gallery, down the steps, and
towards the cover. From her window, unseen, she followed his neat
little figure moving undeviatingly on, without looking to the left
or right, and still less towards the house he had just quitted.
Then she saw the sunlight flash on cross-belt plates and steel
barrels, and a light blue line issued from out the dark green
bushes, round the point, and disappeared. And then it suddenly
occurred to her what she had been doing! This, then, was her first
step towards that fancy she had so lately conceived, quarrelled
over with her brother, and lay awake last night to place anew, in
spite of all opposition! This was her brilliant idea of dazzling
and subduing Logport and the Fort! Had she grown silly, or what
had happened? Could she have dreamed of the coming of this
whipper-snapper, with his insufferable airs, after that beggarly
deserter? I am afraid that for a few moments the miserable
fugitive had as small a place in Maggie's sympathy as the
redoubtable whipper-snapper himself. And now the cherished dream
of triumph and conquest was over! What a "looney" she had been!
Instead of inviting him in, and outdoing him in "company manners,"
and "fooling" him about the deserter, and then blazing upon him
afterwards at Logport in the glory of her first spent wealth and
finery, she had driven him away!
And now "he'll go and tell--tell the Fort girls of his hairbreadth
escape from the claws of the Kingfisher's daughter!"
The thought brought a few bitter tears to her eyes, but she wiped
them away. The thought brought also the terrible conviction that
Jim was right, that there could be nothing but open antagonism
between them and the traducers of their parents, as she herself had
instinctively shown! But she presently wiped that conviction away
also, as she had her tears.
Half an hour later she was attracted by the appearance from the
windows of certain straggling blue spots on the upland that seemed
moving diagonally towards the Marsh. She did not know that it was
Calvert's second "detail" joining him, but believed for a moment
that he had not yet departed, and was strangely relieved. Still
later the frequent disturbed cries of coot, heron, and marsh-hen,
recognizing the presence of unusual invaders of their solitude,
distracted her yet more, and forced her at last with increasing
color and an uneasy sense of shyness to steal out to the gallery
for a swift furtive survey of the Marsh. But an utterly unexpected
sight met her eyes, and kept her motionless.
The birds were rising everywhere and drifting away with querulous
perturbation before a small but augmented blue detachment that was
moving with monotonous regularity towards the point of bushes where
she had seen the young officer previously disappear. In their
midst, between two soldiers with fixed bayonets, marched the man
whom even at that distance she instantly recognized as the deserter
of the preceding night, in the very clothes she had given him. To
complete her consternation, a little to the right marched the young
officer also, but accompanied by, and apparently on the most
amicable terms with, Jim--her own brother!
To forget all else and dart down the steps, flying towards the
point of bushes, scarcely knowing why or what she was doing, was to
Maggie the impulse and work of a moment. When she had reached it
the party were not twenty paces away. But here a shyness and
hesitation again seized her, and she shrank back in the bushes with
an instinctive cry to her brother inarticulate upon her lips. They
came nearer, they were opposite to her; her brother Jim keeping
step with the invader, and even conversing with him with an
animation she had seldom seen upon his face--they passed! She had
been unnoticed except by one. The roving eye of the deserter had
detected her handsome face among the leaves, slightly turned
towards it, and poured out his whole soul in a single swift wink of
eloquent but indescribable confidence.
When they had quite gone, she crept back to the house, a little
reassured, but still tremulous. When her brother returned at
nightfall, he found her brooding over the fire, in the same
attitude as on the previous night.
"I reckon ye might hev seen me go by with the sodgers," he said,
seating himself beside her, a little awkwardly, and with an unusual
assumption of carelessness.
Maggie, without looking up, was languidly surprised. He had been
with the soldiers--and where?
"About two hours ago I met this yer Leftenant Calvert," he went on
with increasing awkwardness, "and--oh, I say, Mag--he said he saw
you, and hoped he hadn't troubled ye, and--and--ye saw him, didn't
Maggie, with all the red of the fire concentrated in her cheek as
she gazed at the flame, believed carelessly "that she had seen a
shrimp in uniform asking questions."
"Oh, he ain't a bit stuck up," said Jim quickly, "that's what I
like about him. He's ez nat'ral ez you be, and tuck my arm,
walkin' around, careless-like, laffen at what he was doin', ez ef
it was a game, and he wasn't sole commander of forty men. He's
only a year or two older than me--and--and"--he stopped and looked
uneasily at Maggie.
"So ye've bin craw-fishin' agin?" said Maggie, in her deepest and
most scornful contralto.
"Who's craw-fishin'?" he retorted, angrily.
"What's this backen out o' what you said yesterday? What's all
this trucklin' to the Fort now?"
"What? Well now, look yer," said Jim, rising suddenly, with
reproachful indignation, "darned if I don't jest tell ye everythin'.
I promised HIM I wouldn't. He allowed it would frighten ye."
"FRIGHTEN ME!" repeated Maggie contemptuously, nevertheless with
her cheek paling again. "Frighten me--with what?"
"Well, since yer so cantankerous, look yer. We've been robbed!"
"Robbed?" echoed Maggie, facing him.
"Yes, robbed by that same deserter. Robbed of a suit of my
clothes, and my whiskey-flask, and the darned skunk had 'em on.
And if it hadn't bin for that Leftenant Calvert, and my givin' him
permission to hunt him over the Marsh, we wouldn't have caught
"Robbed?" repeated Maggie again, vaguely.
"Yes, robbed! Last night, afore we came home. He must hev got in
yer while we was comin' from the boat."
"Did, did that Leftenant say so?" stammered Maggie.
"Say it, of course he did! and so do I," continued Jim,
impatiently. "Why, there were my very clothes on his back, and he
daren't deny it. And if you'd hearkened to me jest now, instead of
flyin' off in tantrums, you'd see that THAT'S jest how we got him,
and how me and the Leftenant joined hands in it. I didn't give him
permission to hunt deserters, but THIEVES. I didn't help him to
ketch the man that deserted from HIM, but the skunk that took MY
clothes. For when the Leftenant found the man's old uniform in the
bush, he nat'rally kalkilated he must hev got some other duds near
by in some underhand way. Don't you see? eh? Why, look, Mag.
Darned if you ain't skeered after all! Who'd hev thought it?
There now--sit down, dear. Why, you're white ez a gull."
He had his arm round her as she sank back in the chair again with a
"There now," he said with fraternal superiority, "don't mind it,
Mag, any more. Why, it's all over now. You bet he won't trouble
us agin, for the Leftenant sez that now he's found out to be a
thief, they'll jest turn him over to the police, and he's sure o'
getten six months' state prison fer stealin' and burglarin' in our
house. But"--he stopped suddenly and looked at his sister's
contracted face; "look yer, Mag, you're sick, that's what's the
matter. Take suthin'"--
"I'm better now," she said with an effort; "it's only a kind o'
blind chill I must hev got on the Marsh last night. What's that?"
She had risen, and grasping her brother's arm tightly had turned
quickly to the window. The casement had suddenly rattled.
"It's only the wind gettin' up. It looked like a sou'wester when I
came in. Lot o' scud flyin'. But YOU take some quinine, Mag.
Don't YOU go now and get down sick like Maw."
Perhaps it was this well-meant but infelicitous reference that
brought a moisture to her dark eyes, and caused her lips to
momentarily quiver. But it gave way to a quick determined setting
of her whole face as she turned it once more to the fire, and said,
"I reckon I'll sleep it off, if I go to bed now. What time does
the tide fall."
"About three, unless this yer wind piles it up on the Marsh afore
"I was only wonderin' if the boat wus safe," said Maggie, rising.
"You'd better hoist yourself outside some quinine, instead o'
talken about those things," said Jim, who preferred to discharge
his fraternal responsibility by active medication. "You aren't fit
to read tonight."
"Good night, Jim," she said suddenly, stopping before him.
"Good night, Mag." He kissed her with protecting and amiable
toleration, generously referring her hot hands and feverish lips to
that vague mystery of feminine complaint which man admits without
They separated. Jim, under the stimulus of the late supposed
robbery, ostentatiously fastening the doors and windows with
assuring comments, calculated to inspire confidence in his sister's
startled heart. Then he went to bed. He lay awake long enough to
be pleasantly conscious that the wind had increased to a gale, and
to be lulled again to sleep by the cosy security of the heavily
timbered and tightly sealed dwelling that seemed to ride the storm
like the ship it resembled. The gale swept through the piles
beneath him and along the gallery as through bared spars and over
wave-washed decks. The whole structure, attacked above, below, and
on all sides by the fury of the wind, seemed at times to be lifted
in the air. Once or twice the creaking timbers simulated the sound
of opening doors and passing footsteps, and again dilated as if the
gale had forced a passage through. But Jim slept on peacefully,
and was at last only aroused by the brilliant sunshine staring
through his window from the clear wind-swept blue arch beyond.
Dressing himself lazily, he passed into the sitting-room and
proceeded to knock at his sister's door, as was his custom; he was
amazed to find it open and the room empty. Entering hurriedly, he
saw that her bed was undisturbed, as if it had not been occupied,
and was the more bewildered to see a note ostentatiously pinned
upon the pillow, addressed in pencil, in a large school-hand, "To
Opening it impatiently, he was startled to read as follows:--
"Don't be angry, Jim dear--but it was all my fault--and I didn't
tell you. I knew all about the deserter, and I gave him the
clothes and things that they say he stole. It was while you was
out that night, and he came and begged of me, and was mournful and
hidjus to behold. I thought I was helping him, and getting our
revenge on the Fort, all at the same time. Don't be mad, Jim dear,
and do not be frighted fer me. I'm going over thar to make it all
right--to free HIM of stealing--to have YOU left out of it all--and
take it all on myself. Don't you be a bit feared for me. I ain't
skeert of the wind or of going. I'll close reef everything, clear
the creek, stretch across to Injen Island, hugg the Point, and bear
up fer Logport. Dear Jim--don't get mad--but I couldn't bear this
fooling of you nor HIM--and that man being took for stealing any
longer!--Your loving sister,
With a confused mingling of shame, anger, and sudden fear he ran
out on the gallery. The tide was well up, half the Marsh had
already vanished, and the little creek where he had moored his
skiff was now an empty shining river. The water was everywhere--
fringing the tussocks of salt grass with concentric curves of spume
and drift, or tumultuously tossing its white-capped waves over the
spreading expanse of the lower bay. The low thunder of breakers in
the farther estuary broke monotonously on the ear. But his eye was
fascinated by a dull shifting streak on the horizon, that, even as
he gazed, shuddered, whitened along its whole line, and then grew
ghastly gray again. It was the ocean bar.
"Well, I must say," said Cicely Preston, emphasizing the usual
feminine imperative for perfectly gratuitous statement, as she
pushed back her chair from the commandant's breakfast table, "I
MUST really say that I don't see anything particularly heroic in
doing something wrong, lying about it just to get other folks into
trouble, and then rushing off to do penance in a high wind and an
open boat. But she's pretty, and wears a man's shirt and coat, and
of course THAT settles anything. But why earrings and wet white
stockings and slippers? And why that Gothic arch of front and a
boy's hat? That's what I simply ask;" and the youngest daughter of
Colonel Preston rose from the table, shook out the skirt of her
pretty morning dress, and, placing her little thumbs in the belt of
her smart waist, paused witheringly for a reply.
"You are most unfair, my child," returned Colonel Preston gravely.
"Her giving food and clothes to a deserter may have been only an
ordinary instinct of humanity towards a fellow-creature who
appeared to be suffering, to say nothing of M'Caffrey's plausible
tongue. But her periling her life to save him from an unjust
accusation, and her desire to shield her brother's pride from
ridicule, is altogether praiseworthy and extraordinary. And the
moral influence of her kindness was strong enough to make that
scamp refuse to tell the plain truth that might implicate her in an
indiscretion, though it saved him from state prison."
"He knew you wouldn't believe him if he had said the clothes were
given to him," retorted Miss Cicely, "so I don't see where the
moral influence comes in. As to her periling her life, those Marsh
people are amphibious anyway, or would be in those clothes. And as
to her motive, why, papa, I heard you say in this very room, and
afterwards to Mr. Calvert, when you gave him instructions, that you
believed those Culpeppers were capable of enticing away deserters;
and you forget the fuss you had with her savage brother's lawyer
about that water front, and how you said it was such people who
kept up the irritation between the Civil and Federal power."
The colonel coughed hurriedly. It is the fate of all great
organizers, military as well as civil, to occasionally suffer
defeat in the family circle.
"The more reason," he said, soothingly, "why we should correct
harsh judgments that spring from mere rumors. You should give
yourself at least the chance of overcoming your prejudices, my
child. Remember, too, that she is now the guest of the Fort."
"And she chooses to stay with Mrs. Bromley! I'm sure it's quite
enough for you and mamma to do duty--and Emily, who wants to know
why Mr. Calvert raves so about her--without MY going over there to
Colonel Preston shook his head reproachfully, but eventually
retired, leaving the field to the enemy. The enemy, a little pink
in the cheeks, slightly tossed the delicate rings of its blonde
crest, settled its skirts again at the piano, but after turning
over the leaves of its music book, rose, and walked pettishly to
But here a spectacle presented itself that for a moment dismissed
all other thoughts from the girl's rebellious mind.
Not a dozen yards away, on the wind-swept parade, a handsome young
fellow, apparently halted by the sentry, had impetuously turned
upon him in an attitude of indignant and haughty surprise. To the
quick fancy of the girl it seemed as if some disguised rustic god
had been startled by the challenge of a mortal. Under an oilskin
hat, like the petasus of Hermes, pushed back from his white
forehead, crisp black curls were knotted around a head whose
beardless face was perfect as a cameo cutting. In the close-
fitting blue woolen jersey under his open jacket the clear outlines
and youthful grace of his upper figure were revealed as clearly as
in a statue. Long fishing-boots reaching to his thighs scarcely
concealed the symmetry of his lower limbs. Cricket and lawn-
tennis, knickerbockers and flannels had not at that period
familiarized the female eye to unfettered masculine outline, and
Cicely Preston, accustomed to the artificial smartness and
regularity of uniform, was perhaps the more impressed by the
stranger's lawless grace.
The sentry had repeated his challenge; an angry flush was deepening
on the intruder's cheek. At this critical moment Cicely threw open
the French windows and stepped upon the veranda.
The sentry saluted the familiar little figure of his colonel's
daughter with an explanatory glance at the stranger. The young
fellow looked up--and the god became human.
"I'm looking for my sister," he said, half awkwardly, half
defiantly; "she's here, somewhere."
"Yes--and perfectly safe, Mr. Culpepper, I think," said the arch-
hypocrite with dazzling sweetness; "and we're all so delighted.
And so brave and plucky and skillful in her to come all that way--
and for such a purpose."
"Then--you know--all about it"--stammered Jim, more relieved than
he had imagined--"and that I"--
"That you were quite ignorant of your sister helping the deserter.
Oh yes, of course," said Cicely, with bewildering promptitude.
"You see, Mr. Culpepper, we girls are SO foolish. I dare say I
should have done the same thing in her place, only I should never
have had the courage to do what she did afterwards. You really
must forgive her. But won't you come in--DO." She stepped back,
holding the window open with the half-coaxing air of a spoiled
child. "This way is quickest. DO come." As he still hesitated,
glancing from her to the house, she added, with a demure little
laugh, "Oh, I forget--this is Colonel Preston's quarters, and I'm
And this dainty little fairy, so natural in manner, so tasteful in
attire, was one of the artificial over-dressed creatures that his
sister had inveighed against so bitterly! Was Maggie really to be
trusted? This new revelation coming so soon after the episode of
the deserter staggered him. Nevertheless he hesitated, looking up
with a certain boyish timidity into Cicely's dangerous eyes.
"Is--is--my sister there?"
"I'm expecting her with my mother every moment," responded this
youthful but ingenious diplomatist sweetly; "she might be here now;
but," she added with a sudden heart-broken flash of sympathy, "I
know HOW anxious you both must be. I'LL take you to her now. Only
one moment, please." The opportunity of leading this handsome
savage as it were in chains across the parade, before everybody,
her father, her mother, her sister, and HIS--was not to be lost.
She darted into the house, and reappeared with the daintiest
imaginable straw hat on the side of her head, and demurely took her
place at his side. "It's only over there, at Major Bromley's," she
said, pointing to one of the vine-clad cottage quarters; but you
are a stranger here, you know, and might get lost."
Alas! he was already that. For keeping step with those fairy-like
slippers, brushing awkwardly against that fresh and pretty skirt,
and feeling the caress of the soft folds; looking down upon the
brim of that beribboned little hat, and more often meeting the
upturned blue eyes beneath it, Jim was suddenly struck with a
terrible conviction of his own contrasting coarseness and
deficiencies. How hideous those oiled canvas fishing-trousers and
pilot jacket looked beside this perfectly fitted and delicately
gowned girl! He loathed his collar, his jersey, his turned-back
sou'wester, even his height, which seemed to hulk beside her--
everything, in short, that the girl had recently admired. By the
time that they had reached Major Bromley's door he had so far
succumbed to the fair enchantress and realized her ambition of a
triumphant procession, that when she ushered him into the presence
of half a dozen ladies and gentlemen he scarcely recognized his
sister as the centre of attraction, or knew that Miss Cicely's
effusive greeting of Maggie was her first one. "I knew he was
dying to see you after all you had BOTH passed through, and I
brought him straight here," said the diminutive Machiavelli,
meeting the astonished gaze of her father and the curious eyes of
her sister with perfect calmness, while Maggie, full of gratitude
and admiration of her handsome brother, forgot his momentary
obliviousness, and returned her greeting warmly. Nevertheless,
there was a slight movement of reserve among the gentlemen at the
unlooked-for irruption of this sunburnt Adonis, until Calvert,
disengaging himself from Maggie's side, came forward with his usual
frank imperturbability and quiet tact, and claimed Jim as his
friend and honored guest.
It then came out with that unostentatious simplicity which
characterized the brother and sister, and was their secure claim to
perfect equality with their entertainers, that Jim, on discovering
his sister's absence, and fearing that she might be carried by the
current towards the bar, had actually SWUM THE ESTUARY to Indian
Island, and in an ordinary Indian canoe had braved the same
tempestuous passage she had taken a few hours before. Cicely,
listening to this recital with rapt attention, nevertheless managed
to convey the impression of having fully expected it from the
first. "Of course he'd have come here; if she'd only waited," she
said, sotto voce, to her sister Emily.
"He's certainly the handsomer of the two," responded that young
"Of course," returned Cicely, with a superior air, "don't you see
she COPIES him."
Not that this private criticism prevented either from vying with
the younger officers in their attentions to Maggie, with perhaps
the addition of an open eulogy of her handsome brother, more or
less invidious in comparison to the officers. "I suppose it's an
active out-of-door life gives him that perfect grace and freedom,"
said Emily, with a slight sneer at the smartly belted Calvert.
"Yes; and he don't drink or keep late hours," responded Cicely
significantly. "His sister says they always retire before ten
o'clock, and that although his father left him some valuable
whiskey he seldom takes a drop of it." "Therein," gravely
concluded Captain Kirby, "lies OUR salvation. If, after such a
confession, Calvert doesn't make the most of his acquaintance with
young Culpepper to remove that whiskey from his path and bring it
here, he's not the man I take him for."
Indeed, for the moment it seemed as if he was not. During the next
three or four days, in which Colonel Preston had insisted upon
detaining his guests, Calvert touched no liquor, evaded the evening
poker parties at quarters, and even prevailed upon some of his
brother officers to give them up for the more general entertainment
of the ladies. Colonel Preston was politician enough to avail
himself of the popularity of Maggie's adventure to invite some of
the Logport people to assist him in honoring their neighbor. Not
only was the old feud between the Fort and the people thus bridged
over, but there was no doubt that the discipline of the Fort had
been strengthened by Maggie's extravagant reputation as a mediator
among the disaffected rank and file. Whatever characteristic
license the grateful Dennis M'Caffrey--let off with a nominal
punishment--may have taken in his praise of the "Quane of the
Marshes," it is certain that the men worshiped her, and that the
band pathetically begged permission to serenade her the last night
of her stay.
At the end of that time, with a dozen invitations, a dozen
appointments, a dozen vows of eternal friendship, much hand-
shaking, and accompanied by a number of the officers to their boat,
Maggie and Jim departed. They talked but little on their way home;
by some tacit understanding they did not discuss those projects,
only recalling certain scenes and incidents of their visit. By the
time they had reached the little creek the silence and nervous
apathy which usually follow excitement in the young seemed to have
fallen upon them. It was not until after their quiet frugal supper
that, seated beside the fire, Jim looked up somewhat self-
consciously in his sister's grave and thoughtful face.
"Say, Mag, what was that idea o' yours about selling some land, and
taking a house at Logport?"
Maggie looked up, and said passively, "Oh, THAT idea?"
"Well," said Jim somewhat awkwardly, "it COULD be done, you know.
As she did not immediately reply, he continued uneasily, "Miss
Preston says we kin get a nice little house that is near the Fort,
until we want to build."
"Oh, then you HAVE talked about it?"
"Yes--that is--why, what are ye thinkin' of, Mag? Wasn't it YOUR
idea all along?" he said, suddenly facing her with querulous
embarrassment. They had been sitting in their usual evening
attitudes of Assyrian frieze profile, with even more than the usual
Assyrian frieze similarity of feature.
"Yes; but, Jim dear, do you think it the best thing for--for us to
do?" said Maggie, with half-frightened gravity.
At this sudden and startling exhibition of female inconsistency and
inconsequence, Jim was for a moment speechless. Then he recovered
himself, volubly, aggrievedly, and on his legs. What DID she mean?
Was he to give up understanding girls--or was it their sole
vocation in life to impede masculine processes and shipwreck
masculine conclusions? Here, after all she said the other night,
after they had nearly "quo'lled" over her "set idees," after she'd
"gone over all that foolishness about Jael and Sisera--and there
wasn't any use for it--after she'd let him run on to them officers
all he was goin' to do--nay, after SHE herself, for he had heard
her, had talked to Calvert about it, she wanted to know NOW if it
was best." He looked at the floor and the ceiling, as if expecting
the tongued and grooved planks to cry out at this crowning
The cause of it had resumed her sad gaze at the fire. Presently,
without turning her head, she reached up her long, graceful arm,
and clasping her brother's neck, brought his face down in profile
with her own, cheek against cheek, until they looked like the
double outlines of a medallion. Then she said--to the fire:
"Jim, do you think she's pretty?"
"Who?" said Jim, albeit his color had already answered the
"You know WHO. Do you like her?"
Jim here vaguely murmured to the fire that he thought her "kinder
nice," and that she dressed mighty purty. "Ye know, Mag," he said
with patronizing effusion, "you oughter get some gownds like hers."
"That wouldn't make me like her," said Maggie gravely.
"I don't know about that," said Jim politely, but with an appalling
hopelessness of tone. After a pause he added slyly, "'Pears to me
SOMEBODY ELSE thought somebody else mighty purty--eh?"
To his discomfiture she did not solicit further information. After
a pause he continued, still more archly:
"Do you like HIM, Mag?"
"I think he's a perfect gentleman," she said calmly.
He turned his eyes quickly from the glowing fire to her face. The
cheek that had been resting against his own was as cool as the
night wind that came through the open door, and the whole face was
as fixed and tranquil as the upper stars.
For a year the tide had ebbed and flowed on the Dedlow Marsh
unheeded before the sealed and sightless windows of the
"Kingfisher's Nest." Since the young birds had flown to Logport,
even the Indian caretakers had abandoned the piled dwelling for
their old nomadic haunts in the "bresh." The high spring tide had
again made its annual visit to the little cemetery of drift-wood,
and, as if recognizing another wreck in the deserted home, had hung
a few memorial offerings on the blackened piles, softly laid a
garland of grayish drift before it, and then sobbed itself out in
the salt grass.
From time to time the faint echoes of the Culpeppers' life at
Logport reached the upland, and the few neighbors who had only
known them by hearsay shook their heads over the extravagance they
as yet only knew by report. But it was in the dead ebb of the tide
and the waning daylight that the feathered tenants of the Marsh
seemed to voice dismal prophecies of the ruin of their old master
and mistress, and to give themselves up to gloomiest lamentation
and querulous foreboding. Whether the traditional "bird of the
air" had entrusted his secret to a few ornithological friends, or
whether from a natural disposition to take gloomy views of life, it
was certain that at this hour the vocal expression of the Marsh was
hopeless and despairing. It was then that a dejected plover,
addressing a mocking crew of sandpipers on a floating log, seemed
to bewail the fortune that was being swallowed up by the riotous
living and gambling debts of Jim. It was then that the querulous
crane rose, and testily protested against the selling of his
favorite haunt in the sandy peninsula, which only six months of
Jim's excesses had made imperative. It was then that a mournful
curlew, who, with the preface that he had always been really
expecting it, reiterated the story that Jim had been seen more than
once staggering home with nervous hands and sodden features from a
debauch with the younger officers; it was the same desponding fowl
who knew that Maggie's eyes had more than once filled with tears at
Jim's failings, and had already grown more hollow with many
watchings. It was a flock of wrangling teal that screamingly
discussed the small scandals, jealous heart-burnings, and curious
backbitings that had attended Maggie's advent into society. It was
the high-flying brent who, knowing how the sensitive girl, made
keenly conscious at every turn of her defective training and
ingenuous ignorance, had often watched their evening flight with
longing gaze, now "honked" dismally at the recollection. It was at
this hour and season that the usual vague lamentings of Dedlow
Marsh seemed to find at last a preordained expression. And it was
at such a time, when light and water were both fading, and the
blackness of the Marsh was once more reasserting itself, that a
small boat was creeping along one of the tortuous inlets, at times
half hiding behind the bank like a wounded bird. As it slowly
penetrated inland it seemed to be impelled by its solitary occupant
in a hesitating uncertain way, as if to escape observation rather
than as if directed to any positive bourn. Stopping beside a bank
of reeds at last, the figure rose stoopingly, and drew a gun from
between its feet and the bottom of the boat. As the light fell
upon its face, it could be seen that it was James Culpepper! James
Culpepper! hardly recognizable in the swollen features, bloodshot
eyes, and tremulous hands of that ruined figure! James Culpepper,
only retaining a single trace of his former self in his look of set
and passionate purpose! And that purpose was to kill himself--to
be found dead, as his father had been before him--in an open boat,
adrift upon the Marsh!
It was not the outcome of a sudden fancy. The idea had first come
to him in a taunting allusion from the drunken lips of one of his
ruder companions, for which he had stricken the offender to the
earth. It had since haunted his waking hours of remorse and
hopeless fatuity; it had seemed to be the one relief and atonement
he could make his devoted sister; and, more fatuous than all, it
seemed to the miserable boy the one revenge he would take upon the
faithless coquette, who for a year had played with his simplicity,
and had helped to drive him to the distraction of cards and drink.
Only that morning Colonel Preston had forbidden him the house; and
now it seemed to him the end had come. He raised his distorted
face above the reedy bank for a last tremulous and half-frightened
glance at the landscape he was leaving forever. A glint in the
western sky lit up the front of his deserted dwelling in the
distance, abreast of which the windings of the inlet had
unwittingly led him. As he looked he started, and involuntarily
dropped into a crouching attitude. For, to his superstitious
terror, the sealed windows of his old home were open, the bright
panes were glittering with the fading light, and on the outer
gallery the familiar figure of his sister stood, as of old,
awaiting his return! Was he really going mad, or had this last
vision of his former youth been purposely vouchsafed him?
But, even as he gazed, the appearance of another figure in the
landscape beyond the house proved the reality of his vision, and as
suddenly distracted him from all else. For it was the apparition
of a man on horseback approaching the house from the upland; and
even at that distance he recognized its well-known outlines. It
was Calvert! Calvert the traitor! Calvert, the man whom he had
long suspected as being the secret lover and destined husband of
Cicely Preston! Calvert, who had deceived him with his calm
equanimity and his affected preference for Maggie, to conceal his
deliberate understanding with Cicely. What was he doing here? Was
he a double traitor, and now trying to deceive HER--as he had him?
And Maggie here! This sudden return--this preconcerted meeting.
It was infamy!
For a moment he remained stupefied, and then, with a mechanical
instinct, plunged his head and face in the lazy-flowing water, and
then once again rose cool and collected. The half-mad distraction
of his previous resolve had given way to another, more deliberate,
but not less desperate determination. He knew now WHY he came
there--WHY he had brought his gun--why his boat had stopped when it
Lying flat in the bottom, he tore away fragments of the crumbling
bank to fill his frail craft, until he had sunk it to the gunwale,
and below the low level of the Marsh. Then, using his hands as
noiseless paddles, he propelled this rude imitation of a floating
log slowly past the line of vision, until the tongue of bushes had
hidden him from view. With a rapid glance at the darkening flat,
he then seized his gun, and springing to the spongy bank, half
crouching half crawling through reeds and tussocks, he made his way
to the brush. A foot and eye less experienced would have plunged
its owner helpless in the black quagmire. At one edge of the
thicket he heard hoofs trampling the dried twigs. Calvert's horse
was already there, tied to a skirting alder.
He ran to the house, but, instead of attracting attention by
ascending the creaking steps, made his way to the piles below the
rear gallery and climbed to it noiselessly. It was the spot where
the deserter had ascended a year ago, and, like him, he could see
and hear all that passed distinctly. Calvert stood near the open
door as if departing. Maggie stood between him and the window, her
face in shadow, her hands clasped tightly behind her. A profound
sadness, partly of the dying day and waning light, and partly of
some vague expiration of their own sorrow, seemed to encompass
them. Without knowing why, a strange trembling took the place of
James Culpepper's fierce determination, and a film of moisture
stole across his staring eyes.
"When I tell you that I believe all this will pass, and that you
will still win your brother back to you," said Calvert's sad but
clear voice, "I will tell you why--although, perhaps, it is only a
part of that confidence you command me to withhold. When I first
saw you, I myself had fallen into like dissolute habits; less
excusable than he, for I had some experience of the world and its
follies. When I met YOU, and fell under the influence of your
pure, simple, and healthy life; when I saw that isolation,
monotony, misunderstanding, even the sense of superiority to one's
surroundings could be lived down and triumphed over, without vulgar
distractions or pitiful ambitions; when I learned to love you--hear
me out, Miss Culpepper, I beg you--you saved ME--I, who was nothing
to you, even as I honestly believe you will still save your
brother, whom you love."
"How do you know I didn't RUIN him?" she said, turning upon him
bitterly. "How do you know that it wasn't to get rid of OUR
monotony, OUR solitude that I drove him to this vulgar distraction,
this pitiful--yes, you were right--pitiful ambition?"
"Because it isn't your real nature," he said quietly.
"My real nature," she repeated with a half savage vehemence that
seemed to be goaded from her by his very gentleness, "my real
nature! What did HE--what do YOU know of it?--My real nature!--
I'll tell you what it was," she went on passionately. "It was to
be revenged on you all for your cruelty, your heartlessness, your
wickedness to me and mine in the past. It was to pay you off for
your slanders of my dead father--for the selfishness that left me
and Jim alone with his dead body on the Marsh. That was what sent
me to Logport--to get even with you--to--to fool and flaunt you!
There, you have it now! And now that God has punished me for it by
crushing my brother--you--you expect me to let you crush ME too."
"But," he said eagerly, advancing toward her, "you are wronging me--
you are wronging yourself, cruelly."
"Stop," she said, stepping back, with her hands still locked behind
her. "Stay where you are. There! That's enough!" She drew
herself up and let her hands fall at her side. "Now, let us speak
of Jim," she said coldly.
Without seeming to hear her, he regarded her for the first time
with hopeless sadness.
"Why did you let my brother believe you were his rival with Cicely
Preston?" she asked impatiently.
"Because I could not undeceive him without telling him I hopelessly
loved his sister. You are proud, Miss Culpepper," he said, with
the first tinge of bitterness in his even voice. "Can you not
understand that others may be proud too?"
"No," she said bluntly; "it is not pride but weakness. You could
have told him what you knew to be true: that there could be nothing
in common between her folk and such savages as we; that there was a
gulf as wide as that Marsh and as black between our natures, our
training and theirs, and even if they came to us across it, now and
then, to suit their pleasure, light and easy as that tide--it was
still there to some day ground and swamp them! And if he doubted
it, you had only to tell him your own story. You had only to tell
him what you have just told me--that you yourself, an officer and a
gentleman, thought you loved me, a vulgar, uneducated, savage girl,
and that I, kinder to you than you to me or him, made you take it
back across that tide, because I couldn't let you link your life
with me, and drag you in the mire."
"You need not have said that, Miss Culpepper, returned Calvert with
the same gentle smile, "to prove that I am your inferior in all but
"And that?" she said quickly.
"Is my love."
His gentle face was as set now as her own as he moved back slowly
towards the door. There he paused.
"You tell me to speak of Jim, and Jim only. Then hear me. I
believe that Miss Preston cares for him as far as lies in her young
and giddy nature. I could not, therefore, have crushed HIS hope
without deceiving him, for there are as cruel deceits prompted by
what we call reason as by our love. If you think that a knowledge
of this plain truth would help to save him, I beg you to be kinder
to him than you have been to me,--or even, let me dare to hope, to
He slowly crossed the threshold, still holding his cap lightly in
"When I tell you that I am going away to-morrow on a leave of
absence, and that in all probability we may not meet again, you
will not misunderstand why I add my prayer to the message your
friends in Logport charged me with. They beg that you will give up
your idea of returning here, and come back to them. Believe me,
you have made yourself loved and respected there, in spite--I beg
pardon--perhaps I should say BECAUSE of your pride. Good-night and
For a single instant she turned her set face to the window with a
sudden convulsive movement, as if she would have called him back,
but at the same moment the opposite door creaked and her brother
slipped into the room. Whether a quick memory of the deserter's
entrance at that door a year ago had crossed her mind, whether
there was some strange suggestion in his mud-stained garments and
weak deprecating smile, or whether it was the outcome of some
desperate struggle within her, there was that in her face that
changed his smile into a frightened cry for pardon, as he ran and
fell on his knees at her feet. But even as he did so her stern
look vanished, and with her arm around him she bent over him and
mingled her tears with his.
"I heard it all, Mag dearest! All! Forgive me! I have been
crazy!--wild!--I will reform!--I will be better! I will never
disgrace you again, Mag! Never, never! I swear it!"
She reached down and kissed him. After a pause, a weak boyish
smile struggled into his face.
"You heard what he said of HER, Mag. Do you think it might be
She lifted the damp curls from his forehead with a sad half-
maternal smile, but did not reply.
"And Mag, dear, don't you think YOU were a little--just a little--
hard on HIM? No! Don't look at me that way, for God's sake!
There, I didn't mean anything. Of course you knew best. There,
Maggie dear, look up. Hark there! Listen, Mag, do!"
They lifted their eyes to the dim distance seen through the open
door. Borne on the fading light, and seeming to fall and die with
it over marsh and river, came the last notes of the bugle from the
"There! Don't you remember what you used to say, Mag?"
The look that had frightened him had quite left her face now.
"Yes," she smiled, laying her cold cheek beside his softly. "Oh
yes! It was something that came and went, 'Like a song'--'Like a
A KNIGHT-ERRANT OF THE FOOTHILLS.
As Father Felipe slowly toiled up the dusty road towards the Rancho
of the Blessed Innocents, he more than once stopped under the
shadow of a sycamore to rest his somewhat lazy mule and to compose
his own perplexed thoughts by a few snatches from his breviary.
For the good padre had some reason to be troubled. The invasion of
Gentile Americans that followed the gold discovery of three years
before had not confined itself to the plains of the Sacramento, but
stragglers had already found their way to the Santa Cruz Valley,
and the seclusion of even the mission itself was threatened. It
was true that they had not brought their heathen engines to
disembowel the earth in search of gold, but it was rumored that
they had already speculated upon the agricultural productiveness of
the land, and had espied "the fatness thereof." As he reached the
higher plateau he could see the afternoon sea-fog--presently to
obliterate the fair prospect--already pulling through the gaps in
the Coast Range, and on a nearer slope--no less ominously--the
smoke of a recent but more permanently destructive Yankee saw-mill
was slowly drifting towards the valley.
"Get up, beast!" said the father, digging his heels into the
comfortable flanks of his mule with some human impatience, "or art
THOU, too, a lazy renegade? Thinkest thou, besotted one, that the
heretic will spare thee more work than the Holy Church."
The mule, thus apostrophized in ear and flesh, shook its head
obstinately as if the question was by no means clear to its mind,
but nevertheless started into a little trot, which presently
brought it to the low adobe wall of the courtyard of "The
Innocents," and entered the gate. A few lounging peons in the
shadow of an archway took off their broad-brimmed hats and made way
for the padre, and a half dozen equally listless vaqueros helped
him to alight. Accustomed as he was to the indolence and
superfluity of his host's retainers, to-day it nevertheless seemed
to strike some note of irritation in his breast.
A stout, middle-aged woman of ungirt waist and beshawled head and
shoulders appeared at the gateway as if awaiting him. After a
formal salutation she drew him aside into an inner passage.
"He is away again, your Reverence," she said.
"Ah--always the same?"
"Yes, your Reverence--and this time to 'a meeting' of the heretics
at their pueblo, at Jonesville--where they will ask him of his land
for a road."