Part 3 out of 3
to hide it from the reach of vulgar eyes. But had Cherry known
that its temporary resting-place that night was under his pillow
she might have doubted his superior caution.
When he returned from the bank the next afternoon, Cherry rapped
ostentatiously at his door. "Mother wishes me to ask you," she
began with a certain prim formality, which nevertheless did not
preclude dimples, "if you would give us the pleasure of your
company at our Church Festival to-night? There will be a concert
and a collation. You could accompany us there if you cared. Our
friends and Tappington's would be so glad to see you, and Dr. Stout
would be delighted to make your acquaintance."
"Certainly!" said Herbert, delighted and yet astounded. "Then," he
added in a lower voice, "your mother no longer believes me so
"Oh no," said Cherry in a hurried whisper, glancing up and down the
passage; "I've been talking to her about it, and she is satisfied
that it is all a jealous trick and slander of these neighbors.
Why, I told her that they had even said that I was that mysterious
woman; that I came that way to you because she had forbidden my
seeing you openly."
"What! You dared say that?"
"Yes don't you see? Suppose they said they HAD seen me coming in
last night--THAT answers it," she said triumphantly.
"Oh, it does?" he said vacantly.
"Perfectly. So you see she's convinced that she ought to put you
on the same footing as Tappington, before everybody; and then there
won't be any trouble. You'll come, won't you? It won't be so VERY
good. And then, I've told mother that as there have been so many
street-fights, and so much talk about the Vigilance Committee
lately, I ought to have somebody for an escort when I am coming
home. And if you're known, you see, as one of US, there'll be no
harm in your meeting me."
"Thank you," he said, extending his hand gratefully.
Her fingers rested a moment in his. "Where did you put it?" she
"It? Oh! IT'S all safe," he said quickly, but somewhat vaguely.
"But I don't call the upper drawer of your bureau safe," she
returned poutingly, "where EVERYBODY can go. So you'll find it NOW
inside the harmonium, on the keyboard."
"Oh, thank you."
"It's quite natural to have left it there ACCIDENTALLY--isn't it?"
she said imploringly, assisted by all her dimples. Alas! she had
forgotten that he was still holding her hand. Consequently, she
had not time to snatch it away and vanish, with a stifled little
cry, before it had been pressed two or three times to his lips. A
little ashamed of his own boldness, Herbert remained for a few
moments in the doorway listening, and looking uneasily down the
dark passage. Presently a slight sound came over the fanlight of
Cherry's room. Could he believe his ears? The saint-like Cherry--
no doubt tutored, for example's sake, by the perfect Tappington--
was softly whistling.
In this simple fashion the first pages of this little idyl were
quietly turned. The book might have been closed or laid aside even
then. But it so chanced that Cherry was an unconscious prophet;
and presently it actually became a prudential necessity for her to
have a masculine escort when she walked out. For a growing state
of lawlessness and crime culminated one day the deep tocsin of the
Vigilance Committee, and at its stroke fifty thousand peaceful men,
reverting to the first principles of social safety, sprang to arms,
assembled at their quarters, or patrolled the streets. In another
hour the city of San Francisco was in the hands of a mob--the most
peaceful, orderly, well organized, and temperate the world had ever
known, and yet in conception as lawless, autocratic, and imperious
as the conditions it opposed.
Herbert, enrolled in the same section with his employer and one or
two fellow-clerks, had participated in the meetings of the
committee with the light-heartedness and irresponsibility of youth,
regretting only the loss of his usual walk with Cherry and the
hours that kept him from her house. He was returning from a
protracted meeting one night, when the number of arrests and
searching for proscribed and suspected characters had been so large
as to induce fears of organized resistance and rescue, and on
reaching the foot of the hill found it already so late, that to
avoid disturbing the family he resolved to enter his room directly
by the door in the side street. On inserting his key in the lock
it met with some resisting obstacle, which, however, yielded and
apparently dropped on the mat inside. Opening the door and
stepping into the perfectly dark apartment, he trod upon this
object, which proved to be another key. The family must have
procured it for their convenience during his absence, and after
locking the door had carelessly left it in the lock. It was lucky
that it had yielded so readily.
The fire had gone out. He closed the door and lit the gas, and
after taking off his overcoat moved to the door leading into the
passage to listen if anybody was still stirring. To his utter
astonishment he found it locked. What was more remarkable--the key
was also INSIDE! An inexplicable feeling took possession of him.
He glanced suddenly around the room, and then his eye fell upon the
bed. Lying there, stretched at full length, was the recumbent
figure of a man.
He was apparently in the profound sleep of utter exhaustion. The
attitude of his limbs and the order of his dress--of which only his
collar and cravat had been loosened--showed that sleep must have
overtaken him almost instantly. In fact, the bed was scarcely
disturbed beyond the actual impress of his figure. He seemed to be
a handsome, matured man of about forty; his dark straight hair was
a little thinned over the temples, although his long heavy
moustache was still youthful and virgin. His clothes, which were
elegantly cut and of finer material than that in ordinary use, the
delicacy and neatness of his linen, the whiteness of his hands,
and, more particularly, a certain dissipated pallor of complexion
and lines of recklessness on the brow and cheek, indicated to
Herbert that the man before him was one of that desperate and
suspected class--some of whose proscribed members he had been
hunting--the professional gambler!
Possibly the magnetism of Herbert's intent and astonished gaze
affected him. He moved slightly, half opened his eyes, said
"Halloo, Tap," rubbed them again, wholly opened them, fixed them
with a lazy stare on Herbert, and said:
"Now, who the devil are you?"
"I think I have the right to ask that question, considering that
this is my room," said Herbert sharply.
The stranger half raised himself on his elbow, glanced round the
room, settled himself slowly back on the pillows, with his hands
clasped lightly behind his head, dropped his eyelids, smiled, and
"What?" demanded Herbert, with a resentful sense of sacrilege to
Cherry's virgin slang.
"Well, old rats then! D'ye think I don't know this shebang? Look
here, Johnny, what are you putting on all this side for, eh?
What's your little game? Where's Tappington?"
"If you mean Mr. Brooks, the son of this house, who formerly lived
in this room," replied Herbert, with a formal precision intended to
show a doubt of the stranger's knowledge of Tappington, "you ought
to know that he has left town."
"Left town!" echoed the stranger, raising himself again. "Oh, I
see! getting rather too warm for him here? Humph! I ought to have
thought of that. Well, you know, he DID take mighty big risks,
anyway!" He was silent a moment, with his brows knit and a rather
dangerous expression in his handsome face. "So some d--d hound
gave him away--eh?"
"I hadn't the pleasure of knowing Mr. Brooks except by reputation,
as the respected son of the lady upon whose house you have just
intruded," said Herbert frigidly, yet with a creeping consciousness
of some unpleasant revelation.
The stranger stared at him for a moment, again looked carefully
round the room, and then suddenly dropped his head back on the
pillow, and with his white hands over his eyes and mouth tried to
restrain a spasm of silent laughter. After an effort he succeeded,
wiped his moist eyes, and sat up.
"So you didn't know Tappington, eh?" he said, lazily buttoning his
"No more do I."
He retied his cravat, yawned, rose, shook himself perfectly neat
again, and going to Herbert's dressing-table quietly took up a
brush and began to lightly brush himself, occasionally turning to
the window to glance out. Presently he turned to Herbert and said:
"Well, Johnny, what's your name?"
"I am Herbert Bly, of Carstone's Bank."
"So, and a member of this same Vigilance Committee, I reckon," he
"Well, Mr. Bly, I owe you an apology for coming here, and some
thanks for the only sleep I've had in forty-eight hours. I struck
this old shebang at about ten o'clock, and it's now two, so I
reckon I've put in about four hours' square sleep. Now, look
here." He beckoned Herbert towards the window. "Do you see those
three men standing under that gaslight? Well, they're part of a
gang of Vigilantes who've hunted me to the hill, and are waiting to
see me come out of the bushes, where they reckon I'm hiding. Go to
them and say that I'm here! Tell them you've got Gentleman George--
George Dornton, the man they've been hunting for a week--in this
room. I promise you I won't stir, nor kick up a row, when they've
come. Do it, and Carstone, if he's a square man, will raise your
salary for it, and promote you." He yawned slightly, and then
slowly looking around him, drew the easy-chair towards him and
dropped comfortably in it, gazing at the astounded and motionless
Herbert with a lazy smile.
"You're wondering what my little game is, Johnny, ain't you? Well,
I'll tell you. What with being hunted from pillar to post, putting
my old pards to no end of trouble, and then slipping up on it
whenever I think I've got a sure thing like this,"--he cast an
almost affectionate glance at the bed,--"I've come to the
conclusion that it's played out, and I might as well hand in my
checks. It's only a question of my being RUN OUT of 'Frisco, or
hiding until I can SLIP OUT myself; and I've reckoned I might as
well give them the trouble and expense of transportation. And if I
can put a good thing in your way in doing it--why, it will sort of
make things square with you for the fuss I've given you."
Even in the stupefaction and helplessness of knowing that the man
before him was the notorious duellist and gambler George Dornton,
one of the first marked for deportation by the Vigilance Committee,
Herbert recognized all he had heard of his invincible coolness,
courage, and almost philosophic fatalism. For an instant his
youthful imagination checked even his indignation. When he
recovered himself, he said, with rising color and boyish vehemence:
"Whoever YOU may be, I am neither a police officer nor a spy. You
have no right to insult me by supposing that I would profit by the
mistake that made you my guest, or that I would refuse you the
sanctuary of the roof that covers your insult as well as your
The stranger gazed at him with an amused expression, and then rose
and stretched out his hand.
"Shake, Mr. Bly! You're the only man that ever kicked George
Dornton when he deserved it. Good-night!" He took his hat and
walked to the door.
"Stop!" said Herbert impulsively; "the night is already far gone;
go back and finish your sleep."
"You mean it?"
The stranger turned, walked back to the bed, unfastening his coat
and collar as he did so, and laid himself down in the attitude of a
"I will call you in the morning," continued Herbert. "By that
time,"--he hesitated,--"by that time your pursuers may have given
up their search. One word more. You will be frank with me?"
"Tappington and you are--friends?"
"His mother and sister know nothing of this?"
"I reckon he didn't boast of it. I didn't. Is that all?"
"Don't YOU worry about HIM. Good-night."
But even at that moment George Dornton had dropped off in a quiet,
Bly turned down the light, and, drawing his easy-chair to the
window, dropped into it in bewildering reflection. This then was
the secret--unknown to mother and daughter--unsuspected by all!
This was the double life of Tappington, half revealed in his
flirtation with the neighbors, in the hidden cards behind the
books, in the mysterious visitor--still unaccounted for--and now
wholly exploded by this sleeping confederate, for whom, somehow,
Herbert felt the greatest sympathy! What was to be done? What
should he say to Cherry--to her mother--to Mr. Carstone? Yet he
had felt he had done right. From time to time he turned to the
motionless recumbent shadow on the bed and listened to its slow and
peaceful respiration. Apart from that undefinable attraction which
all original natures have for each other, the thrice-blessed
mystery of protection of the helpless, for the first time in his
life, seemed to dawn upon him through that night.
Nevertheless, the actual dawn came slowly. Twice he nodded and
awoke quickly with a start. The third time it was day. The
street-lamps were extinguished, and with them the moving, restless
watchers seemed also to have vanished. Suddenly a formal
deliberate rapping at the door leading to the hall startled him to
It must be Ellen. So much the better; he could quickly get rid of
her. He glanced at the bed; Dornton slept on undisturbed. He
unlocked the door cautiously, and instinctively fell back before
the erect, shawled, and decorous figure of Mrs. Brooks. But an
utterly new resolution and excitement had supplanted the habitual
resignation of her handsome features, and given them an angry
sparkle of expression.
Recollecting himself, he instantly stepped forward into the
passage, drawing to the door behind him, as she, with equal
celerity, opposed it with her hand.
"Mr. Bly," she said deliberately, "Ellen has just told me that your
voice has been heard in conversation with some one in this room
late last night. Up to this moment I have foolishly allowed my
daughter to persuade me that certain infamous scandals regarding
your conduct here were false. I must ask you as a gentleman to let
me pass now and satisfy myself."
"But, my dear madam, one moment. Let me first explain--I beg"--
stammered Herbert with a half-hysterical laugh. "I assure you a
But she had pushed him aside and entered precipitately. With a
quick feminine glance round the room she turned to the bed, and
then halted in overwhelming confusion.
"It's a friend," said Herbert in a hasty whisper. "A friend of
mine who returned with me late, and whom, on account of the
disturbed state of the streets, I induced to stay here all night.
He was so tired that I have not had the heart to disturb him yet."
"Oh, pray don't!--I beg"--said Mrs. Brooks with a certain youthful
vivacity, but still gazing at the stranger's handsome features as
she slowly retreated. "Not for worlds!"
Herbert was relieved; she was actually blushing.
"You see, it was quite unpremeditated, I assure you. We came in
together," whispered Herbert, leading her to the door, "and I"--
"Don't believe a word of it, madam," said a lazy voice from the
bed, as the stranger leisurely raised himself upright, putting the
last finishing touch to his cravat as he shook himself neat again.
"I'm an utter stranger to him, and he knows it. He found me here,
biding from the Vigilantes, who were chasing me on the hill. I got
in at that door, which happened to be unlocked. He let me stay
because he was a gentleman--and--I wasn't. I beg your pardon,
madam, for having interrupted him before you; but it was a little
rough to have him lie on MY account when he wasn't the kind of man
to lie on his OWN. You'll forgive him--won't you, please?--and, as
I'm taking myself off now, perhaps you'll overlook MY intrusion
It was impossible to convey the lazy frankness of this speech, the
charming smile with which it was accompanied, or the easy yet
deferential manner with which, taking up his hat, he bowed to Mrs.
Brooks as he advanced toward the door.
"But," said Mrs. Brooks, hurriedly glancing from Herbert to the
stranger, "it must be the Vigilantes who are now hanging about the
street. Ellen saw them from her window, and thought they were YOUR
friends, Mr. Bly. This gentleman--your friend"--she had become a
little confused in her novel excitement--"really ought not to go
out now. It would be madness."
"If you wouldn't mind his remaining a little longer, it certainly
would be safer," said Herbert, with wondering gratitude.
"I certainly shouldn't consent to his leaving my house now," said
Mrs. Brooks with dignity; "and if you wouldn't mind calling Cherry
here, Mr. Bly--she's in the dining-room--and then showing yourself
for a moment in the street and finding out what they wanted, it
would be the best thing to do."
Herbert flew downstairs; in a few hurried words he gave the same
explanation to the astounded Cherry that he had given to her
mother, with the mischievous addition that Mrs. Brooks's unjust
suspicions had precipitated her into becoming an amicable
accomplice, and then ran out into the street. Here he ascertained
from one of the Vigilantes, whom he knew, that they were really
seeking Dornton; but that, concluding that the fugitive had already
escaped to the wharves, they expected to withdraw their
surveillance at noon. Somewhat relieved, he hastened back, to find
the stranger calmly seated on the sofa in the parlor with the same
air of frank indifference, lazily relating the incidents of his
flight to the two women, who were listening with every expression
of sympathy and interest. "Poor fellow!" said Cherry, taking the
astonished Bly aside into the hall, "I don't believe he's half as
bad as THEY said he is--or as even HE makes himself out to be. But
DID you notice mother?"
Herbert, a little dazed, and, it must be confessed, a trifle uneasy
at this ready acceptance of the stranger, abstractedly said he had
"Why, it's the most ridiculous thing. She's actually going round
WITHOUT HER SHAWL, and doesn't seem to know it."
When Herbert finally reached the bank that morning he was still in
a state of doubt and perplexity. He had parted with his grateful
visitor, whose safety in a few hours seemed assured, but without
the least further revelation or actual allusion to anything
antecedent to his selecting Tappington's room as refuge. More than
that, Herbert was convinced from his manner that he had no
intention of making a confidant of Mrs. Brooks, and this convinced
him that Dornton's previous relations with Tappington were not only
utterly inconsistent with that young man's decorous reputation, but
were unsuspected by the family. The stranger's familiar knowledge
of the room, his mysterious allusions to the "risks" Tappington had
taken, and his sudden silence on the discovery of Bly's ignorance
of the whole affair all pointed to some secret that, innocent or
not, was more or less perilous, not only to the son but to the
mother and sister. Of the latter's ignorance he had no doubt--but
had he any right to enlighten them? Admitting that Tappington had
deceived them with the others, would they thank him for opening
their eyes to it? If they had already a suspicion, would they care
to know that it was shared by him? Halting between his frankness
and his delicacy, the final thought that in his budding relations
with the daughter it might seem a cruel bid for her confidence, or
a revenge for their distrust of him, inclined him to silence. But
an unforeseen occurrence took the matter from his hands. At noon
he was told that Mr. Carstone wished to see him in his private
Satisfied that his complicity with Dornton's escape was discovered,
the unfortunate Herbert presented himself, pale but self-possessed,
before his employer. That brief man of business bade him be
seated, and standing himself before the fireplace, looked down
curiously, but not unkindly, upon his employee.
"Mr. Bly, the bank does not usually interfere with the private
affairs of its employees, but for certain reasons which I prefer to
explain to you later, I must ask you to give me a straightforward
answer to one or two questions. I may say that they have nothing
to do with your relations to the bank, which are to us perfectly
More than ever convinced that Mr. Carstone was about to speak of
his visitor, Herbert signified his willingness to reply.
"You have been seen a great deal with Miss Brooks lately--on the
street and elsewhere--acting as her escort, and evidently on terms
of intimacy. To do you both justice, neither of you seemed to have
made it a secret or avoided observation; but I must ask you
directly if it is with her mother's permission?"
Considerably relieved, but wondering what was coming, Herbert
answered, with boyish frankness, that it was.
"Are you--engaged to the young lady?"
"Are you--well, Mr. Bly--briefly, are you what is called 'in love'
with her?" asked the banker, with a certain brusque hurrying over
of a sentiment evidently incompatible with their present business
Herbert blushed. It was the first time he had heard the question
voiced, even by himself.
"I am," he said resolutely.
"And you wish to marry her?"
"If I dared ask her to accept a young man with no position as yet,"
"People don't usually consider a young man in Carstone's Bank of no
position," said the banker dryly; "and I wish for your sake THAT
were the only impediment. For I am compelled to reveal to you a
secret." He paused, and folding his arms, looked fixedly down upon
his clerk. "Mr. Bly, Tappington Brooks, the brother of your
sweetheart, was a defaulter and embezzler from this bank!"
Herbert sat dumfounded and motionless.
"Understand two things," continued Mr. Carstone quickly. "First,
that no purer or better women exist than Miss Brooks and her
mother. Secondly, that they know nothing of this, and that only
myself and one other man are in possession of the secret."
He slightly changed his position, and went on more deliberately.
"Six weeks ago Tappington sat in that chair where you are sitting
now, a convicted hypocrite and thief. Luckily for him, although
his guilt was plain, and the whole secret of his double life
revealed to me, a sum of money advanced in pity by one of his
gambling confederates had made his accounts good and saved him from
suspicion in the eyes of his fellow-clerks and my partners. At
first he tried to fight me on that point; then he blustered and
said his mother could have refunded the money; and asked me what
was a paltry five thousand dollars! I told him, Mr. Bly, that it
might be five years of his youth in state prison; that it might be
five years of sorrow and shame for his mother and sister; that it
might be an everlasting stain on the name of his dead father--my
friend. He talked of killing himself: I told him he was a cowardly
fool. He asked me to give him up to the authorities: I told him I
intended to take the law in my own hands and give him another
chance; and then he broke down. I transferred him that very day,
without giving him time to communicate with anybody, to our branch
office at Portland, with a letter explaining his position to our
agent, and the injunction that for six months he should be under
strict surveillance. I myself undertook to explain his sudden
departure to Mrs. Brooks, and obliged him to write to her from time
to time." He paused, and then continued: "So far I believe my plan
has been successful: the secret has been kept; he has broken with
the evil associates that ruined him here--to the best of my
knowledge he has had no communication with them since; even a
certain woman here who shared his vicious hidden life has abandoned
"Are you sure?" asked Herbert involuntarily, as he recalled his
"I believe the Vigilance Committee has considered it a public duty
to deport her and her confederates beyond the State," returned
Another idea flashed upon Herbert. "And the gambler who advanced
the money to save Tappington?" he said breathlessly.
"Wasn't such a hound as the rest of his kind, if report says true,"
answered Carstone. "He was well known here as George Dornton--
Gentleman George--a man capable of better things. But he was
before your time, Mr. Bly--YOU don't know him."
Herbert didn't deem it a felicitous moment to correct his employer,
and Mr. Carstone continued: "I have now told you what I thought it
was my duty to tell you. I must leave YOU to judge how far it
affects your relations with Miss Brooks."
Herbert did not hesitate. "I should be very sorry, sir, to seem to
undervalue your consideration or disregard your warning; but I am
afraid that even if you had been less merciful to Tappington, and
he were now a convicted felon, I should change neither my feelings
nor my intentions to his sister."
"And you would still marry her?" said Carstone sternly; "YOU, an
employee of the bank, would set the example of allying yourself
with one who had robbed it?"
"I--am afraid I would, sir," said Herbert slowly.
"Even if it were a question of your remaining here?" said Carstone
Poor Herbert already saw himself dismissed and again taking up his
weary quest for employment; but, nevertheless, he answered stoutly:
"And nothing will prevent you marrying Miss Brooks?"
"Nothing--save my inability to support her."
"Then," said Mr. Carstone, with a peculiar light in his eyes, "it
only remains for the bank to mark its opinion of your conduct by
INCREASING YOUR SALARY TO ENABLE YOU TO DO SO! Shake hands, Mr.
Bly," he said, laughing. "I think you'll do to tie to--and I
believe the young lady will be of the same opinion. But not a word
to either her or her mother in regard to what you have heard. And
now I may tell you something more. I am not without hope of
Tappington's future, nor--d--n it!--without some excuse for his
fault, sir. He was artificially brought up. When my old friend
died, Mrs. Brooks, still a handsome woman, like all her sex
wouldn't rest until she had another devotion, and wrapped herself
and her children up in the Church. Theology may be all right for
grown people, but it's apt to make children artificial; and
Tappington was pious before he was fairly good. He drew on a
religious credit before he had a moral capital behind it. He was
brought up with no knowledge of the world, and when he went into
it--it captured him. I don't say there are not saints born into
the world occasionally; but for every one you'll find a lot of
promiscuous human nature. My old friend Josh Brooks had a heap of
it, and it wouldn't be strange if some was left in his children,
and burst through their straight-lacing in a queer way. That's
all! Good-morning, Mr. Bly. Forget what I've told you for six
months, and then I shouldn't wonder if Tappington was on hand to
give his sister away.
. . . . . . .
Mr. Carstone's prophecy was but half realized. At the end of six
months Herbert Bly's discretion and devotion were duly rewarded by
Cherry's hand. But Tappington did NOT give her away. That saintly
prodigal passed his period of probation with exemplary rectitude,
but, either from a dread of old temptation, or some unexplained
reason, he preferred to remain in Portland, and his fastidious nest
on Telegraph Hill knew him no more. The key of the little door on
the side street passed, naturally, into the keeping of Mrs. Bly.
Whether the secret of Tappington's double life was ever revealed to
the two women is not known to the chronicler. Mrs. Bly is reported
to have said that the climate of Oregon was more suited to her
brother's delicate constitution than the damp fogs of San
Francisco, and that his tastes were always opposed to the mere
frivolity of metropolitan society. The only possible reason for
supposing that the mother may have become cognizant of her son's
youthful errors was in the occasional visits to the house of the
handsome George Dornton, who, in the social revolution that
followed the brief reign of the Vigilance Committee,
characteristically returned as a dashing stockbroker, and the fact
that Mrs. Brooks seemed to have discarded her ascetic shawl
forever. But as all this was contemporaneous with the absurd
rumor, that owing to the loneliness induced by the marriage of her
daughter she contemplated a similar change in her own condition, it
is deemed unworthy the serious consideration of this veracious
CAPTAIN JIM'S FRIEND.
Hardly one of us, I think, really believed in the auriferous
probabilities of Eureka Gulch. Following a little stream, we had
one day drifted into it, very much as we imagined the river gold
might have done in remoter ages, with the difference that WE
remained there, while the river gold to all appearances had not.
At first it was tacitly agreed to ignore this fact, and we made the
most of the charming locality, with its rare watercourse that lost
itself in tangled depths of manzanita and alder, its laurel-choked
pass, its flower-strewn hillside, and its summit crested with
"You see," said the optimistic Rowley, water's the main thing after
all. If we happen to strike river gold, thar's the stream for
washing it; if we happen to drop into quartz--and that thar rock
looks mighty likely--thar ain't a more natural-born site for a mill
than that right bank, with water enough to run fifty stamps. That
hillside is an original dump for your tailings, and a ready found
inclined road for your trucks, fresh from the hands of Providence;
and that road we're kalkilatin' to build to the turnpike will run
just easy along that ridge."
Later, when we were forced to accept the fact that finding gold was
really the primary object of a gold-mining company, we still
remained there, excusing our youthful laziness and incertitude by
brilliant and effective sarcasms upon the unremunerative
attractions of the gulch. Nevertheless, when Captain Jim,
returning one day from the nearest settlement and post-office,
twenty miles away, burst upon us with "Well, the hull thing'll be
settled now, boys; Lacy Bassett is coming down yer to look round,"
we felt considerably relieved.
And yet, perhaps, we had as little reason for it as we had for
remaining there. There was no warrant for any belief in the
special divining power of the unknown Lacy Bassett, except Captain
Jim's extravagant faith in his general superiority, and even that
had always been a source of amused skepticism to the camp. We were
already impatiently familiar with the opinions of this unseen
oracle; he was always impending in Captain Jim's speech as a
fragrant memory or an unquestioned authority. When Captain Jim
began, "Ez Lacy was one day tellin' me," or, "Ez Lacy Bassett
allows," or more formally, when strangers were present, "Ez a
partickler friend o' mine, Lacy Bassett--maybe ez you know him--
sez," the youthful and lighter members of the Eureka Mining Company
glanced at each other in furtive enjoyment. Nevertheless no one
looked more eagerly forward to the arrival of this apocryphal sage
than these indolent skeptics. It was at least an excitement; they
were equally ready to accept his condemnation of the locality or
his justification of their original selection.
He came. He was received by the Eureka Mining Company lying on
their backs on the grassy site of the prospective quartz mill, not
far from the equally hypothetical "slide" to the gulch. He came by
the future stage road--at present a thickset jungle of scrub-oaks
and ferns. He was accompanied by Captain Jim, who had gone to meet
him on the trail, and for a few moments all critical inspection of
himself was withheld by the extraordinary effect he seemed to have
upon the faculties of his introducer.
Anything like the absolute prepossession of Captain Jim by this
stranger we had never imagined. He approached us running a little
ahead of his guest, and now and then returning assuringly to his
side with the expression of a devoted Newfoundland dog, which in
fluffiness he generally resembled. And now, even after the
introduction was over, when he made a point of standing aside in an
affectation of carelessness, with his hands in his pockets, the
simulation was so apparent, and his consciousness and absorption in
his friend so obvious, that it was a relief to us to recall him
into the conversation.
As to our own first impressions of the stranger, they were probably
correct. We all disliked him; we thought him conceited, self-
opinionated, selfish, and untrustworthy. But later, reflecting
that this was possibly the result of Captain Jim's over-praise, and
finding none of these qualities as yet offensively opposed to our
own selfishness and conceit, we were induced, like many others, to
forget our first impressions. We could easily correct him if he
attempted to impose upon US, as he evidently had upon Captain Jim.
Believing, after the fashion of most humanity, that there was
something about US particularly awe-inspiring and edifying to vice
or weakness of any kind, we good-humoredly yielded to the cheap
fascination of this showy, self-saturated, over-dressed, and
underbred stranger. Even the epithet of "blower" as applied to him
by Rowley had its mitigations; in that Trajan community a bully was
not necessarily a coward, nor florid demonstration always a
His condemnation of the gulch was sweeping, original, and striking.
He laughed to scorn our half-hearted theory of a gold deposit in
the bed and bars of our favorite stream. We were not to look for
auriferous alluvium in the bed of any present existing stream, but
in the "cement" or dried-up bed of the original prehistoric rivers
that formerly ran parallel with the present bed, and which--he
demonstrated with the stem of Pickney's pipe in the red dust--could
be found by sinking shafts at right angles with the stream. The
theory was to us, at that time, novel and attractive. It was true
that the scientific explanation, although full and gratuitous,
sounded vague and incoherent. It was true that the geological
terms were not always correct, and their pronunciation defective,
but we accepted such extraordinary discoveries as "ignus fatuus
rock," "splendiferous drift," "mica twist" (recalling a popular
species of tobacco), "iron pirates," and "discomposed quartz" as
part of what he not inaptly called a "tautological formation," and
were happy. Nor was our contentment marred by the fact that the
well-known scientific authority with whom the stranger had been
intimate,--to the point of "sleeping together" during a survey,--
and whom he described as a bent old man with spectacles, must have
aged considerably since one of our party saw him three years before
as a keen young fellow of twenty-five. Inaccuracies like those
were only the carelessness of genius. "That's my opinion,
gentlemen," he concluded, negligently rising, and with pointed
preoccupation whipping the dust of Eureka Gulch from his clothes
with his handkerchief, "but of course it ain't nothin' to me."
Captain Jim, who had followed every word with deep and trustful
absorption, here repeated, "It ain't nothing to him, boys," with a
confidential implication of the gratuitous blessing we had
received, and then added, with loyal encouragement to him, "It
ain't nothing to you, Lacy, in course," and laid his hand on his
shoulder with infinite tenderness.
We, however, endeavored to make it something to Mr. Lacy Bassett.
He was spontaneously offered a share in the company and a part of
Captain Jim's tent. He accepted both after a few deprecating and
muttered asides to Captain Jim, which the latter afterwards
explained to us was the giving up of several other important
enterprises for our sake. When he finally strolled away with
Rowley to look over the gulch, Captain Jim reluctantly tore himself
away from him only for the pleasure of reiterating his praise to us
as if in strictest confidence and as an entirely novel proceeding.
"You see, boys, I didn't like to say it afore HIM, we bein' old
friends; but, between us, that young feller ez worth thousands to
the camp. Mebbee," he continued with grave naivete, "I ain't said
much about him afore, mebbee, bein' old friends and accustomed to
him--you know how it is, boys,--I haven't appreciated him as much
ez I ought, and ez you do. In fact, I don't ezakly remember how I
kem to ask him down yer. It came to me suddent, one day only a
week ago Friday night, thar under that buckeye; I was thinkin' o'
one of his sayins, and sez I--thar's Lacy, if he was here he'd set
the hull thing right. It was the ghost of a chance my findin' him
free, but I did. And there HE is, and yer WE are settled! Ye
noticed how he just knocked the bottom outer our plans to work. Ye
noticed that quick sort o' sneerin' smile o' his, didn't ye--that's
Lacy! I've seen him knock over a heap o' things without sayin'
anythin'--with jist that smile."
It occurred to us that we might have some difficulty in utilizing
this smile in our present affairs, and that we should have probably
preferred something more assuring, but Captain Jim's faith was
"What is he, anyway?" asked Joe Walker lazily.
"Eh!" echoed Captain Jim in astonishment. "What is Lacy Bassett?"
"Yes, what is he?" repeated Walker.
"I've knowed him now goin' as four year," said Captain Jim with
slow reflective contentment. "Let's see. It was in the fall o'
'54 I first met him, and he's allus been the same ez you see him
"But what is his business or profession? What does he do?"
Captain Jim looked reproachfully at his questioner.
"Do?" he repeated, turning to the rest of us as if disdaining a
direct reply. "Do?--why, wot he's doin' now. He's allus the same,
allus Lacy Bassett."
Howbeit, we went to work the next day under the superintendence of
the stranger with youthful and enthusiastic energy, and began the
sinking of a shaft at once. To do Captain Jim's friend justice,
for the first few weeks he did not shirk a fair share of the actual
labor, replacing his objectionable and unsuitable finery with a
suit of serviceable working clothes got together by general
contribution of the camp, and assuring us of a fact we afterwards
had cause to remember, that "he brought nothing but himself into
Eureka Gulch." It may be added that he certainly had not brought
money there, as Captain Jim advanced the small amounts necessary
for his purchases in the distant settlement, and for the still
smaller sums he lost at cards, which he played with characteristic
Meantime the work in the shaft progressed slowly but regularly.
Even when the novelty had worn off and the excitement of
anticipation grew fainter, I am afraid that we clung to this new
form of occupation as an apology for remaining there; for the
fascinations of our vagabond and unconventional life were more
potent than we dreamed of. We were slowly fettered by our very
freedom; there was a strange spell in this very boundlessness of
our license that kept us from even the desire of change; in the
wild and lawless arms of nature herself we found an embrace as
clinging, as hopeless and restraining, as the civilization from
which we had fled. We were quite content after a few hours' work
in the shaft to lie on our backs on the hillside staring at the
unwinking sky, or to wander with a gun through the virgin forest in
search of game scarcely less vagabond than ourselves. We indulged
in the most extravagant and dreamy speculations of the fortune we
should eventually discover in the shaft, and believed that we were
practical. We broke our "saleratus bread" with appetites
unimpaired by restlessness or anxiety; we went to sleep under the
grave and sedate stars with a serene consciousness of having fairly
earned our rest; we awoke the next morning with unabated
trustfulness, and a sweet obliviousness of even the hypothetical
fortunes we had perhaps won or lost at cards overnight. We paid no
heed to the fact that our little capital was slowly sinking with
the shaft, and that the rainy season--wherein not only "no man
could work," but even such play as ours was impossible--was
In the midst of this, one day Lacy Bassett suddenly emerged from
the shaft before his "shift" of labor was over with every sign of
disgust and rage in his face and inarticulate with apparent
passion. In vain we gathered round him in concern; in vain Captain
Jim regarded him with almost feminine sympathy, as he flung away
his pick and dashed his hat to the ground.
"What's up, Lacy, old pard? What's gone o' you?" said Captain Jim
"Look!" gasped Lacy at last, when every eye was on him, holding up
a small fragment of rock before us and the next moment grinding it
under his heel in rage. "Look! To think that I've been fooled
agin by this blanked fossiliferous trap--blank it! To think that
after me and Professor Parker was once caught jist in this way up
on the Stanislaus at the bottom of a hundred-foot shaft by this
rotten trap--that yer I am--bluffed agin!"
There was a dead silence; we looked at each other blankly.
"But, Bassett," said Walker, picking up a part of the fragment,
"we've been finding this kind of stuff for the last two weeks."
"But how?" returned Lacy, turning upon him almost fiercely. "Did
ye find it superposed on quartz, or did you find it NOT superposed
on quartz? Did you find it in volcanic drift, or did ye find it in
old red-sandstone or coarse illuvion? Tell me that, and then ye
kin talk. But this yer blank fossiliferous trap, instead o' being
superposed on top, is superposed on the bottom. And that means"--
"What?" we all asked eagerly.
"Why--blank it all--that this yer convulsion of nature, this
prehistoric volcanic earthquake, instead of acting laterally and
chuckin' the stream to one side, has been revolutionary and turned
the old river-bed bottom-side up, and yer d--d cement hez got half
the globe atop of it! Ye might strike it from China, but nowhere
We continued to look at one another, the older members with
darkening faces, the younger with a strong inclination to laugh.
Captain Jim, who had been concerned only in his friend's emotion,
and who was hanging with undisguised satisfaction on these final
convincing proofs of his superior geological knowledge, murmured
approvingly and confidingly, "He's right, boys! Thar ain't another
man livin' ez could give you the law and gospil like that! Ye can
tie to what he says. That's Lacy all over."
Two weeks passed. We had gathered, damp and disconsolate, in the
only available shelter of the camp. For the long summer had ended
unexpectedly to us; we had one day found ourselves caught like the
improvident insect of the child's fable with gauzy and unseasonable
wings wet and bedraggled in the first rains, homeless and hopeless.
The scientific Lacy, who lately spent most of his time as a bar-
room oracle in the settlement, was away, and from our dripping
canvas we could see Captain Jim returning from a visit to him,
slowly plodding along the trail towards us.
"It's no use, boys," said Rowley, summarizing the result of our
conference, "we must speak out to him, and if nobody else cares to
do it I will. I don't know why we should be more mealy-mouthed
than they are at the settlement. They don't hesitate to call
Bassett a dead-beat, whatever Captain Jim says to the contrary."
The unfortunate Captain Jim had halted irresolutely before the
gloomy faces in the shelter. Whether he felt instinctively some
forewarning of what was coming I cannot say. There was a certain
dog-like consciousness in his eye and a half-backward glance over
his shoulder as if he were not quite certain that Lacy was not
following. The rain had somewhat subdued his characteristic
fluffiness, and he cowered with a kind of sleek storm-beaten
despondency over the smoking fire of green wood before our tent.
Nevertheless, Rowley opened upon him with a directness and decision
that astonished us. He pointed out briefly that Lacy Bassett had
been known to us only through Captain Jim's introduction. That he
had been originally invited there on Captain Jim's own account, and
that his later connection with the company had been wholly the
result of Captain Jim's statements. That, far from being any aid
or assistance to them, Bassett had beguiled them by apocryphal
knowledge and sham scientific theories into an expensive and
gigantic piece of folly. That, in addition to this, they had just
discovered that he had also been using the credit of the company
for his own individual expenses at the settlement while they were
working on his d--d fool shaft--all of which had brought them to
the verge of bankruptcy. That, as a result, they were forced now
to demand his resignation--not only on their general account, but
for Captain Jim's sake--believing firmly, as they did, that he had
been as grossly deceived in his friendship for Lacy Bassett as THEY
were in their business relations with him.
Instead of being mollified by this, Captain Jim, to our greater
astonishment, suddenly turned upon the speaker, bristling with his
old canine suggestion.
"There! I said so! Go on! I'd have sworn to it afore you opened
your lips. I knowed it the day you sneaked around and wanted to
know wot his business was! I said to myself, Cap, look out for
that sneakin' hound Rowley, he's no friend o' Lacy's. And the day
Lacy so far demeaned himself as to give ye that splendid
explanation o' things, I watched ye; ye didn't think it, but I
watched ye. Ye can't fool me! I saw ye lookin' at Walker there,
and I said to myself, Wot's the use, Lacy, wot's the use o' your
slingin' them words to such as THEM? Wot do THEY know? It's just
their pure jealousy and ignorance. Ef you'd come down yer, and
lazed around with us and fallen into our common ways, you'd ha'
been ez good a man ez the next. But no, it ain't your style, Lacy,
you're accustomed to high-toned men like Professor Parker, and you
can't help showing it. No wonder you took to avoidin' us; no
wonder I've had to foller you over the Burnt Wood Crossin' time and
again, to get to see ye. I see it all now: ye can't stand the
kempany I brought ye to! Ye had to wipe the slum gullion of Eureka
Gulch off your hands, Lacy"-- He stopped, gasped for breath, and
then lifted his voice more savagely, "And now, what's this? Wot's
this hogwash? this yer lyin' slander about his gettin' things on
the kempany's credit? Eh, speak up, some of ye!"
We were so utterly shocked and stupefied at the degradation of this
sudden and unexpected outburst from a man usually so honorable,
gentle, self-sacrificing, and forgiving, that we forgot the cause
of it and could only stare at each other. What was this cheap
stranger, with his shallow swindling tricks, to the ignoble change
he had worked upon the man before us. Rowley and Walker, both
fearless fighters and quick to resent an insult, only averted their
saddened faces and turned aside without a word.
"Ye dussen't say it! Well, hark to me then," he continued with
white and feverish lips. "I put him up to helpin' himself. I told
him to use the kempany's name for credit. Ye kin put that down to
ME. And when ye talk of HIS resigning, I want ye to understand
that I resign outer this rotten kempany and TAKE HIM WITH ME! Ef
all the gold yer lookin' for was piled up in that shaft from its
bottom in hell to its top in the gulch, it ain't enough to keep me
here away from him! Ye kin take all my share--all MY rights yer
above ground and below it--all I carry,"--he threw his buckskin
purse and revolver on the ground,--"and pay yourselves what you
reckon you've lost through HIM. But you and me is quits from to-
He strode away before a restraining voice or hand could reach him.
His dripping figure seemed to melt into the rain beneath the
thickening shadows of the pines, and the next moment he was gone.
From that day forward Eureka Gulch knew him no more. And the camp
itself somehow melted away during the rainy season, even as he had
Three years had passed. The pioneer stage-coach was sweeping down
the long descent to the pastoral valley of Gilead, and I was
looking towards the village with some pardonable interest and
anxiety. For I carried in my pocket my letters of promotion from
the box seat of the coach--where I had performed the functions of
treasure messenger for the Excelsior Express Company--to the
resident agency of that company in the bucolic hamlet before me.
The few dusty right-angled streets, with their rigid and staringly
new shops and dwellings, the stern formality of one or two obelisk-
like meeting-house spires, the illimitable outlying plains of wheat
and wild oats beyond, with their monotony scarcely broken by
skeleton stockades, corrals, and barrack-looking farm buildings,
were all certainly unlike the unkempt freedom of the mountain
fastnesses in which I had lately lived and moved. Yuba Bill, the
driver, whose usual expression of humorous discontent deepened into
scorn as he gathered up his reins as if to charge the village and
recklessly sweep it from his path, indicated a huge, rambling,
obtrusively glazed, and capital-lettered building with a
contemptuous flick of his whip as we passed. "Ef you're
kalkilatin' we'll get our partin' drink there you're mistaken.
That's wot they call a TEMPERANCE HOUSE--wot means a place where
the licker ye get underhand is only a trifle worse than the hash ye
get above-board. I suppose it's part o' one o' the mysteries o'
Providence that wharever you find a dusty hole like this--that's
naturally THIRSTY--ye run agin a 'temperance' house. But never YOU
mind! I shouldn't wonder if thar was a demijohn o' whiskey in the
closet of your back office, kept thar by the feller you're
relievin'--who was a white man and knew the ropes."
A few minutes later, when my brief installation was over, we DID
find the demijohn in the place indicated. As Yuba Bill wiped his
mouth with the back of his heavy buckskin glove, he turned to me
not unkindly. "I don't like to set ye agin Gile-ad, which is a
scrip-too-rural place, and a God-fearin' place, and a nice dry
place, and a place ez I've heard tell whar they grow beans and
pertatoes and garden sass; but afore three weeks is over, old pard,
you'll be howlin' to get back on that box seat with me, whar you
uster sit, and be ready to take your chances agin, like a little
man, to get drilled through with buckshot from road agents. You
hear me! I'll give you three weeks, sonny, just three weeks, to
get your butes full o' hayseed and straws in yer har; and I'll find
ye wadin' the North Fork at high water to get out o' this." He
shook my hand with grim tenderness, removing his glove--a rare
favor--to give me the pressure of his large, soft, protecting palm,
and strode away. The next moment he was shaking the white dust of
Gilead from his scornful chariot-wheels.
In the hope of familiarizing myself with the local interests of the
community, I took up a copy of the "Gilead Guardian" which lay on
my desk, forgetting for the moment the usual custom of the country
press to displace local news for long editorials on foreign
subjects and national politics. I found, to my disappointment,
that the "Guardian" exhibited more than the usual dearth of
domestic intelligence, although it was singularly oracular on "The
State of Europe," and "Jeffersonian Democracy." A certain cheap
assurance, a copy-book dogmatism, a colloquial familiarity, even in
the impersonal plural, and a series of inaccuracies and blunders
here and there, struck some old chord in my memory. I was mutely
wondering where and when I had become personally familiar with
rhetoric like that, when the door of the office opened and a man
entered. I was surprised to recognize Captain Jim.
I had not seen him since he had indignantly left us, three years
before, in Eureka Gulch. The circumstances of his defection were
certainly not conducive to any voluntary renewal of friendship on
either side; and although, even as a former member of the Eureka
Mining Company, I was not conscious of retaining any sense of
injury, yet the whole occurrence flashed back upon me with awkward
distinctness. To my relief, however, he greeted me with his old
cordiality; to my amusement he added to it a suggestion of the
large forgiveness of conscious rectitude and amiable toleration. I
thought, however, I detected, as he glanced at the paper which was
still in my hand and then back again at my face, the same uneasy
canine resemblance I remembered of old. He had changed but little
in appearance; perhaps he was a trifle stouter, more mature, and
slower in his movements. If I may return to my canine
illustration, his grayer, dustier, and more wiry ensemble gave me
the impression that certain pastoral and agricultural conditions
had varied his type, and he looked more like a shepherd's dog in
whose brown eyes there was an abiding consciousness of the care of
straying sheep, and possibly of one black one in particular.
He had, he told me, abandoned mining and taken up farming on a
rather large scale. He had prospered. He had other interests at
stake, "A flour-mill with some improvements--and--and"--here his
eyes wandered to the "Guardian" again, and he asked me somewhat
abruptly what I thought of the paper. Something impelled me to
restrain my previous fuller criticism, and I contented myself by
saying briefly that I thought it rather ambitious for the locality.
"That's the word," he said with a look of gratified relief,
"'ambitious'--you've just hit it. And what's the matter with thet?
Ye kan't expect a high-toned man to write down to the level of
every karpin' hound, ken ye now? That's what he says to me"-- He
stopped half confused, and then added abruptly: "That's one o' my
"Why, Captain Jim, I never suspected that you"--
"Oh, I don't WRITE it," he interrupted hastily. "I only furnish
the money and the advertising, and run it gin'rally, you know; and
I'm responsible for it. And I select the eddyter--and"--he
continued, with a return of the same uneasy wistful look--"thar's
suthin' in thet, you know, eh?"
I was beginning to be perplexed. The memory evoked by the style of
the editorial writing and the presence of Captain Jim was assuming
a suspicious relationship to each other. "And who's your editor?"
"Oh, he's--he's--er--Lacy Bassett," he replied, blinking his eyes
with a hopeless assumption of carelessness. "Let's see! Oh yes!
You knowed Lacy down there at Eureka. I disremembered it till now.
Yes, sir!" he repeated suddenly and almost rudely, as if to
preclude any adverse criticism, "he's the eddyter!"
To my surprise he was quite white and tremulous with nervousness.
I was very sorry for him, and as I really cared very little for the
half-forgotten escapade of his friend except so far as it seemed to
render HIM sensitive, I shook his hand again heartily and began to
talk of our old life in the gulch--avoiding as far as possible any
allusion to Lacy Bassett. His face brightened; his old simple
cordiality and trustfulness returned, but unfortunately with it his
old disposition to refer to Bassett. "Yes, they waz high old
times, and ez I waz sayin' to Lacy on'y yesterday, there is a kind
o' freedom 'bout that sort o' life that runs civilization and
noospapers mighty hard, however high-toned they is. Not but what
Lacy ain't right," he added quickly, "when he sez that the
opposition the 'Guardian' gets here comes from ignorant low-down
fellers ez wos brought up in played-out camps, and can't tell a
gentleman and a scholar and a scientific man when they sees him.
No! So I sez to Lacy, 'Never you mind, it's high time they did,
and they've got to do it and to swaller the "Guardian," if I sink
double the money I've already put into the paper.'"
I was not long in discovering from other sources that the
"Guardian" was not popular with the more intelligent readers of
Gilead, and that Captain Jim's extravagant estimate of his friend
was by no means indorsed by the community. But criticism took a
humorous turn even in that practical settlement, and it appeared
that Lacy Bassett's vanity, assumption, and ignorance were an
unfailing and weekly joy to the critical, in spite of the vague
distrust they induced in the more homely-witted, and the dull
acquiescence of that minority who accepted the paper for its
respectable exterior and advertisements. I was somewhat grieved,
however, to find that Captain Jim shared equally with his friend in
this general verdict of incompetency, and that some of the most
outrageous blunders were put down to HIM. But I was not prepared
to believe that Lacy had directly or by innuendo helped the public
to this opinion.
Whether through accident or design on his part, Lacy Bassett did
not personally obtrude himself upon my remembrance until a month
later. One dazzling afternoon, when the dust and heat had driven
the pride of Gilead's manhood into the surreptitious shadows of the
temperance hotel's back room, and had even cleared the express
office of its loungers, and left me alone with darkened windows in
the private office, the outer door opened and Captain Jim's friend
entered as part of that garish glitter I had shut out. To do the
scamp strict justice, however, he was somewhat subdued in his dress
and manner, and, possibly through some gentle chastening of epigram
and revolver since I had seen him last, was less aggressive and
exaggerated. I had the impression, from certain odors wafted
through the apartment and a peculiar physical exaltation that was
inconsistent with his evident moral hesitancy, that he had prepared
himself for the interview by a previous visit to the hidden
fountains of the temperance hotel.
"We don't seem to have run agin each other since you've been here,"
he said with an assurance that was nevertheless a trifle forced
"but I reckon we're both busy men, and there's a heap too much
loafing goin' on in Gilead. Captain Jim told me he met you the day
you arrived; said you just cottoned to the 'Guardian' at once and
thought it a deal too good for Gilead; eh? Oh, well, jest ez
likely he DIDN'T say it--it was only his gassin'. He's a queer
man--is Captain Jim."
I replied somewhat sharply that I considered him a very honest man,
a very simple man, and a very loyal man.
"That's all very well," said Bassett, twirling his cane with a
patronizing smile, "but, as his friend, don't you find him
considerable of a darned fool?"
I could not help retorting that I thought HE had found that hardly
"YOU think so," he said querulously, apparently ignoring everything
but the practical fact,--"and maybe others do; but that's where
you're mistaken. It don't pay. It may pay HIM to be runnin' me as
his particular friend, to be quotin' me here and there, to be
gettin' credit of knowin' me and my friends and ownin' me--by Gosh!
but I don't see where the benefit to ME comes in. Eh? Take your
own case down there at Eureka Gulch; didn't he send for me just to
show me up to you fellers? Did I want to have anything to do with
the Eureka Company? Didn't he set me up to give my opinion about
that shaft just to show off what I knew about science and all that?
And what did he get me to join the company for? Was it for you?
No! Was it for me? No! It was just to keep me there for HIMSELF,
and kinder pit me agin you fellers and crow over you! Now that
ain't my style! It may be HIS--it may be honest and simple and
loyal, as you say, and it may be all right for him to get me to run
up accounts at the settlement and then throw off on me--but it
ain't my style. I suppose he let on that I did that. No? He
didn't? Well then, why did he want to run me off with him, and out
the whole concern in an underhand way and make me leave with nary a
character behind me, eh? Now, I never said anything about this
before--did I? It ain't like me. I wouldn't have said anything
about it now, only you talked about MY being benefited by his
darned foolishness. Much I've made outer HIM."
Despicable, false, and disloyal as this was, perhaps it was the
crowning meanness of such confidences that his very weakness seemed
only a reflection of Captain Jim's own, and appeared in some
strange way to degrade his friend as much as himself. The
simplicity of his vanity and selfishness was only equalled by the
simplicity of Captain Jim's admiration of it. It was a part of my
youthful inexperience of humanity that I was not above the common
fallacy of believing that a man is "known by the company he keeps,"
and that he is in a manner responsible for its weakness; it was a
part of that humanity that I felt no surprise in being more amused
than shocked by this revelation. It seemed a good joke on Captain
"Of course YOU kin laugh at his darned foolishness; but, by Gosh,
it ain't a laughing matter to me!"
"But surely he's given you a good position on the 'Guardian,'" I
urged. "That was disinterested, certainly."
"Was it? I call that the cheekiest thing yet. When he found he
couldn't make enough of me in private life, he totes me out in
public as HIS editor--the man who runs HIS paper! And has his name
in print as the proprietor, the only chance he'd ever get of being
before the public. And don't know the whole town is laughing at
"That may be because they think HE writes some of the articles," I
Again the insinuation glanced harmlessly from his vanity. "That
couldn't be, because I do all the work, and it ain't his style," he
said with naive discontent. "And it's always the highest style,
done to please him, though between you and me it's sorter castin'
pearls before swine--this 'Frisco editing--and the public would be
just as satisfied with anything I could rattle off that was peart
and sassy,--something spicy or personal. I'm willing to climb down
and do it, for there's nothin' stuck-up about me, you know; but
that darned fool Captain Jim has got the big head about the style
of the paper, and darned if I don't think he's afraid if there's a
lettin' down, people may think it's him! Ez if! Why, you know as
well as me that there's a sort of snap I could give these things
that would show it was me and no slouch did them, in a minute."
I had my doubts about the elegance or playfulness of Mr. Bassett's
trifling, but from some paragraphs that appeared in the next issue
of the "Guardian" I judged that he had won over Captain Jim--if
indeed that gentleman's alleged objections were not entirely the
outcome of Bassett's fancy. The social paragraphs themselves were
clumsy and vulgar. A dull-witted account of a select party at
Parson Baxter's, with a point-blank compliment to Polly Baxter his
daughter, might have made her pretty cheek burn but for her evident
prepossession for the meretricious scamp, its writer. But even
this horse-play seemed more natural than the utterly artificial
editorials with their pinchbeck glitter and cheap erudition; and
thus far it appeared harmless.
I grieve to say that these appearances were deceptive. One
afternoon, as I was returning from a business visit to the
outskirts of the village, I was amazed on reentering the main
street to find a crowd collected around the "Guardian" office,
gazing at the broken glass of its windows and a quantity of type
scattered on the ground. But my attention was at that moment more
urgently attracted by a similar group around my own office, who,
however, seemed more cautious, and were holding timorously aloof
from the entrance. As I ran rapidly towards them, a few called
out, "Look out--he's in there!" while others made way to let me
pass. With the impression of fire or robbery in my mind, I entered
precipitately, only to find Yuba Bill calmly leaning back in an
arm-chair with his feet on the back of another, a glass of whiskey
from my demijohn in one hand and a huge cigar in his mouth. Across
his lap lay a stumpy shotgun which I at once recognized as "the
Left Bower," whose usual place was at his feet on the box during
his journeys. He looked cool and collected, although there were
one or two splashes of printer's ink on his shirt and trousers, and
from the appearance of my lavatory and towel he had evidently been
removing similar stains from his hands. Putting his gun aside and
grasping my hand warmly without rising, he began with even more
than his usual lazy imperturbability:
"Well, how's Gilead lookin' to-day?"
It struck me as looking rather disturbed, but, as I was still too
bewildered to reply, he continued lazily:
"Ez you didn't hunt me up, I allowed you might hev got kinder
petrified and dried up down yer, and I reckoned to run down and
rattle round a bit and make things lively for ye. I've jist
cleared out a newspaper office over thar. They call it the
'Guardi-an,' though it didn't seem to offer much pertection to them
fellers ez was in it. In fact, it wasn't ez much a fight ez it
orter hev been. It was rather monotonous for me."
"But what's the row, Bill? What has happened?" I asked excitedly.
"Nothin' to speak of, I tell ye," replied Yuba Bill reflectively.
"I jest meandered into that shop over there, and I sez, 'I want ter
see the man ez runs this yer mill o' literatoor an' progress.'
Thar waz two infants sittin' on high chairs havin' some innocent
little game o' pickin' pieces o' lead outer pill-boxes like, and as
soon ez they seed me one of 'em crawled under his desk and the
other scooted outer the back door. Bimeby the door opens again,
and a fluffy coyote-lookin' feller comes in and allows that HE is
responsible for that yer paper. When I saw the kind of animal he
was, and that he hadn't any weppings, I jist laid the Left Bower
down on the floor. Then I sez, 'You allowed in your paper that I
oughter hev a little sevility knocked inter me, and I'm here to hev
it done. You ken begin it now.' With that I reached for him, and
we waltzed oncet or twicet around the room, and then I put him up
on the mantelpiece and on them desks and little boxes, and took him
down again, and kinder wiped the floor with him gin'rally, until
the first thing I knowed he was outside the winder on the sidewalk.
On'y blamed if I didn't forget to open the winder. Ef it hadn't
been for that, it would hev been all quiet and peaceful-like, and
nobody hev knowed it. But the sash being in the way, it sorter
created a disturbance and unpleasantness OUTSIDE."
"But what was it all about?" I repeated. "What had he done to
"Ye'll find it in that paper," he said, indicating a copy of the
"Guardian" that lay on my table with a lazy nod of his head.
"P'r'aps you don't read it? No more do I. But Joe Bilson sez to
me yesterday: 'Bill,' sez he, 'they're goin' for ye in the
"Guardian."' 'Wot's that?' sez I. 'Hark to this,' sez he, and
reads out that bit that you'll find there."
I had opened the paper, and he pointed to a paragraph. "There it
is. Pooty, ain't it?" I read with amazement as follows:--
"If the Pioneer Stage Company want to keep up with the times, and
not degenerate into the old style 'one hoss' road-wagon business,
they'd better make some reform on the line. They might begin by
shipping off some of the old-time whiskey-guzzling drivers who are
too high and mighty to do anything but handle the ribbons, and are
above speaking to a passenger unless he's a favorite or one of
their set. Over-praise for an occasional scrimmage with road
agents, and flattery from Eastern greenhorns, have given them the
big head. If the fool-killer were let loose on the line with a big
club, and knocked a little civility into their heads, it wouldn't
be a bad thing, and would be a particular relief to the passengers
for Gilead who have to take the stage from Simpson's Bar."
"That's my stage," said Yuba Bill quietly, when I had ended; "and
"But it's impossible," I said eagerly. "That insult was never
written by Captain Jim."
"Captain Jim," repeated Yuba Bill reflectively. "Captain Jim,--
yes, that was the name o' the man I was playin' with. Shortish
hairy feller, suthin' between a big coyote and the old-style hair-
trunk. Fought pretty well for a hay-footed man from Gil-e-ad."
"But you've whipped the wrong man, Bill," I said. "Think again!
Have you had any quarrel lately?--run against any newspaper man?"
The recollection had flashed upon me that Lacy Bassett had lately
returned from a visit to Stockton.
Yuba Bill regarded his boots on the other arm-chair for a few
moments in profound meditation. "There was a sort o' gaudy
insect," he began presently, "suthin' halfway betwixt a boss-fly
and a devil's darnin'-needle, ez crawled up onter the box seat with
me last week, and buzzed! Now I think on it, he talked high-
faluten' o' the inflooence of the press and sech. I may hev said
'shoo' to him when he was hummin' the loudest. I mout hev flicked
him off oncet or twicet with my whip. It must be him. Gosh!" he
said suddenly, rising and lifting his heavy hand to his forehead,
"now I think agin he was the feller ez crawled under the desk when
the fight was goin' on, and stayed there. Yes, sir, that was HIM.
His face looked sorter familiar, but I didn't know him moultin'
with his feathers off." He turned upon me with the first
expression of trouble and anxiety I had ever seen him wear. "Yes,
sir, that's him. And I've kem--me, Yuba Bill!--kem MYSELF, a
matter of twenty miles, totin' a GUN--a gun, by Gosh!--to fight
that--that--that potatar-bug!" He walked to the window, turned,
walked back again, finished his whiskey with a single gulp, and
laid his hand almost despondingly on my shoulder. "Look ye, old--
old fell, you and me's ole friends. Don't give me away. Don't let
on a word o' this to any one! Say I kem down yer howlin' drunk on
a gen'ral tear! Say I mistook that newspaper office for a cigar-
shop, and--got licked by the boss! Say anythin' you like, 'cept
that I took a gun down yer to chase a fly that had settled onter
me. Keep the Left Bower in yer back office till I send for it. Ef
you've got a back door somewhere handy where I can slip outer this
without bein' seen I'd be thankful."
As this desponding suggestion appeared to me as the wisest thing
for him to do in the then threatening state of affairs outside,--
which, had he suspected it, he would have stayed to face,--I
quickly opened a door into a courtyard that communicated through an
alley with a side street. Here we shook hands and parted; his last
dejected ejaculation being, "That potatobug!" Later I ascertained
that Captain Jim had retired to his ranch some four miles distant.
He was not seriously hurt, but looked, to use the words of my
informant, "ez ef he'd been hugged by a playful b'ar." As the
"Guardian" made its appearance the next week without the slightest
allusion to the fracas, I did not deem it necessary to divulge the
real facts. When I called to inquire about Captain Jim's
condition, he himself, however, volunteered an explanation.
"I don't mind tellin' you, ez an old friend o' mine and Lacy's,
that the secret of that there attack on me and the 'Guardian' was
perlitikal. Yes, sir! There was a powerful orginization in the
interest o' Halkins for assemblyman ez didn't like our high-toned
editorials on caucus corruption, and hired a bully to kem down here
and suppress us. Why, this yer Lacy spotted the idea to oncet; yer
know how keen be is."
"Was Lacy present?" I asked as carelessly as I could.
Captain Jim glanced his eyes over his shoulder quite in his old
furtive canine fashion, and then blinked them at me rapidly. "He
war! And if it warn't for HIS pluck and HIS science and HIS
strength, I don't know whar I'D hev been now! Howsomever, it's all
right. I've had a fair offer to sell the 'Guardian' over at
Simpson's Bar, and it's time I quit throwin' away the work of a man
like Lacy Bassett upon it. And between you and me, I've got an
idea and suthin' better to put his talens into."
It was not long before it became evident that the "talens" of Mr.
Lacy Bassett, as indicated by Captain Jim, were to grasp at a seat
in the state legislature. An editorial in the "Simpson's Bar
Clarion" boldly advocated his pretensions. At first it was
believed that the article emanated from the gifted pen of Lacy
himself, but the style was so unmistakably that of Colonel
Starbottle, an eminent political "war-horse" of the district, that
a graver truth was at once suggested, namely, that the "Guardian"
had simply been transferred to Simpson's Bar, and merged into the
"Clarion" solely on this condition. At least it was recognized
that it was the hand of Captain Jim which guided the editorial
fingers of the colonel, and Captain Jim's money that distended the
pockets of that gallant political leader.
Howbeit Lacy Bassett was never elected; in fact he was only for one
brief moment a candidate. It was related that upon his first
ascending the platform at Simpson's Bar a voice in the audience
said lazily, "Come down!" That voice was Yuba Bill's. A slight
confusion ensued, in which Yuba Bill whispered a few words in the
colonel's ear. After a moment's hesitation the "war-horse" came
forward, and in his loftiest manner regretted that the candidate
had withdrawn. The next issue of the "Clarion" proclaimed with no
uncertain sound that a base conspiracy gotten up by the former
proprietor of the "Guardian" to undermine the prestige of the Great
Express Company had been ruthlessly exposed, and the candidate on
learning it HIMSELF for the first time, withdrew his name from the
canvass, as became a high-toned gentleman. Public opinion,
ignoring Lacy Bassett completely, unhesitatingly denounced Captain
During this period I had paid but little heed to Lacy Bassett's
social movements, or the successes which would naturally attend
such a character with the susceptible sex. I had heard that he was
engaged to Polly Baxter, but that they had quarrelled in
consequence of his flirtations with others, especially a Mrs.
Sweeny, a profusely ornamented but reputationless widow. Captain
Jim had often alluded with a certain respectful pride and delicacy
to Polly's ardent appreciation of his friend, and had more than
half hinted with the same reverential mystery to their matrimonial
union later, and his intention of "doing the square thing" for the
young couple. But it was presently noticed that these allusions
became less frequent during Lacy's amorous aberrations, and an
occasional depression and unusual reticence marked Captain Jim's
manner when the subject was discussed in his presence. He seemed
to endeavor to make up for his friend's defection by a kind of
personal homage to Polly, and not unfrequently accompanied her to
church or to singing-class. I have a vivid recollection of meeting
him one afternoon crossing the fields with her, and looking into
her face with that same wistful, absorbed, and uneasy canine
expression that I had hitherto supposed he had reserved for Lacy
alone. I do not know whether Polly was averse to the speechless
devotion of these yearning brown eyes; her manner was animated and
the pretty cheek that was nearest me mantled as I passed; but I was
struck for the first time with the idea that Captain Jim loved her!
I was surprised to have that fancy corroborated in the remark of
another wayfarer whom I met, to the effect, "That now that Bassett
was out o' the running it looked ez if Captain Jim was makin' up
for time!" Was it possible that Captain Jim had always loved her?
I did not at first know whether to be pained or pleased for his
sake. But I concluded that whether the unworthy Bassett had at
last found a RIVAL in Captain Jim or in the girl herself, it was a
displacement that was for Captain Jim's welfare. But as I was
about leaving Gilead for a month's transfer to the San Francisco
office, I had no opportunity to learn more from the confidences of
I was ascending the principal staircase of my San Francisco hotel
one rainy afternoon, when I was pointedly recalled to Gilead by the
passing glitter of Mrs. Sweeny's jewelry and the sudden vanishing
behind her of a gentleman who seemed to be accompanying her. A few
moments after I had entered my room I heard a tap at my door, and
opened it upon Lacy Bassett. I thought he looked a little confused
and agitated. Nevertheless, with an assumption of cordiality and
ease he said, "It appears we're neighbors. That's my room next to
yours." He pointed to the next room, which I then remembered was a
sitting-room en suite with my own, and communicating with it by a
second door, which was always locked. It had not been occupied
since my tenancy. As I suppose my face did not show any
extravagant delight at the news of his contiguity, he added,
hastily, "There's a transom over the door, and I thought I'd tell
you you kin hear everything from the one room to the other."
I thanked him, and told him dryly that, as I had no secrets to
divulge and none that I cared to hear, it made no difference to me.
As this seemed to increase his confusion and he still hesitated
before the door, I asked him if Captain Jim was with him.
"No," he said quickly. "I haven't seen him for a month, and don't
want to. Look here, I want to talk to you a bit about him." He
walked into the room, and closed the door behind him. "I want to
tell you that me and Captain Jim is played! All this runnin' o' me
and interferin' with me is played! I'm tired of it. You kin tell
him so from me."
"Then you have quarrelled?"
"Yes. As much as any man can quarrel with a darned fool who can't
take a hint."
"One moment. Have you quarrelled about Polly Baxter?"
"Yes," he answered querulously. "Of course I have. What does he
mean by interfering?
"Now listen to me, Mr. Bassett," I interrupted. "I have no desire
to concern myself in your association with Captain Jim, but since
you persist in dragging me into it, you must allow me to speak
plainly. From all that I can ascertain you have no serious
intentions of marrying Polly Baxter. You have come here from
Gilead to follow Mrs. Sweeny, whom I saw you with a moment ago.
Now, why do you not frankly give up Miss Baxter to Captain Jim, who
will make her a good husband, and go your own way with Mrs. Sweeny?
If you really wish to break off your connection with Captain Jim,
that's the only way to do it."
His face, which had exhibited the weakest and most pitiable
consciousness at the mention of Mrs. Sweeny, changed to an
expression of absolute stupefaction as I concluded.
"Wot stuff are you tryin' to fool me with?" he said at last
"I mean," I replied sharply, "that this double game of yours is
disgraceful. Your association with Mrs. Sweeny demands the
withdrawal of any claim you have upon Miss Baxter at once. If you
have no respect for Captain Jim's friendship, you must at least
show common decency to her."
He burst into a half-relieved, half-hysteric laugh. "Are you
crazy?" gasped he. "Why, Captain Jim's just huntin' ME down to
make ME marry Polly. That's just what the row's about. That's
just what he's interferin' for--just to carry out his darned fool
ideas o' gettin' a wife for me; just his vanity to say HE'S made
the match. It's ME that he wants to marry to that Baxter girl--not
himself. He's too cursed selfish for that."
I suppose I was not different from ordinary humanity, for in my
unexpected discomfiture I despised Captain Jim quite as much as I
did the man before me. Reiterating my remark that I had no desire
to mix myself further in their quarrels, I got rid of him with as
little ceremony as possible. But a few minutes later, when the
farcical side of the situation struck me, my irritation was
somewhat mollified, without however increasing my respect for
either of the actors. The whole affair had assumed a triviality
that was simply amusing, nothing more, and I even looked forward to
a meeting with Captain Jim and HIS exposition of the matter--which
I knew would follow--with pleasurable anticipation. But I was
One afternoon, when I was watching the slanting volleys of rain
driven by a strong southwester against the windows of the hotel
reading-room, I was struck by the erratic movements of a dripping
figure outside that seemed to be hesitating over the entrance to
the hotel. At times furtively penetrating the porch as far as the
vestibule, and again shyly recoiling from it, its manner was so
strongly suggestive of some timid animal that I found myself
suddenly reminded of Captain Jim and the memorable evening of his
exodus from Eureka Gulch. As the figure chanced to glance up to
the window where I stood I saw to my astonishment that it WAS
Captain Jim himself, but so changed and haggard that I scarcely
knew him. I instantly ran out into the hall and vestibule, but
when I reached the porch he had disappeared. Either he had seen me
and wished to avoid me, or he had encountered the object of his
quest, which I at once concluded must be Lacy Bassett. I was so
much impressed and worried by his appearance and manner, that, in
this belief, I overcame my aversion to meeting Bassett, and even
sought him through the public rooms and lobbies in the hope of
finding Captain Jim with him. But in vain; possibly he had
succeeded in escaping his relentless friend.
As the wind and rain increased at nightfall and grew into a
tempestuous night, with deserted streets and swollen waterways, I
did not go out again, but retired early, inexplicably haunted by
the changed and brooding face of Captain Jim. Even in my dreams he
pursued me in his favorite likeness of a wistful, anxious, and
uneasy hound, who, on my turning to caress him familiarly, snapped
at me viciously, and appeared to have suddenly developed a snarling
rabid fury. I seemed to be awakened at last by the sound of his
voice. For an instant I believed the delusion a part of my dream.
But I was mistaken; I was lying broad awake, and the voice clearly
had come from the next room, and was distinctly audible over the
"I've had enough of it," he said, "and I'm givin' ye now--this
night--yer last chance. Quit this hotel and that woman, and go
back to Gilead and marry Polly. Don't do it and I'll kill ye, ez
sure ez you sit there gapin' in that chair. If I can't get ye to
fight me like a man,--and I'll spit in yer face or put some insult
onto you afore that woman, afore everybody, ez would make a bigger
skunk nor you turn,--I'll hunt ye down and kill ye in your tracks."
There was a querulous murmur of interruption in Lacy's voice, but
whether of defiance or appeal I could not distinguish. Captain
Jim's voice again rose, dogged and distinct.
"Ef YOU kill me it's all the same, and I don't say that I won't
thank ye. This yer world is too crowded for yer and me, Lacy
Bassett. I've believed in ye, trusted in ye, lied for ye, and
fought for ye. From the time I took ye up--a feller-passenger to
'Fresco--believin' there wor the makin's of a man in ye, to now,
you fooled me,--fooled me afore the Eureka boys; fooled me afore
Gilead; fooled me afore HER; fooled me afore God! It's got to end
here. Ye've got to take the curse of that foolishness off o' me!
You've got to do one single thing that's like the man I took ye
for, or you've got to die. Times waz when I'd have wished it for
your account--that's gone, Lacy Bassett! You've got to do it for
ME. You've got to do it so I don't see 'd--d fool' writ in the
eyes of every man ez looks at me."
He had apparently risen and walked towards the door. His voice
sounded from another part of the room.
"I'll give ye till to-morrow mornin' to do suthin' to lift this
curse off o' me. Ef you refoose, then, by the living God, I'll
slap yer face in the dinin'-room, or in the office afore them all!
You hear me!"
There was a pause, and then a quick sharp explosion that seemed to
fill and expand both rooms until the windows were almost lifted
from their casements, a hysterical inarticulate cry from Lacy, the
violent opening of a door, hurried voices, and the tramping of many
feet in the passage. I sprang out of bed, partly dressed myself,
and ran into the hall. But by that time I found a crowd of guests
and servants around the next door, some grasping Bassett, who was
white and trembling, and others kneeling by Captain Jim, who was
half lying in the doorway against the wall.
"He heard it all," Bassett gasped hysterically, pointing to me.
"HE knows that this man wanted to kill me."
Before I could reply, Captain Jim partly raised himself with a
convulsive effort. Wiping away the blood that, oozing from his
lips, already showed the desperate character of his internal wound,
he said in a husky and hurried voice: "It's all right, boys! It's
my fault. It was ME who done it. I went for him in a mean
underhanded way jest now, when he hadn't a weppin nor any show to
defend himself. We gripped. He got a holt o' my derringer--you
see that's MY pistol there, I swear it--and turned it agin me in
self-defense, and sarved me right. I swear to God, gentlemen, it's
so!" Catching sight of my face, he looked at me, I fancied half
imploringly and half triumphantly, and added, "I might hev knowed
it! I allers allowed Lacy Bassett was game!--game, gentlemen--and
he was. If it's my last word, I say it--he was game!"
And with this devoted falsehood upon his lips and something of the
old canine instinct in his failing heart, as his head sank back he
seemed to turn it towards Bassett, as if to stretch himself out at
his feet. Then the light failed from his yearning upward glance,
and the curse of foolishness was lifted from him forever.
So conclusive were the facts, that the coroner's jury did not deem
it necessary to detain Mr. Bassett for a single moment after the
inquest. But he returned to Gilead, married Polly Baxter, and
probably on the strength of having "killed his man," was unopposed
on the platform next year, and triumphantly elected to the