Part 1 out of 4
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THE THREE PARTNERS
by Bret Harte
The sun was going down on the Black Spur Range. The red light it
had kindled there was still eating its way along the serried crest,
showing through gaps in the ranks of pines, etching out the
interstices of broken boughs, fading away and then flashing suddenly
out again like sparks in burnt-up paper. Then the night wind swept
down the whole mountain side, and began its usual struggle with the
shadows upclimbing from the valley, only to lose itself in the end
and be absorbed in the all-conquering darkness. Yet for some time
the pines on the long slope of Heavy Tree Hill murmured and
protested with swaying arms; but as the shadows stole upwards, and
cabin after cabin and tunnel after tunnel were swallowed up, a
complete silence followed. Only the sky remained visible--a vast
concave mirror of dull steel, in which the stars did not seem to be
set, but only reflected.
A single cabin door on the crest of Heavy Tree Hill had remained
open to the wind and darkness. Then it was slowly shut by an
invisible figure, afterwards revealed by the embers of the fire it
was stirring. At first only this figure brooding over the hearth
was shown, but as the flames leaped up, two other figures could be
seen sitting motionless before it. When the door was shut, they
acknowledged that interruption by slightly changing their position;
the one who had risen to shut the door sank back into an invisible
seat, but the attitude of each man was one of profound reflection
or reserve, and apparently upon some common subject which made them
respect each other's silence. However, this was at last broken by
a laugh. It was a boyish laugh, and came from the youngest of the
party. The two others turned their profiles and glanced inquiringly
towards him, but did not speak.
"I was thinking," he began in apologetic explanation, "how mighty
queer it was that while we were working like niggers on grub wages,
without the ghost of a chance of making a strike, how we used to
sit here, night after night, and flapdoodle and speculate about
what we'd do if we ever DID make one; and now, Great Scott! that we
HAVE made it, and are just wallowing in gold, here we are sitting
as glum and silent as if we'd had a washout! Why, Lord! I remember
one night--not so long ago, either--that you two quarreled over the
swell hotel you were going to stop at in 'Frisco, and whether you
wouldn't strike straight out for London and Rome and Paris, or go
away to Japan and China and round by India and the Red Sea."
"No, we didn't QUARREL over it," said one of the figures gently;
"there was only a little discussion."
"Yes, but you did, though," returned the young fellow mischievously,
"and you told Stacy, there, that we'd better learn something of the
world before we tried to buy it or even hire it, and that it was
just as well to get the hayseed out of our hair and the slumgullion
off our boots before we mixed in polite society."
"Well, I don't see what's the matter with that sentiment now,"
returned the second speaker good-humoredly; "only," he added
gravely, "we didn't quarrel--God forbid!"
There was something in the speaker's tone which seemed to touch a
common chord in their natures, and this was voiced by Barker with
sudden and almost pathetic earnestness. "I tell you what, boys, we
ought to swear here to-night to always stand by each other--in luck
and out of it! We ought to hold ourselves always at each other's
call. We ought to have a kind of password or signal, you know, by
which we could summon each other at any time from any quarter of
"Come off the roof, Barker," murmured Stacy, without lifting his
eyes from the fire. But Demorest smiled and glanced tolerantly at
the younger man.
"Yes, but look here, Stacy," continued Barker, "comrades like us,
in the old days, used to do that in times of trouble and adventures.
Why shouldn't we do it in our luck?"
"There's a good deal in that, Barker boy," said Demorest, "though,
as a general thing, passwords butter no parsnips, and the ordinary,
every-day, single yelp from a wolf brings the whole pack together
for business about as quick as a password. But you cling to that
sentiment, and put it away with your gold-dust in your belt."
"What I like about Barker is his commodiousness," said Stacy.
"Here he is, the only man among us that has his future fixed and
his preemption lines laid out and registered. He's already got a
girl that he's going to marry and settle down with on the strength
of his luck. And I'd like to know what Kitty Carter, when she's
Mrs. Barker, would say to her husband being signaled for from Asia
or Africa. I don't seem to see her tumbling to any password. And
when he and she go into a new partnership, I reckon she'll let the
old one slide."
"That's just where you're wrong!" said Barker, with quickly rising
color. "She's the sweetest girl in the world, and she'd be sure to
understand our feelings. Why, she thinks everything of you two;
she was just eager for you to get this claim, which has put us
where we are, when I held back, and if it hadn't been for her, by
Jove! we wouldn't have had it."
"That was only because she cared for YOU," returned Stacy, with a
half-yawn; "and now that you've got YOUR share she isn't going to
take a breathless interest in US. And, by the way, I'd rather
YOU'D remind us that we owe our luck to her than that SHE should
ever remind YOU of it."
"What do you mean?" said Barker quickly. But Demorest here rose
lazily, and, throwing a gigantic shadow on the wall, stood between
the two with his back to the fire. "He means," he said slowly,
"that you're talking rot, and so is he. However, as yours comes
from the heart and his from the head, I prefer yours. But you're
both making me tired. Let's have a fresh deal."
Nobody ever dreamed of contradicting Demorest. Nevertheless,
Barker persisted eagerly: "But isn't it better for us to look at
this cheerfully and happily all round? There's nothing criminal in
our having made a strike! It seems to me, boys, that of all ways
of making money it's the squarest and most level; nobody is the
poorer for it; our luck brings no misfortune to others. The gold
was put there ages ago for anybody to find; we found it. It hasn't
been tarnished by man's touch before. I don't know how it strikes
you, boys, but it seems to me that of all gifts that are going it
is the straightest. For whether we deserve it or not, it comes to
us first-hand--from God!"
The two men glanced quickly at the speaker, whose face flushed and
then smiled embarrassedly as if ashamed of the enthusiasm into
which he had been betrayed. But Demorest did not smile, and
Stacy's eyes shone in the firelight as he said languidly, "I never
heard that prospecting was a religious occupation before. But I
shouldn't wonder if you're right, Barker boy. So let's liquor up."
Nevertheless he did not move, nor did the others. The fire leaped
higher, bringing out the rude rafters and sternly economic details
of the rough cabin, and making the occupants in their seats before
the fire look gigantic by contrast.
"Who shut the door?" said Demorest after a pause.
"I did," said Barker. "I reckoned it was getting cold."
"Better open it again, now that the fire's blazing. It will light
the way if any of the men from below want to drop in this evening."
Stacy stared at his companion. "I thought that it was understood
that we were giving them that dinner at Boomville tomorrow night,
so that we might have the last evening here by ourselves in peace
"Yes, but if any one DID want to come it would seem churlish to
shut him out," said Demorest.
"I reckon you're feeling very much as I am," said Stacy, "that this
good fortune is rather crowding to us three alone. For myself, I
know," he continued, with a backward glance towards a blanketed,
covered pile in the corner of the cabin, "that I feel rather
oppressed by--by its specific gravity, I calculate--and sort of
crampy and twitchy in the legs, as if I ought to 'lite' out and do
something, and yet it holds me here. All the same, I doubt if
anybody will come up--except from curiosity. Our luck has made
them rather sore down the hill, for all they're coming to the
"That's only human nature," said Demorest.
"But," said Barker eagerly, "what does it mean? Why, only this
afternoon, when I was passing the 'Old Kentuck' tunnel, where those
Marshalls have been grubbing along for four years without making a
single strike, I felt ashamed to look at them, and as they barely
nodded to me I slinked by as if I had done them an injury. I don't
"It somehow does not seem to square with this 'gift of God' idea of
yours, does it?" said Stacy. "But we'll open the door and give
them a show."
As he did so it seemed as if the night were their only guest, and
had been waiting on the threshold to now enter bodily and pervade
all things with its presence. With that cool, fragrant inflow of
air they breathed freely. The red edge had gone from Black Spur,
but it was even more clearly defined against the sky in its
towering blackness. The sky itself had grown lighter, although the
stars still seemed mere reflections of the solitary pin-points of
light scattered along the concave valley below. Mingling with the
cooler, restful air of the summit, yet penetratingly distinct from
it, arose the stimulating breath of the pines below, still hot and
panting from the day-long sun. The silence was intense. The far-
off barking of a dog on the invisible river-bar nearly a mile
beneath them came to them like a sound in a dream. They had risen,
and, standing in the doorway, by common consent turned their faces
to the east. It was the frequent attitude of the home-remembering
miner, and it gave him the crowning glory of the view. For, beyond
the pine-hearsed summits, rarely seen except against the evening
sky, lay a thin, white cloud like a dropped portion of the Milky
Way. Faint with an indescribable pallor, remote yet distinct
enough to assert itself above and beyond all surrounding objects,
it was always there. It was the snow-line of the Sierras.
They turned away and silently reseated themselves, the same thought
in the minds of each. Here was something they could not take away,
something to be left forever and irretrievably behind,--left with
the healthy life they had been leading, the cheerful endeavor, the
undying hopefulness which it had fostered and blessed. Was what
they WERE taking away worth it? And oddly enough, frank and
outspoken as they had always been to each other, that common
thought remained unuttered. Even Barker was silent; perhaps he was
also thinking of Kitty.
Suddenly two figures appeared in the very doorway of the cabin.
The effect was startling upon the partners, who had only just
reseated themselves, and for a moment they had forgotten that the
narrow band of light which shot forth from the open door rendered
the darkness on either side of it more impenetrable, and that out
of this darkness, although themselves guided by the light, the
figures had just emerged. Yet one was familiar enough. It was the
Hill drunkard, Dick Hall, or, as he was called, "Whiskey Dick," or,
indicated still more succinctly by the Hill humorists, "Alky Hall."
Everybody had seen that sodden, puffy, but good-humored face;
everybody had felt the fiery exhalations of that enormous red
beard, which always seemed to be kept in a state of moist, unkempt
luxuriance by liquor; everybody knew the absurd dignity of manner
and attempted precision of statement with which he was wont to
disguise his frequent excesses. Very few, however, knew, or cared
to know, the pathetic weariness and chilling horror that sometimes
looked out of those bloodshot eyes.
He was evidently equally unprepared for the three silent seated
figures before the door, and for a moment looked at them blankly
with the doubts of a frequently deceived perception. Was he sure
that they were quite real? He had not dared to look at his
companion for verification, but smiled vaguely.
"Good-evening," said Demorest pleasantly.
Whiskey Dick's face brightened. "Good-evenin', good-evenin'
yourselves, boys--and see how you like it! Lemme interdrush my ole
frien' William J. Steptoe, of Red Gulch. Stepsho--Steptoe--is
shtay--ish stay--" He stopped, hiccupped, waved his hand gravely,
and with an air of reproachful dignity concluded, "sojourning for
the present on the Bar. We wish to offer our congrashulashen and
felish--felish--" He paused again, and, leaning against the door-
post, added severely, "--itations."
His companion, however, laughed coarsely, and, pushing past Dick,
entered the cabin. He was a short, powerful man, with a closely
cropped crust of beard and hair that seemed to adhere to his round
head like moss or lichen. He cast a glance--furtive rather than
curious around the cabin, and said, with a familiarity that had not
even good humor to excuse it, "So you're the gay galoots who've
made the big strike? Thought I'd meander up the Hill with this old
bloat Alky, and drop in to see the show. And here you are, feeling
your oats, eh? and not caring any particular G-d d--n if school
keeps or not."
"Show Mr. Steptoe--the whiskey," said Demorest to Stacy. Then
quietly addressing Dick, but ignoring Steptoe as completely as
Steptoe had ignored his unfortunate companion, he said, "You quite
startled us at first. We did not see you come up the trail."
"No. We came up the back trail to please Steptoe, who wanted to
see round the cabin," said Dick, glancing nervously yet with a
forced indifference towards the whiskey which Stacy was offering to
"What yer gettin' off there?" said Steptoe, facing Dick almost
brutally. "YOU know your tangled legs wouldn't take you straight
up the trail, and you had to make a circumbendibus. Gosh! if you
hadn't scented this licker at the top you'd have never found it."
"No matter! I'm glad you DID find it, Dick," said Demorest, "and I
hope you'll find the liquor good enough to pay you for the trouble."
Barker stared at Demorest. This extraordinary tolerance of the
drunkard was something new in his partner. But at a glance from
Demorest he led Dick to the demijohn and tin cup which stood on a
table in the corner. And in another moment Dick had forgotten his
Demorest remained by the door, looking out into the darkness.
"Well," said Steptoe, putting down his emptied cup, "trot out your
strike. I reckon our eyes are strong enough to bear it now."
Stacy drew the blanket from the vague pile that stood in the
corner, and discovered a deep tin prospecting-pan. It was heaped
with several large fragments of quartz. At first the marble
whiteness of the quartz and the glittering crystals of mica in its
veins were the most noticeable, but as they drew closer they could
see the dull yellow of gold filling the decomposed and honeycombed
portion of the rock as if still liquid and molten. The eyes of the
party sparkled like the mica--even those of Barker and Stacy, who
were already familiar with the treasure.
"Which is the richest chunk?" asked Steptoe in a thickening voice.
Stacy pointed it out.
"Why, it's smaller than the others."
"Heft it in your hand," said Barker, with boyish enthusiasm.
The short, thick fingers of Steptoe grasped it with a certain
aquiline suggestion; his whole arm strained over it until his face
grew purple, but he could not lift it.
"Thar useter be a little game in the 'Frisco Mint," said Dick,
restored to fluency by his liquor, "when thar war ladies visiting
it, and that was to offer to give 'em any of those little boxes of
gold coin, that contained five thousand dollars, ef they would
kindly lift it from the counter and take it away! It wasn't no
bigger than one of these chunks; but Jiminy! you oughter have seed
them gals grip and heave on it, and then hev to give it up! You
see they didn't know anything about the paci--(hic) the speshif--"
He stopped with great dignity, and added with painful precision,
"the specific gravity of gold."
"Dry up!" said Steptoe roughly. Then turning to Stacy he said
abruptly, "But where's the rest of it? You've got more than that."
"We sent it to Boomville this morning. You see we've sold out our
claim to a company who take it up to-morrow, and put up a mill and
stamps. In fact, it's under their charge now. They've got a gang
of men on the claim already."
"And what mout ye hev got for it, if it's a fair question?" said
Steptoe, with a forced smile.
Stacy smiled also. "I don't know that it's a business question,"
"Five hundred thousand dollars," said Demorest abruptly from the
doorway, "and a treble interest."
The eyes of the two men met. There was no mistaking the dull fire
of envy in Steptoe's glance, but Demorest received it with a
certain cold curiosity, and turned away as the sound of arriving
voices came from without.
"Five hundred thousand's a big figger," said Steptoe, with a coarse
laugh, "and I don't wonder it makes you feel so d----d sassy. But
it WAS a fair question."
Unfortunately it here occurred to the whiskey-stimulated brain of
Dick that the friend he had introduced was being treated with scant
courtesy, and he forgot his own treatment by Steptoe. Leaning
against the wall he waved a dignified rebuke. "I'm sashified my
ole frien' is akshuated by only businesh principles." He paused,
recollected himself, and added with great precision: "When I say he
himself has a valuable claim in Red Gulch, and to my shertain
knowledge has received offers--I have said enough."
The laugh that broke from Stacy and Barker, to whom the infelicitous
reputation of Red Gulch was notorious, did not allay Steptoe's
irritation. He darted a vindictive glance at the unfortunate Dick,
but joined in the laugh. "And what was ye goin' to do with that?"
he said, pointing to the treasure.
"Oh, we're taking that with us. There's a chunk for each of us as
a memento. We cast lots for the choice, and Demorest won,--that
one which you couldn't lift with one hand, you know," said Stacy.
"Oh, couldn't I? I reckon you ain't goin' to give me the same
chance that they did at the Mint, eh?"
Although the remark was accompanied with his usual coarse, familiar
laugh, there was a look in his eye so inconsequent in its
significance that Stacy would have made some reply, but at this
moment Demorest re-entered the cabin, ushering in a half dozen
miners from the Bar below. They were, although youngish men, some
of the older locators in the vicinity, yet, through years of
seclusion and uneventful labors, they had acquired a certain
childish simplicity of thought and manner that was alternately
amusing and pathetic. They had never intruded upon the reserve of
the three partners of Heavy Tree Hill before; nothing but an
infantine curiosity, a shy recognition of the partners' courtesy in
inviting them with the whole population of Heavy Tree to the dinner
the next day, and the never-to-be-resisted temptation of an evening
of "free liquor" and forgetfulness of the past had brought them
there now. Among them, and yet not of them, was a young man who,
although speaking English without accent, was distinctly of a
different nationality and race. This, with a certain neatness of
dress and artificial suavity of address, had gained him the
nickname of "the Count" and "Frenchy," although he was really of
Flemish extraction. He was the Union Ditch Company's agent on the
Bar, by virtue of his knowledge of languages.
Barker uttered an exclamation of pleasure when he saw him. Himself
the incarnation of naturalness, he had always secretly admired this
young foreigner, with his lacquered smoothness, although a vague
consciousness that neither Stacy nor Demorest shared his feelings
had restricted their acquaintance. Nevertheless, he was proud now
to see the bow with which Paul Van Loo entered the cabin as if it
were a drawing-room, and perhaps did not reflect upon that want of
real feeling in an act which made the others uncomfortable.
The slight awkwardness their entrance produced, however, was
quickly forgotten when the blanket was again lifted from the pan of
treasure. Singularly enough, too, the same feverish light came
into the eyes of each as they all gathered around this yellow
shrine. Even the polite Paul rudely elbowed his way between the
others, though his artificial "Pardon" seemed to Barker to condone
this act of brutal instinct. But it was more instructive to
observe the manner in which the older locators received this
confirmation of the fickle Fortune that had overlooked their weary
labors and years of waiting to lavish her favors on the new and
inexperienced amateurs. Yet as they turned their dazzled eyes upon
the three partners there was no envy or malice in their depths, no
reproach on their lips, no insincerity in their wondering
satisfaction. Rather there was a touching, almost childlike
resumption of hope as they gazed at this conclusive evidence of
Nature's bounty. The gold had been there--THEY had only missed it!
And if there, more could be found! Was it not a proof of the
richness of Heavy Tree Hill? So strongly was this reflected on
their faces that a casual observer, contrasting them with the
thoughtful countenances of the real owners, would have thought them
the lucky ones. It touched Barker's quick sympathies, it puzzled
Stacy, it made Demorest more serious, it aroused Steptoe's active
contempt. Whiskey Dick alone remained stolid and impassive in a
desperate attempt to pull himself once more together. Eventually
he succeeded, even to the ambitious achievement of mounting a chair
and lifting his tin cup with a dangerously unsteady hand, which did
not, however, affect his precision of utterance, and said:--
"Order, gentlemen! We'll drink success to--to"--
"The next strike!" said Barker, leaping impetuously on another
chair and beaming upon the old locators--"and may it come to those
who have so long deserved it!"
His sincere and generous enthusiasm seemed to break the spell of
silence that had fallen upon them. Other toasts quickly followed.
In the general good feeling Barker attached himself to Van Loo with
his usual boyish effusion, and in a burst of confidence imparted
the secret of his engagement to Kitty Carter. Van Loo listened
with polite attention, formal congratulations, but inscrutable
eyes, that occasionally wandered to Stacy and again to the
treasure. A slight chill of disappointment came over Barker's
quick sensitiveness. Perhaps his enthusiasm had bored this
superior man of the world. Perhaps his confidences were in bad
taste! With a new sense of his inexperience he turned sadly away.
Van Loo took that opportunity to approach Stacy.
"What's all this I hear of Barker being engaged to Miss Carter?" he
said, with a faintly superior smile. "Is it really true?"
"Yes. Why shouldn't it be?" returned Stacy bluntly.
Van Loo was instantly deprecating and smiling. "Why not, of
course? But isn't it sudden?"
"They have known each other ever since he's been on Heavy Tree
Hill," responded Stacy.
"Ah, yes! True," said Van Loo. "But now"--
"Well--he's got money enough to marry, and he's going to marry."
"Rather young, isn't he?" said Van Loo, still deprecatingly. "And
she's got nothing. Used to wait on the table at her father's hotel
in Boomville, didn't she?"
"Yes. What of that? We all know it."
"Of course. It's an excellent thing for her--and her father.
He'll have a rich son-in-law. About two hundred thousand is his
share, isn't it? I suppose old Carter is delighted?"
Stacy had thought this before, but did not care to have it
corroborated by this superfine young foreigner. "And I don't
reckon that Barker is offended if he is," he said curtly as he
turned away. Nevertheless, he felt irritated that one of the three
superior partners of Heavy Tree Hill should be thought a dupe.
Suddenly the conversation dropped, the laughter ceased. Every one
turned round, and, by a common instinct, looked towards the door.
From the obscurity of the hill slope below came a wonderful tenor
voice, modulated by distance and spiritualized by the darkness:--
"When at some future day
I shall be far away,
Thou wilt be weeping,
Thy lone watch keeping."
The men looked at one another. "That's Jack Hamlin," they said.
"What's he doing here?"
"The wolves are gathering around fresh meat," said Steptoe, with
his coarse laugh and a glance at the treasure. "Didn't ye know he
came over from Red Dog yesterday?"
"Well, give Jack a fair show and his own game," said one of the old
locators, "and he'd clean out that pile afore sunrise."
"And lose it next day," added another.
"But never turn a hair or change a muscle in either case," said a
third. "Lord! I've heard him sing away just like that when he's
been leaving the board with five thousand dollars in his pocket, or
going away stripped of his last red cent."
Van Loo, who had been listening with a peculiar smile, here said in
his most deprecating manner, "Yes, but did you never consider the
influence that such a man has on the hard-working tunnelmen, who
are ready to gamble their whole week's earnings to him? Perhaps
not. But I know the difficulties of getting the Ditch rates from
these men when he has been in camp."
He glanced around him with some importance, but only a laugh
followed his speech. "Come, Frenchy," said an old locator, "you
only say that because your little brother wanted to play with Jack
like a grown man, and when Jack ordered him off the board and he
became sassy, Jack scooted him outer the saloon."
Van Loo's face reddened with an anger that had the apparent effect
of removing every trace of his former polished repose, and leaving
only a hard outline beneath. At which Demorest interfered:--
"I can't say that I see much difference in gambling by putting
money into a hole in the ground and expecting to take more from it
than by putting it on a card for the same purpose."
Here the ravishing tenor voice, which had been approaching, ceased,
and was succeeded by a heart-breaking and equally melodious
whistling to finish the bar of the singer's song. And the next
moment Jack Hamlin appeared in the doorway.
Whatever was his present financial condition, in perfect self-
possession and charming sang-froid he fully bore out his previous
description. He was as clean and refreshing looking as a madrono-
tree in the dust-blown forest. An odor of scented soap and freshly
ironed linen was wafted from him; there was scarcely a crease in
his white waistcoat, nor a speck upon his varnished shoes. He
might have been an auditor of the previous conversation, so quickly
and completely did he seem to take in the whole situation at a
glance. Perhaps there was an extra tilt to his black-ribboned
Panama hat, and a certain dancing devilry in his brown eyes--which
might also have been an answer to adverse criticism.
"When I, his truth to prove, would trifle with my love," he warbled
in general continuance from the doorway. Then dropping cheerfully
into speech, he added, "Well, boys, I am here to welcome the little
stranger, and to trust that the family are doing as well as can be
expected. Ah! there it is! Bless it!" he went on, walking
leisurely to the treasure. "Triplets, too!--and plump at that.
Have you had 'em weighed?"
Frankness was an essential quality of Heavy Tree Hill. "We were
just saying, Jack," said an old locator, "that, giving you a fair
show and your own game, you could manage to get away with that pile
"And I'm just thinking," said Jack cheerfully, "that there were
some of you here that could do that without any such useless
preliminary." His brown eyes rested for a moment on Steptoe, but
turning quite abruptly to Van Loo, he held out his hand. Startled
and embarrassed before the others, the young man at last advanced
his, when Jack coolly put his own, as if forgetfully, in his
pocket. "I thought you might like to know what that little brother
of yours is doing," he said to Van Loo, yet looking at Steptoe. "I
found him wandering about the Hill here quite drunk."
"I have repeatedly warned him"--began Van Loo, reddening.
"Against bad company--I know," suggested Jack gayly; "yet in spite
of all that, I think he owes some of his liquor to Steptoe yonder."
"I never supposed the fool would get drunk over a glass of whiskey
offered in fun," said Steptoe harshly, yet evidently quite as much
disconcerted as angry.
"The trouble with Steptoe," said Hamlin, thoughtfully spanning his
slim waist with both hands as he looked down at his polished shoes,
"is that he has such a soft-hearted liking for all weaknesses.
Always wanting to protect chaps that can't look after themselves,
whether it's Whiskey Dick there when he has a pull on, or some
nigger when he's made a little strike, or that straying lamb of Van
Loo's when he's puppy drunk. But you're wrong about me, boys. You
can't draw me in any game to-night. This is one of my nights off,
which I devote exclusively to contemplation and song. But," he
added, suddenly turning to his three hosts with a bewildering and
fascinating change of expression, "I couldn't resist coming up here
to see you and your pile, even if I never saw the one or the other
before, and am not likely to see either again. I believe in luck!
And it comes a mighty sight oftener than a fellow thinks it does.
But it doesn't come to stay. So I'd advise you to keep your eyes
skinned, and hang on to it while it's with you, like grim death.
Resisting all attempts of his hosts--who had apparently fallen as
suddenly and unaccountably under the magic of his manner--to detain
him longer, he stepped lightly away, his voice presently rising
again in melody as he descended the hill. Nor was it at all
remarkable that the others, apparently drawn by the same inevitable
magnetism, were impelled to follow him, naturally joining their
voices with his, leaving Steptoe and Van Loo so markedly behind
them alone that they were compelled at last in sheer embarrassment
to close up the rear of the procession. In another moment the
cabin and the three partners again relapsed into the peace and
quiet of the night. With the dying away of the last voices on the
hillside the old solitude reasserted itself.
But since the irruption of the strangers they had lost their former
sluggish contemplation, and now busied themselves in preparation
for their early departure from the cabin the next morning. They
had arranged to spend the following day and night at Boomville and
Carter's Hotel, where they were to give their farewell dinner to
Heavy Tree Hill. They talked but little together: since the rebuff
his enthusiastic confidences had received from Van Loo, Barker had
been grave and thoughtful, and Stacy, with the irritating
recollection of Van Loo's criticisms in his mind, had refrained
from his usual rallying of Barker. Oddly enough, they spoke
chiefly of Jack Hamlin,--till then personally a stranger to them,
on account of his infelix reputation,--and even the critical
Demorest expressed a wish they had known him before. "But you
never know the real value of anything until you're quitting it or
it's quitting you," he added sententiously.
Barker and Stacy both stared at their companion. It was unlike
Demorest to regret anything--particularly a mere social diversion.
"They say," remarked Stacy, "that if you had known Jack Hamlin
earlier and professionally, a great deal of real value would have
quitted you before he did."
"Don't repeat that rot flung out by men who have played Jack's game
and lost," returned Demorest derisively. "I'd rather trust him
than"-- He stopped, glanced at the meditative Barker, and then
concluded abruptly, "the whole caboodle of his critics."
They were silent for a few moments, and then seemed to have fallen
into their former dreamy mood as they relapsed into their old seats
again. At last Stacy drew a long breath. "I wish we had sent
those nuggets off with the others this morning."
"Why?" said Demorest suddenly.
"Why? Well, d--n it all! they kind of oppress me, don't you see.
I seem to feel 'em here, on my chest--all the three," returned
Stacy only half jocularly. "It's their d----d specific gravity, I
suppose. I don't like the idea of sleeping in the same room with
'em. They're altogether too much for us three men to be left alone
"You don't mean that you think that anybody would attempt"--said
Stacy curled a fighting lip rather superciliously. "No; I don't
think THAT--I rather wish I did. It's the blessed chunks of solid
gold that seem to have got US fast, don't you know, and are going
to stick to us for good or ill. A sort of Frankenstein monster
that we've picked out of a hole from below."
"I know just what Stacy means," said Barker breathlessly, rounding
his gray eyes. "I've felt it, too. Couldn't we make a sort of
cache of it--bury it just outside the cabin for to-night? It would
be sort of putting it back into its old place, you know, for the
time being. IT might like it."
The other two laughed. "Rather rough on Providence, Barker boy,"
said Stacy, "handing back the Heaven-sent gift so soon! Besides,
what's to keep any prospector from coming along and making a strike
of it? You know that's mining law--if you haven't preempted the
spot as a claim."
But Barker was too staggered by this material statement to make any
reply, and Demorest arose. "And I feel that you'd both better be
turning in, as we've got to get up early." He went to the corner
of the cabin, and threw the blanket back over the pan and its
treasure. "There that'll keep the chunks from getting up to ride
astride of you like a nightmare." He shut the door and gave a
momentary glance at its cheap hinges and the absence of bolt or
bar. Stacy caught his eye. "We'll miss this security in San
Francisco--perhaps even in Boomville," he sighed.
It was scarcely ten o'clock, but Stacy and Barker had begun to
undress themselves with intervals of yawning and desultory talk,
Barker continuing an amusing story, with one stocking off and his
trousers hanging on his arm, until at last both men were snugly
curled up in their respective bunks. Presently Stacy's voice came
from under the blankets:--
"Hallo! aren't you going to turn in too?"
"Not yet," said Demorest from his chair before the fire. "You see
it's the last night in the old shanty, and I reckon I'll see the
rest of it out."
"That's so," said the impulsive Barker, struggling violently with
his blankets. "I tell you what, boys: we just ought to make a
watch-night of it--a regular vigil, you know--until twelve at
least. Hold on! I'll get up, too!" But here Demorest arose,
caught his youthful partner's bare foot which went searching
painfully for the ground in one hand, tucked it back under the
blankets, and heaping them on the top of him, patted the bulk with
an authoritative, paternal air.
"You'll just say your prayers and go to sleep, sonny. You'll want
to be fresh as a daisy to appear before Miss Kitty to-morrow early,
and you can keep your vigils for to-morrow night, after dinner, in
the back drawing-room. I said 'Good-night,' and I mean it!"
Protesting feebly, Barker finally yielded in a nestling shiver and
a sudden silence. Demorest walked back to his chair. A prolonged
snore came from Stacy's bunk; then everything was quiet. Demorest
stirred up the fire, cast a huge root upon it, and, leaning back in
his chair, sat with half-closed eyes and dreamed.
It was an old dream that for the past three years had come to him
daily, sometimes even overtaking him under the shade of a buckeye
in his noontide rest on his claim,--a dream that had never yet
failed to wait for him at night by the fireside when his partners
were at rest; a dream of the past, but so real that it always made
the present seem the dream through which he was moving towards some
It was not strange that it should come to him to-night, as it had
often come before, slowly shaping itself out of the obscurity as
the vision of a fair young girl seated in one of the empty chairs
before him. Always the same pretty, childlike face, fraught with a
half-frightened, half-wondering trouble; always the same slender,
graceful figure, but always glimmering in diamonds and satin, or
spiritual in lace and pearls, against his own rude and sordid
surroundings; always silent with parted lips, until the night wind
smote some chord of recollection, and then mingled a remembered
voice with his own. For at those times he seemed to speak also,
albeit with closed lips, and an utterance inaudible to all but her.
"Well?" he said sadly.
"Well?" the voice repeated, like a gentle echo blending with his
"You know it all now," he went on. "You know that it has come at
last,--all that I had worked for, prayed for; all that would have
made us happy here; all that would have saved you to me has come at
last, and all too late!"
"Too late!" echoed the voice with his.
"You remember," he went on, "the last day we were together. You
remember your friends and family would have you give me up--a
penniless man. You remember when they reproached you with my
poverty, and told you that it was only your wealth that I was
seeking, that I then determined to go away and never to return to
claim you until that reproach could be removed. You remember,
dearest, how you clung to me and bade me stay with you, even fly
with you, but not to leave you alone with them. You wore the same
dress that day, darling; your eyes had the same wondering childlike
fear and trouble in them; your jewels glittered on you as you
trembled, and I refused. In my pride, or rather in my weakness and
cowardice, I refused. I came away and broke my heart among these
rocks and ledges, yet grew strong; and you, my love, YOU, sheltered
and guarded by those you loved, YOU"-- He stopped and buried his
face in his hands. The night wind breathed down the chimney, and
from the stirred ashes on the hearth came the soft whisper, "I
"And then," he went on, "I cared for nothing. Sometimes my heart
awoke for this young partner of mine in his innocent, trustful love
for a girl that even in her humble station was far beyond his
hopes, and I pitied myself in him. Home, fortune, friends, I no
longer cared for--all were forgotten. And now they are returning
to me--only that I may see the hollowness and vanity of them, and
taste the bitterness for which I have sacrificed you. And here, on
this last night of my exile, I am confronted with only the
jealousy, the doubt, the meanness and selfishness that is to come.
Too late! Too late!"
The wondering, troubled eyes that had looked into his here appeared
to clear and brighten with a sweet prescience. Was it the wind
moaning in the chimney that seemed to whisper to him: "Too late,
beloved, for ME, but not for you. I died, but Love still lives.
Be happy, Philip. And in your happiness I too may live again"?
He started. In the flickering firelight the chair was empty. The
wind that had swept down the chimney had stirred the ashes with a
sound like the passage of a rustling skirt. There was a chill in
the air and a smell like that of opened earth. A nervous shiver
passed over him. Then he sat upright. There was no mistake; it
was no superstitious fancy, but a faint, damp current of air was
actually flowing across his feet towards the fireplace. He was
about to rise when he stopped suddenly and became motionless.
He was actively conscious now of a strange sound which had affected
him even in the preoccupation of his vision. It was a gentle
brushing of some yielding substance like that made by a soft broom
on sand, or the sweep of a gown. But to his mountain ears, attuned
to every woodland sound, it was not like the gnawing of gopher or
squirrel, the scratching of wildcat, nor the hairy rubbing of bear.
Nor was it human; the long, deep respirations of his sleeping
companions were distinct from that monotonous sound. He could not
even tell if it were IN the cabin or without. Suddenly his eye
fell upon the pile in the corner. The blanket that covered the
treasure was actually moving!
He rose quickly, but silently, alert, self-contained, and menacing.
For this dreamer, this bereaved man, this scornful philosopher of
riches had disappeared with that midnight trespass upon the sacred
treasure. The movement of the blanket ceased; the soft, swishing
sound recommenced. He drew a glittering bowie-knife from his boot-
leg, and in three noiseless strides was beside the pile. There he
saw what he fully expected to see,--a narrow, horizontal gap
between the log walls of the cabin and the adobe floor, slowly
widening and deepening by the burrowing of unseen hands from
without. The cold outer air which he had felt before was now
plainly flowing into the heated cabin through the opening. The
swishing sound recommenced, and stopped. Then the four fingers of
a hand, palm downwards, were cautiously introduced between the
bottom log and the denuded floor. Upon that intruding hand the
bowie-knife of Demorest descended like a flash of lightning. There
was no outcry. Even in that supreme moment Demorest felt a pang of
admiration for the stoicism of the unseen trespasser. But the
maimed hand was quickly withdrawn, and as quickly Demorest rushed
to the door and dashed into the outer darkness.
For an instant he was dazed and bewildered by the sudden change.
But the next moment he saw a dodging, doubling figure running
before him, and threw himself upon it. In the shock both men fell,
but even in that contact Demorest felt the tangled beard and
alcoholic fumes of Whiskey Dick, and felt also that the hands which
were thrown up against his breast, the palms turned outward with
the instinctive movement of a timid, defenseless man, were
unstained with soil or blood. With an oath he threw the drunkard
from him and dashed to the rear of the cabin. But too late!
There, indeed, was the scattered earth, there the widened burrow as
it had been excavated apparently by that mutilated hand--but
He turned back to Whiskey Dick. But the miserable man, although
still retaining a look of dazed terror in his eyes, had recovered
his feet in a kind of angry confidence and a forced sense of
injury. What did Demorest mean by attacking "innoshent" gentlemen
on the trail outside his cabin? Yes! OUTSIDE his cabin, he would
"What were you doing here at midnight?" demanded Demorest.
What was he doing? What was any gentleman doing? He wasn't any
molly-coddle to go to bed at ten o'clock! What was he doing?
Well--he'd been with men who didn't shut their doors and turn the
boys out just in the shank of the evening. He wasn't any Barker to
be wet-nursed by Demorest.
"Some one else was here!" said Demorest sternly, with his eyes
fixed on Whiskey Dick. The dull glaze which seemed to veil the
outer world from the drunkard's pupils shifted suddenly with such a
look of direct horror that Demorest was fain to turn away his own.
But the veil mercifully returned, and with it Dick's worked-up
sense of injury. Nobody was there--not "a shole." Did Demorest
think if there had been any of his friends there they would have
stood by like "dogsh" and seen him insulted?
Demorest turned away and re-entered the cabin as Dick lurched
heavily forward, still muttering, down the trail. The excitement
over, a sickening repugnance to the whole incident took the place
of Demorest's resentment and indignation. There had been a
cowardly attempt to rob them of their miserable treasure. He had
met it and frustrated it in almost as brutal a fashion: the gold
was already tarnished with blood. To his surprise, yet relief, he
found his partners unconscious of the outrage, still sleeping with
the physical immobility of over-excited and tired men. Should he
awaken them? No! He should have to awaken also their suspicions
and desire for revenge. There was no danger of a further attack;
there was no fear that the culprit would disclose himself, and to-
morrow they would be far away. Let oblivion rest upon that night's
stain on the honor of Heavy Tree Hill.
He rolled a small barrel before the opening, smoothed the dislodged
earth, replaced the pan with its treasure, and trusted that in the
bustle of the early morning departure his partners might not notice
any change. Stopping before the bunk of Stacy he glanced at the
sleeping man. He was lying on his back, but breathing heavily, and
his hands were moving towards his chest as if, indeed, his strange
fancy of the golden incubus were being realized. Demorest would
have wakened him, but presently, with a sigh of relief, the sleeper
turned over on his side. It was pleasanter to look at Barker,
whose damp curls were matted over his smooth, boyish forehead, and
whose lips were parted in a smile under the silken wings of his
brown mustache. He, too, seemed to be trying to speak, and
remembering some previous revelations which had amused them,
Demorest leaned over him fraternally with an answering smile,
waiting for the beloved one's name to pass the young man's lips.
But he only murmured, "Three--hundred--thousand dollars!" The
elder man turned away with a grave face. The influence of the
treasure was paramount.
When he had placed one of the chairs against the unprotected door
at an angle which would prevent any easy or noiseless intrusion,
Demorest threw himself on his bunk without undressing, and turned
his face towards the single window of the cabin that looked towards
the east. He did not apprehend another covert attempt against the
gold. He did not fear a robbery with force and arms, although he
was satisfied that there was more than one concerned in it, but
this he attributed only to the encumbering weight of their expected
booty. He simply waited for the dawn. It was some time before his
eyes were greeted with the vague opaline brightness of the
firmament which meant the vanishing of the pallid snow-line before
the coming day. A bird twittered on the roof. The air was chill;
he drew his blanket around him. Then he closed his eyes, he
fancied only for a moment, but when he opened them the door was
standing open in the strong daylight. He sprang to his feet, but
the next moment he saw it was only Stacy who had passed out, and
was returning fully dressed, bringing water from the spring to fill
the kettle. But Stacy's face was so grave that, recalling his
disturbed sleep, Demorest laughingly inquired if he had been
haunted by the treasure. But to his surprise Stacy put down the
kettle, and, with a hurried glance at the still sleeping Barker,
said in a low voice:--
"I want you to do something for me without asking why. Later I
will tell you."
Demorest looked at him fixedly. "What is it?" he said.
"The pack-mules will be here in a few moments. Don't wait to close
up or put away anything here, but clap that gold in the saddle-
bags, and take Barker with you and 'lite' out for Boomville AT
ONCE. I will overtake you later."
"Is there no time to discuss this?" asked Demorest.
"No," said Stacy bluntly. "Call me a crank, say I'm in a blue
funk"--his compressed lips and sharp black eyes did not lend
themselves much to that hypothesis--"only get out of this with that
stuff, and take Barker with you! I'm not responsible for myself
while it's here."
Demorest knew Stacy to be combative, but practical. If he had not
been assured of his partner's last night slumbers he might have
thought he knew of the attempt. Or if he had discovered the
turned-up ground in the rear of the cabin his curiosity would have
demanded an explanation. Demorest paused only for a moment, and
said, "Very well, I will go."
"Good! I'll rouse out Barker, but not a word to him--except that
he must go.
The rousing out of Barker consisted of Stacy's lifting that young
gentleman bodily from his bunk and standing him upright in the open
doorway. But Barker was accustomed to this Spartan process, and
after a moment's balancing with closed lids like an unwrapped
mummy, he sat down in the doorway and began to dress. He at first
demurred to their departure except all together--it was so
unfraternal; but eventually he allowed himself to be persuaded out
of it and into his clothes. For Barker had also had HIS visions in
the night, one of which was that they should build a beautiful
villa on the site of the old cabin and solemnly agree to come every
year and pass a week in it together. "I thought at first," he
said, sliding along the floor in search of different articles of
his dress, or stopping gravely to catch them as they were thrown to
him by his partners, "that we'd have it at Boomville, as being
handier to get there; but I've concluded we'd better have it here,
a little higher up the hill, where it could be seen over the whole
Black Spur Range. When we weren't here we could use it as a Hut of
Refuge for broken-down or washed-out miners or weary travelers,
like those hospices in the Alps, you know, and have somebody to
keep it for us. You see I've thought even of THAT, and Van Loo is
the very man to take charge of it for us. You see he's got such
good manners and speaks two languages. Lord! if a German or
Frenchman came along, poor and distressed, Van Loo would just chip
in his own language. See? You've got to think of all these
details, you see, boys. And we might call it 'The Rest of the
Three Partners,' or 'Three Partners' Rest.'"
"And you might begin by giving us one," said Stacy. "Dry up and
drink your coffee."
"I'll draw out the plans. I've got it all in my head," continued
the enthusiastic Barker, unheeding the interruption. "I'll just
run out and take a look at the site, it's only right back of the
cabin." But here Stacy caught him by his dangling belt as he was
flying out of the door with one boot on, and thrust him down in a
chair with a tin cup of coffee in his hand.
"Keep the plans in your head, Barker boy," said Demorest, "for here
are the pack mules and packer." This was quite enough to divert
the impressionable young man, who speedily finished his dressing,
as a mule bearing a large pack-saddle and two enormous saddle-bags
or pouches drove up before the door, led by a muleteer on a small
horse. The transfer of the treasure to the saddle-bags was quickly
made by their united efforts, as the first rays of the sun were
beginning to paint the hillside. Shading his keen eyes with his
hand, Stacy stood in the doorway and handed Demorest the two
rifles. Demorest hesitated. "Hadn't YOU better keep one?" he
said, looking in his partner's eyes with his first challenge of
curiosity. The sun seemed to put a humorous twinkle into Stacy's
glance as he returned, "Not much! And you'd better take my
revolver with you, too. I'm feeling a little better now," he said,
looking at the saddlebags, "but I'm not fit to be trusted yet with
carnal weapons. When the other mule comes and is packed I'll
overtake you on the horse."
A little more satisfied, although still wondering and perplexed,
Demorest shouldered one rifle, and with Barker, who was carrying
the other, followed the muleteer and his equipage down the trail.
For a while he was a little ashamed of his part in this unusual
spectacle of two armed men convoying a laden mule in broad
daylight, but, luckily, it was too early for the Bar miners to be
going to work, and as the tunnelmen were now at breakfast the trail
was free of wayfarers. At the point where it crossed the main road
Demorest, however, saw Steptoe and Whiskey Dick emerge from the
thicket, apparently in earnest conversation. Demorest felt his
repugnance and half-restrained suspicions suddenly return. Yet he
did not wish to betray them before Barker, nor was he willing, in
case of an emergency, to allow the young man to be entirely
unprepared. Calling him to follow, he ran quickly ahead of the
laden mule, and was relieved to find that, looking back, his
companion had brought his rifle to a "ready," through some
instinctive feeling of defense. As Steptoe and Whiskey Dick, a
moment later discovering them, were evidently surprised, there
seemed, however, to be no reason for fearing an outbreak.
Suddenly, at a whisper from Steptoe, he and Whiskey Dick both
threw up their hands, and stood still on the trail a few yards
from them in a burlesque of the usual recognized attitude of
helplessness, while a hoarse laugh broke from Steptoe.
"D----d if we didn't think you were road-agents! But we see you're
only guarding your treasure. Rather fancy style for Heavy Tree
Hill, ain't it? Things must be gettin' rough up thar to hev to
take out your guns like that!"
Demorest had looked keenly at the four hands thus exhibited, and
was more concerned that they bore no trace of wounds or mutilation
than at the insult of the speech, particularly as he had a distinct
impression that the action was intended to show him the futility of
"I am glad to see that if you haven't any arms in your hands you're
not incapable of handling them," said Demorest coolly, as he passed
by them and again fell into the rear of the muleteer.
But Barker had thought the incident very funny, and laughed
effusively at Whiskey Dick. "I didn't know that Steptoe was up to
that kind of fun," he said, "and I suppose we DID look rather rough
with these guns as we ran on ahead of the mule. But then you know
that when you called to me I really thought you were in for a
shindy. All the same, Whiskey Dick did that 'hands up' to
perfection: how he managed it I don't know, but his knees seemed to
knock together as if he was in a real funk."
Demorest had thought so too, but he made no reply. How far that
miserable drunkard was a forced or willing accomplice of the events
of last night was part of a question that had become more and more
repugnant to him as he was leaving the scene of it forever. It had
come upon him, desecrating the dream he had dreamt that last night
and turning its hopeful climax to bitterness. Small wonder that
Barker, walking by his side, had his quick sympathies aroused, and
as he saw that shadow, which they were all familiar with, but had
never sought to penetrate, fall upon his companion's handsome face,
even his youthful spirits yielded to it. They were both relieved
when the clatter of hoofs behind them, as they reached the valley,
announced the approach of Stacy. "I started with the second mule
and the last load soon after you left," he explained, "and have
just passed them. I thought it better to join you and let the
other load follow. Nobody will interfere with THAT."
"Then you are satisfied?" said Demorest, regarding him steadfastly.
"You bet! Look!"
He turned in his saddle and pointed to the crest of the hill they
had just descended. Above the pines circling the lower slope above
the bare ledges of rock and outcrop, a column of thick black smoke
was rising straight as a spire in the windless air.
"That's the old shanty passing away," said Stacy complacently. "I
reckon there won't be much left of it before we get to Boomville."
Demorest and Barker stared. "You fired it?" said Barker, trembling
"Yes," said Stacy. "I couldn't bear to leave the old rookery for
coyotes and wild-cats to gather in, so I touched her off before I
"But," repeated Stacy composedly. "Hallo! what's the matter with
that new plan of 'The Rest' that you're going to build, eh? You
don't want them BOTH."
"And you did this rather than leave the dear old cabin to
strangers?" said Barker, with kindling eyes. "Stacy, I didn't
think you had that poetry in you!"
"There's heaps in me, Barker boy, that you don't know, and I don't
exactly sabe myself."
"Only," continued the young fellow eagerly, "we ought to have ALL
been there! We ought to have made a solemn rite of it, you know,--
a kind of sacrifice. We ought to have poured a kind of libation on
"I did sprinkle a little kerosene over it, I think," returned
Stacy, "just to help things along. But if you want to see her
flaming, Barker, you just run back to that last corner on the road
beyond the big red wood. That's the spot for a view."
As Barker--always devoted to a spectacle--swiftly disappeared the
two men faced each other. "Well, what does it all mean?" said
"It means, old man," said Stacy suddenly, "that if we hadn't had
nigger luck, the same blind luck that sent us that strike, you and
I and that Barker over there would have been swirling in that smoke
up to the sky about two hours ago!" He stopped and added in a
lower, but earnest voice, "Look here, Phil! When I went out to
fetch water this morning I smelt something queer. I went round to
the back of the cabin and found a hole dug under the floor, and
piled against the corner wall a lot of brush-wood and a can of
kerosene. Some of the kerosene had been already poured on the
brush. Everything was ready to light, and only my coming out an
hour earlier had frightened the devils away. The idea was to set
the place on fire, suffocate us in the smoke of the kerosene poured
into the hole, and then to rush in and grab the treasure. It was a
"No!" said Demorest quietly.
"No?" repeated Stacy. "I told you I saw the whole thing and took
away the kerosene, which I hid, and after you had gone used it to
fire the cabin with, to see if the ones I suspected would gather to
watch their work."
"It was no part of their FIRST plan"' said Demorest, "which was
only robbery. Listen!" He hurriedly recounted his experience of
the preceding night to the astonished Stacy. "No, the fire was an
afterthought and revenge," he added sternly.
"But you say you cut the robber in the hand; there would be no
difficulty in identifying him by that."
"I wounded only a HAND," said Demorest. "But there was a HEAD in
that attempt that I never saw." He then revealed his own half-
suspicions, but how they were apparently refuted by the bravado of
Steptoe and Whiskey Dick.
"Then that was the reason THEY didn't gather at the fire," said
"Ah!" said Demorest, "then YOU too suspected them?"
Stacy hesitated, and then said abruptly, "Yes."
Demorest was silent for a moment.
"Why didn't you tell me this this morning?" he said gently.
Stacy pointed to the distant Barker. "I didn't want you to tell
him. I thought it better for one partner to keep a secret from two
than for the two to keep it from one. Why didn't you tell me of
your experience last night?"
"I am afraid it was for the same reason," said Demorest, with a
faint smile. "And it sometimes seems to me, Jim, that we ought to
imitate Barker's frankness. In our dread of tainting him with our
own knowledge of evil we are sending him out into the world very
poorly equipped, for all his three hundred thousand dollars."
"I reckon you're right," said Stacy briefly, extending his hand.
"Shake on that!"
The two men grasped each other's hands.
"And he's no fool, either," continued Demorest. "When we met
Steptoe on the road, without a word from me, he closed up
alongside, with his hand on the lock of his rifle. And I hadn't
the heart to praise him or laugh it off."
Nevertheless they were both silent as the object of their criticism
bounded down the trail towards them. He had seen the funeral pyre.
It was awfully sad, it was awfully lovely, but there was something
grand in it! Who could have thought Stacy could be so poetic? But
he wanted to tell them something else that was mighty pretty.
"What was it?" said Demorest.
"Well," said Barker, "don't laugh! But you know that Jack Hamlin?
Well, boys, he's been hovering around us on his mustang, keeping us
and that pack-mule in sight ever since we left. Sometimes he's on
a side trail off to the right, sometimes off to the left, but
always at the same distance. I didn't like to tell you, boys, for
I thought you'd laugh at me; but I think, you know, he's taken a
sort of shine to us since he dropped in last night. And I fancy,
you see, he's sort of hanging round to see that we get along all
right. I'd have pointed him out before only I reckoned you and
Stacy would say he was making up to us for our money."
"And we'd have been wrong, Barker boy," said Stacy, with a
heartiness that surprised Demorest, "for I reckon your instinct's
the right one."
"There he is now," said the gratified Barker, "just abreast of us
on the cut-off. He started just after we did, and he's got a horse
that could have brought him into Boomville hours ago. It's just
He pointed to a distant fringe of buckeye from which Jack Hamlin
had just emerged. Although evidently holding in a powerful
mustang, nothing could be more unconscious and utterly indifferent
than his attitude. He did not seem to know of the proximity of any
other traveler, and to care less. His handsome head was slightly
thrown back, as if he was caroling after his usual fashion, but the
distance was too great to make his melody audible to them, or to
allow Barker's shout of invitation to reach him. Suddenly he
lowered his tightened rein, the mustang sprang forward, and with a
flash of silver spurs and bridle fripperies he had disappeared.
But as the trail he was pursuing crossed theirs a mile beyond, it
seemed quite possible that they should again meet him.
They were now fairly into the Boomville valley, and were entering a
narrow arroyo bordered with dusky willows which effectually
excluded the view on either side. It was the bed of a mountain
torrent that in winter descended the hillside over the trail by
which they had just come, but was now sunk into the thirsty plain
between banks that varied from two to five feet in height. The
muleteer had advanced into the narrow channel when he suddenly cast
a hurried glance behind him, uttered a "Madre de Dios!" and backed
his mule and his precious freight against the bank. The sound of
hoofs on the trail in their rear had caught his quicker ear, and as
the three partners turned they beheld three horsemen thundering
down the hill towards them. They were apparently Mexican vaqueros
of the usual common swarthy type, their faces made still darker by
the black silk handkerchief tied round their heads under their
stiff sombreros. Either they were unable or unwilling to restrain
their horses in their headlong speed, and a collision in that
narrow passage was imminent, but suddenly, before reaching its
entrance, they diverged with a volley of oaths, and dashing along
the left bank of the arroyo, disappeared in the intervening
willows. Divided between relief at their escape and indignation at
what seemed to be a drunken, feast-day freak of these roystering
vaqueros, the little party re-formed, when a cry from Barker
arrested them. He had just perceived a horseman motionless in the
arroyo who, although unnoticed by them, had evidently been seen by
the Mexicans. He had apparently leaped into it from the bank, and
had halted as if to witness this singular incident. As the clatter
of the vaqueros' hoofs died away he lightly leaped the bank again
and disappeared. But in that single glimpse of him they recognized
Jack Hamlin. When they reached the spot where he had halted, they
could see that he must have approached it from the trail where they
had previously seen him, but which they now found crossed it at
right angles. Barker was right. He had really kept them at easy
distance the whole length of the journey.
But they were now reaching its end. When they issued at last from
the arroyo they came upon the outskirts of Boomville and the great
stage-road. Indeed, the six horses of the Pioneer coach were just
panting along the last half mile of the steep upgrade as they
approached. They halted mechanically as the heavy vehicle swayed
and creaked by them. In their ordinary working dress, sunburnt
with exposure, covered with dust, and carrying their rifles still
in their hands, they, perhaps, presented a sufficiently
characteristic appearance to draw a few faces--some of them pretty
and intelligent--to the windows of the coach as it passed. The
sensitive Barker was quickest to feel that resentment with which
the Pioneer usually met the wide-eyed criticism of the Eastern
tourist or "greenhorn," and reddened under the bold scrutiny of a
pair of black inquisitive eyes behind an eyeglass. That annoyance
was communicated, though in a lesser degree, even to the bearded
Demorest and Stacy. It was an unexpected contact with that great
world in which they were so soon to enter. They felt ashamed of
their appearance, and yet ashamed of that feeling. They felt a
secret satisfaction when Barker said, "They'd open their eyes wider
if they knew what was in that pack-saddle," and yet they corrected
him for what they were pleased to call his "snobbishness." They
hurried a little faster as the road became more frequented, as if
eager to shorten their distance to clean clothes and civilization.
Only Demorest began to linger in the rear. This contact with the
stagecoach had again brought him face to face with his buried past.
He felt his old dream revive, and occasionally turned to look back
upon the dark outlines of Black Spur, under whose shadow it had
returned so often, and wondered if he had left it there forever,
and it were now slowly exhaling with the thinned and dying smoke of
their burning cabin.
His companions, knowing his silent moods, had preceded him at some
distance, when he heard the soft sound of ambling hoofs on the
thick dust, and suddenly the light touch of Jack Hamlin's gauntlet
on his shoulder. The mustang Jack bestrode was reeking with grime
and sweat, but Jack himself was as immaculate and fresh as ever.
With a delightful affectation of embarrassment and timidity he
began flicking the side buttons of his velvet vaquero trousers with
the thong of his riata. "I reckoned to sling a word along with you
before you went," he said, looking down, "but I'm so shy that I
couldn't do it in company. So I thought I'd get it off on you
while you were alone."
"We've seen you once or twice before, this morning," said Demorest
pleasantly, "and we were sorry you didn't join us."
"I reckon I might have," said Jack gayly, "if my horse had only
made up his mind whether he was a bird or a squirrel, and hadn't
been so various and promiscuous about whether he wanted to climb a
tree or fly. He's not a bad horse for a Mexican plug, only when he
thinks there is any devilment around he wants to wade in and take a
hand. However, I reckoned to see the last of you and your pile
into Boomville. And I DID. When I meet three fellows like you
that are clean white all through I sort of cotton to 'em, even if
I'M a little of a brunette myself. And I've got something to give
He took from a fold of his scarlet sash a small parcel neatly
folded in white paper as fresh and spotless as himself. Holding it
in his fingers, he went on: "I happened to be at Heavy Tree Hill
early this morning before sun-up. In the darkness I struck your
cabin, and I reckon--I struck somebody else! At first I thought it
was one of you chaps down on your knees praying at the rear of the
cabin, but the way the fellow lit out when he smelt me coming made
me think it wasn't entirely fasting and prayer. However, I went to
the rear of the cabin, and then I reckoned some kind friend had
been bringing you kindlings and firewood for your early breakfast.
But that didn't satisfy me, so I knelt down as he had knelt, and
then I saw--well, Mr. Demorest, I reckon I saw JUST WHAT YOU HAVE
SEEN! But even then I wasn't quite satisfied, for that man had
been grubbing round as if searching for something. So I searched
too--and I found IT. I've got it here. I'm going to give it to
you, for it may some day come in handy, and you won't find anything
like it among the folks where you're going. It's something unique,
as those fine-art-collecting sharps in 'Frisco say--something quite
matchless, unless you try to match it one day yourself! Don't open
the paper until I run on and say 'So long' to your partners. Good-
He grasped Demorest's hand and then dropped the little packet into
his palm, and ambled away towards Stacy and Barker. Holding the
packet in his hand with an amused yet puzzled smile, Demorest
watched the gambler give Stacy's hand a hearty farewell shake and a
supplementary slap on the back to the delighted Barker, and then
vanish in a flash of red sash and silver buttons. At which
Demorest, walking slowly towards his partners, opened the packet,
and stood suddenly still. It contained the dried and bloodless
second finger of a human hand cut off at the first joint!
For an instant he held it at arm's length, as if about to cast it
away. Then he grimly replaced it in the paper, put it carefully in
his pocket, and silently walked after his companions.
A strong southwester was beating against the windows and doors of
Stacy's Bank in San Francisco, and spreading a film of rain between
the regular splendors of its mahogany counters and sprucely dressed
clerks and the usual passing pedestrian. For Stacy's new banking-
house had long since received the epithet of "palatial" from an
enthusiastic local press fresh from the "opening" luncheon in its
richly decorated directors' rooms, and it was said that once a
homely would-be depositor from One Horse Gulch was so cowed by its
magnificence that his heart failed him at the last moment, and
mumbling an apology to the elegant receiving teller, fled with his
greasy chamois pouch of gold-dust to deposit his treasure in the
dingy Mint around the corner. Perhaps there was something of this
feeling, mingled with a certain simple-minded fascination, in the
hesitation of a stranger of a higher class who entered the bank
that rainy morning and finally tendered his card to the important
The card preceded him through noiselessly swinging doors and across
heavily carpeted passages until it reached the inner core of Mr.
James Stacy's private offices, and was respectfully laid before
him. He was not alone. At his side, in an attitude of polite and
studied expectancy, stood a correct-looking young man, for whom Mr.
Stacy was evidently writing a memorandum. The stranger glanced
furtively at the card with a curiosity hardly in keeping with his
suggested good breeding; but Stacy did not look at it until he had
finished his memorandum.
"There," he said, with business decision, "you can tell your people
that if we carry their new debentures over our limit we will expect
a larger margin. Ditches are not what they were three years ago
when miners were willing to waste their money over your rates.
They don't gamble THAT WAY any more, and your company ought to know
it, and not gamble themselves over that prospect." He handed the
paper to the stranger, who bowed over it with studied politeness,
and backed towards the door. Stacy took up the waiting card, read
it, said to the messenger, "Show him in," and in the same breath
turned to his guest: "I say, Van Loo, it's George Barker! You know
"Yes," said Van Loo, with a polite hesitation as he halted at the
door. "He was--I think--er--in your employ at Heavy Tree Hill."
"Nonsense! He was my partner. And you must have known him since
at Boomville. Come! He got forty shares of Ditch stock--through
you--at 110, which were worth about 80! SOMEBODY must have made
money enough by it to remember him."
"I was only speaking of him socially," said Van Loo, with a
deprecating smile. "You know he married a young woman--the hotel-
keeper's daughter, who used to wait at the table--and after my
mother and sister came out to keep house for me at Boomville it was
quite impossible for me to see much of him, for he seldom went out
without his wife, you know."
"Yes," said Stacy dryly, "I think you didn't like his marriage.
But I'm glad your disinclination to see him isn't on account of
that deal in stocks."
"Oh no," said Van Loo. "Good-by."
But, unfortunately, in the next passage he came upon Barker, who
with a cry of unfeigned pleasure, none the less sincere that he was
feeling a little alien in these impressive surroundings, recognized
him. Nothing could exceed Van Loo's protest of delight at the
meeting; nothing his equal desolation at the fact that he was
hastening to another engagement. "But your old partner," he added,
with a smile, "is waiting for you; he has just received your card,
and I should be only keeping you from him. So glad to see you;
you're looking so well. Good-by! Good-by!"
Reassured, Barker no longer hesitated, but dashed with his old
impetuousness into his former partner's room. Stacy, already
deeply absorbed in other business, was sitting with his back
towards him, and Barker's arms were actually encircling his neck
before the astonished and half-angry man looked up. But when his
eyes met the laughing gray ones of Barker above him he gently
disengaged himself with a quick return of the caress, rose, shut
the door of an inner office, and returning pushed Barker into an
armchair in quite the old suppressive fashion of former days. Yes;
it was the same Stacy that Barker looked at, albeit his brown beard
was now closely cropped around his determined mouth and jaw in a
kind of grave decorum, and his energetic limbs already attuned to
the rigor of clothes of fashionable cut and still more rigorous
sombreness of color.
"Barker boy," he began, with the familiar twinkle in his keen eyes
which the younger partner remembered, "I don't encourage stag
dancing among my young men during bank hours, and you'll please to
remember that we are not on Heavy Tree Hill"--
"Where," broke in Barker enthusiastically, "we were only overlooked
by the Black Spur Range and the Sierran snow-line; where the
nearest voice that came to you was quarter of a mile away as the
crow flies and nearly a mile by the trail."
"And was generally an oath!" said Stacy. "But you're in San
Francisco NOW. Where are you stopping?" He took up a pencil and
held it over a memorandum pad awaitingly.
"At the Brook House. It's"--
"Hold on! 'Brook House,'" Stacy repeated as he jotted it down.
"And for how long?"
"Oh, a day or two. You see, Kitty"--
Stacy checked him with a movement of his pencil in the air, and
then wrote down, "'Day or two.' Wife with you?"
"Yes; and oh, Stacy, our boy! Ah!" he went on, with a laugh,
knocking aside the remonstrating pencil, "you must listen! He's
just the sweetest, knowingest little chap living. Do you know what
we're going to christen him? Well, he'll be Stacy Demorest Barker.
Good names, aren't they? And then it perpetuates the dear old
Stacy picked up the pencil again, wrote "Wife and child S. D. B.,"
and leaned back in his chair. "Now, Barker," he said briefly, "I'm
coming to dine with you tonight at 7.30 sharp. THEN we'll talk
Heavy Tree Hill, wife, baby, and S. D. B. But here I'm all for
business. Have you any with me?"
Barker, who was easily amused, had extracted a certain entertainment
out of Stacy's memorandum, but he straightened himself with a look
of eager confidence and said, "Certainly; that's just what it is--
business. Lord! Stacy, I'm ALL business now. I'm in everything.
And I bank with you, though perhaps you don't know it; it's in your
Branch at Marysville. I didn't want to say anything about it to you
before. But Lord! you don't suppose that I'd bank anywhere else
while you are in the business--checks, dividends, and all that; but
in this matter I felt you knew, old chap. I didn't want to talk to
a banker nor to a bank, but to Jim Stacy, my old partner."
"Barker," said Stacy curtly, "how much money are you short of?"
At this direct question Barker's always quick color rose, but, with
an equally quick smile, he said, "I don't know yet that I'm short
"But I do!"
"Look here, Jim: why, I'm just overloaded with shares and stocks,"
said Barker, smiling.
"Not one of which you could realize on without sacrifice. Barker,
three years ago you had three hundred thousand dollars put to your
account at San Francisco."
"Yes," said Barker, with a quiet reminiscent laugh. "I remember I
wanted to draw it out in one check to see how it would look."
"And you've drawn out all in three years, and it looks d----d bad."
"How did you know it?" asked Barker, his face beaming only with
admiration of his companion's omniscience.
"How did I know it?" retorted Stacy. "I know YOU, and I know the
kind of people who have unloaded to you."
"Come, Stacy," said Barker, "I've only invested in shares and
stocks like everybody else, and then only on the best advice I
could get: like Van Loo's, for instance,--that man who was here
just now, the new manager of the Empire Ditch Company; and
Carter's, my own Kitty's father. And when I was offered fifty
thousand Wide West Extensions, and was hesitating over it, he told
me YOU were in it too--and that was enough for me to buy it."
"Yes, but we didn't go into it at his figures."
"No," said Barker, with an eager smile, "but you SOLD at his
figures, for I knew that when I found that YOU, my old partner, was
in it; don't you see, I preferred to buy it through your bank, and
did at 110. Of course, you wouldn't have sold it at that figure if
it wasn't worth it then, and neither I nor you are to blame if it
dropped the next week to 60, don't you see?"
Stacy's eyes hardened for a moment as he looked keenly into his
former partner's bright gray ones, but there was no trace of irony
in Barker's. On the contrary, a slight shade of sadness came over
them. "No," he said reflectively, "I don't think I've ever been
foolish or followed out my OWN ideas, except once, and that was
extravagant, I admit. That was my idea of building a kind of
refuge, you know, on the site of our old cabin, where poor miners
and played-out prospectors waiting for a strike could stay without
paying anything. Well, I sunk twenty thousand dollars in that, and
might have lost more, only Carter--Kitty's father--persuaded me--
he's an awful clever old fellow--into turning it into a kind of
branch hotel of Boomville, while using it as a hotel to take poor
chaps who couldn't pay, at half prices, or quarter prices,
PRIVATELY, don't you see, so as to spare their pride,--awfully
pretty, wasn't it?--and make the hotel profit by it."
"Well?" said Stacy as Barker paused.
"They didn't come," said Barker.
"But," he added eagerly, "it shows that things were better than I
had imagined. Only the others did not come, either."
"And you lost your twenty thousand dollars," said Stacy curtly.
"FIFTY thousand," said Barker, "for of course it had to be a larger
hotel than the other. And I think that Carter wouldn't have gone
into it except to save me from losing money."
"And yet made you lose fifty thousand instead of twenty. For I
don't suppose HE advanced anything."
"He gave his time and experience," said Barker simply.
"I don't think it worth thirty thousand dollars," said Stacy dryly.
"But all this doesn't tell me what your business is with me to-day."
"No," said Barker, brightening up, "but it is business, you know.
Something in the old style--as between partner and partner--and
that's why I came to YOU, and not to the 'banker.' And it all
comes out of something that Demorest once told us; so you see it's
all us three again! Well, you know, of course, that the Excelsior
Ditch Company have abandoned the Bar and Heavy Tree Hill. It
"Yes; nor does the company pay any dividends now. You ought to
know, with fifty thousand of their stock on your hands."
Barker laughed. "But listen. I found that I could buy up their
whole plant and all the ditching along the Black Spur Range for ten
"And Great Scott! you don't think of taking up their business?"
said Stacy, aghast.
Barker laughed more heartily. "No. Not their business. But I
remember that once Demorest told us, in the dear old days, that it
cost nearly as much to make a water ditch as a railroad, in the way
of surveying and engineering and levels, you know. And here's the
plant for a railroad. Don't you see?"
"But a railroad from Black Spur to Heavy Tree Hill--what's the good
"Why, Black Spur will be in the line of the new Divide Railroad
they're trying to get a bill for in the legislature."
"An infamous piece of wildcat jobbing that will never pass," said
"They said BECAUSE it was that, it would pass," said Barker simply.
"They say that Watson's Bank is in it, and is bound to get it
through. And as that is a rival bank of yours, don't you see, I
thought that if WE could get something real good or valuable out of
it,--something that would do the Black Spur good,--it would be all
"And was your business to consult me about it?" said Stacy bluntly.
"No," said Barker, "it's too late to consult you now, though I wish
I had. I've given my word to take it, and I can't back out. But I
haven't the ten thousand dollars, and I came to you."
Stacy slowly settled himself back in his chair, and put both hands
in his pockets. "Not a cent, Barker, not a cent."
"I'm not asking it of the BANK," said Barker, with a smile, "for I
could have gone to the bank for it. But as this was something
between us, I am asking you, Stacy, as my old partner."
"And I am answering you, Barker, as your old partner, but also as
the partner of a hundred other men, who have even a greater right
to ask me. And my answer is, not a cent!"
Barker looked at him with a pale, astonished face and slightly
parted lips. Stacy rose, thrust his hands deeper in his pockets,
and standing before him went on:--
"Now look here! It's time you should understand me and yourself.
Three years ago, when our partnership was dissolved by accident, or
mutual consent, we will say, we started afresh, each on our own
hook. Through foolishness and bad advice you have in those three
years hopelessly involved yourself as you never would have done had
we been partners, and yet in your difficulty you ask me and my new
partners to help you out of a difficulty in which they have no
"Your NEW partners?" stammered Barker.
"Yes, my new partners; for every man who has a share, or a deposit,
or an interest, or a dollar in this bank is my PARTNER--even you,
with your securities at the Branch, are one; and you may say that
in THIS I am protecting you against yourself."
"But you have money--you have private means."
"None to speculate with as you wish me to--on account of my
position; none to give away foolishly as you expect me to--on
account of precedent and example. I am a soulless machine taking
care of capital intrusted to me and my brains, but decidedly NOT to
my heart nor my sentiment. So my answer is, not a cent!"
Barker's face had changed; his color had come back, but with an
older expression. Presently, however, his beaming smile returned,
with the additional suggestion of an affectionate toleration which
"I believe you're right, old chap," he said, extending his hand to
the banker, "and I wish I had talked to you before. But it's too
late now, and I've given my word."
"Your WORD!" said Stacy. "Have you no written agreement?"
"No. My word was accepted." He blushed slightly as if conscious
of a great weakness.
"But that isn't legal nor business. And you couldn't even hold the
Ditch Company to it if THEY chose to back out."
"But I don't think they will," said Barker simply. "And you see my
word wasn't given entirely to THEM. I bought the thing through my
wife's cousin, Henry Spring, a broker, and he makes something by
it, from the company, on commission. And I can't go back on HIM.
What did you say?"
Stacy had only groaned through his set teeth. "Nothing," he said
briefly, "except that I'm coming, as I said before, to dine with
you to-night; but no more BUSINESS. I've enough of that with
others, and there are some waiting for me in the outer office now."
Barker rose at once, but with the same affectionate smile and
tender gravity of countenance, and laid his hand caressingly on
Stacy's shoulder. "It's like you to give up so much of your time
to me and my foolishness and be so frank with me. And I know it's
mighty rough on you to have to be a mere machine instead of Jim
Stacy. Don't you bother about me. I'll sell some of my Wide West
Extension and pull the thing through myself. It's all right, but
I'm sorry for you, old chap." He glanced around the room at the
walls and rich paneling, and added, "I suppose that's what you have
to pay for all this sort of thing?"
Before Stacy could reply, a waiting visitor was announced for the
second time, and Barker, with another hand-shake and a reassuring
smile to his old partner, passed into the hall, as if the onus of
any infelicity in the interview was upon himself alone. But Stacy
did not seem to be in a particularly accessible mood to the new
caller, who in his turn appeared to be slightly irritated by having
been kept waiting over some irksome business. "You don't seem to
follow me," he said to Stacy after reciting his business perplexity.
"Can't you suggest something?"
"Well, why don't you get hold of one of your board of directors?"
said Stacy abstractedly. "There's Captain Drummond; you and he are
old friends. You were comrades in the Mexican War, weren't you?"
"That be d----d!" said his visitor bitterly. "All his interests
are the other way, and in a trade of this kind, you know, Stacy,
that a man would sacrifice his own brother. Do you suppose that
he'd let up on a sure thing that he's got just because he and I
fought side by side at Cerro Gordo? Come! what are you giving us?
You're the last man I ever expected to hear that kind of flapdoodle
from. If it's because your bank has got some other interest and
you can't advise me, why don't you say so?" Nevertheless, in spite
of Stacy's abrupt disclaimer, he left a few minutes later, half
convinced that Stacy's lukewarmness was due to some adverse
influence. Other callers were almost as quickly disposed of, and
at the end of an hour Stacy found himself again alone.
But not apparently in a very satisfied mood. After a few moments
of purely mechanical memoranda-making, he rose abruptly and opened
a small drawer in a cabinet, from which he took a letter still in
its envelope. It bore a foreign postmark. Glancing over it
hastily, his eyes at last became fixed on a concluding paragraph.
"I hope," wrote his correspondent, "that even in the rush of your
big business you will sometimes look after Barker. Not that I
think the dear old chap will ever go wrong--indeed, I often wish I
was as certain of myself as of him and his insight; but I am afraid
we were more inclined to be merely amused and tolerant of his
wonderful trust and simplicity than to really understand it for his
own good and ours. I know you did not like his marriage, and were
inclined to believe he was the victim of a rather unscrupulous
father and a foolish, unequal girl; but are you satisfied that he
would have been the happier without it, or lived his perfect life
under other and what you may think wiser conditions? If he WROTE
the poetry that he LIVES everybody would think him wonderful; for
being what he is we never give him sufficient credit." Stacy
smiled grimly, and penciled on his memorandum, "He wants it to the
amount of ten thousand dollars." "Anyhow," continued the writer,
"look after him, Jim, for his sake, your sake, and the sake of--
Stacy put the letter back in its envelope, and tossing it grimly
aside went on with his calculations. Presently he stopped,
restored the letter to his cabinet, and rang a bell on his table.
"Send Mr. North here," he said to the negro messenger. In a few
moments his chief book-keeper appeared in the doorway.
"Turn to the Branch ledger and bring me a statement of Mr. George
"He was here a moment ago," said North, essaying a confidential
look towards his chief.
"I know it," said Stacy coolly, without looking up.
"He's been running a good deal on wildcat lately," suggested North.
"I asked for his account, and not your opinion of it," said Stacy
The subordinate withdrew somewhat abashed but still curious, and
returned presently with a ledger which he laid before his chief.
Stacy ran his eyes over the list of Barker's securities; it seemed
to him that all the wildest schemes of the past year stared him in
the face. His finger, however, stopped on the Wide West Extension.
"Mr. Barker will be wanting to sell some of this stock. What is it
quoted at now?"
"But I would prefer that Mr. Barker should not offer in the open
market at present. Give him seventy for it--private sale; that
will be ten thousand dollars paid to his credit. Advise the Branch
of this at once, and to keep the transaction quiet."
"Yes, sir," responded the clerk as he moved towards the door. But
he hesitated, and with another essay at confidence said insinuatingly,
"I always thought, sir, that Wide West would recover."
Stacy, perhaps not displeased to find what had evidently passed in
his subordinate's mind, looked at him and said dryly, "Then I would
advise you also to keep that opinion to yourself." But, clever as
he was, he had not anticipated the result. Mr. North, though a
trusted employee, was human. On arriving in the outer office he
beckoned to one of the lounging brokers, and in a low voice said,
"I'll take two shares of Wide West, if you can get it cheap."
The broker's face became alert and eager. "Yes, but I say, is
"I'm not here to give the business of the bank away," retorted
North severely; "take the order or leave it."
The man hurried away. Having thus vindicated his humanity by also
passing the snub he had received from Stacy to an inferior, he
turned away to carry out his master's instructions, yet secure in
the belief that he had profited by his superior discernment of the
real reason of that master's singular conduct. But when he
returned to the private room, in hopes of further revelations, Mr.
Stacy was closeted with another financial magnate, and had
apparently divested his mind of the whole affair.
When George Barker returned to the outer ward of the financial
stronghold he had penetrated, with its curving sweep of counters,
brass railings, and wirework screens defended by the spruce clerks
behind them, he was again impressed with the position of the man he
had just quitted, and for a moment hesitated, with an inclination
to go back. It was with no idea of making a further appeal to his
old comrade, but--what would have been odd in any other nature but
his--he was affected by a sense that HE might have been unfair and
selfish in his manner to the man panoplied by these defenses, and
who was in a measure forced to be a part of them. He would like to
have returned and condoled with him. The clerks, who were
heartlessly familiar with the anxious bearing of the men who sought
interviews with their chief, both before and after, smiled with the
whispered conviction that the fresh and ingenuous young stranger
had been "chucked" like others until they met his kindly, tolerant,
and even superior eyes, and were puzzled. Meanwhile Barker, who
had that sublime, natural quality of abstraction over small
impertinences which is more exasperating than studied indifference,
after his brief hesitation passed out unconcernedly through the
swinging mahogany doors into the blowy street. Here the wind and
rain revived him; the bank and its curt refusal were forgotten; he
walked onward with only a smiling memory of his partner as in the
old days. He remembered how Stacy had burned down their old cabin
rather than have it fall into sordid or unworthy hands--this Stacy
who was now condemned to sink his impulses and become a mere
machine. He had never known Stacy's real motive for that act,--
both Demorest and Stacy had kept their knowledge of the attempted
robbery from their younger partner,--it always seemed to him to be
a precious revelation of Stacy's inner nature. Facing the wind and
rain, he recalled how Stacy, though never so enthusiastic about his
marriage as Demorest, had taken up Van Loo sharply for some foolish
sneer about his own youthfulness. He was affectionately tolerant
of even Stacy's dislike to his wife's relations, for Stacy did not
know them as he did. Indeed, Barker, whose own father and mother
had died in his infancy, had accepted his wife's relations with a
loving trust and confidence that was supreme, from the fact that he
had never known any other.
At last he reached his hotel. It was a new one, the latest
creation of a feverish progress in hotel-building which had covered
five years and as many squares with large showy erections, utterly
beyond the needs of the community, yet each superior in size and
adornment to its predecessor. It struck him as being the one
evidence of an abiding faith in the future of the metropolis that
he had seen in nothing else. As he entered its frescoed hall that
afternoon he was suddenly reminded, by its challenging opulency, of
the bank he had just quitted, without knowing that the bank had
really furnished its capital and its original design. The gilded
bar-rooms, flashing with mirrors and cut glass; the saloons, with
their desert expanse of Turkey carpet and oasis of clustered divans
and gilded tables; the great dining-room, with porphyry columns,
and walls and ceilings shining with allegory--all these things
which had attracted his youthful wonder without distracting his
correct simplicity of taste he now began to comprehend. It was the
bank's money "at work." In the clatter of dishes in the dining-
room he even seemed to hear again the chinking of coin.
It was a short cut to his apartments to pass through a smaller
public sitting-room popularly known as "Flirtation Camp," where
eight or ten couples generally found refuge on chairs and settees
by the windows, half concealed by heavy curtains. But the
occupants were by no means youthful spinsters or bachelors; they
were generally married women, guests of the hotel, receiving other
people's husbands whose wives were "in the States," or responsible
middle-aged leaders of the town. In the elaborate toilettes of the
women, as compared with the less formal business suits of the men,
there was an odd mingling of the social attitude with perhaps more
mysterious confidences. The idle gossip about them had never
affected Barker; rather he had that innate respect for the secrets
of others which is as inseparable from simplicity as it is from
high breeding, and he scarcely glanced at the different couples in
his progress through the room. He did not even notice a rather
striking and handsome woman, who, surrounded by two or three
admirers, yet looked up at Barker as he passed with self-conscious
lids as if seeking a return of her glance. But he moved on
abstractedly, and only stopped when he suddenly saw the familiar
skirt of his wife at a further window, and halted before it.
"Oh, it's YOU," said Mrs. Barker, with a half-nervous, half-
impatient laugh. "Why, I thought you'd certainly stay half the
afternoon with your old partner, considering that you haven't met
for three years."
There was no doubt she HAD thought so; there was equally no doubt
that the conversation she was carrying on with her companion--a
good-looking, portly business man--was effectually interrupted.
But Barker did not notice it. "Captain Heath, my husband," she
went on, carelessly rising and smoothing her skirts. The captain,
who had risen too, bowed vaguely at the introduction, but Barker
extended his hand frankly. "I found Stacy busy," he said in answer
to his wife, "but he is coming to dine with us to-night."
"If you mean Jim Stacy, the banker," said Captain Heath, brightening
into greater ease, "he's the busiest man in California. I've seen
men standing in a queue outside his door as in the old days at the
post-office. And he only gives you five minutes and no extension.
So you and he were partners once?" he said, looking curiously at the
still youthful Barker.
But it was Mrs. Barker who answered, "Oh yes! and always such good
friends. I was awfully jealous of him." Nevertheless, she did not
respond to the affectionate protest in Barker's eyes nor to the
laugh of Captain Heath, but glanced indifferently around the room
as if to leave further conversation to the two men. It was
possible that she was beginning to feel that Captain Heath was as
de trop now as her husband had been a moment before. Standing
there, however, between them both, idly tracing a pattern on the
carpet with the toe of her slipper, she looked prettier than she
had ever looked as Kitty Carter. Her slight figure was more fully
developed. That artificial severity covering a natural virgin
coyness with which she used to wait at table in her father's hotel
at Boomville had gone, and was replaced by a satisfied consciousness
of her power to please. Her glance was freer, but not as frank as
in those days. Her dress was undoubtedly richer and more stylish;
yet Barker's loyal heart often reverted fondly to the chintz gown,
coquettishly frilled apron, and spotless cuffs and collar in which
she had handed him his coffee with a faint color that left his own
Captain Heath's tact being equal to her indifference, he had
excused himself, although he was becoming interested in this
youthful husband. But Mrs. Barker, after having asserted her
husband's distinction as the equal friend of the millionaire, was
by no means willing that the captain should be further interested
in Barker for himself alone, and did not urge him to stay. As he
departed she turned to her husband, and, indicating the group he
had passed the moment before, said:--
"That horrid woman has been staring at us all the time. I don't
see what you see in her to admire."
Poor Barker's admiration had been limited to a few words of
civility in the enforced contact of that huge caravansary and in
his quiet, youthful recognition of her striking personality. But
he was just then too preoccupied with his interview with Stacy to
reply, and perhaps he did not quite understand his wife. It was
odd how many things he did not quite understand now about Kitty,
but that he knew must be HIS fault. But Mrs. Barker apparently did
not require, after the fashion of her sex, a reply. For the next
moment, as they moved towards their rooms, she said impatiently,
"Well, you don't tell what Stacy said. Did you get the money?"
I grieve to say that this soul of truth and frankness lied--only to
his wife. Perhaps he considered it only lying to HIMSELF, a thing
of which he was at times miserably conscious. "It wasn't
necessary, dear," he said; "he advised me to sell my securities in
the bank; and if you only knew how dreadfully busy he is."
Mrs. Barker curled her pretty lip. "It doesn't take very long to
lend ten thousand dollars!" she said. "But that's what I always
tell you. You have about made me sick by singing the praises of
those wonderful partners of yours, and here you ask a favor of one
of them and he tells you to sell your securities! And you know,
and he knows, they're worth next to nothing."
"You don't understand, dear"--began Barker.
"I understand that you've given your word to poor Harry," said Mrs.
Barker in pretty indignation, "who's responsible for the Ditch
"And I shall keep it. I always do," said Barker very quietly, but
with that same singular expression of face that had puzzled Stacy.
But Mrs. Barker, who, perhaps, knew her husband better, said in an
"But HOW can you, dear?"
"If I'm short a thousand or two I'll ask your father."
Mrs. Barker was silent. "Father's so very much harried now, George.
Why don't you simply throw the whole thing up?"
"But I've given my word to your cousin Henry."
"Yes, but only your WORD. There was no written agreement. And you
couldn't even hold him to it."
Barker opened his frank eyes in astonishment. Her own cousin, too!
And they were Stacy's very words!
"Besides," added Mrs. Barker audaciously, "he could get rid of it
elsewhere. He had another offer, but he thought yours the best.
So don't be silly."
By this time they had reached their rooms. Barker, apparently
dismissing the subject from his mind with characteristic buoyancy,
turned into the bedroom and walked smilingly towards a small crib