Part 3 out of 5
"And you say he was a noted desperado?" he said with nervous
The colonel glared.
"Desperado, sir! Never! Blank it all!--a mean, psalm-singing,
crawling, sneak thief!"
And Blair felt relieved without knowing exactly why.
The next day it was known that the preacher, Gabriel Brown, had
left Laurel Spring on an urgent "Gospel call" elsewhere.
Colonel Starbottle returned that night with his friends to the
county town. Strange to say, a majority of the audience had not
grasped the full significance of the colonel's unseemly
interruption, and those who had, as partisans, kept it quiet.
Blair, tortured by doubt, had a new delicacy added to his
hesitation, which left him helpless until the widow should take the
initiative in explanation.
A sudden summons from his patient at the loggers' camp the next day
brought him again to the fateful redwoods. But he was vexed and
mystified to find, on arriving at the camp, that he had been made
the victim of some stupid blunder, and that no message had been
sent from there. He was returning abstractedly through the woods
when he was amazed at seeing at a little distance before him the
flutter of Mrs. MacGlowrie's well-known dark green riding habit and
the figure of the lady herself. Her dog was not with her, neither
was the revival preacher--or he might have thought the whole vision
a trick of his memory. But she slackened her pace, and he was
obliged to rein up abreast of her in some confusion.
"I hope I won't shock you again by riding alone through the woods
with a man," she said with a light laugh.
Nevertheless, she was quite pale as he answered, somewhat coldly,
that he had no right to be shocked at anything she might choose to
"But you WERE shocked, for you rode away the last time without
speaking," she said; "and yet"--she looked up suddenly into his
eyes with a smileless face--"that man you saw me with once had a
better right to ride alone with me than any other man. He was"--
"Your lover?" said Blair with brutal brevity.
"My husband!" returned Mrs. MacGlowrie slowly.
"Then you are NOT a widow," gasped Blair.
"No. I am only a divorced woman. That is why I have had to live a
lie here. That man--that hypocrite--whose secret was only half
exposed the other night, was my husband--divorced from me by the
law, when, an escaped convict, he fled with another woman from the
State three years ago." Her face flushed and whitened again; she
put up her hand blindly to her straying hair, and for an instant
seemed to sway in the saddle.
But Blair as quickly leaped from his horse, and was beside her.
"Let me help you down," he said quickly, "and rest yourself until
you are better." Before she could reply, he lifted her tenderly to
the ground and placed her on a mossy stump a little distance from
the trail. Her color and a faint smile returned to her troubled
"Had we not better go on?" she said, looking around. "I never went
so far as to sit down in the woods with HIM that day."
"Forgive me," he said pleadingly, "but, of course, I knew nothing.
I disliked the man from instinct--I thought he had some power over
"He has none--except the secret that would also have exposed
"But others knew it. Colonel Starbottle must have known his name?
And yet"--as he remembered he stammered--"he refused to tell me."
"Yes, but not because he knew he was my husband, but because he
knew he bore the same name. He thinks, as every one does, that my
husband died in San Francisco. The man who died there was my
husband's cousin--a desperate man and a noted duelist."
"And YOU assumed to be HIS widow?" said the astounded Blair.
"Yes, but don't blame me too much," she said pathetically. "It was
a wild, a silly deceit, but it was partly forced upon me. For when
I first arrived across the plains, at the frontier, I was still
bearing my husband's name, and although I was alone and helpless, I
found myself strangely welcomed and respected by those rude
frontiersmen. It was not long before I saw it was because I was
presumed to be the widow of ALLEN MacGlowrie--who had just died in
San Francisco. I let them think so, for I knew--what they did not--
that Allen's wife had separated from him and married again, and
that my taking his name could do no harm. I accepted their
kindness; they gave me my first start in business, which brought me
here. It was not much of a deceit," she continued, with a slight
tremble of her pretty lip, "to prefer to pass as the widow of a
dead desperado than to be known as the divorced wife of a living
convict. It has hurt no one, and it has saved me just now."
"You were right! No one could blame you," said Blair eagerly,
seizing her hand.
But she disengaged it gently, and went on:--
"And now you wonder why I gave him a meeting here?"
"I wonder at nothing but your courage and patience in all this
suffering!" said Blair fervently; "and at your forgiving me for so
cruelly misunderstanding you."
"But you must learn all. When I first saw MacGlowrie under his
assumed name, I fainted, for I was terrified and believed he knew I
was here and had come to expose me even at his own risk. That was
why I hesitated between going away or openly defying him. But it
appears he was more frightened than I at finding me here--he had
supposed I had changed my name after the divorce, and that Mrs.
MacGlowrie, Laurel Spring, was his cousin's widow. When he found
out who I was he was eager to see me and agree upon a mutual
silence while he was here. He thought only of himself," she added
scornfully, "and Colonel Starbottle's recognition of him that night
as the convicted swindler was enough to put him to flight."
"And the colonel never suspected that you were his wife?" said
"Never! He supposed from the name that he was some relation of my
husband, and that was why he refused to tell it--for my sake. The
colonel is an old fogy--and pompous--but a gentleman--as good as
they make them!"
A slightly jealous uneasiness and a greater sense of shame came
"I seem to have been the only one who suspected and did not aid
you," he said sadly, "and yet God knows"--
The widow had put up her slim hand in half-smiling, half-pathetic
"Wait! I have not told you everything. When I took over the
responsibility of being Allen MacGlowrie's widow, I had to take
over HER relations and HER history as I gathered it from the
frontiersmen. I never frightened any grizzly--I never jabbed
anybody with the scissors; it was SHE who did it. I never was
among the Injins--I never had any fighting relations; my paw was a
plain farmer. I was only a peaceful Blue Grass girl--there! I
never thought there was any harm in it; it seemed to keep the men
off, and leave me free--until I knew you! And you know I didn't
want you to believe it--don't you?"
She hid her flushed face and dimples in her handkerchief.
"But did you never think there might be another way to keep the men
off, and sink the name of MacGlowrie forever?" said Blair in a
"I think we must be going back now," said the widow timidly,
withdrawing her hand, which Blair had again mysteriously got
possession of in her confusion.
"But wait just a few minutes longer to keep me company," said Blair
pleadingly. "I came here to see a patient, and as there must have
been some mistake in the message--I must try to discover it."
"Oh! Is that all?" said the widow quickly. "Why?"--she flushed
again and laughed faintly-- "Well! I am that patient! I wanted
to see you alone to explain everything, and I could think of no
other way. I'm afraid I've got into the habit of thinking nothing
of being somebody else."
"I wish you would let me select who you should be," said the doctor
"We really must go back--to the horses," said the widow.
"Agreed--if we will ride home together."
They did. And before the year was over, although they both
remained, the name of MacGlowrie had passed out of Laurel Spring.
A WARD OF COLONEL STARBOTTLE'S
"The kernel seems a little off color to-day," said the barkeeper as
he replaced the whiskey decanter, and gazed reflectively after the
departing figure of Colonel Starbottle.
"I didn't notice anything," said a bystander; "he passed the time
o' day civil enough to me."
"Oh, he's allus polite enough to strangers and wimmin folk even
when he is that way; it's only his old chums, or them ez like to be
thought so, that he's peppery with. Why, ez to that, after he'd
had that quo'll with his old partner, Judge Pratt, in one o' them
spells, I saw him the next minit go half a block out of his way to
direct an entire stranger; and ez for wimmin!--well, I reckon if
he'd just got a head drawn on a man, and a woman spoke to him, he'd
drop his battery and take off his hat to her. No--ye can't judge
And perhaps in his larger experience the barkeeper was right. He
might have added, too, that the colonel, in his general outward
bearing and jauntiness, gave no indication of his internal
irritation. Yet he was undoubtedly in one of his "spells,"
suffering from a moody cynicism which made him as susceptible of
affront as he was dangerous in resentment.
Luckily, on this particular morning he reached his office and
entered his private room without any serious rencontre. Here he
opened his desk, and arranging his papers, he at once set to work
with grim persistency. He had not been occupied for many minutes
before the door opened to Mr. Pyecroft--one of a firm of attorneys
who undertook the colonel's office work.
"I see you are early to work, Colonel," said Mr. Pyecroft
"You see, sir," said the colonel, correcting him with a slow
deliberation that boded no good--"you see a Southern gentleman--
blank it!--who has stood at the head of his profession for thirty-
five years, obliged to work like a blank nigger, sir, in the dirty
squabbles of psalm-singing Yankee traders, instead of--er--
attending to the affairs of--er--legislation!"
"But you manage to get pretty good fees out of it--Colonel?"
continued Pyecroft, with a laugh.
"Fees, sir! Filthy shekels! and barely enough to satisfy a debt of
honor with one hand, and wipe out a tavern score for the
entertainment of--er--a few lady friends with the other!"
This allusion to his losses at poker, as well as an oyster supper
given to the two principal actresses of the "North Star Troupe,"
then performing in the town, convinced Mr. Pyecroft that the
colonel was in one of his "moods," and he changed the subject.
"That reminds me of a little joke that happened in Sacramento last
week. You remember Dick Stannard, who died a year ago--one of your
"I have yet to learn," interrupted the colonel, with the same
deadly deliberation, "what right HE--or ANYBODY--had to intimate
that he held such a relationship with me. Am I to understand, sir,
that he--er--publicly boasted of it?"
"Don't know!" resumed Pyecroft hastily; "but it don't matter, for
if he wasn't a friend it only makes the joke bigger. Well, his
widow didn't survive him long, but died in the States t'other day,
leavin' the property in Sacramento--worth about three thousand
dollars--to her little girl, who is at school at Santa Clara. The
question of guardianship came up, and it appears that the widow--
who only knew you through her husband--had, some time before her
death, mentioned YOUR name in that connection! He! he!"
"What!" said Colonel Starbottle, starting up.
"Hold on!" said Pyecroft hilariously. "That isn't all! Neither
the executors nor the probate judge knew you from Adam, and the
Sacramento bar, scenting a good joke, lay low and said nothing.
Then the old fool judge said that 'as you appeared to be a lawyer,
a man of mature years, and a friend of the family, you were an
eminently fit person, and ought to be communicated with'--you know
his hifalutin' style. Nobody says anything. So that the next
thing you'll know you'll get a letter from that executor asking you
to look after that kid. Ha! ha! The boys said they could fancy
they saw you trotting around with a ten year old girl holding on to
your hand, and the Senorita Dolores or Miss Bellamont looking on!
Or your being called away from a poker deal some night by the
infant, singing, 'Gardy, dear gardy, come home with me now, the
clock in the steeple strikes one!' And think of that old fool
judge not knowing you! Ha! ha!"
A study of Colonel Starbottle's face during this speech would have
puzzled a better physiognomist than Mr. Pyecroft. His first look
of astonishment gave way to an empurpled confusion, from which a
single short Silenus-like chuckle escaped, but this quickly changed
again into a dull coppery indignation, and, as Pyecroft's laugh
continued, faded out into a sallow rigidity in which his murky eyes
alone seemed to keep what was left of his previous high color. But
what was more singular, in spite of his enforced calm, something of
his habitual old-fashioned loftiness and oratorical exaltation
appeared to be returning to him as he placed his hand on his
inflated breast and faced Pyceroft.
"The ignorance of the executor of Mrs. Stannard and the--er--
probate judge," he began slowly, "may be pardonable, Mr. Pyecroft,
since his Honor would imply that, although unknown to HIM
personally, I am at least amicus curiae in this question of--er--
guardianship. But I am grieved--indeed I may say shocked--Mr.
Pyecroft, that the--er--last sacred trust of a dying widow--perhaps
the holiest trust that can be conceived by man--the care and
welfare of her helpless orphaned girl--should be made the subject
of mirth, sir, by yourself and the members of the Sacramento bar!
I shall not allude, sir, to my own feelings in regard to Dick
Stannard, one of my most cherished friends," continued the colonel,
in a voice charged with emotion, "but I can conceive of no nobler
trust laid upon the altar of friendship than the care and guidance
of his orphaned girl! And if, as you tell me, the utterly
inadequate sum of three thousand dollars is all that is left for
her maintenance through life, the selection of a guardian
sufficiently devoted to the family to be willing to augment that
pittance out of his own means from time to time would seem to be
Before the astounded Pyecroft could recover himself, Colonel
Starbottle leaned back in his chair, half closing his eyes, and
abandoned himself, quite after his old manner, to one of his dreamy
"Poor Dick Stannard! I have a vivid recollection, sir, of driving
out with him on the Shell Road at New Orleans in '54, and of his
saying, 'Star'--the only man, sir, who ever abbreviated my name--
'Star, if anything happens to me or her, look after our child! It
was during that very drive, sir, that, through his incautious
neglect to fortify himself against the swampy malaria by a glass of
straight Bourbon with a pinch of bark in it, he caught that fever
which undermined his constitution. Thank you, Mr. Pyecroft, for--
er--recalling the circumstance. I shall," continued the colonel,
suddenly abandoning reminiscence, sitting up, and arranging his
papers, "look forward with great interest to--er--letter from the
The next day it was universally understood that Colonel Starbottle
had been appointed guardian of Pansy Stannard by the probate judge
There are of record two distinct accounts of Colonel Starbottle's
first meeting with his ward after his appointment as her guardian.
One, given by himself, varying slightly at times, but always
bearing unvarying compliment to the grace, beauty, and singular
accomplishments of this apparently gifted child, was nevertheless
characterized more by vague, dreamy reminiscences of the departed
parents than by any personal experience of the daughter.
"I found the young lady, sir," he remarked to Mr. Pyecroft,
"recalling my cherished friend Stannard in--er--form and features,
and--although--er--personally unacquainted with her deceased
mother--who belonged, sir, to one of the first families of
Virginia--I am told that she is--er--remarkably like her. Miss
Stannard is at present a pupil in one of the best educational
establishments in Santa Clara, where she is receiving tuition in--
er--the English classics, foreign belles lettres, embroidery, the
harp, and--er--the use of the--er--globes, and--er--blackboard--
under the most fastidious care, and my own personal supervision.
The principal of the school, Miss Eudoxia Tish--associated with--
er--er--Miss Prinkwell--is--er--remarkably gifted woman; and as I
was present at one of the school exercises, I had the opportunity
of testifying to her excellence in--er--short address I made to the
young ladies." From such glittering but unsatisfying generalities
as these I prefer to turn to the real interview, gathered from
It was the usual cloudless, dazzling, Californian summer day,
tempered with the asperity of the northwest trades that Miss Tish,
looking through her window towards the rose-embowered gateway of
the seminary, saw an extraordinary figure advancing up the avenue.
It was that of a man slightly past middle age, yet erect and
jaunty, whose costume recalled the early water-color portraits of
her own youthful days. His tightly buttoned blue frock coat with
gilt buttons was opened far enough across the chest to allow the
expanding of a frilled shirt, black stock, and nankeen waistcoat,
and his immaculate white trousers were smartly strapped over his
smart varnished boots. A white bell-crowned hat, carried in his
hand to permit the wiping of his forehead with a silk handkerchief,
and a gold-headed walking stick hooked over his arm, completed this
singular equipment. He was followed, a few paces in the rear, by a
negro carrying an enormous bouquet, and a number of small boxes and
parcels tied up with ribbons. As the figure paused before the
door, Miss Tish gasped, and cast a quick restraining glance around
the classroom. But it was too late; a dozen pairs of blue, black,
round, inquiring, or mischievous eyes were already dancing and
gloating over the bizarre stranger through the window.
"A cirkiss--or nigger minstrels--sure as you're born!" said Mary
Frost, aged nine, in a fierce whisper.
"No!--a agent from 'The Emporium,' with samples," returned Miss
Briggs, aged fourteen.
"Young ladies, attend to your studies," said Miss Tish, as the
servant brought in a card. Miss Tish glanced at it with some
nervousness, and read to herself, "Colonel Culpeper Starbottle,"
engraved in script, and below it in pencil, "To see Miss Pansy
Stannard, under favor of Miss Tish." Rising with some
perturbation, Miss Tish hurriedly intrusted the class to an
assistant, and descended to the reception room. She had never seen
Pansy's guardian before (the executor had brought the child); and
this extraordinary creature, whose visit she could not deny, might
be ruinous to school discipline. It was therefore with an extra
degree of frigidity of demeanor that she threw open the door of the
reception room, and entered majestically. But to her utter
astonishment, the colonel met her with a bow so stately, so
ceremonious, and so commanding that she stopped, disarmed and
"I need not ask if I am addressing Miss Tish," said the colonel
loftily, "for without having the pleasure of--er--previous
acquaintance, I can at once recognize the--er--Lady Superior and--
er--chatelaine of this--er--establishment." Miss Tish here gave
way to a slight cough and an embarrassed curtsy, as the colonel,
with a wave of his white hand towards the burden carried by his
follower, resumed more lightly: "I have brought--er--few trifles
and gewgaws for my ward--subject, of course, to your rules and
discretion. They include some--er--dainties, free from any
deleterious substance, as I am informed--a sash--a ribbon or two
for the hair, gloves, mittens, and a nosegay--from which, I trust,
it will be HER pleasure, as it is my own, to invite you to cull
such blossoms as may suit your taste. Boy, you may set them down
"At the present moment," stammered Miss Tish, "Miss Stannard is
engaged on her lessons. But"-- She stopped again, hopelessly.
"I see," said the colonel, with an air of playful, poetical
reminiscence--"her lessons! Certainly!
'We will--er--go to our places,
With smiles on our faces,
And say all our lessons distinctly and slow.'
Certainly! Not for worlds would I interrupt them; until they are
done, we will--er--walk through the classrooms and inspect"--
"No! no!" interrupted the horrified, principal, with a dreadful
presentiment of the appalling effect of the colonel's entry upon
the class. "No!--that is--I mean--our rules exclude--except on
days of public examination"--
"Say no more, my dear madam," said the colonel politely. "Until
she is free I will stroll outside, through--er--the groves of the
But Miss Tish, equally alarmed at the diversion this would create
at the classroom windows, recalled herself with an effort. "Please
wait here a moment," she said hurriedly; "I will bring her down;"
and before the colonel could politely open the door for her, she
Happily unconscious of the sensation he had caused, Colonel
Starbottle seated himself on the sofa, his white hands resting
easily on the gold-headed cane. Once or twice the door behind him
opened and closed quietly, scarcely disturbing him; or again opened
more ostentatiously to the words, "Oh, excuse, please," and the
brief glimpse of a flaxen braid, or a black curly head--to all of
which the colonel nodded politely--even rising later to the
apparition of a taller, demure young lady--and her more affected
"Really, I beg your pardon!" The only result of this evident
curiosity was slightly to change the colonel's attitude, so as to
enable him to put his other hand in his breast in his favorite
pose. But presently he was conscious of a more active movement in
the hall, of the sounds of scuffling, of a high youthful voice
saying "I won't" and "I shan't!" of the door opening to a momentary
apparition of Miss Tish dragging a small hand and half of a small
black-ribboned arm into the room, and her rapid disappearance
again, apparently pulled back by the little hand and arm; of
another and longer pause, of a whispered conference outside, and
then the reappearance of Miss Tish majestically, reinforced and
supported by the grim presence of her partner, Miss Prinkwell.
"This--er--unexpected visit," began Miss Tish--"not previously
arranged by letter"--
"Which is an invariable rule of our establishment," supplemented
"And the fact that you are personally unknown to us," continued
"An ignorance shared by the child, who exhibits a distaste for an
interview," interpolated Miss Prinkwell, in a kind of antiphonal
"For which we have had no time to prepare her," continued Miss
"Compels us most reluctantly"-- But here she stopped short.
Colonel Starbottle, who had risen with a deep bow at their entrance
and remained standing, here walked quietly towards them. His
usually high color had faded except from his eyes, but his exalted
manner was still more pronounced, with a dreadful deliberation
"I believe--er--I had--the honah--to send up my kyard!" (In his
supreme moments the colonel's Southern accent was always in
evidence.) "I may--er--be mistaken--but--er--that is my
impression." The colonel paused, and placed his right hand
statuesquely on his heart.
The two women trembled--Miss Tish fancied the very shirt frill of
the colonel was majestically erecting itself--as they stammered in
"That kyard contained my full name--with a request to see my ward--
Miss Stannard," continued the colonel slowly. "I believe that is
"Certainly! certainly!" gasped the women feebly.
"Then may I--er--point out to you that I AM--er--WAITING?"
Although nothing could exceed the laborious simplicity and husky
sweetness of the colonel's utterance, it appeared to demoralize
utterly his two hearers--Miss Prinkwell seemed to fade into the
pattern of the wall paper, Miss Tish to droop submissively forward
like a pink wax candle in the rays of the burning sun.
"We will bring her instantly. A thousand pardons, sir," they
uttered in the same breath, backing towards the door.
But here the unexpected intervened. Unnoticed by the three during
the colloquy, a little figure in a black dress had peeped through
the door, and then glided into the room. It was a girl of about
ten, who, in all candor, could scarcely be called pretty, although
the awkward change of adolescence had not destroyed the delicate
proportions of her hands and feet nor the beauty of her brown eyes.
These were, just then, round and wondering, and fixed alternately
on the colonel and the two women. But like many other round and
wondering eyes, they had taken in the full meaning of the
situation, with a quickness the adult mind is not apt to give them
credit for. They saw the complete and utter subjugation of the two
supreme autocrats of the school, and, I grieve to say, they were
filled with a secret and "fearful joy." But the casual spectator
saw none of this; the round and wondering eyes, still rimmed with
recent and recalcitrant tears, only looked big and innocently
The relief of the two women was sudden and unaffected.
"Oh, here you are, dearest, at last!" said Miss Tish eagerly.
"This is your guardian, Colonel Starbottle. Come to him, dear!"
She took the hand of the child, who hung back with an odd mingling
of shamefacedness and resentment of the interference, when the
voice of Colonel Starbottle, in the same deadly calm deliberation,
"I--er--will speak with her--alone."
The round eyes again saw the complete collapse of authority, as the
two women shrank back from the voice, and said hurriedly,--
"Certainly, Colonel Starbottle; perhaps it would be better," and
ingloriously quitted the room.
But the colonel's triumph left him helpless. He was alone with a
simple child, an unprecedented, unheard-of situation, which left
him embarrassed and--speechless. Even his vanity was conscious
that his oratorical periods, his methods, his very attitude, were
powerless here. The perspiration stood out on his forehead; he
looked at her vaguely, and essayed a feeble smile. The child saw
his embarrassment, even as she had seen and understood his triumph,
and the small woman within her exulted. She put her little hands
on her waist, and with the fingers turned downwards and outwards
pressed them down her hips to her bended knees until they had
forced her skirts into an egregious fullness before and behind, as
if she were making a curtsy, and then jumped up and laughed.
"You did it! Hooray!"
"Did what?" said the colonel, pleased yet mystified.
"Frightened 'em!--the two old cats! Frightened 'em outen their
slippers! Oh, jiminy! Never, never, NEVER before was they so
skeert! Never since school kept did they have to crawl like that!
They was skeert enough FIRST when you come, but just now!-- Lordy!
They wasn't a-goin' to let you see me--but they had to! had to! HAD
TO!" and she emphasized each repetition with a skip.
"I believe--er," said the colonel blandly, "that I--er--intimated
with some firmness"--
"That's it--just it!" interrupted the child delightedly. "You--
"OVERDID 'EM! Don't you know? They're always so high and mighty!
Kinder 'Don't tech me. My mother's an angel; my father's a king'--
all that sort of thing. They did THIS"--she drew herself up in a
presumable imitation of the two women's majestic entrance--"and
then," she continued, "you--YOU jest did this"--here she lifted her
chin, and puffing out her small chest, strode towards the colonel
in evident simulation of his grandest manner.
A short, deep chuckle escaped him--although the next moment his
face became serious again. But Pansy in the mean time had taken
possession of his coat sleeve and was rubbing her cheek against it
like a young colt. At which the colonel succumbed feebly and sat
down on the sofa, the child standing beside him, leaning over and
transferring her little hands to the lapels of his frock coat,
which she essayed to button over his chest as she looked into his
"The other girls said," she began, tugging at the button, "that you
was a 'cirkiss'"--another tug--"'a nigger minstrel'"--and a third
tug--"'a agent with samples'--but that showed all they knew!"
"Ah," said the colonel with exaggerated blandness, "and--er--what
The child smiled. "I said you was a Stuffed Donkey--but that was
BEFORE I knew you. I was a little skeert too; but NOW"--she
succeeded in buttoning the coat and making the colonel quite
apoplectic,--"NOW I ain't frightened one bit--no, not one TINY bit!
But," she added, after a pause, unbuttoning the coat again and
smoothing down the lapels between her fingers, "you're to keep on
frightening the old cats--mind! Never mind about the GIRLS. I'll
The colonel would have given worlds to he able to struggle up into
an upright position with suitable oral expression. Not that his
vanity was at all wounded by these irresponsible epithets, which
only excited an amused wonder, but he was conscious of an
embarrassed pleasure in the child's caressing familiarity, and her
perfect trustfulness in him touched his extravagant chivalry. He
ought to protect her, and yet correct her. In the consciousness of
these duties he laid his white hand upon her head. Alas! she
lifted her arm and instantly transferred his hand and part of his
arm around her neck and shoulders, and comfortably snuggled against
him. The colonel gasped. Nevertheless, something must be said,
and he began, albeit somewhat crippled in delivery:--
"The--er--use of elegant and precise language by--er--young ladies
cannot be too sedulously cultivated"--
But here the child laughed, and snuggling still closer, gurgled:
"That's right! Give it to her when she comes down! That's the
style!" and the colonel stopped, discomfited. Nevertheless, there
was a certain wholesome glow in the contact of this nestling little
Presently he resumed tentativery: "I have--er--brought you a few
"Yes," said Pansy, "I see; but they're from the wrong shop, you
dear old silly! They're from Tomkins's, and we girls just
abominate his things. You oughter have gone to Emmons's. Never
mind. I'll show you when we go out. We're going out, aren't we?"
she said suddenly, lifting her head anxiously. "You know it's
allowed, and it's RIGHTS 'to parents and guardians'!"
"Certainly, certainly," said the colonel. He knew he would feel a
little less constrained in the open air.
"Then we'll go now," said Pansy, jumping up. "I'll just run
upstairs and put on my things. I'll say it's 'orders' from you.
And I'll wear my new frock--it's longer." (The colonel was
slightly relieved at this; it had seemed to him, as a guardian,
that there was perhaps an abnormal display of Pansy's black
stockings.) "You wait; I won't be long."
She darted to the door, but reaching it, suddenly stopped, returned
to the sofa, where the colonel still sat, imprinted a swift kiss on
his mottled cheek, and fled, leaving him invested with a mingled
flavor of freshly ironed muslin, wintergreen lozenges, and recent
bread and butter. He sat still for some time, staring out of the
window. It was very quiet in the room; a bumblebee blundered from
the jasmine outside into the open window, and snored loudly at the
panes. But the colonel heeded it not, and remained abstracted and
silent until the door opened to Miss Tish and Pansy--in her best
frock and sash, at which the colonel started and became erect again
"I am about to take my ward out," he said deliberately, "to--er--
taste the air in the Alameda, and--er--view the shops. We may--er--
also--indulge in--er--slight suitable refreshment;--er--seed cake--
or--bread and butter--and--a dish of tea."
Miss Tish, now thoroughly subdued, was delighted to grant Miss
Stannard the half holiday permitted on such occasions. She begged
the colonel to suit his own pleasure, and intrusted "the dear
child" to her guardian "with the greatest confidence."
The colonel made a low bow, and Pansy, demurely slipping her hand
into his, passed with him into the hall; there was a slight rustle
of vanishing skirts, and Pansy pressed his hand significantly.
When they were well outside, she said, in a lower voice:--
"Don't look up until we're under the gymnasium windows." The
colonel, mystified but obedient, strutted on. "Now!" said Pansy.
He looked up, beheld the windows aglow with bright young faces, and
bewildering with many handkerchiefs and clapping hands, stopped,
and then taking off his hat, acknowledged the salute with a
sweeping bow. Pansy was delighted. "I knew they'd be there; I'd
already fixed 'em. They're just dyin' to know you."
The colonel felt a certain glow of pleasure, "I--er--had already
intimated a--er--willingness to--er--inspect the classes; but--I--
er--understood that the rules"--
"They're sick old rules," interrupted the child. "Tish and
Prinkwell are the rules! You say just right out that you WILL!
Just overdo her!"
The colonel had a vague sense that he ought to correct both the
spirit and language of this insurrectionary speech, but Pansy
pulled him along, and then swept him quite away with a torrent of
prattle of the school, of her friends, of the teachers, of her life
and its infinitely small miseries and pleasures. Pansy was
voluble; never before had the colonel found himself relegated to
the place of a passive listener. Nevertheless, he liked it, and as
they passed on, under the shade of the Alameda, with Pansy
alternately swinging from his hand and skipping beside him, there
was a vague smile of satisfaction on his face. Passers-by turned
to look after the strangely assorted pair, or smiled, accepting
them, as the colonel fancied, as father and daughter. An odd
feeling, half of pain and half of pleasure, gripped at the heart of
the empty and childless man.
And now, as they approached the more crowded thoroughfares, the
instinct of chivalrous protection was keen in his breast. He
piloted her skillfully; he jauntily suited his own to her skipping
step; he lifted her with scrupulous politeness over obstacles;
strutting beside her on crowded pavements, he made way for her with
his swinging stick. All the while, too, he had taken note of the
easy carriage of her head and shoulders, and most of all of her
small, slim feet and hands, that, to his fastidious taste,
betokened her race. "Ged, sir," he muttered to himself, "she's
'Blue Grass' stock, all through." To admiration succeeded pride,
with a slight touch of ownership. When they went into a shop,
which, thanks to the ingenuous Pansy, they did pretty often, he
would introduce her with a wave of the hand and the remark, "I am--
er--seeking nothing to-day, but if you will kindly--er--serve my
WARD--Miss Stannard!" Later, when they went into the
confectioner's for refreshment, and Pansy frankly declared for "ice
cream and cream cakes," instead of the "dish of tea and bread and
butter" he had ordered in pursuance of his promise, he heroically
took it himself--to satisfy his honor. Indeed, I know of no more
sublime figure than Colonel Starbottle--rising superior to a long-
withstood craving for a "cocktail," morbidly conscious also of the
ridiculousness of his appearance to any of his old associates who
might see him--drinking luke-warm tea and pecking feebly at his
bread and butter at a small table, beside his little tyrant.
And this domination of the helpless continued on their way home.
Although Miss Pansy no longer talked of herself, she was equally
voluble in inquiry as to the colonel's habits, ways of life,
friends and acquaintances, happily restricting her interrogations,
in regard to those of her own sex, to "any LITTLE girls that he
knew." Saved by this exonerating adjective, the colonel saw here a
chance to indulge his postponed monitorial duty, as well as his
vivid imagination. He accordingly drew elaborate pictures of
impossible children he had known--creatures precise in language and
dress, abstinent of play and confectionery, devoted to lessons and
duties, and otherwise, in Pansy's own words, "loathsome to the last
degree!" As "daughters of oldest and most cherished friends," they
might perhaps have excited Pansy's childish jealousy but for the
singular fact that they had all long ago been rewarded by marriage
with senators, judges, and generals--also associates of the
colonel. This remoteness of presence somewhat marred their effect
as an example, and the colonel was mortified, though not entirely
displeased, to observe that their surprising virtues did not
destroy Pansy's voracity for sweets, the recklessness of her
skipping, nor the freedom of her language. The colonel was
When they reached the seminary again, Pansy retired with her
various purchases, but reappeared after an interval with Miss Tish.
"I remember," hesitated that lady, trembling under the fascination
of the colonel's profound bow, "that you were anxious to look over
the school, and although it was not possible then, I shall be glad
to show you now through one of the classrooms."
The colonel, glancing at Pansy, was momentarily shocked by a
distortion of one side of her face, which seemed, however, to end
in a wink of her innocent brown eyes, but recovering himself,
gallantly expressed his gratitude. The next moment he was
ascending the stairs, side by side with Miss Tish, and had a
distinct impression that he had been pinched in the calf by Pansy,
who was following close behind.
It was recess, but the large classroom was quite filled with
pupils, many of them older and prettier girls, inveigled there, as
it afterwards appeared, by Pansy, in some precocious presentiment
of her guardian's taste. The colonel's apologetic yet gallant bow
on entering, and his erect, old-fashioned elegance, instantly took
their delighted attention. Indeed, all would have gone well had
not Miss Prinkwell, with the view of impressing the colonel as well
as her pupils, majestically introduced him as "a distinguished
jurist deeply interested in the cause of education, as well as
guardian of their fellow pupil." That opportunity was not thrown
away on Colonel Starbottle.
Stepping up to the desk of the astounded principal, he laid the
points of his fingers delicately upon it, and, with a preparatory
inclination of his head towards her, placed his other hand in his
breast, and with an invocatory glance at the ceiling, began.
It was the colonel's habit at such moments to state at first, with
great care and precision, the things that he "would not say," that
he "NEED not say," and apparently that it was absolutely
unnecessary even to allude to. It was therefore, not strange that
the colonel informed them that he need not say that he counted his
present privilege among the highest that had been granted him; for
besides the privilege of beholding the galaxy of youthful talent
and excellence before him, besides the privilege of being
surrounded by a garland of the blossoms of the school in all their
freshness and beauty, it was well understood that he had the
greater privilege of--er--standing in loco parentis to one of these
blossoms. It was not for him to allude to the high trust imposed
upon him by--er--deceased and cherished friend, and daughter of one
of the first families of Virginia, by the side of one who must feel
that she was the recipient of trusts equally supreme (here the
colonel paused, and statuesquely regarded the alarmed Miss
Prinkwell as if he were in doubt of it), but he would say that it
should be HIS devoted mission to champion the rights of the
orphaned and innocent whenever and wherever the occasion arose,
against all odds, and even in the face of misguided authority.
(Having left the impression that Miss Prinkwell contemplated an
invasion of those rights, the colonel became more lenient and
genial.) He fully recognized her high and noble office; he saw in
her the worthy successor of those two famous instructresses of
Athens--those Greek ladies--er--whose names had escaped his memory,
but which--er--no doubt Miss Prinkwell would be glad to recall to
her pupils, with some account of their lives. (Miss Prinkwell
colored; she had never heard of them before, and even the delight
of the class in the colonel's triumph was a little dampened by this
prospect of hearing more about them.) But the colonel was only too
content with seeing before him these bright and beautiful faces,
destined, as he firmly believed, in after years to lend their charm
and effulgence to the highest places as the happy helpmeets of the
greatest in the land. He was--er--leaving a--er--slight
testimonial of his regard in the form of some--er--innocent
refreshments in the hands of his ward, who would--er--act as--er--
his proxy in their distribution; and the colonel sat down to the
flutter of handkerchiefs, an applause only half restrained, and the
utter demoralization of Miss Prinkwell.
But the time of his departure had come by this time, and he was too
experienced a public man to risk the possibility of an anticlimax
by protracting his leave-taking. And in an ominous shining of
Pansy's big eyes as the time approached he felt an embarrassment as
perplexing as the odd presentiment of loneliness that was creeping
over him. But with an elaborate caution as to the dangers of self-
indulgence, and the private bestowal of a large gold piece slipped
into her hand, a promise to come again soon, and an exaction that
she would write to him often, the colonel received in return a wet
kiss, a great deal of wet cheek pressed against his own, and a
momentary tender clinging, like that which attends the pulling up
of some small flower, as he passed out into the porch. In the
hall, on the landing above him, there was a close packing of brief
skirts against the railing, and a voice, apparently proceeding from
a pair of very small mottled legs protruding through the balusters,
said distinctly, "Free cheers for Ternel Tarbottle!" And to this
benediction the colonel, hat in hand, passed out of this Eden into
the world again.
The colonel's next visit to the seminary did not produce the same
sensation as the first, although it was accompanied with equal
disturbance to the fair principals. Had he been a less conceited
man he might have noticed that their antagonism, although held in
restraint by their wholesome fear of him, was in danger of becoming
more a conviction than a mere suspicion. He was made aware of it
through Pansy's resentment towards them, and her revelation of a
certain inquisition that she had been subjected to in regard to his
occupation, habits, and acquaintances. Naturally of these things
Pansy knew very little, but this had not prevented her from saying
a great deal. There had been enough in her questioners' manner to
make her suspect that her guardian was being attacked, and to his
defense she brought the mendacity and imagination of a clever
child. What she had really said did not transpire except through
her own comments to the colonel: "And of course you've killed
people--for you're a kernel, you know?" (Here the colonel
admitted, as a point of fact, that he had served in the Mexican
war.) "And you kin PREACH, for they heard you do it when you was
here before," she added confidently; "and of course you own
niggers--for there's 'Jim.'" (The colonel here attempted to
explain that Jim, being in a free State, was now a free man, but
Pansy swept away such fine distinctions.) "And you're rich, you
know, for you gave me that ten-dollar gold piece all for myself.
So I jest gave 'em as good as they sent--the old spies and
curiosity shops!" The colonel, more pleased at Pansy's devotion
than concerned over the incident itself, accepted this
interpretation of his character as a munificent, militant priest
with a smiling protest. But a later incident caused him to
remember it more seriously.
They had taken their usual stroll through the Alameda, and had made
the round of the shops, where the colonel had exhibited his usual
liberality of purchase and his exalted parental protection, and so
had passed on to their usual refreshment at the confectioner's, the
usual ices and cakes for Pansy, but this time--a concession also to
the tyrant Pansy--a glass of lemon soda and a biscuit for the
colonel. He was coughing over his unaccustomed beverage, and
Pansy, her equanimity and volubility restored by sweets, was
chirruping at his side; the large saloon was filling up with
customers--mainly ladies and children, embarrassing to him as the
only man present, when suddenly Pansy's attention was diverted by
another arrival. It was a good-looking young woman, overdressed,
striking, and self-conscious, who, with an air of one who was in
the habit of challenging attention, affectedly seated herself with
a male companion at an empty table, and began to pull off an
"My!" said Pansy in admiring wonder, "ain't she fine?"
Colonel Starbottle looked up abstractedly, but at the first glance
his face flushed redly, deepened to a purple, and then became gray
and stern. He had recognized in the garish fair one Miss Flora
Montague, the "Western Star of Terpsichore and Song," with whom he
had supped a few days before at Sacramento. The lady was "on tour"
with her "Combination troupe."
The colonel leaned over and fixed his murky eyes on Pansy. "The
room is filling up; the place is stifling; I must--er--request you
There was a change in the colonel's manner, which the quick-witted
child heeded. But she had not associated it with the entrance of
the strangers, and as she obediently gulped down her ice, she went
"That fine lady's smilin' and lookin' over here. Seems to know
you; so does the man with her."
"I--er--must request you," said the colonel, with husky precision,
"NOT to look that way, but finish your--er--repast."
His tone was so decided that the child's lips pouted, but before
she could speak a shadow leaned over their table. It was the
companion of the "fine lady."
"Don't seem to see us, Colonel," he said with coarse familiarity,
laying his hand on the colonel's shoulder. "Florry wants to know
The colonel rose at the touch. "Tell her, sir," he said huskily,
but with slow deliberation, "that I 'am up' and leaving this place
with my ward, Miss Stannard. Good-morning." He lifted Pansy with
infinite courtesy from her chair, took her hand, strolled to the
counter, threw down a gold piece, and passing the table of the
astonished fair one with an inflated breast, swept with Pansy out
of the shop. In the street he paused, bidding the child go on; and
then, finding he was not followed by the woman's escort, rejoined
his little companion.
For a few moments they walked silently side by side. Then Pansy's
curiosity, getting the better of her pout, demanded information.
She had applied a child's swift logic to the scene. The colonel
was angry, and had punished the woman for something. She drew
closer to his side, and looking up with her big eyes, said
"What had she been a-doing?"
The colonel was amazed, embarrassed, and speechless. He was
totally unprepared for the question, and as unable to answer it.
His abrupt departure from the shop had been to evade the very truth
now demanded of him. Only a supreme effort of mendacity was left
him. He wiped his brow with his handkerchief, coughed, and began
"The--er--lady in question is in the habit of using a scent called--
er--patchouli, a--er--perfume exceedingly distressing to me. I
detected it instantly on her entrance. I wished to avoid it--
without further contact. It is--er--singular but accepted fact
that some people are--er--peculiarly affected by odors. I had--er--
old cherished friend who always--er--fainted at the odor of
jasmine; and I was intimately acquainted with General Bludyer, who--
er--dropped like a shot on the presentation of a simple violet.
The--er--habit of using such perfumes excessively in public,"
continued the colonel, looking down upon the innocent Pansy, and
speaking in tones of deadly deliberation, "cannot be too greatly
condemned, as well as the habit of--er--frequenting places of
public resort in extravagant costumes, with--er--individuals who--
er--intrude upon domestic privacy. I trust you will eschew such
perfumes, places, costumes, and--er--companions FOREVER and--ON ALL
OCCASIONS!" The colonel had raised his voice to his forensic
emphasis, and Pansy, somewhat alarmed, assented. Whether she
entirely accepted the colonel's explanation was another matter.
The incident, although not again alluded to, seemed to shadow the
rest of their brief afternoon holiday, and the colonel's manner was
unmistakably graver. But it seemed to the child more affectionate
and thoughtful. He had previously at parting submitted to be
kissed by Pansy with stately tolerance and an immediate resumption
of his loftiest manner. On this present leave-taking he laid his
straight closely shaven lips on the crown of her dark head, and as
her small arms clipped his neck, drew her closely to his side. The
child uttered a slight cry; the colonel hurriedly put his hand to
his breast. Her round cheek had come in contact with his
derringer--a small weapon of beauty and precision--which invariably
nestled also at his side, in his waistcoat pocket. The child
laughed; so did the colonel, but his cheek flushed mightily.
It was four months later, and a turbulent night. The early rains,
driven by a strong southwester against the upper windows of the
Magnolia Restaurant, sometimes blurred the radiance of the bright
lights within, and the roar of the encompassing pines at times
drowned the sounds of song and laughter that rose from a private
supper room. Even the clattering arrival and departure of the
Sacramento stage coach, which disturbed the depths below, did not
affect these upper revelers. For Colonel Starbottle, Jack Hamlin,
Judge Beeswinger, and Jo Wynyard, assisted by Mesdames Montague,
Montmorency, Bellefield, and "Tinky" Clifford, of the "Western Star
Combination Troupe," then performing "on tour," were holding "high
jinks" in the supper room. The colonel had been of late moody,
irritable, and easily upset. In the words of a friend and admirer,
"he was kam only at twelve paces."
In a lull in the general tumult a Chinese waiter was seen at the
door vainly endeavoring to attract the attention of the colonel by
signs and interjections. Mr. Hamlin's quick eye first caught sight
of the intruder. "Come in, Confucius," said Jack pleasantly;
"you're a trifle late for a regular turn, but any little thing in
the way of knife swallowing"--
"Lill missee to see connle! Waitee waitee, bottom side housee,"
interrupted the Chinaman, dividing his speech between Jack and the
"What! ANOTHER lady? This is no place for me!" said Jack, rising
with finely simulated decorum.
"Ask her up," chirped "Tinky" Clifford.
But at this moment the door opened against the Chinaman, and a
small figure in a cloak and hat, dripping with raindrops, glided
swiftly in. After a moment's half-frightened, half-admiring glance
at the party, she darted forward with a little cry and threw her
wet arms round the colonel. The rest of the company, arrested in
their festivity, gasped with vague and smiling wonder; the colonel
became purple and gasped. But only for a moment. The next instant
he was on his legs, holding the child with one hand, while with the
other he described a stately sweep of the table.
"My ward--Miss Pansy Stannard," he said with husky brevity. But
drawing the child aside, he whispered quickly, "What has happened?
Why are you here?"
But Pansy, child-like, already diverted by the lights, the table
piled with delicacies, the gayly dressed women, and the air of
festivity, answered half abstractedly, and as much, perhaps, to the
curious eyes about her as to the colonel's voice,--
"I runned away!"
"Hush!" whispered the colonel, aghast.
But Pansy, responding again to the company rather than her
guardian's counsel, and as if appealing to them, went on half
poutingly: "Yes! I runned away because they teased me! Because
they didn't like you and said horrid things. Because they told
awful, dreadful lies! Because they said I wasn't no orphan!--that
my name wasn't Stannard, and that you'd made it all up. Because
they said I was a liar--and YOU WAS MY FATHER!"
A sudden outbreak of laughter here shook the room, and even drowned
the storm outside; again and again it rose, as the colonel
staggered gaspingly to his feet. For an instant it seemed as if
his struggles to restrain himself would end in an apoplectic fit.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Jack Hamlin checked his own
light laugh and became alert and grave. Yet the next moment
Colonel Starbottle went as suddenly dead white, as leaning over the
table he said huskily, but deliberately, "I must request the ladies
present to withdraw."
"Don't mind US, Colonel," said Judge Beeswinger, "it's all in the
family here, you know! And now I look at the girl--hang it all!
she DOES favor you, old man. Ha! ha!"
"And as for the ladies," said Wynyard with a weak, vinous laugh,
"unless any of 'em is inclined to take the matter as PERSONAL--eh?"
"Stop!" roared the colonel.
There was no mistaking his voice nor his intent now. The two men,
insulted and instantly sobered, were silent. Mr. Hamlin rose,
playfully but determinedly tapped his fair companions on the
shoulders, saying, "Run away and play, girls," actually bundled
them, giggling and protesting, from the room, closed the door, and
stood with his back against it. Then it was seen that the colonel,
still very white, was holding the child by the hand, as she shrank
back wonderingly and a little frightened against him.
"I thank YOU, Mr. Hamlin," said the colonel in a lower voice--yet
with a slight touch of his habitual stateliness in it, "for being
here to bear witness, in the presence of this child, to my
unqualified statement that a more foul, vile, and iniquitous
falsehood never was uttered than that which has been poured into
her innocent ears!" He paused, walked to the door, still holding
her hand, and, as Mr. Hamlin stepped aside, opened it, told her to
await him in the public parlor, closed the door again, and once
more faced the two men. "And," he continued more deliberately,
"for the infamous jests that you, Judge Beeswinger, and you, Mr.
Wynyard, have dared to pass in her presence and mine, I shall
expect from each of you the fullest satisfaction--personal
satisfaction. My seconds will wait on you in the morning!"
The two men stood up sobered--yet belligerent.
"As you like, sir," said Beeswinger, flashing.
"The sooner the better for me," added Wynyard curtly.
They passed the unruffled Jack Hamlin with a smile and a vaguely
significant air, as if calling him as a witness to the colonel's
madness, and strode out of the room.
As the door closed behind them, Mr. Hamlin lightly settled his
white waistcoat, and, with his hands on his hips, lounged towards
the colonel. "And THEN?" he said quietly.
"Eh?" said the colonel.
"After you've shot one or both of these men, or one of 'em has
knocked you out, what's to become of that child?"
"If--I am--er--spared, sir," said the colonel huskily, "I shall
continue to defend her--against calumny and sneers"--
"In this style, eh? After her life has been made a hell by her
association with a man of your reputation, you propose to whitewash
it by a quarrel with a couple of drunken scallawags like Beeswinger
and Wynyard, in the presence of three painted trollops and a d----d
scamp like myself! Do you suppose this won't be blown all over
California before she can be sent back to school? Do you suppose
those cackling hussies in the next room won't give the whole story
away to the next man who stands treat?" (A fine contempt for the
sex in general was one of Mr. Hamlin's most subtle attractions for
"Nevertheless, sir," stammered the colonel, "the prompt punishment
of the man who has dared"--
"Punishment!" interrupted Hamlin, "who's to punish the man who has
dared most? The one man who is responsible for the whole thing?
Who's to punish YOU?"
"Mr. Hamlin--sir!" gasped the colonel, falling back, as his hand
involuntarily rose to the level of his waistcoat pocket and his
But Mr. Hamlin only put down the wine glass he had lifted from the
table and was delicately twirling between his fingers, and looked
fixedly at the colonel.
"Look here," he said slowly. "When the boys said that you accepted
the guardianship of that child NOT on account of Dick Stannard, but
only as a bluff against the joke they'd set up at you, I didn't
believe them! When these men and women to-night tumbled to that
story of the child being YOURS, I didn't believe that! When it was
said by others that you were serious about making her your ward,
and giving her your property, because you doted on her like a
father, I didn't believe that."
"And--why not THAT?" said the colonel quickly, yet with an odd
tremor in his voice.
"Because," said Hamlin, becoming suddenly as grave as the colonel,
"I could not believe that any one who cared a picayune for the
child could undertake a trust that might bring her into contact
with a life and company as rotten as ours. I could not believe
that even the most God-forsaken, conceited fool would, for the sake
of a little sentimental parade and splurge among people outside his
regular walk, allow the prospects of that child to be blasted. I
couldn't believe it, even if he thought he was acting like a
father. I didn't believe it--but I'm beginning to believe it now!"
There was little to choose between the attitudes and expressions of
the two set stern faces now regarding each other, silently, a foot
apart. But the colonel was the first to speak:--
"Mr. Hamlin--sir! You said a moment ago that I was--er--ahem--
responsible for this evening's affair--but you expressed a doubt as
to who could--er--punish me for it. I accept the responsibility
you have indicated, sir, and offer you that chance. But as this
matter between us must have precedence over--my engagements with
that canaille, I shall expect you with your seconds at sunrise on
Burnt Ridge. Good-evening, sir."
With head erect the colonel left the room. Mr. Hamlin slightly
shrugged his shoulders, turned to the door of the room whither he
had just banished the ladies, and in a few minutes his voice was
heard melodiously among the gayest.
For all that he managed to get them away early. When he had
bundled them into a large carryall, and watched them drive away
through the storm, he returned for a minute to the waiting room for
his overcoat. He was surprised to hear the sound of the child's
voice in the supper room, and the door being ajar, he could see
quite distinctly that she was seated at the table, with a plate
full of sweets before her, while Colonel Starbottle, with his back
to the door, was sitting opposite to her, his shoulders slightly
bowed as he eagerly watched her. It seemed to Mr. Hamlin that it
was the close of an emotional interview, for Pansy's voice was
broken, partly by sobs, and partly, I grieve to say, by the hurried
swallowing of the delicacies before her. Yet, above the beating of
the storm outside, he could hear her saying,--
"Yes! I promise to be good--(sob)--and to go with Mrs. Pyecroft--
(sob)--and to try to like another guardian--(sob)--and not to cry
any more--(sob)--and--oh, please, DON'T YOU DO IT EITHER!"
But here Mr. Hamlin slipped out of the room and out of the house,
with a rather grave face. An hour later, when the colonel drove up
to the Pyecrofts' door with Pansy, he found that Mr. Pyecroft was
slightly embarrassed, and a figure, which, in the darkness, seemed
to resemble Mr. Hamlin's, had just emerged from the door as he
Yet the sun was not up on Burnt Ridge earlier than Mr. Hamlin. The
storm of the night before had blown itself out; a few shreds of
mist hung in the valleys from the Ridge, that lay above coldly
reddening. Then a breeze swept over it, and out of the dissipating
mist fringe Mr. Hamlin saw two black figures, closely buttoned up
like himself, emerge, which he recognized as Beeswinger and
Wynyard, followed by their seconds. But the colonel came not,
Hamlin joined the others in an animated confidential conversation,
attended by a watchful outlook for the missing adversary. Five,
ten minutes elapsed, and yet the usually prompt colonel was not
there. Mr. Hamlin looked grave; Wynyard and Beeswinger exchanged
interrogatory glances. Then a buggy was seen driving furiously up
the grade, and from it leaped Colonel Starbottle, accompanied by
Dick MacKinstry, his second, carrying his pistol case. And then--
strangely enough for men who were waiting the coming of an
antagonist who was a dead shot--they drew a breath of relief!
MacKinstry slightly preceded his principal, and the others could
see that Starbottle, though erect, was walking slowly. They were
surprised also to observe that he was haggard and hollow eyed, and
seemed, in the few hours that had elapsed since they last saw him,
to have aged ten years. MacKinstry, a tall Kentuckian, saluted,
and was the first one to speak.
"Colonel Starbottle," he said formally, "desires to express his
regrets at this delay, which was unavoidable, as he was obliged to
attend his ward, who was leaving by the down coach for Sacramento
with Mrs. Pyecroft, this morning." Hamlin, Wynyard, and Beeswinger
exchanged glances. "Colonel Starbottle," continued MacKinstry,
turning to his principal, "desires to say a word to Mr. Hamlin."
As Mr. Hamlin would have advanced from the group, Colonel
Starbottle lifted his hand deprecatingly. "What I have to say must
be said before these gentlemen," he began slowly. "Mr. Hamlin--
sir! when I solicited the honor of this meeting I was under a
grievous misapprehension of the intent and purpose of your comments
on my action last evening. I think," he added, slightly inflating
his buttoned-up figure, "that the reputation I have always borne
in--er--meetings of this kind will prevent any--er--misunderstanding
of my present action--which is to--er--ask permission to withdraw
my challenge--and to humbly beg your pardon."
The astonishment produced by this unexpected apology, and Mr.
Hamlin's prompt grasp of the colonel's hand, had scarcely passed
before the colonel drew himself up again, and turning to his second
said, "And now I am at the service of Judge Beeswinger and Mr.
Wynyard--whichever may elect to honor me first."
But the two men thus addressed looked for a moment strangely
foolish and embarrassed. Yet the awkwardness was at last broken by
Judge Beeswinger frankly advancing towards the colonel with an
outstretched hand. "We came here only to apologize, Colonel
Starbottle. Without possessing your reputation and experience in
these matters, we still think we can claim, as you have, an equal
exemption from any misunderstanding when we say that we deeply
regret our foolish and discourteous conduct last evening."
A quick flush mounted to the colonel's haggard cheek as he drew
back with a suspicious glance at Hamlin.
"Mr. Hamlin!--gentlemen!--if this is--er--!"
But before he could finish his sentence Hamlin had clapped his hand
on the colonel's shoulder. "You'll take my word, colonel, that
these gentlemen honestly intended to apologize, and came here for
that purpose;--and--SO DID I--only you anticipated me!"
In the laughter that followed Mr. Hamlin's frankness the colonel's
features relaxed grimly, and he shook the hands of his late
"And now," said Mr. Hamlin gayly, "you'll all adjourn to breakfast
with me--and try to make up for the supper we left unfinished last
It was the only allusion to that interruption and its consequences,
for during the breakfast the colonel said nothing in regard to his
ward, and the other guests were discreetly reticent. But Mr.
Hamlin was not satisfied. He managed to get the colonel's servant,
Jim, aside, and extracted from the negro that Colonel Starbottle
had taken the child that night to Pyecroft's; that he had had a
long interview with Pyecroft; had written letters and 'walked de
flo'" all night; that he (Jim) was glad the child was gone!
"Why?" asked Hamlin, with affected carelessness.
"She was just makin' de kernel like any o' de low-down No'th'n
folks--keerful, and stingy, and mighty 'fraid o' de opinions o' de
biggety people. And fo' what? Jess to strut round wid dat child
like he was her 'spectable go to meeting fader!"
"And was the child sorry to leave him?" asked Hamlin.
"Wull--no, sah. De mighty curos thing, Marse Jack, about the gals--
big and little--is dey just USE de kernel--dat's all! Dey just
use de ole man like a pole to bring down deir persimmons--see?"
But Mr. Hamlin did not smile.
Later it was known that Colonel Starbottle had resigned his
guardianship with the consent of the court. Whether he ever again
saw his late ward was not known, nor if he remained loyal to his
memories of her.
Readers of these chronicles may, however, remember that years
after, when the colonel married the widow of a certain Mr.
Tretherick, both in his courtship and his short married life he was
singularly indifferent to the childish graces of Carrie Tretherick,
her beloved little daughter, and that his obtuseness in that
respect provoked the widow's ire.
PROSPER'S "OLD MOTHER"
"It's all very well," said Joe Wynbrook, "for us to be sittin'
here, slingin' lies easy and comfortable, with the wind whistlin'
in the pines outside, and the rain just liftin' the ditches to fill
our sluice boxes with gold ez we're smokin' and waitin', but I tell
you what, boys--it ain't home! No, sir, it ain't HOME!"
The speaker paused, glanced around the bright, comfortable barroom,
the shining array of glasses beyond, and the circle of complacent
faces fronting the stove, on which his own boots were cheerfully
steaming, lifted a glass of whiskey from the floor under his chair,
and in spite of his deprecating remark, took a long draught of the
spirits with every symptom of satisfaction.
"If ye mean," returned Cyrus Brewster, "that it ain't the old
farmhouse of our boyhood, 'way back in the woods, I'll agree with
you; but ye'll just remember that there wasn't any gold placers
lying round on the medder on that farm. Not much! Ef thar had
been, we wouldn't have left it."
"I don't mean that," said Joe Wynbrook, settling himself
comfortably back in his chair; "it's the family hearth I'm talkin'
of. The soothin' influence, ye know--the tidiness of the women
"Ez to the soothin' influence," remarked the barkeeper, leaning his
elbows meditatively on his counter, 'afore I struck these diggin's
I had a grocery and bar, 'way back in Mizzoori, where there was
five old-fashioned farms jined. Blame my skin ef the men folks
weren't a darned sight oftener over in my grocery, sittin' on
barrils and histin' in their reg'lar corn-juice, than ever any of
you be here--with all these modern improvements."
"Ye don't catch on, any of you," returned Wynbrook impatiently.
"Ef it was a mere matter o' buildin' houses and becomin' family
men, I reckon that this yer camp is about prosperous enough to do
it, and able to get gals enough to marry us, but that would be only
borryin' trouble and lettin' loose a lot of jabberin' women to
gossip agin' each other and spile all our friendships. No,
gentlemen! What we want here--each of us--is a good old mother!
Nothin' new-fangled or fancy, but the reg'lar old-fashioned mother
we was used to when we was boys!"
The speaker struck a well-worn chord--rather the worse for wear,
and one that had jangled falsely ere now, but which still produced
its effect. The men were silent. Thus encouraged, Wynbrook
"Think o' comin' home from the gulch a night like this and findin'
yer old mother a-waitin' ye! No fumblin' around for the matches
ye'd left in the gulch; no high old cussin' because the wood was
wet or you forgot to bring it in; no bustlin' around for your dry
things and findin' you forgot to dry 'em that mornin'--but
everything waitin' for ye and ready. And then, mebbe, she brings
ye in some doughnuts she's just cooked for ye--cooked ez only SHE
kin cook 'em! Take Prossy Riggs--alongside of me here--for
instance! HE'S made the biggest strike yet, and is puttin' up a
high-toned house on the hill. Well! he'll hev it finished off and
furnished slap-up style, you bet! with a Chinese cook, and a Biddy,
and a Mexican vaquero to look after his horse--but he won't have no
mother to housekeep! That is," he corrected himself perfunctorily,
turning to his companion, "you've never spoke o' your mother, so I
reckon you're about fixed up like us."
The young man thus addressed flushed slightly, and then nodded his
head with a sheepish smile. He had, however, listened to the
conversation with an interest almost childish, and a reverent
admiration of his comrades--qualities which, combined with an
intellect not particularly brilliant, made him alternately the butt
and the favorite of the camp. Indeed, he was supposed to possess
that proportion of stupidity and inexperience which, in mining
superstition, gives "luck" to its possessor. And this had been
singularly proven in the fact that he had made the biggest "strike"
of the season.
Joe Wynbrook's sentimentalism, albeit only argumentative and half
serious, had unwittingly touched a chord of simple history, and the
flush which had risen to his cheek was not entirely bashfulness.
The home and relationship of which they spoke so glibly, HE had
never known; he was a foundling! As he lay awake that night he
remembered the charitable institution which had protected his
infancy, the master to whom he had later been apprenticed; that was
all he knew of his childhood. In his simple way he had been
greatly impressed by the strange value placed by his companions
upon the family influence, and he had received their extravagance
with perfect credulity. In his absolute ignorance and his lack of
humor he had detected no false quality in their sentiment. And a
vague sense of his responsibility, as one who had been the
luckiest, and who was building the first "house" in the camp,
troubled him. He lay staringly wide awake, hearing the mountain
wind, and feeling warm puffs of it on his face through the crevices
of the log cabin, as he thought of the new house on the hill that
was to be lathed and plastered and clapboarded, and yet void and
vacant of that mysterious "mother"! And then, out of the solitude
and darkness, a tremendous idea struck him that made him sit up in
A day or two later "Prossy" Riggs stood on a sand-blown, wind-swept
suburb of San Francisco, before a large building whom forbidding
exterior proclaimed that it was an institution of formal charity.
It was, in fact, a refuge for the various waifs and strays of ill-
advised or hopeless immigration. As Prosper paused before the
door, certain told recollections of a similar refuge were creeping
over him, and, oddly enough, he felt as embarrassed as if he had
been seeking relief for himself. The perspiration stood out on his
forehead as he entered the room of the manager.
It chanced, however, that this official, besides being a man of
shrewd experience of human weakness, was also kindly hearted, and
having, after his first official scrutiny of his visitor and his
resplendent watch chain, assured himself that he was not seeking
personal relief, courteously assisted him in his stammering
"If I understand you, you want some one to act as your housekeeper?"
"That's it! Somebody to kinder look arter things--and me--
ginrally," returned Prosper, greatly relieved.
"Of what age?" continued the manager, with a cautious glance at the
robust youth and good-looking, simple face of Prosper.
"I ain't nowise partickler--ez long ez she's old--ye know. Ye
follow me? Old--ez of--betwixt you an' me, she might be my own
The manager smiled inwardly. A certain degree of discretion was
noticeable in this rustic youth! "You are quite right," he
answered gravely, "as yours is a mining camp where there are no
other women, Still, you don't want any one TOO old or decrepit.
There is an elderly maiden lady"-- But a change was transparently
visible on Prosper's simple face, and the manager paused.
"She oughter be kinder married, you know--ter be like a mother,"
"Oh, ay. I see," returned the manager, again illuminated by
Prosper's unexpected wisdom.
He mused for a moment. "There is," he began tentatively, "a lady
in reduced circumstances--not an inmate of this house, but who has
received some relief from us. She was the wife of a whaling
captain who died some years ago, and broke up her home. She was
not brought up to work, and this, with her delicate health, has
prevented her from seeking active employment. As you don't seem to
require that of her, but rather want an overseer, and as your
purpose, I gather, is somewhat philanthropical, you might induce
her to accept a 'home' with you. Having seen better days, she is
rather particular," he added, with a shrewd smile.
Simple Prosper's face was radiant. "She'll have a Chinaman and a
Biddy to help her," he said quickly. Then recollecting the tastes
of his comrades, he added, half apologetically, half cautiously,
"Ef she could, now and then, throw herself into a lemming pie or a
pot of doughnuts, jest in a motherly kind o' way, it would please
"Perhaps you can arrange that, too," returned the manager, "but I
shall have to broach the whole subject to her, and you had better
call again to-morrow, when I will give you her answer."
"Ye kin say," said Prosper, lightly fingering his massive gold
chain and somewhat vaguely recalling the language of advertisement,
"that she kin have the comforts of a home and no questions asked,
and fifty dollars a month."
Rejoiced at the easy progress of his plan, and half inclined to
believe himself a miracle of cautious diplomacy, Prosper, two days
later, accompanied the manager to the cottage on Telegraph Hill
where the relict of the late Captain Pottinger lamented the loss of
her spouse, in full view of the sea he had so often tempted. On
their way thither the manager imparted to Prosper how, according to
hearsay, that lamented seaman had carried into the domestic circle
those severe habits of discipline which had earned for him the
prefix of "Bully" and "Belaying-pin" Pottinger during his strenuous
life. "They say that though she is very quiet and resigned, she
once or twice stood up to the captain; but that's not a bad quality
to have, in a rough community, as I presume yours is, and would
insure her respect."
Ushered at last into a small tank-like sitting room, whose chief
decorations consisted of large abelone shells, dried marine algae,
coral, and a swordfish's broken weapon, Prosper's disturbed fancy
discovered the widow, sitting, apparently, as if among her
husband's remains at the bottom of the sea. She had a dejected yet
somewhat ruddy face; her hair was streaked with white, but primly
disposed over her ears like lappets, and her garb was cleanly but
sombre. There was no doubt but that she was a lugubrious figure,
even to Prosper's optimistic and inexperienced mind. He could not
imagine her as beaming on his hearth! It was with some alarm that,
after the introduction had been completed, he beheld the manager
take his leave. As the door closed, the bashful Prosper felt the
murky eyes of the widow fixed upon him. A gentle cough,
accompanied with the resigned laying of a black mittened hand upon
her chest, suggested a genteel prelude to conversation, with
possible pulmonary complications.
"I am induced to accept your proposal temporarily," she said, in a
voice of querulous precision, "on account of pressing pecuniary
circumstances which would not have happened had my claim against
the shipowners for my dear husband's loss been properly raised. I
hope you fully understand that I am unfitted both by ill health and
early education from doing any menial or manual work in your
household. I shall simply oversee and direct. I shall expect that
the stipend you offer shall be paid monthly in advance. And as my
medical man prescribes a certain amount of stimulation for my
system, I shall expect to be furnished with such viands--or even"--
she coughed slightly--"such beverages as may be necessary. I am
far from strong--yet my wants are few."
"Ez far ez I am ketchin' on and followin' ye, ma'am," returned
Prosper timidly, "ye'll hev everything ye want--jest like it was
yer own home. In fact," he went on, suddenly growing desperate as
the difficulties of adjusting this unexpectedly fastidious and
superior woman to his plan seemed to increase, "ye'll jest consider
me ez yer"-- But here her murky eyes were fixed on his and he
faltered. Yet he had gone too far to retreat. "Ye see," he
stammered, with a hysterical grimness that was intended to be
playful--"ye see, this is jest a little secret betwixt and between
you and me; there'll be only you and me in the house, and it would
kinder seem to the boys more homelike--ef--ef--you and me had--you
bein' a widder, you know--a kind of--of"--here his smile became
The widow of Captain Pottinger here sat up so suddenly that she
seemed to slip through her sombre and precise enwrappings with an
exposure of the real Mrs. Pottinger that was almost improper. Her
high color deepened; the pupils of her black eyes contracted in the
light the innocent Prosper had poured into them. Leaning forward,
with her fingers clasped on her bosom, she said: "Did you tell this
to the manager?"
"Of course not," said Prosper; "ye see, it's only a matter 'twixt
you and me."
Mrs. Pottinger looked at Prosper, drew a deep breath, and then
gazed at the abelone shells for moral support. A smile, half
querulous, half superior, crossed her face as she said: "This is
very abrupt and unusual. There is, of course, a disparity in our
ages! You have never seen me before--at least to my knowledge--
although you may have heard of me. The Spraggs of Marblehead are
well known--perhaps better than the Pottingers. And yet, Mr.
"Riggs," suggested Prosper hurriedly.
"Riggs. Excuse me! I was thinking of young Lieutenant Griggs of
the Navy, whom I knew in the days now past. Mr. Riggs, I should
say. Then you want me to"--
"To be my old mother, ma'am," said Prosper tremblingly. "That is,
to pretend and look ez ef you was! You see, I haven't any, but I
thought it would he nice for the boys, and make it more like home
in my new house, ef I allowed that my old mother would be comin' to
live with me. They don't know I never had a mother to speak of.
They'll never find it out! Say ye will, Mrs. Pottinger! Do!"
And here the unexpected occurred. Against all conventional rules
and all accepted traditions of fiction, I am obliged to state that
Mrs. Pottinger did NOT rise up and order the trembling Prosper to
leave the house! She only gripped the arm of her chair a little
tighter, leaned forward, and disdaining her usual precision and
refinement of speech, said quietly: "It's a bargain. If THAT'S
what you're wanting, my son, you can count upon me as becoming your
old mother, Cecilia Jane Pottinger Riggs, every time!"
A few days later the sentimentalist Joe Wynbrook walked into the
Wild Cat saloon, where his comrades were drinking, and laid a
letter down on the bar with every expression of astonishment and
disgust. "Look," he said, "if that don't beat all! Ye wouldn't
believe it, but here's Prossy Riggs writin' that he came across his
mother--his MOTHER, gentlemen--in 'Frisco; she hevin', unbeknownst
to him, joined a party visiting the coast! And what does this
blamed fool do? Why, he's goin' to bring her--that old woman--
HERE! Here--gentlemen--to take charge of that new house--and spoil
our fun. And the God-forsaken idiot thinks that we'll LIKE it!"
It was one of those rare mornings in the rainy season when there
was a suspicion of spring in the air, and after a night of rainfall
the sun broke through fleecy clouds with little islets of blue sky--
when Prosper Riggs and his mother drove into Wild Cat camp. An
expression of cheerfulness was on the faces of his old comrades.
For it had been recognized that, after all, "Prossy" had a perfect
right to bring his old mother there--his well-known youth and
inexperience preventing this baleful performance from being
established as a precedent. For these reasons hats were cheerfully
doffed, and some jackets put on, as the buggy swept up the hill to
the pretty new cottage, with its green blinds and white veranda, on
Yet I am afraid that Prosper was not perfectly happy, even in the
triumphant consummation of his plans. Mrs. Pottinger's sudden and
business-like acquiescence in it, and her singular lapse from her
genteel precision, were gratifying but startling to his
ingenuousness. And although from the moment she accepted the
situation she was fertile in resources and full of precaution
against any possibility of detection, he saw, with some uneasiness,
that its control had passed out of his hands.
"You say your comrades know nothing of your family history?" she
had said to him on the journey thither. "What are you going to
"Nothin', 'cept your bein' my old mother," said Prosper hopelessly.
"That's not enough, my son." (Another embarrassment to Prosper was
her easy grasp of the maternal epithets.) "Now listen! You were
born just six months after your father, Captain Riggs (formerly
Pottinger) sailed on his first voyage. You remember very little of
him, of course, as he was away so much."
"Hadn't I better know suthin about his looks?" said Prosper
"A tall dark man, that's enough," responded Mrs. Pottinger sharply.
"Hadn't he better favor me?" said Prosper, with his small cunning
recognizing the fact that he himself was a decided blond.
"Ain't at all necessary," said the widow firmly. "You were always
wild and ungovernable," she continued," and ran away from school to
join some Western emigration. That accounts for the difference of
"But," continued Prosper, "I oughter remember suthin about our old
times--runnin' arrants for you, and bringin' in the wood o' frosty
mornin's, and you givin' me hot doughnuts," suggested Prosper
"Nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Pottinger promptly. "We lived in
the city, with plenty of servants. Just remember, Prosper dear,
your mother wasn't THAT low-down country style."
Glad to be relieved from further invention, Prosper was,
nevertheless, somewhat concerned at this shattering of the ideal
mother in the very camp that had sung her praises. But he could
only trust to her recognizing the situation with her usual
sagacity, of which he stood in respectful awe.
Joe Wynbrook and Cyrus Brewster had, as older members of the camp,
purposely lingered near the new house to offer any assistance to
"Prossy and his mother," and had received a brief and passing
introduction to the latter. So deep and unexpected was the
impression she made upon them that these two oracles of the camp
retired down the hill in awkward silence for some time, neither
daring to risk his reputation by comment or oversurprise.
But when they approached the curious crowd below awaiting them,
Cyrus Brewster ventured to say, "Struck me ez ef that old gal was
rather high-toned for Prossy's mother."
Joe Wynbrook instantly seized the fatal admission to show the
advantage of superior insight:--
"Struck YOU! Why, it was no more than I expected all along! What
did we know of Prossy? Nothin'! What did he ever tell us'?
Nothin'! And why'? 'Cos it was his secret. Lord! a blind mule
could see that. All this foolishness and simplicity o' his come o'
his bein' cuddled and pampered as a baby. Then, like ez not, he
was either kidnapped or led away by some feller--and nearly broke
his mother's heart. I'll bet my bottom dollar he has been
advertised for afore this--only we didn't see the paper. Like as
not they had agents out seekin' him, and he jest ran into their
hands in 'Frisco! I had a kind o' presentiment o' this when he
left, though I never let on anything."
"I reckon, too, that she's kinder afraid he'll bolt agin. Did ye
notice how she kept watchin' him all the time, and how she did the
bossin' o' everything? And there's ONE thing sure! He's changed--
yes! He don't look as keerless and free and foolish ez he uster."
Here there was an unmistakable chorus of assent from the crowd that
had joined them. Every one--even those who had not been introduced
to the mother--had noticed his strange restraint and reticence. In
the impulsive logic of the camp, conduct such as this, in the face
of that superior woman--his mother--could only imply that her
presence was distasteful to him; that he was either ashamed of
their noticing his inferiority to her, or ashamed of THEM! Wild
and hasty as was their deduction, it was, nevertheless, voiced by
Joe Wynbrook in a tone of impartial and even reluctant conviction.
"Well, gentlemen, some of ye may remember that when I heard that
Prossy was bringin' his mother here I kicked--kicked because it
only stood to reason that, being HIS mother, she'd be that foolish
she'd upset the camp. There wasn't room enough for two such
chuckle-heads--and one of 'em being a woman, she couldn't be shut
up or sat upon ez we did to HIM. But now, gentlemen, ez we see she
ain't that kind, but high-toned and level-headed, and that she's
got the grip on Prossy--whether he likes it or not--we ain't goin'
to let him go back on her! No, sir! we ain't goin' to let him
break her heart the second time! He may think we ain't good enough
for her, but ez long ez she's civil to us, we'll stand by her."
In this conscientious way were the shackles of that unhallowed
relationship slowly riveted on the unfortunate Prossy. In his
intercourse with his comrades during the next two or three days
their attitude was shown in frequent and ostentatious praise of his
mother, and suggestive advice, such as: "I wouldn't stop at the
saloon, Prossy; your old mother is wantin' ye;" or, "Chuck that
'ere tarpolin over your shoulders, Pross, and don't take your wet
duds into the house that yer old mother's bin makin' tidy." Oddly
enough, much of this advice was quite sincere, and represented--for
at least twenty minutes--the honest sentiments of the speaker.
Prosper was touched at what seemed a revival of the sentiment under
which he had acted, forgot his uneasiness, and became quite himself
again--a fact also noticed by his critics. "Ye've only to keep him
up to his work and he'll be the widder's joy agin," said Cyrus
Brewster. Certainly he was so far encouraged that he had a long
conversation with Mrs. Pottinger that night, with the result that
the next morning Joe Wynbrook, Cyrus Brewster, Hank Mann, and
Kentucky Ike were invited to spend the evening at the new house.
As the men, clean shirted and decently jacketed, filed into the
neat sitting room with its bright carpet, its cheerful fire, its
side table with a snowy cloth on which shining tea and coffee pots
were standing, their hearts thrilled with satisfaction. In a large
stuffed rocking chair, Prossy's old mother, wrapped up in a shawl
and some mysterious ill health which seemed to forbid any exertion,
received them with genteel languor and an extended black mitten.
"I cannot," said Mrs. Pottinger, with sad pensiveness, "offer you
the hospitality of my own home, gentlemen--you remember, Prosper,
dear, the large salon and our staff of servants at Lexington
Avenue!--but since my son has persuaded me to take charge of his
humble cot, I hope you will make all allowances for its
deficiencies--even," she added, casting a look of mild reproach on
the astonished Prosper--"even if HE cannot."
"I'm sure he oughter to be thankful to ye, ma'am," said Joe
Wynbrook quickly, "for makin' a break to come here to live, jest ez
we're thankful--speakin' for the rest of this camp--for yer
lightin' us up ez you're doin'! I reckon I'm speakin' for the
crowd," he added, looking round him.
Murmurs of "That's so" and "You bet" passed through the company,
and one or two cast a half-indignant glance at Prosper.
"It's only natural," continued Mrs. Pottinger resignedly, "that
having lived so long alone, my dear Prosper may at first be a
little impatient of his old mother's control, and perhaps regret
"Oh no, ma'am," said the embarrassed Prosper.
But here the mercurial Wynbrook interposed on behalf of amity and
the camp's esprit de corps. "Why, Lord! ma'am, he's jest bin
longin' for ye! Times and times agin he's talked about ye; sayin'
how ef he could only get ye out of yer Fifth Avenue saloon to share
his humble lot with him here, he'd die happy! YOU'VE heard him
"Frequent," replied the accommodating Brewster.
"Part of the simple refreshment I have to offer you," continued
Mrs. Pottinger, ignoring further comment, "is a viand the exact
quality of which I am not familiar with, but which my son informs
me is a great favorite with you. It has been prepared by Li Sing,
under my direction. Prosper, dear, see that the--er--doughnuts--
are brought in with the coffee."
Satisfaction beamed on the faces of the company, with perhaps the
sole exception of Prosper. As a dish containing a number of brown
glistening spheres of baked dough was brought in, the men's eyes
shone in sympathetic appreciation. Yet that epicurean light was
for a moment dulled as each man grasped a sphere, and then sat
motionless with it in his hand, as if it was a ball and they were
waiting the signal for playing.
"I am told," said Mrs. Pottinger, with a glance of Christian
tolerance at Prosper, "that lightness is considered desirable by
some--perhaps you gentlemen may find them heavy."
"Thar is two kinds," said the diplomatic Joe cheerfully, as he
began to nibble his, sideways, like a squirrel, "light and heavy;
some likes 'em one way, and some another."
They were hard and heavy, but the men, assisted by the steaming
coffee, finished them with heroic politeness. "And now,
gentlemen," said Mrs. Pottinger, leaning back in her chair and
calmly surveying the party, "you have my permission to light your
pipes while you partake of some whiskey and water."
The guests looked up--gratified but astonished. "Are ye sure,
ma'am, you don't mind it?" said Joe politely.
"Not at all," responded Mrs. Pottinger briefly. "In fact, as my
physician advises the inhalation of tobacco smoke for my asthmatic
difficulties, I will join you." After a moment's fumbling in a
beaded bag that hung from her waist, she produced a small black
clay pipe, filled it from the same receptacle, and lit it.
A thrill of surprise went round the company, and it was noticed
that Prosper seemed equally confounded. Nevertheless, this
awkwardness was quickly overcome by the privilege and example given
them, and with, a glass of whiskey and water before them, the men
were speedily at their ease. Nor did Mrs. Pottinger disdain to
mingle in their desultory talk. Sitting there with her black pipe
in her mouth, but still precise and superior, she told a thrilling
whaling adventure of Prosper's father (drawn evidently from the
experience of the lamented Pottinger), which not only deeply
interested her hearers, but momentarily exalted Prosper in their
minds as the son of that hero. "Now you speak o' that, ma'am,"
said the ingenuous Wynbrook, "there's a good deal o' Prossy in that
yarn o' his father's; same kind o' keerless grit! You remember,
boys, that day the dam broke and he stood thar, the water up to his
neck, heavin' logs in the break till he stopped it." Briefly, the
evening, in spite of its initial culinary failure and its
surprises, was a decided social success, and even the bewildered
and doubting Prosper went to bed relieved. It was followed by many
and more informal gatherings at the house, and Mrs Pottinger so far
unbent--if that term could be used of one who never altered her
primness of manner--as to join in a game of poker--and even
permitted herself to win.
But by the end of six weeks another change in their feelings
towards Prosper seemed to creep insidiously over the camp. He had
been received into his former fellowship, and even the presence of
his mother had become familiar, but he began to be an object of
secret commiseration. They still frequented the house, but among
themselves afterwards they talked in whispers. There was no doubt
to them that Prosper's old mother drank not only what her son had
provided, but what she surreptitiously obtained from the saloon.
There was the testimony of the barkeeper, himself concerned equally
with the camp in the integrity of the Riggs household. And there
was an even darker suspicion. But this must be given in Joe
Wynbrook's own words:--
"I didn't mind the old woman winnin' and winnin' reg'lar--for
poker's an unsartin game;--it ain't the money that we're losin'--
for it's all in the camp. But when she's developing a habit o'
holdin' FOUR aces when somebody else hez TWO, who don't like to let
on because it's Prosper's old mother--it's gettin' rough! And
dangerous too, gentlemen, if there happened to be an outsider in,
or one of the boys should kick. Why, I saw Bilson grind his teeth--
he holdin' a sequence flush--ace high--when the dear old critter
laid down her reg'lar four aces and raked in the pile. We had to
nearly kick his legs off under the table afore he'd understand--not
havin' an old mother himself."
"Some un will hev to tackle her without Prossy knowin' it. For it
would jest break his heart, arter all he's gone through to get her
here!" said Brewster significantly.
"Onless he DID know it and it was that what made him so sorrowful
when they first came. B'gosh! I never thought o' that," said
Wynbrook, with one of his characteristic sudden illuminations.
"Well, gentlemen, whether he did or not," said the barkeeper
stoutly, "he must never know that WE know it. No, not if the old
gal cleans out my bar and takes the last scad in the camp."
And to this noble sentiment they responded as one man.
How far they would have been able to carry out that heroic resolve
was never known, for an event occurred which eclipsed its
importance. One morning at breakfast Mrs. Pottinger fixed a
clouded eye upon Prosper.
"Prosper," she said, with fell deliberation "you ought to know you
have a sister."
"Yes, ma'am," returned Prosper, with that meekness with which he
usually received these family disclosures.
"A sister," continued the lady, "whom you haven't seen since you
were a child; a sister who for family reasons has been living with
other relatives; a girl of nineteen."
"Yea, ma'am," said Prosper humbly. "But ef you wouldn't mind
writin' all that down on a bit o' paper--ye know my short memory!
I would get it by heart to-day in the gulch. I'd have it all pat
enough by night, ef," he added, with a short sigh, "ye was
kalkilatin' to make any illusions to it when the boys are here."
"Your sister Augusta," continued Mrs. Pottinger, calmly ignoring
these details, "will be here to-morrow to make me a visit."
But here the worm Prosper not only turned, but stood up, nearly
upsetting the table. "It can't be did, ma'am it MUSTN'T be did!"
he said wildly. "It's enough for me to have played this camp with
YOU--but now to run in"--
"Can't be did!" repeated Mrs. Pottinger, rising in her turn and
fixing upon the unfortunate Prosper a pair of murky piratical eyes
that had once quelled the sea-roving Pottinger. "Do you, my
adopted son, dare to tell me that I can't have my own flesh and
blood beneath my roof?"
"Yes! I'd rather tell the whole story--I'd rather tell the boys I
fooled them--than go on again!" burst out the excited Prosper.
But Mrs. Pottinger only set her lips implacably together. "Very
well, tell them then," she said rigidly; "tell them how you lured
me from my humble dependence in San Francisco with the prospect of
a home with you; tell them how you compelled me to deceive their
trusting hearts with your wicked falsehoods; tell them how you--a
foundling--borrowed me for your mother, my poor dead husband for
your father, and made me invent falsehood upon falsehood to tell
them while you sat still and listened!"
"Tell them," she went on deliberately, "that when I wanted to bring
my helpless child to her only home--THEN, only then--you determined
to break your word to me, either because you meanly begrudged her
that share of your house, or to keep your misdeeds from her
knowledge! Tell them that, Prossy, dear, and see what they'll
Prosper sank back in his chair aghast. In his sudden instinct of
revolt he had forgotten the camp! He knew, alas, too well what
they would say! He knew that, added to their indignation at having
been duped, their chivalry and absurd sentiment would rise in arms
against the abandonment of two helpless women!
"P'r'aps ye're right, ma'am," he stammered. "I was only thinkin',"
he added feebly, "how SHE'D take it."
"She'll take it as I wish her to take it," said Mrs. Pottinger
"Supposin', ez the camp don't know her, and I ain't bin talkin' o'
havin' any SISTER, you ran her in here as my COUSIN? See? You
bein' her aunt?"
Mrs. Pottinger regarded him with compressed lips for some time.
Then she said, slowly and half meditatively: "Yes, it might be
done! She will probably be willing to sacrifice her nearer
relationship to save herself from passing as your sister. It would
be less galling to her pride, and she wouldn't have to treat you so
"Yes, ma'am," said Prosper, too relieved to notice the
uncomplimentary nature of the suggestion. "And ye see I could
call her 'Miss Pottinger,' which would come easier to me."
In its high resolve to bear with the weaknesses of Prosper's
mother, the camp received the news of the advent of Prosper's
cousin solely with reference to its possible effect upon the aunt's
habits, and very little other curiosity. Prosper's own reticence,
they felt, was probably due to the tender age at which he had
separated from his relations. But when it was known that Prosper's
mother had driven to the house with a very pretty girl of eighteen,
there was a flutter of excitement in that impressionable community.
Prosper, with his usual shyness, had evaded an early meeting with
her, and was even loitering irresolutely on his way home from work,
when, as he approached the house, to his discomfiture the door
suddenly opened, the young lady appeared and advanced directly
She was slim, graceful, and prettily dressed, and at any other
moment Prosper might have been impressed by her good looks. But
her brows were knit, her dark eyes--in which there was an
unmistakable reminiscence of Mrs. Pottinger--were glittering, and
although she was apparently anticipating their meeting, it was
evidently with no cousinly interest. When within a few feet of him
she stopped. Prosper with a feeble smile offered his hand. She
"Don't touch me! Don't come a step nearer or I'll scream!"
Prosper, still with smiling inanity, stammered that he was only
"goin' to shake hands," and moved sideways towards the house.
"Stop!" she said, with a stamp of her slim foot. "Stay where you
are! We must have our talk out HERE. I'm not going to waste words
with you in there, before HER."
"What did you do this for?" she said angrily. "How dared you? How
could you? Are you a man, or the fool she takes you for?"