Part 4 out of 5
"Wot did I do WOT for?" said Prosper sullenly.
"This! Making my mother pretend you were her son! Bringing her
here among these men to live a lie!"
"She was willin'," said Prosper gloomily. "I told her what she had
to do, and she seemed to like it."
"But couldn't you see she was old and weak, and wasn't responsible
for her actions? Or were you only thinking of yourself?"
This last taunt stung him. He looked up. He was not facing a
helpless, dependent old woman as he had been the day before, but a
handsome, clever girl, in every way his superior--and in the right!
In his vague sense of honor it seemed more creditable for him to
fight it out with HER. He burst out: "I never thought of myself!
I never had an old mother; I never knew what it was to want one--
but the men did! And as I couldn't get one for them, I got one for
myself--to share and share alike--I thought they'd be happier ef
there was one in the camp!"
There was the unmistakable accent of truth in his voice. There
came a faint twitching of the young girl's lips and the dawning of
a smile. But it only acted as a goad to the unfortunate Prosper.
"Ye kin laugh, Miss Pottinger, but it's God's truth! But one thing
I didn't do. No! When your mother wanted to bring you in here as
my sister, I kicked! I did! And you kin thank me, for all your
laughin', that you're standing in this camp in your own name--and
ain't nothin' but my cousin."
"I suppose you thought your precious friends didn't want a SISTER
too?" said the girl ironically.
"It don't make no matter wot they want now," he said gloomily.
"For," he added, with sudden desperation, "it's come to an end!
Yes! You and your mother will stay here a spell so that the boys
don't suspicion nothin' of either of ye. Then I'll give it out
that you're takin' your aunt away on a visit. Then I'll make over
to her a thousand dollars for all the trouble I've given her, and
you'll take her away. I've bin a fool, Miss Pottinger, mebbe I am
one now, but what I'm doin' is on the square, and it's got to be
He looked so simple and so good--so like an honest schoolboy
confessing a fault and abiding by his punishment, for all his six
feet of altitude and silky mustache--that Miss Pottinger lowered
her eyes. But she recovered herself and said sharply:--
"It's all very well to talk of her going away! But she WON'T. You
have made her like you--yes! like you better than me--than any of
us! She says you're the only one who ever treated her like a
mother--as a mother should be treated. She says she never knew
what peace and comfort were until she came to you. There! Don't
stare like that! Don't you understand? Don't you see? Must I
tell you again that she is strange--that--that she was ALWAYS queer
and strange--and queerer on account of her unfortunate habits--
surely you knew THEM, Mr. Riggs! She quarreled with us all. I
went to live with my aunt, and she took herself off to San
Francisco with a silly claim against my father's shipowners.
Heaven only knows how she managed to live there; but she always
impressed people with her manners, and some one always helped her!
At last I begged my aunt to let me seek her, and I tracked her
here. There! If you've confessed everything to me, you have made
me confess everything to you, and about my own mother, too! Now,
what is to be done?"
"Whatever is agreeable to you is the same to me, Miss Pottinger,"
he said formally.
"But you mustn't call me 'Miss Pottinger' so loud. Somebody might
hear you," she returned mischievously.
"All right--'cousin,' then," he said, with a prodigious blush.
"Supposin' we go in."
In spite of the camp's curiosity, for the next few days they
delicately withheld their usual evening visits to Prossy's mother.
"They'll be wantin' to talk o' old times, and we don't wanter be
too previous," suggested Wynbrook. But their verdict, when they at
last met the new cousin, was unanimous, and their praises
extravagant. To their inexperienced eyes she seemed to possess all
her aunt's gentility and precision of language, with a vivacity and
playfulness all her own. In a few days the whole camp was in love
with her. Yet she dispensed her favors with such tactful
impartiality and with such innocent enjoyment--free from any
suspicion of coquetry--that there were no heartburnings, and the
unlucky man who nourished a fancied slight would have been laughed
at by his fellows. She had a town-bred girl's curiosity and
interest in camp life, which she declared was like a "perpetual
picnic," and her slim, graceful figure halting beside a ditch where
the men were working seemed to them as grateful as the new spring
sunshine. The whole camp became tidier; a coat was considered de
rigueur at "Prossy's mother" evenings; there was less horseplay in
the trails, and less shouting. "It's all very well to talk about
'old mothers,'" said the cynical barkeeper, "but that gal, single
handed, has done more in a week to make the camp decent than old
Ma'am Riggs has in a month o' Sundays."
Since Prosper's brief conversation with Miss Pottinger before the
house, the question "What is to be done?" had singularly lapsed,
nor had it been referred to again by either. The young lady had
apparently thrown herself into the diversions of the camp with the
thoughtless gayety of a brief holiday maker, and it was not for him
to remind her--even had he wished to--that her important question
had never been answered. He had enjoyed her happiness with the
relief of a secret shared by her. Three weeks had passed; the last
of the winter's rains had gone. Spring was stirring in underbrush
and wildwood, in the pulse of the waters, in the sap of the great
pines, in the uplifting of flowers. Small wonder if Prosper's
boyish heart had stirred a little too.
In fact, he had been possessed by another luminous idea--a wild
idea that to him seemed almost as absurd as the one which had
brought him all this trouble. It had come to him like that one--
out of a starlit night--and he had risen one morning with a
feverish intent to put it into action! It brought him later to
take an unprecedented walk alone with Miss Pottinger, to linger
under green leaves in unfrequented woods, and at last seemed about
to desert him as he stood in a little hollow with her hand in his--
their only listener an inquisitive squirrel. Yet this was all the
disappointed animal heard him stammer,--
"So you see, dear, it would THEN be no lie--for--don't you see?--
she'd be really MY mother as well as YOURS."
The marriage of Prosper Riggs and Miss Pottinger was quietly
celebrated at Sacramento, but Prossy's "old mother" did not return
with the happy pair.
Of Mrs. Pottinger's later career some idea may be gathered from a
letter which Prosper received a year after his marriage.
"Circumstances," wrote Mrs. Pottinger, "which had induced me to
accept the offer of a widower to take care of his motherless
household, have since developed into a more enduring matrimonial
position, so that I can always offer my dear Prosper a home with
his mother, should he choose to visit this locality, and a second
father in Hiram W. Watergates, Esq., her husband."
THE CONVALESCENCE OF JACK HAMLIN
The habitually quiet, ascetic face of Seth Rivers was somewhat
disturbed and his brows were knitted as he climbed the long ascent
of Windy Hill to its summit and his own rancho. Perhaps it was the
effect of the characteristic wind, which that afternoon seemed to
assault him from all points at once and did not cease its battery
even at his front door, but hustled him into the passage, blew him
into the sitting room, and then celebrated its own exit from the
long, rambling house by the banging of doors throughout the halls
and the slamming of windows in the remote distance.
Mrs. Rivers looked up from her work at this abrupt onset of her
husband, but without changing her own expression of slightly
fatigued self-righteousness. Accustomed to these elemental
eruptions, she laid her hands from force of habit upon the lifting
tablecloth, and then rose submissively to brush together the
scattered embers and ashes from the large hearthstone, as she had
often done before.
"You're in early, Seth," she said.
"Yes. I stopped at the Cross Roads Post Office. Lucky I did, or
you'd hev had kempany on your hands afore you knowed it--this very
night! I found this letter from Dr. Duchesne," and he produced a
letter from his pocket.
Mrs. Rivers looked up with an expression of worldly interest. Dr.
Duchesne had brought her two children into the world with some
difficulty, and had skillfully attended her through a long illness
consequent upon the inefficient maternity of soulful but fragile
American women of her type. The doctor had more than a mere local
reputation as a surgeon, and Mrs. Rivers looked up to him as her
sole connecting link with a world of thought beyond Windy Hill.
"He's comin' up yer to-night, bringin' a friend of his--a patient
that he wants us to board and keep for three weeks until he's well
agin," continued Mr. Rivers. "Ye know how the doctor used to rave
about the pure air on our hill."
Mrs. Rivers shivered slightly, and drew her shawl over her
shoulders, but nodded a patient assent.
"Well, he says it's just what that patient oughter have to cure
him. He's had lung fever and other things, and this yer air and
gin'ral quiet is bound to set him up. We're to board and keep him
without any fuss or feathers, and the doctor sez he'll pay liberal
for it. This yer's what he sez," concluded Mr. Rivers, reading
from the letter: "'He is now fully convalescent, though weak, and
really requires no other medicine than the--ozone'--yes, that's
what the doctor calls it--'of Windy Hill, and in fact as little
attendance as possible. I will not let him keep even his negro
servant with him. He'll give you no trouble, if he can be
prevailed upon to stay the whole time of his cure.'"
"There's our spare room--it hasn't been used since Parson Greenwood
was here," said Mrs. Rivers reflectively. "Melinda could put it to
rights in an hour. At what time will he come?"
"He'd come about nine. They drive over from Hightown depot. But,"
he added grimly, "here ye are orderin' rooms to be done up and ye
don't know who for."
"You said a friend of Dr. Duchesne," returned Mrs. Rivers simply.
"Dr. Duchesne has many friends that you and me mightn't cotton to,"
said her husband. "This man is Jack Hamlin." As his wife's remote
and introspective black eyes returned only vacancy, he added
quickly. "The noted gambler!"
"Gambler?" echoed his wife, still vaguely.
"Yes--reg'lar; it's his business."
"Goodness, Seth! He can't expect to do it here."
"No," said Seth quickly, with that sense of fairness to his fellow
man which most women find it so difficult to understand. "No--and
he probably won't mention the word 'card' while he's here."
"Well?" said Mrs. Rivers interrogatively.
"And," continued Seth, seeing that the objection was not pressed,
he's one of them desprit men! A reg'lar fighter! Killed two or
three men in dools!"
Mrs. Rivers stared. "What could Dr. Duchesne have been thinking
of? Why, we wouldn't be safe in the house with him!"
Again Seth's sense of equity triumphed. "I never heard of his
fightin' anybody but his own kind, and when he was bullyragged.
And ez to women he's quite t'other way in fact, and that's why I
think ye oughter know it afore you let him come. He don't go round
with decent women. In fact"--But here Mr. Rivers, in the sanctity
of conjugal confidences and the fullness of Bible reading, used a
few strong scriptural substantives happily unnecessary to repeat
"Seth!" said Mrs. Rivers suddenly, "you seem to know this man."
The unexpectedness and irrelevancy of this for a moment startled
Seth. But that chaste and God-fearing man had no secrets. "Only
by hearsay, Jane," he returned quietly; "but if ye say the word
I'll stop his comin' now."
"It's too late," said Mrs. Rivers decidedly.
"I reckon not," returned her husband, "and that's why I came
straight here. I've only got to meet them at the depot and say
this thing can't be done--and that's the end of it. They'll go off
quiet to the hotel."
"I don't like to disappoint the doctor, Seth," said Mrs. Rivers.
"We might," she added, with a troubled look of inquiry at her
husband, "we might take that Mr. Hamlin on trial. Like as not he
won't stay, anyway, when he sees what we're like, Seth. What do
you think? It would be only our Christian duty, too."
"I was thinkin' o' that as a professin' Christian, Jane," said her
husband. "But supposin' that other Christians don't look at it in
that light. Thar's Deacon Stubbs and his wife and the parson. Ye
remember what he said about 'no covenant with sin'?"
"The Stubbses have no right to dictate who I'll have in my house,"
said Mrs. Rivers quickly, with a faint flush in her rather sallow
"It's your say and nobody else's," assented her husband with grim
submissiveness. "You do what you like."
Mrs. Rivers mused. "There's only myself and Melinda here," she
said with sublime naivete; "and the children ain't old enough to be
corrupted. I am satisfied if you are, Seth," and she again looked
at him inquiringly.
"Go ahead, then, and get ready for 'em," said Seth, hurrying away
with unaffected relief. "If you have everything fixed by nine
o'clock, that'll do."
Mrs. Rivers had everything "fixed" by that hour, including herself
presumably, for she had put on a gray dress which she usually wore
when shopping in the county town, adding a prim collar and cuffs.
A pearl-encircled brooch, the wedding gift of Seth, and a solitaire
ring next to her wedding ring, with a locket containing her
children's hair, accented her position as a proper wife and mother.
At a quarter to nine she had finished tidying the parlor, opening
the harmonium so that the light might play upon its polished
keyboard, and bringing from the forgotten seclusion of her closet
two beautifully bound volumes of Tupper's "Poems" and Pollok's
"Course of Time," to impart a literary grace to the centre table.
She then drew a chair to the table and sat down before it with a
religious magazine in her lap. The wind roared over the deep-
throated chimney, the clock ticked monotonously, and then there
came the sound of wheels and voices.
But Mrs. Rivers was not destined to see her guest that night. Dr.
Duchesne, under the safe lee of the door, explained that Mr. Hamlin
had been exhausted by the journey, and, assisted by a mild opiate,
was asleep in the carriage; that if Mrs. Rivers did not object,
they would carry him at once to his room. In the flaring and
guttering of candles, the flashing of lanterns, the flapping of
coats and shawls, and the bewildering rush of wind, Mrs. Rivers was
only vaguely conscious of a slight figure muffled tightly in a
cloak carried past her in the arms of a grizzled negro up the
staircase, followed by Dr. Duchesne. With the closing of the front
door on the tumultuous world without, a silence fell again on the
When the doctor made his reappearance it was to say that his
patient was being undressed and put to bed by his negro servant,
who, however, would return with the doctor to-night, but that the
patient would be left with everything that was necessary, and that
he would require no attention from the family until the next day.
Indeed, it was better that he should remain undisturbed. As the
doctor confined his confidences and instructions entirely to the
physical condition of their guest, Mrs. Rivers found it awkward to
press other inquiries.
"Of course," she said at last hesitatingly, but with a certain
primness of expression, "Mr. Hamlin must expect to find everything
here very different from what he is accustomed to--at least from
what my husband says are his habits."
"Nobody knows that better than he, Mrs. Rivers," returned the
doctor with an equally marked precision of manner, "and you could
not have a guest who would be less likely to make you remind him of
A little annoyed, yet not exactly knowing why, Mrs. Rivers
abandoned the subject, and as the doctor shortly afterwards busied
himself in the care of his patient, with whom he remained until the
hour of his departure, she had no chance of renewing it. But as he
finally shook hands with his host and hostess, it seemed to her
that he slightly recurred to it. "I have the greatest hope of the
curative effect of this wonderful locality on my patient, but even
still more of the beneficial effect of the complete change of his
habits, his surroundings, and their influences." Then the door
closed on the man of science and the grizzled negro servant, the
noise of the carriage wheels was shut out with the song of the wind
in the pine tops, and the rancho of Windy Hill possessed Mr. Jack
Hamlin in peace. Indeed, the wind was now falling, as was its
custom at that hour, and the moon presently arose over a hushed and
For the rest of the evening the silent presence in the room above
affected the household; the half-curious servants and ranch hands
spoke in whispers in the passages, and at evening prayers, in the
dining room, Seth Rivers, kneeling before and bowed over a rush-
bottomed chair whose legs were clutched by his strong hands,
included "the stranger within our gates" in his regular
supplications. When the hour for retiring came, Seth, with a
candle in his hand, preceded his wife up the staircase, but stopped
before the door of their guest's room. "I reckon," he said
interrogatively to Mrs. Rivers, "I oughter see ef he's wantin'
"You heard what the doctor said," returned Mrs. Rivers cautiously.
At the same time she did not speak decidedly, and the
frontiersman's instinct of hospitality prevailed. He knocked
lightly; there was no response. He turned the door handle softly.
The door opened. A faint clean perfume--an odor of some general
personality rather than any particular thing--stole out upon them.
The light of Seth's candle struck a few glints from some cut-glass
and silver, the contents of the guest's dressing case, which had
been carefully laid out upon a small table by his negro servant.
There was also a refined neatness in the disposition of his clothes
and effects which struck the feminine eye of even the tidy Mrs.
Rivers as something new to her experience. Seth drew nearer the
bed with his shaded candle, and then, turning, beckoned his wife to
approach. Mrs. Rivers hesitated--but for the necessity of silence
she would have openly protested--but that protest was shut up in
her compressed lips as she came forward.
For an instant that awe with which absolute helplessness invests
the sleeping and dead was felt by both husband and wife. Only the
upper part of the sleeper's face was visible above the bedclothes,
held in position by a thin white nervous hand that was encircled at
the wrist by a ruffle. Seth stared. Short brown curls were
tumbled over a forehead damp with the dews of sleep and exhaustion.
But what appeared more singular, the closed eyes of this vessel of
wrath and recklessness were fringed with lashes as long and silky
as a woman's. Then Mrs. Rivers gently pulled her husband's sleeve,
and they both crept back with a greater sense of intrusion and even
more cautiously than they had entered. Nor did they speak until
the door was closed softly and they were alone on the landing.
Seth looked grimly at his wife.
"Don't look much ez ef he could hurt anybody."
"He looks like a sick man," returned Mrs. Rivers calmly.
The unconscious object of this criticism and attention slept until
late; slept through the stir of awakened life within and without,
through the challenge of early cocks in the lean-to shed, through
the creaking of departing ox teams and the lazy, long-drawn
commands of teamsters, through the regular strokes of the morning
pump and the splash of water on stones, through the far-off barking
of dogs and the half-intelligible shouts of ranchmen; slept through
the sunlight on his ceiling, through its slow descent of his wall,
and awoke with it in his eyes! He woke, too, with a delicious
sense of freedom from pain, and of even drawing a long breath
without difficulty--two facts so marvelous and dreamlike that he
naturally closed his eyes again lest he should waken to a world of
suffering and dyspnoea. Satisfied at last that this relief was
real, he again opened his eyes, but upon surroundings so strange,
so wildly absurd and improbable, that he again doubted their
reality. He was lying in a moderately large room, primly and
severely furnished, but his attention was for the moment riveted to
a gilt frame upon the wall beside him bearing the text, "God Bless
Our Home," and then on another frame on the opposite wall which
admonished him to "Watch and Pray." Beside them hung an engraving
of the "Raising of Lazarus," and a Hogarthian lithograph of "The
Drunkard's Progress." Mr. Hamlin closed his eyes; he was dreaming
certainly--not one of those wild, fantastic visions that had so
miserably filled the past long nights of pain and suffering, but
still a dream! At last, opening one eye stealthily, he caught the
flash of the sunlight upon the crystal and silver articles of his
dressing case, and that flash at once illuminated his memory. He
remembered his long weeks of illness and the devotion of Dr.
Duchesne. He remembered how, when the crisis was past, the doctor
had urged a complete change and absolute rest, and had told him of
a secluded rancho in some remote locality kept by an honest Western
pioneer whose family he had attended. He remembered his own
reluctant assent, impelled by gratitude to the doctor and the
helplessness of a sick man. He now recalled the weary journey
thither, his exhaustion and the semi-consciousness of his arrival
in a bewildering wind on a shadowy hilltop. And this was the
He shivered slightly, and ducked his head under the cover again.
But the brightness of the sun and some exhilarating quality in the
air tempted him to have another outlook, avoiding as far as
possible the grimly decorated walls. If they had only left him his
faithful servant he could have relieved himself of that mischievous
badinage which always alternately horrified and delighted that
devoted negro. But he was alone--absolutely alone--in this
Presently he saw the door open slowly. It gave admission to the
small round face and yellow ringlets of a little girl, and finally
to her whole figure, clasping a doll nearly as large as herself.
For a moment she stood there, arrested by the display of Mr.
Hamlin's dressing case on the table. Then her glances moved around
the room and rested upon the bed. Her blue eyes and Mr. Hamlin's
brown ones met and mingled. Without a moment's hesitation she
moved to the bedside. Taking her doll's hands in her own, she
displayed it before him.
"Isn't it pitty?"
Mr. Hamlin was instantly his old self again. Thrusting his hand
comfortably under the pillow, he lay on his side and gazed at it
long and affectionately. "I never," he said in a faint voice, but
with immovable features, "saw anything so perfectly beautiful. Is
"It's a dolly," she returned gravely, smoothing down its frock and
straightening its helpless feet. Then seized with a spontaneous
idea, like a young animal she suddenly presented it to him with
both hands and said,--
Mr. Hamlin implanted a chaste salute on its vermilion cheek.
"Would you mind letting me hold it for a little?" he said with
The child was delighted, as he expected. Mr. Hamlin placed it in a
sitting posture on the edge of his bed, and put an ostentatious
paternal arm around it.
"But you're alive, ain't you?" he said to the child.
This subtle witticism convulsed her. "I'm a little girl," she
"I see; her mother?"
"And who's your mother?"
The child nodded until her ringlets were shaken on her cheek.
After a moment she began to laugh bashfully and with repression,
yet as Mr. Hamlin thought a little mischievously. Then as he
looked at her interrogatively she suddenly caught hold of the
ruffle of his sleeve.
"Oo's got on mammy's nighty."
Mr. Hamlin started. He saw the child's obvious mistake and
actually felt himself blushing. It was unprecedented--it was the
sheerest weakness--it must have something to do with the confounded
"I grieve to say you are deeply mistaken--it is my very own," he
returned with great gravity. Nevertheless, he drew the coverlet
close over his shoulder. But here he was again attracted by
another face at the half-opened door--a freckled one, belonging to
a boy apparently a year or two older than the girl. He was
violently telegraphing to her to come away, although it was evident
that he was at the same time deeply interested in the guest's
toilet articles. Yet as his bright gray eyes and Mr. Hamlin's
brown ones met, he succumbed, as the girl had, and walked directly
to the bedside. But he did it bashfully--as the girl had not. He
even attempted a defensive explanation.
"She hadn't oughter come in here, and mar wouldn't let her, and she
knows it," he said with superior virtue.
"But I asked her to come as I'm asking you," said Mr. Hamlin
promptly, "and don't you go back on your sister or you'll never be
president of the United States." With this he laid his hand on the
boy's tow head, and then, lifting himself on his pillow to a half-
sitting posture, put an arm around each of the children, drawing
them together, with the doll occupying the central post of honor.
"Now," continued Mr. Hamlin, albeit in a voice a little faint from
the exertion, "now that we're comfortable together I'll tell you
the story of the good little boy who became a pirate in order to
save his grandmother and little sister from being eaten by a wolf
at the door."
But, alas! that interesting record of self-sacrifice never was
told. For it chanced that Melinda Bird, Mrs. Rivers's help,
following the trail of the missing children, came upon the open
door and glanced in. There, to her astonishment, she saw the
domestic group already described, and to her eyes dominated by the
"most beautiful and perfectly elegant" young man she had ever seen.
But let not the incautious reader suppose that she succumbed as
weakly as her artless charges to these fascinations. The character
and antecedents of that young man had been already delivered to her
in the kitchen by the other help. With that single glance she
halted; her eyes sought the ceiling in chaste exaltation. Falling
back a step, she called in ladylike hauteur and precision, "Mary
Emmeline and John Wesley."
Mr. Hamlin glanced at the children. "It's Melindy looking for us,"
said John Wesley. But they did not move. At which Mr. Hamlin
called out faintly but cheerfully, "They're here, all right."
Again the voice arose with still more marked and lofty
distinctness, "John Wesley and Mary Em-me-line." It seemed to Mr.
Hamlin that human accents could not convey a more significant and
elevated ignoring of some implied impropriety in his invitation.
He was for a moment crushed.
But he only said to his little friends with a smile, "You'd better
go now and we'll have that story later."
"Affer beckus?" suggested Mary Emmeline.
"In the woods," added John Wesley.
Mr. Hamlin nodded blandly. The children trotted to the door. It
closed upon them and Miss Bird's parting admonition, loud enough
for Mr. Hamlin to hear, "No more freedoms, no more intrudings, you
The older culprit, Hamlin, retreated luxuriously under his
blankets, but presently another new sensation came over him--
absolutely, hunger. Perhaps it was the child's allusion to
"beckus," but he found himself wondering when it would be ready.
This anxiety was soon relieved by the appearance of his host
himself bearing a tray, possibly in deference to Miss Bird's sense
of propriety. It appeared also that Dr. Duchesne had previously
given suitable directions for his diet, and Mr. Hamlin found his
repast simple but enjoyable. Always playfully or ironically polite
to strangers, he thanked his host and said he had slept splendidly.
"It's this yer 'ozone' in the air that Dr. Duchesne talks about,"
said Seth complacently.
"I am inclined to think it is also those texts," said Mr. Hamlin
gravely, as he indicated them on the wall. "You see they reminded
me of church and my boyhood's slumbers there. I have never slept
so peacefully since." Seth's face brightened so interestedly at
what he believed to be a suggestion of his guest's conversion that
Mr. Hamlin was fain to change the subject. When his host had
withdrawn he proceeded to dress himself, but here became conscious
of his weakness and was obliged to sit down. In one of those
enforced rests he chanced to be near the window, and for the first
time looked on the environs of his place of exile. For a moment he
was staggered. Everything seemed to pitch downward from the rocky
outcrop on which the rambling house and farm sheds stood. Even the
great pines around it swept downward like a green wave, to rise
again in enormous billows as far as the eye could reach. He could
count a dozen of their tumbled crests following each other on their
way to the distant plain. In some vague point of that shimmering
horizon of heat and dust was the spot he came from the preceding
night. Yet the recollection of it and his feverish past seemed to
confuse him, and he turned his eyes gladly away.
Pale, a little tremulous, but immaculate and jaunty in his white
flannels and straw hat, he at last made his way downstairs. To his
great relief he found the sitting room empty, as he would have
willingly deferred his formal acknowledgments to his hostess later.
A single glance at the interior determined him not to linger, and
he slipped quietly into the open air and sunshine. The day was
warm and still, as the wind only came up with the going down of the
sun, and the atmosphere was still redolent with the morning spicing
of pine and hay and a stronger balm that seemed to fill his breast
with sunshine. He walked toward the nearest shade--a cluster of
young buckeyes--and having with a certain civic fastidiousness
flicked the dust from a stump with his handkerchief he sat down.
It was very quiet and calm. The life and animation of early
morning had already vanished from the hill, or seemed to be
suspended with the sun in the sky. He could see the ranchmen and
oxen toiling on the green terraced slopes below, but no sound
reached his ears. Even the house he had just quitted seemed empty
of life throughout its rambling length. His seclusion was
complete. Could he stand it for three weeks? Perhaps it need not
be for so long; he was already stronger! He foresaw that the
ascetic Seth might become wearisome. He had an intuition that Mrs.
Rivers would be equally so; he should certainly quarrel with
Melinda, and this would probably debar him from the company of the
children--his only hope.
But his seclusion was by no means so complete as he expected. He
presently was aware of a camp-meeting hymn hummed somewhat
ostentatiously by a deep contralto voice, which he at once
recognized as Melinda's, and saw that severe virgin proceeding from
the kitchen along the ridge until within a few paces of the
buckeyes, when she stopped and, with her hand shading her eyes,
apparently began to examine the distant fields. She was a tall,
robust girl, not without certain rustic attractions, of which she
seemed fully conscious. This latter weakness gave Mr. Hamlin a new
idea. He put up the penknife with which he had been paring his
nails while wondering why his hands had become so thin, and awaited
events. She presently turned, approached the buckeyes, plucked a
spike of the blossoms with great girlish lightness, and then
apparently discovering Mr. Hamlin, started in deep concern and said
with somewhat stentorian politeness: "I BEG your pardon--didn't
know I was intruding!"
"Don't mention it," returned Jack promptly, but without moving. "I
saw you coming and was prepared; but generally--as I have something
the matter with my heart--a sudden joy like this is dangerous."
Somewhat mystified, but struggling between an expression of
rigorous decorum and gratified vanity, Miss Melinda stammered, "I
"I knew it--I saw what you were doing," interrupted Jack gravely,
"only I wouldn't do it if I were you. You were looking at one of
those young men down the hill. You forgot that if you could see
him he could see you looking too, and that would only make him
conceited. And a girl with YOUR attractions don't require that."
"Ez if," said Melinda, with lofty but somewhat reddening scorn,
"there was a man on this hull rancho that I'd take a second look
"It's the first look that does the business," returned Jack simply.
"But maybe I was wrong. Would you mind--as you're going straight
back to the house" (Miss Melinda had certainly expressed no such
intention)--"turning those two little kids loose out here? I've a
sort of engagement with them."
"I will speak to their mar," said Melinda primly, yet with a
certain sign of relenting, as she turned away.
"You can say to her that I regretted not finding her in the sitting
room when I came down," continued Jack tactfully.
Apparently the tact was successful, for he was delighted a few
moments later by the joyous onset of John Wesley and Mary Emmeline
upon the buckeyes, which he at once converted into a game of hide
and seek, permitting himself at last to be shamelessly caught in
the open. But here he wisely resolved upon guarding against
further grown-up interruption, and consulting with his companions
found that on one of the lower terraces there was a large reservoir
fed by a mountain rivulet, but they were not allowed to play there.
Thither, however, the reckless Jack hied with his playmates and was
presently ensconced under a willow tree, where he dexterously
fashioned tiny willow canoes with his penknife and sent them
sailing over a submerged expanse of nearly an acre. But half an
hour of this ingenious amusement was brought to an abrupt
termination. While cutting bark, with his back momentarily turned
on his companions, he heard a scream, and turned quickly to see
John Wesley struggling in the water, grasping a tree root, and Mary
Emmeline--nowhere! In another minute he saw the strings of her
pinafore appear on the surface a few yards beyond, and in yet
another minute, with a swift rueful glance at his white flannels,
he had plunged after her. A disagreeable shock of finding himself
out of his depths was, however, followed by contact with the
child's clothing, and clutching her firmly, a stroke or two brought
him panting to the bank. Here a gasp, a gurgle, and then a roar
from Mary Emmeline, followed by a sympathetic howl from John
Wesley, satisfied him that the danger was over. Rescuing the boy
from the tree root, he laid them both on the grass and contemplated
them exercising their lungs with miserable satisfaction. But here
he found his own breathing impeded in addition to a slight
faintness, and was suddenly obliged to sit down beside them, at
which, by some sympathetic intuition, they both stopped crying.
Encouraged by this, Mr. Hamlin got them to laughing again, and then
proposed a race home in their wet clothes, which they accepted, Mr.
Hamlin, for respiratory reasons, lagging in their rear until he had
the satisfaction of seeing them captured by the horrified Melinda
in front of the kitchen, while he slipped past her and regained his
own room. Here he changed his saturated clothes, tried to rub away
a certain chilliness that was creeping over him, and lay down in
his dressing gown to miserable reflections. He had nearly drowned
the children and overexcited himself, in spite of his promise to
the doctor! He would never again be intrusted with the care of the
former nor be believed by the latter!
But events are not always logical in sequence. Mr. Hamlin went
comfortably to sleep and into a profuse perspiration. He was
awakened by a rapping at his door, and opening it, was surprised to
find Mrs. Rivers with anxious inquiries as to his condition.
"Indeed," she said, with an emotion which even her prim reserve
could not conceal, "I did not know until now how serious the
accident was, and how but for you and Divine Providence my little
girl might have been drowned. It seems Melinda saw it all."
Inwardly objurgating the spying Melinda, but relieved that his
playmates hadn't broken their promise of secrecy, Mr. Hamlin
"I'm afraid that your little girl wouldn't have got into the water
at all but for me--and you must give all the credit of getting her
out to the other fellow." He stopped at the severe change in Mrs.
Rivers's expression, and added quite boyishly and with a sudden
drop from his usual levity, "But please don't keep the children
away from me for all that, Mrs. Rivers."
Mrs. Rivers did not, and the next day Jack and his companions
sought fresh playing fields and some new story-telling pastures.
Indeed, it was a fine sight to see this pale, handsome, elegantly
dressed young fellow lounging along between a blue-checkered
pinafored girl on one side and a barefooted boy on the other. The
ranchmen turned and looked after him curiously. One, a rustic
prodigal, reduced by dissipation to the swine-husks of ranching,
saw fit to accost him familiarly.
"The last time I saw you dealing poker in Sacramento, Mr. Hamlin, I
did not reckon to find you up here playing with a couple of kids."
"No!" responded Mr. Hamlin suavely, "and yet I remember I was
playing with some country idiots down there, and you were one of
them. Well! understand that up here I prefer the kids. Don't let
me have to remind you of it."
Nevertheless, Mr. Hamlin could not help noticing that for the next
two or three days there were many callers at the ranch and that he
was obliged in his walks to avoid the highroad on account of the
impertinent curiosity of wayfarers. Some of them were of that sex
which he would not have contented himself with simply calling
"To think," said Melinda confidently to her mistress, "that that
thar Mrs. Stubbs, who wouldn't go to the Hightown Hotel because
there was a play actress thar, has been snoopin' round here twice
since that young feller came."
Of this fact, however, Mr. Hamlin was blissfully unconscious.
Nevertheless, his temper was growing uncertain; the angle of his
smart straw hat was becoming aggressive to strangers; his
politeness sardonic. And now Sunday morning had come with an
atmosphere of starched piety and well-soaped respectability at the
rancho, and the children were to be taken with the rest of the
family to the day-long service at Hightown. As these Sabbath
pilgrimages filled the main road, he was fain to take himself and
his loneliness to the trails and byways, and even to invade the
haunts of some other elegant outcasts like himself--to wit, a
crested hawk, a graceful wild cat beautifully marked, and an
eloquently reticent rattlesnake. Mr. Hamlin eyed them without
fear, and certainly without reproach. They were not out of their
Suddenly he heard his name called in a stentorian contralto. An
impatient ejaculation rose to his lips, but died upon them as he
turned. It was certainly Melinda, but in his present sensitive
loneliness it struck him for the first time that he had never
actually seen her before as she really was. Like most men in his
profession he was a quick reader of thoughts and faces when he was
interested, and although this was the same robust, long-limbed,
sunburnt girl he had met, he now seemed to see through her triple
incrustation of human vanity, conventional piety, and outrageous
Sabbath finery an honest, sympathetic simplicity that commanded his
"You are back early from church," he said.
"Yes. One service is good enough for me when thar ain't no special
preacher," she returned, "so I jest sez to Silas, 'as I ain't here
to listen to the sisters cackle ye kin put to the buckboard and
drive me home ez soon ez you please.'"
"And so his name is Silas," suggested Mr. Hamlin cheerfully.
"Go 'long with you, Mr. Hamlin, and don't pester," she returned,
with heifer-like playfulness. "Well, Silas put to, and when we
rose the hill here I saw your straw hat passin' in the gulch, and
sez to Silas, sez I, 'Ye kin pull up here, for over yar is our new
boarder, Jack Hamlin, and I'm goin' to talk with him.' 'All
right,' sez he, 'I'd sooner trust ye with that gay young gambolier
every day of the week than with them saints down thar on Sunday.
He deals ez straight ez he shoots, and is about as nigh onto a
gentleman as they make 'em.'"
For one moment or two Miss Bird only saw Jack's long lashes. When
his eyes once more lifted they were shining. "And what did you
say?" he said, with a short laugh.
"I told him he needn't be Christopher Columbus to have discovered
that." She turned with a laugh toward Jack, to be met by the word
"shake," and an outstretched thin white hand which grasped her
large red one with a frank, fraternal pressure.
"I didn't come to tell ye that," remarked Miss Bird as she sat down
on a boulder, took off her yellow hat, and restacked her tawny mane
under it, "but this: I reckoned I went to Sunday meetin' as I ought
ter. I kalkilated to hear considerable about 'Faith' and 'Works,'
and sich, but I didn't reckon to hear all about you from the Lord's
Prayer to the Doxology. You were in the special prayers ez a
warnin', in the sermon ez a text; they picked out hymns to fit ye!
And always a drefful example and a visitation. And the rest o' the
tune it was all gabble, gabble by the brothers and sisters about
you. I reckon, Mr. Hamlin, that they know everything you ever did
since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, and a good deal more
than you ever thought of doin'. The women is all dead set on
convertin' ye and savin' ye by their own precious selves, and the
men is ekally dead set on gettin' rid o' ye on that account."
"And what did Seth and Mrs. Rivers say?" asked Hamlin composedly,
but with kindling eyes.
"They stuck up for ye ez far ez they could. But ye see the parson
hez got a holt upon Seth, havin' caught him kissin' a convert at
camp meeting; and Deacon Turner knows suthin about Mrs. Rivers's
sister, who kicked over the pail and jumped the fence years ago,
and she's afeard a' him. But what I wanted to tell ye was that
they're all comin' up here to take a look at ye--some on 'em to-
night. You ain't afeard, are ye?" she added, with a loud laugh.
"Well, it looks rather desperate, doesn't it?" returned Jack, with
"I'll trust ye for all that," said Melinda. "And now I reckon I'll
trot along to the rancho. Ye needn't offer ter see me home," she
added, as Jack made a movement to accompany her. "Everybody up
here ain't as fair-minded ez Silas and you, and Melinda Bird hez a
character to lose! So long!" With this she cantered away, a
little heavily, perhaps, adjusting her yellow hat with both hands
as she clattered down the steep hill.
That afternoon Mr. Hamlin drew largely on his convalescence to
mount a half-broken mustang, and in spite of the rising afternoon
wind to gallop along the highroad in quite as mischievous and
breezy a fashion. He was wont to allow his mustang's nose to hang
over the hind rails of wagons and buggies containing young couples,
and to dash ahead of sober carryalls that held elderly "members in
An accomplished rider, he picked up and brought back the flying
parasol of Mrs. Deacon Stubbs without dismounting. He finally came
home a little blown, but dangerously composed.
There was the usual Sunday evening gathering at Windy Hill Rancho--
neighbors and their wives, deacons and the pastor--but their
curiosity was not satisfied by the sight of Mr. Hamlin, who kept
his own room and his own counsel. There was some desultory
conversation, chiefly on church topics, for it was vaguely felt
that a discussion of the advisability or getting rid of the guest
of their host was somewhat difficult under this host's roof, with
the guest impending at any moment. Then a diversion was created by
some of the church choir practicing the harmonium with the singing
of certain more or less lugubrious anthems. Mrs. Rivers presently
joined in, and in a somewhat faded soprano, which, however, still
retained considerable musical taste and expression, sang, "Come, ye
disconsolate." The wind moaned over the deep-throated chimney in a
weird harmony with the melancholy of that human appeal as Mrs.
Rivers sang the first verse:--
"Come, ye disconsolate, where'er ye languish,
Come to the Mercy Seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts--here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal!"
A pause followed, and the long-drawn, half-human sigh of the
mountain wind over the chimney seemed to mingle with the wail of
the harmonium. And then, to their thrilled astonishment, a tenor
voice, high, clear, but tenderly passionate, broke like a skylark
over their heads in the lines of the second verse:--
"Joy of the desolate, Light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent--fadeless and pure;
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot cure!"
The hymn was old and familiar enough, Heaven knows. It had been
quite popular at funerals, and some who sat there had had its
strange melancholy borne upon them in time of loss and
tribulations, but never had they felt its full power before.
Accustomed as they were to emotional appeal and to respond to it,
as the singer's voice died away above them, their very tears flowed
and fell with that voice. A few sobbed aloud, and then a voice
"Who is it?"
"It's Mr. Hamlin," said Seth quietly. "I've heard him often
hummin' things before."
There was another silence, and the voice of Deacon Stubbs broke in
"It's rank blasphemy."
"If it's rank blasphemy to sing the praise o' God, not only better
than some folks in the choir, but like an angel o' light, I wish
you'd do a little o' that blaspheming on Sundays, Mr. Stubbs."
The speaker was Mrs. Stubbs, and as Deacon Stubbs was a notoriously
bad singer the shot told.
"If he's sincere, why does he stand aloof? Why does he not join
us?" asked the parson.
"He hasn't been asked," said Seth quietly. "If I ain't mistaken
this yer gathering this evening was specially to see how to get rid
There was a quick murmur of protest at this. The parson exchanged
glances with the deacon and saw that they were hopelessly in the
"I will ask him myself," said Mrs. Rivers suddenly.
"So do, Sister Rivers; so do," was the unmistakable response.
Mrs. Rivers left the room and returned in a few moments with a
handsome young man, pale, elegant, composed, even to a grave
indifference. What his eyes might have said was another thing; the
long lashes were scarcely raised.
"I don't mind playing a little," he said quietly to Mrs. Rivers, as
if continuing a conversation, "but you'll have to let me trust my
"Then you--er--play the harmonium?" said the parson, with an
attempt at formal courtesy.
"I was for a year or two the organist in the choir of Dr. Todd's
church at Sacramento," returned Mr. Hamlin quietly.
The blank amazement on the faces of Deacons Stubbs and Turner and
the parson was followed by wreathed smiles from the other auditors
and especially from the ladies. Mr. Hamlin sat down to the
instrument, and in another moment took possession of it as it had
never been held before. He played from memory as he had implied,
but it was the memory of a musician. He began with one or two
familiar anthems, in which they all joined. A fragment of a mass
and a Latin chant followed. An "Ave Maria" from an opera was his
first secular departure, but his delighted audience did not detect
it. Then he hurried them along in unfamiliar language to "O mio
Fernando" and "Spiritu gentil," which they fondly imagined were
hymns, until, with crowning audacity, after a few preliminary
chords of the "Miserere," he landed them broken-hearted in the
Trovatore's donjon tower with "Non te scordar de mi."
Amidst the applause he heard the preacher suavely explain that
those Popish masses were always in the Latin language, and rose
from the instrument satisfied with his experiment. Excusing
himself as an invalid from joining them in a light collation in the
dining room, and begging his hostess's permission to retire, he
nevertheless lingered a few moments by the door as the ladies filed
out of the room, followed by the gentlemen, until Deacon Turner,
who was bringing up the rear, was abreast of him. Here Mr. Hamlin
became suddenly deeply interested in a framed pencil drawing which
hung on the wall. It was evidently a schoolgirl's amateur
portrait, done by Mrs. Rivers. Deacon Turner halted quickly by his
side as the others passed out--which was exactly what Mr. Hamlin
"Do you know the face?" said the deacon eagerly.
Thanks to the faithful Melinda, Mr. Hamlin did know it perfectly.
It was a pencil sketch of Mrs. Rivers's youthfully erring sister.
But he only said he thought he recognized a likeness to some one he
had seen in Sacramento.
The deacon's eye brightened. "Perhaps the same one--perhaps," he
added in a submissive and significant tone "a--er--painful story."
"Rather--to him," observed Hamlin quietly.
"How?--I--er--don't understand," said Deacon Turner.
"Well, the portrait looks like a lady I knew in Sacramento who had
been in some trouble when she was a silly girl, but had got over it
quietly. She was, however, troubled a good deal by some mean hound
who was every now and then raking up the story wherever she went.
Well, one of her friends--I might have been among them, I don't
exactly remember just now--challenged him, but although he had no
conscientious convictions about slandering a woman, he had some
about being shot for it, and declined. The consequence was he was
cowhided once in the street, and the second time tarred and
feathered and ridden on a rail out of town. That, I suppose, was
what you meant by your 'painful story.' But is this the woman?"
"No, no," said the deacon hurriedly, with a white face, "you have
"But whose is this portrait?" persisted Jack.
"I believe that--I don't know exactly--but I think it is a sister
of Mrs. Rivers's," stammered the deacon.
"Then, of course, it isn't the same woman," said Jack in simulated
"Certainly--of course not," returned the deacon.
"Phew!" said Jack. "That was a mighty close call. Lucky we were
alone, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said the deacon, with a feeble smile.
"Seth," continued Jack, with a thoughtful air, "looks like a quiet
man, but I shouldn't like to have made that mistake about his
sister-in-law before him. These quiet men are apt to shoot
straight. Better keep this to ourselves."
Deacon Turner not only kept the revelation to himself but
apparently his own sacred person also, as he did not call again at
Windy Hill Rancho during Mr. Hamlin's stay. But he was exceedingly
polite in his references to Jack, and alluded patronizingly to a
"little chat" they had had together. And when the usual reaction
took place in Mr. Hamlin's favor and Jack was actually induced to
perform on the organ at Hightown Church next Sunday, the deacon's
voice was loudest in his praise. Even Parson Greenwood allowed
himself to be non-committal as to the truth of the rumor, largely
circulated, that one of the most desperate gamblers in the State
had been converted through his exhortations.
So, with breezy walks and games with the children, occasional
confidences with Melinda and Silas, and the Sabbath "singing of
anthems," Mr. Hamlin's three weeks of convalescence drew to a
close. He had lately relaxed his habit of seclusion so far as to
mingle with the company gathered for more social purposes at the
rancho, and once or twice unbent so far as to satisfy their
curiosity in regard to certain details of his profession.
"I have no personal knowledge of games of cards," said Parson
Greenwood patronizingly, "and think I am right in saying that our
brothers and sisters are equally inexperienced. I am--ahem--far
from believing, however, that entire ignorance of evil is the best
preparation for combating it, and I should be glad if you'd explain
to the company the intricacies of various games. There is one that
you mentioned, with a--er--scriptural name."
"Faro," said Hamlin, with an unmoved face.
"Pharaoh," repeated the parson gravely; "and one which you call
'poker,' which seems to require great self-control."
"I couldn't make you understand poker without your playing it,"
said Jack decidedly.
"As long as we don't gamble--that is, play for money--I see no
objection," returned the parson.
"And," said Jack musingly, "you could use beans."
It was agreed finally that there would be no falling from grace in
their playing among themselves, in an inquiring Christian spirit,
under Jack's guidance, he having decided to abstain from card
playing during his convalescence, and Jack permitted himself to be
persuaded to show them the following evening.
It so chanced, however, that Dr. Duchesne, finding the end of
Jack's "cure" approaching, and not hearing from that interesting
invalid, resolved to visit him at about this time. Having no
chance to apprise Jack of his intention, on coming to Hightown at
night he procured a conveyance at the depot to carry him to Windy
Hill Rancho. The wind blew with its usual nocturnal rollicking
persistency, and at the end of his turbulent drive it seemed almost
impossible to make himself heard amongst the roaring of the pines
and some astounding preoccupation of the inmates. After vainly
knocking, the doctor pushed open the front door and entered. He
rapped at the closed sitting room door, but receiving no reply,
pushed it open upon the most unexpected and astounding scene he had
ever witnessed. Around the centre table several respectable
members of the Hightown Church, including the parson, were gathered
with intense and eager faces playing poker, and behind the parson,
with his hands in his pockets, carelessly lounged the doctor's
patient, the picture of health and vigor. A disused pack of cards
was scattered on the floor, and before the gentle and precise Mrs.
Rivers was heaped a pile of beans that would have filled a quart
When Dr. Duchesne had tactfully retreated before the hurried and
stammering apologies of his host and hostess, and was alone with
Jack in his rooms, he turned to him with a gravity that was more
than half affected and said, "How long, sir, did it take you to
effect this corruption?"
"Upon my honor," said Jack simply, "they played last night for the
first time. And they forced me to show them. But," added Jack
after a significant pause, "I thought it would make the game
livelier and be more of a moral lesson if I gave them nearly all
good pat hands. So I ran in a cold deck on them--the first time I
ever did such a thing in my life. I fixed up a pack of cards so
that one had three tens, another three jacks, and another three
queens, and so on up to three aces. In a minute they had all
tumbled to the game, and you never saw such betting. Every man and
woman there believed he or she had struck a sure thing, and staked
accordingly. A new panful of beans was brought on, and Seth, your
friend, banked for them. And at last the parson raked in the whole
"I suppose you gave him the three aces," said Dr. Duchesne
"The parson," said Jack slowly, "HADN'T A SINGLE PAIR IN HIS HAND.
It was the stoniest, deadest, neatest BLUFF I ever saw. And when
he'd frightened off the last man who held out and laid that measly
hand of his face down on that pile of kings, queens, and aces, and
looked around the table as he raked in the pile, there was a smile
of humble self-righteousness on his face that was worth double the
A PUPIL OF CHESTNUT RIDGE
The schoolmaster of Chestnut Ridge was interrupted in his after-
school solitude by the click of hoof and sound of voices on the
little bridle path that led to the scant clearing in which his
schoolhouse stood. He laid down his pen as the figures of a man
and woman on horseback passed the windows and dismounted before the
porch. He recognized the complacent, good-humored faces of Mr. and
Mrs. Hoover, who owned a neighboring ranch of some importance and
who were accounted well to do people by the community. Being a
childless couple, however, while they generously contributed to the
support of the little school, they had not added to its flock, and
it was with some curiosity that the young schoolmaster greeted them
and awaited the purport of their visit. This was protracted in
delivery through a certain polite dalliance with the real subject
characteristic of the Southwestern pioneer.
"Well, Almiry," said Mr. Hoover, turning to his wife after the
first greeting with the schoolmaster was over, "this makes me feel
like old times, you bet! Why, I ain't bin inside a schoolhouse
since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Thar's the benches, and
the desks, and the books and all them 'a b, abs,' jest like the old
days. Dear! Dear! But the teacher in those days was ez old and
grizzled ez I be--and some o' the scholars--no offense to you, Mr.
Brooks--was older and bigger nor you. But times is changed: yet
look, Almiry, if thar ain't a hunk o' stale gingerbread in that
desk jest as it uster be! Lord! how it all comes back! Ez I was
sayin' only t'other day, we can't be too grateful to our parents
for givin' us an eddication in our youth;" and Mr. Hoover, with the
air of recalling an alma mater of sequestered gloom and cloistered
erudition, gazed reverently around the new pine walls.
But Mrs. Hoover here intervened with a gracious appreciation of the
schoolmaster's youth after her usual kindly fashion. "And don't
you forget it, Hiram Hoover, that these young folks of to-day kin
teach the old schoolmasters of 'way back more'n you and I dream of.
We've heard of your book larnin', Mr. Brooks, afore this, and we're
proud to hev you here, even if the Lord has not pleased to give us
the children to send to ye. But we've always paid our share in
keeping up the school for others that was more favored, and now it
looks as if He had not forgotten us, and ez if"--with a significant,
half-shy glance at her husband and a corroborating nod from that
gentleman--"ez if, reelly, we might be reckonin' to send you a
The young schoolmaster, sympathetic and sensitive, felt somewhat
embarrassed. The allusion to his extreme youth, mollified though
it was by the salve of praise from the tactful Mrs. Hoover, had
annoyed him, and perhaps added to his slight confusion over the
information she vouchsafed. He had not heard of any late addition
to the Hoover family, he would not have been likely to, in his
secluded habits; and although he was accustomed to the naive and
direct simplicity of the pioneer, he could scarcely believe that
this good lady was announcing a maternal expectation. He smiled
vaguely and begged them to be seated.
"Ye see," said Mr. Hoover, dropping upon a low bench, "the way the
thing pans out is this. Almiry's brother is a pow'ful preacher
down the coast at San Antonio and hez settled down thar with a big
Free Will Baptist Church congregation and a heap o' land got from
them Mexicans. Thar's a lot o' poor Spanish and Injin trash that
belong to the land, and Almiry's brother hez set about convertin'
'em, givin' 'em convickshion and religion, though the most of 'em
is Papists and followers of the Scarlet Woman. Thar was an orphan,
a little girl that he got outer the hands o' them priests, kinder
snatched as a brand from the burnin', and he sent her to us to be
brought up in the ways o' the Lord, knowin' that we had no children
of our own. But we thought she oughter get the benefit o'
schoolin' too, besides our own care, and we reckoned to bring her
here reg'lar to school."
Relieved and pleased to help the good-natured couple in the care of
the homeless waif, albeit somewhat doubtful of their religious
methods, the schoolmaster said he would be delighted to number her
among his little flock. Had she already received any tuition?
"Only from them padres, ye know, things about saints, Virgin Marys,
visions, and miracles," put in Mrs. Hoover; "and we kinder thought
ez you know Spanish you might be able to get rid o' them in
exchange for 'conviction o' sins' and 'justification by faith,' ye
"I'm afraid," said Mr. Brooks, smiling at the thought of displacing
the Church's "mysteries" for certain corybantic displays and
thaumaturgical exhibitions he had witnessed at the Dissenters' camp
meeting, "that I must leave all that to you, and I must caution you
to be careful what you do lest you also shake her faith in the
alphabet and the multiplication table."
"Mebbee you're right," said Mrs. Hoover, mystified but good-
natured; "but thar's one thing more we oughter tell ye. She's--
she's a trifle dark complected."
The schoolmaster smiled. "Well?" he said patiently.
"She isn't a nigger nor an Injin, ye know, but she's kinder a half-
Spanish, half-Mexican Injin, what they call 'mes--mes'"--
"Mestiza," suggested Mr. Brooks; "a half-breed or mongrel."
"I reckon. Now thar wouldn't be any objection to that, eh?" said
Mr. Hoover a little uneasily.
"Not by me," returned the schoolmaster cheerfully. "And although
this school is state-aided it's not a 'public school' in the eye of
the law, so you have only the foolish prejudices of your neighbors
to deal with." He had recognized the reason of their hesitation
and knew the strong racial antagonism held towards the negro and
Indian by Mr. Hoover's Southwestern compatriots, and he could not
refrain from "rubbing it in."
"They kin see," interposed Mrs. Hoover, "that she's not a nigger,
for her hair don't 'kink,' and a furrin Injin, of course, is
different from one o' our own."
"If they hear her speak Spanish, and you simply say she is a
foreigner, as she is, it will be all right," said the schoolmaster
smilingly. "Let her come, I'll look after her."
Much relieved, after a few more words the couple took their
departure, the schoolmaster promising to call the next afternoon at
the Hoovers' ranch and meet his new scholar. "Ye might give us a
hint or two how she oughter be fixed up afore she joins the school."
The ranch was about four miles from the schoolhouse, and as Mr.
Brooks drew rein before the Hoovers' gate he appreciated the
devotion of the couple who were willing to send the child that
distance twice a day. The house, with its outbuildings, was on a
more liberal scale than its neighbors, and showed few of the
makeshifts and half-hearted advances towards permanent occupation
common to the Southwestern pioneers, who were more or less nomads
in instinct and circumstance. He was ushered into a well-furnished
sitting room, whose glaring freshness was subdued and repressed by
black-framed engravings of scriptural subjects. As Mr. Brooks
glanced at them and recalled the schoolrooms of the old missions,
with their monastic shadows which half hid the gaudy, tinseled
saints and flaming or ensanguined hearts upon the walls, he feared
that the little waif of Mother Church had not gained any
cheerfulness in the exchange.
As she entered the room with Mrs. Hoover, her large dark eyes--the
most notable feature in her small face--seemed to sustain the
schoolmaster's fanciful fear in their half-frightened wonder. She
was clinging closely to Mrs. Hoover's side, as if recognizing the
good woman's maternal kindness even while doubtful of her purpose;
but on the schoolmaster addressing her in Spanish, a singular
change took place in their relative positions. A quick look of
intelligence came into her melancholy eyes, and with it a slight
consciousness of superiority to her protectors that was
embarrassing to him. For the rest he observed merely that she was
small and slightly built, although her figure was hidden in a long
"check apron" or calico pinafore with sleeves--a local garment--
which was utterly incongruous with her originality. Her skin was
olive, inclining to yellow, or rather to that exquisite shade of
buff to be seen in the new bark of the madrono. Her face was oval,
and her mouth small and childlike, with little to suggest the
aboriginal type in her other features.
The master's questions elicited from the child the fact that she
could read and write, that she knew her "Hail Mary" and creed
(happily the Protestant Mrs. Hoover was unable to follow this
questioning), but he also elicited the more disturbing fact that
her replies and confidences suggested a certain familiarity and
equality of condition which he could only set down to his own
youthfulness of appearance. He was apprehensive that she might
even make some remark regarding Mrs. Hoover, and was not sorry that
the latter did not understand Spanish. But before he left he
managed to speak with Mrs. Hoover alone and suggested a change in
the costume of the pupil when she came to school. "The better she
is dressed," suggested the wily young diplomat, "the less likely is
she to awaken any suspicion of her race."
"Now that's jest what's botherin' me, Mr. Brooks," returned Mrs.
Hoover, with a troubled face, "for you see she is a growin' girl,"
and she concluded, with some embarrassment, "I can't quite make up
my mind how to dress her."
"How old is she?" asked the master abruptly.
"Goin' on twelve, but,"--and Mrs. Hoover again hesitated.
"Why, two of my scholars, the Bromly girls, are over fourteen,"
said the master, "and you know how they are dressed;" but here he
hesitated in his turn. It had just occurred to him that the little
waif was from the extreme South, and the precocious maturity of the
mixed races there was well known. He even remembered, to his
alarm, to have seen brides of twelve and mothers of fourteen among
the native villagers. This might also account for the suggestion
of equality in her manner, and even for a slight coquettishness
which he thought he had noticed in her when he had addressed her
playfully as a muchacha. "I should dress her in something
Spanish," he said hurriedly, "something white, you know, with
plenty of flounces and a little black lace, or a black silk skirt
and a lace scarf, you know. She'll be all right if you don't make
her look like a servant or a dependent," he added, with a show of
confidence he was far from feeling. "But you haven't told me her
name," he concluded.
"As we're reckonin' to adopt her," said Mrs. Hoover gravely,
"you'll give her ours."
"But I can't call her 'Miss Hoover,'" suggested the master; "what's
her first name?"
"We was thinkin' o' 'Serafina Ann,'" said Mrs. Hoover with more
"But what is her name?" persisted the master.
"Well," returned Mrs. Hoover, with a troubled look, "me and Hiram
consider it's a heathenish sort of name for a young gal, but you'll
find it in my brother's letter." She took a letter from under the
lid of a large Bible on the table and pointed to a passage in it.
"The child was christened 'Concepcion,'" read the master. "Why,
that's one of the Marys!"
"The which?" asked Mrs. Hoover severely.
"One of the titles of the Virgin Mary; 'Maria de la Concepcion,'"
said Mr. Brooks glibly.
"It don't sound much like anythin' so Christian and decent as
'Maria' or 'Mary,'" returned Mrs. Hoover suspiciously.
"But the abbreviation, 'Concha,' is very pretty. In fact it's just
the thing, it's so very Spanish," returned the master decisively.
"And you know that the squaw who hangs about the mining camp is
called 'Reservation Ann,' and old Mrs. Parkins's negro cook is
called 'Aunt Serafina,' so 'Serafina Ann' is too suggestive.
'Concha Hoover' 's the name."
"P'r'aps you're right," said Mrs. Hoover meditatively.
"And dress her so she'll look like her name and you'll be all
right," said the master gayly as he took his departure.
Nevertheless, it was with some anxiety the next morning he heard
the sound of hoofs on the rocky bridle path leading to the
schoolhouse. He had already informed his little flock of the
probable addition to their numbers and their breathless curiosity
now accented the appearance of Mr. Hoover riding past the window,
followed by a little figure on horseback, half hidden in the
graceful folds of a serape. The next moment they dismounted at the
porch, the serape was cast aside, and the new scholar entered.
A little alarmed even in his admiration, the master nevertheless
thought he had never seen a more dainty figure. Her heavily
flounced white skirt stopped short just above her white-stockinged
ankles and little feet, hidden in white satin, low-quartered
slippers. Her black silk, shell-like jacket half clasped her
stayless bust clad in an under-bodice of soft muslin that faintly
outlined a contour which struck him as already womanly. A black
lace veil which had protected her head, she had on entering slipped
down to her shoulders with a graceful gesture, leaving one end of
it pinned to her hair by a rose above her little yellow ear. The
whole figure was so inconsistent with its present setting that the
master inwardly resolved to suggest a modification of it to Mrs.
Hoover as he, with great gravity, however, led the girl to the seat
he had prepared for her. Mr. Hoover, who had been assisting
discipline as he conscientiously believed by gazing with hushed,
reverent reminiscence on the walls, here whispered behind his large
hand that he would call for her at "four o'clock" and tiptoed out
of the schoolroom. The master, who felt that everything would
depend upon his repressing the children's exuberant curiosity and
maintaining the discipline of the school for the next few minutes,
with supernatural gravity addressed the young girl in Spanish and
placed before her a few slight elementary tasks. Perhaps the
strangeness of the language, perhaps the unwonted seriousness of
the master, perhaps also the impassibility of the young stranger
herself, all contributed to arrest the expanding smiles on little
faces, to check their wandering eyes, and hush their eager
whispers. By degrees heads were again lowered over their tasks,
the scratching of pencils on slates, and the far-off rapping of
Woodpeckers again indicated the normal quiet of the schoolroom, and
the master knew he had triumphed, and the ordeal was past.
But not as regarded himself, for although the new pupil had
accepted his instructions with childlike submissiveness, and even
as it seemed to him with childlike comprehension, he could not help
noticing that she occasionally glanced at him with a demure
suggestion of some understanding between them, or as if they were
playing at master and pupil. This naturally annoyed him and
perhaps added a severer dignity to his manner, which did not appear
to be effective, however, and which he fancied secretly amused her.
Was she covertly laughing at him? Yet against this, once or twice,
as her big eyes wandered from her task over the room, they
encountered the curious gaze of the other children, and he fancied
he saw an exchange of that freemasonry of intelligence common to
children in the presence of their elders even when strangers to
each other. He looked forward to recess to see how she would get
on with her companions; he knew that this would settle her status
in the school, and perhaps elsewhere. Even her limited English
vocabulary would not in any way affect that instinctive, childlike
test of superiority, but he was surprised when the hour of recess
came and he had explained to her in Spanish and English its
purpose, to see her quietly put her arm around the waist of Matilda
Bromly, the tallest girl in the school, as the two whisked
themselves off to the playground. She was a mere child after all!
Other things seemed to confirm this opinion. Later, when the
children returned from recess, the young stranger had instantly
become a popular idol, and had evidently dispensed her favors and
patronage generously. The elder Bromly girl was wearing her lace
veil, another had possession of her handkerchief, and a third
displayed the rose which had adorned her left ear, things of which
the master was obliged to take note with a view of returning them
to the prodigal little barbarian at the close of school. Later he
was, however, much perplexed by the mysterious passage under the
desks of some unknown object which apparently was making the
circuit of the school. With the annoyed consciousness that he was
perhaps unwittingly participating in some game, he finally "nailed
it" in the possession of Demosthenes Walker, aged six, to the
spontaneous outcry of "Cotched!" from the whole school. When
produced from Master Walker's desk in company with a horned toad
and a piece of gingerbread, it was found to be Concha's white satin
slipper, the young girl herself, meanwhile, bending demurely over
her task with the bereft foot tucked up like a bird's under her
skirt. The master, reserving reproof of this and other enormities
until later, contented himself with commanding the slipper to be
brought to him, when he took it to her with the satirical remark in
Spanish that the schoolroom was not a dressing room--Camara para
vestirse. To his surprise, however, she smilingly held out the
tiny stockinged foot with a singular combination of the spoiled
child and the coquettish senorita, and remained with it extended as
if waiting for him to kneel and replace the slipper. But he laid
it carefully on her desk.
"Put it on at once," he said in English.
There was no mistaking the tone of his voice, whatever his
language. Concha darted a quick look at him like the momentary
resentment of an animal, but almost as quickly her eyes became
suffused, and with a hurried movement she put on the slipper.
"Please, sir, it dropped off and Jimmy Snyder passed it on," said a
small explanatory voice among the benches.
"Silence!" said the master.
Nevertheless, he was glad to see that the school had not noticed
the girl's familiarity even though they thought him "hard." He was
not sure upon reflection but that he had magnified her offense and
had been unnecessarily severe, and this feeling was augmented by
his occasionally finding her looking at him with the melancholy,
wondering eyes of a chidden animal. Later, as he was moving among
the desks' overlooking the tasks of the individual pupils, he
observed from a distance that her head was bent over her desk while
her lips were moving as if repeating to herself her lesson, and
that afterwards, with a swift look around the room to assure
herself that she was unobserved, she made a hurried sign of the
cross. It occurred to him that this might have followed some
penitential prayer of the child, and remembering her tuition by the
padres it gave him an idea. He dismissed school a few moments
earlier in order that he might speak to her alone before Mr. Hoover
Referring to the slipper incident and receiving her assurances that
"she" (the slipper) was much too large and fell often "so," a fact
really established by demonstration, he seized his opportunity.
"But tell me, when you were with the padre and your slipper fell
off, you did not expect him to put it on for you?"
Concha looked at him coyly and then said triumphantly, "Ah, no! but
he was a priest, and you are a young caballero."
Yet even after this audacity Mr. Brooks found he could only
recommend to Mr. Hoover a change in the young girl's slippers, the
absence of the rose-pinned veil, and the substitution of a
sunbonnet. For the rest he must trust to circumstances. As Mr.
Hoover--who with large paternal optimism had professed to see
already an improvement in her--helped her into the saddle, the
schoolmaster could not help noticing that she had evidently
expected him to perform that act of courtesy, and that she looked
"The holy fathers used sometimes to let me ride with them on their
mules," said Concha, leaning over her saddle towards the
"Eh, what, missy?" said the Protestant Mr. Hoover, pricking up his
ears. "Now you just listen to Mr. Brooks's doctrines, and never
mind them Papists," he added as he rode away, with the firm
conviction that the master had already commenced the task of her
The next day the master awoke to find his little school famous.
Whatever were the exaggerations or whatever the fancies carried
home to their parents by the children, the result was an
overwhelming interest in the proceedings and personnel of the
school by the whole district. People had already called at the
Hoover ranch to see Mrs. Hoover's pretty adopted daughter. The
master, on his way to the schoolroom that morning, had found a few
woodmen and charcoal burners lounging on the bridle path that led
from the main road. Two or three parents accompanied their
children to school, asserting they had just dropped in to see how
"Aramanta" or "Tommy" were "gettin' on." As the school began to
assemble several unfamiliar faces passed the windows or were boldly
flattened against the glass. The little schoolhouse had not seen
such a gathering since it had been borrowed for a political meeting
in the previous autumn. And the master noticed with some concern
that many of the faces were the same which he had seen uplifted to
the glittering periods of Colonel Starbottle, "the war horse of the
For he could not shut his eyes to the fact that they came from no
mere curiosity to see the novel and bizarre; no appreciation of
mere picturesqueness or beauty; and alas! from no enthusiasm for
the progression of education. He knew the people among whom he had
lived, and he realized the fatal question of "color" had been
raised in some mysterious way by those Southwestern emigrants who
had carried into this "free state" their inherited prejudices. A
few words convinced him that the unhappy children had variously
described the complexion of their new fellow pupil, and it was
believed that the "No'th'n" schoolmaster, aided and abetted by
"capital" in the person of Hiram Hoover, had introduced either a
"nigger wench," a "Chinese girl," or an "Injin baby" to the same
educational privileges as the "pure whites," and so contaminated
the sons of freemen in their very nests. He was able to reassure
many that the child was of Spanish origin, but a majority preferred
the evidence of their own senses, and lingered for that purpose.
As the hour for her appearance drew near and passed, he was seized
with a sudden fear that she might not come, that Mr. Hoover had
been prevailed upon by his compatriots, in view of the excitement,
to withdraw her from the school. But a faint cheer from the bridle
path satisfied him, and the next moment a little retinue swept by
the window, and he understood. The Hoovers had evidently
determined to accent the Spanish character of their little charge.
Concha, with a black riding skirt over her flounces, was now
mounted on a handsome pinto mustang glittering with silver
trappings, accompanied by a vaquero in a velvet jacket, Mr. Hoover
bringing up the rear. He, as he informed the master, had merely
come to show the way to the vaquero, who hereafter would always
accompany the child to and from school. Whether or not he had been
induced to this display by the excitement did not transpire.
Enough that the effect was a success. The riding skirt and her
mustang's fripperies had added to Concha's piquancy, and if her
origin was still doubted by some, the child herself was accepted
with enthusiasm. The parents who were spectators were proud of
this distinguished accession to their children's playmates, and
when she dismounted amid the acclaim of her little companions, it
was with the aplomb of a queen.
The master alone foresaw trouble in this encouragement of her
precocious manner. He received her quietly, and when she had
removed her riding skirt, glancing at her feet, said approvingly,
"I am glad to see you have changed your slippers; I hope they fit
you more firmly than the others."
The child shrugged her shoulders. "Quien sabe. But Pedro (the
vaquero) will help me now on my horse when he comes for me."
The master understood the characteristic non sequitur as an
allusion to his want of gallantry on the previous day, but took no
notice of it. Nevertheless, he was pleased to see during the day
that she was paying more attention to her studies, although they
were generally rehearsed with the languid indifference to all
mental accomplishment which belonged to her race. Once he thought
to stimulate her activity through her personal vanity.
"Why can you not learn as quickly as Matilda Bromly? She is only
two years older than you," he suggested.
"Ah! Mother of God!--why does she then try to wear roses like me?
And with that hair. It becomes her not."
The master became thus aware for the first time that the elder
Bromly girl, in "the sincerest form of flattery" to her idol, was
wearing a yellow rose in her tawny locks, and, further, that Master
Bromly with exquisite humor had burlesqued his sister's imitation
with a very small carrot stuck above his left ear. This the master
promptly removed, adding an additional sum to the humorist's
already overflowing slate by way of penance, and returned to
Concha. "But wouldn't you like to be as clever as she?--you can if
you will only learn."
"What for should I? Look you; she has a devotion for the tall one--
the boy Brown! Ah! I want him not."
Yet, notwithstanding this lack of noble ambition, Concha seemed to
have absorbed the "devotion" of the boys, big and little, and as
the master presently discovered even that of many of the adult
population. There were always loungers on the bridle path at the
opening and closing of school, and the vaquero, who now always
accompanied her, became an object of envy. Possibly this caused
the master to observe him closely. He was tall and thin, with a
smooth complexionless face, but to the master's astonishment he had
the blue gray eye of the higher or Castilian type of native
Californian. Further inquiry proved that he was a son of one of
the old impoverished Spanish grant holders whose leagues and cattle
had been mortgaged to the Hoovers, who now retained the son to
control the live stock "on shares." "It looks kinder ez ef he
might hev an eye on that poorty little gal when she's an age to
marry," suggested a jealous swain. For several days the girl
submitted to her school tasks with her usual languid indifference
and did not again transgress the ordinary rules. Nor did Mr.
Brooks again refer to their hopeless conversation. But one
afternoon he noticed that in the silence and preoccupation of the
class she had substituted another volume for her text-book and was
perusing it with the articulating lips of the unpracticed reader.
He demanded it from her. With blazing eyes and both hands thrust
into her desk she refused and defied him. Mr. Brooks slipped his
arms around her waist, quietly lifted her from the bench--feeling
her little teeth pierce the back of his hand as he did so, but
secured the book. Two of the elder boys and girls had risen with
"Sit down!" said the master sternly.
They resumed their places with awed looks. The master examined the
book. It was a little Spanish prayer book. "You were reading
this?" he said in her own tongue.
"Yes. You shall not prevent me!" she burst out. "Mother of God!
THEY will not let me read it at the ranch. They would take it from
me. And now YOU!"
"You may read it when and where you like, except when you should be
studying your lessons," returned the master quietly. "You may keep
it here in your desk and peruse it at recess. Come to me for it
then. You are not fit to read it now."
The girl looked up with astounded eyes, which in the capriciousness
of her passionate nature the next moment filled with tears. Then
dropping on her knees she caught the master's bitten hand and
covered it with tears and kisses. But he quietly disengaged it and
lifted her to her seat. There was a sniffling sound among the
benches, which, however, quickly subsided as he glanced around the
room, and the incident ended.
Regularly thereafter she took her prayer book back at recess and
disappeared with the children, finding, as he afterwards learned, a
seat under a secluded buckeye tree, where she was not disturbed by
them until her orisons were concluded. The children must have
remained loyal to some command of hers, for the incident and this
custom were never told out of school, and the master did not
consider it his duty to inform Mr. or Mrs. Hoover. If the child
could recognize some check--even if it were deemed by some a
superstitious one--over her capricious and precocious nature, why
should he interfere?
One day at recess he presently became conscious of the ceasing of
those small voices in the woods around the schoolhouse, which were
always as familiar and pleasant to him in his seclusion as the song
of their playfellows--the birds themselves. The continued silence
at last awakened his concern and curiosity. He had seldom intruded
upon or participated in their games or amusements, remembering when
a boy himself the heavy incompatibility of the best intentioned
adult intruder to even the most hypocritically polite child at such
a moment. A sense of duty, however, impelled him to step beyond
the schoolhouse, where to his astonishment he found the adjacent
woods empty and soundless. He was relieved, however, after
penetrating its recesses, to hear the distant sound of small
applause and the unmistakable choking gasps of Johnny Stidger's
pocket accordion. Following the sound he came at last upon a
little hollow among the sycamores, where the children were disposed
in a ring, in the centre of which, with a handkerchief in each
hand, Concha the melancholy!--Concha the devout!--was dancing that
most extravagant feat of the fandango--the audacious sembicuaca!
Yet, in spite of her rude and uncertain accompaniment, she was
dancing it with a grace, precision, and lightness that was
wonderful; in spite of its doubtful poses and seductive languors
she was dancing it with the artless gayety and innocence--perhaps
from the suggestion of her tiny figure--of a mere child among an
audience of children. Dancing it alone she assumed the parts of
the man and woman; advancing, retreating, coquetting, rejecting,
coyly bewitching, and at last yielding as lightly and as
immaterially as the flickering shadows that fell upon them from the
waving trees overhead. The master was fascinated yet troubled.
What if there had been older spectators? Would the parents take
the performance as innocently as the performer and her little
audience? He thought it necessary later to suggest this delicately
to the child. Her temper rose, her eyes flashed.
"Ah, the slipper, she is forbidden. The prayer book--she must not.
The dance, it is not good. Truly, there is nothing."
For several days she sulked. One morning she did not come to
school, nor the next. At the close of the third day the master
called at the Hoovers' ranch.
Mrs. Hoover met him embarrassedly in the hall. "I was sayin' to
Hiram he ought to tell ye, but he didn't like to till it was
certain. Concha's gone."
"Gone?" echoed the master.
"Yes. Run off with Pedro. Married to him yesterday by the Popish
priest at the mission."
"Married! That child?"
"She wasn't no child, Mr. Brooks. We were deceived. My brother
was a fool, and men don't understand these things. She was a grown
woman--accordin' to these folks' ways and ages--when she kem here.
And that's what bothered me."
There was a week's excitement at Chestnut Ridge, but it pleased the
master to know that while the children grieved for the loss of
Concha they never seemed to understand why she had gone.
DICK BOYLE'S BUSINESS CARD
The Sage Wood and Dead Flat stage coach was waiting before the
station. The Pine Barrens mail wagon that connected with it was
long overdue, with its transfer passengers, and the station had
relapsed into listless expectation. Even the humors of Dick Boyle,
the Chicago "drummer,"--and, so far, the solitary passenger--which
had diverted the waiting loungers, began to fail in effect, though
the cheerfulness of the humorist was unabated. The ostlers had
slunk back into the stables, the station keeper and stage driver
had reduced their conversation to impatient monosyllables, as if
each thought the other responsible for the delay. A solitary
Indian, wrapped in a commissary blanket and covered by a cast-off
tall hat, crouched against the wall of the station looking stolidly
at nothing. The station itself, a long, rambling building
containing its entire accommodation for man and beast under one
monotonous, shed-like roof, offered nothing to attract the eye.
Still less the prospect, on the one side two miles of arid waste to
the stunted, far-spaced pines in the distance, known as the
"Barrens;" on the other an apparently limitless level with darker
patches of sage brush, like the scars of burnt-out fires.
Dick Boyle approached the motionless Indian as a possible relief.
"YOU don't seem to care much if school keeps or not, do you, Lo?"
The Indian, who had been half crouching on his upturned soles, here
straightened himself with a lithe, animal-like movement, and stood
up. Boyle took hold of a corner of his blanket and examined it
"Gov'ment ain't pampering you with A1 goods, Lo! I reckon the
agent charged 'em four dollars for that. Our firm could have
delivered them to you for 2 dols. 37 cents, and thrown in a box of
beads in the bargain. Suthin like this!" He took from his pocket
a small box containing a gaudy bead necklace and held it up before
The savage, who had regarded him--or rather looked beyond him--with
the tolerating indifference of one interrupted by a frisking
inferior animal, here suddenly changed his expression. A look of
childish eagerness came into his gloomy face; he reached out his
hand for the trinket.
"Hol' on!" said Boyle, hesitating for a moment; then he suddenly
ejaculated, "Well! take it, and one o' these," and drew a business
card from his pocket, which he stuck in the band of the battered
tall hat of the aborigine. "There! show that to your friends, and
when you're wantin' anything in our line"--
The interrupting roar of laughter, coming from the box seat of the
coach, was probably what Boyle was expecting, for he turned away
demurely and walked towards the coach. "All right, boys! I've
squared the noble red man, and the star of empire is taking its
westward way. And I reckon our firm will do the 'Great Father'
business for him at about half the price that it is done in
But at this point the ostlers came hurrying out of the stables.
"She's comin'," said one. "That's her dust just behind the Lone
Pine--and by the way she's racin' I reckon she's comin' in mighty
"That's so," said the mail agent, standing up on the box seat for a
better view, "but darned ef I kin see any outside passengers. I
reckon we haven't waited for much."
Indeed, as the galloping horses of the incoming vehicle pulled out
of the hanging dust in the distance, the solitary driver could be
seen urging on his team. In a few moments more they had halted at
the lower end of the station.
"Wonder what's up!" said the mail agent.
"Nothin'! Only a big Injin scare at Pine Barrens," said one of the
ostlers. "Injins doin' ghost dancin'--or suthin like that--and the
passengers just skunked out and went on by the other line. Thar's
only one ez dar come--and she's a lady."
"A lady?" echoed Boyle.
"Yes," answered the driver, taking a deliberate survey of a tall,
graceful girl who, waiving the gallant assistance of the station
keeper, had leaped unaided from the vehicle. "A lady--and the fort
commandant's darter at that! She's clar grit, you bet--a chip o'
the old block. And all this means, sonny, that you're to give up
that box seat to HER. Miss Julia Cantire don't take anythin' less
when I'm around."
The young lady was already walking, directly and composedly,
towards the waiting coach--erect, self-contained, well gloved and
booted, and clothed, even in her dust cloak and cape of plain ashen
merino, with the unmistakable panoply of taste and superiority. A
good-sized aquiline nose, which made her handsome mouth look
smaller; gray eyes, with an occasional humid yellow sparkle in
their depths; brown penciled eyebrows, and brown tendrils of hair,
all seemed to Boyle to be charmingly framed in by the silver gray
veil twisted around her neck and under her oval chin. In her sober
tints she appeared to him to have evoked a harmony even out of the
dreadful dust around them. What HE appeared to her was not so
plain; she looked him over--he was rather short; through him--he
was easily penetrable; and then her eyes rested with a frank
recognition on the driver.
"Good-morning, Mr. Foster," she said, with a smile.
"Mornin', miss. I hear they're havin' an Injin scare over at the
Barrens. I reckon them men must feel mighty mean at bein' stumped
by a lady!"
"I don't think they believed I would go, and some of them had their
wives with them," returned the young lady indifferently; "besides,
they are Eastern people, who don't know Indians as well as WE do,
The driver blushed with pleasure at the association. "Yes, ma'am,"
he laughed, "I reckon the sight of even old 'Fleas in the Blanket'
over there," pointing to the Indian, who was walking stolidly away
from the station, "would frighten 'em out o' their boots. And yet
he's got inside his hat the business card o' this gentleman--Mr.
Dick Boyle, traveling for the big firm o' Fletcher & Co. of
Chicago"--he interpolated, rising suddenly to the formal heights of
polite introduction; "so it sorter looks ez ef any SKELPIN' was to
be done it might be the other way round, ha! ha!"
Miss Cantire accepted the introduction and the joke with polite but
cool abstraction, and climbed lightly into the box seat as the mail
bags and a quantity of luggage--evidently belonging to the evading
passengers--were quickly transferred to the coach. But for his
fair companion, the driver would probably have given profane voice
to his conviction that his vehicle was used as a "d----d baggage
truck," but he only smiled grimly, gathered up his reins, and
flicked his whip. The coach plunged forward into the dust, which
instantly rose around it, and made it thereafter a mere cloud in
the distance. Some of that dust for a moment overtook and hid the
Indian, walking stolidly in its track, but he emerged from it at an
angle, with a quickened pace and a peculiar halting trot. Yet that
trot was so well sustained that in an hour he had reached a fringe
of rocks and low bushes hitherto invisible through the
irregularities of the apparently level plain, into which he plunged
and disappeared. The dust cloud which indicated the coach--
probably owing to these same irregularities--had long since been
lost on the visible horizon.
The fringe which received him was really the rim of a depression
quite concealed from the surface of the plain,--which it followed
for some miles through a tangled trough-like bottom of low trees
and underbrush,--and was a natural cover for wolves, coyotes, and
occasionally bears, whose half-human footprint might have deceived
a stranger. This did not, however, divert the Indian, who,
trotting still doggedly on, paused only to examine another
footprint--much more frequent--the smooth, inward-toed track of
moccasins. The thicket grew more dense and difficult as he went
on, yet he seemed to glide through its density and darkness--an
obscurity that now seemed to be stirred by other moving objects,
dimly seen, and as uncertain and intangible as sunlit leaves
thrilled by the wind, yet bearing a strange resemblance to human
figures! Pressing a few yards further, he himself presently became
a part of this shadowy procession, which on closer scrutiny
revealed itself as a single file of Indians, following each other
in the same tireless trot. The woods and underbrush were full of
them; all moving on, as he had moved, in a line parallel with the
vanishing coach. Sometimes through the openings a bared painted
limb, a crest of feathers, or a strip of gaudy blanket was visible,
but nothing more. And yet only a few hundred yards away stretched
the dusky, silent plain--vacant of sound or motion!
Meanwhile the Sage Wood and Pine Barren stage coach, profoundly
oblivious--after the manner of all human invention--of everything
but its regular function, toiled dustily out of the higher plain
and began the grateful descent of a wooded canyon, which was, in
fact, the culminating point of the depression, just described,
along which the shadowy procession was slowly advancing, hardly a
mile in the rear and flank of the vehicle. Miss Julia Cantire, who
had faced the dust volleys of the plain unflinchingly, as became a
soldier's daughter, here stood upright and shook herself--her
pretty head and figure emerging like a goddess from the enveloping
silver cloud. At least Mr. Boyle, relegated to the back seat,
thought so--although her conversation and attentions had been
chiefly directed to the driver and mail agent. Once, when he had
light-heartedly addressed a remark to her, it had been received
with a distinct but unpromising politeness that had made him desist
from further attempts, yet without abatement of his cheerfulness,
or resentment of the evident amusement his two male companions got
out of his "snub." Indeed, it is to be feared that Miss Julia had
certain prejudices of position, and may have thought that a
"drummer"--or commercial traveler--was no more fitting company for
the daughter of a major than an ordinary peddler. But it was more
probable that Mr. Boyle's reputation as a humorist--a teller of
funny stories and a boon companion of men--was inconsistent with
the feminine ideal of high and exalted manhood. The man who "sets
the table in a roar" is apt to be secretly detested by the sex, to
say nothing of the other obvious reasons why Juliets do not like
For some such cause as this Dick Boyle was obliged to amuse himself
silently, alone on the back seat, with those liberal powers of
observation which nature had given him. On entering the canyon he
had noticed the devious route the coach had taken to reach it, and
had already invented an improved route which should enter the
depression at the point where the Indians had already (unknown to
him) plunged into it, and had conceived a road through the tangled
brush that would shorten the distance by some miles. He had
figured it out, and believed that it "would pay." But by this time
they were beginning the somewhat steep and difficult ascent of the
canyon on the other side. The vehicle had not crawled many yards
before it stopped. Dick Boyle glanced around. Miss Cantire was
getting down. She had expressed a wish to walk the rest of the
ascent, and the coach was to wait for her at the top. Foster had
effusively begged her to take her own time--"there was no hurry!"
Boyle glanced a little longingly after her graceful figure,
released from her cramped position on the box, as it flitted
youthfully in and out of the wayside trees; he would like to have
joined her in the woodland ramble, but even his good nature was not
proof against her indifference. At a turn in the road they lost
sight of her, and, as the driver and mail agent were deep in a
discussion about the indistinct track, Boyle lapsed into his silent
study of the country. Suddenly he uttered a slight exclamation,
and quietly slipped from the back of the toiling coach to the
ground. The action was, however, quickly noted by the driver, who
promptly put his foot on the brake and pulled up. "Wot's up now?"
Boyle did not reply, but ran back a few steps and began searching
eagerly on the ground.
"Lost suthin?" asked Foster.
"Found something," said Boyle, picking up a small object. "Look at
that! D----d if it isn't the card I gave that Indian four hours
ago at the station!" He held up the card.
"Look yer, sonny," retorted Foster gravely, "ef yer wantin' to get
out and hang round Miss Cantire, why don't yer say so at oncet?
That story won't wash!"
"Fact!" continued Boyle eagerly. "It's the same card I stuck in
his hat--there's the greasy mark in the corner. How the devil did
it--how did HE get here?"
"Better ax him," said Foster grimly, "ef he's anywhere round."
"But I say, Foster, I don't like the look of this at all! Miss
Cantire is alone, and"--
But a burst of laughter from Foster and the mail agent interrupted
him. "That's so," said Foster. "That's your best holt! Keep it
up! You jest tell her that! Say thar's another Injin skeer on;
that that thar bloodthirsty ole 'Fleas in His Blanket' is on the
warpath, and you're goin' to shed the last drop o' your blood
defendin' her! That'll fetch her, and she ain't bin treatin' you
The horses started forward under Foster's whip, leaving Boyle
standing there, half inclined to join in the laugh against himself,