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LEGENDS AND TALES
by Bret Harte
THE LEGEND OF MONTE DEL DIABLO
THE ADVENTURE OF PADRE VICENTIO
THE LEGEND OF DEVIL’S POINT
THE DEVIL AND THE BROKER
THE OGRESS OF SILVER LAND
THE RUINS OF SAN FRANCISCO
A NIGHT AT WINGDAM
LEGENDS AND TALES.
THE LEGEND OF MONTE DEL DIABLO.
The cautious reader will detect a lack of authenticity in the following pages. I am not a cautious reader myself, yet I confess with some concern to the absence of much documentary evidence in support of the singular incident I am about to relate. Disjointed memoranda, the proceedings of ayuntamientos and early departmental juntas, with other records of a primitive and superstitious people, have been my inadequate authorities. It is but just to state, however, that though this particular story lacks corroboration, in ransacking the Spanish archives of Upper California I have met with many more surprising and incredible stories, attested and supported to a degree that would have placed this legend beyond a cavil or doubt. I have, also, never lost faith in the legend myself, and in so doing have profited much from the examples of divers grant- claimants, who have often jostled me in their more practical researches, and who have my sincere sympathy at the scepticism of a modern hard-headed and practical world.
For many years after Father Junipero Serro first rang his bell in the wilderness of Upper California, the spirit which animated that adventurous priest did not wane. The conversion of the heathen went on rapidly in the establishment of Missions throughout the land. So sedulously did the good Fathers set about their work, that around their isolated chapels there presently arose adobe huts, whose mud-plastered and savage tenants partook regularly of the provisions, and occasionally of the Sacrament, of their pious hosts. Nay, so great was their progress, that one zealous Padre is reported to have administered the Lord’s Supper one Sabbath morning to “over three hundred heathen Salvages.” It was not to be wondered that the Enemy of Souls, being greatly incensed thereat, and alarmed at his decreasing popularity, should have grievously tempted and embarrassed these Holy Fathers, as we shall presently see.
Yet they were happy, peaceful days for California. The vagrant keels of prying Commerce had not as yet ruffled the lordly gravity of her bays. No torn and ragged gulch betrayed the suspicion of golden treasure. The wild oats drooped idly in the morning heat, or wrestled with the afternoon breezes. Deer and antelope dotted the plain. The watercourses brawled in their familiar channels, nor dreamed of ever shifting their regular tide. The wonders of the Yosemite and Calaveras were as yet unrecorded. The Holy Fathers noted little of the landscape beyond the barbaric prodigality with which the quick soil repaid the sowing. A new conversion, the advent of a Saint’s day, or the baptism of an Indian baby, was at once the chronicle and marvel of their day.
At this blissful epoch there lived at the Mission of San Pablo Father Jose Antonio Haro, a worthy brother of the Society of Jesus. He was of tall and cadaverous aspect. A somewhat romantic history had given a poetic interest to his lugubrious visage. While a youth, pursuing his studies at famous Salamanca, he had become enamored of the charms of Dona Carmen de Torrencevara, as that lady passed to her matutinal devotions. Untoward circumstances, hastened, perhaps, by a wealthier suitor, brought this amour to a disastrous issue; and Father Jose entered a monastery, taking upon himself the vows of celibacy. It was here that his natural fervor and poetic enthusiasm conceived expression as a missionary. A longing to convert the uncivilized heathen succeeded his frivolous earthly passion, and a desire to explore and develop unknown fastnesses continually possessed him. In his flashing eye and sombre exterior was detected a singular commingling of the discreet Las Casas and the impetuous Balboa.
Fired by this pious zeal, Father Jose went forward in the van of Christian pioneers. On reaching Mexico, he obtained authority to establish the Mission of San Pablo. Like the good Junipero, accompanied only by an acolyte and muleteer, he unsaddled his mules in a dusky canyon, and rang his bell in the wilderness. The savages–a peaceful, inoffensive, and inferior race–presently flocked around him. The nearest military post was far away, which contributed much to the security of these pious pilgrims, who found their open trustfulness and amiability better fitted to repress hostility than the presence of an armed, suspicious, and brawling soldiery. So the good Father Jose said matins and prime, mass and vespers, in the heart of Sin and Heathenism, taking no heed to himself, but looking only to the welfare of the Holy Church. Conversions soon followed, and, on the 7th of July, 1760, the first Indian baby was baptized,–an event which, as Father Jose piously records, “exceeds the richnesse of gold or precious jewels or the chancing upon the Ophir of Solomon.” I quote this incident as best suited to show the ingenious blending of poetry and piety which distinguished Father Jose’s record.
The Mission of San Pablo progressed and prospered until the pious founder thereof, like the infidel Alexander, might have wept that there were no more heathen worlds to conquer. But his ardent and enthusiastic spirit could not long brook an idleness that seemed begotten of sin; and one pleasant August morning, in the year of grace 1770, Father Jose issued from the outer court of the Mission building, equipped to explore the field for new missionary labors.
Nothing could exceed the quiet gravity and unpretentiousness of the little cavalcade. First rode a stout muleteer, leading a pack-mule laden with the provisions of the party, together with a few cheap crucifixes and hawks’ bells. After him came the devout Padre Jose, bearing his breviary and cross, with a black serapa thrown around his shoulders; while on either side trotted a dusky convert, anxious to show a proper sense of their regeneration by acting as guides into the wilds of their heathen brethren. Their new condition was agreeably shown by the absence of the usual mud- plaster, which in their unconverted state they assumed to keep away vermin and cold. The morning was bright and propitious. Before their departure, mass had been said in the chapel, and the protection of St. Ignatius invoked against all contingent evils, but especially against bears, which, like the fiery dragons of old, seemed to cherish unconquerable hostility to the Holy Church.
As they wound through the canyon, charming birds disported upon boughs and sprays, and sober quails piped from the alders; the willowy water-courses gave a musical utterance, and the long grass whispered on the hillside. On entering the deeper defiles, above them towered dark green masses of pine, and occasionally the madrono shook its bright scarlet berries. As they toiled up many a steep ascent, Father Jose sometimes picked up fragments of scoria, which spake to his imagination of direful volcanoes and impending earthquakes. To the less scientific mind of the muleteer Ignacio they had even a more terrifying significance; and he once or twice snuffed the air suspiciously, and declared that it smelt of sulphur. So the first day of their journey wore away, and at night they encamped without having met a single heathen face.
It was on this night that the Enemy of Souls appeared to Ignacio in an appalling form. He had retired to a secluded part of the camp and had sunk upon his knees in prayerful meditation, when he looked up and perceived the Arch-Fiend in the likeness of a monstrous bear. The Evil One was seated on his hind legs immediately before him, with his fore paws joined together just below his black muzzle. Wisely conceiving this remarkable attitude to be in mockery and derision of his devotions, the worthy muleteer was transported with fury. Seizing an arquebuse, he instantly closed his eyes and fired. When he had recovered from the effects of the terrific discharge, the apparition had disappeared. Father Jose, awakened by the report, reached the spot only in time to chide the muleteer for wasting powder and ball in a contest with one whom a single ave would have been sufficient to utterly discomfit. What further reliance he placed on Ignacio’s story is not known; but, in commemoration of a worthy Californian custom, the place was called La Canada de la Tentacion del Pio Muletero, or “The Glen of the Temptation of the Pious Muleteer,” a name which it retains to this day.
The next morning the party, issuing from a narrow gorge, came upon a long valley, sear and burnt with the shadeless heat. Its lower extremity was lost in a fading line of low hills, which, gathering might and volume toward the upper end of the valley, upheaved a stupendous bulwark against the breezy North. The peak of this awful spur was just touched by a fleecy cloud that shifted to and fro like a banneret. Father Jose gazed at it with mingled awe and admiration. By a singular coincidence, the muleteer Ignacio uttered the simple ejaculation “Diablo!”
As they penetrated the valley, they soon began to miss the agreeable life and companionable echoes of the canyon they had quitted. Huge fissures in the parched soil seemed to gape as with thirsty mouths. A few squirrels darted from the earth, and disappeared as mysteriously before the jingling mules. A gray wolf trotted leisurely along just ahead. But whichever way Father Jose turned, the mountain always asserted itself and arrested his wandering eye. Out of the dry and arid valley, it seemed to spring into cooler and bracing life. Deep cavernous shadows dwelt along its base; rocky fastnesses appeared midway of its elevation; and on either side huge black hills diverged like massy roots from a central trunk. His lively fancy pictured these hills peopled with a majestic and intelligent race of savages; and looking into futurity, he already saw a monstrous cross crowning the dome-like summit. Far different were the sensations of the muleteer, who saw in those awful solitudes only fiery dragons, colossal bears and break-neck trails. The converts, Concepcion and Incarnacion, trotting modestly beside the Padre, recognized, perhaps, some manifestation of their former weird mythology.
At nightfall they reached the base of the mountain. Here Father Jose unpacked his mules, said vespers, and, formally ringing his bell, called upon the Gentiles within hearing to come and accept the Holy Faith. The echoes of the black frowning hills around him caught up the pious invitation, and repeated it at intervals; but no Gentiles appeared that night. Nor were the devotions of the muleteer again disturbed, although he afterward asserted, that, when the Father’s exhortation was ended, a mocking peal of laughter came from the mountain. Nothing daunted by these intimations of the near hostility of the Evil One, Father Jose declared his intention to ascend the mountain at early dawn; and before the sun rose the next morning he was leading the way.
The ascent was in many places difficult and dangerous. Huge fragments of rock often lay across the trail, and after a few hours’ climbing they were forced to leave their mules in a little gully, and continue the ascent afoot. Unaccustomed to such exertion, Father Jose often stopped to wipe the perspiration from his thin cheeks. As the day wore on, a strange silence oppressed them. Except the occasional pattering of a squirrel, or a rustling in the chimisal bushes, there were no signs of life. The half- human print of a bear’s foot sometimes appeared before them, at which Ignacio always crossed himself piously. The eye was sometimes cheated by a dripping from the rocks, which on closer inspection proved to be a resinous oily liquid with an abominable sulphurous smell. When they were within a short distance of the summit, the discreet Ignacio, selecting a sheltered nook for the camp, slipped aside and busied himself in preparations for the evening, leaving the Holy Father to continue the ascent alone. Never was there a more thoughtless act of prudence, never a more imprudent piece of caution. Without noticing the desertion, buried in pious reflection, Father Jose pushed mechanically on, and, reaching the summit, cast himself down and gazed upon the prospect.
Below him lay a succession of valleys opening into each other like gentle lakes, until they were lost to the southward. Westerly the distant range hid the bosky canada which sheltered the mission of San Pablo. In the farther distance the Pacific Ocean stretched away, bearing a cloud of fog upon its bosom, which crept through the entrance of the bay, and rolled thickly between him and the northeastward; the same fog hid the base of mountain and the view beyond. Still, from time to time the fleecy veil parted, and timidly disclosed charming glimpses of mighty rivers, mountain defiles, and rolling plains, sear with ripened oats, and bathed in the glow of the setting sun. As Father Jose gazed, he was penetrated with a pious longing. Already his imagination, filled with enthusiastic conceptions, beheld all that vast expanse gathered under the mild sway of the Holy Faith, and peopled with zealous converts. Each little knoll in fancy became crowned with a chapel; from each dark canyon gleamed the white walls of a mission building. Growing bolder in his enthusiasm, and looking farther into futurity, he beheld a new Spain rising on these savage shores. He already saw the spires of stately cathedrals, the domes of palaces, vineyards, gardens, and groves. Convents, half hid among the hills, peeping from plantations of branching limes; and long processions of chanting nuns wound through the defiles. So completely was the good Father’s conception of the future confounded with the past, that even in their choral strain the well-remembered accents of Carmen struck his ear. He was busied in these fanciful imaginings, when suddenly over that extended prospect the faint, distant tolling of a bell rang sadly out and died. It was the Angelus. Father Jose listened with superstitious exaltation. The mission of San Pablo was far away, and the sound must have been some miraculous omen. But never before, to his enthusiastic sense, did the sweet seriousness of this angelic symbol come with such strange significance. With the last faint peal, his glowing fancy seemed to cool; the fog closed in below him, and the good Father remembered he had not had his supper. He had risen and was wrapping his serapa around him, when he perceived for the first time that he was not alone.
Nearly opposite, and where should have been the faithless Ignacio, a grave and decorous figure was seated. His appearance was that of an elderly hidalgo, dressed in mourning, with mustaches of iron- gray carefully waxed and twisted around a pair of lantern-jaws. The monstrous hat and prodigious feather, the enormous ruff and exaggerated trunk-hose, contrasted with a frame shrivelled and wizened, all belonged to a century previous. Yet Father Jose was not astonished. His adventurous life and poetic imagination, continually on the lookout for the marvellous, gave him a certain advantage over the practical and material minded. He instantly detected the diabolical quality of his visitant, and was prepared. With equal coolness and courtesy he met the cavalier’s obeisance.
“I ask your pardon, Sir Priest,” said the stranger, “for disturbing your meditations. Pleasant they must have been, and right fanciful, I imagine, when occasioned by so fair a prospect.”
“Worldly, perhaps, Sir Devil,–for such I take you to be,” said the Holy Father, as the stranger bowed his black plumes to the ground; “worldly, perhaps; for it hath pleased Heaven to retain even in our regenerated state much that pertaineth to the flesh, yet still, I trust, not without some speculation for the welfare of the Holy Church. In dwelling upon yon fair expanse, mine eyes have been graciously opened with prophetic inspiration, and the promise of the heathen as an inheritance hath marvellously recurred to me. For there can be none lack such diligence in the True Faith, but may see that even the conversion of these pitiful salvages hath a meaning. As the blessed St. Ignatius discreetly observes,” continued Father Jose, clearing his throat and slightly elevating his voice, “‘the heathen is given to the warriors of Christ, even as the pearls of rare discovery which gladden the hearts of shipmen.’ Nay, I might say–“
But here the stranger, who had been wrinkling his brows and twisting his mustaches with well-bred patience, took advantage of an oratorical pause:–
“It grieves me, Sir Priest, to interrupt the current of your eloquence as discourteously as I have already broken your meditations; but the day already waneth to night. I have a matter of serious import to make with you, could I entreat your cautious consideration a few moments.”
Father Jose hesitated. The temptation was great, and the prospect of acquiring some knowledge of the Great Enemy’s plans not the least trifling object. And if the truth must be told, there was a certain decorum about the stranger that interested the Padre. Though well aware of the Protean shapes the Arch-Fiend could assume, and though free from the weaknesses of the flesh, Father Jose was not above the temptations of the spirit. Had the Devil appeared, as in the case of the pious St. Anthony, in the likeness of a comely damsel, the good Father, with his certain experience of the deceitful sex, would have whisked her away in the saying of a paternoster. But there was, added to the security of age, a grave sadness about the stranger,–a thoughtful consciousness as of being at a great moral disadvantage,–which at once decided him on a magnanimous course of conduct.
The stranger then proceeded to inform him, that he had been diligently observing the Holy Father’s triumphs in the valley. That, far from being greatly exercised thereat, he had been only grieved to see so enthusiastic and chivalrous an antagonist wasting his zeal in a hopeless work. For, he observed, the issue of the great battle of Good and Evil had been otherwise settled, as he would presently show him. “It wants but a few moments of night,” he continued, “and over this interval of twilight, as you know, I have been given complete control. Look to the West.”
As the Padre turned, the stranger took his enormous hat from his head, and waved it three times before him. At each sweep of the prodigious feather, the fog grew thinner, until it melted impalpably away, and the former landscape returned, yet warm with the glowing sun. As Father Jose gazed, a strain of martial music arose from the valley, and issuing from a deep canyon, the good Father beheld a long cavalcade of gallant cavaliers, habited like his companion. As they swept down the plain, they were joined by like processions, that slowly defiled from every ravine and canyon of the mysterious mountain. From time to time the peal of a trumpet swelled fitfully upon the breeze; the cross of Santiago glittered, and the royal banners of Castile and Aragon waved over the moving column. So they moved on solemnly toward the sea, where, in the distance, Father Jose saw stately caravels, bearing the same familiar banner, awaiting them. The good Padre gazed with conflicting emotions, and the serious voice of the stranger broke the silence.
“Thou hast beheld, Sir Priest, the fading footprints of adventurous Castile. Thou hast seen the declining glory of old Spain,– declining as yonder brilliant sun. The sceptre she hath wrested from the heathen is fast dropping from her decrepit and fleshless grasp. The children she hath fostered shall know her no longer. The soil she hath acquired shall be lost to her as irrevocably as she herself hath thrust the Moor from her own Granada.”
The stranger paused, and his voice seemed broken by emotion; at the same time, Father Jose, whose sympathizing heart yearned toward the departing banners, cried in poignant accents,–
“Farewell, ye gallant cavaliers and Christian soldiers! Farewell, thou, Nunes de Balboa! thou, Alonzo de Ojeda! and thou, most venerable Las Casas! Farewell, and may Heaven prosper still the seed ye left behind!”
Then turning to the stranger, Father Jose beheld him gravely draw his pocket-handkerchief from the basket-hilt of his rapier, and apply it decorously to his eyes.
“Pardon this weakness, Sir Priest,” said the cavalier, apologetically; “but these worthy gentlemen were ancient friends of mine, and have done me many a delicate service,–much more, perchance, than these poor sables may signify,” he added, with a grim gesture toward the mourning suit he wore.
Father Jose was too much preoccupied in reflection to notice the equivocal nature of this tribute, and, after a few moments’ silence, said, as if continuing his thought,–
“But the seed they have planted shall thrive and prosper on this fruitful soil.”
As if answering the interrogatory, the stranger turned to the opposite direction, and, again waving his hat, said, in the same serious tone,–
“Look to the East!”
The Father turned, and, as the fog broke away before the waving plume, he saw that the sun was rising. Issuing with its bright beams through the passes of the snowy mountains beyond, appeared a strange and motley crew. Instead of the dark and romantic visages of his last phantom train, the Father beheld with strange concern the blue eyes and flaxen hair of a Saxon race. In place of martial airs and musical utterance, there rose upon the ear a strange din of harsh gutturals and singular sibilation. Instead of the decorous tread and stately mien of the cavaliers of the former vision, they came pushing, bustling, panting, and swaggering. And as they passed, the good Father noticed that giant trees were prostrated as with the breath of a tornado, and the bowels of the earth were torn and rent as with a convulsion. And Father Jose looked in vain for holy cross or Christian symbol; there was but one that seemed an ensign, and he crossed himself with holy horror as he perceived it bore the effigy of a bear.
“Who are these swaggering Ishmaelites?” he asked, with something of asperity in his tone.
The stranger was gravely silent.
“What do they here, with neither cross nor holy symbol?” he again demanded.
“Have you the courage to see, Sir Priest?” responded the stranger, quietly.
Father Jose felt his crucifix, as a lonely traveller might his rapier, and assented.
“Step under the shadow of my plume,” said the stranger.
Father Jose stepped beside him, and they instantly sank through the earth.
When he opened his eyes, which had remained closed in prayerful meditation during his rapid descent, he found himself in a vast vault, bespangled overhead with luminous points like the starred firmament. It was also lighted by a yellow glow that seemed to proceed from a mighty sea or lake that occupied the centre of the chamber. Around this subterranean sea dusky figures flitted, bearing ladles filled with the yellow fluid, which they had replenished from its depths. From this lake diverging streams of the same mysterious flood penetrated like mighty rivers the cavernous distance. As they walked by the banks of this glittering Styx, Father Jose perceived how the liquid stream at certain places became solid. The ground was strewn with glittering flakes. One of these the Padre picked up and curiously examined. It was virgin gold.
An expression of discomfiture overcast the good Father’s face at this discovery; but there was trace neither of malice nor satisfaction in the stranger’s air, which was still of serious and fateful contemplation. When Father Jose recovered his equanimity, he said, bitterly,–
“This, then, Sir Devil, is your work! This is your deceitful lure for the weak souls of sinful nations! So would you replace the Christian grace of holy Spain!”
“This is what must be,” returned the stranger, gloomily. “But listen, Sir Priest. It lies with you to avert the issue for a time. Leave me here in peace. Go back to Castile, and take with you your bells, your images, and your missions. Continue here, and you only precipitate results. Stay! promise me you will do this, and you shall not lack that which will render your old age an ornament and a blessing”; and the stranger motioned significantly to the lake.
It was here, the legend discreetly relates, that the Devil showed– as he always shows sooner or later–his cloven hoof. The worthy Padre, sorely perplexed by his threefold vision, and, if the truth must be told, a little nettled at this wresting away of the glory of holy Spanish discovery, had shown some hesitation. But the unlucky bribe of the Enemy of Souls touched his Castilian spirit. Starting back in deep disgust, he brandished his crucifix in the face of the unmasked Fiend, and in a voice that made the dusky vault resound, cried,–
“Avaunt thee, Sathanas! Diabolus, I defy thee! What! wouldst thou bribe me,–me, a brother of the Sacred Society of the Holy Jesus, Licentiate of Cordova and Inquisitor of Guadalaxara? Thinkest thou to buy me with thy sordid treasure? Avaunt!”
What might have been the issue of this rupture, and how complete might have been the triumph of the Holy Father over the Arch-Fiend, who was recoiling aghast at these sacred titles and the flourishing symbol, we can never know, for at that moment the crucifix slipped through his fingers.
Scarcely had it touched the ground before Devil and Holy Father simultaneously cast themselves toward it. In the struggle they clinched, and the pious Jose, who was as much the superior of his antagonist in bodily as in spiritual strength, was about to treat the Great Adversary to a back somersault, when he suddenly felt the long nails of the stranger piercing his flesh. A new fear seized his heart, a numbing chillness crept through his body, and he struggled to free himself, but in vain. A strange roaring was in his ears; the lake and cavern danced before his eyes and vanished; and with a loud cry he sank senseless to the ground.
When he recovered his consciousness he was aware of a gentle swaying motion of his body. He opened his eyes, and saw it was high noon, and that he was being carried in a litter through the valley. He felt stiff, and, looking down, perceived that his arm was tightly bandaged to his side.
He closed his eyes and after a few words of thankful prayer, thought how miraculously he had been preserved, and made a vow of candlesticks to the blessed Saint Jose. He then called in a faint voice, and presently the penitent Ignacio stood beside him.
The joy the poor fellow felt at his patron’s returning consciousness for some time choked his utterance. He could only ejaculate, “A miracle! Blessed Saint Jose, he lives!” and kiss the Padre’s bandaged hand. Father Jose, more intent on his last night’s experience, waited for his emotion to subside, and asked where he had been found.
“On the mountain, your Reverence, but a few varas from where he attacked you.”
“How?–you saw him then?” asked the Padre, in unfeigned astonishment.
“Saw him, your Reverence! Mother of God, I should think I did! And your Reverence shall see him too, if he ever comes again within range of Ignacio’s arquebuse.”
“What mean you, Ignacio?” said the Padre, sitting bolt-upright in his litter.
“Why, the bear, your Reverence,–the bear, Holy Father, who attacked your worshipful person while you were meditating on the top of yonder mountain.”
“Ah!” said the Holy Father, lying down again. “Chut, child! I would be at peace.”
When he reached the Mission, he was tenderly cared for, and in a few weeks was enabled to resume those duties from which, as will be seen, not even the machinations of the Evil One could divert him. The news of his physical disaster spread over the country; and a letter to the Bishop of Guadalaxara contained a confidential and detailed account of the good Father’s spiritual temptation. But in some way the story leaked out; and long after Jose was gathered to his fathers, his mysterious encounter formed the theme of thrilling and whispered narrative. The mountain was generally shunned. It is true that Senor Joaquin Pedrillo afterward located a grant near the base of the mountain; but as Senora Pedrillo was known to be a termagant half-breed, the Senor was not supposed to be over- fastidious.
Such is the Legend of Monte del Diablo. As I said before, it may seem to lack essential corroboration. The discrepancy between the Father’s narrative and the actual climax has given rise to some scepticism on the part of ingenious quibblers. All such I would simply refer to that part of the report of Senor Julio Serro, Sub- Prefect of San Pablo, before whom attest of the above was made. Touching this matter, the worthy Prefect observes, “That although the body of Father Jose doth show evidence of grievous conflict in the flesh, yet that is no proof that the Enemy of Souls, who could assume the figure of a decorous elderly caballero, could not at the same time transform himself into a bear for his own vile purposes.”
THE ADVENTURE OF PADRE VINCENTIO
A LEGEND OF SAN FRANCISCO.
One pleasant New Year’s Eve, about forty years ago, Padre Vicentio was slowly picking his way across the sand-hills from the Mission Dolores. As he climbed the crest of the ridge beside Mission Creek, his broad, shining face might have been easily mistaken for the beneficent image of the rising moon, so bland was its smile and so indefinite its features. For the Padre was a man of notable reputation and character; his ministration at the mission of San Jose had been marked with cordiality and unction; he was adored by the simple-minded savages, and had succeeded in impressing his individuality so strongly upon them that the very children were said to have miraculously resembled him in feature.
As the holy man reached the loneliest portion of the road, he naturally put spurs to his mule as if to quicken that decorous pace which the obedient animal had acquired through long experience of its master’s habits. The locality had an unfavorable reputation. Sailors–deserters from whaleships–had been seen lurking about the outskirts of the town, and low scrub oaks which everywhere beset the trail might have easily concealed some desperate runaway. Besides these material obstructions, the devil, whose hostility to the church was well known, was said to sometimes haunt the vicinity in the likeness of a spectral whaler, who had met his death in a drunken bout, from a harpoon in the hands of a companion. The ghost of this unfortunate mariner was frequently observed sitting on the hill toward the dusk of evening, armed with his favorite weapon and a tub containing a coil of line, looking out for some belated traveller on whom to exercise his professional skill. It is related that the good Father Jose Maria of the Mission Dolores had been twice attacked by this phantom sportsman; that once, on returning from San Francisco, and panting with exertion from climbing the hill, he was startled by a stentorian cry of “There she blows!” quickly followed by a hurtling harpoon, which buried itself in the sand beside him; that on another occasion he narrowly escaped destruction, his serapa having been transfixed by the diabolical harpoon and dragged away in triumph. Popular opinion seems to have been divided as to the reason for the devil’s particular attention to Father Jose, some asserting that the extreme piety of the Padre excited the Evil One’s animosity, and others that his adipose tendency simply rendered him, from a professional view-point, a profitable capture.
Had Father Vicentio been inclined to scoff at this apparition as a heretical innovation, there was still the story of Concepcion, the Demon Vaquero, whose terrible riata was fully as potent as the whaler’s harpoon. Concepcion, when in the flesh, had been a celebrated herder of cattle and wild horses, and was reported to have chased the devil in the shape of a fleet pinto colt all the way from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco, vowing not to give up the chase until he had overtaken the disguised Arch-Enemy. This the devil prevented by resuming his own shape, but kept the unfortunate vaquero to the fulfilment of his rash vow; and Concepcion still scoured the coast on a phantom steed, beguiling the monotony of his eternal pursuit by lassoing travellers, dragging them at the heels of his unbroken mustang until they were eventually picked up, half-strangled, by the roadside. The Padre listened attentively for the tramp of this terrible rider. But no footfall broke the stillness of the night; even the hoofs of his own mule sank noiselessly in the shifting sand. Now and then a rabbit bounded lightly by him, or a quail ran into the bushes. The melancholy call of plover from the adjoining marshes of Mission Creek came to him so faintly and fitfully that it seemed almost a recollection of the past rather than a reality of the present.
To add to his discomposure one of those heavy sea-fogs peculiar to the locality began to drift across the hills and presently encompassed him. While endeavoring to evade its cold embraces, Padre Vicentio incautiously drove his heavy spurs into the flanks of his mule as that puzzled animal was hesitating on the brink of a steep declivity. Whether the poor beast was indignant at this novel outrage, or had been for some time reflecting on the evils of being priest-ridden, has not transpired; enough that he suddenly threw up his heels, pitching the reverend man over his head, and, having accomplished this feat, coolly dropped on his knees and tumbled after his rider.
Over and over went the Padre, closely followed by his faithless mule. Luckily the little hollow which received the pair was of sand that yielded to the superincumbent weight, half burying them without further injury. For some moments the poor man lay motionless, vainly endeavoring to collect his scattered senses. A hand irreverently laid upon his collar, and a rough shake, assisted to recall his consciousness. As the Padre staggered to his feet he found himself confronted by a stranger.
Seen dimly through the fog, and under circumstances that to say the least were not prepossessing, the new-comer had an inexpressibly mysterious and brigand-like aspect. A long boat-cloak concealed his figure, and a slouched hat hid his features, permitting only his eyes to glisten in the depths. With a deep groan the Padre slipped from the stranger’s grasp and subsided into the soft sand again.
“Gad’s life!” said the stranger, pettishly, “hast no more bones in thy fat carcass than a jellyfish? Lend a hand, here! Yo, heave ho!” and he dragged the Padre into an upright position. “Now, then, who and what art thou?”
The Padre could not help thinking that the question might have more properly been asked by himself; but with an odd mixture of dignity and trepidation he began enumerating his different titles, which were by no means brief, and would have been alone sufficient to strike awe in the bosom of an ordinary adversary. The stranger irreverently broke in upon his formal phrases, and assuring him that a priest was the very person he was looking for, coolly replaced the old man’s hat, which had tumbled off, and bade him accompany him at once on an errand of spiritual counsel to one who was even then lying in extremity. “To think,” said the stranger, “that I should stumble upon the very man I was seeking! Body of Bacchus! but this is lucky! Follow me quickly, for there is no time to lose.”
Like most easy natures the positive assertion of the stranger, and withal a certain authoritative air of command, overcame what slight objections the Padre might have feebly nurtured during this remarkable interview. The spiritual invitation was one, also, that he dared not refuse; not only that; but it tended somewhat to remove the superstitious dread with which he had begun to regard the mysterious stranger. But, following at a respectful distance, the Padre could not help observing with a thrill of horror that the stranger’s footsteps made no impression on the sand, and his figure seemed at times to blend and incorporate itself with the fog, until the holy man was obliged to wait for its reappearance. In one of these intervals of embarrassment he heard the ringing of the far- off Mission bell, proclaiming the hour of midnight. Scarcely had the last stroke died away before the announcement was taken up and repeated by a multitude of bells of all sizes, and the air was filled with the sound of striking clocks and the pealing of steeple chimes. The old man uttered a cry of alarm. The stranger sharply demanded the cause. “The bells! did you not hear them?” gasped Padre Vicentio. “Tush! tush!” answered the stranger, “thy fall hath set triple bob-majors ringing in thine ears. Come on!”
The Padre was only too glad to accept the explanation conveyed in this discourteous answer. But he was destined for another singular experience. When they had reached the summit of the eminence now known as Russian Hill, an exclamation again burst from the Padre. The stranger turned to his companion with an impatient gesture; but the Padre heeded him not. The view that burst upon his sight was such as might well have engrossed the attention of a more enthusiastic temperament. The fog had not yet reached the hill, and the long valleys and hillsides of the embarcadero below were glittering with the light of a populous city. “Look!” said the Padre, stretching his hand over the spreading landscape. “Look, dost thou not see the stately squares and brilliantly lighted avenues of a mighty metropolis. Dost thou not see, as it were, another firmament below?”
“Avast heaving, reverend man, and quit this folly,” said the strange; dragging the bewildered Padre after him. “Behold rather the stars knocked out of thy hollow noddle by the fall thou hast had. Prithee, get over thy visions and rhapsodies, for the time is wearing apace.”
The Padre humbly followed without another word. Descending the hill toward the north, the stranger leading the way, in a few moments the Padre detected the wash of waves, and presently his feet struck the firmer sand of the beach. Here the stranger paused, and the Padre perceived a boat lying in readiness hard by. As he stepped into the stern sheets, in obedience to the command of his companion, he noticed that the rowers seemed to partake of the misty incorporeal texture of his companion, a similarity that became the more distressing when he perceived also that their oars in pulling together made no noise. The stranger, assuming the helm, guided the boat on quietly, while the fog, settling over the face of the water and closing around them, seemed to interpose a muffled wall between themselves and the rude jarring of the outer world. As they pushed further into this penetralia, the Padre listened anxiously for the sound of creaking blocks and the rattling of cordage, but no vibration broke the veiled stillness or disturbed the warm breath of the fleecy fog. Only one incident occurred to break the monotony of their mysterious journey. A one- eyed rower, who sat in front of the Padre, catching the devout father’s eye, immediately grinned such a ghastly smile, and winked his remaining eye with such diabolical intensity of meaning that the Padre was constrained to utter a pious ejaculation, which had the disastrous effect of causing the marine Cocles to “catch a crab,” throwing his heels in the air and his head into the bottom of the boat. But even this accident did not disturb the gravity of the rest of the ghastly boat’s crew.
When, as it seemed to the Padre, ten minutes had elapsed, the outline of a large ship loomed up directly across their bow. Before he could utter the cry of warning that rose to his lips, or brace himself against the expected shock, the boat passed gently and noiselessly through the sides of the vessel, and the holy man found himself standing on the berth deck of what seemed to be an ancient caravel. The boat and boat’s crew had vanished. Only his mysterious friend, the stranger, remained. By the light of a swinging lamp the Padre beheld him standing beside a hammock, whereon, apparently, lay the dying man to whom he had been so mysteriously summoned. As the Padre, in obedience to a sign from his companion, stepped to the side of the sufferer, he feebly opened his eyes and thus addressed him:–
“Thou seest before thee, reverend father, a helpless mortal, struggling not only with the last agonies of the flesh, but beaten down and tossed with sore anguish of the spirit. It matters little when or how I became what thou now seest me. Enough that my life has been ungodly and sinful, and that my only hope of absolution lies in my imparting to thee a secret which is of vast importance to the holy Church, and affects greatly her power, wealth, and dominion on these shores. But the terms of this secret and the conditions of my absolution are peculiar. I have but five minutes to live. In that time I must receive the extreme unction of the Church.”
“And thy secret?” said the holy father.
“Shall be told afterwards,” answered the dying man. “Come, my time is short. Shrive me quickly.”
The Padre hesitated. “Couldst thou not tell this secret first?”
“Impossible!” said the dying man, with what seemed to the Padre a momentary gleam of triumph. Then, as his breath grew feebler, he called impatiently, “Shrive me! shrive me!”
“Let me know at least what this secret concerns?” suggested the Padre, insinuatingly.
“Shrive me first,” said the dying man.
But the priest still hesitated, parleying with the sufferer until the ship’s bell struck, when, with a triumphant, mocking laugh from the stranger, the vessel suddenly fell to pieces, amid the rushing of waters which at once involved the dying man, the priest, and the mysterious stranger.
The Padre did not recover his consciousness until high noon the next day, when he found himself lying in a little hollow between the Mission Hills, and his faithful mule a few paces from him, cropping the sparse herbage. The Padre made the best of his way home, but wisely abstained from narrating the facts mentioned above, until after the discovery of gold, when the whole of this veracious incident was related, with the assertion of the padre that the secret which was thus mysteriously snatched from his possession was nothing more than the discovery of gold, years since, by the runaway sailors from the expedition of Sir Francis Drake.
THE LEGEND OF DEVIL’S POINT.
On the northerly shore of San Francisco Bay, at a point where the Golden Gate broadens into the Pacific stands a bluff promontory. It affords shelter from the prevailing winds to a semicircular bay on the east. Around this bay the hillside is bleak and barren, but there are traces of former habitation in a weather-beaten cabin and deserted corral. It is said that these were originally built by an enterprising squatter, who for some unaccountable reason abandoned them shortly after. The “Jumper” who succeeded him disappeared one day, quite as mysteriously. The third tenant, who seemed to be a man of sanguine, hopeful temperament, divided the property into building lots, staked off the hillside, and projected the map of a new metropolis. Failing, however, to convince the citizens of San Francisco that they had mistaken the site of their city, he presently fell into dissipation and despondency. He was frequently observed haunting the narrow strip of beach at low tide, or perched upon the cliff at high water. In the latter position a sheep- tender one day found him, cold and pulseless, with a map of his property in his hand, and his face turned toward the distant sea.
Perhaps these circumstances gave the locality its infelicitous reputation. Vague rumors were bruited of a supernatural influence that had been exercised on the tenants. Strange stories were circulated of the origin of the diabolical title by which the promontory was known. By some it was believed to be haunted by the spirit of one of Sir Francis Drake’s sailors who had deserted his ship in consequence of stories told by the Indians of gold discoveries, but who had perished by starvation on the rocks. A vaquero who had once passed a night in the ruined cabin, related how a strangely dressed and emaciated figure had knocked at the door at midnight and demanded food. Other story-tellers, of more historical accuracy, roundly asserted that Sir Francis himself had been little better than a pirate, and had chosen this spot to conceal quantities of ill-gotten booty, taken from neutral bottoms, and had protected his hiding-place by the orthodox means of hellish incantation and diabolic agencies. On moonlight nights a shadowy ship was sometimes seen standing off-and-on, or when fogs encompassed sea and shore the noise of oars rising and falling in their row-locks could be heard muffled and indistinctly during the night. Whatever foundation there might have been for these stories, it was certain that a more weird and desolate-looking spot could not have been selected for their theatre. High hills, verdureless and enfiladed with dark canadas, cast their gaunt shadows on the tide. During a greater portion of the day the wind, which blew furiously and incessantly, seemed possessed with a spirit of fierce disquiet and unrest. Toward nightfall the sea-fog crept with soft step through the portals of the Golden Gate, or stole in noiseless marches down the hillside, tenderly soothing the wind-buffeted face of the cliff, until sea and sky were hid together. At such times the populous city beyond and the nearer settlement seemed removed to an infinite distance. An immeasurable loneliness settled upon the cliff. The creaking of a windlass, or the monotonous chant of sailors on some unseen, outlying ship, came faint and far, and full of mystic suggestion.
About a year ago a well-to-do middle-aged broker of San Francisco found himself at nightfall the sole occupant of a “plunger,” encompassed in a dense fog, and drifting toward the Golden Gate. This unexpected termination of an afternoon’s sail was partly attributable to his want of nautical skill, and partly to the effect of his usually sanguine nature. Having given up the guidance of his boat to the wind and tide, he had trusted too implicitly for that reaction which his business experience assured him was certain to occur in all affairs, aquatic as well as terrestrial. “The tide will turn soon,” said the broker, confidently, “or something will happen.” He had scarcely settled himself back again in the stern-sheets, before the bow of the plunger, obeying some mysterious impulse, veered slowly around and a dark object loomed up before him. A gentle eddy carried the boat further in shore, until at last it was completely embayed under the lee of a rocky point now faintly discernible through the fog. He looked around him in the vain hope of recognizing some familiar headland. The tops of the high hills which rose on either side were hidden in the fog. As the boat swung around, he succeeded in fastening a line to the rocks, and sat down again with a feeling of renewed confidence and security.
It was very cold. The insidious fog penetrated his tightly buttoned coat, and set his teeth to chattering in spite of the aid he sometimes drew from a pocket-flask. His clothes were wet and the stern-sheets were covered with spray. The comforts of fire and shelter continually rose before his fancy as he gazed wistfully on the rocks. In sheer despair he finally drew the boat toward the most accessible part of the cliff and essayed to ascend. This was less difficult than it appeared, and in a few moments he had gained the hill above. A dark object at a little distance attracted his attention, and on approaching it proved to be a deserted cabin. The story goes on to say, that having built a roaring fire of stakes pulled from the adjoining corral, with the aid of a flask of excellent brandy, he managed to pass the early part of the evening with comparative comfort.
There was no door in the cabin, and the windows were simply square openings, which freely admitted the searching fog. But in spite of these discomforts,–being a man of cheerful, sanguine temperament,– he amused himself by poking the fire, and watching the ruddy glow which the flames threw on the fog from the open door. In this innocent occupation a great weariness overcame him, and he fell asleep.
He was awakened at midnight by a loud “halloo,” which seemed to proceed directly from the sea. Thinking it might be the cry of some boatman lost in the fog, he walked to the edge of the cliff, but the thick veil that covered sea and land rendered all objects at the distance of a few feet indistinguishable. He heard, however, the regular strokes of oars rising and falling on the water. The halloo was repeated. He was clearing his throat to reply, when to his surprise an answer came apparently from the very cabin he had quitted. Hastily retracing his steps, he was the more amazed, on reaching the open door, to find a stranger warming himself by the fire. Stepping back far enough to conceal his own person, he took a good look at the intruder.
He was a man of about forty, with a cadaverous face. But the oddity of his dress attracted the broker’s attention more than his lugubrious physiognomy. His legs were hid in enormously wide trousers descending to his knee, where they met long boots of sealskin. A pea-jacket with exaggerated cuffs, almost as large as the breeches, covered his chest, and around his waist a monstrous belt, with a buckle like a dentist’s sign, supported two trumpet- mouthed pistols and a curved hanger. He wore a long queue, which depended half-way down his back. As the firelight fell on his ingenuous countenance the broker observed with some concern that this queue was formed entirely of a kind of tobacco, known as pigtail or twist. Its effect, the broker remarked, was much heightened when in a moment of thoughtful abstraction the apparition bit off a portion of it, and rolled it as a quid into the cavernous recesses of his jaws.
Meanwhile, the nearer splash of oars indicated the approach of the unseen boat. The broker had barely time to conceal himself behind the cabin before a number of uncouth-looking figures clambered up the hill toward the ruined rendezvous. They were dressed like the previous comer, who, as they passed through the open door, exchanged greetings with each in antique phraseology, bestowing at the same time some familiar nickname. Flash-in-the-Pan, Spitter- of-Frogs, Malmsey Butt, Latheyard-Will, and Mark-the-Pinker, were the few sobriquets the broker remembered. Whether these titles were given to express some peculiarity of their owner he could not tell, for a silence followed as they slowly ranged themselves upon the floor of the cabin in a semicircle around their cadaverous host.
At length Malmsey Butt, a spherical-bodied man-of-war’s-man, with a rubicund nose, got on his legs somewhat unsteadily, and addressed himself to the company. They had met that evening, said the speaker, in accordance with a time-honored custom. This was simply to relieve that one of their number who for fifty years had kept watch and ward over the locality where certain treasures had been buried. At this point the broker pricked up his ears. “If so be, camarados and brothers all,” he continued, “ye are ready to receive the report of our excellent and well-beloved brother, Master Slit- the-Weazand, touching his search for this treasure, why, marry, to ‘t and begin.”
A murmur of assent went around the circle as the speaker resumed his seat. Master Slit-the-Weazand slowly opened his lantern jaws, and began. He had spent much of his time in determining the exact location of the treasure. He believed–nay, he could state positively–that its position was now settled. It was true he had done some trifling little business outside. Modesty forbade his mentioning the particulars, but he would simply state that of the three tenants who had occupied the cabin during the past ten years, none were now alive. [Applause, and cries of “Go to! thou wast always a tall fellow!” and the like.]
Mark-the-Pinker next arose. Before proceeding to business he had a duty to perform in the sacred name of Friendship. It ill became him to pass an eulogy upon the qualities of the speaker who had preceded him, for he had known him from “boyhood’s hour.” Side by side they had wrought together in the Spanish war. For a neat hand with a toledo he challenged his equal, while how nobly and beautifully he had won his present title of Slit-the-Weazand, all could testify. The speaker, with some show of emotion, asked to be pardoned if he dwelt too freely on passages of their early companionship; he then detailed, with a fine touch of humor, his comrade’s peculiar manner of slitting the ears and lips of a refractory Jew, who had been captured in one of their previous voyages. He would not weary the patience of his hearers, but would briefly propose that the report of Slit-the-Weazand be accepted, and that the thanks of the company be tendered him.
A beaker of strong spirits was then rolled into the hut, and cans of grog were circulated freely from hand to hand. The health of Slit-the-Weazand was proposed in a neat speech by Mark-the-Pinker, and responded to by the former gentleman in a manner that drew tears to the eyes of all present. To the broker, in his concealment, this momentary diversion from the real business of the meeting occasioned much anxiety. As yet nothing had been said to indicate the exact locality of the treasure to which they had mysteriously alluded. Fear restrained him from open inquiry, and curiosity kept him from making good his escape during the orgies which followed.
But his situation was beginning to become critical. Flash-in-the- Pan, who seemed to have been a man of choleric humor, taking fire during some hotly contested argument, discharged both his pistols at the breast of his opponent. The balls passed through on each side immediately below his arm-pits, making a clean hole, through which the horrified broker could see the firelight behind him. The wounded man, without betraying any concern, excited the laughter of the company, by jocosely putting his arms akimbo, and inserting his thumbs into the orifices of the wounds, as if they had been arm- holes. This having in a measure restored good-humor, the party joined hands and formed a circle preparatory to dancing. The dance was commenced by some monotonous stanzas hummed in a very high key by one of the party, the rest joining in the following chorus, which seemed to present a familiar sound to the broker’s ear.
“Her Majestie is very sicke,
Lord Essex hath ye measles,
Our Admiral hath licked ye French– Poppe! saith ye weasel!”
At the regular recurrence of the last line, the party discharged their loaded pistols in all directions, rendering the position of the unhappy broker one of extreme peril and perplexity.
When the tumult had partially subsided, Flash-in-the-Pan called the meeting to order, and most of the revellers returned to their places, Malmsey Butt, however, insisting upon another chorus, and singing at the top of his voice:–
“I am ycleped J. Keyser–I was born at Spring, hys Garden, My father toe make me ane clerke erst did essaye, But a fico for ye offis–I spurn ye losels offeire; For I fain would be ane butcher by’r ladykin alwaye.”
Flash-in-the-Pan drew a pistol from his belt, and bidding some one gag Malmsey Butt with the stock of it, proceeded to read from a portentous roll of parchment that he held in his hand. It was a semi-legal document, clothed in the quaint phraseology of a bygone period. After a long preamble, asserting their loyalty as lieges of Her most bountiful Majesty and Sovereign Lady the Queen, the document declared that they then and there took possession of the promontory, and all the treasure trove therein contained, formerly buried by Her Majesty’s most faithful and devoted Admiral Sir Francis Drake, with the right to search, discover, and appropriate the same; and for the purpose thereof they did then and there form a guild or corporation to so discover, search for, and disclose said treasures, and by virtue thereof they solemnly subscribed their names. But at this moment the reading of the parchment was arrested by an exclamation from the assembly, and the broker was seen frantically struggling at the door in the strong arms of Mark- the-Pinker.
“Let me go!” he cried, as he made a desperate attempt to reach the side of Master Flash-in-the Pan. “Let me go! I tell you, gentlemen, that document is not worth the parchment it is written on. The laws of the State, the customs of the country, the mining ordinances, are all against it. Don’t, by all that’s sacred, throw away such a capital investment through ignorance and informality. Let me go! I assure you, gentlemen, professionally, that you have a big thing,–a remarkably big thing, and even if I ain’t in it, I’m not going to see it fall through. Don’t, for God’s sake, gentlemen, I implore you, put your names to such a ridiculous paper. There isn’t a notary–“
He ceased. The figures around him, which were beginning to grow fainter and more indistinct, as he went on, swam before his eyes, flickered, reappeared again, and finally went out. He rubbed his eyes and gazed around him. The cabin was deserted. On the hearth the red embers of his fire were fading away in the bright beams of the morning sun, that looked aslant through the open window. He ran out to the cliff. The sturdy sea-breeze fanned his feverish cheeks, and tossed the white caps of waves that beat in pleasant music on the beach below. A stately merchantman with snowy canvas was entering the Gate. The voices of sailors came cheerfully from a bark at anchor below the point. The muskets of the sentries gleamed brightly on Alcatraz, and the rolling of drums swelled on the breeze. Farther on, the hills of San Francisco, cottage- crowned and bordered with wharves and warehouses, met his longing eye.
Such is the Legend of Devil’s Point. Any objections to its reliability may be met with the statement, that the broker who tells the story has since incorporated a company under the title of “Flash-in-the-Pan Gold and Silver Treasure Mining Company,” and that its shares are already held at a stiff figure. A copy of the original document is said to be on record in the office of the company, and on any clear day the locality of the claim may be distinctly seen from the hills of San Francisco.
THE DEVIL AND THE BROKER
A MEDIAEVAL LEGEND
The church clocks in San Francisco were striking ten. The Devil, who had been flying over the city that evening, just then alighted on the roof of a church near the corner of Bush and Montgomery Streets. It will be perceived that the popular belief that the Devil avoids holy edifices, and vanishes at the sound of a Credo or Pater-noster, is long since exploded. Indeed, modern scepticism asserts that he is not averse to these orthodox discourses, which particularly bear reference to himself, and in a measure recognize his power and importance.
I am inclined to think, however, that his choice of a resting-place was a good deal influenced by its contiguity to a populous thoroughfare. When he was comfortably seated, he began pulling out the joints of a small rod which he held in his hand, and which presently proved to be an extraordinary fishing-pole, with a telescopic adjustment that permitted its protraction to a marvellous extent. Affixing a line thereto, he selected a fly of a particular pattern from a small box which he carried with him, and, making a skilful cast, threw his line into the very centre of that living stream which ebbed and flowed through Montgomery Street.
Either the people were very virtuous that evening or the bait was not a taking one. In vain the Devil whipped the stream at an eddy in front of the Occidental, or trolled his line into the shadows of the Cosmopolitan; five minutes passed without even a nibble. “Dear me!” quoth the Devil, “that’s very singular; one of my most popular flies, too! Why, they’d have risen by shoals in Broadway or Beacon Street for that. Well, here goes another.” And, fitting a new fly from his well-filled box, he gracefully recast his line.
For a few moments there was every prospect of sport. The line was continually bobbing and the nibbles were distinct and gratifying. Once or twice the bait was apparently gorged and carried off in the upper stories of the hotels to be digested at leisure. At such times the professional manner in which the Devil played out his line would have thrilled the heart of Izaak Walton. But his efforts were unsuccessful; the bait was invariably carried off without hooking the victim, and the Devil finally lost his temper. “I’ve heard of these San Franciscans before,” he muttered; “wait till I get hold of one,–that’s all!” he added malevolently, as he rebaited his hook. A sharp tug and a wriggle foiled his next trial, and finally, with considerable effort, he landed a portly two-hundred-pound broker upon the church roof.
As the victim lay there gasping, it was evident that the Devil was in no hurry to remove the hook from his gills; nor did he exhibit in this delicate operation that courtesy of manner and graceful manipulation which usually distinguished him.
“Come,” he said, gruffly, as he grasped the broker by the waistband, “quit that whining and grunting. Don’t flatter yourself that you’re a prize either. I was certain to have had you. It was only a question of time.”
“It is not that, my lord, which troubles me,” whined the unfortunate wretch, as he painfully wriggled his head, “but that I should have been fooled by such a paltry bait. What will they say of me down there? To have let ‘bigger things’ go by, and to be taken in by this cheap trick,” he added, as he groaned and glanced at the fly which the Devil was carefully rearranging, “is what,– pardon me, my lord,–is what gets me!”
“Yes,” said the Devil, philosophically, “I never caught anybody yet who didn’t say that; but tell me, ain’t you getting somewhat fastidious down there? Here is one of my most popular flies, the greenback,” he continued, exhibiting an emerald-looking insect, which he drew from his box. “This, so generally considered excellent in election season, has not even been nibbled at. Perhaps your sagacity, which, in spite of this unfortunate contretemps, no one can doubt,” added the Devil, with a graceful return to his usual courtesy, “may explain the reason or suggest a substitute.”
The broker glanced at the contents of the box with a supercilious smile. “Too old-fashioned, my lord,–long ago played out. Yet,” he added, with a gleam of interest, “for a consideration I might offer something–ahem!–that would make a taking substitute for these trifles. Give me,” he continued, in a brisk, business-like way, “a slight percentage and a bonus down, and I’m your man.”
“Name your terms,” said the Devil, earnestly.
“My liberty and a percentage on all you take, and the thing’s done.”
The Devil caressed his tail thoughtfully, for a few moments. He was certain of the broker any way, and the risk was slight. “Done!” he said.
“Stay a moment,” said the artful broker. “There are certain contingencies. Give me your fishing-rod and let me apply the bait myself. It requires a skilful hand, my lord; even your well-known experience might fail. Leave me alone for half an hour, and if you have reason to complain of my success I will forfeit my deposit,–I mean my liberty.”
The Devil acceded to his request, bowed, and withdrew. Alighting gracefully in Montgomery Street, he dropped into Meade & Co.’s clothing store, where, having completely equipped himself a la mode, he sallied forth intent on his personal enjoyment. Determining to sink his professional character, he mingled with the current of human life, and enjoyed, with that immense capacity for excitement peculiar to his nature, the whirl, bustle, and feverishness of the people, as a purely aesthetic gratification unalloyed by the cares of business. What he did that evening does not belong to our story. We return to the broker, whom we left on the roof.
When he made sure that the Devil had retired, he carefully drew from his pocket-book a slip of paper and affixed it on the hook. The line had scarcely reached the current before he felt a bite. The hook was swallowed. To bring up his victim rapidly, disengage him from the hook, and reset his line, was the work of a moment. Another bite and the same result. Another, and another. In a very few minutes the roof was covered with his panting spoil. The broker could himself distinguish that many of them were personal friends; nay, some of them were familiar frequenters of the building on which they were now miserably stranded. That the broker felt a certain satisfaction in being instrumental in thus misleading his fellow-brokers no one acquainted with human nature will for a moment doubt. But a stronger pull on his line caused him to put forth all his strength and skill. The magic pole bent like a coach-whip. The broker held firm, assisted by the battlements of the church. Again and again it was almost wrested from his hand, and again and again he slowly reeled in a portion of the tightening line. At last, with one mighty effort, he lifted to the level of the roof a struggling object. A howl like Pandemonium rang through the air as the broker successfully landed at his feet– the Devil himself!
The two glared fiercely at each other. The broker, perhaps mindful of his former treatment, evinced no haste to remove the hook from his antagonist’s jaw. When it was finally accomplished, he asked quietly if the Devil was satisfied. That gentleman seemed absorbed in the contemplation of the bait which he had just taken from his mouth. “I am,” he said, finally, “and forgive you; but what do you call this?”
“Bend low,” replied the broker, as he buttoned up his coat ready to depart. The Devil inclined his ear. “I call it WILD CAT!”
THE OGRESS OF SILVER LAND;
THE DIVERTING HISTORY OF PRINCE BADFELLAH AND PRINCE BULLEBOYE.
In the second year of the reign of the renowned Caliph Lo there dwelt in SILVER LAND, adjoining his territory, a certain terrible ogress. She lived in the bowels of a dismal mountain, where she was in the habit of confining such unfortunate travellers as ventured within her domain. The country for miles around was sterile and barren. In some places it was covered with a white powder, which was called in the language of the country AL KA LI, and was supposed to be the pulverized bones of those who had perished miserably in her service.
In spite of this, every year, great numbers of young men devoted themselves to the service of the ogress, hoping to become her godsons, and to enjoy the good fortune which belonged to that privileged class. For these godsons had no work to perform, neither at the mountain nor elsewhere, but roamed about the world with credentials of their relationship in their pockets, which they called STOKH, which was stamped with the stamp and sealed with the seal of the ogress, and which enabled them at the end of each moon to draw large quantities of gold and silver from her treasury. And the wisest and most favored of those godsons were the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE. They knew all the secrets of the ogress, and how to wheedle and coax her. They were also the favorites of SOOPAH INTENDENT, who was her Lord High Chamberlain and Prime Minister, and who dwelt in SILVER LAND.
One day, SOOPAH INTENDENT said to his servants, “What is that which travels the most surely, the most secretly, and the most swiftly?”
And they all answered as one man, “LIGHTNING, my lord, travels the most surely, the most swiftly, and the most secretly!”
Then said SOOPAH INTENDENT, “Let Lightning carry this message secretly, swiftly, and surely to my beloved friends the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE, and tell them that their godmother is dying, and bid them seek some other godmother or sell their STOKH ere it becomes badjee,–worthless.”
“Bekhesm! On our heads be it!” answered the servants; and they ran to Lightning with the message, who flew with it to the City by the Sea, and delivered it, even at that moment, into the hands of the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE.
Now the Prince BADFELLAH was a wicked young man; and when he had received this message he tore his beard and rent his garment and reviled his godmother, and his friend SOOPAH INTENDENT. But presently he arose, and dressed himself in his finest stuffs, and went forth into the bazaars and among the merchants, capering and dancing as he walked, and crying in a loud voice, “O, happy day! O, day worthy to be marked with a white stone!”
This he said cunningly, thinking the merchants and men of the bazaars would gather about him, which they presently did, and began to question him: “What news, O most worthy and serene Highness? Tell us, that we make merry too!”
Then replied the cunning prince, “Good news, O my brothers, for I have heard this day that my godmother in SILVER LAND is well.” The merchants, who were not aware of the substance of the real message, envied him greatly, and said one to another: “Surely our brother the Prince BADFELLAH is favored by Allah above all men”; and they were about to retire, when the prince checked them, saying: “Tarry for a moment. Here are my credentials, or STOKH. The same I will sell you for fifty thousand sequins, for I have to give a feast to- day, and need much gold. Who will give fifty thousand?” And he again fell to capering and dancing. But this time the merchants drew a little apart, and some of the oldest and wisest said: “What dirt is this which the prince would have us swallow? If his godmother were well, why should he sell his STOKH? Bismillah! The olives are old and the jar is broken!” When Prince BADFELLAH perceived them whispering, his countenance fell, and his knees smote against each other through fear; but, dissembling again, he said: “Well, so be it! Lo, I have much more than shall abide with me, for my days are many and my wants are few. Say forty thousand sequins for my STOKH and let me depart in Allah’s name. Who will give forty thousand sequins to become the godson of such a healthy mother?” And he again fell to capering and dancing, but not as gayly as before, for his heart was troubled. The merchants, however, only moved farther away. “Thirty thousand sequins,” cried Prince BADFELLAH; but even as he spoke they fled before his face, crying: “His godmother is dead. Lo, the jackals are defiling her grave. Mashalla! he has no godmother.” And they sought out PANIK, the swift-footed messenger, and bade him shout through the bazaars that the godmother of Prince BADFELLAH was dead. When he heard this, the prince fell upon his face, and rent his garments, and covered himself with the dust of the market-place. As he was sitting thus, a porter passed him with jars of wine on his shoulders, and the prince begged him to give him a jar, for he was exceeding thirsty and faint. But the porter said, “What will my lord give me first?” And the prince, in very bitterness of spirit, said, “Take this,” and handed him his STOKH, and so exchanged it for a jar of wine.
Now the Prince BULLEBOYE was of a very different disposition. When he received the message of SOOPAH INTENDENT he bowed his head, and said, “It is the will of God.” Then he rose; and without speaking a word entered the gates of his palace. But his wife, the peerless MAREE JAHANN, perceiving the gravity of his countenance, said, “Why is my lord cast down and silent? Why are those rare and priceless pearls, his words, shut up so tightly between those gorgeous oyster-shells, his lips?” But to this he made no reply. Thinking further to divert him, she brought her lute into the chamber and stood before him, and sang the song and danced the dance of BEN KOTTON, which is called IBRAHIM’s DAUGHTER, but she could not lift the veil of sadness from his brow.
When she had ceased, the Prince BULLEBOYE arose and said, “Allah is great, and what am I, his servant, but the dust of the earth! Lo, this day has my godmother sickened unto death, and my STOKH become as a withered palm-leaf. Call hither my servants and camel- drivers, and the merchants that have furnished me with stuffs, and the beggars who have feasted at my table, and bid them take all that is here, for it is mine no longer!” With these words he buried his face in his mantle and wept aloud.
But MAREE JAHANN, his wife, plucked him by the sleeve. “Prithee, my lord,” said she, “bethink thee of the BROKAH or scrivener, who besought thee but yesterday to share thy STOKH with him and gave thee his bond for fifty thousand sequins.” But the noble Prince BULLEBOYE, raising his head, said: “Shall I sell to him for fifty thousand sequins that which I know is not worth a SOO MARKEE? For is not all the BROKAH’S wealth, even his wife and children, pledged on that bond? Shall I ruin him to save myself? Allah forbid! Rather let me eat the salt fish of honest penury, than the kibobs of dishonorable affluence; rather let me wallow in the mire of virtuous oblivion, than repose on the divan of luxurious wickedness.”
When the prince had given utterance to this beautiful and edifying sentiment, a strain of gentle music was heard, and the rear wall of the apartment, which had been ingeniously constructed like a flat, opened and discovered the Ogress of SILVER LAND in the glare of blue fire, seated on a triumphal car attached to two ropes which were connected with the flies, in the very act of blessing the unconscious prince. When the walls closed again without attracting his attention, Prince BULLEBOYE arose, dressed himself in his coarsest and cheapest stuffs, and sprinkled ashes on his head, and in this guise, having embraced his wife, went forth into the bazaars. In this it will be perceived how differently the good Prince BULLEBOYE acted from the wicked Prince BADFELLAH, who put on his gayest garments to simulate and deceive.
Now when Prince BULLEBOYE entered the chief bazaar, where the merchants of the city were gathered in council, he stood up in his accustomed place, and all that were there held their breath, for the noble Prince BULLEBOYE was much respected. “Let the BROKAH, whose bond I hold for fifty thousand sequins, stand forth!” said the prince. And the BROKAH stood forth from among the merchants. Then said the prince: “Here is thy bond for fifty thousand sequins, for which I was to deliver unto thee one half of my STOKH. Know, then, O my brother,–and thou, too, O Aga of the BROKAHS,–that this my STOKH which I pledged to thee is worthless. For my godmother, the Ogress of SILVER LAND, is dying. Thus do I release thee from thy bond, and from the poverty which might overtake thee as it has even me, thy brother, the Prince BULLEBOYE.” And with that the noble Prince BULLEBOYE tore the bond of the BROKAH into pieces and scattered it to the four winds.
Now when the prince tore up the bond there was a great commotion, and some said, “Surely the Prince BULLEBOYE is drunken with wine”; and others, “He is possessed of an evil spirit”; and his friends expostulated with him, saying, “What thou hast done is not the custom of the bazaars,–behold, it is not BIZ!” But to all the prince answered gravely, “It is right; on my own head be it!”
But the oldest and wisest of the merchants, they who had talked with Prince BADFELLAH the same morning, whispered together, and gathered around the BROKAH whose bond the Prince BULLEBOYE had torn up. “Hark ye,” said they, “our brother the Prince BULLEBOYE is cunning as a jackal. What bosh is this about ruining himself to save thee? Such a thing was never heard before in the bazaars. It is a trick, O thou mooncalf of a BROKAH! Dost thou not see that he has heard good news from his godmother, the same that was even now told us by the Prince BADFELLAH, his confederate, and that he would destroy thy bond for fifty thousand sequins because his STOKH is worth a hundred thousand! Be not deceived, O too credulous BROKAH! for this what our brother the prince doeth is not in the name of ALLAH, but of BIZ, the only god known in the bazaars of the city.”
When the foolish BROKAH heard these things he cried, “Justice, O Aga of the BROKAHS,–justice and the fulfilment of my bond! Let the prince deliver unto me the STOKH. Here are my fifty thousand sequins.” But the prince said, “Have I not told that my godmother is dying, and that my STOKH is valueless?” At this the BROKAH only clamored the more for justice and the fulfilment of his bond. Then the Aga of the BROKAHS said, “Since the bond is destroyed, behold thou hast no claim. Go thy ways!” But the BROKAH again cried, “Justice, my lord Aga! Behold, I offer the prince seventy thousand sequins for his STOKH!” But the prince said, “It is not worth one sequin!” Then the Aga said, “Bismillah! I cannot understand this. Whether thy godmother be dead, or dying, or immortal, does not seem to signify. Therefore, O prince, by the laws of BIZ and of ALLAH, thou art released. Give the BROKAH thy STOKH for seventy thousand sequins, and bid him depart in peace. On his own head be it!” When the prince heard this command, he handed his STOKH to the BROKAH, who counted out to him seventy thousand sequins. But the heart of the virtuous prince did not rejoice, nor did the BROKAH, when he found his STOKH was valueless; but the merchants lifted their hands in wonder at the sagacity and wisdom of the famous Prince BULLEBOYE. For none would believe that it was the law of ALLAH that the prince followed, and not the rules of BIZ.
THE RUINS OF SAN FRANCISCO
Towards the close of the nineteenth century the city of San Francisco was totally ingulfed by an earthquake. Although the whole coast-line must have been much shaken, the accident seems to have been purely local, and even the city of Oakland escaped. Schwappelfurt, the celebrated German geologist, has endeavored to explain this singular fact by suggesting that there are some things the earth cannot swallow,–a statement that should be received with some caution, as exceeding the latitude of ordinary geological speculation.
Historians disagree in the exact date of the calamity. Tulu Krish, the well-known New-Zealander, whose admirable speculations on the ruins of St. Paul as seen from London Bridge have won for him the attentive consideration of the scientific world, fixes the occurrence in A. D. 1880. This, supposing the city to have been actually founded in 1850, as asserted, would give but thirty years for it to have assumed the size and proportions it had evidently attained at the time of its destruction. It is not our purpose, however, to question the conclusions of the justly famed Maorian philosopher. Our present business lies with the excavations that are now being prosecuted by order of the Hawaiian government upon the site of the lost city.
Every one is familiar with the story of its discovery. For many years the bay of San Francisco had been famed for the luscious quality of its oysters. It is stated that a dredger one day raked up a large bell, which proved to belong to the City Hall, and led to the discovery of the cupola of that building. The attention of the government was at once directed to the spot. The bay of San Francisco was speedily drained by a system of patent siphons, and the city, deeply embedded in mud, brought to light after a burial of many centuries. The City Hall, Post-Office, Mint, and Custom- House were readily recognized by the large full-fed barnacles which adhered to their walls. Shortly afterwards the first skeleton was discovered; that of a broker, whose position in the upper strata of mud nearer the surface was supposed to be owing to the exceeding buoyancy or inflation of scrip which he had secured about his person while endeavoring to escape. Many skeletons, supposed to be those of females, encompassed in that peculiar steel coop or cage which seems to have been worn by the women of that period, were also found in the upper stratum. Alexis von Puffer, in his admirable work on San Francisco, accounts for the position of these unfortunate creatures by asserting that the steel cage was originally the frame of a parachute-like garment which distended the skirt, and in the submersion of the city prevented them from sinking. “If anything,” says Von Puffer, “could have been wanting to add intensity to the horrible catastrophe which took place as the waters first entered the city, it would have been furnished in the forcible separation of the sexes at this trying moment. Buoyed up by their peculiar garments, the female population instantly ascended to the surface. As the drowning husband turned his eyes above, what must have been his agony as he saw his wife shooting upward, and knew that he was debarred the privilege of perishing with her? To the lasting honor of the male inhabitants, be it said that but few seemed to have availed themselves of their wives’ superior levity. Only one skeleton was found still grasping the ankles of another in their upward journey to the surface.”
For many years California had been subject to slight earthquakes, more or less generally felt, but not of sufficient importance to awaken anxiety or fear. Perhaps the absorbing nature of the San Franciscans’ pursuits of gold-getting, which metal seems to have been valuable in those days, and actually used as a medium of currency, rendered the inhabitants reckless of all other matters. Everything tends to show that the calamity was totally unlooked for. We quote the graphic language of Schwappelfurt:–
“The morning of the tremendous catastrophe probably dawned upon the usual restless crowd of gold-getters intent upon their several avocations. The streets were filled with the expanded figures of gayly dressed women, acknowledging with coy glances the respectful salutations of beaux as they gracefully raised their remarkable cylindrical head-coverings, a model of which is still preserved in the Honolulu Museum. The brokers had gathered at their respective temples. The shopmen were exhibiting their goods. The idlers, or ‘Bummers,’–a term applied to designate an aristocratic, privileged class who enjoyed immunities from labor, and from whom a majority of the rulers are chosen,–were listlessly regarding the promenaders from the street-corners or the doors of their bibulous temples. A slight premonitory thrill runs through the city. The busy life of this restless microcosm is arrested. The shopkeeper pauses as he elevates the goods to bring them into a favorable light, and the glib professional recommendation sticks on his tongue. In the drinking-saloon the glass is checked half-way to the lips; on the streets the promenaders pause. Another thrill, and the city begins to go down, a few of the more persistent topers tossing off their liquor at the same moment. Beyond a terrible sensation of nausea, the crowds who now throng the streets do not realize the extent of the catastrophe. The waters of the bay recede at first from the centre of depression, assuming a concave shape, the outer edge of the circle towering many thousand feet above the city. Another convulsion, and the water instantly resumes its level. The city is smoothly ingulfed nine thousand feet below, and the regular swell of the Pacific calmly rolls over it. Terrible,” says Schwappelfurt, in conclusion, “as the calamity must have been, in direct relation to the individuals immediately concerned therein, we cannot but admire its artistic management; the division of the catastrophe into three periods, the completeness of the cataclysms, and the rare combination of sincerity of intention with felicity of execution.”
A NIGHT AT WINGDAM.
I had been stage-ridden and bewildered all day, and when we swept down with the darkness into the Arcadian hamlet of “Wingdam,” I resolved to go no farther, and rolled out in a gloomy and dyspeptic state. The effects of a mysterious pie, and some sweetened carbonic acid known to the proprietor of the “Half-Way House” as “lemming sody,” still oppressed me. Even the facetiae of the gallant expressman who knew everybody’s Christian name along the route, who rained letters, newspapers, and bundles from the top of the stage, whose legs frequently appeared in frightful proximity to the wheels, who got on and off while we were going at full speed, whose gallantry, energy, and superior knowledge of travel crushed all us other passengers to envious silence, and who just then was talking with several persons and manifestly doing something else at the same time,–even this had failed to interest me. So I stood gloomily, clutching my shawl and carpet-bag, and watched the stage roll away, taking a parting look at the gallant expressman as he hung on the top rail with one leg, and lit his cigar from the pipe of a running footman. I then turned toward the Wingdam Temperance Hotel.
It may have been the weather, or it may have been the pie, but I was not impressed favorably with the house. Perhaps it was the name extending the whole length of the building, with a letter under each window, making the people who looked out dreadfully conspicuous. Perhaps it was that “Temperance” always suggested to my mind rusks and weak tea. It was uninviting. It might have been called the “Total Abstinence” Hotel, from the lack of anything to intoxicate or inthrall the senses. It was designed with an eye to artistic dreariness. It was so much too large for the settlement, that it appeared to be a very slight improvement on out-doors. It was unpleasantly new. There was the forest flavor of dampness about it, and a slight spicing of pine. Nature outraged, but not entirely subdued, sometimes broke out afresh in little round, sticky, resinous tears on the doors and windows. It seemed to me that boarding there must seem like a perpetual picnic. As I entered the door, a number of the regular boarders rushed out of a long room, and set about trying to get the taste of something out of their mouths, by the application of tobacco in various forms. A few immediately ranged themselves around the fireplace, with their legs over each other’s chairs, and in that position silently resigned themselves to indigestion. Remembering the pie, I waived the invitation of the landlord to supper, but suffered myself to be conducted into the sitting-room. “Mine host” was a magnificent- looking, heavily bearded specimen of the animal man. He reminded me of somebody or something connected with the drama. I was sitting beside the fire, mutely wondering what it could be, and trying to follow the particular chord of memory thus touched, into the intricate past, when a little delicate-looking woman appeared at the door, and, leaning heavily against the casing, said in an exhausted tone, “Husband!” As the landlord turned toward her, that particular remembrance flashed before me in a single line of blank verse. It was this: “Two souls with but one single thought, two hearts that beat as one.”
It was Ingomar and Parthenia his wife. I imagined a different denouement from the play. Ingomar had taken Parthenia back to the mountains, and kept a hotel for the benefit of the Alemanni, who resorted there in large numbers. Poor Parthenia was pretty well fagged out, and did all the work without “help.” She had two “young barbarians,” a boy and a girl. She was faded, but still good-looking.
I sat and talked with Ingomar, who seemed perfectly at home and told me several stories of the Alemanni, all bearing a strong flavor of the wilderness, and being perfectly in keeping with the house. How he, Ingomar, had killed a certain dreadful “bar,” whose skin was just up “yar,” over his bed. How he, Ingomar, had killed several “bucks,” whose skins had been prettily fringed and embroidered by Parthenia, and even now clothed him. How he, Ingomar, had killed several “Injins,” and was once nearly scalped himself. All this with that ingenious candor which is perfectly justifiable in a barbarian, but which a Greek might feel inclined to look upon as “blowing.” Thinking of the wearied Parthenia, I began to consider for the first time that perhaps she had better married the old Greek. Then she would at least have always looked neat. Then she would not have worn a woollen dress flavored with all the dinners of the past year. Then she would not have been obliged to wait on the table with her hair half down. Then the two children would not have hung about her skirts with dirty fingers, palpably dragging her down day by day. I suppose it was the pie which put such heartless and improper ideas in my head, and so I rose up and told Ingomar I believed I’d go to bed. Preceded by that redoubtable barbarian and a flaring tallow candle, I followed him up stairs to my room. It was the only single room he had, he told me; he had built it for the convenience of married parties who might stop here, but, that event not happening yet, he had left it half furnished. It had cloth on one side, and large cracks on the other. The wind, which always swept over Wingdam at night-time, puffed through the apartment from different apertures. The window was too small for the hole in the side of the house where it hung, and rattled noisily. Everything looked cheerless and dispiriting. Before Ingomar left me, he brought that “bar-skin,” and throwing it over the solemn bier which stood in one corner, told me he reckoned that would keep me warm, and then bade me good night. I undressed myself, the light blowing out in the middle of that ceremony, crawled under the “bar-skin,” and tried to compose myself to sleep.
But I was staringly wide awake. I heard the wind sweep down the mountain-side, and toss the branches of the melancholy pine, and then enter the house, and try all the doors along the passage. Sometimes strong currents of air blew my hair all over the pillow, as with strange whispering breaths. The green timber along the walls seemed to be sprouting, and sent a dampness even through the “bar-skin.” I felt like Robinson Crusoe in his tree, with the ladder pulled up,–or like the rocked baby of the nursery song. After lying awake half an hour, I regretted having stopped at Wingdam; at the end of the third quarter, I wished I had not gone to bed; and when a restless hour passed, I got up and dressed myself. There had been a fire down in the big room. Perhaps it was still burning. I opened the door and groped my way along the passage, vocal with the snores of the Alemanni and the whistling of the night wind; I partly fell down stairs, and at last entering the big room, saw the fire still burning. I drew a chair toward it, poked it with my foot, and was astonished to see, by the upspringing flash, that Parthenia was sitting there also, holding a faded-looking baby.
I asked her why she was sitting up.
“She did not go to bed on Wednesday night before the mail arrived, and then she awoke her husband, and there were passengers to ‘tend to.”
“Did she not get tired sometimes?”
“A little, but Abner” (the barbarian’s Christian name) “had promised to get her more help next spring, if business was good.”
“How many boarders had she?”
“She believed about forty came to regular meals, and there was transient custom, which was as much as she and her husband could ‘tend to. But HE did a great deal of work.”
“O, bringing in the wood, and looking after the traders’ things.”
“How long had she been married?”
“About nine years. She had lost a little girl and boy. Three children living. HE was from Illinois. She from Boston. Had an education (Boston Female High School,–Geometry, Algebra, a little Latin and Greek). Mother and father died. Came to Illinois alone, to teach school. Saw HIM–yes–a love match.” (“Two souls,” etc., etc.) “Married and emigrated to Kansas. Thence across the Plains to California. Always on the outskirts of civilization. HE liked it.
“She might sometimes have wished to go home. Would like to on account of her children. Would like to give them an education. Had taught them a little herself, but couldn’t do much on account of other work. Hoped that the boy would be like his father, strong and hearty. Was fearful the girl would be more like her. Had often thought she was not fit for a pioneer’s wife.”
“O, she was not strong enough, and had seen some of his friends’ wives in Kansas who could do more work. But he never complained,– was so kind.” (“Two souls,” etc.)
Sitting there with her head leaning pensively on one hand, holding the poor, wearied, and limp-looking baby wearily on the other arm, dirty, drabbled, and forlorn, with the firelight playing upon her features no longer fresh or young, but still refined and delicate, and even in her grotesque slovenliness still bearing a faint reminiscence of birth and breeding, it was not to be wondered that I did not fall into excessive raptures over the barbarian’s kindness. Emboldened by my sympathy, she told me how she had given up, little by little, what she imagined to be the weakness of her early education, until she found that she acquired but little strength in her new experience. How, translated to a backwoods society, she was hated by the women, and called proud and “fine,” and how her dear husband lost popularity on that account with his fellows. How, led partly by his roving instincts, and partly from other circumstances, he started with her to California. An account of that tedious journey. How it was a dreary, dreary waste in her memory, only a blank plain marked by a little cairn of stones,–a child’s grave. How she had noticed that little Willie failed. How she had called Abner’s attention to it, but, man-like, he knew nothing about children, and pooh-poohed it, and was worried by the stock. How it happened that after they had passed Sweetwater, she was walking beside the wagon one night, and looking at the western sky, and she heard a little voice say “Mother.” How she looked into the wagon and saw that little Willie was sleeping comfortably and did not wish to wake him. How that in a few moments more she heard the same voice saying “Mother.” How she came back to the wagon and leaned down over him, and felt his breath upon her face, and again covered him up tenderly, and once more resumed her weary journey beside him, praying to God for his recovery. How with her face turned to the sky she heard the same voice saying “Mother,” and directly a great bright star shot away from its brethren and expired. And how she knew what had happened, and ran to the wagon again only to pillow a little pinched and cold white face upon her weary bosom. The thin red hands went up to her eyes here, and for a few moments she sat still. The wind tore round the house and made a frantic rush at the front door, and from his couch of skins in the inner room–Ingomar, the barbarian, snored peacefully.
“Of course she always found a protector from insult and outrage in the great courage and strength of her husband?”
“O yes; when Ingomar was with her she feared nothing. But she was nervous and had been frightened once!”
“They had just arrived in California. They kept house then, and had to sell liquor to traders. Ingomar was hospitable, and drank with everybody, for the sake of popularity and business, and Ingomar got to like liquor, and was easily affected by it. And how one night there was a boisterous crowd in the bar-room; she went in and tried to get him away, but only succeeded in awakening the coarse gallantry of the half-crazed revellers. And how, when she had at last got him in the room with her frightened children, he sank down on the bed in a stupor, which made her think the liquor was drugged. And how she sat beside him all night, and near morning heard a step in the passage, and, looking toward the door, saw the latch slowly moving up and down, as if somebody were trying it. And how she shook her husband, and tried to waken him, but without effect. And how at last the door yielded slowly at the top (it was bolted below), as if by a gradual pressure without; and how a hand protruded through the opening. And how as quick as lightning she nailed that hand to the wall with her scissors (her only weapon), but the point broke, and somebody got away with a fearful oath. How she never told her husband of it, for fear he would kill that somebody; but how on one day a stranger called here, and as she was handing him his coffee, she saw a queer triangular scar on the back of his hand.”
She was still talking, and the wind was still blowing, and Ingomar was still snoring from his couch of skins, when there was a shout high up the straggling street, and a clattering of hoofs, and rattling of wheels. The mail had arrived. Parthenia ran with the faded baby to awaken Ingomar, and almost simultaneously the gallant expressman stood again before me addressing me by my Christian name, and inviting me to drink out of a mysterious black bottle. The horses were speedily watered, and the business of the gallant expressman concluded, and, bidding Parthenia good by, I got on the stage, and immediately fell asleep, and dreamt of calling on Parthenia and Ingomar, and being treated with pie to an unlimited extent, until I woke up the next morning in Sacramento. I have some doubts as to whether all this was not a dyspeptic dream, but I never witness the drama, and hear that noble sentiment concerning “Two souls,” etc., without thinking of Wingdam and poor Parthenia.