Infomotions, Inc.A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's and Other Stories / Harte, Bret, 1836-1902



Author: Harte, Bret, 1836-1902
Title: A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's and Other Stories
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): cissy; brother seabright; seabright; consul; reddy; custer; hamlin; jack; sophy; yuba bill; aunt chloe; miss elsie; bill; chapel
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 57,086 words (short) Grade range: 9-12 (high school) Readability score: 61 (easy)
Identifier: etext2692
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Title: A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's and Other Stories

Author: Bret Harte

Release Date: May 25, 2006 [EBook #2692]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S ***




Produced by Donald Lainson





A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S

by Bret Harte




CONTENTS.


A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S

AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS

THE REFORMATION OF JAMES REDDY

THE HEIR OF THE McHULISHES

AN EPISODE OF WEST WOODLANDS

THE HOME-COMING OF JIM WILKES




A PROTEGEE OF JACK HAMLIN'S.


I.

The steamer Silveropolis was sharply and steadily cleaving the broad,
placid shallows of the Sacramento River. A large wave like an eagre,
diverging from its bow, was extending to either bank, swamping the tules
and threatening to submerge the lower levees. The great boat itself--a
vast but delicate structure of airy stories, hanging galleries, fragile
colonnades, gilded cornices, and resplendent frescoes--was throbbing
throughout its whole perilous length with the pulse of high pressure and
the strong monotonous beat of a powerful piston. Floods of foam pouring
from the high paddle-boxes on either side and reuniting in the wake of
the boat left behind a track of dazzling whiteness, over which trailed
two dense black banners flung from its lofty smokestacks.

Mr. Jack Hamlin had quietly emerged from his stateroom on deck and was
looking over the guards. His hands were resting lightly on his hips over
the delicate curves of his white waistcoat, and he was whistling softly,
possibly some air to which he had made certain card-playing passengers
dance the night before. He was in comfortable case, and his soft brown
eyes under their long lashes were veiled with gentle tolerance of all
things. He glanced lazily along the empty hurricane deck forward; he
glanced lazily down to the saloon deck below him. Far out against the
guards below him leaned a young girl. Mr. Hamlin knitted his brows
slightly.

He remembered her at once. She had come on board that morning with one
Ned Stratton, a brother gambler, but neither a favorite nor intimate of
Jack's. From certain indications in the pair, Jack had inferred that she
was some foolish or reckless creature whom "Ed" had "got on a string,"
and was spiriting away from her friends and family. With the abstract
morality of this situation Jack was not in the least concerned. For
himself he did not indulge in that sort of game; the inexperience and
vacillations of innocence were apt to be bothersome, and besides, a
certain modest doubt of his own competency to make an original selection
had always made him prefer to confine his gallantries to the wives of
men of greater judgment than himself who had. But it suddenly occurred
to him that he had seen Stratton quickly slip off the boat at the last
landing stage. Ah! that was it; he had cast away and deserted her.
It was an old story. Jack smiled. But he was not greatly amused with
Stratton.

She was very pale, and seemed to be clinging to the network railing,
as if to support herself, although she was gazing fixedly at the yellow
glancing current below, which seemed to be sucked down and swallowed
in the paddle-box as the boat swept on. It certainly was a fascinating
sight--this sloping rapid, hurrying on to bury itself under the crushing
wheels. For a brief moment Jack saw how they would seize anything
floating on that ghastly incline, whirl it round in one awful revolution
of the beating paddles, and then bury it, broken and shattered out of
all recognition, deep in the muddy undercurrent of the stream behind
them.

She moved away presently with an odd, stiff step, chafing her gloved
hands together as if they had become stiffened too in her rigid grasp
of the railing. Jack leisurely watched her as she moved along the narrow
strip of deck. She was not at all to his taste,--a rather plump girl
with a rustic manner and a great deal of brown hair under her straw
hat. She might have looked better had she not been so haggard. When she
reached the door of the saloon she paused, and then, turning suddenly,
began to walk quickly back again. As she neared the spot where she had
been standing her pace slackened, and when she reached the railing she
seemed to relapse against it in her former helpless fashion. Jack became
lazily interested. Suddenly she lifted her head and cast a quick glance
around and above her. In that momentary lifting of her face Jack saw her
expression. Whatever it was, his own changed instantly; the next moment
there was a crash on the lower deck. It was Jack who had swung himself
over the rail and dropped ten feet, to her side. But not before she had
placed one foot in the meshes of the netting and had gripped the railing
for a spring.

The noise of Jack's fall might have seemed to her bewildered fancy as a
part of her frantic act, for she fell forward vacantly on the railing.
But by this time Jack had grasped her arm as if to help himself to his
feet.

"I might have killed myself by that foolin', mightn't I?" he said
cheerfully.

The sound of a voice so near her seemed to recall to her dazed sense the
uncompleted action his fall had arrested. She made a convulsive bound
towards the railing, but Jack held her fast.

"Don't," he said in a low voice, "don't, it won't pay. It's the sickest
game that ever was played by man or woman. Come here!"

He drew her towards an empty stateroom whose door was swinging on its
hinges a few feet from them. She was trembling violently; he half led,
half pushed her into the room, closed the door and stood with his back
against it as she dropped into a chair. She looked at him vacantly; the
agitation she was undergoing inwardly had left her no sense of outward
perception.

"You know Stratton would be awfully riled," continued Jack easily. "He's
just stepped out to see a friend and got left by the fool boat. He'll be
along by the next steamer, and you're bound to meet him in Sacramento."

Her staring eyes seemed suddenly to grasp his meaning. But to his
surprise she burst out with a certain hysterical desperation, "No! no!
Never! NEVER again! Let me pass! I must go," and struggled to regain
the door. Jack, albeit singularly relieved to know that she shared
his private sentiments regarding Stratton, nevertheless resisted her.
Whereat she suddenly turned white, reeled back, and sank in a dead faint
in the chair.

The gambler turned, drew the key from the inside of the door, passed
out, locking it behind him, and walked leisurely into the main saloon.
"Mrs. Johnson," he said gravely, addressing the stewardess, a tall
mulatto, with his usual winsome supremacy over dependents and children,
"you'll oblige me if you'll corral a few smelling salts, vinaigrettes,
hairpins, and violet powder, and unload them in deck stateroom No. 257.
There's a lady"--

"A lady, Marse Hamlin?" interrupted the mulatto, with an archly
significant flash of her white teeth.

"A lady," continued Jack with unabashed gravity, "in a sort of
conniption fit. A relative of mine; in fact a niece, my only sister's
child. Hadn't seen each other for ten years, and it was too much for
her."

The woman glanced at him with a mingling of incredulous belief, but
delighted obedience, hurriedly gathered a few articles from her cabin,
and followed him to No. 257. The young girl was still unconscious. The
stewardess applied a few restoratives with the skill of long experience,
and the young girl opened her eyes. They turned vacantly from the
stewardess to Jack with a look of half recognition and half frightened
inquiry. "Yes," said Jack, addressing the eyes, although ostentatiously
speaking to Mrs. Johnson, "she'd only just come by steamer to 'Frisco
and wasn't expecting to see me, and we dropped right into each other
here on the boat. And I haven't seen her since she was so high. Sister
Mary ought to have warned me by letter; but she was always a slouch at
letter writing. There, that'll do, Mrs. Johnson. She's coming round; I
reckon I can manage the rest. But you go now and tell the purser I want
one of those inside staterooms for my niece,--MY NIECE, you hear,--so
that you can be near her and look after her."

As the stewardess turned obediently away the young girl attempted to
rise, but Jack checked her. "No," he said, almost brusquely; "you and
I have some talking to do before she gets back, and we've no time for
foolin'. You heard what I told her just now! Well, it's got to be as I
said, you sabe. As long as you're on this boat you're my niece, and my
sister Mary's child. As I haven't got any sister Mary, you don't run any
risk of falling foul of her, and you ain't taking any one's place. That
settles that. Now, do you or do you not want to see that man again? Say
yes, and if he's anywhere above ground I'll yank him over to you as soon
as we touch shore." He had no idea of interfering with his colleague's
amours, but he had determined to make Stratton pay for the bother their
slovenly sequence had caused him. Yet he was relieved and astonished
by her frantic gesture of indignation and abhorrence. "No?" he repeated
grimly. "Well, that settles that. Now, look here; quick, before she
comes--do you want to go back home to your friends?"

But here occurred what he had dreaded most and probably thought he had
escaped. She had stared at him, at the stewardess, at the walls, with
abstracted, vacant, and bewildered, but always undimmed and unmoistened
eyes. A sudden convulsion shook her whole frame, her blank expression
broke like a shattered mirror, she threw her hands over her eyes and
fell forward with her face to the back of her chair in an outburst of
tears.

Alas for Jack! with the breaking up of those sealed fountains came her
speech also, at first disconnected and incoherent, and then despairing
and passionate. No! she had no longer friends or home! She had lost and
disgraced them! She had disgraced HERSELF! There was no home for her
but the grave. Why had Jack snatched her from it? Then, bit by bit,
she yielded up her story,--a story decidedly commonplace to Jack,
uninteresting, and even irritating to his fastidiousness. She was a
schoolgirl (not even a convent girl, but the inmate of a Presbyterian
female academy at Napa. Jack shuddered as he remembered to have once
seen certain of the pupils walking with a teacher), and she lived with
her married sister. She had seen Stratton while going to and fro on
the San Francisco boat; she had exchanged notes with him, had met him
secretly, and finally consented to elope with him to Sacramento, only
to discover when the boat had left the wharf the real nature of his
intentions. Jack listened with infinite weariness and inward chafing. He
had read all this before in cheap novelettes, in the police reports, in
the Sunday papers; he had heard a street preacher declaim against
it, and warn young women of the serpent-like wiles of tempters of the
Stratton variety. But even now Jack failed to recognize Stratton as a
serpent, or indeed anything but a blundering cheat and clown, who had
left his dirty 'prentice work on his (Jack's) hands. But the girl was
helpless and, it seemed, homeless, all through a certain desperation
of feeling which, in spite of her tears, he could not but respect. That
momentary shadow of death had exalted her. He stroked his mustache,
pulled down his white waistcoat and her cry, without saying anything.
He did not know that this most objectionable phase of her misery was her
salvation and his own.

But the stewardess would return in a moment. "You'd better tell me what
to call you," he said quietly. "I ought to know my niece's first name."

The girl caught her breath, and, between two sobs, said, "Sophonisba."

Jack winced. It seemed only to need this last sentimental touch to
complete the idiotic situation. "I'll call you Sophy," he said hurriedly
and with an effort.

"And now look here! You are going in that cabin with Mrs. Johnson where
she can look after you, but I can't. So I'll have to take your word, for
I'm not going to give you away before Mrs. Johnson, that you won't try
that foolishness--you know what I mean--before I see you again. Can I
trust you?"

With her head still bowed over the chair back, she murmured slowly
somewhere from under her disheveled hair:--

"Yes."

"Honest Injin?" adjured Jack gravely.

"Yes."

The shuffling step of the stewardess was heard slowly approaching.
"Yes," continued Jack abruptly, lightly lifting his voice as Mrs.
Johnson opened the door,--"yes, if you'd only had some of those
spearmint drops of your aunt Rachel's that she always gave you when
these fits came on you'd have been all right inside of five minutes.
Aunty was no slouch of a doctor, was she? Dear me, it only seems
yesterday since I saw her. You were just playing round her knee like
a kitten on the back porch. How time does fly! But here's Mrs. Johnson
coming to take you in. Now rouse up, Sophy, and just hook yourself on to
Mrs. Johnson on that side, and we'll toddle along."

The young girl put back her heavy hair, and with her face still averted
submitted to be helped to her feet by the kindly stewardess. Perhaps
something homely sympathetic and nurse-like in the touch of the mulatto
gave her assurance and confidence, for her head lapsed quite naturally
against the woman's shoulder, and her face was partly hidden as she
moved slowly along the deck. Jack accompanied them to the saloon and the
inner stateroom door. A few passengers gathered curiously near, as much
attracted by the unusual presence of Jack Hamlin in such a procession
as by the girl herself. "You'll look after her specially, Mrs. Johnson,"
said Jack, in unusually deliberate terms. "She's been a good deal petted
at home, and my sister perhaps has rather spoilt her. She's pretty much
of a child still, and you'll have to humor her. Sophy," he continued,
with ostentatious playfulness, directing his voice into the dim recesses
of the stateroom, "you'll just think Mrs. Johnson's your old nurse,
won't you? Think it's old Katy, hey?"

To his great consternation the girl approached tremblingly from the
inner shadow. The faintest and saddest of smiles for a moment played
around the corners of her drawn mouth and tear-dimmed eyes as she held
out her hand and said:--

"God bless you for being so kind."

Jack shuddered and glanced quickly round. But luckily no one heard this
crushing sentimentalism, and the next moment the door closed upon her
and Mrs. Johnson.

It was past midnight, and the moon was riding high over the narrowing
yellow river, when Jack again stepped out on deck. He had just left the
captain's cabin, and a small social game with the officers, which
had served to some extent to vaguely relieve his irritation and
their pockets. He had presumably quite forgotten the incident of the
afternoon, as he looked about him, and complacently took in the quiet
beauty of the night.

The low banks on either side offered no break to the uninterrupted level
of the landscape, through which the river seemed to wind only as a race
track for the rushing boat. Every fibre of her vast but fragile bulk
quivered under the goad of her powerful engines. There was no other
movement but hers, no other sound but this monstrous beat and panting;
the whole tranquil landscape seemed to breathe and pulsate with her;
dwellers in the tules, miles away, heard and felt her as she passed, and
it seemed to Jack, leaning over the railing, as if the whole river swept
like a sluice through her paddle-boxes.

Jack had quite unconsciously lounged before that part of the railing
where the young girl had leaned a few hours ago. As he looked down upon
the streaming yellow mill-race below him, he noticed--what neither he
nor the girl had probably noticed before--that a space of the top bar of
the railing was hinged, and could be lifted by withdrawing a small
bolt, thus giving easy access to the guards. He was still looking at it,
whistling softly, when footsteps approached.

"Jack," said a lazy voice, "how's sister Mary?"

"It's a long time since you've seen her only child, Jack, ain't it?"
said a second voice; "and yet it sort o' seems to me somehow that I've
seen her before."

Jack recognized the voice of two of his late companions at the
card-table. His whistling ceased; so also dropped every trace of color
and expression from his handsome face. But he did not turn, and remained
quietly gazing at the water.

"Aunt Rachel, too, must be getting on in years, Jack," continued the
first speaker, halting behind Jack.

"And Mrs. Johnson does not look so much like Sophy's old nurse as
she used to," remarked the second, following his example. Still Jack
remained unmoved.

"You don't seem to be interested, Jack," continued the first speaker.
"What are you looking at?"

Without turning his head the gambler replied, "Looking at the boat;
she's booming along, just chawing up and spitting out the river, ain't
she? Look at that sweep of water going under her paddle-wheels," he
continued, unbolting the rail and lifting it to allow the two men to
peer curiously over the guards as he pointed to the murderous incline
beneath them; "a man wouldn't stand much show who got dropped into it.
How these paddles would just snatch him bald-headed, pick him up and
slosh him round and round, and then sling him out down there in such a
shape that his own father wouldn't know him."

"Yes," said the first speaker, with an ostentatious little laugh, "but
all that ain't telling us how sister Mary is."

"No," said the gambler slipping into the opening with a white and rigid
face in which nothing seemed living but the eyes, "no, but it's telling
you how two d----d fools who didn't know when to shut their mouths might
get them shut once and forever. It's telling you what might happen to
two men who tried to 'play' a man who didn't care to be 'played,'--a man
who didn't care much what he did, when he did it, or how he did it, but
would do what he'd set out to do--even if in doing it he went to hell
with the men he sent there."

He had stepped out on the guards, beside the two men, closing the rail
behind him. He had placed his hands on their shoulders; they had both
gripped his arms; yet, viewed from the deck above, they seemed at that
moment an amicable, even fraternal group, albeit the faces of the three
were dead white in the moonlight.

"I don't think I'm so very much interested in sister Mary," said the
first speaker quietly, after a pause.

"And I don't seem to think so much of aunt Rachel as I did," said his
companion.

"I thought you wouldn't," said Jack, coolly reopening the rail and
stepping back again. "It all depends upon the way you look at those
things. Good-night."

"Good-night."

The three men paused, shook each other's hands silently, and separated,
Jack sauntering slowly back to his stateroom.


II.


The educational establishment of Mrs. Mix and Madame Bance, situated
in the best quarter of Sacramento and patronized by the highest state
officials and members of the clergy, was a pretty if not an imposing
edifice. Although surrounded by a high white picket fence and entered
through a heavily boarded gate, its balconies festooned with jasmine
and roses, and its spotlessly draped windows as often graced with fresh,
flower-like faces, were still plainly and provokingly visible above the
ostentatious spikes of the pickets. Nevertheless, Mr. Jack Hamlin, who
had six months before placed his niece, Miss Sophonisba Brown, under
its protecting care, felt a degree of uneasiness, even bordering on
timidity, which was new to that usually self-confident man. Remembering
how his first appearance had fluttered this dovecote and awakened a
severe suspicion in the minds of the two principals, he had discarded
his usual fashionable attire and elegantly fitting garments for a rough,
homespun suit, supposed to represent a homely agriculturist, but which
had the effect of transforming him into an adorable Strephon, infinitely
more dangerous in his rustic shepherd-like simplicity. He had also
shaved off his silken mustache for the same prudential reasons, but had
only succeeded in uncovering the delicate lines of his handsome
mouth, and so absurdly reducing his apparent years that his avuncular
pretensions seemed more preposterous than ever; and when he had rung
the bell and was admitted by a severe Irish waiting-maid, his momentary
hesitation and half humorous diffidence had such an unexpected effect
upon her, that it seemed doubtful if he would be allowed to pass beyond
the vestibule. "Shure, miss," she said in a whisper to an under teacher,
"there's wan at the dhure who calls himself, 'Mister' Hamlin, but av it
is not a young lady maskeradin' in her brother's clothes Oim very much
mistaken; and av it's a boy, one of the pupil's brothers, shure ye might
put a dhress on him when you take the others out for a walk, and he'd
pass for the beauty of the whole school."

Meantime, the unconscious subject of this criticism was pacing somewhat
uneasily up and down the formal reception room into which he had been
finally ushered. Its farther end was filled by an enormous parlor organ,
a number of music books, and a cheerfully variegated globe. A large
presentation Bible, an equally massive illustrated volume on the Holy
Land, a few landscapes in cold, bluish milk and water colors, and rigid
heads in crayons--the work of pupils--were presumably ornamental. An
imposing mahogany sofa and what seemed to be a disproportionate excess
of chairs somewhat coldly furnished the room. Jack had reluctantly
made up his mind that, if Sophy was accompanied by any one, he would be
obliged to kiss her to keep up his assumed relationship. As she entered
the room with Miss Mix, Jack advanced and soberly saluted her on the
cheek. But so positive and apparent was the gallantry of his presence,
and perhaps so suggestive of some pastoral flirtation, that Miss Mix, to
Jack's surprise, winced perceptibly and became stony. But he was still
more surprised that the young lady herself shrank half uneasily from his
lips, and uttered a slight exclamation. It was a new experience to Mr.
Hamlin.

But this somewhat mollified Miss Mix, and she slightly relaxed her
austerity. She was glad to be able to give the best accounts of Miss
Brown, not only as regarded her studies, but as to her conduct and
deportment. Really, with the present freedom of manners and laxity of
home discipline in California, it was gratifying to meet a young lady
who seemed to value the importance of a proper decorum and behavior,
especially towards the opposite sex. Mr. Hamlin, although her guardian,
was perhaps too young to understand and appreciate this. To this
inexperience she must also attribute the indiscretion of his calling
during school hours and without preliminary warning. She trusted,
however, that this informality could be overlooked after consultation
with Madame Bance, but in the mean time, perhaps for half an hour, she
must withdraw Miss Brown and return with her to the class. Mr. Hamlin
could wait in this public room, reserved especially for visitors, until
they returned. Or, if he cared to accompany one of the teachers in a
formal inspection of the school, she added, doubtfully, with a glance
at Jack's distracting attractions, she would submit this also to Madame
Bance.

"Thank you, thank you," returned Jack hurriedly, as a depressing vision
of the fifty or sixty scholars rose before his eyes, "but I'd rather
not. I mean, you know, I'd just as lief stay here ALONE. I wouldn't have
called anyway, don't you see, only I had a day off,--and--and--I wanted
to talk with my niece on family matters." He did not say that he had
received a somewhat distressful letter from her asking him to come; a
new instinct made him cautious.

Considerably relieved by Jack's unexpected abstention, which seemed to
spare her pupils the distraction of his graces, Miss Mix smiled more
amicably and retired with her charge. In the single glance he had
exchanged with Sophy he saw that, although resigned and apparently
self-controlled, she still appeared thoughtful and melancholy. She had
improved in appearance and seemed more refined and less rustic in her
school dress, but he was conscious of the same distinct separation of
her personality (which was uninteresting to him) from the sentiment that
had impelled him to visit her. She was possibly still hankering after
that fellow Stratton, in spite of her protestations to the contrary;
perhaps she wanted to go back to her sister, although she had declared
she would die first, and had always refused to disclose her real name
or give any clue by which he could have traced her relations. She would
cry, of course; he almost hoped that she would not return alone; he half
regretted he had come. She still held him only by a single quality
of her nature,--the desperation she had shown on the boat; that was
something he understood and respected.

He walked discontentedly to the window and looked out; he walked
discontentedly to the end of the room and stopped before the organ.
It was a fine instrument; he could see that with an admiring and
experienced eye. He was alone in the room; in fact, quite alone in that
part of the house which was separated from the class-rooms. He would
disturb no one by trying it. And if he did, what then? He smiled a
little recklessly, slowly pulled off his gloves, and sat down before it.

He played cautiously at first, with the soft pedal down. The instrument
had never known a strong masculine hand before, having been fumbled and
friveled over by softly incompetent, feminine fingers. But presently it
began to thrill under the passionate hand of its lover, and carried away
by his one innocent weakness, Jack was launched upon a sea of musical
reminiscences. Scraps of church music, Puritan psalms of his boyhood;
dying strains from sad, forgotten operas, fragments of oratorios and
symphonies, but chiefly phases from old masses heard at the missions
of San Pedro and Santa Isabel, swelled up from his loving and masterful
fingers. He had finished an Agnus Dei; the formal room was pulsating
with divine aspiration; the rascal's hands were resting listlessly on
the keys, his brown lashes lifted, in an effort of memory, tenderly
towards the ceiling.

Suddenly, a subdued murmur of applause and a slight rustle behind him
recalled him to himself again. He wheeled his chair quickly round. The
two principals of the school and half a dozen teachers were standing
gravely behind him, and at the open door a dozen curled and frizzled
youthful heads peered in eagerly, but half restrained by their teachers.
The relaxed features and apologetic attitude of Madame Bance and Miss
Mix showed that Mr. Hamlin had unconsciously achieved a triumph.

He might not have been as pleased to know that his extraordinary
performance had solved a difficulty, effaced his other graces, and
enabled them to place him on the moral pedestal of a mere musician, to
whom these eccentricities were allowable and privileged. He shared the
admiration extended by the young ladies to their music teacher, which
was always understood to be a sexless enthusiasm and a contagious
juvenile disorder. It was also a fine advertisement for the organ.
Madame Bance smiled blandly, improved the occasion by thanking Mr.
Hamlin for having given the scholars a gratuitous lesson on the
capabilities of the instrument, and was glad to be able to give Miss
Brown a half-holiday to spend with her accomplished relative. Miss Brown
was even now upstairs, putting on her hat and mantle. Jack was relieved.
Sophy would not attempt to cry on the street.

Nevertheless, when they reached it and the gate closed behind them, he
again became uneasy. The girl's clouded face and melancholy manner were
not promising. It also occurred to him that he might meet some one who
knew him and thus compromise her. This was to be avoided at all hazards.
He began with forced gayety:--

"Well, now, where shall we go?"

She slightly raised her tear-dimmed eyes. "Where you please--I don't
care."

"There isn't any show going on here, is there?" He had a vague idea of a
circus or menagerie--himself behind her in the shadow of the box.

"I don't know of any."

"Or any restaurant--or cake shop?"

"There's a place where the girls go to get candy on Main Street. Some of
them are there now."

Jack shuddered; this was not to be thought of. "But where do you walk?"

"Up and down Main Street."

"Where everybody can see you?" said Jack, scandalized.

The girl nodded.

They walked on in silence for a few moments. Then a bright idea struck
Mr. Hamlin. He suddenly remembered that in one of his many fits
of impulsive generosity and largesse he had given to an old negro
retainer--whose wife had nursed him through a dangerous illness--a house
and lot on the river bank. He had been told that they had opened a small
laundry or wash-house. It occurred to him that a stroll there and a
call upon "Uncle Hannibal and Aunt Chloe" combined the propriety and
respectability due to the young person he was with, and the requisite
secrecy and absence of publicity due to himself. He at once suggested
it.

"You see she was a mighty good woman and you ought to know her, for she
was my old nurse"--

The girl glanced at him with a sudden impatience.

"Honest Injin," said Jack solemnly; "she did nurse me through my last
cough. I ain't playing old family gags on you now."

"Oh, dear," burst out the girl impulsively, "I do wish you wouldn't ever
play them again. I wish you wouldn't pretend to be my uncle; I wish you
wouldn't make me pass for your niece. It isn't right. It's all wrong.
Oh, don't you know it's all wrong, and can't come right any way? It's
just killing me. I can't stand it. I'd rather you'd say what I am and
how I came to you and how you pitied me."

They had luckily entered a narrow side street, and the sobs which shook
the young girl's frame were unnoticed. For a few moments Jack felt a
horrible conviction stealing over him, that in his present attitude
towards her he was not unlike that hound Stratton, and that, however
innocent his own intent, there was a sickening resemblance to the
situation on the boat in the base advantage he had taken of her
friendlessness. He had never told her that he was a gambler like
Stratton, and that his peculiarly infelix reputation among women made it
impossible for him to assist her, except by a stealth or the deception
he had practiced, without compromising her. He who had for years faced
the sneers and half-frightened opposition of the world dared not tell
the truth to this girl, from whom he expected nothing and who did not
interest him. He felt he was almost slinking at her side. At last he
said desperately:--

"But I snatched them bald-headed at the organ, Sophy, didn't I?"

"Oh yes," said the girl, "you played beautifully and grandly. It was so
good of you, too. For I think, somehow, Madame Bance had been a little
suspicious of you, but that settled it. Everybody thought it was fine,
and some thought it was your profession. Perhaps," she added timidly,
"it is?"

"I play a good deal, I reckon," said Jack, with a grim humor which did
not, however, amuse him.

"I wish I could, and make money by it," said the girl eagerly. Jack
winced, but she did not notice it as she went on hurriedly: "That's what
I wanted to talk to you about. I want to leave the school and make my
own living. Anywhere where people won't know me and where I can be alone
and work. I shall die here among these girls--with all their talk of
their friends and their--sisters,--and their questions about you."

"Tell 'em to dry up," said Jack indignantly. "Take 'em to the cake shop
and load 'em up with candy and ice cream. That'll stop their mouths.
You've got money, you got my last remittance, didn't you?" he repeated
quickly. "If you didn't, here's"--his hand was already in his pocket
when she stopped him with a despairing gesture.

"Yes, yes, I got it all. I haven't touched it. I don't want it. For I
can't live on you. Don't you understand,--I want to work. Listen,--I can
draw and paint. Madame Bance says I do it well; my drawing-master says
I might in time take portraits and get paid for it. And even now I can
retouch photographs and make colored miniatures from them. And," she
stopped and glanced at Jack half-timidly, "I've--done some already."

A glow of surprised relief suffused the gambler. Not so much at this
astonishing revelation as at the change it seemed to effect in her. Her
pale blue eyes, made paler by tears, cleared and brightened under
their swollen lids like wiped steel; the lines of her depressed mouth
straightened and became firm. Her voice had lost its hopeless monotone.

"There's a shop in the next street,--a photographer's,--where they
have one of mine in their windows," she went on, reassured by Jack's
unaffected interest. "It's only round the corner, if you care to see."

Jack assented; a few paces farther brought them to the corner of a
narrow street, where they presently turned into a broader thoroughfare
and stopped before the window of a photographer. Sophy pointed to an
oval frame, containing a portrait painted on porcelain. Mr. Hamlin was
startled. Inexperienced as he was, a certain artistic inclination
told him it was good, although it is to be feared he would have been
astonished even if it had been worse. The mere fact that this headstrong
country girl, who had run away with a cur like Stratton, should be able
to do anything else took him by surprise.

"I got ten dollars for that," she said hesitatingly, "and I could have
got more for a larger one, but I had to do that in my room, during
recreation hours. If I had more time and a place where I could
work"--she stopped timidly and looked tentatively at Jack. But he was
already indulging in a characteristically reckless idea of coming back
after he had left Sophy, buying the miniature at an extravagant price,
and ordering half a dozen more at extraordinary figures. Here, however,
two passers-by, stopping ostensibly to look in the window, but really
attracted by the picturesque spectacle of the handsome young rustic and
his schoolgirl companion, gave Jack such a fright that he hurried
Sophy away again into the side street. "There's nothing mean about that
picture business," he said cheerfully; "it looks like a square kind of
game," and relapsed into thoughtful silence.

At which, Sophy, the ice of restraint broken, again burst into
passionate appeal. If she could only go away somewhere--where she saw no
one but the people who would buy her work, who knew nothing of her past
nor cared to know who were her relations! She would work hard; she knew
she could support herself in time. She would keep the name he had given
her,--it was not distinctive enough to challenge any inquiry,--but
nothing more. She need not assume to be his niece; he would always be
her kind friend, to whom she owed everything, even her miserable life.
She trusted still to his honor never to seek to know her real name, nor
ever to speak to her of that man if he ever met him. It would do no good
to her or to them; it might drive her, for she was not yet quite sure of
herself, to do that which she had promised him never to do again.

There was no threat, impatience, or acting in her voice, but he
recognized the same dull desperation he had once heard in it, and her
eyes, which a moment before were quick and mobile, had become fixed and
set. He had no idea of trying to penetrate the foolish secret of her
name and relations; he had never had the slightest curiosity, but it
struck him now that Stratton might at any time force it upon him. The
only way that he could prevent it was to let it be known that, for
unexpressed reasons, he would shoot Stratton "on sight." This would
naturally restrict any verbal communication between them. Jack's ideas
of morality were vague, but his convictions on points of honor were
singularly direct and positive.


III.


Meantime Hamlin and Sophy were passing the outskirts of the town; the
open lots and cleared spaces were giving way to grassy stretches, willow
copses, and groups of cottonwood and sycamore; and beyond the level of
yellowing tules appeared the fringed and raised banks of the river.
Half tropical looking cottages with deep verandas--the homes of early
Southern pioneers--took the place of incomplete blocks of modern
houses, monotonously alike. In these sylvan surroundings Mr. Hamlin's
picturesque rusticity looked less incongruous and more Arcadian; the
young girl had lost some of her restraint with her confidences, and
lounging together side by side, without the least consciousness of any
sentiment in their words or actions, they nevertheless contrived to
impress the spectator with the idea that they were a charming pair of
pastoral lovers. So strong was this impression that, as they approached
Aunt Chloe's laundry, a pretty rose-covered cottage with an enormous
whitewashed barn-like extension in the rear, the black proprietress
herself, standing at the door, called her husband to come and look at
them, and flashed her white teeth in such unqualified commendation
and patronage that Mr. Hamlin, withdrawing himself from Sophy's side,
instantly charged down upon them.

"If you don't slide the lid back over that grinning box of dominoes of
yours and take it inside, I'll just carry Hannibal off with me," he said
in a quick whisper, with a half-wicked, half-mischievous glitter in his
brown eyes. "That young lady's--A LADY--do you understand? No riffraff
friend of mine, but a regular NUN--a saint--do you hear? So you just
stand back and let her take a good look round, and rest herself, until
she wants you." "Two black idiots, Miss Brown," he continued cheerfully
in a higher voice of explanation, as Sophy approached, "who think
because one of 'em used to shave me and the other saved my life they've
got a right to stand at their humble cottage door and frighten horses!"

So great was Mr. Hamlin's ascendency over his former servants that even
this ingenious pleasantry was received with every sign of affection
and appreciation of the humorist, and of the profound respect for his
companion. Aunt Chloe showed them effusively into her parlor, a small
but scrupulously neat and sweet-smelling apartment, inordinately
furnished with a huge mahogany centre-table and chairs, and the most
fragile and meretricious china and glass ornaments on the mantel. But
the three jasmine-edged lattice windows opened upon a homely garden of
old-fashioned herbs and flowers, and their fragrance filled the room.
The cleanest and starchiest of curtains, the most dazzling and whitest
of tidies and chair-covers, bespoke the adjacent laundry; indeed, the
whole cottage seemed to exhale the odors of lavender soap and freshly
ironed linen. Yet the cottage was large for the couple and their
assistants. "Dar was two front rooms on de next flo' dat dey never
used," explained Aunt Chloe; "friends allowed dat dey could let 'em to
white folks, but dey had always been done kep' for Marse Hamlin, ef he
ever wanted to be wid his old niggers again." Jack looked up quickly
with a brightened face, made a sign to Hannibal, and the two left the
room together.

When he came through the passage a few moments later, there was a sound
of laughter in the parlor. He recognized the full, round lazy chuckle of
Aunt Chloe, but there was a higher girlish ripple that he did not know.
He had never heard Sophy laugh before. Nor, when he entered, had he
ever seen her so animated. She was helping Chloe set the table, to that
lady's intense delight at "Missy's" girlish housewifery. She was picking
the berries fresh from the garden, buttering the Sally Lunn, making the
tea, and arranging the details of the repast with apparently no trace
of her former discontent and unhappiness in either face or manner. He
dropped quietly into a chair by the window, and, with the homely scents
of the garden mixing with the honest odors of Aunt Chloe's cookery,
watched her with an amusement that was as pleasant and grateful as it
was strange and unprecedented.

"Now den," said Aunt Chloe to her husband, as she put the finishing
touch to the repast in a plate of doughnuts as exquisitely brown and
shining as Jack's eyes were at that moment, "Hannibal, you just come
away, and let dem two white quality chillens have dey tea. Dey's done
starved, shuah." And with an approving nod to Jack, she bundled her
husband from the room.

The door closed; the young girl began to pour out the tea, but Jack
remained in his seat by the window. It was a singular sensation which
he did not care to disturb. It was no new thing for Mr. Hamlin to find
himself at a tete-a-tete repast with the admiring and complaisant fair;
there was a 'cabinet particulier' in a certain San Francisco restaurant
which had listened to their various vanities and professions of undying
faith; he might have recalled certain festal rendezvous with a widow
whose piety and impeccable reputation made it a moral duty for her to
come to him only in disguise; it was but a few days ago that he had
been let privately into the palatial mansion of a high official for a
midnight supper with a foolish wife. It was not strange, therefore, that
he should be alone here, secretly, with a member of that indiscreet,
loving sex. But that he should be sitting there in a cheap negro laundry
with absolutely no sentiment of any kind towards the heavy-haired,
freckle-faced country schoolgirl opposite him, from whom he sought
and expected nothing, and ENJOYING it without scorn of himself or his
companion, to use his own expression, "got him." Presently he rose and
sauntered to the table with shining eyes.

"Well, what do you think of Aunt Chloe's shebang?" he asked smilingly.

"Oh, it's so sweet and clean and homelike," said the girl quickly. At
any other time he would have winced at the last adjective. It struck him
now as exactly the word.

"Would you like to live here, if you could?"

Her face brightened. She put the teapot down and gazed fixedly at Jack.

"Because you can. Look here. I spoke to Hannibal about it. You can have
the two front rooms if you want to. One of 'em is big enough and light
enough for a studio to do your work in. You tell that nigger what you
want to put in 'em, and he's got my orders to do it. I told him about
your painting; said you were the daughter of an old friend, you know.
Hold on, Sophy; d--n it all, I've got to do a little gilt-edged lying;
but I let you out of the niece business this time. Yes, from this moment
I'm no longer your uncle. I renounce the relationship. It's hard,"
continued the rascal, "after all these years and considering sister
Mary's feelings; but, as you seem to wish it, it must be done."

Sophy's steel-blue eyes softened. She slid her long brown hand across
the table and grasped Jack's. He returned the pressure quickly and
fraternally, even to that half-shamed, half-hurried evasion of emotion
peculiar to all brothers. This was also a new sensation; but he liked
it.

"You are too--too good, Mr. Hamlin," she said quietly.

"Yes," said Jack cheerfully, "that's what's the matter with me. It isn't
natural, and if I keep it up too long it brings on my cough."

Nevertheless, they were happy in a boy and girl fashion, eating
heartily, and, I fear, not always decorously; scrambling somewhat for
the strawberries, and smacking their lips over the Sally Lunn. Meantime,
it was arranged that Mr. Hamlin should inform Miss Mix that Sophy would
leave school at the end of the term, only a few days hence, and then
transfer herself to lodgings with some old family servants, where she
could more easily pursue her studies in her own profession. She need not
make her place of abode a secret, neither need she court publicity. She
would write to Jack regularly, informing him of her progress, and he
would visit her whenever he could. Jack assented gravely to the further
proposition that he was to keep a strict account of all the moneys he
advanced her, and that she was to repay him out of the proceeds of her
first pictures. He had promised also, with a slight mental reservation,
not to buy them all himself, but to trust to her success with the
public. They were never to talk of what had happened before; she was to
begin life anew. Of such were their confidences, spoken often together
at the same moment, and with their mouths full. Only one thing troubled
Jack; he had not yet told her frankly who he was and what was his
reputation; he had hitherto carelessly supposed she would learn it,
and in truth had cared little if she did; but it was evident from her
conversation that day that by some miracle she was still in ignorance.
Unable now to tell her himself, he had charged Hannibal to break it to
her casually after he was gone. "You can let me down easy if you like,
but you'd better make a square deal of it while you're about it. And,"
Jack had added cheerfully, "if she thinks after that she'd better drop
me entirely, you just say that if she wishes to STAY, you'll see that
I don't ever come here again. And you keep your word about it too, you
black nigger, or I'll be the first to thrash you."

Nevertheless, when Hannibal and Aunt Chloe returned to clear away the
repast, they were a harmonious party; albeit, Mr. Hamlin seemed more
content to watch them silently from his chair by the window, a cigar
between his lips, and the pleasant distraction of the homely scents and
sounds of the garden in his senses. Allusion having been made again to
the morning performance of the organ, he was implored by Hannibal to
diversify his talent by exercising it on an old guitar which had passed
into that retainer's possession with certain clothes of his master's
when they separated. Mr. Hamlin accepted it dubiously; it had twanged
under his volatile fingers in more pretentious but less innocent halls.
But presently he raised his tenor voice and soft brown lashes to the
humble ceiling and sang.

     "Way down upon the Swanee River,"

Discoursed Jack plaintively,--

            "Far, far away,
     Thar's whar my heart is turning ever,
     Thar's whar the old folks stay."

The two dusky scions of an emotional race, that had been wont to sweeten
its toil and condone its wrongs with music, sat wrapt and silent,
swaying with Jack's voice until they could burst in upon the chorus.
The jasmine vines trilled softly with the afternoon breeze; a slender
yellow-hammer, perhaps emulous of Jack, swung himself from an outer
spray and peered curiously into the room; and a few neighbors, gathering
at their doors and windows, remarked that "after all, when it came to
real singing, no one could beat those d----d niggers."

The sun was slowly sinking in the rolling gold of the river when Jack
and Sophy started leisurely back through the broken shafts of light, and
across the far-stretching shadows of the cottonwoods. In the midst of
a lazy silence they were presently conscious of a distant monotonous
throb, the booming of the up boat on the river. The sound came
nearer--passed them, the boat itself hidden by the trees; but a trailing
cloud of smoke above cast a momentary shadow upon their path. The girl
looked up at Jack with a troubled face. Mr. Hamlin smiled reassuringly;
but in that instant he had made up his mind that it was his moral duty
to kill Mr. Edward Stratton.


IV.


For the next two months Mr. Hamlin was professionally engaged in San
Francisco and Marysville, and the transfer of Sophy from the school to
her new home was effected without his supervision. From letters received
by him during that interval, it seemed that the young girl had entered
energetically upon her new career, and that her artistic efforts were
crowned with success. There were a few Indian-ink sketches, studies made
at school and expanded in her own "studio," which were eagerly bought as
soon as exhibited in the photographer's window,--notably by a florid
and inartistic bookkeeper, an old negro woman, a slangy stable boy, a
gorgeously dressed and painted female, and the bearded second officer of
a river steamboat, without hesitation and without comment. This, as Mr.
Hamlin intelligently pointed out in a letter to Sophy, showed a general
and diversified appreciation on the part of the public. Indeed, it
emboldened her, in the retouching of photographs, to offer sittings
to the subjects, and to undertake even large crayon copies, which had
resulted in her getting so many orders that she was no longer obliged
to sell her drawings, but restricted herself solely to profitable
portraiture. The studio became known; even its quaint surroundings added
to the popular interest, and the originality and independence of the
young painter helped her to a genuine success. All this she wrote to
Jack. Meantime Hannibal had assured him that he had carried out his
instructions by informing "Missy" of his old master's real occupation
and reputation, but that the young lady hadn't "took no notice."
Certainly there was no allusion to it in her letters, nor any indication
in her manner. Mr. Hamlin was greatly, and it seemed to him properly,
relieved. And he looked forward with considerable satisfaction to an
early visit to old Hannibal's laundry.

It must be confessed, also, that another matter, a simple affair of
gallantry, was giving him an equally unusual, unexpected, and absurd
annoyance, which he had never before permitted to such trivialities.
In a recent visit to a fashionable watering-place, he had attracted the
attention of what appeared to be a respectable, matter of fact woman,
the wife of a recently elected rural Senator. She was, however,
singularly beautiful, and as singularly cold. It was perhaps this
quality, and her evident annoyance at some unreasoning prepossession
which Jack's fascinations exercised upon her, that heightened that
reckless desire for risk and excitement which really made up the greater
part of his gallantry. Nevertheless, as was his habit, he had treated
her always with a charming unconsciousness of his own attentions, and a
frankness that seemed inconsistent with any insidious approach. In fact,
Mr. Hamlin seldom made love to anybody, but permitted it to be made to
him with good-humored deprecation and cheerful skepticism. He had once,
quite accidentally, while riding, come upon her when she had strayed
from her own riding party, and had behaved with such unexpected
circumspection and propriety, not to mention a certain thoughtful
abstraction,--it was the day he had received Sophy's letter,--that she
was constrained to make the first advances. This led to a later innocent
rendezvous, in which Mrs. Camperly was impelled to confide to Mr. Hamlin
the fact that her husband had really never understood her. Jack listened
with an understanding and sympathy quickened by long experience of such
confessions. If anything had ever kept him from marriage it was this
evident incompatibility of the conjugal relations with a just conception
of the feminine soul and its aspirations.

And so eventually this yearning for sympathy dragged Mrs. Camperly's
clean skirts and rustic purity after Jack's heels into various places
and various situations not so clean, rural, or innocent; made her
miserably unhappy in his absence, and still more miserably happy in his
presence; impelled her to lie, cheat, and bear false witness; forced her
to listen with mingled shame and admiration to narrow criticism of his
faults, from natures so palpably inferior to his own that her moral
sense was confused and shaken; gave her two distinct lives, but so
unreal and feverish that, with a recklessness equal to his own, she was
at last ready to merge them both into his. For the first time in his
life Mr. Hamlin found himself bored at the beginning of an affair,
actually hesitated, and suddenly disappeared from San Francisco.

He turned up a few days later at Aunt Chloe's door, with various
packages of presents and quite the air of a returning father of a
family, to the intense delight of that lady and to Sophy's proud
gratification. For he was lost in a profuse, boyish admiration of her
pretty studio, and in wholesome reverence for her art and her astounding
progress. They were also amused at his awe and evident alarm at the
portraits of two ladies, her latest sitters, that were still on
the easels, and, in consideration of his half-assumed, half-real
bashfulness, they turned their faces to the wall. Then his quick,
observant eye detected a photograph of himself on the mantel.

"What's that?" he asked suddenly.

Sophy and Aunt Chloe exchanged meaning glances. Sophy had, as a surprise
to Jack, just completed a handsome crayon portrait of himself from an
old photograph furnished by Hannibal, and the picture was at that moment
in the window of her former patron,--the photographer.

"Oh, dat! Miss Sophy jus' put it dar fo' de lady sitters to look at to
gib 'em a pleasant 'spresshion," said Aunt Chloe, chuckling.

Mr. Hamlin did not laugh, but quietly slipped the photograph into his
pocket. Yet, perhaps, it had not been recognized.

Then Sophy proposed to have luncheon in the studio; it was quite
"Bohemian" and fashionable, and many artists did it. But to her great
surprise Jack gravely objected, preferring the little parlor of Aunt
Chloe, the vine-fringed windows, and the heavy respectable furniture.
He thought it was profaning the studio, and then--anybody might come in.
This unusual circumspection amused them, and was believed to be part of
the boyish awe with which Jack regarded the models, the draperies, and
the studies on the walls. Certain it was that he was much more at his
ease in the parlor, and when he and Sophy were once more alone at their
meal, although he ate nothing, he had regained all his old naivete.
Presently he leaned forward and placed his hand fraternally on her arm.
Sophy looked up with an equally frank smile.

"You know I promised to let bygones be bygones, eh? Well, I intended it,
and more,--I intended to make 'em so. I told you I'd never speak to you
again of that man who tried to run you off, and I intended that no one
else should. Well, as he was the only one who could talk--that meant
him. But the cards are out of my hands; the game's been played without
me. For he's dead!"

The girl started. Mr. Hamlin's hand passed caressingly twice or thrice
along her sleeve with a peculiar gentleness that seemed to magnetize
her.

"Dead," he repeated slowly. "Shot in San Diego by another man, but not
by me. I had him tracked as far as that, and had my eyes on him, but it
wasn't my deal. But there," he added, giving her magnetized arm a gentle
and final tap as if to awaken it, "he's dead, and so is the whole story.
And now we'll drop it forever."

The girl's downcast eyes were fixed on the table. "But there's my
sister," she murmured.

"Did she know you went with him?" asked Jack.

"No; but she knows I ran away."

"Well, you ran away from home to study how to be an artist, don't
you see? Some day she'll find out you ARE ONE; that settles the whole
thing."

They were both quite cheerful again when Aunt Chloe returned to
clear the table, especially Jack, who was in the best spirits, with
preternaturally bright eyes and a somewhat rare color on his cheeks.
Aunt Chloe, who had noticed that his breathing was hurried at times,
watched him narrowly, and when later he slipped from the room, followed
him into the passage. He was leaning against the wall. In an instant the
negress was at his side.

"De Lawdy Gawd, Marse Jack, not AGIN?"

He took his handkerchief, slightly streaked with blood, from his lips
and said faintly, "Yes, it came on--on the boat; but I thought the
d----d thing was over. Get me out of this, quick, to some hotel, before
she knows it. You can tell her I was called away. Say that"--but his
breath failed him, and when Aunt Chloe caught him like a child in her
strong arms he could make no resistance.

In another hour he was unconscious, with two doctors at his bedside, in
the little room that had been occupied by Sophy. It was a sharp attack,
but prompt attendance and skillful nursing availed; he rallied the next
day, but it would be weeks, the doctors said, before he could be removed
in safety. Sophy was transferred to the parlor, but spent most of her
time at Jack's bedside with Aunt Chloe, or in the studio with the door
open between it and the bedroom. In spite of his enforced idleness and
weakness, it was again a singularly pleasant experience to Jack; it
amused him to sometimes see Sophy at her work through the open door, and
when sitters came,--for he had insisted on her continuing her duties as
before, keeping his invalid presence in the house a secret,--he had all
the satisfaction of a mischievous boy in rehearsing to Sophy such of
the conversation as could be overheard through the closed door, and
speculating on the possible wonder and chagrin of the sitters had they
discovered him. Even when he was convalescent and strong enough to be
helped into the parlor and garden, he preferred to remain propped up in
Sophy's little bedroom. It was evident, however, that this predilection
was connected with no suggestion nor reminiscence of Sophy herself. It
was true that he had once asked her if it didn't make her "feel like
home." The decided negative from Sophy seemed to mildly surprise him.
"That's odd," he said; "now all these fixings and things," pointing
to the flowers in a vase, the little hanging shelf of books, the
knickknacks on the mantel-shelf, and the few feminine ornaments that
still remained, "look rather like home to me."

So the days slipped by, and although Mr. Hamlin was soon able to walk
short distances, leaning on Sophy's arm, in the evening twilight, along
the river bank, he was still missed from the haunts of dissipated men. A
good many people wondered, and others, chiefly of the more irrepressible
sex, were singularly concerned. Apparently one of these, one sultry
afternoon, stopped before the shadowed window of a photographer's; she
was a handsome, well-dressed woman, yet bearing a certain countrylike
simplicity that was unlike the restless smartness of the more urban
promenaders who passed her. Nevertheless she had halted before Mr.
Hamlin's picture, which Sophy had not yet dared to bring home and
present to him, and was gazing at it with rapt and breathless attention.
Suddenly she shook down her veil and entered the shop. Could the
proprietor kindly tell her if that portrait was the work of a local
artist?

The proprietor was both proud and pleased to say that IT WAS! It was the
work of a Miss Brown, a young girl student; in fact, a mere schoolgirl
one might say. He could show her others of her pictures.

Thanks. But could he tell her if this portrait was from life?

No doubt; the young lady had a studio, and he himself had sent her
sitters.

And perhaps this was the portrait of one that he had sent her?

No; but she was very popular and becoming quite the fashion. Very
probably this gentleman, who, he understood, was quite a public
character, had heard of her, and selected her on that account.

The lady's face flushed slightly. The photographer continued. The
picture was not for sale; it was only there on exhibition; in fact it
was to be returned to-morrow.

To the sitter?

He couldn't say. It was to go back to the studio. Perhaps the sitter
would be there.

And this studio? Could she have its address?

The man wrote a few lines on his card. Perhaps the lady would be kind
enough to say that he had sent her. The lady, thanking him, partly
lifted her veil to show a charming smile, and gracefully withdrew. The
photographer was pleased. Miss Brown had evidently got another sitter,
and, from that momentary glimpse of her face, it would be a picture as
beautiful and attractive as the man's. But what was the odd idea that
struck him? She certainly reminded him of some one! There was the same
heavy hair, only this lady's was golden, and she was older and more
mature. And he remained for a moment with knitted brows musing over his
counter.

Meantime the fair stranger was making her way towards the river suburb.
When she reached Aunt Chloe's cottage, she paused, with the unfamiliar
curiosity of a newcomer, over its quaint and incongruous exterior. She
hesitated a moment also when Aunt Chloe appeared in the doorway, and,
with a puzzled survey of her features, went upstairs to announce a
visitor. There was the sound of hurried shutting of doors, of the moving
of furniture, quick footsteps across the floor, and then a girlish laugh
that startled her. She ascended the stairs breathlessly to Aunt Chloe's
summons, found the negress on the landing, and knocked at a door which
bore a card marked "Studio." The door opened; she entered; there were
two sudden outcries that might have come from one voice.

"Sophonisba!"

"Marianne!"

"Hush."

The woman had seized Sophy by the wrist and dragged her to the window.
There was a haggard look of desperation in her face akin to that which
Hamlin had once seen in her sister's eyes on the boat, as she said
huskily: "I did not know YOU were here. I came to see the woman who had
painted Mr. Hamlin's portrait. I did not know it was YOU. Listen! Quick!
answer me one question. Tell me--I implore you--for the sake of the
mother who bore us both!--tell me--is this the man for whom you left
home?"

"No! No! A hundred times no!"

Then there was a silence. Mr. Hamlin from the bedroom heard no more.

An hour later, when the two women opened the studio door, pale but
composed, they were met by the anxious and tearful face of Aunt Chloe.

"Lawdy Gawd, Missy,--but dey done gone!--bofe of 'em!"

"Who is gone?" demanded Sophy, as the woman beside her trembled and grew
paler still.

"Marse Jack and dat fool nigger, Hannibal."

"Mr. Hamlin gone?" repeated Sophy incredulously. "When? Where?"

"Jess now--on de down boat. Sudden business. Didn't like to disturb yo'
and yo' friend. Said he'd write."

"But he was ill--almost helpless," gasped Sophy.

"Dat's why he took dat old nigger. Lawdy, Missy, bress yo' heart. Dey
both knows aich udder, shuah! It's all right. Dar now, dar dey are;
listen."

She held up her hand. A slow pulsation, that might have been the dull,
labored beating of their own hearts, was making itself felt throughout
the little cottage. It came nearer,--a deep regular inspiration that
seemed slowly to fill and possess the whole tranquil summer twilight. It
was nearer still--was abreast of the house--passed--grew fainter and at
last died away like a deep-drawn sigh. It was the down boat, that was
now separating Mr. Hamlin and his protegee, even as it had once brought
them together.




AN INGENUE OF THE SIERRAS.


I.


We all held our breath as the coach rushed through the semi-darkness of
Galloper's Ridge. The vehicle itself was only a huge lumbering shadow;
its side-lights were carefully extinguished, and Yuba Bill had just
politely removed from the lips of an outside passenger even the cigar
with which he had been ostentatiously exhibiting his coolness. For it
had been rumored that the Ramon Martinez gang of "road agents" were
"laying" for us on the second grade, and would time the passage of our
lights across Galloper's in order to intercept us in the "brush" beyond.
If we could cross the ridge without being seen, and so get through the
brush before they reached it, we were safe. If they followed, it would
only be a stern chase with the odds in our favor.

The huge vehicle swayed from side to side, rolled, dipped, and
plunged, but Bill kept the track, as if, in the whispered words of the
Expressman, he could "feel and smell" the road he could no longer see.
We knew that at times we hung perilously over the edge of slopes that
eventually dropped a thousand feet sheer to the tops of the sugar-pines
below, but we knew that Bill knew it also. The half visible heads of the
horses, drawn wedge-wise together by the tightened reins, appeared to
cleave the darkness like a ploughshare, held between his rigid
hands. Even the hoof-beats of the six horses had fallen into a vague,
monotonous, distant roll. Then the ridge was crossed, and we plunged
into the still blacker obscurity of the brush. Rather we no longer
seemed to move--it was only the phantom night that rushed by us. The
horses might have been submerged in some swift Lethean stream; nothing
but the top of the coach and the rigid bulk of Yuba Bill arose above
them. Yet even in that awful moment our speed was unslackened; it was
as if Bill cared no longer to GUIDE but only to drive, or as if the
direction of his huge machine was determined by other hands than his. An
incautious whisperer hazarded the paralyzing suggestion of our "meeting
another team." To our great astonishment Bill overheard it; to our
greater astonishment he replied. "It 'ud be only a neck and neck
race which would get to h-ll first," he said quietly. But we were
relieved--for he had SPOKEN! Almost simultaneously the wider turnpike
began to glimmer faintly as a visible track before us; the wayside trees
fell out of line, opened up, and dropped off one after another; we were
on the broader table-land, out of danger, and apparently unperceived and
unpursued.

Nevertheless in the conversation that broke out again with the
relighting of the lamps, and the comments, congratulations, and
reminiscences that were freely exchanged, Yuba Bill preserved a
dissatisfied and even resentful silence. The most generous praise of
his skill and courage awoke no response. "I reckon the old man waz just
spilin' for a fight, and is feelin' disappointed," said a passenger.
But those who knew that Bill had the true fighter's scorn for any purely
purposeless conflict were more or less concerned and watchful of him. He
would drive steadily for four or five minutes with thoughtfully knitted
brows, but eyes still keenly observant under his slouched hat, and
then, relaxing his strained attitude, would give way to a movement of
impatience. "You ain't uneasy about anything, Bill, are you?" asked
the Expressman confidentially. Bill lifted his eyes with a slightly
contemptuous surprise. "Not about anything ter COME. It's what HEZ
happened that I don't exackly sabe. I don't see no signs of Ramon's gang
ever havin' been out at all, and ef they were out I don't see why they
didn't go for us."

"The simple fact is that our ruse was successful," said an outside
passenger. "They waited to see our lights on the ridge, and, not seeing
them, missed us until we had passed. That's my opinion."

"You ain't puttin' any price on that opinion, air ye?" inquired Bill
politely.

"No."

"'Cos thar's a comic paper in 'Frisco pays for them things, and I've
seen worse things in it."

"Come off, Bill," retorted the passenger, slightly nettled by the
tittering of his companions. "Then what did you put out the lights for?"

"Well," returned Bill grimly, "it mout have been because I didn't keer
to hev you chaps blazin' away at the first bush you THOUGHT you saw move
in your skeer, and bringin' down their fire on us."

The explanation, though unsatisfactory, was by no means an improbable
one, and we thought it better to accept it with a laugh. Bill, however,
resumed his abstracted manner.

"Who got in at the Summit?" he at last asked abruptly of the Expressman.

"Derrick and Simpson of Cold Spring, and one of the 'Excelsior' boys,"
responded the Expressman.

"And that Pike County girl from Dow's Flat, with her bundles. Don't
forget her," added the outside passenger ironically.

"Does anybody here know her?" continued Bill, ignoring the irony.

"You'd better ask Judge Thompson; he was mighty attentive to her;
gettin' her a seat by the off window, and lookin' after her bundles and
things."

"Gettin' her a seat by the WINDOW?" repeated Bill.

"Yes, she wanted to see everything, and wasn't afraid of the shooting."

"Yes," broke in a third passenger, "and he was so d----d civil that
when she dropped her ring in the straw, he struck a match agin all your
rules, you know, and held it for her to find it. And it was just as we
were crossin' through the brush, too. I saw the hull thing through the
window, for I was hanging over the wheels with my gun ready for action.
And it wasn't no fault of Judge Thompson's if his d----d foolishness
hadn't shown us up, and got us a shot from the gang."

Bill gave a short grunt, but drove steadily on without further comment
or even turning his eyes to the speaker.

We were now not more than a mile from the station at the crossroads
where we were to change horses. The lights already glimmered in the
distance, and there was a faint suggestion of the coming dawn on the
summits of the ridge to the west. We had plunged into a belt of timber,
when suddenly a horseman emerged at a sharp canter from a trail that
seemed to be parallel with our own. We were all slightly startled; Yuba
Bill alone preserving his moody calm.

"Hullo!" he said.

The stranger wheeled to our side as Bill slackened his speed. He seemed
to be a "packer" or freight muleteer.

"Ye didn't get 'held up' on the Divide?" continued Bill cheerfully.

"No," returned the packer, with a laugh; "I don't carry treasure. But I
see you're all right, too. I saw you crossin' over Galloper's."

"SAW us?" said Bill sharply. "We had our lights out."

"Yes, but there was suthin' white--a handkerchief or woman's veil, I
reckon--hangin' from the window. It was only a movin' spot agin the
hillside, but ez I was lookin' out for ye I knew it was you by that.
Good-night!"

He cantered away. We tried to look at each other's faces, and at Bill's
expression in the darkness, but he neither spoke nor stirred until he
threw down the reins when we stopped before the station. The passengers
quickly descended from the roof; the Expressman was about to follow, but
Bill plucked his sleeve.

"I'm goin' to take a look over this yer stage and these yer passengers
with ye, afore we start."

"Why, what's up?"

"Well," said Bill, slowly disengaging himself from one of his enormous
gloves, "when we waltzed down into the brush up there I saw a man, ez
plain ez I see you, rise up from it. I thought our time had come and the
band was goin' to play, when he sorter drew back, made a sign, and we
just scooted past him."

"Well?"

"Well," said Bill, "it means that this yer coach was PASSED THROUGH FREE
to-night."

"You don't object to THAT--surely? I think we were deucedly lucky."

Bill slowly drew off his other glove. "I've been riskin' my everlastin'
life on this d----d line three times a week," he said with mock
humility, "and I'm allus thankful for small mercies. BUT," he added
grimly, "when it comes down to being passed free by some pal of a hoss
thief, and thet called a speshal Providence, I AIN'T IN IT! No, sir, I
ain't in it!"


II.


It was with mixed emotions that the passengers heard that a delay of
fifteen minutes to tighten certain screw-bolts had been ordered by the
autocratic Bill. Some were anxious to get their breakfast at Sugar Pine,
but others were not averse to linger for the daylight that promised
greater safety on the road. The Expressman, knowing the real cause of
Bill's delay, was nevertheless at a loss to understand the object of it.
The passengers were all well known; any idea of complicity with the road
agents was wild and impossible, and, even if there was a confederate
of the gang among them, he would have been more likely to precipitate a
robbery than to check it. Again, the discovery of such a confederate--to
whom they clearly owed their safety--and his arrest would have been
quite against the Californian sense of justice, if not actually illegal.
It seemed evident that Bill's quixotic sense of honor was leading him
astray.

The station consisted of a stable, a wagon shed, and a building
containing three rooms. The first was fitted up with "bunks" or sleeping
berths for the employees; the second was the kitchen; and the third
and larger apartment was dining-room or sitting-room, and was used
as general waiting-room for the passengers. It was not a refreshment
station, and there was no "bar." But a mysterious command from the
omnipotent Bill produced a demijohn of whiskey, with which he hospitably
treated the company. The seductive influence of the liquor loosened the
tongue of the gallant Judge Thompson. He admitted to having struck a
match to enable the fair Pike Countian to find her ring, which, however,
proved to have fallen in her lap. She was "a fine, healthy young
woman--a type of the Far West, sir; in fact, quite a prairie blossom!
yet simple and guileless as a child." She was on her way to Marysville,
he believed, "although she expected to meet friends--a friend, in
fact--later on." It was her first visit to a large town--in fact, any
civilized centre--since she crossed the plains three years ago. Her
girlish curiosity was quite touching, and her innocence irresistible.
In fact, in a country whose tendency was to produce "frivolity and
forwardness in young girls, he found her a most interesting young
person." She was even then out in the stable-yard watching the horses
being harnessed, "preferring to indulge a pardonable healthy young
curiosity than to listen to the empty compliments of the younger
passengers."

The figure which Bill saw thus engaged, without being otherwise
distinguished, certainly seemed to justify the Judge's opinion. She
appeared to be a well-matured country girl, whose frank gray eyes and
large laughing mouth expressed a wholesome and abiding gratification in
her life and surroundings. She was watching the replacing of luggage in
the boot. A little feminine start, as one of her own parcels was thrown
somewhat roughly on the roof, gave Bill his opportunity. "Now there," he
growled to the helper, "ye ain't carting stone! Look out, will yer! Some
of your things, miss?" he added, with gruff courtesy, turning to her.
"These yer trunks, for instance?"

She smiled a pleasant assent, and Bill, pushing aside the helper, seized
a large square trunk in his arms. But from excess of zeal, or some other
mischance, his foot slipped, and he came down heavily, striking
the corner of the trunk on the ground and loosening its hinges and
fastenings. It was a cheap, common-looking affair, but the accident
discovered in its yawning lid a quantity of white, lace-edged feminine
apparel of an apparently superior quality. The young lady uttered
another cry and came quickly forward, but Bill was profuse in his
apologies, himself girded the broken box with a strap, and declared his
intention of having the company "make it good" to her with a new one.
Then he casually accompanied her to the door of the waiting-room,
entered, made a place for her before the fire by simply lifting the
nearest and most youthful passenger by the coat collar from the stool
that he was occupying, and, having installed the lady in it, displaced
another man who was standing before the chimney, and, drawing himself
up to his full six feet of height in front of her, glanced down upon his
fair passenger as he took his waybill from his pocket.

"Your name is down here as Miss Mullins?" he said.

She looked up, became suddenly aware that she and her questioner were
the centre of interest to the whole circle of passengers, and, with a
slight rise of color, returned, "Yes."

"Well, Miss Mullins, I've got a question or two to ask ye. I ask it
straight out afore this crowd. It's in my rights to take ye aside and
ask it---but that ain't my style; I'm no detective. I needn't ask it at
all, but act as ef I knowed the answer, or I might leave it to be asked
by others. Ye needn't answer it ef ye don't like; ye've got a friend
over ther--Judge Thompson--who is a friend to ye, right or wrong, jest
as any other man here is--as though ye'd packed your own jury. Well, the
simple question I've got to ask ye is THIS: Did you signal to anybody
from the coach when we passed Galloper's an hour ago?"

We all thought that Bill's courage and audacity had reached its
climax here. To openly and publicly accuse a "lady" before a group
of chivalrous Californians, and that lady possessing the further
attractions of youth, good looks, and innocence, was little short of
desperation. There was an evident movement of adhesion towards the
fair stranger, a slight muttering broke out on the right, but the very
boldness of the act held them in stupefied surprise. Judge Thompson,
with a bland propitiatory smile began: "Really, Bill, I must protest on
behalf of this young lady"--when the fair accused, raising her eyes to
her accuser, to the consternation of everybody answered with the slight
but convincing hesitation of conscientious truthfulness:--

"I DID."

"Ahem!" interposed the Judge hastily, "er--that is--er--you allowed
your handkerchief to flutter from the window,--I noticed it
myself,--casually--one might say even playfully--but without any
particular significance."

The girl, regarding her apologist with a singular mingling of pride and
impatience, returned briefly:--

"I signaled."

"Who did you signal to?" asked Bill gravely.

"The young gentleman I'm going to marry."

A start, followed by a slight titter from the younger passengers, was
instantly suppressed by a savage glance from Bill.

"What did you signal to him for?" he continued.

"To tell him I was here, and that it was all right," returned the young
girl, with a steadily rising pride and color.

"Wot was all right?" demanded Bill.

"That I wasn't followed, and that he could meet me on the road beyond
Cass's Ridge Station." She hesitated a moment, and then, with a still
greater pride, in which a youthful defiance was still mingled, said:

"I've run away from home to marry him. And I mean to! No one can stop
me. Dad didn't like him just because he was poor, and dad's got money.
Dad wanted me to marry a man I hate, and got a lot of dresses and things
to bribe me."

"And you're taking them in your trunk to the other feller?" said Bill
grimly.

"Yes, he's poor," returned the girl defiantly.

"Then your father's name is Mullins?" asked Bill.

"It's not Mullins. I--I--took that name," she hesitated, with her first
exhibition of self-consciousness.

"Wot IS his name?"

"Eli Hemmings."

A smile of relief and significance went round the circle. The fame of
Eli or "Skinner" Hemmings, as a notorious miser and usurer, had passed
even beyond Galloper's Ridge.

"The step that you're taking, Miss Mullins, I need not tell you, is
one of great gravity," said Judge Thompson, with a certain paternal
seriousness of manner, in which, however, we were glad to detect a
glaring affectation; "and I trust that you and your affianced have fully
weighed it. Far be it from me to interfere with or question the natural
affections of two young people, but may I ask you what you know of
the--er--young gentleman for whom you are sacrificing so much, and,
perhaps, imperiling your whole future? For instance, have you known him
long?"

The slightly troubled air of trying to understand,--not unlike the
vague wonderment of childhood,--with which Miss Mullins had received the
beginning of this exordium, changed to a relieved smile of comprehension
as she said quickly, "Oh yes, nearly a whole year."

"And," said the Judge, smiling, "has he a vocation--is he in business?"

"Oh yes," she returned; "he's a collector."

"A collector?"

"Yes; he collects bills, you know,--money," she went on, with childish
eagerness, "not for himself,--HE never has any money, poor Charley,--but
for his firm. It's dreadful hard work, too; keeps him out for days and
nights, over bad roads and baddest weather. Sometimes, when he's stole
over to the ranch just to see me, he's been so bad he could scarcely
keep his seat in the saddle, much less stand. And he's got to take
mighty big risks, too. Times the folks are cross with him and won't pay;
once they shot him in the arm, and he came to me, and I helped do it
up for him. But he don't mind. He's real brave,--jest as brave as he's
good." There was such a wholesome ring of truth in this pretty praise
that we were touched in sympathy with the speaker.

"What firm does he collect for?" asked the Judge gently.

"I don't know exactly--he won't tell me; but I think it's a Spanish
firm. You see"--she took us all into her confidence with a sweeping
smile of innocent yet half-mischievous artfulness--"I only know because
I peeped over a letter he once got from his firm, telling him he must
hustle up and be ready for the road the next day; but I think the name
was Martinez--yes, Ramon Martinez."

In the dead silence that ensued--a silence so profound that we could
hear the horses in the distant stable-yard rattling their harness--one
of the younger "Excelsior" boys burst into a hysteric laugh, but the
fierce eye of Yuba Bill was down upon him, and seemed to instantly
stiffen him into a silent, grinning mask. The young girl, however,
took no note of it. Following out, with lover-like diffusiveness, the
reminiscences thus awakened, she went on:--

"Yes, it's mighty hard work, but he says it's all for me, and as soon as
we're married he'll quit it. He might have quit it before, but he won't
take no money of me, nor what I told him I could get out of dad! That
ain't his style. He's mighty proud--if he is poor--is Charley. Why
thar's all ma's money which she left me in the Savin's Bank that I
wanted to draw out--for I had the right--and give it to him, but he
wouldn't hear of it! Why, he wouldn't take one of the things I've got
with me, if he knew it. And so he goes on ridin' and ridin', here and
there and everywhere, and gettin' more and more played out and sad, and
thin and pale as a spirit, and always so uneasy about his business, and
startin' up at times when we're meetin' out in the South Woods or in the
far clearin', and sayin': 'I must be goin' now, Polly,' and yet always
tryin' to be chiffle and chipper afore me. Why he must have rid miles
and miles to have watched for me thar in the brush at the foot of
Galloper's to-night, jest to see if all was safe; and Lordy! I'd have
given him the signal and showed a light if I'd died for it the next
minit. There! That's what I know of Charley--that's what I'm running
away from home for--that's what I'm running to him for, and I don't
care who knows it! And I only wish I'd done it afore--and I
would--if--if--if--he'd only ASKED ME! There now!" She stopped, panted,
and choked. Then one of the sudden transitions of youthful emotion
overtook the eager, laughing face; it clouded up with the swift change
of childhood, a lightning quiver of expression broke over it, and--then
came the rain!

I think this simple act completed our utter demoralization! We smiled
feebly at each other with that assumption of masculine superiority
which is miserably conscious of its own helplessness at such moments. We
looked out of the window, blew our noses, said: "Eh--what?" and "I say,"
vaguely to each other, and were greatly relieved, and yet apparently
astonished, when Yuba Bill, who had turned his back upon the fair
speaker, and was kicking the logs in the fireplace, suddenly swept down
upon us and bundled us all into the road, leaving Miss Mullins alone.
Then he walked aside with Judge Thompson for a few moments; returned to
us, autocratically demanded of the party a complete reticence towards
Miss Mullins on the subject-matter under discussion, re-entered the
station, reappeared with the young lady, suppressed a faint idiotic
cheer which broke from us at the spectacle of her innocent face once
more cleared and rosy, climbed the box, and in another moment we were
under way.

"Then she don't know what her lover is yet?" asked the Expressman
eagerly.

"No."

"Are YOU certain it's one of the gang?"

"Can't say FOR SURE. It mout be a young chap from Yolo who bucked agin
the tiger* at Sacramento, got regularly cleaned out and busted, and
joined the gang for a flier. They say thar was a new hand in that job
over at Keeley's,--and a mighty game one, too; and ez there was some
buckshot onloaded that trip, he might hev got his share, and that would
tally with what the girl said about his arm. See! Ef that's the man,
I've heered he was the son of some big preacher in the States, and a
college sharp to boot, who ran wild in 'Frisco, and played himself for
all he was worth. They're the wust kind to kick when they once get
a foot over the traces. For stiddy, comf'ble kempany," added Bill
reflectively, "give ME the son of a man that was HANGED!"

     * Gambled at faro.

"But what are you going to do about this?"

"That depends upon the feller who comes to meet her."

"But you ain't going to try to take him? That would be playing it pretty
low down on them both."

"Keep your hair on, Jimmy! The Judge and me are only going to rastle
with the sperrit of that gay young galoot, when he drops down for his
girl--and exhort him pow'ful! Ef he allows he's convicted of sin and
will find the Lord, we'll marry him and the gal offhand at the next
station, and the Judge will officiate himself for nothin'. We're
goin' to have this yer elopement done on the square--and our waybill
clean--you bet!"

"But you don't suppose he'll trust himself in your hands?"

"Polly will signal to him that it's all square."

"Ah!" said the Expressman. Nevertheless in those few moments the men
seemed to have exchanged dispositions. The Expressman looked doubtfully,
critically, and even cynically before him. Bill's face had relaxed, and
something like a bland smile beamed across it, as he drove confidently
and unhesitatingly forward.

Day, meantime, although full blown and radiant on the mountain summits
around us, was yet nebulous and uncertain in the valleys into which
we were plunging. Lights still glimmered in the cabins and few ranch
buildings which began to indicate the thicker settlements. And the
shadows were heaviest in a little copse, where a note from Judge
Thompson in the coach was handed up to Yuba Bill, who at once slowly
began to draw up his horses. The coach stopped finally near the junction
of a small crossroad. At the same moment Miss Mullins slipped down from
the vehicle, and, with a parting wave of her hand to the Judge, who had
assisted her from the steps, tripped down the crossroad, and disappeared
in its semi-obscurity. To our surprise the stage waited, Bill holding
the reins listlessly in his hands. Five minutes passed--an eternity of
expectation, and, as there was that in Yuba Bill's face which forbade
idle questioning, an aching void of silence also! This was at last
broken by a strange voice from the road:--

"Go on we'll follow."

The coach started forward. Presently we heard the sound of other
wheels behind us. We all craned our necks backward to get a view of
the unknown, but by the growing light we could only see that we were
followed at a distance by a buggy with two figures in it. Evidently
Polly Mullins and her lover! We hoped that they would pass us. But the
vehicle, although drawn by a fast horse, preserved its distance always,
and it was plain that its driver had no desire to satisfy our curiosity.
The Expressman had recourse to Bill.

"Is it the man you thought of?" he asked eagerly.

"I reckon," said Bill briefly.

"But," continued the Expressman, returning to his former skepticism,
"what's to keep them both from levanting together now?"

Bill jerked his hand towards the boot with a grim smile.

"Their baggage."

"Oh!" said the Expressman.

"Yes," continued Bill. "We'll hang on to that gal's little frills and
fixin's until this yer job's settled, and the ceremony's over, jest
as ef we waz her own father. And, what's more, young man," he added,
suddenly turning to the Expressman, "YOU'LL express them trunks of
hers THROUGH TO SACRAMENTO with your kempany's labels, and hand her the
receipts and checks for them, so she CAN GET 'EM THERE. That'll keep HIM
outer temptation and the reach o' the gang, until they get away
among white men and civilization again. When your hoary-headed ole
grandfather, or, to speak plainer, that partikler old whiskey-soaker
known as Yuba Bill, wot sits on this box," he continued, with a
diabolical wink at the Expressman, "waltzes in to pervide for a young
couple jest startin' in life, thar's nothin' mean about his style, you
bet. He fills the bill every time! Speshul Providences take a back seat
when he's around."

When the station hotel and straggling settlement of Sugar Pine, now
distinct and clear in the growing light, at last rose within rifleshot
on the plateau, the buggy suddenly darted swiftly by us, so swiftly
that the faces of the two occupants were barely distinguishable as they
passed, and keeping the lead by a dozen lengths, reached the door of the
hotel. The young girl and her companion leaped down and vanished within
as we drew up. They had evidently determined to elude our curiosity, and
were successful.

But the material appetites of the passengers, sharpened by the keen
mountain air, were more potent than their curiosity, and, as the
breakfast-bell rang out at the moment the stage stopped, a majority of
them rushed into the dining-room and scrambled for places without giving
much heed to the vanished couple or to the Judge and Yuba Bill, who had
disappeared also. The through coach to Marysville and Sacramento was
likewise waiting, for Sugar Pine was the limit of Bill's ministration,
and the coach which we had just left went no farther. In the course of
twenty minutes, however, there was a slight and somewhat ceremonious
bustling in the hall and on the veranda, and Yuba Bill and the Judge
reappeared. The latter was leading, with some elaboration of manner
and detail, the shapely figure of Miss Mullins, and Yuba Bill was
accompanying her companion to the buggy. We all rushed to the windows to
get a good view of the mysterious stranger and probable ex-brigand
whose life was now linked with our fair fellow-passenger. I am
afraid, however, that we all participated in a certain impression of
disappointment and doubt. Handsome and even cultivated-looking, he
assuredly was--young and vigorous in appearance. But there was a certain
half-shamed, half-defiant suggestion in his expression, yet coupled with
a watchful lurking uneasiness which was not pleasant and hardly becoming
in a bridegroom--and the possessor of such a bride. But the frank,
joyous, innocent face of Polly Mullins, resplendent with a simple,
happy confidence, melted our hearts again, and condoned the fellow's
shortcomings. We waved our hands; I think we would have given three
rousing cheers as they drove away if the omnipotent eye of Yuba Bill had
not been upon us. It was well, for the next moment we were summoned to
the presence of that soft-hearted autocrat.

We found him alone with the Judge in a private sitting-room, standing
before a table on which there was a decanter and glasses. As we filed
expectantly into the room and the door closed behind us, he cast a
glance of hesitating tolerance over the group.

"Gentlemen," he said slowly, "you was all present at the beginnin' of a
little game this mornin', and the Judge thar thinks that you oughter
be let in at the finish. I don't see that it's any of YOUR d----d
business--so to speak; but ez the Judge here allows you're all in the
secret, I've called you in to take a partin' drink to the health of Mr.
and Mrs. Charley Byng--ez is now comf'ably off on their bridal tower.
What YOU know or what YOU suspects of the young galoot that's married
the gal ain't worth shucks to anybody, and I wouldn't give it to a
yaller pup to play with, but the Judge thinks you ought all to promise
right here that you'll keep it dark. That's his opinion. Ez far as my
opinion goes, gen'l'men," continued Bill, with greater blandness and
apparent cordiality, "I wanter simply remark, in a keerless, offhand
gin'ral way, that ef I ketch any God-forsaken, lop-eared, chuckle-headed
blatherin' idjet airin' HIS opinion"--

"One moment, Bill," interposed Judge Thompson with a grave smile; "let
me explain. You understand, gentlemen," he said, turning to us, "the
singular, and I may say affecting, situation which our good-hearted
friend here has done so much to bring to what we hope will be a happy
termination. I want to give here, as my professional opinion, that there
is nothing in his request which, in your capacity as good citizens and
law-abiding men, you may not grant. I want to tell you, also, that
you are condoning no offense against the statutes; that there is not a
particle of legal evidence before us of the criminal antecedents of Mr.
Charles Byng, except that which has been told you by the innocent lips
of his betrothed, which the law of the land has now sealed forever in
the mouth of his wife, and that our own actual experience of his acts
have been in the main exculpatory of any previous irregularity--if not
incompatible with it. Briefly, no judge would charge, no jury convict,
on such evidence. When I add that the young girl is of legal age, that
there is no evidence of any previous undue influence, but rather of the
reverse, on the part of the bridegroom, and that I was content, as a
magistrate, to perform the ceremony, I think you will be satisfied to
give your promise, for the sake of the bride, and drink a happy life to
them both."

I need not say that we did this cheerfully, and even extorted from Bill
a grunt of satisfaction. The majority of the company, however, who were
going with the through coach to Sacramento, then took their leave, and,
as we accompanied them to the veranda, we could see that Miss Polly
Mullins's trunks were already transferred to the other vehicle under the
protecting seals and labels of the all-potent Express Company. Then
the whip cracked, the coach rolled away, and the last traces of the
adventurous young couple disappeared in the hanging red dust of its
wheels.

But Yuba Bill's grim satisfaction at the happy issue of the episode
seemed to suffer no abatement. He even exceeded his usual deliberately
regulated potations, and, standing comfortably with his back to the
centre of the now deserted barroom, was more than usually loquacious
with the Expressman. "You see," he said, in bland reminiscence, "when
your old Uncle Bill takes hold of a job like this, he puts it straight
through without changin' hosses. Yet thar was a moment, young feller,
when I thought I was stompt! It was when we'd made up our mind to make
that chap tell the gal fust all what he was! Ef she'd rared or kicked in
the traces, or hung back only ez much ez that, we'd hev given him jest
five minits' law to get up and get and leave her, and we'd hev toted
that gal and her fixin's back to her dad again! But she jest gave a
little scream and start, and then went off inter hysterics, right on
his buzzum, laughing and cryin' and sayin' that nothin' should part 'em.
Gosh! if I didn't think HE woz more cut up than she about it; a minit
it looked as ef HE didn't allow to marry her arter all, but that passed,
and they was married hard and fast--you bet! I reckon he's had enough of
stayin' out o' nights to last him, and ef the valley settlements hevn't
got hold of a very shining member, at least the foothills hev got shut
of one more of the Ramon Martinez gang."

"What's that about the Ramon Martinez gang?" said a quiet potential
voice.

Bill turned quickly. It was the voice of the Divisional Superintendent
of the Express Company,--a man of eccentric determination of character,
and one of the few whom the autocratic Bill recognized as an equal,--who
had just entered the barroom. His dusty pongee cloak and soft hat
indicated that he had that morning arrived on a round of inspection.

"Don't care if I do, Bill," he continued, in response to Bill's
invitatory gesture, walking to the bar. "It's a little raw out on the
road. Well, what were you saying about Ramon Martinez gang? You haven't
come across one of 'em, have you?"

"No," said Bill, with a slight blinking of his eye, as he ostentatiously
lifted his glass to the light.

"And you WON'T," added the Superintendent, leisurely sipping his liquor.
"For the fact is, the gang is about played out. Not from want of a job
now and then, but from the difficulty of disposing of the results of
their work. Since the new instructions to the agents to identify and
trace all dust and bullion offered to them went into force, you see,
they can't get rid of their swag. All the gang are spotted at the
offices, and it costs too much for them to pay a fence or a middleman
of any standing. Why, all that flaky river gold they took from the
Excelsior Company can be identified as easy as if it was stamped with
the company's mark. They can't melt it down themselves; they can't
get others to do it for them; they can't ship it to the Mint or Assay
Offices in Marysville and 'Frisco, for they won't take it without our
certificate and seals; and WE don't take any undeclared freight WITHIN
the lines that we've drawn around their beat, except from people and
agents known. Why, YOU know that well enough, Jim," he said, suddenly
appealing to the Expressman, "don't you?"

Possibly the suddenness of the appeal caused the Expressman to swallow
his liquor the wrong way, for he was overtaken with a fit of
coughing, and stammered hastily as he laid down his glass, "Yes--of
course--certainly."

"No, sir," resumed the Superintendent cheerfully, "they're pretty well
played out. And the best proof of it is that they've lately been robbing
ordinary passengers' trunks. There was a freight wagon 'held up' near
Dow's Flat the other day, and a lot of baggage gone through. I had to
go down there to look into it. Darned if they hadn't lifted a lot o'
woman's wedding things from that rich couple who got married the other
day out at Marysville. Looks as if they were playing it rather low down,
don't it? Coming down to hardpan and the bed rock--eh?"

The Expressman's face was turned anxiously towards Bill, who, after a
hurried gulp of his remaining liquor, still stood staring at the window.
Then he slowly drew on one of his large gloves. "Ye didn't," he said,
with a slow, drawling, but perfectly distinct, articulation, "happen to
know old 'Skinner' Hemmings when you were over there?"

"Yes."

"And his daughter?"

"He hasn't got any."

"A sort o' mild, innocent, guileless child of nature?" persisted Bill,
with a yellow face, a deadly calm and Satanic deliberation.

"No. I tell you he HASN'T any daughter. Old man Hemmings is a confirmed
old bachelor. He's too mean to support more than one."

"And you didn't happen to know any o' that gang, did ye?" continued
Bill, with infinite protraction.

"Yes. Knew 'em all. There was French Pete, Cherokee Bob, Kanaka
Joe, One-eyed Stillson, Softy Brown, Spanish Jack, and two or three
Greasers."

"And ye didn't know a man by the name of Charley Byng?"

"No," returned the Superintendent, with a slight suggestion of weariness
and a distraught glance towards the door.

"A dark, stylish chap, with shifty black eyes and a curled-up
merstache?" continued Bill, with dry, colorless persistence.

"No. Look here, Bill, I'm in a little bit of a hurry--but I suppose
you must have your little joke before we part. Now, what is your little
game?"

"Wot you mean?" demanded Bill, with sudden brusqueness.

"Mean? Well, old man, you know as well as I do. You're giving me the
very description of Ramon Martinez himself, ha! ha! No--Bill! you didn't
play me this time. You're mighty spry and clever, but you didn't catch
on just then."

He nodded and moved away with a light laugh. Bill turned a stony face to
the Expressman. Suddenly a gleam of mirth came into his gloomy eyes. He
bent over the young man, and said in a hoarse, chuckling whisper:--

"But I got even after all!"

"How?"

"He's tied up to that lying little she-devil, hard and fast!"




THE REFORMATION OF JAMES REDDY.


I.


It was a freshly furrowed field, so large that the eye at first
scarcely took in its magnitude. The irregular surface of upturned, oily,
wave-shaped clods took the appearance of a vast, black, chopping sea,
that reached from the actual shore of San Francisco Bay to the low hills
of the Coast Range. The sea-breeze that blew chilly over this bleak
expanse added to that fancy, and the line of straggling whitewashed farm
buildings, that half way across lifted themselves above it, seemed to
be placed on an island in its midst. Even the one or two huge, misshapen
agricultural machines, abandoned in the furrows, bore an odd resemblance
to hulks or barges adrift upon its waste.

This marine suggestion was equally noticeable from the door of one of
the farm buildings--a long, detached wooden shed--into which a number of
farm laborers were slowly filing, although one man was apparently enough
impressed by it to linger and gaze over that rigid sea. Except in their
rough dress and the labor-stains of soil on their hands and faces, they
represented no particular type or class. They were young and old,
robust and delicate, dull and intelligent; kept together only by some
philosophical, careless, or humorous acceptance of equally enforced
circumstance in their labors, as convicts might have been. For they had
been picked up on the streets and wharves of San Francisco,--discharged
sailors, broken-down miners, helpless newcomers, unemployed professional
men, and ruined traders,--to assist in ploughing and planting certain
broad leagues of rich alluvial soil for a speculative Joint Stock
Company, at a weekly wage that would have made an European peasant
independent for half a year. Yet there was no enthusiasm in their labor,
although it was seldom marked by absolute laziness or evasion, and was
more often hindered by ill-regulated "spurts" and excessive effort,
as if the laborer was anxious to get through with it; for in the few
confidences they exchanged there was little allusion to the present, and
they talked chiefly of what they were going to do when their work was
over. They were gregarious only at their meals in one of the sheds, or
when at night they sought their "bunks" or berths together in the larger
building.

The man who had lingered to look at the dreary prospect had a somewhat
gloomy, discontented face, whose sensitive lines indicated a certain
susceptibility to such impressions. He was further distinguished by
having also lingered longer with the washing of his hands and face
in the battered tin basin on a stool beside the door, and by the
circumstance that the operation revealed the fact that they were whiter
than those of his companions. Drying his fingers slowly on the long
roller-towel, he stood gazing with a kind of hard abstraction across the
darkening field, the strip of faded colorless shore, and the chill gray
sea, to the dividing point of land on the opposite coast, which in the
dying daylight was silhouetted against the cold horizon.

He knew that around that point and behind it lay the fierce, half-grown,
half-tamed city of yesterday that had worked his ruin.

It was scarcely a year ago that he had plunged into its wildest
excesses,--a reckless gambler among speculators, a hopeless speculator
among gamblers, until the little fortune he had brought thither had been
swept away.

From time to time he had kept up his failing spirit with the feverish
exaltation of dissipation, until, awakening from a drunkard's dream one
morning, he had found himself on board a steamboat crossing the bay, in
company with a gang of farm laborers with whom he was hired. A bitter
smile crossed his lips as his eyes hovered over the cold, rugged fields
before him. Yet he knew that they had saved him. The unaccustomed manual
labor in the open air, the regular hours, the silent, heavy, passionless
nights, the plain but wholesome food, were all slowly restoring his
youth and strength again. Temptation and passion had alike fled these
unlovely fields and grim employment. Yet he was not grateful. He nursed
his dreary convalescence as he had his previous dissipation, as part of
a wrong done him by one for whose sake, he was wont to believe, he had
sacrificed himself. That person was a woman.

Turning at last from the prospect and his bitter memories to join his
companions, he found that they had all passed in. The benches before the
long table on which supper was spread were already filled, and he stood
in hesitation, looking down the line of silent and hungrily preoccupied
men on either side. A young girl, who was standing near a smaller
serving-table, apparently assisting an older woman in directing the
operation of half a dozen Chinese waiters, moved forward and cleared a
place for him at a side-table, pushing before it the only chair in the
room,--the one she had lately vacated. As she placed some of the dishes
before him with a timid ostentation, and her large but well-shaped hands
came suddenly in contact with, and in direst contrast to his own whiter
and more delicate ones, she blushed faintly. He lifted his eyes to hers.

He had seen her half a dozen times before, for she was the daughter of
the ranch superintendent, and occasionally assisted her mother in
this culinary supervision--which did not, however, bring her into any
familiar association with the men. Even the younger ones, perhaps from
over-consciousness of their inferior position or the preoccupation of
their labor, never indulged in any gallantry toward her, and he himself,
in his revulsion of feeling against the whole sex, had scarcely noticed
that she was good-looking. But this naive exhibition of preference could
not be overlooked, either by his companions, who smiled cynically across
the table, or by himself, from whose morbid fancy it struck an ignoble
suggestion. Ah, well! the girl was pretty--the daughter of his employer,
who rumor said owned a controlling share in the company; why should
he not make this chance preference lead to something, if only to
ameliorate, in ways like this, his despicable position here. He knew
the value of his own good looks, his superior education, and a certain
recklessness which women liked; why should he not profit by them as well
as the one woman who had brought him to this? He owed her sex nothing;
if those among them who were not bad were only fools, there was no
reason why he should not deceive them as they had him. There was
all this small audacity and cynical purpose in his brown eyes as
he deliberately fixed them on hers. And I grieve to say that these
abominable sentiments seemed only to impart to them a certain attractive
brilliancy, and a determination which the undetermining sex is apt to
admire.

She blushed again, dropped her eyes, replied to his significant thanks
with a few indistinct words, and drew away from the table with a sudden
timidity that was half confession.

She did not approach him again during the meal, but seemed to have taken
a sudden interest in the efficiency of the waiters, generally, which she
had not shown before. I do not know whether this was merely an effort
at concealment, or an awakened recognition of her duty; but, after the
fashion of her sex,--and perhaps in contrast to his,--she was kinder
that evening to the average man on account of HIM. He did not, however,
notice it; nor did her absence interfere with his now healthy appetite;
he finished his meal, and only when he rose to take his hat from the
peg above him did he glance around the room. Their eyes met again. As
he passed out, although it was dark, he put on his hat a little more
smartly.

The air was clear and cold, but the outlines of the landscape had
vanished. His companions, with the instinct of tired animals, were
already making their way in knots of two or three, or in silent file,
across the intervening space between the building and their dormitory.
A few had already lit their pipes and were walking leisurely, but the
majority were hurrying from the chill sea-breeze to the warmth and
comfort of the long, well-lit room, lined with blanketed berths, and set
with plain wooden chairs and tables. The young man lingered for a moment
on the wooden platform outside the dining-shed,--partly to evade this
only social gathering of his fellows as they retired for the night, and
partly attracted by a strange fascination to the faint distant glow,
beyond the point of land, which indicated the lights of San Francisco.

There was a slight rustle behind him! It was the young girl who, with a
white woolen scarf thrown over her head and shoulders, had just left the
room. She started when she saw him, and for an instant hesitated.

"You are going home, Miss Woodridge?" he said pleasantly.

"Yes," she returned, in a faint, embarrassed voice. "I thought I'd run
on ahead of ma!"

"Will you allow me to accompany you?"

"It's only a step," she protested, indicating the light in the window of
the superintendent's house, the most remote of the group of buildings,
yet scarcely a quarter of a mile distant.

"But it's quite dark," he persisted smilingly.

She stepped from the platform to the ground; he instantly followed and
ranged himself at a little distance from her side. She protested still
feebly against his "troubling himself," but in another moment they were
walking on quietly together. Nevertheless, a few paces from the platform
they came upon the upheaved clods of the fresh furrows, and their
progress over them was slow and difficult.

"Shall I help you? Will you take my arm?" he said politely.

"No, thank you, Mr. Reddy."

So! she knew his name! He tried to look into her eyes, but the woolen
scarf hid her head. After all, there was nothing strange in her
knowing him; she probably had the names of the men before her in the
dining-room, or on the books. After a pause he said:--

"You quite startled me. One becomes such a mere working machine here
that one quite forgets one's own name,--especially with the prefix of
'Mr.'"

"And if it don't happen to be one's real name either," said the girl,
with an odd, timid audacity.

He looked up quickly--more attracted by her manner than her words; more
amused than angry.

"But Reddy happens to be my real name."

"Oh!"

"What made you think it was not?"

The clods over which they were clambering were so uneven that sometimes
the young girl was mounting one at the same moment that Reddy was
descending from another. Her reply, half muffled in her shawl, was
delivered over his head. "Oh, because pa says most of the men here don't
give their real names--they don't care to be known afterward. Ashamed of
their work, I reckon."

His face flushed a moment, even in the darkness. He WAS ashamed of his
work, and perhaps a little of the pitiful sport he was beginning. But
oddly enough, the aggressive criticism only whetted his purpose. The
girl was evidently quite able to take care of herself; why should he be
over-chivalrous?

"It isn't very pleasant to be doing the work of a horse, an ox, or a
machine, if you can do other things," he said half seriously.

"But you never used to do anything at all, did you?" she asked.

He hesitated. Here was a chance to give her an affecting history of
his former exalted fortune and position, and perhaps even to stir her
evidently romantic nature with some suggestion of his sacrifices to one
of her own sex. Women liked that sort of thing. It aroused at once
their emulation and their condemnation of each other. He seized the
opportunity, but--for some reason, he knew not why--awkwardly and
clumsily, with a simulated pathos that was lachrymose, a self-assertion
that was boastful, and a dramatic manner that was unreal. Suddenly the
girl stopped him.

"Yes, I know all THAT; pa told me. Told me you'd been given away by some
woman."

His face again flushed--this time with anger. The utter failure of his
story to excite her interest, and her perfect possession of herself and
the situation,--so unlike her conduct a few moments before,--made him
savagely silent, and he clambered on sullenly at her side. Presently she
stopped, balancing herself with a dexterity he could not imitate on one
of the larger upheaved clods, and said:--

"I was thinking that, as you can't do much with those hands of yours,
digging and shoveling, and not much with your feet either, over ploughed
ground, you might do some inside work, that would pay you better, too.
You might help in the dining room, setting table and washing up, helping
ma and me--though I don't do much except overseeing. I could show you
what to do at first, and you'd learn quick enough. If you say 'yes,'
I'll speak to pa to-night. He'll do whatever I say."

The rage and shame that filled his breast choked even the bitter laugh
that first rose to his lips. If he could have turned on his heel and
left her with marked indignation, he would have done so, but they were
scarcely half way across the field; his stumbling retreat would have
only appeared ridiculous, and he was by no means sure that she would not
have looked upon it as merely a confession of his inability to keep
up with her. And yet there was something peculiarly fascinating and
tantalizing in the situation. She did not see the sardonic glitter in
his eye as he said brutally:--

"Ha! and that would give me the exquisite pleasure of being near you."

She seemed a little confused, even under her enwrappings, and in
stepping down her foot slipped. Reddy instantly scrambled up to her
and caught her as she was pitching forward into the furrow. Yet in the
struggle to keep his own foothold he was aware that she was assisting
him, and although he had passed his arm around her waist, as if for her
better security, it was only through HER firm grasp of his wrists that
he regained his own footing. The "cloud" had fallen back from her head
and shoulders, her heavy hair had brushed his cheek and left its
faint odor in his nostrils; the rounded outline of her figure had
been slightly drawn against his own. His mean resentment wavered; her
proposition, which at first seemed only insulting, now took a vague form
of satisfaction; his ironical suggestion seemed a natural expression.
"Well, I say 'yes' then," he said, with an affected laugh. "That is, if
you think I can manage to do the work; it is not exactly in my line, you
know." Yet he somehow felt that his laugh was feeble and unconvincing.

"Oh, it's easy enough," said the girl quietly. "You've only got to be
clean--and that's in your line, I should say."

"And if I thought it would please you," he added, with another attempt
at gallantry.

She did not reply, but moved steadily on, he fancied a little more
rapidly. They were nearing the house; he felt he was losing time and
opportunity. The uneven nature of the ground kept him from walking
immediately beside her, unless he held her hand or arm. Yet an odd
timidity was overtaking him. Surely this was the same girl whose
consciousness and susceptibility were so apparent a moment ago; yet her
speech had been inconsistent, unsympathetic, and coldly practical. "It's
very kind of you," he began again, scrambling up one side of the furrow
as she descended on the other, "to--to--take such an interest in--in a
stranger, and I wish you knew how" (she had mounted the ridge again, and
stood balancing herself as if waiting for him to finish his sentence)
"how--how deeply--I--I"--She dropped quickly down again with the same
movement of uneasy consciousness, and he left the sentence unfinished.
The house was now only a few yards away; he hurried forward, but she
reached the wooden platform and stoop upon it first. He, however, at the
same moment caught her hand.

"I want to thank you," he said, "and say good-night."

"Good-night." Her voice was indistinct again, and she was trembling.
Emboldened and reckless, he sprang upon the platform, and encircling her
with one arm, with his other hand he unloosed the woolen cloud around
her head and bared her faintly flushed cheek and half-open, hurriedly
breathing lips. But the next moment she threw her head back with a
single powerful movement, and, as it seemed to him, with scarcely an
effort cast him off with both hands, and sent him toppling from the
platform to the ground. He scrambled quickly to his feet again, flushed,
angry, and--frightened! Perhaps she would call her father; he would be
insulted, or worse,--laughed at! He had lost even this pitiful chance of
bettering his condition. But he was as relieved as he was surprised
to see that she was standing quietly on the edge of the platform,
apparently waiting for him to rise. Her face was still uncovered, still
slightly flushed, but bearing no trace of either insult or anger. When
he stood erect again, she looked at him gravely and drew the woolen
cloud over her head, as she said calmly, "Then I'll tell pa you'll take
the place, and I reckon you'll begin to-morrow morning."


II.


Angered, discomfited, and physically and morally beaten, James Reddy
stumbled and clambered back across the field. The beam of light that had
streamed out over the dark field as the door opened and shut on the
girl left him doubly confused and bewildered. In his dull anger and
mortification, there seemed only one course for him to pursue. He would
demand his wages in the morning, and cut the whole concern. He would go
back to San Francisco and work there, where he at least had friends who
respected his station. Yet, he ought to have refused the girl's offer
before she had repulsed him; his retreat now meant nothing, and might
even tempt her, in her vulgar pique, to reveal her rebuff of him. He
raised his eyes mechanically, and looked gloomily across the dark waste
and distant bay to the opposite shore. But the fog had already hidden
the glow of the city's lights, and, thickening around the horizon,
seemed to be slowly hemming him in with the dreary rancho. In his
present frame of mind there was a certain fatefulness in this that
precluded his once free agency, and to that extent relieved and absolved
HIM of any choice. He reached the dormitory and its turned-down lights
in a state of tired and dull uncertainty, for which sleep seemed to
offer the only relief. He rolled himself in his blankets with an animal
instinct of comfort and shut his eyes, but their sense appeared to
open upon Nelly Woodridge as she stood looking down upon him from the
platform. Even through the dull pain of his bruised susceptibilities he
was conscious of a strange satisfaction he had not felt before. He fell
asleep at last, to waken only to the sunlight streaming through the
curtainless windows on his face. To his surprise the long shed was empty
and deserted, except for a single Chinaman who was sweeping the floor at
the farther end. As Reddy started up, the man turned and approached him
with a characteristic, vague, and patient smile.

"All lity, John, you sleepee heap! Mistel Woodlidge he say you no go
wolkee field allee same Mellikan man. You stoppee inside housee allee
same ME. Shabbee? You come to glubbee [grub] now" (pointing to the
distant dining-shed), "and then you washee dish."

The full extent of his new degradation flashed upon Reddy with this
added insult of his brother menial's implicit equality. He understood
it all. He had been detached from the field-workers and was to come to
a later breakfast, perhaps the broken victuals of the first repast,
and wash the dishes. He remembered his new bargain. Very well! he
would refuse positively, take his dismissal, and leave that morning! He
hurriedly dressed himself, and followed the Chinaman into the open air.

The fog still hung upon the distant bay and hid the opposite point. But
the sun shone with dry Californian brilliancy over the league-long field
around him, revealing every detail of the rancho with sharp, matter of
fact directness, and without the least illusion of distance or romance.
The rough, unplaned, unpainted walls of the dinner-shed stood out
clearly before him; the half-filled buckets of water on the near
platform, and the immense tubs piled with dirty dishes. He scowled
darkly as he walked forward, conscious, nevertheless, of the
invigorating discipline of the morning air and the wholesome whip in the
sky above him. He entered sharply and aggressively. To his relief, the
room at first sight seemed, like the dormitory he had just left, to be
empty. But a voice, clear, dry, direct, and practical as the morning
itself, spoke in his ear: "Mornin', Reddy! My daughter says you're
willin' to take an indoor job, and I reckon, speakin' square, as man
to man, it's more in your line than what you've bin doin'. It mayn't
be high-toned work, but work's WORK anyhow you can fix it; and the only
difference I kin see is in the work that a man does squarely, and the
work that he shirks."

"But," said Reddy hurriedly, "there's a mistake. I came here only to"--

"Work like the others, I understand. Well, you see you CAN'T. You do
your best, I know. I ain't findin' fault, but it ain't in your line.
THIS is, and the pay is better."

"But," stammered Reddy, "Miss Woodridge didn't understand"--

"Yes, she did," returned Woodridge impatiently, "and she told me. She
says she'll show you round at first. You'll catch on all right. Sit down
and eat your breakfast, and she'll be along before you're through.
Ez for ME, I must get up and get. So long!" and before Reddy had an
opportunity to continue his protest, he turned away.

The young man glanced vexatiously around him. A breakfast much better in
service and quality than the one he had been accustomed to smoked on the
table. There was no one else in the room. He could hear the voices of
the Chinese waiters in the kitchen beyond. He was healthily hungry,
and after a moment's hesitation sat down and began his meal. He could
expostulate with her afterward, and withdraw his promise. He was
entitled to his breakfast, anyway!

Once or twice, while thus engaged, he heard the door of the kitchen
open and the clipping tread of the Chinese waiters, who deposited some
rattling burden on the adjacent tables, but he thought it prudent not
to seem to notice them. When he had finished, the pleasant, hesitating,
boyish contralto of Miss Woodridge fell upon his ear.

"When you're ready, I'll show you how to begin your work."

He turned quickly, with a flush of mortification at being discovered
at his repast, and his anger returned. But as his eyes fell upon
her delicately colored but tranquil face, her well-shaped figure,
coquettishly and spotlessly cuffed, collared, and aproned, and her clear
blue but half-averted eyes, he again underwent a change. She certainly
was very pretty--that most seductive prettiness which seemed to be
warmed into life by her consciousness of himself. Why should he take her
or himself so seriously? Why not play out the farce, and let those
who would criticise him and think his acceptance of the work degrading
understand that it was only an affair of gallantry. He could afford
to serve Woodridge at least a few weeks for the favor of this Rachel!
Forgetful of his rebuff of the night before, he fixed his brown eyes on
hers with an audacious levity.

"Oh yes--the work! Let us see it. I'm ready in name and nature for
anything that Miss Woodridge wants of me. I'm just dying to begin."

His voice was raised slightly, with a high comedy jauntiness, for
the benefit of the Chinese waiters who might be lingering to see the
"Mellican man" assume their functions. But it failed in effect. With
their characteristic calm acceptance of any eccentricity in a "foreign
devil," they scarcely lifted their eyes. The young girl pointed to
a deep basket filled with dishes which had been placed on the larger
table, and said, without looking at Reddy:--

"You had better begin by 'checking' the crockery. That is, counting the
pieces separately and then arranging them in sets as they come back from
washing. There's the book to compare them with and to set down what is
broken, missing, or chipped. You'll have a clean towel with you to wipe
the pieces that have not been cleaned enough; or, if they are too dirty,
you'll send them back to the kitchen."

"Couldn't I wash them myself?" said Reddy, continuing his ostentatious
levity.

"Not yet," said the girl, with grave hesitation; "you'd break them."

She stood watching him, as with affected hilarity he began to take the
dishes from the basket. But she noticed that in spite of this jocular
simulation his grasp was firm and delicate, and that there was no
clatter--which would have affected her sensitive ear--as he put them
down. She laid a pencil and account book beside him and turned away.

"But you are not going?" he said, in genuine surprise.

"Yes," she said quietly, "until you get through 'checking.' Then I'll
come back and show you what you have to do next. You're getting on very
well."

"But that was because you were with me."

She colored slightly and, without looking at him, moved slowly to the
door and disappeared.

Reddy went back to his work, disappointed but not discomfited. He was
getting accustomed to the girl's eccentricities. Whether it was the
freshness of the morning air and sunlight streaming in at the open
windows, the unlooked-for solitude and security of the empty room, or
that there was nothing really unpleasant in his occupation, he went on
cheerfully "checking" the dishes, narrowly examining them for chips and
cracks, and noting them in the book. Again discovering that a few were
imperfectly cleaned and wiped, he repaired the defect with cold water
and a towel without the least thought of the operation being degrading.
He had finished his task in half an hour; she had not returned; why
should he not go on and set the table? As he straightened and turned the
coarse table-cloth, he made the discovery that the long table was
really composed of half a dozen smaller ones, and that the hideous
parallelogram which had always so offended him was merely the outcome of
carelessness and want of taste. Without a moment's hesitation he set
at work to break up the monotonous line and rearranged the tables
laterally, with small open spaces between them. The task was no light
one, even for a stronger man, but he persevered in it with a new-found
energy until he had changed the whole aspect of the room. It looked
larger, wider, and less crowded; its hard practical, workhouse-like
formality had disappeared. He had paused to survey it, panting still
with his unusual exertion, when a voice broke upon his solitude.

"Well, I wanter know!"

The voice was not Nelly's, but that of her mother,--a large-boned,
angular woman of fifty,--who had entered the room unperceived. The
accents were simply those of surprise, but on James Reddy's present
sensitive mood, coupled with the feeling that here was a new witness
to his degradation, he might have resented it; but he detected the
handsome, reserved figure of the daughter a few steps behind her. Their
eyes met; wonderful to relate, the young girl's no longer evaded him,
but looked squarely into his with a bright expression of pleasure he
had not seen before. He checked himself with a sudden thrill of
gratification.

"Well, I declare," continued Mrs. Woodridge; "is that YOUR idea--or
yours, Helen?"

Here Reddy simply pointed out the advantages for serving afforded by the
new arrangement; that all the tables were equally and quickly accessible
from the serving-table and sideboard, and that it was no longer
necessary to go the whole length of the room to serve the upper table.
He tactfully did not refer to the improved appearance of the room.

"Well, as long as it ain't mere finikin," said the lady graciously, "and
seems to bring the folks and their vittles nearer together--we'll try
it to-day. It does look kinder CITYFIED--and I reckoned that was all the
good it was. But I calkilated you were goin' to check the crockery this
morning."

"It's done," said Reddy, smilingly handing her the account-book.

Mrs. Woodridge glanced over it, and then surveyed her new assistant.

"And you didn't find any plates that were dirty and that had to be sent
back?"

"Yes, two or three, but I cleaned them myself."

Mrs. Woodridge glanced at him with a look of approving curiosity, but
his eyes were just then seeking her daughter's for a more grateful
sympathy. All of which the good lady noted, and as it apparently
answered the unasked question in her own mind, she only uttered the
single exclamation, "Humph!"

But the approbation he received later at dinner, in the satisfaction
of his old companions with the new arrangement, had also the effect
of diverting from him the criticism he had feared they would make
in finding him installed as an assistant to Mrs. Woodridge. On the
contrary, they appeared only to recognize in him some especial
and superior faculty utilized for their comfort, and when the
superintendent, equally pleased, said it was "all Reddy's own idea," no
one doubted that it was this particular stroke of genius which gained
him the obvious promotion. If he had still thought of offering his
flirtation with Nelly as an excuse, there was now no necessity for any.
Having shown to his employers his capacity for the highest and lowest
work, they naturally preferred to use his best abilities--and he
was kept from any menial service. His accounts were so carefully and
intelligently rendered that the entire care of the building and its
appointments was intrusted to him. At the end of the week Mr. Woodridge
took him aside.

"I say, you ain't got any job in view arter you finish up here, hev ye?"

Reddy started. Scarcely ten days ago he had a hundred projects, schemes,
and speculations, more or less wild and extravagant, wherewith he was to
avenge and recoup himself in San Francisco. Now they were gone he knew
not where and how. He briefly said he had not.

"Because," continued Woodridge, "I've got an idea of startin' a hotel in
the Oak Grove, just on the slope back o' the rancho. The company's bound
to make some sort o' settlement there for the regular hands, and the
place is pooty enough for 'Frisco people who want to run over here and
get set up for a day or two. Thar's plenty of wood and water up thar,
and the company's sure to have a wharf down on the shore. I'll provide
the capital, if you will put in your time. You can sling in ez much
style as you like there" (this was an allusion to Reddy's attempt to
enliven the blank walls with colored pictures from the illustrated
papers and green ceanothus sprays from the slope); "in fact, the more
style the better for them city folks. Well, you think it over."

He did. But meantime he seemed to make little progress in his court of
the superintendent's daughter. He tried to think it was because he had
allowed himself to be diverted by his work, but although she always
betrayed the same odd physical consciousness of his presence, it was
certain that she never encouraged him. She gave him the few directions
that his new occupation still made necessary, and looked her approval
of his success. But nothing more. He was forced to admit that this was
exactly what she might have done as the superintendent's daughter to a
deserving employee. Whereat, for a few days he assumed an air of cold
and ceremonious politeness, until perceiving that, far from piquing the
girl, it seemed to gratify her, and even to render her less sensitive
in his company, he sulked in good earnest. This proving ineffective
also,--except to produce a kind of compassionate curiosity,--his former
dull rage returned. The planting of the rancho was nearly over; his
service would be ended next week; he had not yet given his answer to
Woodridge's proposition; he would decline it and cut the whole concern!

It was a crisp Sunday morning. The breakfast hour was later on that
day to allow the men more time for their holiday, which, however, they
generally spent in cards, gossip, or reading in their sleeping sheds.
It usually delayed Reddy's work, but as he cared little for the
companionship of his fellows, it enabled him, without a show of
unsociability, to seclude himself in the dining-room. And this morning
he was early approached by his employer.

"I'm goin' to take the women folks over to Oakdale to church," said Mr.
Woodridge; "ef ye keer to join us thar's a seat in the wagon, and I'll
turn on a couple of Chinamen to do the work for you, just now; and Nelly
or the old woman will give you a lift this afternoon with the counting
up."

Reddy felt instinctively that the invitation had been instigated by the
young girl. A week before he would have rejoiced at it; a month ago he
would have accepted it if only as a relief to his degraded position, but
in the pique of this new passion he almost rudely declined it. An hour
later he saw Nelly, becomingly and even tastefully dressed,--with
the American girl's triumphant superiority to her condition and
surroundings,--ride past in her father's smart "carryall." He was
startled to see that she looked so like a lady. Then, with a new and
jealous inconsistency, significant of the progress of his passion, he
resolved to go to church too. She should see that he was not going to
remain behind like a mere slave. He remembered that he had still certain
remnants of his past finery in his trunk; he would array himself in
them, walk to Oakdale, and make one of the congregation. He managed to
change his clothes without attracting the attention of his fellows, and
set out.

The air was pure but keen, with none of the languor of spring in
its breath, although a few flowers were beginning to star the weedy
wagon-tracked lane, and there was an awakening spice in the wayside
southernwood and myrtle. He felt invigorated, although it seemed only to
whet his jealous pique. He hurried on without even glancing toward the
distant coast-line of San Francisco or even thinking of it. The bitter
memories of the past had been obliterated by the bitterness of the
present. He no longer thought of "that woman;" even when he had
threatened to himself to return to San Francisco, he was vaguely
conscious that it was not SHE who was again drawing him there, but Nelly
who was driving him away.

The service was nearly over when he arrived at the chilly little
corrugated-zinc church at Oakdale, but he slipped into one of the back
seats. A few worshipers turned round to look at him. Among them were the
daughters of a neighboring miller, who were slightly exercised over the
unusual advent of a good-looking stranger with certain exterior signs of
elegance. Their excitement was communicated by some mysterious instinct
to their neighbor, Nelly Woodridge. She also turned and caught his
eye. But to all appearances she not only showed no signs of her usual
agitation at his presence, but did not seem to even recognize him.
In the acerbity of his pique he was for a moment gratified at what he
believed to be the expression of her wounded pride, but his uneasiness
quickly returned, and at the conclusion of the service he slipped out of
the church with one or two of the more restless in the congregation.
As he passed through the aisle he heard the escort of the miller's
daughters, in response to a whispered inquiry, say distinctly: "Only
the head-waiter over at the company's rancho." Whatever hesitating idea
Reddy might have had of waiting at the church door for the appearance
of Nelly vanished before the brutal truth. His brow darkened, and with
flushed cheeks he turned his back upon the building and plunged into the
woods. This time there was no hesitation in his resolve; he would
leave the rancho at the expiration of his engagement. Even in a higher
occupation he felt he could never live down his reputation there.

In his morose abstraction he did not know how long or how aimlessly he
had wandered among the mossy live-oaks, his head and shoulders often
imperiled by the downcurving of some huge knotted limb; his feet
straying blindly from the faint track over the thickly matted carpet
of chickweed which hid their roots. But it was nearly an hour before he
emerged upon a wide, open, wooded slope, and, from the distant view of
field and shore, knew that he was at Oak Grove, the site of Woodridge's
projected hotel. And there, surely, at a little distance, was
the Woodridges' wagon and team tied up to a sapling, while the
superintendent and his wife were slowly climbing the slope, and
apparently examining the prospect. Without waiting to see if Nelly was
with them, Reddy instantly turned to avoid meeting them. But he had not
proceeded a hundred yards before he came upon that young lady, who
had evidently strayed from the party, and who was now unconsciously
advancing toward him. A rencontre was inevitable.

She started slightly, and then stopped, with all her old agitation and
embarrassment. But, to his own surprise, he was also embarrassed and
even tongue-tied.

She spoke first.

"You were at church. I didn't quite know you in--in--these clothes."

In her own finery she had undergone such a change to Reddy's
consciousness that he, for the first time in their acquaintance, now
addressed her as on his own level, and as if she had no understanding of
his own feelings.

"Oh," he said, with easy bitterness, "OTHERS did, if you did not. They
all detected the 'head-waiter' at the Union Company's rancho. Even if I
had accepted your kindness in offering me a seat in your wagon it would
have made no difference." He was glad to put this construction on
his previous refusal, for in the new relations which seemed to be
established by their Sunday clothes he was obliged to soften the
churlishness of that refusal also.

"I don't think you'd look nice setting the table in kid gloves," she
said, glancing quickly at his finery as if accepting it as the real
issue; "but you can wear what you like at other times. I never found
fault with your working clothes."

There was such a pleasant suggestion in her emphasis that his ill-humor
softened. Her eyes wandered over the opposite grove, where her
unconscious parents had just disappeared.

"Papa's very keen about the hotel," she continued, "and is going to
have the workmen break ground to-morrow. He says he'll have it up in two
months and ready to open, if he has to make the men work double time.
When you're manager, you won't mind what folks say."

There was no excuse for his further hesitation. He must speak out, but
he did it in a half-hearted way.

"But if I simply go away--WITHOUT being manager--I won't hear their
criticism either."

"What do you mean?" she said quickly.

"I've--I've been thinking of--of going back to San Francisco," he
stammered awkwardly.

A slight flush of contemptuous indignation passed over her face, and
gave it a strength and expression he had never seen there before. "Oh,
you've not reformed yet, then?" she said, under her scornful lashes.

"I don't understand you," he said, flushing.

"Father ought to have told you," she went on dryly, "that that woman has
gone off to the Springs with her husband, and you won't see HER at San
Francisco."

"I don't know what you mean--and your father seems to take an
unwarrantable interest in my affairs," said Reddy, with an anger that he
was conscious, however, was half simulated.

"No more than he ought to, if he expects to trust you with all HIS
affairs," said the girl shortly; "but you had better tell him you have
changed your mind at once, before he makes any further calculations on
your staying. He's just over the hill there, with mother."

She turned away coldly as she spoke, but moved slowly and in the
direction of the hill, although she took a less direct trail than
the one she had pointed to him. But he followed her, albeit still
embarrassedly, and with that new sense of respect which had checked his
former surliness. There was her strong, healthy, well-developed
figure moving before him, but the modish gray dress seemed to give its
pronounced outlines something of the dignity of a goddess. Even the firm
hands had the distinguishment of character.

"You understand," he said apologetically, "that I mean no discourtesy to
your father or his offer. And"--he hesitated--"neither is my reason what
you would infer."

"Then what is it?" she asked, turning to him abruptly. "You know you
have no other place when you leave here, nor any chance as good as the
one father offers you. You are not fit for any other work, and you know
it. You have no money to speculate with, nor can you get any. If you
could, you would have never stayed here."

He could not evade the appalling truthfulness of her clear eyes. He
knew it was no use to lie to her; she had evidently thoroughly informed
herself regarding his past; more than that, she seemed to read his
present thoughts. But not all of them! No! he could startle her still!
It was desperate, but he had nothing now to lose. And she liked the
truth,--she should have it!

"You are right," he said shortly; "these are not my reasons."

"Then what reason have you?"

"You!"

"Me?" she repeated incredulously, yet with a rising color.

"Yes, YOU! I cannot stay here, and have you look down upon me."

"I don't look down on you," she said simply, yet without the haste of
repelling an unjust accusation. "Why should I? Mother and I have done
the same work that you are doing,--if that's what you mean; and father,
who is a man like yourself, helped us at first, until he could do other
things better." She paused. "Perhaps you think so because YOU looked
down on us when you first came here."

"But I didn't," said Reddy quickly.

"You did," said the young girl quietly. "That's why you acted toward me
as you did the night you walked home with me. You would not have
behaved in that way to any San Francisco young lady--and I'm not one of
your--fast--MARRIED WOMEN."

Reddy felt the hot blood mount to his cheek, and looked away. "I
was foolish and rude--and I think you punished me at the time," he
stammered. "But you see I was right in saying you looked down on me," he
concluded triumphantly.

This was at best a feeble sequitur, but the argument of the affections
is not always logical. And it had its effect on the girl.

"I wasn't thinking of THAT," she said. "It's that you don't know your
own mind."

"If I said that I would stay and accept your father's offer, would you
think that I did?" he asked quickly.

"I should wait and see what you actually DID do," she replied.

"But if I stayed--and--and--if I told you that I stayed on YOUR
account--to be with you and near you only--would you think that a
proof?" He spoke hesitatingly, for his lips were dry with a nervousness
he had not known before.

"I might, if you told father you expected to be engaged on those terms.
For it concerns HIM as much as me. And HE engages you, and not I.
Otherwise I'd think it was only your talk."

Reddy looked at her in astonishment. There was not the slightest trace
of coyness, coquetry, or even raillery in her clear, honest eyes, and
yet it would seem as if she had taken his proposition in its fullest
sense as a matrimonial declaration, and actually referred him to her
father. He was pleased, frightened, and utterly unprepared.

"But what would YOU say, Nelly?" He drew closer to her and held out both
his hands. But she retreated a step and slipped her own behind her.

"Better see what father says first," she said quietly. "You may change
your mind again and go back to San Francisco."

He was confused, and reddened again. But he had become accustomed to her
ways; rather, perhaps, he had begun to recognize the quaint justice that
underlaid them, or, possibly, some better self of his own, that had been
buried under bitterness and sloth and struggled into life. "But whatever
he says," he returned eagerly, "cannot alter my feelings to YOU. It can
only alter my position here, and you say you are above being influenced
by that. Tell me, Nelly--dear Nelly! have you nothing to say to me, AS
I AM, or is it only to your father's manager that you would speak?" His
voice had an unmistakable ring of sincerity in it, and even startled
him--half rascal as he was!

The young girl's clear, scrutinizing eyes softened; her red resolute
lips trembled slightly and then parted, the upper one hovering a little
to one side over her white teeth. It was Nelly's own peculiar smile, and
its serious piquancy always thrilled him. But she drew a little farther
back from his brightening eyes, her hands still curled behind her, and
said, with the faintest coquettish toss of her head toward the hill: "If
you want to see father, you'd better hurry up."

With a sudden determination as new to him as it was incomprehensible,
Reddy turned from her and struck forward in the direction of the hill.
He was not quite sure what he was going for. Yet that he, who had only
a moment before fully determined to leave the rancho and her, was now
going to her father to demand her hand as a contingency of his remaining
did not strike him as so extravagant and unexpected a denouement as
it was a difficult one. He was only concerned HOW, and in what way, he
should approach him. In a moment of embarrassment he hesitated, turned,
and looked behind him.

She was standing where he had left her, gazing after him, leaning
forward with her hands still held behind her. Suddenly, as with an
inspiration, she raised them both, carried them impetuously to her lips,
blew him a dozen riotous kisses, and then, lowering her head like a
colt, whisked her skirt behind her, and vanished in the cover.


III.


It was only May, but the freshness of early summer already clothed
the great fields of the rancho. The old resemblance to a sea was still
there, more accented, perhaps, by the undulations of bluish-green
grain that rolled from the actual shore-line to the foothills. The farm
buildings were half submerged in this glowing tide of color and lost
their uncouth angularity with their hidden rude foundations. The same
sea-breeze blew chilly and steadily from the bay, yet softened and
subdued by the fresh odors of leaf and flower. The outlying fringe of
oaks were starred through their underbrush with anemones and dog-roses;
there were lupines growing rankly in the open spaces, and along the
gentle slopes of Oak Grove daisies were already scattered. And, as if it
were part of this vernal efflorescence, the eminence itself was crowned
with that latest flower of progress and improvement,--the new Oak Grove
Hotel!

Long, low, dazzling with white colonnades, verandas, and balconies which
retained, however, enough of the dampness of recent creation to make
them too cool for loungers, except at high noon, the hotel nevertheless
had the charms of freshness, youth, and cleanliness. Reddy's fastidious
neatness showed itself in all the appointments, from the mirrored and
marbled barroom, gilded parlors, and snowy dining-room, to the chintz
and maple furnishing of the bedrooms above. Reddy's taste, too, had
selected the pretty site; his good fortune had afterward discovered
in an adjoining thicket a spring of blandly therapeutic qualities. A
complaisant medical faculty of San Francisco attested to its merits;
a sympathetic press advertised the excellence of the hotel; a
novelty-seeking, fashionable circle--as yet without laws and blindly
imitative--found the new hotel an admirable variation to the vulgar
ordinary "across the bay" excursion, and an accepted excuse for a novel
social dissipation. A number of distinguished people had already visited
it; certain exclusive families had secured the best rooms; there were a
score of pretty women to be seen in its parlors; there had already been
a slight scandal. Nothing seemed wanting to insure its success.

Reddy was passing through the little wood where four months before he
had parted from Kelly Woodridge to learn his fate from her father. He
remembered that interview to which Nelly's wafted kiss had inspired
him. He recalled to-day, as he had many times before, the singular
complacency with which Mr. Woodridge had received his suit, as if it
were a slight and unimportant detail of the business in hand, and how he
had told him that Kelly and her mother were going to the "States" for a
three months' visit, but that after her return, if they were both "still
agreed," he, Woodridge, would make no objection. He remembered the
slight shock which this announcement of Kelly's separation from him
during his probationary labors had given him, and his sudden suspicion
that he had been partly tricked of his preliminary intent to secure her
company to solace him. But he had later satisfied himself that she
knew nothing of her father's intentions at the time, and he was fain to
content himself with a walk through the fields at her side the day she
departed, and a single kiss--which left him cold. And now in a few days
she would return to witness the successful fufillment of his labors,
and--reward him!

It was certainly a complacent prospect. He could look forward to a
sensible, prosperous, respectable future. He had won back his good
name, his fortune, and position,--not perhaps exactly in the way he
had expected,--and he had stilled the wanton, foolish cravings of his
passionate nature in the calm, virginal love of an honest, handsome girl
who would make him a practical helpmeet, and a comfortable, trustworthy
wife. He ought to be very happy. He had never known such perfect health
before; he had lost his reckless habits; his handsome, nervous face had
grown more placid and contented; his long curls had been conventionally
clipped; he had gained flesh unmistakably, and the lower buttons of
the slim waistcoat he had worn to church that memorable Sunday were too
tight for comfort or looks. HE WAS happy; yet as he glanced over the
material spring landscape, full of practical health, blossom, and
promise of fruition, it struck him that the breeze that blew over it was
chilly, even if healthful; and he shivered slightly.

He reached the hotel, entered the office, glanced at the register, and
passed through into his private room. He had been away for two days,
and noticed with gratification that the influx of visitors was still
increasing. His clerk followed into the room.

"There's a lady in 56 who wanted to see you when you returned. She asked
particularly for the manager."

"Who is she?"

"Don't know. It's a Mrs. Merrydew, from Sacramento. Expecting her
husband on the next steamer."

"Humph! You'll have to be rather careful about these solitary married
women. We don't want another scandal, you know."

"She asked for you by name, sir, and I thought you might know her,"
returned the clerk.

"Very well. I'll go up."

He sent a waiter ahead to announce him, and leisurely mounted the
stairs. No. 56 was the sitting-room of a private suite on the first
floor. The waiter was holding the door open. As he approached it a
faint perfume from the interior made him turn pale. But he recovered his
presence of mind sufficiently to close the door sharply upon the waiter
behind him.

"Jim," said a voice which thrilled him.

He looked up and beheld what any astute reader of romance will have
already suspected--the woman to whom he believed he owed his ruin in
San Francisco. She was as beautiful and alluring as ever, albeit she was
thinner and more spiritual than he had ever seen her. She was tastefully
dressed, as she had always been, a certain style of languorous silken
deshabille which she was wont to affect in better health now became her
paler cheek and feverishly brilliant eyes. There was the same opulence
of lace and ornament, and, whether by accident or design, clasped around
the slight wrist of her extended hand was a bracelet which he remembered
had swept away the last dregs of his fortune.

He took her hand mechanically, yet knowing whatever rage was in his
heart he had not the strength to refuse it.

"They told me it was Mrs. Merrydew," he stammered.

"That was my mother's name," she said, with a little laugh. "I thought
you knew it. But perhaps you didn't. When I got my divorce from
Dick--you didn't know that either, I suppose; it's three months ago,--I
didn't care to take my maiden name again; too many people remembered
it. So after the decree was made I called myself Mrs. Merrydew. You had
disappeared. They said you had gone East."

"But the clerk says you are expecting your HUSBAND on the steamer. What
does this mean? Why did you tell him that?" He had so far collected
himself that there was a ring of inquisition in his voice.

"Oh, I had to give him some kind of reason for my being alone when I did
not find you as I expected," she said half wearily. Then a change came
over her tired face; a smile of mingled audacity and tentative coquetry
lit up the small features. "Perhaps it is true; perhaps I may have a
husband coming on the steamer--that depends. Sit down, Jim."

She let his hand drop, and pointed to an armchair from which she had
just risen, and sank down herself in a corner of the sofa, her thin
fingers playing with and drawing themselves through the tassels of the
cushion.

"You see, Jim, as soon as I was free, Louis Sylvester--you remember
Louis Sylvester?--wanted to marry me, and even thought that he was the
cause of Dick's divorcing me. He actually went East to settle up some
property he had left him there, and he's coming on the steamer."

"Louis Sylvester!" repeated Reddy, staring at her. "Why, he was a bigger
fool than I was, and a worse man!" he added bitterly.

"I believe he was," said the lady, smiling, "and I think he still
is. But," she added, glancing at Reddy under her light fringed lids,
"you--you're regularly reformed, aren't you? You're stouter, too, and
altogether more solid and commercial looking. Yet who'd have thought of
your keeping a hotel or ever doing anything but speculate in wild-cat
or play at draw poker. How did you drift into it? Come, tell me! I'm not
Mrs. Sylvester just yet, and maybe I might like to go into the business
too. You don't want a partner, do you?"

Her manner was light and irresponsible, or rather it suggested a
childlike putting of all responsibility for her actions upon others,
which he remembered now too well. Perhaps it was this which kept him
from observing that the corners of her smiling lips, however, twitched
slightly, and that her fingers, twisting the threads of the tassel,
were occasionally stiffened nervously. For he burst out: Oh yes; he had
drifted into it when it was a toss up if it wasn't his body instead
that would be found drifting out to sea from the first wharf of San
Francisco. Yes, he had been a common laborer,--a farm hand, in those
fields she had passed,--a waiter in the farm kitchen, and but for luck
he might be taking her orders now in this very hotel. It was not her
fault if he was not in the gutter.

She raised her thin hand with a tired gesture as if to ward off the
onset of his words. "The same old Jim," she repeated; "and yet I thought
you had forgotten all that now, and become calmer and more sensible
since you had taken flesh and grown so matter of fact. You ought to have
known then, as you know now, that I never could have been anything to
you as long as I was tied to Dick. And you know you forced your presents
on me, Jim. I took them from YOU because I would take nothing from Dick,
for I hated him. And I never knew positively that you were in straits
then; you know you always talked big, Jim, and were always going to make
your fortune with the next thing you had in hand!"

It was true, and he remembered it. He had not intended this kind of
recrimination, but he was exasperated with her wearied acceptance of his
reproaches and by a sudden conviction that his long-cherished grievance
against her now that he had voiced it was inadequate, mean, and
trifling. Yet he could not help saying:--

"Then you had presents from Sylvester, too. I presume you did not hate
him, either?"

"He would have married me the day after I got my divorce."

"And so would I," burst out Reddy.

She looked at him fixedly. "You would?" she said with a peculiar
emphasis. "And now"--

He colored. It had been part of his revengeful purpose on seeing her to
tell her of his engagement to Kelly. He now found himself tongue-tied,
irresolute, and ashamed. Yet he felt she was reading his innermost
thoughts.

She, however, only lowered her eyes, and with the same tired expression
said: "No matter now. Let us talk of something nearer. That was two
months ago. And so you have charge of this hotel! I like it so much. I
mean the place itself. I fancy I could live here forever. It is so far
away and restful. I am so sick of towns and cities, and people. And this
little grove is so secluded. If one had merely a little cottage here,
one might be so happy."

What did she mean?--what did she expect?--what did she think of doing?
She must be got rid of before Kelly's arrival, and yet he found himself
wavering under her potent and yet scarcely exerted influence. The
desperation of weakness is apt to be more brutal than the determination
of strength. He remembered why he had come upstairs, and blurted out:
"But you can't stay here. The rules are very stringent in regard to--to
strangers like yourself. It will be known who you really are and what
people say of you. Even your divorce will tell against you. It's all
wrong, I know--but what can I do? I didn't make the rules. I am only a
servant of the landlord, and must carry them out."

She leaned back against the sofa and laughed silently. But she presently
recovered herself, although with the same expression of fatigue. "Don't
be alarmed, my poor Jim! If you mean your friend, Mr. Woodridge, I
know him. It was he, himself, who suggested my coming here. And
don't misunderstand him--nor me either. He's only a good friend of
Sylvester's; they had some speculation together. He's coming here to see
me after Louis arrives. He's waiting in San Francisco for his wife and
daughter, who come on the same steamer. So you see you won't get into
trouble on my account. Don't look so scared, my dear boy."

"Does he know that you knew me?" said Reddy, with a white face.

"Perhaps. But then that was three months ago," returned the lady,
smiling, "and you know how you have reformed since, and grown ever so
much more steady and respectable."

"Did he talk to you of me?" continued Reddy, still aghast.

"A little--complimentary of course. Don't look so frightened. I didn't
give you away."

Her laugh suddenly ceased, and her face changed into a more nervous
activity as she rose and went toward the window. She had heard the sound
of wheels outside--the coach had just arrived.

"There's Mr. Woodridge now," she said in a more animated voice. "The
steamer must be in. But I don't see Louis; do you?"

She turned to where Reddy was standing, but he was gone.

The momentary animation of her face changed. She lifted her shoulders
with a half gesture of scorn, but in the midst of it suddenly threw
herself on the sofa, and buried her face in her hands.

A few moments elapsed with the bustle of arrival in the hall and
passages. Then there was a hesitating step at her door. She quickly
passed her handkerchief over her wet eyes and resumed her former look
of weary acceptation. The door opened. But it was Mr. Woodridge who
entered. The rough shirt-sleeved ranchman had developed, during the last
four months, into an equally blunt but soberly dressed proprietor. His
keen energetic face, however, wore an expression of embarrassment and
anxiety, with an added suggestion of a half humorous appreciation of it.

"I wouldn't have disturbed you, Mrs. Merrydew," he said, with a gentle
bluntness, "if I hadn't wanted to ask your advice before I saw Reddy.
I'm keeping out of his way until I could see you. I left Nelly and her
mother in 'Frisco. There's been some queer goings-on on the steamer
coming home; Kelly has sprang a new game on her mother, and--and suthin'
that looks as if there might be a new deal. However," here a sense that
he was, perhaps, treating his statement too seriously, stopped him, and
he smiled reassuringly, "that is as may be."

"I don't know," he went on, "as I ever told you anything about my Kelly
and Reddy,--partik'lerly about Kelly. She's a good girl, a square girl,
but she's got some all-fired romantic ideas in her head. Mebbee it kem
from her reading, mebbee it kem from her not knowing other girls, or
seeing too much of a queer sort of men; but she got an interest in the
bad ones, and thought it was her mission to reform them,--reform them
by pure kindness, attentive little sisterly ways, and moral example. She
first tried her hand on Reddy. When he first kem to us he was--well, he
was a blazin' ruin! She took him in hand, yanked him outer himself, put
his foot on the bedrock, and made him what you see him now. Well--what
happened; why, he got reg'larly soft on her; wanted to MARRY HER, and
I agreed conditionally, of course, to keep him up to the mark. Did you
speak?"

"No," said the lady, with her bright eyes fixed upon him.

"Well, that was all well and good, and I'd liked to have carried out my
part of the contract, and was willing, and am still. But you see, Kelly,
after she'd landed Reddy on firm ground, got a little tired, I reckon,
gal-like, of the thing she'd worked so easily, and when she went East
she looked around for some other wreck to try her hand on, and she found
it on the steamer coming back. And who do you think it was? Why, our
friend Louis Sylvester!"

Mrs. Merrydew smiled slightly, with her bright eyes still on the
speaker.

"Well, you know he IS fast at times--if he is a friend of mine--and she
reg'larly tackled him; and as my old woman says, it was a sight to see
her go for him. But then HE didn't tumble to it. No! Reformin' ain't in
HIS line I'm afeard. And what was the result? Why, Kelly only got all
the more keen when she found she couldn't manage him like Reddy,--and,
between you and me, she'd have liked Reddy more if he hadn't been so
easy,--and it's ended, I reckon, in her now falling dead in love with
Sylvester. She swears she won't marry any one else, and wants to devote
her whole life to him! Now, what's to be done! Reddy don't know it yet,
and I don't know how to tell him. Kelly says her mission was ended when
she made a new man of him, and he oughter be thankful for that. Couldn't
you kinder break the news to him and tell him there ain't any show for
him?"

"Does he love the girl so much, then?" said the lady gently.

"Yes; but I am afraid there is no hope for Reddy as long as she thinks
there's a chance of her capturing Sylvester."

The lady rose and went to the writing-table. "Would it be any comfort
to you, Mr. Woodridge, if you were told that she had not the slightest
chance with Sylvester?"

"Yes."

She wrote a few lines on a card, put it in an envelope, and handed it to
Woodridge. "Find out where Sylvester is in San Francisco, and give him
that card. I think it will satisfy you. And now as I have to catch the
return coach in ten minutes, I must ask you to excuse me while I put my
things together."

"And you won't first break the news to Reddy for me?"

"No; and I advise you to keep the whole matter to yourself for the
present. Good-by!"

She smiled again, fascinatingly as usual, but, as it seemed to him, a
trifle wearily, and then passed into the inner room. Years after, in his
practical, matter of fact recollections of this strange woman, he always
remembered her by this smile.

But she had sufficiently impressed him by her parting adjuration to
cause him to answer Reddy's eager inquiries with the statement that
Kelly and her mother were greatly preoccupied with some friends in
San Francisco, and to speedily escape further questioning. Reddy's
disappointment was somewhat mitigated by the simultaneous announcement
of Mrs. Merrydew's departure. But he was still more relieved and
gratified to hear, a few days later, of the marriage of Mrs. Merrydew
with Louis Sylvester. If, to the general surprise and comment it
excited, he contributed only a smile of cynical toleration and superior
self-complacency, the reader will understand and not blame him. Nor did
the public, who knew the austere completeness of his reform. Nor did Mr.
Woodridge, who failed to understand the only actor in this little comedy
who might perhaps have differed from them all.

A month later James Reddy married Kelly Woodridge, in the chilly little
church at Oakdale. Perhaps by that time it might have occurred to him
that although the freshness and fruition of summer were everywhere, the
building seemed to be still unwarmed. And when he stepped forth with his
bride, and glanced across the prosperous landscape toward the distant
bay and headlands of San Francisco, he shivered slightly at the dryly
practical kiss of the keen northwestern Trades.

But he was prosperous and comfortable thereafter, as the respectable
owner of broad lands and paying shares. It was said that Mrs. Reddy
contributed much to the popularity of the hotel by her charming freedom
from prejudice and sympathy with mankind; but this was perhaps only due
to the contrast to her more serious and at times abstracted husband. At
least this was the charitable opinion of the proverbially tolerant and
kind-hearted Baroness Streichholzer (nee Merrydew, and relict of the
late lamented Louis Sylvester, Esq.), whom I recently had the pleasure
of meeting at Wiesbaden, where the waters and reposeful surroundings
strongly reminded her of Oakdale.




THE HEIR OF THE McHULISHES.


I.


The consul for the United States of America at the port of St. Kentigern
was sitting alone in the settled gloom of his private office. Yet it was
only high noon, of a "seasonable" winter's day, by the face of the clock
that hung like a pallid moon on the murky wall opposite to him. What
else could be seen of the apartment by the faint light that struggled
through the pall of fog outside the lustreless windows presented the
ordinary aspect of a business sanctum. There were a shelf of fog-bound
admiralty law, one or two colored prints of ocean steamships under
full steam, bow on, tremendously foreshortened, and seeming to force
themselves through shadowy partitions; there were engravings of Lincoln
and Washington, as unsubstantial and shadowy as the dead themselves.
Outside, against the window, which was almost level with the street,
an occasional procession of black silhouetted figures of men and women,
with prayer-books in their hands and gloom on their faces, seemed to be
born of the fog, and prematurely to return to it. At which a conviction
of sin overcame the consul. He remembered that it was the Sabbath day,
and that he had no business to be at the consulate at all.

Unfortunately, with this shameful conviction came the sound of a bell
ringing somewhere in the depths of the building, and the shuffling of
feet on the outer steps. The light of his fire had evidently been seen,
and like a beacon had attracted some wandering and possibly intoxicated
mariner with American papers. The consul walked into the hall with a
sudden righteous frigidity of manner. It was one thing to be lounging
in one's own office on the Sabbath day, and quite another to be
deliberately calling there on business.

He opened the front door, and a middle-aged man entered, accompanying
and partly shoving forward a more diffident and younger one. Neither
appeared to be a sailor, although both were dressed in that dingy
respectability and remoteness of fashion affected by second and third
mates when ashore. They were already well in the hall, and making their
way toward the private office, when the elder man said, with an air
of casual explanation, "Lookin' for the American consul; I reckon this
yer's the consulate?"

"It is the consulate," said the official dryly, "and I am the consul;
but"--

"That's all right," interrupted the stranger, pushing past him, and
opening the door of the private office, into which he shoved his
companion. "Thar now!" he continued to the diffident youth, pointing to
a chair, and quite ignoring the presence of the consul; "thar's a bit
of America. Sit down thar. You're under the flag now, and can do as
you darn please." Nevertheless, he looked a little disappointed as he
glanced around him, as if he had expected a different environment and
possibly a different climate.

"I presume," said the consul suavely, "you wish to see me on some urgent
matter; for you probably know that the consulate is closed on Sunday to
ordinary business. I am here myself quite accidentally."

"Then you don't live here?" said the visitor disappointedly.

"No."

"I reckon that's the reason why we didn't see no flag a-flyin' when we
was a-huntin' this place yesterday. We were directed here, but I says to
Malcolm, says I, 'No; it ain't here, or you'd see the Stars and Stripes
afore you'd see anythin' else.' But I reckon you float it over your
house, eh?"

The consul here explained smilingly that he did NOT fly a flag over his
lodgings, and that except on national holidays it was not customary to
display the national ensign on the consulate.

"Then you can't do here--and you a CONSUL--what any nigger can do in the
States, eh? That's about how it pans out, don't it? But I didn't think
YOU'D tumble to it quite so quick, Jack."

At this mention of his Christian name, the consul turned sharply on the
speaker. A closer scrutiny of the face before him ended with a flash
of reminiscence. The fog without and within seemed to melt away; he was
standing once more on a Western hillside with this man; a hundred miles
of sparkling sunshine and crisp, dry air stretching around him, and
above a blue and arched sky that roofed the third of a continent with
six months' summer. And then the fog seemed to come back heavier and
thicker to his consciousness. He emotionally stretched out his hand to
the stranger. But it was the fog and his personal surroundings which now
seemed to be unreal.

"Why it's Harry Custer!" he said with a laugh that, however, ended in
a sigh. "I didn't recognize you in this half light." He then glanced
curiously toward the diffident young man, as if to identify another
possible old acquaintance.

"Well, I spotted you from the first," said Custer, "though I ain't seen
you since we were in Scott's Camp together. That's ten years ago. You're
lookin' at HIM," he continued, following the consul's wandering eye.
"Well, it's about him that I came to see you. This yer's a McHulish--a
genuine McHulish!"

He paused, as if to give effect to this statement. But the name
apparently offered no thrilling suggestion to the consul, who regarded
the young man closely for further explanation. He was a fair-faced youth
of about twenty years, with pale reddish-brown eyes, dark hair reddish
at the roots, and a singular white and pink waxiness of oval cheek,
which, however, narrowed suddenly at the angle of the jaw, and fell away
with the retreating chin.

"Yes," continued Custer; "I oughter say the ONLY McHulish. He is the
direct heir--and of royal descent! He's one of them McHulishes whose
name in them old history times was enough to whoop up the boys and make
'em paint the town red. A regular campaign boomer--the old McHulish was.
Stump speeches and brass-bands warn't in it with the boys when HE was
around. They'd go their bottom dollar and last cartridge--if they'd had
cartridges in them days--on him. That was the regular McHulish gait. And
Malcolm there's the last of 'em--got the same style of features, too."

Ludicrous as the situation was, it struck the consul dimly, as
through fog and darkness, that the features of the young man were not
unfamiliar, and indeed had looked out upon him dimly and vaguely at
various times, from various historic canvases. It was the face of
complacent fatuity, incompetency, and inconstancy, which had dragged
down strength, competency, and constancy to its own idiotic fate and
levels,--a face for whose weaknesses valor and beauty had not only
sacrificed themselves, but made things equally unpleasant to a great
many minor virtues. Nevertheless, the consul, with an amused sense of
its ridiculous incongruity to the grim Scottish Sabbath procession in
the street, and the fog-bound volumes of admiralty law in the room,
smiled affably.

"Of course our young friend has no desire to test the magic of his name
here, in these degenerate days."

"No," said Custer complacently; "though between you and me, old man,
there's always no tellin' what might turn up over in this yer monarchy.
Things of course are different over our way. But jest now Malcolm will
be satisfied to take the title and property to which he's rightful
heir."

The consul's face fell. Alas! it was only the old, old story. Its
endless repetitions and variations had been familiar to him even in his
youth and in his own land. "Ef that man had his rights," had once been
pointed out to him in a wild Western camp, "he'd be now sittin' in
scarlet on the right of the Queen of England!" The gentleman who was
indicated in this apocalyptical vision, it appeared, simply bore a
singular likeness to a reigning Hanoverian family, which for some
unexplained reason he had contented himself with bearing with fortitude
and patience. But it was in his official capacity that the consul's
experience had been the most trying. At times it had seemed to him that
much of the real property and peerage of Great Britain was the inherited
right of penniless American republicans who had hitherto refrained
from presenting their legal claims, and that the habitual first duty of
generations of British noblemen on coming into their estates and titles
was to ship their heirs and next of kin to America, and then forget all
about them. He had listened patiently to claims to positions more
or less exalted,--claims often presented with ingenuous sophistry or
pathetic simplicity, prosecuted with great good humor, and abandoned
with invincible cheerfulness; but they seldom culminated more seriously
than in the disbursement of a few dollars by the consul to enable the
rightful owner of millions to procure a steerage passage back to his
previous democratic retirement. There had been others, less sincere but
more pretentious in quality, to whom, however, a letter to the Heralds'
College in London was all sufficient, and who, on payment of various
fees and emoluments, were enabled to stagger back to New York or Boston
with certain unclaimed and forgotten luggage which a more gallant
ancestor had scorned to bring with him into the new life, or had thrown
aside in his undue haste to make them citizens of the republic. Still,
all this had grown monotonous and wearisome, and was disappointing
as coming through the intervention of an old friend who ought to know
better.

"Of course you have already had legal opinion on the subject over
there," said the consul, with a sigh, "but here, you know, you ought
first to get some professional advice from those acquainted with Scotch
procedure. But perhaps you have that too."

"No," said Custer cheerfully. "Why, it ain't only two months ago that
I first saw Malcolm. Tumbled over him on his own farm jest out of
MacCorkleville, Kentucky, where he and his fathers before him had been
livin' nigh a hundred years--yes, A HUNDRED YEARS, by Jove! ever since
they first emigrated to the country. Had a talk over it; saw an old
Bible about as big and as used up as that,"--lifting the well-worn
consular Bible,--"with dates in it, and heard the whole story. And here
we are."

"And you have consulted no lawyer?" gasped the consul.

"The McHulishes," said an unexpected voice that sounded thin and
feminine, "never took any legal decision. From the craggy summits of
Glen Crankie he lifted the banner of his forefathers, or raised the
war-cry, 'Hulish dhu, ieroe!' from the battlements of Craigiedurrach.
And the clan gathered round him with shouts that rent the air. That was
the way of it in old times. And the boys whooped him up and stood by
him." It was the diffident young man who had half spoken, half recited,
with an odd enthusiasm that even the culminating slang could not make
conventional.

"That's about the size of it," said Custer, leaning back in his chair
easily with an approving glance at the young man. "And I don't know if
that ain't the way to work the thing now."

The consul stared hopelessly from the one to the other. It had always
seemed possible that this dreadful mania might develop into actual
insanity, and he had little doubt but that the younger man's brain
was slightly affected. But this did not account for the delusion and
expectations of the elder. Harry Custer, as the consul remembered him,
was a level-headed, practical miner, whose leaning to adventure and
excitement had not prevented him from being a cool speculator, and he
had amassed more than a competency by reason of his judicious foresight
and prompt action. Yet he was evidently under the glamour of this
madman, although outwardly as lazily self-contained as ever.

"Do you mean to tell me," said the consul in a suppressed voice, "that
you two have come here equipped only with a statement of facts and
a family Bible, and that you expect to take advantage of a feudal
enthusiasm which no longer exists--and perhaps never did exist out of
the pages of romance--as a means of claiming estates whose titles have
long since been settled by law, and can be claimed only under that
tenure? Surely I have misunderstood you. You cannot be in earnest."

"Honest Injun," said Custer, nodding his head lazily. "We mean it, but
not jest that way you've put it. F'r instance, it ain't only us two.
This yer thing, ole pard, we're runnin' as a syndicate."

"A syndicate?" echoed the consul.

"A syndicate," repeated Custer. "Half the boys that were at Eagle Camp
are in it, and two of Malcolm's neighbors from Kentucky--the regular
old Scotch breed like himself; for you know that MacCorkle County
was settled by them old Scotch Covenanters, and the folks are Scotch
Presbyterians to this day. And for the matter of that, the Eagle boys
that are in it are of Scotch descent, or a kind of blend, you know; in
fact, I'm half Scotch myself--or Irish," he added thoughtfully. "So
you see that settles your argument about any local opinion, for if them
Scots don't know their own people, who does?"

"May I ask," said the consul, with a desperate attempt to preserve his
composure, "what you are proposing to do?"

"Well," said Custer, settling himself comfortably back in his chair
again, "that depends. Do you remember the time that we jumped them
Mexican claims on the North Fork--the time them greasers wanted to take
in the whole river-bank because they'd found gold on one of the upper
bars? Seems to me we jest went peaceful-like over there one moonshiny
night, and took up THEIR stakes and set down OURS. Seems to me YOU were
one of the party."

"That was in our own country," returned the consul hastily, "and was an
indefensible act, even in a lawless frontier civilization. But you are
surely not mad enough even to conceive of such a thing HERE!"

"Keep your hair on, Jack," said Custer lazily. "What's the matter with
constitutional methods, eh? Do you remember the time when we didn't like
Pueblo rules, and we laid out Eureka City on their lines, and whooped up
the Mexicans and diggers to elect mayor and aldermen, and put the city
front on Juanita Creek, and then corraled it for water lots? Seems to
me you were county clerk then. Now who's to keep Dick Macgregor and Joe
Hamilton, that are both up the Nile now, from droppin' in over here to
see Malcolm in his own house? Who's goin' to object to Wallace or Baird,
who are on this side, doin' the Eytalian lakes, from comin' here on
their way home; or Watson and Moore and Timley, that are livin' over in
Paris, from joinin' the boys in givin' Malcolm a housewarmin' in his old
home? What's to keep the whole syndicate from gatherin' at Kelpie Island
up here off the west coast, among the tombs of Malcolm's ancestors, and
fixin' up things generally with the clan?"

"Only one thing," said the consul, with a gravity which he nevertheless
felt might be a mistaken attitude. "You shouldn't have told ME about
it. For if, as your old friend, I cannot keep you from committing an
unconceivable folly, as the American consul here it will be my first
duty to give notice to our legation, and perhaps warn the authorities.
And you may be sure I will do it."

To his surprise Custer leaned forward and pressed his hand with an
expression of cheerful relief. "That's so, old pard; I reckoned on it.
In fact, I told Malcolm that that would be about your gait. Of course
you couldn't do otherwise. And it would have been playin' it rather low
down on you to have left you out in the cold--without even THAT show in
the game. For what you will do in warnin' the other fellows, don't you
see, will just waken up the clan. It's better than a campaign circular."

"Don't be too sure of that," said the consul, with a half-hysterical
laugh. "But we won't consider so lamentable a contingency. Come and
dine with me, both of you, and we'll discuss the only thing worth
discussing,--your LEGAL rights,--and you can tell me your whole story,
which, by the way, I haven't heard."

"Sorry, Jack, but it can't be done," said Custer, with his first
approach to seriousness of manner. "You see, we'd made up our mind not
to come here again after this first call. We ain't goin' to compromise
you."

"I am the best judge of that," returned the consul dryly. Then suddenly
changing his manner, he grasped Custer's hands with both his own. "Come,
Harry," he said earnestly; "I will not believe that this is not a joke,
but I beg of you to promise me one thing,--do not move a step further in
this matter without legal counsel. I will give you a letter to a legal
friend of mine--a man of affairs, a man of the world, and a Scot as
typical, perhaps, as any you have mentioned. State your LEGAL case
to him--only that; but his opinion will show you also, if I am not
mistaken, the folly of your depending upon any sectional or historical
sentiment in this matter."

Without waiting for a reply, he sat down and hastily wrote a few lines
to a friendly local magnate. When he had handed the note to Custer, the
latter looked at the address, and showed it to his young companion.

"Same name, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes," responded Mr. McHulish.

"Do you know him?" asked the consul, evidently surprised.

"We don't, but he's a friend of one of the Eagle boys. I reckon we would
have seen him anyhow; but we'll agree with you to hold on until we do.
It's a go. Goodby, old pard! So long."

They both shook the consul's hand, and departed, leaving him staring at
the fog into which they had melted as if they were unreal shadows of the
past.


II.


The next morning the fog had given way to a palpable, horizontally
driving rain, which wet the inside as well as the outside of umbrellas,
and caused them to be presented at every conceivable angle as they
drifted past the windows of the consulate. There was a tap at the door,
and a clerk entered.

"Ye will be in to Sir James MacFen?"

The consul nodded, and added, "Show him in here."

It was the magnate to whom he had sent the note the previous day, a man
of large yet slow and cautious nature, learned and even pedantic, yet
far-sighted and practical; very human and hearty in social intercourse,
which, however, left him as it found him,--with no sentimental or
unbusiness-like entanglements. The consul had known him sensible and
sturdy at board meetings and executive councils; logical and convincing
at political gatherings; decorous and grave in the kirk; and humorous
and jovial at festivities, where perhaps later in the evening, in
company with others, hands were clasped over a libation lyrically
defined as a "right guid williewaught." On one of these occasions they
had walked home together, not without some ostentation of steadiness;
yet when MacFen's eminently respectable front door had closed upon
him, the consul was perfectly satisfied that a distinctly proper and
unswerving man of business would issue from it the next morning.

"Ay, but it's a soft day," said Sir James, removing his gloves. "Ye'll
not be gadding about in this weather."

"You got my note of introduction, I suppose?" said the consul, when the
momentous topic of the weather was exhausted.

"Oh, ay."

"And you saw the gentlemen?"

"Ay."

"And what's your opinion of--his claims?"

"He's a fine lad--that Malcolm--a fine type of a lad," said Sir
James, with an almost too effusive confidence. "Ye'll be thinking so
yourself--no doubt? Ay, it's wonderful to consider the preservation of
type so long after its dispersal in other lands. And it's a strange
and wonderful country that of yours, with its plantations--as one might
say--of homogeneity unimpaired for so many years, and keeping the old
faith too--and all its strange survivals. Ay, and that Kentucky,
where his land is--it will be a rich State! It's very instructing and
interesting to hear his account of that remarkable region they call 'the
blue grass country,' and the stock they raise there. I'm obliged to ye,
my friend, for a most edifying and improving evening."

"But his claim--did he not speak of that?"

"Oh, ay. And that Mr. Custer--he's a grand man, and an amusing one.
Ye'll be great comrades, you and he! Man! it was delightful to hear him
tell of the rare doings and the bit fun ye two had in the old times.
Eh, sir, but who'd think that of the proper American consul at St.
Kentigern!" And Sir James leaned back in his chair, and bestowed an
admiring smile on that official.

The consul thought he began to understand this evasion. "Then you don't
think much of Mr. McHulish's claim?" he said.

"I'm not saying that."

"But do you really think a claim based upon a family Bible and a family
likeness a subject for serious consideration?"

"I'm not saying THAT either, laddie."

"Perhaps he has confided to you more fully than he has to me, or
possibly you yourself knew something in corroboration of his facts."

His companion had evidently no desire to be communicative. But the
consul had heard enough to feel that he was justified in leaving the
matter in his hands. He had given him fair warning. Yet, nevertheless,
he would be even more explicit.

"I do not know," he began, "whether this young McHulish confided to you
his great reliance upon some peculiar effect of his presence among the
tenants, and of establishing his claim to the property by exciting the
enthusiasm of the clan. It certainly struck me that he had some rather
exaggerated ideas, borrowed, perhaps, from romances he'd read, like Don
Quixote his books of chivalry. He seems to believe in the existence of a
clan loyalty, and the actual survival of old feudal instincts and of old
feudal methods in the Highlands. He appears to look upon himself as a
kind of local Prince Charlie, and, by Jove! I've an idea he's almost as
crazy."

"And why should he na believe in his own kith and kin?" said Sir James,
quickly, with a sudden ring in his voice, and a dialectical freedom
quite distinct from his former deliberate and cautious utterance. "The
McHulishes were chieftains before America was discovered, and many's the
time they overran the border before they went as far as that. If there's
anything in blood and loyalty, it would be strange if they did na
respond. And I can tell ye, ma frien', there's more in the Hielands than
any 'romancer,' as ye call them,--ay, even Scott hissel', and he was but
an Edinboro' man,--ever dreamed of. Don't fash yoursel' about that. And
you and me'll not agree about Prince Charlie. Some day I'll tell ye,
ma frien', mair aboot that bonnie laddie than ye'll gather from your
partisan historians. Until then ye'll be wise when ye'll be talking to
Scotchmen not to be expressing your Southern prejudices."

Intensely surprised and amused at this sudden outbreak of enthusiasm on
the part of the usually cautious lawyer, the consul could not refrain
from accenting it by a marked return to practical business.

"I shall be delighted to learn more about Prince Charlie," he said,
smiling, "but just now his prototype--if you'll allow me to call him
so--is a nearer topic, and for the present, at least until he assume his
new titles and dignities, has a right to claim my protection, and I
am responsible for him as an American citizen. Now, my dear friend, is
there really any property, land, or title of any importance involved in
his claim, and what and where, in Heaven's name, is it? For I assure you
I know nothing practical about it, and cannot make head or tail of it."

Sir James resumed his slow serenity, and gathered up his gloves. "Ay,
there's a great deer-forest in Ballochbrinkie, and there's part of
Loch Phillibeg in Cairngormshire, and there's Kelpie Island off
Moreovershire. Ay, there's enough land when the crofters are cleared
off, and the small sheep-tenants evicted. It will be a grand property
then."

The consul stared. "The crofters and tenants evicted!" he repeated. "Are
they not part of the clan, and loyal to the McHulish?"

"The McHulish," said Sir James with great deliberation, "hasn't set foot
there for years. They'd be burning him in effigy."

"But," said the astonished consul, "that's rather bad for the expectant
heir--and the magic of the McHulish presence."

"I'm not saying that," returned Sir James cautiously. "Ye see he can be
making better arrangements with the family on account of it."

"With the family?" repeated the consul. "Then does he talk of
compromising?"

"I mean they would be more likely to sell for a fair consideration, and
he'd be better paying money to them than the lawyers. The syndicate
will be rich, eh? And I'm not saying the McHulish wouldn't take Kentucky
lands in exchange. It's a fine country, that blue grass district."

The consul stared at Sir James so long that a faint smile came into the
latter's shrewd eyes; at which the consul smiled, too. A vague air of
relief and understanding seemed to fill the apartment.

"Oh, ay," continued Sir James, drawing on his gloves with easy
deliberation, "he's a fine lad that Malcolm, and it's a praiseworthy
instinct in him to wish to return to the land of his forebears, and take
his place again among them. And I'm noticing, Mr. Consul, that a great
many of your countrymen are doing the same. Eh, yours is a gran' country
of progress and ceevel and religious liberty, but for a' that, as Burns
says, it's in your blood to turn to the auld home again. And it's a fine
thing to have the money to do it--and, I'm thinking, money well spent
all around. Good-morning. Eh, but I'm forgetting that I wanted to ask
you to dine with me and Malcolm, and your Mr. Custer, and Mr. Watson,
who will be one of your syndicate, and whom I once met abroad. But ye'll
get a bit note of invitation, with the day, from me later."

The consul remembered that Custer had said that one of the "Eagle boys"
had known Sir James. This was evidently Watson. He smiled again, but
this time Sir James responded only in a general sort of way, as he
genially bowed himself out of the room.

The consul watched his solid and eminently respectable figure as it
passed the window, and then returned to his desk, still smiling. First
of all he was relieved. What had seemed to him a wild and reckless
enterprise, with possibly some grim international complications on the
part of his compatriots, had simply resolved itself into an ordinary
business speculation--the ethics of which they had pretty equally
divided with the local operators. If anything, it seemed that the
Scotchman would get the best of the bargain, and that, for once at
least, his countrymen were deficient in foresight. But that was a matter
between the parties, and Custer himself would probably be the first to
resent any suggestion of the kind from the consul. The vision of the
McHulish burned in effigy by his devoted tenants and retainers, and the
thought that the prosaic dollars of his countrymen would be substituted
for the potent presence of the heir, tickled, it is to be feared, the
saturnine humor of the consul. He had taken an invincible dislike to
the callow representative of the McHulish, who he felt had in some
extraordinary way imposed upon Custer's credulity. But then he had
apparently imposed equally upon the practical Sir James. The thought of
this sham ideal of feudal and privileged incompetency being elevated
to actual position by the combined efforts of American republicans and
hard-headed Scotch dissenters, on whom the soft Scotch mists fell from
above with equal impartiality, struck him as being very amusing, and
for some time thereafter lightened the respectable gloom of his office.
Other engagements prevented his attendance at Sir James's dinner,
although he was informed afterward that it had passed off with great
eclat, the later singing of "Auld lang Syne," and the drinking of the
health of Custer and Malcolm with "Hieland honors." He learned also that
Sir James had invited Custer and Malcolm to his lacustrine country-seat
in the early spring. But he learned nothing more of the progress of
Malcolm's claim, its details, or the manner in which it was prosecuted.
No one else seemed to know anything about it; it found no echo in the
gossip of the clubs, or in the newspapers of St. Kentigern. In the
absence of the parties connected with it, it began to assume to him the
aspect of a half-humorous romance. He often found himself wondering if
there had been any other purpose in this quest or speculation than what
had appeared on the surface, it seemed so inadequate in result. It would
have been so perfectly easy for a wealthy syndicate to buy up a much
more valuable estate. He disbelieved utterly in the sincerity of
Malcolm's sentimental attitude. There must be some other reason--perhaps
not known even to the syndicate.

One day he thought that he had found it. He had received a note
addressed from one of the principal hotels, but bearing a large
personal crest on paper and envelope. A Miss Kirkby, passing through St.
Kentigern on her way to Edinburgh, desired to see the consul the next
day, if he would appoint an hour at the consulate; or, as her time was
limited, she would take it as a great favor if he would call at her
hotel. Although a countrywoman, her name might not be so well known to
him as those of her "old friends" Harry Custer, Esq., and Sir
Malcolm McHulish. The consul was a little surprised; the use of the
title--unless it referred to some other McHulish--would seem to indicate
that Malcolm's claim was successful. He had, however, no previous
knowledge of the title of "Sir" in connection with the estate, and
it was probable that his fair correspondent--like most of her
countrywomen--was more appreciative than correct in her bestowal of
dignities. He determined to waive his ordinary business rules, and
to call upon her at once, accepting, as became his patriotism, that
charming tyranny which the American woman usually reserves exclusively
for her devoted countrymen.

She received him with an affectation of patronage, as if she had
lately become uneasily conscious of being in a country where there were
distinctions of class. She was young, pretty, and tastefully dressed;
the national feminine adaptability had not, however, extended to her
voice and accent. Both were strongly Southwestern, and as she began to
speak she seemed to lose her momentary affectation.

"It was mighty good of you to come and see me, for the fact is, I didn't
admire going to your consulate--not one bit. You see, I'm a Southern
girl, and never was 'reconstructed' either. I don't hanker after your
Gov'ment. I haven't recognized it, and don't want to. I reckon I ain't
been under the flag since the wah. So you see, I haven't any papers to
get authenticated, nor any certificates to ask for, and ain't wanting
any advice or protection. I thought I'd be fair and square with you from
the word 'go.'"

Nothing could be more fascinating and infectious than the mirthful
ingenuousness which accompanied and seemed to mitigate this ungracious
speech, and the consul was greatly amused, albeit conscious that it was
only an attitude, and perhaps somewhat worn in sentiment. He knew that
during the war of the rebellion, and directly after it, Great Britain
was the resort of certain Americans from the West as well as from
the South who sought social distinction by the affectation of
dissatisfaction with their own government or the ostentatious simulation
of enforced exile; but he was quite unprepared for this senseless
protraction of dead and gone issues. He ventured to point out with
good-humored practicality that several years had elapsed since the war,
that the South and North were honorably reconciled, and that he was
legally supposed to represent Kentucky as well as New York. "Your
friends," he added smilingly, "Mr. Custer and Mr. McHulish, seemed to
accept the fact without any posthumous sentiment."

"I don't go much on that," she said with a laugh. "I've been living
in Paris till maw--who's lying down upstairs--came over and brought me
across to England for a look around. And I reckon Malcolm's got to keep
touch with you on account of his property."

The consul smiled. "Ah, then, I hope you can tell me something about
THAT, for I really don't know whether he has established his claim or
not."

"Why," returned the girl with naive astonishment, "that was just what I
was going to ask YOU. He reckoned you'd know all about it."

"I haven't heard anything of the claim for two months," said the
consul; "but from your reference to him as 'Sir Malcolm,' I presumed you
considered it settled. Though, of course, even then he wouldn't be 'Sir
Malcolm,' and you might have meant somebody else."

"Well, then, Lord Malcolm--I can't get the hang of those titles yet."

"Neither 'Lord' nor 'Sir'; you know the estate carries no title whatever
with it," said the consul smilingly.

"But wouldn't he be the laird of something or other, you know?"

"Yes; but that is only a Scotch description, not a title. It's not the
same as Lord."

The young girl looked at him with undisguised astonishment. A half laugh
twitched the corners of her mouth. "Are you sure?" she said.

"Perfectly," returned the consul, a little impatiently; "but do I
understand that you really know nothing more of the progress of the
claim?"

Miss Kirkby, still abstracted by some humorous astonishment, said
quickly: "Wait a minute. I'll just run up and see if maw's coming down.
She'd admire to see you." Then she stopped, hesitated, and as she rose
added, "Then a laird's wife wouldn't be Lady anything, anyway, would
she?"

"She certainly would acquire no title merely through her marriage."

The young girl laughed again, nodded, and disappeared. The consul,
amused yet somewhat perplexed over the naive brusqueness of the
interview, waited patiently. Presently she returned, a little out of
breath, but apparently still enjoying some facetious retrospect, and
said, "Maw will be down soon." After a pause, fixing her bright eyes
mischievously on the consul, she continued:--

"Did you see much of Malcolm?"

"I saw him only once."

"What did you think of him?"

The consul in so brief a period had been unable to judge.

"You wouldn't think I was half engaged to him, would you?"

The consul was obliged again to protest that in so short an interview he
had been unable to conceive of Malcolm's good fortune.

"I know what you mean," said the girl lightly. "You think he's a crank.
But it's all over now; the engagement's off."

"I trust that this does not mean that you doubt his success?"

The lady shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "That's all right enough,
I reckon. There's a hundred thousand dollars in the syndicate. Maw put
in twenty thousand, and Custer's bound to make it go--particularly as
there's some talk of a compromise. But Malcolm's a crank, and I reckon
if it wasn't for the compromise the syndicate wouldn't have much show.
Why, he didn't even know that the McHulishes had no title."

"Do you think he has been suffering under a delusion in regard to his
relationship?"

"No; he was only a fool in the way he wanted to prove it. He actually
got these boys to think it could be filibustered into his possession.
Had a sort of idea of 'a rising in the Highlands,' you know, like that
poem or picture--which is it? And those fool boys, and Custer among
them, thought it would be great fun and a great spree. Luckily, maw had
the gumption to get Watson to write over about it to one of his friends,
a Mr.--Mr.--MacFen, a very prominent man."

"Perhaps you mean Sir James MacFen," suggested the consul. "He's a
knight. And what did HE say?" he added eagerly.

"Oh, he wrote a most sensible letter," returned the lady, apparently
mollified by the title of Watson's adviser, "saying that there was
little doubt, if any, that if the American McHulishes wanted the old
estate they could get it by the expenditure of a little capital. He
offered to make the trial; that was the compromise they're talking
about. But he didn't say anything about there being no 'Lord' McHulish."

"Perhaps he thought, as you were Americans, you didn't care for THAT,"
said the consul dryly.

"That's no reason why we shouldn't have it if it belonged to us, or we
chose to pay for it," said the lady pertly.

"Then your changed personal relations with Mr. McHulish is the reason
why you hear so little of his progress or his expectations?"

"Yes; but he don't know that they are changed, for we haven't seen him
since we've been here, although they say he's here, and hiding somewhere
about."

"Why should he be hiding?"

The young girl lifted her pretty brows. "Maybe he thinks it's
mysterious. Didn't I tell you he was a crank?" Yet she laughed so
naively, and with such sublime unconsciousness of any reflection on
herself, that the consul was obliged to smile too.

"You certainly do not seem to be breaking your heart as well as your
engagement," he said.

"Not much--but here comes maw. Look here," she said, turning suddenly
and coaxingly upon him, "if she asks you to come along with us up north,
you'll come, won't you? Do! It will be such fun!"

"Up north?" repeated the consul interrogatively.

"Yes; to see the property. Here's maw."

A more languid but equally well-appointed woman had entered the room.
When the ceremony of introduction was over, she turned to her daughter
and said, "Run away, dear, while I talk business with--er--this
gentleman," and, as the girl withdrew laughingly, she half stifled a
reminiscent yawn, and raised her heavy lids to the consul.

"You've had a talk with my Elsie?"

The consul confessed to having had that pleasure.

"She speaks her mind," said Mrs. Kirkby wearily, "but she means well,
and for all her flightiness her head's level. And since her father died
she runs me," she continued with a slight laugh. After a pause, she
added abstractedly, "I suppose she told you of her engagement to young
McHulish?"

"Yes; but she said she had broken it."

Mrs. Kirkby lifted her eyebrows with an expression of relief. "It was a
piece of girl and boy foolishness, anyway," she said. "Elsie and he were
children together at MacCorkleville,--second cousins, in fact,--and I
reckon he got her fancy excited over his nobility, and his being the
chief of the McHulishes. Of course Custer will manage to get something
for the shareholders out of it,--I never knew him to fail in a money
speculation yet,--but I think that's about all. I had an idea of going
up with Elsie to take a look at the property, and I thought of asking
you to join us. Did Elsie tell you? I know she'd like it--and so would
I."

For all her indolent, purposeless manner, there was enough latent
sincerity and earnestness in her request to interest the consul.
Besides, his own curiosity in regard to this singularly supported claim
was excited, and here seemed to be an opportunity of satisfying it. He
was not quite sure, either, that his previous antagonism to his fair
countrywoman's apparent selfishness and snobbery was entirely just. He
had been absent from America a long time; perhaps it was he himself
who had changed, and lost touch with his compatriots. And yet the
demonstrative independence and recklessness of men like Custer were less
objectionable to, and less inconsistent with, his American ideas than
the snobbishness and almost servile adaptability of the women. Or was
it possible that it was only a weakness of the sex, which no republican
nativity or education could eliminate? Nevertheless he looked up
smilingly.

"But the property is, I understand, scattered about in various places,"
he said.

"Oh, but we mean to go only to Kelpie Island, where there is the ruin of
an old castle. Elsie must see that."

The consul thought it might be amusing. "By all means let us see that. I
shall be delighted to go with you."

His ready and unqualified assent appeared to relieve and dissipate the
lady's abstraction. She became more natural and confiding; spoke freely
of Malcolm's mania, which she seemed to accept as a hallucination or a
conviction with equal cheerfulness, and, in brief, convinced the
consul that her connection with the scheme was only the caprice of
inexperienced and unaccustomed idleness. He left her, promising to
return the next day and arrange for their early departure.

His way home lay through one of the public squares of St. Kentigern, at
an hour of the afternoon when it was crossed by working men and women
returning to their quarters from the docks and factories. Never in any
light a picturesque or even cheery procession, there were days when
its unwholesome, monotonous poverty and dull hopelessness of prospect
impressed him more forcibly. He remembered how at first the spectacle
of barefooted girls and women slipping through fog and mist across the
greasy pavement had offended his fresh New World conception of a more
tenderly nurtured sex, until his susceptibilities seemed to have grown
as callous and hardened as the flesh he looked upon, and he had begun to
regard them from the easy local standpoint of a distinct and differently
equipped class.

It chanced, also, that this afternoon some of the male workers had added
to their usual solidity a singular trance-like intoxication. It had
often struck him before as a form of drunkenness peculiar to the St.
Kentigern laborers. Men passed him singly and silently, as if following
some vague alcoholic dream, or moving through some Scotch mist of
whiskey and water. Others clung unsteadily but as silently together,
with no trace of convivial fellowship or hilarity in their dull fixed
features and mechanically moving limbs. There was something weird in
this mirthless companionship, and the appalling loneliness of those
fixed or abstracted eyes. Suddenly he was aware of two men who were
reeling toward him under the influence of this drug-like intoxication,
and he was startled by a likeness which one of them bore to some one
he had seen; but where, and under what circumstances, he could not
determine. The fatuous eye, the features of complacent vanity and
self-satisfied reverie were there, either intensified by drink, or
perhaps suggesting it through some other equally hopeless form of
hallucination. He turned and followed the man, trying to identify
him through his companion, who appeared to be a petty tradesman of a
shrewder, more material type. But in vain, and as the pair turned into
a side street the consul slowly retraced his steps. But he had not
proceeded far before the recollection that had escaped him returned, and
he knew that the likeness suggested by the face he had seen was that of
Malcolm McHulish.


III.


A journey to Kelpie Island consisted of a series of consecutive episodes
by rail, by coach, and by steamboat. The consul was already familiar
with them, as indeed were most of the civilized world, for it seemed
that all roads at certain seasons led out of and returned to St.
Kentigern as a point in a vast circle wherein travelers were sure
to meet one another again, coming or going, at certain depots and
caravansaries with more or less superiority or envy. Tourists on the
road to the historic crags of Wateffa came sharply upon other tourists
returning from them, and glared suspiciously at them, as if to wrest the
dread secret from their souls--a scrutiny which the others returned with
half-humorous pity or superior calm.

The consul knew, also, that the service by boat and rail was admirable
and skillful; for were not the righteous St. Kentigerners of the tribe
of Tubal-cain, great artificers in steel and iron, and a mighty race
of engineers before the Lord, who had carried their calling and accent
beyond the seas? He knew, too, that the land of these delightful
caravansaries overflowed with marmalade and honey, and that the manna
of delicious scones and cakes fell even upon deserted waters of crag
and heather. He knew that their way would lie through much scenery
whose rude barrenness, and grim economy of vegetation, had been usually
accepted by cockney tourists for sublimity and grandeur; but he knew,
also, that its severity was mitigated by lowland glimpses of sylvan
luxuriance and tangled delicacy utterly unlike the complacent snugness
of an English pastoral landscape, with which it was often confounded and
misunderstood, as being tame and civilized.

It rained the day they left St. Kentigern, and the next, and the day
after that, spasmodically, as regarded local effort, sporadically, as
seen through the filmed windows of railway carriages or from the shining
decks of steamboats. There was always a shower being sown somewhere
along the valley, or reluctantly tearing itself from a mountain-top,
or being pulled into long threads from the leaden bosom of a lake; the
coach swept in and out of them to the folding and unfolding of umbrellas
and mackintoshes, accompanied by flying beams of sunlight that raced
with the vehicle on long hillsides, and vanished at the turn of the
road. There were hat-lifting scurries of wind down the mountain-side,
small tumults in little lakes below, hysteric ebullitions on mild,
melancholy inland seas, boisterous passages of nearly half an hour with
landings on tempestuous miniature quays. All this seen through wonderful
aqueous vapor, against a background of sky darkened at times to the
depths of an India ink washed sketch, but more usually blurred
and confused on the surface like the gray silhouette of a child's
slate-pencil drawing, half rubbed from the slate by soft palms.
Occasionally a rare glinting of real sunshine on a distant fringe of
dripping larches made some frowning crest appear to smile as through wet
lashes.

Miss Elsie tucked her little feet under the mackintosh. "I know," she
said sadly, "I should get web-footed if I stayed here long, Why, it's
like coming down from Ararat just after the deluge cleared up."

Mrs. Kirkby suggested that if the sun would only shine squarely and
decently, like a Christian, for a few moments, they could see the
prospect better.

The consul here pointed out that the admirers of Scotch scenery thought
that this was its greatest charm. It was this misty effect which made it
so superior to what they called the vulgar chromos and sun-pictures of
less favored lands.

"You mean because it prevents folks from seeing how poor the view really
is."

The consul remarked that perhaps distance was lacking. As to the sun
shining in a Christian way, this might depend upon the local idea of
Christianity.

"Well, I don't call the scenery giddy or frivolous, certainly. And I
reckon I begin to understand the kind of sermons Malcolm's folks brought
over to MacCorkleville. I guess they didn't know much of the heaven
they only saw once a year. Why, even the highest hills--which they call
mountains here--ain't big enough to get above the fogs of their own
creating."

Feminine wit is not apt to be abstract. It struck the consul that in
Miss Elsie's sprightliness there was the usual ulterior and personal
object, and he glanced around at his fellow-passengers. The object
evidently was sitting at the end of the opposite seat, an amused but
well-behaved listener. For the rest, he was still young and reserved,
but in face, figure, and dress utterly unlike his companions,--an
Englishman of a pronounced and distinct type, the man of society and
clubs. While there was more or less hinting of local influence in the
apparel of the others,--there was a kilt, and bare, unweather-beaten
knees from Birmingham, and even the American Elsie wore a bewitching
tam-o'-shanter,--the stranger carried easy distinction, from his tweed
traveling-cap to his well-made shoes and gaiters, as an unmistakable
Southerner. His deep and pleasantly level voice had been heard only once
or twice, and then only in answering questions, and his quiet, composed
eyes alone had responded to the young girl's provocation.

They were passing a brown glen, in the cheerless depths of which a brown
watercourse, a shade lighter, was running, and occasionally foaming
like brown beer. Beyond it heaved an arid bulk of hillside, the scant
vegetation of which, scattered like patches of hair, made it look like
the decaying hide of some huge antediluvian ruminant. On the dreariest
part of the dreary slope rose the ruins of a tower, and crumbling walls
and battlements.

"Whatever possessed folks to build there?" said Miss Elsie. "If they
were poor, it might be some excuse; but that those old swells, or
chiefs, should put up a castle in such a God-forsaken place gets ME."

"But don't you know, they WERE poor, according to our modern ideas, and
I fancy they built these things more for defense than show, and really
more to gather in cattle--like one of your Texan ranches--after a raid.
That is, I have heard so; I rather fancy that was the idea, wasn't it?"
It was the Englishman who had spoken, and was now looking around at the
other passengers as if in easy deference to local opinion.

"What raid?" said Miss Elsie, animatedly. "Oh, yes; I see--one of their
old border raids--moss-troopers. I used to like to read about them."

"I fancy, don't you know," said the Englishman slowly, "that it wasn't
exactly THAT sort of thing, you know, for it's a good way from the
border; but it was one of their raids upon their neighbors, to lift
their cattle--steal 'em, in fact. That's the way those chaps had. But
of course you've read all about that. You Americans, don't you know, are
all up in these historical matters."

"Eh, but they were often reprisals," said a Scotch passenger.

"I don't suppose they took much trouble to inquire if the beasts
belonged to an enemy," said the Englishman.

But here Miss Elsie spoke of castles generally, and averred that the
dearest wish of her life was to see Macbeth's castle at Glamis, where
Duncan was murdered. At which the Englishman, still deferentially,
mistrusted the fact that the murder had been committed there, and
thought that the castle to which Shakespeare probably referred, if he
hadn't invented the murder, too, was farther north, at Cawdor. "You
know," he added playfully, "over there in America you've discovered that
Shakespeare himself was an invention."

This led to some retaliating brilliancy from the young lady, and when
the coach stopped at the next station their conversation had presumably
become interesting enough to justify him in securing a seat nearer to
her. The talk returning to ruins, Miss Elsie informed him that they were
going to see some on Kelpie Island. The consul, from some instinctive
impulse,--perhaps a recollection of Custer's peculiar methods, gave her
a sign of warning. But the Englishman only lifted his eyebrows in a kind
of half-humorous concern.

"I don't think you'd like it, you know. It's a beastly place,--rocks
and sea,--worse than this, and half the time you can't see the mainland,
only a mile away. Really, you know, they oughtn't to have induced you to
take tickets there--those excursion-ticket chaps. They're jolly frauds.
It's no place for a stranger to go to."

"But there are the ruins of an old castle, the old seat of"--began the
astonished Miss Elsie; but she was again stopped by a significant glance
from the consul.

"I believe there was something of the kind there once--something
like your friends the cattle-stealers' castle over on that hillside,"
returned the Englishman; "but the stones were taken by the fishermen for
their cabins, and the walls were quite pulled down."

"How dared they do that?" said the young lady indignantly. "I call it
not only sacrilege, but stealing."

"It was defrauding the owner of the property; they might as well take
his money," said Mrs. Kirkby, in languid protest.

The smile which this outburst of proprietorial indignation brought to
the face of the consul lingered with the Englishman's reply.

"But it was only robbing the old robbers, don't you know, and they put
their spoils to better use than their old masters did; certainly to
more practical use than the owners do now, for the ruins are good for
nothing."

"But the hallowed associations--the picturesqueness!" continued Mrs.
Kirkby, with languid interest.

"The associations wouldn't be anything except to the family, you know;
and I should fancy they wouldn't be either hallowed or pleasant. As for
picturesqueness, the ruins are beastly ugly; weather-beaten instead of
being mellowed by time, you know, and bare where they ought to be hidden
by vines and moss. I can't make out why anybody sent you there, for you
Americans are rather particular about your sightseeing."

"We heard of them through a friend," said the consul, with assumed
carelessness. "Perhaps it's as good an excuse as any for a pleasant
journey."

"And very likely your friend mistook it for something else, or was
himself imposed upon," said the Englishman politely. "But you might not
think it so, and, after all," he added thoughtfully, "it's years since
I've seen it. I only meant that I could show you something better a
few miles from my place in Gloucestershire, and not quite so far from
a railway as this. If," he added with a pleasant deliberation which
was the real courtesy of his conventionally worded speech, "you ever
happened at any time to be anywhere near Audrey Edge, and would look me
up, I should be glad to show it to you and your friends." An hour later,
when he left them at a railway station where their paths diverged, Miss
Elsie recovered a fluency that she had lately checked. "Well, I like
that! He never told us his name, or offered a card. I wonder if they
call that an invitation over here. Does he suppose anybody's going to
look up his old Audrey Edge--perhaps it's named after his wife--to find
out who HE is? He might have been civil enough to have left his name, if
he--meant anything."

"But I assure you he was perfectly sincere, and meant an invitation,"
returned the consul smilingly. "Audrey Edge is evidently a well-known
place, and he a man of some position. That is why he didn't specify
either."

"Well, you won't catch me going there," said Miss Elsie.

"You would be quite right in either going or staying away," said the
consul simply.

Miss Elsie tossed her head slightly. Nevertheless, before they left the
station, she informed him that she had been told that the station-master
had addressed the stranger as "my lord," and that another passenger had
said he was "Lord Duncaster."

"And that proves"--

"That I'm right," said the young lady decisively, "and that his
invitation was a mere form."

It was after sundown when they reached the picturesque and
well-appointed hotel that lifted itself above the little fishing-village
which fronted Kelpie Island. The hotel was in as strong contrast to the
narrow, curving street of dull, comfortless-looking stone cottages below
it, as were the smart tourists who had just landed from the steamer to
the hard-visaged, roughly clad villagers who watched them with a certain
mingling of critical independence and superior self-righteousness.
As the new arrivals walked down the main street, half beach, half
thoroughfare, their baggage following them in low trolleys drawn by
porters at their heels, like a decorous funeral, the joyless faces of
the lookers-on added to the resemblance. Beyond them, in the prolonged
northern twilight, the waters of the bay took on a peculiar pewtery
brightness, but with the usual mourning-edged border of Scotch seacoast
scenery. Low banks of cloud lay on the chill sea; the outlines of Kelpie
Island were hidden.

But the interior of the hotel, bright with the latest fastidiousness in
modern decoration and art-furniture, and gay with pictured canvases and
color, seemed to mock the sullen landscape, and the sterile crags amid
which the building was set. An attempt to make a pleasance in this
barren waste had resulted only in empty vases, bleak statuary, and
iron settees, as cold and slippery to the touch as the sides of their
steamer.

"It'll be a fine morning to-morra, and ther'll be a boat going away to
Kelpie for a peekneek in the ruins," said the porter, as the consul and
his fair companions looked doubtfully from the windows of the cheerful
hall.

A picnic in the sacred ruins of Kelpie! The consul saw the ladies
stiffening with indignation at this trespass upon their possible rights
and probable privileges, and glanced at them warningly.

"Do you mean to say that it is common property, and ANYBODY can go
there?" demanded Miss Elsie scornfully.

"No; it's only the hotel that owns the boat and gives the tickets--a
half-crown the passage."

"And do the owners, the McHulishes, permit this?"

The porter looked at them with a puzzled, half-pitying politeness. He
was a handsome, tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, with a certain
naive and gentle courtesy of manner that relieved his strong accent,
"Oh, ay," he said, with a reassuring smile; "ye'll no be troubled by
THEM. I'll just gang away noo, and see if I can secure the teekets."

An elderly guest, who was examining a time-table on the wall, turned to
them as the porter disappeared.

"Ye'll be strangers noo, and not knowing that Tonalt the porter is a
McHulish hissel'?" he said deliberately.

"A what?" said the astonished Miss Elsie.

"A McHulish. Ay, one of the family. The McHulishes of Kelpie were his
own forebears. Eh, but he's a fine lad, and doin' well for the hotel."

Miss Elsie extinguished a sudden smile with her handkerchief as her
mother anxiously inquired, "And are the family as poor as that?"

"But I am not saying he's POOR, ma'am, no," replied the stranger, with
native caution. "What wi' tips and gratooities and percentages on the
teekets, it's a bit of money he'll be having in the bank noo."

The prophecy of Donald McHulish as to the weather came true. The next
morning was bright and sunny, and the boat to Kelpie Island--a large
yawl--duly received its complement of passengers and provision
hampers. The ladies had apparently become more tolerant of their fellow
pleasure-seekers, and it appeared that Miss Elsie had even overcome her
hilarity at the discovery of what "might have been" a relative in
the person of the porter Donald. "I had a long talk with him before
breakfast this morning," she said gayly, "and I know all about him. It
appears that there are hundreds of him--all McHulishes--all along the
coast and elsewhere--only none of them ever lived ON the island,
and don't want to. But he looks more like a 'laird' and a chief than
Malcolm, and if it comes to choosing a head of the family, remember,
maw, I shall vote solid for him."

"How can you go on so, Elsie?" said Mrs. Kirkby, with languid protest.
"Only I trust you didn't say anything to him of the syndicate. And,
thank Heaven! the property isn't here."

"No; the waiter tells me all the lovely things we had for breakfast came
from miles away. And they don't seem to have ever raised anything on
the island, from its looks. Think of having to row three miles for the
morning's milk!"

There was certainly very little appearance of vegetation on the sterile
crags that soon began to lift themselves above the steely waves ahead.
A few scraggy trees and bushes, which twisted and writhed like vines
around the square tower and crumbling walls of an irregular but angular
building, looked in their brown shadows like part of the debris.

"It's just like a burnt-down bone-boiling factory," said Miss Elsie
critically; "and I shouldn't wonder if that really was old McHulish's
business. They couldn't have it on the mainland for its being a
nuisance."

Nevertheless, she was one of the first to leap ashore when the yawl's
bow grated in a pebbly cove, and carried her pretty but incongruous
little slippers through the seaweed, wet sand, and slimy cobbles with a
heroism that redeemed her vanity. A scrambling ascent of a few moments
brought them to a wall with a gap in it, which gave easy ingress to
the interior of the ruins. This was merely a little curving hollow from
which the outlines of the plan had long since faded. It was kept green
by the brown walls, which, like the crags of the mainland valleys,
sheltered it from the incessant strife of the Atlantic gales. A few
pale flowers that might have grown in a damp cellar shivered against
the stones. Scraps of newspapers, soda-water and beer bottles, highly
decorated old provision tins, and spent cartridge cases,--the remains
of chilly picnics and damp shooting luncheons,--had at first sight lent
color to the foreground by mere contrast, but the corrosion of time
and weather had blackened rather than mellowed the walls in a way which
forcibly reminded the consul of Miss Elsie's simile of the "burnt-down
factory." The view from the square tower--a mere roost for unclean
sea-fowl, from the sides of which rags of peeling moss and vine hung
like tattered clothing--was equally depressing. The few fishermen's huts
along the shore were built of stones taken from the ruin, and roofed in
with sodden beams and timbers in the last stages of deliquescence. The
thick smoke of smouldering peat-fires came from the low chimneys, and
drifted across the ruins with the odors of drying fish.

"I've just seen a sort of ground-plan of the castle," said Miss Elsie
cheerfully. "It never had a room in it as big as our bedroom in the
hotel, and there weren't windows enough to go round. A slit in the
wall, about two inches wide by two feet long, was considered dazzling
extravagance to Malcolm's ancestors. I don't wonder some of 'em broke
out and swam over to America. That reminds me. Who do you suppose is
here--came over from the hotel in a boat of his own, just to see maw!"

"Not Malcolm, surely."

"Not much," replied Miss Elsie, setting her small lips together. "It's
Mr. Custer. He's talking business with her now down on the beach.
They'll be here when lunch is ready."

The consul remembered the romantic plan which the enthusiastic Custer
had imparted to him in the foggy consulate at St. Kentigern, and then
thought of the matter of fact tourists, the few stolid fishermen, and
the prosaic ruins around them, and smiled. He looked up, and saw that
Miss Elsie was watching him.

"You know Mr. Custer, don't you?"

"We are old Californian friends."

"I thought so; but I think he looked a little upset when he heard you
were here, too."

He certainly was a little awkward, as if struggling with some
half-humorous embarrassment, as he came forward a few moments later with
Mrs. Kirkby. But the stimulation of the keen sea air triumphed over the
infelicities of the situation and surroundings, and the little party
were presently enjoying their well-selected luncheon with the wholesome
appetite of travel and change. The chill damp made limp the napkins
and table-cloth, and invaded the victuals; the wind, which was rising,
whistled round the walls, and made miniature cyclones of the torn paper
and dried twigs around them: but they ate, drank, and were merry. At the
end of the repast the two gentlemen rose to light their cigars in the
lee of the wall.

"I suppose you know all about Malcolm?" said Custer, after an awkward
pause.

"My dear fellow," said the consul, somewhat impatiently, "I know nothing
about him, and you ought to know that by this time."

"I thought YOUR FRIEND, Sir James, might have told you," continued
Custer, with significant emphasis.

"I have not seen Sir James for two months."

"Well, Malcolm's a crank--always was one, I reckon, and is reg'larly
off his head now. Yes, sir; Scotch whiskey and your friend Sir James
finished him. After that dinner at MacFen's he was done for--went wild.
Danced a sword-dance, or a strathspey, or some other blamed thing, on
the table, and yelled louder than the pipes. So they all did. Jack, I've
painted the town red once myself; I thought I knew what a first-class
jamboree was: but they were prayer-meetings to that show. Everybody was
blind drunk--but they all got over it except HIM. THEY were a different
lot of men the next day, as cool and cautious as you please, but HE was
shut up for a week, and came out crazy."

"But what's that to do with his claim?"

"Well, there ain't much use 'whooping up the boys' when only the whooper
gets wild."

"Still, that does not affect any right he may have in the property."

"But it affects the syndicate," said Custer gloomily; "and when we found
that he was whooping up some shopkeepers and factory hands who claimed
to belong to the clan,--and you can't heave a stone at a dog around here
without hitting a McHulish,--we concluded we hadn't much use for him
ornamentally. So we shipped him home last steamer."

"And the property?"

"Oh, that's all right," said Custer, still gloomily. "We've effected an
amicable compromise, as Sir James calls it. That means we've taken a lot
of land somewhere north, that you can shoot over--that is, you needn't
be afraid of hitting a house, or a tree, or a man anywhere; and we've
got a strip more of the same sort on the seashore somewhere off here,
occupied only by some gay galoots called crofters, and you can raise
a lawsuit and an imprecation on every acre. Then there's this
soul-subduing, sequestered spot, and what's left of the old bone-boiling
establishment, and the rights of fishing and peat-burning, and otherwise
creating a nuisance off the mainland. It cost the syndicate only a
hundred thousand dollars, half cash and half in Texan and Kentucky grass
lands. But we've carried the thing through."

"I congratulate you," said the consul.

"Thanks." Custer puffed at his cigar for a few moments. "That Sir James
MacFen is a fine man."

"He is."

"A large, broad, all-round man. Knows everything and everybody, don't
he?"

"I think so."

"Big man in the church, I should say? No slouch at a party canvass, or
ward politics, eh? As a board director, or president, just takes the
cake, don't he?"

"I believe so."

"Nothing mean about Jimmy as an advocate or an arbitrator, either, is
there? Rings the bell every time, don't he? Financiers take a back seat
when he's around? Owns half of Scotland by this time, I reckon."

The consul believed that Sir James had the reputation of being
exceedingly sagacious in financial and mercantile matters, and that he
was a man of some wealth.

"Naturally. I wonder what he'd take to come over to America, and give
the boys points," continued Custer, in meditative admiration. "There
were two or three men on Scott's River, and one Chinaman, that we used
to think smart, but they were doddering ijuts to HIM. And as for me--I
say, Jack, you didn't see any hayseed in my hair that day I walked inter
your consulate, did you?"

The consul smilingly admitted that he had not noticed these signs of
rustic innocence in his friend.

"Nor any flies? Well, for all that, when I get home I'm going to resign.
No more foreign investments for ME. When anybody calls at the consulate
and asks for H. J. Custer, say you don't know me. And you don't. And I
say, Jack, try to smooth things over for me with HER."

"With Miss Elsie?"

Custer cast a glance of profound pity upon the consul. "No with Mrs.
Kirkby, of course. See?"

The consul thought he did see, and that he had at last found a clue to
Custer's extraordinary speculation. But, like most theorists who
argue from a single fact, a few months later he might have doubted his
deduction.

He was staying at a large country-house many miles distant from the
scene of his late experiences. Already they had faded from his memory
with the departure of his compatriots from St. Kentigern. He was smoking
by the fire in the billiard-room late one night when a fellow-guest
approached him.

"Saw you didn't remember me at dinner."

The voice was hesitating, pleasant, and not quite unfamiliar. The
consul looked up, and identified the figure before him as one of the new
arrivals that day, whom, in the informal and easy courtesy of the
house, he had met with no further introduction than a vague smile. He
remembered, too, that the stranger had glanced at him once or twice at
dinner, with shy but engaging reserve.

"You must see such a lot of people, and the way things are arranged
and settled here everybody expects to look and act like everybody
else, don't you know, so you can't tell one chap from another. Deuced
annoying, eh? That's where you Americans are different, and that's
why those countrywomen of yours were so charming, don't you know, so
original. We were all together on the top of a coach in Scotland, don't
you remember? Had such a jolly time in the beastly rain. You didn't
catch my name. It's Duncaster."

The consul at once recalled his former fellow-traveler. The two men
shook hands. The Englishman took a pipe from his smoking-jacket, and
drew a chair beside the consul.

"Yes," he continued, comfortably filling his pipe, "the daughter,
Miss Kirkby, was awfully good fun; so fresh, so perfectly natural and
innocent, don't you know, and yet so extraordinarily sharp and clever.
She had some awfully good chaff over that Scotch scenery before those
Scotch tourists, do you remember? And it was all so beastly true, too.
Perhaps she's with you here?"

There was so much unexpected and unaffected interest in the young
Englishman's eyes that the consul was quite serious in his regrets that
the ladies had gone back to Paris.

"I'd like to have taken them over to Audrey Edge from here. It's no
distance by train. I did ask them in Scotland, but I suppose they had
something better to do. But you might tell them I've got some sisters
there, and that it is an old place and not half bad, don't you know,
when you write to them. You might give me their address."

The consul did so, and added a few pleasant words regarding their
position,--barring the syndicate,--which he had gathered from Custer.
Lord Duncaster's look of interest, far from abating, became gently
confidential.

"I suppose you must see a good deal of your countrymen in your business,
and I suppose, just like Englishmen, they differ, by Jove! Some of them,
don't you know, are rather pushing and anxious for position, and all
that sort of thing; and some of 'em, like your friends, are quite
independent and natural."

He stopped, and puffed slowly at his pipe. Presently he took it from
his mouth, with a little laugh. "I've a mind to tell you a rather queer
experience of mine. It's nothing against your people generally, you
know, nor do I fancy it's even an American type; so you won't mind my
speaking of it. I've got some property in Scotland,--rather poor stuff
you'd call it,--but, by Jove! some Americans have been laying claim
to it under some obscure plea of relationship. There might have been
something in it, although not all they claim, but my business man, a
clever chap up in your place,--perhaps you may have heard of him,
Sir James MacFen,--wrote to me that what they really wanted were some
ancestral lands with the right to use the family name and privileges.
The oddest part of the affair was that the claimant was an impossible
sort of lunatic, and the whole thing was run by a syndicate of shrewd
Western men. As I don't care for the property, which has only been
dropping a lot of money every year for upkeep and litigation, Sir James,
who is an awfully far-sighted chap at managing, thought he could effect
a compromise, and get rid of the property at a fair valuation. And,
by Jove! he did. But what your countrymen can get out of it,--for
the shooting isn't half as good as what they can get in their own
country,--or what use the privileges are to them, I can't fancy."

"I think I know the story," said the consul, eying his fellow-guest
attentively; "but if I remember rightly, the young man claimed to be the
rightful and only surviving heir."

The Englishman rose, and, bending over the hearth, slowly knocked the
ashes from his pipe. "That's quite impossible, don't you know. For," he
added, as he stood up in front of the fire in face, figure, and careless
repose more decidedly English than ever, "you see my title of Duncaster
only came to me through an uncle, but I am the direct and sole heir of
the old family, and the Scotch property. I don't perhaps look like a
Scot,--we've been settled in England some time,--but," he continued
with an invincible English drawling deliberation,

"I--am--really--you--know--what they call The McHulish."




AN EPISODE OF WEST WOODLANDS.


I.


The rain was dripping monotonously from the scant eaves of the little
church of the Sidon Brethren at West Woodlands. Hewn out of the very
heart of a thicket of buckeye spruce and alder, unsunned and unblown
upon by any wind, it was so green and unseasoned in its solitude that it
seemed a part of the arboreal growth, and on damp Sundays to have
taken root again and sprouted. There were moss and shining spots on the
underside of the unplaned rafters, little green pools of infusoria stood
on the ledge of the windows whose panes were at times suddenly clouded
by mysterious unknown breaths from without or within. It was oppressed
with an extravagance of leaves at all seasons, whether in summer, when
green and limp they crowded the porch, doorways, and shutters, or when
penetrating knot-holes and interstices of shingle and clapboard, on some
creeping vine, they unexpectedly burst and bourgeoned on the walls like
banners; or later, when they rotted in brown heaps in corners, outlined
the edges of the floor with a thin yellow border, or invaded the ranks
of the high-backed benches which served as pews.

There had been a continuous rustling at the porch and the shaking out
of waterproofs and closing of umbrellas until the half-filled church was
already redolent of damp dyes and the sulphur of India rubber. The eyes
of the congregation were turned to the door with something more than the
usual curiosity and expectation. For the new revivalist preacher from
Horse Shoe Bay was coming that morning. Already voices of authority were
heard approaching, and keeping up their conversation to the very door
of the sacred edifice in marked contrast with the awed and bashful
whisperings in the porch of the ordinary congregation. The worshipers
recognized the voices of Deacons Shadwell and Bradley; in the
reverential hush of the building they seemed charged with undue
importance.

"It was set back in the road for quiet in the Lord's work," said
Bradley.

"Yes, but it oughtn't be hidden! Let your light so shine before men,
you know, Brother Bradley," returned a deep voice, unrecognized and
unfamiliar--presumably that of the newcomer.

"It wouldn't take much to move it--on skids and rollers--nearer to the
road," suggested Shadwell tentatively.

"No, but if you left it stranded there in the wind and sun, green and
sappy as it is now, ye'd have every seam and crack startin' till the
ribs shone through, and no amount of calkin' would make it watertight
agin. No; my idea is--clear out the brush and shadder around it! Let the
light shine in upon it! Make the waste places glad around it, but keep
it THERE! And that's my idea o' gen'ral missionary work; that's how the
gospel orter be rooted."

Here the bell, which from the plain open four-posted belfry above
had been clanging with a metallic sharpness that had an odd impatient
worldliness about it, suddenly ceased.

"That bell," said Bradley's voice, with the same suggestion of conveying
important truths to the listening congregation within, "was took from
the wreck of the Tamalpais. Brother Horley bought it at auction at
Horse Shoe Bay and presented it. You know the Tamalpais ran ashore on
Skinner's Reef, jest off here."

"Yes, with plenty of sea room, not half a gale o' wind blowing, and her
real course fifty miles to westward! The whole watch must have drunk or
sunk in slothful idleness," returned the deep voice again. A momentary
pause followed, and then the two deacons entered the church with the
stranger.

He appeared to be a powerfully-built man, with a square, beardless chin;
a face that carried one or two scars of smallpox and a deeper one of
a less peaceful suggestion, set in a complexion weather-beaten to the
color of Spanish leather. Two small, moist gray eyes, that glistened
with every emotion, seemed to contradict the hard expression of the
other features. He was dressed in cheap black, like the two deacons,
with the exception of a loose, black alpaca coat and the usual black
silk neckerchief tied in a large bow under a turndown collar,--the
general sign and symbol of a minister of his sect. He walked directly
to the raised platform at the end of the chapel, where stood a table on
which was a pitcher of water, a glass and hymnbook, and a tall upright
desk holding a Bible. Glancing over these details, he suddenly paused,
carefully lifted some hitherto undetected object from the desk beside
the Bible, and, stooping gently, placed it upon the floor. As it hopped
away the congregation saw that it was a small green frog. The intrusion
was by no means an unusual one, but some odd contrast between this
powerful man and the little animal affected them profoundly. No
one--even the youngest--smiled; every one--even the youngest--became
suddenly attentive. Turning over the leaves of the hymnbook, he then
gave out the first two lines of a hymn. The choir accordion in the front
side bench awoke like an infant into wailing life, and Cissy Appleby,
soprano, took up a little more musically the lugubrious chant. At the
close of the verse the preacher joined in, after a sailor fashion, with
a breezy bass that seemed to fill the little building with the trouble
of the sea. Then followed prayer from Deacon Shadwell, broken by "Amens"
from the preacher, with a nautical suggestion of "Ay, ay," about them,
and he began his sermon.

It was, as those who knew his methods might have expected, a suggestion
of the conversation they had already overheard. He likened the little
chapel, choked with umbrage and rotting in its dampness, to the gospel
seed sown in crowded places, famishing in the midst of plenty, and
sterile from the absorptions of the more active life around it. He
pointed out again the true work of the pioneer missionary; the
careful pruning and elimination of those forces that grew up with the
Christian's life, which many people foolishly believed were a part of
it. "The WORLD must live and the WORD must live," said they, and there
were easy-going brethren who thought they could live together. But he
warned them that the World was always closing upon--"shaddering"--and
strangling the Word, unless kept down, and that "fair seemin'
settlement," or city, which appeared to be "bustin' and bloomin'" with
life and progress, was really "hustlin' and jostlin'" the Word of God,
even in the midst of these "fancy spires and steeples" it had erected
to its glory. It was the work of the missionary pioneer to keep down or
root out this carnal, worldly growth as much in the settlement as in the
wilderness. Some were for getting over the difficulty by dragging the
mere wasted "letter of the Word," or the rotten and withered husks of
it, into the highways and byways, where the "blazin'" scorn of the World
would finish it. A low, penitential groan from Deacon Shadwell followed
this accusing illustration. But the preacher would tell them that the
only way was to boldly attack this rankly growing World around them;
to clear out fresh paths for the Truth, and let the sunlight of Heaven
stream among them.

There was little doubt that the congregation was moved. Whatever they
might have thought of the application, the fact itself was patent. The
rheumatic Beaseleys felt the truth of it in their aching bones; it came
home to the fever and ague stricken Filgees in their damp seats against
the sappy wall; it echoed plainly in the chronic cough of Sister Mary
Strutt and Widow Doddridge; and Cissy Appleby, with her round brown eyes
fixed upon the speaker, remembering how the starch had been taken out of
her Sunday frocks, how her long ringlets had become uncurled, her frills
limp, and even her ribbons lustreless, felt that indeed a prophet had
arisen in Israel!

One or two, however, were disappointed that he had as yet given no
indication of that powerful exhortatory emotion for which he was famed,
and which had been said to excite certain corresponding corybantic
symptoms among his sensitive female worshipers. When the service was
over, and the congregation crowded around him, Sister Mary Strutt, on
the outer fringe of the assembly, confided to Sister Evans that she had
"hearn tell how that when he was over at Soquel he prayed that pow'ful
that all the wimmen got fits and tremblin' spells, and ole Mrs. Jackson
had to be hauled off his legs that she was kneelin' and claspin' while
wrestling with the Sperit."

"I reckon we seemed kinder strange to him this morning, and he wanted to
jest feel his way to our hearts first," exclaimed Brother Jonas Steers
politely. "He'll be more at home at evenin' service. It's queer that
some of the best exhortin' work is done arter early candlelight. I
reckon he's goin' to stop over with Deacon Bradley to dinner."

But it appeared that the new preacher, now formally introduced as
Brother Seabright, was intending to walk over to Hemlock Mills to
dinner. He only asked to be directed the nearest way; he would not
trouble Brother Shadwell or Deacon Bradley to come with him.

"But here's Cissy Appleby lives within a mile o' thar, and you could
go along with her. She'd jest admire to show you the way," interrupted
Brother Shadwell. "Wouldn't you, Cissy?"

Thus appealed to, the young chorister--a tall girl of sixteen or
seventeen--timidly raised her eyes to Brother Seabright as he was about
to repeat his former protestation, and he stopped.

"Ef the young lady IS goin' that way, it's only fair to accept her
kindness in a Christian sperit," he said gently.

Cissy turned with a mingling of apology and bashfulness towards a young
fellow who seemed to be acting as her escort, but who was hesitating
in an equal bashfulness, when Seabright added: "And perhaps our young
friend will come too?"

But the young friend drew back with a confused laugh, and Brother
Seabright and Cissy passed out from the porch together. For a few
moments they mingled with the stream and conversation of the departing
congregation, but presently Cissy timidly indicated a diverging bypath,
and they both turned into it.

It was much warmer in the open than it had been in the chapel and
thicket, and Cissy, by way of relieving a certain awkward tension of
silence, took off the waterproof cloak and slung it on her arm. This
disclosed her five long brown cable-like curls that hung down her
shoulders, reaching below her waist in some forgotten fashion of
girlhood. They were Cissy's peculiar adornment, remarkable for their
length, thickness, and the extraordinary youthfulness imparted to a
figure otherwise precociously matured. In some wavering doubt of her
actual years and privileges, Brother Seabright offered to carry
her cloak for her, but she declined it with a rustic and youthful
pertinacity that seemed to settle the question. In fact, Cissy was
as much embarrassed as she was flattered by the company of this
distinguished stranger. However, it would be known to all West Woodland
that he had walked home with her, while nobody but herself would know
that they had scarcely exchanged a word. She noticed how he lounged on
with a heavy, rolling gait, sometimes a little before or behind her as
the path narrowed. At such times when they accidentally came in contact
in passing, she felt a half uneasy, physical consciousness of him, which
she referred to his size, the scars on his face, or some latent hardness
of expression, but was relieved to see that he had not observed it.
Yet this was the man that made grown women cry; she thought of old
Mrs. Jackson fervently grasping the plodding ankles before her, and
a hysteric desire to laugh, with the fear that he might see it on her
face, overcame her. Then she wondered if he was going to walk all the
way home without speaking, yet she knew she would be more embarrassed if
he began to talk to her.

Suddenly he stopped, and she bumped up against him.

"Oh, excuse me!" she stammered hurriedly.

"Eh?" He evidently had not noticed the collision. "Did you speak?"

"No!--that is--it wasn't anything," returned the girl, coloring.

But he had quite forgotten her, and was looking intently before him.
They had come to a break in the fringe of woodland, and upon a sudden
view of the ocean. At this point the low line of coast-range which
sheltered the valley of West Woodlands was abruptly cloven by a gorge
that crumbled and fell away seaward to the shore of Horse Shoe Bay.
On its northern trend stretched the settlement of Horse Shoe to the
promontory of Whale Mouth Point, with its outlying reef of rocks curved
inwards like the vast submerged jaw of some marine monster, through
whose blunt, tooth-like projections the ship-long swell of the Pacific
streamed and fell. On the southern shore the light yellow sands of
Punta de las Concepcion glittered like sunshine all the way to the
olive-gardens and white domes of the Mission. The two shores seemed to
typify the two different climates and civilizations separated by the
bay.

The heavy, woodland atmosphere was quickened by the salt breath of the
sea. The stranger inhaled it meditatively.

"That's the reef where the Tamalpais struck," he said, "and more'n fifty
miles out of her course--yes, more'n fifty miles from where she should
have bin! It don't look nat'ral. No--it--don't--look--nat'ral!"

As he seemed to be speaking to himself, the young girl, who had been
gazing with far greater interest at the foreign-looking southern shore,
felt confused and did not reply. Then, as if recalling her presence,
Brother Seabright turned to her and said:--

"Yes, young lady; and when you hear the old bell of the Tamalpais, and
think of how it came here, you may rejoice in the goodness of the Lord
that made even those who strayed from the straight course and the true
reckoning the means of testifying onto Him."

But the young are quicker to detect attitudes and affectation than we
are apt to imagine; and Cissy could distinguish a certain other straying
in this afterthought or moral of the preacher called up by her presence,
and knew that it was not the real interest which the view had evoked.
She had heard that he had been a sailor, and, with the tact of her sex,
answered with what she thought would entertain him:--

"I was a little girl when it happened, and I heard that some sailors got
ashore down there, and climbed up this gully from the rocks below.
And they camped that night--for there were no houses at West Woodlands
then--just in the woods where our chapel now stands. It was funny,
wasn't it?--I mean," she corrected herself bashfully, "it was strange
they chanced to come just there?"

But she had evidently hit the point of interest.

"What became of them?" he said quickly. "They never came to Horse Shoe
Settlement, where the others landed from the wreck. I never heard of
that boat's crew or of ANY landing HERE."

"No. They kept on over the range south to the Mission. I reckon they
didn't know there was a way down on this side to Horse Shoe," returned
Cissy.

Brother Seabright moved on and continued his slow, plodding march.
But he kept a little nearer Cissy, and she was conscious that he
occasionally looked at her. Presently he said:--

"You have a heavenly gift, Miss Appleby."

Cissy flushed, and her hand involuntarily went to one of her long,
distinguishing curls. It might be THAT. The preacher continued:--

"Yes; a voice like yours is a heavenly gift. And you have properly
devoted it to His service. Have you been singing long?"

"About two years. But I've got to study a heap yet."

"The little birds don't think it necessary to study to praise Him," said
the preacher sententiously.

It occurred to Cissy that this was very unfair argument. She said
quickly:--

"But the little birds don't have to follow words in the hymn-books. You
don't give out lines to larks and bobolinks," and blushed.

The preacher smiled. It was a very engaging smile, Cissy thought, that
lightened his hard mouth. It enabled her to take heart of grace, and
presently to chatter like the very birds she had disparaged. Oh yes; she
knew she had to learn a great deal more. She had studied "some" already.
She was taking lessons over at Point Concepcion, where her aunt had
friends, and she went three times a week. The gentleman who taught her
was not a Catholic, and, of course, he knew she was a Protestant. She
would have preferred to live there, but her mother and father were both
dead, and had left her with her aunt. She liked it better because it
was sunnier and brighter there. She loved the sun and warmth. She had
listened to what he had said about the dampness and gloom of the chapel.
It was true. The dampness was that dreadful sometimes it just ruined her
clothes, and even made her hoarse. Did he think they would really take
his advice and clear out the woods round the chapel?

"Would you like it?" he asked pleasantly.

"Yes."

"And you think you wouldn't pine so much for the sunshine and warmth of
the Mission?

"I'm not pining," said Cissy with a toss of her curls, "for anything or
anybody; but I think the woods ought to be cleared out. It's just as it
was when the runaways hid there."

"When the RUNAWAYS HID THERE!" said Brother Seabright quickly. "What
runaways?"

"Why, the boat's crew," said Cissy.

"Why do you call them runaways?"

"I don't know. Didn't YOU?" said Cissy simply. "Didn't you say they
never came back to Horse Shoe Bay. Perhaps I had it from aunty. But
I know it's damp and creepy; and when I was littler I used to be
frightened to be alone there practicing."

"Why?" said the preacher quickly.

"Oh, I don't know," hurried on Cissy, with a vague impression that she
had said too much. "Only my fancy, I guess."

"Well," said Brother Seabright after a pause; "we'll see what can be
done to make a clearing there. Birds sing best in the sunshine, and YOU
ought to have some say about it."

Cissy's dimples and blushes came together this time. "That's our
house," she said suddenly, with a slight accent of relief, pointing to a
weather-beaten farmhouse on the edge of the gorge. "I turn off here, but
you keep straight on for the Mills; they're back in the woods a
piece. But," she stammered with a sudden sense of shame of forgotten
hospitality, "won't you come in and see aunty?"

"No, thank you, not now." He stopped, turning his gaze from the house to
her. "How old is your house? Was it there at the time of the wreck?"

"Yes," said Cissy.

"It's odd that the crew did not come there for help, eh?"

"Maybe they overlooked it in the darkness and the storm," said Cissy
simply. "Good-by, sir."

The preacher held her hand for an instant in his powerful, but gently
graduated grasp. "Good-by until evening service."

"Yes, sir," said Cissy.

The young girl tripped on towards her house a little agitated and
conscious, and yet a little proud as she saw the faces of her aunt, her
uncle, her two cousins, and even her discarded escort, Jo Adams, at the
windows, watching her.

"So," said her aunt, as she entered breathlessly, "ye walked home with
the preacher! It was a speshal providence and manifestation for ye,
Cissy. I hope ye was mannerly and humble--and profited by the words of
grace."

"I don't know," said Cissy, putting aside her hat and cloak listlessly.
"He didn't talk much of anything--but the old wreck of the Tamalpais."

"What?" said her aunt quickly.

"The wreck of the Tamalpais, and the boat's crew that came up the
gorge," repeated the young girl.

"And what did HE know about the boat's crew?" said her aunt hurriedly,
fixing her black eyes on Cissy.

"Nothing except what I told him."

"What YOU told him!" echoed her aunt, with an ominous color filling the
sallow hollows of her cheek.

"Yes! He has been a sailor, you know--and I thought it would interest
him; and it did! He thought it strange."

"Cecilia Jane Appleby," said her aunt shrilly, "do you mean to say that
you threw away your chances of salvation and saving grace just to tell
gossiping tales that you knew was lies, and evil report, and false
witnesses!"

"I only talked of what I'd heard, aunt Vashti," said Cecilia
indignantly. "And he afterwards talked of--of--my voice, and said I had
a heavenly gift," she added, with a slight quiver of her lip.

Aunt Vashti regarded the girl sharply.

"And you may thank the Lord for that heavenly gift," she said, in a
slightly lowered voice; "for ef ye hadn't to use it tonight, I'd shut
ye up in your room, to make it pay for yer foolish gaddin' TONGUE! And
I reckon I'll escort ye to chapel tonight myself, miss, and get shut o'
some of this foolishness."


II.


The broad plaza of the Mission de la Concepcion had been baking in the
day-long sunlight. Shining drifts from the outlying sand dunes, blown
across the ill-paved roadway, radiated the heat in the faces of the few
loungers like the pricking of liliputian arrows, and invaded even the
cactus hedges. The hot air visibly quivered over the dark red tiles of
the tienda roof as if they were undergoing a second burning. The black
shadow of a chimney on the whitewashed adobe wall was like a door or
cavernous opening in the wall itself; the tops of the olive and pear
trees seen above it were russet and sere already in the fierce light.
Even the moist breath of the sea beyond had quite evaporated before it
crossed the plaza, and now rustled the leaves in the Mission garden with
a dry, crepitant sound.

Nevertheless, it seemed to Cissy Appleby, as she crossed the plaza, a
very welcome change from West Woodlands. Although the late winter rains
had ceased a month ago,--a few days after the revivalist preacher had
left,--the woods around the chapel were still sodden and heavy, and the
threatened improvement in its site had not taken place. Neither had the
preacher himself alluded to it again; his evening sermon--the only other
one he preached there--was unexciting, and he had, in fact, left West
Woodlands without any display of that extraordinary exhortatory faculty
for which he was famous. Yet Cissy, in spite of her enjoyment of the
dry, hot Mission, remembered him, and also recalled, albeit poutingly,
his blunt suggesting that she was "pining for it." Nevertheless, she
would like to have sung for him HERE--supposing it was possible to
conceive of a Sidon Brotherhood Chapel at the Mission. It was a great
pity, she thought, that the Sidon Brotherhood and the Franciscan
Brotherhood were not more brotherly TOWARDS EACH OTHER. Cissy belonged
to the former by hereditary right, locality, and circumstance, but it is
to be feared that her theology was imperfect.

She entered a lane between the Mission wall and a lighter iron fenced
inclosure, once a part of the garden, but now the appurtenance of a
private dwelling that was reconstructed over the heavy adobe shell of
some forgotten structure of the old ecclesiastical founders. It was
pierced by many windows and openings, and that sunlight and publicity
which the former padres had jealously excluded was now wooed from long
balconies and verandas by the new proprietor, a well to do American.
Elisha Braggs, whose name was generously and euphoniously translated by
his native neighbors into "Don Eliseo," although a heretic, had given
largess to the church in the way of restoring its earthquake-shaken
tower, and in presenting a new organ to its dilapidated choir. He had
further endeared himself to the conservative Spanish population by
introducing no obtrusive improvements; by distributing his means through
the old channels; by apparently inciting no further alien immigration,
but contenting himself to live alone among them, adopting their habits,
customs, and language. A harmless musical taste, and a disposition to
instruct the young boy choristers, was equally balanced by great skill
in horsemanship and the personal management of a ranche of wild cattle
on the inland plains.

Consciously pretty, and prettily conscious in her white-starched,
rose-sprigged muslin, her pink parasol, beribboned gypsy hat, and the
long mane-like curls that swung over her shoulders, Cissy entered the
house and was shown to the large low drawing-room on the ground-floor.
She once more inhaled its hot potpourri fragrance, in which the spice of
the Castilian rose-leaves of the garden was dominant. A few boys, whom
she recognized as the choristers of the Mission and her fellow-pupils,
were already awaiting her with some degree of anxiety and impatience.
This fact, and a certain quick animation that sprang to the blue eyes
of the master of the house as the rose-sprigged frock and long curls
appeared at the doorway, showed that Cissy was clearly the favorite
pupil.

Elisha Braggs was a man of middle age, with a figure somewhat rounded by
the adipose curves of a comfortable life, and an air of fastidiousness
which was, however, occasionally at variance with what seemed to be
his original condition. He greeted Cissy with a certain nervous
overconsciousness of his duties as host and teacher, and then plunged
abruptly into the lesson. It lasted an hour, Cissy tactfully
dividing his somewhat exclusive instruction with the others, and even
interpreting it to their slower comprehension. When it was over, the
choristers shyly departed, according to their usual custom, leaving
Cissy and Don Eliseo--and occasionally one of the padres to more
informal practicing and performance. Neither the ingenuousness of Cissy
nor the worldly caution of aunt Vashti had ever questioned the propriety
of these prolonged and secluded seances; and the young girl herself,
although by no means unaccustomed to the bashful attentions of the youth
of West Woodlands, had never dreamed of these later musical interviews
as being anything but an ordinary recreation of her art. The feeling of
gratitude and kindness she had for Don Eliseo, her aunt's friend, had
never left her conscious or embarrassed when she was alone with him.
But to-day, possibly from his own nervousness and preoccupation, she was
aware of some vague uneasiness, and at an early opportunity rose to go.
But Don Eliseo gently laid his hand on hers and said:--

"Don't go yet; I want to talk to you." His touch suddenly reminded her
that once or twice before he had done the same thing, and she had been
disagreeably impressed by it. But she lifted her brown eyes to his with
an unconsciousness that was more crushing than a withdrawal of her hand,
and waited for him to go on.

"It is such a long way for you to come, and you have so little time to
stay when you are here, that I am thinking of asking your aunt to let
you live here at the Mission, as a pupil, in the house of the Senora
Hernandez, until your lessons are finished. Padre Jose will attend to
the rest of your education. Would you like it?"

Poor Cissy's eyes leaped up in unaffected and sparkling affirmation
before her tongue replied. To bask in this beloved sunshine for days
together; to have this quaint Spanish life before her eyes, and those
soft Spanish accents in her ears; to forget herself in wandering in the
old-time Mission garden beyond; to have daily access to Mr. Braggs's
piano and the organ of the church--this was indeed the realization
of her fondest dreams! Yet she hesitated. Somewhere in her inherited
Puritan nature was a vague conviction that it was wrong, and it seemed
even to find an echo in the warning of the preacher: this was what she
was "pining for."

"I don't know," she stammered. "I must ask auntie; I shouldn't like to
leave her; and there's the chapel."

"Isn't that revivalist preacher enough to run it for a while?" said her
companion, half-sneeringly.

The remark was not a tactful one.

"Mr. Seabright hasn't been here for a month," she answered somewhat
quickly. "But he's coming next Sunday, and I'm glad of it. He's a very
good man. And there's nothing he don't notice. He saw how silly it was
to stick the chapel into the very heart of the woods, and he told them
so."

"And I suppose he'll run up a brand-new meeting-house out on the road,"
said Braggs, smiling.

"No, he's going to open up the woods, and let the sun and light in, and
clear out the underbrush."

"And what's that for?"

There was such an utter and abrupt change in the speaker's voice and
manner--which until then had been lazily fastidious and confident--that
Cissy was startled. And the change being rude and dictatorial, she was
startled into opposition. She had wanted to say that the improvement had
been suggested by HER, but she took a more aggressive attitude.

"Brother Seabright says it's a question of religion and morals. It's a
scandal and a wrong, and a disgrace to the Word, that the chapel should
have been put there."

Don Eliseo's face turned so white and waxy that Cissy would have noticed
it had she not femininely looked away while taking this attitude.

"I suppose that's a part of his sensation style, and very effective," he
said, resuming his former voice and manner. "I must try to hear him some
day. But, now, in regard to your coming here, of course I shall consult
your aunt, although I imagine she will have no objection. I only wanted
to know how YOU felt about it." He again laid his hand on hers.

"I should like to come very much," said Cissy timidly; "and it's very
kind of you, I'm sure; but you'll see what auntie says, won't you?" She
withdrew her hand after momentarily grasping his, as if his own act had
been only a parting salutation, and departed.

Aunt Vashti received Cissy's account of her interview with a grim
satisfaction. She did not know what ideas young gals had nowadays, but
in HER time she'd been fit to jump outer her skin at such an offer from
such a good man as Elisha Braggs. And he was a rich man, too. And ef he
was goin' to give her an edication free, it wasn't goin' to stop
there. For her part, she didn't like to put ideas in young girls'
heads,--goodness knows they'd enough foolishness already; but if Cissy
made a Christian use of her gifts, and 'tended to her edication and
privileges, and made herself a fit helpmeet for any man, she would say
that there were few men in these parts that was as "comf'ble ketch" as
Lish Braggs, or would make as good a husband and provider.

The blood suddenly left Cissy's cheeks and then returned with
uncomfortable heat. Her aunt's words had suddenly revealed to her
the meaning of the uneasiness she had felt in Braggs's house that
morning--the old repulsion that had come at his touch. She had never
thought of him as a suitor or a beau before, yet it now seemed perfectly
plain to her that this was the ulterior meaning of his generosity. And
yet she received that intelligence with the same mixed emotions with
which she had received his offer to educate her. She did not conceal
from herself the pride and satisfaction she felt in this presumptive
selection of her as his wife; the worldly advantages that it promised;
nor that it was a destiny far beyond her deserts. Yet she was conscious
of exactly the same sense of wrong-doing in her preferences--something
that seemed vaguely akin to that "conviction of sin" of which she had
heard so much--as when she received his offer of education. It was this
mixture of fear and satisfaction that caused her alternate paling and
flushing, yet this time it was the fear that came first. Perhaps she was
becoming unduly sensitive. The secretiveness of her sex came to her aid
here, and she awkwardly changed the subject. Aunt Vashti, complacently
believing that her words had fallen on fruitful soil, discreetly said no
more.

It was a hot morning when Cissy walked alone to chapel early next
Sunday. There was a dry irritation in the air which even the northwest
trades, blowing through the seaward gorge, could not temper, and for the
first time in her life she looked forward to the leafy seclusion of the
buried chapel with a feeling of longing. She had avoided her youthful
escort, for she wished to practice alone for an hour before the service
with the new harmonium that had taken the place of the old accordion and
its unskillful performer. Perhaps, too, there was a timid desire to be
at her best on the return of Brother Seabright, and to show him, with
a new performance, that the "heavenly gift" had not been neglected. She
opened the chapel with the key she always carried, "swished" away an
intrusive squirrel, left the door and window open for a moment, until
the beating of frightened wings against the rafters had ceased, and,
after carefully examining the floor for spiders, mice, and other
creeping things, brushed away a few fallen leaves and twigs from the top
of the harmonium. Then, with her long curls tossed over her shoulders
and hanging limply down the back of her new maple-leaf yellow
frock,--which was also a timid recognition of Brother Seabright's
return,--and her brown eyes turned to the rafters, this rustic St.
Cecilia of the Coast Range began to sing. The shell of the little
building dilated with the melody; the sashes of the windows pulsated,
the two ejected linnets joined in timidly from their coign of vantage in
the belfry outside, and the limp vines above the porch swayed like her
curls. Once she thought she heard stealthy footsteps without; once she
was almost certain she felt the brushing of somebody outside against the
thin walls of the chapel, and once she stopped to glance quickly at the
window with a strange instinct that some one was looking at her. But she
quickly reflected that Brother Seabright would come there only when the
deacons did, and with them. Why she should think that it was Brother
Seabright, or why Brother Seabright should come thus and at such a time,
she could not have explained.

He did not, in fact, make his appearance until later, and after the
congregation had quite filled the chapel; he did not, moreover, appear
to notice her as she sat there, and when he gave out the hymn he
seemed to have quietly overlooked the new harmonium. She sang her best,
however, and more than one of the audience thought that "little Sister
Appleby" had greatly improved. Indeed, it would not have seemed strange
to some--remembering Brother Seabright's discursive oratory--if he had
made some allusion to it. But he did not. His heavy eyes moved slowly
over the congregation, and he began.

As usual he did not take a text. But he would talk to them that morning
about "The Conviction of Sin" and the sense of wrong-doing that was
innate in the sinner. This included all form of temptation, for what
was temptation but the inborn consciousness of something to struggle
against, and that was sin! At this apparently concise exposition of
her own feelings in regard to Don Eliseo's offer, Cissy felt herself
blushing to the roots of her curls. Could it be possible that Brother
Seabright had heard of her temptation to leave West Woodlands, and
that this warning was intended for her? He did not even look in her
direction. Yet his next sentence seemed to be an answer to her own
mental query.

"Folks might ask," he continued, "if even the young and inexperienced
should feel this--or was there a state of innocent guilt without
consciousness?" He would answer that question by telling them what had
happened to him that morning. He had come to the chapel, not by the
road, but through the tangled woods behind them (Cissy started)--through
the thick brush and undergrowth that was choking the life out of this
little chapel--the wilderness that he had believed was never before
trodden by human feet, and was known only to roaming beasts and vermin.
But that was where he was wrong.

In the stillness and listening silence, a sudden cough from some one
in one of the back benches produced that instantaneous diversion of
attention common to humanity on such occasions. Cissy's curls swung
round with the others. But she was surprised to see that Mr. Braggs was
seated in one of the benches near the door, and from the fact of
his holding a handkerchief to his mouth, and being gazed at by his
neighbors, it was evident that it was he who had coughed. Perhaps he
had come to West Woodlands to talk to her aunt! With the preacher
before her, and her probable suitor behind her, she felt herself again
blushing.

Brother Seabright continued. Yes, he was WRONG, for there before him, in
the depths of the forest, were two children. They were looking at a bush
of "pizon berries,"--the deadly nightshade, as it was fitly called,--and
one was warning the other of its dangerous qualities.

"But how do you know it's the 'pizon berry'?" asked the other.

"Because it's larger, and nicer, and bigger, and easier to get than the
real good ones," returned the other.

And it was so. Thus was the truth revealed from the mouths of babes
and sucklings; even they were conscious of temptation and sin! But here
there was another interruption from the back benches, which proved,
however, to be only the suppressed giggle of a boy--evidently the
youthful hero of the illustration, surprised into nervous hilarity.

The preacher then passed to the "Conviction of Sin" in its more familiar
phases. Many brothers confounded this with DISCOVERY AND PUBLICITY. It
was not their own sin "finding them out," but others discovering it.
Until that happened, they fancied themselves safe, stilling their
consciences, confounding the blinded eye of the world with the
all-seeing eye of the Lord. But were they safe even then? Did not sooner
or later the sea deliver up its dead, the earth what was buried in it,
the wild woods what its depths had hidden? Was not the foolish secret,
the guilty secret, the forgotten sin, sure to be disclosed? Then if they
could not fly from the testimony of His works, if they could not evade
even their fellow-man, why did they not first turn to Him? Why, from the
penitent child at his mother's knee to the murderer on the scaffold, did
they only at THE LAST confess unto Him?

His voice and manner had suddenly changed. From the rough note of
accusation and challenge it had passed into the equally rough, but
broken and sympathetic, accents of appeal. Why did they hesitate longer
to confess their sin--not to man--but unto Him? Why did they delay?
Now--that evening! That very moment! This was the appointed time! He
entreated them in the name of religious faith, in the name of a human
brotherly love. His delivery was now no longer deliberate, but
hurried and panting; his speech now no longer chosen, but made up
of reiterations and repetitions, ejaculations, and even incoherent
epithets. His gestures and long intonations which began to take the
place of even that interrupted speech affected them more than his
reasoning! Short sighs escaped them; they swayed to and fro with the
rhythm of his voice and movements. They had begun to comprehend
this exacerbation of emotion--this paroxysmal rhapsody. This was the
dithyrambic exaltation they had ardently waited for. They responded
quickly. First with groans, equally inarticulate murmurs of assent,
shouts of "Glory," and the reckless invocation of sacred names. Then a
wave of hysteria seemed to move the whole mass, and broke into tears
and sobs among the women. In her own excited consciousness it seemed
to Cissy that some actual struggle between good and evil--like unto
the casting out of devils--was shaking the little building. She cast a
hurried glance behind her and saw Mr. Braggs sitting erect, white and
scornful. She knew that she too was shrinking from the speaker,--not
from any sense of conviction, but because he was irritating and
disturbing her innate sense of fitness and harmony,--and she was pained
that Mr. Braggs should see him thus. Meantime the weird, invisible
struggle continued, heightened and, it seemed to her, incited by the
partisan groans and exultant actions of those around her, until suddenly
a wild despairing cry arose above the conflict. A vague fear seized
her--the voice was familiar! She turned in time to see the figure
of aunt Vashti rise in her seat with a hysterical outburst, and fall
convulsively forward upon her knees! She would have rushed to her side,
but the frenzied woman was instantly caught by Deacon Shadwell and
surrounded by a group of her own sex and became hidden. And when Cissy
recovered herself she was astonished to find Brother Seabright--with
every trace of his past emotion vanished from his hard-set face--calmly
taking up his coherent discourse in his ordinary level tones. The
furious struggle of the moment before was over; the chapel and its
congregation had fallen back into an exhausted and apathetic silence!
Then the preacher gave out the hymn--the words were singularly jubilant
among that usually mournful collection in the book before her--and Cissy
began it with a tremulous voice. But it gained strength, clearness, and
volume as she went on, and she felt thrilled throughout with a new human
sympathy she had never known before. The preacher's bass supported her
now for the first time not unmusically--and the service was over.

Relieved, she turned quickly to join her aunt, but a hand was laid
gently upon her shoulder. It was Brother Seabright, who had just stepped
from the platform. The congregation, knowing her to be the niece of the
hysteric woman, passed out without disturbing them.

"You have, indeed, improved your gift, Sister Cecilia," he said gravely.
"You must have practiced much."

"Yes--that is, no!--only a little," stammered Cissy.

"But, excuse me, I must look after auntie," she added, drawing timidly
away.

"Your aunt is better, and has gone on with Sister Shadwell. She is not
in need of your help, and really would do better without you just now. I
shall see her myself presently."

"But YOU made her sick already," said Cissy, with a sudden, half-nervous
audacity. "You even frightened ME."

"Frightened you?" repeated Seabright, looking at her quickly.

"Yes," said Cissy, meeting his gaze with brown, truthful eyes. "Yes,
when you--when you--made those faces. I like to hear you talk, but"--she
stopped.

Brother Seabright's rare smile again lightened his face. But it seemed
sadder than when she had first seen it.

"Then you have been practicing again at the Mission?" he said quietly;
"and you still prefer it?"

"Yes," said Cissy. She wanted to appear as loyal to the Mission in
Brother Seabright's presence as she was faithful to West Woodlands
in Mr. Braggs's. She had no idea that this was dangerously near to
coquetry. So she said a little archly, "I don't see why YOU don't like
the Mission. You're a missionary yourself. The old padres came here to
spread the Word. So do you."

"But not in that way," he said curtly. "I've seen enough of them when
I was knocking round the world a seafaring man and a sinner. I knew
them--receivers of the ill-gotten gains of adventurers, fools, and
scoundrels. I knew them--enriched by the spoils of persecution and
oppression; gathering under their walls outlaws and fugitives from
justice, and flinging an indulgence here and an absolution there, as
they were paid for it. Don't talk to me of THEM--I know them."

They were passing out of the chapel together, and he made an impatient
gesture as if dismissing the subject. Accustomed though she was to
the sweeping criticism of her Catholic friends by her West Woodlands
associates, she was nevertheless hurt by his brusqueness. She dropped
a little behind, and they separated at the porch. Notwithstanding
her anxiety to see her aunt, she felt she could not now go to Deacon
Shadwell's without seeming to follow him--and after he had assured her
that her help was not required! She turned aside and made her way slowly
towards her home.

There she found that her aunt had not returned, gathering from her uncle
that she was recovering from a fit of "high strikes" (hysterics), and
would be better alone. Whether he underrated her complaint, or had
a consciousness of his masculine helplessness in such disorders, he
evidently made light of it. And when Cissy, afterwards, a little ashamed
that she had allowed her momentary pique against Brother Seabright to
stand in the way of her duty, determined to go to her aunt, instead of
returning to the chapel that evening, he did not oppose it. She learned
also that Mr. Braggs had called in the morning, but, finding that her
aunt Vashti was at chapel, he had followed her there, intending to
return with her. But he had not been seen since the service, and had
evidently returned to the Mission.

But when she reached Deacon Shadwell's house she was received by Mrs.
Shadwell only. Her aunt, said that lady, was physically better, but
Brother Seabright had left "partkler word" that she was to see nobody.
It was an extraordinary case of "findin' the Lord," the like of which
had never been known before in West Woodlands, and she (Cissy) would yet
be proud of one of her "fammerly being speshally selected for grace."
But the "workin's o' salvation was not to be finicked away on worldly
things or even the affections of the flesh;" and if Cissy really loved
her aunt, "she wouldn't interfere with her while she was, so to speak,
still on the mourners' bench, wrastlin' with the Sperret in their back
sittin'-room." But she might wait until Brother Seabright's return from
evening chapel after service.

Cissy waited. Nine o'clock came, but Brother Seabright did not return.
Then a small but inconsequent dignity took possession of her, and she
slightly tossed her long curls from her shoulders. She was not going
to wait for any man's permission to see her own aunt. If auntie did not
want to see her, that was enough. She could go home alone. She didn't
want any one to go with her.

Lifted and sustained by these lofty considerations, with an erect head
and slightly ruffled mane, well enwrapped in a becoming white merino
"cloud," the young girl stepped out on her homeward journey. She
had certainly enough to occupy her mind and, perhaps, justify her
independence. To have a suitor for her hand in the person of the
superior and wealthy Mr. Braggs,--for that was what his visit that
morning to West Woodlands meant,--and to be personally complimented
on her improvement by the famous Brother Seabright, all within twelve
hours, was something to be proud of, even although it was mitigated
by her aunt's illness, her suitor's abrupt departure, and Brother
Seabright's momentary coldness and impatience. Oddly enough, this last
and apparently trivial circumstance occupied her thoughts more than the
others. She found herself looking out for him in the windings of the
moonlit road, and when, at last, she reached the turning towards the
little wood and chapel, her small feet unconsciously lingered until
she felt herself blushing under her fleecy "cloud." She looked down the
lane. From the point where she was standing the lights of the chapel
should have been plainly visible; but now all was dark. It was nearly
ten o'clock, and he must have gone home by another road. Then a spirit
of adventure seized her. She had the key of the chapel in her pocket.
She remembered she had left a small black Spanish fan--a former gift of
Mr. Braggs lying on the harmonium. She would go and bring it away, and
satisfy herself that Brother Seabright was not there still. It was but a
step, and in the clear moonlight.

The lane wound before her like a silver stream, except where it was
interrupted and bridged over by jagged black shadows. The chapel itself
was black, the clustering trees around it were black also; the porch
seemed to cover an inky well of shadow; the windows were rayless and
dead, and in the chancel one still left open showed a yawning vault of
obscurity within. Nevertheless, she opened the door softly, glided into
the dark depths, and made her way to the harmonium. But here the sound
of footsteps without startled her; she glanced hurriedly through the
open window, and saw the figure of Elisha Braggs suddenly revealed in
the moonlight as he crossed the path behind the chapel. He was closely
followed by two peons, whom she recognized as his servants at the
Mission, and they each carried a pickaxe. From their manner it was
evident that they had no suspicion of her presence in the chapel. But
they had stopped and were listening. Her heart beat quickly; with
a sudden instinct she ran and bolted the door. But it was evidently
another intruder they were watching, for she presently saw Brother
Seabright quietly cross the lane and approach the chapel. The three men
had disappeared; but there was a sudden shout, the sound of scuffling,
the deep voice of Brother Seabright saying, "Back, there, will you!
Hands off!" and a pause. She could see nothing; she listened in every
pulse. Then the voice of Brother Seabright arose again quite clearly,
slowly, and as deliberately as if it had risen from the platform in the
chapel.

"Lish Barker! I thought as much! Lish Barker, first mate of the
Tamalpais, who was said to have gone down with a boat's crew and the
ship's treasure after she struck. I THOUGHT I knew that face today."

"Yes," said the voice of him whom she had known as Elisha Braggs,--"yes,
and I knew YOUR face, Jim Seabright, ex-whaler, slaver, pirate, and
bo's'n of the Highflyer, marooned in the South Pacific, where you found
the Lord--ha! ha!--and became the psalm-singing, converted American
sailor preacher!"

"I am not ashamed before men of my past, which every one knows,"
returned Seabright slowly. "But what of YOURS, Elisha Barker--YOURS
that has made you sham death itself to hide it from them? What of
YOURS--spent in the sloth of your ill-gotten gains! Turn, sinner, turn!
Turn, Elisha Braggs, while there is yet time!"

"Belay there, Brother Seabright; we're not INSIDE your gospel-shop just
now! Keep your palaver for those that need it. Let me pass, before I
have to teach you that you haven't to deal with a gang of hysterical old
women to-night."

"But not until you know that one of those women,--Vashti White,--by
God's grace converted of her sins, has confessed her secret and yours,
Elisha Barker! Yes! She has told me how her sister's husband--the father
of the young girl you are trying to lure away--helped you off that night
with your booty, took his miserable reward and lived and died in exile
with the rest of your wretched crew,--afraid to return to his home and
country--whilst you--shameless and impenitent--lived in slothful ease at
the Mission!"

"Liar! Let me pass!"

"Not until I know your purpose here to-night."

"Then take the consequences! Here, Pedro! Ramon! Seize him. Tie him head
and heels together, and toss him in the bush!"

The sound of scuffling recommenced. The struggle seemed fierce and long,
with no breath wasted in useless outcry. Then there was a bright flash,
a muffled report, and the stinging and fire of gunpowder at the window.

Transfixed with fear, Cissy cast a despairing glance around her. Ah,
the bell-rope! In another instant she had grasped it frantically in her
hands.

All the fear, indignation, horror, sympathy, and wild appeal for help
that had arisen helplessly in her throat and yet remained unuttered, now
seemed to thrill through her fingers and the tightened rope, and broke
into frantic voice in the clanging metal above her. The whole chapel,
the whole woodland, the clear, moonlit sky above was filled with its
alarming accents. It shrieked, implored, protested, summoned, and
threatened, in one ceaseless outcry, seeming to roll over and over--as,
indeed, it did--in leaps and bounds that shook the belfry. Never before,
even in the blows of the striking surges, had the bell of the Tamalpais
clamored like that! Once she heard above the turmoil the shaking of the
door against the bolt that still held firmly; once she thought she
heard Seabright's voice calling to her; once she thought she smelled
the strong smoke of burning grass. But she kept on, until the window was
suddenly darkened by a figure, and Brother Seabright, leaping in, caught
her in his arms as she was reeling fainting, but still clinging to the
rope. But his strong presence and some powerful magnetism in his touch
restored her.

"You have heard all!" he said.

"Yes."

"Then for your aunt's sake, for your dead father's sake, FORGET all!
That wretched man has fled with his wounded hirelings--let his sin
go with him. But the village is alarmed--the brethren may be here any
moment! Neither question nor deny what I shall tell them. Fear nothing.
God will forgive the silence that leaves the vengeance to His hands
alone!" Voices and footsteps were heard approaching the chapel. Brother
Seabright significantly pressed her hand and strode towards the door.
Deacon Shadwell was first to enter.

"You here--Brother Seabright! What has happened?"

"God be praised!" said Brother Seabright cheerfully, "nothing of
consequence! The danger is over! Yet, but for the courage and presence
of mind of Sister Appleby a serious evil might have been done." He
paused, and with another voice turned half-interrogatively towards her.
"Some children, or a passing tramp, had carelessly thrown matches in
the underbrush, and they were ignited beside the chapel. Sister Appleby,
chancing to return here for"--

"For my fan," said Cissy with a timid truthfulness of accent.

"Found herself unable to cope with it, and it occurred to her to give
the alarm you heard. I happened to be passing and was first to respond.
Happily the flames had made but little headway, and were quickly beaten
down. It is all over now. But let us hope that the speedy clearing out
of the underbrush and the opening of the woods around the chapel will
prevent any recurrence of the alarm of to-night."

*****

That the lesson thus reiterated by Brother Seabright was effective, the
following extract, from the columns of the "Whale Point Gazette," may
not only be offered as evidence, but may even give the cautious reader
further light on the episode itself:--


STRANGE DISCOVERY AT WEST WOODLANDS.--THE TAMALPAIS MYSTERY AGAIN.

The improvements in the clearing around the Sidon Chapel at West
Woodlands, undertaken by the Rev. James Seabright, have disclosed
another link in the mystery which surrounded the loss of the Tamalpais
some years ago at Whale Mouth Point. It will be remembered that the boat
containing Adams & Co.'s treasure, the Tamalpais' first officer, and
a crew of four men was lost on the rocks shortly after leaving the
ill-fated vessel. None of the bodies were ever recovered, and the
treasure itself completely baffled the search of divers and salvers. A
lidless box bearing the mark of Adams & Co., of the kind in which their
treasure was usually shipped, was yesterday found in the woods behind
the chapel, half buried in brush, bark, and windfalls. There were no
other indications, except the traces of a camp-fire at some remote
period, probably long before the building of the chapel. But how and
when the box was transported to the upland, and by whose agency, still
remains a matter of conjecture. Our reporter who visited the Rev. Mr.
Seabright, who has lately accepted the regular ministry of the chapel,
was offered every facility for information, but it was evident that the
early settlers who were cognizant of the fact--if there were any--are
either dead or have left the vicinity.




THE HOME-COMING OF JIM WILKES.


I.


For many minutes there had been no sound but the monotonous drumming of
the rain on the roof of the coach, the swishing of wheels through the
gravelly mud, and the momentary clatter of hoofs upon some rocky outcrop
in the road. Conversation had ceased; the light-hearted young editor in
the front seat, more than suspected of dangerous levity, had relapsed
into silence since the heavy man in the middle seat had taken to
regarding the ceiling with ostentatious resignation, and the thin female
beside him had averted her respectable bonnet. An occasional lurch of
the coach brought down a fringe of raindrops from its eaves that filmed
the windows and shut out the sodden prospect already darkening into
night. There had been a momentary relief in their hurried dash through
Summit Springs, and the spectacle of certain newly arrived County
Delegates crowding the veranda of its one hotel; but that was now three
miles behind. The young editor's sole resource was to occasionally steal
a glance at the face of the one passenger who seemed to be in sympathy
with him, but who was too far away for easy conversation. It was the
half-amused, half-perplexed face of a young man who had been for
some time regarding him from a remote corner of the coach with an odd
mingling of admiring yet cogitating interest, which, however, had never
extended to any further encouragement than a faint sad smile. Even this
at last faded out in the growing darkness; the powerful coach lamps on
either side that flashed on the wayside objects gave no light to the
interior. Everybody was slowly falling asleep. Suddenly everybody woke
up to find that the coach was apparently standing still! When it had
stopped no one knew! The young editor lowered his window. The coach lamp
on that side was missing, but nothing was to be seen. In the distance
there appeared to be a faint splashing.

"Well," called out an impatient voice from the box above; "what do you
make it?" It was the authoritative accents of Yuba Bill, the driver, and
everybody listened eagerly for the reply.

It came faintly from the distance and the splashing. "Almost four feet
here, and deepening as you go."

"Dead water?"

"No--back water from the Fork."

There was a general movement towards the doors and windows. The
splashing came nearer. Then a light flashed on the trees, the windows,
and--two feet of yellow water peacefully flowing beneath them! The thin
female gave a slight scream.

"There's no danger," said the Expressman, now wading towards them with
the coach lamp in his hand. "But we'll have to pull round out of it and
go back to the Springs. There's no getting past this break to-night."

"Why didn't you let us know this before," said the heavy man indignantly
from the window.

"Jim," said the driver with that slow deliberation which instantly
enforced complete attention.

"Yes, Bill."

"Have you got a spare copy of that reg'lar bulletin that the Stage
Kempany issoos every ten minutes to each passenger to tell 'em where we
are, how far it is to the next place, and wots the state o' the weather
gin'rally?"

"No!" said the Expressman grimly, as he climbed to the box, "there's not
one left. Why?"

"Cos the Emperor of Chiny's inside wantin' one! Hoop! Keep your seats
down there! G'lang!" the whip cracked, there was a desperate splashing,
a backward and forward jolting of the coach, the glistening wet flanks
and tossing heads of the leaders seen for a moment opposite the windows,
a sickening swirl of the whole body of the vehicle as if parting from
its axles, a long straight dragging pull, and--presently the welcome
sound of hoofs once more beating the firmer ground.

"Hi! Hold up--driver!"

It was the editor's quiet friend who was leaning from the window.

"Isn't Wilkes's ranch just off here?"

"Yes, half a mile along the ridge, I reckon," returned the driver
shortly.

"Well, if you're not going on to-night, I'd get off and stop there."

"I reckon your head's level, stranger," said Bill approvingly; "for
they're about chock full at the Springs' House."

To descend, the passenger was obliged to pass out by the middle seat
and before the young editor. As he did so he cast a shy look on him and,
leaning over, said hesitatingly, in a lower voice: "I don't think you
will be able to get in at the Springs Hotel. If--if--you care to come
with me to--to--the ranch, I can take care of you."

The young editor--a man of action--paused for an instant only. Then
seizing his bag, he said promptly: "Thank you," and followed his
newly-found friend to the ground. The whip cracked, the coach rolled
away.

"You know Wilkes?" he said.

"Ye-ee-s. He's my father."

"Ah," said the editor cheerfully, "then you're going home?"

"Yes."

It was quite light in the open, and the stranger, after a moment's
survey of the prospect,--a survey that, however, seemed to be
characterized by his previous hesitation,--said: "This way," crossed
the road, and began to follow a quite plain but long disused wagon track
along the slope. His manner was still so embarrassed that the young
editor, after gayly repeating his thanks for his companion's thoughtful
courtesy, followed him in silence. At the end of ten minutes they had
reached some cultivated fields and orchards; the stranger brightened,
although still with a preoccupied air, quickened his pace, and then
suddenly stopped. When the editor reached his side he was gazing with
apparently still greater perplexity upon the level, half obliterated,
and blackened foundations of what had been a large farmhouse.

"Why, it's been burnt down!" he said thoughtfully.

The editor stared at him! Burnt down it certainly had been, but by no
means recently. Grasses were already springing up from the charred
beams in the cellar, vines were trailing over the fallen chimneys,
excavations, already old, had been made among the ruins. "When were you
here last?" the editor asked abruptly.

"Five years ago," said the stranger abstractedly.

"Five years!--and you knew nothing of THIS?"

"No. I was in Tahiti, Australia, Japan, and China all the time."

"And you never heard from home?"

"No. You see I quo'led with the old man, and ran away."

"And you didn't write to tell them you were coming?"

"No." He hesitated, and then added: "Never thought o' coming till I saw
YOU."

"Me!"

"Yes; you and--the high water."

"Do you mean to say," said the young editor sharply, "that you brought
ME--an utter stranger to you--out of that coach to claim the hospitality
of a father you had quarreled with--hadn't seen for five years and
didn't know if he would receive you?"

"Yes,--you see that's just WHY I did it. You see, I reckoned my chances
would be better to see him along with a cheerful, chipper fellow
like you. I didn't, of course, kalkilate on this," he added, pointing
dejectedly to the ruins.

The editor gasped; then a sudden conception of the unrivaled absurdity
of the situation flashed upon him,--of his passively following the
amiable idiot at his side in order to contemplate, by the falling rain
and lonely night, a heap of sodden ruins, while the coach was speeding
to Summit Springs and shelter, and, above all, the reason WHY he was
invited,--until, putting down his bag, he leaned upon his stick, and
laughed until the tears came to his eyes.

At which his companion visibly brightened. "I told you so," he said
cheerfully; "I knew you'd be able to take it--and the old man--in THAT
WAY, and that would have fetched him round."

"For Heaven's sake! don't talk any more," said the editor, wiping his
eyes, "but try to remember if you ever had any neighbors about here
where we can stay tonight. We can't walk to Summit Springs, and we can't
camp out on these ruins."

"There didn't use to be anybody nearer than the Springs."

"But that was five years ago, you say," said the editor impatiently;
"and although your father probably moved away after the house burned
down, the country's been thickly settled since then. That field has been
lately planted. There must be another house beyond. Let's follow the
trail a little farther."

They tramped along in silence, this time the editor leading. Presently
he stopped. "There's a house--in there--among the trees," he said,
pointing. "Whose is it?"

The stranger shook his head dubiously. Although apparently unaffected by
any sentimental consideration of his father's misfortune, the spectacle
of the blackened ruins of the homestead had evidently shaken his
preconceived plans. "It wasn't there in MY time," he said musingly.

"But it IS there in OUR time," responded the editor briskly, "and I
propose to go there. From what you have told me of your father--even if
his house were still standing--our chances of getting supper and a bed
from him would be doubtful! I suppose," he continued as they moved on
together, "you left him in anger--five years ago?"

"Ye-es."

"Did he say anything as you left?"

"I don't remember anything particular that he SAID."

"Well, what did he DO?"

"Shot at me from the window!"

"Ah!" said the young editor softly. Nevertheless they walked on for some
time in silence. Gradually a white picket fence came into view at right
angles with the trail, and a man appeared walking leisurely along what
seemed to be the regularly traveled road, beside it. The editor, who had
taken matters in his own hands, without speaking to his companion, ran
quickly forward and accosted the stranger, briefly stating that he had
left the stage-coach with a companion, because it was stopped by high
water, and asked, without entering into further details, to be directed
to some place where they could pass the night. The man quite as briefly
directed him to the house among the trees, which he said was his own,
and then leisurely pursued his way along the road. The young editor
ran back to his companion, who had halted in the dripping shadow of a
sycamore, and recounted his good fortune.

"I didn't," he added, "say anything about your father. You can make
inquiries yourself later."

"I reckon there won't be much need of that," returned his companion.
"You didn't take much note o' that man, did you?"

"Not much," said the editor.

"Well, THAT'S MY FATHER, and I reckon that new house must be his."


II.


The young editor was a little startled. The man he had just quitted
certainly was not dangerous looking, and yet, remembering what his
son had said, there WERE homicidal possibilities. "Look here," he said
quickly, "he's not there NOW. Why don't you seize the opportunity to
slip into the house, make peace with your mother and sisters, and get
them to intercede with your father when he returns?"

"Thar ain't any mother; she died afore I left. My sister Almiry's a
little girl--though that's four years ago and mebbee she's growed.
My brothers and me didn't pull together much. But I was thinkin' that
mebbee YOU might go in thar for me first, and see how the land lays;
then sorter tell 'em 'bout me in your takin', chipper, easy way;
make 'em laugh, and when you've squared 'em--I'll be hangin' round
outside--you kin call ME in. Don't you see?"

The young editor DID see. Ridiculous as the proposal would have seemed
to him an hour ago, it now appeared practical, and even commended itself
to his taste. His name was well known in the county and his mediation
might be effective. Perhaps his vanity was slightly flattered by his
companion's faith in him; perhaps he was not free from a certain human
curiosity to know the rest; perhaps he was more interested than he cared
to confess in the helpless home-seeker beside him.

"But you must tell me something more of yourself, and your fortune and
prospects. They'll be sure to ask questions."

"Mebbee they won't. But you can say I've done well--made my pile over
in Australia, and ain't comin' on THEM. Remember--say I 'ain't comin' on
them'!"

The editor nodded, and then, as if fearful of letting his present
impulse cool, ran off towards the house.

It was large and respectable looking, and augured well for the present
fortunes of the Wilkes's. The editor had determined to attack the
citadel on its weaker, feminine side, and when the front door was opened
to his knock, asked to see Miss Almira Wilkes. The Irish servant showed
him into a comfortable looking sitting-room, and in another moment with
a quick rustle of skirts in the passage a very pretty girl impulsively
entered. From the first flash of her keen blue eyes the editor--a fair
student of the sex--conceived the idea that she had expected somebody
else; from the second that she was an arrant flirt, and did not intend
to be disappointed. This much was in his favor.

Spurred by her provoking eyes and the novel situation, he stated his
business with an airy lightness and humor that seemed to justify
his late companion's estimate of his powers. But even in his cynical
attitude he was unprepared for the girl's reception of his news. He had
expected some indignation or even harshness towards this man whom he was
beginning to consider as a kind of detrimental outcast or prodigal, but
he was astounded at the complete and utter indifference--the frank and
heartless unconcern--with which she heard of his return. When she had
followed the narrator rather than his story to the end, she languidly
called her brothers from the adjoining room. "This gentleman, Mr. Grey,
of the 'Argus,' has come across Jim--and Jim is calculating to come here
and see father."

The two brothers stared at Grey, slightly shrugged their shoulders with
the same utter absence of fraternal sympathy or concern which the girl
had shown, and said nothing.

"One moment," said Grey a little warmly; "I have no desire to penetrate
family secrets, but would you mind telling me if there is any grave
reason why he should not come. Was there any scandalous conduct,
unpardonable offense--let us even say--any criminal act on his part
which makes his return to this roof impossible?"

The three looked at each other with a dull surprise that ended in a
vacant wondering smile. "No, no," they said in one voice. "No, only"--

"Only what?" asked Grey impatiently.

"Dad just hates him!"

"Like pizon," smiled Almira.

The young editor rose with a slight increase of color. "Look here," said
the girl, whose dimples had deepened as she keenly surveyed him, as
if detecting some amorous artifice under his show of interest for her
brother. "Dad's gone down to the sheepfold and won't be back for an
hour. Yo' might bring--YO' FRIEND--in."

"He ain't wantin' anything? Ain't dead broke? nor nothin', eh?"
suggested one of the brothers dubiously.

Grey hastened to assure them of Jim's absolute solvency, and even
enlarged considerably on his Australian fortune. They looked relieved
but not interested.

"Go and fetch him," said the witch, archly hovering near Grey with
dancing eyes; "and mind YO' come back, too!"

Grey hesitated a moment and then passed out in the dark porch. A
dripping figure emerged from the trees opposite. It was Jim.

"Your sister and brothers will see you," said Grey hastily, to avoid
embarrassing details. "HE won't be here for an hour. But I'd advise you
to make the most of your time, and get the good-will of your sister."
He would have drawn back to let the prodigal pass in alone, but the man
appealingly seized his arm, and Grey was obliged to re-enter with him.
He noticed, however, that he breathed hard.

They turned slightly towards their relative, but did not offer to
shake hands with him, nor did he with them. He sat down sideways on an
unoffered chair. "The old house got burnt!" he said, wiping his lips,
and then drying his wet hair with his handkerchief.

As the remark was addressed to no one in particular it was some seconds
before the elder brother replied: "Yes."

"Almira's growed."

Again no one felt called upon to answer, and Almira glanced archly at
the young editor as if he might have added: "and improved."

"You've done well?" returned one of the brothers tentatively.

"Yes, I'm all right," said Jim.

There was another speechless interval. Even the conversational Grey felt
under some unhallowed spell of silence that he could not break.

"I see the old well is there yet," said Jim, wiping his lips again.

"Where dad was once goin' to chuck you down for givin' him back talk,"
said the younger brother casually.

To Mr. Grey's relief and yet astonishment, Jim burst into a loud laugh
and rubbed his legs. "That's so--how old times DO come back!"

"And," said the bright-eyed Almira, "there's that old butternut-tree that
you shinned up one day when we set the hounds on you. Goodness! how you
scooted!"

Again Jim laughed loudly and nodded. "Yes, the same old butternut. How
you DO remember, Almira?" This admiringly.

"And don't you remember Delia Short?" continued Almira, pleased at the
admiration, and perhaps a little exalted at the singular attention which
the young editor was giving to those cheerful reminiscences. "She, you
know, you was reg'larly sick after, so that we always allowed she kinder
turned yo' brain afore you went away! Well! all the while you were
courtin' her it appears she was secretly married to Jo--yo' friend--Jo
Stacy. Lord! there was a talk about that! and about yo' all along
thinkin' yo' had chances! Yo' friend here," with an arch glance at Grey,
"who's allus puttin' folks in the newspapers, orter get a hold on that!"

Jim again laughed louder than the others, and rubbed his lips. Grey,
however, offered only the tribute of a peculiar smile and walked to the
window. "You say your father will return in an hour?" he said, turning
to the elder brother.

"Yes, unless he kept on to Watson's."

"Where?" said Jim suddenly.

It struck Grey that his voice had changed--or rather that he was now
speaking for the first time in his natural tone.

"Watson's, just over the bridge," explained his brother. "If he went
there he won't be back till ten."

Jim picked up his India rubber cape and hat, said, "I reckon I'll just
take a turn outside until he gets back," and walked towards the door.
None of his relatives moved nor seemed to offer any opposition. Grey
followed him quickly. "I'll go with you," he said.

"No," returned Jim with singular earnestness. "You stay here and keep
'em up cheerful like this. They're doing all this for YOU, you know;
Almiry's just this chipper only on your account."

Seeing the young man was inflexible, Grey returned grimly to the room,
but not until he had noticed, with some surprise, that Jim, immediately
on leaving the house, darted off at a quick run through the rain and
darkness. Preoccupied with this, and perhaps still influenced by the
tone of the previous conversation, he did not respond readily to the
fair Almira's conversational advances, and was speedily left to a seat
by the fire alone. At the end of ten minutes he regretted he had ever
come; when half an hour had passed he wondered if he had not better try
to reach the Summit alone. With the lapse of an hour he began to feel
uneasy at Jim's prolonged absence in spite of the cold indifference
of the household. Suddenly he heard stamping in the porch, a muttered
exclamation, and the voices of the two brothers in the hall. "Why, dad!
what's up? Yo' look half drowned!"

The door opened upon the sodden, steaming figure of the old man whom he
had met on the road, followed by the two sons. But he was evidently
more occupied and possessed by some mental passion than by his physical
discomfort. Yet strong and dominant over both, he threw off his wet coat
and waistcoat as he entered, and marched directly to the fire. Utterly
ignoring the presence of a stranger, he suddenly turned and faced his
family.

"Half drowned. Yes! and I might have been hull drowned for that matter.
The back water of the Fork is all over Watson's, and the bridge is gone.
I stumbled onto this end of it in the dark, and went off, head first,
into twenty feet of water! Tried to fight my way out, but the current
was agin me. I'd bin down twice, and was going down for the third
time, when somebody grabbed me by the scruff o' my neck and under the
arm--so!--and swam me to the bank! When I scrambled up I sez: 'I can't
see your face,' sez I, 'I don't know who you are,' sez I, 'but I reckon
you're a white man and clear grit,' sez I, 'and there's my hand on it!'
And he grabs it and sez, 'We're quits,' and scooted out o' my sight.
And," continued the old man staring at their faces and raising his voice
almost to a scream, "who do you think it was? Why, THAT SNEAKIN' HOUND
OF A BROTHER OF YOURS--JIM! Jim! the scallawag that I booted outer the
ranch five years ago, crawlin', writhin' back again after all these
years to insult his old father's gray hairs! And some of you--by
God--once thought that I was hard on him!"

*****

The sun was shining brightly the next morning as the young editor halted
the up coach in the now dried hollow. As he was clambering to a seat
beside the driver, his elbow was jogged at the window. Looking down he
saw the face of Jim.

"We had a gay talk last night, remembering old times, didn't we?" said
the prodigal cheerfully.

"Yes, but--where are you going now?"

"Back to Australia, I reckon! But it was mighty good to drop in on the
old homestead once more!"

"Rather," said the editor, clinging to the window and lingering in
mid-air to the manifest impatience of Yuba Bill; "but I say--look
here!--were you QUITE satisfied?"

Jim's hand tightened around the young editor's as he answered
cheerfully, "Yes." But his face was turned away from the window.





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