An Ingenue of the Sierras by Bret Harte
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
"'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.
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," said Bill, "it means that this yer coach was PASSED THROUGH FREE
"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!"
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
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
"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:—
"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
"And you're taking them in your trunk to the other feller?" said Bill
"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?"
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
"Oh yes," she returned; "he's 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.
"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
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
"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.
"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
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
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?"
"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
"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
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!"
"He's tied up to that lying little she-devil, hard and fast!"