The Reformation of James Reddy by Bret Harte
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
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
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
"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."
"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
"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
"Yes, I know all THAT; pa told me. Told me you'd been given away by some
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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,
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
"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
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
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
She spoke first.
"You were at church. I didn't quite know you in—in—these
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
"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
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
"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
"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?"
"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
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
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
"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.
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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.