An Episode of West Woodlands by Bret Harte
The rain was dripping monotonously from the scant eaves of the little
church of the Sidon Brethren at West Woodlands. Hewn out of the very heart
of a thicket of buckeye spruce and alder, unsunned and unblown upon by any
wind, it was so green and unseasoned in its solitude that it seemed a part
of the arboreal growth, and on damp Sundays to have taken root again and
sprouted. There were moss and shining spots on the underside of the
unplaned rafters, little green pools of infusoria stood on the ledge of
the windows whose panes were at times suddenly clouded by mysterious
unknown breaths from without or within. It was oppressed with an
extravagance of leaves at all seasons, whether in summer, when green and
limp they crowded the porch, doorways, and shutters, or when penetrating
knot-holes and interstices of shingle and clapboard, on some creeping
vine, they unexpectedly burst and bourgeoned on the walls like banners; or
later, when they rotted in brown heaps in corners, outlined the edges of
the floor with a thin yellow border, or invaded the ranks of the
high-backed benches which served as pews.
There had been a continuous rustling at the porch and the shaking out of
waterproofs and closing of umbrellas until the half-filled church was
already redolent of damp dyes and the sulphur of India rubber. The eyes of
the congregation were turned to the door with something more than the
usual curiosity and expectation. For the new revivalist preacher from
Horse Shoe Bay was coming that morning. Already voices of authority were
heard approaching, and keeping up their conversation to the very door of
the sacred edifice in marked contrast with the awed and bashful
whisperings in the porch of the ordinary congregation. The worshipers
recognized the voices of Deacons Shadwell and Bradley; in the reverential
hush of the building they seemed charged with undue importance.
"It was set back in the road for quiet in the Lord's work," said Bradley.
"Yes, but it oughtn't be hidden! Let your light so shine before men, you
know, Brother Bradley," returned a deep voice, unrecognized and unfamiliar—presumably
that of the newcomer.
"It wouldn't take much to move it—on skids and rollers—nearer
to the road," suggested Shadwell tentatively.
"No, but if you left it stranded there in the wind and sun, green and
sappy as it is now, ye'd have every seam and crack startin' till the ribs
shone through, and no amount of calkin' would make it watertight agin. No;
my idea is—clear out the brush and shadder around it! Let the light
shine in upon it! Make the waste places glad around it, but keep it THERE!
And that's my idea o' gen'ral missionary work; that's how the gospel orter
Here the bell, which from the plain open four-posted belfry above had been
clanging with a metallic sharpness that had an odd impatient worldliness
about it, suddenly ceased.
"That bell," said Bradley's voice, with the same suggestion of conveying
important truths to the listening congregation within, "was took from the
wreck of the Tamalpais. Brother Horley bought it at auction at Horse Shoe
Bay and presented it. You know the Tamalpais ran ashore on Skinner's Reef,
jest off here."
"Yes, with plenty of sea room, not half a gale o' wind blowing, and her
real course fifty miles to westward! The whole watch must have drunk or
sunk in slothful idleness," returned the deep voice again. A momentary
pause followed, and then the two deacons entered the church with the
He appeared to be a powerfully-built man, with a square, beardless chin; a
face that carried one or two scars of smallpox and a deeper one of a less
peaceful suggestion, set in a complexion weather-beaten to the color of
Spanish leather. Two small, moist gray eyes, that glistened with every
emotion, seemed to contradict the hard expression of the other features.
He was dressed in cheap black, like the two deacons, with the exception of
a loose, black alpaca coat and the usual black silk neckerchief tied in a
large bow under a turndown collar,—the general sign and symbol of a
minister of his sect. He walked directly to the raised platform at the end
of the chapel, where stood a table on which was a pitcher of water, a
glass and hymnbook, and a tall upright desk holding a Bible. Glancing over
these details, he suddenly paused, carefully lifted some hitherto
undetected object from the desk beside the Bible, and, stooping gently,
placed it upon the floor. As it hopped away the congregation saw that it
was a small green frog. The intrusion was by no means an unusual one, but
some odd contrast between this powerful man and the little animal affected
them profoundly. No one—even the youngest—smiled; every one—even
the youngest—became suddenly attentive. Turning over the leaves of
the hymnbook, he then gave out the first two lines of a hymn. The choir
accordion in the front side bench awoke like an infant into wailing life,
and Cissy Appleby, soprano, took up a little more musically the lugubrious
chant. At the close of the verse the preacher joined in, after a sailor
fashion, with a breezy bass that seemed to fill the little building with
the trouble of the sea. Then followed prayer from Deacon Shadwell, broken
by "Amens" from the preacher, with a nautical suggestion of "Ay, ay,"
about them, and he began his sermon.
It was, as those who knew his methods might have expected, a suggestion of
the conversation they had already overheard. He likened the little chapel,
choked with umbrage and rotting in its dampness, to the gospel seed sown
in crowded places, famishing in the midst of plenty, and sterile from the
absorptions of the more active life around it. He pointed out again the
true work of the pioneer missionary; the careful pruning and elimination
of those forces that grew up with the Christian's life, which many people
foolishly believed were a part of it. "The WORLD must live and the WORD
must live," said they, and there were easy-going brethren who thought they
could live together. But he warned them that the World was always closing
upon—"shaddering"—and strangling the Word, unless kept down,
and that "fair seemin' settlement," or city, which appeared to be "bustin'
and bloomin'" with life and progress, was really "hustlin' and jostlin'"
the Word of God, even in the midst of these "fancy spires and steeples" it
had erected to its glory. It was the work of the missionary pioneer to
keep down or root out this carnal, worldly growth as much in the
settlement as in the wilderness. Some were for getting over the difficulty
by dragging the mere wasted "letter of the Word," or the rotten and
withered husks of it, into the highways and byways, where the "blazin'"
scorn of the World would finish it. A low, penitential groan from Deacon
Shadwell followed this accusing illustration. But the preacher would tell
them that the only way was to boldly attack this rankly growing World
around them; to clear out fresh paths for the Truth, and let the sunlight
of Heaven stream among them.
There was little doubt that the congregation was moved. Whatever they
might have thought of the application, the fact itself was patent. The
rheumatic Beaseleys felt the truth of it in their aching bones; it came
home to the fever and ague stricken Filgees in their damp seats against
the sappy wall; it echoed plainly in the chronic cough of Sister Mary
Strutt and Widow Doddridge; and Cissy Appleby, with her round brown eyes
fixed upon the speaker, remembering how the starch had been taken out of
her Sunday frocks, how her long ringlets had become uncurled, her frills
limp, and even her ribbons lustreless, felt that indeed a prophet had
arisen in Israel!
One or two, however, were disappointed that he had as yet given no
indication of that powerful exhortatory emotion for which he was famed,
and which had been said to excite certain corresponding corybantic
symptoms among his sensitive female worshipers. When the service was over,
and the congregation crowded around him, Sister Mary Strutt, on the outer
fringe of the assembly, confided to Sister Evans that she had "hearn tell
how that when he was over at Soquel he prayed that pow'ful that all the
wimmen got fits and tremblin' spells, and ole Mrs. Jackson had to be
hauled off his legs that she was kneelin' and claspin' while wrestling
with the Sperit."
"I reckon we seemed kinder strange to him this morning, and he wanted to
jest feel his way to our hearts first," exclaimed Brother Jonas Steers
politely. "He'll be more at home at evenin' service. It's queer that some
of the best exhortin' work is done arter early candlelight. I reckon he's
goin' to stop over with Deacon Bradley to dinner."
But it appeared that the new preacher, now formally introduced as Brother
Seabright, was intending to walk over to Hemlock Mills to dinner. He only
asked to be directed the nearest way; he would not trouble Brother
Shadwell or Deacon Bradley to come with him.
"But here's Cissy Appleby lives within a mile o' thar, and you could go
along with her. She'd jest admire to show you the way," interrupted
Brother Shadwell. "Wouldn't you, Cissy?"
Thus appealed to, the young chorister—a tall girl of sixteen or
seventeen—timidly raised her eyes to Brother Seabright as he was
about to repeat his former protestation, and he stopped.
"Ef the young lady IS goin' that way, it's only fair to accept her
kindness in a Christian sperit," he said gently.
Cissy turned with a mingling of apology and bashfulness towards a young
fellow who seemed to be acting as her escort, but who was hesitating in an
equal bashfulness, when Seabright added: "And perhaps our young friend
will come too?"
But the young friend drew back with a confused laugh, and Brother
Seabright and Cissy passed out from the porch together. For a few moments
they mingled with the stream and conversation of the departing
congregation, but presently Cissy timidly indicated a diverging bypath,
and they both turned into it.
It was much warmer in the open than it had been in the chapel and thicket,
and Cissy, by way of relieving a certain awkward tension of silence, took
off the waterproof cloak and slung it on her arm. This disclosed her five
long brown cable-like curls that hung down her shoulders, reaching below
her waist in some forgotten fashion of girlhood. They were Cissy's
peculiar adornment, remarkable for their length, thickness, and the
extraordinary youthfulness imparted to a figure otherwise precociously
matured. In some wavering doubt of her actual years and privileges,
Brother Seabright offered to carry her cloak for her, but she declined it
with a rustic and youthful pertinacity that seemed to settle the question.
In fact, Cissy was as much embarrassed as she was flattered by the company
of this distinguished stranger. However, it would be known to all West
Woodland that he had walked home with her, while nobody but herself would
know that they had scarcely exchanged a word. She noticed how he lounged
on with a heavy, rolling gait, sometimes a little before or behind her as
the path narrowed. At such times when they accidentally came in contact in
passing, she felt a half uneasy, physical consciousness of him, which she
referred to his size, the scars on his face, or some latent hardness of
expression, but was relieved to see that he had not observed it. Yet this
was the man that made grown women cry; she thought of old Mrs. Jackson
fervently grasping the plodding ankles before her, and a hysteric desire
to laugh, with the fear that he might see it on her face, overcame her.
Then she wondered if he was going to walk all the way home without
speaking, yet she knew she would be more embarrassed if he began to talk
Suddenly he stopped, and she bumped up against him.
"Oh, excuse me!" she stammered hurriedly.
"Eh?" He evidently had not noticed the collision. "Did you speak?"
"No!—that is—it wasn't anything," returned the girl, coloring.
But he had quite forgotten her, and was looking intently before him. They
had come to a break in the fringe of woodland, and upon a sudden view of
the ocean. At this point the low line of coast-range which sheltered the
valley of West Woodlands was abruptly cloven by a gorge that crumbled and
fell away seaward to the shore of Horse Shoe Bay. On its northern trend
stretched the settlement of Horse Shoe to the promontory of Whale Mouth
Point, with its outlying reef of rocks curved inwards like the vast
submerged jaw of some marine monster, through whose blunt, tooth-like
projections the ship-long swell of the Pacific streamed and fell. On the
southern shore the light yellow sands of Punta de las Concepcion glittered
like sunshine all the way to the olive-gardens and white domes of the
Mission. The two shores seemed to typify the two different climates and
civilizations separated by the bay.
The heavy, woodland atmosphere was quickened by the salt breath of the
sea. The stranger inhaled it meditatively.
"That's the reef where the Tamalpais struck," he said, "and more'n fifty
miles out of her course—yes, more'n fifty miles from where she
should have bin! It don't look nat'ral. No—it—don't—look—nat'ral!"
As he seemed to be speaking to himself, the young girl, who had been
gazing with far greater interest at the foreign-looking southern shore,
felt confused and did not reply. Then, as if recalling her presence,
Brother Seabright turned to her and said:—
"Yes, young lady; and when you hear the old bell of the Tamalpais, and
think of how it came here, you may rejoice in the goodness of the Lord
that made even those who strayed from the straight course and the true
reckoning the means of testifying onto Him."
But the young are quicker to detect attitudes and affectation than we are
apt to imagine; and Cissy could distinguish a certain other straying in
this afterthought or moral of the preacher called up by her presence, and
knew that it was not the real interest which the view had evoked. She had
heard that he had been a sailor, and, with the tact of her sex, answered
with what she thought would entertain him:—
"I was a little girl when it happened, and I heard that some sailors got
ashore down there, and climbed up this gully from the rocks below. And
they camped that night—for there were no houses at West Woodlands
then—just in the woods where our chapel now stands. It was funny,
wasn't it?—I mean," she corrected herself bashfully, "it was strange
they chanced to come just there?"
But she had evidently hit the point of interest.
"What became of them?" he said quickly. "They never came to Horse Shoe
Settlement, where the others landed from the wreck. I never heard of that
boat's crew or of ANY landing HERE."
"No. They kept on over the range south to the Mission. I reckon they
didn't know there was a way down on this side to Horse Shoe," returned
Brother Seabright moved on and continued his slow, plodding march. But he
kept a little nearer Cissy, and she was conscious that he occasionally
looked at her. Presently he said:—
"You have a heavenly gift, Miss Appleby."
Cissy flushed, and her hand involuntarily went to one of her long,
distinguishing curls. It might be THAT. The preacher continued:—
"Yes; a voice like yours is a heavenly gift. And you have properly devoted
it to His service. Have you been singing long?"
"About two years. But I've got to study a heap yet."
"The little birds don't think it necessary to study to praise Him," said
the preacher sententiously.
It occurred to Cissy that this was very unfair argument. She said quickly:—
"But the little birds don't have to follow words in the hymn-books. You
don't give out lines to larks and bobolinks," and blushed.
The preacher smiled. It was a very engaging smile, Cissy thought, that
lightened his hard mouth. It enabled her to take heart of grace, and
presently to chatter like the very birds she had disparaged. Oh yes; she
knew she had to learn a great deal more. She had studied "some" already.
She was taking lessons over at Point Concepcion, where her aunt had
friends, and she went three times a week. The gentleman who taught her was
not a Catholic, and, of course, he knew she was a Protestant. She would
have preferred to live there, but her mother and father were both dead,
and had left her with her aunt. She liked it better because it was sunnier
and brighter there. She loved the sun and warmth. She had listened to what
he had said about the dampness and gloom of the chapel. It was true. The
dampness was that dreadful sometimes it just ruined her clothes, and even
made her hoarse. Did he think they would really take his advice and clear
out the woods round the chapel?
"Would you like it?" he asked pleasantly.
"And you think you wouldn't pine so much for the sunshine and warmth of
"I'm not pining," said Cissy with a toss of her curls, "for anything or
anybody; but I think the woods ought to be cleared out. It's just as it
was when the runaways hid there."
"When the RUNAWAYS HID THERE!" said Brother Seabright quickly. "What
"Why, the boat's crew," said Cissy.
"Why do you call them runaways?"
"I don't know. Didn't YOU?" said Cissy simply. "Didn't you say they never
came back to Horse Shoe Bay. Perhaps I had it from aunty. But I know it's
damp and creepy; and when I was littler I used to be frightened to be
alone there practicing."
"Why?" said the preacher quickly.
"Oh, I don't know," hurried on Cissy, with a vague impression that she had
said too much. "Only my fancy, I guess."
"Well," said Brother Seabright after a pause; "we'll see what can be done
to make a clearing there. Birds sing best in the sunshine, and YOU ought
to have some say about it."
Cissy's dimples and blushes came together this time. "That's our house,"
she said suddenly, with a slight accent of relief, pointing to a
weather-beaten farmhouse on the edge of the gorge. "I turn off here, but
you keep straight on for the Mills; they're back in the woods a piece.
But," she stammered with a sudden sense of shame of forgotten hospitality,
"won't you come in and see aunty?"
"No, thank you, not now." He stopped, turning his gaze from the house to
her. "How old is your house? Was it there at the time of the wreck?"
"Yes," said Cissy.
"It's odd that the crew did not come there for help, eh?"
"Maybe they overlooked it in the darkness and the storm," said Cissy
simply. "Good-by, sir."
The preacher held her hand for an instant in his powerful, but gently
graduated grasp. "Good-by until evening service."
"Yes, sir," said Cissy.
The young girl tripped on towards her house a little agitated and
conscious, and yet a little proud as she saw the faces of her aunt, her
uncle, her two cousins, and even her discarded escort, Jo Adams, at the
windows, watching her.
"So," said her aunt, as she entered breathlessly, "ye walked home with the
preacher! It was a speshal providence and manifestation for ye, Cissy. I
hope ye was mannerly and humble—and profited by the words of grace."
"I don't know," said Cissy, putting aside her hat and cloak listlessly.
"He didn't talk much of anything—but the old wreck of the
"What?" said her aunt quickly.
"The wreck of the Tamalpais, and the boat's crew that came up the gorge,"
repeated the young girl.
"And what did HE know about the boat's crew?" said her aunt hurriedly,
fixing her black eyes on Cissy.
"Nothing except what I told him."
"What YOU told him!" echoed her aunt, with an ominous color filling the
sallow hollows of her cheek.
"Yes! He has been a sailor, you know—and I thought it would interest
him; and it did! He thought it strange."
"Cecilia Jane Appleby," said her aunt shrilly, "do you mean to say that
you threw away your chances of salvation and saving grace just to tell
gossiping tales that you knew was lies, and evil report, and false
"I only talked of what I'd heard, aunt Vashti," said Cecilia indignantly.
"And he afterwards talked of—of—my voice, and said I had a
heavenly gift," she added, with a slight quiver of her lip.
Aunt Vashti regarded the girl sharply.
"And you may thank the Lord for that heavenly gift," she said, in a
slightly lowered voice; "for ef ye hadn't to use it tonight, I'd shut ye
up in your room, to make it pay for yer foolish gaddin' TONGUE! And I
reckon I'll escort ye to chapel tonight myself, miss, and get shut o' some
of this foolishness."
The broad plaza of the Mission de la Concepcion had been baking in the
day-long sunlight. Shining drifts from the outlying sand dunes, blown
across the ill-paved roadway, radiated the heat in the faces of the few
loungers like the pricking of liliputian arrows, and invaded even the
cactus hedges. The hot air visibly quivered over the dark red tiles of the
tienda roof as if they were undergoing a second burning. The black shadow
of a chimney on the whitewashed adobe wall was like a door or cavernous
opening in the wall itself; the tops of the olive and pear trees seen
above it were russet and sere already in the fierce light. Even the moist
breath of the sea beyond had quite evaporated before it crossed the plaza,
and now rustled the leaves in the Mission garden with a dry, crepitant
Nevertheless, it seemed to Cissy Appleby, as she crossed the plaza, a very
welcome change from West Woodlands. Although the late winter rains had
ceased a month ago,—a few days after the revivalist preacher had
left,—the woods around the chapel were still sodden and heavy, and
the threatened improvement in its site had not taken place. Neither had
the preacher himself alluded to it again; his evening sermon—the
only other one he preached there—was unexciting, and he had, in
fact, left West Woodlands without any display of that extraordinary
exhortatory faculty for which he was famous. Yet Cissy, in spite of her
enjoyment of the dry, hot Mission, remembered him, and also recalled,
albeit poutingly, his blunt suggesting that she was "pining for it."
Nevertheless, she would like to have sung for him HERE—supposing it
was possible to conceive of a Sidon Brotherhood Chapel at the Mission. It
was a great pity, she thought, that the Sidon Brotherhood and the
Franciscan Brotherhood were not more brotherly TOWARDS EACH OTHER. Cissy
belonged to the former by hereditary right, locality, and circumstance,
but it is to be feared that her theology was imperfect.
She entered a lane between the Mission wall and a lighter iron fenced
inclosure, once a part of the garden, but now the appurtenance of a
private dwelling that was reconstructed over the heavy adobe shell of some
forgotten structure of the old ecclesiastical founders. It was pierced by
many windows and openings, and that sunlight and publicity which the
former padres had jealously excluded was now wooed from long balconies and
verandas by the new proprietor, a well to do American. Elisha Braggs,
whose name was generously and euphoniously translated by his native
neighbors into "Don Eliseo," although a heretic, had given largess to the
church in the way of restoring its earthquake-shaken tower, and in
presenting a new organ to its dilapidated choir. He had further endeared
himself to the conservative Spanish population by introducing no obtrusive
improvements; by distributing his means through the old channels; by
apparently inciting no further alien immigration, but contenting himself
to live alone among them, adopting their habits, customs, and language. A
harmless musical taste, and a disposition to instruct the young boy
choristers, was equally balanced by great skill in horsemanship and the
personal management of a ranche of wild cattle on the inland plains.
Consciously pretty, and prettily conscious in her white-starched,
rose-sprigged muslin, her pink parasol, beribboned gypsy hat, and the long
mane-like curls that swung over her shoulders, Cissy entered the house and
was shown to the large low drawing-room on the ground-floor. She once more
inhaled its hot potpourri fragrance, in which the spice of the Castilian
rose-leaves of the garden was dominant. A few boys, whom she recognized as
the choristers of the Mission and her fellow-pupils, were already awaiting
her with some degree of anxiety and impatience. This fact, and a certain
quick animation that sprang to the blue eyes of the master of the house as
the rose-sprigged frock and long curls appeared at the doorway, showed
that Cissy was clearly the favorite pupil.
Elisha Braggs was a man of middle age, with a figure somewhat rounded by
the adipose curves of a comfortable life, and an air of fastidiousness
which was, however, occasionally at variance with what seemed to be his
original condition. He greeted Cissy with a certain nervous
overconsciousness of his duties as host and teacher, and then plunged
abruptly into the lesson. It lasted an hour, Cissy tactfully dividing his
somewhat exclusive instruction with the others, and even interpreting it
to their slower comprehension. When it was over, the choristers shyly
departed, according to their usual custom, leaving Cissy and Don Eliseo—and
occasionally one of the padres to more informal practicing and
performance. Neither the ingenuousness of Cissy nor the worldly caution of
aunt Vashti had ever questioned the propriety of these prolonged and
secluded seances; and the young girl herself, although by no means
unaccustomed to the bashful attentions of the youth of West Woodlands, had
never dreamed of these later musical interviews as being anything but an
ordinary recreation of her art. The feeling of gratitude and kindness she
had for Don Eliseo, her aunt's friend, had never left her conscious or
embarrassed when she was alone with him. But to-day, possibly from his own
nervousness and preoccupation, she was aware of some vague uneasiness, and
at an early opportunity rose to go. But Don Eliseo gently laid his hand on
hers and said:—
"Don't go yet; I want to talk to you." His touch suddenly reminded her
that once or twice before he had done the same thing, and she had been
disagreeably impressed by it. But she lifted her brown eyes to his with an
unconsciousness that was more crushing than a withdrawal of her hand, and
waited for him to go on.
"It is such a long way for you to come, and you have so little time to
stay when you are here, that I am thinking of asking your aunt to let you
live here at the Mission, as a pupil, in the house of the Senora
Hernandez, until your lessons are finished. Padre Jose will attend to the
rest of your education. Would you like it?"
Poor Cissy's eyes leaped up in unaffected and sparkling affirmation before
her tongue replied. To bask in this beloved sunshine for days together; to
have this quaint Spanish life before her eyes, and those soft Spanish
accents in her ears; to forget herself in wandering in the old-time
Mission garden beyond; to have daily access to Mr. Braggs's piano and the
organ of the church—this was indeed the realization of her fondest
dreams! Yet she hesitated. Somewhere in her inherited Puritan nature was a
vague conviction that it was wrong, and it seemed even to find an echo in
the warning of the preacher: this was what she was "pining for."
"I don't know," she stammered. "I must ask auntie; I shouldn't like to
leave her; and there's the chapel."
"Isn't that revivalist preacher enough to run it for a while?" said her
The remark was not a tactful one.
"Mr. Seabright hasn't been here for a month," she answered somewhat
quickly. "But he's coming next Sunday, and I'm glad of it. He's a very
good man. And there's nothing he don't notice. He saw how silly it was to
stick the chapel into the very heart of the woods, and he told them so."
"And I suppose he'll run up a brand-new meeting-house out on the road,"
said Braggs, smiling.
"No, he's going to open up the woods, and let the sun and light in, and
clear out the underbrush."
"And what's that for?"
There was such an utter and abrupt change in the speaker's voice and
manner—which until then had been lazily fastidious and confident—that
Cissy was startled. And the change being rude and dictatorial, she was
startled into opposition. She had wanted to say that the improvement had
been suggested by HER, but she took a more aggressive attitude.
"Brother Seabright says it's a question of religion and morals. It's a
scandal and a wrong, and a disgrace to the Word, that the chapel should
have been put there."
Don Eliseo's face turned so white and waxy that Cissy would have noticed
it had she not femininely looked away while taking this attitude.
"I suppose that's a part of his sensation style, and very effective," he
said, resuming his former voice and manner. "I must try to hear him some
day. But, now, in regard to your coming here, of course I shall consult
your aunt, although I imagine she will have no objection. I only wanted to
know how YOU felt about it." He again laid his hand on hers.
"I should like to come very much," said Cissy timidly; "and it's very kind
of you, I'm sure; but you'll see what auntie says, won't you?" She
withdrew her hand after momentarily grasping his, as if his own act had
been only a parting salutation, and departed.
Aunt Vashti received Cissy's account of her interview with a grim
satisfaction. She did not know what ideas young gals had nowadays, but in
HER time she'd been fit to jump outer her skin at such an offer from such
a good man as Elisha Braggs. And he was a rich man, too. And ef he was
goin' to give her an edication free, it wasn't goin' to stop there. For
her part, she didn't like to put ideas in young girls' heads,—goodness
knows they'd enough foolishness already; but if Cissy made a Christian use
of her gifts, and 'tended to her edication and privileges, and made
herself a fit helpmeet for any man, she would say that there were few men
in these parts that was as "comf'ble ketch" as Lish Braggs, or would make
as good a husband and provider.
The blood suddenly left Cissy's cheeks and then returned with
uncomfortable heat. Her aunt's words had suddenly revealed to her the
meaning of the uneasiness she had felt in Braggs's house that morning—the
old repulsion that had come at his touch. She had never thought of him as
a suitor or a beau before, yet it now seemed perfectly plain to her that
this was the ulterior meaning of his generosity. And yet she received that
intelligence with the same mixed emotions with which she had received his
offer to educate her. She did not conceal from herself the pride and
satisfaction she felt in this presumptive selection of her as his wife;
the worldly advantages that it promised; nor that it was a destiny far
beyond her deserts. Yet she was conscious of exactly the same sense of
wrong-doing in her preferences—something that seemed vaguely akin to
that "conviction of sin" of which she had heard so much—as when she
received his offer of education. It was this mixture of fear and
satisfaction that caused her alternate paling and flushing, yet this time
it was the fear that came first. Perhaps she was becoming unduly
sensitive. The secretiveness of her sex came to her aid here, and she
awkwardly changed the subject. Aunt Vashti, complacently believing that
her words had fallen on fruitful soil, discreetly said no more.
It was a hot morning when Cissy walked alone to chapel early next Sunday.
There was a dry irritation in the air which even the northwest trades,
blowing through the seaward gorge, could not temper, and for the first
time in her life she looked forward to the leafy seclusion of the buried
chapel with a feeling of longing. She had avoided her youthful escort, for
she wished to practice alone for an hour before the service with the new
harmonium that had taken the place of the old accordion and its unskillful
performer. Perhaps, too, there was a timid desire to be at her best on the
return of Brother Seabright, and to show him, with a new performance, that
the "heavenly gift" had not been neglected. She opened the chapel with the
key she always carried, "swished" away an intrusive squirrel, left the
door and window open for a moment, until the beating of frightened wings
against the rafters had ceased, and, after carefully examining the floor
for spiders, mice, and other creeping things, brushed away a few fallen
leaves and twigs from the top of the harmonium. Then, with her long curls
tossed over her shoulders and hanging limply down the back of her new
maple-leaf yellow frock,—which was also a timid recognition of
Brother Seabright's return,—and her brown eyes turned to the
rafters, this rustic St. Cecilia of the Coast Range began to sing. The
shell of the little building dilated with the melody; the sashes of the
windows pulsated, the two ejected linnets joined in timidly from their
coign of vantage in the belfry outside, and the limp vines above the porch
swayed like her curls. Once she thought she heard stealthy footsteps
without; once she was almost certain she felt the brushing of somebody
outside against the thin walls of the chapel, and once she stopped to
glance quickly at the window with a strange instinct that some one was
looking at her. But she quickly reflected that Brother Seabright would
come there only when the deacons did, and with them. Why she should think
that it was Brother Seabright, or why Brother Seabright should come thus
and at such a time, she could not have explained.
He did not, in fact, make his appearance until later, and after the
congregation had quite filled the chapel; he did not, moreover, appear to
notice her as she sat there, and when he gave out the hymn he seemed to
have quietly overlooked the new harmonium. She sang her best, however, and
more than one of the audience thought that "little Sister Appleby" had
greatly improved. Indeed, it would not have seemed strange to some—remembering
Brother Seabright's discursive oratory—if he had made some allusion
to it. But he did not. His heavy eyes moved slowly over the congregation,
and he began.
As usual he did not take a text. But he would talk to them that morning
about "The Conviction of Sin" and the sense of wrong-doing that was innate
in the sinner. This included all form of temptation, for what was
temptation but the inborn consciousness of something to struggle against,
and that was sin! At this apparently concise exposition of her own
feelings in regard to Don Eliseo's offer, Cissy felt herself blushing to
the roots of her curls. Could it be possible that Brother Seabright had
heard of her temptation to leave West Woodlands, and that this warning was
intended for her? He did not even look in her direction. Yet his next
sentence seemed to be an answer to her own mental query.
"Folks might ask," he continued, "if even the young and inexperienced
should feel this—or was there a state of innocent guilt without
consciousness?" He would answer that question by telling them what had
happened to him that morning. He had come to the chapel, not by the road,
but through the tangled woods behind them (Cissy started)—through
the thick brush and undergrowth that was choking the life out of this
little chapel—the wilderness that he had believed was never before
trodden by human feet, and was known only to roaming beasts and vermin.
But that was where he was wrong.
In the stillness and listening silence, a sudden cough from some one in
one of the back benches produced that instantaneous diversion of attention
common to humanity on such occasions. Cissy's curls swung round with the
others. But she was surprised to see that Mr. Braggs was seated in one of
the benches near the door, and from the fact of his holding a handkerchief
to his mouth, and being gazed at by his neighbors, it was evident that it
was he who had coughed. Perhaps he had come to West Woodlands to talk to
her aunt! With the preacher before her, and her probable suitor behind
her, she felt herself again blushing.
Brother Seabright continued. Yes, he was WRONG, for there before him, in
the depths of the forest, were two children. They were looking at a bush
of "pizon berries,"—the deadly nightshade, as it was fitly called,—and
one was warning the other of its dangerous qualities.
"But how do you know it's the 'pizon berry'?" asked the other.
"Because it's larger, and nicer, and bigger, and easier to get than the
real good ones," returned the other.
And it was so. Thus was the truth revealed from the mouths of babes and
sucklings; even they were conscious of temptation and sin! But here there
was another interruption from the back benches, which proved, however, to
be only the suppressed giggle of a boy—evidently the youthful hero
of the illustration, surprised into nervous hilarity.
The preacher then passed to the "Conviction of Sin" in its more familiar
phases. Many brothers confounded this with DISCOVERY AND PUBLICITY. It was
not their own sin "finding them out," but others discovering it. Until
that happened, they fancied themselves safe, stilling their consciences,
confounding the blinded eye of the world with the all-seeing eye of the
Lord. But were they safe even then? Did not sooner or later the sea
deliver up its dead, the earth what was buried in it, the wild woods what
its depths had hidden? Was not the foolish secret, the guilty secret, the
forgotten sin, sure to be disclosed? Then if they could not fly from the
testimony of His works, if they could not evade even their fellow-man, why
did they not first turn to Him? Why, from the penitent child at his
mother's knee to the murderer on the scaffold, did they only at THE LAST
confess unto Him?
His voice and manner had suddenly changed. From the rough note of
accusation and challenge it had passed into the equally rough, but broken
and sympathetic, accents of appeal. Why did they hesitate longer to
confess their sin—not to man—but unto Him? Why did they delay?
Now—that evening! That very moment! This was the appointed time! He
entreated them in the name of religious faith, in the name of a human
brotherly love. His delivery was now no longer deliberate, but hurried and
panting; his speech now no longer chosen, but made up of reiterations and
repetitions, ejaculations, and even incoherent epithets. His gestures and
long intonations which began to take the place of even that interrupted
speech affected them more than his reasoning! Short sighs escaped them;
they swayed to and fro with the rhythm of his voice and movements. They
had begun to comprehend this exacerbation of emotion—this paroxysmal
rhapsody. This was the dithyrambic exaltation they had ardently waited
for. They responded quickly. First with groans, equally inarticulate
murmurs of assent, shouts of "Glory," and the reckless invocation of
sacred names. Then a wave of hysteria seemed to move the whole mass, and
broke into tears and sobs among the women. In her own excited
consciousness it seemed to Cissy that some actual struggle between good
and evil—like unto the casting out of devils—was shaking the
little building. She cast a hurried glance behind her and saw Mr. Braggs
sitting erect, white and scornful. She knew that she too was shrinking
from the speaker,—not from any sense of conviction, but because he
was irritating and disturbing her innate sense of fitness and harmony,—and
she was pained that Mr. Braggs should see him thus. Meantime the weird,
invisible struggle continued, heightened and, it seemed to her, incited by
the partisan groans and exultant actions of those around her, until
suddenly a wild despairing cry arose above the conflict. A vague fear
seized her—the voice was familiar! She turned in time to see the
figure of aunt Vashti rise in her seat with a hysterical outburst, and
fall convulsively forward upon her knees! She would have rushed to her
side, but the frenzied woman was instantly caught by Deacon Shadwell and
surrounded by a group of her own sex and became hidden. And when Cissy
recovered herself she was astonished to find Brother Seabright—with
every trace of his past emotion vanished from his hard-set face—calmly
taking up his coherent discourse in his ordinary level tones. The furious
struggle of the moment before was over; the chapel and its congregation
had fallen back into an exhausted and apathetic silence! Then the preacher
gave out the hymn—the words were singularly jubilant among that
usually mournful collection in the book before her—and Cissy began
it with a tremulous voice. But it gained strength, clearness, and volume
as she went on, and she felt thrilled throughout with a new human sympathy
she had never known before. The preacher's bass supported her now for the
first time not unmusically—and the service was over.
Relieved, she turned quickly to join her aunt, but a hand was laid gently
upon her shoulder. It was Brother Seabright, who had just stepped from the
platform. The congregation, knowing her to be the niece of the hysteric
woman, passed out without disturbing them.
"You have, indeed, improved your gift, Sister Cecilia," he said gravely.
"You must have practiced much."
"Yes—that is, no!—only a little," stammered Cissy.
"But, excuse me, I must look after auntie," she added, drawing timidly
"Your aunt is better, and has gone on with Sister Shadwell. She is not in
need of your help, and really would do better without you just now. I
shall see her myself presently."
"But YOU made her sick already," said Cissy, with a sudden, half-nervous
audacity. "You even frightened ME."
"Frightened you?" repeated Seabright, looking at her quickly.
"Yes," said Cissy, meeting his gaze with brown, truthful eyes. "Yes, when
you—when you—made those faces. I like to hear you talk, but"—she
Brother Seabright's rare smile again lightened his face. But it seemed
sadder than when she had first seen it.
"Then you have been practicing again at the Mission?" he said quietly;
"and you still prefer it?"
"Yes," said Cissy. She wanted to appear as loyal to the Mission in Brother
Seabright's presence as she was faithful to West Woodlands in Mr.
Braggs's. She had no idea that this was dangerously near to coquetry. So
she said a little archly, "I don't see why YOU don't like the Mission.
You're a missionary yourself. The old padres came here to spread the Word.
So do you."
"But not in that way," he said curtly. "I've seen enough of them when I
was knocking round the world a seafaring man and a sinner. I knew them—receivers
of the ill-gotten gains of adventurers, fools, and scoundrels. I knew them—enriched
by the spoils of persecution and oppression; gathering under their walls
outlaws and fugitives from justice, and flinging an indulgence here and an
absolution there, as they were paid for it. Don't talk to me of THEM—I
They were passing out of the chapel together, and he made an impatient
gesture as if dismissing the subject. Accustomed though she was to the
sweeping criticism of her Catholic friends by her West Woodlands
associates, she was nevertheless hurt by his brusqueness. She dropped a
little behind, and they separated at the porch. Notwithstanding her
anxiety to see her aunt, she felt she could not now go to Deacon
Shadwell's without seeming to follow him—and after he had assured
her that her help was not required! She turned aside and made her way
slowly towards her home.
There she found that her aunt had not returned, gathering from her uncle
that she was recovering from a fit of "high strikes" (hysterics), and
would be better alone. Whether he underrated her complaint, or had a
consciousness of his masculine helplessness in such disorders, he
evidently made light of it. And when Cissy, afterwards, a little ashamed
that she had allowed her momentary pique against Brother Seabright to
stand in the way of her duty, determined to go to her aunt, instead of
returning to the chapel that evening, he did not oppose it. She learned
also that Mr. Braggs had called in the morning, but, finding that her aunt
Vashti was at chapel, he had followed her there, intending to return with
her. But he had not been seen since the service, and had evidently
returned to the Mission.
But when she reached Deacon Shadwell's house she was received by Mrs.
Shadwell only. Her aunt, said that lady, was physically better, but
Brother Seabright had left "partkler word" that she was to see nobody. It
was an extraordinary case of "findin' the Lord," the like of which had
never been known before in West Woodlands, and she (Cissy) would yet be
proud of one of her "fammerly being speshally selected for grace." But the
"workin's o' salvation was not to be finicked away on worldly things or
even the affections of the flesh;" and if Cissy really loved her aunt,
"she wouldn't interfere with her while she was, so to speak, still on the
mourners' bench, wrastlin' with the Sperret in their back sittin'-room."
But she might wait until Brother Seabright's return from evening chapel
Cissy waited. Nine o'clock came, but Brother Seabright did not return.
Then a small but inconsequent dignity took possession of her, and she
slightly tossed her long curls from her shoulders. She was not going to
wait for any man's permission to see her own aunt. If auntie did not want
to see her, that was enough. She could go home alone. She didn't want any
one to go with her.
Lifted and sustained by these lofty considerations, with an erect head and
slightly ruffled mane, well enwrapped in a becoming white merino "cloud,"
the young girl stepped out on her homeward journey. She had certainly
enough to occupy her mind and, perhaps, justify her independence. To have
a suitor for her hand in the person of the superior and wealthy Mr.
Braggs,—for that was what his visit that morning to West Woodlands
meant,—and to be personally complimented on her improvement by the
famous Brother Seabright, all within twelve hours, was something to be
proud of, even although it was mitigated by her aunt's illness, her
suitor's abrupt departure, and Brother Seabright's momentary coldness and
impatience. Oddly enough, this last and apparently trivial circumstance
occupied her thoughts more than the others. She found herself looking out
for him in the windings of the moonlit road, and when, at last, she
reached the turning towards the little wood and chapel, her small feet
unconsciously lingered until she felt herself blushing under her fleecy
"cloud." She looked down the lane. From the point where she was standing
the lights of the chapel should have been plainly visible; but now all was
dark. It was nearly ten o'clock, and he must have gone home by another
road. Then a spirit of adventure seized her. She had the key of the chapel
in her pocket. She remembered she had left a small black Spanish fan—a
former gift of Mr. Braggs lying on the harmonium. She would go and bring
it away, and satisfy herself that Brother Seabright was not there still.
It was but a step, and in the clear moonlight.
The lane wound before her like a silver stream, except where it was
interrupted and bridged over by jagged black shadows. The chapel itself
was black, the clustering trees around it were black also; the porch
seemed to cover an inky well of shadow; the windows were rayless and dead,
and in the chancel one still left open showed a yawning vault of obscurity
within. Nevertheless, she opened the door softly, glided into the dark
depths, and made her way to the harmonium. But here the sound of footsteps
without startled her; she glanced hurriedly through the open window, and
saw the figure of Elisha Braggs suddenly revealed in the moonlight as he
crossed the path behind the chapel. He was closely followed by two peons,
whom she recognized as his servants at the Mission, and they each carried
a pickaxe. From their manner it was evident that they had no suspicion of
her presence in the chapel. But they had stopped and were listening. Her
heart beat quickly; with a sudden instinct she ran and bolted the door.
But it was evidently another intruder they were watching, for she
presently saw Brother Seabright quietly cross the lane and approach the
chapel. The three men had disappeared; but there was a sudden shout, the
sound of scuffling, the deep voice of Brother Seabright saying, "Back,
there, will you! Hands off!" and a pause. She could see nothing; she
listened in every pulse. Then the voice of Brother Seabright arose again
quite clearly, slowly, and as deliberately as if it had risen from the
platform in the chapel.
"Lish Barker! I thought as much! Lish Barker, first mate of the Tamalpais,
who was said to have gone down with a boat's crew and the ship's treasure
after she struck. I THOUGHT I knew that face today."
"Yes," said the voice of him whom she had known as Elisha Braggs,—"yes,
and I knew YOUR face, Jim Seabright, ex-whaler, slaver, pirate, and bo's'n
of the Highflyer, marooned in the South Pacific, where you found the Lord—ha!
ha!—and became the psalm-singing, converted American sailor
"I am not ashamed before men of my past, which every one knows," returned
Seabright slowly. "But what of YOURS, Elisha Barker—YOURS that has
made you sham death itself to hide it from them? What of YOURS—spent
in the sloth of your ill-gotten gains! Turn, sinner, turn! Turn, Elisha
Braggs, while there is yet time!"
"Belay there, Brother Seabright; we're not INSIDE your gospel-shop just
now! Keep your palaver for those that need it. Let me pass, before I have
to teach you that you haven't to deal with a gang of hysterical old women
"But not until you know that one of those women,—Vashti White,—by
God's grace converted of her sins, has confessed her secret and yours,
Elisha Barker! Yes! She has told me how her sister's husband—the
father of the young girl you are trying to lure away—helped you off
that night with your booty, took his miserable reward and lived and died
in exile with the rest of your wretched crew,—afraid to return to
his home and country—whilst you—shameless and impenitent—lived
in slothful ease at the Mission!"
"Liar! Let me pass!"
"Not until I know your purpose here to-night."
"Then take the consequences! Here, Pedro! Ramon! Seize him. Tie him head
and heels together, and toss him in the bush!"
The sound of scuffling recommenced. The struggle seemed fierce and long,
with no breath wasted in useless outcry. Then there was a bright flash, a
muffled report, and the stinging and fire of gunpowder at the window.
Transfixed with fear, Cissy cast a despairing glance around her. Ah, the
bell-rope! In another instant she had grasped it frantically in her hands.
All the fear, indignation, horror, sympathy, and wild appeal for help that
had arisen helplessly in her throat and yet remained unuttered, now seemed
to thrill through her fingers and the tightened rope, and broke into
frantic voice in the clanging metal above her. The whole chapel, the whole
woodland, the clear, moonlit sky above was filled with its alarming
accents. It shrieked, implored, protested, summoned, and threatened, in
one ceaseless outcry, seeming to roll over and over—as, indeed, it
did—in leaps and bounds that shook the belfry. Never before, even in
the blows of the striking surges, had the bell of the Tamalpais clamored
like that! Once she heard above the turmoil the shaking of the door
against the bolt that still held firmly; once she thought she heard
Seabright's voice calling to her; once she thought she smelled the strong
smoke of burning grass. But she kept on, until the window was suddenly
darkened by a figure, and Brother Seabright, leaping in, caught her in his
arms as she was reeling fainting, but still clinging to the rope. But his
strong presence and some powerful magnetism in his touch restored her.
"You have heard all!" he said.
"Then for your aunt's sake, for your dead father's sake, FORGET all! That
wretched man has fled with his wounded hirelings—let his sin go with
him. But the village is alarmed—the brethren may be here any moment!
Neither question nor deny what I shall tell them. Fear nothing. God will
forgive the silence that leaves the vengeance to His hands alone!" Voices
and footsteps were heard approaching the chapel. Brother Seabright
significantly pressed her hand and strode towards the door. Deacon
Shadwell was first to enter.
"You here—Brother Seabright! What has happened?"
"God be praised!" said Brother Seabright cheerfully, "nothing of
consequence! The danger is over! Yet, but for the courage and presence of
mind of Sister Appleby a serious evil might have been done." He paused,
and with another voice turned half-interrogatively towards her. "Some
children, or a passing tramp, had carelessly thrown matches in the
underbrush, and they were ignited beside the chapel. Sister Appleby,
chancing to return here for"—
"For my fan," said Cissy with a timid truthfulness of accent.
"Found herself unable to cope with it, and it occurred to her to give the
alarm you heard. I happened to be passing and was first to respond.
Happily the flames had made but little headway, and were quickly beaten
down. It is all over now. But let us hope that the speedy clearing out of
the underbrush and the opening of the woods around the chapel will prevent
any recurrence of the alarm of to-night."
That the lesson thus reiterated by Brother Seabright was effective, the
following extract, from the columns of the "Whale Point Gazette," may not
only be offered as evidence, but may even give the cautious reader further
light on the episode itself:—
STRANGE DISCOVERY AT WEST WOODLANDS.—THE TAMALPAIS MYSTERY AGAIN.
The improvements in the clearing around the Sidon Chapel at West
Woodlands, undertaken by the Rev. James Seabright, have disclosed another
link in the mystery which surrounded the loss of the Tamalpais some years
ago at Whale Mouth Point. It will be remembered that the boat containing
Adams & Co.'s treasure, the Tamalpais' first officer, and a crew of
four men was lost on the rocks shortly after leaving the ill-fated vessel.
None of the bodies were ever recovered, and the treasure itself completely
baffled the search of divers and salvers. A lidless box bearing the mark
of Adams & Co., of the kind in which their treasure was usually
shipped, was yesterday found in the woods behind the chapel, half buried
in brush, bark, and windfalls. There were no other indications, except the
traces of a camp-fire at some remote period, probably long before the
building of the chapel. But how and when the box was transported to the
upland, and by whose agency, still remains a matter of conjecture. Our
reporter who visited the Rev. Mr. Seabright, who has lately accepted the
regular ministry of the chapel, was offered every facility for
information, but it was evident that the early settlers who were cognizant
of the fact—if there were any—are either dead or have left the