Salomy Jane's Kiss by Bret Harte
Only one shot had been fired. It had gone wide of its mark,—the
ringleader of the Vigilantes,—and had left Red Pete, who had fired
it, covered by their rifles and at their mercy. For his hand had been
cramped by hard riding, and his eye distracted by their sudden onset, and
so the inevitable end had come. He submitted sullenly to his captors; his
companion fugitive and horse-thief gave up the protracted struggle with a
feeling not unlike relief. Even the hot and revengeful victors were
content. They had taken their men alive. At any time during the long chase
they could have brought them down by a rifle shot, but it would have been
unsportsmanlike, and have ended in a free fight, instead of an example.
And, for the matter of that, their doom was already sealed. Their end, by
a rope and a tree, although not sanctified by law, would have at least the
deliberation of justice. It was the tribute paid by the Vigilantes to that
order which they had themselves disregarded in the pursuit and capture.
Yet this strange logic of the frontier sufficed them, and gave a certain
dignity to the climax.
"Ef you've got anything to say to your folks, say it NOW, and say it
quick," said the ringleader.
Red Pete glanced around him. He had been run to earth at his own cabin in
the clearing, whence a few relations and friends, mostly women and
children, non-combatants, had outflowed, gazing vacantly at the twenty
Vigilantes who surrounded them. All were accustomed to scenes of violence,
blood-feud, chase, and hardship; it was only the suddenness of the onset
and its quick result that had surprised them. They looked on with dazed
curiosity and some disappointment; there had been no fight to speak of—no
spectacle! A boy, nephew of Red Pete, got upon the rain-barrel to view the
proceedings more comfortably; a tall, handsome, lazy Kentucky girl, a
visiting neighbor, leaned against the doorpost, chewing gum. Only a yellow
hound was actively perplexed. He could not make out if a hunt were just
over or beginning, and ran eagerly backwards and forwards, leaping
alternately upon the captives and the captors.
The ringleader repeated his challenge. Red Pete gave a reckless laugh and
looked at his wife.
At which Mrs. Red Pete came forward. It seemed that she had much to say,
incoherently, furiously, vindictively, to the ringleader. His soul would
roast in hell for that day's work! He called himself a man, skunkin' in
the open and afraid to show himself except with a crowd of other "Kiyi's"
around a house of women and children. Heaping insult upon insult,
inveighing against his low blood, his ancestors, his dubious origin, she
at last flung out a wild taunt of his invalid wife, the insult of a woman
to a woman, until his white face grew rigid, and only that
Western-American fetich of the sanctity of sex kept his twitching fingers
from the lock of his rifle. Even her husband noticed it, and with a
half-authoritative "Let up on that, old gal," and a pat of his freed left
hand on her back, took his last parting. The ringleader, still white under
the lash of the woman's tongue, turned abruptly to the second captive.
"And if YOU'VE got anybody to say 'good-by' to, now's your chance."
The man looked up. Nobody stirred or spoke. He was a stranger there, being
a chance confederate picked up by Red Pete, and known to no one. Still
young, but an outlaw from his abandoned boyhood, of which father and
mother were only a forgotten dream, he loved horses and stole them, fully
accepting the frontier penalty of life for the interference with that
animal on which a man's life so often depended. But he understood the good
points of a horse, as was shown by the ones he bestrode—until a few
days before the property of Judge Boompointer. This was his sole
The unexpected question stirred him for a moment out of the attitude of
reckless indifference, for attitude it was, and a part of his profession.
But it may have touched him that at that moment he was less than his
companion and his virago wife. However, he only shook his head. As he did
so his eye casually fell on the handsome girl by the doorpost, who was
looking at him. The ringleader, too, may have been touched by his complete
loneliness, for HE hesitated. At the same moment he saw that the girl was
looking at his friendless captive.
A grotesque idea struck him.
"Salomy Jane, ye might do worse than come yere and say 'good-by' to a
dying man, and him a stranger," he said.
There seemed to be a subtle stroke of poetry and irony in this that
equally struck the apathetic crowd. It was well known that Salomy Jane
Clay thought no small potatoes of herself, and always held off the local
swain with a lazy nymph-like scorn. Nevertheless, she slowly disengaged
herself from the doorpost, and, to everybody's astonishment, lounged with
languid grace and outstretched hand towards the prisoner. The color came
into the gray reckless mask which the doomed man wore as her right hand
grasped his left, just loosed by his captors. Then she paused; her shy,
fawn-like eyes grew bold, and fixed themselves upon him. She took the
chewing-gum from her mouth, wiped her red lips with the back of her hand,
by a sudden lithe spring placed her foot on his stirrup, and, bounding to
the saddle, threw her arms about his neck and pressed a kiss upon his
They remained thus for a hushed moment—the man on the threshold of
death, the young woman in the fullness of youth and beauty—linked
together. Then the crowd laughed; in the audacious effrontery of the
girl's act the ultimate fate of the two men was forgotten. She slipped
languidly to the ground; SHE was the focus of all eyes,—she only!
The ringleader saw it and his opportunity. He shouted: "Time's up—Forward!"
urged his horse beside his captives, and the next moment the whole
cavalcade was sweeping over the clearing into the darkening woods.
Their destination was Sawyer's Crossing, the headquarters of the
committee, where the council was still sitting, and where both culprits
were to expiate the offense of which that council had already found them
guilty. They rode in great and breathless haste,—a haste in which,
strangely enough, even the captives seemed to join. That haste possibly
prevented them from noticing the singular change which had taken place in
the second captive since the episode of the kiss. His high color remained,
as if it had burned through his mask of indifference; his eyes were quick,
alert, and keen, his mouth half open as if the girl's kiss still lingered
there. And that haste had made them careless, for the horse of the man who
led him slipped in a gopher-hole, rolled over, unseated his rider, and
even dragged the bound and helpless second captive from Judge
Boompointer's favorite mare. In an instant they were all on their feet
again, but in that supreme moment the second captive felt the cords which
bound his arms had slipped to his wrists. By keeping his elbows to his
sides, and obliging the others to help him mount, it escaped their notice.
By riding close to his captors, and keeping in the crush of the throng, he
further concealed the accident, slowly working his hands downwards out of
Their way lay through a sylvan wilderness, mid-leg deep in ferns, whose
tall fronds brushed their horses' sides in their furious gallop and
concealed the flapping of the captive's loosened cords. The peaceful
vista, more suggestive of the offerings of nymph and shepherd than of
human sacrifice, was in a strange contrast to this whirlwind rush of
stern, armed men. The westering sun pierced the subdued light and the
tremor of leaves with yellow lances; birds started into song on blue and
dove-like wings, and on either side of the trail of this vengeful storm
could be heard the murmur of hidden and tranquil waters. In a few moments
they would be on the open ridge, whence sloped the common turnpike to
"Sawyer's," a mile away. It was the custom of returning cavalcades to take
this hill at headlong speed, with shouts and cries that heralded their
coming. They withheld the latter that day, as inconsistent with their
dignity; but, emerging from the wood, swept silently like an avalanche
down the slope. They were well under way, looking only to their horses,
when the second captive slipped his right arm from the bonds and succeeded
in grasping the reins that lay trailing on the horse's neck. A sudden
vaquero jerk, which the well-trained animal understood, threw him on his
haunches with his forelegs firmly planted on the slope. The rest of the
cavalcade swept on; the man who was leading the captive's horse by the
riata, thinking only of another accident, dropped the line to save himself
from being dragged backwards from his horse. The captive wheeled, and the
next moment was galloping furiously up the slope.
It was the work of a moment; a trained horse and an experienced hand. The
cavalcade had covered nearly fifty yards before they could pull up; the
freed captive had covered half that distance uphill. The road was so
narrow that only two shots could be fired, and these broke dust two yards
ahead of the fugitive. They had not dared to fire low; the horse was the
more valuable animal. The fugitive knew this in his extremity also, and
would have gladly taken a shot in his own leg to spare that of his horse.
Five men were detached to recapture or kill him. The latter seemed
inevitable. But he had calculated his chances; before they could reload he
had reached the woods again; winding in and out between the pillared tree
trunks, he offered no mark. They knew his horse was superior to their own;
at the end of two hours they returned, for he had disappeared without
track or trail. The end was briefly told in the "Sierra Record:"—
"Red Pete, the notorious horse-thief, who had so long eluded justice, was
captured and hung by the Sawyer's Crossing Vigilantes last week; his
confederate, unfortunately, escaped on a valuable horse belonging to Judge
Boompointer. The judge had refused one thousand dollars for the horse only
a week before. As the thief, who is still at large, would find it
difficult to dispose of so valuable an animal without detection, the
chances are against either of them turning up again."
Salomy Jane watched the cavalcade until it had disappeared. Then she
became aware that her brief popularity had passed. Mrs. Red Pete, in
stormy hysterics, had included her in a sweeping denunciation of the whole
universe, possibly for simulating an emotion in which she herself was
deficient. The other women hated her for her momentary exaltation above
them; only the children still admired her as one who had undoubtedly
"canoodled" with a man "a-going to be hung"—a daring flight beyond
their wildest ambition. Salomy Jane accepted the change with charming
unconcern. She put on her yellow nankeen sunbonnet,—a hideous affair
that would have ruined any other woman, but which only enhanced the
piquancy of her fresh brunette skin,—tied the strings, letting the
blue-black braids escape below its frilled curtain behind, jumped on her
mustang with a casual display of agile ankles in shapely white stockings,
whistled to the hound, and waving her hand with a "So long, sonny!" to the
lately bereft but admiring nephew, flapped and fluttered away in her short
brown holland gown.
Her father's house was four miles distant. Contrasted with the cabin she
had just quitted, it was a superior dwelling, with a long "lean-to" at the
rear, which brought the eaves almost to the ground and made it look like a
low triangle. It had a long barn and cattle sheds, for Madison Clay was a
"great" stock-raiser and the owner of a "quarter section." It had a
sitting-room and a parlor organ, whose transportation thither had been a
marvel of "packing." These things were supposed to give Salomy Jane an
undue importance, but the girl's reserve and inaccessibility to local
advances were rather the result of a cool, lazy temperament and the
preoccupation of a large, protecting admiration for her father, for some
years a widower. For Mr. Madison Clay's life had been threatened in one or
two feuds,—it was said, not without cause,—and it is possible
that the pathetic spectacle of her father doing his visiting with a
shotgun may have touched her closely and somewhat prejudiced her against
the neighboring masculinity. The thought that cattle, horses, and "quarter
section" would one day be hers did not disturb her calm. As for Mr. Clay,
he accepted her as housewifely, though somewhat "interfering," and, being
one of "his own womankind," therefore not without some degree of merit.
"Wot's this yer I'm hearin' of your doin's over at Red Pete's?
Honeyfoglin' with a horse-thief, eh?" said Mr. Clay two days later at
"I reckon you heard about the straight thing, then," said Salomy Jane
unconcernedly, without looking round.
"What do you kalkilate Rube will say to it? What are you goin' to tell
HIM?" said Mr. Clay sarcastically.
"Rube," or Reuben Waters, was a swain supposed to be favored particularly
by Mr. Clay. Salomy Jane looked up.
"I'll tell him that when HE'S on his way to be hung, I'll kiss him,—not
till then," said the young lady brightly.
This delightful witticism suited the paternal humor, and Mr. Clay smiled;
but, nevertheless, he frowned a moment afterwards.
"But this yer hoss-thief got away arter all, and that's a hoss of a
different color," he said grimly.
Salomy Jane put down her knife and fork. This was certainly a new and
different phase of the situation. She had never thought of it before, and,
strangely enough, for the first time she became interested in the man.
"Got away?" she repeated. "Did they let him off?"
"Not much," said her father briefly. "Slipped his cords, and going down
the grade pulled up short, just like a vaquero agin a lassoed bull, almost
draggin' the man leadin' him off his hoss, and then skyuted up the grade.
For that matter, on that hoss o' Judge Boompointer's he mout have dragged
the whole posse of 'em down on their knees ef he liked! Sarved 'em right,
too. Instead of stringin' him up afore the door, or shootin' him on sight,
they must allow to take him down afore the hull committee 'for an
example.' 'Example' be blowed! Ther' 's example enough when some stranger
comes unbeknownst slap onter a man hanged to a tree and plugged full of
holes. THAT'S an example, and HE knows what it means. Wot more do ye want?
But then those Vigilantes is allus clingin' and hangin' onter some mere
scrap o' the law they're pretendin' to despise. It makes me sick! Why,
when Jake Myers shot your ole Aunt Viney's second husband, and I laid in
wait for Jake afterwards in the Butternut Hollow, did I tie him to his
hoss and fetch him down to your Aunt Viney's cabin 'for an example' before
I plugged him? No!" in deep disgust. "No! Why, I just meandered through
the wood, careless-like, till he comes out, and I just rode up to him, and
But Salomy Jane had heard her father's story before. Even one's dearest
relatives are apt to become tiresome in narration. "I know, dad," she
interrupted; "but this yer man,—this hoss-thief,—did HE get
clean away without gettin' hurt at all?"
"He did, and unless he's fool enough to sell the hoss he kin keep away,
too. So ye see, ye can't ladle out purp stuff about a 'dyin' stranger' to
Rube. He won't swaller it."
"All the same, dad," returned the girl cheerfully, "I reckon to say it,
and say MORE; I'll tell him that ef HE manages to get away too, I'll marry
him—there! But ye don't ketch Rube takin' any such risks in gettin'
ketched, or in gettin' away arter!"
Madison Clay smiled grimly, pushed back his chair, rose, dropped a
perfunctory kiss on his daughter's hair, and, taking his shotgun from the
corner, departed on a peaceful Samaritan mission to a cow who had dropped
a calf in the far pasture. Inclined as he was to Reuben's wooing from his
eligibility as to property, he was conscious that he was sadly deficient
in certain qualities inherent in the Clay family. It certainly would be a
kind of mesalliance.
Left to herself, Salomy Jane stared a long while at the coffee-pot, and
then called the two squaws who assisted her in her household duties, to
clear away the things while she went up to her own room to make her bed.
Here she was confronted with a possible prospect of that proverbial bed
she might be making in her willfulness, and on which she must lie, in the
photograph of a somewhat serious young man of refined features—Reuben
Waters—stuck in her window-frame. Salomy Jane smiled over her last
witticism regarding him and enjoyed, it, like your true humorist, and
then, catching sight of her own handsome face in the little mirror, smiled
again. But wasn't it funny about that horse-thief getting off after all?
Good Lordy! Fancy Reuben hearing he was alive and going round with that
kiss of hers set on his lips! She laughed again, a little more
abstractedly. And he had returned it like a man, holding her tight and
almost breathless, and he going to be hung the next minute! Salomy Jane
had been kissed at other times, by force, chance, or stratagem. In a
certain ingenuous forfeit game of the locality known as "I'm a-pinin',"
many had "pined" for a "sweet kiss" from Salomy Jane, which she had
yielded in a sense of honor and fair play. She had never been kissed like
this before—she would never again; and yet the man was alive! And
behold, she could see in the mirror that she was blushing!
She should hardly know him again. A young man with very bright eyes, a
flushed and sunburnt cheek, a kind of fixed look in the face, and no
beard; no, none that she could feel. Yet he was not at all like Reuben,
not a bit. She took Reuben's picture from the window, and laid it on her
workbox. And to think she did not even know this young man's name! That
was queer. To be kissed by a man whom she might never know! Of course he
knew hers. She wondered if he remembered it and her. But of course he was
so glad to get off with his life that he never thought of anything else.
Yet she did not give more than four or five minutes to these speculations,
and, like a sensible girl, thought of something else. Once again, however,
in opening the closet, she found the brown holland gown she had worn on
the day before; thought it very unbecoming, and regretted that she had not
worn her best gown on her visit to Red Pete's cottage. On such an occasion
she really might have been more impressive.
When her father came home that night she asked him the news. No, they had
NOT captured the second horse-thief, who was still at large. Judge
Boompointer talked of invoking the aid of the despised law. It remained,
then, to see whether the horse-thief was fool enough to try to get rid of
the animal. Red Pete's body had been delivered to his widow. Perhaps it
would only be neighborly for Salomy Jane to ride over to the funeral. But
Salomy Jane did not take to the suggestion kindly, nor yet did she explain
to her father that, as the other man was still living, she did not care to
undergo a second disciplining at the widow's hands. Nevertheless, she
contrasted her situation with that of the widow with a new and singular
satisfaction. It might have been Red Pete who had escaped. But he had not
the grit of the nameless one. She had already settled his heroic quality.
"Ye ain't harkenin' to me, Salomy."
Salomy Jane started.
"Here I'm askin' ye if ye've see that hound Phil Larrabee sneaking by yer
Salomy Jane had not. But she became interested and self-reproachful, for
she knew that Phil Larrabee was one of her father's enemies. "He wouldn't
dare to go by here unless he knew you were out," she said quickly.
"That's what gets me," he said, scratching his grizzled head. "I've been
kind o' thinkin' o' him all day, and one of them Chinamen said he saw him
at Sawyer's Crossing. He was a kind of friend o' Pete's wife. That's why I
thought yer might find out ef he'd been there." Salomy Jane grew more
self-reproachful at her father's self-interest in her "neighborliness."
"But that ain't all," continued Mr. Clay. "Thar was tracks over the far
pasture that warn't mine. I followed them, and they went round and round
the house two or three times, ez ef they mout hev bin prowlin', and then I
lost 'em in the woods again. It's just like that sneakin' hound Larrabee
to hev bin lyin' in wait for me and afraid to meet a man fair and square
in the open."
"You just lie low, dad, for a day or two more, and let me do a little
prowlin'," said the girl, with sympathetic indignation in her dark eyes.
"Ef it's that skunk, I'll spot him soon enough and let you know whar he's
"You'll just stay where ye are, Salomy," said her father decisively. "This
ain't no woman's work—though I ain't sayin' you haven't got more
head for it than some men I know."
Nevertheless, that night, after her father had gone to bed, Salomy Jane
sat by the open window of the sitting-room in an apparent attitude of
languid contemplation, but alert and intent of eye and ear. It was a fine
moonlit night. Two pines near the door, solitary pickets of the serried
ranks of distant forest, cast long shadows like paths to the cottage, and
sighed their spiced breath in the windows. For there was no frivolity of
vine or flower round Salomy Jane's bower. The clearing was too recent, the
life too practical for vanities like these. But the moon added a vague
elusiveness to everything, softened the rigid outlines of the sheds, gave
shadows to the lidless windows, and touched with merciful indirectness the
hideous debris of refuse gravel and the gaunt scars of burnt vegetation
before the door. Even Salomy Jane was affected by it, and exhaled
something between a sigh and a yawn with the breath of the pines. Then she
suddenly sat upright.
Her quick ear had caught a faint "click, click," in the direction of the
wood; her quicker instinct and rustic training enabled her to determine
that it was the ring of a horse's shoe on flinty ground; her knowledge of
the locality told her it came from the spot where the trail passed over an
outcrop of flint scarcely a quarter of a mile from where she sat, and
within the clearing. It was no errant "stock," for the foot was shod with
iron; it was a mounted trespasser by night, and boded no good to a man
She rose, threw her shawl over her head, more for disguise than shelter,
and passed out of the door. A sudden impulse made her seize her father's
shotgun from the corner where it stood,—not that she feared any
danger to herself, but that it was an excuse. She made directly for the
wood, keeping in the shadow of the pines as long as she could. At the
fringe she halted; whoever was there must pass her before reaching the
Then there seemed to be a suspense of all nature. Everything was deadly
still—even the moonbeams appeared no longer tremulous; soon there
was a rustle as of some stealthy animal among the ferns, and then a
dismounted man stepped into the moonlight. It was the horse-thief—the
man she had kissed!
For a wild moment a strange fancy seized her usually sane intellect and
stirred her temperate blood. The news they had told her was NOT true; he
had been hung, and this was his ghost! He looked as white and spirit-like
in the moonlight, dressed in the same clothes, as when she saw him last.
He had evidently seen her approaching, and moved quickly to meet her. But
in his haste he stumbled slightly; she reflected suddenly that ghosts did
not stumble, and a feeling of relief came over her. And it was no assassin
of her father that had been prowling around—only this unhappy
fugitive. A momentary color came into her cheek; her coolness and
hardihood returned; it was with a tinge of sauciness in her voice that she
"I reckoned you were a ghost."
"I mout have been," he said, looking at her fixedly; "but I reckon I'd
have come back here all the same."
"It's a little riskier comin' back alive," she said, with a levity that
died on her lips, for a singular nervousness, half fear and half
expectation, was beginning to take the place of her relief of a moment
ago. "Then it was YOU who was prowlin' round and makin' tracks in the far
"Yes; I came straight here when I got away."
She felt his eyes were burning her, but did not dare to raise her own.
"Why," she began, hesitated, and ended vaguely. "HOW did you get here?"
"You helped me!"
"Yes. That kiss you gave me put life into me—gave me strength to get
away. I swore to myself I'd come back and thank you, alive or dead."
Every word he said she could have anticipated, so plain the situation
seemed to her now. And every word he said she knew was the truth. Yet her
cool common sense struggled against it.
"What's the use of your escaping, ef you're comin' back here to be ketched
again?" she said pertly.
He drew a little nearer to her, but seemed to her the more awkward as she
resumed her self-possession. His voice, too, was broken, as if by
exhaustion, as he said, catching his breath at intervals:—
"I'll tell you. You did more for me than you think. You made another man
o' me. I never had a man, woman, or child do to me what you did. I never
had a friend—only a pal like Red Pete, who picked me up 'on shares.'
I want to quit this yer—what I'm doin'. I want to begin by doin' the
square thing to you"—He stopped, breathed hard, and then said
brokenly, "My hoss is over thar, staked out. I want to give him to you.
Judge Boompointer will give you a thousand dollars for him. I ain't lyin';
it's God's truth! I saw it on the handbill agin a tree. Take him, and I'll
get away afoot. Take him. It's the only thing I can do for you, and I know
it don't half pay for what you did. Take it; your father can get a reward
for you, if you can't."
Such were the ethics of this strange locality that neither the man who
made the offer nor the girl to whom it was made was struck by anything
that seemed illogical or indelicate, or at all inconsistent with justice
or the horse-thief's real conversion. Salomy Jane nevertheless dissented,
from another and weaker reason.
"I don't want your hoss, though I reckon dad might; but you're just
starvin'. I'll get suthin'." She turned towards the house.
"Say you'll take the hoss first," he said, grasping her hand. At the touch
she felt herself coloring and struggled, expecting perhaps another kiss.
But he dropped her hand. She turned again with a saucy gesture, said,
"Hol' on; I'll come right back," and slipped away, the mere shadow of a
coy and flying nymph in the moonlight, until she reached the house.
Here she not only procured food and whiskey, but added a long dust-coat
and hat of her father's to her burden. They would serve as a disguise for
him and hide that heroic figure, which she thought everybody must now know
as she did. Then she rejoined him breathlessly. But he put the food and
"Listen," he said; "I've turned the hoss into your corral. You'll find him
there in the morning, and no one will know but that he got lost and joined
the other hosses."
Then she burst out. "But you—YOU—what will become of you?
You'll be ketched!"
"I'll manage to get away," he said in a low voice, "ef—ef"—
"Ef what?" she said tremblingly. "Ef you'll put the heart in me again,—as
you did!" he gasped.
She tried to laugh—to move away. She could do neither. Suddenly he
caught her in his arms, with a long kiss, which she returned again and
again. Then they stood embraced as they had embraced two days before, but
no longer the same. For the cool, lazy Salomy Jane had been transformed
into another woman—a passionate, clinging savage. Perhaps something
of her father's blood had surged within her at that supreme moment. The
man stood erect and determined.
"Wot's your name?" she whispered quickly. It was a woman's quickest way of
defining her feelings.
"Yer first name?"
"Let me go now, Jack. Lie low in the woods till to-morrow sunup. I'll come
He released her. Yet she lingered a moment. "Put on those things," she
said, with a sudden happy flash of eyes and teeth, "and lie close till I
come." And then she sped away home.
But midway up the distance she felt her feet going slower, and something
at her heartstrings seemed to be pulling her back. She stopped, turned,
and glanced to where he had been standing. Had she seen him then, she
might have returned. But he had disappeared. She gave her first sigh, and
then ran quickly again. It must be nearly ten o'clock! It was not very
long to morning!
She was within a few steps of her own door, when the sleeping woods and
silent air appeared to suddenly awake with a sharp "crack!"
She stopped, paralyzed. Another "crack!" followed, that echoed over to the
far corral. She recalled herself instantly and dashed off wildly to the
As she ran she thought of one thing only. He had been "dogged" by one of
his old pursuers and attacked. But there were two shots, and he was
unarmed. Suddenly she remembered that she had left her father's gun
standing against the tree where they were talking. Thank God! she may
again have saved him. She ran to the tree; the gun was gone. She ran
hither and thither, dreading at every step to fall upon his lifeless body.
A new thought struck her; she ran to the corral. The horse was not there!
He must have been able to regain it, and escaped, AFTER the shots had been
fired. She drew a long breath of relief, but it was caught up in an
apprehension of alarm. Her father, awakened from his sleep by the shots,
was hurriedly approaching her.
"What's up now, Salomy Jane?" he demanded excitedly.
"Nothin'," said the girl with an effort. "Nothin', at least, that I can
find." She was usually truthful because fearless, and a lie stuck in her
throat; but she was no longer fearless, thinking of HIM. "I wasn't abed;
so I ran out as soon as I heard the shots fired," she answered in return
to his curious gaze.
"And you've hid my gun somewhere where it can't be found," he said
reproachfully. "Ef it was that sneak Larrabee, and he fired them shots to
lure me out, he might have potted me, without a show, a dozen times in the
last five minutes."
She had not thought since of her father's enemy! It might indeed have been
he who had attacked Jack. But she made a quick point of the suggestion.
"Run in, dad, run in and find the gun; you've got no show out here without
it." She seized him by the shoulders from behind, shielding him from the
woods, and hurried him, half expostulating, half struggling, to the house.
But there no gun was to be found. It was strange; it must have been
mislaid in some corner! Was he sure he had not left it in the barn? But no
matter now. The danger was over; the Larrabee trick had failed; he must go
to bed now, and in the morning they would make a search together. At the
same time she had inwardly resolved to rise before him and make another
search of the wood, and perhaps—fearful joy as she recalled her
promise!—find Jack alive and well, awaiting her!
Salomy Jane slept little that night, nor did her father. But towards
morning he fell into a tired man's slumber until the sun was well up the
horizon. Far different was it with his daughter: she lay with her face to
the window, her head half lifted to catch every sound, from the creaking
of the sun-warped shingles above her head to the far-off moan of the
rising wind in the pine trees. Sometimes she fell into a breathless,
half-ecstatic trance, living over every moment of the stolen interview;
feeling the fugitive's arm still around her, his kisses on her lips;
hearing his whispered voice in her ears—the birth of her new life!
This was followed again by a period of agonizing dread—that he might
even then be lying, his life ebbing away, in the woods, with her name on
his lips, and she resting here inactive, until she half started from her
bed to go to his succor. And this went on until a pale opal glow came into
the sky, followed by a still paler pink on the summit of the white
Sierras, when she rose and hurriedly began to dress. Still so sanguine was
her hope of meeting him, that she lingered yet a moment to select the
brown holland skirt and yellow sunbonnet she had worn when she first saw
him. And she had only seen him twice! Only TWICE! It would be cruel, too
cruel, not to see him again!
She crept softly down the stairs, listening to the long-drawn breathing of
her father in his bedroom, and then, by the light of a guttering candle,
scrawled a note to him, begging him not to trust himself out of the house
until she returned from her search, and leaving the note open on the
table, swiftly ran out into the growing day.
Three hours afterwards Mr. Madison Clay awoke to the sound of loud
knocking. At first this forced itself upon his consciousness as his
daughter's regular morning summons, and was responded to by a grunt of
recognition and a nestling closer in the blankets. Then he awoke with a
start and a muttered oath, remembering the events of last night, and his
intention to get up early, and rolled out of bed. Becoming aware by this
time that the knocking was at the outer door, and hearing the shout of a
familiar voice, he hastily pulled on his boots, his jean trousers, and
fastening a single suspender over his shoulder as he clattered downstairs,
stood in the lower room. The door was open, and waiting upon the threshold
was his kinsman, an old ally in many a blood-feud—Breckenridge Clay!
"You ARE a cool one, Mad!" said the latter in half-admiring indignation.
"What's up?" said the bewildered Madison.
"YOU ought to be, and scootin' out o' this," said Breckenridge grimly.
"It's all very well to 'know nothin';' but here Phil Larrabee's friends
hev just picked him up, drilled through with slugs and deader nor a crow,
and now they're lettin' loose Larrabee's two half-brothers on you. And you
must go like a derned fool and leave these yer things behind you in the
bresh," he went on querulously, lifting Madison Clay's dust-coat, hat, and
shotgun from his horse, which stood saddled at the door. "Luckily I picked
them up in the woods comin' here. Ye ain't got more than time to get over
the state line and among your folks thar afore they'll be down on you.
Hustle, old man! What are you gawkin' and starin' at?"
Madison Clay had stared amazed and bewildered—horror-stricken. The
incidents of the past night for the first time flashed upon him clearly—hopelessly!
The shot; his finding Salomy Jane alone in the woods; her confusion and
anxiety to rid herself of him; the disappearance of the shotgun; and now
this new discovery of the taking of his hat and coat for a disguise! SHE
had killed Phil Larrabee in that disguise, after provoking his first
harmless shot! She, his own child, Salomy Jane, had disgraced herself by a
man's crime; had disgraced him by usurping his right, and taking a mean
advantage, by deceit, of a foe!
"Gimme that gun," he said hoarsely.
Breckenridge handed him the gun in wonder and slowly gathering suspicion.
Madison examined nipple and muzzle; one barrel had been discharged. It was
true! The gun dropped from his hand.
"Look here, old man," said Breckenridge, with a darkening face, "there's
bin no foul play here. Thar's bin no hiring of men, no deputy to do this
job. YOU did it fair and square—yourself?"
"Yes, by God!" burst out Madison Clay in a hoarse voice. "Who says I
Reassured, yet believing that Madison Clay had nerved himself for the act
by an over-draught of whiskey, which had affected his memory, Breckenridge
said curtly, "Then wake up and 'lite' out, ef ye want me to stand by you."
"Go to the corral and pick me out a hoss," said Madison slowly, yet not
without a certain dignity of manner. "I've suthin' to say to Salomy Jane
afore I go." He was holding her scribbled note, which he had just
discovered, in his shaking hand.
Struck by his kinsman's manner, and knowing the dependent relations of
father and daughter, Breckenridge nodded and hurried away. Left to
himself, Madison Clay ran his fingers through his hair, and straightened
out the paper on which Salomy Jane had scrawled her note, turned it over,
and wrote on the back:—
You might have told me you did it, and not leave your ole father to find
it out how you disgraced yourself and him, too, by a low-down,
underhanded, woman's trick! I've said I done it, and took the blame
myself, and all the sneakiness of it that folks suspect. If I get away
alive—and I don't care much which—you needn't foller. The
house and stock are yours; but you ain't any longer the daughter of your
He had scarcely finished the note when, with a clatter of hoofs and a led
horse, Breckenridge reappeared at the door elate and triumphant. "You're
in nigger luck, Mad! I found that stole hoss of Judge Boompointer's had
got away and strayed among your stock in the corral. Take him and you're
safe; he can't be outrun this side of the state line."
"I ain't no hoss-thief," said Madison grimly.
"Nobody sez ye are, but you'd be wuss—a fool—ef you didn't
take him. I'm testimony that you found him among your hosses; I'll tell
Judge Boompointer you've got him, and ye kin send him back when you're
safe. The judge will be mighty glad to get him back, and call it quits. So
ef you've writ to Salomy Jane, come."
Madison Clay no longer hesitated. Salomy Jane might return at any moment,—it
would be part of her "fool womanishness,"—and he was in no mood to
see her before a third party. He laid the note on the table, gave a
hurried glance around the house, which he grimly believed he was leaving
forever, and, striding to the door, leaped on the stolen horse, and swept
away with his kinsman.
But that note lay for a week undisturbed on the table in full view of the
open door. The house was invaded by leaves, pine cones, birds, and
squirrels during the hot, silent, empty days, and at night by shy,
stealthy creatures, but never again, day or night, by any of the Clay
family. It was known in the district that Clay had flown across the state
line, his daughter was believed to have joined him the next day, and the
house was supposed to be locked up. It lay off the main road, and few
passed that way. The starving cattle in the corral at last broke bounds
and spread over the woods. And one night a stronger blast than usual swept
through the house, carried the note from the table to the floor, where,
whirled into a crack in the flooring, it slowly rotted.
But though the sting of her father's reproach was spared her, Salomy Jane
had no need of the letter to know what had happened. For as she entered
the woods in the dim light of that morning she saw the figure of Dart
gliding from the shadow of a pine towards her. The unaffected cry of joy
that rose from her lips died there as she caught sight of his face in the
"You are hurt," she said, clutching his arm passionately.
"No," he said. "But I wouldn't mind that if"—
"You're thinkin' I was afeard to come back last night when I heard the
shootin', but I DID come," she went on feverishly. "I ran back here when I
heard the two shots, but you were gone. I went to the corral, but your
hoss wasn't there, and I thought you'd got away."
"I DID get away," said Dart gloomily. "I killed the man, thinkin' he was
huntin' ME, and forgettin' I was disguised. He thought I was your father."
"Yes," said the girl joyfully, "he was after dad, and YOU—you killed
him." She again caught his hand admiringly.
But he did not respond. Possibly there were points of honor which this
horse-thief felt vaguely with her father. "Listen," he said grimly.
"Others think it was your father killed him. When I did it—for he
fired at me first—I ran to the corral again and took my hoss,
thinkin' I might be follered. I made a clear circuit of the house, and
when I found he was the only one, and no one was follerin', I come back
here and took off my disguise. Then I heard his friends find him in the
wood, and I know they suspected your father. And then another man come
through the woods while I was hidin' and found the clothes and took them
away." He stopped and stared at her gloomily.
But all this was unintelligible to the girl. "Dad would have got the
better of him ef you hadn't," she said eagerly, "so what's the
"All the same," he said gloomily, "I must take his place."
She did not understand, but turned her head to her master. "Then you'll go
back with me and tell him ALL?" she said obediently.
"Yes," he said.
She put her hand in his, and they crept out of the wood together. She
foresaw a thousand difficulties, but, chiefest of all, that he did not
love as she did. SHE would not have taken these risks against their
But alas for ethics and heroism. As they were issuing from the wood they
heard the sound of galloping hoofs, and had barely time to hide themselves
before Madison Clay, on the stolen horse of Judge Boompointer, swept past
them with his kinsman.
Salomy Jane turned to her lover.
And here I might, as a moral romancer, pause, leaving the guilty,
passionate girl eloped with her disreputable lover, destined to lifelong
shame and misery, misunderstood to the last by a criminal, fastidious
parent. But I am confronted by certain facts, on which this romance is
based. A month later a handbill was posted on one of the sentinel pines,
announcing that the property would be sold by auction to the highest
bidder by Mrs. John Dart, daughter of Madison Clay, Esq., and it was sold
accordingly. Still later—by ten years—the chronicler of these
pages visited a certain "stock" or "breeding farm," in the "Blue Grass
Country," famous for the popular racers it has produced. He was told that
the owner was the "best judge of horse-flesh in the country." "Small
wonder," added his informant, "for they say as a young man out in
California he was a horse-thief, and only saved himself by eloping with
some rich farmer's daughter. But he's a straight-out and respectable man
now, whose word about horses can't be bought; and as for his wife, she's a
beauty! To see her at the 'Springs,' rigged out in the latest fashion,
you'd never think she had ever lived out of New York or wasn't the wife of
one of its millionaires."