by Frances Fuller Victor
"Wimmen nater is cur'us nater, that I'll allow. But a feller kind o' hankers arter 'em, fur all that. They're a mighty handy thing to hev about a house."
The above oracular statement proceeded from the parched and puckered lips of Sandy-haired Jim—one of the many "hands" employed on the immense Tesoro Rancho, which covered miles of valley, besides extending up on to the eastern flank of the Coast Range, and taking in considerable tracts of woodland and mountain pasture. Long before, when it acquired its name, under Spanish occupancy, there had been a rumor of the existence of the precious metals in the mountains which formed a portion of the grant; hence, its name, Tesoro, signifying
treasure. All search for, or belief in, gold mines, had been abandoned, even before the land came into the possession of American owners, and now was only spoken of in the light of a Spanish legend; but the name was retained, partly as a geographical distinction of a large tract of country, though it was sometimes called the Edwards Ranch, after its present proprietor, and after the American fashion of pronunciation.
John Edwards had more than once said, in hearing of his men, that he would give half the proceeds of the mine and an interest in the ranch, to any one who would discover it and prove it to be of value; a remark which was not without weight, especially with the herders and shepherds, whose calling took them into the mountains a considerable portion of the year. But as the offer of the proprietor never seemed to assume the air of a business proposition, the men who might have been inflamed by it with a prospecting fever, held in check their desire to acquire sudden riches, and never looked very sharp at the "indications," which it was easy sometimes to imagine they had found. But that is neither here nor there with Sandy-haired Jim, who was not a cattle-herder, nor yet a shepherd, but farmer or teamster, as the requirement was, at different seasons of the year.
He was expressing himself concerning John Edwards' sister, who, just one year ago, had come to set up domesticity in the house of her brother; whereas, previous to her advent, John had "bach'd it" on the ranch, with his men, for four or five years. Jim, and the chum to whom his remarks were addressed, were roosting on a fence, after the manner of a certain class of agriculturists, hailing usually from Missouri, and most frequently from the county of Pike.
The pale December sunshine colored with a soft gold the light morning haze which hung over the valley in which lay the Tesoro Rancho. In spite of the year of drought which had scorched up the grain-fields, and given a character of aridity to the landscape, it had a distinctive soft beauty of tint and outline, seen in the favoring light we have mentioned. Of all the fascinating pictures we remember to have seen, the most remarkable was one of a desert scene, with nothing but the stretches of yellow sand and the golden atmosphere for middle distance and background, and, for a foreground, a white tent, with camels and picturesquely costumed Arabs grouped before it. There was the sense of infinite distance in it which is so satisfying to the mind, which the few figures and broken lines intensified; and there was that witching warmth and mellowness of coloring which does not belong to landscapes where green and gray hues predominate.
Having said thus much about a picture, we have explained why Californian views, even in our great, almost treeless valleys, grow so into our hearts and imaginations, after the first dash of disappointment at not finding them like the vernal vales of New England or central New York. But Tesoro Rancho was not treeless. Great spreading oaks furnished just the necessary dark-green tones in the valley landscape; and the mountain-sides had multifarious shades of color, furnished by rocks and trees, by shadows, and by the atmosphere itself.
It was no wonder, then, that sandy-haired Jim, sitting on a rail-fence, in an attitude more curious than graceful, cast his glance often unconsciously over the far valley-reaches, and up the mountain-sides, with a dim perception of something pleasant in the view which his thought took no cognizance of. In fact, for the last minute or two, his gaze had been a silent one; and any observer might have pondered, considering the sharpness of the perch beneath him, whether he might not be making up his mind to descend from it as soon as his slow-working mentality had had time to convey the decision of his brain to his muscles.
At all events, that was what he did in answer to our mental query, taking up the thread of his discourse where it was broken off, as follows:
"Miss Edwards, neow (thar she is, a-comin down from the mount'in, with her arms full of them 'zalias she's so fond of), she's a mighty peart kind of a gal, and wuth a heap more to keep a man's house in good shape than one o' them soft-lookin' Chinee. Them's my sentiments."
so," responded his chum, seeming constitutionally disinclined to a longer sentence.
"John Edwards has tuk to dressin' hisself nicer, and fixin' up the place as he didn't used to when he bach'd it, I can tell ye! When I see her bringin' her pianny, and her picturs, and books, and sich like traps, I just told myself, 'Neow, John Edwards has got a pretty passel of trash on his hands, I veow.' And I ment
as well as the other fol-de-rols. But, you bet your life, she's got more sense, two to one, than ary one of us! It was a lucky day for Edwards when she came onto this ranch, sure's you're born."
What further this equally philosophical and devoted admirer of Miss Edwards might have said on this, to him, evidently interesting topic, had he not been interrupted, will never be known. For the lady herself appeared upon the scene, putting an end to her own praises, and discovering to us, upon nearer view, that she added youth and grace, if not absolute beauty, to her other qualities.
Checking the rapid lope of her horse, as she came near where the men were standing, in attitudes of frank, if awkward, deference, she saluted them with a cheerful "Good-morning," and drew rein beside them.
"Take Brownie by the head, and walk a little way with me, if you please, James. I have something I wish to say to you," was the lady's low-voiced command. A certain flush and pleased expression on honest Jim's ruddy countenance reminded her instantly of the inherent vanity of man, and when she next addressed her attendant it was as "Mr. Harris," for such, indeed, was the surname of our lank Missourian, though not many of his associates had ever heard it.
"How long have you been on this place, Mr. Harris?"
"Near onto six year, Miss Edwards," replied Jim.
"Did you know Mr. Charles Erskine, my brother's former partner?"
"Just as well as I know your brother, Miss."
"What became of him, after he left this place?"
"I couldn't rightly say, miss. Some said he went to the mines, up in Idaho, and other folks said they'd seen him in 'Frisco: but I don't know nary thing about him."
"He must be found, Mr. Harris. Do you think you could find him, if I were to send you on such a mission? It is a very important one, and it is not every one I would intrust it to."
The flush and the pleased look returned to Jim's face. "I'd do the best I could, miss; and, mebbe, I'd do as well as another."
"That is what I was thinking, Mr. Harris. You have been a long time here, and you are prompt and capable about your own business; so I concluded I could trust you with mine. I am sure I was quite right."
Jim was going on to "swar she was," when Miss Edwards interrupted him, to enlighten him further as to the requirements of "her business:" "I do not wish my brother to know what errand I send you on. They had a dreadful quarrel once, I believe; and he might not agree with me as to the wisdom of what I am about to do. It will, therefore, be necessary for you to ask John's permission to go on a visit to San Francisco, as if it was for yourself you were going. The drought has left so little to do that you can be spared, without embarrassment, until the rains begin. I am going to have a grand festival at Christmas, and I would like you to be home before that time. I will explain further when you have got John's consent to your absence. Come to the house after, and ask if I have any commission for you."
When Miss Edwards cantered off, leaving him alone in the road, Jim was in a state of pleased bewilderment, not unmixed with an instinctive jealousy.
"I do wonder, neow, what she wants with Charlie Erskine. He was a powerful nice feller, and smart as lightnin'; but, somehow, he an' Edwards never could hitch hosses. Erskine allus went too fast for steady John, an' I doubt ef he didn't git him into some money troubles. I'd like to know, though, what that girl's got to do about it. Wonder ef she knowed him back in the States. Wimmen is cur'us, sure enough."
Jim's suggestion was the true one. Miss Edwards had known Charles Erskine "back in the States," and when they parted last, it had been as engaged lovers. When she left her home in the East to join her brother, a speedy marriage with him had been in contemplation. But how often did it happen, in old "steamer times," that wives left New York to join husbands in San Francisco, only to find, on arrival at the end of a long voyage, the dear ones hidden from sight in the grave, or the false ones gone astray! And so it happened to Mary Edwards, that, when she set foot on California soil, no lover appeared to welcome her, and her trembling and blushing were turned to painful suspense and secret bitter tears.
Her brother had vouchsafed very little explanation; only declaring Charles Erskine a scoundrel, who had nearly ruined him, and swearing he should never set foot on Tesoro Rancho until every dollar of indebtedness was paid. Poor Mary found it hard settling into a place so new, and duties so unaccustomed; but her good sense and good spirits conquered difficulties as they arose, until now she was quite inclined to like the new life for its own sake. Her brother was kind, and gathered about her every comfort and many luxuries; though, owing to embarrassments into which Erskine had drawn him, and to the losses of a year of drought, his purse was not overflowing. Such was the situation of affairs on the December morning when our story opens.
Miss Edwards mentioned to her brother, during the day, that James Harris had spoken of going to the city, and that she had some commissions for him to perform. She had made up her mind to discountenance the heathen habits into which everybody on the ranch had fallen. She had done all she could to keep the men from going to bull-fights on the Sabbath, and had offered to read the morning service, if the men would attend; and now she was going to celebrate Christmas, though she realty did believe that the people who never saw snow forgot that Christ was ever born! Yet was he not born in a country very strongly resembling this very one which ignored him?
John smiled, and offered no opposition; only bidding her remember not to make her commissions to the city very expensive ones, and suggesting, that, since she meant to be gay, she had better send some invitations to certain of their friends.
"By the way John, do you know where Charles Erskine is?" Miss Edwards asked, with much forced composure.
"The last I heard of him he was in San Francisco, lying dangerously ill," answered John coldly.
"Mary, you must hope nothing from that man. Don't waste your sympathies on him, either; he'll never repay you the outgo."
"Tell me just one thing, John: Was Charles ever false to me? Tell me the truth."
"I think he kept good faith with you. It is not that I complain of in his conduct. The quarrel is strictly between us. He can never come here, with my consent."
"But I can go to him," said Miss Edwards, very quietly.
And she did go—with Sandy-haired Jim for an escort, and her brother's frowning face haunted her.
"If all is right," she said to him, at the very last, "I will be back to keep Christmas with you. Think as well as you can of me, John, and—good-by."
It will be seen, that, whatever Miss Edwards' little, womanly plan of reconciliation had been, it was, as to details, all changed by the information John had given her. What next she would do depended on circumstances. It was, perhaps, a question of life and death. The long, wearying, dusty stage-ride to San Francisco, passed like a disagreeable dream; neither incident of heat by day, nor cold by night, or influence of grand or lovely scenes, seemed to touch her consciousness. James Harris, in his best clothes and best manners—the latter having a certain gentle dignity about them that was born of the occasion—sat beside her, and ministered assiduously to those personal wants which she had forgotten in the absorption of her painful thoughts.
What Jim himself thought, if his mental processes could be called thinking, it would be difficult to state. He was dimly conscious that in his companion's mind there was a heavy trouble brooding; and conscious, also, of a desire to alleviate it, as far as possible, though in what way that might be done, he had not the remotest idea. There seemed an immense gulf between her and him, over which he never could reach to proffer consolation; and while he blindly groped in his own mind for some hint of his duty, he was fain to be content with such personal attentions as defending her from heat and cold, dust and fatigue, and reminding her that eating and drinking were among the necessary inconveniences of this life. After a couple of days spent in revolving the case hopelessly in his brain, his thoughts at length shaped themselves thus:
"Waal, neow, 'taint no concern of mine, to be sure; but I'm beound to see this gal threough. She's captain of this train, an' only got ter give her orders. I'll obey 'em, ef they take me to thunder. That's so, I veow!" After which conclusion of the whole matter, Jim appeared more at his ease in all respects. In truth, the most enlightened of us go to school to just such mental struggles, with profit to our minds and manners.
Arrived at San Francisco, Miss Edwards took quarters at a hotel, determined before reporting herself to any of her acquaintance to first find whether Charles Erskine was alive, and, if so, where he could be found. What a wearisome search was that before traces of him were discovered, in a cheap boarding-house, in a narrow, dirty street. And what bitter disappointment it was to learn that he had gone away some weeks before, as soon as he was able to be moved. To renew the search in the city, to send telegrams in every direction, was the next effort, which, like the first, proved fruitless; and, at the end of ten days Miss Edwards made a few formal calls on her friends, concluded some necessary purchases, and set out on her return to Tesoro Rancho, exhausted in mind and body.
If Jim was careful of her comfort before, he was tender toward her now; and the lady accepted the protecting care of the serving-man with a dull sense of gratitude. She even smiled on him faintly, in a languid way, but in a way that seemed to him to lessen the distance between them. Jim's education had been going on rapidly during the last ten days. He seemed to himself to be quite another man than the one who sat on the fence with Missouri Joe, less than two weeks agone.
Perhaps Miss Edwards noticed the change, and innocently encouraged him to aspire. We must not blame her if she did. This is what woman's education makes of her. The most cultured women must be grateful and flattering toward the rudest men, if circumstances throw them together. Born to depend on somebody, they must depend on their inferiors when their superiors are not at hand; must, in fact, assume an inferiority to those inferiors. If they sometimes turn their heads with the dangerous deference, what wonder!
Secure in the distance between them, Miss Edwards assumed that she could safely defer to Sandy-haired Jim, if, as it seemed, he enjoyed the sense of being her protector. Even had he been her equal, she would have said to herself, "He knows my heart is breaking for another, and will respect my grief." In this double security, she paid no heed to the devotion of her companion, only thinking him the kindest and most awkward of good and simple-minded men. That is just what any of us would have thought about Sandy-haired Jim, gentle readers.
John Edwards received his sister with a grave kindliness, which aggravated her grief. He would not ask her a question, nor give her the smallest opportunity of appealing to his sympathies. She had undertaken this business without his sanction, and without his sympathy she must abide the consequences. Toward her, personally, he should ever feel and act brotherly; but toward her foolish weakness for Erskine, he felt no charity. He was surprised and pleased to see that his sister's spirit was nearly equal to his own; for, though visibly "pale and pining," after the absurd fashion of women, she went about her duties and recreations as usual, and prosecuted the threatened preparations for Christmas with enthusiasm.
In some of these, it was necessary to employ the services of one of the men, and Miss Edwards, without much thought of why, except that she was used to him, singled out Jim as her assistant. To her surprise, he excused himself, and begged to substitute Missouri Joe.
"You see, Miss Edwards, I've been a long time meanin' to take a trip into the mount'ins. I allow it'll rain in less nor a week, an' then it'll be too late; so ef you'll excuse me this onct, I'll promise to be on hand next time, sure."
"Oh, certainly, Mr. Harris; Joe will do very well, no doubt; and there is no need for you to make excuses. I thought you would like to assist about these preparations, and I am sure you would, too; but go, by all means, for, as you say, it must rain very soon, when it will be too late."
"Thar's nothing I'd like better nor stayin' to work for you, Miss Edwards," answered Jim, with some appearance of confusion; "but this time I'm obleeged to go—I am, sure."
"Well, good-by, and good luck to you, Mr. Harris," Miss Edwards said, pleasantly.
"Ef she only knowed what I'm a goin' fur!" muttered Jim to himself, as he went to "catch up" his horse, and pack up two or three days' rations of bread and meat. "But I ain't goin' to let on about it to a single soul. It's best to keep this business to myself, I reckon. 'Peared like 'twas a hint of that kind she give me, the other day, when she said, 'The gods help them that help themselves, Mr. Harris.' Such a heap o' sense as that gal's got! She's smarter'n John Edwards and me, and Missouri Joe, to boot: but I'm a-gainin' on it a leetle—I'm a-gainin' on it a leetle," concluded Jim, slowly, puckering his parched and sunburnt lips into a significant expression of mystery.
What it was he was "gainin' on," did not appear, for the weight of his thoughts had brought him to a dead-stand, a few feet from the fence, on the hither side of which was the animal he contemplated riding. At this juncture of entire absence of mind, the voice of John Edwards, hailing him from the road, a little way off, dissolved the spell:
"I say, Jim," hallooed Edwards; "if you discover that mine, I will give you half of it, and an interest in the ranch."
The words seemed to electrify the usually slow mind to which the idea was addressed. Turning short about, Jim, in a score of long strides, reached the fence separating him from Edwards.
"Will you put that in writin'?"
"To be sure, I will," answered John, nodding his head, with a puzzled and ironical smile.
"I'll go to the house with ye, an' hev it done to onct," said Jim, sententiously. "I hev about an hour to spar, I reckon."
John Edwards was struck by the unusual manner of the proverbially deliberate man, who had served him with the same unvarying "slow and sure" faithfulness for years; but he refrained from comments. Jim, in his awkward way, proved to be more of a man of business than could have been expected.
"I want a bond fur a deed, Mr. Edwards. That's the best way to settle it, I reckon."
"That is as good a way as any; the discovery to be made within a certain time."
"An' what interest in the ranch, Mr. Edwards?"
"Well, about the ranch," said John, thoughtfully, "I don't want to run any risk of trading it off for nothing, and there will have to be conditions attached to the transfer of any portion of that more than the one of discovery of the mine. Let it be this way: that on the mine proving by actual results to be worth a certain sum—say $50,000—the deed shall be given to half the mine and one-third interest in the ranch; the supposition being, that, if it is proved to be worth $50,000, it is probably worth four times or ten times that amount."
"That's about it, I should say," returned Jim. "It's lib'ral in you, any way, Mr. Edwards."
"The truth is, Harris," said Edwards, looking him steadily in the eye, "I am in a devil of a pinch, that's the truth of it; and I am taking gambling chances on this thing. I only hope you may earn your third of the ranch. I'll not grudge it to you, if you do."
"Thank ye, sir. An' when them papers is made eout, I'll be off."
John handed him his papers half an hour afterward, which Jim prudently took care to have witnessed. Miss Edwards being called in, signed her name.
"So, this is what takes you to the mountains, Mr. Harris? I'm sure I wish you good luck."
"You did that afore, miss; an' it came, right on the spot."
"I must be your 'wishing fairy,'" said she, laughing.
"I'll bring you a Christmas present, Miss Edwards, like as not," Jim answered, coloring with delight at the thought.
"I hope you may. Thank you for the intention, any way."
"Are you going all alone, Harris?" asked Edwards, as he accompanied him a short distance from the house. "It is not quite safe going alone, is it? Have you any heirs, supposing you lose yourself or break your neck?"
Once more Jim was electrified with an idea. His light, gray eyes turned on his questioner with a sudden flash of intelligence:
"I mought choose my heir, I reckon."
"Mought we go back to the house, an' make a will?"
"Aren't you afraid turning back so often may spoil your luck?" asked Edwards, laughing.
"Ef you think so, I'll never do it," answered Jim, soberly. "But I'll tell you, onct fur all, who it is shall be my heir if any thing chance me, an' I'll expect you'll act on the squar: that person is Miss Mary Edwards, your own sister, an' you'll not go fur to dispute my will?"
"I've no right to dispute your will, whether I approve of it or not. There will be no proof of it, however, and I could not make over your property to my sister, should there be other heirs with a natural and rightful claim to it. But you are not going to make your will just yet, Harris; so, good-by. You'll be home on Christmas?"
"I reckon I will."
John Edwards turned back to the house, and to banter his sister on Jim Harris's will, while that individual went about the business of his journey. His spirits were in a strange state of half-elation, half-depression. The depression was a natural consequence of the talk about a will, and the elation was the result of a strong and sudden faith which had sprung up in him in the success of his undertaking, and of the achievements of every kind it would render possible.
"She's my 'wishin' fairy,' she said, an' she wished me luck twice. I got the first stroke of it when John Edwards called to me across the field. I've got him strong on that; an' I war a leetle surprised, too. He wanted to make me look sharp, that's clar as mud. I'll look sharp, you bet, John Edwards! Didn't her hand look purty when she wrote her name? I've got her name to look at, any way." And at this stage of his reverie, Jim drew from an inner breast-pocket the bond which Miss Edwards had witnessed, and, after gazing at the signature for a moment with moveless features, gave a shy, hasty glance all round him, and pressed his parched and puckered lips on the paper.
The sentiment which caused this ebullition of emotion in Sandy-haired Jim was one so dimly defined, so little understood, and so absolutely pure in its nature, that had Miss Edwards been made aware of it, she could only have seen in it the touching tribute which it was to abstract womanliness—to the "wimmen nater," of which Jim was so frank an admirer. The gulf which was between them had never yet been crossed, even in imagination, though it is presumable; that, unknown to himself, Jim was trembling on the verge of it at this moment, dragged thither by the excitement of prospective wealth and the possibilities involved in it, and by the recollection of the pleasant words and smiles of this, to him, queen of women.
After this gush of romance—the first and only one Jim had ever been guilty of—he returned the document to his pocket, and, with his customary deliberation, proceeded to catch and mount his horse, and before noon was on his way across the valley, toward that particular gorge in the mountain where
was supposed to be located. John Edwards stood in the house door watching him ambling over the waste, yellow plain, until Jim and his horse together appeared a mere speck in the distance, when he went to talk over with his sister the late transaction, and make some jesting remarks on the probability of the desired discovery.
The days sped by, and there remained but two before Christmas. John and his sister were consulting together over the arrangement of some evergreen arches and wreaths of bay-leaves. Miss Edwards was explaining where the floral ornaments should come in, where she would have this picture, and where that, and how it would be best to light the rooms.
"I confess, John," she said, sitting down to braid the scarlet berries of the native
into a wreath with the leaves of the California nutmeg, "that I can not make it seem like winter or like Christmas, with these open doors, these flowers, and this warm sunlight streaming in at the windows. I do wish we could have a flurry of snow, to make it seem like the holidays."
"Snow is out of the question; but I should be thankful for a good rain-storm. If it does not rain soon, there will be another failure of crops next year in all this part of the country."
"And then we should have to 'go down into Egypt for corn,' as the Israelites used to. Do you feel very apprehensive, John?"
Before John could reply, his attention was diverted by a strange arrival. Dismounting from Jim's horse was a man whom he did not at once recognize, so shabby were his clothes, so worn and haggard his appearance. With a feeling of vague uneasiness and curiosity, he sauntered toward the gate, to give such greeting as seemed fit to the stranger who came in this guise, yet riding a well-conditioned horse belonging to one of his own men.
Miss Edwards, who had also recognized the animal, ran, impulsively, to the door. She saw her brother advance to within a few feet of the stranger, then turn abruptly on his heel and return toward the house. The man thus contemptuously received, reeled, as if he would have fallen, but caught at the gate-post, where he remained, leaning, as if unable to walk.
"Who is it, John?" asked Miss Edwards, anxiously regarding her brother's stern countenance; but he passed her, without a word.
A sudden pallor swept over her face, and she looked, for one moment, as if she might have fainted; then, with a cry of, "Oh, John, John, be merciful!" she ran after him, and threw her arms about him.
"Let me go, Mary," said he, hoarsely. "If you wish to see Charles Erskine, you can do as you please.
wash my hands of him."
"But, John, he is ill; he is suffering; he may die—and at your gate!"
"Let him die!"
It was then that the soul of Miss Edwards "stood up in her eyes, and looked at" her brother. She withdrew her arms and turned mutely toward the door, out of which she passed, with a proud, resolute, and rapid tread. Without hesitation she did that which is so hard for a woman to do—make advances toward the man with whom she had once been in tender relations, but whose position has, for any reason, been made to appear doubtful. She went to him, took him by the hand, and inquired, more tremulously than she meant, what she could do for him.
"Mary!" answered the sick man, and then fainted quite away.
Miss Edwards had him conveyed to her own room, by the hands of Missouri Joe and the Chinese cook, where she dispensed such restoratives as finally brought back consciousness; and some slight nourishment being administered, revealed the fact that exhaustion and famine, more than disease, had reduced the invalid to his present condition; on becoming aware of which fact, Miss Edwards grew suddenly embarrassed, and, arranging everything for his comfort, was about to withdraw from the apartment, when Erskine beckoned to her, and, fumbling in his pockets, brought out several pieces of white quartz, thickly studded with yellow metal, but of the value of which she had little conception.
"Take these to John," he said, "and tell him they are a peace-offering. They came from
"You have seen James Harris; and he has discovered the mine!"
"I have seen no one. I discovered the mine myself."
"But the horse? It was Harris' horse you were riding."
"I did not know it; I found him, fortunately, when I could no longer walk."
"Poor Charlie," whispered Miss Edwards, moved by that womanly weakness which is always betraying the sex. She never knew how it was, but her head sank on the pillow; and, when she remembered it afterward, she was certain that, in the confusion of her ideas, he kissed her. Then she fled from the room, and sought her brother everywhere, saying, over and over, to herself, "Poor Jim! I wonder what has happened to him;" with tears streaming from her eyes, which she piously attributed to apprehensions for James Harris.
When John was found, and the "specimens" placed in his hands, he was first incredulous, and then indignant; for it hurts a proud man to be forced to change an opinion, or forgive an injury. The pressure of circumstances being too strong for him, he relented so far as to see Erskine, and talk over the discovery with him. What more the two men talked of, never transpired; but Miss Edwards concluded that everything was settled, as her brother gave orders concerning the entertainment of his former partner, and looked and spoke with unusual vivacity for the remainder of the day.
Many conjectures were formed concerning the fate of Sandy-haired Jim, by the men on the ranch, who generally agreed that his horse would not leave him, and that, if he were alive, he would be found not far from the spot where Charles Erskine picked up the animal. From Erskine's account, it appeared that he had been several weeks in the mountains, prospecting, before he discovered the mine; by which time he was so reduced in strength, through hardship and insufficient food, that it was with difficulty he made his way down to the valley. Just at a time when to proceed further seemed impossible, and when he had been absent two days from the mine, he fell in with a riding-horse, quietly grazing, at the foot of the mountain. Catching and mounting him, he rode, first along the edge of the valley for some distance, to find, if possibly a party were encamped there; but finding no one, started for his old home, riding as long as his strength allowed, and dismounting quite often to rest. In this way, three days and a half had passed, since the discovery of the mine. Judging from where the horse was found, Harris must have gone up on the other side of the ridge or spur, in which
was located. At all events, it was decided to send a party to look for him, as, whether or not any accident had befallen him, he was now without the means of reaching home; and, to provide for any emergencies, John ordered the light wagon to be taken along, with certain other articles, so suggestive of possible pain and calamity, that Miss Edwards felt her blood chilled by the sight of them.
"He will be so disappointed," she said, "not to have been the discoverer of the mine. John, you must make him a handsome present, and I will see what I can do, to show my gratitude for his many kindnesses."
And then, happy in the presence of her lover, and the returning cheerfulness of her brother, Miss Edwards forgot to give more than a passing thought to James Harris, while she busied herself in the preparations for a holiday, which, to her, would be doubly an anniversary, ever afterward.
The clouds, which had been gathering for a storm, during the past week, sent down a deluge of rain, on Christmas Eve, making it necessary to light fires in the long-empty fire-places, and giving a truly festive glow to the holiday adornments of the Edwards Rancho. The ranch hands were dancing to the music of the "Arkansas Traveler," in their separate quarters. John Edwards's half-dozen friends from the city, with two or three of his sister's, and the now convalescent Charles Erskine, clothed in a suit of borrowed broadcloth, were making mirth and music, after their more refined fashion, in Miss Edwards's parlor.
At the hour when, according to tradition, the Bethlehem Babe was born, Missouri Joe appeared at the door, and made a sign to the master of the house.
"It's a pity, like," said Joe, softly, "to leave him out thar in the storm."
"'Him!' Do you mean Harris? How is he?"
"The storm can't hurt him none," continued Joe; "an' it do not look right to fetch him in yer, nor to 'tother house, no more."
"What is it, John?" Miss Edwards asked anxiously, looking over his shoulder into the darkness. "Has Harris returned?"
"They have brought him," answered John; "and we must have him in here."
She shrank away, frightened and distressed, while the men brought what remained of Sandy-haired Jim, and deposited it carefully on a wooden bench in the hall. There was little to be told. The men had found him at the foot of a precipice where he had fallen. Beside him was a heavy nugget of pure gold, which he was evidently carrying when he fell. He had not died immediately, for in his breast-pocket was found the bond, with this indorsement, in pencil:
"I hev lit onto the mine foller mi trail up the kenyon miss Mary edwards is mi air so help me God goodby.
They buried him on Christmas Day; and Miss Edwards, smiling through her quiet-flowing tears, adorned his coffin with evergreen-wreaths and flowers. "I am glad to do this for him," she whispered to her lover, "for if ever there was a heart into which Christ was born at its birth, it was poor Jim's."