Colonel Bob Jarvis
by Margaret Collier Graham
We were sojourning between Anaheim and the sea. There was a sunshiny
dullness about the place, like the smiles of a vapid woman. The bit of
vineyard surrounding our whitewashed cabin was an emerald set in the
dull, golden-brown plain. Before the door an artesian well glittered in
the sun like an inverted crystal bowl. Esculapius called the spot
Fezzan, and gradually I came to think the well a fountain, and the
sunburnt waste about us a stretch of yellow sand.
When I had walked to the field of whispering corn behind the house, and
through the straggling vines to the edge of the vineyard in front, I
came back to where my invalid sat beneath the feathery acacias, dreaming
in happy lonesomeness.
"Did you ever see such placid, bright, ethereal stillness?" I asked.
Esculapius took his cigar from his lips and looked at me pensively.
"It may be my misfortune, I hope it is not my fault, but I do not
remember to have seen stillness of any sort."
Esculapius has but one shortcoming—he is not a poet. I never wound him
by appearing to notice this defect, so I sat down on the dry burr-clover
and made no reply.
"You think it is still," he went on in a mannish, instructive way, "but
in fact there are a thousand sounds. At night, when it is really quiet,
you will hear the roar of the ocean ten miles away. Hark!"
Our host was singing far down in the corn. He was a minister, a
deep-toned Methodist, brimming over with vocal piety.
"Nearer the great white throne,
Nearer the jasper sea,"—
came to us in slow, rich cadences.
The fern-like branches above us stirred softly against the blue. Little
aromatic whiffs came from the grove of pale eucalyptus-trees near the
house. Esculapius diluted the intoxicating air with tobacco smoke and
remained sane, but as for me the sunshine went to my head, and whirled
and eddied there like some Eastern drug.
"My love," I said wildly, "if we stay here very long and nothing
happens, I shall do something rash."
The next morning a huge derrick frowned in the dooryard, and a
picturesque group of workmen lounged under the acacias. The well had
ceased to flow.
Esculapius called me to a corner of the piazza, and spoke in low,
"Something has happened," he said; "the well has stopped. I thought it
might relieve your feelings to get off that quotation about the golden
bowl and the wheel, and the pitcher, and the fountain, etc.; then, if it
is safe to leave you, I would like to go hunting."
I looked at him with profound compassion.
"I have forgotten the quotation," I said, "but I think it begins: 'The
grinders shall cease because they are few.' Perhaps you had better take
your shotgun, and don't forget your light overcoat. Good-by."
Then I took a pitcher and went down the walk to the disglorified well.
The musical drip on the pebbles was hushed; the charm of our oasis had
departed. In its place stood a length of rusty pipe full of standing
water. Some bits of maiden's-hair I had placed in reach of the cool
spray yesterday were already withered in the sun. I took the gourd from
its notch in the willows sadly. Some one had been before me and carved
"Ichabod" on its handle. I filled my pitcher and turned to go. A tall
form separated itself from the group of workmen and came gallantly
"Madame," said a rich, hearty voice, "if you'll just allow me, I'll
tackle that pitcher and tote it in for you. Jarvis is my name, Colonel
Bob Jarvis, well-borer. We struck a ten-inch flow down at Scranton's
last week, and rather knocked the bottom out of things around here."
"But the pitcher isn't at all heavy, Colonel Jarvis."
"Oh, never mind that: anything's too heavy for a lady; that's my
sentiments. You see, I'm a ladies' man,—born and brought up to it.
Nursed my mother and two aunts and a grandmother through consumption,
and never let one of 'em lift a finger. 'Robert,' my mother used to
say, in her thin, sickly voice, 'Robert, be true to God and the women;'
and, by godfrey, I mean to be."
I relinquished the pitcher instantly. Esculapius was right; something
had happened. The well was gone, but in its place I had found something
a thousand times more refreshing. When my husband returned, he found me
sitting breathless and absorbed under the acacias.
"Hush!" I said, with upraised finger; "listen!"
Our host and the colonel were talking as they worked at the well.
"We've had glorious meetings this week over at Gospel Swamp, Jarvis,"
the minister was saying. "I looked for you every night. If you could
just come over and hear the singing, and have some of the good brothers
and sisters pray with you, don't you think"—
"Why, God bless your soul, man!" interrupted the colonel; "don't you
know I'm religious? I'm with you right along, as to first principles,
that is; but, you see, I can't quite go the Methodist doctrine. I was
raised a Presbyterian, you know,—regular black-and-blue Calvinist,—and
what a fellow takes in with his mother's milk sticks by him. I'm
attached to the old ideas,—infant damnation, and total depravity, and
infernal punishment, and the interference of the saints. You fellows
over at the Swamp are loose! Why, by—the way, my mother used to say to
me, in her delicate, squeaky voice: 'Robert, beware of Methodists;
they're loose, my son, loose as a bag of bones.' No, indeed, I wouldn't
want you to think me indifferent to religion; religion's my forte. Why,
by—and by, I mean to start a Presbyterian church right here under your
"I'm glad of it," responded the minister warmly; "you've no idea how
glad I am, Jarvis."
"Why, man alive, that church is in my mind day and night. I want to get
about forty good, pious Presbyterian families to settle around here, and
I'll bore wells for 'em, and talk up the church business between times.
You saw me carrying that lady's pitcher for her this morning, didn't
you? Well, by—the way, that was a religious move entirely. I took her
man for a Presbyterian preacher the minute I struck the ranch; maybe
it's poor health gives him that cadaverous look, but you can't most
always tell. More likely it's religion. At any rate"—
Esculapius retreated in wild disorder, and did not appear again until
supper-time. When that meal was finished, Colonel Jarvis followed me as
I walked to the piazza.
"If it ain't presuming, madam," he said confidentially, "I'd like to ask
your advice. I take it you're from the city, now?"
"Yes," I answered, with preternatural gravity; "what makes you think
"Well, I knew it by your gait, mostly. A woman that's raised in the
country walks as if she was used to havin' the road to herself; city
women are generally good steppers. But that ain't the point. I'm engaged
to be married!"
My composure under this announcement was a good deal heightened by the
fact that Esculapius, who had sauntered out after us, whistling to
himself, became suddenly quiet, and disappeared tumultuously.
"Engaged to be married!" I said. "Let me congratulate you, Colonel. May
I hope to see the fortunate young lady?"
"That depends. You see, I'm in a row,—the biggest kind of a row, by—a
good deal; and I thought you might give me a lift. She's a 'Frisco lady,
you know; one of your regular high-flyers; black eyes, bangs, no end o'
spirit. You see, she was visitin' over at Los Nietos, and we made it up,
and when she went back to 'Frisco I thought I'd send her a ring; so I
bought this," fumbling in his pocket, and producing the most astounding
combination of red glass and pinchbeck; "and, by godfrey! she sent it
back to me. Now, I don't see anything wrong about that ring; do you?"
"It is certainly a little—well, peculiar, at least, for an engagement
ring; perhaps she would like something a trifle less showy. Ladies have
a great many whims about jewelry, you know."
"Exactly. That is just what I reflected. So I went and bought this"
(triumphantly displaying a narrow band); "now that's what I call
genteel; don't you? Well, if you'll believe it, she sent that back, too,
by—return mail. I wish I'd fetched you the letter she wrote; if it
wasn't the spiciest piece of literature I ever read by—anybody. 'She'd
have me understand she wasn't a barmaid nor a Quaker; and if I didn't
know what was due a lady in her position, I'd better find out before I
aspired to her hand,' et cetery. Oh, I tell you, she's grit; no end o'
mettle. So, you see, I've struck a boulder, and it gets me bad, because
I meant to see the parson through with his well here, and then go on to
'Frisco and get married. Now, if you'll help me through, and get me into
sand and gravel again, and your man decides to settle in these parts,
I'll guarantee you a number one well, good, even two-inch flow, and no
expense but pipe and boardin' hands. I'll do it, by—some means."
"Oh, no, Colonel," I said, struggling with a laugh; "I couldn't allow
that. It gives me great pleasure to advise you, only it's a very
delicate matter, you know—and—really" (I was casting about wildly for
an inspiration) "wouldn't it be better to go on to the city, as you
intended, and ask the lady to go with you and exercise her own taste in
selecting a ring?"
My companion took a step backward, folded his arms, and looked at me
"Well, if it don't beat all how a woman walks through a millstone! Now
that's what I call neat. Why, God bless you, madam, I've been boring at
that thing for a week steady, night and day, by—myself, and making no
headway. It makes me think of my mother. 'Robert,' she used to say (and
she had a very small, trembly voice),—'Robert, a woman's little finger
weighs more than a man's whole carcass;' and she was right. I'll
be—destroyed if she wasn't right!"
Esculapius laughed rather unnecessarily when I repeated this
conversation to him.
"I am willing to allow that it's funny," I said; "but after all there is
a rude pathos in the man, an untutored chivalry. Nearly every man loves
and reverences a woman; but this man loves and reverences women. It is
old-fashioned, I know, but it has a breezy sweetness of its own, like
the lavender and rosemary of our grandmothers; don't you think so?"
There was no reply. I imagine that Esculapius is sensible at times of
his want of ideality, and feels a delicacy in conversing with me. So I
went on musingly:—
"With such natures love is an instinct; and it is to instinct, after
all, that we must look for everything that is fresh and poetic in
humanity. We have all made this sacrifice to culture,—a sacrifice of
force to expression. Isn't it so, my love?"
Still no reply.
"I like to picture to myself the affection of which such a man is
capable, for no doubt he loves this girl of whom he speaks; not, of
course, as you—as you ought to love me, but with a rude, wild
sincerity, a sort of rugged grandeur. Imagine him betrayed by her. A man
of the world might grow white about the lips and sick at heart, but he
would find relief in cynicism and bitter words. This man would
act,—some wild, strange act of vengeance. The cultured nature is a
honeycomb: his is a solid mass; and masses give us our most picturesque
effects. Don't you think so, my dear?"
And still no reply.
"Well, my love?"
"Isn't it barbarous of you not to answer when I speak to you?"
"Possibly; at least it has that appearance, but there are mitigating
circumstances, my dear. I was asleep."
Two weeks later the colonel brought his wife to call upon me. She was a
showy, loud-voiced blonde, resplendently over-dressed. At the first
opportunity her husband motioned me aside.
"Isn't she about the gayest piece of calico you ever saw?" he asked,
with proud confidence. "Doesn't she lay over anything around here by a
"She is certainly a very striking woman," I said gravely, "and one who
does you great credit. But I am a little surprised, Colonel. No doubt it
was a mistake, but I got the impression in some way that the lady was a
The colonel's countenance fell. "Now, look here," he said, after a
little reflection; "I don't mind telling you, because you're up to the
city ways and you'll understand. The fact is, this isn't the one. You
see, I went on to 'Frisco as you advised, and planked down a check for
five hundred dollars the minute I got there. 'Now,' said I, 'Bob Jarvis
don't do things by halves; just you take that money, my girl, and get
yourself a ring that's equal to the occasion. I don't care if it's a
cluster of solitary diamonds as big as a section of well-pipe.' Now, I
call that square, don't you? Well, God bless your soul, madam, if she
didn't take that money and skip out with another fellow! Some
white-livered city sneak—beggin' your husband's pardon—who'd been
hangin' around for a year or more. Of course I was stuck when I heard of
it. It was this one told me. She's her sister. I could see that she felt
bad about it. 'It was a nasty, dirty trick,' she said; and I'll
be—demoralized if I don't think so myself, and said so at the time.
But, after all, it turned out a lucky thing for me. Now look at that,
I followed his gaze of admiring fondness to where Mrs. Jarvis was,
bridling and simpering under Esculapius's compliments.
"Isn't she a nosegay? But don't you be jealous, madam; she's just
wrapped up in me, and constant," he added, shaking his head
reflectively; "why, bless your soul, she's as constant as sin."
When I told Esculapius of this he sighed deeply.
"What is the matter?" I asked, with some anxiety.
He threw back his head and sent a little dreamy cloud of smoke up
through the acacias.
"I was thinking," he said, pensively, "what a 'wild, strange act of
vengeance' it was!"
I looked him sternly in the eye. "My dear," I said, "I don't think you
ought to distress yourself about that. I never should have reminded you
of it. You were dreaming, you know, and you are not responsible for what
you dream. Besides, dreams are like human nature, they always go by