by Bret Harte
It was a season of unequalled prosperity in Devil's Ford. The half a dozen
cabins scattered along the banks of the North Fork, as if by some overflow
of that capricious river, had become augmented during a week of fierce
excitement by twenty or thirty others, that were huddled together on the
narrow gorge of Devil's Spur, or cast up on its steep sides. So sudden and
violent had been the change of fortune, that the dwellers in the older
cabins had not had time to change with it, but still kept their old
habits, customs, and even their old clothes. The flour pan in which their
daily bread was mixed stood on the rude table side by side with the
"prospecting pans," half full of gold washed up from their morning's work;
the front windows of the newer tenements looked upon the one single
thoroughfare, but the back door opened upon the uncleared wilderness,
still haunted by the misshapen bulk of bear or the nightly gliding of
Neither had success as yet affected their boyish simplicity and the
frankness of old frontier habits; they played with their new-found riches
with the naive delight of children, and rehearsed their glowing future
with the importance and triviality of school-boys.
"I've bin kalklatin'," said Dick Mattingly, leaning on his long-handled
shovel with lazy gravity, "that when I go to Rome this winter, I'll get
one o' them marble sharps to chisel me a statoo o' some kind to set up on
the spot where we made our big strike. Suthin' to remember it by, you
"What kind o' statoo—Washington or Webster?" asked one of the
Kearney brothers, without looking up from his work.
"No—I reckon one o' them fancy groups—one o' them Latin
goddesses that Fairfax is always gassin' about, sorter leadin', directin'
and bossin' us where to dig."
"You'd make a healthy-lookin' figger in a group," responded Kearney,
critically regarding an enormous patch in Mattingly's trousers. "Why don't
you have a fountain instead?"
"Where'll you get the water?" demanded the first speaker, in return. "You
know there ain't enough in the North Fork to do a week's washing for the
camp—to say nothin' of its color."
"Leave that to me," said Kearney, with self-possession. "When I've built
that there reservoir on Devil's Spur, and bring the water over the ridge
from Union Ditch, there'll be enough to spare for that."
"Better mix it up, I reckon—have suthin' half statoo, half
fountain," interposed the elder Mattingly, better known as "Maryland Joe,"
"and set it up afore the Town Hall and Free Library I'm kalklatin' to
give. Do THAT, and you can count on me."
After some further discussion, it was gravely settled that Kearney should
furnish water brought from the Union Ditch, twenty miles away, at a cost
of two hundred thousand dollars, to feed a memorial fountain erected by
Mattingly, worth a hundred thousand dollars, as a crowning finish to
public buildings contributed by Maryland Joe, to the extent of half a
million more. The disposition of these vast sums by gentlemen wearing
patched breeches awakened no sense of the ludicrous, nor did any doubt,
reservation, or contingency enter into the plans of the charming
enthusiasts themselves. The foundation of their airy castles lay already
before them in the strip of rich alluvium on the river bank, where the
North Fork, sharply curving round the base of Devil's Spur, had for
centuries swept the detritus of gulch and canyon. They had barely crossed
the threshold of this treasure-house, to find themselves rich men; what
possibilities of affluence might be theirs when they had fully exploited
their possessions? So confident were they of that ultimate prospect, that
the wealth already thus obtained was religiously expended in engines and
machinery for the boring of wells and the conveyance of that precious
water which the exhausted river had long since ceased to yield. It seemed
as if the gold they had taken out was by some ironical compensation
gradually making its way back to the soil again through ditch and flume
Such was the position of affairs at Devil's Ford on the 13th of August,
1860. It was noon of a hot day. Whatever movement there was in the
stifling air was seen rather than felt in a tremulous, quivering,
upward-moving dust along the flank of the mountain, through which the
spires of the pines were faintly visible. There was no water in the bared
and burning bars of the river to reflect the vertical sun, but under its
direct rays one or two tinned roofs and corrugated zinc cabins struck
fire, a few canvas tents became dazzling to the eye, and the white wooded
corral of the stage office and hotel insupportable. For two hours no one
ventured in the glare of the open, or even to cross the narrow, unshadowed
street, whose dull red dust seemed to glow between the lines of straggling
houses. The heated shells of these green unseasoned tenements gave out a
pungent odor of scorching wood and resin. The usual hurried, feverish toil
in the claim was suspended; the pick and shovel were left sticking in the
richest "pay gravel;" the toiling millionaires themselves, ragged, dirty,
and perspiring, lay panting under the nearest shade, where the pipes went
out listlessly, and conversation sank to monosyllables.
"There's Fairfax," said Dick Mattingly, at last, with a lazy effort. His
face was turned to the hillside, where a man had just emerged from the
woods, and was halting irresolutely before the glaring expanse of upheaved
gravel and glistening boulders that stretched between him and the shaded
group. "He's going to make a break for it," he added, as the stranger,
throwing his linen coat over his head, suddenly started into an Indian
trot through the pelting sunbeams toward them. This strange act was
perfectly understood by the group, who knew that in that intensely dry
heat the danger of exposure was lessened by active exercise and the
profuse perspiration that followed it. In another moment the stranger had
reached their side, dripping as if rained upon, mopping his damp curls and
handsome bearded face with his linen coat, as he threw himself pantingly
on the ground.
"I struck out over here first, boys, to give you a little warning," he
said, as soon as he had gained breath. "That engineer will be down here to
take charge as soon as the six o'clock stage comes in. He's an oldish
chap, has got a family of two daughters, and—I—am—d——d
if he is not bringing them down here with him."
"Oh, go long!" exclaimed the five men in one voice, raising themselves on
their hands and elbows, and glaring at the speaker.
"Fact, boys! Soon as I found it out I just waltzed into that Jew shop at
the Crossing and bought up all the clothes that would be likely to suit
you fellows, before anybody else got a show. I reckon I cleared out the
shop. The duds are a little mixed in style, but I reckon they're clean and
whole, and a man might face a lady in 'em. I left them round at the old
Buckeye Spring, where they're handy without attracting attention. You boys
can go there for a general wash-up, rig yourselves up without saying
anything, and then meander back careless and easy in your store clothes,
just as the stage is coming in, sabe?"
"Why didn't you let us know earlier?" asked Mattingly aggrievedly; "you've
been back here at least an hour."
"I've been getting some place ready for THEM," returned the new-comer. "We
might have managed to put the man somewhere, if he'd been alone, but these
women want family accommodation. There was nothing left for me to do but
to buy up Thompson's saloon."
"No?" interrupted his audience, half in incredulity, half in protestation.
"Fact! You boys will have to take your drinks under canvas again, I
reckon! But I made Thompson let those gold-framed mirrors that used to
stand behind the bar go into the bargain, and they sort of furnish the
room. You know the saloon is one of them patent houses you can take to
pieces, and I've been reckoning you boys will have to pitch in and help me
to take the whole shanty over to the laurel bushes, and put it up agin
"What's all that?" said the younger Kearney, with an odd mingling of
astonishment and bashful gratification.
"Yes, I reckon yours is the cleanest house, because it's the newest, so
you'll just step out and let us knock in one o' the gables, and clap it on
to the saloon, and make ONE house of it, don't you see? There'll be two
rooms, one for the girls and the other for the old man."
The astonishment and bewilderment of the party had gradually given way to
a boyish and impatient interest.
"Hadn't we better do the job at once?" suggested Dick Mattingly.
"Or throw ourselves into those new clothes, so as to be ready," added the
younger Kearney, looking down at his ragged trousers. "I say, Fairfax,
what are the girls like, eh?"
All the others had been dying to ask the question, yet one and all laughed
at the conscious manner and blushing cheek of the questioner.
"You'll find out quick enough," returned Fairfax, whose curt carelessness
did not, however, prevent a slight increase of color on his own cheek.
"We'd better get that job off our hands before doing anything else. So, if
you're ready, boys, we'll just waltz down to Thompson's and pack up the
shanty. He's out of it by this time, I reckon. You might as well be
perspiring to some purpose over there as gaspin' under this tree. We won't
go back to work this afternoon, but knock off now, and call it half a day.
Come! Hump yourselves, gentlemen. Are you ready? One, two, three, and
In another instant the tree was deserted; the figures of the five
millionaires of Devil's Ford, crossing the fierce glare of the open space,
with boyish alacrity, glistened in the sunlight, and then disappeared in
the nearest fringe of thickets.
Six hours later, when the shadow of Devil's Spur had crossed the river,
and spread a slight coolness over the flat beyond, the Pioneer coach,
leaving the summit, began also to bathe its heated bulk in the long
shadows of the descent. Conspicuous among the dusty passengers, the two
pretty and youthful faces of the daughters of Philip Carr, mining
superintendent and engineer, looked from the windows with no little
anxiety towards their future home in the straggling settlement below, that
occasionally came in view at the turns of the long zigzagging road. A
slight look of comical disappointment passed between them as they gazed
upon the sterile flat, dotted with unsightly excrescences that stood
equally for cabins or mounds of stone and gravel. It was so feeble and
inconsistent a culmination to the beautiful scenery they had passed
through, so hopeless and imbecile a conclusion to the preparation of that
long picturesque journey, with its glimpses of sylvan and pastoral glades
and canyons, that, as the coach swept down the last incline, and the
remorseless monotony of the dead level spread out before them, furrowed by
ditches and indented by pits, under cover of shielding their cheeks from
the impalpable dust that rose beneath the plunging wheels, they buried
their faces in their handkerchiefs, to hide a few half-hysterical tears.
Happily, their father, completely absorbed in a practical, scientific, and
approving contemplation of the topography and material resources of the
scene of his future labors, had no time to notice their defection. It was
not until the stage drew up before a rambling tenement bearing the
inscription, "Hotel and Stage Office," that he became fully aware of it.
"We can't stop HERE, papa," said Christie Carr decidedly, with a shake of
her pretty head. "You can't expect that."
Mr. Carr looked up at the building; it was half grocery, half saloon.
Whatever other accommodations it contained must have been hidden in the
rear, as the flat roof above was almost level with the raftered ceiling of
"Certainly," he replied hurriedly; "we'll see to that in a moment. I dare
say it's all right. I told Fairfax we were coming. Somebody ought to be
"But they're not," said Jessie Carr indignantly; "and the few that were
here scampered off like rabbits to their burrows as soon as they saw us
It was true. The little group of loungers before the building had suddenly
disappeared. There was the flash of a red shirt vanishing in an adjacent
doorway; the fading apparition of a pair of high boots and blue overalls
in another; the abrupt withdrawal of a curly blond head from a sashless
window over the way. Even the saloon was deserted, although a back door in
the dim recess seemed to creak mysteriously. The stage-coach, with the
other passengers, had already rattled away.
"I certainly think Fairfax understood that I—" began Mr. Carr.
He was interrupted by the pressure of Christie's fingers on his arm and a
subdued exclamation from Jessie, who was staring down the street.
"What are they?" she whispered in her sister's ear. "Nigger minstrels, a
circus, or what?"
The five millionaires of Devil's Ford had just turned the corner of the
straggling street, and were approaching in single file. One glance was
sufficient to show that they had already availed themselves of the new
clothing bought by Fairfax, had washed, and one or two had shaved. But the
result was startling.
Through some fortunate coincidence in size, Dick Mattingly was the only
one who had achieved an entire new suit. But it was of funereal black
cloth, and although relieved at one extremity by a pair of high riding
boots, in which his too short trousers were tucked, and at the other by a
tall white hat, and cravat of aggressive yellow, the effect was
depressing. In agreeable contrast, his brother, Maryland Joe, was attired
in a thin fawn-colored summer overcoat, lightly worn open, so as to show
the unstarched bosom of a white embroidered shirt, and a pair of nankeen
trousers and pumps.
The Kearney brothers had divided a suit between them, the elder wearing a
tightly-fitting, single-breasted blue frock-coat and a pair of pink
striped cotton trousers, while the younger candidly displayed the trousers
of his brother's suit, as a harmonious change to a shining black alpaca
coat and crimson neckerchief. Fairfax, who brought up the rear, had, with
characteristic unselfishness, contented himself with a French workman's
blue blouse and a pair of white duck trousers. Had they shown the least
consciousness of their finery, or of its absurdity, they would have seemed
despicable. But only one expression beamed on the five sunburnt and
shining faces—a look of unaffected boyish gratification and
They halted before Mr. Carr and his daughters, simultaneously removed
their various and remarkable head coverings, and waited until Fairfax
advanced and severally presented them. Jessie Carr's half-frightened smile
took refuge in the trembling shadows of her dark lashes; Christie Carr
stiffened slightly, and looked straight before her.
"We reckoned—that is—we intended to meet you and the young
ladies at the grade," said Fairfax, reddening a little as he endeavored to
conceal his too ready slang, "and save you from trapesing—from
dragging yourselves up grade again to your house."
"Then there IS a house?" said Jessie, with an alarming frank laugh of
relief, that was, however, as frankly reflected in the boyishly
appreciative eyes of the young men.
"Such as it is," responded Fairfax, with a shade of anxiety, as he glanced
at the fresh and pretty costumes of the young women, and dubiously
regarded the two Saratoga trunks resting hopelessly on the veranda. "I'm
afraid it isn't much, for what you're accustomed to. But," he added more
cheerfully, "it will do for a day or two, and perhaps you'll give us the
pleasure of showing you the way there now."
The procession was quickly formed. Mr. Carr, alive only to the actual
business that had brought him there, at once took possession of Fairfax,
and began to disclose his plans for the working of the mine, occasionally
halting to look at the work already done in the ditches, and to examine
the field of his future operations. Fairfax, not displeased at being thus
relieved of a lighter attendance on Mr. Carr's daughters, nevertheless
from time to time cast a paternal glance backwards upon their escorts, who
had each seized a handle of the two trunks, and were carrying them in
couples at the young ladies' side. The occupation did not offer much
freedom for easy gallantry, but no sign of discomfiture or uneasiness was
visible in the grateful faces of the young men. The necessity of changing
hands at times with their burdens brought a corresponding change of
cavalier at the lady's side, although it was observed that the younger
Kearney, for the sake of continuing a conversation with Miss Jessie, kept
his grasp of the handle nearest the young lady until his hand was nearly
cut through, and his arm worn out by exhaustion.
"The only thing on wheels in the camp is a mule wagon, and the mules are
packin' gravel from the river this afternoon," explained Dick Mattingly
apologetically to Christie, "or we'd have toted—I mean carried—you
and your baggage up to the shant—the—your house. Give us two
weeks more, Miss Carr—only two weeks to wash up our work and realize—and
we'll give you a pair of 2.40 steppers and a skeleton buggy to meet you at
the top of the hill and drive you over to the cabin. Perhaps you'd prefer
a regular carriage; some ladies do. And a nigger driver. But what's the
use of planning anything? Afore that time comes we'll have run you up a
house on the hill, and you shall pick out the spot. It wouldn't take long—unless
you preferred brick. I suppose we could get brick over from La Grange, if
you cared for it, but it would take longer. If you could put up for a time
with something of stained glass and a mahogany veranda—"
In spite of her cold indignation, and the fact that she could understand
only a part of Mattingly's speech, Christie comprehended enough to make
her lift her clear eyes to the speaker, as she replied freezingly that she
feared she would not trouble them long with her company.
"Oh, you'll get over that," responded Mattingly, with an exasperating
confidence that drove her nearly frantic, from the manifest kindliness of
intent that made it impossible for her to resent it. "I felt that way
myself at first. Things will look strange and unsociable for a while,
until you get the hang of them. You'll naturally stamp round and cuss a
little—" He stopped in conscious consternation.
With ready tact, and before Christie could reply, Maryland Joe had put
down the trunk and changed hands with his brother.
"You mustn't mind Dick, or he'll go off and kill himself with shame," he
whispered laughingly in her ear. "He means all right, but he's picked up
so much slang here that he's about forgotten how to talk English, and it's
nigh on to four years since he's met a young lady."
Christie did not reply. Yet the laughter of her sister in advance with the
Kearney brothers seemed to make the reserve with which she tried to crush
further familiarity only ridiculous.
"Do you know many operas, Miss Carr?"
She looked at the boyish, interested, sunburnt face so near to her own,
and hesitated. After all, why should she add to her other real
disappointments by taking this absurd creature seriously?
"In what way?" she returned, with a half smile.
"To play. On the piano, of course. There isn't one nearer here than
Sacramento; but I reckon we could get a small one by Thursday. You
couldn't do anything on a banjo?" he added doubtfully; "Kearney's got
"I imagine it would be very difficult to carry a piano over those
mountains," said Christie laughingly, to avoid the collateral of the
"We got a billiard-table over from Stockton," half bashfully interrupted
Dick Mattingly, struggling from his end of the trunk to recover his
composure, "and it had to be brought over in sections on the back of a
mule, so I don't see why—" He stopped short again in confusion, at a
sign from his brother, and then added, "I mean, of course, that a piano is
a heap more delicate, and valuable, and all that sort of thing, but it's
worth trying for."
"Fairfax was always saying he'd get one for himself, so I reckon it's
possible," said Joe.
"Does he play?" asked Christie.
"You bet," said Joe, quite forgetting himself in his enthusiasm. "He can
snatch Mozart and Beethoven bald-headed."
In the embarrassing silence that followed this speech the fringe of pine
wood nearest the flat was reached. Here there was a rude "clearing," and
beneath an enormous pine stood the two recently joined tenements. There
was no attempt to conceal the point of junction between Kearney's cabin
and the newly-transported saloon from the flat—no architectural
illusion of the palpable collusion of the two buildings, which seemed to
be telescoped into each other. The front room or living room occupied the
whole of Kearney's cabin. It contained, in addition to the necessary
articles for housekeeping, a "bunk" or berth for Mr. Carr, so as to leave
the second building entirely to the occupation of his daughters as bedroom
There was a half-humorous, half-apologetic exhibition of the rude utensils
of the living room, and then the young men turned away as the two girls
entered the open door of the second room. Neither Christie nor Jessie
could for a moment understand the delicacy which kept these young men from
accompanying them into the room they had but a few moments before
decorated and arranged with their own hands, and it was not until they
turned to thank their strange entertainers that they found that they were
The arrangement of the second room was rude and bizarre, but not without a
singular originality and even tastefulness of conception. What had been
the counter or "bar" of the saloon, gorgeous in white and gold, now sawn
in two and divided, was set up on opposite sides of the room as separate
dressing-tables, decorated with huge bunches of azaleas, that hid the
rough earthenware bowls, and gave each table the appearance of a vestal
The huge gilt plate-glass mirror which had hung behind the bar still
occupied one side of the room, but its length was artfully divided by an
enormous rosette of red, white, and blue muslin—one of the surviving
Fourth of July decorations of Thompson's saloon. On either side of the
door two pathetic-looking, convent-like cots, covered with spotless
sheeting, and heaped up in the middle, like a snow-covered grave, had
attracted their attention. They were still staring at them when Mr. Carr
anticipated their curiosity.
"I ought to tell you that the young men confided to me the fact that there
was neither bed nor mattress to be had on the Ford. They have filled some
flour sacks with clean dry moss from the woods, and put half a dozen
blankets on the top, and they hope you can get along until the messenger
who starts to-night for La Grange can bring some bedding over."
Jessie flew with mischievous delight to satisfy herself of the truth of
this marvel. "It's so, Christie," she said laughingly—"three
flour-sacks apiece; but I'm jealous: yours are all marked 'superfine,' and
Mr. Carr had remained uneasily watching Christie's shadowed face.
"What matters?" she said drily. "The accommodation is all in keeping."
"It will be better in a day or two," he continued, casting a longing look
towards the door—the first refuge of masculine weakness in an
impending domestic emergency. "I'll go and see what can be done," he said
feebly, with a sidelong impulse towards the opening and freedom. "I've got
to see Fairfax again to-night any way."
"One moment, father," said Christie, wearily. "Did you know anything of
this place and these—these people—before you came?"
"Certainly—of course I did," he returned, with the sudden testiness
of disturbed abstraction. "What are you thinking of? I knew the geological
strata and the—the report of Fairfax and his partners before I
consented to take charge of the works. And I can tell you that there is a
fortune here. I intend to make my own terms, and share in it."
"And not take a salary or some sum of money down?" said Christie, slowly
removing her bonnet in the same resigned way.
"I am not a hired man, or a workman, Christie," said her father sharply.
"You ought not to oblige me to remind you of that."
"But the hired men—the superintendent and his workmen—were the
only ones who ever got anything out of your last experience with Colonel
Waters at La Grange, and—and we at least lived among civilized
"These young men are not common people, Christie; even if they have
forgotten the restraints of speech and manners, they're gentlemen."
"Who are willing to live like—like negroes."
"You can make them what you please."
Christie raised her eyes. There was a certain cynical ring in her father's
voice that was unlike his usual hesitating abstraction. It both puzzled
and pained her.
"I mean," he said hastily, "that you have the same opportunity to direct
the lives of these young men into more regular, disciplined channels that
I have to regulate and correct their foolish waste of industry and
material here. It would at least beguile the time for you."
Fortunately for Mr. Carr's escape and Christie's uneasiness, Jessie, who
had been examining the details of the living-room, broke in upon this
"I'm sure it will be as good as a perpetual picnic. George Kearney says we
can have a cooking-stove under the tree outside at the back, and as there
will be no rain for three months we can do the cooking there, and that
will give us more room for—for the piano when it comes; and there's
an old squaw to do the cleaning and washing-up any day—and—and—it
will be real fun."
She stopped breathlessly, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes—a
charming picture of youth and trustfulness. Mr. Carr had seized the
opportunity to escape.
"Really, now, Christie," said Jessie confidentially, when they were alone,
and Christie had begun to unpack her trunk, and to mechanically put her
things away, "they're not so bad."
"Who?" asked Christie.
"Why, the Kearneys, and Mattinglys, and Fairfax, and the lot, provided you
don't look at their clothes. And think of it! they told me—for they
tell one EVERYTHING in the most alarming way—that those clothes were
bought to please US. A scramble of things bought at La Grange, without
reference to size or style. And to hear these creatures talk, why, you'd
think they were Astors or Rothschilds. Think of that little one with the
curls—I don't believe he is over seventeen, for all his baby
moustache—says he's going to build an assembly hall for us to give a
dance in next month; and apologizes the next breath to tell us that there
isn't any milk to be had nearer than La Grange, and we must do without it,
and use syrup in our tea to-morrow."
"And where is all this wealth?" said Christie, forcing herself to smile at
her sister's animation.
"Under our very feet, my child, and all along the river. Why, what we
thought was pure and simple mud is what they call 'gold-bearing cement.'"
"I suppose that is why they don't brush their boots and trousers, it's so
precious," returned Christie drily. "And have they ever translated this
precious dirt into actual coin?"
"Bless you, yes. Why, that dirty little gutter, you know, that ran along
the side of the road and followed us down the hill all the way here, that
cost them—let me see—yes, nearly sixty thousand dollars. And
fancy! papa's just condemned it—says it won't do; and they've got to
An impatient sigh from Christie drew Jessie's attention to her troubled
"Don't worry about our disappointment, dear. It isn't so very great. I
dare say we'll be able to get along here in some way, until papa is rich
again. You know they intend to make him share with them."
"It strikes me that he is sharing with them already," said Christie,
glancing bitterly round the cabin; "sharing everything—ourselves,
our lives, our tastes."
"Ye-e-s!" said Jessie, with vaguely hesitating assent. "Yes, even these:"
she showed two dice in the palm of her little hand. "I found 'em in the
drawer of our dressing-table."
"Throw them away," said Christie impatiently.
But Jessie's small fingers closed over the dice. "I'll give them to the
little Kearney. I dare say they were the poor boy's playthings."
The appearance of these relics of wild dissipation, however, had lifted
Christie out of her sublime resignation. "For Heaven's sake, Jessie," she
said, "look around and see if there is anything more!"
To make sure, they each began to scrimmage; the broken-spirited Christie
exhibiting both alacrity and penetration in searching obscure corners. In
the dining-room, behind the dresser, three or four books were discovered:
an odd volume of Thackeray, another of Dickens, a memorandum-book or
diary. "This seems to be Latin," said Jessie, fishing out a smaller book.
"I can't read it."
"It's just as well you shouldn't," said Christie shortly, whose ideas of a
general classical impropriety had been gathered from pages of Lempriere's
dictionary. "Put it back directly."
Jessie returned certain odes of one Horatius Flaccus to the corner, and
uttered an exclamation. "Oh, Christie! here are some letters tied up with
They were two or three prettily written letters, exhaling a faint odor of
refinement and of the pressed flowers that peeped from between the loose
leaves. "I see, 'My darling Fairfax.' It's from some woman."
"I don't think much of her, whosoever she is," said Christie, tossing the
intact packet back into the corner.
"Nor I," echoed Jessie.
Nevertheless, by some feminine inconsistency, evidently the circumstance
did make them think more of HIM, for a minute later, when they had
reentered their own room, Christie remarked, "The idea of petting a man by
his family name! Think of mamma ever having called papa 'darling Carr'!"
"Oh, but his family name isn't Fairfax," said Jessie hastily; "that's his
FIRST name, his Christian name. I forget what's his other name, but nobody
ever calls him by it."
"Do you mean," said Christie, with glistening eyes and awful deliberation—"do
you mean to say that we're expected to fall in with this insufferable
familiarity? I suppose they'll be calling US by our Christian names next."
"Oh, but they do!" said Jessie, mischievously.
"They call me Miss Jessie; and Kearney, the little one, asked me if
"And what did you say?"
"I said that you did," answered Jessie, with an affectation of cherubic
simplicity. "You do, dear; don't you? . . . There, don't get angry,
darling; I couldn't flare up all of a sudden in the face of that poor
little creature; he looked so absurd—and so—so honest."
Christie turned away, relapsing into her old resigned manner, and assuming
her household duties in a quiet, temporizing way that was, however,
without hope or expectation.
Mr. Carr, who had dined with his friends under the excuse of not adding to
the awkwardness of the first day's housekeeping returned late at night
with a mass of papers and drawings, into which he afterwards withdrew, but
not until he had delivered himself of a mysterious package entrusted to
him by the young men for his daughters. It contained a contribution to
their board in the shape of a silver spoon and battered silver mug, which
Jessie chose to facetiously consider as an affecting reminiscence of the
youthful Kearney's christening days—which it probably was.
The young girls retired early to their white snow-drifts: Jessie not
without some hilarious struggles with hers, in which she was, however,
quickly surprised by the deep and refreshing sleep of youth; Christie to
lie awake and listen to the night wind, that had changed from the first
cool whispers of sunset to the sturdy breath of the mountain. At times the
frail house shook and trembled. Wandering gusts laden with the deep
resinous odors of the wood found their way through the imperfect jointure
of the two cabins, swept her cheek and even stirred her long, wide-open
lashes. A broken spray of pine needles rustled along the roof, or a pine
cone dropped with a quick reverberating tap-tap that for an instant
startled her. Lying thus, wide awake, she fell into a dreamy reminiscence
of the past, hearing snatches of old melody in the moving pines, fragments
of sentences, old words, and familiar epithets in the murmuring wind at
her ear, and even the faint breath of long-forgotten kisses on her cheek.
She remembered her mother—a pallid creature, who had slowly faded
out of one of her father's vague speculations in a vaguer speculation of
her own, beyond his ken—whose place she had promised to take at her
father's side. The words, "Watch over him, Christie; he needs a woman's
care," again echoed in her ears, as if borne on the night wind from the
lonely grave in the lonelier cemetery by the distant sea. She had devoted
herself to him with some little sacrifices of self, only remembered now
for their uselessness in saving her father the disappointment that sprang
from his sanguine and one-idea'd temperament. She thought of him lying
asleep in the other room, ready on the morrow to devote those fateful
qualities to the new enterprise that with equally fateful disposition she
believed would end in failure. It did not occur to her that the doubts of
her own practical nature were almost as dangerous and illogical as his
enthusiasm, and that for that reason she was fast losing what little
influence she possessed over him. With the example of her mother's
weakness before her eyes, she had become an unsparing and distrustful
critic, with the sole effect of awakening his distrust and withdrawing his
confidence from her.
He was beginning to deceive her as he had never deceived her mother. Even
Jessie knew more of this last enterprise than she did herself.
All that did not tend to decrease her utter restlessness. It was already
past midnight when she noticed that the wind had again abated. The
mountain breeze had by this time possessed the stifling valleys and heated
bars of the river in its strong, cold embraces; the equilibrium of Nature
was restored, and a shadowy mist rose from the hollow. A stillness, more
oppressive and intolerable than the previous commotion, began to pervade
the house and the surrounding woods. She could hear the regular breathing
of the sleepers; she even fancied she could detect the faint impulses of
the more distant life in the settlement. The far-off barking of a dog, a
lost shout, the indistinct murmur of some nearer watercourse—mere
phantoms of sound—made the silence more irritating. With a sudden
resolution she arose, dressed herself quietly and completely, threw a
heavy cloak over her head and shoulders, and opened the door between the
living-room and her own. Her father was sleeping soundly in his bunk in
the corner. She passed noiselessly through the room, opened the lightly
fastened door, and stepped out into the night.
In the irritation and disgust of her walk hither, she had never noticed
the situation of the cabin, as it nestled on the slope at the fringe of
the woods; in the preoccupation of her disappointment and the mechanical
putting away of her things, she had never looked once from the window of
her room, or glanced backward out of the door that she had entered. The
view before her was a revelation—a reproach, a surprise that took
away her breath. Over her shoulders the newly risen moon poured a flood of
silvery light, stretching from her feet across the shining bars of the
river to the opposite bank, and on up to the very crest of the Devil's
Spur—no longer a huge bulk of crushing shadow, but the steady
exaltation of plateau, spur, and terrace clothed with replete and
unutterable beauty. In this magical light that beauty seemed to be
sustained and carried along by the river winding at its base, lifted again
to the broad shoulder of the mountain, and lost only in the distant vista
of death-like, overcrowning snow. Behind and above where she stood the
towering woods seemed to be waiting with opened ranks to absorb her with
the little cabin she had quitted, dwarfed into insignificance in the vast
prospect; but nowhere was there another sign or indication of human life
and habitation. She looked in vain for the settlement, for the rugged
ditches, the scattered cabins, and the unsightly heaps of gravel. In the
glamour of the moonlight they had vanished; a veil of silver-gray vapor
touched here and there with ebony shadows masked its site. A black strip
beyond was the river bank. All else was changed. With a sudden sense of
awe and loneliness she turned to the cabin and its sleeping inmates—all
that seemed left to her in the vast and stupendous domination of rock and
wood and sky.
But in another moment the loneliness passed. A new and delicious sense of
an infinite hospitality and friendliness in their silent presence began to
possess her. This same slighted, forgotten, uncomprehended, but still
foolish and forgiving Nature seemed to be bending over her frightened and
listening ear with vague but thrilling murmurings of freedom and
independence. She felt her heart expand with its wholesome breath, her
soul fill with its sustaining truth.
What was that?
An unmistakable outburst of a drunken song at the foot of the slope:—
"Oh, my name it is Johnny from Pike,
I'm h-ll on a spree or a strike." . . .
She stopped as crimson with shame and indignation as if the viewless
singer had risen before her.
"I knew when to bet, and get up and get—"
"Hush! D—n it all. Don't you hear?"
There was the sound of hurried whispers, a "No" and "Yes," and then a dead
Christie crept nearer to the edge of the slope in the shadow of a buckeye.
In the clearer view she could distinguish a staggering figure in the trail
below who had evidently been stopped by two other expostulating shadows
that were approaching from the shelter of a tree.
The staggering figure endeavored to straighten itself, and then slouched
away in the direction of the settlement. The two mysterious shadows
retreated again to the tree, and were lost in its deeper shadow. Christie
darted back to the cabin, and softly reentered her room.
"I thought I heard a noise that woke me, and I missed you," said Jessie,
rubbing her eyes. "Did you see anything?"
"No," said Christie, beginning to undress.
"You weren't frightened, dear?"
"Not in the least," said Christie, with a strange little laugh. "Go to
The five impulsive millionaires of Devil's Ford fulfilled not a few of
their most extravagant promises. In less than six weeks Mr. Carr and his
daughters were installed in a new house, built near the site of the double
cabin, which was again transferred to the settlement, in order to give
greater seclusion to the fair guests. It was a long, roomy, one-storied
villa, with a not unpicturesque combination of deep veranda and trellis
work, which relieved the flat monotony of the interior and the barrenness
of the freshly-cleared ground. An upright piano, brought from Sacramento,
occupied the corner of the parlor. A suite of gorgeous furniture, whose
pronounced and extravagant glories the young girls instinctively hid under
home-made linen covers, had also been spoils from afar. Elsewhere the
house was filled with ornaments and decorations that in their incongruity
forcibly recalled the gilded plate-glass mirrors of the bedroom in the old
cabin. In the hasty furnishing of this Aladdin's palace, the slaves of the
ring had evidently seized upon anything that would add to its glory,
without reference always to fitness.
"I wish it didn't look so cussedly like a robber's cave," said George
Kearney, when they were taking a quiet preliminary survey of the
unclassified treasures, before the Carrs took possession.
"Or a gambling hell," said his brother reflectively.
"It's about the same thing, I reckon," said Dick Mattingly, who was
supposed, in his fiery youth, to have encountered the similarity.
Nevertheless, the two girls managed to bestow the heterogeneous collection
with tasteful adaptation to their needs. A crystal chandelier, which had
once lent a fascinating illusion to the game of Monte, hung unlighted in
the broad hall, where a few other bizarre and public articles were
relegated. A long red sofa or bench, which had done duty beside a
billiard-table found a place here also. Indeed, it is to be feared that
some of the more rustic and bashful youths of Devil's Ford, who had felt
it incumbent upon them to pay their respects to the new-comers, were more
at ease in this vestibule than in the arcana beyond, whose glories they
could see through the open door. To others, it represented a recognized
state of probation before their re-entree into civilization again. "I
reckon, if you don't mind, miss," said the spokesman of one party, "ez
this is our first call, we'll sorter hang out in the hall yer, until you'r
used to us." On another occasion, one Whiskey Dick, impelled by a sense of
duty, paid a visit to the new house and its fair occupants, in a fashion
frankly recounted by him afterwards at the bar of the Tecumseh Saloon.
"You see, boys, I dropped in there the other night, when some of you
fellers was doin' the high-toned 'thankee, marm' business in the parlor. I
just came to anchor in the corner of the sofy in the hall, without lettin'
on to say that I was there, and took up a Webster's dictionary that was on
the table and laid it open—keerless like, on my knees, ez if I was
sorter consultin' it—and kinder dozed off there, listenin' to you
fellows gassin' with the young ladies, and that yer Miss Christie just
snakin' music outer that pianner, and I reckon I fell asleep. Anyhow, I
was there nigh on to two hours. It's mighty soothin', them fashionable
calls; sorter knocks the old camp dust outer a fellow, and sets him up
It would have been well if the new life of the Devil's Ford had shown no
other irregularity than the harmless eccentricities of its original
locaters. But the news of its sudden fortune, magnified by report, began
presently to flood the settlement with another class of adventurers. A
tide of waifs, strays, and malcontents of old camps along the river began
to set towards Devil's Ford, in very much the same fashion as the debris,
drift, and alluvium had been carried down in bygone days and cast upon its
banks. A few immigrant wagons, diverted from the highways of travel by the
fame of the new diggings, halted upon the slopes of Devil's Spur and on
the arid flats of the Ford, and disgorged their sallow freight of
alkali-poisoned, prematurely-aged women and children and maimed and
fever-stricken men. Against this rude form of domesticity were opposed the
chromo-tinted dresses and extravagant complexions of a few single
unattended women—happily seen more often at night behind gilded bars
than in the garish light of day—and an equal number of pale-faced,
dark-moustached, well-dressed, and suspiciously idle men. A dozen rivals
of Thompson's Saloon had sprung up along the narrow main street. There
were two new hotels—one a "Temperance House," whose ascetic quality
was confined only to the abnegation of whiskey—a rival stage office,
and a small one-storied building, from which the "Sierran Banner"
fluttered weekly, for "ten dollars a year, in advance." Insufferable in
the glare of a Sabbath sun, bleak, windy, and flaring in the gloom of a
Sabbath night, and hopelessly depressing on all days of the week, the
First Presbyterian Church lifted its blunt steeple from the barrenest area
of the flats, and was hideous! The civic improvements so enthusiastically
contemplated by the five millionaires in the earlier pages of this
veracious chronicle—the fountain, reservoir, town-hall, and free
library—had not yet been erected. Their sites had been anticipated
by more urgent buildings and mining works, unfortunately not considered in
the sanguine dreams of the enthusiasts, and, more significant still, their
cost and expense had been also anticipated by the enormous outlay of their
earnings in the work upon Devil's Ditch.
Nevertheless, the liberal fulfilment of their promise in the new house in
the suburbs blinded the young girls' eyes to their shortcomings in the
town. Their own remoteness and elevation above its feverish life kept them
from the knowledge of much that was strange, and perhaps disturbing to
their equanimity. As they did not mix with the immigrant women—Miss
Jessie's good-natured intrusion into one of their half-nomadic camps one
day having been met with rudeness and suspicion—they gradually fell
into the way of trusting the responsibility of new acquaintances to the
hands of their original hosts, and of consulting them in the matter of
local recreation. It thus occurred that one day the two girls, on their
way to the main street for an hour's shopping at the Villa de Paris and
Variety Store, were stopped by Dick Mattingly a few yards from their
house, with the remark that, as the county election was then in progress,
it would be advisable for them to defer their intention for a few hours.
As he did not deem it necessary to add that two citizens, in the exercise
of a freeman's franchise, had been supplementing their ballots with
bullets, in front of an admiring crowd, they knew nothing of that accident
that removed from Devil's Ford an entertaining stranger, who had only the
night before partaken of their hospitality.
A week or two later, returning one morning from a stroll in the forest,
Christie and Jessie were waylaid by George Kearney and Fairfax, and, under
pretext of being shown a new and romantic trail, were diverted from the
regular path. This enabled Mattingly and Maryland Joe to cut down the body
of a man hanged by the Vigilance Committee a few hours before on the
regular trail, and to remonstrate with the committee on the
incompatibility of such exhibitions with a maidenly worship of nature.
"With the whole county to hang a man in," expostulated Joe, "you might
keep clear of Carr's woods."
It is needless to add that the young girls never knew of this act of
violence, or the delicacy that kept them in ignorance of it. Mr. Carr was
too absorbed in business to give heed to what he looked upon as a
convulsion of society as natural as a geological upheaval, and too prudent
to provoke the criticism of his daughters by comment in their presence.
An equally unexpected confidence, however, took its place. Mr. Carr having
finished his coffee one morning, lingered a moment over his perfunctory
paternal embraces, with the awkwardness of a preoccupied man endeavoring
by the assumption of a lighter interest to veil another abstraction.
"And what are we doing to-day, Christie?" he asked, as Jessie left the
"Oh, pretty much the usual thing—nothing in particular. If George
Kearney gets the horses from the summit, we're going to ride over to
Indian Spring to picnic. Fairfax—Mr. Munroe—I always forget
that man's real name in this dreadfully familiar country—well, he's
coming to escort us, and take me, I suppose—that is, if Kearney
"A very nice arrangement," returned her father, with a slight nervous
contraction of the corners of his mouth and eyelids to indicate
mischievousness. "I've no doubt they'll both be here. You know they
usually are—ha! ha! And what about the two Mattinglys and Philip
Kearney, eh?" he continued; "won't they be jealous?"
"It isn't their turn," said Christie carelessly; "besides, they'll
probably be there."
"And I suppose they're beginning to be resigned," said Carr, smiling.
"What on earth are you talking of, father?"
She turned her clear brown eyes upon him, and was regarding him with such
manifest unconsciousness of the drift of his speech, and, withal, a little
vague impatience of his archness, that Mr. Carr was feebly alarmed. It had
the effect of banishing his assumed playfulness, which made his serious
explanation the more irritating.
"Well, I rather thought that—that young Kearney was paying
considerable attention to—to—to Jessie," replied her father,
with hesitating gravity.
"What! that boy?"
"Young Kearney is one of the original locators, and an equal partner in
the mine. A very enterprising young fellow. In fact, much more advanced
and bolder in his conceptions than the others. I find no difficulty with
At another time Christie would have questioned the convincing quality of
this proof, but she was too much shocked at her father's first suggestion,
to think of anything else.
"You don't mean to say, father, that you are talking seriously of these
men—your friends—whom we see every day—and our only
"No, no!" said Mr. Carr hastily; "you misunderstand. I don't suppose that
Jessie or you—"
"Or ME! Am I included?"
"You don't let me speak, Christie. I mean, I am not talking seriously,"
continued Mr. Carr, with his most serious aspect, "of you and Jessie in
this matter; but it may be a serious thing to these young men to be thrown
continually in the company of two attractive girls."
"I understand—you mean that we should not see so much of them," said
Christie, with a frank expression of relief so genuine as to utterly
discompose her father. "Perhaps you are right, though I fail to discover
anything serious in the attentions of young Kearney to Jessie—or—whoever
it may be—to me. But it will be very easy to remedy it, and see less
of them. Indeed, we might begin to-day with some excuse."
"Yes—certainly. Of course!" said Mr. Carr, fully convinced of his
utter failure, but, like most weak creatures, consoling himself with the
reflection that he had not shown his hand or committed himself. "Yes; but
it would perhaps be just as well for the present to let things go on as
they were. We'll talk of it again—I'm in a hurry now," and, edging
himself through the door, he slipped away.
"What do you think is father's last idea?" said Christie, with, I fear, a
slight lack of reverence in her tone, as her sister reentered the room.
"He thinks George Kearney is paying you too much attention."
"No!" said Jessie, replying to her sister's half-interrogative,
half-amused glance with a frank, unconscious smile.
"Yes, and he says that Fairfax—I think it's Fairfax—is equally
fascinated with ME."
Jessie's brow slightly contracted as she looked curiously at her sister.
"Of all things," she said, "I wonder if any one has put that idea into his
dear old head. He couldn't have thought it himself."
"I don't know," said Christie musingly; "but perhaps it's just as well if
we kept a little more to ourselves for a while."
"Did father say so?" said Jessie quickly.
"No, but that is evidently what he meant."
"Ye-es," said Jessie slowly, "unless—"
"Unless what?" said Christie sharply. "Jessie, you don't for a moment mean
to say that you could possibly conceive of anything else?"
"I mean to say," said Jessie, stealing her arm around her sister's waist
demurely, "that you are perfectly right. We'll keep away from these
fascinating Devil's Forders, and particularly the youngest Kearney. I
believe there has been some ill-natured gossip. I remember that the other
day, when we passed the shanty of that Pike County family on the slope,
there were three women at the door, and one of them said something that
made poor little Kearney turn white and pink alternately, and dance with
suppressed rage. I suppose the old lady—M'Corkle, that's her name—would
like to have a share of our cavaliers for her Euphemy and Mamie. I dare
say it's only right; I would lend them the cherub occasionally, and you
might let them have Mr. Munroe twice a week."
She laughed, but her eyes sought her sister's with a certain watchfulness
Christie shrugged her shoulders, with a suggestion of disgust.
"Don't joke. We ought to have thought of all this before."
"But when we first knew them, in the dear old cabin, there wasn't any
other woman and nobody to gossip, and that's what made it so nice. I don't
think so very much of civilization, do you?" said the young lady pertly.
Christie did not reply. Perhaps she was thinking the same thing. It
certainly had been very pleasant to enjoy the spontaneous and chivalrous
homage of these men, with no further suggestion of recompense or
responsibility than the permission to be worshipped; but beyond that she
racked her brain in vain to recall any look or act that proclaimed the
lover. These men, whom she had found so relapsed into barbarism that they
had forgotten the most ordinary forms of civilization; these men, even in
whose extravagant admiration there was a certain loss of self-respect,
that as a woman she would never forgive; these men, who seemed to belong
to another race—impossible! Yet it was so.
"What construction must they have put upon her father's acceptance of
their presents—of their company—of her freedom in their
presence? No! they must have understood from the beginning that she and
her sister had never looked upon them except as transient hosts and chance
acquaintances. Any other idea was preposterous. And yet—"
It was the recurrence of this "yet" that alarmed her. For she remembered
now that but for their slavish devotion they might claim to be her equal.
According to her father's account, they had come from homes as good as
their own; they were certainly more than her equal in fortune; and her
father had come to them as an employee, until they had taken him into
partnership. If there had only been sentiment of any kind connected with
any of them! But they were all alike, brave, unselfish, humorous—and
often ridiculous. If anything, Dick Mattingly was funniest by nature, and
made her laugh more. Maryland Joe, his brother, told better stories
(sometimes of Dick), though not so good a mimic as the other Kearney, who
had a fairly sympathetic voice in singing. They were all good-looking
enough; perhaps they set store on that—men are so vain.
And as for her own rejected suitor, Fairfax Munroe, except for a kind of
grave and proper motherliness about his protecting manner, he absolutely
was the most indistinctive of them all. He had once brought her some rare
tea from the Chinese camp, and had taught her how to make it; he had
cautioned her against sitting under the trees at nightfall; he had once
taken off his coat to wrap around her. Really, if this were the only
evidence of devotion that could be shown, she was safe!
"Well," said Jessie, "it amuses you, I see."
Christie checked the smile that had been dimpling the cheek nearest
Jessie, and turned upon her the face of an elder sister.
"Tell me, have YOU noticed this extraordinary attention of Mr. Munroe to
"Candidly?" asked Jessie, seating herself comfortably on the table
sideways, and endeavoring, to pull her skirt over her little feet. "Honest
"Don't be idiotic, and, above all, don't be slangy! Of course, candidly."
"Well, no. I can't say that I have."
"Then," said Christie, "why in the name of all that's preposterous, do
they persist in pairing me off with the least interesting man of the lot?"
Jessie leaped from the table.
"Come now," she said, with a little nervous laugh, "he's not so bad as all
that. You don't know him. But what does it matter now, as long as we're
not going to see them any more?"
"They're coming here for the ride to-day," said Christie resignedly.
"Father thought it better not to break it off at once."
"Father thought so!" echoed Jessie, stopping with her hand on the door.
"Yes; why do you ask?"
But Jessie had already left the room, and was singing in the hall.
The afternoon did not, however, bring their expected visitors. It brought,
instead, a brief note by the hands of Whiskey Dick from Fairfax,
apologizing for some business that kept him and George Kearney from
accompanying the ladies. It added that the horses were at the disposal of
themselves and any escort they might select, if they would kindly give the
message to Whiskey Dick.
The two girls looked at each other awkwardly; Jessie did not attempt to
conceal a slight pout.
"It looks as if they were anticipating us," she said, with a half-forced
smile. "I wonder, now, if there really has been any gossip? But no! They
wouldn't have stopped for that, unless—" She looked curiously at her
"Unless what?" repeated Christie; "you are horribly mysterious this
"Am I? It's nothing. But they're wanting an answer. Of course you'll
"And intimate we only care for their company! No! We'll say we're sorry
they can't come, and—accept their horses. We can do without an
escort, we two."
"Capital!" said Jessie, clapping her hands. "We'll show them—"
"We'll show them nothing," interrupted Christie decidedly. "In our place
there's only the one thing to do. Where is this—Whiskey Dick?"
"In the parlor."
"The parlor!" echoed Christie. "Whiskey Dick? What—is he—"
"Yes; he's all right," said Jessie confidently. "He's been here before,
but he stayed in the hall; he was so shy. I don't think you saw him."
"I should think not—Whiskey Dick!"
"Oh, you can call him Mr. Hall, if you like," said Jessie, laughing. "His
real name is Dick Hall. If you want to be funny, you can say Alky Hall, as
the others do."
Christie's only reply to this levity was a look of superior resignation as
she crossed the hall and entered the parlor.
Then ensued one of those surprising, mystifying, and utterly inexplicable
changes that leave the masculine being so helpless in the hands of his
feminine master. Before Christie opened the door her face underwent a
rapid transformation: the gentle glow of a refined woman's welcome
suddenly beamed in her interested eyes; the impulsive courtesy of an
expectant hostess eagerly seizing a long-looked-for opportunity broke in a
smile upon her lips as she swept across the room, and stopped with her two
white outstretched hands before Whiskey Dick.
It needed only the extravagant contrast presented by that gentleman to
complete the tableau. Attired in a suit of shining black alpaca, the
visitor had evidently prepared himself with some care for a possible
interview. He was seated by the French window opening upon the veranda, as
if to secure a retreat in case of an emergency. Scrupulously washed and
shaven, some of the soap appeared to have lingered in his eyes and
inflamed the lids, even while it lent a sleek and shining lustre, not
unlike his coat, to his smooth black hair. Nevertheless, leaning back in
his chair, he had allowed a large white handkerchief to depend gracefully
from his fingers—a pose at once suggesting easy and elegant langour.
"How kind of you to give me an opportunity to make up for my misfortune
when you last called! I was so sorry to have missed you. But it was
entirely my fault! You were hurried, I think—you conversed with
others in the hall—you—"
She stopped to assist him to pick up the handkerchief that had fallen, and
the Panama hat that had rolled from his lap towards the window when he had
started suddenly to his feet at the apparition of grace and beauty. As he
still nervously retained the two hands he had grasped, this would have
been a difficult feat, even had he not endeavored at the same moment, by a
backward furtive kick, to propel the hat out of the window, at which she
laughingly broke from his grasp and flew to the rescue.
"Don't mind it, miss," he said hurriedly. "It is not worth your demeaning
yourself to touch it. Leave it outside thar, miss. I wouldn't have toted
it in, anyhow, if some of those high-falutin' fellows hadn't allowed, the
other night, ez it were the reg'lar thing to do; as if, miss, any
gentleman kalkilated to ever put on his hat in the house afore a lady!"
But Christie had already possessed herself of the unlucky object, and had
placed it upon the table. This compelled Whiskey Dick to rise again, and
as an act of careless good breeding to drop his handkerchief in it. He
then leaned one elbow upon the piano, and, crossing one foot over the
other, remained standing in an attitude he remembered to have seen in the
pages of an illustrated paper as portraying the hero in some drawing-room
scene. It was easy and effective, but seemed to be more favorable to
revery than conversation. Indeed, he remembered that he had forgotten to
consult the letterpress as to which it represented.
"I see you agree with me, that politeness is quite a matter of intention,"
said Christie, "and not of mere fashion and rules. Now, for instance," she
continued, with a dazzling smile, "I suppose, according to the rules, I
ought to give you a note to Mr. Munroe, accepting his offer. That is all
that is required; but it seems so much nicer, don't you think, to tell it
to YOU for HIM, and have the pleasure of your company and a little chat at
the same time."
"That's it, that's just it, Miss Carr; you've hit it in the centre this
time," said Whiskey Dick, now quite convinced that his attitude was not
intended for eloquence, and shifting back to his own seat, hat and all;
"that's tantamount to what I said to the boys just now. 'You want an
excuse,' sez I, 'for not goin' out with the young ladies. So, accorden' to
rules, you writes a letter allowin' buzziness and that sorter thing
detains you. But wot's the facts? You're a gentleman, and as gentlemen you
and George comes to the opinion that you're rather playin' it for all it's
worth in this yer house, you know—comin' here night and day, off and
on, reg'lar sociable and fam'ly like, and makin' people talk about things
they ain't any call to talk about, and, what's a darned sight more, YOU
FELLOWS ain't got any right YET to allow 'em to talk about, d'ye see?" he
paused, out of breath.
It was Miss Christie's turn to move about. In changing her seat to the
piano-stool, so as to be nearer her visitor, she brushed down some loose
music, which Whiskey Dick hastened to pick up.
"Pray don't mind it," she said, "pray don't, really—let it be—"
But Whiskey Dick, feeling himself on safe ground in this attention,
persisted to the bitter end of a disintegrated and well-worn "Travatore."
"So that is what Mr. Munroe said," she remarked quietly.
"Not just then, in course, but it's what's bin on his mind and in his talk
for days off and on," returned Dick, with a knowing smile and a nod of
mysterious confidence. "Bless your soul, Miss Carr, folks like you and me
don't need to have them things explained. That's what I said to him, sez
I. 'Don't send no note, but just go up there and hev it out fair and
square, and say what you do mean.' But they would hev the note, and I
kalkilated to bring it. But when I set my eyes on you, and heard you
express yourself as you did just now, I sez to myself, sez I, 'Dick, yer's
a young lady, and a fash'nable lady at that, ez don't go foolin' round on
rules and etiketts'—excuse my freedom, Miss Carr—'and you and
her, sez I, 'kin just discuss this yer matter in a sociable, off-hand,
fash'nable way.' They're a good lot o' boys, Miss Carr, a square lot—white
men all of 'em; but they're a little soft and green, may be, from livin'
in these yer pine woods along o' the other sap. They just worship the
ground you and your sister tread on—certain! of course! of course!"
he added hurriedly, recognizing Christie's half-conscious, deprecating
gesture with more exaggerated deprecation. "I understand. But what I
wanter say is that they'd be willin' to be that ground, and lie down and
let you walk over them—so to speak, Miss Carr, so to speak—if
it would keep the hem of your gown from gettin' soiled in the mud o' the
camp. But it wouldn't do for them to make a reg'lar curderoy road o'
themselves for the houl camp to trapse over, on the mere chance of your
some time passin' that way, would it now?"
"Won't you let me offer you some refreshment, Mr. Hall?" said Christie,
rising, with a slight color. "I'm really ashamed of my forgetfulness
again, but I'm afraid it's partly YOUR fault for entertaining me to the
exclusion of yourself. No, thank you, let me fetch it for you."
She turned to a handsome sideboard near the door, and presently faced him
again with a decanter of whiskey and a glass in her hand, and a return of
the bewitching smile she had worn on entering.
"But perhaps you don't take whiskey?" suggested the arch deceiver, with a
sudden affected but pretty perplexity of eye, brow, and lips.
For the first time in his life Whiskey Dick hesitated between two forms of
intoxication. But he was still nervous and uneasy; habit triumphed, and he
took the whiskey. He, however, wiped his lips with a slight wave of his
handkerchief, to support a certain easy elegance which he firmly believed
relieved the act of any vulgar quality.
"Yes, ma'am," he continued, after an exhilarated pause. "Ez I said afore,
this yer's a matter you and me can discuss after the fashion o' society.
My idea is that these yer boys should kinder let up on you and Miss Jessie
for a while, and do a little more permiskus attention round the Ford.
There's one or two families yer with grown-up gals ez oughter be squared;
that is—the boys mighter put in a few fancy touches among them—kinder
take 'em buggy riding—or to church—once in a while—just
to take the pizen outer their tongues, and make a kind o' bluff to the
parents, d'ye see? That would sorter divert their own minds; and even if
it didn't, it would kinder get 'em accustomed agin to the old style and
their own kind. I want to warn ye agin an idea that might occur to you in
a giniral way. I don't say you hev the idea, but it's kind o' nat'ral you
might be thinkin' of it some time, and I thought I'd warn you agin it."
"I think we understand each other too well to differ much, Mr. Hall," said
Christie, still smiling; "but what is the idea?"
The delicate compliment to their confidential relations and the slight
stimulus of liquor had tremulously exalted Whiskey Dick. Affecting to look
cautiously out of the window and around the room, he ventured to draw
nearer the young woman with a half-paternal, half-timid familiarity.
"It might have occurred to you," he said, laying his handkerchief as if to
veil mere vulgar contact, on Christie's shoulder, "that it would be a good
thing on YOUR side to invite down some of your high-toned gentlemen
friends from 'Frisco to visit you and escort you round. It seems quite
nat'ral like, and I don't say it ain't, but—the boys wouldn't stand
In spite of her self-possession, Christie's eyes suddenly darkened, and
she involuntarily drew herself up. But Whiskey Dick, guiltily attributing
the movement to his own indiscreet gesture, said, "Excuse me, miss,"
recovered himself by lightly dusting her shoulder with his handkerchief,
as if to remove the impression, and her smile returned.
"They wouldn't stand for it," said Dick, "and there'd be some shooting!
Not afore you, miss—not afore you, in course! But they'd adjourn to
the woods some morning with them city folks, and hev it out with rifles at
a hundred yards. Or, seein' ez they're city folks, the boys would do the
square thing with pistols at twelve paces. They're good boys, as I said
afore; but they're quick and tetchy—George, being the youngest,
nat'rally is the tetchiest. You know how it is, Miss Carr; his pretty,
gal-like face and little moustaches haz cost him half a dozen scrimmages
already. He'z had a fight for every hair that's growed in his moustache
since he kem here."
"Say no more, Mr. Hall!" said Christie, rising and pressing her hands
lightly on Dick's tremulous fingers. "If I ever had any such idea, I
should abandon it now; you are quite right in this as in your other
opinions. I shall never cease to be thankful to Mr. Munroe and Mr. Kearney
that they intrusted this delicate matter to your hands."
"Well," said the gratified and reddening visitor, "it ain't perhaps the
square thing to them or myself to say that they reckoned to have me
discuss their delicate affairs for them, but—"
"I understand," interrupted Christie. "They simply gave you the letter as
a friend. It was my good fortune to find you a sympathizing and liberal
man of the world." The delighted Dick, with conscious vanity beaming from
every feature of his shining face, lightly waved the compliment aside with
his handkerchief, as she continued, "But I am forgetting the message. We
accept the horses. Of course we COULD do without an escort; but forgive my
speaking so frankly, are YOU engaged this afternoon?"
"Excuse me, miss, I don't take—" stammered Dick, scarcely believing
"Could you give us your company as an escort?" repeated Christie with a
Was he awake or dreaming, or was this some trick of liquor in his often
distorted fancy? He, Whiskey Dick! the butt of his friends, the chartered
oracle of the barrooms, even in whose wretched vanity there was always the
haunting suspicion that he was despised and scorned; he, who had dared so
much in speech, and achieved so little in fact! he, whose habitual
weakness had even led him into the wildest indiscretion here; he—now
offered a reward for that indiscretion! He, Whiskey Dick, the solicited
escort of these two beautiful and peerless girls! What would they say at
the Ford? What would his friends think? It would be all over the Ford the
next day. His past would be vindicated, his future secured. He grew erect
at the thought. It was almost in other voice, and with no trace of his
previous exaggeration, that he said, "With pleasure."
"Then, if you will bring the horses at once, we shall be ready when you
In another instant he had vanished, as if afraid to trust the reality of
his good fortune to the dangers of delay. At the end of half an hour he
reappeared, leading the two horses, himself mounted on a half-broken
mustang. A pair of large, jingling silver spurs and a stiff sombrero,
borrowed with the mustang from some mysterious source, were donned to do
honor to the occasion.
The young girls were not yet ready, but he was shown by the Chinese
servant into the parlor to wait for them. The decanter of whiskey and
glasses were still invitingly there. He was hot, trembling, and flushed
with triumph. He walked to the table and laid his hand on the decanter,
when an odd thought flashed upon him. He would not drink this time. No, it
should not be said that he, the selected escort of the elite of Devil's
Ford, had to fill himself up with whiskey before they started. The boys
might turn to each other in their astonishment, as he proudly passed with
his fair companions, and say, "It's Whiskey Dick," but he'd be d——d
if they should add, "and full as ever." No, sir! Nor when he was riding
beside these real ladies, and leaning over them at some confidential
moment, should they even know it from his breath! No. . . . Yet a
thimbleful, taken straight, only a thimbleful, wouldn't be much, and might
help to pull him together. He again reached his trembling hand for the
decanter, hesitated, and then, turning his back upon it, resolutely walked
to the open window. Almost at the same instant he found himself face to
face with Christie on the veranda.
She looked into his bloodshot eyes, and cast a swift glance at the
"Won't you take something before you go?" she said sweetly.
"I—reckon—not, jest now," stammered Whiskey Dick, with a
"You're right," said Christie. "I see you are like me. It's too hot for
anything fiery. Come with me."
She led him into the dining-room, and pouring out a glass of iced tea
handed it to him. Poor Dick was not prepared for this terrible
culmination. Whiskey Dick and iced tea! But under pretence of seeing if it
was properly flavored, Christie raised it to her own lips.
"Try it, to please me."
He drained the goblet.
"Now, then," said Christie gayly, "let's find Jessie, and be off!"
Whatever might have been his other deficiencies as an escort, Whiskey Dick
was a good horseman, and, in spite of his fractious brute, exhibited such
skill and confidence as to at once satisfy the young girls of his value to
them in the management of their own horses, to whom side-saddles were
still an alarming novelty. Jessie, who had probably already learned from
her sister the purport of Dick's confidences, had received him with equal
cordiality and perhaps a more unqualified amusement; and now, when fairly
lifted into the saddle by his tremulous but respectful hands, made a very
charming picture of youthful and rosy satisfaction. And when Christie,
more fascinating than ever in her riding-habit, took her place on the
other side of Dick, as they sallied from the gate, that gentleman felt his
cup of happiness complete. His triumphal entree into the world of
civilization and fashion was secure. He did not regret the untasted
liquor; here was an experience in after years to lean his back against
comfortably in bar-rooms, to entrance or defy mankind. He had even got so
far as to formulate in fancy the sentence: "I remember, gentlemen, that
one afternoon, being on a pasear with two fash'nable young ladies," etc.,
At present, however, he was obliged to confine himself to the functions of
an elegant guide and cicerone—when not engaged in "having it out"
with his horse. Their way lay along the slope, crossing the high-road at
right angles, to reach the deeper woods beyond. Dick would have lingered
on the highway—ostensibly to point out to his companions the new
flume that had taken the place of the condemned ditch, but really in the
hope of exposing himself in his glory to the curious eyes of the wayfaring
Unhappily the road was deserted in the still powerful sunlight, and he was
obliged to seek the cover of the woods, with a passing compliment to the
parent of his charges. Waving his hands towards the flume, he said, "Look
at that work of your father's; there ain't no other man in Californy but
Philip Carr ez would hev the grit to hold up such a bluff agin natur and
agin luck ez that yer flume stands for. I don't say it 'cause you're his
daughters, ladies! That ain't the style, ez YOU know, in sassiety, Miss
Carr," he added, turning to Christie as the more socially experienced.
"No! but there ain't another man to be found ez could do it. It cost
already two hundred thousand; it'll cost five hundred thousand afore it's
done; and every cent of it is got out of the yearth beneath it, or HEZ got
to be out of it. 'Tain't ev'ry man, Miss Carr, ez hev got the pluck to
pledge not only what he's got, but what he reckons to git."
"But suppose he don't get it?" said Christie, slightly contracting her
"Then there's the flume to show for it," said Dick.
"But of what use is the flume, if there isn't any more gold?" continued
Christie, almost angrily.
"That's good from YOU, miss," said Dick, giving way to a fit of hilarity.
"That's good for a fash'nable young lady—own daughter of Philip
Carr. She sez, says she," continued Dick, appealing to the sedate pines
for appreciation of Christie's rare humor, "'Wot's the use of a flume,
when gold ain't there?' I must tell that to the boys."
"And what's the use of the gold in the ground when the flume isn't there
to work it out?" said Jessie to her sister, with a cautioning glance
But Dick did not notice the look that passed between the sisters. The
richer humor of Jessie's retort had thrown him into convulsions of
"And now SHE says, wot's the use o' the gold without the flume? 'Xcuse me,
ladies, but that's just puttin' the hull question that's agitatin' this
yer camp inter two speeches as clear as crystal. There's the hull crowd
outside—and some on 'em inside, like Fairfax, hez their doubts—ez
says with Miss Christie; and there's all of us inside, ez holds Miss
"I never heard Mr. Munroe say that the flume was wrong," said Jessie
"Not to you, nat'rally," said Dick, with a confidential look at Christie;
"but I reckon he'd like some of the money it cost laid out for suthin'
else. But what's the odds? The gold is there, and WE'RE bound to get it."
Dick was the foreman of a gang of paid workmen, who had replaced the
millionaires in mere manual labor, and the WE was a polite figure of
The conversation seemed to have taken an unfortunate turn, and both the
girls experienced a feeling of relief when they entered the long gulch or
defile that led to Indian Spring. The track now becoming narrow, they were
obliged to pass in single file along the precipitous hillside, led by this
escort. This effectually precluded any further speech, and Christie at
once surrendered herself to the calm, obliterating influences of the
forest. The settlement and its gossip were far behind and forgotten. In
the absorption of nature, her companions passed out of her mind, even as
they sometimes passed out of her sight in the windings of the shadowy
trail. As she rode alone, the fronds of breast-high ferns seemed to caress
her with outstretched and gently-detaining hands; strange wildflowers
sprang up through the parting underbrush; even the granite rocks that at
times pressed closely upon the trail appeared as if cushioned to her
contact with star-rayed mosses, or lightly flung after her long lassoes of
delicate vines. She recalled the absolute freedom of their al-fresco life
in the old double cabin, when she spent the greater part of her waking
hours under the mute trees in the encompassing solitude, and, half
regretting the more civilized restraints of this newer and more ambitious
abode, forgot that she had ever rebelled against it. The social
complication that threatened her now seemed to her rather the outcome of
her half-civilized parlor than of the sylvan glade. How easy it would have
been to have kept the cabin, and then to have gone away entirely, than for
her father to have allowed them to be compromised with the growing
fortunes of the settlement! The suspicions and distrust that she had
always felt of their fortunes seemed to grow with the involuntary
admission of Whiskey Dick that they were shared by others who were
practical men. She was fain to have recourse to the prospect again to
banish these thoughts, and this opened her eyes to the fact that her
companions had been missing from the trail ahead of her for some time. She
quickened her pace slightly to reach a projecting point of rock that gave
her a more extended prospect. But they had evidently disappeared.
She was neither alarmed nor annoyed. She could easily overtake them soon,
for they would miss her, and return or wait for her at the spring. At the
worst she would have no difficulty in retracing her steps home. In her
present mood, she could readily spare their company; indeed she was not
sorry that no other being should interrupt that sympathy with the free
woods which was beginning to possess her.
She was destined, however, to be disappointed. She had not proceeded a
hundred yards before she noticed the moving figure of a man beyond her in
the hillside chaparral above the trail. He seemed to be going in the same
direction as herself, and, as she fancied, endeavoring to avoid her. This
excited her curiosity to the point of urging her horse forward until the
trail broadened into the level forest again, which she now remembered was
a part of the environs of Indian Spring. The stranger hesitated, pausing
once or twice with his back towards her, as if engaged in carefully
examining the dwarf willows to select a switch. Christie slightly checked
her speed as she drew nearer; when, as if obedient to a sudden resolution,
he turned and advanced towards her. She was relieved and yet surprised to
recognize the boyish face and figure of George Kearney. He was quite pale
and agitated, although attempting, by a jaunty swinging of the switch he
had just cut, to assume the appearance of ease and confidence.
Here was an opportunity. Christie resolved to profit by it. She did not
doubt that the young fellow had already passed her sister on the trail,
but, from bashfulness, had not dared to approach her. By inviting his
confidence, she would doubtless draw something from him that would deny or
corroborate her father's opinion of his sentiments. If he was really in
love with Jessie, she would learn what reasons he had for expecting a
serious culmination of his suit, and perhaps she might be able delicately
to open his eyes to the truth. If, as she believed, it was only a boyish
fancy, she would laugh him out of it with that camaraderie which had
always existed between them. A half motherly sympathy, albeit born quite
as much from a contemplation of his beautiful yearning eyes as from his
interesting position, lightened the smile with which she greeted him.
"So you contrived to throw over your stupid business and join us, after
all," she said; "or was it that you changed your mind at the last moment?"
she added mischievously. "I thought only we women were permitted that!"
Indeed, she could not help noticing that there was really a strong
feminine suggestion in the shifting color and slightly conscious eyelids
of the young fellow.
"Do young girls always change their minds?" asked George, with an
"Not, always; but sometimes they don't know their own mind—particularly
if they are very young; and when they do at last, you clever creatures of
men, who have interpreted their ignorance to please yourselves, abuse them
for being fickle." She stopped to observe the effect of what she believed
a rather clear and significant exposition of Jessie's and George's
possible situation. But she was not prepared for the look of blank
resignation that seemed to drive the color from his face and moisten the
fire of his dark eyes.
"I reckon you're right," he said, looking down.
"Oh! we're not accusing you of fickleness," said Christie gayly; "although
you didn't come, and we were obliged to ask Mr. Hall to join us. I suppose
you found him and Jessie just now?"
But George made no reply. The color was slowly coming back to his face,
which, as she glanced covertly at him, seemed to have grown so much older
that his returning blood might have brought two or three years with it.
"Really, Mr. Kearney," she said dryly, "one would think that some silly,
conceited girl"—she was quite earnest in her epithets, for a sudden,
angry conviction of some coquetry and disingenuousness in Jessie had come
to her in contemplating its effects upon the young fellow at her side—"some
country jilt, had been trying her rustic hand upon you."
"She is not silly, conceited, nor countrified," said George, slowly
raising his beautiful eyes to the young girl half reproachfully. "It is I
who am all that. No, she is right, and you know it."
Much as Christie admired and valued her sister's charms, she thought this
was really going too far. What had Jessie ever done—what was Jessie—to
provoke and remain insensible to such a blind devotion as this? And
really, looking at him now, he was not so VERY YOUNG for Jessie; whether
his unfortunate passion had brought out all his latent manliness, or
whether he had hitherto kept his serious nature in the background,
certainly he was not a boy. And certainly his was not a passion that he
could be laughed out of. It was getting very tiresome. She wished she had
not met him—at least until she had had some clearer understanding
with her sister. He was still walking beside her, with his hand on her
bridle rein, partly to lead her horse over some boulders in the trail, and
partly to conceal his first embarrassment. When they had fairly reached
the woods, he stopped.
"I am going to say good-by, Miss Carr."
"Are you not coming further? We must be near Indian Spring, now; Mr. Hall
and—and Jessie—cannot be far away. You will keep me company
until we meet them?"
"No," he replied quietly. "I only stopped you to say good-by. I am going
"Not from Devil's Ford?" she asked, in half-incredulous astonishment. "At
least, not for long?"
"I am not coming back," he replied.
"But this is very abrupt," she said hurriedly, feeling that in some
ridiculous way she had precipitated an equally ridiculous catastrophe.
"Surely you are not going away in this fashion, without saying good-by to
Jessie and—and father?"
"I shall see your father, of course—and you will give my regards to
He evidently was in earnest. Was there ever anything so perfectly
preposterous? She became indignant.
"Of course," she said coldly, "I won't detain you; your business must be
urgent, and I forgot—at least I had forgotten until to-day—that
you have other duties more important than that of squire of dames. I am
afraid this forgetfulness made me think you would not part from us in
quite such a business fashion. I presume, if you had not met me just now,
we should none of us have seen you again?"
He did not reply.
"Will you say good-by, Miss Carr?"
He held out his hand.
"One moment, Mr. Kearney. If I have said anything which you think
justifies this very abrupt leave-taking, I beg you will forgive and forget
it—or, at least, let it have no more weight with you than the idle
words of any woman. I only spoke generally. You know—I—I might
His eyes, which had dilated when she began to speak, darkened; his color,
which had quickly come, as quickly sank when she had ended.
"Don't say that, Miss Carr. It is not like you, and—it is useless.
You know what I meant a moment ago. I read it in your reply. You meant
that I, like others, had deceived myself. Did you not?"
She could not meet those honest eyes with less than equal honesty. She
knew that Jessie did not love him—would not marry him—whatever
coquetry she might have shown.
"I did not mean to offend you," she said hesitatingly; "I only half
suspected it when I spoke."
"And you wish to spare me the avowal?" he said bitterly.
"To me, perhaps, yes, by anticipating it. I could not tell what ideas you
might have gathered from some indiscreet frankness of Jessie—or my
father," she added, with almost equal bitterness.
"I have never spoken to either," he replied quickly. He stopped, and
added, after a moment's mortifying reflection, "I've been brought up in
the woods, Miss Carr, and I suppose I have followed my feelings, instead
of the etiquette of society."
Christie was too relieved at the rehabilitation of Jessie's truthfulness
to notice the full significance of his speech.
"Good-by," he said again, holding out his hand.
She extended her own, ungloved, with a frank smile. He held it for a
moment, with his eyes fixed upon hers. Then suddenly, as if obeying an
uncontrollable impulse, he crushed it like a flower again and again
against his burning lips, and darted away.
Christie sank back in her saddle with a little cry, half of pain and half
of frightened surprise. Had the poor boy suddenly gone mad, or was this
vicarious farewell a part of the courtship of Devil's Ford? She looked at
her little hand, which had reddened under the pressure, and suddenly felt
the flush extending to her cheeks and the roots of her hair. This was
It was her sister emerging from the wood to seek her. In another moment
she was at her side.
"We thought you were following," said Jessie. "Good heavens! how you look!
What has happened?"
"Nothing. I met Mr. Kearney a moment ago on the trail. He is going away,
and—and—" She stopped, furious and flushing.
"And," said Jessie, with a burst of merriment, "he told you at last he
loved you. Oh, Christie!"
The abrupt departure of George Kearney from Devil's Ford excited but
little interest in the community, and was soon forgotten. It was generally
attributed to differences between himself and his partners on the question
of further outlay of their earnings on mining improvements—he and
Philip Carr alone representing a sanguine minority whose faith in the
future of the mine accepted any risks. It was alleged by some that he had
sold out to his brother; it was believed by others that he had simply gone
to Sacramento to borrow money on his share, in order to continue the
improvements on his own responsibility. The partners themselves were
uncommunicative; even Whiskey Dick, who since his remarkable social
elevation had become less oracular, much to his own astonishment,
contributed nothing to the gossip except a suggestion that as the fiery
temper of George Kearney brooked no opposition, even from his brother, it
was better they should separate before the estrangement became serious.
Mr. Carr did not disguise his annoyance at the loss of his young disciple
and firm ally. But an unlucky allusion to his previous remarks on
Kearney's attentions to Jessie, and a querulous regret that he had
permitted a disruption of their social intimacy, brought such an ominous
and frigid opposition, not only from Christie, but even the frivolous
Jessie herself, that Carr sank back in a crushed and terrified silence. "I
only meant to say," he stammered after a pause, in which he, however,
resumed his aggrieved manner, "that FAIRFAX seems to come here still, and
HE is not such a particular friend of mine."
"But she is—and has your interest entirely at heart," said Jessie,
stoutly, "and he only comes here to tell us how things are going on at the
"And criticise your father, I suppose," said Mr. Carr, with an attempt at
jocularity that did not, however, disguise an irritated suspiciousness.
"He really seems to have supplanted ME as he has poor Kearney in your
"Now, father," said Jessie, suddenly seizing him by the shoulders in
affected indignation, but really to conceal a certain embarrassment that
sprang quite as much from her sister's quietly observant eye as her
father's speech, "you promised to let this ridiculous discussion drop. You
will make me and Christie so nervous that we will not dare to open the
door to a visitor, until he declares his innocence of any matrimonial
intentions. You don't want to give color to the gossip that agreement with
your views about the improvements is necessary to getting on with us."
"Who dares talk such rubbish?" said Carr, reddening; "is that the kind of
gossip that Fairfax brings here?"
"Hardly, when it's known that he don't quite agree with you, and DOES come
here. That's the best denial of the gossip."
Christie, who had of late loftily ignored these discussions, waited until
her father had taken his departure.
"Then that is the reason why you still see Mr. Munroe, after what you
said," she remarked quietly to Jessie.
Jessie, who would have liked to escape with her father, was obliged to
pause on the threshold of the door, with a pretty assumption of blank
forgetfulness in her blue eyes and lifted eyebrows.
"Said what? when?" she asked vacantly.
"When—when Mr. Kearney that day—in the woods—went away,"
said Christie, faintly coloring.
"Oh! THAT day," said Jessie briskly; "the day he just gloved your hand
with kisses, and then fled wildly into the forest to conceal his emotion."
"The day he behaved very foolishly," said Christie, with reproachful
calmness, that did not, however, prevent a suspicion of indignant moisture
in her eyes—"when you explained"—
"That it wasn't meant for ME," interrupted Jessie.
"That it was to you that MR. MUNROE'S attentions were directed. And then
we agreed that it was better to prevent any further advances of this kind
by avoiding any familiar relations with either of them."
"Yes," said Jessie, "I remember; but you're not confounding my seeing
Fairfax occasionally now with that sort of thing. HE doesn't kiss my hand
like anything," she added, as if in abstract reflection.
"Nor run away, either," suggested the trodden worm, turning.
There was an ominous silence.
"Do you know we are nearly out of coffee?" said Jessie choking, but moving
towards the door with Spartan-like calmness.
"Yes. And something must be done this very day about the washing," said
Christie, with suppressed emotion, going towards the opposite entrance.
Tears stood in each other's eyes with this terrible exchange of domestic
confidences. Nevertheless, after a moment's pause, they deliberately
turned again, and, facing each other with frightful calmness, left the
room by purposeless and deliberate exits other than those they had
contemplated—a crushing abnegation of self, that, to some extent,
relieved their surcharged feelings.
Meantime the material prosperity of Devil's Ford increased, if a
prosperity based upon no visible foundation but the confidences and hopes
of its inhabitants could be called material. Few, if any, stopped to
consider that the improvements, buildings, and business were simply the
outlay of capital brought from elsewhere, and as yet the settlement or
town, as it was now called, had neither produced nor exported capital of
itself equal to half the amount expended. It was true that some land was
cultivated on the further slope, some mills erected and lumber furnished
from the inexhaustible forest; but the consumers were the inhabitants
themselves, who paid for their produce in borrowed capital or unlimited
credit. It was never discovered that while all roads led to Devil's Ford,
Devil's Ford led to nowhere. The difficulties overcome in getting things
into the settlement were never surmounted for getting things out of it.
The lumber was practically valueless for export to other settlements
across the mountain roads, which were equally rich in timber. The theory
so enthusiastically held by the original locators, that Devil's Ford was a
vast sink that had, through ages, exhausted and absorbed the trickling
wealth of the adjacent hills and valleys, was suffering an ironical
One morning it was known that work was stopped at the Devil's Ford Ditch—temporarily
only, it was alleged, and many of the old workmen simply had their labor
for the present transferred to excavating the river banks, and the
collection of vast heaps of "pay gravel." Specimens from these mounds,
taken from different localities, and at different levels, were sent to San
Francisco for more rigid assay and analysis. It was believed that this
would establish the fact of the permanent richness of the drifts, and not
only justify past expenditure, but a renewed outlay of credit and capital.
The suspension of engineering work gave Mr. Carr an opportunity to visit
San Francisco on general business of the mine, which could not, however,
prevent him from arranging further combinations with capital. His two
daughters accompanied him. It offered an admirable opportunity for a
shopping expedition, a change of scene, and a peaceful solution of their
perplexing and anomalous social relations with Devil's Ford. In the first
flush of gratitude to their father for this opportune holiday, something
of harmony had been restored to the family circle that had of late been
shaken by discord.
But their sanguine hopes of enjoyment were not entirely fulfilled. Both
Jessie and Christie were obliged to confess to a certain disappointment in
the aspect of the civilization they were now reentering. They at first
attributed it to the change in their own habits during the last three
months, and their having become barbarous and countrified in their
seclusion. Certainly in the matter of dress they were behind the fashions
as revealed in Montgomery Street. But when the brief solace afforded them
by the modiste and dressmaker was past, there seemed little else to be
gained. They missed at first, I fear, the chivalrous and loyal devotion
that had only amused them at Devil's Ford, and were the more inclined, I
think, to distrust the conscious and more civilized gallantry of the
better dressed and more carefully presented men they met. For it must be
admitted that, for obvious reasons, their criticisms were at first
confined to the sex they had been most in contact with. They could not
help noticing that the men were more eager, annoyingly feverish, and
self-asserting in their superior elegance and external show than their old
associates were in their frank, unrestrained habits. It seemed to them
that the five millionaires of Devil's Ford, in their radical simplicity
and thoroughness, were perhaps nearer the type of true gentlemanhood than
these citizens who imitated a civilization they were unable yet to reach.
The women simply frightened them, as being, even more than the men,
demonstrative and excessive in their fine looks, their fine dresses, their
extravagant demand for excitement. In less than a week they found
themselves regretting—not the new villa on the slope of Devil's
Ford, which even in its own bizarre fashion was exceeded by the barbarous
ostentation of the villas and private houses around them—but the
double cabin under the trees, which now seemed to them almost aristocratic
in its grave simplicity and abstention. In the mysterious forests of masts
that thronged the city's quays they recalled the straight shafts of the
pines on Devil's slopes, only to miss the sedate repose and infinite calm
that used to environ them. In the feverish, pulsating life of the young
metropolis they often stopped oppressed, giddy, and choking; the roar of
the streets and thoroughfares was meaningless to them, except to revive
strange memories of the deep, unvarying monotone of the evening wind over
their humbler roof on the Sierran hillside. Civic bred and nurtured as
they were, the recurrence of these sensations perplexed and alarmed them.
"It seems so perfectly ridiculous," said Jessie, "for us to feel as out of
place here as that Pike County servant girl in Sacramento who had never
seen a steamboat before; do you know, I quite had a turn the other day at
seeing a man on the Stockton wharf in a red shirt, with a rifle on his
"And you wanted to go and speak to him?" said Christie, with a sad smile.
"No, that's just it; I felt awfully hurt and injured that he did not come
up and speak to ME! I wonder if we got any fever or that sort of thing up
there; it makes one quite superstitious."
Christie did not reply; more than once before she had felt that
inexplicable misgiving. It had sometimes seemed to her that she had never
been quite herself since that memorable night when she had slipped out of
their sleeping-cabin, and stood alone in the gracious and commanding
presence of the woods and hills. In the solitude of night, with the hum of
the great city rising below her—at times even in theatres or crowded
assemblies of men and women—she forgot herself, and again stood in
the weird brilliancy of that moonlight night in mute worship at the foot
of that slowly-rising mystic altar of piled terraces, hanging forests, and
lifted plateaus that climbed forever to the lonely skies. Again she felt
before her the expanding and opening arms of the protecting woods. Had
they really closed upon her in some pantheistic embrace that made her a
part of them? Had she been baptized in that moonlight as a child of the
great forest? It was easy to believe in the myths of the poets of an
idyllic life under those trees, where, free from conventional
restrictions, one loved and was loved. If she, with her own worldly
experience, could think of this now, why might not George Kearney have
thought? . . . She stopped, and found herself blushing even in the
darkness. As the thought and blush were the usual sequel of her
reflections, it is to be feared that they may have been at times the
Mr. Carr, however, made up for his daughters' want of sympathy with
metropolitan life. To their astonishment, he not only plunged into the
fashionable gayeties and amusements of the town, but in dress and manner
assumed the role of a leader of society. The invariable answer to their
half-humorous comment was the necessities of the mine, and the policy of
frequenting the company of capitalists, to enlist their support and
confidence. There was something in this so unlike their father, that what
at any other time they would have hailed as a relief to his habitual
abstraction now half alarmed them. Yet he was not dissipated—he did
not drink nor gamble. There certainly did not seem any harm in his
frequenting the society of ladies, with a gallantry that appeared to be
forced and a pleasure that to their critical eyes was certainly
apocryphal. He did not drag his daughters into the mixed society of that
period; he did not press upon them the company of those he most
frequented, and whose accepted position in that little world of fashion
was considered equal to their own. When Jessie strongly objected to the
pronounced manners of a certain widow, whose actual present wealth and
pecuniary influence condoned for a more uncertain prehistoric past, Mr.
Carr did not urge a further acquaintance. "As long as you're not thinking
of marrying again, papa," Jessie had said finally, "I don't see the
necessity of our knowing her." "But suppose I were," had replied Mr. Carr
with affected humor. "Then you certainly wouldn't care for any one like
her," his daughter had responded triumphantly. Mr. Carr smiled, and
dropped the subject, but it is probable that his daughters' want of
sympathy with his acquaintances did not in the least interfere with his
social prestige. A gentleman in all his relations and under all
circumstances, even his cold scientific abstraction was provocative; rich
men envied his lofty ignorance of the smaller details of money-making,
even while they mistrusted his judgment. A man still well preserved, and
free from weakening vices, he was a dangerous rival to younger and faster
San Francisco, in the eyes of the sex, who knew how to value a repose they
did not themselves possess.
Suddenly Mr. Carr announced his intention of proceeding to Sacramento, on
further business of the mine, leaving his two daughters in the family of a
wealthy friend until he should return for them. He opposed their ready
suggestion to return to Devil's Ford with a new and unnecessary
inflexibility: he even met their compromise to accompany him to Sacramento
with equal decision.
"You will be only in my way," he said curtly. "Enjoy yourselves here while
Thus left to themselves, they tried to accept his advice. Possibly some
slight reaction to their previous disappointment may have already set in;
perhaps they felt any distraction to be a relief to their anxiety about
their father. They went out more; they frequented concerts and parties;
they accepted, with their host and his family, an invitation to one of
those opulent and barbaric entertainments with which a noted San Francisco
millionaire distracted his rare moments of reflection in his gorgeous
palace on the hills. Here they could at least be once more in the country
they loved, albeit of a milder and less heroic type, and a little degraded
by the overlapping tinsel and scattered spangles of the palace.
It was a three days' fete; the style and choice of amusements left to the
guests, and an equal and active participation by no means necessary or
indispensable. Consequently, when Christie and Jessie Carr proposed a ride
through the adjacent canyon on the second morning, they had no difficulty
in finding horses in the well-furnished stables of their opulent
entertainers, nor cavaliers among the other guests, who were too happy to
find favor in the eyes of the two pretty girls who were supposed to be
abnormally fastidious and refined. Christie's escort was a good-natured
young banker, shrewd enough to avoid demonstrative attentions, and lucky
enough to interest her during the ride with his clear and half-humorous
reflections on some of the business speculations of the day. If his ideas
were occasionally too clever, and not always consistent with a high sense
of honor, she was none the less interested to know the ethics of that
world of speculation into which her father had plunged, and the more
convinced, with mingled sense of pride and anxiety, that his still
dominant gentlemanhood would prevent his coping with it on equal terms.
Nor could she help contrasting the conversation of the sharp-witted man at
her side with what she still remembered of the vague, touching, boyish
enthusiasm of the millionaires of Devil's Ford. Had her escort guessed the
result of this contrast, he would hardly have been as gratified as he was
with the grave attention of her beautiful eyes.
The fascination of a gracious day and the leafy solitude of the canyon led
them to prolong their ride beyond the proposed limit, and it became
necessary towards sunset for them to seek some shorter cut home.
"There's a vaquero in yonder field," said Christie's escort, who was
riding with her a little in advance of the others, "and those fellows know
every trail that a horse can follow. I'll ride on, intercept him, and try
my Spanish on him. If I miss him, as he's galloping on, you might try your
hand on him yourself. He'll understand your eyes, Miss Carr, in any
As he dashed away, to cover his first audacity of compliment, Christie
lifted the eyes thus apostrophized to the opposite field. The vaquero, who
was chasing some cattle, was evidently too preoccupied to heed the shouts
of her companion, and wheeling round suddenly to intercept one of the
deviating fugitives, permitted Christie's escort to dash past him before
that gentleman could rein in his excited steed. This brought the vaquero
directly in her path. Perceiving her, he threw his horse back on its
haunches, to prevent a collision. Christie rode up to him, suddenly
uttered a cry, and halted. For before her, sunburnt in cheek and throat,
darker in the free growth of moustache and curling hair, clad in the
coarse, picturesque finery of his class, undisguised only in his boyish
beauty, sat George Kearney.
The blood, that had forsaken her astonished face, rushed as quickly back.
His eyes, which had suddenly sparkled with an electrical glow, sank before
hers. His hand dropped, and his cheek flushed with a dark embarrassment.
"You here, Mr. Kearney? How strange!—but how glad I am to meet you
She tried to smile; her voice trembled, and her little hand shook as she
extended it to him.
He raised his dark eyes quickly, and impulsively urged his horse to her
side. But, as if suddenly awakening to the reality of the situation, he
glanced at her hurriedly, down at his barbaric finery, and threw a
searching look towards her escort.
In an instant Christie saw the infelicity of her position, and its
dangers. The words of Whiskey Dick, "He wouldn't stand that," flashed
across her mind. There was no time to lose. The banker had already gained
control over his horse, and was approaching them, all unconscious of the
fixed stare with which George was regarding him. Christie hastily seized
the hand which he had allowed to fall at his side, and said quickly:—
"Will you ride with me a little way, Mr. Kearney?"
He turned the same searching look upon her. She met it clearly and
steadily; he even thought reproachfully.
"Do!" she said hurriedly. "I ask it as a favor. I want to speak to you.
Jessie and I are here alone. Father is away. YOU are one of our oldest
He hesitated. She turned to the astonished young banker, who rode up.
"I have just met an old friend. Will you please ride back as quickly as
you can, and tell Jessie that Mr. Kearney is here, and ask her to join
She watched her dazed escort, still speechless from the spectacle of the
fastidious Miss Carr tete-a-tete with a common Mexican vaquero, gallop off
in the direction of the canyon, and then turned to George.
"Now take me home, the shortest way, as quick as you can."
"Home?" echoed George.
"I mean to Mr. Prince's house. Quick! before they can come up to us."
He mechanically put spurs to his horse; she followed. They presently
struck into a trail that soon diverged again into a disused logging track
through the woods.
"This is the short cut to Prince's, by two miles," he said, as they
entered the woods.
As they were still galloping, without exchanging a word, Christie began to
slacken her speed; George did the same. They were safe from intrusion at
the present, even if the others had found the short cut. Christie, bold
and self-reliant a moment ago, suddenly found herself growing weak and
embarrassed. What had she done?
She checked her horse suddenly.
"Perhaps we had better wait for them," she said timidly.
George had not raised his eyes to hers.
"You said you wanted to hurry home," he replied gently, passing his hand
along his mustang's velvety neck, "and—and you had something to say
"Certainly," she answered, with a faint laugh. "I'm so astonished at
meeting you here. I'm quite bewildered. You are living here; you have
forsaken us to buy a ranche?" she continued, looking at him attentively.
His brow colored slightly.
"No, I'm living here, but I have bought no ranche. I'm only a hired man on
somebody else's ranche, to look after the cattle."
He saw her beautiful eyes fill with astonishment and—something else.
His brow cleared; he went on, with his old boyish laugh:
"No, Miss Carr. The fact is, I'm dead broke. I've lost everything since I
saw you last. But as I know how to ride, and I'm not afraid of work, I
manage to keep along."
"You have lost money in—in the mines?" said Christie suddenly.
"No"—he replied quickly, evading her eyes. "My brother has my
interest, you know. I've been foolish on my own account solely. You know
I'm rather inclined to that sort of thing. But as long as my folly don't
affect others, I can stand it."
"But it may affect others—and THEY may not think of it as folly—"
She stopped short, confused by his brightening color and eyes. "I mean—Oh,
Mr. Kearney, I want you to be frank with me. I know nothing of business,
but I know there has been trouble about the mine at Devil's Ford. Tell me
honestly, has my father anything to do with it? If I thought that through
any imprudence of his, you had suffered—if I believed that you could
trace any misfortune of yours to him—to US—I should never
forgive myself"—she stopped and flashed a single look at him—"I
should never forgive YOU for abandoning us."
The look of pain which had at first shown itself in his face, which never
concealed anything, passed, and a quick smile followed her feminine
"Miss Carr," he said, with boyish eagerness, "if any man suggested to me
that your father wasn't the brightest and best of his kind—too wise
and clever for the fools about him to understand—I'd—I'd shoot
Confused by his ready and gracious disclaimer of what she had NOT intended
to say, there was nothing left for her but to rush upon what she really
intended to say, with what she felt was shameful precipitation.
"One word more, Mr. Kearney," she began, looking down, but feeling the
color come to her face as she spoke. "When you spoke to me the day you
left, you must have thought me hard and cruel. When I tell you that I
thought you were alluding to Jessie and some feeling you had for her—"
"For Jessie!" echoed George.
"You will understand that—that—"
"That what?" said George, drawing nearer to her.
"That I was only speaking as she might have spoken had you talked to her
of me," added Christie hurriedly, slightly backing her horse away from
But this was not so easy, as George was the better rider, and by an
imperceptible movement of his wrist and foot had glued his horse to her
side. "He will go now," she had thought, but he didn't.
"We must ride on," she suggested faintly.
"No," he said with a sudden dropping of his boyish manner and a slight
lifting of his head. "We must ride together no further, Miss Carr. I must
go back to the work I am hired to do, and you must go on with your party,
whom I hear coming. But when we part here you must bid me good-by—not
as Jessie's sister—but as Christie—the one—the only
woman that I love, or that I ever have loved."
He held out his hand. With the recollection of their previous parting, she
tremblingly advanced her own. He took it, but did not raise it to his
lips. And it was she who found herself half confusedly retaining his hand
in hers, until she dropped it with a blush.
"Then is this the reason you give for deserting us as you have deserted
Devil's Ford?" she said coldly.
He lifted his eyes to her with a strange smile, and said, "Yes," wheeled
his horse, and disappeared in the forest.
He had left her thus abruptly once before, kissed, blushing, and
indignant. He was leaving her now, unkissed, but white and indignant. Yet
she was so self-possessed when the party joined her, that the singular
rencontre and her explanation of the stranger's sudden departure excited
no further comment. Only Jessie managed to whisper in her ear,—
"I hope you are satisfied now that it wasn't me he meant?"
"Not at all," said Christie coldly.
A few days after the girls had returned to San Francisco, they received a
letter from their father. His business, he wrote, would detain him in
Sacramento some days longer. There was no reason why they should return to
Devil's Ford in the heat of the summer; their host had written to beg him
to allow them a more extended visit, and, if they were enjoying
themselves, he thought it would be well not to disoblige an old friend. He
had heard they had a pleasant visit to Mr. Prince's place, and that a
certain young banker had been very attentive to Christie.
"Do you know what all this means, dear?" asked Jessie, who had been
watching her sister with an unusually grave face.
Christie whose thoughts had wandered from the letter, replied carelessly,—
"I suppose it means that we are to wait here until father sends for us."
"It means a good deal more. It means that papa has had another reverse; it
means that the assay has turned out badly for the mine—that the
further they go from the flat the worse it gets—that all the gold
they will probably ever see at Devil's Ford is what they have already
found or will find on the flat; it means that all Devil's Ford is only a
'pocket,' and not a 'lead.'" She stopped, with unexpected tears in her
"Who told you this?" asked Christie breathlessly.
"Fairfax—Mr. Munroe," stammered her sister, "writes to me as if we
already knew it—tells me not to be alarmed, that it isn't so bad—and
"How long has this happened, Jessie?" said Christie, taking her hand, with
a white but calm face.
"Nearly ever since we've been here, I suppose. It must be so, for he says
poor papa is still hopeful of doing something yet."
"And Mr. Munroe writes to you?" said Christie abstractedly.
"Of course," said Jessie quickly. "He feels interested in—us."
"Nobody tells ME anything," said Christie.
"No," said Christie bitterly.
"What on earth DID you talk about? But people don't confide in you because
they're afraid of you. You're so—"
"So gently patronizing, and so 'I-don't-suppose-you-can-help-it,
poor-thing,' in your general style," said Jessie, kissing her. "There! I
only wish I was like you. What do you say if we write to father that we'll
go back to Devil's Ford? Mr. Munroe thinks we will be of service there
just now. If the men are dissatisfied, and think we're spending money—"
"I'm afraid Mr. Munroe is hardly a disinterested adviser. At least, I
don't think it would look quite decent for you to fly back without your
father, at his suggestion," said Christie coldly. "He is not the only
partner. We are spending no money. Besides, we have engaged to go to Mr.
Prince's again next week."
"As you like, dear," said Jessie, turning away to hide a faint smile.
Nevertheless, when they returned from their visit to Mr. Prince's, and one
or two uneventful rides, Christie looked grave. It was only a few days
later that Jessie burst upon her one morning.
"You were saying that nobody ever tells you anything. Well, here's your
chance. Whiskey Dick is below."
"Whiskey Dick?" repeated Christie. "What does he want?"
"YOU, love. Who else? You know he always scorns me as not being high-toned
and elegant enough for his social confidences. He asked for you only."
With an uneasy sense of some impending revelation, Christie descended to
the drawing-room. As she opened the door, a strong flavor of that toilet
soap and eau de Cologne with which Whiskey Dick was in the habit of
gracefully effacing the traces of dissipation made known his presence. In
spite of a new suit of clothes, whose pristine folds refused to adapt
themselves entirely to the contour of his figure, he was somewhat subdued
by the unexpected elegance of the drawing-room of Christie's host. But a
glance at Christie's sad but gracious face quickly reassured him. Taking
from his hat a three-cornered parcel, he unfolded a handsome saffrona
rose, which he gravely presented to her. Having thus reestablished his
position, he sank elegantly into a tete-a-tete ottoman. Finding the
position inconvenient to face Christie, who had seated herself on a chair,
he transferred himself to the other side of the ottoman, and addressed her
over its back as from a pulpit.
"Is this really a fortunate accident, Mr. Hall, or did you try to find
us?" said Christie pleasantly.
"Partly promiskuss, and partly coincident, Miss Christie, one up and
t'other down," said Dick lightly. "Work being slack at present at Devil's
Ford, I reck'ned I'd take a pasear down to 'Frisco, and dip into the
vortex o' fash'nable society and out again." He lightly waved a new
handkerchief to illustrate his swallow-like intrusion. "This yer minglin'
with the bo-tong is apt to be wearisome, ez you and me knows, unless
combined with experience and judgment. So when them boys up there allows
that there's a little too much fash'nable society and San Francisco
capital and high-falutin' about the future goin' on fer square surface
mining, I sez, 'Look yere, gentlemen,' sez I, 'you don't see the pint. The
pint is to get the pop'lar eye fixed, so to speak, on Devil's Ford. When a
fash'nable star rises above the 'Frisco horizon—like Miss Carr—and,
so to speak, dazzles the gineral eye, people want to know who she is. And
when people say that's the accomplished daughter o' the accomplished
superintendent of the Devil's Ford claim—otherwise known as the
Star-eyed Goddess o' Devil's Ford—every eye is fixed on the mine,
and Capital, so to speak, tumbles to her.' And when they sez that the old
man—excuse my freedom, but that's the way the boys talk of your
father, meaning no harm—the old man, instead o' trying to corral
rich widders—grass or otherwise—to spend their money on the
big works for the gold that ain't there yet—should stay in Devil's
Ford and put all his sabe and genius into grindin' out the little gold
that is there, I sez to them that it ain't your father's style. 'His
style,' sez I, 'ez to go in and build them works.' When they're done he
turns round to Capital, and sez he—'Look yer,' sez he, 'thar's all
the works you want, first quality—cost a million; thar's all the
water you want, onlimited—cost another million; thar's all the pay
gravel you want in and outer the ground—call it two millions more.
Now my time's too vally'ble; my professhun's too high-toned to WORK mines.
I MAKE 'em. Hand me over a check for ten millions and call it square, and
work it for yourself.' So Capital hands over the money and waltzes down to
run the mine, and you original locators walks round with yer hands in yer
pockets a-top of your six million profit, and you let's Capital take the
work and the responsibility."
Preposterous as this seemed from the lips of Whiskey Dick, Christie had a
haunting suspicion that it was not greatly unlike the theories expounded
by the clever young banker who had been her escort. She did not interrupt
his flow of reminiscent criticism; when he paused for breath, she said,
"I met Mr. George Kearney the other day in the country."
Whiskey Dick stopped awkwardly, glanced hurriedly at Christie, and coughed
behind his handkerchief.
him, you say. Was he—er—er—well?"
"In health, yes; but otherwise he has lost everything," said Christie,
fixing her eyes on the embarrassed Dick.
"Yes—er—in course—in course—" continued Dick,
nervously glancing round the apartment as if endeavoring to find an
opening to some less abrupt statement of the fact.
"And actually reduced to take some menial employment," added Christie,
still regarding Dick with her clear glance.
"That's it—that's just it," said Dick, beaming as he suddenly found
his delicate and confidential opportunity. "That's it, Miss Christie;
that's just what I was sayin' to the boys. 'Ez it the square thing,' sez
I, 'jest because George hez happened to hypothecate every dollar he has,
or expects to hev, to put into them works, only to please Mr. Carr, and
just because he don't want to distress that intelligent gentleman by
letting him see he's dead broke—for him to go and demean himself and
Devil's Ford by rushing away and hiring out as a Mexican vaquero on
Mexican wages? Look,' sez I, 'at the disgrace he brings upon a high-toned,
fash'nable girl, at whose side he's walked and danced, and passed rings,
and sentiments, and bokays in the changes o' the cotillion and the
mizzourka. And wot,' sez I, 'if some day, prancing along in a fash'nable
cavalcade, she all of a suddents comes across him drivin' a Mexican
steer?' That's what I said to the boys. And so you met him, Miss Christie,
as usual," continued Dick, endeavoring under the appearance of a large
social experience to conceal an eager anxiety to know the details—"so
you met him; and, in course, you didn't let on yer knew him, so to speak,
nat'rally, or p'raps you kinder like asked him to fix your saddle-girth,
and give him a five-dollar piece—eh?"
Christie, who had risen and gone to the window, suddenly turned a very
pale face and shining eyes on Dick.
"Mr. Hall," she said, with a faint attempt at a smile, "we are old
friends, and I feel I can ask you a favor. You once before acted as our
escort—it was for a short but a happy time—will you accept a
larger trust? My father is busy in Sacramento for the mine: will you,
without saying anything to anybody, take Jessie and me back at once to
"Will I? Miss Christie," said Dick, choking between an intense
gratification and a desire to keep back its vulgar exhibition, "I shall be
"When I say keep it a secret"—she hesitated—"I don't mean that
I object to your letting Mr. Kearney, if you happen to know where he is,
understand that we are going back to Devil's Ford."
"Cert'nly—nat'rally," said Dick, waving his hand gracefully; "sorter
drop him a line, saying that bizness of a social and delicate nature—being
the escort of Miss Christie and Jessie Carr to Devil's Ford—prevents
my having the pleasure of calling."
"That will do very well, Mr. Hall," said Christie, faintly smiling through
her moist eyelashes. "Then will you go at once and secure tickets for
to-night's boat, and bring them here? Jessie and I will arrange everything
"Cert'nly," said Dick impulsively, and preparing to take a graceful leave.
"We'll be impatient until you return with the tickets," said Christie
Dick shook hands gravely, got as far as the door, and paused.
"You think it better to take the tickets now?" he said dubiously.
"By all means," said Christie impetuously. "I've set my heart on going
to-night—and unless you secure berths early—"
"In course—in course," interrupted Dick nervously. "But—"
"But what?" said Christie impatiently.
Dick hesitated, shut the door carefully, and, looking round the room,
lightly shook out his handkerchief, apparently flicked away an
embarrassing suggestion, and said, with a little laugh:
"It's ridiklous, perfectly ridiklous, Miss Christie; but not bein' in the
habit of carryin' ready money, and havin' omitted to cash a draft on
Wells, Fargo & Co.—"
"Of course," said Christie rapidly. "How forgetful I am! Pray forgive me,
Mr. Hall. I didn't think. I'll run up and get it from our host; he will be
glad to be our banker."
"One moment, Miss Christie," said Dick lightly, as his thumb and finger
relaxed in his waistcoat pocket over the only piece of money in the world
that had remained to him after his extravagant purchase of Christie's
saffrona rose, "one moment: in this yer monetary transaction, if you like,
you are at liberty to use MY name."
As Christie and Jessie Carr looked from the windows of the coach, whose
dust-clogged wheels were slowly dragging them, as if reluctant, nearer the
last stage of their journey to Devil's Ford, they were conscious of a
change in the landscape, which they could not entirely charge upon their
changed feelings. The few bared open spaces on the upland, the long
stretch of rocky ridge near the summit, so vivid and so velvety during
their first journey, were now burnt and yellow; even the brief openings in
the forest were seared as if by a hot iron in the scorching rays of a half
year's sun. The pastoral slopes of the valley below were cloaked in
lustre-leather: the rare watercourses along the road had faded from the
waiting eye and ear; it seemed as if the long and dry summer had even
invaded the close-set ranks of pines, and had blown a simoom breath
through the densest woods, leaving its charred red ashes on every leaf and
spray along the tunnelled shade. As they leaned out of the window and
inhaled the half-dead spices of the evergreens, they seemed to have
entered the atmosphere of some exhausted passion—of some fierce
excitement that was even now slowly burning itself out.
It was a relief at last to see the straggling houses of Devil's Ford far
below come once more into view, as they rounded the shoulder of Devil's
Spur and began the long descent. But as they entered the town a change
more ominous and startling than the desiccation of the landscape forced
itself upon them. The town was still there, but where were the
inhabitants? Four months ago they had left the straggling street thronged
with busy citizens—groups at every corner, and a chaos of
merchandise and traders in the open plaza or square beside the
Presbyterian church. Now all was changed. Only a few wayfarers lifted
their heads lazily as the coach rattled by, crossing the deserted square
littered with empty boxes, and gliding past empty cabins or vacant shop
windows, from which not only familiar faces, but even the window sashes
themselves, were gone. The great unfinished serpent-like flume, crossing
the river on gigantic trestles, had advanced as far as the town, stooping
over it like some enormous reptile that had sucked its life blood and was
gorged with its prey.
Whiskey Dick, who had left the stage on the summit to avail himself of a
shorter foot trail to the house, that would give him half an hour's grace
to make preparations, met them at the stage office with a buggy. A glance
at the young girls, perhaps, convinced him that the graces of elegant
worldly conversation were out of place with the revelation he read on
their faces. Perhaps, he, too, was a trifle indisposed. The short journey
to the house was made in profound silence.
The villa had been repainted and decorated, and it looked fresher, and
even, to their preoccupied minds, appeared more attractive than ever.
Thoughtful hands had taken care of the vines and rose-bushes on the
trellises; water—that precious element in Devil's Ford—had not
been spared in keeping green through the long drought the plants which the
girls had so tenderly nurtured. It was the one oasis in which the summer
still lingered; and yet a singular sense of loss came over the girls as
they once more crossed its threshold. It seemed no longer their own.
"Ef I was you, Miss Christie, I'd keep close to the house for a day or
two, until—until—things is settled," said Dick; "there's a
heap o' tramps and sich cattle trapsin' round. P'raps you wouldn't feel so
lonesome if you was nearer town—for instance, 'bout wher' you useter
"In the dear old cabin," said Christie quickly; "I remember it; I wish we
were there now."
"Do you really? Do you?" said Whiskey Dick, with suddenly twinkling eyes.
"That's like you to say it. That's what I allus said," continued Dick,
addressing space generally; "if there's any one ez knows how to come
square down to the bottom rock without flinchin', it's your high-toned,
fash'nable gals. But I must meander back to town, and let the boys know
you're in possession, safe and sound. It's right mean that Fairfax and
Mattingly had to go down to Lagrange on some low business yesterday, but
they'll be back to-morrow. So long."
Left alone, the girls began to realize their strange position. They had
conceived no settled plan. The night they left San Francisco they had
written an earnest letter to their father, telling him that on learning
the truth about the reverses of Devil's Ford, they thought it their duty
to return and share them with others, without obliging him to prefer the
request, and with as little worry to him as possible. He would find them
ready to share his trials, and in what must be the scene of their work
"It will bring father back," said Christie; "he won't leave us here alone;
and then together we must come to some understanding with him—with
THEM—for somehow I feel as if this house belonged to us no longer."
Her surmise was not far wrong. When Mr. Carr arrived hurriedly from
Sacramento the next evening, he found the house deserted. His daughters
were gone; there were indications that they had arrived, and, for some
reason, suddenly departed. The vague fear that had haunted his guilty soul
after receiving their letter, and during his breathless journey, now
seemed to be realized. He was turning from the empty house, whose
reproachful solitude frightened him, when he was confronted on the
threshold by the figure of Fairfax Munroe.
"I came to the stage office to meet you," he said; "you must have left the
stage at the summit."
"I did," said Carr angrily. "I was anxious to meet my daughters quickly,
to know the reason of their foolish alarm, and to know also who had been
frightening them. Where are they?"
"They are safe in the old cabin beyond, that has been put up ready to
receive them again," said Fairfax quietly.
"But what is the meaning of this? Why are they not here?" demanded Carr,
hiding his agitation in a burst of querulous rage.
"Do YOU ask, Mr. Carr?" said Fairfax sadly. "Did you expect them to remain
here until the sheriff took possession? No one knows better than yourself
that the money advanced you on the deeds of this homestead has never been
Carr staggered, but recovered himself with feeble violence.
"Since you know so much of my affairs, how do you know that this claim
will ever be pressed for payment? How do you know it is not the advance of
"Because I have seen the woman who advanced it," said Fairfax hopelessly.
"She was here to look at the property before your daughters came."
"Well?" said Carr nervously.
"Well! You force me to tell you something I should like to forget. You
force me to anticipate a disclosure I expected to make to you only when I
came to ask permission to woo your daughter Jessie; and when I tell you
what it is, you will understand that I have no right to criticise your
conduct. I am only explaining my own."
"Go on," said Carr impatiently.
"When I first came to this country, there was a woman I loved
passionately. She treated me as women of her kind only treat men like me;
she ruined me, and left me. That was four years ago. I love your daughter,
Mr. Carr, but she has never heard it from my lips. I would not woo her
until I had told you all. I have tried to do it ere this, and failed.
Perhaps I should not now, but—"
"But what?" said Carr furiously; "speak out!"
"But this. Look!" said Fairfax, producing from his pocket the packet of
letters Jessie had found; "perhaps you know the handwriting?"
"What do you mean?" gasped Carr.
"That woman—my mistress—is the woman who advanced you money,
and who claims this house."
The interview, and whatever came of it, remained a secret with the two
men. When Mr. Carr accepted the hospitality of the old cabin again, it was
understood that he had sacrificed the new house and its furniture to some
of the more pressing debts of the mine, and the act went far to restore
his waning popularity. But a more genuine feeling of relief was
experienced by Devil's Ford when it was rumored that Fairfax Munroe had
asked for the hand of Jessie Carr, and that some promise contingent upon
the equitable adjustment of the affairs of the mine had been given by Mr.
Carr. To the superstitious mind of Devil's Ford and its few remaining
locators, this new partnership seemed to promise that unity of interest
and stability of fortune that Devil's Ford had lacked. But nothing could
be done until the rainy season had fairly set in; until the
long-looked-for element that was to magically separate the gold from the
dross in those dull mounds of dust and gravel had come of its own free
will, and in its own appointed channels, independent of the feeble
auxiliaries that had hopelessly riven the rocks on the hillside, or hung
incomplete and unfinished in lofty scaffoldings above the settlement.
The rainy season came early. At first in gathered mists on the higher
peaks that were lifted in the morning sun only to show a fresher field of
dazzling white below; in white clouds that at first seemed to be mere
drifts blown across from those fresh snowfields, and obscuring the clear
blue above; in far-off murmurs in the hollow hills and gulches; in nearer
tinkling melody and baby prattling in the leaves. It came with bright
flashes of sunlight by day, with deep, monotonous shadow at night; with
the onset of heavy winds, the roar of turbulent woods, the tumultuous
tossing of leafy arms, and with what seemed the silent dissolution of the
whole landscape in days of steady and uninterrupted downfall. It came
extravagantly, for every canyon had grown into a torrent, every gulch a
waterspout, every watercourse a river, and all pouring into the North
Fork, that, rushing past the settlement, seemed to threaten it with lifted
crest and flying mane. It came dangerously, for one night the river,
leaping the feeble barrier of Devil's Ford, swept away houses and banks,
scattered with unconscious irony the laboriously collected heaps of gravel
left for hydraulic machinery, and spread out a vast and silent lake across
the submerged flat.
In the hurry and confusion of that night the girls had thrown open their
cabin to the escaping miners, who hurried along the slope that was now the
bank of the river. Suddenly Christie felt her arm grasped, and she was
half-led, half-dragged, into the inner room. Her father stood before her.
"Where is George Kearney?" he asked tremulously.
"George Kearney!" echoed Christie, for a moment believing the excitement
had turned her father's brain. "You know he is not here; he is in San
"He is here—I tell you," said Carr impatiently; "he has been here
ever since the high water, trying to save the flume and reservoir."
"George—here!" Christie could only gasp.
"Yes! He passed here a few moments ago, to see if you were all safe, and
he has gone on towards the flume. But what he is trying to do is madness.
If you see him, implore him to do no more. Let him abandon the accursed
flume to its fate. It has worked already too much woe upon us all; why
should it carry his brave and youthful soul down with it?"
The words were still ringing in her ears, when he suddenly passed away,
with the hurrying crowd. Scarcely knowing what she did, she ran out,
vaguely intent only on one thought, seeking only the one face, lately so
dear in recollection that she felt she would die if she never saw it
again. Perplexed by confused voices in the woods, she lost track of the
crowd, until the voices suddenly were raised in one loud outcry, followed
by the crashing of timber, the splashing of water, a silence, and then a
dull, continuous roar. She ran vaguely on in the direction of the
reservoir, with her father's injunction still in her mind, until a
terrible idea displaced it, and she turned at right angles suddenly, and
ran towards the slope leading down to the submerged flat. She had barely
left the shelter of the trees behind her before the roar of water seemed
to rise at her very feet. She stopped, dazed, bewildered, and
horror-stricken, on the edge of the slope. It was the slope no longer, but
the bank of the river itself!
Even in the gray light of early morning, and with inexperienced eyes, she
saw all too clearly now. The trestle-work had given way; the curving mile
of flume, fallen into the stream, and, crushed and dammed against the
opposite shore, had absolutely turned the whole river through the
half-finished ditch and partly excavated mine in its way, a few rods
further on to join the old familiar channel. The bank of the river was
changed; the flat had become an island, between which and the slope where
she stood the North Fork was rolling its resistless yellow torrent. As she
gazed spellbound, a portion of the slope beneath her suddenly seemed to
sink and crumble, and was swallowed up in the rushing stream. She heard a
cry of warning behind her, but, rooted to the spot by a fearful
fascination, she heeded it not.
Again there was a sudden disruption, and another part of the slope sank to
rise no more; but this time she felt herself seized by the waist and
dragged back. It was her father standing by her side.
He was flushed and excited, gazing at the water with a strange exultation.
"Do you see it? Do you know what has happened?" he asked quickly.
"The flume has fallen and turned the river," said Christie hurriedly. "But—have
you seen him—is he safe?"
"He—who?" he answered vacantly.
"He is safe," he said impatiently. "But, do you see, Christie? Do you know
what this means?"
He pointed with his tremulous hand to the stream before them.
"It means we are ruined," said Christie coldly.
"Nothing of the kind! It means that the river is doing the work of the
flume. It is sluicing off the gravel, deepening the ditch, and altering
the slope which was the old bend of the river. It will do in ten minutes
the work that would take us a year. If we can stop it in time, or control
it, we are safe; but if we can not, it will carry away the bed and deposit
with the rest, and we are ruined again."
With a gesture of impotent fury, he dashed away in the direction of an
equally excited crowd, that on a point of the slope nearer the island were
gesticulating and shouting to a second group of men, who on the opposite
shore were clambering on over the choked debris of the flume that had
dammed and diverted the current. It was evident that the same idea had
occurred to them, and they were risking their lives in the attempt to set
free the impediments. Shocked and indignant as Christie had been at the
degrading absorption of material interests at such a moment, the element
of danger lifted the labors of these men into heroism, and she began to
feel a strange exultation as she watched them. Under the skilful blows of
their axes, in a few moments the vast body of drift began to disintegrate,
and then to swing round and move towards the old channel. A cheer went up,
but as suddenly died away again. An overlapping fringe of wreckage had
caught on the point of the island and arrested the whole mass.
The men, who had gained the shore with difficulty, looked back with a cry
of despair. But the next moment from among them leaped a figure, alert,
buoyant, invincible, and, axe in hand, once more essayed the passage.
Springing from timber to timber, he at last reached the point of
obstruction. A few strokes of the axe were sufficient to clear it; but at
the first stroke it was apparent that the striker was also losing his hold
upon the shore, and that he must inevitably be carried away with the
tossing debris. But this consideration did not seem to affect him; the
last blow was struck, and as the freed timbers rolled on, over and over,
he boldly plunged into the flood. Christie gave a little cry—her
heart had bounded with him; it seemed as if his plunge had splashed the
water in her eyes. He did not come to the surface until he had passed the
point below where her father stood, and then struggling feebly, as if
stunned or disabled by a blow. It seemed to her that he was trying to
approach the side of the river where she was. Would he do it? Could she
help him? She was alone; he was hidden from the view of the men on the
point, and no succor could come from them. There was a fringe of alder
nearly opposite their cabin that almost overhung the stream. She ran to
it, clutched it with a frantic hand, and, leaning over the boiling water,
uttered for the first time his name:
As if called to the surface by the magic of her voice, he rose a few yards
from her in mid-current, and turned his fading eyes towards the bank. In
another moment he would have been swept beyond her reach, but with a
supreme effort he turned on one side; the current, striking him sideways,
threw him towards the bank, and she caught him by his sleeve. For an
instant it seemed as if she would be dragged down with him. For one
dangerous moment she did not care, and almost yielded to the spell; but as
the rush of water pressed him against the bank, she recovered herself, and
managed to lift him beyond its reach. And then she sat down,
half-fainting, with his white face and damp curls upon her breast.
"George, darling, speak to me! Only one word! Tell me, have I saved you?"
His eyes opened. A faint twinkle of the old days came to them—a
boyish smile played upon his lips.
"For yourself—or Jessie?"
She looked around her with a little frightened air. They were alone. There
was but one way of sealing those mischievous lips, and she found it!
"That's what I allus said, gentlemen," lazily remarked Whiskey Dick, a few
weeks later, leaning back against the bar, with his glass in his hand.
"'George,' sez I, 'it ain't what you SAY to a fash'nable, high-toned young
lady; it's what you DOES ez makes or breaks you.' And that's what I sez
gin'rally o' things in the Ford. It ain't what Carr and you boys allows to
do; it's the gin'ral average o' things ez IS done that gives tone to the
hull, and hez brought this yer new luck to you all!"