eBooks Cube

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 the shop.

"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 here."

"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 get down."

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

"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 unrestricted welcome.

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 one."

"I imagine it would be very difficult to carry a piano over those
mountains," said Christie laughingly, to avoid the collateral of
the banjo.

"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 and boudoir.

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 gone.

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 altar.

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 mine 'middlings.'"

Mr. Carr had remained uneasily watching Christie's shadowed face.

"What matters?" she said drily. "The accommodation is all in

"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

"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 people there."

"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

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 conversation.

"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

"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 build another."

An impatient sigh from Christie drew Jessie's attention to her
troubled eyebrows.

"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

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

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 a ribbon."

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
Christie played."

"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

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

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.

She felt--

What was that?

An unmistakable outburst of a drunken song at the foot of the

"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 silence.

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.

"Sho!--didn't know!"

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 sleep."

Devil's Ford by Bret Harte
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site