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CHAPTER VII


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 eyes.

"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 all that."

"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.

"Didn't--"

"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 what?"

"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, quietly:

"I met Mr. George Kearney the other day in the country."

Whiskey Dick stopped awkwardly, glanced hurriedly at Christie, and
coughed behind his handkerchief.

"Mr. Kearney--eh--er--certengly--yes--er--met 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 Devil's Ford?"

"Will I? Miss Christie," said Dick, choking between an intense
gratification and a desire to keep back its vulgar exhibition, "I
shall be proud!"

"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 else."

"Cert'nly," said Dick impulsively, and preparing to take a graceful
leave.

"We'll be impatient until you return with the tickets," said
Christie graciously.

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."




Devil's Ford by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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