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"Has any one seen these proofs since I left them at the office?"

"No, only the foreman, sir."

He remembered that he had left the proofs lying openly on his table
when he was called to the office at the stroke of the alarm bell;
he remembered the figure he saw gliding from his room on his
return. She had been there alone with the proofs; she only could
have tampered with them.

The evident object of the correction was to direct the public
attention from Sacramento Street to Saucelito, as the probable
whereabouts of this "Jimmy Bodine." The street below was
Sacramento Street, the "friendly doorway" might have been their
own.

That she had some knowledge of this Bodine was not more improbable
than the ballet story. Her strange absences, the mystery
surrounding her, all seemed to testify that she had some
connection--perhaps only an innocent one--with these desperate
people whom the Vigilance Committee were hunting down. Her attempt
to save the man was, after all, no more illegal than their attempt
to capture him. True, she might have trusted him, Breeze, without
this tampering with his papers; yet perhaps she thought he was
certain to discover it--and it was only a silent appeal to his
mercy. The corrections were ingenious and natural--it was the act
of an intelligent, quick-witted woman.

Mr. Breeze was prompt in acting upon his intuition, whether right
or wrong. He took up his pen, wrote on the margin of the proof,
"Print as corrected," said to the boy carelessly, "The corrections
are all right," and dismissed him quickly.

The corrected paragraph which appeared in the "Informer" the next
morning seemed to attract little public attention, the greater
excitement being the suicide of the imprisoned bully and the effect
it might have upon the prosecution of other suspected parties,
against whom the dead man had been expected to bear witness.

Mr. Breeze was unable to obtain any information regarding the
desperado Bodine's associates and relations; his correction of the
paragraph had made the other members of the staff believe he had
secret and superior information regarding the fugitive, and he thus
was estopped from asking questions. But he felt himself justified
now in demanding fuller information from Roberts at the earliest
opportunity.

For this purpose he came home earlier that night, hoping to find
the night watchman still on his first beat in the lower halls. But
he was disappointed. He was amazed, however, on reaching his own
landing, to find the passage piled with new luggage, some of that
ruder type of rolled blanket and knapsack known as a "miner's kit."
He was still more surprised to hear men's voices and the sound of
laughter proceeding from the room that was always locked. A sudden
sense of uneasiness and disgust, he knew not why, came over him.

He passed quickly into his room, shut the door sharply, and lit the
gas. But he presently heard the door of the locked room open, a
man's voice, slightly elevated by liquor and opposition, saying, "I
know what's due from one gen'leman to 'nother"--a querulous,
objecting voice saying, "Hole on! not now," and a fainter feminine
protest, all of which were followed by a rap on his door.

Breeze opened it to two strangers, one of whom lurched forward
unsteadily with outstretched hand. He had a handsome face and
figure, and a certain consciousness of it even in the abandon of
liquor; he had an aggressive treacherousness of eye which his
potations had not subdued. He grasped Breeze's hand tightly, but
dropped it the next moment perfunctorily as he glanced round the
room.

"I told them I was bound to come in," he said, without looking at
Breeze, "and say 'Howdy!' to the man that's bin a pal to my women
folks and the kids--and acted white all through! I said to Mame,
'I reckon HE knows who I am, and that I kin be high-toned to them
that's high-toned; kin return shake for shake and shot for shot!'
Aye! that's me! So I was bound to come in like a gen'leman, sir,
and here I am!"

He threw himself in an unproffered chair and stared at Breeze.

"I'm afraid," said Breeze dryly, "that, nevertheless, I never knew
who you were, and that even now I am ignorant whom I am addressing."

"That's just it," said the second man, with a querulous protest,
which did not, however, conceal his admiring vassalage to his
friend; "that's what I'm allus telling Jim. 'Jim,' I says, 'how is
folks to know you're the man that shot Kernel Baxter, and dropped
three o' them Mariposa Vigilants? They didn't see you do it! They
just look at your fancy style and them mustaches of yours, and
allow ye might be death on the girls, but they don't know ye! An'
this man yere--he's a scribe in them papers--writes what the boss
editor tells him, and lives up yere on the roof, 'longside yer wife
and the children--what's he knowin' about YOU?' Jim's all right
enough," he continued, in easy confidence to Breeze, "but he's too
fresh 'bout himself."

Mr. James Bodine accepted this tribute and criticism of his
henchman with a complacent laugh, which was not, however, without a
certain contempt for the speaker and the man spoken to. His bold,
selfish eyes wandered round the room as if in search of some other
amusement than his companions offered.

"I reckon this is the room which that hound of a landlord, Rakes,
allowed he'd fix up for our poker club--the club that Dan Simmons
and me got up, with a few other sports. It was to be a slap-up
affair, right under the roof, where there was no chance of the
police raiding us. But the cur weakened when the Vigilants started
out to make war on any game a gen'leman might hev that wasn't in
their gummy-bag, salt pork trade. Well, it's gettin' a long time
between drinks, gen'lemen, ain't it?" He looked round him
significantly.

Only the thought of the woman and her children in the next room,
and the shame that he believed she was enduring, enabled Breeze to
keep his temper or even a show of civility.

"I'm afraid," he said quietly, "that you'll find very little here
to remind you of the club--not even the whiskey; for I use the room
only as a bedroom, and as I am a workingman, and come in late and
go out early, I have never found it available for hospitality, even
to my intimate friends. I am very glad, however, that the little
leisure I have had in it has enabled me to make the floor less
lonely for your children."

Mr. Bodine got up with an affected yawn, turned an embarrassed yet
darkening eye on Breeze, and lunged unsteadily to the door. "And
as I only happened in to do the reg'lar thing between high-toned
gen'lemen, I reckon we kin say 'Quits.'" He gave a coarse laugh,
said "So long," nodded, stumbled into the passage, and thence into
the other room.

His companion watched him pass out with a relieved yet protecting
air, and then, closing the door softly, drew nearer to Breeze, and
said in husky confidence,--

"Ye ain't seein' him at his best, mister! He's bin drinkin' too
much, and this yer news has upset him."

"What news?" asked Breeze.

"This yer suicide o' Irish Jack!"

"Was he his friend?"




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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