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THREE VAGABONDS OF TRINIDAD


"Oh! it's you, is it?" said the Editor.

The Chinese boy to whom the colloquialism was addressed answered
literally, after his habit:--

"Allee same Li Tee; me no changee. Me no ollee China boy."

"That's so," said the Editor with an air of conviction. "I don't
suppose there's another imp like you in all Trinidad County. Well,
next time don't scratch outside there like a gopher, but come in."

"Lass time," suggested Li Tee blandly, "me tap tappee. You no like
tap tappee. You say, alle same dam woodpeckel."

It was quite true--the highly sylvan surroundings of the Trinidad
"Sentinel" office--a little clearing in a pine forest--and its
attendant fauna, made these signals confusing. An accurate
imitation of a woodpecker was also one of Li Tee's accomplishments.

The Editor without replying finished the note he was writing; at
which Li Tee, as if struck by some coincident recollection, lifted
up his long sleeve, which served him as a pocket, and carelessly
shook out a letter on the table like a conjuring trick. The
Editor, with a reproachful glance at him, opened it. It was only
the ordinary request of an agricultural subscriber--one Johnson--
that the Editor would "notice" a giant radish grown by the
subscriber and sent by the bearer.

"Where's the radish, Li Tee?" said the Editor suspiciously.

"No hab got. Ask Mellikan boy."

"What?"

Here Li Tee condescended to explain that on passing the schoolhouse
he had been set upon by the schoolboys, and that in the struggle
the big radish--being, like most such monstrosities of the quick
Californian soil, merely a mass of organized water--was "mashed"
over the head of some of his assailants. The Editor, painfully
aware of these regular persecutions of his errand boy, and perhaps
realizing that a radish which could not be used as a bludgeon was
not of a sustaining nature, forebore any reproof. "But I cannot
notice what I haven't seen, Li Tee," he said good-humoredly.

"S'pose you lie--allee same as Johnson," suggested Li with equal
cheerfulness. "He foolee you with lotten stuff--you foolee
Mellikan man, allee same."

The Editor preserved a dignified silence until he had addressed his
letter. "Take this to Mrs. Martin," he said, handing it to the
boy; "and mind you keep clear of the schoolhouse. Don't go by the
Flat either if the men are at work, and don't, if you value your
skin, pass Flanigan's shanty, where you set off those firecrackers
and nearly burnt him out the other day. Look out for Barker's dog
at the crossing, and keep off the main road if the tunnel men are
coming over the hill." Then remembering that he had virtually
closed all the ordinary approaches to Mrs. Martin's house, he
added, "Better go round by the woods, where you won't meet ANY
ONE."

The boy darted off through the open door, and the Editor stood for
a moment looking regretfully after him. He liked his little
protege ever since that unfortunate child--a waif from a Chinese
wash-house--was impounded by some indignant miners for bringing
home a highly imperfect and insufficient washing, and kept as
hostage for a more proper return of the garments. Unfortunately,
another gang of miners, equally aggrieved, had at the same time
looted the wash-house and driven off the occupants, so that Li Tee
remained unclaimed. For a few weeks he became a sporting appendage
of the miners' camp; the stolid butt of good-humored practical
jokes, the victim alternately of careless indifference or of
extravagant generosity. He received kicks and half-dollars
intermittently, and pocketed both with stoical fortitude. But
under this treatment he presently lost the docility and frugality
which was part of his inheritance, and began to put his small wits
against his tormentors, until they grew tired of their own mischief
and his. But they knew not what to do with him. His pretty
nankeen-yellow skin debarred him from the white "public school,"
while, although as a heathen he might have reasonably claimed
attention from the Sabbath-school, the parents who cheerfully gave
their contributions to the heathen ABROAD, objected to him as a
companion of their children in the church at home. At this
juncture the Editor offered to take him into his printing office as
a "devil." For a while he seemed to be endeavoring, in his old
literal way, to act up to that title. He inked everything but the
press. He scratched Chinese characters of an abusive import on
"leads," printed them, and stuck them about the office; he put
"punk" in the foreman's pipe, and had been seen to swallow small
type merely as a diabolical recreation. As a messenger he was
fleet of foot, but uncertain of delivery. Some time previously the
Editor had enlisted the sympathies of Mrs. Martin, the good-natured
wife of a farmer, to take him in her household on trial, but on the
third day Li Tee had run away. Yet the Editor had not despaired,
and it was to urge her to a second attempt that he dispatched that
letter.

He was still gazing abstractedly into the depths of the wood when
he was conscious of a slight movement--but no sound--in a clump of
hazel near him, and a stealthy figure glided from it. He at once
recognized it as "Jim," a well-known drunken Indian vagrant of the
settlement--tied to its civilization by the single link of "fire
water," for which he forsook equally the Reservation where it was
forbidden and his own camps where it was unknown. Unconscious of
his silent observer, he dropped upon all fours, with his ear and
nose alternately to the ground like some tracking animal. Then
having satisfied himself, he rose, and bending forward in a dogged
trot, made a straight line for the woods. He was followed a few
seconds later by his dog--a slinking, rough, wolf-like brute, whose
superior instinct, however, made him detect the silent presence of
some alien humanity in the person of the Editor, and to recognize
it with a yelp of habit, anticipatory of the stone that he knew was
always thrown at him.

"That's cute," said a voice, "but it's just what I expected all
along."

The Editor turned quickly. His foreman was standing behind him,
and had evidently noticed the whole incident.

"It's what I allus said," continued the man. "That boy and that
Injin are thick as thieves. Ye can't see one without the other--
and they've got their little tricks and signals by which they
follow each other. T'other day when you was kalkilatin' Li Tee was
doin' your errands I tracked him out on the marsh, just by
followin' that ornery, pizenous dog o' Jim's. There was the whole
caboodle of 'em--including Jim--campin' out, and eatin' raw fish
that Jim had ketched, and green stuff they had both sneaked outer
Johnson's garden. Mrs. Martin may TAKE him, but she won't keep him
long while Jim's round. What makes Li foller that blamed old Injin
soaker, and what makes Jim, who, at least, is a 'Merican, take up
with a furrin' heathen, just gets me."

The Editor did not reply. He had heard something of this before.
Yet, after all, why should not these equal outcasts of civilization
cling together!




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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