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Li Tee's stay with Mrs. Martin was brief. His departure was
hastened by an untoward event--apparently ushered in, as in the
case of other great calamities, by a mysterious portent in the sky.
One morning an extraordinary bird of enormous dimensions was seen
approaching from the horizon, and eventually began to hover over
the devoted town. Careful scrutiny of this ominous fowl, however,
revealed the fact that it was a monstrous Chinese kite, in the
shape of a flying dragon. The spectacle imparted considerable
liveliness to the community, which, however, presently changed to
some concern and indignation. It appeared that the kite was
secretly constructed by Li Tee in a secluded part of Mrs. Martin's
clearing, but when it was first tried by him he found that through
some error of design it required a tail of unusual proportions.
This he hurriedly supplied by the first means he found--Mrs.
Martin's clothes-line, with part of the weekly wash depending from
it. This fact was not at first noticed by the ordinary sightseer,
although the tail seemed peculiar--yet, perhaps, not more peculiar
than a dragon's tail ought to be. But when the actual theft was
discovered and reported through the town, a vivacious interest was
created, and spy-glasses were used to identify the various articles
of apparel still hanging on that ravished clothes-line. These
garments, in the course of their slow disengagement from the
clothes-pins through the gyrations of the kite, impartially
distributed themselves over the town--one of Mrs. Martin's
stockings falling upon the veranda of the Polka Saloon, and the
other being afterwards discovered on the belfry of the First
Methodist Church--to the scandal of the congregation. It would
have been well if the result of Li Tee's invention had ended here.
Alas! the kite-flyer and his accomplice, "Injin Jim," were tracked
by means of the kite's tell-tale cord to a lonely part of the marsh
and rudely dispossessed of their charge by Deacon Hornblower and a
constable. Unfortunately, the captors overlooked the fact that the
kite-flyers had taken the precaution of making a "half-turn" of the
stout cord around a log to ease the tremendous pull of the kite--
whose power the captors had not reckoned upon--and the Deacon
incautiously substituted his own body for the log. A singular
spectacle is said to have then presented itself to the on-lookers.
The Deacon was seen to be running wildly by leaps and bounds over
the marsh after the kite, closely followed by the constable in
equally wild efforts to restrain him by tugging at the end of the
line. The extraordinary race continued to the town until the
constable fell, losing his hold of the line. This seemed to impart
a singular specific levity to the Deacon, who, to the astonishment
of everybody, incontinently sailed up into a tree! When he was
succored and cut down from the demoniac kite, he was found to have
sustained a dislocation of the shoulder, and the constable was
severely shaken. By that one infelicitous stroke the two outcasts
made an enemy of the Law and the Gospel as represented in Trinidad
County. It is to be feared also that the ordinary emotional instinct
of a frontier community, to which they were now simply abandoned,
was as little to be trusted. In this dilemma they disappeared from
the town the next day--no one knew where. A pale blue smoke rising
from a lonely island in the bay for some days afterwards suggested
their possible refuge. But nobody greatly cared. The sympathetic
mediation of the Editor was characteristically opposed by Mr. Parkin
Skinner, a prominent citizen:--

"It's all very well for you to talk sentiment about niggers,
Chinamen, and Injins, and you fellers can laugh about the Deacon
being snatched up to heaven like Elijah in that blamed Chinese
chariot of a kite--but I kin tell you, gentlemen, that this is a
white man's country! Yes, sir, you can't get over it! The nigger
of every description--yeller, brown, or black, call him 'Chinese,'
'Injin,' or 'Kanaka,' or what you like--hez to clar off of God's
footstool when the Anglo-Saxon gets started! It stands to reason
that they can't live alongside o' printin' presses, M'Cormick's
reapers, and the Bible! Yes, sir! the Bible; and Deacon Hornblower
kin prove it to you. It's our manifest destiny to clar them out--
that's what we was put here for--and it's just the work we've got
to do!"

I have ventured to quote Mr. Skinner's stirring remarks to show
that probably Jim and Li Tee ran away only in anticipation of a
possible lynching, and to prove that advanced sentiments of this
high and ennobling nature really obtained forty years ago in an
ordinary American frontier town which did not then dream of
Expansion and Empire!

Howbeit, Mr. Skinner did not make allowance for mere human nature.
One morning Master Bob Skinner, his son, aged twelve, evaded the
schoolhouse, and started in an old Indian "dug-out" to invade the
island of the miserable refugees. His purpose was not clearly
defined to himself, but was to be modified by circumstances. He
would either capture Li Tee and Jim, or join them in their lawless
existence. He had prepared himself for either event by
surreptitiously borrowing his father's gun. He also carried
victuals, having heard that Jim ate grasshoppers and Li Tee rats,
and misdoubting his own capacity for either diet. He paddled
slowly, well in shore, to be secure from observation at home, and
then struck out boldly in his leaky canoe for the island--a tufted,
tussocky shred of the marshy promontory torn off in some tidal
storm. It was a lovely day, the bay being barely ruffled by the
afternoon "trades;" but as he neared the island he came upon the
swell from the bar and the thunders of the distant Pacific, and
grew a little frightened. The canoe, losing way, fell into the
trough of the swell, shipping salt water, still more alarming to
the prairie-bred boy. Forgetting his plan of a stealthy invasion,
he shouted lustily as the helpless and water-logged boat began to
drift past the island; at which a lithe figure emerged from the
reeds, threw off a tattered blanket, and slipped noiselessly, like
some animal, into the water. It was Jim, who, half wading, half
swimming, brought the canoe and boy ashore. Master Skinner at once
gave up the idea of invasion, and concluded to join the refugees.

This was easy in his defenceless state, and his manifest delight in
their rude encampment and gypsy life, although he had been one of
Li Tee's oppressors in the past. But that stolid pagan had a
philosophical indifference which might have passed for Christian
forgiveness, and Jim's native reticence seemed like assent. And,
possibly, in the minds of these two vagabonds there might have been
a natural sympathy for this other truant from civilization, and
some delicate flattery in the fact that Master Skinner was not
driven out, but came of his own accord. Howbeit, they fished
together, gathered cranberries on the marsh, shot a wild duck and
two plovers, and when Master Skinner assisted in the cooking of
their fish in a conical basket sunk in the ground, filled with
water, heated by rolling red-hot stones from their drift-wood fire
into the buried basket, the boy's felicity was supreme. And what
an afternoon! To lie, after this feast, on their bellies in the
grass, replete like animals, hidden from everything but the
sunshine above them; so quiet that gray clouds of sandpipers
settled fearlessly around them, and a shining brown muskrat slipped
from the ooze within a few feet of their faces--was to feel
themselves a part of the wild life in earth and sky. Not that
their own predatory instincts were hushed by this divine peace;
that intermitting black spot upon the water, declared by the Indian
to be a seal, the stealthy glide of a yellow fox in the ambush of a
callow brood of mallards, the momentary straying of an elk from the
upland upon the borders of the marsh, awoke their tingling nerves
to the happy but fruitless chase. And when night came, too soon,
and they pigged together around the warm ashes of their camp-fire,
under the low lodge poles of their wigwam of dried mud, reeds, and
driftwood, with the combined odors of fish, wood-smoke, and the
warm salt breath of the marsh in their nostrils, they slept
contentedly. The distant lights of the settlement went out one by
one, the stars came out, very large and very silent, to take their
places. The barking of a dog on the nearest point was followed by
another farther inland. But Jim's dog, curled at the feet of his
master, did not reply. What had HE to do with civilization?

The morning brought some fear of consequences to Master Skinner,
but no abatement of his resolve not to return. But here he was
oddly combated by Li Tee. "S'pose you go back allee same. You
tellee fam'lee canoe go topside down--you plentee swimee to bush.
Allee night in bush. Housee big way off--how can get? Sabe?"

"And I'll leave the gun, and tell Dad that when the canoe upset the
gun got drowned," said the boy eagerly.

Li Tee nodded.

"And come again Saturday, and bring more powder and shot and a
bottle for Jim," said Master Skinner excitedly.

"Good!" grunted the Indian.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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