A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories by Frank Norris
A DEAL IN WHEAT
I. THE BEAR--WHEAT AT SIXTY-TWO
II. THE BULL--WHEAT AT A DOLLAR-TEN
III. THE PIT
IV. THE BELT LINE
V. THE BREAD LINE
THE WIFE OF CHINO
I. CHINO'S WIFE
III. CHINO GOES TO TOWN
IV. A DESPATCH FROM THE EXPRESS MESSENGER
V. THE TRAIL
VI. THE DISCOVERY OF FELICE
A BARGAIN WITH PEG-LEG
THE PASSING OF COCK-EYE BLACKLOCK
A MEMORANDUM OF SUDDEN DEATH
TWO HEARTS THAT BEAT AS ONE
THE DUAL PERSONALITY OF SLICK DICK NICKERSON
THE SHIP THAT SAW A GHOST
THE GHOST IN THE CROSSTREES
THE RIDING OF FELIPE
A Deal in Wheat
And Other Stories of the New and Old West
A DEAL IN WHEAT
And Other Stories Of The New And Old West
By FRANK NORRIS
Illustrated by Remington, Leyendecker, Hitchcock and Hooper
[Illustration: “'Sell A Thousand May At One-Fifty,' Vociferated The
A DEAL IN WHEAT
I. THE BEAR—WHEAT AT SIXTY-TWO
As Sam Lewiston backed the horse into the shafts of his backboard
and began hitching the tugs to the whiffletree, his wife came out from
the kitchen door of the house and drew near, and stood for some time at
the horse's head, her arms folded and her apron rolled around them. For
a long moment neither spoke. They had talked over the situation so long
and so comprehensively the night before that there seemed to be nothing
more to say.
The time was late in the summer, the place a ranch in southwestern
Kansas, and Lewiston and his wife were two of a vast population of
farmers, wheat growers, who at that moment were passing through a
crisis—a crisis that at any moment might culminate in tragedy. Wheat
was down to sixty-six.
At length Emma Lewiston spoke.
“Well,” she hazarded, looking vaguely out across the ranch toward
the horizon, leagues distant; “well, Sam, there's always that offer of
brother Joe's. We can quit—and go to Chicago—if the worst comes.”
“And give up!” exclaimed Lewiston, running the lines through the
torets. “Leave the ranch! Give up! After all these years!”
His wife made no reply for the moment. Lewiston climbed into the
buckboard and gathered up the lines. “Well, here goes for the last try,
Emmie,” he said. “Good-by, girl. Maybe things will look better in town
“Maybe,” she said gravely. She kissed her husband good-by and stood
for some time looking after the buckboard traveling toward the town in
a moving pillar of dust.
“I don't know,” she murmured at length; “I don't know just how we're
going to make out.”
When he reached town, Lewiston tied the horse to the iron railing in
front of the Odd Fellows' Hall, the ground floor of which was occupied
by the post-office, and went across the street and up the stairway of a
building of brick and granite—quite the most pretentious structure of
the town—and knocked at a door upon the first landing. The door was
furnished with a pane of frosted glass, on which, in gold letters, was
inscribed, “Bridges &Co., Grain Dealers.”
Bridges himself, a middle-aged man who wore a velvet skull-cap and
who was smoking a Pittsburg stogie, met the farmer at the counter and
the two exchanged perfunctory greetings.
“Well,” said Lewiston, tentatively, after awhile.
“Well, Lewiston,” said the other, “I can't take that wheat of yours
at any better than sixty-two.”
“It's the Chicago price that does it, Lewiston. Truslow is bearing
the stuff for all he's worth. It's Truslow and the bear clique that
stick the knife into us. The price broke again this morning. We've just
got a wire.”
“Good heavens,” murmured Lewiston, looking vaguely from side to
side. “That—that ruins me. I can't carry my grain any
longer—what with storage charges and—and—Bridges, I don't see just
how I'm going to make out. Sixty-two cents a bushel! Why, man, what
with this and with that it's cost me nearly a dollar a bushel to raise
that wheat, and now Truslow—”
He turned away abruptly with a quick gesture of infinite
He went down the stairs, and making his way to where his buckboard
was hitched, got in, and, with eyes vacant, the reins slipping and
sliding in his limp, half-open hands, drove slowly back to the ranch.
His wife had seen him coming, and met him as he drew up before the
“Well?” she demanded.
“Emmie,” he said as he got out of the buckboard, laying his arm
across her shoulder, “Emmie, I guess we'll take up with Joe's offer.
We'll go to Chicago. We're cleaned out!”
II. THE BULL—WHEAT AT A DOLLAR-TEN
...——and said Party of the Second Part further covenants and
agrees to merchandise such wheat in foreign ports, it being understood
and agreed between the Party of the First Part and the Party of the
Second Part that the wheat hereinbefore mentioned is released and sold
to the Party of the Second Part for export purposes only, and not for
consumption or distribution within the boundaries of the United States
of America or of Canada.
“Now, Mr. Gates, if you will sign for Mr. Truslow I guess that'll be
all,” remarked Hornung when he had finished reading.
Hornung affixed his signature to the two documents and passed them
over to Gates, who signed for his principal and client, Truslow—or, as
he had been called ever since he had gone into the fight against
Hornung's corner—the Great Bear. Hornung's secretary was called in and
witnessed the signatures, and Gates thrust the contract into his
Gladstone bag and stood up, smoothing his hat.
“You will deliver the warehouse receipts for the grain,” began
“I'll send a messenger to Truslow's office before noon,” interrupted
Hornung. “You can pay by certified check through the Illinois Trust
When the other had taken himself off, Hornung sat for some moments
gazing abstractedly toward his office windows, thinking over the whole
matter. He had just agreed to release to Truslow, at the rate of one
dollar and ten cents per bushel, one hundred thousand out of the two
million and odd bushels of wheat that he, Hornung, controlled, or
actually owned. And for the moment he was wondering if, after all, he
had done wisely in not goring the Great Bear to actual financial death.
He had made him pay one hundred thousand dollars. Truslow was good for
this amount. Would it not have been better to have put a prohibitive
figure on the grain and forced the Bear into bankruptcy? True, Hornung
would then be without his enemy's money, but Truslow would have been
eliminated from the situation, and that—so Hornung told himself—was
always a consummation most devoutly, strenuously and diligently to be
striven for. Truslow once dead was dead, but the Bear was never more
dangerous than when desperate.
“But so long as he can't get wheat,” muttered Hornung at the
end of his reflections, “he can't hurt me. And he can't get it. That I
For Hornung controlled the situation. So far back as the February of
that year an “unknown bull” had been making his presence felt on the
floor of the Board of Trade. By the middle of March the commercial
reports of the daily press had begun to speak of “the powerful bull
clique”; a few weeks later that legendary condition of affairs implied
and epitomized in the magic words “Dollar Wheat” had been attained, and
by the first of April, when the price had been boosted to one dollar
and ten cents a bushel, Hornung had disclosed his hand, and in place of
mere rumours, the definite and authoritative news that May wheat had
been cornered in the Chicago pit went flashing around the world from
Liverpool to Odessa and from Duluth to Buenos Ayres.
It was—so the veteran operators were persuaded—Truslow himself who
had made Hornung's corner possible. The Great Bear had for once
over-reached himself, and, believing himself all-powerful, had hammered
the price just the fatal fraction too far down. Wheat had gone to
sixty-two—for the time, and under the circumstances, an abnormal
When the reaction came it was tremendous. Hornung saw his chance,
seized it, and in a few months had turned the tables, had cornered the
product, and virtually driven the bear clique out of the pit.
On the same day that the delivery of the hundred thousand bushels
was made to Truslow, Hornung met his broker at his lunch club.
“Well,” said the latter, “I see you let go that line of stuff to
Hornung nodded; but the broker added:
“Remember, I was against it from the very beginning. I know we've
cleared up over a hundred thou'. I would have fifty times preferred to
have lost twice that and smashed Truslow dead. Bet you what you
like he makes us pay for it somehow.”
“Huh!” grunted his principal. “How about insurance, and warehouse
charges, and carrying expenses on that lot? Guess we'd have had to pay
those, too, if we'd held on.”
But the other put up his chin, unwilling to be persuaded. “I won't
sleep easy,” he declared, “till Truslow is busted.”
III. THE PIT
Just as Going mounted the steps on the edge of the pit the great
gong struck, a roar of a hundred voices developed with the swiftness of
successive explosions, the rush of a hundred men surging downward to
the centre of the pit filled the air with the stamp and grind of feet,
a hundred hands in eager strenuous gestures tossed upward from out the
brown of the crowd, the official reporter in his cage on the margin of
the pit leaned far forward with straining ear to catch the opening bid,
and another day of battle was begun.
Since the sale of the hundred thousand bushels of wheat to Truslow
the “Hornung crowd” had steadily shouldered the price higher until on
this particular morning it stood at one dollar and a half. That was
Hornung's price. No one else had any grain to sell.
But not ten minutes after the opening, Going was surprised out of
all countenance to hear shouted from the other side of the pit these
“Sell May at one-fifty.”
Going was for the moment touching elbows with Kimbark on one side
and with Merriam on the other, all three belonging to the “Hornung
crowd.” Their answering challenge of “Sold” was as the voice of
one man. They did not pause to reflect upon the strangeness of the
circumstance. (That was for afterward.) Their response to the offer was
as unconscious, as reflex action and almost as rapid, and before the
pit was well aware of what had happened the transaction of one thousand
bushels was down upon Going's trading-card and fifteen hundred dollars
had changed hands. But here was a marvel—the whole available supply of
wheat cornered, Hornung master of the situation, invincible,
unassailable; yet behold a man willing to sell, a Bear bold enough to
raise his head.
“That was Kennedy, wasn't it, who made that offer?” asked Kimbark,
as Going noted down the trade—“Kennedy, that new man?”
“Yes; who do you suppose he's selling for; who's willing to go short
at this stage of the game?”
“Maybe he ain't short.”
“Short! Great heavens, man; where'd he get the stuff?”
“Blamed if I know. We can account for every handful of May. Steady!
Oh, there he goes again.”
“Sell a thousand May at one-fifty,” vociferated the bear-broker,
throwing out his hand, one finger raised to indicate the number of
“contracts” offered. This time it was evident that he was attacking the
Hornung crowd deliberately, for, ignoring the jam of traders that swept
toward him, he looked across the pit to where Going and Kimbark were
shouting “Sold! Sold!” and nodded his head.
A second time Going made memoranda of the trade, and either the
Hornung holdings were increased by two thousand bushels of May wheat or
the Hornung bank account swelled by at least three thousand dollars of
some unknown short's money.
Of late—so sure was the bull crowd of its position—no one had even
thought of glancing at the inspection sheet on the bulletin board. But
now one of Going's messengers hurried up to him with the announcement
that this sheet showed receipts at Chicago for that morning of
twenty-five thousand bushels, and not credited to Hornung. Some one had
got hold of a line of wheat overlooked by the “clique” and was dumping
it upon them.
“Wire the Chief,” said Going over his shoulder to Merriam. This one
struggled out of the crowd, and on a telegraph blank scribbled:
“Strong bear movement—New man—Kennedy—Selling in lots of five
contracts—Chicago receipts twenty-five thousand.”
The message was despatched, and in a few moments the answer came
back, laconic, of military terseness:
“Support the market.”
And Going obeyed, Merriam and Kimbark following, the new broker
fairly throwing the wheat at them in thousand-bushel lots.
“Sell May at 'fifty; sell May; sell May.” A moment's indecision, an
instant's hesitation, the first faint suggestion of weakness, and the
market would have broken under them. But for the better part of four
hours they stood their ground, taking all that was offered, in constant
communication with the Chief, and from time to time stimulated and
steadied by his brief, unvarying command:
“Support the market.”
At the close of the session they had bought in the twenty-five
thousand bushels of May. Hornung's position was as stable as a rock,
and the price closed even with the opening figure—one dollar and a
But the morning's work was the talk of all La Salle Street. Who was
back of the raid?
What was the meaning of this unexpected selling? For weeks the pit
trading had been merely nominal. Truslow, the Great Bear, from whom the
most serious attack might have been expected, had gone to his country
seat at Geneva Lake, in Wisconsin, declaring himself to be out of the
market entirely. He went bass-fishing every day.
IV. THE BELT LINE
On a certain day toward the middle of the month, at a time when the
mysterious Bear had unloaded some eighty thousand bushels upon Hornung,
a conference was held in the library of Hornung's home. His broker
attended it, and also a clean-faced, bright-eyed individual whose name
of Cyrus Ryder might have been found upon the pay-roll of a rather
well-known detective agency. For upward of half an hour after the
conference began the detective spoke, the other two listening
“Then, last of all,” concluded Ryder, “I made out I was a hobo, and
began stealing rides on the Belt Line Railroad. Know the road? It just
circles Chicago. Truslow owns it. Yes? Well, then I began to catch on.
I noticed that cars of certain numbers—thirty-one nought thirty-four,
thirty-two one ninety—well, the numbers don't matter, but anyhow,
these cars were always switched onto the sidings by Mr. Truslow's main
elevator D soon as they came in. The wheat was shunted in, and they
were pulled out again. Well, I spotted one car and stole a ride on her.
Say, look here, that car went right around the city on the Belt, and
came back to D again, and the same wheat in her all the time. The
grain was reinspected—it was raw, I tell you—and the warehouse
receipts made out just as though the stuff had come in from Kansas or
“The same wheat all the time!” interrupted Hornung.
“The same wheat—your wheat, that you sold to Truslow.”
“Great snakes!” ejaculated Hornung's broker. “Truslow never took it
abroad at all.”
“Took it abroad! Say, he's just been running it around Chicago, like
the supers in 'Shenandoah,' round an' round, so you'd think it was a
new lot, an' selling it back to you again.”
“No wonder we couldn't account for so much wheat.”
“Bought it from us at one-ten, and made us buy it back—our own
Hornung and his broker looked at each other in silence for a moment.
Then all at once Hornung struck the arm of his chair with his fist and
exploded in a roar of laughter. The broker stared for one bewildered
moment, then followed his example.
“Sold! Sold!” shouted Hornung almost gleefully. “Upon my soul it's
as good as a Gilbert and Sullivan show. And we—Oh, Lord! Billy, shake
on it, and hats off to my distinguished friend, Truslow. He'll be
President some day. Hey! What? Prosecute him? Not I.”
“He's done us out of a neat hatful of dollars for all that,”
observed the broker, suddenly grave.
“Billy, it's worth the price.”
“We've got to make it up somehow.”
“Well, tell you what. We were going to boost the price to one
seventy-five next week, and make that our settlement figure.”
“Can't do it now. Can't afford it.”
“No. Here; we'll let out a big link; we'll put wheat at two dollars,
and let it go at that.”
“Two it is, then,” said the broker.
V. THE BREAD LINE
The street was very dark and absolutely deserted. It was a district
on the “South Side,” not far from the Chicago River, given up largely
to wholesale stores, and after nightfall was empty of all life. The
echoes slept but lightly hereabouts, and the slightest footfall, the
faintest noise, woke them upon the instant and sent them clamouring up
and down the length of the pavement between the iron shuttered fronts.
The only light visible came from the side door of a certain “Vienna"
bakery, where at one o'clock in the morning loaves of bread were given
away to any who should ask. Every evening about nine o'clock the
outcasts began to gather about the side door. The stragglers came in
rapidly, and the line—the “bread line,” as it was called—began to
form. By midnight it was usually some hundred yards in length,
stretching almost the entire length of the block.
Toward ten in the evening, his coat collar turned up against the
fine drizzle that pervaded the air, his hands in his pockets, his
elbows gripping his sides, Sam Lewiston came up and silently took his
place at the end of the line.
Unable to conduct his farm upon a paying basis at the time when
Truslow, the “Great Bear,” had sent the price of grain down to
sixty-two cents a bushel, Lewiston had turned over his entire property
to his creditors, and, leaving Kansas for good, had abandoned farming,
and had left his wife at her sister's boarding-house in Topeka with the
understanding that she was to join him in Chicago so soon as he had
found a steady job. Then he had come to Chicago and had turned workman.
His brother Joe conducted a small hat factory on Archer Avenue, and for
a time he found there a meager employment. But difficulties had
occurred, times were bad, the hat factory was involved in debts, the
repealing of a certain import duty on manufactured felt overcrowded the
home market with cheap Belgian and French products, and in the end his
brother had assigned and gone to Milwaukee.
Thrown out of work, Lewiston drifted aimlessly about Chicago, from
pillar to post, working a little, earning here a dollar, there a dime,
but always sinking, sinking, till at last the ooze of the lowest bottom
dragged at his feet and the rush of the great ebb went over him and
engulfed him and shut him out from the light, and a park bench became
his home and the “bread line” his chief makeshift of subsistence.
He stood now in the enfolding drizzle, sodden, stupefied with
fatigue. Before and behind stretched the line. There was no talking.
There was no sound. The street was empty. It was so still that the
passing of a cable-car in the adjoining thoroughfare grated like
prolonged rolling explosions, beginning and ending at immeasurable
distances. The drizzle descended incessantly. After a long time
There was something ominous and gravely impressive in this
interminable line of dark figures, close-pressed, soundless; a crowd,
yet absolutely still; a close-packed, silent file, waiting, waiting in
the vast deserted night-ridden street; waiting without a word, without
a movement, there under the night and under the slow-moving mists of
Few in the crowd were professional beggars. Most of them were
workmen, long since out of work, forced into idleness by long-continued
“hard times,” by ill luck, by sickness. To them the “bread line” was a
godsend. At least they could not starve. Between jobs here in the end
was something to hold them up—a small platform, as it were, above the
sweep of black water, where for a moment they might pause and take
breath before the plunge.
The period of waiting on this night of rain seemed endless to those
silent, hungry men; but at length there was a stir. The line moved. The
side door opened. Ah, at last! They were going to hand out the bread.
But instead of the usual white-aproned under-cook with his crowded
hampers there now appeared in the doorway a new man—a young fellow who
looked like a bookkeeper's assistant. He bore in his hand a placard,
which he tacked to the outside of the door. Then he disappeared within
the bakery, locking the door after him.
A shudder of poignant despair, an unformed, inarticulate sense of
calamity, seemed to run from end to end of the line. What had happened?
Those in the rear, unable to read the placard, surged forward, a sense
of bitter disappointment clutching at their hearts.
The line broke up, disintegrated into a shapeless throng—a throng
that crowded forward and collected in front of the shut door whereon
the placard was affixed. Lewiston, with the others, pushed forward. On
the placard he read these words:
“Owing to the fact that the price of grain has been increased to two
dollars a bushel, there will be no distribution of bread from this
bakery until further notice.”
Lewiston turned away, dumb, bewildered. Till morning he walked the
streets, going on without purpose, without direction. But now at last
his luck had turned. Overnight the wheel of his fortunes had creaked
and swung upon its axis, and before noon he had found a job in the
street-cleaning brigade. In the course of time he rose to be first
shift-boss, then deputy inspector, then inspector, promoted to the
dignity of driving in a red wagon with rubber tires and drawing a
salary instead of mere wages. The wife was sent for and a new start
But Lewiston never forgot. Dimly he began to see the significance of
things. Caught once in the cogs and wheels of a great and terrible
engine, he had seen—none better—its workings. Of all the men who had
vainly stood in the “bread line” on that rainy night in early summer,
he, perhaps, had been the only one who had struggled up to the surface
again. How many others had gone down in the great ebb? Grim question;
he dared not think how many.
He had seen the two ends of a great wheat operation—a battle
between Bear and Bull. The stories (subsequently published in the
city's press) of Truslow's countermove in selling Hornung his own
wheat, supplied the unseen section. The farmer—he who raised the
wheat—was ruined upon one hand; the working-man—he who consumed
it—was ruined upon the other. But between the two, the great
operators, who never saw the wheat they traded in, bought and sold the
world's food, gambled in the nourishment of entire nations, practised
their tricks, their chicanery and oblique shifty “deals,” were
reconciled in their differences, and went on through their appointed
way, jovial, contented, enthroned, and unassailable.
THE WIFE OF CHINO
I. CHINO'S WIFE
On the back porch of the “office,” young Lockwood—his boots,
stained with the mud of the mines and with candle-drippings, on the
rail—sat smoking his pipe and looking off down the canon.
It was early in the evening. Lockwood, because he had heard the
laughter and horseplay of the men of the night shift as they went down
the canon from the bunk-house to the tunnel-mouth, knew that it was a
little after seven. It would not be necessary to go indoors and begin
work on the columns of figures of his pay-roll for another hour yet. He
knocked the ashes out of his pipe, refilled and lighted it—stoppering
with his match-box—and shot a wavering blue wreath out over the porch
railing. Then he resettled himself in his tilted chair, hooked his
thumbs into his belt, and fetched a long breath.
For the last few moments he had been considering, in that
comfortable spirit of relaxed attention that comes with the
after-dinner tobacco, two subjects: first, the beauty of the evening;
second, the temperament, character, and appearance of Felice Zavalla.
As for the evening, there could be no two opinions about that. It
was charming. The Hand-over-fist Gravel Mine, though not in the higher
Sierras, was sufficiently above the level of the mere foot-hills to be
in the sphere of influence of the greater mountains. Also, it was
remote, difficult of access. Iowa Hill, the nearest post-office, was a
good eight miles distant, by trail, across the Indian River. It was
sixteen miles by stage from Iowa Hill to Colfax, on the line of the
Overland Railroad, and all of a hundred miles from Colfax to San
To Lockwood's mind this isolation was in itself an attraction.
Tucked away in this fold of the Sierras, forgotten, remote, the little
community of a hundred souls that comprised the personnel of the
Hand-over-fist lived out its life with the completeness of an
independent State, having its own government, its own institutions and
customs. Besides all this, it had its own dramas as well—little
complications that developed with the swiftness of whirlpools, and that
trended toward culmination with true Western directness. Lockwood,
college-bred—he was a graduate of the Columbia School of Mines—found
the life interesting.
On this particular evening he sat over his pipe rather longer than
usual, seduced by the beauty of the scene and the moment. It was very
quiet. The prolonged rumble of the mine's stamp-mill came to his ears
in a ceaseless diapason, but the sound was so much a matter of course
that Lockwood no longer heard it. The millions of pines and redwoods
that covered the flanks of the mountains were absolutely still. No wind
was stirring in their needles. But the chorus of tree-toads, dry,
staccato, was as incessant as the pounding of the mill.
Far-off—thousands of miles, it seemed—an owl was hooting, three
velvet-soft notes at exact intervals. A cow in the stable near at hand
lay down with a long breath, while from the back veranda of Chino
Zavalla's cabin came the clear voice of Felice singing “The Spanish
Cavalier” while she washed the dishes.
The twilight was fading; the glory that had blazed in cloudless
vermilion and gold over the divide was dying down like receding music.
The mountains were purple-black. From the canon rose the night mist,
pale blue, while above it stood the smoke from the mill, a motionless
plume of sable, shot through by the last ruddiness of the afterglow.
The air was full of pleasant odours—the smell of wood fires from
the cabins of the married men and from the ovens of the cookhouse, the
ammoniacal whiffs from the stables, the smell of ripening apples from
“Boston's” orchard—while over all and through all came the perfume of
the witch-hazel and tar-weed from the forests and mountain sides, as
pungent as myrrh, as aromatic as aloes.
“And if I should fall,
In vain I would call,”
Lockwood took his pipe from his teeth and put back his head to
listen. Felice had as good a voice as so pretty a young woman should
have had. She was twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, and was
incontestably the beauty of the camp. She was Mexican-Spanish, tall and
very slender, black-haired, as lithe as a cat, with a cat's green eyes
and with all of a cat's purring, ingratiating insinuation.
Lockwood could not have told exactly just how the first familiarity
between him and Felice had arisen. It had grown by almost imperceptible
degrees up to a certain point; now it was a chance meeting on the trail
between the office and the mill, now a fragment of conversation apropos
of a letter to be mailed, now a question as to some regulation of the
camp, now a detail of repairs done to the cabin wherein Felice lived.
As said above, up to a certain point the process of “getting
acquainted” had been gradual, and on Lockwood's part unconscious; but
beyond that point affairs had progressed rapidly.
At first Felice had been, for Lockwood, a pretty woman, neither more
nor less; but by degrees she emerged from this vague classification:
she became a very pretty woman. Then she became a personality; she
occupied a place within the circle which Lockwood called his world, his
life. For the past months this place had, perforce, to be enlarged.
Lockwood allowed it to expand. To make room for Felice, he thrust
aside, or allowed the idea of Felice to thrust aside, other objects
which long had sat secure. The invasion of the woman into the sphere of
his existence developed at the end into a thing veritably headlong.
Deep-seated convictions, old-established beliefs and ideals, even the
two landmarks right and wrong, were hustled and shouldered about as the
invasion widened and penetrated. This state of affairs was further
complicated by the fact that Felice was the wife of Chino Zavalla,
shift-boss of No. 4 gang in the new workings.
It was quite possible that, though Lockwood could not have told when
and how the acquaintance between him and Felice began and progressed,
the young woman herself could. But this is guesswork. Felice being a
woman, and part Spanish at that, was vastly more self-conscious, more
disingenuous, than the man, the Anglo-Saxon. Also she had that
fearlessness that very pretty women have. In her more refined and
city-bred sisters this fearlessness would be called poise, or, at the
And she was quite capable of making young Lockwood, the
superintendent, her employer, and nominally the ruler of her little
world, fall in love with her. It is only fair to Felice to say that she
would not do this deliberately. She would be more conscious of the
business than the man, than Lockwood; but in affairs such as this,
involving women like Felice, there is a distinction between
deliberately doing a thing and consciously doing it.
Admittedly this is complicated, but it must be understood that
Felice herself was complex, and she could no more help attracting men
to her than the magnet the steel filings. It made no difference whether
the man was the “breed” boy who split logging down by the engine-house
or the young superintendent with his college education, his white hands
and dominating position; over each and all who came within range of her
influence Felice, with her black hair and green eyes, her slim figure
and her certain indefinite “cheek”—which must not by any manner of
means be considered as “boldness”—cast the weird of her kind.
If one understood her kind, knew how to make allowances, knew just
how seriously to take her eyes and her “cheek,” no great harm was done.
Otherwise, consequences were very apt to follow.
Hicks was one of those who from the very first had understood. Hicks
was the manager of the mine, and Lockwood's chief—in a word, the
boss. He was younger even than Lockwood, a boy virtually, but a
wonderful boy—a boy such as only America, western America at that,
could produce, masterful, self-controlled, incredibly capable, as
taciturn as a sphinx, strong of mind and of muscle, and possessed of a
cold gray eye that was as penetrating as chilled steel.
To this person, impersonal as force itself, Felice had once, by some
mysterious feminine art, addressed, in all innocence, her little
maneuver of fascination. One lift of the steady eyelid, one quiet glint
of that terrible cold gray eye, that poniarded her every tissue of
complexity, inconsistency, and coquetry, had been enough. Felice had
fled the field from this young fellow, so much her junior, and then
afterward, in a tremor of discomfiture and distress, had kept her
Hicks understood Felice. Also the great majority of the
miners—shift-bosses, chuck-tenders, bed-rock cleaners, and the
like—understood. Lockwood did not.
It may appear difficult of belief that the men, the crude, simple
workmen, knew how to take Felice Zavalla, while Lockwood, with all his
education and superior intelligence, failed in his estimate of her. The
explanation lies no doubt in the fact that in these man-and-woman
affairs instinct is a surer guide than education and intelligence,
unless, indeed, the intelligence is preternaturally keen. Lockwood's
student life had benumbed the elemental instinct, which in the miners,
the “men,” yet remained vigorous and unblunted, and by means of which
they assessed Felice and her harmless blandishments at their true
worth. For all Lockwood's culture, his own chuck-tenders, unlettered
fellows, cumbersome, slow-witted, “knew women”—at least, women of
their own world, like Felice—better than he. On the other hand, his
intelligence was no such perfected instrument as Hicks's, as exact as
logarithms, as penetrating as a scalpel, as uncoloured by emotions as a
Lockwood's life had been a narrow one. He had studied too hard at
Columbia to see much of the outside world, and he had come straight
from his graduation to take his first position. Since then his life had
been spent virtually in the wilderness, now in Utah, now in Arizona,
now in British Columbia, and now, at last, in Placer County,
California. His lot was the common lot of young mining engineers. It
might lead one day to great wealth, but meanwhile it was terribly
Living thus apart from the world, Lockwood very easily allowed his
judgment to get, as it were, out of perspective. Class distinctions
lost their sharpness, and one woman—as, for instance, Felice—was very
like another—as, for instance, the girls his sisters knew “back home"
in New York.
As a last result, the passions were strong.
Things were done “for all they were worth” in Placer County,
California. When a man worked, he worked hard; when he slept, he slept
soundly; when he hated, he hated with primeval intensity; and when he
loved he grew reckless.
It was all one that Felice was Chino's wife. Lockwood swore between
his teeth that she should be his wife. He had arrived at this
conclusion on the night that he sat on the back porch of his office and
watched the moon coming up over the Hog Back. He stood up at length and
thrust his pipe into his pocket, and putting an arm across the porch
pillar, leaned his forehead against it and looked out far in the purple
“It's madness,” he muttered; “yet, I know it—sheer madness; but, by
the Lord! I am mad—and I don't care.”
III. CHINO GOES TO TOWN
As time went on the matter became more involved. Hicks was away.
Chino Zavalla, stolid, easy-going, came and went about his work on the
night shift, always touching his cap to Lockwood when the two crossed
each other's paths, always good-natured, always respectful, seeing
nothing but his work.
Every evening, when not otherwise engaged, Lockwood threw a saddle
over one of the horses and rode in to Iowa Hill for the mail, returning
to the mine between ten and eleven. On one of these occasions, as he
drew near to Chino's cabin, a slim figure came toward him down the road
and paused at his horse's head. Then he was surprised to hear Felice's
voice asking, “'Ave you a letter for me, then, Meester Lockwude?”
Felice made an excuse of asking thus for her mail each night that
Lockwood came from town, and for a month they kept up appearances; but
after that they dropped even that pretense, and as often as he met her
Lockwood dismounted and walked by her side till the light in the cabin
came into view through the chaparral.
At length Lockwood made a mighty effort. He knew how very far he had
gone beyond the point where between the two landmarks called right and
wrong a line is drawn. He contrived to keep away from Felice. He sent
one of the men into town for the mail, and he found reasons to be in
the mine itself whole half-days at a time. Whenever a moment's leisure
impended, he took his shotgun and tramped the mine ditch for leagues,
looking for quail and gray squirrels. For three weeks he so managed
that he never once caught sight of Felice's black hair and green eyes,
never once heard the sound of her singing.
But the madness was upon him none the less, and it rode and roweled
him like a hag from dawn to dark and from dark to dawn again, till in
his complete loneliness, in the isolation of that simple, primitive
life, where no congenial mind relieved the monotony by so much as a
word, morbid, hounded, tortured, the man grew desperate—was ready for
anything that would solve the situation.
Once every two weeks Lockwood “cleaned up and amalgamated”—that is
to say, the mill was stopped and the “ripples” where the gold was
caught were scraped clean. Then the ore was sifted out, melted down,
and poured into the mould, whence it emerged as the “brick,” a
dun-coloured rectangle, rough-edged, immensely heavy, which represented
anywhere from two to six thousand dollars. This was sent down by
express to the smelting-house.
But it was necessary to take the brick from the mine to the express
office at Iowa Hill.
This duty devolved upon Lockwood and Chino Zavalla. Hicks had from
the very first ordered that the Spaniard should accompany the
superintendent upon this mission. Zavalla was absolutely trustworthy,
as honest as the daylight, strong physically, cool-headed, discreet,
and—to Hicks's mind a crowning recommendation—close-mouthed. For
about the mine it was never known when the brick went to town or who
took it. Hicks had impressed this fact upon Zavalla. He was to tell
nobody that he was delegated to this duty. “Not even”—Hicks had
leveled a forefinger at Chino, and the cold eyes drove home the
injunction as the steam-hammer drives the rivet—“not even your wife.”
And Zavalla had promised. He would have trifled with dynamite sooner
than with one of Hicks's orders.
So the fortnightly trips to town in company with Lockwood were
explained in various fashions to Felice. She never knew that the
mail-bag strapped to her husband's shoulders on those occasions carried
some five thousand dollars' worth of bullion.
On a certain Friday in early June Lockwood had amalgamated, and the
brick, duly stamped, lay in the safe in the office. The following night
he and Chino, who was relieved from mine duty on these occasions, were
to take it in to Iowa Hill.
Late Saturday afternoon, however, the engineer's boy brought word to
Chino that the superintendent wanted him at once. Chino found Lockwood
lying upon the old lounge in the middle room of the office, his foot in
“Here's luck, Chino,” he exclaimed, as the Mexican paused on the
threshold. “Come in and—shut the door,” he added in a lower voice.
“Dios!” murmured Chino. “An accident?”
“Rather,” growled Lockwood. “That fool boy, Davis's kid—the
car-boy, you know—ran me down in the mine. I yelled at him. Somehow he
couldn't stop. Two wheels went over my foot—and the car loaded, too.”
Chino shuddered politely.
“Now here's the point,” continued Lockwood. “Um—there's nobody
round outside there? Take a look, Chino, by the window there. All
clear, eh? Well, here's the point. That brick ought to go in to-night
just the same, hey?”
“Oh—of a surety, of a surety.” Chino spoke in Spanish.
“Now I don't want to let any one else take my place—you never can
tell—the beggars will talk. Not all like you, Chino.”
“Gracias, signor. It is an honour.”
“Do you think you can manage alone? I guess you can, hey? No reason
why you couldn't.”
Chino shut his eyes tight and put up a palm. “Rest assured of that,
Signor Lockwude. Rest assured of that.”
“Well, get around here about nine.”
“It is understood, signor.”
Lockwood, who had a passable knowledge of telegraphy, had wired to
the Hill for the doctor. About suppertime one appeared, and Lockwood
bore the pain of the setting with such fortitude as he could command.
He had his supper served in the office. The doctor shared it with him
and kept him company.
During the early hours of the evening Lockwood lay on the sofa
trying to forget the pain. There was no easier way of doing this than
by thinking of Felice. Inevitably his thoughts reverted to her. Now
that he was helpless, he could secure no diversion by plunging into the
tunnel, giving up his mind to his work. He could not now take down his
gun and tramp the ditch. Now he was supine, and the longing to break
through the mesh, wrestle free from the complication, gripped him and
racked him with all its old-time force.
Promptly at nine o'clock the faithful Chino presented himself at the
office. He had one of the two horses that were used by Lockwood as
saddle animals, and as he entered he opened his coat and tapped the
hilt of a pistol showing from his trousers pocket, with a wink and a
grin. Lockwood took the brick from the safe, strapped it into the
mail-bag, and Chino, swinging it across his shoulders, was gone,
leaving Lockwood to hop back to the sofa, there to throw himself down
and face once more his trouble.
IV. A DESPATCH FROM THE EXPRESS
What made it harder for Lockwood just now was that even on that very
day, in spite of all precaution, in spite of all good resolutions, he
had at last seen Felice. Doubtless the young woman herself had
contrived it; but, be that as it may, Lockwood, returning from a tour
of inspection along the ditch, came upon her not far from camp, but in
a remote corner, and she had of course demanded why he kept away from
her. What Lockwood said in response he could not now remember; nor, for
that matter, was any part of the conversation very clear to his memory.
The reason for this was that, just as he was leaving her, something of
more importance than conversation had happened. Felice had looked at
And she had so timed her look, had so insinuated it into the little,
brief, significant silences between their words, that its meaning had
been very clear. Lockwood had left her with his brain dizzy, his teeth
set, his feet stumbling and fumbling down the trail, for now he knew
that Felice wanted him to know that she regretted the circumstance of
her marriage to Chino Zavalla; he knew that she wanted him to know that
the situation was as intolerable for her as for him.
All the rest of the day, even at this moment, in fact, this new
phase of the affair intruded its pregnant suggestions upon his mind, to
the exclusion of everything else. He felt the drift strong around him;
he knew that in the end he would resign himself to it. At the same time
he sensed the abyss, felt the nearness of some dreadful, nameless
cataclysm, a thing of black shadow, bottomless, terrifying.
“Lord!” he murmured, as he drew his hand across his forehead, “Lord!
I wonder where this thing is going to fetch up.”
As he spoke, the telegraph key on his desk, near at hand, began all
at once to click off his call. Groaning and grumbling, Lockwood heaved
himself up, and, with his right leg bent, hobbled from chair-back to
chair-back over to the desk. He rested his right knee on his desk
chair, reached for his key, opened the circuit, and answered. There was
an instant's pause, then the instrument began to click again. The
message was from the express messenger at Iowa Hill.
Word by word Lockwood took it off as follows:
Lockwood let go the key and jumped back from the desk, lips
compressed, eyes alight, his fists clenched till the knuckles grew
white. The whole figure of him stiffened as tense as drawn wire, braced
rigid like a finely bred hound “making game.”
Chino was already half an hour gone by the trail, and the Reno Kid
was a desperado of the deadliest breed known to the West. How he came
to turn up here there was no time to inquire. He was on hand, that was
the point; and Reno Kid always “shot to kill.” This would be no mere
hold-up; it would be murder.
Just then, as Lockwood snatched open a certain drawer of his desk
where he kept his revolver, he heard from down the road, in the
direction of Chino's cabin, Felice's voice singing:
“To the war I must go,
To fight for my country and you, dear.”
Lockwood stopped short, his arm at full stretch, still gripping
tight the revolver that he had half pulled from the drawer—stopped
short and listened.
The solution of everything had come.
He saw it in a flash. The knife hung poised over the knot—even at
that moment was falling. Nothing was asked of him—nothing but inertia.
For an instant, alone there in that isolated mining-camp, high above
the world, lost and forgotten in the gloom of the canons and redwoods,
Lockwood heard the crisis of his life come crashing through the air
upon him like the onslaught of a whirlwind. For an instant, and no
more, he considered. Then he cried aloud:
“No, no; I can't, I can't—not this way!” And with the words
he threw the belt of the revolver about his hips and limped and
scampered from the room, drawing the buckle close.
How he gained the stable he never knew, nor how he backed the horse
from the building, nor how, hopping on one leg, he got the headstall on
and drew the cinches tight.
But the wrench of pain in his foot as, swinging up at last, he tried
to catch his off stirrup was reality enough to clear any confusion of
spirit. Hanging on as best he might with his knees and one foot,
Lockwood, threshing the horse's flanks with the stinging quirt that
tapered from the reins of the bridle, shot from the camp in a swirl of
clattering hoofs, flying pebbles and blinding clouds of dust.
V. THE TRAIL
The night was black dark under the redwoods, so impenetrable that he
could not see his horse's head, and braced even as he was for greater
perils it required all his courage to ride top-speed at this vast slab
of black that like a wall he seemed to charge head down with every leap
of his bronco's hoofs.
For the first half-hour the trail mounted steadily, then, by the old
gravel-pits, it topped the divide and swung down over more open slopes,
covered only with chaparral and second growths. Here it was lighter,
and Lockwood uttered a fervent “Thank God!” when, a few moments later,
the moon shouldered over the mountain crests ahead of him and melted
the black shadows to silver-gray. Beyond the gravel-pits the trail
turned and followed the flank of the slope, level here for nearly a
mile. Lockwood set his teeth against the agony of his foot and gave the
bronco the quirt with all his strength.
In another half-hour he had passed Cold Canon, and twenty minutes
after that had begun the descent into Indian River. He forded the river
at a gallop, and, with the water dripping from his very hat-brim, drove
labouring under the farther slope.
Then he drew rein with a cry of bewilderment and apprehension. The
lights of Iowa Hill were not two hundred yards distant. He had covered
the whole distance from the mine, and where was Chino?
There was but one answer: back there along the trail somewhere, at
some point by which Lockwood had galloped headlong and unheeding, lying
up there in the chaparral with Reno's bullets in his body.
There was no time now to go on to the Hill. Chino, if he was not
past help, needed it without an instant's loss of time. Lockwood spun
the horse about. Once more the ford, once more the canon slopes, once
more the sharp turn by Cold Canon, once more the thick darkness under
the redwoods. Steadily he galloped on, searching the roadside.
Then all at once he reined in sharply, bringing the horse to a
standstill, one ear turned down the wind. The night's silence was
broken by a multitude of sounds—the laboured breathing of the spent
bronco, the saddle creaking as the dripping flanks rose and fell, the
touch of wind in the tree-tops and the chorusing of the myriad
tree-toads. But through all these, distinct, as precise as a
clock-tick, Lockwood had heard, and yet distinguished, the click of a
horse's hoof drawing near, and the horse was at a gallop: Reno at last.
Lockwood drew his pistol. He stood in thick shadow. Only some twenty
yards in front of him was there any faintest break in the darkness; but
at that point the blurred moonlight made a grayness across the trail,
just a tone less deep than the redwoods' shadows.
With his revolver cocked and trained upon this patch of grayness,
Lockwood waited, holding his breath.
The gallop came blundering on, sounding in the night's silence as
loud as the passage of an express train; and the echo of it, flung back
from the canon side, confused it and distorted it till, to Lockwood's
morbid alertness, it seemed fraught with all the madness of flight, all
the hurry of desperation.
Then the hoof-beats rose to a roar, and a shadow just darker than
the darkness heaved against the grayness that Lockwood held covered
with his pistol. Instantly he shouted aloud:
“Halt! Throw up your hands!”
His answer was a pistol shot.
He dug his heels to his horse, firing as the animal leaped forward.
The horses crashed together, rearing, plunging, and Lockwood, as he
felt the body of a man crush by him on the trail, clutched into the
clothes of him, and, with the pistol pressed against the very flesh,
fired again, crying out as he did so:
“Drop your gun, Reno! I know you. I'll kill you if you move again!”
And then it was that a wail rose into the night, a wail of agony and
“Signor Lockwude, Signor Lockwude, for the love of God, don't shoot!
'Tis I—Chino Zavalla.”
VI. THE DISCOVERY OF FELICE
An hour later, Felice, roused from her sleep by loud knocking upon
her door, threw a blanket about her slim body, serape fashion, and
opened the cabin to two gaunt scarecrows, who, the one, half supported
by the other, himself far spent and all but swooning, lurched by her
across the threshold and brought up wavering and bloody in the midst of
the cabin floor.
“Por Dios! Por Dios!” cried Felice. “Ah, love of God! what
misfortune has befallen Chino!” Then in English, and with a swift leap
of surprise and dismay: “Ah, Meester Lockwude, air you hurt? Eh, tell
me-a! Ah, it is too draidful!”
“No, no,” gasped Lockwood, as he dragged Chino's unconscious body to
the bed Felice had just left. “No; I—I've shot him. We met—there on
the trail.” Then the nerves that had stood strain already surprisingly
long snapped and crisped back upon themselves like broken harp-strings.
“I've shot him! I've shot him!” he cried. “Shot him, do you
understand? Killed him, it may be. Get the doctor, quick! He's at the
office. I passed Chino on the trail over to the Hill. He'd hid in the
bushes as he heard me coming from behind, then when I came back I took
him. Oh, I'll explain later. Get the doctor, quick.”
Felice threw on such clothes as came to her hand and ran over to the
office, returning with the doctor, half dressed and blinking in the
lantern-light. He went in to the wounded man at once, and Lockwood, at
the end of all strength, dropped into the hammock on the porch,
stretching out his leg to ease the anguish of his broken foot. He
leaned back and closed his eyes wearily, aware only of a hideous swirl
of pain, of intolerable anxiety as to Chino's wound, and, most of all,
of a mere blur of confusion wherein the sights and sounds of the last
few hours tore through his brain with the plunge of a wild galloping
such as seemed to have been in his ears for years and years.
But as he lay thus he heard a step at his side. Then came the touch
of Felice's long brown hand upon his face. He sat up, opening his eyes.
“You aisk me-a,” she said, “eef I do onderstaind, eh? Yais, I
onderstaind. You—” her voice was a whisper—“you shoot Chino, eh? I
know. You do those thing' for me-a. I am note angri, no-a. You ver'
sharp man, eh? All for love oaf Felice, eh? Now we be happi, maybe; now
we git married soam day byne-by, eh? Ah, you one brave man, Signor
She would have taken his hand, but Lockwood, the pain all forgot,
the confusion all vanishing, was on his feet. It was as though a
curtain that for months had hung between him and the blessed light of
clear understanding had suddenly been rent in twain by her words. The
woman stood revealed. All the baseness of her tribe, all the degraded
savagery of a degenerate race, all the capabilities for wrong, for
sordid treachery, that lay dormant in her, leaped to life at this
unguarded moment, and in that new light, that now at last she had
herself let in, stood pitilessly revealed, a loathsome thing, hateful
as malevolence itself.
“What,” shouted Lockwood, “you think—think that I—that I could
—oh-h, it's monstrous—you——” He could find no words to voice
his loathing. Swiftly he turned away from her, the last spark of an
evil love dying down forever in his breast.
It was a transformation, a thing as sudden as a miracle, as
conclusive as a miracle, and with all a miracle's sense of uplift and
power. In a second of time the scales seemed to fall from the man's
eyes, fetters from his limbs; he saw, and he was free.
At the door Lockwood met the doctor:
“He's all right; only a superficial wound. He'll recover. But
you—how about you? All right? Well, that is a good hearing. You've had
a lucky escape, my boy.”
“I have had a lucky escape,” shouted Lockwood. “You don't
know just how lucky it was.”
A BARGAIN WITH PEG-LEG
“Hey, youse!” shouted the car-boy. He brought his trundling,
jolting, loose-jointed car to a halt by the face of the drift. “Hey,
youse!” he shouted again.
Bunt shut off the Burly air-drill and nodded.
“Chaw,” he remarked to me.
We clambered into the car, and, as the boy released the brake,
rolled out into the main tunnel of the Big Dipple, and banged and
bumped down the long incline that led to the mouth.
“Chaw” was dinner. It was one o'clock in the morning, and the men on
the night shift were taking their midnight spell off. Bunt was back at
his old occupation of miner, and I—the one loafer of all that little
world of workers—had brought him a bottle of beer to go with the
“chaw”; for Bunt and I were ancient friends.
As we emerged from the cool, cave-like dampness of the mine and ran
out into the wonderful night air of the Sierra foothills, warm, dry,
redolent of witch-hazel, the carboy began to cough, and, after we had
climbed out of the car and had sat down on the embankment to eat and
drink, Bunt observed:
“D'ye hear that bark? That kid's a one-lunger for fair. Which ain't
no salubrious graft for him—this hiking cars about in the bowels of
the earth, Some day he'll sure up an' quit. Ought to go down to Yuma a
The engineer in the mill was starting the stamps. They got under way
with broken, hiccoughing dislocations, bumping and stumbling like the
hoofs of a group of horses on the cattle-deck in a gale. Then they
jumped to a trot, then to a canter, and at last settled down to the
prolonged roaring gallop that reverberated far off over the entire
“I knew a one-lunger once,” Bunt continued, as he uncorked the
bottle, “and the acquaintance was some distressful by reason of its
bringing me into strained relations with a cow-rustlin', hair-liftin',
only-one-born-in-captivity, man-eatin' brute of a one-legged Greaser
which he was named Peg-leg Smith. He was shy a leg because of a shotgun
that the other man thought wasn't loaded. And this here happens, lemme
tell you, 'way down in the Panamint country, where they wasn't no
doctor within twenty miles, and Peg-leg outs with his bowie and
amputates that leg hisself, then later makes a wood stump outa a ole
halter and a table-leg. I guess the whole jing-bang of it turned his
head, for he goes bad and loco thereafter, and begins shootin' and
r'arin' up an' down the hull Southwest, a-roarin' and a-bellerin' and
a-takin' on amazin'. We dasn't say boo to a yaller pup while he's
round. I never see such mean blood. Jus' let the boys know that Peg-leg
was anyways adjacent an' you can gamble they walked chalk.
“Y'see, this Peg-leg lay it out as how he couldn't abide no cussin'
an' swearin'. He said if there was any tall talkin' done he wanted to
do it. And he sure could. I've seed him hold on for six minutes by the
watch an' never repeat hisself once. An' shoot! Say, lemme tell you he
did for two Greasers once in a barroom at La Paz, one in front o' him,
t'other straight behind, him standing between with a gun in each
hand, and shootin' both guns at the same time. Well, he was just
a terror,” declared Bunt, solemnly, “and when he was in real good form
there wa'n't a man south o' Leadville dared to call his hand.
“Now, the way I met up with this skunkin' little dewdrop was
this-like It was at Yuma, at a time when I was a kid of about nineteen.
It was a Sunday mornin'; Peg-leg was in town. He was asleep on a lounge
in the back room o' Bud Overick's Grand Transcontinental Hotel. (I used
to guess Bud called it that by reason that it wa'n't grand, nor
transcontinental, nor yet a hotel—it was a bar.) This was twenty year
ago, and in those days I knowed a one-lunger in Yuma named Clarence.
(He couldn't help that—he was a good kid—but his name was
Clarence.) We got along first-rate. Yuma was a great consumptive place
at that time. They used to come in on every train; yes, and go out,
“Well, findin' that they couldn't do much else than jes' sit around
an' bark and keep their shawls tight, these 'ere chaps kinda drew
together, and lay it out to meet every Sunday morning at Bud's to sorta
talk it over and have a quiet game. One game they had that they played
steady, an' when I drifted into Bud's that morning they was about a
dozen of 'em at it—Clarence, too. When I came in, there they be, all
sittin' in a circle round a table with a cigar box on it. They'd each
put four bits into the box. That was the pot.
“A stranger wouldn't 'a' made nothin' very excitin' out of that
game, nor yet would 'a' caught on to what it were. For them pore yaps
jes' sat there, each with his little glass thermometer in his mouth,
a-waitin' and a-waitin' and never sayin' a word. Then bime-by Bud,
who's a-holdin' of the watch on 'em, sings out 'Time!' an' they all
takes their thermometers out an' looks at 'em careful-like to see where
“'Mine's ninety-nine,' says one.
“An' another says:
“'Mine's a hundred.'
“An' Clarence pipes up—coughin' all the time:
“'Mine's a hundred 'n one 'n 'alf.'
“An', no one havin' a higher tempriture than that, Clarence captures
the pot. It was a queer kind o' game.
“Well, on that particular Sunday morning they's some unpleasantness
along o' one o' the other one-lungers layin' it out as how Clarence had
done some monkey-business to make his tempriture so high. It was said
as how Clarence had took and drunk some hot tea afore comin' into the
game at Bud's. They all began to discuss that same p'int.
“Naturally, they don't go at it polite, and to make their remarks
p'inted they says a cuss-word occasional, and Clarence, bein' a
high-steppin' gent as takes nobody's dust, slings it back some
“Then all at once they hears Peg-leg beller from where's he layin'
on the lounge (they ain't figured on his bein' so contiguous), and he
gives it to be understood, does Peg-leg, as how the next one-lunger
that indulges in whatsoever profanity will lose his voice abrupt.
“They all drops out at that, bar the chap who had the next highest
tempriture to Clarence. Him having missed the pot by only a degree or
so is considerable sore.
“'Why,' says he, 'I've had a reg'lar fever since yesterday
afternoon, an' only just dodged a hem'rage by a squeak. I'm all
legitimate, I am; an' if you-alls misdoubts as how my tempriture ain't
normal you kin jes' ask the doctor. I don't take it easy that a
strappin', healthy gesabe whose case ain't nowheres near the hopeless
p'int yet steps in here with a scalded mouth and plays it low.'
“Clarence he r'ars right up at that an' forgits about Peg-leg an'
expresses doubts, not to say convictions, about the one-lunger's
chances of salvation. He puts it all into about three words, an' just
as quick as look at it we hears ol' Peg-leg's wooden stump a-comin'. We
stampedes considerable prompt, but Clarence falls over a chair, an'
before he kin get up Peg-leg has him by the windpipe.
“Now I ain't billin' myself as a all-round star hero an' general
grand-stand man. But I was sure took with Clarence, an' I'd 'a' been
real disappointed if Peg-leg 'ud a-killed him that morning—which he
sure was tryin' to do when I came in for a few chips.
“I don' draw on Peg-leg, him being down on his knees over Clarence,
an' his back turned, but without sensin' very much what I'm
a-doin' of I grabs holt o' the first part o' Peg-leg that comes handy,
which, so help me, Bob, is his old wooden leg. I starts to pull him off
o' Clarence, but instead o' that I pulls off the wooden leg an' goes
a-staggerin' back agin the wall with the thing in my fist.
“Y'know how it is now with a fightin' pup if you pull his tail while
he's a-chawin' up the other pup. Ye can bat him over the head till
you're tired, or kick him till you w'ars your boot out, an' he'll go
right on chawin' the harder. But monkey with his tail an' he's that
sensitive an' techy about it that he'll take a interest right off.
“Well, it were just so with Peg-leg—though I never knew it. Just by
accident I'd laid holt of him where he was tender; an' when he felt
that leg go—say, lemme tell you, he was some excited. He forgits all
about Clarence, and he lines out for me, a-clawin' the air. Lucky he'd
left his gun in the other room.
“Well, sir, y'ought to have seen him, a-hoppin' on one foot, and
banging agin the furniture, jes' naturally black in the face with rage,
an' doin' his darnedest to lay his hands on me, roarin' all the whiles
like a steer with a kinked tail.
“Well, I'm skeered, and I remarks that same without shame. I'm
skeered. I don't want to come to no grapples with Peg-leg in his wrath,
an' I knows that so long as he can't git his leg he can't take after me
very fast. Bud's saloon backs right up agin the bluff over the river.
So what do I do but heave that same wooden leg through one o' the back
windows, an' down she goes (as I thought) mebbe seventy feet
into the canon o' the Colorado? And then, mister man, I skins
“I takes me headlong flight by way o' the back room and on-root
pitches Peg-leg's gun over into the canon, too, an' then whips around
the corner of the saloon an' fetches out ag'in by the street in front.
With his gun gone an' his leg gone, Peg-leg—so long's y'ain't within
arm's reach—is as harmless as a horned toad. So I kinda hangs 'round
the neighbourhood jes' to see what-all mout turn up.
“Peg-leg, after hoppin' back to find that his gun was gone, to look
for his leg, comes out by the front door, hoppin' from one chair to
another, an' seein' me standin' there across the street makes remarks;
an' he informs me that because of this same little turn-up this mornin'
I ain't never goin' to live to grow hair on my face. His observations
are that vigorous an' p'inted that I sure begin to see it that way,
too, and I says to myself:
“'Now you, Bunt McBride, you've cut it out for yourself good and
hard, an' the rest o' your life ain't goin' to be free from
nervousness. Either y'ought to 'a' let this here hell-roarin' maverick
alone or else you should 'a' put him clean out o' business when you had
holt o' his shootin'-iron. An' I ain't a bit happy.' And then jes' at
this stage o' the proceedings occurs what youse 'ud call a diversion.
“It seemed that that wood stump didn't go clean to the river as I
first figured, but stuck three-fourths the way down. An' a-course
there's a fool half-breed kid who's got to chase after it, thinkin' to
do Peg-leg a good turn.
“I don't know nothin' about this, but jes' stand there talkin' back
to Peg-leg, an' pre-tendin' I ain't got no misgivings, when I sees this
kid comin' a-cavoortin' an' a-cayoodlin' down the street with the leg
in his hands, hollerin' out:
“'Here's your leg, Mister Peg-leg! I went an' got it for you, Mister
“It ain't so likely that Peg-leg could 'a' caught me even if he'd
had his leg, but I wa'n't takin' no chances. An' as Peg-leg starts for
the kid I start, too—with my heart knockin' agin my front teeth, you
“I never knew how fast a man could hop till that mornin', an',
lookin' at Peg-leg with the tail o' my eye as I ran, it seemed to me as
how he was a-goin' over the ground like a ole he-kangaroo. But somehow
he gets off his balance and comes down all of a smash like a rickety
table, an' I reaches the kid first an' takes the leg away from him.
“I guess Peg-leg must 'a' begun to lay it out by then that I held a
straight flush to his ace high, for he sits down on the edge of the
sidewalk an', being some winded, too, he just glares. Then byme-by he
“'You think you are some smart now, sonny, but I'm a-studyin' of
your face so's I'll know who to look for when I git a new leg; an'
believe me, I'll know it, m'son—yours and your friend's too' (he meant
Clarence)—'an' I guess you'll both be kind o' sick afore I'm done with
you. You!' he goes on, tremendous disgustful. 'You! an' them
one-lungers a-swearin' an' a-cussin' an' bedamnin' an' bedevilin' one
a-other. Ain't ye just ashamed o' yourselves ?' (he thought I was a
one-lunger, too); 'ain't ye ashamed—befoulin' your mouths, and
disturbin' the peace along of a quiet Sunday mornin', an' you-alls
waist over in your graves? I'm fair sick o' my job,' he remarks, goin'
kind o' thoughtful. 'Ten years now I've been range-ridin' all this yere
ranch, a-doin' o' my little feeble, or'nary best to clean out the
mouths o' you men an' purify the atmosphere o' God's own country, but I
ain't made one convert. I've pounded 'em an' booted 'em, an'
busted 'em an' shot 'em up, an' they go on cussin' each other out
harder'n ever. I don't know w'at all to do an' I sometimes gets plumb
“Now, hearin' of him talk that-a-way, an' a-knowin' of his weakness,
I gits a idea. It's a chanst and mebbee it don't pan out, but I puts it
up as a bluff. I don't want, you see, to spend the rest o' my appointed
time in this yere vale o' tears a-dodgin' o' Peg-leg Smith, an' in the
end, after all, to git between the wind and a forty-eight caliber
do-good, sure not. So I puts up a deal. Says I: 'Peg-leg, I'll make a
bargint along o' you. You lays it out as how you ain't never converted
nobody out o' his swearin' habits. Now if you wants, 'ere's a chanst.
You gimmee your word as a gent and a good-man-an'-true, as how you
won't never make no play to shoot me up, in nowise whatsoever, so long
as we both do live, an' promise never to bust me, or otherwise, and
promise never to rustle me or interfere with my life, liberty and
pursuit o' happiness, an' thereunto you set your seal an' may Lord 'a'
mercy on your soul—you promise that, an' I will agree an' covenant
with the party o' the first part to abstain an' abjure, early or late,
dry or drinkin', in liquor or out, out o' luck or in, rangin' or
roundin', from all part an' parcel o' profanity, cuss-words, little or
big, several and separate, bar none; this yere agreement to be
considered as bindin' an' obligatory till the day o' your demise,
decease or death. There!' says I, 'there's a fair bargint put up
between man an' man, an' I puts it to you fair. You comes in with a
strong ante an' you gets a genuine, guaranteed an' high-grade
convert—the real article. You stays out, an' not only you loses a good
chanst to cut off and dam up as vigorous a stream o' profanity as is
found between here and Laredo, but you loses a handmade, copper-bound,
steel-riveted, artificial limb—which in five minutes o' time,' says I,
windin' up, 'will sure feed the fire. There's the bargint.'
“Well, the ol' man takes out time for about as long as a thirsty
horse-rustler could put away half a dozen drinks an' he studies the
proposition sideways and endways an' down side up. Then at last he ups
and speaks out decided-like:
“'Son,' he says, 'son, it's a bargint. Gimmee my leg.'
“Somehow neither o' us misdoubts as how the other man won't keep his
word; an' I gives him his stump, an' he straps her on joyful-like, just
as if he'd got back a ole friend. Then later on he hikes out for Mojave
and I don' see him no more for mebbee three years.”
“And then?” I prompted.
“Well, I'll tell you,” continued Bunt, between mouthfuls of pie,
“I'll tell you. This yere prejudice agin profanity is the only thing
about this yere Peg-leg that ain't pizen bad, an' that
prejudice, you got to know, was just along o' his being loco on that
one subjeck. 'Twa'n't as if he had any real principles or convictions
about the thing. It was just a loco prejudice. Just as some gesabes has
feelin's agin cats an' snakes, or agin seein' a speckled nigger. It was
just on-reasonable. So what I'm aimin' to have you understand is the
fact that it was extremely appropriate that Peg-leg should die, that it
was a blame good thing, and somethin' to be celebrated by free drinks
“You can say he treated me white, an' took my unsupported word.
Well, so he did; but that was in spite o' what he really was hisself,
'way on the inside o' him. Inside o' him he was black-bad, an' it
wa'n't a week after we had made our bargint that he did for a little
Mojave kid in a way I don't like to think of.
“So when he took an' died like as how I'm a-going to tell you of, I
was plumb joyful, not only because I could feel at liberty to relieve
my mind when necessary in a manner as is approved of and rightful among
gents—not only because o' that, but because they was one less bad egg
in the cow-country.
“Now the manner o' Peg-leg's dying was sure hilarious-like. I didn't
git over laughin' about it for a month o' Sundays—an' I ain't done
yet. It was sure a joke on Peg-leg. The cutest joke that ever was
played off on him.
“It was in Sonora—Sonora, Arizona, I mean. They'd a-been a kind o'
gold excitement there, and all the boys had rounded up. The town was
full—chock-a-block. Peg-leg he was there too, drunk all the time an'
bullyin' everybody, an' slambangin' around in his same old way. That
very day he'd used a friend o' his—his best friend—cruel hard: just
mean and nasty, you know.
“Well, I'm sitting into a little game o' faro about twelve o'clock
at night, me an' about a dozen o' the boys. We're good an' interested,
and pretty much to the good o' the game, an' somebody's passin' drinks
when all at once there's a sure big rumpus out in the street, an' a
gent sticks his head thro' the door an' yells out:
“'Hi, there, they's a fire! The Golden West Hotel is on fire!'
“We draws the game as soon as convenient and hikes out, an', my
word, you'd 'a' thought from the looks o' things as how the whole town
was going. But it was only the hotel—the Golden West, where Peg-leg
was stayin'; an' when we got up we could hear the ol' murderer
bellerin' an' ragin', an' him drunk—of course.
“Well, I'm some excited. Lord love you, I'd as soon 'a' seen Peg-leg
shot as I would eat, an' when I remembers the little Mojave kid I'm
glad as how his time is at hand. Saved us the trouble o' lynchin' that
sooner or later had to come.
“Peg-leg's room was in the front o' the house on the fourth floor,
but the fire was all below, and what with the smoke comin' out the
third-story winders he couldn't see down into the street, no more'n the
boys could see him—only they just heard him bellerin'.
“Then some one of 'em sings out:
“'Hey, Peg-leg, jump! We got a blanket here.'
“An' sure enough he does jump!”
Here Bunt chuckled grimly, muttering, “Yes, sir, sure enough he did
“I don't quite see,” I observed, “where the laugh comes in. What was
the joke of it?”
“The joke of it was,” finished Bunt, “that they hadn't any blanket.”
THE PASSING OF COCK-EYE BLACKLOCK
“Well, m'son,” observed Bunt about half an hour after supper, “if
your provender has shook down comfortable by now, we might as well jar
loose and be moving along out yonder.”
We left the fire and moved toward the hobbled ponies, Bunt
complaining of the quality of the outfit's meals. “Down in the Panamint
country,” he growled, “we had a Chink that was a sure frying-pan
expert; but this Dago—my word! That ain't victuals, that
supper. That's just a' ingenious device for removing superfluous
appetite. Next time I assimilate nutriment in this camp I'm sure going
to take chloroform beforehand. Careful to draw your cinch tight on that
pinto bronc' of yours. She always swells up same as a horned toad soon
as you begin to saddle up.”
We rode from the circle of the camp-fire's light and out upon the
desert. It was Bunt's turn to ride the herd that night, and I had
volunteered to bear him company.
Bunt was one of a fast-disappearing type. He knew his West as the
cockney knows his Piccadilly. He had mined with and for Ralston, had
soldiered with Crook, had turned cards in a faro game at Laredo, and
had known the Apache Kid. He had fifteen separate and different times
driven the herds from Texas to Dodge City, in the good old, rare old,
wild old days when Dodge was the headquarters for the cattle trade, and
as near to heaven as the cowboy cared to get. He had seen the end of
gold and the end of the buffalo, the beginning of cattle, the beginning
of wheat, and the spreading of the barbed-wire fence, that, in the end,
will take from him his occupation and his revolver, his chaparejos and
his usefulness, his lariat and his reason for being. He had seen the
rise of a new period, the successive stages of which, singularly
enough, tally exactly with the progress of our own world-civilization:
first the nomad and hunter, then the herder, next and last the
husband-man. He had passed the mid-mark of his life. His mustache was
gray. He had four friends—his horse, his pistol, a teamster in the
Indian Territory Panhandle named Skinny, and me.
The herd—I suppose all told there were some two thousand head—we
found not far from the water-hole. We relieved the other watch and took
up our night's vigil. It was about nine o'clock. The night was fine,
There was no cloud. Toward the middle watches one could expect a
moon. But the stars, the stars! In Idaho, on those lonely reaches of
desert and range, where the shadow of the sun by day and the courses of
the constellations by night are the only things that move, these stars
are a different matter from those bleared pin-points of the city after
dark, seen through dust and smoke and the glare of electrics and the
hot haze of fire-signs. On such a night as that when I rode the herd
with Bunt anything might have happened; one could have believed
in fairies then, and in the buffalo-ghost, and in all the weirds of the
craziest Apache “Messiah” that ever made medicine.
One remembered astronomy and the “measureless distances” and the
showy problems, including the rapid moving of a ray of light and the
long years of its travel between star and star, and smiled
incredulously. Why, the stars were just above our heads, were not much
higher than the flat-topped hills that barred the horizons. Venus was a
yellow lamp hung in a tree; Mars a red lantern in a clock-tower.
One listened instinctively for the tramp of the constellations.
Orion, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major marched to and fro on the vault like
cohorts of legionaries, seemingly within call of our voices, and all
without a sound.
But beneath these quiet heavens the earth disengaged multitudinous
sounds—small sounds, minimized as it were by the muffling of the
night. Now it was the yap of a coyote leagues away; now the snapping of
a twig in the sage-brush; now the mysterious, indefinable stir of the
heat-ridden land cooling under the night. But more often it was the
confused murmur of the herd itself—the click of a horn, the friction
of heavy bodies, the stamp of a hoof, with now and then the low,
complaining note of a cow with a calf, or the subdued noise of a steer
as it lay down, first lurching to the knees, then rolling clumsily upon
the haunch, with a long, stertorous breath of satisfaction.
Slowly at Indian trot we encircle the herd. Earlier in the evening a
prairie-wolf had pulled down a calf, and the beasts were still
Little eddies of nervousness at long intervals developed here and
there in the mass—eddies that not impossibly might widen at any time
with perilous quickness to the maelstrom of a stampede. So as he rode
Bunt sang to these great brutes, literally to put them to sleep—sang
an old grandmother's song, with all the quaint modulations of sixty,
seventy, a hundred years ago:
“With her ogling winks
And bobbling blinks,
Her quizzing glass,
Her one eye idle,
Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.
I remember that song. My grandmother—so they tell me—used to sing
it in Carolina, in the thirties, accompanying herself on a harp, if you
“Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.”
It was in Charleston, I remembered, and the slave-ships used to
discharge there in those days. My grandmother had sung it then to her
beaux; officers they were; no wonder she chose it—“Oh, she loved a
bold dragoon”—and now I heard it sung on an Idaho cattle-range to
quiet two thousand restless steers.
Our talk at first, after the cattle had quieted down, ran upon all
manner of subjects. It is astonishing to note what strange things men
will talk about at night and in a solitude. That night we covered
religion, of course, astronomy, love affairs, horses, travel, history,
poker, photography, basket-making, and the Darwinian theory. But at
last inevitably we came back to cattle and the pleasures and dangers of
riding the herd.
“I rode herd once in Nevada,” remarked Bunt, “and I was caught into
a blizzard, and I was sure freezing to death. Got to where I couldn't
keep my eyes open, I was that sleepy. Tell you what I did. Had some
eating-tobacco along, and I'd chew it a spell, then rub the juice into
my eyes. Kept it up all night. Blame near blinded me, but I come
through. Me and another man named Blacklock—Cock-eye Blacklock we
called him, by reason of his having one eye that was some out of line.
Cock-eye sure ought to have got it that night, for he went bad
afterward, and did a heap of killing before he did get it. He
was a bad man for sure, and the way he died is a story in itself.”
There was a long pause. The ponies jogged on. Rounding on the herd,
we turned southward.
“He did 'get it' finally, you say,” I prompted.
“He certainly did,” said Bunt, “and the story of it is what a man
with a' imaginary mind like you ought to make into one of your friction
“Is it about a treasure?” I asked with apprehension. For ever since
I once made a tale (of friction) out of one of Bunt's stories of real
life, he has been ambitious for me to write another, and is forever
suggesting motifs which invariably—I say invariably—imply the
discovery of great treasures. With him, fictitious literature must
always turn upon the discovery of hidden wealth.
“No,” said he, “it ain't about no treasure, but just about the
origin, hist'ry and development—and subsequent decease—of as mean a
Greaser as ever stole stock, which his name was Cock-eye Blacklock.
“You see, this same Blacklock went bad about two summers after our
meet-up with the blizzard. He worked down Yuma way and over into New
Mexico, where he picks up with a sure-thing gambler, and the two begin
to devastate the population. They do say when he and his running mate
got good and through with that part of the Land of the Brave, men used
to go round trading guns for commissary, and clothes for ponies, and
cigars for whisky and such. There just wasn't any money left
anywhere. Those sharps had drawed the landscape clean. Some one
found a dollar in a floor-crack in a saloon, and the barkeep' gave him
a gallon of forty-rod for it, and used to keep it in a box for
exhibition, and the crowd would get around it and paw it over and say:
'My! my! Whatever in the world is this extremely cu-roos coin?'
“Then Blacklock cuts loose from his running mate, and plays a lone
hand through Arizona and Nevada, up as far as Reno again, and there he
stacks up against a kid—a little tenderfoot kid so new he ain't
cracked the green paint off him—and skins him. And the kid,
being foolish and impulsive-like, pulls out a peashooter. It was a
twenty-two,” said Bunt, solemnly. “Yes, the kid was just that pore,
pathetic kind to carry a dinky twenty-two, and with the tears runnin'
down his cheeks begins to talk tall. Now what does that Cockeye do?
Why, that pore kid that he had skinned couldn't 'a' hurt him with his
pore little bric-a-brac. Does Cock-eye take his little parlour ornament
away from him, and spank him, and tell him to go home? No, he never.
The kid's little tin pop-shooter explodes right in his hand before he
can crook his forefinger twice, and while he's a-wondering what-all has
happened Cock-eye gets his two guns on him, slow and deliberate like,
mind you, and throws forty-eights into him till he ain't worth shooting
at no more. Murders him like the mud-eating, horse-thieving snake of a
Greaser that he is; but being within the law, the kid drawing on him
first, he don't stretch hemp the way he should.
“Well, fin'ly this Blacklock blows into a mining-camp in Placer
County, California, where I'm chuck-tending on the night-shift. This
here camp is maybe four miles across the divide from Iowa Hill, and it
sure is named a cu-roos name, which it is Why-not. They is a barn
contiguous, where the mine horses are kep', and, blame me! if there
ain't a weathercock on top of that same—a golden trotting-horse—
upside down. When the stranger an' pilgrim comes in, says he first
off: 'Why'n snakes they got that weathercock horse upside down—why?'
says he. 'Why-not,' says you, and the drinks is on the pilgrim.
“That all went very lovely till some gesabe opens up a placer drift
on the far side the divide, starts a rival camp, an' names her Because.
The Boss gets mad at that, and rights up the weathercock, and renames
the camp Ophir, and you don't work no more pilgrims.
“Well, as I was saying, Cock-eye drifts into Why-not and begins
diffusing trouble. He skins some of the boys in the hotel over in town,
and a big row comes of it, and one of the bed-rock cleaners cuts loose
with both guns. Nobody hurt but a quarter-breed, who loses a' eye. But
the marshal don't stand for no short-card men, an' closes Cock-eye up
some prompt. Him being forced to give the boys back their money is
busted an' can't get away from camp. To raise some wind he begins
“He robs a pore half-breed of a cayuse, and shoots up a Chink who's
panning tailings, and generally and variously becomes too pronounced,
till he's run outen camp. He's sure stony-broke, not being able to turn
a card because of the marshal. So he goes to live in a ole cabin up by
the mine ditch, and sits there doing a heap o' thinking, and hatching
trouble like a' ole he-hen.
“Well, now, with that deporting of Cock-eye comes his turn of bad
luck, and it sure winds his clock up with a loud report. I've narrated
special of the scope and range of this 'ere Blacklock, so as you'll
understand why it was expedient and desirable that he should up an'
die. You see, he always managed, with all his killings and robbings and
general and sundry flimflamming, to be just within the law. And if
anybody took a notion to shoot him up, why, his luck saw him through,
and the other man's shooting-iron missed fire, or exploded, or threw
wild, or such like, till it seemed as if he sure did bear a charmed
life; and so he did till a pore yeller tamale of a fool dog did for him
what the law of the land couldn't do. Yes, sir, a fool dog, a pup, a
blame yeller pup named Sloppy Weather, did for Cock-eye Blacklock,
sporting character, three-card-monte man, sure-thing sharp, killer, and
“You see, it was this way. Over in American Canon, some five miles
maybe back of the mine, they was a creek called the American River, and
it was sure chock-a-block full of trouts. The Boss used for to go over
there with a dinky fish-pole like a buggy-whip about once a week, and
scout that stream for fish and bring back a basketful. He was sure keen
on it, and had bought some kind of privilege or other, so as he could
keep other people off.
“Well, I used to go along with him to pack the truck, and one
Saturday, about a month after Cock-eye had been run outen camp, we
hiked up over the divide, and went for to round up a bunch o' trouts.
When we got to the river there was a mess for your life. Say, that
river was full of dead trouts, floating atop the water; and they was
some even on the bank. Not a scratch on 'em; just dead. The Boss had
the papsy-lals. I never did see a man so rip-r'aring, snorting
mad. I hadn't a guess about what we were up against, but he
knew, and he showed down. He said somebody had been shooting the river
for fish to sell down Sacramento way to the market. A mean trick; kill
more fish in one shoot than you can possibly pack.
“Well, we didn't do much fishing that day—couldn't get a bite, for
that matter—and took on home about noon to talk it over. You see, the
Boss, in buying the privileges or such for that creek, had made himself
responsible to the Fish Commissioners of the State, and 'twasn't a week
before they were after him, camping on his trail incessant, and wanting
to know how about it. The Boss was some worried, because the fish were
being killed right along, and the Commission was making him weary of
living. Twicet afterward we prospected along that river and found the
same lot of dead fish. We even put a guard there, but it didn't do no
manner of good.
“It's the Boss who first suspicions Cock-eye. But it don't take no
seventh daughter of no seventh daughter to trace trouble where
Black-lock's about. He sudden shows up in town with a bunch of
simoleons, buying bacon and tin cows [Footnote: Condensed milk.] and
such provender, and generally giving it away that he's come into money.
The Boss, who's watching his movements sharp, says to me one day:
“'Bunt, the storm-centre of this here low area is a man with a
cock-eye, an' I'll back that play with a paint horse against a paper
“'No takers,' says I. 'Dirty work and a cock-eyed man are two heels
of the same mule.'
“'Which it's a-kicking of me in the stummick frequent and painful,'
he remarks, plenty wrathful.
“'On general principles,' I said, 'it's a royal flush to a pair of
deuces as how this Blacklock bird ought to stop a heap of lead, and I
know the man to throw it. He's the only brother of my sister, and tends
chuck in a placer mine. How about if I take a day off and drop round to
his cabin and interview him on the fleetin' and unstable nature of
“But the Boss wouldn't hear of that.
“'No,' says he; 'that's not the bluff to back in this game. You an'
me an' 'Mary-go-round'—that was what we called the marshal, him being
so much all over the country—'you an' me an' Mary-go-round will have
to stock a sure-thing deck against that maverick.'
“So the three of us gets together an' has a talky-talk, an' we lays
it out as how Cock-eye must be watched and caught red-handed.
“Well, let me tell you, keeping case on that Greaser sure did lack a
certain indefinable charm. We tried him at sun-up, an' again at
sundown, an' nights, too, laying in the chaparral an' tarweed, an'
scouting up an' down that blame river, till we were sore. We built
surreptitious a lot of shooting-boxes up in trees on the far side of
the canon, overlooking certain an' sundry pools in the river where
Cock-eye would be likely to pursue operations, an' we took turns
watching. I'll be a Chink if that bad egg didn't put it on us same as
previous, an' we'd find new-killed fish all the time. I tell you we
were fitchered; and it got on the Boss's nerves. The Commission
began to talk of withdrawing the privilege, an' it was up to him to
make good or pass the deal. We knew Blacklock was shooting the
river, y' see, but we didn't have no evidence. Y' see, being shut off
from card-sharping, he was up against it, and so took to pot-hunting to
get along. It was as plain as red paint.
“Well, things went along sort of catch-as-catch-can like this for
maybe three weeks, the Greaser shooting fish regular, an' the Boss
b'iling with rage, and laying plans to call his hand, and getting
bluffed out every deal.
“And right here I got to interrupt, to talk some about the pup dog,
Sloppy Weather. If he hadn't got caught up into this Blacklock game, no
one'd ever thought enough about him to so much as kick him. But after
it was all over, we began to remember this same Sloppy an' to recall
what he was; no big job. He was just a worthless fool pup, yeller at
that, everybody's dog, that just hung round camp, grinning and giggling
and playing the goat, as half-grown dogs will. He used to go along with
the car-boys when they went swimmin' in the resevoy, an' dash along in
an' yell an' splash round just to show off. He thought it was a keen
stunt to get some gesabe to throw a stick in the resevoy so's he could
paddle out after it. They'd trained him always to bring it back an'
fetch it to whichever party throwed it. He'd give it up when he'd
retrieved it, an' yell to have it throwed again. That was his idea of
fun—just like a fool pup.
“Well, one day this Sloppy Weather is off chasing jack-rabbits an'
don't come home. Nobody thinks anything about that, nor even notices
it. But we afterward finds out that he'd met up with Blacklock that
day, an' stopped to visit with him—sorry day for Cockeye. Now it was
the very next day after this that Mary-go-round an' the Boss plans
another scout. I'm to go, too. It was a Wednesday, an' we lay it out
that the Cockeye would prob'ly shoot that day so's to get his fish down
to the railroad Thursday, so they'd reach Sacramento Friday—fish day,
see. It wasn't much to go by, but it was the high card in our hand, an'
we allowed to draw to it.
“We left Why-not afore daybreak, an' worked over into the canon
about sun-up. They was one big pool we hadn't covered for some time,
an' we made out we'd watch that. So we worked down to it, an' clumb up
into our trees, an' set out to keep guard.
“In about an hour we heard a shoot some mile or so up the creek.
They's no mistaking dynamite, leastways not to miners, an' we knew that
shoot was dynamite an' nothing else. The Cock-eye was at work, an' we
shook hands all round. Then pretty soon a fish or so began to go
by—big fellows, some of 'em, dead an' floatin', with their eyes popped
'way out same as knobs—sure sign they'd been shot.
“The Boss took and grit his teeth when he see a three-pounder go by,
an' made remarks about Blacklock.
“''Sh!' says Mary-go-round, sudden-like. 'Listen!'
“We turned ear down the wind, an' sure there was the sound of some
one scrabbling along the boulders by the riverside. Then we heard a pup
“'That's our man,' whispers the Boss.
“For a long time we thought Cock-eye had quit for the day an' had
coppered us again, but byne-by we heard the manzanita crack on the far
side the canon, an' there at last we see Blacklock working down toward
the pool, Sloppy Weather following an' yapping and cayoodling just as a
fool dog will.
“Blacklock comes down to the edge of the water quiet-like. He lays
his big scoop-net an' his sack—we can see it half full already—down
behind a boulder, and takes a good squinting look all round, and
listens maybe twenty minutes, he's that cute, same's a coyote stealing
sheep. We lies low an' says nothing, fear he might see the leaves move.
“Then byne-by he takes his stick of dynamite out his hip pocket—he
was just that reckless kind to carry it that way—an' ties it careful
to a couple of stones he finds handy. Then he lights the fuse an'
heaves her into the drink, an' just there's where Cock-eye makes the
mistake of his life. He ain't tied the rocks tight enough, an' the loop
slips off just as he swings back his arm, the stones drop straight down
by his feet, and the stick of dynamite whirls out right enough into the
“Then the funny business begins.
“Blacklock ain't made no note of Sloppy Weather, who's been sizing
up the whole game an' watchin' for the stick. Soon as Cock-eye heaves
the dynamite into the water, off goes the pup after it, just as he'd
been taught to do by the car-boys.
“'Hey, you fool dog!' yells Blacklock.
“A lot that pup cares. He heads out for that stick of dynamite same
as if for a veal cutlet, reaches it, grabs hold of it, an' starts back
for shore, with the fuse sputterin' like hot grease. Blacklock heaves
rocks at him like one possessed, capering an' dancing; but the pup
comes right on. The Cock-eye can't stand it no longer, but lines out.
But the pup's got to shore an' takes after him. Sure; why not? He
think's it's all part of the game. Takes after Cock-eye, running to
beat a' express, while we-all whoops and yells an' nearly falls out the
trees for laffing. Hi! Cock-eye did scratch gravel for sure. But
'tain't no manner of use. He can't run through that rough ground like
Sloppy Weather, an' that fool pup comes a-cavartin' along, jumpin' up
against him, an' him a-kickin' him away, an' r'arin', an' dancin', an'
shakin' his fists, an' the more he r'ars the more fun the pup thinks it
is. But all at once something big happens, an' the whole bank of the
canon opens out like a big wave, and slops over into the pool, an' the
air is full of trees an' rocks and cart-loads of dirt an' dogs and
Blacklocks and rivers an' smoke an' fire generally. The Boss got a clod
o' river-mud spang in the eye, an' went off his limb like's he was
trying to bust a bucking bronc' an' couldn't; and ol' Mary-go-round was
shooting off his gun on general principles, glarin' round wild-eyed an'
like as if he saw a' Injun devil.
“When the smoke had cleared away an' the trees and rocks quit
falling, we clumb down from our places an' started in to look for
Black-lock. We found a good deal of him, but they wasn't hide nor hair
left of Sloppy Weather. We didn't have to dig no grave, either. They
was a big enough hole in the ground to bury a horse an' wagon, let
alone Cock-eye. So we planted him there, an' put up a board, an' wrote
Here lies most
who died of a'
entangling alliance with
stick of dynamite.
Moral: A hook and line is good enough
fish-tackle for any honest man.
“That there board lasted for two years, till the freshet of '82,
when the American River—Hello, there's the sun!”
All in a minute the night seemed to have closed up like a great
book. The East flamed roseate. The air was cold, nimble. Some of the
sage-brush bore a thin rim of frost. The herd, aroused, the dew
glistening on flank and horn, were chewing the first cud of the day,
and in twos and threes moving toward the water-hole for the morning's
drink. Far off toward the camp the breakfast fire sent a shaft of blue
smoke straight into the moveless air. A jack-rabbit, with erect ears,
limped from the sage-brush just out of pistol-shot and regarded us a
moment, his nose wrinkling and trembling. By the time that Bunt and I,
putting our ponies to a canter, had pulled up by the camp of the
Bar-circle-Z outfit, another day had begun in Idaho.
A MEMORANDUM OF SUDDEN DEATH
The manuscript of the account that follows belongs to a
harness-maker in Albuquerque, Juan Tejada by name, and he is welcome to
whatever of advertisement this notice may bring him. He is a good
fellow, and his patented martingale for stage horses may be
recommended. I understand he got the manuscript from a man named Bass,
or possibly Bass left it with him for safe-keeping. I know that Tejada
has some things of Bass's now—things that Bass left with him last
November: a mess-kit, a lantern and a broken theodolite—a whole
saddle-box full of contraptions. I forgot to ask Tejada how Bass got
the manuscript, and I wish I had done so now, for the finding of it
might be a story itself. The probabilities are that Bass simply picked
it up page by page off the desert, blown about the spot where the fight
occurred and at some little distance from the bodies. Bass, I am told,
is a bone-gatherer by profession, and one can easily understand how he
would come across the scene of the encounter in one of his tours into
western Arizona. My interest in the affair is impersonal, but none the
less keen. Though I did not know young Karslake, I knew his stuff—as
everybody still does, when you come to that. For the matter of that,
the mere mention of his pen-name, “Anson Qualtraugh,” recalls at once
to thousands of the readers of a certain world-famous monthly magazine
of New York articles and stories he wrote for it while he was alive;
as, for instance, his admirable descriptive work called “Traces of the
Aztecs on the Mogolon Mesa,” in the October number of 1890. Also, in
the January issue of 1892 there are two specimens of his work, one
signed Anson Qualtraugh and the other Justin Blisset. Why he should
have used the Blisset signature I do not know. It occurs only this once
in all his writings. In this case it is signed to a very indifferent
New Year's story. The Qualtraugh “stuff” of the same number is, so the
editor writes to me, a much shortened transcript of a monograph on
“Primitive Methods of Moki Irrigation,” which are now in the archives
of the Smithsonian. The admirable novel, “The Peculiar Treasure of
Kings,” is of course well known. Karslake wrote it in 1888-89, and the
controversy that arose about the incident of the third chapter is
still—sporadically and intermittently—continued.
The manuscript that follows now appears, of course, for the first
time in print, and I acknowledge herewith my obligations to Karslake's
father, Mr. Patterson Karslake, for permission to publish.
I have set the account down word for word, with all the hiatuses and
breaks that by nature of the extraordinary circumstances under which it
was written were bound to appear in it. I have allowed it to end
precisely as Karslake was forced to end it, in the middle of a
sentence. God knows the real end is plain enough and was not far off
when the poor fellow began the last phrase that never was to be
The value of the thing is self-apparent. Besides the narrative of
incidents it is a simple setting forth of a young man's emotions in the
very face of violent death. You will remember the distinguished victim
of the guillotine, a lady who on the scaffold begged that she might be
permitted to write out the great thoughts that began to throng her
mind. She was not allowed to do so, and the record is lost. Here is a
case where the record is preserved. But Karslake, being a young man not
very much given to introspection, his work is more a picture of things
seen than a transcription of things thought. However, one may read
between the lines; the very breaks are eloquent, while the break at the
end speaks with a significance that no words could attain.
The manuscript in itself is interesting. It is written partly in
pencil, partly in ink (no doubt from a fountain pen), on sheets of
manila paper torn from some sort of long and narrow account-book. In
two or three places there are smudges where the powder-blackened finger
and thumb held the sheets momentarily. I would give much to own it, but
Tejada will not give it up without Bass's permission, and Bass has gone
to the Klondike.
As to Karslake himself. He was born in Raleigh, in North Carolina,
in 1868, studied law at the State University, and went to the Bahamas
in 1885 with the members of a government coast survey commission. Gave
up the practice of law and “went in” for fiction and the study of the
ethnology of North America about 1887. He was unmarried.
The reasons for his enlisting have long been misunderstood. It was
known that at the time of his death he was a member of B Troop of the
Sixth Regiment of United States Cavalry, and it was assumed that
because of this fact Karslake was in financial difficulties and not
upon good terms with his family. All this, of course, is untrue, and I
have every reason to believe that Karslake at this time was planning a
novel of military life in the Southwest, and, wishing to get in closer
touch with the milieu of the story, actually enlisted in order
to be able to write authoritatively. He saw no active service until the
time when his narrative begins. The year of his death is uncertain. It
was in the spring probably of 1896, in the twenty-eighth year of his
There is no doubt he would have become in time a great writer. A
young man of twenty-eight who had so lively a sense of the value of
accurate observation, and so eager a desire to produce that in the very
face of death he could faithfully set down a description of his
surroundings, actually laying down the rifle to pick up the pen,
certainly was possessed of extraordinary faculties.
“They came in sight early this morning just after we had had
breakfast and had broken camp. The four of us—'Bunt,' 'Idaho,'
Estorijo and myself—were jogging on to the southward and had just come
up out of the dry bed of some water-hole—the alkali was white as snow
in the crevices—when Idaho pointed them out to us, three to the rear,
two on one side, one on the other and—very far away—two ahead. Five
minutes before, the desert was as empty as the flat of my hand. They
seemed literally to have grown out of the sage-brush. We took
them in through my field-glasses and Bunt made sure they were an
outlying band of Hunt-in-the-Morning's Bucks. I had thought, and so had
all of us, that the rest of the boys had rounded up the whole of the
old man's hostiles long since. We are at a loss to account for these
fellows here. They seem to be well mounted.
“We held a council of war from the saddle without halting, but there
seemed very little to be done—but to go right along and wait for
developments. At about eleven we found water—just a pocket in the bed
of a dried stream—and stopped to water the ponies. I am writing this
during the halt.
“We have one hundred and sixteen rifle cartridges. Yesterday was
Friday, and all day, as the newspapers say, 'the situation remained
unchanged.' We expected surely that the night would see some rather
radical change, but nothing happened, though we stood watch and watch
till morning. Of yesterday's eight only six are in sight and we bring
up reserves. We now have two to the front, one on each side, and two to
the rear, all far out of rifle-range.
[The following paragraph is in an unsteady script and would
appear to have been written in the saddle. The same peculiarity occurs
from time to time in the narrative, and occasionally the writing is so
broken as to be illegible.]
“On again after breakfast. It is about eight-fifteen. The other two
have come back—without 'reserves,' thank God. Very possibly they did
not go away at all, but were hidden by a dip in the ground. I cannot
see that any of them are nearer. I have watched one to the left of us
steadily for more than half an hour and I am sure that he has not
shortened the distance between himself and us. What their plans are
Hell only knows, but this silent, persistent escorting tells on the
nerves. I do not think I am afraid—as yet. It does not seem possible
but that we will ride into La Paz at the end of the fortnight exactly
as we had planned, meet Greenock according to arrangements and take the
stage on to the railroad. Then next month I shall be in San Antonio and
report at headquarters. Of course, all this is to be, of course; and
this business of to-day will make a good story to tell. It's an
experience—good 'material.' Very naturally I cannot now see how I am
going to get out of this” [the word “alive” has here been erased
], “but of course I will. Why 'of course'? I don't know. Maybe I
am trying to deceive myself. Frankly, it looks like a situation
insoluble; but the solution will surely come right enough in good time.
“Eleven o'clock.—No change.
“Two-thirty P. M.—We are halted to tighten girths and to take a
single swallow of the canteens. One of them rode in a wide circle from
the rear to the flank, about ten minutes ago, conferred a moment with
his fellow, then fell back to his old position. He wears some sort of
red cloth or blanket. We reach no more water till day after to-morrow.
But we have sufficient. Estorijo has been telling funny stories en
“Four o'clock P. M.—They have closed up perceptibly, and we have
been debating about trying one of them with Idaho's Winchester. No use;
better save the ammunition. It looks....” [the next words are
undecipherable, but from the context they would appear to be “as
if they would attack to-night“]”...we have come to know certain of
them now by nicknames. We speak of the Red One, or the Little One, or
the One with the Feather, and Idaho has named a short thickset fellow
on our right 'Little Willie.' By God, I wish something would turn
up—relief or fight. I don't care which. How Estorijo can cackle on,
reeling off his senseless, pointless funny stories, is beyond me. Bunt
is almost as bad. They understand the fix we are in, I know, but
how they can take it so easily is the staggering surprise. I feel that
I am as courageous as either of them, but levity seems horribly
inappropriate. I could kill Estorijo joyfully.
“Sunday morning.—Still no developments. We were so sure of
something turning up last night that none of us pretended to sleep. But
nothing stirred. There is no sneaking out of the circle at night. The
moon is full. A jack-rabbit could not have slipped by them unseen last
“Nine o'clock (in the saddle).—We had coffee and bacon as usual at
sunrise; then on again to the southeast just as before. For half an
hour after starting the Red One and two others were well within
rifle-shot, nearer than ever before. They had worked in from the flank.
But before Idaho could get a chance at them they dipped into a shallow
arroyo, and when they came out on the other side were too far away to
think of shooting.
“Ten o'clock.—All at once we find there are nine instead of eight;
where and when this last one joined the band we cannot tell. He wears a
sombrero and army trousers, but the upper part of his body is bare.
Idaho calls him 'Half-and-half.' He is riding a——They're coming.
“Later.—For a moment we thought it was the long-expected rush. The
Red One—he had been in the front—wheeled quick as a flash and came
straight for us, and the others followed suit. Great Heavens, how they
rode! We could hear them yelling on every side of us. We jumped off our
ponies and stood behind them, the rifles across the saddles. But at
four hundred yards they all pivoted about and cantered off again
leisurely. Now they followed us as before—three in the front, two in
the rear and two on either side. I do not think I am going to be
frightened when the rush does come. I watched myself just now. I was
excited, and I remember Bunt saying to me, 'Keep your shirt on, m'son';
but I was not afraid of being killed. Thank God for that! It is
something I've long wished to find out, and now that I know it I am
proud of it. Neither side fired a shot. I was not afraid. It's
glorious. Estorijo is all right.
“Sunday afternoon, one-thirty.—No change. It is unspeakably hot.
“Three-fifteen.—The One with the Feather is walking, leading his
pony. It seems to be lame.” [With this entry Karslake ended page
five, and the next page of the manuscript is numbered seven. It is very
probable, however, that he made a mistake in the numerical sequence of
his pages, for the narrative is continuous, and, at this point at
least, unbroken. There does not seem to be any sixth page.]
“Four o'clock.—Is it possible that we are to pass another night of
suspense? They certainly show no signs of bringing on the crisis, and
they surely would not attempt anything so late in the afternoon as
this. It is a relief to feel that we have nothing to fear till morning,
but the tension of watching all night long is fearful.
“Later.—Idaho has just killed the Little One.
“Later.—Still at it.
“Later, about five.—A bullet struck within three feet of me.
“Seven-thirty P. M., in camp.—It happened so quickly that it was
all over before I realized. We had our first interchange of shots with
them late this afternoon. The Little One was riding from the front to
the flank. Evidently he did not think he was in range—nor did any of
us. All at once Idaho tossed up his rifle and let go without aiming—or
so it seemed to me. The stock was not at his shoulder before the report
came. About six seconds after the smoke had cleared away we could see
the Little One begin to lean backward in the saddle, and Idaho said
grimly, 'I guess I got you.' The Little One leaned farther and
farther till suddenly his head dropped back between his
shoulder-blades. He held to his pony's mane with both hands for a long
time and then all at once went off feet first. His legs bent under him
like putty as his feet touched the ground. The pony bolted.
“Just as soon as Idaho fired the others closed right up and began
riding around us at top speed, firing as they went. Their aim was bad
as a rule, but one bullet came very close to me. At about half-past
five they drew off out of range again and we made camp right where we
stood. Estorijo and I are both sure that Idaho hit the Red One, but
Idaho himself is doubtful, and Bunt did not see the shot. I could swear
that the Red One all but went off his pony. However, he seems active
“Monday morning.—Still another night without attack. I have not
slept since Friday evening. The strain is terrific. At daybreak this
morning, when one of our ponies snorted suddenly, I cried out at the
top of my voice. I could no more have repressed it than I could have
stopped my blood flowing; and for half an hour afterward I could feel
my flesh crisping and pringling, and there was a sickening weakness at
the pit of my stomach. At breakfast I had to force down my coffee. They
are still in place, but now there are two on each side, two in the
front, two in the rear. The killing of the Little One seems to have
heartened us all wonderfully. I am sure we will get out—somehow. But
oh! the suspense of it.
“Monday morning, nine-thirty.—Under way for over two hours. There
is no new development. But Idaho has just said that they seem to be
edging in. We hope to reach water to-day. Our supply is low, and the
ponies are beginning to hang their heads. It promises to be a blazing
hot day. There is alkali all to the west of us, and we just commence to
see the rise of ground miles to the southward that Idaho says is the
San Jacinto Mountains. Plenty of water there. The desert hereabout is
vast and lonesome beyond words; leagues of sparse sage-brush, leagues
of leper-white alkali, leagues of baking gray sand, empty, heat-ridden,
the abomination of desolation; and always—in whichever direction I
turn my eyes—always, in the midst of this pale-yellow blur, a single
figure in the distance, blanketed, watchful, solitary, standing out
sharp and distinct against the background of sage and sand.
“Monday, about eleven o'clock.—No change. The heat is appalling.
There is just a——
“Later.—I was on the point of saying that there was just a mouthful
of water left for each of us in our canteens when Estorijo and Idaho
both at the same time cried out that they were moving in. It is true.
They are within rifle range, but do not fire. We, as well, have decided
to reserve our fire until something more positive happens.
“Noon.—The first shot—for to-day—from the Red One. We are halted.
The shot struck low and to the left. We could see the sand spout up in
a cloud just as though a bubble had burst on the surface of the ground.
“They have separated from each other, and the whole eight of them
are now in a circle around us. Idaho believes the Red One fired as a
signal. Estorijo is getting ready to take a shot at the One with the
Feather. We have the ponies in a circle around us. It looks as if now
at last this was the beginning of the real business.
Later, twelve-thirty-five.—Estorijo missed. Idaho will try with the
Winchester as soon as the One with the Feather halts. He is galloping
toward the Red One.
“All at once, about two o'clock, the fighting began. This is the
first let-up. It is now—God knows what time. They closed up suddenly
and began galloping about us in a circle, firing all the time. They
rode like madmen. I would not have believed that Indian ponies could
run so quickly. What with their yelling and the incessant crack of
their rifles and the thud of their ponies' feet our horses at first
became very restless, and at last Idaho's mustang bolted clean away. We
all stood to it as hard as we could. For about the first fifteen
minutes it was hot work. The Spotted One is hit. We are certain of that
much, though we do not know whose gun did the work. My poor old horse
is bleeding dreadfully from the mouth. He has two bullets in the
stomach, and I do not believe he can stand much longer. They have let
up for the last few moments, but are still riding around us, their guns
at 'ready.' Every now and then one of us fires, but the heat shimmer
has come up over the ground since noon and the range is extraordinarily
“Three-ten.—Estorijo's horse is down, shot clean through the head.
Mine has gone long since. We have made a rampart of the bodies.
“Three-twenty.—They are at it again, tearing around us incredibly
fast, every now and then narrowing the circle. The bullets are striking
everywhere now. I have no rifle, do what I can with my revolver, and
try to watch what is going on in front of me and warn the others when
they press in too close on my side.” [Karslake nowhere accounts for
the absence of his carbine. That a U. S. trooper should be without his
gun while traversing a hostile country is a fact difficult to account
“Three-thirty.—They have winged me—through the shoulder. Not bad,
but it is bothersome. I sit up to fire, and Bunt gives me his knee on
which to rest my right arm. When it hangs it is painful.
“Quarter to four.—It is horrible. Bunt is dying. He cannot speak,
the ball having gone through the lower part of his face, but back, near
the neck. It happened through his trying to catch his horse. The animal
was struck in the breast and tried to bolt. He reared up, backing away,
and as we had to keep him close to us to serve as a bulwark Bunt
followed him out from the little circle that we formed, his gun in one
hand, his other gripping the bridle. I suppose every one of the eight
fired at him simultaneously, and down he went. The pony dragged him a
little ways still clutching the bridle, then fell itself, its whole
weight rolling on Bunt's chest. We have managed to get him in and
secure his rifle, but he will not live. None of us knows him very well.
He only joined us about a week ago, but we all liked him from the
start. He never spoke of himself, so we cannot tell much about him.
Idaho says he has a wife in Torreon, but that he has not lived with her
for two years; they did not get along well together, it seems. This is
the first violent death I have ever seen, and it astonishes me to note
how unimportant it seems. How little anybody cares—after all.
If I had been told of his death—the details of it, in a story or in
the form of fiction—it is easily conceivable that it would have
impressed me more with its importance than the actual scene has done.
Possibly my mental vision is scaled to a larger field since Friday, and
as the greater issues loom up one man more or less seems to be but a
unit—more or less—in an eternal series. When he was hit he swung back
against the horse, still holding by the rein. His feet slid from under
him, and he cried out, 'My God!' just once. We divided his
cartridges between us and Idaho passed me his carbine. The barrel was
“They have drawn off a little and for fifteen minutes, though they
still circle us slowly, there has been no firing. Forty cartridges
left. Bunt's body (I think he is dead now) lies just back of me, and
already the gnats—I can't speak of it.”
[Karslake evidently made the next few entries at successive
intervals of time, but neglected in his excitement to note the exact
hour as above. We may gather that “They” made another attack and then
repeated the assault so quickly that he had no chance to record it
properly. I transcribe the entries in exactly the disjointed manner in
which they occur in the original. The reference to the “fire” is
“I shall do my best to set down exactly what happened and what I do
and think, and what I see.
“The heat-shimmer spoiled my aim, but I am quite sure that either
“This last rush was the nearest. I had started to say that though
the heat-shimmer was bad, either Estorijo or myself wounded one of
their ponies. We saw him stumble.
“Only a few cartridges left.
“The Red One like a whirlwind only fifty yards away.
“We fire separately now as they sneak up under cover of our smoke.
“We put the fire out. Estorijo—” [It is possible that Karslake
had begun here to chronicle the death of the Mexican.]
“I have killed the Spotted One. Just as he wheeled his horse I saw
him in a line with the rifle-sights and let him have it squarely. It
took him straight in the breast. I could feel that shot strike.
He went down like a sack of lead weights. By God, it was superb!
“Later.—They have drawn off out of range again, and we are allowed
a breathing-spell. Our ponies are either dead or dying, and we have
dragged them around us to form a barricade. We lie on the ground behind
the bodies and fire over them. There are twenty-seven cartridges left.
“It is now mid-afternoon. Our plan is to stand them off if we can
till night and then to try an escape between them. But to what purpose?
They would trail us so soon as it was light.
[Illustration: CAUGHT IN THE CIRCLE.
The last stand of three troopers and a scout overtaken by a band of
Drawn by Frederic Remington. Courtesy of Collier's Weekly.]
“We think now that they followed us without attacking for so long
because they were waiting till the lay of the land suited them. They
wanted—no doubt—an absolutely flat piece of country, with no
depressions, no hills or stream-beds in which we could hide, but which
should be high upon the edges, like an amphitheatre. They would get us
in the centre and occupy the rim themselves. Roughly, this is the bit
of desert which witnesses our 'last stand.' On three sides the ground
swells a very little—the rise is not four feet. On the third side it
is open, and so flat that even lying on the ground as we do we can see
(leagues away) the San Jacinto hills—'from whence cometh no help.' It
is all sand and sage, forever and forever. Even the sage is sparse—a
bad place even for a coyote. The whole is flagellated with an
intolerable heat and—now that the shooting is relaxed—oppressed with
a benumbing, sodden silence—the silence of a primordial world. Such a
silence as must have brooded over the Face of the Waters on the Eve of
Creation—desolate, desolate, as though a colossal, invisible pillar—a
pillar of the Infinitely Still, the pillar of Nirvana—rose forever
into the empty blue, human life an atom of microscopic dust crushed
under its basis, and at the summit God Himself. And I find time to ask
myself why, at this of all moments of my tiny life-span, I am able to
write as I do, registering impressions, keeping a finger upon the pulse
of the spirit. But oh! if I had time now—time to write down the great
thoughts that do throng the brain. They are there, I feel them, know
them. No doubt the supreme exaltation of approaching death is the
stimulus that one never experiences in the humdrum business of the
day-to-day existence. Such mighty thoughts! Unintelligible, but if I
had time I could spell them out, and how I could write then! I
feel that the whole secret of Life is within my reach; I can almost
grasp it; I seem to feel that in just another instant I can see it all
plainly, as the archangels see it all the time, as the great minds of
the world, the great philosophers, have seen it once or twice,
vaguely—a glimpse here and there, after years of patient study. Seeing
thus I should be the equal of the gods. But it is not meant to be.
There is a sacrilege in it. I almost seem to understand why it is kept
from us. But the very reason of this withholding is in itself a part of
the secret. If I could only, only set it down!—for whose eyes? Those
of a wandering hawk? God knows. But never mind. I should have
spoken—once; should have said the great Word for which the World since
the evening and the morning of the First Day has listened. God knows.
God knows. What a whirl is this? Monstrous incongruity. Philosophy and
fighting troopers. The Infinite and dead horses. There's humour for
you. The Sublime takes off its hat to the Ridiculous. Send a cartridge
clashing into the breech and speculate about the Absolute. Keep one eye
on your sights and the other on Cosmos. Blow the reek of burned powder
from before you so you may look over the edge of the abyss of the Great
Primal Cause. Duck to the whistle of a bullet and commune with
Schopenhauer. Perhaps I am a little mad. Perhaps I am supremely
intelligent. But in either case I am not understandable to myself. How,
then, be understandable to others? If these sheets of paper, this
incoherence, is ever read, the others will understand it about as much
as the investigating hawk. But none the less be it of record that I,
Karslake, SAW. It reads like Revelations: 'I, John, saw.' It is just
that. There is something apocalyptic in it all. I have seen a vision,
but cannot—there is the pitch of anguish in the impotence—bear
record. If time were allowed to order and arrange the words of
description, this exaltation of spirit, in that very space of time,
would relax, and the describer lapse back to the level of the average
again before he could set down the things he saw, the things he
thought. The machinery of the mind that could coin the great Word is
automatic, and the very force that brings the die near the blank metal
supplies the motor power of the reaction before the impression is made
... I stopped for an instant, looking up from the page, and at once the
great vague panorama faded. I lost it all. Cosmos has dwindled again to
an amphitheatre of sage and sand, a vista of distant purple hills, the
shimmer of scorching alkali, and in the middle distance there, those
figures, blanketed, beaded, feathered, rifle in hand.
“But for a moment I stood on Patmos.
“The Ridiculous jostles the elbow of the Sublime and shoulders it
from place as Idaho announces that he has found two more cartridges in
“They rushed again. Eight more cartridges gone. Twenty-one left.
They rush in this manner—at first the circle, rapid beyond expression,
one figure succeeding the other so swiftly that the dizzied vision
loses count and instead of seven of them there appear to be seventy.
Then suddenly, on some indistinguishable signal, they contract this
circle, and through the jets of powder-smoke Idaho and I see them
whirling past our rifle-sights not one hundred yards away. Then their
fire suddenly slackens, the smoke drifts by, and we see them in the
distance again, moving about us at a slow canter. Then the blessed
breathing-spell, while we peer out to know if we have killed or not,
and count our cartridges. We have laid the twenty-one loaded shells
that remain in a row between us, and after our first glance outward to
see if any of them are down, our next is inward at that ever-shrinking
line of brass and lead. We do not talk much. This is the end. We know
it now. All of a sudden the conviction that I am to die here has
hardened within me. It is, all at once, absurd that I should ever have
supposed that I was to reach La Paz, take the east-bound train and
report at San Antonio. It seems to me that I knew, weeks ago,
that our trip was to end thus. I knew it—somehow—in Sonora, while we
were waiting orders, and I tell myself that if I had only stopped to
really think of it I could have foreseen today's bloody business.
“Later.—The Red One got off his horse and bound up the creature's
leg. One of us hit him, evidently. A little higher, it would have
reached the heart. Our aim is ridiculously bad—the heat-shimmer——
“Later.—Idaho is wounded. This last time, for a moment, I was sure
the end had come. They were within revolver range and we could feel the
vibration of the ground under their ponies' hoofs. But suddenly they
drew off. I have looked at my watch; it is four o'clock.
“Four o'clock.—Idaho's wound is bad—a long, raking furrow in the
right forearm. I bind it up for him, but he is losing a great deal of
blood and is very weak.
“They seem to know that we are only two by now, for with each rush
they grow bolder. The slackening of our fire must tell them how scant
is our ammunition.
“Later.—This last was magnificent. The Red One and one other with
lines of blue paint across his cheek galloped right at us. Idaho had
been lying with his head and shoulders propped against the neck of his
dead pony. His eyes were shut, and I thought he had fainted. But as he
heard them coming he struggled up, first to his knees and then to his
feet—to his full height—dragging his revolver from his hip with his
left hand. The whole right arm swung useless. He was so weak that he
could only lift the revolver half way—could not get the muzzle up. But
though it sagged and dropped in his grip, he would die fighting.
When he fired the bullet threw up the sand not a yard from his feet,
and then he fell on his face across the body of the horse. During the
charge I fired as fast as I could, but evidently to no purpose. They
must have thought that Idaho was dead, for as soon as they saw him
getting to his feet they sheered their horses off and went by on either
side of us. I have made Idaho comfortable. He is unconscious; have used
the last of the water to give him a drink. He does not seem——
“They continue to circle us. Their fire is incessant, but very wild.
So long as I keep my head down I am comparatively safe.
“Later.—I think Idaho is dying. It seems he was hit a second time
when he stood up to fire. Estorijo is still breathing; I thought him
dead long since.
“Four-ten.—Idaho gone. Twelve cartridges left. Am all alone now.
“Four-twenty-five.—I am very weak.” [Karslake was evidently
wounded sometime between ten and twenty-five minutes after four. His
notes make no mention of the fact.] “Eight cartridges remain. I
leave my library to my brother, Walter Patterson Karslake; all my
personal effects to my parents, except the picture of myself taken in
Baltimore in 1897, which I direct to be” [the next lines are
undecipherable] ”...at Washington, D. C., as soon as possible. I
appoint as my literary—
“Four forty-five.—Seven cartridges. Very weak and unable to move
lower part of my body. Am in no pain. They rode in very close. The Red
One is——An intolerable thirst——
“I appoint as my literary executor my brother, Patterson Karslake.
The notes on 'Coronado in New Mexico' should be revised.
“My death occurred in western Arizona, April 15th, at the hands of a
roving band of Hunt-in-the-Morning's bucks. They have——
“Five o'clock.—The last cartridge gone.
“Estorijo still breathing. I cover his face with my hat. Their fire
is incessant. Am much weaker. Convey news of death to Patterson
Karslake, care of Corn Exchange Bank, New York City.
“Five-fifteen—about.—They have ceased firing, and draw together in
a bunch. I have four cartridges left” [see conflicting note dated
five o'clock], “but am extremely weak. Idaho was the best friend I
had in all the Southwest. I wish it to be known that he was a generous,
open-hearted fellow, a kindly man, clean of speech, and absolutely
unselfish. He may be known as follows: Sandy beard, long sandy hair,
scar on forehead, about six feet one inch in height. His real name is
James Monroe Herndon; his profession that of government scout. Notify
Mrs. Herndon, Trinidad, New Mexico.
“The writer is Arthur Staples Karslake, dark hair, height five feet
eleven, body will be found near that of Herndon.
“Luis Estorijo, Mexican——
“Later.—Two more cartridges.
“It is half-past five in the afternoon of April fifteenth. They
followed us from the eleventh—Friday—till to-day. It will
[The MS. ends here.]
TWO HEARTS THAT BEAT AS ONE
“Which I puts it up as how you ain't never heard about that time
that Hardenberg and Strokher—the Englisher—had a friendly go with
bare knuckles—ten rounds it was—all along o' a feemale woman?”
It is a small world and I had just found out that my friend, Bunt
McBride—horse-wrangler, miner, faro-dealer and bone-gatherer—whose
world was the plains and ranges of the Great Southwest, was known of
the Three Black Crows, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan, and had
even foregathered with them on more than one of their ventures for
Cyrus Ryder's Exploitation Agency—ventures that had nothing of the
desert in them, but that involved the sea, and the schooner, and the
taste of the great-lunged canorous trades.
“Ye ain't never crossed the trail o' that mournful history?”
I professed my ignorance and said:
“Mister Man,” returned Bunt soberly, as one broaching a subject not
to be trifled with, “They sure did. Friendly-like, y'know—like as how
two high-steppin', sassy gents figures out to settle any little
strained relations—friendly-like but considerable keen.”
He took a pinch of tobacco from his pouch and a bit of paper and
rolled a cigarette in the twinkling of an eye, using only one hand, in
true Mexican style.
“Now,” he said, as he drew the first long puff to the very bottom of
the leathern valves he calls his lungs. “Now, I'm a-goin' for to relate
that same painful proceedin' to you, just so as you kin get a line on
the consumin' and devourin' foolishness o' male humans when they's a
woman in the wind. Woman,” said Bunt, wagging his head thoughtfully at
the water, “woman is a weather-breeder. Mister Dixon, they is three
things I'm skeered of. The last two I don't just rightly call to mind
at this moment, but the first is woman. When I meets up with a feemale
woman on my trail, I sheers off some prompt, Mr. Dixon; I sheers off.
An' Hardenberg,” he added irrelevantly, “would a-took an' married this
woman, so he would. Yes, an' Strokher would, too.”
“Was there another man?” I asked.
“No,” said Bunt. Then he began to chuckle behind his mustaches.
“Yes, they was.” He smote a thigh. “They sure was another man for fair.
Well, now, Mr. Man, lemmee tell you the whole 'how.'
“It began with me bein' took into a wild-eyed scheme that that
maverick, Cy Ryder, had cooked up for the Three Crows. They was a row
down Gortamalar way. Same gesabe named Palachi—Barreto
Palachi—findin' times dull an' the boys some off their feed, ups an'
says to hisself, 'Exercise is wot I needs. I will now take an'
overthrow the blame Gover'ment.' Well, this same Palachi rounds up a
bunch o' insurrectos an' begins pesterin' an' badgerin' an'
hectorin' the Gover'ment; an' r'arin' round an' bellerin' an' makin' a
procession of hisself, till he sure pervades the landscape; an' before
you knows what, lo'n beholt, here's a reel live Revolution-Thing
cayoodlin' in the scenery, an' the Gover'ment is plum bothered.
“They rounds up the gesabe at last at a place on the coast, but he
escapes as easy as how-do-you-do. He can't, howsomever, git back to his
insurrectos; the blame Gover'ment being in possession of all the
trails leadin' into the hinterland; so says he, 'What for a game would
it be for me to hyke up to 'Frisco an' git in touch with my financial
backers an' conspirate to smuggle down a load o' arms?' Which the same
he does, and there's where the Three Black Crows an' me begin to take a
“Cy Ryder gives us the job o' taking the schooner down to a certain
point on the Gortamalar coast and there delivering to the agent o' the
gazabo three thousand stand o' forty-eight Winchesters.
“When we gits this far into the game Ryder ups and says:
“'Boys, here's where I cashes right in. You sets right to me for the
schooner and the cargo. But you goes to Palachi's agent over 'crost the
bay for instructions and directions.'
“'But,' says the Englisher, Strokher, 'this bettin' a blind play
don't suit our hand. Why not' says he, 'make right up to Mister Palachi
“'No,' says Ryder, 'No, boys. Ye can't. The Signor is lying as low
as a toad in a wheeltrack these days, because o' the pryin' and
meddlin' disposition o' the local authorities. No,' he says, 'ye must
have your palaver with the agent which she is a woman,' an' thereon I
groans low and despairin'.
“So soon as he mentions 'feemale' I knowed trouble was in the
atmosphere. An' right there is where I sure looses my presence o' mind.
What I should a-done was to say, 'Mister Ryder, Hardenberg and gents
all: You're good boys an' you drinks and deals fair, an' I loves you
all with a love that can never, never die for the terms o' your natural
lives, an' may God have mercy on your souls; but I ain't keepin'
case on this 'ere game no longer. Woman and me is mules an' music. We
ain't never made to ride in the same go-cart Good-by.' That-all is wot
I should ha' said. But I didn't. I walked right plum into the sloo,
like the mudhead that I was, an' got mired for fair—jes as I might
a-knowed I would.
“Well, Ryder gives us a address over across the bay an' we fair
hykes over there all along o' as crool a rain as ever killed crops. We
finds the place after awhile, a lodgin'-house all lorn and loony, set
down all by itself in the middle o' some real estate extension like a
tepee in a 'barren'—a crazy 'modern' house all gimcrack and woodwork
and frostin', with never another place in so far as you could hear a
“Well, we bucks right up an' asks o' the party at the door if the
Signorita Esperanza Ulivarri—that was who Ryder had told us to ask
for—might be concealed about the premises, an' we shows Cy Ryder's
note. The party that opened the door was a Greaser, the worst looking I
ever clapped eyes on—looked like the kind wot 'ud steal the coppers
off his dead grandmother's eyes. Anyhow, he says to come in,
gruff-like, an' to wait, poco tiempo.
“Well, we waited moucho tiempo—muy moucho, all a-settin' on
the edge of the sofy, with our hats on our knees, like philly-loo birds
on a rail, and a-countin' of the patterns in the wall-paper to pass the
time along. An' Hardenberg, who's got to do the talkin', gets the
fidgets byne-by; and because he's only restin' the toes o' his feet on
the floor, his knees begin jiggerin'; an' along o' watchin' him, my
knees begin to go, an' then Strokher's and then Ally Bazan's. An' there
we sat all in a row and jiggered an' jiggered. Great snakes, it makes
me sick to the stummick to think o' the idjeets we were.
“Then after a long time we hears a rustle o' silk petticoats, an' we
all grabs holt o' one another an' looks scared-like, out from under our
eyebrows. An' then—then, Mister Man, they walks into that bunk-house
parlour the loveliest-lookin' young feemale woman that ever wore hair.
“She was lovelier than Mary Anderson; she was lovelier than Lotta.
She was tall, an' black-haired, and had a eye ... well, I dunno; when
she gave you the littlest flicker o' that same eye, you felt it was
about time to take an' lie right down an' say, 'I would esteem it,
ma'am, a sure smart favour if you was to take an' wipe your boots on my
waistcoat, jus' so's you could hear my heart a-beatin'. That's the kind
o' feemale woman she was.
“Well, when Hardenberg had caught his second wind, we begins to talk
“'An' you're to take a passenger back with you,' says Esperanza
“'What for a passenger might it be?' says Hardenberg.
“She fished out her calling-card at that and tore it in two an' gave
“'It's the party,' she says, 'that'll come aboard off San Diego on
your way down an' who will show up the other half o' the card—the half
I have here an' which the same I'm goin' to mail to him. An' you be
sure the halves fit before you let him come aboard. An' when that party
comes aboard,' she says, 'he's to take over charge.'
“'Very good,' says Hardenberg, mincing an' silly like a chessy cat
lappin' cream. 'Very good, ma'am; your orders shall be obeyed.' He sure
said it just like that, as if he spoke out o' a story-book. An' I
kicked him under the table for it.
“Then we palavers a whole lot an' settles the way the thing is to be
run, an' fin'ly, when we'd got as far as could be that day, the
Signorita stood up an' says:
“'Now me good fellows.' 'Twas Spanish she spoke. 'Now, me good
fellows, you must drink a drink with me.' She herds us all up into the
dining-room and fetches out—not whisky, mind you—but a great, fat,
green-and-gold bottle o' champagne, an' when Ally Bazan has fired it
off, she fills our glasses—dinky little flat glasses that looked like
flower vases. Then she stands up there before us, fine an' tall, all in
black silk, an' puts her glass up high an' sings out——
“'To the Revolution!'
“An' we all solemn-like says, 'To the Revolution,' an' crooks our
elbows. When we-all comes to, about half an hour later, we're in the
street outside, havin' jus' said good-by to the Signorita. We-all are
some quiet the first block or so, and then Hardenberg says—stoppin'
dead in his tracks:
“'I pauses to remark that when a certain young feemale party havin'
black hair an' a killin' eye gets good an' ready to travel up the
centre aisle of a church, I know the gent to show her the way, which he
is six feet one in his stocking-feet, some freckled across the nose,
an' shoots with both hands.'
“'Which the same observations,' speaks up Strokher, twirlin' his
yeller lady-killer, 'which the same observations,' he says, 'has my
hearty indorsement an' cooperation savin' in the particular of the
description o' the gent. The gent is five foot eleven high, three feet
thick, is the only son of my mother, an' has yeller mustaches and a
“'He don't qualify,' puts in Hardenberg. 'First, because he's a
Englisher, and second, because he's up again a American—and besides,
he has a tooth that's bucked.'
“'Buck or no buck,' flares out Strokher, 'wot might be the meanin'
o' that remark consernin' being a Englisher?'
“'The fact o' his bein' English,' says Hardenberg, 'is only half the
hoe-handle. 'Tother half being the fact that the first-named gent is
all American. No Yank ain't never took no dust from aft a Englisher,
whether it were war, walkin'-matches, or women.'
“'But they's a Englisher,' sings out Strokher, 'not forty miles from
here as can nick the nose o' a freckled Yank if so be occasion
“Now ain't that plum foolish-like,” observed Bunt, philosophically.
“Ain't it plum foolish-like o' them two gesabes to go flyin' up in the
air like two he-hens on a hot plate—for nothin' in the world but
because a neat lookin' feemale woman has looked at 'em some soft?
“Well, naturally, we others—Ally Bazan an' me—we others throws it
into 'em pretty strong about bein' more kinds of blame fools than a pup
with a bug; an' they simmers down some, but along o' the way home I kin
see as how they're a-glarin' at each other, an' a-drawin' theirselves
up proud-like an' presumptchoous, an' I groans again, not loud but
deep, as the Good Book says.
“We has two or three more palavers with the Signorita Esperanza and
stacks the deck to beat the harbor police and the Customs people an'
all, an' to nip down the coast with our contraband. An' each time we
chins with the Signorita there's them two locoes steppin' and sidle'n'
around her, actin' that silly-like that me and Ally Bazan takes an'
beats our heads agin' the walls so soon as we're alone just because
we're that pizen mortified.
“Fin'ly comes the last talky-talk an' we're to sail away next day
an' mebbee snatch the little Joker through or be took an' hung by the
“An' 'Good-by,' says Hardenberg to Esperanza, in a faintin',
die-away voice like a kitten with a cold. 'An' ain't we goin' to meet
“'I sure hopes as much,' puts in Strokher, smirkin' so's you'd think
he was a he-milliner sellin' a bonnet. 'I hope,' says he, 'our
delightful acquaintanceship ain't a-goin' for to end abrupt
“'Oh, you nice, big Mister Men,' pipes up the Signorita in English,
'we will meet down there in Gortamalar soon again, yes, because I go
down by the vapour carriages to-morrow.'
“'Unprotected, too,' says Hardenberg, waggin' his fool head. 'An' so
“Holy Geronimo! I don't know what more fool drivelin' they had, but
they fin'ly comes away. Ally Bazan and me rounds 'em up and conducts
'em to the boat an' puts 'em to bed like as if they was little—or
drunk, an' the next day—or next night, rather—about one o'clock, we
slips the heel ropes and hobbles o' the schooner quiet as a
mountain-lion stalking a buck, and catches the out-tide through the
gate o' the bay. Lord, we was some keyed up, lemmee tell you, an' Ally
Bazan and Hardenberg was at the fore end o' the boat with their guns
ready in case o' bein' asked impert'nent questions by the patrol-boats.
“Well, how-some-ever, we nips out with the little Jokers (they was
writ in the manifest as minin' pumps) an' starts south. This 'ere
pasear down to Gortamalar is the first time I goes a-gallying about
on what the Three Crows calls 'blue water'; and when that schooner hit
the bar I begins to remember that my stummick and inside arrangements
ain't made o' no chilled steel, nor yet o' rawhide. First I gits plum
sad, and shivery, and I feels as mean an' pore as a prairie-dog w'ich
'as eat a horned toad back'ards. I goes to Ally Bazan and gives it out
as how I'm going for to die, an' I puts it up that I'm sure sad and
depressed-like; an' don't care much about life nohow; an' that present
surroundin's lack that certain undescribable charm. I tells him that I
knows the ship is goin' to sink afore we git over the bar.
Waves!—they was higher'n the masts; and I've rode some fair lively
sun-fishers in my time, but I ain't never struck anythin' like the
r'arin' and buckin' and high-an'-lofty tumblin' that that same boat
went through with those first few hours after we had come out.
“But Ally Bazan tells me to go downstairs in the boat an' lie up
quiet, an' byne-by I do feel better. By next day I kin sit up and take
solid food again. An' then's when I takes special notice o' the
everlastin' foolishness o' Strokner and Hardenberg.
“You'd a thought each one o' them two mush-heads was tryin' to act
the part of a ole cow which has had her calf took. They goes a-moonin'
about the boat that mournful it 'ud make you yell jus' out o' sheer
nervousness. First one 'ud up an' hold his head on his hand an' lean on
the fence-rail that ran around the boat, and sigh till he'd raise his
pants clean outa the top o' his boots. An' then the other 'ud go off in
another part o' the boat an' he'd sigh an' moon an' take on fit
to sicken a coyote.
“But byne-by—we're mebbee six days to the good o' 'Frisco—byne-by
they two gits kind o' sassy along o' each t'other, an' they has a
heart-to-heart talk and puts it up as how either one o' 'em 'ud stand
to win so only the t'other was out o' the game.
“'It's double or nothing,' says Hardenberg, who is somethin' o' a
card sharp, 'for either you or me, Stroke; an' if you're agreeable I'll
play you a round o' jacks for the chance at the Signorita—the loser to
pull out o' the running for good an' all.'
“No, Strokher don't come in on no such game, he says. He wins her,
he says, as a man, and not as no poker player. No, nor he won't throw
no dice for the chance o' winnin' Esperanza, nor he won't flip no coin,
nor yet 'rastle. 'But,' says he all of a sudden, 'I'll tell you which
I'll do. You're a big, thick, strappin' hulk o' a two-fisted
dray-horse, Hardie, an' I ain't no effete an' digenerate one-lunger
myself. Here's wot I propose—that we-all takes an' lays out a
sixteen-foot ring on the quarterdeck, an' that the raw-boned Yank and
the stodgy Englisher strips to the waist, an' all-friendly-like,
settles the question by Queensbury rules an' may the best man win.'
“Hardenberg looks him over.
“'An' wot might be your weight?' says he. 'I don't figure on hurtin'
of you, if so be you're below my class.'
“'I fights at a hunder and seventy,' says Strokher.
“'An' me,' says Hardenberg, 'at a hunder an' seventy-five. We're
“'Is it a go?' inquires Strokher.
“'You bet your great-gran'mammy's tortis-shell chessy cat it's a
go,' says Hardenberg, prompt as a hop-frog catching flies.
“We don't lose no time trying to reason with 'em, for they is sure
keen on havin' the go. So we lays out a ring by the rear end o' the
deck, an' runs the schooner in till we're in the lee o' the land, an'
she ridin' steady on her pins.
“Then along o' about four o'clock on a fine still day we lays the
boat to, as they say, an' folds up the sail, an' havin' scattered resin
in the ring (which it ain't no ring, but a square o' ropes on posts),
we says all is ready.
“Ally Bazan, he's referee, an' me, I'm the time-keeper which I has
to ring the ship's bell every three minutes to let 'em know to quit an'
that the round is over.
“We gets 'em into the ring, each in his own corner, squattin' on a
bucket, the time-keeper bein' second to Hardenberg an' the referee
being second to Strokher. An' then, after they has shuk hands, I climbs
up on' the chicken-coop an' hollers 'Time' an' they begins.
“Mister Man, I've saw Tim Henan at his best, an' I've saw Sayres
when he was a top-notcher, an' likewise several other irregler boxin'
sharps that were sure tough tarriers. Also I've saw two short-horn
bulls arguin' about a question o' leadership, but so help me Bob—the
fight I saw that day made the others look like a young ladies'
quadrille. Oh, I ain't goin' to tell o' that mill in detail, nor by
rounds. Rounds! After the first five minutes they wa'n't no
rounds. I rung the blame bell till I rung her loose an' Ally Bazan
yells 'break-away' an' 'time's up' till he's black in the face, but you
could no more separate them two than you could put the brakes on a
“At about suppertime we pulled 'em apart. We could do it by then,
they was both so gone; an' jammed each one o' 'em down in their
corners. I rings my bell good an' plenty, an' Ally Bazan stands up on a
bucket in the middle o' the ring an' says:
“'I declare this 'ere glove contest a draw.'
“An' draw it sure was. They fit for two hours stiddy an' never a one
got no better o' the other. They give each other lick for lick as fast
an' as steady as they could stand to it. 'Rastlin', borin' in,
boxin'—all was alike. The one was just as good as t'other. An' both
willin' to the very last.
“When Ally Bazan calls it a draw, they gits up and wobbles toward
each other an' shakes hands, and Hardenberg he says:
“'Stroke, I thanks you a whole lot for as neat a go as ever I mixed
“An' Strokher answers up:
“'Hardie, I loves you better'n ever. You'se the first man I've met
up with which I couldn't do for—an' I've met up with some scraggy
propositions in my time, too.'
“Well, they two is a sorry-lookin' pair o' birds by the time we runs
into San Diego harbour next night. They was fine lookin' objects for
fair, all bruises and bumps. You remember now we was to take on a party
at San Diego who was to show t'other half o' Esperanza's card, an'
thereafterward to boss the job.
“Well, we waits till nightfall an' then slides in an' lays to off a
certain pile o' stone, an' shows two green lights and one white every
three and a half minutes for half a hour—this being a signal.
“They is a moon, an' we kin see pretty well. After we'd signaled
about a hour, mebbee, we gits the answer—a one-minute green flare, and
thereafterward we makes out a rowboat putting out and comin' towards
us. They is two people in the boat. One is the gesabe at the oars an'
the other a party sitting in the hinder end.
“Ally Bazan an' me, an' Strokher an' Hardenberg, we's all leanin'
over the fence a-watchin'; when all to once I ups an' groans some sad.
The party in the hinder end o' the boat bein' feemale.
“'Ain't we never goin' to git shut of 'em?' says I; but the words
ain't no more'n off my teeth when Strokher pipes up:
“'It's she,' says he, gaspin' as though shot hard.
“'Wot!' cries Hardenberg, sort of mystified, 'Oh, I'm sure
a-dreamin'! he says, just that silly-like.
“'An' the mugs we've got!' says Strokher.
“An' they both sets to swearin' and cussin' to beat all I ever
“'I can't let her see me so bunged up,' says Hardenberg,
doleful-like, 'Oh, whatever is to be done?'
“'An' I look like a real genuine blown-in-the-bottle pug,'
whimpers Strokher. 'Never mind,' says he, 'we must face the music.
We'll tell her these are sure honourable scars, got because we fit for
“Well, the boat comes up an' the feemale party jumps out and comes
up the let-down stairway, onto the deck. Without sayin' a word she
hands Hardenberg the half o' the card and he fishes out his half an'
matches the two by the light o' a lantern.
“By this time the rowboat has gone a little ways off, an' then at
last Hardenberg says:
“'Welkum aboard, Signorita.'
“And Strokher cuts in with——
“'We thought it was to be a man that 'ud join us here to take
command, but you,' he says—an' oh, butter wouldn't a-melted in
his mouth—'But you he says, 'is always our mistress.
“'Very right, bueno. Me good fellows,' says the Signorita,
'but don't you be afraid that they's no man is at the head o' this
business.' An' with that the party chucks off hat an' skirts, and
I'll be Mexican if it wa'n't a man after all!
“'I'm the Signor Barreto Palachi, gentlemen,' says he. 'The gringo
police who wanted for to arrest me made the disguise necessary.
Gentlemen, I regret to have been obliged to deceive such gallant
compadres; but war knows no law.'
“Hardenberg and Strokher gives one look at the Signor and another at
their own spiled faces, then:
“'Come back here with the boat!' roars Hardenberg over the side, and
with that—(upon me word you'd a-thought they two both were moved with
the same spring)—over they goes into the water and strikes out hands
over hands for the boat as hard as ever they kin lay to it. The boat
meets 'em—Lord knows what the party at the oars thought—they climbs
in an' the last I sees of 'em they was puttin' for shore—each havin'
taken a oar from the boatman, an' they sure was makin' that boat hum.
“Well, we sails away eventually without 'em; an' a year or more
afterward I crosses their trail again in Cy Ryder's office in 'Frisco.”
“Did you ask them about it all?” said I.
“Mister Man,” observed Bunt. “I'm several kinds of a fool; I know
it. But sometimes I'm wise. I wishes for to live as long as I can, an'
die when I can't help it. I does not, neither there, nor
thereafterward, ever make no joke, nor yet no alloosion about, or
concerning the Signorita Esperanza Palachi in the hearin' o' Hardenberg
an' Strokher. I've seen—(ye remember)—both those boys use their
fists—an' likewise Hardenberg, as he says hisself, shoots with both
THE DUAL PERSONALITY OF SLICK DICK
On a certain morning in the spring of the year, the three men who
were known as the Three Black Crows called at the office of “The
President of the Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company,” situated in
an obscure street near San Francisco's water-front. They were Strokher,
the tall, blond, solemn, silent Englishman; Hardenberg, the American,
dry of humour, shrewd, resourceful, who bargained like a Vermonter and
sailed a schooner like a Gloucester cod-fisher; and in their company,
as ever inseparable from the other two, came the little colonial,
nicknamed, for occult reasons, “Ally Bazan,” a small, wiry man,
excitable, vociferous, who was without fear, without guile and without
When Hardenberg, who was always spokesman for the Three Crows, had
sent in their names, they were admitted at once to the inner office of
the “President.” The President was an old man, bearded like a prophet,
with a watery blue eye and a forehead wrinkled like an orang's. He
spoke to the Three Crows in the manner of one speaking to friends he
has not seen in some time.
“Well, Mr. Ryder,” began Hardenberg. “We called around to see if you
had anything fer us this morning. I don't mind telling you that we're
at liberty jus' now. Anything doing?”
Ryder fingered his beard distressfully. “Very little, Joe; very
“Got any wrecks?”
“Not a wreck.”
Hardenberg turned to a great map that hung on the wall by Ryder's
desk. It was marked in places by red crosses, against which were
written certain numbers and letters. Hardenberg put his finger on a
small island south of the Marquesas group and demanded: “What might be
H. 33, Mr. President?”
“Pearl Island,” answered the President. “Davidson is on that job.”
“Or H. 125?” Hardenberg indicated a point in the Gilbert group.
“Guano deposits. That's promised.”
“Hallo! You're up in the Aleutians. I make out. 20 A.—what's that?”
“Old government telegraph wire—line abandoned—finest drawn-copper
wire. I've had three boys at that for months.”
“What's 301? This here, off the Mexican coast?”
The President, unable to remember, turned to his one clerk: “Hyers,
what's 301? Isn't that Peterson?”
The clerk ran his finger down a column: “No, sir; 301 is the Whisky
“Ah! So it is. I remember. You remember, too, Joe. Little
schooner, the Tropic Bird—sixty days out from Callao—five
hundred cases of whisky aboard—sunk in squall. It was thirty years
ago. Think of five hundred cases of thirty-year-old whisky! There's
money in that if I can lay my hands on the schooner. Suppose you try
that, you boys—on a twenty per cent. basis. Come now, what do you
“Not for five per cent.,” declared Hardenberg. “How'd we
raise her? How'd we know how deep she lies? Not for Joe. What's the
matter with landing arms down here in Central America for Bocas and his
“I'm out o' that, Joe. Too much competition.”
“What's doing here in Tahiti—No. 88? It ain't lettered.”
Once more the President consulted his books.
“Ah!—88. Here we are. Cache o' illicit pearls. I had it looked up.
Nothing in it.”
“Say, Cap'n!”—Hardenberg's eye had traveled to the upper edge of
the map—“whatever did you strike up here in Alaska? At Point Barrow,
s'elp me Bob! It's 48 B.”
The President stirred uneasily in his place. “Well, I ain't quite
worked that scheme out, Joe. But I smell the deal. There's a Russian
post along there some'eres. Where they catch sea-otters. And the skins
o' sea-otters are selling this very day for seventy dollars at any port
“I s'y,” piped up Ally Bazan, “I knows a bit about that gyme. They's
a bally kind o' Lum-tums among them Chinese as sports those syme skins
on their bally clothes—as a mark o' rank, d'ye see.”
“Have you figured at all on the proposition, Cap'n?” inquired
“There's risk in it, Joe; big risk,” declared the President
nervously. “But I'd only ask fifteen per cent.”
“You have worked out the scheme, then.”
“Well—ah—y'see, there's the risk, and—ah—” Suddenly Ryder leaned
forward, his watery blue eyes glinting: “Boys, it's a jewel.
It's just your kind. I'd a-sent for you, to try on this very scheme, if
you hadn't shown up. You kin have the Bertha Millner—I've a
year's charter o' her from Wilbur—and I'll only ask you fifteen per
cent. of the net profits—net, mind you.”
“I ain't buyin' no dead horse, Cap'n,” returned Hardenberg, “but
I'll say this: we pay no fifteen per cent.”
“Banks and the Ruggles were daft to try it and give me twenty-five.”
“An' where would Banks land the scheme? I know him. You put him on
that German cipher-code job down Honolulu way, an' it cost you about a
thousand before you could pull out. We'll give you seven an' a half.”
“Ten,” declared Ryder, “ten, Joe, at the very least. Why, how much
do you suppose just the stores would cost me? And Point Barrow—why,
Joe, that's right up in the Arctic. I got to run the risk o' you
getting the Bertha smashed in the ice.”
“What do we risk?” retorted Hardenberg; and it was the
monosyllabic Strokher who gave the answer:
“Chokee, by Jove!”
“Ten is fair. It's ten or nothing,” answered Hardenberg.
“Gross, then, Joe. Ten on the gross—or I give the job to the
Ruggles and Banks.”
“Who's your bloomin' agent?” put in Ally Bazan.
“Nickerson. I sent him with Peterson on that Mary Archer
wreck scheme. An' you know what Peterson says of him—didn't give him
no trouble at all. One o' my best men, boys.”
“There have been,” observed Strokher stolidly, “certain stories told
about Nickerson. Not that I wish to seem suspicious, but I put
it to you as man to man.”
“Ay,” exclaimed Ally Bazan. “He was fair nutty once, they tell me.
Threw some kind o' bally fit an' come aout all skew-jee'd in his mind.
Forgot his nyme an' all. I s'y, how abaout him, anyw'y?”
“Boys,” said Ryder, “I'll tell you. Nickerson—yes, I know the yarns
about him. It was this way—y'see, I ain't keeping anything from you,
boys. Two years ago he was a Methody preacher in Santa Clara. Well, he
was what they call a revivalist, and he was holding forth one blazin'
hot day out in the sun when all to once he goes down, flat, an'
don't come round for the better part o' two days. When he wakes up he's
another person; he'd forgot his name, forgot his job, forgot the
whole blamed shooting-match. And he ain't never remembered them
since. The doctors have names for that kind o' thing. It seems it
does happen now and again. Well, he turned to an' began sailoring first
off—soon as the hospitals and medicos were done with him—an' him not
having any friends as you might say, he was let go his own gait. He got
to be third mate of some kind o' dough-dish down Mexico way; and then I
got hold o' him an' took him into the Comp'ny. He's been with me ever
since. He ain't got the faintest kind o' recollection o' his Methody
days, an' believes he's always been a sailorman. Well, that's his
business, ain't it? If he takes my orders an' walks chalk, what do I
care about his Methody game? There, boys, is the origin, history and
development of Slick Dick Nickerson. If you take up this sea-otter deal
and go to Point Barrow, naturally Nick has got to go as owner's agent
and representative of the Comp'ny. But I couldn't send a easier fellow
to get along with. Honest, now, I couldn't. Boys, you think over the
proposition between now and tomorrow an' then come around and let me
And the upshot of the whole matter was that one month later the
Bertha Millner, with Nickerson, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan
on board, cleared from San Francisco, bound—the papers were
beautifully precise—for Seattle and Tacoma with a cargo of general
As a matter of fact, the bulk of her cargo consisted of some odd
hundreds of very fine lumps of rock—which as ballast is cheap by the
ton—and some odd dozen cases of conspicuously labeled champagne.
The Pacific and Oriental Flotation Company made this champagne out
of Rhine wine, effervescent salts, raisins, rock candy and alcohol. It
was from the same stock of wine of which Ryder had sold some thousand
cases to the Coreans the year before.
“Not that I care a curse,” said Strokher, the Englishman. “But I put
it to you squarely that this voyage lacks that certain indescribable
The Bertha Millner was a fortnight out, and the four
adventurers—or, rather, the three adventurers and Nickerson—were lame
in every joint, red-eyed from lack of sleep, half-starved, wholly wet
and unequivocally disgusted. They had had heavy weather from the day
they bade farewell to the whistling buoy off San Francisco Bay until
the moment when even patient, docile, taciturn Strokher had at last—in
his own fashion—rebelled.
“Ain't I a dam' fool? Ain't I a proper lot? Gard strike me if I
don't chuck fer fair after this. Wot'd I come to sea fer—an' this 'ere
go is the worst I ever knew—a baoat no bigger'n a bally
bath-tub, head seas, livin' gyles the clock 'round, wet food, wet
clothes, wet bunks. Caold till, by cricky! I've lost the feel o' mee
feet. An' wat for? For the bloomin' good chanst o' a slug in mee guts.
That's wat for.” At little intervals the little vociferous colonial,
Ally Bazan—he was red-haired and speckled—capered with rage, shaking
But Hardenberg only shifted his cigar to the other corner of his
mouth. He knew Ally Bazan, and knew that the little fellow would have
jeered at the offer of a first-cabin passage back to San Francisco in
the swiftest, surest, steadiest passenger steamer that ever wore paint.
So he remarked: “I ain't ever billed this promenade as a Coney Island
picnic, I guess.”
Nickerson—Slick Dick, the supercargo—was all that Hardenberg, who
captained the schooner, could expect. He never interfered, never
questioned; never protested in the name or interests of the Company
when Hardenberg “hung on” in the bleak, bitter squalls till the
Bertha was rail under and the sails hard as iron.
If it was true that he had once been a Methody revivalist no one, to
quote Alia Bazan, “could a' smelled it off'n him.” He was a
black-bearded, scrawling six-footer, with a voice like a steam siren
and a fist like a sledge. He carried two revolvers, spoke of the
Russians at Point Barrow as the “Boomskys,” and boasted if it came to
that he'd engage to account for two of them, would shove their
heads into their boot-legs and give them the running scrag, by God so
Slowly, laboriously, beset in blinding fogs, swept with, icy rains,
buffeted and mauled and man-handled by the unending assaults of the
sea, the Bertha Millner worked her way northward up that iron
coast—till suddenly she entered an elysium.
Overnight she seemed to have run into it: it was a world of green,
wooded islands, of smooth channels, of warm and steady winds, of
cloudless skies. Coming on deck upon the morning of the Bertha's
first day in this new region, Ally Bazan gazed open-mouthed. Then: “I
s'y!” he yelled. “Hey! By crickey! Look!” He slapped his thighs.
“S'trewth! This is 'eavenly.”
Strokher was smoking his pipe on the hatch combings. “Rather,” he
observed. “An' I put it to you—we've deserved it.”
In the main, however, the northward flitting was uneventful. Every
fifth day Nickerson got drunk—on the Company's Corean champagne. Now
that the weather had sweetened, the Three Black Crows had less to do in
the way of handling and nursing the schooner. Their plans when the
“Boomskys” should be reached were rehearsed over and over again. Then
came spells of card and checker playing, story-telling, or hours of
silent inertia when, man fashion, they brooded over pipes in a patch of
sun, somnolent, the mind empty of all thought.
But at length the air took on a keener tang; there was a bite to the
breeze, the sun lost his savour and the light of him lengthened till
Hardenberg could read off logarithms at ten in the evening. Great-coats
and sweaters were had from the chests, and it was no man's work to reef
when the wind came down from out the north.
Each day now the schooner was drawing nearer the Arctic Circle. At
length snow fell, and two days later they saw their first iceberg.
Hardenberg worked out their position on the chart and bore to the
eastward till he made out the Alaskan coast—a smudge on the horizon.
For another week he kept this in sight, the schooner dodging the bergs
that by now drove by in squadrons, and even bumping and butling through
drift and slush ice.
Seals were plentiful, and Hardenberg and Strokher promptly revived
the quarrel of their respective nations. Once even they slew a mammoth
bull walrus—astray from some northern herd—and played poker for the
tusks. Then suddenly they pulled themselves sharply together, and, as
it were, stood “attention.”
For more than a week the schooner, following the trend of the
far-distant coast, had headed eastward, and now at length, looming out
of the snow and out of the mist, a somber bulwark, black, vast,
ominous, rose the scarps and crags of that which they came so far to
Hardenberg rounded the point, ran in under the lee of the land and
brought out the chart which Ryder had given him. Then he shortened sail
and moved west again till Barrow was “hull down” behind him. To the
north was the Arctic, treacherous, nursing hurricanes, ice-sheathed;
but close aboard, not a quarter of a mile off his counter, stretched a
gray and gloomy land, barren, bleak as a dead planet, inhospitable as
For three days they crawled along the edge keeping their glasses
trained upon every bay, every inlet. Then at length, early one morning,
Ally Bazan, who had been posted at the bows, came scrambling aft to
Hardenberg at the wheel. He was gasping for breath in his excitement.
“Hi! There we are,” he shouted. “O Lord! Oh, I s'y! Now we're in fer
it. That's them! That's them! By the great jumpin' jimminy Christmas,
that's them fer fair! Strike me blind for a bleedin' gutter-cat if it
eyent. O Lord! S'y, I gotta to get drunk. S'y, what-all's the first
jump in the bally game now?”
“Well, the first thing, little man,” observed Hardenberg, “is for
your mother's son to hang the monkey onto the safety-valve. Keep y'r
steam and watch y'r uncle.”
“Scrag the Boomskys,” said Slick Dick encouragingly.
Strokher pulled the left end of his viking mustache with the fingers
of his right hand.
“We must now talk,” he said.
A last conference was held in the cabin, and the various parts of
the comedy rehearsed. Also the three looked to their revolvers.
“Not that I expect a rupture of diplomatic relations,” commented
Strokher; “but if there's any shooting done, as between man and man, I
choose to do it.”
“All understood, then?” asked Hardenberg, looking from face to face.
“There won't be no chance to ask questions once we set foot ashore.”
The others nodded.
It was not difficult to get in with the seven Russian sea-otter
fishermen at the post. Certain of them spoke a macerated English, and
through these Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Nickerson—Strokher remained
on board to look after the schooner—told to the “Boomskys” a
lamentable tale of the reported wreck of a vessel, described by
Hardenberg, with laborious precision, as a steam whaler from San
Francisco—the Tiber by name, bark-rigged, seven hundred tons
burden, Captain Henry Ward Beecher, mate Mr. James Boss Tweed. They,
the visitors, were the officers of the relief-ship on the lookout for
castaways and survivors.
But in the course of these preliminaries it became necessary to
restrain Nickerson—not yet wholly recovered from a recent incursion
into the store of Corean champagne. It presented itself to his
consideration as facetious to indulge (when speaking to the Russians)
in strange and elaborate distortions of speech.
“And she sunk-avitch in a hundred fathom o' water-owski.”
“—All on board-erewski.”
“—hell of dam' bad storm-onavna.”
And he persisted in the idiocy till Hardenberg found an excuse for
taking him aside and cursing him into a realization of his position.
In the end—inevitably—the schooner's company were invited to dine
at the post.
It was a strange affair—a strange scene. The coast, flat, gray,
dreary beyond all power of expression, lonesome as the interstellar
space, and quite as cold, and in all that limitless vastness of the
World's Edge, two specks—the hut, its three windows streaming with
light, and the tiny schooner rocking in the offing. Over all flared the
pallid incandescence of the auroras.
The Company drank steadily, and Strokher, listening from the
schooner's quarterdeck, heard the shouting and the songs faintly above
the wash and lapping under the counter. Two hours had passed since the
moment he guessed that the feast had been laid. A third went by. He
grew uneasy. There was no cessation of the noise of carousing. He even
fancied he heard pistol shots. Then after a long time the noise by
degrees wore down; a long silence followed. The hut seemed deserted;
nothing stirred; another hour went by.
Then at length Strokher saw a figure emerge from the door of the hut
and come down to the shore. It was Hardenberg. Strokher saw him wave
his arm slowly, now to the left, now to the right, and he took down the
wig-wag as follows: “Stand—in—closer—we—have—the—skins.”
During the course of the next few days Strokher heard the different
versions of the affair in the hut over and over again till he knew its
smallest details. He learned how the “Boomskys” fell upon Ryder's
champagne like wolves upon a wounded buck, how they drank it from
“enameled-ware” coffee-cups, from tin dippers, from the bottles
themselves; how at last they even dispensed with the tedium of removing
the corks and knocked off the heads against the table-ledge and drank
from the splintered bottoms; how they quarreled over the lees and
dregs, how ever and always fresh supplies were forthcoming, and how at
last Hardenberg, Ally Bazan and Slick Dick stood up from the table in
the midst of the seven inert bodies; how they ransacked the place for
the priceless furs; how they failed to locate them; how the conviction
grew that this was the wrong place after all, and how at length
Hardenberg discovered the trap-door that admitted to the cellar, where
in the dim light of the uplifted lanterns they saw, corded in tiny
bales and packages, the costliest furs known to commerce.
Ally Bazan had sobbed in his excitement over that vision and did not
regain the power of articulate speech till the “loot” was safely stowed
in the 'tween-decks and Hardenberg had given order to come about.
“Now,” he had observed dryly, “now, lads, it's Hongkong—or bust.”
The tackle had fouled aloft and the jib hung slatting over the sprit
like a collapsed balloon.
“Cast off up there, Nick!” called Hardenberg from the wheel.
Nickerson swung himself into the rigging, crying out in a mincing
voice as, holding to a rope's end, he swung around to face the receding
hut: “By-bye-skevitch. We've had such a charming evening. Do
hope-sky we'll be able to come again-off.” And as he spoke the lurch of
the Bertha twitched his grip from the rope. He fell some thirty
feet to the deck, and his head carromed against an iron cleat with a
“Here's luck,” observed Hardenberg, twelve hours later, when Slick
Dick, sitting on the edge of his bunk, looked stolidly and with fishy
eyes from face to face. “We wa'n't quite short-handed enough, it
“Dotty for fair. Dotty for fair,” exclaimed Ally Bazan; “clean off
'is nut. I s'y, Dick-ol'-chap, wyke-up, naow. Buck up. Buck up. 'Ave a
But Nickerson could only nod his head and murmur: “A few
more—consequently—and a good light——” Then his voice died down to
“We'll have to call at Juneau,” decided Hardenberg two days later.
“I don't figure on navigating this 'ere bath-tub to no Hongkong
whatsoever, with three hands. We gotta pick up a couple o' A.B.'s in
Juneau, if so be we can.”
“How about the loot?” objected Strokher. “If one of those hands gets
between decks he might smell—a sea-otter, now. I put it to you he
“My son,” said Hardenberg, “I've handled A.B.'s before;” and that
settled the question.
During the first part of the run down, Nickerson gloomed silently
over the schooner, looking curiously about him, now at his comrades'
faces, now at the tumbling gray-green seas, now—and this by the
hour—at his own hands. He seemed perplexed, dazed, trying very hard to
get his bearings. But by and by he appeared, little by little, to come
to himself. One day he pointed to the rigging with an unsteady
forefinger, then, laying the same finger doubtfully upon his lips, said
to Strokher: “A ship?”
“Quite so, quite so, me boy.”
“Yes,” muttered Nickerson absently, “a ship—of course.”
Hardenberg expected to make Juneau on a Thursday. Wednesday
afternoon Slick Dick came to him. He seemed never more master of
himself. “How did I come aboard?” he asked.
“What have we been doing?”
“Why, don't you remember?” continued Hardenberg. He outlined the
voyage in detail. “Then you remember,” he went on, “we got up there to
Point Barrow and found where the Russian fellows had their post, where
they caught sea-otters, and we went ashore and got 'em all full and
lifted all the skins they had——”
“'Lifted'? You mean stole them.”
“Come here,” said the other. Encouraged by Nickerson's apparent
convalescence, Hardenberg decided that the concrete evidence of things
done would prove effective. He led him down into the 'tween-decks. “See
now,” he said. “See this packing-case”—he pried up a board—“see these
'ere skins. Take one in y'r hand. Remember how we found 'em all in the
cellar and hyked 'em out while the beggars slept?”
“Stole them? You say we got—that is you did—got
somebody intoxicated and stole their property, and now you are on your
way to dispose of it.”
“Oh, well, if you want to put it thataway. Sure we did.”
“I understand——Well——Let's go back on deck. I want to think this
The Bertha Millner crept into the harbour of Juneau in a fog,
with ships' bells tolling on every side, let go her anchor at last in
desperation and lay up to wait for the lifting. When this came the
Three Crows looked at one another wide-eyed. They made out the drenched
town and the dripping hills behind it. The quays, the custom house, the
one hotel, and the few ships in the harbour. There were a couple of
whalers from 'Frisco, a white, showily painted passenger boat from the
same port, a Norwegian bark, and a freighter from Seattle grimy with
coal-dust. These, however, the Bertha's company ignored. Another
boat claimed all their attention. In the fog they had let go not a
pistol-shot from her anchorage. She lay practically beside them. She
was the United States revenue cutter Bear.
“But so long as they can't smell sea-otter skin,” remarked
Hardenberg, “I don't know that we're any the worse.”
“All the syme,” observed Ally Bazan, “I don't want to lose no
bloomin' tyme a-pecking up aour bloomin' A.B.'s.”
“I'll stay aboard and tend the baby,” said Hardenberg with a wink.
“You two move along ashore and get what you can—Scoovies for choice.
Take Slick Dick with you. I reckon a change o' air might buck him up.”
When the three had gone, Hardenberg, after writing up the painfully
doctored log, set to work to finish a task on which the adventurers had
been engaged in their leisure moments since leaving Point Barrow. This
was the counting and sorting of the skins. The packing-case had been
broken open, and the scanty but precious contents littered an
improvised table in the hold. Pen in hand, Hardenberg counted and
ciphered and counted again. He could not forbear a chuckle when the net
result was reached. The lot of the skins—the pelt of the sea-otter is
ridiculously small in proportion to its value—was no heavy load for
the average man. But Hardenberg knew that once the “loot” was safely
landed at the Hongkong pierhead the Three Crows would share between
them close upon ten thousand dollars. Even—if they had luck, and could
dispose of the skins singly or in small lots—that figure might be
“And I call it a neat turn,” observed Hardenberg. He was aroused by
the noise of hurried feet upon the deck, and there was that in their
sound that brought him upright in a second, hand on hip. Then, after a
second, he jumped out on deck to meet Ally Bazan and Strokher, who had
just scrambled over the rail.
“Bust. B-u-s-t!” remarked the Englishman.
“'Ere's 'ell to pay,” cried Ally Bazan in a hoarse whisper, glancing
over at the revenue cutter.
“Where's Nickerson?” demanded Hardenberg.
“That's it,” answered the colonial. “That's where it's 'ell. Listen
naow. He goes ashore along o' us, quiet and peaceable like, never
battin' a eye, we givin' him a bit o' jolly, y' know, to keep him
chirked up as ye might s'y. But so soon as ever he sets foot on shore,
abaout faice he gaoes, plumb into the Custom's orfice. I s'ys, 'Wot all
naow, messmite? Come along aout o' that.' But he turns on me like a
bloomin' babby an s'ys he: 'Hands orf, wretch!' Ay, them's just his
words. Just like that, 'Hands orf, wretch!' And then he nips into the
orfice an' marches fair up to the desk an' sy's like this—we heerd
him, havin' followed on to the door—he s'ys, just like this:
“'Orfficer, I am a min'ster o' the gospel, o' the Methodis'
denomineye-tion, an' I'm deteyined agin my will along o' a pirate ship
which has robbed certain parties o' val-able goods. Which syme I'm
pre-pared to attest afore a no'try publick, an' lodge informeye-tion o'
crime. An',' s'ys he, 'I demand the protection o' the authorities an'
arsk to be directed to the American consul.'
“S'y, we never wyted to hear no more, but hyked awye hot foot. S'y,
wot all now. Oh, mee Gord! eyen't it a rum gao for fair? S'y, let's get
aout o' here, Hardy, dear.”
“Look there,” said Hardenberg, jerking his head toward the cutter,
“how far'd we get before the customs would 'a' passed the tip to her
and she'd started to overhaul us? That's what they feed her for—to
round up the likes o' us.”
“We got to do something rather soon,” put in Strokher. “Here comes
the custom house dinghy now.”
As a matter of fact, a boat was putting off from the dock. At her
stern fluttered the custom house flag.
“Bitched—bitched for fair!” cried Ally Bazan.
[Illustration: “'ERE'S 'ELL TO PAY!”
From a drawing by Lucius Hitchcock Courtesy of Collier's Weekly.]
“Quick, now!” exclaimed Hardenberg. “On the jump! Overboard with
that loot!—or no. Steady! That won't do. There's that dam' cutter.
They'd see it go. Here!—into the galley. There's a fire in the stove.
Get a move on!”
“Wot!” wailed Ally Bazan. “Burn the little joker. Gord, I can't,
Hardy, I can't. It's agin human nature.”
“You can do time in San Quentin, then, for felony,” retorted
Strokher as he and Hardenberg dashed by him, their arms full of the
skins. “You can do time in San Quentin else. Make your choice. I put it
to you as between man and man.”
With set teeth, and ever and again glancing over the rail at the
oncoming boat, the two fed their fortune to the fire. The pelts,
partially cured and still fatty, blazed like crude oil, the hair
crisping, the hides melting into rivulets of grease. For a minute the
schooner reeked of the smell and a stifling smoke poured from the
galley stack. Then the embers of the fire guttered and a long whiff of
sea wind blew away the reek. A single skin, fallen in the scramble,
still remained on the floor of the galley. Hardenberg snatched it up,
tossed it into the flames and clapped the door to. “Now, let him
squeal,” he declared. “You fellows, when that boat gets here, let me
talk; keep your mouths shut or, by God, we'll all wear stripes.”
The Three Crows watched the boat's approach in a silence broken only
once by a long whimper from Ally Bazan. “An' it was a-workin' out as
lovely as Billy-oh,” he said, “till that syme underbred costermonger's
swipe remembered he was Methody—an' him who, only a few d'ys back,
went raound s'yin' 'scrag the “Boomskys”!' A couple o' thousand pounds
gone as quick as look at it. Oh, I eyn't never goin' to git over this.”
The boat came up and the Three Crows were puzzled to note that no
brass-buttoned personage sat in the stern-sheets, no harbour police
glowered at them from the bow, no officer of the law fixed them with
the eye of suspicion. The boat was manned only by a couple of
freight-handlers in woolen Jerseys, upon the breasts of which were
affixed the two letters “C.H.”
“Say,” called one of the freight-handlers, “is this the Bertha
“Yes,” answered Hardenberg, his voice at a growl. “An' what might
you want with her, my friend?”
“Well, look here,” said the other, “one of your hands came ashore
mad as a coot and broke into the house of the American Consul, and
resisted arrest and raised hell generally. The inspector says you got
to send a provost guard or something ashore to take him off. There's
been several mix-ups among ships' crews lately and the town——”
The tide drifted the boat out of hearing, and Hardenberg sat down on
the capstan head, turning his back to his comrades. There was a long
silence. Then he said:
“Boys, let's go home. I—I want to have a talk with President
THE SHIP THAT SAW A GHOST
Very much of this story must remain untold, for the reason that if
it were definitely known what business I had aboard the tramp
steam-freighter Glarus, three hundred miles off the South
American coast on a certain summer's day, some few years ago, I would
very likely be obliged to answer a great many personal and direct
questions put by fussy and impertinent experts in maritime law—who are
paid to be inquisitive. Also, I would get “Ally Bazan,” Strokher and
Hardenberg into trouble.
Suppose on that certain summer's day, you had asked of Lloyds'
agency where the Glarus was, and what was her destination and
cargo. You would have been told that she was twenty days out from
Callao, bound north to San Francisco in ballast; that she had been
spoken by the bark Medea and the steamer Benevento; that
she was reported to have blown out a cylinder head, but being
manageable was proceeding on her way under sail.
That is what Lloyds would have answered.
If you know something of the ways of ships and what is expected of
them, you will understand that the Glarus, to be some half a
dozen hundred miles south of where Lloyds' would have her, and to be
still going south, under full steam, was a scandal that would have made
her brothers and sisters ostracize her finally and forever.
And that is curious, too. Humans may indulge in vagaries
innumerable, and may go far afield in the way of lying; but a ship may
not so much as quibble without suspicion. The least lapse of
“regularity,” the least difficulty in squaring performance with
intuition, and behold she is on the black list, and her captain,
owners, officers, agents and consignors, and even supercargoes, are
asked to explain.
And the Glarus was already on the black list. From the
beginning her stars had been malign. As the Breda, she had first
lost her reputation, seduced into a filibustering escapade down the
South American coast, where in the end a plain-clothes United States
detective—that is to say, a revenue cutter—arrested her off Buenos
Ayres and brought her home, a prodigal daughter, besmirched and
After that she was in some dreadful black-birding business in a far
quarter of the South Pacific; and after that—her name changed finally
to the Glarus—poached seals for a syndicate of Dutchmen who
lived in Tacoma, and who afterward built a club-house out of what she
And after that we got her.
We got her, I say, through Ryder's South Pacific Exploitation
Company. The “President” had picked out a lovely little deal for
Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan (the Three Black Crows), which he
swore would make them “independent rich” the rest of their respective
lives. It is a promising deal (B. 300 it is on Ryder's map), and if you
want to know more about it you may write to ask Ryder what B. 300 is.
If he chooses to tell you, that is his affair.
For B. 300—let us confess it—is, as Hardenberg puts it, as crooked
as a dog's hind leg. It is as risky as barratry. If you pull it off you
may—after paying Ryder his share—divide sixty-five, or possibly
sixty-seven, thousand dollars between you and your associates. If you
fail, and you are perilously like to fail, you will be sure to have a
man or two of your companions shot, maybe yourself obliged to pistol
certain people, and in the end fetch up at Tahiti, prisoner in a French
Observe that B. 300 is spoken of as still open. It is so, for the
reason that the Three Black Crows did not pull it off. It still stands
marked up in red ink on the map that hangs over Ryder's desk in the San
Francisco office; and any one can have a chance at it who will meet
Cyrus Ryder's terms. Only he can't get the Glarus for the
For the trip to the island after B. 300 was the last occasion on
which the Glarus will smell blue water or taste the trades. She
will never clear again. She is lumber.
And yet the Glarus on this very blessed day of 1902 is riding
to her buoys off Sausalito in San Francisco Bay, complete in every
detail (bar a broken propeller shaft), not a rope missing, not a screw
loose, not a plank started—a perfectly equipped steam-freighter.
But you may go along the “Front” in San Francisco from Fisherman's
Wharf to the China steamships' docks and shake your dollars under the
seamen's noses, and if you so much as whisper Glarus they will
edge suddenly off and look at you with scared suspicion, and then, as
like as not, walk away without another word. No pilot will take the
Glarus out; no captain will navigate her; no stoker will feed her
fires; no sailor will walk her decks. The Glarus is suspect. She
has seen a ghost.
* * * * *
It happened on our voyage to the island after this same B. 300. We
had stood well off from shore for day after day, and Hardenberg had
shaped our course so far from the track of navigation that since the
Benevento had hulled down and vanished over the horizon no stitch
of canvas nor smudge of smoke had we seen. We had passed the equator
long since, and would fetch a long circuit to the southard, and bear up
against the island by a circuitous route. This to avoid being spoken.
It was tremendously essential that the Glarus should not be
I suppose, no doubt, that it was the knowledge of our isolation that
impressed me with the dreadful remoteness of our position. Certainly
the sea in itself looks no different at a thousand than at a hundred
miles from shore. But as day after day I came out on deck at noon,
after ascertaining our position on the chart (a mere pin-point in a
reach of empty paper), the sight of the ocean weighed down upon me with
an infinitely great awesomeness—and I was no new hand to the high seas
But at such times the Glarus seemed to me to be threading a
loneliness beyond all worlds and beyond all conception desolate. Even
in more populous waters, when no sail notches the line of the horizon,
the propinquity of one's kind is nevertheless a thing understood, and
to an unappreciated degree comforting. Here, however, I knew we were
out, far out in the desert. Never a keel for years upon years before us
had parted these waters; never a sail had bellied to these winds.
Perfunctorily, day in and day out we turned our eyes through long habit
toward the horizon. But we knew, before the look, that the searching
would be bootless. Forever and forever, under the pitiless sun and cold
blue sky stretched the indigo of the ocean floor. The ether between the
planets can be no less empty, no less void.
I never, till that moment, could have so much as conceived the
imagination of such loneliness, such utter stagnant abomination of
desolation. In an open boat, bereft of comrades, I should have gone mad
in thirty minutes.
I remember to have approximated the impression of such empty
immensity only once before, in my younger days, when I lay on my back
on a treeless, bushless mountainside and stared up into the sky for the
better part of an hour.
You probably know the trick. If you do not, you must understand that
if you look up at the blue long enough, the flatness of the thing
begins little by little to expand, to give here and there; and the eye
travels on and on and up and up, till at length (well for you that it
lasts but the fraction of a second), you all at once see space. You
generally stop there and cry out, and—your hands over your eyes—are
only too glad to grovel close to the good old solid earth again. Just
as I, so often on short voyage, was glad to wrench my eyes away from
that horrid vacancy, to fasten them upon our sailless masts and stack,
or to lay my grip upon the sooty smudged taffrail of the only thing
that stood between me and the Outer Dark.
For we had come at last to that region of the Great Seas where no
ship goes, the silent sea of Coleridge and the Ancient One, the
unplumbed, untracked, uncharted Dreadfulness, primordial, hushed, and
we were as much alone as a grain of star-dust whirling in the empty
space beyond Uranus and the ken of the greater telescopes.
So the Glarus plodded and churned her way onward. Every day
and all day the same pale-blue sky and the unwinking sun bent over that
moving speck. Every day and all day the same black-blue water-world,
untouched by any known wind, smooth as a slab of syenite, colourful as
an opal, stretched out and around and beyond and before and behind us,
forever, illimitable, empty. Every day the smoke of our fires veiled
the streaked whiteness of our wake. Every day Hardenberg (our skipper)
at noon pricked a pin-hole in the chart that hung in the wheel-house,
and that showed we were so much farther into the wilderness. Every day
the world of men, of civilization, of newspapers, policemen and
street-railways receded, and we steamed on alone, lost and forgotten in
that silent sea.
“Jolly lot o' room to turn raound in,” observed Ally Bazan, the
colonial, “withaout steppin' on y'r neighbour's toes.”
“We're clean, clean out o' the track o' navigation,” Hardenberg told
him. “An' a blessed good thing for us, too. Nobody ever comes down into
these waters. Ye couldn't pick no course here. Everything leads to
“Might as well be in a bally balloon,” said Strokher.
I shall not tell of the nature of the venture on which the Glarus
was bound, further than to say it was not legitimate. It had to do with
an ill thing done more than two centuries ago. There was money in the
venture, but it was not to be gained by a violation of metes and bounds
which are better left intact.
The island toward which we were heading is associated in the minds
of men with a Horror.
A ship had called there once, two hundred years in advance of the
Glarus—a ship not much unlike the crank high-prowed caravel of
Hudson, and her company had landed, and having accomplished the evil
they had set out to do, made shift to sail away. And then, just after
the palms of the island had sunk from sight below the water's edge, the
unspeakable had happened. The Death that was not Death had arisen from
out the sea and stood before the ship, and over it, and the blight of
the thing lay along the decks like mould, and the ship sweated in the
terror of that which is yet without a name.
Twenty men died in the first week, all but six in the second. These
six, with the shadow of insanity upon them, made out to launch a boat,
returned to the island and died there, after leaving a record of what
The six left the ship exactly as she was, sails all set, lanterns
all lit—left her in the shadow of the Death that was not Death.
She stood there, becalmed, and watched them go. She was never heard
Or was she—well, that's as may be.
But the main point of the whole affair, to my notion, has always
been this. The ship was the last friend of those six poor wretches who
made back for the island with their poor chests of plunder. She was
their guardian, as it were, would have defended and befriended them to
the last; and also we, the Three Black Crows and myself, had no right
under heaven, nor before the law of men, to come prying and peeping
into this business—into this affair of the dead and buried past. There
was sacrilege in it. We were no better than body-snatchers.
* * * * *
When I heard the others complaining of the loneliness of our
surroundings, I said nothing at first. I was no sailor man, and I was
on board only by tolerance. But I looked again at the maddening
sameness of the horizon—the same vacant, void horizon that we had seen
now for sixteen days on end, and felt in my wits and in my nerves that
same formless rebellion and protest such as comes when the same note is
reiterated over and over again.
It may seem a little thing that the mere fact of meeting with no
other ship should have ground down the edge of the spirit. But let the
incredulous—bound upon such a hazard as ours—sail straight into
nothingness for sixteen days on end, seeing nothing but the sun,
hearing nothing but the thresh of his own screw, and then put the
And yet, of all things, we desired no company. Stealth was our one
great aim. But I think there were moments—toward the last—when the
Three Crows would have welcomed even a cruiser.
Besides, there was more cause for depression, after all, than mere
On the seventh day Hardenberg and I were forward by the cat-head,
adjusting the grain with some half-formed intent of spearing the
porpoises that of late had begun to appear under our bows, and
Hardenberg had been computing the number of days we were yet to run.
“We are some five hundred odd miles off that island by now,” he
said, “and she's doing her thirteen knots handsome. All's well so
far—but do you know, I'd just as soon raise that point o' land as soon
“How so?” said I, bending on the line. “Expect some weather?”
“Mr. Dixon,” said he, giving me a curious glance, “the sea is a
queer proposition, put it any ways. I've been a seafarin' man since I
was big as a minute, and I know the sea, and what's more, the Feel o'
the sea. Now, look out yonder. Nothin', hey? Nothin' but the same ol'
skyline we've watched all the way out. The glass is as steady as a
steeple, and this ol' hooker, I reckon, is as sound as the day she went
off the ways. But just the same if I were to home now, a-foolin' about
Gloucester way in my little dough-dish—d'ye know what? I'd put into
port. I sure would. Because why? Because I got the Feel o' the Sea, Mr.
Dixon. I got the Feel o' the Sea.”
I had heard old skippers say something of this before, and I cited
to Hardenberg the experience of a skipper captain I once knew who had
turned turtle in a calm sea off Trincomalee. I ask him what this Feel
of the Sea was warning him against just now (for on the high sea any
premonition is a premonition of evil, not of good). But he was not
“I don't know,” he answered moodily, and as if in great perplexity,
coiling the rope as he spoke. “I don't know. There's some blame thing
or other close to us, I'll bet a hat. I don't know the name of it, but
there's a big Bird in the air, just out of sight som'eres, and,” he
suddenly exclaimed, smacking his knee and leaning forward,
The same thing came up in our talk in the cabin that night, after
the dinner was taken off and we settled down to tobacco. Only, at this
time, Hardenberg was on duty on the bridge. It was Ally Bazan who spoke
“Seems to me,” he hazarded, “as haow they's somethin' or other
a-goin' to bump up pretty blyme soon. I shouldn't be surprised, naow,
y'know, if we piled her up on some bally uncharted reef along o'
to-night and went strite daown afore we'd had a bloomin' charnce to s'y
'So long, gen'lemen all.'“
He laughed as he spoke, but when, just at that moment, a pan
clattered in the galley, he jumped suddenly with an oath, and looked
hard about the cabin.
Then Strokher confessed to a sense of distress also. He'd been
having it since day before yesterday, it seemed.
“And I put it to you the glass is lovely,” he said, “so it's no
blow. I guess,” he continued, “we're all a bit seedy and ship-sore.”
And whether or not this talk worked upon my own nerves, or whether
in very truth the Feel of the Sea had found me also, I do not know; but
I do know that after dinner that night, just before going to bed, a
queer sense of apprehension came upon me, and that when I had come to
my stateroom, after my turn upon deck, I became furiously angry with
nobody in particular, because I could not at once find the matches. But
here was a difference. The other man had been merely vaguely
I could put a name to my uneasiness. I felt that we were being
* * * * *
It was a strange ship's company we made after that. I speak only of
the Crows and myself. We carried a scant crew of stokers, and there was
also a chief engineer. But we saw so little of him that he did not
count. The Crows and I gloomed on the quarterdeck from dawn to dark,
silent, irritable, working upon each other's nerves till the creak of a
block would make a man jump like cold steel laid to his flesh. We
quarreled over absolute nothings, glowered at each other for half a
word, and each one of us, at different times, was at some pains to
declare that never in the course of his career had he been associated
with such a disagreeable trio of brutes. Yet we were always together,
and sought each other's company with painful insistence.
Only once were we all agreed, and that was when the cook, a
Chinaman, spoiled a certain batch of biscuits. Unanimously we fell foul
of the creature with so much vociferation as fishwives till he fled the
cabin in actual fear of mishandling, leaving us suddenly seized with
noisy hilarity—for the first time in a week. Hardenberg proposed a
round of drinks from our single remaining case of beer. We stood up and
formed an Elk's chain and then drained our glasses to each other's
health with profound seriousness.
That same evening, I remember, we all sat on the quarterdeck till
late and—oddly enough—related each one his life's history up to date;
and then went down to the cabin for a game of euchre before turning in.
We had left Strokher on the bridge—it was his watch—and had
forgotten all about him in the interest of the game, when—I suppose it
was about one in the morning—I heard him whistle long and shrill. I
laid down my cards and said:
In the silence that followed we heard at first only the muffled lope
of our engines, the cadenced snorting of the exhaust, and the ticking
of Hardenberg's big watch in his waistcoat that he had hung by the
arm-hole to the back of his chair. Then from the bridge, above our
deck, prolonged, intoned—a wailing cry in the night—came Strokher's
And the cards fell from our hands, and, like men turned to stone, we
sat looking at each other across the soiled red cloth for what seemed
an immeasurably long minute.
Then stumbling and swearing, in a hysteria of hurry, we gained the
There was a moon, very low and reddish, but no wind. The sea beyond
the taffrail was as smooth as lava, and so still that the swells from
the cutwater of the Glarus did not break as they rolled away
from the bows.
I remember that I stood staring and blinking at the empty
ocean—where the moonlight lay like a painted stripe reaching to the
horizon—stupid and frowning, till Hardenberg, who had gone on ahead,
“Not here—on the bridge!”
We joined Strokher, and as I came up the others were asking:
And there, before he had pointed, I saw—we all of us saw—And I
heard Hardenberg's teeth come together like a spring trap, while Ally
Bazan ducked as though to a blow, muttering:
“Gord 'a' mercy, what nyme do ye put to' a ship like that?”
And after that no one spoke for a long minute, and we stood there,
moveless black shadows, huddled together for the sake of the blessed
elbow touch that means so incalculably much, looking off over our port
For the ship that we saw there—oh, she was not a half-mile
distant—was unlike any ship known to present day construction.
She was short, and high-pooped, and her stern, which was turned a
little toward us, we could see, was set with curious windows, not
unlike a house. And on either side of this stern were two great iron
cressets such as once were used to burn signal-fires in. She had three
masts with mighty yards swung 'thwart ship, but bare of all sails save
a few rotting streamers. Here and there about her a tangled mass of
rigging drooped and sagged.
And there she lay, in the red eye of the setting moon, in that
solitary ocean, shadowy, antique, forlorn, a thing the most abandoned,
the most sinister I ever remember to have seen.
Then Strokher began to explain volubly and with many repetitions.
“A derelict, of course. I was asleep; yes, I was asleep. Gross
neglect of duty. I say I was asleep—on watch. And we worked up to her.
When I woke, why—you see, when I woke, there she was,” he gave a weak
little laugh, “and—and now, why, there she is, you see. I turned
around and saw her sudden like—when I woke up, that is.”
He laughed again, and as he laughed the engines far below our feet
gave a sudden hiccough. Something crashed and struck the ship's sides
till we lurched as we stood. There was a shriek of steam, a shout—and
The noise of the machinery ceased; the Glarus slid through
the still water, moving only by her own decreasing momentum.
Hardenberg sang, “Stand by!” and called down the tube to the
I was standing close enough to him to hear the answer in a small,
“Shaft gone, sir.”
Hardenberg faced about.
“Come below. We must talk.” I do not think any of us cast a glance
at the Other Ship again. Certainly I kept my eyes away from her. But as
we started down the companion-way I laid my hand on Strokher's
shoulder. The rest were ahead. I looked him straight between the eyes
as I asked:
“Were you asleep? Is that why you saw her so suddenly?”
It is now five years since I asked the question. I am still waiting
for Strokher's answer.
Well, our shaft was broken. That was flat. We went down into the
engine-room and saw the jagged fracture that was the symbol of our
broken hopes. And in the course of the next five minutes' conversation
with the chief we found that, as we had not provided against such a
contingency, there was to be no mending of it. We said nothing about
the mishap coinciding with the appearance of the Other Ship. But I know
we did not consider the break with any degree of surprise after a few
We came up from the engine-room and sat down to the cabin table.
“Now what?” said Hardenberg, by way of beginning.
Nobody answered at first.
It was by now three in the morning. I recall it all perfectly. The
ports opposite where I sat were open and I could see. The moon was all
but full set. The dawn was coming up with a copper murkiness over the
edge of the world. All the stars were yet out. The sea, for all the red
moon and copper dawn, was gray, and there, less than half a mile away,
still lay our consort. I could see her through the portholes with each
slow careening of the Glarus.
“I vote for the island,” cried Ally Bazan, “shaft or no shaft. We
rigs a bit o' syle, y'know——” and thereat the discussion began.
For upward of two hours it raged, with loud words and shaken
forefingers, and great noisy bangings of the table, and how it would
have ended I do not know, but at last—it was then maybe five in the
morning—the lookout passed word down to the cabin:
“Will you come on deck, gentlemen?” It was the mate who spoke, and
the man was shaken—I could see that—to the very vitals of him. We
started and stared at one another, and I watched little Ally Bazan go
slowly white to the lips. And even then no word of the ship, except as
it might be this from Hardenberg:
“What is it? Good God Almighty, I'm no coward, but this thing is
getting one too many for me.”
Then without further speech he went on deck.
The air was cool. The sun was not yet up. It was that strange, queer
mid-period between dark and dawn, when the night is over and the day
not yet come, just the gray that is neither light nor dark, the dim
dead blink as of the refracted light from extinct worlds.
We stood at the rail. We did not speak; we stood watching. It was so
still that the drip of steam from some loosened pipe far below was
plainly audible, and it sounded in that lifeless, silent grayness
like—God knows what—a death tick.
“You see,” said the mate, speaking just above a whisper, “there's no
mistake about it. She is moving—this way.”
“Oh, a current, of course,” Strokher tried to say cheerfully, “sets
her toward us.”
Would the morning never come?
Ally Bazan—his parents were Catholic—began to mutter to himself.
Then Hardenberg spoke aloud.
“I particularly don't want—that—out—there—to cross our bows. I
don't want it to come to that. We must get some sails on her.”
“And I put it to you as man to man,” said Strokher, “where might be
He was right. The Glarus floated in absolute calm. On all
that slab of ocean nothing moved but the Dead Ship.
She came on slowly; her bows, the high, clumsy bows pointed toward
us, the water turning from her forefoot. She came on; she was near at
hand. We saw her plainly—saw the rotted planks, the crumbling rigging,
the rust-corroded metal-work, the broken rail, the gaping deck, and I
could imagine that the clean water broke away from her sides in
refluent wavelets as though in recoil from a thing unclean. She made no
sound. No single thing stirred aboard the hulk of her—but she moved.
We were helpless. The Glarus could stir no boat in any
direction; we were chained to the spot. Nobody had thought to put out
our lights, and they still burned on through the dawn, strangely out of
place in their red-and-green garishness, like maskers surprised by
And in the silence of that empty ocean, in that queer half-light
between dawn and day, at six o'clock, silent as the settling of the
dead to the bottomless bottom of the ocean, gray as fog, lonely, blind,
soulless, voiceless, the Dead Ship crossed our bows.
I do not know how long after this the Ship disappeared, or what was
the time of day when we at last pulled ourselves together. But we came
to some sort of decision at last. This was to go on—under sail. We
were too close to the island now to turn back for—for a broken shaft.
The afternoon was spent fitting on the sails to her, and when after
nightfall the wind at length came up fresh and favourable, I believe we
all felt heartened and a deal more hardy—until the last canvas went
aloft, and Hardenberg took the wheel.
We had drifted a good deal since the morning, and the bows of the
Glarus were pointed homeward, but as soon as the breeze blew strong
enough to get steerageway Hardenberg put the wheel over and, as the
booms swung across the deck, headed for the island again.
We had not gone on this course half an hour—no, not twenty
minutes—before the wind shifted a whole quarter of the compass and
took the Glarus square in the teeth, so that there was nothing
for it but to tack. And then the strangest thing befell.
I will make allowance for the fact that there was no centre-board
nor keel to speak of to the Glarus. I will admit that the sails
upon a nine-hundred-ton freighter are not calculated to speed her, nor
steady her. I will even admit the possibility of a current that set
from the island toward us. All this may be true, yet the Glarus
should have advanced. We should have made a wake.
And instead of this, our stolid, steady, trusty old boat was—what
shall I say?
I will say that no man may thoroughly understand a ship—after all.
I will say that new ships are cranky and unsteady; that old and
seasoned ships have their little crochets, their little fussinesses
that their skippers must learn and humour if they are to get anything
out of them; that even the best ships may sulk at times, shirk their
work, grow unstable, perverse, and refuse to answer helm and handling.
And I will say that some ships that for years have sailed blue water as
soberly and as docilely as a street-car horse has plodded the treadmill
of the 'tween-tracks, have been known to balk, as stubbornly and as
conclusively as any old Bay Billy that ever wore a bell. I know this
has happened, because I have seen it. I saw, for instance, the
Glarus do it.
Quite literally and truly we could do nothing with her. We will say,
if you like, that that great jar and wrench when the shaft gave way
shook her and crippled her. It is true, however, that whatever the
cause may have been, we could not force her toward the island. Of
course, we all said “current”; but why didn't the log-line trail?
For three days and three nights we tried it. And the Glarus
heaved and plunged and shook herself just as you have seen a horse
plunge and rear when his rider tries to force him at the steam-roller.
I tell you I could feel the fabric of her tremble and shudder from
bow to stern-post, as though she were in a storm; I tell you she fell
off from the wind, and broad-on drifted back from her course till the
sensation of her shrinking was as plain as her own staring lights and a
thing pitiful to see.
We roweled her, and we crowded sail upon her, and we coaxed and
bullied and humoured her, till the Three Crows, their fortune only a
plain sail two days ahead, raved and swore like insensate brutes, or
shall we say like mahouts trying to drive their stricken elephant upon
the tiger—and all to no purpose. “Damn the damned current and the
damned luck and the damned shaft and all,” Hardenberg would exclaim, as
from the wheel he would catch the Glarus falling off. “Go on,
you old hooker—you tub of junk! My God, you'd think she was scared!”
Perhaps the Glarus was scared, perhaps not; that point is
debatable. But it was beyond doubt of debate that Hardenberg was
A ship that will not obey is only one degree less terrible than a
mutinous crew. And we were in a fair way to have both. The stokers,
whom we had impressed into duty as A.B.'s, were of course
superstitious; and they knew how the Glarus was acting, and it
was only a question of time before they got out of hand.
That was the end. We held a final conference in the cabin and
decided that there was no help for it—we must turn back.
And back we accordingly turned, and at once the wind followed us,
and the “current” helped us, and the water churned under the forefoot
of the Glarus, and the wake whitened under her stern, and the
log-line ran out from the trail and strained back as the ship worked
We had never a mishap from the time we finally swung her about; and,
considering the circumstances, the voyage back to San Francisco was
But an incident happened just after we had started back. We were
perhaps some five miles on the homeward track. It was early evening and
Strokher had the watch. At about seven o'clock he called me up on the
“See her?” he said.
And there, far behind us, in the shadow of the twilight, loomed the
Other Ship again, desolate, lonely beyond words. We were leaving her
rapidly astern. Strokher and I stood looking at her till she dwindled
to a dot. Then Strokher said:
“She's on post again.”
And when months afterward we limped into the Golden Gate and cast
anchor off the “Front” our crew went ashore as soon as discharged, and
in half a dozen hours the legend was in every sailors' boarding-house
and in every seaman's dive, from Barbary Coast to Black Tom's.
It is still there, and that is why no pilot will take the Glarus
out, no captain will navigate her, no stoker feed her fires, no sailor
walk her decks. The Glarus is suspect. She will never smell blue
water again, nor taste the trades. She has seen a Ghost.
THE GHOST IN THE CROSSTREES
Cyrus Ryder, the President of the South Pacific Exploitation
Company, had at last got hold of a “proposition”—all Ryder's schemes
were, in his vernacular, “propositions”—that was not only profitable
beyond precedent or belief, but that also was, wonderful to say, more
or less legitimate. He had got an “island.” He had not discovered it.
Ryder had not felt a deck under his shoes for twenty years other than
the promenade deck of the ferry-boat San Rafael, that takes him
home to Berkeley every evening after “business hours.” He had not
discovered it, but “Old Rosemary,” captain of the barkentine
Scottish Chief, of Blyth, had done that very thing, and, dying
before he was able to perfect the title, had made over his interest in
it to his best friend and old comrade, Cyrus Ryder.
“Old Rosemary,” I am told, first landed on the island—it is called
Paa—in the later '60's.
He established its location and took its latitude and longitude, but
as minutes and degrees mean nothing to the lay reader, let it be said
that the Island of Paa lies just below the equator, some 200 miles west
of the Gilberts and 1,600 miles due east from Brisbane, in Australia.
It is six miles long, three wide, and because of the prevailing winds
and precipitous character of the coast can only be approached from the
west during December and January.
“Old Rosemary” landed on the island, raised the American flag, had
the crew witness the document by virtue of which he made himself the
possessor, and then, returning to San Francisco, forwarded to the
Secretary of State, at Washington, application for title. This was
withheld till it could be shown that no other nation had a prior claim.
While “Old Rosemary” was working out the proof, he died, and the whole
matter was left in abeyance till Cyrus Ryder took it up. By then there
was a new Secretary in Washington and times were changed, so that the
Government of Ryder's native land was not so averse toward acquiring
Eastern possessions. The Secretary of State wrote to Ryder to say that
the application would be granted upon furnishing a bond for $50,000;
and you may believe that the bond was forthcoming.
For in the first report upon Paa, “Old Rosemary” had used the magic
He averred, and his crew attested over their sworn statements, that
Paa was covered to an average depth of six feet with the stuff, so that
this last and biggest of “Cy” Ryder's propositions was a vast slab of
an extremely marketable product six feet thick, three miles wide and
six miles long.
But no sooner had the title been granted when there came a
dislocation in the proceedings that until then had been going forward
so smoothly. Ryder called the Three Black Crows to him at this
juncture, one certain afternoon in the month of April. They were his
best agents. The plums that the “Company” had at its disposal generally
went to the trio, and if any man could “put through” a dangerous and
desperate piece of work, Strokher, Hardenberg and Ally Bazan were those
Of late they had been unlucky, and the affair of the contraband
arms, which had ended in failure of cataclysmic proportions, yet
rankled in Ryder's memory, but he had no one else to whom he could
intrust the present proposition and he still believed Hardenberg to be
the best boss on his list.
If Paa was to be fought for, Hardenberg, backed by Strokher and Ally
Bazan, was the man of all men for the job, for it looked as though
Ryder would not get the Island of Paa without a fight after all, and
nitrate beds were worth fighting for.
“You see, boys, it's this way,” Ryder explained to the three as they
sat around the spavined table in the grimy back room of Ryder's
“office.” “It's this way. There's a scoovy after Paa, I'm told; he says
he was there before 'Rosemary,' which is a lie, and that his Gov'ment
has given him title. He's got a kind of dough-dish up Portland way and
starts for Paa as soon as ever he kin fit out. He's got no title, in
course, but if he gits there afore we do and takes possession it'll
take fifty years o' lawing an' injunctioning to git him off. So hustle
is the word for you from the word 'go.' We got a good start o' the
scoovy. He can't put to sea within a week, while over yonder in Oakland
Basin there's the Idaho Lass, as good a schooner, boys, as ever
wore paint, all ready but to fit her new sails on her. Ye kin do it in
less than no time. The stores will be goin' into her while ye're
workin', and within the week I expect to see the Idaho Lass
showing her heels to the Presidio. You see the point now, boys. If ye
beat the scoovy—his name is Petersen, and his boat is called the
Elftruda—we're to the wind'ard of a pretty pot o' money. If he
gets away before you do—well, there's no telling; we prob'ly lose the
About ten days before the morning set for their departure I went
over to the Oakland Basin to see how the Three Black Crows were getting
Hardenberg welcomed me as my boat bumped alongside, and extending a
great tarry paw, hauled me over the rail. The schooner was a wilderness
of confusion, with the sails covering, apparently, nine-tenths of the
decks, the remaining tenth encumbered by spars, cordage, tangled
rigging, chains, cables and the like, all helter-skeltered together in
such a haze of entanglements that my heart misgave me as I looked on
it. Surely order would not issue from this chaos in four days' time
with only three men to speed the work.
But Hardenberg was reassuring, and little Ally Bazan, the colonial,
told me they would “snatch her shipshape in the shorter end o' two
days, if so be they must.”
I stayed with the Three Crows all that day and shared their dinner
with them on the quarterdeck when, wearied to death with the strain of
wrestling with the slatting canvas and ponderous boom, they at last
threw themselves upon the hamper of “cold snack” I had brought off with
me and pledged the success of the venture in tin dippers full of
“And I'm thinking,” said Ally Bazan, “as 'ow ye might as well turn
in along o' us on board 'ere, instead o' hykin' back to town to-night.
There's a fairish set o' currents up and daown 'ere about this time o'
dye, and ye'd find it a stiff bit o' rowing.”
“We'll sling a hammick for you on the quarterdeck, m'son,” urged
And so it happened that I passed my first night aboard the Idaho
We turned in early. The Three Crows were very tired, and only Ally
Bazan and I were left awake at the time when we saw the 8:30 ferryboat
negotiating for her slip on the Oakland side. Then we also went to bed.
And now it becomes necessary, for a better understanding of what is
to follow, to mention with some degree of particularization the places
and manners in which my three friends elected to take their sleep, as
well as the condition and berth of the schooner Idaho Lass.
Hardenberg slept upon the quarterdeck, rolled up in an army blanket
and a tarpaulin. Strokher turned in below in the cabin upon the fixed
lounge by the dining-table, while Ally Bazan stretched himself in one
of the bunks in the fo'c's'le.
As for the location of the schooner, she lay out in the stream, some
three or four cables' length off the yards and docks of a ship-building
concern. No other ship or boat of any description was anchored nearer
than at least 300 yards. She was a fine, roomy vessel, three-masted,
about 150 feet in length overall. She lay head up stream, and from
where I lay by Hardenberg on the quarterdeck I could see her tops
sharply outlined against the sky above the Golden Gate before I went to
I suppose it was very early in the morning—nearer two than
three—when I awoke. Some movement on the part of Hardenberg—as I
afterward found out—had aroused me. But I lay inert for a long minute
trying to find out why I was not in my own bed, in my own home, and to
account for the rushing, rippling sound of the tide eddies sucking and
chuckling around the Lass's rudder-post.
Then I became aware that Hardenberg was awake. I lay in my hammock,
facing the stern of the schooner, and as Hardenberg had made up his bed
between me and the wheel he was directly in my line of vision when I
opened my eyes, and I could see him without any other movement than
that of raising the eyelids. Just now, as I drifted more and more into
wakefulness, I grew proportionately puzzled and perplexed to account
for a singularly strange demeanour and conduct on the part of my
He was sitting up in his place, his knees drawn up under the
blanket, one arm thrown around both, the hand of the other arm resting
on the neck and supporting the weight of his body. He was broad awake.
I could see the green shine of our riding lantern in his wide-open
eyes, and from time to time I could hear him muttering to himself,
“What is it? What is it? What the devil is it, anyhow?” But it was not
his attitude, nor the fact of his being so broad awake at the
unseasonable hour, nor yet his unaccountable words, that puzzled me the
most. It was the man's eyes and the direction in which they looked that
His gaze was directed not upon anything on the deck of the boat, nor
upon the surface of the water near it, but upon something behind me and
at a great height in the air. I was not long in getting myself broad
I rolled out on the deck and crossed over to where Hardenberg sat
huddled in his blankets.
“What the devil—” I began.
He jumped suddenly at the sound of my voice, then raised an arm and
pointed toward the top of the foremast.
“D'ye see it?” he muttered. “Say, huh? D'ye see it? I thought I saw
it last night, but I wasn't sure. But there's no mistake now. D'ye see
it, Mr. Dixon?”
I looked where he pointed. The schooner was riding easily to anchor,
the surface of the bay was calm, but overhead the high white sea-fog
was rolling in. Against it the foremast stood out like the hand of an
illuminated town clock, and not a detail of its rigging that was not as
distinct as if etched against the sky.
And yet I saw nothing.
“Where?” I demanded, and again and again “where?”
“In the crosstrees,” whispered Hardenberg. “Ah, look there.”
He was right. Something was stirring there, something that I had
mistaken for the furled tops'l. At first it was but a formless bundle,
but as Hardenberg spoke it stretched itself, it grew upright, it
assumed an erect attitude, it took the outlines of a human being. From
head to heel a casing housed it in, a casing that might have been
anything at that hour of the night and in that strange place—a shroud,
if you like, a winding-sheet—anything; and it is without shame that I
confess to a creep of the most disagreeable sensation I have ever known
as I stood at Hardenberg's side on that still, foggy night and watched
the stirring of that nameless, formless shape standing gaunt and tall
and grisly and wrapped in its winding-sheet upon the crosstrees of the
foremast of the Idaho Lass.
We watched and waited breathless for an instant. Then the creature
on the foremast laid a hand upon the lashings of the tops'l and undid
them. Then it turned, slid to the deck by I know not what strange
process, and, still hooded, still shrouded, still lapped about by its
mummy-wrappings, seized a rope's end. In an instant the jib was set and
stood on hard and billowing against the night wind. The tops'l
followed. Then the figure moved forward and passed behind the
companionway of the fo'c's'le.
We looked for it to appear upon the other side, but looked in vain.
We saw it no more that night.
What Hardenberg and I told each other between the time of the
disappearing and the hour of breakfast I am now ashamed to recall. But
at last we agreed to say nothing to the others—for the time being.
Just after breakfast, however, we two had a few words by the wheel on
the quarterdeck. Ally Bazan and Strokher were forward.
“The proper thing to do,” said I—it was a glorious, exhilarating
morning, and the sunlight was flooding every angle and corner of the
schooner—“the proper thing to do is to sleep on deck by the foremast
to-night with our pistols handy and interview the—party if it walks
“Oh, yes,” cried Hardenberg heartily. “Oh, yes; that's the proper
thing. Of course it is. No manner o' doubt about that, Mr. Dixon. Watch
for the party—yes, with pistols. Of course it's the proper thing. But
I know one man that ain't going to do no such thing.”
“Well,” I remember to have said reflectively, “well—I guess I know
But for all our resolutions to say nothing to the others about the
night's occurrences, we forgot that the tops'l and jib were both set
and both drawing.
“An' w'at might be the bloomin' notion o' setting the bloomin' kite
and jib?” demanded Ally Bazan not half an hour after breakfast.
Shamelessly Hardenberg, at a loss for an answer, feigned an interest in
the grummets of the life-boat cover and left me to lie as best I might.
But it is not easy to explain why one should raise the sails of an
anchored ship during the night, and Ally Bazan grew very suspicious.
Strokher, too, had something to say, and in the end the whole matter
Trust a sailor to give full value to anything savouring of the
supernatural. Strokher promptly voted the ship a “queer old hooker
anyhow, and about as seaworthy as a hen-coop.” He held forth at great
length upon the subject.
“You mark my words, now,” he said. “There's been some fishy doin's
in this 'ere vessel, and it's like somebody done to death crool hard,
an' 'e wants to git away from the smell o' land, just like them as is
killed on blue water. That's w'y 'e takes an' sets the sails between
dark an' dawn.”
But Ally Bazan was thoroughly and wholly upset, so much so that at
first he could not speak. He went pale and paler while we stood talking
it over, and crossed himself—he was a Catholic—furtively behind the
“I ain't never 'a' been keen on ha'nts anyhow, Mr. Dixon,” he told
me aggrievedly at dinner that evening. “I got no use for 'em. I ain't
never known any good to come o' anything with a ha'nt tagged to it, an'
we're makin' a ill beginnin' o' this island business, Mr. Dixon—a
blyme ill beginnin'. I mean to stye awyke to-night.”
But if he was awake the little colonial was keeping close to his
bunk at the time when Strokher and Hardenberg woke me at about three in
I rolled out and joined them on the quarterdeck and stood beside
them watching. The same figure again towered, as before, gray and
ominous in the crosstrees. As before, it set the tops'l; as before, it
came down to the deck and raised the jib; as before, it passed out of
sight amid the confusion of the forward deck.
But this time we all ran toward where we last had seen it, stumbling
over the encumbered decks, jostling and tripping, but keeping
wonderfully close together. It was not twenty seconds from the time the
creature had disappeared before we stood panting upon the exact spot we
had last seen it. We searched every corner of the forward deck in vain.
We looked over the side. The moon was up. This night there was no fog.
We could see for miles each side of us, but never a trace of a boat was
visible, and it was impossible that any swimmer could have escaped the
merciless scrutiny to which we subjected the waters of the bay in every
Hardenberg and I dived down into the fo'c's'le. Ally Bazan was sound
asleep in his bunk and woke stammering, blinking and bewildered by the
lantern we carried.
“I sye,” he cried, all at once scrambling up and clawing at our
arms, “D'd the bally ha'nt show up agyne?” And as we nodded he went on
more aggrievedly than ever—“Oh, I sye, y' know, I daon't like this. I
eyen't shipping in no bloomin' 'ooker wot carries a ha'nt for
supercargo. They waon't no good come o' this cruise—no, they waon't.
It's a sign, that's wot it is. I eyen't goin' to buck again no
signs—it eyen't human nature, no it eyen't. You mark my words, 'Bud'
Hardenberg, we clear this port with a ship wot has a ha'nt an' we
waon't never come back agyne, my hearty.”
That night he berthed aft with us on the quarterdeck, but though we
stood watch and watch till well into the dawn, nothing stirred about
the foremast. So it was the next night, and so the night after that.
When three successive days had passed without any manifestation the
keen edge of the business became a little blunted and we declared that
an end had been made.
Ally Bazan returned to his bunk in the fo'c's'le on the fourth
night, and the rest of us slept the hours through unconcernedly.
But in the morning there were the jib and tops'l set and drawing as
After this we began experimenting—on Ally Bazan. We bunked him
forward and we bunked him aft, for some one had pointed out that the
“ha'nt” walked only at the times when the colonial slept in the
fo'c's'le. We found this to be true. Let the little fellow watch on the
quarterdeck with us and the night passed without disturbance. As soon
as he took up his quarters forward the haunting recommenced.
Furthermore, it began to appear that the “ha'nt” carefully refrained
from appearing to him. He of us all had never seen the thing. He of us
all was spared the chills and the harrowings that laid hold upon the
rest of us during these still gray hours after midnight when we huddled
on the deck of the Idaho Lass and watched the sheeted apparition
in the rigging; for by now there was no more charging forward in
attempts to run the ghost down. We had passed that stage long since.
But so far from rejoicing in this immunity or drawing courage
therefrom, Ally Bazan filled the air with his fears and expostulations.
Just the fact that he was in some way differentiated from the
others—that he was singled out, if only for exemption—worked upon
him. And that he was unable to scale his terrors by actual sight of
their object excited them all the more.
And there issued from this a curious consequence. He, the very one
who had never seen the haunting, was also the very one to unsettle what
little common sense yet remained to Hardenberg and Strokher. He never
allowed the subject to be ignored—never lost an opportunity of
referring to the doom that o'erhung the vessel. By the hour he poured
into the ears of his friends lugubrious tales of ships, warned as this
one was, that had cleared from port, never to be seen again. He
recalled to their minds parallel incidents that they themselves had
heard; he foretold the fate of the Idaho Lass when the land
should lie behind and she should be alone in midocean with this horrid
supercargo that took liberties with the rigging, and at last one
particular morning, two days before that which was to witness the
schooner's departure, he came out flatfooted to the effect that
“Gaw-blyme him, he couldn't stand the gaff no longer, no he couldn't,
so help him, that if the owners were wishful for to put to sea” (doomed
to some unnamable destruction) “he for one wa'n't fit to die, an' was
going to quit that blessed day.” For the sake of appearances,
Hardenberg and Strokher blustered and fumed, but I could hear the crack
in Strokher's voice as plain as in a broken ship's bell. I was not
surprised at what happened later in the day, when he told the others
that he was a very sick man. A congenital stomach trouble, it
seemed—or was it liver complaint—had found him out again. He had
contracted it when a lad at Trincomalee, diving for pearls; it was
acutely painful, it appeared. Why, gentlemen, even at that very moment,
as he stood there talking—Hi, yi! O Lord !—talking, it was a-griping
of him something uncommon, so it was. And no, it was no manner of use
for him to think of going on this voyage; sorry he was, too, for he'd
made up his mind, so he had, to find out just what was wrong with the
And thereupon Hardenberg swore a great oath and threw down the
capstan bar he held in his hand.
“Well, then,” he cried wrathfully, “we might as well chuck up the
whole business. No use going to sea with a sick man and a scared man.”
“An' there's the first word o' sense,” cried Ally Bazan, “I've heard
this long day. 'Scared,' he says; aye, right ye are, me bully.”
“It's Cy Rider's fault,” the three declared after a two-hours' talk.
“No business giving us a schooner with a ghost aboard. Scoovy or no
scoovy, island or no island, guano or no guano, we don't go to sea in
the haunted hooker called the Idaho Lass.”
No more they did. On board the schooner they had faced the
supernatural with some kind of courage born of the occasion. Once on
shore, and no money could hire, no power force them to go aboard a
The affair ended in a grand wrangle in Cy Rider's back office, and
just twenty-four hours later the bark Elftruda, Captain Jens
Petersen, cleared from Portland, bound for “a cruise to South Pacific
* * * * *
Two years after this I took Ally Bazan with me on a duck-shooting
excursion in the “Toolies” back of Sacramento, for he is a handy man
about a camp and can row a boat as softly as a drifting cloud.
We went about in a cabin cat of some thirty feet over all, the
rowboat towing astern. Sometimes we did not go ashore to camp, but
slept aboard. On the second night of this expedient I woke in my
blankets on the floor of the cabin to see the square of gray light that
stood for the cabin door darkened by—it gave me the same old start—a
sheeted figure. It was going up the two steps to the deck. Beyond
question it had been in the cabin. I started up and followed it. I was
too frightened not to—if you can see what I mean. By the time I had
got the blankets off and had thrust my head above the level of the
cabin hatch the figure was already in the bows, and, as a matter of
course, hoisting the jib.
I thought of calling Ally Bazan, who slept by me on the cabin floor,
but it seemed to me at the time that if I did not keep that figure in
sight it would elude me again, and, besides, if I went back in the
cabin I was afraid that I would bolt the door and remain under the
bedclothes till morning. I was afraid to go on with the adventure, but
I was much more afraid to go back.
So I crept forward over the deck of the sloop. The “ha'nt” had its
back toward me, fumbling with the ends of the jib halyards. I could
hear the creak of new ropes as it undid the knot, and the sound was
certainly substantial and commonplace. I was so close by now that I
could see every outline of the shape. It was precisely as it had
appeared on the crosstrees of the Idaho, only, seen without
perspective, and brought down to the level of the eye, it lost its
It had been kneeling upon the deck. Now, at last, it rose and turned
about, the end of the halyards in its hand. The light of the earliest
dawn fell squarely on the face and form, and I saw, if you please, Ally
Bazan himself. His eyes were half shut, and through his open lips came
the sound of his deep and regular breathing.
At breakfast the next morning I asked, “Ally Bazan, did you ever
walk in your sleep.”
“Aye,” he answered, “years ago, when I was by wye o' being a lad, I
used allus to wrap the bloomin' sheets around me. An' crysy things I'd
do the times. But the 'abit left me when I grew old enough to tyke me
whisky strite and have hair on me fyce.”
I did not “explain away” the ghost in the crosstrees either to Ally
Bazan or to the other two Black Crows. Furthermore, I do not now refer
to the Island of Paa in the hearing of the trio. The claims and title
of Norway to the island have long since been made good and
conceded—even by the State Department at Washington—and I understand
that Captain Petersen has made a very pretty fortune out of the affair.
THE RIDING OF FELIPE
As young Felipe Arillaga guided his pony out of the last intricacies
of Pacheco Pass, he was thinking of Rubia Ytuerate and of the scene he
had had with her a few days before. He reconstructed it now very
vividly. Rubia had been royally angry, and as she had stood before him,
her arms folded and her teeth set, he was forced to admit that she was
as handsome a woman as could be found through all California.
There had been a time, three months past, when Felipe found no
compulsion in the admission, for though betrothed to Buelna Martiarena
he had abruptly conceived a violent infatuation for Rubia, and had
remained a guest upon her rancho many weeks longer than he had
For three months he had forgotten Buelna entirely. At the end of
that time he had remembered her—had awakened to the fact that his
infatuation for Rubia was infatuation, and had resolved to end
the affair and go back to Buelna as soon as it was possible.
But Rubia was quick to notice the cooling of his passion. First she
fixed him with oblique suspicion from under her long lashes, then
avoided him, then kept him at her side for days together. Then at
last—his defection unmistakable—turned on him with furious demands
for the truth.
Felipe had snatched occasion with one hand and courage with the
“Well,” he had said, “well, it is not my fault. Yes, it is the
truth. It is played out.”
He had not thought it necessary to speak of Buelna; but Rubia
divined the other woman.
“So you think you are to throw me aside like that. Ah, it is played
out, is it, Felipe Arillaga? You listen to me. Do not fancy for one
moment you are going back to an old love, or on to a new one. You
listen to me,” she had cried, her fist over her head. “I do not know
who she is, but my curse is on her, Felipe Arillaga. My curse is on her
who next kisses you. May that kiss be a blight to her. From that moment
may evil cling to her, bad luck follow her; may she love and not be
loved; may friends desert her, enemies beset her, her sisters shame
her, her brothers disown her, and those whom she has loved abandon her.
May her body waste as your love for me has wasted; may her heart be
broken as your promises to me have been broken; may her joy be as
fleeting as your vows, and her beauty grow as dim as your memory of me.
I have said it.”
[Illustration: “'My Curse Is On Her Who Next Kisses You'“]
“So be it!” Felipe had retorted with vast nonchalance, and had flung
out from her presence to saddle his pony and start back to Buelna.
But Felipe was superstitious. He half believed in curses, had seen
two-headed calves born because of them, and sheep stampeded over cliffs
for no other reason.
Now, as he drew out of Pacheco Pass and came down into the valley
the idea of Rubia and her curse troubled him. At first, when yet three
days' journey from Buelna, it had been easy to resolve to brave it out.
But now he was already on the Rancho Martiarena (had been traveling
over it for the last ten hours, in fact), and in a short time would be
at the hacienda of Martiarena, uncle and guardian of Buelna. He
would see Buelna, and she, believing always in his fidelity, would
expect to kiss him.
“Well, this is to be thought about,” murmured Felipe uneasily. He
touched up the pony with one of his enormous spurs.
“Now I know what I will do,” he thought. “I will go to San Juan
Bautista and confess and be absolved, and will buy candles. Then
afterward will go to Buelna.”
He found the road that led to the Mission and turned into it,
pushing forward at a canter. Then suddenly at a sharp turning reined up
just in time to avoid colliding with a little cavalcade.
He uttered an exclamation under his breath.
At the head of the cavalcade rode old Martiarena himself, and behind
him came a peon or two, then Manuela, the aged housekeeper
and—after a fashion—duenna. Then at her side, on a saddle of red
leather with silver bosses, which was cinched about the body of a very
small white burro, Buelna herself.
She was just turned sixteen, and being of the best blood of the
mother kingdom (the strain dating back to the Ostrogothic invasion),
was fair. Her hair was blond, her eyes blue-gray, her eyebrows and
lashes dark brown, and as he caught sight of her Felipe wondered how he
ever could have believed the swarthy Rubia beautiful.
There was a jubilant meeting. Old Martiarena kissed both his cheeks,
patting him on the back.
“Oh, ho!” he cried. “Once more back. We have just returned from the
feast of the Santa Cruz at the Mission, and Buelna prayed for your safe
return. Go to her, boy. She has waited long for this hour.”
Felipe, his eyes upon those of his betrothed, advanced. She was
looking at him and smiling. As he saw the unmistakable light in her
blue eyes, the light he knew she had kept burning for him alone, Felipe
could have abased himself to the very hoofs of her burro. Could it be
possible he had ever forgotten her for such a one as Rubia—have been
unfaithful to this dear girl for so much as the smallest fraction of a
“You are welcome, Felipe,” she said. “Oh, very, very welcome.” She
gave him her hand and turned her face to his. But it was her hand and
not her face the young man kissed. Old Martiarena, who looked on, shook
“Hoh! a timid lover this,” he called. “We managed different when I
was a lad. Her lips, Felipe. Must an old man teach a youngster
Buelna blushed and laughed, but yet did not withdraw her hand nor
turn her face away.
There was a delicate expectancy in her manner that she nevertheless
contrived to make compatible with her native modesty. Felipe had been
her acknowledged lover ever since the two were children.
“Well?” cried Martiarena as Felipe hesitated.
Even then, if Felipe could have collected his wits, he might have
saved the situation for himself. But no time had been allowed him to
think. Confusion seized upon him. All that was clear in his mind were
the last words of Rubia. It seemed to him that between his lips he
carried a poison deadly to Buelna above all others. Stupidly, brutally
he precipitated the catastrophe.
“No,” he exclaimed seriously, abruptly drawing his hand from
Buelna's, “no. It may not be. I cannot.”
Martiarena stared. Then:
“Is this a jest, senor?” he demanded. “An ill-timed one, then.”
“No,” answered Felipe, “it is not a jest.”
“But, Felipe,” murmured Buelna. “But—why—I do not understand.”
“I think I begin to,” cried Martiarena. “Senor, you do not,”
protested Felipe. “It is not to be explained. I know what you believe.
On my honour, I love Buelna.”
“Your actions give you the lie, then, young man. Bah! Nonsense. What
fool's play is all this? Kiss him, Buelna, and have done with it.”
Felipe gnawed his nails.
“Believe me, oh, believe me, Senor Martiarena, it must not be.”
“Then an explanation.”
For a moment Felipe hesitated. But how could he tell them the
truth—the truth that involved Rubia and his disloyalty, temporary
though that was. They could neither understand nor forgive. Here,
indeed, was an impasse. One thing only was to be said, and he
said it. “I can give you no explanation,” he murmured.
But Buelna suddenly interposed.
“Oh, please,” she said, pushing by Felipe, “uncle, we have talked
too long. Please let us go. There is only one explanation. Is it not
“By God, it is not!” vociferated the old man, turning upon Felipe.
“Tell me what it means. Tell me what this means.”
“Then I will tell you!” shouted the old fellow in Felipe's
face. “It means that you are a liar and a rascal. That you have played
with Buelna, and that you have deceived me, who have trusted you as a
father would have trusted a son. I forbid you to answer me. For the
sake of what you were I spare you now. But this I will do. Off of my
rancho!” he cried. “Off my rancho, and in the future pray your God, or
the devil, to whom you are sold, to keep you far from me.”
“You do not understand, you do not understand,” pleaded Felipe, the
tears starting to his eyes. “Oh, believe me, I speak the truth. I love
your niece. I love Buelna. Oh, never so truly, never so devoutly
as now. Let me speak to her; she will believe me.”
But Buelna, weeping, had ridden on.
A fortnight passed. Soon a month had gone by. Felipe gloomed about
his rancho, solitary, taciturn, siding the sheep-walks and
cattle-ranges for days and nights together, refusing all intercourse
with his friends. It seemed as if he had lost Buelna for good and all.
At times, as the certainty of this defined itself more clearly, Felipe
would fling his hat upon the ground, beat his breast, and then, prone
upon his face, his head buried in his folded arms, would lie for hours
motionless, while his pony nibbled the sparse alfalfa, and the
jack-rabbits limping from the sage peered at him, their noses
But about a month after the meeting and parting with Buelna, word
went through all the ranches that a hide-roger had cast anchor in
Monterey Bay. At once an abrupt access of activity seized upon the
rancheros. Rodeos were held, sheep slaughtered, and the great
tallow-pits began to fill up.
Felipe was not behind his neighbours, and, his tallow once in hand,
sent it down to Monterey, and himself rode down to see about disposing
On his return he stopped at the wine shop of one Lopez Catala, on
the road between Monterey and his rancho.
It was late afternoon when he reached it, and the wine shop was
deserted. Outside, the California August lay withering and suffocating
over all the land. The far hills were burnt to dry, hay-like grass and
brittle clods. The eucalyptus trees in front of the wine shop (the
first trees Felipe had seen all that day) were coated with dust. The
plains of sagebrush and the alkali flats shimmered and exhaled pallid
mirages, glistening like inland seas. Over all blew the trade-wind;
prolonged, insistent, harassing, swooping up the red dust of the road
and the white powder of the alkali beds, and flinging it—white-and-red
banners in a sky of burnt-out blue—here and there about the landscape.
The wine shop, which was also an inn, was isolated, lonely, but it
was comfortable, and Felipe decided to lay over there that night, then
in the morning reach his rancho by an easy stage.
He had his supper—an omelet, cheese, tortillas, and a glass of
wine—and afterward sat outside on a bench smoking innumerable
cigarettes and watching the sun set.
While he sat so a young man of about his own age rode up from the
eastward with a great flourish, and giving over his horse to the
muchacho, entered the wine shop and ordered dinner and a room for
the night. Afterward he came out and stood in front of the inn and
watched the muchacho cleaning his horse.
Felipe, looking at him, saw that he was of his own age and about his
own build—that is to say, twenty-eight or thirty, and tall and lean.
But in other respects the difference was great. The stranger was
flamboyantly dressed: skin-tight pantaloons, fastened all up and down
the leg with round silver buttons; yellow boots with heels high as a
girl's, set off with silver spurs; a very short coat faced with
galloons of gold, and a very broad-brimmed and very high-crowned
sombrero, on which the silver braid alone was worth the price of a good
horse. Even for a Spanish Mexican his face was dark. Swart it was, the
cheeks hollow; a tiny, tight mustache with ends truculently pointed and
erect helped out the belligerency of the tight-shut lips. The eyes were
black as bitumen, and flashed continually under heavy brows.
“Perhaps,” thought Felipe, “he is a toreador from Mexico.”
The stranger followed his horse to the barn, but, returning in a few
moments, stood before Felipe and said:
“Senor, I have taken the liberty to put my horse in the stall
occupied by yours. Your beast the muchacho turned into the
corrale. Mine is an animal of spirit, and in a corrale would
fight with the other horses. I rely upon the senor's indulgence.”
At ordinary times he would not have relied in vain. But Felipe's
nerves were in a jangle these days, and his temper, since Buelna's
dismissal of him, was bitter. His perception of offense was keen. He
rose, his eyes upon the stranger's eyes.
“My horse is mine,” he observed. “Only my friends permit themselves
liberties with what is mine.”
The other smiled scornfully and drew from his belt a little pouch of
“What I take I pay for,” he remarked, and, still smiling, tendered
Felipe a few grains of the gold.
Felipe struck the outstretched palm.
“Am I a peon?” he vociferated.
“Probably,” retorted the other.
“I will take pay for that word,” cried Felipe, his face
blazing, “but not in your money, senor.”
“In that case I may give you more than you ask.”
“No, by God, for I shall take all you have.”
But the other checked his retort. A sudden change came over him.
“I ask the senor's pardon,” he said, with grave earnestness, “for
provoking him. You may not fight with me nor I with you. I speak the
truth. I have made oath not to fight till I have killed one whom now I
“Very well; I, too, spoke without reflection. You seek an enemy,
“My sister's, who is therefore mine. An enemy truly. Listen, you
shall judge. I am absent from my home a year, and when I return what do
I find? My sister betrayed, deceived, flouted by a fellow, a nobody,
whom she received a guest in her house, a fit return for kindness, for
hospitality! Well, he answers to me for the dishonour.”
“Wait. Stop!” interposed Felipe. “Your name, senor.”
“Unzar Ytuerate, and my enemy is called Arillaga. Him I seek
“Then you shall seek no farther!” shouted Felipe. “It is to Rubia
Ytuerate, your sister, whom I owe all my unhappiness, all my suffering.
She has hurt not me only, but one—but——Mother of God, we waste
words!” he cried. “Knife to knife, Unzar Ytuerate. I am Felipe
Arillaga, and may God be thanked for the chance that brings this
quarrel to my hand.”
“You! You!” gasped Unzar. Fury choked him; his hands clutched and
unclutched—now fists, now claws. His teeth grated sharply while a
quivering sensation as of a chill crisped his flesh. “Then the sooner
the better,” he muttered between his set teeth, and the knives flashed
in the hands of the two men so suddenly that the gleam of one seemed
only the reflection of the other.
Unzar held out his left wrist.
“Are you willing?” he demanded, with a significant glance.
“And ready,” returned the other, baring his forearm.
Catala, keeper of the inn, was called.
“Love of the Virgin, not here, senors. My house—the alcalde
“You have a strap there.” Unzar pointed to a bridle hanging from a
peg by the doorway. “No words; quick; do as you are told.”
The two men held out their left arms till wrist touched wrist, and
Catala, trembling and protesting, lashed them together with a strap.
“Tighter,” commanded Felipe; “put all your strength to it.”
The strap was drawn up to another hole.
“Now, Catala, stand back,” commanded Unzar, “and count three slowly.
At the word 'three,' Senor Arillaga, we begin. You understand.”
Felipe and Unzar each put his right hand grasping the knife behind
his back as etiquette demanded.
They strained back from each other, the full length of their left
arms, till the nails grew bloodless.
“Three!” called Lopez Catala in a shaking voice.
When Felipe regained consciousness he found that he lay in an upper
chamber of Catala's inn upon a bed. His shoulder, the right one, was
bandaged, and so was his head. He felt no pain, only a little weak, but
there was a comfortable sense of brandy at his lips, an arm supported
his head, and the voice of Rubia Ytuerate spoke his name. He sat up on
“Rubia, you!” he cried. “What is it? What happened? Oh, I
remember, Unzar—we fought. Oh, my God, how we fought! But you——What
brought you here?”
“Thank Heaven,” she murmured, “you are better. You are not so badly
wounded. As he fell he must have dragged you with him, and your head
struck the threshold of the doorway.”
“Is he badly hurt? Will he recover?”
“I hope so. But you are safe.”
“But what brought you here?”
“Love,” she cried; “my love for you. What I suffered after you had
gone! Felipe, I have fought, too. Pride was strong at first, and it was
pride that made me send Unzar after you. I told him what had happened.
I hounded him to hunt you down. Then when he had gone my battle began.
Ah, dearest, dearest, it all came back, our days together, the life we
led, knowing no other word but love, thinking no thoughts that were not
of each other. And love conquered. Unzar was not a week gone before I
followed him—to call him back, to shield you, to save you from his
fury. I came all but too late, and found you both half dead. My brother
and my lover, your body across his, your blood mingling with his own.
But not too late to love you back to life again. Your life is mine now,
Felipe. I love you, I love you.” She clasped her hands together and
pressed them to her cheek. “Ah, if you knew,” she cried; “if you could
only look into my heart. Pride is nothing; good name is nothing;
friends are nothing. Oh, it is a glory to give them all for love, to
give up everything; to surrender, to submit, to cry to one's heart:
'Take me; I am as wax. Take me; conquer me; lead me wherever you will.
All is well lost so only that love remains.' And I have heard all that
has happened—this other one, the Senorita Buelna, how that she for
bade you her lands. Let her go; she is not worthy of your love, cold,
“Stop!” cried Felipe, “you shall say no more evil of her. It is
“Felipe, you love her yet?”
“And always, always will.”
“She who has cast you off; she who disdains you, who will not suffer
you on her lands? And have you come to be so low, so base and mean as
“I have sunk no lower than a woman who could follow after a lover
who had grown manifestly cold.”
“Ah,” she answered sadly, “if I could so forget my pride as to
follow you, do not think your reproaches can touch me now.” Then
suddenly she sank at the bedside and clasped his hand in both of hers.
Her beautiful hair, unbound, tumbled about her shoulders; her eyes,
swimming with tears, were turned up to his; her lips trembled with the
intensity of her passion. In a voice low, husky, sweet as a dove's, she
addressed him. “Oh, dearest, come back to me; come back to me. Let me
love you again. Don't you see my heart is breaking? There is only you
in all the world for me. I was a proud woman once. See now what I have
brought myself to. Don't let it all be in vain. If you fail me now,
think how it will be for me afterward—to know that I—I, Rubia
Ytuerate, have begged the love of a man and begged in vain. Do you
think I could live knowing that?” Abruptly she lost control of herself.
She caught him about the neck with both her arms. Almost incoherently
her words rushed from her tight-shut teeth.
“Ah, I can make you love me. I can make you love me,” she
cried. “You shall come back to me. You are mine, and you cannot help
but come back.”
“Por Dios, Rubia,” he ejaculated, “remember yourself. You are
out of your head.”
“Come back to me; love me.”
“Come back to me.”
“You cannot push me from you,” she cried, for, one hand upon her
shoulder, he had sought to disengage himself. “No, I shall not let you
go. You shall not push me from you! Thrust me off and I will embrace
you all the closer. Yes, strike me if you will, and I will kiss
And with the words she suddenly pressed her lips to his.
Abruptly Felipe freed himself. A new thought suddenly leaped to his
“Let your own curse return upon you,” he cried. “You yourself have
freed me; you yourself have broken the barrier you raised between me
and my betrothed. You cursed her whose lips should next touch mine, and
you are poisoned with your own venom.”
He sprang from off the bed, and catching up his serape, flung
it about his shoulders.
“Felipe,” she cried, “Felipe, where are you going?”
“Back to Buelna,” he shouted, and with the words rushed from the
room. Her strength seemed suddenly to leave her. She sank lower to the
floor, burying her face deep upon the pillows that yet retained the
impress of him she loved so deeply, so recklessly.
Footsteps in the passage and a knocking at the door aroused her. A
woman, one of the escort who had accompanied her, entered hurriedly.
“Senorita,” cried this one, “your brother, the Senor Unzar, he is
Rubia hurried to an adjoining room, where upon a mattress on the
floor lay her brother.
“Put that woman out,” he gasped as his glance met hers. “I never
sent for her,” he went on. “You are no longer sister of mine. It was
you who drove me to this quarrel, and when I have vindicated you what
do you do? Your brother you leave to be tended by hirelings, while all
your thought and care are lavished on your paramour. Go back to him. I
know how to die alone, but as you go remember that in dying I hated and
He fell back upon the pillows, livid, dead.
Rubia started forward with a cry.
“It is you who have killed him,” cried the woman who had summoned
her. The rest of Rubia's escort, vaqueros, peons, and the
old alcalde of her native village, stood about with bared heads.
“That is true. That is true,” they murmured. The old alcalde
“Who dishonours my friend dishonours me,” he said. “From this day,
Senorita Ytuerate, you and I are strangers.” He went out, and one by
one, with sullen looks and hostile demeanour, Rubia's escort followed.
Their manner was unmistakable; they were deserting her.
Rubia clasped her hands over her eyes.
“Madre de Dios, Madre de Dios,” she moaned over and over again. Then
in a low voice she repeated her own words: “May it be a blight to her.
From that moment may evil cling to her, bad luck follow her; may she
love and not be loved; may friends desert her, her sisters shame her,
her brothers disown her——”
There was a clatter of horse's hoofs in the courtyard.
“It is your lover,” said her woman coldly from the doorway. “He is
riding away from you.”
“——and those,” added Rubia, “whom she has loved abandon her.”
Meanwhile Felipe, hatless, bloody, was galloping through the night,
his pony's head turned toward the hacienda of Martiarena. The
Rancho Martiarena lay between his own rancho and the inn where he had
met Rubia, so that this distance was not great. He reached it in about
an hour of vigorous spurring.
The place was dark though it was as yet early in the night, and an
ominous gloom seemed to hang about the house. Felipe, his heart
sinking, pounded at the door, and at last aroused the aged
superintendent, who was also a sort of major-domo in the
household, and who in Felipe's boyhood had often ridden him on his
“Ah, it is you, Arillaga,” he said very sadly, as the moonlight
struck across Felipe's face. “I had hoped never to see you again.”
“Buelna,” demanded Felipe. “I have something to say to her, and to
“Too late, senor.”
“My God, dead?”
“As good as dead.”
“Rafael, tell me all. I have come to set everything straight again.
On my honour, I have been misjudged. Is Buelna well?”
“Listen. You know your own heart best, senor. When you left her our
little lady was as one half dead; her heart died within her. Ah, she
loved you, Arillaga, far more than you deserved. She drooped swiftly,
and one night all but passed away. Then it was that she made a vow that
if God spared her life she would become the bride of the church—would
forever renounce the world. Well, she recovered, became almost well
again, but not the same as before. She never will be that. So soon as
she was able to obtain Martiarena's consent she made all the
preparations—signed away all her lands and possessions, and spent the
days and nights in prayer and purifications. The Mother Superior of the
Convent of Santa Teresa has been a guest at the hacienda this
fortnight past. Only to-day the party—that is to say, Martiarena, the
Mother Superior and Buelna—left for Santa Teresa, and at midnight of
this very night Buelna takes the veil. You know your own heart, Senor
Felipe. Go your way.”
“But not till midnight!” cried Felipe.
“What? I do not understand.”
“She will not take the veil till midnight.”
“No, not till then.”
“Rafael,” cried Felipe, “ask me no questions now. Only believe
me. I always have and always will love Buelna. I swear it. I can stop
this yet; only once let me reach her in time. Trust me. Ah, for this
once trust me, you who have known me since I was a lad.”
He held out his hand. The other for a moment hesitated, then
impulsively clasped it in his own.
“Bueno, I trust you then. Yet I warn you not to fool me
“Good,” returned Felipe. “And now adios. Unless I bring her
back with me you'll never see me again.”
“But, Felipe, lad, where away now?”
“To Santa Teresa.”
“You are mad. Do you fancy you can reach it before midnight?”
insisted the major-domo.
“I will, Rafael; I will.”
“Then Heaven be with you.”
But the old fellow's words were lost in a wild clatter of hoofs, as
Felipe swung his pony around and drove home the spurs. Through the
night came back a cry already faint:
“Adios, Felipe,” murmured the old man as he stood bewildered
in the doorway, “and your good angel speed you now.”
When Felipe began his ride it was already a little after nine. Could
he reach Santa Teresa before midnight? The question loomed grim before
him, but he answered only with the spur. Pepe was hardy, and, as Felipe
well knew, of indomitable pluck. But what a task now lay before the
little animal. He might do it, but oh! it was a chance!
In a quarter of a mile Pepe had settled to his stride, the dogged,
even gallop that Felipe knew so well, and at half-past ten swung
through the main street of Piedras Blancas—silent, somnolent, dark.
“Steady, little Pepe,” said Felipe; “steady, little one. Soh, soh.
The little horse flung back an ear, and Felipe could feel along the
lines how he felt for the bit, trying to get a grip of it to ease the
strain on his mouth.
The De Profundis bell was sounding from the church tower as
Felipe galloped through San Anselmo, the next village, but by the time
he raised the lights of Arcata it was black night in very earnest. He
set his teeth. Terra Bella lay eight miles farther ahead, and here from
the town-hall clock that looked down upon the plaza he would be able to
know the time.
“Hoopa, Pepe; pronto!” he shouted.
The pony responded gallantly. His head was low; his ears in constant
movement, twitched restlessly back and forth, now laid flat on his
neck, now cocked to catch the rustle of the wind in the chaparral, the
scurrying of a rabbit or ground-owl through the sage.
It grew darker, colder, the trade-wind lapsed away. Low in the sky
upon the right a pale, dim belt foretold the rising of the moon. The
incessant galloping of the pony was the only sound.
The convent toward which he rode was just outside the few scattered
huts in the valley of the Rio Esparto that by charity had been invested
with the name of Caliente. From Piedras Blancas to Caliente between
twilight and midnight! What a riding! Could he do it? Would Pepe last
“Steady, little one. Steady, Pepe.”
Thus he spoke again and again, measuring the miles in his mind,
husbanding the little fellow's strength.
Lights! Cart lanterns? No, Terra Bella. A great dog charged out at
him from a dobe, filling the night with outcry; a hayrick loomed by
like a ship careening through fog; there was a smell of chickens and
farmyards. Then a paved street, an open square, a solitary pedestrian
dodging just in time from under Pepe's hoofs. All flashed by. The open
country again, unbroken darkness again, and solitude of the fields
again. Terra Bella past.
But through the confusion Felipe retained one picture, that of the
moon-faced clock with hands marking the hour of ten. On again with Pepe
leaping from the touch of the spur. On again up the long, shallow slope
that rose for miles to form the divide that overlooked the valley of
“Hold, there! Madman to ride thus. Mad or drunk. Only desperadoes
gallop at night. Halt and speak!”
The pony had swerved barely in time, and behind him the Monterey
stage lay all but ditched on the roadside, the driver fulminating
oaths. But Felipe gave him but an instant's thought. Dobe huts once
more abruptly ranged up on either side the roadway, staggering and dim
under the night. Then a wine shop noisy with carousing peons
darted by. Pavements again. A shop-front or two. A pig snoring in the
gutter, a dog howling in a yard, a cat lamenting on a rooftop. Then the
smell of fields again. Then darkness again. Then the solitude of the
open country. Cadenassa past.
But now the country changed. The slope grew steeper; it was the last
lift of land to the divide. The road was sown with stones and scored
with ruts. Pepe began to blow; once he groaned. Perforce his speed
diminished. The villages were no longer so thickly spread now. The
crest of the divide was wild, desolate, forsaken. Felipe again and
again searched the darkness for lights, but the night was black.
Then abruptly the moon rose. By that Felipe could guess the time.
His heart sank. He halted, recinched the saddle, washed the pony's
mouth with brandy from his flask, then mounted and spurred on.
Another half-hour went by. He could see that Pepe was in distress;
his speed was by degrees slacking. Would he last! Would he last? Would
the minutes that raced at his side win in that hard race?
Houses again. Plastered fronts. All dark and gray. No soul stirring.
Sightless windows stared out upon emptiness. The plaza bared its
desolation to the pitiless moonlight. Only from an unseen window a
guitar hummed and tinkled. All vanished. Open country again. The
solitude of the fields again; the moonlight sleeping on the vast sweep
of the ranchos. Calpella past.
Felipe rose in his stirrups with a great shout.
At Calpella he knew he had crossed the divide. The valley lay
beneath him, and the moon was turning to silver the winding courses of
the Rio Esparto, now in plain sight.
It was between Calpella and Proberta that Pepe stumbled first.
Felipe pulled him up and ceased to urge him to his topmost speed. But
five hundred yards farther he stumbled again. The spume-flakes he
tossed from the bit were bloody. His breath came in labouring gasps.
But by now Felipe could feel the rising valley-mists; he could hear
the piping of the frogs in the marshes. The ground for miles had sloped
downward. He was not far from the river, not far from Caliente, not far
from the Convent of Santa Teresa and Buelna.
But the way to Caliente was roundabout, distant. If he should follow
the road thither he would lose a long half-hour. By going directly
across the country from where he now was, avoiding Proberta, he could
save much distance and precious time. But in this case Pepe, exhausted,
stumbling, weak, would have to swim the river. If he failed to do this
Felipe would probably drown. If he succeeded, Caliente and the convent
would be close at hand.
For a moment Felipe hesitated, then suddenly made up his mind. He
wheeled Pepe from the road, and calling upon his last remaining
strength, struck off across the country.
The sound of the river at last came to his ears.
“Now, then, Pepe,” he cried.
For the last time the little horse leaped to the sound of his voice.
Still at a gallop, Felipe cut the cinches of the heavy saddle, shook
his feet clear of the stirrups, and let it fall to the ground; his
coat, belt and boots followed. Bareback, with but the headstall and
bridle left upon the pony, he rode at the river.
Before he was ready for it Pepe's hoofs splashed on the banks. Then
the water swirled about his fetlocks; then it wet Felipe's bare ankles.
In another moment Felipe could tell by the pony's motion that his feet
had left the ground and that he was swimming in the middle of the
He was carried down the stream more than one hundred yards. Once
Pepe's leg became entangled in a sunken root. Freed from that, his
hoofs caught in grasses and thick weeds. Felipe's knee was cut against
a rock; but at length the pony touched ground. He rose out of the river
trembling, gasping and dripping. Felipe put him at the steep bank. He
took it bravely, scrambled his way—almost on his knees—to the top,
then stumbled badly and fell prone upon the ground. Felipe twisted from
under him as he fell and regained his feet unhurt. He ran to the brave
little fellow's head.
“Up, up, my Pepe. Soh, soh.”
Suddenly he paused, listening. Across the level fields there came to
his ears the sound of the bell of the convent of Santa Teresa tolling
* * * * *
Upon the first stroke of midnight the procession of nuns entered the
nave of the church. There were some thirty in the procession. The first
ranks swung censers; those in the rear carried lighted candles. The
Mother Superior and Buelna, the latter wearing a white veil, walked
together. The youngest nun followed these two, carrying upon her
outspread palms the black veil.
Arrived before the altar the procession divided into halves, fifteen
upon the east side of the chancel, fifteen upon the west. The organ
began to drone and murmur, the censers swung and smoked, the
candle-flames flared and attracted the bats that lived among the
rafters overhead. Buelna knelt before the Mother Superior. She was pale
and a little thin from fasting and the seclusion of the cells. But, try
as she would, she could not keep her thoughts upon the solemn office in
which she was so important a figure. Other days came back to her. A
little girl gay and free once more, she romped through the hallways and
kitchen of the old hacienda Martiarena with her playmate, the
young Felipe; a young schoolgirl, she rode with him to the Mission to
the instruction of the padre; a young woman, she danced with him
at the fete of All Saints at Monterey. Why had it not been
possible that her romance should run its appointed course to a happy
end? That last time she had seen him how strangely he had deported
himself. Untrue to her! Felipe! Her Felipe; her more than brother! How
vividly she recalled the day. They were returning from the Mission,
where she had prayed for his safe and speedy return. Long before she
had seen him she heard the gallop of a horse's hoofs around the turn of
the road. Yes, she remembered that—the gallop of a horse. Ah! how he
rode—how vivid it was in her fancy. Almost she heard the rhythmic beat
of the hoofs. They came nearer, nearer. Fast, furiously fast
hoof-beats. How swift he rode. Gallop, gallop—nearer, on they came.
They were close by. They swept swiftly nearer, nearer. What—what was
this? No fancy. Nearer, nearer. No fancy this. Nearer, nearer.
These—ah, Mother of God—are real hoof-beats. They are coming; they
are at hand; they are at the door of the church; they are here!
She sprang up, facing around. The ceremony was interrupted. The
frightened nuns were gathering about the Mother Superior. The organ
ceased, and in the stillness that followed all could hear that furious
gallop. On it came, up the hill, into the courtyard. Then a shout,
hurried footsteps, the door swung in, and Felipe Arillaga, ragged,
dripping, half fainting, hatless and stained with mud, sprang toward
Buelna. Forgetting all else, she ran to meet him, and, clasped in each
other's arms, they kissed one another upon the lips again and again.
The bells of Santa Teresa that Felipe had heard that night on the
blanks of the Esparto rang for a wedding the next day.
Two days after they tolled as passing bells. A beautiful woman had
been found drowned in a river not far from the house of Lopez Catala,
on the high road to Monterey.