An Episode Of Fiddletown
From: Selected Stories
In 1858 Fiddletown considered her a very pretty woman. She had a
quantity of light chestnut hair, a good figure, a dazzling complexion,
and a certain languid grace which passed easily for gentle-womanliness.
She always dressed becomingly, and in what Fiddletown accepted as the
latest fashion. She had only two blemishes: one of her velvety eyes,
when examined closely, had a slight cast; and her left cheek bore a
small scar left by a single drop of vitriol--happily the only drop of
an entire phial--thrown upon her by one of her own jealous sex, that
reached the pretty face it was intended to mar. But when the observer
had studied the eyes sufficiently to notice this defect, he was
generally incapacitated for criticism; and even the scar on her cheek
was thought by some to add piquancy to her smile. The youthful editor of
THE FIDDLETOWN AVALANCHE had said privately that it was "an exaggerated
dimple." Colonel Starbottle was instantly "reminded of the beautifying
patches of the days of Queen Anne, but more particularly, sir, of the
blankest beautiful women that, blank you, you ever laid your two blank
eyes upon--a Creole woman, sir, in New Orleans. And this woman had a
scar--a line extending, blank me, from her eye to her blank chin. And
this woman, sir, thrilled you, sir; maddened you, sir; absolutely sent
your blank soul to perdition with her blank fascination! And one day I
said to her, 'Celeste, how in blank did you come by that beautiful scar,
blank you?' And she said to me, 'Star, there isn't another white man
that I'd confide in but you; but I made that scar myself, purposely, I
did, blank me.' These were her very words, sir, and perhaps you think it
a blank lie, sir; but I'll put up any blank sum you can name and prove
it, blank me."
Indeed, most of the male population of Fiddletown were or had been in
love with her. Of this number, about one-half believed that their love
was returned, with the exception, possibly, of her own husband. He alone
had been known to express skepticism.
The name of the gentleman who enjoyed this infelicitous distinction was
Tretherick. He had been divorced from an excellent wife to marry this
Fiddletown enchantress. She, also, had been divorced; but it was hinted
that some previous experiences of hers in that legal formality had made
it perhaps less novel, and probably less sacrificial. I would not have
it inferred from this that she was deficient in sentiment, or devoid of
its highest moral expression. Her intimate friend had written (on the
occasion of her second divorce), "The cold world does not understand
Clara yet"; and Colonel Starbottle had remarked blankly that with the
exception of a single woman in Opelousas Parish, La., she had more soul
than the whole caboodle of them put together. Few indeed could read
those lines entitled "Infelissimus," commencing "Why waves no cypress
o'er this brow?" originally published in the AVALANCHE, over the
signature of "The Lady Clare," without feeling the tear of sensibility
tremble on his eyelids, or the glow of virtuous indignation mantle his
cheek, at the low brutality and pitiable jocularity of THE DUTCH FLAT
INTELLIGENCER, which the next week had suggested the exotic character
of the cypress, and its entire absence from Fiddletown, as a reasonable
answer to the query.
Indeed, it was this tendency to elaborate her feelings in a metrical
manner, and deliver them to the cold world through the medium of the
newspapers, that first attracted the attention of Tretherick.
Several poems descriptive of the effects of California scenery upon a
too-sensitive soul, and of the vague yearnings for the infinite which
an enforced study of the heartlessness of California society produced
in the poetic breast, impressed Mr. Tretherick, who was then driving a
six-mule freight wagon between Knight's Ferry and Stockton, to seek out
the unknown poetess. Mr. Tretherick was himself dimly conscious of a
certain hidden sentiment in his own nature; and it is possible that some
reflections on the vanity of his pursuit--he supplied several mining
camps with whisky and tobacco--in conjunction with the dreariness of the
dusty plain on which he habitually drove, may have touched some chord in
sympathy with this sensitive woman. Howbeit, after a brief courtship--as
brief as was consistent with some previous legal formalities--they were
married; and Mr. Tretherick brought his blushing bride to Fiddletown, or
"Fideletown," as Mrs. Tretherick preferred to call it in her poems.
The union was not a felicitous one. It was not long before Mr.
Tretherick discovered that the sentiment he had fostered while
freighting between Stockton and Knight's Ferry was different from that
which his wife had evolved from the contemplation of California scenery
and her own soul. Being a man of imperfect logic, this caused him to
beat her; and she, being equally faulty in deduction, was impelled to
a certain degree of unfaithfulness on the same premise. Then Mr.
Tretherick began to drink, and Mrs. Tretherick to contribute regularly
to the columns of the AVALANCHE. It was at this time that Colonel
Starbottle discovered a similarity in Mrs. Tretherick's verse to the
genius of Sappho, and pointed it out to the citizens of Fiddletown in a
two-columned criticism, signed "A. S.," also published in the AVALANCHE,
and supported by extensive quotation. As the AVALANCHE did not possess
a font of Greek type, the editor was obliged to reproduce the Leucadian
numbers in the ordinary Roman letter, to the intense disgust of Colonel
Starbottle, and the vast delight of Fiddletown, who saw fit to accept
the text as an excellent imitation of Choctaw--a language with which the
colonel, as a whilom resident of the Indian Territories, was supposed to
be familiar. Indeed, the next week's INTELLIGENCER contained some vile
doggerel supposed to be an answer to Mrs. Tretherick's poem, ostensibly
written by the wife of a Digger Indian chief, accompanied by a glowing
eulogium signed "A. S. S."
The result of this jocularity was briefly given in a later copy of the
AVALANCHE. "An unfortunate rencounter took place on Monday last,
between the Hon. Jackson Flash of THE DUTCH FLAT INTELLIGENCER and the
well-known Col. Starbottle of this place, in front of the Eureka Saloon.
Two shots were fired by the parties without injury to either, although
it is said that a passing Chinaman received fifteen buckshot in the
calves of his legs from the colonel's double-barreled shotgun, which
were not intended for him. John will learn to keep out of the way of
Melican man's firearms hereafter. The cause of the affray is not known,
although it is hinted that there is a lady in the case. The rumor that
points to a well-known and beautiful poetess whose lucubrations have
often graced our columns seems to gain credence from those that are
Meanwhile the passiveness displayed by Tretherick under these trying
circumstances was fully appreciated in the gulches. "The old man's
head is level," said one long-booted philosopher. "Ef the colonel
kills Flash, Mrs. Tretherick is avenged: if Flash drops the colonel,
Tretherick is all right. Either way, he's got a sure thing." During
this delicate condition of affairs, Mrs. Tretherick one day left her
husband's home and took refuge at the Fiddletown Hotel, with only the
clothes she had on her back. Here she staid for several weeks, during
which period it is only justice to say that she bore herself with the
It was a clear morning in early spring that Mrs. Tretherick, unattended,
left the hotel, and walked down the narrow street toward the fringe of
dark pines which indicated the extreme limits of Fiddletown. The few
loungers at that early hour were preoccupied with the departure of the
Wingdown coach at the other extremity of the street; and Mrs. Tretherick
reached the suburbs of the settlement without discomposing observation.
Here she took a cross street or road, running at right angles with the
main thoroughfare of Fiddletown and passing through a belt of woodland.
It was evidently the exclusive and aristocratic avenue of the town. The
dwellings were few, ambitious, and uninterrupted by shops. And here she
was joined by Colonel Starbottle.
The gallant colonel, notwithstanding that he bore the swelling port
which usually distinguished him, that his coat was tightly buttoned and
his boots tightly fitting, and that his cane, hooked over his arm,
swung jauntily, was not entirely at his ease. Mrs. Tretherick, however,
vouchsafed him a gracious smile and a glance of her dangerous eyes;
and the colonel, with an embarrassed cough and a slight strut, took his
place at her side.
"The coast is clear," said the colonel, "and Tretherick is over at Dutch
Flat on a spree. There is no one in the house but a Chinaman; and you
need fear no trouble from him. I," he continued, with a slight inflation
of the chest that imperiled the security of his button, "I will see that
you are protected in the removal of your property."
"I'm sure it's very kind of you, and so disinterested!" simpered the
lady as they walked along. "It's so pleasant to meet someone who
has soul--someone to sympathize with in a community so hardened and
heartless as this." And Mrs. Tretherick cast down her eyes, but not
until they wrought their perfect and accepted work upon her companion.
"Yes, certainly, of course," said the colonel, glancing nervously up and
down the street--"yes, certainly." Perceiving, however, that there
was no one in sight or hearing, he proceeded at once to inform Mrs.
Tretherick that the great trouble of his life, in fact, had been the
possession of too much soul. That many women--as a gentleman she would
excuse him, of course, from mentioning names--but many beautiful women
had often sought his society, but being deficient, madam, absolutely
deficient, in this quality, he could not reciprocate. But when two
natures thoroughly in sympathy, despising alike the sordid trammels of
a low and vulgar community and the conventional restraints of a
hypocritical society--when two souls in perfect accord met and mingled
in poetical union, then--but here the colonel's speech, which had been
remarkable for a certain whisky-and-watery fluency, grew husky, almost
inaudible, and decidedly incoherent. Possibly Mrs. Tretherick may have
heard something like it before, and was enabled to fill the hiatus.
Nevertheless, the cheek that was on the side of the colonel was quite
virginal and bashfully conscious until they reached their destination.
It was a pretty little cottage, quite fresh and warm with paint, very
pleasantly relieved against a platoon of pines, some of whose foremost
files had been displaced to give freedom to the fenced enclosure in
which it sat. In the vivid sunlight and perfect silence, it had a new,
uninhabited look, as if the carpenters and painters had just left it. At
the farther end of the lot, a Chinaman was stolidly digging; but there
was no other sign of occupancy. "The coast," as the colonel had said,
was indeed "clear." Mrs. Tretherick paused at the gate. The colonel
would have entered with her, but was stopped by a gesture. "Come for me
in a couple of hours, and I shall have everything packed," she said,
as she smiled, and extended her hand. The colonel seized and pressed it
with great fervor. Perhaps the pressure was slightly returned; for the
gallant colonel was impelled to inflate his chest, and trip away as
smartly as his stubby-toed, high-heeled boots would permit. When he had
gone, Mrs. Tretherick opened the door, listened a moment in the deserted
hall, and then ran quickly upstairs to what had been her bedroom.
Everything there was unchanged as on the night she left it. On the
dressing-table stood her bandbox, as she remembered to have left it
when she took out her bonnet. On the mantle lay the other glove she
had forgotten in her flight. The two lower drawers of the bureau were
half-open (she had forgotten to shut them); and on its marble top lay
her shawl pin and a soiled cuff. What other recollections came upon her
I know not; but she suddenly grew quite white, shivered, and listened
with a beating heart, and her hand upon the door. Then she stepped to
the mirror, and half-fearfully, half-curiously, parted with her fingers
the braids of her blond hair above her little pink ear, until she came
upon an ugly, half-healed scar. She gazed at this, moving her pretty
head up and down to get a better light upon it, until the slight cast
in her velvety eyes became very strongly marked indeed. Then she turned
away with a light, reckless, foolish laugh, and ran to the closet where
hung her precious dresses. These she inspected nervously, and missing
suddenly a favorite black silk from its accustomed peg, for a moment,
thought she should have fainted. But discovering it the next instant
lying upon a trunk where she had thrown it, a feeling of thankfulness
to a superior Being who protects the friendless for the first time
sincerely thrilled her. Then, albeit she was hurried for time, she could
not resist trying the effect of a certain lavender neck ribbon upon the
dress she was then wearing, before the mirror. And then suddenly she
became aware of a child's voice close beside her, and she stopped. And
then the child's voice repeated, "Is it Mamma?"
Mrs. Tretherick faced quickly about. Standing in the doorway was a
little girl of six or seven. Her dress had been originally fine, but was
torn and dirty; and her hair, which was a very violent red, was tumbled
seriocomically about her forehead. For all this, she was a picturesque
little thing, even through whose childish timidity there was a certain
self-sustained air which is apt to come upon children who are left much
to themselves. She was holding under her arm a rag doll, apparently
of her own workmanship, and nearly as large as herself--a doll with a
cylindrical head, and features roughly indicated with charcoal. A long
shawl, evidently belonging to a grown person, dropped from her shoulders
and swept the floor.
The spectacle did not excite Mrs. Tretherick's delight. Perhaps she had
but a small sense of humor. Certainly, when the child, still standing in
the doorway, again asked, "Is it Mamma?" she answered sharply, "No, it
isn't," and turned a severe look upon the intruder.
The child retreated a step, and then, gaining courage with the distance,
said in deliciously imperfect speech:
"Dow 'way then! why don't you dow away?"
But Mrs. Tretherick was eying the shawl. Suddenly she whipped it off the
child's shoulders, and said angrily:
"How dared you take my things, you bad child?"
"Is it yours? Then you are my mamma; ain't you? You are Mamma!" she
continued gleefully; and before Mrs. Tretherick could avoid her, she had
dropped her doll, and, catching the woman's skirts with both hands, was
dancing up and down before her.
"What's your name, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick coldly, removing the
small and not very white hands from her garments.
"Yeth. Tarry. Tarowline."
"Yeth. Tarowline Tretherick."
"Whose child ARE you?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick still more coldly, to
keep down a rising fear.
"Why, yours," said the little creature with a laugh. "I'm your little
durl. You're my mamma, my new mamma. Don't you know my ol' mamma's dorn
away, never to turn back any more? I don't live wid my ol' mamma now. I
live wid you and Papa."
"How long have you been here?" asked Mrs. Tretherick snappishly.
"I fink it's free days," said Carry reflectively.
"You think! Don't you know?" sneered Mrs. Tretherick. "Then, where did
you come from?"
Carry's lip began to work under this sharp cross-examination. With a
great effort and a small gulp, she got the better of it, and answered:
"Papa, Papa fetched me--from Miss Simmons--from Sacramento, last week."
"Last week! You said three days just now," returned Mrs. Tretherick with
"I mean a monf," said Carry, now utterly adrift in sheer helplessness
"Do you know what you are talking about?" demanded Mrs. Tretherick
shrilly, restraining an impulse to shake the little figure before her
and precipitate the truth by specific gravity.
But the flaming red head here suddenly disappeared in the folds of Mrs.
Tretherick's dress, as if it were trying to extinguish itself forever.
"There now--stop that sniffling," said Mrs. Tretherick, extricating
her dress from the moist embraces of the child and feeling exceedingly
uncomfortable. "Wipe your face now, and run away, and don't bother.
Stop," she continued, as Carry moved away. "Where's your papa?"
"He's dorn away too. He's sick. He's been dorn"--she hesitated--"two,
"Who takes care of you, child?" said Mrs. Tretherick, eying her
"John, the Chinaman. I tresses myselth. John tooks and makes the beds."
"Well, now, run away and behave yourself, and don't bother me any more,"
said Mrs. Tretherick, remembering the object of her visit. "Stop--where
are you going?" she added as the child began to ascend the stairs,
dragging the long doll after her by one helpless leg.
"Doin' upstairs to play and be dood, and no bother Mamma."
"I ain't your mamma," shouted Mrs. Tretherick, and then she swiftly
re-entered her bedroom and slammed the door.
Once inside, she drew forth a large trunk from the closet and set to
work with querulous and fretful haste to pack her wardrobe. She tore her
best dress in taking it from the hook on which it hung: she scratched
her soft hands twice with an ambushed pin. All the while, she kept up an
indignant commentary on the events of the past few moments. She said to
herself she saw it all. Tretherick had sent for this child of his first
wife--this child of whose existence he had never seemed to care--just
to insult her, to fill her place. Doubtless the first wife herself would
follow soon, or perhaps there would be a third. Red hair, not auburn,
but RED--of course the child, this Caroline, looked like its mother,
and, if so, she was anything but pretty. Or the whole thing had been
prepared: this red-haired child, the image of its mother, had been
kept at a convenient distance at Sacramento, ready to be sent for when
needed. She remembered his occasional visits there on--business, as he
said. Perhaps the mother already was there; but no, she had gone East.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Tretherick, in her then state of mind, preferred to
dwell upon the fact that she might be there. She was dimly conscious,
also, of a certain satisfaction in exaggerating her feelings. Surely
no woman had ever been so shamefully abused. In fancy, she sketched
a picture of herself sitting alone and deserted, at sunset, among
the fallen columns of a ruined temple, in a melancholy yet graceful
attitude, while her husband drove rapidly away in a luxurious
coach-and-four, with a red-haired woman at his side. Sitting upon
the trunk she had just packed, she partly composed a lugubrious poem
describing her sufferings as, wandering alone and poorly clad, she came
upon her husband and "another" flaunting in silks and diamonds. She
pictured herself dying of consumption, brought on by sorrow--a beautiful
wreck, yet still fascinating, gazed upon adoringly by the editor of the
AVALANCHE and Colonel Starbottle. And where was Colonel Starbottle all
this while? Why didn't he come? He, at least, understood her. He--she
laughed the reckless, light laugh of a few moments before; and then her
face suddenly grew grave, as it had not a few moments before.
What was that little red-haired imp doing all this time? Why was she so
quiet? She opened the door noiselessly, and listened. She fancied
that she heard, above the multitudinous small noises and creakings
and warpings of the vacant house, a smaller voice singing on the floor
above. This, as she remembered, was only an open attic that had been
used as a storeroom. With a half-guilty consciousness, she crept softly
upstairs and, pushing the door partly open, looked within.
Athwart the long, low-studded attic, a slant sunbeam from a single small
window lay, filled with dancing motes, and only half illuminating the
barren, dreary apartment. In the ray of this sunbeam she saw the child's
glowing hair, as if crowned by a red aureole, as she sat upon the floor
with her exaggerated doll between her knees. She appeared to be talking
to it; and it was not long before Mrs. Tretherick observed that she was
rehearsing the interview of a half-hour before. She catechized the
doll severely, cross-examining it in regard to the duration of its
stay there, and generally on the measure of time. The imitation of Mrs.
Tretherick's manner was exceedingly successful, and the conversation
almost a literal reproduction, with a single exception. After she had
informed the doll that she was not her mother, at the close of the
interview she added pathetically, "that if she was dood, very dood, she
might be her mamma, and love her very much."
I have already hinted that Mrs. Tretherick was deficient in a sense of
humor. Perhaps it was for this reason that this whole scene affected
her most unpleasantly; and the conclusion sent the blood tingling to her
cheek. There was something, too, inconceivably lonely in the situation.
The unfurnished vacant room, the half-lights, the monstrous doll, whose
very size seemed to give a pathetic significance to its speechlessness,
the smallness of the one animate, self-centered figure--all these
touched more or less deeply the half-poetic sensibilities of the woman.
She could not help utilizing the impression as she stood there, and
thought what a fine poem might be constructed from this material if the
room were a little darker, the child lonelier--say, sitting beside a
dead mother's bier, and the wind wailing in the turrets. And then she
suddenly heard footsteps at the door below, and recognized the tread of
the colonel's cane.
She flew swiftly down the stairs, and encountered the colonel in the
hall. Here she poured into his astonished ear a voluble and exaggerated
statement of her discovery, and indignant recital of her wrongs. "Don't
tell me the whole thing wasn't arranged beforehand; for I know it was!"
she almost screamed. "And think," she added, "of the heartlessness of
the wretch, leaving his own child alone here in that way."
"It's a blank shame!" stammered the colonel, without the least idea
of what he was talking about. In fact, utterly unable as he was to
comprehend a reason for the woman's excitement, with his estimate of
her character, I fear he showed it more plainly than he intended. He
stammered, expanded his chest, looked stern, gallant, tender, but
all unintelligently. Mrs. Tretherick, for an instant, experienced a
sickening doubt of the existence of natures in perfect affinity.
"It's of no use," said Mrs. Tretherick with sudden vehemence, in answer
to some inaudible remark of the colonel's, and withdrawing her hand from
the fervent grasp of that ardent and sympathetic man. "It's of no use:
my mind is made up. You can send for my trunk as soon as you like; but I
shall stay here, and confront that man with the proof of his vileness. I
will put him face to face with his infamy."
I do not know whether Colonel Starbottle thoroughly appreciated the
convincing proof of Tretherick's unfaithfulness and malignity afforded
by the damning evidence of the existence of Tretherick's own child in
his own house. He was dimly aware, however, of some unforeseen obstacle
to the perfect expression of the infinite longing of his own sentimental
nature. But, before he could say anything, Carry appeared on the landing
above them, looking timidly, and yet half-critically, at the pair.
"That's her," said Mrs. Tretherick excitedly. In her deepest emotions,
in either verse or prose, she rose above a consideration of grammatical
"Ah!" said the colonel, with a sudden assumption of parental affection
and jocularity that was glaringly unreal and affected. "Ah! pretty
little girl, pretty little girl! How do you do? How are you? You find
yourself pretty well, do you, pretty little girl?" The colonel's impulse
also was to expand his chest and swing his cane, until it occurred to
him that this action might be ineffective with a child of six or seven.
Carry, however, took no immediate notice of this advance, but further
discomposed the chivalrous colonel by running quickly to Mrs. Tretherick
and hiding herself, as if for protection, in the folds of her gown.
Nevertheless, the colonel was not vanquished. Falling back into
an attitude of respectful admiration, he pointed out a marvelous
resemblance to the "Madonna and Child." Mrs. Tretherick simpered, but
did not dislodge Carry as before. There was an awkward pause for a
moment; and then Mrs. Tretherick, motioning significantly to the child,
said in a whisper: "Go now. Don't come here again, but meet me tonight
at the hotel." She extended her hand: the colonel bent over it gallantly
and, raising his hat, the next moment was gone.
"Do you think," said Mrs. Tretherick with an embarrassed voice and a
prodigious blush, looking down, and addressing the fiery curls just
visible in the folds of her dress--"do you think you will be 'dood' if I
let you stay in here and sit with me?"
"And let me tall you Mamma?" queried Carry, looking up.
"And let you call me Mamma!" assented Mrs. Tretherick with an
"Yeth," said Carry promptly.
They entered the bedroom together. Carry's eye instantly caught sight of
"Are you dowin' away adain, Mamma?" she said with a quick nervous look,
and a clutch at the woman's dress.
"No-o," said Mrs. Tretherick, looking out of the window.
"Only playing your dowin' away," suggested Carry with a laugh. "Let me
Mrs. Tretherick assented. Carry flew into the next room, and presently
reappeared dragging a small trunk, into which she gravely proceeded to
pack her clothes. Mrs. Tretherick noticed that they were not many. A
question or two regarding them brought out some further replies from
the child; and before many minutes had elapsed, Mrs. Tretherick was in
possession of all her earlier history. But, to do this, Mrs. Tretherick
had been obliged to take Carry upon her lap, pending the most
confidential disclosures. They sat thus a long time after Mrs.
Tretherick had apparently ceased to be interested in Carry's
disclosures; and when lost in thought, she allowed the child to rattle
on unheeded, and ran her fingers through the scarlet curls.
"You don't hold me right, Mamma," said Carry at last, after one or two
uneasy shiftings of position.
"How should I hold you?" asked Mrs. Tretherick with a half-amused,
"Dis way," said Carry, curling up into position, with one arm around
Mrs. Tretherick's neck and her cheek resting on her bosom--"dis
way--dere." After a little preparatory nestling, not unlike some small
animal, she closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
For a few moments the woman sat silent, scarcely daring to breathe in
that artificial attitude. And then, whether from some occult sympathy in
the touch, or God best knows what, a sudden fancy began to thrill her.
She began by remembering an old pain that she had forgotten, an old
horror that she had resolutely put away all these years. She recalled
days of sickness and distrust--days of an overshadowing fear--days of
preparation for something that was to be prevented, that WAS prevented,
with mortal agony and fear. She thought of a life that might have
been--she dared not say HAD been--and wondered. It was six years ago;
if it had lived, it would have been as old as Carry. The arms which were
folded loosely around the sleeping child began to tremble, and tighten
their clasp. And then the deep potential impulse came, and with a
half-sob, half-sigh, she threw her arms out and drew the body of the
sleeping child down, down, into her breast, down again and again as if
she would hide it in the grave dug there years before. And the gust that
shook her passed, and then, ah me! the rain.
A drop or two fell upon the curls of Carry, and she moved uneasily in
her sleep. But the woman soothed her again--it was SO easy to do it
now--and they sat there quiet and undisturbed, so quiet that they might
have seemed incorporate of the lonely silent house, the slowly declining
sunbeams, and the general air of desertion and abandonment, yet a
desertion that had in it nothing of age, decay, or despair.
Colonel Starbottle waited at the Fiddletown Hotel all that night in
vain. And the next morning, when Mr. Tretherick returned to his husks,
he found the house vacant and untenanted, except by motes and sunbeams.
When it was fairly known that Mrs. Tretherick had run away, taking Mr.
Tretherick's own child with her, there was some excitement and much
diversity of opinion, in Fiddletown. THE DUTCH FLAT INTELLIGENCER openly
alluded to the "forcible abduction" of the child with the same freedom,
and it is to be feared the same prejudice, with which it had criticized
the abductor's poetry. All of Mrs. Tretherick's own sex, and perhaps
a few of the opposite sex, whose distinctive quality was not,
however, very strongly indicated, fully coincided in the views of the
INTELLIGENCER. The majority, however, evaded the moral issue; that
Mrs. Tretherick had shaken the red dust of Fiddletown from her dainty
slippers was enough for them to know. They mourned the loss of the fair
abductor more than her offense. They promptly rejected Tretherick as
an injured husband and disconsolate father, and even went so far as to
openly cast discredit on the sincerity of his grief. They reserved an
ironical condolence for Colonel Starbottle, overbearing that excellent
man with untimely and demonstrative sympathy in barrooms, saloons,
and other localities not generally deemed favorable to the display
of sentiment. "She was alliz a skittish thing, Kernel," said one
sympathizer, with a fine affectation of gloomy concern and great
readiness of illustration; "and it's kinder nat'ril thet she'd get away
someday, and stampede that theer colt: but thet she should shake YOU,
Kernel, diet she should jist shake you--is what gits me. And they do
say thet you jist hung around thet hotel all night, and payrolled them
corriders, and histed yourself up and down them stairs, and meandered
in and out o' thet piazzy, and all for nothing?" It was another generous
and tenderly commiserating spirit that poured additional oil and wine
on the colonel's wounds. "The boys yer let on thet Mrs. Tretherick
prevailed on ye to pack her trunk and a baby over from the house to the
stage offis, and that the chap ez did go off with her thanked you, and
offered you two short bits, and sed ez how he liked your looks, and ud
employ you agin--and now you say it ain't so? Well, I'll tell the boys
it ain't so, and I'm glad I met you, for stories DO get round."
Happily for Mrs. Tretherick's reputation, however, the Chinaman in
Tretherick's employment, who was the only eyewitness of her flight,
stated that she was unaccompanied, except by the child. He further
deposed that, obeying her orders, he had stopped the Sacramento coach,
and secured a passage for herself and child to San Francisco. It was
true that Ah Fe's testimony was of no legal value. But nobody doubted
it. Even those who were skeptical of the pagan's ability to recognize
the sacredness of the truth admitted his passionless, unprejudiced
unconcern. But it would appear, from a hitherto unrecorded passage of
this veracious chronicle, that herein they were mistaken.
It was about six months after the disappearance of Mrs. Tretherick that
Ah Fe, while working in Tretherick's lot, was hailed by two passing
Chinamen. They were the ordinary mining coolies, equipped with long
poles and baskets for their usual pilgrimages. An animated conversation
at once ensued between Ah Fe and his brother Mongolians--a conversation
characterized by that usual shrill volubility and apparent animosity
which was at once the delight and scorn of the intelligent Caucasian who
did not understand a word of it. Such, at least, was the feeling with
which Mr. Tretherick on his veranda and Colonel Starbottle, who was
passing, regarded their heathenish jargon. The gallant colonel simply
kicked them out of his way; the irate Tretherick, with an oath, threw a
stone at the group, and dispersed them, but not before one or two slips
of yellow rice paper, marked with hieroglyphics, were exchanged, and a
small parcel put into Ah Fe's hands. When Ah Fe opened this in the dim
solitude of his kitchen, he found a little girl's apron, freshly washed,
ironed, and folded. On the corner of the hem were the initials "C. T."
Ah Fe tucked it away in a corner of his blouse, and proceeded to wash
his dishes in the sink with a smile of guileless satisfaction.
Two days after this, Ah Fe confronted his master. "Me no likee
Fiddletown. Me belly sick. Me go now." Mr. Tretherick violently
suggested a profane locality. Ah Fe gazed at him placidly, and withdrew.
Before leaving Fiddletown, however, he accidentally met Colonel
Starbottle, and dropped a few incoherent phrases which apparently
interested that gentleman. When he concluded, the colonel handed him a
letter and a twenty-dollar gold piece. "If you bring me an answer, I'll
double that--sabe, John?" Ah Fe nodded. An interview equally accidental,
with precisely the same result, took place between Ah Fe and another
gentleman, whom I suspect to have been the youthful editor of the
AVALANCHE. Yet I regret to state that, after proceeding some distance
on his journey, Ah Fe calmly broke the seals of both letters, and after
trying to read them upside down and sideways, finally divided them into
accurate squares, and in this condition disposed of them to a brother
Celestial whom he met on the road, for a trifling gratuity. The agony
of Colonel Starbottle on finding his wash bill made out on the unwritten
side of one of these squares, and delivered to him with his weekly clean
clothes, and the subsequent discovery that the remaining portions of his
letter were circulated by the same method from the Chinese laundry
of one Fung Ti of Fiddletown, has been described to me as peculiarly
affecting. Yet I am satisfied that a higher nature, rising above the
levity induced by the mere contemplation of the insignificant details
of this breach of trust, would find ample retributive justice in the
difficulties that subsequently attended Ah Fe's pilgrimage.
On the road to Sacramento he was twice playfully thrown from the top of
the stagecoach by an intelligent but deeply intoxicated Caucasian, whose
moral nature was shocked at riding with one addicted to opium-smoking.
At Hangtown he was beaten by a passing stranger--purely an act of
Christian supererogation. At Dutch Flat he was robbed by well-known
hands from unknown motives. At Sacramento he was arrested on
suspicion of being something or other, and discharged with a severe
reprimand--possibly for not being it, and so delaying the course of
justice. At San Francisco he was freely stoned by children of the public
schools; but, by carefully avoiding these monuments of enlightened
progress, he at last reached, in comparative safety, the Chinese
quarters, where his abuse was confined to the police and limited by the
strong arm of the law.
The next day he entered the washhouse of Chy Fook as an assistant, and
on the following Friday was sent with a basket of clean clothes to Chy
Fook's several clients.
It was the usual foggy afternoon as he climbed the long windswept hill
of California Street--one of those bleak, gray intervals that made the
summer a misnomer to any but the liveliest San Franciscan fancy. There
was no warmth or color in earth or sky, no light nor shade within or
without, only one monotonous, universal neutral tint over everything.
There was a fierce unrest in the wind-whipped streets: there was a
dreary vacant quiet in the gray houses. When Ah Fe reached the top of
the hill, the Mission Ridge was already hidden, and the chill sea
breeze made him shiver. As he put down his basket to rest himself, it
is possible that, to his defective intelligence and heathen experience,
this "God's own climate," as was called, seemed to possess but
scant tenderness, softness, or mercy. But it is possible that Ah
Fe illogically confounded this season with his old persecutors, the
schoolchildren, who, being released from studious confinement, at this
hour were generally most aggressive. So he hastened on, and turning a
corner, at last stopped before a small house.
It was the usual San Franciscan urban cottage. There was the little
strip of cold green shrubbery before it; the chilly, bare veranda, and
above this, again, the grim balcony, on which no one sat. Ah Fe rang
the bell. A servant appeared, glanced at his basket, and reluctantly
admitted him, as if he were some necessary domestic animal. Ah Fe
silently mounted the stairs, and entering the open door of the front
chamber, put down the basket and stood passively on the threshold.
A woman, who was sitting in the cold gray light of the window, with a
child in her lap, rose listlessly, and came toward him. Ah Fe instantly
recognized Mrs. Tretherick; but not a muscle of his immobile face
changed, nor did his slant eyes lighten as he met her own placidly. She
evidently did not recognize him as she began to count the clothes. But
the child, curiously examining him, suddenly uttered a short, glad cry.
"Why, it's John, Mamma! It's our old John what we had in Fiddletown."
For an instant Ah Fe's eyes and teeth electrically lightened. The child
clapped her hands, and caught at his blouse. Then he said shortly: "Me
John--Ah Fe--allee same. Me know you. How do?"
Mrs. Tretherick dropped the clothes nervously, and looked hard at Ah Fe.
Wanting the quick-witted instinct of affection that sharpened Carry's
perception, she even then could not distinguish him above his fellows.
With a recollection of past pain, and an obscure suspicion of impending
danger, she asked him when he had left Fiddletown.
"Longee time. No likee Fiddletown, no likee Tlevelick. Likee San Flisco.
Likee washee. Likee Tally."
Ah Fe's laconics pleased Mrs. Tretherick. She did not stop to consider
how much an imperfect knowledge of English added to his curt directness
and sincerity. But she said, "Don't tell anybody you have seen me," and
took out her pocketbook.
Ah Fe, without looking at it, saw that it was nearly empty. Ah Fe,
without examining the apartment, saw that it was scantily furnished.
Ah Fe, without removing his eyes from blank vacancy, saw that both Mrs.
Tretherick and Carry were poorly dressed. Yet it is my duty to
state that Ah Fe's long fingers closed promptly and firmly over the
half-dollar which Mrs. Tretherick extended to him.
Then he began to fumble in his blouse with a series of extraordinary
contortions. After a few moments, he extracted from apparently no
particular place a child's apron, which he laid upon the basket with the
"One piecee washman flagittee."
Then he began anew his fumblings and contortions. At last his efforts
were rewarded by his producing, apparently from his right ear, a
many-folded piece of tissue paper. Unwrapping this carefully, he at
last disclosed two twenty-dollar gold pieces, which he handed to Mrs.
"You leavee money topside of blulow, Fiddletown. Me findee money. Me
fetchee money to you. All lightee."
"But I left no money on the top of the bureau, John," said Mrs.
Tretherick earnestly. "There must be some mistake. It belongs to some
other person. Take it back, John."
Ah Fe's brow darkened. He drew away from Mrs. Tretherick's extended
hand, and began hastily to gather up his basket.
"Me no takee it back. No, no! Bimeby pleesman he catchee me. He say,
'God damn thief!--catchee flowty dollar: come to jailee.' Me no takee
back. You leavee money topside blulow, Fiddletown. Me fetchee money you.
Me no takee back."
Mrs. Tretherick hesitated. In the confusion of her flight, she MIGHT
have left the money in the manner he had said. In any event, she had no
right to jeopardize this honest Chinaman's safety by refusing it. So she
said: "Very well, John, I will keep it. But you must come again and see
me--" here Mrs. Tretherick hesitated with a new and sudden revelation
of the fact that any man could wish to see any other than herself--"and,
Ah Fe's face lightened. He even uttered a short ventriloquistic laugh
without moving his mouth. Then, shouldering his basket, he shut the door
carefully and slid quietly down stairs. In the lower hall he, however,
found an unexpected difficulty in opening the front door, and, after
fumbling vainly at the lock for a moment, looked around for some help
or instruction. But the Irish handmaid who had let him in was
contemptuously oblivious of his needs, and did not appear.
There occurred a mysterious and painful incident, which I shall simply
record without attempting to explain. On the hall table a scarf,
evidently the property of the servant before alluded to, was lying.
As Ah Fe tried the lock with one hand, the other rested lightly on the
table. Suddenly, and apparently of its own volition, the scarf began to
creep slowly toward Ah Fe's hand; from Ah Fe's hand it began to creep up
his sleeve slowly, and with an insinuating, snakelike motion; and then
disappeared somewhere in the recesses of his blouse. Without betraying
the least interest or concern in this phenomenon, Ah Fe still repeated
his experiments upon the lock. A moment later the tablecloth of red
damask, moved by apparently the same mysterious impulse, slowly gathered
itself under Ah Fe's fingers, and sinuously disappeared by the same
hidden channel. What further mystery might have followed, I cannot say;
for at this moment Ah Fe discovered the secret of the lock, and was
enabled to open the door coincident with the sound of footsteps upon
the kitchen stairs. Ah Fe did not hasten his movements, but patiently
shouldering his basket, closed the door carefully behind him again, and
stepped forth into the thick encompassing fog that now shrouded earth
From her high casement window, Mrs. Tretherick watched Ah Fe's figure
until it disappeared in the gray cloud. In her present loneliness, she
felt a keen sense of gratitude toward him, and may have ascribed to
the higher emotions and the consciousness of a good deed that certain
expansiveness of the chest, and swelling of the bosom, that was really
due to the hidden presence of the scarf and tablecloth under his blouse.
For Mrs. Tretherick was still poetically sensitive. As the gray fog
deepened into night, she drew Carry closer toward her, and, above
the prattle of the child, pursued a vein of sentimental and egotistic
recollection at once bitter and dangerous. The sudden apparition of Ah
Fe linked her again with her past life at Fiddletown. Over the dreary
interval between, she was now wandering--a journey so piteous, willful,
thorny, and useless that it was no wonder that at last Carry stopped
suddenly in the midst of her voluble confidences to throw her small arms
around the woman's neck, and bid her not to cry.
Heaven forefend that I should use a pen that should be ever dedicated
to an exposition of unalterable moral principle to transcribe Mrs.
Tretherick's own theory of this interval and episode, with its feeble
palliations, its illogical deductions, its fond excuses, and weak
apologies. It would seem, however, that her experience had been hard.
Her slender stock of money was soon exhausted. At Sacramento she
found that the composition of verse, although appealing to the highest
emotions of the human heart, and compelling the editorial breast to the
noblest commendation in the editorial pages, was singularly inadequate
to defray the expenses of herself and Carry. Then she tried the stage,
but failed signally. Possibly her conception of the passions was
different from that which obtained with a Sacramento audience; but it
was certain that her charming presence, so effective at short range, was
not sufficiently pronounced for the footlights. She had admirers enough
in the greenroom, but awakened no abiding affection among the audience.
In this strait, it occurred to her that she had a voice--a contralto of
no very great compass or cultivation, but singularly sweet and touching;
and she finally obtained position in a church choir. She held it for
three months, greatly to her pecuniary advantage, and, it is said, much
to the satisfaction of the gentlemen in the back pews, who faced toward
her during the singing of the last hymn.
I remember her quite distinctly at this time. The light that slanted
through the oriel of St. Dives's choir was wont to fall very tenderly on
her beautiful head with its stacked masses of deerskin-colored hair, on
the low black arches of her brows, and to deepen the pretty fringes
that shaded her eyes of Genoa velvet. Very pleasant it was to watch
the opening and shutting of that small straight mouth, with its quick
revelation of little white teeth, and to see the foolish blood faintly
deepen her satin cheek as you watched. For Mrs. Tretherick was very
sweetly conscious of admiration and, like most pretty women, gathered
herself under your eye like a racer under the spur.
And then, of course, there came trouble. I have it from the soprano--a
little lady who possessed even more than the usual unprejudiced judgment
of her sex--that Mrs. Tretherick's conduct was simply shameful; that her
conceit was unbearable; that, if she considered the rest of the choir
as slaves, she (the soprano) would like to know it; that her conduct on
Easter Sunday with the basso had attracted the attention of the whole
congregation; and that she herself had noticed Dr. Cope twice look up
during the service; that her (the soprano's) friends had objected to her
singing in the choir with a person who had been on the stage, but
she had waived this. Yet she had it from the best authority that Mrs.
Tretherick had run away from her husband, and that this red-haired child
who sometimes came in the choir was not her own. The tenor confided to
me behind the organ that Mrs. Tretherick had a way of sustaining a note
at the end of a line in order that her voice might linger longer with
the congregation--an act that could be attributed only to a defective
moral nature; that as a man (he was a very popular dry goods clerk on
weekdays, and sang a good deal from apparently behind his eyebrows on
the Sabbath)--that as a man, sir, he would put up with it no longer.
The basso alone--a short German with a heavy voice, for which he seemed
reluctantly responsible, and rather grieved at its possession--stood up
for Mrs. Tretherick, and averred that they were jealous of her because
she was "bretty." The climax was at last reached in an open quarrel,
wherein Mrs. Tretherick used her tongue with such precision of statement
and epithet that the soprano burst into hysterical tears, and had to
be supported from the choir by her husband and the tenor. This act was
marked intentionally to the congregation by the omission of the usual
soprano solo. Mrs. Tretherick went home flushed with triumph, but
on reaching her room frantically told Carry that they were beggars
henceforward; that she--her mother--had just taken the very bread out
of her darling's mouth, and ended by bursting into a flood of penitent
tears. They did not come so quickly as in her old poetical days; but
when they came they stung deeply. She was roused by a formal visit from
a vestryman--one of the music committee. Mrs. Tretherick dried her long
lashes, put on a new neck ribbon, and went down to the parlor. She staid
there two hours--a fact that might have occasioned some remark but that
the vestryman was married, and had a family of grownup daughters. When
Mrs. Tretherick returned to her room, she sang to herself in the glass
and scolded Carry--but she retained her place in the choir.
It was not long, however. In due course of time, her enemies received a
powerful addition to their forces in the committeeman's wife. That lady
called upon several of the church members and on Dr. Cope's family.
The result was that, at a later meeting of the music committee, Mrs.
Tretherick's voice was declared inadequate to the size of the building
and she was invited to resign. She did so. She had been out of a
situation for two months, and her scant means were almost exhausted,
when Ah Fe's unexpected treasure was tossed into her lap.
The gray fog deepened into night, and the street lamps started into
shivering life as, absorbed in these unprofitable memories, Mrs.
Tretherick still sat drearily at her window. Even Carry had slipped away
unnoticed; and her abrupt entrance with the damp evening paper in
her hand roused Mrs. Tretherick, and brought her back to an active
realization of the present. For Mrs. Tretherick was wont to scan
the advertisements in the faint hope of finding some avenue of
employment--she knew not what--open to her needs; and Carry had noted
Mrs. Tretherick mechanically closed the shutters, lit the lights, and
opened the paper. Her eye fell instinctively on the following paragraph
in the telegraphic column:
FIDDLETOWN, 7th.--Mr. James Tretherick, an old resident of this place,
died last night of delirium tremens. Mr. Tretherick was addicted to
intemperate habits, said to have been induced by domestic trouble.
Mrs. Tretherick did not start. She quietly turned over another page of
the paper, and glanced at Carry. The child was absorbed in a book. Mrs.
Tretherick uttered no word, but during the remainder of the evening was
unusually silent and cold. When Carry was undressed and in bed, Mrs.
Tretherick suddenly dropped on her knees beside the bed, and, taking
Carry's flaming head between her hands, said:
"Should you like to have another papa, Carry, darling?"
"No," said Carry, after a moment's thought.
"But a papa to help Mamma take care of you, to love you, to give you
nice clothes, to make a lady of you when you grow up?"
Carry turned her sleepy eyes toward the questioner. "Should YOU, Mamma?"
Mrs. Tretherick suddenly flushed to the roots of her hair. "Go to
sleep," she said sharply, and turned away.
But at midnight the child felt two white arms close tightly around her,
and was drawn down into a bosom that heaved, fluttered, and at last was
broken up by sobs.
"Don't ky, Mamma," whispered Carry, with a vague retrospect of their
recent conversation. "Don't ky. I fink I SHOULD like a new papa, if he
loved you very much--very, very much!"
A month afterward, to everybody's astonishment, Mrs. Tretherick was
married. The happy bridegroom was one Colonel Starbottle, recently
elected to represent Calaveras County in the legislative councils of the
State. As I cannot record the event in finer language than that used by
the correspondent of THE SACRAMENTO GLOBE, I venture to quote some of
his graceful periods. "The relentless shafts of the sly god have been
lately busy among our gallant Solons. We quote 'one more unfortunate.'
The latest victim is the Hon. C. Starbottle of Calaveras. The fair
enchantress in the case is a beautiful widow, a former votary of
Thespis, and lately a fascinating St. Cecilia of one of the most
fashionable churches of San Francisco, where she commanded a high
THE DUTCH FLAT INTELLIGENCER saw fit, however, to comment upon the fact
with that humorous freedom characteristic of an unfettered press. "The
new Democratic war horse from Calaveras has lately advented in the
legislature with a little bill to change the name of Tretherick
to Starbottle. They call it a marriage certificate down there. Mr.
Tretherick has been dead just one month; but we presume the gallant
colonel is not afraid of ghosts." It is but just to Mrs. Tretherick
to state that the colonel's victory was by no means an easy one. To
a natural degree of coyness on the part of the lady was added the
impediment of a rival--a prosperous undertaker from Sacramento, who
had first seen and loved Mrs. Tretherick at the theater and church, his
professional habits debarring him from ordinary social intercourse, and
indeed any other than the most formal public contact with the sex. As
this gentleman had made a snug fortune during the felicitous prevalence
of a severe epidemic, the colonel regarded him as a dangerous rival.
Fortunately, however, the undertaker was called in professionally to lay
out a brother senator, who had unhappily fallen by the colonel's pistol
in an affair of honor; and either deterred by physical consideration
from rivalry, or wisely concluding that the colonel was professionally
valuable, he withdrew from the field.
The honeymoon was brief, and brought to a close by an untoward incident.
During their bridal trip, Carry had been placed in the charge of
Colonel Starbottle's sister. On their return to the city, immediately on
reaching their lodgings, Mrs. Starbottle announced her intention of at
once proceeding to Mrs. Culpepper's to bring the child home. Colonel
Starbottle, who had been exhibiting for some time a certain uneasiness
which he had endeavored to overcome by repeated stimulation, finally
buttoned his coat tightly across his breast, and after walking
unsteadily once or twice up and down the room, suddenly faced his wife
with his most imposing manner.
"I have deferred," said the colonel with an exaggeration of port that
increased with his inward fear, and a growing thickness of speech--"I
have deferr--I may say poshponed statement o' fack thash my duty ter
dishclose ter ye. I did no wish to mar sushine mushal happ'ness, to
bligh bud o' promise, to darken conjuglar sky by unpleasht revelashun.
Musht be done--by God, m'm, musht do it now. The chile is gone!"
"Gone!" echoed Mrs. Starbottle.
There was something in the tone of her voice, in the sudden
drawing-together of the pupils of her eyes, that for a moment nearly
sobered the colonel, and partly collapsed his chest.
"I'll splain all in a minit," he said with a deprecating wave of the
hand. "Everything shall be splained. The-the-the-melencholly event
wish preshipitate our happ'ness--the myster'us prov'nice wish releash
you--releash chile! hunerstan?--releash chile. The mom't Tretherick
die--all claim you have in chile through him--die too. Thash law. Who's
chile b'long to? Tretherick? Tretherick dead. Chile can't b'long dead
man. Damn nonshense b'long dead man. I'sh your chile? no! whose chile
then? Chile b'long to 'ts mother. Unnerstan?"
"Where is she?" said Mrs. Starbottle, with a very white face and a very
"I'll splain all. Chile b'long to 'ts mother. Thash law. I'm lawyer,
leshlator, and American sis'n. Ish my duty as lawyer, as leshlator, and
'merikan sis'n to reshtore chile to suff'rin mother at any coss--any
"Where is she?" repeated Mrs. Starbottle, with her eyes still fixed on
the colonel's face.
"Gone to 'ts m'o'r. Gone East on shteamer, yesserday. Waffed by fav'rin
gales to suff'rin p'rent. Thash so!"
Mrs. Starbottle did not move. The colonel felt his chest slowly
collapsing, but steadied himself against a chair, and endeavored to beam
with chivalrous gallantry not unmixed with magisterial firmness upon her
as she sat.
"Your feelin's, m'm, do honor to yer sex, but conshider situashun.
Conshider m'or's feelings--conshider MY feelin's." The colonel paused,
and flourishing a white handkerchief, placed it negligently in his
breast, and then smiled tenderly above it, as over laces and ruffles, on
the woman before him. "Why should dark shed-der cass bligh on two sholes
with single beat? Chile's fine chile, good chile, but summonelse chile!
Chile's gone, Clar'; but all ish'n't gone, Clar'. Conshider dearesht,
you all's have me!"
Mrs. Starbottle started to her feet. "YOU!" she cried, bringing out a
chest note that made the chandeliers ring--"You that I married to give
my darling food and clothes--YOU! a dog that I whistled to my side to
keep the men off me--YOU!"
She choked up, and then dashed past him into the inner room, which had
been Carry's; then she swept by him again into her own bedroom, and then
suddenly reappeared before him, erect, menacing, with a burning fire
over her cheekbones, a quick straightening of her arched brows and
mouth, a squaring of jaw, and ophidian flattening of the head.
"Listen!" she said in a hoarse, half-grown boy's voice. "Hear me! If
you ever expect to set eyes on me again, you must find the child. If you
ever expect to speak to me again, to touch me, you must bring her back.
For where she goes, I go; you hear me! Where she has gone, look for me."
She struck out past him again with a quick feminine throwing-out of her
arms from the elbows down, as if freeing herself from some imaginary
bonds, and dashing into her chamber, slammed and locked the door.
Colonel Starbottle, although no coward, stood in superstitious fear
of an angry woman, and, recoiling as she swept by, lost his unsteady
foothold and rolled helplessly on the sofa. Here, after one or two
unsuccessful attempts to regain his foothold, he remained, uttering from
time to time profane but not entirely coherent or intelligible protests,
until at last he succumbed to the exhausting quality of his emotions,
and the narcotic quantity of his potations.
Meantime, within, Mrs. Starbottle was excitedly gathering her valuables
and packing her trunk, even as she had done once before in the course
of this remarkable history. Perhaps some recollection of this was in her
mind; for she stopped to lean her burning cheeks upon her hand, as if
she saw again the figure of the child standing in the doorway, and heard
once more a childish voice asking, "Is it Mamma?" But the epithet now
stung her to the quick, and with a quick, passionate gesture she dashed
it away with a tear that had gathered in her eye. And then it chanced
that, in turning over some clothes, she came upon the child's slipper
with a broken sandal string. She uttered a great cry here--the first she
had uttered--and caught it to her breast, kissing it passionately again
and again, and rocking from side to side with a motion peculiar to her
sex. And then she took it to the window, the better to see it through
her now streaming eyes. Here she was taken with a sudden fit of coughing
that she could not stifle with the handkerchief she put to her feverish
lips. And then she suddenly grew very faint. The window seemed to recede
before her, the floor to sink beneath her feet; and staggering to the
bed, she fell prone upon it with the sandal and handkerchief pressed
to her breast. Her face was quite pale, the orbit of her eyes dark; and
there was a spot upon her lip, another on her handkerchief, and still
another on the white counterpane of the bed.
The wind had risen, rattling the window sashes and swaying the white
curtains in a ghostly way. Later, a gray fog stole softly over the
roofs, soothing the wind-roughened surfaces, and in-wrapping all things
in an uncertain light and a measureless peace. She lay there very
quiet--for all her troubles, still a very pretty bride. And on the
other side of the bolted door the gallant bridegroom, from his temporary
couch, snored peacefully.
A week before Christmas Day, 1870, the little town of Genoa, in the
State of New York, exhibited, perhaps more strongly than at any other
time, the bitter irony of its founders and sponsors. A driving snowstorm
that had whitened every windward hedge, bush, wall, and telegraph pole,
played around this soft Italian Capital, whirled in and out of the great
staring wooden Doric columns of its post office and hotel, beat upon the
cold green shutters of its best houses, and powdered the angular, stiff,
dark figures in its streets. From the level of the street, the four
principal churches of the town stood out starkly, even while their
misshapen spires were kindly hidden in the low, driving storm. Near
the railroad station, the new Methodist chapel, whose resemblance to
an enormous locomotive was further heightened by the addition of a
pyramidal row of front steps, like a cowcatcher, stood as if waiting for
a few more houses to be hitched on to proceed to a pleasanter
location. But the pride of Genoa--the great Crammer Institute for Young
Ladies--stretched its bare brick length and reared its cupola plainly
from the bleak Parnassian hill above the principal avenue. There was
no evasion in the Crammer Institute of the fact that it was a public
institution. A visitor upon its doorsteps, a pretty face at its window,
were clearly visible all over the township.
The shriek of the engine of the four-o'clock Northern express brought
but few of the usual loungers to the depot. Only a single passenger
alighted, and was driven away in the solitary waiting sleigh toward the
Genoa Hotel. And then the train sped away again, with that passionless
indifference to human sympathies or curiosity peculiar to express
trains; the one baggage truck was wheeled into the station again; the
station door was locked; and the stationmaster went home.
The locomotive whistle, however, awakened the guilty consciousness
of three young ladies of the Crammer Institute, who were even then
surreptitiously regaling themselves in the bakeshop and confectionery
saloon of Mistress Phillips in a by-lane. For even the admirable
regulations of the Institute failed to entirely develop the physical
and moral natures of its pupils. They conformed to the excellent dietary
rules in public, and in private drew upon the luxurious rations of their
village caterer. They attended church with exemplary formality, and
flirted informally during service with the village beaux. They received
the best and most judicious instruction during school hours, and
devoured the trashiest novels during recess. The result of which was
an aggregation of quite healthy, quite human, and very charming young
creatures that reflected infinite credit on the Institute. Even Mistress
Phillips, to whom they owed vast sums, exhilarated by the exuberant
spirits and youthful freshness of her guests, declared that the sight of
"them young things" did her good, and had even been known to shield them
by shameless equivocation.
"Four o'clock, girls! and, if we're not back to prayers by five, we'll
be missed," said the tallest of these foolish virgins, with an aquiline
nose, and certain quiet elan that bespoke the leader, as she rose
from her seat. "Have you got the books, Addy?" Addy displayed three
dissipated-looking novels under her waterproof. "And the provisions,
Carry?" Carry showed a suspicious parcel filling the pocket of her sack.
"All right, then. Come, girls, trudge--Charge it," she added, nodding to
her host as they passed toward the door. "I'll pay you when my quarter's
"No, Kate," interposed Carry, producing her purse, "let me pay; it's my
"Never!" said Kate, arching her black brows loftily, "even if you do
have rich relatives, and regular remittances from California. Never!
Come, girls, forward, march!"
As they opened the door, a gust of wind nearly took them off their feet.
Kindhearted Mrs. Phillips was alarmed. "Sakes alive, galls! ye mussn't
go out in sich weather. Better let me send word to the Institoot, and
make ye up a nice bed tonight in my parlor." But the last sentence was
lost in a chorus of half-suppressed shrieks as the girls, hand in hand,
ran down the steps into the storm, and were at once whirled away.
The short December day, unlit by any sunset glow, was failing fast. It
was quite dark already, and the air was thick with driving snow. For
some distance their high spirits, youth, and even inexperience kept them
bravely up; but, in ambitiously attempting a short cut from the highroad
across an open field, their strength gave out, the laugh grew less
frequent, and tears began to stand in Carry's brown eyes. When they
reached the road again, they were utterly exhausted. "Let us go back,"
"We'd never get across that field again," said Addy.
"Let's stop at the first house, then," said Carry.
"The first house," said Addy, peering through the gathering darkness,
"is Squire Robinson's." She darted a mischievous glance at Carry that,
even in her discomfort and fear, brought the quick blood to her cheek.
"Oh, yes!" said
Next: Barker's Luck
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