Colonel Starbottle's Client
From: Colonel Starbottle's Client And Other
It may be remembered that it was the habit of that gallant "war-horse"
of the Calaveras democracy, Colonel Starbottle, at the close of a
political campaign, to return to his original profession of the
Law. Perhaps it could not be called a peaceful retirement. The same
fiery-tongued eloquence and full-breasted chivalry which had in turns
thrilled and overawed freemen at the polls were no less fervid and
embattled before a jury. Yet the Colonel was counsel for two or three
pastoral Ditch companies and certain bucolic corporations, and although
he managed to import into the simplest question of contract more or less
abuse of opposing counsel, and occasionally mingled precedents of law
with antecedents of his adversary, his legal victories were seldom
complicated by bloodshed. He was only once shot at by a free-handed
judge, and twice assaulted by an over-sensitive litigant. Nevertheless,
it was thought merely prudent, while preparing the papers in the well
known case of "The Arcadian Shepherds' Association of Tuolumne versus
the Kedron Vine and Fig Tree Growers of Calaveras," that the Colonel
should seek with a shotgun the seclusion of his partner's law office
in the sylvan outskirts of Rough and Ready for that complete rest and
serious preoccupation which Marysville could not afford.
It was an exceptionally hot day. The painted shingles of the plain
wooden one-storied building in which the Colonel sat were warped and
blistering in the direct rays of the fierce, untempered sun. The tin
sign bearing the dazzling legend, "Starbottle and Bungstarter, Attorneys
and Counselors," glowed with an insufferable light; the two pine-trees
still left in the clearing around the house, ineffective as shade,
seemed only to have absorbed the day-long heat through every scorched
and crisp twig and fibre, to radiate it again with the pungent smell of
a slowly smouldering fire; the air was motionless yet vibrating in the
sunlight; on distant shallows the half-dried river was flashing and
Seated in a wooden armchair before a table covered with books and
papers, yet with that apparently haughty attitude towards it affected
by gentlemen of abdominal fullness, Colonel Starbottle supported himself
with one hand grasping the arm of his chair and the other vigorously
plying a huge palm-leaf fan. He was perspiring freely. He had taken off
his characteristic blue frock-coat, waistcoat, cravat, and collar, and,
stripped only to his ruffled shirt and white drill trousers, presented
the appearance from the opposite side of the table of having hastily
risen to work in his nightgown. A glass with a thin sediment of sugar
and lemon-peel remaining in it stood near his elbow. Suddenly a black
shadow fell on the staring, uncarpeted hall. It was that of a stranger
who had just entered from the noiseless dust of the deserted road. The
Colonel cast a rapid glance at his sword-cane, which lay on the table.
But the stranger, although sallow and morose-looking, was evidently
of pacific intent. He paused on the threshold in a kind of surly
"I reckon this is Colonel Starbottle," he said at last, glancing
gloomily round him, as if the interview was not entirely of his own
seeking. "Well, I've seen you often enough, though you don't know me. My
name's Jo Corbin. I guess," he added, still discontentedly, "I have to
consult you about something."
"Corbin?" repeated the Colonel in his jauntiest manner. "Ah! Any
relation to old Maje Corbin of Nashville, sir?"
"No," said the stranger briefly. "I'm from Shelbyville."
"The Major," continued the Colonel, half closing his eyes as if to
follow the Major into the dreamy past, "the old Major, sir, a matter
of five or six years ago, was one of my most intimate political
friends,--in fact, sir, my most intimate friend. Take a chyar!"
But the stranger had already taken one, and during the Colonel's
reminiscence had leaned forward, with his eyes on the ground,
discontentedly swinging his soft hat between his legs. "Did you know Tom
Frisbee, of Yolo?" he asked abruptly.
"Nor even heard anything about Frisbee, nor what happened to him?"
continued the man, with aggrieved melancholy.
In point of fact the Colonel did not think that he had.
"Nor anything about his being killed over at Fresno?" said the stranger,
with a desponding implication that the interview after all was a
"If--er--if you could--er--give me a hint or two," suggested the Colonel
"There wasn't much," said the stranger, "if you don't remember." He
paused, then rising, he gloomily dragged his chair slowly beside
the table, and taking up a paperweight examined it with heavy
dissatisfaction. "You see," he went on slowly, "I killed him--it was a
quo'll. He was my pardner, but I reckon he must have drove me hard. Yes,
sir," he added with aggrieved reflection, "I reckon he drove me hard."
The Colonel smiled courteously, slightly expanding his chest under the
homicidal relation, as if, having taken it in and made it a part of
himself, he was ready, if necessary, to become personally responsible
for it. Then lifting his empty glass to the light, he looked at it with
half closed eyes, in polite imitation of his companion's examination
of the paper-weight, and set it down again. A casual spectator from
the window might have imagined that the two were engaged in an amicable
inventory of the furniture.
"And the--er--actual circumstances?" asked the Colonel.
"Oh, it was fair enough fight. THEY'LL tell you that. And so would HE,
I reckon--if he could. He was ugly and bedev'lin', but I didn't care to
quo'll, and give him the go-by all the time. He kept on, followed me out
of the shanty, drew, and fired twice. I"--he stopped and regarded his
hat a moment as if it was a corroborating witness--"I--I closed with
him--I had to--it was my only chance, and that ended it--and with his
own revolver. I never drew mine."
"I see," said the Colonel, nodding, "clearly justifiable and honorable
as regards the code. And you wish me to defend you?"
The stranger's gloomy expression of astonishment now turned to blank
"I knew you didn't understand," he said, despairingly. "Why, all THAT
was TWO YEARS AGO. It's all settled and done and gone. The jury found
for me at the inquest. It ain't THAT I want to see you about. It's
something arising out of it."
"Ah," said the Colonel, affably, "a vendetta, perhaps. Some friend or
relation of his taken up the quarrel?"
The stranger looked abstractedly at Starbottle. "You think a relation
might; or would feel in that sort of way?"
"Why, blank it all, sir," said the Colonel, "nothing is more common.
Why, in '52 one of my oldest friends, Doctor Byrne, of St. Jo, the
seventh in a line from old General Byrne, of St. Louis, was killed,
sir, by Pinkey Riggs, seventh in a line from Senator Riggs, of Kentucky.
Original cause, sir, something about a d----d roasting ear, or a blank
persimmon in 1832; forty-seven men wiped out in twenty years. Fact,
"It ain't that," said the stranger, moving hesitatingly in his chair.
"If it was anything of that sort I wouldn't mind,--it might bring
matters to a wind-up, and I shouldn't have to come here and have this
cursed talk with you."
It was so evident that this frank and unaffected expression of some
obscure disgust with his own present position had no other implication,
that the Colonel did not except to it. Yet the man did not go on. He
stopped and seemed lost in sombre contemplation of his hat.
The Colonel leaned back in his chair, fanned himself elegantly, wiped
his forehead with a large pongee handkerchief, and looking at his
companion, whose shadowed abstraction seemed to render him impervious to
the heat, said:--
"My dear Mr. Corbin, I perfectly understand you. Blank it all, sir,
the temperature in this infernal hole is quite enough to render any
confidential conversation between gentlemen upon delicate matters
utterly impossible. It's almost as near Hades, sir, as they make
it,--as I trust you and I, Mr. Corbin, will ever experience. I propose,"
continued the Colonel, with airy geniality, "some light change and
refreshment. The bar-keeper of the Magnolia is--er--I may say, sir,
facile princeps in the concoction of mint juleps, and there is a back
room where I have occasionally conferred with political leaders at
election time. It is but a step, sir--in fact, on Main Street--round the
The stranger looked up and then rose mechanically as the Colonel resumed
his coat and waistcoat, but not his collar and cravat, which lay limp
and dejected among his papers. Then, sheltering himself beneath a
large-brimmed Panama hat, and hooking his cane on his arm, he led the
way, fan in hand, into the road, tiptoeing in his tight, polished boots
through the red, impalpable dust with his usual jaunty manner, yet
not without a profane suggestion of burning ploughshares. The stranger
strode in silence by his side in the burning sun, impenetrable in his
own morose shadow.
But the Magnolia was fragrant, like its namesake, with mint and herbal
odors, cool with sprinkled floors, and sparkling with broken ice on
its counters, like dewdrops on white, unfolded petals--and slightly
soporific with the subdued murmur of droning loungers, who were heavy
with its sweets. The gallant Colonel nodded with confidential affability
to the spotless-shirted bar-keeper, and then taking Corbin by the arm
fraternally conducted him into a small apartment in the rear of the
bar-room. It was evidently used as the office of the proprietor, and
contained a plain desk, table, and chairs. At the rear window, Nature,
not entirely evicted, looked in with a few straggling buckeyes and a
dusty myrtle, over the body of a lately-felled pine-tree, that flaunted
from an upflung branch a still green spray as if it were a drooping
banner lifted by a dead but rigid arm. From the adjoining room the
faint, monotonous click of billiard balls, languidly played, came at
intervals like the dry notes of cicale in the bushes.
The bar-keeper brought two glasses crowned with mint and diademed with
broken ice. The Colonel took a long pull at his portion, and leaned
back in his chair with a bland gulp of satisfaction and dreamily patient
eyes. The stranger mechanically sipped the contents of his glass, and
then, without having altered his reluctant expression, drew from his
breast-pocket a number of old letters. Holding them displayed in his
fingers like a difficult hand of cards, and with something of the air of
a dispirited player, he began:--
"You see, about six months after this yer trouble I got this letter." He
picked out a well worn, badly written missive, and put it into Colonel
Starbottle's hands, rising at the same time and leaning over him as he
read. "You see, she that writ it says as how she hadn't heard from her
son for a long time, but owing to his having spoken once about ME, she
was emboldened to write and ask me if I knew what had gone of him." He
was pointing his finger at each line of the letter as he read it, or
rather seemed to translate it from memory with a sad familiarity. "Now,"
he continued in parenthesis, "you see this kind o' got me. I knew he had
got relatives in Kentucky. I knew that all this trouble had been put in
the paper with his name and mine, but this here name of Martha Jeffcourt
at the bottom didn't seem to jibe with it. Then I remembered that he had
left a lot of letters in his trunk in the shanty, and I looked 'em over.
And I found that his name WAS Tom Jeffcourt, and that he'd been passin'
under the name of Frisbee all this time."
"Perfectly natural and a frequent occurrence," interposed the Colonel
cheerfully. "Only last year I met an old friend whom we'll call Stidger,
of New Orleans, at the Union Club, 'Frisco. 'How are you, Stidger?' I
said; 'I haven't seen you since we used to meet--driving over the Shell
Road in '53.' 'Excuse me, sir,' said he, 'my name is not Stidger, it's
Brown.' I looked him in the eye, sir, and saw him quiver. 'Then I must
apologize to Stidger,' I said, 'for supposing him capable of changing
his name.' He came to me an hour after, all in a tremble. 'For God's
sake, Star,' he said,--always called me Star,--'don't go back on me,
but you know family affairs--another woman, beautiful creature,' etc.,
etc.,--yes, sir, perfectly common, but a blank mistake. When a man once
funks his own name he'll turn tail on anything. Sorry for this man,
Friezecoat, or Turncoat, or whatever's his d----d name; but it's so."
The suggestion did not, however, seem to raise the stranger's spirits
or alter his manner. "His name was Jeffcourt, and this here was his
mother," he went on drearily; "and you see here she says"--pointing
to the letter again--"she's been expecting money from him and it don't
come, and she's mighty hard up. And that gave me an idea. I don't know,"
he went on, regarding the Colonel with gloomy doubt, "as you'll think it
was much; I don't know as you wouldn't call it a d----d fool idea, but I
got it all the same." He stopped, hesitated, and went on. "You see this
man, Frisbee or Jeffcourt, was my pardner. We were good friends up to
the killing, and then he drove me hard. I think I told you he drove me
hard,--didn't I? Well, he did. But the idea I got was this. Considerin'
I killed him after all, and so to speak disappointed them, I reckoned
I'd take upon myself the care of that family and send 'em money every
The Colonel slightly straitened his clean-shaven mouth. "A kind of
expiation or amercement by fine, known to the Mosaic, Roman, and old
English law. Gad, sir, the Jews might have made you MARRY his widow
or sister. An old custom, and I think superseded--sir, properly
superseded--by the alternative of ordeal by battle in the mediaeval
times. I don't myself fancy these pecuniary fashions of settling
wrongs,--but go on."
"I wrote her," continued Corbin, "that her son was dead, but that he and
me had some interests together in a claim, and that I was very glad to
know where to send her what would be his share every month. I thought it
no use to tell her I killed him,--may be she might refuse to take it. I
sent her a hundred dollars every month since. Sometimes it's been pretty
hard sleddin' to do it, for I ain't rich; sometimes I've had to borrow
the money, but I reckoned that I was only paying for my share in this
here business of his bein' dead, and I did it."
"And I understand you that this Jeffcourt really had no interest in your
Corbin looked at him in dull astonishment. "Not a cent, of course; I
thought I told you that. But that weren't his fault, for he never
had anything, and owed me money. In fact," he added gloomily, "it
was because I hadn't any more to give him--havin' sold my watch
for grub--that he quo'lled with me that day, and up and called me a
'sneakin' Yankee hound.' I told you he drove me hard."
The Colonel coughed slightly and resumed his jaunty manner. "And
the--er--mother was, of course, grateful and satisfied?"
"Well, no,--not exactly." He stopped again and took up his letters once
more, sorted and arranged them as if to play out his unfinished but
hopeless hand, and drawing out another, laid it before the Colonel. "You
see, this Mrs. Jeffcourt, after a time, reckoned she ought to have MORE
money than I sent her, and wrote saying that she had always understood
from her son (he that never wrote but once a year, remember) that this
claim of ours (that she never knew of, you know) was paying much more
than I sent her--and she wanted a return of accounts and papers, or
she'd write to some lawyer, mighty quick. Well, I reckoned that all
this was naturally in the line of my trouble, and I DID manage to scrape
together fifty dollars more for two months and sent it. But that didn't
seem to satisfy her--as you see." He dealt Colonel Starbottle another
letter from his baleful hand with an unchanged face. "When I got
that,--well, I just up and told her the whole thing. I sent her the
account of the fight from the newspapers, and told her as how her son
was the Frisbee that was my pardner, and how he never had a cent in the
world--but how I'd got that idea to help her, and was willing to carry
it out as long as I could."
"Did you keep a copy of that letter?" asked the Colonel, straitening his
"No," said Corbin moodily. "What was the good? I know'd she'd got the
letter,--and she did,--for that is what she wrote back." He laid another
letter before the Colonel, who hastily read a few lines and then brought
his fat white hand violently on the desk.
"Why, d--n it all, sir, this is BLACKMAIL! As infamous a case of
threatening and chantage as I ever heard of."
"Well," said Corbin, dejectedly, "I don't know. You see she allows that
I murdered Frisbee to get hold of his claim, and that I'm trying to buy
her off, and that if I don't come down with twenty thousand dollars on
the nail, and notes for the rest, she'll prosecute me. Well, mebbe the
thing looks to her like that--mebbe you know I've got to shoulder that
too. Perhaps it's all in the same line."
Colonel Starbottle for a moment regarded Corbin critically. In spite of
his chivalrous attitude towards the homicidal faculty, the Colonel
was not optimistic in regard to the baser pecuniary interests of his
fellow-man. It was quite on the cards that his companion might have
murdered his partner to get possession of the claim. It was true that
Corbin had voluntarily assumed an unrecorded and hitherto unknown
responsibility that had never been even suspected, and was virtually
self-imposed. But that might have been the usual one unerring blunder of
criminal sagacity and forethought. It was equally true that he did not
look or act like a mean murderer; but that was nothing. However, there
was no evidence of these reflections in the Colonel's face. Rather he
suddenly beamed with an excess of politeness. "Would you--er--mind, Mr.
Corbin, whilst I am going over those letters again, to--er--step across
to my office--and--er--bring me the copy of 'Wood's Digest' that lies on
my table? It will save some time."
The stranger rose, as if the service was part of his self-imposed
trouble, and as equally hopeless with the rest, and taking his hat
departed to execute the commission. As soon as he had left the building
Colonel Starbottle opened the door and mysteriously beckoned the
"Do you remember anything of the killing of a man named Frisbee over in
Fresno three years ago?"
The bar-keeper whistled meditatively. "Three years
ago--Frisbee?--Fresno?--no? Yes--but that was only one of his names. He
was Jack Walker over here. Yes--and by Jove! that feller that was here
with you killed him. Darn my skin, but I thought I recognized him."
"Yes, yes, I know all that," said the Colonel, impatiently. "But did
Frisbee have any PROPERTY? Did he have any means of his own?"
"Property?" echoed the bar-keeper with scornful incredulity. "Property?
Means? The only property and means he ever had was the free lunches or
drinks he took in at somebody else's expense. Why, the only chance he
ever had of earning a square meal was when that fellow that was with you
just now took him up and made him his partner. And the only way HE could
get rid of him was to kill him! And I didn't think he had it in him.
Rather a queer kind o' chap,--good deal of hayseed about him. Showed up
at the inquest so glum and orkerd that if the boys hadn't made up their
minds this yer Frisbee ORTER BEEN killed--it might have gone hard with
"Mr. Corbin," said Colonel Starbottle, with a pained but unmistakable
hauteur and a singular elevation of his shirt frill, as if it had become
of its own accord erectile, "Mr. Corbin--er--er--is the distant relative
of old Major Corbin, of Nashville--er--one of my oldest political
friends. When Mr. Corbin--er--returns, you can conduct him to me. And,
if you please, replenish the glasses."
When the bar-keeper respectfully showed Mr. Corbin and "Wood's Digest"
into the room again, the Colonel was still beaming and apologetic.
"A thousand thanks, sir, but except to SHOW you the law if you require
it--hardly necessary. I have--er--glanced over the woman's letters
again; it would be better, perhaps, if you had kept copies of your
own--but still these tell the whole story and YOUR OWN. The claim
is preposterous! You have simply to drop the whole thing. Stop your
remittances, stop your correspondence,--pay no heed to any further
letters and wait results. You need fear nothing further, sir; I stake my
professional reputation on it."
The gloom of the stranger seemed only to increase as the Colonel reached
his triumphant conclusion.
"I reckoned you'd say that," he said slowly, "but it won't do. I shall
go on paying as far as I can. It's my trouble and I'll see it through."
"But, my dear sir, consider," gasped the Colonel. "You are in the hands
of an infamous harpy, who is using her son's blood to extract money
from you. You have already paid a dozen times more than the life of
that d----d sneak was worth; and more than that--the longer you keep on
paying you are helping to give color to their claim and estopping your
own defense. And Gad, sir, you're making a precedent for this sort of
thing! you are offering a premium to widows and orphans. A gentleman
won't be able to exchange shots with another without making himself
liable for damages. I am willing to admit that your feelings--though, in
my opinion--er--exaggerated--do you credit; but I am satisfied that they
are utterly misunderstood--sir."
"Not by all of them," said Corbin darkly.
"Eh?" returned the Colonel quickly.
"There was another letter here which I didn't particularly point out
to you," said Corbin, taking up the letters again, "for I reckoned
it wasn't evidence, so to speak, being from HIS COUSIN, a girl,--and
calculated you'd read it when I was out."
The Colonel coughed hastily. "I was in fact--er--just about to glance
over it when you came in."
"It was written," continued Corbin, selecting a letter more bethumbed
than the others, "after the old woman had threatened me. This here young
woman allows that she is sorry that her aunt has to take money of me on
account of her cousin being killed, and she is still sorrier that she is
so bitter against me. She says she hadn't seen her cousin since he was
a boy, and used to play with her, and that she finds it hard to believe
that he should ever grow up to change his name and act so as to provoke
anybody to lift a hand against him. She says she supposed it must be
something in that dreadful California that alters people and makes
everybody so reckless. I reckon her head's level there, ain't it?"
There was such a sudden and unexpected lightening of the man's face as
he said it, such a momentary relief to his persistent gloom, that the
Colonel, albeit inwardly dissenting from both letter and comment, smiled
"She's no slouch of a scribe neither," continued Corbin animatedly.
He handed his companion the letter, pointing to a passage with his
finger. The Colonel took it with, I fear, a somewhat lowered opinion of
his client, and a new theory of the case. It was evident that this weak
submission to the aunt's conspiracy was only the result of a greater
weakness for the niece. Colonel Starbottle had a wholesome distrust of
the sex as a business or political factor. He began to look over the
letter, but was evidently slurring it with superficial politeness, when
"Read it out loud."
The Colonel slightly lifted his shoulders, fortified himself with
another sip of the julep, and, leaning back, oratorically began to
read,--the stranger leaning over him and following line by line with
"'When I say I am sorry for you, it is because I think it must be
dreadful for you to be going round with the blood of a fellow-creature
on your hands. It must be awful for you in the stillness of the night
season to hear the voice of the Lord saying, "Cain, where is thy
brother?" and you saying, "Lord, I have slayed him dead." It must be
awful for you when the pride of your wrath was surfitted, and his
dum senseless corps was before you, not to know that it is written,
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay," saith the Lord. . . . It was no use
for you to say, "I never heard that before," remembering your teacher
and parents. Yet verily I say unto you, "Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be washed whiter than snow," saith the Lord--Isaiah i. 18;
and "Heart hath no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal."--My hymn book, 1st
Presbyterian Church, page 79. Mr. Corbin, I pity your feelins at the
grave of my pore dear cousin, knowing he is before his Maker, and you
can't bring him back.' Umph!--er--er--very good--very good indeed," said
the Colonel, hastily refolding the letter. "Very well meaning and--er"--
"Go on," said Corbin over his shoulder, "you haven't read all."
"Ah, true. I perceive I overlooked something. Um--um. 'May God forgive
you, Mr. Corbin, as I do, and make aunty think better of you, for it was
good what you tried to do for her and the fammely, and I've always said
it when she was raging round and wanting money of you. I don't believe
you meant to do it anyway, owin' to your kindness of heart to the
ophanless and the widow since you did it. Anser this letter, and
don't mind what aunty says. So no more at present from--Yours very
respectfully, SALLY DOWS.
"'P. S.--There's been some troubel in our township, and some fitin'. May
the Lord change ther hearts and make them as a little child, for if you
are still young you may grow up different. I have writ a short prayer
for you to say every night. You can coppy it out and put it at the head
of your bed. It is this: O Lord make me sorry for having killed Sarah
Dows' cousin. Give me, O Lord, that peace that the world cannot give,
and which fadeth not away; for my yoke is heavy, and my burden is harder
than I can bear.'"
The Colonel's deliberate voice stopped. There was a silence in the
room, and the air seemed stifling. The click of the billiard balls came
distinctly through the partition from the other room. Then there was
another click, a stamp on the floor, and a voice crying coarsely: "Curse
it all--missed again!"
To the stranger's astonishment, the Colonel was on his feet in an
instant, gasping with inarticulate rage. Flinging the door open, he
confronted the startled bar-keeper empurpled and stertorous.
"Blank it all, sir, do you call this a saloon for gentlemen, or a corral
for swearing cattle? Or do you mean to say that the conversation of two
gentlemen upon delicate professional--and--er--domestic affairs--is
to be broken upon by the blank profanity of low-bred hounds over their
picayune gambling! Take them my kyard, sir," choked the Colonel, who was
always Southern and dialectic in his excited as in his softest moments,
"and tell them that Colonel Starbottle will nevah dyarken these doahs
Before the astonished bar-keeper could reply, the Colonel had dashed
back into the room, clapped his hat on his head, and seized his book,
letters, and cane. "Mr. Corbin," he said with gasping dignity, "I will
take these papahs, and consult them again in my own office--where, if
you will do me the honor, sir, to call at ten o'clock to-morrow, I
will give you my opinion." He strode out of the saloon beside the half
awe-stricken, half-amused, yet all discreetly silent loungers, followed
by his wondering but gloomy client. At the door they parted,--the
Colonel tiptoeing towards his office as if dancing with rage, the
stranger darkly plodding through the stifling dust in the opposite
direction, with what might have been a faint suggestion to his
counselor, that the paths of the homicide did not lie beside the still
The house of Captain Masterton Dows, at Pineville, Kentucky, was a fine
specimen of Southern classical architecture, being an exact copy of
Major Fauquier's house in Virginia, which was in turn only a slight
variation from a well-known statesman's historical villa in Alabama,
that everybody knew was designed from a famous Greek temple on the
Piraeus. Not but that it shared this resemblance with the County Court
House and the Odd Fellows' Hall, but the addition of training jessamine
and Cherokee rose to the columns of the portico, and over the colonnade
leading to its offices, showed a certain domestic distinction. And the
sky line of its incongruously high roof was pleasantly broken against
adjacent green pines, butternut, and darker cypress.
A nearer approach showed the stuccoed gateposts--whose red brick
core was revealed through the dropping plaster--opening in a wall of
half-rough stone, half-wooden palisade, equally covered with shining
moss and parasitical vines, which hid a tangled garden left to its own
unkempt luxuriance. Yet there was a reminiscence of past formality
and even pretentiousness in a wide box-bordered terrace and one or two
stuccoed vases prematurely worn and time-stained; while several rare
exotics had, however, thriven so unwisely and well in that stimulating
soil as to lose their exclusive refinement and acquire a certain
temporary vulgarity. A few, with the not uncommon enthusiasm of aliens,
had adopted certain native peculiarities with a zeal that far exceeded
any indigenous performance. But dominant through all was the continual
suggestion of precocious fruition and premature decay that lingered like
a sad perfume in the garden, but made itself persistent if less poetical
in the house.
Here the fluted wooden columns of the portico and colonnade seemed to
have taken upon themselves a sodden and unwholesome age unknown to stone
and mortar. Moss and creeper clung to paint that time had neither dried
nor mellowed, but left still glairy in its white consistency. There were
rusty red blotches around inflamed nail-holes in the swollen wood, as of
punctures in living flesh; along the entablature and cornices and in the
dank gutters decay had taken the form of a mild deliquescence; and the
pillars were spotted as if Nature had dropped over the too early ruin
a few unclean tears. The house itself was lifted upon a broad wooden
foundation painted to imitate marble with such hopeless mendacity that
the architect at the last moment had added a green border, and the owner
permitted a fallen board to remain off so as to allow a few privileged
fowls to openly explore the interior. When Miss Sally Dows played the
piano in the drawing-room she was at times accompanied by the uplifted
voice of the sympathetic hounds who sought its quiet retreat in
ill-health or low spirits, and from whom she was separated only by
an imperfectly carpeted floor of yawning seams. The infant progeny
of "Mammy Judy," an old nurse, made this a hiding-place from domestic
justice, where they were eventually betrayed by subterranean giggling
that had once or twice brought bashful confusion to the hearts of Miss
Sally's admirers, and mischievous security to that finished coquette
It was a pleasant September afternoon, on possibly one of these
occasions, that Miss Sally, sitting before the piano, alternately
striking a few notes with three pink fingers and glancing at her
reflection in the polished rosewood surface of the lifted keyboard case,
was heard to utter this languid protest:--
"Quit that kind of talk, Chet, unless you just admire to have every word
of it repeated all over the county. Those little niggers of Mammy Judy's
are lying round somewhere and are mighty 'cute, and sassy, I tell you.
It's nothin' to ME, sure, but Miss Hilda mightn't like to hear of it. So
soon after your particular attention to her at last night's pawty too."
Here a fresh-looking young fellow of six-and-twenty, leaning uneasily
over the piano from the opposite side, was heard to murmur that he
didn't care what Miss Hilda heard, nor the whole world, for the matter
of that. "But," he added, with a faint smile, "folks allow that you know
how to PLAY UP sometimes, and put on the loud pedal, when you don't want
Mammy's niggers to hear."
"Indeed," said the young lady demurely. "Like this?"
She put out a distracting little foot, clothed in the white stocking and
cool black prunella slipper then de rigueur in the State, and, pressing
it on the pedal, began to drum vigorously on the keys. In vain the
amorous Chet protested in a voice which the instrument drowned.
Perceiving which the artful young lady opened her blue eyes mildly and
"I reckon it IS so; it DOES kind of prevent you hearing what you don't
want to hear."
"You know well enough what I mean," said the youth gloomily. "And that
ain't all that folks say. They allow that you're doin' a heap too much
correspondence with that Californian rough that killed Tom Jeffcourt
"Do they?" said the young lady, with a slight curl of her pretty lip.
"Then perhaps they allow that if it wasn't for me he wouldn't be sending
a hundred dollars a month to Aunt Martha?"
"Yes," said the fatuous youth; "but they allow he killed Tom for his
money. And they do say it's mighty queer doin's in yo' writin' religious
letters to him, and Tom your own cousin."
"Oh, they tell those lies HERE, do they? But do they say anything about
how, when the same lies were told over in California, the lawyer they've
got over there, called Colonel Starbottle,--a Southern man too,--got up
and just wrote to Aunt Martha that she'd better quit that afore she got
prosecuted? They didn't tell you that, did they, Mister Chester Brooks?"
But here the unfortunate Brooks, after the fashion of all jealous
lovers, deserted his allies for his fair enemy. "I don't cotton to what
THEY say, Sally, but you DO write to him, and I don't see what you've
got to write about--you and him. Jule Jeffcourt says that when you got
religion at Louisville during the revival, you felt you had a call to
write and save sinners, and you did that as your trial and probation,
but that since you backslided and are worldly again, and go to parties,
you just keep it up for foolin' and flirtin'! SHE ain't goin' to weaken
on the man that shot her brother, just because he's got a gold mine
"She takes his MONEY all the same," said Miss Sally.
"SHE don't,--her mother does. SHE says if she was a man she'd have blood
"My!" said Miss Sally, in affected consternation. "It's a wonder she
don't apply to you to act for her."
"If it was MY brother he killed, I'd challenge him quick enough," said
Chet, flushing through his thin pink skin and light hair.
"Marry her, then, and that'll make you one of the family. I reckon Miss
Hilda can bear it," rejoined the young lady pertly.
"Look here, Miss Sally," said the young fellow with a boyish despair
that was not without a certain pathos in its implied inferiority, "I
ain't gifted like you--I ain't on yo' level no how; I can't pass yo' on
the road, and so I reckon I must take yo' dust as yo' make it. But there
is one thing, Miss Sally, I want to tell you. You know what's going on
in this country, you've heard your father say what the opinion of the
best men is, and what's likely to happen if the Yanks force that nigger
worshiper, Lincoln, on the South. You know that we're drawing the line
closer every day, and spottin' the men that ain't sound. Take care, Miss
Sally, you ain't sellin' us cheap to some Northern Abolitionist
who'd like to set Marm Judy's little niggers to something worse
than eavesdropping down there, and mebbe teach 'em to kindle a fire
underneath yo' own flo'."
He had become quite dialectic in his appeal, as if youthfully reverting
to some accent of the nursery, or as if he were exhorting her in some
recognized shibboleth of a section. Miss Sally rose and shut down the
piano. Then leaning over it on her elbows, her rounded little chin
slightly elevated with languid impertinence, and one saucy foot kicked
backwards beyond the hem of her white cotton frock, she said: "And let
me tell you, Mister Chester Brooks, that it's just such God-forsaken,
infant phenomenons as you who want to run the whole country that make
all this fuss, when you ain't no more fit to be trusted with matches
than Judy's children. What do YOU know of Mr. Jo Corbin, when you don't
even know that he's from Shelbyville, and as good a Suth'ner as you, and
if he hasn't got niggers it's because they don't use them in his parts?
Yo'r for all the world like one o' Mrs. Johnson's fancy bantams that
ain't quit of the shell afore they square off at their own mother. My
goodness! Sho! Sho-o-o!" And suiting the action to the word the young
lady, still indolently, even in her simulation, swirled around, caught
her skirts at the side with each hand, and lazily shaking them before
her in the accepted feminine method of frightening chickens as she
retreated backwards, dropped them suddenly in a profound curtsey and
swept out of the parlor.
Nevertheless, as she entered the sitting-room she paused to listen,
then, going to the window, peeped through the slits of the Venetian
blind and saw her youthful admirer, more dejected in the consciousness
of his wasted efforts and useless attire, mount his showy young horse,
as aimlessly spirited as himself, and ride away. Miss Sally did not
regret this; neither had she been entirely sincere in her defense of her
mysterious correspondent. But, like many of her sex, she was trying to
keep up by the active stimulus of opposition an interest that she had
begun to think if left to itself might wane. She was conscious that
her cousin Julia, although impertinent and illogical, was right in
considering her first epistolary advances to Corbin as a youthful
convert's religious zeal. But now that her girlish enthusiasm was spent,
and the revival itself had proved as fleeting an excitement as the old
"Tournament of Love and Beauty," which it had supplanted, she preferred
to believe that she enjoyed the fascinating impropriety because it was
the actual result of her religious freedom. Perhaps she had a vague idea
that Corbin's conversion would expiate her present preference for dress
and dancing. She had certainly never flirted with him; they had never
exchanged photographs; there was not a passage in his letters that might
not have been perused by her parents,--which, I fear, was probably one
reason why she had never shown her correspondence; and beyond the fact
that this letter-writing gave her a certain importance in her own
eyes and those of her companions, it might really be stopped. She even
thought of writing at once to him that her parents objected to its
further continuance, but remembering that his usual monthly letter was
now nearly due, she concluded to wait until it came.
It is to be feared that Miss Sally had little help in the way of family
advice, and that the moral administration of the Dows household was as
prematurely developed and as precociously exhausted as the estate and
mansion themselves. Captain Dows' marriage with Josephine Jeffcourt,
the daughter of a "poor white," had been considered a mesalliance by his
family, and his own sister, Miranda Dows, had abandoned her brother's
roof and refused to associate with the Jeffcourts, only returning to
the house and an armed neutrality at the death of Mrs. Dows a few years
later. She had taken charge of Miss Sally, sending her to school at
Nashville until she was recalled by her father two years ago. It may be
imagined that Miss Sally's correspondence with Jeffcourt's murderer had
afforded her a mixed satisfaction; it was at first asserted that Miss
Sally's forgiveness was really prompted by "Miss Mirandy," as a subtle
sarcasm upon the family. When, however, that forgiveness seemed to
become a source of revenue to the impoverished Jeffcourts, her Christian
interference had declined.
For this reason, possibly, the young girl did not seek her aunt in
the bedroom, the dining-room, or the business-room, where Miss
Miranda frequently assisted Captain Dows in the fatuous and prejudiced
mismanagement of the house and property, nor in any of the vacant
guest-rooms, which, in their early wreck of latter-day mahogany and
rosewood, seemed to have been unoccupied for ages, but went directly to
her own room. This was in the "L," a lately added wing that had escaped
the gloomy architectural tyranny of the main building, and gave Miss
Sally light, ventilation, the freshness and spice of new pine boards and
clean paper, and a separate entrance and windows on a cool veranda all
to herself. Intended as a concession to the young lady's traveled taste,
it was really a reversion to the finer simplicity of the pioneer.
New as the apartment appeared to be, it was old enough to contain
the brief little records of her maidenhood: the childish samplers and
pictures; the sporting epoch with its fox-heads, opossum and wild-cat
skins, riding-whip, and the goshawk in a cage, which Miss Sally believed
could be trained as a falcon; the religious interval of illustrated
texts, "Rock of Ages," cardboard crosses, and the certificate of her
membership with "The Daughters of Sion" at the head of her little bed,
down to the last decadence of frivolity shown in the be-ribboned guitar
in the corner, and the dance cards, favors, and rosettes, military
buttons, dried bouquets, and other love gages on the mantelpiece.
The young girl opened a drawer of her table and took out a small packet
of letters tied up with a green ribbon. As she did so she heard the
sound of hoofs in the rear courtyard. This was presently followed by
a step on the veranda, and she opened the door to her father with the
letters still in her hand. There was neither the least embarrassment nor
self-consciousness in her manner.
Captain Dows, superficially remarkable only for a certain odd
combination of high military stock and turned-over planter's collar, was
slightly exalted by a sympathetic mingling of politics and mint julep
at Pineville Court House. "I was passing by the post-office at the Cross
Roads last week, dear," he began, cheerfully, "and I thought of you, and
reckoned it was about time that my Pussy got one of her letters from her
rich Californian friend--and sure enough there was one. I clean forgot
to give it to you then, and only remembered it passing there to-day. I
didn't get to see if there was any gold-dust in it," he continued, with
great archness, and a fatherly pinch of her cheek; "though I suspect
that isn't the kind of currency he sends to you."
"It IS from Mr. Corbin," said Miss Sally, taking it with a languid kind
of doubt; "and only now, paw, I was just thinking that I'd sort of drop
writing any more; it makes a good deal of buzzing amongst the neighbors,
and I don't see much honey nor comb in it."
"Eh," said the Captain, apparently more astonished than delighted at
his daughter's prudence. "Well, child, suit yourself! It's mighty mean,
though, for I was just thinking of telling you that Judge Read is an
old friend of this Colonel Starbottle, who is your friend's friend and
lawyer, and he says that Colonel Starbottle is WITH US, and working
for the cause out there, and has got a list of all the So'thern men
in California that are sound and solid for the South. Read says he
shouldn't wonder if he'd make California wheel into line too."
"I don't see what that's got to do with Mr. Corbin," said the young
girl, impatiently, flicking the still unopened letter against the packet
in her hand.
"Well," said the Captain, with cheerful vagueness, "I thought it might
interest you,--that's all," and lounged judicially away.
"Paw thinks," said Miss Sally, still standing in the doorway,
ostentatiously addressing her pet goshawk, but with one eye following
her retreating parent, "Paw thinks that everybody is as keen bent on
politics as he is. There's where paw slips up, Jim."
Re-entering the room, scratching her little nose thoughtfully with the
edge of Mr. Corbin's letter, she went to the mantelpiece and picked up a
small ivory-handled dagger, the gift of Joyce Masterton, aged eighteen,
presented with certain verses addressed to a "Daughter of the South,"
and cut open the envelope. The first glance was at her own name, and
then at the signature. There was no change in the formality; it was
"Dear Miss Sarah," and "Yours respectfully, Jo Corbin," as usual. She
was still secure. But her pretty brows contracted slightly as she read
"I've always allowed I should feel easier in my mind if I could ever get
to see Mrs. Jeffcourt, and that may be she might feel easier in hers if
I stood before her, face to face. Even if she didn't forgive me at once,
it might do her good to get off what she had on her mind against me. But
as there wasn't any chance of her coming to me, and it was out of the
question my coming to her and still keeping up enough work in the mines
to send her the regular money, it couldn't be done. But at last I've got
a partner to run the machine when I'm away. I shall be at Shelbyville by
the time this reaches you, where I shall stay a day or two to give you
time to break the news to Mrs. Jeffcourt, and then come on. You will do
this for me in your Christian kindness, Miss Dows--won't you? and if
you could soften her mind so as to make it less hard for me I shall be
"P. S.--I forgot to say I have had HIM exhumed--you know who I mean--and
am bringing him with me in a patent metallic burial casket,--the best
that could be got in 'Frisco, and will see that he is properly buried
in your own graveyard. It seemed to me that it would be the best thing
I could do, and might work upon her feelings--as it has on mine. Don't
Miss Sally felt the tendrils of her fair hair stir with consternation.
The letter had arrived a week ago; perhaps he was in Pineville at that
very moment! She must go at once to the Jeffcourts,--it was only a mile
distant. Perhaps she might be still in time; but even then it was a
terribly short notice for such a meeting. Yet she stopped to select her
newest hat from the closet, and to tie it with the largest of bows under
her pretty chin; and then skipped from the veranda into a green lane
that ran beside the garden boundary. There, hidden by a hedge, she
dropped into a long, swinging trot, that even in her haste still kept
the languid deliberation characteristic of her people, until she had
reached the road. Two or three hounds in the garden started joyously
to follow her, but she drove them back with a portentous frown, and an
ill-aimed stone, and a suppressed voice. Yet in that backward glance she
could see that her little Eumenides--Mammy Judy's children--were peering
at her from below the wooden floor of the portico, which they were
grasping with outstretched arms and bowed shoulders, as if they were
black caryatides supporting--as indeed their race had done for many a
year--the pre-doomed and decaying mansion of their master.
Happily Miss Sally thought more of her present mission than of the
past errors of her people. The faster she walked the more vividly she
pictured the possible complications of this meeting. She knew the dull,
mean nature of her aunt, and the utter hopelessness of all appeal to
anything but her selfish cupidity, and saw in this fatuous essay of
Corbin only an aggravation of her worst instincts. Even the dead body
of her son would not only whet her appetite for pecuniary vengeance,
but give it plausibility in the eyes of their emotional but ignorant
neighbors. She had still less to hope from Julia Jeffcourt's more honest
and human indignation but equally bigoted and prejudiced intelligence.
It is true they were only women, and she ought to have no fear of that
physical revenge which Julia had spoken of, but she reflected that Miss
Jeffcourt's unmistakable beauty, and what was believed to be a "truly
Southern spirit," had gained her many admirers who might easily take
her wrongs upon their shoulders. If her father had only given her that
letter before, she might have stopped Corbin's coming at all; she might
even have met him in time to hurry him and her cousin's provocative
remains out of the country. In the midst of these reflections she had
to pass the little hillside cemetery. It was a spot of great natural
beauty, cypress-shadowed and luxuriant. It was justly celebrated in
Pineville, and, but for its pretentious tombstones, might have been
peaceful and suggestive. Here she recognized a figure just turning from
its gate. It was Julia Jeffcourt.
Her first instinct--that she was too late and that her cousin had come
to the cemetery to make some arrangements for the impending burial--was,
however, quickly dissipated by the young girl's manner.
"Well, Sally Dows, YOU here! who'd have thought of seeing you to-day?
Why, Chet Brooks allowed that you danced every set last night and
didn't get home till daylight. And you--you that are going to show up
at another party to-night too! Well, I reckon I haven't got that much
ambition these times. And out with your new bonnet too."
There was a slight curl of her handsome lip as she looked at her cousin.
She was certainly a more beautiful girl than Miss Sally; very tall, dark
and luminous of eye, with a brunette pallor of complexion, suggesting,
it was said, that remote mixture of blood which was one of the unproven
counts of Miss Miranda's indictment against her family. Miss Sally
smiled sweetly behind her big bow. "If you reckon to tie to everything
that Chet Brooks says, you'll want lots of string, and you won't be safe
then. You ought to have heard him run on about this one, and that one,
and that other one, not an hour ago in our parlor. I had to pack him
off, saying he was even making Judy's niggers tired." She stopped and
added with polite languor, "I suppose there's no news up at yo' house
either? Everything's going on as usual--and--you get yo' California
A good deal of the white of Julia's beautiful eyes showed as she turned
indignantly on the speaker. "I wish, cousin Sally, you'd just let up
talking to me about that money. You know as well as I do that I allowed
to maw I wouldn't take a cent of it from the first! I might have had all
the gowns and bonnets"--with a look at Miss Sally's bows--"I wanted from
her; she even offered to take me to St. Louis for a rig-out--if I'd been
willing to take blood money. But I'd rather stick to this old sleazy
mou'nin' for Tom"--she gave a dramatic pluck at her faded black
skirt--"than flaunt round in white muslins and China silks at ten
dollars a yard, paid for by his murderer."
"You know black's yo' color always,--taking in your height and
complexion, Jule," said Miss Sally demurely, yet not without a feminine
consciousness that it really did set off her cousin's graceful figure to
perfection. "But you can't keep up this gait always. You know some day
you might come upon this Mr. Corbin."
"He'd better not cross my path," she said passionately.
"I've heard girls talk like that about a man and then get just green
and yellow after him," said Miss Sally critically. "But goodness me!
speaking of meeting people reminds me I clean forgot to stop at the
stage office and see about bringing over the new overseer. Lucky I met
you, Jule! Good-by, dear. Come in to-night, and we'll all go to the
party together." And with a little nod she ran off before her
indignant cousin could frame a suitably crushing reply to her Parthian
But at the stage office Miss Sally only wrote a few lines on a card, put
it in an envelope, which she addressed to Mr. Joseph Corbin, and then
seating herself with easy carelessness on a long packing-box, languidly
summoned the proprietor.
"You're always on hand yourself at Kirby station when the kyars come in
to bring passengers to Pineville, Mr. Sledge?"
"Yo' haven't brought any strangers over lately?"
"Well, last week Squire Farnham of Green Ridge--if he kin be called a
stranger--as used to live in the very house yo father"--
"Yes, I know," said Miss Sally, impatiently, "but if an ENTIRE stranger
comes to take a seat for Pineville, you ask him if that's his name,"
handing the letter, "and give it to him if it is. And--Mr. Sledge--it's
nobody's business but--yours and mine."
"I understand, Miss Sally," with a slow, paternal, tolerating wink.
"He'll get it, and nobody else, sure."
"Thank you; I hope Mrs. Sledge is getting round again."
"Pow'fully, Miss Sally."
Having thus, as she hoped, stopped the arrival of the unhappy Corbin,
Miss Sally returned home to consider the best means of finally disposing
of him. She had insisted upon his stopping at Kirby and holding no
communication with the Jeffcourts until he heard from her, and had
strongly pointed out the hopeless infelicity of his plan. She dare
not tell her Aunt Miranda, knowing that she would be too happy to
precipitate an interview that would terminate disastrously to both
the Jeffcourts and Corbin. She might have to take her father into her
confidence,--a dreadful contingency.
She was dressed for the evening party, which was provincially early;
indeed, it was scarcely past nine o'clock when she had finished her
toilet, when there came a rap at her door. It was one of Mammy Judy's
"Dey is a gemplum, Miss Sally."
"Yes, yes," said Miss Sally, impatiently, thinking only of her escort.
"I'll be there in a minute. Run away. He can wait."
"And he said I was to guv yo' dis yer," continued the little negro with
portentous gravity, presenting a card.
Miss Sally took it with a smile. It was a plain card on which was
written with a pencil in a hand she hurriedly recognized, "Joseph
Miss Sally's smile became hysterically rigid, and pushing the boy aside
with a little cry, she darted along the veranda and entered the parlor
from a side door and vestibule. To her momentary relief she saw that her
friends had not yet arrived: a single figure--a stranger's--rose as she
Even in her consternation she had time to feel the added shock of
disappointment. She had always present in her mind an ideal picture of
this man whom she had never seen or even heard described. Joseph
Corbin had been tall, dark, with flowing hair and long mustache. He
had flashing fiery eyes which were capable of being subdued by a
single glance of gentleness--her own. He was tempestuous, quick, and
passionate, but in quarrel would be led by a smile. He was a combination
of an Italian brigand and a poker player whom she had once met on a
Mississippi steamboat. He would wear a broad-brimmed soft hat, a red
shirt, showing his massive throat and neck--and high boots! Alas! the
man before her was of medium height, with light close-cut hair, hollow
cheeks that seemed to have been lately scraped with a razor, and
light gray troubled eyes. A suit of cheap black, ill fitting, hastily
acquired, and provincial even for Pineville, painfully set off these
imperfections, to which a white cravat in a hopelessly tied bow
was superadded. A terrible idea that this combination of a country
undertaker and an ill-paid circuit preacher on probation was his best
holiday tribute to her, and not a funeral offering to Mr. Jeffcourt,
took possession of her. And when, with feminine quickness, she saw his
eyes wander over her own fine clothes and festal figure, and sink again
upon the floor in a kind of hopeless disappointment equal to her
own, she felt ready to cry. But the more terrible sound of laughter
approaching the house from the garden recalled her. Her friends were
"For Heaven's sake," she broke out desperately, "didn't you get my note
at the station telling you not to come?"
His face grew darker, and then took up its look of hopeless resignation,
as if this last misfortune was only an accepted part of his greater
trouble, as he sat down again, and to Miss Sally's horror, listlessly
swung his hat to and fro under his chair.
"No," he said, gloomily, "I didn't go to no station. I walked here all
the way from Shelbyville. I thought it might seem more like the square
thing to her for me to do. I sent HIM by express ahead in the box. It's
been at the stage office all day."
With a sickening conviction that she had been sitting on her cousin's
body while she wrote that ill-fated card, the young girl managed to gasp
out impatiently: "But you must go--yes--go now, at once! Don't talk now,
"I didn't come here," he said, rising with a kind of slow dignity, "to
interfere with things I didn't kalkilate to see," glancing again at her
dress, as the voices came nearer, "and that I ain't in touch with,--but
to know if you think I'd better bring him--or"--
He did not finish the sentence, for the door had opened suddenly, and
a half-dozen laughing girls and their escorts burst into the room.
But among them, a little haughty and still irritated from her last
interview, was her cousin Julia Jeffcourt, erect and beautiful in a
"Go," repeated Miss Sally, in an agonized whisper. "You must not be
But the attention of Julia had been arrested by her cousin's agitation,
and her eye fell on Corbin, where it was fixed with some fatal
fascination that seemed in turn to enthrall and possess him also. To
Miss Sally's infinite dismay the others fell back and allowed these two
black figures to stand out, then to move towards each other with the
same terrible magnetism. They were so near she could not repeat her
warning to him without the others hearing it. And all hope died when
Corbin, turning deliberately towards her with a grave gesture in the
direction of Julia, said quietly:--
Miss Sally hesitated, and then gasped hastily, "Miss Jeffcourt."
"Yer don't say MY name. Tell her I'm Joseph Corbin of 'Frisco,
California, who killed her brother." He stopped and turned towards her.
"I came here to try and fix things again--and I've brought HIM."
In the wondering silence that ensued the others smiled vacantly,
breathlessly, and expectantly, until Corbin advanced and held out his
hand, when Julia Jeffcourt, drawing hers back to her bosom with the
palms outward, uttered an inarticulate cry and--and spat in his face!
With that act she found tongue--reviling him, the house that harbored
him, the insolence that presented him, the insult that had been put upon
her! "Are you men!" she added passionately, "who stand here with the
man before you that killed my brother, and see him offer me his filthy
villainous hand--and dare not strike him down!"
And they dared not. Violently, blindly, stupidly moved though all their
instincts, though they gathered hysterically around him, there was
something in his dull self-containment that was unassailable and awful.
For he wiped his face and breast with his handkerchief without a tremor,
and turned to them with even a suggestion of relief.
"She's right, gentlemen," he said gravely. "She's right. It might have
been otherwise. I might have allowed that it might be otherwise,--but
she's right. I'm a Soth'n man myself, gentlemen, and I reckon to
understand what she has done. I killed the only man that had a right to
stand up for her, and she has now to stand up for herself. But if she
wants--and you see she allows she wants--to pass that on to some of you,
or all of you, I'm willing. As many as you like, and in what way
you like--I waive any chyce of weapon--I'm ready, gentlemen. I came
here--with HIM--for that purpose."
Perhaps it may have been his fateful resignation; perhaps it may have
been his exceeding readiness,--but there was no response. He sat down
again, and again swung his hat slowly and gloomily to and fro under his
"I've got him in a box at the stage office," he went on, apparently to
the carpet. "I had him dug up that I might bring him here, and mebbe
bury some of the trouble and difference along with his friends. It
might be," he added, with a slightly glowering upward glance, as to an
overruling, but occasionally misdirecting Providence,--"it might be
from the way things are piling up on me that some one might have rung in
another corpse instead o' HIM, but so far as I can judge, allowin' for
the space of time and nat'ral wear and tear--it's HIM!"
He rose slowly and moved towards the door in a silence that was as much
the result of some conviction that any violent demonstration against him
would be as grotesque and monstrous as the situation, as of anything
he had said. Even the flashing indignation of Julia Jeffcourt seemed
to become suddenly as unnatural and incongruous as her brother's chief
mourner himself, and although she shrank from his passing figure she
uttered no word. Chester Brooks's youthful emotions, following the
expression of Miss Sally's face, lost themselves in a vague hysteric
smile, and the other gentlemen looked sheepish. Joseph Corbin halted at
"Whatever," he said, turning to the company, "ye make up your mind to
do about me, I reckon ye'd better do it AFTER the funeral. I'M always
ready. But HE, what with being in a box and changing climate, had better
go FIRST." He paused, and with a suggestion of delicacy in the momentary
dropping of his eyelids, added,--"for REASONS."
He passed out through the door, on to the portico and thence into the
garden. It was noticed at the time that the half-dozen hounds lingering
there rushed after him with their usual noisy demonstrations, but that
they as suddenly stopped, retreated violently to the security of the
basement, and there gave relief to their feelings in a succession of
It must not be supposed that Miss Sally did not feel some contrition
over the ineffective part she had played in this last episode.
But Joseph Corbin had committed the unpardonable sin to a woman of
destroying her own illogical ideas of him, which was worse than if he
had affronted the preconceived ideas of others, in which case she might
still defend him. Then, too, she was no longer religious, and had no
"call" to act as peacemaker. Nevertheless she resented Julia Jeffcourt's
insinuations bitterly, and the cousins quarreled--not the first time in
their intercourse--and it was reserved for the latter to break the news
of Corbin's arrival with the body to Mrs. Jeffcourt.
How this was done and what occurred at that interview has not been
recorded. But it was known the next day that, while Mrs. Jeffcourt
accepted the body at Corbin's hands,--and it is presumed the funeral
expenses also,--he was positively forbidden to appear either at the
services at the house or at the church. There had been some wild talk
among the younger and many of the lower members of the community,
notably the "poor" non-slave-holding whites, of tarring and feathering
Joseph Corbin, and riding him on a rail out of the town on the day
of the funeral, as a propitiatory sacrifice to the manes of Thomas
Jeffcourt; but it being pointed out by the undertaker that it might
involve some uncertainty in the settlement of his bill, together with
some reasonable doubt of the thorough resignation of Corbin, whose
previous momentary aberration in that respect they were celebrating, the
project was postponed until AFTER THE FUNERAL. And here an unlooked-for
There was to be a political meeting at Kirby on that day, when certain
distinguished Southern leaders had gathered from the remoter Southern
States. At the instigation of Captain Dows it was adjourned at the hour
of the funeral to enable members to attend, and it was even rumored,
to the great delight of Pineville, that a distinguished speaker or two
might come over to "improve the occasion" with some slight allusion to
the engrossing topic of "Southern Rights." This combined appeal to
the domestic and political emotions of Pineville was irresistible. The
Second Baptist Church was crowded. After the religious service there
was a pause, and Judge Reed, stepping forward amid a breathless silence,
said that they were peculiarly honored by the unexpected presence in
their midst "of that famous son of the South, Colonel Starbottle,"
who had lately returned to his native soil from his adopted home in
California. Every eye was fixed on the distinguished stranger as he
Jaunty and gallant as ever, femininely smooth-faced, yet polished and
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