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Tennessee's Partner

From: Selected Stories

I do not think that we ever knew his real name. Our ignorance of it
certainly never gave us any social inconvenience, for at Sandy Bar in
1854 most men were christened anew. Sometimes these appellatives were
derived from some distinctiveness of dress, as in the case of "Dungaree
Jack"; or from some peculiarity of habit, as shown in "Saleratus Bill,"
so called from an undue proportion of that chemical in his daily bread;
or for some unlucky slip, as exhibited in "The Iron Pirate," a mild,
inoffensive man, who earned that baleful title by his unfortunate
mispronunciation of the term "iron pyrites." Perhaps this may have been
the beginning of a rude heraldry; but I am constrained to think that
it was because a man's real name in that day rested solely upon his own
unsupported statement. "Call yourself Clifford, do you?" said Boston,
addressing a timid newcomer with infinite scorn; "hell is full of such
Cliffords!" He then introduced the unfortunate man, whose name happened
to be really Clifford, as "Jay-bird Charley"--an unhallowed inspiration
of the moment that clung to him ever after.

But to return to Tennessee's Partner, whom we never knew by any other
than this relative title; that he had ever existed as a separate and
distinct individuality we only learned later. It seems that in 1853 he
left Poker Flat to go to San Francisco, ostensibly to procure a wife. He
never got any farther than Stockton. At that place he was attracted by
a young person who waited upon the table at the hotel where he took his
meals. One morning he said something to her which caused her to smile
not unkindly, to somewhat coquettishly break a plate of toast over
his upturned, serious, simple face, and to retreat to the kitchen. He
followed her, and emerged a few moments later, covered with more toast
and victory. That day week they were married by a justice of the peace,
and returned to Poker Flat. I am aware that something more might be
made of this episode, but I prefer to tell it as it was current at Sandy
Bar--in the gulches and barrooms--where all sentiment was modified by a
strong sense of humor.

Of their married felicity but little is known, perhaps for the reason
that Tennessee, then living with his Partner, one day took occasion to
say something to the bride on his own account, at which, it is said,
she smiled not unkindly and chastely retreated--this time as far
as Marysville, where Tennessee followed her, and where they went to
housekeeping without the aid of a justice of the peace. Tennessee's
Partner took the loss of his wife simply and seriously, as was his
fashion. But to everybody's surprise, when Tennessee one day returned
from Marysville, without his Partner's wife--she having smiled and
retreated with somebody else--Tennessee's Partner was the first man to
shake his hand and greet him with affection. The boys who had gathered
in the canyon to see the shooting were naturally indignant. Their
indignation might have found vent in sarcasm but for a certain look
in Tennessee's Partner's eye that indicated a lack of humorous
appreciation. In fact, he was a grave man, with a steady application to
practical detail which was unpleasant in a difficulty.

Meanwhile a popular feeling against Tennessee had grown up on the Bar.
He was known to be a gambler; he was suspected to be a thief. In these
suspicions Tennessee's Partner was equally compromised; his continued
intimacy with Tennessee after the affair above quoted could only be
accounted for on the hypothesis of a copartnership of crime. At last
Tennessee's guilt became flagrant. One day he overtook a stranger on his
way to Red Dog. The stranger afterward related that Tennessee beguiled
the time with interesting anecdote and reminiscence, but illogically
concluded the interview in the following words: "And now, young man,
I'll trouble you for your knife, your pistols, and your money. You see
your weppings might get you into trouble at Red Dog, and your money's a
temptation to the evilly disposed. I think you said your address was
San Francisco. I shall endeavor to call." It may be stated here that
Tennessee had a fine flow of humor, which no business preoccupation
could wholly subdue.

This exploit was his last. Red Dog and Sandy Bar made common cause
against the highwayman. Tennessee was hunted in very much the same
fashion as his prototype, the grizzly. As the toils closed around him,
he made a desperate dash through the Bar, emptying his revolver at the
crowd before the Arcade Saloon, and so on up Grizzly Canyon; but at its
farther extremity he was stopped by a small man on a gray horse. The
men looked at each other a moment in silence. Both were fearless, both
self-possessed and independent; and both types of a civilization that
in the seventeenth century would have been called heroic, but, in the
nineteenth, simply "reckless." "What have you got there?--I call,"
said Tennessee, quietly. "Two bowers and an ace," said the stranger,
as quietly, showing two revolvers and a bowie knife. "That takes me,"
returned Tennessee; and with this gamblers' epigram, he threw away his
useless pistol, and rode back with his captor.

It was a warm night. The cool breeze which usually sprang up with the
going down of the sun behind the chaparral-crested mountain was that
evening withheld from Sandy Bar. The little canyon was stifling with
heated resinous odors, and the decaying driftwood on the Bar sent forth
faint, sickening exhalations. The feverishness of day, and its fierce
passions, still filled the camp. Lights moved restlessly along the bank
of the river, striking no answering reflection from its tawny current.
Against the blackness of the pines the windows of the old loft above the
express office stood out staringly bright; and through their curtainless
panes the loungers below could see the forms of those who were even then
deciding the fate of Tennessee. And above all this, etched on the dark
firmament, rose the Sierra, remote and passionless, crowned with remoter
passionless stars.

The trial of Tennessee was conducted as fairly as was consistent with a
judge and jury who felt themselves to some extent obliged to justify, in
their verdict, the previous irregularities of arrest and indictment. The
law of Sandy Bar was implacable, but not vengeful. The excitement and
personal feeling of the chase were over; with Tennessee safe in their
hands they were ready to listen patiently to any defense, which they
were already satisfied was insufficient. There being no doubt in their
own minds, they were willing to give the prisoner the benefit of any
that might exist. Secure in the hypothesis that he ought to be hanged,
on general principles, they indulged him with more latitude of defense
than his reckless hardihood seemed to ask. The Judge appeared to be more
anxious than the prisoner, who, otherwise unconcerned, evidently took
a grim pleasure in the responsibility he had created. "I don't take any
hand in this yer game," had been his invariable but good-humored reply
to all questions. The Judge--who was also his captor--for a moment
vaguely regretted that he had not shot him "on sight" that morning,
but presently dismissed this human weakness as unworthy of the judicial
mind. Nevertheless, when there was a tap at the door, and it was said
that Tennessee's Partner was there on behalf of the prisoner, he was
admitted at once without question. Perhaps the younger members of the
jury, to whom the proceedings were becoming irksomely thoughtful, hailed
him as a relief.

For he was not, certainly, an imposing figure. Short and stout, with a
square face sunburned into a preternatural redness, clad in a loose duck
"jumper" and trousers streaked and splashed with red soil, his aspect
under any circumstances would have been quaint, and was now even
ridiculous. As he stooped to deposit at his feet a heavy carpetbag he
was carrying, it became obvious, from partially developed legends and
inscriptions, that the material with which his trousers had been patched
had been originally intended for a less ambitious covering. Yet he
advanced with great gravity, and after having shaken the hand of each
person in the room with labored cordiality, he wiped his serious,
perplexed face on a red bandanna handkerchief, a shade lighter than his
complexion, laid his powerful hand upon the table to steady himself, and
thus addressed the Judge:

"I was passin' by," he began, by way of apology, "and I thought I'd
just step in and see how things was gittin' on with Tennessee thar--my
pardner. It's a hot night. I disremember any sich weather before on the

He paused a moment, but nobody volunteering any other meteorological
recollection, he again had recourse to his pocket handkerchief, and for
some moments mopped his face diligently.

"Have you anything to say in behalf of the prisoner?" said the Judge,

"Thet's it," said Tennessee's Partner, in a tone of relief. "I come yar
as Tennessee's pardner--knowing him nigh on four year, off and on, wet
and dry, in luck and out o' luck. His ways ain't allers my ways, but
thar ain't any p'ints in that young man, thar ain't any liveliness
as he's been up to, as I don't know. And you sez to me, sez
you--confidential-like, and between man and man--sez you, 'Do you know
anything in his behalf?' and I sez to you, sez I--confidential-like, as
between man and man--'What should a man know of his pardner?'"

"Is this all you have to say?" asked the Judge impatiently, feeling,
perhaps, that a dangerous sympathy of humor was beginning to humanize
the Court.

"Thet's so," continued Tennessee's Partner. "It ain't for me to say
anything agin' him. And now, what's the case? Here's Tennessee wants
money, wants it bad, and doesn't like to ask it of his old pardner.
Well, what does Tennessee do? He lays for a stranger, and he fetches
that stranger. And you lays for HIM, and you fetches HIM; and the
honors is easy. And I put it to you, bein' a far-minded man, and to you,
gentlemen, all, as far-minded men, ef this isn't so."

"Prisoner," said the Judge, interrupting, "have you any questions to ask
this man?"

"No! no!" continued Tennessee's Partner, hastily. "I play this yer hand
alone. To come down to the bedrock, it's just this: Tennessee, thar, has
played it pretty rough and expensive-like on a stranger, and on this yer

camp. And now, what's the fair thing? Some would say more; some
would say less. Here's seventeen hundred dollars in coarse gold and a
watch--it's about all my pile--and call it square!" And before a hand
could be raised to prevent him, he had emptied the contents of the
carpetbag upon the table.

For a moment his life was in jeopardy. One or two men sprang to their
feet, several hands groped for hidden weapons, and a suggestion to
"throw him from the window" was only overridden by a gesture from the
Judge. Tennessee laughed. And apparently oblivious of the excitement,
Tennessee's Partner improved the opportunity to mop his face again with
his handkerchief.

When order was restored, and the man was made to understand, by the use
of forcible figures and rhetoric, that Tennessee's offense could not be
condoned by money, his face took a more serious and sanguinary hue,
and those who were nearest to him noticed that his rough hand trembled
slightly on the table. He hesitated a moment as he slowly returned the
gold to the carpetbag, as if he had not yet entirely caught the elevated
sense of justice which swayed the tribunal, and was perplexed with the
belief that he had not offered enough. Then he turned to the Judge, and
saying, "This yer is a lone hand, played alone, and without my pardner,"
he bowed to the jury and was about to withdraw when the Judge called him
back. "If you have anything to say to Tennessee, you had better say it
now." For the first time that evening the eyes of the prisoner and his
strange advocate met. Tennessee smiled, showed his white teeth, and,
saying, "Euchred, old man!" held out his hand. Tennessee's Partner took
it in his own, and saying, "I just dropped in as I was passin' to see
how things was gettin' on," let the hand passively fall, and adding that
it was a warm night, again mopped his face with his handkerchief, and
without another word withdrew.

The two men never again met each other alive. For the unparalleled
insult of a bribe offered to Judge Lynch--who, whether bigoted, weak,
or narrow, was at least incorruptible--firmly fixed in the mind of that
mythical personage any wavering determination of Tennessee's fate; and
at the break of day he was marched, closely guarded, to meet it at the
top of Marley's Hill.

How he met it, how cool he was, how he refused to say anything, how
perfect were the arrangements of the committee, were all duly reported,
with the addition of a warning moral and example to all future
evildoers, in the RED DOG CLARION, by its editor, who was present, and
to whose vigorous English I cheerfully refer the reader. But the beauty
of that midsummer morning, the blessed amity of earth and air and sky,
the awakened life of the free woods and hills, the joyous renewal and
promise of Nature, and above all, the infinite Serenity that thrilled
through each, was not reported, as not being a part of the social
lesson. And yet, when the weak and foolish deed was done, and a life,
with its possibilities and responsibilities, had passed out of the
misshapen thing that dangled between earth and sky, the birds sang, the
flowers bloomed, the sun shone, as cheerily as before; and possibly the
RED DOG CLARION was right.

Tennessee's Partner was not in the group that surrounded the ominous
tree. But as they turned to disperse attention was drawn to the singular
appearance of a motionless donkey cart halted at the side of the road.
As they approached, they at once recognized the venerable "Jenny" and
the two-wheeled cart as the property of Tennessee's Partner--used by him
in carrying dirt from his claim; and a few paces distant the owner
of the equipage himself, sitting under a buckeye tree, wiping the
perspiration from his glowing face. In answer to an inquiry, he said he
had come for the body of the "diseased," "if it was all the same to the
committee." He didn't wish to "hurry anything"; he could "wait." He
was not working that day; and when the gentlemen were done with the
"diseased," he would take him. "Ef thar is any present," he added, in
his simple, serious way, "as would care to jine in the fun'l, they
kin come." Perhaps it was from a sense of humor, which I have already
intimated was a feature of Sandy Bar--perhaps it was from something even
better than that; but two-thirds of the loungers accepted the invitation
at once.

It was noon when the body of Tennessee was delivered into the hands of
his Partner. As the cart drew up to the fatal tree, we noticed that
it contained a rough, oblong box--apparently made from a section of
sluicing and half-filled with bark and the tassels of pine. The cart was
further decorated with slips of willow, and made fragrant with buckeye
blossoms. When the body was deposited in the box, Tennessee's Partner
drew over it a piece of tarred canvas, and gravely mounting the narrow
seat in front, with his feet upon the shafts, urged the little donkey
forward. The equipage moved slowly on, at that decorous pace which
was habitual with "Jenny" even under less solemn circumstances. The
men--half curiously, half jestingly, but all good-humoredly--strolled
along beside the cart; some in advance, some a little in the rear of the
homely catafalque. But, whether from the narrowing of the road or some
present sense of decorum, as the cart passed on, the company fell to the
rear in couples, keeping step, and otherwise assuming the external show
of a formal procession. Jack Folinsbee, who had at the outset played a
funeral march in dumb show upon an imaginary trombone, desisted, from
a lack of sympathy and appreciation--not having, perhaps, your true
humorist's capacity to be content with the enjoyment of his own fun.

The way led through Grizzly Canyon--by this time clothed in funereal
drapery and shadows. The redwoods, burying their moccasined feet in
the red soil, stood in Indian file along the track, trailing an uncouth
benediction from their bending boughs upon the passing bier. A hare,
surprised into helpless inactivity, sat upright and pulsating in the
ferns by the roadside as the cortege went by. Squirrels hastened to gain
a secure outlook from higher boughs; and the bluejays, spreading their
wings, fluttered before them like outriders, until the outskirts of
Sandy Bar were reached, and the solitary cabin of Tennessee's Partner.

Viewed under more favorable circumstances, it would not have been a
cheerful place. The unpicturesque site, the rude and unlovely outlines,
the unsavory details, which distinguish the nest-building of the
California miner, were all here, with the dreariness of decay
superadded. A few paces from the cabin there was a rough enclosure,
which in the brief days of Tennessee's Partner's matrimonial felicity
had been used as a garden, but was now overgrown with fern. As we
approached it we were surprised to find that what we had taken for a
recent attempt at cultivation was the broken soil about an open grave.

The cart was halted before the enclosure; and rejecting the offers of
assistance with the same air of simple self-reliance he had displayed
throughout, Tennessee's Partner lifted the rough coffin on his back and
deposited it, unaided, within the shallow grave. He then nailed down
the board which served as a lid; and mounting the little mound of
earth beside it, took off his hat, and slowly mopped his face with his
handkerchief. This the crowd felt was a preliminary to speech; and they
disposed themselves variously on stumps and boulders, and sat expectant.

"When a man," began Tennessee's Partner, slowly, "has been running free
all day, what's the natural thing for him to do? Why, to come home. And
if he ain't in a condition to go home, what can his best friend do?
Why, bring him home! And here's Tennessee has been running free, and we
brings him home from his wandering." He paused, and picked up a fragment
of quartz, rubbed it thoughtfully on his sleeve, and went on: "It ain't
the first time that I've packed him on my back, as you see'd me now.
It ain't the first time that I brought him to this yer cabin when he
couldn't help himself; it ain't the first time that I and 'Jinny' have
waited for him on yon hill, and picked him up and so fetched him home,
when he couldn't speak, and didn't know me. And now that it's the last
time, why"--he paused and rubbed the quartz gently on his sleeve--"you
see it's sort of rough on his pardner. And now, gentlemen," he added,
abruptly, picking up his long-handled shovel, "the fun'l's over; and my
thanks, and Tennessee's thanks, to you for your trouble."

Resisting any proffers of assistance, he began to fill in the grave,
turning his back upon the crowd that after a few moments' hesitation
gradually withdrew. As they crossed the little ridge that hid Sandy
Bar from view, some, looking back, thought they could see Tennessee's
Partner, his work done, sitting upon the grave, his shovel between his
knees, and his face buried in his red bandanna handkerchief. But it was
argued by others that you couldn't tell his face from his handkerchief
at that distance; and this point remained undecided.

In the reaction that followed the feverish excitement of that day,
Tennessee's Partner was not forgotten. A secret investigation had
cleared him of any complicity in Tennessee's guilt, and left only a
suspicion of his general sanity. Sandy Bar made a point of calling on
him, and proffering various uncouth, but well-meant kindnesses. But from
that day his rude health and great strength seemed visibly to decline;
and when the rainy season fairly set in, and the tiny grass-blades were
beginning to peep from the rocky mound above Tennessee's grave, he took
to his bed. One night, when the pines beside the cabin were swaying in
the storm, and trailing their slender fingers over the roof, and the
roar and rush of the swollen river were heard below, Tennessee's
Partner lifted his head from the pillow, saying, "It is time to go for
Tennessee; I must put 'Jinny' in the cart"; and would have risen from
his bed but for the restraint of his attendant. Struggling, he still
pursued his singular fancy: "There, now, steady, 'Jinny'--steady, old
girl. How dark it is! Look out for the ruts--and look out for him, too,
old gal. Sometimes, you know, when he's blind-drunk, he drops down right
in the trail. Keep on straight up to the pine on the top of the hill.
Thar--I told you so!--thar he is--coming this way, too--all by himself,
sober, and his face a-shining. Tennessee! Pardner!"

And so they met.

Next: The Idyl Of Red Gulch

Previous: Miggles

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