Out Of A Pioneer's Trunk

It was a slightly cynical, but fairly good-humored crowd that had

gathered before a warehouse on Long Wharf in San Francisco one afternoon

in the summer of '51. Although the occasion was an auction, the bidders'

chances more than usually hazardous, and the season and locality famous

for reckless speculation, there was scarcely any excitement among the

bystanders, and a lazy, half-humorous curiosity seemed to have taken the

place of any zeal for gain.

It was an auction of unclaimed trunks and boxes--the personal luggage of

early emigrants--which had been left on storage in hulk or warehouse at

San Francisco, while the owner was seeking his fortune in the mines. The

difficulty and expense of transport, often obliging the gold-seeker

to make part of his journey on foot, restricted him to the smallest

impedimenta, and that of a kind not often found in the luggage of

ordinary civilization. As a consequence, during the emigration of

'49, he was apt on landing to avail himself of the invitation usually

displayed on some of the doors of the rude hostelries on the shore:

"Rest for the Weary and Storage for Trunks." In a majority of cases

he never returned to claim his stored property. Enforced absence,

protracted equally by good or evil fortune, accumulated the high storage

charges until they usually far exceeded the actual value of the goods;

sickness, further emigration, or death also reduced the number of

possible claimants, and that more wonderful human frailty--absolute

forgetfulness of deposited possessions--combined together to leave

the bulk of the property in the custodian's hands. Under an understood

agreement they were always sold at public auction after a given time.

Although the contents of some of the trunks were exposed, it was found

more in keeping with the public sentiment to sell the trunks LOCKED and

UNOPENED. The element of curiosity was kept up from time to time by the

incautious disclosures of the lucky or unlucky purchaser, and general

bidding thus encouraged--except when the speculator, with the true

gambling instinct, gave no indication in his face of what was drawn in

this lottery. Generally, however, some suggestion in the exterior of

the trunk, a label or initials; some conjectural knowledge of its former

owner, or the idea that he might be secretly present in the hope of

getting his property back for less than the accumulated dues, kept up

the bidding and interest.

A modest-looking, well-worn portmanteau had been just put up at a

small opening bid, when Harry Flint joined the crowd. The young man had

arrived a week before at San Francisco friendless and penniless, and had

been forced to part with his own effects to procure necessary food

and lodging while looking for an employment. In the irony of fate that

morning the proprietors of a dry-goods store, struck with his good looks

and manners, had offered him a situation, if he could make himself

more presentable to their fair clients. Harry Flint was gazing half

abstractedly, half hopelessly, at the portmanteau without noticing the

auctioneer's persuasive challenge. In his abstraction he was not aware

that the auctioneer's assistant was also looking at him curiously, and

that possibly his dejected and half-clad appearance had excited the

attention of one of the cynical bystanders, who was exchanging a few

words with the assistant. He was, however, recalled to himself a moment

later when the portmanteau was knocked down at fifteen dollars, and

considerably startled when the assistant placed it at his feet with a

grim smile. "That's your property, Fowler, and I reckon you look as if

you wanted it back bad."

"But--there's some mistake," stammered Flint. "I didn't bid."

"No, but Tom Flynn did for you. You see, I spotted you from the first,

and told Flynn I reckoned you were one of those chaps who came back from

the mines dead broke. And he up and bought your things for you--like a

square man. That's Flynn's style, if he is a gambler."

"But," persisted Flint, "this never was my property. My name isn't

Fowler, and I never left anything here."

The assistant looked at him with a grim, half-credulous, half-scornful

smile. "Have it your own way," he said, "but I oughter tell ye, old

man, that I'm the warehouse clerk, and I remember YOU. I'm here for that

purpose. But as that thar valise is bought and paid for by somebody else

and given to you, it's nothing more to me. Take it or leave it."

The ridiculousness of quarreling over the mere form of his good fortune

here struck Flint, and, as his abrupt benefactor had as abruptly

disappeared, he hurried off with his prize. Reaching his cheap

lodging-house, he examined its contents. As he had surmised, it

contained a full suit of clothing of the better sort, and suitable to

his urban needs. There were a few articles of jewelry, which he put

religiously aside. There were some letters, which seemed to be of a

purely business character. There were a few daguerreotypes of pretty

faces, one of which was singularly fascinating to him. But there

was another, of a young man, which startled him with its marvelous

resemblance to HIMSELF! In a flash of intelligence he understood it all

now. It was the likeness of the former owner of the trunk, for whom

the assistant had actually mistaken him! He glanced hurriedly at the

envelopes of the letters. They were addressed to Shelby Fowler, the name

by which the assistant had just called him. The mystery was plain now.

And for the present he could fairly accept his good luck, and trust to

later fortune to justify himself.

Transformed in his new garb, he left his lodgings to present himself

once more to his possible employer. His way led past one of the large

gambling saloons. It was yet too early to find the dry-goods trader

disengaged; perhaps the consciousness of more decent, civilized garb

emboldened him to mingle more freely with strangers, and he entered the

saloon. He was scarcely abreast of one of the faro tables when a man

suddenly leaped up with an oath and discharged a revolver full in his

face. The shot missed. Before his unknown assailant could fire again

the astonished Flint had closed with him, and instinctively clutched

the weapon. A brief but violent struggle ensued. Flint felt his strength

failing him, when suddenly a look of astonishment came into the furious

eyes of his adversary, and the man's grasp mechanically relaxed. The

half-freed pistol, thrown upwards by this movement, was accidentally

discharged point blank into his temples, and he fell dead. No one in the

crowd had stirred or interfered.

"You've done for Australian Pete this time, Mr. Fowler," said a voice

at his elbow. He turned gaspingly and recognized his strange benefactor,

Flynn. "I call you all to witness, gentlemen," continued the gambler,

turning dictatorially to the crowd, "that this man was FIRST attacked

and was UNARMED." He lifted Flint's limp and empty hands and then

pointed to the dead man, who was still grasping the weapon. "Come!" He

caught the half-paralyzed arm of Flint and dragged him into the street.

"But," stammered the horrified Flint, as he was borne along, "what does

it all mean? What made that man attack me?"

"I reckon it was a case of shooting on sight, Mr. Fowler; but he missed

it by not waiting to see if you were armed. It wasn't the square thing,

and you're all right with the crowd now, whatever he might have had

agin' you."

"But," protested the unhappy Flint, "I never laid eyes on the man

before, and my name isn't Fowler."

Flynn halted, and dragged him in a door way. "Who the devil are you?" he

asked roughly.

Briefly, passionately, almost hysterically, Flint told him his scant

story. An odd expression came over the gambler's face.

"Look here," he said abruptly, "I have passed my word to the crowd

yonder that you are a dead-broke miner called Fowler. I allowed that you

might have had some row with that Sydney duck, Australian Pete, in the

mines. That satisfied them. If I go back now, and say it's a lie, that

your name ain't Fowler, and you never knew who Pete was, they'll jest

pass you over to the police to deal with you, and wash their hands of it

altogether. You may prove to the police who you are, and how that d---

clerk mistook you, but it will give you trouble. And who is there here

who knows who you really are?"

"No one," said Flint, with sudden hopelessness.

"And you say you're an orphan, and ain't got any relations livin' that

you're beholden to?"

"No one."

"Then, take my advice, and BE Fowler, and stick to it! Be Fowler until

Fowler turns up, and thanks you for it; for you've saved Fowler's life,

as Pete would never have funked and lost his grit over Fowler as he did

with you; and you've a right to his name."

He stopped, and the same odd, superstitious look came into his dark


"Don't you see what all that means? Well, I'll tell you. You're in the

biggest streak of luck a man ever had. You've got the cards in your own

hand! They spell 'Fowler'! Play Fowler first, last, and all the time.

Good-night, and good luck, MR. FOWLER."

The next morning's journal contained an account of the justifiable

killing of the notorious desperado and ex-convict, Australian Pete, by

a courageous young miner by the name of Fowler. "An act of firmness

and daring," said the "Pioneer," "which will go far to counteract the

terrorism produced by those lawless ruffians."

In his new suit of clothes, and with this paper in his hand, Flint

sought the dry-goods proprietor--the latter was satisfied and convinced.

That morning Harry Flint began his career as salesman and as "Shelby


From that day Shelby Fowler's career was one of uninterrupted

prosperity. Within the year he became a partner. The same miraculous

fortune followed other ventures later. He was mill owner, mine owner,

bank director--a millionaire! He was popular, the reputation of his

brief achievement over the desperado kept him secure from the attack of

envy and rivalry. He never was confronted by the real Fowler. There was

no danger of exposure by others--the one custodian of his secret, Tom

Flynn, died in Nevada the year following. He had quite forgotten his

youthful past, and even the more recent lucky portmanteau; remembered

nothing, perhaps, but the pretty face of the daguerreotype that had

fascinated him. There seemed to be no reason why he should not live and

die as Shelby Fowler.

His business a year later took him to Europe. He was entering a train

at one of the great railway stations of London, when the porter, who

had just deposited his portmanteau in a compartment, reappeared at the

window followed by a young lady in mourning.

"Beg pardon, sir, but I handed you the wrong portmanteau. That belongs

to this young lady. This is yours."

Flint glanced at the portmanteau on the seat before him. It certainly

was not his, although it bore the initials "S. F." He was mechanically

handing it back to the porter, when his eyes fell on the young lady's

face. For an instant he stood petrified. It was the face of the

daguerreotype. "I beg pardon," he stammered, "but are these your

initials?" She hesitated, perhaps it was the abruptness of the question,

but he saw she looked confused.

"No. A friend's."

She disappeared into another carriage, but from that moment Harry Flint

knew that he had no other aim in life but to follow this clue and the

beautiful girl who had dropped it. He bribed the guard at the next

station, and discovered that she was going to York. On their arrival,

he was ready on the platform to respectfully assist her. A few words

disclosed the fact that she was a fellow-countrywoman, although residing

in England, and at present on her way to join some friends at Harrogate.

Her name was West. At the mention of his, he again fancied she looked


They met again and again; the informality of his introduction was

overlooked by her friends, as his assumed name was already respectably

and responsibly known beyond California. He thought no more of his

future. He was in love. He even dared to think it might be returned; but

he felt he had no right to seek that knowledge until he had told her his

real name and how he came to assume another's. He did so alone--scarcely

a month after their first meeting. To his alarm, she burst into a flood

of tears, and showed an agitation that seemed far beyond any apparent

cause. When she had partly recovered, she said, in a low, frightened


"You are bearing MY BROTHER'S name. But it was a name that the unhappy

boy had so shamefully disgraced in Australia that he abandoned it, and,

as he lay upon his death-bed, the last act of his wasted life was

to write an imploring letter begging me to change mine too. For the

infamous companion of his crime who had first tempted, then betrayed

him, had possession of all his papers and letters, many of them from ME,

and was threatening to bring them to our Virginia home and expose him

to our neighbors. Maddened by desperation, the miserable boy twice

attempted the life of the scoundrel, and might have added that blood

guiltiness to his other sins had he lived. I DID change my name to my

mother's maiden one, left the country, and have lived here to escape the

revelations of that desperado, should he fulfill his threat."

In a flash of recollection Flint remembered the startled look that had

come into his assailant's eye after they had clinched. It was the same

man who had too late realized that his antagonist was not Fowler. "Thank

God! you are forever safe from any exposure from that man," he said,

gravely, "and the name of Fowler has never been known in San Francisco

save in all respect and honor. It is for you to take back--fearlessly

and alone!"

She did--but not alone, for she shared it with her husband.

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