Colonel Starbottle's Client

: Colonel Starbottle's Client And Other Stories


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 w
re 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

mask-like mouth.

"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

bar-keeper within.

"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.

"Read that."

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

Corbin said:--

"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

shining eyes.

"'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

cool waters.


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

over there."

"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

and--a mustache!"

"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

for 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

as follows:--

"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


"J. C."

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

draft regularly?"

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?"

"Yes, Miss."

"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,

but go."

"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

sombre silk.

"Go," repeated Miss Sally, in an agonized whisper. "You must not be

known here."

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:--

"Interduce me."

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

the door.

"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

prolonged howls.


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

incident occurred.

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