Peak and Prairie - From a Colorado Sketch-book
by Anna Fuller
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Louisa," he had said to her one day, "I not only love you, but I like you." Well, so it had been with his life, that pleasant life of his. He not only loved it but he liked it! As he looked back over its course, in a spirit of calm contemplation, the achievement of which he did not consider in the least heroic, he came to the deliberate conclusion that he had had his share. After a little more consideration his mind, with but a quickly suppressed recoil, adopted the conviction that it was perhaps better to go suddenly like this, than to have been subjected to a long, lingering illness.

His wrists were becoming more and more weak and shaky, and there was a sense of emptiness within him, natural perhaps, considering the quality of his noon-day meal. His thoughts began to hover, with a curious bitterness over the memory of that apricot pie. It was the one thing that interfered with the even tenor of his philosophical reflections. The most singular resentment toward it had taken possession of his mind.

"Look here," he said to himself; "I'll get my mind clear of that confounded pie, and then I'll drop and have done with it." He knew very well that he could not keep his hold two minutes longer, and he was determined to "die game."

For a few seconds Mr. Fetherbee very nearly lost his mental grip. It seemed to be loosening, loosening, just as his fingers were doing. Then, as in a sort of trance, there rose before him a visible picture of the pleasant, kindly face he had so warmly loved, so heartily liked. Still in a trance-like condition, he became aware that that was the impression he would like to carry with him into eternity. He let it sink quietly into his soul, a soothing, fortifying draught; then, unconscious of philosophy, of heroism, of whatever we may choose to call the calm acceptance of the inevitable, he loosed his hold.

He fell of course only three inches. Anybody might have foreseen it, anybody, that is, who had not been suspended at the end of a rope in a pitch black hole. There is, however, something more convincing in experience than in anything else, and, as we have seen, Mr. Fetherbee had not once thought of the possibility of a friendly platform close beneath his feet. The discovery of it was none the less exhilarating. He did not in the least understand it, but he was entirely ready to believe in it.

He promptly pulled out his match-box and the bit of candle he was provided with. The dim, uncertain light cheered and warmed his very soul.

He found himself standing on a broad stout plank, built securely across the shaft. From the under side of this plank hung a rope like the one gently swaying before his eyes. He was saved; and as he breathed something very like a prayer of thanksgiving, it suddenly struck him that he had escaped not only an untimely, but an undignified end. "I'm glad I haven't done anything to mortify Louisa," he said to himself, and he felt that he had not until that moment appreciated his good fortune!

He looked at his watch. It was nearly half-an-hour since he had entered the mine. He stamped his feet on the plank and rubbed his hands together to get up the circulation, and then he pulled out a cigar and lighted it. The first whiff permeated his being with a sense as of food and drink, sunshine and sweet air.

The rest of the descent was accomplished by means of a succession of ropes suspended from a succession of platforms.

An hour later, when the wagon drove up to the mouth of the tunnel, Mr. Fetherbee was found standing serenely there, with a half finished cigar between his lips, gazing abstractedly at the landscape.

"Hullo, Fetherbee!" Dayton sung out, as they approached. "How was it?"

"First rate!" came the answer, in a voice of suppressed elation, which Allery Jones noted and was at something of a loss to interpret.

"Was it all your fancy pictured?" he asked, in rather a sceptical tone.

"All and more!" Mr. Fetherbee declared.

He mounted into the wagon, and the horses started on the home-stretch, not more joyful in the near prospect of their well-earned orgie of oats and hay than Mr. Fetherbee in the feast of narration which was spread for him. Finding it impossible to contain himself another moment, he cried, with an exultant ring in his voice: "But I say, you fellows! I've had an adventure!"

Then, as they bowled along through a winding valley in which the early September twilight was fast deepening, Mr. Fetherbee gave his initial version of what has since become a classic, known among the ever-increasing circle of Mr. Fetherbee's friends as—"An adventure I once had!"



The mining boom was on, and Springtown, that famous Colorado health-resort and paradise of idlers, was wide awake to the situation. The few rods of sidewalk which might fairly be called "the street," was thronged all day with eager speculators. Everybody was "in it," from the pillars of society down to the slenderest reed of an errand boy who could scrape together ten dollars for a ten-cent stock. As a natural consequence real estate was, for the moment, as flat as a poor joke, and people who had put their money into town "additions" were beginning to think seriously of planting potatoes where they had once dreamed of rearing marketable dwelling-houses.

Hillerton, the oldest real-estate man in town, was one of the few among the fraternity who had not branched out into stock brokerage. For that reason an air of leisure pervaded his office, and men liked to gather there and discuss the prospects of Lame Gulch. Lame Gulch, as everybody knows, is the new Colorado mining-camp, which is destined eventually to make gold a drug in the market. The camp is just on the other side of the Peak, easily accessible to any Springtown man who is not afraid of roughing it. And to do them justice, there proved to be scarcely an invalid or a college-graduate among them all who did not make his way up there, and take his first taste of hardship like a man.

Hillerton used to sit behind the balustrade which divided his sanctum from the main office, and listen with an astute expression, and just the glimmer of a smile, to the talk of the incipient millionaires, who bragged with such ease and fluency of this or that Bonanza. When all declared with one accord that "if Lame Gulch panned out as it was dead sure to do, Springtown would be the biggest little town in all creation," Hillerton's smile became slightly accentuated, but a wintry chill of incredulity had a neutralizing effect upon it. As the excitement increased, and his fellow-townsmen manifested a willingness to mortgage every inch of wood and plaster in their possession, Hillerton merely became, if possible, more stringent in the matter of securities.

"We might as well take a mortgage on the town, and done with it," he remarked to his confidential clerk one Saturday evening. "We shall own it all in six months, anyhow!"

Peckham, the confidential clerk, shrugged his shoulders, and said he "guessed it was about so."

Hillerton's confidential clerk usually assented to the dictum of his principal. It saved trouble and hurt nobody. Not that Lewis Peckham was without opinions of his own; but he took no special interest in them, and rarely put himself to the trouble of defending them.

The young man's countenance had never been an expressive one, and during the three years he had spent in Hillerton's employ, his face had lost what little mobility it had ever possessed. He was a pale, hollow-chested individual, with a bulging forehead, curiously marked eyebrows, and a prominent and sensitive nose. A gentleman, too, as anybody could see, but a gentleman of a singularly unsocial disposition. He looked ten years older than he was—an advantage which Hillerton recognized. His grave, unencouraging manner had a restraining effect upon too exacting tenants; while his actual youthfulness gave Hillerton the advantage over him of thirty years' seniority. Altogether Hillerton placed a high value upon his confidential clerk, and it was with a very genuine good-will that he followed up the last recorded observation, by saying, carelessly:

"I hope you've kept out of the thing yourself, Peckham."

"Oh, yes!" Peckham answered, in a tone of indifference, copied after Hillerton's own.

Peckham spoke the truth, as it happened, but he would probably have made the same answer whether it had been true or not. He was of the opinion that he was not accountable to Hillerton nor to any one else in the disposition he might make of his legitimate earnings. In fact, it was largely owing to Hillerton's inquiry and the hint of resentment it excited, that Peckham put a hundred dollars into the Yankee Doodle Mining and Milling Co. that very day. To be sure, he acted on a "straight tip," but straight tips were as thick as huckleberries in Springtown, and this was the first time he had availed himself of one.

It would be difficult to imagine why Peckham should not have thoroughly liked Hillerton; difficult, that is, to any one not aware of the unusual criterion by which he measured his fellow men. He was himself conscious that he had ceased to "take any stock" in his employer, since the day on which he had discovered that that excellent man of business did not know the Ninth Symphony from Hail Columbia.

Against Fate, on the other hand, Peckham had several grudges. He was inconveniently poor, he was ill, and he was in exile. With so many hard feelings to cherish against his two immediate superiors—namely, Hillerton and Fate—it is no wonder that Peckham had the reputation of being of a morose disposition.

He was perhaps the most solitary man in Springtown. Not only did he live in lodgings, and pick up his meals at cheap restaurants; he had wilfully denied himself the compensations which club life offers. Living, too, in a singularly hospitable community, he never put himself in the way of receiving invitations, and he consequently was allowed to do without them. He did not keep a horse; he thought a lodging-house no place for dogs, and he entertained serious thoughts of shooting his landlady's cat. He had always refrained from burdening himself with correspondents, and would have thought it a nuisance to write to his own brother, if so be he had had such a relative to bless himself with.

Lewis Peckham did not complain of his lot in detail, and he never made the least effort to better it. There was only one thing he really wanted, and that thing he could not have. He wanted to be "something big" in the way of a musician. Not merely to be master of this or that instrument; certainly not to teach reluctant young people their scales and arpeggios. What he had intended to become was a great composer—a composer of symphonies and operas—the First Great American Composer, spelled, be it observed, with capital letters. He was not destined to the disillusionment of direct failure, which in all human probability would have been his. Fate spared him that by visiting him in the beginning of his career with an attack of pneumonia which sent him fleeing for his life to the sunshine and high air of the Rocky Mountain region. Peckham was always rather ashamed of having fled for his life, which, as he repeatedly assured himself, was by no means worth the purchase. Yet with him as with most men, even when thwarted in what they believe to be a great ambition, the instinct of life is as imperative as that of hunger. And Lewis Peckham found himself wooing health at the cost of music, and earning his living as prosaically as any mere bread-winner of them all.

The "straight tip" on the Yankee Doodle proved to be an exception among its kind. The Y. D. which he had bought at ten cents, ran up in a week to twenty-five cents. Peckham sold out just before it dropped back, and then he put his profits into the "Libby Carew."

It happened that about that time he read in the local paper that the great Leitmann Orchestra would close its season with a concert in Chicago on May 16th. This concert Peckham was determined to hear, cost what it would. Hence the prudence which led him to reserve his original hundred dollars; a prudence which would otherwise have deprived the speculation of half its savor. The Libby Carew was as yet a mere "hole in the ground," but if he did not have the excitement of making money, it might prove equally stirring to lose it. Besides that, Hillerton's tone was getting more and more lofty on the subject of stock gambling, and the idea of acting contrary to such unquestioned sagacity had more relish than most ideas possessed.

Meanwhile the excitement grew. Lame Gulch was "panning out" with startling results. One after another the Springtown men went up to investigate matters for themselves, and the most sceptical came back a convert. The railroad folks began to talk of building a branch "in." Eastern capitalists pricked up their ears and sent out experts.

One morning the last of February, half-a-dozen men, among them a couple who had just come down from the camp, stood about Hillerton's office or sat on the railing of the sanctum, giving rough but graphic accounts of the sights to be seen at Lame Gulch. The company was not a typical Western crowd. The men were nearly all well dressed and exhibited evidences of good breeding. The refinement of the "tenderfoot" was still discernible, and excepting for the riding boots which they wore and the silk hats and derbys which they did not wear, and for an air of cheerful alertness which prevailed among them, one might have taken them for a group of Eastern club men. The reason of this was not far to seek. Most of them were, in fact, Eastern club men, who had sought Springtown as a health-resort, and had discovered, to their surprise, that it was about the pleasantest place they had yet "struck."

Peckham sat somewhat apart from the others on his high revolving stool, sometimes listening, without a sign of interest in his face, sometimes twirling his stool around and sitting with his back to the company, apparently immersed in figures.

Allery Jones, the Springtown wag, had once remarked that Peckham's back was more expressive than his face. On this occasion he nudged Dicky Simmons, with a view to reminding him of the fact; but Dicky, a handsome youth with a sanguine light in his blue eyes, was intent on what Harry de Luce was saying.

"Tell you what!" cried de Luce, who had only recently discovered that there were other interests in life besides the three P's, polo, poker, and pigeon-shooting. "Tell you what, those fellows up there are a rustling lot. Take the Cosmopolitan Hotel now! They're getting things down to a fine point in that tavern. There was a man put up there night before last, one of those rich-as-thunder New York capitalists. You could see it by the hang of his coat-tails. He came sniffing round on his own hook, as those cautious cusses do. Well, Rumsey gave him one of his crack rooms—panes of glass in the window, imitation mahogany chamber-set, pitcher of water on the washstand, all complete. Do you suppose that was good enough for old Money-Bags? Not by a jug-full. He owned the earth, he'd have you to know, and he wasn't going to put up with anything short of the Murray Hill! Nothing suited. There wasn't any paper on the walls, there wasn't any carpet on the floor, there wasn't any window-shade, and I'll be blowed if the old chap didn't object to finding the water frozen solid in the pitcher. He came down to the bar roaring-mad, and said he wouldn't stand it; he'd rather camp out and done with it; if they couldn't give him a better room than that, he'd be out of this quicker 'n he came in! Well, fellers! You never saw anything half so sweet as that old halibut Rumsey. If the gentleman would just step in to supper and have a little patience, he thought he'd find everything to his satisfaction. And by the living Jingo, boys! when old Money-Bags went up to his room in the middle of the evening, I'm blessed if there wasn't a paper on the wall, an ingrain carpet on the floor, and a red-hot stove over in the corner! Same room, too! Like to have seen the old boy when the grand transformation scene burst upon his astonished optics! Guess he thought Lame Gulch could give New York City points!"

"Did the old cove seem likely to put any money in?" asked a man with high cheekbones, who had the worried look of a person who has given a mortgage on his peace of mind.

"Yes, he bought up some claims dirt cheap, and they say he's going to form a company."

"That's the talk!" cried the sanguine Dicky.

"Speaking of picking up claims dirt cheap," began a new orator, an ex-ranchman, who was soon to make the discovery that there was as much money to be lost in mines as in cattle, if a fellow only had the knack; "I saw a tidy little deal when I was up at the camp last week. We were sitting round in the barroom of the Cosmopolitan, trying to keep warm. I guess it was the only place in Lame Gulch that night where the thermometer was above zero. There was a lot of drinking going on, and the men that were playing were playing high. I wasn't in it myself. I was pleasantly occupied with feeling warm after having fooled round the Libby Carew all day. I got interested in a man standing outside, who kept looking in at the window and going off again. The light struck the face in a queer sort of way, and I guess there was something wrong about the window-pane. They don't do much business in the way of plate-glass at Lame Gulch. Anyhow, I couldn't seem to get a fair sight of anything but the man's eyes, and they looked like the eyes of a hungry wolf."

"Ever meet a hungry wolf, Phil?"

"Scores of 'em. You're one yourself, Jim, when you look at the stock-boards. Well! The fellow came and went like an angel visitant, and after awhile I got tired of watching for him, and found myself admiring the vocabulary of the boys as they got excited. Gad! It's a liberal education to listen to that sort of a crowd. The worst you can do yourself sounds like a Sunday-school address by comparison. Suddenly the door opened and in walked the man with the eyes. He hadn't any overcoat on and his feet and legs were tied up in gunny sacks. His teeth were chattering and his face looked like a blue print! He shuffled up to Rumsey, who was sipping a cocktail behind the bar, and says he:

"'Evenin', pard; I want a drink.'

"'All right, stranger. Just show us the color of your money.'

"'Ain't got any money,' says he, 'but I've got a claim over 'long side of the Yankee Doodle, and I'm ready to swap a half interest in it for all the liquor I can drink between now and morning.' There was a kind of a desperate look about the man that meant business. Rumsey stepped out among the boys and got a pointer or two on that claim, and they made the deal."

There was a pause in the narrative, to allow the listeners to take in the situation, and then the speaker went on: "It was a sight to see that chap pour the stuff down his throat. He was drinking, off and on, pretty much all night. Didn't come to till late the next afternoon. Rumsey was so pleased with the deal next morning, that he let the fellow lie behind the stove all day and sleep it off. Not sure but that he gave him a drink of water when he woke up, and water's high at Lame Gulch."

"Kind of a shame, I call it, to let him do it. Wasn't there anybody to stand treat?" It was Dicky, the lad of the sanguine countenance that spoke.

"Wonder what the claim was worth?" said the man with a mortgage on him.

"Wonder how he felt next morning?" queried another.

"Felt like an infernal donkey!" Hillerton declared, flinging away a cigar-stump and taking his legs down from the desk.

Then Peckham turned himself round to face the crowd, and said, in a tone of quiet conviction:

"The man was all right. If you only want anything bad enough, no price is too high to pay for it."

This was a sentiment which every one was bound to respect—every one, at least, excepting Hillerton.

"Sounds very well, Peckham," he said, "but it won't hold water."

The most surprising thing about Peckham's little speculations was that they all succeeded. It made the other men rather mad because he did not care more.

"But that's always the way," Freddy Dillingham remarked, with an air of profound philosophy. "It's the fellers that don't care a darn that have all the luck."

When Peckham sold out of the Libby Carew, he doubled his money, and the moment he touched the "Trailing Arbutus," up she went. By the first of May he found himself the possessor of nearly three thousand dollars' worth of "stuff" distributed among several ventures. Of course, he was credited with five times as much, and the other men began to think that if he did not set up a dogcart pretty soon, or at least a yellow buckboard, they should have their opinion of him. If the truth must be known, Peckham would not have given a nickle for a dozen dog-carts. It was all very well to make a little money; it was the first time he had discovered a taste for anything in the nature of a game, and the higher the stakes came to be, the more worth while it seemed. Nevertheless, his mind, in those days of early May, when he was steadily rising in the esteem of his associates, was very little occupied with the calculation of his profits.

He had long since arranged with Hillerton to take part of his vacation the middle of May, and the anticipation of that concert was more inspiring to him than all the gold mines in Colorado. As the time drew near, a consuming thirst took possession of him, and not a gambler of them all was the prey to a more feverish impatience than he. He tormented himself with thoughts of every possible disaster which might come to thwart him at the last minute. Visions of a railroad accident which should result in the wholesale destruction of the entire orchestra, haunted his mind. Another great fire might wipe Chicago out of existence. The one thing which his imagination failed to conceive, was the possibility that he, Lewis Peckham, might be deterred from hearing the concert when once it should take place. In the interim he made repeated calculations of the number of hours that must be lived through before May 16th. Hillerton came across a half sheet of paper covered with such calculations, and was somewhat puzzled by the prominence of the figure 24. An odd price to pay for a mining stock. He was afraid it was the "Adeline Maria," a notorious swindle. Well, Peckham might as well get his lesson at the hands of the faithless Adeline Maria as by any other means. He was bound to come to grief sooner or later, but that was no business of Hillerton's.

On May 7th, Hillerton came down with pleurisy and Peckham suddenly found himself at the head of affairs. Hillerton had no partner; no one but Peckham could take his place. And in Peckham's moral constitution was a substratum of unshakable fidelity upon which the astute Hillerton had built. Cursing his own unimpeachable sense of duty, Peckham could see but one straw of hope to clutch at. It might be a light case.

He went directly to the doctor's office, and with a feverish anxiety apparent in his voice and bearing, he asked how long Hillerton was likely to be laid up.

"Curious," thought the doctor during that carefully calculated pause which your experienced practitioner so well knows the value of. "Curious how fond folks get of James Hillerton. The fellow looks as though his own brother were at death's door."

"I think there is nothing serious to apprehend," he answered soothingly. "Hillerton has a good constitution. I've no doubt he will be about again by the end of the month."

Peckham went white to the lips.

"I suppose that's the best you can promise," he said.

"Yes, but I can promise that safely."

The confidential clerk went back to the office filled with a profound loathing of life.

"If liquor wasn't so nasty, I'd take to drink," he said to himself as he sat down at Hillerton's desk and set to work.

The next day was Sunday, and Peckham was at something of a loss what to do with it. He hated the sight of his room. The odor of the straw matting and the pattern of the wallpaper were inextricably associated with those anticipations which he had been rudely cheated out of. To escape such associations he took an electric car to the Bluffs, those rock-bound islands in the prairie sea which lie a couple of miles to the east of the town. There was only one other passenger besides himself, a man with a gun, who softly whistled a popular air, very much out of tune. Peckham came perilously near kicking the offender, but, happily, the fellow got off just in time, and went strolling across the open with the gun over his shoulder. Once he stooped to pick a flower which he stuck in his buttonhole. Queer, thought Peckham, that a man should go picking flowers and whistling out of tune! There were the mountains, too. Some people made a great deal of them—great, stupid masses of dumb earth! He remembered he had thought them fine himself the other day when there were shadows on them. But to-day! How the sun glared on their ugly reddish sides! And what was it that had gone wrong anyhow? He could not seem to remember, and on the whole he did not wish to.

Now Lewis Peckham was neither losing his mind, nor had he been drowning his sorrows in the conventional dram. The simple fact of the matter was that he had not slept fifteen minutes consecutively all night long, and his brain was not likely to clear up until he had given it a chance to recuperate. By the time he had left the car and climbed the castellated side of Pine Bluff he was still miserably unhappy, but he had altogether lost track of the cause of his unhappiness. He strayed aimlessly along the grassy top of the Bluff, away from the road, and down a slight incline, into a sheltered hollow. At the foot of a strange, salmon-colored column of rock was a little group of budding scrub-oaks. Peckham crawled in among them, and in about thirty seconds he was fast asleep. There he lay for hours. A blue jay, chattering in a pine-tree near at hand, made no impression upon his sleep-deadened ear; a pair of ground squirrels scuttled in and out among the scrub-oaks, peering shyly at the motionless intruder, and squeaked faintly to one another, with vivacious action of nose and tail. They were, perhaps, discussing the availability of a certain inviting coat-pocket for purposes of domestic architecture. An occasional rumble of wheels on the road, a dozen rods away, startled the birds and squirrels, but Peckham slept tranquilly on, and dreamed that the Leitmann Orchestra was playing in the Springtown Opera House, and that he, by reason of his being an early Christian martyr, was forced to roast at the stake just out of hearing of the music.

It was well on in the afternoon when he came to himself, to find his boots scorched almost to a crisp in the sun which had been pouring upon them. He pulled himself out from among the scrub-oaks, and got his feet out of the sun. Then he looked at his watch; and after that he looked at the view.

The view was well worth looking at in the mellow afternoon light. Peckham gazed across the shimmering gold of the plain, to the mountains, which stood hushed into a palpitating blue; the Peak alone, white and ethereal, floating above the foot hills in the sun. Peckham was impressed in spite of himself. It made him think of a weird, mystical strain of music that had sometimes haunted his brain and yet which he had never been able to seize and capture. As he gazed on the soaring, mystical Peak, he remembered his dream, and slowly, but very surely, he perceived that a purpose was forming in his mind, almost without the connivance of his will. He got upon his feet and laughed aloud. A sudden youthful intoxication of delight welled up within him and rang forth in that laugh. Life, for the first time in three years, seemed to him like a glorious thing; an irresistible, a soul-stirring purpose had taken possession of him, and he knew that no obstacle could stand against it.

He started for the town almost on a run, scorning the prosaic cars which harbored passengers who whistled out of tune. He struck directly across the intercepting plain, and though he soon had to slacken his pace, his winged thoughts went on before him, and he took no note of the distance.

That evening Peckham sent off a telegram of one hundred and eleven words to Heinrich Leitmann, of the Leitmann Orchestra, and Monday afternoon the following answer came:

"Full Leitmann Orchestra can engage for Springtown, evening of 19th. Terms, five thousand dollars, expenses included. Answer before 13th. Buffalo, N. Y.

(Signed) "H. LEITMANN."

And now Lewis Peckham came out a full-fledged speculator. He sold out of four mines and bought into six; he changed his ventures three times in twenty-four hours, each time on a slight rise. He haunted the stockbroker's offices, watching out for "pointers"; he button-holed every third man on the street; he drank in every hint that was dropped in his hearing. On Tuesday afternoon he "cleaned up" his capital and found himself in possession of three thousand five hundred dollars.

"Peckham's going it hard," men said at the club. "He must be awfully bitten."

All day Wednesday he could not muster courage to put his money into anything, though stocks were booming on every hand. And yet on Wednesday, as on Monday and on Tuesday, he did his office work and superintended that of his subordinates methodically and exactly. The substratum of character which the long-headed Hillerton had built upon, held firm.

On Wednesday evening Peckham stood, wild-eyed and haggard, in the light of Estabrook's drug-store and scanned the faces of the foot-passengers. Early in the evening Elliot Chittenden came along with a grip-sack in his hand, just down from Lame Gulch. Peckham fell upon him like a footpad, whispering hoarsely:

"For God's sake give me a pointer."

"Jove!" said Chittenden, afterward, "I thought it was a hold-up, sure as trumps."

At the moment, however, he maintained his composure and only said:

"The smelter returns from the Boa Constrictor are down to-day. Two hundred and seventeen dollars to the ton. I've got all the stuff I can carry, so I don't mind letting you in. The papers will have it to-morrow, though they're doing their best to keep it back."

Into the Boa Constrictor Peckham plunged the next morning, for all he was worth. His money brought him ten thousand shares. The morning papers did not have it, and all that day the Boa Constrictor lay as torpid as any other snake in cold weather. Peckham's face had taken on the tense, wild look of the gambler. He left the office half a dozen times during the day to look at the stock-boards. He had a hundred minds about taking his money out and putting it into something else. But nothing else promised anything definite, and he held on.

The evening papers gave the smelter returns, precisely as Chittenden had stated them. Now would the public "catch on" quick enough, or would they take ten days to do what they might as well come to on the spot?

At nine o'clock the next morning, Peckham was on the street lying in wait for an early broker. It was not until half-past nine that they began to arrive.

"Any bids for Boa Constrictor?" Peckham inquired of Macdugal, the first-comer.

"They were bidding forty cents at the club last night, with no takers."

"Let me know if you get fifty cents bid."

"How much do you offer?"

"Ten thousand shares."

"Oh! see here, Peckham! I wouldn't sell out at such a price. The thing's sure to go to a dollar inside of thirty days."

"I don't care a hang where it goes in thirty days. I want the money to-day."

"Whew! Do you know anything better to put it into?"

"I know something a million times better!" cried Peckham, in a voice sharp with excitement.

"The fellow's clean daft," Macdugal remarked to his partner, a few minutes later.

"I should say so!" was the reply. "Queer, too, how suddenly it takes 'em. A week ago I should have said that was the coolest head of the lot. He didn't seem to care a chuck for the whole business. Wonder if he's gone off his base since Hillerton was laid up. Hope he isn't in for a swindle. He'd be just game for a sharper to-day."

At noon Peckham sold his ten thousand shares of B. C. for five thousand dollars. He could have got six thousand the next morning, but then, as he reflected, what good would it have done him? His first act after depositing the check received for his stock, was to send the following telegram:

"Leitmann Orchestra engaged for Springtown, May 19th. Five thousand dollars deposited in First National Bank. Particulars by letter.


It is not a usual thing for an impecunious young man to invest five thousand dollars in a single symphony concert, but there was one feature of the affair which was more unusual still; namely, the fact that the consummation of that same young man's hopes was complete. For two beatific hours on the evening of the memorable 19th of May, Lewis Peckham's cup was full. He sat among the people in the balcony, quiet and intent, taking no part in the applause, looking neither to the right nor to the left. But if he gave no outward sign, perhaps it was because his spirit was so far uplifted as to be out of touch with his body.

The money which he had expended in the gratification of what the uninitiated would call a whim, seemed to him the paltriest detail, quite unworthy of consideration. When he thought of it at all it was to recall the story of the gaunt customer who paid so handsomely for his whisky, and to note the confirmation of his theory, that "if you only want anything bad enough no price is too high to pay for it."

And in still another particular Lewis Peckham's experience was unique. He never gambled again. He had a feeling that he had got all he was entitled to from the fickle goddess. When pressed to try his luck once more he would only say, with his old, indifferent shrug: "No, thanks. I've had my fling and now I've got through."



"Bixby's Art Emporium" was a temple of such modest exterior that visitors were conscious of no special disappointment upon finding that there was, if possible, less of "art" than of "emporium" within. A couple of show-cases filled with agate and tiger-eye articles, questionable looking "gems," and the like; a table in the centre of the shop piled high with Colorado views of every description; here and there on the walls a poor water-color or a worse oil-painting; a desultory Navajo rug on a chair: these humble objects constituted the nearest approach to "art" that the establishment could boast. The distinctive feature of the little shop was the show-case at the rear, filled with books of pressed wildflowers; these, at least, were the chief source of income in the business, and therefore Marietta spent every odd half-hour in the manufacture of them. A visitor, when he entered, was apt to suppose that the shop was empty; for the black, curly head bent over the work at the window behind the back counter was not immediately discernible. It was a fascinating head, as the most unimpressionable visitor could not fail to observe when the tall figure rose from behind the counter,—fascinating by reason of the beautiful hair, escaping in soft tendrils from the confining knot; fascinating still more by reason of the perfect grace of poise. The face was somewhat sallow and very thin; care and privation had left their marks upon it. The mouth was finely modelled, shrewd and humorous; but it was the eyes, dark, and darkly fringed as those of a wood-nymph, that dominated the face; one had a feeling that here was where the soul looked out. To hear Marietta speak, however, was something of a disenchantment; her tone was so very matter-of-fact, her words so startlingly to the point. If the soul looked out at the eyes, the lips at least had little to say of it.

The visitor, if a stranger, had an excellent opportunity of making his observations on these points, for Marietta usually remained standing, in a skeptical attitude, behind the distant counter until he had shown signs of "business" intentions. She was very ready to stand up and rest her back, but she had no idea of coming forward to indulge an aimless curiosity as to the origin and price of her art treasures. An old customer, on the other hand, was treated with an easy good-fellowship so marked that only those who liked "that sort of thing" ever became old customers.

"Well, how's everything?" was the usual form of greeting, as the tall willowy figure passed round behind the counters and came opposite the new-comer.

"Did your folks like the frame?" would come next, if the customer chanced to have had a frame sent home recently. Marietta was agent for a Denver art firm, which framed pictures at a "reasonable figure"; or rather, Jim was the agent, and Jim being Marietta's husband, and too sick a man of late to conduct his business, did not have to be reckoned with.

In spite of the fact that she was generally known as "Mrs. Jim," many people forgot that Marietta had a husband, for he was never visible now-a-days. But Marietta never forgot, never for one single instant, the wasted figure in the easy chair at the window above the shop, the pale sunken face with the shining eyes, turned always toward the stairway the instant her foot touched the lower step. The look of radiant welcome that greeted her as often as her head appeared above the opening on a level with the uneven deal floor, that look was always worth coming up for.

She did not bring her work and sit upstairs with Jim, because there was but one small window in the dingy, slant-roofed loft, that served as bed-chamber, kitchen, and parlor, and she knew he liked to sit at the window and watch the panorama of the street below. The broad, sunny Springtown thoroughfare, with its low, irregular wooden structures, likely, at any moment, to give place to ambitious business "blocks"; with its general air of incompleteness and transitoriness brought into strong relief against the near background of the Rocky Mountains, was alive with human interest. Yet, singularly enough, it was not the cowboy, mounted on his half-broken bronco that interested Jim; not the ranch wagon, piled high with farm produce, women, and children; not even the Lame Gulch "stage,"—a four-seated wagon, so crowded with rough-looking men that their legs dangled outside like fringe on a cowboy's "shaps,"—none of these sights made much impression on the sick man at his upper window. The work-a-day side of life was far too familiar to Jim to impress him as being picturesque or dramatic. What he did care for, what roused and satisfied his imagination, was what was known in his vocabulary as "style." It was to the "gilded youth" of Springtown that he looked for his entertainment. He liked the yellow fore-and-aft buckboards, he enjoyed the shining buggies, especially when their wheels were painted red; dog-carts and victorias ranked high in his esteem. He knew, to be sure, very little about horses; their most salient "points" escaped him: he gave indiscriminate approval to every well-groomed animal attached to a "stylish" vehicle, and the more the merrier! It is safe to declare that he was a distinctly happier man from that day forward on which Mr. Richard Dayton first dazzled the eyes of Springtown with his four-in-hand.

This happened early in February and the day chanced to be a warm one, so that Jim's window was open. He was sitting there, gazing abstractedly at the Peak which rose, a great snowy dome, above Tang Ling's shop across the way. Jim seldom spoke of the mountains, nor was he aware of paying any special attention to them. "I ain't much on Nature," he had always maintained; and since Marietta admitted the same lack in herself there seemed to be nothing in that to regret. Yet it is nevertheless true that Jim had his thoughts, as he sat, abstractedly gazing at those shining heights, thoughts of high and solemn things which his condition brought near to him, thoughts which he rarely said anything about. To-day, as he watched the deep blue shadows brooding upon the Peak, he was wondering in a child-like way what Heaven would be like. Suddenly the musical clink of silver chains struck his ear, and the look of abstraction vanished. He had never heard those bridle chains before. Somebody had got something new! A moment more, and, with a fine rush and jingle, and a clear blast from the horn, the four-in-hand dashed by.

"Hurrah!" Jim cried huskily, as Marietta's foot trod the stair.

"I say, Jim! You seen 'em?"

She came up panting, for the stairs were very steep and narrow.

"Seen 'em? I rather guess! Wasn't it bully? Do you reckon they'll come back this way?"

"Course they will! Don't you s'pose they like to show themselves off? And the horn! did you hear the horn, Jim? I wonder if that's the way they sound in Switzerland!"

She came up and stood with her hand on Jim's shoulder, looking down into the street.

"And just to think of it, Jim!" she said, a moment later. "They say he's made lots of money right here in mines! If we was in mines we might have made some."

"More likely to lose it," Jim answered. He was not of the stuff that speculators are made of.

The shop-bell rang, and Marietta hurried downstairs, to spend ten minutes in selling a ten-cent Easter card; while Jim sat on, forgetting his burden of weakness and pain, and all his far-away dreams, in anticipation of the returning four-in-hand.

In Marietta, too, the jingle of the four-in-hand had struck a new key-note; her thoughts had taken a new turn. If Mr. Dayton had made money in mines why should not she and Jim do the same? They needed it far more than he did. To him it only meant driving four horses instead of one; to them it might mean driving one horse once in a while. It might even mean giving up the tiresome, profitless shop, and going to live in a snug little house of their own, where there should be a porch for Jim in pleasant weather and, for cold days, a sitting-room with two windows instead of one where she could work at her flower-books, while they planned what they should do when Jim got well. She sat over her pressed flowers, which she handled with much skill, while she revolved these thoughts in her mind. She was busy with her columbines, a large folio of which lay on a table near by. At her left hand was a pile of square cards with scalloped edges, upon which the columbines were to be affixed; at her right was a small glass window-pane smeared with what she called "stickum." As she deftly lifted the flowers, one by one, without ever breaking a fragile petal, she laid each first upon the "stickum"-covered square of glass and then upon the Bristol-board. She was skilful in always placing the flower precisely where it was to remain upon the page, so that the white surface was kept unstained. Then she further secured each brittle stem with a tiny strip of paper pasted across the end. She lifted a card and surveyed her work critically, thinking the while, not of the wonderful golden and purple flower, holding its beautiful head with as stately a grace as if it were still swaying upon its stem, but of the great "mining-boom" that was upon the town, and of the chances of a fortune.

Half-an-hour had passed since the shop-bell had last tinkled, and Marietta was beginning to think of making Jim a flying call, when she heard his cane rapturously banging the floor above. This was the signal for her to look out into the street, which she promptly did, and, behold! the four-in-hand had stopped before the door, a groom was standing at the leaders' heads, and the master of this splendid equipage was just coming in, his figure looming large and imposing in the doorway.

"Good morning, Mrs. Jim," he called before he was well inside the shop. "I want one of your ten-dollar flower-books."

Quite unmoved by the lavishness of her customer, Marietta rose in her stately way, and drew forth several specimens of her most expensive flower-book. Dayton examined them with an attempt to be discriminating, remarking that the book was for some California friends of his wife who were inclined to be "snifty" about Colorado flowers.

"That's the best of the lot," Marietta volunteered, singling out one which her customer had overlooked.

"So it is," he replied; "do it up for me, please."

This Marietta proceeded to do in a very leisurely manner. She was making up her mind to a bold step.

"Say, Mr. Dayton," she queried, as she took the last fold in the wrapping paper; "what's the best mine to go into?"

"The best mine? Oh, I wouldn't touch one of them if I were you!"

"Yes, you would, if you were me! So you might as well tell me a good one or I might make a mistake."

She held her head with the air of a princess, while the look of a wood-nymph still dwelt in her shadowy eyes, but words and tone meant "business."

"How much money have you got to lose?"

"Oh, fifty or a hundred dollars," she said carelessly.

Dayton strolled to the door and back again before he answered. He was annoyed with Mrs. Jim for placing him in such a position, but he did not see his way out of it. The next man she asked might be a sharper. His ideas of woman's "sphere" were almost mediaeval, but somehow they did not seem to fit Mrs. Jim's case.

"Well," he said at last with evident reluctance; "the 'Horn of Plenty' doesn't seem to be any worse than the others, and it may be a grain better. But it's all a gamble, just like roulette or faro, and I should think you had better keep out of it altogether."

The "Horn of Plenty"! It was a name to appeal to the most sluggish imagination; the mere sound of it filled Marietta with a joyful confidence. Within the hour she had hailed a passing broker and negotiated with him for five hundred shares of the stock at twenty cents a share.

It was not without a strange pang, to be sure, that she wrote out her check for the amount; for just as she was signing her name the unwelcome thought crossed her mind that the person who was selling that amount of stock for a hundred dollars must believe that sum of money to be a more desirable possession than the stock! She felt the meaning of the situation very keenly, but she did not betray her misgivings. As she finished the scrawling signature she only lifted her head with a defiant look, and said: "If anybody tells Jim, I'll chew 'em up!"

Inches, the broker, thus admonished, only laughed. Indeed, the thing Inches admired most in Mrs. Jim was her forcible manner of expressing herself. He admired and liked her well enough, for that and for other reasons, to take a very disinterested pleasure in putting her in the way of turning an honest penny.

The broker's faith in the "Horn of Plenty" was almost as implicit as Marietta's own, and it was with no little pride that he brought the certificate in to her the following day, and unfolded it to her dazzled contemplation. It was a very beauteous production done in green and gold, the design being suggestive and encouraging. It represented a woman clad in green, pointing with a magic golden wand in her left hand toward a group of toiling green miners, while from a golden cornucopia in her right she poured a shower of gold upon an already portentous pyramid of that valuable metal, planted upon a green field.

As Marietta refolded the crisply rustling paper, Inches bent his head toward her and said, confidentially: "She's bound to touch fifty cents inside of thirty days;" and Marietta, still thinking of the bountiful lady of the golden cornucopia, believed him.

"Inside of thirty days" the "H. O. P.," as it was familiarly called, was selling at forty-five cents, and the world was very much agog on the subject. There had been fluctuations in the meanwhile, fluctuations which Marietta watched with eager intentness. Once, on the strength of disquieting rumors about the management, the stock dropped to sixteen cents and Marietta's hopes sank accordingly; she felt as if she had picked Jim's pocket. But the "H. O. P." soon rallied, and day by day it crept upwards while Marietta's spirits crept upwards with it, cautiously, questioningly. Should she sell? Should she hold on? If only she might talk it over with Jim! That was something she poignantly missed; she had never had a secret from Jim before. To make up for her reticence on this point she used to tell him more minutely than ever of all that went on in the shop below. Jim thought he had never known Marietta so entertaining.

"I say, Marietta, it's a shame you're nothing but a shop-keeper's wife!" he said to her one evening as she sat darning stockings by the lamp-light in the dingy attic room. "You'd ought to have been a duchess or a governor's wife or something like that, so's folks would have found out how smart you was."

"Listen at him!" cried Marietta.

The words might have offended the taste of the governor who had failed to secure this valuable matrimonial alliance, but the poise of the pretty head, as she cast an affectionate look upon Jim, lying on the old sofa, would have graced the proudest duchess of them all.

Now the "Horn of Plenty" was a Lame Gulch stock, and, since the mining-camp of Lame Gulch had been in existence less than a year, the value of any mine up there was a very doubtful quantity. It was perhaps the proximity of the camp to Springtown, that fired the imagination of the Springtown public, perhaps the daily coming and going of people between the two points. Be that as it may, the head must have been a very level one indeed that could keep its balance through the excitement of that winter's "boom." There were many residents of Springtown who had a sentiment for the Peak, more intelligent and more imaginative than any Marietta could boast, yet it is probable that the best nature-lover of them all shared something of her feeling, now that she had come to regard the Peak as the mountain on the other side of which the Lame Gulch treasures lay awaiting their resurrection.

"Just the other side of the Peak!" What magic in those words, spoken from time to time by one and another of the Springtown people. "Just the other side of the Peak!" Marietta would say to herself, lifting to the noble mountain eyes bright with an interest such as he in his grandest mood had never awakened there before.

Suppose the "Horn of Plenty" should go to a dollar!—to five dollars,—to ten dollars,—to twenty-five dollars! Her mind took the leap with ease and confidence. Had not Bill Sanders said that there were forty millions in it, and had he not seen the mine with his own eyes? Marietta had a mental picture of a huge mountain of solid gold, and when, to complete the splendor of the impression, men talked of "free gold," the term seemed to her to signify a buoyant quality, the quality of pouring itself out in spontaneous plenty. She heard much talk of this kind, for the "H. O. P." was the topic of the hour, and her customers discussed it among themselves. Forty millions almost in plain sight! That was forty dollars a share, and she had five hundred shares! And all this time she was thinking, not of wealth and luxury, but only of a snug cottage in a side street, where there should be two windows in the sitting-room, where she might sit and chat with Jim while she made her flower-books, planning what they should do when he got well. How little she asked; how reasonable it was, how fair! And if only the "H. O. P." were to go to five dollars a share she would venture it.

Meanwhile people were bidding forty-five cents, and Inches had called twice in one morning to ask if she would not sell at that price.

"What makes them want it so much?" she asked on the occasion of his second visit.

"Oh, just an idea they've got that it's going higher," Inches answered indifferently.

"Well, s'posing it is; why should I want to sell?"

"Why, you'd have made a pretty good thing in it, and you might like to have your bird in hand, don't you know?"

Marietta sat down to her flower-books and worked on composedly, while Inches still lingered.

"That's a real pretty painting of the Peak over there," he remarked presently, nodding his head toward a crude representation of that much-travestied mountain.

Marietta knew better, but she said nothing.

"What do you ask for that now?" he persisted.

"Oh, I guess about a hundred dollars," she returned facetiously. "The Peak comes high now-a-days, 'cause Lame Gulch is right round on the other side."

There was another pause before the broker spoke again.

"Then, s'posing I could get you forty-six cents for your stock, would you take it? That's rather above the market price, you know."

"'Taint up to my price," said Marietta, trying to make a group of painter's brush look artistic.

"What would you take for it then?" asked Inches.

Marietta put down her work and drew herself up, to rest her back, and make an end of the interview at a blow.

"Look here, Mr. Inches," she said, with decision; "seeing you want the stock so bad, I guess I'll hold on to it!"

She was still holding on with unwavering persistence when, a few days after that, Dayton came into the shop. He wondered, as he entered the door, what could be the unpleasant association that was aroused in him by the familiar atmosphere of skins and dried flowers and general "stock in trade" which pervaded the place. No sooner did his eye fall upon Marietta coming towards him, however, than he recalled the distasteful part of adviser which had been forced upon him on the occasion of his last visit. He tried to think that he had washed his hands of the whole matter, but, "Mrs. Jim," he found himself saying; "did you go into mines the other day?"


"What did you buy?"

"H. O. P."

"What did you pay?"

"Twenty cents."

"Sold yet?"


Dayton took the little parcel she was handing him. He had come in for a lead-pencil and had bought, in addition, a stamp-box, a buttonhook, and a plated silver photograph frame, not one of which newly acquired treasures he had the slightest use for. They were very neatly tied up, however. He wished Mrs. Jim would stick to her legitimate business which she did uncommonly well.

"I think I would sell out my 'H. O. P.' if I were you," he said.

"Isn't it going any higher?" she asked.

"Very likely; but it's a swindle."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean that the management's bad, and they don't know the first thing about what they've got, any way. Honestly, Mrs. Jim, it isn't safe to hold."

Marietta's heart sank; if she sold her stock what was to become of the little house with the two windows in the sitting-room? She did not reply, and Dayton went on:

"Of course," he said; "I can't tell that the thing won't go to a dollar, but there is really no basis for it. I've sold out every share I held, and I don't regret it, though it has gone up ten points since then."

Marietta regarded him attentively. There was no mistaking his sincerity,—and he probably knew what he was talking about.

"Well," she said at last, with a profound sigh; "I guess I'll do as you say. It worked pretty well the other time."

"That's right, Mrs. Jim, and supposing you let me have your stock. I can probably get you fifty cents for it in the course of the day."

She took the certificate from a drawer close at hand, and having signed it, she gave one lingering farewell look at the green lady and her golden horn.

"I may as well write a check for the amount now," Dayton said.

"But maybe you can't get it."

"More likely to get a little over. If I do I'll bring it in."

Dayton looked into her face as he spoke, and its beauty struck him as pathetic. There were lines and shadows there which he had not noticed before.

"I wish, Mrs. Jim," he said, "that you wouldn't do anything more in mines; it's an awfully risky business at the best. There isn't one of us that knows the first thing about it."

She gave him a sceptical look; was he so entirely sincere, after all?

"Some of you know enough about it to make an awful lot of money in it," she answered quietly.

"That isn't knowledge," he declared; "it's luck!"

"Comes to the same thing in the end," said Marietta.

If it had not been for those pathetic lines and shadows, Dayton would have turned on his heel then and there, disgusted with what seemed to him unfeminine shrewdness. As it was, he said: "Well, then, why not let me be your broker? I'm on the street half the time, and I could attend to your business a great deal better than you could."

Marietta did not commit herself to any agreement. She put her check away, still too regretful about the dreams she had relinquished, to rejoice in the mere doubling of her money.

Late in the afternoon she was paying a visit to Jim. In spite of the brilliant sunshine that flooded the little garret, at this hour, the place seemed dingier and drearier than ever. Jim, too, she thought, was not looking quite as well as usual; his hand as she took it was hot and dry. She knelt down beside him and they looked out at the Peak, rising grand and imposing beyond the low roofs. Marietta was thinking of the gold, "just round on the other side," but Jim's thoughts had wandered farther still; or was it, after all, nearer to the sick man with the wistful light in his eyes?

"I say, Marietta," he said, "I wonder what Heaven's like."

She had never heard him speak like that, and the words went to her heart like a knife. But she answered, gently:

"I guess we don't know much about it, Jim; only that it'll be Heaven."

"I suppose when we get there, you and I, Springtown will seem very far away."

"I don't know, Jim," Marietta said, looking still out toward the Peak, but thinking no longer of the gold on the other side. "I shouldn't like any of our life together ever to seem very far away."

Just then the sound of the horn rang musically down the street and a moment later the brake went by. The horses' heads were toward home and they knew it; the harness jingled and glittered. On the brake were half-a-dozen well-dressed people laughing and talking gaily; health and prosperity seemed visibly in attendance upon that little company of fortunates. They passed like a vision, and again the sound of the horn came ringing down the street.

Jim turned and looked at Marietta who had been almost as excited as he. A thousand thoughts had chased themselves through her brain as the brake went by. She sighed in the energetic manner peculiar to her, and then she said: "O Jim! If you could only be like that for just one day!"

Perhaps he had had the same thought but her words dispelled it.

"Never mind, Etta," he said. "I wouldn't change with him;" and Marietta shut away the little speech in her heart to be happy over at her leisure.

The next day the invalid was not as well as usual and Mrs. Jim spent half her time running up and down stairs. Inches came in in the course of the day and offered her sixty cents for her "Horn of Plenty," and she thought with a pang how fast it was going up. The thought haunted her all day long, but she could not leave Jim to take any steps toward retrieving her opportunity, and after that first visit Inches did not come in again. She took out her big check once or twice in the course of the day and looked at it resentfully; and as she brooded upon the matter, it was borne in upon her with peculiar force that she had made a fatal blunder in exchanging her "chances" for that fixed, inexpansive sum. Had it not been cowardly in her to yield so easily? Supposing Dayton himself had lacked courage at the critical moment; where would his four-in-hand have been to-day? She was sure that no timid speculator had ever made a fortune; on the contrary, she had often heard it said that a flash of courage at the right moment was the very essence of success in speculation. She remembered the expression "essence of success."

By the time evening came the fever of speculation was high in her veins, and urged on by her own brooding fancies, uncontradicted from without, unexposed to the light of day, she did an incredible thing.

As she drew forth her writing materials in order to put her new and startling resolution into execution, she paused and looked about the familiar little shop with a feeling of estrangement. There was an incongruity between the boldness of the thing she was about to do, and the hard and fast limitations of her lot, which the sight of those humble properties brought sharply home to her. The first pen she took up was stiff and scratchy; the sound of it was like a challenge to the outer world to come and pass judgment upon her. She flung the pen to one side in nervous trepidation, and then she searched until she found one that was soft and pliable, and went whispering over the paper like a fellow-conspirator.

This was what she wrote:


"I want to go into the 'Horn of Plenty' again, and I can't get away to attend to it. I enclose your check, and one of my own for $400. Please buy me what the money will bring. They say it isn't a swindle, and any way I want some. You said to come to you, and that was the same as saying you'd do it, if I asked you to. I don't care what you pay; get what you can for the money.

"Yours truly, "M. BIXBY."

Another morning found Jim so ill that they sent for the doctor. On the same day Inches came in and offered seventy-five cents for the stock. Marietta had not told him that it was sold and she did not propose to do so. In the afternoon the price had "jumped" to ninety cents, but by that time she was too anxious about Jim to care.

For five weeks the "Art Emporium" was closed, and in that time the face of the world had changed for Marietta. She realized the change when she came downstairs and opened the shop again. It was impossible to feel that life was restored to its old basis. There was a change too in her, which was patent to the most casual observer. It was, indeed, a very wan and thin Marietta that at last came forward to meet her customers; her eyes looked alarmingly big, and though nothing could disturb the pose of the beautiful head, there was a droop in the figure, that betokened bodily and mental exhaustion.

A good many customers came in to make Easter purchases,—for the following Sunday was Easter,—and many others to inquire for Jim. As the old, familiar life began to reassert itself, as she began to feel at home again in the old, accustomed surroundings, her mind recurred, in a half-dazed way, to her speculation. She did not herself know much about it, for Dayton had never sent her her certificate. Probably he had come with it when the shop was closed. She supposed she must be too tired to have much courage; that must be why her heart sank at the thought of what she had done. She was sitting by the work-table, her head in her hands, pondering dully. At the sound of the shop-bell she looked up, mechanically, and saw Inches coming in.

"Good morning, Mrs. Jim," he said. "How's your husband?"

"Jim's better, thank you," she replied, and the sound of her own confident words dispelled the clouds.

Inches looked at her narrowly, and then he began pulling the ears of a mounted fox-skin that was lying on the counter, as he remarked casually: "Hope you got rid of your 'H. O. P.' in time."

"In time?" she asked. "In time? What do you mean?"

"Why, before they closed down. You sold out, I hope?"

There was a sudden catch in her breath.

"Yes, I sold out some time ago."

"Glad of that," he declared, with very evident relief, suddenly losing interest in the fox's ears. Inches had none of Dayton's prejudices in regard to woman's "sphere," but he was none the less rejoiced to know that this particular woman, with the tired-looking eyes, had not "got hurt," as he would have put it.

"It's been a bad business all round," he went on, waxing confidential as he was prone to do. "Why, I knew a man that bought twenty thousand shares at a dollar-ten three weeks ago, just before she closed down, and he's never had the sand to sell."

"What could he get to-day?" Marietta asked. Her voice sounded in her ears strange and far away.

"Well, I don't know. I was offered some at six cents, but I don't know anybody that wants it."

Marietta's throat felt parched and dry, and now there was a singing in her ears; but she gave no outward sign.

"Pretty hard on some folks," she remarked.

"I should say so!"

There was a din in her ears all that afternoon, which was perhaps a fortunate circumstance, for it shut out all possibility of thought. It was not until night came that the din stopped, and her brain became clear again,—cruelly, pitilessly clear.

Deep into the night she lay awake tormenting herself with figures. How hideous, how intolerable they were! They passed and repassed in her brain in the uncompromising search-light of conscience, like malicious, mouthing imps. They were her debts and losses, they stood for disgrace and penury, they menaced the very foundation of her life and happiness.

Doubtless the man who had put many thousands into the "Horn of Plenty," and had lacked the "sand" to sell, would have wondered greatly that a fellow-creature should be suffering agony on account of a few hundred dollars. Yet he, in his keenest pang of disappointment, knew nothing whatever of the awful word "ruin"; while Marietta, staring up into the darkness, was getting that lesson by heart.

The town-clock striking three seemed to pierce her consciousness and relieve the strain. She wished the sofa she was lying upon were not so hard and narrow; perhaps if she were more comfortable she might be able to sleep, and then, in the morning, she might see light. Of course there was light, somewhere, if she could only find it; but who ever found the light, lying on a hard sofa, in pitchy darkness? Perhaps if she were to get up and move about things would seem less intolerable. And with the mere thought of action the tired frame relaxed, the straining eyes were sealed with sleep, the curtain of unconsciousness had fallen upon the troubled stage of her mind.

And when, at dawn, Jim opened frightened eyes, and struggled with a terrible oppression to speak her name, Marietta was still sleeping profoundly.

"Etta!" he gasped. "O, Etta!"

And Marietta heard the whispered name, and thrusting out her hands, as if to tear away a physical bond, broke through the torpor that possessed her, and stood upon her feet. She staggered, white and trembling, to Jim's bedside, and there, in the faint light, she saw that he was dying.

"Etta, Etta," he whispered, "I want you!"

She sank upon her knees beside him, but the hand she folded in her own was already lifeless.

Slowly the light increased in that dingy garret, until the sun shone full upon the face of the Peak, fronting the single window of the chamber in uncompassionate splendor. Occasional sounds of traffic came up from the street below; the day had begun. And still Marietta knelt beside the bed, clasping the hand she loved, with a passionate purpose to prolong the mere moment of possession that was all that was left her now, all it was worth being alive for. He wanted her, he wanted her,—and oh, the years and years that he must wait for her, in that strange, lonely, far-away heaven!

"Jim, Jim," she muttered from time to time, with a dry gasp in her throat, that almost choked her; "Jim, O Jim!"

By-and-by, when the sun was high in the heavens, and all the world was abroad, she got upon her feet, and went about the strange new business that death puts upon the broken-hearted.

The day after the funeral was the third of April, and Marietta knew that all her April bills were lying in the letterbox, the silent menace which had seemed so terrible to her the other day. Well,—that at least was nothing to her now. So much her heart-break had done for her, that all the lesson of ruin she had conned through those horrible black hours, when Jim was dying and she did not know it,—that lesson at least had lost its meaning. Ruin could not hurt Jim now, and she?—she might even find distraction in it,—find relief.

She went down into the dimly lighted shop, where the shades were closely drawn in the door and in the broad show-window. In that strange midday twilight, she gathered up her mail, and then she seated herself in her old place behind the counter, and began the examination of it.

There were all the bills, just as she had anticipated; bills for food and bills for medicine; bills for all those useless odds and ends which made up her stock in trade, which she and Jim had been so proud of a few years ago when they first came to Springtown. She wrote out the various sums in a long column, just to look at them all together, and to feel how little harm they could do her; and in the midst of the dull, lifeless work, she came upon a letter which did not look like a bill. As she drew it from the envelope, two slips of paper fell out of it, two slips of paper which she picked up and read, with but a dazed, bewildered attention. They were the checks she had sent to Dayton a month ago; his own check for $250; hers for $400.

Marietta, in her humble joys and sorrows, had never known the irony of Fate, and hence she could not understand about those checks. The meaning of the letter was blurred as she read it. It was from Dayton. He could not know that Jim was dead, for he said nothing of it. But if there was any one who did not know that Jim was dead, could it be true? Her heart gave a wild leap, and she half rose to her feet. What if she were to run up those stairs, quickly, breathlessly? Oh, what then?

But the stillness of the closed shop, the strange half-light that came through the drawn shades, her own black dress, recalled her from that swift and cruel hope, and again she set herself to read the letter.

The words all seemed straight enough, if she could only make sense of them. He had but just read her letter, being returned that morning from the East. The letter had come the day he left town, and thinking that it was a receipted bill, he had locked it up, unopened, in his desk. He feared that Mrs. Jim had been anxious about the matter, and he hastened to relieve her mind. While he apologized for his own carelessness, he congratulated her upon her escape.

"He congratulates me, he congratulates me!" she whispered hoarsely; "O my God!"

She did not yet comprehend the letter nor the checks which had fluttered to the floor. It was only the last sentence that she took note of, because of its jarring sense.

Suddenly the meaning of it all broke upon her. Those were her checks! Ruin had evaded her! She could not prove upon it her loyalty to Jim, her loyalty to grief. Fate had shipwrecked her, and now it was decreed that the sun should shine and the sea subside in smiling peace. It was more than she could bear. She flung the letter from her, and, stooping, she picked up the checks and crushed them in her clenched hands. How dared they come back to mock at her! How dared Fate take her all, and toss her what she did not value! How dared—Heaven? Was it Heaven she was defying? Ah! she must not lose her soul, Heaven knew she would not lose her soul—for Jim's sake!

She opened her clenched hands and smoothed out the checks, patiently, meekly; and then she went on with the bills, a strange calm in her mind, different from the calm of the last three days.

And then, for the first time, it struck her that the bills were all made out to Jim.


It was his name that would have been disgraced, not hers; his memory would have been stained. She turned white with terror of the danger past.

After a while she put the bills aside, and drew out her folios of pressed flowers. It seemed a hundred years since she had worked upon them. How exquisite they were, those delicate ghosts of flowers;—the regal columbine, the graceful gilia, coreopsis gleaming golden, anemones, pale and soft. How they kept their loveliness when life was past! They were only flower memories, but how fair they were, and how lasting! No frost to blight them, no winds to tear their silken petals any more! Well might they outlast the hand that pressed them!

And soon Marietta found herself doing the old, accustomed work with all the old skill, and with a new grace and delicacy of touch. And when the friends in her old home which she had left for Jim's sake, urged her to come back to them, she answered, no;—she would rather stay in Colorado and do her flower-books;—adding, in a hand that scrawled more than usual with the effort for composure:

"They are my consolation."



The mining boom was off, and Springtown was feeling the reaction as severely as so sanguine and sunny a little place was capable of doing. To one who had witnessed, a year or more previous, the rising of the tide of speculation, whose tossing crest had flung its glittering drops upon the loftiest and firmest rocks of the business community, the streets of the little Rocky Mountain town had something the aspect of the shore at low tide. Such a witness was Harry Wakefield, if, indeed, a man may be said to have "witnessed" a commotion which has swept him off his feet and whirled him about like a piece of driftwood. It was, to be sure, quite in the character of a piece of driftwood that Wakefield had let himself be drawn into the whirlpool, and he could not escape the feeling that, tossed as he was, high and dry upon the shore, he was getting quite as good as he deserved.

"Yes, I'm busted!" he remarked to his friend Chittenden, the stock-broker, as the two men paused before the office-door of the latter. "It was the Race-Horse that finished me up. No, thanks, I won't come in. A burnt child dreads the fire!"

"We're all cool enough now-a-days," Chittenden replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Couldn't get up a blaze to heat a flat-iron!" and he passed in to the office, with the air of a man whose occupation is gone.

As Wakefield turned down the street, his eye fell upon a stock-board across the way, a board upon which had once been jotted down from day to day, a record of his varying fortunes. He remembered how, a few months ago, that same board showed white with Lame Gulch quotations. He reflected that, while the price set against each stock had made but a modest showing, running from ten cents up into the second dollar, a man of sense,—supposing such a phenomenon to have weathered the "boom,"—would have been impressed with the fact that the valuation thus placed upon the infant camp aggregated something like twenty millions of dollars. The absurdity of the whole thing struck Wakefield with added force, as he read the solitary announcement which now graced the board,—namely:

"To exchange: 1000 Race-Horse for a bull-terrier pup."

"Kind o' funny; ain't it?" said a voice close beside him.

It was Dicky Simmons, a youth of seedy aspect, but a cheerful countenance, who had come up with him, and was engaged in the perusal of the same announcement.

"Hullo, Simmons! Where do you hail from?"

"From Barnaby's ranch. I'm trying my hand at agriculture until this thing's blown over!"

"Think it's going to?"

"Oh, yes! When the tide's dead low it's sure to turn!" and the old hopeful look glistened in the boy's face.

"That's the case in Nature," Wakefield objected. "Nature hadn't anything to do with the boom. It was contrary to all the laws."

"Oh, I guess Nature has a hand in most things," Dicky replied with cheerful assurance. "Anyhow she's made a big deal up at Lame Gulch, and those of us who've got the sand to hold on will find that she's in the management."

"Think so?"

"Sure of it!"

"Hope you're right. Anyhow, though, I'd try the old girl on agriculture for a while, if I were you. How's Barnaby doing, by the way?"

"Holding on by the skin of his teeth."

"What's wrong there?"

"Can't collect;" was the laconic reply.

The two companions in adversity were walking toward the post-office, moved, perhaps, by the subtle attraction which that institution exercises over the man who is "down on his luck." There was no mail due, yet they turned, with one accord, in at the door, and repaired to their respective boxes. As Wakefield looked up from the inspection of his empty one, he saw Simmons, with an open letter or circular in his hand. Catching Wakefield's eye he laughed.

"Well?" Wakefield queried.

"You know, Wake," said Dicky, in a confidential tone. "The thing's too funny to be serious. Here's the Trailing Arbutus (you're not in that, I believe), capitalization a million and a half shares, calls a meeting of stockholders to consider how to raise money to get the mine out of the hands of a receiver. Now, guess how much money they want!"

"How much?"

"Five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars on a million and a half shares! I say, Wake, they couldn't be funnier if they tried!"

Agreeable as Dicky's company usually was, Wakefield was glad when the boy hailed the Barnaby milk-cart, and betook himself and his insistent brightness under its canvas shelter. The white covered wagon went rattling out of town, and Wakefield, somewhat to his surprise, found himself striding after it.

"Anyhow, he's hit it off better than I have," he said to himself; and as he perceived how rapidly the cart was disappearing, he had a sense of being distanced, and he involuntarily quickened his pace.

The street he was following was one that he strongly approved of, because it had the originality to cut diagonally across the rectangular plan of the town. The houses on either hand were small and unpretentious, but tidy little homesteads, and he did not like to think of the mortgages with which, according to Chittenden, the "boom" had weighted more than one modest roof. In the strong sense of general disaster which he was struggling under, those mortgages seemed almost visible to the eye. He was glad when he had left the town behind him, and was marching on between stretches of uncultivated prairie and bare reddish hillocks. They, at least, stood for what they were,—and see, how the wildflowers had thrust themselves up through the harsh gritty sand; that great tract of yellow vetches, for instance, that had brought up out of the earth a glory of gold that might well put all Lame Gulch to the blush! Over yonder stood the Range, not beautiful, in the uncompromising noon light, but strong and steadfast, with an almost moral vigor in its outlines.

He had lost sight of the milk-cart altogether, and was plodding on, simply because there seemed to be nothing better to do with himself. He presently came opposite a low, conical hill which he recognized as "Mt. Washington,"—a hill whose elevation above sea-level was said to be precisely that of New England's loftiest peak. Wakefield reflected that he was never likely to reach that classic altitude with less exertion than to-day, and that on the whole it would be rather pleasant than otherwise to find himself at that particular height. There was a barbed-wire fence intervening, and it pleased him to take it "on the fly." He had undoubtedly been going down-hill of late, but his legs, at least, had held their own, he assured himself, with some satisfaction, as he alighted, right side up, within the enclosure. He thought, with a whimsical turn, of Pheidippides, the youth who used his legs to such good purpose; who "ran like fire,"—shouted, "Rejoice, we conquer!"—then "died in the shout for his meed." How simple life once was, according to Browning and the rest! What a muddle it was to-day, according to Harry Wakefield! And all because a girl had refused him! He had been trying all along not to think of Dorothy Ray, but by the time he had reached the summit of the hill,—that little round of red sand, where only a single yellow cactus had had the courage to precede him,—he knew that his hour of reckoning had come. He had gambled, yes; but it was for her sake he had gambled; he had lost, yes, but it was she he had lost.

He flung himself down on the bare red hilltop, and with his chin in his hands, gazed across irrigated meadows and parched foothills to the grim slope of the mountains. And stretched there, with his elbows digging into the sandy soil, his mind bracing itself against the everlasting hills, he let the past draw near.

There was an atmosphere about that past, a play of light and shadow, a mist of poetry and romance, that made the Colorado landscape in the searching noon light seem typical of the life he had led there:—a crude, prosaic, metallic sort of life. And after the first shrinking from the past, his mind began to feel deliciously at home in it.

How he had loved Dorothy Ray! How the thought of her had pervaded his life, as the sunshine pervades a landscape! Yet not like the sunshine; for sunshine is fructifying, and his life had been singularly fruitless. There was no shirking the truth, that the year he had spent reading law in her father's office, the year he had discovered that his old friend and playmate was the girl of his choice, had been a wasted year. In all that did not directly concern her he had dawdled, and Dorothy knew and resented it.

He remembered how, on one occasion, she had openly preferred Aleck Dorr to himself; Aleck Dorr, with his ugly face and boorish manners, who was cutting a dash with a newly acquired fortune.

"Dorothy," Wakefield asked abruptly, the next time he got speech of her,—it was at the Assembly and she had only vouchsafed him two dances,—"Dorothy, what do you like about that boor?"

"In the first place he isn't a boor," she answered. "He's as gentlemanlike as possible."

"Supposing he is, then! That's a recommendation most of us possess."

She gave him a scrutinizing, almost wistful look. How dear she was, standing there in the brilliant gas-light, fresh and natural in her ball-dress and sparkling jewels as she had been when her hair hung down in a big braid over her gingham frock.

"You gentlemanlike? That's something you could never be, Harry,—because you are a gentleman. But that's all you are," she added, with a sudden impatience that checked his rising elation.

"I don't see that there was any call for snubbing," he retorted angrily. He was often angry with Dorothy; that was part of the old good-fellowship he had used to value so much, but which seemed so insufficient now.

"Snubbing? I thought I made you a very pretty compliment," she answered, with a little caressing tone that he found illogically comforting.

"You haven't told me why you like this gentlemanlike boor," he persisted.

"I should think anybody might see that! I like him because he amounts to something; because he has made a fortune, if you insist. It takes a man to do that!"

Upon which, before Wakefield had succeeded in framing a suitable retort, Dorr came up, with a ponderous joke, and claimed a promised waltz.

Well! Dorr need not be in such thundering spirits! He had no chance with her at any rate!

And only a few months later it turned out that he, Harry Wakefield, had as little chance as Dorr.

At this point in his reflections Wakefield's elbows began to feel rough and gritty. He turned himself round and sat with his back to the mountains, looking eastward, his hands clasping one knee. He was glad the prairie was broken up into mounds and hillocks over there, and had not the look of the sea that it took on from some points of view. There was a group of pines off to the left; he had been too preoccupied to observe them as he came along the road,—strangely enough too, for a group of trees is an unusual sight out on the prairie. What a lot of trees there were in the East though, and how wofully he had come to grief among them up there on the North Shore! Only a year ago it had happened, only a year ago, in the fragrant New England June! His married sister had had Dorothy and himself visiting her at the same time. Well, Fanny had done her best for him, though it was no good. He wondered, in passing, how it happened that a fellow could come to care more for anybody else than for a sister like Fanny!

He had found Dorothy sitting in perfect idleness under a big pine-tree that lovely June morning. There were robins hopping about the lawn; the voices of his sister's children came, shrill and sweet, calling to one another as they dug in the garden by the house. The tide was coming in; he could hear it break against the rocks over yonder, while the far stretches of sea glimmered softly in the sunshine. Dorothy looked so sweet and beneficent as she sat under the big pine-tree in the summer sunshine, that all his misgivings vanished. Before he knew what he was about he had "asked her."

And here the little drama was blurred and muffled in his memory. He wondered, as he clasped his knees and studied the tops of the pine-trees, how he had put the question; whether he had perhaps put it wrong. He could not recall a word he had said; but her words in reply fell as distinct on his ear, as the note of the meadow-lark, down there by the roadside. How the note of the meadow-lark shot a thrill through the thin Colorado air,—informed with a soul the dazzling day! How cruelly sweet Dorothy's voice had been, as she said:

"No, Harry, I couldn't!"

It had made him so angry that he hardly knew how deep his hurt was.

"You have no right to say no!" he had heard himself say.

He could not remember whether that was immediately, or after an interval of discussion. She had stood up and turned away, not deigning to reply. And then the memory of that talk at the ball had struck him like a blow.

"Wait, Dorothy! You must wait!" he had cried, aware that his imperative words clutched her like a detaining hand. Then, while his breath came fast, almost chokingly, he had said: "Tell me, Dorothy, is it because you don't call me a man that you won't have me?"

The angry challenge in his voice hardened her.

"I don't know anything about how much of a man you are, Harry Wakefield," she had declared, with freezing indifference. "I only know you are not the man for me."

That had been practically the end of it. They had got through the day very creditably he believed, and the next morning they had departed on their several ways.

Wakefield had read law like mad for a week, and then he had started for Colorado. He had a favorite cousin out there whose husband was making a fortune in Lame Gulch stocks, and he thought that even prosaic fortune-hunting in a new world would be better than the gnawing chagrin that monopolized things in the old. Better be active than passive, on any terms. By the time he was well on his westward way, the sting of that refusal had yielded somewhat, and he began to take courage again. Perhaps when he had made a fortune! "It takes a man to do that," she had said. Well, he had four times the money to start with that Dick Dayton had had, and look, what chances there were!

Once fairly launched in the stirring, out-of-door Colorado life, his spirits had so far recovered their tone that he could afford to be magnanimous. Accordingly he wrote the following letter to Dorothy:


"You were right; I wasn't half good enough for you. No fellow is, as far as that goes! Don't you let them fool you on that score! It makes me mad when I think about it. You always knew the worst of me, but you don't really know the first thing about any other man. I'm coming back next year to try again. Do give me the chance, Dorothy! Remember, I don't tell you you could make anything you like of me—that's the rubbish the rest will talk. I'm going to make something of myself first! And if I don't do it in a year, I am ready to work seven years,—or seventy,—or seventy-seven years; if you'll only have me in the end! That would have to be in Heaven, though, wouldn't it? Well, it would come to the same thing in the end! It would be Heaven for me, wherever it was!"

Wakefield had the habit of saying to Dorothy whatever came into his head; and so he had written his letter without any thought of effect. But the answer he got was so carefully worded that he could make nothing of it. At the end of three non-committal pages she wrote:

"I ought not to wish you good luck, for Papa says if you have it it will be your ruin. I did not suppose that circumstances could ruin anybody,—anybody that had any backbone, I mean. But I do wish you good luck all the same, and if you're the kind of person to be ruined by it, why, I'm sorry for you!"

There was something in that letter, non-committal as it was, that gave Wakefield the impression that a correspondence would be no furtherance to his interests. He did not write again, and he only knew, from his sister Fanny, that Dorothy was a greater favorite than ever that season; a fact from which he could gather little encouragement. He had flung himself like a piece of driftwood into the whirl of speculation; he had lost more thousands than he cared to think about, the bulk of his patrimony in fact, and his last chance was gone of making the fortune that was to have been the winning of Dorothy. "It takes a man to do that!" she had said.

Well, that was the end of it! As far as he was concerned, Dorothy Ray had ceased to exist; the past had ceased to exist, the pleasant past, with its deceitful mists and bewildering sunbeams. Things out here were crude, but they were real! He got on his feet and turned about once more. Between Mt. Washington and the range was a fertile ranch; broad fields of vivid alfalfa, big barns, pastures dotted with cattle; a line of light-green cottonwoods ran along the borders of the creek. What was that about the wilderness blossoming like the rose? He turned again and looked toward the barren hillocks. Even they, dead and inhospitable as they appeared at a little distance, afforded nourishment for cactus and painter's-brush, prickly poppy and hardy vetches. Dorothy Ray might do as she pleased,—his fortune might go where it would! That need not be the end of all things. Life, to be sure, might seem a little like a game of chess after the loss of the Queen! Pretty tough work it was likely to be to save the game, but none the less worth while for all that. He wondered what his next move would be,—and meanwhile, before recommencing the game, why not seize the most obvious outlet for his newly roused energies, by tearing down the hill at a break-neck gallop and clearing the wire fence at a bound!

"Took you for a jack-rabbit!" said a gruff voice close at hand, as he landed on his two feet by the dusty roadside.

"Not a bad thing to be," Wakefield panted, falling in step with the speaker, who was walking toward the town at a brisk pace.

"Not unless the dogs are round," the stranger demurred.

"Dogs! A jack-rabbit would never know how game he was, if it wasn't for the dogs!"

"Any on your track?" asked the man with a grin. "Looked like it when you come walluping down the mounting!"

"A whole pack of them," Wakefield answered. "Didn't you see anything of them?"

"Can't say I did."

"You're not so smart as you look, then;" and they went jogging on like comrades of a year's standing.

The new acquaintance appeared to be a man of sixty or thereabouts. A crowbar and shovel which he carried over his shoulder seemed a part of his rough laborer's costume. He had a shrewd, good sort of face, and a Yankee twang to his speech.

"You carry those things as easy as a walking-stick," Wakefield observed, ready to reciprocate in point of compliments. "What do you use them for?"

"Ben mendin' the bit o' codderoy down yonder," was the answer.

"Is that your trade?"

"No, not partic'larly. I make a trade of most anything I kin work at. Happened to be out of a job last week, so I took up with this."

"Got through with it?"

"Yes; stopped off to-day. Got done just in time. They start in on the road next week, 'n they've took me on."

"What road's that?"

"The new branch in."

"Oh! In to Lame Gulch. I heard they were going to start in on that."

"Yes; the 'Rocky Mounting' are doin' it. They say there'll be trains runnin' in from the Divide inside of six months."

Wakefield looked sceptical; he had heard that sort of talk before.

"Do you like railroad work?" he asked.

"Not so well's this. I like my own job better, only 'taint so stayin'. Might 've had another month's work, on the road to the canon over there; but that would ha' ben the end on 't. So I'm goin' to throw up that job this afternoon."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse