Henry Cabot Lodge.

The Best of the World's Classics, Restricted to Prose, Vol. X (of X) - America - II, Index online

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exprest a doubt of their ability to support a family; others had felt
perhaps too keenly the deep responsibility resting upon them when
chosen from the panel as jurors, and had evaded their public duties; a
few had declined office and a low salary; but no one shrank from the
possibility of having been called upon to assume the functions of
Peggy Moffat the heiress.

The will was contested - first by the widow, who it now appeared had
never been legally divorced from the deceased; next by four of his
cousins, who awoke, only too late, to a consciousness of his moral and
pecuniary worth. But the humble legatee - a singularly plain,
unpretending, uneducated Western girl - exhibited a dogged pertinacity
in claiming her rights. She rejected all compromises. A rough sense of
justice in the community, while doubting her ability to take care of
the whole fortune, suggested that she ought to be content with three
hundred thousand dollars. "She's bound to throw even that away on some
derned skunk of a man, natoorally; but three millions is too much to
give a chap for makin' her onhappy. It's offerin' a temptation to
cussedness."

The only opposing voice to this counsel came from the sardonic lips of
Mr. Jack Hamlin. "Suppose," suggested that gentleman, turning abruptly
on the speaker, "suppose, when you won twenty thousand dollars of me
last Friday night - suppose that instead of handing you over the money
as I did - suppose I'd got up on my hind legs and said, 'Look yer, Bill
Wethersbee, you're a d - - d fool. If I give ye that twenty thousand
you'll throw it away in the first skin game in 'Frisco, and hand it
over to the first short card-sharp you'll meet. There's a
thousand - enough for you to fling away - take it and get!' Suppose what
I'd said to you was the frozen truth, and you knowed it, would that
have been the square thing to play on you?"

But here Wethersbee quickly pointed out the inefficiency of the
comparison by stating that he had won the money fairly with a stake.

"And how do you know," demanded Hamlin savagely, bending his black
eyes on the astonished casuist, "how do you know that the gal hezn't
put down a stake?"

The man stammered an unintelligible reply.

The gambler laid his white hand on Wethersbee's shoulder.

"Look yer, old man," he said, "every gal stakes her whole pile - you
can bet your life on that - whatever's her little game. If she took to
keerds instead of her feelings, if she'd put up chips instead o' body
and soul, she'd burst every bank 'twixt this and 'Frisco! You hear
me?"

Somewhat of this idea was conveyed, I fear not quite as sentimentally,
to Peggy Moffat herself. The best legal wisdom of San Francisco,
retained by the widow and relatives, took occasion, in a private
interview with Peggy, to point out that she stood in the
quasi-criminal attitude of having unlawfully practised upon the
affections of an insane elderly gentleman, with a view of getting
possession of his property; and suggested to her that no vestige of
her moral character would remain after the trial, if she persisted in
forcing her claims to that issue. It is said that Peggy, on hearing
this, stopt washing the plate she had in her hands, and twisting the
towel around her fingers, fixt her small pale blue eyes on the lawyer.

"And ez that the kind o' chirpin' these critters keep up?"

"I regret to say, my dear young lady," responded the lawyer, "that the
world is censorious. I must add," he continued, with engaging
frankness, "that we professional lawyers are apt to study the opinion
of the world, and that such will be the theory of - our side."

"Then," said Peggy stoutly, "ez I allow I've got to go into court to
defend my character, I might as well pack in them three millions
too."

There is hearsay evidence that Peg added to this speech a wish and
desire to "bust the crust" of her traducers, and remarking that "that
was the kind of hair-pin" she was, closed the conversation with an
unfortunate accident to the plate, that left a severe contusion on the
legal brow of her companion. But this story, popular in the bar-rooms
and gulches, lacked confirmation in higher circles....

The case came to trial. Everybody remembers it - how for six weeks it
was the daily food of Calaveras County; how for six weeks the
intellectual and moral and spiritual competency of Mr. James Byways to
dispose of his property was discust with learned and formal obscurity
in the court, and with unlettered and independent prejudice by
camp-fires and in bar-rooms. At the end of that time, when it was
logically established that at least nine-tenths of the population of
Calaveras were harmless lunatics, and everybody else's reason seemed
to totter on its throne, an exhausted jury succumbed one day to the
presence of Peg in the courtroom. It was not a prepossessing presence
at any time; but the excitement, and an injudicious attempt to
ornament herself, brought her defects into a glaring relief that was
almost unreal. Every freckle on her face stood out and asserted itself
singly; her pale blue eyes, that gave no indication of her force of
character, were weak and wandering, or stared blankly at the judge;
her over-sized head, broad at the base, terminating in the scantiest
possible light colored braid in the middle of her narrow shoulders,
was as hard and uninteresting as the wooden spheres that topt the
railing against which she sat. The jury, who for six weeks had had
her described to them by the plaintiffs as an arch, wily enchantress,
who had sapped the failing reason of Jim Byways, revolted to a man.
There was something so appallingly gratuitous in her plainness that it
was felt that three millions was scarcely a compensation for it. "Ef
that money was give to her, she earned it sure, boys; it wasn't no
softness of the old man," said the foreman. When the jury retired, it
was felt that she had cleared her character; when they reentered the
room with their verdict, it was known that she had been awarded three
millions damages for its defamation.

She got the money. But those who had confidently expected to see her
squander it were disappointed: on the contrary, it was presently
whispered that she was exceeding penurious. That admirable woman Mrs.
Stiver of Red Dog, who accompanied her to San Francisco to assist her
in making purchases, was loud in her indignation. "She cares more for
two bits than I do for five dollars. She wouldn't buy anything at the
'City of Paris' because it was 'too expensive,' and at last rigged
herself out a perfect guy at some cheap slop-shops in Market Street.
And after all the care Jane and me took of her, giving up our time and
experience to her, she never so much as made Jane a single present."
Popular opinion, which regarded Mrs. Stiver's attention as purely
speculative, was not shocked at this unprofitable denouement; but when
Peg refused to give anything to clear the mortgage off the new
Presbyterian church, and even declined to take shares in the Union
Ditch, considered by many as an equally sacred and safe investment,
she began to lose favor. Nevertheless, she seemed to be as regardless
of public opinion as she had been before the trial; took a small
house, in which she lived with an old woman who had once been a fellow
servant, on apparently terms of perfect equality, and looked after her
money.

I wish I could say that she did this discreetly; but the fact is, she
blundered. The same dogged persistency she had displayed in claiming
her rights was visible in her unsuccessful ventures. She sunk two
hundred thousand dollars in a worn-out shaft originally projected by
the deceased testator; she prolonged the miserable existence of _The
Rockville Vanguard_ long after it had ceased to interest even its
enemies; she kept the doors of the Rockville Hotel open when its
custom had departed; she lost the cooperation and favor of a fellow
capitalist through a trifling misunderstanding in which she was
derelict and impenitent; she had three lawsuits on her hands that
could have been settled for a trifle. I note these defects to show
that she was by no means a heroine. I quote her affair with Jack
Folinsbee to show she was scarcely the average woman....

Nothing was known definitely until Jack a month later turned up in
Sacramento, with a billiard cue in his hand, and a heart overcharged
with indignant emotion.

"I don't mind saying to you gentlemen in confidence," said Jack to a
circle of sympathizing players, "I don't mind telling you regarding
this thing, that I was as soft on that freckle-faced, red-eyed,
tallow-haired gal as if she'd been - a - a - an actress. And I don't mind
saying, gentlemen, that as far as I understand women, she was just as
soft on me. You kin laugh; but it's so. One day I took her out
buggy-riding - in style too - and out on the road I offered to do the
square thing, just as if she'd been a lady - offered to marry her then
and there. And what did she do?" said Jack with a hysterical laugh.
"Why, blank it all! offered me twenty-five dollars a week
allowance - pay to be stopt when I wasn't at home!" The roar of
laughter that greeted this frank confession was broken by a quiet
voice asking, "And what did you say?" "Say?" screamed Jack, "I just
told her to go to - - with her money."...

During the following year she made several more foolish ventures and
lost heavily. In fact, a feverish desire to increase her store at
almost any risk seemed to possess her. At last it was announced that
she intended to reopen the infelix Rockville Hotel, and keep it
herself. Wild as this scheme appeared in theory, when put into
practical operation there seemed to be some chance of success. Much
doubtless was owing to her practical knowledge of hotel-keeping, but
more to her rigid economy and untiring industry. The mistress of
millions, she cooked, washed, waited on table, made the beds, and
labored like a common menial. Visitors were attracted by this novel
spectacle. The income of the house increased as their respect for the
hostess lessened. No anecdote of her avarice was too extravagant for
current belief. It was even alleged that she had been known to carry
the luggage of guests to their rooms, that she might anticipate the
usual porter's gratuity. She denied herself the ordinary necessaries
of life. She was poorly clad, she was ill-fed - but the hotel was
making money.

It was the particular fortune of Mr. Jack Hamlin to be able to set the
world right on this and other questions regarding her.

A stormy December evening had set in when he chanced to be a guest of
the Rockville Hotel.... At midnight, when he was about to retire, he
was a little surprized however by a tap on his door, followed by the
presence of Mistress Peg Moffat, heiress, and landlady of Rockville
Hotel.

Mr. Hamlin, despite his previous defense of Peg, had no liking for
her. His fastidious taste rejected her uncomeliness; his habits of
thought and life were all antagonistic to what he had heard of her
niggardliness and greed. As she stood there in a dirty calico wrapper,
still redolent with the day's _cuisine_, crimson with embarrassment
and the recent heat of the kitchen range, she certainly was not an
alluring apparition. Happily for the lateness of the hour, her
loneliness, and the infelix reputation of the man before her, she was
at least a safe one. And I fear the very consciousness of this
scarcely relieved her embarrassment....

"I wanted to ask ye a favor about Mr. - about - Jack Folinsbee," began
Peg hurriedly. "He's ailin' agin, and is mighty low. And he's losin' a
heap o' money here and thar, and mostly to you. You cleaned him out of
two thousand dollars last night - all he had."

"Well?" said the gambler coldly.

"Well, I thought as you woz a friend o' mine, I'd ask ye to let up a
little on him," said Peg with an affected laugh. "You kin do it.
Don't let him play with ye."

"Mistress Margaret Moffat," said Jack with lazy deliberation, taking off
his watch and beginning to wind it up, "ef you're that much stuck after
Jack Folinsbee, you kin keep him off of me much easier than I kin. You're a
rich woman. Give him enough money to break my bank, or break himself for
good and all; but don't keep him foolin' round me in hopes to make a raise.
It don't pay, Mistress Moffat - it don't pay!"...

"When Jim Byways left me this yer property," she began, looking
cautiously around, "he left it to me on conditions; not conditions ez
waz in his written will, but conditions ez waz spoken. A promise I
made him in this very room, Mr. Hamlin - this very room, and on that
very bed you're sittin' on, in which he died."

Like most gamblers, Mr. Hamlin was superstitious. He rose hastily from
the bed, and took a chair beside the window. The wind shook it as if
the discontented spirit of Mr. Byways were without, reenforcing his
last injunction.

"I don't know if you remember him," said Peg feverishly. "He was a man
ez hed suffered. All that he loved - wife, fammerly, friends - had gone
back on him. He tried to make light of it afore folks; but with me,
being a poor gal, he let himself out. I never told anybody this. I
don't know why he told me; I don't know," continued Peggy with a
sniffle, "why he wanted to make me unhappy too. But he made me promise
that if he left me his fortune, I'd never, never - so help me
God! - never share it with any man or woman that I loved. I didn't
think it would be hard to keep that promise then, Mr. Hamlin, for I
was very poor, and hedn't a friend nor a living bein' that was kind to
me but him."

"But you've as good as broken your promise already," said Hamlin.
"You've given Jack money, as I know."

"Only what I made myself. Listen to me, Mr. Hamlin. When Jack proposed
to me, I offered him about what I kalkilated I could earn myself. When
he went away, and was sick and in trouble, I came here and took this
hotel. I knew that by hard work I could make it pay. Don't laugh at
me, please. I did work hard, and did make it pay - without takin' one
cent of the fortin'. And all I made, workin' by night and day, I gave
to him; I did, Mr. Hamlin. I ain't so hard to him as you think, tho I
might be kinder, I know."

Mr. Hamlin rose, deliberately resumed his coat, watch, hat, and
overcoat. When he was completely drest again, he turned to Peg.

"Do you mean to say that you've been givin' all the money you made
here to this A1 first-class cherubim?"

"Yes; but he didn't know where I got it. O Mr. Hamlin! he didn't know
that."

"Do I understand you that he's been bucking agin faro with the money
that you raised on hash? and you makin' the hash?"

"But he didn't know that. He wouldn't hev took it if I'd told him."

"No, he'd hev died fust!" said Mr. Hamlin gravely. "Why, he's that
sensitive that it nearly kills him to take money even of me."




II

JOHN CHINAMAN[64]


The expression of the Chinese face in the aggregate is neither
cheerful nor happy. In an acquaintance of half a dozen years, I can
only recall one or two exceptions to this rule. There is an abiding
consciousness of degradation - a secret pain or self-humiliation
visible in the lines of the mouth and eye. Whether it is only a
modification of Turkish gravity, or whether it is the dread Valley of
the Shadow of the Drug through which they are continually straying, I
can not say. They seldom smile, and their laughter is of such an
extraordinary and sardonic nature - so purely a mechanical spasm, quite
independent of any mirthful attribute - that to this day I am doubtful
whether I ever saw a Chinaman laugh. A theatrical representation by
natives, one might think, would have set my mind at ease on this
point; but it did not. Indeed, a new difficulty presented itself - the
impossibility of determining whether the performance was a tragedy or
farce. I thought I detected the low comedian in an active youth who
turned two somersaults, and knocked everybody down on entering the
stage. But, unfortunately, even this classic resemblance to the
legitimate farce of our civilization was deceptive. Another brocaded
actor, who represented the hero of the play, turned three
somersaults, and not only upset my theory and his fellow actors at the
same time, but apparently ran amuck behind the scenes for some time
afterward. I looked around at the glinting white teeth to observe the
effect of these two palpable hits. They were received with equal
acclamation, and apparently equal facial spasms. One or two beheadings
which enlivened the play produced the same sardonic effect, and left
upon my mind a painful anxiety to know what was the serious business
of life in China. It was noticeable, however, that my unrestrained
laughter had a discordant effect, and that triangular eyes sometimes
turned ominously toward the "Fanqui devil"; but as I retired
discreetly before the play was finished, there were no serious
results. I have only given the above as an instance of the
impossibility of deciding upon the outward and superficial expression
of Chinese mirth. Of its inner and deeper existence I have some
private doubts. An audience that will view with a serious aspect the
hero, after a frightful and agonizing death, get up and quietly walk
off the stage, can not be said to have remarkable perceptions of the
ludicrous.

[Footnote 64: From "The Luck of Roaring Camp." Copyright, 1871, 1899,
Houghton, Mifflin Company.]

I have often been struck with the delicate pliability of the Chinese
expression and taste that might suggest a broader and deeper criticism
than is becoming these pages. A Chinaman will adopt the American
costume, and wear it with a taste of color and detail that will
surpass those "native, and to the manner born." To look at a Chinese
slipper, one might imagine it impossible to shape the original foot to
anything less cumbrous and roomy, yet a neater-fitting boot than that
belonging to the Americanized Chinaman is rarely seen on this side of
the continent. When the loose sack or paletot takes the place of his
brocade blouse, it is worn with a refinement and grace that might
bring a jealous pang to the exquisite of our more refined
civilization. Pantaloons fall easily and naturally over legs that have
known unlimited freedom and bagginess, and even garrote collars meet
correctly around sun-tanned throats. The new expression seldom
overflows in gaudy cravats. I will back my Americanized Chinaman
against any neophyte of European birth in the choice of that article.
While in our own State, the greaser resists one by one the garments of
the Northern invader, and even wears the livery of his conqueror with
a wild and buttonless freedom, the Chinaman, abused and degraded as he
is, changes by correctly graded transition to the garments of
Christian civilization. There is but one article of European wear that
he avoids. These Bohemian eyes have never yet been pained by the
spectacle of a tall hat on the head of an intelligent Chinaman.

My acquaintance with John has been made up of weekly interviews,
involving the adjustment of the washing accounts, so that I have not
been able to study his character from a social viewpoint or observe
him in the privacy of the domestic circle. I have gathered enough to
justify me in believing him to be generally honest, faithful, simple,
and painstaking. Of his simplicity let me record an instance where a
sad and civil young Chinaman brought me certain shirts with most of
the buttons missing and others hanging on delusively by a single
thread. In a moment of unguarded irony I informed him that unity would
at least have been preserved if the buttons were removed altogether.
He smiled sadly and went away. I thought I had hurt his feelings,
until the next week, when he brought me my shirts with a look of
intelligence, and the buttons carefully and totally erased. At another
time, to guard against his general disposition to carry off anything
as soiled clothes that he thought could hold water, I requested him to
always wait until he saw me. Coming home late one evening, I found the
household in great consternation over an immovable Celestial who had
remained seated on the front door-step during the day, sad and
submissive, firm but also patient, and only betraying any animation or
token of his mission when he saw me coming. This same Chinaman evinced
some evidences of regard for a little girl in the family, who in her
turn reposed such faith in his intellectual qualities as to present
him with a preternaturally uninteresting Sunday-school book, her own
property. This book John made a point of carrying ostentatiously with
him in his weekly visits. It appeared usually on the top of the clean
clothes, and was sometimes painfully clasped outside of the big bundle
of soiled linen. Whether John believed he unconsciously imbibed some
spiritual life through its pasteboard cover, as the Prince in the
"Arabian Nights" imbibed the medicine through the handle of the
mallet, or whether he wished to exhibit a due sense of gratitude, or
whether he hadn't any pockets, I have never been able to ascertain. In
his turn he would sometimes cut marvelous imitation roses from
carrots for his little friend. I am inclined to think that the few
roses strewn in John's path were such scentless imitations. The thorns
only were real. From the persecutions of the young and old of a
certain class his life was a torment. I don't know what was the exact
philosophy that Confucius taught, but it is to be hoped that poor John
in his persecution is still able to detect the conscious hate and fear
with which inferiority always regards the possibility of even-handed
justice, and which is the keynote to the vulgar clamor about servile
and degraded races.




III

M'LISS GOES TO SCHOOL[65]


Just where the Sierra Nevada begins to subside in gentler undulations,
and the rivers grow less rapid and yellow, on the side of a great red
mountain, stands "Smith's Pocket." Seen from the red road at sunset,
in the red light and the red dust, its white houses look like the
outcroppings of quartz on the mountain-side. The red stage topped with
red-shirted passengers is lost to view half a dozen times in the
tortuous descent, turning up unexpectedly in out-of-the-way places,
and vanishing altogether within a hundred yards of the town. It is
probably owing to this sudden twist in the road that the advent of a
stranger at Smith's Pocket is usually attended with a peculiar
circumstance. Dismounting from the vehicle at the stage office, the
too confident traveler is apt to walk straight out of town under the
impression that it lies in quite another direction. It is related that
one of the tunnelmen, two miles from town, met one of these
self-reliant passengers with a carpet-bag, umbrella, _Harper's
Magazine_, and other evidences of "civilization and refinement,"
plodding along over the road he had just ridden, vainly endeavoring to
find the settlement of Smith's Pocket.

[Footnote 65: From M'Liss, one of the stories in "The Luck of Roaring
Camp" volume. Copyright, 1871, 1899. Houghton, Mifflin Company.]

An observant traveler might have found some compensation for his
disappointment in the weird aspect of that vicinity. There were huge
fissures on the hillside, and displacements of the red soil,
resembling more the chaos of some primary elemental upheaval than the
work of man; while, half-way down, a long flume straddled its narrow
body and disproportionate legs over the chasm, like an enormous fossil
of some forgotten antediluvian. At every step smaller ditches crossed
the road, hiding in their sallow depths unlovely streams that crept
away to a clandestine union with the great yellow torrent below, and
here and there were the ruins of some cabin with the chimney alone
left intact and the hearthstone open to the skies.

The settlement of Smith's Pocket owed its origin to the finding of a
"pocket" on its site by a veritable Smith. Five thousand dollars were
taken out of it in one half-hour by Smith. Three thousand dollars were
expended by Smith and others in erecting a flume and in tunnelling.
And then Smith's Pocket was found to be only a pocket, and subject,
like other pockets, to depletion. Altho Smith pierced the bowels of
the great red mountain, that five thousand dollars was the first and
last return of his labor. The mountain grew reticent of its golden
secrets, and the flume steadily ebbed away the remainder of Smith's
fortune. Then Smith went into quartz-mining; then into quartz-milling;
then into hydraulics and ditching, and then by easy degrees into
saloon-keeping. Presently it was whispered that Smith was drinking a
great deal; then it was known that Smith was a habitual drunkard, and


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