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She was like a picture
















A MOTHER OF FIVE ...... 63







A BIRD twittered! The morning sun
shining through the open window was ap-
parently more potent than the cool moun-
tain air, which had only caused the sleeper
to curl a little more tightly in his blankets.
Barker's eyes opened instantly upon the
light and the bird on the window ledge.
Like all healthy young animals he would
have tried to sleep again, but with his mo-
mentary consciousness came the recollection
that it was his turn to cook the breakfast
that morning, and he regretfully rolled out
of his bunk to the floor. Without stopping
to dress he opened the door and stepped
outside, secure in the knowledge that he was
overlooked only by the Sierras, and plunged
his head and shoulders in the bucket of cold
water that stood by the door. Then he be-
gan to clothe himself, partly in the cabin and


partly in the open air, with a lapse between
the putting on of his trousers and coat which
he employed in bringing in wood. Raking
together the few embers on the adobe hearth,
not without a prudent regard to the rattle-
snake which had once been detected in
haunting the warm ashes, he began to pre-
pare breakfast. By this time the other
sleepers, his partners Stacy and Demorest,
young men of about his own age, were
awake, alert, and lazily critical of his pro-

" I don't care about my quail on toast
being underdone for breakfast," said Stacy,
with a yawn ; " and you need n't serve with
red wine. I 'm not feeling very peckish
this morning."

"And I reckon you can knock off the
fried oysters after the Spanish mackerel for
me," said Demorest gravely. " The fact is,
that last bottle of Veuve Clicquot we had
for supper was n't as dry as I am this morn-

Accustomed to these regular Barmecide
suggestions, Barker made no direct reply.
Presently, looking up from the fire, he said,
" There 's no more saleratus, so you must n't
blame me if the biscuit is extra heavy. I


told you we had none when you went to the
grocery yesterday."

" And I told you we had n't a red cent to
buy any with," said Stacy, who was also
treasurer. u Put these two negatives to-
gether and you make the affirmative
saleratus. Mix freely and bake in a hot

Nevertheless, after a toilette as primitive
as Barker's they sat down to what he had
prepared, with the keen appetite begotten
of the mountain air and the regretful fasti-
diousness born of the recollection of better
things. Jerked beef, frizzled with salt pork
in a frying-pan, boiled potatoes, biscuit,
and coffee composed the repast. The bis-
cuits, however, proving remarkably heavy
after the first mouthful, were used as mis-
siles, thrown through the open door at an
empty bottle, which had previously served
as a mark for revolver practice, and a few
moments later pipes were lit to counteract
the effects of the meal and take the taste
out of their mouths. Suddenly they heard
the sound of horses' hoofs, saw the quick
passage of a rider in the open space before
the cabin, and felt the smart impact upon
the table of some small object thrown by


him. It was the regular morning delivery
of the county newspaper !

" He 's getting to be a mighty sure shot,"
said Demorest approvingly, looking at his
upset can of coffee as he picked up the
paper, rolled into a cylindrical wad as tightly
as a cartridge, and began to straighten it
out. This was no easy matter, as the sheet
had evidently been rolled while yet damp
from the press ; but Demorest eventually
opened it and ensconced himself behind it.

" Nary news ? " asked Stacy.

"No. There never is any," said Demo-
rest scornfully. " We ought to stop the

" You mean the paper man ought to. We
don't pay him," said Barker gently.

" Well, that 's the same thing, smarty.
No news, no pay. Hallo ! " he continued,
his eyes suddenly riveted on the paper.
Then, after the fashion of ordinary hu-
manity, he stopped short and read the in-
teresting item to himself. When he had
finished he brought his fist and the paper,
together, violently down upon the table.
" Now look at this ! Talk of luck, will you ?
Just think of it. Here are we hard-work-
ing men with lots of sa&e, too grubbin'


away on this hillside like niggers, glad to
get enough at the end of the day to pay for
our soggy biscuits and horse-bean coffee,
and just look what falls into the lap of some
lazy sneakin' greenhorn who never did a
stroke of work in his life ! Here are we.
with no foolishness, no airs nor graces, and
yet men who would do credit to twice that
amount of luck and seem born to it, too
and we 're set aside for some long, lank,
pen-wiping scrub who just knows enough to
sit down on his office stool and hold on to a
bit of paper."

" What 's up now ? " asked Stacy, with
the carelessness begotten of familiarity with
his partner's extravagance.

" Listen," said Demorest, reading. " An-
other unprecedented rise has taken place in
the shares of the ' Yellow Hammer First
Extension Mine' since the sinking of the
new shaft. It was quoted yesterday at ten
thousand dollars a foot. When it is remem-
bered that scarcely two years ago the origi-
nal shares, issued at fifty dollars per share,
had dropped to only fifty cents a share, it
will be seen that those who were able to
hold on have got a good thing."

"What mine did you say?" asked Bar-


ker, looking up meditatively from the dishes
he was already washing.

" The Yellow Hammer First Extension,"
returned Demorest shortly.

" I used to have some shares in that, and

1 think I have them still," said Barker

" Yes," said Demorest promptly ; " the
paper speaks of it here. ' We understand,' "
he continued, reading aloud, ' that our emi-
nent fellow citizen, George Barker, other-
wise known as " Get Left Barker " and
" Chucklehead," is one of these fortunate
individuals.' "

" No," said Barker, with a slight flush of
innocent pleasure, " it can't say that. How
could it know ? "

Stacy laughed, but Demorest coolly con-
tinued : " You did n't hear all. Listen !
' We say was one of them ; but having al-
ready sold his apparently useless certificates
to our popular druggist, Jones, for corn
plasters, at a reduced rate, he is unable to
realize.' "

"You may laugh, boys," said Barker,
with simple seriousness ; " but I really be-
lieve I have got 'em yet. Just wait. I '11
see ! " He rose and began to drag out


a well-worn valise from under his bunk.
" You see," he continued, " they were given
to me by an old chap in return "

" For saving his life by delaying the
Stockton boat that afterwards blew up,"
returned Demorest briefly. " We know it
all ! His hair was white, and his hand
trembled slightly as he laid these shares in
yours, saying, and you never forgot the
words, * Take 'em, young man and ' "

"For lending him two thousand dollars,
then," continued Barker with a simple ig-
noring of the interruption, as he quietly
brought out the valise.

" Two thousand dollars ! " repeated
Stacy. " When did you have two thou-
sand dollars ? "

" When I first left Sacramento three
years ago." said Barker, unstrapping the

" How long did you have it ? " said De-
morest incredulously.

" At least two days, I think," returned
Barker quietly. " Then I met that man.
He was hard up, and I lent him my pile and
took those shares. He died afterwards."

" Of course he did," said Demorest se-
verely. " They always do. Nothing kills a


man more quickly than an action of that
kind." Nevertheless the two partners re-
garded Barker rummaging among some loose
clothes and papers with a kind of paternal
toleration. " If you can't find them, bring
out your government bonds," suggested
Stacy. But the next moment, flushed and
triumphant, Barker rose from his knees, and
came towards them carrying some papers in
his hands. Demorest seized them from him,
opened them, spread them on the table, ex-
amined hurriedly the date, signatures, and
transfers, glanced again quickly at the news-
paper paragraph, looked wildly at Stacy
and then at Barker, and gasped,

" By the living hookey ! it is so! "

" B' gosh ! he has got 'em ! " echoed Stacy.

" Twenty shares," continued Demorest
breathlessly, " at ten thousand dollars a
share even if it 's only a foot is two
hundred thousand dollars ! Jerusalem ! "

" Tell me, fair sir," said Stacy, with
sparkling eyes, " hast still left in yonder
casket any rare jewels, rubies, sarcenet, or
links of fine gold? Perad venture a pearl
or two may have been overlooked ! "

" No that 's all," returned Barker sim-


" You hear him ! Rothschild says ' that 's
all.' Prince Esterhazy says he has n't an-
other red cent only two hundred thou-
sand dollars." ,

" What ought I to do, boys ? " asked Bar-
ker, timidly glancing from one to the other.
Yet he remembered with delight all that
day, and for many a year afterwards, that
he only saw in their faces unselfish joy and
affection at that supreme moment.

" Do ? " said Demorest promptly. " Stand
on your head and yell ! No ! stop ! Come
here ! " he seized both Barker and Stacy by
the hand, and ran out into the open air.
Here they danced violently with clasped
hands around a small buckeye, in perfect
silence, and then returned to the cabin,
grave but perspiring.

" Of course," said Barker, wiping his
forehead, "we'll just get some money on
these certificates and buy up that next claim
which belongs to old Carter where you
know we thought we saw the indication."

"We'll do nothing of the kind," said
Demorest decidedly. " We ain't in it. That
money is yours, old chap every cent of it
property acquired before marriage, you
know ; and the only thing we '11 do is to be


d d before we '11 see you drop a dime of
it into this God-forsaken hole. No ! "

" But we 're partners," gasped Barker.

" Net in this ! The utmost we can do for
you, opulent sir, though it ill becomes us
horny-handed sons of toil to rub shoulders
with Dives, is perchance to dine with you,
to take a pasty and a glass of Malvoisie,
at some restaurant in Sacramento when
you 've got things fixed, in honor of your
return to affluence. But more would ill
become us ! "

"But what are you going to do?" said
Barker, with a half-hysteric, half-frightened

" We have not yet looked through our
luggage," said Demorest with invincible
gravity, " and there 's a secret recess a
double fond to my portmanteau, known
only to a trusty page, which has not been
disturbed since I left my ancestral home in
Faginia. There may be a few First Deben-
tures of Erie or what not still there."

" I felt some strange, disk-like protuber-
ances in my dress suit the other day, but
belike they are but poker chips," said Stacy

An uneasy feeling crept over Barker.


The color which had left his fresh cheek
returned to it quickly, and he turned his
eyes away. Yet he had seen nothing in his
companions' eyes but affection with even
a certain kind of tender commiseration that
deepened his uneasiness. " I suppose," he
said desperately, after a pause, " I ought to
go over to Boomville and make some in-

" At the bank, old chap ; at the bank ! "
said Demorest emphatically. " Take my
advice and don't go anywhere else. Don't
breathe a word of your luck to anybody.
And don't, whatever you do, be tempted to
sell just now ; you don't know how high that
stock 's going to jump yet."

" I thought," stammered Barker, " that
you boys might like to go over with me."

" We can't afford to take another holi-
day on grub wages, and we 're only two to
work to-day," said Demorest, with a slight
increase of color and the faintest tremor in
his voice. " And it won't do, old chap, for
us to be seen bumming round with you on
the heels of your good fortune. For every-
body knows we 're poor, and sooner or later
everybody '11 know you were rich even when
you first came to us."


" Nonsense ! " said Barker indignantly.

" Gospel, my boy ! " said Demorest shortly.

" The frozen truth, old man ! " said Stacy.

Barker took up his hat with some stiff-
ness and moved towards the door. Here he
stopped irresolutely, an irresolution that
seemed to communicate itself to his part-
ners. There was a moment's awkward
silence. Then Demorest suddenly seized
him by the shoulders with a grip that was
half a caress, and walked him rapidly to the
door. " And now don't stand foolin' with
us, Barker boy ; but just trot off like a
little man, and get your grip on that for-
tune ; and when you 've got your hooks in
it hang on like grim death. You '11 " he
hesitated for an instant only, possibly to find
the laugh that should have accompanied his
speech " you 're sure to find us here when
you get back."

Hurt to the quick, but restraining his
feelings, Barker clapped his hat on his head
and walked quickly away. The two part-
ners stood watching him in silence until his
figure was lost in the underbrush. Then
they spoke.

" Like him was n't it ? " said Demorest.

" Just him all over," said Stacy.


" Think of him having that stock stowed
away all these years and never even bother-
ing his dear old head about it ! "


"And think of his wanting to put the
whole thing into this rotten hillside with

" And he 'd have done it, by gosh ! and
never thought of it again. That 's Barker."

" Dear old man ! "

" Good old chap ! "

" I 've been wondering if one of us
oughtn't to have gone with him ? He 's just
as likely to pour his money into the first
lap that opens for it," said Stacy.

" The more reason why we should n't pre-
vent him, or seem to prevent him," said
Demorest almost fiercely. " There will be
knaves and fools enough who will try and
put the idea of our using him into his sim-
ple heart without that. No ! Let him do
as he likes with it but let him be himself.
I 'd rather have him come back to us even
after he's lost the money his old self
and empty-handed than try to change the
stuff God put into him and make him more
like others."

The tone and manner were so different
from Demorest's usual levity that Stacy was


silent. After a pause he said : " Well ! we
shall miss him on the hillside won't we ? "

Demorest did not reply. Reaching out
his hand abstractedly, he wrenched off a
small slip from a sapling near him, and be-
gan slowly to pull the leaves off, one by
one, until they were all gone. Then he
switched it in the air, struck his bootleg
smartly with it, said roughly : " Come, let 's
get to work ! " and strode away.

Meantime Barker on his way to Boomville
was no less singular in his manner. He
kept up his slightly affected attitude until
he had lost sight of the cabin. But, being
of a simple nature, his emotions were less
complex. If he had not seen the undoubted
look of affection in the eyes of his partners
he would have imagined that they were
jealous of his good fortune. Yet why had
they refused his offer to share it with him?
Why had they so strangely assumed that
their partnership with him had closed?
Why had they declined to go with him?
Why had this money of which he had
thought so little, and for which he had cared
so little changed them towards him ? It
had not changed him lie was the same !
He remembered how they had often talked


and laughed over a prospective " strike " in
mining and speculated what they would do
together with the money! And now that
" luck " had occurred to one of them, indi-
vidually, the effect was only to alienate
them ! He could not make it out. He was
hurt, wounded yet oddly enough he was
conscious now of a certain power within
him to hurt and wound in retribution. He
was rich : he would let them see he could
do without them. He was quite free now
to think only of himself and Kitty.

For it must be recorded that, with all
this young gentleman's simplicity and un-
selfishness, with all his loyal attitude to his
partners, his first thought at the moment
he grasped the fact of his wealth was of
a young lady. It was Kitty Carter, the
daughter of the hotel keeper at Boomville,
who owned the claim that the partners had
mutually coveted. That a pretty girl's face
should flash upon him with his conviction
tliat he was now a rich man meant perhaps
no disloyalty to his partners, whom he would
still have helped. But it occurred to him
now, in his half hurt, half vengeful state,
that they had often joked him about Kitty,
and perhaps further confidence with them


was debarred. And it was only due to his
dignity that he should now see Kitty at

This was easy enough, for, in the naive
simplicity of Booraville, and the economic
arrangements of her father, she occasionally
waited upon the hotel table. Half the town
was always actively in love with her ; the
other half had been, and was silent, cynical,
but hopeless in defeat. For Kitty was one
of those singularly pretty girls occasionally
met with in Southwestern frontier civiliza-
tion whose distinct and original refinement
of face and figure were so remarkable and
original as to cast a doubt on the sagacity
and prescience of one parent and the mo-
rality of the other, yet no doubt with equal
injustice. But the fact remained that she
was slight, graceful, and self-contained, and
moved beside her stumpy, commonplace
father, and her faded, commonplace mother,
in the dining-room of the Boomville Hotel
like some distinguished alien. The three
partners, by virtue, perhaps, of their college
education and refined manners, had been
exceptionally noticed by Kitty. And for
some occult reason the more serious, per-
haps, because it had no obvious or logical


presumption to the world generally Bar-
ker was particularly favored.

He quickened his pace, and as the flag-
staff of the Boomville Hotel rose before him
in the little hollow, he seriously debated
whether he had not better go to the bank
first, deposit his shares, and get a small ad-
vance on them to buy a new necktie or a
"boiled shirt" in which to present himself
to Miss Kitty ; but, remembering that he had
partly given his word to Demorest that he
would keep his shares intact for the present,
he abandoned this project, probably from
the fact that his projected confidence with
Kitty was already a violation of Demorest's
injunctions of secrecy, and his conscience
was sufficiently burdened with that breach
of faith.

But when he reached the hotel, a strange
trepidation overcame him. The dining-room
was at its slack water, between the ebb of
breakfast and before the flow of the prepa-
ration for the midday meal. He could not
have his interview with Kitty in that dreary
waste of reversed chairs and bare trestle-
like tables, and she was possibly engaged in
her household duties. But Miss Kitty had
already seen him cross the road, and had


lounged into the dining-room with an art-
fully simulated air of casually examining
it. At the unexpected vision of his hopes,
arrayed in the sweetest and freshest of rose-
bud sprigged print, his heart faltered. Then,
partly with the desperation of a timid man,
and partly through the working of a half-
formed resolution, he met her bright smile
with a simple inquiry for her father. Miss
Kitty bit her pretty lip, smiled slightly, and
preceded him with great formality to the
office. Opening the door, without raising
her lashes to either her father or the visitor,
she said, with a mischievous accenting of
the professional manner, "Mr. Barker to
see you on business," and tripped sweetly

And this slight incident precipitated the
crisis. For Barker instantly made up his
mind that he must purchase the next claim
for his partners of this man Carter, and that
he would be obliged to confide to him the
details of his good fortune, and, as a proof
of his sincerity and his ability to pay for it,
he did so bluntly. Carter was a shrewd
business man, and the well-known simplicity
of Barker was a proof of his truthfulness, to
say nothing of the shares that were shown


to liim. His selling price for his claim had
been two hundred dollars, but here was a
rich customer who, from a mere foolish sen-
timent, would be no doubt willing to pay
more. He hesitated with a bland but su-
perior smile. " Ah, that was my price at
my last offer, Mr. Barker," he said suavely;
" but, you see, things are going up since

The keenest duplicity is apt to fail before
absolute simplicity. Barker, thoroughly be-
lieving him, and already a little frightened
at his own presumption not for the amount
of the money involved, but from the possi-
bility of his partners refusing his gift utterly
quickly took advantage of this locus pen-
itentice. "No matter, then," he said hur-
riedly ; " perhaps I had better consult my
partners first ; in fact," he added, with a
gratuitous truthfulness all his own, " I hardly
know whether they will take it of me, so I
think I '11 wait."

Carter was staggered ; this would clearly
not do ! He recovered himself with an in-
sinuating smile. "You pulled me up too
short, Mr. Barker ; I 'm a business man,
but hang it all ! what 's that among friends ?
If you reckoned I gave my word at two


hundred why, I 'm there ! Say no more
about it the claim 's yours. I '11 make
you out a bill of sale at once."

"But," hesitated Barker, "you see I
have n't got the money yet, and "

"Money! " echoed Carter bluntly, "what's
that among friends ? Gimme your note at
thirty days that 's good enough for me.
An' we '11 settle the whole thing now,
nothing like finishing a job while you' re
about it." And before the bewildered and
doubtful visitor could protest, he had filled
up a promissory note for Barker's signature
and himself signed a bill of sale for the
property. " And I reckon, Mr. Barker,
you'd like to take your partners by sur-
prise about this little gift of yours," he
added smilingly. " Well, my messenger
is starting for the Gulch in five minutes ;
he 's going by your cabin, and he can just
drop this bill o' sale, as a kind o' settled
fact, on 'em afore they can say anything,
see ! There 's nothing like actin' on the
spot in these sort of things. And don't
you hurry 'bout them either! You see,
you sorter owe us a friendly call havin'
always dropped inter the hotel only as a
customer so ye '11 stop here over luncheon,


and I reckon, as the old woman is busy, why
Kitty will try to make the time pass till
then by playin' for you on her new pian-

Delighted, yet bewildered by the unex-
pected invitation and opportunity, Barker
mechanically signed the promissory note,
and as mechanically addressed the envelope
of the bill of sale to Demorest, which Carter
gave to the messenger. Then he followed
his host across the hall to the apartment
known as " Miss Kitty's parlor." He had
often heard of it as a sanctum impervious
to the ordinary guest. Whatever functions
the young girl assumed at the hotel and
among her father's boarders, it was vaguely
understood that she dropped them on cross-
ing that sacred threshold, and became " Miss
Carter." The county judge had been enter-
tained there, and the wife of the bank man-
ager. Barker's admission there was conse-
quently an unprecedented honor.

He cast his eyes timidly round the room,
redolent .and suggestive in various charming
little ways of the young girl's presence.
There was the cottage piano which had been
brought up in sections on the backs of mules
from the foot of the mountain ; there was a


crayon head of Minerva done by the fair
occupant at the age of twelve ; there was a

Online LibraryBret HarteNovels and stories of Bret Harte (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 28)