The Fool Of Five Forks by Bret Harte

Story type: Literature

He lived alone. I do not think this peculiarity arose from any wish to withdraw his foolishness from the rest of the camp, nor was it probable that the combined wisdom of Five Forks ever drove him into exile. My impression is, that he lived alone from choice,–a choice he made long before the camp indulged in any criticism of his mental capacity. He was much given to moody reticence, and, although to outward appearances a strong man, was always complaining of ill-health. Indeed, one theory of his isolation was, that it afforded him better opportunities for taking medicine, of which he habitually consumed large quantities.

His folly first dawned upon Five Forks through the post-office windows. He was, for a long time, the only man who wrote home by every mail; his letters being always directed to the same person,–a woman. Now, it so happened that the bulk of the Five Forks correspondence was usually the other way. There were many letters received (the majority being in the female hand), but very few answered. The men received them indifferently, or as a matter of course. A few opened and read them on the spot, with a barely repressed smile of self-conceit, or quite as frequently glanced over them with undisguised impatience. Some of the letters began with “My dear husband;” and some were never called for. But the fact that the only regular correspondent of Five Forks never received any reply became at last quite notorious. Consequently, when an envelope was received, bearing the stamp of the “dead letter office,” addressed to “The Fool,” under the more conventional title of “Cyrus Hawkins,” there was quite a fever of excitement. I do not know how the secret leaked out; but it was eventually known to the camp, that the envelope contained Hawkins’s own letters returned. This was the first evidence of his weakness. Any man who repeatedly wrote to a woman who did not reply must be a fool. I think Hawkins suspected that his folly was known to the camp; but he took refuge in symptoms of chills and fever, which he at once developed, and effected a diversion with three bottles of Indian cholagogue and two boxes of pills. At all events, at the end of a week, he resumed a pen stiffened by tonics, with all his old epistolatory pertinacity. This time the letters had a new address.

In those days a popular belief obtained in the mines, that luck particularly favored the foolish and unscientific. Consequently, when Hawkins struck a “pocket” in the hillside near his solitary cabin, there was but little surprise. “He will sink it all in the next hole” was the prevailing belief, predicated upon the usual manner in which the possessor of “nigger luck” disposed of his fortune. To everybody’s astonishment, Hawkins, after taking out about eight thousand dollars, and exhausting the pocket, did not prospect for another. The camp then waited patiently to see what he would do with his money. I think, however, that it was with the greatest difficulty their indignation was kept from taking the form of a personal assault when it became known that he had purchased a draft for eight thousand dollars, in favor of “that woman.” More than this, it was finally whispered that the draft was returned to him as his letters had been, and that he was ashamed to reclaim the money at the express-office. “It wouldn’t be a bad specilation to go East, get some smart gal, for a hundred dollars, to dress herself up and represent that ‘Hag,’ and jest freeze onto that eight thousand,” suggested a far-seeing financier. I may state here, that we always alluded to Hawkins’s fair unknown as the “Hag” without having, I am confident, the least justification for that epithet.

That the “Fool” should gamble seemed eminently fit and proper. That he should occasionally win a large stake, according to that popular theory which I have recorded in the preceding paragraph, appeared, also, a not improbable or inconsistent fact. That he should, however, break the faro bank which Mr. John Hamlin had set up in Five Forks, and carry off a sum variously estimated at from ten to twenty thousand dollars, and not return the next day, and lose the money at the same table, really appeared incredible. Yet such was the fact. A day or two passed without any known investment of Mr. Hawkins’s recently-acquired capital. “Ef he allows to send it to that ‘Hag,’” said one prominent citizen, “suthin’ ought to be done. It’s jest ruinin’ the reputation of this yer camp,–this sloshin’ around o’ capital on non-residents ez don’t claim it!” “It’s settin’ an example o’ extravagance,” said another, “ez is little better nor a swindle. Thais mor’n five men in this camp, thet, hearin’ thet Hawkins hed sent home eight thousand dollars, must jest rise up and send home their hard earnings too! And then to think thet thet eight thousand was only a bluff, after all, and thet it’s lyin’ there on call in Adams & Co.’s bank! Well, I say it’s one o’ them things a vigilance committee oughter look into.”

When there seemed no possibility of this repetition of Hawkins’s folly, the anxiety to know what he had really done with his money became intense. At last a self-appointed committee of four citizens dropped artfully, but to outward appearances carelessly, upon him in his seclusion. When some polite formalities had been exchanged, and some easy vituperation of a backward season offered by each of the parties, Tom Wingate approached the subject.

“Sorter dropped heavy on Jack Hamlin the other night, didn’t ye? He allows you didn’t give him no show for revenge. I said you wasn’t no such d—-d fool; didn’t I, Dick?” continued the artful Wingate, appealing to a confederate.

“Yes,” said Dick promptly. “You said twenty thousand dollars wasn’t goin’ to be thrown around recklessly. You said Cyrus had suthin’ better to do with his capital,” super-added Dick with gratuitous mendacity. “I disremember now what partickler investment you said he was goin’ to make with it,” he continued, appealing with easy indifference to his friend.

Of course Wingate did not reply, but looked at the “Fool,” who, with a troubled face, was rubbing his legs softly. After a pause, he turned deprecatingly toward his visitors.

“Ye didn’t enny of ye ever hev a sort of tremblin’ in your legs, a kind o’ shakiness from the knee down? Suthin’,” he continued, slightly brightening with his topic,–“suthin’ that begins like chills, and yet ain’t chills? A kind o’ sensation of goneness here, and a kind o’ feelin’ as it you might die suddint?–when Wright’s Pills don’t somehow reach the spot, and quinine don’t fetch you?”

“No!” said Wingate with a curt directness, and the air of authoritatively responding for his friends,–“no, never had. You was speakin’ of this yer investment.”

“And your bowels all the time irregular?” continued Hawkins, blushing under Wingate’s eye, and yet clinging despairingly to his theme, like a shipwrecked mariner to his plank.

Wingate did not reply, but glanced significantly at the rest. Hawkins evidently saw this recognition of his mental deficiency, and said apologetically, “You was saying suthin’ about my investment?”

“Yes,” said Wingate, so rapidly as to almost take Hawkins’s breath away,–“the investment you made in”–

“Rafferty’s Ditch,” said the “Fool” timidly.

For a moment, the visitors could only stare blankly at each other. “Rafferty’s Ditch,” the one notorious failure of Five Forks!–Rafferty’s Ditch, the impracticable scheme of an utterly unpractical man!–Rafferty’s Ditch, a ridiculous plan for taking water that could not be got to a place where it wasn’t wanted!–Rafferty’s Ditch, that had buried the fortunes of Rafferty and twenty wretched stockholders in its muddy depths!

“And thet’s it, is it?” said Wingate, after a gloomy pause. “Thet’s it! I see it all now, boys. That’s how ragged Pat Rafferty went down to San Francisco yesterday in store-clothes, and his wife and four children went off in a kerridge to Sacramento. Thet’s why them ten workmen of his, ez hadn’t a cent to bless themselves with, was playin’ billiards last night, and eatin’ isters. Thet’s whar that money kum frum,–one hundred dollars to pay for the long advertisement of the new issue of ditch stock in the ‘Times’ yesterday. Thet’s why them six strangers were booked at the Magnolia hotel yesterday. Don’t you see? It’s thet money–and that ‘Fool’!”

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The “Fool” sat silent. The visitors rose without a word.

“You never took any of them Indian Vegetable Pills?” asked Hawkins timidly of Wingate.

“No!” roared Wingate as he opened the door.

“They tell me, that, took with the Panacea,–they was out o’ the Panacea when I went to the drug-store last week,–they say, that, took with the Panacea, they always effect a certin cure.” But by this time, Wingate and his disgusted friends had retreated, slamming the door on the “Fool” and his ailments.

Nevertheless, in six months the whole affair was forgotten: the money had been spent; the “Ditch” had been purchased by a company of Boston capitalists, fired by the glowing description of an Eastern tourist, who had spent one drunken night at Five Forks; and I think even the mental condition of Hawkins might have remained undisturbed by criticism, but for a singular incident.

It was during an exciting political campaign, when party-feeling ran high, that the irascible Capt. McFadden of Sacramento visited Five Forks. During a heated discussion in the Prairie Rose Saloon, words passed between the captain and the Hon. Calhoun Bungstarter, ending in a challenge. The captain bore the infelicitous reputation of being a notorious duellist and a dead-shot. The captain was unpopular. The captain was believed to have been sent by the opposition for a deadly purpose; and the captain was, moreover, a stranger. I am sorry to say that with Five Forks this latter condition did not carry the quality of sanctity or reverence that usually obtains among other nomads. There was, consequently, some little hesitation when the captain turned upon the crowd, and asked for some one to act as his friend. To everybody’s astonishment, and to the indignation of many, the “Fool” stepped forward, and offered himself in that capacity. I do not know whether Capt. McFadden would have chosen him voluntarily; but he was constrained, in the absence of a better man, to accept his services.

The duel never took place. The preliminaries were all arranged, the spot indicated; the men were present with their seconds; there was no interruption from without; there was no explanation or apology passed–but the duel did not take place. It may be readily imagined that these facts, which were all known to Five Forks, threw the whole community into a fever of curiosity. The principals, the surgeon, and one second left town the next day. Only the “Fool” remained. HE resisted all questioning, declaring himself held in honor not to divulge: in short, conducted himself with consistent but exasperating folly. It was not until six months had passed, that Col. Starbottle, the second of Calhoun Bungstarter, in a moment of weakness, superinduced by the social glass, condescended to explain. I should not do justice to the parties, if I did not give that explanation in the colonel’s own words. I may remark, in passing, that the characteristic dignity of Col. Starbottle always became intensified by stimulants, and that, by the same process, all sense of humor was utterly eliminated.

“With the understanding that I am addressing myself confidentially to men of honor,” said the colonel, elevating his chest above the bar-room counter of the Prairie Rose Saloon, “I trust that it will not be necessary for me to protect myself from levity, as I was forced to do in Sacramento on the only other occasion when I entered into an explanation of this delicate affair by–er–er–calling the individual to a personal account–er. I do not believe,” added the colonel, slightly waving his glass of liquor in the air with a graceful gesture of courteous deprecation, “knowing what I do of the present company, that such a course of action is required here. Certainly not, sir, in the home of Mr. Hawkins–er–the gentleman who represented Mr. Bungstarter, whose conduct, ged, sir, is worthy of praise, blank me!”

Apparently satisfied with the gravity and respectful attention of his listeners, Col. Starbottle smiled relentingly and sweetly, closed his eyes half-dreamily, as if to recall his wandering thoughts, and began,–

“As the spot selected was nearest the tenement of Mr. Hawkins, it was agreed that the parties should meet there. They did so promptly at half-past six. The morning being chilly, Mr. Hawkins extended the hospitalities of his house with a bottle of Bourbon whiskey, of which all partook but myself. The reason for that exception is, I believe, well known. It is my invariable custom to take brandy–a wineglassful in a cup of strong coffee–immediately on rising. It stimulates the functions, sir, without producing any blank derangement of the nerves.”

The barkeeper, to whom, as an expert, the colonel had graciously imparted this information, nodded approvingly; and the colonel, amid a breathless silence, went on.

“We were about twenty minutes in reaching the spot. The ground was measured, the weapons were loaded, when Mr. Bungstarter confided to me the information that he was unwell, and in great pain. On consultation with Mr. Hawkins, it appeared that his principal, in a distant part of the field, was also suffering, and in great pain. The symptoms were such as a medical man would pronounce ‘choleraic.’ I say WOULD have pronounced; for, on examination, the surgeon was also found to be–er–in pain, and, I regret to say, expressing himself in language unbecoming the occasion. His impression was, that some powerful drug had been administered. On referring the question to Mr. Hawkins, he remembered that the bottle of whiskey partaken by them contained a medicine which he had been in the habit of taking, but which, having failed to act upon him, he had concluded to be generally ineffective, and had forgotten. His perfect willingness to hold himself personally responsible to each of the parties, his genuine concern at the disastrous effect of the mistake, mingled with his own alarm at the state of his system, which–er–failed to–er–respond to the peculiar qualities of the medicine, was most becoming to him as a man of honor and a gentleman. After an hour’s delay, both principals being completely exhausted, and abandoned by the surgeon, who was unreasonably alarmed at his own condition, Mr. Hawkins and I agreed to remove our men to Markleville. There, after a further consultation with Mr. Hawkins, an amicable adjustment of all difficulties, honorable to both parties, and governed by profound secrecy, was arranged. I believe,” added the colonel, looking around, and setting down his glass, “no gentleman has yet expressed himself other than satisfied with the result.”

Perhaps it was the colonel’s manner; but, whatever was the opinion of Five Forks regarding the intellectual display of Mr. Hawkins in this affair, there was very little outspoken criticism at the moment. In a few weeks the whole thing was forgotten, except as part of the necessary record of Hawkins’s blunders, which was already a pretty full one. Again, some later follies conspired to obliterate the past, until, a year later, a valuable lead was discovered in the “Blazing Star” tunnel, in the hill where he lived; and a large sum was offered him for a portion of his land on the hilltop. Accustomed as Five Forks had become to the exhibition of his folly, it was with astonishment that they learned that he resolutely and decidedly refused the offer. The reason that he gave was still more astounding,–he was about to build.

To build a house upon property available for mining-purposes was preposterous; to build at all, with a roof already covering him, was an act of extravagance; to build a house of the style he proposed was simply madness.

Yet here were facts. The plans were made, and the lumber for the new building was already on the ground, while the shaft of the “Blazing Star” was being sunk below. The site was, in reality, a very picturesque one, the building itself of a style and quality hitherto unknown in Five Forks. The citizens, at first sceptical, during their moments of recreation and idleness gathered doubtingly about the locality. Day by day, in that climate of rapid growths, the building, pleasantly known in the slang of Five Forks as the “Idiot Asylum,” rose beside the green oaks and clustering firs of Hawkins Hill, as if it were part of the natural phenomena. At last it was completed. Then Mr. Hawkins proceeded to furnish it with an expensiveness and extravagance of outlay quite in keeping with his former idiocy. Carpets, sofas, mirrors, and finally a piano,–the only one known in the county, and brought at great expense from Sacramento,–kept curiosity at a fever-heat. More than that, there were articles and ornaments which a few married experts declared only fit for women. When the furnishing of the house was complete,–it had occupied two months of the speculative and curious attention of the camp,–Mr. Hawkins locked the front-door, put the key in his pocket, and quietly retired to his more humble roof, lower on the hillside.

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I have not deemed it necessary to indicate to the intelligent reader all of the theories which obtained in Five Forks during the erection of the building. Some of them may be readily imagined. That the “Hag” had, by artful coyness and systematic reticence, at last completely subjugated the “Fool,” and that the new house was intended for the nuptial bower of the (predestined) unhappy pair, was, of course, the prevailing opinion. But when, after a reasonable time had elapsed, and the house still remained untenanted, the more exasperating conviction forced itself upon the general mind, that the “Fool” had been for the third time imposed upon; when two months had elapsed, and there seemed no prospect of a mistress for the new house,–I think public indignation became so strong, that, had the “Hag” arrived, the marriage would have been publicly prevented. But no one appeared that seemed to answer to this idea of an available tenant; and all inquiry of Mr. Hawkins as to his intention in building a house, and not renting it, or occupying it, failed to elicit any further information. The reasons that he gave were felt to be vague, evasive, and unsatisfactory. He was in no hurry to move, he said. When he WAS ready, it surely was not strange that he should like to have his house all ready to receive him. He was often seen upon the veranda, of a summer evening, smoking a cigar. It is reported that one night the house was observed to be brilliantly lighted from garret to basement; that a neighbor, observing this, crept toward the open parlor-window, and, looking in, espied the “Fool” accurately dressed in evening costume, lounging upon a sofa in the drawing-room, with the easy air of socially entertaining a large party. Notwithstanding this, the house was unmistakably vacant that evening, save for the presence of the owner, as the witness afterward testified. When this story was first related, a few practical men suggested the theory that Mr. Hawkins was simply drilling himself in the elaborate duties of hospitality against a probable event in his history. A few ventured the belief that the house was haunted. The imaginative editor of the Five Forks “Record” evolved from the depths of his professional consciousness a story that Hawkins’s sweetheart had died, and that he regularly entertained her spirit in this beautifully furnished mausoleum. The occasional spectacle of Hawkins’s tall figure pacing the veranda on moonlight nights lent some credence to this theory, until an unlooked-for incident diverted all speculation into another channel.

It was about this time that a certain wild, rude valley, in the neighborhood of Five Forks, had become famous as a picturesque resort. Travellers had visited it, and declared that there were more cubic yards of rough stone cliff, and a waterfall of greater height, than any they had visited. Correspondents had written it up with extravagant rhetoric and inordinate poetical quotation. Men and women who had never enjoyed a sunset, a tree, or a flower, who had never appreciated the graciousness or meaning of the yellow sunlight that flecked their homely doorways, or the tenderness of a midsummer’s night, to whose moonlight they bared their shirt-sleeves or their tulle dresses, came from thousands of miles away to calculate the height of this rock, to observe the depth of this chasm, to remark upon the enormous size of this unsightly tree, and to believe with ineffable self-complacency that they really admired Nature. And so it came to pass, that, in accordance with the tastes or weaknesses of the individual, the more prominent and salient points of the valley were christened; and there was a “Lace Handkerchief Fall,” and the “Tears of Sympathy Cataract,” and one distinguished orator’s “Peak,” and several “Mounts” of various noted people, living or dead, and an “Exclamation-Point,” and a “Valley of Silent Adoration.” And, in course of time, empty soda-water bottles were found at the base of the cataract, and greasy newspapers, and fragments of ham-sandwiches, lay at the dusty roots of giant trees. With this, there were frequent irruptions of closely-shaven and tightly-cravated men, and delicate, flower-faced women, in the one long street of Five Forks, and a scampering of mules, and an occasional procession of dusty brown-linen cavalry.

A year after “Hawkins’s Idiot Asylum” was completed, one day there drifted into the valley a riotous cavalcade of “school-marms,” teachers of the San Francisco public schools, out for a holiday. Not severely-spectacled Minervas, and chastely armed and mailed Pallases, but, I fear, for the security of Five Forks, very human, charming, and mischievous young women. At least, so the men thought, working in the ditches, and tunnelling on the hillside; and when, in the interests of science, and the mental advancement of juvenile posterity, it was finally settled that they should stay in Five Forks two or three days for the sake of visiting the various mines, and particularly the “Blazing Star” tunnel, there was some flutter of masculine anxiety. There was a considerable inquiry for “store-clothes,” a hopeless overhauling of old and disused raiment, and a general demand fox “boiled shirts” and the barber.

Meanwhile, with that supreme audacity and impudent hardihood of the sex when gregarious, the school-marms rode through the town, admiring openly the handsome faces and manly figures that looked up from the ditches, or rose behind the cars of ore at the mouths of tunnels. Indeed, it is alleged that Jenny Forester, backed and supported by seven other equally shameless young women, had openly and publicly waved her handkerchief to the florid Hercules of Five Forks, one Tom Flynn, formerly of Virginia, leaving that good-natured but not over-bright giant pulling his blonde mustaches in bashful amazement.

It was a pleasant June afternoon that Miss Milly Arnot, principal of the primary department of one of the public schools of San Francisco, having evaded her companions, resolved to put into operation a plan which had lately sprung up in her courageous and mischief-loving fancy. With that wonderful and mysterious instinct of her sex, from whom no secrets of the affections are hid, and to whom all hearts are laid open, she had heard the story of Hawkins’s folly, and the existence of the “Idiot Asylum.” Alone, on Hawkins Hill, she had determined to penetrate its seclusion. Skirting the underbrush at the foot of the hill, she managed to keep the heaviest timber between herself and the “Blazing Star” tunnel at its base, as well as the cabin of Hawkins, half-way up the ascent, until, by a circuitous route, at last she reached, unobserved, the summit. Before her rose, silent, darkened, and motionless, the object of her search. Here her courage failed her, with all the characteristic inconsequence of her sex. A sudden fear of all the dangers she had safely passed–bears, tarantulas, drunken men, and lizards–came upon her. For a moment, as she afterward expressed it, “she thought she should die.” With this belief, probably, she gathered three large stones, which she could hardly lift, for the purpose of throwing a great distance; put two hair-pins in her mouth; and carefully re-adjusted with both hands two stray braids of her lovely blue-black mane, which had fallen in gathering the stones. Then she felt in the pockets of her linen duster for her card-case, handkerchief, pocketbook, and smelling-bottle, and, finding them intact, suddenly assumed an air of easy, ladylike unconcern, went up the steps of the veranda, and demurely pulled the front doorbell, which she knew would not be answered. After a decent pause, she walked around the encompassing veranda, examining the closed shutters of the French windows until she found one that yielded to her touch. Here she paused again to adjust her coquettish hat by the mirror-like surface of the long sash-window, that reflected the full length of her pretty figure. And then she opened the window, and entered the room.

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Although long closed, the house had a smell of newness and of fresh paint, that was quite unlike the mouldiness of the conventional haunted house. The bright carpets, the cheerful walls, the glistening oil-cloths, were quite inconsistent with the idea of a ghost. With childish curiosity, she began to explore the silent house, at first timidly,–opening the doors with a violent push, and then stepping back from the threshold to make good a possible retreat,–and then more boldly, as she became convinced of her security and absolute loneliness. In one of the chambers–the largest–there were fresh flowers in a vase, evidently gathered that morning; and, what seemed still more remarkable, the pitchers and ewers were freshly filled with water. This obliged Miss Milly to notice another singular fact, namely, that the house was free from dust, the one most obtrusive and penetrating visitor of Five Forks. The floors and carpets had been recently swept, the chairs and furniture carefully wiped and dusted. If the house WAS haunted, it was possessed by a spirit who had none of the usual indifference to decay and mould. And yet the beds had evidently never been slept in, the very springs of the chair in which she sat creaked stiffly at the novelty; the closet-doors opened with the reluctance of fresh paint and varnish; and in spite of the warmth, cleanliness, and cheerfulness of furniture and decoration, there was none of the ease of tenancy and occupation. As Miss Milly afterward confessed, she longed to “tumble things around;” and, when she reached the parlor or drawing-room again, she could hardly resist the desire. Particularly was she tempted by a closed piano, that stood mutely against the wall. She thought she would open it just to see who was the maker. That done, it would be no harm to try its tone. She did so, with one little foot on the soft pedal. But Miss Milly was too good a player, and too enthusiastic a musician, to stop at half-measures. She tried it again, this time so sincerely, that the whole house seemed to spring into voice. Then she stopped and listened. There was no response: the empty rooms seemed to have relapsed into their old stillness. She stepped out on the veranda. A woodpecker recommenced his tapping on an adjacent tree: the rattle of a cart in the rocky gulch below the hill came faintly up. No one was to be seen far or near. Miss Milly, re-assured, returned. She again ran her fingers over the keys, stopped, caught at a melody running in her mind, half played it, and then threw away all caution. Before five minutes had elapsed, she had entirely forgotten herself, and with her linen duster thrown aside, her straw hat flung on the piano, her white hands bared, and a black loop of her braided hair hanging upon her shoulder, was fairly embarked upon a flowing sea of musical recollection.

She had played, perhaps, half an hour, when having just finished an elaborate symphony, and resting her hands on the keys, she heard very distinctly and unmistakably the sound of applause from without. In an instant the fires of shame and indignation leaped into her cheeks; and she rose from the instrument, and ran to the window, only in time to catch sight of a dozen figures in blue and red flannel shirts vanishing hurriedly through the trees below.

Miss Milly’s mind was instantly made up. I think I have already intimated, that, under the stimulus of excitement, she was not wanting in courage; and as she quietly resumed her gloves, hat, and duster, she was not, perhaps, exactly the young person that it would be entirely safe for the timid, embarrassed, or inexperienced of my sex to meet alone. She shut down the piano; and having carefully reclosed all the windows and doors, and restored the house to its former desolate condition, she stepped from the veranda, and proceeded directly to the cabin of the unintellectual Hawkins, that reared its adobe chimney above the umbrage a quarter of a mile below.

The door opened instantly to her impulsive knock, and the “Fool of Five Forks” stood before her. Miss Milly had never before seen the man designated by this infelicitous title; and as he stepped backward, in half courtesy and half astonishment, she was, for the moment, disconcerted. He was tall, finely formed, and dark-bearded. Above cheeks a little hollowed by care and ill-health shone a pair of hazel eyes, very large, very gentle, but inexpressibly sad and mournful. This was certainly not the kind of man Miss Milly had expected to see; yet, after her first embarrassment had passed, the very circumstance, oddly enough, added to her indignation, and stung her wounded pride still more deeply. Nevertheless, the arch hypocrite instantly changed her tactics with the swift intuition of her sex.

“I have come,” she said with a dazzling smile, infinitely more dangerous than her former dignified severity,–“I have come to ask your pardon for a great liberty I have just taken. I believe the new house above us on the hill is yours. I was so much pleased with its exterior, that I left my friends for a moment below here,” she continued artfully, with a slight wave of the hand, as if indicating a band of fearless Amazons without, and waiting to avenge any possible insult offered to one of their number, “and ventured to enter it. Finding it unoccupied, as I had been told, I am afraid I had the audacity to sit down and amuse myself for a few moments at the piano, while waiting for my friends.”

Hawkins raised his beautiful eyes to hers. He saw a very pretty girl, with frank gray eyes glistening with excitement, with two red, slightly freckled cheeks glowing a little under his eyes, with a short scarlet upper-lip turned back, like a rose-leaf, over a little line of white teeth, as she breathed somewhat hurriedly in her nervous excitement. He saw all this calmly, quietly, and, save for the natural uneasiness of a shy, reticent man, I fear without a quickening of his pulse.

“I knowed it,” he said simply. “I heerd ye as I kem up.”

Miss Milly was furious at his grammar, his dialect, his coolness, and, still more, at the suspicion that he was an active member of her in visible elaque.

“Ah!” she said, still smiling. “Then I think I heard YOU”–

“I reckon not,” he interrupted gravely. “I didn’t stay long. I found the boys hanging round the house, and I allowed at first I’d go in and kinder warn you; but they promised to keep still: and you looked so comfortable, and wrapped up in your music, that I hadn’t the heart to disturb you, and kem away. I hope,” he added earnestly, “they didn’t let on ez they heerd you. They ain’t a bad lot,–them Blazin’ Star boys–though they’re a little hard at times. But they’d no more hurt ye then they would a–a–a cat!” continued Mr. Hawkins, blushing with a faint apprehension of the inelegance of his simile.

“No, no!” said Miss Milly, feeling suddenly very angry with herself, the “Fool,” and the entire male population of Five Forks. “No! I have behaved foolishly, I suppose–and, if they HAD, it would have served me right. But I only wanted to apologize to you. You’ll find every thing as you left it. Good-day!”

She turned to go. Mr. Hawkins began to feel embarrassed. “I’d have asked ye to sit down,” he said finally, “if it hed been a place fit for a lady. I oughter done so, enny way. I don’t know what kept me from it. But I ain’t well, miss. Times I get a sort o’ dumb ager,–it’s the ditches, I think, miss,–and I don’t seem to hev my wits about me.”

Instantly Miss Arnot was all sympathy: her quick woman’s heart was touched.

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“Can I–can any thing be done?” she asked more timidly than she had before spoken.

“No–not onless ye remember suthin’ about these pills.” He exhibited a box containing about half a dozen. “I forget the direction–I don’t seem to remember much, any way, these times. They’re ‘Jones’s Vegetable Compound.’ If ye’ve ever took ’em, ye’ll remember whether the reg’lar dose is eight. They ain’t but six here. But perhaps ye never tuk any,” he added deprecatingly.

“No,” said Miss Milly curtly. She had usually a keen sense of the ludicrous; but somehow Mr. Hawkins’s eccentricity only pained her.

“Will you let me see you to the foot of the hill?” he said again, after another embarrassing pause.

Miss Arnot felt instantly that such an act would condone her trespass in the eyes of the world. She might meet some of her invisible admirers, or even her companions; and, with all her erratic impulses, she was, nevertheless, a woman, and did not entirely despise the verdict of conventionality. She smiled sweetly, and assented; and in another moment the two were lost in the shadows of the wood.

Like many other apparently trivial acts in an uneventful life, it was decisive. As she expected, she met two or three of her late applauders, whom, she fancied, looked sheepish and embarrassed; she met, also, her companions looking for her in some alarm, who really appeared astonished at her escort, and, she fancied, a trifle envious of her evident success. I fear that Miss Arnot, in response to their anxious inquiries, did not state entirely the truth, but, without actual assertion, led them to believe that she had, at a very early stage of the proceeding, completely subjugated this weak-minded giant, and had brought him triumphantly to her feet. From telling this story two or three times, she got finally to believing that she had some foundation for it, then to a vague sort of desire that it would eventually prove to be true, and then to an equally vague yearning to hasten that consummation. That it would redound to any satisfaction of the “Fool” she did not stop to doubt. That it would cure him of his folly she was quite confident. Indeed, there are very few of us, men or women, who do not believe that even a hopeless love for ourselves is more conducive to the salvation of the lover than a requited affection for another.

The criticism of Five Forks was, as the reader may imagine, swift and conclusive. When it was found out that Miss Arnot was not the “Hag” masquerading as a young and pretty girl, to the ultimate deception of Five Forks in general, and the “Fool” in particular, it was at once decided that nothing but the speedy union of the “Fool” and the “pretty school-marm” was consistent with ordinary common sense. The singular good-fortune of Hawkins was quite in accordance with the theory of his luck as propounded by the camp. That, after the “Hag” failed to make her appearance, he should “strike a lead” in his own house, without the trouble of “prospectin’,” seemed to these casuists as a wonderful but inevitable law. To add to these fateful probabilities, Miss Arnot fell, and sprained her ankle, in the ascent of Mount Lincoln, and was confined for some weeks to the hotel after her companions had departed. During this period, Hawkins was civilly but grotesquely attentive. When, after a reasonable time had elapsed, there still appeared to be no immediate prospect of the occupancy of the new house, public opinion experienced a singular change in regard to its theories of Mr. Hawkins’s conduct. The “Hag” was looked upon as a saint-like and long-suffering martyr to the weaknesses and inconsistency of the “Fool.” That, after erecting this new house at her request, he had suddenly “gone back” on her; that his celibacy was the result of a long habit of weak proposal and subsequent shameless rejection; and that he was now trying his hand on the helpless schoolmarm, was perfectly plain to Five Forks. That he should be frustrated in his attempts at any cost was equally plain. Miss Milly suddenly found herself invested with a rude chivalry that would have been amusing, had it not been at times embarrassing; that would have been impertinent, but for the almost superstitious respect with which it was proffered. Every day somebody from Five Forks rode out to inquire the health of the fair patient. “Hez Hawkins bin over yer to-day?” queried Tom Flynn, with artful ease and indifference, as he leaned over Miss Milly’s easy-chair on the veranda. Miss Milly, with a faint pink flush on her cheek, was constrained to answer, “No.” “Well, he sorter sprained his foot agin a rock yesterday,” continued Flynn with shameless untruthfulness. “You mus’n’t think any thing o’ that, Miss Arnot. He’ll be over yer to-morrer; and meantime he told me to hand this yer bookay with his re-gards, and this yer specimen.” And Mr. Flynn laid down the flowers he had picked en route against such an emergency, and presented respectfully a piece of quartz and gold, which he had taken that morning from his own sluice-box. “You mus’n’t mind Hawkins’s ways, Miss Milly,” said another sympathizing miner. “There ain’t a better man in camp than that theer Cy Hawkins–but he don’t understand the ways o’ the world with wimen. He hasn’t mixed as much with society as the rest of us,” he added, with an elaborate Chesterfieldian ease of manner; “but he means well.” Meanwhile a few other sympathetic tunnelmen were impressing upon Mr. Hawkins the necessity of the greatest attention to the invalid. “It won’t do, Hawkins,” they explained, “to let that there gal go back to San Francisco and say, that, when she was sick and alone, the only man in Five Forks under whose roof she had rested, and at whose table she had sat” (this was considered a natural but pardonable exaggeration of rhetoric) “ever threw off on her; and it sha’n’t be done. It ain’t the square thing to Five Forks.” And then the “Fool” would rush away to the valley, and be received by Miss Milly with a certain reserve of manner that finally disappeared in a flush of color, some increased vivacity, and a pardonable coquetry. And so the days passed. Miss Milly grew better in health, and more troubled in mind; and Mr. Hawkins became more and more embarrassed; and Five Forks smiled, and rubbed its hands, and waited for the approaching denoument. And then it came–but not, perhaps, in the manner that Five Forks had imagined.

It was a lovely afternoon in July that a party of Eastern tourists rode into Five Forks. They had just “done” the Valley of Big Things; and, there being one or two Eastern capitalists among the party, it was deemed advisable that a proper knowledge of the practical mining-resources of California should be added to their experience of the merely picturesque in Nature. Thus far every thing had been satisfactory; the amount of water which passed over the Fall was large, owing to a backward season; some snow still remained in the canyons near the highest peaks; they had ridden round one of the biggest trees, and through the prostrate trunk of another. To say that they were delighted is to express feebly the enthusiasm of these ladies and gentlemen, drunk with the champagny hospitality of their entertainers, the utter novelty of scene, and the dry, exhilarating air of the valley. One or two had already expressed themselves ready to live and die there; another had written a glowing account to the Eastern press, depreciating all other scenery in Europe and America; and, under these circumstances, it was reasonably expected that Five Forks would do its duty, and equally impress the stranger after its own fashion.

Letters to this effect were sent from San Francisco by prominent capitalists there; and, under the able superintendence of one of their agents, the visitors were taken in hand, shown “what was to be seen,” carefully restrained from observing what ought not to be visible, and so kept in a blissful and enthusiastic condition. And so the graveyard of Five Forks, in which but two of the occupants had died natural deaths; the dreary, ragged cabins on the hillsides, with their sad-eyed, cynical, broken-spirited occupants, toiling on day by day for a miserable pittance, and a fare that a self-respecting Eastern mechanic would have scornfully rejected,–were not a part of the Eastern visitors’ recollection. But the hoisting works and machinery of the “Blazing Star Tunnel Company” was,–the Blazing Star Tunnel Company, whose “gentlemanly superintendent” had received private information from San Francisco to do the “proper thing” for the party. Wherefore the valuable heaps of ore in the company’s works were shown; the oblong bars of gold, ready for shipment, were playfully offered to the ladies who could lift and carry them away unaided; and even the tunnel itself, gloomy, fateful, and peculiar, was shown as part of the experience; and, in the noble language of one correspondent, “The wealth of Five Forks, and the peculiar inducements that it offered to Eastern capitalists,” were established beyond a doubt. And then occurred a little incident, which, as an unbiassed spectator, I am free to say offered no inducements to anybody whatever, but which, for its bearing upon the central figure of this veracious chronicle, I cannot pass over.

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It had become apparent to one or two more practical and sober-minded in the party, that certain portions of the “Blazing Star” tunnel (owing, perhaps, to the exigencies of a flattering annual dividend) were economically and imperfectly “shored” and supported, and were, consequently, unsafe, insecure, and to be avoided. Nevertheless, at a time when champagne corks were popping in dark corners, and enthusiastic voices and happy laughter rang through the half-lighted levels and galleries, there came a sudden and mysterious silence. A few lights dashed swiftly by in the direction of a distant part of the gallery, and then there was a sudden sharp issuing of orders, and a dull, ominous rumble. Some of the visitors turned pale: one woman fainted.

Something had happened. What? “Nothing” (the speaker is fluent, but uneasy)–“one of the gentlemen, in trying to dislodge a ‘specimen’ from the wall, had knocked away a support. There had been a ‘cave’–the gentleman was caught, and buried below his shoulders. It was all right, they’d get him out in a moment–only it required great care to keep from extending the ‘cave.’ Didn’t know his name. It was that little man, the husband of that lively lady with the black eyes. Eh! Hullo, there! Stop her! For God’s sake! Not that way! She’ll fall from that shaft. She’ll be killed!”

But the lively lady was already gone. With staring black eyes, imploringly trying to pierce the gloom, with hands and feet that sought to batter and break down the thick darkness, with incoherent cries and supplications following the moving of ignis fatuus lights ahead, she ran, and ran swiftly!–ran over treacherous foundations, ran by yawning gulfs, ran past branching galleries and arches, ran wildly, ran despairingly, ran blindly, and at last ran into the arms of the “Fool of Five Forks.”

In an instant she caught at his hand. “Oh, save him!” she cried. “You belong here; you know this dreadful place: bring me to him. Tell me where to go, and what to do, I implore you! Quick, he is dying! Come!”

He raised his eyes to hers, and then, with a sudden cry, dropped the rope and crowbar he was carrying, and reeled against the wall.

“Annie!” he gasped slowly. “Is it you?”

She caught at both his hands, brought her face to his with staring eyes, murmured, “Good God, Cyrus!” and sank upon her knees before him.

He tried to disengage the hand that she wrung with passionate entreaty.

“No, no! Cyrus, you will forgive me–you will forget the past! God has sent you here to-day. You will come with me. You will–you must–save him!”

“Save who?” cried Cyrus hoarsely.

“My husband!”

The blow was so direct, so strong and overwhelming, that, even through her own stronger and more selfish absorption, she saw it in the face of the man, and pitied him.

“I thought–you–knew–it,” she faltered.

He did not speak, but looked at her with fixed, dumb eyes. And then the sound of distant voices and hurrying feet started her again into passionate life. She once more caught his hand.

“O Cyrus, hear me! If you have loved me through all these years, you will not fail me now. You must save him! You can! You are brave and strong–you always were, Cyrus. You will save him, Cyrus, for my sake, for the sake of your love for me! You will–I know it. God bless you!”

She rose as if to follow him, but, at a gesture of command, she stood still. He picked up the rope and crowbar slowly, and in a dazed, blinded way, that, in her agony of impatience and alarm, seemed protracted to cruel infinity. Then he turned, and, raising her hand to his lips, kissed it slowly, looked at her again, and the next moment was gone.

He did not return; for at the end of the next half-hour, when they laid before her the half-conscious, breathing body of her husband, safe and unharmed, but for exhaustion and some slight bruises, she learned that the worst fears of the workmen had been realized. In releasing him, a second cave had taken place. They had barely time to snatch away the helpless body of her husband, before the strong frame of his rescuer, Cyrus Hawkins, was struck and smitten down in his place.

For two hours he lay there, crushed and broken-limbed, with a heavy beam lying across his breast, in sight of all, conscious and patient. For two hours they had labored around him, wildly, despairingly, hopefully, with the wills of gods and the strength of giants; and at the end of that time they came to an upright timber, which rested its base upon the beam. There was a cry for axes, and one was already swinging in the air, when the dying man called to them feebly,–

“Don’t cut that upright!”


“It will bring down the whole gallery with it.”


“It’s one of the foundations of my house.”

The axe fell from the workman’s hand, and with a blanched face he turned to his fellows. It was too true. They were in the uppermost gallery; and the “cave” had taken place directly below the new house. After a pause, the “Fool” spoke again more feebly.

“The lady–quick!”

They brought her,–a wretched, fainting creature, with pallid face and streaming eyes,–and fell back as she bent her face above him.

“It was built for you, Annie darling,” he said in a hurried whisper, “and has been waiting up there for you and me all these long days. It’s deeded to you, Annie; and you must–live there–with HIM! He will not mind that I shall be always near you; for it stands above–my grave.”

And he was right. In a few minutes later, when he had passed away, they did not move him, but sat by his body all night with a torch at his feet and head. And the next day they walled up the gallery as a vault; but they put no mark or any sign thereon, trusting, rather, to the monument, that, bright and cheerful, rose above him in the sunlight of the hill. And those who heard the story said, “This is not an evidence of death and gloom and sorrow, as are other monuments, but is a sign of life and light and hope, wherefore shall all know that he who lies under it is what men call–‘a fool’.”

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