Story type: Literature
The tiny lights that had been far scattered and intermittent as fireflies all along the dark stream at last dropped out one by one, leaving only the three windows of “Parks’ Emporium” to pierce the profoundly wooded banks of the South Fork. So all-pervading was the darkness that the mere opening of the “Emporium” front door shot out an illuminating shaft which revealed the whole length of the little main street of “Buckeye,” while the simple passing of a single figure before one of the windows momentarily eclipsed a third of the settlement. This undue pre-eminence given to the only three citizens of Buckeye who were still up at ten o ‘clock seemed to be hardly justified by their outward appearance, which was that of ordinary long-bearded and long-booted river bar miners. Two sat upon the counter with their hands upon their knees, the third leaned beside the open window.
It was very quiet. The faint, far barking of a dog, or an occasional subdued murmur from the river shallows, audible only when the wind rose slightly, helped to intensify their solitude. So supreme had it become that when the man at the window at last continued his conversation meditatively, with his face towards it, he seemed to be taking all Nature into his confidence.
“The worst thing about it is, that the only way we can keep her out of the settlement is by the same illegal methods which we deplore in other camps. We have always boasted that Buckeye could get along without Vigilance Committees or Regulators.”
“Yes, and that was because we started it on the principle of original selection, which we are only proposing to continue,” replied one of the men on the counter. “So there’s nothing wrong about our sending a deputation to wait upon her, to protest against her settling here, and give her our reasons.”
“Yes, only it has all the impudence without the pluck of the Regulators. You demand what you are afraid to enforce. Come, Parks, you know she has all the rights on her side. Look at it squarely. She proposes to open a store and sell liquor and cigars, which she serves herself, in the broken-down tienda which was regularly given to her people by the Spanish grantee of the land we’re squatting on. It’s not her fault but ours if we’ve adopted a line of rules, which don’t agree with hers, to govern the settlers on HER land, nor should she be compelled to follow them. Nor because we justify OUR squatting here, on the ground that the Spanish grant isn’t confirmed yet, can we forbid her squatting under the same right.”
“But look at the moral question, Brace. Consider the example; the influence of such a shop, kept by such a woman, on the community! We have the right to protect ourselves–the majority.”
“That’s the way the lynchers talk,” returned Brace. “And I’m not so sure about there being any moral question yet. You are assuming too much. There is no reason why she shouldn’t run the tienda as decently–barring the liquor sale, which, however, is legal, and for which she can get a license–as a man could, and without interfering with our morals.”
“Then what is the use of our rules?”
“They were made for those who consented to adopt them, as we all did. They still bind US, and if we don’t choose to buy her liquor or cigars that will dispose of her and her tienda much more effectually than your protest. It’s a pity she’s a lone unprotected woman. Now if she only had a husband”–
“She carries a dagger in her garter.”
This apparently irrelevant remark came from the man who had not yet spoken, but who had been listening with the languid unconcern of one who, relinquishing the labor of argument to others, had consented to abide by their decision. It was met with a scornful smile from each of the disputants, perhaps even by an added shrug of the shoulders from the woman’s previous defender! HE was evidently not to be taken in by extraneous sentiment. Nevertheless, both listened as the speaker, slowly feeling his knees as if they were his way to a difficult subject, continued with the same suggestion of stating general fact, but waiving any argument himself. “Clarkson of Angels allows she’s got a free, gaudy, picter-covered style with the boys, but that she can be gilt-edged when she wants to. Rowley Meade–him ez hed his skelp pulled over his eyes at one stroke, foolin’ with a she bear over on Black Mountain–allows it would be rather monotonous in him attemptin’ any familiarities with her. Bulstrode’s brother, ez was in Marysville, said there was a woman–like to her, but not her–ez made it lively for the boys with a game called ‘Little Monte,’ and he dropped a hundred dollars there afore he came away. They do say that about seven men got shot in Marysville on account o’ this one, or from some oneasiness that happened at her shop. But then,” he went on slowly and deferentially as the faces of the two others were lowered and became fixed, “SHE says she tired o’ drunken rowdies,–there’s a sameness about ’em, and it don’t sell her pipes and cigars, and that’s WHY she’s coming here. Thompson over at Dry Creek sez that THAT’S where our reputation is playin’ us! ‘We’ve got her as a reward o’ virtoo, and be d—-d to us.’ But,” cautiously, “Thompson ain’t drawed a sober breath since Christmas.”
The three men looked in each other’s faces in silence. The same thought occurred to each; the profane Thompson was right, and the woman’s advent was the logical sequence of their own ethics. Two years previously, the Buckeye Company had found gold on the South Fork, and had taken up claims. Composed mainly of careful, provident, and thoughtful men,–some of cultivation and refinement,–they had adopted a certain orderly discipline for their own guidance solely, which, however, commended itself to later settlers, already weary of the lawlessness and reckless freedom which usually attended the inception of mining settlements. Consequently the birth of Buckeye was accompanied with no dangerous travail; its infancy was free from the diseases of adolescent communities. The settlers, without any express prohibition, had tacitly dispensed with gambling and drinking saloons; following the unwritten law of example, had laid aside their revolvers, and mingled together peacefully when their labors were ended, without a single peremptory regulation against drinking and playing, or carrying lethal weapons. Nor had there been any test of fitness or qualification for citizenship through previous virtue. There were one or two gamblers, a skillful duelist, and men who still drank whiskey who had voluntarily sought the camp. Of some such antecedents was the last speaker. Probably with two wives elsewhere, and a possible homicidal record, he had modestly held aloof from obtrusive argument.
“Well, we must have a meeting and put the question squarely to the boys to-morrow,” said Parks, gazing thoughtfully from the window. The remark was followed by another long silence. Beyond, in the darkness, Buckeye, unconscious of the momentous question awaiting its decision, slept on peacefully.
“I brought the keg of whiskey and brandy from Red Gulch to-day that Doctor Duchesne spoke of,” he resumed presently. “You know he said we ought to have some in common stock that he could always rely upon in emergencies, and for use after the tule fever. I didn’t agree with him, and told him how I had brought Sam Denver through an attack with quinine and arrowroot, but he laughed and wanted to know if we’d ‘resolved’ that everybody should hereafter have the Denver constitution. That’s the trouble with those old army surgeons,–they never can get over the ‘heroics’ of their past. Why he told Parson Jennings that he’d rather treat a man for jim-jams than one that was dying for want of stimulants. However, the liquor is here, and one of the things we must settle tomorrow is the question if it ought not to be issued only on Duchesne’s prescription. When I made that point to him squarely, he grinned again, and wanted to know if I calculated to put the same restriction on the sale of patent medicines and drugs generally.”
“‘N powder ‘n shot,” contributed the indifferent man.
“Perhaps you’d better take a look at the liquor, Saunders,” said Parks, dismissing the ethical question. “YOU know more about it than we do. It ought to be the best.”
Saunders went behind the counter, drew out two demijohns, and, possibly from the force of habit, selected THREE mugs from the crockery and poured some whiskey into each, before he could check himself.
“Perhaps we had better compare tastes,” said Brace blandly. They all sipped their liquor slowly and in silence. The decision was favorable. “Better try some with water to see how it mixes,” said Saunders, lazily filling the glasses with a practiced hand. This required more deliberation, and they drew their chairs to the table and sat down. A slight relaxation stole over the thoughtful faces of Brace and Parks, a gentle perspiration came over the latter’s brow, but the features and expression of Saunders never changed. The conversation took a broader range; politics and philosophy entered into it; literature and poetry were discussed by Parks and Brace, Saunders still retaining the air of a dispassionate observer, ready to be convinced, but abstaining from argument–and occasionally replenishing the glasses. There was felt to be no inconsistency between their present attitude and their previous conversation; rather it proved to them that gentlemen could occasionally indulge in a social glass together without frequenting a liquor saloon. This was stated with some degree of effusion by Parks and assented to with singular enthusiasm by Brace; Saunders nodding. It was also observed with great penetration by Brace that in having really GOOD, specially selected liquor like that, the great danger of the intoshikat’n ‘fx–he corrected himself with great deliberation, “the intoxicating effects”–of adulterated liquors sold in drinking saloons was obviated. Mr. Brace thought also that the vitiated quality of the close air of a crowded saloon had a great deal to do with it–the excess of carbon–hic–he begged their pardon–carbonic acid gas undoubtedly rendered people “slupid and steepy.” “But here, from the open window,” he walked dreamily to it and leaned out admiringly towards the dark landscape that softly slumbered without, “one could drink in only health and poetry.”
“Wot’s that?” said Saunders, looking up.
“I said health and poetry,” returned Brace with some dignity. “I repeat”–
“No. I mean wot’s that noise? Listen.”
They listened so breathlessly that the soft murmur of the river seemed to flow in upon them. But above it quite distinctly came the regular muffled beat of horse-hoofs in the thick dust and the occasional rattle of wheels over rocky irregularities. But still very far and faint, and fading like the noises in a dream. Brace drew a long breath; Parks smiled and softly closed his eyes. But Saunders remained listening.
“That was over OUR road, near the turnpike!” he said musingly. “That’s queer; thar ain’t any of the boys away to-night, and that’s a wagon. It’s some one comin’ here. Hark to that! There it is again.”
It was the same sound but more distinct and nearer, and then was lost again.
“They’re dragging through the river sand that’s just abreast o’ Mallory’s. Stopped there, I reckon. No! pushin’ on again. Hear ’em grinding along the gravel over Hamilton’s trailin’s? Stopped agin–that’s before Somerville’s shanty. What’s gone o’ them now? Maybe they’ve lost the trail and got onto Gray’s slide through the woods. It’s no use lookin’; ye couldn’t see anything in this nigger dark. Hol’ on! If they’re comin’ through the woods, ye’ll hear ’em again jest off here. Yes! by thunder! here they are.”
This time the clatter and horse-hoofs were before them, at the very door. A man’s voice cried, “Whoa!” and there was a sudden bound on the veranda. The door opened; for an instant the entrance appeared to be filled with a mass of dazzling white flounces, and a figure which from waist to crown was impenetrably wrapped and swathed in black lace. Somewhere beneath its folds a soft Spanish, yet somewhat childish voice cried, “Tente. Hol’ on,” turned and vanished. This was succeeded by the apparition of a silent, swarthy Mexican, who dropped a small trunk at their feet and vanished also. Then the white-flounced and black-laced figure reappeared as the departing wagon rattled away, glided to the centre of the room, placed on the trunk a small foot, whose low-quartered black satin slipper seemed to be held only by the toe, threw back with both hands the black lace mantilla, which was pinned by a rose over her little right ear, and with her hands slightly extended and waving softly said, “Mira caballeros! ‘Ere we are again, boys! Viva! Aow ees your mother? Aow ees that for high? Behold me! just from Pike!”
Parks and Brace, who had partly risen, fell back hopelessly in their chairs again and gazed at the figure with a feeble smile of vacuous pain and politeness. At which it advanced, lowered its black eyes mischievously over the table and the men who sat there, poured out a glass of the liquor, and said: “I look towards you, boys! Don’t errise. You are just a leetle weary, eh? A leetle. Oh yes! a leetle tired of crookin’ your elbow–eh? Don’t care if the school keep!–eh? Don’t want any pie! Want to go ‘ome, eh?”
But here Mr. Parks rose with slight difficulty, but unflinching dignity, and leaned impressively over the table, “May I ashk–may I be permitted to arsk, madam, to what we may owe the pleasure of thish–of this–visit?”
Her face and attitude instantly changed. Her arms dropped and caught up the mantilla with a quick but not ungraceful sweep, and in apparently a single movement she was draped, wrapped, and muffled from waist to crown as before. With a slight inclination of her head, she said in quite another voice: “Si, senor. I have arrive here because in your whole great town of Booki there is not so much as one”–she held up a small brown finger–“as much as ONE leetle light or fire like thees; be-cause in this grand pueblo there is not one peoples who have not already sleep in his bed but thees! Bueno! I have arrive all the same like a leetle bird, like the small fly arrive to the light! not to YOU–only to THE LIGHT! I go not to my casa for she is dark, and tonight she have nothing to make the fire or bed. I go not to the ‘otel–there is not ONE”–the brown finger again uplifted–“‘otel in Booki! I make the ‘otel–the Fonda–in my hoose manana–to-morrow! Tonight I and Sanchicha make the bed for us ‘ere. Sanchicha, she stands herself now over in the street. We have mooch sorrow we have to make the caballeros mooch tr-rouble to make disposition of his house. But what will you?”
There was another awkward silence, and then Saunders, who had been examining the intruder with languid criticism, removed his pipe from his mouth and said quietly:–
“That’s the woman you’re looking for–Jovita Mendez!”
The rest of that interview has not been recorded. Suffice it that a few minutes later Parks, Brace, and Saunders left the Emporium, and passed the night in the latter’s cabin, leaving the Emporium in possession of Miss Mendez and her peon servant; that at the earliest dawn the two women and their baggage were transferred to the old adobe house, where, however, a Mexican workman had already arrived, and with a basketful of red tiles was making it habitable. Buckeye, which was popularly supposed to sleep with one eye on the river, and always first repaired there in the morning to wash and work, was only awake to the knowledge of the invasion at noon. The meeting so confidently spoken of the night before had NOT been called. Messrs. Parks and Brace were suffering from headaches–undoubtedly a touch of tule chill. Saunders, at work with his partner in Eagle Bar, was as usual generous with apparently irrelevant facts on all subjects–but that of the strangers. It would seem as if the self-constituted Committee of Safety had done nothing.
And nothing whatever seemed to happen! Thompson of Angels, smoking a meditative pipe at noon on the trail noticed the repairing of the old adobe house, casually spoke of it on his return to his work, without apparent concern or exciting any comment. The two Billinger brothers saw Jovita Mendez at the door of her house an hour later, were themselves seen conversing with her by Jim Barker, but on returning to their claim, neither they nor Barker exhibited any insurrectionary excitement. Later on, Shuttleworth was found in possession of two bundles of freshly rolled corn-husk cigarettes, and promised to get his partner some the next day, but that gentleman anticipated him. By nightfall nearly all Buckeye had passed in procession before the little house without exhibiting any indignation or protest. That night, however, it seemed as if the events for which the Committee was waiting were really impending. The adult female population of Buckeye consisted of seven women–wives of miners. That they would submit tamely to the introduction of a young, pretty, and presumably dangerous member of their own sex was not to be supposed. But whatever protest they made did not pass beyond their conjugal seclusion, and was apparently not supported by their husbands. Two or three of them, under the pretext of sympathy of sex, secured interviews with the fair intruder, the result of which was not, however, generally known. But a few days later Mrs. “Bob” Carpenter–a somewhat brick-dusty blonde–was observed wearing some black netting and a heavily flounced skirt, and Mrs. Shuttleworth in her next visit to Fiddletown wore her Paisley shawl affixed to her chestnut hair by a bunch of dog-roses, and wrapped like a plaid around her waist. The seven ladies of Buckeye, who had never before met, except on domestic errands to each other’s houses or on Sunday attendance at the “First Methodist Church” at Fiddletown, now took to walking together, or in their husbands’ company, along the upper bank of the river–the one boulevard of Buckeye. The third day after Miss Mendez’ arrival they felt the necessity of immediate shopping expeditions to Fiddletown. This operation had hitherto been confined to certain periods, and restricted to the laying in of stores of rough household stuffs; but it now apparently included a wider range and more ostentatious quality. Parks’ Emporium no longer satisfied them, and this unexpected phase of the situation was practically brought home to the proprietor in the necessity of extending the more inoffensive and peaceful part of his stock. And when, towards the end of the week, a cartload of pretty fixtures, mirrors, and furniture arrived at the tienda, there was a renewed demand at the Emporium for articles not in stock, and the consequent diverting of custom to Fiddletown. Buckeye found itself face to face with a hitherto undreamt of and preposterous proposition. It seemed that the advent of the strange woman, without having yet produced any appreciable effect upon the men, had already insidiously inveigled the adult female population into ostentatious extravagance.
At the end of a week the little adobe house was not only rendered habitable, but was even made picturesque by clean white curtains at its barred windows, and some bright, half-Moorish coloring of beams and rafters. Nearly the whole ground floor was given up to the saloon of the tienda, which consisted of a small counter at one side, containing bottles and glasses, and another, flanking it, with glass cases, containing cigars, pipes, and tobacco, while the centre of the room was given up to four or five small restaurant tables. The staff of Jovita was no longer limited to Sanchicha, but had been augmented by a little old man of indefinite antiquity who resembled an Aztec idol, and an equally old Mexican, who looked not unlike a brown-tinted and veined tobacco leaf himself, and might have stood for a sign. But the genius of the place, its omnipresent and all-pervading goddess, was Jovita! Smiling, joyous, indefatigable in suavity and attention; all-embracing in her courtesies; frank of speech and eye; quick at repartee and deftly handling the slang of the day and the locality with a childlike appreciation and an infantine accent that seemed to redeem it from vulgarity or unfeminine boldness! Few could resist the volatile infection of her presence. A smile was the only tribute she exacted, and good-humor the rule laid down for her guests. If it occasionally required some mental agility to respond to her banter, a Californian gathering was, however, seldom lacking in humor. Yet she was always the principal performer to an admiring audience. Perhaps there was security in this multitude of admirers; perhaps there was a saving grace in this humorous trifling. The passions are apt to be serious and solitary, and Jovita evaded them with a jest,–which, if not always delicate or witty, was effective in securing the laughter of the majority and the jealousy of none.
At the end of the week another peculiarity was noticed. There was a perceptible increase of the Mexican population, who had always hitherto avoided Buckeye. On Sunday an Irish priest from El Pasto said mass in a patched-up corner of the old Mission ruin opposite Rollinson’s Ford. A few lounging “Excelsior” boys were equally astonished to see Jovita’s red rose crest and black mantilla glide by, and followed her unvarying smile and jesting salutation up to the shadow of the crumbling portal. At vespers nearly all Buckeye, hitherto virtuously skeptical and good-humoredly secure in Works without Faith, made a point of attending; it was alleged by some to see if Jovita’s glossy Indian-inky eyes would suffer aberration in her devotions. But the rose-crested head was never lifted from the well-worn prayer-book or the brown hands which held a certain poor little cheap rosary like a child’s string of battered copper coins. Buckeye lounged by the wall through the service with respectful tolerance and uneasy shifting legs, and came away. But the apparently simple event did not end there. It was unconsciously charged with a tremendous import to the settlement. For it was discovered the next day by Mrs. “Bob” Carpenter and Nan Shuttleworth that the Methodist Church at Fiddletown was too far away, and Buckeye ought to have a preacher of its own. Seats were fitted up in the loft of Carpenter’s store-house, where the Reverend Henry McCorkle held divine service, and instituted a Bible class. At the end of two weeks it appeared that Jovita’s invasion–which was to bring dissipation and ruin to Buckeye–had indirectly brought two churches! A chilling doubt like a cold mist settled along the river. As the two rival processions passed on the third Sunday, Jo Bateman, who had been in the habit of reclining on that day in his shirtsleeves under a tree, with a novel in his hand, looked gloomily after them. Then knocking the ashes from his pipe, he rose, shook hands with his partners, said apologetically that he had lately got into the habit of RESPECTING THE SABBATH, and was too old to change again, and so shook the red dust of Buckeye from his feet and departed.
As yet there had not been the slightest evidence of disorderly conduct on the part of the fair proprietress of the tienda, nor her customers, nor any drunkenness or riotous disturbance that could be at all attributed to her presence. There was, it is true, considerable hilarity, smoking, and some gambling there until a late hour, but this could not be said to interfere with the rest and comfort of other people. A clue to the mystery of so extraordinary a propriety was given by Jovita herself. One day she walked into Parks’ Emporium and demanded an interview with the proprietor.
“You have made the rules for thees Booki?”
“Yes–that is–I and my friends have.”
“And when one shall not have mind the rule–when one have say, ‘No! damn the rule,’ what shall you make to him? Shall you aprison him?”
Mr. Parks hastened to say with a superior, yet engaging smile that it never had been necessary, as the rules were obligatory upon the honor and consent of all–and were never broken. “Except,” he added, still more engagingly, “she would remember, in her case–with their consent.”
“And your caballeros break not the rules?”
“Then they shall not break the rules of me–at MY TIENDA! Look! I have made the rule that I shall not have a caballero drunk at my house; I have made the rule that I shall not sell him the aguardiente when he have too mooch. I have made the rule that when he gamble too mooch, when he put up too mooch money, I say ‘No!’ I will not that he shall! I make one more rule: that he shall not quarrel nor fight in my house. When he quarrel and fight, I say ‘Go! Vamos! Get out!’”
“And very good rules they are too, Miss Mendez.”
Jovita fixed her shining black eyes on the smiling Parks. “And when he say, ‘No, nevarre, damn the rules!’ When he come drunk, remain drunk, play high and fight, YOU will not poonish him? YOU will not take him out?”
“Well, you see, the fact is, I have not the power.”
“Are you not the Alcalde?”
“No. There is a Justice of the Peace at Fiddletown, but even he could do nothing to enforce your rules. But if anything should happen, you can make a complaint to him.”
“Bueno. You have not the power; I have. I make not the complaint to Fiddletown. I make the complaint to Jose Perez, to Manuel, to Antonio, to Sanchicha–she is a strong one! I say ‘Chook him out.’ They chook him out! they remove him! He does not r-r-remain. Enough. Bueno. Gracias, senor, good-a-by!”
She was gone. For the next four days Parks was in a state of some anxiety–but it appeared unnecessarily so. Whether the interview had become known along the river did not transpire, but there seemed to be no reason for Miss Mendez to enforce her rules. It was said that once, when Thompson of Angels was a little too noisy, he had been quietly conducted by his friends from the tienda without the intervention of Jose. The frequenters of the saloon became its police.
Yet the event–long protracted–came at last! It was a dry, feverish, breezeless afternoon, when the short, echoless explosion of a revolver puffed out on the river, followed by another, delivered so rapidly that they seemed rolled into one. There was no mistaking that significant repetition. ONE shot might have been an accident; TWO meant intention. The men dropped their picks and shovels and ran–ran as they never before ran in Buckeye–ran mechanically, blindly groping at their belts and pockets for the weapons that hung there no longer; ran aimlessly, as to purpose, but following instinctively with hurried breath and quivering nostrils the cruel scent of powder and blood. Ran until, reaching the tienda, the foremost stumbled over the body of Shuttleworth; came upon the half-sitting, half-leaning figure of Saunders against its adobe wall! The doors were barred and closed, and even as the crowd charged furiously forward, a window was sharply shut above, in their very face.
“Stand back, gentlemen! Lift him up. What’s the row? What is it, Saunders? Who did it? Speak, man!”
But Saunders, who was still supporting himself against the wall, only looked at them with a singular and half-apologetic smile, and then leaned forward as if to catch the eye of Shuttleworth, who was recovering consciousness in the uplifted arms of his companions. But neither spoke.
“It’s some d—-d Greaser inside!” said Thompson, with sudden ferocity. “Some of her cursed crew! Break down the doors, boys!”
It was the voice of Shuttleworth, speaking with an effort. He was hard hit, somewhere in the groin; pain and blood were coming with consciousness and movement, and his face was ghastly. Yet there was the same singular smile of embarrassment which Saunders had worn, and a touch of invincible disgust in his voice as he stammered quickly, “Don’t be d—-d fools! It’s no one in THERE. It’s only me and HIM! He’ll tell you that. Won’t you, Saunders?”
“Yes,” said Saunders, leaning anxiously forward, with a brightening face. “D–n it all–can’t you see? It’s only–only us.”
“You and me, that’s all,” repeated Shuttleworth, with a feverish laugh. “Only our d—-d foolishness! Think of it, boys! He gave me the lie, and I drew!”
“Both of us full, you know–reg’lar beasts,” said Saunders, sinking back against the wall. “Kick me, somebody, and finish me off.”
“I don’t see any weapons here,” said Brace gravely, examining the ground.
“They’re inside,” said Shuttleworth with tremulous haste. “We began it in there–just like hogs, you know! Didn’t we, Saunders?” bitterly.
“You bet,” said Saunders faintly. “Reg’lar swine.”
Parks looked graver still, and as he passed a handkerchief around the wounded man’s thigh, said: “But I don’t see where you got your pistols, and how you got out here.”
“Clinched, you know; sorter rolled over out here–and–and–oh, d–n it–don’t talk!”
“He means,” said Shuttleworth still feebly, “that we–we–grabbed ANOTHER MAN’S six-shooter and–and–he that is–and they–he–he and me grabbed each other, and–don’t you see–?” but here, becoming more involved and much weaker, he discreetly fainted away.
And that was all Buckeye ever knew of the affair! For they refused to speak of it again, and Dr. Duchesne gravely forbade any further interrogation. Both men’s revolvers were found undischarged in their holsters, hanging in their respective cabins. The balls which were afterwards extracted from the two men singularly disappeared; Dr. Duchesne asserting with a grim smile that they had swallowed them.*
* It was a frontier superstition that the ball extracted from a gunshot wound, if swallowed by the wounded man, prevented inflammation or any supervening complications.
Nothing could be ascertained of the facts at the tienda, which at that hour of the day appeared to have been empty of customers, and was occupied only by Miss Mendez and her retainers. All surmises as to the real cause of the quarrel and the reason for the reticence of the two belligerents were suddenly and unexpectedly stopped by their departure from Buckeye as soon as their condition permitted, on the alleged opinion of Dr. Duchesne that the air of the river was dangerous to their convalescence. The momentary indignation against the tienda which the two combatants had checked, eventually subsided altogether. After all, the fight had taken place OUTSIDE; it was not even proven that the provocation had been given AT the tienda! Its popularity was undiminished.
It was the end of the rainy season, and a wet night. Brace and Parks were looking from the window over the swollen river, with faces quite as troubled as the stream below. Nor was the prospect any longer the same. In the past two years Buckeye had grown into a city. They could now count a half dozen church spires from the window of the three-storied brick building which had taken the place of the old wooden Emporium, but they could also count the brilliantly lit windows of an equal number of saloons and gambling-houses which glittered through the rain, or, to use the words of a local critic, “Shone seven nights in the week to the Gospel shops’ ONE!” A difficulty had arisen which the two men had never dreamed of, and a struggle had taken place between the two rival powers, which was developing a degree of virulence and intolerance on both sides that boded no good to Buckeye. The disease which its infancy had escaped had attacked its adult growth with greater violence. The new American saloons which competed with Jovita Mendez’ Spanish venture had substituted a brutal masculine sincerity for her veiled feminine methods. There was higher play, deeper drinking, darker passion. Yet the opposition, after the fashion of most reformers, were casting back to the origin of the trouble in Jovita, and were confounding principles and growth. “If it had not been for her the rule would never have been broken.” “If there was to be a cleaning out of the gambling houses, she must go first!”
The sounds of a harp and a violin played in the nearest saloon struggled up to them with the opening and shutting of its swinging baize inner doors. There was boisterous chanting from certain belated revelers in the next street which had no such remission. The brawling of the stream below seemed to be echoed in the uneasy streets; the quiet of the old days had departed with the sedate, encompassing woods that no longer fringed the river bank; the restful calm of Nature had receded before the dusty outskirts of the town.
“It’s mighty unfortunate, too,” said Brace moodily, “that Shuttleworth and Saunders, who haven’t been in the place since their row, have come over from Fiddletown to-day, and are banging around town. They haven’t said anything that I know of, but their PRESENCE is quite enough to revive the old feeling against her shop. The Committee,” he added bitterly, “will be sure to say that not only the first gambling, but the first shooting in Buckeye took place there. If they get up that story again–no matter how quiet SHE has become since–no matter what YOU may say as mayor–it will go hard with her. What’s that now?”
They listened breathlessly. Above the brawling of the river, the twanging of the harp-player, and the receding shouts of the revelers, they could hear the hollow wooden sidewalks resounding with the dull, monotonous trampling of closely following feet. Parks rose with a white face.
“Will you stand by me–and HER?”
“Stand by YOU AND HER? Eh? What? Good God! Parks!–you don’t mean to say you–it’s gone as far as THAT?”
“Will you or won’t you?”
The sound of the trampling had changed to a shuffling on the pavement below, and then footsteps began to ascend the stairs.
Brace held out his hand quickly and grasped that of Parks as the door opened to half a dozen men. They were evidently the ringleaders of the crowd below. There was no hesitation or doubt in their manner; the unswerving directness which always characterized those illegal demonstrations lent it something of dignity. Nevertheless, Carpenter, the spokesman, flushed slightly before Parks’ white, determined face.
“Come, Parks, you know what we’re after,” he said bluntly. “We didn’t come here to parley. We knew YOUR sentiments and what YOU think is your duty. We know what we consider OURS–and so do you. But we’re here to give you a chance, either as mayor, or, if you prefer it, as the oldest citizen here, to take a hand in our business to-night. We’re not ashamed of what we’re going to do, and we’re willing to abide by it; so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t speak aboveboard of it to you. We even invite you to take part in our last ‘call’ tonight at the Hall.”
“Go!” whispered Brace quickly, “YOU’LL GAIN TIME!”
Parks’ face changed, and he turned to Carpenter. “Enough,” he said gravely. “I reserve what I have to say of these proceedings till I join you there.” He stopped, whispered a few words to Brace, and then disappeared as the men descended the stairs, and, joining the crowd on the pavement, proceeded silently towards the Town Hall. There was nothing in the appearance of that decorous procession to indicate its unlawful character or the recklessness with which it was charged.
There were thirty or forty men already seated in the Hall. The meeting was brief and to the point. The gambling saloons were to be “cleaned out” that night, the tables and appliances thrown into the street and burnt, the doors closed, and the gamblers were to be conducted to the outskirts of the town and forbidden to enter it again on pain of death.
“Does this yer refer to Jovita Mendez’ saloon?” asked a voice.
To their surprise the voice was not Parks’ but Shuttleworth’s. It was also a matter to be noted that he stood a little forward of the crowd, and that there was a corresponding movement of a dozen or more men from Fiddletown who apparently were part of the meeting.
The chairman (No. 10) said there was to be no exception, and certainly not for the originator of disorder in Buckeye! He was surprised that the question should be asked by No. 72, who was an old resident of Buckeye, and who, with No. 73, had suffered from the character of that woman’s saloon.
“That’s jest it,” said Shuttleworth, “and ez I reckon that SAUNDERS AND ME did all the disorder there was, and had to turn ourselves out o’ town on account of it, I don’t see jest where SHE could come into this affair. Only,” he turned and looked around him, “in one way! And that way, gentlemen, would be for her to come here and boot one half o’ this kempany out o’ town, and shoot the other half! You hear me!–that’s so!” He stopped, tugged a moment at his cravat and loosened his shirt-collar as if it impeded his utterance, and went on. “I’ve got to say suthin’ to you gentlemen about me and Saunders and this woman; I’ve got to say suthin’ that’s hard for a white man to say, and him a married man, too–I’ve got to say that me and Saunders never had no QU’OLL, never had NO FIGHT at her shop: I’ve got to say that me and Saunders got shot by Jovita Mendez for INSULTIN’ HER–for tryin’ to treat her as if she was the common dirt of the turnpike–and served us right! I’ve got to say that Saunders and me made a bet that for all her airs she wasn’t no better than she might be, and we went there drunk to try her–and that we got left, with two shots into us like hounds as we were! That’s so!–wasn’t it, Saunders?”
“With two shots inter us like hounds ez we were,” repeated Saunders with deliberate precision.
“And I’ve got to say suthin’ more, gen’lemen,” continued Shuttleworth, now entirely removing his coat and vest, and apparently shaking himself free from any extraneous trammels. “I’ve got to say this–I’ve got to say that thar ain’t a man in Buckeye, from Dirty Dick over yon to the mayor of this town, ez hasn’t tried the same thing on and got left–got left, without shootin’ maybe, more’s the pity, but got left all the same! And I’ve got to say,” lifting his voice, “THAT EF THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL DISORDERLINESS IN HER–if that’s what yo’r turnin’ this woman out o’ town for–why”–
He stopped, absolutely breathless and gasping. For there was a momentary shock of surprise and shame, and then he was overborne by peal after peal of inextinguishable laughter. But it was the laughter that precipitated doubt, enlightened justice, cleared confusion, and–saved them!
In vain a few struggled to remind them that the question of the OTHER saloons was still unaffected. It was lost in the motion enthusiastically put and carried that the Committee should instantly accompany Saunders and Shuttleworth to Jovita’s saloon to make an apology in their presence. Five minutes later they halted hilariously before its door. But it was closed, dark, and silent!
Their sudden onset and alarm brought Sanchicha to the half-opened door. “Ah, yes! the Senorita? Bueno! She had just left for Fiddletown with the Senor Parks, the honorable mayor. They had been married only a few moments before by the Reverend Mr. McCorkle!”