Abbildungen der Seite

Indeed most methods of diversion had long since been exhausted on Simpson's Bar; high water had suspended the regular occupations on gulch and on river, and a consequent lack of money and whisky had taken the zest from most illegitimate recreation.

Even Mr. Hamlin was fain to leave the Bar with fifty dollars in his pocket-the only amount actually realised of the large sums won by him in the successful exercise of his arduous profession.

“Ef I was asked,” he remarked somewhat later—"ef I was asked to pint out a purty little village where a retired sport as didn't care for money could exercise hisself frequent and lively, I'd say Simpson's Bar; but for a young man with a large family depending on his exertions, it don't pay.”

As Mr. Hamlin's family consisted mainly of female adults, this remark is quoted rather to show the breadth of his humour than the exact extent of his responsibilities.

Howbeit, the unconscious objects of this satire sat that evening in the listless apathy begotten of idleness and lack of excitement.

Even the sudden splashing of hoofs before the door did not arouse them.

Dick Bullen alone paused in the act of scraping out his pipe, and lifted his head ; but no other one of the group indicated any interest in, or recognition of, the man who entered.

It was a figure familiar enough to the company, and known in Simpson's Bar as “ The Old Man."

A man of perhaps fifty years, grizzled and scant of hair, but still fresh and youthful of complexion. A face full of ready, but not very powerful sympathy, with a chameleonlike aptitude for taking on the shade and colour of contiguous moods and feelings.

He had evidently just left some hilarious companions, and did not at first notice the gravity of the group, but clapped the shoulder of the nearest man jocularly, and threw himself into a vacant chair.

" Jest heard the best thing out, boys! Ye know Smiley, over yar— Jim Smiley-funniest man in the Bar? Well, Jim was jest telling the richest yarn about—"

“Smiley's a fool,” interrupted a gloomy voice.

“A particular skunk,” added another, in sepulchral accents.

A silence followed these positive statements.

The Old Man glanced quickly around the group. Then his face slowly changed.

"That's so," he said reflectively, after a pause; "certainly a sort of a skunk and suthin' of a fool. In course.”

He was silent for a moment, as in painful contemplation of the unsavouriness and folly of the unpopular Smiley.

“ Dismal weather, ain't it ?” he added, now fully embarked on the current of prevailing sentiment.

“Mighty rough papers on the boys, and no show for money this

And to-morrow's Christmas." There was a movement among the men at this announcement, but whether of satisfaction or disgust was not plain.

“ Yes,” continued the Old Man in the lugubrious tone he had within the last few moments unconsciously adopted“yes, Christmas, and to-night's Christmas-eve. Ye see, boys, I kinder thought—that is, I sorter had an idee, jest passin like you know—that may be ye'd all like to come over to my house to-night and have a sort of tear round. But I suppose, now, you wouldn't? Don't feel like it, may be ?” he added, with anxious sympathy, peering into the faces of his companions.

Well, I don't know,” responded Tom Flynn, with some cheerfulness. “Pr’aps we may.

But how about your wife, Old Man? What does she say to it?”

The Old Man hesitated.


His conjugal experience had not been a happy one, and the fact was known to Simpson's Bar.

His first wife, a delicate, pretty little woman, had suffered keenly and secretly from the jealous suspicions of her husband, until one day he invited the whole Bar to his house to expose her infidelity.

On arriving, the party found the shy, petite creature quietly engaged in her household duties, and retired abashed and discomfited.

But the sensitive woman did not easily recover from the shock of this extraordinary outrage.

It was with difficulty she regained her equanimity sufficiently to release her lover from the closet in which he was concealed, and escape with him.

She left a boy of three years to comfort her bereaved husband.

The Old Man's present wife had been his cook. She was large, loyal, and aggressive.

Before he could reply, Joe Dimmick suggested with great directness that it was the “Old Man's house,” and that, invoking the Divine Power, if the case were his own, he would invite who he pleased, even if in so doing he imperilled his salvation. The Powers of Evil, he further remarked, should contend against him vainly.

All this delivered with a terseness and vigour lost in this necessary translation. " In course.

Certainly. Thet's it,” said the Old Man with a sympathetic frown, “ Thar's no trouble about thet. It's my own house, built every stick on it myself. Don't you be afeared o' her, boys. She may cut up a trifle rough -ez wimmin do—but she'll come round.”

Secretly the Old Man trusted to the exultation of liquor and the power of a courageous example to sustain him in such an emergency.

As yet, Dick Bullen, the oracle and leader of Simpson's Bar, had not spoken. He now took his pipe from his lips.

“Old Man, how's that yer Johnny gettin' on? Seems to me he didn't look so peart the last time I seed him on the bluff heavin' rocks at Chinamen. Didn't seem to take much interest in it. Thar was a gang of 'em by yar yesterday-drownded out up the river—and I kinder thought o' Johnny, and how he'd miss 'em! May be now, we'd be in the way ef he was sick ?”

The father, evidently touched not only by this pathetic picture of Johnny's deprivation, but by the considerate delicacy of the speaker, hastened to assure him that Johnny was better, and that a "little fun might 'liven him up."

Whereupon Dick arose, shook himself, and saying, “ I'm ready. Lead the way, Old Man : here goes,” himself led the way with a leap, a characteristic howl, and darted out into the night.

As he passed through the outer room he caught up a blazing brand from the hearth.

The action was repeated by the rest of the party, closely following and elbowing each other, and before the astonished proprietor of Thompson's grocery was aware of the intention of his guests, the room was deserted.

The night was pitchy dark. In the first gust of wind their temporary torches were extinguished, and only the red brands dancing and flitting in the gloom like drunken willo'-the-wisps indicated their whereabouts. Their


up Pine Tree Cañon, at the head of which a broad, low bark-thatched cabin burrowed in the mountainside.

It was the home of the Old Man, and the entrance to the tunnel in which he worked, when he worked at all.

Here the crowd paused for a moment, out of delicate deference to their host, who came up panting in the rear.

“ Pr’aps ye'd better hold on a second out yer, whilst I go


in and see thet things is all right,” said the Old Man, with an indifference he was far from feeling.

The suggestion was graciously accepted, the door opened and closed on the host, and the crowd, leaning their backs against the wall, and cowering under the eaves, waited and listened.

For a few moments there was no sound but the dripping of water from the eaves, and the stir and rustle of wrestling boughs above them.

Then the men became uneasy, and whispered suggestion and suspicion passed from the one to the other.

" Reckon she's caved in his head the first lick !

“Decoyed him inter the tunnel, and barred him up, likely."

“Got him down, and sittin' on him.”

“Probʼly biling suthing to heave on us; stand clear the door, boys ! ”

For just then the latch clicked, the door slowly opened, and a voice said

" Come in out o' the wet."

The voice was neither that of the Old Man nor of his wife. It was the voice of a small boy, its weak treble broken by that preternatural hoarseness which only vagabondage and the habit of premature self-assertion can give.

It was the face of a small boy that looked up at theirs-a face that might have been pretty and even refined, but that it was darkened by evil knowledge from within, and dirt and hard experience from without.

He had a blanket around his shoulders, and had evidently just risen from his bed.

“Come in,” he repeated, “and don't make no noise. The Old Man's in there talking to mar," he continued, pointing to an adjacent room which seemed to be a kitchen, from which the Old Man's voice came in deprecating accents.

« ZurückWeiter »