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- Mrs. Skaggs's Husbands - 6/23 -
still wore his evening dress.
"Turned," continued Yuba Bill, severely,--"turned into a restyourant waiter,--a garsong! Eh, Alfonse, bring me a patty de foy grass and an omelette, demme!"
"Dear old chap!" said Islington, laughing, and trying to put his hand over Bill's bearded mouth, "but you--YOU don't look exactly like yourself! You're not well, Bill." And indeed, as he turned toward the light, Bill's eyes appeared cavernous, and his hair and beard thickly streaked with gray.
"Maybe it's this yer harness," said Bill, a little anxiously. "When I hitches on this yer curb" (he indicated a massive gold watch-chain with enormous links), "and mounts this 'morning star,'" (he pointed to a very large solitaire pin which had the appearance of blistering his whole shirt-front), "it kinder weighs heavy on me, Tommy. Otherwise I'm all right, my boy,--all right." But he evaded Islington's keen eye, and turned from the light.
"You have something to tell me, Bill," said Islington, suddenly, and with almost brusque directness; "out with it."
Bill did not speak, but moved uneasily toward his hat,
"You didn't come three thousand miles, without a word of warning, to talk to me of old times," said Islington, more kindly, "glad as I would have been to see you. It isn't your way, Bill, and you know it. We shall not be disturbed here," he added, in reply to an inquiring glance that Bill directed to the door, "and I am ready to hear you."
"Firstly, then," said Bill, drawing his chair nearer Islington, "answer me one question, Tommy, fair and square, and up and down."
"Go on," said Islington, with a slight smile.
"Ef I should say to you, Tommy,--say to you to-day, right here, you must come with me,--you must leave this place for a month, a year, two years maybe, perhaps forever,--is there anything that 'ud keep you,--anything, my boy, ez you couldn't leave?"
"No," said Tommy, quietly; "I am only visiting here. I thought of leaving Greyport to-day."
"But if I should say to you, Tommy, come with me on a pasear to Chiny, to Japan, to South Ameriky, p'r'aps, could you go?"
"Yes," said Islington, after a slight pause.
"Thar isn't ennything," said Bill, drawing a little closer, and lowering his voice confidentially,--"ennything in the way of a young woman--you understand, Tommy--ez would keep you? They're mighty sweet about here; and whether a man is young or old, Tommy, there's always some woman as is brake or whip to him!"
In a certain excited bitterness that characterized the delivery of this abstract truth, Bill did not see that the young man's face flushed slightly as he answered "No."
"Then listen. It's seven years ago, Tommy, thet I was working one o' the Pioneer coaches over from Gold Hill. Ez I stood in front o' the stage-office, the sheriff o' the county comes to me, and he sez, 'Bill,' sez he, 'I've got a looney chap, as I'm in charge of, taking 'im down to the 'sylum in Stockton. He'z quiet and peaceable, but the insides don't like to ride with him. Hev you enny objection to give him a lift on the box beside you?' I sez, 'No; put him up.' When I came to go and get up on that box beside him, that man, Tommy,--that man sittin' there, quiet and peaceable, was--Johnson!
"He didn't know me, my boy," Yuba Bill continued, rising and putting his hands on Tommy's shoulders,--"he didn't know me. He didn't know nothing about you, nor Angel's, nor the quicksilver lode, nor even his own name. He said his name was Skaggs, but I knowd it was Johnson. Thar was times, Tommy, you might have knocked me off that box with a feather; thar was times when if the twenty-seven passengers o' that stage hed found theirselves swimming in the American River five hundred feet below the road, I never could have explained it satisfactorily to the company,-- never.
"The sheriff said," Bill continued hastily, as if to preclude any interruption from the young man,--"the sheriff said he had been brought into Murphy's Camp three years before, dripping with water, and sufferin' from perkussion of the brain, and had been cared for generally by the boys 'round. When I told the sheriff I knowed 'im, I got him to leave him in my care; and I took him to 'Frisco, Tommy, to 'Frisco, and I put him in charge o' the best doctors there, and paid his board myself. There was nothin' he didn't have ez he wanted. Don't look that way, my dear boy, for God's sake, don't!"
"O Bill," said Islington, rising and staggering to the window, "why did you keep this from me?"
"Why?" said Bill, turning on him savagely,--"why? because I warn't a fool. Thar was you, winnin' your way in college; thar was YOU, risin' in the world, and of some account to it; yer was an old bummer, ez good ez dead to it,--a man ez oughter been dead afore! a man ez never denied it! But you allus liked him better nor me," said Bill, bitterly.
"Forgive me, Bill," said the young man, seizing both his hands. "I know you did it for the best; but go on."
"Thar ain't much more to tell, nor much use to tell it, as I can see," said Bill, moodily. "He never could be cured, the doctors said, for he had what they called monomania,--was always talking about his wife and darter that somebody had stole away years ago, and plannin' revenge on that somebody. And six months ago he was missed. I tracked him to Carson, to Salt Lake City, to Omaha, to Chicago, to New York,--and here!"
"Here!" echoed Islington.
"Here! And that's what brings me here to-day. Whethers he's crazy or well, whethers he's huntin' you or lookin' up that other man, you must get away from here. You mustn't see him. You and me, Tommy, will go away on a cruise. In three or four years he'll be dead or missing, and then we'll come back. Come." And he rose to his feet.
"Bill," said Islington, rising also, and taking the hand of his friend, with the same quiet obstinacy that in the old days had endeared him to Bill, "wherever he is, here or elsewhere, sane or crazy, I shall seek and find him. Every dollar that I have shall be his, every dollar that I have spent shall be returned to him. I am young yet, thank God, and can work; and if there is a way out of this miserable business, I shall find it."
"I knew," said Bill, with a surliness that ill concealed his evident admiration of the calm figure before him--"I knew the partikler style of d--n fool that you was, and expected no better. Good by, then-- God Almighty! who's that?"
He was on his way to the open French window, but had started back, his face quite white and bloodless, and his eyes staring. Islington ran to the window, and looked out. A white skirt vanished around the corner of the veranda. When he returned, Bill had dropped into a chair.
"It must have been Miss Masterman, I think; but what's the matter?"
"Nothing," said Bill, faintly; "have you got any whiskey handy?"
Islington brought a decanter, and, pouring out some spirits, handed the glass to Bill. Bill drained it, and then said, "Who is Miss Masterman?"
"Mr. Masterman's daughter; that is, an adopted daughter, I believe."
"I really don't know," said Islington, pettishly, more vexed than he cared to own at this questioning.
Yuba Bill rose and walked to the window, closed it, walked back again to the door, glanced at Islington, hesitated, and then returned to his chair.
"I didn't tell you I was married.,--did I?" he said suddenly, looking up in Islington's face with an unsuccessful attempt at a reckless laugh.
"No," said Islington, more pained at the manner than the words.
"Fact," said Yuba Bill. "Three years ago it was, Tommy,--three years ago!"
He looked so hard at Islington, that, feeling he was expected to say something, he asked vaguely, "Who did you marry?"
"Thet's it!" said Yuba Bill; "I can't ezactly say; partikly, though, a she devil! generally, the wife of half a dozen other men."
Accustomed, apparently, to have his conjugal infelicities a theme of mirth among men, and seeing no trace of amusement on Islington's grave face, his dogged, reckless manner softened, and, drawing his chair closer to Islington, he went on: "It all began outer this: we was coming down Watson's grade one night pretty free, when the expressman turns to me and sez, 'There's a row inside, and you'd better pull up!' I pulls up, and out hops, first a woman, and then two or three chaps swearing and cursin', and tryin' to drag some one arter them. Then it 'pear'd, Tommy, thet it was this woman's drunken husband they was going to put out for abusin' her, and strikin' her in the coach; and if it hadn't been for me, my boy, they'd hev left that chap thar in the road. But I fixes matters up by putting her alongside o' me on the box, and we drove on. She was very white, Tommy,--for the matter o' that, she was always one o' these very white women, that never got red in the face,--but she never cried a whimper. Most wimin would have cried. It was queer, but she never cried. I thought so at the time.
"She was very tall, with a lot o' light hair meandering down the back of her head, as long as a deer-skin whip-lash, and about the color. She hed eyes thet'd bore you through at fifty yards, and pooty hands and feet. And when she kinder got out o' that stiff, narvous state she was in, and warmed up a little, and got chipper,
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