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- Tales of the Argonauts - 4/34 -
the Wedding, Ye Lasses and Maidens," of which he knew a single line, and that incorrectly, as being peculiarly apt and appropriate. Yet away from the house and his daughter's presence, he was silent and distraught. His absence of mind was particularly noted by his workmen at the Empire Quartz Mill. "Ef the old man don't look out and wake up," said his foreman, "he'll hev them feet of his yet under the stamps. When he ain't givin' his mind to 'em, they is altogether too promiskuss."
A few nights later, Miss Jenny recognized her father's hand in a timid tap at the door. She opened it, and he stood before her, with a valise in his hand, equipped as for a journey. "I takes the stage to-night, Jinny dear, from Four Forks to 'Frisco. Maybe I may drop in on Jack afore I go. I'll be back in a week. Good-by."
"Good-by." He still held her hand. Presently he drew her back into the room, closing the door carefully, and glancing around. There was a look of profound cunning in his eye as he said slowly,--
"Bear up, and keep dark, Jinny dear, and trust to the old man. Various men has various ways. Thar is ways as is common, and ways as is uncommon; ways as is easy, and ways as is oneasy. Bear up, and keep dark." With this Delphic utterance he put his finger to his lips, and vanished.
It was ten o'clock when he reached Four Forks. A few minutes later, he stood on the threshold of that dwelling described by the Four Forks "Sentinel" as "the palatial residence of John Ashe," and known to the local satirist as the "ash-box." "Hevin' to lay by two hours, John," he said to his prospective son-in-law, as he took his hand at the door, "a few words of social converse, not on business, but strictly private, seems to be about as nat'ral a thing as a man can do." This introduction, evidently the result of some study, and plainly committed to memory, seemed so satisfactory to Mr. McClosky, that he repeated it again, after John Ashe had led him into his private office, where, depositing his valise in the middle of the floor, and sitting down before it, he began carefully to avoid the eye of his host. John Ashe, a tall, dark, handsome Kentuckian, with whom even the trifles of life were evidently full of serious import, waited with a kind of chivalrous respect the further speech of his guest. Being utterly devoid of any sense of the ridiculous, he always accepted Mr. McClosky as a grave fact, singular only from his own want of experience of the class.
"Ores is running light now," said Mr. McClosky with easy indifference.
John Ashe returned that he had noticed the same fact in the receipts of the mill at Four Forks.
Mr. McClosky rubbed his beard, and looked at his valise, as if for sympathy and suggestion.
"You don't reckon on having any trouble with any of them chaps as you cut out with Jinny?"
John Ashe, rather haughtily, had never thought of that. "I saw Rance hanging round your house the other night, when I took your daughter home; but he gave me a wide berth," he added carelessly.
"Surely," said Mr. McClosky, with a peculiar winking of the eye. After a pause, he took a fresh departure from his valise.
"A few words, John, ez between man and man, ez between my daughter's father and her husband who expects to be, is about the thing, I take it, as is fair and square. I kem here to say them. They're about Jinny, my gal."
Ashe's grave face brightened, to Mr. McClosky's evident discomposure.
"Maybe I should have said about her mother; but, the same bein' a stranger to you, I says naterally, 'Jinny.'"
Ashe nodded courteously. Mr. McClosky, with his eyes on his valise, went on,--
"It is sixteen year ago as I married Mrs. McClosky in the State of Missouri. She let on, at the time, to be a widder,--a widder with one child. When I say let on, I mean to imply that I subsekently found out that she was not a widder, nor a wife; and the father of the child was, so to speak, onbeknowst. Thet child was Jinny--my gal."
With his eyes on his valise, and quietly ignoring the wholly- crimsoned face and swiftly-darkening brow of his host, he continued,--
"Many little things sorter tended to make our home in Missouri onpleasant. A disposition to smash furniture, and heave knives around; an inclination to howl when drunk, and that frequent; a habitooal use of vulgar language, and a tendency to cuss the casooal visitor,--seemed to pint," added Mr. McClosky with submissive hesitation "that--she--was--so to speak--quite onsuited to the marriage relation in its holiest aspeck."
"Damnation! Why didn't"--burst out John Ashe, erect and furious.
"At the end of two year," continued Mr. McClosky, still intent on the valise, "I allowed I'd get a diworce. Et about thet time, however, Providence sends a circus into thet town, and a feller ez rode three horses to onct. Hevin' allez a taste for athletic sports, she left town with this feller, leavin' me and Jinny behind. I sent word to her, thet, if she would give Jinny to me, we'd call it quits. And she did."
"Tell me," gasped Ashe, "did you ask your daughter to keep this from me? or did she do it of her own accord?"
"She doesn't know it," said Mr. McClosky. "She thinks I'm her father, and that her mother's dead."
"Then, sir, this is your"--
"I don't know," said Mr. McClosky slowly, "ez I've asked any one to marry my Jinny. I don't know ez I've persood that ez a biziness, or even taken it up as a healthful recreation."
John Ashe paced the room furiously. Mr. McClosky's eyes left the valise, and followed him curiously. "Where is this woman?" demanded Ashe suddenly. McClosky's eyes sought the valise again.
"She went to Kansas; from Kansas she went into Texas; from Texas she eventooally came to Californy. Being here, I've purvided her with money, when her business was slack, through a friend."
John Ashe groaned. "She's gettin' rather old and shaky for hosses, and now does the tight-rope business and flying trapeze. Never hevin' seen her perform," continued Mr. McClosky with conscientious caution, "I can't say how she gets on. On the bills she looks well. Thar is a poster," said Mr. McClosky glancing at Ashe, and opening his valise,--"thar is a poster givin' her performance at Marysville next month." Mr. McClosky slowly unfolded a large yellow-and-blue printed poster, profusely illustrated. "She calls herself 'Mams'elle J. Miglawski, the great Russian Trapeziste.'"
John Ashe tore it from his hand. "Of course," he said, suddenly facing Mr. McClosky, "you don't expect me to go on with this?"
Mr. McClosky took up the poster, carefully refolded it, and returned it to his valise. "When you break off with Jinny," he said quietly, "I don't want any thing said 'bout this. She doesn't know it. She's a woman, and I reckon you're a white man."
"But what am I to say? How am I to go back of my word?"
"Write her a note. Say something hez come to your knowledge (don't say what) that makes you break it off. You needn't be afeard Jinny'll ever ask you what."
John Ashe hesitated. He felt he had been cruelly wronged. No gentleman, no Ashe, could go on further in this affair. It was preposterous to think of it. But somehow he felt at the moment very unlike a gentleman, or an Ashe, and was quite sure he should break down under Jenny's steady eyes. But then--he could write to her.
"So ores is about as light here as on the Ridge. Well, I reckon they'll come up before the rains. Good-night." Mr. McClosky took the hand that his host mechanically extended, shook it gravely, and was gone.
When Mr. McClosky, a week later, stepped again upon his own veranda, he saw through the French window the figure of a man in his parlor. Under his hospitable roof, the sight was not unusual; but, for an instant, a subtle sense of disappointment thrilled him. When he saw it was not the face of Ashe turned toward him, he was relieved; but when he saw the tawny beard, and quick, passionate eyes of Henry Rance, he felt a new sense of apprehension, so that he fell to rubbing his beard almost upon his very threshold.
Jenny ran into the hall, and seized her father with a little cry of joy. "Father," said Jenny in a hurried whisper, "don't mind HIM," indicating Rance with a toss of her yellow braids: "he's going soon. And I think, father, I've done him wrong. But it's all over with John and me now. Read that note, and see how he's insulted me." Her lip quivered; but she went on, "It's Ridgeway that he means, father; and I believe it was HIS hand struck Ridgeway down, or that he knows who did. But hush now! not a word."
She gave him a feverish kiss, and glided back into the parlor, leaving Mr. McClosky, perplexed and irresolute, with the note in his hand. He glanced at it hurriedly, and saw that it was couched in almost the very words he had suggested. But a sudden, apprehensive recollection came over him. He listened; and, with an exclamation of dismay, he seized his hat, and ran out of the house, but too late. At the same moment a quick, nervous footstep was heard upon the veranda; the French window flew open, and, with a light laugh of greeting, Ridgeway stepped into the room.
Jenny's finer ear first caught the step. Jenny's swifter feelings had sounded the depths of hope, of joy, of despair, before he entered the room. Jenny's pale face was the only one that met his, self-possessed and self-reliant, when he stood before them. An angry flush suffused even the pink roots of Rance's beard as he rose to his feet. An ominous fire sprang into Ridgeway's eyes, and a spasm of hate and scorn passed over the lower part of his face, and left the mouth and jaw immobile and rigid.
Yet he was the first to speak. "I owe you an apology," he said to
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