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- Openings in the Old Trail - 20/35 -
"That's just it--that's why it's mean and low. I don't care if he is our uncle."
Jackson was bewildered and shocked.
"I know it's horrid to say it," she said, with a white face; "but it's horrider to keep it in! Oh, Jack! when we were little, and used to fight and quarrel, I never was mean--was I? I never was underhanded--was I? I never lied--did I? And I can't lie now. Jack," she looked hurriedly around her, "HE wants to get hold of the land--HE thinks there's gold in the slope and bank by the stream. He says dad was a fool to have located his claim so high up. Jack! did you ever prospect the bank?"
A dawning of intelligence came upon Jackson. "No," he said; "but," he added bitterly, "what's the use? He owns the water now,--I couldn't work it."
"But, Jack, IF you found the color, this would be a MINING claim! You could claim the water right; and, as it's your land, your claim would be first!"
Jackson was startled. "Yes, IF I found the color."
"You WOULD find it."
"Yes! I DID--on the sly! Yesterday morning on your slope by the stream, when no one was up! I washed a panful and got that." She took a piece of tissue paper from her pocket, opened it, and shook into her little palm three tiny pin points of gold.
"And that was your own idea, Jossy?"
"Your very own?"
"Wish you may die?"
"True, O King!"
He opened his arms, and they mutually embraced. Then they separated, taking hold of each other's hands solemnly, and falling back until they were at arm's length. Then they slowly extended their arms sideways at full length, until this action naturally brought their faces and lips together. They did this with the utmost gravity three times, and then embraced again, rocking on pivoted feet like a metronome. Alas! it was no momentary inspiration. The most casual and indifferent observer could see that it was the result of long previous practice and shameless experience. And as such--it was a revelation and an explanation.
. . . . . .
"I always suspected that Jackson was playin' us about that red- haired cousin," said Rice two weeks later; "but I can't swallow that purp stuff about her puttin' him up to that dodge about a new gold discovery on a fresh claim, just to knock out Brown. No, sir. He found that gold in openin' these irrigatin' trenches,--the usual nigger luck, findin' what you're not lookin' arter."
"Well, we can't complain, for he's offered to work it on shares with us," said Briggs.
"Yes--until he's ready to take in another partner."
"Not--Brown?" said his horrified companions.
"No!--but Brown's adopted daughter--that red-haired cousin!"
THE REINCARNATION OF SMITH
The extravagant supper party by which Mr. James Farendell celebrated the last day of his bachelorhood was protracted so far into the night, that the last guest who parted from him at the door of the principal Sacramento restaurant was for a moment impressed with the belief that a certain ruddy glow in the sky was already the dawn. But Mr. Farendell had kept his head clear enough to recognize it as the light of some burning building in a remote business district, a not infrequent occurrence in the dry season. When he had dismissed his guest he turned away in that direction for further information. His own counting-house was not in that immediate neighborhood, but Sacramento had been once before visited by a rapid and far-sweeping conflagration, and it behooved him to be on the alert even on this night of festivity.
Perhaps also a certain anxiety arose out of the occasion. He was to be married to-morrow to the widow of his late partner, and the marriage, besides being an attractive one, would settle many business difficulties. He had been a fortunate man, but, like many more fortunate men, was not blind to the possibilities of a change of luck. The death of his partner in a successful business had at first seemed to betoken that change, but his successful, though hasty, courtship of the inexperienced widow had restored his chances without greatly shocking the decorum of a pioneer community. Nevertheless, he was not a contented man, and hardly a determined-- although an energetic one.
A walk of a few moments brought him to the levee of the river,--a favored district, where his counting-house, with many others, was conveniently situated. In these early days only a few of these buildings could be said to be permanent,--fire and flood perpetually threatened them. They were merely temporary structures of wood, or in the case of Mr. Farendell's office, a shell of corrugated iron, sheathing a one-storied wooden frame, more or less elaborate in its interior decorations. By the time he had reached it, the distant fire had increased. On his way he had met and recognized many of his business acquaintances hurrying thither,--some to save their own property, or to assist the imperfectly equipped volunteer fire department in their unselfish labors. It was probably Mr. Farendell's peculiar preoccupation on that particular night which had prevented his joining in their brotherly zeal.
He unlocked the iron door, and lit the hanging lamp that was used in all-night sittings on steamer days. It revealed a smartly furnished office, with a high desk for his clerks, and a smaller one for himself in one corner. In the centre of the wall stood a large safe. This he also unlocked and took out a few important books, as well as a small drawer containing gold coin and dust to the amount of about five hundred dollars, the large balance having been deposited in bank on the previous day. The act was only precautionary, as he did not exhibit any haste in removing them to a place of safety, and remained meditatively absorbed in looking over a packet of papers taken from the same drawer. The closely shuttered building, almost hermetically sealed against light, and perhaps sound, prevented his observing the steadily increasing light of the conflagration, or hearing the nearer tumult of the firemen, and the invasion of his quiet district by other equally solicitous tenants. The papers seemed also to possess some importance, for, the stillness being suddenly broken by the turning of the handle of the heavy door he had just closed, and its opening with difficulty, his first act was to hurriedly conceal them, without apparently paying a thought to the exposed gold before him. And his expression and attitude in facing round towards the door was quite as much of nervous secretiveness as of indignation at the interruption.
Yet the intruder appeared, though singular, by no means formidable. He was a man slightly past the middle age, with a thin face, hollowed at the cheeks and temples as if by illness or asceticism, and a grayish beard that encircled his throat like a soiled worsted "comforter" below his clean-shaven chin and mouth. His manner was slow and methodical, and even when he shot the bolt of the door behind him, the act did not seem aggressive. Nevertheless Mr. Farendell half rose with his hand on his pistol-pocket, but the stranger merely lifted his own hand with a gesture of indifferent warning, and, drawing a chair towards him, dropped into it deliberately.
Mr. Farendell's angry stare changed suddenly to one of surprised recognition. "Josh Scranton," he said hesitatingly.
"I reckon," responded the stranger slowly. "That's the name I allus bore, and YOU called yourself Farendell. Well, we ain't seen each other sens the spring o' '50, when ye left me lying nigh petered out with chills and fever on the Stanislaus River, and sold the claim that me and Duffy worked under our very feet, and skedaddled for 'Frisco!"
"I only exercised my right as principal owner, and to secure my advances," began the late Mr. Farendell sharply.
But again the thin hand was raised, this time with a slow, scornful waiving of any explanations. "It ain't that in partickler that I've kem to see ye for to-night," said the stranger slowly, "nor it ain't about your takin' the name o' 'Farendell,' that friend o' yours who died on the passage here with ye, and whose papers ye borrowed! Nor it ain't on account o' that wife of yours ye left behind in Missouri, and whose letters you never answered. It's them things all together--and suthin' else!"
"What the d---l do you want, then?" said Farendell, with a desperate directness that was, however, a tacit confession of the truth of these accusations.
"Yer allowin' that ye'll get married tomorrow?" said Scranton slowly.
"Yes, and be d----d to you," said Farendell fiercely.
"Yer NOT," returned Scranton. "Not if I knows it. Yer goin' to climb down. Yer goin' to get up and get! Yer goin' to step down and out! Yer goin' to shut up your desk and your books and this hull consarn inside of an hour, and vamose the ranch. Arter an hour from now thar won't be any Mr. Farendell, and no weddin' to-morrow."
"If that's your game--perhaps you'd like to murder me at once?" said Farendell with a shifting eye, as his hand again moved towards his revolver.
But again the thin hand of the stranger was also lifted. "We ain't in the business o' murderin' or bein' murdered, or we might hev kem
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