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I see it in your eyes, Miss Mary! — you will take my boy!”
The last red beam crept higher, suffused Miss Mary's eyes with something of its glory, flickered, and faded, and went out. The sun had set on Red Gulch. In the twilight and silence Miss Mary's voice sounded pleasantly.
"I will take the boy. Send him to me to-night.”
The happy mother raised the hem of Miss Mary's skirts to her lips. She would have buried her hot face in its virgin folds, but she dared not. She rose to her feet.
“Does — this man — know of your intention?” asked Miss Mary suddenly.
“No, nor cares. He has never even seen the child to know it.”
“Go to him at once, — to-night, - now! Tell him what you have done. Tell him I have taken his child, and tell him — he must never see — see — the child again. Wherever it may be, he must not come; wherever I may take it, he must not follow! There, go now, please, — I'm weary, and — have much yet to do!”
They walked together to the door. On the threshold the woman turned.
She would have fallen at Miss Mary's sfeet. But at the same moment the young
girl reached out her arms, caught the sinful woman to her own pure breast for one brief moment, and then closed and locked the door.
It was with a sudden sense of great responsibility that Profane Bill took the reins of the Slumgullion Stage the next morning, for the schoolmistress was one of his passengers. As he entered the highroad, in obedience to a pleasant voice from the “ inside,” he suddenly reined up his horses and respectfully waited, as “ Tommy” hopped out at the command of Miss Mary.
“Not that bush, Tommy, — the next.”
Tommy whipped out his new pocket-knife, and, cutting a branch from a tall azalea bush, returned with it to Miss Mary.
“ All right now?”
And the stage-door closed on the Idyl of Red Gulch.
HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO
It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork had overflowed its banks, and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson's Crossing were obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foot-hills. The upstage was stopped at Granger's; the last mail had been abandoned in the tules, the rider swimming for his life. “An area,” remarked the Sierra Avalanche, with pensive local pride, “as large as the State of Massachusetts is now under water.”
Nor was the weather any better in the foot-hills. The mud lay deep on the mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral objurgation could move from the evil ways into which they had fallen encumbered the track, and the way to Simpson's Bar was indicated by broken-down teams and hard swearing. And farther on, cut off and inaccessible, rained upon and bedraggled, smitten by high winds and threatened by high water, Simpson's Bar, on the eve of Christmas Day, 1862, clung like a swallow's nest to the rocky entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain, and shook in the blast.
As night shut down on the settlement, a few lights gleamed through the mist from the windows of cabins on either side of the highway, now crossed and gullied by lawless streams and swept by marauding winds. Happily most of the population were gathered at Thompson's store, clustered around a red-hot stove, at which they silently spat in some accepted sense of social communion that perhaps rendered conversation unnecessary. 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 whiskey 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 realized 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 did n'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 humor 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 chameleon-like aptitude for