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BY BRET HARTE.
THE FOOT-PRINTS GROW FAINTER.
It was Philip Ashley! Philip Ashley faded, travel-worn, hollow-eyed, but nervously energetic and eager. Philip, who four days before had left Grace the guest of a hospitable trapper's half-breed family, in the California Valley. Philip-gloomy, discontented, hateful of the quest he had undertaken, but still fulfilling his promise to Grace, and the savage dictates of his own conscience. It was Philip Ashley, who now, standing beside the hut, turned half cynically, half indifferently, toward the party.
The surgeon was first to discover him. He darted forward with a cry of recognition, "Poinsett! Arthur!-what are you doing here ?"
Ashley's face flushed crimson at the sight of the stranger. "Hush," he said, almost involuntarily. He glanced rapidly around the group and then in some embarrassment replied with awkward literalness, "I left my horse with the others at the entrance of the cañon!"
"I see," said the surgeon briskly, "you have come with relief like ourselves; but you are too late! too late!"
"Too late?" echoed Ashley.
"Yes, they are all dead or gone!" A singular expression crossed Ashley's face. It was unnoticed by the surgeon, who was whispering to Blunt. Presently he came forward.
'Captain Blunt, this is Lieutenant Poinsett of the Fifth Infantry, an old messmate of mine, whom I have not met before for two years. He is here, like ourselves, on an errand of mercy. It is like him!"
The unmistakable air of high breeding and intelligence which distinguished Philip always, and the cordial endorsement of the young surgeon, prepossessed the party instantly in his favor. With that recognition, something of his singular embarrassment dropped away.
"Who are these people ?" he ventured at
last to say.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by Bret Harte, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D. C.
"Their names are on this paper, which we found nailed to a tree. Of course, with no survivor present, we are unable to identify them all. The hut occupied by Dr. Devarges, whose body buried in the snow we have identified by his clothing, and the young girl Grace Conroy and her child-sister, are the only ones we are positive about."
Philip looked at the Doctor.
"How have you identified the young girl?"
"By her clothing, which was marked." Philip remembered that Grace had changed her clothes for the suit of a younger brother who was dead.
Only by that?" he asked.
"No. Dr. Devarges in his papers gives the names of the occupants of the hut. We have accounted for all but her brother, and a fellow by the name of Ashley."
"How do you account for them?" asked Philip, with a dark face.
"Ran away! What can you expect from that class of people?" said the surgeon, with a contemptuous shrug.
"What class? asked Philip, almost savagely.
"My dear boy," said the surgeon, “you know them as well as I. Didn't they always pass the Fort where we were stationed? Didn't they beg what they could, and steal what they otherwise couldn't get, and then report to Washington the incompetency of the military? Weren't they always getting up rows with the Indians, and then sneaking away to let us settle the bill? Don't you remember them-the men gaunt, sickly, vulgar, low-toned; the women dirty, snuffy, prematurely old and prematurely prolific ?"
Philip tried to combat this picture with his recollection of Grace's youthful features, but somehow failed. Within the last half hour his instinctive fastidiousness had increased a hundred fold. He looked at the Doctor and said "Yes.”
"Of course," said the surgeon. "It was the old lot. What could you expect? People who could be strong only in proportion to their physical strength, and losing everything with the loss of that? There has been selfishness, cruelty-God knows-perhaps
murder done here!"
"Yes, yes," said Philip, hastily; "but
you were speaking of this girl, Grace Conroy; | of his connection with the ill-fated party, what do you know of her ?"
and his flight with Grace, and that the Doctor would probably have regarded him as a hero, he felt less compunction at his suppression of the fact.
"Nothing, except that she was found lying there dead with her name on her clothes and her sister's blanket in her arms, as if the wretches had stolen the dying child from the dead girl's arms. But you, Arthur, how Arthur, how chanced you to be here in this vicinity? Are you stationed here ?"
Their way lay by Monument Point and the dismantled cairn. Philip had already passed it on his way to the cañon, and had felt a thankfulness for the unexpected tragedy that had, as he believed, conscientiously relieved him of a duty to the departed naturalist, yet he could not forego a question.
"No, I have resigned from the army."
"Is there anything among these papers and collections worth our preserving ?" he asked the surgeon.
The Doctor, who had not for many months had an opportunity to air his general skepticism, was nothing if not derogatory.
"No," he answered shortly. "If there were any way that we might restore them to the living Dr. Devarges, they might minister to his vanity, and please the poor fellow. I see nothing in them that should make them worthy to survive him."
Come, we will talk this over as we return. You will help me make out my report. This, you know, is an official inquiry based upon the alleged clairvoyant quality of our friend Blunt. I must say we have established that fact, if we have been able to do nothing more."
The surgeon then lightly sketched an account of the expedition, from its inception in a dream of Blunt (who was distinctly impressed with the fact that a number of emigrants were perishing from hunger in the Sierras) to his meeting with Philip, with such deftness of cynical humor and playful satire qualities that had lightened the weariness of the mess-table of Fort Bobadilthat the young men were both presently laughing. Two or three of the party who had been engaged in laying out the unburied bodies, and talking in whispers, hearing these fine gentlemen make light of the calamity in well-chosen epithets, were somewhat ashamed of their own awe, and less elegantly, and I fearless grammatically, began to be jocose too. Whereat the fastidious Philip frowned, the surgeon laughed, and the two friends returned to the entrance of the cañon, and thence rode out of the valley together.
Philip's reticence regarding his own immediate past was too characteristic to excite any suspicion or surprise in the mind of his friend. In truth, the Doctor was too well pleased with his presence, and the undoubted support which he should have in Philip's sympathetic tastes and congenial habits, to think of much else. He was proud of his friend-proud of the impression he had made among the rude unlettered men with whom he was forced by the conditions of frontier democracy to associate on terms of equality. And Philip, though young, was accustomed to have his friends proud of him. Indeed, he always felt some complacency with himself that he seldom took advantage of this fact. Satisfied that he might have confided to the Doctor the truth VOL. XI-16.
The tone was so like Dr. Devarges' own manner as Philip remembered it, that he smiled grimly and felt relieved. When they reached the spot Nature seemed to have already taken the same cynical view; the metallic case was already deeply sunken in the snow, the wind had scattered the papers far and wide, and even the cairn itself had tumbled into a shapeless, meaningless ruin.
IN WHICH THE FOOT-PRINTS ARE LOST
A FERVID May sun had been baking the adobe walls of the Presidio of San Ramon, firing the red tiles, scorching the black courtyard, and driving the mules and vaqueros of a train that had just arrived, into the shade of the long galleries of the quadrangle, when the Comandante, who was taking his noonday siesta in a low studded chamber beside the guard-room, was gently awakened by his secretary. For thirty years the noonday slumbers of the Commander had never been broken; his first thought was the heathen!-his first impulse, to reach for his trusty Toledo. But, as it so happened, the cook had borrowed it that morning to rake tortillas from the Presidio oven, and Don Juan Salvatierra contented himself with sternly demanding the reason for this unwonted intrusion.
"A senorita an American-desires an immediate audience."
Don Juan removed the black silk handkerchief which he had tied around his grizzled brows, and sat up. Before he could assume a more formal attitude, the door was timidly opened, and a young girl entered.
For all the disfigurement of scant, coarse, ill-fitting clothing, or the hollowness of her sweet eyes, and even the tears that dimmed their long lashes; for all the sorrow that had pinched her young cheek and straightened the corners of her child-like mouth, she was still so fair, so frank, so youthful, so innocent and helpless, that the Comandante stood erect and then bent forward in a salutation that almost swept the floor.
Apparently the prepossession was mutual. The young girl took a quick survey of the gaunt but gentleman-like figure before her, cast a rapid glance at the serious but kindly eyes that shone above the Commander's iron-gray mustachios, dropped her hesitating, timid manner, and, with an impulsive gesture and a little cry, ran forward and fell upon her knees at his feet.
The Commander waited until she had finished, and then gently lifted her to a seat by his side. Then he turned to his secretary, who, with a few hurried words in Spanish, answered the mute inquiry of the Commander's eyes. The young girl felt a thrill of disappointment as she saw that her personal appeal had been lost and unintelligible; it was with a slight touch of defiance that was new to her nature that she turned to the secretary, who advanced as interpreter. "You are an American ?"
"How many years ?"
"Yes," said the girl, curtly, who had taken one of the strange, swift, instinctive dislikes of her sex, to the man.
The Commander, almost unconsciously, laid his brown hand on her clustering curls.
She hesitated and looked at the Commander.
The Commander would have raised her at Grace. gently, but she restrained his hand.
"No, no, listen! I am only a poor, poor girl, without friends or home. A month ago I left my family starving in the mountains, and came away to get them help. My brother came with me. God was good to us, Señor, and after a weary tramp of many days we found a trapper's hut, and food and shelter. Philip, my brother, went back alone to succor them. He has not returned. O sir, he may be dead; they all may be dead -God only knows! It is three weeks ago since he left me, three weeks! It is a long time to be alone, Señor, a stranger in a strange land. The trapper was kind and sent me here to you for assistance. You will help me? I know you will. You will find them, my friends, my little sister, my brother!"
"Grace," she said.
Then she hesitated; and, with a defiant glance at the secretary, added: "Grace Ashley!"
"Give to me the names of some of your company, Mees Graziashly ?"
"Philip Ashley, Gabriel Conroy, Peter Dumphy, Mrs. Jane Dumphy," she said at last.
The secretary opened a desk, took out a printed document, unfolded it, and glanced over its contents. Presently he handed it to the Commander with the comment "Bueno." The Commander said "Bueno" also, and glanced kindly and re-assuringly
"An expedition from the upper Presidio has found traces of a party of Americans in the Sierra," said the secretary, monotonously. "There are names like these."
"It is the same-it is our party!" said Grace, joyously.
"You say so?" said the secretary, cautiously.
"Yes," said Grace, defiantly.
The secretary glanced at the paper again, and then said, looking at Grace intently:
"There is no name of Mees Graziashly." The hot blood suddenly dyed the cheek of Grace and her eyelids dropped. She raised her eyes imploringly to the Com- . mander. If she could have reached him directly, she would have thrown herself at his feet and confessed her innocent deceit, but she shrank from a confidence that first filtered through the consciousness of the secretary. So she began to fence feebly with the issue.
"It is a mistake," she said. "But the name of Philip, my brother, is there?"
"The name of Philip Ashley is here," said the secretary, grimly.
"And he is alive and safe!" cried Grace, forgetting in her relief and joy, her previous shame and mortification.
"He is not found," said the secretary. "Not found?" said Grace, with widely opened eyes.
'He is not there."
'No, of course," said Grace, with a
nervous, hysterical laugh; "he was with me; but he came back-he returned."
"On the 30th of April there is no record of the finding of Philip Ashley."
Grace groaned and clasped her hands. In her greater anxiety now, all lesser fears were forgotten. She turned and threw herself before the Commander.
"O, forgive me, Señor, but I swear to you I meant no harm! Philip is not my brother, but a friend, so kind, so good. He asked me to take his name, poor boy, God knows if he will ever claim it again, and I did. My name is not Ashley. I know not what is in that paper, but it must tell of my brother Gabriel, my sister, of all! O, Señor, are they living or dead? Answer me you must, for—I am—I am Grace Conroy!"
The secretary had refolded the paper. He opened it again, glanced over it, fixed his eyes upon Grace, and, pointing to a paragraph, handed it to the Commander. The two men exchanged glances, the Commander coughed, rose, and averted his face from the beseeching eyes of Grace. A sudden death-like chill ran through her limbs as, at a word from the Commander, the secretary rose and placed the paper in her hands.
Grace took it with trembling fingers. It seemed to be a proclamation in Spanish.
"I cannot read it," she said, stamping her little foot with passionate vehemence. "Tell me what it says."
At a sign from the Commander, the secretary opened the paper and arose. The Commander, with his face averted, looked through the open window. The light, streaming through its deep, tunnel-like embrasure, fell upon the central figure of Grace, with her shapely head slightly bent forward, her lips apart, and her eager, passionate eyes fixed upon the Commander. The secretary cleared his throat in a perfunctory manner; and, with the conscious pride of an irreproachable linguist, began:
"TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE COMANDANTE OF THE PRESIDIO OF SAN FELIPE.
"I have the honor to report that the expedicion sent out to relieve certain distressed emigrants in the fastnesses of the Sierra Nevadas, said expedicion being sent on the information of Don Jose Bluent of San Geronimo, found in a cañon east of the Canada del Diablo the evidences of the recent existence of such emigrants buried in the snow, and the melancholy and deeply to be deplored record of their sufferings, abandonment, and death. A written record preserved by these miserable and most infelicitous ones gives the names and history of their
organization, known as 'Captain Conroy's Party,' a copy of which is annexed below.
"The remains of five of these unfortunates were recovered from the snow, but it was impossible to identify but two, who were buried with sacred and reverential rites.
"Our soldiers behaved with that gallantry, coolness, patriotism, inflexible hardihood, and high principled devotion which ever animate the swelling heart of the Mexican warrior. Nor can too much praise be given to the voluntary efforts of one Don Arthur Poinsett, late Lieutenant of the Army of the United States of America, who, though himself a voyager and stranger, assisted our commander in the efforts of humanity.
"The wretched dead appeared to have expired from hunger, although one was evidently a victim-"
"Oh, no! no!" said Grace, clasping her hands wildly; "it is a mistake! You are trying to frighten me, a poor, helpless, friendless girl! You are punishing me, gentlemen, because you know I have done wrong, because you think I have lied! Oh, have pity, gentlemen. My God-save mePhilip!"
And with a loud, despairing cry, she rose to her feet, caught at the clustering tendrils of her hair, raised her little hands, palms upward, high in air, and then sank perpendicularly as if crushed and beaten flat, a pale and senseless heap upon the floor.
The Commander stooped over the prostrate girl. "Send Manuela here," he said quickly, waving aside the proffered aid of the secretary, with an impatient gesture quite unlike his usual gravity, as he lifted the unconscious Grace in his arms.
An Indian waiting woman hurriedly appeared, and assisted the Commander to lay the fainting girl upon a couch.
"Poor child!" said the Commander, as Manuela, bending over Grace, unloosed her garments with sympathetic feminine hands. "Poor little one, and without a father!"
"Poor woman!" said Manuela to herself, half aloud; "and without a husband!"
ONE HORSE GULCH.
It was a season of unexampled prosperity in One Horse Gulch. Even the despondent original locator, who, in a fit of depressed alcoholism, had given it that infelicitous title, would have admitted its injustice but that he fell a victim to the "craftily qualified" cups of San Francisco long before the Gulch had become prosperous. "Hed Jim struck to straight whisky he might hev got his pile outer the very ledge whar his cabin stood," said a local critic. But Jim did not; after taking a thousand dollars from his claim he had flown to San Francisco, where, gorgeously arrayed, he had flitted from champagne to cognac, and from gin to lager beer, until he brought his gilded and ephemeral existence to a close in the county hospital.
Howbeit, One Horse Gulch survived not only its godfather, but the baleful promise of its unhallowed christening. It had its Hotel and its Temperance House, its Express office, its saloons, its two squares of low wooden buildings in the main street, its clustering nests of cabins on the hill-sides, its freshly hewn stumps and its lately cleared lots. Young in years, it still had its memories, experiences, and antiquities. The first tent pitched by Jim White was still standing, the bullet holes were yet to be seen in the shutters of the Cachucha saloon, where the great fight took place between Boston Joe, Harry Worth, and Thompson of Angel's; from the upper loft of Watson's "Emporium" a beam still projected from which a year ago a noted citizen had been suspended, after an informal inquiry into the ownership of some mules that he was found possessed of. Near it was a small unpretentious square shed, where the famous caucus had met that had selected the delegates who chose the celebrated and Honorable Blank to represent California in the councils of the nation.
It was raining. Not in the usual direct, honest, perpendicular fashion of that mountain region, but only suggestively, and in a vague, uncertain sort of way, as if it might at any time prove to be fog or mist, and any money wagered upon it would be hazardous. It was raining as much from below as above, and the lower limbs of the loungers who gathered around the square box stove that stood in Briggs's warehouse, exhaled a cloud of steam. The loungers in Briggs's were those who from deficiency of
taste or the requisite capital avoided the gambling and drinking saloons, and quietly appropriated crackers from the convenient barrel of the generous Briggs, or filled their pipes from his open tobacco canisters, with the general suggestion in their manner that their company fully compensated for any waste of his material.
They had been smoking silently—a silence only broken by the occasional hiss of expectoration against the hot stove, when the door of a back room opened softly, and Gabriel Conroy entered.
"How is he gettin' on, Gabe?" asked one of the loungers.
"So, so," said Gabriel. "You'll want to shift those bandages agin," he said, turning to Briggs, "afore the doctor comes. I'd come back in an hour, but I've got to drop in and see how Steve's gettin' on, and it's a matter of two miles from home."
"But he says he won't let anybody tech him but you," said Mr. Briggs.
"I know he says so," said Gabriel soothingly, "but he'll get over that. That's what Stimson sed when he was took worse, but he got over that, and I never got to see him except in time to lay him out."
The justice of this was admitted even by Briggs, although evidently disappointed. Gabriel was walking to the door, when another voice from the stove stopped him.
Oh, Gabe! you mind that emigrant family with the sick baby camped down the gulch? Well, the baby up and died last night."
"I want to know," said Gabriel, with thoughtful gravity.
"Yes, and that woman's in a heap of trouble. Couldn't you kinder drop in in passing and look after things?"
"I will," said Gabriel thoughtfully. "I thought you'd like to know it, and I thought she'd like me to tell you," said the speaker, settling himself back again over the stove with the air of a man who had just fulfilled, at great personal sacrifice and labor, a work of supererogation.
"You're always thoughtful of other folks, Johnson," said Briggs admiringly.
"Well, yes," said Johnson, with a modest serenity, "I allers allow that men in Californy ought to think of others besides them selves. A little keer and a little sabe on my part, and there's that family in the gulch made comfortable with Gabe around 'em."
Meanwhile this homely inciter of the unselfish virtues of One Horse Gulch had passed out into the rain and darkness. So