Part I

Chapter II

Bret Harte

THE LAUGH that instinctively broke from Clarence’s lips was so sincere and unaffected that the man was disconcerted, and at last joined in it, a little shamefacedly. The grotesque blunder of being taken as a fugitive from justice relieved Clarence’s mind from its acute tension,—he was momentarily diverted,—and it was not until the boatman had departed, and he was again alone, that it seemed to have any collateral significance. Then an uneasy recollection of Susy’s threat that she had the power to put his wife in Fort Alcatraz came across him. Could she have already warned the municipal authorities and this man? But he quickly remembered that any action from such a warning could only have been taken by the United States Marshal, and not by a civic official, and dismissed the idea.

Nevertheless, when the stage with its half-spent lamps still burning dimly against the morning light swept round the curve and rolled heavily up to the rude shanty which served as coach-office, he became watchful. A single yawning individual in its doorway received a few letters and parcels, but Clarence was evidently the only waiting passenger. Any hope that he might have entertained that his mysterious predecessor would emerge from some seclusion at that moment was disappointed. As he entered the coach he made a rapid survey of his fellow-travelers, but satisfied himself that the stranger was not among them. They were mainly small traders or farmers, a miner or two, and apparently a Spanish-American of better degree and personality. Possibly the circumstance that men of this class usually preferred to travel on horseback and were rarely seen in public conveyances attracted his attention, and their eyes met more than once in mutual curiosity. Presently Clarence addressed a remark to the stranger in Spanish; he replied fluently and courteously, but at the next stopping-place he asked a question of the expressman in an unmistakable Missouri accent. Clarence’s curiosity was satisfied; he was evidently one of those early American settlers who had been so long domiciled in Southern California as to adopt the speech as well as the habiliments of the Spaniard.

The conversation fell upon the political news of the previous night, or rather seemed to be lazily continued from some previous, more excited discussion, in which one of the contestants—a red-bearded miner—had subsided into an occasional growl of surly dissent. It struck Clarence that the Missourian had been an amused auditor and even, judging from a twinkle in his eye, a mischievous instigator of the controversy. He was not surprised, therefore, when the man turned to him with a certain courtesy and said,—

“And what, sir, is the political feeling in your district?”

But Clarence was in no mood to be drawn out, and replied, almost curtly, that as he had come only from San Francisco, they were probably as well informed on that subject as himself. A quick and searching glance from the stranger’s eye made him regret his answer, but in the silence that ensued the red-bearded miner, evidently still rankling at heart, saw his opportunity. Slapping his huge hands on his knees, and leaning far forward until he seemed to plunge his flaming beard, like a firebrand, into the controversy, he said grimly,—

“Well, I kin tell you, gen’l’men, this. It ain’t goin’ to be no matter wot’s the political feeling here or thar—it ain’t goin’ to be no matter wot’s the State’s rights and wot’s Fed’ral rights—it ain’t goin’ to be no question whether the gov’ment’s got the right to relieve its own soldiers that those Secesh is besieging in Fort Sumter or whether they haven’t—but the first gun that’s fired at the flag blows the chains off every d—n nigger south of Mason and Dixon’s line! You hear me! I’m shoutin’! And whether you call yourselves ‘Secesh’ or ‘Union’ or ‘Copperhead’ or ‘Peace men,’ you’ve got to face it!”

There was an angry start in one or two of the seats; one man caught at the swinging side-strap and half rose, a husky voice began, “It’s a d——d”—and then all as suddenly subsided. Every eye was turned to an insignificant figure in the back seat. It was a woman, holding a child on her lap, and gazing out of the window with her sex’s profound unconcern in politics. Clarence understood the rude chivalry of the road well enough to comprehend that this unconscious but omnipotent figure had more than once that day controlled the passions of the disputants. They dropped back weakly to their seats, and their mutterings rolled off in the rattle of the wheels. Clarence glanced at the Missourian; he was regarding the red-bearded miner with a singular curiosity.

The rain had ceased, but the afternoon shadows were deepening when they at last reached Fair Plains, where Clarence expected to take horse to the Rancho. He was astonished, however, to learn that all the horses in the stable were engaged, but remembering that some of his own stock were in pasturage with a tenant at Fair Plains, and that he should probably have a better selection, he turned his steps thither. Passing out of the stable-yard he recognized the Missourian’s voice in whispered conversation with the proprietor, but the two men withdrew into the shadow as he approached. An ill-defined uneasiness came over him; he knew the proprietor, who also seemed to know the Missourian, and this evident avoidance of him was significant. Perhaps his reputation as a doubtful Unionist had preceded him, but this would not account for their conduct in a district so strongly Southern in sympathy as Fair Plains. More impressed by the occurrence than he cared to admit, when at last, after some delay, he had secured his horse, and was once more in the saddle, he kept a sharp lookout for his quondam companion. But here another circumstance added to his suspicions: there was a main road leading to Santa Inez, the next town, and the Rancho, and this Clarence had purposely taken in order to watch the Missourian; but there was also a cutoff directly to the Rancho, known only to the habitues of the Rancho. After a few moments’ rapid riding on a mustang much superior to any in the hotel stables, he was satisfied that the stranger must have taken the cut-off. Putting spurs to his horse he trusted still to precede him to the Rancho—if that were his destination.

As he dashed along the familiar road, by a strange perversity of fancy, instead of thinking of his purpose, he found himself recalling the first time he had ridden that way in the flush of his youth and hopefulness. The girl-sweetheart he was then going to rejoin was now the wife of another; the woman who had been her guardian was now his own wife. He had accepted without a pang the young girl’s dereliction, but it was through her revelation that he was now about to confront the dereliction of his own wife. And this was the reward of his youthful trust and loyalty! A bitter laugh broke from his lips. It was part of his still youthful self-delusion that he believed himself wiser and stronger for it.

It was quite dark when he reached the upper field or first terrace of the Rancho. He could see the white walls of the casa rising dimly out of the green sea of early wild grasses, like a phantom island. It was here that the cut-off joined the main road—now the only one that led to the casa. He was satisfied that no one could have preceded him from Fair Plains; but it was true that he must take precautions against his own discovery. Dismounting near a clump of willows, he unsaddled and unbridled his horse, and with a cut of the riata over its haunches sent it flying across the field in the direction of a band of feeding mustangs, which it presently joined. Then, keeping well in the shadow of a belt of shrub-oaks, he skirted the long lesser terraces of the casa, intending to approach the house by way of the old garden and corral. A drizzling rain, occasionally driven by the wind into long, misty, curtain-like waves, obscured the prospect and favored his design. He reached the low adobe wall of the corral in safety; looking over he could detect, in spite of the darkness, that a number of the horses were of alien brands, and even recognized one or two from the Santa Inez district. The vague outline of buggies and carryalls filled the long shed beside the stables. There was company at the casa—so far Susy was right!

Nevertheless, lingering still by the wall of the old garden for the deepening of night, his nervous feverishness was again invaded and benumbed by sullen memories. There was the opening left by the old grille in the wall, behind which Mrs. Peyton stood on the morning when he thought he was leaving the ranch forever; where he had first clasped her in his arms, and stayed. A turn of the head, a moment’s indecision, a single glance of a languorous eye, had brought this culmination. And now he stood again before that ruined grille, his house and lands, even his name, misused by a mad, scheming enthusiast, and himself a creeping spy of his own dishonor! He turned with a bitter smile again to the garden. A few dark red Castilian roses still leaned forward and swayed in the wind with dripping leaves. It was here that the first morning of his arrival he had kissed Susy; the perfume and color of her pink skin came back to him with a sudden shock as he stood there; he caught at a flower, drew it towards him, inhaled its odor in a long breath that left him faint and leaning against the wall. Then again he smiled, but this time more wickedly—in what he believed his cynicism had sprung up the first instinct of revenge!

It was now dark enough for him to venture across the carriage road and make his way to the rear of the house. His first characteristic instinct had been to enter openly at his own front gate, but the terrible temptation to overhear and watch the conspiracy unobserved—that fascination common to deceived humanity to witness its own shame—had now grown upon him. He knew that a word or gesture of explanation, apology, appeal, or even terror from his wife would check his rage and weaken his purpose. His perfect knowledge of the house and the security of its inmates would enable him from some obscure landing or gallery to participate in any secret conclave they might hold in the patio—the only place suitable for so numerous a rendezvous. The absence of light in the few external windows pointed to this central gathering. And he had already conceived his plan of entrance.

Gaining the rear wall of the casa he began cautiously to skirt its brambly base until he had reached a long, oven-like window half obliterated by a monstrous passion vine. It was the window of what had once been Mrs. Peyton’s boudoir; the window by which he had once forced an entrance to the house when it was in the hands of squatters, the window from which Susy had signaled her Spanish lover, the window whose grating had broken the neck of Judge Peyton’s presumed assassin. But these recollections no longer delayed him; the moment for action had arrived. He knew that since the tragedy the boudoir had been dismantled and shunned; the servants believed it to be haunted by the assassin’s ghost. With the aid of the passion vine the ingress was easy; the interior window was open; the rustle of dead leaves on the bare floor as he entered, and the whir of a frightened bird by his ear, told the story of its desolation and the source of the strange noises that had been heard there. The door leading to the corridor was lightly bolted, merely to keep it from rattling in the wind. Slipping the bolt with the blade of his pocket-knife he peered into the dark passage. The light streaming under a door to the left, and the sound of voices, convinced him that his conjecture was right, and the meeting was gathered on the broad balconies around the patio. He knew that a narrow gallery, faced with Venetian blinds to exclude the sun, looked down upon them. He managed to gain it without discovery; luckily the blinds were still down; between their slats, himself invisible, he could hear and see everything that occurred.

Yet even at this supreme moment the first thing that struck him was the almost ludicrous contrast between the appearance of the meeting and its tremendous object. Whether he was influenced by any previous boyish conception of a clouded and gloomy conspiracy he did not know, but he was for an instant almost disconcerted by the apparent levity and festivity of the conclave. Decanters and glasses stood on small tables before them; nearly all were drinking and smoking. They comprised fifteen or twenty men, some of whose faces were familiar to him elsewhere as Southern politicians; a few, he was shocked to see, were well-known Northern Democrats. Occupying a characteristically central position was the famous Colonel Starbottle, of Virginia. Jaunty and youthful-looking in his mask-like, beardless face, expansive and dignified in his middle-aged port and carriage, he alone retained some of the importance—albeit slightly theatrical and affected—of the occasion. Clarence in his first hurried glance had not observed his wife, and for a moment had felt relieved; but as Colonel Starbottle arose at that moment, and with a studiously chivalrous and courtly manner turned to his right, he saw that she was sitting at the further end of the balcony, and that a man whom he recognized as Captain Pinckney was standing beside her. The blood quickly tightened around his heart, but left him cold and observant.

“It was seldom, indeed,” remarked Colonel Starbottle, placing his fat fingers in the frill of his shirt front, “that a movement like this was graced with the actual presence of a lofty, inspiring, yet delicate spirit—a Boadicea—indeed, he might say a Joan of Arc—in the person of their charming hostess, Mrs. Brant. Not only were they favored by her social and hospitable ministration, but by her active and enthusiastic cooperation in the glorious work they had in hand. It was through her correspondence and earnest advocacy that they were to be favored to-night with the aid and counsel of one of the most distinguished and powerful men in the Southern district of California, Judge Beeswinger, of Los Angeles. He had not the honor of that gentleman’s personal acquaintance; he believed he was not far wrong in saying that this was also the misfortune of every gentleman present; but the name itself was a tower of strength. He would go further, and say that Mrs. Brant herself was personally unacquainted with him, but it was through the fervor, poetry, grace, and genius of her correspondence with that gentleman that they were to have the honor of his presence that very evening. It was understood that advices had been received of his departure, and that he might be expected at Robles at any moment.”

“But what proof have we of Judge Beeswinger’s soundness?” said a lazy Southern voice at the conclusion of Colonel Starbottle’s periods. “Nobody here seems to know him by sight: is it not risky to admit a man to our meeting whom we are unable to identify?”

“I reckon nobody but a fool or some prying mudsill of a Yankee would trust his skin here,” returned another; “and if he did we’d know what to do with him.”

But Clarence’s attention was riveted on his wife, and the significant speech passed him as unheeded as had the colonel’s rhetoric. She was looking very handsome and slightly flushed, with a proud light in her eyes that he had never seen before. Absorbed in the discussion, she seemed to be paying little attention to Captain Pinckney as she rose suddenly to her feet.

“Judge Beeswinger will be attended here by Mr. MacNiel, of the Fair Plains Hotel, who will vouch for him and introduce him,” she said in a clear voice, which rang with an imperiousness that Clarence well remembered. “The judge was to arrive by the coach from Martinez to Fair Plains, and is due now.”

“Is there no gentleman to introduce him? Must we take him on the word of a common trader—by Jove! a whiskey-seller?” continued the previous voice sneeringly.

“On the word of a lady, Mr. Brooks,” said Captain Pinckney, with a slight gesture towards Mrs. Brant—“who answers for both.”

Clarence had started slightly at his wife’s voice and the information it conveyed. His fellow-passenger, and the confidant of MacNiel, was the man they were expecting! If they had recognized him, Clarence, would they not warn the company of his proximity? He held his breath as the sound of voices came from the outer gate of the courtyard. Mrs. Brant rose; at the same moment the gate swung open, and a man entered. It was the Missourian.

He turned with old-fashioned courtesy to the single woman standing on the balcony.

“My fair correspondent, I believe! I am Judge Beeswinger. Your agent, MacNiel, passed me through your guards at the gate, but I did not deem it advisable to bring him into this assembly of gentlemen without your further consideration. I trust I was right.”

The quiet dignity and self-possession, the quaint, old-fashioned colonial precision of speech, modified by a soft Virginian intonation, and, above all, some singular individuality of the man himself, produced a profound sensation, and seemed to suddenly give the gathering an impressiveness it had lacked before. For an instant Clarence forgot himself and his personal wrongs in the shock of indignation he felt at this potent addition to the ranks of his enemies. He saw his wife’s eyes sparkle with pride over her acquisition, and noticed that Pinckney cast a disturbed glance at the newcomer.

The stranger ascended the few steps to the balcony and took Mrs. Brant’s hand with profound courtesy. “Introduce me to my colleagues—distinctly and separately. It behooves a man at such a moment to know to whom he entrusts his life and honor, and the life and honor of his cause.”

It was evidently no mere formal courtesy to the stranger. As he stepped forward along the balcony, and under Mrs. Brant’s graceful guidance was introduced to each of the members, he not only listened with scrupulous care and attention to the name and profession of each man, but bent upon him a clear, searching glance that seemed to photograph him in his memory. With two exceptions. He passed Colonel Starbottle’s expanding shirt frill with a bow of elaborate precision, and said, “Colonel Starbottle’s fame requires neither introduction nor explanation.” He stopped before Captain Pinckney and paused.

“An officer of the United States army, I believe, sir?”


“Educated at West Point, I think, by the government, to whom you have taken the oath of allegiance?”


“Very good, sir,” said the stranger, turning away.

“You have forgotten one other fact, sir,” said Pinckney, with a slightly supercilious air.

“Indeed! What is it?”

“I am, first of all, a native of the State of South Carolina!”

A murmur of applause and approval ran round the balcony. Captain Pinckney smiled and exchanged glances with Mrs. Brant, but the stranger quietly returned to the central table beside Colonel Starbottle. “I am not only an unexpected delegate to this august assembly, gentlemen,” he began gravely, “but I am the bearer of perhaps equally unexpected news. By my position in the Southern district I am in possession of dispatches received only this morning by pony express. Fort Sumter has been besieged. The United States flag, carrying relief to the beleaguered garrison, has been fired upon by the State of South Carolina.”

A burst of almost hysteric applause and enthusiasm broke from the assembly, and made the dim, vault-like passages and corridors of the casa ring. Cheer after cheer went up to the veiled gallery and the misty sky beyond. Men mounted on the tables and waved their hands frantically, and in the midst of this bewildering turbulence of sound and motion Clarence saw his wife mounted on a chair, with burning cheeks and flashing eyes, waving her handkerchief like an inspired priestess. Only the stranger, still standing beside Colonel Starbottle, remained unmoved and impassive. Then, with an imperative gesture, he demanded a sudden silence.

“Convincing and unanimous as this demonstration is, gentlemen,” he began quietly, “it is my duty, nevertheless, to ask you if you have seriously considered the meaning of the news I have brought. It is my duty to tell you that it means civil war. It means the clash of arms between two sections of a mighty country; it means the disruption of friends, the breaking of family ties, the separation of fathers and sons, of brothers and sisters—even, perhaps, to the disseverment of husband and wife!”

“It means the sovereignty of the South—and the breaking of a covenant with lowborn traders and abolitionists,” said Captain Pinckney.

“If there are any gentlemen present,” continued the stranger, without heeding the interruption, “who have pledged this State to the support of the South in this emergency, or to the establishment of a Pacific republic in aid and sympathy with it, whose names are on this paper”—he lifted a sheet of paper lying before Colonel Starbottle—“but who now feel that the gravity of the news demands a more serious consideration of the purpose, they are at liberty to withdraw from the meeting, giving their honor, as Southern gentlemen, to keep the secret intact.”

“Not if I know it,” interrupted a stalwart Kentuckian, as he rose to his feet and strode down the steps to the patio. “For,” he added, placing his back against the gateway, “I’ll shoot the first coward that backs out now.”

A roar of laughter and approval followed, but was silenced again by the quiet, unimpassioned voice of the stranger. “If, on the other hand,” he went on calmly, “you all feel that this news is the fitting culmination and consecration of the hopes, wishes, and plans of this meeting, you will assert it again, over your own signatures, to Colonel Starbottle at this table.”

When the Kentuckian had risen, Clarence had started from his concealment; when he now saw the eager figures pressing forward to the table he hesitated no longer. Slipping along the passage, he reached the staircase which led to the corridor in the rear of the balcony. Descending this rapidly, he not only came upon the backs of the excited crowd around the table, but even elbowed one of the conspirators aside without being noticed. His wife, who had risen from her chair at the end of the balcony, was already moving towards the table. With a quick movement he seized her wrist, and threw her back in the chair again. A cry broke from her lips as she recognized him, but still holding her wrist, he stepped quickly between her and the astonished crowd. There was a moment of silence, then the cry of “Spy!” and “Seize him!” rose quickly, but above all the voice and figure of the Missourian was heard commanding them to stand back. Turning to Clarence, he said quietly,—

“I should know your face, sir. Who are you?”

“The husband of this woman and the master of this house,” said Clarence as quietly, but in a voice he hardly recognized as his own.

“Stand aside from her, then—unless you are hoping that her danger may protect you!” said the Kentuckian, significantly drawing his revolver.

But Mrs. Brant sprang suddenly to her feet beside Clarence.

“We are neither of us cowards, Mr. Brooks—though he speaks the truth—and—more shame to me”—she added, with a look of savage scorn at Clarence—”is my husband!

“What is your purpose in coming here?” continued Judge Beeswinger, with his eyes fixed on Clarence.

“I have given you all the information,” said Clarence quietly, “that is necessary to make you, as a gentleman, leave this house at once—and that is my purpose. It is all the information you will get from me as long as you and your friends insult my roof with your uninvited presence. What I may have to say to you and each of you hereafter—what I may choose to demand of you, according to your own code of honor,”—he fixed his eyes on Captain Pinckney’s,—“is another question, and one not usually discussed before a lady.”

“Pardon me. A moment—a single moment.”

It was the voice of Colonel Starbottle; it was the frilled shirt front, the lightly buttoned blue coat with its expanding lapels, like bursting petals, and the smiling mask of that gentleman rising above the table and bowing to Clarence Brant and his wife with infinite courtesy. “The—er—humiliating situation in which we find ourselves, gentlemen,—the reluctant witnesses of—er—what we trust is only a temporary disagreement between our charming hostess and the—er—gentleman whom she recognized under the highest title to our consideration,—is distressing to us all, and would seem to amply justify that gentleman’s claims to a personal satisfaction, which I know we would all delight to give. But that situation rests upon the supposition that our gathering here was of a purely social or festive nature! It may be,” continued the colonel with a blandly reflective air, “that the spectacle of these decanters and glasses, and the nectar furnished us by our Hebe-like hostess” (he lifted a glass of whiskey and water to his lips while he bowed to Mrs. Brant gracefully), “has led the gentleman to such a deduction. But when I suggest to him that our meeting was of a business, or private nature, it strikes me that the question of intrusion may be fairly divided between him and ourselves. We may be even justified, in view of that privacy, in asking him if his—er—entrance to this house was—er—coincident with his appearance among us.”

“With my front door in possession of strangers,” said Clarence, more in reply to a sudden contemptuous glance from his wife than Starbottle’s insinuation, “I entered the house through the window.”

“Of my boudoir, where another intruder once broke his neck,” interrupted his wife with a mocking laugh.

“Where I once helped this lady to regain possession of her house when it was held by another party of illegal trespassers, who, however, were content to call themselves ‘jumpers,’ and did not claim the privacy of gentlemen.”

“Do you mean to imply, sir,” began Colonel Starbottle haughtily, “that”—

“I mean to imply, sir,” said Clarence with quiet scorn, “that I have neither the wish to know nor the slightest concern in any purpose that brought you here, and that when you quit the house you take your secrets and your privacy with you intact, without let or hindrance from me.”

“Do you mean to say, Mr. Brant,” said Judge Beeswinger, suppressing the angry interruption of his fellows with a dominant wave of his hand, as he fixed his eyes on Clarence keenly, “that you have no sympathy with your wife’s political sentiments?”

“I have already given you the information necessary to make you quit this house, and that is all you have a right to know,” returned Clarence with folded arms.

“But I can answer for him,” said Mrs. Brant, rising, with a quivering voice and curling lip. “There is no sympathy between us. We are as far apart as the poles. We have nothing in common but this house and his name.”

“But you are husband and wife, bound together by a sacred compact.”

“A compact!” echoed Mrs. Brant, with a bitter laugh. “Yes, the compact that binds South Carolina to the nigger-worshipping Massachusetts. The compact that links together white and black, the gentleman and the trader, the planter and the poor white—the compact of those United States. Bah! that has been broken, and so can this.”

Clarence’s face paled. But before he could speak there was a rapid clattering at the gate and a dismounted vaquero entered excitedly. Turning to Mrs. Brant he said hurriedly, “Mother of God! the casa is surrounded by a rabble of mounted men, and there is one among them even now who demands admittance in the name of the Law.”

“This is your work,” said Brooks, facing Clarence furiously. “You have brought them with you, but, by God, they shall not save you!” He would have clutched Clarence, but the powerful arm of Judge Beeswinger intervened. Nevertheless, he still struggled to reach Clarence, appealing to the others: “Are you fools to stand there and let him triumph! Don’t you see the cowardly Yankee trick he’s played upon us?”

“He has not,” said Mrs. Brant haughtily. “I have no reason to love him or his friends; but I know he does not lie.”

“Gentlemen!—gentlemen!” implored Colonel Starbottle with beaming and unctuous persuasion, “may I—er—remark—that all this is far from the question? Are we to be alarmed because an unknown rabble, no matter whence they come, demand entrance here in the name of the Law? I am not aware of any law of the State of California that we are infringing. By all means admit them.”

The gate was thrown open. A single thick-set man, apparently unarmed and dressed like an ordinary traveler, followed by half a dozen other equally unpretentious-looking men, entered. The leader turned to the balcony.

“I am the Chief of Police of San Francisco. I have warrants for the arrest of Colonel Culpepper Starbottle, Joshua Brooks, Captain Pinckney, Clarence Brant and Alice his wife, and others charged with inciting to riot and unlawful practice calculated to disturb the peace of the State of California and its relations with the Federal government,” said the leader, in a dry official voice.

Clarence started. In spite of its monotonous utterance it was the voice of the red-bearded controversialist of the stage-coach. But where were his characteristic beard and hair? Involuntarily Clarence glanced at Judge Beeswinger; that gentleman was quietly regarding the stranger with an impassive face that betrayed no recognition whatever.

“But the city of San Francisco has no jurisdiction here,” said Colonel Starbottle, turning a bland smile towards his fellow-members. “I am—er—sorry to inform you that you are simply trespassing, sir.”

“I am here also as deputy sheriff,” returned the stranger coolly. “We were unable to locate the precise place of this meeting, although we knew of its existence. I was sworn in this morning at Santa Inez by the judge of this district, and these gentlemen with me are my posse.”

There was a quick movement of resistance by the members, which was, however, again waived blandly aside by Colonel Starbottle. Leaning forward in a slightly forensic attitude, with his fingers on the table and a shirt frill that seemed to have become of itself erectile, he said, with pained but polite precision, “I grieve to have to state, sir, that even that position is utterly untenable here. I am a lawyer myself, as my friend here, Judge Beeswinger—eh? I beg your pardon!”

The officer of the law had momentarily started, with his eyes fixed on Judge Beeswinger, who, however, seemed to be quietly writing at the table.

“As Judge Beeswinger,” continued Colonel Starbottle, “will probably tell you and as a jurist himself, he will also probably agree with me when I also inform you that, as the United States government is an aggrieved party, it is a matter for the Federal courts to prosecute, and that the only officer we can recognize is the United States Marshal for the district. When I add that the marshal, Colonel Crackenthorpe, is one of my oldest friends, and an active sympathizer with the South in the present struggle, you will understand that any action from him in this matter is exceedingly improbable.”

The general murmur of laughter, relief, and approval was broken by the quiet voice of Judge Beeswinger.

“Let me see your warrant, Mr. Deputy Sheriff.”

The officer approached him with a slightly perplexed and constrained air, and exhibited the paper. Judge Beeswinger handed it back to him. “Colonel Starbottle is quite right in his contention,” he said quietly; “the only officer that this assembly can recognize is the United States Marshal or his legal deputy. But Colonel Starbottle is wrong in his supposition that Colonel Crackenthorpe still retains the functions of that office. He was removed by the President of the United States, and his successor was appointed and sworn in by the Federal judge early this morning.” He paused, and folding up the paper on which he had been writing, placed it in the hands of the deputy. “And this,” he continued in the same even voice, “constitutes you his deputy, and will enable you to carry out your duty in coming here.”

“What the devil does this mean, sir? Who are you?” gasped Colonel Starbottle, recoiling suddenly from the man at his side.

“I am the new United States Marshal for the Southern District of California.”

Clarence - Contents    |     Part I - Chapter III

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