Part I

Chapter IV

Bret Harte

FOR ONCE Susy had not exaggerated. Captain Pinckney was lingering, with the deputy who had charge of him, on the trail near the casa. It had already been pretty well understood by both captives and captors that the arrest was simply a legal demonstration; that the sympathizing Federal judge would undoubtedly order the discharge of the prisoners on their own recognizances, and it was probable that the deputy saw no harm in granting Pinckney’s request—which was virtually only a delay in his liberation. It was also possible that Pinckney had worked upon the chivalrous sympathies of the man by professing his disinclination to leave their devoted colleague, Mrs. Brant, at the mercy of her antagonistic and cold-blooded husband at such a crisis, and it is to be feared also that Clarence, as a reputed lukewarm partisan, excited no personal sympathy, even from his own party. Howbeit, the deputy agreed to delay Pinckney’s journey for a parting interview with his fair hostess.

How far this expressed the real sentiments of Captain Pinckney was never known. Whether his political association with Mrs. Brant had developed into a warmer solicitude, understood or ignored by her,—what were his hopes and aspirations regarding her future,—were by the course of fate never disclosed. A man of easy ethics, but rigid artificialities of honor, flattered and pampered by class prejudice, a so-called “man of the world,” with no experience beyond his own limited circle, yet brave and devoted to that, it were well perhaps to leave this last act of his inefficient life as it was accepted by the deputy.

Dismounting he approached the house from the garden. He was already familiar with the low arched doorway which led to the business room, and from which he could gain admittance to the patio, but it so chanced that he entered the dark passage at the moment that Clarence had thrust Susy into the business room, and heard its door shut sharply. For an instant he believed that Mrs. Brant had taken refuge there, but as he cautiously moved forward he heard her voice in the patio beyond. Its accents struck him as pleading; an intense curiosity drew him further along the passage. Suddenly her voice seemed to change to angry denunciation, and the word “Liar” rang upon his ears. It was followed by his own name uttered sardonically by Clarence, the swift rustle of a skirt, the clash of the gate, and then—forgetting everything, he burst into the patio.

Clarence was just turning from the gate with the marks of his wife’s hand still red on his white cheek. He saw Captain Pinckney’s eyes upon it, and the faint, half-malicious, half-hysteric smile upon his lips. But without a start or gesture of surprise he locked the gate, and turning to him, said with frigid significance,—

“I thank you for returning so promptly, and for recognizing the only thing I now require at your hand.”

But Captain Pinckney had recovered his supercilious ease with the significant demand.

“You seem to have had something already from another’s hand, sir, but I am at your service,” he said lightly.

“You will consider that I have accepted it from you,” said Clarence, drawing closer to him with a rigid face. “I suppose it will not be necessary for me to return it—to make you understand me.”

“Go on,” said Pinckney, flushing slightly. “Make your terms; I am ready.”

“But I’m not,” said the unexpected voice of the deputy at the grille of the gateway. “Excuse my interfering, gentlemen, but this sort o’ thing ain’t down in my schedule. I’ve let this gentleman,” pointing to Captain Pinckney, “off for a minit to say ‘good-by’ to a lady, who I reckon has just ridden off in her buggy with her servant without saying by your leave, but I didn’t calkelate to let him inter another business, which, like as not, may prevent me from delivering his body safe and sound into court. You hear me!” As Clarence opened the gate he added, “I don’t want ter spoil sport between gents, but it’s got to come in after I’ve done my duty.”

“I’ll meet you, sir, anywhere, and with what weapons you choose,” said Pinckney, turning angrily upon Clarence, “as soon as this farce—for which you and your friends are responsible—is over.” He was furious at the intimation that Mrs. Brant had escaped him.

A different thought was in the husband’s mind. “But what assurance have I that you are going on with the deputy?” he said with purposely insulting deliberation.

“My word, sir,” said Captain Pinckney sharply.

“And if that ain’t enuff, there’s mine!” said the deputy. “For if this gentleman swerves to the right or left betwixt this and Santa Inez, I’ll blow a hole through him myself. And that,” he added deprecatingly, “is saying a good deal for a man who doesn’t want to spoil sport, and for the matter of that is willing to stand by and see fair play done at Santa Inez any time to-morrow before breakfast.”

“Then I can count on you,” said Clarence, with a sudden impulse extending his hand.

The man hesitated a moment and then grasped it.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said slowly; “but you look as if you meant business, and if you ain’t got anybody else to see you through, I’m thar! I suppose this gentleman will have his friends.”

“I shall be there at six with my seconds,” said Pinckney curtly. “Lead on.”

The gate closed behind them. Clarence stood looking around the empty patio and the silent house, from which it was now plain that the servants had been withdrawn to insure the secrecy of the conspiracy. Cool and collected as he knew he was, he remained for a moment in hesitation. Then the sound of voices came to his ear from the garden room, the light frivolity of Susy’s laugh and Hooker’s huskier accents. He had forgotten they were there—he had forgotten their existence!

Trusting still to his calmness, he called to Hooker in his usual voice. That gentleman appeared with a face which his attempts to make unconcerned and impassive had, however, only deepened into funereal gravity.

“I have something to attend to,” said Clarence, with a faint smile, “and I must ask you and Susy to excuse me for a little while. She knows the house perfectly, and will call the servants from the annex to provide you both with refreshment until I join you a little later.” Satisfied from Hooker’s manner that they knew nothing of his later interview with Pinckney, he turned away and ascended to his own room.

There he threw himself into an armchair by the dim light of a single candle as if to reflect. But he was conscious, even then, of his own calmness and want of excitement, and that no reflection was necessary. What he had done and what he intended to do was quite clear, there was no alternative suggested or to be even sought after. He had that sense of relief which comes with the climax of all great struggles, even of defeat.

He had never known before how hopeless and continuous had been that struggle until now it was over. He had no fear of tomorrow, he would meet it as he had to-day, with the same singular consciousness of being equal to the occasion. There was even no necessity of preparation for it; his will, leaving his fortune to his wife,—which seemed a slight thing now in this greater separation,—was already in his safe in San Francisco, his pistols were in the next room. He was even slightly disturbed by his own insensibility, and passed into his wife’s bedroom partly in the hope of disturbing his serenity by some memento of their past. There was no disorder of flight—everything was in its place, except the drawer of her desk, which was still open, as if she had taken something from it as an afterthought. There were letters and papers there, some of his own and some in Captain Pinckney’s handwriting. It did not occur to him to look at them—even to justify himself, or excuse her. He knew that his hatred of Captain Pinckney was not so much that he believed him her lover, as his sudden conviction that she was like him! He was the male of her species—a being antagonistic to himself, whom he could fight, and crush, and revenge himself upon. But most of all he loathed his past, not on account of her, but of his own weakness that had made him her dupe and a misunderstood man to his friends. He had been derelict of duty in his unselfish devotion to her; he had stifled his ambition, and underrated his own possibilities. No wonder that others had accepted him at his own valuation. Clarence Brant was a modest man, but the egotism of modesty is more fatal than that of pretension, for it has the haunting consciousness of superior virtue.

He re-entered his own room and again threw himself into his chair. His calm was being succeeded by a physical weariness; he remembered he had not slept the night before, and he ought to take some rest to be fresh in the early morning. Yet he must also show himself before his self-invited guests,—Susy and her husband,—or their suspicions would be aroused. He would try to sleep for a little while in the chair before he went downstairs again. He closed his eyes oddly enough on a dim dreamy recollection of Susy in the old days, in the little madrono hollow where she had once given him a rendezvous. He forgot the maturer and critical uneasiness with which he had then received her coquettish and willful advances, which he now knew was the effect of the growing dominance of Mrs. Peyton over him, and remembered only her bright, youthful eyes, and the kisses he had pressed upon her soft fragrant cheek. The faintness he had felt when waiting in the old rose garden, a few hours ago, seemed to steal on him once more, and to lapse into a pleasant drowsiness. He even seemed again to inhale the perfume of the roses.


He started. He had been sleeping, but the voice sounded strangely real.

A light, girlish laugh followed. He sprang to his feet. It was Susy standing beside him—and Susy even as she looked in the old days!

For with a flash of her old audacity, aided by her familiar knowledge of the house and the bunch of household keys she had found, which dangled from her girdle, as in the old fashion, she had disinterred one of her old frocks from a closet, slipped it on, and unloosening her brown hair had let it fall in rippling waves down her back. It was Susy in her old girlishness, with the instinct of the grown actress in the arrangement of her short skirt over her pretty ankles and the half-conscious pose she had taken.

“Poor dear old Clarence,” she said, with dancing eyes; “I might have won a dozen pairs of gloves from you while you slept there. But you’re tired, dear old boy, and you’ve had a hard time of it. No matter; you’ve shown yourself a man at last, and I’m proud of you.”

Half ashamed of the pleasure he felt even in his embarrassment, Clarence stammered, “But this change—this dress.”

Susy clapped her hands like a child. “I knew it would surprise you! It’s an old frock I wore the year I went away with auntie. I knew where it was hidden, and fished it out again with these keys, Clarence; it seemed so like old times. Lord! when I was with the old servants again, and you didn’t come down, I just felt as if I’d never been away, and I just rampaged free. It seemed to me, don’t you know, not as if I’d just come, but as if I’d always been right here, and it was you who’d just come. Don’t you understand! Just as you came when me and Mary Rogers were here; don’t you remember her, Clarence, and how she used to do ‘gooseberry’ for us? Well, just like that. So I said to Jim, ‘I don’t know you any more—get!’ and I just slipped on this frock and ordered Manuela around as I used to do—and she in fits of laughter; I reckon, Clarence, she hasn’t laughed as much since I left. And then I thought of you—perhaps worried and flustered as yet over things, and the change, and I just slipped into the kitchen and I told old fat Conchita to make some of these tortillas you know,—with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top,—and I tied on an apron and brought ’em up to you on a tray with a glass of that old Catalan wine you used to like. Then I sorter felt frightened when I got here, and I didn’t hear any noise, and I put the tray down in the hall and peeped in and found you asleep. Sit still, I’ll fetch em.”

She tripped out into the passage, returning with the tray, which she put on the table beside Clarence, and then standing back a little and with her hands tucked soubrette fashion in the tiny pockets of her apron, gazed at him with a mischievous smile.

It was impossible not to smile back as he nibbled the crisp Mexican cake and drank the old mission wine. And Susy’s tongue trilled an accompaniment to his thanks.

“Lord! it seems so nice to be here—just you and me, Clarence—like in the old days—with nobody naggin’ and swoopin’ round after you. Don’t be greedy, Clarence, but give me a cake.” She took one and finished the dregs of his glass.

Then sitting on the arm of his chair, she darted a violet ray of half reproach and half mischievousness into his amused and retrospective eyes. “There used to be room for two in that chair, Klarns.”

The use of the old childish diminutive for his name seemed to him natural as her familiarity, and he moved a little sideways to make room for her with an instinct of pleasure, but the same sense of irresponsibility that had characterized his reflections. Nevertheless, he looked critically into the mischievous eyes, and said quietly,—

“Where is your husband?”

There was no trace of embarrassment, apology, or even of consciousness in her pretty face as she replied, passing her hand lightly through his hair,—

“Oh, Jim? I’ve packed him off!”

“Packed him off!” echoed Clarence, slightly astonished.

“Yes, to Fair Plains, full tilt after your wife’s buggy. You see, Clarence, after the old cat—that’s your wife, please—left, I wanted to make sure she had gone, and wasn’t hangin’ round to lead you off again with your leg tied to her apron string like a chicken’s! No! I said to Jim, ‘Just you ride after her until you see she’s safe and sound in the down coach from Fair Plains without her knowin’ it, and if she’s inclined to hang back or wobble any, you post back here and let me know!’ I told him I would stay and look after you to see you didn’t bolt too!” She laughed, and then added, “But I didn’t think I should fall into the old ways so soon, and have such a nice time. Did you, Clarence?”

She looked so irresponsible, sitting there with her face near his, and so childishly, or perhaps thoughtlessly, happy, that he could only admire her levity, and even the slight shock that her flippant allusion to his wife had given him seemed to him only a weakness of his own. After all, was not hers the true philosophy? Why should not these bright eyes see things more clearly than his own? Nevertheless, with his eyes still fixed upon them, he continued,—

“And Jim was willing to go?”

She stopped, with her fingers still lifting a lock of his hair. “Why, yes, you silly—why shouldn’t he? I’d like to see him refuse. Why, Lord! Jim will do anything I ask him.” She put down the lock of hair, and suddenly looking full into his eyes, said, “That’s just the difference between him and me, and you and—that woman!”

“Then you love him!”

“About as much as you love her,” she said, with an unaffected laugh; “only he don’t wind me around his finger.”

No doubt she was right for all her thoughtlessness, and yet he was going to fight about that woman to-morrow! No—he forgot; he was going to fight Captain Pinckney because he was like her!

Susy had put her finger on the crease between his brows which this supposition had made, and tried to rub it out.

“You know it as well as I do, Clarence,” she said, with a pretty wrinkling of her own brows, which was her nearest approach to thoughtfulness. “You know you never really liked her, only you thought her ways were grander and more proper than mine, and you know you were always a little bit of a snob and a prig too—dear boy. And Mrs. Peyton was—bless my soul!—a Benham and a planter’s daughter, and I—I was only a picked-up orphan! That’s where Jim is better than you—now sit still, goosey!—even if I don’t like him as much. Oh, I know what you’re always thinking, you’re thinking we’re both exaggerated and theatrical, ain’t you? But don’t you think it’s a heap better to be exaggerated and theatrical about things that are just sentimental and romantic than to be so awfully possessed and overcome about things that are only real? There, you needn’t stare at me so! It’s true. You’ve had your fill of grandeur and propriety, and—here you are. And,” she added with a little chuckle, as she tucked up her feet and leaned a little closer to him, “here’s me.”

He did not speak, but his arm quite unconsciously passed round her small waist.

“You see, Clarence,” she went on with equal unconsciousness of the act, “you ought never to have let me go—never! You ought to have kept me here—or run away with me. And you oughtn’t to have tried to make me proper. And you oughtn’t to have driven me to flirt with that horrid Spaniard, and you oughtn’t to have been so horribly cold and severe when I did. And you oughtn’t to have made me take up with Jim, who was the only one who thought me his equal. I might have been very silly and capricious; I might have been very vain, but my vanity isn’t a bit worse than your pride; my love of praise and applause in the theatre isn’t a bit more horrid than your fears of what people might think of you or me. That’s gospel truth, isn’t it, Clarence? Tell me! Don’t look that way and this—look at me! I ain’t poisonous, Clarence. Why, one of your cheeks is redder than the other, Clarence; that’s the one that’s turned from me. Come,” she went on, taking the lapels of his coat between her hands and half shaking him, half drawing him nearer her bright face. “Tell me—isn’t it true?”

“I was thinking of you just now when I fell asleep, Susy,” he said. He did not know why he said it; he had not intended to tell her, he had only meant to avoid a direct answer to her question; yet even now he went on. “And I thought of you when I was out there in the rose garden waiting to come in here.”

“You did?” she said, drawing in her breath. A wave of delicate pink color came up to her very eyes, it seemed to him as quickly and as innocently as when she was a girl. “And what did you think, Klarns,” she half whispered—”tell me.”

He did not speak, but answered her blue eyes and then her lips, as her arms slipped quite naturally around his neck.

.     .     .     .     .

The dawn was breaking as Clarence and Jim Hooker emerged together from the gate of the casa. Mr. Hooker looked sleepy. He had found, after his return from Fair Plains, that his host had an early engagement at Santa Inez, and he had insisted upon rising to see him off. It was with difficulty, indeed, that Clarence could prevent his accompanying him. Clarence had not revealed to Susy the night before the real object of his journey, nor did Hooker evidently suspect it, yet when the former had mounted his horse, he hesitated for an instant, extending his hand.

“If I should happen to be detained,” he began with a half smile.

But Jim was struggling with a yawn. “That’s all right—don’t mind us,” he said, stretching his arms. Clarence’s hesitating hand dropped to his side, and with a light reckless laugh and a half sense of providential relief he galloped away.

What happened immediately thereafter during his solitary ride to Santa Inez, looking back upon it in after years, seemed but a confused recollection, more like a dream. The long stretches of vague distance, gradually opening clearer with the rising sun in an unclouded sky; the meeting with a few early or belated travelers and his unconscious avoidance of them, as if they might know of his object; the black shadows of foreshortened cattle rising before him on the plain and arousing the same uneasy sensation of their being waylaying men; the wondering recognition of houses and landmarks he had long been familiar with; his purposeless attempts to recall the circumstances in which he had known them—all these were like a dream. So, too, were the recollections of the night before, the episode with Susy, already mingled and blended with the memory of their previous past; his futile attempts to look forward to the future, always, however, abandoned with relief at the thought that the next few hours might make them unnecessary. So also was the sudden realization that Santa Inez was before him, when he had thought he was not yet halfway there, and as he dismounted before the Court House his singular feeling—followed, however, by no fear or distress—was that he had come so early to the rendezvous that he was not yet quite prepared for it.

This same sense of unreality pervaded his meeting with the deputy sheriff, at the news that the Federal judge had, as was expected, dismissed the prisoners on their own recognizances, and that Captain Pinckney was at the hotel at breakfast. In the like abstracted manner he replied to the one or two questions of the deputy, exhibited the pistols he had brought with him, and finally accompanied him to a little meadow hidden by trees, below the hotel, where the other principal and his seconds were awaiting them. And here he awoke—clear-eyed, keen, forceful, and intense!

So stimulated were his faculties that his sense of hearing in its acuteness took in every word of the conversation between the seconds, a few paces distant. He heard his adversary’s seconds say carelessly to the deputy sheriff, “I presume this is a case where there will be no apology or mediation,” and the deputy’s reply, “I reckon my man means business, but he seems a little queer.” He heard the other second laugh, and say lightly, “They’re apt to be so when it’s their first time out,” followed by the more anxious aside of the other second as the deputy turned away,—“Yes, but by G-d I don’t like his looks!” His sense of sight was also so acute that having lost the choice of position, when the coin was tossed, and being turned with his face to the sun, even through the glare he saw, with unerring distinctness of outline, the black-coated figure of his opponent moved into range—saw the perfect outline of his features, and how the easy, supercilious smile, as he threw away his cigar, appeared to drop out of his face with a kind of vacant awe as he faced him. He felt his nerves become as steel as the counting began, and at the word “three,” knew he had fired by the recoil of the pistol in his leveled hand, simultaneously with its utterance. And at the same moment, still standing like a rock, he saw his adversary miserably collapse, his legs grotesquely curving inwards under him,—without even the dignity of death in his fall,—and so sink helplessly like a felled bull to the ground. Still erect, and lowering only the muzzle of his pistol, as a thin feather of smoke curled up its shining side, he saw the doctor and seconds run quickly to the heap, try to lift its limp impotence into shape, and let it drop again with the words, “Right through the forehead, by G-d!”

“You’ve done for him,” said the deputy, turning to Clarence with a singular look of curiosity, “and I reckon you had better get out of this mighty quick. They didn’t expect it; they’re just ragin’; they may round on you—and”—he added, more slowly, “they seem to have just found out who you are.”

Even while he was speaking, Clarence, with his quickened ear, heard the words, “One of Hamilton Brant’s pups” “Just like his father,” from the group around the dead man. He did not hesitate, but walked coolly towards them. Yet a certain fierce pride—which he had never known before—stirred in his veins as their voices hushed and they half recoiled before him.

“Am I to understand from my second, gentlemen,” he said, looking round the group, “that you are not satisfied?”

“The fight was square enough,” said Pinckney’s second in some embarrassment, “but I reckon that he,” pointing to the dead man, “did not know who you were.”

“Do you mean that he did not know that I was the son of a man proficient in the use of arms?”

“I reckon that’s about it,” returned the second, glancing at the others.

“I am glad to say, sir, that I have a better opinion of his courage,” said Clarence, lifting his hat to the dead body as he turned away.

Yet he was conscious of no remorse, concern, or even pity in his act. Perhaps this was visible in his face, for the group appeared awed by this perfection of the duelist’s coolness, and even returned his formal parting salutation with a vague and timid respect. He thanked the deputy, regained the hotel, saddled his horse and galloped away.

But not towards the Rancho. Now that he could think of his future, that had no place in his reflections; even the episode of Susy was forgotten in the new and strange conception of himself and his irresponsibility which had come upon him with the killing of Pinckney and the words of his second. It was his dead father who had stiffened his arm and directed the fatal shot! It was hereditary influences—which others had been so quick to recognize—that had brought about this completing climax of his trouble. How else could he account for it that he—a conscientious, peaceful, sensitive man, tender and forgiving as he had believed himself to be—could now feel so little sorrow or compunction for his culminating act? He had read of successful duelists who were haunted by remorse for their first victim; who retained a terrible consciousness of the appearance of the dead man; he had no such feeling; he had only a grim contentment in the wiped-out inefficient life, and contempt for the limp and helpless body. He suddenly recalled his callousness as a boy when face to face with the victims of the Indian massacre, his sense of fastidious superciliousness in the discovery of the body of Susy’s mother!—surely it was the cold blood of his father influencing him ever thus. What had he to do with affection, with domestic happiness, with the ordinary ambitions of man’s life—whose blood was frozen at its source! Yet even with this very thought came once more the old inconsistent tenderness he had as a boy lavished upon the almost unknown and fugitive father who had forsaken his childish companionship, and remembered him only by secret gifts. He remembered how he had worshiped him even while the pious padres at San Jose were endeavoring to eliminate this terrible poison from his blood and combat his hereditary instinct in his conflicts with his school-fellows. And it was a part of this inconsistency that, riding away from the scene of his first bloodshed, his eyes were dimmed with moisture, not for his victim, but for the one being who he believed had impelled him to the act.

This and more was in his mind during his long ride to Fair Plains, his journey by coach to the Embarcadero, his midnight passage across the dark waters of the bay, and his re-entrance to San Francisco, but what should be his future was still unsettled.

As he wound round the crest of Russian Hill and looked down again upon the awakened city, he was startled to see that it was fluttering and streaming with bunting. From every public building and hotel, from the roofs of private houses, and even the windows of lonely dwellings, flapped and waved the striped and starry banner. The steady breath of the sea carried it out from masts and yards of ships at their wharves, from the battlements of the forts Alcatraz and Yerba Bueno. He remembered that the ferryman had told him that the news from Fort Sumter had swept the city with a revulsion of patriotic sentiment, and that there was no doubt that the State was saved to the Union. He looked down upon it with haggard, bewildered eyes, and then a strange gasp and fullness of the throat! For afar a solitary bugle had blown the “reveille” at Fort Alcatraz.

Clarence - Contents    |     Part II - Chapter I

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