by Elizabeth Robins
English Review (December 1910); McClures, 36: 218-228. Reprinted in The Mills of the Gods and Other Stories (1920).
Hypertext edition is copyrighted Joanne E. Gates and is based on the collected edition in The Mills of the Gods and Other Stories (1920). Pages 11-47.
THEY were talking one evening at a London dinner party about a girl who was coming later in the evening to sing. People were mildly curious about the nameless one--"Oh, quite unknown," said the hostess: "a young American."
But London knew what to expect at Lady St. Edmond's. "A little music after dinner" was the way the invitations ran when Paderewski was to play. To-night it was to be Kreisler and Tetrazzini and the Unknown.
"Where did you hear her?" somebody asked.
The lady in the smoke-coloured gauze and the wonderful emeralds smiled as she confessed: "Like you I shall hear her to-night for the first time."
"Aren't you rather nervous?--considering who's here," demanded her brother-in-law.
All the eyes at our end of the table followed the direction of Lord Seale's. With one accord they fastened on the man who sat between the hostess and myself. Foreigner though I was, I had not lived in London all these years without knowing something of
the meaning of that instinctive appeal to the slightly bored, gently cynical middle-aged man at my side. Eighteen years ago my first glimpse of Noel Berwick had revealed merely a tall, extravagantly slim man of thirty-one or two, with delicate indeterminate features, and charming, if slightly supercilious manners. To-day I knew that not his in herited place in the English hierarchy, anymore than the despotic power he had come to exercise in politics, not even the personal charm that his bitterest opponent could not deny --none of these causes had focussed the attention of a gathering like this upon the man on my left. His power of imposing a fastidious, intensely circumscribed taste in art and letters had ruled this little Great World for twenty years.
People dreaded the faint irony of his reflective smile more than another man's loud denunciation. A shrug of the stooped shoulders was committal to outer darkness. No need for him to cry: "So much for Buckingham!"--the head of the unfortunate was already weltering in the basket.
Before dinner, Lady St. Edmond had whispered in my ear: "Olive Hertford will be furious because she isn't put next him. But she's too exigeante. He's tired. Harassed. That horrible all-night sitting! Mind, no politics!" she said, shaking her pretty head till the long emerald and diamond ear- rings
flew out and scattered splinters of light. "He must be gently diverted."
I was not overpleased with my task. If, in common with all the world, I felt Noel Berwick's charm, I resented his easy despotism. I resented the other people's assuming the supreme importance of saying to him "the right thing" and never praising the wrong. Well, enough, I told myself to remember this was a party. All life was more or less "party" to Noel Berwick.
But now, seated at the table, with all these eyes following Lord Seale's to my neighbour, I came under the spell of the common wonder as to how even Lady St. Edmond had dared ask an untried stranger to sing before this man.
"I am not in the least nervous," she answered, "because Miss--a-- the young lady was recommended by Mr. Berwick."
I was intensely conscious that he would rather she had left that unsaid.
"Well, in matters musical," said the Liberal Whip who had taken me down, "we are all willing to follow Mr. Berwick." The jibe fell flat on Tory ears.
Interest in the Unknown had enormously quickened. A fire of questions from the other side of the table elicited from the great man the languid information that he had heard the girl only once.
"I spent some weeks in America last year,"
he said, as though the two hemispheres had not chronicled the fact. "During a little walking tour, we lost our way one day. We had to put up at a mountain inn, of a highly primitive nature. There were two other people to share our belated meal. An oldish woman, severely New England, and a girl. When we went out on the peeyazzah (they call it pee-yázz-ah) to smoke, the two women went into the sitting-room. To our consternation one of them began to play the piano--- !" He lifted his fine long hands half-way to his ears, and then dropped them. Our nerves twanged sharp in sympathy for his martyrdom.
"Fortunately the younger woman called out to her to stop. But she succeeded in silencing her only by saying: 'I'll sing for you without an accompaniment.'"
He paused and seemed to be examining the perversities in colour and in shape of the orchids that hung over the slim Venetian glass in front of him.
"Well--she sang," he ended.
"Oh, oh, now play fair," laughed the hostess. "This is how he told me: 'There was a little silence and then--a voice. An enchantment.'"
The man's eyes left the mauve and orange flecks on the unearthly flowers, and he glanced a little reproachfully at Betty St. Edmond. She had convicted him of enthusiasm.
"The voice was very true. And of a purity--" he paused, and then:
"When we came down next morning, she--the girl-- was singing again."
"And you lost the coach," said Lady St. Edmond. Though she would never allow anyone else to tease her lion, she did not mind doing it herself.
"What I chiefly remember," he returned, "is that we liked the way she took our pleasure in her performance-- when she opened the shutter and found us listening. She grew scarlet. And, when one of us complimented her, she leaned out of the window to say: 'You are English, aren't you? Do you think I could sing in London some day?'"
"And now she's here. Very pretty. Ready to astonish the natives."
Mr. Berwick turned to me:
"We talked to her for several minutes, I remember. She told us she had been studying very hard in New York."
"How old was she?"
"I should have said about sixteen. But she told us she was twenty. And quite sure she was born lucky. Yes, we agreed-- 'with a voice like that.' No, it wasn't so much her voice. It was her friends. No girl alone in the world (she was an orphan, she said) no girl ever had such friends. And she celebrated them. Standing there in the window,
looking--well, you'll see her. Wonderful, wonderful friends! Especially one!"
"The severe-looking chaperon?"
"Well, no. 'She is a friend I've made myself,' the girl said, as though apologizing for the work of an inexperienced hand. The lady was one of the teachers in the Academy where Miss--a--the girl had studied. The 'wonderful friends' were of her father's making. One in particular. A very prince. Out of devotion for her father, his friends had paid for her education--for everything, she said. She stood there with her head up--how they carry themselves--those raw American girls! Well, she poured out her artless paen to those wonderful friends of her father's. She had just had a letter from one of them to say, if she wanted to study abroad, she might. That, as I say, was last summer. Three weeks ago, during the Whitsuntide recess, she sent me a note-- recalling herself."
"Ah! the wonderful friend was as good as his word!"
"How do you mean?"
"He was sending her to London--to find more wonderful friends."
"She had been in London eight months. Studying. She had made strides. And she had been very happy, she said. She was happy because she has justified the hopes of those 'kind, kind men' who, for her
father's sake, had done so much for her. They will soon be relieved of the burden of Miss--a--of her support."
"Going to be married?"
"Somebody got her a chance," Lady St. Edmond threw in, "to sing for-- what did she say was the name of the impresario? And he's engaged her."
"Another 'wonderful friend!'"
"He pays her a retaining fee, I believe," said Mr. Berwick. "Until the day of the début.,"
"Don't forget the condition," added the hostess. "The condition is that she is not to let her voice be heard even at a private gathering before she bursts upon the world in Grand Opera."
"Then you've got us here under false pretences!"
"Wait till you hear!"--the long emerald ear-rings swung toward Noel Berwick--"Do tell them. It's rather pretty of her. She must sing just once, she told the impresario--just once--for someone who had encouraged her."
The great man lifted one shoulder and smiled deprecatingly. "I did not remember but it seems I encouraged her. She is going to- morrow to Leipzig for her final training. To-night she is to sing for" --he inclined his head--"for Lady St. Edmond."
"But she must change her ridiculous name," said our hostess with decision.
"Oh, of course," agreed Mr. Berwick hurriedly.
During the stir made by the women leaving the dining-room, I asked the name of the American songstress.
Lady St. Edmond's face took on a look of malice as she said under her breath:
"Promise not to tell?"
"Bury it," I vowed.
Her eyes danced. "Miss Cal Hizer Tripp," she pronounced with relish. I stared. She motioned that I blocked the way. I turned. The long shining table, the rows of men standing while the procession of women filed out--it all grew dim. But with a dimness that, instead of obscuring, strangely enhanced some of the implications in the familiar picture. Never had tlie unemphatic, delicate luxury of such a scene come more insistent to my senses. Never had women seemed so ethereal.
Cal Hizer Tripp!
Never a man so unreal as Noel Berwick--never flesh and blood so much a fetich as this totem pole of a tall thin aristocrat talking now to the Lord Chief Justice--about the Imperial idea and the "People." What did he know of the People? He feared them. He despised them. So did these human orchids trailing their delicaite petals past--
ivory, mauve and jewel-strewn black. The low laughter and the soft voices, the shimmer and the rustle went through the hall and up the great staircase.
Cal Hizer Tripp!
I followed. . . . but for me the shining procession had vanished. I was north of 62, walking in another company on the shore of the Bering Sea.
Cal Hizer Tripp!
The absurd name reeked of Nome.
It seemed to hold in its uncouth concatenation of vocables all the rawness, all the lawlessness, the courage and the cowardice, the inexplicable allurement and the fierce repulsion, the enlightenments, strange, precious--all that memory linked with the great Arctic Gold Camp.
Cal Hizer Tripp.
At utterance of that incantation the calendar was set back ten years. Nome was raging through its first summer after the news went broadcast that gold had been discovered in the sea sands and in the little river that wandered through the tundra behind Anvil Rock.
Nome, the gathering place of the nations, Mecca of the derelict, the dumpheap of the world. A strip of storm-swept coast, where forty thousand desperate beings had flung themselves, to fight like wild beasts, at first for gold, by and by for life. Where thousands, rich
and poor alike, slept shelterless on the shingle amongst a tangle of useless machinery, of goods and gear and dead Siwash dogs-- many a man, and woman too, ready enough never to rise again. Nobody was much disturbed by the knowledge that small-pox and typhoid were settling down on the demented camp. A more important matter that a man after washing out a fortune, lying in his tent with a pistol on either side of him, might waken any night to find holes cut in his canvas, eyes looking through, a gun pointed, and a voice: "Move a hair and I'll shoot."
Cal Hizer Tripp.
Five murders and three suicides that week when I helped to bury her father.
* * *
Upstairs we stood about the beautiful rooms and talked about the Anglo-Japanese Exhibition and the health of the Queen of Spain.
When the men came up, I moved towards Mr. Berwick.
"I've discovered that I know something about your young American," I said.
"Ah . . . . "
It struck me tlaat he welcomed the idea of somebody's helping him to bear the responsibility of "knowing about" Miss Cal. And he took it so calmly, my knowing! An American woman who had travelled in queer places--might quite well know. He was
page 21 nearly capable, I felt, of a question like that I used to meet: "From the States, are you? Then perhaps you know my brother Jack?"
"Whereabouts is he?" "I forget the name of the town, but it's somewhere in Texas."
"She is quite right," I said, "to speak well of her father's friends."
"Ah, you know the friends too," he said. The tone of languid relief stirred an old feeling in me. A feeling that seizes many an American and, perhaps, almost all travellers from time to time. A sense of impatience with the contented ignorance of men who bide at home and presume to gauge the infinitely remote. An impulse not to spare the smug self-sufficiency of those who would rather govern "the people" than take the trouble to understand them.
"Yes," I said, "I had some acquaintance, years ago, with her father's, and her 'particular friend.' Bill Dexter was his name."
"He was a saloon keeper."
"Bill Dexter was proprietor of the Golden Sands Gambling Hell at Nome, the year of the great Boom."
He stared an instant.
"Apart from her voice," he said in his aloof way, "my memory of the young woman is, I confess, a little vague. But certainly I got no impression of her being that sort."
"Perhaps you are mistaken."
"You think life so rich as to squander on the world two American girls, each with a voice, and each called Hizer Tripp?"
The long hands made a motion of humorous agnosticism. "The name, I admit, is without parallel--in Europe. But she clings to it with a pertinacity which is not only comic. It argues a pride in such association as it undoubtedly has for her." The thought reassured him. "She absolutely refuses to give it up!" he said.
"Does she tell you she has been asked to?"
"No, oh no. Our hostess tells me. Betty wrote to her to suggest that a singer might adopt something more--more convenient for .ú.ú.ú well, for professional purposes. Her reply was, I understand, that the only thing she felt it possible to alter was 'Cal.' If that was held to be too palpably a nickname, she was ready to let her first name appear in full.
"Caroline?" I suggested.
I remembered a lady called Tennessee. Cal might be California. No? Calphurnia, then?
Again he shook his head. "Unless Lady St. Edmond made it up, the name is Calvina. Yes. After her father. He was called Calvin, in addition to --a-- those other things,
Hizer and Tripp. But Miss Calvina"--he returned to the problem-- "what makes one (forgive my frankness) doubt your information is that she has an exalted reverence for the memory of her father. She is proud"--Mr. Berwick smiled the smile that made women adore him--"proud, poor child, to be the daughter of Calvin Hizer Tripp."
"Yes," said I," he had the gift of getting hold of people-- had Mr. Hizer Tripp. He got hold of me."
"Not at . . . . the place with the absurd name."
"Nome? Yes, Nome."
"But Nome is somewhere in the Arctic regions, isn't it? I've heard--didn't somebody tell me that you have been--out there?" His vague gesture assigned no limit to my eccentricity. "But I," he looked at me through his eye-glass, "I thought it improbable you had gone so far."
"Oh, I went much farther than you think."
"Farther than--you didn't go as far as Nome?"
"Yes--the Hizer Tripps and I were there together. And Hizer Tripp is there still."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I helped to bury him."
"I shouldn't say helped. It was Bill Dexter who did the helping. I only assisted--
in the French sense. But for Bill Dexter, Miss Cal's father would have lacked more important things than decent burial. But for Bill Dexter, Miss Cal wouldn't be singing to-night in the most exclusive house in London."
The reminder seemed faintly unpalatable. He glanced at Betty St. Edmond, and then he said suddenly: "I am keeping you standing. They can't begin the music till Tetrazzini comes on after the Opera. Let us go in there." On the way he turned and said, quite kindly, confidentially even: "You don't seriously mean to tell me you knew personally the--a--the man who kept the--that place you spoke of?"
"I knew the man. And I knew the place."
The face alongside me conveyed not mere polite incredulity. It said plainly: "Of course I don't believe you."
He dropped his eye-glass, and slowly we made our way through the back drawing-room, past the open piano and the music stands, past the regiment of gilt chairs set in rows, to a small white room hung with water-colours--all French, except for a few Sargents.
"She has done this very well," he murmured, replacing his eye- glass and looking round. "It used to be rather trying. The Dowager Lady St. Edmond had it upholstered in magenta brocade." He smiled
as he sat down. "She used, in her old-fashioned way, to call it the Red Saloon."
"Did she?" I reflected. "There was more than one red saloon in Nome. But Miss Cal's friend had the biggest and--the reddest."
"Miss Cal's friend--" he repeated dubiously.
"Yes. Three-fourths of the business of the camp was transacted at the Golden Sands. The crowd round it was often so dense you simply couldn't hurry by."
"You were obliged to pass it!" he asked upon a note of delicate sympathy.
"Every day. From the level of the wooden sidewalks, I could see the long narrow hall, I could see the sides of the end near the street, lined with shelves and a counter. Between the shelves and the counter were always men, in shirt-sleeves, mixing drinks. Other men by the gold-scales weighing out dust. In the open space men in brown drill and high-laced boots standing about smoking, talking about the strike up at Casadepaga, or the latest shooting over a jumped claim at Anvil Creek. The men weren't the jolly adventurers of romance, either. They were men who walked heavily and wore strained 'Nome' faces. And on either side--were haggard, painted women, trying to be jolly at the bar."
"Ah"--the great man crossed his legs. But he kept looking at me.
"If an aisle opened in the crowd you'd see that a little way further down, where the card tables began, were the wheel of fortune, and chemin de fer, craps--all the devices for gambling. And, where they stopped, was a piano. Sometimes a space would be cleared for dancing. Sometimes the whole lower half of the hall was dizzy with couples spinning, each in their own restricted space, like tops. And they danced without joy. As if it were part of the whole grim business that had to be seen through. Sometimes you'd see a short-skirted girl dancing alone."
"Not--you never saw--"
"The girl that's coming here to-night."
"Oh, I am speaking of ten years ago. Miss Cal was a child. But I saw, one day, a woman of thirty in a bright pink skirt, dancing on the cards in the middle of a faro table. The men lounging at the doors said she'd just lost $450. It seemed to put them in spirits to see a woman taking it like that. They applauded her. She got her money back, too, and a hundred to boot. I say 'to boot' advisedly. That's just how she did it. By kicking the court cards one by one into the face of a man who bet her $50 a time she couldn't hit him."
"You saw that?"
I laughed. "Oh, that was nothing. They said Miss Sametta did some 'high-rolling' when Bill Dexter was away--out on the creek
looking after his lay. But Bill's place wasn't like the others. Bill's joint was respectable."
I nodded and left it at that. "The worst character in camp had a wholesome respect for Bill. I mustn't let you undervalue Miss Cal's friend. He was the famous Bill Dexter, of Dexter Brothers, you know. But perhaps their fame has not reached you."
"The Dexters were well-known down Arizona way. They were the men who got the best of Wells, Fargo. Perhaps you don't know Wells, Fargo either. They're a San Francisco express and banking company, the great bullion-carriers of the Pacific. The Dexters used to pick off the guards as neatly as--as Lady St. Edmond would gather a rose."
"Pick them off. You don't mean--"
"Yes I do. And they'd get away--those Dexters would--with every dollar the coach carried."
"Did the authorities accept that arrangement?"
"Not a sheriff in the West dared do more than issue warrants that nobody noticed. After two or three robberies on a big scale and an inconvenient amount of bloodshed, the Wells, Fargo people found it hard to get men to undertake the risk of seeing the coach through. So they did a thing that would perhaps occur only to an American. They
page 28 engaged Billy Dexter at the salary of a Cabinet Minister to go out as guard to the gold he'd been making so free with."
"How did it work?"
"Nobody ever molested anything Dexter was looking after. He ought to have been governor of a province."
The maker of Viceroys smiled.
"He had the art of compelling people to accept his ruling. I'd like to give you an idea of Miss Cal's friend--make you see why I agree with her that he's no ordinary man."
We were silent a minute while I cast about in my memory. "Perhaps you don't know," I went on quite gravely, "about the great Sharkey-Fitzsimmons fight?"
No, he was sorry he didn't.
"Well, it would have helped you to understand the stuff Miss Cal's friend was made of. They used to talk about that fight at Nome. The Pavilion in Frisco was packed, they say, with people keen as mustard to see those two champions stand up to each other. The stakes were heavy. Fitzsimmons made a magnificent showing. No man on earth but Bill Dexter would have dared go against the sentiment of that crowd. I don't know if it's true-- but I am not trying to whitewash Bill Dexter--they say he'd been "fixed" to the tune of $10,000. When he stood up to umpire you could have heard a pin drop. And he had the nerve to throw the fight to
Sharkey on a foul. The crowd would have torn any other man to pieces. Dexter faced down the growling with those steel eyes of his. Nobody imagined it would be good for his health to make a protest. That's Bill Dexter at a prize fight, or holding up a Wells, Fargo coach.
"But lounging in and out of the Golden Sands Saloon he was a mild-looking person of thirty-seven or eight, with a drooping corn-coloured moustache and slow movements. His admirers say he's killed fourteen men. His whole art, they tell you, lies in the way he gets out his pistol. Draws it like a flash of lightning, before the other fellow has time to remember there are such things as shooting-irons on the earth. But he never provokes a quarrel. And he won't allow 'gun practice' round the Golden Sands bar."
"Why," came in the mellow accents of the great man, "why was a person of such accomplishments reduced to keeping a saloon?"
"Ah, you don't understand American conditions. Most of the business of the West and a good deal even in the East, is done in saloons. The proprietor is often an immensely influential person. Bill Dexter was."
"What I am wondering is, how you happened to stumble across such a man."
"I didn't stumble. I went straight. Since
I was there, I wanted to know the people; not just look at them. Dexter was one of the best worth-knowing people in Nome. He gave the key-note. A sort of"--I looked at the man before me and I didn't quite dare to say--"a sort of Arctic circle Berwick." But I had a feeling the great man got my meaning. "If you could interest Dexter in a scheme it was sure to be put through. Shrewd, critical--but his hand always in his pocket--and not by any means always after his Smith and Wesson. Take Miss Cal's father. When he got to Nome, as Dexter said, all Hizer Tripp had in the world was a small daughter, a wire-haired terrier and one lung. He'd been sleeping on the beach ever since he landed, coughing his life out. He earned a little money running a gasoline engine for a gold dredger. One day he came up to Bill's to get a drink. He didn't want the drink but he wanted human society. He wanted news. Incidentally he wanted the free luncheon that went with the whisky. When he finished he said he'd like some crackers to take back to his kid, and he put down another quarter. Plain to see he was dying. Always thinking about his kid. Dexter said 'it got other people kind of into the same habit.' I asked why he'd brought the child to such a place if he cared for her. 'The same reason he brought the dawg,' Bill said. 'Nobody else wanted 'em.'"
"When a box of oranges or sweet crackers would be opened, Dexter used to look round for Hizer Tripp. 'Here's your chance,' he'd say. Other people too got into the way of saying: 'This'd do for Hizer Tripp's kid.'"
"By and by he got so weak he couldn't walk back and forth. 'Better go to bed for a day or two,' Dexter said. Beds in Nome were worth $10 a night. Hizer Tripp shook his head. Dexter was selling floor space in an outhouse for $2 per man. 'There's a little room upstairs,' he said. 'You and the kid can have it till I get a good let.' He sent some of his pals down to bring up Hizer Tripp's valise. Yes, he had a valise, as well as the three other things. Well, he made that last journey leaning now and then on the child's shoulder--a little thing with long tow plaits and a quiet face. I used to see her at the window of that upper room sewing: sometimes singing when the piano and the brass- throated women were still. The men used to listen. One day one of them called up: "What you makin', kiddie?' 'A crazy quilt,' says she--'all the ladies give me ribbons and pieces of silk.' 'A crazy quilt!' They roared with laughter. They never had heard of such a thing, I suppose. 'Do for your father!' one man shouted--more than half seas over. But the child said: 'Of course it's for father'--as innocent as milk. So she sat there, and sewed and sang till the
hour when all the cover her father needed was a foot of earth. Dexter said Hizer Tripp should have a decent burying. On account of the child, Mr. Berwick."
"Did they ask you to read the service?" he said.
I fell into his tone. "You think there weren't any parsons in Nome? Thick as blackberries. But Bill Dexter went and asked the services of a mere boy, who wasn't a parson at all. But he had opened a hospital and got a licence from some church to preach and bury, and a licence from his Maker to get very close to his fellows. He was the busiest man in Nome. But he said he'd do the business for Hizer Tripp. I had been hearing about all this from my miner friends, but I had my own problems to consider about that time.
"The hordes had kept on pouring in all the summer. Disorder and violence had increased so that the Commander of the United States Post declared Martial Law. Life was a nightmare. The hospital was filling up and a pest quarter was established. We were expecting that those of us who didn't die would shortly be quarantined till the last boat had gone. It would mean being shut up in that place for nine months. We had a week of stormy weather. There was already a feeling of winter in the air that made one anxious, restless.
"The day of Hizer Tripp's funeral was one of a succession of grey mornings. But this one brought a wind that came howling over the Bering Sea, piling up the water and sending it to overwhelm the beach shacks, and wash tents and gold extractors and thousands of feet of lumber up far above the ordinary tide line. There they lay in wind-rows on the tundra. Of the men who had brought those things so far, to leave them at the mercy of wind and tide and thieves--some were lying here already on the little point of land north of Nome City. I remember thinking, as I stood there, it was as grim a place as you'll find on earth. and unhewn pieces of volcanic rock laid on the shallow graves. Here and there a place was marked by a slab of wood. Hardly one was driven deep enough to stand firm a single summer. They leaned forlornly this way and that. Two men with gold-picks and shovels were digging a grave for Hizer Tripp. Digging did I say? A few inches under the surface the ground was locked in the ice of ages. They picked out a little trench. The sea was booming and threatening, and now and then it sent up a huge white-crested breaker just to peer and find out what those silly cheechakos were at. I couldn't bear it. I turned my back on the water, and thought about the strange life I had come to
know, and about the meaning behind it all. I stood there under the lead-coloured sky, with my scarf whipping my face. It stung me. Other things too. I wondered how many more of the people still on the beach and at the creeks and in the saloons how-- many more were to end the story here.
"Hizer Tripp was far from my mind when I heard the shouting and the cursing. I turned round and saw a little steam launch trying in vain to land in that boiling surf. I saw who was on board. Half a dozen men and a child and a dog. The launch was towing a dory. In the dory was a long box. What I was mainly conscious of was the Captain's awful language. He was cursing at the top of his powerful lungs all the time they were landing--all the time they were getting the ghastly cargo up on the Point. I was glad the little girl had hidden her face. Someone carried her through the surf and the dog swam after. The Boy Preacher opened his book and led the way. The procession--I thought of it as we came upstairs to-night--it headed across the Point to the newly hacked out trench. The men stumbled and floundered among the stones with the unpainted deal box on their shoulders. The little girl followed with Bill Dexter and the dog. The child's hair had come unbraided, and it whipped about in the wind. Her petticoats blew about too, and showed her thin legs in
old rusty shoes. I went and stood near her. So it happened that the sulphurous Captain and I brought up the rear. I didn't notice he had stopped cursing, till I noticed that he had taken his hat off. And then I saw he was crying. Not the dribbled crying of most grown-up people. But great round tears like children's tears. And little Cal took Bill Dexter's hand and we all sang: 'Nearer my God to Thee.'
"That was how we buried Hizer Tripp."
* * *
I had quite got over my wish to make Noel Berwick feel his ignorance of something I knew. I had come to a place where I wanted more than anything that he shouldn't think meanly of Miss Cal's friends. That he should recognize the humanity in them.
"And the child?" said Berwick, when I had been silent a moment.
"I wanted her to come with me. She clung to Bill Dexter. He lifted her up on his shoulder and took her away before they put the heavy pieces of rock on the new grave. Well, the same day happened to bring a crisis in another matter, and I had my hands full for the next twenty-four hours.
"The first I knew of the lifting of the threat of quarantine was when I overcame my reluctance to enter the Golden Sands Saloon two days after the funeral. I had marched in, feeling very daring, not to say abandoned.
Bill Dexter was playing poker with some pals. He put down his cards and came towards me, his big diamond horseshoe flashing. He took off his hat and bowed. The sort of bow that is called 'old school.' Not badly done. I think he knew I had been told about the men he'd murdered, for he wore an air of modest pride. I said I had come to ask after Hizer Tripp's little girl.
"'She's all right,' Dexter said.
"I had been covertly glancing down the saloon afraid I should catch sight of her. The tobacco smoke was so thick that even the men congregated at the bar and standing about in groups near the door looked vague and dreamlike. The whipper-in was going up and down, elbowing his way and calling out: 'Come and have game o' roodge ee nore. Craps, then, or Black Jack. Yes this way the little hosses.' He had got to the door now and he called to the men hanging about outside: 'Come and try your luck, gentlemen. Come in jest a minute anyhow--and have a look at Miss Sametta's noo dance.' I caught a glimpse of her, down at the end of the hall, and I felt pretty low in my mind. 'I am glad the child is all right,' I said. 'I thought, perhaps she'd like to come and have supper with me.' 'No,' Dexter said slowly, 'guess she can't do that.' 'Why not ?' I asked. 'She ain't here,' he said.
"I asked where she was.
"'Guess she's all right,' he drawled. 'We shipped her off on the North Star a couple of hours ago.'
"My first thought was: 'Then the boats are running again!--thank God!' 'So Hizer Tripp's little girl's gone home!'
"'She ain't got any home,' he said.
"'Where is she going then?'
"'To school,' said Dexter.
"'Then, Hizer Tripp left something?'
"'Bills. But he'd set his heart on the kid goin' to school. So we took up a subscription and she's gone.'
"I stared. 'What school?'
"'A school that Cherokee Bob found this mornin'. Here.' He picked up a tattered newspaper off the bar--and he put a finger on a marked advertisement in a two months' old San Francisco 'Examiner.' I looked and saw: The Santa Clara Seminary for Young Ladies. Dexter watched me narrowly. 'Reads all right,' he suggested. 'Yes,' I said, 'just the thing.' 'She didn't want to go though' (he said it a little proudly, I thought), 'but we'd promised her father.'
"Someone had started the pianola on a rag-time waltz. Miss Sametta and two other women came up the length of the bar room asking the men to dance. Soon there was a whirling at the end of the bar, and a stamping of feet under the tables and back against the wall--feet that didn't dance but kept the
time, and feet that danced but didn't keep the time. A fine light dust was rising out of the boards and mixing with the tobacco smoke.
"I had asked Dexter if he knew Hizer Tripp before he came here. I noticed the question seemed to surprise him. 'No,' he said, 'never laid eyes on him before. But I kind o' took to the cuss. He was so damned unreasonable.' Then I said something about Hizer Tripp's having had luck at the Golden Sands whatever other people had found there. He looked at me sharply and said: 'Don't make any mistake, we play a square game at the Golden Sands.' 'I think you do,' I said humbly, and remembered something the Boy Preacher had said, 'If I want money for my church or help for anybody, I don't go to Christians about it, I go to Bill Dexter. Bill isn't a believer, but he's a doer.'
"Dexter, meanwhile, with his best air, was conducting me to the door. Miss Sametta's partner had brought her up to the bar and ordered drinks. Miss Sametta was one of the youngest women in Nome. She had come up in my boat, not six weeks ago. Already she looked ten years older, her mouth hard, her manner devil-may-care. In avoiding her eyes mine went to the wall over her head. 'What's that?' I asked Dexter; and he stopped. 'That? Why that's the crazy quilt,' he said. 'Miss Sametta here started
givin' her ribbons and bits of things, and the kid made a crazy quilt.' 'And she gave it to you!' I said. 'I'm glad you give it a place of honour.'
"'It's put there so's folks can see it's a bang-up quilt. We're goin' to raffle it.'
"I told him I hoped he'd get a good price for it, and indemnify himself for some of his loss on the room and the rest. He stared at me a moment with an expression I didn't like. It was too near contempt.
"'We're rafflin' it for the kid,' he said. And all I could say was 'Oh!--'
"When we got to the door and the loafers made an aisle to let me out, I stopped and held out my hand. Dexter looked a little confused as he shook it. He muttered something about 'people in Nome appreciatin' the work in that quilt.' The $l0 chances had gone like hot cakes. 'Miss Sametta's taken two.'
* * *
"So this is where you are!"
I looked up to see Lord Seale hurrying in. "You're a nice sort of patron! Here's the prima donna with a music roll and a duenna, all complete, looking over Betty's head and asking, 'Isn't Mr. Berwick coming?'"
We went back to the drawing-room. I caught fragments on the way. "Rather schoolgirly." "Too delicate--that sort of
good looks--to show up. I shouldn't wonder if she was quite insignificant on the stage."
Craning my head I got my first glimpse of her. A tall girl in a high-necked frock of thin muslin. A face nearly as white as the frock. And yet somehow she looked perfectly well. Her eyes were liglit too, and the only definite colour about her was in her lips and her golden eyebrows. Her fine straight hair was that sort of white gold seldom seen out of Scandinavia. The instant she saw Berwick she smiled and colour came into her cheeks. She was beautiful then. But when she had said: "How do you do, Mr. Berwick?" she stood quite silent, looking like a contented child. He made one or two remarks, but it was "yes" or "no" with her.
"She doesn't need to be clever," was the comment of a man behind me, "with a face like that."
I came forward to speak to her, but Mr. Berwick drew out his watch, and said in an odd, rather fussy way: "Time the Tetrazzini was here." And then we heard Tetrazzini was on the stair. So Mr. Berwick led Miss Cal to the reserved seats in the front row. I had the queerest feeling that he was somehow protecting Miss Cal from me.
The Tetrazzini sang with her usual effect and they came for Miss Cal. "Where is Mrs. Reader?" she said, standing up and looking round.
When the Tetrazzini group moved away,
there was Mrs. Reader on the piano stool, straightening out the music. A grenadier of a woman. The girl took up her position by the accompanist and began a German ballad about Klärchen.
I didn't try to listen to it. I was thinking about the last time I'd seen the singer. I kept seeing the deal coffin in the dory buffeted about by the surf, kept seeing the child in the ugly little dress she had outgrown, and the rusty boots--following after the men as they staggered over the volcanic rocks. I heard the curses and the roaring of the surf. I remembered the sting in the wind, the desolation of the place and hour. And quite suddenly it all faded. I had the most vivid sensation of standing in summer rain. It was tinkling all about me in a wood. I could smell the fresh scents come up out of the earth and the grasses. The air was full of birds--flying low and calling.
They shook the rain drops off the flowering branches. The shower fell to music. Then the sun came out of the cloud, and the wood was glorified.
I felt a sense of jar at a sudden discordant noise--and I looked round and saw that everybody but me was applauding Miss Cal.
She sang again. I heard someone say: "It's the kind of voice that comes into the world once in a generation or two. A voice that gives you back your youth."
Mr. Berwick had gone and thanked her in a gentle quiet way that I could see pleased her more than the extravagances she had to listen to. But, when I tried to get near enough to be introduced, he refused to catch my eye. Was he afraid of my embarrassing her? Of my recalling people and impressions best forgotten?
Something made me press forward and hold out my hand.
"It is a long time since we met," I said.
She took my hand and looked at me out of those light blue eyes of hers. "I'm afraid I don't remember--"
"Of course you don't. It is ten years ago."
"Ten years? But ten years ago . . ." she thought an instant, "I was at Nome ten years ago."
"So was I."
"You were? Oh!" She seized my hand again, and again that transfiguring colour swept across the whiteness of her face. "Did you know us? My father and me?"
"No, I only saw you," I said.
"Oh do let us go somewhere," she looked about breathlessly, "and talk about it. I never meet anybody who knows about Nome."
Mr. Berwick's cool voice broke in on her enthusiasm, saying we must listen to Kreisler. Miss Cal looked reproved. She bit her lip. Then Mrs. Reader marched up, and said it
was late, and Miss Cal must go home. There was the long journey before her to-morrow. So we went out and stood in the hall, Mr. Berwick and Miss Cal and I, while Mrs. Reader went and got the cloaks.
"Oh, do let us talk about Nome just for a minute," Miss Cal whispered. "Did you know--"
"That is the same lady, isn't it," Mr. Berwick looked after the uncompromising form stalking down the passage, "the same lady who was with you last summer?"
"Yes, she's been with me ever since I left school. She is very nice and immensely accomplished. But I don't really need her. It's only to please my friends--"
"Ah-h'm yes," said Mr. Berwick.
"They don't know how independent girls are nowadays. They are a little old-fashioned, I guess. Specially Mr. Dexter. He always seems to want Mrs. Reader to come along everywhere I go." She turned to me. "Do tell me if you knew Mr. Dexter? Really! Oh, it's so exciting to think you know my friends. Did you meet Mr. Smith, too. Yes? He had a red beard. And Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Schindler--"
"Do you see much of them nowadays?" I asked.
"No. That's the only thing that isn't heavenly kind about them. They've never been to see me."
"You've never seen any one of them since the Nome days?"
"Never once. It is a little bad of them," she conceded. "But they live a long way off. And I'm sure to see them some day. When I've deserved it!" She smiled at Berwick as much as to say, "you understand."
"But you get letters," Mr Berwick suggested.
"Oh, yes, every month. Or at least," she said, speaking by the card, "I have a cheque every month."
Then she told me how those gentlemen--all "great friends" of her father's --how they had given her her education.
"They are very busy people. I think they have banks and railroads to see after. I can't expect them to use up their time writing to a girl."
"Do they take turns?"
"In writing--or in sending a--"
"No, it's always Mr. Dexter who does the writing. But when I ask about the others he sends me back messages from them all--Mr. Smith and Mr. O'Brien and Mr.--"
"I used to think Mr. Dexter the most interesting," I said. "Does he write interesting letters?"
"I love them. But they are always very short little letters," she said wistfully. "Even
when I send my photograph (I've always done that every birthday) he has never said I'd grown or anything."
Mrs. Reader was stalking along under a burden of wraps. We disembarrassed her and helped Miss Cal to find her sleeves. She smiled at me over her shoulders: "It's been such a pleasure to me to talk to someone about the old times."
"It has all grown very vague to you, I should think."
"Not the least. I remember everything--oh, but distinctly."
"You were very young," I said.
She seemed not to like my tone.
"I haven't forgotten a thing!" she protested-- "except your face. There were so many nice ladies at Nome, weren't there?"
I admitted that our niceness and our numbers excused her failure to particularize.
"Oh, it was a wonderful experience. The journey up--and the fun we had camping on the beach. Only poor father didn't enjoy that part very much." She shook her pale gold head. "No, I like best to think of him in that dear little room at Mr. Dexter's. I used to sit at the window," she explained to Berwick as he moved towards the stairs, "and sew bits of silk the ladies gave me." She looked back at me. "Did you give me bits of silk too?"
"No, I'm afraid--" But she didn't hear me out.
"I used to watch the people going by the window, and listen to the pianola in the big room below. Mr. Dexter had heaps of friends. Everybody used to come to Mr. Dexter's. He used to tell father and me about them. Some of them had their money stolen out of their tents at night, and some couldn't find their mines. Ever so many of those people had lost everything in the world. But gracious!--they were plucky. They'd try to keep up their spirits with singing and playing games. Quite childish games. One I remember was called the 'Wheel of Fortune,' And the one called 'Little Horses' I longed to play myself. Only I never could leave my father! I used to be so sorry for that. Rather naughty about it, I remember. But I'm glad now that I never left poor father."
"Yes," said Mr. Berwick, "I think you may be glad."
The April brightnesss was shining again in her face as she turned to me to shake hands: "Thank you so much for remembering father and me. It has made it so beautiful seeing somebody who knew us at Nome. If only--" she put it to me as rapture's crown of rapture-- "Oh! wouldn't it have been wonderful if Mr. Dexter had been here to-night, too!"
I agreed that it would indeed have been "wonderful."
"Good-bye," she said to Mr. Berwick. "Thank you a thousand times for being so kind to me. I . . ." she hesitated, standing there all white and golden in the light, at the top of the stair. And then you saw in her face that she had found Noel Berwick's reward.
"I shall write Mr. Dexter all about you," said Miss Cal.
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