HOW SANTA CLAUS CAME TO SIMPSON'S BAR
by Bret Harte
It had been raining in the valley of the Sacramento. The North Fork
had overflowed its banks and Rattlesnake Creek was impassable. The few
boulders that had marked the summer ford at Simpson's Crossing were
obliterated by a vast sheet of water stretching to the foothills. The
up stage was stopped at Grangers; the last mail had been abandoned in
the tules, the rider swimming for his life. "An area," remarked the
Sierra Avalanche, with pensive local pride, "as large as the State
of Massachusetts is now under water."
Nor was the weather any better in the foothills. The mud lay deep on the
mountain road; wagons that neither physical force nor moral objurgation
could move from the evil ways into which they had fallen, encumbered the
track, and the way to Simpson's Bar was indicated by broken-down teams
and hard swearing. And farther on, cut off and inaccessible, rained
upon and bedraggled, smitten by high winds and threatened by high water,
Simpson's Bar, on the eve of Christmas day, 1862, clung like a swallow's
nest to the rocky entablature and splintered capitals of Table Mountain,
and shook in the blast.
As night shut down on the settlement, a few lights gleamed through
the mist from the windows of cabins on either side of the highway now
crossed and gullied by lawless streams and swept by marauding winds.
Happily most of the population were gathered at Thompson's store,
clustered around a red-hot stove, at which they silently spat in some
accepted sense of social communion that perhaps rendered conversation
unnecessary. Indeed, most methods of diversion had long since been
exhausted on Simpson's Bar; high water had suspended the regular
occupations on gulch and on river, and a consequent lack of money and
whiskey had taken the zest from most illegitimate recreation. Even Mr.
Hamlin was fain to leave the Bar with fifty dollars in his pocket -- the
only amount actually realized of the large sums won by him in the
successful exercise of his arduous profession. "Ef I was asked," he
remarked somewhat later, "ef I was asked to pint out a purty little
village where a retired sport as didn't care for money could exercise
hisself, frequent and lively, I'd say Simpson's Bar; but for a young
man with a large family depending on his exertions, it don't pay." As
Mr. Hamlin's family consisted mainly of female adults, this remark
is quoted rather to show the breadth of his humor than the exact
extent of his responsibilities.
Howbeit, the unconscious objects of this satire sat that evening in the
listless apathy begotten of idleness and lack of excitement. Even the
sudden splashing of hoofs before the door did not arouse them. Dick
Bullen alone paused in the act of scraping out his pipe, and lifted
his head, but no other one of the group indicated any interest in, or
recognition of, the man who entered.
It was a figure familiar enough to the company, and known in Simpson's
Bar as the "Old Man." A man of perhaps fifty years; grizzled and scant
of hair, but still fresh and youthful of complexion. A face full of
ready, but not very powerful, sympathy, with a chameleon-like aptitude
for taking on the shade and color of contiguous moods and feelings. He
had evidently just left some hilarious companions and did not at first
notice the gravity of the group, but clapped the shoulder of the nearest
man jocularly, and threw himself into a vacant chair.
"Jest heard the best thing out, boys! Ye know Smiley, over yar -- Jim
Smiley -- funniest man in the Bar? Well, Jim was jest telling the richest
yarn about -- "
"Smiley's a ---- fool," interrupted a gloomy voice.
"A particular ---- skunk," added another in sepulchral accents.
A silence followed these positive statements. The Old Man glanced
quickly around the group. Then his face slowly changed. "That's so,"
he said reflectively, after a pause, "certingly a sort of a skunk and
suthin' of a fool. In course." He was silent for a moment as in painful
contemplation of the unsavoriness and folly of the unpopular Smiley.
"Dismal weather, ain't it?" he added, now fully embarked on the current
of prevailing sentiment. "Mighty rough papers on the boys, and no show
for money this season. And tomorrow's Christmas."
There was a movement among the men at this announcement, but whether of
satisfaction or disgust was not plain. "Yes," continued the Old Man in
the lugubrious tone he had, within the last few moments, unconsciously
adopted, "yes, Christmas, and tonight's Christmas eve. Ye see, boys,
I kinder thought -- that is, I sorter had an idee, jest passin' like, you
know -- that maybe ye'd all like to come over to my house tonight and
have a sort of tear round. But I suppose, now, you wouldn't? Don't feel
like it, maybe?" he added with anxious sympathy, peering into the faces
of his companions.
"Well, I don't know," responded Tom Flynn with some cheerfulness.
"P'r'aps we may. But how about your wife, Old Man? What does she say to
The Old Man hesitated. His conjugal experience had not been a happy one,
and the fact was known to Simpson's Bar. His first wife, a delicate,
pretty little woman, had suffered keenly and secretly from the jealous
suspicions of her husband, until one day he invited the whole Bar to his
house to expose her infidelity. On arriving, the party found the shy,
petite creature quietly engaged in her household duties and retired
abashed and discomfited. But the sensitive woman did not easily recover
from the shock of this extraordinary outrage. It was with difficulty
she regained her equanimity sufficiently to release her lover from the
closet in which he was concealed and escape with him. She left a boy of
three years to comfort her bereaved husband. The Old Man's present wife
had been his cook. She was large, loyal, and aggressive.
Before he could reply, Joe Dimmick suggested with great directness that
it was the "Old Man's house," and that, invoking the Divine Power, if
the case were his own, he would invite whom he pleased, even if in
so doing he imperilled his salvation. The Powers of Evil, he further
remarked, should contend against him vainly. All this delivered with a
terseness and vigor lost in this necessary translation.
"In course. Certainly. Thet's it," said the Old Man with a sympathetic
frown. "Thar's no trouble about thet. It's my own house, built every
stick on it myself. Don't you be afeard o' her, boys. She may cut up
a trifle rough, ez wimmin do, but she'll come round." Secretly the Old
Man trusted to the exaltation of liquor and the power of courageous
example to sustain him in such an emergency.
As yet, Dick Bullen, the oracle and leader of Simpson's Bar, had not
spoken. He now took his pipe from his lips. "Old Man, how's that yer
Johnny gettin' on? Seems to me he didn't look so peart last time I seed
him on the bluff heavin' rocks at Chinamen. Didn't seem to take much
interest in it. Thar was a gang of 'em by yar yesterday -- drownded out
up the river -- and I kinder thought o' Johnny, and how he'd miss 'em!
May be now, we'd be in the way ef he wus sick?"
The father, evidently touched not only by this pathetic picture of
Johnny's deprivation, but by the considerate delicacy of the speaker,
hastened to assure him that Johnny was better and that a "little fun
might 'liven him up." Whereupon Dick arose, shook himself, and saying,
"I'm ready. Lead the way, Old Man: here goes," himself led the way with
a leap, a characteristic howl, and darted out into the night. As he
passed through the outer room he caught up a blazing brand from the
hearth. The action was repeated by the rest of the party, closely
following and elbowing each other, and before the astonished proprietor
of Thompson's grocery was aware of the intention of his guests, the
room was deserted.
The night was pitchy dark. In the first gust of wind their temporary
torches were extinguished, and only the red brands dancing and flitting
in the gloom like drunken will-o'-the-wisps indicated their whereabouts.
Their way led up Pine-Tree Canyon, at the head of which a broad, low,
bark-thatched cabin burrowed in the mountainside. It was the home of
the Old Man, and the entrance to the tunnel in which he worked when
he worked at all. Here the crowd paused for a moment, out of delicate
deference to their host, who came up panting in the rear.
"P'r'aps ye'd better hold on a second out yer, whilst I go in and see
thet things is all right," said the Old Man, with an indifference he
was far from feeling. The suggestion was graciously accepted, the
door opened and closed on the host, and the crowd, leaning their backs
against the wall and cowering under the eaves, waited and listened.
For a few moments there was no sound but the dripping of water from the
eaves, and the stir and rustle of wrestling boughs above them. Then the
men became uneasy, and whispered suggestion and suspicion passed from
the one to the other. "Reckon she's caved in his head the first lick!"
"Decoyed him inter the tunnel and barred him up, likely." "Got him down
and sittin' on him." "Prob'ly bilin' suthin' to heave on us: stand clear
the door, boys!" For just then the latch clicked, the door slowly
opened, and a voice said, "Come in out o' the wet."
The voice was neither that of the Old Man nor of his wife. It was the
voice of a small boy, its weak treble broken by that preternatural
hoarseness which only vagabondage and the habit of premature
self-assertion can give. It was the face of a small boy that looked up
at theirs -- a face that might have been pretty and even refined but
that it was darkened by evil knowledge from within, and dirt and hard
experience from without. He had a blanket around his shoulders and had
evidently just risen from his bed. "Come in," he repeated, "and don't
make no noise. The Old Man's in there talking to mar," he continued,
pointing to an adjacent room which seemed to be a kitchen, from which
the Old Man's voice came in deprecating accents. "Let me be," he added,
querulously, to Dick Bullen, who had caught him up, blanket and all, and
was affecting to toss him into the fire, "let go o' me, you damned old
fool, d'ye hear?"
Thus adjured, Dick Bullen lowered Johnny to the ground with a smothered
laugh, while the men, entering quietly, ranged themselves around a long
table of rough boards which occupied the center of the room. Johnny then
gravely proceeded to a cupboard and brought out several articles which
he deposited on the table. "Thar's whiskey. And crackers. And red
herons. And cheese." He took a bite of the latter on his way to the
table. "And sugar." He scooped up a mouthful en route with a small and
very dirty hand. "And terbacker. Thar's dried appils too on the shelf,
but I don't admire 'em. Appils is swellin'. Thar," he concluded, "now
wade in, and don't be afeard. I don't mind the old woman. She don't
b'long to me. S'long."
He had stepped to the threshold of a small room, scarcely larger than a
closet, partitioned off from the main apartment and holding in its dim
recess a small bed. He stood there a moment looking at the company, his
bare feet peeping from the blanket, and nodded.
"Hello, Johnny! You ain't goin' to turn in agin, are ye?" said Dick.
"Yes, I are," responded Johnny, decidedly.
"Why, wot's up, old fellow?"
"I've got a fevier. And childblains. And roomatiz," returned Johnny,
and vanished within. After a moment's pause, he added in the dark,
apparently from under the bedclothes -- "and biles!"
There was an embarrassing silence. The men looked at each other, and at
the fire. Even with the appetizing banquet before them, it seemed as if
they might again fall into the despondency of Thompson's grocery, when
the voice of the Old Man, incautiously lifted, came deprecatingly from
"Certainly! Thet's so. In course they is. A gang o' lazy drunken
loafers, and that ar Dick Bullen's the ornariest of all. Didn't hev
no more sabe than to come round yar with sickness in the house and no
provision. Thet's what I said: 'Bullen,' sez I, 'it's crazy drunk you
are, or a fool,' sez I, 'to think o' such a thing.' 'Staples,' I sez,
'be you a man, Staples, and 'spect to raise hell under my roof and
invalids lyin' round?' But they would come -- they would. Thet's wot
you must 'spect o' such trash as lays round the Bar."
A burst of laughter from the men followed this unfortunate exposure.
Whether it was overheard in the kitchen, or whether the Old Man's irate
companion had just then exhausted all other modes of expressing her
contemptuous indignation, I cannot say, but a back door was suddenly
slammed with great violence. A moment later and the Old Man reappeared,
haply unconscious of the cause of the late hilarious outburst, and
"The old woman thought she'd jest run over to Mrs. McFadden's for a
sociable call," he explained, with jaunty indifference, as he took
a seat at the board.
Oddly enough it needed this untoward incident to relieve the
embarrassment that was beginning to be felt by the party, and
their natural audacity returned with their host. I do not propose
to record the convivialities of that evening. The inquisitive
reader will accept the statement that the conversation was
characterized by the same intellectual exaltation, the same
cautious reverence, the same fastidious delicacy, the same
rhetorical precision, and the same logical and coherent discourse
somewhat later in the evening, which distinguish similar gatherings
of the masculine sex in more civilized localities and under more
favorable auspices. No glasses were broken in the absence of any;
no liquor was spilt on floor or table in the scarcity of that article.
It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interrupted. "Hush,"
said Dick Bullen, holding up his hand. It was the querulous voice of
Johnny from his adjacent closet: "Oh, dad!"
The Old Man arose hurriedly and disappeared in the closet. Presently he
reappeared. "His rheumatiz is coming on agin bad," he explained, "and
he wants rubbin'." He lifted the demijohn of whiskey from the table
and shook it. It was empty. Dick Bullen put down his tin cup with
an embarrassed laugh. So did the others. The Old Man examined their
contents and said hopefully, "I reckon that's enough; he don't need
much. You hold on all o' you for a spell, and I'll be back." He
vanished in the closet with an old flannel shirt and the whiskey.
The door closed but imperfectly, and the following dialogue was
"Now, Sonny, whar does she ache worst?"
"Sometimes over yar and sometimes under yer; but it's most powerful from
yer to yer. Rub yer, Dad."
A silence seemed to indicate a brisk rubbing. Then Johnny:
"Hevin' a good time out yer, dad?
"Tomorrer's Chrismiss -- ain't it?"
"Yes, Sonny. How does she feel now?"
"Better. Rub a little furder down. Wot's Chrismiss, anyway? Wot's it all
"Oh, it's a day."
This exhaustive definition was apparently satisfactory, for there was a
silent interval of rubbing. Presently Johnny again:
"Mar sez that everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to
everybody Chrismiss, and then she jist waded inter you. She sez thar's
a man they call Sandy Claus, not a white man, you know, but a kind o'
Chinemin, comes down the chimbley night afore Chrismiss and gives things
to chillern -- boys like me. Puts 'em in their butes! Thet's what she
tried to play upon me. Easy now, pop, whar are you rubbin' to -- thet's
a mile from the place. She jest made that up, didn't she, jest to
aggrewate me and you? Don't rub thar. . . . Why, dad!"
In the great quiet that seemed to have fallen upon the house the sigh
of the near pines and the drip of leaves without was very distinct.
Johnny's voice, too, was lowered as he went on, "Don't you take on now,
fur I'm gettin' all right fast. Wot's the boys doin' out thar?"
The Old Man partly opened the door and peered through. His guests were
sitting there sociably enough, and there were a few silver coins and a
lean buckskin purse on the table. "Bettin' on suthin' -- some little game
or 'nother. They're all right," he replied to Johnny, and recommenced
"I'd like to take a hand and win some money," said Johnny, reflectively,
after a pause.
The Old Man glibly repeated what was evidently a familiar formula,
that if Johnny would wait until he struck it rich in the tunnel
he'd have lots of money, and so forth.
"Yes," said Johnny, "but you don't. And whether you strike it or I win
it, it's about the same. It's all luck. But it's mighty cur'o's about
Chrismiss -- ain't it? Why do they call it Chrismiss?"
Perhaps from some instinctive deference to the overhearing of his
guests, or from some vague sense of incongruity, the Old Man's reply
was so low as to be inaudible beyond the room.
"Yes," said Johnny, with some slight abatement of interest, "I've heerd
o' him before. Thar, that'll do, Dad. I don't ache near so bad as I did.
Now wrap me tight in this yer blanket. So. Now," he added in a muffled
whisper, "sit down yer by me till I go asleep." To assure himself of
obedience, he disengaged one hand from the blanket and, grasping his
father's sleeve, again composed himself to rest.
For some moments the Old Man waited patiently. Then the unwonted
stillness of the house excited his curiosity, and without moving from
the bed, he cautiously opened the door with his disengaged hand, and
looked into the main room. To his infinite surprise it was dark and
deserted. But even then a smouldering log on the hearth broke, and by
the upspringing blaze he saw the figure of Dick Bullen sitting by the
Dick started, rose, and came somewhat unsteadily toward him.
"Whar's the boys?" said the Old Man.
"Gone up the canyon on a little pasear. They're coming back for me
in a minit. I'm waitin' round for 'em. What are you starin' at, Old
Man?" he added with a forced laugh; "Do you think I'm drunk?"
The Old Man might have been pardoned the supposition, for Dick's eyes
were humid and his face flushed. He loitered and lounged back to the
chimney, yawned, shook himself, buttoned up his coat, and laughed.
"Liquor ain't so plenty as that, Old Man. Now don't you git up," he
continued, as the Old Man made a movement to release his sleeve from
Johnny's hand. "Don't you mind manners. Sit jest whar you be; I'm goin'
in a jiffy. Thar, that's them now."
There was a low tap at the door. Dick Bullen opened it quickly, nodded
"Good night" to his host, and disappeared. The Old Man would have
followed him but for the hand that still unconsciously grasped his
sleeve. He could have easily disengaged it: it was small, weak, and
emaciated. But perhaps because it was small, weak, and emaciated, he
changed his mind, and, drawing his chair closer to the bed, rested his
head upon it. In this defenceless attitude the potency of his earlier
potations surprised him. The room flickered and faded before his eyes,
reappeared, faded again, went out, and left him -- asleep.
Meantime Dick Bullen, closing the door, confronted his companions. "Are
you ready?" said Staples. "Ready," said Dick; "What's the time?" "Past
twelve," was the reply; "Can you make it? -- It's nigh on fifty miles, the
round trip hither and yon." "I reckon," returned Dick, shortly. "Whar's
the mare?" "Bill and Jack's holdin' her at the crossin'." "Let 'em hold
on a minit longer," said Dick.
He turned and re-entered the house softly. By the light of the guttering
candle and dying fire he saw that the door of the little room was open.
He stepped toward it on tiptoe and looked in. The Old Man had fallen
back in his chair, snoring, his helpless feet thrust out in a line with
his collapsed shoulders, and his hat pulled over his eyes. Beside him,
on a narrow wooden bedstead, lay Johnny, muffled tightly in a blanket
that hid all save a strip of forehead and a few curls damp with
perspiration. Dick Bullen made a step forward, hesitated, and glanced
over his shoulder into the deserted room. Everything was quiet. With
a sudden resolution he parted his huge mustaches with both hands and
stooped over the sleeping boy. But even as he did so a mischievous
blast swooped down the chimney, rekindled the hearth, and lit up the
room with a shameless glow from which Dick fled in bashful terror.
His companions were already waiting for him at the crossing. Two of
them were struggling in the darkness with some strange misshapen bulk,
which as Dick came nearer took the semblance of a great yellow horse.
It was the mare. She was not a pretty picture. From her Roman nose to
her rising haunches, from her arched spine hidden by the stiff machillas
of a Mexican saddle, to her thick, straight, bony legs, there was not a
line of equine grace. In her half-blind but wholly vicious white eyes,
in her protruding under lip, in her monstrous color, there was nothing
but ugliness and vice.
"Now then," said Staples, "stand cl'ar of her heels, boys, and up with
you. Don't miss your first holt of her mane, and mind ye get your off
stirrup quick. Ready!"
There was a leap, a scrambling struggle, a bound, a wild retreat of the
crowd, a circle of flying hoofs, two springless leaps that jarred the
earth, a rapid play and jingle of spurs, a plunge, and then the voice of
Dick somewhere in the darkness, "All right!"
"Don't take the lower road back onless you're hard pushed for time!
Don't hold her in downhill! We'll be at the ford at five. G'lang!
Hoopa! Mula! GO!"
A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in the
rocky cut beyond, and Dick was gone.
It was one o'clock, and yet he had only gained Rattlesnake Hill. For
in that time Jovita had rehearsed to him all her imperfections and
practised all her vices. Thrice had she stumbled. Twice had she thrown
up her Roman nose in a straight line with the reins, and, resisting bit
and spur, struck out madly across country. Twice had she reared, and,
rearing, fallen backward; and twice had the agile Dick, unharmed,
regained his seat before she found her vicious legs again. And a mile
beyond them, at the foot of a long hill, was Rattlesnake Creek. Dick
knew that here was the crucial test of his ability to perform his
enterprise, set his teeth grimly, put his knees well into her flanks,
and changed his defensive tactics to brisk aggression. Bullied and
maddened, Jovita began the descent of the hill. Here the artful Richard
pretended to hold her in with ostentatious objurgation and well-feigned
cries of alarm. It is unnecessary to add that Jovita instantly ran away.
Nor need I state the time made in the descent; it is written in the
chronicles of Simpson's Bar. Enough that in another moment, as it seemed
to Dick, she was splashing on the overflowed banks of Rattlesnake Creek.
As Dick expected, the momentum she had acquired carried her beyond the
point of balking, and, holding her well together for a mighty leap, they
dashed into the middle of the swiftly flowing current. A few moments
of kicking, wading, and swimming, and Dick drew a long breath on the
The road from Rattlesnake Creek to Red Mountain was tolerably level.
Either the plunge in Rattlesnake Creek had dampened her baleful fire,
or the art which led to it had shown her the superior wickedness of
her rider, for Jovita no longer wasted her surplus energy in wanton
conceits. Once she bucked, but it was from force of habit; once she
shied, but it was from a new freshly painted meeting-house at the
crossing of the county road. Hollows, ditches, gravelly deposits,
patches of freshly springing grasses, flew from beneath her rattling
hoofs. She began to smell unpleasantly, once or twice she coughed
slightly, but there was no abatement of her strength or speed. By two
o'clock he had passed Red Mountain and begun the descent to the plain.
Ten minutes later the driver of the fast Pioneer coach was overtaken
and passed by a "man on a Pinto hoss" -- an event sufficiently notable
for remark. At half past two Dick rose in his stirrups with a great
shout. Stars were glittering through the rifted clouds, and beyond
him, out of the plain, rose two spires, a flagstaff, and a straggling
line of black objects. Dick jingled his spurs and swung his riata,
Jovita bounded forward, and in another moment they swept into
Tuttleville and drew up before the wooden piazza of "The Hotel of
What transpired that night at Tuttleville is not strictly a part of
this record. Briefly I may state, however, that after Jovita had been
handed over to a sleepy ostler, whom she at once kicked into unpleasant
consciousness, Dick sallied out with the barkeeper for a tour of
the sleeping town. Lights still gleamed from the few saloons and
gambling houses; but, avoiding these, they stopped before several
closed shops, and by persistent tapping and judicious outcry roused
the proprietors from their beds, and made them unbar the doors of their
magazines and expose their wares. Sometimes they were met by curses,
but oftener by interest and some concern in their needs, and the
interview was invariably concluded by a drink. It was three o'clock
before this pleasantry was given over, and with a small waterproof bag
of India rubber strapped on his shoulders Dick returned to the hotel.
But here he was waylaid by Beauty -- Beauty opulent in charms, affluent in
dress, persuasive in speech, and Spanish in accent! In vain she repeated
the invitation in "Excelsior," happily scorned by all Alpine-climbing
youth, and rejected by this child of the Sierras -- a rejection softened
in this instance by a laugh and his last gold coin. And then he sprang
to the saddle and dashed down the lonely street and out into the
lonelier plain, where presently the lights, the black line of houses,
the spires, and the flagstaff sank into the earth behind him again
and were lost in the distance.
The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the outlines of
adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half past four before Dick
reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the county road. To avoid
the rising grade he had taken a longer and more circuitous road, in
whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep at every bound. It was a
poor preparation for a steady ascent of five miles more; but Jovita,
gathering her legs under her, took it with her usual blind, unreasoning
fury, and a half-hour later reached the long level that led to
Rattlesnake Creek. Another half-hour would bring him to the creek. He
threw the reins lightly upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her,
and began to sing.
Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less
practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had leaped
from the bank, and at the same time from the road before her arose a
shadowy horse and rider. "Throw up your hands," commanded this second
apparition, with an oath.
Dick felt the mare tremble, quiver, and apparently sink under him. He
knew what it meant and was prepared.
"Stand aside, Jack Simpson, I know you, you damned thief. Let me pass
He did not finish the sentence. Jovita rose straight in the air with a
terrific bound, throwing the figure from her bit with a single shake
of her vicious head, and charged with deadly malevolence down on the
impediment before her. An oath, a pistol-shot, horse and highwayman
rolled over in the road, and the next moment Jovita was a hundred
yards away. But the good right arm of her rider, shattered by a
bullet, dropped helplessly at his side.
Without slacking his speed he shifted the reins to his left hand. But a
few moments later he was obliged to halt and tighten the saddle-girths
that had slipped in the onset. This in his crippled condition took some
time. He had no fear of pursuit, but looking up he saw that the eastern
stars were already paling, and that the distant peaks had lost their
ghostly whiteness, and now stood out blackly against a lighter sky.
Day was upon him. Then, completely absorbed in a single idea, he forgot
the pain of his wound, and mounting again dashed on toward Rattlesnake
Creek. But now Jovita's breath came broken by gasps, Dick reeled in his
saddle, and brighter and brighter grew the sky.
Ride, Richard; run, Jovita; linger, O day!
For the last few rods there was a roaring in his ears. Was it
exhaustion from loss of blood, or what? He was dazed and giddy as
he swept down the hill, and did not recognize his surroundings.
Had he taken the wrong road, or was this Rattlesnake Creek?
It was. But the brawling creek he had swam a few hours before had risen,
more than doubled its volume, and now rolled a swift and resistless
river between him and Rattlesnake Hill. For the first time that night
Richard's heart sank within him. The river, the mountain, the quickening
east, swam before his eyes. He shut them to recover his self-control. In
that brief interval, by some fantastic mental process, the little room
at Simpson's Bar and the figures of the sleeping father and son rose
upon him. He opened his eyes wildly, cast off his coat, pistol, boots,
and saddle, bound his precious pack tightly to his shoulders, grasped
the bare flanks of Jovita with his bared knees, and with a shout dashed
into the yellow water. A cry rose from the opposite bank as the head
of a man and horse struggled for a few moments against the battling
current, and then were swept away amidst uprooted trees and whirling
The Old Man started and woke. The fire on the hearth was dead, the
candle in the outer room flickering in its socket, and somebody
was rapping at the door. He opened it, but fell back with a cry
before the dripping, half-naked figure that reeled against the
"Hush! Is he awake yet?"
"No -- but Dick --"
"Dry up, you old fool! Get me some whiskey quick!" The Old Man flew
and returned with an empty bottle. Dick would have sworn, but his
strength was not equal to the occasion. He staggered, caught at the
handle of the door, and motioned to the Old Man.
"Thar's suthin' in my pack yer for Johnny. Take it off. I can't."
The Old Man unstrapped the pack and laid it before the exhausted
"Open it, quick!"
He did so with trembling fingers. It contained only a few poor
toys -- cheap and barbaric enough, goodness knows, but bright with
paint and tinsel. One of them was broken; another, I fear, was
irretrievably ruined by water; and on the third -- ah me! there
was a cruel spot.
"It don't look like much, that's a fact," said Dick, ruefully,
"but it's the best we could do. Take 'em, Old Man, and put 'em in
his stocking, and tell him -- tell him, you know -- hold me, Old Man --"
The Old Man caught at his sinking figure. "Tell him," said Dick,
with a weak little laugh, "tell him Sandy Claus has come."
And even so, bedraggled, ragged, unshaven and unshorn, with one arm
hanging helplessly at his side, Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar and
fell fainting on the first threshold. The Christmas dawn came slowly
after, touching the remoter peaks with the rosy warmth of ineffable
love. And it looked so tenderly on Simpson's Bar that the whole
mountain, as if caught in a generous action, blushed to the skies.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~