The Luck of Roaring Camp
and Other Stories
Brown of Calaveras
A subdued tone of conversation, and the absence of cigar-smoke and
boot-heels at the windows of the Wingdam stagecoach, made it evident
that one of the inside passengers was a woman. A disposition on the
part of loungers at the stations to congregate before the window, and
some concern in regard to the appearance of coats, hats, and collars,
further indicated that she was lovely. All of which Mr. Jack Hamlin,
on the box-seat, noted with the smile of cynical philosophy. Not that
he depreciated the sex, but that he recognized therein a deceitful
element, the pursuit of which sometimes drew mankind away from the
equally uncertain blandishments of poker, of which it may be remarked
that Mr. Hamlin was a professional exponent.
So that, when he placed his narrow boot on the wheel and leaped down,
he did not even glance at the window from which a green veil was
fluttering, but lounged up and down with that listless and grave
indifference of his class, which was, perhaps, the next thing to good-breeding.
With his closely buttoned figure and self-contained air he
was a marked contrast to the other passengers, with their feverish
restlessness and boisterous emotion; and even Bill Masters, a graduate
of Harvard, with his slovenly dress, his over-flowing vitality, his
intense appreciation of lawlessness and barbarism, and his mouth
filled with crackers and cheese, I fear cut but an unromantic figure
beside this lonely calculator of chances, with his pale Greek face
and Homeric gravity.
The driver called "All aboard!" and Mr. Hamlin returned to the coach.
His foot was upon the wheel, and his face raised to the level of the
open window, when, at the same moment, what appeared to him to be the
finest eyes in the world suddenly met his. He quietly dropped down
again, addressed a few words to one of the inside passengers, effected
an exchange of seats, and as quietly took his place inside. Mr. Hamlin
never allowed his philosophy to interfere with decisive and prompt
I fear that this irruption of Jack cast some restraint upon the other
passengers, particularly those who were making themselves most
agreeable to the lady. One of them leaned forward, and apparently
conveyed to her information regarding Mr. Hamlin's profession in a
single epithet. Whether Mr. Hamlin heard it, or whether he recognized
in the informant a distinguished jurist, from whom, but a few evenings
before, he had won several thousand dollars, I cannot say. His
colorless face betrayed no sign; his black eyes, quietly observant,
glanced indifferently past the legal gentleman, and rested on the much
more pleasing features of his neighbor. An Indian stoicism said to be
an inheritance from his maternal ancestor stood him in good service,
until the rolling wheels rattled upon the river gravel at Scott's
Ferry, and the stage drew up at the International Hotel for dinner.
The legal gentleman and a member of Congress leaped out, and stood
ready to assist the descending goddess, while Colonel Starbottle of
Siskiyou took charge of her parasol and shawl. In this multiplicity of
attention there was a momentary confusion and delay. Jack Hamlin
quietly opened the opposite door of the coach, took the lady's
hand, with that decision and positiveness which a hesitating and
undecided sex know how to admire, and in an instant had dexterously
and gracefully swung her to the ground and again lifted her to the
platform. An audible chuckle on the box, I fear, came from that other
cynic, Yuba Bill, the driver. "Look keerfully arter that baggage,
Kernel," said the expressman, with affected concern, as he looked
after Colonel Starbottle, gloomily bringing up the rear of the
triumphant procession to the waiting-room.
Mr. Hamlin did not stay for dinner. His horse was already saddled and
awaiting him. He dashed over the ford, up the gravelly hill, and out
into the dusty perspective of the Wingdam road, like one leaving an
unpleasant fancy behind him. The inmates uf dusty cabins by the
roadside shaded their eyes with their hands and looked after him,
recognizing the man by his horse, and speculating what "was up with
Comanche Jack." Yet much of this interest centred in the horse, in a
community where the time made by "French Pete's" mare, in his run from
the Sheriff of Calaveras, eclipsed all concern in the ultimate fate of
The sweating flanks of his gray at length recalled him to himself. He
checked his speed, and turning into a byroad, sometimes used as a cut-off,
trotted leisurely along, the reins hanging listlessly from his
fingers. As he rode on, the character of the landscape changed and
became more pastoral. Openings in groves of pine and sycamore
disclosed some rude attempts at cultivation, a flowering vine trailed
over the porch of one cabin, and a woman rocked her cradled babe under
the roses of another. A little farther on, Mr. Hamlin came upon some
bare-legged children wading in the willowy creek, and so wrought upon
them with a badinage peculiar to himself, that they were emboldened to
climb up his horse's legs and over his saddle, until he was fain to
develop an exaggerated ferocity of demeanor, and to escape, leaving
behind some kisses and coin. And then, advancing deeper into the
woods, where all signs of habitation failed, he began to sing,
uplifting a tenor so singularly sweet, and shaded by a pathos so
subdued and tender, that I wot the robins and linnets stopped to
listen. Mr. Hamlin's voice was not cultivated; the subject of his
song was some sentimental lunacy, borrowed from the negro minstrels;
but there thrilled through all some occult quality of tone and
expression that was unspeakably touching. Indeed, it was a wonderful
sight to see this sentimental blackleg, with a pack of cards in his
pocket and a revolver at his back, sending his voice before him
through the dim woods with a plaint about his "Nelly's grave," in a
way that overflowed the eyes of the listener. A sparrow-hawk, fresh
from his sixth victim, possibly recognizing in Mr. Hamlin a kindred
spirit, stared at him in surprise, and was fain to confess the
superiority of man. With a superior predatory capacity he couldn't
But Mr. Hamlin presently found himself again on the highroad and at
his former pace. Ditches and banks of gravel, denuded hillsides,
stumps, and decayed trunks of trees, took the place of woodland and
ravine, and indicated his approach to civilization. Then a church-steeple
came in sight, and he knew that he had reached home. In a few
moments he was clattering down the single narrow street that lost
itself in a chaotic ruin of races, ditches, and tailings at the foot
of the hill, and dismounted before the gilded windows of the Magnolia
saloon. Passing through the long bar-room, he pushed open a green-baize
door, entered a dark passage, opened another door with a
passkey, and found himself in a dimly lighted room, whose furniture,
though elegant and costly for the locality, showed signs of abuse. The
inlaid centre-table was overlaid with stained disks that were not
contemplated in the original design, the embroidered armchairs were
discolored, and the green velvet lounge, on which Mr. Hamlin threw
himself, was soiled at the foot with the red soil of Wingdam.
Mr. Hamlin did not sing in his cage. He lay still, looking at a highly
colored painting above him, representing a young creature of opulent
charms. It occurred to him then, for the first time, that he had
never seen exactly that kind of a woman, and that, if he should, he
would not, probably, fall in love with her. Perhaps he was thinking of
another style of beauty. But just then some one knocked at the door.
Without rising, he pulled a cord that apparently shot back a bolt, for
the door swung open, and a man entered.
The new-comer was broad-shouldered and robust, a vigor not borne out
in the face, which, though handsome, was singularly weak and
disfigured by dissipation. He appeared to be, also, under the
influence of liquor, for he started on seeing Mr. Hamlin, and said, "I
thought Kate was here;" stammered, and seemed confused and
Mr. Hamlin smiled the smile which he had before worn on the Wingdam
coach, and sat up, quite refreshed and ready for business.
"You didn't come up on the stage," continued the newcomer, "did you?"
"No," replied Hamlin; "I left it at Scott's Ferry. It isn't due for
half an hour yet. But how's luck, Brown?"
"Dd bad," said Brown, his face suddenly assuming an expression of
weak despair. "I'm cleaned out again, Jack," he continued, in a
whining tone, that formed a pitiable contrast to his bulky figure;
"can't you help me with a hundred till tomorrow's clean-up? You see
I've got to send money home to the old woman, and you've won twenty
times that amount from me."
The conclusion was, perhaps, not entirely logical, but Jack overlooked
it, and handed the sum to his visitor. "The old-woman business is
about played out, Brown," he added, by way of commentary; "why don't
you say you want to buck ag'in' faro? You know you ain't married!"
"Fact, sir," said Brown, with a sudden gravity, as if the mere contact
of the gold with the palm of the hand had imparted some dignity to
his frame. "I've got a wife a dd good one, too, if I do say it in
the States. It's three years since I've seen her, and a year since
I've writ to her. When things is about straight, and we get down to
the lead, I'm going to send for her."
"And Kate?" queried Mr. Hamlin, with his previous smile.
Mr. Brown of Calaveras essayed an archness of glance to cover his
confusion, which his weak face and whiskey-muddled intellect but
poorly carried out, and said,
"D n it, Jack, a man must have a little liberty, you know. But come,
what do you say to a little game? Give us a show to double this
Jack Hamlin looked curiously at his fatuous friend. Perhaps he knew
that the man was predestined to lose the money, and preferred that it
should flow back into his own coffers rather than any other. He nodded
his head, and drew his chair toward the table. At the same moment
there came a rap upon the door.
"It's Kate," said Mr. Brown.
Mr. Hamlin shot back the bolt and the door opened. But, for the first
time in his life, he staggered to his feet utterly unnerved and
abashed, and for the first time in his life the hot blood crimsoned
his colorless cheeks to his forehead. For before him stood the lady he
had lifted from the Wingdam coach, whom Brown, dropping his cards with
a hysterical laugh, greeted as,
"My old woman, by thunder!"
They say that Mrs. Brown burst into tears and reproaches of her
husband. I saw her in 1857 at Marysville, and disbelieve the story.
And the "Wingdam Chronicle" of the next week, under the head of
"Touching Reunion," said: "One of those beautiful and touching
incidents, peculiar to California life, occurred last week in our
city. The wife of one of Wingdam's eminent pioneers, tired of the
effete civilization of the East and its inhospitable climate, resolved
to join her noble husband upon these golden shores. Without informing
him of her intention, she undertook the long journey, and arrived last
week. The joy of the husband may be easier imagined than described.
The meeting is said to have been indescribably affecting. We trust her
example may be followed."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Whether owing to Mrs. Brown's influence, or to some more successful
speculations, Mr. Brown's financial fortune from that day steadily
improved. He bought out his partners in the "Nip and Tuck" lead, with
money which was said to have been won at poker a week or two after his
wife's arrival, but which rumor, adopting Mrs. Brown's theory that
Brown had forsworn the gaming-table, declared to have been furnished
by Mr. Jack Hamlin. He built and furnished the Wingdam House, which
pretty Mrs. Brown's great popularity kept overflowing with guests. He
was elected to the Assembly, and gave largess to churches. A street in
Wingdam was named in his honor.
Yet it was noted that in proportion as he waxed wealthy and fortunate,
he grew pale, thin, and anxious. As his wife's popularity increased,
he became fretful and impatient. The most uxorious of husbands, he was
absurdly jealous. If he did not interfere with his wife's social
liberty, it was because it was maliciously whispered that his first
and only attempt was met by an outburst from Mrs. Brown that terrified
him into silence. Much of this kind of gossip came from those of her
own sex whom she had supplanted in the chivalrous attentions of
Wingdam, which, like most popular chivalry, was devoted to an
admiration of power, whether of masculine force or feminine beauty. It
should be remembered, too, in her extenuation, that, since her
arrival, she had been the unconscious priestess of a mythological
worship, perhaps not more ennobling to her womanhood than that which
distinguished an older Greek democracy. I think that Brown was dimly
conscious of this. But his only confidant was Jack Hamlin, whose
infelix reputation naturally precluded any open intimacy with the
family, and whose visits were infrequent.
It was midsummer and a moonlit night, and Mrs. Brown, very rosy,
large-eyed, and pretty, sat upon the piazza, enjoying the fresh
incense of the mountain breeze, and, it is to be feared, another
incense which was not so fresh nor quite as innocent. Beside her sat
Colonel Starbottle and Judge Boompointer, and a later addition to her
court in the shape of a foreign tourist. She was in good spirits.
"What do you see down the road?" inquired the gallant Colonel, who had
been conscious, for the last few minutes, that Mrs. Brown's attention
"Dust," said Mrs. Brown, with a sigh. "Only Sister Anne's 'flock of
The Colonel, whose literary recollections did not extend farther back
than last week's paper, took a more practical view. "It ain't sheep,"
he continued; "it's a horseman. Judge, ain't that Jack Hamlin's gray?"
But the Judge didn't know; and, as Mrs. Brown suggested the air was
growing too cold for further investigations, they retired to the
Mr. Brown was in the stable, where he generally retired after dinner.
Perhaps it was to show his contempt for his wife's companions;
perhaps, like other weak natures, he found pleasure in the exercise of
absolute power over inferior animals. He had a certain gratification
in the training of a chestnut mare, whom he could beat or caress as
pleased him, which he couldn't do with Mrs. Brown. It was here that he
recognized a certain gray horse which had just come in, and, looking a
little farther on, found his rider. Brown's greeting was cordial and
hearty; Mr. Hamlin's somewhat restrained. But, at Brown's urgent
request, he followed him up the back stairs to a narrow corridor, and
thence to a small room looking out upon the stable-yard. It was
plainly furnished with a bed, a table, a few chairs, and a rack for
guns and whips.
"This yer's my home, Jack," said Brown with a sigh, as he threw
himself upon the bed and motioned his companion to a chair. "Her
room's t' other end of the hall. It's more'n six months since we've
lived together, or met, except at meals. It's mighty rough papers on
the head of the house, ain't it?" he said with a forced laugh. "But
I'm glad to see you, Jack, dd glad," and he reached from the bed,
and again shook the unresponsive hand of Jack Hamlin.
"I brought ye up here, for I didn't want to talk in the stable;
though, for the matter of that, it's all round town. Don't strike a
light. We can talk here in the moonshine. Put up your feet on that
winder and sit here beside me. Thar's whiskey in that jug."
Mr. Hamlin did not avail himself of the information. Brown of
Calaveras turned his face to the wall, and continued,
"If I didn't love the woman, Jack, I wouldn't mind. But it's loving
her, and seeing her day arter day goin' on at this rate, and no one to
put down the brake; that's what gits me! But I'm glad to see ye, Jack,
In the darkness he groped about until he had found and wrung his
companion's hand again. He would have detained it, but Jack slipped it
into the buttoned breast of his coat, and asked listlessly, "How long
has this been going on?"
"Ever since she came here; ever since the day she walked into the
Magnolia. I was a fool then; Jack, I'm a fool now; but I didn't know
how much I loved her till then. And she hasn't been the same woman
"But that ain't all, Jack; and it's what I wanted to see you about,
and I'm glad you've come. It ain't that she doesn't love me any more;
it ain't that she fools with every chap that comes along; for perhaps
I staked her love and lost it, as I did everything else at the
Magnolia; and perhaps foolin' is nateral to some women, and thar ain't
no great harm done, 'cept to the fools. But, Jack, I think, I think
she loves somebody else. Don't move, Jack! don't move; if your pistol
hurts ye, take it off.
"It's been more'n six months now that she's seemed unhappy and
lonesome, and kinder nervous and scared-like. And sometimes I've
ketched her lookin' at me sort of timid and pitying. And she writes to
somebody. And for the last week she's been gathering her own things,
trinkets, and furbelows, and jew'lry, and, Jack, I think she's goin'
off. I could stand all but that. To have her steal away like a thief!"
He put his face downward to the pillow, and for a few moments there
was no sound but the ticking of a clock on the mantel. Mr. Hamlin lit
a cigar, and moved to the open window. The moon no longer shone into
the room, and the bed and its occupant were in shadow. "What shall I
do, Jack?" said the voice from the darkness.
The answer came promptly and clearly from the window-side, "Spot the
man, and kill him on sight."
"He's took the risk!"
"But will that bring her back?"
Jack did not reply, but moved from the window towards the door.
"Don't go yet, Jack; light the candle and sit by the table. It's a
comfort to see ye, if nothin' else."
Jack hesitated and then complied. He drew a pack of cards from his
pocket and shuffled them, glancing at the bed. But Brown's face was
turned to the wall. When Mr. Hamlin had shuffled the cards, he cut
them, and dealt one card on the opposite side of the table towards the
bed, and another on his side of the table for himself. The first was
a deuce; his own card a king. He then shuffled and cut again. This
time "dummy" had a queen and himself a four-spot. Jack brightened up
for the third deal. It brought his adversary a deuce and himself a
king again. "Two out of three," said Jack audibly.
"What's that, Jack?" said Brown.
Then Jack tried his hand with dice; but he always threw sixes and his
imaginary opponent aces. The force of habit is sometimes confusing.
Meanwhile some magnetic influence in Mr. Hamlin's presence, or the
anodyne of liquor, or both, brought surcease of sorrow, and Brown
slept. Mr. Hamlin moved his chair to the window and looked out on the
town of Wingdam, now sleeping peacefully, its harsh outlines softened
and subdued, its glaring colors mellowed and sobered in the moonlight
that flowed over all. In the hush he could hear the gurgling of water
in the ditches and the sighing of the pines beyond the hill. Then he
looked up at the firmament, and as he did so a star shot across the
twinkling field. Presently another, and then another. The phenomenon
suggested to Mr. Hamlin a fresh augury. If in another fifteen minutes
another star should fall He sat there, watch in hand, for twice that
time, but the phenomenon was not repeated.
The clock struck two, and Brown still slept. Mr. Hamlin approached the
table and took from his pocket a letter, which he read by the
flickering candlelight. It contained only a single line, written in
pencil, in a woman's hand,
"Be at the corral with the buggy at three."
The sleeper moved uneasily and then awoke. "Are you there, Jack?"
"Don't go yet. I dreamed just now, Jack, dreamed of old times. I
thought that Sue and me was being married agin, and that the parson,
Jack, was who do you think? you!"
The gambler laughed, and seated himself on the bed, the paper still in
"It's a good sign, ain't it?" queried Brown.
"I reckon! Say, old man, hadn't you better get up?"
The "old man," thus affectionately appealed to, rose, with the
assistance of Hamlin's outstretched hand.
Brown mechanically took the proffered cigar.
Jack had twisted the letter into a spiral, lit it, and held it for his
companion. He continued to hold it until it was consumed, and dropped
the fragment a fiery star from the open window. He watched it as it
fell, and then returned to his friend.
"Old man," he said, placing his hands upon Brown's shoulders, "in ten
minutes I'll be on the road, and gone like that spark. We won't see
each other agin; but, before I go, take a fool's advice: sell out all
you've got, take your wife with you, and quit the country. It ain't no
place for you nor her. Tell her she must go; make her go if she won't.
Don't whine because you can't be a saint and she ain't an angel. Be a
man, and treat her like a woman. Don't be a d-d fool. Good-by."
He tore himself from Brown's grasp and leaped down the stairs like a
deer. At the stable-door he collared the half-sleeping hostler, and
backed him against the wall. "Saddle my horse in two minutes, or
I'll" The ellipsis was frightfully suggestive.
"The missis said you was to have the buggy," stammered the man.
"D n the buggy!" The horse was saddled as fast as the nervous
hands of the astounded hostler could manipulate buckle and strap.
"Is anything up, Mr. Hamlin?" said the man, who, like all his class,
admired the elan of his fiery patron, and was really concerned in his
The man fell back. With an oath, a bound, and clatter, Jack was into
the road. In another moment, to the man's half-awakened eyes, he was
but a moving cloud of dust in the distance, towards which a star just
loosed from its brethren was trailing a stream of fire.
But early that morning the dwellers by the Wingdam turnpike, miles
aways, heard a voice, pure as a sky-lark's, singing afield. They who
were asleep turned over on their rude couches to dream of youth, and
love, and olden days. Hard-faced men and anxious gold-seekers, already
at work, ceased their labors and leaned upon their picks to listen to
a romantic vagabond ambling away against the rosy sunrise.
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