Cressy

Contents:
Author: Bret Harte

Chapter XIV.

They found the wounded man lying in the front room upon a rudely extemporized couch of bear-skins, he having sternly declined the effeminacy of his wife’s bedroom. In the possibility of a fatal termination to his wound, and in obedience to a grim frontier tradition, he had also refused to have his boots removed in order that he might "die with them on," as became his ancestral custom. Johnny was therefore speedily made comfortable in the McKinstry bed, while Dr. Duchesne gave his whole attention to his more serious patient. The master glanced hurriedly around for Mrs. McKinstry. She was not only absent from the room, but there seemed to be no suggestion of her presence in the house. To his greater surprise the hurried inquiry that rose to his lips was checked by a significant warning from the attendant. He sat down beside the now sleeping boy, and awaited the doctor’s return with his mind wandering between the condition of the little sufferer and the singular revelation that had momentarily escaped his childish lips. If Johnny had actually seen Seth fire at McKinstry, the latter’s mysterious wound was accounted for—but not Seth’s motive. The act was so utterly incomprehensible and inconsistent with Seth’s avowed hatred of the master that the boy must have been delirious.

He was roused by the entrance of the surgeon. "It’s not so bad as I thought," he said, with a reassuring nod. "It was a mighty close shave between a shattered bone and a severed artery, but we’ve got the ball, and he’ll pull through in a week. By Jove! though—the old fire-eater was more concerned about finding the ball than living or dying! Go in there—he wants to see you. Don’t let him talk too much. He’s called in a lot of his friends for some reason or other—and there’s a regular mass-meeting in there. Go in, and get rid of ’em. I’ll look after baby Filgee—though the little chap will be all right again after another dressing."

The master cast a hurried look of relief at the surgeon, and reentered the front room. It was filled with men whom the master instinctively recognized as his former adversaries. But they gave way before him with a certain rude respect and half abashed sympathy as McKinstry called him to his side. The wounded man grasped his hand. "Lift me up a bit," he whispered. The master assisted him with difficulty to his elbow.

"Gentlemen!" said McKinstry, with a characteristic wave of his crippled hand towards the crowd as he laid the other on the master’s shoulder. "Ye heerd me talkin’ a minit ago; ye heer me now. This yer young man as we’ve slipped up on and meskalkilated has told the truth—every time! Ye ken tie to him whenever and wherever ye want to. Ye ain’t expected to feel ez I feel, in course, but the man ez goes back on HIM—quo’lls with me. That’s all—and thanks for inquiring friends. Ye’ll git now, boys, and leave him a minit with me."

The men filed slowly out, a few lingering long enough to shake the master’s hand with grave earnestness, or half smiling, half abashed embarrassment. The master received the proffered reconciliation of these men, who but a few hours before would have lynched him with equal sincerity, with cold bewilderment. As the door closed on the last of the party he turned to McKinstry. The wounded man had sunk down again, but was regarding with drowsy satisfaction a leaden bullet he was holding between his finger and thumb.

"This yer shot, Mr. Ford," he said in a slow voice, whose weakness was only indicated by its extreme deliberation, "never kem from the gun I gave ye—and was never fired by you." He paused and then added with his old dull abstraction, "It’s a long time since I’ve run agin anythin’ that makes me feel more—kam."

In Mr. McKinstry’s weak condition the master did not dare to make Johnny’s revelation known to him, and contented himself by simply pressing his hand, but the next moment the wounded man resumed,—

"That ball jest fits Seth’s navy revolver—and the hound hes made tracks outer the country."

"But what motive could he have in attacking YOU at such a time?" asked the master.

"He reckoned that either I’d kill you and so he’d got shut of us both in that way, without it being noticed; or if I missed you, the others would hang YOU—ez they kalkilated to—for killing ME! The idea kem to him when he overheard you hintin’ you wouldn’t return my fire."

A shuddering conviction that McKinstry had divined the real truth passed over the master. In the impulse of the moment he again would have corroborated it by revealing Johnny’s story, but a glance at the growing feverishness of the wounded man checked his utterance. "Don’t talk of it now," he said hurriedly. "Enough for me to know that you acquit ME. I am here now only to beg you to compose yourself until the doctor comes back—as you seemed to be alone, and Mrs. McKinstry"—he stopped in awkward embarrassment.

A singular confusion overspread the invalid’s face. "She hed steppt out afore this happened, owin’ to contrairy opinions betwixt me and her. Ye mout hev noticed, Mr. Ford, that gin’rally she didn’t ’pear to cotton to ye! Thar ain’t a woman a goin’ ez is the ekal of Blair Rawlins’ darter in nussin’ a man and keeping him in fightin’ order, but in matters like things that consarn herself and Cress, I begin to think, Mr. Ford, that somehow, she ain’t exakly— kam! Bein’ kam yourself, ye’ll put any unpleasantness down to that. Wotever you hear from HER, and, for the matter o’ that, from her own darter too—for I’m takin’ back the foolishness I said to ye over yon about your runnin’ off with Cress—you’ll remember, Mr. Ford, it warn’t from no ill feeling to YOU, in her or Cress—but on’y a want of kam! I mout hev had MY idees about Cress, you mout hev had YOURS, and that fool Dabney mout hev had HIS; but it warn’t the old woman’s—nor Cressy’s—it warn’t Blair Rawlins’ darter’s idea—nor yet HER darter’s! And why? For want o’ kam! Times I reckon it was left out o’ woman’s nater. And bein’ kam yourself, you understand it, and take it all in."

The old look of drowsy pain had settled so strongly in his red eyes again that the master was fain to put his hand gently over them, and with a faint smile beg him to compose himself to sleep. This he finally did after a whispered suggestion that he himself was feeling "more kam." The master sat for some moments with his hand upon the sleeping man’s eyes, and a vague and undefinable sense of loneliness seemed to fall upon him from the empty rafters of the silent and deserted house. The rising wind moaned fitfully around its bleak shell with the despairing sound of far and forever receding voices. So strong was the impression that when the doctor and McKinstry’s attending brother re-entered the room, the master still lingered beside the bed with a dazed sensation of abandonment that the doctor’s practical reassuring smile could hardly dispel.

"He’s doing splendidly now," he said, listening to the sleeper’s more regular respiration: "and I’d advise you to go now, Mr. Ford, before he wakes, lest he might be tempted to excite himself by talking to you again. He’s really quite out of danger now. Goodnight! I’ll drop in on you at the hotel when I return."

The master, albeit still confused and bewildered, felt his way to the door and out into the open night. The wind was still despairingly wrestling with the tree-tops, but the far receding voices seemed to be growing fainter in the distance, until, as he passed on, they too seemed to pass away forever.

. . . . . .

Monday morning had come again, and the master was at his desk in the school house early, with a still damp and inky copy of the Star fresh from the press before him. The free breath of the pines was blowing in the window, and bringing to his ears the distant voices of his slowly gathering flock, as he read as follows:—

"The perpetrator of the dastardly outrage at the Indian Spring Academy on Thursday last—which, through unfortunate misrepresentation of the facts, led to a premature calling out of several of our most public-spirited citizens, and culminated in a most regrettable encounter between Mr. McKinstry and the accomplished and estimable principal of the school—has, we regret to say, escaped condign punishment by leaving the country with his relations. If, as is seriously whispered, he was also guilty of an unparalleled offence against a chivalrous code which will exclude him in the future from ever seeking redress at the Court of Honor, our citizens will be only too glad to get rid of the contamination of being obliged to arrest him. Those of our readers who know the high character of the two gentlemen who were thus forced into a hostile meeting, will not be surprised to know that the most ample apologies were tendered on both sides, and that the entente cordiale has been thoroughly restored. The bullet—which it is said played a highly important part in the subsequent explanation, proving to have come from a REVOLVER fired by some outsider—has been extracted from Mr. McKinstry’s thigh, and he is doing well, with every prospect of a speedy recovery."

Smiling, albeit not uncomplacently, at this valuable contribution to history from an unfettered press, his eye fell upon the next paragraph, perhaps not so complacently:—

"Benjamin Daubigny, Esq., who left town for Sacramento on important business, not entirely unconnected with his new interests in Indian Springs, will, it is rumored, be shortly joined by his wife, who has been enabled by his recent good fortune to leave her old home in the States, and take her proper proud position at his side. Although personally unknown to Indian Springs, Mrs. Daubigny is spoken of as a beautiful and singularly accomplished woman, and it is to be regretted that her husband’s interests will compel them to abandon Indian Springs for Sacramento as a future residence. Mr. Daubigny was accompanied by his private secretary Rupert, the eldest son of H. G. Filgee, Esq., who has been a promising graduate of the Indian Spring Academy, and offers a bright example to the youth of this district. We are happy to learn that his younger brother is recovering rapidly from a slight accident received last week through the incautious handling of firearms."

The master, with his eyes upon the paper, remained so long plunged in a reverie that the school-room was quite filled and his little flock was wonderingly regarding him before he recalled himself. He was hurriedly reaching his hand towards the bell when he was attracted by the rising figure of Octavia Dean.

"Please, sir, you didn’t ask if we had any news!"

"True—I forgot," said the master smiling. "Well, have you anything to tell us?"

"Yes, sir. Cressy McKinstry has left school."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, sir; she’s married."

"Married," repeated the master with an effort, yet conscious of the eyes concentrated upon his colorless face. "Married—and to whom?"

"To Joe Masters, sir, at the Baptist Chapel at Big Bluff, Sunday, an’ Marm McKinstry was thar with her."

There was a momentary and breathless pause. Then the voices of his little pupils—those sage and sweet truants from tradition, those gentle but relentless historians of the future—rose around him in shrill chorus—"WHY, WE KNOWED IT ALL ALONG, SIR!"

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Chicago: Bret Harte, "Chapter XIV.," Cressy, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Cressy (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920), Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48761MFL7SDVV77.

MLA: Harte, Bret. "Chapter XIV." Cressy, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Cressy, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48761MFL7SDVV77.

Harvard: Harte, B, 'Chapter XIV.' in Cressy, ed. . cited in 1920, Cressy, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48761MFL7SDVV77.