Jeff Briggs’s Love Story

Author: Bret Harte


But Jeff saw him not. With mind and will bent on one object—to reach the first habitation, the "Summit," and send back help and assistance to his wounded comrade—he urged Rabbit forward. The mare knew her rider, but he had no time for caresses. Through the smarting of his hands he had only just noticed that they were badly burned, and the skin was peeling from them; he had confounded the blood that was flowing from a cut on his scalp, with that from the wounded horse. It was one hour yet to the "Summit," but the road was good, the moon was bright, he knew what Rabbit could do, and it was not yet ten o’clock.

As the white outbuildings and irregular outlines of the "Summit House" began to be visible, Jeff felt a singular return of his former dreamy abstraction. The hour of peril, anger, and excitement he had just passed through seemed something of years ago, or rather to be obliterated with all else that had passed since he had looked upon that scene. Yet it was all changed— strangely changed! What Jeff had taken for the white, wooden barns and outhouses were greenhouses and conservatories. The "Summit Hotel" was a picturesque villa, nestling in the self-same trees, but approached through cultivated fields, dwellings of laborers, parklike gates and walls, and all the bountiful appointments of wealth and security. Jeff thought of Yuba Bill’s malediction, and understood it as he gazed.

The barking of dogs announced his near approach to the principal entrance. Lights were still burning in the upper windows of the house and its offices. He was at once surrounded by the strange medley of a Californian ranchero’s service, peons, Chinese, and vaqueros. Jeff briefly stated his business. "Ah, Carrajo!" This was a matter for the major-domo, or, better, the padrone—Wilson! But the padrone, Wilson, called out by the tumult, appeared in person—a handsome, resolute, middle-aged man, who, in a twinkling, dispersed the group to barn and stable with a dozen orders of preparation, and then turned to Jeff.

"You are hurt; come in."

Jeff followed him dazedly into the house. The same sense of remote abstraction, of vague dreaminess, was overcoming him. He resented it, and fought against it, but in vain; he was only half conscious that his host had bathed his head and given him some slight restorative, had said something to him soothingly, and had left him. Jeff wondered if he had fainted, or was about to faint,—he had a nervous dread of that womanish weakness,—or if he were really hurt worse than he believed. He tried to master himself and grasp the situation by minutely examining the room. It was luxuriously furnished; Jeff had but once before sat in such an armchair as the one that half embraced him, and as a boy he had dim recollections of a life like this, of which his father was part. To poor Jeff, with his throbbing head, his smarting hands, and his lapsing moments of half forgetfulness, this seemed to be a return of his old premonition. There was a vague perfume in the room, like that which he remembered when he was in the woods with Miss Mayfield. He believed he was growing faint again, and was about to rise, when the door opened behind him.

"Is there anything we can do for you? Mr. Wilson has gone to seek your friend, and has sent Manuel for a doctor."

HER voice! He rose hurriedly, turned; SHE was standing in the doorway!

She uttered a slight cry, turned very pale, advanced towards him, stopped and leaned against the chimney-piece.

"I didn’t know it was YOU."

With her actual presence Jeff’s dream and weakness fled. He rose up before her, his old bashful, stammering, awkward self.

"I didn’t know YOU lived here, Miss Mayfield."

"If you had sent word you were coming," said Miss Mayfield, recovering her color brightly in one cheek.

The possibility of having sent a messenger in advance to advise Miss Mayfield of his projected visit did not strike Jeff as ridiculous. Your true lover is far beyond such trivialities. He accepted the rebuke meekly. He said he was sorry.

"You might have known it."

"What, Miss Mayfield?"

"That I was here, if you WISHED to know."

Jeff did not reply. He bowed his head and clasped his burned hands together. Miss Mayfield saw their raw surfaces, saw the ugly cut on his head, pitied him, but went on hastily, with both cheeks burning, to say, womanlike, what was then deepest in her heart:

"My brother-in-law told me your adventure; but I did not know until I entered this room that the gentleman I wished to help was one who had once rejected my assistance, who had misunderstood me, and cruelly insulted me! Oh, forgive me, Mr. Briggs" (Jeff had risen). "I did not mean THAT. But, Mr. Jeff—Jeff—oh!" (She had caught his tortured hand and had wrung a movement of pain from him.) "Oh, dear! what did I do now? But Mr. Jeff, after what has passed, after what you said to me when you went away, when you were at that dreadful place, Campville, when you were two months in Sacramento, you might—YOU OUGHT TO HAVE LET ME KNOW IT!"

Jeff turned. Her face, more beautiful than he had ever seen it, alive and eloquent with every thought that her woman’s speech but half expressed, was very near his—so near, that under her honest eyes the wretched scales fell from his own, his self-wrought shackles crumbled away, and he dropped upon his knees at her feet as she sank into the chair he had quitted. Both his hands were grasped in her own.

"YOU went away, and I STAYED," she said reflectively.

"I had no home, Miss Mayfield."

"Nor had I. I had to buy this," she said, with a delicious simplicity; "and bring a family here too," she added, "in case YOU"—she stopped, with a slight color.

"Forgive me," said Jeff, burying his face in her hands.



"Don’t you think you were a LITTLE—just a little—mean?"


Miss Mayfield uttered a faint sigh. He looked into her anxious cheeks and eyes, his arm stole round her; their lips met for the first time in one long lingering kiss. Then, I fear, for the second time.

"Jeff," said Miss Mayfield, suddenly becoming practical and sweetly possessory, "you must have your hands bound up in cotton."

"Yes," said Jeff cheerfully.

"And you must go instantly to bed."

Jeff stared.

"Because my sister will think it very late for me to be sitting up with a gentleman."

The idea that Miss Mayfield was responsible to anybody was something new to Jeff. But he said hastily, "I must stay and wait for Bill. He risked his life for me."

"Oh, yes! You must tell me all about it. I may wait for THAT!"

Jeff possessed himself of the chair; in some way he also possessed himself of Miss Mayfield without entirely dispossessing her. Then he told his story. He hesitated over the episode of the blacksmith. "I’m afraid I killed him, Jessie."

Miss Mayfield betrayed little concern at this possible extreme measure with a dangerous neighbor. "He cut your head, Jeff," she said, passing her little hand through his curls.

"No," said Jeff hastily, "that must have been done BEFORE."

"Well," said Miss Mayfield conclusively, "he would if he’d dared. And you brought off that wretched money in spite of him. Poor dear Jeff."

"Yes," said Jeff, kissing her.

"Where is it?" asked Jessie, looking round the room.

"Oh, just out there!"

"Out where?"

"On my horse, you know, outside the door," continued Jeff, a little uneasily, as he rose. "I’ll go and—"

"You careless boy," said Miss Mayfield, jumping up, "I’ll go with you."

They passed out on the porch together, holding each other’s hands, like children. The forgotten Rabbit was not there. Miss Mayfield called a vaquero.

"Ah, yes!—the caballero’s horse. Of a certainty the other caballero had taken it!"

"The other caballero!" gasped Jeff.

"Si, senor. The one who arrived with you, or a moment, the very next moment, after you. ’Your friend,’ he said."

Jeff staggered against the porch, and cast one despairing reproachful look at Miss Mayfield.

"Oh, Jeff! Jeff! don’t look so. I know I ought not to have kept you! It’s a mistake, Jeff, believe me."

"It’s no mistake," said Jeff hoarsely. "Go!" he said, turning to the vaquero, "go!—bring—" But his speech failed. He attempted to gesticulate with his hands, ran forward a few steps, staggered, and fell fainting on the ground.

"Help me with the caballero into the blue room," said Miss Mayfield, white as Jeff. "And hark ye, Manuel! You know every ruffian, man or woman, on this road. That horse and those saddlebags must be here to-morrow, if you have to pay DOUBLE WHAT THEY’RE WORTH!"

"Si, senora."

Jeff went off into fever, into delirium, into helpless stupor. From time to time he moaned "Bill" and "the treasure." On the third day, in a lucid interval, as he lay staring at the wall, Miss Mayfield put in his hand a letter from the company, acknowledging the receipt of the treasure, thanking him for his zeal, and inclosing a handsome check.

Jeff sat up, and put his hands to his head.

"I told you it was taken by mistake, and was easily found," said Miss Mayfield, "didn’t I?"

"Yes,—and Bill?"

"You know he is so much better that he expects to leave us next week."


"There—go to sleep!"

At the end of a week she introduced Jeff to her sister-in-law, having previously run her fingers through his hair to insure that becomingness to his curls which would better indicate his moral character; and spoke of him as one of her oldest Californian friends.

At the end of two weeks she again presented him as her affianced husband—a long engagement of a year being just passed. Mr. Wilson, who was bored by the mountain life, undertaken to please his rich wife and richer sister, saw a chance of escape here, and bore willing testimony to the distant Mr. and Mrs. Mayfield of the excellence of Miss Jessie’s choice. And Yuba Bill was Jeff’s best man.

The name of Briggs remained a power in Tuolumne and Calaveras County. Mr. and Mrs. Briggs never had but one word of disagreement or discussion. One day, Jeff, looking over some old accounts of his wife’s, found an unreceipted, unvouched for expenditure of twenty thousand dollars. "What is this for, Jessie?" he asked.

"Oh, it’s all right, Jeff!"

But here the now business-like and practical Mr. Briggs, father of a family, felt called upon to make some general remarks regarding the necessity of exactitude in accounts, etc.

"But I’d rather not tell you, Jeff."

"But you ought to, Jessie."

"Well then, dear, it was to get those saddle-bags of yours from that rascal, Dodd," said little Mrs. Briggs meekly.


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Chicago: Bret Harte, "VII.," Jeff Briggs’s Love Story, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Jeff Briggs’s Love Story (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920), Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2023,

MLA: Harte, Bret. "VII." Jeff Briggs’s Love Story, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Jeff Briggs’s Love Story, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Harte, B, 'VII.' in Jeff Briggs’s Love Story, ed. . cited in 1920, Jeff Briggs’s Love Story, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2023, from