How Santa Claus Came
to Simpson's Bar
by Bret Harte
Although largely forgotten today, Francis Bret Harte was once one of America's most popular authors. Born in Albany, New York in 1839, Harte settled with his widowed mother in California in 1854. After trying a number of vocations, he became the editor of the Overland Monthly and, with the publication of his story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp", his fame as a writer was secured. Eventually, Harte's popularity caused him to leave California for the East Coast, where The Atlantic Monthly paid him the incredible sum of $10,000 for 12 stories a year, the highest figure offered an American writer up to that time. By 1878, Harte had nearly abandoned writing and accepted the post of United States Counsul at Crefeld, Germany. He continued to reside in Europe for the remainder of his life and died in London in 1902.
It is easy to see why Harte enjoyed such a high degree of popularity during his lifetime. His tales of life in the mining camps and frontier posts of California are about people rather than about situations. Harte's characters, once you get past the dialect, seem like real people and not the cutout characters that often appear in Westerns. Although he occasionally falls victim to the poetic excesses of the late-Romantic style, his narrative style is not at all clichéd and it may be the richness of his descriptions that have defeated the makers of films adapted from Harte's works. Forty-six films have been made from Harte stories, none memorable. Simply stated, Harte's characters, dialogue and descriptions have a depth that many later chroniclers of the West have missed, making his stories very readable today.
"How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar" first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 29, issue 173 (March 1872).
Introduction ©Bob Gay
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 upstage
was stopped at Granger's; 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
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 brokendown teams and hard swearing. And further 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 chameleonlike 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
"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, "certainly 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.
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
"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
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 imperiled 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 pert 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! Maybe
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 partly, 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 that
things is all right," said the Old Man, with an indifference he was far from
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."
down and sittin' on him."
"Prob'ly biling 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 tremble 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 d——d old fool,
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. Applis 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.
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 rheumatiz," 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 the kitchen.
"Certainly! Thet's so. In course they is. A gang o' lazy, drunken loafers,
and that are 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 h—ll 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. MacFadden'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 uselessly
spilled on the floor or table in the scarcity of that article.
It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interupted.
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
"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," and vanished in the closet
with an old flannel shirt and the whiskey. The door closed but imperfectly,
and the following dialogue was distinctly audible:
"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 about?"
"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 Claws, 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, for 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 his
"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, etc., etc.
"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 heard
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 smoldering log on the hearth broke, and by the upspringing
blaze he saw the figure of Dick Bullen sitting by the dying embers.
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 defenseless 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'."
hold on a minit longer," said Dick.
He turned and reentered 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, lying in wait, 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 underlip, 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 aleap, a scrambling struggle, a bound, a wild retreat of the
crowd, a circle of flying hooves, 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!
A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in the rocky
cut beyond and Dick was gone.
Sing, 0 Muse, the ride of Richard Bullen! Sing, 0 Muse, of chivalrous
men! The sacred quest, the doughty deeds, the battery of low churls, the
fearsome ride and gruesome perils of the Flower of Simpson's Bar! Alack!
She is dainty, this Muse! She will have none of this bucking brute and
swaggering, ragged rider, and I must fain follow him in prose, afoot!
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 practiced 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 hanks, 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 opposite bank.
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 meetinghouse 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 All
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 a 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 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 meetinghouse and the crossing of the country 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
practiced 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 the second apparition, with an
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 d—d 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 swum 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 driftwood.
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 doorpost.
"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.