THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH AND OTHER TALES
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH AND OTHER TALES
CONTENTS. THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH
A KNIGHT-ERRANT OF THE FOOT-HILLS
A SECRET OF TELEGRAPH HILL
CAPTAIN JIM'S FRIEND
THE HERITAGE OF DEDLOW MARSH.
The sun was going down on the Dedlow Marshes. The tide was
following it fast as if to meet the reddening lines of sky and
water in the west leaving the foreground to grow blacker and
blacker every moment and to bring out in startling contrast the
few half-filled and half-lit pools left behind and forgotten. The
strong breath of the Pacific fanning their surfaces at times
kindled them into a dull glow like dying embers. A cloud of sand-
pipers rose white from one of the nearer lagoons swept in a long
eddying ring against the sunset and became a black and dropping
rain to seaward. The long sinuous line of channel fading with the
light and ebbing with the tide began to give off here and there
light puffs of gray-winged birds like sudden exhalations. High in
the darkening sky the long arrow-headed lines of geese and 'brant'
pointed towards the upland. As the light grew more uncertain the
air at times was filled with the rush of viewless and melancholy
wings or became plaintive with far-off cries and lamentations. As
the Marshes grew blacker the far-scattered tussocks and accretions
on its level surface began to loom in exaggerated outline and two
human figures suddenly emerging erect on the bank of the hidden
channel assumed the proportion of giants.
When they had moored their unseen boat they still appeared for
some moments to be moving vaguely and aimlessly round the spot
where they had disembarked. But as the eye became familiar with
the darkness it was seen that they were really advancing inland
yet with a slowness of progression and deviousness of course that
appeared inexplicable to the distant spectator. Presently it was
evident that this seemingly even vast black expanse was traversed
and intersected by inky creeks and small channels which made human
progression difficult and dangerous. As they appeared nearer and
their figures took more natural proportions it could be seen that
each carried a gun; that one was a young girl although dressed so
like her companion in shaggy pea-jacket and sou'wester as to be
scarcely distinguished from him above the short skirt that came
halfway down her high india-rubber fishing-boots. By the time they
had reached firmer ground and turned to look back at the sunset
it could be also seen that the likeness between their faces was
remarkable. Both had crisp black tightly curling hair; both had
dark eyes and heavy eyebrows; both had quick vivid complexions
slightly heightened by the sea and wind. But more striking than
their similarity of coloring was the likeness of expression and
bearing. Both wore the same air of picturesque energy; both bore
themselves with a like graceful effrontery and self-possession.
The young man continued his way. The young girl lingered for a
moment looking seaward with her small brown hand lifted to shade
her eyes--a precaution which her heavy eyebrows and long lashes
seemed to render utterly gratuitous.
"Come along Mag. What are ye waitin' for?" said the young man
"Nothin'. Lookin' at that boat from the Fort." Her clear eyes
were watching a small skiff invisible to less keen-sighted
observers aground upon a flat near the mouth of the channel.
"Them chaps will have a high ole time gunnin' thar stuck in the
mud and the tide goin' out like sixty!"
"Never you mind the sodgers" returned her companion aggressively
"they kin take care o' their own precious skins or Uncle Sam will
do it for 'em I reckon. Anyhow the people--that's you and me
Mag--is expected to pay for their foolishness. That's what they're
sent yer for. Ye oughter to be satisfied with that" he added with
"I reckon they ain't expected to do much off o' dry land and they
can't help bein' queer on the water" returned the young girl with
a reflecting sense of justice.
"Then they ain't no call to go gunnin' and wastin' Guv'nment
powder on ducks instead o' Injins."
"Thet's so" said the girl thoughtfully. "Wonder ef Guv'nment pays
for them frocks the Kernel's girls went cavortin' round Logport in
last Sunday--they looked like a cirkis."
"Like ez not the old Kernel gets it outer contracts--one way or
another. WE pay for it all the same" he added gloomily.
"Jest the same ez if they were MY clothes" said the girl with a
quick fiery little laugh "ain't it? Wonder how they'd like my
sayin' that to 'em when they was prancin' round eh Jim?"
But her companion was evidently unprepared for this sweeping
feminine deduction and stopped it with masculine promptitude.
"Look yer--instead o' botherin' your head about what the Fort girls
wear you'd better trot along a little more lively. It's late
"But these darned boots hurt like pizen" said the girl limping.
"They swallowed a lot o' water over the tops while I was wadin'
down there and my feet go swashin' around like in a churn every
"Lean on me baby" he returned passing his arm around her waist
and dropping her head smartly on his shoulder. "Thar!" The act
was brotherly and slightly contemptuous but it was sufficient to
at once establish their kinship.
They continued on thus for some moments in silence the girl I
fear after the fashion of her sex taking the fullest advantage of
this slightly sentimental and caressing attitude. They were moving
now along the edge of the Marsh parallel with the line of rapidly
fading horizon following some trail only known to their keen
youthful eyes. It was growing darker and darker. The cries of the
sea-birds had ceased; even the call of a belated plover had died
away inland; the hush of death lay over the black funereal pall of
marsh at their side. The tide had run out with the day. Even the
sea-breeze had lulled in this dead slack-water of all nature as if
waiting outside the bar with the ocean the stars and the night.
Suddenly the girl stopped and halted her companion. The faint far
sound of a bugle broke the silence if the idea of interruption
could have been conveyed by the two or three exquisite vibrations
that seemed born of that silence itself and to fade and die in it
without break or discord. Yet it was only the 'retreat' call from
the Fort two miles distant and invisible.
The young girl's face had become irradiated and her small mouth
half opened as she listened. "Do you know Jim" she said with a
confidential sigh "I allus put words to that when I hear it--it's
so pow'ful pretty. It allus goes to me like this: 'Goes the day
Far away With the light And the night Comes along--Comes along--
Comes along--Like a-a so-o-ong.'" She here lifted her voice a
sweet fresh boyish contralto in such an admirable imitation of
the bugle that her brother after the fashion of more select
auditors was for a moment quite convinced that the words meant
something. Nevertheless as a brother it was his duty to crush
this weakness. "Yes; and it says:'shut your head Go to bed'" he
returned irascibly; "and YOU'D better come along if we're goin' to
hev any supper. There's Yeller Bob hez got ahead of us over there
with the game already."
The girl glanced towards a slouching burdened figure that now
appeared to be preceding them straightened herself suddenly and
then looked attentively towards the Marsh.
"Not the sodgers again?" said her brother impatiently.
"No" she said quickly; "but if that don't beat anythin'! I'd hev
sworn Jim that Yeller Bob was somewhere behind us. I saw him
only jest now when 'Taps' sounded somewhere over thar." She
pointed with a half-uneasy expression in quite another direction
from that in which the slouching Yellow Bob had just loomed.
"Tell ye what Mag makin' poetry outer bugle calls hez kinder
muddled ye. THAT'S Yeller Bob ahead and ye orter know Injins well
enuff by this time to remember that they allus crop up jest when ye
don't expect them. And there's the bresh jest afore us. Come!"
The 'bresh' or low bushes was really a line of stunted willows
and alders that seemed to have gradually sunk into the level of the
plain but increased in size farther inland until they grew to the
height and density of a wood. Seen from the channel it had the
appearance of a green cape or promontory thrust upon the Marsh.
Passing through its tangled recesses with the aid of some unerring
instinct the two companions emerged upon another and much larger
level that seemed as illimitable as the bay. The strong breath of
the ocean lying just beyond the bar and estuary they were now
facing came to them salt and humid as another tide. The nearer
expanse of open water reflected the after-glow and lightened the
landscape. And between the two wayfarers and the horizon rose
bleak and startling the strange outlines of their home.
At first it seemed a ruined colonnade of many pillars whose base
and pediment were buried in the earth supporting a long
parallelogram of entablature and cornices. But a second glance
showed it to be a one-storied building upheld above the Marsh by
numberless piles placed at regular distances; some of them sunken
or inclined from the perpendicular increasing the first illusion.
Between these pillars which permitted a free circulation of air
and at extraordinary tides even the waters of the bay itself the
level waste of marsh the bay the surges of the bar and finally
the red horizon line were distinctly visible. A railed gallery or
platform supported also on piles and reached by steps from the
Marsh ran around the building and gave access to the several
rooms and offices.
But if the appearance of this lacustrine and amphibious dwelling
was striking and not without a certain rude and massive grandeur
its grounds and possessions through which the brother and sister
were still picking their way were even more grotesque and
remarkable. Over a space of half a dozen acres the flotsam and
jetsam of years of tidal offerings were collected and even guarded
with a certain care. The blackened hulks of huge uprooted trees
scarcely distinguishable from the fragments of genuine wrecks
beside them were securely fastened by chains to stakes and piles
driven in the marsh while heaps of broken and disjointed bamboo
orange crates held together by ropes of fibre glistened like
ligamented bones heaped in the dead valley. Masts spars
fragments of shell-encrusted boats binnacles round-houses and
galleys and part of the after-deck of a coasting schooner had
ceased their wanderings and found rest in this vast cemetery of the
sea. The legend on a wheel-house the lettering on a stern or bow
served for mortuary inscription. Wailed over by the trade winds
mourned by lamenting sea-birds once every year the tide visited
its lost dead and left them wet with its tears.
To such a spot and its surroundings the atmosphere of tradition and
mystery was not wanting. Six years ago Boone Culpepper had built
the house and brought to it his wife--variously believed to be a
gypsy a Mexican a bright mulatto a Digger Indian a South Sea
princess from Tahiti somebody else's wife--but in reality a little
Creole woman from New Orleans with whom he had contracted a
marriage with other gambling debts during a winter's vacation
from his home in Virginia. At the end of two years she had died
succumbing as differently stated from perpetual wet feet or the
misanthropic idiosyncrasies of her husband and leaving behind her
a girl of twelve and a boy of sixteen to console him. How futile
was this bequest may be guessed from a brief summary of Mr.
Culpepper's peculiarities. They were the development of a singular
form of aggrandizement and misanthropy. On his arrival at Logport
he had bought a part of the apparently valueless Dedlow Marsh from
the Government at less than a dollar an acre continuing his
singular investment year by year until he was the owner of three
leagues of amphibious domain. It was then discovered that this