FROM SAND HILL TO PINE
FROM SAND HILL TO PINE
A NIECE OF SNAPSHOT HARRY'S
There was a slight jarring though the whole frame of the coach a
grinding and hissing from the brakes and then a sudden jolt as the
vehicle ran upon and recoiled from the taut pole-straps of the now
arrested horses. The murmur of a voice in the road was heard
followed by the impatient accents of Yuba Bill the driver.
"Wha-a-t? Speak up can't ye?"
Here the voice uttered something in a louder key but equally
unintelligible to the now interested and fully awakened passengers.
One of them dropped the window nearest him and looked out. He
could see the faint glistening of a rain-washed lantern near the
wheelers' heads mingling with the stronger coach lights and the
glow of a distant open cabin door through the leaves and branches
of the roadside. The sound of falling rain on the roof a soft
swaying of wind-tossed trees and an impatient movement on the box-
seat were all they heard. Then Yuba Bill's voice rose again
apparently in answer to the other.
"Why that's half a mile away!"
"Yes but ye might have dropped onto it in the dark and it's all
on the down grade" responded the strange voice more audibly.
The passengers were now thoroughly aroused.
"What's up Ned?" asked the one at the window of the nearest of two
figures that had descended from the box.
"Tree fallen across the road" said Ned the expressman briefly.
"I don't see no tree" responded the passenger leaning out of the
window towards the obscurity ahead.
"Now that's onfortnit!" said Yuba Bill grimly; "but ef any
gentleman will only lend him an opery glass mebbe he can see round
the curve and over the other side o' the hill where it is. Now
then" addressing the stranger with the lantern "bring along your
axes can't ye?"
"Here's one Bill" said an officious outside passenger producing
the instrument he had taken from its strap in the boot. It was the
"regulation" axe beautifully shaped highly polished and utterly
ineffective as Bill well knew.
"We ain't cuttin' no kindlin's" he said scornfully; then he added
brusquely to the stranger: "Fetch out your biggest wood axe--you've
got one ye know--and look sharp."
"I don't think Bill need be so d----d rough with the stranger
considering he's saved the coach a very bad smash" suggested a
reflective young journalist in the next seat. "He talks as if the
man was responsible."
"He ain't quite sure if that isn't the fact" said the express
messenger in a lowered voice.
"Why? What do you mean?" clamored the others excitedly.
"Well--THIS is about the spot where the up coach was robbed six
months ago" returned the messenger.
"Dear me!" said the lady in the back seat rising with a half
hysterical laugh "hadn't we better get out before they come?"
"There is not the slightest danger madam" said a quiet observant
man who had scarcely spoken before "or the expressman would not
have told us; nor would he I fancy have left his post beside the
treasure on the box."
The slight sarcasm implied in this was enough to redden the
expressman's cheek in the light of the coach lamp which Yuba Bill
had just unshipped and brought to the window. He would have made
some tart rejoinder but was prevented by Yuba Bill addressing the
passengers: "Ye'll have to put up with ONE light I reckon until
we've got this job finished."
"How long will it last Bill?" asked the man nearest the window.
"Well" said Bill with a contemptuous glance at the elegant coach
axe he was carrying in his hand "considerin' these purty first-
class highly expensive hash choppers that the kempany furnishes us
I reckon it may take an hour."
"But is there no place where we can wait?" asked the lady anxiously.
"I see a light in that house yonder."
"Ye might try it though the kempany as a rule ain't in the habit
o' makin' social calls there" returned Bill with a certain grim
significance. Then turning to some outside passengers he added
"Now then! them ez is goin' to help me tackle that tree trot
down! I reckon that blitherin' idiot" (the stranger with the
lantern who had disappeared) "will have sense enough to fetch us
some ropes with his darned axe."
The passengers thus addressed apparently miners and workingmen
good humoredly descended all except one who seemed disinclined to
leave the much coveted seat on the box beside the driver.
"I'll look after your places and keep my own" he said with a
laugh as the others followed Bill through the dripping rain. When
they had disappeared the young journalist turned to the lady.
"If you would really like to go to that house I will gladly
accompany you." It was possible that in addition to his youthful
chivalry there was a little youthful resentment of Yuba Bill's
domineering prejudices in his attitude. However the quiet
observant passenger lifted a look of approval to him and added in
his previous level half contemptuous tone:--
"You'll be quite as well there as here madam and there is
certainly no reason for your stopping in the coach when the driver
chooses to leave it."
The passengers looked at each other. The stranger spoke with
authority and Bill had certainly been a little arbitrary!
"I'll go too" said the passenger by the window. "And you'll come
won't you Ned?" he added to the express messenger. The young man
hesitated; he was recently appointed and as yet fresh to the
business--but he was not to be taught his duty by an officious
stranger! He resented the interference youthfully by doing the
very thing he would have preferred NOT to do and with assumed
carelessness--yet feeling in his pocket to assure himself that the
key of the treasure compartment was safe--turned to follow them.
"Won't YOU come too?" said the journalist politely addressing the
"No I thank you! I'll take charge of the coach" was the smiling
rejoinder as he settled himself more comfortably in his seat.
The little procession moved away in silence. Oddly enough no one
except the lady really cared to go and two--the expressman and
journalist--would have preferred to remain on the coach. But the
national instinct of questioning any purely arbitrary authority
probably was a sufficient impulse. As they neared the opened door
of what appeared to be a four-roomed unpainted redwood boarded
cabin the passenger who had occupied the seat near the window
"I'll go first and sample the shanty."
He was not however so far in advance of them but that the others
could hear quite distinctly his offhand introduction of their party
on the threshold and the somewhat lukewarm response of the
inmates. "We thought we'd just drop in and be sociable until the
coach was ready to start again" he continued as the other
passengers entered. "This yer gentleman is Ned Brice Adams &
Co.'s expressman; this yer is Frank Frenshaw editor of the
'Mountain Banner;' this yer's a lady so it ain't necessary to give
HER name I reckon--even if we knowed it! Mine's Sam Hexshill of
Hexshill & Dobbs's Flour Mills of Stockton whar ef you ever come
that way I'll be happy to return the compliment and hospitality."
The room they had entered had little of comfort and brightness in
it except the fire of pine logs which roared and crackled in the
adobe chimney. The air would have been too warm but for the strong
west wind and rain which entered the open door freely. There was
no other light than the fire and its tremulous and ever-changing
brilliancy gave a spasmodic mobility to the faces of those turned
towards it or threw into stronger shadow the features that were
turned away. Yet by this uncertain light they could see the
figures of a man and two women. The man rose and with a certain
apathetic gesture that seemed to partake more of weariness and long
suffering than positive discourtesy tendered seats on chairs
boxes and even logs to the self-invited guests. The stage party
were surprised to see that this man was the stranger who had held
the lantern in the road.
"Ah! then you didn't go with Bill to help clear the road?" said the
The man slowly drew up his tall shambling figure before the fire
and then facing them with his hands behind him as slowly lowered
himself again as if to bring his speech to the level of his hearers
and give a lazier and more deliberate effect to his long-drawn
"Well--no!" he said slowly. "I--didn't--go--with--no--Bill--to--
help--clear--the road! I--don't--reckon--TO go--with--no--Bill--
to--clear--ANY road! I've just whittled this thing down to a pint
and it's this--I ain't no stage kempany's nigger! So far as
turnin' out and warnin' 'em agin goin' to smash over a fallen tree
and slap down into the canyon with a passel of innercent passengers
I'm that much a white man but I ain't no NIGGER to work clearing
things away for 'em nor I ain't no scrub to work beside 'em." He
slowly straightened himself up again and with his former apathetic
air looking down upon one of the women who was setting a coffee-pot
on the coals added "But I reckon my old woman here kin give you
some coffee and whiskey--of you keer for it."
Unfortunately the young expressman was more loyal to Bill than
diplomatic. "If Bill's a little rough" he said with a heightened
color "perhaps he has some excuse for it. You forget it's only
six months ago that this coach was 'held up' not a hundred yards
from this spot."
The woman with the coffee-pot here faced about stood up and