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The Western Master's Creation
Conventions Shocked by the New School of Fiction
By E. Clarence O'Day
Judging by the files of the Overland Monthly, in which appeared the early work of Bret Harte, the great California master of fiction, was not a voluminous writer. Either that, or his editorial duties on the Overland Monthly, took up too
Bret Harte in 1868 much of his time, to permit of his contributing many stories to the pages of his magazine. In the writing of verses he appears to have been dazzling admirers at the Paris opera and abanmore assiduous. No oubt was for the better
doning it all for a sentiment. that his stories were few and carefully prepared, The reception accorded "The Luck of Roaring as the foundations of his literary fame were thus Camp" convinced Harte that the reading public more securely laid. There is nothing of the
was not supersensitive about adherence to the old slipshod order to be found in the early writings stereotyped forms of fiction, which were as preof Bret Harte, as published in the Overland cise as the rules of a Sunday school. Monthly, in the years 1868 and 1869.
He introduced some pretty rough characters “The Luck of Roaring Camp," Harte's first in “The Luck of Roaring Camp," and the public story for the Overland Monthly in August, 1868, did not suffer the spasms of outraged propriety the month after he became editor No more prose which the magazine publishers had feared. Feelfiction from his pen appeared until the next ing the ground firmer under him with each year when he added to his celebrity by publishing exploration of new fields, Harte presented to his "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," and "Miggles.' delighted public, the admirable western story The latter is considered by many to be the equal of "Miggles" which is here reproduced, precisely of any story by Harte, though most critics con as it appeared in the Overland Monthly of sider his first two works of fiction in the Overland June, 1869. monthly, superior to it.
“Miggles” is remarkable as showing a treatment of conventional morality which was new in E WERE EIGHT, including the western fiction. Twenty years before in France, Dumas, in his “La Dame aux Camelias," had made a sentimental appeal to puritanism for the
the passage of the last six miles, "erring sister," more obedient to the dictates of since the jolting of the heavy vehicle over the heart than the rigid social code. The the roughening road had spoiled the Magdalen is one of the oldest characters in litera
judge's last poetical quotation. The tall ture, but New England literature neither pilloried nor pitied, but calmly ignored her existence.
man beside the judge was asleep, his arm Western fiction exemplified by Harte passed through the swaying strap and his broadened the field. In the story of “Miggles" head resting upon it-altogether a limp, Bret Harte chose as the heroine a woman of the helpless-looking object, as if he had Wild West who had lost her fear of the conventions but not her femininity, nor above all her
hanged himself and been cut down too womanly tenderness of heart, toward the man
late. The French lady on the back seat who had figured in her revolt against the pro was asleep, too, yet in a half-conscious prieties. "Miggles," wandering in the forest propriety of attitude, shown even in the primeval with her grizzly bear, or nursing her
disposition of the handkerchief which she paralyzed human companion amidst the mountain pines, is in her human characteristics a Western
held to her forehead and which partially modification of the Dame of the Camelias,
veiled her face. The lady from Virginia
W"driver. We had not spoken during
City, traveling with her husband, had long ger from the roof called for “Maygelle,” since lost all individuality in a wild con whereat we all laughed. While we were fusion of ribbons, veil, furs, and shawls. laughing the driver cried “Shoo!" There was no sound but the rattling of the We listened. To our infinite amazewheels and the dash of rain upon the ment the chorus of “Miggles" was reroof. Suddenly the stage stopped and we peated from the other side of the wall, became dimly aware of voices. The driver to the final and supplemental was evidently in the midst of an exciting “Maygells." colloquy with some one in the road-a "Extraordinary echo," said the judge. colloquy of which such fragments as
“Extraordinary d-d skunk!” roared "bridge gone," "twenty feet of water?”
the driver contemptuously. "Come out of were occasionally distin
that, Miggles, and show yourself! Be a guishable above the storm. Then came a
man, Miggles! Don't hide in the dark; I lull, and the mysterious voice from the
wouldn't if I were you, Miggles," conroad shouted the parting adjuration: tinued Yuba Bill, now dancing about in "Try Miggles.”
an excess of fury. We caught a glimpse of our leaders as
“Miggles !” continued the voice, “O the vehicle slowly turned, of a horseman
Miggles!” vanishing through the rain, and we were “My good man! Mr. Myghail!" said evidently on our way to Miggles.
the judge, softening the asperities of the Who and where was Miggles? The name as much as possible. “Consider the judge, our authority, did not remember inhospitality of refusing shelter from the the name, and he knew the country inclemency of the weather to helpless fethoroughly. The Washoe traveler thought males. Really my dear sir—" but a sucMiggles must keep a hotel. We only cession of “Miggles” ending in a burst of knew that we were stopped by high water laughter, drowned his voice. in front and rear, and that Miggles was Yuba Bill hesitated no longer. Taking our rock of refuge. A ten minutes splash
a heavy stone from the road, he battered ing through a tangled by-road, scarcely down the gate, and with the expressman wide enough for the stage, and we drew entered the inclosure. We followed. Noup before a barred and boarded gate in
body was to be seen. In the gathering a wide stone wall or fence about eight darkness all that we could distinguish was feet high. Evidently Miggles, and evi
that we were in a garden—from the rosedently Miggles did not keep a hotel.
bushes that scattered over us a minute The driver got down and tried the gate. spray from their dripping leaves—and It was securely locked.
before a long, rambling wooden building. “Miggles! O Miggles!”
"Do you know this Miggles?" asked the No answer.
judge of Yuba Bill. “Migg-ells! You Miggles!” continued “No, nor don't want to," said Bill the driver with rising wrath.
shortly, who felt the Pioneer Stage Com“Migglesy!" joined in the expressman, pany insulted in his person by the conpersuasively. "O Miggy! Mig!”
tumacious Miggles. But no reply came from the apparently “But my dear sir," expostulated the insensate Miggles. The judge, who had judge, as he thought of the barred gate. finally got the window down, put his head “Lookee here,” said Yuba Bill, with out and propounded a series of questions, fine irony, "hadn't you better go back which if answered categorically would and sit in the coach till yer introduced ? have undoubtedly elucidated the whole,
I'm going in,” and he pushed open the but which the driver evaded by replying door of the building. that "if we didn't want to sit in the coach
A long room lighted only by the embers all night we had better rise up and sing of the fire that was dying on the large out for Miggles.”
hearth at its further extremity. The walls So we rose up and called on Miggles in curiously papered, and the flickering firechorus. Then separately. And when we light bringing out its grotesque pattern. had finished, a Hibernian fellow passen Somebody sitting in a large arm-chair by
the fire-place. All this we saw
"Well, dern my skin,” said Bill—lookcrowded together into the room, after ing appealingly at us, and hopelessly rethe driver and expressman.
tiring from the contest. “Hello be you, Miggles ?” said Yuba The judge now stepped forward, and Bill to the solitary occupant.
we lifted the mysterious invertebrate back The figure neither spoke nor 'stirred. into his original position. Bill was disYuba Bill walked wrathfully toward it and missed with the lantern to reconnoiter outturned the eye of his coach lantern upon side, for it was evident that from the helpits face. It was a man's face, prematurely lessness of this solitary man there must old and wrinkled, with very large eyes, in be attendants near at hand, and we all which there was that expression of per drew around the fire. The judge, who fectly fratuitous solemnity, which I had had regained his authority and had never sometimes seen in an owls. The large lost his conversational amiability-standeyes wandered from Bill's face to the ing before us with his back to the hearth lantern, and finally fixed their gaze on - charged us, as an imaginary jury, as that luminous object, without further follows: recognition.
“It is evident that our distinguished Bill restrained himself with an effort. friend has reached that condition, de
"Miggles! Be you deaf? You ain't scribed by Shakespeare as "the sere and dumb anyhow you know;" and Yuba Bill yellow leaf,” or has suffered some preshook the insensate figure by the shoulder. mature abatement of his mental and
To our great dismay, as Bill removed physical faculties. Whether he is really his hand, the venerable stranger appar
the Miggles” ently collapsed-sinking into half his size Here he was interrupted by “Miggles! and an undistinguishable heap of cloth O Miggles! Migglesy! Mig!" and in fact, ing.
the whole chorus of Miggles in very much
the same key as it had once before been away when you passed down the road. I delivered by us.
thought you might pull up here, and so We gazed at each other for a moment
I ran the whole way, knowing nobody was in some alarm. The judge, in particular,
home but Jim—and—and—I'm out of vacated his position quickly, as the voice
breath-and-that lets me out." seemed to come directly over his shoulder, And here Miggles caught her dripping The cause, however, was soon discovered oil-skin hat from her head, and with a in a large magpie who had perched upon mischievous swirl that scattered a shower a shelf over the fireplace, and who imme of rain-drops over us; attempted to put diately relapsed into a sepulchral silence, back her hair; dropped two hairpins in which contrasted singularly with his pre the attempt; laughed and sat down bevious volubility. It was undoubtedly his side Yuba Bill, with her hands crossed voice which we had heard in the road, lightly on her lap. and our friend in the chair was not re The judge recovered himself first and sponsible for the discourtesy. Yuba Bill, essayed an extravagant compliment. who re-entered the room after an “I'll trouble you for that thar hairsuccessful search, was loth to accept the pin," said Miggles gravely. Half a dozen explanation, and still eyed the helpless hands were eagerly stretched forward; sitter with suspicion. He had found a
the missing hairpin was restored to its fair shed in which he had put up his horses owner; and Miggles, crossing the room, but he came back dripping and skeptical. looked keenly into the face of the invalid. “Thar ain't nobody but him within ten The solemn eyes looked back at hers, with miles of the shanty, and that 'ar d-d an expression we had never seen before. skeesicks knows it."
Life and intelligence seemed to struggle But the faith of the majority proved to back into the rugged face. Miggles be securely based. Bill had scarcely laughed again-it was a singularly eloceased growling, before we heard a quick quent laugh--and turned her black eyes step upon the porch, the trailing of a wet and white teeth once more toward us. skirt, the door was Aung open, and with a "This afflicted person is,” hesitated Alash of white teeth, a sparkle of dark the judge. eyes, and an utter absence of ceremony or "Jim," said Miggles. diffidence, a young woman entered, shut "Your father?" the door, and panting leaned back "No." against it.
"Brother?” “Oh, if you please, I'm Miggles!" "No."
And this was Miggles! This bright "Husband?" eyed, full throated young woman, whose Miggles darted a quick, half-defiant wet gown of coarse blue stuff could not glance at the two lady passengers, who, I hide the beauty of the feminine curves to had noticed, did not participate in the which it clung; from the chestnut crown general masculine admiration of Miggles, of whose head-topped by a man't oil and said gravely: skin sou'wester-to the little feet and “No—it's Jim.” ankles-hidden somewhere in the recesses
The of her boy's brogans, all was grace—this lady passengers moved closer to each was Miggles, laughing at us, too, in the other. The Washoe husband looked abmost airy, frank, offhand manner imag- stractedly at the fire; and the tall man inable.
apparently turned his eyes inward for self "You see, boys," said she-quite out of support at this emergency. But Miggles' breath and holding one little hand against laugh, which was very infectious, broke her side, quite unheeding the speechless the silence. discomfiture of our party, or the com "Come," she said, briskly, "you must plete demoralization of Yuba Bill, whose be hungry. Who'll bear a hand to help features had relaxed into an expression of
me get tea?” gratuitous and imbecile cheerfulness She had no lack of volunteers. In a "You see, boys, I was mor'n two miles few moments Yuba Bill was engaged like
STORIES FROM THE FILES
Caliban in bearing logs for this Miranda; Before we could answer, she had opened the expressman was grinding coffee on the the door, and disclosed a half-grown veranda; to myself the arduous duty of grizzly, who instantly raised himself on slicing bacon was assigned; and the judge his haunches, with his fore paws hanging lent each man his good-humored and down in the popular attitude of mendivoluble counsel. And when Miggles, cancy, and looked admiringly at Miggles, assisted by the judge and our Hibernian with a very singular resemblance in his "deck passenger," set the table with all
manner to Yuba Bill. the available crockery, we had become "That's my watch-dog," said Miggles quite joyous, in spite of the rain that beat in explanation. "O he don't bite," she again the windows, the wind that whirled added, as the two lady passengers fluttered down the chimney, the two ladies who into a corner. “Does he, old Toppy?”whispered together in the corner, or the (the latter remark being addressed dimagpie who uttered satrical and croak- rectly to the sagacious Joaquin). ing commentary on their conversation,
“I tell you what, boys,” continued from his perch above. In the new bright, Miggles, after she had fed and closed the blazing fire we could see that the walls
door on Ursa Minor, “you were in big were papered with illustrated journals, ar
luck that Joaquin wasn't hanging round ranged with feminine taste and discrim
when you dropped in tonight.” ination. The furniture was extemporized,
"Where was he?" asked the judge. and adapted from candle boxes and pack "With me," said Miggles. "Lord love ing cases, and covered with gay calico,
you; he trots round with me nights like or the skin of some animal. The arm as if he was a man. chair of the helpless Jim was an ingenious We were silent for a few moments, and variation of a flour barrel. There was
listened to the wind. Perhaps we all had neatness and even a taste for the pic- the same picture before us -of Miggles turesque to be seen in the few details of walking through the rainy woods, with her the long low room.
savage guardian at her side. The judge, The meal was a culinary success. But I remember, said something about Una it was a social triumph—chiefly, I think, and her lion; but Miggles received it as owing to the rare tact of Miggles in she did other compliments, with great guiding the conversation, asking all the gravity.
gravity. Whether she was altogether unquestions herself, yet bearing throughout conscious of the admiration she excited the frankness that rejected the idea of she could hardly be oblivious of Yuba any concealment on her own part. So Bill's adoration I knew not; but her that we talked of ourselves, of our pros very frankness suggested a perfect sexual pects, of the journey, of the weather, of equality that was cruelly humiliating to each other--of everything but our host the younger members of our party. and hostess. It must be confessed that
The incident of the bear did not add Miggles' conversation was never elegant, anything in Miggles' favor to the opinion rarely grammatical, and that at times she
of those of her own sex who were present. used expletives, the use of which had gen
In fact, the repast over, a chilliness radierally been yielded to our sex. But they
But they ated from the two lady passengers, that no were delivered with such a lighting up of
pine boughs brought in by Yuba Bill and teeth and eyes, and were usually followed
cast as a sacrifice upon the hearth could by a laugh—a laugh peculiar to Miggles wholly overcome. Miggles felt it; and --so frank and so honest that it seemed to
suddenly declaring that it was time to clear the moral atmosphere.
"turn in," offered to show the ladies to Once during the meal we heard a noise their beds in an adjoining room. "You like the rubbing of a heavy boot against boys will have to camp out here by the the outer walls of the house.
fire as well as you can,” she added, “for shortly followed by a scratching and thar ain't but the one room." sniffling at the door. “That's Joaquin, Our sex-by which, my dear sir, I said Miggles in reply to our questioning allude of course to the stronger portion of glances; "would you like to see him?" humanity—has been generally relieved