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The Hermit

The Hermit image
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Away tip on the range - the Sierra MaJre- oí tl; Hoek iuountaius, twelve thou.siinl feet above the soa. rests a little mimng ;ainp of soine twenty or twenty five rough og cabins. llight on tlio edgo of timbi-r i uu ! Tall, snuue pines below ; barejag;ed rocks above. North, south, east and est huge peaks towor in tlieir uiassive {randeur and rear their stouy heada to the rising and setting sun, and seem like griru )ld sentinels keeping wateh over the little jasin in which are the cabins, collectively iniwii as Mineral City. The mountaia sides e seamed and ribbed with the rich silver yeins of San Juan, and scores of cuts, ¦shafts and tunnels echo daily to the clang ut' drill and sledge as tlie hardy minen delve after the metalic treasures of th'ïse cirrat store-houses. SvdT the blacksmith shop, whero the aot unuiclodious rings of drills and picks buing sharpened in heard all the day and Par into the night, a little cabin stands unabtruively upon its rocky foundation, filero isan airof neatness about its hipped roof of nicely split "shakes" and its carel'ully hewn door that speaks well for the patience of the builder. In fact, the cabin is pointed out as a fine specimen of' l'rontier architecture. The solitary owner and occupant of this little building was known throughout the camp as "the Hormit." Not, be it understood, becaupe of his imitating those poor old beings of' ancient story who dwelt in caves and fled at the approach of any one but -iniily because he was a taciturn, quiet old fellow, who worked his mine alone, and when joining the rest of the men about the fire in the saloon, always sought a corner and rarely, if ever, took part in the conversation. He was vastly different from the rest of his fellow laborers. He never drank; he never swore ; but in his quiet, unobtrusive way would uit and gaze intently at the fire, uninindtül of the stories, the hearty laughter, the social drinking and tho abaorbing gauies of carda going on around hiui. Tall he was, with adecided stoop in his phoulders; a long beard, plentifully streaked with gray, and a pair of wearicd, oervous, yearning eyes, that souiehow appealed to the rough but good-hearted minera. Mail carne twice a week in Mineral City Etnd the saloon was the postoffice. Regularly upon the carrier's arrival, the Hermit would juin the crowd and lisien with au eager, eipectant air as the superscriptions of the various letters were read out by the ftaloon-keeper, and then, when the last missive had boen reached and either claimed or set aside, he would lower his head and tlowly slip away to his seat at the corner of the fire-place, with never a word. Every mail that went out carried a letter from the Hermit, always addressed to tbe Banie party, and cvery month he registored one to the same addreps, which the boys shrewdly guessed contained snch monoy as tho poor fellow was able to bcrape together from the scanty yield of his mine - the Alice. The boys had often debated upon writing a letter to the Hermit, for his continued exjiectation and his regularly bittar disappointment touched them, but they argued that it would not be what hc wanted and .'o the idea was abandoned. Several of them asked the postmaster to lay aside their letters without reading aloud their addresses, that the contrast inight not be so painful to the Hermit, and none of them gave vent to any joyful exclamations when the mail brought them favors, as was their wont. The old whisky keg, at the corner of the fireplaco, was always reserved for the Hermit, and come wben he might he never found it occupied, or when sitting there was he ever crowded. And so these rough frontiersmen shqwed in various waya tbeir sympathy for their lonely and silent companion, of whom they knew nothing save tbat his pinched, careworn and yearning eyeu told. One day the mail came in and the Hermit was not there. This was so unusual that it led to considerable speculation among the boya. Then ltoney, whose lead lay near the Alice, remembered that the Hermit had not been to work that day or the day befqre, and when night came on and the keg in the corner remained unocupied the boys concluded that investigation was necessary. "Pards, I reckon the Hermit rnay be a little off and might kiuder nced help," said Georgia, "an' it sorter strikes me we might cali in an' sec." As this met the approval of all the men, Georgia and lloney started up to the Hermit' s little cabin. A dim light crept artiuud the edges of the old flour sack that acted as a curtain for the little square pane of glass constituting a window, and after con9ultation, the two messengers concludod to takc a peep bcfore making their presclce knowD. Georgia put his face to the glass and peered intently within. The Hermit nat on ithe earthen floor nveloped in a torn and miserable blanket. ilis hat was off, and his long gray hair was tangled and unkept. His eyes, which Georgia could plainly see, as hc sat ncarly facing the window, combined with their usual pleading expresóos a Bort of feverish glitter, and the whole attitude of the man was one of despair. In bla hand he held what peared to bc a photograpli and an old letter, and he uevcr moved bis eyes from theru. ¦ The rest of tho room that camc within (eorgia's üüld of visión betokened cleanliik'sü, but ut the i-auie time extremo poverty lor even that rough country. Georgia witbdrew hia head and his cOmpanion took a look, after which tVy both retreated sonie little distance into the tiuiber and paused. " UYIl ? " said Honey. % VO rft1O " Hurned queer," said Georgia. -, y)u "Kinder siek-looking, eb? " Georgia nodded his bead thoughtfully. "Lit s see the boys about it," said Knoi'y, and then they retraced their steps tn the saloon. The boys listcned with interest to the report aad pulled their boardd and scratched tbcir lieads in attempta to obtain asolution wbt ailcd the Heriuit. Medv and were tlie explanatiun-. trivcn, and tlicn tln'v lUvi.l.'i] tBSt fieorgia and Iloney liad botter go back and knock at the door and inquire, at any rate, if anything was wrong; so thereupon tho two once more stnrtcd up the rail. They knoeked - first soiïly and then louder- but elirtod no regponse or caused any show of life within, save the exlinguishment imraediately of the light. " Xu ue," wkispcred lloncy, and without furt her word tbey'left the little cabin and its Military occupant and joi ied their comrauVs. The LOxt daj' passcd and the next but tlie flerniit gave no sins of existence. The cvenin;: mail carne in,' and atnong the letters was one, in a vroman's hand, for John Barmer, Minera] City, San Juan county, Colorado. There was not such a personage in the couuty, so lar as the boys knew, but Georgia, after a moment' hesitations, put his shoulder to the door and with ai little as possible burst the wooden button off that served as a lock. The next ittutant and Georgia was in the room. The Herniit lay extended upoo the floor, his face flushed and hot with fevcr and bis long, thin fingera nervously graspintï and relaxiug again the torn blanket on whicb he tossed. "What's the matter, old pard?" said Georgia, as he raised the old man's head. Tbc feverud eyes siowly turned toward bis face, the euiaeialed fiugers oponed aud the poor, lonely old lellow said huskily : "J)on't teil her!" " Who- teil who?" " Alice - poor little thing - sbe don't know." "Thinking of his folks in the States," muttered Georgia, and then tenderly and carefully he lifted the sick man in his arms and away to his own cabio. The news of the Hermit'ssicknessspread through the camp, and blankets and food carne from all quarters for his use. The store was ransacked for the best that it could aflord. A terrible slaughtering of mountaiu grouse took place that rich broths iniglit ba made for the invalid. One man traveled sixtcen milos lo Silvorou lo ac cure a can of peaches, and the men almost fougbt in tbeir anxiety to act as nurses and watehers. Georgia thanked the boys, but kept them away, adruitting only one or two to aid him in the care of the old man. Uut despite all this attention the old fellow Mak and sank, and it soon bccame evident that the niouotain fever had one more victim. One night Georgia sat smoking his pipe and musjng. The owner of the letter liad been fbund, for in his ravings the old man often mentioned the name H armer, but the boys feared lest he should die before reading it, and this perplexed Georgia sadly. Vrnst was he to do with it and might it not contain matters of importance ? Had the old man any friends or relatives living, and whcre were they to be found? All these things and inany more carne flitting through his brain, a.nd he did not hear liis patiënt siowly raise bunself in the bed and stiru about him. The old man looked tho room over and then his eyes rested on tho burly forti) by the lire. " Georgia," he said. In an instant Georgia sprung to his feet and hastened to the bedside. " Why, pardner, durn it - yer - yer geting better, ain't you ?" The old man smiled wearily. 'Teil me all about it," he said. Georgia briefly recounted the story of his illness, touchingbut lightly on what he had done, and laying great stfess on the interest of the men. " But now, old man, you'll soon be up and among 'eui," he concluded, with a cheerful laugh.j "No," said the old fellow, with the same weary smile, " but - but I thank you." " Oh, nooseotie- that's all right- you' re only a leetle shook 'tip', you know - it's natural, after being as i'ur down as you've been. You'll soon be all right- cheer up, and don't let youf sand run out ; besides, l've got a letter for you. "Jjetter - for me?" and the old man's face ligbted up with an eagerness that sent a tremor through Georgia' honest heart, lest the missive, after all, should not be for him. He got it, however, and gave it into the trembling hands. "Yes, yes," said the old fellow, ' it s her writing, I know - like her mother's- oh, how long it has been coming - but now - " and his poor, weak, shaking hands vainly strove to open it. " Let me," said Georgia, kindly. Tüe old uian let hini take the letter, and tben said sudderly, in a low, even tone : "Holdon, Georgia." Georgia paused. " Georgia," said the old fellow, looking him steadily in the eye, "you've been kind to me- very kind- and l've gotnothing to show for it- nothing but confidence. I m going to teil you something, Georgia, and tnen - then you can read that letter and you'll understand all tho good news it contains." He paused a moment and closed his eyes. Then he continued : "(ieorgia, I was a likely aort of young chap years ago- not such a good-for-nothing galoot as I am now, and I inarned, Georgia- married the best girl in old I ennsylvania. I was mighty happy - too happy, partner- that's wbat made it go so hard when she died. We had one child- a little girl- and we called her Alice- my wife s name. She was a wee little thing when her mothcr died, and so very, very pretty It was bard linea on uw, Georgia, and somehow I Kot to drinking. I know it did me no good, and I know it wasn t right, but a man doegn't reason much when he s desperate like, and so 1 drank aüd drank. 1 sold out everything and put my girl- my liulo Alico- with my wife's brother. Ho had a family of his own, and what could a lonely, broken-hearted man like me do tor a dear little girl ? Georgia, f they d come to me and talked good and gentle they could have made a man of me, but they didn t. They wouldn't let me come into their house, and 'they said that I'd killed my wife by drioking. Georgia, it was a he a damnable lie 1 aera drank a drop till she died. and I wouldn't have done it then if I'd had any one to sympathize with me, But 1 hadn t ; I was alone in the world- alono with my great grief, and-" and the old man1 voioo broke, and his poor, thin hands went nervously over the blanket, while two tears atole from his hot eyes and tnckling down the palé, pinebed cheeks, losttberoselves n the gray air of his beard. 'Well, Georgia," ho said presently, "they got an order from the court giving the guardianship of niy child - iny Alice - to her únele, because they said I was unfit to take care of her. Georgia, if hut one kind word had been said - only one - I wouldn't have been the ooi I was. Well, I left and carne west. I stopped drinking. I have never touched a drop mnoe Alice was taken from me. You heliere me, Georgia?1; " Yes," said Georgia. "Afler a while I wroto to her uncle, and I told him ot'my new life and asked hini if I oouldn't at least write to my little girl. That was in 't7, and she was then teuyears oíd. He took no notice ot' my letter " " He's a " broke in Georgia, but suddenly checked himself before eoncluding. " Then I thought perhaps he hadn't got it, so I got my money together ani went east. But ho had, Georgia ; he had. It was no use though. He wouldn't believe in me and wouldn't let me see my little girl. He said she should never koow but what he was her father, at least until she was of age. 1 tried the courts, but I spent all my money without changing the doeree. Then I gave it up and carne back west again. I gaioed one thing though. The judge said that when Alice -was twenty-one she should be offered tho choice of coming to me, her her father, orremaining with her guardián. 1 had to rest satisfied, and I worked and worked to get money for my little girl. I scrimped some, Georgia, but there's nearly $12,000 in the bank for her now," and tue old man's voice and marnier were i'ull of piide. "She was twenty-one last June, and Fve been waiting for her letter, l knew it would come. Oh, Georgia, if sho only knew how I have worked for her ; how I have waited, alone, but etill working and waiting ; but she bas written now, and tomorrow or next day, I must start east. We will be very, very happy together, and - but read her letter - you know all now," and the lids closed again over the fevered eyes, and the poor old mansoftly murinured, "little Alice, littlo Alice." Georgia tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter, and the old man feebly drew nearer in joyful, happy eagerness : "My uncle," read Georgia unsteadily, "has informed me of your relationship to me. I have only to say that I regret that the man whose habita killed my uiotuer should alfio bear the title of' my father. I sincerely hope that the Almighty will pardon where we cannot. Georgia turned towards tho old man. "MyGod," hesaid, "the Hernnt is dead."