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The Home-Coming Of Jim Wilkes
by [?]

I.

For many minutes there had been no sound but the monotonous drumming of the rain on the roof of the coach, the swishing of wheels through the gravelly mud, and the momentary clatter of hoofs upon some rocky outcrop in the road. Conversation had ceased; the light-hearted young editor in the front seat, more than suspected of dangerous levity, had relapsed into silence since the heavy man in the middle seat had taken to regarding the ceiling with ostentatious resignation, and the thin female beside him had averted her respectable bonnet. An occasional lurch of the coach brought down a fringe of raindrops from its eaves that filmed the windows and shut out the sodden prospect already darkening into night. There had been a momentary relief in their hurried dash through Summit Springs, and the spectacle of certain newly arrived County Delegates crowding the veranda of its one hotel; but that was now three miles behind. The young editor’s sole resource was to occasionally steal a glance at the face of the one passenger who seemed to be in sympathy with him, but who was too far away for easy conversation. It was the half-amused, half-perplexed face of a young man who had been for some time regarding him from a remote corner of the coach with an odd mingling of admiring yet cogitating interest, which, however, had never extended to any further encouragement than a faint sad smile. Even this at last faded out in the growing darkness; the powerful coach lamps on either side that flashed on the wayside objects gave no light to the interior. Everybody was slowly falling asleep. Suddenly everybody woke up to find that the coach was apparently standing still! When it had stopped no one knew! The young editor lowered his window. The coach lamp on that side was missing, but nothing was to be seen. In the distance there appeared to be a faint splashing.

“Well,” called out an impatient voice from the box above; “what do you make it?” It was the authoritative accents of Yuba Bill, the driver, and everybody listened eagerly for the reply.

It came faintly from the distance and the splashing. “Almost four feet here, and deepening as you go.”

“Dead water?”

“No–back water from the Fork.”

There was a general movement towards the doors and windows. The splashing came nearer. Then a light flashed on the trees, the windows, and–two feet of yellow water peacefully flowing beneath them! The thin female gave a slight scream.

“There’s no danger,” said the Expressman, now wading towards them with the coach lamp in his hand. “But we’ll have to pull round out of it and go back to the Springs. There’s no getting past this break to-night.”

“Why didn’t you let us know this before,” said the heavy man indignantly from the window.

“Jim,” said the driver with that slow deliberation which instantly enforced complete attention.

“Yes, Bill.”

“Have you got a spare copy of that reg’lar bulletin that the Stage Kempany issoos every ten minutes to each passenger to tell ’em where we are, how far it is to the next place, and wots the state o’ the weather gin’rally?”

“No!” said the Expressman grimly, as he climbed to the box, “there’s not one left. Why?”

“Cos the Emperor of Chiny’s inside wantin’ one! Hoop! Keep your seats down there! G’lang!” the whip cracked, there was a desperate splashing, a backward and forward jolting of the coach, the glistening wet flanks and tossing heads of the leaders seen for a moment opposite the windows, a sickening swirl of the whole body of the vehicle as if parting from its axles, a long straight dragging pull, and–presently the welcome sound of hoofs once more beating the firmer ground.

“Hi! Hold up–driver!”

It was the editor’s quiet friend who was leaning from the window.

“Isn’t Wilkes’s ranch just off here?”

“Yes, half a mile along the ridge, I reckon,” returned the driver shortly.