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PAGE 3

"Who Was My Quiet Friend?"
by [?]

It was necessary here to make some stand against my strange companion. I said firmly, yet as politely as I could, that I had proposed stopping over night with a friend.

“Whar?”

I hesitated. The friend was an eccentric Eastern man, well known in the locality for his fastidiousness and his habits as a recluse. A misanthrope, of ample family and ample means, he had chosen a secluded but picturesque valley in the Sierras where he could rail against the world without opposition. “Lone Valley,” or “Boston Ranch,” as it was familiarly called, was the one spot that the average miner both respected and feared. Mr. Sylvester, its proprietor, had never affiliated with “the boys,” nor had he ever lost their respect by any active opposition to their ideas. If seclusion had been his object, he certainly was gratified. Nevertheless, in the darkening shadows of the night, and on a lonely and unknown trail, I hesitated a little at repeating his name to a stranger of whom I knew so little. But my mysterious companion took the matter out of my hands.

“Look yar,” he said, suddenly, “thar ain’t but one place twixt yer and Indian Spring whar ye can stop, and that is Sylvester’s.”

I assented, a little sullenly.

“Well,” said the stranger, quietly, and with a slight suggestion of conferring a favor on me, “ef yer pointed for Sylvester’s–why–I DON’T MIND STOPPING THAR WITH YE. It’s a little off the road–I’ll lose some time–but taking it by and large, I don’t much mind.”

I stated, as rapidly and as strongly as I could, that my acquaintance with Mr. Sylvester did not justify the introduction of a stranger to his hospitality; that he was unlike most of the people here,–in short, that he was a queer man, etc., etc.

To my surprise my companion answered quietly: “Oh, that’s all right. I’ve heerd of him. Ef you don’t feel like checking me through, or if you’d rather put ‘C. O. D.’ on my back, why it’s all the same to me. I’ll play it alone. Only you just count me in. Say ‘Sylvester’ all the time. That’s me!”

What could I oppose to this man’s quiet assurance? I felt myself growing red with anger and nervous with embarrassment. What would the correct Sylvester say to me? What would the girls,–I was a young man then, and had won an entree to their domestic circle by my reserve,–known by a less complimentary adjective among “the boys,”–what would they say to my new acquaintance? Yet I certainly could not object to his assuming all risks on his own personal recognizances, nor could I resist a certain feeling of shame at my embarrassment.

We were beginning to descend. In the distance below us already twinkled the lights in the solitary rancho of Lone Valley. I turned to my companion. “But you have forgotten that I don’t even know your name. What am I to call you?”

“That’s so,” he said, musingly. “Now, let’s see. ‘Kearney’ would be a good name. It’s short and easy like. Thar’s a street in ‘Frisco the same title; Kearney it is.”

“But–” I began impatiently.

“Now you leave all that to me,” he interrupted, with a superb self-confidence that I could not but admire. “The name ain’t no account. It’s the man that’s responsible. Ef I was to lay for a man that I reckoned was named Jones, and after I fetched him I found out on the inquest that his real name was Smith, that wouldn’t make no matter, as long as I got the man.”

The illustration, forcible as it was, did not strike me as offering a prepossessing introduction, but we were already at the rancho. The barking of dogs brought Sylvester to the door of the pretty little cottage which his taste had adorned.

I briefly introduced Mr. Kearney. “Kearney will do–Kearney’s good enough for me,” commented the soi-disant Kearney half-aloud, to my own horror and Sylvester’s evident mystification, and then he blandly excused himself for a moment that he might personally supervise the care of his own beast. When he was out of ear-shot I drew the puzzled Sylvester aside.