Read CHAPTER XIV - THE THUNDERBOLT of A Waif of the Mountains , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on

Lieutenant Russell was treading on delicate ground, where the utmost caution was necessary.  He must not alarm his friend.  He smoked a few minutes in silence.

“It is not for me to give counsel to my captain, but is it not a fact that selfishness grows upon us with advancing years?”

“Very likely.”

“Has it occurred to you that in concluding to pass the remainder of your days in this mining settlement, you are thinking more of yourself than of your child?”

“What have I said that warrants that question?” asked the captain sharply.

“No higher motive than to protect a daughter from harm can inspire a father, but if she should be allowed to close your eyes, when you come to lie down and die, it will be hers to live:  what then?”

“I shall leave her comfortably provided for.  My pay amounted to a goodly sum when the war ended, and it is placed where no one else can reap the benefit of it.  Then, too, as you know we have struck considerable paying dirt of late.  The prospects are that New Constantinople, even if a small town, will soon be a rich one.”

Lieutenant Russell groaned in spirit.  Would the parent never understand him?

“Then you expect her to remain here, sharing in all the vicissitudes of the place?  It cannot always stand still; it will either increase, bringing with it many bad elements, or it will cease to exist and these people will have to go elsewhere:  what then of the child whom you have left behind you?”

“Oh, by that time,” airily replied the father; “she will be married to some good honest fellow, like the parson, who seems to be fond of her, as I know she is of him, but I will not allow her to think of marriage for a long while to come,” he added with emphasis.

Lieutenant Russell had heard all he wished.  He had learned that the father would not consent to the marriage of his daughter for a number of years, and when that time came, he would select one of the shaggy, uncouth miners for her life partner.

“He has never thought of me in that capacity, but he will have to entertain the thought before he is much older.”

In her dreamings of the mysterious world, with its teeming multitudes and all manner of men, Nellie Dawson was sure that none lived who could compare with this young cavalier who had come out from that wonderful realm into the loneliness of her mountain home, bringing with him a sunshine, a glow, a radiance, a happiness, and a thrilling life which she had never believed could be hers.

She often sat with her eyes upon his countenance, when, in his chair opposite her father, he recalled those marvelous experiences of his.  To her no man could ever possess so musical a voice, and none so perfect features and winning ways.  It was young love’s dream and in her heart the sacred flame was kindled and fanned until her whole being was suffused and glowed with the new life.

One of Lieutenant Russell’s firsts acts of kindness to Nellie Dawson was to present her with his massive dog Timon.  She had shown great admiration from the first for the magnificent brute, who became fond of her.  The maiden was delighted beyond measure and thanked the donor so effusively that he was embarrassed.  It is not probable, however, that Timon himself was ever aware of the change of ownership, for it brought no change of conditions to him.  He had learned to divide his time about equally between the home of the lieutenant and that of Captain Dawson, while, like the young lady herself, he wandered about the settlement at will.  He was a dignified canine, who stalked solemnly through New Constantinople, or took a turn in Dead Man’s Gulch, resenting all familiarity from every one, except from the only two persons that had ever owned him.

The lieutenant reflected much upon his conversation with Captain Dawson, the impression which he had received being anything but pleasant.  “He considers himself unselfish, and yet like all such he is selfishness itself.  He has determined to spend the rest of his days in this hole and to keep her with him.  He won’t allow her to marry for years, because it might interfere with his own pleasure; then he intends to turn her over to that lank, shaggy-faced Brush, who pretends to be a parson.  The captain never thinks of me as having any claims upon her love.  To carry out his plan would be a crime.  If she objects to Brush, he will probably give her a choice from the whole precious lot, including Ruggles, Adams, Bidwell, or Red Mike, the reformed gambler.

“Never once has he asked himself whether his daughter may not have a preference in the matter, but, with the help of heaven, he shall not carry out this outrage.”

In the solitude of his own thoughts, the lover put the question to himself: 

“Am I unselfish in my intentions?”

Selfishness is the essence of love.  We resolve to obtain the one upon whom our affections are set, regardless of the consequences or of the future.  It is our happiness which is placed in the balance and outweighs everything else.

“Of course,” continued the young officer in his self-communing, “I shall be the luckiest fellow in the world when I win her and she will be a happy woman.  Therefore, it is her good which I seek as much as my own.”

How characteristic of the lover!

“I shall not abduct her.  If she tells me she does not love me; if she refuses to forsake all for me, then I will bid her good-by and go off and die.”

How characteristic again of the lover!

And yet it may be repeated that Lieutenant Russell was the most guarded and circumspect of men.  He no longer argued with Captain Dawson, for it was useless.  He rather lulled his suspicion by falling in with his views, and talked of the future of parent and daughter, as if it were one of the least interesting subjects that could come between them.

On one of Vose Adams’s pilgrimages to Sacramento, he returned with a superb mettled pony, the gift of Lieutenant Russell.  With this pet she soon became a daring and accomplished horsewoman.  She was an expert, too, with the small Winchester and revolver which her father brought with him from the East.  Perched like a bird upon her own Cap, as she named him, she often dashed for a mile down the trail, wheeling like a flash and returning at full speed.

“Have a care,” said Parson Brush, more than once; “you ride like a centaur and none knows better how to use firearms, but there are Indians in these mountains and they sometimes approach nigh enough to be seen from New Constantinople.  Then, too, your father brought word that other miners are working their way toward us.  More than likely there are bad men among them whom it is best you should not meet.”

“But none would harm me,” was the wondering reply of the miss; “are not all of my own race my friends?”

“They ought to be, but alas! it is too much to expect.”

She could not believe, however, that any danger of that nature threatened her, but she deferred to the fears of her father, Lieutenant Russell and the parson to that extent that she generally had a companion with her on these dashes down the trail.  Sometimes it was Brush, sometimes Ruggles or her parent, and less frequently the young officer.  Timon always galloped or trotted behind her pony, and she could not be made to believe that his protection was not all-sufficient.

The winds of early autumn were moaning through the gorges and canyons of the Sierras, bringing with them the breath of coming winter, which was often felt with all its Arctic rigor in these depressions among the towering peaks and ridges.  The usual group was gathered in the Heavenly Bower, though two of the most prominent citizens were absent.  They were Felix Brush and Wade Ruggles, who were seated in their cabin, where a small fire had been kindled on the primitive hearth and afforded the only light in the small apartment.  They had eaten their evening meal and as usual were smoking.

As neither cared to taste the Mountain Dew, so winsome to a majority of the miners, the two often spent their evenings thus, especially since the shadow caused by the coming of Lieutenant Russell had fallen across their threshold.

“Things begin to look better than afore,” remarked Ruggles, sitting with one leg flung across the other and looking thoughtfully into the fire.

“Yes, I always insisted that the soil about here is auriferous and we had only to stick to it to obtain our reward.”

Ruggles took his pipe from his mouth and looked at his partner with a disgusted expression.

“What are you talkin’ ’bout, parson?”

“Didn’t you refer to the diggings?” he innocently asked in turn.

“Come now, that won’t do; you know my references to allusions was the leftenant and the young lady.  I say things look better as regards the same.”

“In what way?”

“In the only way there could be.  They don’t care partic’lar for each other.”

“There is no doubt they did some time ago.”

“Of course, but I mean now.”

“How do you explain the change, Wade?”

“The chap ain’t a fool; he’s took notice of our warnin’s.”

“I wasn’t aware that we had given him any.”

“Not ’zactly in words, but every time I’ve met him with the gal, I give the leftenant a scowl.  Once I come purty near shakin’ my fist at him; he’s obsarved it all and is wise in time.”

“I think there is ground for what you say,” remarked the parson, anxious to be convinced of the hoped-for fact; “what I base my belief on is that the leftenant doesn’t accompany her on her little riding trips as often as her father or you or I:  that is a sure barometer, according to my judgment.  Still I have sometimes feared from the way she talks and acts that she thinks more of him than is right.”

“Nothing of the kind!  She treats him as she does everybody else; the leftenant is the friend of the cap and the leftenant give her the dog that is the size of a meetin’ house and the pony hardly as big as the dog, but she doesn’t think half as much of him as of you and me; how can she?” demanded Ruggles, sitting bolt upright and spreading his hand like a lawyer who has uttered an unanswerable argument; “hain’t she knowed us a blamed sight longer than him?”

“You are correct; I didn’t think of that.”

How eagerly we accept the argument, flimsy as it may be, which accords with our wishes!

“When I feel sorter ugly over my ’spicions,” continued Ruggles; “I jest reflect that we’ve knowed the gal ever since she was a baby and her father tumbled down a hundred feet onto the roof of the Heavenly Bower, with her in his arms in the middle of that howlin’ blizzard, ­when I think of that I say ­”

The door of the cabin was hastily shoved inward and Captain Dawson, his face as white as death, strode in.

“Have you seen anything of Nellie?” he asked in a husky whisper.

“No; what’s the matter?” asked the startled miners.

“She has gone! she has left me!” gasped the father dropping into the only remaining chair, the picture of despair and unutterable woe.

“Why do you think that?” asked the parson, sympathetically.

“Lieutenant Russell has gone too!  They have fled together!”