Jeff briggss love story, p.1
Jeff Briggs's Love Story, p.1
Produced by Donald Lainson and David Widger
JEFF BRIGGS'S LOVE STORY
By Bret Harte
JEFF BRIGGS'S LOVE STORY.
It was raining and blowing at Eldridge's Crossing. From the statelypine-trees on the hill-tops, which were dignifiedly protesting throughtheir rigid spines upward, to the hysterical willows in the hollow, thathad whipped themselves into a maudlin fury, there was a general tumult.When the wind lulled, the rain kept up the distraction, firing longvolleys across the road, letting loose miniature cataracts from thehill-sides to brawl in the ditches, and beating down the heavy headsof wild oats on the levels; when the rain ceased for a moment the windcharged over the already defeated field, ruffled the gullies, scatteredthe spray from the roadside pines, and added insult to injury. But bothwind and rain concentrated their energies in a malevolent attempt toutterly disperse and scatter the "Half-way House," which seemed tohave wholly lost its way, and strayed into the open, where, dazed andbewildered, unprepared and unprotected, it was exposed to the tauntingfury of the blast. A loose, shambling, disjointed, hastily builtstructure--representing the worst features of Pioneer renaissance--itrattled its loose window-sashes like chattering teeth, banged itsill-hung shutters, and admitted so much of the invading storm, that itmight have blown up or blown down with equal facility.
Jefferson Briggs, proprietor and landlord of the "Half-way House," hadjust gone through the formality of closing his house for the night,hanging dangerously out of the window in the vain attempt to subdue arebellious shutter that had evidently entered into conspiracy with theinvaders, and, shutting a door as against a sheriff's posse, was goingto bed--i. e., to read himself asleep, as was his custom. As he enteredhis little bedroom in the attic with a highly exciting novel in hispocket and a kerosene lamp in his hand, the wind, lying in wait forhim, instantly extinguished his lamp and slammed the door behind him.Jefferson Briggs relighted the lamp, as if confidentially, in a corner,and, shielding it in the bosom of his red flannel shirt, which gave himthe appearance of an illuminated shrine, hung a heavy bear-skin acrossthe window, and then carefully deposited his lamp upon a chair at hisbedside. This done, he kicked off his boots, flung them into a corner,and, rolling himself in a blanket, lay down upon the bed. A habit ofearly rising, bringing with it, presumably, the proverbial accompanimentof health, wisdom, and pecuniary emoluments, had also brought with itcertain ideas of the effeminacy of separate toilettes and the virtue ofreadiness.
In a few moments he was deep in a chapter.
A vague pecking at his door--as of an unseasonable woodpecker, finallyasserted itself to his consciousness. "Come in," he said, with his eyestill on the page.
The door opened to a gaunt figure, partly composed of bed-quilt andpartly of plaid shawl. A predominance of the latter and a long wisp ofiron-gray hair determined her sex. She leaned against the post with anair of fatigue, half moral and half physical.
"How ye kin lie thar, abed, Jeff, and read and smoke on sich a night!The sperrit o' the Lord abroad over the yearth--and up stage not gone byyet. Well, well! it's well thar ez SOME EZ CAN'T SLEEP."
"The up coach, like as not, is stopped by high water on the North Fork,ten miles away, aunty," responded Jeff, keeping to the facts. Possiblynot recognizing the hand of the beneficent Creator in the rebelliouswindow shutter, he avoided theology.
"Well," responded the figure, with an air of delivering an unheeded andthankless warning, "it is not for ME to say. P'raps it's all His wisdomthat some will keep to their own mind. It's well ez some hezn't narves,and kin luxuriate in terbacker in the night watches. But He says, 'I'llcome like a thief in the night!'--like a thief in the night, Jeff."
Totally unable to reconcile this illustration with the delayed "Pioneer"coach and Yuba Bill, its driver, Jeff lay silent. In his own way,perhaps, he was uneasy--not to say shocked--at his aunt's habitualfreedom of scriptural quotation, as that good lady herself was withan occasional oath from his lips; a fact, by the way, not generallyunderstood by purveyors of Scripture, licensed and unlicensed.
"I'd take a pull at them bitters, aunty," said Jeff feebly, with hiswandering eye still recurring to his page. "They'll do ye a power ofgood in the way o' calmin' yer narves."
"Ef I was like some folks I wouldn't want bitters--though made outer thesimplest yarbs of the yearth, with jest enough sperrit to bring out thevartoos--ez Deacon Stoer's Balm 'er Gilead is--what yer meaning? EfI was like some folks I could lie thar and smoke in the lap o'idleness--with fourteen beds in the house empty, and nary lodger for oneof 'em. Ef I was that indifferent to havin' invested my fortin in thegood will o' this house, and not ez much ez a single transient lookin'in, I could lie down and take comfort in profane literatoor. But itain't in me to do it. And it wasn't your father's way, Jeff, neither!"
As the elder Briggs's way had been to seek surcease from such trouble atthe gambling table, and eventually, in suicide, Jeff could not denyit. But he did not say that a full realization of his unhappy ventureovercame him as he closed the blinds of the hotel that night; and thatthe half desperate idea of abandoning it then and there to the warringelements that had resented his trespass on Nature seemed to him anact of simple reason and justice. He did not say this, for easy-goingnatures are not apt to explain the processes by which their content orresignation is reached, and are therefore supposed to have none.Keeping to the facts, he simply suggested the weather was unfavorable totravelers, and again found his place on the page before him. Fixing itwith his thumb, he looked up resignedly. The figure wearily detacheditself from the door-post, and Jeff's eyes fell on his book. "You won'tstop, aunty?" he asked mechanically, as if reading aloud from the page;but she was gone.
A little ashamed, although much relieved, Jeff fell back again toliterature, interrupted only by the charging of the wind and the heavyvolleys of rain. Presently he found himself wondering if a certainbanging were really a shutter, and then, having settled in his mind thatit WAS, he was startled by a shout. Another, and in the road before thehouse!
Jeff put down the book, and marked the place by turning down the leaf,being one of that large class of readers whose mental faculties arebutter-fingered, and easily slip their hold. Then he resumed his bootsand was duly caparisoned. He extinguished the kerosene lamp, and bravedthe outer air, and strong currents of the hall and stairway in thedarkness. Lighting two candles in the bar-room, he proceeded to unlockthe hall door. At the same instant a furious blast shook the house,the door yielded slightly and impelled a thin, meek-looking strangerviolently against Jeff, who still struggled with it.
"An accident has occurred," began the stranger, "and"--but here the windcharged again, blew open the door, pinned Jeff behind it back againstthe wall, overturned the dripping stranger, dashed up the staircase, andslammed every door in the house, ending triumphantly with No. 14, and acrash of glass in the window.
"'Come, rouse up!" said Jeff, still struggling with the door, "rouse upand lend a hand yer!"
Thus abjured, the stranger crept along the wall towards Jeff and beganagain, "We have met with an accident." But here another and mightiergust left him speechless, covered him with spray of a wildlydisorganized water-spout that, dangling from the roof, seemed to beplaying on the front door, drove him into black obscurity and againsandwiched his host between the door and the wall. Then there was alull, and in the midst of it Yuba Bill, driver of the "Pioneer" coach,quietly and coolly, impervious in waterproof, walked into the hall,entered the bar-room, took a candle, and, going behind the bar, selecteda bottle, critically examined it, and, returning, poured out a quantityof whiskey in a glass and gulped it in a single draught.
All this while Jeff was closing the door, and the meek-looking man wascoming into the light again.
Yuba Bill squared his elbows behind him and rested them on the bar,crossed his legs easily and awaited them. In reply to Jeff's inquiringbut respectful look, he said shortly--
"Oh, you're thar, are ye?"
"Well, this yer new-fangled road o' yours is ten feet deep in the hollowwith back water from the North Fork! I've taken that yar coach interfower feet of it, and then I reckoned I couldn't hev any more. 'I'llstand on this yer hand,' sez I; I brought the horses up yer and landed'em in your barn to eat their blessed heads off till the water goesdown. That's wot's the matter, old man, and jist about wot I kalkilatedon from those durned old
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