We were eight, including the driver. We had not spoken during the passage of the last six miles since the jolting of the heavy vehicle over the roughening road had spoiled the Judge's last poetical quotation. The tall man beside the Judge was asleep, his arm passed through the swaying strap and his head resting upon it-- altogether a limp, helpless-looking object as if he had hanged himself and been cut down too late. The French lady on the back seat was asleep, too, yet in half-conscious propriety of attitude, shown even in the disposition of the handkerchief which she held to her forehead and which partially veiled her face. The lady from Virginia City, travelling with her husband, had long since lost all individuality in a wild confusion of ribbons, veils, furs, and shawls.
There was no sound but the rattling of wheels and the dash of rain upon the roof. Suddenly the stage stopped and we became dimly aware of voices. The driver was evidently in the midst of an exciting colloquy with someone in the road--a colloquy of which such fragments as "bridge gone," "twenty feet of water," "can't pass," were occasionally distinguishable above the storm. Then came a lull, and a mysterious voice from the road shouted the parting adjuration:
We caught a glimpse of our leaders as the vehicle slowly turned, of a horseman vanishing through the rain, and we were evidently on our way to Miggles's.
Who and where was Miggles? The Judge, our authority, did not remember the name, and he knew the country thoroughly. The Washoe traveller thought Miggles must keep a hotel. We only knew that we were stopped by high water in front and rear and that Miggles was our rock of refuge. A ten minutes splashing through a tangled by- road, scarcely wide enough for the stage, and we drew up before a barred and boarded gate in a wide stone wall or fence about eight feet high. Evidently Miggles's, and evidently Miggles did not keep a hotel.
The driver got down and tried the gate. It was securely locked. Miggles! O Miggles!"
"Migg-ells! You Miggles!" continued the driver, with rising wrath.
"Migglesy!" joined the expressman, persuasively. "O Miggy! Mig!"
But no reply came from the apparently insensate Miggles. The Judge, who had finally got the window down, put his head out and propounded a series of questions, which if answered categorically would have undoubtedly elucidated the whole mystery, but which the driver evaded by replying that "if we didn't want to sit in the couch all night, we had better rise up and sing out for Miggles."
So we rose up and called on Miggles in chorus; then separately. And when we had finished, a Hibernian fellow-passenger from the roof called for "Maygells!" whereat we all laughed. While we were laughing, the driver cried "Shoo!"
We listened. To our infinite amazement, the chorus of "Miggles" was repeated from the other side of the wall, even to the final and supplemental "Maygells."
"Extraordinary echo," said the Judge.
"Extraordinary damned skunk!" roared the driver, contemptuously. "Come out of that, Miggles, and show yourself! Be a man, Miggles! Don't hide in the dark; I wouldn't if I were you, Miggles," continued Yuba Bill, now dancing about in an excess of fury.
"Miggles!" continued the voice. "O Miggles!"
"My good man!MrMyghail!" said the Judge, softening the asperities of the name as much as possible. "Consider the inhospitality of refusing shelter from the inclemency of the weather to helpless females. Really, my dear sir--" But a succession of "Miggles," ending in a burst of laughter, drowned his voice.
Yuba Bill hesitated no longer. Taking a heavy stone from the road, he battered down the gate, and with the expressman entered the enclosure. We followed. Nobody was to be seen. In the gathering darkness, all that we could distinguish was that we were in a garden--from the rosebushes that scattered over us a minute spray from their dripping leaves--and before a long, rambling wooden building.
"Do you know this Miggles?" asked the Judge of Yuba Bill.
"No, nor, don't want to," said Bill, shortly, who felt the Pioneer Stage Company insulted in his person by the contumacious Miggles.
"But, my dear sir," expostulated the Judge as he thought of the barred gate.
"Lookee here," said Yuba Bill, with fine irony, "hadn't you better go back and sit in the coach till yer introduced? I'm going in," and he pushed open the door of the building.
A long room lighted only by the embers of a fire that was dying on the large hearth at its farther extremity; the walls curiously papered, and the flickering firelight bringing out its grotesque pattern; somebody sitting in a large armchair by the fireplace. All this we saw as we crowded together into the room, after the driver and expressman.
"Hello, be you Miggles?" said Yuba Bill to the solitary occupant.
The figure neither spoke nor stirred. Yuba Bill walked wrathfully toward it and turned the eye of his coach lantern upon its face. It was a man's face, prematurely old and wrinkled, with very large eyes, in which there was that expression of perfectly gratuitous solemnity which I had sometimes seen in an owl's. The large eyes wandered from Bill's face to the lantern and finally fixed their gaze on that luminous object, without further recognition.
Bill restrained himself with an effort.
"Miggles! Be you deaf? You ain't dumb anyhow, you know"; and Yuba Bill shook the insensate figure by the shoulder.
To our great dismay, as Bill removed his hand, the venerable stranger apparently collapsed--sinking into half his size and an undistinguishable heap of clothing.
"Well, dern my skin," said Bill, looking appealingly at us, and hopelessly retiring from the contest.