Selected Stories HTML version

life they depict is largely fictitious; their pathetic endings are
obviously stylized; their technique is overwhelmingly derivative.
Nevertheless, so excellent a critic as Chesterton maintained that
”There are more than nine hundred and ninety-nine excellent reasons
which we could all have for admiring the work of Bret Harte.” The
figure is perhaps exaggerated, but there are many reasons for
admiration. First, Harte originat ed a new and incalculably
influential type of story: the romantically picturesque ”human-
interest” story. ”He created the local color story,” Prof.
Blankenship remarks, ”or at least popularized it, and he gave new
form and intent to the short story.” Character motivating action
is central to this type of story, rather than mood dominating
incident. Again Harte’s style is really an eminently skilful one,
admirably suited to his sub jects. He can manage the humorous or
the pathetic excellently, and his restraint in each is more
remarkable than his excesses. His sentences have both force and
flow; his backgrounds are crisply but carefully sketched; his
characters and caric atures have their own logical consistency.
Finally, granted the desirability of the theatric finale, it is
necessary to admit that Harte always rings down his curtain
dramatically and eectively.
There was commotion in Roaring Camp. It could not have been a
fight, for in 1850 that was not novel enough to have called
together the entire settlement. The ditches and claims were not
only deserted, but ”Tuttle’s grocery” had contributed its gamblers,
who, it will be remembered, calmly continued their game the day
that French Pet e and Kanak a Joe shot each ot her to death over the
bar in the front room. The whole camp was collected before a rude
cabin on the outer edge of the clearing. Conversation was carried
on in a low tone, but the name of a woman was frequently repeated.
It was a name familiar enough in the camp,–”Cherokee Sal.”
Perhaps the less said of her the better. She was a coarse and,
it is to be feared, a very sinful woman. But at that time she was
the only woman in Roaring Camp, and was just then lying in sore
extremity, when she most needed the ministration of her own sex.
Dissolute, abandoned, and irreclaimable, she was yet suering a
martyrdom hard enough to bear even when veiled by sympathizing
womanhood, but now terrible in her loneliness. The primal curse
had come to her in that original isolation which must have made
the punishment of the first transgression so dreadful. It was,
perhaps, part of the expiation of her sin that, at a moment when
she most lacked her sex’s intuitive tenderness and care, she met
only the half-contemptuous faces of her masculine associates.
Yet a few of the spectators were, I think, touched by her suerings.
Sandy Tipton thought it was ”rough on Sal,” and, in the contemplation
of her condition, for a moment rose superior to the fact that he
had an ace and two bowers in his sleeve.
It will be seen also that the situation was novel. Deaths were by
no means uncommon in Roaring Camp, but a birth was a new thing.
People had been dismissed the camp eectively, finally, and with
no possibility of return; but this was the first time that anybody
had been introduced AB INITIO. Hence the excitement.
”You go in there, Stumpy,” said a prominent citizen known as