Infomotions, Inc.Frontier Stories / Harte, Bret, 1836-1902



Author: Harte, Bret, 1836-1902
Title: Frontier Stories
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): rosey; renshaw; nott; cass; poindexter; teresa; flip; tucker; nellie; dunn; father pedro; lance; carquinez woods; bower; don jose
Contributor(s): Edwards, Owen Morgan, Sir, 1858-1920 [Editor]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 137,534 words (average) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 64 (easy)
Identifier: etext12419
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Title: Frontier Stories

Author: Bret Harte

Release Date: May 23, 2004 [EBook #12419]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FRONTIER STORIES ***




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[Illustration:  _The woman ... stood before him_]


BRET HARTE'S WRITINGS

FRONTIER STORIES



CONTENTS:

     FLIP: A CALIFORNIA ROMANCE

     FOUND AT BLAZING STAR

     IN THE CARQUINEZ WOODS

     AT THE MISSION OF SAN CARMEL

     A BLUE-GRASS PENELOPE

     LEFT OUT ON LONE STAR MOUNTAIN

     A SHIP OF '49



FLIP: A CALIFORNIA ROMANCE.



CHAPTER I.

Just where the red track of the Los Gatos road streams on and upward
like the sinuous trail of a fiery rocket until it is extinguished in
the blue shadows of the Coast Range, there is an embayed terrace near
the summit, hedged by dwarf firs. At every bend of the heat-laden road
the eye rested upon it wistfully; all along the flank of the mountain,
which seemed to pant and quiver in the oven-like air, through rising
dust, the slow creaking of dragging wheels, the monotonous cry of tired
springs, and the muffled beat of plunging hoofs, it held out a promise
of sheltered coolness and green silences beyond. Sunburned and anxious
faces yearned toward it from the dizzy, swaying tops of stage-coaches,
from lagging teams far below, from the blinding white canvas covers of
"mountain schooners," and from scorching saddles that seemed to weigh
down the scrambling, sweating animals beneath. But it would seem that
the hope was vain, the promise illusive. When the terrace was reached
it appeared not only to have caught and gathered all the heat of the
valley below, but to have evolved a fire of its own from some hidden
crater-like source unknown. Nevertheless, instead of prostrating and
enervating man and beast, it was said to have induced the wildest
exaltation. The heated air was filled and stifling with resinous
exhalations. The delirious spices of balm, bay, spruce, juniper, yerba
buena, wild syringa, and strange aromatic herbs as yet unclassified,
distilled and evaporated in that mighty heat, and seemed to fire with a
midsummer madness all who breathed their fumes. They stung, smarted,
stimulated, intoxicated. It was said that the most jaded and foot-sore
horses became furious and ungovernable under their influence; wearied
teamsters and muleteers, who had exhausted their profanity in the
ascent, drank fresh draughts of inspiration in this fiery air, extended
their vocabulary, and created new and startling forms of objurgation.
It is recorded that one bibulous stage-driver exhausted description and
condensed its virtues in a single phrase: "Gin and ginger." This
felicitous epithet, flung out in a generous comparison with his
favorite drink, "rum and gum," clung to it ever after.

Such was the current comment on this vale of spices. Like most human
criticism it was hasty and superficial. No one yet had been known to
have penetrated deeply its mysterious recesses. It was still far below
the summit and its wayside inn. It had escaped the intruding foot of
hunter and prospector; and the inquisitive patrol of the county
surveyor had only skirted its boundary. It remained for Mr. Lance
Harriott to complete its exploration. His reasons for so doing were
simple. He had made the journey thither underneath the stage-coach, and
clinging to its axle. He had chosen this hazardous mode of conveyance
at night, as the coach crept by his place of concealment in the wayside
brush, to elude the sheriff of Monterey County and his posse, who were
after him. He had not made himself known to his fellow-passengers, as
they already knew him as a gambler, an outlaw, and a desperado; he
deemed it unwise to present himself in his newer reputation of a man
who had just slain a brother gambler in a quarrel, and for whom a
reward was offered. He slipped from the axle as the stage-coach swirled
past the brushing branches of fir, and for an instant lay unnoticed, a
scarcely distinguishable mound of dust in the broken furrows of the
road. Then, more like a beast than a man, he crept on his hands and
knees into the steaming underbrush. Here he lay still until the clatter
of harness and the sound of voices faded in the distance. Had he been
followed, it would have been difficult to detect in that inert mass of
rags any semblance to a known form or figure. A hideous, reddish mask
of dust and clay obliterated his face; his hands were shapeless stumps
exaggerated in his trailing sleeves. And when he rose, staggering like
a drunken man, and plunged wildly into the recesses of the wood, a
cloud of dust followed him, and pieces and patches of his frayed and
rotten garments clung to the impeding branches. Twice he fell, but,
maddened and upheld by the smarting spices and stimulating aroma of the
air, he kept on his course.

Gradually the heat became less oppressive; once, when he stopped and
leaned exhaustedly against a sapling, he fancied he saw the zephyr he
could not yet feel in the glittering and trembling of leaves in the
distance before him. Again the deep stillness was moved with a faint
sighing rustle, and he knew he must be nearing the edge of the thicket.
The spell of silence thus broken was followed by a fainter, more
musical interruption--the glassy tinkle of water! A step further his
foot trembled on the verge of a slight ravine, still closely canopied
by the interlacing boughs overhead. A tiny stream that he could have
dammed with his hand yet lingered in this parched red gash in the
hillside and trickled into a deep, irregular, well-like cavity, that
again overflowed and sent its slight surplus on. It had been the
luxurious retreat of many a spotted trout; it was to be the bath of
Lance Harriott. Without a moment's hesitation, without removing a
single garment, he slipped cautiously into it, as if fearful of losing
a single drop. His head disappeared from the level of the bank; the
solitude was again unbroken. Only two objects remained upon the edge of
the ravine,--his revolver and tobacco pouch.

A few minutes elapsed. A fearless blue-jay alighted on the bank and
made a prospecting peck at the tobacco pouch. It yielded in favor of a
gopher, who endeavored to draw it toward his hole, but in turn gave way
to a red squirrel, whose attention was divided, however, between the
pouch and the revolver, which he regarded with mischievous fascination.
Then there was a splash, a grunt, a sudden dispersion of animated
nature, and the head of Mr. Lance Harriott appeared above the bank. It
was a startling transformation. Not only that he had, by this wholesale
process, washed himself and his light "drill" garments entirely clean,
but that he had, apparently by the same operation, morally cleansed
_himself_, and left every stain and ugly blot of his late misdeeds and
reputation in his bath. His face, albeit scratched here and there, was
rosy, round, shining with irrepressible good-humor and youthful levity.
His large blue eyes were infantine in their innocent surprise and
thoughtlessness. Dripping yet with water, and panting, he rested his
elbows lazily on the bank, and became instantly absorbed with a boy's
delight in the movements of the gopher, who, after the first alarm,
returned cautiously to abduct the tobacco pouch. If any familiar had
failed to detect Lance Harriott in this hideous masquerade of dust and
grime and tatters, still less would any passing stranger have
recognized in this blonde faun the possible outcast and murderer. And
when with a swirl of his spattering sleeve he drove back the gopher in
a shower of spray and leaped to the bank, he seemed to have accepted
his felonious hiding-place as a mere picnicking bower.

A slight breeze was unmistakably permeating the wood from the west.
Looking in that direction, Lance imagined that the shadow was less
dark, and although the undergrowth was denser, he struck off carelessly
toward it. As he went on, the wood became lighter and lighter;
branches, and presently leaves, were painted against the vivid blue of
the sky. He knew he must be near the summit, stopped, felt for his
revolver, and then lightly put the few remaining branches aside.

The full glare of the noonday sun at first blinded him. When he could
see more clearly, he found himself on the open western slope of the
mountain, which in the Coast Range was seldom wooded. The spiced
thicket stretched between him and the summit, and again between him and
the stage road that plunges from the terrace, like forked lightning
into the valley below. He could command all the approaches without
being seen. Not that this seemed to occupy his thoughts or cause him
any anxiety. His first act was to disencumber himself of his tattered
coat; he then filled and lighted his pipe, and stretched himself
full-length on the open hillside, as if to bleach in the fierce sun.
While smoking he carelessly perused the fragment of a newspaper which
had enveloped his tobacco, and being struck with some amusing
paragraph, read it half aloud again to some imaginary auditor,
emphasizing its humor with an hilarious slap upon his leg.

Possibly from the relaxation of fatigue and the bath, which had become
a vapor one as he alternately rolled and dried himself in the baking
grass, his eyes closed dreamily. He was awakened by the sound of
voices. They were distant; they were vague; they approached no nearer.
He rolled himself to the verge of the first precipitous grassy descent.
There was another bank or plateau below him, and then a confused depth
of olive shadows, pierced here and there by the spiked helmets of
pines. There was no trace of habitation, yet the voices were those of
some monotonous occupation, and Lance distinctly heard through them the
click of crockery and the ring of some household utensil. It appeared
to be the interjectional, half listless, half perfunctory, domestic
dialogue of an old man and a girl, of which the words were
unintelligible. Their voices indicated the solitude of the mountain,
but without sadness; they were mysterious without being awe-inspiring.
They might have uttered the dreariest commonplaces, but, in their vast
isolation, they seemed musical and eloquent. Lance drew his first
sigh,--they had suggested dinner.

Careless as his nature was, he was too cautious to risk detection in
broad daylight. He contented himself for the present with endeavoring
to locate that particular part of the depths from which the voices
seemed to rise. It was more difficult, however, to select some other
way of penetrating it than by the stage road. "They're bound to have a
fire or show a light when it's dark," he reasoned, and, satisfied with
that reflection, lay down again. Presently he began to amuse himself by
tossing some silver coins in the air. Then his attention was directed
to a spur of the Coast Range which had been sharply silhouetted against
the cloudless western sky. Something intensely white, something so
small that it was scarcely larger than the silver coin in his hand, was
appearing in a slight cleft of the range.

While he looked it gradually filled and obliterated the cleft. In
another moment the whole serrated line of mountain had disappeared. The
dense, dazzling white, encompassing host began to pour over and down
every ravine and pass of the coast. Lance recognized the sea-fog, and
knew that scarcely twenty miles away lay the ocean--and safety! The
drooping sun was now caught and hidden in its soft embraces. A sudden
chill breathed over the mountain. He shivered, rose, and plunged again
for very warmth into the spice-laden thicket. The heated balsamic air
began to affect him like a powerful sedative; his hunger was forgotten
in the languor of fatigue: he slumbered. When he awoke it was dark. He
groped his way through the thicket. A few stars were shining directly
above him, but beyond and below, everything was lost in the soft,
white, fleecy veil of fog. Whatever light or fire might have betokened
human habitation was hidden. To push on blindly would be madness; he
could only wait for morning. It suited the outcast's lazy philosophy.
He crept back again to his bed in the hollow and slept. In that
profound silence and shadow, shut out from human association and
sympathy by the ghostly fog, what torturing visions conjured up by
remorse and fear should have pursued him? What spirit passed before
him, or slowly shaped itself out of the infinite blackness of the wood?
None. As he slipped gently into that blackness he remembered with a
slight regret, some biscuits that were dropped from the coach by a
careless luncheon-consuming passenger. That pang over, he slept as
sweetly, as profoundly, as divinely, as a child.


CHAPTER II.

He awoke with the aroma of the woods still steeping his senses. His
first instinct was that of all young animals: he seized a few of the
young, tender green leaves of the yerba buena vine that crept over his
mossy pillow and ate them, being rewarded by a half berry-like flavor
that seemed to soothe the cravings of his appetite. The languor of
sleep being still upon him, he lazily watched the quivering of a
sunbeam that was caught in the canopying boughs above. Then he dozed
again. Hovering between sleeping and waking, he became conscious of a
slight movement among the dead leaves on the bank beside the hollow in
which he lay. The movement appeared to be intelligent, and directed
toward his revolver, which glittered on the bank. Amused at this
evident return of his larcenious friend of the previous day, he lay
perfectly still. The movement and rustle continued, and it now seemed
long and undulating. Lance's eyes suddenly became set; he was
intensely, keenly awake. It was not a snake, but the hand of a human
arm, half hidden in the moss, groping for the weapon. In that flash of
perception he saw that it was small, bare, and deeply freckled. In an
instant he grasped it firmly, and rose to his feet, dragging to his own
level as he did so, the struggling figure of a young girl.

"Leave me go!" she said, more ashamed than frightened.

Lance looked at her. She was scarcely more than fifteen, slight and
lithe, with a boyish flatness of breast and back. Her flushed face and
bare throat were absolutely peppered with minute brown freckles, like
grains of spent gunpowder. Her eyes, which were large and gray,
presented the singular spectacle of being also freckled,--at least they
were shot through in pupil and cornea with tiny spots like powdered
allspice. Her hair was even more remarkable in its tawny deer-skin
color, full of lighter shades, and bleached to the faintest of blondes
on the crown of her head, as if by the action of the sun. She had
evidently outgrown her dress, which was made for a smaller child, and
the too brief skirt disclosed a bare, freckled, and sandy desert of
shapely limb, for which the darned stockings were equally too scant.
Lance let his grasp slip from her thin wrist to her hand, and then with
a good-humored gesture tossed it lightly back to her.

She did not retreat, but continued looking at him in a half-surly
embarrassment.

"I ain't a bit frightened," she said; "I'm not going to run
away,--don't you fear."

"Glad to hear it," said Lance, with unmistakable satisfaction, "but why
did you go for my revolver?"

She flushed again and was silent. Presently she began to kick the earth
at the roots of the tree, and said, as if confidentially to her foot:

"I wanted to get hold of it before you did."

"You did?--and why?"

"Oh, you know why."

Every tooth in Lance's head showed that he did, perfectly. But he was
discreetly silent.

"I didn't know what you were hiding there for," she went on, still
addressing the tree, "and," looking at him sideways under her white
lashes, "I didn't see your face."

This subtle compliment was the first suggestion of her artful sex. It
actually sent the blood into the careless rascal's face, and for a
moment confused him. He coughed. "So you thought you'd freeze on to
that six-shooter of mine until you saw my hand?"

She nodded. Then she picked up a broken hazel branch, fitted it into
the small of her back, threw her tanned bare arms over the ends of it,
and expanded her chest and her biceps at the same moment. This simple
action was supposed to convey an impression at once of ease and
muscular force.

"Perhaps you'd like to take it now," said Lance, handing her the
pistol.

"I've seen six-shooters before now," said the girl, evading the
proffered weapon and its suggestion. "Dad has one, and my brother had
two derringers before he was half as big as me."

She stopped to observe in her companion the effect of this capacity of
her family to bear arms. Lance only regarded her amusedly. Presently
she again spoke abruptly:

"What made you eat that grass, just now?"

"Grass!" echoed Lance.

"Yes, there," pointing to the yerba buena.

Lance laughed. "I was hungry. Look!" he said, gayly tossing some silver
into the air. "Do you think you could get me some breakfast for that,
and have enough left to buy something for yourself?"

The girl eyed the money and the man with half-bashful curiosity.

"I reckon Dad might give ye suthing if he had a mind ter, though ez a
rule he's down on tramps ever since they run off his chickens. Ye might
try."

"But I want _you_ to try. You can bring it to me here."

The girl retreated a step, dropped her eyes, and, with a smile that was
a charming hesitation between bashfulness and impudence, said: "So you
_are_ hidin', are ye?"

"That's just it. Your head's level. I am," laughed Lance unconcernedly.

"Yur ain't one o' the McCarthy gang--are ye?"

Mr. Lance Harriott felt a momentary moral exaltation in declaring
truthfully that he was not one of a notorious band of mountain
freebooters known in the district under that name.

"Nor ye ain't one of them chicken lifters that raided Henderson's
ranch? We don't go much on that kind o' cattle yer."

"No," said Lance, cheerfully.

"Nor ye ain't that chap ez beat his wife unto death at Santa Clara?"

Lance honestly scorned the imputation. Such conjugal ill treatment as
he had indulged in had not been physical, and had been with other men's
wives.

There was a moment's further hesitation on the part of the girl. Then
she said shortly:

"Well, then, I reckon you kin come along with me."

"Where?" asked Lance.

"To the ranch," she replied simply.

"Then you won't bring me anything to eat here?"

"What for? You kin get it down there." Lance hesitated. "I tell you
it's all right," she continued. "I'll make it all right with Dad."

"But suppose I reckon I'd rather stay here," persisted Lance, with a
perfect consciousness, however, of affectation in his caution.

"Stay away then," said the girl coolly; "only as Dad perempted this yer
woods"--

"_Pre_-empted," suggested Lance.

"Per-empted or pre-emp-ted, as you like," continued the girl
scornfully,--"ez he's got a holt on this yer woods, ye might ez well
see him down thar ez here. For here he's like to come any minit. You
can bet your life on that."

She must have read Lance's amusement in his eyes, for she again dropped
her own with a frown of brusque embarrassment. "Come along, then; I'm
your man," said Lance, gayly, extending his hand.

She would not accept it, eying it, however, furtively, like a horse
about to shy. "Hand me your pistol first," she said.

He handed it to her with an assumption of gayety. She received it on
her part with unfeigned seriousness, and threw it over her shoulder
like a gun. This combined action of the child and heroine, it is quite
unnecessary to say, afforded Lance undiluted joy.

"You go first," she said.

Lance stepped promptly out, with a broad grin. "Looks kinder as if I
was a pris'ner, don't it?" he suggested.

"Go on, and don't fool," she replied.

The two fared onward through the wood. For one moment he entertained
the facetious idea of appearing to rush frantically away, "just to see
what the girl would do," but abandoned it. "It's an even thing if she
wouldn't spot me the first pop," he reflected admiringly.

When they had reached the open hillside, Lance stopped inquiringly.
"This way," she said, pointing toward the summit, and in quite an
opposite direction to the valley where he had heard the voices, one of
which he now recognized as hers. They skirted the thicket for a few
moments, and then turned sharply into a trail which began to dip toward
a ravine leading to the valley.

"Why do you have to go all the way round?" he asked.

"_We_ don't," the girl replied with emphasis; "there's a shorter cut."

"Where?"

"That's telling," she answered shortly.

"What's your name?" asked Lance, after a steep scramble and a drop into
the ravine.

"Flip."

"What?"

"Flip."

"I mean your first name,--your front name."

"Flip."

"Flip! Oh, short for Felipa!"

"It ain't Flipper,--it's Flip." And she relapsed into silence.

"You don't ask me mine?" suggested Lance.

She did not vouchsafe a reply.

"Then you don't want to know?"

"Maybe Dad will. You can lie to _him_."

This direct answer apparently sustained the agreeable homicide for some
moments. He moved onward, silently exuding admiration.

"Only," added Flip, with a sudden caution, "you'd better agree with
me."

The trail here turned again abruptly and reentered the canon. Lance
looked up, and noticed they were almost directly beneath the bay
thicket and the plateau that towered far above them. The trail here
showed signs of clearing, and the way was marked by felled trees and
stumps of pines.

"What does your father do here?" he finally asked. Flip remained
silent, swinging the revolver. Lance repeated his question.

"Burns charcoal and makes diamonds," said Flip, looking at him from the
corners of her eyes.

"Makes diamonds?" echoed Lance.

Flip nodded her head.

"Many of 'em?" he continued carelessly.

"Lots. But they're not big," she returned, with a sidelong glance.

"Oh, they're not big?" said Lance gravely.

They had by this time reached a small staked inclosure, whence the
sudden fluttering and cackle of poultry welcomed the return of the
evident mistress of this sylvan retreat. It was scarcely imposing.
Further on, a cooking stove under a tree, a saddle and bridle, a few
household implements scattered about, indicated the "ranch." Like most
pioneer clearings, it was simply a disorganized raid upon nature that
had left behind a desolate battlefield strewn with waste and decay. The
fallen trees, the crushed thicket, the splintered limbs, the rudely
torn-up soil, were made hideous by their grotesque juxtaposition with
the wrecked fragments of civilization, in empty cans, broken bottles,
battered hats, soleless boots, frayed stockings, cast-off rags, and the
crowning absurdity of the twisted-wire skeleton of a hooped skirt
hanging from a branch. The wildest defile, the densest thicket, the
most virgin solitude, was less dreary and forlorn than this first
footprint of man. The only redeeming feature of this prolonged bivouac
was the cabin itself. Built of the half-cylindrical strips of pine
bark, and thatched with the same material, it had a certain picturesque
rusticity. But this was an accident of economy rather than taste, for
which Flip apologized by saying that the bark of the pine was "no good"
for charcoal.

"I reckon dad's in the woods," she added, pausing before the open door
of the cabin. "Oh, Dad!" Her voice, clear and high, seemed to fill the
whole long canon, and echoed from the green plateau above. The
monotonous strokes of an axe were suddenly intermitted, and somewhere
from the depths of the close-set pines a voice answered "Flip." There
was a pause of a few moments, with some muttering, stumbling, and
crackling in the underbrush, and then the appearance of "Dad."

Had Lance first met him in the thicket, he would have been puzzled to
assign his race to Mongolian, Indian, or Ethiopian origin. Perfunctory
but incomplete washings of his hands and face, after charcoal burning,
had gradually ground into his skin a grayish slate-pencil pallor,
grotesquely relieved at the edges, where the washing had left off, with
a border of a darker color. He looked like an overworked Christy
minstrel with the briefest of intervals between his performances. There
were black rims in the orbits of his eyes, as if he gazed feebly out of
unglazed spectacles, which heightened his simian resemblance, already
grotesquely exaggerated by what appeared to be repeated and spasmodic
experiments in dyeing his gray hair. Without the slightest notice of
Lance, he inflicted his protesting and querulous presence entirely on
his daughter.

"Well! what's up now? Yer ye are calling me from work an hour before
noon. Dog my skin, ef I ever get fairly limbered up afore it's 'Dad!'
and 'Oh, Dad!'"

To Lance's intense satisfaction the girl received this harangue with an
air of supreme indifference, and when "Dad" had relapsed into an
unintelligible, and, as it seemed to Lance, a half-frightened
muttering, she said coolly,--

"Ye'd better drop that axe and scoot round getten' this stranger some
breakfast and some grub to take with him. He's one of them San
Francisco sports out here trout-fishing in the branch. He's got adrift
from his party, has lost his rod and fixins, and had to camp out last
night in the Gin and Ginger Woods."

"That's just it; it's allers suthin like that," screamed the old man,
dashing his fist on his leg in a feeble, impotent passion, but without
looking at Lance. "Why in blazes don't he go up to that there blamed
hotel on the summit? Why in thunder"--But here he caught his daughter's
large, freckled eyes full in his own. He blinked feebly, his voice fell
into a tone of whining entreaty. "Now, look yer, Flip, it's playing it
rather low down on the old man, this yer running in o' tramps and
desarted emigrants and cast-ashore sailors and forlorn widders and
ravin' lunatics, on this yer ranch. I put it to you, Mister," he said
abruptly, turning to Lance for the first time, but as if he had already
taken an active part in the conversation,--"I put it as a gentleman
yourself, and a fair-minded sportin' man, if this is the square thing?"

Before Lance could reply, Flip had already begun. "That's just it! D'ye
reckon, being a sportin' man and a A 1 feller, he's goin' to waltz down
inter that hotel, rigged out ez he is? D'ye reckon he's goin' to let
his partners get the laugh onter him? D'ye reckon he's goin' to show
his head outer this yer ranch till he can do it square? Not much! Go
'long. Dad, you're talking silly!"

The old man weakened. He feebly trailed his axe between his legs to a
stump and sat down, wiping his forehead with his sleeve, and imparting
to it the appearance of a slate with a difficult sum partly rubbed out.
He looked despairingly at Lance. "In course," he said, with a deep
sigh, "you naturally ain't got any money. In course you left your
pocketbook, containing fifty dollars, under a stone, and can't find it.
In course," he continued, as he observed Lance put his hand to his
pocket, "you've only got a blank check on Wells, Fargo & Co. for a
hundred dollars, and you'd like me to give you the difference?"

Amused as Lance evidently was at this, his absolute admiration for Flip
absorbed everything else. With his eyes fixed upon the girl, he briefly
assured the old man that he would pay for everything he wanted. He did
this with a manner quite different from the careless, easy attitude he
had assumed toward Flip; at least the quickwitted girl noticed it, and
wondered if he was angry. It was quite true that ever since his eye had
fallen upon another of his own sex, its glance had been less frank and
careless. Certain traits of possible impatience, which might develop
into man-slaying, were coming to the fore. Yet a word or a gesture of
Flip's was sufficient to change that manner, and when, with the fretful
assistance of her father, she had prepared a somewhat sketchy and
primitive repast, he questioned the old man about diamond-making. The
eye of Dad kindled.

"I want ter know how ye knew I was making diamonds," he asked, with a
certain bashful pettishness not unlike his daughter's.

"Heard it in 'Frisco," replied Lance, with glib mendacity, glancing at
the girl.

"I reckon they're gettin' sort of skeert down there--them jewelers,"
chuckled Dad, "yet it's in nater that their figgers will have to come
down. It's only a question of the price of charcoal. I suppose they
didn't tell you how I made the discovery?"

Lance would have stopped the old man's narrative by saying that he knew
the story, but he wished to see how far Flip lent herself to her
father's delusion.

"Ye see, one night about two years ago I had a pit o' charcoal burning
out there, and tho' it had been a-smouldering and a-smoking and
a-blazing for nigh unto a month, somehow it didn't charcoal worth a
cent. And yet, dog my skin, but the heat o' that er pit was suthin
hidyus and frightful; ye couldn't stand within a hundred yards of it,
and they could feel it on the stage road three miles over yon, t'other
side the mountain. There was nights when me and Flip had to take our
blankets up the ravine and camp out all night, and the back of this yer
hut shriveled up like that bacon. It was about as nigh on to hell as
any sample ye kin get here. Now, mebbe you think I built that air fire?
Mebbe you'll allow the heat was just the nat'ral burning of that pit?"

"Certainly," said Lance, trying to see Flip's eyes, which were
resolutely averted.

"Thet's whar you'd be lyin'! That yar heat kem out of the bowels of the
yearth,--kem up like out of a chimbley or a blast, and kep up that yar
fire. And when she cools down a month after, and I got to strip her,
there was a hole in the yearth, and a spring o' bilin', scaldin' water
pourin' out of it ez big as your waist. And right in the middle of it
was this yer." He rose with the instinct of a skillful _raconteur_, and
whisked from under his bunk a chamois leather bag, which he emptied on
the table before them. It contained a small fragment of native rock
crystal, half-fused upon a petrified bit of pine. It was so glaringly
truthful, so really what it purported to be, that the most unscientific
woodman or pioneer would have understood it at a glance. Lance raised
his mirthful eyes to Flip.

"It was cooled suddint,--stunted by the water," said the girl, eagerly.
She stopped, and as abruptly turned away her eyes and her reddened
face.

"That's it, that's just it," continued the old man. "Thar's Flip, thar,
knows it; she ain't no fool!" Lance did not speak, but turned a hard,
unsympathizing look upon the old man, and rose almost roughly. The old
man clutched his coat. "That's it, ye see. The carbon's just turning to
di'mens. And stunted. And why? 'Cos the heat wasn't kep up long enough.
Mebbe yer think I stopped thar? That ain't me. Thar's a pit out yar in
the woods ez hez been burning six months; it hain't, in course, got the
advantages o' the old one, for it's nat'ral heat. But I'm keeping that
heat up. I've got a hole where I kin watch it every four hours. When
the time comes, I'm thar! Don't you see? That's me! that's David
Fairley,--that's the old man,--you bet!"

"That's so," said Lance, curtly. "And now, Mr. Fairley, if you'll hand
me over a coat or jacket till I can get past these fogs on the Monterey
road, I won't keep you from your diamond pit." He threw down a handful
of silver on the table.

"Ther's a deerskin jacket yer," said the old man, "that one o' them
vaqueros left for the price of a bottle of whiskey."

"I reckon it wouldn't suit the stranger," said Flip, dubiously
producing a much-worn, slashed, and braided vaquero's jacket. But it
did suit Lance, who found it warm, and also had suddenly found a
certain satisfaction in opposing Flip. When he had put it on, and
nodded coldly to the old man, and carelessly to Flip, he walked to the
door.

"If you're going to take the Monterey road, I can show you a short cut
to it," said Flip, with a certain kind of shy civility.

The paternal Fairley groaned. "That's it; let the chickens and the
ranch go to thunder, as long as there's a stranger to trapse round
with; go on!"

Lance would have made some savage reply, but Flip interrupted. "You
know yourself, Dad, it's a blind trail, and as that 'ere constable that
kem out here hunting French Pete, couldn't find it, and had to go round
by the canon, like ez not the stranger would lose his way, and have to
come back!" This dangerous prospect silenced the old man, and Flip and
Lance stepped into the road together. They walked on for some moments
without speaking. Suddenly Lance turned upon his companion.

"You did n't swallow all that rot about the diamond, did you?" he
asked, crossly.

Flip ran a little ahead, as if to avoid a reply.

"You don't mean to say that's the sort of hog wash the old man serves
out to you regularly?" continued Lance, becoming more slangy in his ill
temper.

"I don't know that it's any consarn o' yours what I think," replied
Flip, hopping from boulder to boulder, as they crossed the bed of a dry
watercourse.

"And I suppose you've piloted round and dry-nussed every tramp and
dead-beat you've met since you came here," continued Lance, with
unmistakable ill humor. "How many have you helped over this road?"

"It's a year since there was a Chinaman chased by some Irishmen from
the Crossing into the brush about yer, and he was too afeered to come
out, and nigh most starved to death in thar. I had to drag him out and
start him on the mountain, for you couldn't get him back to the road.
He was the last one but _you_."

"Do you reckon it's the right thing for a girl like you to run about
with trash of this kind, and mix herself up with all sorts of roughs
and bad company?" said Lance.

Flip stopped short. "Look! if you're goin' to talk like Dad, I'll go
back."

The ridiculousness of such a resemblance struck him more keenly than a
consciousness of his own ingratitude. He hastened to assure Flip that
he was joking. When he had made his peace they fell into talk again,
Lance becoming unselfish enough to inquire into one or two facts
concerning her life which did not immediately affect him. Her mother
had died on the plains when she was a baby, and her brother had run
away from home at twelve. She fully expected to see him again, and
thought he might sometime stray into their canon. "That is why, then,
you take so much stock in tramps," said Lance.

You expect to recognize _him_?"

"Well," replied Flip, gravely, "there is suthing in _that_, and there's
suthing in _this_: some o' these chaps might run across brother and do
him a good turn for the sake of me."

"Like me, for instance?" suggested Lance.

"Like you. You'd do him a good turn, wouldn't you?"

"You bet!" said Lance, with a sudden emotion that quite startled him;
"only don't you go to throwing yourself round promiscuously." He was
half conscious of an irritating sense of jealousy, as he asked if any
of her _proteges_ had ever returned.

"No," said Flip, "no one ever did. It shows," she added with sublime
simplicity, "I had done 'em good, and they could get on alone. Don't
it?"

"It does," responded Lance grimly. "Have you any other friends that
come?"

"Only the Postmaster at the Crossing."

"The Postmaster?"

"Yes: he's reckonin' to marry me next year, if I'm big enough."

"And what do you reckon?" asked Lance earnestly.

Flip began a series of distortions with her shoulders, ran on ahead,
picked up a few pebbles and threw them into the wood, glanced back at
Lance with swimming mottled eyes, that seemed a piquant incarnation of
everything suggestive and tantalizing, and said:

"That's telling."

They had by this time reached the spot where they were to separate.
"Look," said Flip, pointing to a faint deflection of their path, which
seemed, however, to lose itself in the underbrush a dozen yards away,
"ther's your trail. It gets plainer and broader the further you get on,
but you must use your eyes here, and get to know it well afore you get
into the fog. Good-by."

"Good-by." Lance took her hand and drew her beside him. She was still
redolent of the spices of the thicket, and to the young man's excited
fancy seemed at that moment to personify the perfume and intoxication
of her native woods. Half laughingly, half earnestly, he tried to kiss
her: she struggled for some time strongly, but at the last moment
yielded, with a slight return and the exchange of a subtle fire that
thrilled him, and left him standing confused and astounded as she ran
away. He watched her lithe, nymph-like figure disappear in the
checkered shadows of the wood, and then he turned briskly down the
half-hidden trail. His eyesight was keen, he made good progress, and
was soon well on his way toward the distant ridge.

But Flip's return had not been as rapid. When she reached the wood she
crept to its beetling verge, and looking across the canon watched
Lance's figure as it vanished and reappeared in the shadows and
sinuosities of the ascent. When he reached the ridge the outlying fog
crept across the summit, caught him in its embrace, and wrapped him
from her gaze. Flip sighed, raised herself, put her alternate foot on a
stump, and took a long pull at her too-brief stockings. When she had
pulled down her skirt and endeavored once more to renew the intimacy
that had existed in previous years between the edge of her petticoat
and the top of her stockings, she sighed again, and went home.


CHAPTER III.

For six months the sea fogs monotonously came and went along the
Monterey coast; for six months they beleaguered the Coast Range with
afternoon sorties of white hosts that regularly swept over the mountain
crest, and were as regularly beaten back again by the leveled lances of
the morning sun. For six months that white veil which had once hidden
Lance Harriott in its folds returned without him. For that amiable
outlaw no longer needed disguise or hiding-place. The swift wave of
pursuit that had dashed him on the summit had fallen back, and the next
day was broken and scattered. Before the week had passed, a regular
judicial inquiry relieved his crime of premeditation, and showed it to
be a rude duel of two armed and equally desperate men. From a secure
vantage in a sea-coast town Lance challenged a trial by his peers, and,
as an already prejudged man escaping from his executioners, obtained a
change of venue. Regular justice, seated by the calm Pacific, found the
action of an interior, irregular jury rash and hasty. Lance was
liberated on bail.

The Postmaster at Fisher's Crossing had just received the weekly mail
and express from San Francisco, and was engaged in examining it. It
consisted of five letters and two parcels. Of these, three of the
letters and the two parcels were directed to Flip. It was not the first
time during the last six months that this extraordinary event had
occurred, and the curiosity of the Crossing was duly excited. As Flip
had never called personally for the letters or parcels, but had sent
one of her wild, irregular scouts or henchmen to bring them, and as she
was seldom seen at the Crossing or on the stage road, that curiosity
was never satisfied. The disappointment to the Postmaster--a man past
the middle age--partook of a sentimental nature. He looked at the
letters and parcels; he looked at his watch; it was yet early, he could
return by noon. He again examined the addresses; they were in the same
handwriting as the previous letters. His mind was made up, he would
deliver them himself. The poetic, soulful side of his mission was
delicately indicated by a pale blue necktie, a clean shirt, and a small
package of ginger-nuts, of which Flip was extravagantly fond.

The common road to Fairley's Ranch was by the stage turnpike to a point
below the Gin and Ginger Woods, where the prudent horseman usually left
his beast and followed the intersecting trail afoot. It was here that
the Postmaster suddenly observed on the edge of the wood the figure of
an elegantly dressed woman; she was walking slowly, and apparently at
her ease; one hand held her skirts lightly gathered between her gloved
fingers, the other slowly swung a riding-whip. Was it a picnic of some
people from Monterey or Santa Cruz? The spectacle was novel enough to
justify his coming nearer. Suddenly she withdrew into the wood; he lost
sight of her; she was gone. He remembered, however, that Flip was still
to be seen, and as the steep trail was beginning to tax all his
energies, he was fain to hurry forward. The sun was nearly vertical
when he turned into the canon, and saw the bark roof of the cabin
beyond. At almost the same moment Flip appeared, flushed and panting,
in the road before him.

"You've got something for me," she said, pointing to the parcel and
letter. Completely taken by surprise, the Postmaster mechanically
yielded them up, and as instantly regretted it. "They're paid for,"
continued Flip, observing his hesitation.

"That's so," stammered the official of the Crossing, seeing his last
chance of knowing the contents of the parcel vanish; "but I thought ez
it's a valooable package, maybe ye might want to examine it to see that
it was all right afore ye receipted for it."

"I'll risk it," said Flip, coolly, "and if it ain't right I'll let ye
know."

As the girl seemed inclined to retire with her property, the Postmaster
was driven to other conversation. "We ain't had the pleasure of seeing
you down at the Crossing for a month o' Sundays," he began, with airy
yet pronounced gallantry. "Some folks let on you was keepin' company
with some feller like Bijah Brown, and you were getting a little too
set up for the Crossing." The individual here mentioned being the
county butcher, and supposed to exhibit his hopeless affection for Flip
by making a long and useless divergence from his weekly route to enter
the canon for "orders," Flip did not deem it necessary to reply. "Then
I allowed how ez you might have company," he continued; "I reckon
there's some city folks up at the summit. I saw a mighty smart,
fash'n'ble gal cavorting round. Hed no end o' style and fancy fixin's.
That's my kind, I tell you. I just weaken on that sort o' gal," he
continued, in the firm belief that he had awakened Flip's jealousy, as
he glanced at her well-worn homespun frock, and found her eyes suddenly
fixed on his own.

"Strange I ain't got to see her yet," she replied coolly, shouldering
her parcel, and quite ignoring any sense of obligation to him for his
extra-official act.

"But you might get to see her at the edge of the Gin and Ginger Woods,"
he persisted feebly, in a last effort to detain her; "if you'll take a
_pasear_ there with me."

Flip's only response was to walk on toward the cabin, whence, with a
vague complimentary suggestion of "drop-in' in to pass the time o' day"
with her father, the Postmaster meekly followed.

The paternal Fairley, once convinced that his daughter's new companion
required no pecuniary or material assistance from his hands, relaxed to
the extent of entering into a querulous confidence with him, during
which Flip took the opportunity of slipping away. As Fairley had that
infelicitous tendency of most weak natures, to unconsciously exaggerate
unimportant details in their talk, the Postmaster presently became
convinced that the butcher was a constant and assiduous suitor of
Flip's. The absurdity of his sending parcels and letters by post when
he might bring them himself did not strike the official. On the
contrary, he believed it to be a masterstroke of cunning. Fired by
jealousy and Flip's indifference, he "deemed it his duty"--using that
facile form of cowardly offensiveness--to betray Flip.

Of which she was happily oblivious. Once away from the cabin, she
plunged into the woods, with the parcel swung behind her like a
knapsack. Leaving the trail, she presently struck off in a straight
line through cover and underbrush with the unerring instinct of an
animal, climbing hand over hand the steepest ascent, or fluttering like
a bird from branch to branch down the deepest declivity. She soon
reached that part of the trail where the susceptible Postmaster had
seen the fascinating unknown. Assuring herself she was not followed,
she crept through the thicket until she reached a little waterfall and
basin that had served the fugitive Lance for a bath. The spot bore
signs of later and more frequent occupancy, and when Flip carefully
removed some bark and brushwood from a cavity in the rock and drew
forth various folded garments, it was evident she used it as a sylvan
dressing-room. Here she opened the parcel; it contained a small and
delicate shawl of yellow China crepe. Flip instantly threw it over her
shoulders and stepped hurriedly toward the edge of the wood. Then she
began to pass backward and forward before the trunk of a tree. At first
nothing was visible on the tree, but a closer inspection showed a large
pane of ordinary window glass stuck in the fork of the branches. It was
placed at such a cunning angle against the darkness of the forest
opening that it made a soft and mysterious mirror, not unlike a Claude
Lorraine glass, wherein not only the passing figure of the young girl
was seen, but the dazzling green and gold of the hillside, and the
far-off silhouetted crests of the Coast Range.

But this was evidently only a prelude to a severer rehearsal. When she
returned to the waterfall she unearthed from her stores a large piece
of yellow soap and some yards of rough cotton "sheeting." These she
deposited beside the basin and again crept to the edge of the wood to
assure herself that she was alone. Satisfied that no intruding foot had
invaded that virgin bower, she returned to her bath and began to
undress. A slight wind followed her, and seemed to whisper to the
circumjacent trees. It appeared to waken her sister naiads and nymphs,
who, joining their leafy fingers, softly drew around her a gently
moving band of trembling lights and shadows, of flecked sprays and
inextricably mingled branches, and involved her in a chaste sylvan
obscurity, veiled alike from pursuing god or stumbling shepherd. Within
these hallowed precincts was the musical ripple of laughter and falling
water, and at times the glimpse of a lithe brier-caught limb, or a ray
of sunlight trembling over bright flanks, or the white austere outline
of a childish bosom.

When she drew again the leafy curtain, and once more stepped out of the
wood, she was completely transformed.

It was the figure that had appeared to the Postmaster; the slight,
erect, graceful form of a young woman modishly attired. It was Flip,
but Flip made taller by the lengthened skirt and clinging habiliments
of fashion. Flip freckled, but, through the cunning of a relief of
yellow color in her gown, her piquant brown-shot face and eyes
brightened and intensified until she seemed like a spicy odor made
visible. I cannot affirm that the judgment of Flip's mysterious
_modiste_ was infallible, or that the taste of Mr. Lance Harriott, her
patron, was fastidious; enough that it was picturesque, and perhaps not
more glaring and extravagant than the color in which Spring herself had
once clothed the sere hillside where Flip was now seated. The phantom
mirror in the tree fork caught and held her with the sky, the green
leaves, the sunlight and all the graciousness of her surroundings, and
the wind gently tossed her hair and the gay ribbons of her gypsy hat.
Suddenly she started. Some remote sound in the trail below, inaudible
to any ear less fine than hers, arrested her breathing. She rose
swiftly and darted into cover.

Ten minutes passed. The sun was declining; the white fog was beginning
to creep over the Coast Range. From the edge of the wood Cinderella
appeared, disenchanted, and in her homespun garments. The clock had
struck--the spell was past. As she disappeared down the trail even the
magic mirror, moved by the wind, slipped from the tree-top to the
ground, and became a piece of common glass.


CHAPTER IV.

The events of the day had produced a remarkable impression on the
facial aspect of the charcoal-burning Fairley. Extraordinary processes
of thought, indicated by repeated rubbing of his forehead, had produced
a high light in the middle and a corresponding deepening of shadow at
the sides, until it bore the appearance of a perfect sphere. It was
this forehead that confronted Flip reproachfully as became a deceived
comrade, menacingly as became an outraged parent in the presence of a
third party and--a Postmaster.

"Fine doin's this, yer receivin' clandecent bundles and letters, eh?"
he began. Flip sent one swift, withering look of contempt at the
Postmaster, who at once becoming invertebrate and groveling, mumbled
that he must "get on" to the Crossing, and rose to go. But the old man,
who had counted on his presence for moral support, and was clearly
beginning to hate him for precipitating this scene with his daughter,
whom he feared, violently protested.

"Sit down, can't ye? Don't you see you're a witness?" he screamed
hysterically.

It was a fatal suggestion. "Witness," repeated Flip, scornfully.

"Yes, a witness! He gave ye letters and bundles."

"Weren't they directed to me?" asked Flip.

"Yes," said the Postmaster, hesitatingly; "in course, yes."

"Do _you_ lay claim to them?" she said, turning to her father.

"No," responded the old man.

"Do you?" sharply, to the Postmaster.

"No," he replied.

"Then," said Flip, coolly, "if you're not claimin' 'em for yourself,
and you hear father say they ain't his, I reckon the less you have to
say about 'em the better."

"Thar's suthin' in that," said the old man, shamelessly abandoning the
Postmaster.

"Then why don't she say who sent 'em, and what they are like," said the
Postmaster, "if there's nothing in it?"

"Yes," echoed Dad. "Flip, why don't you?"

Without answering the direct question, Flip turned upon her father.

"Maybe you forget how you used to row and tear round here because
tramps and such like came to the ranch for suthin', and I gave it to
'em? Maybe you'll quit tearin' round and letting yourself be made a
fool of now by that man, just because one of those tramps gets up and
sends us some presents back in turn?"

"'Twasn't me, Flip," said the old man, deprecatingly, but glaring at
the astonished Postmaster. "'Twasn't my doin'. I allus said if you cast
your bread on the waters it would come back to you by return mail. The
fact is, the Gov'ment is getting too high-handed! Some o' these bloated
officials had better climb down before next leckshen."

"Maybe," continued Flip to her father, without looking at her
discomfited visitor, "ye'd better find out whether one of those
officials comes up to this yer ranch to steal away a gal about my own
size, or to get points about diamond-making. I reckon he don't travel
round to find out who writes all the letters that go through the Post
Office."

The Postmaster had seemingly miscalculated the old man's infirm temper,
and the daughter's skillful use of it. He was unprepared for Flip's
boldness and audacity, and when he saw that both barrels of the
accusation had taken effect on the charcoal-burner, who was rising with
epileptic rage, he fairly turned and fled. The old man would have
followed him with objurgation beyond the door, but for the restraining
hand of Flip.

Baffled and beaten, nevertheless Fate was not wholly unkind to the
retreating suitor. Near the Gin and Ginger Woods he picked up a letter
which had fallen from Flip's packet. He recognized the writing, and did
not scruple to read it. It was not a love epistle,--at least, not such
a one as he would have written,--it did not give the address nor the
name of the correspondent; but he read the following with greedy
eyes:--

"Perhaps it's just as well that you don't rig yourself out for the
benefit of those dead-beats at the Crossing, or any tramp that might
hang round the ranch. Keep all your style for me when I come. I can't
tell you when, it's mighty uncertain before the rainy season. But I'm
coming soon. Don't go back on your promise about lettin' up on the
tramps, and being a little more high-toned. And don't you give 'em so
much. It's true I sent you hats _twice_. I clean forgot all about the
first; but _I_ wouldn't have given a ten-dollar hat to a nigger woman
who had a sick baby because I had an extra hat. I'd have let that baby
slide. I forgot to ask whether the skirt is worn separately; I must see
that dressmaker sharp about it; but I think you'll want something on
besides a jacket and skirt; at least, it looks like it up here. I don't
think you could manage a piano down there without the old man knowing
it, and raisin' the devil generally. I promised you I'd let up on him.
Mind you keep all your promises to me. I'm glad you're gettin' on with
the six-shooter; tin cans are good at fifteen yards, but try it on
suthin' that _moves_! I forgot to say that I am on the track of your
big brother. It's a three years' old track, and he was in Arizona. The
friend who told me didn't expatiate much on what he did there, but I
reckon they had a high old time. If he's above the earth I'll find him,
you bet. The yerba buena and the southern wood came all right,--they
smelt like you. Say, Flip, do you remember the _last_--the _very
last_--thing that happened when you said 'good-by' on the trail? Don't
let me ever find out that you've let anybody else kiss"--

But here the virtuous indignation of the Postmaster found vent in an
oath. He threw the letter away. He retained of it only two facts,--Flip
_had_ a brother who was missing; she had a lover present in the flesh.

How much of the substance of this and previous letters Flip had
confided to her father I cannot say. If she suppressed anything it was
probably that which affected Lance's secret alone, and it was doubtful
how much of that she herself knew. In her own affairs she was frank
without being communicative, and never lost her shy obstinacy even with
her father. Governing the old man as completely as she did, she
appeared most embarrassed when she was most dominant; she had her own
way without lifting her voice or her eyes; she seemed oppressed by
_mauvaise honte_ when she was most triumphant; she would end a
discussion with a shy murmur addressed to herself, or a single gesture
of self-consciousness.

The disclosure of her strange relations with an unknown man, and the
exchange of presents and confidences, seemed to suddenly awake Fairley
to a vague, uneasy sense of some unfulfilled duties as a parent. The
first effect of this on his weak nature was a peevish antagonism to the
cause of it. He had long, fretful monologues on the vanity of
diamond-making, if accompanied with "pestering" by "interlopers;" on
the wickedness of concealment and conspiracy, and their effects on
charcoal-burning; on the nurturing of spies and "adders" in the family
circle, and on the seditiousness of dark and mysterious councils in
which a gray-haired father was left out. It was true that a word or
look from Flip generally brought these monologues to an inglorious and
abrupt termination, but they were none the less lugubrious as long as
they lasted. In time they were succeeded by an affectation of contrite
apology and self-depreciation. "Don't go out o' the way to ask the old
man," he would say, referring to the quantity of bacon to be ordered;
"it's nat'ral a young gal should have her own advisers." The state of
the flour-barrel would also produce a like self-abasement. "Unless
ye're already in correspondence about more flour, ye might take the
opinion o' the first tramp ye meet ez to whether Santa Cruz Mills is a
good brand, but don't ask the old man." If Flip was in conversation
with the butcher, Fairley would obtrusively retire with the hope "he
wasn't intrudin' on their secrets."

These phases of her father's weakness were not frequent enough to
excite her alarm, but she could not help noticing they were accompanied
with a seriousness unusual to him. He began to be tremulously watchful
of her, returning often from work at an earlier hour, and lingering by
the cabin in the morning. He brought absurd and useless presents for
her, and presented them with a nervous anxiety, poorly concealed by an
assumption of careless, paternal generosity. "Suthin' I picked up at
the Crossin' for ye to-day," he would say, airily, and retire to watch
the effect of a pair of shoes two sizes too large, or a fur cap in
September. He would have hired a cheap parlor organ for her, but for
the apparently unexpected revelation that she couldn't play. He had
received the news of a clue to his long-lost son without emotion, but
lately he seemed to look upon it as a foregone conclusion, and one that
necessarily solved the question of companionship for Flip. "In course,
when you've got your own flesh and blood with ye, ye can't go foolin'
around with strangers." These autumnal blossoms of affection, I fear,
came too late for any effect upon Flip, precociously matured by her
father's indifference and selfishness. But she was good-humored, and,
seeing him seriously concerned, gave him more of her time, even visited
him in the sacred seclusion of the "diamond pit," and listened with
far-off eyes to his fitful indictment of all things outside his grimy
laboratory. Much of this patient indifference came with a capricious
change in her own habits; she no longer indulged in the rehearsal of
dress, she packed away her most treasured garments, and her leafy
boudoir knew her no more. She sometimes walked on the hillside, and
often followed the trail she had taken with Lance when she led him to
the ranch. She once or twice extended her walk to the spot where she
had parted from him, and as often came shyly away, her eyes downcast
and her face warm with color. Perhaps because these experiences and
some mysterious instinct of maturing womanhood had left a story in her
eyes, which her two adorers, the Postmaster and the butcher, read with
passion, she became famous without knowing it. Extravagant stories of
her fascinations brought strangers into the valley. The effect upon her
father may be imagined. Lance could not have desired a more effective
guardian than he proved to be in this emergency. Those who had been
told of this hidden pearl were surprised to find it so jealously
protected.


CHAPTER V.

The long, parched summer had drawn to its dusty close. Much of it was
already blown abroad and dissipated on trail and turnpike, or crackled
in harsh, unelastic fibres on hillside and meadow. Some of it had
disappeared in the palpable smoke by day and fiery crests by night of
burning forests. The besieging fogs on the Coast Range daily thinned
their hosts, and at last vanished. The wind changed from northwest to
southwest. The salt breath of the sea was on the summit. And then one
day the staring, unchanged sky was faintly touched with remote
mysterious clouds, and grew tremulous in expression. The next morning
dawned upon a newer face in the heavens, on changed woods, on altered
outlines, on vanished crests, on forgotten distances. It was raining!

Four weeks of this change, with broken spaces of sunlight and intense
blue aerial islands, and then a storm set in. All day the summit pines
and redwoods rocked in the blast. At times the onset of the rain seemed
to be held back by the fury of the gale, or was visibly seen in sharp
waves on the hillside. Unknown and concealed watercourses suddenly
overflowed the trails, pools became lakes and brooks rivers. Hidden
from the storm, the sylvan silence of sheltered valleys was broken by
the impetuous rush of waters; even the tiny streamlet that traversed
Flip's retreat in the Gin and Ginger Woods became a cascade.

The storm drove Fairley from his couch early. The falling of a large
tree across the trail, and the sudden overflow of a small stream beside
it, hastened his steps.

But he was doomed to encounter what was to him a more disagreeable
object--a human figure. By the bedraggled drapery that flapped and
fluttered in the wind, by the long, unkempt hair that hid the face and
eyes, and by the grotesquely misplaced bonnet, the old man recognized
one of his old trespassers--an Indian squaw.

"Clear out 'er that! Come, make tracks, will ye?" the old man screamed;
but here the wind stopped his voice, and drove him against a
hazel-bush.

"Me heap sick," answered the squaw, shivering through her muddy shawl.

"I'll make ye a heap sicker if ye don't vamose the ranch," continued
Fairley, advancing.

"Me wantee Wangee girl. Wangee girl give me heap grub," said the squaw,
without moving.

"You bet your life," groaned the old man to himself. Nevertheless an
idea struck him. "Ye ain't brought no presents, hev ye?" he asked
cautiously. "Ye ain't got no pooty things for poor Wangee girl?" he
continued insinuatingly.

"Me got heap _cache_ nuts and berries," said the squaw.

"Oh, in course! in course! That's just it," screamed Fairley; "you've
got 'em _cached_ only two mile from yer, and you'll go and get 'em for
a half dollar, cash down."

"Me bring Wangee girl to _cache_," replied the Indian, pointing to the
wood. "Honest Injin."

Another bright idea struck Mr. Fairley; but it required some
elaboration. Hurrying the squaw with him through the pelting rain, he
reached the shelter of the corral. Vainly the shivering aborigine drew
her tightly bandaged papoose closer to her square, flat breast, and
looked longingly toward the cabin; the old man backed her against the
palisade. Here he cautiously imparted his dark intentions to employ her
to keep watch and ward over the ranch, and especially over its young
mistress--"clear out all the tramps 'ceptin' yourself, and I'll keep ye
in grub and rum." Many and deliberate repetitions of this offer in
various forms at last seemed to affect the squaw; she nodded violently,
and echoed the last word "rum." "Now," she added. The old man
hesitated; she was in possession of his secret; he groaned, and,
promising an immediate installment of liquor, led her to the cabin.

The door was so securely fastened against the impact of the storm that
some moments elapsed before the bar was drawn, and the old man had
become impatient and profane. When it was partly opened by Flip he
hastily slipped in, dragging the squaw after him, and cast one single
suspicious glance around the rude apartment which served as a
sitting-room. Flip had apparently been writing. A small inkstand was
still on the board table, but her paper had evidently been concealed
before she allowed them to enter. The squaw instantly squatted before
the adobe hearth, warmed her bundled baby, and left the ceremony of
introduction to her companion. Flip regarded the two with calm
preoccupation and indifference. The only thing that touched her
interest was the old squaw's draggled skirt and limp neckerchief. They
were Flip's own, long since abandoned and cast off in the Gin and
Ginger Woods. "Secrets again," whined Fairley, still eying Flip
furtively. "Secrets again, in course--in course--jiss so. Secrets that
must be kep from the ole man. Dark doin's by one's own flesh and blood.
Go on! go on! Don't mind me." Flip did not reply. She had even lost the
interest in her old dress. Perhaps it had only touched some note in
unison with her revery.

"Can't ye get the poor critter some whiskey?" he queried, fretfully.
"Ye used to be peart enuff before." As Flip turned to the corner to
lift the demijohn, Fairley took occasion to kick the squaw with his
foot, and indicate by extravagant pantomime that the bargain was not to
be alluded to before the girl. Flip poured out some whiskey in a tin
cup, and, approaching the squaw, handed it to her. "It's like ez not,"
continued Fairley to his daughter, but looking at the squaw, "that
she'll be huntin' the woods off and on, and kinder looking after the
last pit near the _Madronos_; ye'll give her grub and licker ez she
likes. Well, d'ye hear, Flip? Are ye moonin' agin with yer secrets?
What's gone with ye?"

If the child were dreaming, it was a delicious dream. Her magnetic eyes
were suffused by a strange light, as though the eye itself had blushed;
her full pulse showed itself more in the rounding outline of her cheek
than in any deepening of color; indeed, if there was any heightening of
tint, it was in her freckles, which fairly glistened like tiny
spangles. Her eyes were downcast, her shoulders slightly bent, but her
voice was low and clear and thoughtful as ever.

"One o' the big pines above the _Madrono_ pit has blown over into the
run," she said. "It's choked up the water, and it's risin' fast. Like
ez not it's pourin' over into the pit by this time."

The old man rose with a fretful cry. "And why in blazes didn't you say
so first?" he screamed, catching up his axe and rushing to the door.

"Ye didn't give me a chance," said Flip, raising her eyes for the first
time. With an impatient imprecation, Fairley darted by her and rushed
into the wood. In an instant she had shut the door and bolted it. In
the same instant the squaw arose, dashed the long hair not only from
her eyes but from her head, tore away her shawl and blanket, and
revealed the square shoulders of Lance Harriott! Flip remained leaning
against the door; but the young man in rising dropped the bandaged
papoose, which rolled from his lap into the fire. Flip, with a cry,
sprang toward it; but Lance caught her by the waist with one arm, as
with the other he dragged the bundle from the flames.

"Don't be alarmed," he said, gayly, "it's only"--

"What?" said Flip, trying to disengage herself.

"My coat and trousers."

Flip laughed, which encouraged Lance to another attempt to kiss her.
She evaded it by diving her head into his waistcoat, and saying,
"There's father."

"But he's gone to clear away that tree," suggested Lance.

One of Flip's significant silences followed.

"Oh, I see," he laughed. "That was a plan to get him away! Ah!" She had
released herself.

"Why did you come like that?" she said, pointing to his wig and
blanket.

"To see if you'd know me," he responded.

"No," said Flip, dropping her eyes. "It's to keep other people from
knowing you. You're hidin' agin."

"I am," returned Lance; "but," he interrupted, "it's only the same old
thing."

"But you wrote from Monterey that it was all over," she persisted.

"So it would have been," he said gloomily, "but for some dog down here
who is hunting up an old scent. I'll spot him yet, and"--He stopped
suddenly, with such utter abstraction of hatred in his fixed and
glittering eyes that she almost feared him. She laid her hand quite
unconsciously on his arm. He grasped it; his face changed.

"I couldn't wait any longer to see you, Flip, so I came here anyway,"
he went on. "I thought to hang round and get a chance to speak to you
first, when I fell afoul of the old man. He didn't know me, and tumbled
right in my little game. Why, do you believe he wants to hire me for my
grub and liquor, to act as a sort of sentry over you and the ranch?"
And here he related with great gusto the substance of his interview. "I
reckon as he's that suspicious," he concluded, "I'd better play it out
now as I've begun, only it's mighty hard I can't see you here before
the fire in your fancy toggery, Flip, but must dodge in and out of the
wet underbrush in these yer duds of yours that I picked up in the old
place in the Gin and Ginger Woods."

"Then you came here just to see me?" asked Flip.

"I did."

"For only that?"

"Only that."

Flip dropped her eyes. Lance had got his other arm around her waist,
but her resisting little hand was still potent.

"Listen," she said at last without looking up, but apparently talking
to the intruding arm, "when Dad comes I'll get him to send you to watch
the diamond pit. It isn't far; it's warm, and"--

"What?"

"I'll come, after a bit, and see you. Quit foolin' now. If you'd only
have come here like yourself--like--like--a white man."

"The old man," interrupted Lance, "would have just passed me on to the
summit. I couldn't have played the lost fisherman on him at this time
of year."

"Ye could have been stopped at the Crossing by high water, you silly,"
said the girl. "It was." This grammatical obscurity referred to the
stage-coach.

"Yes, but I might have been tracked to this cabin. And look here,
Flip," he said, suddenly straightening himself, and lifting the girl's
face to a level with his own, "I don't want you to lie any more for me.
It ain't right."

"All right. Ye needn't go to the pit, then, and I won't come."

"Flip!"

"And here's Dad coming. Quick!"

Lance chose to put his own interpretation on this last adjuration. The
resisting little hand was now lying quite limp on his shoulder. He drew
her brown, bright face near his own, felt her spiced breath on his
lips, his cheeks, his hot eyelids, his swimming eyes, kissed her,
hurriedly replaced his wig and blanket, and dropped beside the fire
with the tremulous laugh of youth and innocent first passion. Flip had
withdrawn to the window, and was looking out upon the rocking pines.

"He don't seem to be coming," said Lance, with a half-shy laugh.

"No," responded Flip demurely, pressing her hot oval cheek against the
wet panes; "I reckon I was mistaken. You're sure," she added, looking
resolutely another way, but still trembling like a magnetic needle
toward Lance, as he moved slightly before the fire, "you're _sure_
you'd like me to come to you?"

"Sure, Flip?"

"Hush!" said Flip, as this reassuring query of reproachful astonishment
appeared about to be emphasized by a forward amatory dash of Lance's;
"hush! he's coming this time, sure."

It was, indeed, Fairley, exceedingly wet, exceedingly bedraggled,
exceedingly sponged out as to color, and exceedingly profane. It
appeared that there was, indeed, a tree that had fallen in the "run,"
but that, far from diverting the overflow into the pit, it had
established "back water," which had forced another outlet. All this
might have been detected at once by any human intellect not distracted
by correspondence with strangers, and enfeebled by habitually scorning
the intellect of its own progenitor. This reckless selfishness had
further only resulted in giving "rheumatics" to that progenitor, who
now required the external administration of opodeldoc to his limbs, and
the internal administration of whiskey. Having thus spoken, Mr.
Fairley, with great promptitude and infantine simplicity, at once bared
two legs of entirely different colors and mutely waited for his
daughter to rub them. If Flip did this all unconsciously, and with the
mechanical dexterity of previous habit, it was because she did not
quite understand the savage eyes and impatient gestures of Lance in his
encompassing wig and blanket, and because it helped her to voice her
thought.

"Ye'll never be able to take yer watch at the diamond pit to-night,
Dad," she said; "and I've been reck'nin' you might set the squaw there
instead. I can show her what to do."

But to Flip's momentary discomfiture, her father promptly objected.
"Mebbe I've got suthin' else for her to do. Mebbe I may have my
secrets, too--eh?" he said, with dark significance, at the same time
administering a significant nudge to Lance, which kept up the young
man's exasperation. "No, she'll rest yer a bit just now. I'll set her
to watchin' suthin' else, like as not, when I want her." Flip fell into
one of her suggestive silences. Lance watched her earnestly, mollified
by a single furtive glance from her significant eyes; the rain dashed
against the windows, and occasionally spattered and hissed in the
hearth of the broad chimney, and Mr. David Fairley, somewhat assuaged
by the internal administration of whiskey, grew more loquacious. The
genius of incongruity and inconsistency which generally ruled his
conduct came out with freshened vigor under the gentle stimulation of
spirit. "On an evening like this," he began, comfortably settling
himself on the floor beside the chimney, "ye might rig yerself out in
them new duds and fancy fixin's that that Sacramento shrimp sent ye,
and let your own flesh and blood see ye. If that's too much to do for
your old dad, ye might do it to please that digger squaw as a Christian
act." Whether in the hidden depths of the old man's consciousness there
was a feeling of paternal vanity in showing this wretched aborigine the
value and importance of the treasure she was about to guard, I cannot
say. Flip darted an interrogatory look at Lance, who nodded a quiet
assent, and she flew into the inner room. She did not linger on the
details of her toilet, but reappeared almost the next moment in her new
finery, buttoning the neck of her gown as she entered the room, and
chastely stopping at the window to characteristically pull up her
stocking. The peculiarity of her situation increased her usual shyness;
she played with the black and gold beads of a handsome
necklace--Lance's last gift--as the merest child might; her unbuckled
shoe gave the squaw a natural opportunity of showing her admiration and
devotion by insisting upon buckling it, and gave Lance, under that
disguise, an opportunity of covertly kissing the little foot and ankle
in the shadow of the chimney; an event which provoked slight hysterical
symptoms in Flip and caused her to sit suddenly down in spite of the
remonstrances of her parent. "Ef you can't quit gigglin' and squirmin'
like an Injin baby yourself, ye'd better get rid o' them duds," he
ejaculated with peevish scorn.

Yet, under this perfunctory rebuke, his weak vanity could not be
hidden, and he enjoyed the evident admiration of a creature, whom he
believed to be half-witted and degraded, all the more keenly because it
did not make him jealous. She could not take Flip from him. Rendered
garrulous by liquor, he went to voice his contempt for those who might
attempt it. Taking advantage of his daughter's absence to resume her
homely garments, he whispered confidentially to Lance:

"Ye see these yer fine dresses, ye might think is presents. Pr'aps Flip
lets on they are. Pr'aps she don't know any better. But they ain't
presents. They're only samples o' dressmaking and jewelry that a vain,
conceited shrimp of a feller up in Sacramento sends down here to get
customers for. In course I'm to pay for 'em. In course he reckons I'm
to do it. In course I calkilate to do it; but he needn't try to play
'em off as presents. He talks suthin' o' coming down here, sportin'
hisself off on Flip as a fancy buck! Not ez long ez the old man's here,
you bet!" Thoroughly carried away by his fancied wrongs, it was perhaps
fortunate that he did not observe the flashing eyes of Lance behind his
lank and lustreless wig; but seeing only the figure of Lance as he had
conjured him, he went on: "That's why I want you to hang around her.
Hang around her ontil my boy--him that's comin' home on a visit--gets
here, and I reckon he'll clear out that yar Sacramento counter-jumper.
Only let me get a sight o' him afore Flip does. Eh? D'ye hear? Dog my
skin if I don't believe the d----d Injin's drunk." It was fortunate
that at that moment Flip reappeared, and, dropping on the hearth
between her father and the infuriated Lance, let her hand slip in his
with a warning pressure. The light touch momentarily recalled him to
himself and her, but not until the quick-witted girl had revealed to
her, in one startled wave of consciousness, the full extent of Lance's
infirmity of temper. With the instinct of awakened tenderness came a
sense of responsibility, and a vague premonition of danger. The coy
blossom of her heart was scarce unfolded before it was chilled by
approaching shadows. Fearful of, she knew not what, she hesitated.
Every moment of Lance's stay was imperiled by a single word that might
spring from his suppressed white lips; beyond and above the suspicions
his sudden withdrawal might awaken in her father's breast, she was
dimly conscious of some mysterious terror without that awaited him. She
listened to the furious onslaught of the wind upon the sycamores beside
their cabin, and thought she heard it there; she listened to the sharp
fusillade of rain upon roof and pane, and the turbulent roar and rush
of leaping mountain torrents at their very feet, and fancied it was
there. She suddenly sprang to the window, and, pressing her eyes to the
pane, saw through the misty turmoil of tossing boughs and swaying
branches the scintillating intermittent flames of torches moving on the
trail above, and _knew_ it was there!

In an instant she was collected and calm. "Dad," she said, in her
ordinary indifferent tone, "there's torches movin; up toward the
diamond pit. Likely it's tramps. I'll take the squaw and see." And
before the old man could stagger to his feet she had dragged Lance with
her into the road.


CHAPTER VI.

The wind charged down upon them, slamming the door at their backs,
extinguishing the broad shaft of light that had momentarily shot out
into the darkness, and swept them a dozen yards away. Gaining the lee
of a madrono tree, Lance opened his blanketed arms, enfolded the girl,
and felt her for one brief moment tremble and nestle in his bosom like
some frightened animal. "Well," he said, gayly, "what next?" Flip
recovered herself. "You're safe now anywhere outside the house. But did
you expect them to-night?" Lance shrugged his shoulders. "Why not?"
"Hush!" returned the girl; "they're coming this way."

The four flickering, scattered lights presently dropped into line. The
trail had been found; they were coming nearer. Flip breathed quickly;
the spiced aroma of her presence filled the blanket as he drew her
tightly beside him. He had forgotten the storm that raged around them,
the mysterious foe that was approaching, until Flip caught his sleeve
with a slight laugh. "Why, it's Kennedy and Bijah!"

"Who's Kennedy and Bijah?" asked Lance, curtly.

"Kennedy's the Postmaster and Bijah's the Butcher."

"What do they want?" continued Lance.

"Me," said Flip, coyly.

"You?"

"Yes; let's run away."

Half leading, half dragging her friend, Flip made her way with unerring
woodcraft down the ravine. The sound of voices and even the tumult of
the storm became fainter, an acrid smell of burning green wood smarted
Lance's lips and eyes; in the midst of the darkness beneath him
gradually a faint, gigantic nimbus like a lurid eye glowed and sank,
quivered and faded with the spent breath of the gale as it penetrated
their retreat. "The pit," whispered Flip; "it's safe on the other
side," she added, cautiously skirting the orbit of the great eye, and
leading him to a sheltered nest of bark and sawdust. It was warm and
odorous. Nevertheless, they both deemed it necessary to enwrap
themselves in the single blanket. The eye beamed fitfully upon them,
occasionally a wave of lambent tremulousness passed across it; its
weirdness was an excuse for their drawing nearer each other in playful
terror.

"Flip."

"Well?"

"What did the other two want? To see you, _too_?"

"Likely," said Flip, without the least trace of coquetry. "There's been
a lot of strangers yer, off and on."

"Perhaps you'd like to go back and see them?"

"Do you want me to?"

Lance's reply was a kiss. Nevertheless he was vaguely uneasy. "Looks a
little as if I were running away, don't it?" he suggested.

"No," said Flip; "they think you're only a squaw; it's me they're
after." Lance smarted a little at this infelicitous speech. A strange
and irritating sensation had been creeping over him--it was his first
experience of shame and remorse. "I reckon I'll go back and see," he
said, rising abruptly.

Flip was silent. She was thinking. Believing that the men were seeking
her only, she knew that their intention would be directed from her
companion when it was found out he was no longer with her, and she
dreaded to meet them in his irritable presence.

"Go," she said; "tell Dad something's wrong in the diamond pit, and say
I'm watching it for him here."

"And you?"

"I'll go there and wait for him. If he can't get rid of them, and they
follow him there, I'll come back here and meet you. Anyhow, I'll manage
to have Dad wait there a spell."

She took his hand and led him back by a different path to the trail. He
was surprised to find that the cabin, its window glowing from the fire,
was only a hundred yards away. "Go in the back way, by the shed. Don't
go in the room, nor near the light, if you can. Don't talk inside, but
call or beckon to Dad. Remember," she said, with a laugh, "you're
keeping watch of me for him. Pull your hair down on your eyes, so."
This operation, like most feminine embellishments of the masculine
toilet, was attended by a kiss, and Flip, stepping back into the
shadow, vanished in the storm.

Lance's first movements were inconsistent with his assumed sex. He
picked up his draggled skirt and drew a bowie-knife from his boot. From
his bosom he took a revolver, turning the chambers noiselessly as he
felt the caps. He then crept toward the cabin softly and gained the
shed. It was quite dark but for a pencil of light piercing a crack of
the rude, ill-fitting door that opened on the sitting-room. A single
voice not unfamiliar to him, raised in half-brutal triumph, greeted his
ears. A name was mentioned--his own! His angry hand was on the latch.
One moment more and he would have burst the door, but in that instant
another name was uttered--a name that dropped his hand from the latch
and the blood from his cheeks. He staggered backward, passed his hand
swiftly across his forehead, recovered himself with a gesture of
mingled rage and despair, and, sinking on his knees beside the door,
pressed his hot temples against the crack.

"Do I know Lance Harriott?" said the voice. "Do I know the d--d
ruffian? Didn't I hunt him a year ago into the brush three miles from
the Crossing? Didn't we lose sight of him the very day he turned up yer
at this ranch, and got smuggled over into Monterey? Ain't it the same
man as killed Arkansaw Bob--Bob Ridley--the name he went by in Sonora?
And who was Bob Ridley, eh? Who? Why, you d--d old fool, it was Bob
Fairley--YOUR SON!"

The old man's voice rose querulous and indistinct.

"What are ye talkin' about?" interrupted the first speaker. I tell you
I _know_. Look at these pictures. I found 'em on his body. Look at 'em.
Pictures of you and your girl. Pr'aps you'll deny them. Pr'aps you'll
tell me I lie when I tell you he told me he was your son; told me how
he ran away from you; how you were livin' somewhere in the mountains
makin' gold, or suthin' else, outer charcoal. He told me who he was as
a secret. He never let on he told it to any one else. And when I found
that the man who killed him, Lance Harriott, had been hidin' here, had
been sendin' spies all around to find out all about your son, had been
foolin' you, and tryin' to ruin your gal as he had killed your boy, I
knew that _he_ knew it too."

"LIAR!"

The door fell in with a crash. There was the sudden apparition of the
demoniac face, still half hidden by the long trailing black locks of
hair that curled like Medusa's around it. A cry of terror filled the
room. Three of the men dashed from the door and fled precipitately. The
man who had spoken sprang toward his rifle in the chimney corner. But
the movement was his last; a blinding flash and shattering report
interposed between him and his weapon. The impulse carried him forward
headlong into the fire, that hissed and spluttered with his blood, and
Lance Harriott, with his smoking pistol, strode past him to the door.
Already far down the trail there were hurried voices, the crack and
crackling of impending branches growing fainter and fainter in the
distance. Lance turned back to the solitary living figure--the old man.

Yet he might have been dead too, he sat so rigid and motionless, his
fixed eyes staring vacantly at the body on the hearth. Before him on
the table lay the cheap photographs, one evidently of himself, taken in
some remote epoch of complexion, one of a child which Lance recognized
as Flip.

"Tell me," said Lance hoarsely, laying his quivering hand on the table,
"was Bob Ridley your son?"

"My son," echoed the old man in a strange, far-off voice, without
turning his eyes from the corpse,--"my son--is--is--is there!" pointing
to the dead man. "Hush! Didn't he tell you so? Didn't you hear him say
it? Dead--dead--shot--shot!"

"Silence! are you crazy, man?" interposed Lance, tremblingly; "that is
not Bob Ridley, but a dog, a coward, a liar, gone to his reckoning.
Hear me! If your son _was_ Bob Ridley, I swear to God I never knew it,
now or--or--_then_. Do you hear me? Tell me! Do you believe me? Speak!
You shall speak!"

He laid his hand almost menacingly on the old man's shoulder. Fairley
slowly raised his head. Lance fell back with a groan of horror. The
weak lips were wreathed with a feeble imploring smile, but the eyes
wherein the fretful, peevish, suspicious spirit had dwelt were blank
and tenantless; the flickering intellect that had lit them was blown
out and vanished.

Lance walked toward the door and remained motionless for a moment,
gazing into the night. When he turned back again toward the fire his
face was as colorless as the dead man's on the hearth; the fire of
passion was gone from his beaten eyes; his step was hesitating and
slow. He went up to the table.

"I say, old man," he said, with a strange smile and an odd, premature
suggestion of the infinite weariness of death in his voice, "you
wouldn't mind giving me this, would you?" and he took up the picture of
Flip. The old man nodded repeatedly. "Thank you," said Lance. He went
to the door, paused a moment, and returned. "Good-by, old man," he
said, holding out his hand. Fairley took it with a childish smile.
"He's dead," said the old man softly, holding Lance's hand, but
pointing to the hearth. "Yes," said Lance, with the faintest of smiles
on the palest of faces. "You feel sorry for any one that's dead, don't
you?" Fairley nodded again. Lance looked at him with eyes as remote as
his own, shook his head, and turned away. When he reached the door he
laid his revolver carefully, and, indeed, somewhat ostentatiously, upon
a chair. But when he stepped from the threshold he stopped a moment in
the light of the open door to examine the lock of a small derringer
which he drew from his pocket. He then shut the door carefully, and
with the same slow, hesitating step, felt his way into the night.

He had but one idea in his mind, to find some lonely spot; some spot
where the footsteps of man would never penetrate, some spot that would
yield him rest, sleep, obliteration, forgetfulness, and, above all,
where _he_ would be forgotten. He had seen such places; surely there
were many,--where bones were picked up of dead men who had faded from
the earth and had left no other record. If he could only keep his
senses now he might find such a spot, but he must be careful, for her
little feet went everywhere, and she must never see him again alive or
dead. And in the midst of his thoughts, and the darkness, and the
storm, he heard a voice at his side, "Lance, how long you have been!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Left to himself, the old man again fell into a vacant contemplation of
the dead body before him, until a stronger blast swept down like an
avalanche upon the cabin, burst through the ill-fastened door and
broken chimney, and, dashing the ashes and living embers over the
floor, filled the room with blinding smoke and flame. Fairley rose with
a feeble cry, and then, as if acted upon by some dominant memory,
groped under the bed until he found his buckskin bag and his precious
crystal, and fled precipitately from the room. Lifted by this second
shock from his apathy, he returned to the fixed idea of his life,--the
discovery and creation of the diamond,--and forgot all else. The feeble
grasp that his shaken intellect kept of the events of the night
relaxed, the disguised Lance, the story of his son, the murder, slipped
into nothingness; there remained only the one idea, his nightly watch
by the diamond pit. The instinct of long habit was stronger than the
darkness or the onset of the storm, and he kept his tottering way over
stream and fallen timber until he reached the spot. A sudden tremor
seemed to shake the lambent flame that had lured him on. He thought he
heard the sound of voices; there were signs of recent
disturbance,--footprints in the sawdust! With a cry of rage and
suspicion, Fairley slipped into the pit and sprang toward the nearest
opening. To his frenzied fancy it had been tampered with, his secret
discovered, the fruit of his long labors stolen from him that very
night. With superhuman strength he began to open the pit, scattering
the half-charred logs right and left, and giving vent to the
suffocating gases that rose from the now incandescent charcoal. At
times the fury of the gale would drive it back and hold it against the
sides of the pit, leaving the opening free; at times, following the
blind instinct of habit, the demented man would fall upon his face and
bury his nose and mouth in the wet bark and sawdust. At last, the
paroxysm past, he sank back again into his old apathetic attitude of
watching, the attitude he had so often kept beside his sylvan crucible.
In this attitude and in silence he waited for the dawn.

It came with a hush in the storm; it came with blue openings in the
broken up and tumbled heavens; it came with stars that glistened first,
and then paled, and at last sank drowning in those deep cerulean lakes;
it came with those cerulean lakes broadening into vaster seas, whose
shores expanded at last into one illimitable ocean, cerulean no more,
but flecked with crimson and opal dyes; it came with the lightly lifted
misty curtain of the day, torn and rent on crag and pine-top, but
always lifting, lifting. It came with the sparkle of emerald in the
grasses, and the flash of diamonds in every spray, with a whisper in
the awakening woods, and voices in the traveled roads and trails.

The sound of these voices stopped before the pit, and seemed to
interrogate the old man. He came, and, putting his finger on his lips,
made a sign of caution. When three or four men had descended he bade
them follow him, saying, weakly and disjointedly, but persistently: "My
boy--my son Robert--came home--came home at last--here with Flip--both
of them--come and see!"

He had reached a little niche or nest in the hillside, and stopped, and
suddenly drew aside a blanket. Beneath it, side by side, lay Flip and
Lance, dead, with their cold hands clasped in each other's.

"Suffocated!" said two or three, turning with horror toward the broken
up and still smouldering pit.

"Asleep!" said the old man. "Asleep! I've seen 'em lying that way when
they were babies together. Don't tell me! Don't say I don't know my own
flesh and blood! So! so! So, my pretty ones!" He stooped and kissed
them. Then, drawing the blanket over them gently, he rose and said
softly, "Good night!"



FOUND AT BLAZING STAR.


The rain had only ceased with the gray streaks of morning at Blazing
Star, and the settlement awoke to a moral sense of cleanliness, and the
finding of forgotten knives, tin cups, and smaller camp utensils, where
the heavy showers had washed away the debris and dust heaps before the
cabin-doors. Indeed, it was recorded in Blazing Star that a fortunate
early riser had once picked up on the highway a solid chunk of gold
quartz which the rain had freed from its incumbering soil, and washed
into immediate and glittering popularity. Possibly this may have been
the reason why early risers in that locality, during the rainy season,
adopted a thoughtful habit of body, and seldom lifted their eyes to the
rifted or india-ink washed skies above them.

"Cass" Beard had risen early that morning, but not with a view to
discovery. A leak in his cabin roof--quite consistent with his
careless, improvident habits--had roused him at 4 A.M., with a flooded
"bunk" and wet blankets. The chips from his wood pile refused to kindle
a fire to dry his bedclothes, and he had recourse to a more provident
neighbor's to supply the deficiency. This was nearly opposite. Mr.
Cassius crossed the highway, and stopped suddenly. Something glittered
in the nearest red pool before him. Gold, surely! But, wonderful to
relate, not an irregular, shapeless fragment of crude ore, fresh from
Nature's crucible, but a bit of jeweler's handicraft in the form of a
plain gold ring. Looking at it more attentively, he saw that it bore
the inscription, "May to Cass."

Like most of his fellow gold-seekers, Cass was superstitious. "Cass!"
His own name! He tried the ring. It fitted his little finger closely.
It was evidently a woman's ring. He looked up and down the highway. No
one was yet stirring. Little pools of water in the red road were
beginning to glitter and grow rosy from the far-flushing east, but
there was no trace of the owner of the shining waif. He knew that there
was no woman in camp, and among his few comrades in the settlement he
remembered to have seen none wearing an ornament like that. Again, the
coincidence of the inscription to his rather peculiar nickname would
have been a perennial source of playful comment in a camp that made no
allowance for sentimental memories. He slipped the glittering little
hoop into his pocket, and thoughtfully returned to his cabin.

Two hours later, when the long, straggling procession, which every
morning wended its way to Blazing Star Gulch,--the seat of mining
operations in the settlement,--began to move, Cass saw fit to
interrogate his fellows.

"Ye didn't none on ye happen to drop anything round yer last night?" he
asked, cautiously.

"I dropped a pocketbook containing government bonds and some other
securities, with between fifty and sixty thousand dollars," responded
Peter Drummond, carelessly; "but no matter, if any man will return a
few autograph letters from foreign potentates that happened to be in
it,--of no value to anybody but the owner,--he can keep the money.
Thar's nothin' mean about me," he concluded, languidly.

This statement, bearing every evidence of the grossest mendacity, was
lightly passed over, and the men walked on with the deepest gravity.

"But hev you?" Cass presently asked of another.

"I lost my pile to Jack Hamlin at draw-poker, over at Wingdam last
night," returned the other, pensively, "but I don't calkilate to find
it lying round loose."

Forced at last by this kind of irony into more detailed explanation,
Cass confided to them his discovery, and produced his treasure. The
result was a dozen vague surmises,--only one of which seemed to be
popular, and to suit the dyspeptic despondency of the party,--a
despondency born of hastily masticated fried pork and flapjacks. The
ring was believed to have been dropped by some passing "road agent"
laden with guilty spoil.

"Ef I was you," said Drummond gloomily, "I wouldn't flourish that yer
ring around much afore folks. I've seen better men nor you strung up a
tree by _Vigilantes_ for having even less than that in their
possession."

"And I wouldn't say much about bein' up so d----d early this morning,"
added an even more pessimistic comrade; "it might look bad before a
jury."

With this the men sadly dispersed, leaving the innocent Cass with the
ring in his hand, and a general impression on his mind that he was
already an object of suspicion to his comrades,--an impression, it is
hardly necessary to say, they fully intended should be left to rankle
in his guileless bosom.

Notwithstanding Cass's first hopeful superstition, the ring did not
seem to bring him nor the camp any luck. Daily the "clean up" brought
the same scant rewards to their labors, and deepened the sardonic
gravity of Blazing Star. But, if Cass found no material result from his
treasure, it stimulated his lazy imagination, and, albeit a dangerous
and seductive stimulant, at least lifted him out of the monotonous
grooves of his half-careless, half-slovenly, but always self-contented
camp life. Heeding the wise caution of his comrades, he took the habit
of wearing the ring only at night. Wrapped in his blanket, he
stealthily slipped the golden circlet over his little finger, and, as
he averred, "slept all the better for it." Whether it ever evoked any
warmer dream or vision during those calm, cold, virgin-like spring
nights, when even the moon and the greater planets retreated into the
icy blue, steel-like firmament, I cannot say. Enough that this
superstition began to be colored a little by fancy, and his fatalism
somewhat mitigated by hope. Dreams of this kind did not tend to promote
his efficiency in the communistic labors of the camp, and brought him a
self-isolation that, however gratifying at first, soon debarred him the
benefits of that hard practical wisdom which underlaid the grumbling of
his fellow-workers.

"I'm dog-goned," said one commentator, "ef I don't believe that Cass is
looney over that yer ring he found. Wears it on a string under his
shirt."

Meantime, the seasons did not wait the discovery of the secret. The red
pools in Blazing Star highway were soon dried up in the fervent June
sun and riotous night winds of those altitudes. The ephemeral grasses
that had quickly supplanted these pools and the chocolate-colored mud,
were as quickly parched and withered. The footprints of spring became
vague and indefinite, and were finally lost in the impalpable dust of
the summer highway.

In one of his long, aimless excursions, Cass had penetrated a thick
undergrowth of buckeye and hazel, and found himself quite unexpectedly
upon the high road to Red Chief's Crossing. Cass knew by the lurid
cloud of dust that hid the distance, that the up coach had passed. He
had already reached that stage of superstition when the most trivial
occurrence seemed to point in some way to an elucidation of the mystery
of his treasure. His eyes had mechanically fallen to the ground again,
as if he half expected to find in some other waif a hint or
corroboration of his imaginings. Thus abstracted, the figure of a young
girl on horseback, in the road directly before the bushes he emerged
from, appeared to have sprung directly from the ground.

"Oh, come here, please do; quick!"

Cass stared, and then moved hesitatingly toward her.

"I heard some one coming through the bushes, and I waited," she went
on. "Come quick. It's something too awful for anything."

In spite of this appalling introduction, Cass could not but notice that
the voice, although hurried and excited, was by no means agitated or
frightened; that the eyes which looked into his sparkled with a certain
kind of pleased curiosity.

"It was just here," she went on vivaciously, "just here that I went
into the bush and cut a switch for my mare,--and,"--leading him along
at a brisk trot by her side,--"just here, look, see! this is what I
found."

It was scarcely thirty feet from the road. The only object that met
Cass's eye was a man's stiff, tall hat, lying emptily and vacantly in
the grass. It was new, shiny, and of modish shape. But it was so
incongruous, so perkily smart, and yet so feeble and helpless lying
there, so ghastly ludicrous in its very appropriateness and incapacity
to adjust itself to the surrounding landscape, that it affected him
with something more than a sense of its grotesqueness, and he could
only stare at it blankly.

"But you're not looking the right way," the girl went on sharply; "look
there!"

Cass followed the direction of her whip. At last, what might have
seemed a coat thrown carelessly on the ground met his eye, but
presently he became aware of a white, rigid, aimlessly-clinched hand
protruding from the flaccid sleeve; mingled with it in some absurd way
and half hidden by the grass, lay what might have been a pair of
cast-off trousers but for two rigid boots that pointed in opposite
angles to the sky. It was a dead man! So palpably dead that life seemed
to have taken flight from his very clothes. So impotent, feeble, and
degraded by them that the naked subject of a dissecting table would
have been less insulting to humanity. The head had fallen back, and was
partly hidden in a gopher burrow, but the white, upturned face and
closed eyes had less of helpless death in them than those wretched
enwrappings. Indeed, one limp hand that lay across the swollen abdomen
lent itself to the grotesquely hideous suggestion of a gentleman
sleeping off the excesses of a hearty dinner.

"Ain't he horrid?" continued the girl; "but what killed him?"

Struggling between a certain fascination at the girl's cold-blooded
curiosity and horror of the murdered man, Cass hesitatingly lifted the
helpless head. A bluish hole above the right temple, and a few brown
paint-like spots on the forehead, shirt collar, and matted hair, proved
the only record.

"Turn him over again," said the girl, impatiently, as Cass was about to
relinquish his burden. "Maybe you'll find another wound."

But Cass was dimly remembering certain formalities that in older
civilizations attend the discovery of dead bodies, and postponed a
present inquest.

"Perhaps you'd better ride on, Miss, afore you get summoned as a
witness. I'll give warning at Red Chief's Crossing, and send the
coroner down here."

"Let me go with you," she said, earnestly; "it would be such fun. I
don't mind being a witness. Or," she added, without heeding Cass's look
of astonishment, "I'll wait here till you come back."

"But you see, Miss, it wouldn't seem right"--began Cass.

"But I found him first," interrupted the girl, with a pout.

Staggered by this preemptive right, sacred to all miners, Cass stopped.

"Who is the coroner?" she asked.

"Joe Hornsby."

"The tall, lame man, who was half eaten by a grizzly?"

"Yes."

"Well, look now! I'll ride on and bring him back in half an hour.
There!"

"But, Miss--!"

"Oh, don't mind _me_. I never saw anything of this kind before, and I
want to see it _all_."

"Do you know Hornsby?" asked Cass, unconsciously a trifle irritated.

"No, but I'll bring him." She wheeled her horse into the road.

In the presence of this living energy Cass quite forgot the helpless
dead. "Have you been long in these parts, Miss?" he asked.

"About two weeks," she answered, shortly. "Good-by, just now. Look
around for the pistol or anything else you can find, although _I_ have
been over the whole ground twice already."

A little puff of dust as the horse sprang into the road, a muffled
shuffle, struggle, then the regular beat of hoofs, and she was gone.

After five minutes had passed, Cass regretted that he had not
accompanied her: waiting in such a spot was an irksome task. Not that
there was anything in the scene itself to awaken gloomy imaginings; the
bright, truthful Californian sunshine scoffed at any illusion of
creeping shadows or waving branches. Once, in the rising wind, the
empty hat rolled over--but only in a ludicrous, drunken way. A search
for any further sign or token had proved futile, and Cass grew
impatient. He began to hate himself for having stayed; he would have
fled but for shame. Nor was his good-humor restored when at the close
of a weary half hour two galloping figures emerged from the dusty
horizon--Hornsby and the young girl.

His vague annoyance increased as he fancied that both seemed to ignore
him, the coroner barely acknowledging his presence with a nod. Assisted
by the young girl, whose energy and enthusiasm evidently delighted him,
Hornsby raised the body for a more careful examination. The dead man's
pockets were carefully searched. A few coins, a silver pencil, knife,
and tobacco-box were all they found. It gave no clew to his identity.
Suddenly the young girl, who had, with unabashed curiosity, knelt
beside the exploring official hands of the Red Chief, uttered a cry of
gratification.

"Here's something! It dropped from the bosom of his shirt on the
ground. Look!"

She was holding in the air, between her thumb and forefinger, a folded
bit of well-worn newspaper. Her eyes sparkled.

"Shall I open it?" she asked.

"Yes."

"It's a little ring," she said; "looks like an engagement ring.
Something is written on it. Look! 'May to Cass.'"

Cass darted forward. "It's mine," he stammered, "mine! I dropped it.
It's nothing--nothing," he went on, after a pause, embarrassed and
blushing, as the girl and her companion both stared at him--"a mere
trifle. I'll take it."

But the coroner opposed his outstretched hand. "Not much," he said,
significantly.

"But it's _mine_," continued Cass, indignation taking the place of
shame at his discovered secret. "I found it six months ago in the road.
I--picked it up."

"With your name already written on it! How handy!" said the coroner,
grimly.

"It's an old story," said Cass, blushing again under the half
mischievous, half searching eyes of the girl. "All Blazing Star knows I
found it."

"Then ye'll have no difficulty in provin' it," said Hornsby, coolly.
"Just now, however, _we_'ve found it, and we propose to keep it for the
inquest."

Cass shrugged his shoulders. Further altercation would have only
heightened his ludicrous situation in the girl's eyes. He turned away,
leaving his treasure in the coroner's hands.

The inquest, a day or two later, was prompt and final. No clew to the
dead man's identity; no evidence sufficiently strong to prove murder or
suicide; no trace of any kind, inculpating any party, known or unknown,
were found. But much publicity and interest were given to the
proceedings by the presence of the principal witness, a handsome girl.
"To the pluck, persistency, and intellect of Miss Porter," said the
"Red Chief Recorder," "Tuolumne County owes the recovery of the body."

No one who was present at the inquest failed to be charmed with the
appearance and conduct of this beautiful young lady.

"Miss Porter has but lately arrived in this district, in which, it is
hoped, she will become an honored resident, and continue to set an
example to all lackadaisical and sentimental members of the so-called
'sterner sex.'" After this universally recognized allusion to Cass
Beard, the "Recorder" returned to its record: "Some interest was
excited by what appeared to be a clew to the mystery in the discovery
of a small gold engagement ring on the body. Evidence was afterward
offered to show it was the property of a Mr. Cass Beard of Blazing
Star, who appeared upon the scene _after_ the discovery of the corpse
by Miss Porter. He alleged he had dropped it in lifting the unfortunate
remains of the deceased. Much amusement was created in court by the
sentimental confusion of the claimant, and a certain partisan spirit
shown by his fellow-miners of Blazing Star. It appearing, however, by
the admission of this sighing Strephon of the Foot Hills, that he had
himself _found_ this pledge of affection lying in the highway six
months previous, the coroner wisely placed it in the safe-keeping of
the county court until the appearance of the rightful owner."

Thus on the 13th of September, 186-, the treasure found at Blazing Star
passed out of the hands of its finder.

       *       *       *       *       *

Autumn brought an abrupt explanation of the mystery. Kanaka Joe had
been arrested for horse-stealing, but had with noble candor confessed
to the finer offense of manslaughter. That swift and sure justice which
overtook the horse-stealer in these altitudes was stayed a moment and
hesitated, for the victim was clearly the mysterious unknown. Curiosity
got the better of an extempore judge and jury.

"It was a fair fight," said the accused, not without some human vanity,
feeling that the camp hung upon his words, "and was settled by the man
az was peartest and liveliest with his weapon. We had a sort of
unpleasantness over at Lagrange the night afore, along of our both
hevin' a monotony of four aces. We had a clinch and a stamp around, and
when we was separated it was only a question of shootin' on sight. He
left Lagrange at sun up the next morning, and I struck across a bit o'
buckeye and underbrush and came upon him, accidental like, on the Red
Chief Road. I drawed when I sighted him, and called out. He slipped
from his mare and covered himself with her flanks, reaching for his
holster, but she rared and backed down on him across the road and into
the grass, where I got in another shot and fetched him."

"And you stole his mare?" suggested the Judge.

"I got away," said the gambler, simply.

Further questioning only elicited the fact that Joe did not know the
name or condition of his victim. He was a stranger in Lagrange.

It was a breezy afternoon, with some turbulency in the camp, and much
windy discussion over this unwonted delay of justice. The suggestion
that Joe should be first hanged for horse stealing and then tried for
murder was angrily discussed, but milder counsels were offered--that
the fact of the killing should be admitted only as proof of the theft.
A large party from Red Chief had come over to assist in judgment, among
them the coroner.

Cass Beard had avoided these proceedings, which only recalled an
unpleasant experience, and was wandering with pick, pan, and wallet far
from the camp. These accoutrements, as I have before intimated,
justified any form of aimless idleness under the equally aimless title
of "prospecting." He had at the end of three hours' relaxation reached
the highway to Red Chief, half hidden by blinding clouds of dust torn
from the crumbling red road at every gust which swept down the mountain
side. The spot had a familiar aspect to Cass, although some freshly-dug
holes near the wayside, with scattered earth beside them, showed the
presence of a recent prospector. He was struggling with his memory,
when the dust was suddenly dispersed and he found himself again at the
scene of the murder. He started: he had not put foot on the road since
the inquest. There lacked only the helpless dead man and the
contrasting figure of the alert young woman to restore the picture. The
body was gone, it was true, but as he turned he beheld Miss Porter, at
a few paces distant, sitting her horse as energetic and observant as on
the first morning they had met. A superstitious thrill passed over him
and awoke his old antagonism.

She nodded to him slightly. "I came here to refresh my memory," she
said, "as Mr. Hornsby thought I might be asked to give my evidence
again at Blazing Star."

Cass carelessly struck an aimless blow with his pick against the sod
and did not reply.

"And you?" she queried.

"_I_ stumbled upon the place just now while prospecting, or I shouldn't
be here."

"Then it was _you_ made these holes?"

"No," said Cass, with ill-concealed disgust. "Nobody but a stranger
would go foolin' round such a spot."

He stopped, as the rude significance of his speech struck him, and
added surlily, "I mean--no one would dig here."

The girl laughed and showed a set of very white teeth in her square
jaw. Cass averted his face.

"Do you mean to say that every miner doesn't know that it's lucky to
dig wherever human blood has been spilt?"

Cass felt a return of his superstition, but he did not look up. "I
never heard it before," he said, severely.

"And you call yourself a California miner?"

"I do."

It was impossible for Miss Porter to misunderstand his curt speech and
unsocial manner. She stared at him and colored slightly. Lifting her
reins lightly, she said: "You certainly do not seem like most of the
miners I have met."

"Nor you like any girl from the East I ever met," he responded.

"What do you mean?" she asked, checking her horse.

"What I say," he answered, doggedly. Reasonable as this reply was, it
immediately struck him that it was scarcely dignified or manly. But
before he could explain himself Miss Porter was gone.

He met her again that very evening. The trial had been summarily
suspended by the appearance of the Sheriff of Calaveras and his
_posse_, who took Joe from that self-constituted tribunal of Blazing
Star and set his face southward and toward authoritative although more
cautious justice. But not before the evidence of the previous inquest
had been read, and the incident of the ring again delivered to the
public. It is said the prisoner burst into an incredulous laugh and
asked to see this mysterious waif. It was handed to him. Standing in
the very shadow of the gallows tree--which might have been one of the
pines that sheltered the billiard room in which the Vigilance Committee
held their conclave--the prisoner gave way to a burst of merriment, so
genuine and honest that the judge and jury joined in automatic
sympathy. When silence was restored an explanation was asked by the
Judge. But there was no response from the prisoner except a subdued
chuckle.

"Did this ring belong to you?" asked the Judge, severely, the jury and
spectators craning their ears forward with an expectant smile already
on their faces. But the prisoner's eyes only sparkled maliciously as he
looked around the court.

"Tell us, Joe," said a sympathetic and laughter-loving juror, under his
breath. "Let it out and we'll make it easy for you."

"Prisoner," said the Judge, with a return of official dignity,
"remember that your life is in peril. Do you refuse?"

Joe lazily laid his arm on the back of his chair with (to quote the
words of an animated observer) "the air of having a Christian hope and
a sequence flush in his hand," and said: "Well, as I reckon I'm not up
yer for stealin' a ring that another man lets on to have found, and as
fur as I kin see, hez nothin' to do with the case, I do!" And as it was
here that the Sheriff of Calaveras made a precipitate entry into the
room, the mystery remained unsolved.

The effect of this freshly-important ridicule on the sensitive mind of
Cass might have been foretold by Blazing Star had it ever taken that
sensitiveness into consideration. He had lost the good-humor and easy
pliability which had tempted him to frankness, and he had gradually
become bitter and hard. He had at first affected amusement over his own
vanished day dream--hiding his virgin disappointment in his own breast;
but when he began to turn upon his feelings he turned upon his comrades
also. Cass was for a while unpopular. There is no ingratitude so
revolting to the human mind as that of the butt who refuses to be one
any longer. The man who rejects that immunity which laughter generally
casts upon him and demands to be seriously considered deserves no
mercy.

It was under these hard conditions that Cass Beard, convicted of overt
sentimentalism, aggravated by inconsistency, stepped into the Red Chief
coach that evening. It was his habit usually to ride with the driver,
but the presence of Hornsby and Miss Porter on the box seat changed his
intention. Yet he had the satisfaction of seeing that neither had
noticed him, and as there was no other passenger inside, he stretched
himself on the cushion of the back seat and gave way to moody
reflections. He quite determined to leave Blazing Star, to settle
himself seriously to the task of money-getting, and to return to his
comrades, some day, a sarcastic, cynical, successful man, and so
overwhelm them with confusion. For poor Cass had not yet reached that
superiority of knowing that success would depend upon his ability to
forego his past. Indeed, part of his boyhood had been cast among these
men, and he was not old enough to have learned that success was not to
be gauged by their standard. The moon lit up the dark interior of the
coach with a faint poetic light. The lazy swinging of the vehicle that
was bearing him away--albeit only for a night and a day--the solitude,
the glimpses from the window of great distances full of vague
possibilities, made the abused ring potent as that of Gyges. He dreamed
with his eyes open. From an Alnaschar vision he suddenly awoke. The
coach had stopped. The voices of men, one in entreaty, one in
expostulation, came from the box. Cass mechanically put his hand to his
pistol pocket.

"Thank you, but I _insist_ upon getting down."

It was Miss Porter's voice. This was followed by a rapid, half
restrained interchange of words between Hornsby and the driver. Then
the latter said gruffly:

"If the lady wants to ride inside, let her."

Miss Porter fluttered to the ground. She was followed by Hornsby. "Just
a minit, Miss," he expostulated, half shamedly, half brusquely, "ye
don't onderstand me. I only"--

But Miss Porter had jumped into the coach.

Hornsby placed his hand on the handle of the door. Miss Porter grasped
it firmly from the inside. There was a slight struggle.

All of which was part of a dream to the boyish Cass. But he awoke from
it--a man! "Do you," he asked, in a voice he scarcely recognized
himself,--"do you want this man inside?"

"No!"

Cass caught at Hornsby's wrist like a young tiger. But alas! what
availed instinctive chivalry against main strength? He only succeeded
in forcing the door open in spite of Miss Porter's superior strategy,
and--I fear I must add, muscle also--and threw himself passionately at
Hornsby's throat, where he hung on and calmly awaited dissolution. But
he had, in the onset, driven Hornsby out into the road and the
moonlight.

"Here! somebody take my lines." The voice was "Mountain Charley's," the
driver. The figure that jumped from the box and separated the
struggling men belonged to this singularly direct person.

"You're riding inside?" said Charley, interrogatively, to Cass. Before
he could reply Miss Porter's voice came from the window:

"He is!"

Charley promptly bundled Cass into the coach.

"And _you_?" to Hornsby, "onless you're kalkilatin' to take a little
'pasear' you're booked _outside_. Get up."

It is probable that Charley assisted Mr. Hornsby as promptly to his
seat, for the next moment the coach was rolling on.

Meanwhile Cass, by reason of his forced entry, had been deposited in
Miss Porter's lap, whence, freeing himself, he had attempted to climb
over the middle seat, but in the starting of the coach was again thrown
heavily against her hat and shoulder; all of which was inconsistent
with the attitude of dignified reserve he had intended to display. Miss
Porter, meanwhile, recovered her good-humor.

"What a brute he was, ugh!" she said, re-tying the ribbons of her
bonnet under her square chin, and smoothing out her linen duster.

Cass tried to look as if he had forgotten the whole affair. "Who? Oh,
yes! I see!" he responded, absently.

"I suppose I ought to thank you," she went on with a smile, "but you
know, really, I could have kept him out if you hadn't pulled his wrist
from outside. I'll show you. Look! Put your hand on the handle there!
Now, I'll hold the lock inside firmly. You see, you can't turn the
catch!"

She indeed held the lock fast. It was a firm hand, yet soft--their
fingers had touched over the handle--and looked white in the moonlight.
He made no reply, but sank back again in his seat with a singular
sensation in the fingers that had touched hers. He was in the shadow,
and, without being seen, could abandon his reserve and glance at her
face. It struck him that he had never really seen her before. She was
not so tall as she had appeared to be. Her eyes were not large, but her
pupils were black, moist, velvety, and so convex as to seem embossed on
the white. She had an indistinctive nose, a rather colorless
face--whiter at the angles of the mouth and nose through the relief of
tiny freckles like grains of pepper. Her mouth was straight, dark, red,
but moist as her eyes. She had drawn herself into the corner of the
back seat, her wrist put through and hanging over the swinging strap,
the easy lines of her plump figure swaying from side to side with the
motion of the coach. Finally, forgetful of any presence in the dark
corner opposite, she threw her head a little farther back, slipped a
trifle lower, and placing two well-booted feet upon the middle seat,
completed a charming and wholesome picture.

Five minutes elapsed. She was looking straight at the moon. Cass Beard
felt his dignified reserve becoming very much like awkwardness. He
ought to be coldly polite.

"I hope you're not flustered, Miss, by the--by the"--he began.

"I?" She straightened herself up in the seat, cast a curious glance
into the dark corner, and then, letting herself down again, said: "Oh
dear, no!"

Another five minutes elapsed. She had evidently forgotten him. She
might, at least, have been civil. He took refuge again in his reserve.
But it was now mixed with a certain pique.

Yet how much softer her face looked in the moonlight! Even her square
jaw had lost that hard, matter-of-fact, practical indication which was
so distasteful to him, and always had suggested a harsh criticism of
his weakness. How moist her eyes were--actually shining in the light!
How that light seemed to concentrate in the corners of the lashes, and
then slipped--a flash--away! Was she? Yes, she was crying.

Cass melted. He moved. Miss Porter put her head out of the window and
drew it back in a moment dry-eyed.

"One meets all sorts of folks traveling," said Cass, with what he
wished to make appear a cheerful philosophy.

"I dare say. I don't know. I never before met any one who was rude to
me. I have traveled all over the country alone, and with all kinds of
people ever since I was so high. I have always gone my own way, without
hindrance or trouble. I always do. I don't see why I shouldn't. Perhaps
other people mayn't like it. I do. I like excitement. I like to see all
that there is to see. Because I'm a girl I don't see why I can't go out
without a keeper, and why I cannot do what any man can do that isn't
wrong; do you? Perhaps you do--perhaps you don't. Perhaps you like a
girl to be always in the house dawdling or thumping a piano or reading
novels. Perhaps you think I'm bold because I don't like it, and won't
lie and say I do."

She spoke sharply and aggressively, and so evidently in answer to
Cass's unspoken indictment against her, that he was not surprised when
she became more direct.

"You know you were shocked when I went to fetch that Hornsby, the
coroner, after we found the dead body."

"Hornsby wasn't shocked," said Cass, a little viciously.

"What do you mean?" she said, abruptly.

"You were good friends enough until"--

"Until he insulted me just now; is that it?"

"Until he thought," stammered Cass, "that because you were--you
know--not so--so--so careful as other girls, he could be a little
freer."

"And so, because I preferred to ride a mile with him to see something
real that had happened, and tried to be useful instead of looking in
shop-windows in Main Street or promenading before the hotel"--

"And being ornamental," interrupted Cass. But this feeble and
un-Cass-like attempt at playful gallantry met with a sudden check.

Miss Porter drew herself together, and looked out of the window. "Do
you wish me to walk the rest of the way home?"

"No," said Cass, hurriedly, with a crimson face and a sense of
gratuitous rudeness.

"Then stop that kind of talk, right there!"

There was an awkward silence. "I wish I was a man," she said, half
bitterly, half earnestly. Cass Beard was not old and cynical enough to
observe that this devout aspiration is usually uttered by those who
have least reason to deplore their own femininity; and, but for the
rebuff he had just received, would have made the usual emphatic dissent
of our sex, when the wish is uttered by warm red lips and tender
voices--a dissent, it may be remarked, generally withheld, however,
when the masculine spinster dwells on the perfection of woman. I dare
say Miss Porter was sincere, for a moment later she continued,
poutingly:

"And yet I used to go to fires in Sacramento when I was only ten years
old. I saw the theatre burnt down. Nobody found fault with me then."

Something made Cass ask if her father and mother objected to her boyish
tastes. The reply was characteristic if not satisfactory:

"Object? I'd like to see them do it!"

The direction of the road had changed. The fickle moon now abandoned
Miss Porter and sought out Cass on the front seat. It caressed the
young fellow's silky moustache and long eyelashes, and took some of the
sunburn from his cheek.

"What's the matter with your neck?" said the girl, suddenly.

Cass looked down, blushing to find that the collar of his smart "duck"
sailor shirt was torn open. But something more than his white, soft,
girlish skin was exposed; the shirt front was dyed quite red with blood
from a slight cut on the shoulder. He remembered to have felt a scratch
while struggling with Hornsby.

The girl's soft eyes sparkled. "Let _me_," she said, vivaciously. "Do!
I'm good at wounds. Come over here. No--stay there. I'll come over to
you."

She did, bestriding the back of the middle seat and dropping at his
side. The magnetic fingers again touched his; he felt her warm breath
on his neck as she bent toward him.

"It's nothing," he said, hastily, more agitated by the treatment than
the wound.

"Give me your flask," she responded, without heeding. A stinging
sensation as she bathed the edges of the cut with the spirit brought
him back to common sense again. "There," she said, skillfully
extemporizing a bandage from her handkerchief and a compress from his
cravat. "Now, button your coat over your chest, so, and don't take
cold." She insisted upon buttoning it for him; greater even than the
feminine delight in a man's strength is the ministration to his
weakness. Yet, when this was finished, she drew a little away from him
in some embarrassment--an embarrassment she wondered at, as his skin
was finer, his touch gentler, his clothes cleaner, and--not to put too
fine a point upon it--he exhaled an atmosphere much sweeter than
belonged to most of the men her boyish habits had brought her in
contact with--not excepting her own father. Later she even exempted her
mother from the possession of this divine effluence. After a moment she
asked, suddenly, "What are you going to do with Hornsby?"

Cass had not thought of him. His short-lived rage was past with the
occasion that provoked it. Without any fear of his adversary, he would
have been content quite willing to meet him no more. He only said,
"That will depend upon him."

"Oh, you won't hear from him again," said she, confidently; "but you
really ought to get up a little more muscle. You've no more than a
girl." She stopped, a little confused.

"What shall I do with your handkerchief?" asked the uneasy Cass,
anxious to change the subject.

"Oh, keep it, if you want to; only don't show it to everybody as you
did that ring you found." Seeing signs of distress in his face, she
added: "Of course that was all nonsense. If you had cared so much for
the ring you couldn't have talked about it, or shown it; could you?"

It relieved him to think that this might be true; he certainly had not
looked at it in that light before.

"But did you really find it?" she asked, with sudden gravity. "Really,
now?"

"Yes."

"And there was no real May in the case?"

"Not that I know of," laughed Cass, secretly pleased.

But Miss Porter, after eying him critically for a moment, jumped up and
climbed back again to her seat. "Perhaps you had better give me that
handkerchief back."

Cass began to unbutton his coat.

"No! no! Do you want to take your death of cold?" she screamed. And
Cass, to avoid this direful possibility, rebuttoned his coat again over
the handkerchief and a peculiarly pleasing sensation.

Very little now was said until the rattling, bounding descent of the
coach denoted the approach to Red Chief. The straggling main street
disclosed itself, light by light. In the flash of glittering windows
and the sound of eager voices Miss Porter descended, without waiting
for Cass's proffered assistance, and anticipated Mountain Charley's
descent from the box. A few undistinguishable words passed between
them.

"You kin freeze to me, Miss," said Charley; and Miss Porter, turning
her frank laugh and frankly opened palm to Cass, half returned the
pressure of his hand and slipped away.

A few days after the stage-coach incident Mountain Charley drew up
beside Cass on the Blazing Star turnpike, and handed him a small
packet. "I was told to give ye that by Miss Porter. Hush--listen! It's
that rather old dog-goned ring o' yours that's bin in all the papers.
She's bamboozled that sap-headed county judge, Boompointer, into givin'
it to her. Take my advice and sling it away for some other feller to
pick up and get looney over. That's all!"

"Did she say anything?" asked Cass, anxiously, as he received his lost
treasure somewhat coldly.

"Well, yes! I reckon. She asked me to stand betwixt Hornsby and you. So
don't _you_ tackle him, and I'll see _he_ don't tackle you," and with a
portentous wink Mountain Charley whipped up his horses and was gone.

Cass opened the packet. It contained nothing but the ring. Unmitigated
by any word of greeting, remembrance, or even raillery, it seemed
almost an insult. Had she intended to flaunt his folly in his face, or
had she believed he still mourned for it and deemed its recovery a
sufficient reward for his slight service? For an instant he felt
tempted to follow Charley's advice, and cast this symbol of folly and
contempt in the dust of the mountain road. And had she not made his
humiliation complete by begging Charley's interference between him and
his enemy? He would go home and send her back the handkerchief she had
given him. But here the unromantic reflection that although he had
washed it that very afternoon in the solitude of his own cabin, he
could not possibly iron it, but must send it "rough dried," stayed his
indignant feet.

Two or three days, a week, a fortnight even, of this hopeless
resentment filled Cass's breast. Then the news of Kanaka Joe's
acquittal in the state court momentarily revived the story of the ring,
and revamped a few stale jokes in the camp. But the interest soon
flagged; the fortunes of the little community of Blazing Star had been
for some months failing; and with early snows in the mountain and
wasted capital in fruitless schemes on the river, there was little room
for the indulgence of that lazy and original humor which belonged to
their lost youth and prosperity. Blazing Star truly, in the grim figure
of their slang, was "played out." Not dug out, worked out, or washed
out, but dissipated in a year of speculation and chance.

Against this tide of fortune Cass struggled manfully, and even evoked
the slow praise of his companions. Better still, he won a certain
praise for himself, in himself, in a consciousness of increased
strength, health, power, and self-reliance. He began to turn his quick
imagination and perception to some practical account, and made one or
two discoveries which quite startled his more experienced, but more
conservative companions. Nevertheless, Cass's discoveries and labors
were not of a kind that produced immediate pecuniary realization, and
Blazing Star, which consumed so many pounds of pork and flour daily,
did not unfortunately produce the daily equivalent in gold. Blazing
Star lost its credit. Blazing Star was hungry, dirty, and ragged.
Blazing Star was beginning to set.

Participating in the general ill-luck of the camp, Cass was not without
his own individual mischance. He had resolutely determined to forget
Miss Porter and all that tended to recall the unlucky ring, but,
cruelly enough, she was the only thing that refused to be
forgotten--whose undulating figure reclined opposite to him in the
weird moonlight of his ruined cabin, whose voice mingled with the song
of the river by whose banks he toiled, and whose eyes and touch
thrilled him in his dreams. Partly for this reason, and partly because
his clothes were beginning to be patched and torn, he avoided Red Chief
and any place where he would be likely to meet her. In spite of this
precaution he had once seen her driving in a pony carriage, but so
smartly and fashionably dressed that he drew back in the cover of a
wayside willow that she might pass without recognition. He looked down
upon his red-splashed clothes and grimy, soil-streaked hands, and for a
moment half hated her. His comrades seldom spoke of her--instinctively
fearing some temptation that might beset his Spartan resolutions, but
he heard from time to time that she had been seen at balls and parties,
apparently enjoying those very frivolities of her sex she affected to
condemn. It was a Sabbath morning in early spring that he was returning
from an ineffectual attempt to enlist a capitalist at the county town
to redeem the fortunes of Blazing Star. He was pondering over the
narrowness of that capitalist, who had evidently but illogically
connected Cass's present appearance with the future of that struggling
camp, when he became so footsore that he was obliged to accept a "lift"
from a wayfaring teamster. As the slowly lumbering vehicle passed the
new church on the outskirts of the town, the congregation were sallying
forth. It was too late to jump down and run away, and Cass dared not
ask his new-found friend to whip up his cattle. Conscious of his
unshorn beard and ragged garments, he kept his eyes fixed upon the
road. A voice that thrilled him called his name. It was Miss Porter, a
resplendent vision of silk, laces, and Easter flowers--yet actually
running, with something of her old dash and freedom, beside the wagon.
As the astonished teamster drew up before this elegant apparition, she
panted:

"Why did you make me run so far, and why didn't you look up?"

Cass, trying to hide the patches on his knees beneath a newspaper,
stammered that he had not seen her.

"And you did not hold down your head purposely?"

"No," said Cass.

"Why have you not been to Red Chief? Why didn't you answer my message
about the ring?" she asked, swiftly.

"You sent nothing but the ring," said Cass, coloring, as he glanced at
the teamster.

"Why, _that_ was a message, you born idiot."

Cass stared. The teamster smiled. Miss Porter gazed anxiously at the
wagon. "I think I'd like a ride in there; it looks awfully good." She
glanced mischievously around at the lingering and curious congregation.
"May I?"

But Cass deprecated that proceeding strongly. It was dirty; he was not
sure it was even _wholesome_; she would be _so_ uncomfortable; he
himself was only going a few rods farther, and in that time she might
ruin her dress--

"Oh, yes," she said, a little bitterly, "certainly, my dress must be
looked after. And--what else?"

"People might think it strange, and believe I had invited you,"
continued Cass, hesitatingly.

"When I had only invited myself? Thank you. Good-by."

She waved her hand and stepped back from the wagon. Cass would have
given worlds to recall her, but he sat still, and the vehicle moved on
in moody silence. At the first cross road he jumped down. "Thank you,"
he said to the teamster. "You're welcome," returned that gentleman,
regarding him curiously, "but the next time a gal like that asks to
ride in this yer wagon, I reckon I won't take the vote of any deadhead
passenger. _Adios_, young fellow. Don't stay out late; ye might be ran
off by some gal, and what would your mother say?" Of course the young
man could only look unutterable things and walk away, but even in that
dignified action he was conscious that its effect was somewhat
mitigated by a large patch from a material originally used as a
flour-sack, which had repaired his trousers, but still bore the
ironical legend, "Best Superfine."

The summer brought warmth and promise and some blossom, if not absolute
fruition to Blazing Star. The long days drew Nature into closer
communion with the men, and hopefulness followed the discontent of
their winter seclusion. It was easier, too, for Capital to be wooed and
won into making a picnic in these mountain solitudes than when high
water stayed the fords and drifting snow the Sierran trails. At the
close of one of these Arcadian days Cass was smoking before the door of
his lonely cabin when he was astounded by the onset of a dozen of his
companions. Peter Drummond, far in the van, was waving a newspaper like
a victorious banner. "All's right now, Cass, old man!" he panted as he
stopped before Cass and shoved back his eager followers.

"What's all right?" asked Cass, dubiously.

"_You_! You kin rake down the pile now. You're hunky! You're on velvet.
Listen!"

He opened the newspaper and read, with annoying deliberation, as
follows:--

"LOST.--If the finder of a plain gold ring, bearing the engraved
inscription, 'May to Cass,' alleged to have been picked up on the high
road near Blazing Star on the 4th March, 186--, will apply to Bookham &
Sons, bankers, 1007 Y. Street, Sacramento, he will be suitably rewarded
either for the recovery of the ring, or for such facts as may identify
it, or the locality where it was found."

Cass rose and frowned savagely on his comrades. "No! no!" cried a dozen
voices assuringly. "It's all right! Honest Injun! True as gospel! No
joke, Cass!"

"Here's the paper, Sacramento 'Union' of yesterday. Look for yourself,"
said Drummond, handing him the well-worn journal. "And you see," he
added, "how darned lucky you are. It ain't necessary for you to produce
the ring, so if that old biled owl of a Boompointer don't giv' it back
to ye, it's all the same."

"And they say nobody but the finder need apply," interrupted another.
"That shuts out Boompointer or Kanaka Joe for the matter o' that."

"It's clar that it _means_ you, Cass, ez much ez if they'd given your
name," added a third.

For Miss Porter's sake and his own Cass had never told them of the
restoration of the ring, and it was evident that Mountain Charley had
also kept silent. Cass could not speak now without violating a secret,
and he was pleased that the ring itself no longer played an important
part in the mystery. But what was that mystery, and why was the ring
secondary to himself? Why was so much stress laid upon his finding it?

"You see," said Drummond, as if answering his unspoken thought,
"that'ar gal--for it is a gal in course--hez read all about it in the
papers, and hez sort o' took a shine to ye. It don't make a bit o'
difference who in thunder Cass _is_ or _waz_, for I reckon she's kicked
him over by this time"--

"Sarved him right, too, for losing the girl's ring and then lying low
and keeping dark about it," interrupted a sympathizer.

"And she's just weakened over the romantic, high-toned way you stuck to
it," continued Drummond, forgetting the sarcasms he had previously
hurled at this romance. Indeed the whole camp, by this time, had become
convinced that it had fostered and developed a chivalrous devotion
which was now on the point of pecuniary realization. It was generally
accepted that "she" was the daughter of this banker, and also felt that
in the circumstances the happy father could not do less than develop
the resources of Blazing Star at once. Even if there were no
relationship, what opportunity could be more fit for presenting to
capital a locality that even produced engagement rings, and, as Jim
Fauquier put it, "the men ez knew how to keep 'em." It was this
sympathetic Virginian who took Cass aside with the following generous
suggestion: "If you find that you and the old gal couldn't hitch
hosses, owin' to your not likin' red hair or a game leg" (it may be
here recorded that Blazing Star had, for no reason whatever, attributed
these unprepossessing qualities to the mysterious advertiser), "you
might let _me_ in. You might say ez how I used to jest worship that
ring with you, and allers wanted to borrow it on Sundays. If anything
comes of it--why--_we're pardners_!"

A serious question was the outfitting of Cass for what now was felt to
be a diplomatic representation of the community. His garments, it
hardly need be said, were inappropriate to any wooing except that of
the "maiden all forlorn," which the advertiser clearly was not. "He
might," suggested Fauquier, "drop in jest as he is--kinder as if he'd
got keerless of the world, being lovesick." But Cass objected strongly,
and was borne out in his objection by his younger comrades. At last a
pair of white duck trousers, a red shirt, a flowing black silk scarf,
and a Panama hat were procured at Red Chief, on credit, after a
judicious exhibition of the advertisement. A heavy wedding-ring, the
property of Drummond (who was not married), was also lent as a graceful
suggestion, and at the last moment Fauquier affixed to Cass's scarf an
enormous specimen pin of gold and quartz. "It sorter indicates the
auriferous wealth o' this yer region, and the old man (the senior
member of Bookham & Sons) needn't know I won it at draw-poker in
Frisco," said Fauqier. "Ef you 'pass' on the gal, you kin hand it back
to me and _I'll_ try it on."

Forty dollars for expenses was put into Cass's hands, and the entire
community accompanied him to the cross roads where he was to meet the
Sacramento coach, which eventually carried him away, followed by a
benediction of waving hats and exploding revolvers.

That Cass did not participate in the extravagant hopes of his comrades,
and that he rejected utterly their matrimonial speculations in his
behalf, need not be said.

Outwardly, he kept his own counsel with good-humored assent. But there
was something fascinating in the situation, and while he felt he had
forever abandoned his romantic dream, he was not displeased to know
that it might have proved a reality. Nor was it distasteful to him to
think that Miss Porter would hear of it and regret her late inability
to appreciate his sentiment. If he really were the object of some
opulent maiden's passion, he would show Miss Porter how he could
sacrifice the most brilliant prospects for her sake. Alone, on the top
of the coach, he projected one of those satisfying conversations in
which imaginative people delight, but which unfortunately never come
quite up to rehearsal. "Dear Miss Porter," he would say, addressing the
back of the driver, "if I could remain faithful to a dream of my youth,
however illusive and unreal, can you believe that for the sake of lucre
I could be false to the one real passion that alone supplanted it?" In
the composition and delivery of this eloquent statement an hour was
happily forgotten: the only drawback to its complete effect was that a
misplacing of epithets in rapid repetition did not seem to make the
slightest difference, and Cass found himself saying "Dear Miss Porter,
if I could be false to a dream of my youth, etc., etc., can you believe
I could be _faithful_ to the one real passion, etc., etc.," with equal
and perfect satisfaction. As Miss Porter was reputed to be well off, if
the unknown were poor, that might be another drawback.

The banking house of Bookham & Sons did not present an illusive nor
mysterious appearance. It was eminently practical and matter of fact;
it was obtrusively open and glassy; nobody would have thought of
leaving a secret there that would have been inevitably circulated over
the counter. Cass felt an uncomfortable sense of incongruity in
himself, in his story, in his treasure, to this temple of disenchanting
realism. With the awkwardness of an embarrassed man he was holding
prominently in his hand an envelope containing the ring and
advertisement as a voucher for his intrusion, when the nearest clerk
took the envelope from his hand, opened it, took out the ring, returned
it, said briskly, "T' other shop, next door, young man," and turned to
another customer.

Cass stepped to the door, saw that "T'other shop" was a pawnbroker's,
and returned again with a flashing eye and heightened color. "It's an
advertisement I have come to answer," he began again.

The clerk cast a glance at Cass's scarf and pin. "Place taken
yesterday--no room for any more," he said, abruptly.

Cass grew quite white. But his old experience in Blazing Star repartee
stood him in good stead. "If it's _your_ place you mean," he said
coolly, "I reckon you might put a dozen men in the hole you're rattlin'
round in--but it's this advertisement I'm after. If Bookham isn't in,
maybe you'll send me one of the grown-up sons." The production of the
advertisement and some laughter from the bystanders had its effect. The
pert young clerk retired, and returned to lead the way to the bank
parlor. Cass's heart sank again as he was confronted by a dark,
iron-gray man--in dress, features, speech, and action--uncompromisingly
opposed to Cass--his ring and his romance. When the young man had told
his story and produced his treasure he paused. The banker scarcely
glanced at it, but said, impatiently:

"Well, your papers?"

"My papers?"

"Yes. Proof of your identity. You say your name is Cass Beard. Good!
What have you got to prove it? How can I tell who you are?"

To a sensitive man there is no form of suspicion that is as bewildering
and demoralizing at the moment as the question of his identity. Cass
felt the insult in the doubt of his word, and the palpable sense of his
present inability to prove it. The banker watched him keenly but not
unkindly.

"Come," he said at length, "this is not my affair; if you can legally
satisfy the lady for whom I am only agent, well and good. I believe you
can; I only warn you that you must. And my present inquiry was to keep
her from losing her time with impostors, a class I don't think you
belong to. There's her card. Good day."

"MISS MORTIMER."

It was _not_ the banker's daughter. The first illusion of Blazing Star
was rudely dispelled. But the care taken by the capitalist to shield
her from imposture indicated a person of wealth. Of her youth and
beauty Cass no longer thought.

The address given was not distant. With a beating heart he rung the
bell of a respectable-looking house, and was ushered into a private
drawing-room. Instinctively he felt that the room was only temporarily
inhabited; an air peculiar to the best lodgings, and when the door
opened upon a tall lady in deep mourning, he was still more convinced
of an incongruity between the occupant and her surroundings. With a
smile that vacillated between a habit of familiarity and ease, and a
recent restraint, she motioned him to a chair.

"Miss Mortimer" was still young, still handsome, still fashionably
dressed, and still attractive. From her first greeting to the end of
the interview Cass felt that she knew all about him. This relieved him
from the onus of proving his identity, but seemed to put him vaguely at
a disadvantage. It increased his sense of inexperience and
youthfulness.

"I hope you will believe," she began, "that the few questions I have to
ask you are to satisfy my own heart, and for no other purpose." She
smiled sadly as she went on. "Had it been otherwise, I should have
instituted a legal inquiry, and left this interview to some one cooler,
calmer, and less interested than myself. But I think, I _know_ I can
trust you. Perhaps we women are weak and foolish to talk of an
_instinct_, and when you know my story you may have reason to believe
that but little dependence can be placed on _that_; but I am not wrong
in saying,--am I?" (with a sad smile) "that _you_ are not above that
weakness?" She paused, closed her lips tightly, and grasped her hands
before her. "You say you found that ring in the road some three months
before--the--the--you know what I mean--the body--was discovered?"

"Yes."

"You thought it might have been dropped by some one in passing?"

"I thought so, yes--it belonged to no one in the camp."

"Before your cabin or on the highway?"

"Before my cabin."

"You are _sure_?" There was something so very sweet and sad in her
smile that it oddly made Cass color.

"But my cabin is near the road," he suggested.

"I see! And there was nothing else; no paper nor envelope?"

"Nothing."

"And you kept it because of the odd resemblance one of the names bore
to yours?"

"Yes."

"For no other reason?"

"None." Yet Cass felt he was blushing.

"You'll forgive my repeating a question you have already answered, but
I am _so_ anxious. There was some attempt to prove at the inquest that
the ring had been found on the body of--the unfortunate man. But you
tell me it was not so?"

"I can swear it."

"Good God--the traitor!" She took a hurried step forward, turned to the
window, and then came back to Cass with a voice broken with emotion. "I
have told you I could trust you. That ring was mine!"

She stopped, and then went on hurriedly. "Years ago I gave it to a man
who deceived and wronged me; a man whose life since then has been a
shame and disgrace to all who knew him; a man who, once a gentleman,
sank so low as to become the associate of thieves and ruffians; sank so
low, that when he died, by violence--a traitor even to them--his own
confederates shrunk from him, and left him to fill a nameless grave.
That man's body you found!"

Cass started. "And his name was----?"

"Part of your surname. Cass--Henry Cass."

"You see why Providence seems to have brought that ring to you," she
went on. "But you ask me why, knowing this, I am so eager to know if
the ring was found by you in the road, or if it were found on his body.
Listen! It is part of my mortification that the story goes that this
man once showed this ring, boasted of it, staked, and lost it at a
gambling table to one of his vile comrades."

"Kanaka Joe," said Cass, overcome by a vivid recollection of Joe's
merriment at the trial.

"The same. Don't you see," she said, hurriedly, "if the ring had been
found on him I could believe that somewhere in his heart he still kept
respect for the woman he had wronged. I am a woman--a foolish woman, I
know--but you have crushed that hope forever."

"But why have you sent for me?" asked Cass, touched by her emotion.

"To know it for certain," she said, almost fiercely. "Can you not
understand that a woman like me must know a thing once and forever? But
you _can_ help me. I did not send for you only to pour my wrongs in
your ears. You must take me with you to this place--to the spot where
you found the ring--to the spot where you found the body--to the spot
where--where _he_ lies. You must do it secretly, that none shall know
me."

Cass hesitated. He was thinking of his companions and the collapse of
their painted bubble. How could he keep the secret from them?

"If it is money, you need, let not that stop you. I have no right to
your time without recompense. Do not misunderstand me. There has been a
thousand dollars awaiting my order at Bookham's when the ring should be
delivered. It shall be doubled if you help me in this last moment."

It was possible. He could convey her safely there, invent some story of
a reward delayed for want of proofs, and afterward share that reward
with his friends. He answered promptly, "I will take you there."

She took his hands in both of hers, raised them to her lips, and
smiled. The shadow of grief and restraint seemed to have fallen from
her face, and a half mischievous, half coquettish gleam in her dark
eyes touched the susceptible Cass in so subtle a fashion that he
regained the street in some confusion. He wondered what Miss Porter
would have thought. But was he not returning to her, a fortunate man,
with one thousand dollars in his pocket! Why should he remember he was
handicapped by a pretty woman and a pathetic episode? It did not make
the proximity less pleasant as he helped her into the coach that
evening, nor did the recollection of another ride with another woman
obtrude itself upon those consolations which he felt it his duty, from
time to time, to offer. It was arranged that he should leave her at the
"Red Chief" Hotel, while he continued on to Blazing Star, returning at
noon to bring her with him when he could do it without exposing her to
recognition. The gray dawn came soon enough, and the coach drew up at
"Red Chief" while the lights in the bar-room and dining-room of the
hotel were still struggling with the far flushing east. Cass alighted,
placed Miss Mortimer in the hands of the landlady, and returned to the
vehicle. It was still musty, close, and frowzy, with half awakened
passengers. There was a vacated seat on the top, which Cass climbed up
to, and abstractedly threw himself beside a figure muffled in shawls
and rugs. There was a slight movement among the multitudinous
enwrappings, and then the figure turned to him and said dryly, "Good
morning!" It was Miss Porter!

"Have you been long here?" he stammered.

"All night."

He would have given worlds to leave her at that moment. He would have
jumped from the starting coach to save himself any explanation of the
embarrassment he was furiously conscious of showing, without, as he
believed, any adequate cause. And yet, like all inexperienced,
sensitive men, he dashed blindly into that explanation; worse, he even
told his secret at once, then and there, and then sat abashed and
conscience-stricken, with an added sense of its utter futility.

"And this," summed up the young girl, with a slight shrug of her pretty
shoulders, "is _your May_?"

Cass would have recommenced his story.

"No, don't, pray! It isn't interesting, nor original. Do _you_ believe
it?"

"I do," said Cass, indignantly.

"How lucky! Then let me go to sleep."

Cass, still furious, but uneasy, did not again address her. When the
coach stopped at Blazing Star she asked him, indifferently: "When does
this sentimental pilgrimage begin?"

"I return for her at one o'clock," replied Cass, stiffly. He kept his
word. He appeased his eager companions with a promise of future
fortune, and exhibited the present and tangible reward. By a circuitous
route known only to himself, he led Miss Mortimer to the road before
the cabin. There was a pink flush of excitement on her somewhat faded
cheek.

"And it was here?" she asked, eagerly.

"I found it here."

"And the body?"

"That was afterward. Over in that direction, beyond the clump of
buckeyes, on the Red Chief turnpike."

"And any one coming from the road we left just now and going
to--to--that place, would have to cross just here? Tell me," she said,
with a strange laugh, laying her cold nervous hand on his, "wouldn't
they?"

"They would."

"Let us go to that place."

Cass stepped out briskly to avoid observation and gain the woods beyond
the highway. "You have crossed here before," she said. "There seems to
be a trail."

"I may have made it: it's a short cut to the buckeyes."

"You never found anything else on the trail?"

"You remember, I told you before, the ring was all I found."

"Ah, true!" she smiled sweetly; "it was _that_ which made it seem so
odd to you. I forgot."

In half an hour they reached the buckeyes. During the walk she had
taken rapid recognizance of everything in her path. When they crossed
the road and Cass had pointed out the scene of the murder, she looked
anxiously around. "You are sure we are not seen?"

"Quite."

"You will not think me foolish if I ask you to wait here while I go in
there"--she pointed to the ominous thicket near them--"alone?" She was
quite white.

Cass's heart, which had grown somewhat cold since his interview with
Miss Porter, melted at once.

"Go; I will stay here."

He waited five minutes. She did not return. What if the poor creature
had determined upon suicide on the spot where her faithless lover had
fallen? He was reassured in another moment by the rustle of skirts in
the undergrowth.

"I was becoming quite alarmed," he said, aloud.

"You have reason to be," returned a hurried voice. He started. It was
Miss Porter, who stepped swiftly out of the cover. "Look," she said,
"look at that man down the road. He has been tracking you two ever
since you left the cabin. Do you know who he is?"

"No!"

"Then listen. It is three-fingered Dick, one of the escaped road
agents. I know him!"

"Let us go and warn her," said Cass, eagerly.

Miss Porter laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"I don't think she'll thank you," she said, dryly. "Perhaps you'd
better see what she's doing, first."

Utterly bewildered, yet with a strong sense of the masterfulness of his
companion, he followed her. She crept like a cat through the thicket.
Suddenly she paused. "Look!" she whispered, viciously, "look at the
tender vigils of your heart-broken May!"

Cass saw the woman who had left him a moment before on her knees on the
grass, with long thin fingers digging like a ghoul in the earth. He had
scarce time to notice her eager face and eyes, cast now and then back
toward the spot where she had left him, before there was a crash in the
bushes, and a man,--the stranger of the road,--leaped to her side.
"Run," he said; "run for it now. You're watched!"

"Oh! that man, Beard!" she said, contemptuously.

"No, another in a wagon. Quick. Fool, you know the place now,--you can
come later; run!" And half-dragging, half-lifting her, he bore her
through the bushes. Scarcely had they closed behind the pair when Miss
Porter ran to the spot vacated by the woman. "Look!" she cried,
triumphantly, "look!"

Cass looked, and sank on his knees beside her.

"It _was_ worth a thousand dollars, wasn't it?" she repeated,
maliciously, "wasn't it? But you ought to return it! _Really_ you
ought."

Cass could scarcely articulate. "But how did _you_ know it?" he finally
gasped.

"Oh, I suspected something; there was a woman, and you know you're
_such_ a fool!"

Cass rose, stiffly.

"Don't be a greater fool now, but go and bring my horse and wagon from
the hill, and don't say anything to the driver."

"Then you did not come alone?"

"No; it would have been bold and improper."

"Please!"

"And to think it _was_ the ring, after all, that pointed to this," she
said.

"The ring that _you_ returned to me."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing."

"Don't, please, the wagon is coming."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the next morning's edition of the "Red Chief Chronicle" appeared the
following startling intelligence:

EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY!

FINDING OF THE STOLEN TREASURE OF WELLS, FARGO & CO. OVER $300,000
RECOVERED.

Our readers will remember the notorious robbery of Wells, Fargo & Co.'s
treasure from the Sacramento and Red Chief Pioneer Coach on the night
of September 1. Although most of the gang were arrested, it is known
that two escaped, who, it was presumed, _cached_ the treasure,
amounting to nearly $500,000 in gold, drafts, and jewelry, as no trace
of the property was found. Yesterday our esteemed fellow citizen, Mr.
Cass Beard, long and favorably known in this county, succeeded in
exhuming the treasure in a copse of hazel near the Red Chief
turnpike,--adjacent to the spot where an unknown body was lately
discovered. This body is now strongly suspected to be that of one Henry
Cass, a disreputable character, who has since been ascertained to have
been one of the road agents who escaped. The matter is now under legal
investigation. The successful result of the search is due to a
systematic plan evolved from the genius of Mr. Beard, who has devoted
over a year to this labor. It was first suggested to him by the finding
of a ring, now definitely identified as part of the treasure which was
supposed to have been dropped from Wells, Fargo & Co.'s boxes by the
robbers in their midnight flight through Blazing Star.

In the same journal appeared the no less important intelligence, which
explains, while it completes this veracious chronicle:--

"It is rumored that a marriage is shortly to take place between the
hero of the late treasure discovery and a young lady of Red Chief,
whose devoted aid and assistance to this important work is well known
to this community."



IN THE CARQUINEZ WOODS.


CHAPTER I.

The sun was going down on the Carquinez Woods. The few shafts of
sunlight that had pierced their pillared gloom were lost in
unfathomable depths, or splintered their ineffectual lances on the
enormous trunks of the redwoods. For a time the dull red of their vast
columns, and the dull red of their cast-off bark which matted the
echoless aisles, still seemed to hold a faint glow of the dying day.
But even this soon passed. Light and color fled upwards. The dark,
interlaced tree-tops, that had all day made an impenetrable shade,
broke into fire here and there; their lost spires glittered, faded, and
went utterly out. A weird twilight that did not come from an outer
world, but seemed born of the wood itself, slowly filled and possessed
the aisles. The straight, tall, colossal trunks rose dimly like columns
of upward smoke. The few fallen trees stretched their huge length into
obscurity, and seemed to lie on shadowy trestles. The strange breath
that filled these mysterious vaults had neither coldness nor moisture;
a dry, fragrant dust arose from the noiseless foot that trod their
bark-strewn floor; the aisles might have been tombs, the fallen trees,
enormous mummies; the silence, the solitude of the forgotten past.

And yet this silence was presently broken by a recurring sound like
breathing, interrupted occasionally by inarticulate and stertorous
gasps. It was not the quick, panting, listening breath of some stealthy
feline or canine animal, but indicated a larger, slower, and more
powerful organization, whose progress was less watchful and guarded, or
as if a fragment of one of the fallen monsters had become animate. At
times this life seemed to take visible form, but as vaguely, as
misshapenly, as the phantom of a nightmare. Now it was a square object
moving sideways, endways, with neither head nor tail and scarcely
visible feet; then an arched bulk rolling against the trunks of the
trees and recoiling again, or an upright cylindrical mass, but always
oscillating and unsteady, and striking the trees on either hand. The
frequent occurrence of the movement suggested the figures of some weird
rhythmic dance to music heard by the shape alone. Suddenly it either
became motionless or faded away.

There was the frightened neighing of a horse, the sudden jingling of
spurs, a shout and outcry, and the swift apparition of three dancing
torches in one of the dark aisles; but so intense was the obscurity
that they shed no light on surrounding objects, and seemed to advance
at their own volition without human guidance, until they disappeared
suddenly behind the interposing bulk of one of the largest trees.
Beyond its eighty feet of circumference the light could not reach, and
the gloom remained inscrutable. But the voices and jingling spurs were
heard distinctly.

"Blast the mare! She's shied off that cursed trail again."

"Ye ain't lost it agin, hev ye?" growled a second voice.

"That's jist what I hev. And these blasted pine-knots don't give light
an inch beyond 'em. D----d if I don't think they make this cursed hole
blacker."

There was a laugh--a woman's laugh--hysterical, bitter, sarcastic,
exasperating. The second speaker, without heeding it, went on:

"What in thunder skeert the hosses? Did you see or hear anything?"

"Nothin'. The wood is like a graveyard."

The woman's voice again broke into a hoarse, contemptuous laugh. The
man resumed angrily:

"If you know anything, why in h--ll don't you say so, instead of
cackling like a d----d squaw there? P'raps you reckon you ken find the
trail too."

"Take this rope off my wrist," said the woman's voice, "untie my hands,
let me down, and I'll find it." She spoke quickly and with a Spanish
accent.

It was the men's turn to laugh. "And give you a show to snatch that
six-shooter and blow a hole through me, as you did to the Sheriff of
Calaveras, eh? Not if this court understands itself," said the first
speaker dryly.

"Go to the devil, then," she said curtly.

"Not before a lady," responded the other. There was another laugh from
the men, the spurs jingled again, the three torches reappeared from
behind the tree, and then passed away in the darkness.

For a time silence and immutability possessed the woods; the great
trunks loomed upwards, their fallen brothers stretched their slow
length into obscurity. The sound of breathing again became audible; the
shape reappeared in the aisle, and recommenced its mystic dance.
Presently it was lost in the shadow of the largest tree, and to the
sound of breathing succeeded a grating and scratching of bark.
Suddenly, as if riven by lightning, a flash broke from the centre of
the tree-trunk, lit up the woods, and a sharp report rang through it.
After a pause the jingling of spurs and the dancing of torches were
revived from the distance.

"Hallo?"

No answer.

"Who fired that shot?"

But there was no reply. A slight veil of smoke passed away to the
right, there was the spice of gunpowder in the air, but nothing more.

The torches came forward again, but this time it could be seen they
were held in the hands of two men and a woman. The woman's hands were
tied at the wrist to the horse-hair reins of her mule, while a _riata_,
passed around her waist and under the mule's girth, was held by one of
the men, who were both armed with rifles and revolvers. Their
frightened horses curveted, and it was with difficulty they could be
made to advance.

"Ho! stranger, what are you shooting at?"

The woman laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "Look yonder at the roots
of the tree. You're a d----d smart man for a sheriff, ain't you?"

The man uttered an exclamation and spurred his horse forward, but the
animal reared in terror. He then sprang to the ground and approached
the tree. The shape lay there, a scarcely distinguishable bulk.

"A grizzly, by the living Jingo! Shot through the heart."

It was true. The strange shape lit up by the flaring torches seemed
more vague, unearthly, and awkward in its dying throes, yet the small
shut eyes, the feeble nose, the ponderous shoulders, and half-human
foot armed with powerful claws were unmistakable. The men turned by a
common impulse and peered into the remote recesses of the wood again.

"Hi, Mister! come and pick up your game. Hallo there!"

The challenge fell unheeded on the empty woods.

"And yet," said he whom the woman had called the sheriff, "he can't be
far off. It was a close shot, and the bear hez dropped in his tracks.
Why, wot's this sticking in his claws?"

The two men bent over the animal. "Why, it's sugar, brown sugar--look!"
There was no mistake. The huge beast's fore paws and muzzle were
streaked with the unromantic household provision, and heightened the
absurd contrast of its incongruous members. The woman, apparently
indifferent, had taken that opportunity to partly free one of her
wrists.

"If we hadn't been cavorting round this yer spot for the last half
hour, I'd swear there was a shanty not a hundred yards away," said the
sheriff.

The other man, without replying, remounted his horse instantly.

"If there is, and it's inhabited by a gentleman that kin make centre
shots like that in the dark, and don't care to explain how, I reckon I
won't disturb him."

The sheriff was apparently of the same opinion, for he followed his
companion's example, and once more led the way. The spurs tinkled, the
torches danced, and the cavalcade slowly reentered the gloom. In
another moment it had disappeared.

The wood sank again into repose, this time disturbed by neither shape
nor sound. What lower forms of life might have crept close to its roots
were hidden in the ferns, or passed with deadened tread over the
bark-strewn floor. Towards morning a coolness like dew fell from above,
with here and there a dropping twig or nut, or the crepitant awakening
and stretching-out of cramped and weary branches. Later a dull, lurid
dawn, not unlike the last evening's sunset, filled the aisles. This
faded again, and a clear gray light, in which every object stood out in
sharp distinctness, took its place. Morning was waiting outside in all
its brilliant, youthful coloring, but only entered as the matured and
sobered day.

Seen in that stronger light, the monstrous tree near which the dead
bear lay revealed its age in its denuded and scarred trunk, and showed
in its base a deep cavity, a foot or two from the ground, partly hidden
by hanging strips of bark which had fallen across it. Suddenly one of
these strips was pushed aside, and a young man leaped lightly down.

But for the rifle he carried and some modern peculiarities of dress, he
was of a grace so unusual and unconventional that he might have passed
for a faun who was quitting his ancestral home. He stepped to the side
of the bear with a light elastic movement that was as unlike customary
progression as his face and figure were unlike the ordinary types of
humanity. Even as he leaned upon his rifle, looking down at the
prostrate animal, he unconsciously fell into an attitude that in any
other mortal would have been a pose, but with him was the picturesque
and unstudied relaxation of perfect symmetry.

"Hallo, Mister!"

He raised his head so carelessly and listlessly that he did not
otherwise change his attitude. Stepping from behind the tree, the woman
of the preceding night stood before him. Her hands were free except for
a thong of the _riata_, which was still knotted around one wrist, the
end of the thong having been torn or burnt away. Her eyes were
bloodshot, and her hair hung over her shoulders in one long black
braid.

"I reckoned all along it was _you_ who shot the bear," she said; "at
least some one hidin' yer," and she indicated the hollow tree with her
hand. "It wasn't no chance shot." Observing that the young man, either
from misconception or indifference, did not seem to comprehend her, she
added, "We came by here, last night, a minute after you fired."

"Oh, that was _you_ kicked up such a row, was it?" said the young man,
with a shade of interest.

"I reckon," said the woman, nodding her head, "and them that was with
me."

"And who are they?"

"Sheriff Dunn, of Yolo, and his deputy."

"And where are they now?"

"The deputy--in h--ll, I reckon. I don't know about the sheriff."

"I see," said the young man quietly; "and you?"

"I--got away," she said savagely. But she was taken with a sudden
nervous shiver, which she at once repressed by tightly dragging her
shawl over her shoulders and elbows, and folding her arms defiantly.

"And you're going?"

"To follow the deputy, may be," she said gloomily. "But come, I say,
ain't you going to treat? It's cursed cold here."

"Wait a moment." The young man was looking at her, with his arched
brows slightly knit and a half smile of curiosity. "Ain't you Teresa?"

She was prepared for the question, but evidently was not certain
whether she would reply defiantly or confidently. After an exhaustive
scrutiny of his face she chose the latter, and said, "You can bet your
life on it, Johnny."

"I don't bet, and my name isn't Johnny. Then you're the woman who
stabbed Dick Curson over at Lagrange's?"

She became defiant again. "That's me, all the time. What are you going
to do about it?"

"Nothing. And you used to dance at the Alhambra?"

She whisked the shawl from her shoulders, held it up like a scarf, and
made one or two steps of the _sembicuacua_. There was not the least
gayety, recklessness, or spontaneity in the action; it was simply
mechanical bravado. It was so ineffective, even upon her own feelings,
that her arms presently dropped to her side, and she coughed
embarrassedly. "Where's that whiskey, pardner?" she asked.

The young man turned toward the tree he had just quitted, and without
further words assisted her to mount to the cavity. It was an
irregular-shaped vaulted chamber, pierced fifty feet above by a shaft
or cylindrical opening in the decayed trunk, which was blackened by
smoke as if it had served the purpose of a chimney. In one corner lay a
bearskin and blanket; at the side were two alcoves or indentations, one
of which was evidently used as a table, and the other as a cupboard. In
another hollow, near the entrance, lay a few small sacks of flour,
coffee, and sugar, the sticky contents of the latter still strewing the
floor. From this storehouse the young man drew a wicker flask of
whiskey, and handed it, with a tin cup of water, to the woman. She
waved the cup aside, placed the flask to her lips, and drank the
undiluted spirit. Yet even this was evidently bravado, for the water
started to her eyes, and she could not restrain the paroxysm of
coughing that followed.

"I reckon that's the kind that kills at forty rods," she said, with a
hysterical laugh. "But I say, pardner, you look as if you were fixed
here to stay," and she stared ostentatiously around the chamber. But
she had already taken in its minutest details, even to observing that
the hanging strips of bark could be disposed so as to completely hide
the entrance.

"Well, yes," he replied; "it wouldn't be very easy to pull up the
stakes and move the shanty further on."

Seeing that either from indifference or caution he had not accepted her
meaning, she looked at him fixedly, and said,--

"What is your little game?"

"Eh?"

"What are you hiding for--here in this tree?"

"But I'm not hiding."

"Then why didn't you come out when they hailed you last night?"

"Because I didn't care to."

Teresa whistled incredulously. "All right--then if you're not hiding,
I'm going to." As he did not reply, she went on: "If I can keep out of
sight for a couple of weeks, this thing will blow over here, and I can
get across into Yolo. I could get a fair show there, where the boys
know me. Just now the trails are all watched, but no one would think of
lookin' here."

"Then how did you come to think of it?" he asked carelessly.

"Because I knew that bear hadn't gone far for that sugar; because I
knew he hadn't stole it from a _cache_--it was too fresh, and we'd have
seen the torn-up earth; because we had passed no camp; and because I
knew there was no shanty here. And, besides," she added in a low voice,
"may be I was huntin' a hole myself to die in--and spotted it by
instinct."

There was something in this suggestion of a hunted animal that, unlike
anything she had previously said or suggested, was not exaggerated, and
caused the young man to look at her again. She was standing under the
chimney-like opening, and the light from above illuminated her head and
shoulders. The pupils of her eyes had lost their feverish prominence,
and were slightly suffused and softened as she gazed abstractedly
before her. The only vestige of her previous excitement was in her
left-hand fingers, which were incessantly twisting and turning a
diamond ring upon her right hand, but without imparting the least
animation to her rigid attitude. Suddenly, as if conscious of his
scrutiny, she stepped aside out of the revealing light, and by a swift
feminine instinct raised her hand to her head as if to adjust her
straggling hair. It was only for a moment, however, for, as if aware of
the weakness, she struggled to resume her aggressive pose.

"Well," she said. "Speak up. Am I goin' to stop here, or have I got to
get up and get?"

"You can stay," said the young man quietly; "but as I've got my
provisions and ammunition here, and haven't any other place to go to
just now, I suppose we'll have to share it together."

She glanced at him under her eyelids, and a half-bitter,
half-contemptuous smile passed across her face. "All right, old man,"
she said, holding out her hand, "it's a go. We'll start in housekeeping
at once, if you like."

"I'll have to come here once or twice a day," he said, quite
composedly, "to look after my things, and get something to eat; but
I'll be away most of the time, and what with camping out under the
trees every night I reckon my share won't incommode you."

She opened her black eyes upon him, at this original proposition. Then
she looked down at her torn dress. "I suppose this style of thing ain't
very fancy, is it?" she said, with a forced laugh.

"I think I know where to beg or borrow a change for you, if you can't
get any," he replied simply.

She stared at him again. "Are you a family man?"

"No."

She was silent for a moment. "Well," she said, "you can tell your girl
I'm not particular about its being in the latest fashion."

There was a slight flush on his forehead as he turned toward the little
cupboard, but no tremor in his voice as he went on: "You'll find tea
and coffee here, and, if you're bored, there's a book or two. You read,
don't you--I mean English?"

She nodded, but cast a look of undisguised contempt upon the two worn,
coverless novels he held out to her. "You haven't got last week's
'Sacramento Union,' have you? I hear they have my case all in; only
them lying reporters made it out against me all the time."

"I don't see the papers," he replied curtly.

"They say there's a picture of me in the 'Police Gazette,' taken in the
act," and she laughed.

He looked a little abstracted, and turned as if to go. "I think you'll
do well to rest a while just now, and keep as close hid as possible
until afternoon. The trail is a mile away at the nearest point, but
some one might miss it and stray over here. You're quite safe if you're
careful, and stand by the tree. You can build a fire here," he stepped
under the chimney-like opening, "without its being noticed. Even the
smoke is lost and cannot be seen so high."

The light from above was falling on his head and shoulders, as it had
on hers. She looked at him intently.

"You travel a good deal on your figure, pardner, don't you?" she said,
with a certain admiration that was quite sexless in its quality; "but I
don't see how you pick up a living by it in the Carquinez Woods. So
you're going, are you? You might be more sociable. Good-by."

"Good-by!" He leaped from the opening.

"I say, pardner!"

He turned a little impatiently. She had knelt down at the entrance, so
as to be nearer his level, and was holding out her hand. But he did not
notice it, and she quietly withdrew it.

"If anybody dropped in and asked for you, what name will they say?"

He smiled. "Don't wait to hear."

"But suppose _I_ wanted to sing out for you, what will I call you?"

He hesitated. "Call me--Lo."

"Lo, the poor Indian?" [The first word of Pope's familiar apostrophe is
humorously used in the far West as a distinguishing title for the
Indian.]

"Exactly."

It suddenly occurred to the woman, Teresa, that in the young man's
height, supple, yet erect carriage, color, and singular gravity of
demeanor there was a refined, aboriginal suggestion. He did not look
like any Indian she had ever seen, but rather as a youthful chief might
have looked. There was a further suggestion in his fringed buckskin
shirt and moccasins; but before she could utter the half-sarcastic
comment that rose to her lips he had glided noiselessly away, even as
an Indian might have done.

She readjusted the slips of hanging bark with feminine ingenuity,
dispersing them so as to completely hide the entrance. Yet this did not
darken the chamber, which seemed to draw a purer and more vigorous
light through the soaring shaft that pierced the room than that which
came from the dim woodland aisles below. Nevertheless, she shivered,
and drawing her shawl closely around her began to collect some
half-burnt fragments of wood in the chimney to make a fire. But the
preoccupation of her thoughts rendered this a tedious process, as she
would from time to time stop in the middle of an action and fall into
an attitude of rapt abstraction, with far-off eyes and rigid mouth.
When she had at last succeeded in kindling a fire and raising a film of
pale blue smoke, that seemed to fade and dissipate entirely before it
reached the top of the chimney shaft, she crouched beside it, fixed her
eyes on the darkest corner of the cavern, and became motionless.

What did she see through that shadow?

Nothing at first but a confused medley of figures and incidents of the
preceding night; things to be put away and forgotten; things that would
not have happened but for another thing--the thing before which
everything faded! A ball-room; the sounds of music; the one man she had
cared for insulting her with the flaunting ostentation of his
unfaithfulness; herself despised, put aside, laughed at, or worse,
jilted. And then the moment of delirium, when the light danced; the one
wild act that lifted her, the despised one, above them all--made her
the supreme figure, to be glanced at by frightened women, stared at by
half-startled, half-admiring men! "Yes," she laughed; but struck by the
sound of her own voice, moved twice round the cavern nervously, and
then dropped again into her old position.

As they carried him away he had laughed at her--like a hound that he
was; he who had praised her for her spirit, and incited her revenge
against others; he who had taught her to strike when she was insulted;
and it was only fit he should reap what he had sown. She was what he,
what other men, had made her. And what was she now? What had she been
once?

She tried to recall her childhood: the man and woman who might have
been her father and mother; who fought and wrangled over her precocious
little life; abused or caressed her as she sided with either; and then
left her with a circus troupe, where she first tasted the power of her
courage, her beauty, and her recklessness. She remembered those flashes
of triumph that left a fever in her veins--a fever that when it failed
must be stimulated by dissipation, by anything, by everything that
would keep her name a wonder in men's mouths, an envious fear to women.
She recalled her transfer to the strolling players; her cheap
pleasures, and cheaper rivalries and hatred--but always Teresa! the
daring Teresa! the reckless Teresa! audacious as a woman, invincible as
a boy; dancing, flirting, fencing, shooting, swearing, drinking,
smoking, fighting Teresa! "Oh, yes; she had been loved, perhaps--who
knows?--but always feared. Why should she change now? Ha, he should
see."

She had lashed herself in a frenzy, as was her wont, with gestures,
ejaculations, oaths, adjurations, and passionate apostrophes, but with
this strange and unexpected result. Heretofore she had always been
sustained and kept up by an audience of some kind or quality, if only
perhaps a humble companion; there had always been some one she could
fascinate or horrify, and she could read her power mirrored in their
eyes. Even the half-abstracted indifference of her strange host had
been something. But she was alone now. Her words fell on apathetic
solitude; she was acting to viewless space. She rushed to the opening,
dashed the hanging bark aside and leaped to the ground.

She ran forward wildly a few steps, and stopped.

"Hallo!" she cried. "Look, 'tis I, Teresa!"

The profound silence remained unbroken. Her shrillest tones were lost
in an echoless space, even as the smoke of her fire had faded into pure
ether. She stretched out her clenched fists as if to defy the pillared
austerities of the vaults around her.

"Come and take me if you dare!"

The challenge was unheeded. If she had thrown herself violently against
the nearest tree-trunk, she could not have been stricken more
breathless than she was by the compact, embattled solitude that
encompassed her. The hopelessness of impressing these cold and passive
vaults with her selfish passion filled her with a vague fear. In her
rage of the previous night she had not seen the wood in its profound
immobility. Left alone with the majesty of those enormous columns, she
trembled and turned faint. The silence of the hollow tree she had just
quitted seemed to her less awful than the crushing presence of these
mute and monstrous witnesses of her weakness. Like a wounded quail with
lowered crest and trailing wing, she crept back to her hiding-place.

Even then the influence of the wood was still upon her. She picked up
the novel she had contemptuously thrown aside only to let it fall again
in utter weariness. For a moment her feminine curiosity was excited by
the discovery of an old book, in whose blank leaves were pressed a
variety of flowers and woodland grasses. As she could not conceive that
these had been kept for any but a sentimental purpose, she was
disappointed to find that underneath each was a sentence in an unknown
tongue, that even to her untutored eye did not appear to be the
language of passion. Finally she rearranged the couch of skins and
blankets, and, imparting to it in three clever shakes an entirely
different character, lay down to pursue her reveries. But nature
asserted herself, and ere she knew it she was fast asleep.

So intense and prolonged had been her previous excitement that, the
tension once relieved, she passed into a slumber of exhaustion so deep
that she seemed scarce to breathe. High noon succeeded morning, the
central shaft received a single ray of upper sunlight, the afternoon
came and went, the shadows gathered below, the sunset fires began to
eat their way through the groined roof, and she still slept. She slept
even when the bark hangings of the chamber were put aside, and the
young man reentered.

He laid down a bundle he was carrying, and softly approached the
sleeper. For a moment he was startled from his indifference; she lay so
still and motionless. But this was not all that struck him; the face
before him was no longer the passionate, haggard visage that confronted
him that morning; the feverish air, the burning color, the strained
muscles of mouth and brow, and the staring eyes were gone; wiped away,
perhaps, by the tears that still left their traces on cheek and dark
eyelash. It was a face of a handsome woman of thirty, with even a
suggestion of softness in the contour of the cheek and arching of her
upper lip, no longer rigidly drawn down in anger, but relaxed by sleep
on her white teeth.

With the lithe, soft tread that was habitual to him, the young man
moved about, examining the condition of the little chamber and its
stock of provisions and necessaries, and withdrew presently, to
reappear as noiselessly with a tin bucket of water. This done he
replenished the little pile of fuel with an armful of bark and pine
cones, cast an approving glance about him, which included the sleeper,
and silently departed.

It was night when she awoke. She was surrounded by a profound darkness,
except where the shaft-like opening made a nebulous mist in the corner
in her wooden cavern. Providentially she struggled back to
consciousness slowly, so that the solitude and silence came upon her
gradually, with a growing realization of the events of the past
twenty-four hours, but without a shock. She was alone here, but safe
still, and every hour added to her chances of ultimate escape. She
remembered to have seen a candle among the articles on the shelf, and
she began to grope her way toward the matches. Suddenly she stopped.
What was that panting?

Was it her own breathing, quickened with a sudden nameless terror? or
was there something outside? Her heart seemed to stop beating while she
listened. Yes! it was a panting outside--a panting now increased,
multiplied, redoubled, mixed with the sounds of rustling, tearing,
craunching, and occasionally a quick, impatient snarl. She crept on her
hands and knees to the opening and looked out. At first the ground
seemed to be undulating between her and the opposite tree. But a second
glance showed her the black and gray, bristling, tossing backs of
tumbling beasts of prey, charging the carcass of the bear that lay at
its roots, or contesting for the prize with gluttonous choked breath,
sidelong snarls, arched spines, and recurved tails. One of the boldest
had leaped upon a buttressing root of her tree within a foot of the
opening.

The excitement, awe, and terror she had undergone culminated in one
wild, maddened scream, that seemed to pierce even the cold depths of
the forest, as she dropped on her face, with her hands clasped over her
eyes in an agony of fear.

Her scream was answered, after a pause, by a sudden volley of
firebrands and sparks into the midst of the panting, crowding pack; a
few smothered howls and snaps, and a sudden dispersion of the
concourse. In another moment the young man, with a blazing brand in
either hand, leaped upon the body of the bear.

Teresa raised her head, uttered a hysterical cry, slid down the tree,
flew wildly to his side, caught convulsively at his sleeve, and fell on
her knees beside him.

"Save me! save me!" she gasped, in a voice broken by terror. "Save me
from those hideous creatures. No, no!" she implored, as he endeavored
to lift her to her feet. "No--let me stay here close beside you. So,"
clutching the fringe of his leather hunting-shirt, and dragging herself
on her knees nearer him--"so--don't leave me, for God's sake!"

"They are gone," he replied, gazing down curiously at her, as she wound
the fringe around her hand to strengthen her hold; "they're only a lot
of cowardly coyotes and wolves, that dare not attack anything that
lives and can move."

The young woman responded with a nervous shudder. "Yes, that's it," she
whispered, in a broken voice; "it's only the dead they want. Promise
me--swear to me, if I'm caught, or hung, or shot, you won't let me be
left here to be torn and--ah! my God! what's that?"

She had thrown her arms around his knees, completely pinioning him to
her frantic breast. Something like a smile of disdain passed across his
face as he answered, "It's nothing. They will not return. Get up!"

Even in her terror she saw the change in his face. "I know, I know!"
she cried. "I'm frightened--but I cannot bear it any longer. Hear me!
Listen! Listen--but don't move! I didn't mean to kill Curson--no! I
swear to God, no! I didn't mean to kill the sheriff--and I didn't. I
was only bragging--do you hear? I lied! I lied--don't move, I swear to
God I lied. I've made myself out worse than I was. I have. Only don't
leave me now--and if I die--and it's not far off, may be--get me away
from here--and from _them_. Swear it!"

"All right," said the young man, with a scarcely concealed movement of
irritation. "But get up now, and go back to the cabin."

"No; not _there_ alone." Nevertheless, he quietly but firmly released
himself.

"I will stay here," he replied. "I would have been nearer to you, but I
thought it better for your safety that my camp-fire should be further
off. But I can build it here, and that will keep the coyotes off."

"Let me stay with you--beside you," she said imploringly.

She looked so broken, crushed, and spiritless, so unlike the woman of
the morning that, albeit with an ill grace, he tacitly consented, and
turned away to bring his blankets. But in the next moment she was at
his side, following him like a dog, silent and wistful, and even
offering to carry his burden. When he had built the fire, for which she
had collected the pine--cones and broken branches near them, he sat
down, folded his arms, and leaned back against the tree in reserved and
deliberate silence. Humble and submissive, she did not attempt to break
in upon a reverie she could not help but feel had little kindliness to
herself. As the fire snapped and sparkled, she pillowed her head upon a
root, and lay still to watch it.

It rose and fell, and dying away at times to a mere lurid glow, and
again, agitated by some breath scarcely perceptible to them, quickening
into a roaring flame. When only the embers remained, a dead silence
filled the wood. Then the first breath of morning moved the tangled
canopy above, and a dozen tiny sprays and needles detached from the
interlocked boughs winged their soft way noiselessly to the earth. A
few fell upon the prostrate woman like a gentle benediction, and she
slept. But even then, the young man, looking down, saw that the slender
fingers were still aimlessly but rigidly twisted in the leather fringe
of his hunting-shirt.


CHAPTER II.

It was a peculiarity of the Carquinez Wood that it stood apart and
distinct in its gigantic individuality. Even where the integrity of its
own singular species was not entirely preserved, it admitted no
inferior trees. Nor was there any diminishing fringe on its outskirts;
the sentinels that guarded the few gateways of the dim trails were as
monstrous as the serried ranks drawn up in the heart of the forest.
Consequently, the red highway that skirted the eastern angle was bare
and shadeless, until it slipped a league off into a watered valley and
refreshed itself under lesser sycamores and willows. It was here the
newly-born city of Excelsior, still in its cradle, had, like an infant
Hercules, strangled the serpentine North Fork of the American river,
and turned its life-current into the ditches and flumes of the
Excelsior miners.

Newest of the new houses that seemed to have accidentally formed its
single, straggling street was the residence of the Rev. Winslow Wynn,
not unfrequently known as "Father Wynn," pastor of the first Baptist
church. The "pastorage," as it was cheerfully called, had the glaring
distinction of being built of brick, and was, as had been wickedly
pointed out by idle scoffers, the only "fireproof" structure in town.
This sarcasm was not, however, supposed to be particularly distasteful
to "Father Wynn," who enjoyed the reputation of being "hail fellow,
well met" with the rough mining element, who called them by their
Christian names, had been known to drink at the bar of the Polka Saloon
while engaged in the conversion of a prominent citizen, and was
popularly said to have no "gospel starch" about him. Certain conscious
outcasts and transgressors were touched at this apparent unbending of
the spiritual authority. The rigid tenets of Father Wynn's faith were
lost in the supposed catholicity of his humanity. "A preacher that can
jine a man when he's histin' liquor into him, without jawin' about it,
ought to be allowed to wrestle with sinners and splash about in as much
cold water as he likes," was the criticism of one of his converts.
Nevertheless, it was true that Father Wynn was somewhat loud and
intolerant in his tolerance. It was true that he was a little more
rough, a little more frank, a little more hearty, a little more
impulsive, than his disciples. It was true that often the proclamation
of his extreme liberality and brotherly equality partook somewhat of an
apology. It is true that a few who might have been most benefited by
this kind of gospel regarded him with a singular disdain. It is true
that his liberality was of an ornamental, insinuating quality,
accompanied with but little sacrifice; his acceptance of a collection
taken up in a gambling-saloon for the rebuilding of his church,
destroyed by fire, gave him a popularity large enough, it must be
confessed, to cover the sins of the gamblers themselves, but it was not
proven that _he_ had ever organized any form of relief. But it was true
that local history somehow accepted him as an exponent of mining
Christianity, without the least reference to the opinions of the
Christian miners themselves.

The Rev. Mr. Wynn's liberal habits and opinions were not, however,
shared by his only daughter, a motherless young lady of eighteen.
Nellie Wynn was in the eye of Excelsior an unapproachable divinity, as
inaccessible and cold as her father was impulsive and familiar. An
atmosphere of chaste and proud virginity made itself felt even in the
starched integrity of her spotless skirts, in her neatly-gloved
finger-tips, in her clear amber eyes, in her imperious red lips, in her
sensitive nostrils. Need it be said that the youth and middle age of
Excelsior were madly, because apparently hopelessly, in love with her?
For the rest, she had been expensively educated, was profoundly
ignorant in two languages, with a trained misunderstanding of music and
painting, and a natural and faultless taste in dress.

The Rev. Mr. Wynn was engaged in a characteristic hearty parting with
one of his latest converts upon his own doorstep, with admirable _al
fresco_ effect. He had just clapped him on the shoulder. "Good-by,
good-by, Charley, my boy, and keep in the right path; not up, or down,
or round the gulch, you know--ha, ha!--but straight across lots to the
shining gate." He had raised his voice under the stimulus of a few
admiring spectators, and backed his convert playfully against the wall.
"You see! we're goin' in to win, you bet. Good-by! I'd ask you to step
in and have a chat, but I've got my work to do, and so have you. The
gospel mustn't keep us from that, must it, Charley? Ha, ha!"

The convert (who elsewhere was a profane expressman, and had become
quite imbecile under Mr. Wynn's active heartiness and brotherly
horse-play before spectators) managed, however, to feebly stammer with
a blush something about "Miss Nellie."

"Ah, Nellie. She, too, is at her tasks--trimming her lamp--you know,
the parable of the wise virgins," continued Father Wynn hastily,
fearing that the convert might take the illustration literally. "There,
there--good-by. Keep in the right path." And with a parting shove he
dismissed Charley and entered his own house.

That "wise virgin," Nellie, had evidently finished with the lamp, and
was now going out to meet the bridegroom, as she was fully dressed and
gloved, and had a pink parasol in her hand, as her father entered the
sitting-room.

His bluff heartiness seemed to fade away as he removed his soft,
broad-brimmed hat and glanced across the too fresh-looking apartment.
There was a smell of mortar still in the air, and a faint suggestion
that at any moment green grass might appear between the interstices of
the red-brick hearth. The room, yielding a little in the point of
coldness, seemed to share Miss Nellie's fresh virginity, and, barring
the pink parasol, set her off as in a vestal's cell.

"I supposed you wouldn't care to see Brace, the expressman, so I got
rid of him at the door," said her father, drawing one of the new chairs
towards him slowly, and sitting down carefully, as if it were a
hitherto untried experiment.

Miss Nellie's face took a tint of interest. "Then he doesn't go with
the coach to Indian Spring to-day?"

"No; why?"

"I thought of going over myself to get the Burnham girls to come to
choir-meeting," replied Miss Nellie carelessly, "and he might have been
company."

"He'd go now if he knew you were going," said her father; "but it's
just as well he shouldn't be needlessly encouraged. I rather think that
Sheriff Dunn is a little jealous of him. By the way, the sheriff is
much better. I called to cheer him up to-day" (Mr. Wynn had in fact
tumultuously accelerated the sick man's pulse), "and he talked of you,
as usual. In fact, he said he had only two things to get well for. One
was to catch and hang that woman Teresa, who shot him; the other--can't
you guess the other?" he added archly, with a faint suggestion of his
other manner.

Miss Nellie coldly could not.

The Rev. Mr. Wynn's archness vanished. "Don't be a fool," he said
dryly. "He wants to marry you, and you know it."

"Most of the men here do," responded Miss Nellie, without the least
trace of coquetry. "Is the wedding or the hanging to take place first,
or together, so he can officiate at both?"

"His share in the Union Ditch is worth a hundred thousand dollars,"
continued her father; "and if he isn't nominated for district judge
this fall, he's bound to go to the legislature, any way. I don't think
a girl with your advantages and education can afford to throw away the
chance of shining in Sacramento, San Francisco, or, in good time,
perhaps even Washington."

Miss Nellie's eyes did not reflect entire disapproval of this
suggestion, although she replied with something of her father's
practical quality.

"Mr. Dunn is not out of his bed yet, and they say Teresa's got away to
Arizona, so there isn't any particular hurry."

"Perhaps not; but see here, Nellie, I've some important news for you.
You know your young friend of the Carquinez Woods--Dorman, the
botanist, eh? Well, Brace knows all about him. And what do you think he
is?"

Miss Nellie took upon herself a few extra degrees of cold, and didn't
know.

"An Injin! Yes, an out-and-out Cherokee. You see he calls himself
Dorman--Low Dorman. That's only French for 'Sleeping Water,' his Injin
name--'Low Dorman.'"

"You mean 'L'Eau Dormante,'" said Nellie.

"That's what I said. The chief called him 'Sleeping Water' when he was
a boy, and one of them French Canadian trappers translated it into
French when he brought him to California to school. But he's an Injin,
sure. No wonder he prefers to live in the woods."

"Well?" said Nellie.

"Well," echoed her father impatiently, "he's an Injin, I tell you, and
you can't of course have anything to do with him. He mustn't come here
again."

"But you forget," said Nellie imperturbably, "that it was you who
invited him here, and were so much exercised over him. You remember you
introduced him to the Bishop and those Eastern clergymen as a
magnificent specimen of a young Californian. You forget what an
occasion you made of his coming to church on Sunday, and how you made
him come in his buckskin shirt and walk down the street with you after
service!"

"Yes, yes," said the Rev. Mr. Wynn hurriedly.

"And," continued Nellie carelessly, "how you made us sing out of the
same book 'Children of our Father's Fold,' and how you preached at him
until he actually got a color!"

"Yes," said her father; "but it wasn't known then he was an Injin, and
they are frightfully unpopular with those Southwestern men among whom
we labor. Indeed, I am quite convinced that when Brace said 'the only
good Indian was a dead one' his expression, though extravagant,
perhaps, really voiced the sentiments of the majority. It would be only
kindness to the unfortunate creature to warn him from exposing himself
to their rude but conscientious antagonism."

"Perhaps you'd better tell him, then, in your own popular way, which
they all seem to understand so well," responded the daughter. Mr. Wynn
cast a quick glance at her, but there was no trace of irony in her
face--nothing but a half-bored indifference as she walked toward the
window.

"I will go with you to the coach-office," said her father, who
generally gave these simple paternal duties the pronounced character of
a public Christian example.

"It's hardly worth while," replied Miss Nellie. "I've to stop at the
Watsons', at the foot of the hill, and ask after the baby; so I shall
go on to the Crossing and pick up the coach as it passes. Good-by."

Nevertheless, as soon as Nellie had departed, the Rev. Mr. Wynn
proceeded to the coach-office, and publicly grasping the hand of Yuba
Bill, the driver, commended his daughter to his care in the name of the
universal brotherhood of man and the Christian fraternity. Carried away
by his heartiness, he forgot his previous caution, and confided to the
expressman Miss Nellie's regrets that she was not to have that
gentleman's company. The result was that Miss Nellie found the coach
with its passengers awaiting her with uplifted hats and wreathed smiles
at the Crossing, and the box-seat (from which an unfortunate stranger,
who had expensively paid for it, had been summarily ejected) at her
service beside Yuba Bill, who had thrown away his cigar and donned a
new pair of buckskin gloves to do her honor. But a more serious result
to the young beauty was the effect of the Rev. Mr. Wynn's confidences
upon the impulsive heart of Jack Brace, the expressman. It has been
already intimated that it was his "day off." Unable to summarily
reassume his usual functions beside the driver without some practical
reason, and ashamed to go so palpably as a mere passenger, he was
forced to let the coach proceed without him. Discomfited for the
moment, he was not, however, beaten. He had lost the blissful journey
by her side, which would have been his professional right, but--she was
going to Indian Spring! could he not anticipate her there? Might they
not meet in the most accidental manner? And what might not come from
that meeting away from the prying eyes of their own town? Mr. Brace did
not hesitate, but saddling his fleet Buckskin, by the time the
stagecoach had passed the Crossing in the high-road he had mounted the
hill and was dashing along the "cut-off" in the same direction, a full
mile in advance. Arriving at Indian Spring, he left his horse at a
Mexican _posada_ on the confines of the settlement, and from the piled
_debris_ of a tunnel excavation awaited the slow arrival of the coach.
On mature reflection he could give no reason why he had not boldly
awaited it at the express office, except a certain bashful
consciousness of his own folly, and a belief that it might be glaringly
apparent to the bystanders. When the coach arrived and he had overcome
this consciousness, it was too late. Yuba Bill had discharged his
passengers for Indian Spring and driven away. Miss Nellie was in the
settlement, but where? As time passed he became more desperate and
bolder. He walked recklessly up and down the main street, glancing in
at the open doors of shops, and even in the windows of private
dwellings. It might have seemed a poor compliment to Miss Nellie, but
it was an evidence of his complete preoccupation, when the sight of a
female face at a window, even though it was plain or perhaps painted,
caused his heart to bound, or the glancing of a skirt in the distance
quickened his feet and his pulses. Had Jack contented himself with
remaining at Excelsior he might have vaguely regretted, but as soon
become as vaguely accustomed to, Miss Nellie's absence. But it was not
until his hitherto quiet and passive love took this first step of
action that it fully declared itself. When he had made the tour of the
town a dozen times unsuccessfully, he had perfectly made up his mind
that marriage with Nellie or the speedy death of several people,
including possibly himself, was the only alternative. He regretted he
had not accompanied her; he regretted he had not demanded where she was
going; he contemplated a course of future action that two hours ago
would have filled him with bashful terror. There was clearly but one
thing to do--to declare his passion the instant he met her, and return
with her to Excelsior an accepted suitor, or not to return at all.

Suddenly he was vexatiously conscious of hearing his name lazily
called, and looking up found that he was on the outskirts of the town,
and interrogated by two horsemen.

"Got down to walk, and the coach got away from you, Jack, eh?"

A little ashamed of his preoccupation, Brace stammered something about
"collections." He did not recognize the men, but his own face, name,
and business were familiar to everybody for fifty miles along the
stage-road.

"Well, you can settle a bet for us, I reckon. Bill Dacre thar bet me
five dollars and the drinks that a young gal we met at the edge of the
Carquinez Woods, dressed in a long brown duster and half muffled up in
a hood, was the daughter of Father Wynn of Excelsior. I did not get a
fair look at her, but it stands to reason that a high-toned young lady
like Nellie Wynn don't go trap'sing along the wood like a Pike County
tramp. I took the bet. May be you know if she's here or in Excelsior?"

Mr. Brace felt himself turning pale with eagerness and excitement. But
the near prospect of seeing her presently gave him back his caution,
and he answered truthfully that he had left her in Excelsior, and that
in his two hours' sojourn in Indian Spring he had not once met her.
"But," he added, with a Californian's reverence for the sanctity of a
bet, "I reckon you'd better make it a standoff for twenty-four hours,
and I'll find out and let you know." Which, it is only fair to say, he
honestly intended to do.

With a hurried nod of parting, he continued in the direction of the
Woods. When he had satisfied himself that the strangers had entered the
settlement and would not follow him for further explanation, he
quickened his pace. In half an hour he passed between two of the
gigantic sentinels that guarded the entrance to a trail. Here he paused
to collect his thoughts. The Woods were vast in extent, the trail dim
and uncertain--at times apparently breaking off, or intersecting
another trail as faint as itself. Believing that Miss Nellie had
diverged from the highway only as a momentary excursion into the shade,
and that she would not dare to penetrate its more sombre and unknown
recesses, he kept within sight of the skirting plain. By degrees the
sedate influence of the silent vaults seemed to depress him. The ardor
of the chase began to flag. Under the calm of their dim roof the fever
of his veins began to subside; his pace slackened; he reasoned more
deliberately. It was by no means probable that the young woman in a
brown duster was Nellie; it was not her habitual traveling dress; it
was not like her to walk unattended in the road; there was nothing in
her tastes and habits to take her into this gloomy forest, allowing
that she had even entered it; and on this absolute question of her
identity the two witnesses were divided. He stopped irresolutely, and
cast a last, long, half-despairing look around him. Hitherto he had
given that part of the wood nearest the plain his greatest attention.
His glance now sought its darker recesses. Suddenly he became
breathless. Was it a beam of sunlight that had pierced the groined roof
above, and now rested against the trunk of one of the dimmer, more
secluded giants? No, it was moving; even as he gazed it slipped away,
glanced against another tree, passed across one of the vaulted aisles,
and then was lost again. Brief as was the glimpse, he was not
mistaken--it was the figure of a woman.

In another moment he was on her track, and soon had the satisfaction of
seeing her reappear at a lesser distance. But the continual
intervention of the massive trunks made the chase by no means an easy
one, and as he could not keep her always in sight he was unable to
follow or understand the one intelligent direction which she seemed to
invariably keep. Nevertheless, he gained upon her breathlessly, and,
thanks to the bark-strewn floor, noiselessly. He was near enough to
distinguish and recognize the dress she wore, a pale yellow, that he
had admired when he first saw her. It was Nellie, unmistakably; if it
were she of the brown duster, she had discarded it, perhaps for greater
freedom. He was near enough to call out now, but a sudden nervous
timidity overcame him; his lips grew dry. What should he say to her?
How account for his presence? "Miss Nellie, one moment!" he gasped. She
darted forward and--vanished.

At this moment he was not more than a dozen yards from her. He rushed
to where she had been standing, but her disappearance was perfect and
complete. He made a circuit of the group of trees within whose radius
she had last appeared, but there was neither trace of her, nor
suggestion of her mode of escape. He called aloud to her; the vacant
Woods let his helpless voice die in their unresponsive depths. He gazed
into the air and down at the bark-strewn carpet at his feet. Like most
of his vocation, he was sparing of speech, and epigrammatic after his
fashion. Comprehending in one swift but despairing flash of
intelligence the existence of some fateful power beyond his own weak
endeavor, he accepted its logical result with characteristic grimness,
threw his hat upon the ground, put his hands in his pockets, and said--

"Well, I'm d----d!"


CHAPTER III.

Out of compliment to Miss Nellie Wynn, Yuba Bill, on reaching Indian
Spring, had made a slight _detour_ to enable him to ostentatiously set
down his fair passenger before the door of the Burnhams. When it had
closed on the admiring eyes of the passengers and the coach had rattled
away, Miss Nellie, without any undue haste or apparent change in her
usual quiet demeanor, managed, however, to dispatch her business
promptly, and, leaving an impression that she would call again before
her return to Excelsior, parted from her friends, and slipped away
through a side street, to the General Furnishing Store of Indian
Spring. In passing this emporium, Miss Nellie's quick eye had
discovered a cheap brown linen duster hanging in its window. To
purchase it, and put it over her delicate cambric dress, albeit with a
shivering sense that she looked like a badly-folded brown-paper parcel,
did not take long. As she left the shop it was with mixed emotions of
chagrin and security that she noticed that her passage through the
settlement no longer turned the heads of its male inhabitants. She
reached the outskirts of Indian Spring and the high-road at about the
time Mr. Brace had begun his fruitless patrol of the main street. Far
in the distance a faint olive-green table mountain seemed to rise
abruptly from the plain. It was the Carquinez Woods. Gathering her
spotless skirts beneath her extemporized brown domino, she set out
briskly towards them.

But her progress was scarcely free or exhilarating. She was not
accustomed to walking in a country where "buggy-riding" was considered
the only genteel young, lady-like mode of progression, and its regular
provision the expected courtesy of mankind. Always fastidiously booted,
her low-quartered shoes were charming to the eye, but hardly adapted to
the dust and inequalities of the high-road. It was true that she had
thought of buying a coarser pair at Indian Spring, but once face to
face with their uncompromising ugliness, she had faltered and fled. The
sun was unmistakably hot, but her parasol was too well known and
offered too violent a contrast to the duster for practical use. Once
she stopped with an exclamation of annoyance, hesitated, and looked
back. In half an hour she had twice lost her shoe and her temper; a
pink flush took possession of her cheeks, and her eyes were bright with
suppressed rage. Dust began to form grimy circles around their orbits;
with cat-like shivers she even felt it pervade the roots of her blonde
hair. Gradually her breath grew more rapid and hysterical, her smarting
eyes became humid, and at last, encountering two observant horsemen in
the road, she turned and fled, until, reaching the wood, she began to
cry.

Nevertheless she waited for the two horsemen to pass, to satisfy
herself that she was not followed; then pushed on vaguely, until she
reached a fallen tree, where, with a gesture of disgust, she tore off
her hapless duster and flung it on the ground. She then sat down
sobbing, but after a moment dried her eyes hurriedly and started to her
feet. A few paces distant, erect, noiseless, with outstretched hand,
the young solitary of the Carquinez Woods advanced towards her. His
hand had almost touched hers, when he stopped.

"What has happened?" he asked gravely.

"Nothing," she said, turning half away, and searching the ground with
her eyes, as if she had lost something. "Only I must be going back
now."

"You shall go back at once, if you wish it," he said, flushing
slightly. "But you have been crying; why?"

Frank as Miss Nellie wished to be, she could not bring herself to say
that her feet hurt her, and the dust and heat were ruining her
complexion. It was therefore with a half-confident belief that her
troubles were really of a moral quality that she answered,
"Nothing--nothing, but--but--it's wrong to come here."

"But you did not think it was wrong when you agreed to come, at our
last meeting," said the young man, with that persistent logic which
exasperates the inconsequent feminine mind. "It cannot be any more
wrong to-day."

"But it was not so far off," murmured the young girl, without looking
up.

"Oh, the distance makes it more improper, then," he said abstractedly;
but after a moment's contemplation of her half-averted face, he asked
gravely, "Has any one talked to you about me?"

Ten minutes before, Nellie had been burning to unburden herself of her
father's warning, but now she felt she would not. "I wish you wouldn't
call yourself Low," she said at last.

"But it's my name," he replied quietly.

"Nonsense! It's only a stupid translation of a stupid nickname. They
might as well call you 'Water' at once."

"But you said you liked it."

"Well, so I do. But don't you see--I--oh dear! you don't understand."

Low did not reply, but turned his head with resigned gravity towards
the deeper woods. Grasping the barrel of his rifle with his left hand,
he threw his right arm across his left wrist and leaned slightly upon
it with the habitual ease of a Western hunter--doubly picturesque m his
own lithe, youthful symmetry. Miss Nellie looked at him from under her
eyelids, and then half defiantly raised her head and her dark lashes.
Gradually an almost magical change came over her features; her eyes
grew larger and more and more yearning, until they seemed to draw and
absorb in their liquid depths the figure of the young man before her;
her cold face broke into an ecstasy of light and color; her humid lips
parted in a bright, welcoming smile, until, with an irresistible
impulse, she arose, and throwing back her head stretched towards him
two hands full of vague and trembling passion.

In another moment he had seized them, kissed them, and, as he drew her
closer to his embrace, felt them tighten around his neck. "But what
name do you wish to call me?" he asked, looking down into her eyes.

Miss Nellie murmured something confidentially to the third button of
his hunting-shirt. "But that," he replied, with a faint smile, "_that_
wouldn't be any more practical, and you wouldn't want others to call me
dar--" Her fingers loosened around his neck, she drew her head back,
and a singular expression passed over her face, which to any calmer
observer than a lover would have seemed, however, to indicate more
curiosity than jealousy.

"Who else _does_ call you so?" she added earnestly. "How many, for
instance?"

Low's reply was addressed not to her ear, but her lips. She did not
avoid it, but added, "And do you kiss them all like that?" Taking him
by the shoulders, she held him a little way from her, and gazed at him
from head to foot. Then drawing him again to her embrace, she said, "I
don't care, at least no woman has kissed you like that." Happy,
dazzled, and embarrassed, he was beginning to stammer the truthful
protestation that rose to his lips, but she stopped him: "No, don't
protest! say nothing! Let _me_ love _you_--that is all. It is enough."
He would have caught her in his arms again, but she drew back. "We are
near the road," she said quietly. "Come! you promised to show me where
you camped. Let us make the most of our holiday. In an hour I must
leave the woods."

"But I shall accompany you, dearest."

"No, I must go as I came--alone."

"But Nellie"--

"I tell you no," she said, with an almost harsh practical decision,
incompatible with her previous abandonment. "We might be seen
together."

"Well, suppose we are; we must be seen together eventually," he
remonstrated.

The young girl made an involuntary gesture of impatient negation, but
checked herself. "Don't let us talk of that now. Come, while I am here
under your own roof"--she pointed to the high interlaced boughs above
them--"you must be hospitable. Show me your home; tell me, isn't it a
little gloomy sometimes?"

"It never has been; I never thought it _would_ be until the moment you
leave it to-day."

She pressed his hand briefly and in a half-perfunctory way, as if her
vanity had accepted and dismissed the compliment. "Take me somewhere,"
she said inquisitively, "where you stay most; I do not seem to see you
_here_," she added, looking around her with a slight shiver. "It is so
big and so high. Have you no place where you eat and rest and sleep?"

"Except in the rainy season, I camp all over the place--at any spot
where I may have been shooting or collecting."

"Collecting?" queried Nellie.

"Yes; with the herbarium, you know."

"Yes," said Nellie dubiously. "But you told me once--the first time we
ever talked together," she added, looking in his eyes--"something about
your keeping your things like a squirrel in a tree. Could we not go
there? Is there not room for us to sit and talk without being
browbeaten and looked down upon by these supercilious trees?"

"It's too far away," said Low truthfully, but with a somewhat
pronounced emphasis, "much too far for you just now; and it lies on
another trail that enters the wood beyond. But come, I will show you a
spring known only to myself, the wood ducks, and the squirrels. I
discovered it the first day I saw you, and gave it your name. But you
shall christen it yourself. It will be all yours, and yours alone, for
it is so hidden and secluded that I defy any feet but my own or whoso
shall keep step with mine to find it. Shall that foot be yours,
Nellie?"

Her face beamed with a bright assent. "It may be difficult to track it
from here," he said, "but stand where you are a moment, and don't move,
rustle, nor agitate the air in any way. The woods are still now." He
turned at right angles with the trail, moved a few paces into the ferns
and underbrush, and then stopped with his finger on his lips. For an
instant both remained motionless; then, with his intent face bent
forward and both arms extended, he began to sink slowly upon one knee
and one side, inclining his body with a gentle, perfectly-graduated
movement until his ear almost touched the ground. Nellie watched his
graceful figure breathlessly, until, like a bow unbent, he stood
suddenly erect again, and beckoned to her without changing the
direction of his face.

"What is it?" she asked eagerly.

"All right; I have found it," he continued, moving forward without
turning his head.

"But how? What did you kneel for?" He did not reply, but taking her
hand in his continued to move slowly on through the underbrush, as if
obeying some magnetic attraction. "How did you find it?" again asked
the half-awed girl, her voice unconsciously falling to a whisper. Still
silent, Low kept his rigid face and forward tread for twenty yards
further; then he stopped and released the girl's half-impatient hand.
"How did you find it?" she repeated sharply.

"With my ears and nose," replied Low gravely.

"With your nose?"

"Yes; I smelt it."

Still fresh with the memory of his picturesque attitude, the young
man's reply seemed to involve something more irritating to her feelings
than even that absurd anti-climax. She looked at him coldly and
critically, and appeared to hesitate whether to proceed. "Is it far?"
she asked.

"Not more than ten minutes now, as I shall go."

"And you won't have to smell your way again?"

"No; it is quite plain now," he answered seriously, the young girl's
sarcasm slipping harmlessly from his Indian stolidity. "Don't you smell
it yourself?"

But Miss Nellie's thin, cold nostrils refused to take that vulgar
interest.

"Nor hear it? Listen!"

"You forget I suffer the misfortune of having been brought up under a
roof," she replied coldly.

"That's true," repeated Low, in all seriousness; "it's not your fault.
But do you know, I sometimes think I am peculiarly sensitive to water;
I feel it miles away. At night, though I may not see it or even know
where it is, I am conscious of it. It is company to me when I am alone,
and I seem to hear it in my dreams. There is no music as sweet to me as
its song. When you sang with me that day in church, I seemed to hear it
ripple in your voice. It says to me more than the birds do, more than
the rarest plants I find. It seems to live with me and for me. It is my
earliest recollection; I know it will be my last, for I shall die in
its embrace. Do you think, Nellie," he continued, stopping short and
gazing earnestly in her face--"do you think that the chiefs knew this
when they called me 'Sleeping Water'?"

To Miss Nellie's several gifts I fear the gods had not added poetry. A
slight knowledge of English verse of a select character, unfortunately,
did not assist her in the interpretation of the young man's speech, nor
relieve her from the momentary feeling that he was at times deficient
in intellect. She preferred, however, to take a personal view of the
question, and expressed her sarcastic regret that she had not known
before that she had been indebted to the great flume and ditch at
Excelsior for the pleasure of his acquaintance. This pert remark
occasioned some explanation, which ended in the girl's accepting a kiss
in lieu of more logical argument. Nevertheless, she was still conscious
of an inward irritation--always distinct from her singular and
perfectly material passion--which found vent as the difficulties of
their undeviating progress through the underbrush increased. At last
she lost her shoe again, and stopped short. "It's a pity your Indian
friends did not christen you 'Wild Mustard' or 'Clover,'" she said
satirically, "that you might have had some sympathies and longings for
the open fields instead of these horrid jungles! I know we will not get
back in time."

Unfortunately, Low accepted this speech literally and with his
remorseless gravity. "If my name annoys you, I can get it changed by
the legislature, you know, and I can find out what my father's name
was, and take that. My mother, who died in giving me birth, was the
daughter of a chief."

"Then your mother was really an Indian?" said Nellie, "and you
are"--She stopped short.

"But I told you all this the day we first met," said Low with grave
astonishment. "Don't you remember our long talk coming from church?"

"No," said Nellie, coldly, "you didn't tell me." But she was obliged to
drop her eyes before the unwavering, undeniable truthfulness of his.

"You have forgotten," he said calmly; "but it is only right you should
have your own way in disposing of a name that I have cared little for;
and as you're to have a share of it"--

"Yes, but it's getting late, and if we are not going
forward"--interrupted the girl impatiently.

"We _are_ going forward," said Low imperturbably; "but I wanted to tell
you, as we were speaking on _that_ subject" (Nellie looked at her
watch), "I've been offered the place of botanist and naturalist in
Professor Grant's survey of Mount Shasta, and if I take it--why when I
come back, darling--well"--

"But you're not going just yet," broke in Nellie, with a new expression
in her face.

"No."

"Then we need not talk of it now," she said with animation.

Her sudden vivacity relieved him. "I see what's the matter," he said
gently, looking down at her feet, "these little shoes were not made to
keep step with a moccasin. We must try another way." He stooped as if
to secure the erring buskin, but suddenly lifted her like a child to
his shoulder. "There," he continued, placing her arm around his neck,
"you are clear of the ferns and brambles now, and we can go on. Are you
comfortable?" He looked up, read her answer in her burning eyes and the
warm lips pressed to his forehead at the roots of his straight dark
hair, and again moved onward as in a mesmeric dream. But he did not
swerve from his direct course, and with a final dash through the
undergrowth parted the leafy curtain before the spring.

At first the young girl was dazzled by the strong light that came from
a rent in the interwoven arches of the wood. The breach had been caused
by the huge bulk of one of the great giants that had half fallen, and
was lying at a steep angle against one of its mightiest brethren,
having borne down a lesser tree in the arc of its downward path. Two of
the roots, as large as younger trees, tossed their blackened and bare
limbs high in the air. The spring--the insignificant cause of this vast
disruption--gurgled, flashed, and sparkled at the base; the limpid baby
fingers that had laid bare the foundations of that fallen column played
with the still clinging rootlets, laved the fractured and twisted
limbs, and, widening, filled with sleeping water the graves from which
they had been torn.

"It had been going on for years, down there," said Low, pointing to a
cavity from which the fresh water now slowly welled, "but it had been
quickened by the rising of the subterranean springs and rivers which
always occurs at a certain stage of the dry season. I remember that on
that very night--for it happened a little after midnight, when all
sounds are more audible--I was troubled and oppressed in my sleep by
what you would call a nightmare; a feeling as if I was kept down by
bonds and pinions that I longed to break. And then I heard a crash in
this direction, and the first streak of morning brought me the sound
and scent of water. Six months afterwards I chanced to find my way
here, as I told you, and gave it your name. I did not dream that I
should ever stand beside it with you, and have you christen it
yourself."

He unloosed the cup from his flask, and filling it at the spring handed
it to her. But the young girl leant over the pool, and pouring the
water idly back said, "I'd rather put my feet in it. Mayn't I?"

"I don't understand you," he said wonderingly.

"My feet are _so_ hot and dusty. The water looks deliciously cool. May
I?"

"Certainly."

He turned away as Nellie, with apparent unconsciousness, seated herself
on the bank, and removed her shoes and stockings. When she had dabbled
her feet a few moments in the pool, she said over her shoulder--

"We can talk just as well, can't we?"

"Certainly."

"Well, then, why didn't you come to church more often, and why didn't
you think of telling father that you were convicted of sin and wanted
to be baptized?"

"I don't know," hesitated the young man.

"Well, you lost the chance of having father convert you, baptize you,
and take you into full church fellowship."

"I never thought,"--he began.

"You never thought. Aren't you a Christian?"

"I suppose so."

"He supposes so! Have you no convictions--no professions?"

"But, Nellie, I never thought that you"--"Never thought that I--what?
Do you think that I could ever be anything to a man who did not believe
in justification by faith, or in the covenant of church fellowship? Do
you think father would let me?"

In his eagerness to defend himself he stepped to her side. But seeing
her little feet shining through the dark water, like outcroppings of
delicately veined quartz, he stopped embarrassed. Miss Nellie, however,
leaped to one foot, and, shaking the other over the pool, put her hand
on his shoulder to steady herself. "You haven't got a towel--or," she
said dubiously, looking at her small handkerchief, "anything to dry
them on?"

But Low did not, as she perhaps expected, offer his own handkerchief.

"If you take a bath after our fashion," he said gravely, "you must
learn to dry yourself after our fashion."

Lifting her again lightly in his arms, he carried her a few steps to
the sunny opening, and bade her bury her feet in the dried mosses and
baked withered grasses that were bleaching in a hollow. The young girl
uttered a cry of childish delight, as the soft ciliated fibres touched
her sensitive skin.

"It is healing, too," continued Low; "a moccasin filled with it after a
day on the trail makes you all right again."

But Miss Nellie seemed to be thinking of something else.

"Is that the way the squaws bathe and dry themselves?"

"I don't know; you forget I was a boy when I left them."

"And you're sure you never knew any?"

"None."

The young girl seemed to derive some satisfaction in moving her feet up
and down for several minutes among the grasses in the hollow; then,
after a pause, said, "You are quite certain I am the first woman that
ever touched this spring?"

"Not only the first woman, but the first human being, except myself."

"How nice!"

They had taken each other's hands; seated side by side, they leaned
against a curving elastic root that half supported, half encompassed
them. The girl's capricious, fitful manner succumbed as before to the
near contact of her companion. Looking into her eyes, Low fell into a
sweet, selfish lover's monologue, descriptive of his past and present
feelings towards her, which she accepted with a heightened color, a
slight exchange of sentiment, and a strange curiosity. The sun had
painted their half-embraced silhouettes against the slanting
tree-trunk, and began to decline unnoticed; the ripple of the water
mingling with their whispers came as one sound to the listening ear;
even their eloquent silences were as deep, and, I wot, perhaps as
dangerous, as the darkened pool that filled so noiselessly a dozen
yards away. So quiet were they that the tremor of invading wings once
or twice shook the silence, or the quick scamper of frightened feet
rustled the dead grass. But in the midst of a prolonged stillness the
young man sprang up so suddenly that Nellie was still half clinging to
his neck as he stood erect. "Hush!" he whispered; "some one is near!"

He disengaged her anxious hands gently, leaped upon the slanting
tree-trunk, and running half-way up its incline with the agility of a
squirrel, stretched himself at full length upon it and listened.

To the impatient, inexplicably startled girl, it seemed an age before
he rejoined her.

"You are safe," he said; "he's going by the western trail toward Indian
Spring."

"Who is _he_?" she asked, biting her lips with a poorly restrained
gesture of mortification and disappointment.

"Some stranger," replied Low.

"As long as he wasn't coming here, why did you give me such a fright?"
she said pettishly. "Are you nervous because a single wayfarer happens
to stray here?"

"It was no wayfarer, for he tried to keep near the trail," said Low.
"He was a stranger to the wood, for he lost his way every now and then.
He was seeking or expecting some one, for he stopped frequently and
waited or listened. He had not walked far, for he wore spurs that
tinkled and caught in the brush; and yet he had not ridden here, for no
horse's hoofs passed the road since we have been here. He must have
come from Indian Spring."

"And you heard all that when you listened just now?" asked Nellie half
disdainfully.

Impervious to her incredulity, Low turned his calm eyes on her face.
"Certainly, I'll bet my life on what I say. Tell me: do you know
anybody in Indian Spring who would likely spy upon you?"

The young girl was conscious of a certain ill-defined uneasiness, but
answered, "No."

"Then it was not _you_ he was seeking," said Low thoughtfully. Miss
Nellie had not time to notice the emphasis, for he added, "You must go
at once, and lest you have been followed I will show you another way
back to Indian Spring. It is longer, and you must hasten. Take your
shoes and stockings with you until we are out of the bush."

He raised her again in his arms and strode once more out through the
covert into the dim aisles of the wood. They spoke but little; she
could not help feeling that some other discordant element, affecting
him more strongly than it did her, had come between them, and was half
perplexed and half frightened. At the end of ten minutes he seated her
upon a fallen branch, and telling her he would return by the time she
had resumed her shoes and stockings glided from her like a shadow. She
would have uttered an indignant protest at being left alone, but he was
gone ere she could detain him. For a moment she thought she hated him.
But when she had mechanically shod herself once more, not without
nervous shivers at every falling needle, he was at her side.

"Do you know any one who wears a frieze coat like that?" he asked,
handing her a few torn shreds of wool affixed to a splinter of bark.

Miss Nellie instantly recognized the material of a certain
sporting-coat worn by Mr. Jack Brace on festive occasions, but a
strange yet infallible instinct that was part of her nature made her
instantly disclaim all knowledge of it.

"No," she said.

"Not any one who scents himself with some doctor's stuff like cologne?"
continued Low, with the disgust of keen olfactory sensibilities.

Again Miss Nellie recognized the perfume with which the gallant
expressman was wont to make redolent her little parlor, but again she
avowed no knowledge of its possessor. "Well," returned Low, with some
disappointment, "such a man has been here. Be on your guard. Let us go
at once."

She required no urging to hasten her steps, but hurried breathlessly at
his side. He had taken a new trail by which they left the wood at right
angles with the highway, two miles away. Following an almost effaced
mule track along a slight depression of the plain, deep enough,
however, to hide them from view, he accompanied her, until, rising to
the level again, she saw they were beginning to approach the highway
and the distant roofs of Indian Spring. "Nobody meeting you now," he
whispered, "would suspect where you had been. Good night! until next
week--remember."

They pressed each other's hands, and standing on the slight ridge
outlined against the paling sky, in full view of the highway, parting
carelessly, as if they had been chance met travellers. But Nellie could
not restrain a parting backward glance as she left the ridge. Low had
descended to the deserted trail, and was running swiftly in the
direction of the Carquinez Woods.


CHAPTER IV.

Teresa awoke with a start. It was day already, but how far advanced the
even, unchanging, soft twilight of the woods gave no indication. Her
companion had vanished, and to her bewildered senses so had the
camp-fire, even to its embers and ashes. Was she awake, or had she
wandered away unconsciously in the night? One glance at the tree above
her dissipated the fancy. There was the opening of her quaint retreat
and the hanging strips of bark, and at the foot of the opposite tree
lay the carcass of the bear. It had been skinned, and, as Teresa
thought with an inward shiver, already looked half its former size.

Not yet accustomed to the fact that a few steps in either direction
around the circumference of those great trunks produced the sudden
appearance or disappearance of any figure, Teresa uttered a slight
scream as her young companion unexpectedly stepped to her side. "You
see a change here," he said; "the stamped-out ashes of the camp-fire
lie under the brush," and he pointed to some cleverly scattered boughs
and strips of bark which completely effaced the traces of last night's
bivouac. "We can't afford to call the attention of any packer or hunter
who might straggle this way to this particular spot and this particular
tree; the more naturally," he added, "as they always prefer to camp
over an old fire." Accepting this explanation meekly, as partly a
reproach for her caprice of the previous night, Teresa hung her head.

"I'm very sorry," she said, "but wouldn't that," pointing to the
carcass of the bear, "have made them curious?"

But Low's logic was relentless.

"By this time there would have been little left to excite curiosity if
you had been willing to leave those beasts to their work."

"I'm very sorry," repeated the woman, her lips quivering.

"They are the scavengers of the wood," he continued in a lighter tone;
"if you stay here you must try to use them to keep your house clean."

Teresa smiled nervously.

"I mean that they shall finish their work to-night," he added, "and I
shall build another camp-fire for us a mile from here until they do."

But Teresa caught his sleeve.

"No," she said hurriedly, "don't, please, for me. You must not take the
trouble, nor the risk. Hear me; do, please. I can bear it, I _will_
bear it--to-night. I would have borne it last night, but it was so
strange--and"--she passed her hands over her forehead--"I think I must
have been half mad. But I am not so foolish now."

She seemed so broken and despondent that he replied reassuringly:
"Perhaps it would be better that I should find another hiding-place for
you, until I can dispose of that carcass, so that it will not draw dogs
after the wolves, and men after _them_. Besides, your friend the
sheriff will probably remember the bear when he remembers anything, and
try to get on its track again."

"He's a conceited fool," broke in Teresa in a high voice, with a slight
return of her old fury, "or he'd have guessed where that shot came
from; and," she added in a lower tone, looking down at her limp and
nerveless fingers, "he wouldn't have let a poor, weak, nervous wretch
like me get away."

"But his deputy may put two and two together, and connect your escape
with it."

Teresa's eyes flashed. "It would be like the dog, just to save his
pride, to swear it was an ambush of my friends, and that he was
overpowered by numbers. Oh yes! I see it all!" she almost screamed,
lashing herself into a rage at the bare contemplation of this
diminution of her glory. "That's the dirty lie he tells everywhere, and
is telling now."

She stamped her feet and glanced savagely around, as if at any risk to
proclaim the falsehood. Low turned his impassive, truthful face towards
her.

"Sheriff Dunn," he began gravely, "is a politician, and a fool when he
takes to the trail as a hunter of man or beast. But he is not a coward
nor a liar. Your chances would be better if he were--if he laid your
escape to an ambush of your friends, than if his pride held you alone
responsible."

"If he's such a good man, why do you hesitate?" she replied bitterly.
"Why don't you give me up at once, and do a service to one of your
friends?"

"I do not even know him," returned Low, opening his clear eyes upon
her. "I've promised to hide you here, and I shall hide you as well from
him as from anybody."

Teresa did not reply, but suddenly dropping down upon the ground buried
her face in her hands and began to sob convulsively. Low turned
impassively away, and putting aside the bark curtain climbed into the
hollow tree. In a few moments he reappeared, laden with provisions and
a few simple cooking utensils, and touched her lightly on the shoulder.
She looked up timidly; the paroxysm had passed, but her lashes yet
glittered.

"Come," he said, "come and get some breakfast. I find you have eaten
nothing since you have been here--twenty-four hours."

"I didn't know it," she said, with a faint smile. Then seeing his
burden, and possessed by a new and strange desire for some menial
employment, she said hurriedly, "Let me carry something--do, please,"
and even tried to disencumber him.

Half annoyed, Low at last yielded, and handing his rifle said, "There,
then, take that; but be careful--it's loaded!"

A cruel blush burnt the woman's face to the roots of her hair as she
took the weapon hesitatingly in her hand.

"No!" she stammered, hurriedly lifting her shame-suffused eyes to his;
"no! no!"

He turned away with an impatience which showed her how completely
gratuitous had been her agitation and its significance, and said,
"Well, then give it back if you are afraid of it." But she as suddenly
declined to return it; and shouldering it deftly, took her place by his
side. Silently they moved from the hollow tree together.

During their walk she did not attempt to invade his taciturnity.
Nevertheless she was as keenly alive and watchful of his every movement
and gesture as if she had hung enchanted on his lips. The unerring way
with which he pursued a viewless, undeviating path through those
trackless woods, his quick reconnaissance of certain trees or openings,
his mute inspection of some almost imperceptible footprint of bird or
beast, his critical examination of certain plants which he plucked and
deposited in his deerskin haversack, were not lost on the quick-witted
woman. As they gradually changed the clear, unencumbered aisles of the
central woods for a more tangled undergrowth, Teresa felt that subtle
admiration which culminates in imitation, and simulating perfectly the
step, tread, and easy swing of her companion, followed so accurately
his lead that she won a gratified exclamation from him when their goal
was reached--a broken, blackened shaft, splintered by long-forgotten
lightning, in the centre of a tangled carpet of wood-clover.

"I don't wonder you distanced the deputy," he said cheerfully, throwing
down his burden, "if you can take the hunting-path like that. In a few
days, if you stay here, I can venture to trust you alone for a little
_pasear_ when you are tired of the tree."

Teresa looked pleased, but busied herself with arrangements for the
breakfast, while he gathered the fuel for the roaring fire which soon
blazed beside the shattered tree.

Teresa's breakfast was a success. It was a revelation to the young
nomad, whose ascetic habits and simple tastes were usually content with
the most primitive forms of frontier cookery. It was at least a
surprise to him to know that without extra trouble kneaded flour,
water, and saleratus need not be essentially heavy; that coffee need
not be boiled with sugar to the consistency of syrup; that even that
rarest delicacy, small shreds of venison covered with ashes and broiled
upon the end of a ramrod boldly thrust into the flames, would be better
and even more expeditiously cooked upon burning coals. Moved in his
practical nature, he was surprised to find this curious creature of
disorganized nerves and useless impulses informed with an intelligence
that did not preclude the welfare of humanity or the existence of a
soul. He respected her for some minutes, until in the midst of a
culinary triumph a big tear dropped and spluttered in the saucepan. But
he forgave the irrelevancy by taking no notice of it, and by doing full
justice to that particular dish.

Nevertheless, he asked several questions based upon these recently
discovered qualities. It appeared that in the old days of her
wanderings with the circus troupe she had often been forced to
undertake this nomadic housekeeping. But she "despised it," had never
done it since, and always had refused to do it for "him"--the personal
pronoun referring, as Low understood, to her lover Curson. Not caring
to revive these memories further, Low briefly concluded:--

"I don't know what you were, or what you may be, but from what I see of
you you've got all the _sabe_ of a frontierman's wife."

She stopped and looked at him, and then, with an impulse of impudence
that only half concealed a more serious vanity, asked, "Do you think I
might have made a good squaw?"

"I don't know," he replied quietly. "I never saw enough of them to
know."

Teresa, confident from his clear eyes that he spoke the truth, but
having nothing ready to follow this calm disposal of her curiosity,
relapsed into silence.

The meal finished, Teresa washed their scant table equipage in a little
spring near the camp-fire; where, catching sight of her disordered
dress and collar, she rapidly threw her shawl, after the national
fashion, over her shoulder and pinned it quickly. Low _cached_ the
remaining provisions and the few cooking-utensils under the dead embers
and ashes, obliterating all superficial indication of their camp-fire
as deftly and artistically as he had before.

"There isn't the ghost of a chance," he said in explanation, "that
anybody but you or I will set foot here before we come back to supper,
but it's well to be on guard. I'll take you back to the cabin now,
though I bet you could find your way there as well as I can."

On their way back Teresa ran ahead of her companion, and plucking a few
tiny leaves from a hidden oasis in the bark-strewn trail brought them
to him.

"That's the kind you're looking for, isn't it?" she said, half timidly.

"It is," responded Low, in gratified surprise; "but how did you know
it? You're not a botanist, are you?"

"I reckon not," said Teresa; "but you picked some when we came, and I
noticed what they were."

Here was indeed another revelation. Low stopped and gazed at her with
such frank, open, utterly unabashed curiosity that her black eyes fell
before him.

"And do you think," he asked with logical deliberation, "that you could
find any plant from another I should give you?"

"Yes."

"Or from a drawing of it?"

"Yes; perhaps even if you described it to me."

A half-confidential, half fraternal silence followed.

"I tell you what. I've got a book"--

"I know it," interrupted Teresa; "full of these things."

"Yes. Do you think you could"--

"Of course I could," broke in Teresa, again.

"But you don't know what I mean," said the imperturbable Low.

"Certainly I do. Why, find 'em, and preserve all the different ones for
you to write under--that's it, isn't it?"

Low nodded his head, gratified but not entirely convinced that she had
fully estimated the magnitude of the endeavor.

"I suppose," said Teresa, in the feminine postscriptum voice which it
would seem entered even the philosophical calm of the aisles they were
treading--"I suppose that _she_ places great value on them?"

Low had indeed heard Science personified before, nor was it at all
impossible that the singular woman walking by his side had also. He
said "Yes;" but added, in mental reference to the Linnean Society of
San Francisco, that "_they_ were rather particular about the rarer
kinds."

Content as Teresa had been to believe in Low's tender relations with
some favored _one_ of her sex, this frank confession of a plural
devotion staggered her.

"They?" she repeated.

"Yes," he continued calmly. "The Botanical Society I correspond with
are more particular than the Government Survey."

"Then you are doing this for a society?" demanded Teresa, with a stare.

"Certainly. I'm making a collection and classification of specimens. I
intend--but what are you looking at?"

Teresa had suddenly turned away. Putting his hand lightly on her
shoulder, the young man brought her face to face with him again. She
was laughing.

"I thought all the while it was for a girl," she said; "and"--But here
the mere effort of speech sent her off into an audible and genuine
outburst of laughter. It was the first time he had seen her even smile
other than bitterly. Characteristically unconscious of any humor in her
error, he remained unembarrassed. But he could not help noticing a
change in the expression of her face, her voice, and even her
intonation. It seemed as if that fit of laughter had loosed the last
ties that bound her to a self-imposed character, had swept away the
last barrier between her and her healthier nature, had dispossessed a
painful unreality, and relieved the morbid tension of a purely nervous
attitude. The change in her utterance and the resumption of her softer
Spanish accent seemed to have come with her confidences, and Low took
leave of her before their sylvan cabin with a comrade's heartiness, and
a complete forgetfulness that her voice had ever irritated him.

When he returned that afternoon he was startled to find the cabin
empty. But instead of bearing any appearance of disturbance or hurried
flight, the rude interior seemed to have magically assumed a decorous
order and cleanliness unknown before. Fresh bark hid the inequalities
of the floor. The skins and blankets were folded in the corners, the
rude shelves were carefully arranged, even a few tall ferns and bright
but quickly fading flowers were disposed around the blackened chimney.
She had evidently availed herself of the change of clothing he had
brought her, for her late garments were hanging from the
hastily-devised wooden pegs driven in the wall. The young man gazed
around him with mixed feelings of gratification and uneasiness. His
presence had been dispossessed in a single hour; his ten years of
lonely habitation had left no trace that this woman had not effaced
with a deft move of her hand. More than that, it looked as if she had
always occupied it; and it was with a singular conviction that even
when she should occupy it no longer it would only revert to him as her
dwelling that he dropped the bark shutters athwart the opening, and
left it to follow her.

To his quick ear, fine eye, and abnormal senses, this was easy enough.
She had gone in the direction of this morning's camp. Once or twice he
paused with a half-gesture of recognition and a characteristic "Good!"
at the place where she had stopped, but was surprised to find that her
main course had been as direct as his own. Deviating from this direct
line with Indian precaution he first made a circuit of the camp, and
approached the shattered trunk from the opposite direction. He
consequently came upon Teresa unawares. But the momentary astonishment
and embarrassment were his alone.

He scarcely recognized her. She was wearing the garments he had brought
her the day before--a certain discarded gown of Miss Nellie Wynn, which
he had hurriedly begged from her under the pretext of clothing the wife
of a distressed over-land emigrant then on the way to the mines.
Although he had satisfied his conscience with the intention of
confessing the pious fraud to her when Teresa was gone and safe from
pursuit, it was not without a sense of remorse that he witnessed the
sacrilegious transformation. The two women were nearly the same height
and size; and although Teresa's maturer figure accented the outlines
more strongly, it was still becoming enough to increase his irritation.

Of this becomingness she was doubtless unaware at the moment that he
surprised her. She was conscious of having "a change," and this had
emboldened her to "do her hair" and otherwise compose herself. After
their greeting she was the first to allude to the dress, regretting
that it was not more of a rough disguise, and that, as she must now
discard the national habit of wearing her shawl "manta" fashion over
her head, she wanted a hat. "But you must not," she said, "borrow any
more dresses for me from your young woman. Buy them for me at some
shop. They left me enough money for that." Low gently put aside the few
pieces of gold she had drawn from her pocket, and briefly reminded her
of the suspicion such a purchase by him would produce. "That's so," she
said, with a laugh. "_Caramba_! what a mule I'm becoming! Ah! wait a
moment. I have it! Buy me a common felt hat--a man's hat--as if for
yourself, as a change to that animal," pointing to the fox-tailed cap
he wore summer and winter, "and I'll show you a trick. I haven't run a
theatrical wardrobe for nothing." Nor had she, for the hat thus
procured, a few days later, became, by the aid of a silk handkerchief
and a bluejay's feather, a fascinating "pork pie."

Whatever cause of annoyance to Low still lingered in Teresa's dress, it
was soon forgotten in a palpable evidence of Teresa's value as
botanical assistant. It appeared that during the afternoon she had not
only duplicated his specimens, but had discovered one or two rare
plants as yet unclassified in the flora of the Carquinez Woods. He was
delighted, and in turn, over the camp-fire, yielded up some details of
his present life and some of his earlier recollections.

"You don't remember anything of your father?" she asked. "Did he ever
try to seek you out?"

"No! Why should he?" replied the imperturbable Low; "he was not a
Cherokee."

"No, he was a beast," responded Teresa promptly. "And your mother--do
you remember her?"

"No, I think she died."

"You _think_ she died? Don't you know?"

"No!"

"Then you're another!" said Teresa. Notwithstanding this frankness,
they shook hands for the night; Teresa nestling like a rabbit in a
hollow by the side of the camp-fire; Low with his feet towards it,
Indian-wise, and his head and shoulders pillowed on his haversack, only
half distinguishable in the darkness beyond.

With such trivial details three uneventful days slipped by. Their
retreat was undisturbed, nor could Low detect, by the least evidence to
his acute perceptive faculties, that any intruding feet had since
crossed the belt of shade. The echoes of passing events at Indian
Spring had recorded the escape of Teresa as occurring at a remote and
purely imaginative distance, and her probable direction the county of
Yolo.

"Can you remember," he one day asked her, "what time it was when you
cut the _riata_ and got away?"

Teresa pressed her hands upon her eyes and temples.

"About three, I reckon."

"And you were here at seven; you could have covered some ground in four
hours?"

"Perhaps--I don't know," she said, her voice taking up its old quality
again. "Don't ask me--I ran all the way."

Her face was quite pale as she removed her hands from her eyes, and her
breath came as quickly as if she had just finished that race for life.

"Then you think I am safe here?" she added, after a pause.

"Perfectly--until they find you are _not_ in Yolo. Then they'll look
here. And _that's_ the time for you to go _there_." Teresa smiled
timidly.

"It will take them some time to search Yolo--unless," she added,
"you're tired of me here." The charming _non sequitur_ did not,
however, seem to strike the young man. "I've got time yet to find a few
more plants for you," she suggested.

"Oh, certainly!"

"And give you a few more lessons in cooking."

"Perhaps."

The conscientious and literal Low was beginning to doubt if she were
really practical. How otherwise could she trifle with such a situation?

It must be confessed that that day and the next she did trifle with it.
She gave herself up to a grave and delicious languor that seemed to
flow from shadow and silence and permeate her entire being. She passed
hours in a thoughtful repose of mind and spirit that seemed to fall
like balm from those steadfast guardians, and distill their gentle
ether in her soul; or breathed into her listening ear immunity from the
forgotten past, and security for the present. If there was no dream of
the future in this calm, even recurrence of placid existence, so much
the better. The simple details of each succeeding day, the quaint
housekeeping, the brief companionship and coming and going of her young
host--himself at best a crystallized personification of the sedate and
hospitable woods--satisfied her feeble cravings. She no longer
regretted the inferior passion that her fears had obliged her to take
the first night she came; she began to look up to this young man--so
much younger than herself--without knowing what it meant; it was not
until she found that this attitude did not detract from his
picturesqueness that she discovered herself seeking for reasons to
degrade him from this seductive eminence.

A week had elapsed with little change. On two days he had been absent
all day, returning only in time to sup in the hollow tree, which,
thanks to the final removal of the dead bear from its vicinity, was now
considered a safer retreat than the exposed camp-fire. On the first of
these occasions she received him with some preoccupation, paying but
little heed to the scant gossip he brought from Indian Spring, and
retiring early under the plea of fatigue, that he might seek his own
distant camp-fire, which, thanks to her stronger nerves and regained
courage, she no longer required so near. On the second occasion, he
found her writing a letter more or less blotted with her tears. When it
was finished, she begged him to post it at Indian Spring, where in two
days an answer would be returned, under cover, to him.

"I hope you will be satisfied then," she added.

"Satisfied with what?" queried the young man.

"You'll see," she replied, giving him her cold hand. "Good-night."

"But can't you tell me now?" he remonstrated, retaining her hand.

"Wait two days longer--it isn't much," was all she vouchsafed to
answer.

The two days passed. Their former confidence and good fellowship were
fully restored when the morning came on which he was to bring the
answer from the post-office at Indian Spring. He had talked again of
his future, and had recorded his ambition to procure the appointment of
naturalist to a Government Surveying Expedition. She had even jocularly
proposed to dress herself in man's attire and "enlist" as his
assistant.

"But you will be safe with your friends, I hope, by that time,"
responded Low.

"Safe with my friends," she repeated in a lower voice. "Safe with my
friends--yes!" An awkward silence followed; Teresa broke it gayly: "But
your girl, your sweetheart, my benefactor--will _she_ let you go?"

"I haven't told her yet," said Low, gravely, "but I don't see why she
should object."

"Object, indeed!" interrupted Teresa in a high voice and a sudden and
utterly gratuitous indignation; "how should she? I'd like to see her do
it!"

She accompanied him some distance to the intersection of the trail,
where they parted in good spirits. On the dusty plain without a gale
was blowing that rocked the high tree-tops above her, but, tempered and
subdued, entered the low aisles with a fluttering breath of morning and
a sound like the cooing of doves. Never had the wood before shown so
sweet a sense of security from the turmoil and tempest of the world
beyond; never before had an intrusion from the outer life--even in the
shape of a letter--seemed so wicked a desecration. Tempted by the
solicitation of air and shade, she lingered, with Low's herbarium slung
on her shoulder.

A strange sensation, like a shiver, suddenly passed across her nerves,
and left them in a state of rigid tension. With every sense morbidly
acute, with every faculty strained to its utmost, the subtle instincts
of Low's woodcraft transformed and possessed her. She knew it now! A
new element was in the wood--a strange being--another life--another man
approaching! She did not even raise her head to look about her, but
darted with the precision and fleetness of an arrow in the direction of
her tree. But her feet were arrested, her limbs paralyzed, her very
existence suspended, by the sound of a voice:

"Teresa!"

It was a voice that had rung in her ears for the last two years in all
phases of intensity, passion, tenderness, and anger; a voice upon whose
modulations, rude and unmusical though they were, her heart and soul
had hung in transport or anguish. But it was a chime that had rung its
last peal to her senses as she entered the Carquinez Woods, and for the
last week had been as dead to her as a voice from the grave. It was the
voice of her lover--Dick Curson!


CHAPTER V.

The wind was blowing towards the stranger, so that he was nearly upon
her when Teresa first took the alarm. He was a man over six feet in
height, strongly built, with a slight tendency to a roundness of bulk
which suggested reserved rather than impeded energy. His thick beard
and moustache were closely cropped around a small and handsome mouth
that lisped except when he was excited, but always kept fellowship with
his blue eyes in a perpetual smile of half-cynical good-humor. His
dress was superior to that of the locality; his general expression that
of a man of the world, albeit a world of San Francisco, Sacramento, and
Murderer's Bar. He advanced towards her with a laugh and an
outstretched hand.

"_You_ here!" she gasped, drawing back.

Apparently neither surprised nor mortified at this reception, he
answered frankly, "Yeth. You didn't expect me, I know. But Doloreth
showed me the letter you wrote her, and--well--here I am, ready to help
you, with two men and a thpare horthe waiting outside the woodth on the
blind trail."

"You--_you_--here?" she only repeated.

--Curson shrugged his shoulders. "Yeth. Of courth you never expected to
thee me again, and leatht of all _here_. I'll admit that; I'll thay I
wouldn't if I'd been in your plathe. I'll go further, and thay you
didn't want to thee me again--anywhere. But it all cometh to the thame
thing; here I am; I read the letter you wrote Doloreth. I read how you
were hiding here, under Dunn'th very nothe, with his whole pothe out,
cavorting round and barkin' up the wrong tree. I made up my mind to
come down here with a few nathty friends of mine and cut you out under
Dunn'th nothe, and run you over into Yuba--that 'th all."

"How dared she show you my letter--_you_ of all men? How dared she ask
_your_ help?" continued Teresa, fiercely.

"But she didn't athk my help," he responded coolly. "D----d if I don't
think she jutht calculated I'd be glad to know you were being hunted
down and thtarving, that I might put Dunn on your track."

"You lie!" said Teresa, furiously; "she was my friend. A better friend
than those who professed--_more_, she added, with a contemptuous
drawing away of her skirt as if she feared Curson's contamination.

"All right. Thettle that with her when you go back," continued Curson
philosophically. "We can talk of that on the way. The thing now ith to
get up and get out of thethe woods. Come!"

Teresa's only reply was a gesture of scorn.

"I know all that," continued Curson half soothingly, "but they're
waiting."

"Let them wait. I shall not go."

"What will you do?"

"Stay here--till the wolves eat me."

"Teresa, listen. D----it all--Teresa!--Tita! see here," he said with
sudden energy. "I swear to God it's all right. I'm willing to let
by-gones be by-gones and take a new deal. You shall come back as if
nothing had happened, and take your old place as before. I don't mind
doing the square thing, all round. If that's what you mean, if that's
all that stands in the way, why, look upon the thing as settled. There,
Tita, old girl, come."

Careless or oblivious of her stony silence and starting eyes, he
attempted to take her hand. But she disengaged herself with a quick
movement, drew back, and suddenly crouched like a wild animal about to
spring. Curson folded his arms as she leaped to her feet; the little
dagger she had drawn from her garter flashed menacingly in the air, but
she stopped.

The man before her remained erect, impassive, and silent; the great
trees around and beyond her remained erect, impassive, and silent;
there was no sound in the dim aisles but the quick panting of her mad
passion, no movement in the calm, motionless shadow but the trembling
of her uplifted steel. Her arm bent and slowly sank, her fingers
relaxed, the knife fell from her hand.

"That'th quite enough for a thow," he said, with a return to his former
cynical ease and a perceptible tone of relief in his voice. "It'th the
thame old Teretha. Well, then, if you won't go with me, go without me;
take the led horthe and cut away. Dick Athley and Petereth will follow
you over the county line. If you want thome money, there it ith." He
took a buckskin purse from his pocket. "If you won't take it from
me"--he hesitated as she made no reply--"Athley'th flush and ready to
lend you thome."

She had not seemed to hear him, but had stooped in some embarrassment,
picked up the knife and hastily hid it, then with averted face and
nervous fingers was beginning to tear strips of loose bark from the
nearest trunk.

"Well, what do you thay?"

"I don't want any money, and I shall stay here." She hesitated, looked
around her, and then added, with an effort, "I suppose you meant well.
Be it so! Let bygones be by-gones. You said just now, 'It's the same
old Teresa.' So she is, and seeing she's the same she's better here
than anywhere else."

There was enough bitterness in her tone to call for Curson's
half-perfunctory sympathy.

"That be d----d," he responded quickly. "Jutht thay you'll come, Tita,
and"--

She stopped his half-spoken sentence with a negative gesture. "You
don't understand. I shall stay here."

"But even if they don't theek you here, you can't live here forever.
The friend that you wrote about who wath tho good to you, you know,
can't keep you here alwayth; and are you thure you can alwayth trutht
her?"

"It isn't a woman; it's a man." She stopped short, and colored to the
line of her forehead. "Who said it was a woman?" she continued
fiercely, as if to cover her confusion with a burst of gratuitous
anger. "Is that another of your lies?"

Curson's lips, which for a moment had completely lost their smile, were
now drawn together in a prolonged whistle. He gazed curiously at her
gown, at her hat, at the bow of bright ribbon that tied her black hair,
and said, "Ah!"

"A poor man who has kept my secret," she went on hurriedly--"a man as
friendless and lonely as myself. Yes," disregarding Curson's cynical
smile, "a man who has shared everything"--

"Naturally," suggested Curson.

"And turned himself out of his only shelter to give me a roof and
covering," she continued mechanically, struggling with the new and
horrible fancy that his words awakened.

"And thlept every night at Indian Thpring to save your reputation,"
said Curson. "Of courthe."

Teresa turned very white. Curson was prepared for an outburst of
fury--perhaps even another attack. But the crushed and beaten woman
only gazed at him with frightened and imploring eyes. "For God's sake,
Dick, don't say that!"

The amiable cynic was staggered. His good-humor and a certain
chivalrous instinct he could not repress got the better of him. He
shrugged his shoulders. "What I thay, and what you _do_, Teretha,
needn't make us quarrel. I've no claim on you--I know it. Only"--a
vivid sense of the ridiculous, powerful in men of his stamp, completed
her victory--"only don't thay anything about my coming down here to cut
you out from the--the--_the sheriff_." He gave utterance to a short but
unaffected laugh, made a slight grimace, and turned to go.

Teresa did not join in his mirth. Awkward as it would have been if he
had taken a severer view of the subject, she was mortified even amidst
her fears and embarrassment at his levity. Just as she had become
convinced that his jealousy had made her over-conscious, his apparent
good-humored indifference gave that over-consciousness a guilty
significance. Yet this was lost in her sudden alarm as her companion,
looking up, uttered an exclamation, and placed his hand upon his
revolver. With a sinking conviction that the climax had come, Teresa
turned her eyes. From the dim aisles beyond, Low was approaching. The
catastrophe seemed complete.

She had barely time to utter an imploring whisper: "In the name of God,
not a word to him." But a change had already come over her companion.
It was no longer a parley with a foolish woman; he had to deal with a
man like himself. As Low's dark face and picturesque figure came
nearer, Mr. Curson's proposed method of dealing with him was made
audible.

"Ith it a mulatto or a Thircuth, or both?" he asked, with affected
anxiety.

Low's Indian phlegm was impervious to such assault. He turned to
Teresa, without apparently noticing her companion. "I turned back," he
said quietly, "as soon as I knew there were strangers here; I thought
you might need me." She noticed for the first time that, in addition to
his rifle, he carried a revolver and hunting-knife in his belt.

"Yeth," returned Curson, with an ineffectual attempt to imitate Low's
phlegm; "but ath I did n't happen to be a sthranger to thith lady,
perhaps it wathn't nethethary, particularly ath I had two friends"--

"Waiting at the edge of the wood with a led horse," interrupted Low,
without addressing him, but apparently continuing his explanation to
Teresa. But she turned to Low with feverish anxiety.

"That's so--he is an old friend"--she gave a quick, imploring glance at
Curson--"an old friend who came to help me away--he is very kind," she
stammered, turning alternately from the one to the other; "but I told
him there was no hurry--at least to-day--that you--were--very
good--too, and would hide me a little longer until your plan--you know
_your_ plan," she added, with a look of beseeching significance to
Low--"could be tried." And then, with a helpless conviction that her
excuses, motives, and emotions were equally and perfectly transparent
to both men, she stopped in a tremble.

"Perhapth it'th jutht ath well, then, that the gentleman came thraight
here, and didn't tackle my two friendth when he pathed them," observed
Curson, half sarcastically.

"I have not passed your friends, nor have I been near them," said Low,
looking at him for the first time, with the same exasperating calm, "or
perhaps I should not be _here_ or they _there_. I knew that one man
entered the wood a few moments ago, and that two men and four horses
remained outside."

"That's true," said Teresa to Curson excitedly--"that's true. He knows
all. He can see without looking, hear without listening. He--he"--she
stammered, colored, and stopped.

The two men had faced each other. Curson, after his first good-natured
impulse, had retained no wish to regain Teresa, whom he felt he no
longer loved, and yet who, for that very reason perhaps, had awakened
his chivalrous instincts. Low, equally on his side, was altogether
unconscious of any feeling which might grow into a passion, and prevent
him from letting her go with another if for her own safety. They were
both men of a certain taste and refinement. Yet, in spite of all this,
some vague instinct of the baser male animal remained with them, and
they were moved to a mutually aggressive attitude in the presence of
the female.

One word more, and the opening chapter of a sylvan Iliad might have
begun. But this modern Helen saw it coming, and arrested it with an
inspiration of feminine genius. Without being observed, she disengaged
her knife from her bosom and let it fall as if by accident. It struck
the ground with the point of its keen blade, bounded and rolled between
them. The two men started and looked at each other with a foolish air.
Curson laughed.

"I reckon she can take care of herthelf," he said, extending his hand
to Low. "I'm off. But if I'm wanted _she'll_ know where to find me."
Low took the proffered hand, but neither of the two men looked at
Teresa. The reserve of antagonism once broken, a few words of caution,
advice, and encouragement passed between them, in apparent
obliviousness of her presence or her personal responsibility. As Curson
at last nodded a farewell to her, Low insisted upon accompanying him as
far as the horses, and in another moment she was again alone.

She had saved a quarrel between them at the sacrifice of herself, for
her vanity was still keen enough to feel that this exhibition of her
old weakness had degraded her in their eyes, and, worse, had lost the
respect her late restraint had won from Low. They had treated her like
a child or a crazy woman, perhaps even now were exchanging criticisms
upon her--perhaps pitying her! Yet she had prevented a quarrel, a
fight, possibly the death of either one or the other of these men who
despised her, for none better knew than she the trivial beginning and
desperate end of these encounters. Would they--would Low ever realize
it, and forgive her? Her small, dark hands went up to her eyes and she
sank upon the ground. She looked through tear-veiled lashes upon the
mute and giant witnesses of her deceit and passion, and tried to draw,
from their immovable calm, strength and consolation as before. But even
they seemed to stand apart, reserved and forbidding.

When Low returned she hoped to gather from his eyes and manner what had
passed between him and her former lover. But beyond a mere gentle
abstraction at times he retained his usual calm. She was at last forced
to allude to it herself with simulated recklessness.

"I suppose I didn't get a very good character from my last place?" she
said, with a laugh.

"I don't understand you," he replied, in evident sincerity.

She bit her lip and was silent. But as they were returning home, she
said gently, "I hope you were not angry with me for the lie I told when
I spoke of 'your plan.' I could not give the real reason for not
returning with--with--that man. But it's not all a lie. I have a
plan--if you haven't. When you are ready to go to Sacramento to take
your place, dress me as an Indian boy, paint my face, and let me go
with you. You can leave me--there--you know."

"It's not a bad idea," he responded gravely. "We will see."

On the next day, and the next, the _rencontre_ seemed to be forgotten.
The herbarium was already filled with rare specimens. Teresa had even
overcome her feminine repugnance to "bugs" and creeping things so far
as to assist in his entomological collection. He had drawn from a
sacred _cache_ in the hollow of a tree the few worn textbooks from
which he had studied.

"They seem very precious," she said, with a smile.

"Very," he replied gravely. "There was one with plates that the ants
ate up, and it will be six months before I can afford to buy another."

Teresa glanced hurriedly over his well-worn buckskin suit, at his
calico shirt with its pattern almost obliterated by countless washings,
and became thoughtful.

"I suppose you couldn't buy one at Indian Spring?" she said innocently.

For once Low was startled out of his phlegm. "Indian Spring!" he
ejaculated; "perhaps not even in San Francisco. These came from the
States."

"How did you get them?" persisted Teresa.

"I bought them for skins I got over the ridge."

"I didn't mean that--but no matter. Then you mean to sell that
bearskin, don't you?" she added.

Low had, in fact, already sold it, the proceeds having been invested in
a gold ring for Miss Nellie, which she scrupulously did not wear except
in his presence. In his singular truthfulness he would have frankly
confessed it to Teresa, but the secret was not his own. He contented
himself with saying that he had disposed of it at Indian Spring. Teresa
started, and communicated unconsciously some of her nervousness to her
companion. They gazed in each other's eyes with a troubled expression.

"Do you think it was wise to sell that particular skin, which might be
identified?" she asked timidly.

Low knitted his arched brows, but felt a strange sense of relief.
"Perhaps not," he said carelessly; "but it's too late now to mend
matters."

That afternoon she wrote several letters, and tore them up. One,
however, she retained, and handed it to Low to post at Indian Spring,
whither he was going. She called his attention to the superscription
being the same as the previous letter, and added, with affected gayety,
"But if the answer isn't as prompt, perhaps it will be pleasanter than
the last." Her quick feminine eye noticed a little excitement in his
manner and a more studious attention to his dress. Only a few days
before she would not have allowed this to pass without some mischievous
allusion to his mysterious sweetheart; it troubled her greatly now to
find that she could not bring herself to this household pleasantry, and
that her lip trembled and her eye grew moist as he parted from her.

The afternoon passed slowly; he had said he might not return to supper
until late, nevertheless a strange restlessness took possession of her
as the day wore on. She put aside her work, the darning of his
stockings, and rambled aimlessly through the woods. She had wandered
she knew not how far, when she was suddenly seized with the same vague
sense of a foreign presence which she had felt before. Could it be
Curson again, with a word of warning? No! she knew it was not he; so
subtle had her sense become that she even fancied that she detected in
the invisible aura projected by the unknown no significance or relation
to herself or Low, and felt no fear. Nevertheless she deemed it wisest
to seek the protection of her sylvan bower, and hurried swiftly
thither.

But not so quickly nor directly that she did not once or twice pause in
her flight to examine the new-comer from behind a friendly trunk. He
was a stranger--a young fellow with a brown mustache, wearing heavy
Mexican spurs in his riding-boots, whose tinkling he apparently did not
care to conceal. He had perceived her, and was evidently pursuing her,
but so awkwardly and timidly that she eluded him with ease. When she
had reached the security of the hollow tree and had pulled the curtain
of bark before the narrow opening, with her eye to the interstices, she
waited his coming. He arrived breathlessly in the open space before the
tree where the bear once lay; the dazed, bewildered, and half awed
expression of his face, as he glanced around him and through the
openings of the forest aisles, brought a faint smile to her saddened
face. At last he called in a half embarrassed voice:

"Miss Nellie!"

The smile faded from Teresa's cheek. Who was "Miss Nellie"? She pressed
her ear to the opening. "Miss Wynn!" the voice again called, but was
lost in the echoless woods. Devoured with a new and gratuitous
curiosity, in another moment Teresa felt she would have disclosed
herself at any risk, but the stranger rose and began to retrace his
steps. Long after his tinkling spurs were lost in the distance, Teresa
remained like a statue, staring at the place where he had stood. Then
she suddenly turned like a mad woman, glanced down at the gown she was
wearing, tore it from her back as if it had been a polluted garment,
and stamped upon it in a convulsion of rage. And then, with her
beautiful bare arms clasped together over her head, she threw herself
upon her couch in a tempest of tears.


CHAPTER VI.

When Miss Nellie reached the first mining extension of Indian Spring,
which surrounded it like a fosse, she descended for one instant into
one of its trenches, opened her parasol, removed her duster, hid it
under a bowlder, and with a few shivers and cat-like strokes of her
soft hands not only obliterated all material traces of the stolen cream
of Carquinez Woods, but assumed a feline demureness quite inconsistent
with any moral dereliction. Unfortunately, she forgot to remove at the
same time a certain ring from her third finger, which she had put on
with her duster and had worn at no other time. With this slight
exception, the benignant fate which always protected that young person
brought her in contact with the Burnham girls at one end of the main
street as the returning coach to Excelsior entered the other, and
enabled her to take leave of them before the coach office with a
certain ostentation of parting which struck Mr. Jack Brace, who was
lingering at the doorway, into a state of utter bewilderment.

Here was Miss Nellie Wynn, the belle of Excelsior, calm, quiet,
self-possessed, her chaste cambric skirts and dainty shoes as fresh as
when she had left her father's house; but where was the woman of the
brown duster, and where the yellow-dressed apparition of the woods? He
was feebly repeating to himself his mental adjuration of a few hours
before when he caught her eye, and was taken with a blush and a fit of
coughing. Could he have been such an egregious fool, and was it not
plainly written on his embarrassed face for her to read?

"Are we going down together?" asked Miss Nellie, with an exceptionally
gracious smile.

There was neither affectation nor coquetry in this advance. The girl
had no idea of Brace's suspicion of her, nor did any uneasy desire to
placate or deceive a possible rival of Low's prompt her graciousness.
She simply wished to shake off in this encounter the already stale
excitement of the past two hours, as she had shaken the dust of the
woods from her clothes. It was characteristic of her irresponsible
nature and transient susceptibilities that she actually enjoyed the
relief of change; more than that, I fear, she looked upon this
infidelity to a past dubious pleasure as a moral principle. A mild,
open flirtation with a recognized man like Brace, after her secret
passionate tryst with a nameless nomad like Low, was an ethical
equipoise that seemed proper to one of her religious education.

Brace was only too happy to profit by Miss Nellie's condescension; he
at once secured the seat by her side, and spent the four hours and a
half of their return journey to Excelsior in blissful but timid
communion with her. If he did not dare to confess his past suspicions,
he was equally afraid to venture upon the boldness he had premeditated
a few hours before. He was therefore obliged to take a middle course of
slightly egotistical narration of his own personal adventures, with
which he beguiled the young girl's ear. This he only departed from
once, to describe to her a valuable grizzly bearskin which he had seen
that day for sale at Indian Spring, with a view to divining her
possible acceptance of it for a "buggy robe;" and once to comment upon
a ring which she had inadvertently disclosed in pulling off her glove.

"It's only an old family keepsake," she added, with easy mendacity; and
affecting to recognize in Mr. Brace's curiosity a not unnatural excuse
for toying with her charming fingers, she hid them in chaste and
virginal seclusion in her lap, until she could recover the ring and
resume her glove.

A week passed--a week of peculiar and desiccating heat for even those
dry Sierra table-lands. The long days were filled with impalpable dust
and acrid haze suspended in the motionless air; the nights were
breathless and dewless; the cold wind which usually swept down from the
snow line was laid to sleep over a dark monotonous level, whose horizon
was pricked with the eating fires of burning forest crests. The lagging
coach of Indian Spring drove up at Excelsior, and precipitated its
passengers with an accompanying cloud of dust before the Excelsior
Hotel. As they emerged from the coach, Mr. Brace, standing in the
doorway, closely scanned their begrimed and almost unrecognizable
faces. They were the usual type of travelers: a single professional man
in dusty black, a few traders in tweeds and flannels, a sprinkling of
miners in red and gray shirts, a Chinaman, a negro, and a Mexican
packer or muleteer. This latter for a moment mingled with the crowd in
the bar-room, and even penetrated the corridor and dining-room of the
hotel, as if impelled by a certain semi-civilized curiosity, and then
strolled with a lazy, dragging step--half impeded by the enormous
leather leggings, chains, and spurs, peculiar to his class--down the
main street. The darkness was gathering, but the muleteer indulged in
the same childish scrutiny of the dimly lighted shops, magazines, and
saloons, and even of the occasional groups of citizens at the street
corners. Apparently young, as far as the outlines of his figure could
be seen, he seemed to show even more than the usual concern of
masculine Excelsior in the charms of womankind. The few female figures
about at that hour, or visible at window or veranda, received his
marked attention; he respectfully followed the two auburn-haired
daughters of Deacon Johnson on their way to choir meeting to the door
of the church. Not content with that act of discreet gallantry, after
they had entered he managed to slip in unperceived behind them.

The memorial of the Excelsior gamblers' generosity was a modern
building, large and pretentious for even Mr. Wynn's popularity, and had
been good-humoredly known, in the characteristic language of the
generous donors, as one of the "biggest religious bluffs" on record.
Its groined rafters, which were so new and spicy that they still
suggested their native forest aisles, seldom covered more than a
hundred devotees, and in the rambling choir, with its bare space for
the future organ, the few choristers, gathered round a small harmonium,
were lost in the deepening shadow of that summer evening. The muleteer
remained hidden in the obscurity of the vestibule. After a few moments'
desultory conversation, in which it appeared that the unexpected
absence of Miss Nellie Wynn, their leader, would prevent their
practicing, the choristers withdrew. The stranger, who had listened
eagerly, drew back in the darkness as they passed out, and remained for
a few moments a vague and motionless figure in the silent church. Then
coming cautiously to the window, the flapping broad-brimmed hat was put
aside, and the faint light of the dying day shone in the black eyes of
Teresa! Despite her face, darkened with dye and disfigured with dust,
the matted hair piled and twisted around her head, the strange dress
and boyish figure, one swift glance from under her raised lashes
betrayed her identity.

She turned aside mechanically into the first pew, picked up and opened
a hymn-book. Her eyes became riveted on a name written on the
title-page, "Nellie Wynn." _Her_ name, and _her_ book. The instinct
that had guided her here was right; the slight gossip of her
fellow-passengers was right; this was the clergyman's daughter, whose
praise filled all mouths. This was the unknown girl the stranger was
seeking, but who in her turn perhaps had been seeking Low--the girl who
absorbed his fancy--the secret of his absences, his preoccupation, his
coldness! This was the girl whom to see, perhaps in his arms, she was
now periling her liberty and her life unknown to him! A slight odor,
some faint perfume of its owner, came from the book; it was the same
she had noticed in the dress Low had given her. She flung the volume to
the ground, and, throwing her arms over the back of the pew before her,
buried her face in her hands.

In that light and attitude she might have seemed some rapt acolyte
abandoned to self-communion. But whatever yearning her soul might have
had for higher sympathy or deeper consolation, I fear that the
spiritual Tabernacle of Excelsior and the Reverend Mr. Wynn did not
meet that requirement. She only felt the dry, oven-like heat of that
vast shell, empty of sentiment and beauty, hollow in its pretense and
dreary in its desolation. She only saw in it a chief altar for the
glorification of this girl who had absorbed even the pure worship of
her companion, and converted and degraded his sublime paganism to her
petty creed. With a woman's withering contempt for her own art
displayed in another woman, she thought how she herself could have
touched him with the peace that the majesty of their woodland
aisles--so unlike this pillared sham--had taught her own passionate
heart, had she but dared. Mingling with this imperfect theology, she
felt she could have proved to him also that a brunette and a woman of
her experience was better than an immature blonde. She began to loathe
herself for coming hither, and dreaded to meet his face. Here a sudden
thought struck her. What if he had not come here? What if she had been
mistaken? What if her rash interpretation of his absence from the wood
that night was simple madness? What if he should return--if he had
already returned? She rose to her feet, whitening yet joyful with the
thought. She would return at once; what was the girl to her now? Yet
there was time to satisfy herself if he were at _her_ house. She had
been told where it was; she could find it in the dark; an open door or
window would betray some sign or sound of the occupants. She rose,
replaced her hat over her eyes, knotted her flaunting scarf around her
throat, groped her way to the door, and glided into the outer darkness.


CHAPTER VII.

It was quite dark when Mr. Jack Brace stopped before Father Wynn's open
door. The windows were also invitingly open to the wayfarer, as were
the pastoral counsels of Father Wynn, delivered to some favored guest
within, in a tone of voice loud enough for a pulpit. Jack Brace paused.
The visitor was the convalescent sheriff, Jim Dunn, who had publicly
commemorated his recovery by making his first call upon the father of
his inamorata. The Reverend Mr. Wynn had been expatiating upon the
unremitting heat as a possible precursor of forest fires, and
exhibiting some catholic knowledge of the designs of a Deity in that
regard, and what should be the policy of the Legislature, when Mr.
Brace concluded to enter. Mr. Wynn and the wounded man, who occupied an
arm-chair by the window, were the only occupants of the room. But in
spite of the former's ostentatious greeting, Brace could see that his
visit was inopportune and unwelcome. The sheriff nodded a quick,
impatient recognition, which, had it not been accompanied by an
anathema on the heat, might have been taken as a personal insult.
Neither spoke of Miss Nellie, although it was patent to Brace that they
were momentarily expecting her. All of which went far to strengthen a
certain wavering purpose in his mind.

"Ah, ha! strong language, Mr. Dunn," said Father Wynn, referring to the
sheriff's adjuration, "but 'out of the fullness of the heart the mouth
speaketh.' Job, sir, cursed, we are told, and even expressed himself in
vigorous Hebrew regarding his birthday. Ha, ha! I'm not opposed to
that. When I have often wrestled with the spirit I confess I have
sometimes said, 'D----n you.' Yes, sir, 'D----n you.'"

There was something so unutterably vile in the reverend gentleman's
utterance and emphasis of this oath that the two men, albeit both easy
and facile blasphemers, felt shocked; as the purest of actresses is apt
to overdo the rakishness of a gay Lothario, Father Wynn's immaculate
conception of an imprecation was something terrible. But he added, "The
law ought to interfere with the reckless use of camp-fires in the woods
in such weather by packers and prospecters."

"It isn't so much the work of white men," broke in Brace, "as it is of
Greasers, Chinamen, and Diggers, especially Diggers. There's that
blasted Low, ranges the whole Carquinez Woods as if they were his. I
reckon he ain't particular just where he throws his matches.'"

"But he's not a Digger; he's a Cherokee, and only a half-breed at
that," interpolated Wynn. "Unless," he added, with the artful
suggestion of the betrayed trust of a too credulous Christian, "he
deceived me in this as in other things."

In what other things Low had deceived him he did not say; but, to the
astonishment of both men, Dunn growled a dissent to Brace's
proposition. Either from some secret irritation with that possible
rival, or impatience at the prolonged absence of Nellie, he had "had
enough of that sort of hog-wash ladled out to him for genuine liquor."
As to the Carquinez Woods, he [Dunn] "didn't know why Low hadn't as
much right there as if he'd grabbed it under a preemption law and
didn't live there." With this hint at certain speculations of Father
Wynn in public lands for a homestead, he added that "If they [Brace and
Wynn] could bring him along any older American settler than an Indian,
they might rake down his [Dunn's] pile." Unprepared for this turn in
the conversation, Wynn hastened to explain that he did not refer to the
pure aborigine, whose gradual extinction no one regretted more than
himself, but to the mongrel, who inherited only the vices of
civilization. "There should be a law, sir, against the mingling of
races. There are men, sir, who violate the laws of the Most High by
living with Indian women--squaw men, sir, as they are called."

Dunn rose with a face livid with weakness and passion. "Who dares say
that? They are a d---d sight better than sneaking Northern
Abolitionists, who married their daughters to buck niggers like"--But a
spasm of pain withheld this Parthian shot at the politics of his two
companions, and he sank back helplessly in his chair.

An awkward silence ensued. The three men looked at each other in
embarrassment and confusion. Dunn felt that he had given way to a
gratuitous passion; Wynn had a vague presentiment that he had said
something that imperiled his daughter's prospects; and Brace was
divided between an angry retort and the secret purpose already alluded
to.

"It's all the blasted heat," said Dunn, with a forced smile, pushing
away the whiskey which Wynn had ostentatiously placed before him.

"Of course," said Wynn hastily; "only it's a pity Nellie ain't here to
give you her smelling-salts. She ought to be back now," he added, no
longer mindful of Brace's presence; "the coach is over-due now, though
I reckon the heat made Yuba Bill take it easy at the up grade."

"If you mean the coach from Indian Spring," said Brace quietly, "it's
in already; but Miss Nellie didn't come on it."

"Maybe she got out at the Crossing," said Wynn cheerfully; "she
sometimes does."

"She didn't take the coach at Indian Spring," returned Brace, "because
I saw it leave, and passed it on Buckskin ten minutes ago, coming up
the hills."

"She's stopped over at Burnham's," said Wynn reflectively. Then, in
response to the significant silence of his guests, he added, in a tone
of chagrin which his forced heartiness could not disguise, "Well, boys,
it's a disappointment all round; but we must take the lesson as it
comes. I'll go over to the coach office and see if she's sent any word.
Make yourselves at home until I return."

When the door had closed behind him, Brace arose and took his hat as if
to go. With his hand on the lock, he turned to his rival, who,
half-hidden in the gathering darkness, still seemed unable to
comprehend his ill-luck.

"If you're waiting for that bald-headed fraud to come back with the
truth about his daughter," said Brace coolly, "you'd better send for
your things and take up your lodgings here."

"What do you mean?" said Dunn sternly.

"I mean that she's not at the Burnhams'; I mean that he does or does
not know _where_ she is, and that in either case he is not likely to
give you information. But I can."

"You can?"

"Yes."

"Then, where is she?"

"In the Carquinez Woods, in the arms of the man you were just
defending--Low, the half-breed."

The room had become so dark that from the road nothing could be
distinguished. Only the momentary sound of struggling feet was heard.

"Sit down," said Brace's voice, "and don't be a fool. You're too weak,
and it ain't a fair fight. Let go your hold. I'm not lying--I wish to
God I was!"

There was a silence, and Brace resumed, "We've been rivals, I know.
Maybe I thought my chance as good as yours. If what I say ain't truth,
we'll stand as we stood before; and if you're on the shoot, I'm your
man when you like, where you like, or on sight if you choose. But I
can't see another man played upon as I've been played upon--given dead
away as I have been. It ain't on the square.

"There," he continued, after a pause, "that's right; now steady.
Listen. A week ago that girl went down just like this to Indian Spring.
It was given out, like this, that she went to the Burnhams'. I don't
mind saying, Dunn, that I went down myself, all on the square, thinking
I might get a show to talk to her, just as _you_ might have done, you
know, if you had my chance. I didn't come across her anywhere. But two
men that I met thought they recognized her in a disguise going into the
woods. Not suspecting anything, I went after her; saw her at a distance
in the middle of the woods in another dress that I can swear to, and
was just coming up to her when she vanished--went like a squirrel up a
tree, or down like a gopher in the ground, but vanished."

"Is that all?" said Dunn's voice. "And just because you were a d----d
fool, or had taken a little too much whiskey, you thought"--

"Steady! That's just what I said to myself," interrupted Brace coolly,
"particularly when I saw her that same afternoon in another dress,
saying good-by to the Burnhams, as fresh as a rose and as cold as those
snow-peaks. Only one thing--she had a ring on her finger she never wore
before, and didn't expect me to see."

"What if she did? She might have bought it. I reckon she hasn't to
consult you," broke in Dunn's voice sternly.

"She didn't buy it," continued Brace quietly. "Low gave that Jew trader
a bearskin in exchange for it, and presented it to her. I found that
out two days afterwards. I found out that out of the whole afternoon
she spent less than an hour with the Burnhams. I found out that she
bought a duster like the disguise the two men saw her in. I found the
yellow dress she wore that day hanging up in Low's cabin--the place
where I saw her go--the _rendezvous where she meets him_. Oh, you're
listenin', are you? Stop! SIT DOWN!

"I discovered it by accident," continued the voice of Brace when all
was again quiet; "it was hidden as only a squirrel or an Injin can hide
when they improve upon nature. When I was satisfied that the girl had
been in the woods, I was determined to find out where she vanished, and
went there again. Prospecting around, I picked up at the foot of one of
the biggest trees this yer old memorandum-book, with grasses and herbs
stuck in it. I remembered that I'd heard old Wynn say that Low, like
the d----d Digger that he was, collected these herbs; only he pretended
it was for science. I reckoned the book was his and that he mightn't be
far away. I lay low and waited. Bimeby I saw a lizard running down the
root. When he got sight of me he stopped."

"D----n the lizard! What's that got to do with where she is now?"

"Everything. That lizard had a piece of sugar in his mouth. Where did
it come from? I made him drop it, and calculated he'd go back for more.
He did. He scooted up that tree and slipped in under some hanging
strips of bark. I shoved 'em aside, and found an opening to the hollow
where they do their housekeeping."

"But you didn't see her there--and how do you know she is there now?"

"I determined to make it sure. When she left to-day, I started an hour
ahead of her, and hid myself at the edge of the woods. An hour after
the coach arrived at Indian Spring, she came there in a brown duster
and was joined by him. I'd have followed them, but the d----d hound has
the ears of a squirrel, and though I was five hundred yards from him he
was on his guard."

"Guard be blessed! Wasn't you armed? Why didn't you go for him?" said
Dunn, furiously.

"I reckoned I'd leave that for you," said Brace coolly. "If he'd killed
me, and if he'd even covered me with his rifle, he'd be sure to let
daylight through me at double the distance. I shouldn't have been any
better off, nor you either. If I'd killed _him_, it would have been
your duty as sheriff to put me in jail; and I reckon it wouldn't have
broken your heart, Jim Dunn, to have got rid of _two_ rivals instead of
one. Hullo! Where are you going?"

"Going?" said Dunn hoarsely. "Going to the Carquinez Woods, by God! to
kill him before her. _I'll_ risk it, if you daren't. Let me succeed,
and you can hang _me_ and take the girl yourself."

"Sit down, sit down. Don't be a fool, Jim Dunn! You wouldn't keep the
saddle a hundred yards. Did I say I wouldn't help you? No. If you're
willing, we'll run the risk together, but it must be in my way. Hear
me. I'll drive you down there in a buggy before daylight, and we'll
surprise them in the cabin or as they leave the wood. But you must come
as if to arrest him for some offense--say, as an escaped Digger from
the Reservation, a dangerous tramp, a destroyer of public property in
the forests, a suspected road agent, or anything to give you the right
to hunt him. The exposure of him and Nellie, don't you see, must be
accidental. If he resists, kill him on the spot, and nobody'll blame
you; if he goes peaceably with you, and you once get him in Excelsior
jail, when the story gets out that he's taken the belle of Excelsior
for his squaw, if you'd the angels for your posse you couldn't keep the
boys from hanging him to the first tree. What's that?"

He walked to the window, and looked out cautiously.

"If it was the old man coming back and listening," he said, after a
pause, "it can't be helped. He'll hear it soon enough, if he don't
suspect something already."

"Look yer, Brace," broke in Dunn hoarsely. "D----d if I understand you
or you me. That dog Low has got to answer to _me_, not to the _law_!
I'll take my risk of killing him, on sight and on the square. I don't
reckon to handicap myself with a warrant, and I am not going to draw
him out with a lie. You hear me? That's me all the time!"

"Then you calkilate to go down thar," said Brace contemptuously, "yell
out for him and Nellie, and let him line you on a rest from the first
tree as if you were a grizzly."

There was a pause. "What's that you were saying just now about a
bearskin he sold?" asked Dunn slowly, as if reflecting.

"He exchanged a bearskin," replied Brace, "with a single hole right
over the heart. He's a dead shot, I tell you."

"D----n his shooting," said Dunn. "I'm not thinking of that. How long
ago did he bring in that bearskin?"

"About two weeks, I reckon. Why?"

"Nothing! Look yer, Brace, you mean well--thar's my hand. I'll go down
with you there, but not as the sheriff. I'm going there as Jim Dunn,
and you can come along as a white man, to see things fixed on the
square. Come!"

Brace hesitated. "You'll think better of my plan before you get there;
but I've said I'd stand by you, and I will Come, then. There's no time
to lose."

They passed out into the darkness together.

"What are you waiting for?" said Dunn impatiently, as Brace, who was
supporting him by the arm, suddenly halted at the corner of the house.

"Some one was listening--did you not see him? Was it the old man?"
asked Brace hurriedly.

"Blast the old man! It was only one of them Mexican packers chock-full
of whiskey, and trying to hold up the house. What are you thinking of?
We shall be late."

In spite of his weakness, the wounded man hurriedly urged Brace
forward, until they reached the latter's lodgings. To his surprise, the
horse and buggy were already before the door.

"Then you reckoned to go, any way?" said Dunn, with a searching look at
his companion.

"I calkilated _somebody_ would go," returned Brace, evasively, patting
the impatient Buckskin; "but come in and take a drink before we leave."

Dunn started out of a momentary abstraction, put his hand on his hip,
and mechanically entered the house. They had scarcely raised the
glasses to their lips when a sudden rattle of wheels was heard in the
street. Brace set down his glass and ran to the window.

"It's the mare bolted," he said, with an oath. "We've kept her too long
standing. Follow me;" and he dashed down the staircase into the street.
Dunn followed with difficulty; when he reached the door he was
confronted by his breathless companion. "She's gone off on a run, and
I'll swear there was a man in the buggy!" He stopped and examined the
halter-strap, still fastened to the fence. "Cut! by God!"

Dunn turned pale with passion. "Who's got another horse and buggy?" he
demanded.

"The new blacksmith in Main Street; but we won't get it by borrowing,"
said Brace.

"How, then?" asked Dunn savagely.

"Seize it, as the sheriff of Yuba and his deputy, pursuing a
confederate of the Injin Low--THE HORSE THIEF!"


CHAPTER VIII.

The brief hour of darkness that preceded the dawn was that night
intensified by a dense smoke, which, after blotting out horizon and
sky, dropped a thick veil on the highroad and the silent streets of
Indian Spring. As the buggy containing Sheriff Dunn and Brace dashed
through the obscurity, Brace suddenly turned to his companion.

"Some one ahead!"

The two men bent forward over the dashboard. Above the steady plunging
of their own horse-hoofs they could hear the quicker irregular beat of
other hoofs in the darkness before them.

"It's that horse thief!" said Dunn, in a savage whisper. "Bear to the
right, and hand me the whip."

A dozen cuts of the cruel lash, and their maddened horse, bounding at
each stroke, broke into a wild canter. The frail vehicle swayed from
side to side at each spring of the elastic shafts. Steadying himself by
one hand on the low rail, Dunn drew his revolver with the other. "Sing
out to him to pull up, or we'll fire. My voice is clean gone," he
added, in a husky whisper.

They were so near that they could distinguish the bulk of a vehicle
careering from side to side in the blackness ahead. Dunn deliberately
raised his weapon. "Sing out!" he repeated impatiently. But Brace, who
was still keeping in the shadow, suddenly grasped his companion's arm.

"Hush! It's _not_ Buckskin," he whispered hurriedly.

"Are you sure?"

"_Don't you see we're gaining on him_?" replied the other
contemptuously. Dunn grasped his companion's hand and pressed it
silently. Even in that supreme moment this horseman's tribute to the
fugitive Buckskin forestalled all baser considerations of pursuit and
capture!

In twenty seconds they were abreast of the stranger, crowding his horse
and buggy nearly into the ditch; Brace keenly watchful, Dunn suppressed
and pale. In half a minute they were leading him a length; and when
their horse again settled down to his steady work, the stranger was
already lost in the circling dust that followed them. But the victors
seemed disappointed. The obscurity had completely hidden all but the
vague outlines of the mysterious driver.

"He's not our game, any way," whispered Dunn. "Drive on."

"But if it was some friend of his," suggested Brace uneasily, "what
would you do?"

"What I _said_ I'd do," responded Dunn savagely. "I don't want five
minutes to do it in, either; we'll be half an hour ahead of that d----d
fool, whoever he is. Look here; all you've got to do is to put me in
the trail to that cabin. Stand back of me, out of gun-shot, alone, if
you like, as my deputy, or with any number you can pick up as my posse.
If he gets by me as Nellie's lover, you may shoot him or take him as a
horse thief, if you like."

"Then you won't shoot him on sight?"

"Not till I've had a word with him."

"But"--

"I've chirped," said the sheriff gravely. "Drive on."

For a few moments only the plunging hoofs and rattling wheels were
heard. A dull, lurid glow began to define the horizon. They were silent
until an abatement of the smoke, the vanishing of the gloomy horizon
line, and a certain impenetrability in the darkness ahead showed them
they were nearing the Carquinez Woods. But they were surprised on
entering them to find the dim aisles alight with a faint mystic Aurora.
The tops of the towering spires above them had caught the gleam of the
distant forest fires, and reflected it as from a gilded dome.

"It would be hot work if the Carquinez Woods should conclude to take a
hand in this yer little game that's going on over on the Divide
yonder," said Brace, securing his horse and glancing at the spires
overhead. "I reckon I'd rather take a back seat at Injin Spring when
the show commences."

Dunn did not reply, but, buttoning his coat, placed one hand on his
companion's shoulder, and sullenly bade him "lead the way." Advancing
slowly and with difficulty, the desperate man might have been taken for
a peaceful invalid returning from an early morning stroll. His right
hand was buried thoughtfully in the side-pocket of his coat. Only Brace
knew that it rested on the handle of his pistol.

From time to time the latter stopped and consulted the faint trail with
a minuteness that showed recent careful study. Suddenly he paused. "I
made a blaze hereabouts to show where to leave the trail. There it is,"
he added, pointing to a slight notch cut in the trunk of an adjoining
tree.

"But we've just passed one," said Dunn, "if that's what you are looking
after, a hundred yards back."

Brace uttered an oath, and ran back in the direction signified by his
companion. Presently he returned with a smile of triumph.

"They've suspected something. It's a clever trick, but it won't hold
water. That blaze which was done to muddle you was cut with an axe;
this which I made was done with a bowie-knife. It's the real one. We're
not far off now. Come on."

They proceeded cautiously, at right angles with the "blazed" tree, for
ten minutes more. The heat was oppressive; drops of perspiration rolled
from the forehead of the sheriff, and at times, when he attempted to
steady his uncertain limbs, his hands shrank from the heated,
blistering bark he touched with ungloved palms.

"Here we are," said Brace, pausing at last. "Do you see that biggest
tree, with the root stretching out half-way across to the opposite
one?"

"No; it's further to the right and abreast of the dead brush,"
interrupted Dunn quickly, with a sudden revelation that this was the
spot where he had found the dead bear in the night Teresa escaped.

"That's so," responded Brace, in astonishment.

"And the opening is on the other side, opposite the dead brush," said
Dunn.

"Then you know it?" said Brace suspiciously.

"I reckon!" responded Dunn, grimly. "That's enough! Fall back!"

To the surprise of his companion, he lifted his head erect, and with a
strong, firm step walked directly to the tree. Reaching it, he planted
himself squarely before the opening.

"Halloo!" he said.

There was no reply. A squirrel scampered away close to his feet. Brace,
far in the distance, after an ineffectual attempt to distinguish his
companion through the intervening trunks, took off his coat, leaned
against a tree, and lit a cigar.

"Come out of that cabin!" continued Dunn, in a clear, resonant voice.
"Come out before I drag you out!"

"All right, 'Captain Scott.' Don't shoot, and I'll come down," said a
voice as clear and as high as his own. The hanging strips of bark were
dashed aside, and a woman leaped lightly to the ground.

Dunn staggered back. "Teresa! by the Eternal!"

It was Teresa! the old Teresa! Teresa, a hundred times more vicious,
reckless, hysterical, extravagant, and outrageous than before,--Teresa,
staring with tooth and eye, sunburnt and embrowned, her hair hanging
down her shoulders, and her shawl drawn tightly around her neck.

"Teresa it is! the same old gal! Here we are again! Return of the
favorite in her original character! For two weeks only! Houp la! Tshk!"
and, catching her yellow skirt with her fingers, she pirouetted before
the astounded man, and ended in a pose. Recovering himself with an
effort, Dunn dashed forward and seized her by the wrist.

"Answer me, woman! Is that Low's cabin?"

"It is."

"Who occupies it besides?"

"I do."

"And who else?"

"Well," drawled Teresa slowly, with an extravagant affectation of
modesty, "nobody else but us, I reckon. Two's company, you know, and
three's none."

"Stop! Will you swear that there isn't a young girl, his--his
sweetheart--concealed there with you?"

The fire in Teresa's eye was genuine as she answered steadily, "Well,
it ain't my style to put up with that sort of thing; at least, it
wasn't over at Yolo, and you know it, Jim Dunn, or I wouldn't be here."

"Yes, yes," said Dunn hurriedly. "But I'm a d----d fool, or worse, the
fool of a fool. Tell me, Teresa, is this man Low your lover?"

Teresa lowered her eyes as if in maidenly confusion.

"Well, if I'd known that _you_ had any feeling of your own about it--if
you'd spoken sooner"--

"Answer me, you devil!"

"He is."

"And he has been with you here--yesterday--tonight?"

"He has."

"Enough." He laughed a weak, foolish laugh, and turning pale, suddenly
lapsed against a tree. He would have fallen, but with a quick instinct
Teresa sprang to his side, and supported him gently to a root. The
action over they both looked astounded.

"I reckon that wasn't much like either you or me," said Dunn slowly,
"was it? But if you'd let me drop then you'd have stretched out the
biggest fool in the Sierras." He paused, and looked at her curiously.
"What's come over you; blessed if I seem to know you now."

She was very pale again, and quiet; that was all.

"Teresa! d----n it, look here! When I was laid up yonder in Excelsior I
said I wanted to get well for only two things. One was to hunt you
down, the other to marry Nellie Wynn. When I came here I thought that
last thing could never be. I came here expecting to find her here with
Low, and kill him--perhaps kill her too. I never even thought of you;
not once. You might have risen up before me--between me and him--and
I'd have passed you by. And now that I find it's all a mistake, and it
was you, not her, I was looking for, why"--

"Why," she interrupted bitterly, "you'll just take me, of course, to
save your time and earn your salary. I'm ready."

"But _I'm_ not, just yet," he said faintly. "Help me up." She
mechanically assisted him to his feet.

"Now stand where you are," he added, "and don't move beyond this tree
till I return."

He straightened himself with an effort, clenched his fists until the
nails were nearly buried in his palms, and strode with a firm, steady
step in the direction he had come. In a few moments he returned and
stood before her.

"I've sent away my deputy--the man who brought me here, the fool who
thought you were Nellie. He knows now he made a mistake. But who it was
he mistook for Nellie he does not know, nor shall ever know, nor shall
any living being know, other than myself. And when I leave the wood
to-day I shall know it no longer. You are safe here as far as I am
concerned, but I cannot screen you from others prying. Let Low take you
away from here as soon as he can."

"Let him take me away? Ah, yes. For what?"

"To save you," said Dunn. "Look here, Teresa! Without knowing it, you
lifted me out of hell just now; and because of the wrong I might have
done her--for _her_ sake, I spare you and shirk my duty."

"For her sake!" gasped the woman--"for her sake! Oh, yes! Go on."

"Well," said Dunn gloomily, "I reckon perhaps you'd as lieve left me in
hell, for all the love you bear me. And maybe you've grudge enough agin
me still to wish I'd found her and him together."

"You think so?" she said, turning her head away.

"There, d----n it! I didn't mean to make you cry. Maybe you wouldn't,
then. Only tell that fellow to take you out of this, and not run away
the next time he sees a man coming."

"He didn't run," said Teresa, with flashing eyes. "I--I--I sent him
away," she stammered. Then, suddenly turning with fury upon him, she
broke out, "Run! Run from you! Ha, ha! You said just now I'd a grudge
against you. Well, listen, Jim Dunn. I'd only to bring you in range of
that young man's rifle, and you'd have dropped in your tracks like"--

"Like that bar, the other night," said Dunn, with a short laugh. "So
_that_ was your little game?" He checked his laugh suddenly--a cloud
passed over his face. "Look here, Teresa," he said, with an assumption
of carelessness that was as transparent as it was utterly incompatible
with his frank, open selfishness. "What became of that bar? The
skin--eh? That was worth something?"

"Yes," said Teresa quietly. "Low exchanged it and got a ring for me
from that trader Isaacs. It was worth more, you bet. And the ring
didn't fit either"--

"Yes," interrupted Dunn, with an almost childish eagerness.

"And I made him take it back, and get the value in money. I hear that
Isaacs sold it again and made another profit; but that's like those
traders." The disingenuous candor of Teresa's manner was in exquisite
contrast to Dunn. He rose and grasped her hand so heartily she was
forced to turn her eyes away.

"Good-by!" he said.

"You look tired," she murmured, with a sudden gentleness that surprised
him; "let me go with you a part of the way."

"It isn't safe for you just now," he said, thinking of the possible
consequences of the alarm Brace had raised.

"Not the way _you_ came," she replied; "but one known only to myself."

He hesitated only a moment. "All right, then," he said finally; "let us
go at once. It's suffocating here, and I seem to feel this dead bark
crinkle under my feet."

She cast a rapid glance around her, and then seemed to sound with her
eyes the far-off depths of the aisles, beginning to grow pale with the
advancing day, but still holding a strange quiver of heat in the air.
When she had finished her half abstracted scrutiny of the distance, she
cast one backward glance at her own cabin and stopped.

"Will you wait a moment for me?" she asked gently.

"Yes--but--no tricks, Teresa! It isn't worth the time."

She looked him squarely in the eyes without a word.

"Enough," he said; "go!"

She was absent for some moments. He was beginning to become uneasy,
when she made her appearance again, clad in her old faded black dress.
Her face was very pale, and her eyes were swollen, but she placed his
hand on her shoulder, and bidding him not to fear to lean upon her, for
she was quite strong, led the way.

"You look more like yourself now, and yet--blast it all!--you don't
either," said Dunn, looking down upon her. "You've changed in some way.
What is it? Is it on account of that Injin? Couldn't you have found a
white man in his place?"

"I reckon he's neither worse nor better for that," she replied
bitterly; "and perhaps he wasn't as particular in his taste as a white
man might have been. But," she added, with a sudden spasm of her old
rage, "it's a lie; he's _not_ an Indian, no more than I am. Not unless
being born of a mother who scarcely knew him, of a father who never
even saw him, and being brought up among white men and wild beasts less
cruel than they were, could make him one!"

Dunn looked at her in surprise not unmixed with admiration. "If
Nellie," he thought, "could but love _me_ like that!" But he only said:

"For all that, he's an Injin. Why, look at his name. It ain't Low. It's
_L'Eau Dormante_, Sleeping Water, an Injin name."

"And what does that prove?" returned Teresa. "Only that Indians clap a
nickname on any stranger, white or red, who may camp with them. Why,
even his own father, a white man, the wretch who begot him and
abandoned him,--_he_ had an Indian name--_Loup Noir_."

"What name did you say?"

"_Le Loup Noir_, the Black Wolf. I suppose you'd call him an Indian,
too? Eh? What's the matter? We're walking too fast. Stop a moment and
rest. There--there, lean on me!"

She was none too soon; for, after holding him upright a moment, his
limbs failed, and stooping gently she was obliged to support him half
reclining against a tree.

"It's the heat!" he said. "Give me some whiskey from my flask. Never
mind the water," he added faintly, with a forced laugh, after he had
taken a draught at the strong spirit. "Tell me more about the other
water--the Sleeping Water, you know. How do you know all this about him
and his--father?"

"Partly from him and partly from Curson, who wrote to me about him,"
she answered, with some hesitation.

But Dunn did not seem to notice this incongruity of correspondence with
a former lover. "And _he_ told you?"

"Yes; and I saw the name on an old memorandum-book he has, which he
says belonged to his father. It's full of old accounts of some trading
post on the frontier. It's been missing for a day or two, but it will
turn up. But I can swear I saw it."

Dunn attempted to rise to his feet. "Put your hand in my pocket," he
said in a hurried whisper. "No, there!--bring out a book. There, I
haven't looked at it yet. Is that it?" he added, handing her the book
Brace had given him a few hours before.

"Yes," said Teresa, in surprise. "Where did you find it?"

"Never mind! Now let me see it, quick. Open it, for my sight is
failing. There--thank you--that's all!"

"Take more whiskey," said Teresa, with a strange anxiety creeping over
her. "You are faint again."

"Wait! Listen, Teresa--lower--put your ear lower. Listen! I came near
killing that chap Low to-day. Wouldn't it have been ridiculous?"

He tried to smile, but his head fell back. He had fainted.


CHAPTER IX.

For the first time in her life Teresa lost her presence of mind in an
emergency. She could only sit staring at the helpless man, scarcely
conscious of his condition, her mind filled with a sudden prophetic
intuition of the significance of his last words. In the light of that
new revelation she looked into his pale, haggard face for some
resemblance to Low, but in vain. Yet her swift feminine instinct met
the objection. "It's the mother's blood that would show," she murmured,
"not this man's."

Recovering herself, she began to chafe his hands and temples, and
moistened his lips with the spirit. When his respiration returned with
a faint color to his cheeks, she pressed his hand eagerly and leaned
over him.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Of what?" he whispered faintly.

"That Low is really your son?"

"Who said so?" he asked, opening his round eyes upon her.

"You did yourself, a moment ago," she said quickly. "Don't you
remember?"

"Did I?"

"You did. Is it so?"

He smiled faintly. "I reckon."

She held her breath in expectation. But only the ludicrousness of the
discovery seemed paramount to his weakened faculties. "Isn't it just
about the ridiculousest thing all round?" he said, with a feeble
chuckle. "First _you_ nearly kill me before you know I am Low's father;
then I'm just spoilin' to kill him before I know he's my son; then that
god-forsaken fool Jack Brace mistakes you for Nellie, and Nellie for
you. Ain't it just the biggest thing for the boys to get hold of? But
we must keep it dark until after I marry Nellie, don't you see? Then
we'll have a good time all round, and I'll stand the drinks. Think of
it, Teresha! You don'no me, I do'no you, nobody knowsh anybody elsh. I
try kill Lo'. Lo' wants kill Nellie. No thath no ri'"--but the potent
liquor, overtaking his exhausted senses, thickened, impeded, and at
last stopped his speech. His head slipped to her shoulder, and he
became once more unconscious.

Teresa breathed again. In that brief moment she had abandoned herself
to a wild inspiration of hope which she could scarcely define. Not that
it was entirely a wild inspiration; she tried to reason calmly. What if
she revealed the truth to him? What if she told the wretched man before
her that she had deceived him; that she had overheard his conversation
with Brace; that she had stolen Brace's horse to bring Low warning;
that, failing to find Low in his accustomed haunts, or at the
camp-fire, she had left a note for him pinned to the herbarium,
imploring him to fly with his companion from the danger that was
coming; and that, remaining on watch, she had seen them both--Brace and
Dunn--approaching, and had prepared to meet them at the cabin? Would
this miserable and maddened man understand her self-abnegation? Would
he forgive Low and Nellie?--she did not ask for herself. Or would the
revelation turn his brain, if it did not kill him outright? She looked
at the sunken orbits of his eyes and hectic on his cheek, and
shuddered.

Why was this added to the agony she already suffered? She had been
willing to stand between them with her life, her liberty and even--the
hot blood dyed her cheek at the thought--with the added shame of being
thought the cast-off mistress of that man's son. Yet all this she had
taken upon herself in expiation of something--she knew not clearly
what; no, for nothing--only for _him_. And yet this very situation
offered her that gleam of hope which had thrilled her; a hope so wild
in its improbability, so degrading in its possibility, that at first
she knew not whether despair was not preferable to its shame. And yet
was it unreasonable? She was no longer passionate; she would be calm
and think it out fairly.

She would go to Low at once. She would find him somewhere--and even if
with that girl, what mattered?--and she would tell him all. When he
knew that the life and death of his father lay in the scale, would he
let his brief, foolish passion for Nellie stand in the way? Even if he
were not influenced by filial affection or mere compassion, would his
pride let him stoop to a rivalry with the man who had deserted his
youth? Could he take Dunn's promised bride, who must have coquetted
with him to have brought him to this miserable plight? Was this like
the calm, proud young god she knew? Yet she had an uneasy instinct that
calm, proud young gods and goddesses did things like this, and felt the
weakness of her reasoning flush her own conscious cheek.

"Teresa!"

She started. Dunn was awake, and was gazing at her curiously.

"I was reckoning it was the only square thing for Low to stop this
promiscuous picnicking here and marry you out and out."

"Marry me!" said Teresa in a voice that, with all her efforts, she
could not make cynical.

"Yes," he repeated, "after I've married Nellie; tote you down to San
Angeles, and there take my name like a man, and give it to you.
Nobody'll ask after _Teresa_, sure--you bet your life. And if they do,
and he can't stop their jaw, just you call on the old man. It's mighty
queer, ain't it, Teresa, to think of you being my daughter-in-law?"

It seemed here as if he was about to lapse again into unconsciousness
over the purely ludicrous aspect of the subject, but he haply recovered
his seriousness. "He'll have as much money from me as he wants to go
into business with. What's his line of business, Teresa?" asked this
prospective father-in-law, in a large, liberal way.

"He is a botanist!" said Teresa, with a sudden childish animation that
seemed to keep up the grim humor of the paternal suggestion; "and oh,
he is too poor to buy books! I sent for one or two for him myself, the
other day"--she hesitated--"it was all the money I had, but it wasn't
enough for him to go on with his studies."

Dunn looked at her sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks, and became
thoughtful. "Curson must have been a d----d fool," he said finally.

Teresa remained silent. She was beginning to be impatient and uneasy,
fearing some mischance that might delay her dreaded yet longed-for
meeting with Low. Yet she could not leave this sick and exhausted man,
_his father_, now bound to her by more than mere humanity.

"Couldn't you manage," she said gently, "to lean on me a few steps
further, until I could bring you to a cooler spot and nearer
assistance?"

He nodded. She lifted him almost like a child to his feet. A spasm of
pain passed over his face. "How far is it?" he asked.

"Not more than ten minutes," she replied.

"I can make a spurt for that time," he said coolly, and began to walk
slowly but steadily on. Only his face, which was white and set, and the
convulsive grip of his hand on her arm, betrayed the effort. At the end
of ten minutes she stopped. They stood before the splintered,
lightning-scarred shaft in the opening of the woods, where Low had
built her first camp-fire. She carefully picked up the herbarium, but
her quick eye had already detected in the distance, before she had
allowed Dunn to enter the opening with her, that her note was gone. Low
had been there before them; he had been warned, as his absence from the
cabin showed; he would not return there. They were free from
interruption--but where had he gone?

The sick man drew a long breath of relief as she seated him in the
clover-grown hollow where she had slept the second night of her stay.
"It's cooler than those cursed woods," he said. "I suppose it's because
it's a little like a grave. What are you going to do now?" he added, as
she brought a cup of water and placed it at his side.

"I am going to leave you here for a little while," she said cheerfully,
but with a pale face and nervous hands. "I'm going to leave you while I
seek Low."

The sick man raised his head. "I'm good for a spurt, Teresa, like that
I've just got through, but I don't think I'm up to a family party.
Couldn't you issue cards later on?"

"You don't understand," she said. "I'm going to get Low to send some
one of your friends to you here. I don't think he'll begrudge leaving
_her_ a moment for that," she added to herself bitterly.

"What's that you're saying?" he queried, with the nervous quickness of
an invalid.

"Nothing--but that I'm going now." She turned her face aside to hide
her moistened eyes. "Wish me good luck, won't you?" she asked, half
sadly, half pettishly.

"Come here!"

She came and bent over him. He suddenly raised his hands, and, drawing
her face down to his own, kissed her forehead.

"Give that to _him_," he whispered, "from _me_."

She turned and fled, happily for her sentiment, not hearing the feeble
laugh that followed, as Dunn, in sheer imbecility, again referred to
the extravagant ludicrousness of the situation. "It is about the
biggest thing in the way of a sell all round," he repeated, lying on
his back, confidentially to the speck of smoke-obscured sky above him.
He pictured himself repeating it, not to Nellie--her severe propriety
might at last overlook the fact, but would not tolerate the joke--but
to her father! It would be just one of those characteristic Californian
jokes Father Wynn would admire.

To his exhaustion fever presently succeeded, and he began to grow
restless. The heat too seemed to invade his retreat, and from time to
time the little patch of blue sky was totally obscured by clouds of
smoke. He amused himself with watching a lizard who was investigating a
folded piece of paper, whose elasticity gave the little creature lively
apprehensions of its vitality. At last he could stand the stillness of
his retreat and his supine position no longer, and rolled himself out
of the bed of leaves that Teresa had so carefully prepared for him. He
rose to his feet stiff and sore, and, supporting himself by the nearest
tree, moved a few steps from the dead ashes of the camp-fire. The
movement frightened the lizard, who abandoned the paper and fled. With
a satirical recollection of Brace and his "ridiculous" discovery
through the medium of this animal, he stooped and picked up the paper.
"Like as not," he said to himself, with grim irony, "these yer lizards
are in the discovery business. P'r'aps this may lead to another
mystery;" and he began to unfold the paper with a smile. But the smile
ceased as his eye suddenly caught his own name.

A dozen lines were written in pencil on what seemed to be a blank leaf
originally torn from some book. He trembled so that he was obliged to
sit down to read these words:--

"When you get this keep away from the woods. Dunn and another man are
in deadly pursuit of you and your companion. I overheard their plan to
surprise you in our cabin. _Don't go there_, and I will delay them and
put them off the scent. Don't mind me. God bless you, and if you never
see me again think sometimes of

                              TERESA."

His trembling ceased; he did not start, but rose in an abstracted way,
and made a few deliberate steps in the direction Teresa had gone. Even
then he was so confused that he was obliged to refer to the paper
again, but with so little effect that he could only repeat the last
words, "think sometimes of Teresa." He was conscious that this was not
all; he had a full conviction of being deceived, and knew that he held
the proof in his hand, but he could not formulate it beyond that
sentence. "Teresa"--yes, he would think of her. She would think of him.
She would explain it. And here she was returning.

In that brief interval her face and manner had again changed. She was
pale and quite breathless. She cast a swift glance at Dunn and the
paper he mechanically held out, walked up to him, and tore it from his
hand.

"Well," she said hoarsely, "what are you going to do about it?"

He attempted to speak, but his voice failed him. Even then he was
conscious that if he had spoken he would have only repeated, "think
sometimes of Teresa." He looked longingly but helplessly at the spot
where she had thrown the paper, as if it had contained his unuttered
words.

"Yes," she went on to herself, as if he was a mute, indifferent
spectator--"yes, they're gone. That ends it all. The game's played out.
Well!" suddenly turning upon him, "now you know it all. Your Nellie
_was_ here with him, and is with him now. Do you hear? Make the most of
it; you've lost them--but here I am."

"Yes," he said eagerly--"yes, Teresa."

She stopped, stared at him; then taking him by the hand led him like a
child back to his couch. "Well," she said, in half-savage explanation,
"I told you the truth when I said the girl wasn't at the cabin last
night, and that I didn't know her. What are you glowerin' at? No! I
haven't lied to you, I swear to God, except in one thing. Do you know
what that was? To save him I took upon me a shame I don't deserve. I
let you think I was his mistress. You think so now, don't you? Well,
before God to-day--and He may take me when He likes--I'm no more to him
than a sister! I reckon your Nellie can't say as much."

She turned away, and with the quick, impatient stride of some caged
animal made the narrow circuit of the opening, stopping a moment
mechanically before the sick man, and again, without looking at him,
continuing her monotonous round. The heat had become excessive, but she
held her shawl with both hands drawn tightly over her shoulders.
Suddenly a wood-duck darted out of the covert blindly into the opening,
struck against the blasted trunk, fell half stunned near her feet, and
then, recovering, fluttered away. She had scarcely completed another
circuit before the irruption was followed by a whirring bevy of quail,
a flight of jays, and a sudden tumult of wings swept through the wood
like a tornado. She turned inquiringly to Dunn, who had risen to his
feet, but the next moment she caught convulsively at his wrist: a wolf
had just dashed through the underbrush not a dozen yards away, and on
either side of them they could hear the scamper and rustle of hurrying
feet like the outburst of a summer shower. A cold wind arose from the
opposite direction, as if to contest this wild exodus, but it was
followed by a blast of sickening heat. Teresa sank at Dunn's feet in an
agony of terror.

"Don't let them touch me!" she gasped; "keep them off! Tell me, for
God's sake, what has happened!"

He laid his hand firmly on her arm, and lifted her in his turn to her
feet like a child. In that supreme moment of physical danger, his
strength, reason, and manhood returned in their plenitude of power. He
pointed coolly to the trail she had quitted, and said:

"The Carquinez Woods are on fire!"


CHAPTER X.

The nest of the tuneful Burnhams, although in the suburbs of Indian
Spring, was not in ordinary weather and seasons hidden from the longing
eyes of the youth of that settlement. That night, however, it was
veiled in the smoke that encompassed the great highway leading to
Excelsior. It is presumed that the Burnham brood had long since folded
their wings, for there was no sign of life nor movement in the house as
a rapidly driven horse and buggy pulled up before it. Fortunately, the
paternal Burnham was an early bird, in the habit of picking up the
first stirring mining worm, and a resounding knock brought him half
dressed to the street door. He was startled at seeing Father Wynn
before him, a trifle flushed and abstracted.

"Ah ha! up betimes, I see, and ready. No sluggards here--ha, ha!" he
said heartily, slamming the door behind him, and by a series of pokes
in the ribs genially backing his host into his own sitting-room. "I'm
up, too, and am here to see Nellie. She's here, eh--of course?" he
added, darting a quick look at Burnham.

But Mr. Burnham was one of those large, liberal Western husbands who
classified his household under the general title of "woman folk," for
the integers of which he was not responsible. He hesitated, and then
propounded over the balusters to the upper story the direct query--"You
don't happen to have Nellie Wynn up there, do ye?"

There was an interval of inquiry proceeding from half a dozen reluctant
throats, more or less cottony and muffled, in those various degrees of
grievance and mental distress which indicate too early roused young
womanhood. The eventual reply seemed to be affirmative, albeit
accompanied with a suppressed giggle, as if the young lady had just
been discovered as an answer to an amusing conundrum.

"All right," said Wynn, with an apparent accession of boisterous
geniality. "Tell her I must see her, and I've only got a few minutes to
spare. Tell her to slip on anything and come down; there's no one here
but myself, and I've shut the front door on Brother Burnham. Ha, ha!"
and suiting the action to the word, he actually bundled the admiring
Brother Burnham out on his own doorstep. There was a light pattering on
the staircase, and Nellie Wynn, pink with sleep, very tall, very slim,
hastily draped in a white counterpane with a blue border and a general
classic suggestion, slipped into the parlor. At the same moment the
father shut the door behind her, placed one hand on the knob, and with
the other seized her wrist.

"Where were you yesterday?" he asked.

Nellie looked at him, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Here."

"You were in the Carquinez Woods with Low Dorman; you went there in
disguise; you've met him there before. He is your clandestine lover;
you have taken pledges of affection from him; you have"--

"Stop!" she said.

He stopped.

"Did he tell you this?" she asked, with an expression of disdain.

"No; I overheard it. Dunn and Brace were at the house waiting for you.
When the coach did not bring you, I went to the office to inquire. As I
left our door I thought I saw somebody listening at the parlor windows.
It was only a drunken Mexican muleteer leaning against the house; but
if _he_ heard nothing, _I_ did. Nellie, I heard Brace tell Dunn that he
had tracked you in your disguise to the woods--do you hear? that when
you pretended to be here with the girls you were with Low--alone; that
you wear a ring that Low got of a trader here; that there was a cabin
in the woods"--

"Stop!" she repeated.

Wynn again paused.

"And what did _you_ do?" she asked.

"I heard they were starting down there to surprise you and him
together, and I harnessed up and got ahead of them in my buggy."

"And found me here," she said, looking full into his eyes.

He understood her and returned the look. He recognized the full
importance of the culminating fact conveyed in her words, and was
obliged to content himself with its logical and worldly significance.
It was too late now to take her to task for mere filial disobedience;
they must become allies.

"Yes," he said hurriedly; "but if you value your reputation, if you
wish to silence both these men, answer me fully."

"Go on," she said.

"Did you go to the cabin in the woods yesterday?"

"No."

"Did you ever go there with Low?"

"No; I do not know even where it is."

Wynn felt that she was telling the truth. Nellie knew it; but as she
would have been equally satisfied with an equally efficacious
falsehood, her face remained unchanged.

"And when did he leave you?"

"At nine o'clock, here. He went to the hotel."

"He saved his life, then, for Dunn is on his way to the woods to kill
him."

The jeopardy of her lover did not seem to affect the young girl with
alarm, although her eyes betrayed some interest.

"Then Dunn has gone to the woods?" she said thoughtfully.

"He has," replied Wynn.

"Is that all?" she asked.

"I want to know what you are going to do?"

"I _was_ going back to bed."

"This is no time for trifling, girl."

"I should think not," she said, with a yawn; "it's too early, or too
late."

Wynn grasped her wrist more tightly. "Hear me! Put whatever face you
like on this affair, you are compromised--and compromised with a man
you can't marry."

"I don't know that I ever wanted to marry Low, if you mean him," she
said quietly.

"And Dunn wouldn't marry you now."

"I'm not so sure of that either."

"Nellie," said Wynn excitedly, "do you want to drive me mad? Have you
nothing to say--nothing to suggest?"

"Oh, you want me to help you, do you? Why didn't you say that first?
Well, go and bring Dunn here."

"Are you mad? The man has gone already in pursuit of your lover,
believing you with him."

"Then he will the more readily come and talk with me without him. Will
you take the invitation--yes or no?"

"Yes, but"--

"Enough. On your way there you will stop at the hotel and give Low a
letter from me."

"Nellie!"

"You shall read it, of course," she said scornfully, "for it will be
your text for the conversation you will have with him. Will you please
take your hand from the lock and open the door?"

Wynn mechanically opened the door. The young girl flew up-stairs. In a
very few moments she returned with two notes: one contained a few lines
of formal invitation to Dunn; the other read as follows:--

"DEAR MR. DORMAN: My father will tell you how deeply I regret that our
recent botanical excursions in the Carquinez Woods have been a source
of serious misapprehension to those who had a claim to my
consideration, and that I shall be obliged to discontinue them for the
future. At the same time he wishes me to express my gratitude for your
valuable instruction and assistance in that pleasing study, even though
approaching events may compel me to relinquish it for other duties. May
I beg you to accept the enclosed ring as a slight recognition of my
obligations to you?

"Your grateful pupil,

"NELLIE WYNN."

When he had finished reading the letter, she handed him a ring, which
he took mechanically. He raised his eyes to hers with perfectly genuine
admiration. "You're a good girl, Nellie," he said, and, in a moment of
parental forgetfulness, unconsciously advanced his lips towards her
cheek. But she drew back in time to recall him to a sense of that human
weakness.

"I suppose I'll have time for a nap yet," she said, as a gentle hint to
her embarrassed parent. He nodded and turned towards the door.

"If I were you," she continued, repressing a yawn, "I'd manage to be
seen on good terms with Low at the hotel; so perhaps you need not give
the letter to him until the last thing. Good-by."

The sitting-room door opened and closed behind her as she slipped
up-stairs, and her father, without the formality of leave-taking,
quietly let *himselt out by the front door.

When he drove into the highroad again, however, an overlooked
possibility threatened for a moment to indefinitely postpone his
amiable intentions regarding Low. The hotel was at the farther end of
the settlement toward the Carquinez Woods, and as Wynn had nearly
reached it he was recalled to himself by the sounds of hoofs and wheels
rapidly approaching from the direction of the Excelsior turnpike. Wynn
made no doubt it was the sheriff and Brace. To avoid recognition at
that moment, he whipped up his horse, intending to keep the lead until
he could turn into the first cross-road. But the coming travelers had
the fleetest horse; and finding it impossible to distance them, he
drove close to the ditch, pulling up suddenly as the strange vehicle
was abreast of him, and forcing them to pass him at full speed, with
the result already chronicled. When they had vanished in the darkness,
Mr. Wynn, with a heart overflowing with Christian thankfulness and
universal benevolence, wheeled round, and drove back to the hotel he
had already passed. To pull up at the veranda with a stentorian shout,
to thump loudly at the deserted bar, to hilariously beat the panels of
the landlord's door, and commit a jocose assault and battery upon that
half-dressed and half-awakened man, was eminently characteristic of
Wynn, and part of his amiable plans that morning.

"Something to wash this wood smoke from my throat, Brother Carter, and
about as much again to prop open your eyes," he said, dragging Carter
before the bar, "and glasses round for as many of the boys as are up
and stirring after a hard-working Christian's rest. How goes the honest
publican's trade, and who have we here?"

"Thar's Judge Robinson and two lawyers from Sacramento, Dick Curson
over from Yolo," said Carter, "and that ar young Injin yarb doctor from
the Carquinez Woods. I reckon he's jist up--I noticed a light under his
door as I passed."

"He's my man for a friendly chat before breakfast," said Wynn. "You
needn't come up. I'll find the way. I don't want a light; I reckon my
eyes ain't as bright nor as young as his, but they'll see almost as far
in the dark--he-he!" And, nodding to Brother Carter, he strode along
the passage, and with no other introduction than a playful and
preliminary "Boo!" burst into one of the rooms. Low, who by the light
of a single candle was bending over the plates of a large quarto,
merely raised his eyes and looked at the intruder. The young man's
natural imperturbability, always exasperating to Wynn, seemed accented
that morning by contrast with his own over-acted animation.

"Ah ha!--wasting the midnight oil instead of imbibing the morning
dews," said Father Wynn archly, illustrating his metaphor with a
movement of his hand to his lips. "What have we here?"

"An anonymous gift," replied Low simply, recognizing the father of
Nellie by rising from his chair. "It's a volume I've longed to possess,
but never could afford to buy. I cannot imagine who sent it to me."

Wynn was for a moment startled by the thought that this recipient of
valuable gifts might have influential friends. But a glance at the bare
room, which looked like a camp, and the strange, unconventional garb of
its occupant, restored his former convictions. There might be a promise
of intelligence, but scarcely of prosperity, in the figure before him.

"Ah! We must not forget that we are watched over in the night season,"
he said, laying his hand on Low's shoulder, with an illustration of
celestial guardianship that would have been impious but for its
palpable grotesqueness. "No, sir, we know not what a day may bring
forth."

Unfortunately, Low's practical mind did not go beyond a mere human
interpretation. It was enough, however, to put a new light in his eye
and a faint color in his cheek.

"Could it have been Miss Nellie?" he asked, with half-boyish
hesitation.

Mr. Wynn was too much of a Christian not to bow before what appeared to
him the purely providential interposition of this suggestion. Seizing
it and Low at the same moment, he playfully forced him down again in
his chair.

"Ah, you rascal!" he said, with infinite archness; "that's your game,
is it? You want to trap poor Father Wynn. You want to make him say
'No.' You want to tempt him to commit himself. No, sir!--never,
sir!--no, no!"

Firmly convinced that the present was Nellie's and that her father only
good-humoredly guessed it, the young man's simple, truthful nature was
embarrassed. He longed to express his gratitude, but feared to betray
the young girl's trust. The Reverend Mr. Wynn speedily relieved his
mind.

"No," he continued, bestriding a chair, and familiarly confronting Low
over its back. "No, sir--no! And you want me to say 'No,' don't you,
regarding the little walks of Nellie and a certain young man in the
Carquinez Woods?--ha, ha! You'd like me to say that I knew nothing of
the botanizings, and the herb collectings, and the picnickings
there--he-he!--you sly dog! Perhaps you'd like to tempt Father Wynn
further and make him swear he knows nothing of his daughter disguising
herself in a duster and meeting another young man--isn't it another
young man?--all alone, eh? Perhaps you want poor old Father Wynn to say
'No.' No, sir, nothing of the kind ever occurred. Ah, you young
rascal!"

Slightly troubled, in spite of Wynn's hearty manner, Low, with his
usual directness however, said, "I do not want any one to deny that I
have seen Miss Nellie."

"Certainly, certainly," said Wynn, abandoning his method, considerably
disconcerted by Low's simplicity, and a certain natural reserve that
shook off his familiarity. "Certainly it's a noble thing to be able to
put your hand on your heart and say to the world, 'Come on, all of you!
Observe me; I have nothing to conceal. I walk with Miss Wynn in the
woods as her instructor--her teacher, in fact. We cull a flower here
and there; we pluck an herb fresh from the hand of the Creator. We
look, so to speak, from Nature to Nature's God.' Yes, my young friend,
we should be the first to repel the foul calumny that could
misinterpret our most innocent actions."

"Calumny?" repeated Low, starting to his feet. "What calumny?"

"My friend, my noble young friend, I recognize your indignation. I know
your worth. When I said to Nellie, my only child, my perhaps too simple
offspring--a mere wildflower like yourself--when I said to her, 'Go, my
child, walk in the woods with this young man, hand in hand. Let him
instruct you from the humblest roots, for he has trodden in the ways of
the Almighty. Gather wisdom from his lips, and knowledge from his
simple woodman's craft. Make, in fact, a collection not only of herbs,
but of moral axioms and experience,'--I knew I could trust you, and,
trusting you, my young friend, I felt I could trust the world. Perhaps
I was weak, foolish. But I thought only of her welfare. I even recall
how that, to preserve the purity of her garments, I bade her don a
simple duster; that, to secure her from the trifling companionship of
others, I bade her keep her own counsel, and seek you at seasons known
but to yourselves."

"But ... did Nellie ... understand you?" interrupted Low hastily.

"I see you read her simple nature. Understand me? No, not at first! Her
maidenly instinct--perhaps her duty to another--took the alarm. I
remember her words. 'But what will Dunn say?' she asked. 'Will he not
be jealous?'"

"Dunn! jealous! I don't understand," said Low, fixing his eyes on Wynn.

"That's just what I said to Nellie. 'Jealous!' I said. 'What, Dunn,
your affianced husband, jealous of a mere friend--a teacher, a guide, a
philosopher. It is impossible.' Well, sir, she was right. He is
jealous. And, more than that, he has imparted his jealousy to others!
In other words, he has made a scandal!"

Low's eyes flashed. "Where is your daughter now?" he said sternly.

"At present in bed, suffering from a nervous attack brought on by these
unjust suspicions. She appreciates your anxiety, and, knowing that you
could not see her, told me to give you this." He handed Low the ring
and the letter.

The climax had been forced, and, it must be confessed, was by no means
the one Mr. Wynn had fully arranged in his own inner consciousness. He
had intended to take an ostentatious leave of Low in the bar-room,
deliver the letter with archness, and escape before a possible
explosion. He consequently backed towards the door for an emergency.
But he was again at fault. That unaffected stoical fortitude in acute
suffering, which was the one remaining pride and glory of Low's race,
was yet to be revealed to Wynn's civilized eyes.

The young man took the letter, and read it without changing a muscle,
folded the ring in it, and dropped it into his haversack. Then he
picked up his blanket, threw it over his shoulder, took his trusty
rifle in his hand, and turned toward Wynn as if coldly surprised that
he was still standing there.

"Are you--are you--going?" stammered Wynn.

"Are you _not_?" replied Low dryly, leaning on his rifle for a moment
as if waiting for Wynn to precede him. The preacher looked at him a
moment, mumbled something, and then shambled feebly and ineffectively
down the staircase before Low, with a painful suggestion to the
ordinary observer of being occasionally urged thereto by the moccasin
of the young man behind him.

On reaching the lower hall, however, he endeavored to create a
diversion in his favor by dashing into the barroom and clapping the
occupants on the back with indiscriminate playfulness. But here again
he seemed to be disappointed. To his great discomfiture, a large man
not only returned his salutation with powerful levity, but with equal
playfulness seized him in his arms, and after an ingenious simulation
of depositing him in the horse-trough set him down in affected
amazement. "Bleth't if I didn't think from the weight of your hand it
wath my old friend, Thacramento Bill," said Curson apologetically, with
a wink at the bystanders. "That'th the way Bill alwayth uthed to tackle
hith friendth, till he wath one day bounthed by a prithe-fighter in
Frithco, whom he had mithtaken for a mithionary." As Mr. Curson's
reputation was of a quality that made any form of apology from him
instantly acceptable, the amused spectators made way for him as,
recognizing Low, who was just leaving the hotel, he turned coolly from
them and walked towards him.

"Halloo!" he said, extending his hand. "You're the man I'm waiting for.
Did you get a book from the exthpreth offithe latht night?"

"I did. Why?"

"It'th all right. Ath I'm rethponthible for it, I only wanted to know."

"Did _you_ send it?" asked Low, quickly fixing his eyes on his face.

"Well, not exactly _me_. But it'th not worth making a mythtery of it.
Teretha gave me a commithion to buy it and thend it to you
anonymouthly. That'th a woman'th nonthenth, for how could thee get a
retheipt for it?"

"Then it was _her_ present," said Low gloomily.

"Of courthe. It wathn't mine, my boy. I'd have thent you a Tharp'th
rifle in plathe of that muthle loader you carry, or thomething
thenthible. But, I thay! what'th up? You look ath if you had been
running all night."

Low grasped his hand. "Thank you," he said hurriedly; "but it's
nothing. Only I must be back to the woods early. Good-by."

But Curson retained Low's hand in his own powerful grip.

"I'll go with you a bit further," he said. "In fact, I've got
thomething to thay to you; only don't be in thuch a hurry; the woodth
can wait till you get there." Quietly compelling Low to alter his own
characteristic Indian stride to keep pace with his, he went on: "I
don't mind thaying I rather cottoned to you from the time you acted
like a white man--no offenthe--to Teretha. She thayth you were left
when a child lying round, jutht ath promithcuouthly ath she wath; and
if I can do anything towardth putting you on the trail of your people,
I'll do it. I know thome of the _voyageurth_ who traded with the
Cherokeeth, and your father wath one--wasn't he?" He glanced at Low's
utterly abstracted and immobile face. "I thay, you don't theem to take
a hand in thith game, pardner. What 'th the row? Ith anything wrong
over there?" and he pointed to the Carquinez Woods, which were just
looming out of the morning horizon in the distance.

Low stopped. The last words of his companion seemed to recall him to
himself. He raised his eyes automatically to the woods, and started.

"There _is_ something wrong over there," he said breathlessly. "Look!"

"I thee nothing," said Curson, beginning to doubt Low's sanity;
"nothing more than I thaw an hour ago."

"Look again. Don't you see that smoke rising straight up? It isn't
blown over from the Divide; it's new smoke! The fire is in the woods!"

"I reckon that 'th so," muttered Curson, shading his eyes with his
hand. "But, hullo! wait a minute! We'll get hortheth. I say!" he
shouted, forgetting his lisp in his excitement--"stop!" But Low had
already lowered his head and darted forward like an arrow.

In a few moments he had left not only his companion but the last
straggling houses of the outskirts far behind him, and had struck out
in a long, swinging trot for the disused "cut-off." Already he fancied
he heard the note of clamor in Indian Spring, and thought he
distinguished the sound of hurrying hoofs on the great highway. But the
sunken trail hid it from his view. From the column of smoke now plainly
visible in the growing morning light he tried to locate the scene of
the conflagration. It was evidently not a fire advancing regularly from
the outer skirt of the wood, communicated to it from the Divide; it was
a local outburst near its centre. It was not in the direction of his
cabin in the tree. There was no immediate danger to Teresa, unless fear
drove her beyond the confines of the wood into the hands of those who
might recognize her. The screaming of jays and ravens above his head
quickened his speed, as it heralded the rapid advance of the flames;
and the unexpected apparition of a bounding body, flattened and flying
over the yellow plain, told him that even the secure retreat of the
mountain wild-cat had been invaded. A sudden recollection of Teresa's
uncontrollable terror that first night smote him with remorse and
redoubled his efforts. Alone in the track of these frantic and
bewildered beasts, to what madness might she not be driven!

The sharp crack of a rifle from the highroad turned his course
momentarily in that direction. The smoke was curling lazily over the
heads of a party of men in the road, while the huge bulk of a grizzly
was disappearing in the distance. A battue of the escaping animals had
commenced! In the bitterness of his heart he caught at the horrible
suggestion, and resolved to save her from them or die with her there.

How fast he ran, or the time it took him to reach the woods, has never
been known. Their outlines were already hidden when he entered them. To
a sense less keen, a courage less desperate, and a purpose less
unaltered than Low's, the wood would have been impenetrable. The
central fire was still confined to the lofty tree-tops, but the
downward rush of wind from time to time drove the smoke into the aisles
in blinding and suffocating volumes. To simulate the creeping animals,
and fall to the ground on hands and knees, feel his way through the
underbrush when the smoke was densest, or take advantage of its
momentary lifting, and without uncertainty, mistake, or hesitation
glide from tree to tree in one undeviating course, was possible only to
an experienced woodsman. To keep his reason and insight so clear as to
be able in the midst of this bewildering confusion to shape that course
so as to intersect the wild and unknown tract of an inexperienced,
frightened wanderer belonged to Low, and to Low alone. He was making
his way against the wind towards the fire. He had reasoned that she was
either in comparative safety to windward of it, or he should meet her
being driven towards him by it, or find her succumbed and fainting at
its feet. To do this he must penetrate the burning belt, and then pass
under the blazing dome. He was already upon it; he could see the
falling fire dropping like rain or blown like gorgeous blossoms of the
conflagration across his path. The space was lit up brilliantly. The
vast shafts of dull copper cast no shadow below, but there was no sign
nor token of any human being. For a moment the young man was at fault.
It was true this hidden heart of the forest bore no undergrowth; the
cool matted carpet of the aisles seemed to quench the glowing fragments
as they fell. Escape might be difficult, but not impossible; yet every
moment was precious. He leaned against a tree, and sent his voice like
a clarion before him: "Teresa!" There was no reply. He called again. A
faint cry at his back from the trail he had just traversed made him
turn. Only a few paces behind him, blinded and staggering, but
following like a beaten and wounded animal, Teresa halted, knelt,
clasped her hands, and dumbly held them out before her. "Teresa!" he
cried again, and sprang to her side.

She caught him by the knees, and lifted her face imploringly to his.

"Say that again!" she cried, passionately. "Tell me it was Teresa you
called, and no other! You have come back for me! You would not let me
die here alone!"

He lifted her tenderly in his arms, and cast a rapid glance around him.
It might have been his fancy, but there seemed a dull glow in the
direction he had come.

"You do not speak!" she said. "Tell me! You did not come here to seek
her?"

"Whom?" he said quickly.

"Nellie!"

With a sharp cry he let her slip to the ground. All the pent-up agony,
rage, and mortification of the last hour broke from him in that
inarticulate outburst. Then, catching her hands again, he dragged her
to his level.

"Hear me!" he cried, disregarding the whirling smoke and the fiery
baptism that sprinkled them--"hear me! If you value your life, if you
value your soul, and if you do not want me to cast you to the beasts
like Jezebel of old, never--never take that accursed name again upon
your lips. Seek her--_her_? Yes! Seek her to tie her like a witch's
daughter of hell to that blazing tree!" He stopped. "Forgive me," he
said in a changed voice. "I'm mad, and forgetting myself and you.
Come."

Without noticing the expression of half savage delight that had passed
across her face, he lifted her in his arms.

"Which way are you going?" she asked, passing her hands vaguely across
his breast, as if to reassure herself of his identity.

"To our camp by the scarred tree," he replied.

"Not there, not there," she said, hurriedly. "I was driven from there
just now. I thought the fire began there until I came here."

Then it was as he feared. Obeying the same mysterious law that had
launched this fatal fire like a thunderbolt from the burning mountain
crest five miles away into the heart of the Carquinez Woods, it had
again leaped a mile beyond, and was hemming them between two narrowing
lines of fire. But Low was not daunted. Retracing his steps through the
blinding smoke, he strode off at right angles to the trail near the
point where he had entered the wood. It was the spot where he had first
lifted Nellie in his arms to carry her to the hidden spring. If any
recollection of it crossed his mind at that moment, it was only shown
in his redoubled energy. He did not glide through the thick underbrush,
as on that day, but seemed to take a savage pleasure in breaking
through it with sheer brute force. Once Teresa insisted upon relieving
him of the burden of her weight, but after a few steps she staggered
blindly against him, and would fain have recourse once more to his
strong arms. And so, alternately staggering, bending, crouching, or
bounding and crashing on, but always in one direction, they burst
through the jealous rampart, and came upon the sylvan haunt of the
hidden spring. The great angle of the half fallen tree acted as a
barrier to the wind and drifting smoke, and the cool spring sparkled
and bubbled in the almost translucent air. He laid her down beside the
water, and bathed her face and hands. As he did so his quick eye caught
sight of a woman's handkerchief lying at the foot of the disrupted
root. Dropping Teresa's hand, he walked towards it, and with the toe of
his moccasin gave it one vigorous kick into the ooze at the overflow of
the spring. He turned to Teresa, but she evidently had not noticed the
act.

"Where are you?" she asked, with a smile.

Something in her movement struck him. He came towards her, and bending
down looked into her face.

"Teresa! Good God!--look at me! What has happened?"

She raised her eyes to his. There was a slight film across them; the
lids were blackened; the beautiful lashes gone forever!

"I see you a little now, I think," she said, with a smile, passing her
hands vaguely over his face. "It must have happened when he fainted,
and I had to drag him through the blazing brush; both my hands were
full, and I could not cover my eyes."

"Drag whom?" said Low, quickly.

"Why, Dunn."

"Dunn! He here?" said Low, hoarsely.

"Yes; didn't you read the note I left on the herbarium? Didn't you come
to the camp-fire?" she asked hurriedly, clasping his hands. "Tell me
quickly!"

"No!"

"Then you were not there--then you didn't leave me to die?"

"No! I swear it, Teresa!" the stoicism that had upheld his own agony
breaking down before her strong emotion.

"Thank God!" She threw her arms around him, and hid her aching eyes in
his troubled breast.

"Tell me all, Teresa," he whispered in her listening ear. "Don't move;
stay there, and tell me all."

With her face buried in his bosom, as if speaking to his heart alone,
she told him part, but not all. With her eyes filled with tears, but a
smile on her lips, radiant with new-found happiness, she told him how
she had overheard the plans of Dunn and Brace, how she had stolen their
conveyance to warn him in time. But here she stopped, dreading to say a
word that would shatter the hope she was building upon his sudden
revulsion of feeling for Nellie. She could not bring herself to repeat
their interview--that would come later, when they were safe and out of
danger; now not even the secret of his birth must come between them
with its distraction, to mar their perfect communion. She faltered that
Dunn had fainted from weakness, and that she had dragged him out of
danger. "He will never interfere with us--I mean," she said softly,
"with _me_ again. I can promise you that as well as if he had sworn
it."

"Let him pass now," said Low; "that will come later on," he added,
unconsciously repeating her thought in a tone that made her heart sick.
"But tell me, Teresa, why did you go to Excelsior?"

She buried her head still deeper, as if to hide it. He felt her broken
heart beat against his own; he was conscious of a depth of feeling her
rival had never awakened in him. The possibility of Teresa loving him
had never occurred to his simple nature. He bent his head and kissed
her. She was frightened, and unloosed her clinging arms; but he
retained her hand, and said, "We will leave this accursed place, and
you shall go with me as you said you would; nor need you ever leave me,
unless you wish it."

She could hear the beating of her own heart through his words; she
longed to look at the eyes and lips that told her this, and read the
meaning his voice alone could not entirely convey. For the first time
she felt the loss of her sight. She did not know that it was, in this
moment of happiness, the last blessing vouchsafed to her miserable
life.

A few moments of silence followed, broken only by the distant rumor of
the conflagration and the crash of falling boughs. "It may be an hour
yet," he whispered, "before the fire has swept a path for us to the
road below. We are safe here, unless some sudden current should draw
the fire down upon us. You are not frightened?" She pressed his hand;
she was thinking of the pale face of Dunn, lying in the secure retreat
she had purchased for him at such a sacrifice. Yet the possibility of
danger to him now for a moment marred her present happiness and
security. "You think the fire will not go north of where you found me?"
she asked softly.

"I think not," he said; "but I will reconnoitre. Stay where you are."

They pressed hands and parted. He leaped upon the slanting trunk and
ascended it rapidly. She waited in mute expectation.

There was a sudden movement of the root on which she sat, a deafening
crash, and she was thrown forward on her face.

The vast bulk of the leaning tree, dislodged from its aerial support by
the gradual sapping of the spring at its roots, or by the crumbling of
the bark from the heat, had slipped, made a half revolution, and,
falling, overbore the lesser trees in its path, and tore, in its
resistless momentum, a broad opening to the underbrush.

With a cry to Low, Teresa staggered to her feet. There was an interval
of hideous silence, but no reply. She called again. There was a sudden
deepening roar, the blast of a fiery furnace swept through the opening,
a thousand luminous points around her burst into fire, and in an
instant she was lost in a whirlwind of smoke and flame! From the onset
of its fury to its culmination twenty minutes did not elapse; but in
that interval a radius of two hundred yards around the hidden spring
was swept of life and light and motion.

For the rest of that day and part of the night a pall of smoke hung
above the scene of desolation. It lifted only towards the morning, when
the moon, riding high, picked out in black and silver the shrunken and
silent columns of those roofless vaults, shorn of base and capital. It
flickered on the still, overflowing pool of the hidden spring, and
shone upon the white face of Low, who, with a rootlet of the fallen
tree holding him down like an arm across his breast, seemed to be
sleeping peacefully in the sleeping water.

       *       *       *       *       *

Contemporaneous history touched him as briefly, but not as gently. "It
is now definitely ascertained," said "The Slumgullion Mirror," "that
Sheriff Dunn met his fate in the Carquinez Woods in the performance of
his duty; that fearless man having received information of the
concealment of a band of horse thieves in their recesses. The
desperadoes are presumed to have escaped, as the only remains found are
those of two wretched tramps, one of whom is said to have been a
digger, who supported himself upon roots and herbs, and the other a
degraded half-white woman. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the
fire originated through their carelessness, although Father Wynn of the
First Baptist Church, in his powerful discourse of last Sunday, pointed
at the warning and lesson of such catastrophes. It may not be out of
place here to say that the rumors regarding an engagement between the
pastor's accomplished daughter and the late lamented sheriff are
utterly without foundation, as it has been an _on dit_ for some time in
all well-informed circles that the indefatigable Mr. Brace, of Wells,
Fargo & Co.'s Express, will shortly lead the lady to the hymeneal
altar."



AT THE MISSION OF SAN CARMEL.


PROLOGUE.

It was noon of the 10th of August, 1838. The monotonous coast line
between Monterey and San Diego had set its hard outlines against the
steady glare of the Californian sky and the metallic glitter of the
Pacific Ocean. The weary succession of rounded, dome-like hills
obliterated all sense of distance; the rare whaling vessel or still
rarer trader, drifting past, saw no change in these rusty undulations,
barren of distinguishing peak or headland, and bald of wooded crest or
timbered ravine. The withered ranks of wild oats gave a dull procession
of uniform color to the hills, unbroken by any relief of shadow in
their smooth, round curves. As far as the eye could reach, sea and
shore met in one bleak monotony, flecked by no passing cloud, stirred
by no sign of life or motion. Even sound was absent; the Angelus, rung
from the invisible Mission tower far inland, was driven back again by
the steady northwest trades, that for half the year had swept the coast
line and left it abraded of all umbrage and color.

But even this monotony soon gave way to a change and another monotony
as uniform and depressed. The western horizon, slowly contracting
before a wall of vapor, by four o'clock had become a mere cold, steely
strip of sea, into which gradually the northern trend of the coast
faded and was lost. As the fog stole with soft step southward, all
distance, space, character, and locality again vanished; the hills upon
which the sun still shone bore the same monotonous outlines as those
just wiped into space. Last of all, before the red sun sank like the
descending Host, it gleamed upon the sails of a trading vessel close in
shore. It was the last object visible. A damp breath breathed upon it,
a soft hand passed over the slate, the sharp pencilling of the picture
faded and became a confused gray cloud.

The wind and waves, too, went down in the fog; the now invisible and
hushed breakers occasionally sent the surf over the sand in a quick
whisper, with grave intervals of silence, but with no continuous murmur
as before. In a curving bight of the shore the creaking of oars in
their rowlocks began to be distinctly heard, but the boat itself,
although apparently only its length from the sands, was invisible.

"Steady now; way enough!" The voice came from the sea, and was low, as
if unconsciously affected by the fog. "Silence!"

The sound of a keel grating the sand was followed by the order, "Stern
all!" from the invisible speaker.

"Shall we beach her?" asked another vague voice.

"Not yet. Hail again, and all together."

"Ah hoy--oi--oi--oy!"

There were four voices, but the hail appeared weak and ineffectual,
like a cry in a dream, and seemed hardly to reach beyond the surf
before it was suffocated in the creeping cloud. A silence followed, but
no response.

"It's no use to beach her and go ashore until we find the boat," said
the first voice, gravely; "and we'll do that if the current has brought
her here. Are you sure you've got the right bearings?"

"As near as a man could off a shore with not a blasted pint to take his
bearings by."

There was a long silence again, broken only by the occasional dip of
oars, keeping the invisible boat-head to the sea.

"Take my word for it, lads, it's the last we'll see of that boat again,
or of Jack Cranch, or the captain's baby."

"It _does_ look mighty queer that the painter should slip. Jack Cranch
ain't the man to tie a granny knot."

"Silence!" said the invisible leader. "Listen."

A hail, so faint and uncertain that it might have been the
long-deferred, far-off echo of their own, came from the sea, abreast of
them.

"It's the captain. He hasn't found anything, or he couldn't be so far
north. Hark!"

The hail was repeated again faintly, dreamily. To the seamen's trained
ears it seemed to have an intelligent significance, for the first voice
gravely responded, "Aye, aye?" and then said softly, "Oars."

The word was followed by a splash. The oars clicked sharply and
simultaneously in the rowlocks, then more faintly, then still fainter,
and then passed out into the darkness.

The silence and shadow both fell together; for hours sea and shore were
impenetrable. Yet at times the air was softly moved and troubled, the
surrounding gloom faintly lightened as with a misty dawn, and then was
dark again; or drowsy, far-off cries and confused noises seemed to grow
out of the silence, and, when they had attracted the weary ear, sank
away as in a mocking dream, and showed themselves unreal. Nebulous
gatherings in the fog seemed to indicate stationary objects that, even
as one gazed, moved away; the recurring lap and ripple on the shingle
sometimes took upon itself the semblance of faint articulate laughter
or spoken words. But towards morning a certain monotonous grating on
the sand, that had for many minutes alternately cheated and piqued the
ear, asserted itself more strongly, and a moving, vacillating shadow in
the gloom became an opaque object on the shore.

With the first rays of the morning light the fog lifted. As the
undraped hills one by one bared their cold bosoms to the sun, the long
line of coast struggled back to life again. Everything was unchanged,
except that a stranded boat lay upon the sands, and in its stern sheets
a sleeping child.


I.

The 10th of August, 1852, brought little change to the dull monotony of
wind, fog, and treeless coast line. Only the sea was occasionally
flecked with racing sails that outstripped the old, slow-creeping
trader, or was at times streaked and blurred with the trailing smoke of
a steamer. There were a few strange footprints on those virgin sands,
and a fresh track, that led from the beach over the rounded hills,
dropped into the bosky recesses of a hidden valley beyond the coast
range.

It was here that the refectory windows of the Mission of San Carmel had
for years looked upon the reverse of that monotonous picture presented
to the sea. It was here that the trade winds, shorn of their fury and
strength in the heated, oven-like air that rose from the valley, lost
their weary way in the tangled recesses of the wooded slopes, and
breathed their last at the foot of the stone cross before the Mission.
It was on the crest of those slopes that the fog halted and walled in
the sun-illumined plain below; it was in this plain that limitless
fields of grain clothed the flat adobe soil; here the Mission garden
smiled over its hedges of fruitful vines, and through the leaves of fig
and gnarled pear trees; and it was here that Father Pedro had lived for
fifty years, found the prospect good, and had smiled also.

Father Pedro's smile was rare. He was not a Las Casas, nor a Junipero
Serra, but he had the deep seriousness of all disciples laden with the
responsible wording of a gospel not their own. And his smile had an
ecclesiastical as well as a human significance, the pleasantest object
in his prospect being the fair and curly head of his boy acolyte and
chorister, Francisco, which appeared among the vines, and his sweetest
pastoral music, the high soprano humming of a chant with which the boy
accompanied his gardening.

Suddenly the acolyte's chant changed to a cry of terror. Running
rapidly to Father Pedro's side, he grasped his _sotana_, and even tried
to hide his curls among its folds.

"'St! 'st!" said the Padre, disengaging himself with some impatience.
"What new alarm is this? Is it Luzbel hiding among our Catalan vines,
or one of those heathen Americanos from Monterey? Speak!"

"Neither, holy father," said the boy, the color struggling back into
his pale cheeks, and an apologetic, bashful smile lighting his clear
eyes. "Neither; but oh! such a gross, lethargic toad! And it almost
leaped upon me."

"A toad leaped upon thee!" repeated the good father with evident
vexation. "What next? I tell thee, child, those foolish fears are most
unmeet for thee, and must be overcome, if necessary, with prayer and
penance. Frightened by a toad! Blood of the Martyrs! 'T is like any
foolish girl!"

Father Pedro stopped and coughed.

"I am saying that no Christian child should shrink from any of God's
harmless creatures. And only last week thou wast disdainful of poor
Murieta's pig, forgetting that San Antonio himself did elect one his
faithful companion, even in glory."

"Yes, but it was so fat, and so uncleanly, holy father," replied the
young acolyte, "and it smelt so."

"Smelt so?" echoed the father doubtfully. "Have a care, child, that
this is not luxuriousness of the senses. I have noticed of late you
gather over-much of roses and syringa, excellent in their way and in
moderation, but still not to be compared with the flower of Holy
Church, the lily."

"But lilies don't look well on the refectory table, and against the
adobe wall," returned the acolyte, with a pout of a spoilt child; "and
surely the flowers cannot help being sweet, any more than myrrh or
incense. And I am not frightened of the heathen Americanos either,
_now_. There was a small one in the garden yesterday, a boy like me,
and he spoke kindly and with a pleasant face."

"What said he to thee, child?" asked Father Pedro, anxiously.

"Nay, the matter of his speech I could not understand," laughed the
boy, "but the manner was as gentle as thine, holy father."

"'St, child," said the Padre, impatiently. "Thy likings are as
unreasonable as thy fears. Besides, have I not told thee it ill becomes
a child of Christ to chatter with those sons of Belial? But canst thou
not repeat the words--the _words_ he said?" he continued suspiciously.

"'T is a harsh tongue the Americanos speak in their throat," replied
the boy. "But he said 'Devilishnisse' and 'pretty-as-a-girl,' and
looked at me."

The good father made the boy repeat the words gravely, and as gravely
repeated them after him with infinite simplicity. "They are but
heretical words," he replied, in answer to the boy's inquiring look;
"it is well you understand not English. Enough. Run away, child, and be
ready for the Angelus. I will commune with myself awhile under the pear
trees."

Glad to escape so easily, the young acolyte disappeared down the alley
of fig trees, not without a furtive look at the patches of chickweed
around their roots, the possible ambuscade of creeping or saltant
vermin. The good priest heaved a sigh and glanced round the darkening
prospect. The sun had already disappeared over the mountain wall that
lay between him and the sea, rimmed with a faint white line of outlying
fog. A cool zephyr fanned his cheek; it was the dying breath of the
_vientos generales_ beyond the wall. As Father Pedro's eyes were raised
to this barrier, which seemed to shut out the boisterous world beyond,
he fancied he noticed for the first time a slight breach in the
parapet, over which an advanced banner of the fog was fluttering. Was
it an omen? His speculations were cut short by a voice at his very
side.

He turned quickly and beheld one of those "heathens" against whom he
had just warned his young acolyte; one of that straggling band of
adventurers whom the recent gold discoveries had scattered along the
coast. Luckily the fertile alluvium of these valleys, lying parallel
with the sea, offered no "indications" to attract the gold-seekers.
Nevertheless, to Father Pedro even the infrequent contact with the
Americanos was objectionable: they were at once inquisitive and
careless; they asked questions with the sharp perspicacity of
controversy; they received his grave replies with the frank
indifference of utter worldliness. Powerful enough to have been
tyrannical oppressors, they were singularly tolerant and gentle,
contenting themselves with a playful, good-natured irreverence, which
tormented the good father more than opposition. They were felt to be
dangerous and subversive.

The Americano, however, who stood before him did not offensively
suggest these national qualities. A man of middle height, strongly
built, bronzed and slightly gray from the vicissitudes of years and
exposure, he had an air of practical seriousness that commended itself
to Father Pedro. To his religious mind it suggested self-consciousness;
expressed in the dialect of the stranger, it only meant "business."

"I'm rather glad I found you out here alone," began the latter; "it
saves time. I haven't got to take my turn with the rest, in there,"--he
indicated the church with his thumb,--"and you haven't got to make an
appointment. You have got a clear forty minutes before the Angelus
rings," he added, consulting a large silver chronometer, "and I reckon
I kin git through my part of the job inside of twenty, leaving you ten
minutes for remarks. I want to confess."

Father Pedro drew back with a gesture of dignity. The stranger,
however, laid his hand upon the Padre's sleeve with the air of a man
anticipating objection, but never refusal, and went on.

"Of course, I know. You want me to come at some other time, and in
_there_. You want it in the reg'lar style. That's your way and your
time. My answer is: it ain't _my_ way and _my_ time. The main idea of
confession, I take it, is gettin' at the facts. I'm ready to give 'em
if you'll take 'em out here, now. If you're willing to drop the Church
and confessional, and all that sort o' thing, I, on my side, am willing
to give up the absolution, and all that sort o' thing. You might," he
added, with an unconscious touch of pathos in the suggestion, "heave in
a word or two of advice after I get through; for instance, what _you'd_
do in the circumstances, you see! That's all. But that's as you please.
It ain't part of the business."

Irreverent as this speech appeared, there was really no trace of such
intention in his manner, and his evident profound conviction that his
suggestion was practical, and not at all inconsistent with
ecclesiastical dignity, would alone have been enough to touch the
Padre, had not the stranger's dominant personality already overridden
him. He hesitated. The stranger seized the opportunity to take his arm,
and lead him with the half familiarity of powerful protection to a
bench beneath the refectory window. Taking out his watch again, he put
it in the passive hands of the astonished priest, saying, "Time me,"
cleared his throat, and began:--

"Fourteen years ago there was a ship cruisin' in the Pacific, jest off
this range, that was ez nigh on to a Hell afloat as anything rigged kin
be. If a chap managed to dodge the cap'en's belaying-pin for a time he
was bound to be fetched up in the ribs at last by the mate's boots.
There was a chap knocked down the fore hatch with a broken leg in the
Gulf, and another jumped overboard off Cape Corrientes, crazy as a
loon, along a clip of the head from the cap'en's trumpet. Them's facts.
The ship was a brigantine, trading along the Mexican coast. The cap'en
had his wife aboard, a little timid Mexican woman he'd picked up at
Mazatlan. I reckon she didn't get on with him any better than the men,
for she ups and dies one day, leavin' her baby, a year-old gal. One o'
the crew was fond o' that baby. He used to get the black nurse to put
it in the dingy, and he'd tow it astern, rocking it with the painter
like a cradle. He did it--hatin' the cap'en all the same. One day the
black nurse got out of the dingy for a moment, when the baby was
asleep, leavin' him alone with it. An idea took hold on him, jest from
cussedness, you'd say, but it was partly from revenge on the cap'en and
partly to get away from the ship. The ship was well in shore, and the
current settin' towards it. He slipped the painter--that man--and set
himself adrift with the baby. It was a crazy act, you'd reckon, for
there was n't any oars in the boat; but he had a crazy man's luck, and
he contrived, by sculling the boat with one of the seats he tore out,
to keep her out of the breakers, till he could find a bight in the
shore to run her in. The alarm was given from the ship, but the fog
shut down upon him; he could hear the other boats in pursuit. They
seemed to close in on him, and by the sound he judged the cap'en was
just abreast of him in the gig, bearing down upon him in the fog. He
slipped out of the dingy into the water without a splash, and struck
out for the breakers. He got ashore after havin' been knocked down and
dragged in four times by the undertow. He had only one idea then,
thankfulness that he had not taken the baby with him in the surf. You
kin put that down for him; it's a fact. He got off into the hills, and
made his way up to Monterey."

"And the child?" asked the Padre, with a sudden and strange asperity
that boded no good to the penitent; "the child thus ruthlessly
abandoned--what became of it?"

"That's just it, the child," said the stranger, gravely. "Well, if that
man was on his death-bed instead of being here talking to you, he'd
swear that he thought the cap'en was sure to come up to it the next
minit. That's a fact. But it wasn't until one day that he--that's
me--ran across one of that crew in Frisco. 'Hallo, Cranch,' sez he to
me, 'so you got away, didn't you? And how's the cap'en's baby? Grown a
young gal by this time, ain't she?' 'What are you talking about,' sez
I; 'how should I know?' He draws away from me, and sez,'D--it,' sez he,
'you don't mean that you' ... I grabs him by the throat and makes him
tell me all. And then it appears that the boat and the baby were never
found again, and every man of that crew, cap'en and all, believed I had
stolen it."

He paused. Father Pedro was staring at the prospect with an
uncompromising rigidity of head and shoulder.

"It's a bad lookout for me, ain't it?" the stranger continued, in
serious reflection.

"How do I know," said the priest harshly, without turning his head,
"that you did not make away with this child?"

"Beg pardon."

"That you did not complete your revenge by--by--killing it, as your
comrade suspected you? Ah! Holy Trinity," continued Father Pedro,
throwing out his hands with an impatient gesture, as if to take the
place of unutterable thought.

"How do _you_ know?" echoed the stranger coldly.

"Yes."

The stranger linked his fingers together and threw them over his knee,
drew it up to his chest caressingly, and said quietly, "Because you
_do_ know."

The Padre rose to his feet.

"What mean you?" he said, sternly fixing his eyes upon the speaker.
Their eyes met. The stranger's were gray and persistent, with hanging
corner lids that might have concealed even more purpose than they
showed. The Padre's were hollow, open, and the whites slightly brown,
as if with tobacco stains. Yet they were the first to turn away.

"I mean," returned the stranger, with the same practical gravity, "that
you know it wouldn't pay me to come here, if I'd killed the baby,
unless I wanted you to fix things right with me up there," pointing
skyward, "and get absolution; and I've told you _that_ wasn't in my
line."

"Why do you seek me, then?" demanded the Padre, suspiciously.

"Because I reckon I thought a man might be allowed to confess something
short of a murder. If you're going to draw the line below that"--

"This is but sacrilegious levity," interrupted Father Pedro, turning as
if to go. But the stranger did not make any movement to detain him.

"Have you implored forgiveness of the father--the man you
wronged--before you came here?" asked the priest, lingering.

"Not much. It wouldn't pay if he was living, and he died four years
ago."

"You are sure of that?"

"I am."

"There are other relations, perhaps?"

"None."

Father Pedro was silent. When he spoke again, it was with a changed
voice. "What is your purpose, then?" he asked, with the first
indication of priestly sympathy in his manner. "You cannot ask
forgiveness of the earthly father you have injured, you refuse the
intercession of Holy Church with the Heavenly Father you have
disobeyed. Speak, wretched man! What is it you want?"

"I want to find the child."

"But if it were possible, if she were still living, are you fit to seek
her, to even make yourself known to her, to appear before her?"

"Well, if I made it profitable to her, perhaps."

"Perhaps," echoed the priest, scornfully. "So be it. But why come
here?"

"To ask your advice. To know how to begin my search. You know this
country. You were here when that boat drifted ashore beyond that
mountain."

"Ah, indeed. I have much to do with it. It is an affair of the
alcalde--the authorities--of your--your police."

"Is it?"

The Padre again met the stranger's eyes. He stopped, with the snuffbox
he had somewhat ostentatiously drawn from his pocket still open in his
hand.

"Why is it not, Senor?" he demanded.

"If she lives, she is a young lady by this time, and might not want the
details of her life known to any one."

"And how will you recognize your baby in this young lady?" asked Father
Pedro, with a rapid gesture, indicating the comparative heights of a
baby and an adult.

"I reckon I'll know her, and her clothes too; and whoever found her
wouldn't be fool enough to destroy them."

"After fourteen years! Good! You have faith, Senor"--

"Cranch," supplied the stranger, consulting his watch. "But time's up.
Business is business. Good-by; don't let me keep you."

He extended his hand.

The Padre met it with a dry, unsympathetic palm, as sere and yellow as
the hills. When their hands separated, the father still hesitated,
looking at Cranch. If he expected further speech or entreaty from him
he was mistaken, for the American, without turning his head, walked in
the same serious, practical fashion down the avenue of fig trees, and
disappeared beyond the hedge of vines. The outlines of the mountain
beyond were already lost in the fog. Father Pedro turned into the
refectory.

"Antonio."

A strong flavor of leather, onions, and stable preceded the entrance of
a short, stout _vaquero_ from the little _patio_.

"Saddle Pinto and thine own mule to accompany Francisco, who will take
letters from me to the Father Superior at San Jose to-morrow at
daybreak."

"At daybreak, reverend father?"

"At daybreak. Hark ye, go by the mountain trails and avoid the highway.
Stop at no _posada_ nor _fonda_, but if the child is weary, rest then
awhile at Don Juan Briones' or at the rancho of the Blessed Fisherman.
Have no converse with stragglers, least of all those gentile
Americanos. So" ...

The first strokes of the Angelus came from the nearer tower. With a
gesture Father Pedro waved Antonio aside, and opened the door of the
sacristy.

"_Ad Majorem Dei Gloria_."


II.

The hacienda of Don Juan Briones, nestling in a wooded cleft of the
foot-hills, was hidden, as Father Pedro had wisely reflected, from the
straying feet of travelers along the dusty highway to San Jose. As
Francisco, emerging from the _canada_, put spurs to his mule at the
sight of the whitewashed walls, Antonio grunted:

"Oh aye, little priest! thou wast tired enough a moment ago, and though
we are not three leagues from the Blessed Fisherman, thou couldst
scarce sit thy saddle longer. Mother of God! and all to see that little
mongrel, Juanita."

"But, good Antonio, Juanita was my playfellow, and I may not soon again
chance this way. And Juanita is not a mongrel, no more than I am."

"She is a _mestiza_, and thou art a child of the Church, though this
following of gypsy wenches does not show it."

"But Father Pedro does not object," urged the boy.

"The reverend father has forgotten he was ever young," replied Antonio,
sententiously, "or he wouldn't set fire and tow together."

"What sayest thou, good Antonio?" asked Francisco quickly, opening his
blue eyes in frank curiosity; "who is fire, and who is tow?"

The worthy muleteer, utterly abashed and confounded by this display of
the acolyte's direct simplicity, contented himself by shrugging his
shoulders, and a vague "_Quien sabe?_"

"Come," said the boy, gayly, "confess it is only the _aguardiente_ of
the Blessed Fisherman thou missest. Never fear, Juanita will find thee
some. And see! here she comes."

There was a flash of white flounces along the dark brown corridor, the
twinkle of satin slippers, the flying out of long black braids, and
with a cry of joy a young girl threw herself upon Francisco as he
entered the _patio_, and nearly dragged him from his mule.

"Have a care, little sister," laughed the acolyte, looking at Antonio,
"or there will be a conflagration. Am I the fire?" he continued,
submitting to the two sounding kisses the young girl placed upon either
cheek, but still keeping his mischievous glance upon the muleteer.

"_Quien sabe_?" repeated Antonio, gruffly, as the young girl blushed
under his significant eyes. "It is no affair of mine," he added to
himself, as he led Pinto away. "Perhaps Father Pedro is right, and this
young twig of the Church is as dry and sapless as himself. Let the
_mestiza_ burn if she likes."

"Quick, Pancho," said the young girl, eagerly leading him along the
corridor. "This way. I must talk with thee before thou seest Don Juan;
that is why I ran to intercept thee, and not as that fool Antonio would
signify, to shame thee. Wast thou ashamed, my Pancho?"

The boy threw his arm familiarly round the supple, stayless little
waist, accented only by the belt of the light flounced _saya_, and
said, "But why this haste and feverishness, 'Nita? And now I look at
thee, thou hast been crying."

They had emerged from a door in the corridor into the bright sunlight
of a walled garden. The girl dropped her eyes, cast a quick glance
around her, and said:

"Not here; to the _arroyo_;" and half leading, half dragging him, made
her way through a copse of _manzanita_ and alder until they heard the
faint tinkling of water. "Dost thou remember," said the girl, "it was
here," pointing to an embayed pool in the dark current, "that I
baptized thee, when Father Pedro first brought thee here, when we both
played at being monks? They were dear old days, for Father Pedro would
trust no one with thee but me, and always kept us near him."

"Aye, and he said I would be profaned by the touch of any other, and so
himself always washed and dressed me, and made my bed near his."

"And took thee away again, and I saw thee not till thou camest with
Antonio, over a year ago, to the cattle branding. And now, my Pancho, I
may never see thee again." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed
aloud.

The little acolyte tried to comfort her, but with such abstraction of
manner and inadequacy of warmth that she hastily removed his caressing
hand.

"But why? What has happened?" he asked eagerly.

The girl's manner had changed. Her eyes flashed, and she put her brown
fist on her waist and began to rock from side to side.

"But I'll not go," she said, viciously.

"Go where?" asked the boy.

"Oh, where?" she echoed, impatiently. "Hear me, Francisco. Thou knowest
I am, like thee, an orphan; but I have not, like thee, a parent in the
Holy Church. For, alas," she added, bitterly, "I am not a boy, and have
not a lovely voice borrowed from the angels. I was, like thee, a
foundling, kept, by the charity of the reverend fathers, until Don
Juan, a childless widower, adopted me. I was happy, not knowing and
caring who were the parents who had abandoned me, happy only in the
love of him who became my adopted father. And now"--She paused.

"And now?" echoed Francisco, eagerly.

"And now they say it is discovered who are my parents."

"And they live?"

"Mother of God! no," said the girl, with scarcely filial piety. "There
is some one, a thing, a mere Don Fulano, who knows it all, it seems,
who is to be my guardian."

"But how? Tell me all, dear Juanita," said the boy with a feverish
interest, that contrasted so strongly with his previous abstraction
that Juanita bit her lips with vexation.

"Ah! How? Santa Barbara! An extravaganza for children. A necklace of
lies. I am lost from a ship of which my father--Heaven rest him!--is
General, and I am picked up among the weeds on the sea-shore, like
Moses in the bulrushes. A pretty story, indeed."

"O how beautiful!" exclaimed Francisco enthusiastically. "Ah, Juanita,
would it had been me!"

"_Thee_!" said the girl bitterly,--"thee! No!--it was a girl wanted.
Enough, it was me."

"And when does the guardian come?" persisted the boy, with sparkling
eyes.

"He is here even now, with that pompous fool the American alcalde from
Monterey, a wretch who knows nothing of the country or the people, but
who helped the other American to claim me. I tell thee, Francisco, like
as not it is all a folly, some senseless blunder of those Americanos
that imposes upon Don Juan's simplicity and love for them."

"How looks he, this Americano who seeks thee?" asked Francisco.

"What care I how he looks," said Juanita, "or what he is? He may have
the four S's, for all I care. Yet," she added with a slight touch of
coquetry, "he is not bad to look upon, now I recall him."

"Had he a long mustache and a sad, sweet smile, and a voice so gentle
and yet so strong that you felt he ordered you to do things without
saying it? And did his eye read your thoughts?--that very thought that
you must obey him?"

"Saints preserve thee, Pancho! Of whom dost thou speak?"

"Listen, Juanita. It was a year ago, the eve of Natividad; he was in
the church when I sang. Look where I would, I always met his eye. When
the canticle was sung and I was slipping into the sacristy, he was
beside me. He spoke kindly, but I understood him not. He put into my
hand gold for an _aguinaldo_. I pretended I understood not that also,
and put it into the box for the poor. He smiled and went away. Often
have I seen him since; and last night, when I left the Mission, he was
there again with Father Pedro."

"And Father Pedro, what said he of him?" asked Juanita.

"Nothing." The boy hesitated. "Perhaps--because I said nothing of the
stranger."

Juanita laughed. "So thou canst keep a secret from the good father when
thou carest. But why dost thou think this stranger is my new guardian?"

"Dost thou not see, little sister? He was even then seeking thee," said
the boy with joyous excitement. "Doubtless he knew we were friends and
playmates--maybe the good father has told him thy secret. For it is no
idle tale of the alcalde, believe me. I see it all! It is true!"

"Then thou wilt let him take me away," exclaimed the girl bitterly,
withdrawing the little hand he had clasped in his excitement.

"Alas, Juanita, what avails it now? I am sent to San Jose, charged with
a letter to the Father Superior, who will give me further orders. What
they are, or how long I must stay, I know not. But I know this: the
good Father Pedro's eyes were troubled when he gave me his blessing,
and he held me long in his embrace. Pray Heaven I have committed no
fault. Still it may be that the reputation of my gift hath reached the
Father Superior, and he would advance me;" and Francisco's eyes lit up
with youthful pride at the thought.

Not so Juanita. Her black eyes snapped suddenly with suspicion, she
drew in her breath, and closed her little mouth firmly. Then she began
a _crescendo_.

Mother of God! was that all? Was he a child, to be sent away for such
time or for such purpose as best pleased the fathers? Was he to know no
more than that? With such gifts as God had given him, was he not at
least to have some word in disposing of them? Ah! _she_ would not stand
it.

The boy gazed admiringly at the piquant energy of the little figure
before him, and envied her courage. "It is the _mestizo_ blood," he
murmured to himself. Then aloud, "Thou shouldst have been a man,
'Nita."

"And thou a woman."

"Or a priest. Eh, what is that?"

They had both risen, Juanita defiantly, her black braids flying as she
wheeled and suddenly faced the thicket, Francisco clinging to her with
trembling hands and whitened lips. A stone, loosened from the hillside,
had rolled to their feet; there was a crackling in the alders on the
slope above them.

"Is it a bear, or a brigand?" whispered Francisco, hurriedly, sounding
the uttermost depths of his terror in the two words.

"It is an eavesdropper," said Juanita, impetuously; "and who and why, I
intend to know," and she started towards the thicket.

"Do not leave me, good Juanita;" said the young acolyte, grasping the
girl's skirt.

"Nay; run to the hacienda quickly, and leave me to search the thicket.
Run!"

The boy did not wait for a second injunction, but scuttled away, his
long coat catching in the brambles, while Juanita darted like a kitten
into the bushes. Her search was fruitless, however, and she was
returning impatiently, when her quick eye fell upon a letter lying amid
the dried grass where she and Francisco had been seated the moment
before. It had evidently fallen from his breast when he had risen
suddenly, and been overlooked in his alarm. It was Father Pedro's
letter to the Father Superior of San Jose.

In an instant she had pounced upon it as viciously as if it had been
the interloper she was seeking. She knew that she held in her fingers
the secret of Francisco's sudden banishment. She felt instinctively
that this yellowish envelope, with its red string and its blotch of red
seal, was his sentence and her own. The little _mestizo_, had not been
brought up to respect the integrity of either locks or seals, both
being unknown in the patriarchal life of the hacienda. Yet with a
certain feminine instinct she looked furtively around her, and even
managed to dislodge the clumsy wax without marring the pretty effigy of
the crossed keys impressed upon it. Then she opened the letter and
read.

Suddenly she stopped and put back her hair from her brown temples. Then
a succession of burning blushes followed each other in waves from her
neck up, and died in drops of moisture in her eyes. This continued
until she was fairly crying, dropping the letter from her hands and
rocking to and fro. In the midst of this she quickly stopped again; the
clouds broke, a sunshine of laughter started from her eyes, she laughed
shyly, she laughed loudly, she laughed hysterically. Then she stopped
again as suddenly, knitted her brows, swooped down once more upon the
letter, and turned to fly. But at the same moment the letter was
quietly but firmly taken from her hand, and Mr. Jack Cranch stood
beside her.

Juanita was crimson, but unconquered. She mechanically held out her
hand for the letter; the American took her little fingers, kissed them,
and said:

"How are you again?"

"The letter," replied Juanita, with a strong disposition to stamp her
foot.

"But," said Cranch, with business directness, "you've read enough to
know it isn't for you."

"Nor for you either," responded Juanita.

"True. It is for the Reverend Father Superior of San Jose Mission. I'll
give it to him."

Juanita was becoming alarmed, first at this prospect, second at the
power the stranger seemed to be gaining over her. She recalled
Francisco's description of him with something like superstitious awe.

"But it concerns Francisco. It contains a secret he should know."

"Then you can tell him it. Perhaps it would come easier from you."

Juanita blushed again. "Why?" she asked, half dreading his reply.

"Because," said the American, quietly, "you are old playmates; you are
attached to each other."

Juanita bit her lips. "Why don't you read it yourself?" she asked
bluntly.

"Because I don't read other people's letters, and if it concerns me
you'll tell me."

"What if I don't?"

"Then the Father Superior will."

"I believe you know Francisco's secret already," said the girl, boldly.

"Perhaps."

"Then, Mother of God! Senor Crancho, what do you want?"

"I do not want to separate two such good friends as you and Francisco."

"Perhaps you'd like to claim us both," said the girl, with a sneer that
was not devoid of coquetry.

"I should be delighted."

"Then here is your occasion, Senor, for here comes my adopted father,
Don Juan, and your friend, Senor Br--r--own, the American alcalde."

Two men appeared in the garden path below them. The stiff, glazed,
broad-brimmed black hat, surmounting a dark face of Quixotic gravity
and romantic rectitude, indicated Don Juan Briones. His companion,
lazy, specious, and red-faced, was Senor Brown, the American alcalde.

"Well, I reckon we kin about call the thing fixed," said Senor Brown,
with a large wave of the hand, suggesting a sweeping away of all
trivial details. "Ez I was saying to the Don yer, when two high-toned
gents like you and him come together in a delicate matter of this kind,
it ain't no hoss trade nor sharp practice. The Don is that lofty in
principle that he's willin' to sacrifice his affections for the good of
the gal; and you, on your hand, kalkilate to see all he's done for her,
and go your whole pile better. You'll make the legal formalities good.
I reckon that old Injin woman who can swear to the finding of the baby
on the shore will set things all right yet. For the matter o' that, if
you want anything in the way of a certificate, I'm on hand always."

"Juanita and myself are at your disposition, _caballeros_," said Don
Juan, with a grave exaltation. "Never let it be said that the Mexican
nation was outdone by the great Americanos in deeds of courtesy and
affection. Let it rather stand that Juanita was a sacred trust put into
my hands years ago by the goddess of American liberty, and nurtured in
the Mexican eagle's nest. Is it not so, my soul?" he added, more
humanly, to the girl, when he had quite recovered from the intoxication
of his own speech. "We love thee, little one, but we keep our honor."

"There's nothing mean about the old man," said Brown, admiringly, with
a slight dropping of his left eyelid; "his head is level, and he goes
with his party."

"Thou takest my daughter, Senor Cranch," continued the old man, carried
away by his emotion; "but the American nation gives me a son."

"You know not what you say, father," said the young girl, angrily,
exasperated by a slight twinkle in the American's eye.

"Not so," said Cranch. "Perhaps one of the American nation may take him
at his word."

"Then, _caballeros_, you will, for the moment at least, possess
yourselves of the house and its poor hospitality," said Don Juan, with
time-honored courtesy, producing the rustic key of the gate of the
_patio_. "It is at your disposition, _caballeros_," he repeated,
leading the way as his guests passed into the corridor.

Two hours passed. The hills were darkening on their eastern slopes; the
shadows of the few poplars that sparsedly dotted the dusty highway were
falling in long black lines that looked like ditches on the dead level
of the tawny fields; the shadows of slowly moving cattle were mingling
with their own silhouettes, and becoming more and more grotesque. A
keen wind rising in the hills was already creeping from the _canada_ as
from the mouth of a funnel, and sweeping the plains. Antonio had
forgathered with the servants, had pinched the ears of the maids, had
partaken of _aguardiente_, had saddled the mules,--Antonio was becoming
impatient.

And then a singular commotion disturbed the peaceful monotony of the
patriarchal household of Don Juan Briones. The stagnant courtyard was
suddenly alive with _peons_ and servants, running hither and thither.
The alleys and gardens were filled with retainers. A confusion of
questions, orders, and outcrys rent the air, the plains shook with the
galloping of a dozen horsemen. For the acolyte Francisco, of the
Mission San Carmel, had disappeared and vanished, and from that day the
hacienda of Don Juan Briones knew him no more.


III.

When Father Pedro saw the yellow mules vanish under the low branches of
the oaks beside the little graveyard, caught the last glitter of the
morning sun on Pinto's shining headstall, and heard the last tinkle of
Antonio's spurs, something very like a mundane sigh escaped him. To the
simple wonder of the majority of early worshipers--the half-breed
converts who rigorously attended the spiritual ministrations of the
Mission, and ate the temporal provisions of the reverend fathers--he
deputed the functions of the first mass to a coadjutor, and, breviary
in hand, sought the orchard of venerable pear trees. Whether there was
any occult sympathy in his reflections with the contemplation of their
gnarled, twisted, gouty, and knotty limbs, still bearing gracious and
goodly fruit, I know not, but it was his private retreat, and under one
of the most rheumatic and misshapen trunks there was a rude seat. Here
Father Pedro sank, his face toward the mountain wall between him and
the invisible sea. The relentless, dry, practical Californian sunlight
falling on his face grimly pointed out a night of vigil and suffering.
The snuffy yellow of his eyes was injected yet burning, his temples
were ridged and veined like a tobacco leaf; the odor of desiccation
which his garments always exhaled was hot and feverish, as if the fire
had suddenly awakened among the ashes.

Of what was Father Pedro thinking?

He was thinking of his youth, a youth spent under the shade of those
pear trees, even then venerable as now. He was thinking of his youthful
dreams of heathen conquest, emulating the sacrifices and labors of
Junipero Serra; a dream cut short by the orders of the archbishop, that
sent his companion, Brother Diego, north on a mission to strange lands,
and condemned him to the isolation of San Carmel. He was thinking of
that fierce struggle with envy of a fellow-creature's better fortune,
that, conquered by prayer and penance, left him patient, submissive,
and devoted to his humble work; how he raised up converts to the faith,
even taking them from the breast of heretic mothers.

He recalled how once, with the zeal of propagandism quickening in the
instincts of a childless man, he had dreamed of perpetuating his work
through some sinless creation of his own; of dedicating some virgin
soul, one over whom he could have complete control, restricted by no
human paternal weakness, to the task he had begun. But how? Of all the
boys eagerly offered to the Church by their parents there seemed none
sufficiently pure and free from parental taint. He remembered how one
night, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin herself, as he
firmly then believed, this dream was fulfilled. An Indian woman brought
him a _Waugee_ child--a baby-girl that she had picked up on the
sea-shore. There were no parents to divide the responsibility, the
child had no past to confront, except the memory of the ignorant Indian
woman, who deemed her duty done, and whose interest ceased in giving it
to the Padre. The austere conditions of his monkish life compelled him
to the first step in his adoption of it--the concealment of its sex.
This was easy enough, as he constituted himself from that moment its
sole nurse and attendant, and boldly baptized it among the other
children by the name of Francisco. No others knew its origin, nor cared
to know. Father Pedro had taken a _muchacho_ foundling for adoption;
his jealous seclusion of it and his personal care was doubtless some
sacerdotal formula at once high and necessary.

He remembered with darkening eyes and impeded breath how his close
companionship and daily care of this helpless child had revealed to him
the fascinations of that paternity denied to him; how he had deemed it
his duty to struggle against the thrill of baby fingers laid upon his
yellow cheeks, the pleading of inarticulate words, the eloquence of
wonder-seeing and mutely questioning eyes; how he had succumbed again
and again, and then struggled no more, seeing only in them the
suggestion of childhood made incarnate in the Holy Babe. And yet, even
as he thought, he drew from his gown a little shoe, and laid it beside
his breviary. It was Francisco's baby slipper, a duplicate to those
worn by the miniature waxen figure of the Holy Virgin herself in her
niche in the transept.

Had he felt during these years any qualms of conscience at this
concealment of the child's sex? None. For to him the babe was sexless,
as most befitted one who was to live and die at the foot of the altar.
There was no attempt to deceive God; what mattered else? Nor was he
withholding the child from the ministrations of the sacred sisters.
There was no convent near the Mission, and as each year passed, the
difficulty of restoring her to the position and duties of her sex
became greater and more dangerous. And then the acolyte's destiny was
sealed by what again appeared to Father Pedro as a direct interposition
of Providence. The child developed a voice of such exquisite sweetness
and purity that an angel seemed to have strayed into the little choir,
and kneeling worshipers below, transported, gazed upwards, half
expectant of a heavenly light breaking through the gloom of the
raftered ceiling. The fame of the little singer filled the valley of
San Carmel; it was a miracle vouchsafed the Mission; Don Jose Peralta
remembered, ah yes, to have heard in old Spain of boy choristers with
such voices!

And was this sacred trust to be withdrawn from him? Was this life,
which he had brought out of an unknown world of sin, unstained and
pure, consecrated and dedicated to God, just in the dawn of power and
promise for the glory of the Mother Church, to be taken from his side?
And at the word of a self-convicted man of sin--a man whose tardy
repentance was not yet absolved by the Holy Church? Never! never!
Father Pedro dwelt upon the stranger's rejections of the ministrations
of the Church with a pitiable satisfaction; had he accepted it, he
would have had a sacred claim upon Father Pedro's sympathy and
confidence. Yet he rose again, uneasily and with irregular steps
returned to the corridor, passing the door of the familiar little cell
beside his own. The window, the table, and even the scant toilette
utensils were filled with the flowers of yesterday, some of them
withered and dry; the white gown of the little chorister was hanging
emptily against the wall. Father Pedro started and trembled; it seemed
as if the spiritual life of the child had slipped away with its
garments.

In that slight chill, which even in the hottest days in California
always invests any shadow cast in that white sunlight, Father Pedro
shivered in the corridor. Passing again into the garden, he followed in
fancy the wayfaring figure of Francisco, saw the child arrive at the
rancho of Don Juan, and with the fateful blindness of all dreamers
projected a picture most unlike the reality. He followed the pilgrims
even to San Jose, and saw the child deliver the missive which gave the
secret of her sex and condition to the Father Superior. That the
authority at San Jose might dissent with the Padre of San Carmel, or
decline to carry out his designs, did not occur to the one-idea'd
priest. Like all solitary people, isolated from passing events, he made
no allowance for occurrences outside of his routine. Yet at this moment
a sudden thought whitened his yellow cheek. What if the Father Superior
deemed it necessary to impart the secret to Francisco? Would the child
recoil at the deception, and, perhaps, cease to love him? It was the
first time, in his supreme selfishness, he had taken the acolyte's
feelings into account. He had thought of him only as one owing implicit
obedience to him as a temporal and spiritual guide.

"Reverend Father!"

He turned impatiently. It was his muleteer, Jose. Father Pedro's sunken
eye brightened.

"Ah, Jose! Quickly, then; hast thou found Sanchicha?"

"Truly, your reverence! And I have brought her with me, just as she is;
though if your reverence make more of her than to fill the six-foot
hole and say a prayer over her, I'll give the mule that brought her
here for food for the bull's horns. She neither hears nor speaks, but
whether from weakness or sheer wantonness, I know not."

"Peace, then! and let thy tongue take example from hers. Bring her with
thee into the sacristy and attend without. Go!"

Father Pedro watched the disappearing figure of the muleteer and
hurriedly swept his thin, dry hand, veined and ribbed like a brown
November leaf, over his stony forehead, with a sound that seemed almost
a rustle. Then he suddenly stiffened his fingers over his breviary,
dropped his arms perpendicularly before him, and with a rigid step
returned to the corridor and passed into the sacristy.

For a moment in the half-darkness the room seemed to be empty. Tossed
carelessly in the corner appeared some blankets topped by a few
straggling black horsetails, like an unstranded _riata_. A trembling
agitated the mass as Father Pedro approached. He bent over the heap and
distinguished in its midst the glowing black eyes of Sanchicha, the
Indian centenarian of the Mission San Carmel. Only her eyes lived.
Helpless, boneless, and jelly-like, old age had overtaken her with a
mild form of deliquescence.

"Listen, Sanchicha," said the father, gravely. "It is important that
thou shouldst refresh thy memory for a moment. Look back fourteen
years, mother; it is but yesterday to thee. Thou dost remember the
baby--a little _muchacha_ thou broughtest me then--fourteen years ago?"

The old woman's eyes became intelligent, and turned with a quick look
towards the open door of the church, and thence towards the choir.

The Padre made a motion of irritation. "No, no! Thou dost not
understand; thou dost not attend me. Knowest thou of any mark of
clothing, trinket, or amulet found upon the babe?"

The light of the old woman's eyes went out. She might have been dead.
Father Pedro waited a moment, and then laid his hand impatiently on her
shoulder.

"Dost thou mean there are none?"

A ray of light struggled back into her eyes.

"None."

"And thou hast kept back or put away no sign nor mark of her parentage?
Tell me, on this crucifix."

The eyes caught the crucifix, and became as empty as the orbits of the
carven Christ upon it.

Father Pedro waited patiently. A moment passed; only the sound of the
muleteer's spurs was heard in the courtyard.

"It is well," he said at last, with a sigh of relief. "Pepita shall
give thee some refreshment, and Jose will bring thee back again. I will
summon him."

He passed out of the sacristy door, leaving it open. A ray of sunlight
darted eagerly in, and fell upon the grotesque heap in the corner.
Sanchicha's eyes lived again; more than that, a singular movement came
over her face. The hideous caverns of her toothless mouth opened--she
laughed. The step of Jose was heard in the corridor, and she became
again inert.

The third day, which should have brought the return of Antonio, was
nearly spent. Father Pedro was impatient but not alarmed. The good
fathers at San Jose might naturally detain Antonio for the answer,
which might require deliberation. If any mischance had occurred to
Francisco, Antonio would have returned or sent a special messenger. At
sunset he was in his accustomed seat in the orchard, his hands clasped
over the breviary in his listless lap, his eyes fixed upon the mountain
between him and that mysterious sea that had brought so much into his
life. He was filled with a strange desire to see it, a vague curiosity
hitherto unknown to his preoccupied life; he wished to gaze upon that
strand, perhaps the very spot where she had been found; he doubted not
his questioning eyes would discover some forgotten trace of her; under
his persistent will and aided by the Holy Virgin, the sea would give up
its secret. He looked at the fog creeping along the summit, and
recalled the latest gossip of San Carmel; how that since the advent of
the Americanos it was gradually encroaching on the Mission. The hated
name vividly recalled to him the features of the stranger as he had
stood before him three nights ago, in this very garden; so vividly that
he sprang to his feet with an exclamation. It was no fancy, but Senor
Cranch himself advancing from under the shadow of a pear tree.

"I reckoned I'd catch you here," said Mr. Cranch, with the same dry,
practical business fashion, as if he were only resuming an interrupted
conversation, "and I reckon I ain't going to keep you a minit longer
than I did t'other day." He mutely referred to his watch, which he
already held in his hand, and then put it back in his pocket. "Well! we
found her!"

"Francisco," interrupted the priest with a single stride, laying his
hand upon Cranch's arm, and staring into his eyes.

Mr. Cranch quietly removed Father Pedro's hand. "I reckon that wasn't
the name as _I_ caught it," he returned dryly. "Hadn't you better sit
down?"

"Pardon me--pardon me, Senor," said the priest, hastily sinking back
upon his bench, "I was thinking of other things. You--you--came upon me
suddenly. I thought it was the acolyte. Go on, Senor! I am interested."

"I thought you'd be," said Cranch, quietly. "That's why I came. And
then you might be of service too."

"True, true," said the priest, with rapid accents; "and this girl,
Senor, this girl is"--

"Juanita, the _mestiza_, adopted daughter of Don Juan Briones, over on
the Santa Clare Valley," replied Cranch, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder, and then sitting down upon the bench beside Father Pedro.

The priest turned his feverish eyes piercingly upon his companion for a
few seconds, and then doggedly fixed them upon the ground. Cranch drew
a plug of tobacco from his pocket, cut off a portion, placed it in his
cheek, and then quietly began to strap the blade of his jack-knife upon
his boot. Father Pedro saw it from under his eyelids, and even in his
preoccupation despised him.

"Then you are certain she is the babe you seek?" said the father,
without looking up.

"I reckon as near as you can be certain of anything. Her age tallies;
she was the only foundling girl baby baptized by you, you know,"--he
partly turned round appealingly to the Padre,--"that year. Injin woman
says she picked up a baby. Looks like a pretty clear case, don't it?"

"And the clothes, friend Cranch?" said the priest, with his eyes still
on the ground, and a slight assumption of easy indifference.

"They will be forthcoming, like enough, when the time comes," said
Cranch. "The main thing at first was to find the girl; that was _my_
job; the lawyers, I reckon, can fit the proofs and say what's wanted,
later on."

"But why lawyers," continued Padre Pedro, with a slight sneer he could
not repress, "if the child is found and Senor Cranch is satisfied?"

"On account of the property. Business is business!"

"The property?"

Mr. Cranch pressed the back of his knife-blade on his boot, shut it up
with a click, and putting it in his pocket said calmly:

"Well, I reckon the million of dollars that her father left when he
died, which naturally belongs to her, will require some proof that she
is his daughter."

He had placed both his hands in his pockets, and turned his eyes full
upon Father Pedro. The priest arose hurriedly.

"But you said nothing of this before, Senor Cranch," said he, with a
gesture of indignation, turning his back quite upon Cranch, and taking
a step towards the refectory.

"Why should I? I was looking after the girl, not the property,"
returned Cranch, following the Padre with watchful eyes, but still
keeping his careless, easy attitude.

"Ah, well! Will it be said so, think you? Eh! _Bueno_. What will the
world think of your sacred quest, eh?" continued the Padre Pedro,
forgetting himself in his excitement, but still averting his face from
his companion.

"The world will look after the proofs, and I reckon not bother if the
proofs are all right," replied Cranch, carelessly; "and the girl won't
think the worse for me for helping her to a fortune. Hallo! you've
dropped something." He leaped to his feet, picked up the breviary which
had fallen from the Padre's fingers, and returned it to him with a
slight touch of gentleness that was unsuspected in the man.

The priest's dry, tremulous hand grasped the volume without
acknowledgment.

"But these proofs?" he said hastily; "these proofs, Senor?"

"Oh, well, you'll testify to the baptism, you know."

"But if I refuse; if I will have nothing to do with this thing! If I
will not give my word that there is not some mistake," said the priest,
working himself into a feverish indignation. "That there are not slips
of memory, eh? Of so many children baptized, is it possible for me to
know which, eh? And if this Juanita is not your girl, eh?"

"Then you'll help me to find who is," said Cranch, coolly.

Father Pedro turned furiously on his tormentor. Overcome by his vigil
and anxiety, he was oblivious of everything but the presence of the man
who seemed to usurp the functions of his own conscience. "Who are you,
who speak thus?" he said hoarsely, advancing upon Cranch with
outstretched and anathematizing fingers. "Who are you, Senor Heathen,
who dare to dictate to me, a Father of Holy Church? I tell you, I will
have none of this. Never! I will not! From this moment, you
understand--nothing. I will never" ...

He stopped. The first stroke of the Angelus rang from the little tower.
The first stroke of that bell before whose magic exorcism all human
passions fled, the peaceful bell that had for fifty years lulled the
little fold of San Carmel to prayer and rest, came to his throbbing
ear. His trembling hands groped for the crucifix, carried it to his
left breast; his lips moved in prayer. His eyes were turned to the
cold, passionless sky, where a few faint, far-spaced stars had silently
stolen to their places. The Angelus still rang, his trembling ceased,
he remained motionless and rigid.

The American, who had uncovered in deference to the worshiper rather
than the rite, waited patiently. The eyes of Father Pedro returned to
the earth, moist as if with dew caught from above. He looked half
absently at Cranch.

"Forgive me, my son," he said, in a changed voice. "I am only a worn
old man. I must talk with thee more of this--but not to-night--not
to-night;--to-morrow--to-morrow--to-morrow."

He turned slowly and appeared to glide rather than move under the
trees, until the dark shadow of the Mission tower met and encompassed
him. Cranch followed him with anxious eyes. Then he removed the quid of
tobacco from his cheek.

"Just as I reckoned," remarked he, quite audibly. "He's clean gold on
the bed rock after all!"


IV.

That night Father Pedro dreamed a strange dream. How much of it was
reality, how long it lasted, or when he awoke from it, he could not
tell. The morbid excitement of the previous day culminated in a febrile
exaltation in which he lived and moved as in a separate existence.

This is what he remembered. He thought he had risen at night in a
sudden horror of remorse, and making his way to the darkened church had
fallen upon his knees before the high altar, when all at once the
acolyte's voice broke from the choir, but in accents so dissonant and
unnatural that it seemed a sacrilege, and he trembled. He thought he
had confessed the secret of the child's sex to Cranch, but whether the
next morning or a week later he did not know. He fancied, too, that
Cranch had also confessed some trifling deception to him, but what, or
why, he could not remember; so much greater seemed the enormity of his
own transgression. He thought Cranch had put in his hands the letter he
had written to the Father Superior, saying that his secret was still
safe, and that he had been spared the avowal and the scandal that might
have ensued. But through all, and above all, he was conscious of one
fixed idea: to seek the sea-shore with Sanchicha, and upon the spot
where she had found Francisco, meet the young girl who had taken his
place, and so part from her forever. He had a dim recollection that
this was necessary to some legal identification of her, as arranged by
Cranch, but how or why he did not understand; enough that it was a part
of his penance.

It was early morning when the faithful Antonio, accompanied by
Sanchicha and Jose, rode forth with him from the Mission of San Carmel.
Except on the expressionless features of the old woman, there was
anxiety and gloom upon the faces of the little cavalcade. He did not
know how heavily his strange abstraction and hallucinations weighed
upon their honest hearts. As they wound up the ascent of the mountain
he noticed that Antonio and Jose conversed with bated breath and many
pious crossings of themselves, but with eyes always wistfully fixed
upon him. He wondered if, as part of his penance, he ought not to
proclaim his sin and abase himself before them; but he knew that his
devoted followers would insist upon sharing his punishment; and he
remembered his promise to Cranch, that for _her_ sake he would say
nothing. Before they reached the summit he turned once or twice to look
back upon the Mission. How small it looked, lying there in the peaceful
valley, contrasted with the broad sweep of the landscape beyond,
stopped at the farther east only by the dim, ghost-like outlines of the
Sierras. But the strong breath of the sea was beginning to be felt; in
a few moments more they were facing it with lowered _sombreros_ and
flying _serapes_, and the vast, glittering, illimitable Pacific opened
out beneath them.

Dazed and blinded, as it seemed to him, by the shining, restless
expanse, Father Pedro rode forward as if still in a dream. Suddenly he
halted, and called Antonio to his side.

"Tell me, child, didst thou say that this coast was wild and desolate
of man, beast, and habitation?"

"Truly I did, reverend father."

"Then what is that?" pointing to the shore.

Almost at their feet nestled a cluster of houses, at the head of an
_arroyo_ reaching up from the beach. They looked down upon the smoke of
a manufactory chimney, upon strange heaps of material and curious
engines scattered along the sands, with here and there moving specks of
human figures. In a little bay a schooner swung at her cables.

The _vaquero_ crossed himself in stupefied alarm. "I know not, your
reverence; it is only two years ago, before the _rodeo_, that I was
here for strayed colts, and I swear by the blessed bones of San Antonio
that it was as I said."

"Ah! it is like these Americanos," responded the muleteer. "I have it
from my brother Diego that he went from San Jose to Pescadero two
months ago across the plains, with never a hut nor _fonda_ to halt at
all the way. He returned in seven days, and in the midst of the plain
there were three houses and a mill and many people. And why was it? Ah!
Mother of God! one had picked up in the creek where he drank that much
of gold;" and the muleteer tapped one of the silver coins that fringed
his jacket sleeves in place of buttons.

"And they are washing the sands for gold there now," said Antonio,
eagerly pointing to some men gathered round a machine like an enormous
cradle. "Let us hasten on."

Father Pedro's momentary interest had passed. The words of his
companions fell dull and meaningless upon his dreaming ears. He was
conscious only that the child was more a stranger to him as an outcome
of this hard, bustling life, than when he believed her borne to him
over the mysterious sea. It perplexed his dazed, disturbed mind to
think that if such an antagonistic element could exist within a dozen
miles of the Mission, and he not know it, could not such an atmosphere
have been around him, even in his monastic isolation, and he remain
blind to it? Had he really lived in the world without knowing it? Had
it been in his blood? Had it impelled him to--He shuddered and rode on.

They were at the last slope of the zigzag descent to the shore, when he
saw the figures of a man and woman moving slowly through a field of
wild oats, not far from the trail. It seemed to his distorted fancy
that the man was Cranch. The woman! His heart stopped beating. Ah!
could it be? He had never seen her in her proper garb: would she look
like that? Would she be as tall? He thought he bade Jose and Antonio go
on slowly before with Sanchicha, and dismounted, walking slowly between
the high stalks of grain lest he should disturb them. They evidently
did not hear his approach, but were talking earnestly. It seemed to
Father Pedro that they had taken each other's hands, and as he looked
Cranch slipped his arm round her waist. With only a blind instinct of
some dreadful sacrilege in this act, Father Pedro would have rushed
forward, when the girl's voice struck his ear. He stopped, breathless.
It was not Francisco, but Juanita, the little _mestiza_.

"But are you sure you are not pretending to love me now, as you
pretended to think I was the _muchacha_ you had run away with and lost?
Are you sure it is not pity for the deceit you practiced upon me--upon
Don Juan--upon poor Father Pedro?"

It seemed as if Cranch had tried to answer with a kiss, for the girl
drew suddenly away from him with a coquettish fling of the black
braids, and whipped her little brown hands behind her.

"Well, look here," said Cranch, with the same easy, good-natured,
practical directness which the priest remembered, and which would have
passed for philosophy in a more thoughtful man, "put it squarely, then.
In the first place, it was Don Juan and the alcalde who first suggested
you might be the child."

"But you have said you knew it was Francisco all the time," interrupted
Juanita.

"I did; but when I found the priest would not assist me at first, and
admit that the acolyte was a girl, I preferred to let him think I was
deceived in giving a fortune to another, and leave it to his own
conscience to permit it or frustrate it. I was right. I reckon it was
pretty hard on the old man, at his time of life, and wrapped up as he
was in the girl; but at the moment he came up to the scratch like a
man."

"And to save him you have deceived me? Thank you, Senor," said the girl
with a mock curtsey.

"I reckon I preferred to have you for a wife than a daughter," said
Cranch, "if that's what you mean. When you know me better, Juanita," he
continued, gravely, "you'll know that I would never have let you
believe I sought in you the one if I had not hoped to find in you the
other."

"_Bueno_! And when did you have that pretty hope?"

"When I first saw you."

"And that was--two weeks ago."

"A year ago, Juanita. When Francisco visited you at the rancho. I
followed and saw you."

Juanita looked at him a moment, and then suddenly darted at him, caught
him by the lapels of his coat and shook him like a terrier.

"Are you sure that you did not love that Francisco? Speak!" (She shook
him again.) "Swear that you did not follow her!"

"But--I did," said Cranch, laughing and shaking between the clenching
of the little hands.

"Judas Iscariot! Swear you do not love her all this while."

"But, Juanita!"

"Swear!"

Cranch swore. Then to Father Pedro's intense astonishment she drew the
American's face towards her own by the ears and kissed him.

"But you might have loved her, and married a fortune," said Juanita,
after a pause.

"Where would have been my reparation--my duty?" returned Cranch, with a
laugh.

"Reparation enough for her to have had you," said Juanita, with that
rapid disloyalty of one loving woman to another in an emergency. This
provoked another kiss from Cranch, and then Juanita said demurely:

"But we are far from the trail. Let us return, or we shall miss Father
Pedro. Are you sure he will come?"

"A week ago he promised to be here to see the proofs to-day."

The voices were growing fainter and fainter; they were returning to the
trail.

Father Pedro remained motionless. A week ago! Was it a week ago
since--since what? And what had he been doing here? Listening! He!
Father Pedro, listening like an idle _peon_ to the confidences of two
lovers. But they had talked of him, of his crime, and the man had
pitied him. Why did he not speak? Why did he not call after them? He
tried to raise his voice. It sank in his throat with a horrible choking
sensation. The nearest heads of oats began to nod to him, he felt
himself swaying backward and forward. He fell--heavily, down, down,
down, from the summit of the mountain to the floor of the Mission
chapel, and there he lay in the dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

"He moves."

"Blessed Saint Anthony preserve him!"

It was Antonio's voice, it was Jose's arm, it was the field of wild
oats, the sky above his head,--all unchanged.

"What has happened?" said the priest feebly.

"A giddiness seized your reverence just now, as we were coming to seek
you."

"And you met no one?"

"No one, your reverence."

Father Pedro passed his hand across his forehead.

"But who are these?" he said, pointing to two figures who now appeared
upon the trail.

Antonio turned.

"It is the Americano, Senor Cranch, and his adopted daughter, the
_mestiza_ Juanita, seeking your reverence, methinks."

"Ah!" said Father Pedro.

Cranch came forward and greeted the priest cordially.

"It was kind of you, Father Pedro," he said, meaningly, with a
significant glance at Jose and Antonio, "to come so far to bid me and
my adopted daughter farewell. We depart when the tide serves, but not
before you partake of our hospitality in yonder cottage."

Father Pedro gazed at Cranch and then at Juanita.

"I see," he stammered. "But she goes not alone.
She will be strange at first. She takes some friend, perhaps--some
companion?" he continued, tremulously.

"A very old and dear one, Father Pedro, who is waiting for us now."

He led the way to a little white cottage, so little and white and
recent, that it seemed a mere fleck of sea-foam cast on the sands.
Disposing of Jose and Antonio in the neighboring workshop and
outbuildings, he assisted the venerable Sanchicha to dismount, and,
together with Father Pedro and Juanita, entered a white palisaded
enclosure beside the cottage, and halted before what appeared to be a
large folding trap-door, covering a slight sandy mound. It was locked
with a padlock; beside it stood the American alcalde and Don Juan
Briones. Father Pedro looked hastily around for another figure, but it
was not there.

"Gentlemen," began Cranch, in his practical business way, "I reckon you
all know we've come here to identify a young lady, who"--he
hesitated--"was lately under the care of Father Pedro, with a foundling
picked up on this shore fifteen years ago by an Indian woman. How this
foundling came here, and how I was concerned in it, you all know. I've
told everybody here how I scrambled ashore, leaving the baby in the
dingy, supposing it would be picked up by the boat pursuing me. I've
told some of you," he looked at Father Pedro, "how I first discovered,
from one of the men, three years ago, that the child was not found by
its father. But I have never told any one, before now, I _knew_ it was
picked up here.

"I never could tell the exact locality where I came ashore, for the fog
was coming on as it is now. But two years ago I came up with a party of
gold hunters to work these sands. One day, digging near this creek, I
struck something embedded deep below the surface. Well, gentlemen, it
wasn't gold, but something worth more to me than gold or silver. Here
it is."

At a sign the alcalde unlocked the doors and threw them open. They
disclosed an irregular trench, in which, filled with sand, lay the
half-excavated stern of a boat.

"It was the dingy of the Trinidad, gentlemen; you can still read her
name. I found hidden away, tucked under the stern sheets, moldy and
water-worn, some clothes that I recognized to be the baby's. I knew
then that the child had been taken away alive for some purpose, and the
clothes were left so that she should carry no trace with her. I
recognized the hand of an Indian. I set to work quietly. I found
Sanchicha here, she confessed to finding a baby, but what she had done
with it she would not at first say. But since then she has declared
before the alcalde that she gave it to Father Pedro of San Carmel, and
that here it stands--Francisco that was! Francisca that it is!"

He stepped aside to make way for a tall girl, who had approached from
the cottage.

Father Pedro had neither noticed the concluding words nor the movement
of Cranch. His eyes were fixed upon the imbecile Sanchicha,--Sanchicha,
of whom, to render his rebuke more complete, the Deity seemed to have
worked a miracle, and restored intelligence to eye and lip. He passed
his hand tremblingly across his forehead, and turned away, when his eye
fell upon the last comer.

It was she. The moment he had longed for and dreaded had come. She
stood there, animated, handsome, filled with a hurtful consciousness in
her new charms, her fresh finery, and the pitiable trinkets that had
supplanted her scapulary, and which played under her foolish fingers.
The past had no place in her preoccupied mind; her bright eyes were
full of eager anticipation of a substantial future. The incarnation of
a frivolous world, even as she extended one hand to him in
half-coquettish embarrassment she arranged the folds of her dress with
the other. At the touch of her fingers he felt himself growing old and
cold. Even the penance of parting, which he had looked forward to, was
denied him; there was no longer sympathy enough for sorrow. He thought
of the empty chorister's robe in the little cell, but not now with
regret. He only trembled to think of the flesh that he had once caused
to inhabit it.

"That's all, gentlemen," broke in the practical voice of Cranch.
"Whether there are proofs enough to make Francisca the heiress of her
father's wealth, the lawyers must say. I reckon it's enough for me that
they give me the chance of repairing a wrong by taking her father's
place. After all, it was a mere chance."

"It was the will of God," said Father Pedro, solemnly.

They were the last words he addressed them. For when the fog had begun
to creep in-shore, hastening their departure, he only answered their
farewells by a silent pressure of the hand, mute lips, and far-off
eyes.

When the sound of their laboring oars grew fainter, he told Antonio to
lead him and Sanchicha again to the buried boat. There he bade her
kneel beside him. "We will do penance here, thou and I, daughter," he
said, gravely. When the fog had drawn its curtain gently around the
strange pair, and sea and shore were blotted out, he whispered, "Tell
me, it was even so, was it not, daughter, on the night she came?" When
the distant clatter of blocks and rattle of cordage came from the
unseen vessel, now standing out to sea, he whispered again, "So, this
is what thou didst hear, even then." And so during the night he marked,
more or less audibly to the half-conscious woman at his side, the low
whisper of the waves, the murmur of the far-off breakers, the
lightening and thickening of the fog, the phantoms of moving shapes,
and the slow coming of the dawn. And when the morning sun had rent the
veil over land and sea, Antonio and Jose found him, haggard but erect,
beside the trembling old woman, with a blessing on his lips, pointing
to the horizon where a single sail still glimmered:--

"_Va Usted con Dios_."




A BLUE-GRASS PENELOPE


I.

She was barely twenty-three years old. It is probable that up to that
age, and the beginning of this episode, her life had been uneventful.
Born to the easy mediocrity of such compensating extremes as a small
farmhouse and large lands, a good position and no society, in that vast
grazing district of Kentucky known as the "Blue Grass" region, all the
possibilities of a Western American girl's existence lay before her. A
piano in the bare-walled house, the latest patented mower in the
limitless meadows, and a silk dress sweeping the rough floor of the
unpainted "meeting-house," were already the promise of those
possibilities. Beautiful she was, but the power of that beauty was
limited by being equally shared with her few neighbors. There were
small, narrow, arched feet besides her own that trod the uncarpeted
floors of outlying log cabins with equal grace and dignity; bright,
clearly opened eyes that were equally capable of looking unabashed upon
princes and potentates, as a few later did, and the heiress of the
county judge read her own beauty without envy in the frank glances and
unlowered crest of the blacksmith's daughter. Eventually she had
married the male of her species, a young stranger, who, as schoolmaster
in the nearest town, had utilized to some local extent a scant capital
of education. In obedience to the unwritten law of the West, after the
marriage was celebrated the doors of the ancestral home cheerfully
opened, and bride and bridegroom issued forth, without regret and
without sentiment, to seek the further possibilities of a life beyond
these already too familiar voices. With their departure for California
as Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Tucker, the parental nest in the Blue Grass
meadows knew them no more.

They submitted with equal cheerfulness to the privations and excesses
of their new conditions. Within three years the schoolmaster developed
into a lawyer and capitalist, the Blue Grass bride supplying a grace
and ease to these transitions that were all her own. She softened the
abruptness of sudden wealth, mitigated the austerities of newly
acquired power, and made the most glaring incongruity picturesque. Only
one thing seemed to limit their progress in the region of these
possibilities. They were childless. It was as if they had exhausted the
future in their own youth, leaving little or nothing for another
generation to do.

       *       *       *       *       *

A southwesterly storm was beating against the dressing-room windows of
their new house in one of the hilly suburbs of San Francisco, and
threatening the unseasonable frivolity of the stucco ornamentation of
cornice and balcony. Mrs. Tucker had been called from the contemplation
of the dreary prospect without by the arrival of a visitor. On entering
the drawing-room she found him engaged in a half admiring, half
resentful examination of its new furniture and hangings. Mrs. Tucker at
once recognized Mr. Calhoun Weaver, a former Blue Grass neighbor; with
swift feminine intuition she also felt that his slight antagonism was
likely to be transferred from her furniture to herself. Waiving it with
the lazy amiability of Southern indifference, she welcomed him by the
familiarity of a Christian name.

"I reckoned that mebbee you opined old Blue Grass friends wouldn't
naturally hitch on to them fancy doins," he said, glancing around the
apartment to avoid her clear eyes, as if resolutely setting himself
against the old charm of her manner as he had against the more recent
glory of her surroundings, "but I thought I'd just drop in for the sake
of old times."

"Why shouldn't you, Cal?" said Mrs. Tucker with a frank smile.

"Especially as I'm going up to Sacramento to-night with some
influential friends," he continued, with an ostentation calculated to
resist the assumption of her charms and her furniture. "Senator Dyce of
Kentucky, and his cousin Judge Briggs; perhaps you know 'em, or maybe
Spencer--I mean Mr. Tucker--does."

"I reckon," said Mrs. Tucker smiling; "but tell me something about the
boys and girls at Vineville, and about yourself. _You're_ looking well,
and right smart too." She paused to give due emphasis to this latter
recognition of a huge gold chain with which her visitor was somewhat
ostentatiously trifling.

"I didn't know as you cared to hear anything about Blue Grass," he
returned, a little abashed. "I've been away from there some time
myself," he added, his uneasy vanity taking fresh alarm at the faint
suspicion of patronage on the part of his hostess. "They're doin' well
though; perhaps as well as some others."

"And you're not married yet," continued Mrs. Tucker, oblivious of the
innuendo. "Ah Cal," she added archly, "I am afraid you are as fickle as
ever. What poor girl in Vineville have you left pining?"

The simple face of the man before her flushed with foolish
gratification at this old-fashioned, ambiguous flattery. "Now look yer,
Belle," he said, chuckling, "if you're talking of old times and you
think I bear malice agin Spencer, why"--

But Mrs. Tucker interrupted what might have been an inopportune
sentimental retrospect with a finger of arch but languid warning. "That
will do! I'm dying to know all about it, and you must stay to dinner
and tell me. It's right mean you can't see Spencer too; but he isn't
back from Sacramento yet."

Grateful as a _tete-a-tete_ with his old neighbor in her more
prosperous surroundings would have been, if only for the sake of later
gossiping about it, he felt it would be inconsistent with his pride and
his assumption of present business. More than that, he was uneasily
conscious that in Mrs. Tucker's simple and unaffected manner there was
a greater superiority than he had ever noticed during their previous
acquaintance. He would have felt kinder to her had she shown any "airs
and graces," which he could have commented upon and forgiven. He
stammered some vague excuse of preoccupation, yet lingered in the hope
of saying something which, if not aggressively unpleasant, might at
least transfer to her indolent serenity some of his own irritation. "I
reckon," he said, as he moved hesitatingly toward the door, "that
Spencer has made himself easy and secure in them business risks he's
taking. That 'ere Alameda ditch affair they're talking so much about is
a mighty big thing, rather _too_ big if it ever got to falling back on
him. But I suppose he's accustomed to take risks?"

"Of course he is," said Mrs. Tucker gayly. "He married _me_."

The visitor smiled feebly, but was not equal to the opportunity offered
for gallant repudiation. "But suppose _you_ ain't accustomed to risks?"

"Why not? I married _him_," said Mrs. Tucker.

Mr. Calhoun Weaver was human, and succumbed to this last charming
audacity. He broke into a noisy but genuine laugh, shook Mrs. Tucker's
hand with effusion, said, "Now that's regular Blue Grass and no
mistake!" and retreated under cover of his hilarity. In the hall he
made a rallying stand to repeat confidentially to the servant who had
overheard them, "Blue Grass all over, you bet your life," and, opening
the door, was apparently swallowed up in the tempest.

Mrs. Tucker's smile kept her lips until she had returned to her room,
and even then languidly shone in her eyes for some minutes after, as
she gazed abstractedly from her window on the storm-tossed bay in the
distance. Perhaps some girlish vision of the peaceful Blue Grass plain
momentarily usurped the prospect; but it is to be doubted if there was
much romance in that retrospect, or that it was more interesting to her
than the positive and sharply cut outlines of the practical life she
now led. Howbeit she soon forgot this fancy in lazily watching a boat
that, in the teeth of the gale, was beating round Alcatraz Island.
Although at times a mere blank speck on the gray waste of foam, a
closer scrutiny showed it to be one of those lateen-rigged Italian
fishing-boats that so often flecked the distant bay. Lost in the sudden
darkening of rain, or reappearing beneath the lifted curtain of the
squall, she watched it weather the island, and then turn its laboring
but persistent course toward the open channel. A rent in the
Indian-inky sky, that showed the narrowing portals of the Golden Gate
beyond, revealed, as unexpectedly, the destination of the little craft,
a tall ship that hitherto lay hidden in the mist of the Saucelito
shore. As the distance lessened between boat and ship, they were again
lost in the downward swoop of another squall. When it lifted, the ship
was creeping under the headland towards the open sea, but the boat was
gone. Mrs. Tucker in vain rubbed the pane with her handkerchief, it had
vanished. Meanwhile the ship, as she neared the Gate, drew out from the
protecting headland, stood outlined for a moment with spars and canvas
hearsed in black against the lurid rent in the horizon, and then seemed
to sink slowly into the heaving obscurity beyond. A sudden onset of
rain against the windows obliterated the remaining prospect; the
entrance of a servant completed the diversion.

"Captain Poindexter, ma'am!"

Mrs. Tucker lifted her pretty eyebrows interrogatively. Captain
Poindexter was a legal friend of her husband, and had dined there
frequently; nevertheless she asked, "Did you tell him Mr. Tucker was
not at home?"

"Yes, 'm."

"Did he ask for _me_?"

"Yes, 'm."

"Tell him I'll be down directly."

Mrs. Tucker's quiet face did not betray the fact that this second
visitor was even less interesting than the first. In her heart she did
not like Captain Poindexter. With a clever woman's instinct, she had
early detected the fact that he had a superior, stronger nature than
her husband; as a loyal wife, she secretly resented the occasional
unconscious exhibition of this fact on the part of his intimate friend
in their familiar intercourse. Added to this slight jealousy there was
a certain moral antagonism between herself and the captain which none
but themselves knew. They were both philosophers, but Mrs. Tucker's
serene and languid optimism would not tolerate the compassionate and
kind-hearted pessimisms of the lawyer. "Knowing what Jack Poindexter
does of human nature," her husband had once said, "it's mighty fine in
him to be so kind and forgiving. You ought to like him better, Belle."
"And qualify myself to be forgiven," said the lady pertly. "I don't see
what you're driving at, Belle; I give it up," had responded the puzzled
husband. Mrs. Tucker kissed his high but foolish forehead tenderly, and
said, "I'm glad you don't, dear."

Meanwhile her second visitor had, like the first, employed the interval
in a critical survey of the glories of the new furniture, but with
apparently more compassion than resentment in his manner. Once only had
his expression changed. Over the fireplace hung a large photograph of
Mr. Spencer Tucker. It was retouched, refined, and idealized in the
highest style of that polite and diplomatic art. As Captain Poindexter
looked upon the fringed hazel eyes, the drooping raven mustache, the
clustering ringlets, and the Byronic full throat and turned-down collar
of his friend, a smile of exhausted humorous tolerance and affectionate
impatience curved his lips. "Well, you _are_ a fool, aren't you?" he
apostrophized it half audibly.

He was standing before the picture as she entered. Even in the trying
contiguity of that peerless work he would have been called a
fine-looking man. As he advanced to greet her, it was evident that his
military title was not one of the mere fanciful sobriquets of the
locality. In his erect figure and the disciplined composure of limb and
attitude there were still traces of the refined academic rigors of West
Point. The pliant adaptability of Western civilization, which enabled
him, three years before, to leave the army and transfer his executive
ability to the more profitable profession of the law, had loosed sash
and shoulder-strap, but had not entirely removed the restraint of the
one, nor the bearing of the other.

"Spencer is in Sacramento," began Mrs. Tucker in languid explanation,
after the first greetings were over.

"I knew he was not here," replied Captain Poindexter gently, as he drew
the proffered chair towards her, "but this is business that concerns
you both." He stopped and glanced upwards at the picture. "I suppose
you know nothing of his business? Of course not," he added
reassuringly, "nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly." He said this so
kindly, and yet so positively, as if to promptly dispose of that
question before going further, that she assented mechanically. "Well,
then, he's taken some big risks in the way of business, and--well,
things have gone bad with him, you know. Very bad! Really, they
couldn't be worse! Of course it was dreadfully rash and all that," he
went on, as if commenting upon the amusing waywardness of a child; "but
the result is the usual smash-up of everything, money, credit, and
all!" He laughed and added, "Yes, he's got cut off--mules and baggage
regularly routed and dispersed! I'm in earnest." He raised his eyebrows
and frowned slightly, as if to deprecate any corresponding hilarity on
the part of Mrs. Tucker, or any attempt to make _too_ light of the
subject, and then rising, placed his hands behind his back, beamed
half-humorously upon her from beneath her husband's picture, and
repeated, "That's so."

Mrs. Tucker instinctively knew that he spoke the truth, and that it was
impossible for him to convey it in any other than his natural manner;
but between the shock and the singular influence of that manner she
could at first only say, "You don't mean it!" fully conscious of the
utter inanity of the remark, and that it seemed scarcely less
cold-blooded than his own.

Poindexter, still smiling, nodded.

She arose with an effort. She had recovered from the first shock, and
pride lent her a determined calmness that more than equaled
Poindexter's easy philosophy.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"At sea, and I hope by this time where he cannot be found or followed."

Was her momentary glimpse of the outgoing ship a coincidence or only a
vision? She was confused and giddy, but, mastering her weakness, she
managed to continue in a lower voice:

"You have no message for me from him? He told you nothing to tell me?"

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," replied Poindexter. "It was as much as
he could do, I reckon, to get fairly away before the crash came."

"Then you did not see him go?"

"Well, no," said Poindexter. "I'd hardly have managed things in this
way." He checked himself and added, with a forgiving smile, "but he was
the best judge of what he needed, of course."

"I suppose I will hear from him," she said quietly, "as soon as he is
safe. He must have had enough else to think about, poor fellow."

She said this so naturally and quietly that Poindexter was deceived. He
had no idea that the collected woman before him was thinking only of
solitude and darkness, of her own room, and madly longing to be there.
He said, "Yes, I dare say," in quite another voice, and glanced at the
picture. But as she remained standing, he continued more earnestly, "I
didn't come here to tell you what you might read in the newspapers
to-morrow morning, and what everybody might tell you. Before that time
I want you to do something to save a fragment of your property from the
ruin; do you understand? I want you to make a rally, and bring off
something in good order."

"For him?" said Mrs. Tucker, with brightening eyes.

"Well, yes, of course--if you like--but as if for yourself. Do you know
the Rancho de los Cuervos?"

"I do."

"It's almost the only bit of real property your husband hasn't sold,
mortgaged, or pledged. Why it was exempt, or whether only forgotten, I
can't say."

"I'll tell you why," said Mrs. Tucker, with a slight return of color.
"It was the first land we ever bought, and Spencer always said it
should be mine and he would build a new house on it."

Captain Poindexter smiled and nodded at the picture. "Oh, he did say
that, did he? Well, _that's_ evidence. But you see he never gave you
the deed, and by sunrise tomorrow his creditors will attach
it--unless--

"Unless"--repeated Mrs. Tucker, with kindling eyes.

"Unless," continued Captain Poindexter, "they happen to find _you_ in
possession."

"I'll go," said Mrs. Tucker.

"Of course you will," returned Poindexter, pleasantly. "Only, as it's a
big contract to take, suppose we see how you can fill it. It's forty
miles to Los Cuervos, and you can't trust yourself to steamboat or
stage-coach. The steamboat left an hour ago."

"If I had only known this then!" ejaculated Mrs. Tucker.

"_I_ knew it, but you had company then," said Poindexter, with ironical
gallantry, "and I wouldn't disturb you." Without saying how he knew it,
he continued, "In the stage-coach you might be recognized. You must go
in a private conveyance and alone; even I cannot go with you, for I
must go on before and meet you there. Can you drive forty miles?"

Mrs. Tucker lifted up her abstracted pretty lids. "I once drove
fifty--at home," she returned simply.

"Good! And I dare say you did it then for fun. Do it now for something
real and personal, as we lawyers say. You will have relays and a plan
of the road. It's rough weather for a _pasear_, but all the better for
that. You'll have less company on the road."

"How soon can I go?" she asked.

"The sooner the better. I've arranged everything for you already," he
continued with a laugh. "Come now, that's a compliment to you, isn't
it?" He smiled a moment in her steadfast, earnest face, and then said,
more gravely, "You'll do. Now listen."

He then carefully detailed his plan. There was so little of excitement
or mystery in their manner that the servant, who returned to light the
gas, never knew that the ruin and bankruptcy of the house was being
told before her, or that its mistress was planning her secret flight.

"Good afternoon. I will see you to-morrow then," said Poindexter,
raising his eyes to hers as the servant opened the door for him.

"Good afternoon," repeated Mrs. Tucker, quietly answering his look.
"You need not light the gas in my room, Mary," she continued in the
same tone of voice as the door closed upon him; "I shall lie down for a
few moments, and then I may run over to the Robinsons for the evening."

She regained her room composedly. The longing desire to bury her head
in her pillow and "think out" her position had gone. She did not
apostrophize her fate, she did not weep; few real women do in the
access of calamity, or when there is anything else to be done. She felt
that she knew it all; she believed she had sounded the profoundest
depths of the disaster, and seemed already so old in her experience
that she almost fancied she had been prepared for it. Perhaps she did
not fully appreciate it. To a life like hers it was only an incident,
the mere turning of a page of the illimitable book of youth; the
breaking up of what she now felt had become a monotony. In fact, she
was not quite sure she had ever been satisfied with their present
success. Had it brought her all she expected? She wanted to say this to
her husband, not only to comfort him, poor fellow, but that they might
come to a better understanding of life in the future. She was not
perhaps different from other loving women, who, believing in this
unattainable goal of matrimony, have sought it in the various episodes
of fortune or reverses, in the bearing of children, or the loss of
friends. In her childless experience there was no other life that had
taken root in her circumstances and might suffer transplantation; only
she and her husband could lose or profit by the change. The "perfect"
understanding would come under other conditions than these.

She would have gone superstitiously to the window to gaze in the
direction of the vanished ship, but another instinct restrained her.
She would put aside all yearning for him until she had done something
to help him, and earned the confidence he seemed to have withheld.
Perhaps it was pride--perhaps she never really believed his exodus was
distant or complete.

With a full knowledge that to-morrow the various ornaments and pretty
trifles around her would be in the hands of the law, she gathered only
a few necessaries for her flight and some familiar personal trinkets. I
am constrained to say that this self-abnegation was more fastidious
than moral. She had no more idea of the ethics of bankruptcy than any
other charming woman; she simply did not like to take with her any
contagious memory of the chapter of the life just closing. She glanced
around the home she was leaving without a lingering regret; there was
no sentiment of tradition or custom that might be destroyed; her roots
lay too near the surface to suffer dislocation; the happiness of her
childless union had depended upon no domestic center, nor was its flame
sacred to any local hearthstone. It was without a sigh that, when night
had fully fallen, she slipped unnoticed down the staircase. At the door
of the drawing-room she paused, and then entered with the first guilty
feeling of shame she had known that evening. Looking stealthily around,
she mounted a chair before her husband's picture, kissed the
irreproachable mustache hurriedly, said, "You foolish darling, you!"
and slipped out again. With this touching indorsement of the views of a
rival philosopher, she closed the door softly and left her home
forever.


II.

The wind and rain had cleared the unfrequented suburb of any observant
lounger, and the darkness, lit only by far-spaced, gusty lamps, hid her
hastening figure. She had barely crossed the second street when she
heard the quick clatter of hoofs behind her; a buggy drove up to the
curbstone, and Poindexter leaped out. She entered quickly, but for a
moment he still held the reins of the impatient horse. "He's rather
fresh," he said, eying her keenly: "are you sure you can manage him?"

"Give me the reins," she said simply.

He placed them in the two firm, well-shaped hands that reached from the
depths of the vehicle, and was satisfied. Yet he lingered.

"It's rough work for a lone woman," he said, almost curtly, "_I_ can't
go with you, but, speak frankly, is there any man you know whom you can
trust well enough to take? It's not too late yet; think a moment!"

He paused over the buttoning of the leather apron of the vehicle.

"No, there is none," answered the voice from the interior; "and it's
better so. Is all ready?"

"One moment more." He had recovered his half bantering manner. "You
_have_ a friend and countryman already with you, do you know? Your
horse is Blue Grass. Good-night."

With these words ringing in her ears she began her journey. The horse,
as if eager to maintain the reputation which his native district had
given his race, as well as the race of the pretty woman behind him,
leaped impatiently forward. But pulled together by the fine and firm
fingers that seemed to guide rather than check his exuberance, he
presently struck into the long, swinging pace of his kind, and kept it
throughout without "break" or acceleration. Over the paved streets the
light buggy rattled, and the slender shafts danced around his smooth
barrel, but when they touched the level high road, horse and vehicle
slipped forward through the night, a swift and noiseless phantom. Mrs.
Tucker could see his graceful back dimly rising and falling before her
with tireless rhythm, and could feel the intelligent pressure of his
mouth until it seemed the responsive grasp of a powerful but kindly
hand. The faint glow of conquest came to her cold cheek; the slight
stirrings of pride moved her preoccupied heart. A soft light filled her
hazel eyes. A desolate woman, bereft of husband and home, and flying
through storm and night, she knew not where, she still leaned forward
towards her horse. "Was he Blue Grass, then, dear old boy?" she gently
cooed at him in the darkness. He evidently _was_, and responded by
blowing her an ostentatious equine kiss. "And he would be good to his
own forsaken Belle," she murmured caressingly, "and wouldn't let any
one harm her?" But here, overcome by the lazy witchery of her voice, he
shook his head so violently that Mrs. Tucker, after the fashion of her
sex, had the double satisfaction of demurely restraining the passion
she had evoked.

To avoid the more traveled thoroughfare, while the evening was still
early, it had been arranged that she should at first take a less direct
but less frequented road. This was a famous pleasure-drive from San
Francisco, a graveled and sanded stretch of eight miles to the sea, and
an ultimate "cocktail," in a "stately pleasure-dome decreed" among the
surf and rocks of the Pacific shore. It was deserted now, and left to
the unobstructed sweep of the wind and rain. Mrs. Tucker would not have
chosen this road. With the instinctive jealousy of a bucolic inland
race born by great rivers, she did not like the sea; and again, the dim
and dreary waste tended to recall the vision connected with her
husband's flight, upon which she had resolutely shut her eyes. But when
she had reached it the road suddenly turned, following the trend of the
beach, and she was exposed to the full power of its dread fascinations.
The combined roar of sea and shore was in her ears. As the direct force
of the gale had compelled her to furl the protecting hood of the buggy
to keep the light vehicle from oversetting or drifting to leeward, she
could no longer shut out the heaving chaos on the right, from which the
pallid ghosts of dead and dying breakers dimly rose and sank as if in
awful salutation. At times through the darkness a white sheet appeared
spread before the path and beneath the wheels of the buggy, which, when
withdrawn with a reluctant hiss, seemed striving to drag the exhausted
beach seaward with it. But the blind terror of her horse, who swerved
at every sweep of the surge, shamed her own half superstitious fears,
and with the effort to control his alarm she regained her own
self-possession, albeit with eyelashes wet not altogether with the salt
spray from the sea. This was followed by a reaction, perhaps stimulated
by her victory over the beaten animal, when for a time, she knew not
how long, she felt only a mad sense of freedom and power, oblivious of
even her sorrows, her lost home and husband, and with intense feminine
consciousness she longed to be a man. She was scarcely aware that the
track turned again inland until the beat of the horse's hoofs on the
firm ground and an acceleration of speed showed her she had left the
beach and the mysterious sea behind her, and she remembered that she
was near the end of the first stage of her journey. Half an hour later
the twinkling lights of the roadside inn where she was to change horses
rose out of the darkness.

Happily for her, the hostler considered the horse, who had a local
reputation, of more importance than the unknown muffled figure in the
shadow of the unfurled hood, and confined his attention to the animal.
After a careful examination of his feet and a few comments addressed
solely to the superior creation, he led him away. Mrs. Tucker would
have liked to part more affectionately from her four-footed compatriot,
and felt a sudden sense of loneliness at the loss of her new friend,
but a recollection of certain cautions of Captain Poindexter's kept her
mute. Nevertheless, the hostler's ostentatious adjuration of "Now then,
aren't you going to bring out that mustang for the Senora?" puzzled
her. It was not until the fresh horse was put to, and she had flung a
piece of gold into the attendant's hand, that the "_Gracias_" of his
unmistakable Saxon speech revealed to her the reason of the lawyer's
caution. Poindexter had evidently represented her to these people as a
native Californian who did not speak English. In her inconsistency her
blood took fire at this first suggestion of deceit, and burned in her
face. Why should he try to pass her off as anybody else? Why should she
not use her own, her husband's name? She stopped and bit her lip.

It was but the beginning of an uneasy train of thought. She suddenly
found herself thinking of her visitor, Calhoun Weaver, and not
pleasantly. He would hear of their ruin to-morrow, perhaps of her own
flight. He would remember his visit, and what would he think of her
deceitful frivolity? Would he believe that she was then ignorant of the
failure? It was her first sense of any accountability to others than
herself, but even then it was rather owing to an uneasy consciousness
of what her husband must feel if he were subjected to the criticisms of
men like Calhoun. She wondered if others knew that he had kept her in
ignorance of his flight. Did Poindexter know it, or had he only
entrapped her into the admission? Why had she not been clever enough to
make him think that she knew it already? For the moment she hated
Poindexter for sharing that secret. Yet this was again followed by a
new impatience of her husband's want of insight into her ability to
help him. Of course the poor fellow could not bear to worry her, could
not bear to face such men as Calhoun, or even Poindexter (she added
exultingly to herself), but he might have sent her a line as he fled,
only to prepare her to meet and combat the shame alone. It did not
occur to her unsophisticated singleness of nature that she was
accepting as an error of feeling what the world would call cowardly
selfishness.

At midnight the storm lulled and a few stars trembled through the rent
clouds. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and her country
instincts, a little overlaid by the urban experiences of the last few
years, came again to the surface. She felt the fresh, cool radiation
from outlying, upturned fields, the faint, sad odors from dim stretches
of pricking grain and quickening leaf, and wondered if at Los Cuervos
it might be possible to reproduce the peculiar verdure of her native
district. She beguiled her fancy by an ambitious plan of retrieving
their fortunes by farming; her comfortable tastes had lately rebelled
against the homeless mechanical cultivation of these desolate but
teeming Californian acres, and for a moment indulged in a vision of a
vine-clad cottage home that in any other woman would have been
sentimental. Her cramped limbs aching, she took advantage of the
security of the darkness and the familiar contiguity of the fields to
get down from the vehicle, gather her skirts together, and run at the
head of the mustang, until her chill blood was thawed, night drawing a
modest veil over this charming revelation of the nymph and woman. But
the sudden shadow of a coyote checked the scouring feet of this swift
Camilla, and sent her back precipitately to the buggy. Nevertheless,
she was refreshed and able to pursue her journey, until the cold gray
of early morning found her at the end of her second stage.

Her route was changed again from the main highway, rendered dangerous
by the approach of day and the contiguity of the neighboring
_rancheros_. The road was rough and hilly, her new horse and vehicle in
keeping with the rudeness of the route--by far the most difficult of
her whole journey. The rare wagon tracks that indicated her road were
often scarcely discernible; at times they led her through openings in
the half-cleared woods, skirted suspicious morasses, painfully climbed
the smooth, domelike hills, or wound along perilous slopes at a
dangerous angle. Twice she had to alight and cling to the sliding
wheels on one of those treacherous inclines, or drag them from
impending ruts or immovable mire. In the growing light she could
distinguish the distant, low-lying marshes eaten by encroaching sloughs
and insidious channels, and beyond them the faint gray waste of the
Lower Bay. A darker peninsula in the marsh she knew to be the extreme
boundary of her future home: the Rancho de los Cuervos. In another hour
she began to descend to the plain, and once more to approach the main
road, which now ran nearly parallel with her track. She scanned it
cautiously for any early traveler; it stretched north and south in
apparent unending solitude. She struck into it boldly, and urged her
horse to the top of his speed, until she reached the cross-road that
led to the rancho. But here she paused and allowed the reins to drop
idly on the mustang's back. A singular and unaccountable irresolution
seized her. The difficulties of her journey were over; the rancho lay
scarcely two miles away; she had achieved the most important part of
her task in the appointed time; but she hesitated. What had she come
for? She tried to recall Poindexter's words, even her own enthusiasm,
but in vain. She was going to take possession of her husband's
property, she knew, that was all. But the means she had taken seemed
now so exaggerated and mysterious for that simple end, that she began
to dread an impending something, or some vague danger she had not
considered, that she was rushing blindly to meet. Full of this strange
feeling, she almost mechanically stopped her horse as she entered the
cross-road.

From this momentary hesitation a singular sound aroused her. It seemed
at first like the swift hurrying by of some viewless courier of the
air, the vague alarm of some invisible flying herald, or like the
inarticulate cry that precedes a storm. It seemed to rise and fall
around her as if with some changing urgency of purpose. Raising her
eyes she suddenly recognized the two far-stretching lines of telegraph
wire above her head, and knew the aeolian cry of the morning wind along
its vibrating chords. But it brought another and more practical fear to
her active brain. Perhaps even now the telegraph might be anticipating
her! Had Poindexter thought of that? She hesitated no longer, but
laying the whip on the back of her jaded mustang, again hurried
forward.

As the level horizon grew more distinct, her attention was attracted by
the white sail of a small boat lazily threading the sinuous channel of
the slough. It might be Poindexter arriving by the more direct route
from the steamboat that occasionally laid off the ancient _embarcadero_
of the Los Cuervos Rancho. But even while watching it her quick ear
caught the sound of galloping hoofs behind her. She turned quickly and
saw she was followed by a horseman. But her momentary alarm was
succeeded by a feeling of relief as she recognized the erect figure and
square shoulders of Poindexter. Yet she could not help thinking that he
looked more like a militant scout, and less like a cautious legal
adviser, than ever.

With unaffected womanliness she rearranged her slightly disordered hair
as he drew up beside her. "I thought you were in yonder boat," she
said.

"Not I," he laughed; "I distanced you by the highroad two hours, and
have been reconnoitering, until I saw you hesitate at the cross-roads."

"But who is in the boat?" asked Mrs. Tucker, partly to hide her
embarrassment.

"Only some early Chinese market gardener, I dare say. But you are safe
now. You are on your own land. You passed the boundary monument of the
rancho five minutes ago. Look! All you see before you is yours from the
_embarcadero_ to yonder Coast Range."

The tone of half raillery did not, however, cheer Mrs. Tucker. She
shuddered slightly and cast her eyes over the monotonous sea of _tule_
and meadow.

"It doesn't look pretty, perhaps," continued Poindexter, "but it's the
richest land in the State, and the _embarcadero_ will some day be a
town. I suppose you'll call it Blue Grassville. But you seem tired!" he
said, suddenly dropping his voice to a tone of half humorous sympathy.

Mrs. Tucker managed to get rid of an impending tear under the pretense
of clearing her eyes. "Are we nearly there?" she asked.

"Nearly. You know," he added, with the same half mischievous, half
sympathizing gayety, "it's not exactly a palace you're coming
to,--hardly. It's the old _casa_ that has been deserted for years, but
I thought it better you should go into possession there than take up
your abode at the shanty where your husband's farm-hands are. No one
will know when you take possession of the _casa_, while the very hour
of your arrival at the shanty would be known; and if they should make
any trouble"--

"If they should make any trouble?" repeated Mrs. Tucker, lifting her
frank, inquiring eyes to Poindexter.

His horse suddenly rearing from an apparently accidental prick of the
spur, it was a minute or two before he was able to explain. "I mean if
this ever comes up as a matter of evidence, you know. But here we are!"

What had seemed to be an overgrown mound rising like an island out of
the dead level of the grassy sea now resolved itself into a collection
of adobe walls, eaten and incrusted with shrubs and vines, that bore
some resemblance to the usual uninhabited-looking exterior of a
Spanish-American dwelling. Apertures that might have been lance-shaped
windows or only cracks and fissures in the walls were choked up with
weeds and grass, and gave no passing glimpse of the interior. Entering
a ruinous corral they came to a second entrance, which proved to be the
_patio_ or courtyard. The deserted wooden corridor, with beams,
rafters, and floors whitened by the sun and wind, contained a few
withered leaves, dryly rotting skins, and thongs of leather, as if
undisturbed by human care. But among these scattered debris of former
life and habitation there was no noisome or unclean suggestion of
decay. A faint spiced odor of desiccation filled the bare walls. There
was no slime on stone or sun-dried brick. In place of fungus or
discolored moisture the dust of efflorescence whitened in the obscured
corners. The elements had picked clean the bones of the old and
crumbling tenement ere they should finally absorb it.

A withered old _peon_ woman, who in dress, complexion, and fibrous hair
might have been an animated fragment of the debris, rustled out of a
low vaulted passage and welcomed them with a feeble crepitation.
Following her into the dim interior, Mrs. Tucker was surprised to find
some slight attempt at comfort and even adornment in the two or three
habitable apartments. They were scrupulously clean and dry, two
qualities which in her feminine eyes atoned for poverty of material.

"I could not send anything from San Bruno, the nearest village, without
attracting attention," explained Poindexter; "but if you can manage to
picnic here for a day longer, I'll get one of our Chinese friends
here," he pointed to the slough, "to bring over, for his return cargo
from across the bay, any necessaries you may want. There is no danger
of his betraying you," he added, with an ironical smile; "Chinamen and
Indians are, by an ingenious provision of the statute of California,
incapable of giving evidence against a white person. You can trust your
handmaiden perfectly--even if she can't trust _you_. That is your
sacred privilege under the constitution. And now, as I expect to catch
the up boat ten miles from hence. I must say 'good-by' until to-morrow
night. I hope to bring you then some more definite plans for the
future. The worst is over." He held her hand for a moment, and with a
graver voice continued, "You have done it very well--do you know--very
well!"

In the slight embarrassment produced by his sudden change of manner she
felt that her thanks seemed awkward and restrained. "Don't thank me,"
he laughed, with a prompt return of his former levity; "that's my
trade. I only advised. You have saved yourself like a plucky
woman--shall I say like Blue Grass? Good-by!" He mounted his horse,
but, as if struck by an after-thought, wheeled and drew up by her side
again. "If I were you I wouldn't see many strangers for a day or two,
and listen to as little news as a woman possibly can." He laughed
again, waved her a half gallant, half military salute, and was gone.
The question she had been trying to frame, regarding the probability of
communication with her husband, remained unasked. At least she had
saved her pride before him.

Addressing herself to the care of her narrow household, she
mechanically put away the few things she had brought with her, and
began to read just the scant furniture. She was a little discomposed at
first at the absence of bolts, locks, and even window-fastenings until
assured, by Concha's evident inability to comprehend her concern, that
they were quite unknown at Los Cuervos. Her slight knowledge of Spanish
was barely sufficient to make her wants known, so that the relief of
conversation with her only companion was debarred her, and she was
obliged to content herself with the sapless, crackling smiles and
withered genuflexions that the old woman dropped like dead leaves in
her path. It was staring noon when, the house singing like an empty
shell in the monotonous wind, she felt she could stand the solitude no
longer, and, crossing the glaring _patio_ and whistling corridor, made
her way to the open gateway.

But the view without seemed to intensify her desolation. The broad
expanse of the shadowless plain reached apparently to the Coast Range,
trackless and unbroken save by one or two clusters of dwarfed oaks,
which at that distance were but mossy excrescences on the surface,
barely raised above the dead level. On the other side the marsh took up
the monotony and carried it, scarcely interrupted by undefined
water-courses, to the faintly marked-out horizon line of the remote
bay. Scattered and apparently motionless black spots on the meadows
that gave a dreary significance to the title of "the Crows" which the
rancho bore, and sudden gray clouds of sandpipers on the marshes, that
rose and vanished down the wind, were the only signs of life. Even the
white sail of the early morning was gone.

She stood there until the aching of her straining eyes and the
stiffening of her limbs in the cold wind compelled her to seek the
sheltered warmth of the courtyard. Here she endeavored to make friends
with a bright-eyed lizard, who was sunning himself in the corridor; a
graceful little creature in blue and gold, from whom she felt at other
times she might have fled, but whose beauty and harmlessness solitude
had made known to her. With misplaced kindness she tempted it with
bread-crumbs, with no other effect than to stiffen it into stony
astonishment. She wondered if she should become like the prisoners she
had read of in books, who poured out their solitary affections on
noisome creatures, and she regretted even the mustang, which with the
buggy had disappeared under the charge of some unknown retainer on her
arrival. Was she not a prisoner? The shutterless windows, yawning
doors, and open gate refuted the suggestion, but the encompassing
solitude and trackless waste still held her captive. Poindexter had
told her it was four miles to the shanty; she might walk there. Why had
she given her word that she would remain at the rancho until he
returned?

The long day crept monotonously away, and she welcomed the night which
shut out the dreary prospect. But it brought no cessation of the
harassing wind without, nor surcease of the nervous irritation its
perpetual and even activity wrought upon her. It haunted her pillow
even in her exhausted sleep, and seemed to impatiently beckon her to
rise and follow it. It brought her feverish dreams of her husband,
footsore and weary, staggering forward under its pitiless lash and
clamorous outcry; she would have gone to his assistance, but when she
reached his side and held out her arms to him it hurried her past with
merciless power, and, bearing her away, left him hopelessly behind. It
was broad day when she awoke. The usual night showers of the waning
rainy season had left no trace in sky or meadow; the fervid morning sun
had already dried the _patio_; only the restless, harrying wind
remained.

Mrs. Tucker arose with a resolve. She had learned from Concha on the
previous evening that a part of the shanty was used as a _tienda_ or
shop for the laborers and _rancheros_. Under the necessity of
purchasing some articles, she would go there and for a moment mingle
with those people, who would not recognize her. Even if they did, her
instinct told her it would be less to be feared than the hopeless
uncertainty of another day. As she left the house the wind seemed to
seize her as in her dream, and hurry her along with it, until in a few
moments the walls of the low _casa_ sank into the earth again and she
was alone, but for the breeze on the solitary plain. The level distance
glittered in the sharp light, a few crows with slant wings dipped and
ran down the wind before her, and a passing gleam on the marsh was
explained by the far-off cry of a curlew.

She had walked for an hour, upheld by the stimulus of light and morning
air, when the cluster of scrub oaks, which was her destination, opened
enough to show two rambling sheds, before one of which was a wooden
platform containing a few barrels and bones. As she approached nearer,
she could see that one or two horses were tethered under the trees,
that their riders were lounging by a horse-trough, and that over an
open door the word _Tienda_ was rudely painted on a board, and as
rudely illustrated by the wares displayed at door and window.
Accustomed as she was to the poverty of frontier architecture, even the
crumbling walls of the old _hacienda_ she had just left seemed
picturesque to the rigid angles of the thin, blank, unpainted shell
before her. One of the loungers, who was reading a newspaper aloud as
she advanced, put it aside and stared at her; there was an evident
commotion in the shop as she stepped upon the platform, and when she
entered, with breathless lips and beating heart, she found herself the
object of a dozen curious eyes. Her quick pride resented the scrutiny
and recalled her courage, and it was with a slight coldness in her
usual lazy indifference that she leaned over the counter and asked for
the articles she wanted.

The request was followed by a dead silence. Mrs. Tucker repeated it
with some _hauteur_.

"I reckon you don't seem to know this store is in the hands of the
sheriff," said one of the loungers.

Mrs. Tucker was not aware of it.

"Well, I don't know any one who's a better right to know than Spence
Tucker's wife," said another with a coarse laugh. The laugh was echoed
by the others. Mrs. Tucker saw the pit into which she had deliberately
walked, but did not flinch.

"Is there any one to serve here?" she asked, turning her clear eyes
full upon the bystanders.

"You'd better ask the sheriff. He was the last one to _sarve_ here. He
sarved an attachment," replied the inevitable humorist of all
Californian assemblages.

"Is he here?" asked Mrs. Tucker, disregarding the renewed laughter
which followed this subtle witticism.

The loungers at the door made way for one of their party, who was half
dragged, half pushed into the shop. "Here he is," said half a dozen
eager voices, in the fond belief that his presence might impart
additional humor to the situation. He cast a deprecating glance at Mrs.
Tucker and said, "It's so, madam! This yer place _is_ attached; but if
there's anything you're wanting, why I reckon, boys,"--he turned half
appealingly to the crowd, "we could oblige a lady." There was a vague
sound of angry opposition and remonstrance from the back door of the
shop, but the majority, partly overcome by Mrs. Tucker's beauty,
assented. "Only," continued the officer explanatorily, "ez these yer
goods are in the hands of the creditors, they ought to be represented
by an equivalent in money. If you're expecting they should be
charged"--

"But I wish to, _pay_ for them," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, with a slight
flush of indignation; "I have the money."

"Oh, I bet you have!" screamed a voice, as, overturning all opposition,
the malcontent at the back door, in the shape of an infuriated woman,
forced her way into the shop. "I'll bet you have the money! Look at
her, boys! Look at the wife of the thief, with the stolen money in
diamonds in her ears and rings on her fingers. _She's_ got money if
_we've_ none. _She_ can pay for what she fancies, if we haven't a cent
to redeem the bed that's stolen from under us. Oh yes, buy it all, Mrs.
Spencer Tucker! buy the whole shop, Mrs. Spencer Tucker, do you hear?
And if you ain't satisfied then, buy my clothes, my wedding ring, the
only things your husband hasn't stolen."

"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker coldly, turning towards the
door. But with a flying leap across the counter her relentless
adversary stood between her and retreat.

"You don't understand! Perhaps you don't understand that your husband
not only stole the hard labor of these men, but even the little money
they brought here and trusted to his thieving hands. Perhaps you don't
know that he stole my husband's hard earnings, mortgaged these very
goods you want to buy, and that he is to-day a convicted thief, a
forger, and a runaway coward. Perhaps, if you can't understand _me_,
you can read the newspaper. Look!" She exultingly opened the paper the
sheriff had been reading aloud, and pointed to the displayed headlines.
"Look! there are the very words, 'Forgery, Swindling, Embezzlement!' Do
you see? And perhaps you can't understand this. Look! 'Shameful Flight.
Abandons his Wife. Runs off with a Notorious'"--

"Easy, old gal, easy now. D--n it! Will you dry up? I say. _Stop_!"

It was too late! The sheriff had dashed the paper from the woman's
hand, but not until Mrs. Tucker had read a single line, a line such as
she had sometimes turned from with weary scorn in her careless perusal
of the daily shameful chronicle of domestic infelicity. Then she had
coldly wondered if there could be any such men and women. And now! The
crowd fell back before her; even the virago was silenced as she looked
at her face. The humorist's face was as white, but not as immobile, as
he gasped, "Christ! if I don't believe she knew nothin' of it!"

For a moment the full force of such a supposition, with all its
poignancy, its dramatic intensity, and its pathos, possessed the crowd.
In the momentary clairvoyance of enthusiasm they caught a glimpse of
the truth, and by one of the strange reactions of human passion they
only waited for a word of appeal or explanation from her lips to throw
themselves at her feet. Had she simply told her story they would have
believed her; had she cried, fainted, or gone into hysterics, they
would have pitied her. She did neither. Perhaps she thought of neither,
or indeed of anything that was then before her eyes. She walked erect
to the door and turned upon the threshold. "I mean what I say," she
said calmly. "I don't understand you. But whatever just claims you have
upon my husband will be paid by me, or by his lawyer, Captain
Poindexter."

She had lost the sympathy but not the respect of her hearers. They made
way for her with sullen deference as she passed out on the platform.
But her adversary, profiting by the last opportunity, burst into an
ironical laugh.

"Captain Poindexter, is it? Well, perhaps he's safe to pay _your_ bill;
but as for your husband's"--

"That's another matter," interrupted a familiar voice with the greatest
cheerfulness; "that's what you were going to say, wasn't it? Ha! ha!
Well, Mrs. Patterson," continued Poindexter, stepping from his buggy,
"you never spoke a truer word in your life.--One moment, Mrs. Tucker.
Let me send you back in the buggy. Don't mind _me_. I can get a fresh
horse of the sheriff. I'm quite at home here." Then, turning to one of
the bystanders, "I say, Patterson, step a few paces this way, will you?
A little further from your wife, please. That will do. You've got a
claim of five thousand dollars against the property, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, that woman just driving away is your one solitary chance of
getting a cent of it. If your wife insults her again, that chance is
gone. And if _you_ do"--

"Well?"

"As sure as there is a God in Israel and a Supreme Court of the State
of California, I'll kill you in your tracks!.... Stay!"

Patterson turned. The irrepressible look of humorous tolerance of all
human frailty had suffused Poindexter's black eyes with mischievous
moisture. "If you think it quite safe to confide to your wife this
prospect of her improvement by widowhood, you may!"


III.

Mr. Patterson did not inform his wife of the lawyer's personal threat
to himself. But he managed, after Poindexter had left, to make her
conscious that Mrs. Tucker might be a power to be placated and feared.
"You've shot off your mouth at her," he said argumentatively, "and
whether you've hit the mark or not you've had your say. Ef you think
it's worth a possible five thousand dollars and interest to keep on,
heave ahead. Ef you rather have the chance of getting the rest in cash,
you'll let up on her." "You don't suppose," returned Mrs. Patterson
contemptuously, "that she's got anything but what that man of
hers--Poindexter--lets her have?" "The sheriff says," retorted
Patterson surlily, "that she's notified him that she claims the
_rancho_ as a gift from her husband three years ago, and she's in
_possession_ now, and was so when the execution was out. It don't make
no matter," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "who's got a full hand as
long as _we_ ain't got the cards to chip in. I wouldn't 'a' minded it,"
he continued meditatively, "ef Spence Tucker had dropped a hint to me
afore he put out." "And I suppose," said Mrs. Patterson angrily, "you'd
have put out too?" "I reckon," said Patterson simply.

Twice or thrice during the evening he referred, more or less directly,
to this lack of confidence shown by his late debtor and employer, and
seemed to feel it more keenly than the loss of property. He confided
his sentiments quite openly to the sheriff in possession, over the
whiskey and euchre with which these gentlemen avoided the difficulties
of their delicate relations. He brooded over it as he handed the keys
of the shop to the sheriff when they parted for the night, and was
still thinking of it when the house was closed, everybody gone to bed,
and he was fetching a fresh jug of water from the well. The moon was at
times obscured by flying clouds, the _avant-couriers_ of the regular
evening shower. He was stooping over the well, when he sprang suddenly
to his feet again. "Who's there?" he demanded sharply.

"Hush!" said a voice so low and faint it might have been a whisper of
the wind in the palisades of the corral. But, indistinct as it was, it
was the voice of a man he was thinking of as far away, and it sent a
thrill of alternate awe and pleasure through his pulses.

He glanced quickly round. The moon was hidden by a passing cloud, and
only the faint outlines of the house he had just quitted were visible.
"Is that you, Spence?" he said tremulously.

"Yes," replied the voice, and a figure dimly emerged from the corner of
the corral.

"Lay low, lay low, for God's sake," said Patterson, hurriedly throwing
himself upon the apparition. "The sheriff and his posse are in there."

"But I must speak to you a moment," said the figure.

"Wait," said Patterson, glancing toward the building. Its blank,
shutterless windows revealed no inner light; a profound silence
encompassed it. "Come quick," he whispered. Letting his grasp slip down
to the unresisting hand of the stranger, he half dragged, half led him,
brushing against the wall, into the open door of the deserted bar-room
he had just quitted, locked the inner door, poured a glass of whiskey
from a decanter, gave it to him, and then watched him drain it at a
single draught.

The moon came out, and falling through the bare windows full upon the
stranger's face, revealed the artistic but slightly disheveled curls
and mustache of the fugitive, Spencer Tucker.

Whatever may have been the real influence of this unfortunate man upon
his fellows, it seemed to find expression in a singular unanimity of
criticism. Patterson looked at him with a half dismal, half welcoming
smile. "Well, you are a h--ll of a fellow, ain't you?"

Spencer Tucker passed his hand through his hair and lifted it from his
forehead, with a gesture at once emotional and theatrical. "I am a man
with a price on me!" he said bitterly. "Give me up to the sheriff, and
you'll get five thousand dollars. Help me, and you'll get nothing.
That's my d--d luck, and yours too, I suppose."

"I reckon you're right there," said Patterson gloomily. "But I thought
you got clean away,--went off in a ship"--

"Went off in a boat to a ship," interrupted Tucker savagely; "went off
to a ship that had all my things on board--everything. The cursed boat
capsized in a squall just off the Heads. The ship, d--n her, sailed
away, the men thinking I was drowned, likely, and that they'd make a
good thing off my goods, I reckon."

"But the girl, Inez, who was with you, didn't she make a row?"

"_Quien sabe?_" returned Tucker, with a reckless laugh. "Well, I hung
on like grim death to that boat's keel until one of those Chinese
fishermen, in a 'dug-out,' hauled me in opposite Saucelito. I chartered
him and his dug-out to bring me down here."

"Why here?" asked Patterson, with a certain ostentatious caution that
ill concealed his pensive satisfaction.

"You may well ask," returned Tucker, with an equal ostentation of
bitterness, as he slightly waved his companion away. "But I reckoned I
could trust a white man that I'd been kind to, and who wouldn't go back
on me. No, no, let me go! Hand me over to the sheriff!"

Patterson had suddenly grasped both the hands of the picturesque scamp
before him, with an affection that for an instant almost shamed the man
who had ruined him. But Tucker's egotism whispered that this affection
was only a recognition of his own superiority, and felt flattered. He
was beginning to believe that he was really the injured party.

"What I _have_ and what I have _had_ is yours, Spence," returned
Patterson, with a sad and simple directness that made any further
discussion a gratuitous insult. "I only wanted to know what you
reckoned to do here."

"I want to get over across the Coast Range to Monterey," said Tucker.
"Once there, one of those coasting schooners will bring me down to
Acapulco, where the ship will put in."

Patterson remained silent for a moment. "There's a mustang in the
corral you can take--leastways, I shan't know that it's gone--until
to-morrow afternoon. In an hour from now," he added, looking from the
window, "these clouds will settle down to business. It will rain; there
will be light enough for you to find your way by the regular trail over
the mountain, but not enough for any one to know you. If you can't push
through to-night, you can lie over at the _posada_ on the summit. Them
greasers that keep it won't know you, And if they did they won't go
back on you. And if they did go back on you, nobody would believe them.
It's mighty curious," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "but I reckon
it's the reason why Providence allows this kind of cattle to live among
white men and others made in his image. Take a piece of pie, won't
you?" he continued, abandoning this abstract reflection and producing
half a flat pumpkin pie from the bar. Spencer Tucker grasped the pie
with one hand and his friend's fingers with the other, and for a few
moments was silent from the hurried deglutition of viand and sentiment.
"_You're_ a white man, Patterson, any way," he resumed. "I'll take your
horse, and put it down in our account at your own figure. As soon as
this cursed thing is blown over, I'll be back here and see you through,
you bet! I don't desert my friends, however rough things go with me."

"I see you don't," returned Patterson, with an unconscious and serious
simplicity that had the effect of the most exquisite irony. "I was only
just saying to the sheriff that if there was anything I could have done
for you, you wouldn't have cut away without letting me know." Tucker
glanced uneasily at Patterson, who continued, "Ye ain't wanting
anything else?" Then observing that his former friend and patron was
roughly but newly clothed, and betrayed no trace of his last escapade,
he added, "I see you've got a fresh harness."

"That d--d Chinaman bought me these at the landing. They're not much in
style or fit," he continued, trying to get a moonlight view of himself
in the mirror behind the bar, "but that don't matter here." He filled
another glass of spirits, jauntily settled himself back in his chair,
and added, "I don't suppose there are any girls around, anyway."

"'Cept your wife; she was down here this afternoon," said Patterson
meditatively.

Mr. Tucker paused with the pie in his hand. "Ah, yes!" He essayed a
reckless laugh, but that evident simulation failed before Patterson's
melancholy. With an assumption of falling in with his friend's manner,
rather than from any personal anxiety, he continued, "Well?"

"That man Poindexter was down here with her. Put her in the _hacienda_
to hold possession afore the news came out."

"Impossible!" said Tucker, rising hastily. "It don't belong--that
is"--he hesitated.

"Yer thinking the creditors'll get it, mebbe," returned Patterson,
gazing at the floor. "Not as long as she's in it; no sir! Whether it's
really hers, or she's only keeping house for Poindexter, she's a
fixture, you bet. They are a team when they pull together, they are!"

The smile slowly faded from Tucker's face, that now looked quite rigid
in the moonlight. He put down his glass and walked to the window as
Patterson gloomily continued: "But that's nothing to you. You've got
ahead of 'em both, and had your revenge by going off with the gal.
That's what I said all along. When folks--specially women
folks--wondered how you could leave a woman like your wife, and go off
with a scallawag like that gal, I allers said they'd find out there was
a reason. And when your wife came flaunting down here with Poindexter
before she'd quite got quit of you, I reckon they began to see the
whole little game. No, sir! I knew it wasn't on account of the gal!
Why, when you came here to-night and told me quite nat'ral-like and
easy how she went off in the ship, and then calmly ate your pie and
drank your whiskey after it, I knew you didn't care for her. There's my
hand, Spence; you're a trump, even if you are a little looney, eh? Why,
what's up?"

Shallow and selfish as Tucker was, Patterson's words seemed like a
revelation that shocked him as profoundly as it might have shocked a
nobler nature. The simple vanity and selfishness that made him unable
to conceive any higher reason for his wife's loyalty than his own
personal popularity and success, now that he no longer possessed that
_eclat_, made him equally capable of the lowest suspicions. He was a
dishonored fugitive, broken in fortune and reputation--why should she
not desert him? He had been unfaithful to her from wildness, from
caprice, from the effect of those fascinating qualities; it seemed to
him natural that she should be disloyal from more deliberate motives,
and he hugged himself with that belief. Yet there was enough doubt,
enough of haunting suspicion, that he had lost or alienated a powerful
affection, to make him thoroughly miserable. He returned his friend's
grasp convulsively and buried his face upon his shoulder. But he was
above feeling a certain exultation in the effect of his misery upon the
dog-like, unreasoning affection of Patterson, nor could he entirely
refrain from slightly posing his affliction before that sympathetic but
melancholy man. Suddenly he raised his head, drew back, and thrust his
hand into his bosom with a theatrical gesture.

"What's to keep me from killing Poindexter in his tracks?" he said
wildly.

"Nothin' but _his_ shooting first," returned Patterson, with dismal
practicality. "He's mighty quick, like all them army men. It's about
even, I reckon, that he don't get _me_ first," he added in an ominous
voice.

"No!" returned Tucker, grasping his hand again. "This is not your
affair, Patterson; leave him to me when I come back."

"If he ever gets the drop on me, I reckon he won't wait," continued
Patterson lugubriously. "He seems to object to my passin' criticism on
your wife, as if she was a queen or an angel."

The blood came to Spencer's cheek, and he turned uneasily to the
window. "It's dark enough now for a start," he said hurriedly, "and if
I could get across the mountain without lying over at the summit, it
would be a day gained."

Patterson arose without a word, filled a flask of spirit, handed it to
his friend, and silently led the way through the slowly falling rain
and the now settled darkness. The mustang was quickly secured and
saddled; a heavy _poncho_ afforded Tucker a disguise as well as a
protection from the rain. With a few hurried, disconnected words, and
an abstracted air, he once more shook his friend's hand and issued
cautiously from the corral. When out of earshot from the house he put
spurs to the mustang, and dashed into a gallop.

To intersect the mountain road he was obliged to traverse part of the
highway his wife had walked that afternoon, and to pass within a mile
of the _casa_ where she was. Long before he reached that point his eyes
were straining the darkness in that direction for some indication of
the house which was to him familiar. Becoming now accustomed to the
even obscurity, less trying to the vision than the alternate light and
shadow of cloud or the full glare of the moonlight, he fancied he could
distinguish its low walls over the monotonous level. One of those
impulses which had so often taken the place of resolution in his
character suddenly possessed him to diverge from his course and
approach the house. Why, he could not have explained. It was not from
any feeling of jealous suspicion or contemplated revenge--that had
passed with the presence of Patterson; it was not from any vague
lingering sentiment for the woman he had wronged--he would have shrunk
from meeting her at that moment. But it was full of these and more
possibilities by which he might or might not be guided, and was at
least a movement towards some vague end, and a distraction from certain
thoughts he dared not entertain and could not entirely dismiss.
Inconceivable and inexplicable to human reason, it might have been
acceptable to the Divine omniscience for its predestined result.

He left the road at a point where the marsh encroached upon the meadow,
familiar to him already as near the spot where he had debarked from the
Chinaman's boat the day before. He remembered that the walls of the
_hacienda_ were distinctly visible from the _tules_ where he had hidden
all day, and he now knew that the figures he had observed near the
building, which had deterred his first attempts at landing, must have
been his wife and his friend. He knew that a long tongue of the slough
filled by the rising tide followed the marsh, and lay between him and
the _hacienda_. The sinking of his horse's hoofs in the spongy soil
determined its proximity, and he made a detour to the right to avoid
it. In doing so, a light suddenly rose above the distant horizon ahead
of him, trembled faintly, and then burned with a steady lustre. It was
a light at the _hacienda_. Guiding his horse half abstractedly in this
direction, his progress was presently checked by the splashing of the
animal's hoofs in the water. But the turf below was firm, and a salt
drop that had spattered to his lips told him that it was only the
encroaching of the tide in the meadow. With his eyes on the light, he
again urged his horse forward. The rain lulled, the clouds began to
break, the landscape alternately lightened and grew dark; the outlines
of the crumbling _hacienda_ walls that enshrined the light grew more
visible. A strange and dreamy resemblance to the long blue-grass plain
before his wife's paternal house, as seen by him during his evening
rides to courtship, pressed itself upon him. He remembered, too, that
she used to put a light in the window to indicate her presence.
Following this retrospect, the moon came boldly out, sparkled upon the
overflow of silver at his feet, seemed to show the dark, opaque meadow
beyond for a moment, and then disappeared. It was dark now, but the
lesser earthly star still shone before him as a guide, and pushing
towards it, he passed in the all-embracing shadow.


IV.

As Mrs. Tucker, erect, white, and rigid, drove away from the _tienda_,
it seemed to her to sink again into the monotonous plain, with all its
horrible realities. Except that there was now a new and heart-breaking
significance to the solitude and loneliness of the landscape, all that
had passed might have been a dream. But as the blood came back to her
cheek, and little by little her tingling consciousness returned, it
seemed as if her life had been the dream, and this last scene the
awakening reality. With eyes smarting with the moisture of shame, the
scarlet blood at times dyeing her very neck and temples, she muffled
her lowered crest in her shawl and bent over the reins. Bit by bit she
recalled, in Poindexter's mysterious caution and strange allusions, the
corroboration of her husband's shame and her own disgrace. This was why
she was brought hither--the deserted wife, the abandoned confederate!
The mocking glitter of the concave vault above her, scoured by the
incessant wind, the cold stare of the shining pools beyond, the hard
outlines of the Coast Range, and the jarring accompaniment of her
horse's hoofs and rattling buggy-wheels, alternately goaded and
distracted her. She found herself repeating "No! no! no!" with the
dogged reiteration of fever. She scarcely knew when or how she reached
the _hacienda_. She was only conscious that as she entered the _patio_
the dusky solitude that had before filled her with unrest now came to
her like balm. A benumbing peace seemed to fall from the crumbling
walls; the peace of utter seclusion, isolation, oblivion, death!
Nevertheless, an hour later, when the jingle of spurs and bridle were
again heard in the road, she started to her feet with bent brows and a
kindling eye, and confronted Captain Poindexter in the corridor.

"I would not have intruded upon you so soon again," he said gravely,
"but I thought I might perhaps spare you a repetition of the scene of
this morning. Hear me out, please," he added, with a gentle, half
deprecating gesture, as she lifted the beautiful scorn of her eyes to
his. "I have just heard that your neighbor, Don Jose Santierra, of Los
Gatos, is on his way to this house. He once claimed this land, and
hated your husband, who bought of the rival claimant, whose grant was
confirmed. I tell you this," he added, slightly flushing as Mrs. Tucker
turned impatiently away, "only to show you that legally he has no
rights, and you need not see him unless you choose. I could not stop
his coming without perhaps doing you more harm than good; but when he
does come, my presence under this roof as your legal counsel will
enable you to refer him to me." He stopped. She was pacing the corridor
with short, impatient steps, her arms dropped, and her hands clasped
rigidly before her. "Have I your permission to stay?"

She suddenly stopped in her walk, approached him rapidly, and fixing
her eyes on his, said:

"Do I know _all_, now--everything?"

He could only reply that she had not yet told him what she had heard.

"Well," she said scornfully, "that my husband has been cruelly imposed
upon--imposed upon by some wretched woman, who has made him sacrifice
his property, his friends, his honor--everything but me!"

"Everything but whom?" gasped Poindexter.

"But ME!"

Poindexter gazed at the sky, the air, the deserted corridor, the stones
of the _patio_ itself, and then at the inexplicable woman before him.
Then he said gravely, "I think you know everything."

"Then if my husband has left me all he could--this property," she went
on rapidly, twisting her handkerchief between her fingers, "I can do
with it what I like, can't I?"

"You certainly can."

"Then sell it," she said, with passionate vehemence. "Sell it--all!
everything! And sell these." She darted into her bedroom, and returned
with the diamond rings she had torn from her fingers and ears when she
entered the house. "Sell them for anything they'll bring, only sell
them at once."

"But for what?" asked Poindexter, with demure lips but twinkling eyes.

"To pay the debts that this--this--woman has led him into; to return
the money she has stolen!" she went on rapidly; "to keep him from
sharing infamy! Can't you understand?"

"But, my dear madam," began Poindexter, "even if this could be done"--

"Don't tell me 'if it could'--it _must_ be done. Do you think I could
sleep under this roof, propped up by the timbers of that ruined
_tienda_? Do you think I could wear those diamonds again, while that
termagant shop-woman can say that her money bought them? No! If you are
my husband's friend you will do this--for--for his sake." She stopped,
locked and interlocked her cold fingers before her, and said,
hesitating and mechanically, "You meant well, Captain Poindexter, in
bringing me here, I know! You must not think that I blame you for it,
or for the miserable result of it that you have just witnessed. But if
I have gained anything by it, for God's sake let me reap it quickly,
that I may give it to these people and go! I have a friend who can aid
me to get to my husband or to my home in Kentucky, where Spencer will
yet find me, I know. I want nothing more." She stopped again. With
another woman the pause would have been one of tears. But she kept her
head above the flood that filled her heart, and the clear eyes fixed
upon Poindexter, albeit pained, were undimmed.

"But this would require time," said Poindexter, with a smile of
compassionate explanation; "you could not sell now, nobody would buy.
You are safe to hold this property while you are in actual possession,
but you are not strong enough to guarantee it to another. There may
still be litigation; your husband has other creditors than these people
you have talked with. But while nobody could oust you--the wife who
would have the sympathies of judge and jury--it might be a different
case with any one who derived title from you. Any purchaser would know
that you could not sell, or if you did, it would be at a ridiculous
sacrifice."

She listened to him abstractedly, walked to the end of the corridor,
returned, and without looking up, said:

"I suppose you know her?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"This woman. You have seen her?"

"Never, to my knowledge."

"And you are his friend! That's strange." She raised her eyes to his.
"Well," she continued impatiently, "who is she? and what is she? You
know that surely."

"I know no more of her than what I have said." said Poindexter. "She is
a notorious woman."

The swift color came to Mrs. Tucker's face as if the epithet had been
applied to herself. "I suppose," she said in a dry voice, as if she
were asking a business question, but with an eye that showed her rising
anger,--"I suppose there is some law by which creatures of this kind
can be followed and brought to justice--some law that would keep
innocent people from suffering for their crimes?"

"I am afraid," said Poindexter, "that arresting her would hardly help
these people over in the _tienda_."

"I am not speaking of them," responded Mrs. Tucker, with a sudden
sublime contempt for the people whose cause she had espoused; "I am
talking of my husband."

Poindexter bit his lip. "You'd hardly think of bringing back the
strongest witness against him," he said bluntly.

Mrs. Tucker dropped her eyes and was silent. A sudden shame suffused
Poindexter's cheek; he felt as if he had struck that woman a blow. "I
beg your pardon," he said hastily; "I am talking like a lawyer to a
lawyer." He would have taken any other woman by the hand in the honest
fullness of his apology, but something restrained him here. He only
looked down gently on her lowered lashes, and repeated his question if
he should remain during the coming interview with Don Jose. "I must beg
you to determine quickly," he added, "for I already hear him entering
the gate."

"Stay," said Mrs. Tucker, as the ringing of spurs and clatter of hoofs
came from the corral. "One moment." She looked up suddenly, and said,
"How long had he known her?" But before he could reply there was a step
in the doorway, and the figure of Don Jose Santierra emerged from the
archway.

He was a man slightly past middle age, fair, and well shaven, wearing a
black broadcloth _serape_, the deeply embroidered opening of which
formed a collar of silver rays around his neck, while a row of silver
buttons down the side seams of his riding-trousers, and silver spurs
completed his singular equipment. Mrs. Tucker's swift feminine glance
took in these details, as well as the deep salutation, more formal than
the exuberant frontier politeness she was accustomed to, with which he
greeted her. It was enough to arrest her first impulse to retreat. She
hesitated and stopped as Poindexter stepped forward, partly interposing
between them, acknowledging Don Jose's distant recognition of himself
with an ironical accession of his usual humorous tolerance. The
Spaniard did not seem to notice it, but remained gravely silent before
Mrs. Tucker, gazing at her with an expression of intent and unconscious
absorption.

"You are quite right, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with ironical
concern, "it _is_ Mrs. Tucker. Your eyes do _not_ deceive you. She will
be glad to do the honors of her house," he continued, with a simulation
of appealing to her, "unless you visit her on business, when I need not
say _I_ shall be only too happy to attend you, as before."

Don Jose, with a slight lifting of the eyebrows, allowed himself to
become conscious of the lawyer's meaning. "It is not of business that I
come to kiss the Senora's hand to-day," he replied, with a melancholy
softness; "it is as her neighbor, to put myself at her disposition. Ah!
what have we here fit for a lady?" he continued, raising his eyes in
deprecation of the surroundings; "a house of nothing, a place of winds
and dry bones, without refreshments, or satisfaction, or delicacy. The
Senora will not refuse to make us proud this day to send her of that
which we have in our poor home at Los Gatos, to make her more complete.
Of what shall it be? Let her make choice. Or if she would commemorate
this day by accepting of our hospitality at Los Gatos, until she shall
arrange herself the more to receive us here, we shall have too much
honor."

"The Senora would only find it the more difficult to return to this
humble roof again, after once leaving it for Don Jose's hospitality,"
said Poindexter, with a demure glance at Mrs. Tucker. But the innuendo
seemed to lapse equally unheeded by his fair client and the stranger.
Raising her eyes with a certain timid dignity which Don Jose's presence
seemed to have called out, she addressed herself to him.

"You are very kind and considerate, Mister Santierra, and I thank you.
I know that my husband"--she let the clear beauty of her translucent
eyes rest full on both men--"would thank you too. But I shall not be
here long enough to accept your kindness in this house nor in your own.
I have but one desire and object now. It is to dispose of this
property, and indeed all I possess, to pay the debt of my husband. It
is in your power, perhaps, to help me. I am told that you wish to
possess Los Cuervos," she went on, equally oblivious of the
consciousness that appeared in Don Jose's face, and a humorous
perplexity on the brow of Poindexter. "If you can arrange it with Mr.
Poindexter, you will find me a liberal vendor. That much you can do,
and I know you will believe I shall be grateful. You can do no more,
unless it be to say to your friends that Mrs. Belle Tucker remains here
only for that purpose, and to carry out what she knows to be the wishes
of her husband." She paused, bent her pretty crest, dropped a quaint
curtsey to the superior age, the silver braid, and the gentlemanly
bearing of Don Jose, and with the passing sunshine of a smile
disappeared from the corridor.

The two men remained silent for a moment, Don Jose gazing abstractedly
on the door through which she had vanished, until Poindexter, with a
return of his tolerant smile, said, "You have heard the views of Mrs.
Tucker. You know the situation as well as she does."

"Ah, yes; possibly better."

Poindexter darted a quick glance at the grave, sallow face of Don Jose,
but detecting no unusual significance in his manner, continued, "As you
see, she leaves this matter in my hands. Let us talk like business men.
Have you any idea of purchasing this property?"

"Of purchasing? ah, no."

Poindexter bent his brows, but quickly relaxed them with a smile of
humorous forgiveness. "If you have any other idea, Don Jose, I ought to
warn you, as Mrs. Tucker's lawyer, that she is in legal possession
here, and that nothing but her own act can change that position."

"Ah, so."

Irritated at the shrug which accompanied this, Poindexter continued
haughtily, "If I am to understand, you have nothing to say"--

"To say, ah, yes, possibly. But"--he glanced toward the door of Mrs.
Tucker's room--"not here." He stopped, appeared to recall himself, and
with an apologetic smile and a studied but graceful gesture of
invitation, he motioned to the gateway, and said, "Will you ride?"

"What can the fellow be up to?" muttered Poindexter, as with an
assenting nod he proceeded to remount his horse. "If he wasn't an old
_hidalgo_, I'd mistrust him. No matter! here goes!"

The Don also remounted his half-broken mustang; they proceeded in
solemn silence through the corral, and side by side emerged on the open
plain. Poindexter glanced round; no other being was in sight. It was
not until the lonely _hacienda_ had also sunk behind them that Don Jose
broke the silence.

"You say just now we shall speak as business men. I say no, Don Marco;
I will not. I shall speak, we shall speak, as gentlemen."

"Go on," said Poindexter, who was beginning to be amused.

"I say just now I will not purchase the _rancho_ from the Senora. And
why? Look you, Don Marco;" he reined in his horse, thrust his hand
under his _serape_, and drew out a folded document: "this is why."

With a smile, Poindexter took the paper from his hand and opened it.
But the smile faded from his lips as he read. With blazing eyes he
spurred his horse beside the Spaniard, almost unseating him, and said
sternly, "What does this mean?"

"What does it mean?" repeated Don Jose, with equally flashing eyes;
"I'll tell you. It means that your client, this man Spencer Tucker, is
a Judas, a traitor! It means that he gave Los Cuervos to his mistress a
year ago, and that she sold it to me--to me, you hear!--_me_, Jose
Santierra, the day before she left! It means that the coyote of a
Spencer, the thief, who bought these lands of a thief and gave them to
a thief, has tricked you all. Look," he said, rising in his saddle,
holding the paper like a _baton_, and defining with a sweep of his arm
the whole level plain, "all these lands were once mine, they are mine
again to-day. Do I want to purchase Los Cuervos? you ask, for you will
speak of the _business_. Well, listen. I _have_ purchased Los Cuervos,
and here is the deed."

"But it has never been recorded," said Poindexter, with a carelessness
he was far from feeling.

"Of a verity, no. Do you wish that I should record it?" asked Don Jose,
with a return of his simple gravity.

Poindexter bit his lip. "You said we were to talk like gentlemen," he
returned. "Do you think you have come into possession of this alleged
deed like a gentleman?"

Don Jose shrugged his shoulders, "I found it tossed in the lap of a
harlot. I bought it for a song. Eh, what would you?"

"Would you sell it again for a song?" asked Poindexter.

"Ah! what is this?" said Don Jose, lifting his iron-gray brows; "but a
moment ago we would sell everything, for any money. Now we would buy.
Is it so?"

"One moment, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with a baleful light in his
dark eyes. "Do I understand that you are the ally of Spencer Tucker and
his mistress, that you intend to turn this doubly betrayed wife from
the only roof she has to cover her?"

"Ah, I comprehend not. You heard her say she wished to go. Perhaps it
may please _me_ to distribute largess to these cattle yonder, I do not
say no. More she does not ask. But _you_, Don Marco, of whom are you
advocate? You abandon your client's mistress for the wife, is it so?"

"What I may do you will learn hereafter," said Poindexter, who had
regained his composure, suddenly reining up his horse. "As our paths
seem likely to diverge, they had better begin now. Good morning."

"Patience, my friend, patience! Ah, blessed St. Anthony, what these
Americans are! Listen. For what _you_ shall do, I do not inquire. The
question is to me what I"--he emphasized the pronoun by tapping himself
on the breast--"I, Jose Santierra, will do. Well, I shall tell you.
To-day, nothing. To-morrow, nothing. For a week, for a month, nothing!
After, we shall see."

Poindexter paused thoughtfully. "Will you give your word, Don Jose,
that you will not press the claim for a month?"

"Truly, on one condition. Observe! I do not ask you for an equal
promise, that you will not take this time to defend yourself." He
shrugged his shoulder. "No! It is only this. You shall promise that
during that time the Senora Tucker shall remain ignorant of this
document."

Poindexter hesitated a moment. "I promise," he said at last.

"Good. Adios, Don Marco."

"Adios, Don Jose"

The Spaniard put spurs to his mustang and galloped off in the direction
of Los Gatos. The lawyer remained for a moment gazing on his retreating
but victorious figure. For the first time the old look of humorous
toleration with which Mr. Poindexter was in the habit of regarding all
human infirmity gave way to something like bitterness. "I might have
guessed it," he said, with a slight rise of color. "He's an old fool;
and she--well, perhaps it's all the better for her!" He glanced
backwards almost tenderly in the direction of Los Cuervos, and then
turned his head towards the _embarcadero_.

As the afternoon wore on, a creaking, antiquated oxcart arrived at Los
Cuervos, bearing several articles of furniture, and some tasteful
ornaments from Los Gatos, at the same time that a young Mexican girl
mysteriously appeared in the kitchen, as a temporary assistant to the
decrepit Concha. These were both clearly attributable to Don Jose,
whose visit was not so remote but that these delicate attentions might
have been already projected before Mrs. Tucker had declined them, and
she could not, without marked discourtesy, return them now. She did not
wish to seem discourteous; she would like to have been more civil to
this old gentleman, who still retained the evidences of a picturesque
and decorous past, and a repose so different from the life that was
perplexing her. Reflecting that if he bought the estate these things
would be ready to his hand, and with a woman's instinct recognizing
their value in setting off the house to other purchasers' eyes, she
took a pleasure in tastefully arranging them, and even found herself
speculating how she might have enjoyed them herself had she been able
to keep possession of the property. After all, it would not have been
so lonely if refined and gentle neighbors, like this old man, would
have sympathized with her; she had an instinctive feeling that, in
their own hopeless decay and hereditary unfitness for this new
civilization, they would have been more tolerant of her husband's
failure than his own kind. She could not believe that Don Jose really
hated her husband for buying of the successful claimant, as there was
no other legal title. Allowing herself to become interested in the
guileless gossip of the new handmaiden, proud of her broken English,
she was drawn into a sympathy with the grave simplicity of Don Jose's
character, a relic of that true nobility which placed this descendant
of the Castilians and the daughter of a free people on the same level.

In this way the second day of her occupancy of Los Cuervos closed, with
dumb clouds along the gray horizon, and the paroxysms of hysterical
wind growing fainter and fainter outside the walls; with the moon
rising after nightfall, and losing itself in silent and mysterious
confidences with drifting scud. She went to bed early, but woke past
midnight, hearing, as she thought, her own name called. The impression
was so strong upon her that she rose, and, hastily enwrapping herself,
went to the dark embrasures of the oven-shaped windows, and looked out.
The dwarfed oak beside the window was still dropping from a past
shower, but the level waste of marsh and meadow beyond seemed to
advance and recede with the coming and going of the moon. Again she
heard her name called, and this time in accents so strangely familiar
that with a slight cry she ran into the corridor, crossed the _patio_,
and reached the open gate. The darkness that had, even in this brief
interval, again fallen upon the prospect she tried in vain to pierce
with eye and voice. A blank silence followed. Then the veil was
suddenly withdrawn; the vast plain, stretching from the mountain to the
sea, shone as clearly as in the light of day; the moving current of the
channel glittered like black pearls, the stagnant pools like molten
lead; but not a sign of life nor motion broke the monotony of the broad
expanse. She must have surely dreamed it. A chill wind drove her back
to the house again; she entered her bedroom, and in half an hour she
was in a peaceful sleep.


V.

The two men kept their secret. Mr. Poindexter convinced Mrs. Tucker
that the sale of Los Cuervos could not be effected until the notoriety
of her husband's flight had been fairly forgotten, and she was forced
to accept her fate. The sale of her diamonds, which seemed to her to
have realized a singularly extravagant sum, enabled her to quietly
reinstate the Pattersons in the _tienda_ and to discharge in full her
husband's liabilities to the _rancheros_ and his humbler retainers.

Meanwhile the winter rains had ceased. It seemed to her as if the
clouds had suddenly one night struck their white tents and stolen away,
leaving the unvanquished sun to mount the vacant sky the next morning
alone, and possess it thenceforward unchallenged. One afternoon she
thought the long sad waste before her window had caught some tint of
grayer color from the sunset; a week later she found it a blazing
landscape of poppies, broken here and there by blue lagoons of lupine,
by pools of daisies, by banks of dog-roses, by broad outlying shores of
dandelions that scattered their lavish gold to the foot of the hills,
where the green billows of wild oats carried it on and upwards to the
darker crests of pines. For two months she was dazzled and bewildered
with color. She had never before been face to face with this
spendthrift Californian Flora, in her virgin wastefulness, her more
than goddess-like prodigality. The teeming earth seemed to quicken and
throb beneath her feet; the few circuits of a plow around the outlying
corral was enough to call out a jungle growth of giant grain that
almost hid the low walls of the _hacienda_. In this glorious fecundity
of the earth, in this joyous renewal of life and color, in this opulent
youth and freshness of soil and sky, it alone remained, the dead and
sterile Past, left in the midst of buoyant rejuvenescence and
resurrection, like an empty churchyard skull upturned on the springing
turf. Its bronzed adobe walls mocked the green vine that embraced them,
the crumbling dust of its courtyard remained ungerminating and
unfruitful; to the thousand; stirring voices without, its dry lips
alone remained mute, unresponsive, and unchanged.

During this time Don Jose had become a frequent visitor at Los Cuervos,
bringing with him at first his niece and sister in a stately precision
of politeness that was not lost on the proud Blue Grass stranger. She
returned their visit at Los Gatos, and there made the formal
acquaintance of Don Jose's grandmother, a lady who still regarded the
decrepit Concha as a giddy _muchacha_, and who herself glittered as
with the phosphorescence of refined decay. Through this circumstance
she learned that Don Jose was not yet fifty, and that his gravity of
manner and sedateness was more the result of fastidious isolation and
temperament than years. She could not tell why the information gave her
a feeling of annoyance, but it caused her to regret the absence of
Poindexter, and to wonder, also somewhat nervously, why he had lately
avoided her presence. The thought that he might be doing so from a
recollection of the innuendoes of Mrs. Patterson caused a little tremor
of indignation in her pulses. "As if"--but she did not finish the
sentence even to herself, and her eyes filled with bitter tears.

Yet she had thought of the husband who had so cruelly wronged her less
feverishly, less impatiently than before. For she thought she loved him
now the more deeply, because, although she was not reconciled to his
absence, it seemed to keep alive the memory of what he had been before
his one wild act separated them. She had never seen the reflection of
another woman's eyes in his; the past contained no haunting
recollection of waning or alienated affection; she could meet him
again, and, clasping her arms around him, awaken as if from a troubled
dream without reproach or explanation. Her strong belief in this made
her patient; she no longer sought to know the particulars of his
flight, and never dreamed that her passive submission to his absence
was partly due to a fear that something in his actual presence at that
moment would have destroyed that belief forever.

For this reason the delicate reticence of the people at Los Gatos, and
their seclusion from the world which knew of her husband's fault, had
made her encourage the visits of Don Jose, until from the instinct
already alluded to she one day summoned Poindexter to Los Cuervos, on
the day that Don Jose usually called. But to her surprise the two men
met more or less awkwardly and coldly, and her tact as hostess was
tried to the utmost to keep their evident antagonism from being too
apparent. The effort to reconcile their mutual discontent, and some
other feeling she did not quite understand, produced a nervous
excitement which called the blood to her cheek and gave a dangerous
brilliancy to her eyes, two circumstances not unnoticed nor
unappreciated by her two guests. But instead of reuniting them, the
prettier Mrs. Tucker became, the more distant and reserved grew the
men, until Don Jose rose before his usual hour, and with more than
usual ceremoniousness departed.

"Then my business does not seem to be with _him_!" said Poindexter,
with quiet coolness, as Mrs. Tucker turned her somewhat mystified face
towards him. "Or have you anything to say to me about him in private?"

"I am sure I don't know what you both mean," she returned with a slight
tremor of voice. "I had no idea you were not on good terms. I thought
you were! It's very awkward." Without coquetry and unconsciously she
raised her blue eyes under her lids until the clear pupils coyly and
softly hid themselves in the corners of the brown lashes, and added,
"You have both been so kind to me."

"Perhaps that is the reason," said Poindexter, gravely. But Mrs. Tucker
refused to accept the suggestion with equal gravity, and began to
laugh. The laugh, which was at first frank, spontaneous, and almost
child-like, was becoming hysterical and nervous as she went on, until
it was suddenly checked by Poindexter.

"I have had no difficulties with Don Jose Santierra," he said, somewhat
coldly ignoring her hilarity, "but perhaps he is not inclined to be as
polite to the friend of the husband as he is to the wife."

"Mr. Poindexter!" said Mrs. Tucker quickly, her face becoming pale
again.

"I beg your pardon!" said Poindexter, flushing; "but"--

"You want to say," she interrupted coolly, "that you are not friends, I
see. Is that the reason why you have avoided this house?" she continued
gently.

"I thought I could be of more service to you elsewhere," he replied
evasively. "I have been lately following up a certain clue rather
closely. I think I am on the track of a confidante of--of--that woman."

A quick shadow passed over Mrs. Tucker's face. "Indeed!" she said
coldly. "Then I am to believe that you prefer to spend your leisure
moments in looking after that creature to calling here?"

Poindexter was stupefied. Was this the woman who only four months ago
was almost vindictively eager to pursue her husband's paramour! There
could be but one answer to it--Don Jose! Four months ago he would have
smiled compassionately at it from his cynical preeminence. Now he
managed with difficulty to stifle the bitterness of his reply.

"If you do not wish the inquiry carried on," he began, "of course"--

"I? What does it matter to me?" she said coolly. "Do as you please."

Nevertheless, half an hour later, as he was leaving, she said, with a
certain hesitating timidity, "Do not leave me so much alone here, and
let that woman go."

This was not the only unlooked-for sequel to her innocent desire to
propitiate her best friends. Don Jose did not call again upon his usual
day, but in his place came Dona Clara, his younger sister. When Mrs.
Tucker had politely asked after the absent Don Jose, Dona Clara wound
her swarthy arms around the fair American's waist and replied, "But why
did you send for the _abogado_ Poindexter when my brother called?"

"But Captain Poindexter calls as one of my friends," said the amazed
Mrs. Tucker. "He is a gentleman, and has been a soldier and an
officer," she added with some warmth.

"Ah, yes, a soldier of the law, what you call an _oficial de policia_,
a chief of _gendarmes_, my sister, but not a gentleman--a _camarero_ to
protect a lady."

Mrs. Tucker would have uttered a hasty reply, but the perfect and
good-natured simplicity of Dona Clara withheld her. Nevertheless, she
treated Don Jose with a certain reserve at their next meeting, until it
brought the simple-minded Castilian so dangerously near the point of
demanding an explanation which implied too much that she was obliged to
restore him temporarily to his old footing. Meantime she had a
brilliant idea. She would write to Calhoun Weaver, whom she had avoided
since that memorable day. She would say she wished to consult him. He
would come to Los Cuervos; he might suggest something to lighten this
weary waiting; at least she would show them all that she had still old
friends. Yet she did not dream of returning to her Blue Grass home; her
parents had died since she left; she shrank from the thought of
dragging her ruined life before the hopeful youth of her girlhood's
companions.

Mr. Calhoun Weaver arrived promptly, ostentatiously, oracularly, and
cordially, but a little coarsely. He had--did she remember?--expected
this from the first. Spercer had lost his head through vanity, and had
attempted too much. It required foresight and firmness, as he
himself--who had lately made successful "combinations" which she might
perhaps have heard of--well knew. But Spencer had got the "big head."
"As to that woman--a devilish handsome woman too!--well, everybody knew
that Spencer always had a weakness that way, and he would say--but if
she didn't care to hear any more about her--well, perhaps she was
right. That was the best way to take it." Sitting before her,
prosperous, weak, egotistical, incompetent, unavailable, and yet filled
with a vague kindliness of intent, Mrs. Tucker loathed him. A sickening
perception of her own weakness in sending for him, a new and aching
sense of her utter isolation and helplessness, seemed to paralyze her.

"Nat'rally you feel bad," he continued, with the large air of a
profound student of human nature. "Nat'rally, nat'rally you're kept in
an uncomfortable state, not knowing jist how you stand. There ain't but
one thing to do. Jist rise up, quiet like, and get a divorce agin
Spencer. Hold on! There ain't a judge or jury in California that
wouldn't give it to you right off the nail, without asking questions.
Why, you'd get it by default if you wanted to; you'd just have to walk
over the course! And then, Belle," he drew his chair still nearer her,
"when you've settled down again--well!--I don't mind renewing that
offer I once made ye, before Spencer ever came round ye--I don't mind,
Belle, I swear I don't! Honest Injin! I'm in earnest, there's my hand."

Mrs. Tucker's reply has not been recorded. Enough that half an hour
later Mr. Weaver appeared in the courtyard with traces of tears on his
foolish face, a broken falsetto voice, and other evidence of mental and
moral disturbance. His cordiality and oracular predisposition remained
sufficiently to enable him to suggest the magical words "Blue Grass"
mysteriously to Concha, with an indication of his hand to the erect
figure of her pale mistress in the doorway, who waved to him a silent
but half compassionate farewell.

At about this time a slight change in her manner was noticed by the few
who saw her more frequently. Her apparently invincible girlishness of
spirit had given way to a certain matronly seriousness. She applied
herself to her household cares and the improvement of the _hacienda_
with a new sense of duty and a settled earnestness, until by degrees
she wrought into it not only her instinctive delicacy and taste, but
part of her own individuality. Even the rude _rancheros_ and tradesmen
who were permitted to enter the walls in the exercise of their calling
began to speak mysteriously of the beauty of this garden of the
_almarjal_. She went out but seldom, and then accompanied by one or the
other of her female servants, in long drives on unfrequented roads. On
Sundays she sometimes drove to the half ruined mission church of Santa
Inez, and hid herself, during mass, in the dim monastic shadows of the
choir. Gradually the poorer people whom she met in these journeys began
to show an almost devotional reverence for her, stopping in the roads
with uncovered heads for her to pass, or making way for her in the
_tienda_ or _plaza_ of the wretched town with dumb courtesy. She began
to feel a strange sense of widowhood, that, while it at times brought
tears to her eyes, was not without a certain tender solace. In the
sympathy and simpleness of this impulse she went as far as to revive
the mourning she had worn for her parents, but with such a fatal
accenting of her beauty, and dangerous misinterpreting of her condition
to eligible bachelors strange to the country, that she was obliged to
put it off again. Her reserved and dignified manner caused others to
mistake her nationality for that of the Santierras, and in "Dona Bella"
the simple Mrs. Tucker was for a while forgotten. At times she even
forgot it herself. Accustomed now almost entirely to the accents of
another language and the features of another race, she would sit for
hours in the corridor, whose massive bronzed enclosure even her
tasteful care could only make an embowered mausoleum of the Past, or
gaze abstractedly from the dark embrasures of her windows across the
stretching _almarjal_ to the shining lagoon beyond that terminated the
estuary. She had a strange fondness for this tranquil mirror, which
under sun or stars always retained the passive reflex of the sky above,
and seemed to rest her weary eyes. She had objected to one of the plans
projected by Poindexter to redeem the land and deepen the water at the
_embarcadero_, as it would have drained the lagoon, and the lawyer had
postponed the improvement to gratify her fancy. So she kept it through
the long summer unchanged save by the shadows of passing wings or the
lazy files of sleeping sea-fowl.

On one of these afternoons she noticed a slowly moving carriage leave
the highroad and cross the _almarjal_ skirting the edge of the lagoon.
If it contained visitors for Los Cuervos they had evidently taken a
shorter cut without waiting to go on to the regular road which
intersected the highway at right angles a mile farther on. It was with
some sense of annoyance and irritation that she watched the trespass,
and finally saw the vehicle approach the house. A few moments later the
servant informed her that Mr. Patterson would like to see her alone.
When she entered the corridor, which in the dry season served as a
reception hall, she was surprised to see that Patterson was not alone.
Near him stood a well-dressed handsome woman, gazing about her with
good-humored admiration of Mrs. Tucker's taste and ingenuity.

"It don't look much like it did two years ago," said the stranger
cheerfully. "You've improved it wonderfully."

Stiffening slightly, Mrs. Tucker turned inquiringly to Mr. Patterson.
But that gentleman's usual profound melancholy appeared to be
intensified by the hilarity of his companion. He only sighed deeply and
rubbed his leg with the brim of his hat in gloomy abstraction.

"Well! go on, then," said the woman, laughing and nudging him. "Go
on--introduce me--can't you? Don't stand there like a tombstone. You
won't? Well, I'll introduce myself." She laughed again, and then, with
an excellent imitation of Patterson's lugubrious accents, said, "Mr.
Spencer Tucker's wife that _is_, allow me to introduce you to Mr.
Spencer Tucker's sweetheart that _was_! Hold on! I said _that was_. For
true as I stand here, ma'am--and I reckon I wouldn't stand here if it
wasn't true--I haven't set eyes on him since the day he left you."

"It's the gospel truth, every word," said Patterson, stirred into a
sudden activity by Mrs. Tucker's white and rigid face. "It's the frozen
truth, and I kin prove it. For I kin swear that when that there young
woman was sailin' outer the Golden Gate, Spencer Tucker was in my
bar-room; I kin swear that I fed him, lickered him, give him a hoss and
set him in his road to Monterey that very night."

"Then, where is he now?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly facing them.

They looked at each other, and then looked at Mrs. Tucker. Then both
together replied slowly and in perfect unison,
"That's--what--we--want--to--know." They seemed so satisfied with this
effect that they as deliberately repeated,
"Yes--that's--what--we--want--to--know."

Between the shock of meeting the partner of her husband's guilt and the
unexpected revelation to her inexperience, that in suggestion and
appearance there was nothing beyond the recollection of that guilt that
was really shocking in the woman--between the extravagant extremes of
hope and fear suggested by their words, there was something so
grotesquely absurd in the melodramatic chorus that she with difficulty
suppressed an hysterical laugh.

"That's the way to take it," said the woman, putting her own
good-humored interpretation upon Mrs. Tucker's expression. "Now, look
here! I'll tell you all about it," She carefully selected the most
comfortable chair, and sitting down, lightly crossed her hands in her
lap. "Well, I left here on the 13th of last January on the ship Argo,
calculating that your husband would join the ship just inside the
Heads. That was our arrangement, but if anything happened to prevent
him, he was to join me at Acapulco. Well! he didn't come aboard, and we
sailed without him. But it appears now he did attempt to join the ship,
but his boat was capsized. There now, don't be alarmed! he wasn't
drowned, as Patterson can swear to--no, catch _him_! not a hair of him
was hurt. But _I_--_I_ was bundled off to the end of the earth in
Mexico alone, without a cent to bless me. For true as you live, that
hound of a captain, when he found, as he thought, that Spencer was
nabbed, he just confiscated all his trunks and valuables and left me in
the lurch. If I had not met a man down there that offered to marry me
and brought me here, I might have died there, I reckon. But I did, and
here I am. I went down there as your husband's sweetheart, I've come
back as the wife of an honest man, and I reckon it's about square!"

There was something so startlingly frank, so hopelessly self-satisfied,
so contagiously good-humored in the woman's perfect moral
unconsciousness, that even if Mrs. Tucker had been less preoccupied her
resentment would have abated. But her eyes were fixed on the gloomy
face of Patterson, who was beginning to unlock the sepulchers of his
memory and disinter his deeply buried thoughts.

"You kin bet your whole pile on what this Mrs. Capting Baxter--ez used
to be French Inez of New Orleans--hez told ye. Ye kin take everything
she's onloaded. And it's only doin' the square thing to her to say, she
hain't done it out o' no cussedness, but just to satisfy herself, now
she's a married woman and past such foolishness. But that ain't neither
here nor there. The gist of the whole matter is that Spencer Tucker was
at the _tienda_ the day after she sailed and after his boat capsized."
He then gave a detailed account of the interview, with the unnecessary
but truthful minutiae of his class, adding to the particulars already
known that the following week he visited the Summit House and was
surprised to find that Spencer had never been there, nor had he ever
sailed from Monterey.

"But why was this not told to me before?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly.
"Why not at the time? Why," she demanded almost fiercely, turning from
the one to the other, "has this been kept from me?"

"I'll tell ye why," said Patterson, sinking with crashed submission
into a chair. "When I found he wasn't where he ought to be, I got to
lookin' elsewhere. I knew the track of the hoss I lent him by a loose
shoe. I examined, and found he had turned off the highroad somewhere
beyond the lagoon, jist as if he was makin' a bee line here."

"Well," said Mrs. Tucker breathlessly.

"Well," said Patterson, with the resigned tone of an accustomed martyr,
"mebbe I'm a God-forsaken idiot, but I reckon he _did_ come yer. And
mebbe I'm that much of a habitooal lunatic, but thinking so, I
calkilated you'd know it without tellin'."

With their eyes fixed upon her, Mrs. Tucker felt the quick blood rush
to her cheeks, although she knew not why. But they were apparently
satisfied with her ignorance, for Patterson resumed, yet more gloomily:

"Then if he wasn't hidin' here beknownst to you, he must have changed
his mind agin and got away by the _embarcadero_. The only thing wantin'
to prove that idea is to know how he got a boat, and what he did with
the hoss. And thar's one more idea, and ez that can't be proved,"
continued Patterson, sinking his voice still lower, "mebbe it's
accordin' to God's laws."

Unsympathetic to her as the speaker had always been and still was, Mrs.
Tucker felt a vague chill creep over her that seemed to be the result
of his manner more than his words. "And that idea is--?" she suggested
with pale lips.

"It's this! Fust, I don't say it means much to anybody but me. I've
heard of these warnings afore now, ez comin' only to folks ez hear them
for themselves alone, and I reckon I kin stand it, if it's the will o'
God. The idea is then--that--Spencer Tucker--_was drownded_ in that
boat; the idea is"--his voice was almost lost in a hoarse
whisper--"that it was no living man that kem to me that night, but a
spirit that kem out of the darkness and went back into it! No eye saw
him but mine--no ears heard him but mine. I reckon it weren't intended
it should." He paused, and passed the flap of his hat across his eyes.
"The pie, you'll say, is agin it," he continued in the same tone of
voice,--"the whiskey is agin it--a few cuss words that dropped from
him, accidental like, may have been agin it. All the same they mout
have been only the little signs and tokens that it was him."

But Mrs. Baxter's ready laugh somewhat rudely dispelled the infection
of Patterson's gloom. "I reckon the only spirit was that which you and
Spencer consumed," she said, cheerfully. "I don't wonder you're a
little mixed. Like as not you've misunderstood his plans."

Patterson shook his head. "He'll turn up yet, alive and kicking! Like
as not, then, Poindexter knows where he is all the time."

"Impossible! He would have told me," said Mrs. Tucker, quickly.

Mrs. Baxter looked at Patterson without speaking. Patterson replied by
a long lugubrious whistle.

"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker, drawing back with cold
dignity.

"You don't?" returned Mrs. Baxter. "Bless your innocent heart! Why was
he so keen to hunt me up at first, shadowing my friends and all that,
and why has he dropped it now he knows I'm here, if he didn't know
where Spencer was?"

"I can explain that," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, hastily, with a blush of
confusion. "That is--I"--

"Then mebbe you kin explain too," broke in Patterson with gloomy
significance, "why he has bought up most of Spencer's debts himself,
and perhaps you're satisfied it _is n't_ to hold the whip hand of him
and keep him from coming back openly. Pr'aps you know why he's movin'
heaven and earth to make Don Jose Santierra sell the ranch, and why the
Don don't see it all."

"Don Jose sell Los Cuervos! Buy it, you mean?" said Mrs. Tucker. "_I_
offered to sell it to him."

Patterson arose from the chair, looked despairingly around him, passed
his hand sadly across his forehead, and said: "It's come! I knew it
would. It's the warning! It's suthing betwixt jim-jams and doddering
idjiocy. Here I'd hev been willin' to swear that Mrs. Baxter here told
me _she_ had sold this yer ranch nearly two years ago to Don Jose, and
now you"--

"Stop!" said Mrs. Tucker, in a voice that chilled them.

She was standing upright and rigid, as if stricken to stone. "I command
you to tell me what this means!" she said, turning only her blazing
eyes upon the woman.

Even the ready smile faded from Mrs. Baxter's lips as she replied
hesitatingly and submissively: "I thought you knew already that Spencer
had given this ranch to me. I sold it to Don Jose to get the money for
us to go away with. It was Spencer's idea"--

"You lie!" said Mrs. Tucker.

There was a dead silence. The wrathful blood that had quickly mounted
to Mrs. Baxter's cheek, to Patterson's additional bewilderment, faded
as quickly. She did not lift her eyes again to Mrs. Tucker's, but,
slowly raising herself from her seat, said, "I wish to God I did lie;
but it's true. And it's true that I never touched a cent of the money,
but gave it all to him!" She laid her hand on Patterson's arm, and
said, "Come! let us go," and led him a few steps toward the gateway.
But here Patterson paused, and again passed his hand over his
melancholy brow. The necessity of coherently and logically closing the
conversation impressed itself upon his darkening mind. "Then you don't
happen to have heard anything of Spencer?" he said sadly, and vanished
with Mrs. Baxter through the gate.

Left alone to herself, Mrs. Tucker raised her hands above her head with
a little cry, interlocked her rigid fingers, and slowly brought her
palms down upon her upturned face and eyes, pressing hard as if to
crush out all light and sense of life before her. She stood thus for a
moment motionless and silent, with the rising wind whispering without
and flecking her white morning dress with gusty shadows from the arbor.
Then, with closed eyes, dropping her hands to her breast, still
pressing hard, she slowly passed them down the shapely contours of her
figure to the waist, and with another cry cast them off as if she were
stripping herself of some loathsome garment. Then she walked quickly to
the gateway, looked out, returned to the corridor, unloosening and
taking off her wedding-ring from her finger as she walked. Here she
paused, then slowly and deliberately rearranged the chairs and adjusted
the gay-colored rugs that draped them, and quietly reentered her
chamber.

Two days afterwards the sweating steed of Captain Poindexter was turned
loose in the corral, and a moment later the captain entered the
corridor. Handing a letter to the decrepit Concha, who seemed to be
utterly disorganized by its contents and the few curt words with which
it was delivered, he gazed silently upon the vacant bower, still fresh
and redolent with the delicacy and perfume of its graceful occupant,
until his dark eyes filled with unaccustomed moisture. But his reverie
was interrupted by the sound of jingling spurs without, and the old
humor struggled back into his eyes as Don Jose impetuously entered. The
Spaniard started back, but instantly recovered himself.

"So, I find you here. Ah! it is well!" he said passionately, producing
a letter from his bosom. "Look! Do you call this honor? Look how you
keep your compact!"

Poindexter coolly took the letter. It contained a few words of gentle
dignity from Mrs. Tucker, informing Don Jose that she had only that
instant learned of his just claims upon Los Cuervos, tendering him her
gratitude for his delicate intentions, but pointing out with respectful
firmness that he must know that a moment's further acceptance of his
courtesy was impossible.

"She has gained this knowledge from no word of mine," said Poindexter,
calmly. "Right or wrong, I have kept my promise to you. I have as much
reason to accuse you of betraying my secret in this," he added coldly,
as he took another letter from his pocket and handed it to Don Jose.

It seemed briefer and colder, but was neither. It reminded Poindexter
that as he had again deceived her she must take the government of her
affairs in her own hands henceforth. She abandoned all the furniture
and improvements she had put in Los Cuervos to him, to whom she now
knew she was indebted for them. She could not thank him for what his
habitual generosity impelled him to do for any woman, but she could
forgive him for misunderstanding her like any other woman, perhaps she
should say, like a child. When he received this she would be already on
her way to her old home in Kentucky, where she still hoped to be able
by her own efforts to amass enough to discharge her obligations to him.

"She does not speak of her husband, this woman," said Don Jose,
scanning Poindexter's face. "It is possible she rejoins him, eh?"

"Perhaps in one way she has never left him, Don Jose," said Poindexter,
with grave significance.

Don Jose's face flushed, but he returned carelessly, "And the _rancho_,
naturally you will not buy it now?"

"On the contrary, I shall abide by my offer," said Poindexter, quietly.

Don Jose eyed him narrowly, and then said, "Ah, we shall consider of
it."

He did consider it, and accepted the offer. With the full control of
the land, Captain Poindexter's improvements, so indefinitely postponed,
were actively pushed forward. The thick walls of the _hacienda_ were
the first to melt away before them; the low lines of corral were
effaced, and the early breath of the summer trade winds swept
uninterruptedly across the now leveled plain to the _embarcadero_,
where a newer structure arose. A more vivid green alone marked the spot
where the crumbling adobe walls of the _casa_ had returned to the
parent soil that gave it. The channel was deepened, the lagoon was
drained, until one evening the magic mirror that had so long reflected
the weary waiting of the Blue Grass Penelope lay dull, dead,
lusterless, an opaque quagmire of noisome corruption and decay to be
put away from the sight of man forever. On this spot the crows, the
titular tenants of Los Cuervos, assembled in tumultuous congress,
coming and going in mysterious clouds, or laboring in thick and
writhing masses, as if they were continuing the work of improvement
begun by human agency. So well had they done the work that by the end
of a week only a few scattered white objects remained glittering on the
surface of the quickly drying soil. But they were the bones of the
missing outcast, Spencer Tucker!

The same spring a breath of war swept over a foul, decaying quagmire of
the whole land, before which such passing deeds as these were blown as
vapor. It called men of all rank and condition to battle for a nation's
life, and among the first to respond were those into whose boyish hands
had been placed the nation's honor. It returned the epaulets to
Poindexter's shoulder with the addition of a double star, carried him
triumphantly to the front, and left him, at the end of a summer's day
and a hard-won fight, sorely wounded, at the door of a Blue Grass
farmhouse. And the woman who sought him out and ministered to his wants
said timidly, as she left her hand in his, "I told you I should live to
repay you."



LEFT OUT ON LONE STAR MOUNTAIN.


I.

There was little doubt that the Lone Star claim was "played out." Not
dug out, worked out, washed out, but _played_ out. For two years its
five sanguine proprietors had gone through the various stages of mining
enthusiasm; had prospected and planned, dug and doubted. They had
borrowed money with hearty but unredeeming frankness, established a
credit with unselfish abnegation of all responsibility, and had borne
the disappointment of their creditors with a cheerful resignation which
only the consciousness of some deep Compensating Future could give.
Giving little else, however, a singular dissatisfaction obtained with
the traders, and, being accompanied with a reluctance to make further
advances, at last touched the gentle stoicism of the proprietors
themselves. The youthful enthusiasm which had at first lifted the most
ineffectual trial, the most useless essay, to the plane of actual
achievement, died out, leaving them only the dull, prosaic record of
half-finished ditches, purposeless shafts, untenable pits, abandoned
engines, and meaningless disruptions of the soil upon the Lone Star
claim, and empty flour sacks and pork barrels in the Lone Star cabin.

They had borne their poverty, if that term could be applied to a light
renunciation of all superfluities in food, dress, or ornament,
ameliorated by the gentle depredations already alluded to, with
unassuming levity. More than that: having segregated themselves from
their fellow-miners of Red Gulch, and entered upon the possession of
the little manzanita-thicketed valley five miles away, the failure of
their enterprise had assumed in their eyes only the vague significance
of the decline and fall of a general community, and to that extent
relieved them of individual responsibility. It was easier for them to
admit that the Lone Star claim was "played out" than confess to a
personal bankruptcy. Moreover, they still retained the sacred right of
criticism of government, and rose superior in their private opinions to
their own collective wisdom. Each one experienced a grateful sense of
the entire responsibility of the other four in the fate of their
enterprise.

On December 24, 1863, a gentle rain was still falling over the length
and breadth of the Lone Star claim. It had been falling for several
days, had already called a faint spring color to the wan landscape,
repairing with tender touches the ravages wrought by the proprietors,
or charitably covering their faults. The ragged seams in gulch and
canon lost their harsh outlines, a thin green mantle faintly clothed
the torn and abraded hillside. A few weeks more, and a veil of
forgetfulness would be drawn over the feeble failures of the Lone Star
claim. The charming derelicts themselves, listening to the raindrops on
the roof of their little cabin, gazed philosophically from the open
door, and accepted the prospect as a moral discharge from their
obligations. Four of the five partners were present. The Right and Left
Bowers, Union Mills, and the Judge.

It is scarcely necessary to say that not one of these titles was the
genuine name of its possessor. The Right and Left Bowers were two
brothers; their sobriquets, a cheerful adaptation from the favorite
game of euchre, expressing their relative value in the camp. The mere
fact that Union Mills had at one time patched his trousers with an old
flour-sack legibly bearing that brand of its fabrication, was a
tempting baptismal suggestion that the other partners could not forego.
The Judge, a singularly inequitable Missourian, with no knowledge
whatever of the law, was an inspiration of gratuitous irony.

Union Mills, who had been for some time sitting placidly on the
threshold with one leg exposed to the rain, from a sheer indolent
inability to change his position, finally withdrew that weather-beaten
member, and stood up. The movement more or less deranged the attitudes
of the other partners, and was received with cynical disfavor. It was
somewhat remarkable that, although generally giving the appearance of
healthy youth and perfect physical condition, they one and all
simulated the decrepitude of age and invalidism, and after limping
about for a few moments, settled back again upon their bunks and stools
in their former positions. The Left Bower lazily replaced a bandage
that he had worn around his ankle for weeks without any apparent
necessity, and the Judge scrutinized with tender solicitude the faded
cicatrix of a scratch upon his arm. A passive hypochondria, born of
their isolation, was the last ludicrously pathetic touch of their
situation.

The immediate cause of this commotion felt the necessity of an
explanation.

"It would have been just as easy for you to have stayed outside with
your business leg, instead of dragging it into private life in that
obtrusive way," retorted the Right Bower; "but that exhaustive effort
is n't going to fill the pork barrel. The grocery man at Dalton
says--what's that he said?" he appealed lazily to the Judge.

"Said he reckoned the Lone Star was about played out, and he didn't
want any more in his--thank you!" repeated the Judge with a mechanical
effort of memory utterly devoid of personal or present interest.

"I always suspected that man, after Grimshaw begun to deal with him,"
said the Left Bower. "They're just mean enough to join hands against
us." It was a fixed belief of the Lone Star partners that they were
pursued by personal enmities.

"More than likely those new strangers over in the Fork have been paying
cash and filled him up with conceit," said Union Mills, trying to dry
his leg by alternately beating it or rubbing it against the cabin wall.
"Once begin wrong with that kind of snipe and you drag everybody down
with you."

This vague conclusion was received with dead silence. Everybody had
become interested in the speaker's peculiar method of drying his leg,
to the exclusion of the previous topic. A few offered criticism, no one
assistance.

"Who did the grocery man say that to?" asked the Right Bower, finally
returning to the question.

"The Old Man," answered the Judge.

"Of course," ejaculated the Right Bower sarcastically.

"Of course," echoed the other partners together. "That's like him. The
Old Man all over!"

It did not appear exactly what was like the Old Man, or why it was like
him, but generally that he alone was responsible for the grocery man's
defection. It was put more concisely by Union Mills.

"That comes of letting him go there! It's just a fair provocation to
any man to have the Old Man sent to him. They can't, sorter, restrain
themselves at him. He's enough to spoil the credit of the Rothschilds."

"That's so," chimed in the Judge. "And look at his prospecting. Why, he
was out two nights last week, all night, prospecting in the moonlight
for blind leads, just out of sheer foolishness."

"It was quite enough for me," broke in the Left Bower, "when the other
day, you remember when, he proposed to us white men to settle down to
plain ground sluicing, making 'grub' wages just like any Chinaman. It
just showed his idea of the Lone Star claim."

"Well, I never said it afore," added Union Mills, "but when that one of
the Mattison boys came over here to examine the claim with an eye to
purchasin', it was the Old Man that took the conceit out of him. He
just as good as admitted that a lot of work had got to be done afore
any pay ore could be realized. Never even asked him over to the shanty
here to jine us in a friendly game; just kept him, so to speak, to
himself. And naturally the Mattisons didn't see it."

A silence followed, broken only by the rain monotonously falling on the
roof, and occasionally through the broad adobe chimney, where it
provoked a retaliating hiss and splutter from the dying embers of the
hearth. The Right Bower, with a sudden access of energy, drew the empty
barrel before him, and taking a pack of well-worn cards from his
pocket, began to make a "solitaire" upon the lid. The others gazed at
him with languid interest.

"Makin' it for anythin'?" asked Mills.

The Right Bower nodded.

The Judge and Left Bower, who were partly lying in their respective
bunks, sat up to get a better view of the game. Union Mills slowly
disengaged himself from the wall and leaned over the "solitaire"
player. The Right Bower turned the last card in a pause of almost
thrilling suspense, and clapped it down on the lid with fateful
emphasis.

"It went!" said the Judge in a voice of hushed respect. "What did you
make it for?" he almost whispered.

"To know if we'd make the break we talked about and vamose the ranch.
It's the _fifth_ time to-day," continued the Right Bower in a voice of
gloomy significance. "And it went agin bad cards too."

"I ain't superstitious," said the Judge, with awe and fatuity beaming
from every line of his credulous face, "but it's flyin' in the face of
Providence to go agin such signs as that."

"Make it again, to see if the Old Man must go," suggested the Left
Bower.

The suggestion was received with favor, the three men gathering
breathlessly around the player. Again the fateful cards were shuffled
deliberately, placed in their mysterious combination, with the same
ominous result. Yet everybody seemed to breathe more freely, as if
relieved from some responsibility, the Judge accepting this manifest
expression of Providence with resigned self-righteousness.

"Yes, gentlemen," resumed the Left Bower, serenely, as if a calm legal
decision had just been recorded, "we must not let any foolishness or
sentiment get mixed up with this thing, but look at it like business
men. The only sensible move is to get up and get out of the camp."

"And the Old Man?" queried the Judge.

"The Old Man--hush! he's coming."

The doorway was darkened by a slight lissome shadow. It was the absent
partner, otherwise known as "the Old Man." Need it be added that he was
a _boy_ of nineteen, with a slight down just clothing his upper lip!

"The creek is up over the ford, and I had to 'shin' up a willow on the
bank and swing myself across," he said, with a quick, frank laugh; "but
all the same, boys, it's going to clear up in about an hour, you bet.
It's breaking away over Bald Mountain, and there's a sun flash on a bit
of snow on Lone Peak. Look! you can see it from here. It's for all the
world like Noah's dove just landed on Mount Ararat. It's a good omen."

From sheer force of habit the men had momentarily brightened up at the
Old Man's entrance. But the unblushing exhibition of degrading
superstition shown in the last sentence recalled their just severity.
They exchanged meaning glances. Union Mills uttered hopelessly to
himself: "Hell's full of such omens."

Too occupied with his subject to notice this ominous reception, the Old
Man continued: "I reckon I struck a fresh lead in the new grocery man
at the Crossing. He says he'll let the Judge have a pair of boots on
credit, but he can't send them over here; and considering that the
Judge has got to try them anyway, it don't seem to be asking too much
for the Judge to go over there. He says he'll give us a barrel of pork
and a bag of flour if we'll give him the right of using our tail-race
and clean out the lower end of it."

"It's the work of a Chinaman, and a four days' job," broke in the Left
Bower.

"It took one white man only two hours to clean out a third of it,"
retorted the Old Man triumphantly, "for _I_ pitched in at once with a
pick he let me have on credit, and did that amount of work this
morning, and told him the rest of you boys would finish it this
afternoon."

A slight gesture from the Right Bower checked an angry exclamation from
the Left. The Old Man did not notice either, but, knitting his smooth
young brow in a paternally reflective fashion, went on: "You'll have to
get a new pair of trousers, Mills, but as he doesn't keep clothing,
we'll have to get some canvas and cut you out a pair. I traded off the
beans he let me have for some tobacco for the Right Bower at the other
shop, and got them to throw in a new pack of cards. These are about
played out. We'll be wanting some brushwood for the fire; there's a
heap in the hollow. Who's going to bring it in? It's the Judge's turn,
isn't it? Why, what's the matter with you all?"

The restraint and evident uneasiness of his companions had at last
touched him. He turned his frank young eyes upon them; they glanced
helplessly at each other. Yet his first concern was for them, his first
instinct paternal and protecting. He ran his eyes quickly over them;
they were all there and apparently in their usual condition. "Anything
wrong with the claim?" he suggested.

Without looking at him the Right Bower rose, leaned against the open
door with his hands behind him and his face towards the landscape, and
said, apparently to the distant prospect: "The claim's played out, the
partnership's played out, and the sooner we skedaddle out of this the
better. If," he added, turning to the Old Man, "if _you_ want to stay,
if you want to do Chinaman's work at Chinaman's wages, if you want to
hang on to the charity of the traders at the Crossing, you can do it,
and enjoy the prospects and the Noah's doves alone. But we're
calculatin' to step out of it."

"But I haven't said I wanted to do it _alone_" protested the Old Man
with a gesture of bewilderment.

"If these are your general ideas of the partnership," continued the
Right Bower, clinging to the established hypothesis of the other
partners for support, "it ain't ours, and the only way we can prove it
is to stop the foolishness right here. We calculated to dissolve the
partnership and strike out for ourselves elsewhere. You're no longer
responsible for us, nor we for you. And we reckon it's the square thing
to leave you the claim and the cabin and all it contains. To prevent
any trouble with the traders, we've drawn up a paper here"--

"With a bonus of fifty thousand dollars each down, and the rest to be
settled on my children," interrupted the Old Man, with a half uneasy
laugh. "Of course. But"--he stopped suddenly, the blood dropped from
his fresh cheek, and he again glanced quickly round the group. "I don't
think--I--I quite _sabe_, boys," he added, with a slight tremor of
voice and lip. "If it's a conundrum, ask me an easier one."

Any lingering doubt he might have had of their meaning was dispelled by
the Judge. "It's about the softest thing you kin drop into, Old Man,"
he said confidentially; "if _I_ had n't promised the other boys to go
with them, and if I did n't need the best medical advice in Sacramento
for my lungs, I'd just enjoy staying with you."

"It gives a sorter freedom to a young fellow like you, Old Man, like
goin' into the world on your own capital, that every Californian boy
has n't got," said Union Mills, patronizingly.

"Of course it's rather hard papers on us, you know, givin' up
everything, so to speak; but it's for your good, and we ain't goin'
back on you," said the Left Bower, "are we, boys?"

The color had returned to the Old Man's face a little more quickly and
freely than usual. He picked up the hat he had cast down, put it on
carefully over his brown curls, drew the flap down on the side towards
his companions, and put his hands in his pockets. "All right," he said,
in a slightly altered voice. "When do you go?"

"To-day," answered the Left Bower. "We calculate to take a moonlight
_pasear_ over to the Cross Roads and meet the down stage at about
twelve to-night. There's plenty of time yet," he added, with a slight
laugh; "it's only three o'clock now."

There was a dead silence. Even the rain withheld its continuous patter,
a dumb, gray film covered the ashes of the hushed hearth. For the first
time the Right Bower exhibited some slight embarrassment.

"I reckon it's held up for a spell," he said, ostentatiously examining
the weather, "and we might as well take a run round the claim to see if
we've forgotten nothing. Of course, we'll be back again," he added
hastily, without looking at the Old Man, "before we go, you know."

The others began to look for their hats, but so awkwardly and with such
evident preoccupation of mind that it was not at first discovered that
the Judge had his already on. This raised a laugh, as did also a clumsy
stumble of Union Mills against the pork barrel, although that gentleman
took refuge from his confusion and secured a decent retreat by a gross
exaggeration of his lameness, as he limped after the Right Bower. The
Judge whistled feebly. The Left Bower, in a more ambitious effort to
impart a certain gayety to his exit, stopped on the threshold and said,
as if in arch confidence to his companions, "Darned if the Old Man
don't look two inches higher since he became a proprietor," laughed
patronizingly, and vanished.

If the newly-made proprietor had increased in stature, he had not
otherwise changed his demeanor. He remained in the same attitude until
the last figure disappeared behind the fringe of buckeye that hid the
distant highway. Then he walked slowly to the fireplace, and, leaning
against the chimney, kicked the dying embers together with his foot.
Something dropped and spattered in the film of hot ashes. Surely the
rain had not yet ceased!

His high color had already fled except for a spot on either cheekbone
that lent a brightness to his eyes. He glanced around the cabin. It
looked familiar and yet strange. Rather, it looked strange _because_
still familiar, and therefore incongruous with the new atmosphere that
surrounded it--discordant with the echo of their last meeting, and
painfully accenting the change. There were the four "bunks," or
sleeping berths, of his companions, each still bearing some traces of
the individuality of its late occupant with a dumb loyalty that seemed
to make their light-hearted defection monstrous. In the dead ashes of
the Judge's pipe, scattered on his shelf, still lived his old fire; in
the whittled and carved edges of the Left Bower's bunk still were the
memories of bygone days of delicious indolence; in the bullet-holes
clustered round a knot of one of the beams there was still the record
of the Right Bower's old-time skill and practice; in the few engravings
of female loveliness stuck upon each headboard there were the proofs of
their old extravagant devotion--all a mute protest to the change.

He remembered how, a fatherless, truant schoolboy, he had drifted into
their adventurous, nomadic life, itself a life of grown-up truancy like
his own, and became one of that gypsy family. How they had taken the
place of relations and household in his boyish fancy, filling it with
the unsubstantial pageantry of a child's play at grown-up existence, he
knew only too well. But how, from being a pet and _protege_, he had
gradually and unconsciously asserted his own individuality and taken
upon his younger shoulders not only a poet's keen appreciation of that
life, but its actual responsibilities and half-childish burdens, he
never suspected. He had fondly believed that he was a neophyte in their
ways, a novice in their charming faith and indolent creed, and they had
encouraged it; now their renunciation of that faith could only be an
excuse for a renunciation of _him_. The poetry that had for two years
invested the material and sometimes even mean details of their
existence was too much a part of himself to be lightly dispelled. The
lesson of those ingenuous moralists failed, as such lessons are apt to
fail; their discipline provoked but did not subdue; a rising
indignation, stirred by a sense of injury, mounted to his cheek and
eyes. It was slow to come, but was none the less violent that it had
been preceded by the benumbing shock of shame and pride.

I hope I shall not prejudice the reader's sympathies if my duty as a
simple chronicler compels me to state, therefore, that the sober second
thought of this gentle poet was to burn down the cabin on the spot with
all its contents. This yielded to a milder counsel--waiting for the
return of the party, challenging the Right Bower, a duel to the death,
perhaps himself the victim, with the crushing explanation _in
extremis_, "It seems we are _one_ too many. No matter; it is settled
now. Farewell!" Dimly remembering, however, that there was something of
this in the last well-worn novel they had read together, and that his
antagonist might recognize it, or even worse, anticipate it himself,
the idea was quickly rejected. Besides, the opportunity for an
apotheosis of self-sacrifice was past. Nothing remained now but to
refuse the proffered bribe of claim and cabin by letter, for he must
not wait their return. He tore a leaf from a blotted diary, begun and
abandoned long since, and essayed to write. Scrawl after scrawl was
torn up, until his fury had cooled down to a frigid third personality.
"Mr. John Ford regrets to inform his late partners that their tender of
house, of furniture," however, seemed too inconsistent with the
pork-barrel table he was writing on; a more eloquent renunciation of
their offer became frivolous and idiotic from a caricature of Union
Mills, label and all, that appeared suddenly on the other side of the
leaf; and when he at last indited a satisfactory and impassioned
exposition of his feelings, the legible _addendum_ of "Oh, ain't you
glad you're out of the wilderness!"--the forgotten first line of a
popular song, which no scratching would erase--seemed too like an
ironical postscript to be thought of for a moment. He threw aside his
pen and cast the discordant record of past foolish pastime into the
dead ashes of the hearth.

How quiet it was! With the cessation of the rain the wind too had gone
down, and scarcely a breath of air came through the open door. He
walked to the threshold and gazed on the hushed prospect. In this
listless attitude he was faintly conscious of a distant reverberation,
a mere phantom of sound--perhaps the explosion of a distant blast in
the hills--that left the silence more marked and oppressive. As he
turned again into the cabin a change seemed to have come over it. It
already looked old and decayed. The loneliness of years of desertion
seemed to have taken possession of it; the atmosphere of dry rot was in
the beams and rafters. To his excited fancy the few disordered blankets
and articles of clothing seemed dropping to pieces; in one of the bunks
there was a hideous resemblance in the longitudinal heap of clothing to
a withered and mummied corpse. So it might look in after-years when
some passing stranger--but he stopped. A dread of the place was
beginning to creep over him; a dread of the days to come, when the
monotonous sunshine should lay bare the loneliness of these walls; the
long, long days of endless blue and cloudless, overhanging solitude;
summer days when the wearying, incessant trade winds should sing around
that empty shell and voice its desolation. He gathered together hastily
a few articles that were especially his own--rather that the free
communion of the camp, from indifference or accident, had left wholly
to him. He hesitated for a moment over his rifle, but, scrupulous in
his wounded pride, turned away and left the familiar weapon that in the
dark days had so often provided the dinner or breakfast of the little
household. Candor compels me to state that his equipment was not large
nor eminently practical. His scant pack was a light weight for even his
young shoulders, but I fear he thought more of getting away from the
Past than providing for the Future.

With this vague but sole purpose he left the cabin, and almost
mechanically turned his steps towards the creek he had crossed that
morning. He knew that by this route he would avoid meeting his
companions; its difficulties and circuitousness would exercise his
feverish limbs and give him time for reflection. He had determined to
leave the claim, but whence he had not yet considered. He reached the
bank of the creek where he had stood two hours before; it seemed to him
two years. He looked curiously at his reflection in one of the broad
pools of overflow, and fancied he looked older. He watched the rush and
outset of the turbid current hurrying to meet the South Fork, and to
eventually lose itself in the yellow Sacramento. Even in his
preoccupation he was impressed with a likeness to himself and his
companions in this flood that had burst its peaceful boundaries. In the
drifting fragments of one of their forgotten flumes washed from the
bank, he fancied he saw an omen of the disintegration and decay of the
Lone Star claim.

The strange hush in the air that he had noticed before--a calm so
inconsistent with that hour and the season as to seem
portentous--became more marked in contrast to the feverish rush of the
turbulent watercourse. A few clouds lazily huddled in the west
apparently had gone to rest with the sun on beds of somnolent poppies.
There was a gleam as of golden water everywhere along the horizon,
washing out the cold snow-peaks, and drowning even the rising moon. The
creek caught it here and there, until, in grim irony, it seemed to bear
their broken sluice-boxes and useless engines on the very Pactolian
stream they had been hopefully created to direct and carry. But by some
peculiar trick of the atmosphere the perfect plenitude of that golden
sunset glory was lavished on the rugged sides and tangled crest of the
Lone Star Mountain. That isolated peak, the landmark of their claim,
the gaunt monument of their folly, transfigured in the evening
splendor, kept its radiance unquenched long after the glow had fallen
from the encompassing skies, and when at last the rising moon, step by
step, put out the fires along the winding valley and plains, and crept
up the bosky sides of the canon, the vanishing sunset was lost only to
reappear as a golden crown.

The eyes of the young man were fixed upon it with more than a momentary
picturesque interest. It had been the favorite ground of his
prospecting exploits, its lowest flank had been scarred in the old
enthusiastic days with hydraulic engines, or pierced with shafts, but
its central position in the claim and its superior height had always
given it a commanding view of the extent of their valley and its
approaches, and it was this practical preeminence that alone attracted
him at that moment. He knew that from its crest he would be able to
distinguish the figures of his companions, as they crossed the valley
near the cabin, in the growing moonlight. Thus he could avoid
encountering them on his way to the highroad, and yet see them,
perhaps, for the last time. Even in his sense of injury there was a
strange satisfaction in the thought.

The ascent was toilsome, but familiar. All along the dim trail he was
accompanied by gentler memories of the past, that seemed, like the
faint odor of spiced leaves and fragrant grasses wet with the rain and
crushed beneath his ascending tread, to exhale the sweeter perfume in
his effort to subdue or rise above them. There was the thicket of
manzanita, where they had broken noonday bread together; here was the
rock beside their maiden shafts, where they had poured a wild libation
in boyish enthusiasm of success; and here the ledge where their first
flag, a red shirt heroically sacrificed, was displayed from a
long-handled shovel to the gaze of admirers below. When he at last
reached the summit, the mysterious hush was still in the air, as if in
breathless sympathy with his expedition. In the west, the plain was
faintly illuminated, but disclosed no moving figures. He turned towards
the rising moon, and moved slowly to the eastern edge. Suddenly he
stopped. Another step would have been his last! He stood upon the
crumbling edge of a precipice. A landslip had taken place on the
eastern flank, leaving the gaunt ribs and fleshless bones of Lone Star
Mountain bare in the moonlight. He understood now the strange rumble
and reverberation he had heard; he understood now the strange hush of
bird and beast in brake and thicket!

Although a single rapid glance convinced him that the slide had taken
place in an unfrequented part of the mountain, above an inaccessible
canon, and reflection assured him his companions could not have reached
that distance when it took place, a feverish impulse led him to descend
a few rods in the track of the avalanche. The frequent recurrence of
outcrop and angle made this comparatively easy. Here he called aloud;
the feeble echo of his own voice seemed only a dull impertinence to the
significant silence. He turned to reascend; the furrowed flank of the
mountain before him lay full in the moonlight. To his excited fancy a
dozen luminous star-like points in the rocky crevices started into life
as he faced them. Throwing his arm over the ledge above him, he
supported himself for a moment by what appeared to be a projection of
the solid rock. It trembled slightly. As he raised himself to its
level, his heart stopped beating. It was simply a fragment detached
from the outcrop, lying loosely on the ledge but upholding him by _its
own weight only_. He examined it with trembling fingers; the
encumbering soil fell from its sides and left its smoothed and worn
protuberances glistening in the moonlight. It was virgin gold!

Looking back upon that moment afterwards, he remembered that he was not
dazed, dazzled, or startled. It did not come to him as a discovery or
an accident, a stroke of chance or a caprice of fortune. He saw it all
in that supreme moment; Nature had worked out their poor deduction.
What their feeble engines had essayed spasmodically and helplessly
against the curtain of soil that hid the treasure, the elements had
achieved with mightier but more patient forces. The slow sapping of the
winter rains had loosened the soil from the auriferous rock, even while
the swollen stream was carrying their impotent and shattered engines to
the sea. What mattered that his single arm could not lift the treasure
he had found; what mattered that to unfix those glittering stars would
still tax both skill and patience! The work was done, the goal was
reached! even his boyish impatience was content with that. He rose
slowly to his feet, unstrapped his long-handled shovel from his back,
secured it in the crevice, and quietly regained the summit.

It was all his own! His own by right of discovery under the law of the
land, and without accepting a favor from _them_. He recalled even the
fact that it was _his_ prospecting on the mountain that first suggested
the existence of gold in the outcrop and the use of the hydraulic. _He_
had never abandoned that belief, whatever the others had done. He dwelt
somewhat indignantly to himself on this circumstance, and half
unconsciously faced defiantly towards the plain below. But it was
sleeping peacefully in the full sight of the moon, without life or
motion. He looked at the stars, it was still far from midnight. His
companions had no doubt long since returned to the cabin to prepare for
their midnight journey. They were discussing him, perhaps laughing at
him, or worse, pitying him and his bargain. Yet here was his bargain! A
slight laugh he gave vent to here startled him a little, it sounded so
hard and so unmirthful, and so unlike, as he oddly fancied what he
really _thought_. But _what_ did he think?

Nothing mean or revengeful; no, they never would say _that_. When he
had taken out all the surface gold and put the mine in working order,
he would send them each a draft for a thousand dollars. Of course, if
they were ever ill or poor he would do more. One of the first, the very
first things he should do would be to send them each a handsome gun and
tell them that he only asked in return the old-fashioned rifle that
once was his. Looking back at the moment in after-years, he wondered
that, with this exception, he made no plans for his own future, or the
way he should dispose of his newly acquired wealth. This was the more
singular as it had been the custom of the five partners to lie awake at
night, audibly comparing with each other what they would do in case
they made a strike. He remembered how, Alnaschar-like, they nearly
separated once over a difference in the disposal of a hundred thousand
dollars that they never had, nor expected to have. He remembered how
Union Mills always began his career as a millionaire by a "square meal"
at Delmonico's; how the Right Bower's initial step was always a trip
home "to see his mother;" how the Left Bower would immediately placate
the parents of his beloved with priceless gifts (it may be
parenthetically remarked that the parents and the beloved one were as
hypothetical as the fortune); and how the Judge would make his first
start as a capitalist by breaking a certain faro bank in Sacramento. He
himself had been equally eloquent in extravagant fancy in those
penniless days, he who now was quite cold and impassive beside the more
extravagant reality.

How different it might have been! If they had only waited a day longer!
if they had only broken their resolves to him kindly and parted in good
will! How he would long ere this have rushed to greet them with the
joyful news! How they would have danced around it, sung themselves
hoarse, laughed down their enemies, and run up the flag triumphantly on
the summit of the Lone Star Mountain! How they would have crowned him
"the Old Man," "the hero of the camp!" How he would have told them the
whole story; how some strange instinct had impelled him to ascend the
summit, and how another step on that summit would have precipitated him
into the canon! And how--but what if somebody else, Union Mills or the
Judge, had been the first discoverer? Might they not have meanly kept
the secret from him; have selfishly helped themselves and done--

"What _you_ are doing now."

The hot blood rushed to his cheek, as if a strange voice were at his
ear. For a moment he could not believe that it came from his own pale
lips until he found himself speaking. He rose to his feet, tingling
with shame, and began hurriedly to descend the mountain.

He would go to them, tell them of his discovery, let them give him his
share, and leave them forever. It was the only thing to be done,
strange that he had not thought of it at once. Yet it was hard, very
hard and cruel, to be forced to meet them again. What had he done to
suffer this mortification? For a moment he actually hated this vulgar
treasure that had forever buried under its gross ponderability the
light and careless past, and utterly crushed out the poetry of their
old, indolent, happy existence.

He was sure to find them waiting at the Cross Roads where the coach
came past. It was three miles away, yet he could get there in time if
he hastened. It was a wise and practical conclusion of his evening's
work, a lame and impotent conclusion to his evening's indignation.

No matter. They would perhaps at first think he had come to weakly
follow them, perhaps they would at first doubt his story. No matter. He
bit his lips to keep down the foolish rising tears, but still went
blindly forward.

He saw not the beautiful night, cradled in the dark hills, swathed in
luminous mists, and hushed in the awe of its own loveliness! Here and
there the moon had laid her calm face on lake and overflow, and gone to
sleep embracing them, until the whole plain seemed to be lifted into
infinite quiet. Walking on as in a dream, the black, impenetrable
barriers of skirting thickets opened and gave way to vague distances
that it appeared impossible to reach, dim vistas that seemed
unapproachable. Gradually he seemed himself to become a part of the
mysterious night. He was becoming as pulseless, as calm, as
passionless.

What was that? A shot in the direction of the cabin! yet so faint, so
echoless, so ineffective in the vast silence, that he would have
thought it his fancy but for the strange instinctive jar upon his
sensitive nerves. Was it an accident, or was it an intentional signal
to him? He stopped; it was not repeated, the silence reasserted itself,
but this time with an ominous deathlike suggestion. A sudden and
terrible thought crossed his mind. He cast aside his pack and all
encumbering weight, took a deep breath, lowered his head, and darted
like a deer in the direction of the challenge.


II.

The exodus of the seceding partners of the Lone Star claim had been
scarcely an imposing one. For the first five minutes after quitting the
cabin the procession was straggling and vagabond. Unwonted exertion had
exaggerated the lameness of some, and feebleness of moral purpose had
predisposed the others to obtrusive musical exhibition. Union Mills
limped and whistled with affected abstraction; the Judge whistled and
limped with affected earnestness. The Right Bower led the way with some
show of definite design; the Left Bower followed with his hands in his
pockets. The two feebler natures, drawn together in unconscious
sympathy, looked vaguely at each other for support.

"You see," said the Judge, suddenly, as if triumphantly concluding an
argument, "there ain't anything better for a young fellow than
independence. Nature, so to speak, points the way. Look at the
animals."

"There's a skunk hereabouts," said Union Mills, who was supposed to be
gifted with aristocratically sensitive nostrils, "within ten miles of
this place; like as not crossing the Ridge. It's always my luck to
happen out just at such times. I don't see the necessity anyhow of
trapesing round the claim now, if we calculate to leave it to-night."

Both men waited to observe if the suggestion was taken up by the Right
and Left Bower moodily plodding ahead. No response following, the Judge
shamelessly abandoned his companion.

"You wouldn't stand snoopin' round instead of lettin' the Old Man get
used to the idea alone? No; I could see all along that he was takin' it
in, takin' it in kindly but slowly, and I reckoned the best thing for
us to do was to git up and git until he'd got round it." The Judge's
voice was slightly raised for the benefit of the two before him.

"Didn't he say," remarked the Right Bower, stopping suddenly and facing
the others, "didn't he say that that new trader was goin' to let him
have some provisions anyway?"

Union Mills turned appealingly to the Judge; that gentleman was forced
to reply, "Yes; I remember distinctly he said it. It was one of the
things I was particular about on his account," responded the Judge,
with the air of having arranged it all himself with the new trader. "I
remember I was easier in my mind about it."

"But didn't he say," queried the Left Bower, also stopping short,
"suthin' about its being contingent on our doing some work on the
race?"

The Judge turned for support to Union Mills, who, however, under the
hollow pretense of preparing for a long conference, had luxuriously
seated himself on a stump. The Judge sat down also, and replied,
hesitatingly, "Well, yes! Us or him."

"Us or him," repeated the Right Bower, with gloomy irony. "And you
ain't quite clear in your mind, are you, if _you_ haven't done the work
already? You're just killing yourself with this spontaneous,
promiscuous, and premature overwork; that's what's the matter with
you."

"I reckon I heard somebody say suthin' about its being a Chinaman's
three-day job," interpolated the Left Bower, with equal irony, "but I
ain't quite clear in my mind about that."

"It'll be a sorter distraction for the Old Man," said Union Mills,
feebly,--"kinder take his mind off his loneliness."

Nobody taking the least notice of the remark, Union Mills stretched out
his legs more comfortably and took out his pipe. He had scarcely done
so when the Right Bower, wheeling suddenly, set off in the direction of
the creek. The Left Bower, after a slight pause, followed without a
word. The Judge, wisely conceiving it better to join the stronger
party, ran feebly after him, and left Union Mills to bring up a weak
and vacillating rear.

Their course, diverging from Lone Star Mountain, led them now directly
to the bend of the creek, the base of their old ineffectual operations.
Here was the beginning of the famous tail--race that skirted the new
trader's claim, and then lost its way in a swampy hollow. It was choked
with debris; a thin, yellow stream that once ran through it seemed to
have stopped work when they did, and gone into greenish liquidation.

They had scarcely spoken during this brief journey, and had received no
other explanation from the Right Bower, who led them, than that
afforded by his mute example when he reached the race. Leaping into it
without a word, he at once began to clear away the broken timbers and
drift-wood. Fired by the spectacle of what appeared to be a new and
utterly frivolous game, the men gayly leaped after him, and were soon
engaged in a fascinating struggle with the impeded race. The Judge
forgot his lameness in springing over a broken sluice-box; Union Mills
forgot his whistle in a happy imitation of a Chinese coolie's song.
Nevertheless, after ten minutes of this mild dissipation, the pastime
flagged; Union Mills was beginning to rub his leg, when a distant
rumble shook the earth. The men looked at each other; the diversion was
complete; a languid discussion of the probabilities of its being an
earthquake or a blast followed, in the midst of which the Right Bower,
who was working a little in advance of the others, uttered a warning
cry and leaped from the race. His companions had barely time to follow
before a sudden and inexplicable rise in the waters of the creek sent a
swift irruption of the flood through the race. In an instant its choked
and impeded channel was cleared, the race was free, and the scattered
debris of logs and timber floated upon its easy current. Quick to take
advantage of this labor-saving phenomenon, the Lone Star partners
sprang into the water, and by disentangling and directing the eddying
fragments completed their work.

"The Old Man oughter been here to see this," said the Left Bower; "it's
just one o' them climaxes of poetic justice he's always huntin' up.
It's easy to see what's happened. One o' them high-toned shrimps over
in the Excelsior claim has put a blast in too near the creek. He's
tumbled the bank into the creek and sent the back water down here just
to wash out our race. That's what I call poetical retribution."

"And who was it advised us to dam the creek below the race and make it
do the thing?" asked the Right Bower, moodily.

"That was one of the Old Man's ideas, I reckon," said the Left Bower,
dubiously.

"And you remember," broke in the Judge with animation, "I allus said,
'Go slow, go slow. You just hold on and suthin' will happen.' And," he
added, triumphantly, "you see suthin' _has_ happened. I don't want to
take credit to myself, but I reckoned on them Excelsior boys bein'
fools, and took the chances."

"And what if I happen to know that the Excelsior boys ain't blastin'
to-day?" said the Right Bower, sarcastically.

As the Judge had evidently based his hypothesis on the alleged fact of
a blast, he deftly evaded the point. "I ain't sayin' the Old Man's head
ain't level on some things; he wants a little more _sabe_ of the world.
He's improved a good deal in euchre lately, and in poker--well! he's
got that sorter dreamy, listenin'-to-the-angels kind o' way that you
can't exactly tell whether he's bluffin' or has got a full hand. Hasn't
he?" he asked, appealing to Union Mills.

But that gentleman, who had been watching the dark face of the Right
Bower, preferred to take what he believed to be his cue from him. "That
ain't the question," he said virtuously; "we ain't takin' this step to
make a card sharp out of him. We're not doin' Chinamen's work in this
race to-day for that. No, sir! We're teachin' him to paddle his own
canoe." Not finding the sympathetic response he looked for in the Right
Bower's face, he turned to the Left.

"I reckon we were teachin' him our canoe was too full," was the Left
Bower's unexpected reply. "That's about the size of it."

The Right Bower shot a rapid glance under his brows at his brother. The
latter, with his hands in his pockets, stared unconsciously at the
rushing water, and then quietly turned away. The Right Bower followed
him. "Are you goin' back on us?" he asked.

"Are _you_?" responded the other.

"No!"

"_No_, then it is," returned the Left Bower quietly. The elder brother
hesitated in half-angry embarrassment.

"Then what did you mean by saying we reckoned our canoe was too full?"

"Wasn't that our idea?" returned the Left Bower, indifferently.
Confounded by this practical expression of his own unformulated good
intentions, the Right Bower was staggered.

"Speakin' of the Old Man," broke in the Judge, with characteristic
infelicity, "I reckon he'll sort o' miss us, times like these. We were
allers runnin' him and bedevilin' him, after work, just to get him
excited and amusin', and he'll kinder miss that sort o' stimulatin'. I
reckon we'll miss it too, somewhat. Don't you remember, boys, the night
we put up that little sell on him and made him believe we'd struck it
rich in the bank of the creek, and got him so conceited, he wanted to
go off and settle all our debts at once?"

"And how I came bustin' into the cabin with a pan full of iron pyrites
and black sand," chuckled Union Mills, continuing the reminiscences,
"and how them big gray eyes of his nearly bulged out of his head. Well,
it's some satisfaction to know we did our duty by the young fellow even
in those little things." He turned for confirmation of their general
disinterestedness to the Right Bower, but he was already striding away,
uneasily conscious of the lazy following of the Left Bower, like a
laggard conscience at his back. This movement again threw Union Mills
and the Judge into feeble complicity in the rear, as the procession
slowly straggled homeward from the creek.

Night had fallen. Their way lay through the shadow of Lone Star
Mountain, deepened here and there by the slight, bosky ridges that,
starting from its base, crept across the plain like vast roots of its
swelling trunk. The shadows were growing blacker as the moon began to
assert itself over the rest of the valley, when the Right Bower halted
suddenly on one of these ridges. The Left Bower lounged up to him and
stopped also, while the two others came up and completed the group.

"There's no light in the shanty," said the Right Bower in a low voice,
half to himself and half in answer to their inquiring attitude. The men
followed the direction of his finger. In the distance the black outline
of the Lone Star cabin stood out distinctly in the illumined space.
There was the blank, sightless, external glitter of moonlight on its
two windows that seemed to reflect its dim vacancy, empty alike of
light and warmth and motion.

"That's sing'lar," said the Judge in an awed whisper.

The Left Bower, by simply altering the position of his hands in his
trousers' pockets, managed to suggest that he knew perfectly the
meaning of it, had always known it; but that being now, so to speak, in
the hands of Fate, he was callous to it. This much, at least, the elder
brother read in his attitude. But anxiety at that moment was the
controlling impulse of the Right Bower, as a certain superstitious
remorse was the instinct of the two others, and without heeding the
cynic, the three started at a rapid pace for the cabin.

They reached it silently, as the moon, now riding high in the heavens,
seemed to touch it with the tender grace and hushed repose of a tomb.
It was with something of this feeling that the Right Bower softly
pushed open the door; it was with something of this dread that the two
others lingered on the threshold, until the Right Bower, after vainly
trying to stir the dead embers on the hearth into life with his foot,
struck a match and lit their solitary candle. Its flickering light
revealed the familiar interior unchanged in aught but one thing. The
bunk that the Old Man had occupied was stripped of its blankets; the
few cheap ornaments and photographs were gone; the rude poverty of the
bare boards and scant pallet looked up at them unrelieved by the bright
face and gracious youth that had once made them tolerable. In the grim
irony of that exposure, their own penury was doubly conscious. The
little knapsack, the tea-cup and coffee-pot that had hung near his bed,
were gone also. The most indignant protest, the most pathetic of the
letters he had composed and rejected, whose torn fragments still
littered the floor, could never have spoken with the eloquence of this
empty space! The men exchanged no words; the solitude of the cabin,
instead of drawing them together, seemed to isolate each one in selfish
distrust of the others. Even the unthinking garrulity of Union Mills
and the Judge was checked. A moment later, when the Left Bower entered
the cabin, his presence was scarcely noticed.

The silence was broken by a joyous exclamation from the Judge. He had
discovered the Old Man's rifle in the corner, where it had been at
first overlooked. "He ain't gone yet, gentlemen--for yer's his rifle,"
he broke in, with a feverish return of volubility, and a high excited
falsetto. "He wouldn't have left this behind. No! I knowed it from the
first. He's just outside a bit, foraging for wood and water. No, sir!
Coming along here I said to Union Mills--didn't I?--'Bet your life the
Old Man's not far off, even if he ain't in the cabin.' Why, the moment
I stepped foot"--

"And I said coming along," interrupted Union Mills, with equally
reviving mendacity, 'Like as not he's hangin' round yer and lyin' low
just to give us a surprise.' He! ho!"

"He's gone for good, and he left that rifle here on purpose," said the
Left Bower in a low voice, taking the weapon almost tenderly in his
hands.

"Drop it, then!" said the Right Bower. The voice was that of his
brother, but suddenly changed with passion. The two other partners drew
back in alarm.

"I'll not leave it here for the first comer," said the Left Bower,
calmly, "because we've been fools and he too. It's too good a weapon
for that."

"Drop it, I say!" said the Right Bower, with a savage stride towards
him.

The younger brother brought the rifle to a half charge with a white
face but a steady eye.

"Stop where you are!" he said collectedly. "Don't row with _me_,
because you haven't either the grit to stick to your ideas or the heart
to confess them wrong. We've followed your lead, and--here we are! The
camp's broken up--the Old Man's gone--and we're going. And as for the
d----d rifle"--

"Drop it, do you hear!" shouted the Right Bower, clinging to that one
idea with the blind pertinacity of rage and a losing cause. "Drop it!"

The Left Bower drew back, but his brother had seized the barrel with
both hands. There was a momentary struggle, a flash through the
half-lighted cabin, and a shattering report. The two men fell back from
each other; the rifle dropped on the floor between them.

The whole thing was over so quickly that the other two partners had not
had time to obey their common impulse to separate them, and
consequently even now could scarcely understand what had passed. It was
over so quickly that the two actors themselves walked back to their
places, scarcely realizing their own act.

A dead silence followed. The Judge and Union Mills looked at each other
in dazed astonishment, and then nervously set about their former
habits, apparently in that fatuous belief common to such natures, that
they were ignoring a painful situation. The Judge drew the barrel
towards him, picked up the cards, and began mechanically to "make a
patience," on which Union Mills gazed with ostentatious interest, but
with eyes furtively conscious of the rigid figure of the Right Bower by
the chimney and the abstracted face of the Left Bower at the door. Ten
minutes had passed in this occupation, the Judge and Union Mills
conversing in the furtive whispers of children unavoidably but
fascinatedly present at a family quarrel, when a light step was heard
upon the crackling brushwood outside, and the bright panting face of
the Old Man appeared upon the threshold. There was a shout of joy; in
another moment he was half-buried in the bosom of the Right Bower's
shirt, half-dragged into the lap of the Judge, upsetting the barrel,
and completely encompassed by the Left Bower and Union Mills. With the
enthusiastic utterance of his name the spell was broken.

Happily unconscious of the previous excitement that had provoked this
spontaneous unanimity of greeting, the Old Man, equally relieved, at
once broke into a feverish announcement of his discovery. He painted
the details with, I fear, a slight exaggeration of coloring, due partly
to his own excitement, and partly to justify their own. But he was
strangely conscious that these bankrupt men appeared less elated with
their personal interest in their stroke of fortune than with his own
success. "I told you he'd do it," said the Judge, with a reckless
unscrupulousness of the statement that carried everybody with it; "look
at him! the game little pup." "Oh, no! he ain't the right breed, is
he?" echoed Union Mills with arch irony, while the Right and Left
Bower, grasping either hand, pressed a proud but silent greeting that
was half new to him, but wholly delicious. It was not without
difficulty that he could at last prevail upon them to return with him
to the scene of his discovery, or even then restrain them from
attempting to carry him thither on their shoulders on the plea of his
previous prolonged exertions. Once only there was a momentary
embarrassment. "Then you fired that shot to bring me back?" said the
Old Man, gratefully. In the awkward silence that followed, the hands of
the two brothers sought and grasped each other, penitently. "Yes,"
interposed the Judge with delicate tact, "ye see the Right and Left
Bower almost quarreled to see which should be the first to fire for ye.
I disremember which did"--"I never touched the trigger," said the Left
Bower, hastily. With a hurried backward kick, the Judge resumed, "It
went off sorter spontaneous."

The difference in the sentiment of the procession that once more issued
from the Lone Star cabin did not fail to show itself in each individual
partner according to his temperament. The subtle tact of Union Mills,
however, in expressing an awakened respect for their fortunate partner
by addressing him, as if unconsciously, as "Mr. Ford" was at first
discomposing, but even this was forgotten in their breathless
excitement as they neared the base of the mountain. When they had
crossed the creek the Right Bower stopped reflectively.

"You say you heard the slide come down before you left the cabin?" he
said, turning to the Old Man.

"Yes; but I did not know then what it was. It was about an hour and a
half after you left," was the reply.

"Then look here, boys," continued the Right Bower with superstitious
exultation; "it was the _slide_ that tumbled into the creek, overflowed
it, and helped _us_ clear out the race!"

It seemed so clear that Providence had taken the partners of the Lone
Star directly in hand that they faced the toilsome ascent of the
mountain with the assurance of conquerors. They paused only on the
summit to allow the Old Man to lead the way to the slope that held
their treasure. He advanced cautiously to the edge of the crumbling
cliff, stopped, looked bewildered, advanced again, and then remained
white and immovable. In an instant the Right Bower was at his side.

"Is anything the matter? Don't--don't look so, Old Man, for God's
sake!"

The Old Man pointed to the dull, smooth, black side of the mountain,
without a crag, break, or protuberance, and said with ashen lips:

"It's gone!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And it was gone! A _second_ slide had taken place, stripping the flank
of the mountain, and burying the treasure and the weak implement that
had marked its side deep under a chaos of rock and debris at its base.

"Thank God!" The blank faces of his companions turned quickly to the
Right Bower. "Thank God!" he repeated, with his arm round the neck of
the Old Man.

"Had he stayed behind he would have been buried too." He paused, and,
pointing solemnly to the depths below, said, "And thank God for showing
us where we may yet labor for it in hope and patience like honest men."

The men silently bowed their heads and slowly descended the mountain.
But when they had reached the plain, one of them called out to the
others to watch a star that seemed to be rising and moving towards them
over the hushed and sleeping valley.

"It's only the stage-coach, boys," said the Left Bower, smiling; "the
coach that was to take us away."

In the security of their new-found fraternity they resolved to wait and
see it pass. As it swept by with flash of light, beat of hoofs, and
jingle of harness, the only real presence in the dreamy landscape, the
driver shouted a hoarse greeting to the phantom partners, audible only
to the Judge, who was nearest the vehicle.

"Did you hear--_did_ you hear what he said, boys?" he gasped, turning
to his companions. "No? Shake hands all round, boys! God bless you all,
boys! To think we didn't know it all this while!"

"Know what?"

"Merry Christmas!"



A SHIP OF '49.


It had rained so persistently in San Francisco during the first week of
January, 1854, that a certain quagmire in the roadway of Long Wharf had
become impassable, and a plank was thrown over its dangerous depth.
Indeed, so treacherous was the spot that it was alleged, on good
authority, that a hastily embarking traveler had once hopelessly lost
his portmanteau, and was fain to dispose of his entire interest in it
for the sum of two dollars and fifty cents to a speculative stranger on
the wharf. As the stranger's search was rewarded afterwards only by the
discovery of the body of a casual Chinaman, who had evidently
endeavored wickedly to anticipate him, a feeling of commercial
insecurity was added to the other eccentricities of the locality.

The plank led to the door of a building that was a marvel even in the
chaotic frontier architecture of the street. The houses on either
side--irregular frames of wood or corrugated iron--bore evidence of
having been quickly thrown together, to meet the requirements of the
goods and passengers who were once disembarked on what was the muddy
beach of the infant city. But the building in question exhibited a
certain elaboration of form and design utterly inconsistent with this
idea. The structure obtruded a bowed front to the street, with a
curving line of small windows, surmounted by elaborate carvings and
scroll work of vines and leaves, while below, in faded gilt letters,
appeared the legend "Pontiac--Marseilles." The effect of this
incongruity was startling.

It is related that an inebriated miner, impeded by mud and drink before
its door, was found gazing at its remarkable facade with an expression
of the deepest despondency. "I hev lived a free life, pardner," he
explained thickly to the Samaritan who succored him, "and every time
since I've been on this six weeks' jamboree might have kalkilated it
would come to this. Snakes I've seen afore now, and rats I'm not
unfamiliar with, but when it comes to the starn of a ship risin' up out
of the street, I reckon it's time to pass in my checks."

"It _is_ a ship, you blasted old soaker," said the Samaritan curtly.

It was indeed a ship. A ship run ashore and abandoned on the beach
years before by her gold-seeking crew, with the debris of her scattered
stores and cargo, overtaken by the wild growth of the strange city and
the reclamation of the muddy flat, wherein she lay hopelessly imbedded;
her retreat cut off by wharves and quays and breakwater, jostled at
first by sheds, and then impacted in a block of solid warehouses and
dwellings, her rudder, port, and counter boarded in, and now gazing
hopelessly through her cabin windows upon the busy street before her.
But still a ship despite her transformation. The faintest line of
contour yet left visible spoke of the buoyancy of another element; the
balustrade of her roof was unmistakably a taffrail. The rain slipped
from her swelling sides with a certain lingering touch of the sea; the
soil around her was still treacherous with its suggestions, and even
the wind whistled nautically over her chimney. If, in the fury of some
southwesterly gale, she had one night slipped her strange moorings and
left a shining track through the lower town to the distant sea, no one
would have been surprised.

Least of all, perhaps, her present owner and possessor, Mr. Abner Nott.
For by the irony of circumstances, Mr. Nott was a Far Western farmer
who had never seen a ship before, nor a larger stream of water than a
tributary of the Missouri River. In a spirit, half of fascination, half
of speculation, he had bought her at the time of her abandonment, and
had since mortgaged his ranch at Petaluma with his live stock, to
defray the expenses of filling in the land where she stood, and the
improvements of the vicinity. He had transferred his household goods
and his only daughter to her cabin, and had divided the space "between
decks" and her hold into lodging-rooms, and lofts for the storage of
goods. It could hardly be said that the investment had been profitable.
His tenants vaguely recognized that his occupancy was a sentimental
rather than a commercial speculation, and often generously lent
themselves to the illusion by not paying their rent. Others treated
their own tenancy as a joke,--a quaint recreation born of the childlike
familiarity of frontier intercourse. A few had left; carelessly
abandoning their unsalable goods to their landlord, with great
cheerfulness and a sense of favor. Occasionally Mr. Abner Nott, in a
practical relapse, raged against the derelicts, and talked of
dispossessing them, or even dismantling his tenement, but he was easily
placated by a compliment to the "dear old ship," or an effort made by
some tenant to idealize his apartment. A photographer who had
ingeniously utilized the forecastle for a gallery (accessible from the
bows in the next street), paid no further tribute than a portrait of
the pretty face of Rosey Nott. The superstitious reverence in which
Abner Nott held his monstrous fancy was naturally enhanced by his
purely bucolic exaggeration of its real functions and its native
element. "This yer keel has sailed, and sailed, and sailed," he would
explain with some incongruity of illustration, "in a bee line, makin'
tracks for days runnin'. I reckon more storms and blizzards hez tackled
her than you ken shake a stick at. She's stampeded whales afore now,
and sloshed round with pirates and freebooters in and outer the Spanish
Main, and across lots from Marcelleys where she was rared. And yer she
sits peaceful-like just ez if she'd never been outer a pertater patch,
and hadn't ploughed the sea with fo'sails and studdin' sails and them
things cavortin' round her masts."

Abner Nott's enthusiasm was shared by his daughter, but with more
imagination, and an intelligence stimulated by the scant literature of
her father's emigrant wagon and the few books found on the cabin
shelves. But to her the strange shell she inhabited suggested more of
the great world than the rude, chaotic civilization she saw from the
cabin windows or met in the persons of her father's lodgers. Shut up
for days in this quaint tenement, she had seen it change from the
enchanted playground of her childish fancy to the theater of her active
maidenhood, but without losing her ideal romance in it. She had
translated its history in her own way, read its quaint nautical
hieroglyphics after her own fashion, and possessed herself of its
secrets. She had in fancy made voyages in it to foreign lands, had
heard the accents of a softer tongue on its decks, and on summer
nights, from the roof of the quarter-deck, had seen mellower
constellations take the place of the hard metallic glitter of the
Californian skies. Sometimes, in her isolation, the long, cylindrical
vault she inhabited seemed, like some vast sea-shell, to become musical
with the murmurings of the distant sea. So completely had it taken the
place of the usual instincts of feminine youth that she had forgotten
she was pretty, or that her dresses were old in fashion and scant in
quantity. After the first surprise of admiration her father's lodgers
ceased to follow the abstracted nymph except with their eyes,--partly
respecting her spiritual shyness, partly respecting the jealous
supervision of the paternal Nott. She seldom penetrated the crowded
center of the growing city; her rare excursions were confined to the
old ranch at Petaluma, whence she brought flowers and plants, and even
extemporized a hanging-garden on the quarter-deck.

It was still raining, and the wind, which had increased to a gale, was
dashing the drops against the slanting cabin windows with a sound like
spray when Mr. Abner Nott sat before a table seriously engaged with his
accounts. For it was "steamer night,"--as that momentous day of
reckoning before the sailing of the regular mail steamer was briefly
known to commercial San Francisco,--and Mr. Nott was subject at such
times to severely practical relapses. A swinging light seemed to bring
into greater relief that peculiar encased casket-like security of the
low-timbered, tightly-fitting apartment, with its toy-like utilities of
space, and made the pretty oval face of Rosey Nott appear a
characteristic ornament. The sliding door of the cabin communicated
with the main deck, now roofed in and partitioned off so as to form a
small passage that led to the open starboard gangway, where a narrow,
enclosed staircase built on the ship's side took the place of the
ship's ladder under her counter, and opened in the street.

A dash of rain against the window caused Rosey to lift her eyes from
her book.

"It's much nicer here than at the ranch, father," she said coaxingly,
"even leaving alone its being a beautiful ship instead of a shanty; the
wind don't whistle through the cracks and blow out the candle when
you're reading, nor the rain spoil your things hung up against the
wall. And you look more like a gentleman sitting in his own--ship--you
know, looking over his bills and getting ready to give his orders."

Vague and general as Miss Rosey's compliment was, it had its full
effect upon her father, who was at times dimly conscious of his
hopeless rusticity and its incongruity with his surroundings. "Yes," he
said awkwardly, with a slight relaxation of his aggressive attitude;
"yes, in course it's more bang-up style, but it don't pay--Rosey--it
don't pay. Yer's the Pontiac that oughter be bringin' in, ez rents go,
at least three hundred a month, don't make her taxes. I bin thinkin'
seriously of sellin' her."

As Rosey knew her father had experienced this serious contemplation on
the first of every month for the last two years, and cheerfully ignored
it the next day, she only said, "I'm sure the vacant rooms and lofts
are all rented, father."

"That's it," returned Mr. Nott thoughtfully, plucking at his bushy
whiskers with his fingers and thumb as if he were removing dead and
sapless incumbrances in their growth, "that's just what it is--them's
ez in it themselves don't pay, and them ez haz left their goods--the
goods don't pay. The feller ez stored them iron sugar kettles in the
forehold, after trying to get me to make another advance on 'em, sez he
believes he'll have to sacrifice 'em to me after all, and only begs I'd
give him a chance of buying back the half of 'em ten years from now, at
double what I advanced him. The chap that left them five hundred cases
of hair dye 'tween decks and then skipped out to Sacramento, met me the
other day in the street and advised me to use a bottle ez an
advertisement, or try it on the starn of the Pontiac for fireproof
paint. That foolishness ez all he's good for. And yet thar might be
suthin' in the paint, if a feller had nigger luck. Ther's that New York
chap ez bought up them damaged boxes of plug terbakker for fifty
dollars a thousand, and sold 'em for foundations for that new building
in Sansome Street at a thousand clear profit. It's all luck, Rosey."

The girl's eyes had wandered again to the pages of her book. Perhaps
she was already familiar with the text of her father's monologue. But
recognizing an additional querulousness in his voice, she laid the book
aside and patiently folded her hands in her lap.

"That's right--for I've suthin' to tell ye. The fact is Sleight wants
to buy the Pontiac out and out just ez she stands with the two fifty
vara lots she stands on."

"Sleight wants to buy her? Sleight?" echoed Rosey incredulously.

"You bet! Sleight--the big financier, the smartest man in 'Frisco."

"What does he want to buy her for?" asked Rosey, knitting her pretty
brows.

The apparently simple question suddenly puzzled Mr. Nott. He glanced
feebly at his daughter's face, and frowned in vacant irritation.
"That's so," he said, drawing a long breath; "there's suthin' in that."

"What did he _say_?" continued the young girl, impatiently.

"Not much. 'You've got the Pontiac, Nott,' sez he. 'You bet!' sez I.
'What'll you take for her and the lot she stands on?' sez he, short and
sharp. Some fellers, Rosey," said Nott, with a cunning smile, "would
hev blurted out a big figger and been cotched. That ain't my style. I
just looked at him. 'I'll wait fur your figgers until next steamer
day,' sez he, and off he goes like a shot. He's awfully sharp, Rosey."

"But if he is sharp, father, and he really wants to buy the ship,"
returned Rosey, thoughtfully, "it's only because he knows it's valuable
property, and not because he likes it as we do. He can't take that
value away even if we don't sell it to him, and all the while we have
the comfort of the dear old Pontiac, don't you see?"

This exhaustive commercial' reasoning was so sympathetic to Mr. Nott's
instincts that he accepted it as conclusive. He, however, deemed it
wise to still preserve his practical attitude. "But that don't make it
pay by the month, Rosey. Suthin' must be done. I'm thinking I'll clean
out that photographer."

"Not just after he's taken such a pretty view of the cabin front of the
Pontiac from the street, father! No! He's going to give us a copy, and
put the other in a shop window in Montgomery Street."

"That's so," said Mr. Nott, musingly; "it's no slouch of an
advertisement. 'The Pontiac,' the property of A. Nott, Esq., of St. Jo,
Missouri. Send it on to your aunt Phoebe; sorter make the old folks
open their eyes--oh? Well, seem' he's been to some expense fittin' up
an entrance from the other street, we'll let him slide. But as to that
d----d old Frenchman Ferrers, in the next loft, with his stuck-up airs
and high-falutin style, we must get quit of him; he's regularly gouged
me in that ere horsehair spekilation."

"How can you say that, father!" said Rosey, with a slight increase of
color. "It was your own offer. You know those bales of curled horsehair
were left behind by the late tenant to pay his rent. When Mr. De
Ferrieres rented the room afterwards, you told him you'd throw them in
in the place of repairs and furniture. It was your own offer."

"Yes, but I didn't reckon ther'd ever be a big price per pound paid for
the darned stuff for sofys and cushions and sich."

"How do you know _he_ knew it, father?" responded Rosey.

"Then why did he look so silly at first, and then put on airs when I
joked him about it, eh?"

"Perhaps he didn't understand your joking, father. He's a foreigner,
and shy and proud, and--not like the others. I don't think he knew what
you meant then, any more than he believed he was making a bargain
before. He may be poor, but I think he's been--a--a--gentleman."

The young girl's animation penetrated even Mr. Nott's slow
comprehension. Her novel opposition, and even the prettiness it
enhanced, gave him a dull premonition of pain. His small round eyes
became abstracted, his mouth remained partly open, even his fresh color
slightly paled.

"You seem to have been takin' stock of this yer man, Rosey," he said,
with a faint attempt at archness; "if he warn't ez old ez a crow, for
all his young feathers, I'd think he was makin' up to you."

But the passing glow had faded from her young cheeks, and her eyes
wandered again to her book. "He pays his rent regularly every steamer
night," she said, quietly, as if dismissing an exhausted subject, "and
he'll be here in a moment, I dare say." She took up her book, and
leaning her head on her hand, once more became absorbed in its pages.

An uneasy silence followed. The rain beat against the windows, the
ticking of a clock became audible, but still Mr. Nott sat with vacant
eyes fixed on his daughter's face, and the constrained smile on his
lips. He was conscious that he had never seen her look so pretty
before, yet he could not tell why this was no longer an unalloyed
satisfaction. Not but that he had always accepted the admiration of
others for her as a matter of course, but for the first time he became
conscious that she not only had an interest in others, but apparently a
superior knowledge of them. How did she know these things about this
man, and why had she only now accidentally spoken of them? _He_ would
have done so. All this passed so vaguely through his unreflective mind,
that he was unable to retain any decided impression, but the
far-reaching one that his lodger had obtained some occult influence
over her through the exhibition of his baleful skill in the horsehair
speculation. "Them tricks is likely to take a young girl's fancy. I
must look arter her," he said to himself softly.

A slow regular step in the gangway interrupted his paternal
reflections. Hastily buttoning across his chest the pea-jacket which he
usually wore at home as a single concession to his nautical
surroundings, he drew himself up with something of the assumption of a
shipmaster, despite certain bucolic suggestions of his boots and legs.
The footsteps approached nearer, and a tall figure suddenly stood in
the doorway.

It was a figure so extraordinary that even in the strange masquerade of
that early civilization it was remarkable; a figure with whom father
and daughter were already familiar without abatement of wonder--the
figure of a rejuvenated old man, padded, powdered, dyed, and painted to
the verge of caricature, but without a single suggestion of
ludicrousness or humor. A face so artificial that it seemed almost a
mask, but, like a mask, more pathetic than amusing. He was dressed in
the extreme of fashion of a dozen years before; his pearl--gray
trousers strapped tightly over his varnished boots, his voluminous
satin cravat and high collar embraced his rouged cheeks and dyed
whiskers, his closely-buttoned frock coat clinging to a waist that
seemed accented by stays.

He advanced two steps into the cabin with an upright precision of
motion that might have hid the infirmities of age, and said
deliberately with a foreign accent:

"You-r-r ac-coumpt?"

In the actual presence of the apparition Mr. Nott's dignified
resistance wavered. But glancing uneasily at his daughter and seeing
her calm eyes fixed on the speaker without embarrassment, he folded his
arms stiffly, and with a lofty simulation of examining the ceiling,
said:

"Ahem! Rosa! The gentleman's account."

It was an infelicitous action. For the stranger, who evidently had not
noticed the presence of the young girl before, started, took a step
quickly forward, bent stiffly but profoundly over the little hand that
held the account, raised it to his lips, and with "a thousand pardons,
mademoiselle," laid a small canvas bag containing the rent before the
disorganized Mr. Nott and stiffly vanished.

The night was a troubled one to the simple-minded proprietor of the
good ship Pontiac. Unable to voice his uneasiness by further
discussion, but feeling that his late discomposing interview with his
lodger demanded some marked protest, he absented himself on the plea of
business during the rest of the evening, happily to his daughter's
utter obliviousness of the reason. Lights were burning brilliantly in
counting-rooms and offices, the feverish life of the mercantile city
was at its height. With a vague idea of entering into immediate
negotiations with Mr. Sleight for the sale of the ship--as a direct way
out of his present perplexity, he bent his steps towards the
financier's office, but paused and turned back before reaching the
door. He made his way to the wharf and gazed abstractedly at the lights
reflected in the dark, tremulous, jelly-like water. But wherever he
went he was accompanied by the absurd figure of his lodger--a figure he
had hitherto laughed at or half pitied, but which now, to his
bewildered comprehension, seemed to have a fateful significance. Here a
new idea seized him, and he hurried back to the ship, slackening his
pace only when he arrived at his own doorway. Here he paused a moment
and slowly ascended the staircase. When he reached the passage he
coughed slightly and paused again. Then he pushed open the door of the
darkened cabin and called softly:

"Rosey!"

"What is it, father?" said Rosey's voice from the little state-room on
the right--Rosey's own bower.

"Nothing!" said Mr. Nott, with an affectation of languid calmness; "I
only wanted to know if you was comfortable. It's an awful busy night in
town."

"Yes, father."

"I reckon thar's tons o' gold goin' to the States tomorrow."

"Yes, father."

"Pretty comfortable, eh?"

"Yes, father."

"Well, I'll browse round a spell, and turn in myself soon."

"Yes, father."

Mr. Nott took down a hanging lantern, lighted it, and passed out into
the gangway. Another lamp hung from the companion hatch to light the
tenants to the lower deck, whence he descended. This deck was divided
fore and aft by a partitioned passage,--the lofts or apartments being
lighted from the ports, and one or two by a door cut through the ship's
side communicating with an alley on either side. This was the case with
the loft occupied by Mr. Nott's strange lodger, which, besides a door
in the passage, had this independent communication with the alley. Nott
had never known him to make use of the latter door; on the contrary, it
was his regular habit to issue from his apartment at three o'clock
every afternoon, dressed as he has been described, stride deliberately
through the passage to the upper deck and thence into the street, where
his strange figure was a feature of the principal promenade for two or
three hours, returning as regularly at eight o'clock to the ship and
the seclusion of his loft. Mr. Nott paused before the door, under the
pretense of throwing the light before him into the shadows of the
forecastle: all was silent within. He was turning back when he was
impressed by the regular recurrence of a peculiar rustling sound which
he had at first referred to the rubbing of the wires of the swinging
lantern against his clothing. He set down the light and listened; the
sound was evidently on the other side of the partition; the sound of
some prolonged, rustling, scraping movement, with regular intervals.
Was it due to another of Mr. Nott's unprofitable tenants--the rats? No.
A bright idea flashed upon Mr. Nott's troubled mind. It was De
Ferrieres snoring! He smiled grimly. "Wonder if Rosey'd call him a
gentleman if she heard that," he chuckled to himself as he slowly made
his way back to the cabin and the small state-room opposite to his
daughter's. During the rest of the night he dreamed of being compelled
to give Rosey in marriage to his lodger, who added insult to the
outrage by snoring audibly through the marriage service.

Meantime, in her cradle-like nest in her nautical bower, Miss Rosey
slumbered as lightly. Waking from a vivid dream of Venice--a child's
Venice--seen from the swelling deck of the proudly-riding Pontiac, she
was so impressed as to rise and cross on tiptoe to the little slanting
port-hole. Morning was already dawning over the flat, straggling city,
but from every counting-house and magazine the votive tapers of the
feverish worshipers of trade and mammon were still flaring fiercely.

II.

The day following "steamer night" was usually stale and flat at San
Francisco. The reaction from the feverish exaltation of the previous
twenty-four hours was seen in the listless faces and lounging feet of
promenaders, and was notable in the deserted offices and warehouses
still redolent of last night's gas, and strewn with the dead ashes of
last night's fires. There was a brief pause before the busy life which
ran its course from "steamer day" to steamer day was once more taken
up. In that interval a few anxious speculators and investors breathed
freely, some critical situation was relieved, or some impending
catastrophe momentarily averted. In particular, a singular stroke of
good fortune that morning befell Mr. Nott. He not only secured a new
tenant, but, as he sagaciously believed, introduced into the Pontiac a
counteracting influence to the subtle fascinations of De Ferrieres.

The new tenant apparently possessed a combination of business
shrewdness and brusque frankness that strongly impressed his landlord.
"You see, Rosey," said Nott, complacently describing the interview to
his daughter, "when I sorter intimated in a keerless kind o' way that
sugar kettles and hair dye was about played out ez securities, he just
planked down the money for two months in advance. 'There,' sez he,
'that's _your_ security--now where's _mine_?' 'I reckon I don't hitch
on, pardner,' sez I; 'security what for?' ''Spose you sell the ship?'
sez he, 'afore the two months is up. I've heard that old Sleight wants
to buy her.' 'Then you gets back your money,' sez I. 'And lose my
room,' sez he; 'not much, old man. You sign a paper that whoever buys
the ship inside o' two months hez to buy _me_ ez a tenant with it;
that's on the square.' So I sign the paper. It was mighty cute in the
young feller, wasn't it?" he said, scanning his daughter's pretty
puzzled face a little anxiously; "and don't you see, ez I ain't goin'
to sell the Pontiac, it's just about ez cute in me, eh? He's a
contractor somewhere around yer, and wants to be near his work. So he
takes the room next to the Frenchman, that that ship-captain quit for
the mines, and succeeds naterally to his chest and things. He's mighty
peart-looking, that young feller, Rosey--long black mustaches, all his
own color, Rosey--and he's a regular high-stepper, you bet. I reckon
he's not only been a gentleman, but ez _now_. Some o' them contractors
are very high-toned!"

"I don't think we have any right to give him the captain's chest,
father," said Rosey; "there may be some private things in it. There
were some letters and photographs in the hair-dye man's trunk that you
gave the photographer."

"That's just it, Rosey," returned Abner Nott with sublime
unconsciousness, "photographs and love letters you can't sell for cash,
and I don't mind givin' 'em away, if they kin make a feller-creature
happy."

"But, father, have we the _right_ to give 'em away?"

"They're collateral security, Rosey." said her father grimly.
"Co-la-te-ral," he continued, emphasizing each syllable by tapping the
fist of one hand in the open palm of the other. "Co-la-te-ral is the
word the big business sharps yer about call 'em. You can't get round
that." He paused a moment, and then, as a new idea seemed to be
painfully borne in his round eyes, continued cautiously: "Was that the
reason why you wouldn't touch any of them dresses from the trunks of
that opery gal ez skedaddled for Sacramento? And yet them trunks I
regularly bought at auction--Rosey--at auction, on spec--and they
didn't realize the cost of drayage."

A slight color mounted to Rosey's face. "No," she said, hastily, "not
that." Hesitating a moment, she then drew softly to his side, and,
placing her arms around his neck, turned his broad, foolish face
towards her own. "Father," she began, "when mother died, would _you_
have liked anybody to take her trunks and paw round her things and wear
them?"

"When your mother died, just this side o' Sweetwater, Rosey," said Mr.
Nott, with beaming unconsciousness, "she had n't any trunks. I reckon
she had n't even an extra gown hanging up in the wagin, 'cept the
petticoat ez she had wrapped around yer. It was about ez much ez we
could do to skirmish round with Injins, alkali, and cold, and we sorter
forgot to dress for dinner. She never thought, Rosey, that you and me
would live to be inhabitin' a paliss of a real ship. Ef she had she
would have died a proud woman."

He turned his small, loving, boar-like eyes upon her as a
preternaturally innocent and trusting companion of Ulysses might have
regarded the transforming Circe. Rosey turned away with the faintest
sigh. The habitual look of abstraction returned to her eyes as if she
had once more taken refuge in her own ideal world. Unfortunately the
change did not escape either the sensitive observation or the fatuous
misconception of the sagacious parent. "Ye'll be mountin' a few
furbelows and fixins, Rosey, I reckon, ez only natural. Mebbee ye'll
have to prink up a little now that we've got a gentleman contractor in
the ship. I'll see what I kin pick up in Montgomery Street." And indeed
he succeeded a few hours later in accomplishing with equal infelicity
his generous design. When she returned from her household tasks she
found on her berth a purple velvet bonnet of extraordinary make, and a
pair of white satin slippers. "They'll do for a start-off, Rosey," he
explained, "and I got 'em at my figgers."

"But I go out so seldom, father; and a bonnet"--

"That's so," interrupted Mr. Nott, complacently, "it might be jest ez
well for a young gal like yer to appear ez if she _did_ go out, or
would go out if she wanted to. So you kin be wearin' that ar headstall
kinder like this evening when the contractor's here, ez if you'd jest
come in from _a pasear_."

Miss Rosey did not however immediately avail herself of her father's
purchase, but contented herself with the usual scarlet ribbon that like
a snood confined her brown hair, when she returned to her tasks. The
space between the galley and the bulwarks had been her favorite resort
in summer when not actually engaged in household work. It was now
lightly roofed over with boards and tarpaulin against the winter rain,
but still afforded her a veranda-like space before the galley door,
where she could read or sew, looking over the bow of the Pontiac to the
tossing bay or the farther range of the Contra Costa hills.

Hither Miss Rosey brought the purple prodigy, partly to please her
father, partly with a view of subjecting it to violent radical changes.
But after trying it on before the tiny mirror in the galley once or
twice, her thoughts wandered away, and she fell into one of her
habitual reveries seated on a little stool before the galley door.

She was aroused from it by the slight shaking and rattling of the doors
of a small hatch on the deck, not a dozen yards from where she sat. It
had been evidently fastened from below during the wet weather, but as
she gazed, the fastenings were removed, the doors were suddenly lifted,
and the head and shoulders of a young man emerged from the deck. Partly
from her father's description, and partly from the impossibility of its
being anybody else, she at once conceived it to be the new lodger. She
had time to note that he was young and good-looking, graver perhaps
than became his sudden pantomimic appearance, but before she could
observe him closely, he had turned, closed the hatch with a certain
familiar dexterity, and walked slowly towards the bows. Even in her
slight bewilderment she observed that his step upon the deck seemed
different to her father's or the photographer's, and that he laid his
hand on various objects with a half-caressing ease and habit. Presently
he paused and turned back, and glancing at the galley door for the
first time encountered her wondering eyes.

It seemed so evident that she had been a curious spectator of his
abrupt entrance on deck that he was at first disconcerted and confused.
But after a second glance at her he appeared to resume his composure,
and advanced a little defiantly towards the galley.

"I suppose I frightened you, popping up the fore hatch just now?"

"The what?" asked Rosey.

"The fore hatch," he repeated impatiently, indicating it with a
gesture.

"And that's the fore hatch?" she said abstractedly. "You seem to know
ships."

"Yes--a little," he said quietly. "I was below, and unfastened the
hatch to come up the quickest way and take a look round. I've just
hired a room here," he added explanatorily.

"I thought so," said Rosey simply; "you're the contractor?"

"The contractor!--oh, yes! You seem to know it all."

"Father's told me."

"Oh, he's your father--Nott? Certainly. I see now," he continued,
looking at her with a half repressed smile. "Certainly, Miss Nott, good
morning," he half added and walked towards the companion-way. Something
in the direction of his eyes as he turned away made Rosey lift her
hands to her head. She had forgotten to remove her father's baleful
gift.

She snatched it off and ran quickly to the companion-way.

"Sir!" she called.

The young man turned half-way down the steps and looked up. There was a
faint color in her cheeks, and her pretty brown hair was slightly
disheveled from the hasty removal of the bonnet.

"Father's very particular about strangers being on this deck," she said
a little sharply.

"Oh--ah--I'm sorry I intruded."

"I--I--thought I'd tell you," said Rosey, frightened by her boldness
into a feeble anti-climax.

"Thank you."

She came back slowly to the galley and picked up the unfortunate bonnet
with a slight sense of remorse. Why should she feel angry with her poor
father's unhappy offering? And what business had this strange young man
to use the ship so familiarly? Yet she was vaguely conscious that she
and her father, with all their love and their domestic experience of
it, lacked a certain instinctive ease in its possession that the half
indifferent stranger had shown on first treading its deck. She walked
to the hatchway and examined it with a new interest. Succeeding in
lifting the hatch, she gazed at the lower deck. As she already knew the
ladder had long since been removed to make room for one of the
partitions, the only way the stranger could have reached it was by
leaping to one of the rings. To make sure of this she let herself down
holding on to the rings, and dropped a couple of feet to the deck
below. She was in the narrow passage her father had penetrated the
previous night. Before her was the door leading to De Ferriferes' loft,
always locked. It was silent within; it was the hour when the old
Frenchman made his habitual promenade in the city. But the light from
the newly-opened hatch allowed her to see more of the mysterious
recesses of the forward bulkhead than she had known before, and she was
startled by observing another yawning hatchway at her feet from which
the closely-fitting door had been lifted, and which the new lodger had
evidently forgotten to close again. The young girl stooped down and
peered cautiously into the black abyss. Nothing was to be seen, nothing
heard but the distant gurgle and click of water in some remoter depth.
She replaced the hatch and returned by way of the passage to the cabin.

When her father came home that night she briefly recounted the
interview with the new lodger, and her discovery of his curiosity. She
did this with a possible increase of her usual shyness and abstraction,
and apparently more as a duty than a colloquial recreation. But it
pleased Mr. Nott also to give it more than his usual misconception.
"Looking round the ship, was he--eh, Rosey?" he said with infinite
archness. "In course, kinder sweepin' round the galley, and offerin' to
fetch you wood and water, eh?" Even when the young girl had picked up
her book with the usual faint smile of affectionate tolerance, and then
drifted away in its pages, Mr. Nott chuckled audibly. "I reckon old
Frenchy didn't come by when the young one was bedevlin' you there."

"What, father?" said Rosey, lifting her abstracted eyes to his face.

At the moment it seemed impossible that any human intelligence could
have suspected deceit or duplicity in Rosey's clear gaze. But Mr.
Nott's intelligence was superhuman. "I was sayin' that Mr. Ferrieres
didn't happen in while the young feller was there--eh?"

"No, father," answered Rosey, with an effort to follow him out of the
pages of her book. "Why?"

But Mr. Nott did not reply. Later in the evening he awkwardly waylaid
the new lodger before the cabin-door as that gentleman would have
passed on to his room.

"I'm afraid," said the young man, glancing at Rosey, "that I intruded
upon your daughter to-day. I was a little curious to see the old ship,
and I didn't know what part of it was private."

"There ain't no private part to this yer ship--that ez, 'cepting the
rooms and lofts," said Mr. Nott, authoritatively. Then, subjecting the
anxious look of his daughter to his usual faculty for misconception, he
added, "Thar ain't no place whar you haven't as much right to go ez any
other man; thar ain't any man, furriner or Amerykan, young or old, dyed
or undyed, ez hev got any better rights. You hear me, young fellow. Mr.
Renshaw--my darter. My darter--Mr. Renshaw. Rosey, give the gentleman a
chair. She's only jest come in from a promeynade, and hez jest taken
off her bonnet," he added, with an arch look at Rosey and a hurried
look around the cabin, as if he hoped to see the missing gift visible
to the general eye. "So take a seat a minit, won't ye?"

But Mr. Renshaw, after an observant glance at the young girl's
abstracted face, brusquely excused himself. "I've got a letter to
write," he said, with a half bow to Rosey. "Good night."

He crossed the passage to the room that had been assigned to him, and
closing the door gave way to some irritability of temper in his efforts
to light the lamp and adjust his writing materials. For his excuse to
Mr. Nott was more truthful than most polite pretexts. He had, indeed, a
letter to write, and one that, being yet young in duplicity, the near
presence of his host rendered difficult. For it ran as follows:--

DEAR SLEIGHT: As I found I couldn't get a chance to make any
examination of the ship except as occasion offered, I just went in to
rent lodgings in her from the God-forsaken old ass who owns her, and
here I am a tenant for two months. I contracted for that time in case
the old fool should sell out to some one else before. Except that she's
cut up a little between decks by the partitions for lofts that that
Pike County idiot has put into her, she looks but little changed, and
her _fore-hold_, as far as I can judge, is intact. It seems that Nott
bought her just as she stands, with her cargo half out, but he wasn't
here when she broke cargo. If anybody else had bought her but this
cursed Missourian, who hasn't got the hayseed out of his hair, I might
have found out something from him, and saved myself this kind of
fooling, which isn't in my line. If I could get possession of a loft on
the main deck, well forward, just over the fore-hold, I could satisfy
myself in a few hours, but the loft is rented by that crazy Frenchman
who parades Montgomery Street every afternoon, and though old Pike
County wants to turn him out, I'm afraid I can't get it for a week to
come.

If anything should happen to me, just you waltz down here and corral my
things at once, for this old frontier pirate has a way of confiscating
his lodgers' trunks.

Yours, DICK.


III.

If Mr. Renshaw indulged in any further curiosity regarding the interior
of the Pontiac, he did not make his active researches manifest to
Rosey. Nor, in spite of her father's invitation, did he again approach
the galley--a fact which gave her her first vague impression in his
favor. He seemed also to avoid the various advances which Mr. Nott
appeared impelled to make, whenever they met in the passage, but did so
without seemingly avoiding _her_, and marked his half contemptuous
indifference to the elder Nott by an increase of respect to the young
girl. She would have liked to ask him something about ships, and was
sure his conversation would have been more interesting than that of old
Captain Bower, to whose cabin he had succeeded, who had once told her a
ship was the "devil's hencoop." She would have liked also to explain to
him that she was not in the habit of wearing a purple bonnet. But her
thoughts were presently engrossed by an experience which interrupted
the even tenor of her young life.

She had been, as she afterwards remembered, impressed with a nervous
restlessness one afternoon, which made it impossible for her to perform
her ordinary household duties, or even to indulge her favorite
recreation of reading or castle-building. She wandered over the ship,
and, impelled by the same vague feeling of unrest, descended to the
lower deck and the forward bulkhead where she had discovered the open
hatch. It had not been again disturbed, nor was there any trace of
further exploration. A little ashamed, she knew not why, of revisiting
the scene of Mr. Renshaw's researches, she was turning back when she
noticed that the door which communicated with De Ferrieres' loft was
partly open. The circumstance was so unusual that she stopped before it
in surprise. There was no sound from within; it was the hour when its
queer occupant was always absent; he must have forgotten to lock the
door, or it had been unfastened by other hands. After a moment of
hesitation she pushed it further open and stepped into the room.

By the dim light of two port-holes she could see that the floor was
strewn and piled with the contents of a broken bale of curled
horse-hair, of which a few untouched bales still remained against the
wall. A heap of morocco skins, some already cut in the form of
chair-cushion covers, and a few cushions unfinished and unstuffed, lay
in the light of the ports, and gave the apartment the appearance of a
cheap workshop. A rude instrument for combining the horse-hair, awls,
buttons, and thread, heaped on a small bench, showed that active work
had been but recently interrupted. A cheap earthenware ewer and basin
on the floor, and a pallet made of an open bale of horse-hair, on which
a ragged quilt and blanket were flung, indicated that the solitary
worker dwelt and slept beside his work.

The truth flashed upon the young girl's active brain, quickened by
seclusion and fed by solitary books. She read with keen eyes the
miserable secret of her father's strange guest in the poverty-stricken
walls, in the mute evidences of menial handicraft performed in
loneliness and privation, in this piteous adaptation of an accident to
save the conscious shame of premeditated toil. She knew now why he had
stammeringly refused to receive her father's offer to buy back the
goods he had given him; she knew now how hardly gained was the pittance
that paid his rent and supported his childish vanity and grotesque
pride. From a peg in the corner hung the familiar masquerade that hid
his poverty--the pearl-gray trousers, the black frock-coat, the tall
shining hat--in hideous contrast to the penury of his surroundings. But
if _they_ were here, where was _he_, and in what new disguise had he
escaped from his poverty? A vague uneasiness caused her to hesitate and
return to the open door. She had nearly reached it when her eye fell on
the pallet which it partly illuminated. A singular resemblance in the
ragged heap made her draw closer. The faded quilt was a dressing-gown,
and clutching its folds lay a white, wasted hand.

The emigrant childhood of Rose Nott had been more than once shadowed by
scalping-knives, and she was acquainted with Death. She went fearlessly
to the couch, and found that the dressing-gown was only an enwrapping
of the emaciated and lifeless body of De Ferrieres. She did not retreat
or call for help, but examined him closely. He was unconscious, but not
pulseless; he had evidently been strong enough to open the door for air
or succor, but had afterwards fallen into a fit on the couch. She flew
to her father's locker and the galley fire, returned, and shut the door
behind her, and by the skillful use of hot water and whiskey soon had
the satisfaction of seeing a faint color take the place of the faded
rouge in the ghastly cheeks. She was still chafing his hands when he
slowly opened his eyes. With a start, he made a quick attempt to push
aside her hand and rise. But she gently restrained him.

"Eh--what!" he stammered, throwing his face back from hers with an
effort and trying to turn it to the wall.

"You have been ill," she said quietly. "Drink this."

With his face still turned away he lifted the cup to his chattering
teeth. When he had drained it he threw a trembling glance round the
room and at the door.

"There's no one been here but myself," she said quickly. "I happened to
see the door open as I passed. I didn't think it worth while to call
any one."

The searching look he gave her turned into an expression of relief,
which, to her infinite uneasiness, again feebly lightened into one of
antiquated gallantry. He drew the dressing-gown around him with an air.

"Ah! it is a goddess, Mademoiselle, that has deigned to enter the cell
where--where--I amuse myself. It is droll, is it not? I came here to
make--what you call--the experiment of your father's fabric. I make
myself--ha! ha!--like a workman. Ah, bah! the heat, the darkness, the
plebeian motion make my head to go round. I stagger, I faint, I cry
out, I fall. But what of that? The great God hears my cry and sends me
an angel. _Voila_!"

He attempted an easy gesture of gallantry, but overbalanced himself and
fell sideways on the pallet with a gasp. Yet there was so much genuine
feeling mixed with his grotesque affectation, so much piteous
consciousness of the ineffectiveness of his falsehood, that the young
girl, who had turned away, came back and laid her hand upon his arm.

"You must lie still and try to sleep," she said gently. "I will return
again. Perhaps," she added, "there is some one I can send for?"

He shook his head violently. Then in his old manner added, "After
Mademoiselle--no one."

"I mean"--she hesitated; "have you no friends?"

"Friends,--ah! without doubt." He shrugged his shoulders. "But
Mademoiselle will comprehend"--

"You are better now," said Rosey quickly, "and no one need know
anything if you don't wish it. Try to sleep. You need not lock the door
when I go; I will see that no one comes in."

He flushed faintly and averted his eyes. "It is too droll,
Mademoiselle, is it not?"

"Of course it is," said Rosey, glancing round the miserable room.

"And Mademoiselle is an angel."

He carried her hand to his lips humbly--his first purely unaffected
action. She slipped through the door, and softly closed it behind her.

Reaching the upper deck she was relieved to find her father had not
returned, and her absence had been unnoticed. For she had resolved to
keep De Ferrieres' secret to herself from the moment that she had
unwittingly discovered it, and to do this and still be able to watch
over him without her father's knowledge required some caution. She was
conscious of his strange aversion to the unfortunate man without
understanding the reason, but as she was in the habit of entertaining
his caprices more from affectionate tolerance of his weakness than
reverence of his judgment, she saw no disloyalty to him in withholding
a confidence that might be disloyal to another. "It won't do father any
good to know it," she said to herself, "and if it _did_ it oughtn't
to," she added with triumphant feminine logic. But the impression made
upon her by the spectacle she had just witnessed was stronger than any
other consideration. The revelation of De Ferriefres' secret poverty
seemed a chapter from a romance of her own weaving; for a moment it
lifted the miserable hero out of the depths of his folly and
selfishness. She forgot the weakness of the man in the strength of his
dramatic surroundings. It partly satisfied a craving she had felt; it
was not exactly the story of the ship, as she had dreamed it, but it
was an episode in her experience of it that broke its monotony. That
she should soon learn, perhaps from De Ferrieres' own lips, the true
reason of his strange seclusion, and that it involved more than
appeared to her now, she never for a moment doubted.

At the end of an hour she again knocked softly at the door, carrying
some light nourishment she had prepared for him. He was asleep, but she
was astounded to find that in the interval he had managed to dress
himself completely in his antiquated finery. It was a momentary shock
to the allusion she had been fostering, but she forgot it in the
pitiable contrast between his haggard face and his pomatumed hair and
beard, the jauntiness of his attire and the collapse of his invalid
figure. When she had satisfied herself that his sleep was natural, she
busied herself softly in arranging the miserable apartment. With a few
feminine touches she removed the slovenliness of misery, and placed the
loose material and ostentatious evidences of his work on one side.
Finding that he still slept, and knowing the importance of this natural
medication, she placed the refreshment she had brought by his side and
noiselessly quitted the apartment. Hurrying through the gathering
darkness between decks, she once or twice thought she heard footsteps,
and paused, but encountering no one, attributed the impression to her
over-consciousness. Yet she thought it prudent to go to the galley
first, where she lingered a few moments before returning to the cabin.
On entering she was a little startled at observing a figure seated at
her father's desk, but was relieved at finding it was Mr. Renshaw.

He rose and put aside the book he had idly picked up. "I am afraid I am
an intentional intruder this time, Miss Nott. But I found no one here,
and I was tempted to look into this ship-shape little snuggery. You see
the temptation got the better of me."

His voice and smile were so frank and pleasant, so free from his
previous restraint, yet still respectful, so youthful yet manly, that
Rosey was affected by them even in her preoccupation. Her eyes
brightened and then dropped before his admiring glance. Had she known
that the excitement of the last few hours had brought a wonderful charm
into her pretty face, had aroused the slumbering life of her
half-wakened beauty, she would have been more confused. As it was, she
was only glad that the young man should turn out to be "nice." Perhaps
he might tell her something about ships; perhaps if she had only known
him longer she might, with De Ferrieres' permission, have shared her
confidence with him, and enlisted his sympathy and assistance. She
contented herself with showing this anticipatory gratitude in her face
as she begged him, with the timidity of a maiden hostess, to resume his
seat.

But Mr. Renshaw seemed to talk only to make her talk, and I am forced
to admit that Rosey found this almost as pleasant. It was not long
before he was in possession of her simple history from the day of her
baby emigration to California to the transfer of her childish life to
the old ship, and even of much of the romantic fancies she had woven
into her existence there. Whatever ulterior purpose he had in view, he
listened as attentively as if her artless chronicle was filled with
practical information. Once, when she had paused for breath, he said
gravely, "I must ask you to show me over this wonderful ship some day
that I may see it with your eyes."

"But I think you know it already better than I do," said Rosey with a
smile.

Mr. Renshaw's brow clouded slightly. "Ah," he said, with a touch of his
former restraint; "and why?"

"Well," said Rosey timidly, "I thought you went round and touched
things in a familiar way as if you had handled them before."

The young man raised his eyes to Rosey's and kept them there long
enough to bring back his gentler expression. "Then, because I found you
trying on a very queer bonnet the first day I saw you," he said,
mischievously, "I ought to believe you were in the habit of wearing
one."

In the first flush of mutual admiration young people are apt to find a
laugh quite as significant as a sigh for an expression of sympathetic
communion, and this master-stroke of wit convulsed them both. In the
midst of it Mr. Nott entered the cabin. But the complacency with which
he viewed the evident perfect understanding of the pair was destined to
suffer some abatement. Rosey, suddenly conscious that she was in some
way participating in the ridicule of her father through his unhappy
gift, became embarrassed. Mr. Renshaw's restraint returned with the
presence of the old man. In vain, at first, Abner Nott strove with
profound levity to indicate his arch comprehension of the situation,
and in vain, later, becoming alarmed, he endeavored, with cheerful
gravity, to indicate his utter obliviousness of any but a business
significance in their _tete-a-tete_.

"I oughtn't to hev intruded, Rosey," he said, "when you and the
gentleman were talkin' of contracts, mebbee; but don't mind me. I'm on
the fly, anyhow, Rosey dear, hevin' to see a man round the corner."

But even the attitude of withdrawing did not prevent the exit of
Renshaw to his apartment and of Rosey to the galley. Left alone in the
cabin, Abner Nott felt in the knots and tangles of his beard for a
reason. Glancing down at his prodigious boots, which, covered with mud
and gravel, strongly emphasized his agricultural origin, and gave him a
general appearance of standing on his own broad acres, he was struck
with an idea. "It's them boots," he whispered to himself, softly; "they
somehow don't seem 'xactly to trump or follow suit in this yer cabin;
they don't hitch into anythin' but jist slosh round loose, and so to
speak play it alone. And them young critters nat'rally feels it and
gets out o' the way." Acting upon this instinct with his usual
precipitate caution, he at once proceeded to the nearest second-hand
shop, and, purchasing a pair of enormous carpet slippers, originally
the property of a gouty sea-captain, reappeared with a strong
suggestion of newly upholstering the cabin. The improvement, however,
was fraught with a portentous circumstance. Mr. Nott's footsteps, which
usually announced his approach all over the ship, became stealthy and
inaudible.

Meantime Miss Rosey had taken advantage of the absence of her father to
visit her patient. To avoid attracting attention she did not take a
light, but groped her way to the lower deck and rapped softly at the
door. It was instantly opened by De Ferrieres. He had apparently
appreciated the few changes she had already made in the room, and had
himself cleared away the pallet from which he had risen to make two low
seats against the wall. Two bits of candle placed on the floor
illuminated the beams above, the dressing-gown was artistically draped
over the solitary chair, and a pile of cushions formed another seat.
With elaborate courtesy he handed Miss Rosey to the chair. He looked
pale and weak, though the gravity of the attack had evidently passed.
Yet he persisted in remaining standing. "If I sit," he explained with a
gesture, "I shall again disgrace myself by sleeping in Mademoiselle's
presence. Yes! I shall sleep--I shall dream--and wake to find her
gone!"

More embarrassed by his recovery than when he was lying helplessly
before her, she said hesitatingly that she was glad he was better, and
that she hoped he liked the broth.

"It was manna from heaven, Mademoiselle. See, I have taken it
all--every precious drop. What else could I have done for
Mademoiselle's kindness?"

He showed her the empty bowl. A swift conviction came upon her that the
man had been suffering from want of food. The thought restored her
self-possession even while it brought the tears to her eyes. "I wish
you would let me speak to father--or some one," she said impulsively,
and stopped.

A quick and half insane gleam of terror and suspicion lit up his deep
eyes. "For what, Mademoiselle! For an accident--that is
nothing--absolutely nothing, for I am strong and well now--see!" he
said tremblingly. "Or for a whim--for a folly you may say, that they
will misunderstand. No, Mademoiselle is good, is wise. She will say to
herself, 'I understand, my friend Monsieur de Ferrieres for the moment
has a secret. He would seem poor, he would take the role of artisan, he
would shut himself up in these walls--perhaps I may guess why, but it
is his secret. I think of it no more.'" He caught her hand in his with
a gesture that he would have made one of gallantry, but that in its
tremulous intensity became a piteous supplication.

"I have said nothing, and will say nothing, if you wish it," said Rosey
hastily; "but others may find out how you live here. This is not fit
work for you. You seem to be a--a gentleman. You ought to be a lawyer,
or a doctor, or in a bank," she continued timidly, with a vague
enumeration of the prevailing degrees of local gentility.

He dropped her hand. "Ah! does not Mademoiselle comprehend that it is
_because_ I am a gentleman that there is nothing between it and this?
Look!" he continued almost fiercely. "What if I told you it is the
lawyer, it is the doctor, it is the banker that brings me, a gentleman,
to this, eh? Ah, bah! What do I say? This is honest, what I do! But the
lawyer, the banker, the doctor, what are they?" He shrugged his
shoulders, and pacing the apartment with a furtive glance at the half
anxious, half frightened girl, suddenly stopped, dragged a small
portmanteau from behind the heap of bales and opened it. "Look,
Mademoiselle," he said, tremulously lifting a handful of worn and
soiled letters and papers. "Look--these are the tools of your banker,
your lawyer, your doctor. With this the banker will make you poor, the
lawyer will prove you a thief, the doctor will swear you are crazy, eh?
What shall you call the work of a gentleman--this"--he dragged the pile
of cushions forward--"or this?"

To the young girl's observant eyes some of the papers appeared to be of
a legal or official character, and others like bills of lading, with
which she was familiar. Their half theatrical exhibition reminded her
of some play she had seen; they might be the clue to some story, or the
mere worthless hoardings of some diseased fancy. Whatever they were, De
Ferrieres did not apparently care to explain further; indeed, the next
moment his manner changed to his old absurd extravagance. "But this is
stupid for Mademoiselle to hear. What shall we speak of? Ah! what
_should_ we speak of in Mademoiselle's presence?"

"But are not these papers valuable?" asked Rosey, partly to draw her
host's thoughts back to their former channel.

"Perhaps." He paused and regarded the young girl fixedly. "Does
Mademoiselle think so?"

"I don't know," said Rosey. "How should I?"

"Ah! if Mademoiselle thought so--if Mademoiselle would deign"--He
stopped again and placed his hand upon his forehead. "It might be so!"
he muttered.

"I must go now," said Rosey hurriedly, rising with an awkward sense of
constraint. "Father will wonder where I am."

"I shall explain. I will accompany you, Mademoiselle."

"No, no," said Rosey, quickly; "he must not know I have been here!" She
stopped. The honest blush flew to her cheek, and then returned again,
because she had blushed.

De Ferrieres gazed at her with an exalted look. Then drawing himself to
his full height, he said, with an exaggerated and indescribable
gesture, "Go, my child, go. Tell your father that you have been alone
and unprotected in the abode of poverty and suffering, but--that it was
in the presence of Armand de Ferrieres."

He threw open the door with a bow that nearly swept the ground, but did
not again offer to take her hand. At once impressed and embarrassed at
this crowning incongruity, her pretty lips trembled between a smile and
a cry as she said, "Good-night," and slipped away into the darkness.

Erect and grotesque De Ferrieres retained the same attitude until the
sound of her footsteps was lost, when he slowly began to close the
door. But a strong arm arrested it from without, and a large carpeted
foot appeared at the bottom of the narrowing opening. The door yielded,
and Mr. Abner Nott entered the room.


IV.

With an exclamation and a hurried glance around him, De Ferrieres threw
himself before the intruder. But slowly lifting his large hand, and
placing it on his lodger's breast, he quietly overbore the sick man's
feeble resistance with an impact of power that seemed almost as moral
as it was physical. He did not appear to take any notice of the room or
its miserable surroundings; indeed, scarcely of the occupant. Still
pushing him, with abstracted eyes and immobile face, to the chair that
Rosey had just quitted, he made him sit down, and then took up his own
position on the pile of cushions opposite. His usually underdone
complexion was of watery blueness; but his dull, abstracted glance
appeared to exercise a certain dumb, narcotic fascination on his
lodger.

"I mout," said Nott, slowly, "hev laid ye out here on sight, without
enny warnin', or dropped ye in yer tracks in Montgomery Street,
wherever there was room to work a six-shooter in comf'ably? Johnson, of
Petaluny--him, ye know, ez hed a game eye--fetched Flynn comin' outer
meetin' one Sunday, and it was only on account of his wife, and she a
second-hand one, so to speak. There was Walker, of Contra Costa,
plugged that young Sacramento chap, whose name I disremember, full o'
holes jest ez he was sayin' 'Good-by' to his darter. I mout hev done
all this if it had settled things to please me. For while you and Flynn
and that Sacramento chap ez all about the same sort o' men, Rosey's a
different kind from their sort o' women."

"Mademoiselle is an angel!" said De Ferrieres, suddenly rising, with an
excess of extravagance. "A saint! Look! I cram the lie, ha! down his
throat who challenges it."

"Ef by mam'selle ye mean my Rosey," said Nott, quietly laying his
powerful hands on De Ferrieres' shoulders, and slowly pinning him down
again upon his chair, "ye're about right, though she ain't mam'selle
yet. Ez I was sayin', I might hev killed you off-hand ef I hed thought
it would hev been a good thing for Rosey."

"For, her? Ah, well! Look, I am ready," interrupted De Ferrieres, again
springing to his feet, and throwing open his coat with both hands.
"See! here at my heart--fire!"

"Ez I was sayin'," continued Nott, once more pressing the excited man
down in his chair, "I might hev wiped ye out--and mebbee ye wouldn't
hev keered--or _you_ might hev wiped _me_ out, and I mout hev said.
'Thank'ee,' but I reckon this ain't a case for what's comfable for you
and me. It's what's good for _Rosey_. And the thing to kalkilate is,
what's to be done."

His small round eyes for the first time rested on De Ferrieres' face,
and were quickly withdrawn. It was evident that this abstracted look,
which had fascinated his lodger, was merely a resolute avoidance of De
Ferrieres' glance, and it became apparent later that this avoidance was
due to a ludicrous appreciation of De Ferrieres' attractions.

"And after we've done _that_ we must kalkilate what Rosey _is_, and
what Rosey wants. P'r'aps, ye allow, _you_ know what Rosey is? P'r'aps
you've seen her prance round in velvet bonnets and white satin
slippers, and sich. P'r'aps you've seen her readin' tracks and v'yages,
without waitin' to spell a word, or catch her breath. But that ain't
the Rosey ez _I_ knows. It's a little child ez uster crawl in and out
the tail-board of a Mizzouri wagon on the alcali-pizoned plains, where
there wasn't another bit of God's mercy on yearth to be seen for miles
and miles. It's a little gal as uster hunger and thirst ez quiet and
mannerly ez she now eats and drinks in plenty; whose voice was ez
steady with Injins yellin' round yer nest in the leaves on Sweetwater
ez in her purty cabin up yonder. _That's_ the gal ez I knows! That's
the Rosey ez my ole woman puts into my arms one night arter we left
Laramie when the fever was high, and sez, 'Abner,' sez she, 'the
chariot is swingin' low for me to-night, but thar ain't room in it for
her or you to git in or hitch on. Take her and rare her, so we kin all
jine on the other shore,' sez she. And I'd knowed the other shore
wasn't no Kaliforny. And that night, p'r'aps, the chariot swung lower
than ever before, and my ole woman stepped into it, and left me and
Rosey to creep on in the old wagon alone. It's them kind o' things,"
added Mr. Nott thoughtfully, "that seem to pint to my killin' you on
sight ez the best thing to be done. And yet Rosey mightn't like it."

He had slipped one of his feet out of his huge carpet slippers, and, as
he reached down to put it on again, he added calmly: "And ez to yer
marrying _her_ it ain't to be done."

The utterly bewildered expression which transfigured De Ferrieres' face
at this announcement was unobserved by Nott's averted eyes, nor did he
perceive that his listener the next moment straightened his erect
figure and adjusted his cravat.

"Ef Rosey," he continued, "hez read in v'yages and tracks in Eyetalian
and French countries of such chaps ez you and kalkilates you're the
right kind to tie to, mebbee it mout hev done if you'd been livin' over
thar in a pallis, but somehow it don't jibe in over here and agree with
a ship--and that ship lying comf'able ashore in San Francisco. You
don't seem to suit the climate, you see, and your general gait is
likely to stampede the other cattle. Agin," said Nott, with an
ostentation of looking at his companion but really gazing on vacancy,
"this fixed-up, antique style of yours goes better with them
ivy-kivered ruins in Rome and Palmyry that Rosey's mixed you up with,
than it would yere. I ain't sayin'," he added as De Ferrieres was about
to speak, "I ain't sayin' ez that child ain't smitten with ye. It ain't
no use to lie and say she don't prefer you to her old father, or young
chaps of her own age and kind. I've seed it afor now. I suspicioned it
afor I seed her slip out o' this place to-night. Thar! keep your hair
on, such ez it is!" he added, as De Ferrieres attempted a quick
deprecatory gesture. "I ain't askin' yer how often she comes here, nor
what she sez to you nor you to her. I ain't asked her and I don't ask
you. I'll allow ez you've settled all the preliminaries and bought her
the ring and sich; I'm only askin' you now, kalkilatin' you've got all
the keerds in your own hand, what you'll take to step out and leave the
board?"

The dazed look of De Ferrieres might have forced itself even upon
Nott's one-idead fatuity, had it not been a part of that gentleman's
system delicately to look another way at that moment so as not to
embarrass his adversary's calculation. "Pardon," stammered De
Ferrieres, "but I do not comprehend!" He raised his hand to his head.
"I am not well--I am stupid. Ah, mon Dieu!"

"I ain't sayin'," added Nott more gently, "ez you don't feel bad. It's
nat'ral. But it ain't business. I'm asking you," he continued, taking
from his breast-pocket a large wallet, "how much you'll take in cash
now, and the rest next steamer day, to give up Rosey and leave the
ship."

De Ferrieres staggered to his feet despite Nott's restraining hand. "To
leave Mademoiselle and leave the ship?" he said huskily, "is it not?"

"In course. Yer can leave things yer just ez you found 'em when you
came, you know," continued Nott, for the first time looking round the
miserable apartment. "It's a business job. I'll take the bales back
agin, and you kin reckon up what you're out, countin' Rosey and loss o'
time."

"He wishes me to go--he has said," repeated De Ferrieres to himself
thickly.

"Ef you mean _me_ when you say _him_, and ez thar ain't any other man
around, I reckon you do--'yes!'"

"And he asks me--he--this man of the feet and the daughter--asks me--De
Ferrieres--what I will take," continued De Ferrieres, buttoning his
coat. "No! it is a dream!" He walked stiffly to the corner where his
portmanteau lay, lifted it, and going to the outer door, a cut through
the ship's side that communicated with the alley, unlocked it and flung
it open to the night. A thick mist like the breath of the ocean flowed
into the room.

"You ask me what I shall take to go," he said as he stood on the
threshold. "I shall take what _you_ cannot give, Monsieur, but what I
would not keep if I stood here another moment. I take my Honor,
Monsieur, and--I take my leave!"

For a moment his grotesque figure was outlined in the opening, and then
disappeared as if he had dropped into an invisible ocean below.
Stupefied and disconcerted a this complete success of his overtures,
Abner Nott remained speechless, gazing at the vacant space until a cold
influx of the mist recalled him. Then he rose and shuffled quickly to
the door.

"Hi! Ferrers! Look yer--Say! Wot's your hurry, pardner?"

But there was no response. The thick mist, which hid the surrounding
objects, seemed to deaden all sound also. After a moment's pause he
closed the door, but did not lock it, and retreating to the center of
the room remained blinking at the two candles and plucking some
perplexing problem from his beard. Suddenly an idea seized him. Rosey!
Where was she? Perhaps it had been a preconcerted plan, and she had
fled with him. Putting out the lights he stumbled hurriedly through the
passage to the gangway above. The cabin--door was open; there was the
sound of voices--Renshaw's and Rosey's. Mr. Nott felt relieved but not
unembarrassed. He would have avoided his daughter's presence that
evening. But even while making this resolution with characteristic
infelicity he blundered into the room. Rosey looked up with a slight
start; Renshaw's animated face was changed to its former expression of
inward discontent.

"You came in so like a ghost, father," said Rosey with a slight
peevishness that was new to her. "And I thought you were in town. Don't
go, Mr. Renshaw."

But Mr. Renshaw intimated that he had already trespassed upon Miss
Nott's time, and that no doubt her father wanted to talk with her. To
his surprise and annoyance, however, Mr. Nott insisted on accompanying
him to his room, and without heeding Renshaw's cold "Goodnight,"
entered and closed the door behind him.

"P'raps," said Mr. Nott with a troubled air, "you disremember that when
you first kem here you asked me if you could hev that 'er loft that the
Frenchman had downstairs."

"No, I don't remember it," said Renshaw almost rudely. "But," he added,
after a pause, with the air of a man obliged to revive a stale and
unpleasant memory, "if I did--what about it?"

"Nuthin', only that you kin hev it to-morrow, ez that 'ere Frenchman is
movin' out," responded Nott. "I thought you was sorter keen about it
when you first kem."

"Umph! we'll talk about it to-morrow." Something in the look of wearied
perplexity with which Mr. Nott was beginning to regard his own _mal a
propos_ presence, arrested the young man's attention. "What's the
reason you didn't sell this old ship long ago, take a decent house in
the town, and bring up your daughter like a lady?" he asked, with a
sudden blunt good-humor. But even this implied blasphemy against the
habitation he worshiped did not prevent Mr. Nott from his usual
misconstruction of the question.

"I reckon, now, Rosey's got high-flown ideas of livin' in a castle with
ruins, eh?" he said cunningly.

"Haven't heard her say," returned Renshaw abruptly. "Good-night."

Firmly convinced that Rosey had been unable to conceal from Mr. Renshaw
the influence of her dreams of a castellated future with De Ferrieres,
he regained the cabin. Satisfying himself that his daughter had
retired, he sought his own couch. But not to sleep. The figure of De
Ferrieres, standing in the ship side and melting into the outer
darkness, haunted him, and compelled him in dreams to rise and follow
him through the alleys and byways of the crowded city. Again, it was a
part of his morbid suspicion that he now invested the absent man with a
potential significance and an unknown power.

What deep-laid plans might he not form to possess himself of Rosey, of
which he, Abner Nott, would be ignorant? Unchecked by the restraint of
a father's roof, he would now give full license to his power. "Said
he'd take his Honor with him," muttered Abner to himself in the dim
watches of the night; "lookin' at that sayin' in its right light, it
looks bad."


V.

The elaborately untruthful account which Mr. Nott gave his daughter of
De Ferrieres' sudden departure was more fortunate than his usual
equivocations. While it disappointed and slightly mortified her, it did
not seem to her inconsistent with what she already knew of him. "Said
his doctor had ordered him to quit town under an hour, owing to a
comin' attack of hay fever, and he had a friend from furrin parts
waitin' him at the Springs, Rosey," explained Nott, hesitating between
his desire to avoid his daughter's eyes and his wish to observe her
countenance.

"Was he worse?--I mean did he look badly, father?" inquired Rosey,
thoughtfully.

"I reckon not exactly bad. Kinder looked as if he mout be worse soon ef
he didn't hump hisself."

"Did you see him?--in his room?" asked Rosey anxiously. Upon the answer
to this simple question depended the future confidential relations of
father and daughter. If her father had himself detected the means by
which his lodger existed, she felt that her own obligations to secrecy
had been removed. But Mr. Nott's answer disposed of this vain hope. It
was a response after his usual fashion to the question he _imagined_
she artfully wished to ask, _i.e._ if he had discovered their
rendezvous of the previous night. This it was part of his peculiar
delicacy to ignore. Yet his reply showed that he had been unconscious
of the one miserable secret that he might have read easily.

"I was there an hour or so--him and me alone--discussin' trade. I
reckon he's got a good thing outer that curled horse-hair, for I see
he's got in an invoice o' cushions. I've stowed 'em all in the forrard
bulkhead until he sends for 'em, ez Mr. Renshaw hez taken the loft."

But although Mr. Renshaw had taken the loft, he did not seem in haste
to occupy it. He spent part of the morning in uneasily pacing his room,
in occasional sallies into the street from which he purposelessly
returned, and once or twice in distant and furtive contemplation of
Rosey at work in the galley. This last observation was not unnoticed by
the astute Nott, who at once conceiving that he was nourishing a secret
and hopeless passion for Rosey, began to consider whether it was not
his duty to warn the young man of her preoccupied affections. But Mr.
Renshaw's final disappearance obliged him to withhold his confidence
till morning.

This time Mr. Renshaw left the ship with the evident determination of
some settled purpose. He walked rapidly until he reached the
counting-house of Mr. Sleight, when he was at once shown into a private
office. In a few moments Mr. Sleight, a brusque but passionless man,
joined him.

"Well," said Sleight, closing the door carefully. "What news?"

"None," said Renshaw bluntly. "Look here, Sleight," he added, turning
to him suddenly. "Let me out of this game. I don't like it."

"Does that mean you've found nothing?" asked Sleight, sarcastically.

"It means that I haven't looked for anything, and that I don't intend
to without the full knowledge of that d--d fool who owns the ship."

"You've changed your mind since you wrote that letter," said Sleight
coolly, producing from a drawer the note already known to the reader.
Renshaw mechanically extended his hand to take it. Mr. Sleight dropped
the letter back into the drawer, which he quietly locked. The
apparently simple act dyed Mr. Renshaw's cheek with color, but it
vanished quickly, and with it any token of his previous embarrassment.
He looked at Sleight with the convinced air of a resolute man who had
at last taken a disagreeable step but was willing to stand by the
consequences.

"I _have_ changed my mind," he said coolly. "I found out that it was
one thing to go down there as a skilled prospector might go to examine
a mine that was to be valued according to his report of the
indications, but that it was entirely another thing to go and play the
spy in a poor devil's house in order to buy something he didn't know he
was selling and wouldn't sell if he did."

"And something that the man _he_ bought of didn't think of selling;
something _he_ himself never paid for, and never expected to buy,"
sneered Sleight.

"But something that _we_ expect to buy from our knowledge of all this,
and it is that which makes all the difference."

"But you knew all this before."

"I never saw it in this light before. I never thought of it until I was
living there face to face with the old fool I was intending to
overreach. I never was _sure_ of it until this morning, when he
actually turned out one of his lodgers that I might have the very room
I required to play off our little game in comfortably. When he did
that, I made up my mind to drop the whole thing, and I'm here to do
it."

"And let somebody else take the responsibility--with the
percentage--unless you've also felt it your duty to warn Nott too,"
said Sleight with a sneer.

"You only dare say that to me, Sleight," said Renshaw quietly, "because
you have in that drawer an equal evidence of my folly and my
confidence; but if you are wise you will not presume too far on either.
Let us see how we stand. Through the yarn of a drunken captain and a
mutinous sailor you became aware of an unclaimed shipment of treasure,
concealed in an unknown ship that entered this harbor. You are enabled,
through me, to corroborate some facts and identify the ship. You
proposed to me, as a speculation, to identify the treasure if possible
before you purchased the ship. I accepted the offer without
consideration; on consideration I now decline it, but without prejudice
or loss to any one but myself. As to your insinuation I need not remind
you that my presence here to-day refutes it. I would not require your
permission to make a much better bargain with a good-natured fool like
Nott than I could with you. Or if I did not care for the business I
could have warned the girl"--

"The girl--what girl?"

Renshaw bit his lip, but answered boldly: "The old man's daughter--a
poor girl--whom this act would rob as well as her father."

Sleight looked at his companion attentively. "You might have said so at
first, and let up on this camp-meetin' exhortation. Well
then--admitting you've got the old man and the young girl on the same
string, and that you've played it pretty low down in the short time
you've been there--I suppose, Dick Renshaw, I've got to see your bluff.
Well, how much is it? What's the figure you and she have settled on?"

For an instant Mr. Sleight was in physical danger.

But before he had finished speaking Renshaw's quick sense of the
ludicrous had so far overcome his first indignation as to enable him
even to admire the perfect moral insensibility of his companion. As he
rose and walked towards the door, he half wondered that he had ever
treated the affair seriously. With a smile he replied:

"Far from bluffing, Sleight, I am throwing my cards on the table.
Consider that I've passed out. Let some other man take my hand. Rake
down the pot if you like, old man, _I_ leave for Sacramento to-night.
_Adios_."

When the door had closed behind him Mr. Sleight summoned his clerk.

"Is that petition for grading Pontiac Street ready?"

"I've seen the largest property holders, sir; they're only waiting for
you to sign first," Mr. Sleight paused and then affixed his signature
to the paper his clerk laid before him. "Get the other names and send
it up at once."

"If Mr. Nott doesn't sign, sir?"

"No matter. He will be assessed all the same." Mr. Sleight took up his
hat.

"The Lascar seaman that was here the other day has been wanting to see
you, sir. I said you were busy."

Mr. Sleight put down his hat. "Send him up."

Nevertheless Mr. Sleight sat down and at once abstracted himself so
completely as to be apparently in utter oblivion of the man who
entered. He was lithe and Indian-looking; bearing in dress and manner
the careless slouch without the easy frankness of a sailor.

"Well!" said Sleight without looking up.

"I was only wantin' to know ef you had any news for me, boss?"

"News?" echoed Sleight as if absently; "news of what?"

"That little matter of the Pontiac we talked about, boss," returned the
Lascar with an uneasy servility in the whites of his teeth and eyes.

"Oh," said Sleight, "that's played out. It's a regular fraud. It's an
old forecastle yarn, my man, that you can't reel off in the cabin."

The sailor's face darkened.

"The man who was looking into it has thrown the whole thing up. I tell
you it's played out!" repeated Sleight, without raising his head.

"It's true, boss--every word," said the Lascar, with an appealing
insinuation that seemed to struggle hard with savage earnestness. "You
can swear me, boss; I wouldn't lie to a gentleman like you. Your man
hasn't half looked, or else--it must be there, or"--

"That's just it," said Sleight slowly; "who's to know that your friends
haven't been there already--that seems to have been your style."

"But no one knew it but me, until I told you, I swear to God. I ain't
lying, boss, and I ain't drunk. Say--don't give it up, boss. That man
of yours likely don't believe it, because he don't know anything about
it. I _do--I_ could find it."

A silence followed. Mr. Sleight remained completely absorbed in his
papers for some moments. Then glancing at the Lascar, he took his pen,
wrote a hurried note, folded it, addressed it, and, holding it between
his fingers, leaned back in his chair.

"If you choose to take this note to my man, he may give it another
show. Mind, I don't say that he _will_. He's going to Sacramento
to-night, but you could go down there and find him before he starts.
He's got a room there, I believe. While you're waiting for him you
might keep your eyes open to satisfy yourself."

"Ay, ay, sir," said the sailor, eagerly endeavoring to catch the eye of
his employer. But Mr. Sleight looked straight before him, and he turned
to go.

"The Sacramento boat goes at nine," said Mr. Sleight quietly.

This time their glances met, and the Lascar's eye glistened with subtle
intelligence. The next moment he was gone, and Mr. Sleight again became
absorbed in his papers.

Meanwhile Renshaw was making his way back to the Pontiac with that
light-hearted optimism that had characterized his parting with Sleight.
It was this quality of his nature, fostered perhaps by the easy
civilization in which he moved, that had originally drawn him into
relations with the man he just quitted; a quality that had been
troubled and darkened by those relations, yet, when they were broken,
at once returned. It consequently did not occur to him that he had only
selfishly compromised with the difficulty; it seemed to him enough that
he had withdrawn from a compact he thought dishonorable; he was not
called upon to betray his partner in that compact merely to benefit
others. He had been willing to incur suspicion and loss to reinstate
himself in his self-respect, more he could not do without justifying
that suspicion. The view taken by Sleight was, after all, that which
most business men would take--which even the unbusinesslike Nott would
take--which the girl herself might be tempted to listen to. Clearly he
could do nothing but abandon the Pontiac and her owner to the fate he
could not in honor avert. And even that fate was problematical. It did
not follow that the treasure was still concealed in the Pontiac, nor
that Nott would be willing to sell her. He would make some excuse to
Nott--he smiled to think he would probably be classed in the long line
of absconding tenants--he would say good-by to Rosey, and leave for
Sacramento that night. He ascended the stairs to the gangway with a
freer breast than when he first entered the ship.

Mr. Nott was evidently absent, and after a quick glance at the
half-open cabin-door, Renshaw turned towards the galley. But Miss Rosey
was not in her accustomed haunt, and with a feeling of disappointment,
which seemed inconsistent with so slight a cause, he crossed the deck
impatiently and entered his room. He was about to close the door when
the prolonged rustle of a trailing skirt in the passage attracted his
attention. The sound was so unlike that made by any garment worn by
Rosey that he remained motionless, with his hand on the door. The sound
approached nearer, and the next moment a white veiled figure with a
trailing skirt slowly swept past the room. Renshaw's pulses halted for
an instant in half superstitious awe. As the apparition glided on and
vanished in the cabin-door he could only see that it was the form of a
beautiful and graceful woman--but nothing more. Bewildered and curious,
he forgot himself so far as to follow it, and impulsively entered the
cabin. The figure turned, uttered a little cry, threw the veil aside,
and showed the half troubled, half blushing face of Rosey.

"I--beg--your pardon," stammered Renshaw; "I didn't know it was you."

"I was trying on some things," said Rosey, recovering her composure and
pointing to an open trunk that seemed to contain a theatrical
wardrobe--"some things father gave me long ago. I wanted to see if
there was anything I could use. I thought I was all alone in the ship,
but fancying I heard a noise forward I came out to see what it was. I
suppose it must have been you."

She raised her clear eyes to his, with a slight touch of womanly
reserve that was so incompatible with any vulgar vanity or girlish
coquetry that he became the more embarrassed. Her dress, too, of a
slightly antique shape, rich but simple, seemed to reveal and accent a
certain repose of gentlewomanliness, that he was now wishing to believe
he had always noticed. Conscious of a superiority in her that now
seemed to change their relations completely, he alone remained silent,
awkward, and embarrassed before the girl who had taken care of his
room, and who cooked in the galley! What he had thoughtlessly
considered a merely vulgar business intrigue against her stupid father,
now to his extravagant fancy assumed the proportions of a sacrilege to
herself.

"You've had your revenge, Miss Nott, for the fright I once gave you,"
he said a little uneasily, "for you quite startled me just now as you
passed. I began to think the Pontiac was haunted. I thought you were a
ghost. I don't know why such a ghost should _frighten_ anybody," he
went on with a desperate attempt to recover his position by gallantry.
"Let me see--that's Donna Elvira's dress--is it not?"

"I don't think that was the poor woman's name," said Rosey simply; "she
died of yellow fever at New Orleans as Signora Somebody."

Her ignorance seemed to Mr. Renshaw so plainly to partake more of the
nun than the provincial, that he hesitated to explain to her that he
meant the heroine of an opera.

"It seems dreadful to put on the poor thing's clothes, doesn't it?" she
added.

Mr. Renshaw's eyes showed so plainly that he thought otherwise, that
she drew a little austerely towards the door of her state-room.

"I must change these things before any one comes," she said dryly.

"That means I must go, I suppose. But couldn't you let me wait here or
in the gangway until then, Miss Nott? I am going away to-night, and I
mayn't see you again." He had not intended to say this, but it slipped
from his embarrassed tongue. She stopped with her hand on the door.

"You are going away?"

"I--think--I must leave to-night. I have some important business in
Sacramento."

She raised her frank eyes to his. The unmistakable look of
disappointment that he saw in them gave his heart a sudden throb and
sent the quick blood to his cheeks.

"It's too bad," she said, abstractedly. "Nobody ever seems to stay here
long. Captain Bower promised to tell me all about the ship, and he went
away the second week. The photographer left before he finished the
picture of the Pontiac; Monsieur de Ferrieres has only just gone; and
now _you_ are going."

"Perhaps, unlike them, I have finished my season of usefulness here,"
he replied, with a bitterness he would have recalled the next moment.
But Rosey, with a faint sigh, saying, "I won't be long," entered the
state-room and closed the door behind her.

Renshaw bit his lip and pulled at the long silken threads of his
mustache until they smarted. Why had he not gone at once? Why was it
necessary to say he might not see her again--and if he had said it, why
should he add anything more? What was he waiting for now? To endeavor
to prove to her that he really bore no resemblance to Captain Bower,
the photographer, the crazy Frenchman De Ferrieres? Or would he be
forced to tell her that he was running away from a conspiracy to
defraud her father--merely for something to say? Was there ever such
folly? Rosey was "not long," as she had said, but he was beginning to
pace the narrow cabin impatiently when the door opened and she
returned.

She had resumed her ordinary calico gown, but such was the impression
left upon Renshaw's fancy that she seemed to wear it with a new grace.
At any other time he might have recognized the change as due to a new
corset, which strict veracity compels me to record Rosey had adopted
for the first time that morning. Howbeit, her slight coquetry seemed to
have passed, for she closed the open trunk with a return of her old
listless air, and sitting on it rested her elbows on her knees and her
oval chin in her hands.

"I wish you would do me a favor," she said after a reflective pause.

"Let me know what it is and it shall be done," replied Renshaw quickly.

"If you should come across Monsieur de Ferrieres, or hear of him, I
wish you would let me know. He was very poorly when he left here, and I
should like to know if he was better. He didn't say where he was going.
At least, he didn't tell father; but I fancy he and father don't
agree."

"I shall be very glad of having even _that_ opportunity of making you
remember me, Miss Nott," returned Renshaw with a faint smile. "I don't
suppose either that it would be very difficult to get news of your
friend--everybody seems to know him."

"But not as I did," said Rosey, with an abstracted little sigh.

Mr. Renshaw opened his brown eyes upon her. Was he mistaken? Was this
romantic girl only a little coquette playing her provincial airs on
him? "You say he and your father didn't agree? That means, I suppose,
that _you_ and he agreed?--and that was the result."

"I don't think father knew anything about it," said Rosey simply.

Mr. Renshaw rose. And this was what he had been waiting to hear!
"Perhaps," he said grimly, "you would also like news of the
photographer and Captain Bower, or did your father agree with them
better?"

"No," said Rosey quietly. She remained silent for a moment, and lifting
her lashes said, "Father always seemed to agree with _you_, and
that"--she hesitated.

"That's why _you_ don't."

"I didn't say that," said Rosey, with an incongruous increase of
coldness and color. "I only meant to say it was that which makes it
seem so hard you should go now."

Notwithstanding his previous determination Renshaw found himself
sitting down again. Confused and pleased, wishing he had said more--or
less--he said nothing, and Rosey was forced to continue.

"It's strange, isn't it--but father was urging me this morning to make
a visit to some friends at the old Ranch. I didn't want to go. I like
it much better here."

"But you cannot bury yourself here forever, Miss Nott," said Renshaw,
with a sudden burst of honest enthusiasm. "Sooner or later you will be
forced to go where you will be properly appreciated, where you will be
admired and courted, where your slightest wish will be law. Believe me,
without flattery, you don't know your own power."

"It doesn't seem strong enough to keep even the little I like here,"
said Rosey, with a slight glistening of the eyes. "But," she added
hastily, "you don't know how much the dear old ship is to me. It's the
only home I think I ever had."

"But the Ranch?" said Renshaw.

"The Ranch seemed to be only the old wagon halted in the road. It was a
very little improvement on out-doors," said Rosey, with a little
shiver. "But this is so cosy and snug, and yet so strange and foreign.
Do you know I think I began to understand why I like it so since you
taught me so much about ships and voyages. Before that I only learned
from books. Books deceive you, I think, more than people do. Don't you
think so?"

She evidently did not notice the quick flush that covered his cheeks
and apparently dazzled his troubled eyelids, for she went on
confidentially:

"I was thinking of you yesterday. I was sitting by the galley door,
looking forward. You remember the first day I saw you when you startled
me by coming up out of the hatch?"

"I wish you wouldn't think of that," said Renshaw, with more
earnestness than he would have made apparent.

"_I_ don't want to, either," said Rosey, gravely, "for I've had a
strange fancy about it. I saw once, when I was younger, a picture in a
print shop in Montgomery Street that haunted me. I think it was called
'The Pirate.' There were a number of wicked-looking sailors lying
around the deck, and coming out of the hatch was one figure, with his
hands on the deck and a cutlass in his mouth."

"Thank you," said Renshaw.

"You don't understand. He was horrid-looking, not at all like you. I
never thought of _him_ when I first saw you; but the other day I
thought how dreadful it would have been if some one like him and not
like you had come up then. That made me nervous sometimes of being
alone. I think father is too. He often goes about stealthily at night,
as if he was watching for something."

Renshaw's face grew suddenly dark. Could it be possible that Sleight
had always suspected him, and set spies to watch--or was he guilty of
some double intrigue?

"He thinks," continued Rosey, with a faint smile, "that some one is
looking round the ship, and talks of setting bear-traps. I hope you're
not mad, Mr. Renshaw," she added, suddenly catching sight of his
changed expression, "at my foolishness in saying you reminded me of the
pirate. I meant nothing."

"I know you're incapable of meaning anything but good to anybody, Miss
Nott, perhaps to me more than I deserve," said Renshaw, with a sudden
burst of feeling. "I wish--I wish--you would do _me_ a favor. _You_
asked me one just now." He had taken her hand. It seemed so like a mere
illustration of his earnestness, that she did not withdraw it. "Your
father tells you everything. If he has any offer to dispose of the
ship, will you write to me at once before anything is concluded?" He
winced a little--the sentence of Sleight, "What's the figure you and
she have settled upon?" flashed across his mind. He scarcely noticed
that Rosey had withdrawn her hand coldly.

"Perhaps you had better speak to father, as it is _his_ business.
Besides, I shall not be here. I shall be at the Ranch."

"But you said you didn't want to go?"

"I've changed my mind," said Rosey, listlessly. "I shall go to-night."

She rose as if to indicate that the interview was ended. With an
overpowering instinct that his whole future happiness depended upon his
next act, he made a step towards her, with eager outstretched hands.
But she slightly lifted her own with a warning gesture, "I hear father
coming--you will have a chance to talk _business_ with him," she said,
and vanished into her state-room.


VI.

The heavy tread of Abner Nott echoed in the passage. Confused and
embarrassed, Renshaw remained standing at the door that had closed upon
Rosey as her father entered the cabin. Providence, which always
fostered Mr. Nott's characteristic misconceptions, left that
perspicacious parent but one interpretation of the situation. Rosey had
evidently just informed Mr. Renshaw that she loved another!

"I was just saying good-by to Miss Nott," said Renshaw, hastily
regaining his composure with an effort. "I am going to Sacramento
to-night, and will not return. I"--

"In course, in course," interrupted Nott, soothingly; "that's wot you
say now, and that's wot you allow to do. That's wot they allus do."

"I mean," said Renshaw, reddening at what he conceived to be an
allusion to the absconding propensities of Nott's previous tenants,--"I
mean that you shall keep the advance to cover any loss you might suffer
through my giving up the rooms."

"Certingly," said Nott, laying his hand with a large sympathy on
Renshaw's shoulder; "but we'll drop that just now. We won't swap hosses
in the middle of the river. We'll square up accounts in your room," he
added, raising his voice that Rosey might overhear him, after a
preliminary wink at the young man. "Yes, sir, we'll just square up and
settle in there. Come along, Mr. Renshaw." Pushing him with paternal
gentleness from the cabin, with his hand still upon his shoulder, he
followed him into the passage. Half annoyed at his familiarity, yet not
altogether displeased by this illustration of Rosey's belief of his
preference, Renshaw wonderingly accompanied him. Nott closed the door,
and pushing the young man into a chair, deliberately seated himself at
the table opposite. "It's jist as well that Rosey reckons that you and
me is settlin' our accounts," he began, cunningly, "and mebbee it's
just ez well ez she should reckon you're goin' away."

"But I _am_ going," interrupted Renshaw, impatiently. "I leave
to-night."

"Surely, surely," said Nott, gently, "that's wot you kalkilate to do;
that's just nat'ral in a young feller. That's about what I reckon _I'd_
hev done to her mother if anythin' like this hed ever cropped up, which
it didn't. Not but what Almiry Jane had young fellers enough round her,
but, 'cept ole Judge Peter, ez was lamed in the War of 1812, there
ain't no similarity ez I kin see," he added, musingly.

"I am afraid I can't see any similarity either, Mr. Nott," said
Renshaw, struggling between a dawning sense of some impending absurdity
and his growing passion for Rosey. "For Heaven's sake, speak out if
you've got anything to say."

Mr. Nott leaned forward and placed his large hand on the young man's
shoulder. "That's it. That's what I sed to myself when I seed how
things were pintin'. 'Speak out,' sez I, 'Abner! Speak out if you've
got anything to say. You kin trust this yer Mr. Renshaw. He ain't the
kind of man to creep into the bosom of a man's ship for pupposes of his
own. He ain't a man that would hunt round until he discovered a poor
man's treasure, and then try to rob'"--

"Stop!" said Renshaw, with a set face and darkening eyes. "_What_
treasure? _what_ man are you speaking of?"

"Why Rosey and Mr. Ferrers," returned Nott, simply.

Renshaw sank into his seat again. But the expression of relief which
here passed swiftly over his face gave way to one of uneasy interest as
Nott went on.

"P'r'aps it's a little high-falutin' talkin' of Rosey ez a treasure.
But, considerin', Mr. Renshaw, ez she's the only prop'ty I've kept by
me for seventeen years ez hez paid interest and increased in valoo, it
ain't sayin' too much to call her so. And ez Ferrers knows this, he
oughter been content with gougin' me in that horse-hair spec, without
goin' for Rosey. P'r'aps yer surprised at hearing me speak o' my own
flesh and blood ez if I was talkin' hoss-trade, but you and me is
bus'ness men, Mr. Renshaw, and we discusses ez such. We ain't goin' to
slosh round and slop over in po'try and sentiment," continued Nott,
with a tremulous voice, and a hand that slightly shook on Renshaw's
shoulder. "We ain't goin' to git up and sing, 'Thou 'st lamed to love
another thou 'st broken every vow we've parted from each other and my
bozom's lonely now oh is it well to sever such hearts as ourn forever
kin I forget thee never farewell farewell farewell.' Ye never happen'd
to hear Jim Baker sing that at the moosic hall on Dupont Street, Mr.
Renshaw," continued Mr. Nott, enthusiastically, when he had recovered
from that complete absence of punctuation which alone suggested verse
to his intellect. "He sorter struck water down here," indicating his
heart, "every time."

"But what has Miss Nott to do with M. de Ferrieres?" asked Renshaw,
with a faint smile.

Mr. Nott regarded him with, dumb, round, astonished eyes. "Hezn't she
told yer?"

"Certainly not."

"And she didn't let on anythin' about him?" he continued, feebly.

"She said she'd like to know where"--He stopped, with the reflection
that he was betraying her confidences.

A dim foreboding of some new form of deceit, to which even the man
before him was a consenting party, almost paralyzed Nott's faculties.
"Then she didn't tell yer that she and Ferrers was sparkin' and keepin'
kimpany together; that she and him was engaged, and was kalkilatin' to
run away to furrin parts; that she cottoned to him more than to the
ship or her father?"

"She certainly did not, and I shouldn't believe it," said Renshaw,
quickly.

Nott smiled. He was amused; he astutely recognized the usual
trustfulness of love and youth. There was clearly no deceit here!
Renshaw's attentive eyes saw the smile, and his brow darkened.

"I like to hear yer say that, Mr. Renshaw," said Nott, "and it's no
more than Rosey deserves, ez it's suthing onnat'ral and spell-like
that's come over her through Ferrers. It ain't my Rosey. But it's
Gospel truth, whether she's bewitched or not; whether it's them damn
fool stories she reads--and it's like ez not he's just the kind o'
snipe to write 'em hisself, and sorter advertise hisself, don't yer
see--she's allus stuck up for Lim. They've had clandesent interviews,
and when I taxed him with it he ez much ez allowed it was so, and
reckoned he must leave, so ez he could run her off, you know--kinder
stampede her with 'honor.' Them's his very words."

"But that is all past; he is gone, and Miss Nott does not even know
where he is!" said Renshaw, with a laugh, which, however, concealed a
vague uneasiness.

Mr. Nott rose and opened the door carefully. When he had satisfied
himself that no one was listening, he came back and said in a whisper,
"That's a lie. Not ez Rosey means to lie, but it's a trick he's put
upon that poor child. That man, Mr. Renshaw, hez been hangin' round the
Pontiac ever since. I've seed him twice with my own eyes pass the cabin
windys. More than that, I've heard strange noises at night, and seen
strange faces in the alley over yer. And only jist now ez I kem in I
ketched sight of a furrin-lookin' Chinee nigger slinking round the back
door of what useter be Ferrers' loft."

"Did he look like a sailor?" asked Renshaw quickly, with a return of
his former suspicion.

"Not more than I do," said Nott, glancing complacently at his
pea-jacket. "He had rings on his yeers like a wench."

Mr. Renshaw started. But seeing Nott's eyes fixed on him, he said
lightly, "But what have these strange faces and this strange
man--probably only a Lascar sailor out of a job--to do with Ferrieres?"

"Friends o' his--feller furrin citizens--spies on Rosey, don't you see?
But they can't play the old man, Mr. Renshaw. I've told Rosey she must
make a visit to the old Ranch. Once I've got her thar safe, I reckon I
kin manage Mr. Ferrers and any number of Chinee niggers he kin bring
along."

Renshaw remained for a few moments lost in thought. Then rising
suddenly, he grasped Mr. Nott's hand with a frank smile but determined
eyes. "I haven't got the hang of this, Mr. Nott--the whole thing gets
me! I only know that I've changed my mind. I'm _not_ going to
Sacramento. I shall stay _here_, old man, until I see you safe through
the business, or my name's not Dick Renshaw. There's my hand on it!
Don't say a word. Maybe it is no more than I ought to do--perhaps not
half enough. Only remember, not a word of this to your daughter. She
must believe that I leave to-night. And the sooner you get her out of
this cursed ship the better."

"Deacon Flint's girls are goin' up in to-night's boat. I'll send Rosey
with them," said Nott, with a cunning twinkle. Renshaw nodded. Nott
seized his hand with a wink of unutterable significance.

Left to himself, Renshaw tried to review more calmly the circumstances
in these strange revelations that had impelled him to change his
resolution so suddenly. That the ship was under the surveillance of
unknown parties, and that the description of them tallied with his own
knowledge of a certain Lascar sailor, who was one of Sleight's
informants--seemed to be more than probable. That this seemed to point
to Sleight's disloyalty to himself while he was acting as his agent, or
a double treachery on the part of Sleight's informants, was in either
case a reason and an excuse for his own interference. But the
connection of the absurd Frenchman with the case, which at first seemed
a characteristic imbecility of his landlord, bewildered him the more he
thought of it. Rejecting any hypothesis of the girl's affection for the
antiquated figure whose sanity was a question of public criticism, he
was forced to the equally alarming theory that Ferrieres was cognizant
of the treasure, and that his attentions to Rosey were to gain
possession of it by marrying her. Might she not be dazzled by a picture
of this wealth? Was it not possible that she was already in part
possession of the secret, and her strange attraction to the ship, and
what he had deemed her innocent craving for information concerning it,
a consequence? Why had he not thought of this before? Perhaps she had
detected his purpose from the first, and had deliberately checkmated
him. The thought did not increase his complacency as Nott softly
returned:

"It's all right," he began with a certain satisfaction in this rare
opportunity for Machiavellian diplomacy, "it's all fixed now. Rosey
tumbled to it at once, partiklerly when I said you was bound to go.
'But wot makes Mr. Renshaw go, father,' sez she; 'wot makes everybody
run away from the ship?' sez she, rather peart-like and sassy for her.
'Mr. Renshaw hez contractin' business,' sez I; 'got a big thing up in
Sacramento that'll make his fortun','sez I--for I wasn't goin' to give
yer away, don't ye see?' He had some business to talk to you about the
ship,' sez she, lookin' at me under the corner of her
pocket-handkerchief. 'Lots o' business,' sez I. 'Then I reckon he don't
care to hev me write to him,' sez she. 'Not a bit,' sez I; 'he wouldn't
answer ye if ye did. Ye'll never hear from that chap agin.'"

"But what the devil"--interrupted the young man impetuously.

"Keep yer hair on!" remonstrated the old man with dark intelligence.
"Ef you'd seen the way she flounced into her state-room!--she, Rosey,
ez allus moves ez softly ez a spirit--you'd hev wished I'd hev unloaded
a little more. No sir, gals is gals in some things all the time."

Renshaw rose and paced the room rapidly. "Perhaps I'd better speak to
her again before she goes," he said, impulsively.

"P'r'aps you'd better not," replied the imperturbable Nott.

Irritated as he was, Renshaw could not avoid the reflection that the
old man was right. What, indeed, could he say to her with his present
imperfect knowledge? How could she write to him if that knowledge was
correct?

"Ef," said Nott, kindly, with a laying on of large benedictory and
paternal hands, "ef ye're willin' to see Rosey agin, without _speakin_?
to her, I reckon I ken fix it for yer. I'm goin' to take her down to
the boat in half an hour. Ef yer should happen--mind, ef yer should
_happen_ to be down there, seein' some friends off and sorter
promenadin' up and down the wharf like them high-toned chaps on
Montgomery Street--ye might ketch her eye unconscious like. Or, ye
might do this!" He rose after a moment's cogitation and with a face of
profound mystery opened the door and beckoned Renshaw to follow him.
Leading the way cautiously, he brought the young man into an open
unpartitioned recess beside her state-room. It seemed to be used as a
store-room, and Renshaw's eye was caught by a trunk the size and shape
of the one that had provided Rosey with the materials of her
masquerade. Pointing to it, Mr. Nott said in a grave whisper: "This yer
trunk is the companion trunk to Rosey's. _She's_ got the things them
opery women wears; this yer contains the _he_ things, the duds and
fixins o' the men o' the same stripe." Throwing it open he continued:
"Now, Mr, Renshaw, gals is gals; it's nat'ral they should be took by
fancy dress and store clothes on young chaps as on theirselves. That
man Ferrers hez got the dead wood on all of ye in this sort of thing,
and hez been playing, so to speak, a lone hand all along. And ef thar's
anythin' in thar," he added, lifting part of a theatrical wardrobe,
"that you think you'd fancy--anythin' you'd like to put on when ye
promenade the wharf down yonder--it's yours. Don't ye be bashful, but
help yourself."

It was fully a minute before Renshaw fairly grasped the old man's
meaning. But when he did--when the suggested spectacle of himself
arrayed _a la_ Ferrieres, gravely promenading the wharf as a last
gorgeous appeal to the affections of Rosey, rose before his fancy, he
gave way to a fit of genuine laughter. The nervous tension of the past
few hours relaxed; he laughed until the tears came into his eyes; he
was still laughing when the door of the cabin suddenly opened and Rosey
appeared cold and distant on the threshold.

"I--beg your pardon," stammered Renshaw hastily. "I didn't mean--to
disturb you--I"--

Without looking at him Rosey turned to her father. "I am ready," she
said coldly, and closed the door again.

A glance of artful intelligence came into Nott's eyes, which had
remained blankly staring at Renshaw's apparently causeless hilarity.
Turning to him he winked solemnly. "That keerless kind o' hoss-laff
jist fetched her," he whispered, and vanished before his chagrined
companion could reply.

When Mr. Nott and his daughter departed, Renshaw was not in the ship,
neither did he make a spectacular appearance on the wharf as Mr. Nott
had fondly expected, nor did he turn up again until after nine o'clock,
when he found the old man in the cabin awaiting his return with some
agitation. "A minit ago," he said, mysteriously closing the door behind
Renshaw, "I heard a voice in the passage, and goin' out, who should I
see agin but that darned furrin nigger ez I told yer 'bout, kinder
hidin' in the dark, his eyes shinin' like a catamount. I was jist
reachin' for my weppins when he riz up with a grin and handed me this
yer letter. I told him I reckoned you'd gone to Sacramento, but he said
he wez sure you was in your room, and to prove it I went thar. But when
I kem back the d----d skunk had vamosed--got frightened I reckon--and
wasn't nowhar to be seen."

Renshaw took the letter hastily. It contained only a line in Sleight's
hand. "If you change your mind, the bearer may be of service to you."

He turned abruptly to Nott. "You say it was the same Lascar you saw
before?"

"It was."

"Then all I can say is, he is no agent of De Ferrieres'," said Renshaw,
turning away with a disappointed air. Mr. Nott would have asked another
question, but with an abrupt "Good-night" the young man entered his
room, locked the door, and threw himself on his bed to reflect without
interruption.

But if he was in no mood to stand Nott's fatuous conjectures, he was
less inclined to be satisfied with his own. Had he been again carried
away through his impulses evoked by the caprices of a pretty coquette
and the absurd theories of her half imbecile father? Had he broken
faith with Sleight and remained in the ship for nothing, and would not
his change of resolution appear to be the result of Sleight's note? But
why had the Lascar been haunting the ship before? In the midst of these
conjectures he fell asleep.


VII.

Between three and four in the morning the clouds broke over the
Pontiac, and the moon, riding high, picked out in black and silver the
long hulk that lay cradled between the iron shells and warehouses and
the wooden frames and tenements on either side. The galley and covered
gangway presented a mass of undefined shadow, against which the white
deck shone brightly, stretching to the forecastle and bows, where the
tiny glass roof of the photographer glistened like a gem in the
Pontiac's crest. So peaceful and motionless she lay that she might have
been some petrifaction of a past age now first exhumed and laid bare to
the cold light of the stars.

Nevertheless, this calm security was presently invaded by a sense of
stealthy life and motion. What had seemed a fixed shadow suddenly
detached itself from the deck and began to slip stanchion by stanchion
along the bulwarks toward the companion-way. At the cabin-door it
halted and crouched motionless. Then rising, it glided forward with the
same staccato movement until opposite the slight elevation of the
forehatch. Suddenly it darted to the hatch, unfastened and lifted it
with a swift, familiar dexterity, and disappeared in the opening. But
as the moon shone upon its vanishing face, it revealed the whitening
eyes and teeth of the Lascar seaman.

Dropping to the lower deck lightly, he felt his way through the dark
passage between the partitions, evidently less familiar to him, halting
before each door to listen.

Returning forward he reached the second hatchway that had attracted
Rosey's attention, and noiselessly unclosed its fastenings. A
penetrating smell of bilge arose from the opening. Drawing a small
bull's-eye lantern from his breast he lit it, and unhesitatingly let
himself down to the further depth. The moving flash of his light
revealed the recesses of the upper hold, the abyss of the well
amidships, and glanced from the shining backs of moving zigzags of rats
that seemed to outline the shadowy beams and transoms. Disregarding
those curious spectators of his movements, he turned his attention
eagerly to the inner casings of the hold, that seemed in one spot to
have been strengthened by fresh timbers. Attacking this stealthily with
the aid of some tools hidden in his oil-skin clothing, in the light of
the lantern he bore a fanciful resemblance to the predatory animals
around him. The low continuous sound of rasping and gnawing of timber
which followed heightened the resemblance. At the end of a few minutes
he had succeeded in removing enough of the outer planking to show that
the entire filling of the casing between the stanchions was composed of
small boxes. Dragging out one of them with feverish eagerness to the
light, the Lascar forced it open. In the rays of the bull's-eye, a
wedged mass of discolored coins showed with a lurid glow. The story of
the Pontiac was true--the treasure was there!

But Mr. Sleight had overlooked the logical effect of this discovery on
the natural villainy of his tool. In the very moment of his triumphant
execution of his patron's suggestions the idea of keeping the treasure
to himself flashed upon his mind. _He_ had discovered it--why should he
give it up to anybody? _He_ had run all the risks; if he were detected
at that moment, who would believe that his purpose there at midnight
was only to satisfy some one else that the treasure was still intact?
No. The circumstances were propitious; he would get the treasure out of
the ship at once, drop it over her side, hastily conceal it in the
nearest lot adjacent, and take it away at his convenience. Who would be
the wiser for it?

But it was necessary to reconnoiter first. He knew that the loft
overhead was empty. He knew that it communicated with the alley, for he
had tried the door that morning. He would convey the treasure there and
drop it into the alley. The boxes were heavy. Each one would require a
separate journey to the ship's side, but he would at least secure
something if he were interrupted, He stripped the casing, and gathered
the boxes together in a pile.

Ah, yes, it was funny too that he--the Lascar hound--the d----d
nigger--should get what bigger and bullier men than he had died for!
The mate's blood was on those boxes, if the salt water had not washed
it out. It was a hell of a fight when they dragged the captain--Oh,
what was that? Was it the splash of a rat in the bilge, or what?

A superstitious terror had begun to seize him at the thought of blood.
The stifling hold seemed again filled with struggling figures he had
known, the air thick with cries and blasphemies that he had forgotten.
He rose to his feet, and running quickly to the hatchway, leaped to the
deck above. All was quiet. The door leading to the empty loft yielded
to his touch. He entered, and, gliding through, unbarred and opened the
door that gave upon the alley. The cold air and moonlight flowed in
silently; the way of escape was clear. Bah! He would go back for the
treasure.

He had reached the passage when the door he had just opened was
suddenly darkened. Turning rapidly, he was conscious of a gaunt figure,
grotesque, silent, and erect, looming on the threshold between him and
the sky. Hidden in the shadow, he made a stealthy step towards it, with
an iron wrench in his uplifted hand. But the next moment his eyes
dilated with superstitious horror; the iron fell from his hand, and
with a scream, like a frightened animal, he turned and fled into the
passage. In the first access of his blind terror he tried to reach the
deck above through the forehatch, but was stopped by the sound of a
heavy tread overhead. The immediate fear of detection now overcame his
superstition; he would have even faced the apparition again to escape
through the loft; but, before he could return there, other footsteps
approached rapidly from the end of the passage he would have to
traverse. There was but one chance of escape left now--the forehold he
had just quitted. He might hide there until the alarm was over. He
glided back to the hatch, lifted it, and closed it softly over his head
as the upper hatch was simultaneously raised, and the small round eyes
of Abner Nott peered down upon it. The other footsteps proved to be
Renshaw's, but, attracted by the open door of the loft, he turned aside
and entered. As soon as he disappeared Mr. Nott cautiously dropped
through the opening to the deck below, and, going to the other hatch
through which the Lascar had vanished, deliberately refastened it. In a
few moments Renshaw returned with a light, and found the old man
sitting on the hatch.

"The loft-door was open," said Renshaw. "There's little doubt whoever
was here escaped that way."

"Surely," said Nott. There was a peculiar look of Machiavellian
sagacity in his face which irritated Renshaw.

"Then you're sure it was Ferriferes you saw pass by your window before
you called me?" he asked.

Nott nodded his head with an expression of infinite profundity.

"But you say he was going _from_ the ship. Then it could not have been
he who made the noise we heard down here."

"Mebbee no, and mebbee yes," returned Nott, cautiously.

"But if he was already concealed inside the ship, as that open door,
which you say you barred from the inside, would indicate, what the
devil did he want with this?" said Renshaw, producing the
monkey--wrench he had picked up.

Mr. Nott examined the tool carefully, and shook his head with momentous
significance. Nevertheless, his eyes wandered to the hatch on which he
was seated.

"Did you find anything disturbed _there_?" said Renshaw, following the
direction of his eye. "Was that hatch fastened as it is now?"

"It was," said Nott, calmly. "But ye wouldn't mind fetchin' me a hammer
and some o' them big nails from the locker, would yer, while I hang
round here just so ez to make sure against another attack."

Renshaw complied with his request; but as Nott proceeded to gravely
nail down the fastenings of the hatch, he turned impatiently away to
complete his examination of the ship. The doors of the other lofts and
their fastenings appeared secure and undisturbed. Yet it was undeniable
that a felonious entrance had been made, but by whom or for what
purpose, still remained uncertain. Even now, Renshaw found it difficult
to accept Nott's theory that De Ferrieres was the aggressor and Rosey
the object, nor could he justify his own suspicion that the Lascar had
obtained a surreptitious entrance under Sleight's directions. With a
feeling that if Rosey had been present he would have confessed all, and
demanded from her an equal confidence, he began to hate his feeble,
purposeless, and inefficient alliance with her father, who believed but
dared not tax his daughter with complicity in this outrage. What could
be done with a man whose only idea of action at such a moment was to
nail up an undisturbed entrance in his invaded house! He was so
preoccupied with these thoughts that when Nott rejoined him in the
cabin he scarcely heeded his presence, and was entirely oblivious of
the furtive looks which the old man from time to time cast upon his
face.

"I reckon ye wouldn't mind," broke in Nott, suddenly, "ef I asked a
favor of ye, Mr. Renshaw. Mebbee ye'll allow it's askin' too much in
the matter of expense; mebbee ye'll allow it's askin' too much in the
matter o' time. But _I_ kalkilate to pay all the expense, and if you'd
let me know what yer vally yer time at, I reckon I could stand that.
What I'd be askin' is this. Would ye mind takin' a letter from me to
Rosey, and bringin' back an answer?"

Renshaw stared speechlessly at this absurd realization of his wish of a
moment before. "I don't think I understand you," he stammered.

"P'r'aps not," returned Nott, with great gravity. "But that's not so
much matter to you ez your time and expenses."

"I meant I should be glad to go if I can be of any service to you,"
said Renshaw, hastily.

"You kin ketch the seven-o'clock boat this morning, and you'll reach
San Rafael at ten"--

"But I thought Miss Rosey went to Petaluma," interrupted Renshaw
quickly.

Nott regarded him with an expression of patronizing superiority.
"That's what we ladled out to the public gin'rally, and to Ferrers and
his gang in partickler. We _said_ Petalumey, but if you go to Madrono
Cottage, San Rafael, you'll find Rosey thar."

If Mr. Renshaw required anything more to convince him of the necessity
of coming to some understanding with Rosey at once it would have been
this last evidence of her father's utterly dark and supremely
inscrutable designs. He assented quickly, and Nott handed him a note.

"Ye'll be partickler to give this inter her own hands, and wait for an
answer," said Nott gravely.

Resisting the proposition to enter then and there into an elaborate
calculation of the value of his time and the expenses of the trip,
Renshaw found himself at seven o'clock on the San Rafael boat. Brief as
was the journey it gave him time to reflect upon his coming interview
with Rosey. He had resolved to begin by confessing all; the attempt of
last night had released him from any sense of duty to Sleight. Besides,
he did not doubt that Nott's letter contained some reference to this
affair only known to Nott's dark and tortuous intelligence.

VIII.

Madrono Cottage lay at the entrance of a little _canada_ already green
with the early winter rains, and nestled in a thicket of the harlequin
painted trees that gave it a name. The young man was a little relieved
to find that Rosey had gone to the post-office a mile away, and that he
would probably overtake her or meet her returning--alone. The
road--little more than a trail--wound along the crest of the hill
looking across the _canada_ to the long, dark, heavily-wooded flank of
Mount Tamalpais that rose from the valley a dozen miles away. A
cessation of the warm rain, a rift in the sky, and the rare spectacle
of cloud scenery, combined with a certain sense of freedom, restored
that light-hearted gayety that became him most. At a sudden turn of the
road he caught sight of Rosey's figure coming towards him, and
quickened his step with the impulsiveness of a boy. But she suddenly
disappeared, and when he again saw her she was on the other side of the
trail apparently picking the leaves of a manzanita. She had already
seen him.

Somehow the frankness of his greeting was checked. She looked up at him
with cheeks that retained enough of their color to suggest why she had
hesitated, and said, "_You_ here, Mr. Renshaw? I thought you were in
Sacramento."

"And I thought _you_ were in Petaluma," he retorted gayly. "I have a
letter from your father. The fact is, one of those gentlemen who has
been haunting the ship actually made an entry last night. Who he was,
and what he came for, nobody knows. Perhaps your father gives you his
suspicions." He could not help looking at her narrowly as he handed her
the note. Except that her pretty eyebrows were slightly raised in
curiosity she seemed undisturbed as she opened the letter. Presently
she raised her eyes to his.

"Is this all father gave you?"

"All."

"You're sure you haven't dropped anything?"

"Nothing. I have given you all he gave me."

"And that is all it is." She exhibited the missive, a perfectly blank
sheet of paper folded like a note!

Renshaw felt the angry blood glow in his cheeks. "This is unpardonable!
I assure you, Miss Nott, there must be some mistake. He himself has
probably forgotten the inclosure," he continued, yet with an inward
conviction that the act was perfectly premeditated on the part of the
old man.

The young girl held out her hand frankly. "Don't think any more of it,
Mr. Renshaw. Father is forgetful at times. But tell me about last
night."

In a few words Mr. Renshaw briefly but plainly related the details of
the attempt upon the Pontiac, from the moment that he had been awakened
by Nott, to his discovery of the unknown trespasser's flight by the
open door to the loft. When he had finished, he hesitated, and then
taking Rosey's hand, said impulsively, "You will not be angry with me
if I tell you all? Your father firmly believes that the attempt was
made by the old Frenchman, De Ferrieres, with a view of carrying you
off."

A dozen reasons other than the one her father would have attributed it
to might have called the blood to her face. But only innocence could
have brought the look of astonished indignation to her eyes as she
answered quickly:

"So _that_ was what you were laughing at?"

"Not that, Miss Nott," said the young man eagerly; "though I wish to
God I could accuse myself of nothing more disloyal. Do not speak, I
beg," he added impatiently, as Rosey was about to reply. "I have no
right to hear you; I have no right to even stand in your presence until
I have confessed everything. I came to the Pontiac; I made your
acquaintance, Miss Nott, through a fraud as wicked as anything your
father charges to De Ferrieres. I am not a contractor. I never was an
honest lodger in the Pontiac. I was simply a spy."

"But you didn't mean to be--it was some mistake, wasn't it?" said
Rosey, quite white, but more from sympathy with the offender's emotion
than horror at the offense.

"I am afraid I did mean it. But bear with me for a few moments longer
and you shall know all. It's a long story. Will you walk on, and--take
my arm? You do not shrink from me, Miss Nott. Thank you. I scarcely
deserve the kindness."

Indeed so little did Rosey shrink that he was conscious of a slight
reassuring pressure on his arm as they moved forward, and for the
moment I fear the young man felt like exaggerating his offense for the
sake of proportionate sympathy. "Do you remember," he continued, "one
evening when I told you some sea tales, you said you always thought
there must be some story about the Pontiac? There _was_ a story of the
Pontiac, Miss Nott--a wicked story--a terrible story--which I might
have told you, which I _ought_ to have told you--which was the story
that brought me there. You were right, too, in saying that you thought
I had known the Pontiac before I stepped first on her deck that day. I
had."

He laid his disengaged hand across lightly on Rosey's, as if to assure
himself that she was listening.

"I was at that time a sailor. I had been fool enough to run away from
college, thinking it a fine romantic thing to ship before the mast for
a voyage round the world. I was a little disappointed, perhaps, but I
made the best of it, and in two years I was the second mate of a whaler
lying in a little harbor of one of the uncivilized islands of the
Pacific. While we were at anchor there a French trading vessel put in,
apparently for water. She had the dregs of a mixed crew of Lascars and
Portuguese, who said they had lost the rest of their men by desertion,
and that the captain and mate had been carried off by fever. There was
something so queer in their story that our skipper took the law in his
own hands, and put me on board of her with a salvage crew. But that
night the French crew mutinied, cut the cables, and would have got to
sea if we had not been armed and prepared, and managed to drive them
below. When we had got them under hatches for a few hours they
parleyed, and offered to go quietly ashore. As we were short of hands
and unable to take them with us, and as we had no evidence against
them, we let them go, took the ship to Callao, turned her over to the
authorities, lodged a claim for salvage, and continued our voyage. When
we returned we found the truth of the story was known. She had been a
French trader from Marseilles, owned by her captain; her crew had
mutinied in the Pacific, killed their officers and the only
passenger--the owner of the cargo. They had made away with the cargo
and a treasure of nearly half a million of Spanish gold for trading
purposes which belonged to the passenger. In course of time the ship
was sold for salvage and put into the South American trade until the
breaking out of the Californian gold excitement, when she was sent with
a cargo to San Francisco. That ship was the Pontiac which your father
bought."

A slight shudder ran through the girl's frame. "I wish--I wish you
hadn't told me," she said. I shall never close my eyes again
comfortably on board of her, I know."

"I would say that you had purified her of _all_ stains of her past--but
there may be one that remains. And _that_ in most people's eyes would
be no detraction. You look puzzled, Miss Nott--but I am coming to the
explanation and the end of my story. A ship of war was sent to the
island to punish the mutineers and pirates, for such they were, but
they could not be found. A private expedition was sent to discover the
treasure which they were supposed to have buried, but in vain. About
two months ago Mr. Sleight told me one of his shipmasters had sent him
a Lascar sailor who had to dispose of a valuable secret regarding the
Pontiac for a percentage. That secret was that the treasure was never
taken by the mutineers out of the Pontiac! They were about to land and
bury it when we boarded them. They took advantage of their imprisonment
under hatches _to bury it in the ship_. They hid it in the hold so
securely and safely that it was never detected by us or the Callao
authorities. I was then asked, as one who knew the vessel, to undertake
a private examination of her, with a view of purchasing her from your
father without awakening his suspicions. I assented. You have my
confession now, Miss Nott. You know my crime. I am at your mercy."

Rosey's arm only tightened around his own. Her eyes sought his. "And
you didn't find anything?" she said.

The question sounded so oddly like Sleight's, that Renshaw returned a
little stiffly:

"I didn't look."

"Why?" asked Rosey simply.

"Because," stammered Renshaw, with an uneasy consciousness of having
exaggerated his sentiment, "it didn't seem honorable; it didn't seem
fair to you."

"Oh you silly! you might have looked and told _me_."

"But," said Renshaw, "do you think that would have been fair to
Sleight?"

"As fair to him as to us. For, don't you see, it wouldn't belong to any
of us. It would belong to the friends or the family of the man who lost
it."

"But there were no heirs," replied Renshaw. "That was proved by some
impostor who pretended to be his brother, and libelled the Pontiac at
Callao, but the courts decided he was a lunatic."

"Then it belongs to the poor pirates who risked their own lives for it,
rather than to Sleight, who did nothing." She was silent for a moment,
and then resumed with energy, "I believe he was at the bottom of that
attack last night."

"I have thought so too," said Renshaw.

"Then I must go back at once," she continued, impulsively. "Father must
not be left alone."

"Nor _must you_," said Renshaw, quickly. "Do let me return with you,
and share with you and your father the trouble I have brought upon you.
Do not," he added in a lower tone, "deprive me of the only chance of
expiating my offense, of making myself worthy your forgiveness."

"I am sure," said Rosey, lowering her lids and half withdrawing her
arm, "I am sure I have nothing to forgive. You did not believe the
treasure belonged to us any more than to anybody else, until you knew
_me_"--

"That is true," said the young man, attempting to take her hand.

"I mean," said Rosey, blushing, and showing a distracting row of little
teeth in one of her infrequent laughs, "oh, you know what I mean." She
withdrew her arm gently, and became interested in the selection of
certain wayside bay leaves as they passed along. "All the same, I don't
believe in this treasure," she said abruptly, as if to change the
subject. "I don't believe it ever was hidden inside the Pontiac."

"That can be easily ascertained now," said Renshaw.

"But it's a pity you didn't find it out while you were about it," said
Rosey. "It would have saved so much talk and trouble."

"I have told you why I didn't search the ship," responded Renshaw, with
a slight bitterness. "But it seems I could only avoid being a great
rascal by becoming a great fool."

"You never intended to be a rascal," said Rosey, earnestly, "and you
couldn't be a fool, except in heeding what a silly girl says. I only
meant if you had taken me into your confidence it would have been
better."

"Might I not say the same to you regarding your friend, the old
Frenchman?" returned Renshaw. "What if I were to confess to you that I
lately suspected him of knowing the secret, and of trying to gain your
assistance?"

Instead of indignantly repudiating the suggestion, to the young man's
great discomfiture, Rosey only knit her pretty brows, and remained for
some moments silent. Presently she asked timidly:

"Do you think it wrong to tell another person's secret for their own
good?"

"No," said Renshaw, promptly.

"Then I'll tell you Monsieur de Ferrieres'! But only because I believe
from what you have just said that he will turn out to have some right
to the treasure."

Then with kindling eyes, and a voice eloquent with sympathy, Rosey told
the story of her accidental discovery of De Ferrieres' miserable
existence in the loft. Clothing it with the unconscious poetry of her
fresh, young imagination, she lightly passed over his antique gallantry
and grotesque weakness, exalting only his lonely sufferings and
mysterious wrongs. Renshaw listened, lost between shame for his late
suspicions and admiration for her thoughtful delicacy, until she began
to speak of De Ferrieres' strange allusions to the foreign papers in
his portmanteau. "I think some were law papers, and I am almost certain
I saw the word Callao printed on one of them."

"It may be so," said Renshaw, thoughtfully. "The old Frenchman has
always passed for a harmless, wandering eccentric. I hardly think
public curiosity has ever even sought to know his name, much less his
history. But had we not better first try to find if there _is_ any
property before we examine his claims to it?"

"As you please," said Rosey, with a slight pout; "but you will find it
much easier to discover him than his treasure. It's always easier to
find the thing you're not looking for."

"Until you want it," said Renshaw, with sudden gravity.

"How pretty it looks over there," said Rosey, turning her conscious
eyes to the opposite mountain.

"Very."

They had reached the top of the hill, and in the near distance the
chimney of Madrono Cottage was even now visible. At the expected sight
they unconsciously stopped--unconsciously disappointed. Rosey broke the
embarrassing silence.

"There's another way home, but it's a roundabout way," she said
timidly.

"Let us take it," said Renshaw.

She hesitated. "The boat goes at four, and we must return to-night."

"The more reason why we should make the most of our time now," said
Renshaw with a faint smile. "To-morrow all things may be changed;
to-morrow you may find yourself an heiress, Miss Nott. To-morrow," he
added, with a slight tremor in his voice, "I may have earned your
forgiveness, only to say farewell to you forever. Let me keep this
sunshine, this picture, this companionship with you long enough to say
now what perhaps I must not say to-morrow."

They were silent for a moment, and then by a common instinct turned
together into a narrow trail, scarce wide enough for two, that diverged
from the straight practical path before them. It was indeed a
roundabout way home, so roundabout, in fact, that as they wandered on
it seemed even to double on its track, occasionally lingering long and
becoming indistinct under the shadow of madrono and willow; at one time
stopping blindly before a fallen tree in the hollow, where they had
quite lost it, and had to sit down to recall it; a rough way, often
requiring the mutual help of each other's hands and eyes to tread
together in security; an uncertain way, not to be found Without
whispered consultation and concession, and yet a way eventually
bringing them hand in hand, happy and hopeful, to the gate of Madrono
Cottage. And if there was only just time for Rosey to prepare to take
the boat, it was due to the deviousness of the way. If a stray curl was
lying loose on Rosey's cheek, and a long hair had caught in Renshaw's
button, it was owing to the roughness of the way; and if in the tones
of their voices and in the glances of their eyes there was a maturer
seriousness, it was due to the dim uncertainty of the path they had
traveled, and would hereafter tread together.


IX.

When Mr. Nott had satisfied himself of Renshaw's departure, he coolly
bolted the door at the head of the companion-way, thus cutting off any
communication with the lower deck. Taking a long rifle from the rack
above his berth, he carefully examined the hammer and cap, and then
cautiously let himself down through the forehatch to the deck below.
After a deliberate survey of the still intact fastenings of the hatch
over the forehold, he proceeded quietly to unloose them again with the
aid of the tools that still lay there. When the hatch was once more
free he lifted it, and, withdrawing a few feet from the opening, sat
himself down, rifle in hand. A profound silence reigned throughout the
lower deck.

"Ye kin rize up out o' that," said Nott gently.

There was a stealthy rustle below that seemed to approach the hatch,
and then with a sudden bound the Lascar leaped on the deck. But at the
same instant Nott covered him with his rifle. A slight shade of
disappointment and surprise had crossed the old man's face, and clouded
his small round eyes at the apparition of the Lascar, but his hand was
none the less firm upon the trigger as the frightened prisoner sank on
his knees, with his hands clasped in the attitude of supplication for
mercy.

"Ef you're thinkin' o' skippin' afore I've done with yer," said Nott
with labored gentleness, "I oughter warn ye that it's my style to drop
Injins at two hundred yards, and this deck ain't anywhere more 'n
fifty. It's an uncomfortable style, a nasty style--but it's _my_ style.
I thought I'd tell yer, so yer could take it easy where you air.
Where's Ferrers?"

Even in the man's insane terror, his utter bewilderment at the question
was evident. "Ferrers?" he gasped; "don't know him, I swear to God,
boss."

"P'r'aps," said Nott, with infinite cunning, "yer don't know the man ez
kem into the loft from the alley last night--p'r'aps yer didn't see an
airy Frenchman with a dyed mustache, eh? I thought that would fetch
ye!" he continued, as the man started at the evidence that his vision
of last night was a living man. "P'r'aps you and him didn't break into
this ship last night, jist to run off with my darter Rosey? P'r'aps yer
don't know Rosey, eh? P'r'aps yer don't know ez Ferrers wants to marry
her, and hez been hangin' round yer ever since he left--eh?"

Scarcely believing the evidence of his senses that the old man whose
treasure he had been trying to steal was utterly ignorant of his real
offense, and yet uncertain of the penalty of the other crime of which
he was accused, the Lascar writhed his body and stammered vaguely,
"Mercy! Mercy!"

"Well," said Nott, cautiously, "ez I reckon the hide of a dead Chinee
nigger ain't any more vallyble than that of a dead Injin, I don't care
ef I let up on yer--seein' the cussedness ain't yours. But ef I let yer
off this once, you must take a message to Ferrers from me."

"Let me off this time, boss, and I swear to God I will," said the
Lascar eagerly.

"Ye kin say to Ferrers--let me see"--deliberated Nott, leaning on his
rifle with cautious reflection. "Ye kin say to Ferrers like this--sez
you, 'Ferrers,' sez you, 'the old man sez that afore you went away you
sez to him, sez you, "I take my honor with me," sez you'--have you got
that?" interrupted Nott suddenly.

"Yes, boss."

"'I take my honor with me,' sez you," repeated Nott slowly. "'Now,' sez
you--'the old man sez, sez he--tell Ferrers, sez he, that his honor
havin' run away agin, he sends it back to him, and ef he ever ketches
it around after this, he'll shoot it on sight.' Hev yer got that?"

"Yes," stammered the bewildered captive.

"Then git!"

The Lascar sprang to his feet with the agility of a panther, leaped
through the hatch above him, and disappeared over the bow of the ship
with an unhesitating directness that showed that every avenue of escape
had been already contemplated by him. Slipping lightly from the
cutwater to the ground, he continued his flight, only stopping at the
private office of Mr. Sleight.

When Mr. Renshaw and Rosey Nott arrived on board the Pontiac that
evening, they were astonished to find the passage before the cabin
completely occupied with trunks and boxes, and the bulk of their
household goods apparently in the process of removal. Mr. Nott, who was
superintending the work of two Chinamen, betrayed not only no surprise
at the appearance of the young people, but not the remotest recognition
of their own bewilderment at his occupation.

"Kalkilatin'," he remarked casually to his daughter, "you'd rather look
arter your fixins, Rosey; I've left 'em till the last. P'r'aps yer and
Mr. Renshaw wouldn't mind sittin' down on that locker until I've
strapped this yer box."

"But what does it all mean, father?" said Rosey, taking the old man by
the lappels of his pea-jacket, and slightly emphasizing her question.
"What in the name of goodness are you doing?"

"Breakin' camp, Rosey dear, breakin' camp, jist ez we uster," replied
Nott with cheerful philosophy. "Kinder like ole times, ain't it? Lord,
Rosey," he continued, stopping and following up the reminiscence, with
the end of the rope in his hand as if it were a clue, "don't ye mind
that day we started outer Livermore Pass, and seed the hull o' the
Kaliforny coast stretchin' yonder--eh? But don't ye be skeered, Rosey
dear," he added quickly, as if in recognition of the alarm expressed in
her face. "I ain't turning ye outer house and home; I've jist hired
that 'ere Madrono Cottage from the Peters ontil we kin look round."

"But you're not leaving the ship, father," continued Rosey,
impetuously. "You haven't sold it to that man Sleight?"

Mr. Nott rose and carefully closed the cabin-door. Then drawing a large
wallet from his pocket, he said, "It's sing'lar ye should hev got the
name right the first pop, ain't it, Rosey? but it's Sleight, sure
enough, all the time. This yer check," he added, producing a paper from
the depths of the wallet, "this yer check for 25,000 dollars is wot he
paid for it only two hours ago."

"But," said Renshaw, springing to his feet furiously, "you're duped,
swindled--betrayed!"

"Young man," said Nott, throwing a certain dignity into his habitual
gesture of placing his hands on Renshaw's shoulders, "I bought this yer
ship five years ago jist ez she stood for 8,000 dollars. Kalkilatin'
wot she cost me in repairs and taxes, and wot she brought me in since
then, accordin' to my figgerin', I don't call a clear profit of 15,000
dollars much of a swindle."

"Tell him all," said Rosey, quickly, more alarmed at Renshaw's
despairing face than at the news itself. "Tell him everything,
Dick--Mr. Renshaw; it may not be too late."

In a voice half choked with passionate indignation Renshaw hurriedly
repeated the story of the hidden treasure, and the plot to rescue it,
prompted frequently by Rosey's tenacious memory and assisted by her
deft and tactful explanations. But to their surprise the imperturbable
countenance of Abner Nott never altered; a slight moisture of kindly
paternal tolerance of their extravagance glistened in his little eyes,
but nothing more.

"Ef there was a part o' this ship, a plank or a bolt, ez I don't know,
ez I hevn't touched with my own hand, and looked into with my own eyes,
thar might be suthin' in that story. I don't let on to be a sailor like
_you_, but ez I know the ship ez a boy knows his first boss, as a woman
knows her first babby, I reckon thar ain't no treasure yer, onless it
was brought into the Pontiac last night by them chaps."

"But are you mad? Sleight would not pay three times the value of the
ship to-day if he were not positive! And that positive knowledge was
gained last night by the villain who broke into the Pontiac--no doubt
the Lascar."

"Surely," said Nott, meditatively. "The Lascar! There's suthin' in
that. That Lascar I fastened down in the hold last night unbeknownst to
you, Mr. Renshaw, and let him out again this morning ekally
unbeknownst."

"And you let him carry his information to Sleight--without a word!"
said Renshaw, with a sickening sense of Nott's utter fatuity.

"I sent him back with a message to the man he kem from," said Nott,
winking both his eyes at Renshaw significantly, and making signs behind
his daughter's back.

Rosey, conscious of her lover's irritation, and more eager to soothe
his impatience than from any faith in her suggestion, interfered. "Why
not examine the place where he was concealed? he may have left some
traces of his search."

The two men looked at each other. "Seein' ez I've turned the Pontiac
over to Sleight jist as it stands, I don't know ez it's 'zactly on the
square," said Nott doubtfully.

"You've a right to know at least _what_ you deliver to him,"
interrupted Renshaw, brusquely. "Bring a lantern."

Followed by Rosey, Renshaw and Nott hurriedly sought the lower deck and
the open hatch of the forehold. The two men leaped down first with the
lantern, and then assisted Rosey to descend. Renshaw took a step
forward and uttered a cry.

The rays of the lantern fell on the ship's side. The Lascar had, during
his forced seclusion, put back the boxes of treasure and replaced the
planking, yet not so carefully but that the quick eye of Renshaw had
discovered it. The next moment he had stripped away the planking again,
and the hurriedly restored box which the Lascar had found fell to the
deck, scattering part of its ringing contents. Rosey turned pale;
Renshaw's eyes flashed fire; only Abner Nott remained quiet and
impassive.

"Are you satisfied you have been duped?" said Renshaw, passionately.

To their surprise Mr. Nott stooped down, and picking up one of the
coins handed it gravely to Renshaw. "Would ye mind heftin' that 'ere
coin in your hand--feelin' it, bitin' it, scrapin' it with a knife, and
kinder seem' how it compares with other coins?"

"What do you mean?" said Renshaw.

"I mean that that yer coin--that _all_ the coins in this yer box, that
all the coins in them other boxes--and thar's forty on 'em--is all and
every one of 'em counterfeits!"

The piece dropped unconsciously from Renshaw's hand, and striking
another that lay on the deck gave out a dull, suspicious ring.

"They waz counterfeits got up by them Dutch supercargo sharps for
dealin' with the Injins and cannibals and South Sea heathens ez bows
down to wood and stone. It satisfied them ez well ez them buttons ye
puts in missionary boxes, I reckon, and, 'cepting ez freight, don't
cost nothin'. I found 'em tucked in the ribs o' the old Pontiac when I
bought her, and I nailed 'em up in thar lest they should fall into
dishonest hands. It's a lucky thing, Mr. Renshaw, that they comes into
the honest fingers of a square man like Sleight--ain't it?"

He turned his small, guileless eyes upon Renshaw with such child-like
simplicity that it checked the hysterical laugh that was rising to the
young man's lips.

"But did any one know of this but yourself?"

"I reckon not. I once suspicioned that old Cap'en Bowers, who was
always foolin' round the hold yer, must hev noticed the bulge in the
casin', but when he took to axin' questions I axed others--ye know my
style, Rosey? Come."

He led the way grimly back to the cabin, the young people following;
but turning suddenly at the companion way he observed Renshaw's arm
around the waist of his daughter. He said nothing until they had
reached the cabin, when he closed the door softly, and looking at them
both gently, said with infinite cunning:

"Ef it is n't too late, Rosey, ye kin tell this young man ez how I
forgive him for havin' diskivered THE TREASURE of the Pontiac."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly eighteen months afterwards that Mr. Nott one morning
entered the room of his son-in-law at Mandrono Cottage. Drawing him
aside, he said with his old air of mystery, "Now ez Rosey's ailin' and
don't seem to be so eager to diskiver what's become of Mr. Ferrers, I
don't mind tellin' ye that over a year ago I heard he died suddenly in
Sacramento. Thar was suthin' in the paper about his bein' a lunatic and
claimin' to be a relation to somebody on the Pontiac; but likes ez not
it's only the way those newspaper fellows got hold of the story of his
wantin' to marry Rosey."





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