Infomotions, Inc.The Argonauts of North Liberty / Harte, Bret, 1836-1902



Author: Harte, Bret, 1836-1902
Title: The Argonauts of North Liberty
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): demorest; blandford; ezekiel; rosita; joan; dona; squire blandford; north liberty
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 35,459 words (really short) Grade range: 10-13 (high school) Readability score: 57 (average)
Identifier: etext2703
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Title: The Argonauts of North Liberty

Author: Bret Harte

Release Date: May 25, 2006 [EBook #2703]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE ARGONAUTS OF NORTH LIBERTY ***




Produced by Donald Lainson





THE ARGONAUTS OF NORTH LIBERTY


By Bret Harte




PART I




CHAPTER I


The bell of the North Liberty Second Presbyterian Church had just ceased
ringing. North Liberty, Connecticut, never on any day a cheerful town,
was always bleaker and more cheerless on the seventh, when the Sabbath
sun, after vainly trying to coax a smile of reciprocal kindliness from
the drawn curtains and half-closed shutters of the austere dwellings and
the equally sealed and hard-set churchgoing faces of the people, at last
settled down into a blank stare of stony astonishment. On this chilly
March evening of the year 1850, that stare had kindled into an offended
sunset and an angry night that furiously spat sleet and hail in the
faces of the worshippers, and made them fight their way to the church,
step by step, with bent heads and fiercely compressed lips, until they
seemed to be carrying its forbidding portals at the point of their
umbrellas.

Within that sacred but graceless edifice, the rigors of the hour and
occasion reached their climax. The shivering gas-jets lit up the austere
pallor of the bare walls, and the hollow, shell-like sweep of colorless
vacuity behind the cold communion table. The chill of despair and
hopeless renunciation was in the air, untempered by any glow from
the sealed air-tight stove that seemed only to bring out a lukewarm
exhalation of wet clothes and cheaply dyed umbrellas. Nor did the
presence of the worshippers themselves impart any life to the dreary
apartment. Scattered throughout the white pews, in dull, shapeless,
neutral blotches, rigidly separated from each other, they seemed only
to accent the colorless church and the emptiness of all things. A few
children, who had huddled together for warmth in one of the back
benches and who had became glutinous and adherent through moisture, were
laboriously drawn out and painfully picked apart by a watchful deacon.

The dry, monotonous disturbance of the bell had given way to the strain
of a bass viol, that had been apparently pitched to the key of the east
wind without, and the crude complaint of a new harmonium that seemed to
bewail its limited prospect of ever becoming seasoned or mellowed in its
earthly tabernacle, and then the singing began. Here and there a human
voice soared and struggled above the narrow text and the monotonous
cadence with a cry of individual longing, but was borne down by the
dull, trampling precision of the others' formal chant. This and
a certain muffled raking of the stove by the sexton brought the
temperature down still lower. A sermon, in keeping with the previous
performance, in which the chill east wind of doctrine was not tempered
to any shorn lamb within that dreary fold, followed. A spark of human
and vulgar interest was momentarily kindled by the collection and the
simultaneous movement of reluctant hands towards their owners' pockets;
but the coins fell on the baize-covered plates with a dull thud, like
clods on a coffin, and the dreariness returned. Then there was another
hymn and a prolonged moan from the harmonium, to which mysterious
suggestion the congregation rose and began slowly to file into the
aisle. For a moment they mingled; there was the silent grasping of damp
woollen mittens and cold black gloves, and the whispered interchange
of each other's names with the prefix of "Brother" or "Sister," and
an utter absence of fraternal geniality, and then the meeting slowly
dispersed.

The few who had waited until the minister had resumed his hat, overcoat,
and overshoes, and accompanied him to the door, had already passed out;
the sexton was turning out the flickering gas jets one by one, when the
cold and austere silence was broken by a sound--the unmistakable echo of
a kiss of human passion.

As the horror-stricken official turned angrily, the figure of a man
glided from the shadow of the stairs below the organ loft, and vanished
through the open door. Before the sexton could follow, the figure of a
woman slipped out of the same portal and with a hurried glance after the
first retreating figure, turned in the opposite direction and was lost
in the darkness. By the time the indignant and scandalized custodian had
reached the portal, they had both melted in the troubled sea of
tossing umbrellas already to the right and left of him, and pursuit and
recognition were hopeless.




CHAPTER II


The male figure, however, after mingling with his fellow-worshippers
to the corner of the block, stopped a moment under the lamp-post as if
uncertain as to the turning, but really to cast a long, scrutinizing
look towards the scattered umbrellas now almost lost in the opposite
direction. He was still gazing and apparently hesitating whether to
retrace his steps, when a horse and buggy rapidly driven down the side
street passed him. In a brief glance he evidently recognized the driver,
and stepping over the curbstone called in a brief authoritative voice:

"Ned!"

The occupant of the vehicle pulled up suddenly, leaned from the buggy,
and said in an astonished tone:

"Dick Demorest! Well! I declare! hold on, and I'll drive up to the
curb."

"No; stay where you are."

The speaker approached the buggy, jumped in beside the occupant,
refastened the apron, and coolly taking the reins from his companion's
hand, started the horse forward. The action was that of an habitually
imperious man; and the only recognition he made of the other's ownership
was the question:

"Where were you going?"

"Home--to see Joan," replied the other. "Just drove over from Warensboro
Station. But what on earth are YOU doing here?"

Without answering the question, Demorest turned to his companion with
the same good-natured, half humorous authority. "Let your wife wait;
take a drive with me. I want to talk to you. She'll be just as glad to
see you an hour later, and it's her fault if I can't come home with you
now."

"I know it," returned his companion, in a tone of half-annoyed apology.
"She still sticks to her old compact when we first married, that she
shouldn't be obliged to receive my old worldly friends. And, see here,
Dick, I thought I'd talked her out of it as regards YOU at least, but
Parson Thomas has been raking up all the old stories about you--you
know that affair of the Fall River widow, and that breaking off of Garry
Spofferth's match--and about your horse-racing--until--you know, she's
more set than ever against knowing you."

"That's not a bad sort of horse you've got there," interrupted Demorest,
who usually conducted conversation without reference to alien topics
suggested by others. "Where did you get him? He's good yet for a spin
down the turnpike and over the bridge. We'll do it, and I'll bring you
home safely to Mrs. Blandford inside the hour."

Blandford knew little of horseflesh, but like all men he was not
superior to this implied compliment to his knowledge. He resigned
himself to his companion as he had been in the habit of doing, and
Demorest hurried the horse at a rapid gait down the street until they
left the lamps behind, and were fully on the dark turnpike. The sleet
rattled against the hood and leathern apron of the buggy, gusts of
fierce wind filled the vehicle and seemed to hold it back, but Demorest
did not appear to mind it. Blandford thrust his hands deeply into
his pockets for warmth, and contracted his shoulders as if in dogged
patience. Yet, in spite of the fact that he was tired, cold, and anxious
to see his wife, he was conscious of a secret satisfaction in submitting
to the caprices of this old friend of his boyhood. After all, Dick
Demorest knew what he was about, and had never led him astray by his
autocratic will. It was safe to let Dick have his way. It was true it
was generally Dick's own way--but he made others think it was theirs
too--or would have been theirs had they had the will and the knowledge
to project it. He looked up comfortably at the handsome, resolute
profile of the man who had taken selfish possession of him. Many women
had done the same.

"Suppose if you were to tell your wife I was going to reform," said
Demorest, "it might be different, eh? She'd want to take me into the
church--'another sinner saved,' and all that, eh?"

"No," said Blandford, earnestly. "Joan isn't as rigid as all that, Dick.
What she's got against you is the common report of your free way of
living, and that--come now, you know yourself, Dick, that isn't exactly
the thing a woman brought up in her style can stand. Why, she thinks
I'm unregenerate, and--well, a man can't carry on business always like a
class meeting. But are you thinking of reforming?" he continued, trying
to get a glimpse of his companion's eyes.

"Perhaps. It depends. Now--there's a woman I know--"

"What, another? and you call this going to reform?" interrupted
Blandford, yet not without a certain curiosity in his manner.

"Yes; that's just why I think of reforming. For this one isn't exactly
like any other--at least as far as I know."

"That means you don't know anything about her."

"Wait, and I'll tell you." He drew the reins tightly to accelerate the
horse's speed, and, half turning to his companion, without, however,
moving his eyes from the darkness before him, spoke quickly between the
blasts: "I've seen her only half a dozen times. Met her first in 6.40
train out from Boston last fall. She sat next to me. Covered up with
wraps and veils; never looked twice at her. She spoke first--kind of
half bold, half frightened way. Then got more comfortable and unwound
herself, you know, and I saw she was young and not bad-looking.
Thought she was some school-girl out for a lark--but rather new at it.
Inexperienced, you know, but quite able to take care of herself, by
George! and although she looked and acted as if she'd never spoken to
a stranger all her life, didn't mind the kind of stuff I talked to her.
Rather encouraged it; and laughed--such a pretty little odd laugh, as
if laughing wasn't in her usual line, either, and she didn't know how to
manage it. Well, it ended in her slipping out at one end of the car when
we arrived, while I was looking out for a cab for her at the other." He
stopped to recover from a stronger gust of wind. "I--I thought it a good
joke on me, and let the thing drop out of my mind, although, mind you,
she'd promised to meet me a month afterwards at the same time and place.
Well, when the day came I happened to be in Boston, and went to the
station. Don't know why I went, for I didn't for a moment think she'd
keep her appointment. First, I couldn't find her in the train, but after
we'd started she came along out of some seat in the corner, prettier
than ever, holding out her hand." He drew a long inspiration. "You can
bet your life, Ned, I didn't let go that little hand the rest of the
journey."

His passion, or what passed for it, seemed to impart its warmth to the
vehicle, and even stirred the chilled pulses of the man beside him.

"Well, who and what was she?"

"Didn't find out; don't know now. For the first thing she made me
promise was not to follow her, nor to try to know her name. In return
she said she would meet me again on another train near Hartford. She
did--and again and again--but always on the train for about an hour,
going or coming. Then she missed an appointment. I was regularly cut up,
I tell you, and swore as she hadn't kept her word, I wouldn't keep mine,
and began to hunt for her. In the midst of it I saw her accidentally; no
matter where; I followed her to--well, that's no matter to you, either.
Enough that I saw her again--and, well, Ned, such is the influence of
that girl over me that, by George! she made me make the same promise
again!"

Blandford, a little disappointed at his friend's dogmatic suppression of
certain material facts, shrugged his shoulders.

"If that's all your story," he said, "I must say I see no prospect of
your reforming. It's the old thing over again, only this time you are
evidently the victim. She's some designing creature who will have you if
she hasn't already got you completely in her power."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Ned, and you'd better quit,"
returned Demorest, with cheerful authoritativeness. "I tell you that
that's the sort of girl I'm going to marry, if I can, and settle down
upon. You can make a memorandum of that, old man, if you like."

"Then I don't really see why you want to talk to ME about it. And if you
are thinking that such a story would go down for a moment with Joan as
an evidence of your reformation, you're completely out, Dick. Was that
your idea?"

"Yes--and I can tell you, you're wrong again, Ned. You don't know
anything about women. You do just as I say--do you understand?--and
don't interfere with your own wrong-headed opinions of what other people
will think, and I'll take the risks of Mrs. Blandford giving me good
advice. Your wife has got a heap more sense on these subjects than you
have, you bet. You just tell her that I want to marry the girl and want
her to help me--that I mean business, this time--and you'll see how
quick she'll come down. That's all I want of you. Will you or won't
you?"

With an outward expression of sceptical consideration and an inward
suspicion of the peculiar force of this man's dogmatic insight,
Blandford assented, with, I fear, the mental reservation of telling
the story to his wife in his own way. He was surprised when his friend
suddenly drew the horse up sharply, and after a moment's pause began
to back him, cramp the wheels of the buggy and then skilfully, in the
almost profound darkness, turn the vehicle and horse completely round to
the opposite direction.

"Then you are not going over the bridge?" said Blandford.

Demorest made an imperative gesture of silence. The tumultuous rush
and roar of swollen and rapid water came from the darkness behind them.
"There's been another break-out somewhere, and I reckon the bridge has
got all it can do to-night to keep itself out of water without taking us
over. At least, as I promised to set you down at your wife's door inside
of the hour, I don't propose to try." As the horse now travelled more
easily with the wind behind him, Demorest, dismissing abruptly all other
subjects, laid his hand with brusque familiarity on his companion's
knee, and as if the hour for social and confidential greeting had only
just then arrived, said: "Well, Neddy, old boy, how are you getting on?"

"So, so," said Blandford, dubiously. "You see," he began,
argumentatively, "in my business there's a good deal of competition, and
I was only saying this morning--"

But either Demorest was already familiar with his friend's arguments,
or had as usual exhausted his topic, for without paying the slightest
attention to him, he again demanded abruptly, "Why don't you go to
California? Here everything's played out. That's the country for a young
man like you--just starting into life, and without incumbrances. If I
was free and fixed in my family affairs like you I'd go to-morrow."

There was such an occult positivism in Demorest's manner that for an
instant Blandford, who had been married two years, and was transacting
a steady and fairly profitable manufacturing business in the adjacent
town, actually believed he was more fitted for adventurous speculation
than the grimly erratic man of energetic impulses and pleasures beside
him. He managed to stammer hesitatingly:

"But there's Joan--she--"

"Nonsense! Let her stay with her mother; you sell out your interest
in the business, put the money into an assorted cargo, and clap it and
yourself into the first ship out of Boston--and there you are. You've
been married going on two years now, and a little separation until
you've built up a business out there, won't do either of you any harm."

Blandford, who was very much in love with his wife, was not, however,
above putting the onus of embarrassing affection upon HER. "You don't
know, Joan, Dick," he replied. "She'd never consent to a separation,
even for a short time."

"Try her. She's a sensible woman--a deuced sight more than you are. You
don't understand women, Ned. That's what's the matter with you."

It required all of Blandford's fond memories of his wife's conservative
habits, Puritan practicality, religious domesticity, and strong family
attachments, to withstand Demorest's dogmatic convictions. He smiled,
however, with a certain complacency, as he also recalled the previous
autumn when the first news of the California gold discovery had
penetrated North Liberty, and he had expressed to her his belief that it
would offer an outlet to Demorest's adventurous energy. She had received
it with ill-disguised satisfaction, and the remark that if this exodus
of Mammon cleared the community of the godless and unregenerate it would
only be another proof of God's mysterious providence.

With the tumultuous wind at their backs it was not long before the
buggy rattled once more over the cobble-stones of the town. Under the
direction of his friend, Demorest, who still retained possession of the
reins, drove briskly down a side street of more pretentious dwellings,
where Blandford lived. One or two wayfarers looked up.

"Not so fast, Dick."

"Why? I want to bring you up to your door in style."

"Yes--but--it's Sunday. That's my house, the corner one."

They had stopped before a square, two-storied brick house, with an
equally square wooden porch supported by two plain, rigid wooden
columns, and a hollow sweep of dull concavity above the door, evidently
of the same architectural order as the church. There was no corner or
projection to break the force of the wind that swept its smooth glacial
surface; there was no indication of light or warmth behind its six
closed windows.

"There seems to be nobody at home," said Demorest, briefly. "Come along
with me to the hotel."

"Joan sits in the back parlor, Sundays," explained the husband.

"Shall I drive round to the barn and leave the horse and buggy there
while you go in?" continued Demorest, good-humoredly, pointing to the
stable gate at the side.

"No, thank you," returned Blandford, "it's locked, and I'll have to open
it from the other side after I go in. The horse will stand until then.
I think I'll have to say good-night, now," he added, with a sudden
half-ashamed consciousness of the forbidding aspect of the house, and
his own inhospitality. "I'm sorry I can't ask you in--but you understand
why."

"All right," returned Demorest, stoutly, turning up his coat-collar, and
unfurling his umbrella. "The hotel is only four blocks away--you'll find
me there to-morrow morning if you call. But mind you tell your wife just
what I told you--and no meandering of your own--you hear! She'll strike
out some idea with her woman's wits, you bet. Good-night, old man!" He
reached out his hand, pressed Blandford's strongly and potentially, and
strode down the street.

Blandford hitched his steaming horse to a sleet-covered horse block
with a quick sigh of impatient sympathy over the animal and himself, and
after fumbling in his pocket for a latchkey, opened the front door.
A vista of well-ordered obscurity with shadowy trestle-like objects
against the walls, and an odor of chill decorum, as if of a damp but
respectable funeral, greeted him on entering. A faint light, like a cold
dawn, broke through the glass pane of a door leading to the kitchen.
Blandford paused in the mid-darkness and hesitated. Should he first go
to his wife in the back parlor, or pass silently through the kitchen,
open the back gate, and mercifully bestow his sweating beast in the
stable? With the reflection that an immediate conjugal greeting, while
his horse was still exposed to the fury of the blast in the street,
would necessarily be curtailed and limited, he compromised by quickly
passing through the kitchen into the stable yard, opening the gate,
and driving horse and vehicle under the shed to await later and more
thorough ministration. As he entered the back door, a faint hope that
his wife might have heard him and would be waiting for him in the hall
for an instant thrilled him; but he remembered it was Sunday, and that
she was probably engaged in some devotional reading or exercise.
He hesitatingly opened the back-parlor door with a consciousness of
committing some unreasonable trespass, and entered.

She was there, sitting quietly before a large, round, shining
centre-table, whose sterile emptiness was relieved only by a shaded lamp
and a large black and gilt open volume. A single picture on the
opposite wall--the portrait of an elderly gentleman stiffened over a
corresponding volume, which he held in invincible mortmain in his rigid
hand, and apparently defied posterity to take from him--seemed to offer
a not uncongenial companionship. Yet the greenish light of the shade
fell upon a young and pretty face, despite the color it extracted from
it, and the hand that supported her low white forehead over which
her full hair was simply parted, like a brown curtain, was slim and
gentle-womanly. In spite of her plain lustreless silk dress, in spite of
the formal frame of sombre heavy horsehair and mahogany furniture that
seemed to set her off, she diffused an atmosphere of cleanly grace and
prim refinement through the apartment. The priestess of this ascetic
temple, the femininity of her closely covered arms, her pink ears, and
a little serviceable morocco house-shoe that was visible lower down,
resting on the carved lion's paw that upheld the centre-table, appeared
to be only the more accented. And the precisely rounded but softly
heaving bosom, that was pressed upon the edges of the open book of
sermons before her, seemed to assert itself triumphantly over the rigors
of the volume.

At least so her husband and lover thought, as he moved tenderly
towards her. She met his first kiss on her forehead; the second, a
supererogatory one, based on some supposed inefficiency in the first,
fell upon a shining band of her hair, beside her neck. She reached up
her slim hands, caught his wrists firmly, and, slightly putting him
aside, said:

"There, Edward?"

"I drove out from Warensboro, so as to get here to-night, as I have to
return to the city on Tuesday. I thought it would give me a little
more time with you, Joan," he said, looking around him, and, at last,
hesitatingly drawing an apparently reluctant chair from its formal
position at the window. The remembrance that he had ever dared to occupy
the same chair with her, now seemed hardly possible of credence.

"If it was a question of your travelling on the Lord's Day, Edward, I
would rather you should have waited until to-morrow," she said, with
slow precision.

"But--I--I thought I'd get here in time for the meeting," he said,
weakly.

"And instead, you have driven through the town, I suppose, where
everybody will see you and talk about it. But," she added, raising her
dark eyes suddenly to his, "where else have you been? The train gets
into Warensboro at six, and it's only half an hour's drive from there.
What have you been doing, Edward?"

It was scarcely a felicitous moment for the introduction of Demorest's
name, and he would have avoided it. But he reflected that he had been
seen, and he was naturally truthful. "I met Dick Demorest near the
church, and as he had something to tell me, we drove down the turnpike a
little way--so as to be out of the town, you know, Joan--and--and--"

He stopped. Her face had taken upon itself that appalling and
exasperating calmness of very good people who never get angry, but drive
others to frenzy by the simple occlusion of an adamantine veil between
their own feelings and their opponents'. "I'll tell you all about it
after I've put up the horse," he said hurriedly, glad to escape until
the veil was lifted again. "I suppose the hired man is out."

"I should hope he was in church, Edward, but I trust YOU won't delay
taking care of that poor dumb brute who has been obliged to minister to
your and Mr. Demorest's Sabbath pleasures."

Blandford did not wait for a further suggestion. When the door had
closed behind him, Mrs. Blandford went to the mantel-shelf, where a
grimly allegorical clock cut down the hours and minutes of men with a
scythe, and consulted it with a slight knitting of her pretty eyebrows.
Then she fell into a vague abstraction, standing before the open book
on the centre-table. Then she closed it with a snap, and methodically
putting it exactly in the middle of the top of a black cabinet in the
corner, lifted the shaded lamp in her hand and passed slowly with it up
the stairs to her bedroom, where her light steps were heard moving to
and fro. In a few moments she reappeared, stopping for a moment in the
hall with the lighted lamp as if to watch and listen for her husband's
return. Seen in that favorable light, her cheeks had caught a delicate
color, and her dark eyes shone softly. Putting the lamp down in exactly
the same place as before, she returned to the cabinet for the book,
brought it again to the table, opened it at the page where she had
placed her perforated cardboard book-marker, sat down beside it, and
with her hands in her lap and her eyes on the page began abstractedly to
tear a small piece of paper into tiny fragments. When she had reduced it
to the smallest shreds, she scraped the pieces out of her silk lap and
again collected them in the pink hollow of her little hand, kneeling
down on the scrupulously well-swept carpet to peck up with a bird-like
action of her thumb and forefinger an escaped atom here and there. These
and the contents of her hand she poured into the chilly cavity of a
sepulchral-looking alabaster vase that stood on the etagere. Returning
to her old seat, and making a nest for her clasped fingers in the lap
of her dress, she remained in that attitude, her shoulders a little
narrowed and bent forward, until her husband returned.

"I've lit the fire in the bedroom for you to change your clothes by,"
she said, as he entered; then evading the caress which this wifely
attention provoked, by bending still more primly over her book, she
added, "Go at once. You're making everything quite damp here."

He returned in a few moments in his slippers and jacket, but evidently
found the same difficulty in securing a conjugal and confidential
contiguity to his wife. There was no apparent social centre or nucleus
of comfort in the apartment; its fireplace, sealed by an iron ornament
like a monumental tablet over dead ashes, had its functions superseded
by an air-tight drum in the corner, warmed at second-hand from the
dining-room below, and offered no attractive seclusion; the sofa against
the wall was immovable and formally repellent. He was obliged to draw
a chair beside the table, whose every curve seemed to facilitate his
wife's easy withdrawal from side-by-side familiarity.

"Demorest has been urging me very strongly to go to California, but, of
course, I spoke of you," he said, stealing his hand into his wife's lap,
and possessing himself of her fingers.

Mrs. Blandford slowly lifted her fingers enclosed in his clasping hand
and placed them in shameless publicity on the volume before her. This
implied desecration was too much for Blandford; he withdrew his hand.

"Does that man propose to go with you?" asked Mrs. Blandford, coldly.

"No; he's preoccupied with other matters that he wanted me to talk to
you about," said her husband, hesitatingly. "He is--"

"Because"--continued Mrs. Blandford in the same measured tone, "if he
does not add his own evil company to his advice, it is the best he has
ever given yet. I think he might have taken another day than the Lord's
to talk about it, but we must not despise the means nor the hour whence
the truth comes. Father wanted me to take some reasonable moment to
prepare you to consider it seriously, and I thought of talking to you
about it to-morrow. He thinks it would be a very judicious plan. Even
Deacon Truesdail--"

"Having sold his invoice of damaged sugar kettles for mining purposes,
is converted," said Blandford, goaded into momentary testiness by his
wife's unexpected acquiescence and a sudden recollection of Demorest's
prophecy. "You have changed your opinion, Joan, since last fall, when
you couldn't bear to think of my leaving you," he added reproachfully.

"I couldn't bear to think of your joining the mob of lawless and sinful
men who use that as an excuse for leaving their wives and families. As
for my own feelings, Edward, I have never allowed them to stand between
me and what I believed best for our home and your Christian welfare.
Though I have no cause to admire the influence that I find this man,
Demorest, still holds over you, I am willing to acquiesce, as you see,
in what he advises for your good. You can hardly reproach ME, Edward,
for worldly or selfish motives."

Blandford felt keenly the bitter truth of his wife's speech. For the
moment he would gladly have exchanged it for a more illogical and
selfish affection, but he reflected that he had married this religious
girl for the security of an affection which he felt was not subject to
the temptations of the world--or even its own weakness--as was too often
the case with the giddy maidens whom he had known through Demorest's
companionship. It was, therefore, more with a sense of recalling this
distinctive quality of his wife than any loyalty to Demorest that he
suddenly resolved to confide to her the latter's fatuous folly.

"I know it, dear," he said, apologetically, "and we'll talk it over
to-morrow, and it may be possible to arrange it so that you shall go
with me. But, speaking of Demorest, I think you don't quite do HIM
justice. He really respects YOUR feelings and your knowledge of right
and wrong more than you imagine. I actually believe he came here
to-night merely to get me to interest you in an extraordinary love
affair of his. I mean, Joan," he added hastily, seeing the same look of
dull repression come over her face, "I mean, Joan--that is, you know,
from all I can judge--it is something really serious this time. He
intends to reform. And this is because he has become violently smitten
with a young woman whom he has only seen half a dozen times, at long
intervals, whom he first met in a railway train, and whose name and
residence he don't even know."

There was an ominous silence--so hushed that the ticking of the
allegorical clock came like a grim monitor. "Then," said Mrs. Blandford,
in a hard, dry voice that her alarmed husband scarcely recognized,
"he proposed to insult your wife by taking her into his shameful
confidence."

"Good heavens! Joan, no--you don't understand. At the worst, this is
some virtuous but silly school-girl, who, though she may be intending
only an innocent flirtation with him, has made this man actually and
deeply in love with her. Yes; it is a fact, Joan. I know Dick Demorest,
and if ever there was a man honestly in love, it is he."

"Then you mean to say that this man--an utter stranger to me--a man
whom I've never laid my eyes on--whom I wouldn't know if I met in the
street--expects me to advise him--to--to--" She stopped. Blandford could
scarcely believe his senses. There were tears in her eyes--this woman
who never cried; her voice trembled--she who had always controlled her
emotions.

He took advantage of this odd but opportune melting. He placed his
arm around her shoulders. She tried to escape it, but with a coy, shy
movement, half hysterical, half girlish, unlike her usual stony, moral
precision. "Yes, Joan," he repeated, laughingly, "but whose fault is it?
Not HIS, remember! And I firmly believe he thinks you can do him good."

"But he has never seen me," she continued, with a nervous little laugh,
"and probably considers me some old Gorgon--like--like--Sister Jemima
Skerret."

Blandford smiled with the complacency of far-reaching masculine
intuition. Ah! that shrewd fellow, Demorest, was right. Joan, dear Joan,
was only a woman after all.

"Then he'll be the more agreeably astonished," he returned, gayly, "and
I think YOU will, too, Joan. For Dick isn't a bad-looking fellow; most
women like him. It's true," he continued, much amused at the novelty
of the perfectly natural toss and grimace with which Mrs. Blandford
received this statement.

"I think he's been pointed out to me somewhere," she said, thoughtfully;
"he's a tall, dark, dissipated-looking man."

"Nothing of the kind," laughed her husband. "He's middle-sized and as
blond as your cousin Joe, only he's got a long yellow moustache, and
has a quick, abrupt way of talking. He isn't at all fancy-looking; you'd
take him for an energetic business man or a doctor, if you didn't know
him. So you see, Joan, this correct little wife of mine has been a
little, just a little, prejudiced."

He drew her again gently backwards and nearer his seat, but she caught
his wrists in her slim hands, and rising from the chair at the same
moment, dexterously slipped from his embrace with her back towards him.
"I do not know why I should be unprejudiced by anything you've told me,"
she said, sharply closing the book of sermons, and, with her back still
to her husband, reinstating it formally in its place on the cabinet.
"It's probably one of his many scandalous pursuits of defenceless and
believing women, and he, no doubt, goes off to Boston, laughing at you
for thinking him in earnest; and as ready to tell his story to anybody
else and boast of his double deceit." Her voice had a touch of human
asperity in it now, which he had never before noticed, but recognizing,
as he thought, the human cause, it was far from exciting his
displeasure.

"Wrong again, Joan; he's waiting here at the Independence House for me
to see him to-morrow," he returned, cheerfully. "And I believe him so
much in earnest that I would be ready to swear that not another person
will ever know the story but you and I and he. No, it is a real thing
with him; he's dead in love, and it's your duty as a Christian to help
him."

There was a moment of silence. Mrs. Blandford remained by the cabinet,
methodically arranging some small articles displaced by the return of
the book. "Well," she said, suddenly, "you don't tell me what mother had
to say. Of course, as you came home earlier than you expected, you had
time to stop THERE--only four doors from this house."

"Well, no, Joan," replied Blandford, in awkward discomfiture. "You see I
met Dick first, and then--then I hurried here to you--and--and--I clean
forgot it. I'm very sorry," he added, dejectedly.

"And I more deeply so," she returned, with her previous bloodless moral
precision, "for she probably knows by this time, Edward, why you have
omitted your usual Sabbath visit, and with WHOM you were."

"But I can pull on my boots again and run in there for a moment," he
suggested, dubiously, "if you think it necessary. It won't take me a
moment."

"No," she said, positively; "it is so late now that your visit would
only show it to be a second thought. I will go myself--it will be a call
for us both."

"But shall I go with you to the door? It is dark and sleeting,"
suggested Blandford, eagerly.

"No," she replied, peremptorily. "Stay where you are, and when Ezekiel
and Bridget come in send them to bed, for I have made everything fast in
the kitchen. Don't wait up for me."

She left the room, and in a few moments returned, wrapped from head to
foot in an enormous plaid shawl. A white woollen scarf thrown over her
bare brown head, and twice rolled around her neck, almost concealed her
face from view. When she had parted from her husband, and reached the
darkened hall below, she drew from beneath the folds of her shawl a
thick blue veil, with which she completely enveloped her features. As
she opened the front door and peered out into the night, her own husband
would have scarcely recognized her.

With her head lowered against the keen wind she walked rapidly down
the street and stopped for an instant at the door of the fourth house.
Glancing quickly back at the house she had left and then at the closed
windows of the one she had halted before, she gathered her skirts with
one hand and sped away from both, never stopping until she reached the
door of the Independence Hotel.




CHAPTER III


Mrs. Blandford entered the side door boldly. Luckily for her, the
austerities of the Sabbath were manifest even here; the bar-room was
closed, and the usual loungers in the passages were absent. Without
risking the recognition of her voice in an inquiry to the clerk, she
slipped past the office, still muffled in her veil, and quickly mounted
the narrow staircase. For an instant she hesitated before the public
parlor, and glanced dubiously along the half-lit corridor. Chance
befriended her; the door of a bedroom opened at that moment, and Richard
Demorest, with his overcoat and hat on, stepped out in the hall.

With a quick and nervous gesture of her hand she beckoned him to
approach. He came towards her leisurely, with an amused curiosity that
suddenly changed to utter astonishment as she hurriedly lifted her veil,
dropped it, turned, and glided down the staircase into the street again.
He followed rapidly, but did not overtake her until she had reached the
corner, when she slackened her pace an instant for him to join her.

"Lulu," he said eagerly; "is it you?"

"Not a word here," she said, breathlessly. "Follow me at a distance."

She started forward again in the direction of her own house. He followed
her at a sufficient interval to keep her faintly distinguishable figure
in sight until she had crossed three streets, and near the end of the
next block glided up the steps of a house not far from the one where
he remembered to have left Blandford. As he joined her, she had just
succeeded in opening the door with a pass-key, and was awaiting him.
With a gesture of silence she took his hand in her cold fingers, and
leading him softly through the dark hall and passage, quickly entered
the kitchen. Here she lit a candle, turned, and faced him. He could see
that the outside shutters were bolted, and the kitchen evidently closed
for the night.

As she removed the veil from her face he made a movement as if to regain
her hand again, but she drew it away.

"You have forced this upon me," she said hurriedly, "and it may be ruin
to us both. Why have you betrayed me?"

"Betrayed you, Lulu--Good God! what do you mean?"

She looked him full in the eye, and then said slowly, "Do you mean to
say that you have told no one of our meetings?"

"Only one--my old friend Blandford, who lives--Ah, yes! I see it now.
You are neighbors. He has betrayed me. This house is--"

"My father's!" she replied boldly.

The momentary uneasiness passed from Demorest's resolute face. His old
self-sufficiency returned. "Good," he said, with a frank laugh, "that
will do for me. Open the door there, Lulu, and take me to him. I'm not
ashamed of anything I've done, my girl, nor need you be. I'll tell him
my real name is Dick Demorest, as I ought to have told you before, and
that I want to marry you, fairly and squarely, and let him make the
conditions. I'm not a vagabond nor a thief, Lulu, if I have met you on
the sly. Come, dear, let us end this now. Come--"

But she had thrown herself before him and placed her hand upon his lips.
"Hush! are you mad? Listen to me, I tell you--please--oh, do--no you
must not!" He had covered her hand with kisses and was drawing her face
towards his own. "No--not again, it was wrong then, it is monstrous now.
I implore you, listen, if you love me, stop."

He released her. She sank into a chair by the kitchen-table, and buried
her flushed face in her hands.

He stood for a moment motionless before her. "Lulu, if that is your
name," he said slowly, but gently, "tell me all now. Be frank with me,
and trust me. If there is anything stands in the way, let me know what
it is and I can overcome it. If it is my telling Ned Blandford, don't
let that worry you, he's as loyal a fellow as ever breathed, and I'm a
dog to ever think he willingly betrayed us. His wife, well, she's one of
those pious saints--but no, she would not be such a cursed hypocrite and
bigot as this."

"Hush, I tell you! WILL you hush," she said, in a frantic whisper,
springing to her feet and grasping him convulsively by the lapels of
his overcoat. "Not a word more, or I'll kill myself. Listen! Do you know
what I brought you here for? why I left my--this house and dragged you
out of your hotel? Well, it was to tell you that you must leave me,
leave HERE--go out of this house and out of this town at once, to-night!
And never look on it or me again! There! you have said we must end this
now. It is ended, as only it could and ever would end. And if you open
that door except to go, or if you attempt to--to touch me again, I'll do
something desperate. There!"

She threw him off again and stepped back, strangely beautiful in the
loosened shackles of her long repressed human emotion. It was as if the
passion-rent robes of the priestess had laid bare the flesh of the woman
dazzling and victorious. Demorest was fascinated and frightened.

"Then you do not love me?" he said with a constrained smile, "and I am a
fool?"

"Love you!" she repeated. "Love you," she continued, bowing her brown
head over her hanging arms and clasped hands. "What then has brought me
to this? Oh," she said suddenly, again seizing him by his two arms, and
holding him from her with a half-prudish, half-passionate gesture, "why
could you not have left things as they were; why could we not have met
in the same old way we used to meet, when I was so foolish and so happy?
Why could you spoil that one dream I have clung to? Why didn't you leave
me those few days of my wretched life when I was weak, silly, vain, but
not the unhappy woman I am now. You were satisfied to sit beside me and
talk to me then. You respected my secret, my reserve. My God! I used
to think you loved me as I loved you--for THAT! Why did you break your
promise and follow me here? I believed you the first day we met, when
you said there was no wrong in my listening to you; that it should go no
further; that you would never seek to renew it without my consent. You
tell me I don't love you, and I tell you now that we must part, that
frightened as I was, foolish as I was, that day was the first day I had
ever lived and felt as other women live and feel. If I ran away from you
then it was because I was running away from my old self too. Don't you
understand me? Could you not have trusted me as I trusted you?"

"I broke my promise only when you broke yours. When you would not meet
me I followed you here, because I loved you."

"And that is why you must leave me now," she said, starting from his
outstretched arms again. "Do not ask me why, but go, I implore you. You
must leave this town to-night, to-morrow will be too late."

He cast a hurried glance around him, as if seeking to gather some reason
for this mysterious haste, or a clue for future identification. He saw
only the Sabbath-sealed cupboards, the cold white china on the dresser,
and the flicker of the candle on the partly-opened glass transom above
the door. "As you wish," he said, with quiet sadness. "I will go now,
and leave the town to-night; but"--his voice struck its old imperative
note--"this shall not end here, Lulu. There will be a next time, and I
am bound to win you yet, in spite of all and everything."

She looked at him with a half-frightened, half-hysterical light in her
eyes. "God knows!"

"And you will be frank with me then, and tell me all?"

"Yes, yes, another time; but go now." She had extinguished the candle,
turned the handle of the door noiselessly, and was holding it open. A
faint light stole through the dark passage. She drew back hastily.
"You have left the front door open," she said in a frightened voice. "I
thought you had shut it behind me," he returned quickly. "Good night."
He drew her towards him. She resisted slightly. They were for an instant
clasped in a passionate embrace; then there was a sudden collapse of the
light and a dull jar. The front door had swung to.

With a desperate bound she darted into the passage and through the hall,
dragging him by the hand, and threw the front door open. Without, the
street was silent and empty.

"Go," she whispered frantically.

Demorest passed quickly down the steps and disappeared. At the same
moment a voice came from the banisters of the landing above. "Who's
there?"

"It's I, mother."

"I thought so. And it's like Edward to bring you and sneak off in that
fashion."

Mrs. Blandford gave a quick sigh of relief. Demorest's flight had been
mistaken for her husband's habitual evasion. Knowing that her mother
would not refer to the subject again, she did not reply, but slowly
mounted the dark staircase with an assumption of more than usual
hesitating precaution, in order to recover her equanimity.


The clocks were striking eleven when she left her mother's house and
re-entered her own. She was surprised to find a light burning in the
kitchen, and Ezekiel, their hired man, awaiting her in a dominant and
nasal key of religious and practical disapprobation. "Pity you wern't
tu hum afore, ma'am, considerin' the doins that's goin' on in perfessed
Christians' houses arter meetin' on the Sabbath Day."

"What's the difficulty now, Ezekiel?" said Mrs. Blandford, who had
regained her rigorous precision once more under the decorous security of
her own roof.

"Wa'al, here comes an entire stranger axin for Squire Blandford. And
when I tells he warn't tu hum--"

"Not at home?" interrupted Mrs. Blandford, with a slight start. "I left
him here."

"Mebbee so, but folks nowadays don't 'pear to keer much whether they
break the Sabbath or not, trapsen' raound town in and arter meetin'
hours, ez if 'twor gin'ral tranin' day--and hez gone out agin."

"Go on," said Mrs. Blandford, curtly.

"Wa'al, the stranger sez, sez he, 'Show me the way to the stables,' sez
he, and without taken' no for an answer, ups and meanders through the
hall, outer the kitchen inter the yard, ez if he was justice of the
peace; and when he gets there he sez, 'Fetch out his hoss and harness
up, and be blamed quick about it, and tell Ned Blandford that Dick
Demorest hez got to leave town to-night, and ez ther ain't a blamed
puritanical shadbelly in this hull town ez would let a hoss go on hire
Sunday night, he guesses he'll hev to borry his.' And afore I could
say Jack Robinson, he tackles the hoss up and drives outer the yard,
flinging this two-dollar-and-a-half-piece behind him ez if I wur a
Virginia slave and he was John C. Calhoun hisself. I'd a chucked it
after him if it hadn't been the Lord's Day, and it mout hev provoked
disturbance."

"Mr. Demorest is worldly, but one of Edward's old friends," said Mrs.
Blandford, with a slight kindling of her eyes, "and he would not have
refused to aid him in what might be an errand of grace or necessity. You
can keep the money, Ezekiel, as a gift, not as a wage. And go to bed. I
will sit up for Mr. Blandford."

She passed out and up the staircase into her bedroom, pausing on her way
to glance into the empty back parlor and take the lamp from the table.
Here she noticed that her husband had evidently changed his clothes
again and taken a heavier overcoat from the closet. Removing her own
wraps she again descended to the lower apartment, brought out the volume
of sermons, placed it and the lamp in the old position, and with
her abstracted eyes on the page fell into her former attitude. Every
suggestion of the passionate, half-frenzied woman in the kitchen of the
house only four doors away, had vanished; one would scarcely believe she
had ever stirred from the chair in which she had formally received
her husband two hours before. And yet she was thinking of herself and
Demorest in that kitchen.

His prompt and decisive response to her appeal, as shown in this last
bold and characteristic action, relieved, while it half piqued her. But
the overruling destiny which had enabled her to bring him from his hotel
to her mother's house unnoticed, had protected them while there, had
arrested a dangerous meeting between him and herself and her husband in
her own house, impressed her more than all. It imparted to her a hideous
tranquillity born of the doctrines of her youth--Predestination! She
reflected with secret exultation that her moral resolution to fly from
him and her conscientiously broken promise had been the direct means of
bringing him there; that step by step circumstances not in themselves
evil or to be combated had led her along; that even her husband and
mother had felt it their duty to assist towards this fateful climax! If
Edward had never kept up his worldly friendship, if she had never been
restricted and compassed in her own; if she had ever known the freedom
of other girls,--all this might not have happened. She had been elected
to share with Demorest and her husband the effects of their ungodliness.
She was no longer a free agent; what availed her resolutions? To
Demorest's imperious hope, she had said, "God knows." What more could
she say? Her small red lips grew white and compressed; her face rigid,
her eyes hollow and abstracted; she looked like the genius of asceticism
as she sat there, grimly formulating a dogmatic explanation of her
lawless and unlicensed passion.

The wind had risen to a gale without, and stirred even the sealed
sepulchre of the fireplace with dull rumblings and muffled moans. At
times the hot-air drum in the corner seemed to expand as with some
pent-up emotion. Strange currents of air crossed the empty room like the
passage of unseen spirits, and she even fancied she heard whispers at
the window. This caused her to rise and open it, when she found that the
sleet had given way to a dry feathery snow that was swarming through
the slits of the shutter; a faint reflection from the already whitened
fences glimmered in the panes. She shut the window hastily, with a
little shiver of cold. Where was Demorest in this storm? Would it
stop him? She thought with pride now of the dominant energy that had
frightened her, and knew it would not. But her husband?--what kept him?
It was twelve o'clock; he had seldom stayed out so late before. During
the first half hour of her reflections she had been relieved by his
absence; she had even believed that he had met Demorest in the town,
and was not alarmed by it, for she knew that the latter would avoid
any further confidence, and cut short any return to it. But why had not
Edward returned? For an instant the terrible thought that something had
happened, and that they might both return together, took possession
of her, and she trembled. But no; Demorest, who had already taken such
extreme measures, could not consistently listen to any suggestion for
delay. As her only danger lay in Demorest's presence, the absence of her
husband caused her more undefinable uneasiness than actual alarm.

The room had become cold with the dying out of the dining-room fire that
warmed the drum. She would go to bed. She nevertheless arranged the room
again with a singular impression that she was doing it for the last time
in her present existing circumstances, and placing the lamp on the table
in the hall, went up to her own room. By the light of a single candle
she undressed herself hastily, said her prayers punctiliously, and got
into bed, with an unexpected relief at finding herself still occupying
it alone. Then she fell asleep and dreamed of Demorest.




CHAPTER IV


When Edward Blandford found himself alone after his wife had undertaken
to fulfil his abandoned filial duty at her parents' house, he felt a
slight twinge of self-reproach. He could not deny that this was not
the first time he had evaded the sterile Sabbath evenings at his
mother-in-law's, or that even at other times he was not in accord with
the cold and colorless sanctity of the family. Yet he remembered that
when he picked out from the budding womanhood of North Liberty
this pure, scentless blossom, he had endured the privations of its
surroundings with a sense of security in inhaling the atmosphere in
which it grew, and knowing the integrity of its descent. There was a
certain pleasure also in invading this seclusion with human passion; the
first pressure of her hand when they were kneeling together at family
prayers had the zest without the sin of a forbidden pleasure; the first
kiss he had given her with their heads over the family Bible had fairly
intoxicated him in the thin, rarefied air of their surroundings. In
transplanting this blossom to his own home with the fond belief that it
would eventually borrow the hues and color of his own passion, he had
no further interest in the house he had left behind. When he found,
however, that the ancestral influence was stronger than he expected,
that the young wife, instead of assimilating to his conditions, had
imported into their little household the rigors of her youthful home,
he had been chilled and disappointed. But he could not help also
remembering that his own boyhood had been spent in an atmosphere like
her own in everything but its sincerity and deep conviction. His father
had recognized the business value of placating the narrow tyranny of the
respectable well-to-do religious community, and had become a conscious
hypocrite and a popular citizen. He had himself been under that
influence, and it was partly a conviction of this that had drawn him
towards her as something genuine and real. It occurred to him now for
the first time, as he looked around upon that compromise of their two
lives in this chilly artificial home, that it was only natural that she
would prefer the more truthful austerities of her mother's house. Had
she detected the sham, and did she despise him for it?

These were questions which seemed to bring another self-accusing doubt
in his own mind, although, without his being conscious of it, they had
been really the outcome of that doubt. He could not help dwelling on the
singular human interest she had taken in Demorest's love affair, and
the utterly unexpected emotion she had shown. He had never seen her as
charmingly illogical, capricious, and bewitchingly feminine. Had he not
made a radical mistake in not giving her a frequent provocation for this
innocent emotion--in fact, in not taking her out into a world of broader
sympathies and experiences? What a household they might have had--if
necessary in some other town--away from those cramped prejudices and
limitations! What friends she might have been with Dick and his other
worldly acquaintances; what social pleasures--guiltless amusements
for her pure mind--in theatres, parties, and concerts! Would she have
objected to them?--had he ever seriously proposed them to her? No! if
she had objected there would have been time enough to have made this
present compromise; she would have at least respected and understood his
sacrifice--and his friends.

Even the artificial externals of his household had never before so
visibly impressed him. Now that she was no longer in the room it did not
even bear a trace of her habitation, it certainly bore no suggestion of
his own. Why had he bought that hideous horsehair furniture? To remind
her of the old provincial heirlooms of her father's sitting-room. Did
it remind her of it? The stiff and stony emptiness of this room had
been fashioned upon the decorous respectability of his own father's
parlor--in which his father, who usually spent his slippered leisure
in the family sitting-room, never entered except on visits from the
minister. It had chilled his own youthful soul--why had he perpetuated
it here?

He could only answer these questions by moodily wandering about the
house, and regretting he had not gone with her. After a vain attempt to
establish social and domestic relations with the hot-air drum by putting
his feet upon it--after an equally futile attempt to extract interest
from the book of sermons by opening its pages at random--he glanced at
the clock and suddenly resolved to go and fetch her. It would remind him
of the old times when he used to accompany her from church, and, after
her parents had retired, spend a blissful half-hour alone with her. With
what a mingling of fear and childish curiosity she used to accept his
equally timid caresses! Yes, he would go and fetch her; and he would
recall it to her in a whisper while they were there.

Filled with this idea, when he changed his clothes again he put on a
certain heavy beaver overcoat, on whose shaggy sleeve her little, hand
had so often rested when he escorted her from meeting; and he even
selected the gray muffler she had knit for him in the old ante-nuptial
days. It was lying in the half-opened drawer from where she had not long
before taken her disguising veil.

It was still blowing in sudden, capricious gusts; and when he opened the
front door the wind charged fiercely upon him, as if to drive him back.
When he had finally forced his way into the street, a return current
closed the door as suddenly and sharply behind him as if it had ejected
him from his home for ever.

He reached the fourth house quickly, and as quickly ran up the steps;
his hand was upon the bell when his eye suddenly caught sight of his
wife's pass-key still in the lock. She had evidently forgotten it. Here
was a chance to mischievously banter that habitually careful little
woman! He slipped it into his pocket and quietly entered the dark but
perfectly familiar hall. He reached the staircase without a stumble
and began to ascend softly. Halfway up he heard the sound of his wife's
hurried voice and another that startled him. He ascended hastily two
steps, which brought him to the level of the half-opened transom of
the kitchen. A candle was burning on the kitchen table; he could see
everything that passed in the room; he could hear distinctly every word
that was uttered.

He did not utter a cry or sound; he did not even tremble. He remained
so rigid and motionless, clutching the banisters with his stiffened
fingers, that when he did attempt to move, all life, as well as all that
had made life possible to him, seemed to have died from him for
ever. There was no nervous illusion, no dimming of his senses; he saw
everything with a hideous clarity of perception. By some diabolical
instantaneous photography of the brain, little actions, peculiarities,
touches of gesture, expression and attitude never before noted by him in
his wife, were clearly fixed and bitten in his consciousness. He saw the
color of his friend's overcoat, the reddish tinge of his wife's brown
hair, till then unnoticed; in that supreme moment he was aware of a
sudden likeness to her mother; but more terrible than all, there seemed
to be a nameless sympathetic resemblance that the guilty pair had to
each other in gesture and movement as of some unhallowed relationship
beyond his ken. He knew not how long he stood there without breath,
without reflection, without one connected thought. He saw her suddenly
put her hand on the handle of the door. He knew that in another moment
they would pass almost before him. He made a convulsive effort to move,
with an inward cry to God for support, and succeeded in staggering with
outstretched palms against the wall, down the staircase, and blindly
forward through the hall to the front door. As yet he had been able to
formulate only one idea--to escape before them, for it seemed to him
that their contact meant the ruin of them both, of that house, of all
that was near to him--a catastrophe that struck blindly at his whole
visible world. He had reached the door and opened it at the moment that
the handle of the kitchen-door was turned. He mechanically fell back
behind the open door that hid him, while it let the cruel light glimmer
for a moment on their clasped figures. The door slipped from his
nerveless fingers and swung to with a dull sound. Crouching still in the
corner, he heard the quick rush of hurrying feet in the darkness, saw
the door open and Demorest glide out--saw her glance hurriedly after
him, close the door, and involve herself and him in the blackness of the
hall. Her dress almost touched him in his corner; he could feel the
near scent of her clothes, and the air stirred by her figure retreating
towards the stairs; could hear the unlocking of a door above and the
voice of her mother from the landing, his wife's reply, the slow fading
of her footsteps on the stairs and overhead, the closing of a door, and
all was quiet again. Still stooping, he groped for the handle of the
door, opened it, and the next moment reeled like a drunken man down the
steps into the street.

It was well for him that a fierce onset of wind and sleet at that
instant caught him savagely--stirred his stagnated blood into action,
and beat thought once more into his brain. He had mechanically turned
towards his own home; his first effort of recovering will hurried
him furiously past it and into a side street. He walked rapidly, but
undeviatingly on to escape observation and secure some solitude for his
returning thoughts. Almost before he knew it he was in the open fields.

The idea of vengeance had never crossed his mind. He was neither a
physical nor a moral coward, but he had never felt the merely animal
fury of disputed animal possession which the world has chosen to
recognize as a proof of outraged sentiment, nor had North Liberty
accepted the ethics that an exchange of shots equalized a transferred
affection. His love had been too pure and too real to be moved like
the beasts of the field, to seek in one brutal passion compensation for
another. Killing--what was there to kill? All that he had to live for
had been already slain. With the love that was in him--in them--already
dead at his feet, what was it to him whether these two hollow lives
moved on and passed him, or mingled their emptiness elsewhere? Only let
them henceforth keep out of his way!

For in his first feverish flow of thought--the reaction to his benumbed
will within and the beating sleet without--he believed Demorest as
treacherous as his wife. He recalled his sudden and unexpected intrusion
into the buggy only a few hours before, his mysterious confidences, his
assurance of Joan's favorable reception of his secret, and her consent
to the Californian trip. What had all this meant if not that Demorest
was using him, the husband, to assist his intrigue, and carry the news
of his presence in the town to her? And this boldness, this assurance,
this audacity of conception was like Demorest! While only certain
passages of the guilty meeting he had just seen and overheard were
distinctly impressed on his mind, he remembered now, with hideous
and terrible clearness, all that had gone before. It was part of the
disturbed and unequal exaltation of his faculties that he dwelt more
upon this and his wife's previous deceit and manifest hypocrisy, than
upon the actual evidence he had witnessed of her unfaithfulness. The
corroboration of the fact was stronger to him than the fact itself. He
understood the coldness, the uncongeniality now--the simulated increase
of her aversion to Demorest--her journeys to Boston and Hartford to
see her relatives, her acquiescence to his frequent absences; not an
incident, not a characteristic of her married life was inconsistent with
her guilt and her deceit. He went even back to her maidenhood: how did
he know this was not the legitimate sequence of other secret schoolgirl
escapades. The bitter worldly light that had been forced upon his simple
ingenuous nature had dazzled and blinded him. He passed from fatuous
credulity to equally fatuous distrust.

He stopped suddenly with the roaring of water before him. In the furious
following of his rapid thought through storm and darkness he had come,
he knew not how, upon the bank of the swollen river, whose endangered
bridge Demorest had turned from that evening. A few steps more and he
would have fallen into it. He drew nearer and looked at it with vague
curiosity. Had he come there with any definite intention? The thought
sobered without frightening him. There was always THAT culmination
possible, and to be considered coolly.

He turned and began to retrace his steps. On his way thither he had been
fighting the elements step by step; now they seemed to him to have taken
possession of him and were hurrying him quickly away. But where? and to
what? He was always thinking of the past. He had wandered he knew not
how long, always thinking of that. It was the future he had to consider.
What was to be done?

He had heard of such cases before; he had read of them in newspapers
and talked of them with cold curiosity. But they were of worldly, sinful
people, of dissolute men whose characters he could not conceive--of
silly, vain, frivolous, and abandoned women whom he had never even met.
But Joan--O God! It was the first time since his mute prayer on the
staircase that the Divine name had been wrested from his lips. It came
with his wife's--and his first tears! But the wind swept the one away
and dried the others upon his hot cheeks.

It had ceased to rain, and the wind, which was still high, had shifted
more to the north and was bitterly cold. He could feel the roadway
stiffening under his feet. When he reached the pavement of the outskirts
once more he was obliged to take the middle of the street, to avoid the
treacherous films of ice that were beginning to glaze the sidewalks. Yet
this very inclemency, added to the usual Sabbath seclusion, had left the
streets deserted. He was obliged to proceed more slowly, but he met no
one and could pursue his bewildering thoughts unchecked. As he passed
between the lines of cold, colorless houses, from which all light and
life had vanished, it seemed to him that their occupants were dead
as his love, or had fled their ruined houses as he had. Why should he
remain? Yet what was his duty now as a man--as a Christian? His eye fell
on the hideous facade of the church he was passing--her church! He gave
a bitter laugh and stumbled on again.

With one of the gusts he fancied he heard a familiar sound--the rattling
of buggy wheels over the stiffening road. Or was it merely the fanciful
echo of an idea that only at that moment sprung up in his mind? If it
was real it came from the street parallel with the one he was in. Who
could be driving out at this time? What other buggy than his own could
be found to desecrate this Christian Sabbath? An irresistible thought
impelled him at the risk of recognition to quicken his pace and turn the
corner as Richard Demorest drove up to the Independence Hotel, sprang
from his buggy, throwing the reins over the dashboard, and disappeared
into the hotel!

Blandford stood still, but for an instant only. He had been wandering
for an hour aimlessly, hopelessly, without consecutive idea, coherent
thought or plan of action; without the faintest inspiration or
suggestion of escape from his bewildering torment, without--he had begun
to fear--even the power to conceive or the will to execute; when a wild
idea flashed upon him with the rattle of his buggy wheels. And even
as Demorest disappeared into the hotel, he had conceived his plan and
executed it. He crossed the street swiftly, leaped into his buggy,
lifted the reins and brought down the whip simultaneously, and the next
instant was dashing down the street in the direction of the Warensboro
turnpike. So sudden was the action that by the time the astonished hall
porter had rushed into the street, horse and buggy had already vanished
in the darkness.

Presently it began to snow. So lightly at first that it seemed a mere
passing whisper to the ear, the brush of some viewless insect upon the
cheek, or the soft tap of unseen fingers on the shoulders. But by the
time the porter returned from his hopeless and invisible chase of
the "runaway," he came in out of a swarming cloud of whirling flakes,
blinded and whitened. There was a hurried consultation with the
landlord, the exhibition of much imperious energy and some bank-notes
from Demorest, and with a glance at the clock that marked the expiring
limit of the Puritan Sabbath, the landlord at last consented. By the
time the falling snow had muffled the street from the indiscreet clamor
of Sabbath-breaking hoofs, the landlord's noiseless sledge was at the
door and Demorest had departed.

The snow fell all that night; with fierce gusts of wind that moaned in
the chimneys of North Liberty and sorely troubled the Sabbath sleep of
its decorous citizens; with deep, passionless silences, none the
less fateful, that softly precipitated a spotless mantle of merciful
obliteration equally over their precise or their straying footprints,
that would have done them good to heed and to remember; and when morning
broke upon a world of week-day labor, it was covered as far as their
eyes could reach as with a clear and unwritten tablet, on which they
might record their lives anew. Near the wreck of the broken bridge on
the Warensboro turnpike an overturned buggy lay imbedded in the drift
and debris of the river hurrying silently towards the sea, and a horse
with fragments of broken and icy harness still clinging to him was found
standing before the stable-door of Edward Blandford. But to any further
knowledge of the fate of its owner, North Liberty awoke never again.


PART II



CHAPTER I


The last note of the Angelus had just rung out of the crumbling fissures
in the tower of the mission chapel of San Buena-ventura. The sun which
had beamed that day and indeed every day for the whole dry season over
the red-tiled roofs of that old and happily ventured pueblo seemed to
broaden to a smile as it dipped below the horizon, as if in undiminished
enjoyment of its old practical joke of suddenly plunging the Southern
California coast in darkness without any preliminary twilight. The olive
and fig trees at once lost their characteristic outlines in formless
masses of shadow; only the twisted trunks of the old pear trees in the
mission garden retained their grotesque shapes and became gruesome in
the gathering gloom. The encircling pines beyond closed up their serried
files; a cool breeze swept down from the coast range and, passing
through them, sent their day-long heated spices through the town.

If there was any truth in the local belief that the pious incantation of
the Angelus bell had the power of excluding all evil influence abroad
at that perilous hour within its audible radius, and comfortably keeping
all unbelieving wickedness at a distance, it was presumably ineffective
as regarded the innovating stage-coach from Monterey that twice a
week at that hour brought its question-asking, revolver-persuading and
fortune-seeking load of passengers through the sleepy Spanish town. On
the night of the 3d of August, 1856, it had not only brought but set
down at the Posada one of those passengers. It was a Mr. Ezekiel
Corwin, formerly known to these pages as "hired man" to the late Squire
Blandford, of North Liberty, Connecticut, but now a shrewd, practical,
self-sufficient, and self-asserting unit of the more cautious later
Californian immigration. As the stage rattled away again with more or
less humorous and open disparagement of the town and the Posada from its
"outsiders," he lounged with lazy but systematic deliberation towards
Mateo Morez, the proprietor.

"I guess that some of your folks here couldn't direct me to Dick
Demorest's house, could ye?"

The Senor Mateo Morez was at once perplexed and pained. Pained at the
ignorance thus forced upon him by a caballero; perplexed as to its
intention. Between the two he smiled apologetically but gravely, and
said: "No sabe, Senor. I 'ave not understood."

"No more hev I," returned Ezekiel, with patronizing recognition of his
obtuseness. "I guess ez heow you ain't much on American. You folks orter
learn the language if you kalkilate to keep a hotel."

But the momentary vision of a waistless woman with a shawl gathered over
her head and shoulders at the back door attracted his attention. She
said something to Mateo in Spanish, and the yellowish-white of Mateo's
eyes glistened with intelligent comprehension.

"Ah, posiblemente; it is Don Ricardo Demorest you wish?"

Mr. Ezekiel's face and manner expressed a mingling of grateful curiosity
and some scorn at the discovery. "Wa'al," he said, looking around as if
to take the entire Posada into his confidence, "way up in North Liberty,
where I kem from, he was allus known as Dick Demorest, and didn't
tack any forrin titles to his name. Et wouldn't hev gone down there, I
reckon, 'mongst free-born Merikin citizens, no mor'n aliases would in
court--and I kinder guess for the same reason. But folks get peart
and sassy when they're way from hum, and put on ez many airs as a buck
nigger. And so he calls hisself Don Ricardo here, does he?"

"The Senor knows Don Ricardo?" said Mateo politely.

"Ef you mean me--wa'al, yes--I should say so. He was a partiklar friend
of a man I've known since he was knee-high to a grasshopper."

Ezekiel had actually never seen Demorest but once in his life. He would
have scorned to lie, but strict accuracy was not essential with an
ignorant foreign audience.

He took up his carpet-bag.

"I reckon I kin find his house, ef it's anyway handy."

But the Senor Mateo was again politely troubled. The house of Don
Ricardo was of a truth not more than a mile distant. It was even
possible that the Senor had observed it above a wall and vineyard as he
came into the pueblo. But it was late--it was also dark, as the Senor
would himself perceive--and there was still to-morrow. To-morrow--ah, it
was always there! Meanwhile there were beds of a miraculous quality
at the Posada, and a supper such as a caballero might order in his own
house. Health, discretion, solicitude for oneself--all pointed clearly
to to-morrow.

What part of this speech Ezekiel understood affected him only as an
innkeeper's bid for custom, and as such to be steadily exposed and
disposed of. With the remark that he guessed Dick Demorest's was "a good
enough hotel for HIM," and that he'd better be "getting along there," he
walked down the steps, carpet-bag in hand, and coolly departed, leaving
Mateo pained, but smiling, on the doorstep.

"An animal with a pig's head--without doubt," said Mateo, sententiously.

"Clearly a brigand with the liver of a chicken," responded his wife.

The subject of this ambiguous criticism, happily oblivious, meantime
walked doggedly back along the road the stage-coach had just brought
him. It was badly paved and hollowed in the middle with the worn ruts of
a century of slow undeviating ox carts, and the passage of water
during the rainy season. The low adobe houses on each side, with bright
cinnamon-colored tiles relieving their dark-brown walls, had the regular
outlines of their doors and windows obliterated by the crumbling of
years, until they looked as if they had been afterthoughts of the
builder, rudely opened by pick and crowbar, and finished by the gentle
auxiliary architecture of birds and squirrels. Yet these openings at
times permitted glimpses of a picturesque past in the occasional view
of a lace-edged pillow or silken counterpane, striped hangings, or dyed
Indian rugs, the flitting of a flounced petticoat or flower-covered
head, or the indolent leaning figure framed in a doorway of a man in
wide velvet trousers and crimson-barred serape, whose brown face
was partly hidden in a yellow nimbus of cigarette smoke. Even in the
semi-darkness, Ezekiel's penetrating and impertinent eyes took eager
note of these facts with superior complacency, quite unmindful, after
the fashion of most critical travellers, of the hideous contrast of his
own long shapeless nankeen duster, his stiff half-clerical brown straw
hat, his wisp of gingham necktie, his dusty boots, his outrageous
carpet-bag, and his straggling goat-like beard. A few looked at him in
grave, discreet wonder. Whether they recognized in him the advent of a
civilization that was destined to supplant their own ignorant, sensuous,
colorful life with austere intelligence and rigid practical improvement,
did not appear. He walked steadily on. As he passed the low arched door
of the mission church and saw a faint light glimmering from the side
windows, he had indeed a weak human desire to go in and oppose in his
own person a debased and idolatrous superstition with some happily
chosen question that would necessarily make the officiating priest and
his congregation exceedingly uncomfortable. But he resisted; partly in
the hope of meeting some idolater on his way to Benediction, and, in
the guise of a stranger seeking information, dropping a few unpalatable
truths; and partly because he could unbosom himself later to Demorest,
who he was not unwilling to believe had embraced Popery with his
adoption of a Spanish surname and title.

It had become quite dark when he reached the long wall that enclosed
Demorest's premises. The wall itself excited his resentment, not only
as indicating an exclusiveness highly objectionable in a man who
had emigrated from a free State, but because he, Ezekiel Corwin, had
difficulty in discovering the entrance. When he succeeded, he found
himself before an iron gate, happily open, but savoring offensively of
feudalism and tyrannical proprietorship, and passed through and entered
an avenue of trees scarcely distinguishable in the darkness, whose
mysterious shapes and feathery plumes were unknown to him. Numberless
odors equally vague and mysterious were heavy in the air, strange and
delicate plants rose dimly on either hand; enormous blossoms, like
ghostly faces, seemed to peer at him from the shadows. For an instant
Ezekiel succumbed to an unprofitable sense of beauty, and acquiesced in
this reckless extravagance of Nature that was so unlike North Liberty.
But the next moment he recovered himself, with the reflection that it
was probably unhealthy, and doggedly approached the house. It was a
long, one-storied, structure, apparently all roof, vine, and pillared
veranda. Every window and door was open; the two or three grass hammocks
swung emptily between the columns; the bamboo chairs and settees were
vacant; his heavy footsteps on the floor had summoned no attendant; not
even a dog had barked as he approached the house. It was shiftless, it
was sinful--it boded no good to the future of Demorest.

He put down his carpet-bag on the veranda and entered the broad hall,
where an old-fashioned lantern was burning on a stand. Here, too, the
doors of the various apartments were open, and the rooms themselves
empty of occupants. An opportunity not to be lost by Ezekiel's inquiring
mind thus offered itself. He took the lantern and deliberately examined
the several apartments, the furniture, the bedding, and even the small
articles that were on the tables and mantels. When he had completed the
round--including a corridor opening on a dark courtyard, which he did
not penetrate--he returned to the hall, and set down the lantern again.

"Well," said a voice in his own familiar vernacular, "I hope you like
it."

Ezekiel was surprised, but not disconcerted. What he had taken in the
shadow for a bundle of serapes lying on the floor of the veranda,
was the recumbent figure of a man who now raised himself to a sitting
posture.

"Ez to that," drawled Ezekiel, with unshaken self-possession, "whether
I like it or not ez only a question betwixt kempany manners and
truth-telling. Beggars hadn't oughter be choosers, and transient
visitors like myself needn't allus speak their mind. But if you mean to
signify that with every door and window open and universal shiftlessness
lying round everywhere temptin' Providence, you ain't lucky in havin' a
feller-citizen of yours drop in on ye instead of some Mexican thief, I
don't agree with ye--that's all."

The man laughed shortly and rose up. In spite of his careless yet
picturesque Mexican dress, Ezekiel instantly recognized Demorest. With
his usual instincts he was naturally pleased to observe that he looked
older and more careworn. The softer, sensuous climate had perhaps
imparted a heaviness to his figure and a deliberation to his manner that
was quite unlike his own potential energy.

"That don't tell me who you are, and what you want," he said, coldly.

"Wa'al then, I'm Ezekiel Corwin of North Liberty, ez used to live with
my friend and YOURS too, I guess--seein' how the friendship was swapped
into relationship--Squire Blandford."

A slight shade passed over Demorest's face. "Well," he said,
impatiently, "I don't remember you; what then?"

"You don't remember me; that's likely," returned Ezekiel imperturbably,
combing his straggling chin beard with three fingers, "but whether it's
NAT'RAL or not, considerin' the sukumstances when we last met, ez a
matter of op-pinion. You got me to harness up the hoss and buggy the
night Squire Blandford left home, and never was heard of again. It's
true that it kem out on enquiry that the hoss and buggy ran away from
the hotel, and that you had to go out to Warensboro in a sleigh, and
the theory is that poor Squire Blandford must have stopped the hoss
and buggy somewhere, got in and got run away agin, and pitched over the
bridge. But seein' your relationship to both Squire and Mrs. Blandford,
and all the sukumstances, I reckoned you'd remember it."

"I heard of it in Boston a month afterwards," said Demorest, dryly, "but
I don't think I'd have recognized you. So you were the hired man who
gave me the buggy. Well, I don't suppose they discharged you for it."

"No," said Ezekiel, with undisturbed equanimity. "I kalkilate Joan would
have stopped that. Considerin', too, that I knew her when she was Deacon
Salisbury's darter, and our fam'lies waz thick az peas. She knew me well
enough when I met her in Frisco the other day."

"Have you seen Mrs. Demorest already?" said Demorest, with sudden
vivacity. "Why didn't you say so before?" It was wonderful how quickly
his face had lighted up with an earnestness that was not, however,
without some undefinable uneasiness. The alert Ezekiel noticed it and
observed that it was as totally unlike the irresistible dominance of the
man of five years ago as it was different from the heavy abstraction of
the man of five minutes before.

"I reckon you didn't ax me," he returned coolly. "She told me where you
were, and as I had business down this way she guessed I might drop in."

"Yes, yes--it's all right, Mr. Corwin; glad you did," said Demorest,
kindly but half nervously. "And you saw Mrs. Demorest? Where did you see
her, and how did you think she was looking? As pretty as ever, eh?"

But the coldly literal Ezekiel was not to be beguiled into polite or
ambiguous fiction. He even went to the extent of insulting deliberation
before he replied. "I've seen Joan Salisbury lookin' healthier and
ez far ez I kin judge doin' more credit to her stock and raisin'
gin'rally," he said, thoughtfully combing his beard, "and I've seen her
when she was too poor to get the silks and satins, furbelows, fineries
and vanities she's flauntin' in now, and that was in Squire Blandford's
time, too, I reckon. Ez to her purtiness, that's a matter of taste. You
think her purty, and I guess them fellows ez was escortin' and squirin'
her round Frisco thought so too, or SHE thought they did to hev allowed
it."

"You are not very merciful to your townsfolk, Mr. Corwin," said
Demorest, with a forced smile; "but what can I do for you?"

It was the turn for Ezekiel's face to brighten, or rather to break up,
like a cold passionless mirror suddenly cracked, into various amusing
but distorted reflections on the person before him. "Townies ain't to
be fooled by other townies, Mr. Demorest; at least that ain't my idea
o' marcy, he-he! But seen you're pressin', I don't mind tellen you MY
business. I'm the only agent of Seventeen Patent Medicine Proprietors
in Connecticut represented by the firm of Dilworth & Dusenberry, of San
Francisco. Mebbe you heard of 'em afore--A1 druggists and importers.
Wa'al, I'm openin' a field for 'em and spreadin' 'em gin'rally through
these air benighted and onhealthy districts, havin' the contract for
the hull State--especially for Wozun's Universal Injin Panacea ez cures
everything--bein' had from a recipe given by a Sachem to Dr. Wozun's
gran'ther. That bag--leavin' out a dozen paper collars and socks--is all
the rest samples. That's me, Ezekiel Corwin--only agent for Californy,
and that's my mission."

"Very well; but look here, Corwin," said Demorest, with a slight return
of his old off-hand manner,--"I'd advise you to adopt a little more
caution, and a little less criticism in your speech to the people about
here, or I'm afraid you'll need the Universal Panacea for yourself.
Better men than you have been shot in my presence for half your
freedom."

"I guess you've just hit the bull's-eye there," replied Ezekiel, coolly,
"for it's that HALF-freedom and HALF-truth that doesn't pay. I kalkilate
gin'rally to speak my hull mind--and I DO. Wot's the consequence? Why,
when folks find I ain't afeard to speak my mind on their affairs, they
kinder guess I'm tellin' the truth about my own. Folks don't like the
man that truckles to 'em, whether it's in the sellin' of a box of pills
or a principle. When they re-cognize Ezekiel Corwin ain't goin' to lie
about 'em to curry favor with 'em, they're ready to believe he ain't
goin' to lie about Jones' Bitters or Wozun's Panacea. And, wa'al, I've
been on the road just about a fortnit, and I haven't yet discovered that
the original independent style introduced by Ezekiel Corwin ever broke
anybody's bones or didn't pay."

And he told the truth. That remarkably unfair and unpleasant spoken man
had actually frozen Hanley's Ford into icy astonishment at his
audacity, and he had sold them an invoice of the Panacea before they had
recovered; he had insulted Chipitas into giving an extensive order in
bitters; he had left Hayward's Creek pledged to Burne's pills--with
drawn revolvers still in their hands.

At another time Demorest might have been amused at his guest's audacity,
or have combated it with his old imperiousness, but he only remained
looking at him in a dull sort of way as if yielding to his influence.
It was part of the phenomenon that the two men seemed to have changed
character since they last met, and when Ezekiel said confidentially: "I
reckon you're goin' to show me what room I ken stow these duds o' mine
in," Demorest replied hurriedly, "Yes, certainly," and taking up
his guest's carpet-bag preceded him through the hall to one of the
apartments.

"I'll send Manuel to you presently," he said, putting down the bag
mechanically; "the servants are not back from church, it's some saint's
festival to-day."

"And so you keep a pack of lazy idolaters to leave your house to take
care of itself, whilst they worship graven images," said Ezekiel,
delighted at this opportunity to improve the occasion.

"If my memory isn't bad, Mr. Corwin," said Demorest dryly, "when I
accompanied Mr. Blandford home the night he returned from his journey,
we found YOU at church, and he had to put up his horse himself."

"But that was the Sabbath--the seventh day of the command," retorted
Ezekiel.

"And here the Sabbath doesn't consist of only ONE day to serve God in,"
said Demorest, sententiously.

Ezekiel glanced under his white lashes at Demorest's thoughtful face.
His fondest fears appeared to be confirmed; Demorest had evidently
become a Papist. But that gentleman stopped any theological discussion
by the abrupt inquiry:

"Did Mrs. Demorest say when she thought of returning?"

"She allowed she mout kem to-morrow--but--" added Ezekiel dubiously.

"But what?"

"Wa'al, wot with her enjyments of the vanities of this life and
the kempany she keeps, I reckon she's in no hurry," said Ezekiel,
cheerfully.

The entrance of Manuel here cut short any response from Demorest,
who after a few directions in Spanish to the peon, left his guest to
himself.

He walked to the veranda with the same dull preoccupation that Ezekiel
had noticed as so different from his old decisive manner, and remained
for a few moments abstractedly gazing into the dark garden. The strange
and mystic shapes which had impressed even the practical Ezekiel, had
become even more weird and ghost-like in the faint radiance of a rising
moon.

What memories evoked by his rude guest seemed to take form and outline
in that dreamy and unreal expanse!

He saw his wife again, standing as she had stood that night in her
mother's house, with the white muffler around her head, and white face,
imploring him to fly; he saw himself again hurrying through the driving
storm to Warensboro, and reaching the train that bore him swiftly and
safely miles away--that same night when her husband was perishing in the
swollen river. He remembered with what strangely mingled sensations he
had read the account of Blandford's death in the newspapers, and how the
loss of his old friend was forgotten in the associations conjured up by
his singular meeting that very night with the mysterious woman he had
loved. He remembered that he had never dreamed how near and fateful
were these associations; and how he had kept his promise not to seek
her without her permission, until six months after, when she appointed
a meeting, and revealed to him the whole truth. He could see her now,
as he had seen her then, more beautiful and fascinating than ever in her
black dress, and the pensive grace of refined suffering and restrained
passion in her delicate face. He remembered, too, how the shock of
her disclosure--the knowledge that she had been his old friend's
wife--seemed only to accent her purity and suffering and his own wilful
recklessness, and how it had stirred all the chivalry, generosity, and
affection of his easy nature to take the whole responsibility of this
innocent but compromising intrigue on his own shoulders. He had had no
self-accusing sense of disloyalty to Blandford in his practical nature;
he had never suspected the shy, proper girl of being his wife; he was
willing to believe now, that had he known it, even that night, he would
never have seen her again; he had been very foolish; he had made this
poor woman participate in his folly; but he had never been dishonest or
treacherous in thought or action. If Blandford had lived, even he
would have admitted it. Yet he was guiltily conscious of a material
satisfaction in Blandford's death, without his wife's religious
conviction of the saving graces of predestination.

They had been married quietly when the two years of her widowhood
had expired; his former relations with her husband and the straitened
circumstances in which Blandford's death had left her having been deemed
sufficient excuse in the eyes of North Liberty for her more worldly
union. They had come to California at her suggestion "to begin life
anew," for she had not hesitated to make this dislocation of all her
antecedent surroundings as a reason as well as a condition of this
marriage. She wished to see the world of which he had been a passing
glimpse; to expand under his protection beyond the limits of her
fettered youth. He had bought this old Spanish estate, with its near
vineyard and its outlying leagues covered with wild cattle, partly from
that strange contradictory predilection for peaceful husbandry common to
men who have led a roving life, and partly as a check to her growing and
feverish desire for change and excitement. He had at first enjoyed with
an almost parental affection her childish unsophisticated delight in
that world he had already wearied of, and which he had been prepared
to gladly resign for her. But as the months and even years had passed
without any apparent diminution in her zest for these pleasures, he
tried uneasily to resume his old interest in them, and spent ten months
with her in the chaotic freedom of San Francisco hotel life. But to his
discomfiture he found that they no longer diverted him; to his horror he
discovered that those easy gallantries in which he had spent his youth,
and in which he had seen no harm, were intolerable when exhibited to his
wife, and he trembled between inquietude and indignation at the copies
of his former self, whom he met in hotel parlors, at theatres, and
in public conveyances. The next time she visited some friends in San
Francisco he did not accompany her. Though he fondly cherished his
experience of her power to resist even stronger temptation, he was too
practical to subject himself to the annoyance of witnessing it. In her
absence he trusted her completely; his scant imagination conjured up no
disturbing picture of possibilities beyond what he actually knew. In his
recent questions of Ezekiel he did not expect to learn anything more.
Even his guest's uncomfortable comments added no sting that he had not
already felt.

With these thoughts called up by the unlooked-for advent of Ezekiel
under his roof, he continued to gaze moodily into the garden. Near the
house were scattered several uncouth varieties of cacti which seemed to
have lost all semblance of vegetable growth, and had taken rude likeness
to beasts and human figures. One high-shouldered specimen, partly hidden
in the shadow, had the appearance of a man with a cloak or serape thrown
over his left shoulder. As Demorest's wandering eyes at last became
fixed upon it, he fancied he could trace the faint outlines of a pale
face, the lower part of which was hidden by the folds of the serape.
There certainly was the forehead, the curve of the dark eyebrows, the
shadow of a nose, and even as he looked more steadily, a glistening of
the eyes upturned to the moonlight. A sudden chill seized him. It was
a horrible fancy, but it looked as might have looked the dead face
of Edward Blandford! He started and ran quickly down the steps of the
veranda. A slight wind at the same moment moved the long leaves and
tendrils of a vine nearest him and sent a faint wave through the garden.
He reached the cactus; its fantastic bulk stood plainly before him, but
nothing more.

"Whar are ye runnin' to?" said the inquiring voice of Ezekiel from the
veranda.

"I thought I saw some one in the garden," returned Demorest, quietly,
satisfied of the illusion of his senses, "but it was a mistake."

"It mout and it moutn't," said Ezekiel, dryly. "Thar's nothin' to keep
any one out. It's only a wonder that you ain't overrun with thieves and
sich like."

"There are usually servants about the place," said Demorest, carelessly.

"Ef they're the same breed ez that Manuel, I reckon I'd almost as leave
take my chances in the road. Ef it's all the same to you I kalkilate to
put a paytent fastener to my door and winder to-night. I allus travel
with them." Seeing that Demorest only shrugged his shoulders without
replying, he continued, "Et ain't far from here that some folks allow is
the headquarters of that cattle-stealing gang. The driver of the coach
went ez far ez to say that some of these high and mighty Dons hereabouts
knows more of it than they keer to tell."

"That's simply a yarn for greenhorns," said Demorest, contemptuously.
"I know all the ranch proprietors for twenty leagues around, and they've
lost as many cattle and horses as I have."

"I wanter know," said Ezekiel, with grim interest. "Then you've already
had consid'ble losses, eh? I kalkilate them cattle are vally'ble--about
wot figger do you reckon yer out and injured?"

"Three or four thousand dollars, I suppose, altogether," replied
Demorest, shortly.

"Then you don't take any stock in them yer yarns about the gang being
run and protected by some first-class men in Frisco?" said Ezekiel,
regretfully.

"Not much," responded Demorest, dryly; "but if people choose to believe
this bluff gotten up by the petty thieves themselves to increase their
importance and secure their immunity--they can. But here's Manuel to
tell us supper is ready."

He led the way to the corridor and courtyard which Ezekiel had not
penetrated on account of its obscurity and solitude, but which now
seemed to be peopled with peons and household servants of both sexes. At
the end of a long low-ceilinged room a table was spread with omelettes,
chupa, cakes, chocolate, grapes, and melons, around which half a dozen
attendants stood gravely in waiting. The size of the room, which to
Ezekiel's eyes looked as large as the church at North Liberty, the
profusion of the viands, the six attendants for the host and solitary
guest, deeply impressed him. Morally rebelling against this feudal
display and extravagance, he, who had disdained to even assist the
Blandfords' servant-in-waiting at table and had always made his
solitary meal on the kitchen dresser, was not above feeling a material
satisfaction in sitting on equal terms with his master's friend and
being served by these menials he despised. He did full justice to
the victuals of which Demorest partook in sparing abstraction, and
particularly to the fruit, which Demorest did not touch at all.
Observant of his servants' eyes fixed in wonder on the strange guest who
had just disposed of a second melon at supper, Demorest could not help
remarking that he would lose credit as a medico with the natives unless
he restrained a public exhibition of his tastes.

"Ez ha'aw?" queried Ezekiel.

"They have a proverb here that fruit is gold in the morning, silver at
noon, and lead at night."

"That'll do for lazy stomicks," said the unabashed Ezekiel. "When
they're once fortified by Jones' bitters and hard work, they'll be able
to tackle the Lord's nat'ral gifts of the airth at any time."

Declining the cigarettes offered him by Demorest for a quid of
tobacco, which he gravely took from a tin box in his pocket, and to
the astonished eyes of the servants apparently obliterated any further
remembrance of the meal, he accompanied his host to the veranda again,
where, tilting his chair back and putting his feet on the railing, he
gave himself up to unwonted and silent rumination.

The silence was broken at last by Demorest, who, half-reclining on a
settee, had once or twice glanced towards the misshapen cactus.

"Was there any trace discovered of Blandford, other than we knew before
we left the States?"

"Wa'al, no," said Ezekiel, thoughtfully. "The last idea was that he'd
got control of the hoss after passin' the bridge, and had managed to
turn him back, for there was marks of buggy wheels on the snow on the
far side, and that fearin' to trust the hoss or the bridge he tried to
lead him over when the bridge gave way, and he was caught in the wreck
and carried off down stream. That would account for his body not bein'
found; they do tell that chunks of that bridge were picked up on the
Sound beach near the mouth o' the river, nigh unto sixty miles away.
That's about the last idea they had of it at North Liberty." He paused
and then cleverly directing a stream of tobacco juice at an accurate
curve over the railing, wiped his lips with the back of his hand,
and added, slowly: "Thar's another idea--but I reckon it's only mine.
Leastways I ain't heard it argued by anybody."

"What is that?" asked Demorest.

"Wa'al, it ain't exakly complimentary to E. Blandford, Esq., and it mout
be orkard for YOU."

"I don't think you're in the habit of letting such trifles interfere
with your opinion," said Demorest, with a slightly forced laugh; "but
what is your idea?"

"That thar wasn't any accident."

"No accident?" replied Demorest, raising himself on his elbow.

"Nary accident," continued Ezekiel, deliberately, "and, if it comes to
that, not much of a dead body either."

"What the devil do you mean?" said Demorest, sitting up.

"I mean," said Ezekiel, with momentous deliberation, "that E. Blandford,
of the Winnipeg Mills, was in March, '50, ez nigh bein' bust up ez any
man kin be without actually failin'; that he'd been down to Boston that
day to get some extensions; that old Deacon Salisbury knew it, and had
been pesterin' Mrs. Blandford to induce him to sell out and leave the
place; and that the night he left he took about two hundred and fifty
dollars in bank bills that they allus kept in the house, and Mrs.
Blandford was in the habit o' hidin' in the breast-pocket of one of his
old overcoats hangin' up in the closet. I mean that that air money and
that air overcoat went off with him, ez Mrs. Blandford knows, for I
heard her tell her ma about it. And when his affairs were wound up and
his debts paid, I reckon that the two hundred and fifty was all there
was left--and he scooted with it. It's orkard for you--ez I said
afore--but I don't see wot on earth you need get riled for. Ef he ran
off on account of only two hundred and fifty dollars he ain't goin'
to run back again for the mere matter o' your marrying Joan. Ef he
had--he'd a done it afore this. It's orkard ez I said--but the only
orkardness is your feelin's. I reckon Joan's got used to hers."

Demorest had risen angrily to his feet. But the next moment the utter
impossibility of reaching this man's hidebound moral perception by even
physical force hopelessly overcame him. It would only impress him with
the effect of his own disturbing power, that to Ezekiel was equal to
a proof of the truth of his opinions. It might even encourage him to
repeat this absurd story elsewhere with his own construction upon his
reception of it. After all it was only Ezekiel's opinion--an opinion too
preposterous for even a moment's serious consideration. Blandford
alive, and a petty defaulter! Blandford above the earth and complacently
abandoning his wife and home to another! Blandford--perhaps a sneaking,
cowardly Nemesis--hiding in the shadow for future--impossible! It really
was enough to make him laugh.

He did laugh, albeit with an uneasy sense that only a few years ago
he would have struck down the man who had thus traduced his friend's
memory.

"You've been overtaxing your brain in patent-medicine circulars,
Corwin," he said in a roughly rallying manner, "and you've got rather
too much highfalutin and bitters mixed with your opinions. After that
yarn of yours you must be dry. What'll you take? I haven't got any New
England rum, but I can give you some ten-year-old aguardiente made on
the place."

As he spoke he lifted a decanter and glass from a small table which
Manuel had placed in the veranda.

"I guess not," said Ezekiel dryly. "It's now goin' on five years since
I've been a consistent temperance man."

"In everything but melons, and criticism of your neighbor, eh?" said
Demorest, pouring out a glass of the liquor.

"I hev my convictions," said Ezekiel with affected meekness.

"And I have mine," said Demorest, tossing off the fiery liquor at a
draft, "and it's that this is devilish good stuff. Sorry you can't take
some. I'm afraid I'll have to get you to excuse me for a while. I have
to take a ride over the ranch before turning in, to see if everything's
right. The house is 'at your disposition,' as we say here. I'll see you
later."

He walked away with a slight exaggeration of unconcern. Ezekiel watched
him narrowly with colorless eyes beneath his white lashes. When he
had gone he examined the thoroughly emptied glass of aguardiente,
and, taking the decanter, sniffed critically at its sharp and potent
contents. A smile of gratified discernment followed. It was clear to him
that Demorest was a heavy drinker.

Contrary to his prognostication, however, Mrs. Demorest DID arrive the
next day. But although he was to depart from Buenaventura by the same
coach that had set her down at the gate of the casa, he had already left
the house armed with some letters of introduction which Demorest had
generously given him, to certain small traders in the pueblo and along
the route. Demorest was not displeased to part with him before the
arrival of his wife, and thus spare her the awkwardness of a repetition
of Ezekiel's effrontery in her presence. Nor was he willing to have the
impediment of a guest in the house to any explanation he might have to
seek from her, or to the confidences that hereafter must be fuller
and more mutual. For with all his deep affection for his wife, Richard
Demorest unconsciously feared her. The strong man whose dominance over
men and women alike had been his salient characteristic, had begun to
feel an undefinable sense of some unrecognized quality in the woman he
loved. He had once or twice detected it in a tone of her voice, in a
remembered and perhaps even once idolized gesture, or in the accidental
lapse of some bewildering word. With the generosity of a large nature he
had put the thought aside, referring it to some selfish weakness of
his own, or--more fatuous than all--to a possible diminution of his own
affection.

He was standing on the steps ready to receive her. Few of her
appreciative sex could have remained indifferent to the tender and
touching significance of his silent and subdued welcome. He had that
piteous wistfulness of eye seen in some dogs and the husbands of many
charming women--the affection that pardons beforehand the indifference
it has learned to expect. She approached him smiling in her turn,
meeting the sublime patience of being unloved with the equally resigned
patience of being loved, and feeling that comforting sense of virtue
which might become a bore, but never a self-reproach. For the rest, she
was prettier than ever; her five years of expanded life had slightly
rounded the elongated oval of her face, filled up the ascetic hollows
of her temples, and freed the repression of her mouth and chin. A more
genial climate had quickened the circulation that North Liberty had
arrested, and suffused the transparent beauty of her skin with eloquent
life. It seemed as if the long, protracted northern spring of her youth
had suddenly burst into a summer of womanhood under those gentle skies;
and yet enough of her puritan precision of manner, movement, and gesture
remained to temper her fuller and more exuberant life and give it
repose. In a community of pretty women more or less given to the license
and extravagance of the epoch, she always looked like a lady.

He took her in his arms and half-lifted her up the last step of the
veranda. She resisted slightly with her characteristic action of
catching his wrists in both her hands and holding him off with an
awkward primness, and almost in the same tone that she had used to
Edward Blandford five years before, said:

"There, Dick, that will do."




CHAPTER II


Demorest's dream of a few days' conjugal seclusion and confidences with
his wife was quickly dispelled by that lady. "I came down with Rosita
Pico, whose father, you know, once owned this property," she said.
"She's gone on to her cousins at Los Osos Rancho to-night, but comes
here to-morrow for a visit. She knows the place well; in fact, she once
had a romantic love affair here. But she is very entertaining. It will
be a little change for us," she added, naively.

Demorest kept back a sigh, without changing his gentle smile. "I'm glad
for your sake, dear. But is she not a little flighty and inclined to
flirt a good deal? I think I've heard so."

"She's a young girl who has been severely tried, Richard, and perhaps is
not to blame for endeavoring to forget it in such distraction as she can
find," said Mrs. Demorest, with a slight return of her old manner. "I
can understand her feelings perfectly." She looked pointedly at her
husband as she spoke, it being one of her late habits to openly refer to
their ante-nuptial acquaintance as a natural reaction from the martyrdom
of her first marriage, with a quiet indifference that seemed almost
an indelicacy. But her husband only said: "As you like, dear," vaguely
remembering Dona Rosita as the alleged heroine of a forgotten romance
with some earlier American adventurer who had disappeared, and trying
vainly to reconcile his wife's sentimental description of her with his
own recollection of the buxom, pretty, laughing, but dangerous-eyed
Spanish girl he had, however, seen but once.

She arrived the next day, flying into a protracted embrace of Joan,
which included a smiling recognition of Demorest with an unoccupied blue
eye, and a shake of her fan over his wife's shoulder. Then she drew
back and seemed to take in the whole veranda and garden in another long
caress of her eyes. "Ah-yess! I have recognized it, mooch. It es ze
same. Of no change--not even of a leetle. No, she ess always--esso."
She stopped, looked unutterable things at Joan, pressed her fan below
a spray of roses on her full bodice as if to indicate some thrilling
memory beneath it, shook her head again, suddenly caught sight of
Demorest's serious face, said: "Ah, that brigand of our husband laughs
himself at me," and then herself broke into a charming ripple of
laughter.

"But I was not laughing, Dona Rosita," said Demorest, smiling sadly,
however, in spite of himself.

She made a little grimace, and then raised her elbows, slightly lifting
her shoulders. "As it shall please you, Senor. But he is gone--thees
passion. Yess--what you shall call thees sentiment of lof--zo--as he
came!" She threw her fingers in the air as if to illustrate the volatile
and transitory passage of her affections, and then turned again to Joan
with her back towards Demorest.

"Do please go on--Dona Rosita," said he, "I never heard the real story.
If there is any romance about my house, I'd like to know it," he added
with a faint sigh.

Dona Rosita wheeled upon him with an inquiring little look. "Ah, you
have the sentiment, and YOU," she continued, taking Joan by the arms,
"YOU have not. Eet ess good so. When a--the wife," she continued boldly,
hazarding an extended English abstraction, "he has the sentimente and
the hoosband he has nothing, eet is not good--for a-him--ze wife," she
concluded triumphantly.

"But I have great appreciation and I am dying to hear it," said
Demorest, trying to laugh.

"Well, poor one, you look so. But you shall lif till another time," said
Dona Rosita, with a mock courtesy, gliding with Joan away.

The "other time" came that evening when chocolate was served on the
veranda, where Dona Rosita, mantilla-draped against the dry, clear,
moonlit air, sat at the feet of Joan on the lowest step. Demorest,
uneasily observant of the influence of the giddy foreigner on his wife,
and conscious of certain confidences between them from which he was
excluded, leaned against a pillar of the porch in half abstracted
resignation; Joan, under the tutelage of Rosita, lit a cigarette;
Demorest gazed at her wonderingly, trying to recall, in her fuller and
more animated face, some memory of the pale, refined profile of the
Puritan girl he had first met in the Boston train, the faint aurora of
whose cheek in that northern clime seemed to come and go with his words.
Becoming conscious at last of the eyes of Dona Rosita watching him from
below, with an effort he recalled his duty as her host and gallantly
reminded her that moonlight and the hour seemed expressly fitted for her
promised love story.

"Do tell it," said Joan, "I don't mind hearing it again."

"Then you know it already?" said Demorest, surprised.

Joan took the cigarette from her lips, laughed complacently, and
exchanged a familiar glance with Rosita. "She told it me a year ago,
when we first knew each other," she replied. "Go on, dear," to Rosita.

Thus encouraged, Dona Rosita began, addressing herself first in Spanish
to Demorest, who understood the language better than his wife, and
lapsing into her characteristic English as she appealed to them both.
It was really very little to interest Don Ricardo--this story of a silly
muchacha like herself and a strange caballero. He would go to sleep
while she was talking, and to-night he would say to his wife, "Mother of
God! why have you brought here this chattering parrot who speaks but of
one thing?" But she would go on always like the windmill, whether there
was grain to grind or no. "It was four years ago. Ah! Don Ricardo did
not remember the country then--it was when the first Americans came--now
it is different. Then there were no coaches--in truth one travelled
very little, and always on horseback, only to see one's neighbors. And
suddenly, as if in one day, it was changed; there were strange men on
the roads, and one was frightened, and one shut the gates of the pateo
and drove the horses into the corral. One did not know much of the
Americans then--for why? They were always going, going--never stopping,
hurrying on to the gold mines, hurrying away from the gold mines,
hurrying to look for other gold mines: but always going on foot, on
horseback, in queer wagons--hurrying, pushing everywhere. Ah, it took
away the breath. All, except one American--he did not hurry, he did not
go with the others, he came and stayed here at Buenaventura. He was
very quiet, very civil, very sad, and very discreet. He was not like
the others, and always kept aloof from them. He came to see Don Andreas
Pico, and wanted to beg a piece of land and an old vaquero's hut near
the road for a trifle. Don Andreas would have given it, or a better
house, to him, or have had him live at the casa here; but he would not.
He was very proud and shy, so he took the vaquero's hut, a mere adobe
affair, and lived in it, though a caballero like yourself, with white
hands that knew not labor, and small feet that had seldom walked. In
good time he learned to ride like the best vaquero, and helped Don
Andreas to find the lost mustangs, and showed him how to improve the old
mill. And his pride and his shyness wore off, and he would come to
the casa sometimes. And Don Andreas got to love him very much, and his
daughter, Dona Rosita--ah, well, yes truly--a leetle.

"But he had strange moods and ways, this American, and at times they
would have thought him a lunatico had they not believed it to be an
American fashion. He would be very kind and gentle like one of the
family, coming to the casa every day, playing with the children,
advising Don Andreas and--yes--having a devotion--very discreet, very
ceremonious, for Dona Rosita. And then, all in a moment, he would become
as ill, without a word or gesture, until he would stalk out of the
house, gallop away furiously, and for a week not be heard of. The first
time it happened, Dona Rosita was piqued by his rudeness, Don Andreas
was alarmed, for it was on an evening like the present, and Dona Rosita
was teaching him a little song on the guitar when the fit came on him.
And he snapped the guitar strings like thread and threw it down, and got
up like a bear and walked away without a word."

"I see it all," said Demorest, half seriously: "you were coquetting with
him, and he was jealous."

But Dona Rosita shook her head and turned impetuously, and said in
English to Joan:

"No, it was astutcia--a trick, a ruse. Because when my father have
arrived at his house, he is agone. And so every time. When he have the
fit he goes not to his house. No. And it ees not until after one time
when he comes back never again, that we have comprehend what he do at
these times. And what do you think? I shall tell to you."

She composed herself comfortably, with her plump elbows on her knees,
and her fan crossed on the palm of her hand before her, and began again:

"It is a year he has gone, and the stagecoach is attack of brigands.
Tiburcio, our vaquero, have that night made himself a pasear on the
road, and he have seen HIM. He have seen, one, two, three men came from
the wood with something on the face, and HE is of them. He has nothing
on his face, and Tiburcio have recognize him. We have laugh at Tiburcio.
We believe him not. It is improbable that this Senor Huanson--"

"Senor who?" said Demorest.

"Huanson--eet is the name of him. Ah, Carr!--posiblemente it is
nothing--a Don Fulano--or an apodo--Huanson."

"Oh, I see, JOHNSON, very likely."

"We have said it is not possible that this good man, who have come to
the house and ride on his back the children, is a thief and a brigand.
And one night my father have come from the Monterey in the coach, and it
was stopped. And the brigands have take from the passengers the money,
the rings from the finger, and the watch--and my father was of the same.
And my father, he have great dissatisfaction and anguish, for his watch
is given to him of an old friend, and it is not like the other watch.
But the watch he go all the same. And then when the robbers have made a
finish comes to the window of the coach a mascara and have say, 'Who
is the Don Andreas Pico?' And my father have say, 'It is I who am Don
Andreas Pico.' And the mask have say, 'Behold, your watch is
restore!' and he gif it to him. And my father say, 'To whom have I the
distinguished honor to thank?' And the mask say--"

"Johnson," interrupted Demorest.

"No," said Dona Rosita in grave triumph, "he say Essmith. For this
Essmith is like Huanson--an apodo--nothing."

"Then you really think this man was your old friend?" asked Demorest.

"I think."

"And that he was a robber even when living here--and that it was not
your cruelty that really drove him to take the road?"

Dona Rosita shrugged her plump shoulders. "You will not comprehend. It
was because of his being a brigand that he stayed not with us. My father
would not have object if he have present himself to me for marriage in
these times. I would not have object, for I was young, and we have knew
nothing. It was he who have object. For why? Inside of his heart he have
feel he was a brigand."

"But you might have reformed him in time," said Demorest.

She again shrugged her shoulders. "Quien sabe." After a pause she added
with infinite gravity: "And before he have reform, it is bad for the
menage. I should invite to my house some friend. They arrive, and one
say, 'I have not the watch of my pocket,' and another, 'The ring of my
finger, he is gone,' and another, 'My earrings, she is loss.' And I am
obliged to say, 'They reside now in the pocket of my hoosband; patience!
a little while--perhaps to-morrow--he will restore.' No," she continued,
with an air of infinite conviction, "it is not good for the menage--the
necessity of those explanation."

"You told me he was handsome," said Joan, passing her arm carelessly
around Dona Rosita's comfortable waist. "How did he look?"

"As an angel! He have long curls to his back. His moustache was as
silk, for he have had never a barber to his face. And his eyes--Santa
Maria!--so soft and so--so melankoly. When he smile it is like the
moonlight. But," she added, rising to her feet and tossing the end
of her lace mantilla over her shoulder with a little laugh--"it is
finish--Adelante! Dr-rrive on!"

"I don't want to destroy your belief in the connection of your friend
with the road agents," said Demorest grimly, "but if he belongs to
their band it is in an inferior capacity. Most of them are known to
the authorities, and I have heard it even said that their leader or
organizer is a very unromantic speculator in San Francisco."

But this suggestion was received coldly by the ladies, who
superciliously turned their backs upon it and the suggester. Joan
dropped her voice to a lower tone and turned to Dona Rosita. "And you
have never seen him since?"

"Never."

"I should--at least, I wouldn't have let it end in THAT way," said Joan
in a positive whisper.

"Eh?" said Dona Rosita, laughing. "So eet is YOU, Juanita, that have the
romance--eh? Ah, bueno! 'you have the house--so I gif to you the lover
also.' I place him at your disposition." She made a mock gesture of
elaborate and complete abnegation. "But," she added in Joan's ear, with
a quick glance at Demorest, "do not let our hoosband eat him. Even now
he have the look to strangle ME. Make to him a little lof, quickly, when
I shall walk in the garden." She turned away with a pretty wave of her
fan to Demorest, and calling out, "I go to make an assignation with my
memory," laughed again, and lazily passed into the shadow. An ominous
silence on the veranda followed, broken finally by Mrs. Demorest.

"I don't think it was necessary for you to show your dislike to Dona
Rosita quite so plainly," she said, coldly, slightly accenting the
Puritan stiffness, which any conjugal tete-a-tete lately revived in her
manner.

"I show dislike of Dona Rosita?" stammered Demorest, in surprise. "Come,
Joan," he added, with a forgiving smile, "you don't mean to imply that
I dislike her because I couldn't get up a thrilling interest in an old
story I've heard from every gossip in the pueblo since I can remember."

"It's not an old story to HER," said Joan, dryly, "and even if it were,
you might reflect that all people are not as anxious to forget the past
as you are."

Demorest drew back to let the shaft glance by. "The story is old enough,
at least for her to have had a dozen flirtations, as you know, since
then," he returned gently, "and I don't think she herself seriously
believes in it. But let that pass. I am sorry I offended her. I had no
idea of doing so. As a rule, I think she is not so easily offended. But
I shall apologize to her." He stopped and approached nearer his wife in
a half-timid, half-tentative affection. "As to my forgetfulness of the
past, Joan, even if it were true, I have had little cause to forget it
lately. Your friend, Corwin--"

"I must insist upon your not calling him MY friend, Richard,"
interrupted Joan, sharply, "considering that it was through YOUR
indiscretion in coming to us for the buggy that night, that he
suspected--"

She stopped suddenly, for at that moment a startled little shriek,
quickly subdued, rang through the garden. Demorest ran hurriedly down
the steps in the direction of the outcry. Joan followed more cautiously.
At the first turning of the path Dona Rosita almost fell into his arms.
She was breathless and trembling, but broke into a hysterical laugh.

"I have such a fear come to me--I cry out! I think I have seen a man;
but it was nothing--nothing! I am a fool. It is no one here."

"But where did you see anything?" said Joan, coming up.

Rosita flew to her side. "Where? Oh, here!--everywhere! Ah, I am a
fool!" She was laughing now, albeit there were tears glistening on her
lashes when she laid her head on Joan's shoulder.

"It was some fancy--some resemblance you saw in that queer cactus," said
Demorest, gently. "It is quite natural, I was myself deceived the other
night. But I'll look around to satisfy you. Take Dona Rosita back to the
veranda, Joan. But don't be alarmed, dear--it was only an illusion."

He turned away. When his figure was lost in the entwining foliage, Dona
Rosita seized Joan's shoulder and dragged her face down to a level with
her own.

"It was something!" she whispered quickly.

"Who?"

"It was--HIM!"

"Nonsense," groaned Joan, nevertheless casting a hurried glance around
her.

"Have no fear," said Dona Rosita quickly, "he is gone--I saw him pass
away--so! But it was HE--Huanson. I recognize him. I forget him never."

"Are you sure?"

"Have I the eyes? the memory? Madre de Dios! Am I a lunatico too? Look!
He have stood there--so."

"Then you think he knew you were here?"

"Quien sabe?"

"And that he came here to see you?"

Dona Rosita caught her again by the shoulders, and with her lips to
Joan's ear, said with the intensest and most deliberate of emphasis:

"NO!"

"What in Heaven's name brought him here then?"

"You!"

"Are you crazy?"

"You! you! YOU!" repeated Dona Rosita, with crescendo energy. "I have
come upon him here; where he stood and look at the veranda, absorrrb of
YOU. You move--he fly."

"Hush!"

"Ah, yes! I have said I give him to you. And he came, Bueno," murmured
Dona Rosita, with a half-resigned, half-superstitious gesture.

"WILL you be quiet!"

It was the sound of Demorest's feet on the gravel path, returning
from his fruitless search. He had seen nothing. It must have been Dona
Rosita's fancy.

"She was just saying she thought she had been mistaken," said Joan,
quietly. "Let us go in--it is rather chilly here, and I begin to feel
creepy too."

Nevertheless, as they entered the house again, and the light of the
hall lantern fell upon her face, Demorest thought he had never but once
before seen her look so nervously and animatedly beautiful.




CHAPTER III


The following day, when Mr. Ezekiel Corwin had delivered his letters of
introduction, and thoroughly canvassed the scant mercantile community of
San Buenaventura with considerable success, he deposited his carpet-bag
at the stage office in the posada, and found to his chagrin that he had
still two hours to wait before the coach arrived. After a vain attempt
to impart cheerful but disparaging criticism of the pueblo and its
people to Senor Mateo and his wife--whose external courtesy had been
visibly increased by a line from Demorest, but whose confidence towards
the stranger had not been extended in the same proportion--he gave it
up, and threw himself lazily on a wooden bench in the veranda, already
hacked with the initials of his countrymen, and drawing a jack-knife
from his pocket, he began to add to that emblazonry the trade-mark of
the Panacea--as a casual advertisement. During its progress, however,
he was struck by the fact that while no one seemed to enter the posada
through the stage office, the number of voices in the adjoining room
seemed to increase, and the ministrations of Mateo and his wife became
more feverishly occupied with their invisible guests. It seemed to
Ezekiel that consequently there must be a second entrance which he had
not seen, and this added to the circumstance that one or two lounging
figures who had been approaching unaccountably disappeared before
reaching the veranda, induced him to rise and examine the locality. A
few paces beyond was an alley, but it appeared to be already blocked by
several cigarette-smoking, short-jacketed men who were leaning against
its walls, and showed no inclination to make way for him. Checked, but
not daunted, Ezekiel coolly returned to the stage office, and taking the
first opportunity when Mateo passed through the rear door, followed him.
As he expected, the innkeeper turned to the left and entered a large
room filled with tobacco smoke and the local habitues of the posada.
But Ezekiel, shrewdly surmising that the private entrance must be in the
opposite direction, turned to the right along the passage until he came
unexpectedly upon the corridor of the usual courtyard, or patio, of
every Mexican hostelry, closed at one end by a low adobe wall, in which
there was a door. The free passage around the corridor was interrupted
by wide partitions, fitted up with tables and benches, like stalls,
opening upon the courtyard where a few stunted fig and orange trees
still grew. As the courtyard seemed to be the only communication between
the passage he had left and the door in the wall, he was about to cross
it, when the voices of two men in the compartment struck his ears.
Although one was evidently an American's, Ezekiel was instinctively
convinced that they were speaking in English only for greater security
against being understood by the frequenters of the posada. It is
unnecessary to say that this was an innocent challenge to the curiosity
of Ezekiel that he instantly accepted. He drew back carefully into the
shadow of the partition as one of the voices asked--

"Wasn't that Johnson just come in?"

There was a movement as if some one had risen to look over the
compartment, but the gathering twilight completely hid Ezekiel.

"No!"

"He's late. Suppose he don't come--or back out?"

The other man broke into a grim laugh. "I reckon you don't know Johnson
yet, or you'd understand this yer little game o' his is just the one
idea o' his life. He's been two years on that man's track, and he ain't
goin' to back out now that he's got a dead sure thing on him."

"But why is he so keen about it, anyway? It don't seem nat'ral for a
business man built after Johnson's style, and a rich man to boot, to go
into this detective business. It ain't the reward, we know that. Is it
an old grudge?"

"You bet!" The speaker paused, and then in a lower voice, which taxed
Ezekial's keen ear to the uttermost, resumed: "It's said up in Frisco
that Cherokee Bob knew suthin' agin Johnson way back in the States;
anyhow, I believe it's understood that they came across the plains
together in '50--and Bob hounded Johnson and blackmailed him here where
he was livin', even to the point of makin' him help him on the road or
give information, until one day Johnson bucked against it--kicked over
the traces--and swore he'd be revenged on Bob, and then just settled
himself down to that business. Wotever he'd been and done himself he
made it all right with the sheriff here; and I've heard ez it wasn't
anything criminal or that sort, but that it was o' some private trouble
that he'd confided to that hound Bob, and Bob had threatened to tell
agen him. That's the grudge they say Johnson has, and that's why he's
allowed to be the head devil in this yer affair. It's an understood
thing, too, that the sheriff and the police ain't goin' to interfere if
Johnson accidentally blows the top of Bob's head off in the scrimmage of
a capter."

"And I reckon Bob wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing to him when he
finds out that Johnson has given him away?"

"I reckon," said the other, sententiously, "for it's Johnson's knowledge
of the country and the hoss-stealers that are in with Bob's gang of road
agents that made it easy for him to buy up and win over Bob's friends
here, so that they'd help to trap him."

"It's pretty rough on Bob to be sold out in that way," said the second
speaker, sympathizingly.

"If they were white men, p'rhaps," returned his companion,
contemptuously, "but this yer's a case of Injin agen Injin, ez the men
are Mexican half-breeds just as Bob's a half Cherokee. The sooner that
kind o' cross cattle exterminate each other the better it'll be for the
country. It takes a white man like Johnson to set 'em by the ears."

A silence followed. Ezekiel, beginning to be slightly bored with his
cheaply acquired but rather impractical information, was about to slip
back into the passage again when he was arrested by a laugh from the
first speaker.

"What's the matter?" growled the other. "Do you want to bring the whole
posada out here?"

"I was only thinkin' what a skeer them innocent greenhorn passengers
will get just ez they're snoozing off for the night, ten miles from
here," responded his friend, with a chuckle. "Wonder ef anybody's goin'
up from here besides that patent medicine softy."

Ezekiel stopped as if petrified.

"Ef the ---- fools keep quiet they won't be hurt, for our men will be
ready to chip in the moment of the attack. But we've got to let the
attack be made for the sake of the evidence. And if we warn off the
passengers from going this trip, and let the stage go up empty, Bob
would suspect something and vamose. But here's Johnson!"

The door in the adobe wall had suddenly opened, and a figure in a serape
entered the patio. Ezekiel, whose curiosity was whetted with indignation
at the ignominious part assigned to him in this comedy, forgot even
his risk of detection by the newcomer, who advanced quickly towards the
compartment. When he had reached it he said, in a tone of bitterness:

"The game is up, gentlemen, and the whole thing is blown. The scoundrel
has got some confederate here--for he's been seen openly on the road
near Demorest's ranch, and the band have had warning and dispersed. We
must find out the traitor, and take our precautions for the next time.
Who is that there? I don't know him."

He was pointing to Ezekiel, who had started eagerly forward at the first
sound of his voice. The two occupants of the compartment rose at
the same moment, leaped into the courtyard, and confronted Ezekiel.
Surrounded by the three menacing figures he did not quail, but remained
intently gazing upon the newcomer. Then his mouth opened, and he drawled
lazily:

"Wa'al, ef it ain't Squire Blandford, of North Liberty, Connecticut, I'm
a treed coon. Squire Blandford, how DO you do?"

The stranger drew back in undisguised amazement; the two men glanced
hurriedly at each other; Ezekiel alone remained cool, smiling,
imperturbable, and triumphant.

"Who are YOU, sir? I do not know you," demanded the newcomer, roughly.

"Like ez not," said Corwin dryly, "it's a matter o' four year sense I
lived in your house. Even Dick Demorest--you knew Dick?--didn't know me;
but I reckon that Mrs. Blandford as used to be--"

"That's enough," said Blandford--for it was he--suddenly mastering both
himself and Corwin by a supreme emphasis of will and gesture. "Wait!"
Then turning to the two others who were discreetly regarding the
blank adobe wall before them, he said: "Excuse me for a few minutes,
gentlemen. There is no hurry now. I will see you later;" and with an
imperative wave of his hand motioned Ezekiel to precede him into the
passage, and followed him.

He did not speak until they entered the stage office, when, passing
through it, he said peremptorily: "Follow me." The few loungers, who
seemed to recognize him, made way for him with a singular deference that
impressed Ezekiel, already dominated by his manner. The first perception
in his mind was that Blandford had in some strange way succeeded to
Demorest's former imperious character. There was no trace left of the
old, gentle subjection to Joan's prim precision. Ezekiel followed him
out of the office as unresistingly as he had followed Demorest into the
stables on that eventful night. They passed down the narrow street until
Blandford suddenly stopped short and turned into the crumbling doorway
of one of the low adobe buildings and entered an apartment. It seemed
to be the ordinary living-room of the house, made more domestic by
the presence of a silk counterpaned bed in one corner, a prie Dieu and
crucifix, and one or two articles of bedchamber furniture. A woman
was sitting in deshabille by the window; a man was smoking on a lounge
against the wall. Blandford, in the same peremptory manner, addressed
a command in Spanish to the inmates, who immediately abandoned the
apartment to the seeming trespasser.

Motioning his companion to a seat on the lounge just vacated, Blandford
folded his arms and stood erect before him.

"Well," he said, with quick, business conciseness, "what do you want?"

Ezekiel was staggered out of his complacency.

"Wa'al," he stammered, "I only reckoned to ask the news, ez we are old
friends--I--"

"How much do you want?" repeated Blandford, impatiently.

Ezekiel was mystified, yet expectant. "I can't say ez I exakly
understand," he began.

"How--much--money--do--you--want," continued Blandford, with frigid
accuracy, "to get up and get out of this place?"

"Wa'al, consideren ez I'm travellin' here ez the only authorized agent
of a first-class Frisco Drug House," said Ezekiel, with a mingling of
mortification, pride, and hopefulness, "unless you're travellin' in the
opposition business, I don't see what's that to you."

Blandford regarded him searchingly for an instant. "Who sent you here?"

"Dilworth & Dusenberry, Battery Street, San Francisco. Hev their card?"
said Ezekiel, taking one from his waistcoat pocket.

"Corwin," said Blandford, sternly, "whatever your business is here
you'll find it will pay you better, a ---- sight, to be frank with
me and stop this Yankee shuffling. You say you have been with
Demorest--what has HE got to do with your business here?"

"Nothin'," said Ezekiel. "I reckon he wos ez astonished to see me ez you
are."

"And didn't he send you here to seek me?" said Blandford, impatiently.

"Considerin' he believes you a dead man, I reckon not."

Blandford gave a hard, constrained laugh. After a pause, still keeping
his eyes fixed on Ezekiel, he said:

"Then your recognition of me was accidental?"

"Wa'al, yes. And ez I never took much stock in the stories that you were
washed off the Warensboro Bridge, I ain't much astonished at finding you
agin."

"What did you believe happened to me?" said Blandford, less brusquely.

Ezekiel noticed the softening; he felt his own turn coming. "I
kalkilated you had reasons for going off, leaving no address behind
you," he drawled.

"What reasons?" asked Blandford, with a sudden relapse of his former
harshness.

"Wa'al, Squire Blandford, sens you wanter know--I reckon your business
wasn't payin', and there was a matter of two hundred and fifty dollars
ye took with ye, that your creditors would hev liked to hev back."

"Who dare say that?" demanded Blandford, angrily.

"Your wife that was--Mrs. Demorest ez is--told it to her mother,"
returned Ezekiel, lazily.

The blow struck deeper than even Ezekiel's dry malice imagined. For an
instant, Blandford remained stupefied. In the five years' retrospect of
his resolution on that fatal night, whatever doubt of its wisdom might
have obtruded itself upon him, he had never thought of THIS. He had been
willing to believe that his wife had quietly forgotten him as well as
her treachery to him, he had passively acquiesced in the results of that
forgetfulness and his own silence; he had been conscious that his
wound had healed sooner than he expected, but if this consciousness
had enabled him to extend a certain passive forgiveness to his wife
and Demorest, it was always with the conviction that his mysterious
effacement had left an inexplicable shadow upon them which their
consciences alone could explain. But for this unjust, vulgar, and
degrading interpretation of his own act of expiation, he was totally
unprepared. It completely crushed whatever sentiment remained of that
act in the horrible irony of finding himself put upon his defence before
the world, without being able now to offer the real cause. The anguish
of that night had gone forever; but the ridiculous interpretation of it
had survived, and would survive it. In the eyes of the man before him
he was not a wronged husband, but an absconding petty defaulter, whom he
had just detected!

His mind was quickly made up. In that instant he had resolved upon a
step as fateful as his former one, and a fitting climax to its results.
For five years he had clearly misunderstood his attitude towards his
treacherous wife and perjured friend. Thanks to this practical, selfish
machine before him, he knew it now.

"Look here, Corwin," he said, turning upon Ezekiel a colorless face,
but a steady, merciless eye. "I can guess, without your telling me, what
lies may be circulated about me by the man and woman who know that I
have only to declare myself alive to convict them of infamy--perhaps
even of criminality before the law. You are not MY friend, or you would
not have believed them; if you are THEIRS, you have two courses open to
you now. Keep this meeting to yourself and trust to my mercy to keep it
a secret also; or, tell Mrs. Demorest that you have seen Mr. Johnson,
who is not afraid to come forward at any moment and proclaim that he
is Edward Blandford, her only lawful husband. Choose which course you
like--it is nothing more to me."

"Wa'al, I reckon that, as far as I know Mrs. Demorest," said Ezekiel,
dryly, "it don't make the least difference to her either; but if you
want to know my opinion o' this matter, it is that neither you nor
Demorest exactly understand that woman. I've known Joan Salisbury since
she was so high, but if ye expected me to tell you wot she was goin' to
do next, I'd be able to tell ye where the next flash o' lightnin' would
strike. It's wot you don't expect of Joan Salisbury that she does. And
the best proof of it is that she filed papers for a divorce agin you
in Chicago and got it by default a few weeks afore she married
Demorest--and you don't know it."

Blandford recoiled. "Impossible," he said, but his voice too plainly
showed how clearly its possibility struck him now.

"It's so, but it was kept secret by Deacon Salisbury. I overheerd it.
Wa'al, that's a proof that you don't understand Joan, I reckon. And
considerin' that Demorest HIMSELF don't know it, ez I found out only the
other day in talking to him, I kalkilate I'm safe in sayin' that
you're neither o' you quite up to Deacon Salisbury's darter in nat'ral
cuteness. I don't like to obtrude my opinion, Squire Blandford, ez we're
old friends, but I do say, that wot with Demorest's prematooriness and
yer own hangfiredness, it's a good thing that you two worldly men hev
got Joan Salisbury to stand up for North Liberty and keep it from bein'
scandalized by the ungodly. Ef it hadn't been for her smartness, whar
y'd both be landed now? There's a heap in Christian bringin' up, and a
power in grace, Squire Blandford."

His hard, dry face was for an instant transfigured by a grim fealty and
the dull glow of some sectarian clannishness. Or was it possible that
this woman's personality had in some mysterious way disturbed his rooted
selfishness?

During his speech Blandford had walked to the window. When Corwin had
ceased speaking, Blandford turned towards him with an equally changed
face and cold imperturbability that astonished him, and held out his
hand. "Let bygones be bygones, Corwin--whether we ever meet again or
not. Yet if I can do anything for you for the sake of old times, I
am ready to do it. I have some power here and in San Francisco," he
continued, with a slight touch of pride, "that isn't dependent upon the
mere name I may travel under. I have a purpose in coming here."

"I know it," said Ezekiel, dryly. "I heard it all from your two friends.
You're huntin' some man that did you an injury."

"I'm hunting down a dog who, suspecting I had some secret in emigrating
here, tried to blackmail and ruin me," said Blandford, with a sudden
expression of hatred that seemed inconsistent with anything that Ezekiel
had ever known of his old master's character--"a scoundrel who tried to
break up my new life as another had broken up the old." He stopped and
recovered himself with a short laugh. "Well, Ezekiel, I don't know as
his opinion of me was any worse than yours or HERS. And until I catch
HIM to clear my name again, I let the other slanderers go."

"Wa'al, I reckon you might lay hands on that devil yet, and not far
away, either. I was up at Demorest's to-day, and I heard Joan and a
skittish sort o' Mexican young lady talkin' about some tramp that had
frightened her. And Miss Pico said--"

"What! Who did you say?" demanded Blandford, with a violent start.

"Wa'al, I reckoned I heerd the first name too--Rosita."

A quick flush crossed Blandford's face, and left it glowing like a
boy's.

"Is SHE there?"

"Wa'al, I reckon she's visitin' Joan," said Ezekiel, narrowly attentive
of Blandford's strange excitement; "but wot of it?"

But Blandford had utterly forgotten Ezekiel's presence. He had
remained speechless and flushed. And then, as if suddenly dazzled by an
inspiration, he abruptly dashed from the room. Ezekiel heard him call to
his passive host with a Spanish oath, but before he could follow, they
had both hurriedly left the house.

Ezekiel glanced around him and contemplatively ran his fingers through
his beard. "It ain't Joan Salisbury nor Dick Demorest ez giv' him that
start! Humph! Wa'al--I wanter know!"




CHAPTER IV


Mrs. Demorest was so fascinated by the company of Dona Rosita Pico and
her romantic memories, that she prevailed upon that heart-broken but
scarcely attenuated young lady to prolong her visit beyond the fortnight
she had allotted to communion with the past. For a day or two following
her singular experience in the garden, Mrs. Demorest plied her with
questions regarding the apparition she had seen, and finally extorted
from her the admission that she could not positively swear to its being
the real Johnson, or even a perfectly consistent shade of that faithless
man. When Joan pointed out to her that such masculine perfections
as curling raven locks, long silken mustachios, and dark eyes, were
attributes by no means exclusive to her lover, but were occasionally
seen among other less favored and even equally dangerous Americans, Dona
Rosita assented with less objection than Joan anticipated. "Besides,
dear," said Joan, eying her with feline watchfulness, "it is four years
since you've seen him, and surely the man has either shaved since, or
else he took a ridiculous vow never to do it, and then he would be more
fully bearded."

But Dona Rosita only shook her pretty head. "Ah, but he have an air--a
something I know not what you call--so." She threw her shawl over her
left shoulder, and as far as a pair of soft blue eyes and comfortably
pacific features would admit, endeavored to convey an idea of wicked and
gloomy abstraction.

"You child," said Joan,--"that's nothing; they all of them do that. Why,
there was a stranger at the Oriental Hotel whom I met twice when I was
there--just as mysterious, romantic, and wicked-looking. And in fact
they hinted terrible things about him. Well! so much so, that Mr.
Demorest was quite foolish about my being barely civil to him--you
understand--and--" She stopped suddenly, with a heightened color under
the fire of Rosita's laughing eyes.

"Ah--so--Dona Discretion! Tell to me all. Did our hoosband eat him?"

Joan's features suddenly tightened to their old puritan rigidity. "Mr.
Demorest has reasons--abundant reasons--to thoroughly understand and
trust me," she replied in an austere voice.

Rosita looked at her a moment in mystification and then shrugged her
shoulders. The conversation dropped. Nevertheless, it is worthy of being
recorded that from that moment the usual familiar allusions, playful and
serious, to Rosita's mysterious visitor began to diminish in frequency
and finally ceased. Even the news brought by Demorest of some vague
rumor in the pueblo that an intended attack on the stage-coach had been
frustrated by the authorities, and that the vicinity had been haunted by
incognitos of both parties, failed to revive the discussion.

Meantime the slight excitement that had stirred the sluggish life of the
pueblo of San Buenaventura had subsided. The posada of Senor Mateo
had lost its feverish and perplexing dual life; the alley behind it
no longer was congested by lounging cigarette smokers; the compartment
looking upon the silent patio was unoccupied, and its chairs and tables
were empty. The two deputy sheriffs, of whom Senor Mateo presumably
knew very little, had fled; and the mysterious Senor Johnson, of whom
he--still presumably--knew still less, had also disappeared. For Senor
Mateo's knowledge of what transpired in and about his posada, and of
the character and purposes of those who frequented it, was tinctured by
grave and philosophical doubts. This courteous and dignified scepticism
generally took the formula of quien sabe to all frivolous and mundane
inquiry. He would affirm with strict verity that his omelettes were
unapproachable, his beds miraculous, his aguardiente supreme, his house
was even as your own. Beyond these were questions with which the simply
finite and always discreet human intellect declined to grapple.

The disturbing effect of Senor Corwin upon a mind thus gravely
constituted may be easily imagined. Besides Ezekiel's inordinate
capacity for useless or indiscreet information, it was undeniable that
his patent medicines had effected a certain peaceful revolutionary
movement in San Buenaventura. A simple and superstitious community that
had steadily resisted the practical domestic and agricultural American
improvements, succumbed to the occult healing influences of the Panacea
and Jones's Bitters. The virtues of a mysterious balsam, more or less
illuminated with a colored mythological label, deeply impressed them;
and the exhibition of a circular, whereon a celestial visitant was
represented as descending with a gross of Rogers' Pills to a suffering
but admiring multitude, touched their religious sympathies to such an
extent that the good Padre Jose was obliged to warn them from the pulpit
of the diabolical character of their heresies of healing--with the
natural result of yet more dangerously advertising Ezekiel. There were
those too who spoke under their breath of the miraculous efficacy
of these nostrums. Had not Don Victor Arguello, whose respectable
digestion, exhausted by continuous pepper and garlic, failed him
suddenly, received an unexpected and pleasurable stimulus from the
New England rum, which was the basis of the Jones Bitters? Had not the
baker, tremulous from excessive aguardiente, been soothed and sustained
by the invisible morphia, judiciously hidden in Blogg's Nerve Tonic?
Nor had the wily Ezekiel forgotten the weaker sex in their maiden
and maternal requirements. Unguents, that made silken their black but
somewhat coarsely fibrous tresses, opened charming possibilities to
the Senoritas; while soothing syrups lent a peaceful repose to many a
distracted mother's household. The success of Ezekiel was so marked as
to justify his return at the end of three weeks with a fresh assortment
and an undiminished audacity.

It was on his second visit that the sceptical, non-committal policy of
Senor Mateo was sorely tried. Arriving at the posada one night, Ezekiel
became aware that his host was engaged in some mysterious conference
with a visitor who had entered through the ordinary public room. The
view which the acute Ezekiel managed to get of the stranger, however,
was productive of no further discovery than that he bore a faint
and disreputable resemblance to Blandford, and was handsome after a
conscious, reckless fashion, with an air of mingled bravado and conceit.
But an hour later, as Corwin was taking the cooler air of the veranda
before retiring to one of the miraculous beds of the posada, he was
amazed at seeing what was apparently Blandford himself emerge on
horseback from the alley, and after a quick glance towards the veranda,
canter rapidly up the street. Ezekiel's first impression was to call to
him, but the sudden recollection that he parted from his old master on
confidential terms only three days before in San Francisco, and that it
was impossible for him to be in the pueblo, stopped him with his fingers
meditatively in his beard. Then he turned in to the posada, and hastily
summoned Mateo.

The gentleman presented himself in a state of such profound scepticism
that it seemed to have already communicated itself to his shoulders, and
gave him the appearance of having shrugged himself into the room.

"Ha'ow long ago did Mr. Johnson get here?" asked Corwin, lazily.

"Ah--possibly--then there has been a Mr. Johnson?" This is a polite
doubt of his own perceptions and a courteous acceptance of his
questioner's.

"Wa'al, I guess so. Considerin' I jest saw him with my own eyes,"
returned Ezekiel.

"Ah!" Mateo was relieved. Might he congratulate the Senor Corwin, who
must be also relieved, and shake his respected hand. Bueno. And then he
had met this Senor Johnson? doubtless a friend? And he was well? and all
were happy?

"Look yer, Mattayo! What I wanter know ez THIS. When did that man, who
has just ridden out of your alley, come here? Sabe that--it's a plain
question."

Ah surely, of the clearest comprehension. Bueno. It may have been last
week--or even this week--or perhaps yesterday--or of a possibility
to-day. The Senor Corwin, who was wise and omniscient, would comprehend
that the difficulty lay in deciding WHO was that man. Perhaps a friend
of the Senor Corwin--perhaps only one who LOOKED like him. There
existed--might Mateo point out--a doubt.

Ezekiel regarded Mateo with a certain grim appreciation. "Wa'al, is
there anybody here who looks like Johnson?"

Again there were the difficulty of ascertaining perfectly how the Senor
Johnson looked. If the Senor Johnson was Americano, doubtless there
were other Americanos who had resembled him. It was possible. The Senor
Corwin had doubtless observed for a little space a caballero who was
here, as it were, in the instant of the appearance of Senor Johnson?
Possibly there was a resemblance, and yet--

Corwin had certainly noticed this resemblance, but it did not suit his
cautious intellect to fall in with any prevailing scepticism of his
host. Satisfied in his mind that Mateo was concealing something from
him, and equally satisfied that he would sooner or later find it out,
he grinned diabolically in the face of that worthy man, and sought the
meditation of his miraculous couch. When he had departed, the sceptic
turned to his wife:

"This animal has been sniffing at the trail."

"Truly--but Mother of God--where is the discretion of our friend. If he
will continue to haunt the pueblo like a lovesick chicken, he will get
his neck wrung yet."

Following out an ingenious idea of his own, Ezekiel called the next day
on the Demorests, and in some occult fashion obtained an invitation to
stay under their hospitable roof during his sojourn in Buenaventura.
Perfectly aware that he owed this courtesy more to Joan than to her
husband, it is probable that his grim enjoyment was not diminished by
the fact; while Joan, for reasons of her own, preferred the constraint
which the presence of another visitor put upon Demorest's uxoriousness.
Of late, too, there were times when Dona Rosita's naive intelligence,
which was not unlike the embarrassing perceptions of a bright and
half-spoiled child, was in her way, and she would willingly have
shared the young lady's company with her husband had Demorest shown any
sympathy for the girl. It was in the faint hope that Ezekiel might in
some way beguile Rosita's wandering attention that she had invited him.
The only difficulty lay in his uncouthness, and in presenting to the
heiress of the Picos a man who had been formerly her own servant. Had
she attempted to conceal that fact she was satisfied that Ezekiel's
independence and natural predilection for embarrassing situations would
have inevitably revealed it. She had even gone so far as to consider the
propriety of investing him with a poor relationship to her family, when
Dona Rosita herself happily stopped all further trouble. On her very
first introduction to him, that charming young lady at once accepted him
as a lunatic whose brains were turned by occult, scientific, and medical
study! Ah! she, Rosita, had heard of such cases before. Had not a
paternal ancestor of hers, one Don Diego Castro, believed he had
discovered the elixir of youth. Had he not to that end refused even to
wash him the hand, to cut him the nail of the finger and the hair of
the head! Exalted by that discovery, had he not been unsparingly
uncomplimentary to all humanity, especially to the weaker sex? Even as
the Senor Corwin!

Far from being offended at this ingenious interpretation of his
character, Ezekiel exhibited a dry gratification over it, and even
conceived an unwholesome admiration of the fair critic; he haunted her
presence and preoccupied her society far beyond Joan's most sanguine
expectations. He sat in open-mouthed enjoyment of her at the table,
he waylaid her in the garden, he attempted to teach her English. Dona
Rosita received these extraordinary advances in a no less extraordinary
manner. In the scant masculine atmosphere of the house, and the somewhat
rigid New England reserve that still pervaded it, perhaps she languished
a little, and was not averse to a slight flirtation, even with a madman.
Besides, she assumed the attitude of exercising a wholesome restraint
over him. "If we are not found dead in our bed one morning, and
extracted of our blood for a cordial, you shall thank to me for it," she
said to Joan. "Also for the not empoisoning of the coffee!"

So she permitted him to carry a chair or hammock for her into the
garden, to fetch the various articles which she was continually losing,
and which he found with his usual penetration; and to supply her with
information, in which, however, he exercised an unwonted caution. On
the other hand, certain naive recollections and admissions, which in the
quality of a voluble child she occasionally imparted to this "madman" in
return, were in the proportion of three to one.

It had been a hot day, and even the usual sunset breeze had failed that
evening to rock the tops of the outlying pine-trees or cool the heated
tiles of the pueblo roofs. There was a hush and latent expectancy in the
air that reacted upon the people with feverish unrest and uneasiness;
even a lull in the faintly whispering garden around the Demorests' casa
had affected the spirits of its inmates, causing them to wander about
in vague restlessness. Joan had disappeared; Dona Rosita, under an
olive-tree in one of the deserted paths, and attended by the faithful
Ezekiel, had said it was "earthquake weather," and recalled, with a sign
of the cross, a certain dreadful day of her childhood, when el temblor
had shaken down one of the Mission towers. "You shall see it now, as
he have left it so it has remain always," she added with superstitious
gravity.

"That's just the lazy shiftlessness of your folks," responded Ezekiel
with prompt ungallantry. "It ain't no wonder the Lord Almighty hez to
stir you up now and then to keep you goin'."

Dona Rosita gazed at him with simple childish pity. "Poor man; it have
affect you also in the head, this weather. So! It was even so with
the uncle of my father. Hush up yourself, and bring to me the box of
chocolates of my table. I will gif to you one. You shall for one time
have something pleasant on the end of your tongue, even if you must
swallow him after."

Ezekiel grinned. "Ye ain't afraid o' bein' left alone with the ghost
that haunts the garden, Miss Rosita?"

"After YOU--never-r-r."

"I'll find Mrs. Demorest and send her to ye," said Ezekiel,
hesitatingly.

"Eh, to attract here the ghost? Thank you, no, very mooch."

Ezekiel's face contracted until nothing but his bright peering gray eyes
could be seen. "Attract the ghost!" he echoed. "Then you kalkilate that
it's--" he stopped, insinuatingly.

Rosita brought her fan sharply over his knuckles, and immediately opened
it again over her half-embarrassed face. "I comprehend not anything to
'ekalkilate.' WILL you go, Don Fantastico; or is it for me to bring to
you?"

Ezekiel flew. He quickly found the chocolates and returned, but was
disconcerted on arriving under the olive-tree to find Dona Rosita no
longer in the hammock. He turned into a by-path, where an extraordinary
circumstance attracted his attention. The air was perfectly still, but
the leaves of a manzanita bush near the misshapen cactus were slightly
agitated. Presently Ezekiel saw the stealthy figure of a man emerge from
behind it and approach the cactus. Reaching his hand cautiously towards
the plant, the stranger detached something from one of its thorns, and
instantly disappeared. The quick eyes of Ezekiel had seen that it was a
letter, his unerring perception of faces recognized at the same moment
that the intruder was none other than the handsome, reckless-looking man
he had seen the other day in conference with Mateo.

But Ezekiel was not the only witness of this strange intrusion. A few
paces from him, Dona Rosita, unconscious of his return, was gazing in
a half-frightened, breathless absorption in the direction of the
stranger's flight.

"Wa'al!" drawled Ezekiel lazily.

She started and turned towards him. Her face was pale and alarmed, and
yet to the critical eye of Ezekiel it seemed to wear an expression of
gratified relief. She laughed faintly.

"Ef that's the kind o' ghost you hev about yer, it's a healthy one,"
drawled Ezekiel. He turned and fixed his keen eyes on Rosita's face. "I
wonder what kind o' fruit grows on the cactus that he's so fond of?"

Either she had not seen the abstraction of the letter, or his acting was
perfect, for she returned his look unwaveringly. "The fruit, eh? I have
not comprehend."

"Wa'al, I reckon I will," said Ezekiel. He walked towards the cactus;
there was nothing to be seen but its thorny spikes. He was confronted,
however, by the sudden apparition of Joan from behind the manzanita at
its side. She looked up and glanced from Ezekiel to Dona Rosita with an
agitated air.

"Oh, you saw him too?" she said eagerly.

"I reckon," answered Ezekiel, with his eyes still on Rosita. "I was
wondering what on airth he was so taken with that air cactus for."

Rosita had become slightly pale again in the presence of her friend.
Joan quietly pushed Ezekiel aside and put her arm around her. "Are you
frightened again?" she asked, in a low whisper.

"Not mooch," returned Rosita, without lifting her eyes.

"It was only some peon, trespassing to pick blossoms for his
sweetheart," she said significantly, with a glance towards Ezekiel. "Let
us go in."

She passed her hand through Rosita's passive arm and led her towards
the house, Ezekiel's penetrating eyes still following Rosita with an
expression of gratified doubt.

For once, however, that astute observer was wrong. When Mrs. Demorest
had reached the house she slipped into her own room, and, bolting the
door, drew from her bosom a letter which SHE had picked from the cactus
thorn, and read it with a flushed face and eager eyes.

It may have been the effect of the phenomenal weather, but the next day
a malign influence seemed to pervade the Demorest household. Dona Rosita
was confined to her room by an attack of languid nerves, superinduced,
as she was still voluble enough to declare, by the narcotic effect of
some unknown herb which the lunatic Ezekiel had no doubt mysteriously
administered to her with a view of experimenting on its properties. She
even avowed that she must speedily return to Los Osos, before Ezekiel
should further compromise her reputation by putting her on a colored
label in place of the usual Celestial Distributer of the Panacea.
Ezekiel himself, who had been singularly abstracted and reticent,
and had absolutely foregone one or two opportunities of disagreeable
criticism, had gone to the pueblo early that morning. The house was
comparatively silent and deserted when Demorest walked into his wife's
boudoir.

It was a pretty room, looking upon the garden, furnished with a singular
mingling of her own inherited formal tastes and the more sensuous
coloring and abandon of her new life. There were a great many rugs
and hangings scattered in disorder around the room, and apparently
purposeless, except for color; there was a bamboo lounge as large as a
divan, with two or three cushions disposed on it, and a low chair that
seemed the incarnation of indolence. Opposed to this, on the wall, was
the rigid picture of her grandfather, who had apparently retired with
his volume further into the canvas before the spectacle of this ungodly
opulence; a large Bible on a funereal trestle-like stand, and the
primmest and barest of writing-tables, before which she was standing as
at a sacrificial altar. With an almost mechanical movement she closed
her portfolio as her husband entered, and also shut the lid of a
small box with a slight snap. This suggested exclusion of him from her
previous occupation, whatever it might have been, caused a faint shadow
of pain to pass across his loving eyes. He cast a glance at his wife
as if mutely asking her to sit beside him, but she drew a chair to the
table, and with her elbow resting on the box, resignedly awaited his
speech.

"I don't mean to disturb you, darling," he said, gently, "but as we were
alone, I thought we might have one of our old-fashioned talks, and--"

"Don't let it be so old-fashioned as to include North Liberty again,"
she interrupted, wearily. "We've had quite enough of that since I
returned."

"I thought you found fault with me then for forgetting the past. But
let that pass, dear; it is not OUR affairs I wanted to talk to you about
now," he said, stifling a sigh, "it's about your friend. Please don't
misunderstand what I am going to say; nor that I interpose except from
necessity."

She turned her dark brown eyes in his direction, but her glance passed
abstractedly over his head into the garden.

"It's a matter perfectly well known to me--and, I fear, to all our
servants also--that somebody is making clandestine visits to our garden.
I would not trouble you before, until I ascertained the object of these
visits. It is quite plain to me now that Dona Rosita is that object, and
that communications are secretly carried on between her and some unknown
stranger. He has been here once or twice before; he was here again
yesterday. Ezekiel saw him and saw her."

"Together?" asked Mrs. Demorest, sharply.

"No; but it was evident that there was some understanding, and that some
communication passed between them."

"Well?" said Mrs. Demorest, with repressed impatience.

"It is equally evident, Joan, that this stranger is a man who does not
dare to approach your friend in her own house, nor more openly in this;
but who, with her connivance, uses us to carry on an intrigue which may
be perfectly innocent, but is certainly compromising to all concerned.
I am quite willing to believe that Dona Rosita is only romantic and
reckless, but that will not prevent her from becoming a dupe of some
rascal who dare not face us openly, and who certainly does not act as
her equal."

"Well, Rosita is no chicken, and you are not her guardian."

There was a vague heartlessness, more in her voice than in her words,
that touched him as her cold indifference to himself had never done,
and for an instant stung his crushed spirit to revolt. "No" he said,
sternly, "but I am her father's FRIEND, and I shall not allow his
daughter to be compromised under my roof."

Her eyes sprang up to meet his in hatred as promptly as they once had
met in love. "And since when, Richard Demorest, have you become so
particular?" she began, with dry asperity. "Since you lured ME from the
side of my wedded husband? Since you met ME clandestinely in trains and
made love to ME under an assumed name? Since you followed ME to my house
under the pretext of being my husband's friend, and forced me--yes,
forced me--to see you secretly under my mother's roof? Did you think of
compromising ME then? Did you think of ruining my reputation, of driving
my husband from his home in despair? Did you call yourself a rascal
then? Did you--"

"Stop!" he said, in a voice that shook the rafters; "I command you,
stop!"

She had gradually worked herself from a deliberately insulting precision
into an hysterical, and it is to be feared a virtuous, conviction of
her wrongs. Beginning only with the instinct to taunt and wound the man
before her, she had been led by a secret consciousness of something else
he did not know to anticipate his reproach and justify herself in a wild
feminine abandonment of emotion. But she stopped at his words. For a
moment she was even thrilled again by the strength and imperiousness she
had loved.

They were facing each other after five years of mistaken passion, even
as they had faced each other that night in her mother's kitchen. But the
grave of that dead passion yawned between them. It was Joan who broke
the silence, that after her single outburst seemed to fill and oppress
the room.

"As far as Rosita is concerned," she said, with affected calmness, "she
is going to-night. And you probably will not be troubled any longer by
your mysterious visitor."

Whether he heeded the sarcastic significance of her last sentence, or
even heard her at all, he did not reply. For a moment he turned his
blazing eyes full upon her, and then without a word strode from the
room.

She walked to the door and stood uneasily listening in the passage until
she heard the clatter of hoofs in the paved patio, and knew that he had
ordered his horse. Then she turned back relieved to her room.

It was already sunset when Demorest drew rein again at the entrance
of the corral, and the last stroke of the Angelus was ringing from
the Mission tower. He looked haggard and exhausted, and his horse was
flecked with foam and dirt. Wherever he had been, or for what object, or
whether, objectless and dazed, he had simply sought to lose himself in
aimlessly wandering over the dry yellow hills or in careering furiously
among his own wild cattle on the arid, brittle plain; whether he had
beaten all thought from his brain with the jarring leap of his horse, or
whether he had pursued some vague and elusive determination to his own
door, is not essential to this brief chronicle. Enough that when he
dismounted he drew a pistol from his holster and replaced it in his
pocket.

He had just pushed open the gate of the corral as he led in his horse
by the bridle, when he noticed another horse tethered among some cotton
woods that shaded the outer wall of his garden. As he gazed, the figure
of a man swung lightly from one of the upper boughs of a cotton-wood
on the wall and disappeared on the other side. It was evidently the
clandestine visitor. Demorest was in no mood for trifling. Hurriedly
driving his horse into the enclosure with a sharp cut of his riata, he
closed the gate upon him, slipped past the intervening space into the
patio, and then unnoticed into the upper part of the garden. Taking a
narrow by-path in the direction of the cotton woods that could be seen
above the wall, he presently came in sight of the object of his search
moving stealthily towards the house. It was the work of a moment only to
dash forward and seize him, to find himself engaged in a sharp wrestle,
to half draw his pistol as he struggled with his captive in the open.
But once in the clearer light, he started, his grasp of the stranger
relaxed, and he fell back in bewildered terror.

"Edward Blandford! Good God!"

The pistol had dropped from his hand as he leaned breathless against a
tree. The stranger kicked the weapon contemptuously aside. Then quietly
adjusting his disordered dress, and picking the brambles from his
sleeve, he said with the same air of disdain, "Yes! Edward Blandford,
whom you thought dead! There! I'm not a ghost--though you tried to make
me one this time," he said, pointing to the pistol.

Demorest passed his hand across his white face. "Then it's you--and you
have come here for--for--Joan?"

"For Joan?" echoed Blandford, with a quick scornful laugh, that made the
blood flow back into Demorest's face as from a blow, and recalled his
scattered senses. "For Joan," he repeated. "Not much!"

The two men were facing each other in irreconcilable yet confused
antagonism. Both were still excited and combative from their late
physical struggle, but with feelings so widely different that it would
have been impossible for either to have comprehended the other. In the
figure that had apparently risen from the dead to confront him, Demorest
only saw the man he had unconsciously wronged--the man who had it in his
power to claim Joan and exact a terrible retribution! But it was part of
this monstrous and irreconcilable situation that Blandford had ceased
to contemplate it, and in his preoccupation only saw the actual
interference of a man whom he no longer hated, but had begun to pity and
despise.

He glanced coolly around him. "Whatever we've got to say to each other,"
he said deliberately, "had better not be overheard. At least what I have
got to say to you."




CHAPTER V


Demorest, now as self-possessed as his adversary, haughtily waved his
hand towards the path. They walked on in silence, without even looking
at each other, until they reached a small summer-house that stood in the
angle of the wall. Demorest entered. "We cannot be heard here," he said
curtly.

"And we can see what is going on. Good," said Blandford, coolly
following him. The summer-house contained a bench and a table. Blandford
seated himself on the bench. Demorest remained standing beside the
table. There was a moment's silence.

"I came here with no desire to see you or avoid you," said Blandford,
with cold indifference. "A few weeks ago I might perhaps have avoided
you, for your own sake. But since then I have learned that among the
many things I owe to--to your wife is the fact that five years ago she
secretly DIVORCED ME, and that consequently my living presence could
neither be a danger nor a menace to you. I see," he added, dryly, with
a quick glance at Demorest's horror-stricken face, "that I was also told
the truth when they said you were as ignorant of the divorce as I was."

He stopped, half in pity of his adversary's shame, half in surprise of
his own calmness. Five years before, in the tumultuous consciousness of
his wrongs, he would have scarcely trusted himself face to face with
the cooler and more self-controlled Demorest. He wondered at and partly
admired his own coolness now, in the presence of his enemy's confusion.

"As your mind is at rest on that point," he continued, sarcastically,
"I don't suppose you care to know what became of ME when I left North
Liberty. But as it happens to have something to do with my being here
to-night, and is a part of my business with you, you'll have to listen
to it. Sit down! Very well, then--stand up! It's your own house."

His half cynical, wholly contemptuous ignoring of the real issue between
them was more crushing to Demorest than the keenest reproach or most
tragic outburst. He did not lift his eyes as Blandford resumed in a dry,
business-like way:

"When I came across the plains to California, I fell in with a man about
my own age--an emigrant also. I suppose I looked and acted like a crazy
fool through all the journey, for he satisfied himself that I had some
secret reason for leaving the States, and suspected that I was, like
himself--a criminal. I afterwards learned that he was an escaped thief
and assassin. Well, he played upon me all the way here, for I didn't
care to reveal my real trouble to him, lest it should get back to North
liberty--" He interrupted himself with a sarcastic laugh. "Of course,
you understand that all this while Joan was getting her divorce unknown
to me, and you were marrying her--yet as I didn't know anything about it
I let him compromise me to save her. But"--he stopped, his eye kindled,
and, losing his self-control in what to Demorest seemed some incoherent
passion, went on excitedly: "that man continued his persecution
HERE--yes, HERE, in this very house, where I was a trusted and honored
guest, and threatened to expose me to a pure, innocent, simple girl
who had taken pity on me--unless I helped him in a conspiracy of
cattle-stealers and road agents, of which he was chief. I was such a
cursed sentimental fool then, that believing him capable of doing this,
believing myself still the husband of that woman, your wife, and to
spare that innocent girl the shame of thinking me a villain, I purchased
his silence by consenting. May God curse me for it!"

He had started to his feet with flashing eyes, and the indication of an
overmastering passion that to Demorest, absorbed only in the stupefying
revelation of his wife's divorce and the horrible doubt it implied,
seemed utterly vacant and unmeaning.

He had often dreamed of Blandford as standing before him, reproachful,
indignant, and even desperate over his wife's unfaithfulness; but
this insane folly and fury over some trivial wrong done to that plump,
baby-faced, flirting Dona Rosita, crushed him by its unconscious but
degrading obliteration of Joan and himself more than the most violent
denunciation. Dazed and bewildered, yet with the instinct of a helpless
man, he clung only to that part of Blandford's story which indicated
that he had come there for Rosita, and not to separate him from Joan,
and even turned to his former friend with a half-embarrassed gesture of
apology as he stammered--

"Then it was YOU who were Rosita's lover, and you who have been here
to see her. Forgive me, Ned--if I had only known it." He stopped and
timidly extended his hand. But Blandford put it aside with a cold
gesture and folded his arms.

"You have forgotten all you ever knew of me, Demorest! I am not in
the habit of making clandestine appointments with helpless women whose
natural protectors I dare not face. I have never pursued an innocent
girl to the house I dared not enter. When I found that I could not
honorably retain Dona Rosita's affection, I fled her roof. When I
believed that even if I broke with this scoundrel--as I did--I was still
legally if not morally tied to your wife, and could not marry Rosita, I
left her never to return. And I tore my heart out to do it."

The tears were standing in his eyes. Demorest regarded him again with
vacant wonder. Tears!--not for Joan's unfaithfulness to him--but for
this silly girl's transitory sentimentalism. It was horrible!

And yet what was Joan to Blandford now? Why should he weep for the woman
who had never loved him--whom he loved no longer? The woman who had
deceived him--who had deceived them BOTH. Yes! for Joan must have
suspected that Blandford was living to have sought her secret
divorce--and yet she had never told him--him--the man for whom she got
it. Ah! he must not forget THAT! It was to marry him that she had taken
that step. It was perhaps a foolish caution--a mistaken reservation; but
it was the folly--the mistake of a loving woman. He hugged this belief
the closer, albeit he was conscious at the same time of following
Blandford's story of his alienated affection with a feeling of wonder
and envy.

"And what was the result of this touching sacrifice?" continued
Blandford, trying to resume his former cynical indifference. "I'll tell
you. This scoundrel set himself about to supplant me. Taking advantage
of my absence, his knowledge that her affection for me was heightened by
the mystery of my life, and trusting to profit by a personal resemblance
he is said to bear to me, he began to haunt her. Lately he has grown
bolder, and he dared even to communicate with her here. For it is he,"
he continued, again giving way to his passion, "this dog, this sneaking
coward, who visits the place unknown to you, and thinks to entrap the
poor girl through her memory of me. And it is he that I came here to
prevent, to expose--if necessary to kill! Don't misunderstand me. I have
made myself a deputy of the law for that purpose. I've a warrant in my
pocket, and I shall take him, this mongrel, half-breed Cherokee Bob, by
fair means or foul!"

The energy and presence of his passion was so infectious that it
momentarily swept away Demorest's doubts of the past. "And I will help
you, before God, Blandford," he said eagerly. "And Joan shall, too. She
will find out from Rosita how far--"

"Thank you," interrupted Blandford, dryly; "but your wife has already
interfered in this matter, to my cost. It is to her, I believe, I owe
this wretch's following Rosita here. She already knows this man--has met
him twice in San Francisco; he even boasts of YOUR jealousy. You know
best how far he lied."

But Demorest had braced himself against the chill sensation that had
begun to creep over him as Blandford spoke. He nerved himself and said,
proudly, "I forbade her knowing him on account of his reputation solely.
I have no reason to believe she has ever even wished to disobey me."

A smile of scorn that had kindled in Blandford's eyes, darkened with a
swift shadow of compassion as he glanced at Demorest's hard, ashen
face. He held out his hand with a sudden impulse. "Enough, I accept your
offer, and shall put it to the test this very night. I know--if you do
not--that Rosita is to leave here for Los Osos an hour from now in a
private carriage, which your wife has ordered especially for her. The
same information tells me that this villain and another of his gang will
be in wait for the carriage three miles out of the pueblo to attack it
and carry off the young girl."

"Are you mad!" said Demorest, in unfeigned amazement. "Do you believe
them capable of attacking a private carriage and carrying off a
solitary, defenceless woman? Come, Blandford, this is a school-girl
romance--not an act of mercenary highwaymen--least of all Cherokee Bob
and his gang. This is some madness of Rosita's, surely," he continued
with a forced laugh.

"Does this mean that you think better of your promise?" asked Blandford,
dryly.

"I said I was at your service," said Demorest, reproachfully.

"Then hear my plan to prevent it, and yet take that dog in the act,"
said Blandford. "But we must first wait here till the last moment to
ascertain if he makes any signal to show that his plan is altered,
or that he has discovered he is watched." He turned, and in his
preoccupation laid his hand for an instant upon Demorest's shoulder with
the absent familiarity of old days. Unconscious as the action was, it
thrilled them both--from its very unconsciousness--and impelled them to
throw themselves into the new alliance with such feverish and excited
activity in order to preclude any dangerous alien reflection, that when
they rose a few moments later and cautiously left the garden arm-in-arm
through the outer gates, no one would have believed they had ever been
estranged, least of all the clever woman who had separated them.


It was nearly nine o'clock when the two friends, accompanied by the
sheriff of the county, left San Buenaventura turnpike and turned into
a thicket of alders to wait the coming of the carriage they were to
henceforth follow cautiously and unseen in a parallel trail to the main
road. The moon had risen, and with it the long withheld wind that now
swept over the distant stretch of gleaming road and partly veiled it
at times with flying dust unchecked by any dew from the clear cold sky.
Demorest shivered even with his ready hand on his revolver. Suddenly the
sheriff uttered an exclamation of disgust.

"Blasted if thar ain't some one in the road between us and their
ambush."

"It's one of their gang--scouting. Lie close."

"Scout be darned. Look at him bucking round there in the dust. He can't
even ride! It's some blasted greenhorn taking a pasear on a hoss for the
first time. Damnation! he's ruined everything. They'll take the alarm."

"I'll push on and clear him out," said Blandford, excitedly. "Even if
they're off, I may yet get a shot at the Cherokee."

"Quick then," said Demorest, "for here comes the carriage." He pointed
to a dark spot on the road occasionally emerging from the driven dust
clouds.

In another moment Blandford was at the heels of the awkward horseman,
who wheeled clumsily at his approach and revealed the lank figure of
Ezekiel Corwin!

"You here!" said Blandford, in stupefied fury.

"Wa'al, yes, squire," said Ezekiel lazily, in spite of his uneasy seat.
"I kalkilated ef there was suthin' goin' on, I'd like to see it."

"You cursed prying fool! you've spoiled all. There!" he shouted
despairingly, as the quick clatter of hoofs rang from the arroyo behind
them, "there they go! That's your work, blockhead! Out of my way, or by
God--" but the sentence was left unfinished as, joined by the sheriff,
who had galloped up at the sound of the robbers' flight, he darted past
the unconcerned Ezekiel. Demorest would have followed, but Blandford,
with a warning cry to him to remain and protect the carriage, halted him
at the side of Corwin as the vehicle now rapidly approached.

But Ezekiel was before him even then, and as the driver pulled up, that
inquiring man tumbled from his horse, ran to the door and opened it.
Demorest rode up, glanced into the carriage, and fell back in blank
amazement.

It was his wife who was sitting there alone, pale, erect, and beautiful.
By some illusion of the moonlight, her face and figure, covered with
soft white wrappings for a journey, looked as he remembered to have seen
her the first night they had met in the Boston train. The picture was
completed by the traveling bag and rug that lay on the seat before her.
Another terrible foreboding seized him; his brain reeled. Was he going
mad?

"Joan!" he stammered. "You? What is the meaning of this?"

Ezekiel whom but for his dazed condition he might have seen
violently contorting his features in Joan's face, presumably in equal
astonishment--broke into a series of discordant chuckles.

"Wa'al, ef that ain't Deacon Salisbury's darter all over. Ha! Here are
ye two men folks makin' no end o' fuss to save that Mexican gal
with pistols and ambushes and plots and counterplots, and yer's Joan
Salisbury shows ye the way ha'ow to do it. And so, ma'am, you succeeded
in fixin' it up with Dona Rosita to take her place and just sell them
robbers cheap! Wa'al, ma'am, yer sold this yer party, too--for"--he
advanced his face close to hers--"I never let on a word, though I knew
it, and although they nearly knocked me off my hoss in their fuss and
fury. Ha! ha! They wanted to know what I was doin' here, he-he! Tell
'em, Joan, tell 'em."

Demorest gazed from one to another with a troubled face, yet one on
which a faint relief was breaking.

"What does he mean, Joan? Speak," he said, almost imploringly.

Joan, whose color was slightly returning, drew herself up with her old
cold Puritan precision.

"After the scene you made this morning, Richard, when you chose to
accuse your wife of unfaithfulness to her friend, her guest, and even
your reputation, I resolved to go myself with Dona Rosita to Los Osos
and explain the matter to her father. Some rumor of the ridiculous farce
I have just witnessed reached us through Ezekiel, and frightened the
poor girl so that she declined--and properly, too to face the hoax which
you and some nameless impersonator of a disgraced fugitive have gotten
up for purposes of your own! I wish you joy of your work! If the play is
over now, I presume I may be allowed to proceed on my journey?"

"Not yet," said Demorest slowly, with a face over which the chasing
doubts had at last settled in a grayish pallor. "Believe what you like,
misunderstand me if you will, laugh at the danger you perhaps comprehend
better than I do, but upon this road, wherever or to whatever it was
leading you--to-night you go no further!"

"Then I suppose I may return home," she said coldly. "Ezekiel will
accompany me back to protect me from--robbers. Come, Ezekiel. Mr.
Demorest and his friends can be safely trusted to take care of--your
horse."

And as the grinning Ezekiel sprang into the carriage beside her, she
pulled up the glass in the fateful and set face of her once trusting
husband; the carriage turned and drove off, leaving him like a statue in
the road.

*****

The bell of the North Liberty Second Presbyterian Church had just ceased
ringing. But in the last five years it had rung out the bass viol and
harmonium, and rung in an organ and choir; and the old austere interior
had been subjected at the hands of the rising generation to an invasion
of youthful warmth and color. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the
choir itself, where the bright spring sunshine, piercing a newly-opened
stained-glass window, picked out the new spring bonnet of Mrs. Demorest
and settled upon it during the singing of the hymn. Perhaps that was
the reason why a few eyes were curiously directed in that direction, and
that even the minister himself strayed from the precise path of doctrine
to allude with ecclesiastical vagueness to certain shining examples of
the Christian virtues that were "again in our midst." The shrewd face
and white eyelashes of Ezekiel Corwin, junior partner in the firm of
Dilworth & Dusenberry, of San Francisco, were momentarily raised
towards the choir, and then relapsed into an expression of fatigued
self-righteousness.

When the service was over a few worshipers lingered near the choir
staircase, mindful of the spring bonnet.

"It looks quite nat'ral," said Deacon Fairchild, "ter see Joan Salisbury
attendin' the ministration of the Word agin. And I ain't sorry she
didn't bring that second husband of hers with her. It kinder looks like
old times--afore Edward Blandford was gathered to the Lord."

"That's so," replied his auditor meekly, "and they do say ez ha'ow
Demorest got more powerful worldly and unregenerate in that heathen
country, and that Joan ez a professin' Christian had to leave him.
I've heerd tell thet he'd got mixed up, out thar, with some half-breed
outlaw, of the name o' Johnson, ez hez a purty, high-flyin' Mexican
wife. It was fort'nit for Joan that she found a friend in grace in
Brother Corwin to look arter her share in the property and bring her
back tu hum."

"She's lookin' peart," said Sister Bradley, "though to my mind that
bonnet savors still o' heathen vanities."

"Et's the new idees--crept in with that organ," groaned Deacon
Fairchild; "but--sho--thar she comes."

She shone for an instant--a charming vision--out of the shadow of the
choir stairs, and then glided primly into the street.

The old sexton, still in waiting with his hand on the half-closed door,
paused and looked after her with a troubled brow. A singular and utterly
incomprehensible recollection and resemblance had just crossed his mind.





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