Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Deal in Wheat by Frank Norris

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

the moonlight lay like a painted stripe reaching to the horizon--stupid
and frowning, till Hardenberg, who had gone on ahead, cried:

"Not here--on the bridge!"

We joined Strokher, and as I came up the others were asking:

"Where? Where?"

And there, before he had pointed, I saw--we all of us saw--And I heard
Hardenberg's teeth come together like a spring trap, while Ally Bazan
ducked as though to a blow, muttering:

"Gord 'a' mercy, what nyme do ye put to' a ship like that?"

And after that no one spoke for a long minute, and we stood there,
moveless black shadows, huddled together for the sake of the blessed
elbow touch that means so incalculably much, looking off over our port
quarter.

For the ship that we saw there--oh, she was not a half-mile distant--was
unlike any ship known to present day construction.

She was short, and high-pooped, and her stern, which was turned a little
toward us, we could see, was set with curious windows, not unlike a
house. And on either side of this stern were two great iron cressets
such as once were used to burn signal-fires in. She had three masts with
mighty yards swung 'thwart ship, but bare of all sails save a few
rotting streamers. Here and there about her a tangled mass of rigging
drooped and sagged.

And there she lay, in the red eye of the setting moon, in that solitary
ocean, shadowy, antique, forlorn, a thing the most abandoned, the most
sinister I ever remember to have seen.

Then Strokher began to explain volubly and with many repetitions.

"A derelict, of course. I was asleep; yes, I was asleep. Gross neglect
of duty. I say I was asleep--on watch. And we worked up to her. When I
woke, why--you see, when I woke, there she was," he gave a weak little
laugh, "and--and now, why, there she is, you see. I turned around and
saw her sudden like--when I woke up, that is."

He laughed again, and as he laughed the engines far below our feet gave
a sudden hiccough. Something crashed and struck the ship's sides till we
lurched as we stood. There was a shriek of steam, a shout--and then
silence.

The noise of the machinery ceased; the _Glarus_ slid through the still
water, moving only by her own decreasing momentum.

Hardenberg sang, "Stand by!" and called down the tube to the
engine-room.

"What's up?"

I was standing close enough to him to hear the answer in a small, faint
voice:

"Shaft gone, sir."

"Broke?"

"Yes, sir."

Hardenberg faced about.

"Come below. We must talk." I do not think any of us cast a glance at
the Other Ship again. Certainly I kept my eyes away from her. But as we
started down the companion-way I laid my hand on Strokher's shoulder.
The rest were ahead. I looked him straight between the eyes as I asked:

"Were you asleep? Is that why you saw her so suddenly?"

It is now five years since I asked the question. I am still waiting for
Strokher's answer.

Well, our shaft was broken. That was flat. We went down into the
engine-room and saw the jagged fracture that was the symbol of our
broken hopes. And in the course of the next five minutes' conversation
with the chief we found that, as we had not provided against such a
contingency, there was to be no mending of it. We said nothing about the
mishap coinciding with the appearance of the Other Ship. But I know we
did not consider the break with any degree of surprise after a few
moments.

We came up from the engine-room and sat down to the cabin table.

"Now what?" said Hardenberg, by way of beginning.

Nobody answered at first.

It was by now three in the morning. I recall it all perfectly. The ports
opposite where I sat were open and I could see. The moon was all but
full set. The dawn was coming up with a copper murkiness over the edge
of the world. All the stars were yet out. The sea, for all the red moon
and copper dawn, was gray, and there, less than half a mile away, still
lay our consort. I could see her through the portholes with each slow
careening of the _Glarus_.

"I vote for the island," cried Ally Bazan, "shaft or no shaft. We rigs a
bit o' syle, y'know----" and thereat the discussion began.

For upward of two hours it raged, with loud words and shaken
forefingers, and great noisy bangings of the table, and how it would
have ended I do not know, but at last--it was then maybe five in the
morning--the lookout passed word down to the cabin:

"Will you come on deck, gentlemen?" It was the mate who spoke, and the
man was shaken--I could see that--to the very vitals of him. We started
and stared at one another, and I watched little Ally Bazan go slowly
white to the lips. And even then no word of the ship, except as it might
be this from Hardenberg:

"What is it? Good God Almighty, I'm no coward, but this thing is getting
one too many for me."

Then without further speech he went on deck.

The air was cool. The sun was not yet up. It was that strange, queer
mid-period between dark and dawn, when the night is over and the day not
yet come, just the gray that is neither light nor dark, the dim dead
blink as of the refracted light from extinct worlds.

We stood at the rail. We did not speak; we stood watching. It was so
still that the drip of steam from some loosened pipe far below was
plainly audible, and it sounded in that lifeless, silent grayness
like--God knows what--a death tick.

"You see," said the mate, speaking just above a whisper, "there's no
mistake about it. She is moving--this way."

"Oh, a current, of course," Strokher tried to say cheerfully, "sets her
toward us."

Would the morning never come?

Ally Bazan--his parents were Catholic--began to mutter to himself.

Then Hardenberg spoke aloud.

"I particularly don't want--that--out--there--to cross our bows. I don't
want it to come to that. We must get some sails on her."

"And I put it to you as man to man," said Strokher, "where might be your
wind."

He was right. The _Glarus_ floated in absolute calm. On all that slab of
ocean nothing moved but the Dead Ship.

She came on slowly; her bows, the high, clumsy bows pointed toward us,
the water turning from her forefoot. She came on; she was near at hand.
We saw her plainly--saw the rotted planks, the crumbling rigging, the
rust-corroded metal-work, the broken rail, the gaping deck, and I could
imagine that the clean water broke away from her sides in refluent
wavelets as though in recoil from a thing unclean. She made no sound. No
single thing stirred aboard the hulk of her--but she moved.

We were helpless. The _Glarus_ could stir no boat in any direction; we
were chained to the spot. Nobody had thought to put out our lights, and
they still burned on through the dawn, strangely out of place in their
red-and-green garishness, like maskers surprised by daylight.

And in the silence of that empty ocean, in that queer half-light between
dawn and day, at six o'clock, silent as the settling of the dead to the
bottomless bottom of the ocean, gray as fog, lonely, blind, soulless,
voiceless, the Dead Ship crossed our bows.

I do not know how long after this the Ship disappeared, or what was the
time of day when we at last pulled ourselves together. But we came to
some sort of decision at last. This was to go on--under sail. We were
too close to the island now to turn back for--for a broken shaft.

The afternoon was spent fitting on the sails to her, and when after
nightfall the wind at length came up fresh and favourable, I believe we
all felt heartened and a deal more hardy--until the last canvas went
aloft, and Hardenberg took the wheel.

We had drifted a good deal since the morning, and the bows of the
_Glarus_ were pointed homeward, but as soon as the breeze blew strong
enough to get steerageway Hardenberg put the wheel over and, as the
booms swung across the deck, headed for the island again.

We had not gone on this course half an hour--no, not twenty
minutes--before the wind shifted a whole quarter of the compass and took
the _Glarus_ square in the teeth, so that there was nothing for it but
to tack. And then the strangest thing befell.

I will make allowance for the fact that there was no centre-board nor
keel to speak of to the _Glarus_. I will admit that the sails upon a
nine-hundred-ton freighter are not calculated to speed her, nor steady
her. I will even admit the possibility of a current that set from the
island toward us. All this may be true, yet the _Glarus_ should have
advanced. We should have made a wake.

And instead of this, our stolid, steady, trusty old boat was--what shall
I say?

I will say that no man may thoroughly understand a ship--after all. I
will say that new ships are cranky and unsteady; that old and seasoned
ships have their little crochets, their little fussinesses that their
skippers must learn and humour if they are to get anything out of them;
that even the best ships may sulk at times, shirk their work, grow
unstable, perverse, and refuse to answer helm and handling. And I will
say that some ships that for years have sailed blue water as soberly and
as docilely as a street-car horse has plodded the treadmill of the
'tween-tracks, have been known to balk, as stubbornly and as
conclusively as any old Bay Billy that ever wore a bell. I know this has
happened, because I have seen it. I saw, for instance, the _Glarus_ do
it.

Quite literally and truly we could do nothing with her. We will say, if
you like, that that great jar and wrench when the shaft gave way shook
her and crippled her. It is true, however, that whatever the cause may
have been, we could not force her toward the island. Of course, we all
said "current"; but why didn't the log-line trail?

For three days and three nights we tried it. And the _Glarus_ heaved and
plunged and shook herself just as you have seen a horse plunge and rear
when his rider tries to force him at the steam-roller.

I tell you I could feel the fabric of her tremble and shudder from bow
to stern-post, as though she were in a storm; I tell you she fell off
from the wind, and broad-on drifted back from her course till the
sensation of her shrinking was as plain as her own staring lights and a
thing pitiful to see.

We roweled her, and we crowded sail upon her, and we coaxed and bullied
and humoured her, till the Three Crows, their fortune only a plain sail
two days ahead, raved and swore like insensate brutes, or shall we say
like mahouts trying to drive their stricken elephant upon the tiger--and
all to no purpose. "Damn the damned current and the damned luck and the
damned shaft and all," Hardenberg would exclaim, as from the wheel he
would catch the _Glarus_ falling off. "Go on, you old hooker--you tub of
junk! My God, you'd think she was scared!"

Perhaps the _Glarus_ was scared, perhaps not; that point is debatable.
But it was beyond doubt of debate that Hardenberg was scared.

A ship that will not obey is only one degree less terrible than a
mutinous crew. And we were in a fair way to have both. The stokers, whom
we had impressed into duty as A.B.'s, were of course superstitious; and
they knew how the _Glarus_ was acting, and it was only a question of
time before they got out of hand.

That was the end. We held a final conference in the cabin and decided
that there was no help for it--we must turn back.

And back we accordingly turned, and at once the wind followed us, and
the "current" helped us, and the water churned under the forefoot of the
_Glarus_, and the wake whitened under her stern, and the log-line ran
out from the trail and strained back as the ship worked homeward.

We had never a mishap from the time we finally swung her about; and,
considering the circumstances, the voyage back to San Francisco was
propitious.

But an incident happened just after we had started back. We were perhaps
some five miles on the homeward track. It was early evening and Strokher
had the watch. At about seven o'clock he called me up on the bridge.

"See her?" he said.

And there, far behind us, in the shadow of the twilight, loomed the
Other Ship again, desolate, lonely beyond words. We were leaving her
rapidly astern. Strokher and I stood looking at her till she dwindled to
a dot. Then Strokher said:

"She's on post again."

And when months afterward we limped into the Golden Gate and cast anchor
off the "Front" our crew went ashore as soon as discharged, and in half
a dozen hours the legend was in every sailors' boarding-house and in
every seaman's dive, from Barbary Coast to Black Tom's.

It is still there, and that is why no pilot will take the _Glarus_ out,
no captain will navigate her, no stoker feed her fires, no sailor walk
her decks. The _Glarus_ is suspect. She will never smell blue water
again, nor taste the trades. She has seen a Ghost.

THE GHOST IN THE CROSSTREES

I

Cyrus Ryder, the President of the South Pacific Exploitation Company,
had at last got hold of a "proposition"--all Ryder's schemes were, in
his vernacular, "propositions"--that was not only profitable beyond
precedent or belief, but that also was, wonderful to say, more or less
legitimate. He had got an "island." He had not discovered it. Ryder had
not felt a deck under his shoes for twenty years other than the
promenade deck of the ferry-boat _San Rafael_, that takes him home to
Berkeley every evening after "business hours." He had not discovered it,
but "Old Rosemary," captain of the barkentine _Scottish Chief_, of
Blyth, had done that very thing, and, dying before he was able to
perfect the title, had made over his interest in it to his best friend
and old comrade, Cyrus Ryder.

"Old Rosemary," I am told, first landed on the island--it is called
Paa--in the later '60's.

He established its location and took its latitude and longitude, but as
minutes and degrees mean nothing to the lay reader, let it be said that
the Island of Paa lies just below the equator, some 200 miles west of
the Gilberts and 1,600 miles due east from Brisbane, in Australia. It is
six miles long, three wide, and because of the prevailing winds and
precipitous character of the coast can only be approached from the west
during December and January.

"Old Rosemary" landed on the island, raised the American flag, had the
crew witness the document by virtue of which he made himself the
possessor, and then, returning to San Francisco, forwarded to the
Secretary of State, at Washington, application for title. This was
withheld till it could be shown that no other nation had a prior claim.
While "Old Rosemary" was working out the proof, he died, and the whole
matter was left in abeyance till Cyrus Ryder took it up. By then there
was a new Secretary in Washington and times were changed, so that the
Government of Ryder's native land was not so averse toward acquiring
Eastern possessions. The Secretary of State wrote to Ryder to say that
the application would be granted upon furnishing a bond for $50,000; and
you may believe that the bond was forthcoming.

For in the first report upon Paa, "Old Rosemary" had used the magic word
"guano."

He averred, and his crew attested over their sworn statements, that Paa
was covered to an average depth of six feet with the stuff, so that this
last and biggest of "Cy" Ryder's propositions was a vast slab of an
extremely marketable product six feet thick, three miles wide and six
miles long.

But no sooner had the title been granted when there came a dislocation
in the proceedings that until then had been going forward so smoothly.
Ryder called the Three Black Crows to him at this juncture, one certain
afternoon in the month of April. They were his best agents. The plums
that the "Company" had at its disposal generally went to the trio, and
if any man could "put through" a dangerous and desperate piece of work,
Strokher, Hardenberg and Ally Bazan were those men.

Of late they had been unlucky, and the affair of the contraband arms,
which had ended in failure of cataclysmic proportions, yet rankled in
Ryder's memory, but he had no one else to whom he could intrust the
present proposition and he still believed Hardenberg to be the best boss
on his list.

If Paa was to be fought for, Hardenberg, backed by Strokher and Ally
Bazan, was the man of all men for the job, for it looked as though Ryder
would not get the Island of Paa without a fight after all, and nitrate
beds were worth fighting for.

"You see, boys, it's this way," Ryder explained to the three as they sat
around the spavined table in the grimy back room of Ryder's "office."
"It's this way. There's a scoovy after Paa, I'm told; he says he was
there before 'Rosemary,' which is a lie, and that his Gov'ment has given
him title. He's got a kind of dough-dish up Portland way and starts for
Paa as soon as ever he kin fit out. He's got no title, in course, but if
he gits there afore we do and takes possession it'll take fifty years o'
lawing an' injunctioning to git him off. So hustle is the word for you
from the word 'go.' We got a good start o' the scoovy. He can't put to
sea within a week, while over yonder in Oakland Basin there's the _Idaho
Lass_, as good a schooner, boys, as ever wore paint, all ready but to
fit her new sails on her. Ye kin do it in less than no time. The stores
will be goin' into her while ye're workin', and within the week I expect
to see the _Idaho Lass_ showing her heels to the Presidio. You see the
point now, boys. If ye beat the scoovy--his name is Petersen, and his
boat is called the _Elftruda_--we're to the wind'ard of a pretty pot o'
money. If he gets away before you do--well, there's no telling; we
prob'ly lose the island."

II

About ten days before the morning set for their departure I went over to
the Oakland Basin to see how the Three Black Crows were getting on.

Hardenberg welcomed me as my boat bumped alongside, and extending a
great tarry paw, hauled me over the rail. The schooner was a wilderness
of confusion, with the sails covering, apparently, nine-tenths of the
decks, the remaining tenth encumbered by spars, cordage, tangled
rigging, chains, cables and the like, all helter-skeltered together in
such a haze of entanglements that my heart misgave me as I looked on it.
Surely order would not issue from this chaos in four days' time with
only three men to speed the work.

But Hardenberg was reassuring, and little Ally Bazan, the colonial, told
me they would "snatch her shipshape in the shorter end o' two days, if
so be they must."

I stayed with the Three Crows all that day and shared their dinner with
them on the quarterdeck when, wearied to death with the strain of
wrestling with the slatting canvas and ponderous boom, they at last
threw themselves upon the hamper of "cold snack" I had brought off with
me and pledged the success of the venture in tin dippers full of
Pilsener.

"And I'm thinking," said Ally Bazan, "as 'ow ye might as well turn in
along o' us on board 'ere, instead o' hykin' back to town to-night.
There's a fairish set o' currents up and daown 'ere about this time o'
dye, and ye'd find it a stiff bit o' rowing."

"We'll sling a hammick for you on the quarterdeck, m'son," urged
Hardenberg.

And so it happened that I passed my first night aboard the _Idaho Lass_.

We turned in early. The Three Crows were very tired, and only Ally Bazan
and I were left awake at the time when we saw the 8:30 ferryboat
negotiating for her slip on the Oakland side. Then we also went to bed.

And now it becomes necessary, for a better understanding of what is to
follow, to mention with some degree of particularization the places and
manners in which my three friends elected to take their sleep, as well
as the condition and berth of the schooner _Idaho Lass_.

Hardenberg slept upon the quarterdeck, rolled up in an army blanket and
a tarpaulin. Strokher turned in below in the cabin upon the fixed lounge
by the dining-table, while Ally Bazan stretched himself in one of the
bunks in the fo'c's'le.

As for the location of the schooner, she lay out in the stream, some
three or four cables' length off the yards and docks of a ship-building
concern. No other ship or boat of any description was anchored nearer
than at least 300 yards. She was a fine, roomy vessel, three-masted,
about 150 feet in length overall. She lay head up stream, and from where
I lay by Hardenberg on the quarterdeck I could see her tops sharply
outlined against the sky above the Golden Gate before I went to sleep.

I suppose it was very early in the morning--nearer two than three--when
I awoke. Some movement on the part of Hardenberg--as I afterward found
out--had aroused me. But I lay inert for a long minute trying to find
out why I was not in my own bed, in my own home, and to account for the
rushing, rippling sound of the tide eddies sucking and chuckling around
the _Lass's_ rudder-post.

Then I became aware that Hardenberg was awake. I lay in my hammock,
facing the stern of the schooner, and as Hardenberg had made up his bed
between me and the wheel he was directly in my line of vision when I
opened my eyes, and I could see him without any other movement than that
of raising the eyelids. Just now, as I drifted more and more into
wakefulness, I grew proportionately puzzled and perplexed to account for
a singularly strange demeanour and conduct on the part of my friend.

He was sitting up in his place, his knees drawn up under the blanket,
one arm thrown around both, the hand of the other arm resting on the
neck and supporting the weight of his body. He was broad awake. I could
see the green shine of our riding lantern in his wide-open eyes, and
from time to time I could hear him muttering to himself, "What is it?
What is it? What the devil is it, anyhow?" But it was not his attitude,
nor the fact of his being so broad awake at the unseasonable hour, nor
yet his unaccountable words, that puzzled me the most. It was the man's
eyes and the direction in which they looked that startled me.

His gaze was directed not upon anything on the deck of the boat, nor
upon the surface of the water near it, but upon something behind me and
at a great height in the air. I was not long in getting myself broad
awake.

III

I rolled out on the deck and crossed over to where Hardenberg sat
huddled in his blankets.

"What the devil--" I began.

He jumped suddenly at the sound of my voice, then raised an arm and
pointed toward the top of the foremast.

"D'ye see it?" he muttered. "Say, huh? D'ye see it? I thought I saw it
last night, but I wasn't sure. But there's no mistake now. D'ye see it,
Mr. Dixon?"

I looked where he pointed. The schooner was riding easily to anchor, the
surface of the bay was calm, but overhead the high white sea-fog was
rolling in. Against it the foremast stood out like the hand of an
illuminated town clock, and not a detail of its rigging that was not as
distinct as if etched against the sky.

And yet I saw nothing.

"Where?" I demanded, and again and again "where?"

"In the crosstrees," whispered Hardenberg. "Ah, look there."

He was right. Something was stirring there, something that I had
mistaken for the furled tops'l. At first it was but a formless bundle,
but as Hardenberg spoke it stretched itself, it grew upright, it assumed
an erect attitude, it took the outlines of a human being. From head to
heel a casing housed it in, a casing that might have been anything at
that hour of the night and in that strange place--a shroud, if you like,
a winding-sheet--anything; and it is without shame that I confess to a
creep of the most disagreeable sensation I have ever known as I stood at
Hardenberg's side on that still, foggy night and watched the stirring of
that nameless, formless shape standing gaunt and tall and grisly and
wrapped in its winding-sheet upon the crosstrees of the foremast of the
_Idaho Lass_.

We watched and waited breathless for an instant. Then the creature on
the foremast laid a hand upon the lashings of the tops'l and undid them.
Then it turned, slid to the deck by I know not what strange process,
and, still hooded, still shrouded, still lapped about by its
mummy-wrappings, seized a rope's end. In an instant the jib was set and
stood on hard and billowing against the night wind. The tops'l followed.
Then the figure moved forward and passed behind the companionway of the
fo'c's'le.

We looked for it to appear upon the other side, but looked in vain. We
saw it no more that night.

What Hardenberg and I told each other between the time of the
disappearing and the hour of breakfast I am now ashamed to recall. But
at last we agreed to say nothing to the others--for the time being. Just
after breakfast, however, we two had a few words by the wheel on the
quarterdeck. Ally Bazan and Strokher were forward.

"The proper thing to do," said I--it was a glorious, exhilarating
morning, and the sunlight was flooding every angle and corner of the
schooner--"the proper thing to do is to sleep on deck by the foremast
to-night with our pistols handy and interview the--party if it walks
again."

"Oh, yes," cried Hardenberg heartily. "Oh, yes; that's the proper thing.
Of course it is. No manner o' doubt about that, Mr. Dixon. Watch for the
party--yes, with pistols. Of course it's the proper thing. But I know
one man that ain't going to do no such thing."

"Well," I remember to have said reflectively, "well--I guess I know
another."

But for all our resolutions to say nothing to the others about the
night's occurrences, we forgot that the tops'l and jib were both set and
both drawing.

"An' w'at might be the bloomin' notion o' setting the bloomin' kite and
jib?" demanded Ally Bazan not half an hour after breakfast. Shamelessly
Hardenberg, at a loss for an answer, feigned an interest in the grummets
of the life-boat cover and left me to lie as best I might.

But it is not easy to explain why one should raise the sails of an
anchored ship during the night, and Ally Bazan grew very suspicious.
Strokher, too, had something to say, and in the end the whole matter
came out.

Trust a sailor to give full value to anything savouring of the
supernatural. Strokher promptly voted the ship a "queer old hooker
anyhow, and about as seaworthy as a hen-coop." He held forth at great
length upon the subject.

"You mark my words, now," he said. "There's been some fishy doin's in
this 'ere vessel, and it's like somebody done to death crool hard, an'
'e wants to git away from the smell o' land, just like them as is killed
on blue water. That's w'y 'e takes an' sets the sails between dark an'
dawn."

But Ally Bazan was thoroughly and wholly upset, so much so that at first
he could not speak. He went pale and paler while we stood talking it
over, and crossed himself--he was a Catholic--furtively behind the
water-butt.

"I ain't never 'a' been keen on ha'nts anyhow, Mr. Dixon," he told me
aggrievedly at dinner that evening. "I got no use for 'em. I ain't never
known any good to come o' anything with a ha'nt tagged to it, an' we're
makin' a ill beginnin' o' this island business, Mr. Dixon--a blyme ill
beginnin'. I mean to stye awyke to-night."

But if he was awake the little colonial was keeping close to his bunk at
the time when Strokher and Hardenberg woke me at about three in the
morning.

I rolled out and joined them on the quarterdeck and stood beside them
watching. The same figure again towered, as before, gray and ominous in
the crosstrees. As before, it set the tops'l; as before, it came down to
the deck and raised the jib; as before, it passed out of sight amid the
confusion of the forward deck.

But this time we all ran toward where we last had seen it, stumbling
over the encumbered decks, jostling and tripping, but keeping
wonderfully close together. It was not twenty seconds from the time the
creature had disappeared before we stood panting upon the exact spot we
had last seen it. We searched every corner of the forward deck in vain.
We looked over the side. The moon was up. This night there was no fog.
We could see for miles each side of us, but never a trace of a boat was
visible, and it was impossible that any swimmer could have escaped the
merciless scrutiny to which we subjected the waters of the bay in every
direction.

Hardenberg and I dived down into the fo'c's'le. Ally Bazan was sound
asleep in his bunk and woke stammering, blinking and bewildered by the
lantern we carried.

"I sye," he cried, all at once scrambling up and clawing at our arms,
"D'd the bally ha'nt show up agyne?" And as we nodded he went on more
aggrievedly than ever--"Oh, I sye, y' know, I daon't like this. I eyen't
shipping in no bloomin' 'ooker wot carries a ha'nt for supercargo. They
waon't no good come o' this cruise--no, they waon't. It's a sign, that's
wot it is. I eyen't goin' to buck again no signs--it eyen't human
nature, no it eyen't. You mark my words, 'Bud' Hardenberg, we clear this
port with a ship wot has a ha'nt an' we waon't never come back agyne, my
hearty."

That night he berthed aft with us on the quarterdeck, but though we
stood watch and watch till well into the dawn, nothing stirred about the
foremast. So it was the next night, and so the night after that. When
three successive days had passed without any manifestation the keen edge
of the business became a little blunted and we declared that an end had
been made.

Ally Bazan returned to his bunk in the fo'c's'le on the fourth night,
and the rest of us slept the hours through unconcernedly.

But in the morning there were the jib and tops'l set and drawing as
before.

IV

After this we began experimenting--on Ally Bazan. We bunked him forward
and we bunked him aft, for some one had pointed out that the "ha'nt"
walked only at the times when the colonial slept in the fo'c's'le. We
found this to be true. Let the little fellow watch on the quarterdeck
with us and the night passed without disturbance. As soon as he took up
his quarters forward the haunting recommenced. Furthermore, it began to
appear that the "ha'nt" carefully refrained from appearing to him. He of
us all had never seen the thing. He of us all was spared the chills and
the harrowings that laid hold upon the rest of us during these still
gray hours after midnight when we huddled on the deck of the _Idaho
Lass_ and watched the sheeted apparition in the rigging; for by now
there was no more charging forward in attempts to run the ghost down. We
had passed that stage long since.

But so far from rejoicing in this immunity or drawing courage therefrom,
Ally Bazan filled the air with his fears and expostulations. Just the
fact that he was in some way differentiated from the others--that he was
singled out, if only for exemption--worked upon him. And that he was
unable to scale his terrors by actual sight of their object excited them
all the more.

And there issued from this a curious consequence. He, the very one who
had never seen the haunting, was also the very one to unsettle what
little common sense yet remained to Hardenberg and Strokher. He never
allowed the subject to be ignored--never lost an opportunity of
referring to the doom that o'erhung the vessel. By the hour he poured
into the ears of his friends lugubrious tales of ships, warned as this
one was, that had cleared from port, never to be seen again. He recalled
to their minds parallel incidents that they themselves had heard; he
foretold the fate of the _Idaho Lass_ when the land should lie behind
and she should be alone in midocean with this horrid supercargo that
took liberties with the rigging, and at last one particular morning, two
days before that which was to witness the schooner's departure, he came
out flatfooted to the effect that "Gaw-blyme him, he couldn't stand the
gaff no longer, no he couldn't, so help him, that if the owners were
wishful for to put to sea" (doomed to some unnamable destruction) "he
for one wa'n't fit to die, an' was going to quit that blessed day." For
the sake of appearances, Hardenberg and Strokher blustered and fumed,
but I could hear the crack in Strokher's voice as plain as in a broken
ship's bell. I was not surprised at what happened later in the day, when
he told the others that he was a very sick man. A congenital stomach
trouble, it seemed--or was it liver complaint--had found him out again.
He had contracted it when a lad at Trincomalee, diving for pearls; it
was acutely painful, it appeared. Why, gentlemen, even at that very
moment, as he stood there talking--Hi, yi! O Lord !--talking, it was
a-griping of him something uncommon, so it was. And no, it was no manner
of use for him to think of going on this voyage; sorry he was, too, for
he'd made up his mind, so he had, to find out just what was wrong with
the foremast, etc.

And thereupon Hardenberg swore a great oath and threw down the capstan
bar he held in his hand.

"Well, then," he cried wrathfully, "we might as well chuck up the whole
business. No use going to sea with a sick man and a scared man."

"An' there's the first word o' sense," cried Ally Bazan, "I've heard
this long day. 'Scared,' he says; aye, right ye are, me bully."

"It's Cy Rider's fault," the three declared after a two-hours' talk. "No
business giving us a schooner with a ghost aboard. Scoovy or no scoovy,
island or no island, guano or no guano, we don't go to sea in the
haunted hooker called the _Idaho Lass_."

No more they did. On board the schooner they had faced the supernatural
with some kind of courage born of the occasion. Once on shore, and no
money could hire, no power force them to go aboard a second time.

The affair ended in a grand wrangle in Cy Rider's back office, and just
twenty-four hours later the bark _Elftruda_, Captain Jens Petersen,
cleared from Portland, bound for "a cruise to South Pacific ports--in
ballast."

* * * * *

Two years after this I took Ally Bazan with me on a duck-shooting
excursion in the "Toolies" back of Sacramento, for he is a handy man
about a camp and can row a boat as softly as a drifting cloud.

We went about in a cabin cat of some thirty feet over all, the rowboat
towing astern. Sometimes we did not go ashore to camp, but slept aboard.
On the second night of this expedient I woke in my blankets on the floor
of the cabin to see the square of gray light that stood for the cabin
door darkened by--it gave me the same old start--a sheeted figure. It
was going up the two steps to the deck. Beyond question it had been in
the cabin. I started up and followed it. I was too frightened not to--if
you can see what I mean. By the time I had got the blankets off and had
thrust my head above the level of the cabin hatch the figure was already
in the bows, and, as a matter of course, hoisting the jib.

I thought of calling Ally Bazan, who slept by me on the cabin floor, but
it seemed to me at the time that if I did not keep that figure in sight
it would elude me again, and, besides, if I went back in the cabin I was
afraid that I would bolt the door and remain under the bedclothes till
morning. I was afraid to go on with the adventure, but I was much more
afraid to go back.

So I crept forward over the deck of the sloop. The "ha'nt" had its back
toward me, fumbling with the ends of the jib halyards. I could hear the
creak of new ropes as it undid the knot, and the sound was certainly
substantial and commonplace. I was so close by now that I could see
every outline of the shape. It was precisely as it had appeared on the
crosstrees of the _Idaho_, only, seen without perspective, and brought
down to the level of the eye, it lost its exaggerated height.

It had been kneeling upon the deck. Now, at last, it rose and turned
about, the end of the halyards in its hand. The light of the earliest
dawn fell squarely on the face and form, and I saw, if you please, Ally
Bazan himself. His eyes were half shut, and through his open lips came
the sound of his deep and regular breathing.

At breakfast the next morning I asked, "Ally Bazan, did you ever walk in
your sleep."

"Aye," he answered, "years ago, when I was by wye o' being a lad, I used
allus to wrap the bloomin' sheets around me. An' crysy things I'd do the
times. But the 'abit left me when I grew old enough to tyke me whisky
strite and have hair on me fyce."

I did not "explain away" the ghost in the crosstrees either to Ally
Bazan or to the other two Black Crows. Furthermore, I do not now refer
to the Island of Paa in the hearing of the trio. The claims and title of
Norway to the island have long since been made good and conceded--even
by the State Department at Washington--and I understand that Captain
Petersen has made a very pretty fortune out of the affair.

THE RIDING OF FELIPE

I. FELIPE

As young Felipe Arillaga guided his pony out of the last intricacies of
Pacheco Pass, he was thinking of Rubia Ytuerate and of the scene he had
had with her a few days before. He reconstructed it now very vividly.
Rubia had been royally angry, and as she had stood before him, her arms
folded and her teeth set, he was forced to admit that she was as
handsome a woman as could be found through all California.

There had been a time, three months past, when Felipe found no
compulsion in the admission, for though betrothed to Buelna Martiarena
he had abruptly conceived a violent infatuation for Rubia, and had
remained a guest upon her rancho many weeks longer than he had intended.

For three months he had forgotten Buelna entirely. At the end of that
time he had remembered her--had awakened to the fact that his
infatuation for Rubia _was_ infatuation, and had resolved to end the
affair and go back to Buelna as soon as it was possible.

But Rubia was quick to notice the cooling of his passion. First she
fixed him with oblique suspicion from under her long lashes, then
avoided him, then kept him at her side for days together. Then at
last--his defection unmistakable--turned on him with furious demands for
the truth.

Felipe had snatched occasion with one hand and courage with the other.

"Well," he had said, "well, it is not my fault. Yes, it is the truth. It
is played out."

He had not thought it necessary to speak of Buelna; but Rubia divined
the other woman.

"So you think you are to throw me aside like that. Ah, it is played out,
is it, Felipe Arillaga? You listen to me. Do not fancy for one moment
you are going back to an old love, or on to a new one. You listen to
me," she had cried, her fist over her head. "I do not know who she is,
but my curse is on her, Felipe Arillaga. My curse is on her who next
kisses you. May that kiss be a blight to her. From that moment may evil
cling to her, bad luck follow her; may she love and not be loved; may
friends desert her, enemies beset her, her sisters shame her, her
brothers disown her, and those whom she has loved abandon her. May her
body waste as your love for me has wasted; may her heart be broken as
your promises to me have been broken; may her joy be as fleeting as your
vows, and her beauty grow as dim as your memory of me. I have said it."

[Illustration: "'My Curse Is On Her Who Next Kisses You'"]

"So be it!" Felipe had retorted with vast nonchalance, and had flung out
from her presence to saddle his pony and start back to Buelna.

But Felipe was superstitious. He half believed in curses, had seen
two-headed calves born because of them, and sheep stampeded over cliffs
for no other reason.

Now, as he drew out of Pacheco Pass and came down into the valley the
idea of Rubia and her curse troubled him. At first, when yet three days'
journey from Buelna, it had been easy to resolve to brave it out. But
now he was already on the Rancho Martiarena (had been traveling over it
for the last ten hours, in fact), and in a short time would be at the
_hacienda_ of Martiarena, uncle and guardian of Buelna. He would see
Buelna, and she, believing always in his fidelity, would expect to kiss
him.

"Well, this is to be thought about," murmured Felipe uneasily. He
touched up the pony with one of his enormous spurs.

"Now I know what I will do," he thought. "I will go to San Juan Bautista
and confess and be absolved, and will buy candles. Then afterward will
go to Buelna."

He found the road that led to the Mission and turned into it, pushing
forward at a canter. Then suddenly at a sharp turning reined up just in
time to avoid colliding with a little cavalcade.

He uttered an exclamation under his breath.

At the head of the cavalcade rode old Martiarena himself, and behind him
came a _peon_ or two, then Manuela, the aged housekeeper and--after a
fashion--duenna. Then at her side, on a saddle of red leather with
silver bosses, which was cinched about the body of a very small white
burro, Buelna herself.

She was just turned sixteen, and being of the best blood of the mother
kingdom (the strain dating back to the Ostrogothic invasion), was fair.
Her hair was blond, her eyes blue-gray, her eyebrows and lashes dark
brown, and as he caught sight of her Felipe wondered how he ever could
have believed the swarthy Rubia beautiful.

There was a jubilant meeting. Old Martiarena kissed both his cheeks,
patting him on the back.

"Oh, ho!" he cried. "Once more back. We have just returned from the
feast of the Santa Cruz at the Mission, and Buelna prayed for your safe
return. Go to her, boy. She has waited long for this hour."

Felipe, his eyes upon those of his betrothed, advanced. She was looking
at him and smiling. As he saw the unmistakable light in her blue eyes,
the light he knew she had kept burning for him alone, Felipe could have
abased himself to the very hoofs of her burro. Could it be possible he
had ever forgotten her for such a one as Rubia--have been unfaithful to
this dear girl for so much as the smallest fraction of a minute?

"You are welcome, Felipe," she said. "Oh, very, very welcome." She gave
him her hand and turned her face to his. But it was her hand and not her
face the young man kissed. Old Martiarena, who looked on, shook with
laughter.

"Hoh! a timid lover this," he called. "We managed different when I was a
lad. Her lips, Felipe. Must an old man teach a youngster gallantry?"

Buelna blushed and laughed, but yet did not withdraw her hand nor turn
her face away.

There was a delicate expectancy in her manner that she nevertheless
contrived to make compatible with her native modesty. Felipe had been
her acknowledged lover ever since the two were children.

"Well?" cried Martiarena as Felipe hesitated.

Even then, if Felipe could have collected his wits, he might have saved
the situation for himself. But no time had been allowed him to think.
Confusion seized upon him. All that was clear in his mind were the last
words of Rubia. It seemed to him that between his lips he carried a
poison deadly to Buelna above all others. Stupidly, brutally he
precipitated the catastrophe.

"No," he exclaimed seriously, abruptly drawing his hand from Buelna's,
"no. It may not be. I cannot."

Martiarena stared. Then:

"Is this a jest, señor?" he demanded. "An ill-timed one, then."

"No," answered Felipe, "it is not a jest."

"But, Felipe," murmured Buelna. "But--why--I do not understand."

"I think I begin to," cried Martiarena. "Señor, you do not," protested
Felipe. "It is not to be explained. I know what you believe. On my
honour, I love Buelna."

"Your actions give you the lie, then, young man. Bah! Nonsense. What
fool's play is all this? Kiss him, Buelna, and have done with it."

Felipe gnawed his nails.

"Believe me, oh, believe me, Señor Martiarena, it must not be."

"Then an explanation."

For a moment Felipe hesitated. But how could he tell them the truth--the
truth that involved Rubia and his disloyalty, temporary though that was.
They could neither understand nor forgive. Here, indeed, was an
_impasse_. One thing only was to be said, and he said it. "I can give
you no explanation," he murmured.

But Buelna suddenly interposed.

"Oh, please," she said, pushing by Felipe, "uncle, we have talked too
long. Please let us go. There is only one explanation. Is it not enough
already?"

"By God, it is not!" vociferated the old man, turning upon Felipe. "Tell
me what it means. Tell me what this means."

"I cannot."

"Then I will tell _you_!" shouted the old fellow in Felipe's face. "It
means that you are a liar and a rascal. That you have played with
Buelna, and that you have deceived me, who have trusted you as a father
would have trusted a son. I forbid you to answer me. For the sake of
what you were I spare you now. But this I will do. Off of my rancho!" he
cried. "Off my rancho, and in the future pray your God, or the devil, to
whom you are sold, to keep you far from me."

"You do not understand, you do not understand," pleaded Felipe, the
tears starting to his eyes. "Oh, believe me, I speak the truth. I love
your niece. _I love Buelna_. Oh, never so truly, never so devoutly as
now. Let me speak to her; she will believe me."

But Buelna, weeping, had ridden on.

II. UNZAR

A fortnight passed. Soon a month had gone by. Felipe gloomed about his
rancho, solitary, taciturn, siding the sheep-walks and cattle-ranges for
days and nights together, refusing all intercourse with his friends. It
seemed as if he had lost Buelna for good and all. At times, as the
certainty of this defined itself more clearly, Felipe would fling his
hat upon the ground, beat his breast, and then, prone upon his face, his
head buried in his folded arms, would lie for hours motionless, while
his pony nibbled the sparse alfalfa, and the jack-rabbits limping from
the sage peered at him, their noses wrinkling.

But about a month after the meeting and parting with Buelna, word went
through all the ranches that a hide-roger had cast anchor in Monterey
Bay. At once an abrupt access of activity seized upon the rancheros.
Rodeos were held, sheep slaughtered, and the great tallow-pits began to
fill up.

Felipe was not behind his neighbours, and, his tallow once in hand, sent
it down to Monterey, and himself rode down to see about disposing of it.

On his return he stopped at the wine shop of one Lopez Catala, on the
road between Monterey and his rancho.

It was late afternoon when he reached it, and the wine shop was
deserted. Outside, the California August lay withering and suffocating
over all the land. The far hills were burnt to dry, hay-like grass and
brittle clods. The eucalyptus trees in front of the wine shop (the first
trees Felipe had seen all that day) were coated with dust. The plains of
sagebrush and the alkali flats shimmered and exhaled pallid mirages,
glistening like inland seas. Over all blew the trade-wind; prolonged,
insistent, harassing, swooping up the red dust of the road and the white
powder of the alkali beds, and flinging it--white-and-red banners in a
sky of burnt-out blue--here and there about the landscape.

The wine shop, which was also an inn, was isolated, lonely, but it was
comfortable, and Felipe decided to lay over there that night, then in
the morning reach his rancho by an easy stage.

He had his supper--an omelet, cheese, tortillas, and a glass of
wine--and afterward sat outside on a bench smoking innumerable
cigarettes and watching the sun set.

While he sat so a young man of about his own age rode up from the
eastward with a great flourish, and giving over his horse to the
_muchacho_, entered the wine shop and ordered dinner and a room for the
night. Afterward he came out and stood in front of the inn and watched
the _muchacho_ cleaning his horse.

Felipe, looking at him, saw that he was of his own age and about his own
build--that is to say, twenty-eight or thirty, and tall and lean. But in
other respects the difference was great. The stranger was flamboyantly
dressed: skin-tight pantaloons, fastened all up and down the leg with
round silver buttons; yellow boots with heels high as a girl's, set off
with silver spurs; a very short coat faced with galloons of gold, and a
very broad-brimmed and very high-crowned sombrero, on which the silver
braid alone was worth the price of a good horse. Even for a Spanish
Mexican his face was dark. Swart it was, the cheeks hollow; a tiny,
tight mustache with ends truculently pointed and erect helped out the
belligerency of the tight-shut lips. The eyes were black as bitumen, and
flashed continually under heavy brows.

"Perhaps," thought Felipe, "he is a _toreador_ from Mexico."

The stranger followed his horse to the barn, but, returning in a few
moments, stood before Felipe and said:

"Señor, I have taken the liberty to put my horse in the stall occupied
by yours. Your beast the _muchacho_ turned into the _corrale_. Mine is
an animal of spirit, and in a _corrale_ would fight with the other
horses. I rely upon the señor's indulgence."

At ordinary times he would not have relied in vain. But Felipe's nerves
were in a jangle these days, and his temper, since Buelna's dismissal of
him, was bitter. His perception of offense was keen. He rose, his eyes
upon the stranger's eyes.

"My horse is mine," he observed. "Only my friends permit themselves
liberties with what is mine."

The other smiled scornfully and drew from his belt a little pouch of
gold dust.

"What I take I pay for," he remarked, and, still smiling, tendered
Felipe a few grains of the gold.

Felipe struck the outstretched palm.

"Am I a _peon_?" he vociferated.

"Probably," retorted the other.

"I _will_ take pay for that word," cried Felipe, his face blazing, "but
not in your money, señor."

"In that case I may give you more than you ask."

"No, by God, for I shall take all you have."

But the other checked his retort. A sudden change came over him.

"I ask the señor's pardon," he said, with grave earnestness, "for
provoking him. You may not fight with me nor I with you. I speak the
truth. I have made oath not to fight till I have killed one whom now I
seek."

"Very well; I, too, spoke without reflection. You seek an enemy, then,
señor?"

"My sister's, who is therefore mine. An enemy truly. Listen, you shall
judge. I am absent from my home a year, and when I return what do I
find? My sister betrayed, deceived, flouted by a fellow, a nobody, whom
she received a guest in her house, a fit return for kindness, for
hospitality! Well, he answers to me for the dishonour."

"Wait. Stop!" interposed Felipe. "Your name, señor."

"Unzar Ytuerate, and my enemy is called Arillaga. Him I seek and----"

"Then you shall seek no farther!" shouted Felipe. "It is to Rubia
Ytuerate, your sister, whom I owe all my unhappiness, all my suffering.
She has hurt not me only, but one--but----Mother of God, we waste
words!" he cried. "Knife to knife, Unzar Ytuerate. I am Felipe Arillaga,
and may God be thanked for the chance that brings this quarrel to my
hand."

"You! You!" gasped Unzar. Fury choked him; his hands clutched and
unclutched--now fists, now claws. His teeth grated sharply while a
quivering sensation as of a chill crisped his flesh. "Then the sooner
the better," he muttered between his set teeth, and the knives flashed
in the hands of the two men so suddenly that the gleam of one seemed
only the reflection of the other.

Unzar held out his left wrist.

"Are you willing?" he demanded, with a significant glance.

"And ready," returned the other, baring his forearm.

Catala, keeper of the inn, was called.

"Love of the Virgin, not here, señors. My house--the _alcalde_--"

"You have a strap there." Unzar pointed to a bridle hanging from a peg
by the doorway. "No words; quick; do as you are told."

The two men held out their left arms till wrist touched wrist, and
Catala, trembling and protesting, lashed them together with a strap.

"Tighter," commanded Felipe; "put all your strength to it."

The strap was drawn up to another hole.

"Now, Catala, stand back," commanded Unzar, "and count three slowly. At
the word 'three,' Señor Arillaga, we begin. You understand."

"I understand."

"Ready.... Count."

"One."

Felipe and Unzar each put his right hand grasping the knife behind his
back as etiquette demanded.

"Two."

They strained back from each other, the full length of their left arms,
till the nails grew bloodless.

"_Three!_" called Lopez Catala in a shaking voice.

III. RUBIA

When Felipe regained consciousness he found that he lay in an upper
chamber of Catala's inn upon a bed. His shoulder, the right one, was
bandaged, and so was his head. He felt no pain, only a little weak, but
there was a comfortable sense of brandy at his lips, an arm supported
his head, and the voice of Rubia Ytuerate spoke his name. He sat up on a
sudden.

"Rubia, _you_!" he cried. "What is it? What happened? Oh, I remember,
Unzar--we fought. Oh, my God, how we fought! But you----What brought you
here?"

"Thank Heaven," she murmured, "you are better. You are not so badly
wounded. As he fell he must have dragged you with him, and your head
struck the threshold of the doorway."

"Is he badly hurt? Will he recover?"

"I hope so. But you are safe."

"But what brought you here?"

"Love," she cried; "my love for you. What I suffered after you had gone!
Felipe, I have fought, too. Pride was strong at first, and it was pride
that made me send Unzar after you. I told him what had happened. I
hounded him to hunt you down. Then when he had gone my battle began. Ah,
dearest, dearest, it all came back, our days together, the life we led,
knowing no other word but love, thinking no thoughts that were not of
each other. And love conquered. Unzar was not a week gone before I
followed him--to call him back, to shield you, to save you from his
fury. I came all but too late, and found you both half dead. My brother
and my lover, your body across his, your blood mingling with his own.
But not too late to love you back to life again. Your life is mine now,
Felipe. I love you, I love you." She clasped her hands together and
pressed them to her cheek. "Ah, if you knew," she cried; "if you could
only look into my heart. Pride is nothing; good name is nothing; friends
are nothing. Oh, it is a glory to give them all for love, to give up
everything; to surrender, to submit, to cry to one's heart: 'Take me; I
am as wax. Take me; conquer me; lead me wherever you will. All is well
lost so only that love remains.' And I have heard all that has
happened--this other one, the Señorita Buelna, how that she for bade you
her lands. Let her go; she is not worthy of your love, cold,
selfish----"

"Stop!" cried Felipe, "you shall say no more evil of her. It is enough."

"Felipe, you love her yet?"

"And always, always will."

"She who has cast you off; she who disdains you, who will not suffer you
on her lands? And have you come to be so low, so base and mean as that?"

"I have sunk no lower than a woman who could follow after a lover who
had grown manifestly cold."

"Ah," she answered sadly, "if I could so forget my pride as to follow
you, do not think your reproaches can touch me now." Then suddenly she
sank at the bedside and clasped his hand in both of hers. Her beautiful
hair, unbound, tumbled about her shoulders; her eyes, swimming with
tears, were turned up to his; her lips trembled with the intensity of
her passion. In a voice low, husky, sweet as a dove's, she addressed
him. "Oh, dearest, come back to me; come back to me. Let me love you
again. Don't you see my heart is breaking? There is only you in all the
world for me. I was a proud woman once. See now what I have brought
myself to. Don't let it all be in vain. If you fail me now, think how it
will be for me afterward--to know that I--I, Rubia Ytuerate, have begged
the love of a man and begged in vain. Do you think I could live knowing
that?" Abruptly she lost control of herself. She caught him about the
neck with both her arms. Almost incoherently her words rushed from her
tight-shut teeth.

"Ah, I can _make_ you love me. I can make you love me," she cried. "You
shall come back to me. You are mine, and you cannot help but come back."

"_Por Dios_, Rubia," he ejaculated, "remember yourself. You are out of
your head."

"Come back to me; love me."

"No, no."

"Come back to me."

"No."

"You cannot push me from you," she cried, for, one hand upon her
shoulder, he had sought to disengage himself. "No, I shall not let you
go. You shall not push me from you! Thrust me off and I will embrace you
all the closer. Yes, _strike_ me if you will, and I will kiss you."

And with the words she suddenly pressed her lips to his.

Abruptly Felipe freed himself. A new thought suddenly leaped to his
brain.

"Let your own curse return upon you," he cried. "You yourself have freed
me; you yourself have broken the barrier you raised between me and my
betrothed. You cursed her whose lips should next touch mine, and you are
poisoned with your own venom."

He sprang from off the bed, and catching up his _serape_, flung it about
his shoulders.

"Felipe," she cried, "Felipe, where are you going?"

"Back to Buelna," he shouted, and with the words rushed from the room.
Her strength seemed suddenly to leave her. She sank lower to the floor,
burying her face deep upon the pillows that yet retained the impress of
him she loved so deeply, so recklessly.

Footsteps in the passage and a knocking at the door aroused her. A
woman, one of the escort who had accompanied her, entered hurriedly.

"Señorita," cried this one, "your brother, the Señor Unzar, he is
dying."

Rubia hurried to an adjoining room, where upon a mattress on the floor
lay her brother.

"Put that woman out," he gasped as his glance met hers. "I never sent
for her," he went on. "You are no longer sister of mine. It was you who
drove me to this quarrel, and when I have vindicated you what do you do?
Your brother you leave to be tended by hirelings, while all your thought
and care are lavished on your paramour. Go back to him. I know how to
die alone, but as you go remember that in dying I hated and disowned
you."

He fell back upon the pillows, livid, dead.

Rubia started forward with a cry.

"It is you who have killed him," cried the woman who had summoned her.
The rest of Rubia's escort, _vaqueros_, _peons_, and the old _alcalde_
of her native village, stood about with bared heads.

"That is true. That is true," they murmured. The old _alcalde_ stepped
forward.

"Who dishonours my friend dishonours me," he said. "From this day,
Señorita Ytuerate, you and I are strangers." He went out, and one by
one, with sullen looks and hostile demeanour, Rubia's escort followed.
Their manner was unmistakable; they were deserting her.

Rubia clasped her hands over her eyes.

"Madre de Dios, Madre de Dios," she moaned over and over again. Then in
a low voice she repeated her own words: "May it be a blight to her. From
that moment may evil cling to her, bad luck follow her; may she love and
not be loved; may friends desert her, her sisters shame her, her
brothers disown her----"

There was a clatter of horse's hoofs in the courtyard.

"It is your lover," said her woman coldly from the doorway. "He is
riding away from you."

"----and those," added Rubia, "whom she has loved abandon her."

IV. BELUNA

Meanwhile Felipe, hatless, bloody, was galloping through the night, his
pony's head turned toward the _hacienda_ of Martiarena. The Rancho
Martiarena lay between his own rancho and the inn where he had met
Rubia, so that this distance was not great. He reached it in about an
hour of vigorous spurring.

The place was dark though it was as yet early in the night, and an
ominous gloom seemed to hang about the house. Felipe, his heart sinking,
pounded at the door, and at last aroused the aged superintendent, who
was also a sort of _major-domo_ in the household, and who in Felipe's
boyhood had often ridden him on his knee.

"Ah, it is you, Arillaga," he said very sadly, as the moonlight struck
across Felipe's face. "I had hoped never to see you again."

"Buelna," demanded Felipe. "I have something to say to her, and to the
_padron_."

"Too late, señor."

"My God, dead?"

"As good as dead."

"Rafael, tell me all. I have come to set everything straight again. On
my honour, I have been misjudged. Is Buelna well?"

"Listen. You know your own heart best, señor. When you left her our
little lady was as one half dead; her heart died within her. Ah, she
loved you, Arillaga, far more than you deserved. She drooped swiftly,
and one night all but passed away. Then it was that she made a vow that
if God spared her life she would become the bride of the church--would
forever renounce the world. Well, she recovered, became almost well
again, but not the same as before. She never will be that. So soon as
she was able to obtain Martiarena's consent she made all the
preparations--signed away all her lands and possessions, and spent the
days and nights in prayer and purifications. The Mother Superior of the
Convent of Santa Teresa has been a guest at the _hacienda_ this
fortnight past. Only to-day the party--that is to say, Martiarena, the
Mother Superior and Buelna--left for Santa Teresa, and at midnight of
this very night Buelna takes the veil. You know your own heart, Señor
Felipe. Go your way."

"But not _till_ midnight!" cried Felipe.

"What? I do not understand."

"She will not take the veil till midnight."

"No, not till then."

"Rafael," cried Felipe, "ask me no questions now. Only _believe_ me. I
always have and always will love Buelna. I swear it. I can stop this
yet; only once let me reach her in time. Trust me. Ah, for this once
trust me, you who have known me since I was a lad."

He held out his hand. The other for a moment hesitated, then impulsively
clasped it in his own.

"_Bueno_, I trust you then. Yet I warn you not to fool me twice."

"Good," returned Felipe. "And now _adios_. Unless I bring her back with
me you'll never see me again."

"But, Felipe, lad, where away now?"

"To Santa Teresa."

"You are mad. Do you fancy you can reach it before midnight?" insisted
the _major-domo_.

"I _will_, Rafael; I _will_."

"Then Heaven be with you."

But the old fellow's words were lost in a wild clatter of hoofs, as
Felipe swung his pony around and drove home the spurs. Through the night
came back a cry already faint:

"_Adios, adios_."

"_Adios_, Felipe," murmured the old man as he stood bewildered in the
doorway, "and your good angel speed you now."

When Felipe began his ride it was already a little after nine. Could he
reach Santa Teresa before midnight? The question loomed grim before him,
but he answered only with the spur. Pépe was hardy, and, as Felipe well
knew, of indomitable pluck. But what a task now lay before the little
animal. He might do it, but oh! it was a chance!

In a quarter of a mile Pépe had settled to his stride, the dogged, even
gallop that Felipe knew so well, and at half-past ten swung through the
main street of Piedras Blancas--silent, somnolent, dark.

"Steady, little Pépe," said Felipe; "steady, little one. Soh, soh.
There."

The little horse flung back an ear, and Felipe could feel along the
lines how he felt for the bit, trying to get a grip of it to ease the
strain on his mouth.

The _De Profundis_ bell was sounding from the church tower as Felipe
galloped through San Anselmo, the next village, but by the time he
raised the lights of Arcata it was black night in very earnest. He set
his teeth. Terra Bella lay eight miles farther ahead, and here from the
town-hall clock that looked down upon the plaza he would be able to know
the time.

"Hoopa, _Pépe; pronto_!" he shouted.

The pony responded gallantly. His head was low; his ears in constant
movement, twitched restlessly back and forth, now laid flat on his neck,
now cocked to catch the rustle of the wind in the chaparral, the
scurrying of a rabbit or ground-owl through the sage.

It grew darker, colder, the trade-wind lapsed away. Low in the sky upon
the right a pale, dim belt foretold the rising of the moon. The
incessant galloping of the pony was the only sound.

The convent toward which he rode was just outside the few scattered huts
in the valley of the Rio Esparto that by charity had been invested with
the name of Caliente. From Piedras Blancas to Caliente between twilight
and midnight! What a riding! Could he do it? Would Pépe last under him?

"Steady, little one. Steady, Pépe."

Thus he spoke again and again, measuring the miles in his mind,
husbanding the little fellow's strength.

Lights! Cart lanterns? No, Terra Bella. A great dog charged out at him
from a dobe, filling the night with outcry; a hayrick loomed by like a
ship careening through fog; there was a smell of chickens and farmyards.
Then a paved street, an open square, a solitary pedestrian dodging just
in time from under Pépe's hoofs. All flashed by. The open country again,
unbroken darkness again, and solitude of the fields again. Terra Bella
past.

But through the confusion Felipe retained one picture, that of the
moon-faced clock with hands marking the hour of ten. On again with Pépe
leaping from the touch of the spur. On again up the long, shallow slope
that rose for miles to form the divide that overlooked the valley of the
Esparto.

"Hold, there! Madman to ride thus. Mad or drunk. Only desperadoes gallop
at night. Halt and speak!"

The pony had swerved barely in time, and behind him the Monterey stage
lay all but ditched on the roadside, the driver fulminating oaths. But
Felipe gave him but an instant's thought. Dobe huts once more abruptly
ranged up on either side the roadway, staggering and dim under the
night. Then a wine shop noisy with carousing _peons_ darted by.
Pavements again. A shop-front or two. A pig snoring in the gutter, a dog
howling in a yard, a cat lamenting on a rooftop. Then the smell of
fields again. Then darkness again. Then the solitude of the open
country. Cadenassa past.

But now the country changed. The slope grew steeper; it was the last
lift of land to the divide. The road was sown with stones and scored
with ruts. Pépe began to blow; once he groaned. Perforce his speed
diminished. The villages were no longer so thickly spread now. The crest
of the divide was wild, desolate, forsaken. Felipe again and again
searched the darkness for lights, but the night was black.

Then abruptly the moon rose. By that Felipe could guess the time. His
heart sank. He halted, recinched the saddle, washed the pony's mouth
with brandy from his flask, then mounted and spurred on.

Another half-hour went by. He could see that Pépe was in distress; his
speed was by degrees slacking. Would he last! Would he last? Would the
minutes that raced at his side win in that hard race?

Houses again. Plastered fronts. All dark and gray. No soul stirring.
Sightless windows stared out upon emptiness. The plaza bared its
desolation to the pitiless moonlight. Only from an unseen window a
guitar hummed and tinkled. All vanished. Open country again. The
solitude of the fields again; the moonlight sleeping on the vast sweep
of the ranchos. Calpella past.

Felipe rose in his stirrups with a great shout.

At Calpella he knew he had crossed the divide. The valley lay beneath
him, and the moon was turning to silver the winding courses of the Rio
Esparto, now in plain sight.

It was between Calpella and Proberta that Pépe stumbled first. Felipe
pulled him up and ceased to urge him to his topmost speed. But five
hundred yards farther he stumbled again. The spume-flakes he tossed from
the bit were bloody. His breath came in labouring gasps.

But by now Felipe could feel the rising valley-mists; he could hear the
piping of the frogs in the marshes. The ground for miles had sloped
downward. He was not far from the river, not far from Caliente, not far
from the Convent of Santa Teresa and Buelna.

But the way to Caliente was roundabout, distant. If he should follow the
road thither he would lose a long half-hour. By going directly across
the country from where he now was, avoiding Proberta, he could save much
distance and precious time. But in this case Pépe, exhausted, stumbling,
weak, would have to swim the river. If he failed to do this Felipe would
probably drown. If he succeeded, Caliente and the convent would be close
at hand.

For a moment Felipe hesitated, then suddenly made up his mind. He
wheeled Pépe from the road, and calling upon his last remaining
strength, struck off across the country.

The sound of the river at last came to his ears.

"Now, then, Pépe," he cried.

For the last time the little horse leaped to the sound of his voice.
Still at a gallop, Felipe cut the cinches of the heavy saddle, shook his
feet clear of the stirrups, and let it fall to the ground; his coat,
belt and boots followed. Bareback, with but the headstall and bridle
left upon the pony, he rode at the river.

Before he was ready for it Pépe's hoofs splashed on the banks. Then the
water swirled about his fetlocks; then it wet Felipe's bare ankles. In
another moment Felipe could tell by the pony's motion that his feet had
left the ground and that he was swimming in the middle of the current.

He was carried down the stream more than one hundred yards. Once Pépe's
leg became entangled in a sunken root. Freed from that, his hoofs caught
in grasses and thick weeds. Felipe's knee was cut against a rock; but at
length the pony touched ground. He rose out of the river trembling,
gasping and dripping. Felipe put him at the steep bank. He took it
bravely, scrambled his way--almost on his knees--to the top, then
stumbled badly and fell prone upon the ground. Felipe twisted from under
him as he fell and regained his feet unhurt. He ran to the brave little
fellow's head.

"Up, up, my Pépe. Soh, soh."

Suddenly he paused, listening. Across the level fields there came to his
ears the sound of the bell of the convent of Santa Teresa tolling for
midnight.

* * * * *

Upon the first stroke of midnight the procession of nuns entered the
nave of the church. There were some thirty in the procession. The first
ranks swung censers; those in the rear carried lighted candles. The
Mother Superior and Buelna, the latter wearing a white veil, walked
together. The youngest nun followed these two, carrying upon her
outspread palms the black veil.

Arrived before the altar the procession divided into halves, fifteen
upon the east side of the chancel, fifteen upon the west. The organ
began to drone and murmur, the censers swung and smoked, the
candle-flames flared and attracted the bats that lived among the rafters
overhead. Buelna knelt before the Mother Superior. She was pale and a
little thin from fasting and the seclusion of the cells. But, try as she
would, she could not keep her thoughts upon the solemn office in which
she was so important a figure. Other days came back to her. A little
girl gay and free once more, she romped through the hallways and kitchen
of the old _hacienda_ Martiarena with her playmate, the young Felipe; a
young schoolgirl, she rode with him to the Mission to the instruction of
the _padre_; a young woman, she danced with him at the _fête_ of All
Saints at Monterey. Why had it not been possible that her romance should
run its appointed course to a happy end? That last time she had seen him
how strangely he had deported himself. Untrue to her! Felipe! Her
Felipe; her more than brother! How vividly she recalled the day. They
were returning from the Mission, where she had prayed for his safe and
speedy return. Long before she had seen him she heard the gallop of a
horse's hoofs around the turn of the road. Yes, she remembered that--the
gallop of a horse. Ah! how he rode--how vivid it was in her fancy.
Almost she heard the rhythmic beat of the hoofs. They came nearer,
nearer. Fast, furiously fast hoof-beats. How swift he rode. Gallop,
gallop--nearer, on they came. They were close by. They swept swiftly
nearer, nearer. What--what was this? No fancy. Nearer, nearer. No fancy
this. Nearer, nearer. These--ah, Mother of God--are real hoof-beats.
They are coming; they are at hand; they are at the door of the church;
they are _here_!

She sprang up, facing around. The ceremony was interrupted. The
frightened nuns were gathering about the Mother Superior. The organ
ceased, and in the stillness that followed all could hear that furious
gallop. On it came, up the hill, into the courtyard. Then a shout,
hurried footsteps, the door swung in, and Felipe Arillaga, ragged,
dripping, half fainting, hatless and stained with mud, sprang toward
Buelna. Forgetting all else, she ran to meet him, and, clasped in each
other's arms, they kissed one another upon the lips again and again.

The bells of Santa Teresa that Felipe had heard that night on the blanks
of the Esparto rang for a wedding the next day.

Two days after they tolled as passing bells. A beautiful woman had been
found drowned in a river not far from the house of Lopez Catala, on the
high road to Monterey.

THE END

Book of the day: