Part 2 out of 4
time it was an old matter! But you jabber, jabber all the time and
don't listen! Where's John Milton?" It had occurred to him that
the boy might have read the paper--as his sister had--while it lay
unheeded on the counter.
"In the store,--you know. You said he wasn't to hear anything of
this, but I'll call him," said Mrs. Harkutt, rising eagerly.
"Never mind," returned her husband, stopping her reflectively,
"best leave it as it is; if it's necessary I'll tell him. But
don't any of you say anything, do you hear?"
Nevertheless a few hours later, when the store was momentarily free
of loungers, and Harkutt had relieved his son of his monotonous
charge, he made a pretense, while abstractedly listening to an
account of the boy's stewardship, to look through a drawer as if in
search of some missing article.
"You didn't see anything of a paper I left somewhere about here
yesterday?" he asked carelessly.
"The one you picked up when you came in last night?" said the boy
with discomposing directness.
Harkutt flushed slightly and drew his breath between his set teeth.
Not only could he place no reliance upon ordinary youthful
inattention, but he must be on his guard against his own son as
from a spy! But he restrained himself.
"I don't remember," he said with affected deliberation, "what it
was I picked up. Do you? Did you read it?"
The meaning of his father's attitude instinctively flashed upon the
boy. He HAD read the paper, but he answered, as he had already
An inspiration seized Mr. Harkutt. He drew 'Lige Curtis's bill of
sale from his pocket, and opening it before John Milton said, "Was
"I don't know," said the boy. "I couldn't tell." He walked away
with affected carelessness, already with a sense of playing some
part like his father, and pretended to whistle for the dog across
the street. Harkutt coughed ostentatiously, put the paper back in
his pocket, set one or two boxes straight on the counter, locked
the drawer, and disappeared into the back passage. John Milton
remained standing in the doorway looking vacantly out. But he did
not see the dull familiar prospect beyond. He only saw the paper
his father had opened and unfolded before him. It was the same
paper he had read last night. But there were three words written
there THAT WERE NOT THERE BEFORE! After the words "Value received"
there had been a blank. He remembered that distinctly. This was
filled in by the words, "Five hundred dollars." The handwriting
did not seem like his father's, nor yet entirely like 'Lige
Curtis's. What it meant he did not know,--he would not try to
think. He should forget it, as he had tried to forget what had
happened before, and he should never tell it to any one!
There was a feverish gayety in his sisters' manner that afternoon
that he did not understand; short colloquies that were suspended
with ill concealed impatience when he came near them, and resumed
when he was sent, on equally palpable excuses, out of the room. He
had been accustomed to this exclusion when there were strangers
present, but it seemed odd to him now, when the conversation did
not even turn upon the two superior visitors who had been there,
and of whom he confidently expected they would talk. Such
fragments as he overheard were always in the future tense, and
referred to what they intended to do. His mother, whose affection
for him had always been shown in excessive and depressing
commiseration of him in even his lightest moments, that afternoon
seemed to add a prophetic and Cassandra-like sympathy for some
vague future of his that would require all her ministration. "You
won't need them new boots, Milty dear, in the changes that may be
comin' to ye; so don't be bothering your poor father in his
worriments over his new plans."
"What new plans, mommer?" asked the boy abruptly. "Are we goin'
away from here?"
"Hush, dear, and don't ask questions that's enough for grown folks
to worry over, let alone a boy like you. Now be good,"--a quality
in Mrs. Harkutt's mind synonymous with ceasing from troubling,--
"and after supper, while I'm in the parlor with your father and
sisters, you kin sit up here by the fire with your book."
"But," persisted the boy in a flash of inspiration, "is popper
goin' to join in business with those surveyors,--a surveyin'?"
"No, child, what an idea! Run away there,--and mind!--don't bother
Nevertheless John Milton's inspiration had taken a new and
characteristic shape. All this, he reflected, had happened since
the surveyors came--since they had weakly displayed such a
shameless and unmanly interest in his sisters! It could have but
one meaning. He hung around the sitting-room and passages until he
eventually encountered Clementina, taller than ever, evidently
wearing a guilty satisfaction in her face, engrafted upon that
habitual bearing of hers which he had always recognized as
belonging to a vague but objectionable race whose members were
individually known to him as "a proudy."
"Which of those two surveyor fellows is it, Clemmy?" he said with
an engaging smile, yet halting at a strategic distance.
"Wot you're goin' to marry."
"That ain't tellin' which," responded the boy darkly.
Clementina swept by him into the sitting-room, where he heard her
declare that "really that boy was getting too low and vulgar for
anything." Yet it struck him, that being pressed for further
explanation, she did NOT specify why. This was "girls' meanness!"
Howbeit he lingered late in the road that evening, hearing his
father discuss with the search-party that had followed the banks of
the creek, vainly looking for further traces of the missing 'Lige,
the possibility of his being living or dead, of the body having
been carried away by the current to the bay or turning up later in
some distant marsh when the spring came with low water. One who
had been to his cabin beside the embarcadero reported that it was,
as had been long suspected, barely habitable, and contained neither
books, papers, nor records which would indicate his family or
friends. It was a God-forsaken, dreary, worthless place; he
wondered how a white man could ever expect to make a living there.
If Elijah never turned up again it certainly would be a long time
before any squatter would think of taking possession of it. John
Milton knew instinctively, without looking up, that his father's
eyes were fixed upon him, and he felt himself constrained to appear
to be abstracted in gazing down the darkening road. Then he heard
his father say, with what he felt was an equal assumption of
carelessness: "Yes, I reckon I've got somewhere a bill of sale of
that land that I had to take from 'Lige for an old bill, but I
kalkilate that's all I'll ever see of it."
Rain fell again as the darkness gathered, but he still loitered on
the road and the sloping path of the garden, filled with a half
resentful sense of wrong, and hugging with gloomy pride an
increasing sense of loneliness and of getting dangerously wet. The
swollen creek still whispered, murmured and swirled beside the
bank. At another time he might have had wild ideas of emulating
the surveyors on some extempore raft and so escaping his present
dreary home existence; but since the disappearance of 'Lige, who
had always excited an odd boyish antipathy in his heart, although
he had never seen him, he shunned the stream contaminated with the
missing man's unheroic fate. Presently the light from the open
window of the sitting-room glittered on the wet leaves and sprays
where he stood, and the voices of the family conclave came fitfully
to his ear. They didn't want him there. They had never thought of
asking him to come in. Well!--who cared? And he wasn't going to
be bought off with a candle and a seat by the kitchen fire. No!
Nevertheless he was getting wet to no purpose. There was the tool-
house and carpenter's shed near the bank; its floor was thickly
covered with sawdust and pine-wood shavings, and there was a mouldy
buffalo skin which he had once transported thither from the old
wagon-bed. There, too, was his secret cache of a candle in a
bottle, buried with other piratical treasures in the presence of
the youthful Peters, who consented to be sacrificed on the spot in
buccaneering fashion to complete the unhallowed rites. He
unearthed the candle, lit it, and clearing away a part of the
shavings stood it up on the floor. He then brought a prized,
battered, and coverless volume from a hidden recess in the rafters,
and lying down with the buffalo robe over him, and his cap in his
hand ready to extinguish the light at the first footstep of a
trespasser, gave himself up--as he had given himself up, I fear,
many other times--to the enchantment of the page before him.
The current whispered, murmured, and sang, unheeded at his side.
The voices of his mother and sisters, raised at times in eagerness
or expectation of the future, fell upon his unlistening ears. For
with the spell that had come upon him, the mean walls of his
hiding-place melted away; the vulgar stream beside him might have
been that dim, subterraneous river down which Sindbad and his bale
of riches were swept out of the Cave of Death to the sunlight of
life and fortune, so surely and so simply had it transported him
beyond the cramped and darkened limits of his present life. He was
in the better world of boyish romance,--of gallant deeds and high
emprises; of miraculous atonement and devoted sacrifice; of brave
men, and those rarer, impossible women,--the immaculate conception
of a boy's virgin heart. What mattered it that behind that
glittering window his mother and sisters grew feverish and excited
over the vulgar details of their real but baser fortune? From the
dark tool-shed by the muddy current, John Milton, with a battered
dogs'-eared chronicle, soared on the wings of fancy far beyond
their wildest ken!
Prosperity had settled upon the plains of Tasajara. Not only had
the embarcadero emerged from the tules of Tasajara Creek as a
thriving town of steamboat wharves, warehouses, and outlying mills
and factories, but in five years the transforming railroad had
penetrated the great plain itself and revealed its undeveloped
fertility. The low-lying lands that had been yearly overflowed by
the creek, now drained and cultivated, yielded treasures of wheat
and barley that were apparently inexhaustible. Even the helpless
indolence of Sidon had been surprised into activity and change.
There was nothing left of the straggling settlement to recall its
former aspect. The site of Harkutt's old store and dwelling was
lost and forgotten in the new mill and granary that rose along the
banks of the creek. Decay leaves ruin and traces for the memory to
linger over; prosperity is unrelenting in its complete and smiling
obliteration of the past.
But Tasajara City, as the embarcadero was now called, had no
previous record, and even the former existence of an actual settler
like the forgotten Elijah Curtis was unknown to the present
inhabitants. It was Daniel Harkutt's idea carried out in Daniel
Harkutt's land, with Daniel Harkutt's capital and energy. But
Daniel Harkutt had become Daniel Harcourt, and Harcourt Avenue,
Harcourt Square, and Harcourt House, ostentatiously proclaimed the
new spelling of his patronymic. When the change was made and for
what reason, who suggested it and under what authority, were not
easy to determine, as the sign on his former store had borne
nothing but the legend, Goods and Provisions, and his name did not
appear on written record until after the occupation of Tasajara;
but it is presumed that it was at the instigation of his daughters,
and there was no one to oppose it. Harcourt was a pretty name for
a street, a square, or a hotel; even the few in Sidon who had
called it Harkutt admitted that it was an improvement quite
consistent with the change from the fever-haunted tules and sedges
of the creek to the broad, level, and handsome squares of Tasajara
This might have been the opinion of a visitor at the Harcourt
House, who arrived one summer afternoon from the Stockton boat, but
whose shrewd, half-critical, half-professional eyes and quiet
questionings betrayed some previous knowledge of the locality.
Seated on the broad veranda of the Harcourt House, and gazing out
on the well-kept green and young eucalyptus trees of the Harcourt
Square or Plaza, he had elicited a counter question from a
prosperous-looking citizen who had been lounging at his side.
"I reckon you look ez if you might have been here before,
"Yes," said the stranger quietly, "I have been. But it was when
the tules grew in the square opposite, and the tide of the creek
"Well," said the Tasajaran, looking curiously at the stranger, "I
call myself a pioneer of Tasajara. My name's Peters,--of Peters
and Co.,--and those warehouses along the wharf, where you landed
just now, are mine; but I was the first settler on Harcourt's land,
and built the next cabin after him. I helped to clear out them
tules and dredged the channels yonder. I took the contract with
Harcourt to build the last fifteen miles o' railroad, and put up
that depot for the company. Perhaps you were here before that?"
"I was," returned the stranger quietly.
"I say," said Peters, hitching his chair a little nearer to his
companion, "you never knew a kind of broken-down feller, called
Curtis--'Lige Curtis--who once squatted here and sold his right to
Harkutt? He disappeared; it was allowed he killed hisself, but
they never found his body, and, between you and me, I never took
stock in that story. You know Harcourt holds under him, and all
Tasajara rests on that title."
"I've heard so," assented the stranger carelessly, "but I never
knew the original settler. Then Harcourt has been lucky?"
"You bet. He's got three millions right about HERE, or within this
quarter section, to say nothing of his outside speculations."
"And lives here?"
"Not for two years. That's his old house across the plaza, but his
women-folks live mostly in 'Frisco and New York, where he's got
houses too. They say they sorter got sick of Tasajara after his
youngest daughter ran off with a feller."
"Hallo!" said the stranger with undisguised interest. "I never
heard of that! You don't mean that she eloped"--he hesitated.
"Oh, it was a square enough marriage. I reckon too square to suit
some folks; but the fellow hadn't nothin', and wasn't worth
shucks,--a sort of land surveyor, doin' odd jobs, you know; and the
old man and old woman were agin it, and the tother daughter worse
of all. It was allowed here--you know how women-folks talk!--that
the surveyor had been sweet on Clementina, but had got tired of
being played by her, and took up with Phemie out o' spite. Anyhow
they got married, and Harcourt gave them to understand they
couldn't expect anything from him. P'raps that's why it didn't
last long, for only about two months ago she got a divorce from
Rice and came back to her family again."
"Rice?" queried the stranger. "Was that her husband's name,
"I reckon! You knew him?"
"Yes,--when the tide came up to the tules, yonder," answered the
stranger musingly. "And the other daughter,--I suppose she has
made a good match, being a beauty and the sole heiress?"
The Tasajaran made a grimace. "Not much! I reckon she's waitin'
for the Angel Gabriel,--there ain't another good enough to suit her
here. They say she's had most of the big men in California waitin'
in a line with their offers, like that cue the fellows used to make
at the 'Frisco post-office steamer days--and she with nary a letter
or answer for any of them."
"Then Harcourt doesn't seem to have been as fortunate in his family
affairs as in his speculations?"
Peters uttered a grim laugh. "Well, I reckon you know all about
his son's stampeding with that girl last spring?"
"His son?" interrupted the stranger. "Do you mean the boy they
called John Milton? Why, he was a mere child!"
"He was old enough to run away with a young woman that helped in
his mother's house, and marry her afore a justice of the peace.
The old man just snorted with rage, and swore he'd have the
marriage put aside, for the boy was under age. He said it was a
put-up job of the girl's; that she was older by two years, and only
wanted to get what money might be comin' some day, but that they'd
never see a red cent of it. Then, they say, John Milton up and
sassed the old man to his face, and allowed that he wouldn't take
his dirty money if he starved first, and that if the old man broke
the marriage he'd marry her again next year; that true love and
honorable poverty were better nor riches, and a lot more o' that
stuff he picked out o' them ten-cent novels he was allus reading.
My women-folks say that he actually liked the girl, because she was
the only one in the house that was ever kind to him; they say the
girls were just ragin' mad at the idea o' havin' a hired gal who
had waited on 'em as a sister-in-law, and they even got old Mammy
Harcourt's back up by sayin' that John's wife would want to rule
the house, and run her out of her own kitchen. Some say he shook
THEM, talked back to 'em mighty sharp, and held his head a heap
higher nor them. Anyhow, he's livin' with his wife somewhere in
'Frisco, in a shanty on a sand lot, and workin' odd jobs for the
newspapers. No! takin' it by and large--it don't look as if
Harcourt had run his family to the same advantage that he has his
"Perhaps he doesn't understand them as well," said the stranger
"Mor'n likely the material ain't thar, or ain't as vallyble for a
new country," said Peters grimly. "I reckon the trouble is that he
lets them two daughters run him, and the man who lets any woman or
women do that, lets himself in for all their meannesses, and all he
gets in return is a woman's result,--show!"
Here the stranger, who was slowly rising from his chair with the
polite suggestion of reluctantly tearing himself from the speaker's
spell, said: "And Harcourt spends most of his time in San
Francisco, I suppose?"
"Yes! but to-day he's here to attend a directors' meeting and the
opening of the Free Library and Tasajara Hall. I saw the windows
open, and the blinds up in his house across the plaza as I passed
The stranger had by this time quite effected his courteous
withdrawal. "Good-afternoon, Mr. Peters," he said, smilingly
lifting his hat, and turned away.
Peters, who was obliged to take his legs off the chair, and half
rise to the stranger's politeness, here reflected that he did not
know his interlocutor's name and business, and that he had really
got nothing in return for his information. This must be remedied.
As the stranger passed through the hall into the street, followed
by the unwonted civilities of the spruce hotel clerk and the
obsequious attentions of the negro porter, Peters stepped to the
window of the office. "Who was that man who just passed out?" he
The clerk stared in undisguised astonishment. "You don't mean to
say you didn't know WHO he was--all the while you were talking to
"No," returned Peters, impatiently.
"Why, that was Professor Lawrence Grant!--THE Lawrence Grant--don't
you know?--the biggest scientific man and recognized expert on the
Pacific slope. Why, that's the man whose single word is enough to
make or break the biggest mine or claim going! That man!--why,
that's the man whose opinion's worth thousands, for it carries
millions with it--and can't be bought. That's him who knocked the
bottom outer El Dorado last year, and next day sent Eureka up
booming! Ye remember that, sure?"
"Of course--but"--stammered Peters.
"And to think you didn't know him!" repeated the hotel clerk
wonderingly. "And here I was reckoning you were getting points
from him all the time! Why, some men would have given a thousand
dollars for your chance of talking to him--yes!--of even being SEEN
talking to him. Why, old Wingate once got a tip on his Prairie
Flower lead worth five thousand dollars while just changing seats
with him in the cars and passing the time of day, sociable like.
Why, what DID you talk about?"
Peters, with a miserable conviction that he had thrown away a
valuable opportunity in mere idle gossip, nevertheless endeavored
to look mysterious as he replied, "Oh, business gin'rally." Then
in the faint hope of yet retrieving his blunder he inquired, "How
long will he be here?"
"Don't know. I reckon he and Harcourt's got something on hand. He
just asked if he was likely to be at home or at his office. I told
him I reckoned at the house, for some of the family--I didn't get
to see who they were--drove up in a carriage from the 3.40 train
while you were sitting there."
Meanwhile the subject of this discussion, quite unconscious of the
sensation he had created, or perhaps like most heroes philosophically
careless of it, was sauntering indifferently towards Harcourt's
house. But he had no business with his former host, his only object
was to pass an idle hour before his train left. He was, of course,
not unaware that he himself was largely responsible for Harcourt's
success; that it was HIS hint which had induced the petty trader of
Sidon to venture his all in Tasajara; HIS knowledge of the
topography and geology of the plain that had stimulated Harcourt's
agricultural speculations; HIS hydrographic survey of the creek that
had made Harcourt's plan of widening the channel to commerce
practicable and profitable. This he could not help but know. But
that it was chiefly owing to his own clear, cool, far-seeing, but
never visionary, scientific observation,--his own accurate analysis,
unprejudiced by even a savant's enthusiasm, and uninfluenced by any
personal desire or greed of gain,--that Tasajara City had risen from
the stagnant tules, was a speculation that had never occurred to
him. There was a much more uneasy consciousness of what he had done
in Mr. Harcourt's face a few moments later, when his visitor's name
was announced, and it is to be feared that if that name had been
less widely honored and respected than it was, no merely grateful
recollection of it would have procured Grant an audience. As it
was, it was with a frown and a touch of his old impatient asperity
that he stepped to the threshold of an adjoining room and called,
Clementina appeared at the door.
"There's that man Grant in the parlor. What brings HIM here, I
wonder? Who does he come to see?"
"Who did he ask for?"
"Me,--but that don't mean anything."
"Perhaps he wants to see you on some business."
"No. That isn't his high-toned style. He makes other people go to
him for that," he said bitterly. "Anyhow--don't you think it's
mighty queer his coming here after his friend--for it was he who
introduced Rice to us--had behaved so to your sister, and caused
all this divorce and scandal?"
"Perhaps he may know nothing about it; he and Rice separated long
ago, even before Grant became so famous. We never saw much of him,
you know, after we came here. Suppose you leave him to ME. I'll
Mr. Harcourt reflected. "Didn't he used to be rather attentive to
Clementina shrugged her shoulders carelessly. "I dare say--but I
don't think that NOW"--
"Who said anything about NOW?" retorted her father, with a return
of his old abruptness. After a pause he said: "I'll go down and
see him first, and then send for you. You can keep him for the
opening and dinner, if you like."
Meantime Lawrence Grant, serenely unsuspicious of these domestic
confidences, had been shown into the parlor--a large room furnished
in the same style as the drawing-room of the hotel he had just
quitted. He had ample time to note that it was that wonderful
Second Empire furniture which he remembered that the early San
Francisco pioneers in the first flush of their wealth had imported
directly from France, and which for years after gave an unexpected
foreign flavor to the western domesticity and a tawdry gilt
equality to saloons and drawing-rooms, public and private. But he
was observant of a corresponding change in Harcourt, when a moment
later he entered the room. That individuality which had kept the
former shopkeeper of Sidon distinct from, although perhaps not
superior to, his customers--was strongly marked. He was perhaps
now more nervously alert than then; he was certainly more impatient
than before,--but that was pardonable in a man of large affairs and
action. Grant could not deny that he seemed improved,--rather
perhaps that the setting of fine clothes, cleanliness, and the
absence of petty worries, made his characteristics respectable.
That which is ill breeding in homespun, is apt to become mere
eccentricity in purple and fine linen; Grant felt that Harcourt
jarred on him less than he did before, and was grateful without
superciliousness. Harcourt, relieved to find that Grant was
neither critical nor aggressively reminiscent, and above all not
inclined to claim the credit of creating him and Tasajara, became
more confident, more at his ease, and, I fear, in proportion more
unpleasant. It is the repose and not the struggle of the parvenu
that confounds us.
"And YOU, Grant,--you have made yourself famous, and, I hear, have
got pretty much your own prices for your opinions ever since it was
known that you--you--er--were connected with the growth of Tasajara."
Grant smiled; he was not quite prepared for this; but it was
amusing and would pass the time. He murmured a sentence of half
ironical deprecation, and Mr. Harcourt continued:--
"I haven't got my San Francisco house here to receive you in, but I
hope some day, sir, to see you there. We are only here for the day
and night, but if you care to attend the opening ceremonies at the
new hall, we can manage to give you dinner afterwards. You can
escort my daughter Clementina,--she's here with me."
The smile of apologetic declination which had begun to form on
Grant's lips was suddenly arrested. "Then your daughter is here?"
he asked, with unaffected interest.
"Yes,--she is in fact a patroness of the library and sewing-circle,
and takes the greatest interest in it. The Reverend Doctor
Pilsbury relies upon her for everything. She runs the society,
even to the training of the young ladies, sir. You shall see their
This was certainly a new phase of Clementina's character. Yet why
should she not assume the role of Lady Bountiful with the other
functions of her new condition. "I should have thought Miss
Harcourt would have found this rather difficult with her other
social duties," he said, "and would have left it to her married
sister." He thought it better not to appear as if avoiding
reference to Euphemia, although quietly ignoring her late
experiences. Mr. Harcourt was less easy in his response.
"Now that Euphemia is again with her own family," he said
ponderously, with an affectation of social discrimination that was
in weak contrast to his usual direct business astuteness, "I
suppose she may take her part in these things, but just now she
requires rest. You may have heard some rumor that she is going
abroad for a time? The fact is she hasn't the least intention of
doing so, nor do we consider there is the slightest reason for her
going." He paused as if to give great emphasis to a statement that
seemed otherwise unimportant. "But here's Clementina coming, and I
must get you to excuse ME. I've to meet the trustees of the church
in ten minutes, but I hope she'll persuade you to stay, and I'll
see you later at the hall."
As Clementina entered the room her father vanished and, I fear, as
completely dropped out of Mr. Grant's mind. For the daughter's
improvement was greater than her father's, yet so much more refined
as to be at first only delicately perceptible. Grant had been
prepared for the vulgar enhancement of fine clothes and personal
adornment, for the specious setting of luxurious circumstances and
surroundings, for the aplomb that came from flattery and conscious
power. But he found none of these; her calm individuality was
intensified rather than subdued; she was dressed simply, with an
economy of ornament, rich material, and jewelry, but an accuracy of
taste that was always dominant. Her plain gray merino dress,
beautifully fitting her figure, suggested, with its pale blue
facings, some uniform, as of the charitable society she patronized.
She came towards him with a graceful movement of greeting, yet her
face showed no consciousness of the interval that had elapsed since
they met; he almost fancied himself transported back to the
sitting-room at Sidon with the monotonous patter of the leaves
outside, and the cool moist breath of the bay and alder coming in
at the window.
"Father says that you are only passing through Tasajara to-day, as
you did through Sidon five years ago," she said with a smiling
earnestness that he fancied however was the one new phase of her
character. "But I won't believe it! At least we will not accept
another visit quite as accidental as that, even though you brought
us twice the good fortune you did then. You see, we have not
forgotten it if you have, Mr. Grant. And unless you want us to
believe that your fairy gifts will turn some day to leaves and
ashes, you will promise to stay with us tonight, and let me show
you some of the good we have done with them. Perhaps you don't
know, or don't want to know, that it was I who got up this 'Library
and Home Circle of the Sisters of Tasajara' which we are to open
to-day. And can you imagine why? You remember--or have you
forgotten--that you once affected to be concerned at the social
condition of the young ladies on the plains of Sidon? Well, Mr.
Grant, this is gotten up in order that the future Mr. Grants who
wander may find future Miss Billingses who are worthy to converse
with them and entertain them, and who no longer wear men's hats and
live on the public road."
It was such a long speech for one so taciturn as he remembered
Clementina to have been; so unexpected in tone considering her
father's attitude towards him, and so unlooked for in its reference
to a slight incident of the past, that Grant's critical contemplation
of her gave way to a quiet and grateful glance of admiration. How
could he have been so mistaken in her character? He had always
preferred the outspoken Euphemia, and yet why should he not have
been equally mistaken in her? Without having any personal knowledge
of Rice's matrimonial troubles--for their intimate companionship had
not continued after the survey--he had been inclined to blame him;
now he seemed to find excuses for him. He wondered if she really had
liked him as Peters had hinted; he wondered if she knew that he,
Grant, was no longer intimate with him and knew nothing of her
affairs. All this while he was accepting her proffered hospitality
and sending to the hotel for his luggage. Then he drifted into a
conversation, which he had expected would be brief, pointless, and
confined to a stupid resume of their mutual and social progress
since they had left Sidon. But here he was again mistaken; she was
talking familiarly of present social topics, of things that she knew
clearly and well, without effort or attitude. She had been to New
York and Boston for two winters; she had spent the previous summer
at Newport; it might have been her whole youth for the fluency,
accuracy, and familiarity of her detail, and the absence of
provincial enthusiasm. She was going abroad, probably in the
spring. She had thought of going to winter in Italy, but she would
wait now until her sister was ready to go with her. Mr. Grant of
course knew that Euphemia was separated from Mr. Rice--no--not until
her father told him? Well--the marriage had been a wild and foolish
thing for both. But Euphemia was back again with them in the San
Francisco house; she had talked of coming to Tasajara to-day,
perhaps she might be there tonight. And, good heavens! it was
actually three o'clock already, and they must start at once for the
Hall. She would go and get her hat and return instantly.
It was true; he had been talking with her an hour--pleasantly,
intelligently, and yet with a consciousness of an indefinite
satisfaction beyond all this. It must have been surprise at her
transformation, or his previous misconception of her character.
He had been watching her features and wondering why he had ever
thought them expressionless. There was also the pleasant
suggestion--common to humanity in such instances--that he himself
was in some way responsible for the change; that it was some
awakened sympathy to his own nature that had breathed into this
cold and faultless statue the warmth of life. In an odd flash of
recollection he remembered how, five years ago, when Rice had
suggested to her that she was "hard to please," she had replied
that she "didn't know, but that she was waiting to see." It did
not occur to him to wonder why she had not awakened then, or if
this awakening had anything to do with her own volition. It was
not probable that they would meet again after to-day, or if they
did, that she would not relapse into her former self and fail to
impress him as she had now. But--here she was--a paragon of
feminine promptitude--already standing in the doorway, accurately
gloved and booted, and wearing a demure gray hat that modestly
crowned her decorously elegant figure.
They crossed the plaza side by side, in the still garish sunlight
that seemed to mock the scant shade of the youthful eucalyptus
trees, and presently fell in with the stream of people going in
their direction. The former daughters of Sidon, the Billingses,
the Peterses, and Wingates, were there bourgeoning and expanding in
the glare of their new prosperity, with silk and gold; there were
newer faces still, and pretty ones,--for Tasajara as a "Cow County"
had attracted settlers with large families,--and there were already
the contrasting types of East and West. Many turned to look after
the tall figure of the daughter of the Founder of Tasajara,--a
spectacle lately rare to the town; a few glanced at her companion,
equally noticeable as a stranger. Thanks, however, to some
judicious preliminary advertising from the hotel clerk, Peters, and
Daniel Harcourt himself, by the time Grant and Miss Harcourt had
reached the Hall his name and fame were already known, and
speculation had already begun whether this new stroke of Harcourt's
shrewdness might not unite Clementina to a renowned and profitable
The Hall was in one of the further and newly opened suburbs, and
its side and rear windows gave immediately upon the outlying and
illimitable plain of Tasajara. It was a tasteful and fair-seeming
structure of wood, surprisingly and surpassingly new. In fact that
was its one dominant feature; nowhere else had youth and freshness
ever shown itself as unconquerable and all-conquering. The spice
of virgin woods and trackless forests still rose from its pine
floors, and breathed from its outer shell of cedar that still oozed
its sap, and redwood that still dropped its life-blood. Nowhere
else were the plastered walls and ceilings as white and dazzling in
their unstained purity, or as redolent of the outlying quarry in
their clear cool breath of lime and stone. Even the turpentine of
fresh and spotless paint added to this sense of wholesome
germination, and as the clear and brilliant Californian sunshine
swept through the open windows west and east, suffusing the whole
palpitating structure with its searching and resistless radiance,
the very air seemed filled with the aroma of creation.
The fresh colors of the young Republic, the bright blazonry of the
newest State, the coat-of-arms of the infant County of Tasajara--(a
vignette of sunset-tules cloven by the steam of an advancing
train)--hanging from the walls, were all a part of this invincible
juvenescence. Even the newest silks, ribbons and prints of the
latest holiday fashions made their first virgin appearance in the
new building as if to consecrate it, until it was stirred by the
rustle of youth, as with the sound and movement of budding spring.
A strain from the new organ--whose heart, however, had prematurely
learned its own bitterness--and a thin, clear, but somewhat shrill
chanting from a choir of young ladies were followed by a prayer
from the Reverend Mr. Pilsbury. Then there was a pause of
expectancy, and Grant's fair companion, who up to that moment had
been quietly acting as guide and cicerone to her father's guest,
excused herself with a little grimace of mock concern and was led
away by one of the committee. Grant's usually keen eyes were
wandering somewhat abstractedly over the agitated and rustling
field of ribbons, flowers and feathers before him, past the
blazonry of banner on the walls, and through the open windows to
the long sunlit levels beyond, when he noticed a stir upon the
raised dais or platform at the end of the room, where the notables
of Tasajara were formally assembled. The mass of black coats
suddenly parted and drew back against the wall to allow the coming
forward of a single graceful figure. A thrill of nervousness as
unexpected as unaccountable passed over him as he recognized
Clementina. In the midst of a sudden silence she read the report
of the committee from a paper in her hand, in a clear, untroubled
voice--the old voice of Sidon--and formally declared the building
opened. The sunlight, nearly level, streamed through the western
window across the front of the platform where she stood and
transfigured her slight but noble figure. The hush that had fallen
upon the Hall was as much the effect of that tranquil, ideal
presence as of the message with which it was charged. And yet that
apparition was as inconsistent with the clear, searching light
which helped to set it off, as it was with the broad new blazonry
of decoration, the yet unsullied record of the white walls, or even
the frank, animated and pretty faces that looked upon it. Perhaps
it was some such instinct that caused the applause which hesitatingly
and tardily followed her from the platform to appear polite and half
restrained rather than spontaneous.
Nevertheless Grant was honestly and sincerely profuse in his
congratulations. "You were far cooler and far more self-contained
than I should have been in your place," he said, "than in fact I
actually WAS, only as your auditor. But I suppose you have done it
She turned her beautiful eyes on his wonderingly. "No,--this is
the first time I ever appeared in public,--not even at school, for
even there I was always a private pupil."
"You astonish me," said Grant; "you seemed like an old hand at it."
"Perhaps I did, or rather as if I didn't think anything of it
myself,--and that no doubt is why the audience didn't think
anything of it either."
So she HAD noticed her cold reception, and yet there was not the
slightest trace of disappointment, regret, or wounded vanity in her
tone or manner. "You must take me to the refreshment room now,"
she said pleasantly, "and help me to look after the young ladies
who are my guests. I'm afraid there are still more speeches to
come, and father and Mr. Pilsbury are looking as if they
confidently expected something more would be 'expected' of them."
Grant at once threw himself into the task assigned to him, with his
natural gallantry and a certain captivating playfulness which he
still retained. Perhaps he was the more anxious to please in order
that his companion might share some of his popularity, for it was
undeniable that Miss Harcourt still seemed to excite only a
constrained politeness among those with whom she courteously
mingled. And this was still more distinctly marked by the contrast
of a later incident.
For some moments the sound of laughter and greeting had risen near
the door of the refreshment room that opened upon the central hall,
and there was a perceptible movement of the crowd--particularly of
youthful male Tasajara--in that direction. It was evident that it
announced the unexpected arrival of some popular resident.
Attracted like the others, Grant turned and saw the company making
way for the smiling, easy, half-saucy, half-complacent entry of a
handsomely dressed young girl. As she turned from time to time to
recognize with rallying familiarity or charming impertinence some
of her admirers, there was that in her tone and gesture which
instantly recalled to him the past. It was unmistakably Euphemia!
His eyes instinctively sought Clementina's. She was gazing at him
with such a grave, penetrating look,--half doubting, half wistful,--
a look so unlike her usual unruffled calm that he felt strangely
stirred. But the next moment, when she rejoined him, the look had
entirely gone. "You have not seen my sister since you were at
Sidon, I believe?" she said quietly. "She would be sorry to miss
you." But Euphemia and her train were already passing them on the
opposite side of the long table. She had evidently recognized
Grant, yet the two sisters were looking intently into each other's
eyes when he raised his own. Then Euphemia met his bow with a
momentary accession of color, a coquettish wave of her hand across
the table, a slight exaggeration of her usual fascinating
recklessness, and smilingly moved away. He turned to Clementina,
but here an ominous tapping at the farther end of the long table
revealed the fact that Mr. Harcourt was standing on a chair with
oratorical possibilities in his face and attitude. There was
another forward movement in the crowd and--silence. In that solid,
black-broadclothed, respectable figure, that massive watchchain,
that white waistcoat, that diamond pin glistening in the satin
cravat, Euphemia might have seen the realization of her prophetic
vision at Sidon five years before.
He spoke for ten minutes with a fluency and comprehensive business-
like directness that surprised Grant. He was not there, he said,
to glorify what had been done by himself, his family, or his
friends in Tasajara. Others who were to follow him might do that,
or at least might be better able to explain and expatiate upon the
advantages of the institution they had just opened, and its social,
moral, and religious effect upon the community. He was there as a
business man to demonstrate to them--as he had always done and
always hoped to do--the money value of improvement; the profit--if
they might choose to call it--of well-regulated and properly
calculated speculation. The plot of land upon which they stood, of
which the building occupied only one eighth, was bought two years
before for ten thousand dollars. When the plans of the building
were completed a month afterwards, the value of the remaining seven
eighths had risen enough to defray the cost of the entire
construction. He was in a position to tell them that only that
morning the adjacent property, subdivided and laid out in streets
and building-plots, had been admitted into the corporate limits of
the city; and that on the next anniversary of the building they
would approach it through an avenue of finished dwellings! An
outburst of applause followed the speaker's practical climax; the
fresh young faces of his auditors glowed with invincible
enthusiasm; the afternoon trade-winds, freshening over the
limitless plain beyond, tossed the bright banners at the windows as
with sympathetic rejoicing, and a few odorous pine shavings,
overlooked in a corner in the hurry of preparation, touched by an
eddying zephyr, crept out and rolled in yellow ringlets across the
The Reverend Doctor Pilsbury arose in a more decorous silence. He
had listened approvingly, admiringly, he might say even reverently,
to the preceding speaker. But although his distinguished friend
had, with his usual modesty, made light of his own services and
those of his charming family, he, the speaker, had not risen to
sing his praises. No; it was not in this Hall, projected by his
foresight and raised by his liberality; in this town, called into
existence by his energy and stamped by his attributes; in this
county, developed by his genius and sustained by his capital; ay,
in this very State whose grandeur was made possible by such giants
as he,--it was not in any of these places that it was necessary to
praise Daniel Harcourt, or that a panegyric of him would be more
than idle repetition. Nor would he, as that distinguished man had
suggested, enlarge upon the social, moral, and religious benefits
of the improvement they were now celebrating. It was written on
the happy, innocent faces, in the festive garb, in the decorous
demeanor, in the intelligent eyes that sparkled around him, in the
presence of those of his parishioners whom he could meet as freely
here to-day as in his own church on Sunday. What then could he
say? What then was there to say? Perhaps he should say nothing if
it were not for the presence of the young before him.--He stopped
and fixed his eyes paternally on the youthful Johnny Billings, who
with a half dozen other Sunday-school scholars had been marshaled
before the reverend speaker.--And what was to be the lesson THEY
were to learn from it? They had heard what had been achieved by
labor, enterprise, and diligence. Perhaps they would believe, and
naturally too, that what labor, enterprise, and diligence had done
could be done again. But was that all? Was there nothing behind
these qualities--which, after all, were within the reach of every
one here? Had they ever thought that back of every pioneer, every
explorer, every pathfinder, every founder and creator, there was
still another? There was no terra incognita so rare as to be
unknown to one; no wilderness so remote as to be beyond a greater
ken than theirs; no waste so trackless but that one had already
passed that way! Did they ever reflect that when the dull sea
ebbed and flowed in the tules over the very spot where they were
now standing, who it was that also foresaw, conceived, and ordained
the mighty change that would take place; who even guided and
directed the feeble means employed to work it; whose spirit moved,
as in still older days of which they had read, over the face of the
stagnant waters? Perhaps they had. Who then was the real pioneer
of Tasajara,--back of the Harcourts, the Peterses, the Billingses,
and Wingates? The reverend gentleman gently paused for a reply.
It was given in the clear but startled accents of the half
frightened, half-fascinated Johnny Billings, in three words:--
"'Lige Curtis, sir!"
The trade wind, that, blowing directly from the Golden Gate, seemed
to concentrate its full force upon the western slope of Russian
Hill, might have dismayed any climber less hopeful and sanguine
than that most imaginative of newspaper reporters and most youthful
of husbands, John Milton Harcourt. But for all that it was an
honest wind, and its dry, practical energy and salt-pervading
breath only seemed to sting him to greater and more enthusiastic
exertions, until, quite at the summit of the hill and last of a
straggling line of little cottages half submerged in drifting sand,
he stood upon his own humble porch.
"I was thinking, coming up the hill, Loo," he said, bursting into
the sitting-room, pantingly, "of writing something about the future
of the hill! How it will look fifty years from now, all terraced
with houses and gardens!--and right up here a kind of Acropolis,
don't you know. I had quite a picture of it in my mind just now."
A plainly-dressed young woman with a pretty face, that, however,
looked as if it had been prematurely sapped of color and vitality,
here laid aside some white sewing she had in her lap, and said:--
"But you did that once before, Milty, and you know the "Herald"
wouldn't take it because they said it was a free notice of Mr.
Boorem's building lots, and he didn't advertise in the "Herald." I
always told you that you ought to have seen Boorem first."
The young fellow blinked his eyes with a momentary arrest of that
buoyant hopefulness which was their peculiar characteristic, but
nevertheless replied with undaunted cheerfulness, "I forgot.
Anyhow, it's all the same, for I worked it into that 'Sunday Walk.'
And it's just as easy to write it the other way, you see,--looking
back, DOWN THE HILL, you know. Something about the old Padres
toiling through the sand just before the Angelus; or as far back as
Sir Francis Drake's time, and have a runaway boat's crew, coming
ashore to look for gold that the Mexicans had talked of. Lord!
that's easy enough! I tell you what, Loo, it's worth living up
here just for the inspiration." Even while boyishly exhaling this
enthusiasm he was also divesting himself of certain bundles whose
contents seemed to imply that he had brought his dinner with him,--
the youthful Mrs. Harcourt setting the table in a perfunctory,
listless way that contrasted oddly with her husband's cheerful
"You haven't heard of any regular situation yet?" she asked
"No,--not exactly," he replied. "But [buoyantly] it's a great deal
better for me not to take anything in a hurry and tie myself to any
particular line. Now, I'm quite free."
"And I suppose you haven't seen that Mr. Fletcher again?" she
"No. He only wanted to know something about me. That's the way
with them all, Loo. Whenever I apply for work anywhere it's
always: 'So you're Dan'l Harcourt's son, eh? Quarreled with the
old man? Bad job; better make it up! You'll make more stickin' to
him. He's worth millions!' Everybody seems to think everything of
HIM, as if I had no individuality beyond that, I've a good mind to
change my name."
"And pray what would mine be then?"
There was so much irritation in her voice that he drew nearer her
and gently put his arm around her waist. "Why, whatever mine was,
darling," he said with a tender smile. "You didn't fall in love
with any particular name, did you, Loo?"
"No, but I married a particular one," she said quickly.
His eyelids quivered again, as if he was avoiding some unpleasantly
staring suggestion, and she stopped.
"You know what I mean, dear," she said, with a quick little laugh.
"Just because your father's an old crosspatch, YOU haven't lost
your rights to his name and property. And those people who say you
ought to make it up perhaps know what's for the best."
"But you remember what he said of you, Loo?" said the young man
with a flashing eye. "Do you think I can ever forget that?"
"But you DO forget it, dear; you forget it when you go in town
among fresh faces and people; when you are looking for work. You
forget it when you're at work writing your copy,--for I've seen you
smile as you wrote. You forget it climbing up the dreadful sand,
for you were thinking just now of what happened years ago, or is to
happen years to come. And I want to forget it too, Milty. I don't
want to sit here all day, thinking of it, with the wind driving the
sand against the window, and nothing to look at but those white
tombs in Lone Mountain Cemetery, and those white caps that might be
gravestones too, and not a soul to talk to or even see pass by
until I feel as if I were dead and buried also. If you were me--
you--you--you--couldn't help crying too!"
Indeed he was very near it now. For as he caught her in his arms,
suddenly seeing with a lover's sympathy and the poet's swifter
imagination all that she had seen and even more, he was aghast at
the vision conjured. In her delicate health and loneliness how
dreadful must have been these monotonous days, and this glittering,
cruel sea! What a selfish brute he was! Yet as he stood there
holding her, silently and rhythmically marking his tenderness and
remorseful feelings by rocking her from side to side like a languid
metronome, she quietly disengaged her wet lashes from his shoulder
and said in quite another tone:--
"So they were all at Tasajara last week?"
"Your father and sisters."
"Yes," said John Milton, hesitatingly.
"And they've taken back your sister after her divorce?"
The staring obtrusiveness of this fact apparently made her
husband's bright sympathetic eye blink as before.
"And if you were to divorce me, YOU would be taken back too," she
added quickly, suddenly withdrawing herself with a pettish movement
and walking to the window.
But he followed. "Don't talk in that way, Loo! Don't look in that
way, dear!" he said, taking her hand gently, yet not without a
sense of some inconsistency in her conduct that jarred upon his own
simple directness. "You know that nothing can part us now. I was
wrong to let my little girl worry herself all alone here, but I--I--
thought it was all so--so bright and free out on this hill,--
looking far away beyond the Golden Gate,--as far as Cathay, you
know, and such a change from those dismal flats of Tasajara and
that awful stretch of tules. But it's all right now. And now that
I know how you feel, we'll go elsewhere."
She did not reply. Perhaps she found it difficult to keep up her
injured attitude in the face of her husband's gentleness. Perhaps
her attention had been attracted by the unusual spectacle of a
stranger, who had just mounted the hill and was now slowly passing
along the line of cottages with a hesitating air of inquiry. "He
may be looking for this house,--for you," she said in an entirely
new tone of interest. "Run out and see. It may be some one who
"An article," said Milton cheerfully. "By Jove! he IS coming
The stranger was indeed approaching the little cottage, and with
apparently some confidence. He was a well-dressed, well-made man,
whose age looked uncertain from the contrast between his heavy
brown moustache and his hair, that, curling under the brim of his
hat, was almost white in color. The young man started, and said,
hurriedly: "I really believe it is Fletcher,--they say his hair
turned white from the Panama fever."
It was indeed Mr. Fletcher who entered and introduced himself,--
a gentle reserved man, with something of that colorlessness of
premature age in his speech which was observable in his hair. He
had heard of Mr. Harcourt from a friend who had recommended him
highly. As Mr. Harcourt had probably been told, he, the speaker,
was about to embark some capital in a first-class newspaper in San
Francisco, and should select the staff himself. He wanted to
secure only first-rate talent,--but above all, youthfulness,
directness, and originality. The "Clarion," for that was to be
its name, was to have nothing "old fogy" about it. No. It was
distinctly to be the organ of Young California! This and much more
from the grave lips of the elderly young man, whose speech seemed
to be divided between the pretty, but equally faded, young wife,
and the one personification of invincible youth present,--her
"But I fear I have interrupted your household duties," he said
pleasantly. "You were preparing dinner. Pray go on. And let me
help you,--I'm not a bad cook,--and you can give me my reward by
letting me share it with you, for the climb up here has sharpened
my appetite. We can talk as we go on."
It was in vain to protest; there was something paternal as well as
practical in the camaraderie of this actual capitalist and possible
Maecenas and patron as he quietly hung up his hat and overcoat, and
helped to set the table with a practiced hand. Nor, as he
suggested, did the conversation falter, and before they had taken
their seats at the frugal board he had already engaged John Milton
Harcourt as assistant editor of the "Clarion" at a salary that
seemed princely to this son of a millionaire! The young wife
meantime had taken active part in the discussion; whether it was
vaguely understood that the possession of poetical and imaginative
faculties precluded any capacity for business, or whether it was
owing to the apparent superior maturity of Mrs. Harcourt and the
stranger, it was certain that THEY arranged the practical details
of the engagement, and that the youthful husband sat silent, merely
offering his always hopeful and sanguine consent.
"You'll take a house nearer to town, I suppose?" continued Mr.
Fletcher to the lady, "though you've a charming view here. I
suppose it was quite a change from Tasajara and your father-in-
law's house? I daresay he had as fine a place there--on his own
homestead--as he has here?"
Young Harcourt dropped his sensitive eyelids again. It seemed hard
that he could never get away from these allusions to his father!
Perhaps it was only to that relationship that he was indebted for
his visitor's kindness. In his simple honesty he could not bear
the thought of such a misapprehension. "Perhaps, Mr. Fletcher, you
do not know," he said, "that my father is not on terms with me, and
that we neither expect anything nor could we ever take anything
from him. Could we, Loo?" He added the useless question partly
because he saw that his wife's face betrayed little sympathy with
him, and partly that Fletcher was looking at her curiously, as if
for confirmation. But this was another of John Milton's trials as
an imaginative reporter; nobody ever seemed to care for his
practical opinions or facts!
"Mr. Fletcher is not interested in our little family differences,
Milty," she said, looking at Mr. Fletcher, however, instead of him.
"You're Daniel Harcourt's SON whatever happens."
The cloud that had passed over the young man's face and eyes did
not, however, escape Mr. Fletcher's attention, for he smiled, and
added gayly, "And I hope my valued lieutenant in any case."
Nevertheless John Milton was quite ready to avail himself of an
inspiration to fetch some cigars for his guest from the bar of the
Sea-View House on the slope of the hill beyond, and thereby avoid a
fateful subject. Once in the fresh air again he promptly recovered
his boyish spirits. The light flying scud had already effaced the
first rising stars; the lower creeping sea-fog had already blotted
out the western shore and sea; but below him to the east the
glittering lights of the city seemed to start up with a new,
mysterious, and dazzling brilliancy. It was the valley of diamonds
that Sindbad saw lying almost at his feet! Perhaps somewhere there
the light of his own fame and fortune was already beginning to
He returned to his humble roof joyous and inspired. As he entered
the hall he heard his wife's voice and his own name mentioned,
followed by that awkward, meaningless silence on his entrance which
so plainly indicated either that he had been the subject of
conversation or that it was not for his ears. It was a dismal
reminder of his boyhood at Sidon and Tasajara. But he was too full
of hope and ambition to heed it to-night, and later, when Mr.
Fletcher had taken his departure, his pent-up enthusiasm burst out
before his youthful partner. Had she realized that their struggles
were over now, that their future was secure? They need no longer
fear ever being forced to take bounty from the family; they were
independent of them all! He would make a name for himself that
should be distinct from his father's as he should make a fortune
that would be theirs alone. The young wife smiled. "But all that
need not prevent you, dear, from claiming your RIGHTS when the time
"But if I scorn to make the claim or take a penny of his, Loo?"
"You say you scorn to take the money you think your father got by a
mere trick,--at the best,--and didn't earn. And now you will be
able to show you can live without it, and earn your own fortune.
Well, dear, for that very reason why should you let your father and
others enjoy and waste what is fairly your share? For it is YOUR
share whether it came to your father fairly or not; and if not, it
is still your duty, believing as you do, to claim it from him, that
at least YOU may do with it what you choose. You might want to
The young man laughed. "But, my dear Loo! suppose that I were weak
enough to claim it, do you think my father would give it up? He
has the right, and no law could force him to yield to me more than
"Not the law, but YOU could."
"I don't understand you," he said quickly.
"You could force him by simply telling him what you once told me."
John Milton drew back, and his hand dropped loosely from his
wife's. The color left his fresh young face; the light quivered
for a moment and then became fixed and set in his eyes. For that
moment he looked ten years her senior. "I was wrong ever to tell
even you that, Loo," he said in a low voice. "You are wrong to
ever remind me of it. Forget it from this moment, as you value our
love and want it to live and be remembered. And forget, Loo, as I
do,--and ever shall,--that you ever suggested to me to use my
secret in the way you did just now."
But here Mrs. Harcourt burst into tears, more touched by the
alteration in her husband's manner, I fear, than by any contrition
for wrongdoing. Of course if he wished to withdraw his confidences
from her, just as he had almost confessed he wished to withdraw his
NAME, she couldn't help it, but it was hard that when she sat there
all day long trying to think what was best for them, she should be
blamed! At which the quiet and forgiving John Milton smiled
remorsefully and tried to comfort her. Nevertheless an occasional
odd, indefinable chill seemed to creep across the feverish
enthusiasm with which he was celebrating this day of fortune. And
yet he neither knew nor suspected until long after that his foolish
wife had that night half betrayed his secret to the stranger!
The next day he presented a note of introduction from Mr. Fletcher
to the business manager of the "Clarion," and the following morning
was duly installed in office. He did not see his benefactor again;
that single visit was left in the mystery and isolation of an
angelic episode. It later appeared that other and larger interests
in the San Jose valley claimed his patron's residence and attendance;
only the capital and general purpose of the paper--to develop into a
party organ in the interest of his possible senatorial aspirations
in due season--was furnished by him. Grateful as John Milton felt
towards him, he was relieved; it seemed probable that Mr. Fletcher
HAD selected him on his individual merits, and not as the son of a
He threw himself into his work with his old hopeful enthusiasm, and
perhaps an originality of method that was part of his singular
independence. Without the student's training or restraint,--for
his two years' schooling at Tasajara during his parents' prosperity
came too late to act as a discipline,--he was unfettered by any
rules, and guided only by an unerring instinctive taste that became
near being genius. He was a brilliant and original, if not always
a profound and accurate, reporter. By degrees he became an
accustomed interest to the readers of the "Clarion;" then an
influence. Actors themselves in many a fierce drama, living lives
of devotion, emotion, and picturesque incident, they had satisfied
themselves with only the briefest and most practical daily record
of their adventure, and even at first were dazed and startled to
find that many of them had been heroes and some poets. The
stealthy boyish reader of romantic chronicle at Sidon had learned
by heart the chivalrous story of the emigration. The second column
of the "Clarion" became famous even while the figure of its
youthful writer, unknown and unrecognized, was still nightly
climbing the sands of Russian Hill, and even looking down as before
on the lights of the growing city, without a thought that he had
added to that glittering constellation.
Cheerful and contented with the exercise of work, he would have
been happy but for the gradual haunting of another dread which
presently began to drag him at earlier hours up the steep path to
his little home; to halt him before the door with the quickened
breath of an anxiety he would scarcely confess to himself, and
sometimes hold him aimlessly a whole day beneath his roof. For the
pretty but delicate Mrs. Harcourt, like others of her class, had
added a weak and ineffective maternity to their other conjugal
trials, and one early dawn a baby was born that lingered with them
scarcely longer than the morning mist and exhaled with the rising
sun. The young wife regained her strength slowly,--so slowly that
the youthful husband brought his work at times to the house to keep
her company. And a singular change had come over her. She no
longer talked of the past, nor of his family. As if the little
life that had passed with that morning mist had represented some
ascending expiatory sacrifice, it seemed to have brought them into
Yet her weak condition made him conceal another trouble that had
come upon him. It was in the third month of his employment on the
"Clarion" that one afternoon, while correcting some proofs on his
chief's desk, he came upon the following editorial paragraph:--
"The played-out cant of 'pioneer genius' and 'pioneer discovery'
appears to have reached its climax in the attempt of some of our
contemporaries to apply it to Dan Harcourt's new Tasajara Job
before the legislature. It is perfectly well known in Harcourt's
own district that, far from being a pioneer and settler HIMSELF he
simply succeeded after a fashion to the genuine work of one Elijah
Curtis, an actual pioneer and discoverer, years before, while
Harcourt, we believe, was keeping a frontier doggery in Sidon, and
dispensing 'tanglefoot' and salt junk to the hayfooted Pike
Countians of his precinct. This would make him as much of the
'pioneer discoverer' as the rattlesnake who first takes up board
and lodgings and then possession in a prairie dog's burrow. And if
the traveler's tale is true that the rattlesnake sometimes makes a
meal of his landlord, the story told at Sidon may be equally
credible that the original pioneer mysteriously disappeared about
the time that Dan Harcourt came into the property. From which it
would seem that Harcourt is not in a position for his friends to
invite very deep scrutiny into his 'pioneer' achievements."
Stupefaction, a vague terror, and rising anger, rapidly succeeded
each other in the young man's mind as he stood mechanically holding
the paper in his hand. It was the writing of his chief editor,
whose easy brutality he had sometimes even boyishly admired.
Without stopping to consider their relative positions he sought him
indignantly and laid the proof before him. The editor laughed.
"But what's that to YOU? YOU'RE not on terms with the old man."
"But he is my father!" said John Milton hotly.
"Look here," said the editor good-naturedly, "I'd like to oblige
you, but it isn't BUSINESS, you know,--and this IS, you
understand,--PROPRIETOR'S BUSINESS too! Of course I see it might
stand in the way of your making up to the old man afterwards and
coming in for a million. Well! you can tell him it's ME. Say I
WOULD put it in. Say I'm nasty--and I AM!"
"Then it must go in?" said John Milton with a white face.
"Then I must go out!" And writing out his resignation, he laid it
before his chief and left.
But he could not bear to tell this to his wife when he climbed the
hill that night, and he invented some excuse for bringing his work
home. The invalid never noticed any change in his usual buoyancy,
and indeed I fear, when he was fairly installed with his writing
materials at the foot of her bed, he had quite forgotten the
episode. He was recalled to it by a faint sigh.
"What is it, dear?" he said looking up.
"I like to see you writing, Milty. You always look so happy."
"Always so happy, dear?"
"Yes. You are happy, are you not?"
"Always." He got up and kissed her. Nevertheless, when he sat
down to his work again, his face was turned a little more to the
Another serious incident--to be also kept from the invalid--shortly
followed. The article in the "Clarion" had borne its fruit. The
third day after his resignation a rival paper sharply retorted.
"The cowardly insinuations against the record of a justly honored
capitalist," said the "Pioneer," "although quite in keeping with
the brazen 'Clarion,' might attract the attentions of the slandered
party, if it were not known to his friends as well as himself that
it may be traced almost directly to a cast-off member of his own
family, who, it seems, is reduced to haunting the back doors of
certain blatant journals to dispose of his cheap wares. The
slanderer is secure from public exposure in the superior decency of
his relations, who refrain from airing their family linen upon
This was the journal to which John Milton had hopefully turned for
work. When he read it there seemed but one thing for him to do--
and he did it. Gentle and optimistic as was his nature, he had
been brought up in a community where sincere directness of personal
offense was followed by equally sincere directness of personal
redress, and--he challenged the editor. The bearer of his cartel
was one Jack Hamlin, I grieve to say a gambler by profession, but
between whom and John Milton had sprung up an odd friendship of
which the best that can be said is that it was to each equally and
unselfishly unprofitable. The challenge was accepted, the
preliminaries arranged. "I suppose," said Jack carelessly, "as the
old man ought to do something for your wife in case of accident,
you've made some sort of a will?"
"I've thought of that," said John Milton, dubiously, "but I'm
afraid it's no use. You see"--he hesitated--"I'm not of age."
"May I ask how old you are, sonny?" said Jack with great gravity.
"I'm almost twenty," said John Milton, coloring.
"It isn't exactly vingt-et-un, but I'd stand on it; if I were you I
wouldn't draw to such a hand," said Jack, coolly.
The young husband had arranged to be absent from his home that
night, and early morning found him, with Jack, grave, but
courageous, in a little hollow behind the Mission Hills. To them
presently approached his antagonist, jauntily accompanied by
Colonel Starbottle, his second. They halted, but after the formal
salutation were instantly joined by Jack Hamlin. For a few moments
John Milton remained awkwardly alone--pending a conversation which
even at that supreme moment he felt as being like the general
attitude of his friends towards him, in its complete ignoring of
himself. The next moment the three men stepped towards him. "We
have come, sir," said Colonel Starbottle in his precisest speech
but his jauntiest manner, "to offer you a full and ample apology--a
personal apology--which only supplements that full public apology
that my principal, sir, this gentleman," indicating the editor of
the "Pioneer," "has this morning made in the columns of his paper,
as you will observe," producing a newspaper. "We have, sir,"
continued the colonel loftily, "only within the last twelve hours
become aware of the--er--REAL circumstances of the case. We would
regret that the affair had gone so far already, if it had not given
us, sir, the opportunity of testifying to your gallantry. We do so
gladly; and if--er--er--a FEW YEARS LATER, Mr. Harcourt, you should
ever need--a friend in any matter of this kind, I am, sir, at your
service." John Milton gazed half inquiringly, half uneasily at
"It's all right, Milt," he said sotto voce. "Shake hands all round
and let's go to breakfast. And I rather think that editor wants to
employ you HIMSELF."
It was true, for when that night he climbed eagerly the steep
homeward hill he carried with him the written offer of an
engagement on the "Pioneer." As he entered the door his wife's
nurse and companion met him with a serious face. There had been a
strange and unexpected change in the patient's condition, and the
doctor had already been there twice. As he put aside his coat and
hat and entered her room, it seemed to him that he had forever put
aside all else of essay and ambition beyond those four walls. And
with the thought a great peace came upon him. It seemed good to
him to live for her alone.
It was not for long. As each monotonous day brought the morning
mist and evening fog regularly to the little hilltop where his
whole being was now centred, she seemed to grow daily weaker, and
the little circle of her life narrowed day by day. One morning
when the usual mist appeared to have been withheld and the sun had
risen with a strange and cruel brightness; when the waves danced
and sparkled on the bay below and light glanced from dazzling
sails, and even the white tombs on Lone Mountain glittered keenly;
when cheery voices hailing each other on the hillside came to him
clearly but without sense or meaning; when earth, sky, and sea
seemed quivering with life and motion,--he opened the door of that
one little house on which the only shadow seemed to have fallen,
and went forth again into the world alone.
Mr. Daniel Harcourt's town mansion was also on an eminence, but it
was that gentler acclivity of fashion known as Rincon Hill, and
sunned itself on a southern slope of luxury. It had been described
as "princely" and "fairy-like," by a grateful reporter; tourists
and travelers had sung its praises in letters to their friends and
in private reminiscences, for it had dispensed hospitality to most
of the celebrities who had visited the coast. Nevertheless its
charm was mainly due to the ruling taste of Miss Clementina
Harcourt, who had astonished her father by her marvelous intuition
of the nice requirements and elegant responsibilities of their
position; and had thrown her mother into the pained perplexity of a
matronly hen, who, among the ducks' eggs intrusted to her fostering
care, had unwittingly hatched a graceful but discomposing cygnet.
Indeed, after holding out feebly against the siege of wealth at
Tasajara and San Francisco, Mrs. Harcourt had abandoned herself
hopelessly to the horrors of its invasion; had allowed herself to
be dragged from her kitchen by her exultant daughters and set up in
black silk in a certain conventional respectability in the drawing-
room. Strange to say, her commiserating hospitality, or hospital-
like ministration, not only gave her popularity, but a certain kind
of distinction. An exaltation so sorrowfully deprecated by its
possessor was felt to be a sign of superiority. She was spoken of
as "motherly," even by those who vaguely knew that there was
somewhere a discarded son struggling in poverty with a helpless
wife, and that she had sided with her husband in disinheriting a
daughter who had married unwisely. She was sentimentally spoken of
as a "true wife," while never opposing a single meanness of her
husband, suggesting a single active virtue, nor questioning her
right to sacrifice herself and her family for his sake. With
nothing she cared to affect, she was quite free from affectation,
and even the critical Lawrence Grant was struck with the dignity
which her narrow simplicity, that had seemed small even in Sidon,
attained in her palatial hall in San Francisco. It appeared to be
a perfectly logical conclusion that when such unaffectedness and
simplicity were forced to assume a hostile attitude to anybody, the
latter must be to blame.
Since the festival of Tasajara Mr. Grant had been a frequent
visitor at Harcourt's, and was a guest on the eve of his departure
from San Francisco. The distinguished position of each made their
relations appear quite natural without inciting gossip as to any
attraction in Harcourt's daughters. It was late one afternoon as
he was passing the door of Harcourt's study that his host called
him in. He found him sitting at his desk with some papers before
him and a folded copy of the "Clarion." With his back to the
fading light of the window his face was partly in shadow.
"By the way, Grant," he began, with an assumption of carelessness
somewhat inconsistent with the fact that he had just called him in,
"it may be necessary for me to pull up those fellows who are
blackguarding me in the 'Clarion.'"
"Why, they haven't been saying anything new?" asked Grant,
laughingly, as he glanced towards the paper.
"No--that is--only a rehash of what they said before," returned
Harcourt without opening the paper.
"Well," said Grant playfully, "you don't mind their saying that
you're NOT the original pioneer of Tasajara, for it's true; nor
that that fellow 'Lige Curtis disappeared suddenly, for he did, if
I remember rightly. But there's nothing in that to invalidate your
rights to Tasajara, to say nothing of your five years' undisputed
"Of course there's no LEGAL question," said Harcourt almost sharply.
"But as a matter of absurd report, I may want to contradict their
insinuations. And YOU remember all the circumstances, don't you?"
"I should think so! Why, my dear fellow, I've told it everywhere!--
here, in New York, Newport, and in London; by Jove, it's one of my
best stories! How a company sent me out with a surveyor to look up
a railroad and agricultural possibilities in the wilderness; how
just as I found them--and a rather big thing they made, too--I was
set afloat by a flood and a raft, and drifted ashore on your bank,
and practically demonstrated to you what you didn't know and didn't
dare to hope for--that there could be a waterway straight to Sidon
from the embarcadero. I've told what a charming evening we had
with you and your daughters in the old house, and how I returned
your hospitality by giving you a tip about the railroad; and how
you slipped out while we were playing cards, to clinch the bargain
for the land with that drunken fellow, 'Lige Curtis"--
"What's that?" interrupted Harcourt, quickly.
It was well that the shadow hid from Grant the expression of
Harcourt's face, or his reply might have been sharper. As it was,
he answered a little stiffly:--
"I beg your pardon"--
Harcourt recovered himself. "You're all wrong!" he said, "that
bargain was made long BEFORE; I never saw 'Lige Curtis after you
came to the house. It was before that, in the afternoon," he went
on hurriedly, "that he was last in my store. I can prove it."
Nevertheless he was so shocked and indignant at being confronted in
his own suppressions and falsehoods by an even greater and more
astounding misconception of fact, that for a moment he felt
helpless. What, he reflected, if it were alleged that 'Lige had
returned again after the loafers had gone, or had never left the
store as had been said? Nonsense! There was John Milton, who had
been there reading all the time, and who could disprove it. Yes,
but John Milton was his discarded son,--his enemy,--perhaps even
his very slanderer!
"But," said Grant quietly, "don't you remember that your daughter
Euphemia said something that evening about the land Lige had
OFFERED you, and you snapped up the young lady rather sharply for
letting out secrets, and THEN you went out? At least that's my
It was, however, more than an impression; with Grant's scientific
memory for characteristic details he had noticed that particular
circumstance as part of the social phenomena.
"I don't know what Phemie SAID," returned Harcourt, impatiently.
"I KNOW there was no offer pending; the land had been sold to me
before I ever saw you. Why--you must have thought me up to pretty
sharp practice with Curtis--eh?" he added, with a forced laugh.
Grant smiled; he had been accustomed to hear of such sharp practice
among his business acquaintance, although he himself by nature and
profession was incapable of it, but he had not deemed Harcourt more
scrupulous than others. "Perhaps so," he said lightly, "but for
Heaven's sake don't ask me to spoil my reputation as a raconteur
for the sake of a mere fact or two. I assure you it's a mighty
taking story as I tell it--and it don't hurt you in a business way.
You're the hero of it--hang it all!"
"Yes," said Harcourt, without noticing Grant's half cynical
superiority, but you'll oblige me if you won't tell it again IN
THAT WAY. There are men here mean enough to make the worst of it.
It's nothing to me, of course, but my family--the girls, you know--
are rather sensitive."
"I had no idea they even knew it,--much less cared for it," said
Grant, with sudden seriousness. "I dare say if those fellows in
the "Clarion" knew that they were annoying the ladies they'd drop
it. Who's the editor? Look here--leave it to me; I'll look into
it. Better that you shouldn't appear in the matter at all."
"You understand that if it was a really serious matter, Grant,"
said Harcourt with a slight attitude, "I shouldn't allow any one to
take my place."
"My dear fellow, there'll be nobody 'called out' and no 'shooting
at sight,' whatever is the result of my interference," returned
Grant, lightly. "It'll be all right." He was quite aware of the
power of his own independent position and the fact that he had been
often appealed to before in delicate arbitration.
Harcourt was equally conscious of this, but by a strange
inconsistency now felt relieved at the coolness with which Grant
had accepted the misconception which had at first seemed so
dangerous. If he were ready to condone what he thought was SHARP
PRACTICE, he could not be less lenient with the real facts that
might come out,--of course always excepting that interpolated
consideration in the bill of sale, which, however, no one but the
missing Curtis could ever discover. The fact that a man of Grant's
secure position had interested himself in this matter would secure
him from the working of that personal vulgar jealousy which his
humbler antecedents had provoked. And if, as he fancied, Grant
really cared for Clementina--
"As you like," he said, with half-affected lightness, "and now let
us talk of something else. Clementina has been thinking of getting
up a riding party to San Mateo for Mrs. Ashwood. We must show them
some civility, and that Boston brother of hers, Mr. Shipley, will
have to be invited also. I can't get away, and my wife, of course,
will only be able to join them at San Mateo in the carriage. I
reckon it would be easier for Clementina if you took my place, and
helped her look after the riding party. It will need a man, and I
think she'd prefer you--as you know she's rather particular--
unless, of course, you'd be wanted for Mrs. Ashwood or Phemie, or
From his shadowed corner he could see that a pleasant light had
sprung into Grant's eyes, although his reply was in his ordinary
easy banter. "I shall be only too glad to act as Miss Clementina's
vaquero, and lasso her runaways, or keep stragglers in the road."
There seemed to be small necessity, however, for this active co-
operation, for when the cheerful cavalcade started from the house a
few mornings later, Mr. Lawrence Grant's onerous duties seemed to
be simply confined to those of an ordinary cavalier at the side of
Miss Clementina, a few paces in the rear of the party. But this
safe distance gave them the opportunity of conversing without being
overheard,--an apparently discreet precaution.
"Your father was so exceedingly affable to me the other day that if
I hadn't given you my promise to say nothing, I think I would have
fallen on my knees to him then and there, revealed my feelings,
asked for your hand and his blessing--or whatever one does at such
a time. But how long do you intend to keep me in this suspense?"
Clementina turned her clear eyes half abstractedly upon him, as if
imperfectly recalling some forgotten situation. "You forget," she
said, "that part of your promise was that you wouldn't even speak
of it to me again without my permission."
"But my time is so short now. Give me some definite hope before I
go. Let me believe that when we meet in New York"--
"You will find me just the same as now! Yes, I think I can promise
THAT. Let that suffice. You said the other day you liked me
because I had not changed for five years. You can surely trust
that I will not alter in as many months."
"If I only knew"--
"Ah, if I only knew,--if WE ALL only knew. But we don't. Come,
Mr. Grant, let it rest as it is. Unless you want to go still
further back and have it as it WAS, at Sidon. There I think you
fancied Euphemia most."
"That is my name, and those people ahead of us know it already."
"You are called CLEMENTINA,--but you are not merciful!"
"You are very wrong, for you might see that Mr. Shipley has twice
checked his horse that he might hear what you are saying, and
Phemie is always showing Mrs. Ashwood something in the landscape
All this was the more hopeless and exasperating to Grant since in
the young girl's speech and manner there was not the slightest
trace of coquetry or playfulness. He could not help saying a
little bitterly: "I don't think that any one would imagine from
your manner that you were receiving a declaration."
"But they might imagine from yours that you had the right to
quarrel with me,--which would be worse."
"We cannot part like this! It is too cruel to me."
"We cannot part otherwise without the risk of greater cruelty."
"But say at least, Clementina, that I have no rival. There is no
other more favored suitor?"
"That is so like a man--and yet so unlike the proud one I believed
you to be. Why should a man like you even consider such a
possibility? If I were a man I know I couldn't." She turned upon
him a glance so clear and untroubled by either conscious vanity or
evasion that he was hopelessly convinced of the truth of her
statement, and she went on in a slightly lowered tone, "You have no
right to ask me such a question,--but perhaps for that reason I am
willing to answer you. There is none. Hush! For a good rider you
are setting a poor example to the others, by crowding me towards
the bank. Go forward and talk to Phemie, and tell her not to worry
Mrs. Ashwood's horse nor race with her; I don't think he's quite
safe, and Mrs. Ashwood isn't accustomed to using the Spanish bit.
I suppose I must say something to Mr. Shipley, who doesn't seem to
understand that I'M acting as chaperon, and YOU as captain of the
She cantered forward as she spoke, and Grant was obliged to join
her sister, who, mounted on a powerful roan, was mischievously
exciting a beautiful quaker-colored mustang ridden by Mrs. Ashwood,
already irritated by the unfamiliar pressure of the Eastern woman's
hand upon his bit. The thick dust which had forced the party of
twenty to close up in two solid files across the road compelled
them at the first opening in the roadside fence to take the field
in a straggling gallop. Grant, eager to escape from his own
discontented self by doing something for others, reined in beside
Euphemia and the fair stranger.
"Let me take your place until Mrs. Ashwood's horse is quieted," he
half whispered to Euphemia.
"Thank you,--and I suppose it does not make any matter to Clem who
quiets mine," she said, with provoking eyes and a toss of her head
worthy of the spirited animal she was riding.
"She thinks you quite capable of managing yourself and even
others," he replied with a playful glance at Shipley, who was
riding somewhat stiffly on the other side.
"Don't be too sure," retorted Phemie with another dangerous look;
"I may give you trouble yet."
They were approaching the first undulation of the russet plain they
had emerged upon,--an umbrageous slope that seemed suddenly to
diverge in two defiles among the shaded hills. Grant had given a
few words of practical advice to Mrs. Ashwood, and shown her how to
guide her mustang by the merest caressing touch of the rein upon
its sensitive neck. He had not been sympathetically inclined
towards the fair stranger, a rich and still youthful widow,
although he could not deny her unquestioned good breeding, mental
refinement, and a certain languorous thoughtfulness that was almost
melancholy, which accented her blonde delicacy. But he had noticed
that her manner was politely reserved and slightly constrained
towards the Harcourts, and he had already resented it with a lover's
instinctive loyalty. He had at first attributed it to a want of
sympathy between Mrs. Ashwood's more intellectual sentimentalities
and the Harcourts' undeniable lack of any sentiment whatever. But
there was evidently some other innate antagonism. He was very
polite to Mrs. Ashwood; she responded with a gentlewoman's courtesy,
and, he was forced to admit, even a broader comprehension of his own
merits than the Harcourt girls had ever shown, but he could still
detect that she was not in accord with the party.
"I am afraid you do not like California, Mrs. Ashwood?" he said
pleasantly. "You perhaps find the life here too unrestrained and
She looked at him in quick astonishment. "Are you quite sincere?
Why, it strikes me that this is just what it is NOT. And I have so
longed for something quite different. From what I have been told
about the originality and adventure of everything here, and your
independence of old social forms and customs, I am afraid I
expected the opposite of what I've seen. Why, this very party--
except that the ladies are prettier and more expensively gotten up--
is like any party that might have ridden out at Saratoga or New
"And as stupid, you would say."
"As CONVENTIONAL, Mr. Grant; always excepting this lovely creature
beneath me, whom I can't make out and who doesn't seem to care that
I should. There! look! I told you so!"
Her mustang had suddenly bounded forward; but as Grant followed he
could see that the cause was the example of Phemie, who had, in
some mad freak, dashed out in a frantic gallop. A half-dozen of
the younger people hilariously accepted the challenge; the
excitement was communicated to the others, until the whole
cavalcade was sweeping down the slope. Grant was still at Mrs.
Ashwood's side, restraining her mustang and his own impatient horse
when Clementina joined them. "Phemie's mare has really bolted, I
fear," she said in a quick whisper, "ride on, and never mind us."
Grant looked quickly ahead; Phemie's roan, excited by the shouts
behind her and to all appearance ungovernable, was fast disappearing
with her rider. Without a word, trusting to his own good
horsemanship and better knowledge of the ground, he darted out of
the cavalcade to overtake her.
But the unfortunate result of this was to give further impulse to
the now racing horses as they approached a point where the slope
terminated in two diverging canyons. Mrs. Ashwood gave a sharp
pull upon her bit. To her consternation the mustang stopped short
almost instantly,--planting his two fore feet rigidly in the dust
and even sliding forward with the impetus. Had her seat been less
firm she might have been thrown, but she recovered herself,
although in doing so she still bore upon the bit, when to her
astonishment the mustang deliberately stiffened himself as if for a
shock, and then began to back slowly, quivering with excitement.
She did not know that her native-bred animal fondly believed that
he was participating in a rodeo, and that to his equine intelligence
his fair mistress had just lassoed something! In vain she urged him
forward; he still waited for the shock! When the cloud of dust in
which she had been enwrapped drifted away, she saw to her amazement
that she was alone. The entire party had disappeared into one of
the canyons,--but which one she could not tell!
When she succeeded at last in urging her mustang forward again she
determined to take the right-hand canyon and trust to being either
met or overtaken. A more practical and less adventurous nature
would have waited at the point of divergence for the return of some
of the party, but Mrs. Ashwood was, in truth, not sorry to be left
to herself and the novel scenery for a while, and she had no doubt
but she would eventually find her way to the hotel at San Mateo,
which could not be far away, in time for luncheon.
The road was still well defined, although it presently began to
wind between ascending ranks of pines and larches that marked the
terraces of hills, so high that she wondered she had not noticed
them from the plains. An unmistakable suggestion of some haunting
primeval solitude, a sense of the hushed and mysterious proximity
of a nature she had never known before, the strange half-
intoxicating breath of unsunned foliage and untrodden grasses and
herbs, all combined to exalt her as she cantered forward. Even her
horse seemed to have acquired an intelligent liberty, or rather to
have established a sympathy with her in his needs and her own
longings; instinctively she no longer pulled him with the curb; the
reins hung loosely on his self-arched and unfettered neck; secure
in this loneliness she found herself even talking to him with
barbaric freedom. As she went on, the vague hush of all things
animate and inanimate around her seemed to thicken, until she
unconsciously halted before a dim and pillared wood, and a vast and
heathless opening on whose mute brown lips Nature seemed to have
laid the finger of silence. She forgot the party she had left, she
forgot the luncheon she was going to; more important still she
forgot that she had already left the traveled track far behind her,
and, tremulous with anticipation, rode timidly into that arch of
As her horse's hoofs fell noiselessly on the elastic moss-carpeted
aisle she forgot even more than that. She forgot the artificial
stimulus and excitement of the life she had been leading so long;
she forgot the small meannesses and smaller worries of her well-to-
do experiences; she forgot herself,--rather she regained a self she
had long forgotten. For in the sweet seclusion of this half
darkened sanctuary the clinging fripperies of her past slipped from
her as a tawdry garment. The petted, spoiled, and vapidly
precocious girlhood which had merged into a womanhood of aimless
triumphs and meaner ambitions; the worldly but miserable triumph of
a marriage that had left her delicacy abused and her heart sick and
unsatisfied; the wifehood without home, seclusion, or maternity;
the widowhood that at last brought relief, but with it the
consciousness of hopelessly wasted youth,--all this seemed to drop
from her here as lightly as the winged needles or noiseless
withered spray from the dim gray vault above her head. In the
sovereign balm of that woodland breath her better spirit was
restored; somewhere in these wholesome shades seemed to still lurk
what should have been her innocent and nymph-like youth, and to
come out once more and greet her. Old songs she had forgotten, or
whose music had failed in the discords of her frivolous life, sang
themselves to her again in that sweet, grave silence; girlish
dreams that she had foolishly been ashamed of, or had put away with
her childish toys, stole back to her once more and became real in
this tender twilight; old fancies, old fragments of verse and
childish lore, grew palpable and moved faintly before her. The
boyish prince who should have come was there; the babe that should
have been hers was there!--she stopped suddenly with flaming eyes
and indignant color. For it appeared that a MAN was there too, and
had just risen from the fallen tree where he had been sitting.
She had so far forgotten herself in yielding to the spell of the
place, and in the revelation of her naked soul and inner nature,
that it was with something of the instinct of outraged modesty that
she seemed to shrink before this apparition of the outer world and
outer worldliness. In an instant the nearer past returned; she
remembered where she was, how she had come there, from whom she had
come, and to whom she was returning. She could see that she had
not only aimlessly wandered from the world but from the road; and
for that instant she hated this man who had reminded her of it,
even while she knew she must ask his assistance. It relieved her
slightly to observe that he seemed as disturbed and impatient as
herself, and as he took a pencil from between his lips and returned
it to his pocket he scarcely looked at her.
But with her return to the world of convenances came its repression,
and with a gentlewoman's ease and modulated voice she leaned over
her mustang's neck and said: "I have strayed from my party and am
afraid I have lost my way. We were going to the hotel at San Mateo.
Would you be kind enough to direct me there, or show me how I can
regain the road by which I came?"
Her voice and manner were quite enough to arrest him where he stood
with a pleased surprise in his fresh and ingenuous face. She
looked at him more closely. He was, in spite of his long silken
mustache, so absurdly young; he might, in spite of that youth, be
so absurdly man-like! What was he doing there? Was he a farmer's
son, an artist, a surveyor, or a city clerk out for a holiday? Was
there perhaps a youthful female of his species somewhere for whom
he was waiting and upon whose tryst she was now breaking? Was he--
terrible thought!--the outlying picket of some family picnic? His
dress, neat, simple, free from ostentatious ornament, betrayed
nothing. She waited for his voice.
"Oh, you have left San Mateo miles away to the right," he said with
quick youthful sympathy, "at least five miles! Where did you leave
His voice was winning, and even refined, she thought. She answered
it quite spontaneously: "At a fork of two roads. I see now I took
the wrong turning."
"Yes, you took the road to Crystal Spring. It's just down there in
the valley, not more than a mile. You'd have been there now if you
hadn't turned off at the woods."
"I couldn't help it, it was so beautiful."
"And such shadows, and such intensity of color."
"Wonderful!--and all along the ridge, looking down that defile!"
"Yes, and that point where it seems as if you had only to stretch
out your hand to pick a manzanita berry from the other side of the
canyon, half a mile across!"
"Yes, and that first glimpse of the valley through the Gothic
gateway of rocks!"
"And the color of those rocks,--cinnamon and bronze with the light
green of the Yerba buena vine splashing over them."
"Yes, but for color DID you notice that hillside of yellow poppies
pouring down into the valley like a golden Niagara?"
"Certainly,--and the perfect clearness of everything."
"And yet such complete silence and repose!"
They were both gravely nodding and shaking their heads with
sparkling eyes and brightened color, looking not at each other but
at the far landscape vignetted through a lozenge-shaped wind
opening in the trees. Suddenly Mrs. Ashwood straightened herself
in the saddle, looked grave, lifted the reins and apparently the
ten years with them that had dropped from her. But she said in her
easiest well-bred tones, and a half sigh, "Then I must take the
road back again to where it forks?"
"Oh, no! you can go by Crystal Spring. It's no further, and I'll
show you the way. But you'd better stop and rest yourself and your
horse for a little while at the Springs Hotel. It's a very nice
place. Many people ride there from San Francisco to luncheon and
return. I wonder that your party didn't prefer it; and if they are
looking for you,--as they surely must be," he said, as if with a
sudden conception of her importance, "they'll come there when they
find you're not at San Mateo."
This seemed reasonable, although the process of being "fetched" and
taking the five miles ride, which she had enjoyed so much alone, in
company was not attractive. "Couldn't I go on at once?" she said
"You would meet them sooner," he said thoughtfully.
This was quite enough for Mrs. Ashwood. "I think I'll rest this
poor horse, who is really tired," she, said with charming hypocrisy,
"and stop at the hotel."
She saw his face brighten. Perhaps he was the son of the hotel
proprietor, or a youthful partner himself. "I suppose you live
here?" she suggested gently. "You seem to know the place so well."
"No," he returned quickly; "I only run down here from San Francisco
when I can get a day off."
A day off! He was in some regular employment. But he continued:
"And I used to go to boarding-school near here, and know all these
He must be a native! How odd! She had not conceived that there
might be any other population here than the immigrants; perhaps
that was what made him so interesting and different from the
others. "Then your father and mother live here?" she said.
His frank face, incapable of disguise, changed suddenly. "No," he
said simply, but without any trace of awkwardness. Then after a
slight pause he laid his hand--she noticed it was white and well
kept--on her mustang's neck, and said, "If--if you care to trust
yourself to me, I could lead you and your horse down a trail into
the valley that is at least a third of the distance shorter. It
would save you going back to the regular road, and there are one or
two lovely views that I could show you. I should be so pleased, if
it would not trouble you. There's a steep place or two--but I
think there's no danger."
"I shall not be afraid."
She smiled so graciously, and, as she fully believed, maternally,
that he looked at her the second time. To his first hurried
impression of her as an elegant and delicately nurtured woman--one
of the class of distinguished tourists that fashion was beginning
to send thither--he had now to add that she had a quantity of fine
silken-spun light hair gathered in a heavy braid beneath her gray
hat; that her mouth was very delicately lipped and beautifully
sensitive; that her soft skin, although just then touched with
excitement, was a pale faded velvet, and seemed to be worn with
ennui rather than experience; that her eyes were hidden behind a
strip of gray veil whence only a faint glow was discernible. To
this must still be added a poetic fancy all his own that, as she
sat there, with the skirt of her gray habit falling from her long
bodiced waist over the mustang's fawn-colored flanks, and with her
slim gauntleted hands lightly swaying the reins, she looked like
Queen Guinevere in the forest. Not that he particularly fancied
Queen Guinevere, or that he at all imagined himself Launcelot, but
it was quite in keeping with the suggestion-haunted brain of John
Milton Harcourt, whom the astute reader has of course long since
Preceding her through the soft carpeted vault with a woodman's
instinct,--for there was apparently no trail to be seen,--the soft
inner twilight began to give way to the outer stronger day, and
presently she was startled to see the clear blue of the sky before
her on apparently the same level as the brown pine-tessellated
floor she was treading. Not only did this show her that she was
crossing a ridge of the upland, but a few moments later she had
passed beyond the woods to a golden hillside that sloped towards a
leafy, sheltered, and exquisitely-proportioned valley. A tiny but
picturesque tower, and a few straggling roofs and gables, the
flashing of a crystal stream through the leaves, and a narrow white
ribbon of road winding behind it indicated the hostelry they were
seeking. So peaceful and unfrequented it looked, nestling between
the hills, that it seemed as if they had discovered it.
With his hand at times upon the bridle, at others merely caressing
her mustang's neck, he led the way; there were a few breathless
places where the crown of his straw hat appeared between her
horse's reins, and again when she seemed almost slipping over on
his shoulder, but they were passed with such frank fearlessness and
invincible youthful confidence on the part of her escort that she
felt no timidity. There were moments when a bit of the charmed
landscape unfolding before them overpowered them both, and they
halted to gaze,--sometimes without a word, or only a significant
gesture of sympathy and attention. At one of those artistic
manifestations Mrs. Ashwood laid her slim gloved fingers lightly
but unwittingly on John Milton's arm, and withdrew them, however,
with a quick girlish apology and a foolish color which annoyed her
more than the appearance of familiarity. But they were now getting
well down into the valley; the court of the little hotel was
already opening before them; their unconventional relations in the
idyllic world above had changed; the new one required some delicacy
of handling, and she had an idea that even the simplicity of the
young stranger might be confusing.
"I must ask you to continue to act as my escort," she said,
laughingly. "I am Mrs. Ashwood of Philadelphia, visiting San
Francisco with my sister and brother, who are, I am afraid, even
now hopelessly waiting luncheon for me at San Mateo. But as there
seems to be no prospect of my joining them in time, I hope you will