Part 3 out of 8
"His share in the Union Ditch is worth a hundred thousand dollars,"
continued her father; "and if he isn't nominated for district judge
this fall, he's bound to go to the legislature, any way. I don't think
a girl with your advantages and education can afford to throw away the
chance of shining in Sacramento, San Francisco, or, in good time,
perhaps even Washington."
Miss Nellie's eyes did not reflect entire disapproval of this
suggestion, although she replied with something of her father's
"Mr. Dunn is not out of his bed yet, and they say Teresa's got away to
Arizona, so there isn't any particular hurry."
"Perhaps not; but see here, Nellie, I've some important news for you.
You know your young friend of the Carquinez Woods--Dorman, the
botanist, eh? Well, Brace knows all about him. And what do you think he
Miss Nellie took upon herself a few extra degrees of cold, and didn't
"An Injin! Yes, an out-and-out Cherokee. You see he calls himself
Dorman--Low Dorman. That's only French for 'Sleeping Water,' his Injin
"You mean 'L'Eau Dormante,'" said Nellie.
"That's what I said. The chief called him 'Sleeping Water' when he was
a boy, and one of them French Canadian trappers translated it into
French when he brought him to California to school. But he's an Injin,
sure. No wonder he prefers to live in the woods."
"Well?" said Nellie.
"Well," echoed her father impatiently, "he's an Injin, I tell you, and
you can't of course have anything to do with him. He mustn't come here
"But you forget," said Nellie imperturbably, "that it was you who
invited him here, and were so much exercised over him. You remember you
introduced him to the Bishop and those Eastern clergymen as a
magnificent specimen of a young Californian. You forget what an
occasion you made of his coming to church on Sunday, and how you made
him come in his buckskin shirt and walk down the street with you after
"Yes, yes," said the Rev. Mr. Wynn hurriedly.
"And," continued Nellie carelessly, "how you made us sing out of the
same book 'Children of our Father's Fold,' and how you preached at him
until he actually got a color!"
"Yes," said her father; "but it wasn't known then he was an Injin, and
they are frightfully unpopular with those Southwestern men among whom
we labor. Indeed, I am quite convinced that when Brace said 'the only
good Indian was a dead one' his expression, though extravagant,
perhaps, really voiced the sentiments of the majority. It would be only
kindness to the unfortunate creature to warn him from exposing himself
to their rude but conscientious antagonism."
"Perhaps you'd better tell him, then, in your own popular way, which
they all seem to understand so well," responded the daughter. Mr. Wynn
cast a quick glance at her, but there was no trace of irony in her
face--nothing but a half-bored indifference as she walked toward the
"I will go with you to the coach-office," said her father, who
generally gave these simple paternal duties the pronounced character of
a public Christian example.
"It's hardly worth while," replied Miss Nellie. "I've to stop at the
Watsons', at the foot of the hill, and ask after the baby; so I shall
go on to the Crossing and pick up the coach as it passes. Good-by."
Nevertheless, as soon as Nellie had departed, the Rev. Mr. Wynn
proceeded to the coach-office, and publicly grasping the hand of Yuba
Bill, the driver, commended his daughter to his care in the name of the
universal brotherhood of man and the Christian fraternity. Carried away
by his heartiness, he forgot his previous caution, and confided to the
expressman Miss Nellie's regrets that she was not to have that
gentleman's company. The result was that Miss Nellie found the coach
with its passengers awaiting her with uplifted hats and wreathed smiles
at the Crossing, and the box-seat (from which an unfortunate stranger,
who had expensively paid for it, had been summarily ejected) at her
service beside Yuba Bill, who had thrown away his cigar and donned a
new pair of buckskin gloves to do her honor. But a more serious result
to the young beauty was the effect of the Rev. Mr. Wynn's confidences
upon the impulsive heart of Jack Brace, the expressman. It has been
already intimated that it was his "day off." Unable to summarily
reassume his usual functions beside the driver without some practical
reason, and ashamed to go so palpably as a mere passenger, he was
forced to let the coach proceed without him. Discomfited for the
moment, he was not, however, beaten. He had lost the blissful journey
by her side, which would have been his professional right, but--she was
going to Indian Spring! could he not anticipate her there? Might they
not meet in the most accidental manner? And what might not come from
that meeting away from the prying eyes of their own town? Mr. Brace did
not hesitate, but saddling his fleet Buckskin, by the time the
stagecoach had passed the Crossing in the high-road he had mounted the
hill and was dashing along the "cut-off" in the same direction, a full
mile in advance. Arriving at Indian Spring, he left his horse at a
Mexican _posada_ on the confines of the settlement, and from the piled
_debris_ of a tunnel excavation awaited the slow arrival of the coach.
On mature reflection he could give no reason why he had not boldly
awaited it at the express office, except a certain bashful
consciousness of his own folly, and a belief that it might be glaringly
apparent to the bystanders. When the coach arrived and he had overcome
this consciousness, it was too late. Yuba Bill had discharged his
passengers for Indian Spring and driven away. Miss Nellie was in the
settlement, but where? As time passed he became more desperate and
bolder. He walked recklessly up and down the main street, glancing in
at the open doors of shops, and even in the windows of private
dwellings. It might have seemed a poor compliment to Miss Nellie, but
it was an evidence of his complete preoccupation, when the sight of a
female face at a window, even though it was plain or perhaps painted,
caused his heart to bound, or the glancing of a skirt in the distance
quickened his feet and his pulses. Had Jack contented himself with
remaining at Excelsior he might have vaguely regretted, but as soon
become as vaguely accustomed to, Miss Nellie's absence. But it was not
until his hitherto quiet and passive love took this first step of
action that it fully declared itself. When he had made the tour of the
town a dozen times unsuccessfully, he had perfectly made up his mind
that marriage with Nellie or the speedy death of several people,
including possibly himself, was the only alternative. He regretted he
had not accompanied her; he regretted he had not demanded where she was
going; he contemplated a course of future action that two hours ago
would have filled him with bashful terror. There was clearly but one
thing to do--to declare his passion the instant he met her, and return
with her to Excelsior an accepted suitor, or not to return at all.
Suddenly he was vexatiously conscious of hearing his name lazily
called, and looking up found that he was on the outskirts of the town,
and interrogated by two horsemen.
"Got down to walk, and the coach got away from you, Jack, eh?"
A little ashamed of his preoccupation, Brace stammered something about
"collections." He did not recognize the men, but his own face, name,
and business were familiar to everybody for fifty miles along the
"Well, you can settle a bet for us, I reckon. Bill Dacre thar bet me
five dollars and the drinks that a young gal we met at the edge of the
Carquinez Woods, dressed in a long brown duster and half muffled up in
a hood, was the daughter of Father Wynn of Excelsior. I did not get a
fair look at her, but it stands to reason that a high-toned young lady
like Nellie Wynn don't go trap'sing along the wood like a Pike County
tramp. I took the bet. May be you know if she's here or in Excelsior?"
Mr. Brace felt himself turning pale with eagerness and excitement. But
the near prospect of seeing her presently gave him back his caution,
and he answered truthfully that he had left her in Excelsior, and that
in his two hours' sojourn in Indian Spring he had not once met her.
"But," he added, with a Californian's reverence for the sanctity of a
bet, "I reckon you'd better make it a standoff for twenty-four hours,
and I'll find out and let you know." Which, it is only fair to say, he
honestly intended to do.
With a hurried nod of parting, he continued in the direction of the
Woods. When he had satisfied himself that the strangers had entered the
settlement and would not follow him for further explanation, he
quickened his pace. In half an hour he passed between two of the
gigantic sentinels that guarded the entrance to a trail. Here he paused
to collect his thoughts. The Woods were vast in extent, the trail dim
and uncertain--at times apparently breaking off, or intersecting
another trail as faint as itself. Believing that Miss Nellie had
diverged from the highway only as a momentary excursion into the shade,
and that she would not dare to penetrate its more sombre and unknown
recesses, he kept within sight of the skirting plain. By degrees the
sedate influence of the silent vaults seemed to depress him. The ardor
of the chase began to flag. Under the calm of their dim roof the fever
of his veins began to subside; his pace slackened; he reasoned more
deliberately. It was by no means probable that the young woman in a
brown duster was Nellie; it was not her habitual traveling dress; it
was not like her to walk unattended in the road; there was nothing in
her tastes and habits to take her into this gloomy forest, allowing
that she had even entered it; and on this absolute question of her
identity the two witnesses were divided. He stopped irresolutely, and
cast a last, long, half-despairing look around him. Hitherto he had
given that part of the wood nearest the plain his greatest attention.
His glance now sought its darker recesses. Suddenly he became
breathless. Was it a beam of sunlight that had pierced the groined roof
above, and now rested against the trunk of one of the dimmer, more
secluded giants? No, it was moving; even as he gazed it slipped away,
glanced against another tree, passed across one of the vaulted aisles,
and then was lost again. Brief as was the glimpse, he was not
mistaken--it was the figure of a woman.
In another moment he was on her track, and soon had the satisfaction of
seeing her reappear at a lesser distance. But the continual
intervention of the massive trunks made the chase by no means an easy
one, and as he could not keep her always in sight he was unable to
follow or understand the one intelligent direction which she seemed to
invariably keep. Nevertheless, he gained upon her breathlessly, and,
thanks to the bark-strewn floor, noiselessly. He was near enough to
distinguish and recognize the dress she wore, a pale yellow, that he
had admired when he first saw her. It was Nellie, unmistakably; if it
were she of the brown duster, she had discarded it, perhaps for greater
freedom. He was near enough to call out now, but a sudden nervous
timidity overcame him; his lips grew dry. What should he say to her?
How account for his presence? "Miss Nellie, one moment!" he gasped. She
darted forward and--vanished.
At this moment he was not more than a dozen yards from her. He rushed
to where she had been standing, but her disappearance was perfect and
complete. He made a circuit of the group of trees within whose radius
she had last appeared, but there was neither trace of her, nor
suggestion of her mode of escape. He called aloud to her; the vacant
Woods let his helpless voice die in their unresponsive depths. He gazed
into the air and down at the bark-strewn carpet at his feet. Like most
of his vocation, he was sparing of speech, and epigrammatic after his
fashion. Comprehending in one swift but despairing flash of
intelligence the existence of some fateful power beyond his own weak
endeavor, he accepted its logical result with characteristic grimness,
threw his hat upon the ground, put his hands in his pockets, and said--
"Well, I'm d----d!"
Out of compliment to Miss Nellie Wynn, Yuba Bill, on reaching Indian
Spring, had made a slight _detour_ to enable him to ostentatiously set
down his fair passenger before the door of the Burnhams. When it had
closed on the admiring eyes of the passengers and the coach had rattled
away, Miss Nellie, without any undue haste or apparent change in her
usual quiet demeanor, managed, however, to dispatch her business
promptly, and, leaving an impression that she would call again before
her return to Excelsior, parted from her friends, and slipped away
through a side street, to the General Furnishing Store of Indian
Spring. In passing this emporium, Miss Nellie's quick eye had
discovered a cheap brown linen duster hanging in its window. To
purchase it, and put it over her delicate cambric dress, albeit with a
shivering sense that she looked like a badly-folded brown-paper parcel,
did not take long. As she left the shop it was with mixed emotions of
chagrin and security that she noticed that her passage through the
settlement no longer turned the heads of its male inhabitants. She
reached the outskirts of Indian Spring and the high-road at about the
time Mr. Brace had begun his fruitless patrol of the main street. Far
in the distance a faint olive-green table mountain seemed to rise
abruptly from the plain. It was the Carquinez Woods. Gathering her
spotless skirts beneath her extemporized brown domino, she set out
briskly towards them.
But her progress was scarcely free or exhilarating. She was not
accustomed to walking in a country where "buggy-riding" was considered
the only genteel young, lady-like mode of progression, and its regular
provision the expected courtesy of mankind. Always fastidiously booted,
her low-quartered shoes were charming to the eye, but hardly adapted to
the dust and inequalities of the high-road. It was true that she had
thought of buying a coarser pair at Indian Spring, but once face to
face with their uncompromising ugliness, she had faltered and fled. The
sun was unmistakably hot, but her parasol was too well known and
offered too violent a contrast to the duster for practical use. Once
she stopped with an exclamation of annoyance, hesitated, and looked
back. In half an hour she had twice lost her shoe and her temper; a
pink flush took possession of her cheeks, and her eyes were bright with
suppressed rage. Dust began to form grimy circles around their orbits;
with cat-like shivers she even felt it pervade the roots of her blonde
hair. Gradually her breath grew more rapid and hysterical, her smarting
eyes became humid, and at last, encountering two observant horsemen in
the road, she turned and fled, until, reaching the wood, she began to
Nevertheless she waited for the two horsemen to pass, to satisfy
herself that she was not followed; then pushed on vaguely, until she
reached a fallen tree, where, with a gesture of disgust, she tore off
her hapless duster and flung it on the ground. She then sat down
sobbing, but after a moment dried her eyes hurriedly and started to her
feet. A few paces distant, erect, noiseless, with outstretched hand,
the young solitary of the Carquinez Woods advanced towards her. His
hand had almost touched hers, when he stopped.
"What has happened?" he asked gravely.
"Nothing," she said, turning half away, and searching the ground with
her eyes, as if she had lost something. "Only I must be going back
"You shall go back at once, if you wish it," he said, flushing
slightly. "But you have been crying; why?"
Frank as Miss Nellie wished to be, she could not bring herself to say
that her feet hurt her, and the dust and heat were ruining her
complexion. It was therefore with a half-confident belief that her
troubles were really of a moral quality that she answered,
"Nothing--nothing, but--but--it's wrong to come here."
"But you did not think it was wrong when you agreed to come, at our
last meeting," said the young man, with that persistent logic which
exasperates the inconsequent feminine mind. "It cannot be any more
"But it was not so far off," murmured the young girl, without looking
"Oh, the distance makes it more improper, then," he said abstractedly;
but after a moment's contemplation of her half-averted face, he asked
gravely, "Has any one talked to you about me?"
Ten minutes before, Nellie had been burning to unburden herself of her
father's warning, but now she felt she would not. "I wish you wouldn't
call yourself Low," she said at last.
"But it's my name," he replied quietly.
"Nonsense! It's only a stupid translation of a stupid nickname. They
might as well call you 'Water' at once."
"But you said you liked it."
"Well, so I do. But don't you see--I--oh dear! you don't understand."
Low did not reply, but turned his head with resigned gravity towards
the deeper woods. Grasping the barrel of his rifle with his left hand,
he threw his right arm across his left wrist and leaned slightly upon
it with the habitual ease of a Western hunter--doubly picturesque m his
own lithe, youthful symmetry. Miss Nellie looked at him from under her
eyelids, and then half defiantly raised her head and her dark lashes.
Gradually an almost magical change came over her features; her eyes
grew larger and more and more yearning, until they seemed to draw and
absorb in their liquid depths the figure of the young man before her;
her cold face broke into an ecstasy of light and color; her humid lips
parted in a bright, welcoming smile, until, with an irresistible
impulse, she arose, and throwing back her head stretched towards him
two hands full of vague and trembling passion.
In another moment he had seized them, kissed them, and, as he drew her
closer to his embrace, felt them tighten around his neck. "But what
name do you wish to call me?" he asked, looking down into her eyes.
Miss Nellie murmured something confidentially to the third button of
his hunting-shirt. "But that," he replied, with a faint smile, "_that_
wouldn't be any more practical, and you wouldn't want others to call me
dar--" Her fingers loosened around his neck, she drew her head back,
and a singular expression passed over her face, which to any calmer
observer than a lover would have seemed, however, to indicate more
curiosity than jealousy.
"Who else _does_ call you so?" she added earnestly. "How many, for
Low's reply was addressed not to her ear, but her lips. She did not
avoid it, but added, "And do you kiss them all like that?" Taking him
by the shoulders, she held him a little way from her, and gazed at him
from head to foot. Then drawing him again to her embrace, she said, "I
don't care, at least no woman has kissed you like that." Happy,
dazzled, and embarrassed, he was beginning to stammer the truthful
protestation that rose to his lips, but she stopped him: "No, don't
protest! say nothing! Let _me_ love _you_--that is all. It is enough."
He would have caught her in his arms again, but she drew back. "We are
near the road," she said quietly. "Come! you promised to show me where
you camped. Let us make the most of our holiday. In an hour I must
leave the woods."
"But I shall accompany you, dearest."
"No, I must go as I came--alone."
"I tell you no," she said, with an almost harsh practical decision,
incompatible with her previous abandonment. "We might be seen
"Well, suppose we are; we must be seen together eventually," he
The young girl made an involuntary gesture of impatient negation, but
checked herself. "Don't let us talk of that now. Come, while I am here
under your own roof"--she pointed to the high interlaced boughs above
them--"you must be hospitable. Show me your home; tell me, isn't it a
little gloomy sometimes?"
"It never has been; I never thought it _would_ be until the moment you
leave it to-day."
She pressed his hand briefly and in a half-perfunctory way, as if her
vanity had accepted and dismissed the compliment. "Take me somewhere,"
she said inquisitively, "where you stay most; I do not seem to see you
_here_," she added, looking around her with a slight shiver. "It is so
big and so high. Have you no place where you eat and rest and sleep?"
"Except in the rainy season, I camp all over the place--at any spot
where I may have been shooting or collecting."
"Collecting?" queried Nellie.
"Yes; with the herbarium, you know."
"Yes," said Nellie dubiously. "But you told me once--the first time we
ever talked together," she added, looking in his eyes--"something about
your keeping your things like a squirrel in a tree. Could we not go
there? Is there not room for us to sit and talk without being
browbeaten and looked down upon by these supercilious trees?"
"It's too far away," said Low truthfully, but with a somewhat
pronounced emphasis, "much too far for you just now; and it lies on
another trail that enters the wood beyond. But come, I will show you a
spring known only to myself, the wood ducks, and the squirrels. I
discovered it the first day I saw you, and gave it your name. But you
shall christen it yourself. It will be all yours, and yours alone, for
it is so hidden and secluded that I defy any feet but my own or whoso
shall keep step with mine to find it. Shall that foot be yours,
Her face beamed with a bright assent. "It may be difficult to track it
from here," he said, "but stand where you are a moment, and don't move,
rustle, nor agitate the air in any way. The woods are still now." He
turned at right angles with the trail, moved a few paces into the ferns
and underbrush, and then stopped with his finger on his lips. For an
instant both remained motionless; then, with his intent face bent
forward and both arms extended, he began to sink slowly upon one knee
and one side, inclining his body with a gentle, perfectly-graduated
movement until his ear almost touched the ground. Nellie watched his
graceful figure breathlessly, until, like a bow unbent, he stood
suddenly erect again, and beckoned to her without changing the
direction of his face.
"What is it?" she asked eagerly.
"All right; I have found it," he continued, moving forward without
turning his head.
"But how? What did you kneel for?" He did not reply, but taking her
hand in his continued to move slowly on through the underbrush, as if
obeying some magnetic attraction. "How did you find it?" again asked
the half-awed girl, her voice unconsciously falling to a whisper. Still
silent, Low kept his rigid face and forward tread for twenty yards
further; then he stopped and released the girl's half-impatient hand.
"How did you find it?" she repeated sharply.
"With my ears and nose," replied Low gravely.
"With your nose?"
"Yes; I smelt it."
Still fresh with the memory of his picturesque attitude, the young
man's reply seemed to involve something more irritating to her feelings
than even that absurd anti-climax. She looked at him coldly and
critically, and appeared to hesitate whether to proceed. "Is it far?"
"Not more than ten minutes now, as I shall go."
"And you won't have to smell your way again?"
"No; it is quite plain now," he answered seriously, the young girl's
sarcasm slipping harmlessly from his Indian stolidity. "Don't you smell
But Miss Nellie's thin, cold nostrils refused to take that vulgar
"Nor hear it? Listen!"
"You forget I suffer the misfortune of having been brought up under a
roof," she replied coldly.
"That's true," repeated Low, in all seriousness; "it's not your fault.
But do you know, I sometimes think I am peculiarly sensitive to water;
I feel it miles away. At night, though I may not see it or even know
where it is, I am conscious of it. It is company to me when I am alone,
and I seem to hear it in my dreams. There is no music as sweet to me as
its song. When you sang with me that day in church, I seemed to hear it
ripple in your voice. It says to me more than the birds do, more than
the rarest plants I find. It seems to live with me and for me. It is my
earliest recollection; I know it will be my last, for I shall die in
its embrace. Do you think, Nellie," he continued, stopping short and
gazing earnestly in her face--"do you think that the chiefs knew this
when they called me 'Sleeping Water'?"
To Miss Nellie's several gifts I fear the gods had not added poetry. A
slight knowledge of English verse of a select character, unfortunately,
did not assist her in the interpretation of the young man's speech, nor
relieve her from the momentary feeling that he was at times deficient
in intellect. She preferred, however, to take a personal view of the
question, and expressed her sarcastic regret that she had not known
before that she had been indebted to the great flume and ditch at
Excelsior for the pleasure of his acquaintance. This pert remark
occasioned some explanation, which ended in the girl's accepting a kiss
in lieu of more logical argument. Nevertheless, she was still conscious
of an inward irritation--always distinct from her singular and
perfectly material passion--which found vent as the difficulties of
their undeviating progress through the underbrush increased. At last
she lost her shoe again, and stopped short. "It's a pity your Indian
friends did not christen you 'Wild Mustard' or 'Clover,'" she said
satirically, "that you might have had some sympathies and longings for
the open fields instead of these horrid jungles! I know we will not get
back in time."
Unfortunately, Low accepted this speech literally and with his
remorseless gravity. "If my name annoys you, I can get it changed by
the legislature, you know, and I can find out what my father's name
was, and take that. My mother, who died in giving me birth, was the
daughter of a chief."
"Then your mother was really an Indian?" said Nellie, "and you
are"--She stopped short.
"But I told you all this the day we first met," said Low with grave
astonishment. "Don't you remember our long talk coming from church?"
"No," said Nellie, coldly, "you didn't tell me." But she was obliged to
drop her eyes before the unwavering, undeniable truthfulness of his.
"You have forgotten," he said calmly; "but it is only right you should
have your own way in disposing of a name that I have cared little for;
and as you're to have a share of it"--
"Yes, but it's getting late, and if we are not going
forward"--interrupted the girl impatiently.
"We _are_ going forward," said Low imperturbably; "but I wanted to tell
you, as we were speaking on _that_ subject" (Nellie looked at her
watch), "I've been offered the place of botanist and naturalist in
Professor Grant's survey of Mount Shasta, and if I take it--why when I
come back, darling--well"--
"But you're not going just yet," broke in Nellie, with a new expression
in her face.
"Then we need not talk of it now," she said with animation.
Her sudden vivacity relieved him. "I see what's the matter," he said
gently, looking down at her feet, "these little shoes were not made to
keep step with a moccasin. We must try another way." He stooped as if
to secure the erring buskin, but suddenly lifted her like a child to
his shoulder. "There," he continued, placing her arm around his neck,
"you are clear of the ferns and brambles now, and we can go on. Are you
comfortable?" He looked up, read her answer in her burning eyes and the
warm lips pressed to his forehead at the roots of his straight dark
hair, and again moved onward as in a mesmeric dream. But he did not
swerve from his direct course, and with a final dash through the
undergrowth parted the leafy curtain before the spring.
At first the young girl was dazzled by the strong light that came from
a rent in the interwoven arches of the wood. The breach had been caused
by the huge bulk of one of the great giants that had half fallen, and
was lying at a steep angle against one of its mightiest brethren,
having borne down a lesser tree in the arc of its downward path. Two of
the roots, as large as younger trees, tossed their blackened and bare
limbs high in the air. The spring--the insignificant cause of this vast
disruption--gurgled, flashed, and sparkled at the base; the limpid baby
fingers that had laid bare the foundations of that fallen column played
with the still clinging rootlets, laved the fractured and twisted
limbs, and, widening, filled with sleeping water the graves from which
they had been torn.
"It had been going on for years, down there," said Low, pointing to a
cavity from which the fresh water now slowly welled, "but it had been
quickened by the rising of the subterranean springs and rivers which
always occurs at a certain stage of the dry season. I remember that on
that very night--for it happened a little after midnight, when all
sounds are more audible--I was troubled and oppressed in my sleep by
what you would call a nightmare; a feeling as if I was kept down by
bonds and pinions that I longed to break. And then I heard a crash in
this direction, and the first streak of morning brought me the sound
and scent of water. Six months afterwards I chanced to find my way
here, as I told you, and gave it your name. I did not dream that I
should ever stand beside it with you, and have you christen it
He unloosed the cup from his flask, and filling it at the spring handed
it to her. But the young girl leant over the pool, and pouring the
water idly back said, "I'd rather put my feet in it. Mayn't I?"
"I don't understand you," he said wonderingly.
"My feet are _so_ hot and dusty. The water looks deliciously cool. May
He turned away as Nellie, with apparent unconsciousness, seated herself
on the bank, and removed her shoes and stockings. When she had dabbled
her feet a few moments in the pool, she said over her shoulder--
"We can talk just as well, can't we?"
"Well, then, why didn't you come to church more often, and why didn't
you think of telling father that you were convicted of sin and wanted
to be baptized?"
"I don't know," hesitated the young man.
"Well, you lost the chance of having father convert you, baptize you,
and take you into full church fellowship."
"I never thought,"--he began.
"You never thought. Aren't you a Christian?"
"I suppose so."
"He supposes so! Have you no convictions--no professions?"
"But, Nellie, I never thought that you"--"Never thought that I--what?
Do you think that I could ever be anything to a man who did not believe
in justification by faith, or in the covenant of church fellowship? Do
you think father would let me?"
In his eagerness to defend himself he stepped to her side. But seeing
her little feet shining through the dark water, like outcroppings of
delicately veined quartz, he stopped embarrassed. Miss Nellie, however,
leaped to one foot, and, shaking the other over the pool, put her hand
on his shoulder to steady herself. "You haven't got a towel--or," she
said dubiously, looking at her small handkerchief, "anything to dry
But Low did not, as she perhaps expected, offer his own handkerchief.
"If you take a bath after our fashion," he said gravely, "you must
learn to dry yourself after our fashion."
Lifting her again lightly in his arms, he carried her a few steps to
the sunny opening, and bade her bury her feet in the dried mosses and
baked withered grasses that were bleaching in a hollow. The young girl
uttered a cry of childish delight, as the soft ciliated fibres touched
her sensitive skin.
"It is healing, too," continued Low; "a moccasin filled with it after a
day on the trail makes you all right again."
But Miss Nellie seemed to be thinking of something else.
"Is that the way the squaws bathe and dry themselves?"
"I don't know; you forget I was a boy when I left them."
"And you're sure you never knew any?"
The young girl seemed to derive some satisfaction in moving her feet up
and down for several minutes among the grasses in the hollow; then,
after a pause, said, "You are quite certain I am the first woman that
ever touched this spring?"
"Not only the first woman, but the first human being, except myself."
They had taken each other's hands; seated side by side, they leaned
against a curving elastic root that half supported, half encompassed
them. The girl's capricious, fitful manner succumbed as before to the
near contact of her companion. Looking into her eyes, Low fell into a
sweet, selfish lover's monologue, descriptive of his past and present
feelings towards her, which she accepted with a heightened color, a
slight exchange of sentiment, and a strange curiosity. The sun had
painted their half-embraced silhouettes against the slanting
tree-trunk, and began to decline unnoticed; the ripple of the water
mingling with their whispers came as one sound to the listening ear;
even their eloquent silences were as deep, and, I wot, perhaps as
dangerous, as the darkened pool that filled so noiselessly a dozen
yards away. So quiet were they that the tremor of invading wings once
or twice shook the silence, or the quick scamper of frightened feet
rustled the dead grass. But in the midst of a prolonged stillness the
young man sprang up so suddenly that Nellie was still half clinging to
his neck as he stood erect. "Hush!" he whispered; "some one is near!"
He disengaged her anxious hands gently, leaped upon the slanting
tree-trunk, and running half-way up its incline with the agility of a
squirrel, stretched himself at full length upon it and listened.
To the impatient, inexplicably startled girl, it seemed an age before
he rejoined her.
"You are safe," he said; "he's going by the western trail toward Indian
"Who is _he_?" she asked, biting her lips with a poorly restrained
gesture of mortification and disappointment.
"Some stranger," replied Low.
"As long as he wasn't coming here, why did you give me such a fright?"
she said pettishly. "Are you nervous because a single wayfarer happens
to stray here?"
"It was no wayfarer, for he tried to keep near the trail," said Low.
"He was a stranger to the wood, for he lost his way every now and then.
He was seeking or expecting some one, for he stopped frequently and
waited or listened. He had not walked far, for he wore spurs that
tinkled and caught in the brush; and yet he had not ridden here, for no
horse's hoofs passed the road since we have been here. He must have
come from Indian Spring."
"And you heard all that when you listened just now?" asked Nellie half
Impervious to her incredulity, Low turned his calm eyes on her face.
"Certainly, I'll bet my life on what I say. Tell me: do you know
anybody in Indian Spring who would likely spy upon you?"
The young girl was conscious of a certain ill-defined uneasiness, but
"Then it was not _you_ he was seeking," said Low thoughtfully. Miss
Nellie had not time to notice the emphasis, for he added, "You must go
at once, and lest you have been followed I will show you another way
back to Indian Spring. It is longer, and you must hasten. Take your
shoes and stockings with you until we are out of the bush."
He raised her again in his arms and strode once more out through the
covert into the dim aisles of the wood. They spoke but little; she
could not help feeling that some other discordant element, affecting
him more strongly than it did her, had come between them, and was half
perplexed and half frightened. At the end of ten minutes he seated her
upon a fallen branch, and telling her he would return by the time she
had resumed her shoes and stockings glided from her like a shadow. She
would have uttered an indignant protest at being left alone, but he was
gone ere she could detain him. For a moment she thought she hated him.
But when she had mechanically shod herself once more, not without
nervous shivers at every falling needle, he was at her side.
"Do you know any one who wears a frieze coat like that?" he asked,
handing her a few torn shreds of wool affixed to a splinter of bark.
Miss Nellie instantly recognized the material of a certain
sporting-coat worn by Mr. Jack Brace on festive occasions, but a
strange yet infallible instinct that was part of her nature made her
instantly disclaim all knowledge of it.
"No," she said.
"Not any one who scents himself with some doctor's stuff like cologne?"
continued Low, with the disgust of keen olfactory sensibilities.
Again Miss Nellie recognized the perfume with which the gallant
expressman was wont to make redolent her little parlor, but again she
avowed no knowledge of its possessor. "Well," returned Low, with some
disappointment, "such a man has been here. Be on your guard. Let us go
She required no urging to hasten her steps, but hurried breathlessly at
his side. He had taken a new trail by which they left the wood at right
angles with the highway, two miles away. Following an almost effaced
mule track along a slight depression of the plain, deep enough,
however, to hide them from view, he accompanied her, until, rising to
the level again, she saw they were beginning to approach the highway
and the distant roofs of Indian Spring. "Nobody meeting you now," he
whispered, "would suspect where you had been. Good night! until next
They pressed each other's hands, and standing on the slight ridge
outlined against the paling sky, in full view of the highway, parting
carelessly, as if they had been chance met travellers. But Nellie could
not restrain a parting backward glance as she left the ridge. Low had
descended to the deserted trail, and was running swiftly in the
direction of the Carquinez Woods.
Teresa awoke with a start. It was day already, but how far advanced the
even, unchanging, soft twilight of the woods gave no indication. Her
companion had vanished, and to her bewildered senses so had the
camp-fire, even to its embers and ashes. Was she awake, or had she
wandered away unconsciously in the night? One glance at the tree above
her dissipated the fancy. There was the opening of her quaint retreat
and the hanging strips of bark, and at the foot of the opposite tree
lay the carcass of the bear. It had been skinned, and, as Teresa
thought with an inward shiver, already looked half its former size.
Not yet accustomed to the fact that a few steps in either direction
around the circumference of those great trunks produced the sudden
appearance or disappearance of any figure, Teresa uttered a slight
scream as her young companion unexpectedly stepped to her side. "You
see a change here," he said; "the stamped-out ashes of the camp-fire
lie under the brush," and he pointed to some cleverly scattered boughs
and strips of bark which completely effaced the traces of last night's
bivouac. "We can't afford to call the attention of any packer or hunter
who might straggle this way to this particular spot and this particular
tree; the more naturally," he added, "as they always prefer to camp
over an old fire." Accepting this explanation meekly, as partly a
reproach for her caprice of the previous night, Teresa hung her head.
"I'm very sorry," she said, "but wouldn't that," pointing to the
carcass of the bear, "have made them curious?"
But Low's logic was relentless.
"By this time there would have been little left to excite curiosity if
you had been willing to leave those beasts to their work."
"I'm very sorry," repeated the woman, her lips quivering.
"They are the scavengers of the wood," he continued in a lighter tone;
"if you stay here you must try to use them to keep your house clean."
Teresa smiled nervously.
"I mean that they shall finish their work to-night," he added, "and I
shall build another camp-fire for us a mile from here until they do."
But Teresa caught his sleeve.
"No," she said hurriedly, "don't, please, for me. You must not take the
trouble, nor the risk. Hear me; do, please. I can bear it, I _will_
bear it--to-night. I would have borne it last night, but it was so
strange--and"--she passed her hands over her forehead--"I think I must
have been half mad. But I am not so foolish now."
She seemed so broken and despondent that he replied reassuringly:
"Perhaps it would be better that I should find another hiding-place for
you, until I can dispose of that carcass, so that it will not draw dogs
after the wolves, and men after _them_. Besides, your friend the
sheriff will probably remember the bear when he remembers anything, and
try to get on its track again."
"He's a conceited fool," broke in Teresa in a high voice, with a slight
return of her old fury, "or he'd have guessed where that shot came
from; and," she added in a lower tone, looking down at her limp and
nerveless fingers, "he wouldn't have let a poor, weak, nervous wretch
like me get away."
"But his deputy may put two and two together, and connect your escape
Teresa's eyes flashed. "It would be like the dog, just to save his
pride, to swear it was an ambush of my friends, and that he was
overpowered by numbers. Oh yes! I see it all!" she almost screamed,
lashing herself into a rage at the bare contemplation of this
diminution of her glory. "That's the dirty lie he tells everywhere, and
is telling now."
She stamped her feet and glanced savagely around, as if at any risk to
proclaim the falsehood. Low turned his impassive, truthful face towards
"Sheriff Dunn," he began gravely, "is a politician, and a fool when he
takes to the trail as a hunter of man or beast. But he is not a coward
nor a liar. Your chances would be better if he were--if he laid your
escape to an ambush of your friends, than if his pride held you alone
"If he's such a good man, why do you hesitate?" she replied bitterly.
"Why don't you give me up at once, and do a service to one of your
"I do not even know him," returned Low, opening his clear eyes upon
her. "I've promised to hide you here, and I shall hide you as well from
him as from anybody."
Teresa did not reply, but suddenly dropping down upon the ground buried
her face in her hands and began to sob convulsively. Low turned
impassively away, and putting aside the bark curtain climbed into the
hollow tree. In a few moments he reappeared, laden with provisions and
a few simple cooking utensils, and touched her lightly on the shoulder.
She looked up timidly; the paroxysm had passed, but her lashes yet
"Come," he said, "come and get some breakfast. I find you have eaten
nothing since you have been here--twenty-four hours."
"I didn't know it," she said, with a faint smile. Then seeing his
burden, and possessed by a new and strange desire for some menial
employment, she said hurriedly, "Let me carry something--do, please,"
and even tried to disencumber him.
Half annoyed, Low at last yielded, and handing his rifle said, "There,
then, take that; but be careful--it's loaded!"
A cruel blush burnt the woman's face to the roots of her hair as she
took the weapon hesitatingly in her hand.
"No!" she stammered, hurriedly lifting her shame-suffused eyes to his;
He turned away with an impatience which showed her how completely
gratuitous had been her agitation and its significance, and said,
"Well, then give it back if you are afraid of it." But she as suddenly
declined to return it; and shouldering it deftly, took her place by his
side. Silently they moved from the hollow tree together.
During their walk she did not attempt to invade his taciturnity.
Nevertheless she was as keenly alive and watchful of his every movement
and gesture as if she had hung enchanted on his lips. The unerring way
with which he pursued a viewless, undeviating path through those
trackless woods, his quick reconnaissance of certain trees or openings,
his mute inspection of some almost imperceptible footprint of bird or
beast, his critical examination of certain plants which he plucked and
deposited in his deerskin haversack, were not lost on the quick-witted
woman. As they gradually changed the clear, unencumbered aisles of the
central woods for a more tangled undergrowth, Teresa felt that subtle
admiration which culminates in imitation, and simulating perfectly the
step, tread, and easy swing of her companion, followed so accurately
his lead that she won a gratified exclamation from him when their goal
was reached--a broken, blackened shaft, splintered by long-forgotten
lightning, in the centre of a tangled carpet of wood-clover.
"I don't wonder you distanced the deputy," he said cheerfully, throwing
down his burden, "if you can take the hunting-path like that. In a few
days, if you stay here, I can venture to trust you alone for a little
_pasear_ when you are tired of the tree."
Teresa looked pleased, but busied herself with arrangements for the
breakfast, while he gathered the fuel for the roaring fire which soon
blazed beside the shattered tree.
Teresa's breakfast was a success. It was a revelation to the young
nomad, whose ascetic habits and simple tastes were usually content with
the most primitive forms of frontier cookery. It was at least a
surprise to him to know that without extra trouble kneaded flour,
water, and saleratus need not be essentially heavy; that coffee need
not be boiled with sugar to the consistency of syrup; that even that
rarest delicacy, small shreds of venison covered with ashes and broiled
upon the end of a ramrod boldly thrust into the flames, would be better
and even more expeditiously cooked upon burning coals. Moved in his
practical nature, he was surprised to find this curious creature of
disorganized nerves and useless impulses informed with an intelligence
that did not preclude the welfare of humanity or the existence of a
soul. He respected her for some minutes, until in the midst of a
culinary triumph a big tear dropped and spluttered in the saucepan. But
he forgave the irrelevancy by taking no notice of it, and by doing full
justice to that particular dish.
Nevertheless, he asked several questions based upon these recently
discovered qualities. It appeared that in the old days of her
wanderings with the circus troupe she had often been forced to
undertake this nomadic housekeeping. But she "despised it," had never
done it since, and always had refused to do it for "him"--the personal
pronoun referring, as Low understood, to her lover Curson. Not caring
to revive these memories further, Low briefly concluded:--
"I don't know what you were, or what you may be, but from what I see of
you you've got all the _sabe_ of a frontierman's wife."
She stopped and looked at him, and then, with an impulse of impudence
that only half concealed a more serious vanity, asked, "Do you think I
might have made a good squaw?"
"I don't know," he replied quietly. "I never saw enough of them to
Teresa, confident from his clear eyes that he spoke the truth, but
having nothing ready to follow this calm disposal of her curiosity,
relapsed into silence.
The meal finished, Teresa washed their scant table equipage in a little
spring near the camp-fire; where, catching sight of her disordered
dress and collar, she rapidly threw her shawl, after the national
fashion, over her shoulder and pinned it quickly. Low _cached_ the
remaining provisions and the few cooking-utensils under the dead embers
and ashes, obliterating all superficial indication of their camp-fire
as deftly and artistically as he had before.
"There isn't the ghost of a chance," he said in explanation, "that
anybody but you or I will set foot here before we come back to supper,
but it's well to be on guard. I'll take you back to the cabin now,
though I bet you could find your way there as well as I can."
On their way back Teresa ran ahead of her companion, and plucking a few
tiny leaves from a hidden oasis in the bark-strewn trail brought them
"That's the kind you're looking for, isn't it?" she said, half timidly.
"It is," responded Low, in gratified surprise; "but how did you know
it? You're not a botanist, are you?"
"I reckon not," said Teresa; "but you picked some when we came, and I
noticed what they were."
Here was indeed another revelation. Low stopped and gazed at her with
such frank, open, utterly unabashed curiosity that her black eyes fell
"And do you think," he asked with logical deliberation, "that you could
find any plant from another I should give you?"
"Or from a drawing of it?"
"Yes; perhaps even if you described it to me."
A half-confidential, half fraternal silence followed.
"I tell you what. I've got a book"--
"I know it," interrupted Teresa; "full of these things."
"Yes. Do you think you could"--
"Of course I could," broke in Teresa, again.
"But you don't know what I mean," said the imperturbable Low.
"Certainly I do. Why, find 'em, and preserve all the different ones for
you to write under--that's it, isn't it?"
Low nodded his head, gratified but not entirely convinced that she had
fully estimated the magnitude of the endeavor.
"I suppose," said Teresa, in the feminine postscriptum voice which it
would seem entered even the philosophical calm of the aisles they were
treading--"I suppose that _she_ places great value on them?"
Low had indeed heard Science personified before, nor was it at all
impossible that the singular woman walking by his side had also. He
said "Yes;" but added, in mental reference to the Linnean Society of
San Francisco, that "_they_ were rather particular about the rarer
Content as Teresa had been to believe in Low's tender relations with
some favored _one_ of her sex, this frank confession of a plural
devotion staggered her.
"They?" she repeated.
"Yes," he continued calmly. "The Botanical Society I correspond with
are more particular than the Government Survey."
"Then you are doing this for a society?" demanded Teresa, with a stare.
"Certainly. I'm making a collection and classification of specimens. I
intend--but what are you looking at?"
Teresa had suddenly turned away. Putting his hand lightly on her
shoulder, the young man brought her face to face with him again. She
"I thought all the while it was for a girl," she said; "and"--But here
the mere effort of speech sent her off into an audible and genuine
outburst of laughter. It was the first time he had seen her even smile
other than bitterly. Characteristically unconscious of any humor in her
error, he remained unembarrassed. But he could not help noticing a
change in the expression of her face, her voice, and even her
intonation. It seemed as if that fit of laughter had loosed the last
ties that bound her to a self-imposed character, had swept away the
last barrier between her and her healthier nature, had dispossessed a
painful unreality, and relieved the morbid tension of a purely nervous
attitude. The change in her utterance and the resumption of her softer
Spanish accent seemed to have come with her confidences, and Low took
leave of her before their sylvan cabin with a comrade's heartiness, and
a complete forgetfulness that her voice had ever irritated him.
When he returned that afternoon he was startled to find the cabin
empty. But instead of bearing any appearance of disturbance or hurried
flight, the rude interior seemed to have magically assumed a decorous
order and cleanliness unknown before. Fresh bark hid the inequalities
of the floor. The skins and blankets were folded in the corners, the
rude shelves were carefully arranged, even a few tall ferns and bright
but quickly fading flowers were disposed around the blackened chimney.
She had evidently availed herself of the change of clothing he had
brought her, for her late garments were hanging from the
hastily-devised wooden pegs driven in the wall. The young man gazed
around him with mixed feelings of gratification and uneasiness. His
presence had been dispossessed in a single hour; his ten years of
lonely habitation had left no trace that this woman had not effaced
with a deft move of her hand. More than that, it looked as if she had
always occupied it; and it was with a singular conviction that even
when she should occupy it no longer it would only revert to him as her
dwelling that he dropped the bark shutters athwart the opening, and
left it to follow her.
To his quick ear, fine eye, and abnormal senses, this was easy enough.
She had gone in the direction of this morning's camp. Once or twice he
paused with a half-gesture of recognition and a characteristic "Good!"
at the place where she had stopped, but was surprised to find that her
main course had been as direct as his own. Deviating from this direct
line with Indian precaution he first made a circuit of the camp, and
approached the shattered trunk from the opposite direction. He
consequently came upon Teresa unawares. But the momentary astonishment
and embarrassment were his alone.
He scarcely recognized her. She was wearing the garments he had brought
her the day before--a certain discarded gown of Miss Nellie Wynn, which
he had hurriedly begged from her under the pretext of clothing the wife
of a distressed over-land emigrant then on the way to the mines.
Although he had satisfied his conscience with the intention of
confessing the pious fraud to her when Teresa was gone and safe from
pursuit, it was not without a sense of remorse that he witnessed the
sacrilegious transformation. The two women were nearly the same height
and size; and although Teresa's maturer figure accented the outlines
more strongly, it was still becoming enough to increase his irritation.
Of this becomingness she was doubtless unaware at the moment that he
surprised her. She was conscious of having "a change," and this had
emboldened her to "do her hair" and otherwise compose herself. After
their greeting she was the first to allude to the dress, regretting
that it was not more of a rough disguise, and that, as she must now
discard the national habit of wearing her shawl "manta" fashion over
her head, she wanted a hat. "But you must not," she said, "borrow any
more dresses for me from your young woman. Buy them for me at some
shop. They left me enough money for that." Low gently put aside the few
pieces of gold she had drawn from her pocket, and briefly reminded her
of the suspicion such a purchase by him would produce. "That's so," she
said, with a laugh. "_Caramba_! what a mule I'm becoming! Ah! wait a
moment. I have it! Buy me a common felt hat--a man's hat--as if for
yourself, as a change to that animal," pointing to the fox-tailed cap
he wore summer and winter, "and I'll show you a trick. I haven't run a
theatrical wardrobe for nothing." Nor had she, for the hat thus
procured, a few days later, became, by the aid of a silk handkerchief
and a bluejay's feather, a fascinating "pork pie."
Whatever cause of annoyance to Low still lingered in Teresa's dress, it
was soon forgotten in a palpable evidence of Teresa's value as
botanical assistant. It appeared that during the afternoon she had not
only duplicated his specimens, but had discovered one or two rare
plants as yet unclassified in the flora of the Carquinez Woods. He was
delighted, and in turn, over the camp-fire, yielded up some details of
his present life and some of his earlier recollections.
"You don't remember anything of your father?" she asked. "Did he ever
try to seek you out?"
"No! Why should he?" replied the imperturbable Low; "he was not a
"No, he was a beast," responded Teresa promptly. "And your mother--do
you remember her?"
"No, I think she died."
"You _think_ she died? Don't you know?"
"Then you're another!" said Teresa. Notwithstanding this frankness,
they shook hands for the night; Teresa nestling like a rabbit in a
hollow by the side of the camp-fire; Low with his feet towards it,
Indian-wise, and his head and shoulders pillowed on his haversack, only
half distinguishable in the darkness beyond.
With such trivial details three uneventful days slipped by. Their
retreat was undisturbed, nor could Low detect, by the least evidence to
his acute perceptive faculties, that any intruding feet had since
crossed the belt of shade. The echoes of passing events at Indian
Spring had recorded the escape of Teresa as occurring at a remote and
purely imaginative distance, and her probable direction the county of
"Can you remember," he one day asked her, "what time it was when you
cut the _riata_ and got away?"
Teresa pressed her hands upon her eyes and temples.
"About three, I reckon."
"And you were here at seven; you could have covered some ground in four
"Perhaps--I don't know," she said, her voice taking up its old quality
again. "Don't ask me--I ran all the way."
Her face was quite pale as she removed her hands from her eyes, and her
breath came as quickly as if she had just finished that race for life.
"Then you think I am safe here?" she added, after a pause.
"Perfectly--until they find you are _not_ in Yolo. Then they'll look
here. And _that's_ the time for you to go _there_." Teresa smiled
"It will take them some time to search Yolo--unless," she added,
"you're tired of me here." The charming _non sequitur_ did not,
however, seem to strike the young man. "I've got time yet to find a few
more plants for you," she suggested.
"And give you a few more lessons in cooking."
The conscientious and literal Low was beginning to doubt if she were
really practical. How otherwise could she trifle with such a situation?
It must be confessed that that day and the next she did trifle with it.
She gave herself up to a grave and delicious languor that seemed to
flow from shadow and silence and permeate her entire being. She passed
hours in a thoughtful repose of mind and spirit that seemed to fall
like balm from those steadfast guardians, and distill their gentle
ether in her soul; or breathed into her listening ear immunity from the
forgotten past, and security for the present. If there was no dream of
the future in this calm, even recurrence of placid existence, so much
the better. The simple details of each succeeding day, the quaint
housekeeping, the brief companionship and coming and going of her young
host--himself at best a crystallized personification of the sedate and
hospitable woods--satisfied her feeble cravings. She no longer
regretted the inferior passion that her fears had obliged her to take
the first night she came; she began to look up to this young man--so
much younger than herself--without knowing what it meant; it was not
until she found that this attitude did not detract from his
picturesqueness that she discovered herself seeking for reasons to
degrade him from this seductive eminence.
A week had elapsed with little change. On two days he had been absent
all day, returning only in time to sup in the hollow tree, which,
thanks to the final removal of the dead bear from its vicinity, was now
considered a safer retreat than the exposed camp-fire. On the first of
these occasions she received him with some preoccupation, paying but
little heed to the scant gossip he brought from Indian Spring, and
retiring early under the plea of fatigue, that he might seek his own
distant camp-fire, which, thanks to her stronger nerves and regained
courage, she no longer required so near. On the second occasion, he
found her writing a letter more or less blotted with her tears. When it
was finished, she begged him to post it at Indian Spring, where in two
days an answer would be returned, under cover, to him.
"I hope you will be satisfied then," she added.
"Satisfied with what?" queried the young man.
"You'll see," she replied, giving him her cold hand. "Good-night."
"But can't you tell me now?" he remonstrated, retaining her hand.
"Wait two days longer--it isn't much," was all she vouchsafed to
The two days passed. Their former confidence and good fellowship were
fully restored when the morning came on which he was to bring the
answer from the post-office at Indian Spring. He had talked again of
his future, and had recorded his ambition to procure the appointment of
naturalist to a Government Surveying Expedition. She had even jocularly
proposed to dress herself in man's attire and "enlist" as his
"But you will be safe with your friends, I hope, by that time,"
"Safe with my friends," she repeated in a lower voice. "Safe with my
friends--yes!" An awkward silence followed; Teresa broke it gayly: "But
your girl, your sweetheart, my benefactor--will _she_ let you go?"
"I haven't told her yet," said Low, gravely, "but I don't see why she
"Object, indeed!" interrupted Teresa in a high voice and a sudden and
utterly gratuitous indignation; "how should she? I'd like to see her do
She accompanied him some distance to the intersection of the trail,
where they parted in good spirits. On the dusty plain without a gale
was blowing that rocked the high tree-tops above her, but, tempered and
subdued, entered the low aisles with a fluttering breath of morning and
a sound like the cooing of doves. Never had the wood before shown so
sweet a sense of security from the turmoil and tempest of the world
beyond; never before had an intrusion from the outer life--even in the
shape of a letter--seemed so wicked a desecration. Tempted by the
solicitation of air and shade, she lingered, with Low's herbarium slung
on her shoulder.
A strange sensation, like a shiver, suddenly passed across her nerves,
and left them in a state of rigid tension. With every sense morbidly
acute, with every faculty strained to its utmost, the subtle instincts
of Low's woodcraft transformed and possessed her. She knew it now! A
new element was in the wood--a strange being--another life--another man
approaching! She did not even raise her head to look about her, but
darted with the precision and fleetness of an arrow in the direction of
her tree. But her feet were arrested, her limbs paralyzed, her very
existence suspended, by the sound of a voice:
It was a voice that had rung in her ears for the last two years in all
phases of intensity, passion, tenderness, and anger; a voice upon whose
modulations, rude and unmusical though they were, her heart and soul
had hung in transport or anguish. But it was a chime that had rung its
last peal to her senses as she entered the Carquinez Woods, and for the
last week had been as dead to her as a voice from the grave. It was the
voice of her lover--Dick Curson!
The wind was blowing towards the stranger, so that he was nearly upon
her when Teresa first took the alarm. He was a man over six feet in
height, strongly built, with a slight tendency to a roundness of bulk
which suggested reserved rather than impeded energy. His thick beard
and moustache were closely cropped around a small and handsome mouth
that lisped except when he was excited, but always kept fellowship with
his blue eyes in a perpetual smile of half-cynical good-humor. His
dress was superior to that of the locality; his general expression that
of a man of the world, albeit a world of San Francisco, Sacramento, and
Murderer's Bar. He advanced towards her with a laugh and an
"_You_ here!" she gasped, drawing back.
Apparently neither surprised nor mortified at this reception, he
answered frankly, "Yeth. You didn't expect me, I know. But Doloreth
showed me the letter you wrote her, and--well--here I am, ready to help
you, with two men and a thpare horthe waiting outside the woodth on the
"You--_you_--here?" she only repeated.
--Curson shrugged his shoulders. "Yeth. Of courth you never expected to
thee me again, and leatht of all _here_. I'll admit that; I'll thay I
wouldn't if I'd been in your plathe. I'll go further, and thay you
didn't want to thee me again--anywhere. But it all cometh to the thame
thing; here I am; I read the letter you wrote Doloreth. I read how you
were hiding here, under Dunn'th very nothe, with his whole pothe out,
cavorting round and barkin' up the wrong tree. I made up my mind to
come down here with a few nathty friends of mine and cut you out under
Dunn'th nothe, and run you over into Yuba--that 'th all."
"How dared she show you my letter--_you_ of all men? How dared she ask
_your_ help?" continued Teresa, fiercely.
"But she didn't athk my help," he responded coolly. "D----d if I don't
think she jutht calculated I'd be glad to know you were being hunted
down and thtarving, that I might put Dunn on your track."
"You lie!" said Teresa, furiously; "she was my friend. A better friend
than those who professed--_more_, she added, with a contemptuous
drawing away of her skirt as if she feared Curson's contamination.
"All right. Thettle that with her when you go back," continued Curson
philosophically. "We can talk of that on the way. The thing now ith to
get up and get out of thethe woods. Come!"
Teresa's only reply was a gesture of scorn.
"I know all that," continued Curson half soothingly, "but they're
"Let them wait. I shall not go."
"What will you do?"
"Stay here--till the wolves eat me."
"Teresa, listen. D----it all--Teresa!--Tita! see here," he said with
sudden energy. "I swear to God it's all right. I'm willing to let
by-gones be by-gones and take a new deal. You shall come back as if
nothing had happened, and take your old place as before. I don't mind
doing the square thing, all round. If that's what you mean, if that's
all that stands in the way, why, look upon the thing as settled. There,
Tita, old girl, come."
Careless or oblivious of her stony silence and starting eyes, he
attempted to take her hand. But she disengaged herself with a quick
movement, drew back, and suddenly crouched like a wild animal about to
spring. Curson folded his arms as she leaped to her feet; the little
dagger she had drawn from her garter flashed menacingly in the air, but
The man before her remained erect, impassive, and silent; the great
trees around and beyond her remained erect, impassive, and silent;
there was no sound in the dim aisles but the quick panting of her mad
passion, no movement in the calm, motionless shadow but the trembling
of her uplifted steel. Her arm bent and slowly sank, her fingers
relaxed, the knife fell from her hand.
"That'th quite enough for a thow," he said, with a return to his former
cynical ease and a perceptible tone of relief in his voice. "It'th the
thame old Teretha. Well, then, if you won't go with me, go without me;
take the led horthe and cut away. Dick Athley and Petereth will follow
you over the county line. If you want thome money, there it ith." He
took a buckskin purse from his pocket. "If you won't take it from
me"--he hesitated as she made no reply--"Athley'th flush and ready to
lend you thome."
She had not seemed to hear him, but had stooped in some embarrassment,
picked up the knife and hastily hid it, then with averted face and
nervous fingers was beginning to tear strips of loose bark from the
"Well, what do you thay?"
"I don't want any money, and I shall stay here." She hesitated, looked
around her, and then added, with an effort, "I suppose you meant well.
Be it so! Let bygones be by-gones. You said just now, 'It's the same
old Teresa.' So she is, and seeing she's the same she's better here
than anywhere else."
There was enough bitterness in her tone to call for Curson's
"That be d----d," he responded quickly. "Jutht thay you'll come, Tita,
She stopped his half-spoken sentence with a negative gesture. "You
don't understand. I shall stay here."
"But even if they don't theek you here, you can't live here forever.
The friend that you wrote about who wath tho good to you, you know,
can't keep you here alwayth; and are you thure you can alwayth trutht
"It isn't a woman; it's a man." She stopped short, and colored to the
line of her forehead. "Who said it was a woman?" she continued
fiercely, as if to cover her confusion with a burst of gratuitous
anger. "Is that another of your lies?"
Curson's lips, which for a moment had completely lost their smile, were
now drawn together in a prolonged whistle. He gazed curiously at her
gown, at her hat, at the bow of bright ribbon that tied her black hair,
and said, "Ah!"
"A poor man who has kept my secret," she went on hurriedly--"a man as
friendless and lonely as myself. Yes," disregarding Curson's cynical
smile, "a man who has shared everything"--
"Naturally," suggested Curson.
"And turned himself out of his only shelter to give me a roof and
covering," she continued mechanically, struggling with the new and
horrible fancy that his words awakened.
"And thlept every night at Indian Thpring to save your reputation,"
said Curson. "Of courthe."
Teresa turned very white. Curson was prepared for an outburst of
fury--perhaps even another attack. But the crushed and beaten woman
only gazed at him with frightened and imploring eyes. "For God's sake,
Dick, don't say that!"
The amiable cynic was staggered. His good-humor and a certain
chivalrous instinct he could not repress got the better of him. He
shrugged his shoulders. "What I thay, and what you _do_, Teretha,
needn't make us quarrel. I've no claim on you--I know it. Only"--a
vivid sense of the ridiculous, powerful in men of his stamp, completed
her victory--"only don't thay anything about my coming down here to cut
you out from the--the--_the sheriff_." He gave utterance to a short but
unaffected laugh, made a slight grimace, and turned to go.
Teresa did not join in his mirth. Awkward as it would have been if he
had taken a severer view of the subject, she was mortified even amidst
her fears and embarrassment at his levity. Just as she had become
convinced that his jealousy had made her over-conscious, his apparent
good-humored indifference gave that over-consciousness a guilty
significance. Yet this was lost in her sudden alarm as her companion,
looking up, uttered an exclamation, and placed his hand upon his
revolver. With a sinking conviction that the climax had come, Teresa
turned her eyes. From the dim aisles beyond, Low was approaching. The
catastrophe seemed complete.
She had barely time to utter an imploring whisper: "In the name of God,
not a word to him." But a change had already come over her companion.
It was no longer a parley with a foolish woman; he had to deal with a
man like himself. As Low's dark face and picturesque figure came
nearer, Mr. Curson's proposed method of dealing with him was made
"Ith it a mulatto or a Thircuth, or both?" he asked, with affected
Low's Indian phlegm was impervious to such assault. He turned to
Teresa, without apparently noticing her companion. "I turned back," he
said quietly, "as soon as I knew there were strangers here; I thought
you might need me." She noticed for the first time that, in addition to
his rifle, he carried a revolver and hunting-knife in his belt.
"Yeth," returned Curson, with an ineffectual attempt to imitate Low's
phlegm; "but ath I did n't happen to be a sthranger to thith lady,
perhaps it wathn't nethethary, particularly ath I had two friends"--
"Waiting at the edge of the wood with a led horse," interrupted Low,
without addressing him, but apparently continuing his explanation to
Teresa. But she turned to Low with feverish anxiety.
"That's so--he is an old friend"--she gave a quick, imploring glance at
Curson--"an old friend who came to help me away--he is very kind," she
stammered, turning alternately from the one to the other; "but I told
him there was no hurry--at least to-day--that you--were--very
good--too, and would hide me a little longer until your plan--you know
_your_ plan," she added, with a look of beseeching significance to
Low--"could be tried." And then, with a helpless conviction that her
excuses, motives, and emotions were equally and perfectly transparent
to both men, she stopped in a tremble.
"Perhapth it'th jutht ath well, then, that the gentleman came thraight
here, and didn't tackle my two friendth when he pathed them," observed
Curson, half sarcastically.
"I have not passed your friends, nor have I been near them," said Low,
looking at him for the first time, with the same exasperating calm, "or
perhaps I should not be _here_ or they _there_. I knew that one man
entered the wood a few moments ago, and that two men and four horses
"That's true," said Teresa to Curson excitedly--"that's true. He knows
all. He can see without looking, hear without listening. He--he"--she
stammered, colored, and stopped.
The two men had faced each other. Curson, after his first good-natured
impulse, had retained no wish to regain Teresa, whom he felt he no
longer loved, and yet who, for that very reason perhaps, had awakened
his chivalrous instincts. Low, equally on his side, was altogether
unconscious of any feeling which might grow into a passion, and prevent
him from letting her go with another if for her own safety. They were
both men of a certain taste and refinement. Yet, in spite of all this,
some vague instinct of the baser male animal remained with them, and
they were moved to a mutually aggressive attitude in the presence of
One word more, and the opening chapter of a sylvan Iliad might have
begun. But this modern Helen saw it coming, and arrested it with an
inspiration of feminine genius. Without being observed, she disengaged
her knife from her bosom and let it fall as if by accident. It struck
the ground with the point of its keen blade, bounded and rolled between
them. The two men started and looked at each other with a foolish air.
"I reckon she can take care of herthelf," he said, extending his hand
to Low. "I'm off. But if I'm wanted _she'll_ know where to find me."
Low took the proffered hand, but neither of the two men looked at
Teresa. The reserve of antagonism once broken, a few words of caution,
advice, and encouragement passed between them, in apparent
obliviousness of her presence or her personal responsibility. As Curson
at last nodded a farewell to her, Low insisted upon accompanying him as
far as the horses, and in another moment she was again alone.
She had saved a quarrel between them at the sacrifice of herself, for
her vanity was still keen enough to feel that this exhibition of her
old weakness had degraded her in their eyes, and, worse, had lost the
respect her late restraint had won from Low. They had treated her like
a child or a crazy woman, perhaps even now were exchanging criticisms
upon her--perhaps pitying her! Yet she had prevented a quarrel, a
fight, possibly the death of either one or the other of these men who
despised her, for none better knew than she the trivial beginning and
desperate end of these encounters. Would they--would Low ever realize
it, and forgive her? Her small, dark hands went up to her eyes and she
sank upon the ground. She looked through tear-veiled lashes upon the
mute and giant witnesses of her deceit and passion, and tried to draw,
from their immovable calm, strength and consolation as before. But even
they seemed to stand apart, reserved and forbidding.
When Low returned she hoped to gather from his eyes and manner what had
passed between him and her former lover. But beyond a mere gentle
abstraction at times he retained his usual calm. She was at last forced
to allude to it herself with simulated recklessness.
"I suppose I didn't get a very good character from my last place?" she
said, with a laugh.
"I don't understand you," he replied, in evident sincerity.
She bit her lip and was silent. But as they were returning home, she
said gently, "I hope you were not angry with me for the lie I told when
I spoke of 'your plan.' I could not give the real reason for not
returning with--with--that man. But it's not all a lie. I have a
plan--if you haven't. When you are ready to go to Sacramento to take
your place, dress me as an Indian boy, paint my face, and let me go
with you. You can leave me--there--you know."
"It's not a bad idea," he responded gravely. "We will see."
On the next day, and the next, the _rencontre_ seemed to be forgotten.
The herbarium was already filled with rare specimens. Teresa had even
overcome her feminine repugnance to "bugs" and creeping things so far
as to assist in his entomological collection. He had drawn from a
sacred _cache_ in the hollow of a tree the few worn textbooks from
which he had studied.
"They seem very precious," she said, with a smile.
"Very," he replied gravely. "There was one with plates that the ants
ate up, and it will be six months before I can afford to buy another."
Teresa glanced hurriedly over his well-worn buckskin suit, at his
calico shirt with its pattern almost obliterated by countless washings,
and became thoughtful.
"I suppose you couldn't buy one at Indian Spring?" she said innocently.
For once Low was startled out of his phlegm. "Indian Spring!" he
ejaculated; "perhaps not even in San Francisco. These came from the
"How did you get them?" persisted Teresa.
"I bought them for skins I got over the ridge."
"I didn't mean that--but no matter. Then you mean to sell that
bearskin, don't you?" she added.
Low had, in fact, already sold it, the proceeds having been invested in
a gold ring for Miss Nellie, which she scrupulously did not wear except
in his presence. In his singular truthfulness he would have frankly
confessed it to Teresa, but the secret was not his own. He contented
himself with saying that he had disposed of it at Indian Spring. Teresa
started, and communicated unconsciously some of her nervousness to her
companion. They gazed in each other's eyes with a troubled expression.
"Do you think it was wise to sell that particular skin, which might be
identified?" she asked timidly.
Low knitted his arched brows, but felt a strange sense of relief.
"Perhaps not," he said carelessly; "but it's too late now to mend
That afternoon she wrote several letters, and tore them up. One,
however, she retained, and handed it to Low to post at Indian Spring,
whither he was going. She called his attention to the superscription
being the same as the previous letter, and added, with affected gayety,
"But if the answer isn't as prompt, perhaps it will be pleasanter than
the last." Her quick feminine eye noticed a little excitement in his
manner and a more studious attention to his dress. Only a few days
before she would not have allowed this to pass without some mischievous
allusion to his mysterious sweetheart; it troubled her greatly now to
find that she could not bring herself to this household pleasantry, and
that her lip trembled and her eye grew moist as he parted from her.
The afternoon passed slowly; he had said he might not return to supper
until late, nevertheless a strange restlessness took possession of her
as the day wore on. She put aside her work, the darning of his
stockings, and rambled aimlessly through the woods. She had wandered
she knew not how far, when she was suddenly seized with the same vague
sense of a foreign presence which she had felt before. Could it be
Curson again, with a word of warning? No! she knew it was not he; so
subtle had her sense become that she even fancied that she detected in
the invisible aura projected by the unknown no significance or relation
to herself or Low, and felt no fear. Nevertheless she deemed it wisest
to seek the protection of her sylvan bower, and hurried swiftly
But not so quickly nor directly that she did not once or twice pause in
her flight to examine the new-comer from behind a friendly trunk. He
was a stranger--a young fellow with a brown mustache, wearing heavy
Mexican spurs in his riding-boots, whose tinkling he apparently did not
care to conceal. He had perceived her, and was evidently pursuing her,
but so awkwardly and timidly that she eluded him with ease. When she
had reached the security of the hollow tree and had pulled the curtain
of bark before the narrow opening, with her eye to the interstices, she
waited his coming. He arrived breathlessly in the open space before the
tree where the bear once lay; the dazed, bewildered, and half awed
expression of his face, as he glanced around him and through the
openings of the forest aisles, brought a faint smile to her saddened
face. At last he called in a half embarrassed voice:
The smile faded from Teresa's cheek. Who was "Miss Nellie"? She pressed
her ear to the opening. "Miss Wynn!" the voice again called, but was
lost in the echoless woods. Devoured with a new and gratuitous
curiosity, in another moment Teresa felt she would have disclosed
herself at any risk, but the stranger rose and began to retrace his
steps. Long after his tinkling spurs were lost in the distance, Teresa
remained like a statue, staring at the place where he had stood. Then
she suddenly turned like a mad woman, glanced down at the gown she was
wearing, tore it from her back as if it had been a polluted garment,
and stamped upon it in a convulsion of rage. And then, with her
beautiful bare arms clasped together over her head, she threw herself
upon her couch in a tempest of tears.
When Miss Nellie reached the first mining extension of Indian Spring,
which surrounded it like a fosse, she descended for one instant into
one of its trenches, opened her parasol, removed her duster, hid it
under a bowlder, and with a few shivers and cat-like strokes of her
soft hands not only obliterated all material traces of the stolen cream
of Carquinez Woods, but assumed a feline demureness quite inconsistent
with any moral dereliction. Unfortunately, she forgot to remove at the
same time a certain ring from her third finger, which she had put on
with her duster and had worn at no other time. With this slight
exception, the benignant fate which always protected that young person
brought her in contact with the Burnham girls at one end of the main
street as the returning coach to Excelsior entered the other, and
enabled her to take leave of them before the coach office with a
certain ostentation of parting which struck Mr. Jack Brace, who was
lingering at the doorway, into a state of utter bewilderment.
Here was Miss Nellie Wynn, the belle of Excelsior, calm, quiet,
self-possessed, her chaste cambric skirts and dainty shoes as fresh as
when she had left her father's house; but where was the woman of the
brown duster, and where the yellow-dressed apparition of the woods? He
was feebly repeating to himself his mental adjuration of a few hours
before when he caught her eye, and was taken with a blush and a fit of
coughing. Could he have been such an egregious fool, and was it not
plainly written on his embarrassed face for her to read?
"Are we going down together?" asked Miss Nellie, with an exceptionally
There was neither affectation nor coquetry in this advance. The girl
had no idea of Brace's suspicion of her, nor did any uneasy desire to
placate or deceive a possible rival of Low's prompt her graciousness.
She simply wished to shake off in this encounter the already stale
excitement of the past two hours, as she had shaken the dust of the
woods from her clothes. It was characteristic of her irresponsible
nature and transient susceptibilities that she actually enjoyed the
relief of change; more than that, I fear, she looked upon this
infidelity to a past dubious pleasure as a moral principle. A mild,
open flirtation with a recognized man like Brace, after her secret
passionate tryst with a nameless nomad like Low, was an ethical
equipoise that seemed proper to one of her religious education.
Brace was only too happy to profit by Miss Nellie's condescension; he
at once secured the seat by her side, and spent the four hours and a
half of their return journey to Excelsior in blissful but timid
communion with her. If he did not dare to confess his past suspicions,
he was equally afraid to venture upon the boldness he had premeditated
a few hours before. He was therefore obliged to take a middle course of
slightly egotistical narration of his own personal adventures, with
which he beguiled the young girl's ear. This he only departed from
once, to describe to her a valuable grizzly bearskin which he had seen
that day for sale at Indian Spring, with a view to divining her
possible acceptance of it for a "buggy robe;" and once to comment upon
a ring which she had inadvertently disclosed in pulling off her glove.
"It's only an old family keepsake," she added, with easy mendacity; and
affecting to recognize in Mr. Brace's curiosity a not unnatural excuse
for toying with her charming fingers, she hid them in chaste and
virginal seclusion in her lap, until she could recover the ring and
resume her glove.
A week passed--a week of peculiar and desiccating heat for even those
dry Sierra table-lands. The long days were filled with impalpable dust
and acrid haze suspended in the motionless air; the nights were
breathless and dewless; the cold wind which usually swept down from the
snow line was laid to sleep over a dark monotonous level, whose horizon
was pricked with the eating fires of burning forest crests. The lagging
coach of Indian Spring drove up at Excelsior, and precipitated its
passengers with an accompanying cloud of dust before the Excelsior
Hotel. As they emerged from the coach, Mr. Brace, standing in the
doorway, closely scanned their begrimed and almost unrecognizable
faces. They were the usual type of travelers: a single professional man
in dusty black, a few traders in tweeds and flannels, a sprinkling of
miners in red and gray shirts, a Chinaman, a negro, and a Mexican
packer or muleteer. This latter for a moment mingled with the crowd in
the bar-room, and even penetrated the corridor and dining-room of the
hotel, as if impelled by a certain semi-civilized curiosity, and then
strolled with a lazy, dragging step--half impeded by the enormous
leather leggings, chains, and spurs, peculiar to his class--down the
main street. The darkness was gathering, but the muleteer indulged in
the same childish scrutiny of the dimly lighted shops, magazines, and
saloons, and even of the occasional groups of citizens at the street
corners. Apparently young, as far as the outlines of his figure could
be seen, he seemed to show even more than the usual concern of
masculine Excelsior in the charms of womankind. The few female figures
about at that hour, or visible at window or veranda, received his
marked attention; he respectfully followed the two auburn-haired
daughters of Deacon Johnson on their way to choir meeting to the door
of the church. Not content with that act of discreet gallantry, after
they had entered he managed to slip in unperceived behind them.
The memorial of the Excelsior gamblers' generosity was a modern
building, large and pretentious for even Mr. Wynn's popularity, and had
been good-humoredly known, in the characteristic language of the
generous donors, as one of the "biggest religious bluffs" on record.
Its groined rafters, which were so new and spicy that they still
suggested their native forest aisles, seldom covered more than a
hundred devotees, and in the rambling choir, with its bare space for
the future organ, the few choristers, gathered round a small harmonium,
were lost in the deepening shadow of that summer evening. The muleteer
remained hidden in the obscurity of the vestibule. After a few moments'
desultory conversation, in which it appeared that the unexpected
absence of Miss Nellie Wynn, their leader, would prevent their
practicing, the choristers withdrew. The stranger, who had listened
eagerly, drew back in the darkness as they passed out, and remained for
a few moments a vague and motionless figure in the silent church. Then
coming cautiously to the window, the flapping broad-brimmed hat was put
aside, and the faint light of the dying day shone in the black eyes of
Teresa! Despite her face, darkened with dye and disfigured with dust,
the matted hair piled and twisted around her head, the strange dress
and boyish figure, one swift glance from under her raised lashes
betrayed her identity.
She turned aside mechanically into the first pew, picked up and opened
a hymn-book. Her eyes became riveted on a name written on the
title-page, "Nellie Wynn." _Her_ name, and _her_ book. The instinct
that had guided her here was right; the slight gossip of her
fellow-passengers was right; this was the clergyman's daughter, whose
praise filled all mouths. This was the unknown girl the stranger was
seeking, but who in her turn perhaps had been seeking Low--the girl who
absorbed his fancy--the secret of his absences, his preoccupation, his
coldness! This was the girl whom to see, perhaps in his arms, she was
now periling her liberty and her life unknown to him! A slight odor,
some faint perfume of its owner, came from the book; it was the same
she had noticed in the dress Low had given her. She flung the volume to
the ground, and, throwing her arms over the back of the pew before her,
buried her face in her hands.
In that light and attitude she might have seemed some rapt acolyte
abandoned to self-communion. But whatever yearning her soul might have
had for higher sympathy or deeper consolation, I fear that the
spiritual Tabernacle of Excelsior and the Reverend Mr. Wynn did not
meet that requirement. She only felt the dry, oven-like heat of that
vast shell, empty of sentiment and beauty, hollow in its pretense and
dreary in its desolation. She only saw in it a chief altar for the
glorification of this girl who had absorbed even the pure worship of
her companion, and converted and degraded his sublime paganism to her
petty creed. With a woman's withering contempt for her own art
displayed in another woman, she thought how she herself could have
touched him with the peace that the majesty of their woodland
aisles--so unlike this pillared sham--had taught her own passionate
heart, had she but dared. Mingling with this imperfect theology, she
felt she could have proved to him also that a brunette and a woman of
her experience was better than an immature blonde. She began to loathe
herself for coming hither, and dreaded to meet his face. Here a sudden
thought struck her. What if he had not come here? What if she had been
mistaken? What if her rash interpretation of his absence from the wood
that night was simple madness? What if he should return--if he had
already returned? She rose to her feet, whitening yet joyful with the
thought. She would return at once; what was the girl to her now? Yet
there was time to satisfy herself if he were at _her_ house. She had
been told where it was; she could find it in the dark; an open door or
window would betray some sign or sound of the occupants. She rose,
replaced her hat over her eyes, knotted her flaunting scarf around her
throat, groped her way to the door, and glided into the outer darkness.
It was quite dark when Mr. Jack Brace stopped before Father Wynn's open
door. The windows were also invitingly open to the wayfarer, as were
the pastoral counsels of Father Wynn, delivered to some favored guest
within, in a tone of voice loud enough for a pulpit. Jack Brace paused.
The visitor was the convalescent sheriff, Jim Dunn, who had publicly
commemorated his recovery by making his first call upon the father of
his inamorata. The Reverend Mr. Wynn had been expatiating upon the
unremitting heat as a possible precursor of forest fires, and
exhibiting some catholic knowledge of the designs of a Deity in that
regard, and what should be the policy of the Legislature, when Mr.
Brace concluded to enter. Mr. Wynn and the wounded man, who occupied an
arm-chair by the window, were the only occupants of the room. But in
spite of the former's ostentatious greeting, Brace could see that his
visit was inopportune and unwelcome. The sheriff nodded a quick,
impatient recognition, which, had it not been accompanied by an
anathema on the heat, might have been taken as a personal insult.
Neither spoke of Miss Nellie, although it was patent to Brace that they
were momentarily expecting her. All of which went far to strengthen a
certain wavering purpose in his mind.
"Ah, ha! strong language, Mr. Dunn," said Father Wynn, referring to the
sheriff's adjuration, "but 'out of the fullness of the heart the mouth
speaketh.' Job, sir, cursed, we are told, and even expressed himself in
vigorous Hebrew regarding his birthday. Ha, ha! I'm not opposed to
that. When I have often wrestled with the spirit I confess I have
sometimes said, 'D----n you.' Yes, sir, 'D----n you.'"
There was something so unutterably vile in the reverend gentleman's
utterance and emphasis of this oath that the two men, albeit both easy
and facile blasphemers, felt shocked; as the purest of actresses is apt
to overdo the rakishness of a gay Lothario, Father Wynn's immaculate
conception of an imprecation was something terrible. But he added, "The
law ought to interfere with the reckless use of camp-fires in the woods
in such weather by packers and prospecters."
"It isn't so much the work of white men," broke in Brace, "as it is of
Greasers, Chinamen, and Diggers, especially Diggers. There's that
blasted Low, ranges the whole Carquinez Woods as if they were his. I
reckon he ain't particular just where he throws his matches.'"
"But he's not a Digger; he's a Cherokee, and only a half-breed at
that," interpolated Wynn. "Unless," he added, with the artful
suggestion of the betrayed trust of a too credulous Christian, "he
deceived me in this as in other things."
In what other things Low had deceived him he did not say; but, to the
astonishment of both men, Dunn growled a dissent to Brace's
proposition. Either from some secret irritation with that possible
rival, or impatience at the prolonged absence of Nellie, he had "had
enough of that sort of hog-wash ladled out to him for genuine liquor."
As to the Carquinez Woods, he [Dunn] "didn't know why Low hadn't as
much right there as if he'd grabbed it under a preemption law and
didn't live there." With this hint at certain speculations of Father
Wynn in public lands for a homestead, he added that "If they [Brace and
Wynn] could bring him along any older American settler than an Indian,
they might rake down his [Dunn's] pile." Unprepared for this turn in
the conversation, Wynn hastened to explain that he did not refer to the
pure aborigine, whose gradual extinction no one regretted more than
himself, but to the mongrel, who inherited only the vices of
civilization. "There should be a law, sir, against the mingling of
races. There are men, sir, who violate the laws of the Most High by
living with Indian women--squaw men, sir, as they are called."
Dunn rose with a face livid with weakness and passion. "Who dares say
that? They are a d---d sight better than sneaking Northern
Abolitionists, who married their daughters to buck niggers like"--But a
spasm of pain withheld this Parthian shot at the politics of his two
companions, and he sank back helplessly in his chair.
An awkward silence ensued. The three men looked at each other in
embarrassment and confusion. Dunn felt that he had given way to a
gratuitous passion; Wynn had a vague presentiment that he had said
something that imperiled his daughter's prospects; and Brace was
divided between an angry retort and the secret purpose already alluded
"It's all the blasted heat," said Dunn, with a forced smile, pushing
away the whiskey which Wynn had ostentatiously placed before him.
"Of course," said Wynn hastily; "only it's a pity Nellie ain't here to
give you her smelling-salts. She ought to be back now," he added, no
longer mindful of Brace's presence; "the coach is over-due now, though
I reckon the heat made Yuba Bill take it easy at the up grade."
"If you mean the coach from Indian Spring," said Brace quietly, "it's
in already; but Miss Nellie didn't come on it."
"Maybe she got out at the Crossing," said Wynn cheerfully; "she
"She didn't take the coach at Indian Spring," returned Brace, "because
I saw it leave, and passed it on Buckskin ten minutes ago, coming up
"She's stopped over at Burnham's," said Wynn reflectively. Then, in
response to the significant silence of his guests, he added, in a tone
of chagrin which his forced heartiness could not disguise, "Well, boys,
it's a disappointment all round; but we must take the lesson as it
comes. I'll go over to the coach office and see if she's sent any word.
Make yourselves at home until I return."
When the door had closed behind him, Brace arose and took his hat as if
to go. With his hand on the lock, he turned to his rival, who,
half-hidden in the gathering darkness, still seemed unable to
comprehend his ill-luck.
"If you're waiting for that bald-headed fraud to come back with the
truth about his daughter," said Brace coolly, "you'd better send for
your things and take up your lodgings here."
"What do you mean?" said Dunn sternly.
"I mean that she's not at the Burnhams'; I mean that he does or does
not know _where_ she is, and that in either case he is not likely to
give you information. But I can."
"Then, where is she?"
"In the Carquinez Woods, in the arms of the man you were just
defending--Low, the half-breed."
The room had become so dark that from the road nothing could be
distinguished. Only the momentary sound of struggling feet was heard.
"Sit down," said Brace's voice, "and don't be a fool. You're too weak,
and it ain't a fair fight. Let go your hold. I'm not lying--I wish to
God I was!"
There was a silence, and Brace resumed, "We've been rivals, I know.
Maybe I thought my chance as good as yours. If what I say ain't truth,
we'll stand as we stood before; and if you're on the shoot, I'm your
man when you like, where you like, or on sight if you choose. But I
can't see another man played upon as I've been played upon--given dead
away as I have been. It ain't on the square.
"There," he continued, after a pause, "that's right; now steady.
Listen. A week ago that girl went down just like this to Indian Spring.
It was given out, like this, that she went to the Burnhams'. I don't
mind saying, Dunn, that I went down myself, all on the square, thinking
I might get a show to talk to her, just as _you_ might have done, you
know, if you had my chance. I didn't come across her anywhere. But two
men that I met thought they recognized her in a disguise going into the
woods. Not suspecting anything, I went after her; saw her at a distance
in the middle of the woods in another dress that I can swear to, and
was just coming up to her when she vanished--went like a squirrel up a
tree, or down like a gopher in the ground, but vanished."
"Is that all?" said Dunn's voice. "And just because you were a d----d
fool, or had taken a little too much whiskey, you thought"--
"Steady! That's just what I said to myself," interrupted Brace coolly,
"particularly when I saw her that same afternoon in another dress,
saying good-by to the Burnhams, as fresh as a rose and as cold as those
snow-peaks. Only one thing--she had a ring on her finger she never wore
before, and didn't expect me to see."
"What if she did? She might have bought it. I reckon she hasn't to
consult you," broke in Dunn's voice sternly.
"She didn't buy it," continued Brace quietly. "Low gave that Jew trader
a bearskin in exchange for it, and presented it to her. I found that
out two days afterwards. I found out that out of the whole afternoon
she spent less than an hour with the Burnhams. I found out that she
bought a duster like the disguise the two men saw her in. I found the
yellow dress she wore that day hanging up in Low's cabin--the place
where I saw her go--the _rendezvous where she meets him_. Oh, you're
listenin', are you? Stop! SIT DOWN!
"I discovered it by accident," continued the voice of Brace when all
was again quiet; "it was hidden as only a squirrel or an Injin can hide
when they improve upon nature. When I was satisfied that the girl had
been in the woods, I was determined to find out where she vanished, and
went there again. Prospecting around, I picked up at the foot of one of
the biggest trees this yer old memorandum-book, with grasses and herbs
stuck in it. I remembered that I'd heard old Wynn say that Low, like
the d----d Digger that he was, collected these herbs; only he pretended
it was for science. I reckoned the book was his and that he mightn't be
far away. I lay low and waited. Bimeby I saw a lizard running down the
root. When he got sight of me he stopped."
"D----n the lizard! What's that got to do with where she is now?"
"Everything. That lizard had a piece of sugar in his mouth. Where did
it come from? I made him drop it, and calculated he'd go back for more.
He did. He scooted up that tree and slipped in under some hanging
strips of bark. I shoved 'em aside, and found an opening to the hollow