Part 3 out of 3
"Then he will the more readily come and talk with me without him.
Will you take the invitation--yes or no?"
"Enough. On your way there you will stop at the hotel and give
Low a letter from me."
"You shall read it, of course," she said scornfully, "for it will
be your text for the conversation you will have with him. Will
you please take your hand from the lock and open the door?"
Wynn mechanically opened the door. The young girl flew up-
stairs. In a very few moments she returned with two notes: one
contained a few lines of formal invitation to Dunn; the other
read as follows:
"DEAR MR. DORMAN,--My father will tell you how deeply I regret
that our recent botanical excursions in the Carquinez Woods have
been a source of serious misapprehensions to those who had a
claim to my consideration, and that I shall be obliged to
discontinue them for the future. At the same time he wishes me
to express my gratitude for your valuable instruction and
assistance in that pleasing study, even though approaching events
may compel me to relinquish it for other duties. May I beg you
to accept the inclosed ring as a slight recognition of my
obligations to you?
"Your grateful pupil,
When he had finished reading the letter, she handed him a ring,
which he took mechanically. He raised his eyes to hers with
perfectly genuine admiration. "You're a good girl, Nellie," he
said, and, in a moment of parental forgetfulness, unconsciously
advanced his lips towards her cheek. But she drew back in time
to recall him to a sense of that human weakness.
"I suppose I'll have time for a nap yet," she said, as a gentle
hint to her embarrassed parent. He nodded and turned towards the
"If I were you," she continued, repressing a yawn, "I'd manage to
be seen on good terms with Low at the hotel; so perhaps you need
not give the letter to him until the last thing. Good-by."
The sitting-room door opened and closed behind her as she slipped
up-stairs, and her father, without the formality of leave-taking,
quietly let himself out by the front door.
When he drove into the high road again, however, an overlooked
possibility threatened for a moment to indefinitely postpone his
amiable intentions regarding Low. The hotel was at the further
end of the settlement towards the Carquinez Woods, and as Wynn
had nearly reached it he was recalled to himself by the sounds of
hoofs and wheels rapidly approaching from the direction of the
Excelsior turnpike. Wynn made no doubt it was the sheriff and
Brace. To avoid recognition at that moment, he whipped up his
horse, intending to keep the lead until he could turn into the
first cross-road. But the coming travelers had the fleetest
horse, and finding it impossible to distance them he drove close
to the ditch, pulling up suddenly as the strange vehicle was
abreast of him, and forcing them to pass him at full speed, with
the result already chronicled. When they had vanished in the
darkness, Mr. Wynn, with a heart overflowing with Christian
thankfulness and universal benevolence, wheeled round, and drove
back to the hotel he had already passed. To pull up at the
veranda with a stentorian shout, to thump loudly at the deserted
bar, to hilariously beat the panels of the landlord's door, and
commit a jocose assault and battery upon that half-dresssed and
half-awakened man, was eminently characteristic of Wynn, and part
of his amiable plans that morning.
"Something to wash this wood smoke from my throat, Brother
Carter, and about as much again to prop open your eyes," he said,
dragging Carter before the bar, "and glasses round for as many of
the boys as are up and stirring after a hard-working Christian's
rest. How goes the honest publican's trade, and who have we here?"
"Thar's Judge Robinson and two lawyers from Sacramento, Dick
Curson over from Yolo," said Carter, "and that ar young Injin
yarb doctor from the Carquinez Woods. I reckon he's jist up--I
noticed a light under his door as I passed."
"He's my man for a friendly chat before breakfast," said Wynn.
"You needn't come up. I'll find the way. I don't want a light;
I reckon my eyes ain't as bright nor as young as his, but they'll
see almost as far in the dark--he! he!" And, nodding to Brother
Carter, he strode along the passage, and with no other introduction
than a playful and preliminary "Boo!" burst into one of the rooms.
Low, who by the light of a single candle was bending over the plates
of a large quarto, merely raised his eyes and looked at the intruder.
The young man's natural imperturbability, always exasperating to
Wynn, seemed accented that morning by contrast with his own
"Ah ha!--wasting the midnight oil instead of imbibing the morning
dews," said Father Wynn archly, illustrating his metaphor with a
movement of his hand to his lips. "What have we here?"
"An anonymous gift," replied Low simply, recognizing the father
of Nellie by rising from his chair. "It's a volume I've longed
to possess, but never could afford to buy. I cannot imagine who
sent it to me."
Wynn was for a moment startled by the thought that this recipient
of valuable gifts might have influential friends. But a glance
at the bare room, which looked like a camp, and the strange,
unconventional garb of its occupant, restored his former
convictions. There might be a promise of intelligence, but
scarcely of prosperity, in the figure before him.
"Ah! We must not forget that we are watched over in the night
season," he said, laying his hand on Low's shoulder, with an
illustration of celestial guardianship that would have been
impious but for its palpable grotesqueness. "No, sir, we know
not what a day may bring forth."
Unfortunately, Low's practical mind did not go beyond a mere
human interpretation. It was enough, however, to put a new light
in his eye and a faint color in his cheek.
"Could it have been Miss Nellie?" he asked, with half-boyish
Mr. Wynn was too much of a Christian not to bow before what
appeared to him the purely providential interposition of this
suggestion. Seizing it and Low at the same moment, he playfully
forced him down again in his chair.
"Ah, you rascal!" he said, with infinite archness; "that's your
game, is it? You want to trap poor Father Wynn. You want to
make him say 'No.' You want to tempt him to commit himself. No,
sir!--never, sir!--no, no!"
Firmly convinced that the present was Nellie's, and that her
father only good-humoredly guessed it, the young man's simple,
truthful nature was embarrassed. He longed to express his
gratitude, but feared to betray the young girl's trust. The
Reverend Mr. Wynn speedily relieved his mind.
"No" he continued, bestriding a chair, and familiarly confronting
Low over its back. "No, sir--no! And you want me to say 'No,'
don't you, regarding the little walks of Nellie and a certain
young man in the Carquinez Woods?--ha, ha! You'd like me to say
that I knew nothing of the botanizings, and the herb collectings,
and the picknickings there--he, he!--you sly dog! Perhaps you'd
like to tempt Father Wynn further, and make him swear he knows
nothing of his daughter disguising herself in a duster and
meeting another young man--isn't it another young man?--all
alone, eh? Perhaps you want poor old Father Wynn to say No. No,
sir, nothing of the kind ever occurred. Ah, you young rascal!"
Slightly troubled, in spite of Wynn's hearty manner, Low, with
his usual directness, however, said, "I do not want anyone to
deny that I have seen Miss Nellie."
"Certainly, certainly," said Wynn, abandoning his method,
considerably disconcerted by Low's simplicity, and a certain
natural reserve that shook off his familiarity. "Certainly it's
a noble thing to be able to put your hand on your heart and say
to the world, 'Come on, all of you! Observe me; I have nothing
to conceal. I walk with Miss Wynn in the woods as her
instructor--her teacher, in fact. We cull a flower here and
there; we pluck an herb fresh from the hands of the Creator. We
look, so to speak, from Nature to Nature's God.' Yes, my young
friend, we should be the first to repel the foul calumny that
could misinterpret our most innocent actions."
"Calumny?" repeated Low, starting to his feet. "What calumny?"
"My friend, my noble young friend, I recognize your indignation.
I know your worth. When I said to Nellie, my only child, my
perhaps too simple offspring--a mere wildflower like yourself--
when I said to her, 'Go, my child, walk in the woods with this
young man, hand in hand. Let him instruct you from the humblest
roots, for he has trodden in the ways of the Almighty. Gather
wisdom from his lips, and knowledge from his simple woodman's
craft. Make, in fact, a collection not only of herbs, but of
moral axioms and experience'--I knew I could trust you, and,
trusting you, my young friend, I felt I could trust the world.
Perhaps I was weak, foolish. But I thought only of her welfare.
I even recall how that to preserve the purity of her garments, I
bade her don a simple duster; that, to secure her from the
trifling companionship of others, I bade her keep her own
counsel, and seek you at seasons known but to yourselves."
"But . . . did Nellie . . . understand you?" interrupted Low
"I see you read her simple nature. Understand me? No, not at
first! Her maidenly instinct--perhaps her duty to another--took
the alarm. I remember her words. 'But what will Dunn say?' she
asked. 'Will he not be jealous?'"
"Dunn! jealous! I don't understand," said Low, fixing his eyes
"That's just what I said to Nellie. 'Jealous!' I said. 'What,
Dunn, your affianced husband, jealous of a mere friend--a
teacher, a guide, a philosopher. It is impossible.' Well, sir,
she was right. He is jealous. And, more than that, he has
imparted his jealousy to others! In other words, he has made a
Low's eyes flashed. "Where is your daughter now?" he said sternly.
"At present in bed, suffering from a nervous attack brought on by
these unjust suspicions. She appreciates your anxiety, and,
knowing that you could not see her, told me to give you this."
He handed Low the ring and the letter.
The climax had been forced, and, it must be confessed, was by no
means the one Mr. Wynn had fully arranged in his own inner
consciousness. He had intended to take an ostentatious leave of
Low in the bar-room, deliver the letter with archness, and escape
before a possible explosion. He consequently backed towards the
door for an emergency. But he was again at fault. That
unaffected stoical fortitude in acute suffering, which was the
one remaining pride and glory of Low's race, was yet to be
revealed to Wynn's civilized eyes.
The young man took the letter, and read it without changing a
muscle, folded the ring in it, and dropped it into his haversack.
Then he picked up his blanket, threw it over his shoulder, took
his trusty rifle in his hand, and turned towards Wynn as if
coldly surprised that he was still standing there.
"Are you--are you--going?" stammered Wynn.
"Are you NOT?" replied Low dryly, leaning on his rifle for a
moment as if waiting for Wynn to precede him. The preacher
looked at him a moment, mumbled something, and then shambled
feebly and ineffectively down the staircase before Low, with a
painful suggestion to the ordinary observer of being occasionally
urged thereto by the moccasin of the young man behind him.
On reaching the lower hall, however, he endeavored to create a
diversion in his favor by dashing into the bar-room and clapping
the occupants on the back with indiscriminate playfulness. But
here again he seemed to be disappointed. To his great
discomfiture, a large man not only returned his salutation with
powerful levity, but with equal playfulness seized him in his
arms, and after an ingenious simulation of depositing him in the
horse-trough set him down in affected amazement. "Bleth't if I
didn't think from the weight of your hand it wath my old friend,
Thacramento Bill," said Curson apologetically, with a wink at the
bystanders. "That'th the way Bill alwayth uthed to tackle hith
friendth, till he wath one day bounthed by a prithe-fighter in
Frithco, whom he had mithtaken for a mithionary." As Mr.
Curson's reputation was of a quality that made any form of
apology from him instantly acceptable, the amused spectators made
way for him as, recognizing Low, who was just leaving the hotel,
he turned coolly from them and walked towards him.
"Halloo!" he said, extending his hand. "You're the man I'm
waiting for. Did you get a book from the exthpreth offithe latht
"I did. Why?"
"It'th all right. Ath I'm rethponthible for it, I only wanted to
"Did YOU send it?" asked Low, quickly fixing his eyes on his
"Well, not exactly ME. But it'th not worth making a mythtery of
it. Teretha gave me a commithion to buy it and thend it to you
anonymouthly. That'th a woman'th nonthenth, for how could thee
get a retheipt for it?"
"Then it was HER present," said Low gloomily.
"Of courthe. It wathn't mine, my boy. I'd have thent you a
Tharp'th rifle in plathe of that muthle loader you carry, or
thomething thenthible. But, I thay! what'th up? You look ath if
you had been running all night."
Low grasped his hand. "Thank you," he said hurriedly; "but it's
nothing. Only I must be back to the woods early. Good-by."
But Curson retained Low's hand in his own powerful grip.
"I'll go with you a bit further," he said. "In fact, I've got
thomething to thay to you; only don't be in thuch a hurry; the
woodth can wait till you get there." Quietly compelling Low to
alter his own characteristic Indian stride to keep pace with his,
he went on: "I don't mind thaying I rather cottoned to you from
the time you acted like a white man--no offenthe--to Teretha.
She thayth you were left when a child lying round, jutht ath
promithcuouthly ath she wath; and if I can do anything towardth
putting you on the trail of your people, I'll do it. I know
thome of the voyageurth who traded with the Cherokeeth, and your
father wath one-wathn't he?" He glanced at Low's utterly
abstracted and immobile face. "I thay, you don't theem to take a
hand in thith game, pardner. What'th the row? Ith anything
wrong over there?" and he pointed to the Carquinez Woods, which
were just looming out of the morning horizon in the distance.
Low stopped. The last words of his companion seemed to recall
him to himself. He raised his eyes automatically to the woods
"There IS something wrong over there," he said breathlessly.
"I thee nothing," said Curson, beginning to doubt Low's sanity;
"nothing more than I thaw an hour ago."
"Look again. Don't you see that smoke rising straight up? It
isn't blown over there from the Divide; it's new smoke! The fire
is in the woods!"
"I reckon that'th so," muttered Curson, shading his eyes with his
hand. "But, hullo! wait a minute! We'll get hortheth. I say!"
he shouted, forgetting his lisp in his excitement--"stop!" But
Low had already lowered his head and darted forward like an arrow.
In a few moments he had left not only his companion but the last
straggling houses of the outskirts far behind him, and had struck
out in a long, swinging trot for the disused "cut-off." Already
he fancied he heard the note of clamor in Indian Spring, and
thought he distinguished the sound of hurrying hoofs on the great
highway. But the sunken trail hid it from his view. From the
column of smoke now plainly visible in the growing morning light
he tried to locate the scene of the conflagration. It was
evidently not a fire advancing regularly from the outer skirt of
the wood, communicated to it from the Divide; it was a local
outburst near its centre. It was not in the direction of his
cabin in the tree. There was no immediate danger to Teresa,
unless fear drove her beyond the confines of the wood into the
hands of those who might recognize her. The screaming of jays
and ravens above his head quickened his speed, as it heralded the
rapid advance of the flames; and the unexpected apparition of a
bounding body, flattened and flying over the yellow plain, told
him that even the secure retreat of the mountain wild-cat had
been invaded. A sudden recollection of Teresa's uncontrollable
terror that first night smote him with remorse and redoubled his
efforts. Alone in the track of these frantic and bewildered
beasts, to what madness might she not be driven!
The sharp crack of a rifle from the high road turned his course
momentarily in that direction. The smoke was curling lazily over
the heads of the party of men in the road, while the huge hulk of
a grizzly was disappearing in the distance. A battue of the
escaping animals had commenced! In the bitterness of his heart
he caught at the horrible suggestion, and resolved to save her
from them or die with her there.
How fast he ran, or the time it took him to reach the woods, has
never been known. Their outlines were already hidden when he
entered them. To a sense less keen, a courage less desperate,
and a purpose less unaltered than Low's, the wood would have been
impenetrable. The central fire was still confined to the lofty
tree tops, but the downward rush of wind from time to time drove
the smoke into the aisles in blinding and suffocating volumes.
To simulate the creeping animals, and fall to the ground on hands
and knees, feel his way through the underbrush when the smoke was
densest, or take advantage of its momentary lifting, and without
uncertainty, mistake, or hesitation glide from tree to tree in
one undeviating course, was possible only to an experienced
woodsman. To keep his reason and insight so clear as to be able
in the midst of this bewildering confusion to shape that course
so as to intersect the wild and unknown tract of an inexperienced,
frightened wanderer belonged to Low, and Low alone. He was making
his way against the wind towards the fire. He had reasoned that
she was either in comparative safety to windward of it, or he
should meet her being driven towards him by it, or find her
succumbed and fainting at its feet. To do this he must penetrate
the burning belt, and then pass under the blazing dome. He was
already upon it; he could see the falling fire dropping like rain
or blown like gorgeous blossoms of the conflagration across his
path. The space was lit up brilliantly. The vast shafts of dull
copper cast no shadow below, but there was no sign nor token of any
human being. For a moment the young man was at fault. It was true
this hidden heart of the forest bore no undergrowth; the cool matted
carpet of the aisles seemed to quench the glowing fragments as they
fell. Escape might be difficult, but not impossible, yet every
moment was precious. He leaned against a tree, and sent his voice
like a clarion before him: "Teresa!" There was no reply. He called
again. A faint cry at his back from the trail he had just traversed
made him turn. Only a few paces behind him, blinded and staggering,
but following like a beaten and wounded animal, Teresa, halted,
knelt, clasped her hands, and dumbly held them out before her.
"Teresa!" he cried again, and sprang to her side.
She caught him by the knees, and lifted her face imploringly to his.
"Say that again!" she cried, passionately. "Tell me it was
Teresa you called, and no other! You have come back for me! You
would not let me die here alone!"
He lifted her tenderly in his arms, and cast a rapid glance
around him. It might have been his fancy, but there seemed a
dull glow in the direction he had come.
"You do not speak!" she said. "Tell me! You did not come here
to seek her?"
"Whom?" he said quickly.
With a sharp cry he let her slip to the ground. All the pent-up
agony, rage, and mortification of the last hour broke from him in
that inarticulate outburst. Then, catching her hands again, he
dragged her to his level.
"Hear me!" he cried, disregarding the whirling smoke and the
fiery baptism that sprinkled them--"hear me! If you value your
life, if you value your soul, and if you do not want me to cast
you to the beasts like Jezebel of old, never--never take that
accursed name again upon your lips. Seek her--HER? Yes! Seek
her to tie her like a witch's daughter of hell to that blazing
tree!" He stopped. "Forgive me," he said in a changed voice.
"I'm mad, and forgetting myself and you. Come."
Without noticing the expression of half-savage delight that had
passed across her face, he lifted her in his arms.
"Which way are you going?" she asked, passing her hands vaguely
across his breast, as if to reassure herself of his identity.
"To our camp by the scarred tree," he replied.
"Not there, not there," she said, hurriedly. "I was driven from
there just now. I thought the fire began there until I came here."
Then it was as he feared. Obeying the same mysterious law that
had launched this fatal fire like a thunderbolt from the burning
mountain crest five miles away into the heart of the Carquinez
Woods, it had again leaped a mile beyond, and was hemming them
between two narrowing lines of fire. But Low was not daunted.
Retracing his steps through the blinding smoke, he strode off at
right angles to the trail near the point where he had entered the
wood. It was the spot where he had first lifted Nellie in his
arms to carry her to the hidden spring. If any recollection of
it crossed his mind at that moment, it was only shown in his
redoubled energy. He did not glide through the thick underbrush,
as on that day, but seemed to take a savage pleasure in breaking
through it with sheer brute force. Once Teresa insisted upon
relieving him of the burden of her weight, but after a few steps
she staggered blindly against him, and would fain have recourse
once more to his strong arms. And so, alternately staggering,
bending, crouching, or bounding and crashing on, but always in
one direction, they burst through the jealous rampart, and came
upon the sylvan haunt of the hidden spring. The great angle of
the half-fallen tree acted as a harrier to the wind and drifting
smoke, and the cool spring sparkled and bubbled in the almost
translucent air. He laid her down beside the water, and bathed
her face and hands. As he did so his quick eye caught sight of a
woman's handkerchief lying at the foot of the disrupted root.
Dropping Teresa's hand, he walked towards it, and with the toe of
his moccasin gave it one vigorous kick into the ooze at the
overflow of the spring. He turned to Teresa, but she evidently
had not noticed the act.
"Where are you?" she asked, with a smile.
Something in her movement struck him! He came towards her, and
bending down looked into her face. "Teresa! Good God!--look at
me! What has happened?"
She raised her eyes to his. There was a slight film across them;
the lids were blackened; the beautiful lashes gone forever!
"I see you a little now, I think," she said, with a smile,
passing her hands vaguely over his face. "It must have happened
when he fainted, and I had to drag him through the blazing brush;
both my hands were full, and I could not cover my eyes."
"Drag whom?" said Low, quickly.
"Dunn! He here?" said Low, hoarsely.
"Yes; didn't you read the note I left on the herbarium? Didn't
you come to the camp-fire?" she asked hurriedly, clasping his
hands. "Tell me quickly!"
"Then you were not there--then you didn't leave me to die?"
"No! I swear it, Teresa!" the stoicism that had upheld his own
agony breaking down before her strong emotion.
"Thank God!" She threw her arms around him, and hid her aching
eyes in his troubled breast.
"Tell me all, Teresa," he whispered in her listening ear. "Don't
move; stay there, and tell me all."
With her face buried in his bosom, as if speaking to his heart
alone, she told him part, but not all. With her eyes filled with
tears, but a smile on her lips, radiant with new-found happiness,
she told him how she had overheard the plans of Dunn and Brace,
how she had stolen their conveyance to warn him in time. But
here she stopped, dreading to say a word that would shatter the
hope she was building upon his sudden revulsion of feeling for
Nellie. She could not bring herself to repeat their interview--
that would come later, when they were safe and out of danger; now
not even the secret of his birth must come between them with its
distraction, to mar their perfect communion. She faltered that
Dunn had fainted from weakness, and that she had dragged him out
of danger. "He will never interfere with us--I mean," she said
softly, "with ME again. I can promise you that as well as if he
had sworn it."
"Let him pass, now," said Low; "that will come later on," he
added, unconsciously repeating her thought in a tone that made
her heart sick. "But tell me, Teresa, why did you go to
She buried her head still deeper, as if to hide it. He felt her
broken heart beat against his own; he was conscious of a depth of
feeling her rival had never awakened in him. The possibility of
Teresa loving him had never occurred to his simple nature. He
bent his head and kissed her. She was frightened, and unloosed
her clinging arms; but he retained her hand, and said, "We will
leave this accursed place, and you shall go with me as you said
you would; nor need you ever leave me, unless you wish it."
She could hear the beating of her own heart through his words;
she longed to look at the eyes and lips that told her this, and
read the meaning his voice alone could not entirely convey. For
the first time she felt the loss of her sight. She did not know
that it was, in this moment of happiness, the last blessing
vouchsafed to her miserable life.
A few moments of silence followed, broken only by the distant
rumor of the conflagration and the crash of falling boughs.
"It may be an hour yet," he whispered, "before the fire has swept
a path for us to the road below. We are safe here, unless some
sudden current should draw the fire down upon us. You are not
frightened?" She pressed his hand; she was thinking of the pale
face of Dunn, lying in the secure retreat she had purchased for
him at such a sacrifice. Yet the possibility of danger to him
now for a moment marred her present happiness and security. "You
think the fire will not go north of where you found me?" she
"I think not," he said, "but I will reconnoitre. Stay where you
They pressed hands, and parted. He leaped upon the slanting
trunk and ascended it rapidly. She waited in mute expectation.
There was a sudden movement of the root on which she sat, a
deafening crash, and she was thrown forward on her face.
The vast bulk of the leaning tree, dislodged from its aerial
support by the gradual sapping of the spring at its roots, or by
the crumbling of the bark from the heat, had slipped, made a half
revolution, and, falling, overbore the lesser trees in its path,
and tore, in its resistless momentum, a broad opening to the
With a cry to Low, Teresa staggered to her feet. There was an
interval of hideous silence, but no reply. She called again.
There was a sudden deepening roar, the blast of a fiery furnace
swept through the opening, a thousand luminous points around her
burst into fire, and in an instant she was lost in a whirlwind of
smoke and flame! From the onset of its fury to its culmination
twenty minutes did not elapse; but in that interval a radius of
two hundred yards around the hidden spring was swept of life and
light and motion.
For the rest of that day and part of the night a pall of smoke
hung above the scene of desolation. It lifted only towards the
morning, when the moon, rising high, picked out in black and
silver the shrunken and silent columns of those roofless vaults,
shorn of base and capital. It flickered on the still,
overflowing pool of the hidden spring, and shone upon the white
face of Low, who, with a rootlet of the fallen tree holding him
down like an arm across his breast, seemed to be sleeping
peacefully in the sleeping water.
. . . . . . .
Contemporaneous history touched him as briefly, but not as
gently. "It is now definitely ascertained," said "The
Slumgullion Mirror," "that Sheriff Dunn met his fate in the
Carquinez Woods in the performance of his duty; that fearless man
having received information of the concealment of a band of horse
thieves in their recesses. The desperadoes are presumed to have
escaped, as the only remains found are those of two wretched
tramps, one of whom is said to have been a digger, who supported
himself upon roots and herbs, and the other a degraded half-white
woman. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the fire
originated through their carelessness, although Father Wynn of
the First Baptist Church, in his powerful discourse of last
Sunday, pointed at the warning and lesson of such catastrophes.
It may not be out of place here to say that the rumors regarding
an engagement between the pastor's accomplished daughter and the
late lamented sheriff are utterly without foundation, as it has
been an on dit for some time in all well-informed circles that
the indefatigable Mr. Brace, of Wells, Fargo and Co.'s Express,
will shortly lead the lady to the hymeneal altar."