Part 3 out of 4
and out! Yer goin' to shut up your desk and your books and this
hull consarn inside of an hour, and vamose the ranch. Arter an
hour from now thar won't be any Mr. Farendell, and no weddin'
"If that's your game--perhaps you'd like to murder me at once?"
said Farendell with a shifting eye, as his hand again moved towards
But again the thin hand of the stranger was also lifted. "We ain't
in the business o' murderin' or bein' murdered, or we might hev kem
here together, me and Duffy. Now if anything happens to me Duffy
will be left, and HE'S got the proofs."
Farendell seemed to recognize the fact with the same directness.
"That's it, is it?" he said bluntly. "Well, how much do you want?
Only, I warn you that I haven't much to give."
"Wotever you've got, if it was millions, it ain't enough to buy us
up, and ye ought to know that by this time," responded Scranton,
with a momentary flash in his eyes. But the next moment his
previous passionless deliberation returned, and leaning his arm on
the desk of the man before him he picked up a paperweight
carelessly and turned it over as he said slowly, "The fact is, Mr.
Farendell, you've been making us, me and Duffy, tired. We've bin
watchin' you and your doin's, lyin' low and sayin' nothin', till we
concluded that it was about time you handed in your checks and left
the board. We ain't wanted nothin' of ye, we ain't begrudged ye
nothin', but we've allowed that this yer thing must stop."
"And what if I refuse?" said Farendell.
"Thar'll be some cussin' and a big row from YOU, I kalkilate--and
maybe some fightin' all round," said Scranton dispassionately.
"But it will be all the same in the end. The hull thing will come
out, and you'll hev to slide just the same. T'otherwise, ef ye
slide out NOW, it's without a row."
"And do you suppose a business man like me can disappear without a
fuss over it?" said Farendell angrily. "Are you mad?"
"I reckon the hole YOU'LL make kin be filled up," said Scranton
dryly. "But ef ye go NOW, you won't be bothered by the fuss, while
if you stay you'll have to face the music, and go too!"
Farendell was silent. Possibly the truth of this had long since
been borne upon him. No one but himself knew the incessant strain
of these years of evasion and concealment, and how he often had
been near to some such desperate culmination. The sacrifice
offered to him was not, therefore, so great as it might have
seemed. The knowledge of this might have given him a momentary
superiority over his antagonist had Scranton's motive been a purely
selfish or malignant one, but as it was not, and as he may have had
some instinctive idea of Farendell's feeling also, it made his
ultimatum appear the more passionless and fateful. And it was this
quality which perhaps caused Farendell to burst out with desperate
"What in h-ll ever put you up to this!"
Scranton folded his arms upon Farendell's desk, and slowly wiping
his clean jaw with one hand, repeated deliberately, "Wall--I reckon
I told ye that before! You've been making us--me and Duffy--
tired!" He paused for a moment, and then, rising abruptly, with a
careless gesture towards the uncovered tray of gold, said, "Come!
ye kin take enuff o' that to get away with; the less ye take,
though, the less likely you'll be to be followed!"
He went to the door, unlocked and opened it. A strange light, as
of a lurid storm interspersed by sheet-like lightning, filled the
outer darkness, and the silence was now broken by dull crashes and
nearer cries and shouting. A few figures were also dimly flitting
around the neighboring empty offices, some of which, like
Farendell's, had been entered by their now alarmed owners.
"You've got a good chance now," continued Scranton; "ye couldn't
hev a better. It's a big fire--a scorcher--and jest the time for a
man to wipe himself out and not be missed. Make tracks where the
crowd is thickest and whar ye're likely to be seen, ez ef ye were
helpin'! Ther' 'll be other men missed tomorrow beside you," he
added with grim significance; "but nobody'll know that you was one
who really got away."
Where the imperturbable logic of the strange man might have failed,
the noise, the tumult, the suggestion of swift-coming disaster, and
the necessity for some immediate action of any kind, was convincing.
Farendell hastily stuffed his pockets with gold and the papers he
had found, and moved to the door. Already he fancied he felt the
hot breath of the leaping conflagration beyond. "And you?" he said,
turning suspiciously to Scranton.
"When you're shut of this and clean off, I'll fix things and leave
too--but not before. I reckon," he added grimly, with a glance at
the sky, now streaming with sparks like a meteoric shower, "thar
won't be much left here in the morning."
A few dull embers pattered on the iron roof of the low building and
bounded off in ashes. Farendell cast a final glance around him,
and then darted from the building. The iron door clanged behind
him--he was gone.
Evidently not too soon, for the other buildings were already
deserted by their would-be salvors, who had filled the streets with
piles of books and valuables waiting to be carried away. Then
occurred a terrible phenomenon, which had once before in such
disasters paralyzed the efforts of the firemen. A large wooden
warehouse in the centre of the block of offices, many hundred feet
from the scene of active conflagration--which had hitherto remained
intact--suddenly became enveloped in clouds of smoke, and without
warning burst as suddenly from roof and upper story into vivid
flame. There were eye-witnesses who declared that a stream of
living fire seemed to leap upon it from the burning district, and
connected the space between them with an arch of luminous heat. In
another instant the whole district was involved in a whirlwind of
smoke and flame, out of whose seething vortex the corrugated iron
buildings occasionally showed their shriveling or glowing outlines.
And then the fire swept on and away.
When the sun again arose over the panic-stricken and devastated
city, all personal incident and disaster was forgotten in the
larger calamity. It was two or three days before the full
particulars could be gathered--even while the dominant and
resistless energy of the people was erecting new buildings upon the
still-smoking ruins. It was only on the third day afterwards that
James Farendell, on the deck of a coasting steamer, creeping out
through the fogs of the Golden Gate, read the latest news in a San
Francisco paper brought by the pilot. As he hurriedly comprehended
the magnitude of the loss, which was far beyond his previous
conception, he experienced a certain satisfaction in finding his
position no worse materially than that of many of his fellow
workers. THEY were ruined like himself; THEY must begin their life
afresh--but then! Ah! there was still that terrible difference.
He drew his breath quickly, and read on. Suddenly he stopped,
transfixed by a later paragraph. For an instant he failed to grasp
its full significance. Then he read it again, the words imprinting
themselves on his senses with a slow deliberation that seemed to
him as passionless as Scranton's utterances on that fateful night.
"The loss of life, it is now feared, is much greater than at first
imagined. To the list that has been already published we must add
the name of James Farendell, the energetic contractor so well known
to our citizens, who was missing the morning after the fire. His
calcined remains were found this afternoon in the warped and
twisted iron shell of his counting-house, the wooden frame having
been reduced to charcoal in the intense heat. The unfortunate man
seems to have gone there to remove his books and papers,--as was
evidenced by the iron safe being found open,--but to have been
caught and imprisoned in the building through the heat causing the
metal sheathing to hermetically seal the doors and windows. He was
seen by some neighbors to enter the building while the fire was
still distant, and his remains were identified by his keys, which
were found beneath him. A poignant interest is added to his
untimely fate by the circumstance that he was to have been married
on the following day to the widow of his late partner, and that he
had, at the call of duty, that very evening left a dinner party
given to celebrate the last day of his bachelorhood--or, as it has
indeed proved, of his earthly existence. Two families are thus
placed in mourning, and it is a singular sequel that by this
untoward calamity the well-known firm of Farendell & Cutler may be
said to have ceased to exist."
Mr. Farendell started to his feet. But a lurch of the schooner as
she rose on the long swell of the Pacific sent him staggering
dizzily back to his seat, and checked his first wild impulse to
return. He saw it all now,--the fire had avenged him by wiping out
his persecutor, Scranton, but in the eyes of his contemporaries it
had only erased HIM! He might return to refute the story in his
own person, but the dead man's partner still lived with his secret,
and his own rehabilitation could only revive his former peril.
. . . . . .
Four years elapsed before the late Mr. Farendell again set foot in
the levee of Sacramento. The steamboat that brought him from San
Francisco was a marvel to him in size, elegance, and comfort; so
different from the little, crowded, tri-weekly packet he
remembered; and it might, in a manner, have prepared him for the
greater change in the city. But he was astounded to find nothing
to remind him of the past,--no landmark, nor even ruin, of the
place he had known. Blocks of brick buildings, with thoroughfares
having strange titles, occupied the district where his counting-
house had stood, and even obliterated its site; equally strange
names were upon the shops and warehouses. In his four years'
wanderings he had scarcely found a place as unfamiliar. He had
trusted to the great change in his own appearance--the full beard
that he wore and the tanning of a tropical sun--to prevent
recognition; but the precaution was unnecessary, there were none to
recognize him in the new faces which were the only ones he saw in
the transformed city. A cautious allusion to the past which he had
made on the boat to a fellow passenger had brought only the
surprised rejoinder, "Oh, that must have been before the big fire,"
as if it was an historic epoch. There was something of pain even
in this assured security of his loneliness. His obliteration was
For the late Mr. Farendell had suffered some change of mind with
his other mutations. He had been singularly lucky. The schooner
in which he had escaped brought him to Acapulco, where, as a
returning Californian, and a presumably successful one, his
services and experience were eagerly sought by an English party
engaged in developing certain disused Mexican mines. As the post,
however, was perilously near the route of regular emigration, as
soon as he had gained a sufficient sum he embarked with some goods
to Callao, where he presently established himself in business,
resuming his REAL name--the unambitious but indistinctive one of
"Smith." It is highly probable that this prudential act was also
his first step towards rectitude. For whether the change was a
question of moral ethics, or merely a superstitious essay in luck,
he was thereafter strictly honest in business. He became
prosperous. He had been sustained in his flight by the intention
that, if he were successful elsewhere, he would endeavor to
communicate with his abandoned fiancee, and ask her to join him,
and share not his name but fortune in exile. But as he grew rich,
the difficulties of carrying out this intention became more
apparent; he was by no means certain of her loyalty surviving the
deceit he had practiced and the revelation he would have to make;
he was doubtful of the success of any story which at other times he
would have glibly invented to take the place of truth. Already
several months had elapsed since his supposed death; could he
expect her to be less accessible to premature advances now than
when she had been a widow? Perhaps this made him think of the wife
he had deserted so long ago. He had been quite content to live
without regret or affection, forgetting and forgotten, but in his
present prosperity he felt there was some need of putting his
domestic affairs into a more secure and legitimate shape, to avert
any catastrophe like the last. HERE at least would be no
difficulty; husbands had deserted their wives before this in
Californian emigration, and had been heard of only after they had
made their fortune. Any plausible story would be accepted by HER
in the joy of his reappearance; or if, indeed, as he reflected with
equal complacency, she was dead or divorced from him through his
desertion--a sufficient cause in her own State--and re-married, he
would at least be more secure. He began, without committing
himself, by inquiry and anonymous correspondence. His wife, he
learnt, had left Missouri for Sacramento only a month or two after
his own disappearance from that place, and her address was unknown!
A complication so unlooked for disquieted him, and yet whetted his
curiosity. The only person she might meet in California who could
possibly identify him with the late Mr. Farendell was Duffy; he had
often wondered if that mysterious partner of Scranton's had been
deceived with the others, or had ever suspected that the body
discovered in the counting-house was Scranton's. If not, he must
have accepted the strange coincidence that Scranton had disappeared
also the same night. In the first six months of his exile he had
searched the Californian papers thoroughly, but had found no record
of any doubt having been thrown on the accepted belief. It was
these circumstances, and perhaps a vague fascination not unlike
that which impels the malefactor to haunt the scene of his crime,
that, at the end of four years, had brought him, a man of middle
age and assured occupation and fortune, back to the city he had
A few days at one of the new hotels convinced him thoroughly that
he was in no danger of recognition, and gave him the assurance to
take rooms more in keeping with his circumstances and his own
frankly avowed position as the head of a South American house. A
cautious acquaintance--through the agency of his banker--with a few
business men gave him some occupation, and the fact of his South
American letters being addressed to Don Diego Smith gave a foreign
flavor to his individuality, which his tanned face and dark beard
had materially helped. A stronger test convinced him how complete
was the obliteration of his former identity. One day at the bank
he was startled at being introduced by the manager to a man whom he
at once recognized as a former business acquaintance. But the
shock was his alone; the formal approach and unfamiliar manner of
the man showed that he had failed to recognize even a resemblance.
But would he equally escape detection by his wife if he met her as
accidentally,--an encounter not to be thought of until he knew
something more of her? He became more cautious in going to public
places, but luckily for him the proportion of women to men was
still small in California, and they were more observed than
A month elapsed; in that time he had thoroughly exhausted the local
Directories in his cautious researches among the "Smiths," for in
his fear of precipitating a premature disclosure he had given up
his former anonymous advertising. And there was a certain
occupation in this personal quest that filled his business time.
He was in no hurry. He had a singular faith that he would
eventually discover her whereabouts, be able to make all necessary
inquiries into her conduct and habits, and perhaps even enjoy a
brief season of unsuspected personal observation before revealing
himself. And this faith was as singularly rewarded.
Having occasion to get his watch repaired one day he entered a
large jeweler's shop, and while waiting its examination his
attention was attracted by an ordinary old-fashioned daguerreotype
case in the form of a heart-shaped locket lying on the counter with
other articles left for repairs. Something in its appearance
touched a chord in his memory; he lifted the half-opened case and
saw a much faded daguerreotype portrait of himself taken in
Missouri before he left in the Californian emigration. He
recognized it at once as one he had given to his wife; the faded
likeness was so little like his present self that he boldly
examined it and asked the jeweler one or two questions. The man
was communicative. Yes, it was an old-fashioned affair which had
been left for repairs a few days ago by a lady whose name and
address, written by herself, were on the card tied to it.
Mr. James Smith had by this time fully controlled the emotion he
felt as he recognized his wife's name and handwriting, and knew
that at last the clue was found! He laid down the case carelessly,
gave the final directions for the repairs of his watch, and left
the shop. The address, of which he had taken a mental note, was,
to his surprise, very near his own lodgings; but he went straight
home. Here a few inquiries of his janitor elicited the information
that the building indicated in the address was a large one of
furnished apartments and offices like his own, and that the "Mrs.
Smith" must be simply the housekeeper of the landlord, whose name
appeared in the Directory, but not her own. Yet he waited until
evening before he ventured to reconnoitre the premises; with the
possession of his clue came a slight cooling of his ardor and
extreme caution in his further proceedings. The house--a
reconstructed wooden building--offered no external indication of
the rooms she occupied in the uniformly curtained windows that
front the street. Yet he felt an odd and pleasurable excitement in
passing once or twice before those walls that hid the goal of his
quest. As yet he had not seen her, and there was naturally the
added zest of expectation. He noticed that there was a new
building opposite, with vacant offices to let. A project suddenly
occurred to him, which by morning he had fully matured. He hired a
front room in the first floor of the new building, had it hurriedly
furnished as a private office, and on the second morning of his
discovery was installed behind his desk at the window commanding a
full view of the opposite house. There was nothing strange in the
South American capitalist selecting a private office in so popular
Two or three days elapsed without any result from his espionage.
He came to know by sight the various tenants, the two Chinese
servants, and the solitary Irish housemaid, but as yet had no
glimpse of the housekeeper. She evidently led a secluded life
among her duties; it occurred to him that perhaps she went out,
possibly to market, earlier than he came, or later, after he had
left the office. In this belief he arrived one morning after an
early walk in a smart spring shower, the lingering straggler of the
winter rains. There were few people astir, yet he had been
preceded for two or three blocks by a tall woman whose umbrella
partly concealed her head and shoulders from view. He had noticed,
however, even in his abstraction, that she walked well, and managed
the lifting of her skirt over her trim ankles and well-booted feet
with some grace and cleverness. Yet it was only on her unexpectedly
turning the corner of his own street that he became interested. She
continued on until within a few doors of his office, when she
stopped to give an order to a tradesman, who was just taking down
his shutters. He heard her voice distinctly; in the quick emotion
it gave him he brushed hurriedly past her without lifting his eyes.
Gaining his own doorway he rushed upstairs to his office, hastily
unlocked it, and ran to the window. The lady was already crossing
the street. He saw her pause before the door of the opposite house,
open it with a latchkey, and caught a full view of her profile in
the single moment that she turned to furl her umbrella and enter.
It was his wife's voice he had heard; it was his wife's face that he
had seen in profile.
Yet she was changed from the lanky young schoolgirl he had wedded
ten years ago, or, at least, compared to what his recollection of
her had been. Had he ever seen her as she really was? Surely
somewhere in that timid, freckled, half-grown bride he had known in
the first year of their marriage the germ of this self-possessed,
matured woman was hidden. There was the tone of her voice; he had
never recalled it before as a lover might, yet now it touched him;
her profile he certainly remembered, but not with the feeling it
now produced in him. Would he have ever abandoned her had she been
like that? Or had HE changed, and was this no longer his old
self?--perhaps even a self SHE would never recognize again? James
Smith had the superstitions of a gambler, and that vague idea of
fate that comes to weak men; a sudden fright seized him, and he
half withdrew from the window lest she should observe him,
recognize him, and by some act precipitate that fate.
By lingering beyond the usual hour for his departure he saw her
again, and had even a full view of her face as she crossed the
street. The years had certainly improved her; he wondered with a
certain nervousness if she would think they had done the same for
him. The complacency with which he had at first contemplated her
probable joy at recovering him had become seriously shaken since he
had seen her; a woman as well preserved and good-looking as that,
holding a certain responsible and, no doubt, lucrative position,
must have many admirers and be independent. He longed to tell her
now of his fortune, and yet shrank from the test its exposure
implied. He waited for her return until darkness had gathered, and
then went back to his lodgings a little chagrined and ill at ease.
It was rather late for her to be out alone! After all, what did he
know of her habits or associations? He recalled the freedom of
Californian life, and the old scandals relating to the lapses of
many women who had previously led blameless lives in the Atlantic
States. Clearly it behooved him to be cautious. Yet he walked
late that night before the house again, eager to see if she had
returned, and with WHOM? He was restricted in his eagerness by the
fear of detection, but he gathered very little knowledge of her
habits; singularly enough nobody seemed to care. A little piqued
at this, he began to wonder if he were not thinking too much of
this woman to whom he still hesitated to reveal himself.
Nevertheless, he found himself that night again wandering around
the house, and even watching with some anxiety the shadow which he
believed to be hers on the window-blind of the room where he had by
discreet inquiry located her. Whether his memory was stimulated by
his quest he never knew, but presently he was able to recall step
by step and incident by incident his early courtship of her and the
brief days of their married life. He even remembered the day she
accepted him, and even dwelt upon it with a sentimental thrill that
he probably never felt at the time, and it was a distinct feature
of his extraordinary state of mind and its concentration upon this
particular subject that he presently began to look upon HIMSELF as
the abandoned and deserted conjugal partner, and to nurse a feeling
of deep injury at her hands! The fact that he was thinking of her,
and she, probably, contented with her lot, was undisturbed by any
memory of him, seemed to him a logical deduction of his superior
It was, therefore, quite as much in the attitude of a reproachful
and avenging husband as of a merely curious one that, one
afternoon, seeing her issue from her house at an early hour, he
slipped down the stairs and began to follow her at a secure
distance. She turned into the principal thoroughfare, and
presently made one of the crowd who were entering a popular place
of amusement where there was an afternoon performance. So complete
was his selfish hallucination, that he smiled bitterly at this
proof of heartless indifference, and even so far overcame his
previous caution as to actually brush by her somewhat rudely as he
entered the building at the same moment. He was conscious that she
lifted her eyes a little impatiently to the face of the awkward
stranger; he was equally, but more bitterly, conscious that she had
not recognized him! He dropped into a seat behind her; she did not
look at him again with even a sense of disturbance; the momentary
contact had evidently left no impression upon her. She glanced
casually at her neighbors on either side, and presently became
absorbed in the performance. When it was over she rose, and on her
way out recognized and exchanged a few words with one or two
acquaintances. Again he heard her familiar voice, almost at his
elbow, raised with no more consciousness of her contiguity to him
than if he were a mere ghost. The thought struck him for the first
time with a hideous and appalling significance. What was he but a
ghost to her--to every one! A man dead, buried, and forgotten!
His vanity and self-complacency vanished before this crushing
realization of the hopelessness of his existence. Dazed and
bewildered, he mingled blindly and blunderingly with the departing
crowd, tossed here and there as if he were an invisible presence,
stumbling over the impeding skirts of women with a vague apology
they heeded not, and which seemed in his frightened ears as hollow
as a voice from the grave.
When he at last reached the street he did not look back, but
wandered abstractedly through by-streets in the falling rain,
scarcely realizing where he was, until he found himself drenched
through, with his closed umbrella in his tremulous hand, standing
at the half-submerged levee beside the overflowed river. Here
again he realized how completely he had been absorbed and
concentrated in his search for his wife during the last three
weeks; he had never been on the levee since his arrival. He had
taken no note of the excitement of the citizens over the alarming
reports of terrible floods in the mountains, and the daily and
hourly fear that they experienced of disastrous inundation from the
surcharged river. He had never thought of it, yet he had read of
it, and even talked, and yet now for the first time in his selfish,
blind absorption was certain of it. He stood still for some time,
watching doggedly the enormous yellow stream laboring with its
burden and drift from many a mountain town and camp, moving
steadily and fatefully towards the distant bay, and still more
distant and inevitable ocean. For a few moments it vaguely
fascinated and diverted him; then it as vaguely lent itself to his
one dominant, haunting thought. Yes, it was pointing him the only
way out,--the path to the distant ocean and utter forgetfulness
The chill of his saturated clothing brought him to himself once
more, he turned and hurried home. He went tiredly to his bedroom,
and while changing his garments there came a knock at the door. It
was the porter to say that a lady had called, and was waiting for
him in the sitting-room. She had not given her name.
The closed door prevented the servant from seeing the extraordinary
effect produced by this simple announcement upon the tenant. For
one instant James Smith remained spellbound in his chair. It was
characteristic of his weak nature and singular prepossession that
he passed in an instant from the extreme of doubt to the extreme of
certainty and conviction. It was his wife! She had recognized him
in that moment of encounter at the entertainment; had found his
address, and had followed him here! He dressed himself with
feverish haste, not, however, without a certain care of his
appearance and some selection of apparel, and quickly forecast the
forthcoming interview in his mind. For the pendulum had swung
back; Mr. James Smith was once more the self-satisfied, self-
complacent, and discreetly cautious husband that he had been at the
beginning of his quest, perhaps with a certain sense of grievance
superadded. He should require the fullest explanations and
guarantees before committing himself,--indeed, her present call
might be an advance that it would be necessary for him to check.
He even pictured her pleading at his feet; a very little stronger
effort of his Alnaschar imagination would have made him reject her
like the fatuous Persian glass peddler.
He opened the door of the sitting-room deliberately, and walked in
with a certain formal precision. But the figure of a woman arose
from the sofa, and with a slight outcry, half playful, half
hysterical, threw herself upon his breast with the single
exclamation, "Jim!" He started back from the double shock. For
the woman was NOT his wife! A woman extravagantly dressed, still
young, but bearing, even through her artificially heightened color,
a face worn with excitement, excess, and premature age. Yet a face
that as he disengaged himself from her arms grew upon him with a
terrible recognition, a face that he had once thought pretty,
inexperienced, and innocent,--the face of the widow of his former
partner, Cutler, the woman he was to have married on the day he
fled. The bitter revulsion of feeling and astonishment was
evidently visible in his face, for she, too, drew back for a moment
as they separated. But she had evidently been prepared, if not
pathetically inured to such experiences. She dropped into a chair
again with a dry laugh, and a hard metallic voice, as she said,--
"Well, it's YOU, anyway--and you can't get out of it."
As he still stared at her, in her inconsistent finery, draggled and
wet by the storm, at her limp ribbons and ostentatious jewelry, she
continued, in the same hard voice,--
"I thought I spotted you once or twice before; but you took no
notice of me, and I reckoned I was mistaken. But this afternoon at
the Temple of Music"--
"Where?" said James Smith harshly.
"At the Temple--the San Francisco Troupe performance--where you
brushed by me, and I heard your voice saying, 'Beg pardon!' I
says, 'That's Jim Farendell.'"
"Farendell!" burst out James Smith, half in simulated astonishment,
half in real alarm.
"Well! Smith, then, if you like better," said the woman impatiently;
"though it's about the sickest and most played-out dodge of a name
you could have pitched upon. James Smith, Don Diego Smith!" she
repeated, with a hysteric laugh. "Why, it beats the nigger
minstrels all hollow! Well, when I saw you there, I said, 'That's
Jim Farendell, or his twin brother;' I didn't say 'his ghost,' mind
you; for, from the beginning, even before I knew it all, I never
took any stock in that fool yarn about your burnt bones being found
in your office."
"Knew all, knew what?" demanded the man, with a bravado which he
nevertheless felt was hopeless.
She rose, crossed the room, and, standing before him, placed one
hand upon her hip as she looked at him with half-pitying effrontery.
"Look here, Jim," she began slowly, "do you know what you're doing?
Well, you're making me tired!" In spite of himself, a half-
superstitious thrill went through him as her words and attitude
recalled the dead Scranton. "Do you suppose that I don't know that
you ran away the night of the fire? Do you suppose that I don't
know that you were next to ruined that night, and that you took
that opportunity of skedaddling out of the country with all the
money you had left, and leaving folks to imagine you were burnt up
with the books you had falsified and the accounts you had doctored!
It was a mean thing for you to do to me, Jim, for I loved you then,
and would have been fool enough to run off with you if you'd told
me all, and not left me to find out that you had lost MY money--
every cent Cutler had left me in the business--with the rest."
With the fatuousness of a weak man cornered, he clung to unimportant
details. "But the body was believed to be mine by every one," he
stammered angrily. "My papers and books were burnt,--there was no
"And why was there not?" she said witheringly, staring doggedly in
his face. "Because I stopped it! Because when I knew those bones
and rags shut up in that office weren't yours, and was beginning to
make a row about it, a strange man came to me and said they were
the remains of a friend of his who knew your bankruptcy and had
come that night to warn you,--a man whom you had half ruined once,
a man who had probably lost his life in helping you away. He said
if I went on making a fuss he'd come out with the whole truth--how
you were a thief and a forger, and"--she stopped.
"And what else?" he asked desperately, dreading to hear his wife's
name next fall from her lips.
"And that--as it could be proved that his friend knew your
secrets," she went on in a frightened, embarrassed voice, "you
might be accused of making away with him."
For a moment James Smith was appalled; he had never thought of
this. As in all his past villainy he was too cowardly to
contemplate murder, he was frightened at the mere accusation of it.
"But," he stammered, forgetful of all save this new terror, "he
KNEW I wouldn't be such a fool, for the man himself told me Duffy
had the papers, and killing him wouldn't have helped me."
Mrs. Cutler stared at him a moment searchingly, and then turned
wearily away. "Well," she said, sinking into her chair again, "he
said if I'd shut my mouth he'd shut his--and--I did. And this,"
she added, throwing her hands from her lap, a gesture half of
reproach and half of contempt,--"this is what I get for it."
More frightened than touched by the woman's desperation, James
Smith stammered a vague apologetic disclaimer, even while he was
loathing with a revulsion new to him her draggled finery, her still
more faded beauty, and the half-distinct consciousness of guilt
that linked her to him. But she waved it away, a weary gesture
that again reminded him of the dead Scranton.
"Of course I ain't what I was, but who's to blame for it? When you
left me alone without a cent, face to face with a lie, I had to do
something. I wasn't brought up to work; I like good clothes, and
you know it better than anybody. I ain't one of your stage
heroines that go out as dependants and governesses and die of
consumption, but I thought," she went on with a shrill, hysterical
laugh, more painful than the weariness which inevitably followed
it, "I thought I might train myself to do it, ON THE STAGE! and I
joined Barker's Company. They said I had a face and figure for the
stage; that face and figure wore out before I had anything more to
show, and I wasn't big enough to make better terms with the
manager. They kept me nearly a year doing chambermaids and fairy
queens the other side of the footlights, where I saw you today.
Then I kicked! I suppose I might have married some fool for his
money, but I was soft enough to think you might be sending for me
when you were safe. You seem to be mighty comfortable here," she
continued, with a bitter glance around his handsomely furnished
room, "as 'Don Diego Smith.' I reckon skedaddling pays better than
"I have only been here a few weeks," he said hurriedly. "I never
knew what had become of you, or that you were still here"--
"Or you wouldn't have come," she interrupted, with a bitter laugh.
"Speak out, Jim."
"If there--is anything--I can do--for you," he stammered, "I'm
"Anything you can do?" she repeated, slowly and scornfully.
"Anything you can do NOW? Yes!" she screamed, suddenly rising,
crossing the room, and grasping his arms convulsively. "Yes! Take
me away from here--anywhere--at once! Look, Jim," she went on
feverishly, "let bygones be bygones--I won't peach! I won't tell
on you--though I had it in my heart when you gave me the go-by just
now! I'll do anything you say--go to your farthest hiding-place--
work for you--only take me out of this cursed place."
Her passionate pleading stung even through his selfishness and
loathing. He thought of his wife's indifference! Yes, he might be
driven to this, and at least he must secure the only witness
against his previous misconduct. "We will see," he said soothingly,
gently loosening her hands. "We must talk it over." He stopped as
his old suspiciousness returned. "But you must have some friends,"
he said searchingly, "some one who has helped you."
"None! Only one--he helped me at first," she hesitated--"Duffy."
"Duffy!" said James Smith, recoiling.
"Yes, when he had to tell me all," she said in half-frightened
tones, "he was sorry for me. Listen, Jim! He was a square man,
for all he was devoted to his partner--and you can't blame him for
that. I think he helped me because I was alone; for nothing else,
Jim. I swear it! He helped me from time to time. Maybe he might
have wanted to marry me if he had not been waiting for another
woman that he loved, a married woman that had been deserted years
ago by her husband, just as you might have deserted me if we'd been
married that day. He helped her and paid for her journey here to
seek her husband, and set her up in business."
"What are you talking about--what woman?" stammered James Smith,
with a strange presentiment creeping over him.
"A Mrs. Smith. Yes," she said quickly, as he started, "not a sham
name like yours, but really and truly SMITH--that was her husband's
name! I'm not lying, Jim," she went on, evidently mistaking the
cause of the sudden contraction of the man's face. "I didn't
invent her nor her name; there IS such a woman, and Duffy loves
her--and HER only, and he never, NEVER was anything more than a
friend to me. I swear it!"
The room seemed to swim around him. She was staring at him, but he
could see in her vacant eyes that she had no conception of his
secret, nor knew the extent of her revelation. Duffy had not dared
to tell all! He burst into a coarse laugh. "What matters Duffy or
the silly woman he'd try to steal away from other men."
"But he didn't try to steal her, and she's only silly because she
wants to be true to her husband while he lives. She told Duffy
she'd never marry him until she saw her husband's dead face. More
fool she," she added bitterly.
"Until she saw her husband's dead face," was all that James Smith
heard of this speech. His wife's faithfulness through years of
desertion, her long waiting and truthfulness, even the bitter
commentary of the equally injured woman before him, were to him as
nothing to what that single sentence conjured up. He laughed
again, but this time strangely and vacantly. "Enough of this Duffy
and his intrusion in my affairs until I'm able to settle my account
with him. Come," he added brusquely, "if we are going to cut out
of this at once I've got much to do. Come here again to-morrow,
early. This Duffy--does he live here?"
"No. In Marysville."
"Good! Come early to-morrow."
As she seemed to hesitate, he opened a drawer of his table and took
out a handful of gold, and handed it to her. She glanced at it for
a moment with a strange expression, put it mechanically in her
pocket, and then looking up at him said, with a forced laugh, "I
suppose that means I am to clear out?"
"Until to-morrow," he said shortly.
"If the Sacramento don't sweep us away before then," she interrupted,
with a reckless laugh; "the river's broken through the levee--a
clear sweep in two places. Where I live the water's up to the
doorstep. They say it's going to be the biggest flood yet. You're
all right here; you're on higher ground."
She seemed to utter these sentences abstractedly, disconnectedly,
as if to gain time. He made an impatient gesture.
"All right, I'm going," she said, compressing her lips slowly to
keep them from trembling. "You haven't forgotten anything?" As he
turned half angrily towards her she added, hurriedly and bitterly,
She opened the door and passed out. He listened until the trail of
her wet skirt had descended the stairs, and the street door had
closed behind her. Then he went back to his table and began
collecting his papers and putting them away in his trunks, which he
packed feverishly, yet with a set and determined face. He wrote
one or two letters, which he sealed and left upon his table. He
then went to his bedroom and deliberately shaved off his disguising
beard. Had he not been so preoccupied in one thought, he might
have been conscious of loud voices in the street and a hurrying of
feet on the wet sidewalk. But he was possessed by only one idea.
He must see his wife that evening! How, he knew not yet, but the
way would appear when he had reached his office in the building
opposite hers. Three hours had elapsed before he had finished his
preparations. On going downstairs he stopped to give some
directions to the porter, but his room was empty; passing into the
street he was surprised to find it quite deserted, and the shops
closed; even a drinking saloon at the corner was quite empty. He
turned the corner of the street, and began the slight descent
towards his office. To his amazement the lower end of the street,
which was crossed by the thoroughfare which was his destination,
was blocked by a crowd of people. As he hurried forward to join
them he suddenly saw, moving down that thoroughfare, what appeared
to his startled eyes to be the smokestacks of some small, flat-
bottomed steamer. He rubbed his eyes; it was no illusion, for the
next moment he had reached the crowd, who were standing half a
block away from the thoroughfare, and on the edge of a lagoon of
yellow water, whose main current was the thoroughfare he was
seeking, and between whose houses, submerged to their first
stories, a steamboat was really paddling. Other boats and rafts
were adrift on its sluggish waters, and a boatman had just landed a
passenger in the backwater of the lower half of the street on which
he stood with the crowd.
Possessed of his one idea, he fought his way desperately to the
water edge and the boat, and demanded a passage to his office. The
boatman hesitated, but James Smith promptly offered him double the
value of his craft. The act was not deemed singular in that
extravagant epoch, and the sympathizing crowd cheered his solitary
departure, as he declined even the services of the boatman. The
next moment he was off in mid-stream of the thoroughfare, paddling
his boat with a desperate but inexperienced hand until he reached
his office, which he entered by the window. The building, which
was new and of brick, showed very little damage from the flood, but
in far different case was the one opposite, on which his eyes were
eagerly bent, and whose cheap and insecure foundations he could see
the flood was already undermining. There were boats around the
house, and men hurriedly removing trunks and valuables, but the one
figure he expected to see was not there. He tied his own boat to
the window; there was evidently no chance of an interview now, but
if she were leaving there would be still the chance of following
her and knowing her destination. As he gazed she suddenly appeared
at a window, and was helped by a boatman into a flat-bottomed barge
containing trunks and furniture. She was evidently the last to
leave. The other boats put off at once, and none too soon; for
there was a warning cry, a quick swerving of the barge, and the end
of the dwelling slowly dropped into the flood, seeming to sink on
its knees like a stricken ox. A great undulation of yellow water
swept across the street, inundating his office through the open
window and half swamping his boat beside it. At the same time he
could see that the current had changed and increased in volume and
velocity, and, from the cries and warning of the boatmen, he knew
that the river had burst its banks at its upper bend. He had
barely time to leap into his boat and cast it off before there was
a foot of water on his floor.
But the new current was carrying the boats away from the higher
level, which they had been eagerly seeking, and towards the channel
of the swollen river. The barge was first to feel its influence,
and was hurried towards the river against the strongest efforts of
its boatmen. One by one the other and smaller boats contrived to
get into the slack water of crossing streets, and one was swamped
before his eyes. But James Smith kept only the barge in view. His
difficulty in following it was increased by his inexperience in
managing a boat, and the quantity of drift which now charged the
current. Trees torn by their roots from some upland bank; sheds,
logs, timber, and the bloated carcasses of cattle choked the
stream. All the ruin worked by the flood seemed to be compressed
in this disastrous current. Once or twice he narrowly escaped
collision with a heavy beam or the bed of some farmer's wagon.
Once he was swamped by a tree, and righted his frail boat while
clinging to its branches.
And then those who watched him from the barge and shore said
afterwards that a great apathy seemed to fall upon him. He no
longer attempted to guide the boat or struggle with the drift, but
sat in the stern with intent forward gaze and motionless paddles.
Once they strove to warn him, called to him to make an effort to
reach the barge, and did what they could, in spite of their own
peril, to alter their course and help him. But he neither answered
nor heeded them. And then suddenly a great log that they had just
escaped seemed to rise up under the keel of his boat, and it was
gone. After a moment his face and head appeared above the current,
and so close to the stern of the barge that there was a slight cry
from the woman in it, but the next moment, and before the boatman
could reach him, he was drawn under it and disappeared. They lay
on their oars eagerly watching, but the body of James Smith was
sucked under the barge, and, in the mid-channel of the great river,
was carried out towards the distant sea.
. . . . . .
There was a strange meeting that night on the deck of a relief
boat, which had been sent out in search of the missing barge,
between Mrs. Smith and a grave and anxious passenger who had
chartered it. When he had comforted her, and pointed out, as,
indeed, he had many times before, the loneliness and insecurity of
her unprotected life, she yielded to his arguments. But it was not
until many months after their marriage that she confessed to him on
that eventful night she thought she had seen in a moment of great
peril the vision of the dead face of her husband uplifted to her
through the water.
LANTY FOSTER'S MISTAKE
Lanty Foster was crouching on a low stool before the dying kitchen
fire, the better to get its fading radiance on the book she was
reading. Beyond, through the open window and door, the fire was
also slowly fading from the sky and the mountain ridge whence the
sun had dropped half an hour before. The view was uphill, and the
sky-line of the hill was marked by two or three gibbet-like poles
from which, on a now invisible line between them, depended certain
objects--mere black silhouettes against the sky--which bore weird
likeness to human figures. Absorbed as she was in her book, she
nevertheless occasionally cast an impatient glance in that
direction, as the sunlight faded more quickly than her fire. For
the fluttering objects were the "week's wash" which had to be
brought in before night fell and the mountain wind arose. It was
strong at that altitude, and before this had ravished the clothes
from the line, and scattered them along the highroad leading over
the ridge, once even lashing the shy schoolmaster with a pair of
Lanty's own stockings, and blinding the parson with a really
A whiff of wind down the big-throated chimney stirred the log
embers on the hearth, and the girl jumped to her feet, closing the
book with an impatient snap. She knew her mother's voice would
follow. It was hard to leave her heroine at the crucial moment of
receiving an explanation from a presumed faithless lover, just to
climb a hill and take in a lot of soulless washing, but such are
the infelicities of stolen romance reading. She threw the clothes-
basket over her head like a hood, the handle resting across her
bosom and shoulders, and with both her hands free started out of
the cabin. But the darkness had come up from the valley in one
stride after its mountain fashion, had outstripped her, and she was
instantly plunged in it. Still the outline of the ridge above her
was visible, with the white, steadfast stars that were not there a
moment ago, and by that sign she knew she was late. She had to
battle against the rushing wind now, which sung through the
inverted basket over her head and held her back, but with bent
shoulders she at last reached the top of the ridge and the level.
Yet here, owing to the shifting of the lighter background above
her, she now found herself again encompassed with the darkness.
The outlines of the poles had disappeared, the white fluttering
garments were distinct apparitions waving in the wind, like dancing
ghosts. But there certainly was a queer misshapen bulk moving
beyond, which she did not recognize, and as she at last reached one
of the poles, a shock was communicated to it, through the clothes-
line and the bulk beyond. Then she heard a voice say impatiently,--
"What in h-ll am I running into now?"
It was a man's voice, and, from its elevation, the voice of a man
on horseback. She answered without fear and with slow
"Inter our clothes-line, I reckon."
"Oh!" said the man in a half-apologetic tone. Then in brisker
accents, "The very thing I want! I say, can you give me a bit of
it? The ring of my saddle girth has fetched loose. I can fasten
it with that."
"I reckon," replied Lanty, with the same unconcern, moving nearer
the bulk, which now separated into two parts as the man dismounted.
"How much do you want?"
"A foot or two will do."
They were now in front of each other, although their faces were not
distinguishable to either. Lanty, who had been following the lines
with her hand, here came upon the end knotted around the last pole.
This she began to untie.
"What a place to hang clothes," he said curiously.
"Mighty dryin', tho'," returned Lanty laconically.
"And your house? Is it near by?" he continued.
"Just down the ridge--ye kin see from the edge. Got a knife?" She
had untied the knot.
"No--yes--wait." He had hesitated a moment and then produced
something from his breast pocket, which he however kept in his
hand. As he did not offer it to her she simply held out a section
of the rope between her hands, which he divided with a single cut.
She saw only that the instrument was long and keen. Then she
lifted the flap of the saddle for him as he attempted to fasten the
loose ring with the rope, but the darkness made it impossible.
With an ejaculation, he fumbled in his pockets. "My last match!"
he said, striking it, as he crouched over it to protect it from the
wind. Lanty leaned over also, with her apron raised between it and
the blast. The flame for an instant lit up the ring, the man's
dark face, mustache, and white teeth set together as he tugged at
the girth, and Lanty's brown, velvet eyes and soft, round cheek
framed in the basket. Then it went out, but the ring was secured.
"Thank you," said the man, with a short laugh, "but I thought you
were a humpbacked witch in the dark there."
"And I couldn't make out whether you was a cow or a b'ar," returned
the young girl simply.
Here, however, he quickly mounted his horse, but in the action
something slipped from his clothes, struck a stone, and bounded
away into the darkness.
"My knife," he said hurriedly. "Please hand it to me." But
although the girl dropped on her knees and searched the ground
diligently, it could not be found. The man with a restrained
ejaculation again dismounted, and joined in the search.
"Haven't you got another match?" suggested Lanty.
"No--it was my last!" he said impatiently.
"Just you hol' on here," she said suddenly, "and I'll run down to
the kitchen and fetch you a light. I won't be long."
"No! no!" said the man quickly; "don't! I couldn't wait. I've
been here too long now. Look here. You come in daylight and find
it, and--just keep it for me, will you?" He laughed. "I'll come
for it. And now, if you'll only help to set me on that road again,
for it's so infernal black I can't see the mare's ears ahead of me,
I won't bother you any more. Thank you."
Lanty had quietly moved to his horse's head and taken the bridle in
her hand, and at once seemed to be lost in the gloom. But in a few
moments he felt the muffled thud of his horse's hoof on the thick
dust of the highway, and its still hot, impalpable powder rising to
"Thank you," he said again, "I'm all right now," and in the pause
that followed it seemed to Lanty that he had extended a parting
hand to her in the darkness. She put up her own to meet it, but
missed his, which had blundered onto her shoulder. Before she
could grasp it, she felt him stooping over her, the light brush of
his soft mustache on her cheek, and then the starting forward of
his horse. But the retaliating box on the ear she had promptly
aimed at him spent itself in the black space which seemed suddenly
to have swallowed up the man, and even his light laugh.
For an instant she stood still, and then, swinging the basket
indignantly from her shoulder, took up her suspended task. It was
no light one in the increasing wind, and the unfastened clothes-
line had precipitated a part of its burden to the ground through
the loosening of the rope. But on picking up the trailing garments
her hand struck an unfamiliar object. The stranger's lost knife!
She thrust it hastily into the bottom of the basket and completed
her work. As she began to descend with her burden she saw that the
light of the kitchen fire, seen through the windows, was augmented
by a candle. Her mother was evidently awaiting her.
"Pretty time to be fetchin' in the wash," said Mrs. Foster
querulously. "But what can you expect when folks stand gossipin'
and philanderin' on the ridge instead o' tendin' to their work?"
Now Lanty knew that she had NOT been "gossipin'" nor "philanderin',"
yet as the parting salute might have been open to that imputation,
and as she surmised that her mother might have overheard their
voices, she briefly said, to prevent further questioning, that she
had shown a stranger the road. But for her mother's unjust
accusation she would have been more communicative. As Mrs. Foster
went back grumblingly into the sitting-room Lanty resolved to keep
the knife at present a secret from her mother, and to that purpose
removed it from the basket. But in the light of the candle she saw
it for the first time plainly--and started.
For it was really a dagger! jeweled-handled and richly wrought--
such as Lanty had never looked upon before. The hilt was studded
with gems, and the blade, which had a cutting edge, was damascened
in blue and gold. Her soft eyes reflected the brilliant setting,
her lips parted breathlessly; then, as her mother's voice arose in
the other room, she thrust it back into its velvet sheath and
clapped it into her pocket. Its rare beauty had confirmed her
resolution of absolute secrecy. To have shown it now would have
made "no end of talk." And she was not sure but that her parents
would have demanded its custody! And it was given to HER by HIM to
keep. This settled the question of moral ethics. She took the
first opportunity to run up to her bedroom and hide it under the
Yet the thought of it filled the rest of her evening. When her
household duties were done she took up her novel again, partly from
force of habit and partly as an attitude in which she could think
of IT undisturbed. For what was fiction to her now? True, it
possessed a certain reminiscent value. A "dagger" had appeared in
several romances she had devoured, but she never had a clear idea
of one before. "The Count sprang back, and, drawing from his belt
a richly jeweled dagger, hissed between his teeth," or, more to the
purpose: "'Take this,' said Orlando, handing her the ruby-hilted
poignard which had gleamed upon his thigh, 'and should the caitiff
attempt thy unguarded innocence--'"
"Did ye hear what your father was sayin'?" Lanty started. It was
her mother's voice in the doorway, and she had been vaguely
conscious of another voice pitched in the same querulous key,
which, indeed, was the dominant expression of the small ranchers of
that fertile neighborhood. Possibly a too complaisant and
unaggressive Nature had spoiled them.
"Yes!--no!" said Lanty abstractedly, "what did he say?"
"If you wasn't taken up with that fool book," said Mrs. Foster,
glancing at her daughter's slightly conscious color, "ye'd know!
He allowed ye'd better not leave yer filly in the far pasture
nights. That gang o' Mexican horse-thieves is out again, and
raided McKinnon's stock last night."
This touched Lanty closely. The filly was her own property, and
she was breaking it for her own riding. But her distrust of her
parents' interference was greater than any fear of horse-stealers.
"She's mighty uneasy in the barn; and," she added, with a proud
consciousness of that beautiful yet carnal weapon upstairs, "I
reckon I ken protect her and myself agin any Mexican horse-
"My! but we're gettin' high and mighty," responded Mrs. Foster,
with deep irony. "Did you git all that outer your fool book?"
"Mebbe," said Lanty curtly.
Nevertheless, her thoughts that night were not entirely based on
written romance. She wondered if the stranger knew that she had
really tried to box his ears in the darkness, also if he had been
able to see her face. HIS she remembered, at least the flash of
his white teeth against his dark face and darker mustache, which
was quite as soft as her own hair. But if he thought "for a
minnit" that she was "goin' to allow an entire stranger to kiss
her--he was mighty mistaken." She should let him know it "pretty
quick"! She should hand him back the dagger "quite careless like,"
and never let on that she'd thought anything of it. Perhaps that
was the reason why, before she went to bed, she took a good look at
it, and after taking off her straight, beltless, calico gown she
even tried the effect of it, thrust in the stiff waistband of her
petticoat, with the jeweled hilt displayed, and thought it looked
charming--as indeed it did. And then, having said her prayers like
a good girl, and supplicated that she should be less "tetchy" with
her parents, she went to sleep and dreamed that she had gone out to
take in the wash again, but that the clothes had all changed to the
queerest lot of folks, who were all fighting and struggling with
each other until she, Lanty, drawing her dagger, rushed up single-
handed among them, crying, "Disperse, ye craven curs,--disperse, I
say." And they dispersed.
Yet even Lanty was obliged to admit the next morning that all this
was somewhat incongruous with the baking of "corn dodgers," the
frying of fish, the making of beds, and her other household duties,
and dismissed the stranger from her mind until he should "happen
along." In her freer and more acceptable outdoor duties she even
tolerated the advances of neighboring swains who made a point of
passing by "Foster's Ranch," and who were quite aware that Atalanta
Foster, alias "Lanty," was one of the prettiest girls in the
country. But Lanty's toleration consisted in that singular
performance known to herself as "giving them as good as they sent,"
being a lazy traversing, qualified with scorn, of all that they
advanced. How long they would have put up with this from a plain
girl I do not know, but Lanty's short upper lip seemed framed for
indolent and fascinating scorn, and her dreamy eyes usually looked
beyond the questioner, or blunted his bolder glances in their
velvety surfaces. The libretto of these scenes was not exhaustive,
The Swain (with bold, bad gayety). "Saw that shy schoolmaster
hangin' round your ridge yesterday! Orter know by this time that
shyness with a gal don't pay."
Lanty (decisively). "Mebbe he allows it don't get left as often as
The Swain (ignoring the reply and his previous attitude and
becoming more direct). "I was calkilatin' to say that with these
yer hoss-thieves about, yer filly ain't safe in the pasture. I
took a turn round there two or three times last evening to see if
she was all right."
Lanty (with a flattering show of interest). "No! DID ye, now? I
was jest wonderin"'--
The Swain (eagerly). "I did--quite late, too! Why, that's
nothin', Miss Atalanty, to what I'd do for you."
Lanty (musing, with far off-eyes). "Then that's why she was so
awful skeerd and frightened! Just jumpin' outer her skin with
horror. I reckoned it was a b'ar or panther or a spook! You ought
to have waited till she got accustomed to your looks."
Nevertheless, despite this elegant raillery, Lanty was enough
concerned in the safety of her horse to visit it the next day with
a view of bringing it nearer home. She had just stepped into the
alder fringe of a dry "run" when she came suddenly upon the figure
of a horseman in the "run," who had been hidden by the alders from
the plain beyond and who seemed to be engaged in examining the hoof
marks in the dust of the old ford. Something about his figure
struck her recollection, and as he looked up quickly she saw it was
the owner of the dagger. But he appeared to be lighter of hair and
complexion, and was dressed differently, and more like a vaquero.
Yet there was the same flash of his teeth as he recognized her, and
she knew it was the same man.
Alas for her preparation! Without the knife she could not make
that haughty return of it which she had contemplated. And more
than that, she was conscious she was blushing! Nevertheless she
managed to level her pretty brown eyebrows at him, and said sharply
that if he followed her to her home she would return his property
"But I'm in no hurry for it," he said with a laugh,--the same light
laugh and pleasant voice she remembered,--"and I'd rather not come
to the house just now. The knife is in good hands, I know, and
I'll call for it when I want it! And until then--if it's all the
same to you--keep it to yourself,--keep it dark, as dark as the
night I lost it!"
"I don't go about blabbing my affairs," said Lanty indignantly,
"and if it hadn't BEEN dark that night you'd have had your ears
boxed--you know why!"
The stranger laughed again, waved his hand to Lanty, and galloped
Lanty was a little disappointed. The daylight had taken away some
of her illusions. He was certainly very good-looking, but not
quite as picturesque, mysterious, and thrilling as in the dark!
And it was very queer--he certainly did look darker that night!
Who was he? And why was he lingering near her? He was different
from her neighbors--her admirers. He might be one of those
locaters, from the big towns, who prospect the lands, with a view
of settling government warrants on them,--they were always so
secret until they had found what they wanted. She did not dare to
seek information of her friends, for the same reason that she had
concealed his existence from her mother,--it would provoke awkward
questions; and it was evident that he was trusting to her secrecy,
too. The thought thrilled her with a new pride, and was some
compensation for the loss of her more intangible romance. It would
be mighty fine, when he did call openly for his beautiful knife and
declared himself, to have them all know that SHE knew about it all
When she reached home, to guard against another such surprise she
determined to keep the weapon with her, and, distrusting her
pocket, confided it to the cheap little country-made corset which
only for the last year had confined her budding figure, and which
now, perhaps, heaved with an additional pride. She was quite
abstracted during the rest of the day, and paid but little
attention to the gossip of the farm lads, who were full of a daring
raid, two nights before, by the Mexican gang on the large stock
farm of a neighbor. The Vigilant Committee had been baffled; it
was even alleged that some of the smaller ranchmen and herders were
in league with the gang. It was also believed to be a widespread
conspiracy; to have a political complexion in its combination of an
alien race with Southwestern filibusters. The legal authorities
had been reinforced by special detectives from San Francisco.
Lanty seldom troubled herself with these matters; she knew the
exaggeration, she suspected the ignorance of her rural neighbors.
She roughly referred it, in her own vocabulary, to "jaw," a
peculiarly masculine quality. But later in the evening, when the
domestic circle in the sitting-room had been augmented by a
neighbor, and Lanty had taken refuge behind her novel as an excuse
for silence, Zob Hopper, the enamored swain of the previous
evening, burst in with more astounding news. A posse of the
sheriff had just passed along the ridge; they had "corraled" part
of the gang, and rescued some of the stock. The leader of the gang
had escaped, but his capture was inevitable, as the roads were
stopped. "All the same, I'm glad to see ye took my advice, Miss
Atalanty, and brought in your filly," he concluded, with an
insinuating glance at the young girl.
But "Miss Atalanty," curling a quarter of an inch of scarlet lip
above the edge of her novel, here "allowed" that if his advice or
the filly had to be "took," she didn't know which was worse.
"I wonder ye kin talk to sech peartness, Mr. Hopper," said Mrs.
Foster severely; "she ain't got eyes nor senses for anythin' but
"Talkin' o' what's to be 'took,'" put in the diplomatic neighbor,
"you bet it ain't that Mexican leader! No, sir! he's been
'stopped' before this--and then got clean away all the same! One
o' them detectives got him once and disarmed him--but he managed to
give them the slip, after all. Why, he's that full o' shifts and
disguises thar ain't no spottin' him. He walked right under the
constable's nose oncet, and took a drink with the sheriff that was
arter him--and the blamed fool never knew it. He kin change even
the color of his hair quick as winkin'."
"Is he a real Mexican,--a regular Greaser?" asked the paternal
Foster. "Cos I never heard that they wuz smart."
"No! They say he comes o' old Spanish stock, a bad egg they threw
outer the nest, I reckon," put in Hopper eagerly, seeing a strange
animated interest dilating Lanty's eyes, and hoping to share in it;
"but he's reg'lar high-toned, you bet! Why, I knew a man who seed
him in his own camp--prinked out in a velvet jacket and silk sash,
with gold chains and buttons down his wide pants and a dagger stuck
in his sash, with a handle just blazin' with jew'ls. Yes! Miss
Atalanty, they say that one stone at the top--a green stone, what
they call an 'em'ral'--was worth the price o' a 'Frisco house-lot.
True ez you live! Eh--what's up now?"
Lanty's book had fallen on the floor as she was rising to her feet
with a white face, still more strange and distorted in an affected
yawn behind her little hand. "Yer makin' me that sick and nervous
with yer fool yarns," she said hysterically, "that I'm goin' to get
a little fresh air. It's just stifling here with lies and
terbacker!" With another high laugh, she brushed past him into the
kitchen, opened the door, and then paused, and, turning, ran
rapidly up to her bedroom. Here she locked herself in, tore open
the bosom of her dress, plucked out the dagger, threw it on the
bed, where the green stone gleamed for an instant in the
candlelight, and then dropped on her knees beside the bed with her
whirling head buried in her cold red hands.
It had all come to her in a flash, like a blaze of lightning,--the
black, haunting figure on the ridge, the broken saddle girth, the
abandonment of the dagger in the exigencies of flight and
concealment; the second meeting, the skulking in the dry, alder-
hidden "run," the changed dress, the lighter-colored hair, but
always the same voice and laugh--the leader, the fugitive, the
Mexican horse-thief! And she, the Godforsaken fool, the chuckle-
headed nigger baby, with not half the sense of her own filly or
that sop-headed Hopper--had never seen it! She--SHE who would be
the laughing-stock of them all--she had thought him a "locater," a
"towny" from 'Frisco! And she had consented to keep his knife
until he would call for it,--yes, call for it, with fire and flame
perhaps, the trampling of hoofs, pistol shots--and--yet--
Yet!--he had TRUSTED her. Yes! trusted her when he knew a word
from her lips would have brought the whole district down on him!
when the mere exposure of that dagger would have identified and
damned him! Trusted her a second time, when she was within cry of
her house! When he might have taken her filly without her knowing
it? And now she remembered vaguely that the neighbors had said how
strange it was that her father's stock had not suffered as theirs
had. HE had protected them--he who was now a fugitive--and their
men pursuing him! She rose suddenly with a single stamp of her
narrow foot, and as suddenly became cool and sane. And then, quite
her old self again, she lazily picked up the dagger and restored it
to its place in her bosom. That done, with her color back and her
eyes a little brighter, she deliberately went downstairs again,
stuck her little brown head into the sitting-room, said cheerfully,
"Still yawpin', you folks," and quietly passed out into the darkness.
She ran swiftly up to the ridge, impelled by the blind memory of
having met him there at night and the one vague thought to give him
warning. But it was dark and empty, with no sound but the rushing
wind. And then an idea seized her. If he were haunting the
vicinity still, he might see the fluttering of the clothes upon the
line and believe she was there. She stooped quickly, and in the
merciful and exonerating darkness stripped off her only white
petticoat and pinned it on the line. It flapped, fluttered, and
streamed in the mountain wind. She lingered and listened. But
there came a sound she had not counted on,--the clattering hoofs of
not ONE, but many, horses on the lower road! She ran back to the
house to find its inmates already hastening towards the road for
news. She took that chance to slip in quietly, go to her room,
whose window commanded a view of the ridge, and crouching low
behind it she listened. She could hear the sound of voices, and
the dull trampling of heavy boots on the dusty path towards the
barnyard on the other side of the house--a pause, and then the
return of the trampling boots, and the final clattering of hoofs on
the road again. Then there was a tap on her door and her mother's
"Oh! yer there, are ye? Well--it's the best place fer a girl--with
all these man's doin's goin' on! They've got that Mexican horse-
thief and have tied him up in your filly's stall in the barn--till
the 'Frisco deputy gets back from rounding up the others. So ye
jest stay where ye are till they've come and gone, and we're shut
o' all that cattle. Are ye mindin'?"
"All right, maw; 'taint no call o' mine, anyhow," returned Lanty,
through the half-open door.
At another time her mother might have been startled at her passive
obedience. Still more would she have been startled had she seen
her daughter's face now, behind the closed door--with her little
mouth set over her clenched teeth. And yet it was her own child,
and Lanty was her mother's real daughter; the same pioneer blood
filled their veins, the blood that had never nourished cravens or
degenerates, but had given itself to sprinkle and fertilize desert
solitudes where man might follow. Small wonder, then, that this
frontier-born Lanty, whose first infant cry had been answered by
the yelp of wolf and scream of panther; whose father's rifle had
been leveled across her cradle to cover the stealthy Indian who
prowled outside, small wonder that she should feel herself equal to
these "man's doin's," and prompt to take a part. For even in the
first shock of the news of the capture she recalled the fact that
the barn was old and rotten, that only that day the filly had
kicked a board loose from behind her stall, which she, Lanty, had
lightly returned to avoid "making a fuss." If his captors had not
noticed it, or trusted only to their guards, she might make the
opening wide enough to free him!
Two hours later the guard nearest the now sleeping house, a farm
hand of the Fosters', saw his employer's daughter slip out and
cautiously approach him. A devoted slave of Lanty's, and familiar
with her impulses, he guessed her curiosity, and was not averse to
satisfy it and the sense of his own importance. To her whispers of
affected, half-terrified interest, he responded in whispers that
the captive was really in the filly's stall, securely bound by his
wrists behind his back, and his feet "hobbled" to a post. That
Lanty couldn't see him, for it was dark inside, and he was sitting
with his back to the wall, as he couldn't sleep comf'ble lyin'
down. Lanty's eyes glowed, but her face was turned aside.
"And ye ain't reckonin' his friends will come and rescue him?" said
Lanty, gazing with affected fearfulness in the darkness.
"Not much! There's two other guards down in the corral, and I'd
fire my gun and bring 'em up."
But Lanty was gazing open-mouthed towards the ridge. "What's that
wavin' on the ridge?" she said in awe-stricken tones.
She was pointing to the petticoat,--a vague, distant, moving object
against the horizon.
"Why, that's some o' the wash on the line, ain't it?"
"Wash--TWO DAYS IN THE WEEK!" said Lanty sharply. "Wot's gone of
"Thet's so," muttered the man, "and it wan't there at sundown, I'll
swear! P'r'aps I'd better call the guard," and he raised his rifle.
"Don't," said Lanty, catching his arm. "Suppose it's nothin',
they'll laugh at ye. Creep up softly and see; ye ain't afraid, are
ye? If ye are, give me yer gun, and I'LL go."
This settled the question, as Lanty expected. The man cocked his
piece, and bending low began cautiously to mount the acclivity.
Lanty waited until his figure began to fade, and then ran like fire
to the barn.
She had arranged every detail of her plan beforehand. Crouching
beside the wall of the stall she hissed through a crack in
thrilling whispers, "Don't move. Don't speak for your life's sake.
Wait till I hand you back your knife, then do the best you can."
Then slipping aside the loosened board she saw dimly the black
outline of curling hair, back, shoulders, and tied wrists of the
captive. Drawing the knife from her pocket, with two strokes of
its keen cutting edge she severed the cords, threw the knife into
the opening, and darted away. Yet in that moment she knew that the
man was instinctively turning towards her. But it was one thing to
free a horse-thief, and another to stop and "philander" with him.
She ran halfway up the ridge, and met the farm hand returning. It
was only a bit of washing after all, and he was glad he hadn't
fired his gun. On the other hand, Lanty confessed she had got "so
skeert" being alone, that she came to seek him. She had the
shivers; wasn't her hand cold? It was, but thrilling even in its
coldness to the bashfully admiring man. And she was that weak and
dizzy, he must let her lean on his arm going down; and they must go
SLOW. She was sure he was cold, too, and if he would wait at the
back door she would give him a drink of whiskey. Thus Lanty, with
her brain afire, her eyes and ears straining into the darkness, and
the vague outline of the barn beyond. Another moment was
protracted over the drink of whiskey, and then Lanty, with a faint
archness, made him promise not to tell her mother of her escapade,
and she promised on her part not to say anything about his
"stalking a petticoat on the clothesline," and then shyly closed
the door and regained her room. HE must have got away by this
time, or have been discovered; she believed they would not open the
barn door until the return of the posse.
She was right. It was near daybreak when they returned, and, again
crouching low beside her window, she heard, with a fierce joy, the
sudden outcry, the oaths, the wrangling voices, the summoning of
her father to the front door, and then the tumultuous sweeping away
again of the whole posse, and a blessed silence falling over the
rancho. And then Lanty went quietly to bed, and slept like a
Perhaps that was the reason why she was able at breakfast to listen
with lazy and even rosy indifference to the startling events of the
night; to the sneers of the farm hands at the posse who had
overlooked the knife when they searched their prisoner, as well as
the stupidity of the corral guard who had never heard him make a
hole "the size of a house" in the barn side! Once she glanced
demurely at Silas Briggs--the farm hand and the poor fellow felt
consoled in his shame at the remembrance of their confidences.
But Lanty's tranquillity was not destined to last long. There was
again the irruption of exciting news from the highroad; the Mexican
leader had been recaptured, and was now safely lodged in Brownsville
jail! Those who were previously loud in their praises of the
successful horse-thief who had baffled the vigilance of his pursuers
were now equally keen in their admiration of the new San Francisco
deputy who, in turn, had outwitted the whole gang. It was HE who
was fertile in expedients; HE who had studied the whole country, and
even risked his life among the gang, and HE who had again closed the
meshes of the net around the escaped outlaw. He was already
returning by way of the rancho, and might stop there a moment,--so
that they could all see the hero. Such was the power of success on
the country-side! Outwardly indifferent, inwardly bitter, Lanty
turned away. She should not grace his triumph, if she kept in her
room all day! And when there was a clatter of hoofs on the road
again, Lanty slipped upstairs.
But in a few moments she was summoned. Captain Lance Wetherby,
Assistant Chief of Police of San Francisco, Deputy Sheriff and ex-
U. S. scout, had requested to see Miss Foster a few moments alone.
Lanty knew what it meant,--her secret had been discovered; but she
was not the girl to shirk the responsibility! She lifted her
little brown head proudly, and with the same resolute step with
which she had left the house the night before, descended the stairs
and entered the sitting-room. At first she saw nothing. Then a
remembered voice struck her ear; she started, looked up, and
gasping, fell back against the door. It was the stranger who had
given her the dagger, the stranger she had met in the run!--the
horse-thief himself! No! no! she saw it all now--she had cut loose
the wrong man!
He looked at her with a smile of sadness--as he drew from his
breast-pocket that dreadful dagger, the very sight of which Lanty
now loathed! "This is the SECOND time, Miss Foster," he said
gently, "that I have taken this knife from Murietta, the Mexican
bandit: once when I disarmed him three weeks ago, and he escaped,
and last night, when he had again escaped and I recaptured him.
After I lost it that night I understood from you that you had found
it and were keeping it for me." He paused a moment and went on: "I
don't ask you what happened last night. I don't condemn you for
it; I can believe what a girl of your courage and sympathy might
rightly do if her pity were excited; I only ask--why did you give
HIM back that knife I trusted you with?"
"Why? Why did I?" burst out Lanty in a daring gush of truth,
scorn, and temper. "BECAUSE I THOUGHT YOU WERE THAT HORSE-THIEF.
He drew back astonished, and then suddenly came that laugh that
Lanty remembered and now hailed with joy. "I believe you, by
Jove!" he gasped. "That first night I wore the disguise in which I
have tracked him and mingled with his gang. Yes! I see it all now--
and more. I see that to YOU I owe his recapture!"
"To me!" echoed the bewildered girl; "how?"
"Why, instead of making for his cave he lingered here in the
confines of the ranch! He thought you were in love with him,
because you freed him and gave him his knife, and stayed to see
But Lanty had her apron to her eyes, whose first tears were filling
their velvet depths. And her voice was broken as she said,--
"Then he--cared--a--good deal more for me--than some people!"
But there is every reason to believe that Lanty was wrong! At
least later events that are part of the history of Foster's Rancho
and the Foster family pointed distinctly to the contrary.
AN ALI BABA OF THE SIERRAS
Johnny Starleigh found himself again late for school. It was
always happening. It seemed to be inevitable with the process of
going to school at all. And it was no fault "o' his." Something
was always occurring,--some eccentricity of Nature or circumstance
was invariably starting up in his daily path to the schoolroom. He
may not have been "thinkin' of squirrels," and yet the rarest and
most evasive of that species were always crossing his trail; he may
not have been "huntin' honey," and yet a wild bees' nest in the
hollow of an oak absolutely obtruded itself before him; he wasn't
"bird-catchin'," and yet there was a yellow-hammer always within
stone's throw. He had heard how grown men hunters always saw the
most wonderful animals when they "hadn't got a gun with 'em," and
it seemed to be his lot to meet them in his restricted possibilities
on the way to school. If Nature was thus capricious with his
elders, why should folk think it strange if she was as mischievous
with a small boy?
On this particular morning Johnny had been beguiled by the
unmistakable footprints--so like his own!--of a bear's cub. What
chances he had of ever coming up with them, or what he would have
done if he had, he did not know. He only knew that at the end of
an hour and a half he found himself two miles from the schoolhouse,
and, from the position of the sun, at least an hour too late for
school. He knew that nobody would believe him. The punishment for
complete truancy was little worse than for being late. He resolved
to accept it, and by way of irrevocability at once burnt his ships
behind him--in devouring part of his dinner.
Thus fortified in his outlawry, he began to look about him. He was
on a thickly wooded terrace with a blank wall of "outcrop" on one
side nearly as high as the pines which pressed close against it.
He had never seen it before; it was two or three miles from the
highroad and seemed to be a virgin wilderness. But on close
examination he could see, with the eye of a boy bred in a mining
district, that the wall of outcrop had not escaped the attention of
the mining prospector. There were marks of his pick in some
attractive quartz seams of the wall, and farther on, a more
ambitious attempt, evidently by a party of miners, to begin a
tunnel, shown in an abandoned excavation and the heap of debris
before it. It had evidently been abandoned for some time, as ferns
already forced their green fronds through the stones and gravel,
and the yerba buena vine was beginning to mat the surface of the
heap. But the boy's fancy was quickly taken by the traces of a
singular accident, and one which had perhaps arrested the progress
of the excavators. The roots of a large pine-tree growing close to
the wall had been evidently loosened by the excavators, and the
tree had fallen, with one of its largest roots still in the opening
the miners had made, and apparently blocking the entrance. The
large tree lay, as it fell--midway across another but much smaller
outcrop of rock which stood sharply about fifteen feet above the
level of the terrace--with its gaunt, dead limbs in the air at a
low angle. To Johnny's boyish fancy it seemed so easily balanced
on the rock that but for its imprisoned root it would have made a
capital see-saw. This he felt must be looked to hereafter. But
here his attention was arrested by something more alarming. His
quick ear, attuned like an animal's to all woodland sounds,
detected the crackling of underwood in the distance. His equally
sharp eye saw the figures of two men approaching. But as he
recognized the features of one of them he drew back with a beating
heart, a hushed breath, and hurriedly hid himself in the shadow.
For he had seen that figure once before--flying before the sheriff
and an armed posse--and had never forgotten it! It was the figure
of Spanish Pete, a notorious desperado and sluice robber!
Finding he had been unobserved, the boy took courage, and his small
faculties became actively alive. The two men came on together
cautiously, and at a little distance the second man, whom Johnny
did not know, parted from his companion and began to loiter up and
down, looking around as if acting as a sentinel for the desperado,
who advanced directly to the fallen tree. Suddenly the sentinel
uttered an exclamation, and Spanish Pete paused. The sentinel was
examining the ground near the heap of debris.
"What's up?" growled the desperado.
"Foot tracks! Weren't here before. And fresh ones, too."
Johnny's heart sank. It was where he had just passed.
Spanish Pete hurriedly joined his companion.
"Foot tracks be ----!" he said scornfully. "What fool would be
crawlin' round here barefooted? It's a young b'ar!"
Johnny knew the footprints were his own. Yet he recognized the
truth of the resemblance; it was uncomplimentary, but he felt
relieved. The desperado came forward, and to the boy's surprise
began to climb the small ridge of outcrop until he reached the
fallen tree. Johnny saw that he was carrying a heavy stone.
"What's the blamed fool goin' to do?" he said to himself; the man's
evident ignorance regarding footprints had lessened the boy's awe
of him. But the stranger's next essay took Johnny's breath away.
Standing on the fallen tree trunk at its axis on the outcrop, he
began to rock it gently. To Johnny's surprise it began to move.
The upper end descended slowly, lifting the root in the excavation
at the lower end, and with it a mass of rock, and revealing a
cavern behind large enough to admit a man. Johnny gasped. The
desperado coolly deposited the heavy stone on the tree beyond its
axis on the rock, so that it would keep the tree in position,
leaped from the tree to the rock, and quickly descended, at which
he was joined by the other man, who was carrying two heavy chamois-
leather bags. They both proceeded to the opening thus miraculously
disclosed, and disappeared in it.
Johnny sat breathless, wondering, expectant, but not daring to
move. The men might come out at any moment; he had seen enough to
know that their enterprise as well as their cave was a secret, and
that the desperado would subject any witness to it, however
innocent or unwilling, to horrible penalties. The time crept
slowly by,--he heard every rap of a woodpecker in a distant tree; a
blue jay dipped and lighted on a branch within his reach, but he
dared not extend his hand; his legs were infested by ants; he even
fancied he heard the dry, hollow rattle of a rattlesnake not a yard
from him. And then the entrance of the cave was darkened, and the
two men reappeared. Johnny stared. He would have rubbed his eyes
if he had dared. They were not the same men! Did the cave contain
others who had been all the while shut up in its dark recesses?
Was there a band? Would they all swarm out upon him? Should he
run for his life?
But the illusion was only momentary. A longer look at them
convinced him that they were the same men in new clothes and
disguised, and as one remounted the outcrop Johnny's keen eyes
recognized him as Spanish Pete. He merely kicked away the stone;
the root again descended gently over the opening, and the tree
recovered its former angle. The two hurried away, but Johnny
noticed that they were empty-handed. The bags had been left
The boy waited patiently, listening with his ear to the ground,
like an Indian, for the last rustle of fern and crackle of
underbrush, and then emerged, stiff and cramped from his
concealment. But he no longer thought of flight; curiosity and
ambition burned in his small veins. He quickly climbed up the
outcrop, picked up the fallen stone, and in spite of its weight
lifted it to the prostrate tree. Here he paused, and from his
coign of vantage looked and listened. The solitude was profound.
Then mounting the tree and standing over its axis he tried to rock
it as the others had. Alas! Johnny's heart was stout, his courage
unlimited, his perception all-embracing, his ambition boundless;
but his actual avoirdupois was only that of a boy of ten. The tree
did not move. But Johnny had played see-saw before, and quietly
moved towards its highest part. It slowly descended under the
changed centre of gravity, and the root arose, disclosing the
opening as before. Yet here the little hero paused. He waited
with his eyes fixed on the opening, ready to fly on the sallying
out of any one who had remained concealed. He then placed the
stone where he had stood, leaped down, and ran to the opening.
The change from the dazzling sunlight to the darkness confused him
at first, and he could see nothing. On entering he stumbled over
something which proved to be a bottle in which a candle was fitted,
and a box of matches evidently used by the two men. Lighting the
candle he could now discern that the cavern was only a few yards
long, the beginning of a tunnel which the accident to the tree had
stopped. In one corner lay the clothes that the men had left, and
which for a moment seemed all that the cavern contained, but on
removing them Johnny saw that they were thrown over a rifle, a
revolver, and the two chamois-leather bags that the men had brought
there. They were so heavy that the boy could scarcely lift them.
His face flushed; his hands trembled with excitement. To a boy
whose truant wanderings had given him a fair knowledge of mining,
he knew that weight could have but one meaning! Gold! He
hurriedly untied the nearest bag. But it was not the gold of the
locality, of the tunnel, of the "bed rock"! It was "flake gold,"
the gold of the river! It had been taken from the miners' sluices
in the distant streams. The bags before him were the spoils of the
sluice robber,--spoils that could not be sold or even shown in the
district without danger, spoils kept until they could be taken to
Marysville or Sacramento for disposal. All this might have
occurred to the mind of any boy of the locality who had heard the
common gossip of his elders, but to Johnny's fancy an idea was
kindled peculiarly his own! Here was a cavern like that of the
"Forty Thieves" in the story book, and he was the "Ali Baba" who
knew its secret! He was not obliged to say "Open Sesame," but he
could say it if he liked, if he was showing it off to anybody!
Yet alas he also knew it was a secret he must keep to himself. He
had nobody to trust it to. His father was a charcoal-burner of
small means; a widower with two children, Johnny and his elder
brother Sam. The latter, a flagrant incorrigible of twenty-two,
with a tendency to dissipation and low company, had lately
abandoned his father's roof, only to reappear at intervals of
hilarious or maudlin intoxication. He had always been held up to
Johnny as a warning, or with the gloomy prognosis that he, Johnny,
was already following in his tortuous footsteps. Even if he were
here he was not to be thought of as a confidant. Still less could
he trust his father, who would be sure to bungle the secret with
sheriffs and constables, and end by bringing down the vengeance of
the gang upon the family. As for himself, he could not dispose of
the gold if he were to take it. The exhibition of a single flake
of it to the adult public would arouse suspicion, and as it was
Johnny's hard fate to be always doubted, he might be connected with
the gang. As a truant he knew he had no moral standing, but he
also had the superstition--quite characteristic of childhood--that
being in possession of a secret he was a participant in its
criminality--and bound, as it were, by terrible oaths! And then a
new idea seized him. He carefully put back everything as he had
found it, extinguished the candle, left the cave, remounted the
tree, and closed the opening again as he had seen the others do it,
with the addition of murmuring "Shut Sesame" to himself, and then
ran away as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Well clear of the dangerous vicinity, he proceeded more leisurely
for about a mile, until he came to a low whitewashed fence,
inclosing a small cultivated patch and a neat farmhouse beyond.
Here he paused, and, cowering behind the fence, with extraordinary
facial contortions produced a cry not unlike the scream of a blue
jay. Repeating it at intervals, he was presently relieved by
observing the approach of a nankeen sunbonnet within the inclosure
above the line of fence. Stopping before him, the sun-bonnet
revealed a rosy little face, more than usually plump on one side,
and a neck enormously wrapped in a scarf. It was "Meely" (Amelia)
Stryker, a schoolmate, detained at home by "mumps," as Johnny was
previously aware. For, with the famous indiscretion of some other
great heroes, he was about to intrust his secret and his destiny to
one of the weaker sex. And what were the minor possibilities of
contagion to this?
"Playin' hookey ag'in?" said the young lady, with a cordial and
even expansive smile, exclusively confined to one side of her face.
"Um! So'd you be ef you'd bin whar I hev," he said with harrowing
"No!--say!" said Meely eagerly.
At which Johnny, clutching at the top of the fence, with hurried
breath told his story. But not all. With the instinct of a true
artist he withheld the manner in which the opening of the cave was
revealed, said nothing about the tree, and, I grieve to say, added
the words "Open Sesame" as the important factor to the operation.
Neither did he mention the name of Spanish Pete. For all of which
he was afterwards duly grateful.
"Meet me at the burnt pine down the crossroads at four o'clock," he
said in conclusion, "and I'll show ye."
"Why not now?" said Meely impatiently.
"Couldn't. Much as my life is worth! Must keep watching out! You
come at four."
And with an assuring nod he released the fence and trotted off. He
returned cautiously in the direction of the cave; he was by no
means sure that the robbers might not return that day, and his
mysterious rendezvous with Meely veiled a certain prudence. And it
was well! For as he stealthily crept around the face of the
outcrop, hidden in the ferns, he saw from the altered angle of the
tree that the cavern was opened. He remained motionless, with
bated breath. Then he heard the sound of subdued voices from the
cavern, and a figure emerged from the opening. Johnny grasped the
ferns rigidly to check the dreadful cry that rose to his lips at
its sight. For that figure was his own brother!
There was no mistaking that weak, wicked face, even then flushed
with liquor! Johnny had seen it too often thus. But never before
as a thief's face! He gave a little gasp, and fell back upon that
strange reserve of apathy and reticence in which children are apt
to hide their emotions from us at such a moment. He watched
impassively the two other men who followed his brother out to give
him a small bag and some instructions, and then returned within
their cave, while his brother walked quickly away. He watched him
disappear; he did not move, for even if he had followed him he
could not bear to face him in his shame. And then out of his
sullen despair came a boyish idea of revenge. It was those two men
who had made his brother a thief!
He was very near the tree. He crept stealthily on his hands and
knees through the bracken, and as stealthily climbed the wedge of
outcrop, and then leaped like a wild cat on the tree. With
incredible activity he lifted the balancing stone, and as the tree
began to move, in a flash of perception transferred it to the other
side of its axis, and felt the roots and debris, under that
additional weight, descend quickly with something like a crash over
the opening. Then he took to his heels. He ran so swiftly that
all unknowingly he overtook a figure, who, turning, glanced at him,
and then disappeared in the wood. It was his second and last view
of his brother, as he never saw him again!
But now, strange to say, the crucial and most despairing moment of
his day's experience had come. He had to face Meely Stryker under
the burnt pine, and the promise he could not keep, and to tell her
that he had lied to her. It was the only way to save his brother
now! His small wits, and alas! his smaller methods, were equal to
the despairing task. As soon as he saw her waiting under the tree
he fell to capering and dancing with an extravagance in which
hysteria had no small part. "Sold! sold! sold again, and got the
money!" he laughed shrilly.
The girl looked at him with astonishment, which changed gradually
to scorn, and then to anger. Johnny's heart sank, but he redoubled
"Who's sold?" she said disdainfully.
"You be. You swallered all that stuff about Ali Baba! You wanted
to be Morgy Anna! Ho! ho! And I've made you play hookey--from
"You hateful, horrid, little liar!"
Johnny accepted his punishment meekly--in his heart gratefully. "I
reckoned you'd laugh and not get mad," he said submissively. The
girl turned, with tears of rage and vexation in her eyes, and
walked away. Johnny followed at a humble distance. Perhaps there
was something instinctively touching in the boy's remorse, for they
made it up before they reached her fence.
Nevertheless Johnny went home miserable. Luckily for him, his
father was absent at a Vigilance Committee called to take
cognizance of the late sluice robberies, and although this
temporarily concealed his offense of truancy, the news of the
vigilance meeting determined him to keep his lips sealed. He lay
all night wondering how long it would take the robbers to dig
themselves out of the cave, and whether they suspected their
imprisonment was the work of an enemy or only an accident. For
several days he avoided the locality, and even feared the vengeful
appearance of Spanish Pete some night at his father's house. It
was not until the end of a fortnight that he had the courage to
revisit the spot. The tree was in its normal position, but
immovable, and a great quantity of fresh debris at the mouth of the
cave convinced him that the robbers, after escaping, had abandoned
it as unsafe. His brother did not return, and either the activity
of the Vigilance Committee or the lack of a new place of rendezvous
seemed to have dispersed the robbers from the locality, for they
were not heard of again.
The next ten years brought an improvement to Mr. Starleigh's
fortunes. Johnny Starleigh, then a student at San Jose, one
morning found a newspaper clipping in a letter from Miss Amelia
Stryker. It read as follows: "The excavators in the new tunnel in
Heavystone Ridge lately discovered the skeletons of two unknown
men, who had evidently been crushed and entombed some years
previously, by the falling of a large tree over the mouth of their
temporary refuge. From some river gold found with them, they were
supposed to be part of the gang of sluice robbers who infested the
locality some years ago, and were hiding from the Vigilants."
For a few days thereafter Johnny Starleigh was thoughtful and
reserved, but he did not refer to the paragraph in answering the
letter. He decided to keep it for later confidences, when Miss
Stryker should become Mrs. Starleigh.
MISS PEGGY'S PROTEGES
The string of Peggy's sunbonnet had become untied--so had her right
shoe. These were not unusual accidents to a country girl of ten,
but as both of her hands were full she felt obliged to put down
what she was carrying. This was further complicated by the nature
of her burden--a half-fledged shrike and a baby gopher--picked up
in her walk. It was impossible to wrap them both in her apron
without serious peril to one or the other; she could not put either
down without the chance of its escaping. "It's like that dreadful
riddle of the ferryman who had to take the wolf and the sheep in
his boat," said Peggy to herself, "though I don't believe anybody
was ever so silly as to want to take a wolf across the river."
But, looking up, she beheld the approach of Sam Bedell, a six-foot
tunnelman of the "Blue Cement Lead," and, hailing him, begged him
to hold one of her captives. The giant, loathing the little mouse-
like ball of fur, chose the shrike. "Hold him by the feet, for he
bites AWFUL," said Peggy, as the bird regarded Sam with the
diabolically intense frown of his species. Then, dropping the
gopher unconcernedly in her pocket, she proceeded to rearrange her
toilet. The tunnelman waited patiently until Peggy had secured the
nankeen sunbonnet around her fresh but freckled cheeks, and, with a
reckless display of yellow flannel petticoat and stockings like
peppermint sticks, had double-knotted her shoestrings viciously
when he ventured to speak.
"Same old game, Peggy? Thought you'd got rather discouraged with
your 'happy family,' arter that new owl o' yours had gathered 'em
Peggy's cheek flushed slightly at this ungracious allusion to a
former collection of hers, which had totally disappeared one
evening after the introduction of a new member in the shape of a
singularly venerable and peaceful-looking horned owl.
"I could have tamed HIM, too," said Peggy indignantly, "if Ned
Myers, who gave him to me, hadn't been training him to ketch
things, and never let on anything about it to me. He was a reg'lar
"And wot are ye goin' to do with the Colonel here?" said Sam,
indicating under that gallant title the infant shrike, who, with
his claws deeply imbedded in Sam's finger, was squatting like a
malignant hunchback, and resisting his transfer to Peggy. "Won't
HE make it rather lively for the others? He looks pow'ful
discontented for one so young."
"That's his nater," said Peggy promptly. "Jess wait till I tame
him. Ef he'd been left along o' his folks, he'd grow up like 'em.
He's a 'butcher bird'--wot they call a 'nine-killer '--kills nine
birds a day! Yes! True ez you live! Sticks 'em up on thorns
outside his nest, jest like a butcher's shop, till he gets hungry.
I've seen 'em!"
"And how do you kalkilate to tame him?" asked Sam.
"By being good to him and lovin' him," said Peggy, stroking the
head of the bird with infinite gentleness.
"That means YOU'VE got to do all the butchering for him?" said the
Peggy shook her head, disdaining a verbal reply.
"Ye can't bring him up on sugar and crackers, like a Polly,"
"Ye ken do anythin' with critters, if you ain't afeerd of 'em and
love 'em," said Peggy shyly.
The tall tunnelman, looking down into the depths of Peggy's
sunbonnet, saw something in the round blue eyes and grave little
mouth that made him think so too. But here Peggy's serious little
face took a shade of darker concern as her arm went down deeper
into her pocket, and her eyes got rounder.
"It's--it's--BURRERED OUT!" she said breathlessly.
The giant leaped briskly to one side. "Hol' on," said Peggy
abstractedly. With infinite gravity she followed, with her
fingers, a seam of her skirt down to the hem, popped them quickly
under it, and produced, with a sigh of relief, the missing gopher.
"You'll do," said Sam, in fearful admiration. "Mebbe you'll make
suthin' out o' the Colonel too. But I never took stock in that
there owl. He was too durned self-righteous for a decent bird.
Now, run along afore anythin' else fetches loose ag'in. So long!"
He patted the top of her sunbonnet, gave a little pull to the short
brown braid that hung behind her temptingly,--which no miner was
ever known to resist,--and watched her flutter off with her spoils.
He had done so many times before, for the great, foolish heart of
the Blue Cement Ridge had gone out to Peggy Baker, the little
daughter of the blacksmith, quite early. There were others of the
family, notably two elder sisters, invincible at picnics and
dances, but Peggy was as necessary to these men as the blue jay
that swung before them in the dim woods, the squirrel that whisked
across their morning path, or the woodpecker who beat his tattoo at
their midday meal from the hollow pine above them. She was part of
the nature that kept them young. Her truancies and vagrancies
concerned them not: she was a law to herself, like the birds and
squirrels. There were bearded lips to hail her wherever she went,
and a blue or red-shirted arm always stretched out in any perilous
pass or dangerous crossing.
Her peculiar tastes were an outcome of her nature, assisted by her
surroundings. Left a good deal to herself in her infancy, she made
playfellows of animated nature around her, without much reference
to selection or fitness, but always with a fearlessness that was
the result of her own observation, and unhampered by tradition or
other children's timidity. She had no superstition regarding the
venom of toads, the poison of spiders, or the ear-penetrating
capacity of earwigs. She had experiences and revelations of her
own,--which she kept sacredly to herself, as children do,--and one
was in regard to a rattlesnake, partly induced, however, by the
indiscreet warning of her elders. She was cautioned NOT to take
her bread and milk into the woods, and was told the affecting story
of the little girl who was once regularly visited by a snake that
partook of HER bread and milk, and who was ultimately found rapping
the head of the snake for gorging more than his share, and not
"taking a 'poon as me do." It is needless to say that this
incautious caution fired Peggy's adventurous spirit. SHE took a
bowlful of milk to the haunt of a "rattler" near her home, but,
without making the pretense of sharing it, generously left the
whole to the reptile. After repeating this hospitality for three
or four days, she was amazed one morning on returning to the house
to find the snake--an elderly one with a dozen rattles--devotedly
following her. Alarmed, not for her own safety nor that of her
family, but for the existence of her grateful friend in danger of
the blacksmith's hammer, she took a circuitous route leading it
away. Then recalling a bit of woodland lore once communicated to
her by a charcoal-burner, she broke a spray of the white ash, and
laid it before her in the track of the rattlesnake. He stopped
instantly, and remained motionless without crossing the slight
barrier. She repeated this experiment on later occasions, until
the reptile understood her. She kept the experience to herself,
but one day it was witnessed by a tunnelman. On that day Peggy's
reputation was made!
From this time henceforth the major part of Blue Cement Ridge
became serious collectors for what was known as "Peggy's
menagerie," and two of the tunnelmen constructed a stockaded
inclosure--not half a mile from the blacksmith's cabin, but unknown
to him--for the reception of specimens. For a long time its
existence was kept a secret between Peggy and her loyal friends.
Her parents, aware of her eccentric tastes only through the
introduction of such smaller creatures as lizards, toads, and
tarantulas into their house,--which usually escaped from their tin
cans and boxes and sought refuge in the family slippers,--had
frowned upon her zoological studies. Her mother found that her
woodland rambles entailed an extraordinary wear and tear of her
clothing. A pinafore reduced to ribbons by a young fox, and a
straw hat half swallowed by a mountain kid, did not seem to be a
natural incident to an ordinary walk to the schoolhouse. Her
sisters thought her tastes "low," and her familiar association with
the miners inconsistent with their own dignity. But Peggy went
regularly to school, was a fair scholar in elementary studies (what