Part 2 out of 3
Ye might try Hennicker's at a push, eh?"
By a common instinct the whole party looked dubiously at Hale.
"Who's Hennicker?" he felt compelled to ask.
The ostler hesitated, and glanced at the others to reply. "There
ARE folks," he said lazily, at last, "ez beleeves that Hennicker
ain't much better nor the crowd we're hunting; but they don't say
it TO Hennicker. We needn't let on what we're after."
"I for one," said Hale stoutly, "decidedly object to any
concealment of our purpose."
"It don't follow," said Rawlins carelessly, "that Hennicker even
knows of this yer robbery. It's his gineral gait we refer to. Ef
yer think it more polite, and it makes it more sociable to discuss
this matter afore him, I'm agreed."
"Hale means," said Clinch, "that it wouldn't be on the square to
take and make use of any points we might pick up there agin the
"Certainly," said Hale. It was not at all what he had meant, but
he felt singularly relieved at the compromise.
"And ez I reckon Hennicker ain't such a fool ez not to know who we
are and what we're out for," continued Clinch, "I reckon there
ain't any concealment."
"Then it's Hennicker's?" said the ostler, with swift deduction.
"Hennicker's it is! Lead on."
The ostler remounted his horse, and the others followed. The trail
presently turned into a broader track, that bore some signs of
approaching habitations, and at the end of five minutes they came
upon a clearing. It was part of one of the fragmentary mountain
terraces, and formed by itself a vast niche, or bracketed shelf, in
the hollow flank of the mountain that, to Hale's first glance, bore
a rude resemblance to Eagle's Court. But there was neither meadow
nor open field; the few acres of ground had been wrested from the
forest by axe and fire, and unsightly stumps everywhere marked the
rude and difficult attempts at cultivation. Two or three rough
buildings of unplaned and unpainted boards, connected by rambling
sheds, stood in the centre of the amphitheatre. Far from being
protected by the encircling rampart, it seemed to be the selected
arena for the combating elements. A whirlwind from the outer abyss
continually filled this cave of AEolus with driving snow, which,
however, melted as it fell, or was quickly whirled away again.
A few dogs barked and ran out to meet the cavalcade, but there was
no other sign of any life disturbed or concerned at their approach.
"I reckon Hennicker ain't home, or he'd hev been on the lookout
afore this," said the ostler, dismounting and rapping on the door.
After a silence, a female voice, unintelligibly to the others,
apparently had some colloquy with the ostler, who returned to the
"Must go in through the kitchin--can't open the door for the wind."
Leaving their horses in the shed, they entered the kitchen, which
communicated, and presently came upon a square room filled with
smoke from a fire of green pine logs. The doors and windows were
tightly fastened; the only air came in through the large-throated
chimney in voluminous gusts, which seemed to make the hollow shell
of the apartment swell and expand to the point of bursting.
Despite the stinging of the resinous smoke, the temperature was
grateful to the benumbed travellers. Several cushionless arm-
chairs, such as were used in bar-rooms, two tables, a sideboard,
half bar and half cupboard, and a rocking-chair comprised the
furniture, and a few bear and buffalo skins covered the floor.
Hale sank into one of the arm-chairs, and, with a lazy
satisfaction, partly born of his fatigue and partly from some
newly-discovered appreciative faculty, gazed around the room, and
then at the mistress of the house, with whom the others were
She was tall, gaunt, and withered; in spite of her evident years,
her twisted hair was still dark and full, and her eyes bright and
piercing; her complexion and teeth had long since succumbed to the
vitiating effects of frontier cookery, and her lips were stained
with the yellow juice of a brier-wood pipe she held in her mouth.
The ostler had explained their intrusion, and veiled their
character under the vague epithet of a "hunting party," and was now
evidently describing them personally. In his new-found philosophy
the fact that the interest of his hostess seemed to be excited only
by the names of his companions, that he himself was carelessly, and
even deprecatingly, alluded to as the "stranger from Eagle's" by
the ostler, and completely overlooked by the old woman, gave him no
"You'll have to talk to Zenobia yourself. Dod rot ef I'm gine to
interfere. She knows Hennicker's ways, and if she chooses to take
in transients it ain't no funeral o' mine. Zeenie! You, Zeenie!
A tall, lazy-looking, handsome girl appeared on the threshold of
the next room, and with a hand on each door-post slowly swung
herself backwards and forwards, without entering. "Well, Maw?"
The old woman briefly and unalluringly pictured the condition of
"Paw ain't here," began the girl doubtfully, "and--How dy, Dick!
is that you?" The interruption was caused by her recognition of
the ostler, and she lounged into the room. In spite of a skimp,
slatternly gown, whose straight skirt clung to her lower limbs,
there was a quaint, nymph-like contour to her figure. Whether from
languor, ill-health, or more probably from a morbid consciousness
of her own height, she moved with a slightly affected stoop that
had become a habit. It did not seem ungraceful to Hale, already
attracted by her delicate profile, her large dark eyes, and a
certain weird resemblance she had to some half-domesticated dryad.
"That'll do, Maw," she said, dismissing her parent with a nod.
"I'll talk to Dick."
As the door closed on the old woman, Zenobia leaned her hands on
the back of a chair, and confronted the admiring eyes of Dick with
a goddess-like indifference.
"Now wot's the use of your playin' this yer game on me, Dick?
Wot's the good of your ladlin' out that hogwash about huntin'?
HUNTIN'! I'll tell yer the huntin' you-uns hev been at! You've
been huntin' George Lee and his boys since an hour before sun up.
You've been followin' a blind trail up to the Ridge, until the snow
got up and hunted YOU right here! You've been whoopin' and yellin'
and circus-ridin' on the roads like ez yer wos Comanches, and
frightening all the women folk within miles--that's your huntin'!
You've been climbin' down Paw's old slide at last, and makin'
tracks for here to save the skins of them condemned government
horses of the Kempany! And THAT'S your huntin'!"
To Hale's surprise, a burst of laughter from the party followed
this speech. He tried to join in, but this ridiculous summary of
the result of his enthusiastic sense of duty left him--the only
earnest believer mortified and embarrassed. Nor was he the less
concerned as he found the girl's dark eyes had rested once or twice
upon him curiously. Zenobia laughed too, and, lazily turning the
chair around, dropped into it. "And by this time George Lee's
loungin' back in his chyar and smokin' his cigyar somewhar in
Sacramento," she added, stretching her feet out to the fire, and
suiting the action to the word with an imaginary cigar between the
long fingers of a thin and not over-clean hand.
"We cave, Zeenie!" said Rawlins, when their hilarity had subsided
to a more subdued and scarcely less flattering admiration of the
unconcerned goddess before them. "That's about the size of it.
You kin rake down the pile. I forgot you're an old friend of
"He's a white man!" said the girl decidedly.
"Ye used to know him?" continued Rawlins.
"Once. Paw ain't in that line now," she said simply.
There was such a sublime unconsciousness of any moral degradation
involved in this allusion that even Hale accepted it without a
shock. She rose presently, and, going to the little sideboard,
brought out a number of glasses; these she handed to each of the
party, and then, producing a demijohn of whiskey, slung it
dexterously and gracefully over her arm, so that it rested on her
elbow like a cradle, and, going to each one in succession, filled
their glasses. It obliged each one to rise to accept the libation,
and as Hale did so in his turn he met the dark eyes of the girl
full on his own. There was a pleased curiosity in her glance that
made this married man of thirty-five color as awkwardly as a boy.
The tender of refreshment being understood as a tacit recognition
of their claims to a larger hospitality, all further restraint was
removed. Zenobia resumed her seat, and placing her elbow on the
arm of her chair, and her small round chin in her hand, looked
thoughtfully in the fire. "When I say George Lee's a white man, it
ain't because I know him. It's his general gait. Wot's he ever
done that's underhanded or mean? Nothin'! You kant show the poor
man he's ever took a picayune from. When he's helped himself to a
pile it's been outer them banks or them express companies, that
think it mighty fine to bust up themselves, and swindle the poor
folks o' their last cent, and nobody talks o' huntin' THEM! And
does he keep their money? No; he passes it round among the boys
that help him, and they put it in circulation. HE don't keep it
for himself; he ain't got fine houses in Frisco; he don't keep fast
horses for show. Like ez not the critter he did that job with--ef
it was him--none of you boys would have rid! And he takes all the
risks himself; you ken bet your life that every man with him was
safe and away afore he turned his back on you-uns."
"He certainly drops a little of his money at draw poker, Zeenie,"
said Clinch, laughing. "He lost five thousand dollars to Sheriff
Kelly last week."
"Well, I don't hear of the sheriff huntin' him to give it back, nor
do I reckon Kelly handed it over to the Express it was taken from.
I heard YOU won suthin' from him a spell ago. I reckon you've been
huntin' him to find out whar you should return it." The laugh was
clearly against Clinch. He was about to make some rallying
rejoinder when the young girl suddenly interrupted him. "Ef you're
wantin' to hunt somebody, why don't you take higher game? Thar's
that Jim Harkins: go for him, and I'll join you."
"Harkins!" exclaimed Clinch and Hale simultaneously.
"Yes, Jim Harkins; do you know him?" she said, glancing from one to
"One of my friends do," said Clinch laughing; "but don't let that
"And YOU--over there," continued Zenobia, bending her head and eyes
"The fact is--I believe he was my banker," said Hale, with a smile.
"I don't know him personally."
"Then you'd better hunt him before he does you."
"What's HE done, Zeenie?" asked Rawlins, keenly enjoying the
discomfiture of the others.
"What?" She stopped, threw her long black braids over her
shoulder, clasped her knee with her hands, and rocking backwards
and forwards, sublimely unconscious of the apparition of a slim
ankle and half-dropped-off slipper from under her shortened gown,
continued, "It mightn't please HIM," she said slyly, nodding
"Pray don't mind me," said Hale, with unnecessary eagerness.
"Well," said Zenobia, "I reckon you all know Ned Falkner and the
"Yes, Falkner's the superintendent of it," said Rawlins. "And a
square man too. Thar ain't anything mean about him."
"Shake," said Zenobia, extending her hand. Rawlins shook the
proffered hand with eager spontaneousness, and the girl resumed:
"He's about ez good ez they make 'em--you bet. Well, you know Ned
has put all his money, and all his strength, and all his sabe, and--"
"His good looks," added Clinch mischievously.
"Into that Ditch," continued Zenobia, ignoring the interruption.
"It's his mother, it's his sweetheart, it's his everything! When
other chaps of his age was cavortin' round Frisco, and havin' high
jinks, Ned was in his Ditch. 'Wait till the Ditch is done,' he
used to say. 'Wait till she begins to boom, and then you just
stand round.' Mor'n that, he got all the boys to put in their last
cent--for they loved Ned, and love him now, like ez ef he wos a
"That's so," said Clinch and Rawlins simultaneously, "and he's
"Well," continued Zenobia, "the Ditch didn't boom ez soon ez they
kalkilated. And then the boys kept gettin' poorer and poorer, and
Ned he kept gettin' poorer and poorer in everything but his
hopefulness and grit. Then he looks around for more capital. And
about this time, that coyote Harkins smelt suthin' nice up there,
and he gits Ned to give him control of it, and he'll lend him his
name and fix up a company. Soon ez he gets control, the first
thing he does is to say that it wants half a million o' money to
make it pay, and levies an assessment of two hundred dollars a
share. That's nothin' for them rich fellows to pay, or pretend to
pay, but for boys on grub wages it meant only ruin. They couldn't
pay, and had to forfeit their shares for next to nothing. And Ned
made one more desperate attempt to save them and himself by
borrowing money on his shares; when that hound Harkins got wind of
it, and let it be buzzed around that the Ditch is a failure, and
that he was goin' out of it; that brought the shares down to
nothing. As Ned couldn't raise a dollar, the new company swooped
down on his shares for the debts THEY had put up, and left him and
the boys to help themselves. Ned couldn't bear to face the boys
that he'd helped to ruin, and put out, and ain't been heard from
since. After Harkins had got rid of Ned and the boys he manages to
pay off that wonderful debt, and sells out for a hundred thousand
dollars. That money--Ned's money--he sends to Sacramento, for he
don't dare to travel with it himself, and is kalkilatin' to leave
the kentry, for some of the boys allow to kill him on sight. So ef
you're wantin' to hunt suthin', thar's yer chance, and you needn't
go inter the snow to do it."
"But surely the law can recover this money?" said Hale indignantly.
"It is as infamous a robbery as--" He stopped as he caught
"Ez last night's, you were goin' to say. I'll call it MORE. Them
road agents don't pretend to be your friend--but take yer money and
run their risks. For ez to the law--that can't help yer."
"It's a skin game, and you might ez well expect to recover a
gambling debt from a short-card sharp," explained Clinch; "Falkner
oughter shot him on sight."
"Or the boys lynched him," suggested Rawlins.
"I think," said Hale, more reflectively, "that in the absence of
legal remedy a man of that kind should have been forced under
strong physical menace to give up his ill-gotten gains. The money
was the primary object, and if that could be got without bloodshed--
which seems to me a useless crime--it would be quite as effective.
Of course, if there was resistance or retaliation, it might be
necessary to kill him."
He had unconsciously fallen into his old didactic and dogmatic
habit of speech, and perhaps, under the spur of Zenobia's eyes, he
had given it some natural emphasis. A dead silence followed, in
which the others regarded him with amused and gratified surprise,
and it was broken only by Zenobia rising and holding out her hand.
Hale raised it gallantly, and pressed his lips on the one spotless
"That's gospel truth. And you ain't the first white man to say
"Indeed," laughed Hale. "Who was the other?"
The laughter that followed was interrupted by a sudden barking of
the dogs in the outer clearing. Zenobia rose lazily and strode to
the window. It relieved Hale of certain embarrassing reflections
suggested by her comment.
"Ef it ain't that God-forsaken fool Dick bringing up passengers
from the snow-bound up stage in the road! I reckon I'VE got
suthin' to say to that!" But the later appearance of the
apologetic Dick, with the assurance that the party carried a
permission from her father, granted at the lower station in view of
such an emergency, checked her active opposition. "That's like
Paw," she soliloquized aggrievedly; "shuttin' us up and settin'
dogs on everybody for a week, and then lettin' the whole stage
service pass through one door and out at another. Well, it's HIS
house and HIS whiskey, and they kin take it, but they don't get me
to help 'em."
They certainly were not a prepossessing or good-natured acquisition
to the party. Apart from the natural antagonism which, on such
occasions, those in possession always feel towards the new-comer,
they were strongly inclined to resist the dissatisfied
querulousness and aggressive attitude of these fresh applicants for
hospitality. The most offensive one was a person who appeared to
exercise some authority over the others. He was loud, assuming,
and dressed with vulgar pretension. He quickly disposed himself in
the chair vacated by Zenobia, and called for some liquor.
"I reckon you'll hev to help yourself," said Rawlins dryly, as the
summons met with no response. "There are only two women in the
house, and I reckon their hands are full already."
"I call it d--d uncivil treatment," said the man, raising his
voice; "and Hennicker had better sing smaller if he don't want his
old den pulled down some day. He ain't any better than men that
hev been picked up afore now."
"You oughter told him that, and mebbe he'd hev come over with yer,"
returned Rawlins. "He's a mild, soft, easy-going man, is
Hennicker! Ain't he, Colonel Clinch?"
The casual mention of Clinch's name produced the effect which the
speaker probably intended. The stranger stared at Clinch, who,
apparently oblivious of the conversation, was blinking his cold
gray eyes at the fire. Dropping his aggressive tone to mere
querulousness, the man sought the whiskey demijohn, and helped
himself and his companions. Fortified by liquor he returned to the
"I reckon you've heard about this yer robbery, Colonel," he said,
addressing Clinch, with an attempt at easy familiarity.
Without raising his eyes from the fire, Clinch briefly assented, "I
"I'm up yer, examining into it, for the Express."
"Lost much?" asked Rawlins.
"Not so much ez they might hev. That fool Harkins had a hundred
thousand dollars in greenbacks sealed up like an ordinary package
of a thousand dollars, and gave it to a friend, Bill Guthrie, in
the bank to pick out some unlikely chap among the passengers to
take charge of it to Reno. He wouldn't trust the Express. Ha! ha!"
The dead, oppressive silence that followed his empty laughter made
it seem almost artificial. Rawlins held his breath and looked at
Clinch. Hale, with the instincts of a refined, sensitive man,
turned hot with the embarrassment Clinch should have shown. For
that gentleman, without lifting his eyes from the fire, and with no
apparent change in his demeanor, lazily asked--
"Ye didn't ketch the name o' that passenger?"
"Naturally, no! For when Guthrie heard what was said agin him he
wouldn't give his name until he heard from him."
"And WHAT was said agin him?" asked Clinch musingly.
"What would be said agin a man that give up that sum o' money, like
a chaw of tobacco, for the asking? Why, there were but three men,
as far ez we kin hear, that did the job. And there were four
passengers inside, armed, and the driver and express messenger on
the box. Six were robbed by THREE!--they were a sweet-scented lot!
Reckon they must hev felt mighty small, for I hear they got up and
skedaddled from the station under the pretext of lookin' for the
robbers." He laughed again, and the laugh was noisily repeated by
his five companions at the other end of the room.
Hale, who had forgotten that the stranger was only echoing a part
of his own criticism of eight hours before, was on the point of
rising with burning cheeks and angry indignation, when the lazily
uplifted eye of Clinch caught his, and absolutely held him down
with its paralyzing and deadly significance. Murder itself seemed
to look from those cruelly quiet and remorseless gray pupils. For
a moment he forgot his own rage in this glimpse of Clinch's
implacable resentment; for a moment he felt a thrill of pity for
the wretch who had provoked it. He remained motionless and
fascinated in his chair as the lazy lids closed like a sheath over
Clinch's eyes again. Rawlins, who had probably received the same
glance of warning, remained equally still.
"They haven't heard the last of it yet, you bet," continued the
infatuated stranger. "I've got a little statement here for the
newspaper," he added, drawing some papers from his pocket; "suthin'
I just run off in the coach as I came along. I reckon it'll show
things up in a new light. It's time there should be some change.
All the cussin' that's been usually done hez been by the passengers
agin the express and stage companies. I propose that the Company
should do a little cussin' themselves. See? P'r'aps you don't
mind my readin' it to ye? It's just spicy enough to suit them
"Go on," said Colonel Clinch quietly.
The man cleared his throat, with the preliminary pose of
authorship, and his five friends, to whom the composition was
evidently not unfamiliar, assumed anticipatory smiles.
"I call it 'Prize Pusillanimous Passengers.' Sort of runs easy off
the tongue, you know.
"'It now appears that the success of the late stagecoach robbery
near the Summit was largely due to the pusillanimity--not to use a
more serious word'"-- He stopped, and looked explanatorily towards
Clinch: "Ye'll see in a minit what I'm gettin' at by that
pusillanimity of the passengers themselves. 'It now transpires
that there were only three robbers who attacked the coach, and that
although passengers, driver, and express messenger were fully
armed, and were double the number of their assailants, not a shot
was fired. We mean no reflections upon the well-known courage of
Yuba Bill, nor the experience and coolness of Bracy Tibbetts, the
courteous express messenger, both of whom have since confessed to
have been more than astonished at the Christian and lamb-like
submission of the insiders. Amusing stories of some laughable yet
sickening incidents of the occasion--such as grown men kneeling in
the road, and offering to strip themselves completely, if their
lives were only spared; of one of the passengers hiding under the
seat, and only being dislodged by pulling his coat-tails; of
incredible sums promised, and even offers of menial service, for
the preservation of their wretched carcases--are received with the
greatest gusto; but we are in possession of facts which may lead to
more serious accusations. Although one of the passengers is said
to have lost a large sum of money intrusted to him, while
attempting with barefaced effrontery to establish a rival
"carrying" business in one of the Express Company's own coaches--'I
call that a good point." He interrupted himself to allow the
unrestrained applause of his own party. "Don't you?"
"It's just h-ll," said Clinch musingly.
"'Yet the affair," resumed the stranger from his manuscript, "'is
locked up in great and suspicious mystery. The presence of Jackson
N. Stanner, Esq.' (that's me), 'special detective agent to the
Company, and his staff in town, is a guaranty that the mystery will
be thoroughly probed.' Hed to put that in to please the Company,"
he again deprecatingly explained. "'We are indebted to this
gentleman for the facts.'"
"The pint you want to make in that article," said Clinch, rising,
but still directing his face and his conversation to the fire, "ez
far ez I ken see ez that no three men kin back down six unless they
be cowards, or are willing to be backed down."
"That's the point what I start from," rejoined Stanner, "and work
up. I leave it to you ef it ain't so."
"I can't say ez I agree with you," said the Colonel dryly. He
turned, and still without lifting his eyes walked towards the door
of the room which Zenobia had entered. The key was on the inside,
but Clinch gently opened the door, removed the key, and closing the
door again locked it from his side. Hale and Rawlins felt their
hearts beat quickly; the others followed Clinch's slow movements
and downcast mien with amused curiosity. After locking the other
outlet from the room, and putting the keys in his pocket, Clinch
returned to the fire. For the first time he lifted his eyes; the
man nearest him shrank back in terror.
"I am the man," he said slowly, taking deliberate breath between
his sentences, "who gave up those greenbacks to the robbers. I am
one of the three passengers you have lampooned in that paper, and
these gentlemen beside me are the other two." He stopped and
looked around him. "You don't believe that three men can back down
six! Well, I'll show you how it can be done. More than that, I'll
show you how ONE man can do it; for, by the living G-d, if you
don't hand over that paper I'll kill you where you sit! I'll give
you until I count ten; if one of you moves he and you are dead men--
but YOU first!"
Before he had finished speaking Hale and Rawlins had both risen, as
if in concert, with their weapons drawn. Hale could not tell how
or why he had done so, but he was equally conscious, without
knowing why, of fixing his eye on one of the other party, and that
he should, in the event of an affray, try to kill him. He did not
attempt to reason; he only knew that he should do his best to kill
that man and perhaps others.
"One," said Clinch, lifting his derringer, "two--three--"
"Look here, Colonel--I swear I didn't know it was you. Come--d--m
it! I say--see here," stammered Stanner, with white cheeks, not
daring to glance for aid to his stupefied party.
"Wait! Here!" He produced the paper and threw it on the floor.
"Pick it up and hand it to me. Seven--eight--"
Stanner hastily scrambled to his feet, picked up the paper, and
handed it to the Colonel. "I was only joking, Colonel," he said,
with a forced laugh.
"I'm glad to hear it. But as this joke is in black and white, you
wouldn't mind saying so in the same fashion. Take that pen and ink
and write as I dictate. 'I certify that I am satisfied that the
above statement is a base calumny against the characters of
Ringwood Clinch, Robert Rawlins, and John Hale, passengers, and
that I do hereby apologize to the same.' Sign it. That'll do.
Now let the rest of your party sign as witnesses."
They complied without hesitation; some, seizing the opportunity of
treating the affair as a joke, suggested a drink.
"Excuse me," said Clinch quietly, "but ez this house ain't big
enough for me and that man, and ez I've got business at Wild Cat
Station with this paper, I think I'll go without drinkin'." He
took the keys from his pocket, unlocked the doors, and taking up
his overcoat and rifle turned as if to go.
Rawlins rose to follow him; Hale alone hesitated. The rapid
occurrences of the last half hour gave him no time for reflection.
But he was by no means satisfied of the legality of the last act he
had aided and abetted, although he admitted its rude justice, and
felt he would have done so again. A fear of this, and an instinct
that he might be led into further complications if he continued to
identify himself with Clinch and Rawlins; the fact that they had
professedly abandoned their quest, and that it was really
supplanted by the presence of an authorized party whom they had
already come in conflict with--all this urged him to remain behind.
On the other hand, the apparent desertion of his comrades at the
last moment was opposed both to his sense of honor and the liking
he had taken to them. But he reflected that he had already shown
his active partisanship, that he could be of little service to them
at Wild Cat Station, and would be only increasing the distance from
his home; and above all, an impatient longing for independent
action finally decided him. "I think I'll stay here," he said to
Clinch, "unless you want me."
Clinch cast a swift and meaning glance at the enemy, but looked
approval. "Keep your eyes skinned, and you're good for a dozen of
'em," he said sotto voce, and then turned to Stanner. "I'm going
to take this paper to Wild Cat. If you want to communicate with me
hereafter you know where I am to be found, unless--"he smiled
grimly--"you'd like to see me outside for a few minutes before I
"It is a matter that concerns the Stage Company, not me," said
Stanner, with an attempt to appear at his ease.
Hale accompanied Clinch and Rawlins through the kitchen to the
stables. The ostler, Dick, had already returned to the rescue of
the snow-bound coach.
"I shouldn't like to leave many men alone with that crowd," said
Clinch, pressing Hale's hand; "and I wouldn't have allowed your
staying behind ef I didn't know I could bet my pile on you. Your
offerin' to stay just puts a clean finish on it. Look yer, Hale, I
didn't cotton much to you at first; but ef you ever want a friend,
call on Ringwood Clinch."
"The same here, old man," said Rawlins, extending his hand as he
appeared from a hurried conference with the old woman at the
woodshed, "and trust to Zeenie to give you a hint ef there's
anythin' underhanded goin' on. So long."
Half inclined to resent this implied suggestion of protection, yet
half pleased at the idea of a confidence with the handsome girl he
had seen, Hale returned to the room. A whispered discussion among
the party ceased on his entering, and an awkward silence followed,
which Hale did not attempt to break as he quietly took his seat
again by the fire. He was presently confronted by Stanner, who
with an affectation of easy familiarity crossed over to the hearth.
"The old Kernel's d--d peppery and high toned when he's got a
little more than his reg'lar three fingers o' corn juice, eh?"
"I must beg you to understand distinctly, Mr. Stanner," said Hale,
with a return of his habitual precision of statement, "that I
regard any slighting allusion to the gentleman who has just left
not only as in exceedingly bad taste coming from YOU, but very
offensive to myself. If you mean to imply that he was under the
influence of liquor, it is my duty to undeceive you; he was so
perfectly in possession of his faculties as to express not only his
own but MY opinion of your conduct. You must also admit that he
was discriminating enough to show his objection to your company by
leaving it. I regret that circumstances do not make it convenient
for me to exercise that privilege; but if I am obliged to put up
with your presence in this room, I strongly insist that it is not
made unendurable with the addition of your conversation."
The effect of this deliberate and passionless declaration was more
discomposing to the party than Clinch's fury. Utterly unaccustomed
to the ideas and language suddenly confronting them, they were
unable to determine whether it was the real expression of the
speaker, or whether it was a vague badinage or affectation to which
any reply would involve them in ridicule. In a country terrorized
by practical joking, they did not doubt but that this was a new
form of hoaxing calculated to provoke some response that would
constitute them as victims. The immediate effect upon them was
that complete silence in regard to himself that Hale desired. They
drew together again and conversed in whispers, while Hale, with his
eyes fixed on the fire, gave himself up to somewhat late and
He could scarcely realize his position. For however he might look
at it, within a space of twelve hours he had not only changed some
of his most cherished opinions, but he had acted in accordance with
that change in a way that made it seem almost impossible for him
ever to recant. In the interests of law and order he had engaged
in an unlawful and disorderly pursuit of criminals, and had
actually come in conflict not with the criminals, but with the only
party apparently authorized to pursue them. More than that, he was
finding himself committed to a certain sympathy with the criminals.
Twenty-four hours ago, if anyone had told him that he would have
condoned an illegal act for its abstract justice, or assisted to
commit an illegal act for the same purpose, he would have felt
himself insulted. That he knew he would not now feel it as an
insult perplexed him still more. In these circumstances the fact
that he was separated from his family, and as it were from all his
past life and traditions, by a chance accident, did not disturb him
greatly; indeed, he was for the first time a little doubtful of
their probable criticism on his inconsistency, and was by no means
in a hurry to subject himself to it.
Lifting his eyes, he was suddenly aware that the door leading to
the kitchen was slowly opening. He had thought he heard it creak
once or twice during his deliberate reply to Stanner. It was
evidently moving now so as to attract his attention, without
disturbing the others. It presently opened sufficiently wide to
show the face of Zeenie, who, with a gesture of caution towards his
companions, beckoned him to join her. He rose carelessly as if
going out, and, putting on his hat, entered the kitchen as the
retreating figure of the young girl glided lightly towards the
stables. She ascended a few open steps as if to a hay-loft, but
stopped before a low door. Pushing it open, she preceded him into
a small room, apparently under the roof, which scarcely allowed her
to stand upright. By the light of a stable lantern hanging from a
beam he saw that, though poorly furnished, it bore some evidence of
feminine taste and habitation. Motioning to the only chair, she
seated herself on the edge of the bed, with her hands clasping her
knees in her familiar attitude. Her face bore traces of recent
agitation, and her eyes were shining with tears. By the closer
light of the lantern he was surprised to find it was from laughter.
"I reckoned you'd be right lonely down there with that Stanner
crowd, particklerly after that little speech o' your'n, so I sez to
Maw I'd get you up yer for a spell. Maw and I heerd you exhort
'em! Maw allowed you woz talkin' a furrin' tongue all along, but
I--sakes alive!--I hed to hump myself to keep from bustin' into a
yell when yer jist drawed them Webster-unabridged sentences on
'em." She stopped and rocked backwards and forwards with a laugh
that, subdued by the proximity of the roof and the fear of being
overheard, was by no means unmusical. "I'll tell ye whot got me,
though! That part commencing, 'Suckamstances over which I've no
"Oh, come! I didn't say that," interrupted Hale, laughing.
"'Don't make it convenient for me to exercise the privilege of
kickin' yer out to that extent,'" she continued; "'but if I cannot
dispense with your room, the least I can say is that it's a d--d
sight better than your company--'or suthin' like that! And then
the way you minded your stops, and let your voice rise and fall
just ez easy ez if you wos a First Reader in large type. Why, the
Kernel wasn't nowhere. HIS cussin' didn't come within a mile o'
yourn. That Stanner jist turned yaller."
"I'm afraid you are laughing at me," said Hale, not knowing whether
to be pleased or vexed at the girl's amusement.
"I reckon I'm the only one that dare do it, then," said the girl
simply. "The Kernel sez the way you turned round after he'd done
his cussin', and said yer believed you'd stay and take the
responsibility of the whole thing--and did, in that kam, soft, did-
anybody-speak-to-me style--was the neatest thing he'd seen yet.
No! Maw says I ain't much on manners, but I know a man when I see
For an instant Hale gave himself up to the delicious flattery of
unexpected, unintended, and apparently uninterested compliment.
Becoming at last a little embarrassed under the frank curiosity of
the girl's dark eyes, he changed the subject.
"Do you always come up here through the stables?" he asked,
glancing round the room, which was evidently her own.
"I reckon," she answered half abstractedly. "There's a ladder down
thar to Maw's room--"pointing to a trapdoor beside the broad
chimney that served as a wall--"but it's handier the other way, and
nearer the bosses if you want to get away quick."
This palpable suggestion--borne out by what he remembered of the
other domestic details--that the house had been planned with
reference to sudden foray or escape reawakened his former uneasy
reflections. Zeenie, who had been watching his face, added, "It's
no slouch, when b'ar or painters hang round nights and stampede the
stock, to be able to swing yourself on to a boss whenever you hear
a row going on outside."
"Do you mean that YOU--"
"Paw USED, and I do NOW, sense I've come into the room." She
pointed to a nondescript garment, half cloak, half habit, hanging
on the wall. "I've been outer bed and on Pitchpine's back as far
ez the trail five minutes arter I heard the first bellow."
Hale regarded her with undisguised astonishment. There was nothing
at all Amazonian or horsey in her manners, nor was there even the
robust physical contour that might have been developed through such
experiences. On the contrary, she seemed to be lazily effeminate
in body and mind. Heedless of his critical survey of her, she
beckoned him to draw his chair nearer, and, looking into his eyes,
"Whatever possessed YOU to take to huntin' men?"
Hale was staggered by the question, but nevertheless endeavored to
explain. But he was surprised to find that his explanation
appeared stilted even to himself, and, he could not doubt, was
utterly incomprehensible to the girl. She nodded her head,
however, and continued--
"Then you haven't anythin' agin' George?"
"I don't know George," said Hale, smiling. "My proceeding was
against the highwayman."
"Well, HE was the highwayman."
"I mean, it was the principle I objected to--a principle that I
consider highly dangerous."
"Well HE is the principal, for the others only HELPED, I reckon,"
said Zeenie with a sigh, "and I reckon he IS dangerous."
Hale saw it was useless to explain. The girl continued--
"What made you stay here instead of going on with the Kernel?
There was suthin' else besides your wanting to make that Stanner
take water. What is it?"
A light sense of the propinquity of beauty, of her confidence, of
their isolation, of the eloquence of her dark eyes, at first
tempted Hale to a reply of simple gallantry; a graver consideration
of the same circumstances froze it upon his lips.
"I don't know," he returned awkwardly.
"Well, I'll tell you," she said. "You didn't cotton to the Kernel
and Rawlins much more than you did to Stanner. They ain't your
In his embarrassment Hale blundered upon the thought he had
"Suppose," he said, with a constrained laugh, "I had stayed to see
"I reckon I ain't your kind, neither," she replied promptly. There
was a momentary pause when she rose and walked to the chimney.
"It's very quiet down there," she said, stooping and listening over
the roughly-boarded floor that formed the ceiling of the room
below. "I wonder what's going on."
In the belief that this was a delicate hint for his return to the
party he had left, Hale rose, but the girl passed him hurriedly,
and, opening the door, cast a quick glance into the stable beyond.
"Just as I reckoned--the horses are gone too. They've skedaddled,"
she said blankly.
Hale did not reply. In his embarrassment a moment ago the idea of
taking an equally sudden departure had flashed upon him. Should he
take this as a justification of that impulse, or how? He stood
irresolutely gazing at the girl, who turned and began to descend
the stairs silently. He followed. When they reached the lower
room they found it as they had expected--deserted.
"I hope I didn't drive them away," said Hale, with an uneasy look
at the troubled face of the girl. "For I really had an idea of
going myself a moment ago."
She remained silent, gazing out of the window. Then, turning with
a slight shrug of her shoulders, said half defiantly: "What's the
use now? Oh, Maw! the Stanner crowd has vamosed the ranch, and
this yer stranger kalkilates to stay!"
A week had passed at Eagle's Court--a week of mingled clouds and
sunshine by day, of rain over the green plateau and snow on the
mountain by night. Each morning had brought its fresh greenness to
the winter-girt domain, and a fresh coat of dazzling white to the
barrier that separated its dwellers from the world beyond. There
was little change in the encompassing wall of their prison; if
anything, the snowy circle round them seemed to have drawn its
lines nearer day by day. The immediate result of this restricted
limit had been to confine the range of cattle to the meadows nearer
the house, and at a safe distance from the fringe of wilderness now
invaded by the prowling tread of predatory animals.
Nevertheless, the two figures lounging on the slope at sunset gave
very little indication of any serious quality in the situation.
Indeed, so far as appearances were concerned, Kate, who was
returning from an afternoon stroll with Falkner, exhibited, with
feminine inconsistency, a decided return to the world of fashion
and conventionality apparently just as she was effectually excluded
from it. She had not only discarded her white dress as a
concession to the practical evidence of the surrounding winter, but
she had also brought out a feather hat and sable muff which had
once graced a fashionable suburb of Boston. Even Falkner had
exchanged his slouch hat and picturesque serape for a beaver
overcoat and fur cap of Hale's which had been pressed upon him by
Kate, under the excuse of the exigencies of the season. Within a
stone's throw of the thicket, turbulent with the savage forces of
nature, they walked with the abstraction of people hearing only
their own voices; in the face of the solemn peaks clothed with
white austerity they talked gravely of dress.
"I don't mean to say," said Kate demurely, "that you're to give up
the serape entirely; you can wear it on rainy nights and when you
ride over here from your friend's house to spend the evening--for
the sake of old times," she added, with an unconscious air of
referring to an already antiquated friendship; "but you must admit
it's a little too gorgeous and theatrical for the sunlight of day
and the public highway."
"But why should that make it wrong, if the experience of a people
has shown it to be a garment best fitted for their wants and
requirements?" said Falkner argumentatively.
"But you are not one of those people," said Kate, "and that makes
all the difference. You look differently and act differently, so
that there is something irreconcilable between your clothes and you
that makes you look odd."
"And to look odd, according to your civilized prejudices, is to be
wrong," said Falkner bitterly.
"It is to seem different from what one really is--which IS wrong.
Now, you are a mining superintendent, you tell me. Then you don't
want to look like a Spanish brigand, as you do in that serape. I
am sure if you had ridden up to a stage-coach while I was in it,
I'd have handed you my watch and purse without a word. There! you
are not offended?" she added, with a laugh, which did not, however,
conceal a certain earnestness. "I suppose I ought to have said I
would have given it gladly to such a romantic figure, and perhaps
have got out and danced a saraband or bolero with you--if that is
the thing to do nowadays. Well!" she said, after a dangerous
pause, "consider that I've said it."
He had been walking a little before her, with his face turned
towards the distant mountain. Suddenly he stopped and faced her.
"You would have given enough of your time to the highwayman, Miss
Scott, as would have enabled you to identify him for the police--
and no more. Like your brother, you would have been willing to
sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the laws of civilization and
If a denial to this assertion could have been expressed without the
use of speech, it was certainly transparent in the face and eyes of
the young girl at that moment. If Falkner had been less self-
conscious he would have seen it plainly. But Kate only buried her
face in her lifted muff, slightly raised her pretty shoulders, and,
dropping her tremulous eyelids, walked on. "It seems a pity," she
said, after a pause, "that we cannot preserve our own miserable
existence without taking something from others--sometimes even a
life!" He started. "And it's horrid to have to remind you that
you have yet to kill something for the invalid's supper," she
continued. "I saw a hare in the field yonder."
"You mean that jackass rabbit?" he said, abstractedly.
"What you please. It's a pity you didn't take your gun instead of
"I brought the rifle for protection."
"And a shot gun is only aggressive, I suppose?"
Falkner looked at her for a moment, and then, as the hare suddenly
started across the open a hundred yards away, brought the rifle to
his shoulder. A long interval--as it seemed to Kate--elapsed; the
animal appeared to be already safely out of range, when the rifle
suddenly cracked; the hare bounded in the air like a ball, and
dropped motionless. The girl looked at the marksman in undisguised
admiration. "Is it quite dead?" she said timidly.
"It never knew what struck it."
"It certainly looks less brutal than shooting it with a shot gun,
as John does, and then not killing it outright," said Kate. "I
hate what is called sport and sportsmen, but a rifle seems--"
"What?" said Falkner.
She had raised her pretty head in the air, and, with her hand
shading her eyes, was looking around the clear ether, and said
meditatively, "I wonder--no matter."
"What is it?"
"It is something," said Falkner, with an amused smile, reloading
"Well, you once promised me an eagle's feather for my hat. Isn't
that thing an eagle?"
"I am afraid it's only a hawk."
"Well, that will do. Shoot that!"
Her eyes were sparkling. Falkner withdrew his own with a slight
smile, and raised his rifle with provoking deliberation.
"Are you quite sure it's what you want?" he asked demurely.
Nevertheless, it was some minutes before the rifle cracked again.
The wheeling bird suddenly struck the wind with its wings aslant,
and then fell like a plummet at a distance which showed the
difficulty of the feat. Falkner started from her side before the
bird reached the ground. He returned to her after a lapse of a few
moments, bearing a trailing wing in his hand. "You shall make your
choice," he said gayly.
"Are you sure it was killed outright?"
"Head shot off," said Falkner briefly.
"And besides, the fall would have killed it," said Kate conclusively.
"It's lovely. I suppose they call you a very good shot?"
"Oh! the people you know--your friends, and their sisters."
"George shoots better than I do, and has had more experience. I've
seen him do that with a pistol. Of course not such a long shot,
but a more difficult one."
Kate did not reply, but her face showed a conviction that as an
artistic and gentlemanly performance it was probably inferior to
the one she had witnessed. Falkner, who had picked up the hare
also, again took his place by her side, as they turned towards the
"Do you remember the day you came, when we were walking here, you
pointed out that rock on the mountain where the poor animals had
taken refuge from the snow?" said Kate suddenly.
"Yes," answered Falkner; "they seem to have diminished. I am
afraid you were right; they have either eaten each other or
escaped. Let us hope the latter."
"I looked at them with a glass every day," said Kate, "and they've
got down to only four. There's a bear and that shabby, over-grown
cat you call a California lion, and a wolf, and a creature like a
fox or a squirrel."
"It's a pity they're not all of a kind," said Falkner.
"There'd be nothing to keep them from being comfortable together."
"On the contrary, I should think it would be simply awful to be
shut up entirely with one's own kind."
"Then you believe it is possible for them, with their different
natures and habits, to be happy together?" said Falkner, with
"I believe," said Kate hurriedly, "that the bear and the lion find
the fox and the wolf very amusing, and that the fox and the wolf--"
"Well?" said Falkner, stopping short.
"Well, the fox and the wolf will carry away a much better opinion
of the lion and bear than they had before."
They had reached the house by this time, and for some occult reason
Kate did not immediately enter the parlor, where she had left her
sister and the invalid, who had already been promoted to a sofa and
a cushion by the window, but proceeded directly to her own room.
As a manoeuvre to avoid meeting Mrs. Hale, it was scarcely
necessary, for that lady was already in advance of her on the
staircase, as if she had left the parlor for a moment before they
entered the house. Falkner, too, would have preferred the company
of his own thoughts, but Lee, apparently the only unpreoccupied,
all-pervading, and boyishly alert spirit in the party, hailed him
from within, and obliged him to present himself on the threshold of
the parlor with the hare and hawk's wing he was still carrying.
Eying the latter with affected concern, Lee said gravely: "Of
course, I CAN eat it, Ned, and I dare say it's the best part of the
fowl, and the hare isn't more than enough for the women, but I had
no idea we were so reduced. Three hours and a half gunning, and
only one hare and a hawk's wing. It's terrible."
Perceiving that his friend was alone, Falkner dropped his burden in
the hall and strode rapidly to his side. "Look here, George, we
must, I must leave this place at once. It's no use talking; I can
stand this sort of thing no longer."
"Nor can I, with the door open. Shut it, and say what you want
quick, before Mrs. Hale comes back. Have you found a trail?"
"No, no; that's not what I mean."
"Well, it strikes me it ought to be, if you expect to get away.
Have you proposed to Beacon Street, and she thinks it rather
premature on a week's acquaintance?"
"But you WILL, you mean? DON'T, just yet."
"But I cannot live this perpetual lie."
"That depends. I don't know HOW you're lying when I'm not with
you. If you're walking round with that girl, singing hymns and
talking of your class in Sunday-school, or if you're insinuating
that you're a millionaire, and think of buying the place for a
summer hotel, I should say you'd better quit that kind of lying.
But, on the other hand, I don't see the necessity of your dancing
round here with a shot gun, and yelling for Harkins's blood, or
counting that package of greenbacks in the lap of Miss Scott, to be
truthful. It seems to me there ought to be something between the
"But, George, don't you think--you are on such good terms with Mrs.
Hale and her mother--that you might tell them the whole story?
That is, tell it in your own way; they will hear anything from you,
and believe it."
"Thank you; but suppose I don't believe in lying, either?"
"You know what I mean! You have a way, d--n it, of making
everything seem like a matter of course, and the most natural thing
"Well, suppose I did. Are you prepared for the worst?"
Falkner was silent for a moment, and then replied, "Yes, anything
would be better than this suspense."
"I don't agree with you. Then you would be willing to have them
"I don't understand you."
"I mean that their forgiveness would be the worst thing that could
happen. Look here, Ned. Stop a moment; listen at that door. Mrs.
Hale has the tread of an angel, with the pervading capacity of a
cat. Now listen! I don't pretend to be in love with anybody here,
but if I were I should hardly take advantage of a woman's
helplessness and solitude with a sensational story about myself.
It's not giving her a fair show. You know she won't turn you out
of the house."
"No," said Falkner, reddening; "but I should expect to go at once,
and that would be my only excuse for telling her."
"Go! where? In your preoccupation with that girl you haven't even
found the trail by which Manuel escaped. Do you intend to camp
outside the house, and make eyes at her when she comes to the
"Because you think nothing of flirting with Mrs. Hale," said
Falkner bitterly, "you care little--"
"My dear Ned," said Lee, "the fact that Mrs. Hale has a husband,
and knows that she can't marry me, puts us on equal terms. Nothing
that she could learn about me hereafter would make a flirtation
with me any less wrong than it would be now, or make her seem more
a victim. Can you say the same of yourself and that Puritan girl?"
"But you did not advise me to keep aloof from her; on the contrary,
"I thought you might make the best of the situation, and pay her
some attention, BECAUSE you could not go any further."
"You thought I was utterly heartless and selfish, like--"
Falkner walked rapidly to the fireplace, and returned.
"Forgive me, George--I'm a fool--and an ungrateful one."
Lee did not reply at once, although he took and retained the hand
Falkner had impulsively extended. "Promise me, he said slowly,
after a pause, "that you will say nothing yet to either of these
women. I ask it for your own sake, and this girl's, not for mine.
If, on the contrary, you are tempted to do so from any Quixotic
idea of honor, remember that you will only precipitate something
that will oblige you, from that same sense of honor, to separate
from the girl forever."
"I don't understand."
"Enough!" said he, with a quick return of his old reckless gayety.
"Shoot-Off-His-Mouth--the Beardless Boy Chief of the Sierras--has
spoken! Let the Pale Face with the black moustache ponder and
beware how he talks hereafter to the Rippling Cochituate Water!
Nevertheless, as soon as the door had closed upon Falkner, Lee's
smile vanished. With his colorless face turned to the fading light
at the window, the hollows in his temples and the lines in the
corners of his eyes seemed to have grown more profound. He
remained motionless and absorbed in thought so deep that the light
rustle of a skirt, that would at other times have thrilled his
sensitive ear, passed unheeded. At last, throwing off his reverie
with the full and unrestrained sigh of a man who believes himself
alone, he was startled by the soft laugh of Mrs. Hale, who had
entered the room unperceived.
"Dear me! How portentous! Really, I almost feel as if I were
interrupting a tete-a-tete between yourself and some old flame. I
haven't heard anything so old-fashioned and conservative as that
sigh since I have been in California. I thought you never had any
Past out here?"
Fortunately his face was between her and the light, and the
unmistakable expression of annoyance and impatience which was
passed over it was spared her. There was, however, still enough
dissonance in his manner to affect her quick feminine sense, and
when she drew nearer to him it was with a certain maiden-like
"You are not worse, Mr. Lee, I hope? You have not over-exerted
"There's little chance of that with one leg--if not in the grave at
least mummified with bandages," he replied, with a bitterness new
"Shall I loosen them? Perhaps they are too tight. There is
nothing so irritating to one as the sensation of being tightly
The light touch of her hand upon the rug that covered his knees,
the thoughtful tenderness of the blue-veined lids, and the delicate
atmosphere that seemed to surround her like a perfume cleared his
face of its shadow and brought back the reckless fire into his blue
"I suppose I'm intolerant of all bonds," he said, looking at her
intently, "in others as well as myself!"
Whether or not she detected any double meaning in his words, she
was obliged to accept the challenge of his direct gaze, and,
raising her eyes to his, drew back a little from him with a slight
increase of color. "I was afraid you had heard bad news just now."
"What would you call bad news?" asked Lee, clasping his hands
behind his head, and leaning back on the sofa, but without
withdrawing his eyes from her face.
"Oh, any news that would interrupt your convalescence, or break up
our little family party," said Mrs. Hale. "You have been getting
on so well that really it would seem cruel to have anything
interfere with our life of forgetting and being forgotten. But,"
she added with apprehensive quickness, "has anything happened? Is
there really any news from--from, the trails? Yesterday Mr.
Falkner said the snow had recommenced in the pass. Has he seen
anything, noticed anything different?"
She looked so very pretty, with the rare, genuine, and youthful
excitement that transfigured her wearied and wearying regularity of
feature, that Lee contented himself with drinking in her prettiness
as he would have inhaled the perfume of some flower.
"Why do you look at me so, Mr. Lee?" she asked, with a slight
smile. "I believe something HAS happened. Mr. Falkner HAS brought
you some intelligence."
"He has certainly found out something I did not foresee."
"And that troubles you?"
"Is it a secret?"
"Then I suppose you will tell it to me at dinner," she said, with a
little tone of relief.
"I am afraid, if I tell it at all, I must tell it now," he said,
glancing at the door.
"You must do as you think best," she said coldly, "as it seems to
be a secret, after all." She hesitated. "Kate is dressing, and
will not be down for some time."
"So much the better. For I'm afraid that Ned has made a poor
return to your hospitality by falling in love with her."
"Impossible! He has known her for scarcely a week."
"I am afraid we won't agree as to the length of time necessary to
appreciate and love a woman. I think it can be done in seven days
and four hours, the exact time we have been here."
"Yes; but as Kate was not in when you arrived, and did not come
until later, you must take off at least one hour," said Mrs. Hale
"Ned can. I shall not abate a second."
"But are you not mistaken in his feelings?" she continued
hurriedly. "He certainly has not said anything to her."
"That is his last hold on honor and reason. And to preserve that
little intact he wants to run away at once."
"But that would be very silly."
"Do you think so?" he said, looking at her fixedly.
"Why not?" she asked in her turn, but rather faintly.
"I'll tell you why," he said, lowering his voice with a certain
intensity of passion unlike his usual boyish lightheartedness.
"Think of a man whose life has been one of alternate hardness and
aggression, of savage disappointment and equally savage successes,
who has known no other relaxation than dissipation and
extravagance; a man to whom the idea of the domestic hearth and
family ties only meant weakness, effeminacy, or--worse; who had
looked for loyalty and devotion only in the man who battled for him
at his right hand in danger, or shared his privations and
sufferings. Think of such a man, and imagine that an accident has
suddenly placed him in an atmosphere of purity, gentleness, and
peace, surrounded him by the refinements of a higher life than he
had ever known, and that he found himself as in a dream, on terms
of equality with a pure woman who had never known any other life,
and yet would understand and pity his. Imagine his loving her!
Imagine that the first effect of that love was to show him his own
inferiority and the immeasurable gulf that lay between his life and
hers! Would he not fly rather than brave the disgrace of her
awakening to the truth? Would he not fly rather than accept even
the pity that might tempt her to a sacrifice?"
"But--is Mr. Falkner all that?"
"Nothing of the kind, I assure you!" said he demurely. "But that's
the way a man in love feels."
"Really! Mr. Falkner should get you to plead his cause with Kate,"
said Mrs. Hale with a faint laugh.
"I need all my persuasive powers in that way for myself," said Lee
Mrs. Hale rose. "I think I hear Kate coming," she said.
Nevertheless, she did not move away. "It IS Kate coming," she
added hurriedly, stooping to pick up her work-basket, which had
slipped with Lee's hand from her own.
It was Kate, who at once flew to her sister's assistance, Lee
deploring from the sofa his own utter inability to aid her. "It's
all my fault, too," he said to Kate, but looking at Mrs. Hale. "It
seems I have a faculty of upsetting existing arrangements without
the power of improving them, or even putting them back in their
places. What shall I do? I am willing to hold any number of
skeins or rewind any quantity of spools. I am even willing to
forgive Ned for spending the whole day with you, and only bringing
me the wing of a hawk for supper."
"That was all my folly, Mr. Lee," said Kate, with swift mendacity;
"he was all the time looking after something for you, when I begged
him to shoot a bird to get a feather for my hat. And that wing is
"It is a pity that mere beauty is not edible," said Lee, gravely,
"and that if the worst comes to the worst here you would probably
prefer me to Ned and his moustachios, merely because I've been tied
by the leg to this sofa and slowly fattened like a Strasbourg
Nevertheless, his badinage failed somehow to amuse Kate, and she
presently excused herself to rejoin her sister, who had already
slipped from the room. For the first time during their enforced
seclusion a sense of restraint and uneasiness affected Mrs. Hale,
her sister, and Falkner at dinner. The latter addressed himself to
Mrs. Scott, almost entirely. Mrs. Hale was fain to bestow an
exceptional and marked tenderness on her little daughter Minnie,
who, however, by some occult childish instinct, insisted upon
sharing it with Lee--her great friend--to Mrs. Hale's uneasy
consciousness. Nor was Lee slow to profit by the child's
suggestion, but responded with certain vicarious caresses that
increased the mother's embarrassment. That evening they retired
early, but in the intervals of a restless night Kate was aware,
from the sound of voices in the opposite room, that the friends
were equally wakeful.
A morning of bright sunshine and soft warm air did not, however,
bring any change to their new and constrained relations. It only
seemed to offer a reason for Falkner to leave the house very early
for his daily rounds, and gave Lee that occasion for unaided
exercise with an extempore crutch on the veranda which allowed Mrs.
Hale to pursue her manifold duties without the necessity of keeping
him company. Kate also, as if to avoid an accidental meeting with
Falkner, had remained at home with her sister. With one exception,
they did not make their guests the subject of their usual playful
comments, nor, after the fashion of their sex, quote their ideas
and opinions. That exception was made by Mrs. Hale.
"You have had no difference with Mr. Falkner?" she said carelessly.
"No," said Kate quickly. "Why?"
"I only thought he seemed rather put out at dinner last night, and
you didn't propose to go and meet him to-day."
"He must be bored with my company at times, I dare say," said Kate,
with an indifference quite inconsistent with her rising color. "I
shouldn't wonder if he was a little vexed with Mr. Lee's chaffing
him about his sport yesterday, and probably intends to go further
to-day, and bring home larger game. I think Mr. Lee very amusing
always, but I sometimes fancy he lacks feeling."
"Feeling! You don't know him, Kate," said Mrs. Hale quickly. She
stopped herself, but with a half-smiling recollection in her
"Well, he doesn't look very amiable now, stamping up and down the
veranda. Perhaps you'd better go and soothe him."
"I'm really SO busy just now," said Mrs. Hale, with sudden and
inconsequent energy; "things have got dreadfully behind in the last
week. You had better go, Kate, and make him sit down, or he'll be
overdoing it. These men never know any medium--in anything."
Contrary to Kate's expectation, Falkner returned earlier than
usual, and, taking the invalid's arm, supported him in a more
ambitious walk along the terrace before the house. They were
apparently absorbed in conversation, but the two women who observed
them from the window could not help noticing the almost feminine
tenderness of Falkner's manner towards his wounded friend, and the
thoughtful tenderness of his ministering care.
"I wonder," said Mrs. Hale, following them with softly appreciative
eyes, "if women are capable of as disinterested friendship as men?
I never saw anything like the devotion of these two creatures.
Look! if Mr. Falkner hasn't got his arm round Mr. Lee's waist, and
Lee, with his own arm over Falkner's neck, is looking up in his
eyes. I declare, Kate, it almost seems an indiscretion to look at
Kate, however, to Mrs. Hale's indignation, threw her pretty head
back and sniffed the air contemptuously. "I really don't see
anything but some absurd sentimentalism of their own, or some
mannish wickedness they're concocting by themselves. I am by no
means certain, Josephine, that Lee's influence over that young man
is the best thing for him."
"On the contrary! Lee's influence seems the only thing that checks
his waywardness," said Mrs. Hale quickly. "I'm sure, if anyone
makes sacrifices, it is Lee; I shouldn't wonder that even now he is
making some concession to Falkner, and all those caressing ways of
your friend are for a purpose. They're not much different from us,
"Well, I wouldn't stand there and let them see me looking at them
as if I couldn't bear them out of my sight for a moment," said
Kate, whisking herself out of the room. "They're conceited enough,
Heaven knows, already."
That evening, at dinner, however, the two men exhibited no trace of
the restraint or uneasiness of the previous day. If they were less
impulsive and exuberant, they were still frank and interested, and
if the term could be used in connection with men apparently trained
to neither self-control nor repose, there was a certain gentle
dignity in their manner which for the time had the effect of
lifting them a little above the social level of their entertainers.
For even with all their predisposition to the strangers, Kate and
Mrs. Hale had always retained a conscious attitude of gentle
condescension and superiority towards them--an attitude not
inconsistent with a stronger feeling, nor altogether unprovocative
of it; yet this evening they found themselves impressed with
something more than an equality in the men who had amused and
interested them, and they were perhaps a little more critical and
doubtful of their own power. Mrs. Hale's little girl, who had
appreciated only the seriousness of the situation, had made her own
application of it. "Are you dow'in' away from aunt Kate and
mamma?" she asked, in an interval of silence.
"How else can I get you the red snow we saw at sunset, the other
day, on the peak yonder?" said Lee gayly. "I'll have to get up
some morning very early, and catch it when it comes at sunrise."
"What is this wonderful snow, Minnie, that you are tormenting Mr.
Lee for?" asked Mrs. Hale.
"Oh! it's a fairy snow that he told me all about; it only comes
when the sun comes up and goes down, and if you catch ever so
little of it in your hand it makes all you fink you want come true!
Wouldn't that be nice?" But to the child's astonishment her little
circle of auditors, even while assenting, sighed.
The red snow was there plain enough the next morning before the
valley was warm with light, and while Minnie, her mother, and aunt
Kate were still peacefully sleeping. And Mr. Lee had kept his
word, and was evidently seeking it, for he and Falkner were already
urging their horses through the pass, with their faces towards and
lit up by its glow.
Kate was stirring early, but not as early as her sister, who met
her on the threshold of her room. Her face was quite pale, and she
held a letter in her hand. "What does this mean, Kate?"
"What is the matter?" asked Kate, her own color fading from her
"They are gone--with their horses. Left before day, and left
She handed Kate an open letter. The girl took it hurriedly, and
"When you get this we shall be no more; perhaps not even as much.
Ned found the trail yesterday, and we are taking the first
advantage of it before day. We dared not trust ourselves to say
'Good-by!' last evening; we were too cowardly to face you this
morning; we must go as we came, without warning, but not without
regret. We leave a package and a letter for your husband. It is
not only our poor return for your gentleness and hospitality, but,
since it was accidentally the means of giving us the pleasure of
your society, we beg you to keep it in safety until his return. We
kiss your mother's hands. Ned wants to say something more, but
time presses, and I only allow him to send his love to Minnie, and
to tell her that he is trying to find the red snow.
"But he is not fit to travel," said Mrs. Hale. "And the trail--it
may not be passable."
"It was passable the day before yesterday," said Kate drearily,
"for I discovered it, and went as far as the buck-eyes."
"Then it was you who told them about it," said Mrs. Hale
"No," said Kate indignantly. "Of course I didn't." She stopped,
and, reading the significance of her speech in the glistening eyes
of her sister, she blushed. Josephine kissed her, and said--
"It WAS treating us like children, Kate, but we must make them pay
for it hereafter. For that package and letter to John means
something, and we shall probably see them before long. I wonder
what the letter is about, and what is in the package?"
"Probably one of Mr. Lee's jokes. He is quite capable of turning
the whole thing into ridicule. I dare say he considers his visit
here a prolonged jest."
"With his poor leg, Kate? You are as unfair to him as you were to
Falkner when they first came."
Kate, however, kept her dark eyebrows knitted in a piquant frown.
"To think of his intimating WHAT he would allow Falkner to say!
And yet you believe he has no evil influence over the young man."
Mrs. Hale laughed. "Where are you going so fast, Kate?" she called
mischievously, as the young lady flounced out of the room.
"Where? Why, to tidy John's room. He may be coming at any moment
now. Or do you want to do it yourself?"
"No, no," returned Mrs. Hale hurriedly; "you do it. I'll look in a
little later on."
She turned away with a sigh. The sun was shining brilliantly
outside. Through the half-open blinds its long shafts seemed to be
searching the house for the lost guests, and making the hollow
shell appear doubly empty. What a contrast to the dear dark days
of mysterious seclusion and delicious security, lit by Lee's
laughter and the sparkling hearth, which had passed so quickly!
The forgotten outer world seemed to have returned to the house
through those open windows and awakened its dwellers from a dream.
The morning seemed interminable, and it was past noon, while they
were deep in a sympathetic conference with Mrs. Scott, who had
drawn a pathetic word-picture of the two friends perishing in the
snow-drift, without flannels, brandy, smelling-salts, or jelly,
which they had forgotten, when they were startled by the loud
barking of "Spot" on the lawn before the house. The women looked
hurriedly at each other.
"They have returned," said Mrs. Hale.
Kate ran to the window. A horseman was approaching the house. A
single glance showed her that it was neither Falkner, Lee, nor
Hale, but a stranger.
"Perhaps he brings some news of them," said Mrs. Scott quickly. So
complete had been their preoccupation with the loss of their guests
that they could not yet conceive of anything that did not pertain
The stranger, who was at once ushered into the parlor, was
evidently disconcerted by the presence of the three women.
"I reckoned to see John Hale yer," he began, awkwardly.
A slight look of disappointment passed over their faces. "He has
not yet returned," said Mrs. Hale briefly.
"Sho! I wanter know. He's hed time to do it, I reckon," said the
"I suppose he hasn't been able to get over from the Summit,"
returned Mrs. Hale. "The trail is closed."
"It ain't now, for I kem over it this mornin' myself."
"You didn't--meet--anyone?" asked Mrs. Hale timidly, with a glance
at the others.
A long silence ensued. The unfortunate visitor plainly perceived
an evident abatement of interest in himself, yet he still struggled
politely to say something. "Then I reckon you know what kept Hale
away?" he said dubiously.
"Oh, certainly--the stage robbery."
"I wish I'd known that," said the stranger reflectively, "for I ez
good ez rode over jist to tell it to ye. Ye see John Hale, he sent
a note to ye 'splainin' matters by a gentleman; but the road agents
tackled that man, and left him for dead in the road."
"Yes," said Mrs. Hale impatiently.
"Luckily he didn't die, but kem to, and managed to crawl inter the
brush, whar I found him when I was lookin' for stock, and brought
him to my house--"
"YOU found him? YOUR house?" interrupted Mrs. Hale.
"Inter MY house," continued the man doggedly. "I'm Thompson of
Thompson's Pass over yon; mebbe it ain't much of a house; but I
brought him thar. Well, ez he couldn't find the note that Hale had
guv him, and like ez not the road agents had gone through him and
got it, ez soon ez the weather let up I made a break over yer to
"You say Mr. Lee came to your house," repeated Mrs. Hale, "and is
"Not much," said the man grimly; "and I never said LEE was thar. I
mean that Bilson waz shot by Lee and kem--"
"Certainly, Josephine!" said Kate, suddenly stepping between her
sister and Thompson, and turning upon her a white face and eyes of
silencing significance; "certainly--don't you remember?--that's the
story we got from the Chinaman, you know, only muddled. Go on
sir," she continued, turning to Thompson calmly; "you say that the
man who brought the note from my brother was shot by Lee?"
"And another fellow they call Falkner. Yes, that's about the size
"Thank you; it's nearly the same story that we heard. But you have
had a long ride, Mr. Thompson; let me offer you a glass of whiskey
in the dining-room. This way, please."
The door closed upon them none too soon. For Mrs. Hale already
felt the room whirling around her, and sank back into her chair
with a hysterical laugh. Old Mrs. Scott did not move from her
seat, but, with her eyes fixed on the door, impatiently waited
Kate's return. Neither spoke, but each felt that the young,
untried girl was equal to the emergency, and would get at the
The sound of Thompson's feet in the hall and the closing of the
front door was followed by Kate's reappearance. Her face was still
pale, but calm.
"Well?" said the two women in a breath.
"Well," returned Kate slowly; "Mr. Lee and Mr. Falkner were
undoubtedly the two men who took the paper from John's messenger
and brought it here."
"You are sure?" said Mrs. Scott.
"There can be no mistake, mother."
"THEN," said Mrs. Scott, with triumphant feminine logic, "I don't
want anything more to satisfy me that they are PERFECTLY INNOCENT!"
More convincing than the most perfect masculine deduction, this
single expression of their common nature sent a thrill of sympathy
and understanding through each. They cried for a few moments on
each other's shoulders. "To think," said Mrs. Scott, "what that
poor boy must have suffered to have been obliged to do--that to--
to--Bilson--isn't that the creature's name? I suppose we ought to
send over there and inquire after him, with some chicken and jelly,
Kate. It's only common humanity, and we must be just, my dear; for
even if he shot Mr. Lee and provoked the poor boy to shoot him, he
may have thought it his duty. And then, it will avert suspicions."
"To think," murmured Mrs. Hale, "what they must have gone through
while they were here--momentarily expecting John to come, and yet
keeping up such a light heart."
"I believe, if they had stayed any longer, they would have told us
everything," said Mrs. Scott.
Both the younger women were silent. Kate was thinking of Falkner's
significant speech as they neared the house on their last walk;
Josephine was recalling the remorseful picture drawn by Lee, which
she knew was his own portrait. Suddenly she started.
"But John will be here soon; what are we to tell him? And then
that package and that letter."
"Don't be in a hurry to tell him anything at present, my child,"
said Mrs. Scott gently. "It is unfortunate this Mr. Thompson
called here, but we are not obliged to understand what he says now
about John's message, or to connect our visitors with his story.
I'm sure, Kate, I should have treated them exactly as we did if
they had come without any message from John; so I do not know why
we should lay any stress on that, or even speak of it. The simple
fact is that we have opened our house to two strangers in distress.
Your husband," continued Mr. Hale's mother-in-law, "does not
require to know more. As to the letter and package, we will keep
that for further consideration. It cannot be of much importance,
or they would have spoken of it before; it is probably some
trifling present as a return for your hospitality. I should use no
INDECOROUS haste in having it opened."
The two women kissed Mrs. Scott with a feeling of relief, and fell
back into the monotony of their household duties. It is to be
feared, however, that the absence of their outlawed guests was
nearly as dangerous as their presence in the opportunity it
afforded for uninterrupted and imaginative reflection. Both Kate
and Josephine were at first shocked and wounded by the discovery of
the real character of the two men with whom they had associated so
familiarly, but it was no disparagement to their sense of propriety
to say that the shock did not last long, and was accompanied with
the fascination of danger. This was succeeded by a consciousness
of the delicate flattery implied in their indirect influence over
the men who had undoubtedly risked their lives for the sake of
remaining with them. The best woman is not above being touched by
the effect of her power over the worst man, and Kate at first
allowed herself to think of Falkner in that light. But if in her
later reflections he suffered as a heroic experience to be
forgotten, he gained something as an actual man to be remembered.
Now that the proposed rides from "his friend's house" were a part
of the illusion, would he ever dare to visit them again? Would she
dare to see him? She held her breath with a sudden pain of parting
that was new to her; she tried to think of something else, to pick
up the scattered threads of her life before that eventful day. But
in vain; that one week had filled the place with implacable
memories, or more terrible, as it seemed to her and her sister,
they had both lost their feeble, alien hold upon Eagle's Court in
the sudden presence of the real genii of these solitudes, and
henceforth they alone would be the strangers there. They scarcely
dared to confess it to each other, but this return to the dazzling
sunlight and cloudless skies of the past appeared to them to be the
one unreal experience; they had never known the true wild flavor of
their home, except in that week of delicious isolation. Without
breathing it aloud, they longed for some vague denoument to this
experience that should take them from Eagle's Court forever.
It was noon the next day when the little household beheld the last
shred of their illusion vanish like the melting snow in the strong
sunlight of John Hale's return. He was accompanied by Colonel
Clinch and Rawlins, two strangers to the women. Was it fancy, or
the avenging spirit of their absent companions? but HE too looked a
stranger, and as the little cavalcade wound its way up the slope he
appeared to sit his horse and wear his hat with a certain slouch
and absence of his usual restraint that strangely shocked them.
Even the old half-condescending, half-punctilious gallantry of his
greeting of his wife and family was changed, as he introduced his
companions with a mingling of familiarity and shyness that was new
to him. Did Mrs. Hale regret it, or feel a sense of relief in the
absence of his usual seignorial formality? She only knew that she
was grateful for the presence of the strangers, which for the
moment postponed a matrimonial confidence from which she shrank.
"Proud to know you," said Colonel Clinch, with a sudden outbreak of
the antique gallantry of some remote Huguenot ancestor. "My
friend, Judge Hale, must be a regular Roman citizen to leave such a
family and such a house at the call of public duty. Eh, Rawlins?"
"You bet," said Rawlins, looking from Kate to her sister in
"And I suppose the duty could not have been a very pleasant one,"
said Mrs. Hale, timidly, without looking at her husband.
"Gad, madam, that's just it," said the gallant Colonel, seating
himself with a comfortable air, and an easy, though by no means
disrespectful, familiarity. "We went into this fight a little more
than a week ago. The only scrimmage we've had has been with the
detectives that were on the robbers' track. Ha! ha! The best
people we've met have been the friends of the men we were huntin',
and we've generally come to the conclusion to vote the other
ticket! Ez Judge Hale and me agreed ez we came along, the two men
ez we'd most like to see just now and shake hands with are George
Lee and Ned Falkner."
"The two leaders of the party who robbed the coach," explained Mr.
Hale, with a slight return of his usual precision of statement.
The three women looked at each other with a blaze of thanksgiving
in their grateful eyes. Without comprehending all that Colonel
Clinch had said, they understood enough to know that their late
guests were safe from the pursuit of that party, and that their own
conduct was spared criticism. I hardly dare write it, but they
instantly assumed the appearance of aggrieved martyrs, and felt as
if they were!
"Yes, ladies!" continued the Colonel, inspired by the bright eyes
fixed upon him. "We haven't taken the road ourselves yet, but--
pohn honor--we wouldn't mind doing it in a case like this." Then
with the fluent, but somewhat exaggerated, phraseology of a man
trained to "stump" speaking, he gave an account of the robbery and
his own connection with it. He spoke of the swindling and
treachery which had undoubtedly provoked Falkner to obtain
restitution of his property by an overt act of violence under the
leadership of Lee. He added that he had learned since at Wild Cat
Station that Harkins had fled the country, that a suit had been
commenced by the Excelsior Ditch Company, and that all available
property of Harkins had been seized by the sheriff.
"Of course it can't be proved yet, but there's no doubt in my mind
that Lee, who is an old friend of Ned Falkner's, got up that job to
help him, and that Ned's off with the money by this time--and I'm
right glad of it. I can't say ez we've done much towards it,
except to keep tumbling in the way of that detective party of
Stanner's, and so throw them off the trail--ha, ha! The Judge
here, I reckon, has had his share of fun, for while he was at
Hennicker's trying to get some facts from Hennicker's pretty
daughter, Stanner tried to get up some sort of vigilance committee
of the stage passengers to burn down Hennicker's ranch out of
spite, but the Judge here stepped in and stopped that."
"It was really a high-handed proceeding, Josephine, but I managed
to check it," said Hale, meeting somewhat consciously the first
direct look his wife had cast upon him, and falling back for
support on his old manner. "In its way, I think it was worse than
the robbery by Lee and Falkner, for it was done in the name of law
and order; while, as far as I can judge from the facts, the affair
that we were following up was simply a rude and irregular
restitution of property that had been morally stolen."
"I have no doubt you did quite right, though I don't understand
it," said Mrs. Hale languidly; "but I trust these gentlemen will
stay to luncheon, and in the meantime excuse us for running away,
as we are short of servants, and Manuel seems to have followed the
example of the head of the house and left us, in pursuit of
somebody or something."
When the three women had gained the vantage-ground of the drawing-
room, Kate said, earnestly, "As it's all right, hadn't we better
tell him now?"
"Decidedly not, child," said Mrs. Scott, imperatively. "Do you
suppose they are in a hurry to tell us THEIR whole story? Who are
those Hennicker people? and they were there a week ago!"
"And did you notice John's hat when he came in, and the vulgar
familiarity of calling him 'Judge'?" said Mrs. Hale.
"Well, certainly anything like the familiarity of this man Clinch I
never saw," said Kate. "Contrast his manner with Mr. Falkner's."
At luncheon the three suffering martyrs finally succeeded in
reducing Hale and his two friends to an attitude of vague apology.
But their triumph was short-lived. At the end of the meal they
were startled by the trampling of hoofs without, followed by loud
knocking. In another moment the door was opened, and Mr. Stanner
strode into the room. Hale rose with a look of indignation.
"I thought, as Mr. Stanner understood that I had no desire for his
company elsewhere, he would hardly venture to intrude upon me in my
house, and certainly not after--"
"Ef you're alluding to the Vigilantes shakin' you and Zeenie up at
Hennicker's, you can't make ME responsible for that. I'm here now
on business--you understand--reg'lar business. Ef you want to see
the papers yer ken. I suppose you know what a warrant is?"
"I know what YOU are," said Hale hotly; "and if you don't leave my
"Steady, boys," interrupted Stanner, as his five henchmen filed
into the hall. "There's no backin' down here, Colonel Clinch,
unless you and Hale kalkilate to back down the State of Californy!
The matter stands like this. There's a half-breed Mexican, called
Manuel, arrested over at the Summit, who swears he saw George Lee
and Edward Falkner in this house the night after the robbery. He
says that they were makin' themselves at home here, as if they were
among friends, and considerin' the kind of help we've had from Mr.
John Hale, it looks ez if it might be true."
"It's an infamous lie!" said Hale.
"It may be true, John," said Mrs. Scott, suddenly stepping in front
of her pale-cheeked daughters. "A wounded man was brought here out
of the storm by his friend, who claimed the shelter of your roof.
As your mother I should have been unworthy to stay beneath it and
have denied that shelter or withheld it until I knew his name and
what he was. He stayed here until he could be removed. He left a
letter for you. It will probably tell you if he was the man this
person is seeking."
"Thank you, mother," said Hale, lifting her hand to his lips
quietly; "and perhaps you will kindly tell these gentlemen that.
as your son does not care to know who or what the stranger was,
there is no necessity for opening the letter, or keeping Mr.
Stanner a moment longer."
"But you will oblige ME, John, by opening it before these
gentlemen," said Mrs. Hale recovering her voice and color.
"Please to follow me," she said preceding them to the staircase.
They entered Mr. Hale's room, now restored to its original
condition. On the table lay a letter and a small package. The
eyes of Mr. Stanner, a little abashed by the attitude of the two
women, fastened upon it and glistened.
Josephine handed her husband the letter. He opened it in
breathless silence and read--
"We owe you no return for voluntarily making yourself a champion of
justice and pursuing us, except it was to offer you a fair field
and no favor. We didn't get that much from you, but accident
brought us into your house and into your family, where we DID get
it, and were fairly vanquished. To the victors belong the spoils.
We leave the package of greenbacks which we took from Colonel
Clinch in the Sierra coach, but which was first stolen by Harkins
from forty-four shareholders of the Excelsior Ditch. We have no
right to say what YOU should do with it, but if you aren't tired of
following the same line of justice that induced you to run after
US, you will try to restore it to its rightful owners.
"We leave you another trifle as an evidence that our intrusion into
your affairs was not without some service to you, even if the
service was as accidental as the intrusion. You will find a pair
of boots in the corner of your closet. They were taken from the
burglarious feet of Manuel, your peon, who, believing the three
ladies were alone and at his mercy, entered your house with an
accomplice at two o'clock on the morning of the 21st, and was
kicked out by
"Your obedient servants,
"GEORGE LEE & EDWARD FALKNER"
Hale's voice and color changed on reading this last paragraph. He
turned quickly towards his wife; Kate flew to the closet, where the
muffled boots of Manuel confronted them. "We never knew it. I
always suspected something that night," said Mrs. Hale and Mrs.
Scott in the same breath.
"That's all very well, and like George Lee's high falutin'," said
Stanner, approaching the table, "but as long ez the greenbacks are
here he can make what capital he likes outer Manuel. I'll trouble
you to pass over that package."
"Excuse me," said Hale, "but I believe this is the package taken
from Colonel Clinch. Is it not?" he added, appealing to the
"It is," said Clinch.
"Then take it," said Hale, handing him the package. "The first
restitution is to you, but I believe you will fulfil Lee's
instructions as well as myself."
"But," said Stanner, furiously interposing, "I've a warrant to
seize that wherever found, and I dare you to disobey the law."
"Mr. Stanner," said Clinch, slowly, "there are ladies present. If
you insist upon having that package I must ask them to withdraw,
and I'm afraid you'll find me better prepared to resist a SECOND
robbery than I was the first. Your warrant, which was taken out by
the Express Company, is supplanted by civil proceedings taken the
day before yesterday against the property of the fugitive swindler
Harkins! You should have consulted the sheriff before you came
Stanner saw his mistake. But in the faces of his grinning
followers he was obliged to keep up his bluster. "You shall hear
from me again, sir," he said, turning on his heel.
"I beg your pardon," said Clinch grimly, "but do I understand that
at last I am to have the honor--"
"You shall hear from the Company's lawyers, sir," said Stanner.
turning red, and noisily leaving the room.
"And so, my dear ladies," said Colonel Clinch, "you have spent a
week with a highwayman. I say A highwayman, for it would be hard
to call my young friend Falkner by that name for his first offence,
committed under great provocation, and undoubtedly instigated by
Lee, who was an old friend of his, and to whom he came, no doubt,
Kate stole a triumphant glance at her sister, who dropped her lids
over her glistening eyes. "And this Mr. Lee," she continued more
gently, "is he really a highwayman?"
"George Lee," said Clinch, settling himself back oratorically in
his chair, "my dear young lady, IS a highwayman, but not of the
common sort. He is a gentleman born, madam, comes from one of the
oldest families of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He never mixes
himself up with anything but some of the biggest strikes, and he's
an educated man. He is very popular with ladies and children; he
was never known to do or say anything that could bring a blush to
the cheek of beauty or a tear to the eye of innocence. I think I
may say I'm sure you found him so."
"I shall never believe him anything but a gentleman," said Mrs.
"If he has a defect, it is perhaps a too reckless indulgence in
draw poker," said the Colonel, musingly; "not unbecoming a
gentleman, understand me, Mrs. Scott, but perhaps too reckless for
his own good. George played a grand game, a glittering game, but
pardon me if I say an UNCERTAIN game. I've told him so; it's the
only point on which we ever differed."
"Then you know him?" said Mrs. Hale, lifting her soft eyes to the
"I have that honor."
"Did his appearance, Josephine," broke in Hale, somewhat
ostentatiously, "appear to--er--er--correspond with these
qualities? You know what I mean."
"He certainly seemed very simple and natural," said Mrs. Hale,