Part 3 out of 7
"It is good of you to play for them," continued the woman from Fairlands
Heights, casually. "You must enjoy the society of such famous men, very
much. There are a great many people, you know, who would envy you your
friendship with them."
The girl replied quickly, "O, but you are mistaken. I am not acquainted
with them, at all; that is--not with Mr. King--I have never spoken to
him--and I only met Mr. Lagrange, for a few minutes, by accident."
"Indeed! But I am forgetting the purpose of my call, and my friends will
become impatient. Do you ever play for private entertainments, Miss
Andres?--for--say a dinner, or a reception, you know?"
"I would be very glad for such an engagement, Mrs. Taine. I must earn what
I can with my music, and there are not enough pupils to occupy all my
time. But perhaps you should hear me play, first. I will get my violin."
Mrs. Taine checked her, "Oh, no, indeed. It is quite unnecessary, my
dear. The opinion of your distinguished neighbors is quite enough. I shall
keep you in mind for some future occasion. I just wished to learn if you
would accept such an engagement. Good-by. Thanks--so much--for your
She was upon the point of turning away, when a low cry from the nearby
porch startled them both. Turning, they saw the woman with the disfigured
face, standing in the doorway; an expression of mingled wonder, love, and
supplication upon her hideously marred features. As they looked, she
started toward them,--impulsively stretching out her arms, as though the
gesture was an involuntary expression of some deep emotion,--then checked
herself, suddenly as though in doubt.
Sibyl Andres uttered an exclamation. "Why, Myra! what is it, dear?"
Mrs. Taine turned away with a gesture of horror, saying to the girl in a
low, hurried voice, "Dear me, how dreadful! I really must be going."
As she went down the flower-bordered path towards the street, the woman on
the porch, again, stretched out her arms appealingly. Then, as Sibyl
reached her side, the poor creature clasped the girl in a close embrace,
and burst into bitter tears.
* * * * *
Upon the return of the Taines and James Rutlidge to the house on Fairlands
Heights, Mrs. Taine retired immediately to her own luxuriously appointed
At dinner, a maid brought to the household word that her mistress was
suffering from a severe headache and would not be down and begged that she
might not be disturbed during the evening.
Alone in her room, Mrs. Taine--her headache being wholly
conventional--gave herself unreservedly to the thoughts that she could
not, under the eyes of others, entertain without restraint. She was seated
at a window that looked down upon the carefully graded levels of the
envying Fairlanders and across the wide sweep of the valley below to the
mountains which, from that lofty point of vantage, could be seen from the
base of their lowest foothills to the crests of their highest peaks. But
the woman who lived on the Heights of Fairlands saw neither the homes of
their neighbors, the busy valley below, nor the mountains that lifted so
far above them all. Her thoughts were centered upon what, to her, was more
When night was gathering over the scene, her maid entered softly. Mrs.
Taine dismissed the woman with a word, telling her not to return until she
rang. Leaving the window, after drawing the shades close, she paced the
now lighted room, in troubled uneasiness of mind. Here and there, she
paused to touch or handle some familiar object--a photograph in a silver
frame, a book on the carved table, the trifles on her open desk, or an
ornamental vase on the mantle--then moved restlessly away to continue her
aimless exercise. When the silence was rudely broken by the sound of a
knock at her door, she stood still--a look of anger marring the
well-schooled beauty of her features.
The knock was repeated.
With an exclamation of impatient annoyance, she crossed the room, and
flung open the door.
Without leave or apology, her husband entered; and, as he did so, was
seized by a paroxysm of coughing that sent him reeling, gasping and
breathless, to the nearest chair.
Mrs. Taine stood watching her husband coldly, with a curious, speculative
expression on her face that she made no attempt to hide. When his torture
was abated--for the time--leaving him exhausted and trembling with
weakness, she said coldly, "Well, what do you want? What are you doing
The man lifted his pallid, haggard face and, with a yellow, claw-like hand
wiped the beads of clammy sweat from his forehead; while his deep-sunken
eyes leered at her with an insane light.
The woman was at no pains to conceal her disgust. In her voice there was
no hint of pity. "Didn't Marie tell you that I wished to be alone?"
"Of course," he jeered in his rasping whisper, "that's why I came." He
gave a hideous resemblance to a laugh, which ended in a cough--and, again,
he drew his skinny, shaking hand across his damp forehead "That's the time
that a man should visit his wife, isn't it? When she is alone. Or"--he
grinned mockingly--"when she wishes to be?"
She regarded him with open scorn and loathing. "You unclean beast! Will
you take yourself out of my room?"
He gazed at her, as a malevolent devil might gloat over a soul delivered
up for torture. "Not until I choose to go, my dear."
[Illustration: "Well, what do you want? What are you doing here?"]
Suddenly changing her manner, she smiled with deliberate, mocking humor.
While he watched, she moved leisurely to a deep, many-cushioned couch;
and, arranging the pillows, reclined among them in the careless
abandonment of voluptuous ease and physical content. Openly,
ostentatiously, she exhibited herself to his burning gaze in various
graceful poses--lifting her arms above her head to adjust a cushion more
to her liking; turning and stretching her beautiful body; moving her limbs
with sinuous enjoyment--as disregardful of his presence as though she were
alone. At last she spoke in cool, even, colorless tones; "Perhaps you will
tell me what you want?"
The wretched victim of his own unbridled sensuality shook with
inarticulate rage. Choking and coughing he writhed in his chair--his
emaciated limbs twisted grotesquely; his sallow face bathed in
perspiration his claw-like hands opening and closing; his bloodless lips
curled back from his yellow teeth, in a horrid grin of impotent fury. And
all the while she lay watching him with that pitiless, mocking, smile. It
was as though the malevolent devil and the tortured soul had suddenly
When the man could speak, he reviled her, in his rasping whisper, with
curses that it seemed must blister his tongue. She received his effort
with jeering laughter and taunting words; moving her body, now and then,
among the cushions, with an air of purely physical enjoyment that, to the
other, was maddening.
"If this is all you came for,"--she said, easily,--"might have spared
yourself the effort--don't you think?"
Controlling himself, in a measure, he returned, "I came to tell you that
your intimacy with that damned painter must stop."
Her eyes narrowed slightly. One hand, hidden in the cushions, clenched
until her rings hurt. "Just what do you mean by my intimacy?" she asked
"You know what I mean," he replied coarsely. "I mean what intimacy with a
man always means to a woman like you."
"The only meaning that a creature of your foul mind can understand," she
retorted smoothly. "If it were worth while to tell you the truth, I would
say that my conduct when alone with Mr. King has been as proper as--as
when I am alone with you."
The taunt maddened him. Interrupted by spells of coughing--choking,
gasping, fighting for breath, his eyes blazing with hatred and lust,
mingling his words with oaths and curses--he raged at her. "And do you
think--that, because I am so nearly dead,--I do not resent what--I saw,
to-day? Do you think--I am so far gone that I cannot--understand--your
interest in this man,--after--watching you, together, all--the afternoon?
Has there been any one--in his studio, except you two, when--he was
painting you in that dress--which you--designed for his benefit? Oh, no,
indeed,--you and your--genius could not be interrupted,--for the sake--of
his art. His art! Great God!--was there ever such a damnable farce--since
hell was invented? Art!--you--_you_--_you_!--" crazed with jealous fury,
he pointed at her with his yellow, shaking, skeleton fingers; and
struggled to raise his voice above that rasping whisper until the cords
of his scrawny neck stood out and his face was distorted with the strain
of his effort--"_You!_ painted as a--modest Quaker Maid,--with all the
charm of innocence,--virtue, and religious piety in your face. _You!_ And
that picture will be exhibited--and written about--as a work of _art!_
You'll pull all the strings,--and use all your influence,--and the
thing--will be received as a--masterpiece."
"And," she added calmly, "you will write a check--and lie, as you did this
Without heeding her remark, he went on,--"You know the picture is
worthless. He knows it,--Conrad Lagrange knows it,--Jim Rutlidge knows
it,--the whole damned clique and gang of you know it, He's like all his
kind,--a pretender,--a poser,--playing into the hands--of such women as
you; to win social position--and wealth. And we and our kind--we pretend
to believe--in such damned parasites,--and exalt them and what we--call
their art,--and keep them in luxury, and buy their pictures;--because they
prostitute--their talents to gratify our vanity. We know it's all a damned
sham--and a pretense that if they were real artists,--with an honest
workman's respect for their work,--they wouldn't--recognize us."
"Don't forget to send him a check,"--she murmured--"you can't afford to
neglect it, you know--think how people would talk."
"Don't worry," he replied. "There'll be no talk. I'll send the genius his
check--for making love--to my wife in the sacred name of art,--and I'll
lie--about his picture with--the rest of you. But there will be--no more
of your intimacy with him. You're my wife,--in spite of hell,--and from
now on--I'll see--that you are true--to me. Your sickening pose--of
modesty in dress shall be something--more than a pose. For the little time
I have left,--I'll have--you to--myself or I'll kill you."
His reference to her refusal to uncover her shoulders in public broke the
woman's calm and aroused her to a cold fury. Springing to her feet, she
stood over him as he sat huddled in his chair, exhausted by his effort.
"What is your silly, idle threat beside the fact," she said with stinging
scorn. "To have killed me, instead of making me your wife, would have been
a kindness greater than you are capable of. You know how unspeakably vile
you were when you bought me. You know how every hour of my life with you
has been a torment to me. You should be grateful that I have helped you to
live your lie--that I have played the game of respectability with
you--that I am willing to play it a little while longer, until you lay
down your hand for good, and release us both.
"Suppose I _were_ what you think me? What right have _you_ to object to my
pleasures? Have you--in all your life of idle, vicious, luxury--have you
ever feared to do evil if it appealed to your bestial nature? You know you
have not. You have feared only the appearance of evil. To be as evil as
you like so long as you can avoid the appearance of evil; that's the game
you have taught me to play. That's the game we have played together.
That's the game we and our kind insist the artists and writers shall help
us play. That's the only game I know, and, by the rule of our game, so
long as the world sees nothing, I shall do what pleases me.
"You have had your day with me. You have had what you paid for. What right
have you to deny me, now, an hour's forgetfulness? When I think of what I
might have been, but for you, I wonder that I have cared to live, and I
would not--except for the poor sport of torturing you.
"You scoff at Mr. King's portrait of me because he has not painted me as I
am! What would you have said if he _had_ painted me as I am? What would
you say if Conrad Lagrange should write the truth about us and our kind,
for his millions of readers? You sneer at me because I cannot uncover my
shoulders in the conventional dress of my class, and so make a virtue of a
necessity and deceive the world by a pretense of modesty. Go look in your
mirror, you fool! Your right to sneer at me for my poor little pretense is
denied you by every line of your repulsive countenance Now get out. I'm
going to retire."
And she rang for her maid.
First Fruits of His Shame
When the postman, in his little cart, stopped at the home of Aaron King
and his friend, that day, it was Conrad Lagrange who received the mail.
The artist was in his studio, and the novelist, knowing that the painter
was not at work, went to him there with a letter.
The portrait--still on the easel--was hidden by the velvet curtain.
Sitting by a table that was littered with a confusion of sketches, books
and papers, the young man was re-tying a package of old letters that he
had, evidently, just been reading.
As the novelist went to him, the artist said quietly,--indicating the
package in his hand,--"From my mother. She wrote them during the last year
of my study abroad." When the other did not reply, he continued
thoughtfully, "Do you know, Lagrange, since my acquaintance with you, I
find many things in these old letters that--at the time I received them--I
did not, at all, appreciate. You seem to be helping me, somehow, to a
better understanding of my mother's spirit and mind." He smiled.
Presently, Conrad Lagrange, when he could trust himself to speak, said,
"Your mother's mind and spirit, Aaron, were too fine and rare to be fully
appreciated or understood except by one trained in the school of life,
itself. When she wrote those letters, you were a student of mere
craftsmanship. She, herself no doubt, recognized that you would not fully
comprehend the things she wrote; but she put them down, out of the very
fullness of her intellectual and spiritual wealth--trusting to your love
to preserve the letters, and to the years to give you understanding."
"Why," cried the artist, "those are almost her exact words--as I have just
been reading them!"
The other, smiling, continued quietly, "Your appreciation and
understanding of your mother will continue to grow through all your life,
Aaron. When you are old--as old as I am--you will still find in those
letters hidden treasures of thought, and truths of greater value than you,
now, can realize. But here--I have brought you your share of the
When Aaron King opened the envelope that his friend laid on the table
before him, he sat regarding its contents with an air of thoughtful
meditation--lost to his surroundings.
The novelist--who had gone to the window and was looking into the rose
garden--turned to speak to his friend; but the other did not reply. Again,
the man at the window addressed the painter; but still the younger man was
silent. At this, Conrad Lagrange came back to the table; an expression of
anxiety upon his face. "What is it, old man? What's the matter? No bad
news, I hope?"
Aaron King, aroused from his fit of abstraction, laughed shortly, and held
out to his friend the letter he had just received. It was from Mr. Taine.
Enclosed was the millionaire's check. The letter was a formal business
note; the check was for an amount that drew a low whistle from the
"Rather higher pay than old brother Judas received for a somewhat similar
service, isn't it," he commented, as he passed the letter and check back
to the artist. Then, as he watched the younger man's face, he asked,
"What's the matter, don't you like the flavor of these first fruits of
your shame? I advise you to cultivate a taste for this sort of thing as
quickly as possible--in your own defense."
"Don't you think you are a little bit too hard on us all, Lagrange?" asked
the artist, with a faint smile. "These people are satisfied. The picture
"Of course they are pleased," retorted the other. "You know your business.
That's the trouble with you. That's the trouble with us all, these
days--we painters and writers and musicians--we know our business too
damned well. We have the mechanics of our crafts, the tricks of our
trades, so well in hand that we make our books and pictures and music say
what we please. We _use_ our art to gain our own vain ends instead of
being driven _by_ our art to find adequate expression for some great truth
that demands through us a hearing. You have said it all, my friend--you
have summed up the whole situation in the present-day world of creative
art--these people are satisfied. You have given them what they want,
prostituting your art to do it. That's what I have been doing all these
years--giving people what they want. For a price we cater to them--even as
their tailors, and milliners, and barbers. And never again will the world
have a truly great art or literature until men like us--in the divine
selfishness of their, calling--demand, first and last, that they,
_themselves_, be satisfied by the work of their hands."
Going to the easel, he rudely jerked aside the curtain. Involuntarily, the
painter went to stand by his side before the picture.
"Look at it!" cried the novelist. "Look at it in the light of your own
genius! Don't you see its power? Doesn't it tell you what you _could_ do,
if you would? If you couldn't paint a picture, or if you couldn't feel a
picture to be painted, it wouldn't matter. I'd let you ride to hell on
your own palette, and be damned to you. But this thing shows a power that
the world can ill afford to lose. It is so bad because it is so good. Come
here!" he drew his friend to the big window, and pointed to the mountains.
"There is an art like those mountains, my boy--lonely, apart from the
world; remotely above the squalid ambitions of men; Godlike in its calm
strength and peace--an art to which men may look for inspiration and
courage and hope. And there is an art that is like Fairlands--petty and
shallow and mean--with only the fictitious value that its devotees assume,
but never, actually, realize. Listen, Aaron, don't continue to misread
your mother's letters. Don't misunderstand her as thinking that the place
she coveted for you is a place within the power of these people to give.
Come with me into the mountains, yonder. Come, and let us see if, in those
hills of God, you cannot find yourself."
When Conrad Lagrange finished, the artist stood, for a little, without
reply--irresolute, before his picture--the check in his hand. At last,
still without speaking, he went back to the table, where he wrote briefly
his reply to Mr. Taine. When he had finished, he handed his letter to the
older man, who read:
In reply to yours of the 13th, inst., enclosing your check in payment
for the portrait of Mrs. Taine; I appreciate your generosity, but
cannot, now, accept it.
I find, upon further consideration, that the portrait does not fully
satisfy me. I shall, therefore, keep the canvas until I can, with the
consent of my own mind, put my signature upon it.
Herewith, I am returning your check; for, of course, I cannot accept
payment for an unfinished work.
In a day or two, Mr. Lagrange and I will start to the mountains, for an
outing. Trusting that you and your family will enjoy the season at Lake
Silence I am, with kind regards,
Yours sincerely, Aaron King.
* * * * *
That evening, the two men talked over their proposed trip, and laid their
plans to start without delay As Conrad Lagrange put it--they would lose
themselves in the hills; with no definite destination in view; and no set
date for their return. Also, he stipulated that they should travel
light--with only a pack burro to carry their supplies--and that they
should avoid the haunts of the summer resorters, and keep to the more
unfrequented trails. The novelist's acquaintance with the country into
which they would go, and his experience in woodcraft--gained upon many
like expeditions in the lonely wilds he loved--would make a guide
unnecessary. It would be a new experience for Aaron King; and, as the
novelist talked, he found himself eager as a schoolboy for the trip; while
the distant mountains, themselves, seemed to call him--inviting him to
learn the secret of their calm strength and the spirit of their lofty
peace. The following day, they would spend in town; purchasing an outfit
of the necessary equipment and supplies, securing a burro, and attending
to numerous odds and ends of business preparatory to their indefinite
It so happened, the next day, that Yee Kee,--who was to care for the place
during their weeks of absence had matters of importance to himself, that
demanded his attention in town. When his masters informed him that they
would not be home for lunch, he took advantage of the opportunity and
asked for the day.
Thus it came about that Conrad Lagrange--in the spirit of a boy bent upon
some secret adventure--stole out into the rose garden, that morning, to
leave the promised letter and key at the little gate in the corner of the
Ragged Robin hedge.
Myra Willard's Challenge
Since her meeting with Conrad Lagrange in the rose garden, Sibyl Andres
had looked, every day, for that promised letter. She found it early in the
afternoon. It was a quaint letter--written in the spirit of their
meeting--telling her the probable time of her neighbor's return; warning
her, in fear of some fanciful horror, to beware of the picture on the
easel; and wishing her joy of the adventure. With the note, was a key.
A few minutes later, the girl unlocked the door of the studio, and entered
the building that had once been so familiar to her, but was now, in its
interior, so transformed. Slowly, she pushed the door to, behind her. As
though half frightened at her own daring, she stood quite still, looking
about. In the atmosphere of that somewhat richly furnished apartment;
poised timidly as if for ready flight; she seemed, indeed, the spirit that
the novelist--in playful fancy--insisted that she was. Her cheeks were
glowing with color; her eyes were bright with the excitement of her
innocent adventure, and with her genuine admiration and appreciation of
the beautiful room.
Presently,--growing bolder,--she began moving about the
studio--light-footed and graceful as a wild thing from her own mountain
home, and, indeed, with much the air of a gentle creature of the woods
that had strayed into the haunts of men. Intensely interested in the
things she found, she gradually forgot her timidity, and gave herself to
the enjoyment of her surroundings, with the freedom and abandon of a
child. From picture to picture, she went, with wide, eager eyes. She
turned over the sketches in the big portfolios that were so invitingly
open; looked with awe upon the brushes stuck in the big Chinese jar--upon
the palettes, and at the tubes of color; flitting to the window that
looked out upon her garden, and back to the great, north light with its
view of the distant mountains; and again and again, paused to stand with
her hands clasped behind her, in front of the big easel with its canvas
hidden under the velvet curtain. Then she must try the chairs, the
oriental couch, and even the stool--where she had seen the artist sitting,
sometimes, at his work, when she had watched him from the arbor; and
last--in a pretty make believe--she tried the seat on the model throne, as
though posing herself, for her portrait.
Suddenly, with a startled cry, she sprang to her feet; then shrank back,
white and trembling--her big eyes fixed with pleading fear upon the man
who stood in the open doorway, regarding her with a curious, triumphant
smile. It was James Rutlidge.
Sibyl, occupied with her childlike delight, had failed to hear the
automobile when it stopped in front of the house. Finding no one in the
house the man had gone on to the studio, where--with the assurance of an
intimate acquaintance--he had pushed open the door that was standing ajar.
At the girl's frightened manner, the man laughed. Closing the door, he
said, with an insinuating sneer, "You were not expecting me, it seems."
His words aroused Sibyl from her momentary weakness. Rising, she said
calmly, "I was not expecting any one, Mr. Rutlidge."
Again he laughed--with unpleasant meaning. "You certainly look to be very
much at home." He moved confidently to the easel stool and, seating
himself continued with a leering smile, "What's the matter with my taking
the artist's place for a little while--at least, until he comes?"
The girl was too innocent to understand his assumption but her pure mind
could not fail to sense the evil in his words.
"I had permission to come here this afternoon," she said--her voice
trembling a little with the fear that she did not understand. "Won't you
go, please? Neither Mr. King nor Mr. Lagrange are at home."
"I do not doubt your having permission to come here," he returned, with
meaning stress upon the word, "permission". "I see you even carry a key to
this really delightful room." He motioned with his head toward the door
where he had seen the key in the lock, as she had left it.
At this, she grasped a hint of the man's thought and, for an instant, drew
hack in shame. Then, suddenly with a burst of indignant anger, she took a
step toward him, demanding clearly; "Are you saying that I am in the
habit of coming here to meet Mr. King?"
He laughed mockingly. "Really, my dear, no one, seeing you, now, could
blame the man for giving you a key to this place where he is popularly
supposed to be undisturbed. Mr. King is neither such a virtuous saint, nor
so engrossed in his art, as to resent the companionship of such a vision
of loveliness--simply because it comes in the form of good flesh and
blood. Why be angry with me?"
Her cheeks were crimson as she said, again, "Will you go?"
"Not until you have settled the terms of peace," he answered with that
leering smile. "Fortune has favored me, this afternoon, and I mean to
profit by it."
For an instant, she looked at him--frightened and dismayed. Suddenly, with
the flash-like quickness that was a part of her physical inheritance from
her mountain life, she darted past him; eluding his effort to detain
her--and was out of the building.
With an oath, the man, acting upon the impulse of the moment, ran after
her. Outside the door of the studio, he caught a glimpse of her white
dress as she disappeared into the rose garden. In the garden, he saw her
as she slipped through the little gate in the far corner of the hedge,
into the orange grove. Recklessly he followed. Among the trees, he
glimpsed, again, the white flash of her skirts, and dashed forward. At the
farther edge of the grove that walled in the little yard where Sibyl
lived, he saw her standing by the kitchen door. But between the girl and
that last row of close-set trees, waiting his coming, stood the woman with
the disfigured face.
Rutlidge paused--angry with himself for so foolishly yielding to the
impulse of his passion.
Myra Willard went toward him fearlessly--her fine eyes blazing with
righteous indignation. "What are you trying to do, James Rutlidge?" she
demanded--and her words were bold and clear.
The man was silent.
"You are evidently a worthy son of your father," the woman
continued--every clear-cut word biting into his consciousness with
stinging scorn. "He, in his day, did all he knew to turn this world into a
hell for those who were unfortunate enough to please his vile fancy. You,
I see, are following faithfully his footsteps. I know you, and the creed
of your kind--as I knew your father before you. No girl of innocent beauty
is safe from you. Your unclean mind is as incapable of believing in
virtue, as you are helpless in the grip of your own insane lust."
The man was stung to fury by her cutting words. "Take your ugly face out
of my sight," he said brutally.
Fearlessly, she drew a step nearer. "It is because I am a woman that I
have this ugly face, James Rutlidge." She touched her disfigured
cheek--"These scars are the marks of the beast that rules you, sir, body
and soul. Leave this place, or, as there is a God, I'll tell a tale that
will forbid you ever showing your own evil countenance in public, again."
Something in her eyes and in her manner, as she spoke, caused the
man--beside himself with rage, as he was--to draw back. Some mysterious
force that made itself felt in her bold words told him that hers was no
idle threat. A moment they stood face to face, in the edge of the shadowy
orange grove--the man of the world, prominent in circles of art and
culture; and the woman whose natural loveliness was so distorted into a
hideous mask of ugliness. With a short, derisive laugh, James Rutlidge
turned and walked away.
* * * * *
Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange were returning from town. As they neared
their home, they saw one of the Taine automobiles in front of the house.
"Company," said the artist with a smile--thinking of his letter to the
"It's Rutlidge," said the novelist--noting the absence of the chauffeur.
They were turning in at the entrance, when Czar--who had dashed ahead as
if to investigate--halted, suddenly, with a low growl of disapproval.
"Huh!" ejaculated Conrad Lagrange, with his twisted grin. "It's Senior
'Sensual' all right. Look at Czar; he knows the beast is around. Go fetch
With an angry bark, the dog disappeared around the corner of the porch.
The two men, following, were met by Rutlidge who had made his way back
through the grove and the rose garden from the house next door. The dog,
with muttering growls, was sniffing suspiciously at his heels.
"Czar," said his master, suggestively. With a meaning glance, the dog
reluctantly ceased his embarrassing attentions and went to see if
everything was all right about the premises.
In answer to their greeting and the quite natural question if he had been
waiting long, Rutlidge answered with a laugh. "Oh, no--I have been amusing
myself by prowling around your place. Snug quarters you have here; really,
I never quite appreciated their charm, before."
They seated themselves on the porch. Conrad Lagrange--thinking of Sibyl
Andres and that letter which he had left on the gate--from under his
brows, watched their caller closely; the while he filled with painstaking
care his brier pipe.
"We like it," returned the artist.
"I should think so--I'd be sorry to leave it if I were you. Mr. Taine
tells me you are going to the mountains."
"We're not giving up this place, though," replied Aaron King. "Yee Kee
stays to take care of things until our return."
"Oh, I see. I generally go into the mountains, myself for a little hunt
when the deer season opens. It may be that I will run across you
somewhere. By the way--you haven't met your musical neighbor yet, have
The novelist gave particular attention to his pipe which did not seem to
be behaving properly.
The artist answered shortly, "No."
"I'd certainly make her acquaintance, if I were you," said Rutlidge, with
his suggestive smile. "She is a dream. A delightful little retreat--that
studio of yours."
The painter, puzzled by the man's words and by his insinuating air,
returned coldly, "It does very well for a work-shop."
The other laughed meaningly; "Yes, oh yes--a great little work-shop. I
suppose you--ah--do not fear to trust your _art treasures_ to the
Chinaman, during your absence?"
Conrad Lagrange--certain, now, that the man had seen Sibyl Andres either
entering or leaving the studio--said abruptly, "You need give yourself no
concern for Mr. King's studio, Rutlidge. I can assure you that the
treasures there will be well protected."
James Rutlidge understood the warning conveyed in the novelist's words
that, to Aaron King, revealed nothing.
"Really," said the painter to their caller, "you are not uneasy for the
safety of Mrs. Taine's portrait, are you, old man? If you are, of
"Damn Mrs. Taine's portrait!" ejaculated the man, rising hurriedly. "You
know what I mean. It's all right, of course. I must be going. Hope you
have a good outing and come back to find all your art treasures safe." He
laughed coarsely, as he went down the walk.
When the automobile was gone, the artist turned to his friend. "Now what
in thunder did he mean by that? What's the matter with him? Do you suppose
they imagine that there is anything wrong because I wouldn't turn over the
"He is an unclean beast, Aaron," the novelist answered shortly. "His
father was the worst I ever knew, and he's like him. Forget him. Here
comes the delivery boy with our stuff. Let's overhaul the outfit. I hope
they'll get here with that burro, before dark. Where'll we put him, in the
"Look here,"--said the artist a few minutes later, returning from a visit
to the studio for something,--"this is what was the matter with Rutlidge.
And you did it, old man. This is your key."
"What do you mean?" asked the other in confusion taking the key.
"Why, I found the studio door wide open, with your key in the lock. You
must have been out there, just before we left this morning, and forgot to
shut the door. Rutlidge probably noticed it when he was prowling about the
place, and was trying to roast me for my carelessness."
Conrad Lagrange stared stupidly at the key in his hand. "Well I _am_
damned," he muttered. Then added, in savage and--as it seemed to the
artist--exaggerated wrath, "I'm a stupid, blundering, irresponsible old
fool." Nor was he consoled when the painter innocently assured him that no
harm had resulted from his carelessness.
That night, as the two men sat on the porch, watching the last of the
light on the mountain tops, they heard again the cry of fear and pain that
came from the little house hidden in the depths of the orange grove.
Wonderingly they listened. Once more it came--filled with shuddering
When the sound was not repeated, Conrad Lagrange thoughtfully knocked the
ashes from his pipe. "Poor soul," he said. "Those scars did more than
disfigure her beautiful face. I'll wager there's a sad story there, Aaron.
It's strange how I am haunted by the impression that I ought to know her.
But I can't make it come clear. Heigho,"--he added a moment later as if to
free his mind from unpleasant thoughts,--"I'll be glad when we are safely
up in the hills yonder. Do you know, old man, I feel as though we're
getting away just in the nick of time. My back hair and the pricking of my
thumbs warn me that your dearly beloved spooks are combining to put up
some sort of a spooking job on us. I hope Yee Kee has a plentiful supply
of joss-sticks to stand 'em off, if they get too busy while we are gone."
Aaron King laughed quietly in the dusk, as he returned "And I have a
presentiment that those precious members of our household are preparing to
accompany us to the hills. I feel in my bones that something is going to
happen up there"--he pointed to the distant mountains, then added--"to me,
at least. I feel as though I were about to bid myself good-by--if you know
what I mean. I hope that donkey of ours isn't a psychic donkey, or, if he
is, that he'll listen to reason and be content with his escorts of flesh
As he finished speaking, the quiet of the evening was broken by a lusty,
"Hee-haw, hee-haw," in front of the house.
"There, I told you so!" ejaculated the painter.
Laughing, the two men followed Czar down the walk, in the dark, to
receive the shaggy, long-eared companion for their wanderings.
As many a man has done--Aaron King had spoken, in jest, more truth than he
In The Mountains
In the gray of the early morning, hours before the dwellers on Fairlands
Heights thought of leaving their beds, Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange made
ready for their going.
The burro, Croesus--so named by the novelist because, as the famous writer
explained, "that ancient multi-millionaire, you know, really was an
ass"--was to be entrusted with all the available worldly possessions of
the little party. An arrangement--the more experienced man carefully
pointed out--that, considering the chief characteristics of Croesus, was
quite in accord with the customs of modern pilgrimages. Conrad Lagrange,
himself, skillfully fixed the pack in place--adjusting the saddle with
careful hand; accurately dividing the weight, with the blankets on top,
and, over all, the canvas tarpaulin folded the proper size and neatly
tucked in around the ends; and finally securing the whole with the, to the
uninitiated, intricate and complicated diamond hitch. The order of their
march, also, would place Croesus first; which position--the novelist,
again, gravely explained, as he drew the cinches tight--is held by all who
value good form, to be the donkey's proper place in the procession. As he
watched his friend, the artist felt that, indeed, he was about to go far
from the ways of life that he had always known.
When all was ready, the two men--dressed in flannels, corduroys, and
high-laced, mountain boots--called good-by to Yee Kee, respectfully
invited Croesus to proceed, and set out--with Czar, the fourth member of
the party, flying here and there in such a whirlwind of good spirits that
not a shred of his usual dignity was left. The sun was still below the
mountain's crest, though the higher points were gilded with its light,
when they turned their backs upon the city made by men, and set their
faces toward the hills that bore in every ridge and peak and cliff and
crag and canyon the signature of God.
As Conrad Lagrange said--they might have hired a wagon, or even an
automobile, to take them and their goods to some mountain ranch where they
would have had no trouble in securing a burro for their wanderings A team
would have made the trip by noon. A machine would have set them down in
Clear Creek Canyon before the sun could climb high enough to look over the
canyon walls. "But that"--explained the novelist, as they trudged
leisurely along between rows of palms that bordered the orange groves on
either side of their road, and sensed the mystery that marks the birth of
a new day--"but that is not a proper way to go to the mountains.
"The mountains"--he continued, with his eyes upon the distant
heights--"are not seen by those who would visit them with a rattle and
clatter and rush and roar--as one would visit the cities of men. They are
to be seen only by those who have the grace to go quietly; who have the
understanding to go thoughtfully; the heart to go lovingly; and the spirit
to go worshipfully. They are to be approached, not in the manner of one
going to a horse-race, or a circus, but in the mood of one about to enter
a great cathedral; or, indeed, of one seeking admittance to the very
throne-room of God. When going to the mountains, one should take time to
feel them drawing near. They are never intimate with those who hurry. Mere
sight-seers seldom see much of anything. If possible,"--insisted the
speaker, smiling gravely upon his companion,--"one should always spend, at
least, a full day in the approach. Before entering the immediate presence
of the hills, one should first view them from a distance, seeing them from
base to peak--in the glory of the day's beginning, as they watch the world
awake; in the majesty of full noon, as they maintain their calm above the
turmoil of the day's doing; and in the glory of the sun's departure, as it
lights last their crests and peaks. And then, after such a day, one should
sleep, one night, at their feet."
The artist listened with delight, as he always did when his friend spoke
in those rare moods that revealed a nature so unknown to the world that
had made him famous. When the novelist finished, the young man said
gently, "And your words, my friend, are almost a direct quotation from
that anonymous book which my mother so loved."
"Perhaps they are, Aaron"--admitted Conrad Lagrange--"perhaps they are."
So it was that they spent that day--in leisure approach--the patient
Croesus, with his burden, always in the lead, and Czar, like a merry
sprite, playing here and there. Several times they stopped to rest beside
the road, while provident Croesus gathered a few mouthfuls of grass or
weeds. Many times they halted to enjoy the scene that changed with every
Their road led always upward, with a gradual, easy grade; and by noon they
had left the cultivated section of the lower valley for the higher,
untilled lands. The dark, glossy-green of the orange and the lighter
shining tints of the lemon groves, with the rich, satiny-gray tones of the
olive-trees, were replaced now by the softer grays, greens, yellows, and
browns of the chaparral. The air was no longer heavy with the perfume of
roses and orange-blossoms, but came to their nostrils laden with the
pungent odors of yerba santa and greasewood and sage. Looking back, they
could see the valley--marked off by its roads into many squares of green,
and dotted here and there by small towns and cities--stretching away
toward the western ocean until it was lost in a gray-blue haze out of
which the distant San Gabriels, beyond Cajon Pass, lifted into the clear
sky above, like the shore-line of dreamland rising out of a dream sea.
Before them, the San Bernardinos drew ever nearer and more
intimate--silently inviting them; patiently, with a world old patience,
bidding them come; in the majestic humbleness of their lofty spirit,
offering themselves and the wealth of their teaching.
So they came, in the late afternoon, to that spot where the road for the
first time crosses the alder and cottonwood bordered stream that, before
it reaches the valley, is drawn from its natural course by the irrigation
flumes and pipes.
The sound of the mountain waters leaping down their granite-bouldered way
reached the men while they were yet some distance. Croesus pointed his
long ears forward in burro anticipation--his experience telling him that
the day's work was about to end. Czar was already ranging along the side
of the creek--sending a colony of squirrels scampering to the tree tops,
and a bevy of quail whirring to the chaparral in frightened flight. The
artist greeted the waters with a schoolboy shout of gladness. Conrad
Lagrange, with the smile and the voice of a man miraculously recreated,
said quietly, "This is the place where we stop for the night."
Their camp was a simple matter. Croesus asked nothing but to be released
from his burden--being quite capable of caring for himself. A wash in the
clear, cold water of the brook; a simple meal, prepared by Conrad Lagrange
over a small fire made of sticks gathered by the artist; their tarpaulin
and blankets spread within sound of the music of the stream; a watching of
the sun's glorious going down; a quiet pipe in the hush of the mysterious
twilight; a "good night" in the soft darkness, when the myriad stars
looked down upon the dull red glow of their camp-fire embers; with the
guarding spirit of the mighty hills to give them peace--and they lay down
to sleep at the mountain's feet.
There is no sleeping late in the morning when one sleeps in the open,
under the stars. After breakfast, the artist received another lesson in
packing, and they moved on toward the world that already seemed to dwarf
that other world which they had left, by one day's walking, so far below.
A heavy fog, rolling in from the ocean in the night, submerged the valley
in its dull, gray depths--leaving to the eye no view but the view of the
mountains before them, and forcing upon the artist's mind the weird
impression that the life he had always known was a fantastically unreal
And now,--as they approached,--the frowning entrance of Clear Creek Canyon
grew more and more clearly defined. The higher peaks appeared to draw back
and hide themselves behind the foothills, which--as the men came closer
under their immediate slopes and walls--seemed to grow magically in height
and bulk. A little before noon, they were in the rocky vestibule of the
canyon. On either hand, the walls rose almost sheer, while their road,
now, was but a narrow shelf under the overhanging cliffs, below which the
white waters of the stream--cold from the snows so far above--tumbled
impetuously over the boulders that obstructed their way--filling the
hall-like gorge with tumultuous melody. Soon, the canyon narrowed to less
than a stone's throw in width. The walls grew more grim and forbidding in
their rocky nearness. And then they came to that point where, on either
side, great cliffs, projecting, form the massive, rugged portals of the
First seen, from a point where the road rounds a jutting corner on the
extreme right, the projecting cliffs ahead appear as a blank wall of rock
that forbids further progress. But, as the men moved forward,--the road
swinging more toward the center of the gorge,--the cliffs seemed to draw
apart, and, through the way thus opened, they saw the great canyon and the
mountains beyond. It was as though a mighty, invisible hand rolled
silently back those awful doors to give them entrance.
Abruptly, upon the inner side of the narrow passage the canyon widens to
many times the width of the outer vestibule; and the road, crossing the
creek, curves to the left; so that, looking back as they went, the two men
saw the mighty doors closing again, behind them--as they had opened to let
them in. It was as though that spirit sentinel, guarding the treasures of
the hills, had jealously barred the way, that no one else from the world
of men might follow.
Aaron King stopped. Drawing a deep breath, and removing his hat, he turned
his face from that mountain wall, upward to the encircling pine-fringed
ridges and towering peaks. He had, indeed, come far from the world that he
had always known.
Conrad Lagrange, smiling, watched his friend, but spoke no word.
Clear Creek Canyon is a deep, narrow valley, some fifteen miles in length,
and approaching a mile in its greatest width; lying between the main range
of the San Bernardinos and the lower ridge of the Galenas. The lower end
of the canyon is shut in by the sheer cliff walls, and by the rugged
portals of the narrow entrance; the upper end is formed by the dividing
ridge that separates the Clear Creek from the Cold Water country which
opens out onto the Colorado Desert below San Gorgonio Pass and the peaks
of the San Jacintos. Perhaps two miles above the entrance the canyon
widens to its greatest width; and in this portion of the little
valley,--which extends some five miles to where the walls again draw
close,--located on the benches above the boulder-strewn wash of Clear
Creek, are the homes of several mountain ranchers, and the Government
Forest Ranger Station.
At the Ranger Station, they stopped--Conrad Lagrange wishing to greet the
mountaineer official, whom he had learned to know on his former trip. But
the Ranger was away somewhere, riding his lonely trails, and they did not
Just above the Station, they left the main road to follow the way that
leads to the Morton Ranch in the mouth of Alder Canyon--a small side
canyon leading steeply up to a low gap in the main range. Beyond Morton's,
there is only a narrow trail. Three hundred yards above the ranch corral,
where the road ends and the trail begins, the buildings of the
mountaineer's home were lost to view. Except for the narrow winding path
that they must follow single file, there was no sign of human life.
For three weeks, they knew no roads other than those lonely, mountain
trails. At times, they walked under dark pines where the ground was
thickly carpeted with the dead, brown needles and the air was redolent
with the odor of the majestic trees; or made their camps at night, feeding
their blazing fires with the pitchy knots and cones. At other times, they
found their way through thickets of manzanita and buckthorn, along the
mountain's flank; or, winding zigzag down some narrow canyon wall, made
themselves at home under the slender, small-trunked alders; and added to
the stores that Croesus packed, many a lusty trout from the tumbling, icy
torrent. Again, high up on some wind-swept granite ridge or peak, where
the pines were twisted and battered and torn by the warring elements, they
looked far down upon the rolling sea of clouds that hid the world below;
or, in the shelter of some mighty cliff, built their fires; and, when the
night was clear, saw, miles away and below, the thousands of twinkling
star-like lights of the world they had left behind. Or, again, they halted
in some forest and hill encircled glen; where the lush grass in the
cienaga grew almost as high as Croesus' back, and the lilies even higher;
and where, through the dark green brakes, the timid deer come down to
drink at the beginning of some mountain stream. At last, their wanderings
carried them close under the snowy heights of San Gorgonio--the loftiest
of all the peaks. That night, they camped at timber-line and in the
morning,--leaving Croesus and the outfit, while it was still dark,--made
their way to the top, in time to see the sun come up from under the edge
of the world.
So they were received into the inner life of the mountains; so the spirit
that dwells in that unmarred world whispered to them the secrets of its
enduring strength and lofty peace.
From San Gorgonio, they followed the trail that leads down to upper Clear
Creek--halting, one night, at Burnt Pine Camp on Laurel Creek, above the
falls. Then--leaving the Laurel trail--they climbed over a spur of the
main range, and so down the steep wall of the gorge to Lone Cabin on Fern
Creek. The next day, they made their way on down to the floor of the main
canyon--five miles above the point where they had left it at the beginning
of their wanderings.
Crossing the canyon at the Clear Creek Power Company's intake, they took
the company trail that follows the pipe-line along the southern wall. From
the headwork to the reservoir two thousand feet above the power-house at
the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon, this trail is cut in the steep side of
the Galena range--overhanging the narrow valley below--nine beautiful
miles of it. At Oak Knoll,--where a Government trail for the Forest Ranger
zigzags down from the pipe-line to the wagon road below,--they halted.
Conrad Lagrange explained that there were three ways back to the world
they had left, nearly a month before--the pipe-line trail to the reservoir
and so down to the power-house and the Fairlands road; the Government
trail from the pipe-line, over the Galenas to the valley on the other
side; or, the Oak Knoll trail down to Clear Creek and out through the
canyon gates--the way they had come.
"But," objected Aaron King, lazily,--from where he lay under a live-oak on
the mountainside, a few feet above the trail,--"either route presupposes
our wish to return to Fairlands."
The novelist laughed. "Listen to him, Czar,"--he said to the dog lying at
his feet,--"listen to that painter-man. He doesn't want to go back to
Fairlands any more than we do, does he?"
Rising, Czar looked at his master a moment, with slow waving tail, then
turned inquiringly toward the artist.
"Well," said the young man, "what about it, old boy? Which trail shall we
take? Or shall we take any of them?"
With a prodigious yawn,--as though to indicate that he wearied of their
foolish indecision,--Czar turned, with a low "woof," toward the fourth
member of the company, who was browsing along the edge of the trail.
Whenever Czar was in doubt as to the wants of his human companions he
always barked at the burro.
"He says, 'ask Croesus'," commented the artist.
"Good!" cried the older man, with another laugh. "Let's put it up to the
financier and let him choose."
"Wait,"--said the artist, as the other turned toward the burro,--"don't be
hasty--the occasion calls for solemn meditation and lofty discourse."
"Your pardon,"--returned the novelist,--"'tis so. I will orate." Carefully
selecting a pebble in readiness to emphasize his remarks, he addressed the
shaggy arbiter of their fate. "Sir Croesus, thy pack is lighter by many
meals than when first thou didst set out from that land where we did
rescue thee from the hands of thy tormenting trader; but thy
responsibilities are weightier, many fold. Upon the wisdom of thy choice,
now, great issue rests. Thou hast thy chance, O illustrious ass, to
recompense the world, this day, for the many evils wrought by thy odious
ancestor and by all his long-eared kin. Choose, now, the way thy
benefactors' feet shall go; and see to it, Croesus, that thou dost choose
wisely; or, by thy ears, we'll flay thy woolly hide and hang it on the
mountainside--a warning to thy kind."
The well-thrown pebble struck that part of the burro's anatomy at which it
was aimed; the dog barked; and Croesus--with an indignant jerk of his
head, and a flirt of his tail--started forward. At the fork of the trail,
he paused. The two men waited with breathless interest. With an air of
accepting the responsibility placed upon him, the burro whirled and
trotted down the narrow path that led to the floor of the canyon below.
Laughing, the men followed--but far enough in the rear to permit their
leader to choose his own way when they should reach the wagon road at the
foot of the mountain wall. Without an instant's hesitation, Croesus turned
down the road--quickening his pace, almost, into a trot.
"By George!" ejaculated the novelist, "he acts like he knew where he was
"He's taking you at your word," returned the artist. "Look at him go!
Evidently, he's still under the inspiration of your oratory."
The burro had broken into a ridiculous, little gallop that caused the
frying-pan and coffee-pot, lashed on the outside of the pack, to rattle
merrily. Splashing through the creek, he disappeared in the dark shadow of
a thicket of alders and willows, where the road crosses a tiny rivulet
that flows from a spring a hundred yards above. Climbing out of this
gloomy hollow, the road turns sharply to the left, and the men hurried on
to overtake their four-footed guide before he should be too long out of
their sight. Just at the top of the little rise, before rounding the turn,
they stopped. A few feet to the right of the road, with his nose at an
old gate, stood Croesus. Nor would he heed Czar's bark commanding him to
On the other side of the fence, an old and long neglected apple orchard, a
tumble-down log barn, and the wreck of a house with the fireplace and
chimney standing stark and alone, told the story. The place was one of
those old ranches, purchased by the Power Company for the water rights,
and deserted by those who once had called it home. From the gate, ancient
wagon tracks, overgrown with weeds, led somewhere around the edge of the
orchard and were lost in the tangle of trees and brush on its lower side.
The two men looked at each other in laughing surprise. The burro, turning
his head, gazed at them over his shoulder, inquiringly, as much as to say,
"Well, what's the matter now? Why don't you come along?"
"When in doubt, ask Croesus," said the artist, gravely.
Conrad Lagrange calmly opened the gate.
Promptly, the burro trotted ahead. Following the ancient weed-grown
tracks, he led them around the lower end of the orchard; crossed a little
stream; and, turning again, climbed a gentle rise of open, grassy land
behind the orchard; stopping at last, with an air of having accomplished
his purpose, in a beautiful little grove of sycamore trees that bordered a
Completely hidden by the old orchard from the road in front, and backed by
the foot of the mountain spur that here forms the northern wall of the
little valley, the spot commanded a magnificent view of the encircling
peaks and ridges. San Bernardino was almost above their heads. To the
east, were the more rugged walls of the upper and narrower end of the
canyon; in their front, the beautiful Oak Knoll, with the dark steeps and
pine-fringed crest of the Galenas against the sky; while to the west, the
blue peaks of the far San Gabriels showed above the lower spurs and
foothills of the more immediate range. The foreground was filled in by the
gentle slope leading down to the tiny stream at the edge of the old
orchard and, a little to the left, by the cienaga--rich in the color of
its tall marsh grass and reeds, gemmed with brilliant flowers of gold and
scarlet, bordered by graceful willows, and screened from the eye of the
chance traveler by the lattice of tangled orchard boughs.
Seated in the shade of the sycamores on the little knoll, the two friends
enjoyed the beauty of the scene, and the charming seclusion of the lovely
retreat; while Croesus stood patiently, as though waiting to be rewarded
for his virtue, by the removal of his pack. Even Czar refrained from
charging here and there, and lay down contentedly at their feet, with an
air of having reached at last the place they had been seeking.
A few days later found them established in a comfortable camp; with tents
and furniture and hammocks and books and the delighted Yee Kee to take
care of them. It had been easy to secure permission from the neighboring
rancher who leased the orchard from the Company. Conrad Lagrange, with
the man and his big mountain wagon, had made a trip to town--returning the
next day with Yee Kee and the outfit. He brought, also, things from the
studio; for the artist declared that he would no longer be without the
materials of his art.
The first day after the camp was built, the artist--declaring that he
would settle the question, at once, as to whether Yee Kee could cook a
trout as skillfully as the novelist--took rod and flies, and--leaving the
famous author in a hammock, with Czar lying near--set out up the canyon.
For perhaps two miles, the painter followed the creek--taking here and
there from clear pool or swirling eddy a fish for his creel, and pausing
often, as he went, to enjoy--in artist fashion--the beauties of the ever
The afternoon was almost gone when he finally turned back toward camp. He
had been away, already longer than he intended; but still--as all
fishermen will understand--he could not, on his way back down the stream,
refrain from casting here and there over the pools that tempted him.
The sun was touching the crest of the mountains when he had made but
little more than half the distance of his return. He had just sent his fly
skillfully over a deep pool in the shadow of a granite boulder, for what
he determined must be his last cast, when, startlingly clear and sweet,
came the tones of a violin.
A master trout leaped. The hand of the unheeding fisherman felt the tug
as the leader broke. Giving the victorious fish no thought, Aaron King
slowly reeled in his line.
There was no mistaking the pure, vibrant tones of the music to which the
man listened with amazed delight. It was the music of the, to him, unknown
violinist who lived hidden in the orange grove next door to his studio
home in Fairlands.
The Forest Ranger's Story
Perhaps the motive that, in Fairlands, had restrained the artist from
seeking to know his neighbor was without force in the mountains. Perhaps
it was that, in the unconventional freedom of the hills, the man obeyed
more readily his impulse. Aaron King did not stop to question. As though
in answer to the call of that spirit which spoke in the tones of the
violin, he moved in the direction from which the music came.
Climbing out of the bed of the stream to the bench that slopes hack--a
quarter of a mile, perhaps--to the foot of the canyon wall, he found
himself in an old road that, where it once crossed the creek, had been
destroyed by the mountain floods. Wonderingly he followed the dimly marked
track that led through the chaparral toward a thicket of cedars, from
beyond which the music seemed to come. Where the road curved to find its
way through the green barrier he paused--the musician, undoubtedly, now,
was just beyond. Still acting upon the impulse of the moment, he
cautiously parted the boughs and peered through into a little, open glade
that was closed in on every side by the rank growth of the mountain
vegetation, by the thicket of dark cedars and by tangled masses of wild
rose-bushes. Opposite the spot where he stood, and half concealed by great
sycamore trees, was a small, log house with a thread of blue smoke curling
lazily from the chimney. The place was another of those old ranches that
had been purchased by the Power Company and permitted to go back to the
wilderness from which it had been won by some hardy settler. The little
plot of open ground--well sodded with firm turf and short-cropped by
roving cattle and deer--had evidently been, at one time, the front yard of
the mountaineer's home. A little out from the porch, and in full view of
the artist,--her graceful form outlined against the background of wild
roses,--stood Sibyl Andres with her violin.
As the girl played,--her winsome face upturned to the mountain heights and
her body, lightly poised, swaying with the movement of her arm as easily
as a willow bough,--she appeared, to the man hidden in the cedars, as some
beautiful spirit of the woods and hills--a spirit that would vanish
instantly if he should step from his hiding place. He was so close that he
could see her blue eyes, wide and unmindful of her surroundings; her lips,
curved in an unconscious smile; and her cheeks, flushed with emotion under
their warm brown tint--as she appeared to listen for the music that she,
in turn,--seemingly with no effort of her will,--gave forth again in the
tones of the instrument under her chin.
Aaron King was moved by the beauty of the picture as he had never been
stirred before. The peculiar charm of the music; the loveliness of the
girl herself; the setting of the scene in the little glade with its wild
roses, giant sycamores, dark cedars, and encircling mountain walls, all in
the soft mystery of the twilight's beginning; and, withal, the
unexpectedness of the vision--combined to make an impression upon the
artist's mind that would endure for many years.
Suddenly, as he watched, the music ceased. The girl lowered her violin,
and, with a low laugh, said to some one on the porch--concealed from the
painter by the trunk of a sycamore--"O Myra, I want to dance. I can't keep
still. I'm so glad, glad to be home again--to see old 'San Berdo' and
'Gray Back' and all the rest of them up there!" She stretched out her arms
as if in answer to a welcome from the hills. Then, whirling quickly, she
gave the violin to her companion on the porch. "Play, Myra; please, dear,
At her word, the music of the violin began again--coming now, from behind
the trunk of the sycamore. In the hands of the unseen musician, the
instrument laughed and sang a song of joyous abandonment--of freedom and
rejoicing--of happiness and love--while in perfect harmony with the spirit
and the rhythm of the melody, the girl danced upon the firm, green carpet
of grass. Here and there, to and fro, about the little glade shut in from
the world by its walls of living green, she tripped and whirled in
unstudied grace--lightly as if winged--unconscious as the wild creatures
that play in the depths of the woods--wayward as the zephyr that trips
along the mountainside.
It was a spontaneous expression of her spiritual and physical exaltation
and was as natural as the laughter in her voice or the flush upon her
cheeks. It was a dance that was like no dance that Aaron King had ever
The artist--watching through the screen of cedar boughs beside the old
wagon road and scarcely daring to breathe lest the beautiful vision should
vanish--forgot his position--forgot what he was doing. Fascinated by the
scene to which he had been led, so unexpectedly by the music he had so
often heard while at work in his studio, he was unmindful of the rude part
he was playing. He was brought suddenly to himself by a heavy hand upon
his shoulder. As he straightened, the hand whirled him half around and he
found himself looking into a face that was tanned and seamed by many years
in the open.
The man who had so unceremoniously commanded the artist's attention stood
a little above six feet in height, and was of that deep-chested, lean, but
full-muscled build that so often marks the mountain bred. He wore no coat.
At his hip, a heavy Colt revolver hung in its worn holster from a full,
loosely buckled, cartridge belt. Upon his unbuttoned vest was the shield
of the United States Forest Service. From under the brim of his slouch
hat, he gazed at Aaron King questioningly--in angry disapproval.
Instinctively, neither of the men spoke. A word would have been heard the
other side of the cedars. With a gesture commanding the artist to follow,
the Ranger quietly, withdrew along the wagon road toward the creek.
When they were at a distance where their voices would not reach the girl
in the glade, the Ranger said with angry abruptness, "Now, sir, perhaps
you will tell me who you are and what you mean by spying upon a couple of
women, like that."
The other could not conceal his embarrassment. "I don't blame you for
calling me to account," he said. "If it were me--if our positions were
reversed I mean--I should kick you down into the creek there."
The cold, blue eyes--that had been measuring the painter so
shrewdly--twinkled with a hint of humor. "You _do_ look like a gentleman,
you know," the officer said,--as if excusing himself for not following the
artist's suggestion. "But, all the same, you must explain. Who are you?"
"That part is easy, at least," returned the other. "Though the
circumstance of our meeting _is_ a temptation to lie."
"Which would do you no good, and might lead to unpleasant complications,"
retorted the Ranger, sharply.
The man under question, still embarrassed, laughed shortly, as he
returned, "I really was not thinking of it seriously. My name is Aaron
King. I am an artist. You are Mr. Oakley, I suppose."
The officer nodded--beginning to smile. "Yes, I am Brian Oakley."
The artist continued, "A month ago, Conrad Lagrange and I came into the
mountains for an outing. We stopped at the Station, but there was no one
at home. Most of the time, we have been just roaming around. Now, we are
camped down there, back of that old apple orchard."
The Ranger broke into a laugh. "Mrs. Oakley was visiting friends up the
canyon, the day you came in; but Morton told me. I've crossed your trail a
dozen times, and sighted you nearly as many; but I was always too busy to
go to you. I knew Lagrange didn't need any attention, you see; so I just
figured on meeting up with you somewhere by accident like--about meal
time, mebbe." He laughed again. "The accident part worked out all right."
He paused, still laughing--enjoying the artist's discomfiture; then ended
with a curious--"What in thunder were you sneaking around in the brush
like that for, anyway? Those women won't bite."
Aaron King explained how he had heard the music while fishing; and how,
following the sound, he had acted upon an impulse to catch a glimpse of
the unknown musician before revealing himself; and then, in his interest,
had forgotten that he was playing the part of a spy--until so rudely
aroused by the hand of the Ranger.
Brian Oakley chuckled; "If _I'd_ acted upon impulse when I first saw you
peeking through those cedars, you would have been more surprised than you
were. But while I was sneaking up on you I noticed your get-up--with your
creel and rod--and figured how you might have come there. So I thought I
would go a little slow."
"And you wear rather heavy boots too," said the artist suggestively. Then,
more at ease, he joined in the laugh at himself.
"Catch any fish?" asked the Ranger--lifting the cover of the creel.
"Whee!" as he saw the contents. "That's bully! And I'm hungry as a she
wolf too! Been in the saddle since sunup without a bite. What do you say
if I make that long deferred social call upon you and Lagrange this
"I say, good! Mr. Oakley," returned the artist, heartily. "I guess you
know what Lagrange will say."
"You bet I do." He whistled--a low, birdlike note. In answer, a beautiful,
chestnut saddle-horse came out of the chaparral, where it had not been
seen by the painter. "We're going, Max," said the officer, in a
matter-of-fact way. And, as the two men set out, the horse followed, with
a business-like air that brought a word of admiring comment from the
That Aaron King had won the approval of the Ranger was evidenced by the
mountaineer's inviting himself to supper the camp in the sycamores. The
fact that the officer considerately told Conrad Lagrange only that he had
met the artist with his creel full of trout, and so had been tempted to
accompany him, won the enduring gratitude of the young man. Thus the
circumstances of their meeting introduced each to the other, with
recommendations of peculiar value, and marked the beginning of a genuine
and lasting friendship. But, while, out of delicate regard for the
artist's feelings, he refrained from relating the--to the young
man--embarrassing incident, Brian Oakley could not resist making, at every
opportunity, sly references to their meeting--for the painter's benefit
and his own amusement. Thus it happened that, after supper, as they sat
with their pipes, the talk turned upon Sibyl Andres and the woman with the
The Ranger, to tease the artist, had remarked casually,--after
complimenting them upon the location of their camp,--"And you've got some
mighty nice neighbors, less than a mile above too."
"Neighbors!" ejaculated Conrad Lagrange--in a tone that left no doubt as
to his sentiment in the matter.
The others laughed; while the officer said, "Oh, I know how _you_ feel!
You think you don't want anybody poaching on your preserves. You're up
here in the hills to get away from people, and all that. But you don't
need to be uneasy. You won't even see these folks--unless you sneak up on
them." He stole a look at the artist, and chuckled maliciously as the
painter covertly shook his fist at him. "You may _hear_ them though."
"Which would probably be as bad," retorted the novelist, gruffly.
"Oh, I don't know!" returned the other. "You might be able to stand it. I
don't reckon you would object to a little music now and then, would
you?--_real_ music, I mean."
"So our neighbors are musical, are they?" The novelist seemed slightly
"Sibyl Andres is the most accomplished violinist I have ever heard," said
the Ranger. "And I haven't always lived in these mountains, you know. As
for Myra Willard--well--she taught Sibyl--though she doesn't pretend to
equal her now."
Conrad Lagrange was interested, now, in earnest He turned to the artist,
eagerly--but with caution--"Do you suppose it could be our neighbors in
the orange grove, Aaron?"
Brian Oakley watched them with quiet amusement.
"I know it is," returned the artist.
"You know it is!" ejaculated the other.
"Sure--I heard the violin this afternoon. While I was fishing," he added
hastily, when the Ranger laughed.
The novelist commented savagely, "Seems to me you're mighty careful about
keeping your news to yourself!"
This brought another burst of merriment from the mountaineer.
When the two men had explained to the Ranger about the music in the orange
grove, Conrad Lagrange related how they had first heard that cry in the
night; and how, when they had gone to the neighboring house, they had seen
the woman of the disfigured face standing in the doorway.
"It was Miss Willard who cried out," said Brian Oakley, quietly. "She
dreams, sometimes, of the accident--or whatever it was--that left her with
those scars--at least, that's what I think it is. Certainly it's no
ordinary dream that would make a woman cry like that. The first time I
heard her--the first time that she ever did it, in fact--she and Sibyl
were stopping over night at my house. It was three years ago. Jim Rutlidge
had just come West, on his first trip, and was up in the hills on a hunt.
He happened along about sundown, and when he stepped into the room and
Myra saw him, I thought she would faint. He looked like some one she had
known--she said. And that night she gave that horrible cry. Lord! but it
threw a fright into me. My wife didn't get over being nervous, for a week.
Myra explained that she had dreamed--but that's all she would say. I
figured that being upset by Rutlidge's reminding her of some one she had
known started her mind to going on the past--and then she dreamed of
whatever it was that gave her those scars."
"You have known Miss Willard a long time, haven't you, Brian?" asked
Conrad Lagrange, with the freedom of an old comrade--for men may grow
closer together in one short season in the mountains than in years of
meeting daily in the city.
"I've known her ever since she came into the hills. That was the year
Sibyl was born. All that anybody knows is what has happened since. Sibyl's
mother, even--a month before she died--told me that Myra's history, before
she came to them, was as unknown to her as it was the day she stopped at
"I can't get over the feeling that I ought to know her--that I have seen
her somewhere, years ago," said the novelist, by way of explaining his
"Then it was before she got those scars," returned the Ranger. "No one
could ever forget her face as it is now."
"At the same time," commented the artist, "the scars would prevent your
identifying her if she received them after you had known her."
"All the same," said Conrad Lagrange,--as though his mind was bothered by
his inability to establish some incident in his memory,--"I'll place her
yet. Do you mind, Brian, telling us what you _do_ know of her?"
"Why, not at all," returned the officer. "The story is anybody's property.
Its being so well known is probably the reason you didn't hear it when you
were up here before.
"Sibyl's father and mother were here in the mountains when I came. They
lived up there at the old place where Myra and Sibyl are camping now, and
I never expect to meet finer people--either in this world or the next. For
twenty years I knew them intimately. Will Andres was as true and square
and white a man as ever lived and Nelly was just as good a woman as he was
a man. They and my wife and I were more like brothers and sisters than
most folks who are actually blood kin.
"One day, along toward sundown, about a month before Sibyl was born, Nelly
heard the dogs barking and went to see what was up. There stood Myra
Willard at the gate--like she'd dropped out of the sky. Where she came
from God only knows--except that she'd walked from some station on the
railroad over toward the pass. She was just about all in; and, of course,
Nelly had her into the house and was fixing her up in no time. She wanted
to work, but admitted that she had never done much housework. She said,
straight out, that they should never know more about her than they knew,
then; but insisted that she was not a bad woman. At first, Will and I were
against it for, of course, it was easy to see that she was trying to get
away from something. But the women--Nelly and my wife--somehow, believed
in her, and--with the baby due to arrive in a month and any kind of help
hard to get--they carried the day. Well, sir, she made good. If twenty
years acquaintance goes for anything, she's one of God's own kind, and I
don't care a damn what her history is.
"We soon saw that she was educated and refined, and--as you can see for
yourself--she must have been remarkably beautiful before she got so
disfigured. When the baby was born, she just took the little one into her
poor, broken heart like it had been her own, until Sibyl hardly knew which
was her own mother. When the girl was old enough for school, Myra begged
Will and Nelly to let her teach the child. She was always sending for
books and it was about that time that she sent for a violin. The girl took
to music like a bird. And--well--that's the way Sibyl was raised. She's
got all the education that the best of them have--even to French and
Italian and German--and she's missed some things that the schools teach
outside of their text-books. She has a library--given to her mostly by
Myra, a book at a time--that represents the best of the world's best
writers. You know what her music is. But, hell!"--the Ranger interrupted
himself with an apologetic laugh--"I'm supposed to be talking about Myra
Willard. I don't know as I'm so far off, either, because what Sibyl
is--aside from her natural inheritance from Will and Nelly--Myra has made
"When Will was killed by those Mexican outlaws,--which is a story in
itself,--Nelly sold the ranch to the Power Company, and bought an orange
grove in Fairlands--which was the thing for her to do, as she and Myra
could handle that sort of property, and the ranch had to go, anyway.
Before Nelly died, she and I talked things over, and she put everything in
Myra's hands, in trust for the girl. Later, Myra sold the grove and the
house where you men live, now, and bought the little place next
door--putting the rest of the money into gilt-edged securities in Sibyl's
name; which insures the girl against want, for years to come. Sibyl helps
out their income with her music. And that's the story, boys, except that
they come up here into the mountains, every summer, to spend a month or so
in the old home place."
The Ranger rose to go.
"But do you think it is safe for those women to stay up there alone?"
asked Aaron King.
Brian Oakley laughed. "Safe! You don't know Myra Willard! Sibyl, herself,
can pick a squirrel out of the tallest pine in the mountains with her
six-shooter. Will and I taught her all we knew, as she grew up. Besides,
you see, I drop in every day or so, to see that they're all right." He
laughed meaningly as he added,--to Conrad Lagrange for the artist's
benefit,--"I'm going to tell them, though, that Sibyl must be careful how
she goes dancing around these hills--now that she has such distinguished
but irresponsible neighbors."
He whistled--and the chestnut horse was at his side before the echo of
their laughter died away.
With a "so-long," the Ranger rode away into the night.
When the Canyon Gates Are Shut
If Aaron King had questioned what it was that had held him in the cedar
thicket until Brian Oakley's heavy hand broke the spell, he would probably
have answered that it was his artistic appreciation of the beautiful
scene. But--deep down in the man's inner consciousness--there was a still,
small voice--declaring, with an insistency not to be denied, that--for
him--there was a something in that picture that was not to be put into the
vernacular of his profession.
Had he acted without his habitual self-control, the day following the
Ranger's visit, he would, again, have gone fishing--up Clear Creek--at
least, to the pool where that master trout had broken his leader. But he
did not. Instead, he roamed aimlessly about the vicinity of the
camp--explored the sycamore grove; climbed a little way up the mountain
spur, and down again; circled the cienaga; and so came, finally, to the
ruins of the house and barn on the creek side of the orchard.
Not far from the lonely fireplace with its naked chimney, a little, old
gate of split palings, in an ancient tumble-down fence, under a great
mistletoe-hung oak, at the top of a bank--attracted his careless
attention. From the gate, he saw what once had been a path leading down
the bank to a spring, where the tiny streamlet that crossed the road a
hundred yards away, on its course to Clear Creek, began. Pushing open the
gate that sagged dejectedly from its leaning post, the artist went down
the path, and found himself in a charming nook--shut in on every side by
the forest vegetation that, watered by the spring, grew rank and dense.
For a space on the gate side of the spring, the sod was firm and
smooth--with a gray granite boulder in the center of the little glade,
and, here and there, wild rose-bushes and the slender, gray trunks of
alder trees breaking through. From the higher branches of the alders that
shut out the sky with their dainty, silvery-green leaves, hung--with many
a graceful loop and knot--ropes of wild grape-vine and curtains of
virgin's-bower. Along the bank below the old fence, the wild blackberries
disputed possession with the roses; while the little stream was mottled
with the tender green of watercress and bordered with moss and fragrant
mint. Above the arroyo willows, on the farther side of the glade, Oak
Knoll, with bits of the pine-clad Galenas, could be glimpsed; but on the
orchard side, the vine-dressed bank with the old gate under the mistletoe
oak shut out the view. Through the screen of alder and grape and willow
and virgin's-bower the sunlight fell, as through the delicate traceries of
a cathedral window. The bright waters of the spring, softly held by the
green sod, crept away under the living wall, without a sound; but the deep
murmur of the distant, larger stream, reached the place like the low
tones of some great organ. A few regularly placed stones, where once had
stood the family spring-house; with the names, initials, hearts and dates
carved upon the smooth bark of the alders--now grown over and almost
obliterated--seemed to fill the spot with ghostly memories.
All that afternoon, the artist remained in the little retreat. The next
day, equipped with easel, canvas and paint-box, he went again to the
glade--determined to make a picture of the charming scene.
For a month, now, uninterrupted by the distractions of social obligations
or the like, Aaron King had been subjected to influences that had aroused
the creative passion of his artist soul to its highest pitch. With his
genius clamoring for expression, he had denied himself the medium that was
his natural language. Forbidding his friend to accompany him, he worked
now in the spring glade with a delight--with an ecstasy--that he had
seldom, before, felt. And Conrad Lagrange, wisely, was content to let him
As the hours of each day passed, the artist became more and more engrossed
with his art. His spirit sang with the joy of receiving the loveliness of
the scene before him, of making it his own, and of giving it forth
again--a literal part of himself. The memories suggested by the stones of
the spring-house foundation and the old carvings on the trees; the
sunlight, falling so softly into the hushed seclusion of the glade, as
through the traceried windows of a church; and the deep organ-tones of the
distant creek; all served to give to the spot the religious atmosphere of
a sanctuary; while the artist's abandonment in his work was little short
It was the third afternoon, when the painter became conscious that he had
been hearing for some time--he could not have said how long--a low-sung
melody--so blending with the organ-tones of the mountain stream that it
seemed to come out of the music of the tumbling waters.
With his brush poised between palette and canvas, the artist
paused,--turning his head to listen,--half inclined to the belief that his
fancy was tricking him. But no; the singer was coming nearer; the melody
was growing more distinct; but still the voice was in perfect harmony with
the deep-toned accompaniment of the distant creek.
Then he saw her. Dressed in soft brown that blended subtly with the green
of the willows, the gray of the alder trunks, the russet of rose and
blackberry-bush, and the umber of the swinging grape-vines--in the
flickering sunshine, the soft changing half-lights, and deep shadows--she
appeared to grow out of the scene itself; even as her low-sung melody grew
out of the organ-sound of the waters.
To get the effect that satisfied him best, the painter had placed his
easel a little back from the grassy, open spot. Seated as he was, on a low
camp-stool, among the bushes, he would not have been easily observed--even
by eyes trained to the quickness of vision that belongs to those reared in
the woods and hills. As the girl drew closer, he saw that she carried a
basket on her arm, and that she was picking the wild blackberries that
grew in such luscious profusion in the rich, well watered ground at the
foot of the sheltering bank. Unconscious of any listener, as she gathered
the fruit of Nature's offering, she sang to the accompaniment of Nature's
music, with the artless freedom of a wild thing unafraid in its native
The man kept very still. Presently, when the girl had moved so that he
could not see her, he turned to his canvas as if, again, absorbed in his
work--but hearing still, behind him, the low-voiced melody of her song.
Then the music ceased; not abruptly, but dying away softly--losing itself,
again, in the organ-tones of the distant waters, as it had come. For a
while, the artist worked on; not daring to take his eyes from his picture;
but feeling, in every tingling nerve of him, that she was there. At last,
as if compelled, he abruptly turned his head--and looked straight into her
The man had been, apparently, so absorbed in his work, when first the girl
caught sight of him, that she had scarcely been startled. When she had
ceased her song, and he, still, had not looked around; drawn by her
interest in the picture, she had softly approached until she was standing
quite close. Her lips were slightly parted, her face was flushed, and her
eyes were shining with delight and excited pleasure, as she stood leaning
forward, her basket on her arm. So interested was she in the painting,
that she seemed to have quite forgotten the painter, and was not in the
least embarrassed when he so suddenly looked directly into her face.
"It is beautiful," she said, as though in answer to his question. And no
one--hearing her, and watching her face as she spoke--could have doubted
her sincerity. "It is so true, so--so"--she searched for a word, and
smiled in triumph when she found it--"so _right_--so beautifully right.
It--it makes me feel as--as I feel when I am at church--and the organ
plays soft and low, and the light comes slanting through the window, and
some one reads those beautiful words, 'The Lord is in his holy temple; let
all the earth keep silence before him'."
"Why!" exclaimed the artist, "that is exactly what I wanted it to say.
When I saw this place, and heard the waters over there, like a great
organ; and saw how the sunshine falls through the trees; I felt as you
say, and I am trying to paint the picture so that those who see it will
feel that way too."
Her face was aglow with enthusiastic understanding as she cried eagerly,
"Oh, I know! I know! I'm like that with my music! When I look at the
mountains sometimes--or at the trees and flowers, or hear the waters sing,
or the winds call--I--I get so full and so--so kind of choked up inside
that it hurts; and I feel as though I must try to tell it--and then I take
my violin and try and try to make the music say what I feel. I never can
though--not altogether. But _you_ have made your picture say what you
feel. That's what makes it so right, isn't it? They said in Fairlands that
you were a great artist, and I understand why, now. It must be wonderful
to put what you see and feel into a picture like that--where nothing can
ever change or spoil it."
Aaron King laughed with boyish embarrassment. "Oh, but I'm not a great
artist, you know. I am scarcely known at all."
She looked at him with her great, blue eyes sincerely troubled. "And must
one be _known_--to be great?" she asked. "Might not an artist be great and
still be _unknown_? Or, might not one who was really very, very"--again
she seemed to search for a word and as she found it, smiled--"very
_small_, be known all over the world? The newspapers make some really bad
people famous, sometimes, don't they? No, no, you are joking. You do not
really think that being known to the world and greatness are the same."
The man, studying her closely, saw that she was speaking her thoughts as
openly as a child. Experimentally, he said, "If putting what you feel into
your work is greatness, then _you_ are a great artist, for your music does
make one feel as though it came from the mountains, themselves."
She was frankly pleased, and cried intimately, "Oh! do you like my music?
I so wanted you to."
It did not occur to her to ask when he had heard her music. It did not
occur to him to explain. They, neither of them, thought to remember that
they had not been introduced. They really should have pretended that they
did not know each other.
"Sometimes," she continued with winsome confidence, "I think, myself, that
I am really a great violinist--and then, again,"--she added wistfully,--"I
know that I am not. But I am sure that I wouldn't like to be famous, at
He laughed. "Fame doesn't seem to matter so much, does it; when one is up
here in the hills and the canyon gates are closed."
She echoed his laughter with quick delight. "Did you see that? Did you see
those great doors open to let you in, and then close again behind you as
if to shut the world outside? But of course you would. Any one who could
do that"--she pointed to the canvas--"would not fail to see the canyon
gates." With her eyes again upon the picture, she seemed once more to
forget the presence of the painter.
Watching her face,--that betrayed her every passing thought and emotion as
an untroubled pool mirrors the flowers that grow on its banks or the
song-bird that pauses to drink,--the artist--to change her mood--said,
"You _love_ the mountains, don't you?"
She turned her face toward him, again, as she answered simply, "Yes, I
love the mountains."
"If you were a painter,"--he smiled,--"you would paint them, wouldn't
"I don't know that I would,"--she answered thoughtfully,--"but I would try
to get the mountains into my picture, whatever it was. I wonder if you
know what I mean?"
"Yes," he answered, "I think I know what you mean; and it is a beautiful
thought. You wouldn't paint portraits, would you?"
"I don't think I _could_," she answered. "It seems to me it would be so
hard to get the mountains into a portrait of just anybody. An artist--a
great artist, I mean--must make his picture right, mustn't he? And if his
picture was a portrait of some one who wasn't very good, and he made it
right; he wouldn't be liked very well, would he? No, I don't think I would
paint portraits--unless I could paint just the people who would want me to
make my picture right."
Aaron King's face flushed at the words that were spoken so artlessly; and
he looked at her keenly. But the girl was wholly innocent of any purpose
other than to express her thoughts. She did not dream of the force with
which her simple words had gone home.
"You love the mountains, too, don't you?" she asked suddenly.
"Yes," he answered, "I love the mountains. I am learning to love them more
and more. But I fear I don't know them as well as you do."
"I was born up here," she said, "and lived here until a few years ago. I
think, sometimes, that the mountains almost talk to me."
"I wonder if you would help me to know the mountains as you know them," he
She drew a little back from him, but did not answer.
"We are neighbors, you see," he continued smiling. "I heard your violin,
the other evening, when I was fishing up the creek, near where you live;
and so I know it is you who live next door to us in the orange grove. Mr.
Lagrange and I are camped just over there back of the orchard. May we not
be friends? Won't you help me to know your mountains?"
"I know about you," she said. "Brian Oakley told us that you and Mr.
Lagrange were camped down here. Mr. Lagrange said that you are a good man;
Brian Oakley says that you are too--are you?"
The artist flushed. In his embarrassment, he did not note the significance
of her reference to the novelist. "At least," he said gently, "I am not a
very _bad_ man."
A smile broke over her face--her mood changing as quickly as the sunlight
breaks through a cloud. "I know you are not"--she said--"a _bad_ man
wouldn't have wanted to paint this place as you have painted it."
She turned to go.
"But wait!" he cried, "you haven't told me--will you teach me to know your
mountains as you know them?"
"I'm sure I cannot say," she answered smiling, as she moved away.
"But at least, we will meet again," he urged.
She laughed gaily, "Why not? The mountains are for you as well as for me;
and though the hills _are_ so big, the trails are narrow, and the passes
With another laugh, she slipped away--her brown dress, that, in the shifty
lights under the thick foliage, so harmonized with the colors of bush and
vine and tree and rock, being so quickly lost to the artist's eye that she
seemed almost to vanish into the scene before him.
But presently, from beyond the willow wall, he heard her voice
again--singing to the accompaniment of the mountain stream. Softly, the
melody died away in the distance--losing itself, at last, in the deeper
organ-tones of the mountain waters.
For some minutes, the artist stood listening--thinking he heard it still.
Aaron King did not, that night, tell Conrad Lagrange of his adventure in
the spring glade.
Confessions in the Spring Glade
All the next day, while he worked upon his picture in the glade, Aaron
King listened for that voice in the organ-like music of the distant
waters. Many times, he turned to search the flickering light and shade of
the undergrowth, behind him, for a glimpse of the girl's brown dress and
The next day she came.
The artist had been looking long at a splash of sunlight that fell upon
the gray granite boulder which was set in the green turf, and had turned
to his canvas for--it seemed to him--only an instant. When he looked again
at the boulder, she was standing there--had, apparently, been standing
there for some time, waiting with smiling lips and laughing eyes for him
to see her.
A light creel hung by its webbed strap from her shoulder; in her hand, she
carried a slender fly rod of good workmanship. Dressed in soft brown, with
short skirts and high laced boots, and her wavy hair tucked under a wide,
felt hat; with her blue eyes shining with fun, and her warmly tinted skin
glowing with healthful exercise; she appeared--to the artist--more as some
mythical spirit of the mountains, than as a maiden of flesh and blood. The
manner of her coming, too, heightened the impression. He had heard no
sound of her approach--no step, no rustle of the underbrush. He had seen
no movement among the bushes--no parting of the willows in the wall of
green. There had been no hint of her nearness. He could not even guess the
direction from which she had come.
At first, he could scarce believe his eyes, and sat motionless in his
surprise. Then her merry laugh rang out--breaking the spell.
Springing from his seat, he went forward. "Are you a spirit?" he cried.
"You must be something unreal, you know--the way you appear and disappear.
The last time, you came out of the music of the waters, and went again the
same way. To-day, you come out of the air, or the trees, or, perhaps, that
gray boulder that is giving me such trouble."
Laughing, she answered, "My father and Brian Oakley taught me. If you will
watch the wild things in the woods, you can learn to do it too. I am no
more a spirit than the cougar, when it stalks a rabbit in the chaparral;
or a mink, as it slips among the rocks along the creek; or a fawn, when it
crouches to hide in the underbrush."
"You have been fishing?" he asked.
She laughed mockingly, "You are _so_ observing! I think you might have
taken _that_ for granted, and asked what luck."
"I believe I might almost take that for granted too," he returned.
"I took a few," she said carelessly. Then, with a charming air of
authority--"And now, you must go back to your work. I shall vanish
instantly, if you waste another moment's time because I am here."
"But I want to talk," he protested. "I have been working hard since noon."
"Of course you have," she retorted. "But presently the light will change
again, and you won't be able to do any more to-day; so you must keep busy
while you can."
"And you won't vanish--if I go on with my work?" he asked doubtfully. She
was smiling at him with such a mischievous air, that he feared, if he
turned away, she would disappear.
She laughed aloud; "Not if you work," she said. "But if you stop--I'm
As she spoke, she went toward his easel, and, resting her fly rod
carefully against the trunk of a near-by alder, slipped the creel from her
shoulder, placing the basket on the ground with her hat. Then, while the
painter watched her, she stood silently looking at the picture. Presently,
she faced him, and, with an impulsive stamp of her foot, said, "Why don't
you work? How can you waste your time and this light, looking at me? I
shall go, if you don't come back to your picture, this minute."
With a laugh, he obeyed.
For a moment, she watched him; then turned away; and he heard her moving
about, down by the tiny stream, where it disappeared under the willows.
Once, he paused and turned to look in her direction "What are you up to,
now?" he said.
"I shall be up to leaving you,"--she retorted,--"if you look around,
He promptly turned once more to his picture.
Soon, she came back, and seated herself beside her creel and rod, where
she could see the picture under the artist's brush. "Does it bother, if I
watch?" she asked softly.
"No, indeed," he answered. "It helps--that is, it helps when it is _you_
who watch." Which--to the painter's secret amazement--was a literal truth.
The gray rock with the splash of sunshine that would not come right,
ceased to trouble him, now. Stimulated by her presence, he worked with a
freedom and a sureness that was a delight.
When he could not refrain from looking in her direction, he saw that she
was bending, with busy hands, over some willow twigs in her lap. "What in
the world are you doing?" he asked curiously.
"You are not supposed to know that I am doing anything," she retorted.
"You have been peeking again."
"You were so still--I feared you had vanished," he laughed. "If you'll
keep talking to me, I'll know you are there, and will be good."
"Sure it won't bother?"
"Sure," he answered.
"Well, then, _you_ talk to me, and I'll answer."
"I have a confession to make," he said, carefully studying the gray tones
of the alder trunk beyond the gray boulder.
"Yes, I want to get it over--so it won't bother me."
"Something about me?"
"Why, that's what I am trying so hard to make you keep your eyes on your
work for--because _I_ have to make a confession to _you_."
"Yes--don't look around, please."
"But what under the sun can you have to confess to me?"
"You started yours first," she answered. "Go on. Maybe it will make it
easier for me."
Studiously keeping his eyes upon his canvas, he told her how he had
watched her from the cedar thicket. When he had finished,--and she was
silent,--he thought that she was angry, and turned about--expecting to see
her gathering up her things to go.
She was struggling to suppress her laughter. At the look of surprise on
his face, she burst forth in such a gale of merriment that the little
glade was filled with the music of her glee; while, in spite of himself,
the painter joined.
"Oh!" she cried, "but that _is_ funny! I am glad, glad!"
"Now, what do you mean by that?" he demanded.
"Why--why--that's exactly what I was trying to get courage enough to
confess to you!" she gasped. And then she told him how she had spied upon
him from the arbor in the rose garden; and how, in his absence, she had
visited his studio.
"But how in the world did you get in? The place was always locked, when I
"Oh," she said quaintly, "there was a good genie who let me in through the
keyhole. I didn't meddle with anything, you know--I just looked at the
beautiful room where you work. And I didn't glance, even, at the picture
on the easel. The genie told me you wouldn't like that. I would not have
drawn the curtain anyway, even if I hadn't been told. At least, I don't
_think_ I would--but perhaps I might--I can't always tell what I'm going
to do, you know."
Suddenly, the artist remembered finding the studio door open with Conrad
Lagrange's key in the lock, and how the novelist had berated himself with
such exaggerated vehemence; and, in a flash, came the thought of James
Rutlidge's visit, that afternoon, and of his strange manner and
"I think I know the name of your good genie," said the painter, facing the
girl, seriously. "But tell me, did no one disturb you while you were in
Her cheeks colored painfully, and all the laughter was gone from her voice
as she replied, "I didn't want you to know that part."
"But I must know," he insisted gravely.
"Yes," she said, "Mr. Rutlidge found me there; and I ran away through the
garden. I don't like him. He frightens me. Please, is it necessary for us
to talk about it any more? I had to make my confession of course, but must
we talk about _that_ part?"
"No," he answered, "we need not talk about it. It was necessary for me to
know; but we will never mention that part, again. When we are back in the
orange groves, you shall come to the rose garden and to the studio, as
often as you like; your good genie and I will see to it that you are not
disturbed--by any one."
Her face brightened at his words. "And do you really like for me to make
music for you--as Mr. Lagrange says you do?"
"I can't begin to tell you how much I like it," he answered smiling.
"And it doesn't bother you in your work?"
"It helps me," he declared--thinking of that portrait of Mrs. Taine.
"Oh, I am glad, glad!" she cried. "I wanted it to help. It was for that I
"You played to help me?" he asked wonderingly.
She nodded. "I thought it might--if I could get enough of the mountains
into my music, you know."
"And will you dance for me, sometimes too?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I cannot tell about that. You see, I only dance when
I must--when the music, somehow, doesn't seem quite enough. When I--when
I"--she searched for a word, then finished abruptly--"oh, I can't tell you
about it--it's just something you feel--there are no words for it. When I
first come to the mountains,--after living in Fairlands all winter,--I
always dance--the mountains feel so big and strong. And sometimes I dance
in the moonlight--when it feels so soft and light and clean; or in the
twilight--when it's so still, and the air is so--so full of the day that
has come home to rest and sleep; and sometimes when I am away up under the
big pines and the wind, from off the mountain tops, under the sky, sings
through the dark branches."
"But don't you ever dance to please your friends?"
"Oh, no--I don't dance to _please_ any one--only just when it's for
myself--when nothing else will do--when I _must_. Of course, sometimes,
Myra or Brian Oakley or Mrs. Oakley are with me--but they don't matter,
you know. They are so much a part of me that I don't mind."