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The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright

Part 4 out of 7

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"I wonder if you will ever dance for me?"

Again, she shook her head. "I don't think so. How could I? You see, you
are not like anybody that I have ever known."

"But I saw you the other evening, you remember."

"Yes, but I didn't know you were there. If I had known, I wouldn't have

All the while--as she talked--her fingers had been busy with the slender,
willow branches. "And now"--she said, abruptly changing the subject, and
smiling as she spoke--"and now, you must turn back to your work."

"But the light is not right," he protested.

"Never mind, you must pretend that it is," she retorted. "Can't you

To humor her, he obeyed, laughing.

"You may look, now," she said, a minute later.

He turned to see her standing close beside him, holding out a charming
little basket that she had woven of the green willows and decorated with
moss and watercress. In the basket, on the cool, damp moss, and lightly
covered with the cress, lay a half dozen fine rainbow trout.

"How pretty!" he exclaimed. "So that is what you have been doing!"

"They are for you," she said simply.

"For me?" he cried.

She nodded brightly; "For you and Mr. Lagrange. I know you like them
because you said you were fishing when you heard my violin. And I thought
that you wouldn't want to leave your picture, to fish for yourself, so I
took them for you."

The artist concealed his embarrassment with difficulty; and, while
expressing his thanks and appreciation in rather formal words, studied her
face keenly. But she had tendered her gift with a spontaneous naturalness,
an unaffected kindliness, and an innocent disregard of conventionalities,
that would have disarmed a man with much less native gentleness than Aaron

Leaving the basket of trout in his hand, she turned, and swung the empty
creel over her shoulder. Then, putting on her hat, she picked up her rod.

"Oh--are you going?" he said.

"You have finished your work for to-day," she answered

"But let me go with you, a little way."

She shook her head. "No, I don't want you."

"But you will come again?"

"Perhaps--if you won't stop work--but I can't promise--you see I never
know what I am going to do up here in the mountains," she answered
whimsically. "I might go to the top of old 'Berdo' in the morning; or I
might be here, waiting for you, when you come to paint."

He was putting his things in the box--thinking he would persuade her to
let him accompany her a little way; if she saw that he really would paint
no more. When he bent over the box, she was speaking. "I hope you will,"
he answered.

There was no reply.

He straightened up and looked around.

She was gone.

For some time, he stood searching the glade with his eyes, carefully;
listening to catch a sound--a puzzled, baffled look upon his face. Taking
his things, at last, he started up the little path. But before he reached
the old gate, a low laugh caused him to whirl quickly about.

There she stood, beside the spring--a teasing smile on her face. Before he
could command himself, she danced a step or two, with an elfish air, and
slipped away through the green willow wall. Another merry laugh came back
to him and then--the silence of the little glade, and the sound of the
distant waters.

With the basket of fish in his hand, Aaron King went slowly to camp;
where, when Conrad Lagrange saw what the artist carried so carefully,
explanations were in order.

Chapter XVIII

Sibyl Andres and the Butterflies

On the following day, the artist was putting away his things, at the close
of the afternoon's work, when the girl appeared.

The long, slanting bars of sunshine and the deepening shadows marked the
lateness of the hour. As he bent over his paint-box, the man was thinking
with regret that she would not come--that, perhaps, she would never come.
And at the thought that he might not see her again, an odd fear gripped
his heart. His thoughts were interrupted by a low, musical laugh; and he
sprang to his feet, to search the glade with careful eyes.

"Come out," he cried, as though adjuring an invisible spirit. "I know you
are here; come out."

With another laugh, she stepped from behind the trunk of one of the
largest trees, within a few feet of where he stood. As she went toward
him, she carried in her outstretched hands a graceful basket, woven of
sycamore leaves and ferns, and filled with the ripest sweetest
blackberries. She did not speak as she held out her offering; but the man,
looking into her laughing eyes, fancied that there was a meaning and a
purpose in the gift that did not appear upon the surface of her simple

Expressing his pleasure, as he received the dainty basket, he could not
refrain from adding, "But why do you bring me things?"

She answered with that wayward, mocking humor that so often seized her;
"Because I like to. I told you that I always do what I like--up here in
the mountains."

"I hope you always will," he returned, "if your likes are all as delicious
as this one."

With the manner of a child playfully making a mystery yet anxious to have
the secret discussed, she said, "I have one more gift to bring you, yet."

"I knew you meant something by your presents," he cried. "It isn't just
because you want me to have the things you bring."

"Oh, yes it is," she retorted, laughing mischievously at his triumphant
and expectant tone. "If I didn't want you to have the things I
bring--why--I wouldn't bring them, would I?"

"But that isn't all," he insisted. "Tell me--why do you say you have one
_more_ gift to bring?"

She shook her head with a delightful air of mystery "Not until I come
again. When I come again, I will tell you."

"And you will come to-morrow?"

She laughed teasingly at his eagerness. "How can I tell?" she answered. "I
do not know, myself, what I will do to-morrow--when I am up here in the
mountains--when the canyon gates are shut and the world is left outside."
Even as she spoke, her mood changed and the last words were uttered
wistfully, as a captive spirit--that, by nature wild and free, was
permitted, for a brief time only, to go beyond its prison walls--might
have spoken.

The artist--puzzled by her flash-like change of moods, and by her manner
as she spoke of the world beyond the canyon gates--had no words to reply.
As he stood there,--in that little glade where the light fell as in a
quiet cathedral and the air trembled with the deep organ-tones of the
distant waters--holding in his hands the basket of leaves and ferns with
its wild fruit, and looking at the beautiful girl who had brought her
offering with the naturalness of a child of the mountains and the air of a
woodland spirit,--he again felt that the world he had always known was
very far away.

The girl, too, was silent--as though, by some subtle power, she knew his
thoughts and did not wish to interrupt.

So still were they, that a wild bird--darting through the screen of alder
boughs--stopped to swing on a limb above their heads, with a burst of
wild-wood melody. In the arroyo beyond the willow wall, a quail called his
evening call, and was answered by his mate from the top of the bank under
the mistletoe oak. A pair of gray squirrels crept down the gray trunks of
the trees and slipped around the granite boulder to drink at the spring;
then scampered away again--half in frolic, half in fright--as they caught
sight of the man and the maid. As the squirrels disappeared, the girl
laughed--a low laugh of fellowship with the creatures of the
wilderness--in complete understanding of their humor. Then--as though
following the path of a sunbeam--two gorgeously brown and yellow winged
butterflies came flitting through the draperies of virgin's-bower, and
floated in zigzag flight about the glade--now high among the alder boughs;
now low over the tops of the roses and berry-bushes; down to the fragrant
mint at the water's edge; and up again to the tops of the willows, as if
to leave the glade; but only to return again to the vines that covered the
bank, and to the flowers that, here and there, starred the grassy sward.

"Oh!"--cried the girl impulsively, as the beautiful winged creatures
disappeared at last,--"if people could only be like that! It's so hard to
be yourself in the world. Everybody, there, seems trying to be something
they are not. No one dares to be just themselves. Everything, up here, is
so right--so true--so just what it is--and down there, everything tries so
hard to be just what it is not. The world even _sees_ so crooked that it
_can't_ believe when a thing is just what it is."

While watching the butterflies, she had turned away from the artist and,
in following their flight with her eyes, had taken a few light steps that
brought her into the open, grassy center of the glade. With her face
upturned to the opening in the foliage through which the butterflies had
disappeared, she had spoken as if thinking aloud, rather than as
addressing her companion.

Before the artist could reply, the beautiful creatures came floating back
as they had gone. With a low exclamation of delight, the girl watched them
as they circled, now, above her head, in their aerial waltz among the
sunbeams and leafy boughs. Then the man, watching, saw her--unheeding his
presence--stretch her arms upward. For a moment she stood, lightly poised,
and then, with her wide, shining eyes fixed upon those gorgeously winged
spirits whirling in the fragrant air, with her lips parted in smiling
delight, she danced upon the smooth turf of the glade--every step and
movement in perfect harmony with the spirit of care-free abandonment that
marked the movements of the butterflies that danced above her head.
Unmindful of the watching man, as her dainty companions
themselves,--forgetful of his presence,--she yielded to the impulse to
express her emotions in free, rhythmic movement.

Instinctively, Aaron King was silent--standing motionless, as if he feared
to startle her into flight.

Suddenly, as the girl danced--her eyes always upon her winged
companions--the insects floated above the artist's head, and she became
conscious of his presence. Her cheeks flushed and, laughing low,--as she
danced, lightly as a spirit,--she impulsively stretched out her arms to
him, in merry invitation--as though challenging him to join her.

The gesture was as spontaneous and as innocent, in its freedom, as had
been her offering of the gifts from mountain stream and bush. But the
man--lured into forgetfulness of everything save the wild loveliness of
the scene--started toward her. At his movement, a look of bewildered fear
came into her face; but--too startled to control her movements on the
instant, and as though impelled by some hidden power--she moved toward
him--blindly, unconsciously--her eyes wide with that look of questioning
fright. He had almost reached her when, as though by an effort of her
will, she stopped and stood still--gazing into his face--trembling in
every limb. Then, with a low cry, she sank down in a frightened, cowering,
pleading attitude, and buried her crimson face in her hands.

As though some unseen hand checked him, the man halted, and the girl's
cheeks were not more crimson than his own.

A moment he stood, then a step brought him to her side. Putting out his
hand, he touched her upon the shoulder, and was about to speak. But at his
touch, with another cry, she sprang to her feet and, whirling with the
flash-like quickness of a wild thing, vanished into the undergrowth that
walled in the glade.

With a startled exclamation, the man tried to follow calling to her,
reassuring her, begging her to come back. But there was no answer to his
words; nor did he catch a glimpse of her; though once or twice he thought
he heard her in swift flight up the canyon.

All the way to the place where he had first seen her, he followed; but at
the cedar thicket he stopped. For a long time, he stood there; while the
twilight failed and the night came. Slowly,--in the soft darkness with
bowed head, as one humbled and ashamed,--he went back down the canyon to
the little glade, and to the camp.

Chapter XIX

The Three Gifts and Their Meanings

The next day, Aaron King--too distracted to paint--idled all the afternoon
in the glade. But the girl did not come. When it was dark, he returned to
camp; telling himself that she would never come again; that his rude
yielding to the lure of her wild beauty had rightly broken forever the
charm of their intimacy--and he cursed himself--as many a man has
cursed--for that momentary lack of self-control.

But the following afternoon, as the artist worked,--bent upon quickly
finishing his picture of the place that seemed now to reproach him with
its sweet atmosphere of sacred purity,--he heard, as he had heard that
first day, the low music of her voice blending with the music of the
mountain stream. Scarce daring to move, he sat as though absorbed in his
work--listening with all his heart, for some sound of her approach, other
than the melody of her song that grew more and more distinct. At last, he
knew that she was standing just the other side of the willows, beyond the
little spring. He felt her hidden eyes upon him, but dared not look that
way--feeling sure that if he betrayed himself in too eager haste she would
vanish. Bending forward toward his canvas, he made show of giving close
attention to his work and waited.

For some minutes, she remained concealed; singing low, as though to try
him with temptation. Then, all at once,--as the painter, with poised
brush, glanced from his canvas to the scene,--she stood in full view
beside the spring; her graceful, brown-clad figure framed by the willow's
green. Her arms were filled with wild flowers that she had gathered from
the mountainside--from nook and glade and glen.

"If you will not seek me, there is no use to hide," she called, still
holding her place on the other side of the spring, and regarding him
seriously; and the man felt under her words, and saw in her wide, blue
eyes a troubled question.

"I sought you all the way to your home," he said, gently, "but you would
not let me come near."

"I was frightened," she returned, not lowering her eyes but regarding him
steadily with that questioning appeal.

"I am sorry,"--he said,--"won't you forgive me? I will never frighten you
so again. I did not mean to do it."

"Why," she answered, "I have to forgive myself as well as you. You see, I
frightened myself quite as much as you frightened me. I can't feel that
you were really to blame--any more than I. I have tried, but I can't--so I
came back. Only, I--I must never dance for you again, must I?"

The man could not answer.

As though fully reassured, and quite satisfied to take his answer for
granted, she sprang over the tiny stream at her feet, and came to him
across the glade, holding out her arms full of blossoms. "See," she said
with a smile, "I have brought you the last one of the three gifts."
Gracefully, she knelt and placed the flowers on the ground, beside his box
of colors.

Deeply moved by her honesty and by her simple trust in him; and charmed by
the air of quiet, natural dignity with which she spoke of her gifts; the
artist tried to thank her.

"And now," he added, "the meaning--tell me the meaning of your gifts. You
promised--you remember--that you would read the pretty riddle, when you
came again."

She laughed merrily. "And haven't you guessed the meaning?" she said in
her teasing mood.

"How could I?" he retorted. "I was not schooled in your mountains, you
know. Your world up here is still a strange world to me."

Still smiling with the pleasure of her fancy, she replied, "But didn't you
ask me again and again to help you to know the mountains as I know them?"

"Yes," he said, "but you would not promise."

"I did better than promise"--she returned--"I brought you, from the
mountains themselves, their three greatest gifts."

He shook his head, with the air of a backward schoolboy--"Won't you read
the lesson?"

"If you will work while I talk, I will," she answered--amused by the
hopelessness of his manner and tone.

Obediently, he took up his brushes, and turned toward his picture.

Removing her hat, she seated herself on the ground, where she had woven
the willow basket for the fish.

After a moment's silence, she began--timidly, at first, then with
increasing confidence as she found words to express her charming fancy.
"First, you must know, that in all the wild life of the mountains there is
no creature so strong--in proportion to its size and weight, I mean--as
the trout that lives in the mountain streams. Its home is in the icy
torrents that are fed by the snows of the highest peaks and canyons. It
lives, literally, in the innermost heart and life of the hills. It seeks
its food at the foot of the falls, where the water boils in fierce fury;
where the current swirls and leaps among the boulders; and where the
stream rushes with all its might down the rocky channels. With its
muscles, fine as tempered steel, it forces its way against the strength of
the stream--conquering even the fifty-foot downward pour of a cataract.
Its strength is a silent strength. It has no voice other than the voice of
its own beautiful self. And all its gleaming colors you may see, in the
morning and in the evening, tinting the mighty heads and shoulders and
sides of the hills themselves. And so, the first gift that I brought
you--fresh from the mountain's heart--was the gift of the mountain's

"The second gift was gathered from bushes that were never planted by the
hand of man. They grow as free and untamed as the rains that water them,
and the earth that feeds them, and the sunshine that sweetens hem. In them
is the flavor of mountain mists, and low hung clouds, and shining dew; the
odor of moist leaf-mould, and unimpoverished soil; the pleasant tang of
the sunshine; and the softer sweetness of the shady nooks where they grow.
In the second gift, I brought you the purity, and the flavor of the

"And to-day"--she finished simply--"to-day I have brought you the beauty
of the hills."

"You have brought me more than the strength and purity and beauty of the
mountains," exclaimed the painter. "You have brought me their mystery."

She looked at him questioningly.

"In your own beautiful self," he continued sincerely "you have brought me
the mystery of these hills. You are wonderful! I have never known any one
like you."

She was wholly unconscious of the compliment--if indeed, he meant it as
such. "I suppose I must be different," she returned with just a touch, of
sadness in her voice. "You see I have never been taught like other girls.
I know nothing at all of the world where you live--except what Myra has
told me." Then, as if to change the subject, she asked shyly, "Would you
care for my music to-day?"

He assented eagerly--thinking she meant to sing. But, rising, she crossed
the glade, and disappeared behind the willows--returning, a moment later,
with her violin.

In answer to his exclamation of pleased surprise, she said smiling, "I
brought my violin because I thought, if you would let me play, the music
would perhaps help us both to forget what--what happened when I danced."

Standing by the gray boulder, with her face up turned to the mountains,
she placed the instrument under her chin and drew the bow softly across
the strings.

For an hour or more she played. Then, as Czar trotted sedately into the
glade, she lowered her instrument and, with a smile, called merrily to
Conrad Lagrange who, attracted by the music, was standing at the gate on
the bank--from the artist's position invisible; "Come down, good
genie,--come down! You have been watching there quite long enough. Come,
instantly; or with my magic I'll turn you into a fantastic, dancing bug,
such as those that straddle there upon the waters of the spring, or else
into a fat pollywog that wiggles in the black ooze among the dead leaves
and rotting bits of wood."

With a quick movement, she tucked her violin under her chin and played a
few measures of the worst sort of ragtime, in perfect imitation of a
popular performer. The effect, following the music she had just been
making, was grotesque and horrible.

"Mercy, mercy!" cried the man at the gate. "I beg! I beg! Do not, I pray,
good nymph, torture me with thy dreadful power. I swear that I will obey
thy every wish and whim."

Pointing with her bow--as with a wand--to the boulder, she sternly
commanded, "Come, then, and sit here upon this rock; and give to me an
account of all that thou hast done since I left thee in the rose garden or
I will split thy ears and stretch thy soul upon a torture rack of hideous

She lifted her violin again, threateningly. The novelist came down the
path, on a run, to seat himself upon the gray boulder.

The artist shouted with laughter. But the novelist and the girl paid no
heed to his unseemly merriment.

"Speak,"--she commanded, waving her wand,--"what hast thou done?"

"Did I not obey thy will and, under such terms as I could procure, open
for thee the treasure room of thy desire?" growled the man on the rock.

"And still," she retorted, "when I made myself subject to those terms, and
obediently looked not upon the hidden mystery--still the room of my
desires became a trap betraying me into rude hands from which I narrowly
escaped. And you--you fled the scene of your wrong-doing, without so much
as by-your-leave, and for these long weeks have wandered, irresponsible,
among my hills. Did you not say that my home was under these glowing
peaks, and in the purple shadows of these canyons? Did you think that I
would not find you here, and charm you again within reach of my power?"

"And what is thy will, good spirit?"--he asked, humbly--"tell me thy will
and it shall be done--if thou wilt but make music _only_ upon the
instrument that is in thy hand."

With a laugh, she ended the play, saying, "My will is that you and Mr.
King come, to-morrow evening, for supper with Miss Willard and me. Brian
Oakley and Mrs. Oakley will be there. I want you too."

The men looked at each other in doubt.

"Really, Miss Andres," said the artist, "we--"

The girl interrupted with one of her flash-like changes. "I have invited
you. You _must_ come. I shall expect you." And before either of the men
could speak again, she sprang lightly across the little stream, and
disappeared through the willow wall.

"Well, I'll be--" The novelist checked himself, solemnly--staring blankly
at the spot where she had disappeared.

The artist laughed.

"What do you think of it?" demanded Conrad Lagrange, turning to his

Aaron King, packing up his things, answered, "I think we'd better go."

Which opinion was concurred in by Brian Oakley who dropped in on them that

Chapter XX

Myra's Prayer and the Ranger's Warning

That same afternoon, while Sibyl Andres was making music for Aaron King in
the spring glade, Brian Oakley, on his way down the canyon, stopped at the
old place where Myra Willard and the girl were living. Riding into the
yard that was fenced only by the wild growth, he was greeted cordially by
the woman with the disfigured face, who was seated on the porch.

"Howdy, Myra," he called in return, as he swung from the saddle; and
leaving the chestnut to roam at will, he went to the porch, his spurs
clinking softly over the short, thick grass.

"Where's Sibyl?" he asked, seating himself on the top step.

"I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Oakley," the woman answered, smiling. "You
really didn't expect me to, did you?"

The Ranger laughed. "Did she take gun, basket, rod or violin? If I know
whether she's gone shooting berrying, fishing or fiddling, it may give me
a clue--or did she take all four?"

The woman watched him closely. "She took only her violin. She went
sometime after lunch--down the canyon, I think. Do you wish particularly
to see her, Mr. Oakley?"

It was evident to the woman that the officer was relieved. "Oh, no; she
wouldn't be going far with her violin. If she went down the canyon, it's
all right anyway. But I stopped in to tell the girl that she must be
careful, for a while. There's an escaped convict ranging somewhere in my
district. I received the word this morning, and have been up around Lone
Cabin and Burnt Pine and the head of Clear Creek to see if I could start
anything. I didn't find any signs, but the information is reliable. Tell
Sibyl that I say she must not go out without her gun--that if I catch her
wandering around unarmed, I'll pack her off back to civilization, pronto."

"I'll tell her," said Myra Willard, "and I'll help her to remember. It
would be better, I suppose, if she stayed at home; but that seems so

"She'll be all right if she has her gun," asserted the Ranger,
confidently. "I'd back the girl against anything I ever met up with--when
she has her artillery. By the way, Myra, have your neighbors below called

"No--at least, not while I have been at home. I have been berrying, two or
three times. They might have come while I was out."

"Has Sibyl met them yet?" came the next question.

"She has not mentioned it, if she has."

"H-m-m," mused Brian Oakley.

The woman's love for the girl prompted her to quick suspicion of the
Ranger's manner.

"What is it, Mr. Oakley?" she asked. "Has the child been indiscreet? Has
she done anything wrong? Has she been with those men?"

"She has called upon one of them several times," returned Brian, smiling.
"Mr. King is painting that little glade by the old spring at the foot of
the bank, you know, and I guess she stumbled onto him. The place is one of
her favorite spots. But bless your heart, Myra, there's no harm in it. It
would be natural for her to get interested in any one making a picture of
a place she loves as she does that old spring glade. She has spent days at
a time there--ever since she was big enough to go that far from home."

"It's strange that she has not mentioned it to me," said the
woman--troubled in spite of the Ranger's reassuring words.

The man directed his attention suddenly to his horse; "Max! You let
Sibyl's roses alone." The animal turned his head questioningly toward his
master. "Back!" said the Ranger, "back!" At his word, the chestnut
promptly backed across the yard until the officer called, "That will do,"
when he halted, and, with an impatient toss of his head, again looked
toward the porch, inquiringly. "You are all right now," said the man.
Whereupon the horse began contentedly cropping the grass.

"I met Mr. King, accidentally, once, at the depot in Fairlands," continued
the woman with the disfigured face. "He impressed me, then, as being a
genuinely good man--a true gentleman. But, judging from his books, Conrad
Lagrange is not a man I would wish Sibyl to meet. I have wondered at the
artist's friendship with him."

"I tell you, Myra, Lagrange is all right," said Brian Oakley, stoutly.
"He's odd and eccentric and rough spoken sometimes; but he's not at all
what you would think him from the stuff he writes. He's a true man at
heart, and you needn't worry about Sibyl getting anything but good from an
acquaintance with him. As for King--well--Conrad Lagrange vouches for him.
If you knew Lagrange, you'd understand what that means. He and the young
fellow's mother grew up together. He swears the lad is right; and, from
what I've seen of him, I believe it. It doesn't follow, though, that you
don't need to keep your eyes open. The girl is as innocent as a
child--though she is a woman--and--well--accidents have happened, you
know." As he spoke he glanced unconsciously at the scars that disfigured
the naturally beautiful face of the woman.

Myra Willard blushed as she answered sadly, "Yes, I know that accidents
have happened. I will talk with Sibyl; and will you not speak to her too?
She loves you so, and is always guided by your wishes. A little word or
two from you would be an added safeguard."

"Sure I'll talk to her," said the Ranger, heartily--rising and whistling
to the chestnut. "But look here, Myra,"--he said, pausing with his foot in
the stirrup,--"the girl must have her head, you know. We don't want to put
her in the notion that every man in the world is a villain laying for a
chance to do her harm. There _are_ clean fellows--a few--and it will do
Sibyl good to meet that kind." He swung himself lightly into the saddle.

The woman smiled; "Sibyl could not think that all men are evil, after
knowing her father and you, Mr. Oakley."

The Ranger laughed as he turned Max toward the opening in the cedar
thicket. "Will was what God and Nelly made him, Myra; and I--if I'm fairly
decent it's because Mary took me in hand in time. Men are mostly what you
women make 'em, anyway, I reckon."

"Don't forget that you and Mrs. Oakley are coming for supper to-morrow,"
she called after him.

"No danger of our forgetting that," he answered. "Adios!" And the chestnut
loped easily out of the yard.

Myra Willard kept her place on the porch until the sound of the horse's
galloping feet died away down the canyon. But, as she listened to the
vanishing sound of the Ranger's going, her eyes were looking far away--as
though his words had aroused in her heart memories of days long past. When
the last echo had lost itself in the thin mountain air, she went into the

Standing before the small mirror that served--in the rude, almost
camp-like furnishings of the house--for both herself and Sibyl, she
studied the face reflected there--turning her head slowly, as if comparing
the beautiful unmarked side with the other that was so hideously
disfigured. For some time she stood there, unflinchingly giving herself to
the torture of this contemplation of her ruined loveliness; drinking to
its bitter dregs the sorrowful cup of her secret memories; until, as
though she could bear no more, she drew back--her eyes wide with pain and
horror, her marred features twisted grotesquely in an agony of mental
suffering. With a pitiful moan she sank upon her knees in prayer.

In the earnestness of her spirit--out of the deep devotion of her love--as
she prayed God for wisdom to guide the girl entrusted to her care, she
spoke aloud. "Let me not rob her, dear Christ, of love; but help me to
help her love aright. Help me, that in my fear for her I do not turn her
heart against her mate when he shall come. Help me, that I do not so fill
her pure mind with doubt and distrust of all men that she will look for
evil, only. Help me, that I do not teach her to associate love wholly with
that which is base and untrue. Grant, O God, that her beautiful life may
not be marred by a love that is unworthy."

As the woman with the disfigured face rose from her knees, she heard the
voice of Sibyl, who was coming up the old road toward the cedars--singing
as she came.

When Sibyl entered the house, a moment later, Myra Willard, still
agitated, was bathing her face. The girl, seeing, checked the song upon
her lips; and going to the woman who in everything but the ties of blood
was mother to her, sought to discover the reason for her troubled manner,
and tried to soothe her with loving words.

The woman held the girl close in her arms and looked into the lovely,
winsome face that was so unmarred by vicious thoughts of the world's

"Dear child, do you not sometimes hate the sight of my ugliness?" she
said. "It seems to me, you must."

With her arms about her companion's neck, Sibyl pressed her pure, young
lips to those disfiguring scars, in an impulsive kiss. "Foolish Myra," she
cried, "you know I love you too well to see anything but your own
beautiful self behind the scars. To me, your face is all like this"--and
she softly kissed, in turn, the woman's unmarred cheek. "Whatever made the
marks, I know that they are not dishonorable. So I never think of them at
all, but see only the beautiful side--which is really you, you know."

"No,"--answered Myra Willard, gently,--"my scars are not dishonorable. But
the world does not see with your pure eyes, dear child. The world sees
only the ugly, disfigured side of my face. It never looks at the other
side. And listen, dear heart, so the world often sees dishonor where there
is no dishonor It sees evil in many things where there is only good."

"Yes," returned the girl, "but you have never taught me to see with the
eyes of the world. So, to me, what the world sees, does not matter."

"Pray that it may never matter, child," answered the woman with the
disfigured face, earnestly.

Then, as they went out to the porch, she asked, "Did you meet Mr. Oakley
as you were coming home?"

Sibyl laughed and colored with a confusion that was new to her, as she
answered, "Yes, I did--and he scolded me."

"About your going unarmed?"

"No,--but he told me about that too. I don't see why, whenever a poor
criminal escapes, he always comes into _our_ mountains. I don't like to
'pack a gun'--unless I'm hunting. But Brian Oakley didn't scold me for
that, though--he knows I always do as he says. He scolded because I hadn't
told you about my going to see Mr. King, in the spring glade." She
laughed, conscious of the color that was in her cheeks. "I told him it
didn't matter whether I told you or not, because he always knows every
single move I make, anyway."

"Why _didn't_ you tell me, dear?" asked the woman. "You never kept
anything from me, before--I'm sure."

"Why dearest," the girl answered frankly, "I don't know, myself, why I
didn't tell you"--which, Myra Willard knew, was the exact truth.

Then Sibyl told her foster-mother everything about her acquaintance with
the artist and Conrad Lagrange--from the time she first watched the
painter, from the arbor in the rose garden, where she met the novelist;
until that afternoon, when she had invited them to supper, the next day.
Only of her dancing before the artist, the girl did not tell.

Later in the evening, Sibyl--saying that she would sing Myra to
sleep--took her violin to the porch, outside the window; and in the dusk
made soft music until the woman's troubled heart was calmed. When the moon
came up from behind the Galenas, across the canyon, the girl tiptoed into
the house, to bend over the sleeping woman, in tender solicitude. With
that mother tenderness belonging to all true women, she stooped and
softly kissed the disfigured face upon the pillow. At the touch, Myra
Willard stirred uneasily; and the girl--careful to make no

On the porch, she again took up her violin as if to play; but, instead,
sat motionless--her face turned down the canyon--her eyes looking far
away. Then, quickly, she put aside the instrument, and--as though with
sudden yielding to some inner impulse--slipped out into the grassy yard.
And there, in the moon's white light,--with only the mountains, the trees,
and the flowers to see,--she danced, again, as she had danced before the
artist in the glade--with her face turned down the canyon, and her arms
outstretched, longingly, toward the camp in the sycamores back of the old

Suddenly, from the room where Myra Willard slept, came that shuddering,
terror-stricken cry.

The girl, fleet-footed as a deer, ran into the house. Kneeling, she put
her strong young arms about the cowering, trembling form on the bed.
"There, there, dear, it's all right."

The woman of the disfigured face caught Sibyl's hand, impulsively.
"I--I--was dreaming again," she whispered, "and--and this time--O
Sibyl--this time, I dreamed that it was _you_."

Chapter XXI

The Last Climb

That first visit of Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange to the old home of
Sibyl Andres was the beginning of a delightful comradeship.

Often, in the evening, the two men, with Czar, went to spend an hour in
friendly intercourse with their neighbors up the canyon. Always, they were
welcomed by Myra Willard with a quiet dignity; while Sibyl was frankly
delighted to have them come. Always, they were invited with genuine
hospitality to "come again." Frequently, Brian Oakley and perhaps Mrs.
Oakley would be there when they arrived; or the Ranger would come riding
into the yard before they left. At times, the canyon's mountain wall
echoed the laughter of the little company as Sibyl and the novelist played
their fantastical game of words; or again, the older people would listen
to the blending voices of the artist and the girl as, in the quiet hush of
the evening, they sang together to Myra Willard's accompaniment on the
violin; or, perhaps, Sibyl, with her face upturned to the mountain tops,
would make for her chosen friends the music of the hills.

Not infrequently, too, the girl would call at the camp in the sycamore
grove--sometimes riding with the Ranger, sometimes alone; or they would
hear her merry hail from the gate the other side of the orchard as she
passed by. And sometimes, in the morning, she would appear--equipped with
rod or gun or basket--to frankly challenge Aaron King to some long ramble
in the hills.

So the days for the young man at the beginning of his life work, and for
the young woman at the beginning of her womanhood, passed. Up and down the
canyon, along the boulder-strewn bed of the roaring Clear Creek, from the
Ranger Station to the falls; in the quiet glades under the alders hung
with virgin's-bower and wild grape; beneath the live-oaks on the
mountains' flanks or shoulders; in dimly lighted, cedar-sheltered gulches,
among tall brakes and lilies; or high up on the canyon walls under the
dark and fragrant pines--over all the paths and trails familiar to her
girlhood she led him--showing him every nook and glade and glen--teaching
him to know, as he had asked, the mountains that she herself so loved.

The time came, at last, when the two men must return to Fairlands. With
Mr. and Mrs. Oakley they were spending the evening at Sibyl's home when
Conrad Lagrange announced that they would leave the mountains, two days

"Then,"--said the girl, impulsively,--"Mr. King and I are going for one
last good-by climb to-morrow. Aren't we?" she concluded--turning to the

Aaron King laughed as he answered, "We certainly seem to be headed that
way. Where are we going?"

"We will start early and come back late"--she returned--"which really is
all that any one ought to know about a climb that is just for the climb.
And listen--no rod, no gun, no sketch-book. I'll fix a lunch."

"Watch out for my convict," warned the Ranger. "He must be getting mighty
hungry, by now."

Early in the morning, they set out. Crossing the canyon, they climbed the
Oak Knoll trail--down which the artist and Conrad Lagrange had been led by
the uncanny wisdom of Croesus, a few weeks before--to the pipe-line. Where
the path from below leads into the pipe-line trail, under the live-oaks,
on a shelf cut in the comparatively easy slope of the mountain's shoulder,
they paused for a look over the narrow valley that lay a thousand feet
below. Across the wide, gray, boulder-strewn wash of the mountain
torrent's way, with the gleaming thread of tumbling Clear Creek in its
center, they could see the white dots that marked the camp back of the old
orchard; and, farther up the stream, could distinguish the little opening
with the cedar thicket and the giant sycamores that marked the spot where
Sibyl was born.

Aaron King, looking at the girl, recalled that day when he and Conrad
Lagrange, in a spirit of venturesome fun, had left the choice of trails to
the burro. "Good, old Croesus!" he said smiling.

She knew the story of how they had been guided to their camping place, and
laughed in return, as she answered, "He's a dear old burro, is Croesus,
and worthy of a better name."

"Plutus would be better," suggested the artist.

"Because a Greek God is better than a Lydian King?" she asked curiously.

"Wasn't Plutus the giver of wealth?" he returned.


"Well, and wasn't he forced by Zeus to distribute his gifts without regard
to the characters of the recipients?"

She laughed merrily. "Plutus or Croesus--I'm glad he chose the Oak Knoll

"And so am I," answered the man, earnestly.

Leisurely, they followed the trail that is hung--narrow thread-like
path--high upon the mountain wall, invisible from the floor of the canyon
below. At a point where the trail turns to round the inward curve of one
of the small side canyons--where the pines grow dark and tall--some
thoughtful hand had laid a small pipe from the large conduit tunnel, under
the trail, to a barrel fixed on the mountainside below the little path.
Here they stopped again and, while they loitered, filled a small canteen
with the cold, clear water from the mountain's heart. Farther on, where
the pipe-line again rounds the inward curve of the wall between two
mountain spurs, they turned aside to follow the Government trail that
leads to the fire-break on the summit of the Galenas and then down into
the valley on the other side. At the gap where the Galena trail crosses
the fire-break, they again turned aside to make their leisure way along
the broad, brush-cleared break that lies in many a fold and curve and kink
like a great ribbon on the thin top of the ridge. With every step, now,
they were climbing. Midday found them standing by a huge rock at the edge
of a clump of pines on one of the higher points of the western end of the
range. Here they would have their lunch.

As they sat in the lee of the great rock, with the wind that sweeps the
mountain tops singing in the pines above their heads, they looked directly
down upon the wide Galena Valley and far across to the spurs and slopes of
the San Jacintos beyond. Sibyl's keen eyes--mountain-trained from
childhood--marked a railway train crawling down the grade from San
Gorgonio Pass toward the distant ocean. She tried in vain to point it out
to her companion. But the city eyes of the man could not find the tiny
speck in the vast landscape that lay within the range of their vision. The
artist looked at his watch. The train was the Golden State Limited that
had brought him from the far away East, a few months before.

Aaron King remembered how, from the platform of the observation car, he
had looked up at the mountains from which he now looked down. He
remembered too, the woman into whose eyes he had, for the first time,
looked that day. Turning his face to the west, he could distinguish under
the haze of the distance the dark squares of the orange groves of
Fairlands. Before three days had passed he would be in his studio home
again. And the woman of the observation car platform--From distant
Fairlands, the man turned his eyes to the winsome face of his girl comrade
on the mountain top.

"Please"--she said, meeting his serious gaze with a smile of frank
fellowship--"please, what have I done?"

Smiling, he answered gravely, "I don't exactly know--but you have done

"You look so serious. I'm sure it must be pretty bad. Can't you think what
it is?"

He laughed. "I was thinking about down there"--he pointed into the haze of
the distant valley to the west.

"Don't," she returned, "let's think about up here"--she waved her hand
toward the high crest of the San Bernardinos, and the mountain peaks about

"Will you let me paint your portrait--when we get back to the orange
groves?" he asked.

"I'm sure I don't know," she returned. "Why do you want to paint me? I'm
nobody, you know--but just me."

"That's the reason I want to paint you," he answered.

"What's the reason?"

"Because you are you."

"But a portrait of me would not help you on your road to fame," she

He flinched. "Perhaps," he said, "that's partly why I want to do it."

"Because it won't help you?"

"Because it won't help me on the road to fame. You _will_ pose for me,
won't you?"

"I'm sure I cannot say"--she answered--"perhaps--please don't let's talk
about it."

"Why not?" he asked curiously.

"Because"--she answered seriously--"we have been such good friends up here
in the mountains; such--such comrades. Up here in the hills, with the
canyon gates shut against the world that I don't know, you are like--like
Brian Oakley--and like my father used to be--and down there"--she

"Yes," he said, "and down there I will be what?"

"I don't know," she answered wistfully, "but sometimes I can see you going
on and on and on toward fame and the rewards it will bring you and you
seem to get farther and farther and farther away from--from the mountains
and our friendship; until you are so far away that I can't see you any
more at all. I don't like to lose my mountain friends, you know."

He smiled. "But no matter how famous I might become--no matter what fame
might bring me--I could not forget you and your mountains."

"I would not want you to remember me," she answered "if you were famous.
That is--I mean"--she added hesitatingly--"if you were famous just because
you _wanted_ to be. But I know you could never forget the mountains. And
that would be the trouble; don't you see? If you _could_ forget, it would
not matter. Ask Mr. Lagrange, he knows."

For some time Aaron King sat, without speaking, looking about at the world
that was so far from that other world--the world he had always known. The
girl, too,--seeming to understand the thoughts that he himself, perhaps,
could not have expressed,--was silent.

Then he said slowly, "I don't think that I care for fame as I did before
you taught me to know the mountains. It doesn't, somehow, now, seem to
matter so much. It's the _work_ that really matters--after all--isn't it?"

And Sibyl Andres, smiling, answered, "Yes, it's the work that really
matters. I'm sure that _must_ be so."

In the afternoon, they went on, still following the fire-break, down to
where it is intersected by the pipe-line a mile from the reservoir on the
hill above the power-house; then back to Oak Knoll, again on the pipe-line
trail all the way--a beautiful and never-to-be-forgotten walk.

The sun was just touching the tops of the western mountains when they
started down Oak Knoll. The canyon below, already, lay in the shadow. When
they reached the foot of the trail, it was twilight. Across the road, by a
small streamlet--a tributary to Clear Creek--a party of huntsmen were
making ready to spend the night. The voices of the men came clearly
through the gathering gloom. Under the trees, they could see the
camp-fire's ruddy gleam. They did not notice the man who was standing,
half hidden, in the bushes beside the road, near the spot where the trail
opens into it. Silently, the man watched them as they turned up the road
which they would follow a little way before crossing the canyon to Sibyl's
home. Fifty yards farther on, they met Brian Oakley.

"Howdy, you two," called the Ranger, cheerily--without stopping his horse.
"Rather late to-night, ain't you?"

"We'll be there by dark," called the artist And the Ranger passed on.

At sound of the mountaineer's voice, the man in the bushes drew quickly
back. The officer's trained eyes caught the movement in the brush, and he
leaned forward in the saddle.

A moment later, the man reappeared in the road, farther down, around the
bend. As the Ranger approached, he was hailed by a boisterous, "Hello,
Brian! better stop and have a bite."

"How do you do, Mr. Rutlidge?" came the officer's greeting, as he reined
in his horse. "When did you land in the hills?"'

"This afternoon," answered the other. "We're just making camp. Come and
meet the fellows. You know some of them."

"Thanks, not to-night,"--returned Brian Oakley,--"deer hunt, I suppose."

"Yes--thought we would be in good time for the opening of the season. By
the way, do you happen to know where Lagrange and that artist friend of
his are camped?"

"In that bunch of sycamores back of the old orchard down there," answered
the Ranger, watching the man's face keenly. "I just passed Mr. King, up
the road a piece."

"That so? I didn't see him go by," returned the other. "I think I'll run
over and say 'hello' to Lagrange in the morning. We are only going as far
as Burnt Pine to-morrow, anyway."

"Keep your eyes open for an escaped convict," said the officer, casually.
"There's one ranging somewhere in here--came in about a month ago. He's
likely to clean out your camp. So long."

"Perhaps we'll take him in for you," laughed the other. "Good night." He
turned toward the camp-fire under the trees, as the officer rode away.

"Now what in hell did that fellow want to lie to me like that for," said
Brian Oakley to himself. "He must have seen King and Sibyl as they came
down the trail. Max, old boy, when a man lies deliberately, without any
apparent reason, you want to watch him."

Chapter XXII

Shadows of Coming Events

Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange were idling in their camp, after breakfast
the next morning, when Czar turned his head, quickly, in a listening
attitude. With a low growl that signified disapproval, he moved forward a
step or two and stood stiffly erect, gazing toward the lower end of the

"Some one coming, Czar?" asked the artist.

The dog answered with another growl, while the hair on his neck bristled
in anger.

"Some one we don't like, heh!" commented the novelist. "Or"--he added as
if musing upon the animal's instinct--"some one we ought not to like."

A bark from Czar greeted James Rutlidge who at that moment appeared at the
foot of the slope leading up to their camp.

The two men--remembering the occasion of their visitor's last call at
their home in Fairlands, when he had seen Sibyl in the studio--received
the man with courtesy, but with little warmth. Czar continued to manifest
his sentiments until rebuked by his master. The coolness of the reception,
however, in no way disconcerted James Rutlidge; who, on his part, rather
overdid his assumption of pleasure at meeting them again.

Explaining that he had come with a party of friends on a hunting trip, he
told them how he had met Brian Oakley, and so had learned of their camp
hidden behind the old orchard. The rest of his party, he said, had gone on
up the canyon. They would stop at Burnt Pine on Laurel Creek, where he
could easily join them before night. He could not think, he declared, of
passing so near without greeting his friends.

"You two certainly are expert when it comes to finding snug,
out-of-the-way quarters," he commented, searching the camp and the
immediate surroundings with a careful and, ostensibly, an appreciative
eye. "A thousand people might pass this old, deserted place without ever
dreaming that you were so ideally hidden back here."

As he finished speaking, his roving eye came to rest upon a pair of gloves
that Sibyl--the last time she had called--had carelessly left lying upon a
stump close by a giant sycamore where, in camp fashion, the rods and
creels and guns were kept. The artist had intended to return the gloves
the day before, together with a book of trout-flies which the girl had
also forgotten; but, in his eagerness for the day's outing, he had gone
off without them.

The observing Conrad Lagrange did not fail to note that James Rutlidge had
seen the telltale gloves. Fixing his peculiar eyes upon the visitor, he
asked abruptly, with polite but purposeful interest, after the health of
Mr. and Mrs. Taine and Louise.

The faint shadow of a suggestive smile that crossed the heavy features of
James Rutlidge, as he turned his gaze from the gloves to meet the look of
the novelist was maddening.

"The old boy is steadily going down," he said without feeling. "The
doctors tell me that he can't last through the winter. It'll be a relief
to everybody when he goes. Mrs. Taine is well and beautiful, as
always--remarkable how she keeps up appearances, considering her husband's
serious condition. Louise is quite as usual. They will all be back in
Fairlands in another month. They sent regards to you both--in case I
should run across you."'

The two men made the usual conventional replies, adding that they were
returning to Fairlands the next day.

"So soon?" exclaimed their visitor, with another meaning smile. "I don't
see how you can think of leaving your really delightful retreat. I
understand you have such charming neighbors too. Perhaps though, they are
also returning to the orange groves and roses."

Aaron King's face flushed hotly, and he was about to reply with vigor to
the sneering words, when Conrad Lagrange silenced him with a quick look.
Ignoring the reference to their neighbors, the novelist replied suavely
that they felt they must return to civilization as some matters in
connection with the new edition of his last novel demanded his attention,
and the artist wished to get back to his studio and to his work.

"Really," urged Rutlidge, mockingly, "you ought not to go down now. The
deer season opens in two days. Why not join our party for a hunt? We would
be delighted to have you."

They were coolly thanking him for the invitation,--that, from the tone in
which it was given, was so evidently not meant,--when Czar, with a joyful
bark, dashed away through the grove. A moment, and a clear, girlish voice
called from among the trees that bordered the cienaga, "Whoo-ee." It was
the signal that Sibyl always gave when she approached their camp.

James Rutlidge broke into a low laugh while Sibyl's friends looked at each
other in angry consternation as the girl, following her hail and
accompanied by the delighted dog, appeared in full view; her fishing-rod
in hand, her creel swung over her shoulder.

The girl's embarrassment, when, too late, she saw and recognized their
visitor, was pitiful. As she came slowly forward, too confused to retreat,
Rutlidge started to laugh again, but Aaron King, with an emphasis that
checked the man's mirth, said in a low tone, "Stop that! Be careful!"

As he spoke, the artist arose and with Conrad Lagrange went forward to
greet Sibyl in--as nearly as they could--their customary manner.

Formally, Rutlidge was presented to the girl; and, under the threatening
eyes of the painter, greeted her with no hint of rudeness in his voice or
manner; saying courteously, with a smile, "I have had the pleasure of Miss
Andres' acquaintance for--let me see--three years now, is it not?" he
appealed to her directly.

"It was three years ago that I first saw you, sir," she returned coolly.

"It was my first trip into the mountains, I remember," said Rutlidge,
easily. "I met you at Brian Oakley's home."

Without replying, she turned to Aaron King appealingly. "I--I left my
gloves and fly-book. I was going fishing and called to get them."

The artist gave her the articles with a word of regret for having so
carelessly forgotten to return them to her. With a simple "good-by" to her
two friends but without even a glance toward their caller, she went back
up the canyon, in the direction from which she had come.

When the girl had disappeared among the trees, James Rutlidge said, with
his meaning smile, "Really, I owe you an apology for dropping in so
unexpectedly. I--"

Conrad Lagrange interrupted him, curtly. "No apology is due, sir."

"No?" returned Rutlidge, with a rising inflection and a drawling note in
his voice that was almost too much for the others. "I really must be
going, anyway," he continued. "My party will be some distance ahead. Sure
you wouldn't care to join us?"

"Thanks! Sorry! but we cannot this time. Good of you to ask us," came from
Aaron King and the novelist.

"Can't say that I blame you," their caller returned. "The fishing used to
be fine in this neighborhood. You must have had some delightful sport.
Don't blame you in the least for not joining our stag party. Delightful
young woman, that Miss Andres. Charming companion--either in the mountains
or in civilization Good-by--see you in Fairlands, later."

When he was out of hearing the two men relieved their feelings in language
that perhaps it would be better not to put in print.

"And the worst of it is," remarked the novelist, "it's so damned dangerous
to deny something that does not exist or make explanations in answer to
charges that are not put into words."

"I could scarcely refrain from kicking the beast down the hill," said
Aaron King, savagely.

"Which"--the other returned--"would have complicated matters exceedingly,
and would have accomplished nothing at all. For the girl's sake, store
your wrath against the day of judgment which, if I read the signs aright,
is sure to come."

* * * * *

When Sibyl Andres went down the canyon to the camp in the sycamores, that
morning, the world, to her, was very bright. Her heart sang with joyous
freedom amid the scenes that she so loved. Care-free and happy, as when,
in the days of her girlhood, she had gone to visit the spring glade, she
still was conscious of a deeper joy than in her girlhood she had ever

When she returned again up the canyon, all the brightness of her day was
gone. Her heart was heavy with foreboding fear. She was oppressed with a
dread of some impending evil which she could not understand. At every
sound in the mountain wild-wood, she started. Time and again, as if
expecting pursuit, she looked over her shoulder--poised like a creature of
the woods ready for instant panic-stricken flight. So, without pausing to
cast for trout, or even to go down to the stream, she returned home; where
Myra Willard, seeing her come so early and empty handed, wondered. But to
the woman's question, the girl only answered that she had changed her
mind--that, after recovering her gloves and fly-book at the camp of their
friends, she had decided to come home. The woman with the disfigured face,
knowing that Aaron King was leaving the hills the next day, thought that
she understood the girl's mood, and wisely made no comment.

The artist and Conrad Lagrange went to spend their last evening in the
hills with their friends. Brian Oakley, too, dropped in. But neither of
the three men mentioned the name of James Rutlidge in the presence of the
women; while Sibyl was, apparently, again her own bright and happy
self--carrying on a fanciful play of words with the novelist, singing with
the artist, and making music for them all with her violin. But before the
evening was over, Conrad Lagrange found an opportunity to tell the Ranger
of the incident of the morning, and of the construction that James
Rutlidge had evidently put upon Sibyl's call at the camp. Brian
Oakley,--thinking of the night before, and how the man must have seen the
artist and the girl coming down the Oak Knoll trail in the
twilight,--swore softly under his breath.

Chapter XXIII

Outside the Canyon Gates Again

Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange determined to go back from the mountains,
the way they had come. Said the novelist, "It is as unseemly to rush
pell-mell from an audience with the gods as it is to enter their presence

To which the artist answered, laughing, "Even criminals under sentence
have, at least, the privilege of going to their prisons reluctantly."

So they went down from the mountains, reverently and reluctantly.

Yee Kee, with the more elaborate equipment of the camp, was sent on ahead
by wagon. The two men, with Croesus packed for a one night halt, and Czar,
would follow. When all was ready, and they could neither of them invent
any more excuses for lingering, Conrad Lagrange gave the word to the burro
and they set out--down the little slope of grassy land; across the tiny
stream from the cienaga; around the lower end of the old orchard, by the
ancient weed-grown road--even Czar went slowly, with low-hung head, as if
regretful at leaving the mountains that he, too, in his dog way, loved.

At the gate, Aaron King asked the novelist to go on, saying that he would
soon overtake him. It was possible, he said, that he might have left
something in the spring glade. He thought he had better make sure. Conrad
Lagrange, assenting, went through the gate and down the road, with the
four-footed members of the party; and Czar must have thought that there
was something very funny about old Croesus that morning, from the way his
master laughed; when they were safely around the first turn.

There was, of course, no material thing in the spring glade that the
artist wanted. _He_ knew that--quite as well as his laughing friend. Under
the mistletoe oak, at the top of the bank, he paused, hesitating--as one
will often pause when about to enter a sacred building. Softly, he pushed
open the old gate, as he might have pushed open the door of a church.
Slowly, reverently, he went down the path; baring his head as he went. He
did not search for anything that he might have left. He simply stood for a
few minutes under the gray-trunked alders that were so marked by the
loving hands of long ago men and maidens--beside the mint bordered spring
with the scattered stones of that old foundation--where, through the
screen of boughs and vines and virgin's-bower the sunlight fell as through
the traceries of a cathedral window, and the low, deep tones of the
mountain waters came like the music of a great organ.

It is likely that Aaron King, himself, could not, at that time, have told
why, as he was leaving the hills, he had paused to visit once more the
spot where Sibyl Andres had brought to him her three gifts from the
mountains--where, in her pure innocence, she had danced before him the
dance of the mating butterflies--and where, with the music of her violin,
she had saved their friendship from the perils that threatened it--lifting
their intimate comradeship into the pure atmosphere of the higher levels,
even as she had shown him the trails that lead from the lower canyon to
the summits and peaks of the encircling mountain walls. But when he
rejoined his friend there was something in his face that prevented the
novelist from making any comment in a laughing vein.

As the two men passed outward through the canyon gates and, looking
backward as they went, saw those mighty doors close silently behind them,
the artist was moved by emotions that were strange and new to the man who,
two months before, had watched those gates open to receive him. This, too,
is true; as that man, then, knew, but did not know, the mountains; so this
man, now, knew, yet still did not know, himself.

Where the road crosses, for the last time, the tumbling stream from the
heart of the hills, they halted; and for one night slept again at the foot
of the mountains. The next day they arrived at their little home in the
orange grove. To Aaron King, it seemed that they had been away for years.

When the traces of their days upon the road had been removed, and they
were garbed again in the conventional costume of the world; when their
outfit had been put away, and a home found for patient Croesus; the artist
went to his studio. The afternoon passed and Yee Kee called dinner; but
Aaron King did not come. Then Conrad Lagrange went to find him. Softly,
the older man pushed open the studio door to see the painter sitting
before the portrait of Mrs. Taine, with the package of his mother's
letters in his hand.

Without a sound, the novelist withdrew, leaving the door ajar. Going to
the corner of the house, he whistled low, and in answer, Czar come
bounding to him from the porch. "Go find Aaron, Czar," said the man,
pointing toward the studio. "Go find Aaron."

Obediently, with waving tail, the dog trotted off, and pushing open the
door entered the room; followed a few moments later by his master.

Conrad Lagrange smiled as he saw that the easel was without a canvas. The
portrait of Mrs. Taine was turned to the wall.

Chapter XXIV

James Rutlidge Makes a Mistake

When Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange had said, "good-by," to their friends,
at Sibyl Andres' home, that evening; and had returned to spend their last
night at the camp in the sycamores; the girl's mood was again the mood of
one oppressed by a haunting, foreboding fear.

Sibyl could not have expressed, or even to herself defined, her fear. She
only knew that in the presence of James Rutlidge she was frightened. She
had tried many times to overcome her strange antipathy; for Rutlidge,
until that day in the studio, had never been other than kind and courteous
in his persistent efforts to win her friendship. Perhaps it was the
impression left by the memory of Myra Willard's manner at the time of
their first meeting with him, three years before, in Brian Oakley's home;
perhaps it was because the woman with the disfigured face had so often
warned her against permitting her slight acquaintance with Rutlidge to
develop; perhaps it was something else--some instinct, possible, only, to
one of her pure, unspoiled nature--whatever it was, the mountain girl who
was so naturally unafraid, feared this man who, in his own world, was an
acknowledged authority upon matters of the highest spiritual and moral

That night, she slept but little. With the morning, every nerve demanded
action, action. She felt as though if she could not spend herself in
physical exertion she would go mad. Taking her lunch, and telling her
companion that she was going for a good, full day with the trout; she was
starting off, when the woman called her back.

"You have forgotten Mr. Oakley's warning, dear. You are not to go unarmed,
you know."

"Oh, bother that old convict, Brian Oakley is so worried about," cried the
girl. "I don't like to carry a gun when I am fishing. It's only an extra
load." But, never-the-less, as she spoke, she went back to the porch;
where Myra Willard handed her a belt of cartridges, with a serviceable
Colt revolver in the holster. There was no hint of awkwardness when the
girl buckled the belt about her waist and settled the holster in its place
at her hip.

"You will be careful, won't you, dear," said the woman, earnestly.

Lifting her face for another good-by kiss, the girl answered, "Of course,
dear mother heart." Then, with a laugh--"I'll agree to shoot the first man
I meet, and identify him afterwards--if it will make you easier in your
mind. You won't worry, will you?"

Myra Willard smiled. "Not a bit, child. I know how Brian Oakley loves you,
and he says that he has no fear for you if you are armed. He takes great
chances himself, that man, but he would send us back to Fairlands, in a
minute, if he thought you were in any danger in your rambles."

Beside the roaring Clear Creek, Sibyl seated self upon a great
boulder--her rod and flies neglected--apparently unmindful of the purpose
that had brought her to the stream. Her eyes were not upon the swirling
pool at her feet, but were lifted to a spot, a thousand feet up on Oak
Knoll, where she knew the pipe-line trail lay, and where Croesus had made
the momentous decision that had resulted in her comradeship with Aaron
King. Following the canyon wall with her eyes--as though in her mind she
walked the thread-like path--from Oak Knoll to the fire-break a mile from
the reservoir; her gaze then traced the crest of the Galenas, resting
finally upon that clump of pines high up on the point that was so clearly
marked against the sky. Once, she laid aside her rod, and slipped the
creel from her shoulder. But even as she set out, she hesitated and turned
back; resolutely taking up her fishing-tackle again, as though, angry with
herself for her state of mind, she was determined to indulge no longer her
mood of indecision.

But the fishing did not go well. To properly cast a trout-fly, one's
thoughts must be upon the art. A preoccupied mind and wandering attention
tends to a tangled line, a snarled leader, and all sorts of aggravating
complications. Sibyl--usually so skillful at this most delicate of
sports--was as inaccurate and awkward, this day, as the merest tyro. The
many pools and falls and swirling eddies of Clear Creek held for her, now,
memories more attractive, by far, than the wary trout they sheltered. The
familiar spots she had known since childhood were haunted by a something
that made them seem new and strange.

At last,--thoroughly angry with her inability to control her mood, and
half ashamed of the thoughts that forced themselves so insistently upon
her; with her nerves and muscles craving the action that would bring the
relief of physical weariness,--she determined to leave the more familiar
ground, for the higher and less frequented waters of Fern Creek. Climbing
out of the canyon, by the steep, almost stair-like trail on the San
Bernardino side, she walked hard and fast to reach Lone Cabin by noon.
But, before she had finished her lunch, she decided not to fish there,
after all; but to go on, over the still harder trail to Burnt Pine on
Laurel Creek, and, returning to the lower canyon by the Laurel trail, to
work down Clear Creek on the way to her home, in the late afternoon and

The trail up the almost precipitous wall of the gorge at Lone Cabin, and
over the mountain spur to Laurel Creek, is one that calls for a clear head
and a sure foot. It is not a path for the city bred to essay, save with
the ready arm of a guide. But the hill-trained muscles and nerves of Sibyl
Andres gloried in the task. The cool-headed, mountain girl enjoyed the
climb from which her city sisters would have drawn back in trembling fear.

Once, at a point perhaps two-thirds of the height to the top, she halted.
Her ear had caught a slight noise above her head, as a few pebbles rolled
down the almost perpendicular face of the wall and bounded from the trail
where she stood, into the depths below. For a few minutes, the girl, on
the little, shelf-like path that was scarcely wider than the span of her
two hands, was as motionless and as silent as the cliff itself; while,
with her face turned upward, she searched with keen eyes the rim of the
gorge; her free, right hand resting upon the butt of the revolver at her
hip. Then she went on--not timidly, but neither carelessly; not in the
least frightened, but still,--knowing that the spot was far from the more
frequented paths,--with experienced care.

As her head and shoulders came above the rim, she paused again, to search
with careful eyes the vicinity of the trail that from this point leads for
a little way down the knife-like ridge of the spur, and then, by easier
stages, around the shoulder and the flank of the mountain, to Burnt Pine
Camp. When no living object met her eye, and she could hear no sound save
the lonely wind in the pines and the faint murmur of the stream in the
gorge below, she took the few steps that yet remained of the climb, and
seated herself for a moment's well-earned rest. Some small animal, she
told herself,--a squirrel or a wood-rat, perhaps,--frightened at her
approach, and scurrying hastily to cover, had dislodged the pebbles with
the slight noise that she had heard.

From where she sat with her back against the trunk of a great pine, she
could see--far below, and beyond the immediate spurs and shoulders of the
range, on the farther side of the gorge out of which she had just
come--the lower end of Clear Creek canyon, and, miles away, under the
blue haze of the distance, the dark squares of the orange groves of

Somewhere between those canyon gates and the little city in the orange
groves, the girl knew that Aaron King and his friend were making their way
back to the world of men. With her eyes fixed upon the distant scene, as
if striving for a wholly impossible strength of vision to mark the tiny,
moving spots that she knew were there, the girl upon the high rim of the
wild and lonely mountain gorge was lost to her surroundings, in an effort,
as vain, to see her comrade of the weeks just past, in the years that were
to come. Would the friendship born in the hills endure in the world beyond
the canyon gates? Could it endure away from those scenes that had given it
birth? Was it possible for a fellowship, established in the free
atmosphere of the mountains, to live in the lower altitude of Fairlands?
Sibyl Andres,--as she sat there, alone in the hills she loved,--in her
heart of hearts, answered her own questions, "No." But still she searched
the years to come--even as her eyes so futilely searched the distant
landscape beyond the mighty gates that seemed, now, to shut her in from
that world to which Aaron King was returning.

The girl was aroused from her abstraction by a sound behind her and a
little to the left of the tree against which she was leaning. In a flash,
she was on her feet.

James Rutlidge stood a few steps away. He had been approaching her as she
sat under the tree; but when she sprang to her feet and faced him, he
halted. Lifting his hat, he greeted her with easy assurance; a confident,
triumphant smile upon his heavy features.

White-faced and trembling, the mountain girl--who a few moments before,
had been so unafraid--stood shrinking before this cultured representative
of the arts. Returning his salutation, she was starting hurriedly away
down the trail, when he said, "Wait. Why be in such a hurry?"

As if against her will, she paused. "It is growing late," she faltered; "I
must go."

He laughed. "I will go with you presently. Don't be afraid." Coming
forward, with an air of making himself very much at home, he placed his
rifle against the tree where she had been sitting. Then, as if to calm her
fears, he continued, "I am camped at Burnt Pine, with a party of friends.
I was up here looking for deer sign when I noticed you below, at the cabin
there. I was just starting down to you, when I saw that you were going to
come up; so I waited. Beautiful spot--this--don't you think?--so out of
the way, too. Just the place for a quiet little visit."

As the man spoke, he was eyeing her in a way that only served to confuse
and frighten her the more. Murmuring some inaudible reply, she again
started to go. But again he said, peremptorily, "Wait." And again, as if
against her will, she paused. "If you have no scruples about wandering
over the mountains alone with that artist fellow, I do not see why you
should hesitate to favor me."

The man's words were, undoubtedly, prompted by what he firmly believed to
be the nature of the relation between the girl and Aaron King--a belief
for which he had, to his mind, sufficient evidence. But Sibyl had no
understanding of his meaning. In the innocence of her pure mind, the
purport of his words was utterly lost. Her very fear of the man was not a
reasoning fear, but the instinctive shrinking of a nature that had never
felt the unclean touch of the world in which James Rutlidge habitually
moved. It was this very unreasoning element in her emotions that made her
always so embarrassed in the man's presence. It was because she did not
understand her fear of him, that the girl, usually so capable of taking
her own part, was, in his presence, so helpless.

James Rutlidge, by the intellectual, moral, and physical atmosphere in
which he lived, was made wholly incapable of understanding the nature of
Sibyl Andres. Secure in the convictions of his own debased mind, as to her
relation to the artist; and misconstruing her very manner in his presence;
he was not long in putting his proposal into words that she could not fail
to understand.

When she _did_ grasp his meaning, her fears and her trembling nervousness
gave place to courageous indignation and righteous anger that found
expression in scathing words of denunciation.

The man, still, could not understand the truth of the situation. To him,
there was nothing more in her refusal than her preference for the artist.
That this young woman--to him, an unschooled girl of the hills--whom he
had so long marked as his own, should give herself to another, and so
scornfully turn from him, was an affront that he could not brook. The very
vigor of her wrath, as she stood before him,--her eyes bright, her cheeks
flushed, and her beautiful body quivering with the vehemence of her
passionate outburst,--only served to fan the flame of his desire; while
her stinging words provoked his bestial mind to an animal-like rage. With
a muttered oath and a threat, he started toward her.

But the woman who faced him now, with full understanding, was very
different from the timid, frightened girl who had not at first understood.
With a business-like movement that was the result of Brian Oakley's
careful training, her hand dropped to her hip and was raised again.

James Rutlidge stopped, as though against an iron bar. In the blue eyes
that looked at him, now, over the dark barrel of the revolver, he read no
uncertainty of purpose. The small hand that had drawn the weapon with such
ready swiftness, was as steady as though at target practice.
Instinctively, the man half turned, throwing up his arm as if to shield
his face from a menacing blow. "For God's sake," he gasped, "put that

In truth, James Rutlidge was nearer death, at that instant, than he had
ever been before.

Drawing back a few fearful paces, his hands still uplifted, he said again,
"Put it down, I tell you. Don't you see I'm not going to touch you? You
are crazy. You might kill me."

Her words came cold and collected, expressing, together with her calm
manner, perfect self-possession "If you can give any good reason why I
should not kill you, I will let you go."

The man was carefully drawing backward toward the tree against which he
had placed his rifle.

She watched him, with a disconcerting smile. "You may as well stop now,"
she said, in those even, composed tones. "I shall fire, the moment you are
within reach of your gun."

He halted with a gesture of despair; his face livid with fear at her
apparent indecision as to his fate.

Presently, she spoke again. "Don't worry. I'm not going to kill
you--unless you force me to--which I assure you will not be at all
difficult for you to do. Move down the trail until I tell you to stop."
She indicated the direction, along the ridge of the mountain spur.

He obeyed.

"That will do," she said, when he was some twenty paces away.

He stopped, turning to face her again.

Picking up his Winchester, she skillfully and rapidly threw all of the
shells out of the magazine. Then, covering him again with her own weapon,
she went a few steps closer and threw the empty rifle at his feet. "Now,"
she said, "put that gun over your left shoulder, and go on ahead of me
down the trail. If you try to dodge or run, or if you change the position
of your rifle, I'll kill you."

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"I'm going to take you down to your camp at Burnt Pine."

James Rutlidge, pale with rage and shame, stood still. "You may as well
kill me," he said. "I will never go into camp, this way."

"Don't be uneasy," she returned. "I am no more anxious for the world to
know of this, than you are. Do as I say. When we come within sight of your
camp, or if we meet any one, I will put up my gun and we will go on
together. That's why I am permitting you to carry your rifle."

So they went down the mountainside--the man with his empty rifle over his
shoulder; the girl following, a few paces in the rear, with ready weapon.

When they had come within sight of the camp, James Rutlidge said, "There's
some one there."

"I see," returned Sibyl, slipping her gun in its holster and stepping
forward beside her companion. And there was a note of glad relief in her
voice, for it was Brian Oakley who was bending over the camp-fire "Come,"
she continued to her companion, "and act as though nothing had happened."

The Ranger, on his way down from somewhere in the vicinity of San
Gorgonio, had stopped at the hunters' camp for a belated dinner. Finding
no one at home, he had started a fire, and had helped himself to coffee
and bacon. He was just concluding his appropriated meal, when Sibyl and
James Rutlidge arrived.

In a few words, the girl explained to her friend, that she was on her way
over the trail from Lone Cabin, and had accidentally met Mr. Rutlidge who
had accompanied her as far as the camp. James Rutlidge had little to say
beyond assuring the Ranger of his welcome; and very soon, the officer and
the girl set out on their way down the Laurel trail to Clear Creek canyon.
As they went, Sibyl's old friend asked not a few questions about her
meeting with James Rutlidge; but the girl, walking ahead in the narrow
trail, evaded him, and was glad that he could not see her face.

Sibyl had spoken the literal truth when she said to Rutlidge, that she did
not want any one to know of the incident. She felt ashamed and humiliated
at the thought of telling even her father's old comrade and friend. She
knew Brian Oakley too well to have any doubts as to what would happen if
he knew how the man had approached her, and she shrank from the inevitable
outcome. She wished only to forget the whole affair, and, as quickly as
possible, turned the conversation into other and safer channels.

The Ranger could not stop at the house with her, but must go on down the
canyon, to the Station. So the girl returned to Myra Willard, alone; and,
to the woman's surprise, for the second time, with an empty creel.

Sibyl explained her failure to bring home a catch of trout, with the
simple statement that she had not fished; and then--to her companion's
amazement--burst into tears; begging to return at once to their little
home in Fairlands.

Myra Willard thought that she understood, better than the girl herself,
why, for the first time in her life, Sibyl wished to leave the mountains.
Perhaps the woman with the disfigured face was right.

Chapter XXV

On the Pipe-Line Trail

James Rutlidge spent the day following his experience with Sibyl Andres,
in camp. His companions very quickly felt his sullen, ugly mood, and left
him to his own thoughts.

The manner in which Sibyl received his advances had in no way changed the
man's mind as to the nature of her relation to Aaron King. To one of James
Rutlidge's type,--schooled in the intellectual moral and esthetic tenets
of his class,--it was impossible to think of the companionship of the
artist and the girl in any other light. If he had even considered the
possibility of a clean, pure comradeship existing between them--under all
the circumstances of their friendship as he had seen them in the studio,
on the trail at dusk, and in the artist's camp--he would have answered
himself that Aaron King was not such a fool as to fail to take advantage
of his opportunities. The humiliation of his pride, and his rage at being
so ignominiously checked by the girl whom he had so long endeavored to
win, served only to increase his desire for her. Sibyl's resolute spirit,
and vigorous beauty, when aroused by him, together with her unexpected
opposition to his advances, were as fuel to the flame of his passion.

His day of sullen brooding over the matter did not improve his temper;
and the next morning his friends were relieved to see him setting out
alone, with rifle and field-glass and lunch. Ostensibly starting in the
direction of the upper Laurel Creek country he doubled back, as soon as he
was out of sight of camp, and took the trail leading down to Clear Creek

It could not be said that the man had any definite purpose in mind. He was
simply yielding in a purposeless way to his mood, which, for the time
being, could find no other expression. The remote chance that some
opportunity looking toward his desire might present itself, led him to
seek the scenes where such an opportunity would be most likely to occur.

Crossing the canyon above the Company Headwork he came into the pipe-line
trail at a point a little back from the main wagon road and, an hour
later, reached the place on Oak Knoll where the Government trail leads
down into the canyon below, and where Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange had
committed themselves to the judgment of Croesus. Here he left the trail,
and climbed to a point on a spur of the mountain, from which he could see
the path for some distance on either side and below, and from which his
view of the narrow valley was unobstructed. Comfortably seated, with his
back against a rock, he adjusted his field-glass and trained it upon the
little spot of open green--marked by the giant sycamores, the dark line of
cedars, and the half hidden house--where he knew that Sibyl Andres and
Myra Willard were living.

No sooner had he focused the powerful glass upon the scene that so
interested him, than he uttered a low exclamation. The two women,
surrounded by their luggage and camp equipment, were sitting on the porch
with Brian Oakley; waiting, evidently, for the wagon that was crossing the
creek toward the house. It was clear to the man on the mountainside, that
Sibyl Andres and the woman with the disfigured face were returning to

For some time, James Rutlidge sat watching, with absorbing interest, the
unconscious people in the canyon below. Once, he turned for a brief glance
at the grove of sycamores behind the old orchard, farther down the creek.
The camp of Conrad Lagrange and Aaron King was no longer there. Quickly he
fixed his gaze again upon Sibyl and her friends. Presently,--as one will
when looking long through a field-glass or telescope,--he lowered his
hands, to rest his eyes by looking, unaided, at the immediate objects in
the landscape before him. At that moment, the figure of a man appeared on
the near-by trail below. It was a pitiful figure--ill-kempt ragged,
half-starved, haggard-faced.

Creeping feebly along the lonely little path--without seeing the man on
the mountainside above--crouching as he walked with a hunted, fearful
air--the poor creature moved toward the point of the spur around which the
trail led beneath the spot where Rutlidge sat.

As the man on the trail drew nearer, the watcher on the rocks above
involuntarily glanced toward the distant Forest Ranger; then back to
the--as he rightly guessed--escaped convict.

There are, no doubt, many moments in the life of a man like James Rutlidge
when, however bad or dominated by evil influences he may be, he feels
strongly the impulse of pity and the kindly desire to help. Undoubtedly,
James Rutlidge inherited from his father those tendencies that made him
easily ruled by his baser passions. His character was as truly the
legitimate product of the age, of the social environment, and of the
thought that accepts such characters. What he might have been if better
born, or if schooled in an atmosphere of moral and intellectual integrity,
is an idle speculation. He was what his inheritance and his life had made
him. He was not without impulses for good. The pitiful, hunted creature,
creeping so wearily along the trail, awoke in this man of the accepted
culture of his day a feeling of compassion, and aroused in him a desire to
offer assistance. For the legal aspect of the case, James Rutlidge had all
the indifference of his kind, who imbibe contempt for law with their
mother's milk. For the moment he hesitated. Then, as the figure below
passed from his sight, under the point of the spur, he slipped quietly
down the mountainside, and, a few minutes later, met the convict face to

At the leveled rifle and the sharp command, "Hands up," the poor fellow
halted with a gesture of tragic despair. An instant they stood; then the
hunted one turned impulsively toward the canyon that, here, lies almost a
sheer thousand feet below.

James Rutlidge spoke sharply. "Don't do that. I'm not an officer. I want
to help you."

The convict turned his hunted, fearful, starving face in doubtful
bewilderment toward the speaker.

The man with the gun continued, "I got the drop on you to prevent
accidents--until I could explain--that's all." He lowered the rifle.

The other went a staggering step forward. "You mean that?" he said in a
harsh, incredulous whisper. "You--you're not playing with me?"

"Why should I want to play with you?" returned the other, kindly. "Come,
let's get off the trail. I have something to eat, up there." He led the
way back to the place where he had left his lunch.

Dropping down upon the ground, the starving man seized the offered food
with an animal-like cry; feeding noisily, with the manner of a famished
beast. The other watched with mingled pity and disgust.

Presently, in stammering, halting phrases, but in words that showed no
lack of education, the wretched creature attempted to apologize for his
unseemly eagerness, and endeavored to thank his benefactor. "I suppose,
sir, there is no use trying to deny my identity," he said, when James
Rutlidge had again assured him of his kindly interest.

"Not at all," agreed the other, "and, so far as I am concerned, there is
no reason why you should."

"Just what do you mean by that, sir?" questioned the convict.

"I mean that I am not an officer and have no reason in the world for
turning you over to them. I saw you coming along the trail down there
and, of course, could not help noticing your condition and guessing who
you were. To me, you are simply a poor devil who has gotten into a tight
hole, and I want to help you out a bit, that's all."

The convict turned his eyes despairingly toward the canyon below, as he
answered, "I thank you, sir, but it would have been better if you had not.
Your help has only put the end off for a few hours. They've got me shut
in. I can keep away from them, up here in the mountains, but I can't get
out. I won't go back to that hell they call prison though--I won't." There
was no mistaking his desperate purpose.

James Rutlidge thought of that quick movement toward the edge of the trail
and the rocky depth below. "You don't seem such a bad sort, at heart," he
said invitingly.

"I'm not," returned the other, "I've been a fool--miserably weak fool--but
I've had my lesson--only--I have had it too late."

While the man was speaking, James Rutlidge was thinking quickly. As he had
been moved, at first, by a spirit of compassion to give temporary
assistance to the poor hunted creature, he was now prompted to offer more
lasting help--providing, of course, that he could do so without too great
a risk to his own convenience. The convict's hopeless condition, his
despairing purpose, and his evident wish to live free from the past, all
combined to arouse in the other a desire to aid him. But while that truly
benevolent inclination was, in his consciousness, unmarred with sinister
motive of any sort; still, deeper than the impulse for good in James
Rutlidge's nature lay those dominant instincts and passions that were his
by inheritance and training. The brutal desire, the mood and purpose that
had brought him to that spot where with the aid of his glass he could
watch Sibyl Andres, were not denied by his impulse to kindly service.
Under all his thinking, as he considered how he could help the convict to
a better life, there was the shadowy suggestion of a possible situation
where a man like the one before him--wholly in his power as this man would
be--might be of use to him in furthering his own purpose--the purpose that
had brought about their meeting.

Studying the object of his pity, he said slowly, "I suppose the most of us
are as deserving of punishment as the majority of those who actually get
it. One way or another, we are all trying to escape the penalty for our
wrong-doing. What if I should help you out--make it possible for you to
live like other men who are safe from the law? What would you do if I were
to help you to your freedom?"

The hunted man became incoherent in his pleading for a chance to prove the
sincerity of his wish to live an orderly, respectable, and honest life.

"You have a safe hiding place here in the mountains?" asked Rutlidge.

"Yes; a little hut, hidden in a deep gorge, over on the Cold Water. I
could live there a year if I had supplies."

James Rutlidge considered. "I've got it!" he said at last. "Listen! There
must be some peak, at the Cold Water end of this range, from which you can
see Fairlands as well as the Galena Valley."

"Yes," the other answered eagerly.

"And," continued Rutlidge, "there is a good 'auto' road up the Galena
Valley. One could get, I should think, to a point within--say nine hours
of your camp. Do you know anything about the heliograph?"

"Yes," said the man, his face brightening. "That is, I understand the
general principle--that it's a method of signaling by mirror flashes."

"Good! This is my plan. I will meet you to-morrow on the Laurel Creek
trail, where it turns off from the creek toward San Gorgonio. You know the


"We will go around the head of Clear Creek, on the divide between this
canyon and the Cold Water, to some peak in the Galenas from which we can
see Fairlands; and where, with the field-glass, we can pick out some point
at the upper end of Galena Valley, that we can both find later."

"I understand."

"When I get back to Fairlands, I will make a night trip in the 'auto' to
that point, with supplies. You will meet me there. The day before I make
the trip, I'll signal you by mirror flashes that I am coming; and you will
answer from the peak. We'll agree on the time of day and the signals
to-morrow. When you have kept close, long enough for your beard and hair
to grow out well, everybody will have given you up for dead or gone. Then
I will take you down and give you a job in an orange grove. There's a
little house there where you can live. You won't need to show yourself
down-town and, in time, you will be forgotten. I'll bring you enough food
to-morrow to last you until I can return to town and can get back on the
first night trip."

The man who left James Rutlidge a few minutes later, after trying brokenly
to express his gratitude, was a creature very different from the poor,
frightened hunted, starving, despairing, wretch that Rutlidge had halted
an hour before. What that man was to become, would depend almost wholly
upon his benefactor.

When the man was gone, James Rutlidge again took up his field-glass. The
old home of Sibyl Andres was deserted. While he had been talking with the
convict, the girl and Myra Willard had started on their way back to

With a peculiar smile upon his heavy features, the man slipped the glass
into its case, and, with a long, slow look over the scene, set out on his
way to rejoin his friends.

Chapter XXVI

I Want You Just as You Are

The evening of that day after their return from the mountains, when Conrad
Lagrange had found Aaron King so absorbed in his mother's letters, the
artist continued in his silent, preoccupied, mood. The next morning, it
was the same. Refusing every attempt of his friend to engage him in
conversation, he answered only with absent-minded mono-syllables; until
the novelist, declaring that the painter was fit company for neither beast
nor man, left him alone; and went off somewhere with Czar.

The artist spent the greater part of the forenoon in his studio, doing
nothing of importance. That is, to a casual observer he would have
_seemed_ to be doing nothing of importance. He did, however, place his
picture of the spring glade beside the portrait of Mrs. Taine, and then,
for an hour or more, sat considering the two paintings. Then he turned the
"Quaker Maid" again to the wall and fixed a fresh canvas in place on the
easel. That was all.

Immediately after their midday lunch, he returned to the
studio--hurriedly, as if to work. He arranged his palette, paints, and
brushes ready to his hand, indeed--but he, then, did nothing with them.
Listlessly, without interest, he turned through his portfolios of
sketches. Often, he looked away through the big, north window to the
distant mountain tops. Often, he seemed to be listening. He was sitting
before the easel, staring at the blank canvas, when, clear and sweet, from
the depths of the orange grove, came the pure tones of Sibyl Andres'

So soft and low was the music, at first, that the artist almost doubted
that it was real, thinking--as he had thought that day when Sibyl came
singing to the glade--that it was his fancy tricking him. When he and
Conrad Lagrange left the mountains three days before, the girl and her
companion had not expected to return to Fairlands for at least two weeks.
But there was no mistaking that music of the hills. As the tones grew
louder and more insistent, with a ringing note of gladness, he knew that
the mountain girl was announcing her arrival and, in the language she
loved best, was greeting her friends.

But so strangely selfish is the heart of man, that Aaron King gave the
novelist no share in their neighbor's musical greeting. He received the
message as if it were to himself alone. As he listened, his eyes
brightened; he stood erect, his face turned upward toward the mountain
peaks in the distance; his lips curved in a slow smile. He fancied that he
could see the girl's winsome face lighted with merriment as she played,
knowing his surprise. Once, he started impulsively toward the door, but
paused, hesitating, and turned back. When the music ceased, he went to the
open window that looked out into the rose garden, and watched expectantly.

Presently, he heard her low-voiced song as she came through the orange
grove beyond the Ragged Robin hedge. Then he glimpsed her white dress at
the little gate in the corner. Then she stood in full view.

The artist had, so far, seen Sibyl only in her mountain costume of soft
brown,--made for rough contact with rocks and underbrush,--with felt hat
to match, and high, laced boots, fit for climbing. She was dressed, now,
as Conrad Lagrange had seen her that first time in the garden, when he was
hiding from Louise Taine. The man at the window drew a little back, with a
low exclamation of pleased surprise and wonder. Was that lovely creature
there among the roses his girl comrade of the hills? The Sibyl Andres he
had known--in the short skirt and high boots of her mountain garb--was a
winsome, fanciful, sometimes serious, sometimes wayward, maiden. This
Sibyl Andres, gowned in clinging white, was a slender, gracefully tall,
and beautifully developed woman.

Slowly, she came toward the studio end of the garden; pausing here and
there to bend over the flowers as though in loving, tender greeting;
singing, the while, her low-voiced melody; unafraid of the sunshine that
enveloped her in a golden flood, undisturbed by the careless fingers of
the wind that caressed her hair. A girl of the clean out-of-doors, she
belonged among the roses, even as she had been at home among the pines and
oaks of the mountains. The artist, fascinated by the lovely scene, stood
as though fearing to move, lest the vision vanish.

Then, looking up, she saw him, and stretched out her hands in a gesture
of greeting, with a laugh of pleasure.

"Don't move, don't move!" he called impulsively. "Hold the pose--please
hold it! I want you just as you are!"

The girl, amused at his tragic earnestness, and at the manner of his
welcome, understood that the zeal of the artist had brushed aside the
polite formalities of the man; and, as unaffectedly natural as she did
everything, gave herself to his mood.

Dragging his easel with the blank canvas upon it across the studio, he
cried out, again, "Don't move, please don't move!" and began working. He
was as one beside himself, so wholly absorbed was he in translating into
the terms of color and line, the loveliness purity and truth that was
expressed by the personality of the girl as she stood among the flowers.
"If I can get it! If I can only get it!" he exclaimed again and again,
with a kind of savage earnestness, as he worked.

All his years of careful training, all his studiously acquired skill, all
his mastery of the mechanics of his craft, came to him, now, without
conscious effort--obedient to his purpose. Here was no thoughtful
straining to remember the laws of composition, and perspective, and
harmony. Here was no skillful evading of the truth he saw. So freely, so
surely, he worked, he scarcely knew he painted. Forgetting self, as he was
unconscious of his technic, he worked as the birds sing, as the bees toil,
as the deer runs. Under his hand, his picture grew and blossomed as the
roses, themselves, among which the beautiful girl stood.

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