Part 3 out of 6
had been things to forgive; so she answered this question of his, humanly
and simply. "I wonder?" she said. "If it were not a question of a country,
but a person? I can't tell. I've never fallen deep in." Then she pulled
herself up abruptly. "Luncheon must be ready," she went on in a changed
voice. "I'm starving, aren't you?"
"Starving!" Nick answered mechanically. But he was saying in his heart,
"She's never been in love! Hooray!"
The thought shot new colour into existence. "I'll pull the world up by the
roots to get her," he thought. "And she wants to live in California!
Maybe, if I try to make myself all over again, a little worthier--a little
more like what she's used to, at last she----" It seemed sacrilege to
finish the sentence.
It was for this end, to "make himself more like what she was used to,"
that he had bought the new clothes in New York. They had not been a
success. But, luckily for his happiness to-day, he did not know how
Angela had laughed when she saw the shiny shoes outside his door.
Never was a luncheon like that which they ate together in the great cool
dining-room, whence everybody else had vanished long ago. Angela sat
facing one of the big windows, and a green light filtering through
rose-arbours gave her skin the luminous, pearly reflections that artists
love to paint. Up in the minstrels' gallery a harpist played, softly, old
"Before you decide where to live, will you come to my part of the
country?" Nick asked, his eyes drinking in the picture. "There's a ranch
you'd admire, I think. Not mine. I'd like you to see that, too. But the
one I mean is a show place. It belongs to Mrs. Gaylor, the widow of my old
boss. She's a mighty nice woman, and handsome as a picture. She's pretty
lonely and likes visitors. If she invites you, will you come?"
"Perhaps, some day," said Angela, in a mood to humour him, because
everything round her was so charming that to refuse a request would have
sounded a jarring note. Not that she had the slightest intention of
visiting Mrs. Gaylor, the widow of Mr. Hilliard's "old boss."
"But I've mapped out a programme for myself already," she went on, "which
may take a long time, for if I like a place very much I shan't want to
hurry away. For instance, maybe I shall have a whim to come back here and
stay a week or a fortnight. You see, some one I loved dearly, long ago,
lived in California, and there are parts of the country I want to visit,
for his sake as well as my own."
This was a blow in spite of her late confession. But in a moment he took
courage. If this girl (who looked eighteen and couldn't be much over
twenty) had loved a man long ago, that man must have been a father or an
uncle. And with a sense of relief he remembered the miniature frame.
"Would you tell me what parts you want to see most of all?" he asked, with
an air of humility which was engaging in a man so big, so strong, and
Angela's eyes smiled mischief.
"Why do you want to know?" she catechized him. "I think you'll admit that
after--after several things which have happened, I've a right to ask--a
question, before I answer yours."
"I know. You're afraid I'll want to be following you again," said Nick.
"But following wasn't in my mind. I want to _take_ you in my new
She stared in amazement.
"You extraordinary person! As if I _could_ do such a thing!"
"Why not?" He asked it meekly, looking boyish, ready to be rebuked and
snubbed--and yet to make his point. "I expect, when you were at
home--wherever that was--you were used to travelling sometimes with your
maid, in a motor, and nobody else except your chauffeur?" (Nick pronounced
this word rather originally, but this was a detail.)
"Certainly. That's entirely different."
"Now you've got a cat too."
Angela broke into laughter. This man, and this day, were unique. She was
delighted with herself for forgiving Mr. Hilliard. Because, of course, she
could unforgive him again at any minute, if it seemed really best.
When a woman laughs at your _bon mot_, there is hope. There is also
happiness. Nick felt both. They came in a gust, like a spray of perfume in
his face, taking his breath away. "I believe she'll do it," he said to
that sympathetic chum--himself, who was taking the kindliest interest in
his love affairs. "It's up to me now."
"And in my car you'd have two shuvvers. What with us both, and your Irish
maid, and your black cat, wouldn't we be enough to take care of you?"
"You're not a real chauffeur," said Angela.
"I've been qualifying for the article, and if I do say it myself I'm as
smart a driver this minute as you could find in California."
Angela shook her head. "You amuse me, because you're quite, quite
different from any man I ever saw, but--I'm afraid I can't engage you as
"Not if I could give you a first-rate character, ma'am?"
"Don't call me 'ma'am'!" Angela reminded him. "It's too realistic, Mr.
"I call you 'Angel' behind your back. You can't say you won't be an angel,
because 'twould be irreligious."
"I used to play at being one when I was a wee thing," said Angela, her
eyes far away. "Bed was the sky. The pillows and sheets were white clouds
tumbling all round me. I could bury myself in them. I made believe I was
disguised as a child by day, but the door of dreams let me into heaven."
"It mostly does," Nick mumbled. Then he said aloud, "If you used to like
making believe then, wouldn't you just try it for a little while now? Make
believe I'm going to take you round in my car, and I'll tell you some of
the things that will happen to us."
"Well--it couldn't do any harm to make believe just for a few minutes,
could it?" Angela wondered if she were flirting with the forest creature.
But no. Certainly not. She never flirted, not even with the men of her own
world, as most of the young women she knew were in the habit of doing.
This was not flirting. It was only playing--and letting him play a little
too--at "making believe."
"What would happen to us?" she asked.
"Well, shall we begin with to-day--what's left of it?--or skip on to
"I hate putting off things till to-morrow--if they're pleasant."
"So do I, and this would be pleasant. When you'd seen all you wanted of
the Mission Inn, I'd drive you along Magnolia Avenue, that's walled in
with those owl-palms in gray petticoats. As you go down it looks like a
high gray wall in a fort, with bunches of green at the top, and roses
trained over it. We'd run up Mount Rubidoux, that has a grand, curlycue
sort of road to the top, where there's one of the old Mission bells, and a
cross, and a plaque in memory of the best Father of 'em all, Juniperra
Serra. Rubidoux's one of those yellow desert mountains, the biggest of the
lot, with a view of Riverside, and miles of orange groves like a big
garden at its foot. We'd sit up there awhile, and I'd tell you a story of
General Fremont, when he passed in the grand old days. Then we'd spin on
to Redlands, and see the park and the millionaires' houses----"
"I like the lovers' bungalows best."
"Do you? Would you like one better for yourself?"
"A thousand times!" But she broke that silken thread quickly. "Go on. What
would we do next?"
"Oh, next an orange-packing factory. You'd enjoy seeing the oranges
running like mad down a sloping trough, pretending they're all equal, till
the boys watching spy out the bruised ones that are sneaking along, and
pitch 'em away before they can say 'knife.' By and by the small,
no-account oranges are sent about their business, which is to play second
fiddle, and the big, noble-fellows, who're worthy to succeed, fall first
into the hands of girls, who wrap them up in squares of white paper. My
faith, but those girls' hands go fast! It makes you feel like
heat-lightning just to watch 'em fly! Anybody who wants to can order a box
of picked oranges, each wrapped in paper, with a lady's name and a verse
in her honour printed on it. Lots of fellows do that. When you'd seen the
factory I'd drive you back to Los Angeles, and we'd get there after dark.
But there's a searchlight on my car equal to a light on a battleship, and
her name alone's enough to illuminate the road. I've christened her Bright
He paused for half a second; but if the analogy meant anything to his
companion she did not choose that he should know. "And then?" she said.
"Then--if you'd seen enough of Los Angeles, I'd ask you to let your Irish
girl pack up. And I'd start off with you--for good. I mean, you and the
maid, and the cat, and Billy. Billy's the other shuvver, besides me. I'd
take you to Santa Barbara."
"That's one of the places on my programme."
"Another of my places. But I want to go to the Yosemite. You couldn't
motor me there."
"I could guide you. I've known horses longer than I've known motors. And I
know the Yosemite. Once I got hurt in a kind of accident. I wasn't good
for much, for a while afterward. And as I couldn't do any work I went and
loafed in the Yosemite Valley. I'd always wanted to go. It was grand. But
it would be heaven to see it again with y--with an angel."
Angela traced the steel embroidery on a gray _suede_ bag which lay on the
table. She had got it the other day to serve as understudy for the gold
bag which was "taboo" for public use at present. She was glad that the
forest creature did not know, and never would know, that she had secretly
bought back his gold bag. If he found out, it might be his turn to
"How were you hurt in an accident?" she asked, for the sake of diverting
the talk from angels.
"It was in a fire," said Nick.
"Oh! On your ranch."
"No. In San Francisco."
Her interest grew. "In the great fire?"
"Did you live in San Francisco then?"
"No. I just went there."
"I think I guess. You went on purpose to help?"
"I felt as if every man ought to do what he could. I couldn't do much.
Shall we go on making believe?"
"You don't like talking of your good deeds."
"Oh, good deeds! I don't like talking of myself when there are better
things to talk of. I could make you out a tour in the Yosemite, Mrs. May.
You shouldn't travel by the ordinary stages. I'd get you something
special, for the driving parts; and you should have the finest trail pony
in California. I'd give ten years off my life to show you the Big Trees.
There are some mighty fine ones in other places, you know; the Santa Cruz
forest is splendid. But it's the Mariposa Big Trees, in the Yosemite, I
mean. We'd drive from Wawona early in the morning, one day, and stay till
the sunset. You can't think what sunset's like among the giant Sequoias,
with the red light, like a rain of ruby stars, falling through the
branches. And those trees are God's own architecture. I guess even you
have never seen a cathedral to touch it; because there can't be one. All
day you should stay in the forest. I'd find you places for lunch and
dinner, and the squirrels would come and help you eat."
"It does sound nice," said Angela, bewitched by the picture.
"It would be--the nicest thing that ever happened. Only 'nice' ain't a big
enough word. _Can't_ it come true? Think, with your cat and your Kate and
your trail guide? You called me a 'friend in need.' Can't I be your guide
in need? You'd have to get a guide for the Valley. Why not me?"
"We've only known each other a few days."
"Any other guide would be a stranger. And I guess, Mrs. May, if that's
all, we know each other as well as a good many, who call themselves
friends, get to know one another in years. Do you ever find out anything
about people that you didn't _feel_ the first moment you set eyes on
"Well--you did save my life!" she conceded. "I can't get away from that."
"Do you mind not getting away from it?"
"Then will you take me for your shuvver and trial guide to those places? I
won't ask you any more, now. You can send me packing afterward, if you
don't think I live up to the character Mr. Morehouse has given you of me."
"Mr. Morehouse! I haven't heard from him since my first day in New York."
"I mean the other Mr. Morehouse, his brother--your banker. Henry wired to
him from New York. And he was writing you, to say, if you hadn't got
anybody who knew the ropes to see you through your excursions, you
couldn't do better than let Hilliard of Lucky Star be your pilot--kind of
courier, you know. Both the Morehouses vouch for me, though it's Henry
who's my friend. All strangers who come to have a look around California
take a Californian to show them the sights. If you haven't got Mr.
Morehouse's letter, it must be waiting for you. I reckon it ought to have
arrived last night or this morning. And if you find he recommends me as a
trustworthy man, will you think the plan over, before you say no?"
"You take my breath away! But--ye-es. I'll think it over. I suppose one
really _can_ do things in America one wouldn't do _anywhere_ else?"
"That's why there's so much emigration," replied Nick, gravely.
"And I should be studying California through you, I suppose? I begin to
see that you're a typical Californian."
"No," Nick contradicted her. "You mustn't get hold of that impression. It
wouldn't be playing the game for me to let you. The typical Californian's
a very different man: a grand chap, and I reckon more like the sort you're
Angela smiled. "Describe him."
"Well, I'm not much at description. You'll meet the kind I mean when you
get to San Francisco, if you don't before. The two Morehouses are the
right sort; and lots of others. John Falconer's one of the best. Have you
ever heard of him?"
"Yes," said Angela. "I remember his name. My--friends of mine have spoken
of him, though he was younger, and made his fame later."
"I should like you to come across him," said Nick, full of enthusiasm for
the man he admired, and devoid of small jealousy. "Falconer was one of the
grandest lawyers California ever had; and in a way he made himself, though
he came of the best blood we've got." (Nick would not have dreamed of
mentioning that his own blood was as good. He, like most men of the West,
thought more of his horses' pedigree than his own, and he would as readily
have boasted of his handsome looks as of his father's people--the people
who had disowned that father, and sent him to starve. But now he was
boasting of and for California. That was legitimate.) "Falconer's the
wisest and most far-seeing politician we have," he went on, "and deserves
his luck--the money's he's made and the name he's won. He's high up on one
of our biggest railroads, too, since he gave up law because he'd no time
to follow it; and he's not much over forty now. That's California, Mrs.
May. That's typical. Falconer's as different from a rough fellow like me,
as--as I hope I'm different from Sealman."
"You're a loyal friend," Angela said, admiring the fire in his eyes and
the glow on his face as she would have admired an impressionist sketch for
a portrait by Sargent. "Only this man ought to be a fresco," she told
herself as she followed out the picture-simile. "He's too big and spirited
and unconventional to be put into a frame."
"Oh, I'm not a personal friend of Falconer's," Nick hastened to explain.
"Wish I were! I've met him when he's been to the Gaylor ranch--the ranch I
want you to visit. But I expect he'd hardly remember me. And now you see
that I'm not typical, maybe you'll think there's no place for me on your
map. But I have my uses. I'm warranted sure and sound. And wouldn't I just
be ready to die tryin', if you'd let me, to give you the time of your life
"I've always heard that Californian men are chivalrous and kind."
"Oh, kind! That's a funny word."
"And these plans you draw for me are--are the sort of thing to make a
woman feel glad there are men in the world willing to take so much
"They're the sort of thing to make a man glad there are women--or better
still, a woman--to work for," he amended, so good to look at in his
enthusiasm, that Angela's eyes would not be banished to the _suede_ bag or
to the flowers on the table--Nick's flowers.
"But," she went on, "but----"
"Don't say that word to-day," Nick begged. "Whatever you decide afterward,
let me take you up to Rubidoux and on to Redlands? Make up your mind about
the rest when you've seen Mr. Morehouse's letter."
"Very well," she said. "Just for to-day, the 'make-believe' shall come
Nick turned away his face lest it should betray him.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "Well, then, I reckon it's time I went to
round up Billy. And we'll hit the breeze for Rubidoux and Redlands."
They saw the park and the millionaires' houses and the orange-packing,
passing on the way picturesque little towns, with Indian and Mexican
names, which charmed the eyes and ears of Angela. And always the air was
sweet with scent of orange-blossoms, roses, and alfalfa, the life of the
country. Once, at Redlands, Nick excused himself and jumped out of the car
at a shop. He was gone three or four minutes; but when he came back he
said nothing of any purchase.
It was only when he was bidding Mrs. May good night at her hotel door
that, with a schoolboy air, he pulled a small package out of his pocket.
"Talking of typical Californian things," he said, trying to seem careless,
"here's one. I thought, as it's only a little bouquet in a bottle--a few
flowers distilled--you might accept it. But if you want to give it back,
I'll take it like a lamb. It's--because you love California--I want you to
have it. Don't open the paper till you get indoors. And you'll send me
word whether you can go along farther in the country of make-believe?"
"Of course. I'll telephone."
"Early enough for us to start, if--if the answer's yes?"
"As soon as I wake up. Will that do?"
"That will do. And let it depend on your dreams. I'll trust my luck to
them. Because dreams are in the country of make-believe; sometimes they
are good--so good they make you want to go on and on. Besides, there'll be
the Morehouse letter. I bank on that. But more on the dreams."
The letter had come. Angela found it when she got back to her hotel, and
meant to read it at once, as a letter from so important a man deserved.
But Nick's package was in her hand, and she was tempted to untie the gold
Inside was a fancy bottle of perfume, bound round with quantities of
narrow rose-coloured ribbon.
"Parfait d'Amour. Made of California Flowers," announced the blossomy
label. And Angela broke into laughter, repeating the name aloud, "Parfait
She had laughed very often that day.
"He knew I wouldn't give it back to him," she thought. "That would be
worse than keeping it and saying nothing."
She put the bottle down on her dressing-table, and took up the letter from
Mr. Morehouse the banker. It was a pleasant letter, extremely satisfactory
from Hilliard's point of view. It was evident that, in the two brothers
opinion, there was no reason why she should not accept the services of Mr.
Nickson Hilliard, in seeing California. The banker, who alone knew (and
would not tell) that Mrs. May was the Princess di Sereno, said "Hilliard,
who was to be introduced to you in New York if my brother had not been
ill, is a man your father would have approved. You are not travelling
alone, I understand, but have your servant. You can trust Hilliard as a
kind of glorified guide, which he wishes to be, I understand, partly out
of friendship for my brother (who hoped to show you about), partly because
he--in common with all of us Californians--is proud of our State, and
likes nothing better than bringing its beauty spots to the notice of
sympathetic strangers. That, I am sure, the daughter of my old friend
Merriam must be; and I am looking forward to her arrival in San Francisco,
which place I am too busy to leave at present. I hope our meeting may be
soon; and wish I were a married man, that I might have the pleasure of
entertaining 'Mrs. May' in my house."
When Angela had read the letter twice she let it fall, and again took up
the bottle of perfume. Untying the bow of pink ribbon, she pulled out the
heart-shaped glass stopper, and breathed the fragrance of "Parfait
d'Amour, made from California flowers."
The name might be laughable, but the fragrance was exquisite as the sweet
air among the orange groves.
Angela sighed, without knowing that she sighed, as she put the bottle down
and pushed it away.
She did not even look at it again until she was ready to switch off the
electric light, and try to sleep, after Kate had finished her
ministrations. Then, once more, Mrs. May sniffed daintily at the "Parfait
d'Amour," as a bird hovers near a tempting crumb thrown by a hand it
fears. She wondered what flowers made up this sweetness, so different from
any perfume she had known.
"It's California," she said to herself. "Essence of California."
Long after she had gone to bed, Angela lay awake, not restless, but
vaguely excited, as she listened to a mouse in the hinterland of the wall,
and thought her own thoughts, that floated from subject to subject. But
always she could smell the perfume which--or she imagined it--filled the
room with its sweetness. It was a pity that the scent had been given such
a silly name!
"If the people of this country can be unconventional when they like, why
shouldn't _I_ be unconventional, if I like?" she asked of the darkness.
"It's so gay and amusing to make believe, and so--beautiful." It occurred
to her that she had just begun to live. Now a door had opened before her
eyes, and she saw a new world that was big and glorious, ready to give her
"There's something in being a married woman, and going about as I choose,"
she thought, "even if it is only in the country of make-believe. Why
shouldn't I do what he asks me to do? I'm only Mrs. May, whom nobody
knows! And it would be _fun_. I haven't had any fun since I was a little,
* * * * *
Perhaps Nick had been right to trust his luck to her dreams; or perhaps it
was the influence of the letter. In any case, at eight o'clock next
morning, Angela, with her hair hanging over her shoulders, and dreams
still in her eyes, was ringing up Mr. Hilliard by telephone at the
"It's only to say that you may take me--and Kate--and the cat--and some
luggage--to Santa Barbara this morning. That is, if you still want to? Oh,
thanks! You're _very_ kind. It's settled _only_ about to-day, you know!
Yes. Ten o'clock will suit me."
She hummed a dance-tune while Kate dressed her. And the room was still
sweet with the fragrance of that strange perfume, "Parfait d'Amour made
from California flowers."
She sat beside Nick in the yellow car, Kate (and black Timmy in a basket)
behind with the sharp-nosed youth whom Hilliard called his "assistant."
There was also luggage--enough to last for a few days, the rest had been
sent on by train to San Francisco.
Nick enjoyed hearing Angela exclaim, "This is like Algeciras!" "That's
like the Italian Riviera!" as the car ran on. It seemed wonderful that she
should have seen all the most beautiful places in Europe, that she should
hold their pictures in her mind now, comparing them with these new ones,
yet that her heart should be in the New World--_his_ world.
Near Santa Barbara the mountains came crowding down to the sea, as at
Mentone; and on the horizon floated islands, mysterious as the mirage of
Corsica seen from the Italian shore at sunrise. Over there, Nick told her,
was a grotto, painted in many lovely colours; and boats dived into it on
the crest of a wave. He had not heard of the Blue Grotto at Capri, but she
described it; and so they went on, each with something to tell that the
other did not know.
Two new battleships were trying their speed in the channel between Santa
Barbara and the islands, and as the car turned into the park of the hotel
the rivals raced into sight. Angela's eyes were dazzled with the brilliant
sunshine, the blue of the sea, and the flaming colour of the geranium
borders that burned like running fire the length of the mile-long drive.
The veranda was crowded with people, but thinking only of the great ships
in the bay she was conscious of seeing no one until a voice exclaimed,
"Why, Princess, what a surprise to meet you here!"
It was a voice she knew, and if she could have stepped back into the car,
pulled her motor-veil over her eyes, and asked Nick Hilliard to drive
away, she would have been glad. But one does not do these things. One
faces emergencies, and makes the best of them. Angela had been foolish,
she told herself, not to think of running across somebody she knew. If she
wished to hide herself, she must be more prudent; but for this time it was
too late. There was Theodora Dene, of all people, waiting to meet her at
the top of the steps!
"Oh, bother!" Angela had just time to whisper, before she found herself
shaking hands with a tall, red-haired, hatless girl in a white dress. Theo
Dene never wore a hat unless it were absolutely necessary, for her hair
was her great attraction. It was splendid in the sun, as she came out of
the shade to stand in the blaze of light, shaking Angela's hand and
sending a long-lashed glance to Nick. She never looked at a woman if there
were a man worth looking at within eye-shot. But she had no hypocrisy
about this. She did not pretend to be a friend of women, though she was
nice to them if they did not interfere with her and there was nothing
better to do. She was twenty-eight, and confessed to twenty-four. She
danced as well as a professional, sang French songs in what she called a
"twilight voice," dressed better than most married women, did daring
things, and had written two books which shocked Puritans. Some of her own
experiences had been worked into her novels, which made them read
realistically; and clergymen in England and America had preached against
them; so, of course, they were a great success and sold enormously. Miss
Dene herself was also a great success. She went where she liked, alone if
she liked, and during a visit to Rome she had lured desirable men from
ladies who were engaged in flirting with them. Angela, who was not
flirting with any one, had been amused by the strange girl, but now she
would have preferred a chance encounter with almost anybody else.
"Please call me Mrs. May," she whispered, as they shook hands. "I don't
want to be known by the other name."
The tall young woman in white took in the situation, or a view of it, and
the long green eyes (which she loved and copied for her heroines) smiled
in a way that fascinated some people and displeased others. Angela thought
that, with the strong sunlight bringing out the value of red hair, black
brows, white skin, and white frock, she was like a striking poster,
sketched in a few daring lines, with splashes of unshaded colour dashed in
"How do you do, Mrs. May?" the girl amended her greeting. "I thought I
must be dreaming you."
"I'm not sure that I'm not dreaming myself," said Angela.
"I hope you haven't come here for your health?"
"I wanted to see California."
Miss Dene laughed. "That doesn't sound exciting. But perhaps it is." She
glanced again at Hilliard, to whom a porter had come for directions about
luggage. Nick was telling him that only Mrs. May's and the maid's luggage
was to go in. He intended to stop at another hotel.
"Oh, _do_ ask _That_ to lunch with you, and invite me and my friends to
your table," the girl suggested, in a stage whisper. "I never saw anything
so beautiful. I must know him. I've been seeking a hero for my new book
which I'm going to write about California, and I feel he's the one. Pity
the sorrows of the poor author! If you don't," and she laughed to take
away the sting, "I'll tell every one who you are. The reporters will get
you--as they have me. But I liked it, and you wouldn't."
Angela wondered why she had ever admired red-haired women; and as for
long, narrow green eyes, she now thought them hideous. She was sure, in
spite of the laugh, that Miss Dene was capable of keeping her word.
"I intended to ask him to lunch with me in any case," she said calmly; and
this was true. But it was to have been a repetition of yesterday; quiet
and peaceful, and idyllic. "He is a Mr. Hilliard who has--been detailed by
a friend of my father's to show me some places he knows. That's his car.
If you and your friends would care to join us, I should be delighted of
course." Then she turned away, moving back a step or two nearer the edge
of the veranda, and thus closer to Nick.
"I hope you mean to have lunch with me here, Mr. Hilliard?" she said.
He looked up, his eyes asking if she really wanted him, or if politeness
dictated the invitation. Hers gave no cue, so he did the simplest and most
direct thing, which was to him the most natural thing.
"I should like to, very much," he said. "But you've found friends. I
could come back afterward, and take you around Santa Barbara, unless----"
"One of the friends was glad when she heard you being invited," Theo Dene
broke in. "And the other friends are so new, Mrs. May hasn't met them yet.
You shall be introduced all together in a bunch."
Of course, at that Nick came up the steps and joined Angela. He had a
curious feeling as if he ought to be defending her from something; and at
the same time a sensation of relief when he heard her once again called
"Mrs. May." "Princess" was only a sort of pet name, no doubt. That was
what he had hoped when the word caught his startled attention. He would
not like to have her turn into a real princess. An angel she was for him,
and might be, without seeming hopelessly remote somehow; but the pedestal
of a princess was cold as a block of marble.
The poster-simile did not occur to Nick; but he thought that the
red-haired girl with the self-conscious eyes, standing beside Mrs. May,
was like a coloured lithograph in a magazine, compared with a delicate
painting in a picture gallery, such as he loved to go and see in San
Francisco. Miss Dene's peculiar attraction, strong for many men, left him
cold, although he might have felt it if he had never seen Angela.
"I'm travelling with Mrs. Harland, and her brother, Mr. Falconer, in his
private car," Theo explained. She turned to them. "Mrs. May won't mind my
claiming her as a friend I hope. She was immensely nice to me in Rome. And
we've met in London, too. I don't know why I was surprised to see her.
Every one comes to this country. And Mr. Hilliard, perhaps, you both
"We have met," said John Falconer, whom Nick had praised yesterday as the
"typical" man of California. He put out his hand, and Nick took it,
pleased and somewhat surprised by the recognition. For he was in his own
eyes an insignificant person compared to John Falconer, who had done
things worth doing in the world.
Angela remembered Nick's eulogy of the man. He was about forty, as tall as
Hilliard, though built more heavily. Nick was clean shaven, and Falconer
wore a close-cut brown beard, which gave him somewhat the air of a naval
officer, though his face was not so deeply tanned. His features were
strong, and behind his clear eyes thoughts seemed to pass as clouds move
under the surface of a deep lake. Such a man was born to be a leader. No
one could look at him and not see that.
Mrs. Harland, his sister, who--as Nick was aware--kept house and
entertained for Falconer, was as like him as a very feminine woman can be
like an extremely masculine man; and, in fact, they were twins. Ralph
Harland, an Englishman, who had owned a California ranch, was dead; and
when his widow was not in Europe she stayed with her brother.
They all talked together for a few minutes, or Theo Dene talked and let
the others speak occasionally. Then Nick said that he must take his car to
the garage, but would come back for luncheon; and when he had flashed
away, Miss Dene invited herself to Mrs. May's room. "Do let me go with
you," she pleaded, with a girlish air which she liked to put on with
married women younger than herself. She thought that amusing. It
impressed upon them the fact that she was a girl--free, with life before
her. And, indeed, "The Free Lance" was a nickname of hers, which she liked
rather than disliked.
Of course, Angela said, "Do come." She had found out that she was tired of
Miss Dene. Still, she was curious to hear what she would say.
Kate had already opened her mistress's luggage, and spread gold and
crystal toilet things about. There were flowers, too, on the sitting-room
tables and mantel, California poppies with flaming orange hearts. Nick had
telegraphed for these; but Angela supposed that they had been ordered by
the "management." This impression was unlikely to be contradicted, because
Nick had wanted her to have the flowers, not to get the credit for giving
them. But Theodora Dene, who was experienced and shrewd in matters of the
heart, wondered about the poppies. She made no mention of them, however,
"I wanted you to myself for a minute," she explained, "to tell you I won't
forget you are Mrs. May--_toujours_ Mrs. May. And you needn't tell
me--anything, unless you like."
"I have told you why I came to California," said Angela. "I came to see
"And I do think you're seeing it in the _nicest_ way!" Miss Dene
commented, sweetly. "I came for something quite different. I don't one bit
"To write a book about California?"
"That was what I said to reporters. And that I was going to visit Mrs.
Harland. She's quite a dear, and I made her ask me, last time she was in
England, because that was the first time I met her brother. I really came
over with the idea of marrying him. He's splendid, and has loads of
money--which I badly need, for I've spent every penny I've made from my
books, and I've only eight hundred a year of my own. That won't buy my
frocks! I took the greatest fancy to him. But I see now it's no use.
Rather a bore! One hates to fail--and I'm not used to failure. However,
there's a great romance--which is one consolation. I'm thinking whether or
not I shall use it for the book. I'd like to--only Mr. Falconer's so well
known. Perhaps I shall pick up another plot. Anyhow, I'm recovering from
the blow, and beginning to take notice--as they say of babies and widows.
That brown man of yours is a dream of beauty. Do you mind if I smoke?"
"No. And he _isn't_ mine," said Angela, taking off her motor-veil in front
of the mirror.
"Well, then, dear Princess, if he isn't yours, and you don't want him to
play with, do hand him over to me. I won't grab him, if you want him
yourself. You were too nice to me in Rome."
"You saw in Rome that I didn't play." Angela stabbed a hatpin viciously
into her hat.
"There were cats there. Here there aren't--at least not any who know the
Angela daintily ceased to be a fellow-being, in a disconcerting way she
had when she chose, and became a high personage. She did this without a
word, without a gesture, without even lifting her eyebrows. There was
merely a change of atmosphere. Miss Dene felt it, but she did not care
here as she would have cared in Rome. There, the young Princess di Sereno
could have made or marred her socially. In California she was on the same
ground as Mrs. May. Besides, she knew a thing about Mrs. May which, for
some reason or other, Mrs. May did not want other people to know. So Theo
sat on a green sofa and smoked a cigarette, hoping that she looked like a
snake charmer with the sinuous, serpentine smoke-loops weaving and
writhing round her head.
"Pray don't joke in that way before any one else," said Angela. "It is
rather horrid, don't you think? No doubt Mr. Hilliard will be delighted to
have you 'play' with him, if you see enough of each other to make it worth
while wasting your energy."
As she spoke, she wrestled with a violent desire to show Miss Dene that
Nick was not to be detached from his present position of guide,
philosopher, and friend.
"I don't do that sort of thing with 'energy.' I do it with magnetism,"
Theo drawled. Her cigarette was smoked out, and she got up. "Well, I must
run down to Mrs. Harland, I suppose. We arrived only this morning, early,
from Monterey, and to-morrow we're going on to Paso Robles. That's where
Mr. Falconer's romance comes in. Did you ever hear of Paso Robles?"
"Yes," said Angela. "My father owned land there, with a warm sulphur lake.
There's a legend about it, which he used to tell me. The place is sold
now. But I'm going to see it--because of the legend. I had photographs of
the old Mission--and of the lake, too."
"Well, perhaps you know, then, there's a big hotel at Paso Robles and a
'cure.' I never heard of it before--but apparently it's famous. If you
stop there try and find out about a Mademoiselle Dobieski, and see her if
"Who is she?" Angela asked. "The name sounds dimly familiar, as if she
were an actress or a dancer, or somebody one has heard of."
"She _was_ a singer. She _is_ Mr. Falconer's romance. I'd give a good deal
to see her."
"I suppose you will, if she's a friend of his, and you're going to Paso
Robles in his private car."
"No. I won't be allowed. He's sending Mrs. Harland and me straight on to
Del Monte, and then to San Francisco. He'll follow; and afterward he's
going to take us to Shasta, and the McCloud River, where they say he has
the most fascinating country house in the world. I shall probably have a
relapse when I see it."
"I remember now," said Angela. "There was a Polish girl who sang in
concerts, and then made her _debut_ in opera in London. I never saw or
heard her, but people used to say she was divine. Then she went back to
Russia, three or four years ago, and seemed to vanish into space."
"She vanished into Siberia," replied Miss Dene. "Meanwhile, Mr. Falconer
had had time to fall in love with her in London, just before she took her
Russian engagement. It was his sister who told me this--perhaps to prove
that there was no use my having Designs, with a capital D. He followed the
girl to St. Petersburg; she disappeared. He put the matter into the hands
of a detective--an American one, brought over on purpose--money no object.
Then Mr. Falconer couldn't stay any longer himself, on account of
important interests on this side--but I believe he flashed across once in
a while, during the last four years, when he was supposed to be resting
and seeing Europe with his sister. She was always in the secret. Well at
last they wormed out the truth: that the Dobieski'd been arrested as a
Nihilist, secretly, and, in spite of her popularity on the stage as a
singer, sent to Siberia. With money, or influence, or both, she was
rescued from some dreadful hole, and smuggled to England. But she'd had
rheumatic fever, and her beauty was gone--she was a cripple. Still the
extraordinary man was faithful--though he'd never even had a chance to try
and make her like him. Did you ever hear of such a lover, out of a book?"
"No," said Angela, interested. But something within her whispered, "There
might be another such lover."
"Specialists--Mr. Falconer and his sister had the best--said there was
practically no hope that the girl would ever be herself again. Yet the man
wouldn't give up. He thought there was no place in the world like Paso
Robles for performing miracles. The doctors laughed--because it was
natural he should believe in his own country. However, the Dobieski
consented to come. Mrs. Harland brought her over. Now she's been here two
months, and is actually almost cured. Do try to get a glimpse of her. I've
an evil idea that my noble host is going to drop off at the Springs, after
shedding us encumbrances, for the sole purpose of proposing. If I use this
for my plot, I shall give myself the satisfaction of making the story end
"I dare say you'll enjoy doing that," Angela remarked, in her gentlest
"I really must go!" exclaimed Theo, and threw her cigarette end into
Angela's golden poppies. But she did not tell when she went downstairs,
as Angela was half afraid she would, that Mrs. May was the Princess di
Her friends had not left the veranda. Mrs. Harland was talking to some
people she knew, Falconer walking up and down looking at the ships that
were still trying their speed, in sight of the hotel.
"I do wonder _if the darling Angela knows about the Prince_?" Theo asked
herself; and then joined Falconer in his walk, not mentioning Mrs. May.
"So you've met that handsome big boy before?" she began.
"Hilliard?" said Falconer. "Oh, yes, I've met him at Mrs. Gaylor's."
"Who's Mrs. Gaylor?" Theo had the curiosity to ask.
Falconer told her, and described Mrs. Gaylor as being a beautiful as well
as immensely rich young woman.
"It must be over a year since her husband died," he added. "'Old Grizzly
Gaylor' he was called; a brute, I'm afraid. His taking off must have been
a relief to her. She's left with a splendid property. I've heard it said
there may be a match between her and Hilliard. He used to be foreman of
her husband's ranch; but now he's a landowner on his own account; struck
oil, and made a pile of money selling a gusher--the biggest and
longest-lived we've had yet."
"Are they engaged?" inquired Theo.
"I don't know. It isn't announced, anyhow. But it wouldn't be a bad match,
even for a rich woman. Hilliard's a fine fellow, all the finer because
he's a self-made man. By the way, the Gaylor place is one of the show
ranches of California. I think we ought to take you to see it."
"Do!" cried Miss Dene. "I could write about it, couldn't I? I'd like to
see Mrs. Gaylor. Another California type for my book!"
And again she asked herself, "I wonder if _dear_ Angela knows about the
FOR THE SAKE OF DRAMATIC EFFECT
Somehow, Miss Dene got herself invited to spend the afternoon in seeing
with Mrs. May and Hilliard all the things which Falconer and his sister
had spent the whole morning in showing her. Exactly how she did this she
herself might have told--with her occasional startling frankness--if she
had chosen. But Mrs. May could not. Perhaps Angela had invited her, or
said something which could be snapped up as an invitation; for Nick would
hardly have suggested a second guest unless his first guest expressly
wished for one. In any case, the fact remained that Theo Dene was going in
the yellow car for a spin round Santa Barbara, to the Country Club, the
Hope Ranch, and above all, to the Mission.
She stood talking on the veranda to Falconer and Mrs. Harland, as she
waited for Angela to come down, and for Hilliard to bring round the car.
Her host and hostess were laughing at her change of plans, for she had
announced, early in the day, that she meant to "lie down all the afternoon
and rest her features."
"Who is the beautiful Mrs. May?" asked Falconer.
Theo did not like this way of putting the question, because, quite
sincerely, she herself admired no woman who was not of her own type. She
was tempted to take advantage of Angela's desire not to be known, and
say: "Oh, she's one of a thousand other pretty travelling women with
intermittent husbands." This would have been epigrammatic, and at the same
time it might have quenched dawning interest in the stranger. Neither the
brother nor sister was of the sort who favoured flitting ladies with vague
male belongings kept in the background. But suddenly a brilliant idea
occurred to Miss Dene, who loved dramatic effects.
"Mrs. May chooses to be an ordinary tourist," Theo said, with just the
right air of mystery, "but if she liked, she could travel as a personage.
She has her own reasons for coming to America, just as I have mine, though
hers are different. Don't you think she ought to see Shasta, and the
McCloud River, if her impressions are to be complete?"
"Would she care to go?" said Mrs. Harland. "John and I would be delighted
to take her, and put her up for a week-end--wouldn't we, John?"
"Of course," said Falconer. "From what I saw of her, she'd be a charming
guest. But poor Hilliard----"
"Oh, do ask him, too, and give me a chance to flirt with him, please. I've
had such poor success with you, I'm feeling crushed. Do you think Mrs.
Gaylor too formidable for me?"
"If I were a betting man, I'd bet on you," Falconer laughed. "But I don't
know how far matters have gone between Mrs. Gaylor and Hilliard. It may be
gossip; all the world loves a lover, you know; and it's human nature to
weave a romance around two interesting figures placed toward each other as
"Well, I should like to try my hand, if his isn't pre-engaged," said Miss
Dene; "and if it is, he won't be wasted on me, for I can always use him up
in a book. What fun to have Mrs. Gaylor at the same time! We should soon
see if they were engaged if we brought them together, shouldn't we? If
not, I'd be free to get in as much deadly work as possible."
"Is Mrs. May's husband living?" asked Falconer, with a twinkle of mischief
in his usually grave eyes.
"I think I mustn't tell even you anything about her private affairs," Miss
Dene answered virtuously. "But I've reason to know that, for _this_ race,
anyhow, she's out of the running. As Mrs. May was telling you at luncheon,
Mr. Hilliard is showing her a few things because the mutual friend who was
to have done it, couldn't. He can't show her Shasta and McCloud, though,
as you can; for a mere motor's no attraction compared to a private car.
I'm sure she's never been in one as gorgeous as the kind in America--yours
"Well, we must give her the chance to try it," said Falconer.
"And you _will_ think of inviting Mrs. Gaylor at the same time?" Theo
turned her eyes from her host to his sister, beseechingly.
"I don't know Mrs. Gaylor well," Mrs. Harland demurred. "But if John wants
you to see her ranch, and takes us there, I don't mind asking her to
Rushing River Camp for a day or two. It's not very likely that she'd
refuse"--the lady smiled--"as I'm afraid that socially she's more or less
neglected, in spite of her beauty."
"Or because of it," said Falconer. "And here comes Mrs. May."
A moment later the car came too, and Angela realized that already she had
reached the stage when she would miss taking her place beside Hilliard.
She sat behind with Miss Dene, and Billy the "assistant" climbed into the
seat next the chauffeur's.
Theo availed herself of the opportunity to tell what she had heard about
Nick and Mrs. Gaylor, with embroideries of her own.
The air was balm of a thousand flowers, but for Angela it was no longer
"Parfait d'Amour." The two battleships had long ago finished their speed
trial; and trails of floating kelp lay like golden sea-serpents asleep
under the blue ripple of the sea. Everything was very beautiful. But it
was not yesterday!
In the town with the Mission still distant, she began to feel the
"foreignness" of Santa Barbara. The streets had Spanish names, and the
trees seemed musical, as she had thought that trees seemed in the South of
Europe; as if they had heard and seen all the happiness of history, and
had set them to music with their branches. Pretty girls rode bareheaded,
with sunburned men in sombreros, just outside the straggling town, between
hedges of roses that made boundaries for bungalows.
The beauty of the world sang a song in Angela's ears, with the rushing
breeze the motor made; the wind in the trees, the flashing lights and
shadows on the mountains. Clear-cut, lovely peaks sprang toward a sky that
was like fire opal with turquoise glowing blue behind it. Still, this was
not yesterday! The song of the world's beauty did not seem meant
personally for her, as it had then.
Piles of grain in the fields were like plumed, golden helmets, laid down
in rows to await the heads of resting warriors. The California oaks,
different from all other oaks, were classic in shape as Greek temples
sacred to forest deities, standing against a background of indigo sea. But
Miss Dene would talk.
Theodora, in her books, made a speciality of describing the emotional
souls of women, her favourite female thermometers being usually at
freezing or boiling point--never temperate. Descriptions of scenery she
"couldn't do," and what she called "landscape gazing" bored her. She was
more interested in people, and big towns, than in wide spaces where Nature
tried to lecture her. But because Angela admired the country she admired
it, too, more audibly than Angela.
They saved the Mission for the last. Nick had set his heart on showing it
to Mrs. May at sunset. As for Theo, though she said so much, he knew by
instinct that it was not she who cared for the beauty of the magnolia
hedges, the hay-gilded meadows, and the dark oaks that blotted the gold.
He felt that he ought to admire Miss Dene, for she was handsome, and put
herself out to be kind to him; but he wished the girl away, and was glad
that to-morrow she would be travelling with her own friends. When she
looked at him with her greenish eyes, she had the air of judging his
points, as if he were a portrait she thought of adding to her collection,
and of wishing him to look at her. Nick was not to be fascinated in this
Along the Cliff Drive they went to the Hope Ranch, and Angela tried to
think of the brave old days of the "Roaring Forties," of barbecues, and
wedding feasts for Spanish brides--days when the business of life was to
love, and laugh, and dance, and spend the money yielded by thousands of
rolling acres. According to the stories, all women had been beautiful, all
men brave, and ready to fight for the ladies they loved; and though the
world had changed since then, faster here than elsewhere, it seemed to her
that at heart the men of America had kept to old traditions more closely
than men in older countries. Then she smiled at herself for this
impression; for, after all, what did she know of American men?
When they turned at last, coming back toward the Mission, to which,
somehow, all the rest had been leading up, the setting sun was beating the
dusk into sparks of fire.
At first glimpse, alighting before the steps of the restored Mission
church, Angela compared it unfavourably in her mind with the lovely
shabbiness of San Gabriel. She had a feeling that Santa Barbara the
pleasure-place lived on Santa Barbara the Mission, with its history and
romance. But she had only to go inside to beg pardon of the church for her
first impression. It was easy to remember that there had never been the
same stress of poverty here as among the missionary Fathers of San
Gabriel, in the City of Angela. Yet in this place, too, there was the same
pathetic effect which had brought tears to Angela's eyes in the dim little
church at San Gabriel; an effect that once felt and understood, gives the
old Spanish Missions their great, undying charm. At Santa Barbara--sweet
name, ringing like the silver bells of the Franciscan Fathers--as at San
Gabriel, there had been the same striving to copy the noble designs and
proportions of the Spanish cathedrals, visioned in spirit by the homesick
monks, who knew well they would never see them with bodily eyes again.
With simple materials and unskilled Indian workers, these exiled men had
striven to reproduce in the far, lonely West the architecture of the East,
loved and lost by them forever. The very simplicity of the church made its
[Illustration: "_Santa Barbara Mission, with its history and romance_"]
The scar of Santa Barbara Mission had been patched up, while at San
Gabriel the bandages were vines and flowers; but the sunset light lent to
the cloisters all the stateliness and glory of some old monastery in
Southern Spain; the octagonal fountain on the bare terrace dripped silver;
and an embroidery of lichen had gilded the rose-coloured tiles of the
sloping roof with all shades and tints of gold. The sun, bidding good-bye
to the day, gave back for an hour the splendour of the past.
The three went up into the bell tower and looked down; upon the old garden
of the monks, then away to the sheltering hills, with the far-off rampart
of mountains. It was beautiful there, and the bells in their open,
window-like arches, had the kindly beauty of age and experience. Angela
tapped them with pink finger-nails, and brought out a faint, musical
whisper, which seemed to breathe some secret, if only she could
understand. But she could not! She felt dull and unhappy, she could not
tell why. Certainly it could not be for such a stupid, dog-in-the-manger
reason as because Nick Hilliard was supposed to be engaged to his "boss's
widow"--a most suitable arrangement. Perhaps it was the dreamy sadness of
this; place which had taken hold of her. If there were a secret in the
musical whisper of the bells, it was a secret of the past; and it was time
to come which was clouded for Angela. There seemed to be nothing definite
in it for her to touch. Her bodily eyes looked out over the bay of Santa
Barbara, grape-purple with the wine of sunset; but her spirit saw only the
uncharted sea of the future, across which strange sunrises glimmered, and
winds cried like harps, or voices called to her in prophecies she could
not hear. Happiness which she had never known seemed to live beyond that
sea in an island palace; but the key of the palace lay fathoms deep,
fallen among rocks under deep water. When Angela had been on her way to
California, she had said to herself: "I shall be happy there living alone
in some place which I shall find, because I shall be at peace, and
disagreeable things can never come to me." But now, suddenly, she felt
that more than peace was needed. She wanted to be happy with a happiness
far removed from peace.
"I think I'll go to the North to live," she decided. "In all this sunshine
and colour, one needs love--or else one's out of the picture."
At a little distance Miss Dene was telling Nick Hilliard that she was glad
she had met him, because he was just what she wanted for her book about
"I'm going to see your ranch," she said, "and Mrs. Gaylor's ranch. I've
heard about it--and her. She's very handsome, isn't she?"
"Yes," said Nick.
"And a great friend of yours--your best friend?"
"A great friend," he echoed, wishing that Angela, holding herself remote,
would let him draw her into the conversation.
It occurred to Miss Dene, seeing Nick's eyes wander, that perhaps there
was something about her which California men were not trained to
appreciate, for she was not having her usual success. And she had scarcely
made the sensation she had expected to make in San Francisco, although she
had been interviewed, and one reporter had said that her hair was dyed.
Nevertheless, if she could not have the sort of fun she wanted, she would
at least have what fun she could. She was sure that with Mrs. Gaylor, and
the Princess di Sereno, and this big unsophisticated young man, between
them life would be interesting even for an onlooker.
"I can see Chapter First, anyhow," she laughed to herself. And again she
wondered if Angela "knew about the Prince."
That night, while everybody drank coffee and talked or played bridge in
the hall, it was suddenly flooded with a tidal wave of women. They flowed
into the hotel in a compact stream of femininity; billows of stout elderly
ladies, and dancing ripples of slim young girls, with here and there a
side-eddy of thin, middle-aged spinsterhood. Each female thing had a
"grip," and of these possessions they built the desk a mountain of
volcanic formation, which looked alarmingly subject to eruptions and
upheavals. Then they all began to talk at once, to each other and to such
hotel officials as they could overwhelm and swamp.
"Good gracious! what is it?" asked Miss Dene of Falconer, who was supposed
to be a human encyclopaedia of general information. "I didn't suppose
there were so many women in the world!"
"They're Native Daughters, out for an excursion and the time of their
lives," said Falconer.
"Why Native?" Angela ventured. "It sounds like oysters."
"And it means California. They were all born in this State; and they will
now proceed to see something of it in each other's company. To-morrow
morning they'll 'do' the Mission of Santa Barbara."
"They'll do _for_ it, if they all try to get in at once," laughed Miss
Dene. "The place will be simply crawling with Daughters. How lucky we've
done our sightseeing to-day!"
She did not take the trouble to moderate her voice; and one of the new
arrivals, who hovered alone on the edge of the crowd, like a bubble of
foam flung out by the surging wave, stood near enough to overhear. She
turned and threw a glance at the group, in time to catch _en route_ to the
back of her dress a look sent forth from the eyes of Miss Dene. It was
that look which has no family resemblance to any other look, yet is always
the same in the eyes of the best and the worst woman--the look she gives
another woman's dress the style and fit of which fill her with supreme
The victim did not take this well-known gaze with meekness. She was a
small person, thin as a lath, with no attempt at complexion, and a way of
doing her hair which alone would have proved impeccable virtue in the face
of incriminating circumstantial evidence. She had neat little features,
and a neat little figure, though "provincial" was written over her in
conspicuous letters; and the gray eyes which she fastened on Miss Dene
looked almost ill with gloomy intelligence. She did not attempt to "down"
the beautifully dressed young woman with a retort, though her expression
betrayed a temptation to be fishwifish. It was evident, however, that she
was a little lady, though she wore a badly made frock, and her hat sat
like a hard, extraneous Bath bun on the top of her neat head. Whether or
no she were a Native Daughter, native good breeding fought with and got
the better of fatigue, nervousness, and irritation. She merely gazed
fixedly for a long second at Miss Dene, as if to say, "I know my dress is
amateurish, and yours is perfectly lovely, but I have a heart and would
hate to hurt the feelings of anybody, especially one who couldn't pay me
back, whereas _your_ only use for a heart is to keep your blood in
Angela saw this silent play of weapons, and all her sympathy was with the
stranger in dusty blue alpaca. She busied herself mentally in rearranging
the little woman's hair, dressing her in such a way as to make her quite
pretty and young-looking, and had not finished the operation when a hotel
clerk appeared with a paper in his hand.
"Your name, please," he said to the small, unaccompanied person.
"My name is Sara Wilkins," she replied in a clear precise voice, which
matched her personality; "but I must tell you that I am _not_ a Native
Daughter, and have not engaged a room. I arrived at the same time with the
others, and when they are settled I hope you'll be able to find me
something; otherwise I hardly know what I shall do, as it's late, and I'm
"I'm afraid I can do nothing for you, Madam, if you have not engaged,"
said the young man, civilly. "These ladies are expected, and a great many
will be sleeping three and four in a room. I'm sorry; but there are other
hotels in the town."
"I'm sorry too," said the lady in the dusty alpaca. "I've wanted for years
to stay in this hotel, if it was only for a few hours, as I've read so
much about it, and I arranged to stop off at Santa Barbara on purpose,
though I really ought to have gone on. And I'm _so_ tired!"
Angela could bear no more. "Oh, would you take my sitting-room?" she
asked, with the smile she had inherited with her heart and a few other
things from Franklin Merriam. "It would be such a shame to go away when
you've wanted to stop here--so late, too, and you mightn't get in anywhere
else. I shall be delighted--really--and I'm sure they can make you up a
comfortable bed, for there's a big lounge in the room."
Nick sat adoring her with his eyes, and Miss Dene believed that Mrs. May
had made the offer to please him and Falconer. Men were very silly and
sentimental about such things. But as she, Theo, had no sitting-room of
her own they could not blame her for selfishness.
Miss Wilkins looked at Angela with her intelligent gray eyes. "Why, that's
very kind of you," she said. "I don't like to take your room----"
"But you must like it, or you'll spoil my pleasure," Angela broke in,
looking so charming in her wish to make the little dusty person happy that
few women and no men could have resisted, or helped believing in her. It
was at this moment that Falconer determined to tell Mrs. May something
about certain private interests of his at Paso Robles, which he had not
intended to mention.
"Well, I _will_ take the room, then, and I will like it, too," returned
Miss Wilkins. "I don't know how to thank you enough."
"I'm giving up nothing that I shall mind doing without," said Angela; and
did not dream that she had stirred the deep water under which a golden key
lay hid; the key of that island palace in the uncharted sea of the future.
THE MYSTERY OF SAN MIGUEL
"Do you think you will go to Shasta in Mr. Falconer's private car?" Nick
They were flying along together on the winds of the Bright Angel, Angela
by Nick's side, on the way to Paso Robles. It was afternoon of the next
day; Falconer and Mrs. Harland and Theo Dene had left Santa Barbara in the
morning; and the sister and brother had been so pressing in their
invitation that Angela had hardly known how to refuse, though not quite
willing to accept. Late that night, Mrs. Harland and Theo would arrive at
Del Monte, where Falconer would join them, and in a day or two they would
go on to San Francisco, where Miss Dene had already been visiting. In Mrs.
Harland's maid, Kate had found a friend from her own part of "the ould
country," who had "come over" three years ago, and who had known Tim. This
meeting was such a joy, that Angela had fallen in with Mrs. Harland's
suggestion that Kate should go on to Paso Robles in Mr. Falconer's car
McCloud. The girl would thus enjoy her friend's society for several hours,
and having arranged Mrs. May's things in the rooms already engaged at the
hotel, would await her mistress's arrival that evening. Therefore, Angela,
Nick, and the little chauffeur had the Bright Angel to themselves for a
run of a few hours through beautiful country, and a visit to the old
Mission of San Miguel before arriving at Paso Robles.
"Do I think I shall go?" Angela echoed the question lazily, for she was
happier this morning, and basking dreamily in the change, not troubling to
wonder what had brought it about. "I hardly know. They were very kind to
ask me. Californian people seem so warm-hearted to strangers, and so
hospitable, one can't help feeling one's known them for years instead of
days. _You_ are like that too--otherwise I shouldn't be here! And I've
almost forgotten to be surprised at myself for--anything. I like Mr.
Falconer; Mrs. Harland, too; but he is what you said--splendid. I
understand why you called him typically Californian."
"I'm glad," said Nick. And he tried to be glad. But he had not been told
the romance of Mademoiselle Dobieski. Falconer did not guess that Angela
or Theo Dene knew it, though he proposed introducing Mrs. May to a "Polish
lady, staying at Paso Robles." "Then, of course, you will go to Shasta,
and they'll take you to their place on the McCloud River. They say
Falconer's house is the prettiest place of the sort in California. Mrs.
Gaylor's never been, but she reads a lot about society folk and their
doings in the papers. You'll sure have a good time."
"Why do you say 'you'? They invited you, too."
"Yes, and that was _really_ kind," Nick said. "It isn't 'kindness' to ask
you, because 'twould be an honour to have your visit. But they don't want
me. I was asked only because I happened to be with you, and Mrs. Harland
was afraid my feelings would be hurt if I was left out."
"I'm sure you're mistaken," Angela insisted, laughing within herself
because he had not seen Theo's manoeuvres. "Of course they want you." She
could not add what was in her mind. "Anyway, Miss Dene does." As for
Carmen, Angela had no idea that the invitation was to be extended to her,
and the figure of Mrs. Gaylor, who, according to Theo, intended to marry
Hilliard, loomed less important than after listening to Miss Dene's
gossip. Of course, it would be a good thing for him to care for Mrs.
Gaylor, and if she were really nice, to marry her in the end. Only, when a
young woman is in a motor-car with a handsome "forest creature" who
appears to live only for her pleasure, she does not think much beyond the
hour. For that hour he may be hers, and hers alone, though to-morrow they
part; and she shuts her eyes to anything so far away, so out of the
picture, as an "end."
"I'm not Mrs. Harland's kind," Nick explained; "nor Falconer's, though
he's too big a man to care for what people call 'social distinctions.'
They'd be kind to me if I went, and wouldn't let me feel any difference
they could help. But there'd be a house-party, maybe, and I wouldn't know
any one. I'd be 'out of it.' I couldn't stand for that, Mrs. May."
"You're sensitive," Angela said.
"In some ways," Nick admitted. But he did not admit the truth; that he
could not, and would not, go to Rushing River Camp because he was jealous
of Falconer. To Nick it seemed impossible that any man, free to love,
could be five minutes in Angela's society without falling in love with
He had had his moments of hope, but with Falconer for a rival the
handicap was too great. Not that Nick meant to give up the fight; but if
she went to Shasta it would be a knockdown blow. John Falconer was high
enough for a place in Mrs. May's own world. Nick despised jealousy as
common and shameful, and had always scorned men who yielded to so mean a
vice. Now, however, they had his pity. He knew what they suffered, and he
could not go with Mrs. May, in Falconer's car.
Nevertheless he beat down the desire to dissuade her from the trip.
"You oughtn't to miss McCloud River," he forced himself to say.
"I'll see," said Angela. "It's nice not to make up one's mind, but just to
enjoy the minute."
"Are you enjoying the minute?"
He was rewarded. For this minute was his. They were spinning along the
coast road, between sea and meadow, with the salt breeze in their faces.
The red-gold earth rose and fell in gracious curves, like the breasts of a
sleeping Indian girl, and now and then an azure inlet of the sea lit up a
meadow as eyes light a face. In the distance, mountains seemed to float
like spirit guardians of hill-children; and desert dunes billowed through
irrigated garden oases, like rivers of gold boiling up from magic mines.
Nick pointed out the two little mountains named after Louis the Bishop,
and told Angela tales of the country, of the people, and of the little
towns with Spanish names and faces, which gave her always that haunting
impression of the Old World. Some of the stories were her father's
stories, and she liked Hilliard the better for knowing them.
They had both forgotten Miss Sara Wilkins, who had "stopped off" at Santa
Barbara because all her life she had wanted to see the place. But just at
that moment, on her way to Bakersfield, she happened to be thinking of
At last the car plunged into a maze of folding hills, like giant dunes.
The motor road was woven in twisted strands while the railway overhead
strode across the gaps between height and height, on a vast trestle that
might have been built for an army of Martians. Rock-crested hills rose
gray in the sun above the soft night of oak forests; and as the road
ascended, its ribbons were looped from mountain to mountain like the
thrown lasso of a cowboy.
"Paso Robles means 'Pass of the Oaks,'" said Nick, as they came into a
stretch of billowing country where immense trees shadowed the summer gold
"Shall we go first to the Mission of San Miguel?" Nick asked. "Or are you
tired, and shall I take you to the hotel now?"
"I'm not tired," said Angela. She did not want this day to end yet.
"We'll hit the trail for the Mission, then," said Nick, "and see the
sunset, as we did from Santa Barbara."
"Can this be as beautiful?" Angela asked. "Surely not?"
"You, maybe, won't think so, but I know it will be more beautiful for me,"
he answered. "That imported young lady, with all those elegant fixings,
sort of jarred with the Mission architecture, to my mind."
Angela hoped that her laugh was not cattish. "But I'm imported, too," she
said. "Shall I jar on you at San Miguel?"
"You're _not_ imported!" Nick dared to contradict her. "Or, if you are,
you're the kind there oughtn't to be any duty on."
A rain of sunset colour poured over mountains, hills, and meadows as Nick
turned his car toward San Miguel. When they came in sight of the old
Mission (built far from the Springs because of hostile Indians), the
changing lights were like an illuminated fountain. At last, when they
began to fade, Angela said, "Let us go. If we stay longer we shan't
remember this at its best."
She would have been surprised if she had known what happiness there was
for Nick in the word "we," spoken as she often spoke it now: "We" must do
this; "We" mustn't forget that.
But it was a blow when she asked Billy, the chauffeur, if he would like to
see the Mission. "Nothing can hurt the car," she said; "and when we come
back it will be too late."
Nick was tempted to glare a warning and suppress the youth's interest in
objects of historical value: but he refrained. Billy must not get it into
his head that there was "anything going on." So the chauffeur was allowed
to follow Nick and Angela as they wandered, so it seemed to him,
sentimentally about the big Mission enclosure, between crumbling adobe
walls where the Franciscan Fathers had sheltered cattle in nights of
peace, and Indians in nights of danger. Billy could not feel the pathos of
the place--desolate, yet impressive in its simplicity; but as he
sauntered about, his hands in his pockets, whistling beneath his breath,
"I can't marry you!" his smart little modern mind began to work. The
strategic value of the position appealed to him, and he saw why "those old
Johnnies," as he irreverently styled the Padres, had planted the Mission
here. "Guess they knew their business 'most as well as if they'd been
soldiers," he said to himself.
Billy found pleasure in picturing the massacres which must have taken
place, imagining the great doors of the enclosure opened hastily to let in
an escaping band of "friendlies"; then the bursting in of the enemy, and
the death of the Fathers as they tried to protect their Indian children.
Many had died by fire and tomahawk, but always others had come to take
their place; and so the work had gone on through time, even as the
bell-signals had gone on sounding from Mission to Mission along El Camino
Reale, the highway of the Padres.
"One Father lives here; a dear old gentleman," said Nick. "I met him once,
but he mayn't remember me. I'll knock at his door to ask for the key of
the church. Somehow I think you're going to like it better than the church
of Santa Barbara. There's something special about this place, I hardly
know what, but you'll know. And they've got some vestments they're proud
of--made by Queen Isabella the Catholic and her ladies."
It rather surprised Angela to hear Nick speak of "Isabella the Catholic,"
for this way of naming the Queen showed knowledge of history; and Angela
had not yet discovered that history was Nick's favourite reading. Indeed,
she was only beginning to learn a few things about him. At first her
whole rather patronizing idea of the young man had been that he was an
"interesting type," a "picturesque figure." Then, when she heard him talk
with Falconer, and Falconer talk of him and of what he had done, she saw
that Hilliard was already a man of importance in his State: that the
"picturesque figure" was merely the woman's point of view. She was ceasing
to patronize him mentally now, and almost every hour he gave her some
At a closed door in the white, deserted cloisters, Hilliard knocked, but
there was no answer. His face clouded, for he had set his heart on showing
Mrs. May this Mission church.
"This means we can't get the key," sighed Angela.
"I'm afraid so," he agreed. "But it's possible the Padre's showing some
one around, or having a look at his beloved vestments."
They walked to the church door and found it shut; but to their surprise
the big old-fashioned key was in the lock. Nick pushed the door open and
they both went in, followed by Billy. The Padre was not to be seen. So far
as they could tell in the dimness the church was empty.
"Queer!" exclaimed Nick. "I wonder what can have become of the Padre? It
isn't like him to leave his church open at this time of the evening. It's
late, and we'll have to light up before we start on, although we've only
eight miles to go."
"I'm sorry he's not here," Angela said. "I should have loved to see Queen
"Would you? Well, you shall, if I have to turn everything in the church
upside down. They must be somewhere."
The two wandered on, peering through the dusk at the primitive paintings
and decorations, made by Indians according to designs of Spanish monks.
"Do you suppose the vestments may be kept up in that gallery?" Angela
suggested. "It looks a safe sort of place for treasures. But if they're
there I'm afraid we shall find them in a locked box."
It was worth trying, and they climbed the narrow stairs that led up to a
gallery curtained with twilight. There sure enough was a box, and, like
the door, it was open, the key in the lock. Within, free to every hand,
were the embroideries, the great treasures of the church.
"Isn't it mysterious?" she asked, in a half-whisper, for loud tones would
make jarring notes in this haunt of silence. "Can anything have happened
to the Padre?"
"Things don't happen these days," Nick reassured her.
But he was not quite easy in his mind. "It's too dark for you to see the
vestments well. Shall I carry them downstairs?"
"No," said Angela. "I'd rather look at them here. It's like staring at
flowers in the night. The colours come up to your eyes in the most
Seeing that she meant to kneel by the open chest Nick whipped off his coat
to lay under her knees, and she laughed as she named him Sir Walter
Raleigh. Hilliard and Billy stood behind her, Nick stooping sometimes to
examine a stole or altar-cloth she wished to show him, Billy frankly
bored, until a faint sound somewhere made him prick up his ears.
"Maybe that's the Padre now," said he. "Shall I go and look?" Then he
pattered down the steep stairway without waiting to be answered.
Angela and Nick forgot him for a moment, until his nasal young voice
called excitedly from below the gallery:
"Say, Mr. Hilliard, we're locked in!"
"What!" exclaimed Nick, straightening himself up and dropping the end of
an embroidered stole.
"Some fellow's been to the door and locked it on the outside."
THE WISE BIRD IN THE DARK
It was very dim in the Mission church. Angela had not realized how dim
until she heard the news announced through Billy's nose. They were locked
Somebody had been to the door, somebody had locked it on the outside, and
it was deep twilight, almost night.
Suddenly it seemed completely night. The colours of the old vestments
still glowed in the dusk, like smouldering coals in a dying fire; but that
was because of the rich tints, and because the eyes gazing at them were
accustomed to darkness. Looking up at Nick to see what his silence meant,
and whether he were nonplussed or merely deciding on a plan of action,
Angela could hardly make out his features. She could see clearly only his
eyes, luminous and gray.
"What shall we do?" she asked. Her voice sounded appealing, like that of a
"Don't worry, Mrs. May," said Nick, with sudden cheerfulness. "We'll get
out all right. I was just studying what must have happened. That's why I
was so mum. I reckon the Padre must have been away--though why he left the
key in the door beats me--and coming back he locked up for the night.
Unless he went around in the direction of the auto he wouldn't have seen
it. If he looked in here, of course he'd have thought the church empty,
we being in the gallery. And it's late in the day now, so late he wouldn't
"It's so 'late in the day' that it's night!" cried Angela. "Another reason
for his not seeing the motor."
"Not quite night yet! And I'm going down to make all the noise I can at
the door, assisted by Billy. There'll be such a din, between the two of
us, you'll want to stop your ears, and as for the Padre, he'll come
trotting as fast as his legs will carry him, to stop the row." Nick
laughed so jovially that Angela began to be seriously concerned. If it
were necessary to assume such gaiety he must regard the situation as
desperate. She remembered how far away was the sole occupied room among
the many empty, echoing cells.
Nick helped her down the steep stairway, and the touch of his hand upon
her arm was comforting. It was cold in the darkening church, and she felt
the chill more in imagination than in body; yet she shivered.
"What if we have to stay here all night?" she thought. But she kept the
thought to herself.
Nick and Billy took turns in pounding on the door, shouting, "Hi, Padre!"
then doing it together; but the separate and combined noises,
ear-splitting inside the church, produced no result. The dreamy silence
was shattered in vain, and at last, when the two refused to be discouraged
by lack of success, Angela stopped them.
"It's no use," she said. "He isn't going to hear. And I shall have
hysterics or something idiotic if you keep on for one more minute."
"I was thinking of trying another way," said Nick, still painfully
"What other way?--since even Samson couldn't batter down the door."
"A lot simpler than battering. Climb out of a window."
"Too high," said Angela.
"No. I can manage all right. I'll get out, find the Padre, and----"
"And leave me here in the dark? No!"
"But there'll be Billy."
"Let Billy go," Angela half whispered, "and you stay with me. Supposing
you went, and the Padre wasn't there, and--and you weren't able to get
back. Oh, I couldn't bear _that_!"
Never had Nick known so exquisite a moment. He was sorry this queer,
mysterious accident had happened, because it seemed to reflect somehow on
his intelligence and foresight as a guide. And he hated to have Angela
distressed. But--after his strivings with jealousy, and his defeat--it was
balm that she should depend upon him, and want him with her in this
"I thought, if worst came to worst, I might find a ladder outside," he
said, fearful of betraying his illicit happiness.
"Billy can find a ladder, if there is one," Angela persisted. "There's the
most weird, rustling sound, which comes every once in a while, and I can't
possibly stand it with only Billy."
Nick could hardly speak for joy, but he managed to reply, "All right;
Billy shall be the man to go."
The going was easier to propose than to carry out: for in bygone days,
when the Padres of Old Spain were building New Spain, Mission churches
had to protect their flocks against the devil incarnate as well as
excarnate. Windows were made few and high; and now, when the brave
builders sleep, it is nobody's business to worry about the free passage of
air. Such windows as San Miguel possesses were hermetically closed that
night when Angela di Sereno and Nick Hilliard were imprisoned; and Billy,
standing on Nick's shoulders, had to work a few tedious moments before he
could induce one of these windows to open. By the time the wiry, slim
figure was ready to straddle the window-sill, slip out, dangling, and drop
on the grass, night had closed in, fragrant and purple in the open, heavy
and black in the church.
Angela came and stood close to Nick. She had never been a timid girl; but
since the night when she had lain watching a thief who slowly, slowly
raised her window, twelve storeys above the ground, foolish and hitherto
unknown terrors crept through her veins if she happened to wake in the
dark. And now there certainly was a rustling which stirred the silence,
then died, as if it had never been.
"Don't go away from me," she said. "It's so dark that if we're separated
we may be ages finding each other."
This sounded like an allegory!
"No, we mustn't be separated," Nick answered, struck by her words, as if
by a prophecy. Then he, too, heard the rustling--faint, winged, and
They stood still and close together, listening. There was no sound from
outside--not a call for the Padre, not a reassuring shout that Billy had
succeeded in finding him.
Angela groped with her hand, and, by accident, touched Nick's. To save his
soul he could not have resisted pressing the small cold fingers!
Wonderful! She did not snatch them away! Often they had shaken hands, or
Nick had taken hers to help her in or out of the motor-car; but there had
been nothing like this. He felt the thrill of the touch go through him as
though electric wires flashed a message to his heart. He was afraid of
himself--afraid he should kiss her hand, or stammer out "I love you!" And
that would be fatal, for she would never trust herself to him again.
Besides, it would not be fair. She was like a child asking his protection,
here in the dark, and he must treat her as a man treats a child who has
come to him because it is afraid. But he could not think of her as a
child. He thought of the night in New York when she had knocked on his
door, and called to him, a stranger, for help. He thought how he had seen
her, drowned in the waves of her hair, like the angel of his dreams.
"Do you hear that?" she whispered, letting him keep her hand, even
clasping his with her fingers. "There's something alive in this church,
something besides ourselves."
Nick felt giddy. It was all he could do to keep himself from catching her
in his arms, no matter what might be the consequences, no matter how she
might hate him a moment afterward. But he resisted, and the strain of
"A bird has got in, perhaps," he said.
"You--you--don't think it could be the Padre himself ill, or--or----"
Nick understood her hesitation and fear.
"No," he soothed her. "We'd have seen any but some small thing. I've got
two or three matches in my box, I guess. We'll have a look around." This
was supreme self-sacrifice on his part, for to find matches and "look
around" meant letting Angela's hand go. To let it go was tempting
Providence, since almost certainly she would never, of her own accord,
slip it into his again.
"Yes, do let us," she said, and drew the hand away. Nick supposed she had
hardly been conscious that he had held her fingers in his, and even
pressed them. But this was not the fact. True, Angela had mechanically
groped for a protecting touch. Nevertheless, she was aware of Nick's hand
on hers, and glad of it, with a gladness made up of several conflicting
feelings: such as surprise, some slight shame, and defiance of that shame.
She was afraid of the rustling in the dark, which might mean a lurking
thief, a man half murdered, or one of a dozen things each more unpleasant
than the other. Yet she half liked being afraid in the dark, with Nick
Hilliard to reassure her, though she would have hated it with Billy. No
unknown horror she could conjure up would have made her want to touch
Billy. She was almost sorry when Nick found his matches and together they
began moving about the church, she keeping a little behind.
The last match but one lit up something white that stirred beside the
altar; and as the flame died down, leaving only a red glowing point, a
pair of eyes like two points of fire stared up from the floor.
"Oh!" murmured Angela, and clutched Nick's coat sleeve, like a girl of
early Victorian days. But, after all, women have not changed in
essentials. They are much the same now in the dark, when pale things stir
or shine unexpectedly; and they are still glad to have with them at such
times a man, preferably a handsome man, they happen to like better than
"Great Scot, it's an owl!" said Nick, profiting by the last match of all.
It was, or appeared to be, a white owl; and it seemed to him for a second
or two as if the witch-bird of the Grapevine man at Los Angeles had come
to give the advice it had refused. But this was a childish idea, he knew!
The owl was a plain, ordinary owl, which no doubt lived in the
neighbourhood of San Miguel, and had flopped in, perhaps in search of the
proverbial church mouse. It was afraid of the other intruders, and afraid
of the match, so afraid that it flapped its wings and hooted dismally. It
hooted three times, which, if it had been the witch fortune-teller, might
really have meant something, though there was no time just then to think
what. Nick was somewhat alarmed lest, in its anger and fear, it should
dash at Angela's face, but she would not let him strike the creature with
"No, poor thing, it's worse off than we are, because it's alone, and we're
together," she said. "We'll go, and leave it in peace now we know what it
is." And she kept beside Nick in the dark by holding daintily to his coat
He found the steps of the gallery, and made her sit down on the lower one,
rolling up for a cushion his coat, on which she had knelt as she looked at
the vestments. It began to seem odd that Billy had not come back, but it
was difficult for Nick to regret the delay as much as he ought, for
Angela's sake, to have regretted it.
When she shivered and confessed that she was cold, Nick fetched her a
priest's coat from the gallery, a rare piece of brocade, embroidered
perhaps by queen's fingers, and smelling of incense.
"What can have happened to Billy?" Angela wondered. "It's the strangest
thing that he doesn't come back. I begin to be frightened about him."
Nick reassured her once more. Things often seemed queer that were simple
when explained, as doubtless this would be. "I suppose you'd not like me
to go----" he began, only to be cut short before he could finish his
"No--if you mean, would I like you to go and look. While you're here----"
"Yes, Mrs. May?"
"Why, of course, nothing matters so much. And I wish you wouldn't stand
where I can't see you. Do sit down on this step by me."
So Nick sat down on the step, and her shoulder touched his arm. They
talked in low voices, he telling her things to "keep her mind off" the
situation: things about the Mission and other Missions. Then the
conversation turned to Nick's ranch and the oil gusher which had given him
fortune out of threatening ruin; and he described the queer little oil
city which had grown up on his land.
"I should like to see it," Angela said, when he had pictured Lucky Star
City and ranch in a simple way, which was nevertheless curiously graphic.
He caught up her words eagerly. "Would you let me take you there?" he
begged. "Mrs. Gaylor'd invite you to stay at her house. You know I've told
you about that, and how----"
"Yes, I know." Angela could hardly have explained why, but somehow she
did not want to hear Mrs. Gaylor talked of just then. She was no longer
indifferent to the idea of seeing Nick's home, and the woman who had
helped him to make it, yet she was not sure that she wished to go there.
Certainly she did not wish to visit Mrs. Gaylor. But--she would like to
know whether the mistress of the Gaylor ranch was really so very
"What we must think about now, is how to get out of this church," she went
on, laughing faintly in the dark. "It seems as if we might have to stay
here all the rest of our lives."
"Are you hungry?" Nick inquired.
In his enraged disgust at not being able to procure a meal, Nick would
gladly have killed and cooked the owl.
"Are _you?_" Angela asked.
"Good heavens, no!"
Time passed vaguely, as time does pass in the dark, when there are no
means of counting the minutes. They could hear their watches ticking, if
they listened, but they never listened long enough to know how the seconds
went by. And all the matches were gone.
"It's like being lost in a cave, or a mine, or the catacombs," Angela
reflected aloud, "with your only candle burnt out. You can't tell whether
it's minutes or hours."
"It must be mighty tedious for you, I'm afraid; though Billy's sure to
come back soon," said Nick.
"No, somehow it isn't tedious," she answered as if puzzled. "I suppose I'm
rather excited. And you----"
"Well, I suppose I'm rather excited, too," said Nick, in his low, quiet
voice, that did not betray what he felt. Angela's voice told more of what
went on in her soul. It was, as Nick often thought, a voice of lights and
At last--what time it might be they could not tell--there came a sound of
a key turning in a lock. The door opened, and a yellow ray from a lantern
streamed into the church, making the owl in its corner flutter wildly.
Billy's face showed in a frame of dull gold, as he peered about, blinking.
Then, for the first time, Angela knew that Nick had been angry with the
chauffeur. There was something in his tone as he said, "Well! So you have
come!" which suggested that, if she had not been there, the "forest
creature" might have added some strong and primitive language.
"Couldn't help it, Mr. Hilliard. I done the best I could," Billy explained
hastily. "When I got out there, I was up against a tough proposition, and
I guess it would have been tougher yet if I'd stopped to do much
"I don't know what your proposition was. But seems to me if it had been
mine I'd have found time to yell: 'All right--coming as soon as I can!' as
I passed the open window," Nick remarked dryly. "Mrs. May'll think we're a
But Billy broke into a flood of explanations, too proud to excuse himself
to Hilliard, after being, as he thought, unjustly reproached, yet willing
to justify himself in the eyes of the lady.
He had dropped from the window, he said, just in time to see a dim
figure, which looked like that of a Padre, disappearing in the distance.
He had started instantly in pursuit. If he had waited to call out under
the window the figure would have disappeared, and he might not have found
it again. As it was the old man had gone so far, and was going so fast,
that it had taken some time to catch up. He--Billy--had yelled. The
Padre--for the Padre it was--had eventually stopped. Then had followed
explanations why the key was in the church door, and the door open; why
the door was afterward locked, and why the Padre was hurrying away from
the Mission, late in the evening, with the key in his pocket. And all
these explanations were simple enough, simpler than Billy's own.
In the first place a gentleman in the hotel at Paso Robles--one who came
often to the Mission of San Miguel, and was a most important person--had
sent a message asking that the church might be opened for him in the
afternoon. He wished to drive out, and bring a lady to see the Mission.
The Padre, obliged to spend the afternoon at the bedside of a man dying at
a distant farmhouse, stuck the key in the church door, with a note
attached, asking the lady and gentleman to lock the door when ready to go
away, and hide the key under a big stone which the letter indicated. The
vestments and altar cloths, the great treasures of the church, had been
purposely left in an open box, that they might be inspected by the
visitors, and the Padre had departed with a growing uneasiness in his
mind, lest the instructions should be neglected. So strong was his
presentiment, "though the gentleman was not one to forget," that he felt
compelled to leave the sick man before nightfall, and hurry off to the
church to see if his fears were justified. He promised, however, to return
to the bedside immediately; and luckily meeting the gentleman, heard a
confession that indeed the key had been forgotten. Only a short time had
passed since the church was left empty, therefore the Padre had no further
fear for the safety of the vestments. He hurried on, missed seeing the
motor, found the key in the church door as he expected, gave it a quick
turn in the lock, took it out, put it in the pocket of his long gown, and
started back to the farm as fast as his legs would carry him.
"Well, wouldn't he give you the key?" Nick asked, when the story had
reached this point.
"Yes. He gave it to me. But it was pretty dark by that time, and a good
long way from the Mission. I lost myself, and thought I was never going to
get here," Billy admitted. "I guess I must have wandered all round Robin
Hood's Barn, when, just as I was ready to give up boat, the stars come out
through a lot of clouds, and showed me the roof of the church. I steered
by that, and here I am."
"I think we must be grateful, and not scold him," said Angela.
"I did my best, anyhow," Billy persisted, "and I brought this lantern out
of the auto. The worst is, I don't know how her lights'll work, for
thinkin' to be at the hotel before dark, I didn't bring no water."
Nick stifled a word or two he would have liked to say, reflecting that
perhaps he was as much as to blame as Billy. He ought to have left nothing
to chance where Angela's comfort and safety were concerned.
They got water, though finding it meant further delay, and after all, the
acetylene lamps obstinately refused to shine. It was the first time they
had been used since Nick bought the car, and he abused himself roundly for
not having tested their temper. Something was wrong, something which
neither his knowledge nor Billy's could set right; and after tinkering for
half an hour, they started with no other light than that of the lantern
which Billy proposed to hold while Hilliard drove.
By this time Angela was thankful for the cloak she had left in the car. It
was nearly twelve; and the eight miles which the Bright Angel would gaily
have gobbled up in the same number of minutes had she been able to use her
eyes, took an hour to negotiate. Like a wounded lioness the car crawled
along the dark road, illumined only by a fitful spot of yellow light; and
a deep-toned clock somewhere was striking one as she drew up before the
door of the hotel.
Most of the windows had gone to sleep, but a few near the front entrance
were twinkling wakefully, and the door flew open in response to the call
of the motor. A servant of the hotel came out, but behind the liveried man
appeared the tall figure of John Falconer, with a woman at his side.
"We've been anxious about you," Falconer said, coming forward.
That "we" was suggestive; and Angela's fancy sprang to a happy ending for
the marred romance. As she entered the hall, dazzled by the lights, her
first glance was for the woman who stood beside Falconer, smiling though a
little shy. It did not need Falconer's introduction to tell that this was
Mademoiselle Dobieski; and if the singer had lost her youth in Siberia,
Paso Robles, or the magic medicine of love, had given it back. Her pale
face, lit by immense dark eyes, was radiant, and though she leaned lightly
on a stick, it seemed that this was a mere concession to a doctor's order,
or a habit not quite forgotten.
"This is the lady I told you of," Falconer said to Angela, when he had
heard the story of the adventure. "I told her about you, too, and she
would sit up to see you. So would your maid, of course, who has been in a
great state of anxiety--and even the cat was depressed. Mademoiselle
Dobieski has been trying to console your poor Irish girl."
"I could not bear her to be unhappy," said the singer, in a voice of a
curiously thrilling quality. "I am so happy myself! This is the best day
of my life. I don't want it to end."
"The doctor has told her she will be cured," Falconer explained. "You can
guess whether it has been a happy day for me! And she has promised to be
my wife. It was in the Mission church of San Miguel, bless him!"
"Then it was you who forgot the key in the church door!" exclaimed Angela.
"I felt it was, somehow. And no wonder you forgot!" She threw a smiling
glance at Nick.
Nick said nothing, but he too blessed San Miguel. He knew nothing about
the bodily ailments which brought people to sulphur springs, but he
thought that no torture of the body could be worse than jealousy; and of
that pain San Miguel had in a moment cured him.
He blessed also the owl which had rustled and made Angela want him near
"I believe I'll catch it, and have it tamed at my place," he said to
himself. "I'll give it a good time all the rest of its life."
And next morning early, while Angela slept, he motored out again to the
Mission, found the Padre, caught the owl which was young and dazed,
brought it to the hotel, and hired a boy to take it by train to
ANGELA AT HER WORST
But something had happened to Angela next day. That was clear, from her
manner. What had changed her from a clinging, sweetly mid-Victorian girl
into a reserved, coldly polite woman, Nick could not imagine. Her cool
"Good morning" gave the first sign of a fallen temperature. His way of
beginning the day was suited to the ending of yesterday: hers denied all
that made yesterday memorable. Could it be that in recalling the scene in
the Mission church, Mrs. May disapproved of something he had said, or some
blundering act, and wished to "put him in his place"? Or--still more
terrible--was she unhappy about Falconer? Nick was confused, miserable,
and because he did not know how to take her, or consequently how to bear
himself, he became self-conscious and awkward.
Angela did not refuse to go to Santa Ysabel and the mysterious warm lake,
but she said that she would sit behind as her head ached a little, and she
would feel the wind less than on the front seat. Nick knew, somehow, that
she did not wish to talk to him. Yet there was nothing definite in her
manner, of which he could take hold and say, "Have I offended you?"
"Perhaps it's only that she's tired, and didn't sleep well," Nick tried
to persuade himself, because, in reason, he did not see what else it could
be. "As like as not, she'll be different to-morrow."
But there was to be no to-morrow.
The blow did not fall until he had brought her back to the hotel. Then,
before Nick could propose a new plan, she said quickly, in the presence of
Falconer, who had strolled out to meet the Bright Angel, "Oh, Mr.
Hilliard, I think you'll be glad to hear you are going to be relieved of
all this bother I've been making you. I'm engaged to play chaperon for a
few days. If _I_ will go to Monterey, Mademoiselle Dobieski will go, and
of course that will be a great, great pleasure to Mr. Falconer. You know,
don't you, that _our_ plans were never made for a day ahead? She and I
will travel in the wonderful private car, and meet Mrs. Harland at the
other end of the journey. I know Mr. Falconer means to ask you too, so we
shan't be saying good-bye, or even _au revoir_, if you accept. His idea is
for you to let your chauffeur drive the Bright Angel, and meet you where
you like. But he'll tell you all about that, of course. We arranged this
at breakfast, which Mademoiselle Dobieski had with me, in my
With this, she walked away, leaving the men to settle the question between
themselves. Nick thought then that he understood. She mentioned the
promised invitation, rather than break away from him too abruptly, but
certainly she could not wish him to accept. If she had not wanted to
escape from his society, she would not have fallen in with Falconer's
suggestion. Perhaps she had even asked Falconer to help her out of a
situation which, for some dreadful reason, she suddenly found impossible.
This was very likely Falconer's way of coming to the rescue. The excuse
seemed a fairly good one, and the invitation was calculated to save
sensitive feelings. But it was not quite good enough--or the feelings were
too sensitive. Nick thanked Falconer, and said that he was sorry to miss
such a pleasure, but could not trust Billy to drive the Bright Angel: he
must stick to the helm.
When Angela came back in a few minutes with Sonia Dobieski, Falconer was
still trying to persuade Hilliard to change his mind, proposing that, if
Billy could not drive, the Bright Angel should be put upon a train. For an
instant Nick's eyes sought Angela's, but she was tucking a rose into her
belt, and did not look up. Her lowered eyelids and long lashes gave her a
look of deliberate remoteness. Nick again expressed his gratitude, but was
"afraid he couldn't manage, although he would like it mighty well." This
time he made no excuse for his refusal, and Falconer let the subject drop.
He saw that something was wrong, and feared that he had been selfish in
suggesting an idea which would give him Sonia for a guest. Certainly Mrs.
May had accepted readily; but now there was a jarring note. He was sorry,
but could do nothing more, except to express regret that Hilliard would
not be of the party on board the McCloud. Mademoiselle Dobieski followed
suit, and, in common civility, Angela had to say what they said whether
she meant it or not. She had to look up, too, when she spoke, and Nick's
eyes met hers. She blushed like a schoolgirl, and glanced away, adding
quickly that she would have liked his advice as well as Falconer's, at
Monterey. "You know, Mr. Falconer thinks I shall want to buy land along
the Seventeen-Mile Drive, and build my house there," she said. "I wonder?
Since Santa Barbara, I've been thinking I might prefer the North. But I
can't tell, one bit. There's something about the climate of California--I
suppose it must be the climate!--which makes me in two minds about the