Part 2 out of 4
which stood in the corner. "Why, he's gone!" he said in some
"Well," said Mrs. Barker a little impatiently, "you didn't expect
me to take him into the public parlor, where I was seeing visitors,
did you? I sent him out with the nurse into the lower hall to play
with the other children."
A shade momentarily passed over Barker's face. He always looked
forward to meeting the child when he came back. He had a belief,
based on no grounds whatever, that the little creature understood
him. And he had a father's doubt of the wholesomeness of other
people's children who were born into the world indiscriminately and
not under the exceptional conditions of his own. "I'll go and
fetch him," he said.
"You haven't told me anything about your interview; what you did
and what your good friend Stacy said," said Mrs. Barker, dropping
languidly into a chair. "And really if you are simply running away
again after that child, I might just as well have asked Captain
Heath to stay longer."
"Oh, as to Stacy," said Barker, dropping beside her and taking her
hand; "well, dear, he was awfully busy, you know, and shut up in
the innermost office like the agate in one of the Japanese nests of
boxes. But," he continued, brightening up, "just the same dear old
Jim Stacy of Heavy Tree Hill, when I first knew you. Lord! dear,
how it all came back to me! That day I proposed to you in the
belief that I was unexpectedly rich and even bought a claim for the
boys on the strength of it, and how I came back to them to find
that they had made a big strike on the very claim. Lord! I
remember how I was so afraid to tell them about you--and how they
guessed it--that dear old Stacy one of the first."
"Yes," said Mrs. Barker, "and I hope your friend Stacy remembered
that but for ME, when you found out that you were not rich, you'd
have given up the claim, but that I really deceived my own father
to make you keep it. I've often worried over that, George," she
said pensively, turning a diamond bracelet around her pretty wrist,
"although I never said anything about it."
"But, Kitty darling," said Barker, grasping his wife's hand, "I
gave my note for it; you know you said that was bargain enough, and
I had better wait until the note was due, and until I found I
couldn't pay, before I gave up the claim. It was very clever of
you, and the boys all said so, too. But you never deceived your
father, dear," he said, looking at her gravely, "for I should have
told him everything."
"Of course, if you look at it in that way," said his wife
languidly, "it's nothing; only I think it ought to be remembered
when people go about saying papa ruined you with his hotel schemes."
"Who dares say that?" said Barker indignantly.
"Well, if they don't SAY it they look it," said Mrs. Barker, with a
toss of her pretty head, "and I believe that's at the bottom of
"But he never said a word, Kitty," said Barker, flushing.
"There, don't excite yourself, George," said Mrs. Barker resignedly,
"but go for the baby. I know you're dying to go, and I suppose it's
time Norah brought it upstairs."
At any other time Barker would have lingered with explanations, but
just then a deeper sense than usual of some misunderstanding made
him anxious to shorten this domestic colloquy. He rose, pressed
his wife's hand, and went out. But yet he was not entirely
satisfied with himself for leaving her. "I suppose it isn't right
my going off as soon as I come in," he murmured reproachfully to
himself, "but I think she wants the baby back as much as I; only,
womanlike, she didn't care to let me know it."
He reached the lower hall, which he knew was a favorite promenade
for the nurses who were gathered at the farther end, where a large
window looked upon Montgomery Street. But Norah, the Irish nurse,
was not among them; he passed through several corridors in his
search, but in vain. At last, worried and a little anxious, he
turned to regain his rooms through the long saloon where he had
found his wife previously. It was deserted now; the last caller
had left--even frivolity had its prescribed limits. He was
consequently startled by a gentle murmur from one of the heavily
curtained window recesses. It was a woman's voice--low, sweet,
caressing, and filled with an almost pathetic tenderness. And it
was followed by a distinct gurgling satisfied crow.
Barker turned instantly in that direction. A step brought him to
the curtain, where a singular spectacle presented itself.
Seated on a lounge, completely absorbed and possessed by her
treasure, was the "horrid woman" whom his wife had indicated only a
little while ago, holding a baby--Kitty's sacred baby--in her
wanton lap! The child was feebly grasping the end of the slender
jeweled necklace which the woman held temptingly dangling from a
thin white jeweled finger above it. But its eyes were beaming with
an intense delight, as if trying to respond to the deep,
concentrated love in the handsome face that was bent above it.
At the sudden intrusion of Barker she looked up. There was a faint
rise in her color, but no loss of sell-possession.
"Please don't scold the nurse," she said, "nor say anything to Mrs.
Barker. It is all my fault. I thought that both the nurse and
child looked dreadfully bored with each other, and I borrowed the
little fellow for a while to try and amuse him. At least I haven't
made him cry, have I, dear?" The last epithet, it is needless to
say, was addressed to the little creature in her lap, but in its
tender modulation it touched the father's quick sympathies as if he
had shared it with the child. "You see," she said softly,
disengaging the baby fingers from her necklace, "that OUR sex is
not the only one tempted by jewelry and glitter."
Barker hesitated; the Madonna-like devotion of a moment ago was
gone; it was only the woman of the world who laughingly looked up
at him. Nevertheless he was touched. "Have you--ever--had a
child, Mrs. Horncastle?" he asked gently and hesitatingly. He had
a vague recollection that she passed for a widow, and in his simple
eyes all women were virgins or married saints.
"No," she said abruptly. Then she added with a laugh, "Or perhaps
I should not admire them so much. I suppose it's the same feeling
bachelors have for other people's wives. But I know you're dying
to take that boy from me. Take him, then, and don't be ashamed to
carry him yourself just because I'm here; you know you would
delight to do it if I weren't."
Barker bent over the silken lap in which the child was comfortably
nestling, and in that attitude had a faint consciousness that Mrs.
Horncastle was mischievously breathing into his curls a silent
laugh. Barker lifted his firstborn with proud skillfulness, but
that sagacious infant evidently knew when he was comfortable, and
in a paroxysm of objection caught his father's curls with one fist,
while with the other he grasped Mrs. Horncastle's brown braids and
brought their heads into contact. Upon which humorous situation
Norah, the nurse, entered.
"It's all right, Norah," said Mrs. Horncastle, laughing, as she
disengaged herself from the linking child. "Mr. Barker has claimed
the baby, and has agreed to forgive you and me and say nothing to
Mrs. Barker." Norah, with the inscrutable criticism of her sex on
her sex, thought it extremely probable, and halted with
exasperating discretion. "There," continued Mrs. Horncastle,
playfully evading the child's further advances, "go with papa,
that's a dear. Mr. Barker prefers to carry him back, Norah."
"But," said the ingenuous and persistent Barker, still lingering in
hopes of recalling the woman's previous expression, "you DO love
children, and you think him a bright little chap for his age?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Horncastle, putting back her loosened braid, "so
round and fat and soft. And such a discriminating eye for jewelry.
Really you ought to get a necklace like mine for Mrs. Barker--it
would please both, you know." She moved slowly away, the united
efforts of Norah and Barker scarcely sufficing to restrain the
struggling child from leaping after her as she turned at the door
and blew him a kiss.
When Barker regained his room he found that Mrs. Barker had
dismissed Stacy from her mind except so far as to invoke Norah's
aid in laying out her smartest gown for dinner. "But why take all
this trouble, dear?" said her simple-minded husband; "we are going
to dine in a private room so that we can talk over old times all by
ourselves, and any dress would suit him. And, Lord, dear!" he
added, with a quick brightening at the fancy, "if you could only
just rig yourself up in that pretty lilac gown you used to wear at
Boomville--it would be too killing, and just like old times. I put
it away myself in one of our trunks--I couldn't bear to leave it
behind; I know just where it is. I'll"-- But Mrs. Barker's
restraining scorn withheld him.
"George Barker, if you think I am going to let you throw away and
utterly WASTE Mr. Stacy on us, alone, in a private room with closed
doors--and I dare say you'd like to sit in your dressing-gown and
slippers--you are entirely mistaken. I know what is due, not to
your old partner, but to the great Mr. Stacy, the financier, and I
know what is due FROM HIM TO US! No! We dine in the great dining-
room, publicly, and, if possible, at the very next table to those
stuck-up Peterburys and their Eastern friends, including that
horrid woman, which, I'm sure, ought to satisfy you. Then you can
talk as much as you like, and as loud as you like, about old
times,--and the louder and the more the better,--but I don't think
HE'LL like it."
"But the baby!" expostulated Barker. "Stacy's just wild to see
him--and we can't bring him down to the table--though we MIGHT," he
added, momentarily brightening.
"After dinner," said Mrs. Barker severely, "we will walk through
the big drawing-rooms, and THEN Mr. Stacy may come upstairs and see
him in his crib; but not before. And now, George, I do wish that
to-night, FOR ONCE, you would not wear a turn-down collar, and that
you would go to the barber's and have him cut your hair and smooth
out the curls. And, for Heaven's sake! let him put some wax or gum
or SOMETHING on your mustache and twist it up on your cheek like
Captain Heath's, for it positively droops over your mouth like a
girl's ringlet. It's quite enough for me to hear people talk of
your inexperience, but really I don't want you to look as if I had
run away with a pretty schoolboy. And, considering the size of
that child, it's positively disgraceful. And, one thing more,
George. When I'm talking to anybody, please don't sit opposite to
me, beaming with delight, and your mouth open. And don't roar if
by chance I say something funny. And--whatever you do--don't make
eyes at me in company whenever I happen to allude to you, as I did
before Captain Heath. It is positively too ridiculous."
Nothing could exceed the laughing good humor with which her husband
received these cautions, nor the evident sincerity with which he
promised amendment. Equally sincere was he, though a little more
thoughtful, in his severe self-examination of his deficiencies,
when, later, he seated himself at the window with one hand softly
encompassing his child's chubby fist in the crib beside him, and,
in the instinctive fashion of all loneliness, looked out of the
window. The southern trades were whipping the waves of the distant
bay and harbor into yeasty crests. Sheets of rain swept the
sidewalks with the regularity of a fusillade, against which a few
pedestrians struggled with flapping waterproofs and slanting
umbrellas. He could look along the deserted length of Montgomery
Street to the heights of Telegraph Hill and its long-disused
semaphore. It seemed lonelier to him than the mile-long sweep of
Heavy Tree Hill, writhing against the mountain wind and its aeolian
song. He had never felt so lonely THERE. In his rigid self-
examination he thought Kitty right in protesting against the effect
of his youthfulness and optimism. Yet he was also right in being
himself. There is an egoism in the highest simplicity; and Barker,
while willing to believe in others' methods, never abandoned his
own aims. He was right in loving Kitty as he did; he knew that she
was better and more lovable than she could believe herself to be;
but he was willing to believe it pained and discomposed her if he
showed it before company. He would not have her change even this
peculiarity--it was part of herself--no more than he would have
changed himself. And behind what he had conceived was her clear,
practical common sense, all this time had been her belief that she
had deceived her father! Poor dear, dear Kitty! And she had
suffered because stupid people had conceived that her father had
led him away in selfish speculations. As if he--Barker--would not
have first discovered it, and as if anybody--even dear Kitty
herself--was responsible for HIS convictions and actions but
himself. Nevertheless, this gentle egotist was unusually serious,
and when the child awoke at last, and with a fretful start and
vacant eyes pushed his caressing hand away, he felt lonelier than
before. It was with a slight sense of humiliation, too, that he
saw it stretch its hands to the mere hireling, Norah, who had never
given it the love that he had seen even in the frivolous Mrs.
Horncastle's eyes. Later, when his wife came in, looking very
pretty in her elaborate dinner toilette, he had the same
conflicting emotions. He knew that they had already passed that
phase of their married life when she no longer dressed to please
him, and that the dictates of fashion or the rivalry of another
woman she held superior to his tastes; yet he did not blame her.
But he was a little surprised to see that her dress was copied from
one of Mrs. Horncastle's most striking ones, and that it did not
suit her. That which adorned the maturer woman did not agree with
the demure and slightly austere prettiness of the young wife.
But Barker forgot all this when Stacy--reserved and somewhat
severe-looking in evening dress--arrived with business punctuality.
He fancied that his old partner received the announcement that they
would dine in the public room with something of surprise, and he
saw him glance keenly at Kitty in her fine array, as if he had
suspected it was her choice, and understood her motives. Indeed,
the young husband had found himself somewhat nervous in regard to
Stacy's estimate of Kitty; he was conscious that she was not
looking and acting like the old Kitty that Stacy had known; it did
not enter his honest heart that Stacy had, perhaps, not appreciated
her then, and that her present quality might accord more with his
worldly tastes and experience. It was, therefore, with a kind of
timid delight that he saw Stacy apparently enter into her mood, and
with a still more timorous amusement to notice that he seemed to
sympathize not only with her, but with her half-rallying, half-
serious attitude towards his (Barker's) inexperience and
simplicity. He was glad that she had made a friend of Stacy, even
in this way. Stacy would understand, as he did, her pretty
willfulness at last; she would understand what a true friend Stacy
was to him. It was with unfeigned satisfaction that he followed
them in to dinner as she leaned upon his guest's arm, chatting
confidentially. He was only uneasy because her manner had a slight
The entrance of the little party produced a quick sensation
throughout the dining-room. Whispers passed from table to table;
all heads were turned towards the great financier as towards a
magnet; a few guests even shamelessly faced round in their chairs
as he passed. Mrs. Barker was pink, pretty, and voluble with
excitement; Stacy had a slight mask of reserve; Barker was the only
one natural and unconscious.
As the dinner progressed Barker found that there was little chance
for him to invoke his old partner's memories of the past. He
found, however, that Stacy had received a letter from Demorest, and
that he was coming home from Europe. His letters were still sad;
they both agreed upon that. And then for the first time that day
Stacy looked intently at Barker with the look that he had often
worn on Heavy Tree Hill.
"Then you think it is the same old trouble that worries him?" said
Barker in an awed and sympathetic voice.
"I believe it is," said Stacy, with an equal feeling. Mrs. Barker
pricked up her pretty ears; her husband's ready sympathy was
familiar enough; but that this cold, practical Stacy should be
moved at anything piqued her curiosity.
"And you believe that he has never got over it?" continued Barker.
"He had one chance, but he threw it away," said Stacy energetically.
"If, instead of going off to Europe by himself to brood over it, he
had joined me in business, he'd have been another man."
"But not Demorest," said Barker quickly.
"What dreadful secret is this about Demorest?" said Mrs. Barker
petulantly. "Is he ill?"
Both men were silent by their old common instinct. But it was
Stacy who said "No" in a way that put any further questioning at an
end, and Barker was grateful and for the moment disloyal to his
It was with delight that Mrs. Barker had seen that the attention of
the next table was directed to them, and that even Mrs. Horncastle
had glanced from time to time at Stacy. But she was not prepared
for the evident equal effect that Mrs. Horncastle had created upon
Stacy. His cold face warmed, his critical eye softened; he asked
her name. Mrs. Barker was voluble, prejudiced, and, it seemed,
"I know it all," said Stacy, with didactic emphasis. "Her husband
was as bad as they make them. When her life had become intolerable
WITH HIM, he tried to make it shameful WITHOUT HIM by abandoning
her. She could get a divorce a dozen times over, but she won't."
"I suppose that's what makes her so very attractive to gentlemen,"
said Mrs. Barker ironically.
"I have never seen her before," continued Stacy, with business
precision, "although I and two other men are guardians of her
property, and have saved it from the clutches of her husband. They
told me she was handsome--and so she is."
Pleased with the sudden human weakness of Stacy, Barker glanced at
his wife for sympathy. But she was looking studiously another way,
and the young husband's eyes, still full of his gratification, fell
upon Mrs. Horncastle's. She looked away with a bright color.
Whereupon the sanguine Barker--perfectly convinced that she
returned Stacy's admiration--was seized with one of his old boyish
dreams of the future, and saw Stacy happily united to her, and was
only recalled to the dinner before him by its end. Then Stacy duly
promenaded the great saloon with Mrs. Barker on his arm, visited
the baby in her apartments, and took an easy leave. But he grasped
Barker's hand before parting in quite his old fashion, and said,
"Come to lunch with me at the bank any day, and we'll talk of Phil
Demorest," and left Barker as happy as if the appointment were to
confer the favor he had that morning refused. But Mrs. Barker, who
had overheard, was more dubious.
"You don't suppose he asks you to talk with you about Demorest and
his stupid secret, do you?" she said scornfully.
"Perhaps not only about that," said Barker, glad that she had not
demanded the secret.
"Well," returned Mrs. Barker as she turned away, "he might just as
well lunch here and talk about HER--and see her, too."
Meantime Stacy had dropped into his club, only a few squares
distant. His appearance created the same interest that it had
produced at the hotel, but with less reserve among his fellow
"Have you heard the news?" said a dozen voices. Stacy had not; he
had been dining out.
"That infernal swindle of a Divide Railroad has passed the
Stacy instantly remembered Barker's absurd belief in it and his
reasons. He smiled and said carelessly, "Are you quite sure it's a
There was a dead silence at the coolness of the man who had been
most outspoken against it.
"But," said a voice hesitatingly, "you know it goes nowhere and to
"But that does not prevent it, now that it's a fact, from going
anywhere and to some purpose," said Stacy, turning away. He passed
into the reading-room quietly, but in an instant turned and quickly
descended by another staircase into the hall, hurriedly put on his
overcoat, and slipping out was a moment later re-entering the
hotel. Here he hastily summoned Barker, who came down, flushed and
excited. Laying his hand on Barker's arm in his old dominant way,
"Don't delay a single hour, but get a written agreement for that
Barker smiled. "But I have. Got it this afternoon."
"Then you know?" ejaculated Stacy in surprise.
"I only know," said Barker, coloring, "that you said I could back
out of it if it wasn't signed, and that's what Kitty said, too.
And I thought it looked awfully mean for me to hold a man to that
kind of a bargain. And so--you won't be mad, old fellow, will
you?--I thought I'd put it beyond any question of my own good faith
by having it in black and white." He stopped, laughing and
blushing, but still earnest and sincere. "You don't think me a
fool, do you?" he said pathetically.
Stacy smiled grimly. "I think, Barker boy, that if you go to the
Branch you'll have no difficulty in paying for the Ditch property.
In a few moments he was back at the club again before any one knew
he had even left the building. As he again re-entered the smoking-
room he found the members still in eager discussion about the new
railroad. One was saying, "If they could get an extension, and
carry the road through Heavy Tree Hill to Boomville they'd be all
"I quite agree with you," said Stacy.
The swaying, creaking, Boomville coach had at last reached the
level ridge, and sank forward upon its springs with a sigh of
relief and the slow precipitation of the red dust which had hung in
clouds around it. The whole coach, inside and out, was covered
with this impalpable powder; it had poured into the windows that
gaped widely in the insufferable heat; it lay thick upon the novel
read by the passenger who had for the third or fourth time during
the ascent made a gutter of the half-opened book and blown the dust
away in a single puff, like the smoke from a pistol. It lay in
folds and creases over the yellow silk duster of the handsome woman
on the back seat, and when she endeavored to shake it off enveloped
her in a reddish nimbus. It grimed the handkerchiefs of others,
and left sanguinary streaks on their mopped foreheads. But as the
coach had slowly climbed the summit the sun was also sinking behind
the Black Spur Range, and with its ultimate disappearance a
delicious coolness spread itself like a wave across the ridge. The
passengers drew a long breath, the reader closed his book, the lady
lifted the edge of her veil and delicately wiped her forehead, over
which a few damp tendrils of hair were clinging. Even a
distinguished-looking man who had sat as impenetrable and remote as
a statue in one of the front seats moved and turned his abstracted
face to the window. His deeply tanned cheek and clearly cut
features harmonized with the red dust that lay in the curves of his
brown linen dust-cloak, and completed his resemblance to a bronze
figure. Yet it was Demorest, changed only in coloring. Now, as
five years ago, his abstraction had a certain quality which the
most familiar stranger shrank from disturbing. But in the general
relaxation of relief the novel-reader addressed him.
"Well, we ain't far from Boomville now, and it's all down-grade the
rest of the way. I reckon you'll be as glad to get a 'wash up' and
a 'shake' as the rest of us."
"I am afraid I won't have so early an opportunity," said Demorest,
with a faint, grave smile, "for I get off at the cross-road to
Heavy Tree Hill."
"Heavy Tree Hill!" repeated the other in surprise. "You ain't
goin' to Heavy Tree Hill? Why, you might have gone there direct by
railroad, and have been there four hours ago. You know there's a
branch from the Divide Railroad goes there straight to the hotel at
"Where?" said Demorest, with a puzzled smile.
"Hymettus. That's the fancy name they've given to the watering-
place on the slope. But I reckon you're a stranger here?"
"For five years," said Demorest. "I fancy I've heard of the
railroad, although I prefer to go to Heavy Tree this way. But I
never heard of a watering-place there before."
"Why, it's the biggest boom of the year. Folks that are tired of
the fogs of 'Frisco and the heat of Sacramento all go there. It's
four thousand feet up, with a hotel like Saratoga, dancing, and a
band plays every night. And it all sprang out of the Divide
Railroad and a crank named George Barker, who bought up some old
Ditch property and ran a branch line along its levels, and made a
junction with the Divide. You can come all the way from 'Frisco or
Sacramento by rail. It's a mighty big thing!"
"Yet," said Demorest, with some animation, "you call the man who
originated this success a crank. I should say he was a genius."
The other passenger shook his head. "All sheer nigger luck. He
bought the Ditch plant afore there was a ghost of a chance for the
Divide Railroad, just out o' pure d----d foolishness. He expected
so little from it that he hadn't even got the agreement done in
writin', and hadn't paid for it, when the Divide Railroad passed
the legislature, as it never oughter done! For, you see, the
blamedest cur'ous thing about the whole affair was that this
'straw' road of a Divide, all pure wildcat, was only gotten up to
frighten the Pacific Railroad sharps into buying it up. And the
road that nobody ever calculated would ever have a rail of it laid
was pushed on as soon as folks knew that the Ditch plant had been
bought up, for they thought there was a big thing behind it. Even
the hotel was, at first, simply a kind of genteel alms-house that
this yer Barker had built for broken-down miners!"
"Nevertheless," continued Demorest, smiling, "you admit that it is
a great success?"
"Yes," said the other, a little irritated by some complacency in
Demorest's smile, "but the success isn't HIS'N. Fools has ideas,
and wise men profit by them, for that hotel now has Jim Stacy's
bank behind it, and is even a kind of country branch of the Brook
House in 'Frisco. Barker's out of it, I reckon. Anyhow, HE
couldn't run a hotel, for all that his wife--she that's one of the
big 'Frisco swells now--used to help serve in her father's. No,
sir, it's just a fool's luck, gettin' the first taste and leavin'
the rest to others."
"I'm not sure that it's the worst kind of luck," returned Demorest,
with persistent gravity; "and I suppose he's satisfied with it."
But so heterodox an opinion only irritated his antagonist the more,
especially as he noticed that the handsome woman in the back seat
appeared to be interested in the conversation, and even sympathetic
with Demorest. The man was in the main a good-natured fellow and
loyal to his friends; but this did not preclude any virulent
criticism of others, and for a moment he hated this bronze-faced
stranger, and even saw blemishes in the handsome woman's beauty.
"That may be YOUR idea of an Eastern man," he said bluntly, "but I
kin tell ye that Californy ain't run on those lines. No, sir."
Nevertheless, his curiosity got the better of his ill humor, and as
the coach at last pulled up at the cross-road for Demorest to
descend he smiled affably at his departing companion.
"You allowed just now that you'd bin five years away. Whar mout ye
"In Europe," said Demorest pleasantly.
"I reckoned ez much," returned his interrogator, smiling
significantly at the other passengers. "But in what place?"
"Oh, many," said Demorest, smiling also.
"But what place war ye last livin' at?"
"Well," said Demorest, descending the steps, but lingering for a
moment with his hand on the door of the coach, "oddly enough, now
you remind me of it--at Hymettus!"
He closed the door, and the coach rolled on. The passenger
reddened, glanced indignantly after the departing figure of
Demorest and suspiciously at the others. The lady was looking from
the window with a faint smile on her face.
"He might hev given me a civil answer," muttered the passenger, and
resumed his novel.
When the coach drew up before Carter's Hotel the lady got down, and
the curiosity of her susceptible companions was gratified to the
extent of learning from the register that her name was Horncastle.
She was shown to a private sitting-room, which chanced to be the
one which had belonged to Mrs. Barker in the days of her
maidenhood, and was the sacred, impenetrable bower to which she
retired when her daily duties of waiting upon her father's guests
were over. But the breath of custom had passed through it since
then, and but little remained of its former maiden glories, except
a few schoolgirl crayon drawings on the wall and an unrecognizable
portrait of herself in oil, done by a wandering artist and still
preserved as a receipt for his unpaid bill. Of these facts Mrs.
Horncastle knew nothing; she was evidently preoccupied, and after
she had removed her outer duster and entered the room, she glanced
at the clock on the mantel-shelf and threw herself with an air of
resigned abstraction in an armchair in the corner. Her traveling-
dress, although unostentatious, was tasteful and well-fitting; a
slight pallor from her fatiguing journey, and, perhaps, from some
absorbing thought, made her beauty still more striking. She gave
even an air of elegance to the faded, worn adornments of the room,
which it is to be feared it never possessed in Miss Kitty's
occupancy. Again she glanced at the clock. There was a tap at the
The door opened to a Chinese servant bearing a piece of torn paper
with a name written on it in lieu of a card.
Mrs. Horncastle took it, glanced at the name, and handed the paper
"There must be some mistake," she said. "it do not know Mr.
"No, but you know ME all the same," said a voice from the doorway
as a man entered, coolly took the Chinese servant by the elbows and
thrust him into the passage, closing the door upon him. "Steptoe
and Horncastle are the same man, only I prefer to call myself
Steptoe HERE. And I see YOU'RE down on the register as 'Horncastle.'
Well, it's plucky of you, and it's not a bad name to keep; you might
be thankful that I have always left it to you. And if I call myself
Steptoe here it's a good blind against any of your swell friends
knowing you met your HUSBAND here."
In the half-scornful, half-resigned look she had given him when he
entered there was no doubt that she recognized him as the man she
had come to see. He had changed little in the five years that had
elapsed since he entered the three partners' cabin at Heavy Tree
Hill. His short hair and beard still clung to his head like curled
moss or the crisp flocculence of Astrakhan. He was dressed more
pretentiously, but still gave the same idea of vulgar strength.
She listened to him without emotion, but said, with even a
deepening of scorn in her manner:--
"What new shame is this?"
"Nothing NEW," he replied. "Only five years ago I was livin' over
on the Bar at Heavy Tree Hill under the name of Steptoe, and folks
here might recognize me. I was here when your particular friend,
Jim Stacy, who only knew me as Steptoe, and doesn't know me as
Horncastle, your HUSBAND,--for all he's bound up my property for
you,--made his big strike with his two partners. I was in his
cabin that very night, and drank his whiskey. Oh, I'm all right
there! I left everything all right behind me--only it's just as
well he doesn't know I'm Horncastle. And as the boy happened to be
there with me"-- He stopped, and looked at her significantly.
The expression of her face changed. Eagerness, anxiety, and even
fear came into it in turn, but always mingling with some scorn that
dominated her. "The boy!" she said in a voice that had changed
too; "well, what about him? You promised to tell me all,--all!"
"Where's the money?" he said. "Husband and wife are ONE, I know,"
he went on with a coarse laugh, "but I don't trust MYSELF in these
She took from a traveling-reticule that lay beside her a roll of
notes and a chamois leather bag of coin, and laid them on the table
before him. He examined both carefully.
"All right," he said. "I see you've got the checks made out 'to
bearer.' Your head's level, Conny. Pity you and me can't agree."
"I went to the bank across the way as soon as I arrived," she said,
with contemptuous directness. "I told them I was going over to
Hymettus and might want money."
He dropped into a chair before her with his broad heavy hands upon
his knees, and looked at her with an equal, though baser, contempt:
for his was mingled with a certain pride of mastery and possession.
"And, of course, you'll go to Hymettus and cut a splurge as you
always do. The beautiful Mrs. Horncastle! The helpless victim of
a wretched, dissipated, disgraced, gambling husband. So dreadfully
sad, you know, and so interesting! Could get a divorce from the
brute if she wanted, but won't, on account of her religious
scruples. And so while the brute is gambling, swindling,
disgracing himself, and dodging a shot here and a lynch committee
there, two or three hundred miles away, you're splurging round in
first-class hotels and watering-places, doing the injured and
abused, and run after by a lot of men who are ready to take my
place, and, maybe, some of my reputation along with it."
"Stop!" she said suddenly, in a voice that made the glass
chandelier ring. He had risen too, with a quick, uneasy glance
towards the door. But her outbreak passed as suddenly, and sinking
back into her chair, she said, with her previous scornful
resignation, "Never mind. Go on. You KNOW you're lying!"
He sat down again and looked at her critically. "Yes, as far as
you're concerned I WAS lying! I know your style. But as you know,
too, that I'd kill you and the first man I suspected, and there
ain't a judge or a jury in all Californy that wouldn't let me go
free for it, and even consider, too, that it had wiped off the
whole slate agin me--it's to my credit!"
"I know what you men call chivalry," she said coldly, "but I did
not come here to buy a knowledge of that. So now about the child?"
she ended abruptly, leaning forward again with the same look of
eager solicitude in her eyes.
"Well, about the child--our child--though, perhaps, I prefer to say
MY child," he began, with a certain brutal frankness. "I'll tell
you. But first, I don't want you to talk about BUYING your
information of me. If I haven't told you anything before, it's
because I didn't think you oughter know. If I didn't trust the
child to YOU, it's because I didn't think you could go shashaying
about with a child that was three years old when I"--he stopped and
wiped his mouth with the back of his hand--"made an honest woman of
you--I think that's what they call it."
"But," she said eagerly, ignoring the insult, "I could have hidden
it where no one but myself would have known it. I could have sent
it to school and visited it as a relation."
"Yes," he said curtly, "like all women, and then blurted it out
some day and made it worse."
"But," she said desperately, "even THEN, suppose I had been willing
to take the shame of it! I have taken more!"
"But I didn't intend that you should," he said roughly.
"You are very careful of my reputation," she returned scornfully.
"Not by a d----d sight," he burst out; "but I care for HIS! I'm
not goin' to let any man call him a bastard!"
Callous as she had become even under this last cruel blow, she
could not but see something in his coarse eyes she had never seen
before; could not but hear something in his brutal voice she had
never heard before! Was it possible that somewhere in the depths
of his sordid nature he had his own contemptible sense of honor? A
hysterical feeling came over her hitherto passive disgust and
scorn, but it disappeared with his next sentence in a haze of
anxiety. "No!" he said hoarsely, "he had enough wrong done him
"What do you mean?" she said imploringly. "Or are you again lying?
You said, four years ago, that he had 'got into trouble;' that was
your excuse for keeping him from me. Or was that a lie, too?"
His manner changed and softened, but not for any pity for his
companion, but rather from some change in his own feelings. "Oh,
that," he said, with a rough laugh, "that was only a kind o'
trouble any sassy kid like him was likely to get into. You ain't
got no call to hear that, for," he added, with a momentary return
to his previous manner, "the wrong that was done him is MY lookout!
You want to know what I did with him, how he's been looked arter,
and where he is? You want the worth of your money. That's square
enough. But first I want you to know, though you mayn't believe
it, that every red cent you've given me to-night goes to HIM. And
don't you forget it."
For all his vulgar frankness she knew he had lied to her many times
before,--maliciously, wantonly, complacently, but never evasively;
yet there was again that something in his manner which told her he
was now telling the truth.
"Well," he began, settling himself back in his chair, "I told you I
brought him to Heavy Tree Hill. After I left you I wasn't going to
trust him to no school; he knew enough for me; but when I left
those parts where nobody knew you, and got a little nearer 'Frisco,
where people might have known us both, I thought it better not to
travel round with a kid o' that size as his FATHER. So I got a
young fellow here to pass him off as HIS little brother, and look
after him and board him; and I paid him a big price for it, too,
you bet! You wouldn't think it was a man who's now swelling around
here, the top o' the pile, that ever took money from a brute like
me, and for such schoolmaster work, too; but he did, and his name
was Van Loo, a clerk of the Ditch Company."
"Van Loo!" said the woman, with a movement of disgust; "THAT man!"
"What's the matter with Van Loo?" he said, with a coarse laugh,
enjoying his wife's discomfiture. "He speaks French and Spanish,
and you oughter hear the kid roll off the lingo he's got from him.
He's got style, and knows how to dress, and you ought to see the
kid bow and scrape, and how he carries himself. Now, Van Loo
wasn't exactly my style, and I reckon I don't hanker after him
much, but he served my purpose."
"And this man knows"--she said, with a shudder.
"He knows Steptoe and the boy, but he don't know Horncastle nor
YOU. Don't you be skeert. He's the last man in the world who
would hanker to see me or the kid again, or would dare to say that
he ever had! Lord! I'd like to see his fastidious mug if me and
Eddy walked in upon him and his high-toned mother and sister some
arternoon." He threw himself back and laughed a derisive,
spasmodic, choking laugh, which was so far from being genial that
it even seemed to indicate a lively appreciation of pain in others
rather than of pleasure in himself. He had often laughed at her in
the same way.
"And where is he now?" she said, with a compressed lip.
"At school. Where, I don't tell you. You know why. But he's
looked after by me, and d----d well looked after, too."
She hesitated, composed her face with an effort, parted her lips,
and looked out of the window into the gathering darkness. Then
after a moment she said slowly, yet with a certain precision:--
"And his mother? Do you ever talk to him of HER? Does--does he
ever speak of ME?"
"What do you think?" he said comfortably, changing his position in
the chair, and trying to read her face in the shadow. "Come, now.
You don't know, eh? Well--no! NO! You understand. No! He's MY
friend--MINE! He's stood by me through thick and thin. Run at my
heels when everybody else fled me. Dodged vigilance committees
with me, laid out in the brush with me with his hand in mine when
the sheriff's deputies were huntin' me; shut his jaw close when, if
he squealed, he'd have been called another victim of the brute
Horncastle, and been as petted and canoodled as you."
It would have been difficult for any one but the woman who knew the
man before her to have separated his brutish delight in paining her
from another feeling she had never dreamt him capable of,--an
intense and fierce pride in his affection for his child. And it
was the more hopeless to her that it was not the mere sentiment of
reciprocation, but the material instinct of paternity in its most
animal form. And it seemed horrible to her that the only outcome
of what had been her own wild, youthful passion for this brute was
this love for the flesh of her flesh, for she was more and more
conscious as he spoke that her yearning for the boy was the
yearning of an equally dumb and unreasoning maternity. They had
met again as animals--in fear, contempt, and anger of each other;
but the animal had triumphed in both.
When she spoke again it was as the woman of the world,--the woman
who had laughed two years ago at the irrepressible Barker. "It's a
new thing," she said, languidly turning her rings on her fingers,
"to see you in the role of a doting father. And may I ask how long
you have had this amiable weakness, and how long it is to last?"
To her surprise and the keen retaliating delight of her sex, a
conscious flush covered his face to the crisp edges of his black
and matted beard. For a moment she hoped that he had lied. But,
to her greater surprise, he stammered in equal frankness: "It's
growed upon me for the last five years--ever since I was alone with
him." He stopped, cleared his throat, and then, standing up before
her, said in his former voice, but with a more settled and intense
deliberation: "You wanter know how long it will last, do ye? Well,
you know your special friend, Jim Stacy--the big millionaire--the
great Jim of the Stock Exchange--the man that pinches the money
market of Californy between his finger and thumb and makes it
squeal in New York--the man who shakes the stock market when he
sneezes? Well, it will go on until that man is a beggar; until he
has to borrow a dime for his breakfast, and slump out of his lunch
with a cent's worth of rat poison or a bullet in his head! It'll
go on until his old partner--that softy George Barker--comes to the
bottom of his d----d fool luck and is a penny-a-liner for the
papers and a hanger-round at free lunches, and his scatter-brained
wife runs away with another man! It'll go on until the high-toned
Demorest, the last of those three little tin gods of Heavy Tree
Hill, will have to climb down, and will know what I feel and what
he's made me feel, and will wish himself in hell before he ever
made the big strike on Heavy Tree! That's me! You hear me! I'm
shoutin'! It'll last till then! It may be next week, next month,
next year. But it'll come. And when it does come you'll see me
and Eddy just waltzin' in and takin' the chief seats in the
synagogue! And you'll have a free pass to the show!"
Either he was too intoxicated with his vengeful vision, or the
shadows of the room had deepened, but he did not see the quick
flush that had risen to his wife's face with this allusion to
Barker, nor the after-settling of her handsome features into a
dogged determination equal to his own. His blind fury against the
three partners did not touch her curiosity; she was only struck
with the evident depth of his emotion. He had never been a
braggart; his hostility had always been lazy and cynical.
Remembering this, she had a faint stirring of respect for the
undoubted courage and consciousness of strength shown in this wild
but single-handed crusade against wealth and power; rather,
perhaps, it seemed to her to condone her own weakness in her
youthful and inexplicable passion for him. No wonder she had
"Then you have nothing more to tell me?" she said after a pause,
rising and going towards the mantel.
"You needn't light up for me," he returned, rising also. "I am
going. Unless," he added, with his coarse laugh, "you think it
wouldn't look well for Mrs. Horncastle to have been sitting in the
dark with--a stranger!" He paused as she contemptuously put down
the candlestick and threw the unlit match into the grate. "No,
I've nothing more to tell. He's a fancy-looking pup. You'd take
him for twenty-one, though he's only sixteen--clean-limbed and
perfect--but for one thing"-- He stopped. He met her quick look
of interrogation, however, with a lowering silence that,
nevertheless, changed again as he surveyed her erect figure by the
faint light of the window with a sardonic smile. "He favors you, I
think, and in all but one thing, too."
"And that?" she queried coldly, as he seemed to hesitate.
"He ain't ashamed of ME," he returned, with a laugh.
The door closed behind him; she heard his heavy step descend the
creaking stairs; he was gone. She went to the window and threw it
open, as if to get rid of the atmosphere charged with his
presence,--a presence still so potent that she now knew that for
the last five minutes she had been, to her horror, struggling
against its magnetism. She even recoiled now at the thought of her
child, as if, in these new confidences over it, it had revived the
old intimacy in this link of their common flesh. She looked down
from her window on the square shoulders, thick throat, and crisp
matted hair of her husband as he vanished in the darkness, and drew
a breath of freedom,--a freedom not so much from him as from her
own weakness that he was bearing away with him into the exonerating
She shut the window and sank down in her chair again, but in the
encompassing and compassionate obscurity of the room. And this was
the man she had loved and for whom she had wrecked her young life!
Or WAS it love? and, if NOT, how was she better than he? Worse;
for he was more loyal to that passion that had brought them
together and its responsibilities than she was. She had suffered
the perils and pangs of maternity, and yet had only the mere animal
yearning for her offspring, while he had taken over the toil and
duty, and even the devotion, of parentage himself. But then she
remembered also how he had fascinated her--a simple schoolgirl--by
his sheer domineering strength, and how the objections of her
parents to this coarse and common man had forced her into a
clandestine intimacy that ended in her complete subjection to him.
She remembered the birth of an infant whose concealment from her
parents and friends was compassed by his low cunning; she
remembered the late atonement of marriage preferred by the man she
had already begun to loathe and fear, and who she now believed was
eager only for her inheritance. She remembered her abject
compliance through the greater fear of the world, the stormy scenes
that followed their ill-omened union, her final abandonment of her
husband, and the efforts of her friends and family who had rescued
the last of her property from him. She was glad she remembered it;
she dwelt upon it, upon his cruelty, his coarseness and vulgarity,
until she saw, as she honestly believed, the hidden springs of his
affection for their child. It was HIS child in nature, however it
might have favored her in looks; it was HIS own brutal SELF he was
worshiping in his brutal progeny. How else could it have ignored
HER--its own mother? She never doubted the truth of what he had
told her--she had seen it in his own triumphant eyes. And yet she
would have made a kind mother; she remembered with a smile and a
slight rising of color the affection of Barker's baby for her; she
remembered with a deepening of that color the thrill of satisfaction
she had felt in her husband's fulmination against Mrs. Barker, and,
more than all, she felt in his blind and foolish hatred of Barker
himself a delicious condonation of the strange feeling that had
sprung up in her heart for Barker's simple, straightforward nature.
How could HE understand, how could THEY understand (by the plural
she meant Mrs. Barker and Horncastle), a character so innately
noble. In her strange attraction towards him she had felt a
charming sense of what she believed was a superior and even matronly
protection; in the utter isolation of her life now--and with her
husband's foolish abuse of him ringing in her ears--it seemed a
sacred duty. She had lost a son. Providence had sent her an ideal
friend to replace him. And this was quite consistent, too, with a
faint smile that began to play about her mouth as she recalled some
instances of Barker's delightful and irresistible youthfulness.
There was a clatter of hoofs and the sound of many voices from the
street. Mrs. Horncastle knew it was the down coach changing
horses; it would be off again in a few moments, and, no doubt,
bearing her husband away with it. A new feeling of relief came
over her as she at last heard the warning "All aboard!" and the
great vehicle clattered and rolled into the darkness, trailing its
burning lights across her walls and ceiling. But now she heard
steps on the staircase, a pause before her room, a whisper of
voices, the opening of the door, the rustle of a skirt, and a
little feminine cry of protest as a man apparently tried to follow
the figure into the room. "No, no! I tell you NO!" remonstrated
the woman's voice in a hurried whisper. "It won't do. Everybody
knows me here. You must not come in now. You must wait to be
announced by the servant. Hush! Go!"
There was a slight struggle, the sound of a kiss, and the woman
succeeded in finally shutting the door. Then she walked slowly,
but with a certain familiarity towards the mantel, struck a match
and lit the candle. The light shone upon the bright eyes and
slightly flushed face of Mrs. Barker. But the motionless woman in
the chair had recognized her voice and the voice of her companion
at once. And then their eyes met.
Mrs. Barker drew back, but did not utter a cry. Mrs. Horncastle,
with eyes even brighter than her companion's, smiled. The red
deepened in Mrs. Barker's cheek.
"This is my room!" she said indignantly, with a sweeping gesture
around the walls.
"I should judge so," said Mrs. Horncastle, following the gesture;
"but," she added quietly, "they put ME into it. It appears,
however, they did not expect you."
Mrs. Barker saw her mistake. "No, no," she said apologetically,
"of course not." Then she added, with nervous volubility, sitting
down and tugging at her gloves, "You see, I just ran down from
Marysville to take a look at my father's old house on my way to
Hymettus. I hope I haven't disturbed you. Perhaps," she said,
with sudden eagerness, "you were asleep when I came in!"
"No," said Mrs. Horncastle, "I was not sleeping nor dreaming. I
heard you come in."
"Some of these men are such idiots," said Mrs. Barker, with a half-
hysterical laugh. "They seem to think if a woman accepts the least
courtesy from them they've a right to be familiar. But I fancy
that fellow was a little astonished when I shut the door in his
"I fancy he WAS," returned Mrs. Horncastle dryly. "But I shouldn't
call Mr. Van Loo an idiot. He has the reputation of being a
cautious business man."
Mrs. Barker bit her lip. Her companion had been recognized. She
rose with a slight flirt of her skirt. "I suppose I must go and
get a room; there was nobody in the office when I came. Everything
is badly managed here since my father took away the best servants
to Hymettus." She moved with affected carelessness towards the
door, when Mrs. Horncastle, without rising from her seat, said:--
"Why not stay here?"
Mrs. Barker brightened for a moment. "Oh," she said, with polite
deprecation, "I couldn't think of turning you out."
"I don't intend you shall," said Mrs. Horncastle. "We will stay
here together until you go with me to Hymettus, or until Mr. Van
Loo leaves the hotel. He will hardly attempt to come in here again
if I remain."
Mrs. Barker, with a half-laugh, sat down irresolutely. Mrs.
Horncastle gazed at her curiously; she was evidently a novice in
this sort of thing. But, strange to say,--and I leave the ethics
of this for the sex to settle,--the fact did not soften Mrs.
Horncastle's heart, nor in the least qualify her attitude towards
the younger woman. After an awkward pause Mrs. Barker rose again.
"Well, it's very good of you, and--and---I'll just run out and wash
my hands and get the dust off me, and come back."
"No, Mrs. Barker," said Mrs. Horncastle, rising and approaching
her, "you will first wash your hands of this Mr. Van Loo, and get
some of the dust of the rendezvous off you before you do anything
else. You CAN do it by simply telling him, SHOULD YOU MEET HIM IN
THE HALL, that I was sitting here when he came in, and heard
EVERYTHING! Depend upon it, he won't trouble you again."
But Mrs. Barker, though inexperienced in love, was a good fighter.
The best of the sex are. She dropped into the rocking-chair, and
began rocking backwards and forwards while still tugging at her
gloves, and said, in a gradually warming voice, "I certainly shall
not magnify Mr. Van Loo's silliness to that importance. And I have
yet to learn what you mean by talking about a rendezvous! And I
want to know," she continued, suddenly stopping her rocking and
tilting the rockers impertinently behind her, as, with her elbows
squared on the chair arms, she tilted her own face defiantly up
into Mrs. Horncastle's, "how a woman in your position--who doesn't
live with her husband--dares to talk to ME!"
There was a lull before the storm. Mrs. Horncastle approached
nearer, and, laying her hand on the back of the chair, leaned over
her, and, with a white face and a metallic ring in her voice, said:
"It is just because I am a woman IN MY POSITION that I do! It is
because I don't live with my husband that I can tell you what it
will be when you no longer live with yours--which will be the
inevitable result of what you are now doing. It is because I WAS
in this position that the very man who is pursuing you, because he
thinks you are discontented with YOUR husband, once thought he
could pursue me because I had left MINE. You are here with him
alone, without the knowledge of your husband; call it folly,
caprice, vanity, or what you like, it can have but one end--to put
you in my place at last, to be considered the fair game afterwards
for any man who may succeed him. You can test him and the truth of
what I say by telling him now that I heard all."
"Suppose he doesn't care what you have heard," said Mrs. Barker
sharply. "Suppose he says nobody would believe you, if 'telling'
is your game. Suppose he is a friend of my husband and he thinks
him a much better guardian of my reputation than a woman like you.
Suppose he should be the first one to tell my husband of the foul
slander invented by you!"
For an instant Mrs. Horncastle was taken aback by the audacity of
the woman before her. She knew the simple confidence and boyish
trust of Barker in his wife in spite of their sometimes strained
relations, and she knew how difficult it would be to shake it. And
she had no idea of betraying Mrs. Barker's secret to him, though
she had made this scene in his interest. She had wished to save
Mrs. Barker from a compromising situation, even if there was a
certain vindictiveness in her exposing her to herself. Yet she
knew it was quite possible now, if Mrs. Barker had immediate access
to her husband, that she would convince him of her perfect
innocence. Nevertheless, she had still great confidence in Van
Loo's fear of scandal and his utter unmanliness. She knew he was
not in love with Mrs. Barker, and this puzzled her when she
considered the evident risk he was running now. Her face, however,
betrayed nothing. She drew back from Mrs. Barker, and, with an
indifferent and graceful gesture towards the door, said, as she
leaned against the mantel, "Go, then, and see this much-abused
gentleman, and then go together with him and make peace with your
husband--even on those terms. If I have saved you from the
consequences of your folly I shall be willing to bear even HIS
"Whatever I do," said Mrs. Barker, rising hotly, "I shall not stay
here any longer to be insulted." She flounced out of the room and
swept down the staircase into the office. Here she found an
overworked clerk, and with crimson cheeks and flashing eyes wanted
to know why in her own father's hotel she had found her own
sitting-room engaged, and had been obliged to wait half an hour
before she could be shown into a decent apartment to remove her hat
and cloak in; and how it was that even the gentleman who had kindly
escorted her had evidently been unable to procure her any
assistance. She said this in a somewhat high voice, which might
have reached the ears of that gentleman had he been in the
vicinity. But he was not, and she was forced to meet the somewhat
dazed apologies of the clerk alone, and to accompany the
chambermaid to a room only a few paces distant from the one she had
quitted. Here she hastily removed her outer duster and hat, washed
her hands, and consulted her excited face in the mirror, with the
door ajar and an ear sensitively attuned to any step in the
corridor. But all this was effected so rapidly that she was at
last obliged to sit down in a chair near the half-opened door, and
wait. She waited five minutes--ten--but still no footstep. Then
she went out into the corridor and listened, and then, smoothing
her face, she slipped downstairs, past the door of that hateful
room, and reappeared before the clerk with a smiling but somewhat
pale and languid face. She had found the room very comfortable,
but it was doubtful whether she would stay over night or go on to
Hymettus. Had anybody been inquiring for her? She expected to
meet friends. No! And her escort--the gentleman who came with
her--was possibly in the billiard-room or the bar?
"Oh no! He was gone," said the clerk.
"Gone!" echoed Mrs. Barker. "Impossible! He was--he was here only
a moment ago."
The clerk rang a bell sharply. The stableman appeared.
"That tall, smooth-faced man, in a high hat, who came with the
lady," said the clerk severely and concisely,--"didn't you tell me
he was gone?"
"Yes, sir," said the stableman.
"Are you sure?" interrupted Mrs. Barker, with a dazzling smile
that, however, masked a sudden tightening round her heart.
"Quite sure, miss," said the stableman, "for he was in the yard
when Steptoe came, after missing the coach. He wanted a buggy to
take him over to the Divide. We hadn't one, so he went over to the
other stables, and he didn't come back, so I reckon he's gone. I
remember it, because Steptoe came by a minute after he'd gone, in
another buggy, and as he was going to the Divide, too, I wondered
why the gentleman hadn't gone with him."
"And he left no message for me? He said nothing?" asked Mrs.
Barker, quite breathless, but still smiling.
"He said nothin' to me but 'Isn't that Steptoe over there?' when
Steptoe came in. And I remember he said it kinder suddent--as if
he was reminded o' suthin' he'd forgot; and then he asked for a
buggy. Ye see, miss," added the man, with a certain rough
consideration for her disappointment, "that's mebbe why he clean
forgot to leave a message."
Mrs. Barker turned away, and ascended the stairs. Selfishness is
quick to recognize selfishness, and she saw in a flash the reason
of Van Loo's abandonment of her. Some fear of discovery had
alarmed him; perhaps Steptoe knew her husband; perhaps he had heard
of Mrs. Horncastle's possession of the sitting-room; perhaps--for
she had not seen him since their playful struggle at the door--he
had recognized the woman who was there, and the selfish coward had
run away. Yes; Mrs. Horncastle was right: she had been only a
Her cheeks blazed as she entered the room she had just quitted, and
threw herself in a chair by the window. She bit her lip as she
remembered how for the last three months she had been slowly
yielding to Van Loo's cautious but insinuating solicitation, from a
flirtation in the San Francisco hotel to a clandestine meeting in
the street; from a ride in the suburbs to a supper in a fast
restaurant after the theatre. Other women did it who were
fashionable and rich, as Van Loo had pointed out to her. Other
fashionable women also gambled in stocks, and had their private
broker in a "Charley" or a "Jack." Why should not Mrs. Barker have
business with a "Paul" Van Loo, particularly as this fast craze
permitted secret meetings?--for business of this kind could not be
conducted in public, and permitted the fair gambler to call at
private offices without fear and without reproach. Mrs. Barker's
vanity, Mrs. Barker's love of ceremony and form, Mrs. Barker's
snobbishness, were flattered by the attentions of this polished
gentleman with a foreign name, which even had the flavor of
nobility, who never picked up her fan and handed it to her without
bowing, and always rose when she entered the room. Mrs. Barker's
scant schoolgirl knowledge was touched by this gentleman, who spoke
French fluently, and delicately explained to her the libretto of a
risky opera bouffe. And now she had finally yielded to a meeting
out of San Francisco--and an ostensible visit--still as a
speculator--to one or two mining districts--with HER BROKER. This
was the boldest of her steps--an original idea of the fashionable
Van Loo--which, no doubt, in time would become a craze, too. But
it was a long step--and there was a streak of rustic decorum in
Mrs. Barker's nature--the instinct that made Kitty Carter keep a
perfectly secluded and distinct sitting-room in the days when she
served her father's guests--that now had impelled her to make it a
proviso that the first step of her journey should be from her old
home in her father's hotel. It was this instinct of the proprieties
that had revived in her suddenly at the door of the old sitting-room.
Then a new phase of the situation flashed upon her. It was hard
for her vanity to accept Van Loo's desertion as voluntary and
final. What if that hateful woman had lured him away by some trick
or artfully designed message? She was capable of such meanness to
insure the fulfillment of her prophecy. Or, more dreadful thought,
what if she had some hold on his affections--she had said that he
had pursued her; or, more infamous still, there were some secret
understanding between them, and that she--Mrs. Barker--was the dupe
of them both! What was she doing in the hotel at such a moment?
What was her story of going to Hymettus but a lie as transparent as
her own? The tortures of jealousy, which is as often the incentive
as it is the result of passion, began to rack her. She had
probably yet known no real passion for this man; but with the
thought of his abandoning her, and the conception of his
faithlessness, came the wish to hold and keep him that was
dangerously near it. What if he were even then in that room, the
room where she had said she would not stay to be insulted, and
they, thus secured against her intrusion, were laughing at her now?
She half rose at the thought, but a sound of a horse's hoofs in the
stable-yard arrested her. She ran to the window which gave upon
it, and, crouching down beside it, listened eagerly. The clatter
of hoofs ceased; the stableman was talking to some one; suddenly
she heard the stableman say, "Mrs. Barker is here." Her heart
leaped,--Van Loo had returned.
But here the voice of the other man which she had not yet heard
arose for the first time clear and distinct. "Are you quite sure?
I didn't know she left San Francisco."
The room reeled around her. The voice was George Barker's, her
husband! "Very well," he continued. "You needn't put up my horse
for the night. I may take her back a little later in the buggy."
In another moment she had swept down the passage, and burst into
the other room. Mrs. Horncastle was sitting by the table with a
book in her hand. She started as the half-maddened woman closed
the door, locked it behind her, and cast herself on her knees at
"My husband is here," she gasped. "What shall I do? In heaven's
name help me!"
"Is Van Loo still here?" said Mrs. Horncastle quickly.
"No; gone. He went when I came."
Mrs. Horncastle caught her hand and looked intently into her
frightened face. "Then what have you to fear from your husband?"
she said abruptly.
"You don't understand. He didn't know I was here. He thought me
in San Francisco."
"Does he know it now?"
"Yes. I heard the stableman tell him. Couldn't you say I came
here with you; that we were here together; that it was just a
little freak of ours? Oh, do!"
Mrs. Horncastle thought a moment. "Yes," she said, "we'll see him
"Oh no! no!" said Mrs. Barker suddenly, clinging to her dress and
looking fearfully towards the door. "I couldn't, COULDN'T see him
now. Say I'm sick, tired out, gone to my room."
"But you'll have to see him later," said Mrs. Horncastle wonderingly.
"Yes, but he may go first. I heard him tell them not to put up his
"Good!" said Mrs. Horncastle suddenly. "Go to your room and lock
the door, and I'll come to you later. Stop! Would Mr. Barker be
likely to disturb you if I told him you would like to be alone?"
"No, he never does. I often tell him that."
Mrs. Horncastle smiled faintly. "Come, quick, then," she said,
"for he may come HERE first."
Opening the door she passed into the half-dark and empty hall.
"Now run!" She heard the quick rustle of Mrs. Barker's skirt die
away in the distance, the opening and shutting of a door--silence--
and then turned back into her own room.
She was none too soon. Presently she heard Barker's voice saying,
"Thank you, I can find the way," his still buoyant step on the
staircase, and then saw his brown curls rising above the railing.
The light streaming through the open door of the sitting room into
the half-lit hall had partially dazzled him, and, already
bewildered, he was still more dazzled at the unexpected apparition
of the smiling face and bright eyes of Mrs. Horncastle standing in
"You have fairly caught us," she said, with charming composure;
"but I had half a mind to let you wander round the hotel a little
longer. Come in." Barker followed her in mechanically, and she
closed the door. "Now, sit down," she said gayly, "and tell me how
you knew we were here, and what you mean by surprising us at this
Barker's ready color always rose on meeting Mrs. Horncastle, for
whom he entertained a respectful admiration, not without some fear
of her worldly superiority. He flushed, bowed, and stared somewhat
blankly around the room, at the familiar walls, at the chair from
which Mrs. Horncastle had just risen, and finally at his wife's
glove, which Mrs. Horncastle had a moment before ostentatiously
thrown on the table. Seeing which she pounced upon it with assumed
archness, and pretended to conceal it.
"I had no idea my wife was here," he said at last, "and I was quite
surprised when the man told me, for she had not written to me about
it." As his face was brightening, she for the first time noticed
that his frank gray eyes had an abstracted look, and there was a
faint line of contraction on his youthful forehead. "Still less,"
he added, "did I look for the pleasure of meeting you. For I only
came here to inquire about my old partner, Demorest, who arrived
from Europe a few days ago, and who should have reached Hymettus
early this afternoon. But now I hear he came all the way by coach
instead of by rail, and got off at the cross-road, and we must have
passed each other on the different trails. So my journey would
have gone for nothing, only that I now shall have the pleasure of
going back with you and Kitty. It will be a lovely drive by
Relieved by this revelation, it was easy work for Mrs. Horncastle
to launch out into a playful, tantalizing, witty--but, I grieve to
say, entirely imaginative--account of her escapade with Mrs.
Barker. How, left alone at the San Francisco hotel while their
gentlemen friends were enjoying themselves at Hymettus, they
resolved upon a little trip, partly for the purpose of looking into
some small investments of their own, and partly for the fun of the
thing. What funny experiences they had! How, in particular, one
horrid inquisitive, vulgar wretch had been boring a European fellow
passenger who was going to Hymettus, finally asking him where he
had come from last, and when he answered "Hymettus," thought the
man was insulting him--
"But," interrupted the laughing Barker, "that passenger may have
been Demorest, who has just come from Greece, and surely Kitty
would have recognized him."
Mrs. Horncastle instantly saw her blunder, and not only retrieved
it, but turned it to account. Ah, yes! but by that time poor
Kitty, unused to long journeys and the heat, was utterly fagged
out, was asleep, and perfectly unrecognizable in veils and dusters
on the back seat of the coach. And this brought her to the point--
which was, that she was sorry to say, on arriving, the poor child
was nearly wild with a headache from fatigue and had gone to bed,
and she had promised not to disturb her.
The undisguised amusement, mingled with relief, that had overspread
Barker's face during this lively recital might have pricked the
conscience of Mrs. Horncastle, but for some reason I fear it did
not. But it emboldened her to go on. "I said I promised her that
I would see she wasn't disturbed; but, of course, now that YOU, her
HUSBAND, have come, if"--
"Not for worlds," interrupted Barker earnestly. "I know poor
Kitty's headaches, and I never disturb her, poor child, except when
I'm thoughtless." And here one of the most thoughtful men in the
world in his sensitive consideration of others beamed at her with
such frank and wonderful eyes that the arch hypocrite before him
with difficulty suppressed a hysterical desire to laugh, and felt
the conscious blood flush her to the root of her hair. "You know,"
he went on, with a sigh, half of relief and half of reminiscence,
"that I often think I'm a great bother to a clear-headed, sensible
girl like Kitty. She knows people so much better than I do. She's
wonderfully equipped for the world, and, you see, I'm only 'lucky,'
as everybody says, and I dare say part of my luck was to have got
her. I'm very glad she's a friend of yours, you know, for somehow
I fancied always that you were not interested in her, or that you
didn't understand each other until now. It's odd that nice women
don't always like nice women, isn't it? I'm glad she was with you;
I was quite startled to learn she was here, and couldn't make it
out. I thought at first she might have got anxious about our
little Sta, who is with me and the nurse at Hymettus. But I'm glad
it was only a lark. I shouldn't wonder," he added, with a laugh,
"although she always declares she isn't one of those 'doting,
idiotic mothers,' that she found it a little dull without the boy,
for all she thought it was better for ME to take him somewhere for
a change of air."
The situation was becoming more difficult for Mrs. Horncastle than
she had conceived. There had been a certain excitement in its
first direct appeal to her tact and courage, and even, she
believed, an unselfish desire to save the relations between husband
and wife if she could. But she had not calculated upon his
unconscious revelations, nor upon their effect upon herself. She
had concluded to believe that Kitty had, in a moment of folly, lent
herself to this hare-brained escapade, but it now might be possible
that it had been deliberately planned. Kitty had sent her husband
and child away three weeks before. Had she told the whole truth?
How long had this been going on? And if the soulless Van Loo had
deserted her now, was it not, perhaps, the miserable ending of an
intrigue rather than its beginning? Had she been as great a dupe
of this woman as the husband before her? A new and double
consciousness came over her that for a moment prevented her from
meeting his honest eyes. She felt the shame of being an accomplice
mingled with a fierce joy at the idea of a climax that might
separate him from his wife forever.
Luckily he did not notice it, but with a continued sense of relief
threw himself back in his chair, and glancing familiarly round the
walls broke into his youthful laugh. "Lord! how I remember this
room in the old days. It was Kitty's own private sitting-room, you
know, and I used to think it looked just as fresh and pretty as
she. I used to think her crayon drawing wonderful, and still more
wonderful that she should have that unnecessary talent when it was
quite enough for her to be just 'Kitty.' You know, don't you, how
you feel at those times when you're quite happy in being inferior"--
He stopped a moment with a sudden recollection that Mrs. Horncastle's
marriage had been notoriously unhappy. "I mean," he went on with a
shy little laugh and an innocent attempt at gallantry which the very
directness of his simple nature made atrociously obvious,--"I mean
what you've made lots of young fellows feel. There used to be a
picture of Colonel Brigg on the mantelpiece, in full uniform, and
signed by himself 'for Kitty;' and Lord! how jealous I was of it,
for Kitty never took presents from gentlemen, and nobody even was
allowed in here, though she helped her father all over the hotel.
She was awfully strict in those days," he interpolated, with a
thoughtful look and a half-sigh; "but then she wasn't married. I
proposed to her in this very room! Lord! I remember how frightened
I was." He stopped for an instant, and then said with a certain
timidity, "Do you mind my telling you something about it?"
Mrs. Horncastle was hardly prepared to hear these ingenuous
domestic details, but she smiled vaguely, although she could not
suppress a somewhat impatient movement with her hands. Even Barker
noticed it, but to her surprise moved a little nearer to her, and
in a half-entreating way said, "I hope I don't bore you, but it's
something confidential. Do you know that she first REFUSED me?"
Mrs. Horncastle smiled, but could not resist a slight toss of her
head. "I believe they all do when they are sure of a man."
"No!" said Barker eagerly, "you don't understand. I proposed to
her because I thought I was rich. In a foolish moment I thought I
had discovered that some old stocks I had had acquired a fabulous
value. She believed it, too, but because she thought I was now a
rich man and she only a poor girl--a mere servant to her father's
guests--she refused me. Refused me because she thought I might
regret it in the future, because she would not have it said that
she had taken advantage of my proposal only when I was rich enough
to make it."
"Well?" said Mrs. Horncastle incredulously, gazing straight before
her; "and then?"
"In about an hour I discovered my error, that my stocks were
worthless, that I was still a poor man. I thought it only honest
to return to her and tell her, even though I had no hope. And then
she pitied me, and cried, and accepted me. I tell it to you as her
friend." He drew a little nearer and quite fraternally laid his
hand upon her own. "I know you won't betray me, though you may
think it wrong for me to have told it; but I wanted you to know how
good she was and true."
For a moment Mrs. Horncastle was amazed and discomfited, although
she saw, with the inscrutable instinct of her sex, no inconsistency
between the Kitty of those days and the Kitty now shamefully hiding
from her husband in the same hotel. No doubt Kitty had some good
reason for her chivalrous act. But she could see the unmistakable
effect of that act upon the more logically reasoning husband, and
that it might lead him to be more merciful to the later wrong. And
there was a keener irony that his first movement of unconscious
kindliness towards her was the outcome of his affection for his
"You said just now she was more practical than you," she said
dryly. "Apart from this evidence of it, what other reasons have
you for thinking so? Do you refer to her independence or her
dealings in the stock market?" she added, with a laugh.
"No," said Barker seriously, "for I do not think her quite
practical there; indeed, I'm afraid she is about as bad as I am.
But I'm glad you have spoken, for I can now talk confidentially
with you, and as you and she are both in the same ventures, perhaps
she will feel less compunction in hearing from you--as your own
opinion--what I have to tell you than if I spoke to her myself. I
am afraid she trusts implicitly to Van Loo's judgment as her
broker. I believe he is strictly honorable, but the general
opinion of his business insight is not high. They--perhaps I ought
to say HE--have been at least so unlucky that they might have
learned prudence. The loss of twenty thousand dollars in three
"Twenty thousand!" echoed Mrs. Horncastle.
"Yes. Why, you knew that; it was in the mine you and she visited;
or, perhaps," he added hastily, as he flushed at his indiscretion,
"she didn't tell you that."
But Mrs. Horncastle as hastily said, "Yes--yes--of course, only I
had forgotten the amount;" and he continued:--
"That loss would have frightened any man; but you women are more
daring. Only Van Loo ought to have withdrawn. Don't you think so?
Of course I couldn't say anything to him without seeming to condemn
my own wife; I couldn't say anything to HER because it's her own
"I didn't know that Mrs. Barker had any money of her own," said
"Well, I gave it to her," said Barker, with sublime simplicity,
"and that would make it all the worse for me to speak about it."
Mrs. Horncastle was silent. A new theory flashed upon her which
seemed to reconcile all the previous inconsistencies of the
situation. Van Loo, under the guise of a lover, was really
possessing himself of Mrs. Barker's money. This accounted for the
risks he was running in this escapade, which were so incongruous to
the rascal's nature. He was calculating that the scandal of an
intrigue would relieve him of the perils of criminal defalcation.
It was compatible with Kitty's innocence, though it did not relieve
her vanity of the part it played in this despicable comedy of
passion. All that Mrs. Horncastle thought of now was the effect of
its eventful revelation upon the man before her. Of course, he
would overlook his wife's trustfulness and business ignorance--it
would seem so like his own unselfish faith! That was the fault of
all unselfish goodness; it even took the color of adjacent evil,
without altering the nature of either. Mrs. Horncastle set her
teeth tightly together, but her beautiful mouth smiled upon Barker,
though her eyes were bent upon the tablecloth before her.
"I shall do all I can to impress your views upon her," she said at
last, "though I fear they will have little weight if given as my
own. And you overrate my general influence with her."
Her handsome head drooped in such a thoughtful humility that Barker
instinctively drew nearer to her. Besides, she had not lifted her
dark lashes for some moments, and he had the still youthful habit
of looking frankly into the eyes of those he addressed.
"No," he said eagerly; "how could I? She could not help but love
you and do as you would wish. I can't tell you how glad and
relieved I am to find that you and she have become such friends.
You know I always thought you beautiful, I always thought you so
clever--I was even a little frightened of you; but I never until
now knew you were so GOOD. No, stop! Yes, I DID know it. Do you
remember once in San Francisco, when I found you with Sta in your
lap in the drawing-room? I knew it then. You tried to make me
think it was a whim--the fancy of a bored and worried woman. But I
knew better. And I knew what you were thinking then. Shall I tell
As her eyes were still cast down, although her mouth was still
smiling, in his endeavors to look into them his face was quite near
hers. He fancied that it bore the look she had worn once before.
"You were thinking," he said in a voice which had grown suddenly
quite hesitating and tremulous,--he did not know why,--"that the
poor little baby was quite friendless and alone. You were pitying
it--you know you were--because there was no one to give it the
loving care that was its due, and because it was intrusted to that
hired nurse in that great hotel. You were thinking how you would
love it if it were yours, and how cruel it was that Love was sent
without an object to waste itself upon. You were: I saw it in your
She suddenly lifted her eyes and looked full into his with a look
that held and possessed him. For a moment his whole soul seemed to
tremble on the verge of their lustrous depths, and he drew back
dizzy and frightened. What he saw there he never clearly knew;
but, whatever it was, it seemed to suddenly change his relations to
her, to the room, to his wife, to the world without. It was a
glimpse of a world of which he knew nothing. He had looked frankly
and admiringly into the eyes of other pretty women; he had even
gazed into her own before, but never with this feeling. A sudden
sense that what he had seen there he had himself evoked, that it
was an answer to some question he had scarcely yet formulated, and
that they were both now linked by an understanding and consciousness
that was irretrievable, came over him. He rose awkwardly and went
to the window. She rose also, but more leisurely and easily, moved
one of the books on the table, smoothed out her skirts, and changed
her seat to a little sofa. It is the woman who always comes out of
these crucial moments unruffled.
"I suppose you will be glad to see your friend Mr. Demorest when
you go back," she said pleasantly; "for of course he will be at
Hymettus awaiting you."
He turned eagerly, as he always did at the name. But even then he
felt that Demorest was no longer of such importance to him. He
felt, too, that he was not yet quite sure of his voice or even what
to say. As he hesitated she went on half playfully: "It seems hard
that you had to come all the way here on such a bootless errand.
You haven't even seen your wife yet."
The mention of his wife recalled him to himself, oddly enough, when
Demorest's name had failed. But very differently. Out of his
whirling consciousness came the instinctive feeling that he could
not see her now. He turned, crossed the room, sat down on the sofa
beside Mrs. Horncastle, and without, however, looking at her, said,
with his eyes on the floor, "No; and I've been thinking that it's
hardly worth while to disturb her so early to-morrow as I should
have to go. So I think it's a good deal better to let her have a
good night's rest, remain here quietly with you to-morrow until the
stage leaves, and that both of you come over together. My horse is
still saddled, and I will be back at Hymettus before Demorest has
gone to bed."
He was obliged to look up at her as he rose. Mrs. Horncastle was
sitting erect, beautiful and dazzling as even he had never seen her
before. For his resolution had suddenly lifted a great weight from
her shoulders,--the dangerous meeting of husband and wife the next
morning, and its results, whatever they might be, had been quietly
averted. She felt, too, a half-frightened joy even in the
constrained manner in which he had imparted his determination.
That frankness which even she had sometimes found so crushing was
"I really think you are quite right," she said, rising also, "and,
besides, you see, it will give me a chance to talk to her as you
"To talk to her as I wished?" echoed Barker abstractedly.
"Yes, about Van Loo, you know," said Mrs. Horncastle, smiling.
"Oh, certainly--about Van Loo, of course," he returned hurriedly.
"And then," said Mrs. Horncastle brightly, "I'll tell her. Stay!"
she interrupted herself hurriedly. "Why need I say anything about
your having been here AT ALL? It might only annoy her, as you
yourself suggest." She stopped breathlessly with parted lips.
"Why, indeed?" said Barker vaguely. Yet all this was so unlike his
usual truthfulness that he slightly hesitated.
"Besides," continued Mrs. Horncastle, noticing it, "you know you
can always tell her later, if necessary." And she added with a
charming mischievousness, "As she didn't tell you she was coming, I
really don't see why you are bound to tell her that you were here."
The sophistry pleased Barker, even though it put him into a certain
retaliating attitude towards his wife which he was not aware of
feeling. But, as Mrs. Horncastle put it, it was only a playful
"Certainly," he said. "Don't say anything about it."
He moved to the door with his soft, broad-brimmed hat swinging
between his fingers. She noticed for the first time that he looked
taller in his long black serape and riding-boots, and, oddly
enough, much more like the hero of an amorous tryst than Van Loo.
"I know," she said brightly, "you are eager to get back to your old
friend, and it would be selfish for me to try to keep you longer.
You have had a stupid evening, but you have made it pleasant to me
by telling me what you thought of me. And before you go I want you
to believe that I shall try to keep that good opinion." She spoke
frankly in contrast to the slight worldly constraint of Barker's
manner; it seemed as if they had changed characters. And then she
extended her hand.
With a low bow, and without looking up, he took it. Again their
pulses seemed to leap together with one accord and the same
mysterious understanding. He could not tell if he had unconsciously
pressed her hand or if she had returned the pressure. But when their
hands unclasped it seemed as if it were the division of one flesh
She remained standing by the open door until his footsteps passed
down the staircase. Then she suddenly closed and locked the door
with an instinct that Mrs. Barker might at once return now that he
was gone, and she wished to be a moment alone to recover herself.
But she presently opened it again and listened. There was a noise
in the courtyard, but it sounded like the rattle of wheels more
than the clatter of a horseman. Then she was overcome--a sudden
sense of pity for the unfortunate woman still hiding from her
husband--and felt a momentary chivalrous exaltation of spirit.
Certainly she had done "good" to that wretched "Kitty;" perhaps she
had earned the epithet that Barker had applied to her. Perhaps
that was the meaning of all this happiness to her, and the result
was to be only the happiness and reconciliation of the wife and
husband. This was to be her reward. I grieve to say that the
tears had come into her beautiful eyes at this satisfactory
conclusion, but she dashed them away and ran out into the hall. It
was quite dark, but there was a faint glimmer on the opposite wall
as if the door of Mrs. Barker's bedroom were ajar to an eager
listener. She flew towards the glimmer, and pushed the door open:
the room was empty. Empty of Mrs. Barker, empty of her dressing-
box, her reticule and shawl. She was gone.
Still, Mrs. Horncastle lingered; the woman might have got frightened
and retreated to some further room at the opening of the door and
the coming out of her husband. She walked along the passage,
calling her name softly. She even penetrated the dreary, half-lit
public parlor, expecting to find her crouching there. Then a sudden
wild idea took possession of her: the miserable wife had repented of
her act and of her concealment, and had crept downstairs to await
her husband in the office. She had told him some new lie, had
begged him to take her with him, and Barker, of course, had
assented. Yes, she now knew why she had heard the rattling wheels
instead of the clattering hoofs she had listened for. They had gone
together, as he first proposed, in the buggy.
She ran swiftly down the stairs and entered the office. The
overworked clerk was busy and querulously curt. These women were
always asking such idiotic questions. Yes, Mr. Barker had just
"With Mrs. Barker in the buggy?" asked Mrs. Horncastle.
"No, as he came--on horseback. Mrs. Barker left HALF AN HOUR AGO."
This was apparently too much for the long-suffering clerk. He
lifted his eyes to the ceiling, and then, with painful precision,
and accenting every word with his pencil on the desk before him,
said deliberately, "Mrs. George Barker--left--here--with her--
exactly--9.35." And he plunged into his work again.
Mrs. Horncastle turned, ran up the staircase, re-entered the
sitting-room, and slamming the door behind her, halted in the
centre of the room, panting, erect, beautiful, and menacing. And
she was alone in this empty room--this deserted hotel. From this
very room her husband had left her with a brutality on his lips.
From this room the fool and liar she had tried to warn had gone to
her ruin with a swindling hypocrite. And from this room the only
man in the world she ever cared for had gone forth bewildered,
wronged, and abused, and she knew now she could have kept and
When Philip Demorest left the stagecoach at the cross-roads he
turned into the only wayside house, the blacksmith's shop, and,
declaring his intention of walking over to Hymettus, asked
permission to leave his hand-bag and wraps until they could be sent
after him. The blacksmith was surprised that this "likely
mannered," distinguished-looking "city man" should WALK eight miles
when he could ride, and tried to dissuade him, offering his own
buggy. But he was still more surprised when Demorest, laying aside
his duster, took off his coat, and, slinging it on his arm,
prepared to set forth with the good-humored assurance that he would
do the distance in a couple of hours and get in in time for supper.
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said the blacksmith grimly, "or
even of getting a room. They're a stuck-up lot over there, and
they ain't goin' to hump themselves over a chap who comes traipsin'
along the road like any tramp, with nary baggage." But Demorest
laughingly accepted the risk, and taking his stout stick in one
hand, pressed a gold coin into the blacksmith's palm, which was,
however, declined with such reddening promptness that Demorest as
promptly reddened and apologized. The habits of European travel
had been still strong on him, and he felt a slight patriotic thrill
as he said, with a grave smile, "Thank you, then; and thank you
still more for reminding me that I am among my own 'people,'" and
stepped lightly out into the road.
The air was still deliciously cool, but warmer currents from the
heated pines began to alternate with the wind from the summit. He
found himself sometimes walking through a stratum of hot air which
seemed to exhale from the wood itself, while his head and breast
were swept by the mountain breeze. He felt the old intoxication of
the balmy-scented air again, and the five years of care and
hopelessness laid upon his shoulders since he had last breathed its
fragrance slipped from them like a burden. There had been but
little change here; perhaps the road was wider and the dust lay
thicker, but the great pines still mounted in serried ranks on the
slopes as before, with no gaps in their unending files. Here was
the spot where the stagecoach had passed them that eventful morning
when they were coming out of their camp-life into the world of
civilization; a little further back, the spot where Jack Hamlin had
forced upon him that grim memento of the attempted robbery of their
cabin, which he had kept ever since. He half smiled again at the
superstitious interest that had made him keep it, with the
intention of some day returning to bury it, with all recollections
of the deed, under the site of the old cabin. As he went on in the
vivifying influence of the air and scene, new life seemed to course
through his veins; his step seemed to grow as elastic as in the old
days of their bitter but hopeful struggle for fortune, when he had
gayly returned from his weekly tramp to Boomville laden with the
scant provision procured by their scant earnings and dying credit.
Those were the days when HER living image still inspired his heart
with faith and hope; when everything was yet possible to youth and
love, and before the irony of fate had given him fortune with one
hand only to withdraw HER with the other. It was strange and cruel
that coming back from his quest of rest and forgetfulness he should
find only these youthful and sanguine dreams revive with his
reviving vigor. He walked on more hurriedly as if to escape them,
and was glad to be diverted by one or two carryalls and char-a-
bancs filled with gayly dressed pleasure parties--evidently
visitors to Hymettus--which passed him on the road. Here were the
first signs of change. He recalled the train of pack-mules of the
old days, the file of pole-and-basket carrying Chinese, the squaw
with the papoose strapped to her shoulder, or the wandering and
foot-sore prospector, who were the only wayfarers he used to meet.
He contrasted their halts and friendly greetings with the insolent
curiosity or undisguised contempt of the carriage folk, and smiled
as he thought of the warning of the blacksmith. But this did not
long divert him; he found himself again returning to his previous
thought. Indeed, the face of a young girl in one of the carriages
had quite startled him with its resemblance to an old memory of his
lost love as he saw her,--her frail, pale elegance encompassed in
laces as she leaned back in her drive through Fifth Avenue, with
eyes that lit up and became transfigured only as he passed. He
tried to think of his useless quest in search of her last resting-
place abroad; how he had been baffled by the opposition of her
surviving relations, already incensed by the thought that her
decline had been the effect of her hopeless passion. He tried to
recall the few frigid lines that reconveyed to him the last letter
he had sent her, with the announcement of her death and the hope
that "his persecutions" would now cease. A wild idea had sometimes
come to him out of the very insufficiency of his knowledge of this
climax, but he had always put it aside as a precursor of that
madness which might end his ceaseless thought. And now it was
returning to him, here, thousands of miles away from where she was
peacefully sleeping, and even filling him with the vigor of
The brief mountain twilight was giving way now to the radiance of
the rising moon. He endeavored to fix his thoughts upon his
partners who were to meet him at Hymettus after these long years of
Hymettus! He recalled now the odd coincidence that he had
mischievously used as a gag to his questioning fellow traveler; but
now he had really come from a villa near Athens to find his old
house thus classically rechristened after it, and thought of it
with a gravity he had not felt before. He wondered who had named
it. There was no suggestion of the soft, sensuous elegance of the
land he had left in those great heroics of nature before him.
Those enormous trees were no woods for fauns or dryads; they had
their own godlike majesty of bulk and height, and as he at last
climbed the summit and saw the dark-helmeted head of Black Spur
before him, and beyond it the pallid, spiritual cloud of the
Sierras, he did not think of Olympus. Yet for a moment he was
startled, as he turned to the right, by the Doric-columned facade
of a temple painted by the moonbeams and framed in an opening of
the dark woods before him. It was not until he had reached it that
he saw that it was the new wooden post-office of Heavy Tree Hill.
And now the buildings of the new settlement began to faintly
appear. But the obscurity of the shadow and the equally disturbing
unreality of the moonlight confused him in his attempts to
recognize the old landmarks. A broad and well-kept winding road
had taken the place of the old steep, but direct trail to his
cabin. He had walked for some moments in uncertainty, when a
sudden sweep of the road brought the full crest of the hill above
and before him, crowned with a tiara of lights, overtopping a long
base of flashing windows. That was all that was left of Heavy Tree
Hill. The old foreground of buckeye and odorous ceanothus was
gone. Even the great grove of pines behind it had vanished.
There was already a stir of life in the road, and he could see
figures moving slowly along a kind of sterile, formal terrace
spread with a few dreary marble vases and plaster statues which had
replaced the natural slope and the great quartz buttresses of
outcrop that supported it. Presently he entered a gate, and soon
found himself in the carriage drive leading to the hotel veranda.
A number of fair promenaders were facing the keen mountain night
wind in wraps and furs. Demorest had replaced his coat, but his
boots were red with dust, and as he ascended the steps he could see
that he was eyed with some superciliousness by the guests and with
considerable suspicion by the servants. One of the latter was
approaching him with an insolent smile when a figure darted from
the vestibule, and, brushing the waiter aside, seized Demorest's
two hands in his and held him at arm's length.
"Demorest, old man!"
"Stacy, old chap!"
"But where's your team? I've had all the spare hostlers and hall-
boys listening for you at the gate. And where's Barker? When he
found you'd given the dead-cut to the railroad--HIS railroad, you
know--he loped over to Boomville after you."
Demorest briefly explained that he had walked by the old road and
probably missed him. But by this time the waiters, crushed by the
spectacle of this travel-worn stranger's affectionate reception by
the great financial magnate, were wildly applying their brushes and
handkerchiefs to his trousers and boots until Stacy again swept
"Get off, all of you! Now, Phil, you come with me. The house is
full, but I've made the manager give you a lady's drawing-room
suite. When you telegraphed you'd meet us HERE there was no chance
to get anything else. It's really Mrs. Van Loo's family suite; but
they were sent for to go to Marysville yesterday, and so we'll run
you in for the night."
"Nonsense!" said Stacy, dragging him away. "We'll pay for it; and
I reckon the old lady won't object to taking her share of the
damage either, or she isn't Van Loo's mother. Come."
Demorest felt himself hurried forward by the energetic Stacy,
preceded by the obsequious manager, through a corridor to a
handsomely furnished suite, into whose bathroom Stacy incontinently
"There! Wash up; and by the time you're ready Barker ought to be
back, and we'll have supper. It's waiting for us in the other
"But how about Barker, the dear boy?" persisted Demorest, holding
open the door. "Tell me, is he well and happy?"
"About as well as we all are," said Stacy quickly, yet with a
certain dry significance. "Never mind now; wait until you see
The door closed. When Demorest had finished washing, and wiped
away the last red stain of the mountain road, he found Stacy seated
by the window of the larger sitting-room. In the centre a table
was spread for supper. A bright fire of hickory logs burnt on a
marble hearth between two large windows that gave upon the distant
outline of Black Spur. As Stacy turned towards him, by the light
of the shaded lamp and flickering fire, Demorest had a good look at
the face of his old friend and partner. It was as keen and
energetic as ever, with perhaps an even more hawk-like activity
visible in the eye and nostril; but it was more thoughtful and
reticent in the lines of the mouth under the closely clipped beard
and mustache, and when he looked up, at first there were two deep
lines or furrows across his low broad forehead. Demorest fancied,
too, that there was a little of the old fighting look in his eye,
but it softened quickly as his friend approached, and he burst out
with his curt but honest single-syllabled laugh. "Ha! You look a
little less like a roving Apache than you did when you came. I
really thought the waiters were going to chuck you. And you ARE
tanned! Darned if you don't look like the profile stamped on a
Continental penny! But here's luck and a welcome back, old man!"
Demorest passed his arm around the neck of his seated partner, and
grasping his upraised hand said, looking down with a smile, "And
now about Barker."
"Oh, Parker, d--n him! He's the same unshakable, unchangeable,
ungrow-upable Barker! With the devil's own luck, too! Waltzing
into risks and waltzing out of 'em. With fads enough to put him in
the insane asylum if people did not prefer to keep him out of it to
help 'em. Always believing in everybody, until they actually
believe in themselves, and shake him! And he's got a wife that's
making a fool of herself, and I shouldn't wonder in time--of him!"
Demorest pressed his hand over his partner's mouth. "Come, Jim!
You know you never really liked that marriage, simply because you
thought that old man Carter made a good thing of it. And you never
seem to have taken into consideration the happiness Barker got out
of it, for he DID love the girl. And he still is happy, is he
not?" he added quickly, as Stacy uttered a grunt.
"As happy as a man can be who has his child here with a nurse while
his wife is gallivanting in San Francisco, and throwing her money--
and Lord knows what else--away at the bidding of a smooth-tongued,
"Does HE complain of it?" asked Demorest.
"Not he; the fool trusts her!" said Stacy curtly.
Demorest laughed. "That is happiness! Come, Jim! don't let us
begrudge him that. But I've heard that his affairs have again
"He built this railroad and this hotel. The bank owns both now.
He didn't care to keep money in them after they were a success;
said he wasn't an engineer nor a hotel-keeper, and drew it out to
find something new. But here he comes," he added, as a horseman
dashed into the drive before the hotel. "Question him yourself.
You know you and he always get along best without me."
In another moment Barker had burst into the room, and in his first
tempestuous greeting of Demorest the latter saw little change in
his younger partner as he held him at arm's length to look at him.
"Why, Barker boy, you haven't got a bit older since the day when--
you remember--you went over to Boomville to cash your bonds, and
then came back and burst upon us like this to tell us you were a
"Yes," laughed Barker, "and all the while you fellows were holding
four aces up your sleeve in the shape of the big strike."
"And you, Georgy, old boy," returned Demorest, swinging Barker's
two hands backwards and forwards, "were holding a royal flush up
yours in the shape of your engagement to Kitty."
The fresh color died out of Barker's cheek even while the frank
laugh was still on his mouth. He turned his face for a moment
towards the window, and a swift and almost involuntary glance
passed between the others. But he almost as quickly turned his
glistening eyes back to Demorest again, and said eagerly, "Yes,
dear Kitty! You shall see her and the baby to-morrow."
Then they fell upon the supper with the appetites of the Past, and
for some moments they all talked eagerly and even noisily together,
all at the same time, with even the spirits of the Past. They
recalled every detail of their old life; eagerly and impetuously
recounted the old struggles, hopes, and disappointments, gave the
strange importance of schoolboys to unimportant events, and a
mystic meaning to a shibboleth of their own; roared over old jokes
with a delight they had never since given to new; reawakened
idiotic nicknames and bywords with intense enjoyment; grew grave,
anxious, and agonized over forgotten names, trifling dates, useless
distances, ineffective records, and feeble chronicles of their
domestic economy. It was the thoughtful and melancholy Demorest
who remembered the exact color and price paid for a certain shirt
bought from a Greaser peddler amidst the envy of his companions; it
was the financial magnate, Stacy, who could inform them what were