Part 3 out of 4
the exact days they had saleratus bread and when flapjacks; it was
the thoughtless and mercurial Barker who recalled with unheard-of
accuracy, amidst the applause of the others, the full name of the
Indian squaw who assisted at their washing. Even then they were
almost feverishly loath to leave the subject, as if the Past, at
least, was secure to them still, and they were even doubtful of
their own free and full accord in the Present. Then they slipped
rather reluctantly into their later experiences, but with scarcely
the same freedom or spontaneity; and it was noticeable that these
records were elicited from Barker by Stacy or from Stacy by Barker
for the information of Demorest, often with chaffing and only under
good-humored protest. "Tell Demorest how you broke the 'Copper
Ring,'" from the admiring Barker, or, "Tell Demorest how your d----d
foolishness in buying up the right and plant of the Ditch Company
got you control of the railroad," from the mischievous Stacy, were
challenges in point. Presently they left the table, and, to the
astonishment of the waiters who removed the cloth, common brier-
wood pipes, thoughtfully provided by Barker in commemoration of the
Past, were lit, and they ranged themselves in armchairs before the
fire quite unconsciously in their old attitudes. The two windows
on either side of the hearth gave them the same view that the open
door of the old cabin had made familiar to them, the league-long
valley below the shadowy bulk of the Black Spur rising in the
distance, and, still more remote, the pallid snow-line that soared
even beyond its crest.
As in the old time, they were for many moments silent; and then, as
in the old time, it was the irrepressible Barker who broke the
silence. "But Stacy does not tell you anything about his friend,
the beautiful Mrs. Horncastle. You know he's the guardian of one
of the finest women in California--a woman as noble and generous as
she is handsome. And think of it! He's protecting her from her
brute of a husband, and looking after her property. Isn't it good
and chivalrous of him?"
The irrepressible laughter of the two men brought only wonder and
reproachful indignation into the widely opened eyes of Barker. HE
was perfectly sincere. He had been thinking of Stacy's admiration
for Mrs. Horncastle in his ride from Boomville, and, strange to
say, yet characteristic of his nature, it was equally the natural
outcome of his interview with her and the singular effect she had
upon him. That he (Barker) thoroughly sympathized with her only
convinced him that Stacy must feel the same for her, and that, no
doubt, she must respond to him equally. And how noble it was in
his old partner, with his advantages of position in the world and
his protecting relations to her, not to avail himself of this
influence upon her generous nature. If he himself--a married man
and the husband of Kitty--was so conscious of her charm, how much
greater it must be to the free and INEXPERIENCED Stacy.
The italics were in Barker's thought; for in those matters he felt
that Stacy and even Demorest, occupied in other things, had not his
knowledge. There was no idea or consciousness of heroically
sacrificing himself or Mrs. Horncastle in this. I am afraid there
was not even an idea of a superior morality in himself in giving up
the possibility of loving her. Ever since Stacy had first seen her
he had fancied that Stacy liked her,--indeed, Kitty fancied it,
too,--and it seemed almost providential now that he should know how
to assist his old partner to happiness. For it was inconceivable
that Stacy should not be able to rescue this woman from her
shameful bonds, or that she should not consent to it through his
(Barker's) arguments and entreaties. To a "champion of dames" this
seemed only right and proper. In his unfailing optimism he
translated Stacy's laugh as embarrassment and Demorest's as only
ignorance of the real question. But Demorest had noticed, if he
had not, that Stacy's laugh was a little nervously prolonged for a
man of his temperament, and that he had cast a very keen glance at
Barker. A messenger arriving with a telegram brought from
Boomville called Stacy momentarily away, and Barker was not slow to
take advantage of his absence.
"I wish, Phil," he said, hitching his chair closer to Demorest,
"that you would think seriously of this matter, and try to persuade
Stacy--who, I believe, is more interested in Mrs. Horncastle than
he cares to show--to put a little of that determination in love
that he has shown in business. She's an awfully fine woman, and in
every way suited to him, and he is letting an absurd sense of pride
and honor keep him from influencing her to get rid of her
impossible husband. There's no reason," continued Barker in a
burst of enthusiastic simplicity, "that BECAUSE she has found some
one she likes better, and who would treat her better, that she
should continue to stick to that beast whom all California would
gladly see her divorced from. I never could understand that kind
of argument, could you?"
Demorest looked at his companion's glowing cheek and kindling eye
with a smile. "A good deal depends upon the side from which you
argue. But, frankly, Barker boy, though I think I know you in all
your phases, I am not prepared yet to accept you as a match-maker!
However, I'll think it over, and find out something more of this
from your goddess, who seems to have bewitched you both. But what
does Mistress Kitty say to your admiration?"
Barker's face clouded, but instantly brightened. "Oh, they're the
best of friends; they're quite like us, you know, even to larks
they have together." He stopped and colored at his slip. But
Demorest, who had noticed his change of expression, was more
concerned at the look of half incredulity and half suspicion with
which Stacy, who had re-entered the room in time to hear Barker's
speech, was regarding his unconscious younger partner.
"I didn't know that Mrs. Horncastle and Mrs. Barker were such
friends," he said dryly as he sat down again. But his face
presently became so abstracted that Demorest said gayly:--
"Well, Jim, I'm glad I'm not a Napoleon of Finance! I couldn't
stand it to have my privacy or my relaxation broken in upon at any
moment, as yours was just now. What confounded somersault in
stocks has put that face on you?"
Stacy looked up quickly with his brief laugh. "I'm afraid you'd be
none the wiser if I told you. That was a pony express messenger
from New York. You remember how Barker, that night of the strike,
when we were sitting together here, or very near here, proposed
that we ought to have a password or a symbol to call us together in
case of emergency, for each other's help? Well, let us say I have
two partners, one in Europe and one in New York. That was my
"And, I hope, no more serious than ours," added Demorest.
Stacy laughed his short laugh. Nevertheless, the conversation
dragged again. The feverish gayety of the early part of the
evening was gone, and they seemed to be suffering from the
reaction. They fell into their old attitudes, looking from the
firelight to the distant bulk of Black Spur without a word. The
occasional sound of the voices of promenaders on the veranda at
last ceased; there was the noise of the shutting of heavy doors
below, and Barker rose.
"You'll excuse me, boys; but I must go and say good-night to little
Sta, and see that he's all right. I haven't seen him since I got
back. But"--to Demorest--"you'll see him to-morrow, when Kitty
comes. It is as much as my life is worth to show him before she
certifies him as being presentable." He paused, and then added:
"Don't wait up, you fellows, for me; sometimes the little chap
won't let me go. It's as if he thought, now Kitty's away, I was
all he had. But I'll be up early in the morning and see you. I
dare say you and Stacy have a heap to say to each other on
business, and you won't miss me. So I'll say good-night." He
laughed lightly, pressed the hands of his partners in his usual
hearty fashion, and went out of the room, leaving the gloom a
little deeper than before. It was so unusual for Barker to be the
first to leave anybody or anything in trouble that they both
noticed it. "But for that," said Demorest, turning to Stacy as the
door closed, "I should say the dear fellow was absolutely
unchanged. But he seemed a little anxious to-night."
"I shouldn't wonder. He's got two women on his mind,--as if one
was not enough."
"I don't understand. You say his wife is foolish, and this other"--
"Never mind that now," interrupted Stacy, getting up and putting
down his pipe. "Let's talk a little business. That other stuff
"By all means," said Demorest, with a smile, settling down into his
chair a little wearily, however. "I forgot business. And I
forgot, my dear Jim, to congratulate you. I've heard all about
you, even in New York. You're the man who, according to everybody,
now holds the finances of the Pacific Slope in his hands. And," he
added, leaning affectionately towards his old partner, "I don't
know any one better equipped in honesty, straightforwardness, and
courage for such a responsibility than you."
"I only wish," said Stacy, looking thoughtfully at Demorest, "that
I didn't hold nearly a million of your money included in the
finances of the Pacific Slope."
"Why," said the smiling Demorest, "as long as I am satisfied?"
"Because I am not. If you're satisfied, I'm a wretched idiot and
not fit for my position. Now, look here, Phil. When you wrote me
to sell out your shares in the Wheat Trust I was a little
staggered. I knew your gait, my boy, and I knew, too, that, while
you didn't know enough to trust your own opinions or feeling, you
knew too much to trust any one's opinion that wasn't first-class.
So I reckoned you had the straight tip; but I didn't see it. Now,
I ought not to have been staggered if I was fit for your confidence,
or, if I was staggered, I ought to have had enough confidence in
myself not to mind you. See?"
"I admit your logic, old man," said Demorest, with an amused face,
"but I don't see your premises. WHEN did I tell you to sell out?"
"Two days ago. You wrote just after you arrived."
"I have never written to you since I arrived. I only telegraphed
to you to know where we should meet, and received your message to
"You never wrote me from San Francisco?"
Stacy looked concernedly at his friend. Was he in his right mind?
He had heard of cases where melancholy brooding on a fixed idea had
affected the memory. He took from his pocket a letter-case, and
selecting a letter handed it to Demorest without speaking.
Demorest glanced at it, turned it over, read its contents, and in a
grave voice said, "There is something wrong here. It is like my
handwriting, but I never wrote the letter, nor has it been in my
Stacy sprang to his side. "Then it's a forgery!"
"Wait a moment." Demorest, who, although very grave, was the more
collected of the two, went to a writing-desk, selected a sheet of
paper, and took up a pen. "Now," he said, "dictate that letter to
Stacy began, Demorest's pen rapidly following him:--
"DEAR JIM,--On receipt of this get rid of my Wheat Trust shares at
whatever figure you can. From the way things pointed in New York"--
"Stop!" interrupted Demorest.
"Well?" said Stacy impatiently.
"Now, my dear Jim," said Demorest plaintively, "when did you ever
know me to write such a sentence as 'the way things pointed'?"
"Let me finish reading," said Stacy. This literary sensitiveness
at such a moment seemed little short of puerility to the man of
"From the way things pointed in New York," continued Stacy, "and
from private advices received, this seems to be the only prudent
course before the feathers begin to fly. Longing to see you again
and the dear old stamping-ground at Heavy Tree. Love to Barker.
Has the dear old boy been at any fresh crank lately?
"Yours, PHIL DEMOREST."
The dictation and copy finished together. Demorest laid the
freshly written sheet beside the letter Stacy had produced. They
were very much alike and yet quite distinct from each other. Only
the signature seemed identical.
"That's the invariable mistake with the forger," said Demorest; "he
always forgets that signatures ought to be identical with the text
rather than with each other."
But Stacy did not seem to hear this or require further proof. His
face was quite gray and his lips compressed until lost in his
closely set beard as he gazed fixedly out of the window. For the
first time, really concerned and touched, Demorest laid his hand
gently on his shoulder.
"Tell me, Jim, how much does this mean to you apart from me? Don't
think of me."
"I don't know yet," said Stacy slowly. "That's the trouble. And I
won't know until I know who's at the bottom of it. Does anybody
know of your affairs with me?"
"No confidential friend, eh?"
"No one who has access to your secrets? No--no--woman? Excuse me,
Phil," he said, as a peculiar look passed over Demorest's face,
"but this is business."
"No," he returned, with that gentleness that used to frighten them
in the old days, "it's ignorance. You fellows always say 'Cherchez
la femme' when you can't say anything else. Come now," he went on
more brightly, "look at the letter. Here's a man, commercially
educated, for he has used the usual business formulas, 'on receipt
of this,' and 'advices received,' which I won't merely say I don't
use, but which few but commercial men use. Next, here's a man who
uses slang, not only ineptly, but artificially, to give the letter
the easy, familiar turn it hasn't from beginning to end. I need
only say, my dear Stacy, that I don't write slang to you, but that
nobody who understands slang ever writes it in that way. And then
the knowledge of my opinion of Barker is such as might be gained
from the reading of my letters by a person who couldn't comprehend
my feelings. Now, let me play inquisitor for a few moments. Has
anybody access to my letters to YOU?"
"No one. I keep them locked up in a cabinet. I only make
memorandums of your instructions, which I give to my clerks, but
never your letters."
"But your clerks sometimes see you make memorandums from them?"
"Yes, but none of them have the ability to do this sort of thing,
nor the opportunity of profiting by it."
"Has any woman--now this is not retaliation, my dear Jim, for I
fancy I detect a woman's cleverness and a woman's stupidity in this
forgery--any access to your secrets or my letters? A woman's
villainy is always effective for the moment, but always defective
The look of scorn which passed over Stacy's face was quite as
distinct as Demorest's previous protest, as he said contemptuously,
"I'm not such a fool as to mix up petticoats with my business,
whatever I do."
"Well, one thing more. I have told you that in my opinion the
forger has a commercial education or style, that he doesn't know me
nor Barker, and don't understand slang. Now, I have to add what
must have occurred to you, Jim, that the forger is either a coward,
or his object is not altogether mercenary: for the same ability
displayed in this letter would on the signature alone--had it been
on a check or draft--have drawn from your bank twenty times the
amount concerned. Now, what is the actual loss by this forgery?"
"Very little; for you've got a good price for your stocks,
considering the depreciation in realizing suddenly on so large an
amount. I told my broker to sell slowly and in small quantities to
avoid a panic. But the real loss is the control of the stock."
"But the amount I had was not enough to affect that," said Demorest.
"No, but I was carrying a large amount myself, and together we
controlled the market, and now I have unloaded, too."
"You sold out! and with your doubts?" said Demorest.
"That's just it," said Stacy, looking steadily at his companion's
face, "because I HAD doubts, and it won't do for me to have them.
I ought either to have disobeyed your letter and kept your stock
and my own, or have done just what I did. I might have hedged on
my own stock, but I don't believe in hedging. There is no middle
course to a man in my business if he wants to keep at the top. No
great success, no great power, was ever created by it."
Demorest smiled. "Yet you accept the alternative also, which is
"Precisely," said Stacy. "When you returned the other day you were
bound to find me what I was or a beggar. But nothing between.
However," he added, "this has nothing to do with the forgery, or,"
he smiled grimly, "everything to do with it. Hush! Barker is
There was a quick step along the corridor approaching the room.
The next moment the door flew open to the bounding step and
laughing face of Barker. Whatever of thoughtfulness or despondency
he had carried from the room with him was completely gone. With
his amazing buoyancy and power of reaction he was there again in
his usual frank, cheerful simplicity.
"I thought I'd come in and say goodnight," he began, with a laugh.
"I got Sta asleep after some high jinks we had together, and then I
reckoned it wasn't the square thing to leave just you two together,
the first night you came. And I remembered I had some business to
talk over, too, so I thought I'd chip in again and take a hand.
It's only the shank of the evening yet," he continued gayly, "and
we ought to sit up at least long enough to see the old snow-line
vanish, as we did in old times. But I say," he added suddenly, as
he glanced from the one to the other, "you've been having it pretty
strong already. Why, you both look as you did that night the
backwater of the South Fork came into our cabin. What's up?"
"Nothing," said Demorest hastily, as he caught a glance of Stacy's
impatient face. "Only all business is serious, Barker boy, though
you don't seem to feel it so."
"I reckon you're right there," said Barker, with a chuckle.
"People always laugh, of course, when I talk business, so it might
make it a little livelier for you and more of a change if I chipped
in now. Only I don't know which you'll do. Hand me a pipe.
Well," he continued, filling the pipe Demorest shoved towards him,
"you see, I was in Sacramento yesterday, and I went into Van Loo's
branch office, as I heard he was there, and I wanted to find out
something about Kitty's investments, which I don't think he's
managing exactly right. He wasn't there, however, but as I was
waiting I heard his clerks talk about a drop in the Wheat Trust,
and that there was a lot of it put upon the market. They seemed to
think that something had happened, and it was going down still
further. Now I knew it was your pet scheme, and that Phil had a
lot of shares in it, too, so I just slipped out and went to a
broker's and told him to buy all he could of it. And, by Jove! I
was a little taken aback when I found what I was in for, for
everybody seemed to have unloaded, and I found I hadn't money
enough to pay margins, but I knew that Demorest was here, and I
reckoned on his seeing me through." He stopped and colored, but
added hopefully, "I reckon I'm safe, anyway, for just as the thing
was over those same clerks of Van Loo's came bounding into the
office to buy up everything. And offered to take it off my hands
and pay the margins."
"And you?" said both men eagerly, and in a breath.
Barker stared at them, and reddened and paled by turns. "I held
on," he stammered. "You see, boys"--
Both men had caught him by the arms. "How much have you got?" they
said, shaking him as if to precipitate the answer.
"It's a heap!" said Barker. "It's a ghastly lot now I think of it.
I'm afraid I'm in for fifty thousand, if a cent."
To his infinite astonishment and delight he was alternately hugged
and tossed backwards and forwards between the two men quite in the
fashion of the old days. Breathless but laughing, he at length
gasped out, "What does it all mean?"
"Tell him everything, Jim,--EVERYTHING," said Demorest quickly.
Stacy briefly related the story of the forgery, and then laid the
letter and its copy before him. But Barker only read the forgery.
"How could YOU, Stacy--one of the three partners of Heavy Tree--be
deceived! Don't you see it's Phil's handwriting--but it isn't
"But have you any idea WHO it is?" said Stacy.
"Not me," said Barker, with widely opened eyes. "You see it must
be somebody whom we are familiar with. I can't imagine such a
"How did YOU know that Demorest had stock?" asked Stacy.
"He told me in one of his letters and advised me to go into it.
But just then Kitty wanted money, I think, and I didn't go in."
"I remember it," struck in Demorest. "But surely it was no secret.
My name would be on the transfer books for any one to see."
"Not so," said Stacy quickly. "You were one of the original
shareholders; there was no transfer, and the books as well as the
shares of the company were in my hands."
"And your clerks?" added Demorest.
Stacy was silent. After a pause he asked, "Did anybody ever see
that letter, Barker?"
"No one but myself and Kitty."
"And would she be likely to talk of it?" continued Stacy.
"Of course not. Why should she? Whom could she talk to?" Yet he
stopped suddenly, and then with his characteristic reaction added,
with a laugh, "Why no, certainly not."
"Of course, everybody knew that you had bought the shares at
"Yes. Why, you know I told you the Van Loo clerks came to me and
wanted to take it off my hands."
"Yes, I remember; the Van Loo clerks; they knew it, of course,"
said Stacy with a grim smile. "Well, boys," he said, with sudden
alacrity, "I'm going to turn in, for by sun-up to-morrow I must be
on my way to catch the first train at the Divide for 'Frisco.
We'll hunt this thing down together, for I reckon we're all
concerned in it," he added, looking at the others, "and once more
we're partners as in the old times. Let us even say that I've
given Barker's signal or password," he added, with a laugh, "and
we'll stick together. Barker boy," he went on, grasping his
younger partner's hand, "your instinct has saved us this time;
d----d if I don't sometimes think it better than any other man's
sabe; only," he dropped his voice slightly, "I wish you had it in
other things than FINANCE. Phil, I've a word to say to you alone
before I go. I may want you to follow me."
"But what can I do?" said Barker eagerly. "You're not going to
leave me out."
"You've done quite enough for us, old man," said Stacy, laying his
hand on Barker's shoulder. "And it may be for US to do something
for YOU. Trot off to bed now, like a good boy. I'll keep you
posted when the time comes."
Shoving the protesting and leave-taking Barker with paternal
familiarity from the room, he closed the door and faced Demorest.
"He's the best fellow in the world," said Stacy quietly, "and has
saved the situation; but we mustn't trust too much to him for the
present--not even seem to."
"Nonsense, man!" said Demorest impatiently. "You're letting your
prejudices go too far. Do you mean to say that you suspect his
"D--n his wife!" said Stacy almost savagely. "Leave her out of
this. It's Van Loo that I suspect. It was Van Loo who I knew was
behind it, who expected to profit by it, and now we have lost him."
"But how?" said Demorest, astonished.
"How?" repeated Stacy impatiently. "You know what Barker said?
Van Loo, either through stupidity, fright, or the wish to get the
lowest prices, was too late to buy up the market. If he had, we
might have openly declared the forgery, and if it was known that he
or his friends had profited by it, even if we could not have proven
his actual complicity, we could at least have made it too hot for
him in California. But," said Stacy, looking intently at his
friend, "do you know how the case stands now?"
"Well," said Demorest, a little uneasily under his friend's keen
eyes, "we've lost that chance, but we've kept control of the
"You think so? Well, let me tell you how the case stands and the
price we pay for it," said Stacy deliberately, as he folded his
arms and gazed at Demorest. "You and I, well known as old friends
and former partners, for no apparent reason--for we cannot prove
the forgery now--have thrown upon the market all our stock, with
the usual effect of depreciating it. Another old friend and former
partner has bought it in and sent up the price. A common trick, a
vulgar trick, but not a trick worthy of James Stacy or Stacy's
"But why not simply declare the forgery without making any specific
charge against Van Loo?"
"Do you imagine, Phil, that any man would believe it, and the story
of a providentially appointed friend like Barker who saved us from
loss? Why, all California, from Cape Mendocino to Los Angeles,
would roar with laughter over it! No! We must swallow it and the
reputation of 'jockeying' with the Wheat Trust, too. That Trust's
as good as done for, for the present! Now you know why I didn't
want poor Barker to know it, nor have much to do with our search
for the forger."
"It would break the dear fellow's heart if he knew it," said
"Well, it's to save him from having his heart broken further that I
intend to find out this forger," said Stacy grimly. "Good-night,
Phil! I'll telegraph to you when I want you, and then COME!"
With another grip of the hand he left Demorest to his thoughts. In
the first excitement of meeting his old partners, and in the later
discovery of the forgery, Demorest had been diverted from his old
sorrow, and for the time had forgotten it in sympathetic interest
with the present. But, to his horror, when alone again, he found
that interest growing as remote and vapid as the stories they had
laughed over at the table, and even the excitement of the forged
letter and its consequences began to be as unreal, as impotent, as
shadowy, as the memory of the attempted robbery in the old cabin on
that very spot. He was ashamed of that selfishness which still
made him cling to this past, so much his own, that he knew it
debarred him from the human sympathy of his comrades. And even
Barker, in whose courtship and marriage he had tried to resuscitate
his youthful emotions and condone his selfish errors--even the
suggestion of his unhappiness only touched him vaguely. He would
no longer be a slave to the Past, or the memory that had deluded
him a few hours ago. He walked to the window; alas, there was the
same prospect that had looked upon his dreams, had lent itself to
his old visions. There was the eternal outline of the hills; there
rose the steadfast pines; there was no change in THEM. It was this
surrounding constancy of nature that had affected him. He turned
away and entered the bedroom. Here he suddenly remembered that the
mother of this vague enemy, Van Loo,--for his feeling towards him
was still vague, as few men really hate the personality they don't
know,--had only momentarily vacated it, and to his distaste of his
own intrusion was now added the profound irony of his sleeping in
the same bed lately occupied by the mother of the man who was
suspected of having forged his name. He smiled faintly and looked
around the apartment. It was handsomely furnished, and although it
still had much of the characterlessness of the hotel room, it was
distinctly flavored by its last occupant, and still brightened by
that mysterious instinct of the sex which is inevitable. Where a
man would have simply left his forgotten slippers or collars there
was a glass of still unfaded flowers; the cold marble top of the
dressing-table was littered with a few linen and silk toilet
covers; and on the mantel-shelf was a sheaf of photographs. He
walked towards them mechanically, glanced at them abstractedly, and
then stopped suddenly with a beating heart. Before him was the
picture of his past, the photograph of the one woman who had filled
He cast a hurried glance around the room as if he half expected to
see the original start up before him, and then eagerly seized it
and hurried with it to the light. Yes! yes! It was SHE,--she as
she had lived in his actual memory; she as she had lived in his
dream. He saw her sweet eyes, but the frightened, innocent trouble
had passed from them; there was the sensitive elegance of her
graceful figure in evening dress; but the figure was fuller and
maturer. Could he be mistaken by some wonderful resemblance acting
upon his too willing brain? He turned the photograph over. No;
there on the other side, written in her own childlike hand,
endeared and familiar to his recollection, was her own name, and
the date! It was surely she!
How did it come there? Did the Van Loos know her? It was taken in
Venice; there was the address of the photographers. The Van Loos
were foreigners, he remembered; they had traveled; perhaps had met
her there in 1858: that was the date in her handwriting; that was
the date on the photographer's address--1858. Suddenly he laid the
photograph down, took with trembling fingers a letter-case from his
pocket, opened it, and laid his last letter to her, indorsed with
the cruel announcement of her death, before him on the table. He
passed his hand across his forehead and opened the letter. It was
dated 1856! The photograph must have been taken two years AFTER
her alleged death!
He examined it again eagerly, fixedly, tremblingly. A wild impulse
to summon Barker or Stacy on the spot was restrained with
difficulty and only when he remembered that they could not help
him. Then he began to oscillate between a joy and a new fear,
which now, for the first time, began to dawn upon him. If the news
of her death had been a fiendish trick of her relations, why had
SHE never sought him? It was not ill health, restraint, nor fear;
there was nothing but happiness and the strength of youth and
beauty in that face and figure. HE had not disappeared from the
world; he was known of men; more, his memorable good fortune must
have reached her ears. Had he wasted all these miserable years to
find himself abandoned, forgotten, perhaps even a dupe? For the
first time the sting of jealousy entered his soul. Perhaps,
unconsciously to himself, his strange and varying feelings that
afternoon had been the gathering climax of his mental condition; at
all events, in the sudden revulsion there was a shaking off of his
apathetic thought; there was activity, even if it was the activity
of pain. Here was a mystery to be solved, a secret to be
discovered, a past wrong to be exposed, an enemy or, perhaps, even
a faithless love to be punished. Perhaps he had even saved his
reason at the expense of his love. He quickly replaced the
photograph on the mantel-shelf, returned the letter carefully to
his pocket-book,--no longer a souvenir of the past, but a proof of
treachery,--and began to mechanically undress himself. He was
quite calm now, and went to bed with a strange sense of relief, and
slept as he had not slept since he was a boy.
The whole hotel had sunk to rest by this time, and then began the
usual slow, nightly invasion and investment of it by nature. For
all its broad verandas and glaring terraces, its long ranges of
windows and glittering crest of cupola and tower, it gradually
succumbed to the more potent influences around it, and became their
sport and playground. The mountain breezes from the distant summit
swept down upon its flimsy structure, shook the great glass windows
as with a strong hand, and sent the balm of bay and spruce through
every chink and cranny. In the great hall and corridors the
carpets billowed with the intruding blast along the floors; there
was the murmur of the pines in the passages, and the damp odor of
leaves in the dining-room. There was the cry of night birds in the
creaking cupola, and the swift rush of dark wings past bedroom
windows. Lissome shapes crept along the terraces between the
stolid wooden statues, or, bolder, scampered the whole length of
the great veranda. In the lulling of the wind the breath of the
woods was everywhere; even the aroma of swelling sap--as if the
ghastly stumps on the deforested slope behind the hotel were
bleeding afresh in the dewless night--stung the eyes and nostrils
of the sleepers.
It was, perhaps, from such cause as this that Barker was awakened
suddenly by the voice of the boy from the crib beside him, crying,
"Mamma! mamma!" Taking the child in his arms, he comforted him,
saying she would come that morning, and showed him the faint dawn
already veiling with color the ghostly pallor of the Sierras. As
they looked at it a great star shot forth from its brethren and
fell. It did not fall perpendicularly, but seemed for some seconds
to slip along the slopes of Black Spur, gleaming through the trees
like a chariot of fire. It pleased the child to say that it was
the light of mamma's buggy that was fetching her home, and it
pleased the father to encourage the boy's fancy. And talking thus
in confidential whispers they fell asleep once more, the father--
himself a child in so many things--holding the smaller and frailer
hand in his.
They did not know that on the other side of the Divide the wife and
mother, scared, doubting, and desperate, by the side of her scared,
doubting, and desperate accomplice, was flying down the slope on
her night-long road to ruin. Still less did they know that, with
the early singing birds, a careless horseman, emerging from the
trail as the dust-stained buggy dashed past him, glanced at it with
a puzzled air, uttered a quiet whistle of surprise, and then,
wheeling his horse, gayly cantered after it.
In the exercise of his arduous profession, Jack Hamlin had sat up
all night in the magnolia saloon of the Divide, and as it was
rather early to go to bed, he had, after his usual habit, shaken
off the sedentary attitude and prepared himself for sleep by a
fierce preliminary gallop in the woods. Besides, he had been a
large winner, and on those occasions he generally isolated himself
from his companions to avoid foolish altercations with inexperienced
players. Even in fighting Jack was fastidious, and did not like to
have his stomach for a real difficulty distended and vitiated by
small preliminary indulgences.
He was just emerging from the wood into the highroad when a buggy
dashed past him, containing a man and a woman. The woman wore a
thick veil; the man was almost undistinguishable from dust. The
glimpse was momentary, but dislike has a keen eye, and in that
glimpse Mr. Hamlin recognized Van Loo. The situation was equally
clear. The bent heads and averted faces, the dust collected in the
heedlessness of haste, the early hour,--indicating a night-long
flight,--all made it plain to him that Van Loo was running away
with some woman. Mr. Hamlin had no moral scruples, but he had the
ethics of a sportsman, which he knew Mr. Van Loo was not. Whether
the woman was an innocent schoolgirl or an actress, he was
satisfied that Van Loo was doing a mean thing meanly. Mr. Hamlin
also had a taste for mischief, and whether the woman was or was not
fair game, he knew that for HIS purposes Van Loo was. With the
greatest cheerfulness in the world he wheeled his horse and
cantered after them.
They were evidently making for the Divide and a fresh horse, or to
take the coach due an hour later. It was Mr. Hamlin's present
object to circumvent this, and, therefore, it was quite in his way
to return. Incidentally, however, the superior speed of his horse
gave him the opportunity of frequently lunging towards them at a
furious pace, which had the effect of frantically increasing their
own speed, when he would pull up with a silent laugh before he was
fairly discovered, and allow the sound of his rapid horse's hoofs
to die out. In this way he amused himself until the straggling
town of the Divide came in sight, when, putting his spurs to his
horse again, he managed, under pretense of the animal becoming
ungovernable, to twice "cross the bows" of the fugitives,
compelling them to slacken speed. At the second of these passages
Van Loo apparently lost prudence, and slashing out with his whip,
the lash caught slightly on the counter of Hamlin's horse. Mr.
Hamlin instantly acknowledged it by lifting his hat gravely, and
speeded on to the hotel, arriving at the steps and throwing himself
from the saddle exactly as the buggy drove up. With characteristic
audacity, he actually assisted the frightened and eager woman to
alight and run into the hotel. But in this action her veil was
accidentally lifted. Mr. Hamlin instantly recognized the pretty
woman who had been pointed out to him in San Francisco as Mrs.
Barker, the wife of one of the partners whose fortunes had
interested him five years ago. It struck him that this was an
additional reason for his interference on Barker's account,
although personally he could not conceive why a man should ever try
to prevent a woman from running away from him. But then Mr.
Hamlin's personal experiences had been quite the other way.
It was enough, however, to cause him to lay his hand lightly on Van
Loo's arm as the latter, leaping down, was about to follow Mrs.
Barker into the hotel. "You'll have time enough now," said Hamlin.
"Time for what?" said Van Loo savagely.
"Time to apologize for having cut my horse with your whip," said
Jack sweetly. "We don't want to quarrel before a woman."
"I've no time for fooling!" said Van Loo, endeavoring to pass.
But Jack's hand had slipped to Van Loo's wrist, although he still
smiled cheerfully. "Ah! Then you DID mean it, and you propose to
give me satisfaction?"
Van Loo paled slightly; he knew Jack's reputation as a duelist.
But he was desperate. "You see my position," he said hurriedly.
"I'm in a hurry; I have a lady with me. No man of honor"--
"You do me wrong," interrupted Jack, with a pained expression,--
"you do, indeed. You are in a hurry--well, I have plenty of time.
If you cannot attend to me now, why I will be glad to accompany you
and the lady to the next station. Of course," he added, with a
smile, "at a proper distance, and without interfering with the
lady, whom I am pleased to recognize as the wife of an old friend.
It would be more sociable, perhaps, if we had some general
conversation on the road; it would prevent her being alarmed. I
might even be of some use to YOU. If we are overtaken by her
husband on the road, for instance, I should certainly claim the
right to have the first shot at you. Boy!" he called to the
hostler, "just sponge out Pancho's mouth, will you, to be ready
when the buggy goes?" And, loosening his grip of Van Loo's wrist,
he turned away as the other quickly entered the hotel.
But Mr. Van Loo did not immediately seek Mrs. Barker. He had
already some experience of that lady's nerves and irascibility on
the drive, and had begun to see his error in taking so dangerous an
impediment to his flight from the country. And another idea had
come to him. He had already effected his purpose of compromising
her with him in that flight, but it was still known only to few.
If he left her behind for the foolish, doting husband, would not
that devoted man take her back to avoid a scandal, and even forbear
to pursue HIM for his financial irregularities? What were twenty
thousand dollars of Mrs. Barker's money to the scandal of Mrs.
Barker's elopement? Again, the failure to realize the forgery had
left him safe, and Barker was sufficiently potent with the bank and
Demorest to hush up that also. Hamlin was now the only obstacle to
his flight; but even he would scarcely pursue HIM if Mrs. Barker
were left behind. And it would be easier to elude him if he did.
In his preoccupation Van Loo did not see that he had entered the
bar-room, but, finding himself there, he moved towards the bar; a
glass of spirits would revive him. As he drank it he saw that the
room was full of rough men, apparently miners or packers--some of
them Mexican, with here and there a Kanaka or Australian. Two men
more ostentatiously clad, though apparently on equal terms with the
others, were standing in the corner with their backs towards him.
From the general silence as he entered he imagined that he had been
the subject of conversation, and that his altercation with Hamlin
had been overheard. Suddenly one of the two men turned and
approached him. To his consternation he recognized Steptoe,--
Steptoe, whom he had not seen for five years until last night, when
he had avoided him in the courtyard of the Boomville Hotel. His
first instinct was to retreat, but it was too late. And the
spirits had warmed him into temporary recklessness.
"You ain't goin' to be backed down by a short-card gambler, are
yer?" said Steptoe, with coarse familiarity.
"I have a lady with me, and am pressed for time," said Van Loo
quickly. "He knows it, otherwise he would not have dared"--
"Well, look here," said Steptoe roughly. "I ain't particularly
sweet on you, as you know; but I and these gentlemen," he added,
glancing around the room, "ain't particularly sweet on Mr. Jack
Hamlin neither, and we kalkilate to stand by you if you say so.
Now, I reckon you want to get away with the woman, and the quicker
the better, as you're afraid there'll be somebody after you afore
long. That's the way it pans out, don't it? Well, when you're
ready to go, and you just tip us the wink, we'll get in a circle
round Jack and cover him, and if he starts after you we'll send him
on a little longer journey!--eh, boys?"
The men muttered their approval, and one or two drew their
revolvers from their belts. Van Loo's heart, which had leaped at
first at this proposal of help, sank at this failure of his little
plan of abandoning Mrs. Barker. He hesitated, and then stammered,
"Thank you! Haste is everything with us now; but I shouldn't mind
leaving the lady among CHIVALROUS GENTLEMEN like yourselves for a
few hours only, until I could communicate with my friends and
return to properly chastise this scoundrel."
Steptoe drew in his breath with a slight whistle, and gazed at Van
Loo. He instantly understood him. But the plea did not suit
Steptoe, who, for purposes of his own, wished to put Mrs. Barker
beyond her husband's possible reach. He smiled grimly. "I think
you'd better take the woman with you," he said. "I don't think,"
he added in a lower voice, "that the boys would like your leaving
her. They're very high-toned, they are!" he concluded ironically.
"Then," said Van Loo, with another desperate idea, "could you not
let us have saddle-horses instead of the buggy? We could travel
faster, and in the event of pursuit and anything happening to ME,"
he added loftily, "SHE at least could escape her pursuer's
This suited Steptoe equally well, as long as the guilty couple fled
TOGETHER, and in the presence of witnesses. But he was not
deceived by Van Loo's heroic suggestion of self-sacrifice. "Quite
right," he said sarcastically, "it shall be done, and I've no doubt
ONE of you will escape. I'll send the horses round to the back
door and keep the buggy in front. That will keep Jack there, TOO,--
with the boys handy."
But Mr. Hamlin had quite as accurate an idea of Mr. Van Loo's
methods and of his OWN standing with Steptoe's gang of roughs as
Mr. Steptoe himself. More than that, he also had a hold on a
smaller but more devoted and loyal following than Steptoe's. The
employees and hostlers of the hotel worshiped him. A single word
of inquiry revealed to him the fact that the buggy was NOT going
on, but that Mr. Van Loo and Mrs. Barker WERE--on two horses, a
temporary side-saddle having been constructed out of a mule's pack-
tree. At which Mr. Hamlin, with his usual audacity, walked into
the bar-room, and going to the bar leaned carelessly against it.
Then turning to the lowering faces around him, he said, with a
flash of his white teeth, "Well, boys, I'm calculating to leave the
Divide in a few minutes to follow some friends in the buggy, and it
seems to me only the square thing to stand the liquor for the
crowd, without prejudice to any feeling or roughness there may be
against me. Everybody who knows me knows that I'm generally there
when the band plays, and I'm pretty sure to turn up for THAT sort
of thing. So you'll just consider that I've had a good game on the
Divide, and I'm reckoning it's only fair to leave a little of it
behind me here, to 'sweeten the pot' until I call again. I only
ask you, gentlemen, to drink success to my friends in the buggy as
early and as often as you can." He flung two gold pieces on the
counter and paused, smiling.
He was right in his conjecture. Even the men who would have
willingly "held him up" a moment after, at the bidding of Steptoe,
saw no reason for declining a free drink "without prejudice." And
it was a part of the irony of the situation that Steptoe and Van
Loo were also obliged to participate to keep in with their
partisans. It was, however, an opportune diversion to Van Loo, who
managed to get nearer the door leading to the back entrance of the
hotel, and to Mr. Jack Hamlin, who was watching him, as the men
closed up to the bar.
The toast was drunk with acclamation, followed by another and yet
another. Steptoe and Van Loo, who had kept their heads cool, were
both wondering if Hamlin's intention were to intoxicate and
incapacitate the crowd at the crucial moment, and Steptoe smiled
grimly over his superior knowledge of their alcoholic capacity.
But suddenly there was the greater diversion of a shout from the
road, the on-coming of a cloud of red dust, and the halt of another
vehicle before the door. This time it was no jaded single horse
and dust-stained buggy, but a double team of four spirited
trotters, whose coats were scarcely turned with foam, before a
light station wagon containing a single man. But that man was
instantly recognized by every one of the outside loungers and
stable-boys as well as the staring crowd within the saloon. It was
James Stacy, the millionaire and banker. No one but himself knew
that he had covered half the distance of a night-long ride from
Boomville in two hours. But before they could voice their
astonishment Stacy had thrown a letter to the obsequious landlord,
and then gathering up the reins had sped away to the railroad
station half a mile distant.
"Looks as if the Boss of Creation was in a hurry," said one of the
eager gazers in the doorway. "Somebody goin' to get smashed,
"More like as if he was just humpin' himself to keep from getting
smashed," said Steptoe. "The bank hasn't got over the effect of
their smart deal in the Wheat Trust. Everything they had in their
hands tumbled yesterday in Sacramento. Men like me and you ain't
goin' to trust their money to be 'jockeyed' with in that style.
Nobody but a man with a swelled head like Stacy would have even
dared to try it on. And now, by G-d! he's got to pay for it."
The harsh, exultant tone of the speaker showed that he had quite
forgotten Van Loo and Hamlin in his superior hatred of the
millionaire, and both men noticed it. Van Loo edged still nearer
to the door, as Steptoe continued, "Ever since he made that big
strike on Heavy Tree five years ago, the country hasn't been big
enough to hold him. But mark my words, gentlemen, the time ain't
far off when he'll find a two-foot ditch again and a pick and grub
wages room enough and to spare for him and his kind of cattle."
"You're not drinking," said Jack Hamlin cheerfully.
Steptoe turned towards the bar, and then started. "Where's Van
Loo?" he demanded of Jack sharply.
Jack jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Gone to hurry up his
girl, I reckon. I calculate he ain't got much time to fool away
Steptoe glanced suspiciously at Jack. But at the same moment they
were all startled--even Jack himself--at the apparition of Mrs.
Barker passing hurriedly along the veranda before the windows in
the direction of the still waiting buggy. "D--n it!" said Steptoe
in a fierce whisper to the man next him. "Tell her not THERE--at
the back door!" But before the messenger reached the door there
was a sudden rattle of wheels, and with one accord all except
Hamlin rushed to the veranda, only to see Mrs. Barker driving
rapidly away alone. Steptoe turned back into the room, but Jack
also had disappeared.
For in the confusion created at the sight of Mrs. Barker, he had
slipped to the back door and found, as he suspected, only one
horse, and that with a side-saddle on. His intuitions were right.
Van Loo, when he disappeared from the saloon, had instantly fled,
taking the other horse and abandoning the woman to her fate. Jack
as instantly leaped upon the remaining saddle and dashed after him.
Presently he caught a glimpse of the fugitive in the distance,
heard the half-angry, half-ironical shouts of the crowd at the back
door, and as he reached the hilltop saw, with a mingling of
satisfaction and perplexity, Mrs. Barker on the other road, still
driving frantically in the direction of the railroad station. At
which Mr. Hamlin halted, threw away his encumbering saddle, and,
good rider that he was, remounted the horse, barebacked but for his
blanket-pad, and thrusting his knees in the loose girths, again
dashed forwards,--with such good results that, as Van Loo galloped
up to the stagecoach office, at the next station, and was about to
enter the waiting coach for Marysville, the soft hand of Mr. Hamlin
was laid on his shoulder.
"I told you," said Jack blandly, "that I had plenty of time. I
would have been here BEFORE and even overtaken you, only you had
the better horse and the only saddle."
Van Loo recoiled. But he was now desperate and reckless.
Beckoning Jack out of earshot of the other passengers, he said with
tightened lips, "Why do you follow me? What is your purpose in
"I thought," said Hamlin dryly, "that I was to have the pleasure of
getting satisfaction from you for the insult you gave me."
"Well, and if I apologize for it, what then?" he said quickly.
Hamlin looked at him quietly. "Well, I think I also said something
about the lady being the wife of a friend of mine."
"And I have left her BEHIND. Her husband can take her back without
disgrace, for no one knows of her flight but you and me. Do you
think your shooting me will save her? It will spread the scandal
far and wide. For I warn you, that as I have apologized for what
you choose to call my personal insult, unless you murder me in cold
blood without witness, I shall let them know the REASON of your
quarrel. And I can tell you more: if you only succeed in STOPPING
me here, and make me lose my chance of getting away, the scandal to
your friend will be greater still."
Mr. Hamlin looked at Van Loo curiously. There was a certain amount
of conviction in what he said. He had never met this kind of
creature before. He had surpassed even Hamlin's first intuition of
his character. He amused and interested him. But Mr. Hamlin was
also a man of the world, and knew that Van Loo's reasoning might be
good. He put his hands in his pockets, and said gravely, "What IS
your little game?"
Van Loo had been seized with another inspiration of desperation.
Steptoe had been partly responsible for this situation. Van Loo
knew that Jack and Steptoe were not friends. He had certain
secrets of Steptoe's that might be of importance to Jack. Why
should he not try to make friends with this powerful free-lance and
"It's a game," he said significantly, "that might be of interest to
your friends to hear."
Hamlin took his hands out of his pockets, turned on his heel, and
said, "Come with me."
"But I must go by that coach now," said Van Loo desperately, "or--
I've told you what would happen."
"Come with me," said Jack coolly. "If I'm satisfied with what you
tell me, I'll put you down at the next station an hour before that
coach gets there."
"You swear it?" said Van Loo hesitatingly.
"I've SAID it," returned Jack. "Come!" and Van Loo followed Mr.
Hamlin into the station hotel.
The abrupt disappearance of Jack Hamlin and the strange lady and
gentleman visitor was scarcely noticed by the other guests of the
Divide House, and beyond the circle of Steptoe and his friends, who
were a distinct party and strangers to the town, there was no
excitement. Indeed, the hotel proprietor might have confounded
them together, and, perhaps, Van Loo was not far wrong in his
belief that their identity had not been suspected. Nor were
Steptoe's followers very much concerned in an episode in which they
had taken part only at the suggestion of their leader, and which
had terminated so tamely. That they would have liked a "row," in
which Jack Hamlin would have been incidentally forced to disgorge
his winnings, there was no doubt, but that their interference was
asked solely to gratify some personal spite of Steptoe's against
Van Loo was equally plain to them. There was some grumbling and
outspoken criticism of his methods.
This was later made more obvious by the arrival of another guest
for whom Steptoe and his party were evidently waiting. He was a
short, stout man, whose heavy red beard was trimmed a little more
carefully than when he was first known to Steptoe as Alky Hall, the
drunkard of Heavy Tree Hill. His dress, too, exhibited a marked
improvement in quality and style, although still characterized in
the waist and chest by the unbuttoned freedom of portly and
slovenly middle age. Civilization had restricted his potations or
limited them to certain festivals known as "sprees," and his face
was less puffy and sodden. But with the accession of sobriety he
had lost his good humor, and had the irritability and intolerance
of virtuous restraint.
"Ye needn't ladle out any of your forty-rod whiskey to me," he said
querulously to Steptoe, as he filed out with the rest of the party
through the bar-room into the adjacent apartment. "I want to keep
my head level till our business is over, and I reckon it wouldn't
hurt you and your gang to do the same. They're less likely to
blab; and there are few doors that whiskey won't unlock," he added,
as Steptoe turned the key in the door after the party had entered.
The room had evidently been used for meetings of directors or
political caucuses, and was roughly furnished with notched and
whittled armchairs and a single long deal table, on which were ink
and pens. The men sat down around it with a half-embarrassed,
half-contemptuous attitude of formality, their bent brows and
isolated looks showing little community of sentiment and scarcely
an attempt to veil that individual selfishness that was prominent.
Still less was there any essay of companionship or sympathy in the
manner of Steptoe as he suddenly rapped on the table with his
"Gentlemen," he said, with a certain deliberation of utterance, as
if he enjoyed his own coarse directness, "I reckon you all have a
sort of general idea what you were picked up for, or you wouldn't
be here. But you may or may not know that for the present you are
honest, hard-working miners,--the backbone of the State of
Californy,--and that you have formed yourselves into a company
called the 'Blue Jay,' and you've settled yourselves on the Bar
below Heavy Tree Hill, on a deserted claim of the Marshall
Brothers, not half a mile from where the big strike was made five
years ago. That's what you ARE, gentlemen; that's what you'll
continue TO BE until the job's finished; and," he added, with a
sudden dominance that they all felt, "the man who forgets it will
have to reckon with me. Now," he continued, resuming his former
ironical manner, "now, what are the cold facts of the case? The
Marshalls worked this claim ever since '49, and never got anything
out of it; then they dropped off or died out, leaving only one
brother, Tom Marshall, to work what was left of it. Well, a few
days ago HE found indications of a big lead in the rock, and
instead of rushin' out and yellin' like an honest man, and callin'
in the boys to drink, he sneaks off to 'Frisco, and goes to the
bank to get 'em to take a hand in it. Well, you know, when Jim
Stacy takes a hand in anything, IT'S BOTH HANDS, and the bank
wouldn't see it until he promised to guarantee possession of the
whole abandoned claim,--'dips, spurs, and angles,'--and let them
work the whole thing, which the d----d fool DID, and the bank
agreed to send an expert down there to-morrow to report. But while
he was away some one on our side, who was an expert also, got wind
of it, and made an examination all by himself, and found it was a
vein sure enough and a big thing, and some one else on our side
found out, too, all that Marshall had promised the bank and what
the bank had promised him. Now, gentlemen, when the bank sends
down that expert to-morrow I expect that he will find YOU IN
POSSESSION of every part of the deserted claim except the spot
where Tom is still working."
"And what good is that to us?" asked one of the men contemptuously.
"Good?" repeated Steptoe harshly. "Well, if you're not as d----d a
fool as Marshall, you'll see that if he has struck a lead or vein
it's bound to run across OUR CLAIMS, and what's to keep us from
sinking for it as long as Marshall hasn't worked the other claims
for years nor pre-empted them for this lead?"
"What'll keep him from pre-empting now?"
"But if he can prove that the brothers left their claims to him to
keep, he'll just send the sheriff and his posse down upon us,"
persisted the first speaker.
"It will take him three months to do that by law, and the sheriff
and his posse can't do it before as long as we're in peaceable
possession of it. And by the time that expert and Marshall return
they'll find us in peaceful possession, unless we're such blasted
fools as to stay talking about it here!"
"But what's to prevent Marshall from getting a gang of his own to
drive us off?"
"Now your talkin' and not yelpin'," said Steptoe, with slow
insolence. "D----d if I didn't begin to think you kalkilated I was
goin' to employ you as lawyers! Nothing is to prevent him from
gettin' up HIS gang, and we hope he'll do it, for you see it puts
us both on the same level before the law, for we're both BREAKIN'
IT. And we kalkilate that we're as good as any roughs they can
pick up at Heavy Tree."
"I reckon!" "Ye can count us in!" said half a dozen voices
"But what's the job goin' to pay us?" persisted a Sydney man. "An'
arter we've beat off this other gang, are we going to scrub along
on grub wages until we're yanked out by process-sarvers three
months later? If that's the ticket I'm not in it. I aren't no
b--y quartz miner."
"We ain't going to do no more MINING there than the bank," said
Steptoe fiercely. "And the bank ain't going to wait no three
months for the end of the lawsuit. They'll float the stock of that
mine for a couple of millions, and get out of it with a million
before a month. And they'll have to buy us off to do that. What
they'll pay will depend upon the lead; but we don't move off those
claims for less than five thousand dollars, which will be two
hundred and fifty dollars to each man. But," said Steptoe in a
lower but perfectly distinct voice, "if there should be a row,--and
they BEGIN it,--and in the scuffle Tom Marshall, their only
witness, should happen to get in the way of a revolver or have his
head caved in, there might be some difficulty in their holdin' ANY
OF THE MINE against honest, hardworking miners in possession. You
There was a breathless silence for the moment, and a slight
movement of the men in their chairs, but never in fear or protest.
Every one had heard the speaker distinctly, and every man
distinctly understood him. Some of them were criminals, one or two
had already the stain of blood on their hands; but even the most
timid, who at other times might have shrunk from suggested
assassination, saw in the speaker's words only the fair removal of
a natural enemy.
"All right, boys. I'm ready to wade in at once. Why ain't we on
the road now? We might have been but for foolin' our time away on
that man Van Loo."
"Van Loo!" repeated Hall eagerly,--"Van Loo! Was he here?"
"Yes," said Steptoe shortly, administering a kick under the table
to Hall, as he had no wish to revive the previous irritability of
his comrades. "He's gone, but," turning to the others, "you'd have
had to wait for Mr. Hall's arrival, anyhow. And now you've got
your order you can start. Go in two parties by different roads,
and meet on the other side of the hotel at Hymettus. I'll be there
before you. Pick up some shovels and drills as you go; remember
you're honest miners, but don't forget your shootin'-irons for all
that. Now scatter."
It was well that they did, vacating the room more cheerfully and
sympathetically than they had entered it, or Hall's manifest
disturbance over Van Loo's visit would have been noticed. When the
last man had disappeared Hall turned quickly to Steptoe. "Well,
what did he say? Where has he gone?"
"Don't know," said Steptoe, with uneasy curtness. "He was running
away with a woman--well, Mrs. Barker, if you want to know," he
added, with rising anger, "the wife of one of those cursed
partners. Jack Hamlin was here, and was jockeying to stop him, and
interfered. But what the devil has that job to do with our job?"
He was losing his temper; everything seemed to turn upon this
infernal Van Loo!
"He wasn't running away with Mrs. Barker," gasped Hall,--"it was
with her MONEY! and the fear of being connected with the Wheat
Trust swindle which he organized, and with our money which I lent
him for the same purpose. And he knows all about that job, for I
wanted to get him to go into it with us. Your name and mine ain't
any too sweet-smelling for the bank, and we ought to have a
middleman who knows business to arrange with them. The bank
daren't object to him, for they've employed him in even shadier
transactions than this when THEY didn't wish to appear. I knew he
was in difficulties along with Mrs. Barker's speculations, but I
never thought him up to this. And," he added, with sudden
desperation, "YOU trusted him, too."
In an instant Steptoe caught the frightened man by the shoulders
and was bearing him down on the table. "Are you a traitor, a liar,
or a besotted fool?" he said hoarsely. "Speak. WHEN and WHERE did
I trust him?"
"You said in your note--I was--to--help him," gasped Hall.
"My note," repeated Steptoe, releasing Hall with astonished eyes.
"Yes," said Hall, tremblingly searching in his vest pocket. "I
brought it with me. It isn't much of a note, but there's your
signature plain enough."
He handed Steptoe a torn piece of paper folded in a three-cornered
shape. Steptoe opened it. He instantly recognized the paper on
which he had written his name and sent up to his wife at the
Boomville Hotel. But, added to it, in apparently the same hand, in
smaller characters, were the words, "Help Van Loo all you can."
The blood rushed into his face. But he quickly collected himself,
and said hurriedly, "All right, I had forgotten it. Let the d----d
sneak go. We've got what's a thousand times better in this claim
at Marshall's, and it's well that he isn't in it to scoop the
lion's share. Only we must not waste time getting there now. You
go there first, and at once, and set those rascals to work. I'll
follow you before Marshall comes up. Get; I'll settle up here."
His face darkened once more as Hall hurried away, leaving him
alone. He drew out the piece of paper from his pocket and stared
at it again. Yes; it was the one he had sent to his wife. How did
Van Loo get hold of it? Was he at the hotel that night? Had he
picked it up in the hall or passage when the servant dropped it?
When Hall handed him the paper and he first recognized it a
fiendish thought, followed by a spasm of more fiendish rage, had
sent the blood to his face. But his crude common sense quickly
dismissed that suggestion of his wife's complicity with Van Loo.
But had she seen him passing through the hotel that night, and had
sought to draw from him some knowledge of his early intercourse
with the child, and confessed everything, and even produced the
paper with his signature as a proof of identity? Women had been
known to do such desperate things. Perhaps she disbelieved her
son's aversion to her, and was trying to sound Van Loo. As for the
forged words by Van Loo, and the use he had put them to, he cared
little. He believed the man was capable of forgery; indeed, he
suddenly remembered that in the old days his son had spoken
innocently, but admiringly, of Van Loo's wonderful chirographical
powers and his faculty of imitating the writings of others, and how
he had even offered to teach him. A new and exasperating thought
came into his feverish consciousness. What if Van Loo, in teaching
the boy, had even made use of him as an innocent accomplice to
cover up his own tricks! The suggestion was no question of moral
ethics to Steptoe, nor of his son's possible contamination,
although since the night of the big strike he had held different
views; it was simply a fierce, selfish jealousy that ANOTHER might
have profited by the lad's helplessness and inexperience. He had
been tormented by this jealousy before in his son's liking for Van
Loo. He had at first encouraged his admiration and imitative
regard for this smooth swindler's graces and accomplishments,
which, though he scorned them himself, he was, after the common
parental infatuation, willing that the boy should profit by.
Incapable, through his own consciousness, of distinguishing between
Van Loo's superficial polish and the true breeding of a gentleman,
he had only looked upon it as an equipment for his son which might
be serviceable to himself. He had told his wife the truth when he
informed her of Van Loo's fears of being reminded of their former
intimacy; but he had not told her how its discontinuance after they
had left Heavy Tree Hill had affected her son, and how he still
cherished his old admiration for that specious rascal. Nor had he
told her how this had stung him, through his own selfish greed of
the boy's affection. Yet now that it was possible that she had met
Van Loo that evening, she might have become aware of Van Loo's
power over her child. How she would exult, for all her pretended
hatred of Van Loo! How, perhaps, they had plotted together! How
Van Loo might have become aware of the place where his son was
kept, and have been bribed by the mother to tell her! He stopped
in a whirl of giddy fancies. His strong common sense in all other
things had been hitherto proof against such idle dreams or
suggestions; but the very strength of his parental love and
jealousy had awakened in him at last the terrors of imagination.
His first impulse had been to seek his wife, regardless of
discovery or consequences, at Hymettus, where she had said she was
going. It was on his way to the rendezvous at Marshall's claim.
But this he as instantly set aside, it was his SON he must find;
SHE might not confess, or might deceive him--the boy would not; and
if his fears were correct, she could be arraigned afterwards. It
was possible for him to reach the little Mission church and school,
secluded in a remote valley by the old Franciscan fathers, where he
had placed the boy for the last few years unknown to his wife. It
would be a long ride, but he could still reach Heavy Tree Hill
afterwards before Marshall and the expert arrived. And he had a
feeling he had never felt before on the eve of a desperate
adventure,--that he must see the boy first. He remembered how the
child had often accompanied him in his flight, and how he had
gained strength, and, it seemed to him, a kind of luck, from the
touch of that small hand in his. Surely it was necessary now that
at least his mind should be at rest regarding HIM on the eve of an
affair of this moment. Perhaps he might never see him again. At
any other time, and under the influence of any other emotion, he
would have scorned such a sentimentalism--he who had never troubled
himself either with preparation for the future or consideration for
the past. But at that moment he felt both. He drew a long breath.
He could catch the next train to the Three Boulders and ride thence
to San Felipe. He hurriedly left the room, settled with the
landlord, and galloped to the station. By the irony of circumstances
the only horse available for that purpose was Mr. Hamlin's own.
By two o'clock he was at the Three Boulders, where he got a fast
horse and galloped into San Felipe by four. As he descended the
last slope through the fastnesses of pines towards the little
valley overlooked in its remoteness and purely pastoral simplicity
by the gold-seeking immigrants,--its seclusion as one of the
furthest northern Californian missions still preserved through its
insignificance and the efforts of the remaining Brotherhood, who
used it as an infirmary and a school for the few remaining Spanish
families,--he remembered how he once blundered upon it with the boy
while hotly pursued by a hue and cry from one of the larger towns,
and how he found sanctuary there. He remembered how, when the
pursuit was over, he had placed the boy there under the padre's
charge. He had lied to his wife regarding the whereabouts of her
son, but he had spoken truly regarding his free expenditure for
the boy's maintenance, and the good fathers had accepted, equally
for the child's sake as for the Church's sake, the generous
"restitution" which this coarse, powerful, ruffianly looking father
was apparently seeking to make. He was quite aware of it at the
time, and had equally accepted it with grim cynicism; but it now
came back to him with a new and smarting significance. Might THEY,
too, not succeed in weaning the boy's affection from him, or if the
mother had interfered, would they not side with her in claiming an
equal right? He had sometimes laughed to himself over the security
of this hiding-place, so unknown and so unlikely to be discovered
by her, yet within easy reach of her friends and his enemies; he
now ground his teeth over the mistake which his doting desire to
keep his son accessible to him had caused him to make. He put
spurs to his horse, dashed down the little, narrow, ill-paved
street, through the deserted plaza, and pulled up in a cloud of
dust before the only remaining tower, with its cracked belfry, of
the half-ruined Mission church. A new dormitory and school-
building had been extended from its walls, but in a subdued,
harmonious, modest way, quite unlike the usual glaring white-pine
glories of provincial towns. Steptoe laughed to himself bitterly.
Some of his money had gone in it.
He seized the horsehair rope dangling from a bell by the wall and
rang it sharply. A soft-footed priest appeared,--Father Dominico.
"Eddy Horncastle? Ah! yes. Eddy, dear child, is gone."
"Gone!" shouted Steptoe in a voice that startled the padre.
"Where? When? With whom?"
"Pardon, senor, but for a time--only a pasear to the next village.
It is his saint's day--he has half-holiday. He is a good boy. It
is a little pleasure for him and for us."
"Oh!" said Steptoe, softened into a rough apology. "I forgot. All
right. Has he had any visitors lately--lady, for instance?"
Father Dominico cast a look half of fright, half of reproval upon
"A lady HERE!"
In his relief Steptoe burst into a coarse laugh. "Of course; you
see I forgot that, too. I was thinking of one of his woman folks,
you know--relatives--aunts. Was there any other visitor?"
"Only one. Ah! we know the senor's rules regarding his son."
"One?" repeated Steptoe. "Who was it?"
"Oh, quite an hidalgo--an old friend of the child's--most polite,
most accomplished, fluent in Spanish, perfect in deportment. The
Senor Horncastle surely could find nothing to object to. Father
Pedro was charmed with him. A man of affairs, and yet a good
Catholic, too. It was a Senor Van Loo--Don Paul the boy called
him, and they talked of the boy's studies in the old days as if--
indeed, but for the stranger being a caballero and man of the
world--as if he had been his teacher."
It was a proof of the intensity of the father's feelings that they
had passed beyond the power of his usual coarse, brutal expression,
and he only stared at the priest with a dull red face in which the
blood seemed to have stagnated. Presently he said thickly, "When
did he come?"
"A few days ago."
"Which way did Eddy go?"
"To Brown's Mills, scarcely a league away. He will be here--even
now--on the instant. But the senor will come into the refectory
and take some of the old Mission wine from the Catalan grape,
planted one hundred and fifty years ago, until the dear child
returns. He will be so happy."
"No! I'm in a hurry. I will go on and meet him." He took off his
hat, mopped his crisp, wet hair with his handkerchief, and in a
thick, slow, impeded voice, more suggestive than the outburst he
restrained, said, "And as long as my son remains here that man, Van
Loo, must not pass this gate, speak to him, or even see him. You
hear me? See to it, you and all the others. See to it, I say,
or"-- He stopped abruptly, clapped his hat on the swollen veins of
his forehead, turned quickly, passed out without another word
through the archway into the road, and before the good priest could
cross himself or recover from his astonishment the thud of his
horse's hoofs came from the dusty road.
It was ten minutes before his face resumed its usual color. But in
that ten minutes, as if some of the struggle of his rider had
passed into him, his horse was sweating with exhaustion and fear.
For in that ten minutes, in this new imagination with which he was
cursed, he had killed both Van Loo and his son, and burned the
refectory over the heads of the treacherous priests. Then, quite
himself again, a voice came to him from the rocky trail above the
road with the hail of "Father!" He started quickly as a lad of
fifteen or sixteen came bounding down the hillside, and ran towards
"You passed me and I called to you, but you did not seem to hear,"
said the boy breathlessly. "Then I ran after you. Have you been
to the Mission?"
Steptoe looked at him quite as breathlessly, but from a deeper
emotion. He was, even at first sight, a handsome lad, glowing with
youth and the excitement of his run, and, as the father looked at
him, he could see the likeness to his mother in his clear-cut
features, and even a resemblance to himself in his square, compact
chest and shoulders and crisp, black curls. A thrill of purely
animal paternity passed over him, the fierce joy of his flesh over
his own flesh! His own son, by God! They could not take THAT from
him; they might plot, swindle, fawn, cheat, lie, and steal away his
affections, but there he was, plain to all eyes, his own son, his
"Come here," he said in a singular, half-weary and half-protesting
voice, which the boy instantly recognized as his father's accents
The boy hesitated as he stood on the edge of the road and pointed
with mingled mischief and fastidiousness to the depths of impalpable
red dust that lay between him and the horseman. Steptoe saw that he
was very smartly attired in holiday guise, with white duck trousers
and patent leather shoes, and, after the Spanish fashion, wore black
kid gloves. He certainly was a bit of a dandy, as he had said. The
father's whole face changed as he wheeled and came before the lad,
who lifted up his arms expectantly. They had often ridden together
on the same horse.
"No rides to-day in that toggery, Eddy," he said in the same voice.
"But I'll get down and we'll go and sit somewhere under a tree and
have some talk. I've got a bit of a job that's hurrying me, and I
can't waste time."
"Not one of your old jobs, father? I thought you had quite given
The boy spoke more carelessly than reproachfully, or even
wonderingly; yet, as he dismounted and tethered his horse, Steptoe
answered evasively, "It's a big thing, sonny; maybe we'll make our
eternal fortune, and then we'll light out from this hole and have a
gay time elsewhere. Come along."
He took the boy's gloved right hand in his own powerful grasp, and
together they clambered up the steep hillside to a rocky ledge on
which a fallen pine from above had crashed, snapped itself in
twain, and then left its withered crown to hang half down the
slope, while the other half rested on the ledge. On this they sat,
looking down upon the road and the tethered horse. A gentle breeze
moved the treetops above their heads, and the westering sun played
hide-and-seek with the shifting shadows. The boy's face was quick
and alert with all that moved round him, but without thought the
father's face was heavy, except for the eyes that were fixed upon
"Van Loo came to the Mission," he said suddenly.
The boy's eyes glittered quickly, like a steel that pierced the
father's heart. "Oh," he said simply, "then it was the padre told
"How did he know you were here?" asked Steptoe.
"I don't know," said the boy quietly. "I think he said something,
but I've forgotten it. But it was mighty good of him to come, for
I thought, you know, that he did not care to see me after Heavy
Tree, and that he'd gone back on us."
"What did he tell you?" continued Steptoe. "Did he talk of me or
of your mother?"
"No," said the boy, but without any show of interest or sympathy;
"we talked mostly about old times."
"Tell ME about those old times, Eddy. You never told me anything
The boy, momentarily arrested more by something in the tone of his
father's voice--a weakness he had never noticed before--than by any
suggestion of his words, said with a laugh, "Oh, only about what we
used to do when I was very little and used to call myself his
'little brother,'--don't you remember, long before the big strike
on Heavy Tree? They were gay times we had then."
"And how he used to teach you to imitate other people's
handwriting?" said Steptoe.
"What made you think of that, pop?" said the boy, with a slight
wonder in his eyes. "Why, that's the very thing we DID talk
"But you didn't do it again; you ain't done it since," said Steptoe
"Lord! no," said the boy contemptuously. "There ain't no chance
now, and there wouldn't be any fun in it. It isn't like the old
times when him and me were all alone, and we used to write letters
as coming from other people to all the boys round Heavy Tree and
the Bar, and sometimes as far as Boomville, to get them to do
things, and they'd think the letters were real, and they'd do 'em.
And there'd be the biggest kind of a row, and nobody ever knew who
Steptoe stared at this flesh of his own flesh half in relief, half
in frightened admiration. Sitting astride the log, his elbows on
his knees and his gloved hands supporting his round cheeks, the
boy's handsome face became illuminated with an impish devilry which
the father had never seen before. With dancing eyes he went on.
"It was one of those very games we played so long ago that he
wanted to see me about and wanted me to keep mum about, for some of
the folks that he played it on were around here now. It was a game
we got off on one of the big strike partners long before the
strike. I'll tell YOU, dad, for you know what happened afterwards,
and you'll be glad. Well, that partner--Demorest--was a kind of
silly, you remember--a sort of Miss Nancyish fellow--always gloomy
and lovesick after his girl in the States. Well, we'd written lots
of letters to girls from their chaps before, and got lots of fun
out of it; but we had even a better show for a game here, for it
happened that Van Loo knew all about the girl--things that even the
man's own partners didn't, for Van Loo's mother was a sort of a
friend of the girl's family, and traveled about with her, and knew
that the girl was spoony over this Demorest, and that they
corresponded. So, knowing that Van Loo was employed at Heavy Tree,
she wrote to him to find out all about Demorest and how to stop
their foolish nonsense, for the girl's parents didn't want her to
marry a broken-down miner like him. So we thought we'd do it our
own way, and write a letter to her as if it was from him, don't you
see? I wanted to make him call her awful names, and say that he
hated her, that he was a murderer and a horse-thief, and that he
had killed a policeman, and that he was thinking of becoming a
Digger Injin, and having a Digger squaw for a wife, which he liked
better than her. Lord! dad, you ought to have seen what stuff I
made up." The boy burst into a shrill, half-feminine laugh, and
Steptoe, catching the infection, laughed loudly in his own coarse,
For some moments they sat there looking in each other's faces,
shaking with sympathetic emotion, the father forgetting the purpose
of his coming there, his rage over Van Loo's visit, and even the
rendezvous to which his horse in the road below was waiting to
bring him; the son forgetting their retreat from Heavy Tree Hill
and his shameful vagabond wanderings with that father in the years
that followed. The sinking sun stared blankly in their faces; the
protecting pines above them moved by a stronger gust shook a few
cones upon them; an enormous crow mockingly repeated the father's
coarse laugh, and a squirrel scampered away from the strangely
assorted pair as Steptoe, wiping his eyes and forehead with his
"And did you send it?"
"Oh! Van Loo thought it too strong. Said that those sort of love-
sick fools made more fuss over little things than they did over big
things, and he sort of toned it down, and fixed it up himself. But
it told. For there were never any more letters in the post-office
in her handwriting, and there wasn't any posted to her in his."
They both laughed again, and then Steptoe rose. "I must be getting
along," he said, looking curiously at the boy. "I've got to catch
a train at Three Boulders Station."
"Three Boulders!" repeated the boy. "I'm going there, too, on
Friday, to meet Father Cipriano."
"I reckon my work will be all done by Friday," said Steptoe
musingly. Standing thus, holding his boy's hand, he was thinking
that the real fight at Marshall's would not take place at once, for
it might take a day or two for Marshall to gather forces. But he
only pressed his son's hand gently.
"I wish you would sometimes take me with you as you used to," said
the boy curiously. "I'm bigger now, and wouldn't be in your way.
Steptoe looked at the boy with a choking sense of satisfaction and
pride. But he said, "No;" and then suddenly with simulated humor,
"Don't you be taken in by any letters from ME, such as you and Van
Loo used to write. You hear?"
The boy laughed.
"And," continued Steptoe, "if anybody says I sent for you, don't
you believe them."
"No," said the boy, smiling.
"And don't you even believe I'm dead till you see me so. You
understand. By the way, Father Pedro has some money of mine kept
for you. Now hurry back to school and say you met me, but that I
was in a great hurry. I reckon I may have been rather rough to the
They had reached the lower road again, and Steptoe silently
unhitched his horse. "Good-by," he said, as he laid his hand on
the boy's arm.
He mounted his horse slowly. "Well," he said smilingly, looking
down the road, "you ain't got anything more to say to me, have
"Nothin' you want?"
"All right. Good-by."
He put spurs to his horse and cantered down the road without
looking back. The boy watched him with idle curiosity until he
disappeared from sight, and then went on his way, whistling and
striking off the heads of the wayside weeds with his walking-stick.
The sun arose so brightly over Hymettus on the morning after the
meeting of the three partners that it was small wonder that
Barker's impressionable nature quickly responded to it, and,
without awakening the still sleeping child, he dressed hurriedly,
and was the first to greet it in the keen air of the slope behind
the hotel. To his pantheistic spirit it had always seemed as
natural for him to early welcome his returning brothers of the
woods and hills as to say good-morning to his fellow mortals. And,
in the joy of seeing Black Spur rising again to his level in the
distance before him, he doffed his hat to it with a return of his
old boyish habit, laid his arm caressingly around the great girth
of the nearest pine, clapped his hands to the scampering squirrels
in his path, and whistled to the dipping jays. In this way he
quite forgot the more serious affairs of the preceding night, or,
rather, saw them only in the gilding of the morning, until, looking
up, he perceived the tall figure of Demorest approaching him; and
then it struck him with his first glance at his old partner's face
that his usual suave, gentle melancholy had been succeeded by a
critical cynicism of look and a restrained bitterness of accent.
Barker's loyal heart smote him for his own selfishness; Demorest
had been hard hit by the discovery of the forgery and Stacy's
concern in it, and had doubtless passed a restless night, while he
(Barker) had forgotten all about it. "I thought of knocking at
your door, as I passed," he said, with sympathetic apology, "but I
was afraid I might disturb you. Isn't it glorious here? Quite
like the old hill. Look at that lizard; he hasn't moved since he
first saw me. Do you remember the one who used to steal our sugar,
and then stiffen himself into stone on the edge of the bowl until
he looked like an ornamental handle to it?" he continued,
rebounding again into spirits.
"Barker," said Demorest abruptly, "what sort of woman is this Mrs.
Van Loo, whose rooms I occupy?"
"Oh," said Barker, with optimistic innocence, "a most proper woman,
old chap. White-haired, well-dressed, with a little foreign accent
and a still more foreign courtesy. Why, you don't suppose we'd"--
"But what is she like?" said Demorest impatiently.
"Well," said Barker thoughtfully, "she's the kind of woman who
might be Van Loo's mother, I suppose."
"You mean the mother of a forger and a swindler?" asked Demorest
"There are no mothers of swindlers and forgers," said Barker
gravely, "in the way you mean. It's only those poor devils," he
said, pointing, nevertheless, with a certain admiration to a
circling sparrow-hawk above him, "who have inherited instincts.
What I mean is that she might be Van Loo's mother, because he
didn't SELECT her."
"Where did she come from? and how long has she been here?" asked
"She came from abroad, I believe. And she came here just after you
left. Van Loo, after he became secretary of the Ditch Company,
sent for her and her daughter to keep house for him. But you'll
see her to-day or to-morrow probably, when she returns. I'll
introduce you; she'll be rather glad to meet some one from abroad,
and all the more if he happens to be rich and distinguished, and
eligible for her daughter." He stopped suddenly in his smile,
remembering Demorest's lifelong secret. But to his surprise his
companion's face, instead of darkening as it was wont to do at any
such allusion, brightened suddenly with a singular excitement as he
answered dryly, "Ah well, if the girl is pretty, who knows!"
Indeed, his spirits seemed to have returned with strange vivacity
as they walked back to the hotel, and he asked many other questions
regarding Mrs. Van Loo and her daughter, and particularly if the
daughter had also been abroad. When they reached the veranda they
found a few early risers eagerly reading the Sacramento papers,
which had just arrived, or, in little knots, discussing the news.
Indeed, they would probably have stopped Barker and his companion
had not Barker, anxious to relieve his friend's curiosity, hurried
with him at once to the manager's office.
"Can you tell me exactly when you expect Mrs. Van Loo to return?"
asked Barker quickly.
The manager with difficulty detached himself from the newspaper
which he, too, was anxiously perusing, and said, with a peculiar
smile, "Well no! she WAS to return to-day, but if you're wanting
to keep her rooms, I should say there wouldn't be any trouble about
it, as she'll hardly be coming back here NOW. She's rather high
and mighty in style, I know, and a determined sort of critter, but
I reckon she and her daughter wouldn't care much to be waltzing
round in public after what has happened."
"I don't understand you," said Demorest impatiently. "WHAT has
"Haven't you heard the news?" said the manager in surprise. "It's
in all the Sacramento papers. Van Loo is a defaulter--has
hypothecated everything he had and skedaddled."
Barker started. He was not thinking of the loss of his wife's
money--only of HER disappointment and mortification over it. Poor
girl! Perhaps she was also worrying over his resentment,--as if
she did not know him! He would go to her at once at Boomville.
Then he remembered that she was coming with Mrs. Horncastle, and
might be already on her way here by rail or coach, and he would
miss her. Demorest in the meantime had seized a paper, and was
intently reading it.
"There's bad news, too, for your friend, your old partner," said
the manager half sympathetically, half interrogatively. "There has
been a drop out in everything the bank is carrying, and everybody
is unloading. Two firms failed in 'Frisco yesterday that were
carrying things for the bank, and have thrown everything back on
it. There was an awful panic last night, and they say none of the
big speculators know where they stand. Three of our best customers
in the hotel rushed off to the bay this morning, but Stacy himself
started before daylight, and got the through night express to stop
for him on the Divide on signal. Shall I send any telegrams that
may come to your room?"
Demorest knew that the manager suspected him of being interested in
the bank, and understood the purport of the question. He answered,
with calm surprise, that he was expecting no telegrams, and added,
"But if Mrs. Van Loo returns I beg you to at once let me know," and
taking Barker's arm he went in to breakfast. Seated by themselves,
Demorest looked at his companion. "I'm afraid, Barker boy, that
this thing is more serious to Jim than we expected last night, or
than he cared to tell us. And you, old man, I fear are hurt a
little by Van Loo's flight. He had some money of your wife's,
Barker, who knew that the bulk of Demorest's fortune was in Stacy's
hands, was touched at this proof of his unselfish thought, and
answered with equal unselfishness that he was concerned only by the
fear of Mrs. Barker's disappointment. "Why, Lord! Phil, whether
she's lost or saved her money it's nothing to me. I gave it to her
to do what she liked with it, but I'm afraid she'll be worrying
over what I think of it,--as if she did not know me! And I'm half
a mind, if it were not for missing her, to go over to Boomville,
where she's stopping."
"I thought you said she was in San Francisco?" said Demorest
Barker colored. "Yes," he answered quickly. "But I've heard since
that she stopped at Boomville on the way."
"Then don't let ME keep you here," returned Demorest. "For if Jim
telegraphs to me I shall start for San Francisco at once, and I
rather think he will. I did not like to say so before those panic-
mongers outside who are stampeding everything; so run along, Barker
boy, and ease your mind about the wife. We may have other things
to think about soon."
Thus adjured, Barker rose from his half-finished breakfast and
slipped away. Yet he was not quite certain what to do. His wife
must have heard the news at Boomville as quickly as he had, and, if
so, would be on her way with Mrs. Horncastle; or she might be
waiting for him--knowing, too, that he had heard the news--in fear
and trembling. For it was Barker's custom to endow all those he
cared for with his own sensitiveness, and it was not like him to
reflect that the woman who had so recklessly speculated against his
opinion would scarcely fear his reproaches in her defeat. In the
fullness of his heart he telegraphed to her in case she had not yet
left Boomville: "All right. Have heard news. Understand perfectly.
Don't worry. Come to me." Then he left the hotel by the stable
entrance in order to evade the guests who had congregated on the
veranda, and made his way to a little wooded crest which he knew
commanded a view of the two roads from Boomville. Here he
determined to wait and intercept her before she reached the hotel.
He knew that many of the guests were aware of his wife's
speculations with Van Loo, and that he was her broker. He wished to
spare her running the gauntlet of their curious stares and comments
as she drove up alone. As he was climbing the slope the coach from
Sacramento dashed past him on the road below, but he knew that it
had changed horses at Boomville at four o'clock, and that his tired
wife would not have availed herself of it at that hour, particularly
as she could not have yet received the fateful news. He threw
himself under a large pine, and watched the stagecoach disappear as
it swept round into the courtyard of the hotel.
He sat there for some moments with his eyes bent upon the two forks
of the red road that diverged below him, but which appeared to
become whiter and more dazzling as he searched their distance.
There was nothing to be seen except an occasional puff of dust
which eventually revealed a horseman or a long trailing cloud out
of which a solitary mule, one of a pack-train of six or eight,
would momentarily emerge and be lost again. Then he suddenly heard
his name called, and, looking up, saw Mrs. Horncastle, who had
halted a few paces from him between two columns of the long-drawn
aisle of pines.
In that mysterious half-light she seemed such a beautiful and
goddess-like figure that his consciousness at first was unable to
grasp anything else. She was always wonderfully well dressed, but
the warmth and seclusion of this mountain morning had enabled her
to wear a light gown of some delicate fabric which set off the
grace of her figure, and even pardoned the rural coquetry of a
silken sash around her still slender waist. An open white parasol
thrown over her shoulder made a nimbus for her charming head and
the thick coils of hair under her lace-edged hat. He had never
seen her look so beautiful before. And that thought was so plainly
in his frank face and eyes as he sprang to his feet that it brought
a slight rise of color to her own cheek.
"I saw you climbing up here as I passed in the coach a few minutes
ago," she said, with a smile, "and as soon as I had shaken the dust
off I followed you."
"Where's Kitty?" he stammered.
The color faded from her face as it had come, and a shade of
something like reproach crept into her dark eyes. And whatever it
had been her purpose to say, or however carefully she might have
prepared herself for this interview, she was evidently taken aback
by the sudden directness of the inquiry. Barker saw this as
quickly, and as quickly referred it to his own rudeness. His whole
soul rushed in apology to his face as he said, "Oh, forgive me! I
was anxious about Kitty; indeed, I had thought of coming again to
Boomville, for you've heard the news, of course? Van Loo is a
defaulter, and has run away with the poor child's money."
Mrs. Horncastle had heard the news at the hotel. She paused a
moment to collect herself, and then said slowly and tentatively,
with a watchful intensity in her eyes, "Mrs. Barker went, I think,
to the Divide"--
But she was instantly interrupted by the eager Barker. "I see. I
thought of that at once. She went directly to the company's
offices to see if she could save anything from the wreck before she
saw me. It was like her, poor girl! And you--you," he went on
eagerly, his whole face beaming with gratitude,--"you, out of your
goodness, came here to tell me." He held out both hands and took
hers in his.
For a moment Mrs. Horncastle was speechless and vacillating. She
had often noticed before that it was part of the irony of the
creation of such a simple nature as Barker's that he was not only
open to deceit, but absolutely seemed to invite it. Instead of
making others franker, people were inclined to rebuke his credulity
by restraint and equivocation on their own part. But the evasion
thus offered to her, although only temporary, was a temptation she
could not resist. And it prolonged an interview that a ruthless
revelation of the truth might have shortened.
"She did not tell me she was going there," she replied still
evasively; "and, indeed," she added, with a burst of candor still
more dangerous, "I only learned it from the hotel clerk after she
was gone. But I want to talk to you about her relations to Van
Loo," she said, with a return of her former intensity of gaze, "and
I thought we would be less subject to interruption here than at the
hotel. Only I suppose everybody knows this place, and any of those
flirting couples are likely to come here. Besides," she added,
with a little half-hysterical laugh and a slight shiver, as she
looked up at the high interlacing boughs above her head, "it's as
public as the aisles of a church, and really one feels as if one
were 'speaking out' in meeting. Isn't there some other spot a
little more secluded, where we could sit down," she went on, as she
poked her parasol into the usual black gunpowdery deposit of earth
which mingled with the carpet of pine-needles beneath her feet,
"and not get all sticky and dirty?"
Barker's eyes sparkled. "I know every foot of this hill, Mrs.
Horncastle," he said, "and if you will follow me I'll take you to
one of the loveliest nooks you ever dreamed of. It's an old Indian
spring now forgotten, and I think known only to me and the birds.
It's not more than ten minutes from here; only"--he hesitated as he
caught sight of the smart French bronze buckled shoe and silken
ankle which Mrs. Horncastle's gathering up of her dainty skirts
around her had disclosed--"it may be a little rough and dusty going
to your feet."
But Mrs. Horncastle pointed out that she had already irretrievably
ruined her shoes and stockings in climbing up to him,--although
Barker could really distinguish no diminution of their freshness,--
and that she might as well go on. Whereat they both passed down
the long aisle of slope to a little hollow of manzanita, which
again opened to a view of Black Spur, but left the hotel hidden.
"What time did Kitty go?" began Barker eagerly, when they were half
down the slope.
But here Mrs. Horncastle's foot slipped upon the glassy pine-
needles, and not only stopped an answer, but obliged Barker to give
all his attention to keep his companion from falling again until
they reached the open. Then came the plunge through the manzanita
thicket, then a cool wade through waist-deep ferns, and then they
emerged, holding each other's hand, breathless and panting before
It did not belie his enthusiastic description. A triangular
hollow, niched in a shelf of the mountain-side, narrowed to a point
from which the overflow of the spring percolated through a fringe
of alder, to fall in what seemed from the valley to be a green
furrow down the whole length of the mountain-side. Overhung by
pines above, which met and mingled with the willows that everywhere
fringed it, it made the one cooling shade in the whole basking
expanse of the mountain, and yet was penetrated throughout by the
intoxicating spice of the heated pines. Flowering reeds and long
lush grasses drew a magic circle round an open bowl-like pool in
the centre, that was always replenished to the slow murmur of an
unseen rivulet that trickled from a white-quartz cavern in the
mountain-side like a vein opened in its flank. Shadows of timid
wings crossed it, quick rustlings disturbed the reeds, but nothing
more. It was silent, but breathing; it was hidden to everything
but the sky and the illimitable distance.
They threaded their way around it on the spongy carpet, covered by
delicate lace-like vines that seemed to caress rather than trammel
their moving feet, until they reached an open space before the
pool. It was cushioned and matted with disintegrated pine bark,
and here they sat down. Mrs. Horncastle furled her parasol and
laid it aside; raised both hands to the back of her head and took
two hat-pins out, which she placed in her smiling mouth; removed
her hat, stuck the hat-pins in it, and handed it to Barker, who
gently placed it on the top of a tall reed, where during the rest
of that momentous meeting it swung and drooped like a flower;
removed her gloves slowly; drank still smilingly and gratefully
nearly a wineglassful of the water which Barker brought her in the
green twisted chalice of a lily leaf; looked the picture of
happiness, and then burst into tears.
Barker was astounded, dismayed, even terror-stricken. Mrs.
Horncastle crying! Mrs. Horncastle, the imperious, the collected,
the coldly critical, the cynical, smiling woman of the world,
actually crying! Other women might cry--Kitty had cried often--but
Mrs. Horncastle! Yet, there she was, sobbing; actually sobbing
like a schoolgirl, her beautiful shoulders rising and falling with
her grief; crying unmistakably through her long white fingers,
through a lace pocket-handkerchief which she had hurriedly produced
and shaken from behind her like a conjurer's trick; her beautiful
eyes a thousand times more lustrous for the sparkling beads that
brimmed her lashes and welled over like the pool before her.
"Don't mind me," she murmured behind her handkerchief. "It's very
foolish, I know. I was nervous--worried, I suppose; I'll be better
in a moment. Don't notice me, please."
But Barker had drawn beside her and was trying, after the fashion
of his sex, to take her handkerchief away in apparently the firm
belief that this action would stop her tears. "But tell me what it
is. Do Mrs. Horncastle, please," he pleaded in his boyish fashion.
"Is it anything I can do? Only say the word; only tell me
But he had succeeded in partially removing the handkerchief, and so
caught a glimpse of her wet eyes, in which a faint smile struggled
out like sunshine through rain. But they clouded again, although