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The Argonauts of North Liberty by Bret Harte

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This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, charlie@idirect.com.

THE ARGONAUTS OF NORTH LIBERTY

by Bret Harte

PART I

CHAPTER I

The bell of the North Liberty Second Presbyterian Church had just
ceased ringing. North Liberty, Connecticut, never on any day a
cheerful town, was always bleaker and more cheerless on the
seventh, when the Sabbath sun, after vainly trying to coax a smile
of reciprocal kindliness from the drawn curtains and half-closed
shutters of the austere dwellings and the equally sealed and hard-
set churchgoing faces of the people, at last settled down into a
blank stare of stony astonishment. On this chilly March evening of
the year 1850, that stare had kindled into an offended sunset and
an angry night that furiously spat sleet and hail in the faces of
the worshippers, and made them fight their way to the church, step
by step, with bent heads and fiercely compressed lips, until they
seemed to be carrying its forbidding portals at the point of their
umbrellas.

Within that sacred but graceless edifice, the rigors of the hour
and occasion reached their climax. The shivering gas-jets lit up
the austere pallor of the bare walls, and the hollow, shell-like
sweep of colorless vacuity behind the cold communion table.
The chill of despair and hopeless renunciation was in the air,
untempered by any glow from the sealed air-tight stove that seemed
only to bring out a lukewarm exhalation of wet clothes and cheaply
dyed umbrellas. Nor did the presence of the worshippers themselves
impart any life to the dreary apartment. Scattered throughout the
white pews, in dull, shapeless, neutral blotches, rigidly separated
from each other, they seemed only to accent the colorless church
and the emptiness of all things. A few children, who had huddled
together for warmth in one of the back benches and who had became
glutinous and adherent through moisture, were laboriously drawn out
and painfully picked apart by a watchful deacon.

The dry, monotonous disturbance of the bell had given way to the
strain of a bass viol, that had been apparently pitched to the key
of the east wind without, and the crude complaint of a new
harmonium that seemed to bewail its limited prospect of ever
becoming seasoned or mellowed in its earthly tabernacle, and then
the singing began. Here and there a human voice soared and
struggled above the narrow text and the monotonous cadence with a
cry of individual longing, but was borne down by the dull,
trampling precision of the others' formal chant. This and a
certain muffled raking of the stove by the sexton brought the
temperature down still lower. A sermon, in keeping with the
previous performance, in which the chill east wind of doctrine was
not tempered to any shorn lamb within that dreary fold, followed.
A spark of human and vulgar interest was momentarily kindled by the
collection and the simultaneous movement of reluctant hands towards
their owners' pockets; but the coins fell on the baize-covered
plates with a dull thud, like clods on a coffin, and the dreariness
returned. Then there was another hymn and a prolonged moan from
the harmonium, to which mysterious suggestion the congregation rose
and began slowly to file into the aisle. For a moment they
mingled; there was the silent grasping of damp woollen mittens and
cold black gloves, and the whispered interchange of each other's
names with the prefix of "Brother" or "Sister," and an utter
absence of fraternal geniality, and then the meeting slowly
dispersed.

The few who had waited until the minister had resumed his hat,
overcoat, and overshoes, and accompanied him to the door, had
already passed out; the sexton was turning out the flickering gas
jets one by one, when the cold and austere silence was broken by a
sound--the unmistakable echo of a kiss of human passion.

As the horror-stricken official turned angrily, the figure of a man
glided from the shadow of the stairs below the organ loft, and
vanished through the open door. Before the sexton could follow,
the figure of a woman slipped out of the same portal and with a
hurried glance after the first retreating figure, turned in the
opposite direction and was lost in the darkness. By the time the
indignant and scandalized custodian had reached the portal, they
had both melted in the troubled sea of tossing umbrellas already to
the right and left of him, and pursuit and recognition were
hopeless.

CHAPTER II

The male figure, however, after mingling with his fellow-worshippers
to the corner of the block, stopped a moment under the lamp-post
as if uncertain as to the turning, but really to cast a long,
scrutinizing look towards the scattered umbrellas now almost lost
in the opposite direction. He was still gazing and apparently
hesitating whether to retrace his steps, when a horse and buggy
rapidly driven down the side street passed him. In a brief glance
he evidently recognized the driver, and stepping over the curbstone
called in a brief authoritative voice:

"Ned!"

The occupant of the vehicle pulled up suddenly, leaned from the
buggy, and said in an astonished tone:

"Dick Demorest! Well! I declare! hold on, and I'll drive up to
the curb."

"No; stay where you are."

The speaker approached the buggy, jumped in beside the occupant,
refastened the apron, and coolly taking the reins from his
companion's hand, started the horse forward. The action was that
of an habitually imperious man; and the only recognition he made
of the other's ownership was the question:

"Where were you going?"

"Home--to see Joan," replied the other. "Just drove over from
Warensboro Station. But what on earth are YOU doing here?"

Without answering the question, Demorest turned to his companion
with the same good-natured, half humorous authority. "Let your
wife wait; take a drive with me. I want to talk to you. She'll be
just as glad to see you an hour later, and it's her fault if I
can't come home with you now."

"I know it," returned his companion, in a tone of half-annoyed
apology. "She still sticks to her old compact when we first
married, that she shouldn't be obliged to receive my old worldly
friends. And, see here, Dick, I thought I'd talked her out of it
as regards YOU at least, but Parson Thomas has been raking up all
the old stories about you--you know that affair of the Fall River
widow, and that breaking off of Garry Spofferth's match--and about
your horse-racing--until--you know, she's more set than ever
against knowing you."

"That's not a bad sort of horse you've got there," interrupted
Demorest, who usually conducted conversation without reference to
alien topics suggested by others. "Where did you get him? He's
good yet for a spin down the turnpike and over the bridge. We'll
do it, and I'll bring you home safely to Mrs. Blandford inside the
hour."

Blandford knew little of horseflesh, but like all men he was not
superior to this implied compliment to his knowledge. He resigned
himself to his companion as he had been in the habit of doing, and
Demorest hurried the horse at a rapid gait down the street until
they left the lamps behind, and were fully on the dark turnpike.
The sleet rattled against the hood and leathern apron of the buggy,
gusts of fierce wind filled the vehicle and seemed to hold it back,
but Demorest did not appear to mind it. Blandford thrust his hands
deeply into his pockets for warmth, and contracted his shoulders as
if in dogged patience. Yet, in spite of the fact that he was
tired, cold, and anxious to see his wife, he was conscious of a
secret satisfaction in submitting to the caprices of this old
friend of his boyhood. After all, Dick Demorest knew what he was
about, and had never led him astray by his autocratic will. It was
safe to let Dick have his way. It was true it was generally Dick's
own way--but he made others think it was theirs too--or would have
been theirs had they had the will and the knowledge to project it.
He looked up comfortably at the handsome, resolute profile of the
man who had taken selfish possession of him. Many women had done
the same.

"Suppose if you were to tell your wife I was going to reform," said
Demorest, "it might be different, eh? She'd want to take me into
the church--'another sinner saved,' and all that, eh?"

"No," said Blandford, earnestly. "Joan isn't as rigid as all that,
Dick. What she's got against you is the common report of your free
way of living, and that--come now, you know yourself, Dick, that
isn't exactly the thing a woman brought up in her style can stand.
Why, she thinks I'm unregenerate, and--well, a man can't carry on
business always like a class meeting. But are you thinking of
reforming?" he continued, trying to get a glimpse of his
companion's eyes.

"Perhaps. It depends. Now--there's a woman I know--"

"What, another? and you call this going to reform?" interrupted
Blandford, yet not without a certain curiosity in his manner.

"Yes; that's just why I think of reforming. For this one isn't
exactly like any other--at least as far as I know."

"That means you don't know anything about her."

"Wait, and I'll tell you." He drew the reins tightly to accelerate
the horse's speed, and, half turning to his companion, without,
however, moving his eyes from the darkness before him, spoke
quickly between the blasts: "I've seen her only half a dozen times.
Met her first in 6.40 train out from Boston last fall. She sat
next to me. Covered up with wraps and veils; never looked twice at
her. She spoke first--kind of half bold, half frightened way.
Then got more comfortable and unwound herself, you know, and I saw
she was young and not bad-looking. Thought she was some school-
girl out for a lark--but rather new at it. Inexperienced, you
know, but quite able to take care of herself, by George! and
although she looked and acted as if she'd never spoken to a
stranger all her life, didn't mind the kind of stuff I talked to
her. Rather encouraged it; and laughed--such a pretty little odd
laugh, as if laughing wasn't in her usual line, either, and she
didn't know how to manage it. Well, it ended in her slipping out
at one end of the car when we arrived, while I was looking out for
a cab for her at the other." He stopped to recover from a stronger
gust of wind. "I--I thought it a good joke on me, and let the
thing drop out of my mind, although, mind you, she'd promised to
meet me a month afterwards at the same time and place. Well, when
the day came I happened to be in Boston, and went to the station.
Don't know why I went, for I didn't for a moment think she'd keep
her appointment. First, I couldn't find her in the train, but
after we'd started she came along out of some seat in the corner,
prettier than ever, holding out her hand." He drew a long
inspiration. "You can bet your life, Ned, I didn't let go that
little hand the rest of the journey."

His passion, or what passed for it, seemed to impart its warmth to
the vehicle, and even stirred the chilled pulses of the man beside
him.

"Well, who and what was she?"

"Didn't find out; don't know now. For the first thing she made me
promise was not to follow her, nor to try to know her name. In
return she said she would meet me again on another train near
Hartford. She did--and again and again--but always on the train
for about an hour, going or coming. Then she missed an appointment.
I was regularly cut up, I tell you, and swore as she hadn't kept her
word, I wouldn't keep mine, and began to hunt for her. In the midst
of it I saw her accidentally; no matter where; I followed her
to--well, that's no matter to you, either. Enough that I saw her
again--and, well, Ned, such is the influence of that girl over me
that, by George! she made me make the same promise again!"

Blandford, a little disappointed at his friend's dogmatic
suppression of certain material facts, shrugged his shoulders.

"If that's all your story," he said, "I must say I see no prospect
of your reforming. It's the old thing over again, only this time
you are evidently the victim. She's some designing creature who
will have you if she hasn't already got you completely in her
power."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Ned, and you'd better
quit," returned Demorest, with cheerful authoritativeness. "I tell
you that that's the sort of girl I'm going to marry, if I can, and
settle down upon. You can make a memorandum of that, old man, if
you like."

"Then I don't really see why you want to talk to ME about it. And
if you are thinking that such a story would go down for a moment
with Joan as an evidence of your reformation, you're completely
out, Dick. Was that your idea?"

"Yes--and I can tell you, you're wrong again, Ned. You don't know
anything about women. You do just as I say--do you understand?--
and don't interfere with your own wrong-headed opinions of what
other people will think, and I'll take the risks of Mrs. Blandford
giving me good advice. Your wife has got a heap more sense on
these subjects than you have, you bet. You just tell her that I
want to marry the girl and want her to help me--that I mean
business, this time--and you'll see how quick she'll come down.
That's all I want of you. Will you or won't you?"

With an outward expression of sceptical consideration and an inward
suspicion of the peculiar force of this man's dogmatic insight,
Blandford assented, with, I fear, the mental reservation of telling
the story to his wife in his own way. He was surprised when his
friend suddenly drew the horse up sharply, and after a moment's
pause began to back him, cramp the wheels of the buggy and then
skilfully, in the almost profound darkness, turn the vehicle and
horse completely round to the opposite direction.

"Then you are not going over the bridge?" said Blandford.

Demorest made an imperative gesture of silence. The tumultuous
rush and roar of swollen and rapid water came from the darkness
behind them. "There's been another break-out somewhere, and I
reckon the bridge has got all it can do to-night to keep itself out
of water without taking us over. At least, as I promised to set
you down at your wife's door inside of the hour, I don't propose to
try." As the horse now travelled more easily with the wind behind
him, Demorest, dismissing abruptly all other subjects, laid his
hand with brusque familiarity on his companion's knee, and as if
the hour for social and confidential greeting had only just then
arrived, said: "Well, Neddy, old boy, how are you getting on?"

"So, so," said Blandford, dubiously. "You see," he began,
argumentatively, "in my business there's a good deal of
competition, and I was only saying this morning--"

But either Demorest was already familiar with his friend's
arguments, or had as usual exhausted his topic, for without paying
the slightest attention to him, he again demanded abruptly, "Why
don't you go to California? Here everything's played out. That's
the country for a young man like you--just starting into life, and
without incumbrances. If I was free and fixed in my family affairs
like you I'd go to-morrow."

There was such an occult positivism in Demorest's manner that for
an instant Blandford, who had been married two years, and was
transacting a steady and fairly profitable manufacturing business
in the adjacent town, actually believed he was more fitted for
adventurous speculation than the grimly erratic man of energetic
impulses and pleasures beside him. He managed to stammer
hesitatingly:

"But there's Joan--she--"

"Nonsense! Let her stay with her mother; you sell out your
interest in the business, put the money into an assorted cargo, and
clap it and yourself into the first ship out of Boston--and there
you are. You've been married going on two years now, and a little
separation until you've built up a business out there, won't do
either of you any harm."

Blandford, who was very much in love with his wife, was not,
however, above putting the onus of embarrassing affection upon HER.
"You don't know, Joan, Dick," he replied. "She'd never consent to
a separation, even for a short time."

"Try her. She's a sensible woman--a deuced sight more than you
are. You don't understand women, Ned. That's what's the matter
with you."

It required all of Blandford's fond memories of his wife's
conservative habits, Puritan practicality, religious domesticity,
and strong family attachments, to withstand Demorest's dogmatic
convictions. He smiled, however, with a certain complacency, as
he also recalled the previous autumn when the first news of the
California gold discovery had penetrated North Liberty, and he had
expressed to her his belief that it would offer an outlet to
Demorest's adventurous energy. She had received it with ill-
disguised satisfaction, and the remark that if this exodus of
Mammon cleared the community of the godless and unregenerate it
would only be another proof of God's mysterious providence.

With the tumultuous wind at their backs it was not long before the
buggy rattled once more over the cobble-stones of the town. Under
the direction of his friend, Demorest, who still retained possession
of the reins, drove briskly down a side street of more pretentious
dwellings, where Blandford lived. One or two wayfarers looked up.

"Not so fast, Dick."

"Why? I want to bring you up to your door in style."

"Yes--but--it's Sunday. That's my house, the corner one."

They had stopped before a square, two-storied brick house, with an
equally square wooden porch supported by two plain, rigid wooden
columns, and a hollow sweep of dull concavity above the door,
evidently of the same architectural order as the church. There was
no corner or projection to break the force of the wind that swept
its smooth glacial surface; there was no indication of light or
warmth behind its six closed windows.

"There seems to be nobody at home," said Demorest, briefly. "Come
along with me to the hotel."

"Joan sits in the back parlor, Sundays," explained the husband.

"Shall I drive round to the barn and leave the horse and buggy
there while you go in?" continued Demorest, good-humoredly,
pointing to the stable gate at the side.

"No, thank you," returned Blandford, "it's locked, and I'll have to
open it from the other side after I go in. The horse will stand
until then. I think I'll have to say good-night, now," he added,
with a sudden half-ashamed consciousness of the forbidding aspect
of the house, and his own inhospitality. "I'm sorry I can't ask
you in--but you understand why."

"All right," returned Demorest, stoutly, turning up his coat-
collar, and unfurling his umbrella. "The hotel is only four blocks
away--you'll find me there to-morrow morning if you call. But mind
you tell your wife just what I told you--and no meandering of your
own--you hear! She'll strike out some idea with her woman's wits,
you bet. Good-night, old man! He reached out his hand, pressed
Blandford's strongly and potentially, and strode down the street.

Blandford hitched his steaming horse to a sleet-covered horse block
with a quick sigh of impatient sympathy over the animal and
himself, and after fumbling in his pocket for a latchkey, opened
the front door. A vista of well-ordered obscurity with shadowy
trestle-like objects against the walls, and an odor of chill
decorum, as if of a damp but respectable funeral, greeted him on
entering. A faint light, like a cold dawn, broke through the glass
pane of a door leading to the kitchen. Blandford paused in the
mid-darkness and hesitated. Should he first go to his wife in the
back parlor, or pass silently through the kitchen, open the back
gate, and mercifully bestow his sweating beast in the stable? With
the reflection that an immediate conjugal greeting, while his horse
was still exposed to the fury of the blast in the street, would
necessarily be curtailed and limited, he compromised by quickly
passing through the kitchen into the stable yard, opening the gate,
and driving horse and vehicle under the shed to await later and
more thorough ministration. As he entered the back door, a faint
hope that his wife might have heard him and would be waiting for
him in the hall for an instant thrilled him; but he remembered it
was Sunday, and that she was probably engaged in some devotional
reading or exercise. He hesitatingly opened the back-parlor door
with a consciousness of committing some unreasonable trespass, and
entered.

She was there, sitting quietly before a large, round, shining
centre-table, whose sterile emptiness was relieved only by a shaded
lamp and a large black and gilt open volume. A single picture on
the opposite wall--the portrait of an elderly gentleman stiffened
over a corresponding volume, which he held in invincible mortmain
in his rigid hand, and apparently defied posterity to take from
him--seemed to offer a not uncongenial companionship. Yet the
greenish light of the shade fell upon a young and pretty face,
despite the color it extracted from it, and the hand that supported
her low white forehead over which her full hair was simply parted,
like a brown curtain, was slim and gentle-womanly. In spite of her
plain lustreless silk dress, in spite of the formal frame of sombre
heavy horsehair and mahogany furniture that seemed to set her off,
she diffused an atmosphere of cleanly grace and prim refinement
through the apartment. The priestess of this ascetic temple, the
femininity of her closely covered arms, her pink ears, and a little
serviceable morocco house-shoe that was visible lower down, resting
on the carved lion's paw that upheld the centre-table, appeared to
be only the more accented. And the precisely rounded but softly
heaving bosom, that was pressed upon the edges of the open book of
sermons before her, seemed to assert itself triumphantly over the
rigors of the volume.

At least so her husband and lover thought, as he moved tenderly
towards her. She met his first kiss on her forehead; the second,
a supererogatory one, based on some supposed inefficiency in the
first, fell upon a shining band of her hair, beside her neck. She
reached up her slim hands, caught his wrists firmly, and, slightly
putting him aside, said:

"There, Edward?"

"I drove out from Warensboro, so as to get here to-night, as I have
to return to the city on Tuesday. I thought it would give me a
little more time with you, Joan," he said, looking around him, and,
at last, hesitatingly drawing an apparently reluctant chair from
its formal position at the window. The remembrance that he had
ever dared to occupy the same chair with her, now seemed hardly
possible of credence.

"If it was a question of your travelling on the Lord's Day, Edward,
I would rather you should have waited until to-morrow," she said,
with slow precision.

"But--I--I thought I'd get here in time for the meeting," he said,
weakly.

"And instead, you have driven through the town, I suppose, where
everybody will see you and talk about it. But," she added, raising
her dark eyes suddenly to his, "where else have you been? The
train gets into Warensboro at six, and it's only half an hour's
drive from there. What have you been doing, Edward?"

It was scarcely a felicitous moment for the introduction of
Demorest's name, and he would have avoided it. But he reflected
that he had been seen, and he was naturally truthful. "I met Dick
Demorest near the church, and as he had something to tell me, we
drove down the turnpike a little way--so as to be out of the town,
you know, Joan--and--and--"

He stopped. Her face had taken upon itself that appalling and
exasperating calmness of very good people who never get angry, but
drive others to frenzy by the simple occlusion of an adamantine
veil between their own feelings and their opponents'. "I'll tell
you all about it after I've put up the horse," he said hurriedly,
glad to escape until the veil was lifted again. "I suppose the
hired man is out."

"I should hope he was in church, Edward, but I trust YOU won't
delay taking care of that poor dumb brute who has been obliged to
minister to your and Mr. Demorest's Sabbath pleasures."

Blandford did not wait for a further suggestion. When the door had
closed behind him, Mrs. Blandford went to the mantel-shelf, where a
grimly allegorical clock cut down the hours and minutes of men with
a scythe, and consulted it with a slight knitting of her pretty
eyebrows. Then she fell into a vague abstraction, standing before
the open book on the centre-table. Then she closed it with a snap,
and methodically putting it exactly in the middle of the top of a
black cabinet in the corner, lifted the shaded lamp in her hand and
passed slowly with it up the stairs to her bedroom, where her light
steps were heard moving to and fro. In a few moments she reappeared,
stopping for a moment in the hall with the lighted lamp as if to
watch and listen for her husband's return. Seen in that favorable
light, her cheeks had caught a delicate color, and her dark eyes
shone softly. Putting the lamp down in exactly the same place as
before, she returned to the cabinet for the book, brought it again
to the table, opened it at the page where she had placed her
perforated cardboard book-marker, sat down beside it, and with her
hands in her lap and her eyes on the page began abstractedly to tear
a small piece of paper into tiny fragments. When she had reduced it
to the smallest shreds, she scraped the pieces out of her silk lap
and again collected them in the pink hollow of her little hand,
kneeling down on the scrupulously well-swept carpet to peck up with
a bird-like action of her thumb and forefinger an escaped atom here
and there. These and the contents of her hand she poured into the
chilly cavity of a sepulchral-looking alabaster vase that stood on
the etagere. Returning to her old seat, and making a nest for her
clasped fingers in the lap of her dress, she remained in that
attitude, her shoulders a little narrowed and bent forward, until
her husband returned.

"I've lit the fire in the bedroom for you to change your clothes
by," she said, as he entered; then evading the caress which this
wifely attention provoked, by bending still more primly over her
book, she added, "Go at once. You're making everything quite damp
here."

He returned in a few moments in his slippers and jacket, but
evidently found the same difficulty in securing a conjugal and
confidential contiguity to his wife. There was no apparent social
centre or nucleus of comfort in the apartment; its fireplace,
sealed by an iron ornament like a monumental tablet over dead
ashes, had its functions superseded by an air-tight drum in the
corner, warmed at second-hand from the dining-room below, and
offered no attractive seclusion; the sofa against the wall was
immovable and formally repellent. He was obliged to draw a chair
beside the table, whose every curve seemed to facilitate his wife's
easy withdrawal from side-by-side familiarity.

"Demorest has been urging me very strongly to go to California,
but, of course, I spoke of you," he said, stealing his hand into
his wife's lap, and possessing himself of her fingers.

Mrs. Blandford slowly lifted her fingers enclosed in his clasping
hand and placed them in shameless publicity on the volume before
her. This implied desecration was too much for Blandford; he
withdrew his hand.

"Does that man propose to go with you?" asked Mrs. Blandford,
coldly.

"No; he's preoccupied with other matters that he wanted me to talk
to you about," said her husband, hesitatingly. "He is--"

"Because"--continued Mrs. Blandford in the same measured tone, "if
he does not add his own evil company to his advice, it is the best
he has ever given yet. I think he might have taken another day
than the Lord's to talk about it, but we must not despise the means
nor the hour whence the truth comes. Father wanted me to take some
reasonable moment to prepare you to consider it seriously, and I
thought of talking to you about it to-morrow. He thinks it would
be a very judicious plan. Even Deacon Truesdail--"

"Having sold his invoice of damaged sugar kettles for mining
purposes, is converted," said Blandford, goaded into momentary
testiness by his wife's unexpected acquiescence and a sudden
recollection of Demorest's prophecy. "You have changed your
opinion, Joan, since last fall, when you couldn't bear to think of
my leaving you," he added reproachfully.

"I couldn't bear to think of your joining the mob of lawless and
sinful men who use that as an excuse for leaving their wives and
families. As for my own feelings, Edward, I have never allowed
them to stand between me and what I believed best for our home and
your Christian welfare. Though I have no cause to admire the
influence that I find this man, Demorest, still holds over you, I
am willing to acquiesce, as you see, in what he advises for your
good. You can hardly reproach ME, Edward, for worldly or selfish
motives.

Blandford felt keenly the bitter truth of his wife's speech. For
the moment he would gladly have exchanged it for a more illogical
and selfish affection, but he reflected that he had married this
religious girl for the security of an affection which he felt was
not subject to the temptations of the world--or even its own
weakness--as was too often the case with the giddy maidens whom he
had known through Demorest's companionship. It was, therefore,
more with a sense of recalling this distinctive quality of his wife
than any loyalty to Demorest that he suddenly resolved to confide
to her the latter's fatuous folly.

"I know it, dear," he said, apologetically, "and we'll talk it over
to-morrow, and it may be possible to arrange it so that you shall
go with me. But, speaking of Demorest, I think you don't quite do
HIM justice. He really respects YOUR feelings and your knowledge
of right and wrong more than you imagine. I actually believe he
came here to-night merely to get me to interest you in an
extraordinary love affair of his. I mean, Joan," he added hastily,
seeing the same look of dull repression come over her face, "I
mean, Joan--that is, you know, from all I can judge--it is
something really serious this time. He intends to reform. And
this is because he has become violently smitten with a young woman
whom he has only seen half a dozen times, at long intervals, whom
he first met in a railway train, and whose name and residence he
don't even know."

There was an ominous silence--so hushed that the ticking of the
allegorical clock came like a grim monitor. "Then," said Mrs.
Blandford, in a hard, dry voice that her alarmed husband scarcely
recognized, "he proposed to insult your wife by taking her into his
shameful confidence."

"Good heavens! Joan, no--you don't understand. At the worst, this
is some virtuous but silly school-girl, who, though she may be
intending only an innocent flirtation with him, has made this man
actually and deeply in love with her. Yes; it is a fact, Joan. I
know Dick Demorest, and if ever there was a man honestly in love,
it is he."

"Then you mean to say that this man--an utter stranger to me--a man
whom I've never laid my eyes on--whom I wouldn't know if I met in
the street--expects me to advise him--to--to--" She stopped.
Blandford could scarcely believe his senses. There were tears in
her eyes--this woman who never cried; her voice trembled--she who
had always controlled her emotions.

He took advantage of this odd but opportune melting. He placed his
arm around her shoulders. She tried to escape it, but with a coy,
shy movement, half hysterical, half girlish, unlike her usual
stony, moral precision. "Yes, Joan," he repeated, laughingly, "but
whose fault is it? Not HIS, remember! And I firmly believe he
thinks you can do him good."

"But he has never seen me," she continued, with a nervous little
laugh, "and probably considers me some old Gorgon--like--like--
Sister Jemima Skerret."

Blandford smiled with the complacency of far-reaching masculine
intuition. Ah! that shrewd fellow, Demorest, was right. Joan,
dear Joan, was only a woman after all.

"Then he'll be the more agreeably astonished," he returned, gayly,
"and I think YOU will, too, Joan. For Dick isn't a bad-looking
fellow; most women like him. It's true," he continued, much amused
at the novelty of the perfectly natural toss and grimace with which
Mrs. Blandford received this statement.

"I think he's been pointed out to me somewhere," she said,
thoughtfully; "he's a tall, dark, dissipated-looking man."

"Nothing of the kind," laughed her husband. "He's middle-sized and
as blond as your cousin Joe, only he's got a long yellow moustache,
and has a quick, abrupt way of talking. He isn't at all fancy-
looking; you'd take him for an energetic business man or a doctor,
if you didn't know him. So you see, Joan, this correct little wife
of mine has been a little, just a little, prejudiced."

He drew her again gently backwards and nearer his seat, but she
caught his wrists in her slim hands, and rising from the chair at
the same moment, dexterously slipped from his embrace with her back
towards him. "I do not know why I should be unprejudiced by
anything you've told me," she said, sharply closing the book of
sermons, and, with her back still to her husband, reinstating it
formally in its place on the cabinet. "It's probably one of his
many scandalous pursuits of defenceless and believing women, and
he, no doubt, goes off to Boston, laughing at you for thinking him
in earnest; and as ready to tell his story to anybody else and
boast of his double deceit." Her voice had a touch of human
asperity in it now, which he had never before noticed, but
recognizing, as he thought, the human cause, it was far from
exciting his displeasure.

"Wrong again, Joan; he's waiting here at the Independence House for
me to see him to-morrow," he returned, cheerfully. "And I believe
him so much in earnest that I would be ready to swear that not
another person will ever know the story but you and I and he. No,
it is a real thing with him; he's dead in love, and it's your duty
as a Christian to help him."

There was a moment of silence. Mrs. Blandford remained by the
cabinet, methodically arranging some small articles displaced by
the return of the book. "Well," she said, suddenly, "you don't
tell me what mother had to say. Of course, as you came home
earlier than you expected, you had time to stop THERE--only four
doors from this house."

"Well, no, Joan," replied Blandford, in awkward discomfiture. "You
see I met Dick first, and then--then I hurried here to you--and--
and--I clean forgot it. I'm very sorry," he added, dejectedly.

"And I more deeply so," she returned, with her previous bloodless
moral precision, "for she probably knows by this time, Edward, why
you have omitted your usual Sabbath visit, and with WHOM you were."

"But I can pull on my boots again and run in there for a moment,"
he suggested, dubiously, "if you think it necessary. It won't take
me a moment."

"No," she said, positively; "it is so late now that your visit
would only show it to be a second thought. I will go myself--it
will be a call for us both."

"But shall I go with you to the door? It is dark and sleeting,"
suggested Blandford, eagerly.

"No," she replied, peremptorily. "Stay where you are, and when
Ezekiel and Bridget come in send them to bed, for I have made
everything fast in the kitchen. Don't wait up for me."

She left the room, and in a few moments returned, wrapped from head
to foot in an enormous plaid shawl. A white woollen scarf thrown
over her bare brown head, and twice rolled around her neck, almost
concealed her face from view. When she had parted from her
husband, and reached the darkened hall below, she drew from beneath
the folds of her shawl a thick blue veil, with which she completely
enveloped her features. As she opened the front door and peered
out into the night, her own husband would have scarcely recognized
her.

With her head lowered against the keen wind she walked rapidly down
the street and stopped for an instant at the door of the fourth
house. Glancing quickly back at the house she had left and then at
the closed windows of the one she had halted before, she gathered
her skirts with one hand and sped away from both, never stopping
until she reached the door of the Independence Hotel.

CHAPTER III

Mrs. Blandford entered the side door boldly. Luckily for her, the
austerities of the Sabbath were manifest even here; the bar-room
was closed, and the usual loungers in the passages were absent.
Without risking the recognition of her voice in an inquiry to the
clerk, she slipped past the office, still muffled in her veil, and
quickly mounted the narrow staircase. For an instant she hesitated
before the public parlor, and glanced dubiously along the half-lit
corridor. Chance befriended her; the door of a bedroom opened at
that moment, and Richard Demorest, with his overcoat and hat on,
stepped out in the hall.

With a quick and nervous gesture of her hand she beckoned him to
approach. He came towards her leisurely, with an amused curiosity
that suddenly changed to utter astonishment as she hurriedly lifted
her veil, dropped it, turned, and glided down the staircase into
the street again. He followed rapidly, but did not overtake her
until she had reached the corner, when she slackened her pace an
instant for him to join her.

"Lulu," he said eagerly; "is it you?"

"Not a word here," she said, breathlessly. "Follow me at a
distance."

She started forward again in the direction of her own house.
He followed her at a sufficient interval to keep her faintly
distinguishable figure in sight until she had crossed three
streets, and near the end of the next block glided up the steps of
a house not far from the one where he remembered to have left
Blandford. As he joined her, she had just succeeded in opening the
door with a pass-key, and was awaiting him. With a gesture of
silence she took his hand in her cold fingers, and leading him
softly through the dark hall and passage, quickly entered the
kitchen. Here she lit a candle, turned, and faced him. He could
see that the outside shutters were bolted, and the kitchen
evidently closed for the night.

As she removed the veil from her face he made a movement as if to
regain her hand again, but she drew it away.

"You have forced this upon me," she said hurriedly, "and it may be
ruin to us both. Why have you betrayed me?"

"Betrayed you, Lulu--Good God! what do you mean?"

She looked him full in the eye, and then said slowly, "Do you mean
to say that you have told no one of our meetings?"

"Only one--my old friend Blandford, who lives-- Ah, yes! I see it
now. You are neighbors. He has betrayed me. This house is--"

"My father's!" she replied boldly.

The momentary uneasiness passed from Demorest's resolute face. His
old self-sufficiency returned. "Good," he said, with a frank
laugh, "that will do for me. Open the door there, Lulu, and take
me to him. I'm not ashamed of anything I've done, my girl, nor
need you be. I'll tell him my real name is Dick Demorest, as I
ought to have told you before, and that I want to marry you, fairly
and squarely, and let him make the conditions. I'm not a vagabond
nor a thief, Lulu, if I have met you on the sly. Come, dear, let
us end this now. Come--"

But she had thrown herself before him and placed her hand upon his
lips. "Hush! are you mad? Listen to me, I tell you--please--oh,
do--no you must not!" He had covered her hand with kisses and was
drawing her face towards his own. "No--not again, it was wrong
then, it is monstrous now. I implore you, listen, if you love me,
stop."

He released her. She sank into a chair by the kitchen-table, and
buried her flushed face in her hands.

He stood for a moment motionless before her. "Lulu, if that is
your name," he said slowly, but gently, "tell me all now. Be frank
with me, and trust me. If there is anything stands in the way, let
me know what it is and I can overcome it. If it is my telling Ned
Blandford, don't let that worry you, he's as loyal a fellow as ever
breathed, and I'm a dog to ever think he willingly betrayed us.
His wife, well, she's one of those pious saints--but no, she would
not be such a cursed hypocrite and bigot as this."

"Hush, I tell you! WILL you hush," she said, in a frantic whisper,
springing to her feet and grasping him convulsively by the lapels
of his overcoat. "Not a word more, or I'll kill myself. Listen!
Do you know what I brought you here for? why I left my--this house
and dragged you out of your hotel? Well, it was to tell you that
you must leave me, leave HERE--go out of this house and out of this
town at once, to-night! And never look on it or me again! There!
you have said we must end this now. It is ended, as only it could
and ever would end. And if you open that door except to go, or if
you attempt to--to touch me again, I'll do something desperate.
There!"

She threw him off again and stepped back, strangely beautiful in
the loosened shackles of her long repressed human emotion. It was
as if the passion-rent robes of the priestess had laid bare the
flesh of the woman dazzling and victorious. Demorest was
fascinated and frightened.

"Then you do not love me?" he said with a constrained smile, "and I
am a fool?"

"Love you!" she repeated. "Love you," she continued, bowing her
brown head over her hanging arms and clasped hands. "What then has
brought me to this? Oh," she said suddenly, again seizing him by
his two arms, and holding him from her with a half-prudish, half-
passionate gesture, "why could you not have left things as they
were; why could we not have met in the same old way we used to
meet, when I was so foolish and so happy? Why could you spoil that
one dream I have clung to? Why didn't you leave me those few days
of my wretched life when I was weak, silly, vain, but not the
unhappy woman I am now. You were satisfied to sit beside me and
talk to me then. You respected my secret, my reserve. My God! I
used to think you loved me as I loved you--for THAT! Why did you
break your promise and follow me here? I believed you the first
day we met, when you said there was no wrong in my listening to
you; that it should go no further; that you would never seek to
renew it without my consent. You tell me I don't love you, and I
tell you now that we must part, that frightened as I was, foolish
as I was, that day was the first day I had ever lived and felt as
other women live and feel. If I ran away from you then it was
because I was running away from my old self too. Don't you
understand me? Could you not have trusted me as I trusted you?"

"I broke my promise only when you broke yours. When you would not
meet me I followed you here, because I loved you."

"And that is why you must leave me now," she said, starting from
his outstretched arms again. "Do not ask me why, but go, I implore
you. You must leave this town to-night, to-morrow will be too
late."

He cast a hurried glance around him, as if seeking to gather
some reason for this mysterious haste, or a clue for future
identification. He saw only the Sabbath-sealed cupboards, the cold
white china on the dresser, and the flicker of the candle on the
partly-opened glass transom above the door. "As you wish," he
said, with quiet sadness. "I will go now, and leave the town to-
night; but"--his voice struck its old imperative note--"this shall
not end here, Lulu. There will be a next time, and I am bound to
win you yet, in spite of all and everything."

She looked at him with a half-frightened, half-hysterical light in
her eyes. "God knows!"

"And you will be frank with me then, and tell me all?"

"Yes, yes, another time; but go now." She had extinguished the
candle, turned the handle of the door noiselessly, and was holding
it open. A faint light stole through the dark passage. She drew
back hastily. "You have left the front door open," she said in a
frightened voice. "I thought you had shut it behind me," he
returned quickly. "Good night." He drew her towards him. She
resisted slightly. They were for an instant clasped in a
passionate embrace; then there was a sudden collapse of the light
and a dull jar. The front door had swung to.

With a desperate bound she darted into the passage and through the
hall, dragging him by the hand, and threw the front door open.
Without, the street was silent and empty.

"Go," she whispered frantically.

Demorest passed quickly down the steps and disappeared. At the
same moment a voice came from the banisters of the landing above.
"Who's there?"

"It's I, mother."

"I thought so. And it's like Edward to bring you and sneak off in
that fashion."

Mrs. Blandford gave a quick sigh of relief. Demorest's flight had
been mistaken for her husband's habitual evasion. Knowing that her
mother would not refer to the subject again, she did not reply, but
slowly mounted the dark staircase with an assumption of more than
usual hesitating precaution, in order to recover her equanimity.

The clocks were striking eleven when she left her mother's house
and re-entered her own. She was surprised to find a light burning
in the kitchen, and Ezekiel, their hired man, awaiting her in a
dominant and nasal key of religious and practical disapprobation.
"Pity you wern't tu hum afore, ma'am, considerin' the doins that's
goin' on in perfessed Christians' houses arter meetin' on the
Sabbath Day."

"What's the difficulty now, Ezekiel?" said Mrs. Blandford, who had
regained her rigorous precision once more under the decorous
security of her own roof.

"Wa'al, here comes an entire stranger axin for Squire Blandford.
And when I tells he warn't tu hum--"

"Not at home?" interrupted Mrs. Blandford, with a slight start. "I
left him here."

"Mebbee so, but folks nowadays don't 'pear to keer much whether
they break the Sabbath or not, trapsen' raound town in and arter
meetin' hours, ez if 'twor gin'ral tranin' day--and hez gone out
agin."

"Go on," said Mrs. Blandford, curtly.

"Wa'al, the stranger sez, sez he, 'Show me the way to the stables,'
sez he, and without taken' no for an answer, ups and meanders
through the hall, outer the kitchen inter the yard, ez if he was
justice of the peace; and when he gets there he sez, 'Fetch out his
hoss and harness up, and be blamed quick about it, and tell Ned
Blandford that Dick Demorest hez got to leave town to-night, and ez
ther ain't a blamed puritanical shadbelly in this hull town ez
would let a hoss go on hire Sunday night, he guesses he'll hev to
borry his.' And afore I could say Jack Robinson, he tackles the
hoss up and drives outer the yard, flinging this two-dollar-and-a-
half-piece behind him ez if I wur a Virginia slave and he was John
C. Calhoun hisself. I'd a chucked it after him if it hadn't been
the Lord's Day, and it mout hev provoked disturbance."

"Mr. Demorest is worldly, but one of Edward's old friends," said
Mrs. Blandford, with a slight kindling of her eyes, "and he would
not have refused to aid him in what might be an errand of grace or
necessity. You can keep the money, Ezekiel, as a gift, not as a
wage. And go to bed. I will sit up for Mr. Blandford."

She passed out and up the staircase into her bedroom, pausing on
her way to glance into the empty back parlor and take the lamp from
the table. Here she noticed that her husband had evidently changed
his clothes again and taken a heavier overcoat from the closet.
Removing her own wraps she again descended to the lower apartment,
brought out the volume of sermons, placed it and the lamp in the
old position, and with her abstracted eyes on the page fell into
her former attitude. Every suggestion of the passionate, half-
frenzied woman in the kitchen of the house only four doors away,
had vanished; one would scarcely believe she had ever stirred from
the chair in which she had formally received her husband two hours
before. And yet she was thinking of herself and Demorest in that
kitchen.

His prompt and decisive response to her appeal, as shown in this
last bold and characteristic action, relieved, while it half piqued
her. But the overruling destiny which had enabled her to bring him
from his hotel to her mother's house unnoticed, had protected them
while there, had arrested a dangerous meeting between him and
herself and her husband in her own house, impressed her more than
all. It imparted to her a hideous tranquillity born of the
doctrines of her youth--Predestination! She reflected with secret
exultation that her moral resolution to fly from him and her
conscientiously broken promise had been the direct means of
bringing him there; that step by step circumstances not in
themselves evil or to be combated had led her along; that even her
husband and mother had felt it their duty to assist towards this
fateful climax! If Edward had never kept up his worldly
friendship, if she had never been restricted and compassed in her
own; if she had ever known the freedom of other girls,--all this
might not have happened. She had been elected to share with
Demorest and her husband the effects of their ungodliness. She
was no longer a free agent; what availed her resolutions? To
Demorest's imperious hope, she had said, "God knows." What more
could she say? Her small red lips grew white and compressed; her
face rigid, her eyes hollow and abstracted; she looked like the
genius of asceticism as she sat there, grimly formulating a
dogmatic explanation of her lawless and unlicensed passion.

The wind had risen to a gale without, and stirred even the sealed
sepulchre of the fireplace with dull rumblings and muffled moans.
At times the hot-air drum in the corner seemed to expand as with
some pent-up emotion. Strange currents of air crossed the empty
room like the passage of unseen spirits, and she even fancied she
heard whispers at the window. This caused her to rise and open it,
when she found that the sleet had given way to a dry feathery snow
that was swarming through the slits of the shutter; a faint
reflection from the already whitened fences glimmered in the panes.
She shut the window hastily, with a little shiver of cold. Where
was Demorest in this storm? Would it stop him? She thought with
pride now of the dominant energy that had frightened her, and knew
it would not. But her husband?--what kept him? It was twelve
o'clock; he had seldom stayed out so late before. During the first
half hour of her reflections she had been relieved by his absence;
she had even believed that he had met Demorest in the town, and was
not alarmed by it, for she knew that the latter would avoid any
further confidence, and cut short any return to it. But why had
not Edward returned? For an instant the terrible thought that
something had happened, and that they might both return together,
took possession of her, and she trembled. But no; Demorest, who
had already taken such extreme measures, could not consistently
listen to any suggestion for delay. As her only danger lay in
Demorest's presence, the absence of her husband caused her more
undefinable uneasiness than actual alarm.

The room had become cold with the dying out of the dining-room fire
that warmed the drum. She would go to bed. She nevertheless
arranged the room again with a singular impression that she was
doing it for the last time in her present existing circumstances,
and placing the lamp on the table in the hall, went up to her own
room. By the light of a single candle she undressed herself
hastily, said her prayers punctiliously, and got into bed, with an
unexpected relief at finding herself still occupying it alone.
Then she fell asleep and dreamed of Demorest.

CHAPTER IV

When Edward Blandford found himself alone after his wife had
undertaken to fulfil his abandoned filial duty at her parents'
house, he felt a slight twinge of self-reproach. He could not deny
that this was not the first time he had evaded the sterile Sabbath
evenings at his mother-in-law's, or that even at other times he was
not in accord with the cold and colorless sanctity of the family.
Yet he remembered that when he picked out from the budding
womanhood of North Liberty this pure, scentless blossom, he had
endured the privations of its surroundings with a sense of security
in inhaling the atmosphere in which it grew, and knowing the
integrity of its descent. There was a certain pleasure also in
invading this seclusion with human passion; the first pressure of
her hand when they were kneeling together at family prayers had the
zest without the sin of a forbidden pleasure; the first kiss he
had given her with their heads over the family Bible had fairly
intoxicated him in the thin, rarefied air of their surroundings. In
transplanting this blossom to his own home with the fond belief that
it would eventually borrow the hues and color of his own passion, he
had no further interest in the house he had left behind. When he
found, however, that the ancestral influence was stronger than he
expected, that the young wife, instead of assimilating to his
conditions, had imported into their little household the rigors of
her youthful home, he had been chilled and disappointed. But he
could not help also remembering that his own boyhood had been spent
in an atmosphere like her own in everything but its sincerity and
deep conviction. His father had recognized the business value of
placating the narrow tyranny of the respectable well-to-do religious
community, and had become a conscious hypocrite and a popular
citizen. He had himself been under that influence, and it was
partly a conviction of this that had drawn him towards her as
something genuine and real. It occurred to him now for the first
time, as he looked around upon that compromise of their two lives in
this chilly artificial home, that it was only natural that she would
prefer the more truthful austerities of her mother's house. Had she
detected the sham, and did she despise him for it?

These were questions which seemed to bring another self-accusing
doubt in his own mind, although, without his being conscious of it,
they had been really the outcome of that doubt. He could not help
dwelling on the singular human interest she had taken in Demorest's
love affair, and the utterly unexpected emotion she had shown. He
had never seen her as charmingly illogical, capricious, and
bewitchingly feminine. Had he not made a radical mistake in not
giving her a frequent provocation for this innocent emotion--in
fact, in not taking her out into a world of broader sympathies and
experiences? What a household they might have had--if necessary
in some other town--away from those cramped prejudices and
limitations! What friends she might have been with Dick and his
other worldly acquaintances; what social pleasures--guiltless
amusements for her pure mind--in theatres, parties, and concerts!
Would she have objected to them?--had he ever seriously proposed
them to her? No! if she had objected there would have been time
enough to have made this present compromise; she would have at
least respected and understood his sacrifice--and his friends.

Even the artificial externals of his household had never before so
visibly impressed him. Now that she was no longer in the room it
did not even bear a trace of her habitation, it certainly bore no
suggestion of his own. Why had he bought that hideous horsehair
furniture? To remind her of the old provincial heirlooms of her
father's sitting-room. Did it remind her of it? The stiff and
stony emptiness of this room had been fashioned upon the decorous
respectability of his own father's parlor--in which his father, who
usually spent his slippered leisure in the family sitting-room,
never entered except on visits from the minister. It had chilled
his own youthful soul--why had he perpetuated it here?

He could only answer these questions by moodily wandering about the
house, and regretting he had not gone with her. After a vain
attempt to establish social and domestic relations with the hot-air
drum by putting his feet upon it--after an equally futile attempt
to extract interest from the book of sermons by opening its pages
at random--he glanced at the clock and suddenly resolved to go and
fetch her. It would remind him of the old times when he used to
accompany her from church, and, after her parents had retired,
spend a blissful half-hour alone with her. With what a mingling of
fear and childish curiosity she used to accept his equally timid
caresses! Yes, he would go and fetch her; and he would recall it
to her in a whisper while they were there.

Filled with this idea, when he changed his clothes again he put on
a certain heavy beaver overcoat, on whose shaggy sleeve her little,
hand had so often rested when he escorted her from meeting; and he
even selected the gray muffler she had knit for him in the old
ante-nuptial days. It was lying in the half-opened drawer from
where she had not long before taken her disguising veil.

It was still blowing in sudden, capricious gusts; and when he
opened the front door the wind charged fiercely upon him, as if to
drive him back. When he had finally forced his way into the
street, a return current closed the door as suddenly and sharply
behind him as if it had ejected him from his home for ever.

He reached the fourth house quickly, and as quickly ran up the
steps; his hand was upon the bell when his eye suddenly caught
sight of his wife's pass-key still in the lock. She had evidently
forgotten it. Here was a chance to mischievously banter that
habitually careful little woman! He slipped it into his pocket and
quietly entered the dark but perfectly familiar hall. He reached
the staircase without a stumble and began to ascend softly.
Halfway up he heard the sound of his wife's hurried voice and
another that startled him. He ascended hastily two steps, which
brought him to the level of the half-opened transom of the kitchen.
A candle was burning on the kitchen table; he could see everything
that passed in the room; he could hear distinctly every word that
was uttered.

He did not utter a cry or sound; he did not even tremble. He
remained so rigid and motionless, clutching the banisters with his
stiffened fingers, that when he did attempt to move, all life, as
well as all that had made life possible to him, seemed to have died
from him for ever. There was no nervous illusion, no dimming of
his senses; he saw everything with a hideous clarity of perception.
By some diabolical instantaneous photography of the brain, little
actions, peculiarities, touches of gesture, expression and attitude
never before noted by him in his wife, were clearly fixed and
bitten in his consciousness. He saw the color of his friend's
overcoat, the reddish tinge of his wife's brown hair, till then
unnoticed; in that supreme moment he was aware of a sudden likeness
to her mother; but more terrible than all, there seemed to be a
nameless sympathetic resemblance that the guilty pair had to each
other in gesture and movement as of some unhallowed relationship
beyond his ken. He knew not how long he stood there without
breath, without reflection, without one connected thought. He saw
her suddenly put her hand on the handle of the door. He knew that
in another moment they would pass almost before him. He made a
convulsive effort to move, with an inward cry to God for support,
and succeeded in staggering with outstretched palms against the
wall, down the staircase, and blindly forward through the hall to
the front door. As yet he had been able to formulate only one
idea--to escape before them, for it seemed to him that their
contact meant the ruin of them both, of that house, of all that was
near to him--a catastrophe that struck blindly at his whole visible
world. He had reached the door and opened it at the moment that
the handle of the kitchen-door was turned. He mechanically fell
back behind the open door that hid him, while it let the cruel
light glimmer for a moment on their clasped figures. The door
slipped from his nerveless fingers and swung to with a dull sound.
Crouching still in the corner, he heard the quick rush of hurrying
feet in the darkness, saw the door open and Demorest glide out--saw
her glance hurriedly after him, close the door, and involve herself
and him in the blackness of the hall. Her dress almost touched him
in his corner; he could feel the near scent of her clothes, and the
air stirred by her figure retreating towards the stairs; could hear
the unlocking of a door above and the voice of her mother from the
landing, his wife's reply, the slow fading of her footsteps on the
stairs and overhead, the closing of a door, and all was quiet
again. Still stooping, he groped for the handle of the door,
opened it, and the next moment reeled like a drunken man down the
steps into the street.

It was well for him that a fierce onset of wind and sleet at that
instant caught him savagely--stirred his stagnated blood into
action, and beat thought once more into his brain. He had
mechanically turned towards his own home; his first effort of
recovering will hurried him furiously past it and into a side
street. He walked rapidly, but undeviatingly on to escape
observation and secure some solitude for his returning thoughts.
Almost before he knew it he was in the open fields.

The idea of vengeance had never crossed his mind. He was neither
a physical nor a moral coward, but he had never felt the merely
animal fury of disputed animal possession which the world has
chosen to recognize as a proof of outraged sentiment, nor had North
Liberty accepted the ethics that an exchange of shots equalized a
transferred affection. His love had been too pure and too real to
be moved like the beasts of the field, to seek in one brutal
passion compensation for another. Killing--what was there to kill?
All that he had to live for had been already slain. With the love
that was in him--in them--already dead at his feet, what was it to
him whether these two hollow lives moved on and passed him, or
mingled their emptiness elsewhere? Only let them henceforth keep
out of his way!

For in his first feverish flow of thought--the reaction to his
benumbed will within and the beating sleet without--he believed
Demorest as treacherous as his wife. He recalled his sudden and
unexpected intrusion into the buggy only a few hours before, his
mysterious confidences, his assurance of Joan's favorable reception
of his secret, and her consent to the Californian trip. What had
all this meant if not that Demorest was using him, the husband, to
assist his intrigue, and carry the news of his presence in the town
to her? And this boldness, this assurance, this audacity of
conception was like Demorest! While only certain passages of the
guilty meeting he had just seen and overheard were distinctly
impressed on his mind, he remembered now, with hideous and terrible
clearness, all that had gone before. It was part of the disturbed
and unequal exaltation of his faculties that he dwelt more upon
this and his wife's previous deceit and manifest hypocrisy, than
upon the actual evidence he had witnessed of her unfaithfulness.
The corroboration of the fact was stronger to him than the fact
itself. He understood the coldness, the uncongeniality now--the
simulated increase of her aversion to Demorest--her journeys to
Boston and Hartford to see her relatives, her acquiescence to his
frequent absences; not an incident, not a characteristic of her
married life was inconsistent with her guilt and her deceit. He
went even back to her maidenhood: how did he know this was not the
legitimate sequence of other secret schoolgirl escapades. The
bitter worldly light that had been forced upon his simple ingenuous
nature had dazzled and blinded him. He passed from fatuous
credulity to equally fatuous distrust.

He stopped suddenly with the roaring of water before him. In the
furious following of his rapid thought through storm and darkness
he had come, he knew not how, upon the bank of the swollen river,
whose endangered bridge Demorest had turned from that evening. A
few steps more and he would have fallen into it. He drew nearer
and looked at it with vague curiosity. Had he come there with any
definite intention? The thought sobered without frightening him.
There was always THAT culmination possible, and to be considered
coolly.

He turned and began to retrace his steps. On his way thither he
had been fighting the elements step by step; now they seemed to him
to have taken possession of him and were hurrying him quickly away.
But where? and to what? He was always thinking of the past. He
had wandered he knew not how long, always thinking of that. It was
the future he had to consider. What was to be done?

He had heard of such cases before; he had read of them in
newspapers and talked of them with cold curiosity. But they were
of worldly, sinful people, of dissolute men whose characters he
could not conceive--of silly, vain, frivolous, and abandoned women
whom he had never even met. But Joan--O God! It was the first
time since his mute prayer on the staircase that the Divine name
had been wrested from his lips. It came with his wife's--and his
first tears! But the wind swept the one away and dried the others
upon his hot cheeks.

It had ceased to rain, and the wind, which was still high, had
shifted more to the north and was bitterly cold. He could feel the
roadway stiffening under his feet. When he reached the pavement of
the outskirts once more he was obliged to take the middle of the
street, to avoid the treacherous films of ice that were beginning
to glaze the sidewalks. Yet this very inclemency, added to the
usual Sabbath seclusion, had left the streets deserted. He was
obliged to proceed more slowly, but he met no one and could pursue
his bewildering thoughts unchecked. As he passed between the lines
of cold, colorless houses, from which all light and life had
vanished, it seemed to him that their occupants were dead as his
love, or had fled their ruined houses as he had. Why should he
remain? Yet what was his duty now as a man--as a Christian? His
eye fell on the hideous facade of the church he was passing--her
church! He gave a bitter laugh and stumbled on again.

With one of the gusts he fancied he heard a familiar sound--the
rattling of buggy wheels over the stiffening road. Or was it
merely the fanciful echo of an idea that only at that moment sprung
up in his mind? If it was real it came from the street parallel
with the one he was in. Who could be driving out at this time?
What other buggy than his own could be found to desecrate this
Christian Sabbath? An irresistible thought impelled him at the
risk of recognition to quicken his pace and turn the corner as
Richard Demorest drove up to the Independence Hotel, sprang from
his buggy, throwing the reins over the dashboard, and disappeared
into the hotel!

Blandford stood still, but for an instant only. He had been
wandering for an hour aimlessly, hopelessly, without consecutive
idea, coherent thought or plan of action; without the faintest
inspiration or suggestion of escape from his bewildering torment,
without--he had begun to fear--even the power to conceive or the
will to execute; when a wild idea flashed upon him with the rattle
of his buggy wheels. And even as Demorest disappeared into the
hotel, he had conceived his plan and executed it. He crossed the
street swiftly, leaped into his buggy, lifted the reins and brought
down the whip simultaneously, and the next instant was dashing down
the street in the direction of the Warensboro turnpike. So sudden
was the action that by the time the astonished hall porter had
rushed into the street, horse and buggy had already vanished in the
darkness.

Presently it began to snow. So lightly at first that it seemed a
mere passing whisper to the ear, the brush of some viewless insect
upon the cheek, or the soft tap of unseen fingers on the shoulders.
But by the time the porter returned from his hopeless and invisible
chase of the "runaway," he came in out of a swarming cloud of
whirling flakes, blinded and whitened. There was a hurried
consultation with the landlord, the exhibition of much imperious
energy and some bank-notes from Demorest, and with a glance at the
clock that marked the expiring limit of the Puritan Sabbath, the
landlord at last consented. By the time the falling snow had
muffled the street from the indiscreet clamor of Sabbath-breaking
hoofs, the landlord's noiseless sledge was at the door and Demorest
had departed.

The snow fell all that night; with fierce gusts of wind that moaned
in the chimneys of North Liberty and sorely troubled the Sabbath
sleep of its decorous citizens; with deep, passionless silences,
none the less fateful, that softly precipitated a spotless mantle
of merciful obliteration equally over their precise or their
straying footprints, that would have done them good to heed and to
remember; and when morning broke upon a world of week-day labor, it
was covered as far as their eyes could reach as with a clear and
unwritten tablet, on which they might record their lives anew.
Near the wreck of the broken bridge on the Warensboro turnpike an
overturned buggy lay imbedded in the drift and debris of the river
hurrying silently towards the sea, and a horse with fragments of
broken and icy harness still clinging to him was found standing
before the stable-door of Edward Blandford. But to any further
knowledge of the fate of its owner, North Liberty awoke never
again.

PART II

CHAPTER I

The last note of the Angelus had just rung out of the crumbling
fissures in the tower of the mission chapel of San Buena-ventura.
The sun which had beamed that day and indeed every day for the
whole dry season over the red-tiled roofs of that old and happily
ventured pueblo seemed to broaden to a smile as it dipped below the
horizon, as if in undiminished enjoyment of its old practical joke
of suddenly plunging the Southern California coast in darkness
without any preliminary twilight. The olive and fig trees at once
lost their characteristic outlines in formless masses of shadow;
only the twisted trunks of the old pear trees in the mission garden
retained their grotesque shapes and became gruesome in the
gathering gloom. The encircling pines beyond closed up their
serried files; a cool breeze swept down from the coast range and,
passing through them, sent their day-long heated spices through the
town.

If there was any truth in the local belief that the pious
incantation of the Angelus bell had the power of excluding all evil
influence abroad at that perilous hour within its audible radius,
and comfortably keeping all unbelieving wickedness at a distance,
it was presumably ineffective as regarded the innovating stage-
coach from Monterey that twice a week at that hour brought its
question-asking, revolver-persuading and fortune-seeking load of
passengers through the sleepy Spanish town. On the night of the 3d
of August, 1856, it had not only brought but set down at the Posada
one of those passengers. It was a Mr. Ezekiel Corwin, formerly
known to these pages as "hired man" to the late Squire Blandford,
of North Liberty, Connecticut, but now a shrewd, practical, self-
sufficient, and self-asserting unit of the more cautious later
Californian immigration. As the stage rattled away again with more
or less humorous and open disparagement of the town and the Posada
from its "outsiders," he lounged with lazy but systematic
deliberation towards Mateo Morez, the proprietor.

"I guess that some of your folks here couldn't direct me to Dick
Demorest's house, could ye?"

The Senor Mateo Morez was at once perplexed and pained. Pained at
the ignorance thus forced upon him by a caballero; perplexed as to
its intention. Between the two he smiled apologetically but
gravely, and said: "No sabe, Senor. I 'ave not understood."

"No more hev I," returned Ezekiel, with patronizing recognition of
his obtuseness. "I guess ez heow you ain't much on American. You
folks orter learn the language if you kalkilate to keep a hotel."

But the momentary vision of a waistless woman with a shawl gathered
over her head and shoulders at the back door attracted his
attention. She said something to Mateo in Spanish, and the
yellowish-white of Mateo's eyes glistened with intelligent
comprehension.

"Ah, posiblemente; it is Don Ricardo Demorest you wish?"

Mr. Ezekiel's face and manner expressed a mingling of grateful
curiosity and some scorn at the discovery. "Wa'al," he said,
looking around as if to take the entire Posada into his confidence,
"way up in North Liberty, where I kem from, he was allus known as
Dick Demorest, and didn't tack any forrin titles to his name. Et
wouldn't hev gone down there, I reckon, 'mongst free-born Merikin
citizens, no mor'n aliases would in court--and I kinder guess for
the same reason. But folks get peart and sassy when they're way
from hum, and put on ez many airs as a buck nigger. And so he
calls hisself Don Ricardo here, does he?"

"The Senor knows Don Ricardo?" said Mateo politely.

"Ef you mean me--wa'al, yes--I should say so. He was a partiklar
friend of a man I've known since he was knee-high to a grasshopper."

Ezekiel had actually never seen Demorest but once in his life. He
would have scorned to lie, but strict accuracy was not essential
with an ignorant foreign audience.

He took up his carpet-bag.

"I reckon I kin find his house, ef it's anyway handy."

But the Senor Mateo was again politely troubled. The house of Don
Ricardo was of a truth not more than a mile distant. It was even
possible that the Senor had observed it above a wall and vineyard
as he came into the pueblo. But it was late--it was also dark, as
the Senor would himself perceive--and there was still to-morrow.
To-morrow--ah, it was always there! Meanwhile there were beds of a
miraculous quality at the Posada, and a supper such as a caballero
might order in his own house. Health, discretion, solicitude for
oneself--all pointed clearly to to-morrow.

What part of this speech Ezekiel understood affected him only as an
innkeeper's bid for custom, and as such to be steadily exposed and
disposed of. With the remark that he guessed Dick Demorest's was
"a good enough hotel for HIM," and that he'd better be "getting
along there," he walked down the steps, carpet-bag in hand, and
coolly departed, leaving Mateo pained, but smiling, on the doorstep.

"An animal with a pig's head--without doubt," said Mateo,
sententiously.

"Clearly a brigand with the liver of a chicken," responded his
wife.

The subject of this ambiguous criticism, happily oblivious,
meantime walked doggedly back along the road the stage-coach had
just brought him. It was badly paved and hollowed in the middle
with the worn ruts of a century of slow undeviating ox carts, and
the passage of water during the rainy season. The low adobe houses
on each side, with bright cinnamon-colored tiles relieving their
dark-brown walls, had the regular outlines of their doors and
windows obliterated by the crumbling of years, until they looked as
if they had been afterthoughts of the builder, rudely opened by
pick and crowbar, and finished by the gentle auxiliary architecture
of birds and squirrels. Yet these openings at times permitted
glimpses of a picturesque past in the occasional view of a lace-
edged pillow or silken counterpane, striped hangings, or dyed
Indian rugs, the flitting of a flounced petticoat or flower-covered
head, or the indolent leaning figure framed in a doorway of a man
in wide velvet trousers and crimson-barred serape, whose brown face
was partly hidden in a yellow nimbus of cigarette smoke. Even in
the semi-darkness, Ezekiel's penetrating and impertinent eyes took
eager note of these facts with superior complacency, quite
unmindful, after the fashion of most critical travellers, of the
hideous contrast of his own long shapeless nankeen duster, his
stiff half-clerical brown straw hat, his wisp of gingham necktie,
his dusty boots, his outrageous carpet-bag, and his straggling
goat-like beard. A few looked at him in grave, discreet wonder.
Whether they recognized in him the advent of a civilization that
was destined to supplant their own ignorant, sensuous, colorful
life with austere intelligence and rigid practical improvement, did
not appear. He walked steadily on. As he passed the low arched
door of the mission church and saw a faint light glimmering from
the side windows, he had indeed a weak human desire to go in and
oppose in his own person a debased and idolatrous superstition with
some happily chosen question that would necessarily make the
officiating priest and his congregation exceedingly uncomfortable.
But he resisted; partly in the hope of meeting some idolater on his
way to Benediction, and, in the guise of a stranger seeking
information, dropping a few unpalatable truths; and partly because
be could unbosom himself later to Demorest, who he was not
unwilling to believe had embraced Popery with his adoption of a
Spanish surname and title.

It had become quite dark when he reached the long wall that
enclosed Demorest's premises. The wall itself excited his
resentment, not only as indicating an exclusiveness highly
objectionable in a man who had emigrated from a free State, but
because he, Ezekiel Corwin, had difficulty in discovering the
entrance. When he succeeded, he found himself before an iron gate,
happily open, but savoring offensively of feudalism and tyrannical
proprietorship, and passed through and entered an avenue of trees
scarcely distinguishable in the darkness, whose mysterious shapes
and feathery plumes were unknown to him. Numberless odors equally
vague and mysterious were heavy in the air, strange and delicate
plants rose dimly on either hand; enormous blossoms, like ghostly
faces, seemed to peer at him from the shadows. For an instant
Ezekiel succumbed to an unprofitable sense of beauty, and
acquiesced in this reckless extravagance of Nature that was so
unlike North Liberty. But the next moment he recovered himself,
with the reflection that it was probably unhealthy, and doggedly
approached the house. It was a long, one-storied, structure,
apparently all roof, vine, and pillared veranda. Every window and
door was open; the two or three grass hammocks swung emptily
between the columns; the bamboo chairs and settees were vacant; his
heavy footsteps on the floor had summoned no attendant; not even a
dog had barked as he approached the house. It was shiftless, it
was sinful--it boded no good to the future of Demorest.

He put down his carpet-bag on the veranda and entered the broad
hall, where an old-fashioned lantern was burning on a stand. Here,
too, the doors of the various apartments were open, and the rooms
themselves empty of occupants. An opportunity not to be lost by
Ezekiel's inquiring mind thus offered itself. He took the lantern
and deliberately examined the several apartments, the furniture,
the bedding, and even the small articles that were on the tables
and mantels. When he had completed the round--including a corridor
opening on a dark courtyard, which he did not penetrate--he
returned to the hall, and set down the lantern again.

"Well," said a voice in his own familiar vernacular, "I hope you
like it."

Ezekiel was surprised, but not disconcerted. What he had taken
in the shadow for a bundle of serapes lying on the floor of the
veranda, was the recumbent figure of a man who now raised himself
to a sitting posture.

"Ez to that," drawled Ezekiel, with unshaken self-possession,
"whether I like it or not ez only a question betwixt kempany
manners and truth-telling. Beggars hadn't oughter be choosers, and
transient visitors like myself needn't allus speak their mind. But
if you mean to signify that with every door and window open and
universal shiftlessness lying round everywhere temptin' Providence,
you ain't lucky in havin' a feller-citizen of yours drop in on ye
instead of some Mexican thief, I don't agree with ye--that's all."

The man laughed shortly and rose up. In spite of his careless yet
picturesque Mexican dress, Ezekiel instantly recognized Demorest.
With his usual instincts he was naturally pleased to observe that
he looked older and more careworn. The softer, sensuous climate
had perhaps imparted a heaviness to his figure and a deliberation
to his manner that was quite unlike his own potential energy.

"That don't tell me who you are, and what you want," he said,
coldly.

"Wa'al then, I'm Ezekiel Corwin of North Liberty, ez used to live
with my friend and YOURS too, I guess--seein' how the friendship
was swapped into relationship--Squire Blandford."

A slight shade passed over Demorest's face. "Well," he said,
impatiently, "I don't remember you; what then?"

"You don't remember me; that's likely," returned Ezekiel
imperturbably, combing his straggling chin beard with three fingers,
"but whether it's NAT'RAL or not, considerin' the sukumstances when
we last met, ez a matter of op-pinion. You got me to harness up the
hoss and buggy the night Squire Blandford left home, and never was
heard of again. It's true that it kem out on enquiry that the hoss
and buggy ran away from the hotel, and that you had to go out to
Warensboro in a sleigh, and the theory is that poor Squire Blandford
must have stopped the hoss and buggy somewhere, got in and got run
away agin, and pitched over the bridge. But seein' your relationship
to both Squire and Mrs. Blandford, and all the sukumstances, I
reckoned you'd remember it."

"I heard of it in Boston a month afterwards," said Demorest, dryly,
"but I don't think I'd have recognized you. So you were the hired
man who gave me the buggy. Well, I don't suppose they discharged
you for it."

"No," said Ezekiel, with undisturbed equanimity. "I kalkilate Joan
would have stopped that. Considerin', too, that I knew her when
she was Deacon Salisbury's darter, and our fam'lies waz thick az
peas. She knew me well enough when I met her in Frisco the other
day."

"Have you seen Mrs. Demorest already?" said Demorest, with sudden
vivacity. "Why didn't you say so before?" It was wonderful how
quickly his face had lighted up with an earnestness that was not,
however, without some undefinable uneasiness. The alert Ezekiel
noticed it and observed that it was as totally unlike the
irresistible dominance of the man of five years ago as it was
different from the heavy abstraction of the man of five minutes
before.

"I reckon you didn't ax me," he returned coolly. "She told me
where you were, and as I had business down this way she guessed I
might drop in."

"Yes, yes--it's all right, Mr. Corwin; glad you did," said
Demorest, kindly but half nervously. "And you saw Mrs. Demorest?
Where did you see her, and how did you think she was looking? As
pretty as ever, eh?"

But the coldly literal Ezekiel was not to be beguiled into polite
or ambiguous fiction. He even went to the extent of insulting
deliberation before he replied. "I've seen Joan Salisbury lookin'
healthier and ez far ez I kin judge doin' more credit to her stock
and raisin' gin'rally," he said, thoughtfully combing his beard,
"and I've seen her when she was too poor to get the silks and
satins, furbelows, fineries and vanities she's flauntin' in now,
and that was in Squire Blandford's time, too, I reckon. Ez to her
purtiness, that's a matter of taste. You think her purty, and I
guess them fellows ez was escortin' and squirin' her round Frisco
thought so too, or SHE thought they did to hev allowed it."

"You are not very merciful to your townsfolk, Mr. Corwin," said
Demorest, with a forced smile; "but what can I do for you?"

It was the turn for Ezekiel's face to brighten, or rather to break
up, like a cold passionless mirror suddenly cracked, into various
amusing but distorted reflections on the person before him.
"Townies ain't to be fooled by other townies, Mr. Demorest; at
least that ain't my idea o' marcy, he-he! But seen you're
pressin', I don't mind tellen you MY business. I'm the only agent
of Seventeen Patent Medicine Proprietors in Connecticut represented
by the firm of Dilworth & Dusenberry, of San Francisco. Mebbe you
heard of 'em afore--A1 druggists and importers. Wa'al, I'm openin'
a field for 'em and spreadin' 'em gin'rally through these air
benighted and onhealthy districts, havin' the contract for the hull
State--especially for Wozun's Universal Injin Panacea ez cures
everything--bein' had from a recipe given by a Sachem to Dr.
Wozun's gran'ther. That bag--leavin' out a dozen paper collars and
socks--is all the rest samples. That's me, Ezekiel Corwin--only
agent for Californy, and that's my mission."

"Very well; but look here, Corwin," said Demorest, with a slight
return of his old off-hand manner,--"I'd advise you to adopt a
little more caution, and a little less criticism in your speech to
the people about here, or I'm afraid you'll need the Universal
Panacea for yourself. Better men than you have been shot in my
presence for half your freedom."

"I guess you've just hit the bull's-eye there," replied Ezekiel,
coolly, "for it's that HALF-freedom and HALF-truth that doesn't
pay. I kalkilate gin'rally to speak my hull mind--and I DO. Wot's
the consequence? Why, when folks find I ain't afeard to speak my
mind on their affairs, they kinder guess I'm tellin' the truth
about my own. Folks don't like the man that truckles to 'em,
whether it's in the sellin' of a box of pills or a principle. When
they re-cognize Ezekiel Corwin ain't goin' to lie about 'em to
curry favor with 'em, they're ready to believe he ain't goin' to
lie about Jones' Bitters or Wozun's Panacea. And, wa'al, I've been
on the road just about a fortnit, and I haven't yet discovered that
the original independent style introduced by Ezekiel Corwin ever
broke anybody's bones or didn't pay."

And he told the truth. That remarkably unfair and unpleasant
spoken man had actually frozen Hanley's Ford into icy astonishment
at his audacity, and he had sold them an invoice of the Panacea
before they had recovered; he had insulted Chipitas into giving an
extensive order in bitters; he had left Hayward's Creek pledged to
Burne's pills--with drawn revolvers still in their hands.

At another time Demorest might have been amused at his guest's
audacity, or have combated it with his old imperiousness, but he
only remained looking at him in a dull sort of way as if yielding
to his influence. It was part of the phenomenon that the two men
seemed to have changed character since they last met, and when
Ezekiel said confidentially: "I reckon you're goin' to show me what
room I ken stow these duds o' mine in," Demorest replied hurriedly,
"Yes, certainly," and taking up his guest's carpet-bag preceded him
through the hall to one of the apartments.

"I'll send Manuel to you presently," he said, putting down the bag
mechanically; "the servants are not back from church, it's some
saint's festival to-day."

"And so you keep a pack of lazy idolaters to leave your house to
take care of itself, whilst they worship graven images," said
Ezekiel, delighted at this opportunity to improve the occasion.

"If my memory isn't bad, Mr. Corwin," said Demorest dryly, "when I
accompanied Mr. Blandford home the night he returned from his
journey, we found YOU at church, and he had to put up his horse
himself."

"But that was the Sabbath--the seventh day of the command,"
retorted Ezekiel.

"And here the Sabbath doesn't consist of only ONE day to serve God
in," said Demorest, sententiously.

Ezekiel glanced under his white lashes at Demorest's thoughtful
face. His fondest fears appeared to be confirmed; Demorest had
evidently become a Papist. But that gentleman stopped any
theological discussion by the abrupt inquiry:

"Did Mrs. Demorest say when she thought of returning?"

"She allowed she mout kem to-morrow--but--" added Ezekiel dubiously.

"But what?"

"Wa'al, wot with her enjyments of the vanities of this life and the
kempany she keeps, I reckon she's in no hurry," said Ezekiel,
cheerfully.

The entrance of Manuel here cut short any response from Demorest,
who after a few directions in Spanish to the peon, left his guest
to himself.

He walked to the veranda with the same dull preoccupation that
Ezekiel had noticed as so different from his old decisive manner,
and remained for a few moments abstractedly gazing into the dark
garden. The strange and mystic shapes which had impressed even the
practical Ezekiel, had become even more weird and ghost-like in the
faint radiance of a rising moon.

What memories evoked by his rude guest seemed to take form and
outline in that dreamy and unreal expanse!

He saw his wife again, standing as she had stood that night in her
mother's house, with the white muffler around her head, and white
face, imploring him to fly; he saw himself again hurrying through
the driving storm to Warensboro, and reaching the train that bore
him swiftly and safely miles away--that same night when her husband
was perishing in the swollen river. He remembered with what
strangely mingled sensations he had read the account of Blandford's
death in the newspapers, and how the loss of his old friend was
forgotten in the associations conjured up by his singular meeting
that very night with the mysterious woman he had loved. He
remembered that he had never dreamed how near and fateful were
these associations; and how he had kept his promise not to seek her
without her permission, until six months after, when she appointed
a meeting, and revealed to him the whole truth. He could see her
now, as he had seen her then, more beautiful and fascinating than
ever in her black dress, and the pensive grace of refined suffering
and restrained passion in her delicate face. He remembered, too,
how the shock of her disclosure--the knowledge that she had been
his old friend's wife--seemed only to accent her purity and
suffering and his own wilful recklessness, and how it had stirred
all the chivalry, generosity, and affection of his easy nature to
take the whole responsibility of this innocent but compromising
intrigue on his own shoulders. He had had no self-accusing sense
of disloyalty to Blandford in his practical nature; he had never
suspected the shy, proper girl of being his wife; he was willing to
believe now, that had he known it, even that night, he would never
have seen her again; he had been very foolish; he had made this
poor woman participate in his folly; but he had never been
dishonest or treacherous in thought or action. If Blandford had
lived, even he would have admitted it. Yet he was guiltily
conscious of a material satisfaction in Blandford's death, without
his wife's religious conviction of the saving graces of
predestination.

They had been married quietly when the two years of her widowhood
had expired; his former relations with her husband and the
straitened circumstances in which Blandford's death had left her
having been deemed sufficient excuse in the eyes of North Liberty
for her more worldly union. They had come to California at her
suggestion "to begin life anew," for she had not hesitated to make
this dislocation of all her antecedent surroundings as a reason as
well as a condition of this marriage. She wished to see the world
of which he had been a passing glimpse; to expand under his
protection beyond the limits of her fettered youth. He had bought
this old Spanish estate, with its near vineyard and its outlying
leagues covered with wild cattle, partly from that strange
contradictory predilection for peaceful husbandry common to men who
have led a roving life, and partly as a check to her growing and
feverish desire for change and excitement. He had at first enjoyed
with an almost parental affection her childish unsophisticated
delight in that world he had already wearied of, and which he had
been prepared to gladly resign for her. But as the months and even
years had passed without any apparent diminution in her zest for
these pleasures, he tried uneasily to resume his old interest in
them, and spent ten months with her in the chaotic freedom of San
Francisco hotel life. But to his discomfiture he found that they
no longer diverted him; to his horror he discovered that those easy
gallantries in which he had spent his youth, and in which he had
seen no harm, were intolerable when exhibited to his wife, and he
trembled between inquietude and indignation at the copies of his
former self, whom he met in hotel parlors, at theatres, and in
public conveyances. The next time she visited some friends in San
Francisco he did not accompany her. Though he fondly cherished his
experience of her power to resist even stronger temptation, he was
too practical to subject himself to the annoyance of witnessing it.
In her absence he trusted her completely; his scant imagination
conjured up no disturbing picture of possibilities beyond what he
actually knew. In his recent questions of Ezekiel he did not
expect to learn anything more. Even his guest's uncomfortable
comments added no sting that he had not already felt.

With these thoughts called up by the unlooked-for advent of Ezekiel
under his roof, he continued to gaze moodily into the garden. Near
the house were scattered several uncouth varieties of cacti which
seemed to have lost all semblance of vegetable growth, and had
taken rude likeness to beasts and human figures. One high-
shouldered specimen, partly hidden in the shadow, had the
appearance of a man with a cloak or serape thrown over his left
shoulder. As Demorest's wandering eyes at last became fixed upon
it, he fancied he could trace the faint outlines of a pale face,
the lower part of which was hidden by the folds of the serape.
There certainly was the forehead, the curve of the dark eyebrows,
the shadow of a nose, and even as he looked more steadily, a
glistening of the eyes upturned to the moonlight. A sudden chill
seized him. It was a horrible fancy, but it looked as might have
looked the dead face of Edward Blandford! He started and ran
quickly down the steps of the veranda. A slight wind at the same
moment moved the long leaves and tendrils of a vine nearest him and
sent a faint wave through the garden. He reached the cactus; its
fantastic bulk stood plainly before him, but nothing more.

"Whar are ye runnin' to?" said the inquiring voice of Ezekiel from
the veranda.

"I thought I saw some one in the garden," returned Demorest,
quietly, satisfied of the illusion of his senses, "but it was a
mistake."

"It mout and it moutn't," said Ezekiel, dryly. "Thar's nothin' to
keep any one out. It's only a wonder that you ain't overrun with
thieves and sich like."

"There are usually servants about the place," said Demorest,
carelessly.

"Ef they're the same breed ez that Manuel, I reckon I'd almost as
leave take my chances in the road. Ef it's all the same to you I
kalkilate to put a paytent fastener to my door and winder to-night.
I allus travel with them." Seeing that Demorest only shrugged his
shoulders without replying, he continued, "Et ain't far from here
that some folks allow is the headquarters of that cattle-stealing
gang. The driver of the coach went ez far ez to say that some of
these high and mighty Dons hereabouts knows more of it than they
keer to tell."

"That's simply a yarn for greenhorns," said Demorest, contemptuously.
"I know all the ranch proprietors for twenty leagues around, and
they've lost as many cattle and horses as I have."

"I wanter know," said Ezekiel, with grim interest. "Then you've
already had consid'ble losses, eh? I kalkilate them cattle are
vally'ble--about wot figger do you reckon yer out and injured?"

"Three or four thousand dollars, I suppose, altogether," replied
Demorest, shortly.

"Then you don't take any stock in them yer yarns about the gang
being run and protected by some first-class men in Frisco?" said
Ezekiel, regretfully.

"Not much," responded Demorest, dryly; "but if people choose to
believe this bluff gotten up by the petty thieves themselves to
increase their importance and secure their immunity--they can. But
here's Manuel to tell us supper is ready."

He led the way to the corridor and courtyard which Ezekiel had not
penetrated on account of its obscurity and solitude, but which now
seemed to be peopled with peons and household servants of both
sexes. At the end of a long low-ceilinged room a table was spread
with omelettes, chupa, cakes, chocolate, grapes, and melons, around
which half a dozen attendants stood gravely in waiting. The size
of the room, which to Ezekiel's eyes looked as large as the church
at North Liberty, the profusion of the viands, the six attendants
for the host and solitary guest, deeply impressed him. Morally
rebelling against this feudal display and extravagance, he, who had
disdained to even assist the Blandfords' servant-in-waiting at
table and had always made his solitary meal on the kitchen dresser,
was not above feeling a material satisfaction in sitting on equal
terms with his master's friend and being served by these menials he
despised. He did full justice to the victuals of which Demorest
partook in sparing abstraction, and particularly to the fruit,
which Demorest did not touch at all. Observant of his servants'
eyes fixed in wonder on the strange guest who had just disposed of
a second melon at supper, Demorest could not help remarking that he
would lose credit as a medico with the natives unless he restrained
a public exhibition of his tastes.

"Ez ha'aw?" queried Ezekiel.

"They have a proverb here that fruit is gold in the morning, silver
at noon, and lead at night."

"That'll do for lazy stomicks," said the unabashed Ezekiel. "When
they're once fortified by Jones' bitters and hard work, they'll be
able to tackle the Lord's nat'ral gifts of the airth at any time."

Declining the cigarettes offered him by Demorest for a quid of
tobacco, which he gravely took from a tin box in his pocket, and to
the astonished eyes of the servants apparently obliterated any
further remembrance of the meal, he accompanied his host to the
veranda again, where, tilting his chair back and putting his feet
on the railing, he gave himself up to unwonted and silent rumination.

The silence was broken at last by Demorest, who, half-reclining on
a settee, had once or twice glanced towards the misshapen cactus.

"Was there any trace discovered of Blandford, other than we knew
before we left the States?"

"Wa'al, no," said Ezekiel, thoughtfully. "The last idea was that
he'd got control of the hoss after passin' the bridge, and had
managed to turn him back, for there was marks of buggy wheels on
the snow on the far side, and that fearin' to trust the hoss or the
bridge he tried to lead him over when the bridge gave way, and he
was caught in the wreck and carried off down stream. That would
account for his body not bein' found; they do tell that chunks of
that bridge were picked up on the Sound beach near the mouth o' the
river, nigh unto sixty miles away. That's about the last idea they
had of it at North Liberty." He paused and then cleverly directing
a stream of tobacco juice at an accurate curve over the railing,
wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and added, slowly:
"Thar's another idea--but I reckon it's only mine. Leastways I
ain't heard it argued by anybody."

"What is that?" asked Demorest.

"Wa'al, it ain't exakly complimentary to E. Blandford, Esq., and it
mout be orkard for YOU."

"I don't think you're in the habit of letting such trifles
interfere with your opinion," said Demorest, with a slightly forced
laugh; "but what is your idea?"

"That thar wasn't any accident."

"No accident?" replied Demorest, raising himself on his elbow.

"Nary accident," continued Ezekiel, deliberately, "and, if it comes
to that, not much of a dead body either."

"What the devil do you mean?" said Demorest, sitting up.

"I mean," said Ezekiel, with momentous deliberation, "that E.
Blandford, of the Winnipeg Mills, was in March, '50, ez nigh bein'
bust up ez any man kin be without actually failin'; that he'd been
down to Boston that day to get some extensions; that old Deacon
Salisbury knew it, and had been pesterin' Mrs. Blandford to induce
him to sell out and leave the place; and that the night he left he
took about two hundred and fifty dollars in bank bills that they
allus kept in the house, and Mrs. Blandford was in the habit o'
hidin' in the breast-pocket of one of his old overcoats hangin' up
in the closet. I mean that that air money and that air overcoat
went off with him, ez Mrs. Blandford knows, for I heard her tell
her ma about it. And when his affairs were wound up and his debts
paid, I reckon that the two hundred and fifty was all there was
left--and he scooted with it. It's orkard for you--ez I said
afore--but I don't see wot on earth you need get riled for. Ef he
ran off on account of only two hundred and fifty dollars he ain't
goin' to run back again for the mere matter o' your marrying Joan.
Ef he had--he'd a done it afore this. It's orkard ez I said--but
the only orkardness is your feelin's. I reckon Joan's got used to
hers."

Demorest had risen angrily to his feet. But the next moment the
utter impossibility of reaching this man's hidebound moral
perception by even physical force hopelessly overcame him. It
would only impress him with the effect of his own disturbing power,
that to Ezekiel was equal to a proof of the truth of his opinions.
It might even encourage him to repeat this absurd story elsewhere
with his own construction upon his reception of it. After all it
was only Ezekiel's opinion--an opinion too preposterous for even a
moment's serious consideration. Blandford alive, and a petty
defaulter! Blandford above the earth and complacently abandoning
his wife and home to another! Blandford--perhaps a sneaking,
cowardly Nemesis--hiding in the shadow for future--impossible! It
really was enough to make him laugh.

He did laugh, albeit with an uneasy sense that only a few years
ago he would have struck down the man who had thus traduced his
friend's memory.

"You've been overtaxing your brain in patent-medicine circulars,
Corwin," he said in a roughly rallying manner, "and you've got
rather too much highfalutin and bitters mixed with your opinions.
After that yarn of yours you must be dry. What'll you take? I
haven't got any New England rum, but I can give you some ten-year-
old aguardiente made on the place."

As he spoke he lifted a decanter and glass from a small table which
Manuel had placed in the veranda.

"I guess not," said Ezekiel dryly. "It's now goin' on five years
since I've been a consistent temperance man."

"In everything but melons, and criticism of your neighbor, eh?"
said Demorest, pouring out a glass of the liquor.

"I hev my convictions," said Ezekiel with affected meekness.

"And I have mine," said Demorest, tossing off the fiery liquor at a
draft, "and it's that this is devilish good stuff. Sorry you can't
take some. I'm afraid I'll have to get you to excuse me for a
while. I have to take a ride over the ranch before turning in, to
see if everything's right. The house is 'at your disposition,' as
we say here. I'll see you later."

He walked away with a slight exaggeration of unconcern. Ezekiel
watched him narrowly with colorless eyes beneath his white lashes.
When he had gone he examined the thoroughly emptied glass of
aguardiente, and, taking the decanter, sniffed critically at its
sharp and potent contents. A smile of gratified discernment
followed. It was clear to him that Demorest was a heavy drinker.

Contrary to his prognostication, however, Mrs. Demorest DID arrive
the next day. But although he was to depart from Buenaventura by
the same coach that had set her down at the gate of the casa, he
had already left the house armed with some letters of introduction
which Demorest had generously given him, to certain small traders

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