Found At Blazing Star
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FOUND AT BLAZING STAR
by Bret Harte
The rain had only ceased with the gray streaks of morning at
Blazing Star, and the settlement awoke to a moral sense of
cleanliness, and the finding of forgotten knives, tin cups, and
smaller camp utensils, where the heavy showers had washed away the
debris and dust heaps before the cabin doors. Indeed, it was
recorded in Blazing Star that a fortunate early riser had once
picked up on the highway a solid chunk of gold quartz which the
rain had freed from its incumbering soil, and washed into immediate
and glittering popularity. Possibly this may have been the reason
why early risers in that locality, during the rainy season, adopted
a thoughtful habit of body, and seldom lifted their eyes to the
rifted or india-ink washed skies above them.
"Cass" Beard had risen early that morning, but not with a view to
discovery. A leak in his cabin roof,--quite consistent with his
careless, improvident habits,--had roused him at 4 A. M., with a
flooded "bunk" and wet blankets. The chips from his wood pile
refused to kindle a fire to dry his bed-clothes, and he had
recourse to a more provident neighbor's to supply the deficiency.
This was nearly opposite. Mr. Cassius crossed the highway, and
stopped suddenly. Something glittered in the nearest red pool
before him. Gold, surely! But, wonderful to relate, not an
irregular, shapeless fragment of crude ore, fresh from Nature's
crucible, but a bit of jeweler's handicraft in the form of a plain
gold ring. Looking at it more attentively, he saw that it bore the
inscription, "May to Cass."
Like most of his fellow gold-seekers, Cass was superstitious.
"Cass!" His own name! He tried the ring. It fitted his little
finger closely. It was evidently a woman's ring. He looked up and
down the highway. No one was yet stirring. Little pools of water
in the red road were beginning to glitter and grow rosy from the
far-flushing east, but there was no trace of the owner of the
shining waif. He knew that there was no woman in camp, and among
his few comrades in the settlement he remembered to have seen none
wearing an ornament like that. Again, the coincidence of the
inscription to his rather peculiar nickname would have been a
perennial source of playful comment in a camp that made no
allowance for sentimental memories. He slipped the glittering
little hoop into his pocket, and thoughtfully returned to his
Two hours later, when the long, straggling procession, which every
morning wended its way to Blazing Star Gulch,--the seat of mining
operations in the settlement,--began to move, Cass saw fit to
interrogate his fellows. "Ye didn't none on ye happen to drop
anything round yer last night?" he asked, cautiously.
"I dropped a pocketbook containing government bonds and some other
securities, with between fifty and sixty thousand dollars,"
responded Peter Drummond, carelessly; "but no matter, if any man
will return a few autograph letters from foreign potentates that
happened to be in it,--of no value to anybody but the owner,--he
can keep the money. Thar's nothin' mean about me," he concluded,
This statement, bearing every evidence of the grossest mendacity,
was lightly passed over, and the men walked on with the deepest
"But hev you?" Cass presently asked of another.
"I lost my pile to Jack Hamlin at draw-poker, over at Wingdam last
night," returned the other, pensively, "but I don't calkilate to
find it lying round loose."
Forced at last by this kind of irony into more detailed explanation,
Cass confided to them his discovery, and produced his treasure. The
result was a dozen vague surmises,--only one of which seemed to be
popular, and to suit the dyspeptic despondency of the party,--a
despondency born of hastily masticated fried pork and flapjacks.
The ring was believed to have been dropped by some passing "road
agent" laden with guilty spoil.
"Ef I was you," said Drummond, gloomily, "I wouldn't flourish that
yer ring around much afore folks. I've seen better men nor you
strung up a tree by Vigilantes for having even less than that in
"And I wouldn't say much about bein' up so d----d early this
morning," added an even more pessimistic comrade; "it might look
bad before a jury."
With this the men sadly dispersed, leaving the innocent Cass with
the ring in his hand, and a general impression on his mind that he
was already an object of suspicion to his comrades,--an impression,
it is hardly necessary to say, they fully intended should be left
to rankle in his guileless bosom.
Notwithstanding Cass's first hopeful superstition the ring did not
seem to bring him nor the camp any luck. Daily the "clean up"
brought the same scant rewards to their labors, and deepened the
sardonic gravity of Blazing Star. But, if Cass found no material
result from his treasure, it stimulated his lazy imagination, and,
albeit a dangerous and seductive stimulant, at least lifted him out
of the monotonous grooves of his half-careless, half-slovenly, but
always self-contented camp life. Heeding the wise caution of his
comrades, he took the habit of wearing the ring only at night.
Wrapped in his blanket, he stealthily slipped the golden circlet
over his little finger, and, as he averred, "slept all the better
for it." Whether it ever evoked any warmer dream or vision during
those calm, cold, virgin-like spring nights, when even the moon and
the greater planets retreated into the icy blue, steel-like
firmament, I cannot say. Enough that this superstition began to be
colored a little by fancy, and his fatalism somewhat mitigated by
hope. Dreams of this kind did not tend to promote his efficiency
in the communistic labors of the camp, and brought him a self-
isolation that, however gratifying at first, soon debarred him the
benefits of that hard practical wisdom which underlaid the
grumbling of his fellow workers.
"I'm dog-goned," said one commentator, "ef I don't believe that
Cass is looney over that yer ring he found. Wears it on a string
under his shirt."
Meantime, the seasons did not wait the discovery of the secret.
The red pools in Blazing Star highway were soon dried up in the
fervent June sun and riotous night wind of those altitudes. The
ephemeral grasses that had quickly supplanted these pools and the
chocolate-colored mud, were as quickly parched and withered. The
footprints of spring became vague and indefinite, and were finally
lost in the impalpable dust of the summer highway.
In one of his long, aimless excursions, Cass had penetrated a thick
undergrowth of buckeye and hazel, and found himself quite
unexpectedly upon the high road to Red Chief's Crossing. Cass knew
by the lurid cloud of dust that hid the distance, that the up coach
had passed. He had already reached that stage of superstition when
the most trivial occurrence seemed to point in some way to an
elucidation of the mystery of his treasure. His eyes had
mechanically fallen to the ground again, as if he half expected to
find in some other waif a hint or corroboration of his imaginings.
Thus abstracted, the figure of a young girl on horseback, in the
road directly before the bushes he emerged from, appeared to have
sprung directly from the ground.
"Oh, come here, please do; quick!"
Cass stared, and then moved hesitatingly toward her.
"I heard some one coming through the bushes, and I waited," she
went on. "Come quick. It's something too awful for anything."
In spite of this appalling introduction, Cass could not but notice
that the voice, although hurried and excited, was by no means
agitated or frightened; that the eyes which looked into his
sparkled with a certain kind of pleased curiosity.
"It was just here," she went on vivaciously, "just here that I went
into the bush and cut a switch for my mare,--and,"--leading him
along at a brisk trot by her side,--"just here, look, see! this is
what I found."
It was scarcely thirty feet from the road. The only object that
met Cass's eye was a man's stiff, tall hat, lying emptily and
vacantly in the grass. It was new, shiny, and of modish shape.
But it was so incongruous, so perkily smart, and yet so feeble
and helpless lying there, so ghastly ludicrous in its very
appropriateness and incapacity to adjust itself to the surrounding
landscape, that it affected him with something more than a sense of
its grotesqueness, and he could only stare at it blankly.
"But you're not looking the right way," the girl went on sharply;
Cass followed the direction of her whip. At last, what might have
seemed a coat thrown carelessly on the ground met his eye, but
presently he became aware of a white, rigid, aimlessly-clinched
hand protruding from the flaccid sleeve; mingled with it in some
absurd way and half hidden by the grass, lay what might have been a
pair of cast-off trousers but for two rigid boots that pointed in
opposite angles to the sky. It was a dead man. So palpably dead
that life seemed to have taken flight from his very clothes. So
impotent, feeble, and degraded by them that the naked subject of a
dissecting table would have been less insulting to humanity. The
head had fallen back, and was partly hidden in a gopher burrow, but
the white, upturned face and closed eyes had less of helpless death
in them than those wretched enwrappings. Indeed, one limp hand
that lay across the swollen abdomen lent itself to the grotesquely
hideous suggestion of a gentleman sleeping off the excesses of a
"Ain't he horrid?" continued the girl; "but what killed him?"
Struggling between a certain fascination at the girl's cold-blooded
curiosity and horror of the murdered man, Cass hesitatingly lifted
the helpless head. A bluish hole above the right temple, and a few
brown paint-like spots on the forehead, shirt cellar, and matted
hair proved the only record.
"Turn him over again," said the girl, impatiently, as Cass was
about to relinquish his burden. "May be you'll find another
But Cass was dimly remembering certain formalities that in older
civilizations attend the discovery of dead bodies, and postponed a
"Perhaps you'd better ride on, Miss, afore you get summoned as a
witness. I'll give warning at Red Chief's Crossing, and send the
coroner down here."
"Let me go with you," she said, earnestly, "it would be such fun.
I don't mind being a witness. Or," she added, without heeding
Cass's look of astonishment, "I'll wait here till you come back."
"But you see, Miss, it wouldn't seem right--" began Cass.
"But I found him first," interrupted the girl, with a pout.
Staggered by this preemptive right, sacred to all miners, Cass
"Who is the coroner?" she asked.
"The tall, lame man, who was half eaten by a grizzly?"
"Well, look now! I'll ride on and bring him back in half an hour.
"Oh, don't mind ME. I never saw anything of this kind before, and
I want to see it ALL."
"Do you know Hornsby?" asked Cass, unconsciously a trifle irritated.
"No, but I'll bring him." She wheeled her horse into the road.
In the presence of this living energy Cass quite forgot the
helpless dead. "Have you been long in these parts, Miss?" he
"About two weeks," she answered, shortly. "Good-by, just now.
Look around for the pistol or anything else you can find, although
I have been over the whole ground twice already."
A little puff of dust as the horse sprang into the road, a muffled
shuffle, struggle, then the regular beat of hoofs, and she was
After five minutes had passed, Cass regretted that he had not
accompanied her; waiting in such a spot was an irksome task. Not
that there was anything in the scene itself to awaken gloomy
imaginings; the bright, truthful Californian sunshine scoffed at
any illusion of creeping shadows or waving branches. Once, in the
rising wind, the empty hat rolled over--but only in a ludicrous,
drunken way. A search for any further sign or token had proved
futile, and Cass grew impatient. He began to hate himself for
having stayed; he would have fled but for shame. Nor was his good
humor restored when at the close of a weary half hour two galloping
figures emerged from the dusty horizon--Hornsby and the young girl.
His vague annoyance increased as he fancied that both seemed to
ignore him, the coroner barely acknowledging his presence with a
nod. Assisted by the young girl, whose energy and enthusiasm
evidently delighted him, Hornsby raised the body for a more careful
examination. The dead man's pockets were carefully searched. A
few coins, a silver pencil, knife, and tobacco-box were all they
found. It gave no clew to his identity. Suddenly the young girl,
who had, with unabashed curiosity, knelt beside the exploring
official hands of the Red Chief, uttered a cry of gratification.
"Here's something! It dropped from the bosom of his shirt on the
She was holding in the air, between her thumb and forefinger, a
folded bit of well-worn newspaper. Her eyes sparkled.
"Shall I open it?" she asked.
"It's a little ring" she said; "looks like an engagement ring.
Something is written on it. Look! 'May to Cass.'"
Cass darted forward. "It's mine," he stammered, "mine! I dropped
it. It's nothing--nothing," he went on, after a pause, embarrassed
and blushing, as the girl and her companion both stared at him--"a
mere trifle. I'll take it."
But the coroner opposed his outstretched hand. "Not much," he
"But it's MINE," continued Cass, indignation taking the place of
shame at his discovered secret. "I found it six months ago in the
road. I--picked it up."
"With your name already written on it! How handy!" said the
"It's an old story" said Cass, blushing again under the half-
mischievous, half-searching eyes of the girl. "All Blazing Star
knows I found it."
"Then ye'll have no difficulty in provin' it," said Hornsby,
coolly. "Just now, however, WE'VE found it, and we propose to keep
it for the inquest."
Cass shrugged his shoulders. Further altercation would have only
heightened his ludicrous situation in the girl's eyes. He turned
away, leaving his treasure in the coroner's hands.
The inquest, a day or two later, was prompt and final. No clew to
the dead man's identity; no evidence sufficiently strong to prove
murder or suicide; no trace of any kind, inculpating any party,
known or unknown, were found. But much publicity and interest were
given to the proceedings by the presence of the principal witness,
a handsome girl. "To the pluck, persistency, and intellect of Miss
Porter," said the "Red Chief Recorder," "Tuolumne County owes the
recovery of the body."
No one who was present at the inquest failed to be charmed with the
appearance and conduct of this beautiful young lady.
"Miss Porter has but lately arrived in this district, in which, it
is hoped, she will become an honored resident, and continue to set
an example to all lackadaisical and sentimental members of the so-
called 'sterner sex.'" After this universally recognized allusion
to Cass Beard, the "Recorder" returned to its record: "Some
interest was excited by what appeared to be a clew to the mystery
in the discovery of a small gold engagement ring on the body.
Evidence was afterward offered to show it was the property of a Mr.
Cass Beard of Blazing Star, who appeared upon the scene AFTER the
discovery of the corpse by Miss Porter. He alleged he had dropped
it in lifting the unfortunate remains of the deceased. Much
amusement was created in court by the sentimental confusion of the
claimant, and a certain partisan spirit shown by his fellow-miners
of Blazing Star. It appearing, however, by the admission of this
sighing Strephon of the Foot hills, that he had himself FOUND this
pledge of affection lying in the highway six months previous, the
coroner wisely placed it in the safe-keeping of the county court
until the appearance of the rightful owner."
Thus on the 13th of September, 186-, the treasure found at Blazing
Star passed out of the hands of its finder.
. . . . . .
Autumn brought an abrupt explanation of the mystery. Kanaka Joe
had been arrested for horse stealing, but had with noble candor
confessed to the finer offense of manslaughter. That swift and
sure justice which overtook the horse stealer in these altitudes
was stayed a moment and hesitated, for the victim was clearly the
mysterious unknown. Curiosity got the better of an extempore judge
"It was a fair fight," said the accused, not without some human
vanity, feeling that the camp hung upon his words, "and was settled
by the man az was peartest and liveliest with his weapon. We had a
sort of unpleasantness over at Lagrange the night afore, along of
our both hevin' a monotony of four aces. We had a clinch and a
stamp around, and when we was separated it was only a question of
shootin' on sight. He left Lagrange at sun up the next morning,
and I struck across a bit o' buckeye and underbrush and came upon
him, accidental like, on the Red Chief Road. I drawed when I
sighted him, and called out. He slipped from his mare and covered
himself with her flanks, reaching for his holster, but she rared
and backed down on him across the road and into the grass, where I
got in another shot and fetched him."
"And you stole his mare?" suggested the Judge.
"I got away," said the gambler, simply.
Further questioning only elicited the fact that Joe did not know
the name or condition of his victim. He was a stranger in Lagrange.
It was a breezy afternoon, with some turbulency in the camp, and
much windy discussion over this unwonted delay of justice. The
suggestion that Joe should be first hanged for horse stealing and
then tried for murder was angrily discussed, but milder counsels
were offered--that the fact of the killing should be admitted only
as proof of the theft. A large party from Red Chief had come over
to assist in judgment, among them the coroner.
Cass Beard had avoided these proceedings, which only recalled an
unpleasant experience, and was wandering with pick, pan, and wallet
far from the camp. These accoutrements, as I have before intimated,
justified any form of aimless idleness under the equally aimless
title of "prospecting." He had at the end of three hours'
relaxation reached the highway to Red Chief, half hidden by blinding
clouds of dust torn from the crumbling red road at every gust which
swept down the mountain side. The spot had a familiar aspect to
Cass, although some freshly-dug holes near the wayside, with
scattered earth beside them, showed the presence of a recent
prospector. He was struggling with his memory, when the dust was
suddenly dispersed and he found himself again at the scene of the
murder. He started: he had not put foot on the road since the
inquest. There lacked only the helpless dead man and the
contrasting figure of the alert young woman to restore the picture.
The body was gone, it was true, but as he turned he beheld Miss
Porter, at a few paces distant, sitting on her horse as energetic
and observant as on the first morning they had met. A superstitious
thrill passed over him and awoke his old antagonism.
She nodded to him slightly. "I came here to refresh my memory,"
she said, "as Mr. Hornsby thought I might be asked to give my
evidence again at Blazing Star."
Cass carelessly struck an aimless blow with his pick against the
sod and did not reply.
"And you?" she queried.
"I stumbled upon the place just now while prospecting, or I
shouldn't be here."
"Then it was YOU made these holes?"
"No," said Cass, with ill-concealed disgust. "Nobody but a
stranger would go foolin' round such a spot."
He stopped, as the rude significance of his speech struck him, and
added surlily, "I mean--no one would dig here."
The girl laughed and showed a set of very white teeth in her square
jaw. Cass averted his face.
"Do you mean to say that every miner doesn't know that it's lucky
to dig wherever human blood has been spilt?"
Cass felt a return of his superstition, but he did not look up. "I
never heard it before," he said, severely.
"And you call yourself a California miner?"
It was impossible for Miss Porter to misunderstand his curt speech
and unsocial manner. She stared at him and colored slightly.
Lifting her reins lightly, she said: "You certainly do not seem
like most of the miners I have met."
"Nor you like any girl from the East I ever met," he responded.
"What do you mean?" she asked, checking her horse.
"What I say," he answered, doggedly. Reasonable as this reply was,
it immediately struck him that it was scarcely dignified or manly.
But before he could explain himself Miss Porter was gone.
He met her again that very evening. The trial had been summarily
suspended by the appearance of the Sheriff of Calaveras and his
posse, who took Joe from that self-constituted tribunal of Blazing
Star and set his face southward and toward authoritative although
more cautious justice. But not before the evidence of the previous
inquest had been read, and the incident of the ring again delivered
to the public.
It is said the prisoner burst into an incredulous laugh and asked
to see this mysterious waif. It was handed to him. Standing in
the very shadow of the gallows tree--which might have been one of
the pines that sheltered the billiard room in which the Vigilance
Committee held their conclave--the prisoner gave way to a burst of
merriment, so genuine and honest that the judge and jury joined in
automatic sympathy. When silence was restored an explanation was
asked by the Judge. But there was no response from the prisoner
except a subdued chuckle.
"Did this ring belong to you?" asked the Judge, severely, the jury
and spectators craning their ears forward with an expectant smile
already on their faces. But the prisoner's eyes only sparkled
maliciously as he looked around the court.
"Tell us, Joe," said a sympathetic and laughter-loving juror, under
his breath. "Let it out and we'll make it easy for you."
"Prisoner," said the Judge, with a return of official dignity,
"remember that your life is in peril. Do you refuse?"
Joe lazily laid his arm on the back of his chair with (to quote the
words of an animated observer) "the air of having a Christian hope
and a sequence flush in his hand," and said: "Well, as I reckon I'm
not up yer for stealin' a ring that another man lets on to have
found, and as fur as I kin see, hez nothin' to do with the case, I
do!" And as it was here that the Sheriff of Calaveras made a
precipitate entry into the room, the mystery remained unsolved.
The effect of this freshly-important ridicule on the sensitive mind
of Cass might have been foretold by Blazing Star had it ever taken
that sensitiveness into consideration. He had lost the good humor
and easy pliability which had tempted him to frankness, and he had
gradually become bitter and hard. He had at first affected
amusement over his own vanished day dream--hiding his virgin
disappointment in his own breast; but when he began to turn upon
his feelings he turned upon his comrades also. Cass was for a
while unpopular. There is no ingratitude so revolting to the human
mind as that of the butt who refuses to be one any longer. The man
who rejects that immunity which laughter generally casts upon him
and demands to be seriously considered deserves no mercy.
It was under these hard conditions that Cass Beard, convicted of
overt sentimentalism, aggravated by inconsistency, stepped into the
Red Chief coach that evening. It was his habit usually to ride
with the driver, but the presence of Hornsby and Miss Porter on the
box seat changed his intention. Yet he had the satisfaction of
seeing that neither had noticed him, and as there was no other
passenger inside, he stretched himself on the cushion of the back
seat and gave way to moody reflections. He quite determined to
leave Blazing Star, to settle himself seriously to the task of
money getting, and to return to his comrades, some day, a
sarcastic, cynical, successful man, and so overwhelm them with
confusion. For poor Cass had not yet reached that superiority of
knowing that success would depend upon his ability to forego his
past. Indeed, part of his boyhood had been cast among these men,
and he was not old enough to have learned that success was not to
be gauged by their standard. The moon lit up the dark interior of
the coach with a faint poetic light. The lazy swinging of the
vehicle that was bearing him away--albeit only for a night and a
day--the solitude, the glimpses from the window of great distances
full of vague possibilities, made the abused ring potent as that of
Gyges. He dreamed with his eyes open. From an Alnaschar vision he
suddenly awoke. The coach had stopped. The voices of men, one in
entreaty, one in expostulation, came from the box. Cass mechanically
put his hand to his pistol pocket.
"Thank you, but I INSIST upon getting down."
It was Miss Porter's voice. This was followed by a rapid, half-
restrained interchange of words between Hornsby and the driver.
Then the latter said, gruffly,--
"If the lady wants to ride inside, let her."
Miss Porter fluttered to the ground. She was followed by Hornsby.
"Just a minit, Miss," he expostulated, half shamedly, half
brusquely, "ye don't onderstand me. I only--"
But Miss Porter had jumped into the coach.
Hornsby placed his hand on the handle of the door. Miss Porter
grasped it firmly from the inside. There was a slight struggle.
All of which was part of a dream to the boyish Cass. But he awoke
from it--a man! "Do you," he asked, in a voice he scarcely
recognized himself,--"Do you want this man inside?"
Cass caught at Hornsby's wrist like a young tiger. But alas! what
availed instinctive chivalry against main strength? He only
succeeded in forcing the door open in spite of Miss Porter's
superior strategy, and--I fear I must add, muscle also--and threw
himself passionately at Hornsby's throat, where he hung on and
calmly awaited dissolution. But he had, in the onset, driven
Hornsby out into the road and the moonlight.
"Here! Somebody take my lines." The voice was "Mountain
Charley's," the driver. The figure that jumped from the box and
separated the struggling men belonged to this singularly direct
"You're riding inside?" said Charley, interrogatively, to Cass.
Before he could reply Miss Porter's voice came from the window.
Charley promptly bundled Cass into the coach.
"And YOU?" to Hornsby, "onless you're kalkilatin' to take a little
'pasear' you're booked OUTSIDE. Get up."
It is probable that Charley assisted Mr. Hornsby as promptly to his
seat, for the next moment the coach was rolling on.
Meanwhile Cass, by reason of his forced entry, had been deposited
in Miss Porter's lap, whence, freeing himself, he had attempted to
climb over the middle seat, but in the starting of the coach was
again thrown heavily against her hat and shoulder; all of which was
inconsistent with the attitude of dignified reserve he had intended
to display. Miss Porter, meanwhile, recovered her good humor.
"What a brute he was, ugh!" she said, retying the ribbons of her
bonnet under her square chin, and smoothing out her linen duster.
Cass tried to look as if he had forgotten the whole affair. "Who?
Oh, yes I see!" he responded, absently.
"I suppose I ought to thank you," she went on with a smile, "but
you know, really, I could have kept him out if you hadn't pulled
his wrist from outside. I'll show you. Look! Put your hand on
the handle there! Now, I'll hold the lock inside firmly. You see,
you can't turn the catch!"
She indeed held the lock fast. It was a firm hand, yet soft--their
fingers had touched over the handle--and looked white in the
moonlight. He made no reply, but sank back again in his seat with
a singular sensation in the fingers that had touched hers. He was
in the shadow, and, without being seen, could abandon his reserve
and glance at her face. It struck him that he had never really
seen her before. She was not so tall as she had appeared to be.
Her eyes were not large, but her pupils were black, moist, velvety,
and so convex as to seem embossed on the white. She had an
indistinctive nose, a rather colorless face--whiter at the angles
of the mouth and nose through the relief of tiny freckles like
grains of pepper. Her mouth was straight, dark, red, but moist as
her eyes. She had drawn herself into the corner of the back seat,
her wrist put through and hanging over the swinging strap, the easy
lines of her plump figure swaying from side to side with the motion
of the coach. Finally, forgetful of any presence in the dark
corner opposite, she threw her head a little farther back, slipped
a trifle lower, and placing two well-booted feet upon the middle
seat, completed a charming and wholesome picture.
Five minutes elapsed. She was looking straight at the moon. Cass
Beard felt his dignified reserve becoming very much like
awkwardness. He ought to be coldly polite.
"I hope you're not flustered, Miss, by the--by the--" he began.
"I?" She straightened herself up in the seat, cast a curious
glance into the dark corner, and then, letting herself down again,
said: "Oh, dear, no!"
Another five minutes elapsed. She had evidently forgotten him.
She might, at least, have been civil. He took refuge again in his
reserve. But it was now mixed with a certain pique.
Yet how much softer her face looked in the moonlight! Even her
square jaw had lost that hard, matter-of-fact, practical indication
which was so distasteful to him, and always had suggested a harsh
criticism of his weakness. How moist her eyes were--actually
shining in the light! How that light seemed to concentrate in the
corner of the lashes, and then slipped--a flash--away! Was she?
Yes, she was crying.
Cass melted. He moved. Miss Porter put her head out of the window
and drew it back in a moment, dry-eyed.
"One meets all sorts of folks traveling," said Cass, with what he
wished to make appear a cheerful philosophy.
"I dare say. I don't know. I never before met any one who was
rude to me. I have traveled all over the country alone, and with
all kinds of people ever since I was so high. I have always gone
my own way, without hindrance or trouble. I always do. I don't
see why I shouldn't. Perhaps other people mayn't like it. I do.
I like excitement. I like to see all that there is to see.
Because I'm a girl I don't see why I cannot go out without a
keeper, and why I cannot do what any man can do that isn't wrong,
do you? Perhaps you do--perhaps you don't. Perhaps you like a
girl to be always in the house dawdling or thumping a piano or
reading novels. Perhaps you think I'm bold because I don't like
it, and won't lie and say I do."
She spoke sharply and aggressively, and so evidently in answer to
Cass's unspoken indictment against her, that he was not surprised
when she became more direct.
"You know you were shocked when I went to fetch that Hornsby, the
coroner, after we found the dead body."
"Hornsby wasn't shocked," said Cass, a little viciously.
"What do you mean?" she said, abruptly.
"You were good friends enough until--"
"Until he insulted me just now, is that it?"
"Until he thought," stammered Cass, "that because you were--you
know--not so--so--so careful as other girls, he could be a little
"And so, because I preferred to ride a mile with him to see
something real that had happened, and tried to be useful instead of
looking in shop windows in Main Street or promenading before the
"And being ornamental," interrupted Cass. But this feeble and un-
Cass-like attempt at playful gallantry met with a sudden check.
Miss Porter drew herself together, and looked out of the window.
"Do you wish me to walk the rest of the way home?"
"No," said Cass, hurriedly, with a crimson face and a sense of
"Then stop that kind of talk, right there!"
There was an awkward silence. "I wish I was a man," she said, half
bitterly, half earnestly. Cass Beard was not old and cynical
enough to observe that this devout aspiration is usually uttered by
those who have least reason to deplore their own femininity; and,
but for the rebuff he had just received, would have made the usual
emphatic dissent of our sex, when the wish is uttered by warm red
lips and tender voices--a dissent, it may be remarked, generally
withheld, however, when the masculine spinster dwells on the
perfection of woman. I dare say Miss Porter was sincere, for a
moment later she continued, poutingly:
"And yet I used to go to fires in Sacramento when I was only ten
years old. I saw the theatre burnt down. Nobody found fault with
Something made Cass ask if her father and mother objected to her
boyish tastes. The reply was characteristic if not satisfactory,--
"Object? I'd like to see them do it."
The direction of the road had changed. The fickle moon now
abandoned Miss Porter and sought out Cass on the front seat. It
caressed the young fellow's silky moustache and long eyelashes, and
took some of the sunburn from his cheek.
"What's the matter with your neck?" said the girl, suddenly.
Cass looked down, blushing to find that the collar of his smart
"duck" sailor shirt was torn open. But something more than his
white, soft, girlish skin was exposed; the shirt front was dyed
quite red with blood from a slight cut on the shoulder. He
remembered to have felt a scratch while struggling with Hornsby.
The girl's soft eyes sparkled. "Let ME," she said, vivaciously.
"Do! I'm good at wounds. Come over here. No--stay there. I'll
come over to you."
She did, bestriding the back of the middle seat and dropping at his
side. The magnetic fingers again touched his; he felt her warm
breath on his neck as she bent toward him.
"It's nothing," he said, hastily, more agitated by the treatment
than the wound.
"Give me your flask," she responded, without heeding. A stinging
sensation as she bathed the edges of the cut with the spirit
brought him back to common sense again. "There," she said,
skillfully extemporizing a bandage from her handkerchief and a
compress from his cravat. "Now, button your coat over your chest,
so, and don't take cold." She insisted upon buttoning it for him;
greater even than the feminine delight in a man's strength is the
ministration to his weakness. Yet, when this was finished, she
drew a little away from him in some embarrassment--an embarrassment
she wondered at, as his skin was finer, his touch gentler, his
clothes cleaner, and--not to put too fine a point upon it--he
exhaled an atmosphere much sweeter than belonged to most of the men
her boyish habits had brought her in contact with--not excepting
her own father. Later she even exempted her mother from the
possession of this divine effluence. After a moment she asked,
suddenly, "What are you going to do with Hornsby?"
Cass had not thought of him. His short-lived rage was past with
the occasion that provoked it. Without any fear of his adversary
he would have been content and quite willing to meet him no more.
He only said, "That will depend upon him."
"Oh, you won't hear from him again," said she, confidently, "but
you really ought to get up a little more muscle. You've no more
than a girl." She stopped, a little confused.
"What shall I do with your handkerchief?" asked the uneasy Cass,
anxious to change the subject.
"Oh, keep it, if you want to, only don't show it to everybody as
you did that ring you found." Seeing signs of distress in his
face, she added: "Of course that was all nonsense. If you had
cared so much for the ring you couldn't have talked about it, or
shown it. Could you?"
It relieved him to think that this might be true; he certainly had
not looked at it in that light before.
"But did you really find it?" she asked, with sudden gravity.
"And there was no real May in the case?"
"Not that I know of," laughed Cass, secretly pleased.
But Miss Porter, after eying him critically for a moment jumped up
and climbed back again to her seat. "Perhaps you had better give
me that handkerchief back."
Cass began to unbutton his coat.
"No! no! Do you want to take your death of cold?" she screamed.
And Cass, to avoid this direful possibility, rebuttoned his coat
again over the handkerchief and a peculiarly pleasing sensation.
Very little now was said until the rattling, bounding descent of
the coach denoted the approach to Red Chief. The straggling main
street disclosed itself, light by light. In the flash of
glittering windows and the sound of eager voices Miss Porter
descended, without waiting for Cass's proffered assistance, and
anticipated Mountain Charley's descent from the box. A few
undistinguishable words passed between them.
"You kin freeze to me, Miss," said Charley; and Miss Porter,
turning her frank laugh and frankly opened palm to Cass, half
returned the pressure of his hand and slipped away.
A few days after the stage coach incident, Mountain Charley drew up
beside Cass on the Blazing Star turnpike, and handed him a small
packet. "I was told to give ye that by Miss Porter. Hush--listen!
It's that rather old dog-goned ring o' yours that's bin in all the
papers. She's bamboozled that sap-headed county judge, Boompointer,
into givin' it to her. Take my advice and sling it away for some
other feller to pick up and get looney over. That's all!"
"Did she say anything?" asked Cass, anxiously, as he received his
lost treasure somewhat coldly.
"Well, yes! I reckon. She asked me to stand betwixt Hornsby and
you. So don't YOU tackle him, and I'll see HE don't tackle you,"
and with a portentous wink Mountain Charley whipped up his horses
and was gone.
Cass opened the packet. It contained nothing but the ring.
Unmitigated by any word of greeting, remembrance, or even raillery,
it seemed almost an insult. Had she intended to flaunt his folly
in his face, or had she believed he still mourned for it and deemed
its recovery a sufficient reward for his slight service? For an
instant he felt tempted to follow Charley's advice, and cast this
symbol of folly and contempt in the dust of the mountain road. And
had she not made his humiliation complete by begging Charley's
interference between him and his enemy? He would go home and send
her back the handkerchief she had given him. But here the
unromantic reflection that although he had washed it that very
afternoon in the solitude of his own cabin, he could not possibly
iron it, but must send it "rough dried," stayed his indignant feet.
Two or three days, a week, a fortnight even, of this hopeless
resentment filled Cass's breast. Then the news of Kanaka Joe's
acquittal in the State Court momentarily revived the story of the
ring, and revamped a few stale jokes in the camp. But the interest
soon flagged; the fortunes of the little community of Blazing Star
had been for some months failing; and with early snows in the
mountain and wasted capital in fruitless schemes on the river,
there was little room for the indulgence of that lazy and original
humor which belonged to their lost youth and prosperity. Blazing
Star truly, in the grim figure of their slang, was "played out."
Not dug out, worked out, or washed out, but dissipated in a year of
speculation and chance.
Against this tide of fortune Cass struggled manfully, and even
evoked the slow praise of his companions. Better still, he won a
certain praise for himself, in himself, in a consciousness of
increased strength, health, power, and self-reliance. He began to
turn his quick imagination and perception to some practical
account, and made one or two discoveries which quite startled his
more experienced but more conservative companions. Nevertheless,
Cass's discoveries and labors were not of a kind that produced
immediate pecuniary realization, and Blazing Star, which consumed
so many pounds of pork and flour daily, did not unfortunately
produce the daily equivalent in gold. Blazing Star lost its
credit. Blazing Star was hungry, dirty, and ragged. Blazing Star
was beginning to set.
Participating in the general ill luck of the camp, Cass was not
without his own individual mischances. He had resolutely
determined to forget Miss Porter and all that tended to recall the
unlucky ring, but, cruelly enough, she was the only thing that
refused to be forgotten--whose undulating figure reclined opposite
to him in the weird moonlight of his ruined cabin, whose voice
mingled with the song of the river by whose banks he toiled, and
whose eyes and touch thrilled him in his dreams. Partly for this
reason, and partly because his clothes were beginning to be patched
and torn, he avoided Red Chief and any place where he would be
likely to meet her. In spite of this precaution he had once seen
her driving in a pony carriage, but so smartly and fashionably
dressed that he drew back in the cover of a wayside willow that she
might pass without recognition. He looked down upon his red-
splashed clothes and grimy, soil-streaked hands, and for a moment
half hated her. His comrades seldom spoke of her--instinctively
fearing some temptation that might beset his Spartan resolutions,
but he heard from time to time that she had been seen at balls and
parties, apparently enjoying those very frivolities of her sex she
affected to condemn.
It was a Sabbath morning in early spring that he was returning from
an ineffectual attempt to enlist a capitalist at the county town to
redeem the fortunes of Blazing Star. He was pondering over the
narrowness of that capitalist, who had evidently but illogically
connected Cass's present appearance with the future of that
struggling camp, when he became so foot-sore that he was obliged to
accept a "lift" from a wayfaring teamster. As the slowly lumbering
vehicle passed the new church on the outskirts of the town, the
congregation were sallying forth. It was too late to jump down and
run away, and Cass dared not ask his new-found friend to whip up
his cattle. Conscious of his unshorn beard and ragged garments, he
kept his eyes fixed upon the road. A voice that thrilled him
called his name. It was Miss Porter, a resplendent vision of silk,
laces, and Easter flowers--yet actually running, with something of
her old dash and freedom, beside the wagon. As the astonished
teamster drew up before this elegant apparition, she panted:--
"Why did you make me run so far, and why didn't you look up?"
Cass, trying to hide the patches on his knees beneath a newspaper,
stammered that he had not seen her.
"And you did not hold down your head purposely?"
"No," said Cass.
"Why have you not been to Red Chief? Why didn't you answer my
message about the ring?" she asked, swiftly.
"You sent nothing but the ring," said Cass, coloring, as he glanced
at the teamster.
"Why, THAT was a message, you born idiot."
Cass stared. The teamster smiled. Miss Porter gazed anxiously at
the wagon. "I think I'd like a ride in there; it looks awfully
good." She glanced mischievously around at the lingering and
But Cass deprecated that proceeding strongly. It was dirty; he was
not sure it was even WHOLESOME; she would be SO uncomfortable; he,
himself, was only going a few rods farther, and in that time she
might ruin her dress--
"Oh, yes," she said, a little bitterly, "certainly, my dress must
be looked after. And--what else?"
"People might think it strange, and believe I had invited you,"
continued Cass, hesitatingly.
"When I had only invited myself? Thank you. Good-by."
She waved her hand and stepped back from the wagon. Cass would
have given worlds to recall her, but he sat still, and the vehicle
moved on in moody silence. At the first cross road he jumped down.
"Thank you," he said to the teamster. "You're welcome," returned
that gentleman, regarding him curiously, "but the next time a gal
like that asks to ride in this yer wagon, I reckon I won't take the
vote of any deadhead passenger. Adios, young fellow. Don't stay
out late; ye might be run off by some gal, and what would your
mother say?" Of course the young man could only look unutterable
things and walk away, but even in that dignified action he was
conscious that its effect was somewhat mitigated by a large patch
from a material originally used as a flour sack, which had repaired
his trousers, but still bore the ironical legend, "Best Superfine."
The summer brought warmth and promise and some blossom, if not
absolute fruition, to Blazing Star. The long days drew Nature into
closer communion with the men, and hopefulness followed the
discontent of their winter seclusion. It was easier, too, for
Capital to be wooed and won into making a picnic in these mountain
solitudes than when high water stayed the fords and drifting snow
the Sierran trails. At the close of one of these Arcadian days
Cass was smoking before the door of his lonely cabin when he was
astounded by the onset of a dozen of his companions. Peter
Drummond, far in the van, was waving a newspaper like a victorious
banner. "All's right now, Cass, old man!" he panted as he stopped
before Cass and shoved back his eager followers.
"What's all right?" asked Cass, dubiously.
"YOU! You kin rake down the pile now. You're hunky! You're on
He opened the newspaper and read, with annoying deliberation, as
"LOST.--If the finder of a plain gold ring, bearing the engraved
inscription, 'May to Cass,' alleged to have been picked up on the
high road near Blazing Star on the 4th March, 186-, will apply to
Bookham & Sons, bankers, 1007 Y Street, Sacramento, he will be
suitably rewarded either for the recovery of the ring, or for such
facts as may identify it, or the locality where it was found."
Cass rose and frowned savagely on his comrades. "No! no!" cried a
dozen voices, assuringly. "It's all right! Honest Injun! True as
gospel! No joke, Cass!"
"Here's the paper, Sacramento 'Union' of yesterday. Look for
yourself," said Drummond, handing him the well-worn journal. "And
you see," he added, "how darned lucky you are. It ain't necessary
for you to produce the ring, so if that old biled owl of a
Boompointer don't giv' it back to ye, it's all the same."
"And they say nobody but the finder need apply," interrupted
another. "That shuts out Boompointer or Kanaka Joe, for the matter
"It's clar that it MEANS you, Cass, ez much ez if they'd given your
name," added a third.
For Miss Porter's sake and his own Cass had never told them of the
restoration of the ring, and it was evident that Mountain Charley
had also kept silent. Cass could not speak now without violating a
secret, and he was pleased that the ring itself no longer played an
important part in the mystery. But what was that mystery, and why
was the ring secondary to himself? Why was so much stress laid
upon his finding it?
"You see," said Drummond, as if answering his unspoken thought,
"that 'ar gal--for it is a gal in course--hez read all about it in
the papers, and hez sort o' took a shine to ye. It don't make a
bit o' difference who in thunder Cass IS or WAZ, for I reckon she's
kicked him over by this time--"
"Sarved him right, too, for losing the girl's ring and then lying
low and keeping dark about it," interrupted a sympathizer.
"And she's just weakened over the romantic, high-toned way you
stuck to it," continued Drummond, forgetting the sarcasms he had
previously hurled at this romance. Indeed, the whole camp, by this
time, had become convinced that it had fostered and developed a
chivalrous devotion which was now on the point of pecuniary
realization. It was generally accepted that "she" was the daughter
of this banker, and also felt that in the circumstances the happy
father could not do less than develop the resources of Blazing Star
at once. Even if there were no relationship, what opportunity
could be more fit for presenting to capital a locality that even
produced engagement rings, and, as Jim Fauquier put it, "the men ez
knew how to keep 'em." It was this sympathetic Virginian who took
Cass aside with the following generous suggestion: "If you find
that you and the old gal couldn't hitch hosses, owin' to your not
likin' red hair or a game leg" (it may be here recorded that
Blazing Star had, for no reason whatever, attributed these
unprepossessing qualities to the mysterious advertiser), "you might
let ME in. You might say ez how I used to jest worship that ring
with you, and allers wanted to borrow it on Sundays. If anything
comes of it--why--WE'RE PARDNERS!"
A serious question was the outfitting of Cass for what now was felt
to be a diplomatic representation of the community. His garments,
it hardly need be said, were inappropriate to any wooing except
that of the "maiden all forlorn," which the advertiser clearly was
not. "He might," suggested Fauquier, "drop in jest as he is--
kinder as if he'd got keerless of the world, being lovesick." But
Cass objected strongly, and was borne out in his objection by his
younger comrades. At last a pair of white duck trousers, a red
shirt, a flowing black silk scarf, and a Panama hat were procured
at Red Chief, on credit, after a judicious exhibition of the
advertisement. A heavy wedding ring, the property of Drummond (who
was not married), was also lent as a graceful suggestion, and at
the last moment Fauquier affixed to Cass's scarf an enormous
specimen pin of gold and quartz. "It sorter indicates the
auriferous wealth o' this yer region, and the old man (the senior
member of Bookham & Sons) needn't know I won it at draw poker in
Frisco," said Fauquier.
"Ef you 'pass' on the gal, you kin hand it back to me and I'LL try
it on." Forty dollars for expenses was put into Cass's hands, and
the entire community accompanied him to the cross roads where he
was to meet the Sacramento coach, which eventually carried him
away, followed by a benediction of waving hats and exploding
That Cass did not participate in the extravagant hopes of his
comrades, and that he rejected utterly their matrimonial
speculations in his behalf, need not be said. Outwardly, he kept
his own counsel with good-humored assent. But there was something
fascinating in the situation, and while he felt he had forever
abandoned his romantic dream, he was not displeased to know that it
might have proved a reality. Nor was it distasteful to him to
think that Miss Porter would hear of it and regret her late
inability to appreciate his sentiment. If he really were the
object of some opulent maiden's passion, he would show Miss Porter
how he could sacrifice the most brilliant prospects for her sake.
Alone, on the top of the coach, he projected one of those
satisfying conversations in which imaginative people delight, but
which unfortunately never come quite up to rehearsal. "Dear Miss
Porter," he would say, addressing the back of the driver, "if I
could remain faithful to a dream of my youth, however illusive and
unreal, can you believe that for the sake of lucre I could be false
to the one real passion that alone supplanted it." In the
composition and delivery of this eloquent statement an hour was
happily forgotten: the only drawback to its complete effect was
that a misplace of epithets in rapid repetition did not seem to
make the slightest difference, and Cass found himself saying "Dear
Miss Porter, if I could be false to a dream of my youth, etc.,
etc., can you believe I could be FAITHFUL to the one real passion,
etc., etc.," with equal and perfect satisfaction. As Miss Porter
was reputed to be well off, if the unknown were poor, that might be
The banking house of Bookham & Sons did not present an illusive nor
mysterious appearance. It was eminently practical and matter of
fact; it was obtrusively open and glassy; nobody would have thought
of leaving a secret there that would have been inevitably
circulated over the counter. Cass felt an uncomfortable sense of
incongruity in himself, in his story, in his treasure, to this
temple of disenchanting realism. With the awkwardness of an
embarrassed man he was holding prominently in his hand an envelope
containing the ring and advertisement as a voucher for his
intrusion, when the nearest clerk took the envelope from his hand,
opened it, took out the ring, returned it, said briskly, "T'other
shop, next door, young man," and turned to another customer.
Cass stepped to the door, saw that "T'other shop" was a
pawnbroker's, and returned again with a flashing eye and heightened
color. "It's an advertisement I have come to answer," he began
The clerk cast a glance at Cass's scarf and pin. "Place taken
yesterday--no room for any more," he said, abruptly.
Cass grew quite white. But his old experience in Blazing Star
repartee stood him in good stead. "If it's YOUR place you mean,"
he said coolly, "I reckon you might put a dozen men in the hole
you're rattlin' round in--but it's this advertisement I'm after.
If Bookham isn't in, maybe you'll send me one of the grown-up
sons." The production of the advertisement and some laughter from
the bystanders had its effect. The pert young clerk retired, and
returned to lead the way to the bank parlor. Cass's heart sank
again as he was confronted by a dark, iron-gray man--in dress,
features, speech, and action--uncompromisingly opposed to Cass--his
ring and his romance. When the young man had told his story and
produced his treasure he paused. The banker scarcely glanced at
it, but said, impatiently,--
"Well, your papers?"
"Yes. Proof of your identity. You say your name is Cass Beard.
Good! What have you got to prove it? How can I tell who you are?"
To a sensitive man there is no form of suspicion that is as
bewildering and demoralizing at the moment as the question of his
identity. Cass felt the insult in the doubt of his word, and the
palpable sense of his present inability to prove it. The banker
watched him keenly but not unkindly.
"Come," he said at length, "this is not my affair; if you can
legally satisfy the lady for whom I am only agent, well and good.
I believe you can; I only warn you that you must. And my present
inquiry was to keep her from losing her time with impostors, a
class I don't think you belong to. There's her card. Good day."
"Miss Mortimer." It was NOT the banker's daughter. The first
illusion of Blazing Star was rudely dispelled. But the care taken
by the capitalist to shield her from imposture indicated a person
of wealth. Of her youth and beauty Cass no longer thought.
The address given was not distant. With a beating heart he rung
the bell of a respectable-looking house, and was ushered into a
private drawing-room. Instinctively he felt that the room was only
temporarily inhabited; an air peculiar to the best lodgings, and
when the door opened upon a tall lady in deep mourning, he was
still more convinced of an incongruity between the occupant and her
surroundings. With a smile that vacillated between a habit of
familiarity and ease, and a recent restraint, she motioned him to a
"Miss Mortimer" was still young, still handsome, still fashionably
dressed, and still attractive. From her first greeting to the end
of the interview Cass felt that she knew all about him. This
relieved him from the onus of proving his identity, but seemed to
put him vaguely at a disadvantage. It increased his sense of
inexperience and youthfulness.
"I hope you will believe," she began, "that the few questions I
have to ask you are to satisfy my own heart, and for no other
purpose." She smiled sadly as she went on. "Had it been
otherwise, I should have instituted a legal inquiry, and left this
interview to some one cooler, calmer, and less interested than
myself. But I think, I KNOW I can trust you. Perhaps we women are
weak and foolish to talk of an INSTINCT, and when you know my story
you may have reason to believe that but little dependence can be
placed on THAT; but I am not wrong in saying,--am I?" (with a sad
smile) "that YOU are not above that weakness?" She paused, closed
her lips tightly, and grasped her hands before her. "You say you
found that ring in the road some three months before--the--the--you
know what I mean--the body--was discovered?"
"You thought it might have been dropped by some one in passing?"
"I thought so, yes--it belonged to no one in camp."
"Before your cabin or on the highway?"
"Before my cabin."
"You are SURE?" There was something so very sweet and sad in her
smile that it oddly made Cass color.
"But my cabin is near the road," he suggested.
"I see! And there was nothing else; no paper nor envelope?"
"And you kept it because of the odd resemblance one of the names
bore to yours?"
"For no other reason
"None." Yet Cass felt he was blushing.
"You'll forgive my repeating a question you have already answered,
but I am so anxious. There was some attempt to prove at the
inquest that the ring had been found on the body of--the
unfortunate man. But you tell me it was not so?"
"I can swear it."
"Good God--the traitor!" She took a hurried step forward, turned
to the window, and then came back to Cass with a voice broken with
emotion. "I have told you I could trust you. That ring was mine!"
She stopped, and then went on hurriedly. "Years ago I gave it to a
man who deceived and wronged me; a man whose life since then has
been a shame and disgrace to all who knew him. A man who, once, a
gentleman, sank so low as to become the associate of thieves and
ruffians; sank so low, that when he died, by violence--a traitor
even to them--his own confederates shrunk from him, and left him to
fill a nameless grave. That man's body you found!"
Cass started. "And his name was--?"
"Part of your surname. Cass--Henry Cass."
"You see why Providence seems to have brought that ring to you,"
she went on. "But you ask me why, knowing this, I am so eager to
know if the ring was found by you in the road, or if it were found
on his body. Listen! It is part of my mortification that the
story goes that this man once showed this ring, boasted of it,
staked, and lost it at a gambling table to one of his vile
"Kanaka Joe," said Cass, overcome by a vivid recollection of Joe's
merriment at the trial.
"The same. Don't you see," she said, hurriedly, "if the ring had
been found on him I could believe that somewhere in his heart he
still kept respect for the woman he had wronged. I am a woman--a
foolish woman, I know--but you have crushed that hope forever."
"But why have you sent for me?" asked Cass, touched by her emotion.
"To know it for certain," she said, almost fiercely. "Can you not
understand that a woman like me must know a thing once and forever?
But you CAN help me. I did not send for you only to pour my wrongs
in your ears. You must take me with you to this place--to the spot
where you found the ring--to the spot where you found the body--to
the spot where--where HE lies. You must do it secretly, that none
shall know me."
Cass hesitated. He was thinking of his companions and the collapse
of their painted bubble. How could he keep the secret from them?
"If it is money you need, let not that stop you. I have no right
to your time without recompense. Do not misunderstand me. There
has been a thousand dollars awaiting my order at Bookham's when the
ring should be delivered. It shall be doubled if you help me in
this last moment."
It was possible. He could convey her secretly there, invent some
story of a reward delayed for want of proofs, and afterward share
that reward with his friends. He answered promptly, "I will take
She took his hands in both of hers, raised them to her lips, and
smiled. The shadow of grief and restraint seemed to have fallen
from her face, and a half-mischievous, half-coquettish gleam in her
dark eyes touched the susceptible Cass in so subtle a fashion that
he regained the street in some confusion. He wondered what Miss
Porter would have thought. But was he not returning to her, a
fortunate man, with one thousand dollars in his pocket! Why should
he remember he was handicapped, by a pretty woman and a pathetic
episode? It did not make the proximity less pleasant as he helped
her into the coach that evening, nor did the recollection of
another ride with another woman obtrude itself upon those
consolations which he felt it his duty, from time to time, to
offer. It was arranged that he should leave her at the "Red Chief"
Hotel, while he continued on to Blazing Star, returning at noon to
bring her with him when he could do it without exposing her to
recognition. The gray dawn came soon enough, and the coach drew up
at "Red Chief" while the lights in the bar-room and dining-room of
the hotel were still struggling with the far flushing east. Cass
alighted, placed Miss Mortimer in the hands of the landlady, and
returned to the vehicle. It was still musty, close, and frowzy,
with half-awakened passengers. There was a vacated seat on the
top, which Cass climbed up to, and abstractedly threw himself
beside a figure muffled in shawls and rugs. There was a slight
movement among the multitudinous enwrappings, and then the figure
turned to him and said, dryly, "Good morning!" It was Miss Porter!
"Have you been long here?" he stammered.
He would have given worlds to leave her at that moment. He would
have jumped from the starting coach to save himself any explanation
of the embarrassment he was furiously conscious of showing,
without, as he believed, any adequate cause. And yet, like all
inexperienced, sensitive men, he dashed blindly into that
explanation; worse, he even told his secret at once, then and
there, and then sat abashed and conscience stricken, with an added
sense of its utter futility.
"And this," summed up the young girl, with a slight shrug of her
pretty shoulders, "is YOUR MAY?"
Cass would have recommenced his story.
"No, don't, pray! It isn't interesting, nor original. Do YOU
"I do," said Cass, indignantly.
"How lucky! Then let me go to sleep."
Cass, still furious, but uneasy, did not again address her. When
the coach stopped at Blazing Star she asked him, indifferently:
"When does this sentimental pilgrimage begin?"
"I return for her at one o'clock," replied Cass, stiffly.
He kept his word. He appeased his eager companions with a promise
of future fortune, and exhibited the present and tangible reward.
By a circuitous route known only to himself, he led Miss Mortimer
to the road before the cabin. There was a pink flush of excitement
on her somewhat faded cheek.
"And it was here?" she asked, eagerly.
"I found it here."
"And the body?"
"That was afterward. Over in that direction, beyond the clump of
buckeyes, on the Red Chief turnpike."
"And any one coming from the road we left just now and going to--
to--that place, would have to cross just here? Tell me," she said,
with a strange laugh, laying her cold nervous hand on his,
"Let us go to that place."
Cass stepped out briskly to avoid observation and gain the woods
beyond the highway. "You have crossed here before," she said.
"There seems to be a trail."
"I may have made it: it's a short cut to the buckeyes."
"You never found anything else on the trail?"
"You remember, I told you before, the ring was all I found."
"Ah, true!" she smiled sweetly; "it was THAT which made it seem so
odd to you. I forgot."
In half an hour they reached the buckeyes. During the walk she had
taken rapid recognizance of everything in her path. When they
crossed the road and Cass had pointed out the scene of the murder,
she looked anxiously around. "You are sure we are not seen?"
"You will not think me foolish if I ask you to wait here while I go
in there"--she pointed to the ominous thicket near them--"alone?"
She was quite white.
Cass's heart, which had grown somewhat cold since his interview
with Miss Porter, melted at once.
"Go; I will stay here."
He waited five minutes. She did not return.
What if the poor creature had determined upon suicide on the spot
where her faithless lover had fallen? He was reassured in another
moment by the rustle of skirts in the undergrowth.
"I was becoming quite alarmed," he said, aloud.
"You have reason to be," returned a hurried voice. He started. It
was Miss Porter, who stepped swiftly out of the cover. "Look," she
said, "look at that man down the road. He has been tracking you
two ever since you left the cabin. Do you know who he is?"
"Then listen. It is three-fingered Dick, one of the escaped road
agents. I know him!"
"Let us go and warn her," said Cass, eagerly.
Miss Porter laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"I don't think she'll thank you," she said, dryly. "Perhaps you'd
better see what she's doing, first."
Utterly bewildered, yet with a strong sense of the masterfulness of
his companion, he followed her. She crept like a cat through the
thicket. Suddenly she paused. "Look!" she whispered, viciously,
"look at the tender vigils of your heart-broken May!"
Cass saw the woman who had left him a moment before on her knees on
the grass, with long thin fingers digging like a ghoul in the
earth. He had scarce time to notice her eager face and eyes, cast
now and then back toward the spot where she had left him, before
there was a crash in the bushes, and a man,--the stranger of the
road,--leaped to her side. "Run," he said; "run for it now.
"Oh! that man, Beard!" she said, contemptuously.
"No, another in a wagon. Quick. Fool, you know the place now,--
you can come later; run!" And half-dragging, half-lifting her, he
bore her through the bushes. Scarcely had they closed behind the
pair than Miss Porter ran to the spot vacated by the woman.
"Look!" she cried, triumphantly, "look!"
Cass looked, and sank on his knees beside her.
"It WAS worth a thousand dollars, wasn't it?" she repeated,
maliciously, "wasn't it? But you ought to return it! REALLY you
Cass could scarcely articulate. "But how did YOU know it?" he
"Oh, I suspected something; there was a woman, and you know you're
SUCH a fool!"
Cass rose, stiffly.
"Don't be a greater fool now, but go and bring my horse and wagon
from the hill, and don't say anything to the driver."
"Then you did not come alone?"
"No; it would have been bold and improper."
"And to think it WAS the ring, after all, that pointed to this,"
"The ring that YOU returned to me."
"What did you say?"
"Don't, please, the wagon is coming."
. . . . . .
In the next morning's edition of the "Red Chief Chronicle" appeared
the following startling intelligence:--
FINDING OF THE STOLEN TREASURE OF WELLS, FARGO & CO. OVER $800,000
Our readers will remember the notorious robbery of Wells, Fargo &
Co.'s treasure from the Sacramento and Red Chief Pioneer Coach on
the night of September 1. Although most of the gang were arrested,
it is known that two escaped, who, it was presumed, cached the
treasure, amounting to nearly $500,000 in gold, drafts, and
jewelry, as no trace of the property was found. Yesterday our
esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. Cass Beard, long and favorably known
in this county, succeeded in exhuming the treasure in a copse of
hazel near the Red Chief turnpike,--adjacent to the spot where an
unknown body was lately discovered. This body is now strongly
suspected to be that of one Henry Cass, a disreputable character,
who has since been ascertained to have been one of the road agents
who escaped. The matter is now under legal investigation. The
successful result of the search is due to a systematic plan evolved
from the genius of Mr. Beard, who has devoted over a year to this
labor. It was first suggested to him by the finding of a ring, now
definitely identified as part of the treasure which was supposed to
have been dropped from Wells, Fargo & Co's boxes by the robbers in
their midnight flight through Blazing Star.
In the same journal appeared the no less important intelligence,
which explains, while it completes this veracious chronicle:--
"It is rumored that a marriage is shortly to take place between the
hero of the late treasure discovery and a young lady of Red Chief,
whose devoted aid and assistance to this important work is well
known to this community."
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