Part 4 out of 8
where they do their housekeeping."
"But you didn't see her there--and how do you know she is there now?"
"I determined to make it sure. When she left to-day, I started an hour
ahead of her, and hid myself at the edge of the woods. An hour after
the coach arrived at Indian Spring, she came there in a brown duster
and was joined by him. I'd have followed them, but the d----d hound has
the ears of a squirrel, and though I was five hundred yards from him he
was on his guard."
"Guard be blessed! Wasn't you armed? Why didn't you go for him?" said
"I reckoned I'd leave that for you," said Brace coolly. "If he'd killed
me, and if he'd even covered me with his rifle, he'd be sure to let
daylight through me at double the distance. I shouldn't have been any
better off, nor you either. If I'd killed _him_, it would have been
your duty as sheriff to put me in jail; and I reckon it wouldn't have
broken your heart, Jim Dunn, to have got rid of _two_ rivals instead of
one. Hullo! Where are you going?"
"Going?" said Dunn hoarsely. "Going to the Carquinez Woods, by God! to
kill him before her. _I'll_ risk it, if you daren't. Let me succeed,
and you can hang _me_ and take the girl yourself."
"Sit down, sit down. Don't be a fool, Jim Dunn! You wouldn't keep the
saddle a hundred yards. Did I say I wouldn't help you? No. If you're
willing, we'll run the risk together, but it must be in my way. Hear
me. I'll drive you down there in a buggy before daylight, and we'll
surprise them in the cabin or as they leave the wood. But you must come
as if to arrest him for some offense--say, as an escaped Digger from
the Reservation, a dangerous tramp, a destroyer of public property in
the forests, a suspected road agent, or anything to give you the right
to hunt him. The exposure of him and Nellie, don't you see, must be
accidental. If he resists, kill him on the spot, and nobody'll blame
you; if he goes peaceably with you, and you once get him in Excelsior
jail, when the story gets out that he's taken the belle of Excelsior
for his squaw, if you'd the angels for your posse you couldn't keep the
boys from hanging him to the first tree. What's that?"
He walked to the window, and looked out cautiously.
"If it was the old man coming back and listening," he said, after a
pause, "it can't be helped. He'll hear it soon enough, if he don't
suspect something already."
"Look yer, Brace," broke in Dunn hoarsely. "D----d if I understand you
or you me. That dog Low has got to answer to _me_, not to the _law_!
I'll take my risk of killing him, on sight and on the square. I don't
reckon to handicap myself with a warrant, and I am not going to draw
him out with a lie. You hear me? That's me all the time!"
"Then you calkilate to go down thar," said Brace contemptuously, "yell
out for him and Nellie, and let him line you on a rest from the first
tree as if you were a grizzly."
There was a pause. "What's that you were saying just now about a
bearskin he sold?" asked Dunn slowly, as if reflecting.
"He exchanged a bearskin," replied Brace, "with a single hole right
over the heart. He's a dead shot, I tell you."
"D----n his shooting," said Dunn. "I'm not thinking of that. How long
ago did he bring in that bearskin?"
"About two weeks, I reckon. Why?"
"Nothing! Look yer, Brace, you mean well--thar's my hand. I'll go down
with you there, but not as the sheriff. I'm going there as Jim Dunn,
and you can come along as a white man, to see things fixed on the
Brace hesitated. "You'll think better of my plan before you get there;
but I've said I'd stand by you, and I will Come, then. There's no time
They passed out into the darkness together.
"What are you waiting for?" said Dunn impatiently, as Brace, who was
supporting him by the arm, suddenly halted at the corner of the house.
"Some one was listening--did you not see him? Was it the old man?"
asked Brace hurriedly.
"Blast the old man! It was only one of them Mexican packers chock-full
of whiskey, and trying to hold up the house. What are you thinking of?
We shall be late."
In spite of his weakness, the wounded man hurriedly urged Brace
forward, until they reached the latter's lodgings. To his surprise, the
horse and buggy were already before the door.
"Then you reckoned to go, any way?" said Dunn, with a searching look at
"I calkilated _somebody_ would go," returned Brace, evasively, patting
the impatient Buckskin; "but come in and take a drink before we leave."
Dunn started out of a momentary abstraction, put his hand on his hip,
and mechanically entered the house. They had scarcely raised the
glasses to their lips when a sudden rattle of wheels was heard in the
street. Brace set down his glass and ran to the window.
"It's the mare bolted," he said, with an oath. "We've kept her too long
standing. Follow me;" and he dashed down the staircase into the street.
Dunn followed with difficulty; when he reached the door he was
confronted by his breathless companion. "She's gone off on a run, and
I'll swear there was a man in the buggy!" He stopped and examined the
halter-strap, still fastened to the fence. "Cut! by God!"
Dunn turned pale with passion. "Who's got another horse and buggy?" he
"The new blacksmith in Main Street; but we won't get it by borrowing,"
"How, then?" asked Dunn savagely.
"Seize it, as the sheriff of Yuba and his deputy, pursuing a
confederate of the Injin Low--THE HORSE THIEF!"
The brief hour of darkness that preceded the dawn was that night
intensified by a dense smoke, which, after blotting out horizon and
sky, dropped a thick veil on the highroad and the silent streets of
Indian Spring. As the buggy containing Sheriff Dunn and Brace dashed
through the obscurity, Brace suddenly turned to his companion.
"Some one ahead!"
The two men bent forward over the dashboard. Above the steady plunging
of their own horse-hoofs they could hear the quicker irregular beat of
other hoofs in the darkness before them.
"It's that horse thief!" said Dunn, in a savage whisper. "Bear to the
right, and hand me the whip."
A dozen cuts of the cruel lash, and their maddened horse, bounding at
each stroke, broke into a wild canter. The frail vehicle swayed from
side to side at each spring of the elastic shafts. Steadying himself by
one hand on the low rail, Dunn drew his revolver with the other. "Sing
out to him to pull up, or we'll fire. My voice is clean gone," he
added, in a husky whisper.
They were so near that they could distinguish the bulk of a vehicle
careering from side to side in the blackness ahead. Dunn deliberately
raised his weapon. "Sing out!" he repeated impatiently. But Brace, who
was still keeping in the shadow, suddenly grasped his companion's arm.
"Hush! It's _not_ Buckskin," he whispered hurriedly.
"Are you sure?"
"_Don't you see we're gaining on him_?" replied the other
contemptuously. Dunn grasped his companion's hand and pressed it
silently. Even in that supreme moment this horseman's tribute to the
fugitive Buckskin forestalled all baser considerations of pursuit and
In twenty seconds they were abreast of the stranger, crowding his horse
and buggy nearly into the ditch; Brace keenly watchful, Dunn suppressed
and pale. In half a minute they were leading him a length; and when
their horse again settled down to his steady work, the stranger was
already lost in the circling dust that followed them. But the victors
seemed disappointed. The obscurity had completely hidden all but the
vague outlines of the mysterious driver.
"He's not our game, any way," whispered Dunn. "Drive on."
"But if it was some friend of his," suggested Brace uneasily, "what
would you do?"
"What I _said_ I'd do," responded Dunn savagely. "I don't want five
minutes to do it in, either; we'll be half an hour ahead of that d----d
fool, whoever he is. Look here; all you've got to do is to put me in
the trail to that cabin. Stand back of me, out of gun-shot, alone, if
you like, as my deputy, or with any number you can pick up as my posse.
If he gets by me as Nellie's lover, you may shoot him or take him as a
horse thief, if you like."
"Then you won't shoot him on sight?"
"Not till I've had a word with him."
"I've chirped," said the sheriff gravely. "Drive on."
For a few moments only the plunging hoofs and rattling wheels were
heard. A dull, lurid glow began to define the horizon. They were silent
until an abatement of the smoke, the vanishing of the gloomy horizon
line, and a certain impenetrability in the darkness ahead showed them
they were nearing the Carquinez Woods. But they were surprised on
entering them to find the dim aisles alight with a faint mystic Aurora.
The tops of the towering spires above them had caught the gleam of the
distant forest fires, and reflected it as from a gilded dome.
"It would be hot work if the Carquinez Woods should conclude to take a
hand in this yer little game that's going on over on the Divide
yonder," said Brace, securing his horse and glancing at the spires
overhead. "I reckon I'd rather take a back seat at Injin Spring when
the show commences."
Dunn did not reply, but, buttoning his coat, placed one hand on his
companion's shoulder, and sullenly bade him "lead the way." Advancing
slowly and with difficulty, the desperate man might have been taken for
a peaceful invalid returning from an early morning stroll. His right
hand was buried thoughtfully in the side-pocket of his coat. Only Brace
knew that it rested on the handle of his pistol.
From time to time the latter stopped and consulted the faint trail with
a minuteness that showed recent careful study. Suddenly he paused. "I
made a blaze hereabouts to show where to leave the trail. There it is,"
he added, pointing to a slight notch cut in the trunk of an adjoining
"But we've just passed one," said Dunn, "if that's what you are looking
after, a hundred yards back."
Brace uttered an oath, and ran back in the direction signified by his
companion. Presently he returned with a smile of triumph.
"They've suspected something. It's a clever trick, but it won't hold
water. That blaze which was done to muddle you was cut with an axe;
this which I made was done with a bowie-knife. It's the real one. We're
not far off now. Come on."
They proceeded cautiously, at right angles with the "blazed" tree, for
ten minutes more. The heat was oppressive; drops of perspiration rolled
from the forehead of the sheriff, and at times, when he attempted to
steady his uncertain limbs, his hands shrank from the heated,
blistering bark he touched with ungloved palms.
"Here we are," said Brace, pausing at last. "Do you see that biggest
tree, with the root stretching out half-way across to the opposite
"No; it's further to the right and abreast of the dead brush,"
interrupted Dunn quickly, with a sudden revelation that this was the
spot where he had found the dead bear in the night Teresa escaped.
"That's so," responded Brace, in astonishment.
"And the opening is on the other side, opposite the dead brush," said
"Then you know it?" said Brace suspiciously.
"I reckon!" responded Dunn, grimly. "That's enough! Fall back!"
To the surprise of his companion, he lifted his head erect, and with a
strong, firm step walked directly to the tree. Reaching it, he planted
himself squarely before the opening.
"Halloo!" he said.
There was no reply. A squirrel scampered away close to his feet. Brace,
far in the distance, after an ineffectual attempt to distinguish his
companion through the intervening trunks, took off his coat, leaned
against a tree, and lit a cigar.
"Come out of that cabin!" continued Dunn, in a clear, resonant voice.
"Come out before I drag you out!"
"All right, 'Captain Scott.' Don't shoot, and I'll come down," said a
voice as clear and as high as his own. The hanging strips of bark were
dashed aside, and a woman leaped lightly to the ground.
Dunn staggered back. "Teresa! by the Eternal!"
It was Teresa! the old Teresa! Teresa, a hundred times more vicious,
reckless, hysterical, extravagant, and outrageous than before,--Teresa,
staring with tooth and eye, sunburnt and embrowned, her hair hanging
down her shoulders, and her shawl drawn tightly around her neck.
"Teresa it is! the same old gal! Here we are again! Return of the
favorite in her original character! For two weeks only! Houp la! Tshk!"
and, catching her yellow skirt with her fingers, she pirouetted before
the astounded man, and ended in a pose. Recovering himself with an
effort, Dunn dashed forward and seized her by the wrist.
"Answer me, woman! Is that Low's cabin?"
"Who occupies it besides?"
"And who else?"
"Well," drawled Teresa slowly, with an extravagant affectation of
modesty, "nobody else but us, I reckon. Two's company, you know, and
"Stop! Will you swear that there isn't a young girl, his--his
sweetheart--concealed there with you?"
The fire in Teresa's eye was genuine as she answered steadily, "Well,
it ain't my style to put up with that sort of thing; at least, it
wasn't over at Yolo, and you know it, Jim Dunn, or I wouldn't be here."
"Yes, yes," said Dunn hurriedly. "But I'm a d----d fool, or worse, the
fool of a fool. Tell me, Teresa, is this man Low your lover?"
Teresa lowered her eyes as if in maidenly confusion.
"Well, if I'd known that _you_ had any feeling of your own about it--if
you'd spoken sooner"--
"Answer me, you devil!"
"And he has been with you here--yesterday--tonight?"
"Enough." He laughed a weak, foolish laugh, and turning pale, suddenly
lapsed against a tree. He would have fallen, but with a quick instinct
Teresa sprang to his side, and supported him gently to a root. The
action over they both looked astounded.
"I reckon that wasn't much like either you or me," said Dunn slowly,
"was it? But if you'd let me drop then you'd have stretched out the
biggest fool in the Sierras." He paused, and looked at her curiously.
"What's come over you; blessed if I seem to know you now."
She was very pale again, and quiet; that was all.
"Teresa! d----n it, look here! When I was laid up yonder in Excelsior I
said I wanted to get well for only two things. One was to hunt you
down, the other to marry Nellie Wynn. When I came here I thought that
last thing could never be. I came here expecting to find her here with
Low, and kill him--perhaps kill her too. I never even thought of you;
not once. You might have risen up before me--between me and him--and
I'd have passed you by. And now that I find it's all a mistake, and it
was you, not her, I was looking for, why"--
"Why," she interrupted bitterly, "you'll just take me, of course, to
save your time and earn your salary. I'm ready."
"But _I'm_ not, just yet," he said faintly. "Help me up." She
mechanically assisted him to his feet.
"Now stand where you are," he added, "and don't move beyond this tree
till I return."
He straightened himself with an effort, clenched his fists until the
nails were nearly buried in his palms, and strode with a firm, steady
step in the direction he had come. In a few moments he returned and
stood before her.
"I've sent away my deputy--the man who brought me here, the fool who
thought you were Nellie. He knows now he made a mistake. But who it was
he mistook for Nellie he does not know, nor shall ever know, nor shall
any living being know, other than myself. And when I leave the wood
to-day I shall know it no longer. You are safe here as far as I am
concerned, but I cannot screen you from others prying. Let Low take you
away from here as soon as he can."
"Let him take me away? Ah, yes. For what?"
"To save you," said Dunn. "Look here, Teresa! Without knowing it, you
lifted me out of hell just now; and because of the wrong I might have
done her--for _her_ sake, I spare you and shirk my duty."
"For her sake!" gasped the woman--"for her sake! Oh, yes! Go on."
"Well," said Dunn gloomily, "I reckon perhaps you'd as lieve left me in
hell, for all the love you bear me. And maybe you've grudge enough agin
me still to wish I'd found her and him together."
"You think so?" she said, turning her head away.
"There, d----n it! I didn't mean to make you cry. Maybe you wouldn't,
then. Only tell that fellow to take you out of this, and not run away
the next time he sees a man coming."
"He didn't run," said Teresa, with flashing eyes. "I--I--I sent him
away," she stammered. Then, suddenly turning with fury upon him, she
broke out, "Run! Run from you! Ha, ha! You said just now I'd a grudge
against you. Well, listen, Jim Dunn. I'd only to bring you in range of
that young man's rifle, and you'd have dropped in your tracks like"--
"Like that bar, the other night," said Dunn, with a short laugh. "So
_that_ was your little game?" He checked his laugh suddenly--a cloud
passed over his face. "Look here, Teresa," he said, with an assumption
of carelessness that was as transparent as it was utterly incompatible
with his frank, open selfishness. "What became of that bar? The
skin--eh? That was worth something?"
"Yes," said Teresa quietly. "Low exchanged it and got a ring for me
from that trader Isaacs. It was worth more, you bet. And the ring
didn't fit either"--
"Yes," interrupted Dunn, with an almost childish eagerness.
"And I made him take it back, and get the value in money. I hear that
Isaacs sold it again and made another profit; but that's like those
traders." The disingenuous candor of Teresa's manner was in exquisite
contrast to Dunn. He rose and grasped her hand so heartily she was
forced to turn her eyes away.
"Good-by!" he said.
"You look tired," she murmured, with a sudden gentleness that surprised
him; "let me go with you a part of the way."
"It isn't safe for you just now," he said, thinking of the possible
consequences of the alarm Brace had raised.
"Not the way _you_ came," she replied; "but one known only to myself."
He hesitated only a moment. "All right, then," he said finally; "let us
go at once. It's suffocating here, and I seem to feel this dead bark
crinkle under my feet."
She cast a rapid glance around her, and then seemed to sound with her
eyes the far-off depths of the aisles, beginning to grow pale with the
advancing day, but still holding a strange quiver of heat in the air.
When she had finished her half abstracted scrutiny of the distance, she
cast one backward glance at her own cabin and stopped.
"Will you wait a moment for me?" she asked gently.
"Yes--but--no tricks, Teresa! It isn't worth the time."
She looked him squarely in the eyes without a word.
"Enough," he said; "go!"
She was absent for some moments. He was beginning to become uneasy,
when she made her appearance again, clad in her old faded black dress.
Her face was very pale, and her eyes were swollen, but she placed his
hand on her shoulder, and bidding him not to fear to lean upon her, for
she was quite strong, led the way.
"You look more like yourself now, and yet--blast it all!--you don't
either," said Dunn, looking down upon her. "You've changed in some way.
What is it? Is it on account of that Injin? Couldn't you have found a
white man in his place?"
"I reckon he's neither worse nor better for that," she replied
bitterly; "and perhaps he wasn't as particular in his taste as a white
man might have been. But," she added, with a sudden spasm of her old
rage, "it's a lie; he's _not_ an Indian, no more than I am. Not unless
being born of a mother who scarcely knew him, of a father who never
even saw him, and being brought up among white men and wild beasts less
cruel than they were, could make him one!"
Dunn looked at her in surprise not unmixed with admiration. "If
Nellie," he thought, "could but love _me_ like that!" But he only said:
"For all that, he's an Injin. Why, look at his name. It ain't Low. It's
_L'Eau Dormante_, Sleeping Water, an Injin name."
"And what does that prove?" returned Teresa. "Only that Indians clap a
nickname on any stranger, white or red, who may camp with them. Why,
even his own father, a white man, the wretch who begot him and
abandoned him,--_he_ had an Indian name--_Loup Noir_."
"What name did you say?"
"_Le Loup Noir_, the Black Wolf. I suppose you'd call him an Indian,
too? Eh? What's the matter? We're walking too fast. Stop a moment and
rest. There--there, lean on me!"
She was none too soon; for, after holding him upright a moment, his
limbs failed, and stooping gently she was obliged to support him half
reclining against a tree.
"It's the heat!" he said. "Give me some whiskey from my flask. Never
mind the water," he added faintly, with a forced laugh, after he had
taken a draught at the strong spirit. "Tell me more about the other
water--the Sleeping Water, you know. How do you know all this about him
"Partly from him and partly from Curson, who wrote to me about him,"
she answered, with some hesitation.
But Dunn did not seem to notice this incongruity of correspondence with
a former lover. "And _he_ told you?"
"Yes; and I saw the name on an old memorandum-book he has, which he
says belonged to his father. It's full of old accounts of some trading
post on the frontier. It's been missing for a day or two, but it will
turn up. But I can swear I saw it."
Dunn attempted to rise to his feet. "Put your hand in my pocket," he
said in a hurried whisper. "No, there!--bring out a book. There, I
haven't looked at it yet. Is that it?" he added, handing her the book
Brace had given him a few hours before.
"Yes," said Teresa, in surprise. "Where did you find it?"
"Never mind! Now let me see it, quick. Open it, for my sight is
failing. There--thank you--that's all!"
"Take more whiskey," said Teresa, with a strange anxiety creeping over
her. "You are faint again."
"Wait! Listen, Teresa--lower--put your ear lower. Listen! I came near
killing that chap Low to-day. Wouldn't it have been ridiculous?"
He tried to smile, but his head fell back. He had fainted.
For the first time in her life Teresa lost her presence of mind in an
emergency. She could only sit staring at the helpless man, scarcely
conscious of his condition, her mind filled with a sudden prophetic
intuition of the significance of his last words. In the light of that
new revelation she looked into his pale, haggard face for some
resemblance to Low, but in vain. Yet her swift feminine instinct met
the objection. "It's the mother's blood that would show," she murmured,
"not this man's."
Recovering herself, she began to chafe his hands and temples, and
moistened his lips with the spirit. When his respiration returned with
a faint color to his cheeks, she pressed his hand eagerly and leaned
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Of what?" he whispered faintly.
"That Low is really your son?"
"Who said so?" he asked, opening his round eyes upon her.
"You did yourself, a moment ago," she said quickly. "Don't you
"You did. Is it so?"
He smiled faintly. "I reckon."
She held her breath in expectation. But only the ludicrousness of the
discovery seemed paramount to his weakened faculties. "Isn't it just
about the ridiculousest thing all round?" he said, with a feeble
chuckle. "First _you_ nearly kill me before you know I am Low's father;
then I'm just spoilin' to kill him before I know he's my son; then that
god-forsaken fool Jack Brace mistakes you for Nellie, and Nellie for
you. Ain't it just the biggest thing for the boys to get hold of? But
we must keep it dark until after I marry Nellie, don't you see? Then
we'll have a good time all round, and I'll stand the drinks. Think of
it, Teresha! You don'no me, I do'no you, nobody knowsh anybody elsh. I
try kill Lo'. Lo' wants kill Nellie. No thath no ri'"--but the potent
liquor, overtaking his exhausted senses, thickened, impeded, and at
last stopped his speech. His head slipped to her shoulder, and he
became once more unconscious.
Teresa breathed again. In that brief moment she had abandoned herself
to a wild inspiration of hope which she could scarcely define. Not that
it was entirely a wild inspiration; she tried to reason calmly. What if
she revealed the truth to him? What if she told the wretched man before
her that she had deceived him; that she had overheard his conversation
with Brace; that she had stolen Brace's horse to bring Low warning;
that, failing to find Low in his accustomed haunts, or at the
camp-fire, she had left a note for him pinned to the herbarium,
imploring him to fly with his companion from the danger that was
coming; and that, remaining on watch, she had seen them both--Brace and
Dunn--approaching, and had prepared to meet them at the cabin? Would
this miserable and maddened man understand her self-abnegation? Would
he forgive Low and Nellie?--she did not ask for herself. Or would the
revelation turn his brain, if it did not kill him outright? She looked
at the sunken orbits of his eyes and hectic on his cheek, and
Why was this added to the agony she already suffered? She had been
willing to stand between them with her life, her liberty and even--the
hot blood dyed her cheek at the thought--with the added shame of being
thought the cast-off mistress of that man's son. Yet all this she had
taken upon herself in expiation of something--she knew not clearly
what; no, for nothing--only for _him_. And yet this very situation
offered her that gleam of hope which had thrilled her; a hope so wild
in its improbability, so degrading in its possibility, that at first
she knew not whether despair was not preferable to its shame. And yet
was it unreasonable? She was no longer passionate; she would be calm
and think it out fairly.
She would go to Low at once. She would find him somewhere--and even if
with that girl, what mattered?--and she would tell him all. When he
knew that the life and death of his father lay in the scale, would he
let his brief, foolish passion for Nellie stand in the way? Even if he
were not influenced by filial affection or mere compassion, would his
pride let him stoop to a rivalry with the man who had deserted his
youth? Could he take Dunn's promised bride, who must have coquetted
with him to have brought him to this miserable plight? Was this like
the calm, proud young god she knew? Yet she had an uneasy instinct that
calm, proud young gods and goddesses did things like this, and felt the
weakness of her reasoning flush her own conscious cheek.
She started. Dunn was awake, and was gazing at her curiously.
"I was reckoning it was the only square thing for Low to stop this
promiscuous picnicking here and marry you out and out."
"Marry me!" said Teresa in a voice that, with all her efforts, she
could not make cynical.
"Yes," he repeated, "after I've married Nellie; tote you down to San
Angeles, and there take my name like a man, and give it to you.
Nobody'll ask after _Teresa_, sure--you bet your life. And if they do,
and he can't stop their jaw, just you call on the old man. It's mighty
queer, ain't it, Teresa, to think of you being my daughter-in-law?"
It seemed here as if he was about to lapse again into unconsciousness
over the purely ludicrous aspect of the subject, but he haply recovered
his seriousness. "He'll have as much money from me as he wants to go
into business with. What's his line of business, Teresa?" asked this
prospective father-in-law, in a large, liberal way.
"He is a botanist!" said Teresa, with a sudden childish animation that
seemed to keep up the grim humor of the paternal suggestion; "and oh,
he is too poor to buy books! I sent for one or two for him myself, the
other day"--she hesitated--"it was all the money I had, but it wasn't
enough for him to go on with his studies."
Dunn looked at her sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks, and became
thoughtful. "Curson must have been a d----d fool," he said finally.
Teresa remained silent. She was beginning to be impatient and uneasy,
fearing some mischance that might delay her dreaded yet longed-for
meeting with Low. Yet she could not leave this sick and exhausted man,
_his father_, now bound to her by more than mere humanity.
"Couldn't you manage," she said gently, "to lean on me a few steps
further, until I could bring you to a cooler spot and nearer
He nodded. She lifted him almost like a child to his feet. A spasm of
pain passed over his face. "How far is it?" he asked.
"Not more than ten minutes," she replied.
"I can make a spurt for that time," he said coolly, and began to walk
slowly but steadily on. Only his face, which was white and set, and the
convulsive grip of his hand on her arm, betrayed the effort. At the end
of ten minutes she stopped. They stood before the splintered,
lightning-scarred shaft in the opening of the woods, where Low had
built her first camp-fire. She carefully picked up the herbarium, but
her quick eye had already detected in the distance, before she had
allowed Dunn to enter the opening with her, that her note was gone. Low
had been there before them; he had been warned, as his absence from the
cabin showed; he would not return there. They were free from
interruption--but where had he gone?
The sick man drew a long breath of relief as she seated him in the
clover-grown hollow where she had slept the second night of her stay.
"It's cooler than those cursed woods," he said. "I suppose it's because
it's a little like a grave. What are you going to do now?" he added, as
she brought a cup of water and placed it at his side.
"I am going to leave you here for a little while," she said cheerfully,
but with a pale face and nervous hands. "I'm going to leave you while I
The sick man raised his head. "I'm good for a spurt, Teresa, like that
I've just got through, but I don't think I'm up to a family party.
Couldn't you issue cards later on?"
"You don't understand," she said. "I'm going to get Low to send some
one of your friends to you here. I don't think he'll begrudge leaving
_her_ a moment for that," she added to herself bitterly.
"What's that you're saying?" he queried, with the nervous quickness of
"Nothing--but that I'm going now." She turned her face aside to hide
her moistened eyes. "Wish me good luck, won't you?" she asked, half
sadly, half pettishly.
She came and bent over him. He suddenly raised his hands, and, drawing
her face down to his own, kissed her forehead.
"Give that to _him_," he whispered, "from _me_."
She turned and fled, happily for her sentiment, not hearing the feeble
laugh that followed, as Dunn, in sheer imbecility, again referred to
the extravagant ludicrousness of the situation. "It is about the
biggest thing in the way of a sell all round," he repeated, lying on
his back, confidentially to the speck of smoke-obscured sky above him.
He pictured himself repeating it, not to Nellie--her severe propriety
might at last overlook the fact, but would not tolerate the joke--but
to her father! It would be just one of those characteristic Californian
jokes Father Wynn would admire.
To his exhaustion fever presently succeeded, and he began to grow
restless. The heat too seemed to invade his retreat, and from time to
time the little patch of blue sky was totally obscured by clouds of
smoke. He amused himself with watching a lizard who was investigating a
folded piece of paper, whose elasticity gave the little creature lively
apprehensions of its vitality. At last he could stand the stillness of
his retreat and his supine position no longer, and rolled himself out
of the bed of leaves that Teresa had so carefully prepared for him. He
rose to his feet stiff and sore, and, supporting himself by the nearest
tree, moved a few steps from the dead ashes of the camp-fire. The
movement frightened the lizard, who abandoned the paper and fled. With
a satirical recollection of Brace and his "ridiculous" discovery
through the medium of this animal, he stooped and picked up the paper.
"Like as not," he said to himself, with grim irony, "these yer lizards
are in the discovery business. P'r'aps this may lead to another
mystery;" and he began to unfold the paper with a smile. But the smile
ceased as his eye suddenly caught his own name.
A dozen lines were written in pencil on what seemed to be a blank leaf
originally torn from some book. He trembled so that he was obliged to
sit down to read these words:--
"When you get this keep away from the woods. Dunn and another man are
in deadly pursuit of you and your companion. I overheard their plan to
surprise you in our cabin. _Don't go there_, and I will delay them and
put them off the scent. Don't mind me. God bless you, and if you never
see me again think sometimes of
His trembling ceased; he did not start, but rose in an abstracted way,
and made a few deliberate steps in the direction Teresa had gone. Even
then he was so confused that he was obliged to refer to the paper
again, but with so little effect that he could only repeat the last
words, "think sometimes of Teresa." He was conscious that this was not
all; he had a full conviction of being deceived, and knew that he held
the proof in his hand, but he could not formulate it beyond that
sentence. "Teresa"--yes, he would think of her. She would think of him.
She would explain it. And here she was returning.
In that brief interval her face and manner had again changed. She was
pale and quite breathless. She cast a swift glance at Dunn and the
paper he mechanically held out, walked up to him, and tore it from his
"Well," she said hoarsely, "what are you going to do about it?"
He attempted to speak, but his voice failed him. Even then he was
conscious that if he had spoken he would have only repeated, "think
sometimes of Teresa." He looked longingly but helplessly at the spot
where she had thrown the paper, as if it had contained his unuttered
"Yes," she went on to herself, as if he was a mute, indifferent
spectator--"yes, they're gone. That ends it all. The game's played out.
Well!" suddenly turning upon him, "now you know it all. Your Nellie
_was_ here with him, and is with him now. Do you hear? Make the most of
it; you've lost them--but here I am."
"Yes," he said eagerly--"yes, Teresa."
She stopped, stared at him; then taking him by the hand led him like a
child back to his couch. "Well," she said, in half-savage explanation,
"I told you the truth when I said the girl wasn't at the cabin last
night, and that I didn't know her. What are you glowerin' at? No! I
haven't lied to you, I swear to God, except in one thing. Do you know
what that was? To save him I took upon me a shame I don't deserve. I
let you think I was his mistress. You think so now, don't you? Well,
before God to-day--and He may take me when He likes--I'm no more to him
than a sister! I reckon your Nellie can't say as much."
She turned away, and with the quick, impatient stride of some caged
animal made the narrow circuit of the opening, stopping a moment
mechanically before the sick man, and again, without looking at him,
continuing her monotonous round. The heat had become excessive, but she
held her shawl with both hands drawn tightly over her shoulders.
Suddenly a wood-duck darted out of the covert blindly into the opening,
struck against the blasted trunk, fell half stunned near her feet, and
then, recovering, fluttered away. She had scarcely completed another
circuit before the irruption was followed by a whirring bevy of quail,
a flight of jays, and a sudden tumult of wings swept through the wood
like a tornado. She turned inquiringly to Dunn, who had risen to his
feet, but the next moment she caught convulsively at his wrist: a wolf
had just dashed through the underbrush not a dozen yards away, and on
either side of them they could hear the scamper and rustle of hurrying
feet like the outburst of a summer shower. A cold wind arose from the
opposite direction, as if to contest this wild exodus, but it was
followed by a blast of sickening heat. Teresa sank at Dunn's feet in an
agony of terror.
"Don't let them touch me!" she gasped; "keep them off! Tell me, for
God's sake, what has happened!"
He laid his hand firmly on her arm, and lifted her in his turn to her
feet like a child. In that supreme moment of physical danger, his
strength, reason, and manhood returned in their plenitude of power. He
pointed coolly to the trail she had quitted, and said:
"The Carquinez Woods are on fire!"
The nest of the tuneful Burnhams, although in the suburbs of Indian
Spring, was not in ordinary weather and seasons hidden from the longing
eyes of the youth of that settlement. That night, however, it was
veiled in the smoke that encompassed the great highway leading to
Excelsior. It is presumed that the Burnham brood had long since folded
their wings, for there was no sign of life nor movement in the house as
a rapidly driven horse and buggy pulled up before it. Fortunately, the
paternal Burnham was an early bird, in the habit of picking up the
first stirring mining worm, and a resounding knock brought him half
dressed to the street door. He was startled at seeing Father Wynn
before him, a trifle flushed and abstracted.
"Ah ha! up betimes, I see, and ready. No sluggards here--ha, ha!" he
said heartily, slamming the door behind him, and by a series of pokes
in the ribs genially backing his host into his own sitting-room. "I'm
up, too, and am here to see Nellie. She's here, eh--of course?" he
added, darting a quick look at Burnham.
But Mr. Burnham was one of those large, liberal Western husbands who
classified his household under the general title of "woman folk," for
the integers of which he was not responsible. He hesitated, and then
propounded over the balusters to the upper story the direct query--"You
don't happen to have Nellie Wynn up there, do ye?"
There was an interval of inquiry proceeding from half a dozen reluctant
throats, more or less cottony and muffled, in those various degrees of
grievance and mental distress which indicate too early roused young
womanhood. The eventual reply seemed to be affirmative, albeit
accompanied with a suppressed giggle, as if the young lady had just
been discovered as an answer to an amusing conundrum.
"All right," said Wynn, with an apparent accession of boisterous
geniality. "Tell her I must see her, and I've only got a few minutes to
spare. Tell her to slip on anything and come down; there's no one here
but myself, and I've shut the front door on Brother Burnham. Ha, ha!"
and suiting the action to the word, he actually bundled the admiring
Brother Burnham out on his own doorstep. There was a light pattering on
the staircase, and Nellie Wynn, pink with sleep, very tall, very slim,
hastily draped in a white counterpane with a blue border and a general
classic suggestion, slipped into the parlor. At the same moment the
father shut the door behind her, placed one hand on the knob, and with
the other seized her wrist.
"Where were you yesterday?" he asked.
Nellie looked at him, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Here."
"You were in the Carquinez Woods with Low Dorman; you went there in
disguise; you've met him there before. He is your clandestine lover;
you have taken pledges of affection from him; you have"--
"Stop!" she said.
"Did he tell you this?" she asked, with an expression of disdain.
"No; I overheard it. Dunn and Brace were at the house waiting for you.
When the coach did not bring you, I went to the office to inquire. As I
left our door I thought I saw somebody listening at the parlor windows.
It was only a drunken Mexican muleteer leaning against the house; but
if _he_ heard nothing, _I_ did. Nellie, I heard Brace tell Dunn that he
had tracked you in your disguise to the woods--do you hear? that when
you pretended to be here with the girls you were with Low--alone; that
you wear a ring that Low got of a trader here; that there was a cabin
in the woods"--
"Stop!" she repeated.
Wynn again paused.
"And what did _you_ do?" she asked.
"I heard they were starting down there to surprise you and him
together, and I harnessed up and got ahead of them in my buggy."
"And found me here," she said, looking full into his eyes.
He understood her and returned the look. He recognized the full
importance of the culminating fact conveyed in her words, and was
obliged to content himself with its logical and worldly significance.
It was too late now to take her to task for mere filial disobedience;
they must become allies.
"Yes," he said hurriedly; "but if you value your reputation, if you
wish to silence both these men, answer me fully."
"Go on," she said.
"Did you go to the cabin in the woods yesterday?"
"Did you ever go there with Low?"
"No; I do not know even where it is."
Wynn felt that she was telling the truth. Nellie knew it; but as she
would have been equally satisfied with an equally efficacious
falsehood, her face remained unchanged.
"And when did he leave you?"
"At nine o'clock, here. He went to the hotel."
"He saved his life, then, for Dunn is on his way to the woods to kill
The jeopardy of her lover did not seem to affect the young girl with
alarm, although her eyes betrayed some interest.
"Then Dunn has gone to the woods?" she said thoughtfully.
"He has," replied Wynn.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"I want to know what you are going to do?"
"I _was_ going back to bed."
"This is no time for trifling, girl."
"I should think not," she said, with a yawn; "it's too early, or too
Wynn grasped her wrist more tightly. "Hear me! Put whatever face you
like on this affair, you are compromised--and compromised with a man
you can't marry."
"I don't know that I ever wanted to marry Low, if you mean him," she
"And Dunn wouldn't marry you now."
"I'm not so sure of that either."
"Nellie," said Wynn excitedly, "do you want to drive me mad? Have you
nothing to say--nothing to suggest?"
"Oh, you want me to help you, do you? Why didn't you say that first?
Well, go and bring Dunn here."
"Are you mad? The man has gone already in pursuit of your lover,
believing you with him."
"Then he will the more readily come and talk with me without him. Will
you take the invitation--yes or no?"
"Enough. On your way there you will stop at the hotel and give Low a
letter from me."
"You shall read it, of course," she said scornfully, "for it will be
your text for the conversation you will have with him. Will you please
take your hand from the lock and open the door?"
Wynn mechanically opened the door. The young girl flew up-stairs. In a
very few moments she returned with two notes: one contained a few lines
of formal invitation to Dunn; the other read as follows:--
"DEAR MR. DORMAN: My father will tell you how deeply I regret that our
recent botanical excursions in the Carquinez Woods have been a source
of serious misapprehension to those who had a claim to my
consideration, and that I shall be obliged to discontinue them for the
future. At the same time he wishes me to express my gratitude for your
valuable instruction and assistance in that pleasing study, even though
approaching events may compel me to relinquish it for other duties. May
I beg you to accept the enclosed ring as a slight recognition of my
obligations to you?
"Your grateful pupil,
When he had finished reading the letter, she handed him a ring, which
he took mechanically. He raised his eyes to hers with perfectly genuine
admiration. "You're a good girl, Nellie," he said, and, in a moment of
parental forgetfulness, unconsciously advanced his lips towards her
cheek. But she drew back in time to recall him to a sense of that human
"I suppose I'll have time for a nap yet," she said, as a gentle hint to
her embarrassed parent. He nodded and turned towards the door.
"If I were you," she continued, repressing a yawn, "I'd manage to be
seen on good terms with Low at the hotel; so perhaps you need not give
the letter to him until the last thing. Good-by."
The sitting-room door opened and closed behind her as she slipped
up-stairs, and her father, without the formality of leave-taking,
quietly let *himselt out by the front door.
When he drove into the highroad again, however, an overlooked
possibility threatened for a moment to indefinitely postpone his
amiable intentions regarding Low. The hotel was at the farther end of
the settlement toward the Carquinez Woods, and as Wynn had nearly
reached it he was recalled to himself by the sounds of hoofs and wheels
rapidly approaching from the direction of the Excelsior turnpike. Wynn
made no doubt it was the sheriff and Brace. To avoid recognition at
that moment, he whipped up his horse, intending to keep the lead until
he could turn into the first cross-road. But the coming travelers had
the fleetest horse; and finding it impossible to distance them, he
drove close to the ditch, pulling up suddenly as the strange vehicle
was abreast of him, and forcing them to pass him at full speed, with
the result already chronicled. When they had vanished in the darkness,
Mr. Wynn, with a heart overflowing with Christian thankfulness and
universal benevolence, wheeled round, and drove back to the hotel he
had already passed. To pull up at the veranda with a stentorian shout,
to thump loudly at the deserted bar, to hilariously beat the panels of
the landlord's door, and commit a jocose assault and battery upon that
half-dressed and half-awakened man, was eminently characteristic of
Wynn, and part of his amiable plans that morning.
"Something to wash this wood smoke from my throat, Brother Carter, and
about as much again to prop open your eyes," he said, dragging Carter
before the bar, "and glasses round for as many of the boys as are up
and stirring after a hard-working Christian's rest. How goes the honest
publican's trade, and who have we here?"
"Thar's Judge Robinson and two lawyers from Sacramento, Dick Curson
over from Yolo," said Carter, "and that ar young Injin yarb doctor from
the Carquinez Woods. I reckon he's jist up--I noticed a light under his
door as I passed."
"He's my man for a friendly chat before breakfast," said Wynn. "You
needn't come up. I'll find the way. I don't want a light; I reckon my
eyes ain't as bright nor as young as his, but they'll see almost as far
in the dark--he-he!" And, nodding to Brother Carter, he strode along
the passage, and with no other introduction than a playful and
preliminary "Boo!" burst into one of the rooms. Low, who by the light
of a single candle was bending over the plates of a large quarto,
merely raised his eyes and looked at the intruder. The young man's
natural imperturbability, always exasperating to Wynn, seemed accented
that morning by contrast with his own over-acted animation.
"Ah ha!--wasting the midnight oil instead of imbibing the morning
dews," said Father Wynn archly, illustrating his metaphor with a
movement of his hand to his lips. "What have we here?"
"An anonymous gift," replied Low simply, recognizing the father of
Nellie by rising from his chair. "It's a volume I've longed to possess,
but never could afford to buy. I cannot imagine who sent it to me."
Wynn was for a moment startled by the thought that this recipient of
valuable gifts might have influential friends. But a glance at the bare
room, which looked like a camp, and the strange, unconventional garb of
its occupant, restored his former convictions. There might be a promise
of intelligence, but scarcely of prosperity, in the figure before him.
"Ah! We must not forget that we are watched over in the night season,"
he said, laying his hand on Low's shoulder, with an illustration of
celestial guardianship that would have been impious but for its
palpable grotesqueness. "No, sir, we know not what a day may bring
Unfortunately, Low's practical mind did not go beyond a mere human
interpretation. It was enough, however, to put a new light in his eye
and a faint color in his cheek.
"Could it have been Miss Nellie?" he asked, with half-boyish
Mr. Wynn was too much of a Christian not to bow before what appeared to
him the purely providential interposition of this suggestion. Seizing
it and Low at the same moment, he playfully forced him down again in
"Ah, you rascal!" he said, with infinite archness; "that's your game,
is it? You want to trap poor Father Wynn. You want to make him say
'No.' You want to tempt him to commit himself. No, sir!--never,
Firmly convinced that the present was Nellie's and that her father only
good-humoredly guessed it, the young man's simple, truthful nature was
embarrassed. He longed to express his gratitude, but feared to betray
the young girl's trust. The Reverend Mr. Wynn speedily relieved his
"No," he continued, bestriding a chair, and familiarly confronting Low
over its back. "No, sir--no! And you want me to say 'No,' don't you,
regarding the little walks of Nellie and a certain young man in the
Carquinez Woods?--ha, ha! You'd like me to say that I knew nothing of
the botanizings, and the herb collectings, and the picnickings
there--he-he!--you sly dog! Perhaps you'd like to tempt Father Wynn
further and make him swear he knows nothing of his daughter disguising
herself in a duster and meeting another young man--isn't it another
young man?--all alone, eh? Perhaps you want poor old Father Wynn to say
'No.' No, sir, nothing of the kind ever occurred. Ah, you young
Slightly troubled, in spite of Wynn's hearty manner, Low, with his
usual directness however, said, "I do not want any one to deny that I
have seen Miss Nellie."
"Certainly, certainly," said Wynn, abandoning his method, considerably
disconcerted by Low's simplicity, and a certain natural reserve that
shook off his familiarity. "Certainly it's a noble thing to be able to
put your hand on your heart and say to the world, 'Come on, all of you!
Observe me; I have nothing to conceal. I walk with Miss Wynn in the
woods as her instructor--her teacher, in fact. We cull a flower here
and there; we pluck an herb fresh from the hand of the Creator. We
look, so to speak, from Nature to Nature's God.' Yes, my young friend,
we should be the first to repel the foul calumny that could
misinterpret our most innocent actions."
"Calumny?" repeated Low, starting to his feet. "What calumny?"
"My friend, my noble young friend, I recognize your indignation. I know
your worth. When I said to Nellie, my only child, my perhaps too simple
offspring--a mere wildflower like yourself--when I said to her, 'Go, my
child, walk in the woods with this young man, hand in hand. Let him
instruct you from the humblest roots, for he has trodden in the ways of
the Almighty. Gather wisdom from his lips, and knowledge from his
simple woodman's craft. Make, in fact, a collection not only of herbs,
but of moral axioms and experience,'--I knew I could trust you, and,
trusting you, my young friend, I felt I could trust the world. Perhaps
I was weak, foolish. But I thought only of her welfare. I even recall
how that, to preserve the purity of her garments, I bade her don a
simple duster; that, to secure her from the trifling companionship of
others, I bade her keep her own counsel, and seek you at seasons known
but to yourselves."
"But ... did Nellie ... understand you?" interrupted Low hastily.
"I see you read her simple nature. Understand me? No, not at first! Her
maidenly instinct--perhaps her duty to another--took the alarm. I
remember her words. 'But what will Dunn say?' she asked. 'Will he not
"Dunn! jealous! I don't understand," said Low, fixing his eyes on Wynn.
"That's just what I said to Nellie. 'Jealous!' I said. 'What, Dunn,
your affianced husband, jealous of a mere friend--a teacher, a guide, a
philosopher. It is impossible.' Well, sir, she was right. He is
jealous. And, more than that, he has imparted his jealousy to others!
In other words, he has made a scandal!"
Low's eyes flashed. "Where is your daughter now?" he said sternly.
"At present in bed, suffering from a nervous attack brought on by these
unjust suspicions. She appreciates your anxiety, and, knowing that you
could not see her, told me to give you this." He handed Low the ring
and the letter.
The climax had been forced, and, it must be confessed, was by no means
the one Mr. Wynn had fully arranged in his own inner consciousness. He
had intended to take an ostentatious leave of Low in the bar-room,
deliver the letter with archness, and escape before a possible
explosion. He consequently backed towards the door for an emergency.
But he was again at fault. That unaffected stoical fortitude in acute
suffering, which was the one remaining pride and glory of Low's race,
was yet to be revealed to Wynn's civilized eyes.
The young man took the letter, and read it without changing a muscle,
folded the ring in it, and dropped it into his haversack. Then he
picked up his blanket, threw it over his shoulder, took his trusty
rifle in his hand, and turned toward Wynn as if coldly surprised that
he was still standing there.
"Are you--are you--going?" stammered Wynn.
"Are you _not_?" replied Low dryly, leaning on his rifle for a moment
as if waiting for Wynn to precede him. The preacher looked at him a
moment, mumbled something, and then shambled feebly and ineffectively
down the staircase before Low, with a painful suggestion to the
ordinary observer of being occasionally urged thereto by the moccasin
of the young man behind him.
On reaching the lower hall, however, he endeavored to create a
diversion in his favor by dashing into the barroom and clapping the
occupants on the back with indiscriminate playfulness. But here again
he seemed to be disappointed. To his great discomfiture, a large man
not only returned his salutation with powerful levity, but with equal
playfulness seized him in his arms, and after an ingenious simulation
of depositing him in the horse-trough set him down in affected
amazement. "Bleth't if I didn't think from the weight of your hand it
wath my old friend, Thacramento Bill," said Curson apologetically, with
a wink at the bystanders. "That'th the way Bill alwayth uthed to tackle
hith friendth, till he wath one day bounthed by a prithe-fighter in
Frithco, whom he had mithtaken for a mithionary." As Mr. Curson's
reputation was of a quality that made any form of apology from him
instantly acceptable, the amused spectators made way for him as,
recognizing Low, who was just leaving the hotel, he turned coolly from
them and walked towards him.
"Halloo!" he said, extending his hand. "You're the man I'm waiting for.
Did you get a book from the exthpreth offithe latht night?"
"I did. Why?"
"It'th all right. Ath I'm rethponthible for it, I only wanted to know."
"Did _you_ send it?" asked Low, quickly fixing his eyes on his face.
"Well, not exactly _me_. But it'th not worth making a mythtery of it.
Teretha gave me a commithion to buy it and thend it to you
anonymouthly. That'th a woman'th nonthenth, for how could thee get a
retheipt for it?"
"Then it was _her_ present," said Low gloomily.
"Of courthe. It wathn't mine, my boy. I'd have thent you a Tharp'th
rifle in plathe of that muthle loader you carry, or thomething
thenthible. But, I thay! what'th up? You look ath if you had been
running all night."
Low grasped his hand. "Thank you," he said hurriedly; "but it's
nothing. Only I must be back to the woods early. Good-by."
But Curson retained Low's hand in his own powerful grip.
"I'll go with you a bit further," he said. "In fact, I've got
thomething to thay to you; only don't be in thuch a hurry; the woodth
can wait till you get there." Quietly compelling Low to alter his own
characteristic Indian stride to keep pace with his, he went on: "I
don't mind thaying I rather cottoned to you from the time you acted
like a white man--no offenthe--to Teretha. She thayth you were left
when a child lying round, jutht ath promithcuouthly ath she wath; and
if I can do anything towardth putting you on the trail of your people,
I'll do it. I know thome of the _voyageurth_ who traded with the
Cherokeeth, and your father wath one--wasn't he?" He glanced at Low's
utterly abstracted and immobile face. "I thay, you don't theem to take
a hand in thith game, pardner. What 'th the row? Ith anything wrong
over there?" and he pointed to the Carquinez Woods, which were just
looming out of the morning horizon in the distance.
Low stopped. The last words of his companion seemed to recall him to
himself. He raised his eyes automatically to the woods, and started.
"There _is_ something wrong over there," he said breathlessly. "Look!"
"I thee nothing," said Curson, beginning to doubt Low's sanity;
"nothing more than I thaw an hour ago."
"Look again. Don't you see that smoke rising straight up? It isn't
blown over from the Divide; it's new smoke! The fire is in the woods!"
"I reckon that 'th so," muttered Curson, shading his eyes with his
hand. "But, hullo! wait a minute! We'll get hortheth. I say!" he
shouted, forgetting his lisp in his excitement--"stop!" But Low had
already lowered his head and darted forward like an arrow.
In a few moments he had left not only his companion but the last
straggling houses of the outskirts far behind him, and had struck out
in a long, swinging trot for the disused "cut-off." Already he fancied
he heard the note of clamor in Indian Spring, and thought he
distinguished the sound of hurrying hoofs on the great highway. But the
sunken trail hid it from his view. From the column of smoke now plainly
visible in the growing morning light he tried to locate the scene of
the conflagration. It was evidently not a fire advancing regularly from
the outer skirt of the wood, communicated to it from the Divide; it was
a local outburst near its centre. It was not in the direction of his
cabin in the tree. There was no immediate danger to Teresa, unless fear
drove her beyond the confines of the wood into the hands of those who
might recognize her. The screaming of jays and ravens above his head
quickened his speed, as it heralded the rapid advance of the flames;
and the unexpected apparition of a bounding body, flattened and flying
over the yellow plain, told him that even the secure retreat of the
mountain wild-cat had been invaded. A sudden recollection of Teresa's
uncontrollable terror that first night smote him with remorse and
redoubled his efforts. Alone in the track of these frantic and
bewildered beasts, to what madness might she not be driven!
The sharp crack of a rifle from the highroad turned his course
momentarily in that direction. The smoke was curling lazily over the
heads of a party of men in the road, while the huge bulk of a grizzly
was disappearing in the distance. A battue of the escaping animals had
commenced! In the bitterness of his heart he caught at the horrible
suggestion, and resolved to save her from them or die with her there.
How fast he ran, or the time it took him to reach the woods, has never
been known. Their outlines were already hidden when he entered them. To
a sense less keen, a courage less desperate, and a purpose less
unaltered than Low's, the wood would have been impenetrable. The
central fire was still confined to the lofty tree-tops, but the
downward rush of wind from time to time drove the smoke into the aisles
in blinding and suffocating volumes. To simulate the creeping animals,
and fall to the ground on hands and knees, feel his way through the
underbrush when the smoke was densest, or take advantage of its
momentary lifting, and without uncertainty, mistake, or hesitation
glide from tree to tree in one undeviating course, was possible only to
an experienced woodsman. To keep his reason and insight so clear as to
be able in the midst of this bewildering confusion to shape that course
so as to intersect the wild and unknown tract of an inexperienced,
frightened wanderer belonged to Low, and to Low alone. He was making
his way against the wind towards the fire. He had reasoned that she was
either in comparative safety to windward of it, or he should meet her
being driven towards him by it, or find her succumbed and fainting at
its feet. To do this he must penetrate the burning belt, and then pass
under the blazing dome. He was already upon it; he could see the
falling fire dropping like rain or blown like gorgeous blossoms of the
conflagration across his path. The space was lit up brilliantly. The
vast shafts of dull copper cast no shadow below, but there was no sign
nor token of any human being. For a moment the young man was at fault.
It was true this hidden heart of the forest bore no undergrowth; the
cool matted carpet of the aisles seemed to quench the glowing fragments
as they fell. Escape might be difficult, but not impossible; yet every
moment was precious. He leaned against a tree, and sent his voice like
a clarion before him: "Teresa!" There was no reply. He called again. A
faint cry at his back from the trail he had just traversed made him
turn. Only a few paces behind him, blinded and staggering, but
following like a beaten and wounded animal, Teresa halted, knelt,
clasped her hands, and dumbly held them out before her. "Teresa!" he
cried again, and sprang to her side.
She caught him by the knees, and lifted her face imploringly to his.
"Say that again!" she cried, passionately. "Tell me it was Teresa you
called, and no other! You have come back for me! You would not let me
die here alone!"
He lifted her tenderly in his arms, and cast a rapid glance around him.
It might have been his fancy, but there seemed a dull glow in the
direction he had come.
"You do not speak!" she said. "Tell me! You did not come here to seek
"Whom?" he said quickly.
With a sharp cry he let her slip to the ground. All the pent-up agony,
rage, and mortification of the last hour broke from him in that
inarticulate outburst. Then, catching her hands again, he dragged her
to his level.
"Hear me!" he cried, disregarding the whirling smoke and the fiery
baptism that sprinkled them--"hear me! If you value your life, if you
value your soul, and if you do not want me to cast you to the beasts
like Jezebel of old, never--never take that accursed name again upon
your lips. Seek her--_her_? Yes! Seek her to tie her like a witch's
daughter of hell to that blazing tree!" He stopped. "Forgive me," he
said in a changed voice. "I'm mad, and forgetting myself and you.
Without noticing the expression of half savage delight that had passed
across her face, he lifted her in his arms.
"Which way are you going?" she asked, passing her hands vaguely across
his breast, as if to reassure herself of his identity.
"To our camp by the scarred tree," he replied.
"Not there, not there," she said, hurriedly. "I was driven from there
just now. I thought the fire began there until I came here."
Then it was as he feared. Obeying the same mysterious law that had
launched this fatal fire like a thunderbolt from the burning mountain
crest five miles away into the heart of the Carquinez Woods, it had
again leaped a mile beyond, and was hemming them between two narrowing
lines of fire. But Low was not daunted. Retracing his steps through the
blinding smoke, he strode off at right angles to the trail near the
point where he had entered the wood. It was the spot where he had first
lifted Nellie in his arms to carry her to the hidden spring. If any
recollection of it crossed his mind at that moment, it was only shown
in his redoubled energy. He did not glide through the thick underbrush,
as on that day, but seemed to take a savage pleasure in breaking
through it with sheer brute force. Once Teresa insisted upon relieving
him of the burden of her weight, but after a few steps she staggered
blindly against him, and would fain have recourse once more to his
strong arms. And so, alternately staggering, bending, crouching, or
bounding and crashing on, but always in one direction, they burst
through the jealous rampart, and came upon the sylvan haunt of the
hidden spring. The great angle of the half fallen tree acted as a
barrier to the wind and drifting smoke, and the cool spring sparkled
and bubbled in the almost translucent air. He laid her down beside the
water, and bathed her face and hands. As he did so his quick eye caught
sight of a woman's handkerchief lying at the foot of the disrupted
root. Dropping Teresa's hand, he walked towards it, and with the toe of
his moccasin gave it one vigorous kick into the ooze at the overflow of
the spring. He turned to Teresa, but she evidently had not noticed the
"Where are you?" she asked, with a smile.
Something in her movement struck him. He came towards her, and bending
down looked into her face.
"Teresa! Good God!--look at me! What has happened?"
She raised her eyes to his. There was a slight film across them; the
lids were blackened; the beautiful lashes gone forever!
"I see you a little now, I think," she said, with a smile, passing her
hands vaguely over his face. "It must have happened when he fainted,
and I had to drag him through the blazing brush; both my hands were
full, and I could not cover my eyes."
"Drag whom?" said Low, quickly.
"Dunn! He here?" said Low, hoarsely.
"Yes; didn't you read the note I left on the herbarium? Didn't you come
to the camp-fire?" she asked hurriedly, clasping his hands. "Tell me
"Then you were not there--then you didn't leave me to die?"
"No! I swear it, Teresa!" the stoicism that had upheld his own agony
breaking down before her strong emotion.
"Thank God!" She threw her arms around him, and hid her aching eyes in
his troubled breast.
"Tell me all, Teresa," he whispered in her listening ear. "Don't move;
stay there, and tell me all."
With her face buried in his bosom, as if speaking to his heart alone,
she told him part, but not all. With her eyes filled with tears, but a
smile on her lips, radiant with new-found happiness, she told him how
she had overheard the plans of Dunn and Brace, how she had stolen their
conveyance to warn him in time. But here she stopped, dreading to say a
word that would shatter the hope she was building upon his sudden
revulsion of feeling for Nellie. She could not bring herself to repeat
their interview--that would come later, when they were safe and out of
danger; now not even the secret of his birth must come between them
with its distraction, to mar their perfect communion. She faltered that
Dunn had fainted from weakness, and that she had dragged him out of
danger. "He will never interfere with us--I mean," she said softly,
"with _me_ again. I can promise you that as well as if he had sworn
"Let him pass now," said Low; "that will come later on," he added,
unconsciously repeating her thought in a tone that made her heart sick.
"But tell me, Teresa, why did you go to Excelsior?"
She buried her head still deeper, as if to hide it. He felt her broken
heart beat against his own; he was conscious of a depth of feeling her
rival had never awakened in him. The possibility of Teresa loving him
had never occurred to his simple nature. He bent his head and kissed
her. She was frightened, and unloosed her clinging arms; but he
retained her hand, and said, "We will leave this accursed place, and
you shall go with me as you said you would; nor need you ever leave me,
unless you wish it."
She could hear the beating of her own heart through his words; she
longed to look at the eyes and lips that told her this, and read the
meaning his voice alone could not entirely convey. For the first time
she felt the loss of her sight. She did not know that it was, in this
moment of happiness, the last blessing vouchsafed to her miserable
A few moments of silence followed, broken only by the distant rumor of
the conflagration and the crash of falling boughs. "It may be an hour
yet," he whispered, "before the fire has swept a path for us to the
road below. We are safe here, unless some sudden current should draw
the fire down upon us. You are not frightened?" She pressed his hand;
she was thinking of the pale face of Dunn, lying in the secure retreat
she had purchased for him at such a sacrifice. Yet the possibility of
danger to him now for a moment marred her present happiness and
security. "You think the fire will not go north of where you found me?"
she asked softly.
"I think not," he said; "but I will reconnoitre. Stay where you are."
They pressed hands and parted. He leaped upon the slanting trunk and
ascended it rapidly. She waited in mute expectation.
There was a sudden movement of the root on which she sat, a deafening
crash, and she was thrown forward on her face.
The vast bulk of the leaning tree, dislodged from its aerial support by
the gradual sapping of the spring at its roots, or by the crumbling of
the bark from the heat, had slipped, made a half revolution, and,
falling, overbore the lesser trees in its path, and tore, in its
resistless momentum, a broad opening to the underbrush.
With a cry to Low, Teresa staggered to her feet. There was an interval
of hideous silence, but no reply. She called again. There was a sudden
deepening roar, the blast of a fiery furnace swept through the opening,
a thousand luminous points around her burst into fire, and in an
instant she was lost in a whirlwind of smoke and flame! From the onset
of its fury to its culmination twenty minutes did not elapse; but in
that interval a radius of two hundred yards around the hidden spring
was swept of life and light and motion.
For the rest of that day and part of the night a pall of smoke hung
above the scene of desolation. It lifted only towards the morning, when
the moon, riding high, picked out in black and silver the shrunken and
silent columns of those roofless vaults, shorn of base and capital. It
flickered on the still, overflowing pool of the hidden spring, and
shone upon the white face of Low, who, with a rootlet of the fallen
tree holding him down like an arm across his breast, seemed to be
sleeping peacefully in the sleeping water.
* * * * *
Contemporaneous history touched him as briefly, but not as gently. "It
is now definitely ascertained," said "The Slumgullion Mirror," "that
Sheriff Dunn met his fate in the Carquinez Woods in the performance of
his duty; that fearless man having received information of the
concealment of a band of horse thieves in their recesses. The
desperadoes are presumed to have escaped, as the only remains found are
those of two wretched tramps, one of whom is said to have been a
digger, who supported himself upon roots and herbs, and the other a
degraded half-white woman. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the
fire originated through their carelessness, although Father Wynn of the
First Baptist Church, in his powerful discourse of last Sunday, pointed
at the warning and lesson of such catastrophes. It may not be out of
place here to say that the rumors regarding an engagement between the
pastor's accomplished daughter and the late lamented sheriff are
utterly without foundation, as it has been an _on dit_ for some time in
all well-informed circles that the indefatigable Mr. Brace, of Wells,
Fargo & Co.'s Express, will shortly lead the lady to the hymeneal
AT THE MISSION OF SAN CARMEL.
It was noon of the 10th of August, 1838. The monotonous coast line
between Monterey and San Diego had set its hard outlines against the
steady glare of the Californian sky and the metallic glitter of the
Pacific Ocean. The weary succession of rounded, dome-like hills
obliterated all sense of distance; the rare whaling vessel or still
rarer trader, drifting past, saw no change in these rusty undulations,
barren of distinguishing peak or headland, and bald of wooded crest or
timbered ravine. The withered ranks of wild oats gave a dull procession
of uniform color to the hills, unbroken by any relief of shadow in
their smooth, round curves. As far as the eye could reach, sea and
shore met in one bleak monotony, flecked by no passing cloud, stirred
by no sign of life or motion. Even sound was absent; the Angelus, rung
from the invisible Mission tower far inland, was driven back again by
the steady northwest trades, that for half the year had swept the coast
line and left it abraded of all umbrage and color.
But even this monotony soon gave way to a change and another monotony
as uniform and depressed. The western horizon, slowly contracting
before a wall of vapor, by four o'clock had become a mere cold, steely
strip of sea, into which gradually the northern trend of the coast
faded and was lost. As the fog stole with soft step southward, all
distance, space, character, and locality again vanished; the hills upon
which the sun still shone bore the same monotonous outlines as those
just wiped into space. Last of all, before the red sun sank like the
descending Host, it gleamed upon the sails of a trading vessel close in
shore. It was the last object visible. A damp breath breathed upon it,
a soft hand passed over the slate, the sharp pencilling of the picture
faded and became a confused gray cloud.
The wind and waves, too, went down in the fog; the now invisible and
hushed breakers occasionally sent the surf over the sand in a quick
whisper, with grave intervals of silence, but with no continuous murmur
as before. In a curving bight of the shore the creaking of oars in
their rowlocks began to be distinctly heard, but the boat itself,
although apparently only its length from the sands, was invisible.
"Steady now; way enough!" The voice came from the sea, and was low, as
if unconsciously affected by the fog. "Silence!"
The sound of a keel grating the sand was followed by the order, "Stern
all!" from the invisible speaker.
"Shall we beach her?" asked another vague voice.
"Not yet. Hail again, and all together."
There were four voices, but the hail appeared weak and ineffectual,
like a cry in a dream, and seemed hardly to reach beyond the surf
before it was suffocated in the creeping cloud. A silence followed, but
"It's no use to beach her and go ashore until we find the boat," said
the first voice, gravely; "and we'll do that if the current has brought
her here. Are you sure you've got the right bearings?"
"As near as a man could off a shore with not a blasted pint to take his
There was a long silence again, broken only by the occasional dip of
oars, keeping the invisible boat-head to the sea.
"Take my word for it, lads, it's the last we'll see of that boat again,
or of Jack Cranch, or the captain's baby."
"It _does_ look mighty queer that the painter should slip. Jack Cranch
ain't the man to tie a granny knot."
"Silence!" said the invisible leader. "Listen."
A hail, so faint and uncertain that it might have been the
long-deferred, far-off echo of their own, came from the sea, abreast of
"It's the captain. He hasn't found anything, or he couldn't be so far
The hail was repeated again faintly, dreamily. To the seamen's trained
ears it seemed to have an intelligent significance, for the first voice
gravely responded, "Aye, aye?" and then said softly, "Oars."
The word was followed by a splash. The oars clicked sharply and
simultaneously in the rowlocks, then more faintly, then still fainter,
and then passed out into the darkness.
The silence and shadow both fell together; for hours sea and shore were
impenetrable. Yet at times the air was softly moved and troubled, the
surrounding gloom faintly lightened as with a misty dawn, and then was
dark again; or drowsy, far-off cries and confused noises seemed to grow
out of the silence, and, when they had attracted the weary ear, sank
away as in a mocking dream, and showed themselves unreal. Nebulous
gatherings in the fog seemed to indicate stationary objects that, even
as one gazed, moved away; the recurring lap and ripple on the shingle
sometimes took upon itself the semblance of faint articulate laughter
or spoken words. But towards morning a certain monotonous grating on
the sand, that had for many minutes alternately cheated and piqued the
ear, asserted itself more strongly, and a moving, vacillating shadow in
the gloom became an opaque object on the shore.
With the first rays of the morning light the fog lifted. As the
undraped hills one by one bared their cold bosoms to the sun, the long
line of coast struggled back to life again. Everything was unchanged,
except that a stranded boat lay upon the sands, and in its stern sheets
a sleeping child.
The 10th of August, 1852, brought little change to the dull monotony of
wind, fog, and treeless coast line. Only the sea was occasionally
flecked with racing sails that outstripped the old, slow-creeping
trader, or was at times streaked and blurred with the trailing smoke of
a steamer. There were a few strange footprints on those virgin sands,
and a fresh track, that led from the beach over the rounded hills,
dropped into the bosky recesses of a hidden valley beyond the coast
It was here that the refectory windows of the Mission of San Carmel had
for years looked upon the reverse of that monotonous picture presented
to the sea. It was here that the trade winds, shorn of their fury and
strength in the heated, oven-like air that rose from the valley, lost
their weary way in the tangled recesses of the wooded slopes, and
breathed their last at the foot of the stone cross before the Mission.
It was on the crest of those slopes that the fog halted and walled in
the sun-illumined plain below; it was in this plain that limitless
fields of grain clothed the flat adobe soil; here the Mission garden
smiled over its hedges of fruitful vines, and through the leaves of fig
and gnarled pear trees; and it was here that Father Pedro had lived for
fifty years, found the prospect good, and had smiled also.
Father Pedro's smile was rare. He was not a Las Casas, nor a Junipero
Serra, but he had the deep seriousness of all disciples laden with the
responsible wording of a gospel not their own. And his smile had an
ecclesiastical as well as a human significance, the pleasantest object
in his prospect being the fair and curly head of his boy acolyte and
chorister, Francisco, which appeared among the vines, and his sweetest
pastoral music, the high soprano humming of a chant with which the boy
accompanied his gardening.
Suddenly the acolyte's chant changed to a cry of terror. Running
rapidly to Father Pedro's side, he grasped his _sotana_, and even tried
to hide his curls among its folds.
"'St! 'st!" said the Padre, disengaging himself with some impatience.
"What new alarm is this? Is it Luzbel hiding among our Catalan vines,
or one of those heathen Americanos from Monterey? Speak!"
"Neither, holy father," said the boy, the color struggling back into
his pale cheeks, and an apologetic, bashful smile lighting his clear
eyes. "Neither; but oh! such a gross, lethargic toad! And it almost
leaped upon me."
"A toad leaped upon thee!" repeated the good father with evident
vexation. "What next? I tell thee, child, those foolish fears are most
unmeet for thee, and must be overcome, if necessary, with prayer and
penance. Frightened by a toad! Blood of the Martyrs! 'T is like any
Father Pedro stopped and coughed.
"I am saying that no Christian child should shrink from any of God's
harmless creatures. And only last week thou wast disdainful of poor
Murieta's pig, forgetting that San Antonio himself did elect one his
faithful companion, even in glory."
"Yes, but it was so fat, and so uncleanly, holy father," replied the
young acolyte, "and it smelt so."
"Smelt so?" echoed the father doubtfully. "Have a care, child, that
this is not luxuriousness of the senses. I have noticed of late you
gather over-much of roses and syringa, excellent in their way and in
moderation, but still not to be compared with the flower of Holy
Church, the lily."
"But lilies don't look well on the refectory table, and against the
adobe wall," returned the acolyte, with a pout of a spoilt child; "and
surely the flowers cannot help being sweet, any more than myrrh or
incense. And I am not frightened of the heathen Americanos either,
_now_. There was a small one in the garden yesterday, a boy like me,
and he spoke kindly and with a pleasant face."
"What said he to thee, child?" asked Father Pedro, anxiously.
"Nay, the matter of his speech I could not understand," laughed the
boy, "but the manner was as gentle as thine, holy father."
"'St, child," said the Padre, impatiently. "Thy likings are as
unreasonable as thy fears. Besides, have I not told thee it ill becomes
a child of Christ to chatter with those sons of Belial? But canst thou
not repeat the words--the _words_ he said?" he continued suspiciously.
"'T is a harsh tongue the Americanos speak in their throat," replied
the boy. "But he said 'Devilishnisse' and 'pretty-as-a-girl,' and
looked at me."
The good father made the boy repeat the words gravely, and as gravely
repeated them after him with infinite simplicity. "They are but
heretical words," he replied, in answer to the boy's inquiring look;
"it is well you understand not English. Enough. Run away, child, and be
ready for the Angelus. I will commune with myself awhile under the pear
Glad to escape so easily, the young acolyte disappeared down the alley
of fig trees, not without a furtive look at the patches of chickweed
around their roots, the possible ambuscade of creeping or saltant
vermin. The good priest heaved a sigh and glanced round the darkening
prospect. The sun had already disappeared over the mountain wall that
lay between him and the sea, rimmed with a faint white line of outlying
fog. A cool zephyr fanned his cheek; it was the dying breath of the
_vientos generales_ beyond the wall. As Father Pedro's eyes were raised
to this barrier, which seemed to shut out the boisterous world beyond,
he fancied he noticed for the first time a slight breach in the
parapet, over which an advanced banner of the fog was fluttering. Was
it an omen? His speculations were cut short by a voice at his very
He turned quickly and beheld one of those "heathens" against whom he
had just warned his young acolyte; one of that straggling band of
adventurers whom the recent gold discoveries had scattered along the
coast. Luckily the fertile alluvium of these valleys, lying parallel
with the sea, offered no "indications" to attract the gold-seekers.
Nevertheless, to Father Pedro even the infrequent contact with the
Americanos was objectionable: they were at once inquisitive and
careless; they asked questions with the sharp perspicacity of
controversy; they received his grave replies with the frank
indifference of utter worldliness. Powerful enough to have been
tyrannical oppressors, they were singularly tolerant and gentle,
contenting themselves with a playful, good-natured irreverence, which
tormented the good father more than opposition. They were felt to be
dangerous and subversive.
The Americano, however, who stood before him did not offensively
suggest these national qualities. A man of middle height, strongly
built, bronzed and slightly gray from the vicissitudes of years and
exposure, he had an air of practical seriousness that commended itself
to Father Pedro. To his religious mind it suggested self-consciousness;
expressed in the dialect of the stranger, it only meant "business."
"I'm rather glad I found you out here alone," began the latter; "it
saves time. I haven't got to take my turn with the rest, in there,"--he
indicated the church with his thumb,--"and you haven't got to make an
appointment. You have got a clear forty minutes before the Angelus
rings," he added, consulting a large silver chronometer, "and I reckon
I kin git through my part of the job inside of twenty, leaving you ten
minutes for remarks. I want to confess."
Father Pedro drew back with a gesture of dignity. The stranger,
however, laid his hand upon the Padre's sleeve with the air of a man
anticipating objection, but never refusal, and went on.
"Of course, I know. You want me to come at some other time, and in
_there_. You want it in the reg'lar style. That's your way and your
time. My answer is: it ain't _my_ way and _my_ time. The main idea of
confession, I take it, is gettin' at the facts. I'm ready to give 'em
if you'll take 'em out here, now. If you're willing to drop the Church
and confessional, and all that sort o' thing, I, on my side, am willing
to give up the absolution, and all that sort o' thing. You might," he
added, with an unconscious touch of pathos in the suggestion, "heave in
a word or two of advice after I get through; for instance, what _you'd_
do in the circumstances, you see! That's all. But that's as you please.
It ain't part of the business."
Irreverent as this speech appeared, there was really no trace of such
intention in his manner, and his evident profound conviction that his
suggestion was practical, and not at all inconsistent with
ecclesiastical dignity, would alone have been enough to touch the
Padre, had not the stranger's dominant personality already overridden
him. He hesitated. The stranger seized the opportunity to take his arm,
and lead him with the half familiarity of powerful protection to a
bench beneath the refectory window. Taking out his watch again, he put
it in the passive hands of the astonished priest, saying, "Time me,"
cleared his throat, and began:--
"Fourteen years ago there was a ship cruisin' in the Pacific, jest off
this range, that was ez nigh on to a Hell afloat as anything rigged kin
be. If a chap managed to dodge the cap'en's belaying-pin for a time he
was bound to be fetched up in the ribs at last by the mate's boots.
There was a chap knocked down the fore hatch with a broken leg in the
Gulf, and another jumped overboard off Cape Corrientes, crazy as a
loon, along a clip of the head from the cap'en's trumpet. Them's facts.
The ship was a brigantine, trading along the Mexican coast. The cap'en
had his wife aboard, a little timid Mexican woman he'd picked up at
Mazatlan. I reckon she didn't get on with him any better than the men,
for she ups and dies one day, leavin' her baby, a year-old gal. One o'
the crew was fond o' that baby. He used to get the black nurse to put
it in the dingy, and he'd tow it astern, rocking it with the painter
like a cradle. He did it--hatin' the cap'en all the same. One day the
black nurse got out of the dingy for a moment, when the baby was
asleep, leavin' him alone with it. An idea took hold on him, jest from
cussedness, you'd say, but it was partly from revenge on the cap'en and
partly to get away from the ship. The ship was well in shore, and the
current settin' towards it. He slipped the painter--that man--and set
himself adrift with the baby. It was a crazy act, you'd reckon, for
there was n't any oars in the boat; but he had a crazy man's luck, and
he contrived, by sculling the boat with one of the seats he tore out,
to keep her out of the breakers, till he could find a bight in the
shore to run her in. The alarm was given from the ship, but the fog
shut down upon him; he could hear the other boats in pursuit. They
seemed to close in on him, and by the sound he judged the cap'en was
just abreast of him in the gig, bearing down upon him in the fog. He
slipped out of the dingy into the water without a splash, and struck
out for the breakers. He got ashore after havin' been knocked down and
dragged in four times by the undertow. He had only one idea then,
thankfulness that he had not taken the baby with him in the surf. You
kin put that down for him; it's a fact. He got off into the hills, and
made his way up to Monterey."
"And the child?" asked the Padre, with a sudden and strange asperity
that boded no good to the penitent; "the child thus ruthlessly
abandoned--what became of it?"
"That's just it, the child," said the stranger, gravely. "Well, if that
man was on his death-bed instead of being here talking to you, he'd
swear that he thought the cap'en was sure to come up to it the next
minit. That's a fact. But it wasn't until one day that he--that's
me--ran across one of that crew in Frisco. 'Hallo, Cranch,' sez he to
me, 'so you got away, didn't you? And how's the cap'en's baby? Grown a
young gal by this time, ain't she?' 'What are you talking about,' sez
I; 'how should I know?' He draws away from me, and sez,'D--it,' sez he,
'you don't mean that you' ... I grabs him by the throat and makes him
tell me all. And then it appears that the boat and the baby were never
found again, and every man of that crew, cap'en and all, believed I had
He paused. Father Pedro was staring at the prospect with an
uncompromising rigidity of head and shoulder.
"It's a bad lookout for me, ain't it?" the stranger continued, in
"How do I know," said the priest harshly, without turning his head,
"that you did not make away with this child?"
"That you did not complete your revenge by--by--killing it, as your
comrade suspected you? Ah! Holy Trinity," continued Father Pedro,
throwing out his hands with an impatient gesture, as if to take the
place of unutterable thought.
"How do _you_ know?" echoed the stranger coldly.
The stranger linked his fingers together and threw them over his knee,
drew it up to his chest caressingly, and said quietly, "Because you
The Padre rose to his feet.
"What mean you?" he said, sternly fixing his eyes upon the speaker.
Their eyes met. The stranger's were gray and persistent, with hanging
corner lids that might have concealed even more purpose than they
showed. The Padre's were hollow, open, and the whites slightly brown,
as if with tobacco stains. Yet they were the first to turn away.
"I mean," returned the stranger, with the same practical gravity, "that
you know it wouldn't pay me to come here, if I'd killed the baby,
unless I wanted you to fix things right with me up there," pointing
skyward, "and get absolution; and I've told you _that_ wasn't in my
"Why do you seek me, then?" demanded the Padre, suspiciously.
"Because I reckon I thought a man might be allowed to confess something
short of a murder. If you're going to draw the line below that"--
"This is but sacrilegious levity," interrupted Father Pedro, turning as
if to go. But the stranger did not make any movement to detain him.
"Have you implored forgiveness of the father--the man you
wronged--before you came here?" asked the priest, lingering.
"Not much. It wouldn't pay if he was living, and he died four years
"You are sure of that?"
"There are other relations, perhaps?"
Father Pedro was silent. When he spoke again, it was with a changed
voice. "What is your purpose, then?" he asked, with the first
indication of priestly sympathy in his manner. "You cannot ask
forgiveness of the earthly father you have injured, you refuse the
intercession of Holy Church with the Heavenly Father you have
disobeyed. Speak, wretched man! What is it you want?"
"I want to find the child."
"But if it were possible, if she were still living, are you fit to seek
her, to even make yourself known to her, to appear before her?"
"Well, if I made it profitable to her, perhaps."
"Perhaps," echoed the priest, scornfully. "So be it. But why come
"To ask your advice. To know how to begin my search. You know this
country. You were here when that boat drifted ashore beyond that
"Ah, indeed. I have much to do with it. It is an affair of the
alcalde--the authorities--of your--your police."
The Padre again met the stranger's eyes. He stopped, with the snuffbox
he had somewhat ostentatiously drawn from his pocket still open in his
"Why is it not, Senor?" he demanded.
"If she lives, she is a young lady by this time, and might not want the
details of her life known to any one."
"And how will you recognize your baby in this young lady?" asked Father
Pedro, with a rapid gesture, indicating the comparative heights of a
baby and an adult.
"I reckon I'll know her, and her clothes too; and whoever found her
wouldn't be fool enough to destroy them."
"After fourteen years! Good! You have faith, Senor"--
"Cranch," supplied the stranger, consulting his watch. "But time's up.
Business is business. Good-by; don't let me keep you."
He extended his hand.
The Padre met it with a dry, unsympathetic palm, as sere and yellow as
the hills. When their hands separated, the father still hesitated,
looking at Cranch. If he expected further speech or entreaty from him
he was mistaken, for the American, without turning his head, walked in
the same serious, practical fashion down the avenue of fig trees, and
disappeared beyond the hedge of vines. The outlines of the mountain
beyond were already lost in the fog. Father Pedro turned into the
A strong flavor of leather, onions, and stable preceded the entrance of
a short, stout _vaquero_ from the little _patio_.
"Saddle Pinto and thine own mule to accompany Francisco, who will take
letters from me to the Father Superior at San Jose to-morrow at
"At daybreak, reverend father?"
"At daybreak. Hark ye, go by the mountain trails and avoid the highway.
Stop at no _posada_ nor _fonda_, but if the child is weary, rest then
awhile at Don Juan Briones' or at the rancho of the Blessed Fisherman.
Have no converse with stragglers, least of all those gentile
Americanos. So" ...
The first strokes of the Angelus came from the nearer tower. With a
gesture Father Pedro waved Antonio aside, and opened the door of the
"_Ad Majorem Dei Gloria_."
The hacienda of Don Juan Briones, nestling in a wooded cleft of the
foot-hills, was hidden, as Father Pedro had wisely reflected, from the
straying feet of travelers along the dusty highway to San Jose. As
Francisco, emerging from the _canada_, put spurs to his mule at the
sight of the whitewashed walls, Antonio grunted:
"Oh aye, little priest! thou wast tired enough a moment ago, and though
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