Part 5 out of 8
we are not three leagues from the Blessed Fisherman, thou couldst
scarce sit thy saddle longer. Mother of God! and all to see that little
"But, good Antonio, Juanita was my playfellow, and I may not soon again
chance this way. And Juanita is not a mongrel, no more than I am."
"She is a _mestiza_, and thou art a child of the Church, though this
following of gypsy wenches does not show it."
"But Father Pedro does not object," urged the boy.
"The reverend father has forgotten he was ever young," replied Antonio,
sententiously, "or he wouldn't set fire and tow together."
"What sayest thou, good Antonio?" asked Francisco quickly, opening his
blue eyes in frank curiosity; "who is fire, and who is tow?"
The worthy muleteer, utterly abashed and confounded by this display of
the acolyte's direct simplicity, contented himself by shrugging his
shoulders, and a vague "_Quien sabe?_"
"Come," said the boy, gayly, "confess it is only the _aguardiente_ of
the Blessed Fisherman thou missest. Never fear, Juanita will find thee
some. And see! here she comes."
There was a flash of white flounces along the dark brown corridor, the
twinkle of satin slippers, the flying out of long black braids, and
with a cry of joy a young girl threw herself upon Francisco as he
entered the _patio_, and nearly dragged him from his mule.
"Have a care, little sister," laughed the acolyte, looking at Antonio,
"or there will be a conflagration. Am I the fire?" he continued,
submitting to the two sounding kisses the young girl placed upon either
cheek, but still keeping his mischievous glance upon the muleteer.
"_Quien sabe_?" repeated Antonio, gruffly, as the young girl blushed
under his significant eyes. "It is no affair of mine," he added to
himself, as he led Pinto away. "Perhaps Father Pedro is right, and this
young twig of the Church is as dry and sapless as himself. Let the
_mestiza_ burn if she likes."
"Quick, Pancho," said the young girl, eagerly leading him along the
corridor. "This way. I must talk with thee before thou seest Don Juan;
that is why I ran to intercept thee, and not as that fool Antonio would
signify, to shame thee. Wast thou ashamed, my Pancho?"
The boy threw his arm familiarly round the supple, stayless little
waist, accented only by the belt of the light flounced _saya_, and
said, "But why this haste and feverishness, 'Nita? And now I look at
thee, thou hast been crying."
They had emerged from a door in the corridor into the bright sunlight
of a walled garden. The girl dropped her eyes, cast a quick glance
around her, and said:
"Not here; to the _arroyo_;" and half leading, half dragging him, made
her way through a copse of _manzanita_ and alder until they heard the
faint tinkling of water. "Dost thou remember," said the girl, "it was
here," pointing to an embayed pool in the dark current, "that I
baptized thee, when Father Pedro first brought thee here, when we both
played at being monks? They were dear old days, for Father Pedro would
trust no one with thee but me, and always kept us near him."
"Aye, and he said I would be profaned by the touch of any other, and so
himself always washed and dressed me, and made my bed near his."
"And took thee away again, and I saw thee not till thou camest with
Antonio, over a year ago, to the cattle branding. And now, my Pancho, I
may never see thee again." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed
The little acolyte tried to comfort her, but with such abstraction of
manner and inadequacy of warmth that she hastily removed his caressing
"But why? What has happened?" he asked eagerly.
The girl's manner had changed. Her eyes flashed, and she put her brown
fist on her waist and began to rock from side to side.
"But I'll not go," she said, viciously.
"Go where?" asked the boy.
"Oh, where?" she echoed, impatiently. "Hear me, Francisco. Thou knowest
I am, like thee, an orphan; but I have not, like thee, a parent in the
Holy Church. For, alas," she added, bitterly, "I am not a boy, and have
not a lovely voice borrowed from the angels. I was, like thee, a
foundling, kept, by the charity of the reverend fathers, until Don
Juan, a childless widower, adopted me. I was happy, not knowing and
caring who were the parents who had abandoned me, happy only in the
love of him who became my adopted father. And now"--She paused.
"And now?" echoed Francisco, eagerly.
"And now they say it is discovered who are my parents."
"And they live?"
"Mother of God! no," said the girl, with scarcely filial piety. "There
is some one, a thing, a mere Don Fulano, who knows it all, it seems,
who is to be my guardian."
"But how? Tell me all, dear Juanita," said the boy with a feverish
interest, that contrasted so strongly with his previous abstraction
that Juanita bit her lips with vexation.
"Ah! How? Santa Barbara! An extravaganza for children. A necklace of
lies. I am lost from a ship of which my father--Heaven rest him!--is
General, and I am picked up among the weeds on the sea-shore, like
Moses in the bulrushes. A pretty story, indeed."
"O how beautiful!" exclaimed Francisco enthusiastically. "Ah, Juanita,
would it had been me!"
"_Thee_!" said the girl bitterly,--"thee! No!--it was a girl wanted.
Enough, it was me."
"And when does the guardian come?" persisted the boy, with sparkling
"He is here even now, with that pompous fool the American alcalde from
Monterey, a wretch who knows nothing of the country or the people, but
who helped the other American to claim me. I tell thee, Francisco, like
as not it is all a folly, some senseless blunder of those Americanos
that imposes upon Don Juan's simplicity and love for them."
"How looks he, this Americano who seeks thee?" asked Francisco.
"What care I how he looks," said Juanita, "or what he is? He may have
the four S's, for all I care. Yet," she added with a slight touch of
coquetry, "he is not bad to look upon, now I recall him."
"Had he a long mustache and a sad, sweet smile, and a voice so gentle
and yet so strong that you felt he ordered you to do things without
saying it? And did his eye read your thoughts?--that very thought that
you must obey him?"
"Saints preserve thee, Pancho! Of whom dost thou speak?"
"Listen, Juanita. It was a year ago, the eve of Natividad; he was in
the church when I sang. Look where I would, I always met his eye. When
the canticle was sung and I was slipping into the sacristy, he was
beside me. He spoke kindly, but I understood him not. He put into my
hand gold for an _aguinaldo_. I pretended I understood not that also,
and put it into the box for the poor. He smiled and went away. Often
have I seen him since; and last night, when I left the Mission, he was
there again with Father Pedro."
"And Father Pedro, what said he of him?" asked Juanita.
"Nothing." The boy hesitated. "Perhaps--because I said nothing of the
Juanita laughed. "So thou canst keep a secret from the good father when
thou carest. But why dost thou think this stranger is my new guardian?"
"Dost thou not see, little sister? He was even then seeking thee," said
the boy with joyous excitement. "Doubtless he knew we were friends and
playmates--maybe the good father has told him thy secret. For it is no
idle tale of the alcalde, believe me. I see it all! It is true!"
"Then thou wilt let him take me away," exclaimed the girl bitterly,
withdrawing the little hand he had clasped in his excitement.
"Alas, Juanita, what avails it now? I am sent to San Jose, charged with
a letter to the Father Superior, who will give me further orders. What
they are, or how long I must stay, I know not. But I know this: the
good Father Pedro's eyes were troubled when he gave me his blessing,
and he held me long in his embrace. Pray Heaven I have committed no
fault. Still it may be that the reputation of my gift hath reached the
Father Superior, and he would advance me;" and Francisco's eyes lit up
with youthful pride at the thought.
Not so Juanita. Her black eyes snapped suddenly with suspicion, she
drew in her breath, and closed her little mouth firmly. Then she began
Mother of God! was that all? Was he a child, to be sent away for such
time or for such purpose as best pleased the fathers? Was he to know no
more than that? With such gifts as God had given him, was he not at
least to have some word in disposing of them? Ah! _she_ would not stand
The boy gazed admiringly at the piquant energy of the little figure
before him, and envied her courage. "It is the _mestizo_ blood," he
murmured to himself. Then aloud, "Thou shouldst have been a man,
"And thou a woman."
"Or a priest. Eh, what is that?"
They had both risen, Juanita defiantly, her black braids flying as she
wheeled and suddenly faced the thicket, Francisco clinging to her with
trembling hands and whitened lips. A stone, loosened from the hillside,
had rolled to their feet; there was a crackling in the alders on the
slope above them.
"Is it a bear, or a brigand?" whispered Francisco, hurriedly, sounding
the uttermost depths of his terror in the two words.
"It is an eavesdropper," said Juanita, impetuously; "and who and why, I
intend to know," and she started towards the thicket.
"Do not leave me, good Juanita;" said the young acolyte, grasping the
"Nay; run to the hacienda quickly, and leave me to search the thicket.
The boy did not wait for a second injunction, but scuttled away, his
long coat catching in the brambles, while Juanita darted like a kitten
into the bushes. Her search was fruitless, however, and she was
returning impatiently, when her quick eye fell upon a letter lying amid
the dried grass where she and Francisco had been seated the moment
before. It had evidently fallen from his breast when he had risen
suddenly, and been overlooked in his alarm. It was Father Pedro's
letter to the Father Superior of San Jose.
In an instant she had pounced upon it as viciously as if it had been
the interloper she was seeking. She knew that she held in her fingers
the secret of Francisco's sudden banishment. She felt instinctively
that this yellowish envelope, with its red string and its blotch of red
seal, was his sentence and her own. The little _mestizo_, had not been
brought up to respect the integrity of either locks or seals, both
being unknown in the patriarchal life of the hacienda. Yet with a
certain feminine instinct she looked furtively around her, and even
managed to dislodge the clumsy wax without marring the pretty effigy of
the crossed keys impressed upon it. Then she opened the letter and
Suddenly she stopped and put back her hair from her brown temples. Then
a succession of burning blushes followed each other in waves from her
neck up, and died in drops of moisture in her eyes. This continued
until she was fairly crying, dropping the letter from her hands and
rocking to and fro. In the midst of this she quickly stopped again; the
clouds broke, a sunshine of laughter started from her eyes, she laughed
shyly, she laughed loudly, she laughed hysterically. Then she stopped
again as suddenly, knitted her brows, swooped down once more upon the
letter, and turned to fly. But at the same moment the letter was
quietly but firmly taken from her hand, and Mr. Jack Cranch stood
Juanita was crimson, but unconquered. She mechanically held out her
hand for the letter; the American took her little fingers, kissed them,
"How are you again?"
"The letter," replied Juanita, with a strong disposition to stamp her
"But," said Cranch, with business directness, "you've read enough to
know it isn't for you."
"Nor for you either," responded Juanita.
"True. It is for the Reverend Father Superior of San Jose Mission. I'll
give it to him."
Juanita was becoming alarmed, first at this prospect, second at the
power the stranger seemed to be gaining over her. She recalled
Francisco's description of him with something like superstitious awe.
"But it concerns Francisco. It contains a secret he should know."
"Then you can tell him it. Perhaps it would come easier from you."
Juanita blushed again. "Why?" she asked, half dreading his reply.
"Because," said the American, quietly, "you are old playmates; you are
attached to each other."
Juanita bit her lips. "Why don't you read it yourself?" she asked
"Because I don't read other people's letters, and if it concerns me
you'll tell me."
"What if I don't?"
"Then the Father Superior will."
"I believe you know Francisco's secret already," said the girl, boldly.
"Then, Mother of God! Senor Crancho, what do you want?"
"I do not want to separate two such good friends as you and Francisco."
"Perhaps you'd like to claim us both," said the girl, with a sneer that
was not devoid of coquetry.
"I should be delighted."
"Then here is your occasion, Senor, for here comes my adopted father,
Don Juan, and your friend, Senor Br--r--own, the American alcalde."
Two men appeared in the garden path below them. The stiff, glazed,
broad-brimmed black hat, surmounting a dark face of Quixotic gravity
and romantic rectitude, indicated Don Juan Briones. His companion,
lazy, specious, and red-faced, was Senor Brown, the American alcalde.
"Well, I reckon we kin about call the thing fixed," said Senor Brown,
with a large wave of the hand, suggesting a sweeping away of all
trivial details. "Ez I was saying to the Don yer, when two high-toned
gents like you and him come together in a delicate matter of this kind,
it ain't no hoss trade nor sharp practice. The Don is that lofty in
principle that he's willin' to sacrifice his affections for the good of
the gal; and you, on your hand, kalkilate to see all he's done for her,
and go your whole pile better. You'll make the legal formalities good.
I reckon that old Injin woman who can swear to the finding of the baby
on the shore will set things all right yet. For the matter o' that, if
you want anything in the way of a certificate, I'm on hand always."
"Juanita and myself are at your disposition, _caballeros_," said Don
Juan, with a grave exaltation. "Never let it be said that the Mexican
nation was outdone by the great Americanos in deeds of courtesy and
affection. Let it rather stand that Juanita was a sacred trust put into
my hands years ago by the goddess of American liberty, and nurtured in
the Mexican eagle's nest. Is it not so, my soul?" he added, more
humanly, to the girl, when he had quite recovered from the intoxication
of his own speech. "We love thee, little one, but we keep our honor."
"There's nothing mean about the old man," said Brown, admiringly, with
a slight dropping of his left eyelid; "his head is level, and he goes
with his party."
"Thou takest my daughter, Senor Cranch," continued the old man, carried
away by his emotion; "but the American nation gives me a son."
"You know not what you say, father," said the young girl, angrily,
exasperated by a slight twinkle in the American's eye.
"Not so," said Cranch. "Perhaps one of the American nation may take him
at his word."
"Then, _caballeros_, you will, for the moment at least, possess
yourselves of the house and its poor hospitality," said Don Juan, with
time-honored courtesy, producing the rustic key of the gate of the
_patio_. "It is at your disposition, _caballeros_," he repeated,
leading the way as his guests passed into the corridor.
Two hours passed. The hills were darkening on their eastern slopes; the
shadows of the few poplars that sparsedly dotted the dusty highway were
falling in long black lines that looked like ditches on the dead level
of the tawny fields; the shadows of slowly moving cattle were mingling
with their own silhouettes, and becoming more and more grotesque. A
keen wind rising in the hills was already creeping from the _canada_ as
from the mouth of a funnel, and sweeping the plains. Antonio had
forgathered with the servants, had pinched the ears of the maids, had
partaken of _aguardiente_, had saddled the mules,--Antonio was becoming
And then a singular commotion disturbed the peaceful monotony of the
patriarchal household of Don Juan Briones. The stagnant courtyard was
suddenly alive with _peons_ and servants, running hither and thither.
The alleys and gardens were filled with retainers. A confusion of
questions, orders, and outcrys rent the air, the plains shook with the
galloping of a dozen horsemen. For the acolyte Francisco, of the
Mission San Carmel, had disappeared and vanished, and from that day the
hacienda of Don Juan Briones knew him no more.
When Father Pedro saw the yellow mules vanish under the low branches of
the oaks beside the little graveyard, caught the last glitter of the
morning sun on Pinto's shining headstall, and heard the last tinkle of
Antonio's spurs, something very like a mundane sigh escaped him. To the
simple wonder of the majority of early worshipers--the half-breed
converts who rigorously attended the spiritual ministrations of the
Mission, and ate the temporal provisions of the reverend fathers--he
deputed the functions of the first mass to a coadjutor, and, breviary
in hand, sought the orchard of venerable pear trees. Whether there was
any occult sympathy in his reflections with the contemplation of their
gnarled, twisted, gouty, and knotty limbs, still bearing gracious and
goodly fruit, I know not, but it was his private retreat, and under one
of the most rheumatic and misshapen trunks there was a rude seat. Here
Father Pedro sank, his face toward the mountain wall between him and
the invisible sea. The relentless, dry, practical Californian sunlight
falling on his face grimly pointed out a night of vigil and suffering.
The snuffy yellow of his eyes was injected yet burning, his temples
were ridged and veined like a tobacco leaf; the odor of desiccation
which his garments always exhaled was hot and feverish, as if the fire
had suddenly awakened among the ashes.
Of what was Father Pedro thinking?
He was thinking of his youth, a youth spent under the shade of those
pear trees, even then venerable as now. He was thinking of his youthful
dreams of heathen conquest, emulating the sacrifices and labors of
Junipero Serra; a dream cut short by the orders of the archbishop, that
sent his companion, Brother Diego, north on a mission to strange lands,
and condemned him to the isolation of San Carmel. He was thinking of
that fierce struggle with envy of a fellow-creature's better fortune,
that, conquered by prayer and penance, left him patient, submissive,
and devoted to his humble work; how he raised up converts to the faith,
even taking them from the breast of heretic mothers.
He recalled how once, with the zeal of propagandism quickening in the
instincts of a childless man, he had dreamed of perpetuating his work
through some sinless creation of his own; of dedicating some virgin
soul, one over whom he could have complete control, restricted by no
human paternal weakness, to the task he had begun. But how? Of all the
boys eagerly offered to the Church by their parents there seemed none
sufficiently pure and free from parental taint. He remembered how one
night, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin herself, as he
firmly then believed, this dream was fulfilled. An Indian woman brought
him a _Waugee_ child--a baby-girl that she had picked up on the
sea-shore. There were no parents to divide the responsibility, the
child had no past to confront, except the memory of the ignorant Indian
woman, who deemed her duty done, and whose interest ceased in giving it
to the Padre. The austere conditions of his monkish life compelled him
to the first step in his adoption of it--the concealment of its sex.
This was easy enough, as he constituted himself from that moment its
sole nurse and attendant, and boldly baptized it among the other
children by the name of Francisco. No others knew its origin, nor cared
to know. Father Pedro had taken a _muchacho_ foundling for adoption;
his jealous seclusion of it and his personal care was doubtless some
sacerdotal formula at once high and necessary.
He remembered with darkening eyes and impeded breath how his close
companionship and daily care of this helpless child had revealed to him
the fascinations of that paternity denied to him; how he had deemed it
his duty to struggle against the thrill of baby fingers laid upon his
yellow cheeks, the pleading of inarticulate words, the eloquence of
wonder-seeing and mutely questioning eyes; how he had succumbed again
and again, and then struggled no more, seeing only in them the
suggestion of childhood made incarnate in the Holy Babe. And yet, even
as he thought, he drew from his gown a little shoe, and laid it beside
his breviary. It was Francisco's baby slipper, a duplicate to those
worn by the miniature waxen figure of the Holy Virgin herself in her
niche in the transept.
Had he felt during these years any qualms of conscience at this
concealment of the child's sex? None. For to him the babe was sexless,
as most befitted one who was to live and die at the foot of the altar.
There was no attempt to deceive God; what mattered else? Nor was he
withholding the child from the ministrations of the sacred sisters.
There was no convent near the Mission, and as each year passed, the
difficulty of restoring her to the position and duties of her sex
became greater and more dangerous. And then the acolyte's destiny was
sealed by what again appeared to Father Pedro as a direct interposition
of Providence. The child developed a voice of such exquisite sweetness
and purity that an angel seemed to have strayed into the little choir,
and kneeling worshipers below, transported, gazed upwards, half
expectant of a heavenly light breaking through the gloom of the
raftered ceiling. The fame of the little singer filled the valley of
San Carmel; it was a miracle vouchsafed the Mission; Don Jose Peralta
remembered, ah yes, to have heard in old Spain of boy choristers with
And was this sacred trust to be withdrawn from him? Was this life,
which he had brought out of an unknown world of sin, unstained and
pure, consecrated and dedicated to God, just in the dawn of power and
promise for the glory of the Mother Church, to be taken from his side?
And at the word of a self-convicted man of sin--a man whose tardy
repentance was not yet absolved by the Holy Church? Never! never!
Father Pedro dwelt upon the stranger's rejections of the ministrations
of the Church with a pitiable satisfaction; had he accepted it, he
would have had a sacred claim upon Father Pedro's sympathy and
confidence. Yet he rose again, uneasily and with irregular steps
returned to the corridor, passing the door of the familiar little cell
beside his own. The window, the table, and even the scant toilette
utensils were filled with the flowers of yesterday, some of them
withered and dry; the white gown of the little chorister was hanging
emptily against the wall. Father Pedro started and trembled; it seemed
as if the spiritual life of the child had slipped away with its
In that slight chill, which even in the hottest days in California
always invests any shadow cast in that white sunlight, Father Pedro
shivered in the corridor. Passing again into the garden, he followed in
fancy the wayfaring figure of Francisco, saw the child arrive at the
rancho of Don Juan, and with the fateful blindness of all dreamers
projected a picture most unlike the reality. He followed the pilgrims
even to San Jose, and saw the child deliver the missive which gave the
secret of her sex and condition to the Father Superior. That the
authority at San Jose might dissent with the Padre of San Carmel, or
decline to carry out his designs, did not occur to the one-idea'd
priest. Like all solitary people, isolated from passing events, he made
no allowance for occurrences outside of his routine. Yet at this moment
a sudden thought whitened his yellow cheek. What if the Father Superior
deemed it necessary to impart the secret to Francisco? Would the child
recoil at the deception, and, perhaps, cease to love him? It was the
first time, in his supreme selfishness, he had taken the acolyte's
feelings into account. He had thought of him only as one owing implicit
obedience to him as a temporal and spiritual guide.
He turned impatiently. It was his muleteer, Jose. Father Pedro's sunken
"Ah, Jose! Quickly, then; hast thou found Sanchicha?"
"Truly, your reverence! And I have brought her with me, just as she is;
though if your reverence make more of her than to fill the six-foot
hole and say a prayer over her, I'll give the mule that brought her
here for food for the bull's horns. She neither hears nor speaks, but
whether from weakness or sheer wantonness, I know not."
"Peace, then! and let thy tongue take example from hers. Bring her with
thee into the sacristy and attend without. Go!"
Father Pedro watched the disappearing figure of the muleteer and
hurriedly swept his thin, dry hand, veined and ribbed like a brown
November leaf, over his stony forehead, with a sound that seemed almost
a rustle. Then he suddenly stiffened his fingers over his breviary,
dropped his arms perpendicularly before him, and with a rigid step
returned to the corridor and passed into the sacristy.
For a moment in the half-darkness the room seemed to be empty. Tossed
carelessly in the corner appeared some blankets topped by a few
straggling black horsetails, like an unstranded _riata_. A trembling
agitated the mass as Father Pedro approached. He bent over the heap and
distinguished in its midst the glowing black eyes of Sanchicha, the
Indian centenarian of the Mission San Carmel. Only her eyes lived.
Helpless, boneless, and jelly-like, old age had overtaken her with a
mild form of deliquescence.
"Listen, Sanchicha," said the father, gravely. "It is important that
thou shouldst refresh thy memory for a moment. Look back fourteen
years, mother; it is but yesterday to thee. Thou dost remember the
baby--a little _muchacha_ thou broughtest me then--fourteen years ago?"
The old woman's eyes became intelligent, and turned with a quick look
towards the open door of the church, and thence towards the choir.
The Padre made a motion of irritation. "No, no! Thou dost not
understand; thou dost not attend me. Knowest thou of any mark of
clothing, trinket, or amulet found upon the babe?"
The light of the old woman's eyes went out. She might have been dead.
Father Pedro waited a moment, and then laid his hand impatiently on her
"Dost thou mean there are none?"
A ray of light struggled back into her eyes.
"And thou hast kept back or put away no sign nor mark of her parentage?
Tell me, on this crucifix."
The eyes caught the crucifix, and became as empty as the orbits of the
carven Christ upon it.
Father Pedro waited patiently. A moment passed; only the sound of the
muleteer's spurs was heard in the courtyard.
"It is well," he said at last, with a sigh of relief. "Pepita shall
give thee some refreshment, and Jose will bring thee back again. I will
He passed out of the sacristy door, leaving it open. A ray of sunlight
darted eagerly in, and fell upon the grotesque heap in the corner.
Sanchicha's eyes lived again; more than that, a singular movement came
over her face. The hideous caverns of her toothless mouth opened--she
laughed. The step of Jose was heard in the corridor, and she became
The third day, which should have brought the return of Antonio, was
nearly spent. Father Pedro was impatient but not alarmed. The good
fathers at San Jose might naturally detain Antonio for the answer,
which might require deliberation. If any mischance had occurred to
Francisco, Antonio would have returned or sent a special messenger. At
sunset he was in his accustomed seat in the orchard, his hands clasped
over the breviary in his listless lap, his eyes fixed upon the mountain
between him and that mysterious sea that had brought so much into his
life. He was filled with a strange desire to see it, a vague curiosity
hitherto unknown to his preoccupied life; he wished to gaze upon that
strand, perhaps the very spot where she had been found; he doubted not
his questioning eyes would discover some forgotten trace of her; under
his persistent will and aided by the Holy Virgin, the sea would give up
its secret. He looked at the fog creeping along the summit, and
recalled the latest gossip of San Carmel; how that since the advent of
the Americanos it was gradually encroaching on the Mission. The hated
name vividly recalled to him the features of the stranger as he had
stood before him three nights ago, in this very garden; so vividly that
he sprang to his feet with an exclamation. It was no fancy, but Senor
Cranch himself advancing from under the shadow of a pear tree.
"I reckoned I'd catch you here," said Mr. Cranch, with the same dry,
practical business fashion, as if he were only resuming an interrupted
conversation, "and I reckon I ain't going to keep you a minit longer
than I did t'other day." He mutely referred to his watch, which he
already held in his hand, and then put it back in his pocket. "Well! we
"Francisco," interrupted the priest with a single stride, laying his
hand upon Cranch's arm, and staring into his eyes.
Mr. Cranch quietly removed Father Pedro's hand. "I reckon that wasn't
the name as _I_ caught it," he returned dryly. "Hadn't you better sit
"Pardon me--pardon me, Senor," said the priest, hastily sinking back
upon his bench, "I was thinking of other things. You--you--came upon me
suddenly. I thought it was the acolyte. Go on, Senor! I am interested."
"I thought you'd be," said Cranch, quietly. "That's why I came. And
then you might be of service too."
"True, true," said the priest, with rapid accents; "and this girl,
Senor, this girl is"--
"Juanita, the _mestiza_, adopted daughter of Don Juan Briones, over on
the Santa Clare Valley," replied Cranch, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder, and then sitting down upon the bench beside Father Pedro.
The priest turned his feverish eyes piercingly upon his companion for a
few seconds, and then doggedly fixed them upon the ground. Cranch drew
a plug of tobacco from his pocket, cut off a portion, placed it in his
cheek, and then quietly began to strap the blade of his jack-knife upon
his boot. Father Pedro saw it from under his eyelids, and even in his
preoccupation despised him.
"Then you are certain she is the babe you seek?" said the father,
without looking up.
"I reckon as near as you can be certain of anything. Her age tallies;
she was the only foundling girl baby baptized by you, you know,"--he
partly turned round appealingly to the Padre,--"that year. Injin woman
says she picked up a baby. Looks like a pretty clear case, don't it?"
"And the clothes, friend Cranch?" said the priest, with his eyes still
on the ground, and a slight assumption of easy indifference.
"They will be forthcoming, like enough, when the time comes," said
Cranch. "The main thing at first was to find the girl; that was _my_
job; the lawyers, I reckon, can fit the proofs and say what's wanted,
"But why lawyers," continued Padre Pedro, with a slight sneer he could
not repress, "if the child is found and Senor Cranch is satisfied?"
"On account of the property. Business is business!"
Mr. Cranch pressed the back of his knife-blade on his boot, shut it up
with a click, and putting it in his pocket said calmly:
"Well, I reckon the million of dollars that her father left when he
died, which naturally belongs to her, will require some proof that she
is his daughter."
He had placed both his hands in his pockets, and turned his eyes full
upon Father Pedro. The priest arose hurriedly.
"But you said nothing of this before, Senor Cranch," said he, with a
gesture of indignation, turning his back quite upon Cranch, and taking
a step towards the refectory.
"Why should I? I was looking after the girl, not the property,"
returned Cranch, following the Padre with watchful eyes, but still
keeping his careless, easy attitude.
"Ah, well! Will it be said so, think you? Eh! _Bueno_. What will the
world think of your sacred quest, eh?" continued the Padre Pedro,
forgetting himself in his excitement, but still averting his face from
"The world will look after the proofs, and I reckon not bother if the
proofs are all right," replied Cranch, carelessly; "and the girl won't
think the worse for me for helping her to a fortune. Hallo! you've
dropped something." He leaped to his feet, picked up the breviary which
had fallen from the Padre's fingers, and returned it to him with a
slight touch of gentleness that was unsuspected in the man.
The priest's dry, tremulous hand grasped the volume without
"But these proofs?" he said hastily; "these proofs, Senor?"
"Oh, well, you'll testify to the baptism, you know."
"But if I refuse; if I will have nothing to do with this thing! If I
will not give my word that there is not some mistake," said the priest,
working himself into a feverish indignation. "That there are not slips
of memory, eh? Of so many children baptized, is it possible for me to
know which, eh? And if this Juanita is not your girl, eh?"
"Then you'll help me to find who is," said Cranch, coolly.
Father Pedro turned furiously on his tormentor. Overcome by his vigil
and anxiety, he was oblivious of everything but the presence of the man
who seemed to usurp the functions of his own conscience. "Who are you,
who speak thus?" he said hoarsely, advancing upon Cranch with
outstretched and anathematizing fingers. "Who are you, Senor Heathen,
who dare to dictate to me, a Father of Holy Church? I tell you, I will
have none of this. Never! I will not! From this moment, you
understand--nothing. I will never" ...
He stopped. The first stroke of the Angelus rang from the little tower.
The first stroke of that bell before whose magic exorcism all human
passions fled, the peaceful bell that had for fifty years lulled the
little fold of San Carmel to prayer and rest, came to his throbbing
ear. His trembling hands groped for the crucifix, carried it to his
left breast; his lips moved in prayer. His eyes were turned to the
cold, passionless sky, where a few faint, far-spaced stars had silently
stolen to their places. The Angelus still rang, his trembling ceased,
he remained motionless and rigid.
The American, who had uncovered in deference to the worshiper rather
than the rite, waited patiently. The eyes of Father Pedro returned to
the earth, moist as if with dew caught from above. He looked half
absently at Cranch.
"Forgive me, my son," he said, in a changed voice. "I am only a worn
old man. I must talk with thee more of this--but not to-night--not
He turned slowly and appeared to glide rather than move under the
trees, until the dark shadow of the Mission tower met and encompassed
him. Cranch followed him with anxious eyes. Then he removed the quid of
tobacco from his cheek.
"Just as I reckoned," remarked he, quite audibly. "He's clean gold on
the bed rock after all!"
That night Father Pedro dreamed a strange dream. How much of it was
reality, how long it lasted, or when he awoke from it, he could not
tell. The morbid excitement of the previous day culminated in a febrile
exaltation in which he lived and moved as in a separate existence.
This is what he remembered. He thought he had risen at night in a
sudden horror of remorse, and making his way to the darkened church had
fallen upon his knees before the high altar, when all at once the
acolyte's voice broke from the choir, but in accents so dissonant and
unnatural that it seemed a sacrilege, and he trembled. He thought he
had confessed the secret of the child's sex to Cranch, but whether the
next morning or a week later he did not know. He fancied, too, that
Cranch had also confessed some trifling deception to him, but what, or
why, he could not remember; so much greater seemed the enormity of his
own transgression. He thought Cranch had put in his hands the letter he
had written to the Father Superior, saying that his secret was still
safe, and that he had been spared the avowal and the scandal that might
have ensued. But through all, and above all, he was conscious of one
fixed idea: to seek the sea-shore with Sanchicha, and upon the spot
where she had found Francisco, meet the young girl who had taken his
place, and so part from her forever. He had a dim recollection that
this was necessary to some legal identification of her, as arranged by
Cranch, but how or why he did not understand; enough that it was a part
of his penance.
It was early morning when the faithful Antonio, accompanied by
Sanchicha and Jose, rode forth with him from the Mission of San Carmel.
Except on the expressionless features of the old woman, there was
anxiety and gloom upon the faces of the little cavalcade. He did not
know how heavily his strange abstraction and hallucinations weighed
upon their honest hearts. As they wound up the ascent of the mountain
he noticed that Antonio and Jose conversed with bated breath and many
pious crossings of themselves, but with eyes always wistfully fixed
upon him. He wondered if, as part of his penance, he ought not to
proclaim his sin and abase himself before them; but he knew that his
devoted followers would insist upon sharing his punishment; and he
remembered his promise to Cranch, that for _her_ sake he would say
nothing. Before they reached the summit he turned once or twice to look
back upon the Mission. How small it looked, lying there in the peaceful
valley, contrasted with the broad sweep of the landscape beyond,
stopped at the farther east only by the dim, ghost-like outlines of the
Sierras. But the strong breath of the sea was beginning to be felt; in
a few moments more they were facing it with lowered _sombreros_ and
flying _serapes_, and the vast, glittering, illimitable Pacific opened
out beneath them.
Dazed and blinded, as it seemed to him, by the shining, restless
expanse, Father Pedro rode forward as if still in a dream. Suddenly he
halted, and called Antonio to his side.
"Tell me, child, didst thou say that this coast was wild and desolate
of man, beast, and habitation?"
"Truly I did, reverend father."
"Then what is that?" pointing to the shore.
Almost at their feet nestled a cluster of houses, at the head of an
_arroyo_ reaching up from the beach. They looked down upon the smoke of
a manufactory chimney, upon strange heaps of material and curious
engines scattered along the sands, with here and there moving specks of
human figures. In a little bay a schooner swung at her cables.
The _vaquero_ crossed himself in stupefied alarm. "I know not, your
reverence; it is only two years ago, before the _rodeo_, that I was
here for strayed colts, and I swear by the blessed bones of San Antonio
that it was as I said."
"Ah! it is like these Americanos," responded the muleteer. "I have it
from my brother Diego that he went from San Jose to Pescadero two
months ago across the plains, with never a hut nor _fonda_ to halt at
all the way. He returned in seven days, and in the midst of the plain
there were three houses and a mill and many people. And why was it? Ah!
Mother of God! one had picked up in the creek where he drank that much
of gold;" and the muleteer tapped one of the silver coins that fringed
his jacket sleeves in place of buttons.
"And they are washing the sands for gold there now," said Antonio,
eagerly pointing to some men gathered round a machine like an enormous
cradle. "Let us hasten on."
Father Pedro's momentary interest had passed. The words of his
companions fell dull and meaningless upon his dreaming ears. He was
conscious only that the child was more a stranger to him as an outcome
of this hard, bustling life, than when he believed her borne to him
over the mysterious sea. It perplexed his dazed, disturbed mind to
think that if such an antagonistic element could exist within a dozen
miles of the Mission, and he not know it, could not such an atmosphere
have been around him, even in his monastic isolation, and he remain
blind to it? Had he really lived in the world without knowing it? Had
it been in his blood? Had it impelled him to--He shuddered and rode on.
They were at the last slope of the zigzag descent to the shore, when he
saw the figures of a man and woman moving slowly through a field of
wild oats, not far from the trail. It seemed to his distorted fancy
that the man was Cranch. The woman! His heart stopped beating. Ah!
could it be? He had never seen her in her proper garb: would she look
like that? Would she be as tall? He thought he bade Jose and Antonio go
on slowly before with Sanchicha, and dismounted, walking slowly between
the high stalks of grain lest he should disturb them. They evidently
did not hear his approach, but were talking earnestly. It seemed to
Father Pedro that they had taken each other's hands, and as he looked
Cranch slipped his arm round her waist. With only a blind instinct of
some dreadful sacrilege in this act, Father Pedro would have rushed
forward, when the girl's voice struck his ear. He stopped, breathless.
It was not Francisco, but Juanita, the little _mestiza_.
"But are you sure you are not pretending to love me now, as you
pretended to think I was the _muchacha_ you had run away with and lost?
Are you sure it is not pity for the deceit you practiced upon me--upon
Don Juan--upon poor Father Pedro?"
It seemed as if Cranch had tried to answer with a kiss, for the girl
drew suddenly away from him with a coquettish fling of the black
braids, and whipped her little brown hands behind her.
"Well, look here," said Cranch, with the same easy, good-natured,
practical directness which the priest remembered, and which would have
passed for philosophy in a more thoughtful man, "put it squarely, then.
In the first place, it was Don Juan and the alcalde who first suggested
you might be the child."
"But you have said you knew it was Francisco all the time," interrupted
"I did; but when I found the priest would not assist me at first, and
admit that the acolyte was a girl, I preferred to let him think I was
deceived in giving a fortune to another, and leave it to his own
conscience to permit it or frustrate it. I was right. I reckon it was
pretty hard on the old man, at his time of life, and wrapped up as he
was in the girl; but at the moment he came up to the scratch like a
"And to save him you have deceived me? Thank you, Senor," said the girl
with a mock curtsey.
"I reckon I preferred to have you for a wife than a daughter," said
Cranch, "if that's what you mean. When you know me better, Juanita," he
continued, gravely, "you'll know that I would never have let you
believe I sought in you the one if I had not hoped to find in you the
"_Bueno_! And when did you have that pretty hope?"
"When I first saw you."
"And that was--two weeks ago."
"A year ago, Juanita. When Francisco visited you at the rancho. I
followed and saw you."
Juanita looked at him a moment, and then suddenly darted at him, caught
him by the lapels of his coat and shook him like a terrier.
"Are you sure that you did not love that Francisco? Speak!" (She shook
him again.) "Swear that you did not follow her!"
"But--I did," said Cranch, laughing and shaking between the clenching
of the little hands.
"Judas Iscariot! Swear you do not love her all this while."
Cranch swore. Then to Father Pedro's intense astonishment she drew the
American's face towards her own by the ears and kissed him.
"But you might have loved her, and married a fortune," said Juanita,
after a pause.
"Where would have been my reparation--my duty?" returned Cranch, with a
"Reparation enough for her to have had you," said Juanita, with that
rapid disloyalty of one loving woman to another in an emergency. This
provoked another kiss from Cranch, and then Juanita said demurely:
"But we are far from the trail. Let us return, or we shall miss Father
Pedro. Are you sure he will come?"
"A week ago he promised to be here to see the proofs to-day."
The voices were growing fainter and fainter; they were returning to the
Father Pedro remained motionless. A week ago! Was it a week ago
since--since what? And what had he been doing here? Listening! He!
Father Pedro, listening like an idle _peon_ to the confidences of two
lovers. But they had talked of him, of his crime, and the man had
pitied him. Why did he not speak? Why did he not call after them? He
tried to raise his voice. It sank in his throat with a horrible choking
sensation. The nearest heads of oats began to nod to him, he felt
himself swaying backward and forward. He fell--heavily, down, down,
down, from the summit of the mountain to the floor of the Mission
chapel, and there he lay in the dark.
* * * * *
"Blessed Saint Anthony preserve him!"
It was Antonio's voice, it was Jose's arm, it was the field of wild
oats, the sky above his head,--all unchanged.
"What has happened?" said the priest feebly.
"A giddiness seized your reverence just now, as we were coming to seek
"And you met no one?"
"No one, your reverence."
Father Pedro passed his hand across his forehead.
"But who are these?" he said, pointing to two figures who now appeared
upon the trail.
"It is the Americano, Senor Cranch, and his adopted daughter, the
_mestiza_ Juanita, seeking your reverence, methinks."
"Ah!" said Father Pedro.
Cranch came forward and greeted the priest cordially.
"It was kind of you, Father Pedro," he said, meaningly, with a
significant glance at Jose and Antonio, "to come so far to bid me and
my adopted daughter farewell. We depart when the tide serves, but not
before you partake of our hospitality in yonder cottage."
Father Pedro gazed at Cranch and then at Juanita.
"I see," he stammered. "But she goes not alone.
She will be strange at first. She takes some friend, perhaps--some
companion?" he continued, tremulously.
"A very old and dear one, Father Pedro, who is waiting for us now."
He led the way to a little white cottage, so little and white and
recent, that it seemed a mere fleck of sea-foam cast on the sands.
Disposing of Jose and Antonio in the neighboring workshop and
outbuildings, he assisted the venerable Sanchicha to dismount, and,
together with Father Pedro and Juanita, entered a white palisaded
enclosure beside the cottage, and halted before what appeared to be a
large folding trap-door, covering a slight sandy mound. It was locked
with a padlock; beside it stood the American alcalde and Don Juan
Briones. Father Pedro looked hastily around for another figure, but it
was not there.
"Gentlemen," began Cranch, in his practical business way, "I reckon you
all know we've come here to identify a young lady, who"--he
hesitated--"was lately under the care of Father Pedro, with a foundling
picked up on this shore fifteen years ago by an Indian woman. How this
foundling came here, and how I was concerned in it, you all know. I've
told everybody here how I scrambled ashore, leaving the baby in the
dingy, supposing it would be picked up by the boat pursuing me. I've
told some of you," he looked at Father Pedro, "how I first discovered,
from one of the men, three years ago, that the child was not found by
its father. But I have never told any one, before now, I _knew_ it was
picked up here.
"I never could tell the exact locality where I came ashore, for the fog
was coming on as it is now. But two years ago I came up with a party of
gold hunters to work these sands. One day, digging near this creek, I
struck something embedded deep below the surface. Well, gentlemen, it
wasn't gold, but something worth more to me than gold or silver. Here
At a sign the alcalde unlocked the doors and threw them open. They
disclosed an irregular trench, in which, filled with sand, lay the
half-excavated stern of a boat.
"It was the dingy of the Trinidad, gentlemen; you can still read her
name. I found hidden away, tucked under the stern sheets, moldy and
water-worn, some clothes that I recognized to be the baby's. I knew
then that the child had been taken away alive for some purpose, and the
clothes were left so that she should carry no trace with her. I
recognized the hand of an Indian. I set to work quietly. I found
Sanchicha here, she confessed to finding a baby, but what she had done
with it she would not at first say. But since then she has declared
before the alcalde that she gave it to Father Pedro of San Carmel, and
that here it stands--Francisco that was! Francisca that it is!"
He stepped aside to make way for a tall girl, who had approached from
Father Pedro had neither noticed the concluding words nor the movement
of Cranch. His eyes were fixed upon the imbecile Sanchicha,--Sanchicha,
of whom, to render his rebuke more complete, the Deity seemed to have
worked a miracle, and restored intelligence to eye and lip. He passed
his hand tremblingly across his forehead, and turned away, when his eye
fell upon the last comer.
It was she. The moment he had longed for and dreaded had come. She
stood there, animated, handsome, filled with a hurtful consciousness in
her new charms, her fresh finery, and the pitiable trinkets that had
supplanted her scapulary, and which played under her foolish fingers.
The past had no place in her preoccupied mind; her bright eyes were
full of eager anticipation of a substantial future. The incarnation of
a frivolous world, even as she extended one hand to him in
half-coquettish embarrassment she arranged the folds of her dress with
the other. At the touch of her fingers he felt himself growing old and
cold. Even the penance of parting, which he had looked forward to, was
denied him; there was no longer sympathy enough for sorrow. He thought
of the empty chorister's robe in the little cell, but not now with
regret. He only trembled to think of the flesh that he had once caused
to inhabit it.
"That's all, gentlemen," broke in the practical voice of Cranch.
"Whether there are proofs enough to make Francisca the heiress of her
father's wealth, the lawyers must say. I reckon it's enough for me that
they give me the chance of repairing a wrong by taking her father's
place. After all, it was a mere chance."
"It was the will of God," said Father Pedro, solemnly.
They were the last words he addressed them. For when the fog had begun
to creep in-shore, hastening their departure, he only answered their
farewells by a silent pressure of the hand, mute lips, and far-off
When the sound of their laboring oars grew fainter, he told Antonio to
lead him and Sanchicha again to the buried boat. There he bade her
kneel beside him. "We will do penance here, thou and I, daughter," he
said, gravely. When the fog had drawn its curtain gently around the
strange pair, and sea and shore were blotted out, he whispered, "Tell
me, it was even so, was it not, daughter, on the night she came?" When
the distant clatter of blocks and rattle of cordage came from the
unseen vessel, now standing out to sea, he whispered again, "So, this
is what thou didst hear, even then." And so during the night he marked,
more or less audibly to the half-conscious woman at his side, the low
whisper of the waves, the murmur of the far-off breakers, the
lightening and thickening of the fog, the phantoms of moving shapes,
and the slow coming of the dawn. And when the morning sun had rent the
veil over land and sea, Antonio and Jose found him, haggard but erect,
beside the trembling old woman, with a blessing on his lips, pointing
to the horizon where a single sail still glimmered:--
"_Va Usted con Dios_."
A BLUE-GRASS PENELOPE
She was barely twenty-three years old. It is probable that up to that
age, and the beginning of this episode, her life had been uneventful.
Born to the easy mediocrity of such compensating extremes as a small
farmhouse and large lands, a good position and no society, in that vast
grazing district of Kentucky known as the "Blue Grass" region, all the
possibilities of a Western American girl's existence lay before her. A
piano in the bare-walled house, the latest patented mower in the
limitless meadows, and a silk dress sweeping the rough floor of the
unpainted "meeting-house," were already the promise of those
possibilities. Beautiful she was, but the power of that beauty was
limited by being equally shared with her few neighbors. There were
small, narrow, arched feet besides her own that trod the uncarpeted
floors of outlying log cabins with equal grace and dignity; bright,
clearly opened eyes that were equally capable of looking unabashed upon
princes and potentates, as a few later did, and the heiress of the
county judge read her own beauty without envy in the frank glances and
unlowered crest of the blacksmith's daughter. Eventually she had
married the male of her species, a young stranger, who, as schoolmaster
in the nearest town, had utilized to some local extent a scant capital
of education. In obedience to the unwritten law of the West, after the
marriage was celebrated the doors of the ancestral home cheerfully
opened, and bride and bridegroom issued forth, without regret and
without sentiment, to seek the further possibilities of a life beyond
these already too familiar voices. With their departure for California
as Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Tucker, the parental nest in the Blue Grass
meadows knew them no more.
They submitted with equal cheerfulness to the privations and excesses
of their new conditions. Within three years the schoolmaster developed
into a lawyer and capitalist, the Blue Grass bride supplying a grace
and ease to these transitions that were all her own. She softened the
abruptness of sudden wealth, mitigated the austerities of newly
acquired power, and made the most glaring incongruity picturesque. Only
one thing seemed to limit their progress in the region of these
possibilities. They were childless. It was as if they had exhausted the
future in their own youth, leaving little or nothing for another
generation to do.
* * * * *
A southwesterly storm was beating against the dressing-room windows of
their new house in one of the hilly suburbs of San Francisco, and
threatening the unseasonable frivolity of the stucco ornamentation of
cornice and balcony. Mrs. Tucker had been called from the contemplation
of the dreary prospect without by the arrival of a visitor. On entering
the drawing-room she found him engaged in a half admiring, half
resentful examination of its new furniture and hangings. Mrs. Tucker at
once recognized Mr. Calhoun Weaver, a former Blue Grass neighbor; with
swift feminine intuition she also felt that his slight antagonism was
likely to be transferred from her furniture to herself. Waiving it with
the lazy amiability of Southern indifference, she welcomed him by the
familiarity of a Christian name.
"I reckoned that mebbee you opined old Blue Grass friends wouldn't
naturally hitch on to them fancy doins," he said, glancing around the
apartment to avoid her clear eyes, as if resolutely setting himself
against the old charm of her manner as he had against the more recent
glory of her surroundings, "but I thought I'd just drop in for the sake
of old times."
"Why shouldn't you, Cal?" said Mrs. Tucker with a frank smile.
"Especially as I'm going up to Sacramento to-night with some
influential friends," he continued, with an ostentation calculated to
resist the assumption of her charms and her furniture. "Senator Dyce of
Kentucky, and his cousin Judge Briggs; perhaps you know 'em, or maybe
Spencer--I mean Mr. Tucker--does."
"I reckon," said Mrs. Tucker smiling; "but tell me something about the
boys and girls at Vineville, and about yourself. _You're_ looking well,
and right smart too." She paused to give due emphasis to this latter
recognition of a huge gold chain with which her visitor was somewhat
"I didn't know as you cared to hear anything about Blue Grass," he
returned, a little abashed. "I've been away from there some time
myself," he added, his uneasy vanity taking fresh alarm at the faint
suspicion of patronage on the part of his hostess. "They're doin' well
though; perhaps as well as some others."
"And you're not married yet," continued Mrs. Tucker, oblivious of the
innuendo. "Ah Cal," she added archly, "I am afraid you are as fickle as
ever. What poor girl in Vineville have you left pining?"
The simple face of the man before her flushed with foolish
gratification at this old-fashioned, ambiguous flattery. "Now look yer,
Belle," he said, chuckling, "if you're talking of old times and you
think I bear malice agin Spencer, why"--
But Mrs. Tucker interrupted what might have been an inopportune
sentimental retrospect with a finger of arch but languid warning. "That
will do! I'm dying to know all about it, and you must stay to dinner
and tell me. It's right mean you can't see Spencer too; but he isn't
back from Sacramento yet."
Grateful as a _tete-a-tete_ with his old neighbor in her more
prosperous surroundings would have been, if only for the sake of later
gossiping about it, he felt it would be inconsistent with his pride and
his assumption of present business. More than that, he was uneasily
conscious that in Mrs. Tucker's simple and unaffected manner there was
a greater superiority than he had ever noticed during their previous
acquaintance. He would have felt kinder to her had she shown any "airs
and graces," which he could have commented upon and forgiven. He
stammered some vague excuse of preoccupation, yet lingered in the hope
of saying something which, if not aggressively unpleasant, might at
least transfer to her indolent serenity some of his own irritation. "I
reckon," he said, as he moved hesitatingly toward the door, "that
Spencer has made himself easy and secure in them business risks he's
taking. That 'ere Alameda ditch affair they're talking so much about is
a mighty big thing, rather _too_ big if it ever got to falling back on
him. But I suppose he's accustomed to take risks?"
"Of course he is," said Mrs. Tucker gayly. "He married _me_."
The visitor smiled feebly, but was not equal to the opportunity offered
for gallant repudiation. "But suppose _you_ ain't accustomed to risks?"
"Why not? I married _him_," said Mrs. Tucker.
Mr. Calhoun Weaver was human, and succumbed to this last charming
audacity. He broke into a noisy but genuine laugh, shook Mrs. Tucker's
hand with effusion, said, "Now that's regular Blue Grass and no
mistake!" and retreated under cover of his hilarity. In the hall he
made a rallying stand to repeat confidentially to the servant who had
overheard them, "Blue Grass all over, you bet your life," and, opening
the door, was apparently swallowed up in the tempest.
Mrs. Tucker's smile kept her lips until she had returned to her room,
and even then languidly shone in her eyes for some minutes after, as
she gazed abstractedly from her window on the storm-tossed bay in the
distance. Perhaps some girlish vision of the peaceful Blue Grass plain
momentarily usurped the prospect; but it is to be doubted if there was
much romance in that retrospect, or that it was more interesting to her
than the positive and sharply cut outlines of the practical life she
now led. Howbeit she soon forgot this fancy in lazily watching a boat
that, in the teeth of the gale, was beating round Alcatraz Island.
Although at times a mere blank speck on the gray waste of foam, a
closer scrutiny showed it to be one of those lateen-rigged Italian
fishing-boats that so often flecked the distant bay. Lost in the sudden
darkening of rain, or reappearing beneath the lifted curtain of the
squall, she watched it weather the island, and then turn its laboring
but persistent course toward the open channel. A rent in the
Indian-inky sky, that showed the narrowing portals of the Golden Gate
beyond, revealed, as unexpectedly, the destination of the little craft,
a tall ship that hitherto lay hidden in the mist of the Saucelito
shore. As the distance lessened between boat and ship, they were again
lost in the downward swoop of another squall. When it lifted, the ship
was creeping under the headland towards the open sea, but the boat was
gone. Mrs. Tucker in vain rubbed the pane with her handkerchief, it had
vanished. Meanwhile the ship, as she neared the Gate, drew out from the
protecting headland, stood outlined for a moment with spars and canvas
hearsed in black against the lurid rent in the horizon, and then seemed
to sink slowly into the heaving obscurity beyond. A sudden onset of
rain against the windows obliterated the remaining prospect; the
entrance of a servant completed the diversion.
"Captain Poindexter, ma'am!"
Mrs. Tucker lifted her pretty eyebrows interrogatively. Captain
Poindexter was a legal friend of her husband, and had dined there
frequently; nevertheless she asked, "Did you tell him Mr. Tucker was
not at home?"
"Did he ask for _me_?"
"Tell him I'll be down directly."
Mrs. Tucker's quiet face did not betray the fact that this second
visitor was even less interesting than the first. In her heart she did
not like Captain Poindexter. With a clever woman's instinct, she had
early detected the fact that he had a superior, stronger nature than
her husband; as a loyal wife, she secretly resented the occasional
unconscious exhibition of this fact on the part of his intimate friend
in their familiar intercourse. Added to this slight jealousy there was
a certain moral antagonism between herself and the captain which none
but themselves knew. They were both philosophers, but Mrs. Tucker's
serene and languid optimism would not tolerate the compassionate and
kind-hearted pessimisms of the lawyer. "Knowing what Jack Poindexter
does of human nature," her husband had once said, "it's mighty fine in
him to be so kind and forgiving. You ought to like him better, Belle."
"And qualify myself to be forgiven," said the lady pertly. "I don't see
what you're driving at, Belle; I give it up," had responded the puzzled
husband. Mrs. Tucker kissed his high but foolish forehead tenderly, and
said, "I'm glad you don't, dear."
Meanwhile her second visitor had, like the first, employed the interval
in a critical survey of the glories of the new furniture, but with
apparently more compassion than resentment in his manner. Once only had
his expression changed. Over the fireplace hung a large photograph of
Mr. Spencer Tucker. It was retouched, refined, and idealized in the
highest style of that polite and diplomatic art. As Captain Poindexter
looked upon the fringed hazel eyes, the drooping raven mustache, the
clustering ringlets, and the Byronic full throat and turned-down collar
of his friend, a smile of exhausted humorous tolerance and affectionate
impatience curved his lips. "Well, you _are_ a fool, aren't you?" he
apostrophized it half audibly.
He was standing before the picture as she entered. Even in the trying
contiguity of that peerless work he would have been called a
fine-looking man. As he advanced to greet her, it was evident that his
military title was not one of the mere fanciful sobriquets of the
locality. In his erect figure and the disciplined composure of limb and
attitude there were still traces of the refined academic rigors of West
Point. The pliant adaptability of Western civilization, which enabled
him, three years before, to leave the army and transfer his executive
ability to the more profitable profession of the law, had loosed sash
and shoulder-strap, but had not entirely removed the restraint of the
one, nor the bearing of the other.
"Spencer is in Sacramento," began Mrs. Tucker in languid explanation,
after the first greetings were over.
"I knew he was not here," replied Captain Poindexter gently, as he drew
the proffered chair towards her, "but this is business that concerns
you both." He stopped and glanced upwards at the picture. "I suppose
you know nothing of his business? Of course not," he added
reassuringly, "nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly." He said this so
kindly, and yet so positively, as if to promptly dispose of that
question before going further, that she assented mechanically. "Well,
then, he's taken some big risks in the way of business, and--well,
things have gone bad with him, you know. Very bad! Really, they
couldn't be worse! Of course it was dreadfully rash and all that," he
went on, as if commenting upon the amusing waywardness of a child; "but
the result is the usual smash-up of everything, money, credit, and
all!" He laughed and added, "Yes, he's got cut off--mules and baggage
regularly routed and dispersed! I'm in earnest." He raised his eyebrows
and frowned slightly, as if to deprecate any corresponding hilarity on
the part of Mrs. Tucker, or any attempt to make _too_ light of the
subject, and then rising, placed his hands behind his back, beamed
half-humorously upon her from beneath her husband's picture, and
repeated, "That's so."
Mrs. Tucker instinctively knew that he spoke the truth, and that it was
impossible for him to convey it in any other than his natural manner;
but between the shock and the singular influence of that manner she
could at first only say, "You don't mean it!" fully conscious of the
utter inanity of the remark, and that it seemed scarcely less
cold-blooded than his own.
Poindexter, still smiling, nodded.
She arose with an effort. She had recovered from the first shock, and
pride lent her a determined calmness that more than equaled
Poindexter's easy philosophy.
"Where is he?" she asked.
"At sea, and I hope by this time where he cannot be found or followed."
Was her momentary glimpse of the outgoing ship a coincidence or only a
vision? She was confused and giddy, but, mastering her weakness, she
managed to continue in a lower voice:
"You have no message for me from him? He told you nothing to tell me?"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing," replied Poindexter. "It was as much as
he could do, I reckon, to get fairly away before the crash came."
"Then you did not see him go?"
"Well, no," said Poindexter. "I'd hardly have managed things in this
way." He checked himself and added, with a forgiving smile, "but he was
the best judge of what he needed, of course."
"I suppose I will hear from him," she said quietly, "as soon as he is
safe. He must have had enough else to think about, poor fellow."
She said this so naturally and quietly that Poindexter was deceived. He
had no idea that the collected woman before him was thinking only of
solitude and darkness, of her own room, and madly longing to be there.
He said, "Yes, I dare say," in quite another voice, and glanced at the
picture. But as she remained standing, he continued more earnestly, "I
didn't come here to tell you what you might read in the newspapers
to-morrow morning, and what everybody might tell you. Before that time
I want you to do something to save a fragment of your property from the
ruin; do you understand? I want you to make a rally, and bring off
something in good order."
"For him?" said Mrs. Tucker, with brightening eyes.
"Well, yes, of course--if you like--but as if for yourself. Do you know
the Rancho de los Cuervos?"
"It's almost the only bit of real property your husband hasn't sold,
mortgaged, or pledged. Why it was exempt, or whether only forgotten, I
"I'll tell you why," said Mrs. Tucker, with a slight return of color.
"It was the first land we ever bought, and Spencer always said it
should be mine and he would build a new house on it."
Captain Poindexter smiled and nodded at the picture. "Oh, he did say
that, did he? Well, _that's_ evidence. But you see he never gave you
the deed, and by sunrise tomorrow his creditors will attach
"Unless"--repeated Mrs. Tucker, with kindling eyes.
"Unless," continued Captain Poindexter, "they happen to find _you_ in
"I'll go," said Mrs. Tucker.
"Of course you will," returned Poindexter, pleasantly. "Only, as it's a
big contract to take, suppose we see how you can fill it. It's forty
miles to Los Cuervos, and you can't trust yourself to steamboat or
stage-coach. The steamboat left an hour ago."
"If I had only known this then!" ejaculated Mrs. Tucker.
"_I_ knew it, but you had company then," said Poindexter, with ironical
gallantry, "and I wouldn't disturb you." Without saying how he knew it,
he continued, "In the stage-coach you might be recognized. You must go
in a private conveyance and alone; even I cannot go with you, for I
must go on before and meet you there. Can you drive forty miles?"
Mrs. Tucker lifted up her abstracted pretty lids. "I once drove
fifty--at home," she returned simply.
"Good! And I dare say you did it then for fun. Do it now for something
real and personal, as we lawyers say. You will have relays and a plan
of the road. It's rough weather for a _pasear_, but all the better for
that. You'll have less company on the road."
"How soon can I go?" she asked.
"The sooner the better. I've arranged everything for you already," he
continued with a laugh. "Come now, that's a compliment to you, isn't
it?" He smiled a moment in her steadfast, earnest face, and then said,
more gravely, "You'll do. Now listen."
He then carefully detailed his plan. There was so little of excitement
or mystery in their manner that the servant, who returned to light the
gas, never knew that the ruin and bankruptcy of the house was being
told before her, or that its mistress was planning her secret flight.
"Good afternoon. I will see you to-morrow then," said Poindexter,
raising his eyes to hers as the servant opened the door for him.
"Good afternoon," repeated Mrs. Tucker, quietly answering his look.
"You need not light the gas in my room, Mary," she continued in the
same tone of voice as the door closed upon him; "I shall lie down for a
few moments, and then I may run over to the Robinsons for the evening."
She regained her room composedly. The longing desire to bury her head
in her pillow and "think out" her position had gone. She did not
apostrophize her fate, she did not weep; few real women do in the
access of calamity, or when there is anything else to be done. She felt
that she knew it all; she believed she had sounded the profoundest
depths of the disaster, and seemed already so old in her experience
that she almost fancied she had been prepared for it. Perhaps she did
not fully appreciate it. To a life like hers it was only an incident,
the mere turning of a page of the illimitable book of youth; the
breaking up of what she now felt had become a monotony. In fact, she
was not quite sure she had ever been satisfied with their present
success. Had it brought her all she expected? She wanted to say this to
her husband, not only to comfort him, poor fellow, but that they might
come to a better understanding of life in the future. She was not
perhaps different from other loving women, who, believing in this
unattainable goal of matrimony, have sought it in the various episodes
of fortune or reverses, in the bearing of children, or the loss of
friends. In her childless experience there was no other life that had
taken root in her circumstances and might suffer transplantation; only
she and her husband could lose or profit by the change. The "perfect"
understanding would come under other conditions than these.
She would have gone superstitiously to the window to gaze in the
direction of the vanished ship, but another instinct restrained her.
She would put aside all yearning for him until she had done something
to help him, and earned the confidence he seemed to have withheld.
Perhaps it was pride--perhaps she never really believed his exodus was
distant or complete.
With a full knowledge that to-morrow the various ornaments and pretty
trifles around her would be in the hands of the law, she gathered only
a few necessaries for her flight and some familiar personal trinkets. I
am constrained to say that this self-abnegation was more fastidious
than moral. She had no more idea of the ethics of bankruptcy than any
other charming woman; she simply did not like to take with her any
contagious memory of the chapter of the life just closing. She glanced
around the home she was leaving without a lingering regret; there was
no sentiment of tradition or custom that might be destroyed; her roots
lay too near the surface to suffer dislocation; the happiness of her
childless union had depended upon no domestic center, nor was its flame
sacred to any local hearthstone. It was without a sigh that, when night
had fully fallen, she slipped unnoticed down the staircase. At the door
of the drawing-room she paused, and then entered with the first guilty
feeling of shame she had known that evening. Looking stealthily around,
she mounted a chair before her husband's picture, kissed the
irreproachable mustache hurriedly, said, "You foolish darling, you!"
and slipped out again. With this touching indorsement of the views of a
rival philosopher, she closed the door softly and left her home
The wind and rain had cleared the unfrequented suburb of any observant
lounger, and the darkness, lit only by far-spaced, gusty lamps, hid her
hastening figure. She had barely crossed the second street when she
heard the quick clatter of hoofs behind her; a buggy drove up to the
curbstone, and Poindexter leaped out. She entered quickly, but for a
moment he still held the reins of the impatient horse. "He's rather
fresh," he said, eying her keenly: "are you sure you can manage him?"
"Give me the reins," she said simply.
He placed them in the two firm, well-shaped hands that reached from the
depths of the vehicle, and was satisfied. Yet he lingered.
"It's rough work for a lone woman," he said, almost curtly, "_I_ can't
go with you, but, speak frankly, is there any man you know whom you can
trust well enough to take? It's not too late yet; think a moment!"
He paused over the buttoning of the leather apron of the vehicle.
"No, there is none," answered the voice from the interior; "and it's
better so. Is all ready?"
"One moment more." He had recovered his half bantering manner. "You
_have_ a friend and countryman already with you, do you know? Your
horse is Blue Grass. Good-night."
With these words ringing in her ears she began her journey. The horse,
as if eager to maintain the reputation which his native district had
given his race, as well as the race of the pretty woman behind him,
leaped impatiently forward. But pulled together by the fine and firm
fingers that seemed to guide rather than check his exuberance, he
presently struck into the long, swinging pace of his kind, and kept it
throughout without "break" or acceleration. Over the paved streets the
light buggy rattled, and the slender shafts danced around his smooth
barrel, but when they touched the level high road, horse and vehicle
slipped forward through the night, a swift and noiseless phantom. Mrs.
Tucker could see his graceful back dimly rising and falling before her
with tireless rhythm, and could feel the intelligent pressure of his
mouth until it seemed the responsive grasp of a powerful but kindly
hand. The faint glow of conquest came to her cold cheek; the slight
stirrings of pride moved her preoccupied heart. A soft light filled her
hazel eyes. A desolate woman, bereft of husband and home, and flying
through storm and night, she knew not where, she still leaned forward
towards her horse. "Was he Blue Grass, then, dear old boy?" she gently
cooed at him in the darkness. He evidently _was_, and responded by
blowing her an ostentatious equine kiss. "And he would be good to his
own forsaken Belle," she murmured caressingly, "and wouldn't let any
one harm her?" But here, overcome by the lazy witchery of her voice, he
shook his head so violently that Mrs. Tucker, after the fashion of her
sex, had the double satisfaction of demurely restraining the passion
she had evoked.
To avoid the more traveled thoroughfare, while the evening was still
early, it had been arranged that she should at first take a less direct
but less frequented road. This was a famous pleasure-drive from San
Francisco, a graveled and sanded stretch of eight miles to the sea, and
an ultimate "cocktail," in a "stately pleasure-dome decreed" among the
surf and rocks of the Pacific shore. It was deserted now, and left to
the unobstructed sweep of the wind and rain. Mrs. Tucker would not have
chosen this road. With the instinctive jealousy of a bucolic inland
race born by great rivers, she did not like the sea; and again, the dim
and dreary waste tended to recall the vision connected with her
husband's flight, upon which she had resolutely shut her eyes. But when
she had reached it the road suddenly turned, following the trend of the
beach, and she was exposed to the full power of its dread fascinations.
The combined roar of sea and shore was in her ears. As the direct force
of the gale had compelled her to furl the protecting hood of the buggy
to keep the light vehicle from oversetting or drifting to leeward, she
could no longer shut out the heaving chaos on the right, from which the
pallid ghosts of dead and dying breakers dimly rose and sank as if in
awful salutation. At times through the darkness a white sheet appeared
spread before the path and beneath the wheels of the buggy, which, when
withdrawn with a reluctant hiss, seemed striving to drag the exhausted
beach seaward with it. But the blind terror of her horse, who swerved
at every sweep of the surge, shamed her own half superstitious fears,
and with the effort to control his alarm she regained her own
self-possession, albeit with eyelashes wet not altogether with the salt
spray from the sea. This was followed by a reaction, perhaps stimulated
by her victory over the beaten animal, when for a time, she knew not
how long, she felt only a mad sense of freedom and power, oblivious of
even her sorrows, her lost home and husband, and with intense feminine
consciousness she longed to be a man. She was scarcely aware that the
track turned again inland until the beat of the horse's hoofs on the
firm ground and an acceleration of speed showed her she had left the
beach and the mysterious sea behind her, and she remembered that she
was near the end of the first stage of her journey. Half an hour later
the twinkling lights of the roadside inn where she was to change horses
rose out of the darkness.
Happily for her, the hostler considered the horse, who had a local
reputation, of more importance than the unknown muffled figure in the
shadow of the unfurled hood, and confined his attention to the animal.
After a careful examination of his feet and a few comments addressed
solely to the superior creation, he led him away. Mrs. Tucker would
have liked to part more affectionately from her four-footed compatriot,
and felt a sudden sense of loneliness at the loss of her new friend,
but a recollection of certain cautions of Captain Poindexter's kept her
mute. Nevertheless, the hostler's ostentatious adjuration of "Now then,
aren't you going to bring out that mustang for the Senora?" puzzled
her. It was not until the fresh horse was put to, and she had flung a
piece of gold into the attendant's hand, that the "_Gracias_" of his
unmistakable Saxon speech revealed to her the reason of the lawyer's
caution. Poindexter had evidently represented her to these people as a
native Californian who did not speak English. In her inconsistency her
blood took fire at this first suggestion of deceit, and burned in her
face. Why should he try to pass her off as anybody else? Why should she
not use her own, her husband's name? She stopped and bit her lip.
It was but the beginning of an uneasy train of thought. She suddenly
found herself thinking of her visitor, Calhoun Weaver, and not
pleasantly. He would hear of their ruin to-morrow, perhaps of her own
flight. He would remember his visit, and what would he think of her
deceitful frivolity? Would he believe that she was then ignorant of the
failure? It was her first sense of any accountability to others than
herself, but even then it was rather owing to an uneasy consciousness
of what her husband must feel if he were subjected to the criticisms of
men like Calhoun. She wondered if others knew that he had kept her in
ignorance of his flight. Did Poindexter know it, or had he only
entrapped her into the admission? Why had she not been clever enough to
make him think that she knew it already? For the moment she hated
Poindexter for sharing that secret. Yet this was again followed by a
new impatience of her husband's want of insight into her ability to
help him. Of course the poor fellow could not bear to worry her, could
not bear to face such men as Calhoun, or even Poindexter (she added
exultingly to herself), but he might have sent her a line as he fled,
only to prepare her to meet and combat the shame alone. It did not
occur to her unsophisticated singleness of nature that she was
accepting as an error of feeling what the world would call cowardly
At midnight the storm lulled and a few stars trembled through the rent
clouds. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and her country
instincts, a little overlaid by the urban experiences of the last few
years, came again to the surface. She felt the fresh, cool radiation
from outlying, upturned fields, the faint, sad odors from dim stretches
of pricking grain and quickening leaf, and wondered if at Los Cuervos
it might be possible to reproduce the peculiar verdure of her native
district. She beguiled her fancy by an ambitious plan of retrieving
their fortunes by farming; her comfortable tastes had lately rebelled
against the homeless mechanical cultivation of these desolate but
teeming Californian acres, and for a moment indulged in a vision of a
vine-clad cottage home that in any other woman would have been
sentimental. Her cramped limbs aching, she took advantage of the
security of the darkness and the familiar contiguity of the fields to
get down from the vehicle, gather her skirts together, and run at the
head of the mustang, until her chill blood was thawed, night drawing a
modest veil over this charming revelation of the nymph and woman. But
the sudden shadow of a coyote checked the scouring feet of this swift
Camilla, and sent her back precipitately to the buggy. Nevertheless,
she was refreshed and able to pursue her journey, until the cold gray
of early morning found her at the end of her second stage.
Her route was changed again from the main highway, rendered dangerous
by the approach of day and the contiguity of the neighboring
_rancheros_. The road was rough and hilly, her new horse and vehicle in
keeping with the rudeness of the route--by far the most difficult of
her whole journey. The rare wagon tracks that indicated her road were
often scarcely discernible; at times they led her through openings in
the half-cleared woods, skirted suspicious morasses, painfully climbed
the smooth, domelike hills, or wound along perilous slopes at a
dangerous angle. Twice she had to alight and cling to the sliding
wheels on one of those treacherous inclines, or drag them from
impending ruts or immovable mire. In the growing light she could
distinguish the distant, low-lying marshes eaten by encroaching sloughs
and insidious channels, and beyond them the faint gray waste of the
Lower Bay. A darker peninsula in the marsh she knew to be the extreme
boundary of her future home: the Rancho de los Cuervos. In another hour
she began to descend to the plain, and once more to approach the main
road, which now ran nearly parallel with her track. She scanned it
cautiously for any early traveler; it stretched north and south in
apparent unending solitude. She struck into it boldly, and urged her
horse to the top of his speed, until she reached the cross-road that
led to the rancho. But here she paused and allowed the reins to drop
idly on the mustang's back. A singular and unaccountable irresolution
seized her. The difficulties of her journey were over; the rancho lay
scarcely two miles away; she had achieved the most important part of
her task in the appointed time; but she hesitated. What had she come
for? She tried to recall Poindexter's words, even her own enthusiasm,
but in vain. She was going to take possession of her husband's
property, she knew, that was all. But the means she had taken seemed
now so exaggerated and mysterious for that simple end, that she began
to dread an impending something, or some vague danger she had not
considered, that she was rushing blindly to meet. Full of this strange
feeling, she almost mechanically stopped her horse as she entered the
From this momentary hesitation a singular sound aroused her. It seemed
at first like the swift hurrying by of some viewless courier of the
air, the vague alarm of some invisible flying herald, or like the
inarticulate cry that precedes a storm. It seemed to rise and fall
around her as if with some changing urgency of purpose. Raising her
eyes she suddenly recognized the two far-stretching lines of telegraph
wire above her head, and knew the aeolian cry of the morning wind along
its vibrating chords. But it brought another and more practical fear to
her active brain. Perhaps even now the telegraph might be anticipating
her! Had Poindexter thought of that? She hesitated no longer, but
laying the whip on the back of her jaded mustang, again hurried
As the level horizon grew more distinct, her attention was attracted by
the white sail of a small boat lazily threading the sinuous channel of
the slough. It might be Poindexter arriving by the more direct route
from the steamboat that occasionally laid off the ancient _embarcadero_
of the Los Cuervos Rancho. But even while watching it her quick ear
caught the sound of galloping hoofs behind her. She turned quickly and
saw she was followed by a horseman. But her momentary alarm was
succeeded by a feeling of relief as she recognized the erect figure and
square shoulders of Poindexter. Yet she could not help thinking that he
looked more like a militant scout, and less like a cautious legal
adviser, than ever.
With unaffected womanliness she rearranged her slightly disordered hair
as he drew up beside her. "I thought you were in yonder boat," she
"Not I," he laughed; "I distanced you by the highroad two hours, and
have been reconnoitering, until I saw you hesitate at the cross-roads."
"But who is in the boat?" asked Mrs. Tucker, partly to hide her
"Only some early Chinese market gardener, I dare say. But you are safe
now. You are on your own land. You passed the boundary monument of the
rancho five minutes ago. Look! All you see before you is yours from the
_embarcadero_ to yonder Coast Range."
The tone of half raillery did not, however, cheer Mrs. Tucker. She
shuddered slightly and cast her eyes over the monotonous sea of _tule_
"It doesn't look pretty, perhaps," continued Poindexter, "but it's the
richest land in the State, and the _embarcadero_ will some day be a
town. I suppose you'll call it Blue Grassville. But you seem tired!" he
said, suddenly dropping his voice to a tone of half humorous sympathy.
Mrs. Tucker managed to get rid of an impending tear under the pretense
of clearing her eyes. "Are we nearly there?" she asked.
"Nearly. You know," he added, with the same half mischievous, half
sympathizing gayety, "it's not exactly a palace you're coming
to,--hardly. It's the old _casa_ that has been deserted for years, but
I thought it better you should go into possession there than take up
your abode at the shanty where your husband's farm-hands are. No one
will know when you take possession of the _casa_, while the very hour
of your arrival at the shanty would be known; and if they should make
"If they should make any trouble?" repeated Mrs. Tucker, lifting her
frank, inquiring eyes to Poindexter.
His horse suddenly rearing from an apparently accidental prick of the
spur, it was a minute or two before he was able to explain. "I mean if
this ever comes up as a matter of evidence, you know. But here we are!"
What had seemed to be an overgrown mound rising like an island out of
the dead level of the grassy sea now resolved itself into a collection
of adobe walls, eaten and incrusted with shrubs and vines, that bore
some resemblance to the usual uninhabited-looking exterior of a
Spanish-American dwelling. Apertures that might have been lance-shaped
windows or only cracks and fissures in the walls were choked up with
weeds and grass, and gave no passing glimpse of the interior. Entering
a ruinous corral they came to a second entrance, which proved to be the
_patio_ or courtyard. The deserted wooden corridor, with beams,
rafters, and floors whitened by the sun and wind, contained a few
withered leaves, dryly rotting skins, and thongs of leather, as if
undisturbed by human care. But among these scattered debris of former
life and habitation there was no noisome or unclean suggestion of
decay. A faint spiced odor of desiccation filled the bare walls. There
was no slime on stone or sun-dried brick. In place of fungus or
discolored moisture the dust of efflorescence whitened in the obscured
corners. The elements had picked clean the bones of the old and
crumbling tenement ere they should finally absorb it.
A withered old _peon_ woman, who in dress, complexion, and fibrous hair
might have been an animated fragment of the debris, rustled out of a
low vaulted passage and welcomed them with a feeble crepitation.
Following her into the dim interior, Mrs. Tucker was surprised to find
some slight attempt at comfort and even adornment in the two or three
habitable apartments. They were scrupulously clean and dry, two
qualities which in her feminine eyes atoned for poverty of material.
"I could not send anything from San Bruno, the nearest village, without
attracting attention," explained Poindexter; "but if you can manage to
picnic here for a day longer, I'll get one of our Chinese friends
here," he pointed to the slough, "to bring over, for his return cargo
from across the bay, any necessaries you may want. There is no danger
of his betraying you," he added, with an ironical smile; "Chinamen and
Indians are, by an ingenious provision of the statute of California,
incapable of giving evidence against a white person. You can trust your
handmaiden perfectly--even if she can't trust _you_. That is your
sacred privilege under the constitution. And now, as I expect to catch
the up boat ten miles from hence. I must say 'good-by' until to-morrow
night. I hope to bring you then some more definite plans for the
future. The worst is over." He held her hand for a moment, and with a
graver voice continued, "You have done it very well--do you know--very
In the slight embarrassment produced by his sudden change of manner she
felt that her thanks seemed awkward and restrained. "Don't thank me,"
he laughed, with a prompt return of his former levity; "that's my
trade. I only advised. You have saved yourself like a plucky
woman--shall I say like Blue Grass? Good-by!" He mounted his horse,
but, as if struck by an after-thought, wheeled and drew up by her side
again. "If I were you I wouldn't see many strangers for a day or two,
and listen to as little news as a woman possibly can." He laughed
again, waved her a half gallant, half military salute, and was gone.
The question she had been trying to frame, regarding the probability of
communication with her husband, remained unasked. At least she had
saved her pride before him.
Addressing herself to the care of her narrow household, she
mechanically put away the few things she had brought with her, and
began to read just the scant furniture. She was a little discomposed at
first at the absence of bolts, locks, and even window-fastenings until
assured, by Concha's evident inability to comprehend her concern, that
they were quite unknown at Los Cuervos. Her slight knowledge of Spanish
was barely sufficient to make her wants known, so that the relief of
conversation with her only companion was debarred her, and she was
obliged to content herself with the sapless, crackling smiles and
withered genuflexions that the old woman dropped like dead leaves in
her path. It was staring noon when, the house singing like an empty
shell in the monotonous wind, she felt she could stand the solitude no
longer, and, crossing the glaring _patio_ and whistling corridor, made
her way to the open gateway.
But the view without seemed to intensify her desolation. The broad
expanse of the shadowless plain reached apparently to the Coast Range,
trackless and unbroken save by one or two clusters of dwarfed oaks,
which at that distance were but mossy excrescences on the surface,
barely raised above the dead level. On the other side the marsh took up
the monotony and carried it, scarcely interrupted by undefined
water-courses, to the faintly marked-out horizon line of the remote
bay. Scattered and apparently motionless black spots on the meadows
that gave a dreary significance to the title of "the Crows" which the
rancho bore, and sudden gray clouds of sandpipers on the marshes, that
rose and vanished down the wind, were the only signs of life. Even the
white sail of the early morning was gone.
She stood there until the aching of her straining eyes and the
stiffening of her limbs in the cold wind compelled her to seek the
sheltered warmth of the courtyard. Here she endeavored to make friends
with a bright-eyed lizard, who was sunning himself in the corridor; a
graceful little creature in blue and gold, from whom she felt at other
times she might have fled, but whose beauty and harmlessness solitude
had made known to her. With misplaced kindness she tempted it with
bread-crumbs, with no other effect than to stiffen it into stony
astonishment. She wondered if she should become like the prisoners she
had read of in books, who poured out their solitary affections on
noisome creatures, and she regretted even the mustang, which with the
buggy had disappeared under the charge of some unknown retainer on her
arrival. Was she not a prisoner? The shutterless windows, yawning
doors, and open gate refuted the suggestion, but the encompassing
solitude and trackless waste still held her captive. Poindexter had
told her it was four miles to the shanty; she might walk there. Why had
she given her word that she would remain at the rancho until he
The long day crept monotonously away, and she welcomed the night which
shut out the dreary prospect. But it brought no cessation of the
harassing wind without, nor surcease of the nervous irritation its
perpetual and even activity wrought upon her. It haunted her pillow
even in her exhausted sleep, and seemed to impatiently beckon her to
rise and follow it. It brought her feverish dreams of her husband,
footsore and weary, staggering forward under its pitiless lash and
clamorous outcry; she would have gone to his assistance, but when she
reached his side and held out her arms to him it hurried her past with
merciless power, and, bearing her away, left him hopelessly behind. It
was broad day when she awoke. The usual night showers of the waning
rainy season had left no trace in sky or meadow; the fervid morning sun
had already dried the _patio_; only the restless, harrying wind
Mrs. Tucker arose with a resolve. She had learned from Concha on the
previous evening that a part of the shanty was used as a _tienda_ or
shop for the laborers and _rancheros_. Under the necessity of
purchasing some articles, she would go there and for a moment mingle
with those people, who would not recognize her. Even if they did, her
instinct told her it would be less to be feared than the hopeless
uncertainty of another day. As she left the house the wind seemed to
seize her as in her dream, and hurry her along with it, until in a few
moments the walls of the low _casa_ sank into the earth again and she
was alone, but for the breeze on the solitary plain. The level distance
glittered in the sharp light, a few crows with slant wings dipped and
ran down the wind before her, and a passing gleam on the marsh was
explained by the far-off cry of a curlew.
She had walked for an hour, upheld by the stimulus of light and morning
air, when the cluster of scrub oaks, which was her destination, opened
enough to show two rambling sheds, before one of which was a wooden
platform containing a few barrels and bones. As she approached nearer,
she could see that one or two horses were tethered under the trees,
that their riders were lounging by a horse-trough, and that over an
open door the word _Tienda_ was rudely painted on a board, and as
rudely illustrated by the wares displayed at door and window.
Accustomed as she was to the poverty of frontier architecture, even the
crumbling walls of the old _hacienda_ she had just left seemed
picturesque to the rigid angles of the thin, blank, unpainted shell
before her. One of the loungers, who was reading a newspaper aloud as
she advanced, put it aside and stared at her; there was an evident
commotion in the shop as she stepped upon the platform, and when she
entered, with breathless lips and beating heart, she found herself the
object of a dozen curious eyes. Her quick pride resented the scrutiny
and recalled her courage, and it was with a slight coldness in her
usual lazy indifference that she leaned over the counter and asked for
the articles she wanted.
The request was followed by a dead silence. Mrs. Tucker repeated it
with some _hauteur_.
"I reckon you don't seem to know this store is in the hands of the
sheriff," said one of the loungers.
Mrs. Tucker was not aware of it.
"Well, I don't know any one who's a better right to know than Spence
Tucker's wife," said another with a coarse laugh. The laugh was echoed
by the others. Mrs. Tucker saw the pit into which she had deliberately
walked, but did not flinch.
"Is there any one to serve here?" she asked, turning her clear eyes
full upon the bystanders.
"You'd better ask the sheriff. He was the last one to _sarve_ here. He
sarved an attachment," replied the inevitable humorist of all
"Is he here?" asked Mrs. Tucker, disregarding the renewed laughter
which followed this subtle witticism.
The loungers at the door made way for one of their party, who was half
dragged, half pushed into the shop. "Here he is," said half a dozen
eager voices, in the fond belief that his presence might impart
additional humor to the situation. He cast a deprecating glance at Mrs.
Tucker and said, "It's so, madam! This yer place _is_ attached; but if
there's anything you're wanting, why I reckon, boys,"--he turned half
appealingly to the crowd, "we could oblige a lady." There was a vague
sound of angry opposition and remonstrance from the back door of the
shop, but the majority, partly overcome by Mrs. Tucker's beauty,
assented. "Only," continued the officer explanatorily, "ez these yer
goods are in the hands of the creditors, they ought to be represented
by an equivalent in money. If you're expecting they should be
"But I wish to, _pay_ for them," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, with a slight
flush of indignation; "I have the money."
"Oh, I bet you have!" screamed a voice, as, overturning all opposition,
the malcontent at the back door, in the shape of an infuriated woman,
forced her way into the shop. "I'll bet you have the money! Look at
her, boys! Look at the wife of the thief, with the stolen money in
diamonds in her ears and rings on her fingers. _She's_ got money if
_we've_ none. _She_ can pay for what she fancies, if we haven't a cent
to redeem the bed that's stolen from under us. Oh yes, buy it all, Mrs.
Spencer Tucker! buy the whole shop, Mrs. Spencer Tucker, do you hear?
And if you ain't satisfied then, buy my clothes, my wedding ring, the
only things your husband hasn't stolen."
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker coldly, turning towards the
door. But with a flying leap across the counter her relentless
adversary stood between her and retreat.
"You don't understand! Perhaps you don't understand that your husband
not only stole the hard labor of these men, but even the little money
they brought here and trusted to his thieving hands. Perhaps you don't
know that he stole my husband's hard earnings, mortgaged these very
goods you want to buy, and that he is to-day a convicted thief, a
forger, and a runaway coward. Perhaps, if you can't understand _me_,
you can read the newspaper. Look!" She exultingly opened the paper the
sheriff had been reading aloud, and pointed to the displayed headlines.
"Look! there are the very words, 'Forgery, Swindling, Embezzlement!' Do
you see? And perhaps you can't understand this. Look! 'Shameful Flight.
Abandons his Wife. Runs off with a Notorious'"--
"Easy, old gal, easy now. D--n it! Will you dry up? I say. _Stop_!"
It was too late! The sheriff had dashed the paper from the woman's
hand, but not until Mrs. Tucker had read a single line, a line such as
she had sometimes turned from with weary scorn in her careless perusal
of the daily shameful chronicle of domestic infelicity. Then she had
coldly wondered if there could be any such men and women. And now! The
crowd fell back before her; even the virago was silenced as she looked
at her face. The humorist's face was as white, but not as immobile, as
he gasped, "Christ! if I don't believe she knew nothin' of it!"
For a moment the full force of such a supposition, with all its
poignancy, its dramatic intensity, and its pathos, possessed the crowd.
In the momentary clairvoyance of enthusiasm they caught a glimpse of
the truth, and by one of the strange reactions of human passion they
only waited for a word of appeal or explanation from her lips to throw
themselves at her feet. Had she simply told her story they would have
believed her; had she cried, fainted, or gone into hysterics, they
would have pitied her. She did neither. Perhaps she thought of neither,
or indeed of anything that was then before her eyes. She walked erect
to the door and turned upon the threshold. "I mean what I say," she
said calmly. "I don't understand you. But whatever just claims you have
upon my husband will be paid by me, or by his lawyer, Captain
She had lost the sympathy but not the respect of her hearers. They made
way for her with sullen deference as she passed out on the platform.
But her adversary, profiting by the last opportunity, burst into an
"Captain Poindexter, is it? Well, perhaps he's safe to pay _your_ bill;
but as for your husband's"--
"That's another matter," interrupted a familiar voice with the greatest
cheerfulness; "that's what you were going to say, wasn't it? Ha! ha!
Well, Mrs. Patterson," continued Poindexter, stepping from his buggy,
"you never spoke a truer word in your life.--One moment, Mrs. Tucker.
Let me send you back in the buggy. Don't mind _me_. I can get a fresh
horse of the sheriff. I'm quite at home here." Then, turning to one of
the bystanders, "I say, Patterson, step a few paces this way, will you?
A little further from your wife, please. That will do. You've got a
Back to Full Books