Part 6 out of 8
claim of five thousand dollars against the property, haven't you?"
"Well, that woman just driving away is your one solitary chance of
getting a cent of it. If your wife insults her again, that chance is
gone. And if _you_ do"--
"As sure as there is a God in Israel and a Supreme Court of the State
of California, I'll kill you in your tracks!.... Stay!"
Patterson turned. The irrepressible look of humorous tolerance of all
human frailty had suffused Poindexter's black eyes with mischievous
moisture. "If you think it quite safe to confide to your wife this
prospect of her improvement by widowhood, you may!"
Mr. Patterson did not inform his wife of the lawyer's personal threat
to himself. But he managed, after Poindexter had left, to make her
conscious that Mrs. Tucker might be a power to be placated and feared.
"You've shot off your mouth at her," he said argumentatively, "and
whether you've hit the mark or not you've had your say. Ef you think
it's worth a possible five thousand dollars and interest to keep on,
heave ahead. Ef you rather have the chance of getting the rest in cash,
you'll let up on her." "You don't suppose," returned Mrs. Patterson
contemptuously, "that she's got anything but what that man of
hers--Poindexter--lets her have?" "The sheriff says," retorted
Patterson surlily, "that she's notified him that she claims the
_rancho_ as a gift from her husband three years ago, and she's in
_possession_ now, and was so when the execution was out. It don't make
no matter," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "who's got a full hand as
long as _we_ ain't got the cards to chip in. I wouldn't 'a' minded it,"
he continued meditatively, "ef Spence Tucker had dropped a hint to me
afore he put out." "And I suppose," said Mrs. Patterson angrily, "you'd
have put out too?" "I reckon," said Patterson simply.
Twice or thrice during the evening he referred, more or less directly,
to this lack of confidence shown by his late debtor and employer, and
seemed to feel it more keenly than the loss of property. He confided
his sentiments quite openly to the sheriff in possession, over the
whiskey and euchre with which these gentlemen avoided the difficulties
of their delicate relations. He brooded over it as he handed the keys
of the shop to the sheriff when they parted for the night, and was
still thinking of it when the house was closed, everybody gone to bed,
and he was fetching a fresh jug of water from the well. The moon was at
times obscured by flying clouds, the _avant-couriers_ of the regular
evening shower. He was stooping over the well, when he sprang suddenly
to his feet again. "Who's there?" he demanded sharply.
"Hush!" said a voice so low and faint it might have been a whisper of
the wind in the palisades of the corral. But, indistinct as it was, it
was the voice of a man he was thinking of as far away, and it sent a
thrill of alternate awe and pleasure through his pulses.
He glanced quickly round. The moon was hidden by a passing cloud, and
only the faint outlines of the house he had just quitted were visible.
"Is that you, Spence?" he said tremulously.
"Yes," replied the voice, and a figure dimly emerged from the corner of
"Lay low, lay low, for God's sake," said Patterson, hurriedly throwing
himself upon the apparition. "The sheriff and his posse are in there."
"But I must speak to you a moment," said the figure.
"Wait," said Patterson, glancing toward the building. Its blank,
shutterless windows revealed no inner light; a profound silence
encompassed it. "Come quick," he whispered. Letting his grasp slip down
to the unresisting hand of the stranger, he half dragged, half led him,
brushing against the wall, into the open door of the deserted bar-room
he had just quitted, locked the inner door, poured a glass of whiskey
from a decanter, gave it to him, and then watched him drain it at a
The moon came out, and falling through the bare windows full upon the
stranger's face, revealed the artistic but slightly disheveled curls
and mustache of the fugitive, Spencer Tucker.
Whatever may have been the real influence of this unfortunate man upon
his fellows, it seemed to find expression in a singular unanimity of
criticism. Patterson looked at him with a half dismal, half welcoming
smile. "Well, you are a h--ll of a fellow, ain't you?"
Spencer Tucker passed his hand through his hair and lifted it from his
forehead, with a gesture at once emotional and theatrical. "I am a man
with a price on me!" he said bitterly. "Give me up to the sheriff, and
you'll get five thousand dollars. Help me, and you'll get nothing.
That's my d--d luck, and yours too, I suppose."
"I reckon you're right there," said Patterson gloomily. "But I thought
you got clean away,--went off in a ship"--
"Went off in a boat to a ship," interrupted Tucker savagely; "went off
to a ship that had all my things on board--everything. The cursed boat
capsized in a squall just off the Heads. The ship, d--n her, sailed
away, the men thinking I was drowned, likely, and that they'd make a
good thing off my goods, I reckon."
"But the girl, Inez, who was with you, didn't she make a row?"
"_Quien sabe?_" returned Tucker, with a reckless laugh. "Well, I hung
on like grim death to that boat's keel until one of those Chinese
fishermen, in a 'dug-out,' hauled me in opposite Saucelito. I chartered
him and his dug-out to bring me down here."
"Why here?" asked Patterson, with a certain ostentatious caution that
ill concealed his pensive satisfaction.
"You may well ask," returned Tucker, with an equal ostentation of
bitterness, as he slightly waved his companion away. "But I reckoned I
could trust a white man that I'd been kind to, and who wouldn't go back
on me. No, no, let me go! Hand me over to the sheriff!"
Patterson had suddenly grasped both the hands of the picturesque scamp
before him, with an affection that for an instant almost shamed the man
who had ruined him. But Tucker's egotism whispered that this affection
was only a recognition of his own superiority, and felt flattered. He
was beginning to believe that he was really the injured party.
"What I _have_ and what I have _had_ is yours, Spence," returned
Patterson, with a sad and simple directness that made any further
discussion a gratuitous insult. "I only wanted to know what you
reckoned to do here."
"I want to get over across the Coast Range to Monterey," said Tucker.
"Once there, one of those coasting schooners will bring me down to
Acapulco, where the ship will put in."
Patterson remained silent for a moment. "There's a mustang in the
corral you can take--leastways, I shan't know that it's gone--until
to-morrow afternoon. In an hour from now," he added, looking from the
window, "these clouds will settle down to business. It will rain; there
will be light enough for you to find your way by the regular trail over
the mountain, but not enough for any one to know you. If you can't push
through to-night, you can lie over at the _posada_ on the summit. Them
greasers that keep it won't know you, And if they did they won't go
back on you. And if they did go back on you, nobody would believe them.
It's mighty curious," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "but I reckon
it's the reason why Providence allows this kind of cattle to live among
white men and others made in his image. Take a piece of pie, won't
you?" he continued, abandoning this abstract reflection and producing
half a flat pumpkin pie from the bar. Spencer Tucker grasped the pie
with one hand and his friend's fingers with the other, and for a few
moments was silent from the hurried deglutition of viand and sentiment.
"_You're_ a white man, Patterson, any way," he resumed. "I'll take your
horse, and put it down in our account at your own figure. As soon as
this cursed thing is blown over, I'll be back here and see you through,
you bet! I don't desert my friends, however rough things go with me."
"I see you don't," returned Patterson, with an unconscious and serious
simplicity that had the effect of the most exquisite irony. "I was only
just saying to the sheriff that if there was anything I could have done
for you, you wouldn't have cut away without letting me know." Tucker
glanced uneasily at Patterson, who continued, "Ye ain't wanting
anything else?" Then observing that his former friend and patron was
roughly but newly clothed, and betrayed no trace of his last escapade,
he added, "I see you've got a fresh harness."
"That d--d Chinaman bought me these at the landing. They're not much in
style or fit," he continued, trying to get a moonlight view of himself
in the mirror behind the bar, "but that don't matter here." He filled
another glass of spirits, jauntily settled himself back in his chair,
and added, "I don't suppose there are any girls around, anyway."
"'Cept your wife; she was down here this afternoon," said Patterson
Mr. Tucker paused with the pie in his hand. "Ah, yes!" He essayed a
reckless laugh, but that evident simulation failed before Patterson's
melancholy. With an assumption of falling in with his friend's manner,
rather than from any personal anxiety, he continued, "Well?"
"That man Poindexter was down here with her. Put her in the _hacienda_
to hold possession afore the news came out."
"Impossible!" said Tucker, rising hastily. "It don't belong--that
"Yer thinking the creditors'll get it, mebbe," returned Patterson,
gazing at the floor. "Not as long as she's in it; no sir! Whether it's
really hers, or she's only keeping house for Poindexter, she's a
fixture, you bet. They are a team when they pull together, they are!"
The smile slowly faded from Tucker's face, that now looked quite rigid
in the moonlight. He put down his glass and walked to the window as
Patterson gloomily continued: "But that's nothing to you. You've got
ahead of 'em both, and had your revenge by going off with the gal.
That's what I said all along. When folks--specially women
folks--wondered how you could leave a woman like your wife, and go off
with a scallawag like that gal, I allers said they'd find out there was
a reason. And when your wife came flaunting down here with Poindexter
before she'd quite got quit of you, I reckon they began to see the
whole little game. No, sir! I knew it wasn't on account of the gal!
Why, when you came here to-night and told me quite nat'ral-like and
easy how she went off in the ship, and then calmly ate your pie and
drank your whiskey after it, I knew you didn't care for her. There's my
hand, Spence; you're a trump, even if you are a little looney, eh? Why,
Shallow and selfish as Tucker was, Patterson's words seemed like a
revelation that shocked him as profoundly as it might have shocked a
nobler nature. The simple vanity and selfishness that made him unable
to conceive any higher reason for his wife's loyalty than his own
personal popularity and success, now that he no longer possessed that
_eclat_, made him equally capable of the lowest suspicions. He was a
dishonored fugitive, broken in fortune and reputation--why should she
not desert him? He had been unfaithful to her from wildness, from
caprice, from the effect of those fascinating qualities; it seemed to
him natural that she should be disloyal from more deliberate motives,
and he hugged himself with that belief. Yet there was enough doubt,
enough of haunting suspicion, that he had lost or alienated a powerful
affection, to make him thoroughly miserable. He returned his friend's
grasp convulsively and buried his face upon his shoulder. But he was
above feeling a certain exultation in the effect of his misery upon the
dog-like, unreasoning affection of Patterson, nor could he entirely
refrain from slightly posing his affliction before that sympathetic but
melancholy man. Suddenly he raised his head, drew back, and thrust his
hand into his bosom with a theatrical gesture.
"What's to keep me from killing Poindexter in his tracks?" he said
"Nothin' but _his_ shooting first," returned Patterson, with dismal
practicality. "He's mighty quick, like all them army men. It's about
even, I reckon, that he don't get _me_ first," he added in an ominous
"No!" returned Tucker, grasping his hand again. "This is not your
affair, Patterson; leave him to me when I come back."
"If he ever gets the drop on me, I reckon he won't wait," continued
Patterson lugubriously. "He seems to object to my passin' criticism on
your wife, as if she was a queen or an angel."
The blood came to Spencer's cheek, and he turned uneasily to the
window. "It's dark enough now for a start," he said hurriedly, "and if
I could get across the mountain without lying over at the summit, it
would be a day gained."
Patterson arose without a word, filled a flask of spirit, handed it to
his friend, and silently led the way through the slowly falling rain
and the now settled darkness. The mustang was quickly secured and
saddled; a heavy _poncho_ afforded Tucker a disguise as well as a
protection from the rain. With a few hurried, disconnected words, and
an abstracted air, he once more shook his friend's hand and issued
cautiously from the corral. When out of earshot from the house he put
spurs to the mustang, and dashed into a gallop.
To intersect the mountain road he was obliged to traverse part of the
highway his wife had walked that afternoon, and to pass within a mile
of the _casa_ where she was. Long before he reached that point his eyes
were straining the darkness in that direction for some indication of
the house which was to him familiar. Becoming now accustomed to the
even obscurity, less trying to the vision than the alternate light and
shadow of cloud or the full glare of the moonlight, he fancied he could
distinguish its low walls over the monotonous level. One of those
impulses which had so often taken the place of resolution in his
character suddenly possessed him to diverge from his course and
approach the house. Why, he could not have explained. It was not from
any feeling of jealous suspicion or contemplated revenge--that had
passed with the presence of Patterson; it was not from any vague
lingering sentiment for the woman he had wronged--he would have shrunk
from meeting her at that moment. But it was full of these and more
possibilities by which he might or might not be guided, and was at
least a movement towards some vague end, and a distraction from certain
thoughts he dared not entertain and could not entirely dismiss.
Inconceivable and inexplicable to human reason, it might have been
acceptable to the Divine omniscience for its predestined result.
He left the road at a point where the marsh encroached upon the meadow,
familiar to him already as near the spot where he had debarked from the
Chinaman's boat the day before. He remembered that the walls of the
_hacienda_ were distinctly visible from the _tules_ where he had hidden
all day, and he now knew that the figures he had observed near the
building, which had deterred his first attempts at landing, must have
been his wife and his friend. He knew that a long tongue of the slough
filled by the rising tide followed the marsh, and lay between him and
the _hacienda_. The sinking of his horse's hoofs in the spongy soil
determined its proximity, and he made a detour to the right to avoid
it. In doing so, a light suddenly rose above the distant horizon ahead
of him, trembled faintly, and then burned with a steady lustre. It was
a light at the _hacienda_. Guiding his horse half abstractedly in this
direction, his progress was presently checked by the splashing of the
animal's hoofs in the water. But the turf below was firm, and a salt
drop that had spattered to his lips told him that it was only the
encroaching of the tide in the meadow. With his eyes on the light, he
again urged his horse forward. The rain lulled, the clouds began to
break, the landscape alternately lightened and grew dark; the outlines
of the crumbling _hacienda_ walls that enshrined the light grew more
visible. A strange and dreamy resemblance to the long blue-grass plain
before his wife's paternal house, as seen by him during his evening
rides to courtship, pressed itself upon him. He remembered, too, that
she used to put a light in the window to indicate her presence.
Following this retrospect, the moon came boldly out, sparkled upon the
overflow of silver at his feet, seemed to show the dark, opaque meadow
beyond for a moment, and then disappeared. It was dark now, but the
lesser earthly star still shone before him as a guide, and pushing
towards it, he passed in the all-embracing shadow.
As Mrs. Tucker, erect, white, and rigid, drove away from the _tienda_,
it seemed to her to sink again into the monotonous plain, with all its
horrible realities. Except that there was now a new and heart-breaking
significance to the solitude and loneliness of the landscape, all that
had passed might have been a dream. But as the blood came back to her
cheek, and little by little her tingling consciousness returned, it
seemed as if her life had been the dream, and this last scene the
awakening reality. With eyes smarting with the moisture of shame, the
scarlet blood at times dyeing her very neck and temples, she muffled
her lowered crest in her shawl and bent over the reins. Bit by bit she
recalled, in Poindexter's mysterious caution and strange allusions, the
corroboration of her husband's shame and her own disgrace. This was why
she was brought hither--the deserted wife, the abandoned confederate!
The mocking glitter of the concave vault above her, scoured by the
incessant wind, the cold stare of the shining pools beyond, the hard
outlines of the Coast Range, and the jarring accompaniment of her
horse's hoofs and rattling buggy-wheels, alternately goaded and
distracted her. She found herself repeating "No! no! no!" with the
dogged reiteration of fever. She scarcely knew when or how she reached
the _hacienda_. She was only conscious that as she entered the _patio_
the dusky solitude that had before filled her with unrest now came to
her like balm. A benumbing peace seemed to fall from the crumbling
walls; the peace of utter seclusion, isolation, oblivion, death!
Nevertheless, an hour later, when the jingle of spurs and bridle were
again heard in the road, she started to her feet with bent brows and a
kindling eye, and confronted Captain Poindexter in the corridor.
"I would not have intruded upon you so soon again," he said gravely,
"but I thought I might perhaps spare you a repetition of the scene of
this morning. Hear me out, please," he added, with a gentle, half
deprecating gesture, as she lifted the beautiful scorn of her eyes to
his. "I have just heard that your neighbor, Don Jose Santierra, of Los
Gatos, is on his way to this house. He once claimed this land, and
hated your husband, who bought of the rival claimant, whose grant was
confirmed. I tell you this," he added, slightly flushing as Mrs. Tucker
turned impatiently away, "only to show you that legally he has no
rights, and you need not see him unless you choose. I could not stop
his coming without perhaps doing you more harm than good; but when he
does come, my presence under this roof as your legal counsel will
enable you to refer him to me." He stopped. She was pacing the corridor
with short, impatient steps, her arms dropped, and her hands clasped
rigidly before her. "Have I your permission to stay?"
She suddenly stopped in her walk, approached him rapidly, and fixing
her eyes on his, said:
"Do I know _all_, now--everything?"
He could only reply that she had not yet told him what she had heard.
"Well," she said scornfully, "that my husband has been cruelly imposed
upon--imposed upon by some wretched woman, who has made him sacrifice
his property, his friends, his honor--everything but me!"
"Everything but whom?" gasped Poindexter.
Poindexter gazed at the sky, the air, the deserted corridor, the stones
of the _patio_ itself, and then at the inexplicable woman before him.
Then he said gravely, "I think you know everything."
"Then if my husband has left me all he could--this property," she went
on rapidly, twisting her handkerchief between her fingers, "I can do
with it what I like, can't I?"
"You certainly can."
"Then sell it," she said, with passionate vehemence. "Sell it--all!
everything! And sell these." She darted into her bedroom, and returned
with the diamond rings she had torn from her fingers and ears when she
entered the house. "Sell them for anything they'll bring, only sell
them at once."
"But for what?" asked Poindexter, with demure lips but twinkling eyes.
"To pay the debts that this--this--woman has led him into; to return
the money she has stolen!" she went on rapidly; "to keep him from
sharing infamy! Can't you understand?"
"But, my dear madam," began Poindexter, "even if this could be done"--
"Don't tell me 'if it could'--it _must_ be done. Do you think I could
sleep under this roof, propped up by the timbers of that ruined
_tienda_? Do you think I could wear those diamonds again, while that
termagant shop-woman can say that her money bought them? No! If you are
my husband's friend you will do this--for--for his sake." She stopped,
locked and interlocked her cold fingers before her, and said,
hesitating and mechanically, "You meant well, Captain Poindexter, in
bringing me here, I know! You must not think that I blame you for it,
or for the miserable result of it that you have just witnessed. But if
I have gained anything by it, for God's sake let me reap it quickly,
that I may give it to these people and go! I have a friend who can aid
me to get to my husband or to my home in Kentucky, where Spencer will
yet find me, I know. I want nothing more." She stopped again. With
another woman the pause would have been one of tears. But she kept her
head above the flood that filled her heart, and the clear eyes fixed
upon Poindexter, albeit pained, were undimmed.
"But this would require time," said Poindexter, with a smile of
compassionate explanation; "you could not sell now, nobody would buy.
You are safe to hold this property while you are in actual possession,
but you are not strong enough to guarantee it to another. There may
still be litigation; your husband has other creditors than these people
you have talked with. But while nobody could oust you--the wife who
would have the sympathies of judge and jury--it might be a different
case with any one who derived title from you. Any purchaser would know
that you could not sell, or if you did, it would be at a ridiculous
She listened to him abstractedly, walked to the end of the corridor,
returned, and without looking up, said:
"I suppose you know her?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"This woman. You have seen her?"
"Never, to my knowledge."
"And you are his friend! That's strange." She raised her eyes to his.
"Well," she continued impatiently, "who is she? and what is she? You
know that surely."
"I know no more of her than what I have said." said Poindexter. "She is
a notorious woman."
The swift color came to Mrs. Tucker's face as if the epithet had been
applied to herself. "I suppose," she said in a dry voice, as if she
were asking a business question, but with an eye that showed her rising
anger,--"I suppose there is some law by which creatures of this kind
can be followed and brought to justice--some law that would keep
innocent people from suffering for their crimes?"
"I am afraid," said Poindexter, "that arresting her would hardly help
these people over in the _tienda_."
"I am not speaking of them," responded Mrs. Tucker, with a sudden
sublime contempt for the people whose cause she had espoused; "I am
talking of my husband."
Poindexter bit his lip. "You'd hardly think of bringing back the
strongest witness against him," he said bluntly.
Mrs. Tucker dropped her eyes and was silent. A sudden shame suffused
Poindexter's cheek; he felt as if he had struck that woman a blow. "I
beg your pardon," he said hastily; "I am talking like a lawyer to a
lawyer." He would have taken any other woman by the hand in the honest
fullness of his apology, but something restrained him here. He only
looked down gently on her lowered lashes, and repeated his question if
he should remain during the coming interview with Don Jose. "I must beg
you to determine quickly," he added, "for I already hear him entering
"Stay," said Mrs. Tucker, as the ringing of spurs and clatter of hoofs
came from the corral. "One moment." She looked up suddenly, and said,
"How long had he known her?" But before he could reply there was a step
in the doorway, and the figure of Don Jose Santierra emerged from the
He was a man slightly past middle age, fair, and well shaven, wearing a
black broadcloth _serape_, the deeply embroidered opening of which
formed a collar of silver rays around his neck, while a row of silver
buttons down the side seams of his riding-trousers, and silver spurs
completed his singular equipment. Mrs. Tucker's swift feminine glance
took in these details, as well as the deep salutation, more formal than
the exuberant frontier politeness she was accustomed to, with which he
greeted her. It was enough to arrest her first impulse to retreat. She
hesitated and stopped as Poindexter stepped forward, partly interposing
between them, acknowledging Don Jose's distant recognition of himself
with an ironical accession of his usual humorous tolerance. The
Spaniard did not seem to notice it, but remained gravely silent before
Mrs. Tucker, gazing at her with an expression of intent and unconscious
"You are quite right, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with ironical
concern, "it _is_ Mrs. Tucker. Your eyes do _not_ deceive you. She will
be glad to do the honors of her house," he continued, with a simulation
of appealing to her, "unless you visit her on business, when I need not
say _I_ shall be only too happy to attend you, as before."
Don Jose, with a slight lifting of the eyebrows, allowed himself to
become conscious of the lawyer's meaning. "It is not of business that I
come to kiss the Senora's hand to-day," he replied, with a melancholy
softness; "it is as her neighbor, to put myself at her disposition. Ah!
what have we here fit for a lady?" he continued, raising his eyes in
deprecation of the surroundings; "a house of nothing, a place of winds
and dry bones, without refreshments, or satisfaction, or delicacy. The
Senora will not refuse to make us proud this day to send her of that
which we have in our poor home at Los Gatos, to make her more complete.
Of what shall it be? Let her make choice. Or if she would commemorate
this day by accepting of our hospitality at Los Gatos, until she shall
arrange herself the more to receive us here, we shall have too much
"The Senora would only find it the more difficult to return to this
humble roof again, after once leaving it for Don Jose's hospitality,"
said Poindexter, with a demure glance at Mrs. Tucker. But the innuendo
seemed to lapse equally unheeded by his fair client and the stranger.
Raising her eyes with a certain timid dignity which Don Jose's presence
seemed to have called out, she addressed herself to him.
"You are very kind and considerate, Mister Santierra, and I thank you.
I know that my husband"--she let the clear beauty of her translucent
eyes rest full on both men--"would thank you too. But I shall not be
here long enough to accept your kindness in this house nor in your own.
I have but one desire and object now. It is to dispose of this
property, and indeed all I possess, to pay the debt of my husband. It
is in your power, perhaps, to help me. I am told that you wish to
possess Los Cuervos," she went on, equally oblivious of the
consciousness that appeared in Don Jose's face, and a humorous
perplexity on the brow of Poindexter. "If you can arrange it with Mr.
Poindexter, you will find me a liberal vendor. That much you can do,
and I know you will believe I shall be grateful. You can do no more,
unless it be to say to your friends that Mrs. Belle Tucker remains here
only for that purpose, and to carry out what she knows to be the wishes
of her husband." She paused, bent her pretty crest, dropped a quaint
curtsey to the superior age, the silver braid, and the gentlemanly
bearing of Don Jose, and with the passing sunshine of a smile
disappeared from the corridor.
The two men remained silent for a moment, Don Jose gazing abstractedly
on the door through which she had vanished, until Poindexter, with a
return of his tolerant smile, said, "You have heard the views of Mrs.
Tucker. You know the situation as well as she does."
"Ah, yes; possibly better."
Poindexter darted a quick glance at the grave, sallow face of Don Jose,
but detecting no unusual significance in his manner, continued, "As you
see, she leaves this matter in my hands. Let us talk like business men.
Have you any idea of purchasing this property?"
"Of purchasing? ah, no."
Poindexter bent his brows, but quickly relaxed them with a smile of
humorous forgiveness. "If you have any other idea, Don Jose, I ought to
warn you, as Mrs. Tucker's lawyer, that she is in legal possession
here, and that nothing but her own act can change that position."
Irritated at the shrug which accompanied this, Poindexter continued
haughtily, "If I am to understand, you have nothing to say"--
"To say, ah, yes, possibly. But"--he glanced toward the door of Mrs.
Tucker's room--"not here." He stopped, appeared to recall himself, and
with an apologetic smile and a studied but graceful gesture of
invitation, he motioned to the gateway, and said, "Will you ride?"
"What can the fellow be up to?" muttered Poindexter, as with an
assenting nod he proceeded to remount his horse. "If he wasn't an old
_hidalgo_, I'd mistrust him. No matter! here goes!"
The Don also remounted his half-broken mustang; they proceeded in
solemn silence through the corral, and side by side emerged on the open
plain. Poindexter glanced round; no other being was in sight. It was
not until the lonely _hacienda_ had also sunk behind them that Don Jose
broke the silence.
"You say just now we shall speak as business men. I say no, Don Marco;
I will not. I shall speak, we shall speak, as gentlemen."
"Go on," said Poindexter, who was beginning to be amused.
"I say just now I will not purchase the _rancho_ from the Senora. And
why? Look you, Don Marco;" he reined in his horse, thrust his hand
under his _serape_, and drew out a folded document: "this is why."
With a smile, Poindexter took the paper from his hand and opened it.
But the smile faded from his lips as he read. With blazing eyes he
spurred his horse beside the Spaniard, almost unseating him, and said
sternly, "What does this mean?"
"What does it mean?" repeated Don Jose, with equally flashing eyes;
"I'll tell you. It means that your client, this man Spencer Tucker, is
a Judas, a traitor! It means that he gave Los Cuervos to his mistress a
year ago, and that she sold it to me--to me, you hear!--_me_, Jose
Santierra, the day before she left! It means that the coyote of a
Spencer, the thief, who bought these lands of a thief and gave them to
a thief, has tricked you all. Look," he said, rising in his saddle,
holding the paper like a _baton_, and defining with a sweep of his arm
the whole level plain, "all these lands were once mine, they are mine
again to-day. Do I want to purchase Los Cuervos? you ask, for you will
speak of the _business_. Well, listen. I _have_ purchased Los Cuervos,
and here is the deed."
"But it has never been recorded," said Poindexter, with a carelessness
he was far from feeling.
"Of a verity, no. Do you wish that I should record it?" asked Don Jose,
with a return of his simple gravity.
Poindexter bit his lip. "You said we were to talk like gentlemen," he
returned. "Do you think you have come into possession of this alleged
deed like a gentleman?"
Don Jose shrugged his shoulders, "I found it tossed in the lap of a
harlot. I bought it for a song. Eh, what would you?"
"Would you sell it again for a song?" asked Poindexter.
"Ah! what is this?" said Don Jose, lifting his iron-gray brows; "but a
moment ago we would sell everything, for any money. Now we would buy.
Is it so?"
"One moment, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with a baleful light in his
dark eyes. "Do I understand that you are the ally of Spencer Tucker and
his mistress, that you intend to turn this doubly betrayed wife from
the only roof she has to cover her?"
"Ah, I comprehend not. You heard her say she wished to go. Perhaps it
may please _me_ to distribute largess to these cattle yonder, I do not
say no. More she does not ask. But _you_, Don Marco, of whom are you
advocate? You abandon your client's mistress for the wife, is it so?"
"What I may do you will learn hereafter," said Poindexter, who had
regained his composure, suddenly reining up his horse. "As our paths
seem likely to diverge, they had better begin now. Good morning."
"Patience, my friend, patience! Ah, blessed St. Anthony, what these
Americans are! Listen. For what _you_ shall do, I do not inquire. The
question is to me what I"--he emphasized the pronoun by tapping himself
on the breast--"I, Jose Santierra, will do. Well, I shall tell you.
To-day, nothing. To-morrow, nothing. For a week, for a month, nothing!
After, we shall see."
Poindexter paused thoughtfully. "Will you give your word, Don Jose,
that you will not press the claim for a month?"
"Truly, on one condition. Observe! I do not ask you for an equal
promise, that you will not take this time to defend yourself." He
shrugged his shoulder. "No! It is only this. You shall promise that
during that time the Senora Tucker shall remain ignorant of this
Poindexter hesitated a moment. "I promise," he said at last.
"Good. Adios, Don Marco."
"Adios, Don Jose"
The Spaniard put spurs to his mustang and galloped off in the direction
of Los Gatos. The lawyer remained for a moment gazing on his retreating
but victorious figure. For the first time the old look of humorous
toleration with which Mr. Poindexter was in the habit of regarding all
human infirmity gave way to something like bitterness. "I might have
guessed it," he said, with a slight rise of color. "He's an old fool;
and she--well, perhaps it's all the better for her!" He glanced
backwards almost tenderly in the direction of Los Cuervos, and then
turned his head towards the _embarcadero_.
As the afternoon wore on, a creaking, antiquated oxcart arrived at Los
Cuervos, bearing several articles of furniture, and some tasteful
ornaments from Los Gatos, at the same time that a young Mexican girl
mysteriously appeared in the kitchen, as a temporary assistant to the
decrepit Concha. These were both clearly attributable to Don Jose,
whose visit was not so remote but that these delicate attentions might
have been already projected before Mrs. Tucker had declined them, and
she could not, without marked discourtesy, return them now. She did not
wish to seem discourteous; she would like to have been more civil to
this old gentleman, who still retained the evidences of a picturesque
and decorous past, and a repose so different from the life that was
perplexing her. Reflecting that if he bought the estate these things
would be ready to his hand, and with a woman's instinct recognizing
their value in setting off the house to other purchasers' eyes, she
took a pleasure in tastefully arranging them, and even found herself
speculating how she might have enjoyed them herself had she been able
to keep possession of the property. After all, it would not have been
so lonely if refined and gentle neighbors, like this old man, would
have sympathized with her; she had an instinctive feeling that, in
their own hopeless decay and hereditary unfitness for this new
civilization, they would have been more tolerant of her husband's
failure than his own kind. She could not believe that Don Jose really
hated her husband for buying of the successful claimant, as there was
no other legal title. Allowing herself to become interested in the
guileless gossip of the new handmaiden, proud of her broken English,
she was drawn into a sympathy with the grave simplicity of Don Jose's
character, a relic of that true nobility which placed this descendant
of the Castilians and the daughter of a free people on the same level.
In this way the second day of her occupancy of Los Cuervos closed, with
dumb clouds along the gray horizon, and the paroxysms of hysterical
wind growing fainter and fainter outside the walls; with the moon
rising after nightfall, and losing itself in silent and mysterious
confidences with drifting scud. She went to bed early, but woke past
midnight, hearing, as she thought, her own name called. The impression
was so strong upon her that she rose, and, hastily enwrapping herself,
went to the dark embrasures of the oven-shaped windows, and looked out.
The dwarfed oak beside the window was still dropping from a past
shower, but the level waste of marsh and meadow beyond seemed to
advance and recede with the coming and going of the moon. Again she
heard her name called, and this time in accents so strangely familiar
that with a slight cry she ran into the corridor, crossed the _patio_,
and reached the open gate. The darkness that had, even in this brief
interval, again fallen upon the prospect she tried in vain to pierce
with eye and voice. A blank silence followed. Then the veil was
suddenly withdrawn; the vast plain, stretching from the mountain to the
sea, shone as clearly as in the light of day; the moving current of the
channel glittered like black pearls, the stagnant pools like molten
lead; but not a sign of life nor motion broke the monotony of the broad
expanse. She must have surely dreamed it. A chill wind drove her back
to the house again; she entered her bedroom, and in half an hour she
was in a peaceful sleep.
The two men kept their secret. Mr. Poindexter convinced Mrs. Tucker
that the sale of Los Cuervos could not be effected until the notoriety
of her husband's flight had been fairly forgotten, and she was forced
to accept her fate. The sale of her diamonds, which seemed to her to
have realized a singularly extravagant sum, enabled her to quietly
reinstate the Pattersons in the _tienda_ and to discharge in full her
husband's liabilities to the _rancheros_ and his humbler retainers.
Meanwhile the winter rains had ceased. It seemed to her as if the
clouds had suddenly one night struck their white tents and stolen away,
leaving the unvanquished sun to mount the vacant sky the next morning
alone, and possess it thenceforward unchallenged. One afternoon she
thought the long sad waste before her window had caught some tint of
grayer color from the sunset; a week later she found it a blazing
landscape of poppies, broken here and there by blue lagoons of lupine,
by pools of daisies, by banks of dog-roses, by broad outlying shores of
dandelions that scattered their lavish gold to the foot of the hills,
where the green billows of wild oats carried it on and upwards to the
darker crests of pines. For two months she was dazzled and bewildered
with color. She had never before been face to face with this
spendthrift Californian Flora, in her virgin wastefulness, her more
than goddess-like prodigality. The teeming earth seemed to quicken and
throb beneath her feet; the few circuits of a plow around the outlying
corral was enough to call out a jungle growth of giant grain that
almost hid the low walls of the _hacienda_. In this glorious fecundity
of the earth, in this joyous renewal of life and color, in this opulent
youth and freshness of soil and sky, it alone remained, the dead and
sterile Past, left in the midst of buoyant rejuvenescence and
resurrection, like an empty churchyard skull upturned on the springing
turf. Its bronzed adobe walls mocked the green vine that embraced them,
the crumbling dust of its courtyard remained ungerminating and
unfruitful; to the thousand; stirring voices without, its dry lips
alone remained mute, unresponsive, and unchanged.
During this time Don Jose had become a frequent visitor at Los Cuervos,
bringing with him at first his niece and sister in a stately precision
of politeness that was not lost on the proud Blue Grass stranger. She
returned their visit at Los Gatos, and there made the formal
acquaintance of Don Jose's grandmother, a lady who still regarded the
decrepit Concha as a giddy _muchacha_, and who herself glittered as
with the phosphorescence of refined decay. Through this circumstance
she learned that Don Jose was not yet fifty, and that his gravity of
manner and sedateness was more the result of fastidious isolation and
temperament than years. She could not tell why the information gave her
a feeling of annoyance, but it caused her to regret the absence of
Poindexter, and to wonder, also somewhat nervously, why he had lately
avoided her presence. The thought that he might be doing so from a
recollection of the innuendoes of Mrs. Patterson caused a little tremor
of indignation in her pulses. "As if"--but she did not finish the
sentence even to herself, and her eyes filled with bitter tears.
Yet she had thought of the husband who had so cruelly wronged her less
feverishly, less impatiently than before. For she thought she loved him
now the more deeply, because, although she was not reconciled to his
absence, it seemed to keep alive the memory of what he had been before
his one wild act separated them. She had never seen the reflection of
another woman's eyes in his; the past contained no haunting
recollection of waning or alienated affection; she could meet him
again, and, clasping her arms around him, awaken as if from a troubled
dream without reproach or explanation. Her strong belief in this made
her patient; she no longer sought to know the particulars of his
flight, and never dreamed that her passive submission to his absence
was partly due to a fear that something in his actual presence at that
moment would have destroyed that belief forever.
For this reason the delicate reticence of the people at Los Gatos, and
their seclusion from the world which knew of her husband's fault, had
made her encourage the visits of Don Jose, until from the instinct
already alluded to she one day summoned Poindexter to Los Cuervos, on
the day that Don Jose usually called. But to her surprise the two men
met more or less awkwardly and coldly, and her tact as hostess was
tried to the utmost to keep their evident antagonism from being too
apparent. The effort to reconcile their mutual discontent, and some
other feeling she did not quite understand, produced a nervous
excitement which called the blood to her cheek and gave a dangerous
brilliancy to her eyes, two circumstances not unnoticed nor
unappreciated by her two guests. But instead of reuniting them, the
prettier Mrs. Tucker became, the more distant and reserved grew the
men, until Don Jose rose before his usual hour, and with more than
usual ceremoniousness departed.
"Then my business does not seem to be with _him_!" said Poindexter,
with quiet coolness, as Mrs. Tucker turned her somewhat mystified face
towards him. "Or have you anything to say to me about him in private?"
"I am sure I don't know what you both mean," she returned with a slight
tremor of voice. "I had no idea you were not on good terms. I thought
you were! It's very awkward." Without coquetry and unconsciously she
raised her blue eyes under her lids until the clear pupils coyly and
softly hid themselves in the corners of the brown lashes, and added,
"You have both been so kind to me."
"Perhaps that is the reason," said Poindexter, gravely. But Mrs. Tucker
refused to accept the suggestion with equal gravity, and began to
laugh. The laugh, which was at first frank, spontaneous, and almost
child-like, was becoming hysterical and nervous as she went on, until
it was suddenly checked by Poindexter.
"I have had no difficulties with Don Jose Santierra," he said, somewhat
coldly ignoring her hilarity, "but perhaps he is not inclined to be as
polite to the friend of the husband as he is to the wife."
"Mr. Poindexter!" said Mrs. Tucker quickly, her face becoming pale
"I beg your pardon!" said Poindexter, flushing; "but"--
"You want to say," she interrupted coolly, "that you are not friends, I
see. Is that the reason why you have avoided this house?" she continued
"I thought I could be of more service to you elsewhere," he replied
evasively. "I have been lately following up a certain clue rather
closely. I think I am on the track of a confidante of--of--that woman."
A quick shadow passed over Mrs. Tucker's face. "Indeed!" she said
coldly. "Then I am to believe that you prefer to spend your leisure
moments in looking after that creature to calling here?"
Poindexter was stupefied. Was this the woman who only four months ago
was almost vindictively eager to pursue her husband's paramour! There
could be but one answer to it--Don Jose! Four months ago he would have
smiled compassionately at it from his cynical preeminence. Now he
managed with difficulty to stifle the bitterness of his reply.
"If you do not wish the inquiry carried on," he began, "of course"--
"I? What does it matter to me?" she said coolly. "Do as you please."
Nevertheless, half an hour later, as he was leaving, she said, with a
certain hesitating timidity, "Do not leave me so much alone here, and
let that woman go."
This was not the only unlooked-for sequel to her innocent desire to
propitiate her best friends. Don Jose did not call again upon his usual
day, but in his place came Dona Clara, his younger sister. When Mrs.
Tucker had politely asked after the absent Don Jose, Dona Clara wound
her swarthy arms around the fair American's waist and replied, "But why
did you send for the _abogado_ Poindexter when my brother called?"
"But Captain Poindexter calls as one of my friends," said the amazed
Mrs. Tucker. "He is a gentleman, and has been a soldier and an
officer," she added with some warmth.
"Ah, yes, a soldier of the law, what you call an _oficial de policia_,
a chief of _gendarmes_, my sister, but not a gentleman--a _camarero_ to
protect a lady."
Mrs. Tucker would have uttered a hasty reply, but the perfect and
good-natured simplicity of Dona Clara withheld her. Nevertheless, she
treated Don Jose with a certain reserve at their next meeting, until it
brought the simple-minded Castilian so dangerously near the point of
demanding an explanation which implied too much that she was obliged to
restore him temporarily to his old footing. Meantime she had a
brilliant idea. She would write to Calhoun Weaver, whom she had avoided
since that memorable day. She would say she wished to consult him. He
would come to Los Cuervos; he might suggest something to lighten this
weary waiting; at least she would show them all that she had still old
friends. Yet she did not dream of returning to her Blue Grass home; her
parents had died since she left; she shrank from the thought of
dragging her ruined life before the hopeful youth of her girlhood's
Mr. Calhoun Weaver arrived promptly, ostentatiously, oracularly, and
cordially, but a little coarsely. He had--did she remember?--expected
this from the first. Spercer had lost his head through vanity, and had
attempted too much. It required foresight and firmness, as he
himself--who had lately made successful "combinations" which she might
perhaps have heard of--well knew. But Spencer had got the "big head."
"As to that woman--a devilish handsome woman too!--well, everybody knew
that Spencer always had a weakness that way, and he would say--but if
she didn't care to hear any more about her--well, perhaps she was
right. That was the best way to take it." Sitting before her,
prosperous, weak, egotistical, incompetent, unavailable, and yet filled
with a vague kindliness of intent, Mrs. Tucker loathed him. A sickening
perception of her own weakness in sending for him, a new and aching
sense of her utter isolation and helplessness, seemed to paralyze her.
"Nat'rally you feel bad," he continued, with the large air of a
profound student of human nature. "Nat'rally, nat'rally you're kept in
an uncomfortable state, not knowing jist how you stand. There ain't but
one thing to do. Jist rise up, quiet like, and get a divorce agin
Spencer. Hold on! There ain't a judge or jury in California that
wouldn't give it to you right off the nail, without asking questions.
Why, you'd get it by default if you wanted to; you'd just have to walk
over the course! And then, Belle," he drew his chair still nearer her,
"when you've settled down again--well!--I don't mind renewing that
offer I once made ye, before Spencer ever came round ye--I don't mind,
Belle, I swear I don't! Honest Injin! I'm in earnest, there's my hand."
Mrs. Tucker's reply has not been recorded. Enough that half an hour
later Mr. Weaver appeared in the courtyard with traces of tears on his
foolish face, a broken falsetto voice, and other evidence of mental and
moral disturbance. His cordiality and oracular predisposition remained
sufficiently to enable him to suggest the magical words "Blue Grass"
mysteriously to Concha, with an indication of his hand to the erect
figure of her pale mistress in the doorway, who waved to him a silent
but half compassionate farewell.
At about this time a slight change in her manner was noticed by the few
who saw her more frequently. Her apparently invincible girlishness of
spirit had given way to a certain matronly seriousness. She applied
herself to her household cares and the improvement of the _hacienda_
with a new sense of duty and a settled earnestness, until by degrees
she wrought into it not only her instinctive delicacy and taste, but
part of her own individuality. Even the rude _rancheros_ and tradesmen
who were permitted to enter the walls in the exercise of their calling
began to speak mysteriously of the beauty of this garden of the
_almarjal_. She went out but seldom, and then accompanied by one or the
other of her female servants, in long drives on unfrequented roads. On
Sundays she sometimes drove to the half ruined mission church of Santa
Inez, and hid herself, during mass, in the dim monastic shadows of the
choir. Gradually the poorer people whom she met in these journeys began
to show an almost devotional reverence for her, stopping in the roads
with uncovered heads for her to pass, or making way for her in the
_tienda_ or _plaza_ of the wretched town with dumb courtesy. She began
to feel a strange sense of widowhood, that, while it at times brought
tears to her eyes, was not without a certain tender solace. In the
sympathy and simpleness of this impulse she went as far as to revive
the mourning she had worn for her parents, but with such a fatal
accenting of her beauty, and dangerous misinterpreting of her condition
to eligible bachelors strange to the country, that she was obliged to
put it off again. Her reserved and dignified manner caused others to
mistake her nationality for that of the Santierras, and in "Dona Bella"
the simple Mrs. Tucker was for a while forgotten. At times she even
forgot it herself. Accustomed now almost entirely to the accents of
another language and the features of another race, she would sit for
hours in the corridor, whose massive bronzed enclosure even her
tasteful care could only make an embowered mausoleum of the Past, or
gaze abstractedly from the dark embrasures of her windows across the
stretching _almarjal_ to the shining lagoon beyond that terminated the
estuary. She had a strange fondness for this tranquil mirror, which
under sun or stars always retained the passive reflex of the sky above,
and seemed to rest her weary eyes. She had objected to one of the plans
projected by Poindexter to redeem the land and deepen the water at the
_embarcadero_, as it would have drained the lagoon, and the lawyer had
postponed the improvement to gratify her fancy. So she kept it through
the long summer unchanged save by the shadows of passing wings or the
lazy files of sleeping sea-fowl.
On one of these afternoons she noticed a slowly moving carriage leave
the highroad and cross the _almarjal_ skirting the edge of the lagoon.
If it contained visitors for Los Cuervos they had evidently taken a
shorter cut without waiting to go on to the regular road which
intersected the highway at right angles a mile farther on. It was with
some sense of annoyance and irritation that she watched the trespass,
and finally saw the vehicle approach the house. A few moments later the
servant informed her that Mr. Patterson would like to see her alone.
When she entered the corridor, which in the dry season served as a
reception hall, she was surprised to see that Patterson was not alone.
Near him stood a well-dressed handsome woman, gazing about her with
good-humored admiration of Mrs. Tucker's taste and ingenuity.
"It don't look much like it did two years ago," said the stranger
cheerfully. "You've improved it wonderfully."
Stiffening slightly, Mrs. Tucker turned inquiringly to Mr. Patterson.
But that gentleman's usual profound melancholy appeared to be
intensified by the hilarity of his companion. He only sighed deeply and
rubbed his leg with the brim of his hat in gloomy abstraction.
"Well! go on, then," said the woman, laughing and nudging him. "Go
on--introduce me--can't you? Don't stand there like a tombstone. You
won't? Well, I'll introduce myself." She laughed again, and then, with
an excellent imitation of Patterson's lugubrious accents, said, "Mr.
Spencer Tucker's wife that _is_, allow me to introduce you to Mr.
Spencer Tucker's sweetheart that _was_! Hold on! I said _that was_. For
true as I stand here, ma'am--and I reckon I wouldn't stand here if it
wasn't true--I haven't set eyes on him since the day he left you."
"It's the gospel truth, every word," said Patterson, stirred into a
sudden activity by Mrs. Tucker's white and rigid face. "It's the frozen
truth, and I kin prove it. For I kin swear that when that there young
woman was sailin' outer the Golden Gate, Spencer Tucker was in my
bar-room; I kin swear that I fed him, lickered him, give him a hoss and
set him in his road to Monterey that very night."
"Then, where is he now?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly facing them.
They looked at each other, and then looked at Mrs. Tucker. Then both
together replied slowly and in perfect unison,
"That's--what--we--want--to--know." They seemed so satisfied with this
effect that they as deliberately repeated,
Between the shock of meeting the partner of her husband's guilt and the
unexpected revelation to her inexperience, that in suggestion and
appearance there was nothing beyond the recollection of that guilt that
was really shocking in the woman--between the extravagant extremes of
hope and fear suggested by their words, there was something so
grotesquely absurd in the melodramatic chorus that she with difficulty
suppressed an hysterical laugh.
"That's the way to take it," said the woman, putting her own
good-humored interpretation upon Mrs. Tucker's expression. "Now, look
here! I'll tell you all about it," She carefully selected the most
comfortable chair, and sitting down, lightly crossed her hands in her
lap. "Well, I left here on the 13th of last January on the ship Argo,
calculating that your husband would join the ship just inside the
Heads. That was our arrangement, but if anything happened to prevent
him, he was to join me at Acapulco. Well! he didn't come aboard, and we
sailed without him. But it appears now he did attempt to join the ship,
but his boat was capsized. There now, don't be alarmed! he wasn't
drowned, as Patterson can swear to--no, catch _him_! not a hair of him
was hurt. But _I_--_I_ was bundled off to the end of the earth in
Mexico alone, without a cent to bless me. For true as you live, that
hound of a captain, when he found, as he thought, that Spencer was
nabbed, he just confiscated all his trunks and valuables and left me in
the lurch. If I had not met a man down there that offered to marry me
and brought me here, I might have died there, I reckon. But I did, and
here I am. I went down there as your husband's sweetheart, I've come
back as the wife of an honest man, and I reckon it's about square!"
There was something so startlingly frank, so hopelessly self-satisfied,
so contagiously good-humored in the woman's perfect moral
unconsciousness, that even if Mrs. Tucker had been less preoccupied her
resentment would have abated. But her eyes were fixed on the gloomy
face of Patterson, who was beginning to unlock the sepulchers of his
memory and disinter his deeply buried thoughts.
"You kin bet your whole pile on what this Mrs. Capting Baxter--ez used
to be French Inez of New Orleans--hez told ye. Ye kin take everything
she's onloaded. And it's only doin' the square thing to her to say, she
hain't done it out o' no cussedness, but just to satisfy herself, now
she's a married woman and past such foolishness. But that ain't neither
here nor there. The gist of the whole matter is that Spencer Tucker was
at the _tienda_ the day after she sailed and after his boat capsized."
He then gave a detailed account of the interview, with the unnecessary
but truthful minutiae of his class, adding to the particulars already
known that the following week he visited the Summit House and was
surprised to find that Spencer had never been there, nor had he ever
sailed from Monterey.
"But why was this not told to me before?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly.
"Why not at the time? Why," she demanded almost fiercely, turning from
the one to the other, "has this been kept from me?"
"I'll tell ye why," said Patterson, sinking with crashed submission
into a chair. "When I found he wasn't where he ought to be, I got to
lookin' elsewhere. I knew the track of the hoss I lent him by a loose
shoe. I examined, and found he had turned off the highroad somewhere
beyond the lagoon, jist as if he was makin' a bee line here."
"Well," said Mrs. Tucker breathlessly.
"Well," said Patterson, with the resigned tone of an accustomed martyr,
"mebbe I'm a God-forsaken idiot, but I reckon he _did_ come yer. And
mebbe I'm that much of a habitooal lunatic, but thinking so, I
calkilated you'd know it without tellin'."
With their eyes fixed upon her, Mrs. Tucker felt the quick blood rush
to her cheeks, although she knew not why. But they were apparently
satisfied with her ignorance, for Patterson resumed, yet more gloomily:
"Then if he wasn't hidin' here beknownst to you, he must have changed
his mind agin and got away by the _embarcadero_. The only thing wantin'
to prove that idea is to know how he got a boat, and what he did with
the hoss. And thar's one more idea, and ez that can't be proved,"
continued Patterson, sinking his voice still lower, "mebbe it's
accordin' to God's laws."
Unsympathetic to her as the speaker had always been and still was, Mrs.
Tucker felt a vague chill creep over her that seemed to be the result
of his manner more than his words. "And that idea is--?" she suggested
with pale lips.
"It's this! Fust, I don't say it means much to anybody but me. I've
heard of these warnings afore now, ez comin' only to folks ez hear them
for themselves alone, and I reckon I kin stand it, if it's the will o'
God. The idea is then--that--Spencer Tucker--_was drownded_ in that
boat; the idea is"--his voice was almost lost in a hoarse
whisper--"that it was no living man that kem to me that night, but a
spirit that kem out of the darkness and went back into it! No eye saw
him but mine--no ears heard him but mine. I reckon it weren't intended
it should." He paused, and passed the flap of his hat across his eyes.
"The pie, you'll say, is agin it," he continued in the same tone of
voice,--"the whiskey is agin it--a few cuss words that dropped from
him, accidental like, may have been agin it. All the same they mout
have been only the little signs and tokens that it was him."
But Mrs. Baxter's ready laugh somewhat rudely dispelled the infection
of Patterson's gloom. "I reckon the only spirit was that which you and
Spencer consumed," she said, cheerfully. "I don't wonder you're a
little mixed. Like as not you've misunderstood his plans."
Patterson shook his head. "He'll turn up yet, alive and kicking! Like
as not, then, Poindexter knows where he is all the time."
"Impossible! He would have told me," said Mrs. Tucker, quickly.
Mrs. Baxter looked at Patterson without speaking. Patterson replied by
a long lugubrious whistle.
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker, drawing back with cold
"You don't?" returned Mrs. Baxter. "Bless your innocent heart! Why was
he so keen to hunt me up at first, shadowing my friends and all that,
and why has he dropped it now he knows I'm here, if he didn't know
where Spencer was?"
"I can explain that," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, hastily, with a blush of
confusion. "That is--I"--
"Then mebbe you kin explain too," broke in Patterson with gloomy
significance, "why he has bought up most of Spencer's debts himself,
and perhaps you're satisfied it _is n't_ to hold the whip hand of him
and keep him from coming back openly. Pr'aps you know why he's movin'
heaven and earth to make Don Jose Santierra sell the ranch, and why the
Don don't see it all."
"Don Jose sell Los Cuervos! Buy it, you mean?" said Mrs. Tucker. "_I_
offered to sell it to him."
Patterson arose from the chair, looked despairingly around him, passed
his hand sadly across his forehead, and said: "It's come! I knew it
would. It's the warning! It's suthing betwixt jim-jams and doddering
idjiocy. Here I'd hev been willin' to swear that Mrs. Baxter here told
me _she_ had sold this yer ranch nearly two years ago to Don Jose, and
"Stop!" said Mrs. Tucker, in a voice that chilled them.
She was standing upright and rigid, as if stricken to stone. "I command
you to tell me what this means!" she said, turning only her blazing
eyes upon the woman.
Even the ready smile faded from Mrs. Baxter's lips as she replied
hesitatingly and submissively: "I thought you knew already that Spencer
had given this ranch to me. I sold it to Don Jose to get the money for
us to go away with. It was Spencer's idea"--
"You lie!" said Mrs. Tucker.
There was a dead silence. The wrathful blood that had quickly mounted
to Mrs. Baxter's cheek, to Patterson's additional bewilderment, faded
as quickly. She did not lift her eyes again to Mrs. Tucker's, but,
slowly raising herself from her seat, said, "I wish to God I did lie;
but it's true. And it's true that I never touched a cent of the money,
but gave it all to him!" She laid her hand on Patterson's arm, and
said, "Come! let us go," and led him a few steps toward the gateway.
But here Patterson paused, and again passed his hand over his
melancholy brow. The necessity of coherently and logically closing the
conversation impressed itself upon his darkening mind. "Then you don't
happen to have heard anything of Spencer?" he said sadly, and vanished
with Mrs. Baxter through the gate.
Left alone to herself, Mrs. Tucker raised her hands above her head with
a little cry, interlocked her rigid fingers, and slowly brought her
palms down upon her upturned face and eyes, pressing hard as if to
crush out all light and sense of life before her. She stood thus for a
moment motionless and silent, with the rising wind whispering without
and flecking her white morning dress with gusty shadows from the arbor.
Then, with closed eyes, dropping her hands to her breast, still
pressing hard, she slowly passed them down the shapely contours of her
figure to the waist, and with another cry cast them off as if she were
stripping herself of some loathsome garment. Then she walked quickly to
the gateway, looked out, returned to the corridor, unloosening and
taking off her wedding-ring from her finger as she walked. Here she
paused, then slowly and deliberately rearranged the chairs and adjusted
the gay-colored rugs that draped them, and quietly reentered her
Two days afterwards the sweating steed of Captain Poindexter was turned
loose in the corral, and a moment later the captain entered the
corridor. Handing a letter to the decrepit Concha, who seemed to be
utterly disorganized by its contents and the few curt words with which
it was delivered, he gazed silently upon the vacant bower, still fresh
and redolent with the delicacy and perfume of its graceful occupant,
until his dark eyes filled with unaccustomed moisture. But his reverie
was interrupted by the sound of jingling spurs without, and the old
humor struggled back into his eyes as Don Jose impetuously entered. The
Spaniard started back, but instantly recovered himself.
"So, I find you here. Ah! it is well!" he said passionately, producing
a letter from his bosom. "Look! Do you call this honor? Look how you
keep your compact!"
Poindexter coolly took the letter. It contained a few words of gentle
dignity from Mrs. Tucker, informing Don Jose that she had only that
instant learned of his just claims upon Los Cuervos, tendering him her
gratitude for his delicate intentions, but pointing out with respectful
firmness that he must know that a moment's further acceptance of his
courtesy was impossible.
"She has gained this knowledge from no word of mine," said Poindexter,
calmly. "Right or wrong, I have kept my promise to you. I have as much
reason to accuse you of betraying my secret in this," he added coldly,
as he took another letter from his pocket and handed it to Don Jose.
It seemed briefer and colder, but was neither. It reminded Poindexter
that as he had again deceived her she must take the government of her
affairs in her own hands henceforth. She abandoned all the furniture
and improvements she had put in Los Cuervos to him, to whom she now
knew she was indebted for them. She could not thank him for what his
habitual generosity impelled him to do for any woman, but she could
forgive him for misunderstanding her like any other woman, perhaps she
should say, like a child. When he received this she would be already on
her way to her old home in Kentucky, where she still hoped to be able
by her own efforts to amass enough to discharge her obligations to him.
"She does not speak of her husband, this woman," said Don Jose,
scanning Poindexter's face. "It is possible she rejoins him, eh?"
"Perhaps in one way she has never left him, Don Jose," said Poindexter,
with grave significance.
Don Jose's face flushed, but he returned carelessly, "And the _rancho_,
naturally you will not buy it now?"
"On the contrary, I shall abide by my offer," said Poindexter, quietly.
Don Jose eyed him narrowly, and then said, "Ah, we shall consider of
He did consider it, and accepted the offer. With the full control of
the land, Captain Poindexter's improvements, so indefinitely postponed,
were actively pushed forward. The thick walls of the _hacienda_ were
the first to melt away before them; the low lines of corral were
effaced, and the early breath of the summer trade winds swept
uninterruptedly across the now leveled plain to the _embarcadero_,
where a newer structure arose. A more vivid green alone marked the spot
where the crumbling adobe walls of the _casa_ had returned to the
parent soil that gave it. The channel was deepened, the lagoon was
drained, until one evening the magic mirror that had so long reflected
the weary waiting of the Blue Grass Penelope lay dull, dead,
lusterless, an opaque quagmire of noisome corruption and decay to be
put away from the sight of man forever. On this spot the crows, the
titular tenants of Los Cuervos, assembled in tumultuous congress,
coming and going in mysterious clouds, or laboring in thick and
writhing masses, as if they were continuing the work of improvement
begun by human agency. So well had they done the work that by the end
of a week only a few scattered white objects remained glittering on the
surface of the quickly drying soil. But they were the bones of the
missing outcast, Spencer Tucker!
The same spring a breath of war swept over a foul, decaying quagmire of
the whole land, before which such passing deeds as these were blown as
vapor. It called men of all rank and condition to battle for a nation's
life, and among the first to respond were those into whose boyish hands
had been placed the nation's honor. It returned the epaulets to
Poindexter's shoulder with the addition of a double star, carried him
triumphantly to the front, and left him, at the end of a summer's day
and a hard-won fight, sorely wounded, at the door of a Blue Grass
farmhouse. And the woman who sought him out and ministered to his wants
said timidly, as she left her hand in his, "I told you I should live to
LEFT OUT ON LONE STAR MOUNTAIN.
There was little doubt that the Lone Star claim was "played out." Not
dug out, worked out, washed out, but _played_ out. For two years its
five sanguine proprietors had gone through the various stages of mining
enthusiasm; had prospected and planned, dug and doubted. They had
borrowed money with hearty but unredeeming frankness, established a
credit with unselfish abnegation of all responsibility, and had borne
the disappointment of their creditors with a cheerful resignation which
only the consciousness of some deep Compensating Future could give.
Giving little else, however, a singular dissatisfaction obtained with
the traders, and, being accompanied with a reluctance to make further
advances, at last touched the gentle stoicism of the proprietors
themselves. The youthful enthusiasm which had at first lifted the most
ineffectual trial, the most useless essay, to the plane of actual
achievement, died out, leaving them only the dull, prosaic record of
half-finished ditches, purposeless shafts, untenable pits, abandoned
engines, and meaningless disruptions of the soil upon the Lone Star
claim, and empty flour sacks and pork barrels in the Lone Star cabin.
They had borne their poverty, if that term could be applied to a light
renunciation of all superfluities in food, dress, or ornament,
ameliorated by the gentle depredations already alluded to, with
unassuming levity. More than that: having segregated themselves from
their fellow-miners of Red Gulch, and entered upon the possession of
the little manzanita-thicketed valley five miles away, the failure of
their enterprise had assumed in their eyes only the vague significance
of the decline and fall of a general community, and to that extent
relieved them of individual responsibility. It was easier for them to
admit that the Lone Star claim was "played out" than confess to a
personal bankruptcy. Moreover, they still retained the sacred right of
criticism of government, and rose superior in their private opinions to
their own collective wisdom. Each one experienced a grateful sense of
the entire responsibility of the other four in the fate of their
On December 24, 1863, a gentle rain was still falling over the length
and breadth of the Lone Star claim. It had been falling for several
days, had already called a faint spring color to the wan landscape,
repairing with tender touches the ravages wrought by the proprietors,
or charitably covering their faults. The ragged seams in gulch and
canon lost their harsh outlines, a thin green mantle faintly clothed
the torn and abraded hillside. A few weeks more, and a veil of
forgetfulness would be drawn over the feeble failures of the Lone Star
claim. The charming derelicts themselves, listening to the raindrops on
the roof of their little cabin, gazed philosophically from the open
door, and accepted the prospect as a moral discharge from their
obligations. Four of the five partners were present. The Right and Left
Bowers, Union Mills, and the Judge.
It is scarcely necessary to say that not one of these titles was the
genuine name of its possessor. The Right and Left Bowers were two
brothers; their sobriquets, a cheerful adaptation from the favorite
game of euchre, expressing their relative value in the camp. The mere
fact that Union Mills had at one time patched his trousers with an old
flour-sack legibly bearing that brand of its fabrication, was a
tempting baptismal suggestion that the other partners could not forego.
The Judge, a singularly inequitable Missourian, with no knowledge
whatever of the law, was an inspiration of gratuitous irony.
Union Mills, who had been for some time sitting placidly on the
threshold with one leg exposed to the rain, from a sheer indolent
inability to change his position, finally withdrew that weather-beaten
member, and stood up. The movement more or less deranged the attitudes
of the other partners, and was received with cynical disfavor. It was
somewhat remarkable that, although generally giving the appearance of
healthy youth and perfect physical condition, they one and all
simulated the decrepitude of age and invalidism, and after limping
about for a few moments, settled back again upon their bunks and stools
in their former positions. The Left Bower lazily replaced a bandage
that he had worn around his ankle for weeks without any apparent
necessity, and the Judge scrutinized with tender solicitude the faded
cicatrix of a scratch upon his arm. A passive hypochondria, born of
their isolation, was the last ludicrously pathetic touch of their
The immediate cause of this commotion felt the necessity of an
"It would have been just as easy for you to have stayed outside with
your business leg, instead of dragging it into private life in that
obtrusive way," retorted the Right Bower; "but that exhaustive effort
is n't going to fill the pork barrel. The grocery man at Dalton
says--what's that he said?" he appealed lazily to the Judge.
"Said he reckoned the Lone Star was about played out, and he didn't
want any more in his--thank you!" repeated the Judge with a mechanical
effort of memory utterly devoid of personal or present interest.
"I always suspected that man, after Grimshaw begun to deal with him,"
said the Left Bower. "They're just mean enough to join hands against
us." It was a fixed belief of the Lone Star partners that they were
pursued by personal enmities.
"More than likely those new strangers over in the Fork have been paying
cash and filled him up with conceit," said Union Mills, trying to dry
his leg by alternately beating it or rubbing it against the cabin wall.
"Once begin wrong with that kind of snipe and you drag everybody down
This vague conclusion was received with dead silence. Everybody had
become interested in the speaker's peculiar method of drying his leg,
to the exclusion of the previous topic. A few offered criticism, no one
"Who did the grocery man say that to?" asked the Right Bower, finally
returning to the question.
"The Old Man," answered the Judge.
"Of course," ejaculated the Right Bower sarcastically.
"Of course," echoed the other partners together. "That's like him. The
Old Man all over!"
It did not appear exactly what was like the Old Man, or why it was like
him, but generally that he alone was responsible for the grocery man's
defection. It was put more concisely by Union Mills.
"That comes of letting him go there! It's just a fair provocation to
any man to have the Old Man sent to him. They can't, sorter, restrain
themselves at him. He's enough to spoil the credit of the Rothschilds."
"That's so," chimed in the Judge. "And look at his prospecting. Why, he
was out two nights last week, all night, prospecting in the moonlight
for blind leads, just out of sheer foolishness."
"It was quite enough for me," broke in the Left Bower, "when the other
day, you remember when, he proposed to us white men to settle down to
plain ground sluicing, making 'grub' wages just like any Chinaman. It
just showed his idea of the Lone Star claim."
"Well, I never said it afore," added Union Mills, "but when that one of
the Mattison boys came over here to examine the claim with an eye to
purchasin', it was the Old Man that took the conceit out of him. He
just as good as admitted that a lot of work had got to be done afore
any pay ore could be realized. Never even asked him over to the shanty
here to jine us in a friendly game; just kept him, so to speak, to
himself. And naturally the Mattisons didn't see it."
A silence followed, broken only by the rain monotonously falling on the
roof, and occasionally through the broad adobe chimney, where it
provoked a retaliating hiss and splutter from the dying embers of the
hearth. The Right Bower, with a sudden access of energy, drew the empty
barrel before him, and taking a pack of well-worn cards from his
pocket, began to make a "solitaire" upon the lid. The others gazed at
him with languid interest.
"Makin' it for anythin'?" asked Mills.
The Right Bower nodded.
The Judge and Left Bower, who were partly lying in their respective
bunks, sat up to get a better view of the game. Union Mills slowly
disengaged himself from the wall and leaned over the "solitaire"
player. The Right Bower turned the last card in a pause of almost
thrilling suspense, and clapped it down on the lid with fateful
"It went!" said the Judge in a voice of hushed respect. "What did you
make it for?" he almost whispered.
"To know if we'd make the break we talked about and vamose the ranch.
It's the _fifth_ time to-day," continued the Right Bower in a voice of
gloomy significance. "And it went agin bad cards too."
"I ain't superstitious," said the Judge, with awe and fatuity beaming
from every line of his credulous face, "but it's flyin' in the face of
Providence to go agin such signs as that."
"Make it again, to see if the Old Man must go," suggested the Left
The suggestion was received with favor, the three men gathering
breathlessly around the player. Again the fateful cards were shuffled
deliberately, placed in their mysterious combination, with the same
ominous result. Yet everybody seemed to breathe more freely, as if
relieved from some responsibility, the Judge accepting this manifest
expression of Providence with resigned self-righteousness.
"Yes, gentlemen," resumed the Left Bower, serenely, as if a calm legal
decision had just been recorded, "we must not let any foolishness or
sentiment get mixed up with this thing, but look at it like business
men. The only sensible move is to get up and get out of the camp."
"And the Old Man?" queried the Judge.
"The Old Man--hush! he's coming."
The doorway was darkened by a slight lissome shadow. It was the absent
partner, otherwise known as "the Old Man." Need it be added that he was
a _boy_ of nineteen, with a slight down just clothing his upper lip!
"The creek is up over the ford, and I had to 'shin' up a willow on the
bank and swing myself across," he said, with a quick, frank laugh; "but
all the same, boys, it's going to clear up in about an hour, you bet.
It's breaking away over Bald Mountain, and there's a sun flash on a bit
of snow on Lone Peak. Look! you can see it from here. It's for all the
world like Noah's dove just landed on Mount Ararat. It's a good omen."
From sheer force of habit the men had momentarily brightened up at the
Old Man's entrance. But the unblushing exhibition of degrading
superstition shown in the last sentence recalled their just severity.
They exchanged meaning glances. Union Mills uttered hopelessly to
himself: "Hell's full of such omens."
Too occupied with his subject to notice this ominous reception, the Old
Man continued: "I reckon I struck a fresh lead in the new grocery man
at the Crossing. He says he'll let the Judge have a pair of boots on
credit, but he can't send them over here; and considering that the
Judge has got to try them anyway, it don't seem to be asking too much
for the Judge to go over there. He says he'll give us a barrel of pork
and a bag of flour if we'll give him the right of using our tail-race
and clean out the lower end of it."
"It's the work of a Chinaman, and a four days' job," broke in the Left
"It took one white man only two hours to clean out a third of it,"
retorted the Old Man triumphantly, "for _I_ pitched in at once with a
pick he let me have on credit, and did that amount of work this
morning, and told him the rest of you boys would finish it this
A slight gesture from the Right Bower checked an angry exclamation from
the Left. The Old Man did not notice either, but, knitting his smooth
young brow in a paternally reflective fashion, went on: "You'll have to
get a new pair of trousers, Mills, but as he doesn't keep clothing,
we'll have to get some canvas and cut you out a pair. I traded off the
beans he let me have for some tobacco for the Right Bower at the other
shop, and got them to throw in a new pack of cards. These are about
played out. We'll be wanting some brushwood for the fire; there's a
heap in the hollow. Who's going to bring it in? It's the Judge's turn,
isn't it? Why, what's the matter with you all?"
The restraint and evident uneasiness of his companions had at last
touched him. He turned his frank young eyes upon them; they glanced
helplessly at each other. Yet his first concern was for them, his first
instinct paternal and protecting. He ran his eyes quickly over them;
they were all there and apparently in their usual condition. "Anything
wrong with the claim?" he suggested.
Without looking at him the Right Bower rose, leaned against the open
door with his hands behind him and his face towards the landscape, and
said, apparently to the distant prospect: "The claim's played out, the
partnership's played out, and the sooner we skedaddle out of this the
better. If," he added, turning to the Old Man, "if _you_ want to stay,
if you want to do Chinaman's work at Chinaman's wages, if you want to
hang on to the charity of the traders at the Crossing, you can do it,
and enjoy the prospects and the Noah's doves alone. But we're
calculatin' to step out of it."
"But I haven't said I wanted to do it _alone_" protested the Old Man
with a gesture of bewilderment.
"If these are your general ideas of the partnership," continued the
Right Bower, clinging to the established hypothesis of the other
partners for support, "it ain't ours, and the only way we can prove it
is to stop the foolishness right here. We calculated to dissolve the
partnership and strike out for ourselves elsewhere. You're no longer
responsible for us, nor we for you. And we reckon it's the square thing
to leave you the claim and the cabin and all it contains. To prevent
any trouble with the traders, we've drawn up a paper here"--
"With a bonus of fifty thousand dollars each down, and the rest to be
settled on my children," interrupted the Old Man, with a half uneasy
laugh. "Of course. But"--he stopped suddenly, the blood dropped from
his fresh cheek, and he again glanced quickly round the group. "I don't
think--I--I quite _sabe_, boys," he added, with a slight tremor of
voice and lip. "If it's a conundrum, ask me an easier one."
Any lingering doubt he might have had of their meaning was dispelled by
the Judge. "It's about the softest thing you kin drop into, Old Man,"
he said confidentially; "if _I_ had n't promised the other boys to go
with them, and if I did n't need the best medical advice in Sacramento
for my lungs, I'd just enjoy staying with you."
"It gives a sorter freedom to a young fellow like you, Old Man, like
goin' into the world on your own capital, that every Californian boy
has n't got," said Union Mills, patronizingly.
"Of course it's rather hard papers on us, you know, givin' up
everything, so to speak; but it's for your good, and we ain't goin'
back on you," said the Left Bower, "are we, boys?"
The color had returned to the Old Man's face a little more quickly and
freely than usual. He picked up the hat he had cast down, put it on
carefully over his brown curls, drew the flap down on the side towards
his companions, and put his hands in his pockets. "All right," he said,
in a slightly altered voice. "When do you go?"
"To-day," answered the Left Bower. "We calculate to take a moonlight
_pasear_ over to the Cross Roads and meet the down stage at about
twelve to-night. There's plenty of time yet," he added, with a slight
laugh; "it's only three o'clock now."
There was a dead silence. Even the rain withheld its continuous patter,
a dumb, gray film covered the ashes of the hushed hearth. For the first
time the Right Bower exhibited some slight embarrassment.
"I reckon it's held up for a spell," he said, ostentatiously examining
the weather, "and we might as well take a run round the claim to see if
we've forgotten nothing. Of course, we'll be back again," he added
hastily, without looking at the Old Man, "before we go, you know."
The others began to look for their hats, but so awkwardly and with such
evident preoccupation of mind that it was not at first discovered that
the Judge had his already on. This raised a laugh, as did also a clumsy
stumble of Union Mills against the pork barrel, although that gentleman
took refuge from his confusion and secured a decent retreat by a gross
exaggeration of his lameness, as he limped after the Right Bower. The
Judge whistled feebly. The Left Bower, in a more ambitious effort to
impart a certain gayety to his exit, stopped on the threshold and said,
as if in arch confidence to his companions, "Darned if the Old Man
don't look two inches higher since he became a proprietor," laughed
patronizingly, and vanished.
If the newly-made proprietor had increased in stature, he had not
otherwise changed his demeanor. He remained in the same attitude until
the last figure disappeared behind the fringe of buckeye that hid the
distant highway. Then he walked slowly to the fireplace, and, leaning
against the chimney, kicked the dying embers together with his foot.
Something dropped and spattered in the film of hot ashes. Surely the
rain had not yet ceased!
His high color had already fled except for a spot on either cheekbone
that lent a brightness to his eyes. He glanced around the cabin. It
looked familiar and yet strange. Rather, it looked strange _because_
still familiar, and therefore incongruous with the new atmosphere that
surrounded it--discordant with the echo of their last meeting, and
painfully accenting the change. There were the four "bunks," or
sleeping berths, of his companions, each still bearing some traces of
the individuality of its late occupant with a dumb loyalty that seemed
to make their light-hearted defection monstrous. In the dead ashes of
the Judge's pipe, scattered on his shelf, still lived his old fire; in
the whittled and carved edges of the Left Bower's bunk still were the
memories of bygone days of delicious indolence; in the bullet-holes
clustered round a knot of one of the beams there was still the record
of the Right Bower's old-time skill and practice; in the few engravings
of female loveliness stuck upon each headboard there were the proofs of
their old extravagant devotion--all a mute protest to the change.
He remembered how, a fatherless, truant schoolboy, he had drifted into
their adventurous, nomadic life, itself a life of grown-up truancy like
his own, and became one of that gypsy family. How they had taken the
place of relations and household in his boyish fancy, filling it with
the unsubstantial pageantry of a child's play at grown-up existence, he
knew only too well. But how, from being a pet and _protege_, he had
gradually and unconsciously asserted his own individuality and taken
upon his younger shoulders not only a poet's keen appreciation of that
life, but its actual responsibilities and half-childish burdens, he
never suspected. He had fondly believed that he was a neophyte in their
ways, a novice in their charming faith and indolent creed, and they had
encouraged it; now their renunciation of that faith could only be an
excuse for a renunciation of _him_. The poetry that had for two years
invested the material and sometimes even mean details of their
existence was too much a part of himself to be lightly dispelled. The
lesson of those ingenuous moralists failed, as such lessons are apt to
fail; their discipline provoked but did not subdue; a rising
indignation, stirred by a sense of injury, mounted to his cheek and
eyes. It was slow to come, but was none the less violent that it had
been preceded by the benumbing shock of shame and pride.
I hope I shall not prejudice the reader's sympathies if my duty as a
simple chronicler compels me to state, therefore, that the sober second
thought of this gentle poet was to burn down the cabin on the spot with
all its contents. This yielded to a milder counsel--waiting for the
return of the party, challenging the Right Bower, a duel to the death,
perhaps himself the victim, with the crushing explanation _in
extremis_, "It seems we are _one_ too many. No matter; it is settled
now. Farewell!" Dimly remembering, however, that there was something of
this in the last well-worn novel they had read together, and that his
antagonist might recognize it, or even worse, anticipate it himself,
the idea was quickly rejected. Besides, the opportunity for an
apotheosis of self-sacrifice was past. Nothing remained now but to
refuse the proffered bribe of claim and cabin by letter, for he must
not wait their return. He tore a leaf from a blotted diary, begun and
abandoned long since, and essayed to write. Scrawl after scrawl was
torn up, until his fury had cooled down to a frigid third personality.
"Mr. John Ford regrets to inform his late partners that their tender of
house, of furniture," however, seemed too inconsistent with the
pork-barrel table he was writing on; a more eloquent renunciation of
their offer became frivolous and idiotic from a caricature of Union
Mills, label and all, that appeared suddenly on the other side of the
leaf; and when he at last indited a satisfactory and impassioned
exposition of his feelings, the legible _addendum_ of "Oh, ain't you
glad you're out of the wilderness!"--the forgotten first line of a
popular song, which no scratching would erase--seemed too like an
ironical postscript to be thought of for a moment. He threw aside his
pen and cast the discordant record of past foolish pastime into the
dead ashes of the hearth.
How quiet it was! With the cessation of the rain the wind too had gone
down, and scarcely a breath of air came through the open door. He
walked to the threshold and gazed on the hushed prospect. In this
listless attitude he was faintly conscious of a distant reverberation,
a mere phantom of sound--perhaps the explosion of a distant blast in
the hills--that left the silence more marked and oppressive. As he
turned again into the cabin a change seemed to have come over it. It
already looked old and decayed. The loneliness of years of desertion
seemed to have taken possession of it; the atmosphere of dry rot was in
the beams and rafters. To his excited fancy the few disordered blankets
and articles of clothing seemed dropping to pieces; in one of the bunks
there was a hideous resemblance in the longitudinal heap of clothing to
a withered and mummied corpse. So it might look in after-years when
some passing stranger--but he stopped. A dread of the place was
beginning to creep over him; a dread of the days to come, when the
monotonous sunshine should lay bare the loneliness of these walls; the
long, long days of endless blue and cloudless, overhanging solitude;
summer days when the wearying, incessant trade winds should sing around
that empty shell and voice its desolation. He gathered together hastily
a few articles that were especially his own--rather that the free
communion of the camp, from indifference or accident, had left wholly
to him. He hesitated for a moment over his rifle, but, scrupulous in
his wounded pride, turned away and left the familiar weapon that in the
dark days had so often provided the dinner or breakfast of the little
household. Candor compels me to state that his equipment was not large
nor eminently practical. His scant pack was a light weight for even his
young shoulders, but I fear he thought more of getting away from the
Past than providing for the Future.
With this vague but sole purpose he left the cabin, and almost
mechanically turned his steps towards the creek he had crossed that
morning. He knew that by this route he would avoid meeting his
companions; its difficulties and circuitousness would exercise his
feverish limbs and give him time for reflection. He had determined to
leave the claim, but whence he had not yet considered. He reached the
bank of the creek where he had stood two hours before; it seemed to him
two years. He looked curiously at his reflection in one of the broad
pools of overflow, and fancied he looked older. He watched the rush and
outset of the turbid current hurrying to meet the South Fork, and to
eventually lose itself in the yellow Sacramento. Even in his
preoccupation he was impressed with a likeness to himself and his
companions in this flood that had burst its peaceful boundaries. In the
drifting fragments of one of their forgotten flumes washed from the
bank, he fancied he saw an omen of the disintegration and decay of the
Lone Star claim.
The strange hush in the air that he had noticed before--a calm so
inconsistent with that hour and the season as to seem
portentous--became more marked in contrast to the feverish rush of the
turbulent watercourse. A few clouds lazily huddled in the west
apparently had gone to rest with the sun on beds of somnolent poppies.
There was a gleam as of golden water everywhere along the horizon,
washing out the cold snow-peaks, and drowning even the rising moon. The
creek caught it here and there, until, in grim irony, it seemed to bear
their broken sluice-boxes and useless engines on the very Pactolian
stream they had been hopefully created to direct and carry. But by some
peculiar trick of the atmosphere the perfect plenitude of that golden
sunset glory was lavished on the rugged sides and tangled crest of the
Lone Star Mountain. That isolated peak, the landmark of their claim,
the gaunt monument of their folly, transfigured in the evening
splendor, kept its radiance unquenched long after the glow had fallen
from the encompassing skies, and when at last the rising moon, step by
step, put out the fires along the winding valley and plains, and crept
up the bosky sides of the canon, the vanishing sunset was lost only to
reappear as a golden crown.
The eyes of the young man were fixed upon it with more than a momentary
picturesque interest. It had been the favorite ground of his
prospecting exploits, its lowest flank had been scarred in the old
enthusiastic days with hydraulic engines, or pierced with shafts, but
its central position in the claim and its superior height had always
given it a commanding view of the extent of their valley and its
approaches, and it was this practical preeminence that alone attracted
him at that moment. He knew that from its crest he would be able to
distinguish the figures of his companions, as they crossed the valley
near the cabin, in the growing moonlight. Thus he could avoid
encountering them on his way to the highroad, and yet see them,
perhaps, for the last time. Even in his sense of injury there was a
strange satisfaction in the thought.
The ascent was toilsome, but familiar. All along the dim trail he was
accompanied by gentler memories of the past, that seemed, like the
faint odor of spiced leaves and fragrant grasses wet with the rain and
crushed beneath his ascending tread, to exhale the sweeter perfume in
his effort to subdue or rise above them. There was the thicket of
manzanita, where they had broken noonday bread together; here was the
rock beside their maiden shafts, where they had poured a wild libation
in boyish enthusiasm of success; and here the ledge where their first
flag, a red shirt heroically sacrificed, was displayed from a
long-handled shovel to the gaze of admirers below. When he at last
reached the summit, the mysterious hush was still in the air, as if in
breathless sympathy with his expedition. In the west, the plain was
faintly illuminated, but disclosed no moving figures. He turned towards
the rising moon, and moved slowly to the eastern edge. Suddenly he
stopped. Another step would have been his last! He stood upon the
crumbling edge of a precipice. A landslip had taken place on the
eastern flank, leaving the gaunt ribs and fleshless bones of Lone Star
Mountain bare in the moonlight. He understood now the strange rumble
and reverberation he had heard; he understood now the strange hush of
bird and beast in brake and thicket!
Although a single rapid glance convinced him that the slide had taken
place in an unfrequented part of the mountain, above an inaccessible
canon, and reflection assured him his companions could not have reached
that distance when it took place, a feverish impulse led him to descend
a few rods in the track of the avalanche. The frequent recurrence of
outcrop and angle made this comparatively easy. Here he called aloud;
the feeble echo of his own voice seemed only a dull impertinence to the
significant silence. He turned to reascend; the furrowed flank of the
mountain before him lay full in the moonlight. To his excited fancy a
dozen luminous star-like points in the rocky crevices started into life
as he faced them. Throwing his arm over the ledge above him, he
supported himself for a moment by what appeared to be a projection of
the solid rock. It trembled slightly. As he raised himself to its
level, his heart stopped beating. It was simply a fragment detached
from the outcrop, lying loosely on the ledge but upholding him by _its
own weight only_. He examined it with trembling fingers; the
encumbering soil fell from its sides and left its smoothed and worn
protuberances glistening in the moonlight. It was virgin gold!
Looking back upon that moment afterwards, he remembered that he was not
dazed, dazzled, or startled. It did not come to him as a discovery or
an accident, a stroke of chance or a caprice of fortune. He saw it all
in that supreme moment; Nature had worked out their poor deduction.
What their feeble engines had essayed spasmodically and helplessly
against the curtain of soil that hid the treasure, the elements had
achieved with mightier but more patient forces. The slow sapping of the
winter rains had loosened the soil from the auriferous rock, even while
the swollen stream was carrying their impotent and shattered engines to
the sea. What mattered that his single arm could not lift the treasure
he had found; what mattered that to unfix those glittering stars would
still tax both skill and patience! The work was done, the goal was
reached! even his boyish impatience was content with that. He rose
slowly to his feet, unstrapped his long-handled shovel from his back,
secured it in the crevice, and quietly regained the summit.
It was all his own! His own by right of discovery under the law of the
land, and without accepting a favor from _them_. He recalled even the
fact that it was _his_ prospecting on the mountain that first suggested
the existence of gold in the outcrop and the use of the hydraulic. _He_
had never abandoned that belief, whatever the others had done. He dwelt
somewhat indignantly to himself on this circumstance, and half
unconsciously faced defiantly towards the plain below. But it was
sleeping peacefully in the full sight of the moon, without life or
motion. He looked at the stars, it was still far from midnight. His
companions had no doubt long since returned to the cabin to prepare for
their midnight journey. They were discussing him, perhaps laughing at
him, or worse, pitying him and his bargain. Yet here was his bargain! A
slight laugh he gave vent to here startled him a little, it sounded so
hard and so unmirthful, and so unlike, as he oddly fancied what he
really _thought_. But _what_ did he think?
Nothing mean or revengeful; no, they never would say _that_. When he
had taken out all the surface gold and put the mine in working order,
he would send them each a draft for a thousand dollars. Of course, if
they were ever ill or poor he would do more. One of the first, the very
first things he should do would be to send them each a handsome gun and
tell them that he only asked in return the old-fashioned rifle that
once was his. Looking back at the moment in after-years, he wondered
that, with this exception, he made no plans for his own future, or the
way he should dispose of his newly acquired wealth. This was the more
singular as it had been the custom of the five partners to lie awake at
night, audibly comparing with each other what they would do in case
they made a strike. He remembered how, Alnaschar-like, they nearly
separated once over a difference in the disposal of a hundred thousand
dollars that they never had, nor expected to have. He remembered how
Union Mills always began his career as a millionaire by a "square meal"
at Delmonico's; how the Right Bower's initial step was always a trip
home "to see his mother;" how the Left Bower would immediately placate
the parents of his beloved with priceless gifts (it may be
parenthetically remarked that the parents and the beloved one were as
hypothetical as the fortune); and how the Judge would make his first
start as a capitalist by breaking a certain faro bank in Sacramento. He
himself had been equally eloquent in extravagant fancy in those
penniless days, he who now was quite cold and impassive beside the more
How different it might have been! If they had only waited a day longer!
if they had only broken their resolves to him kindly and parted in good
will! How he would long ere this have rushed to greet them with the
joyful news! How they would have danced around it, sung themselves
hoarse, laughed down their enemies, and run up the flag triumphantly on
the summit of the Lone Star Mountain! How they would have crowned him
"the Old Man," "the hero of the camp!" How he would have told them the
whole story; how some strange instinct had impelled him to ascend the
summit, and how another step on that summit would have precipitated him
into the canon! And how--but what if somebody else, Union Mills or the
Judge, had been the first discoverer? Might they not have meanly kept
the secret from him; have selfishly helped themselves and done--
"What _you_ are doing now."
The hot blood rushed to his cheek, as if a strange voice were at his
ear. For a moment he could not believe that it came from his own pale
lips until he found himself speaking. He rose to his feet, tingling
with shame, and began hurriedly to descend the mountain.
He would go to them, tell them of his discovery, let them give him his
share, and leave them forever. It was the only thing to be done,
strange that he had not thought of it at once. Yet it was hard, very
hard and cruel, to be forced to meet them again. What had he done to
suffer this mortification? For a moment he actually hated this vulgar
treasure that had forever buried under its gross ponderability the
light and careless past, and utterly crushed out the poetry of their
old, indolent, happy existence.
He was sure to find them waiting at the Cross Roads where the coach
came past. It was three miles away, yet he could get there in time if
he hastened. It was a wise and practical conclusion of his evening's
work, a lame and impotent conclusion to his evening's indignation.
No matter. They would perhaps at first think he had come to weakly
follow them, perhaps they would at first doubt his story. No matter. He
bit his lips to keep down the foolish rising tears, but still went
He saw not the beautiful night, cradled in the dark hills, swathed in
luminous mists, and hushed in the awe of its own loveliness! Here and
there the moon had laid her calm face on lake and overflow, and gone to
sleep embracing them, until the whole plain seemed to be lifted into
infinite quiet. Walking on as in a dream, the black, impenetrable
barriers of skirting thickets opened and gave way to vague distances
that it appeared impossible to reach, dim vistas that seemed
unapproachable. Gradually he seemed himself to become a part of the
mysterious night. He was becoming as pulseless, as calm, as
What was that? A shot in the direction of the cabin! yet so faint, so
echoless, so ineffective in the vast silence, that he would have
thought it his fancy but for the strange instinctive jar upon his
sensitive nerves. Was it an accident, or was it an intentional signal
to him? He stopped; it was not repeated, the silence reasserted itself,
but this time with an ominous deathlike suggestion. A sudden and
terrible thought crossed his mind. He cast aside his pack and all
encumbering weight, took a deep breath, lowered his head, and darted
like a deer in the direction of the challenge.
The exodus of the seceding partners of the Lone Star claim had been
scarcely an imposing one. For the first five minutes after quitting the
cabin the procession was straggling and vagabond. Unwonted exertion had
exaggerated the lameness of some, and feebleness of moral purpose had
predisposed the others to obtrusive musical exhibition. Union Mills
limped and whistled with affected abstraction; the Judge whistled and
limped with affected earnestness. The Right Bower led the way with some
show of definite design; the Left Bower followed with his hands in his
pockets. The two feebler natures, drawn together in unconscious
sympathy, looked vaguely at each other for support.
"You see," said the Judge, suddenly, as if triumphantly concluding an
argument, "there ain't anything better for a young fellow than
independence. Nature, so to speak, points the way. Look at the
"There's a skunk hereabouts," said Union Mills, who was supposed to be
gifted with aristocratically sensitive nostrils, "within ten miles of
this place; like as not crossing the Ridge. It's always my luck to
happen out just at such times. I don't see the necessity anyhow of
trapesing round the claim now, if we calculate to leave it to-night."
Both men waited to observe if the suggestion was taken up by the Right
and Left Bower moodily plodding ahead. No response following, the Judge
shamelessly abandoned his companion.
"You wouldn't stand snoopin' round instead of lettin' the Old Man get
used to the idea alone? No; I could see all along that he was takin' it
in, takin' it in kindly but slowly, and I reckoned the best thing for
us to do was to git up and git until he'd got round it." The Judge's
voice was slightly raised for the benefit of the two before him.
"Didn't he say," remarked the Right Bower, stopping suddenly and facing
the others, "didn't he say that that new trader was goin' to let him
have some provisions anyway?"
Union Mills turned appealingly to the Judge; that gentleman was forced
to reply, "Yes; I remember distinctly he said it. It was one of the
things I was particular about on his account," responded the Judge,
with the air of having arranged it all himself with the new trader. "I
remember I was easier in my mind about it."
"But didn't he say," queried the Left Bower, also stopping short,
"suthin' about its being contingent on our doing some work on the
The Judge turned for support to Union Mills, who, however, under the
hollow pretense of preparing for a long conference, had luxuriously
seated himself on a stump. The Judge sat down also, and replied,
hesitatingly, "Well, yes! Us or him."
"Us or him," repeated the Right Bower, with gloomy irony. "And you
ain't quite clear in your mind, are you, if _you_ haven't done the work
already? You're just killing yourself with this spontaneous,
promiscuous, and premature overwork; that's what's the matter with
"I reckon I heard somebody say suthin' about its being a Chinaman's
three-day job," interpolated the Left Bower, with equal irony, "but I
ain't quite clear in my mind about that."
"It'll be a sorter distraction for the Old Man," said Union Mills,
feebly,--"kinder take his mind off his loneliness."
Nobody taking the least notice of the remark, Union Mills stretched out
his legs more comfortably and took out his pipe. He had scarcely done
so when the Right Bower, wheeling suddenly, set off in the direction of
the creek. The Left Bower, after a slight pause, followed without a
word. The Judge, wisely conceiving it better to join the stronger
party, ran feebly after him, and left Union Mills to bring up a weak
and vacillating rear.
Their course, diverging from Lone Star Mountain, led them now directly
to the bend of the creek, the base of their old ineffectual operations.
Here was the beginning of the famous tail--race that skirted the new
trader's claim, and then lost its way in a swampy hollow. It was choked
with debris; a thin, yellow stream that once ran through it seemed to
have stopped work when they did, and gone into greenish liquidation.
They had scarcely spoken during this brief journey, and had received no
other explanation from the Right Bower, who led them, than that
afforded by his mute example when he reached the race. Leaping into it
without a word, he at once began to clear away the broken timbers and
drift-wood. Fired by the spectacle of what appeared to be a new and
utterly frivolous game, the men gayly leaped after him, and were soon
engaged in a fascinating struggle with the impeded race. The Judge
forgot his lameness in springing over a broken sluice-box; Union Mills
forgot his whistle in a happy imitation of a Chinese coolie's song.
Nevertheless, after ten minutes of this mild dissipation, the pastime
flagged; Union Mills was beginning to rub his leg, when a distant
rumble shook the earth. The men looked at each other; the diversion was
complete; a languid discussion of the probabilities of its being an
earthquake or a blast followed, in the midst of which the Right Bower,
who was working a little in advance of the others, uttered a warning
cry and leaped from the race. His companions had barely time to follow
before a sudden and inexplicable rise in the waters of the creek sent a
swift irruption of the flood through the race. In an instant its choked
and impeded channel was cleared, the race was free, and the scattered
debris of logs and timber floated upon its easy current. Quick to take
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