In a Hollow of the Hills
Part 2 out of 3
stir of voices within the closed coach, but an angry roar of
"Silence!" from the darkness hushed it.
The moments crept slowly by; all now were breathless. Then a clear
whistle rang from the distance, the light suddenly was
extinguished, the leveled muzzles vanished with it, the driver's
lash fell simultaneously on the backs of his horses, and the coach
The jolt nearly threw Key from the top, but a moment later it was
still more difficult to keep his seat in the headlong fury of their
progress. Again and again the lash descended upon the maddened
horses, until the whole coach seemed to leap, bound, and swerve
with every stroke. Cries of protest and even distress began to
come from the interior, but the driver heeded it not. A window was
suddenly let down; the voice of the professional man saying,
"What's the matter? We're not followed. You are imperiling our
lives by this speed," was answered only by, "Will some of ye
throttle that d--d fool?" from the driver, and the renewed fall of
the lash. The wayside trees appeared a solid plateau before them,
opened, danced at their side, closed up again behind them,--but
still they sped along. Rushing down grades with the speed of an
avalanche, they ascended again without drawing rein, and as if by
sheer momentum; for the heavy vehicle now seemed to have a
diabolical energy of its own. It ground scattered rocks to powder
with its crushing wheels, it swayed heavily on ticklish corners,
recovering itself with the resistless forward propulsion of the
straining teams, until the lights of Three Pine Station began to
glitter through the trees. Then a succession of yells broke from
the driver, so strong and dominant that they seemed to outstrip
even the speed of the unabated cattle. Lesser lights were
presently seen running to and fro, and on the outermost fringe of
the settlement the stage pulled up before a crowd of wondering
faces, and the driver spoke.
"We've been held up on the open road, by G--d, not THREE MILES from
whar ye men are sittin' here yawpin'! If thar's a man among ye
that hasn't got the soul of a skunk, he'll foller and close in upon
'em before they have a chance to get into the brush." Having thus
relieved himself of his duty as an enforced noncombatant, and
allowed all further responsibility to devolve upon his recreant
fellow employees, he relapsed into his usual taciturnity, and drove
a trifle less recklessly to the station, where he grimly set down
his bruised and discomfited passengers. As Key mingled with them,
he could not help perceiving that neither the late "orator's"
explanation of his exemption from their fate, nor the driver's
surly corroboration of his respectability, had pacified them. For
a time this amused him, particularly as he could not help
remembering that he first appeared to them beside the mysterious
horseman who some one thought had been identified as one of the
masks. But he was not a little piqued to find that the fair
unknown appeared to participate in their feelings, and his first
civility to her met with a chilling response. Even then, in the
general disillusion of his romance regarding her, this would have
been only a momentary annoyance; but it strangely revived all his
previous suspicions, and set him to thinking. Was the singular
sagacity displayed by the orator in his search purely intuitive?
Could any one have disclosed to him the secret of the passengers'
hoards? Was it possible for HER while sitting alone in the coach
to have communicated with the band? Suddenly the remembrance
flashed across him of her opening the window for fresh air! She
could have easily then dropped some signal. If this were so, and
she really was the culprit, it was quite natural for her own safety
that she should encourage the passengers in the absurd suspicion of
himself! His dying interest revived; a few moments ago he had half
resolved to abandon his quest and turn back at Three Pines. Now he
determined to follow her to the end. But he did not indulge in any
further sophistry regarding his duty; yet, in a new sense of honor,
he did not dream of retaliating upon her by communicating his
suspicions to his fellow passengers. When the coach started again,
he took his seat on the top, and remained there until they reached
Jamestown in the early evening. Here a number of his despoiled
companions were obliged to wait, to communicate with their friends.
Happily, the exemption that had made them indignant enabled him to
continue his journey with a full purse. But he was content with a
modest surveillance of the lady from the top of the coach.
On arriving at Stockton this surveillance became less easy. It was
the terminus of the stage-route, and the divergence of others by
boat and rail. If he were lucky enough to discover which one the
lady took, his presence now would be more marked, and might excite
her suspicion. But here a circumstance, which he also believed to
be providential, determined him. As the luggage was being removed
from the top of the coach, he overheard the agent tell the
expressman to check the "lady's" trunk to San Luis. Key was seized
with an idea which seemed to solve the difficulty, although it
involved a risk of losing the clue entirely. There were two routes
to San Luis, one was by stage, and direct, though slower; the other
by steamboat and rail, via San Francisco. If he took the boat,
there was less danger of her discovering him, even if she chose the
same conveyance; if she took the direct stage,--and he trusted to a
woman's avoidance of the hurry of change and transshipment for that
choice,--he would still arrive at San Luis, via San Francisco, an
hour before her. He resolved to take the boat; a careful scrutiny
from a stateroom window of the arriving passengers on the gangplank
satisfied him that she had preferred the stage. There was still
the chance that in losing sight of her she might escape him, but
the risk seemed small. And a trifling circumstance had almost
unconsciously influenced him--after his romantic and superstitious
fashion--as to this final step.
He had been singularly moved when he heard that San Luis was the
lady's probable destination. It did not seem to bear any relation
to the mountain wilderness and the wild life she had just quitted;
it was apparently the most antipathic, incongruous, and
inconsistent refuge she could have taken. It offered no
opportunity for the disposal of booty, or for communication with
the gang. It was less secure than a crowded town. An old Spanish
mission and monastery college in a sleepy pastoral plain,--it had
even retained its old-world flavor amidst American improvements and
social revolution. He knew it well. From the quaint college
cloisters, where the only reposeful years of his adventurous youth
had been spent, to the long Alameda, or double avenues of ancient
trees, which connected it with the convent of Santa Luisa, and some
of his youthful "devotions,"--it had been the nursery of his
romance. He was amused at what seemed to be the irony of fate, in
now linking it with this folly of his maturer manhood; and yet he
was uneasily conscious of being more seriously affected by it. And
it was with a greater anxiety than this adventure had ever yet cost
him that he at last arrived at the San Jose hotel, and from a
balcony corner awaited the coming of the coach. His heart beat
rapidly as it approached. She was there! But at her side, as she
descended from the coach, was the mysterious horseman of the Sierra
road. Key could not mistake the well-built figure, whatever doubt
there had been about the features, which had been so carefully
concealed. With the astonishment of this rediscovery, there
flashed across him again the fatefulness of the inspiration which
had decided him not to go in the coach. His presence there would
have no doubt warned the stranger, and so estopped this convincing
denouement. It was quite possible that her companion, by relays of
horses and the advantage of bridle cut-offs, could have easily
followed the Three Pine coach and joined her at Stockton. But for
what purpose? The lady's trunk, which had not been disturbed
during the first part of the journey, and had been forwarded at
Stockton untouched before Key's eyes, could not have contained
booty to be disposed of in this forgotten old town.
The register of the hotel bore simply the name of "Mrs. Barker," of
Stockton, but no record of her companion, who seemed to have
disappeared as mysteriously as he came. That she occupied a
sitting-room on the same floor as his own--in which she was
apparently secluded during the rest of the day--was all he knew.
Nobody else seemed to know her. Key felt an odd hesitation, that
might have been the result of some vague fear of implicating her
prematurely, in making any marked inquiry, or imperiling his secret
by the bribed espionage of servants. Once when he was passing her
door he heard the sounds of laughter,--albeit innocent and heart-
free,--which seemed so inconsistent with the gravity of the
situation and his own thoughts that he was strangely shocked. But
he was still more disturbed by a later occurrence. In his
watchfulness of the movements of his neighbor he had been equally
careful of his own, and had not only refrained from registering his
name, but had enjoined secrecy upon the landlord, whom he knew.
Yet the next morning after his arrival, the porter not answering
his bell promptly enough, he so far forgot himself as to walk to
the staircase, which was near the lady's room, and call to the
employee over the balustrade. As he was still leaning over the
railing, the faint creak of a door, and a singular magnetic
consciousness of being overlooked, caused him to turn slowly, but
only in time to hear the rustle of a withdrawing skirt as the door
was quickly closed. In an instant he felt the full force of his
foolish heedlessness, but it was too late. Had the mysterious
fugitive recognized him? Perhaps not; their eyes had not met, and
his face had been turned away.
He varied his espionage by subterfuges, which his knowledge of the
old town made easy. He watched the door of the hotel, himself
unseen, from the windows of a billiard saloon opposite, which he
had frequented in former days. Yet he was surprised the same
afternoon to see her, from his coigne of vantage, reentering the
hotel, where he was sure he had left her a few moments ago. Had
she gone out by some other exit,--or had she been disguised? But
on entering his room that evening he was confounded by an incident
that seemed to him as convincing of her identity as it was
audacious. Lying on his pillow were a few dead leaves of an
odorous mountain fern, known only to the Sierras. They were tied
together by a narrow blue ribbon, and had evidently been intended
to attract his attention. As he took them in his hand, the
distinguishing subtle aroma of the little sylvan hollow in the
hills came to him like a memory and a revelation! He summoned the
chambermaid; she knew nothing of them, or indeed of any one who had
entered his room. He walked cautiously into the hall; the lady's
sitting-room door was open, the room was empty. "The occupant,"
said the chambermaid, "had left that afternoon." He held the proof
of her identity in his hand, but she herself had vanished! That
she had recognized him there was now no doubt: had she divined the
real object of his quest, or had she accepted it as a mere
sentimental gallantry at the moment when she knew it was hopeless,
and she herself was perfectly safe from pursuit? In either event
he had been duped. He did not know whether to be piqued, angry,--
or relieved of his irresolute quest.
Nevertheless, he spent the rest of the twilight and the early
evening in fruitlessly wandering through the one long thoroughfare
of the town, until it merged into the bosky Alameda, or spacious
grove, that connected it with Santa Luisa. By degrees his chagrin
and disappointment were forgotten in the memories of the past,
evoked by the familiar pathway. The moon was slowly riding
overhead, and silvering the carriage-way between the straight ebony
lines of trees, while the footpaths were diapered with black and
white checkers. The faint tinkling of a tram-car bell in the
distance apprised him of one of the few innovations of the past.
The car was approaching him, overtook him, and was passing, with
its faintly illuminated windows, when, glancing carelessly up, he
beheld at one of them the profile of the face which he had just
thought he had lost forever!
He stopped for an instant, not in indecision this time, but in a
grim resolution to let no chance escape him now. The car was going
slowly; it was easy to board it now, but again the tinkle of the
bell indicated that it was stopping at the corner of a road beyond.
He checked his pace,--a lady alighted,--it was she! She turned
into the cross-street, darkened with the shadows of some low
suburban tenement houses, and he boldly followed. He was fully
determined to find out her secret, and even, if necessary, to
accost her for that purpose. He was perfectly aware what he was
doing, and all its risks and penalties; he knew the audacity of
such an introduction, but he felt in his left-hand pocket for the
sprig of fern which was an excuse for it; he knew the danger of
following a possible confidante of desperadoes, but he felt in his
right-hand pocket for the derringer that was equal to it. They
were both there; he was ready.
He was nearing the convent and the oldest and most ruinous part of
the town. He did not disguise from himself the gloomy significance
of this; even in the old days the crumbling adobe buildings that
abutted on the old garden wall of the convent were the haunts of
lawless Mexicans and vagabond peons. As the roadway began to be
rough and uneven, and the gaunt outlines of the sagging roofs of
tiles stood out against the sky above the lurking shadows of ruined
doorways, he was prepared for the worst. As the crumbling but
still massive walls of the convent garden loomed ahead, the tall,
graceful, black-gowned figure he was following presently turned
into the shadow of the wall itself. He quickened his pace, lest it
should again escape him. Suddenly it stopped, and remained
motionless. He stopped, too. At the same moment it vanished!
He ran quickly forward to where it had stood, and found himself
before a large iron gate, with a smaller one in the centre, that
had just clanged to on its rusty hinges. He rubbed his eyes!--the
place, the gate, the wall, were all strangely familiar! Then he
stepped back into the roadway, and looked at it again. He was not
He was standing before the porter's lodge of the Convent of the
The day following the great stagecoach robbery found the patient
proprietor of Collinson's Mill calm and untroubled in his usual
seclusion. The news that had thrilled the length and breadth of
Galloper's Ridge had not touched the leafy banks of the dried-up
river; the hue and cry had followed the stage-road, and no courier
had deemed it worth his while to diverge as far as the rocky ridge
which formed the only pathway to the mill. That day Collinson's
solitude had been unbroken even by the haggard emigrant from the
valley, with his old monotonous story of hardship and privation.
The birds had flown nearer to the old mill, as if emboldened by the
unwonted quiet. That morning there had been the half human imprint
of a bear's foot in the ooze beside the mill-wheel; and coming home
with his scant stock from the woodland pasture, he had found a
golden squirrel--a beautiful, airy embodiment of the brown woods
itself--calmly seated on his bar-counter, with a biscuit between
its baby hands. He was full of his characteristic reveries and
abstractions that afternoon; falling into them even at his wood-
pile, leaning on his axe--so still that an emerald-throated lizard,
who had slid upon the log, went to sleep under the forgotten
But at nightfall the wind arose,--at first as a distant murmur
along the hillside, that died away before it reached the rocky
ledge; then it rocked the tops of the tall redwoods behind the
mill, but left the mill and the dried leaves that lay in the river-
bed undisturbed. Then the murmur was prolonged, until it became
the continuous trouble of some far-off sea, and at last the wind
possessed the ledge itself; driving the smoke down the stumpy
chimney of the mill, rattling the sun-warped shingles on the roof,
stirring the inside rafters with cool breaths, and singing over the
rough projections of the outside eaves. At nine o'clock he rolled
himself up in his blankets before the fire, as was his wont, and
It was past midnight when he was awakened by the familiar clatter
of boulders down the grade, the usual simulation of a wild rush
from without that encompassed the whole mill, even to that heavy
impact against the door, which he had heard once before. In this
he recognized merely the ordinary phenomena of his experience, and
only turned over to sleep again. But this time the door rudely
fell in upon him, and a figure strode over his prostrate body, with
a gun leveled at his head.
He sprang sideways for his own weapon, which stood by the hearth.
In another second that action would have been his last, and the
solitude of Seth Collinson might have remained henceforward
unbroken by any mortal. But the gun of the first figure was
knocked sharply upward by a second man, and the one and only shot
fired that night sped harmlessly to the roof. With the report he
felt his arms gripped tightly behind him; through the smoke he saw
dimly that the room was filled with masked and armed men, and in
another moment he was pinioned and thrust into his empty armchair.
At a signal three of the men left the room, and he could hear them
exploring the other rooms and outhouses. Then the two men who had
been standing beside him fell back with a certain disciplined
precision, as a smooth-chinned man advanced from the open door.
Going to the bar, he poured out a glass of whiskey, tossed it off
deliberately, and, standing in front of Collinson, with his
shoulder against the chimney and his hand resting lightly on his
hip, cleared his throat. Had Collinson been an observant man, he
would have noticed that the two men dropped their eyes and moved
their feet with a half impatient, perfunctory air of waiting. Had
he witnessed the stage-robbery, he would have recognized in the
smooth-faced man the presence of "the orator." But he only gazed
at him with his dull, imperturbable patience.
"We regret exceedingly to have to use force to a gentleman in his
own house," began the orator blandly; "but we feel it our duty to
prevent a repetition of the unhappy incident which occurred as we
entered. We desire that you should answer a few questions, and are
deeply grateful that you are still able to do so,--which seemed
extremely improbable a moment or two ago." He paused, coughed, and
leaned back against the chimney. "How many men have you here
"Nary one," said Collinson.
The interrogator glanced at the other men, who had reentered. They
"Good!" he resumed. "You have told the truth--an excellent habit,
and one that expedites business. Now, is there a room in this
house with a door that locks? Your front door DOESN'T."
"No cellar nor outhouse?"
"We regret that; for it will compel us, much against our wishes, to
keep you bound as you are for the present. The matter is simply
this: circumstances of a very pressing nature oblige us to occupy
this house for a few days,--possibly for an indefinite period. We
respect the sacred rites of hospitality too much to turn you out of
it; indeed, nothing could be more distasteful to our feelings than
to have you, in your own person, spread such a disgraceful report
through the chivalrous Sierras. We must therefore keep you a close
prisoner,--open, however, to an offer. It is this: we propose to
give you five hundred dollars for this property as it stands,
provided that you leave it, and accompany a pack-train which will
start to-morrow morning for the lower valley as far as Thompson's
Pass, binding yourself to quit the State for three months and keep
this matter a secret. Three of these gentlemen will go with you.
They will point out to you your duty; their shotguns will apprise
you of any dereliction from it. What do you say?"
"Who yer talking to?" said Collinson in a dull voice.
"You remind us," said the orator suavely, "that we have not yet the
pleasure of knowing."
"My name's Seth Collinson."
There was a dead silence in the room, and every eye was fixed upon
the two men. The orator's smile slightly stiffened.
"Where from?" he continued blandly.
"A very good place to go back to,--through Thompson's Pass. But
you haven't answered our proposal."
"I reckon I don't intend to sell this house, or leave it," said
"I trust you will not make us regret the fortunate termination of
your little accident, Mr. Collinson," said the orator with a
singular smile. "May I ask why you object to selling out? Is it
"The house isn't mine," said Collinson deliberately. "I built this
yer house for my wife wot I left in Mizzouri. It's hers. I
kalkilate to keep it, and live in it ontil she comes fur it! And
when I tell ye that she is dead, ye kin reckon just what chance ye
have of ever gettin' it."
There was an unmistakable start of sensation in the room, followed
by a silence so profound that the moaning of the wind on the
mountain-side was distinctly heard. A well-built man, with a mask
that scarcely concealed his heavy mustachios, who had been standing
with his back to the orator in half contemptuous patience, faced
around suddenly and made a step forward as if to come between the
questioner and questioned. A voice from the corner ejaculated, "By
"Silence," said the orator sharply. Then still more harshly he
turned to the others "Pick him up, and stand him outside with a
guard; and then clear out, all of you!"
The prisoner was lifted up and carried out; the room was instantly
cleared; only the orator and the man who had stepped forward
remained. Simultaneously they drew the masks from their faces, and
stood looking at each other. The orator's face was smooth and
corrupt; the full, sensual lips wrinkled at the corners with a
sardonic humor; the man who confronted him appeared to be
physically and even morally his superior, albeit gloomy and
discontented in expression. He cast a rapid glance around the
room, to assure himself that they were alone; and then,
straightening his eyebrows as he backed against the chimney, said:--
"D--d if I like this, Chivers! It's your affair; but it's mighty
low-down work for a man!"
"You might have made it easier if you hadn't knocked up Bryce's
gun. That would have settled it, though no one guessed that the
cur was her husband," said Chivers hotly.
"If you want it settled THAT WAY, there's still time," returned the
other with a slight sneer. "You've only to tell him that you're
the man that ran away with his wife, and you'll have it out
together, right on the ledge at twelve paces. The boys will see
you through. In fact," he added, his sneer deepening, "I rather
think it's what they're expecting."
"Thank you, Mr. Jack Riggs," said Chivers sardonically. "I dare
say it would be more convenient to some people, just before our
booty is divided, if I were drilled through by a blundering shot
from that hayseed; or it would seem right to your high-toned
chivalry if a dead-shot as I am knocked over a man who may have
never fired a revolver before; but I don't exactly see it in that
light, either as a man or as your equal partner. I don't think you
quite understand me, my dear Jack. If you don't value the only man
who is identified in all California as the leader of this gang (the
man whose style and address has made it popular--yes, POPULAR, by
G--d!--to every man, woman, and child who has heard of him; whose
sayings and doings are quoted by the newspapers; whom people run
risks to see; who has got the sympathy of the crowd, so that judges
hesitate to issue warrants and constables to serve them),--if YOU
don't see the use of such a man, I do. Why, there's a column and a
half in the 'Sacramento Union' about our last job, calling me the
'Claude Duval' of the Sierras, and speaking of my courtesy to a
lady! A LADY!--HIS wife, by G--d! our confederate! My dear Jack,
you not only don't know business values, but, 'pon my soul, you
don't seem to understand humor! Ha, ha!"
For all his cynical levity, for all his affected exaggeration,
there was the ring of an unmistakable and even pitiable vanity in
his voice, and a self-consciousness that suffused his broad cheeks
and writhed his full mouth, but seemed to deepen the frown on
"You know the woman hates it, and would bolt if she could,--even
from you," said Riggs gloomily. "Think what she might do if she
knew her husband were here. I tell you she holds our lives in the
hollow of her hand."
"That's your fault, Mr. Jack Riggs; you would bring your sister
with her infernal convent innocence and simplicity into our hut in
the hollow. She was meek enough before that. But this is sheer
nonsense. I have no fear of her. The woman don't live who would
go back on Godfrey Chivers--for a husband! Besides, she went off
to see your sister at the convent at Santa Clara as soon as she
passed those bonds off on Charley to get rid of! Think of her
traveling with that d--d fool lawyer all the way to Stockton, and
his bonds (which we had put back in her bag) alongside of them all
the time, and he telling her he was going to stop their payment,
and giving her the letter to mail for him!--eh? Well, we'll have
time to get rid of her husband before she gets back. If he don't
"None of that, Chivers, you understand, once for all!" interrupted
Riggs peremptorily. "If you cannot see that your making away with
that woman's husband would damn that boasted reputation you make so
much of and set every man's hand against us, I do, and I won't
permit it. It's a rotten business enough,--our coming on him as we
have; and if this wasn't the only God-forsaken place where we could
divide our stuff without danger and get it away off the highroads,
I'd pull up stakes at once."
"Let her stay at the convent, then, and be d--d to her," said
Chivers roughly. "She'll be glad enough to be with your sister
again; and there's no fear of her being touched there."
"But I want to put an end to that, too," returned Riggs sharply.
"I do not choose to have my sister any longer implicated with OUR
confederate or YOUR mistress. No more of that--you understand me?"
The two men had been standing side by side, leaning against the
chimney. Chivers now faced his companion, his full lips wreathed
into an evil smile.
"I think I understand you, Mr. Jack Riggs, or--I beg your pardon--
Rivers, or whatever your real name may be," he began slowly.
"Sadie Collinson, the mistress of Judge Godfrey Chivers, formerly
of Kentucky, was good enough company for you the day you dropped
down upon us in our little house in the hollow of Galloper's Ridge.
We were living quite an idyllic, pastoral life there, weren't we?--
she and me; hidden from the censorious eye of society and--
Collinson, obeying only the voice of Nature and the little birds.
It was a happy time," he went on with a grimly affected sigh,
disregarding his companion's impatient gesture. "You were young
then, waging YOUR fight against society, and fresh--uncommonly
fresh, I may say--from your first exploit. And a very stupid,
clumsy, awkward exploit, too, Mr. Riggs, if you will pardon my
freedom. You wanted money, and you had an ugly temper, and you had
lost both to a gambler; so you stopped the coach to rob him, and
had to kill two men to get back your paltry thousand dollars, after
frightening a whole coach-load of passengers, and letting Wells,
Fargo, and Co.'s treasure-box with fifty thousand dollars in it
slide. It was a stupid, a blundering, a CRUEL act, Mr. Riggs, and
I think I told you so at the time. It was a waste of energy and
material, and made you, not a hero, but a stupid outcast! I think
I proved this to you, and showed you how it might have been done."
"Dry up on that," interrupted Riggs impatiently. "You offered to
become my partner, and you did."
"Pardon me. Observe, my impetuous friend, that my contention is
that you--YOU--poisoned our blameless Eden in the hollow; that YOU
were our serpent, and that this Sadie Collinson, over whom you have
become so fastidious, whom you knew as my mistress, was obliged to
become our confederate. You did not object to her when we formed
our gang, and her house became our hiding-place and refuge. You
took advantage of her woman's wit and fine address in disposing of
our booty; you availed yourself, with the rest, of the secrets she
gathered as MY mistress, just as you were willing to profit by the
superior address of her paramour--your humble servant--when your
own face was known to the sheriff, and your old methods pronounced
brutal and vulgar. Excuse me, but I must insist upon THIS, and
that you dropped down upon me and Sadie Collinson exactly as you
have dropped down here upon her husband."
"Enough of this!" said Riggs angrily. "I admit the woman is part
and parcel of the gang, and gets her share,--or you get it for
her," he added sneeringly; "but that doesn't permit her to mix
herself with my family affairs."
"Pardon me again," interrupted Chivers softly. "Your memory, my
dear Riggs, is absurdly defective. We knew that you had a young
sister in the mountains, from whom you discreetly wished to conceal
your real position. We respected, and I trust shall always
respect, your noble reticence. But do you remember the night you
were taking her to school at Santa Clara,--two nights before the
fire,--when you were recognized on the road near Skinner's, and had
to fly with her for your life, and brought her to us,--your two
dear old friends, 'Mr. and Mrs. Barker of Chicago,' who had a
pastoral home in the forest? You remember how we took her in,--
yes, doubly took her in,--and kept your secret from her? And do
you remember how this woman (this mistress of MINE and OUR
confederate), while we were away, saved her from the fire on our
only horse, caught the stage-coach, and brought her to the
Riggs walked towards the window, turned, and coming back, held out
his hand. "Yes, she did it; and I thanked her, as I thank you."
He stopped and hesitated, as the other took his hand. "But, blank
it all, Chivers, don't you see that Alice is a young girl, and this
woman is--you know what I mean. Somebody might recognize HER, and
that would be worse for Alice than even if it were known what
Alice's BROTHER was. G--d! if these two things were put together,
the girl would be ruined forever."
"Jack," said Chivers suddenly, "you want this woman out of the way.
Well--dash it all!--she nearly separated us, and I'll be frank with
you as between man and man. I'll give her up! There are women
enough in the world, and hang it, we're partners, after all!"
"Then you abandon her?" said Riggs slowly, his eyes fixed on his
"Yes. She's getting a little too maundering lately. It will be a
ticklish job to manage, for she knows too much; but it will be
done. There's my hand on it."
Riggs not only took no notice of the proffered hand, but his former
look of discontent came back with an ill-concealed addition of
loathing and contempt.
"We'll drop that now," he said shortly; "we've talked here alone
long enough already. The men are waiting for us." He turned on
his heel into the inner room. Chivers remained standing by the
chimney until his stiffened smile gave way under the working of his
writhing lips; then he turned to the bar, poured out and swallowed
another glass of whiskey at a single gulp, and followed his partner
with half-closed lids that scarcely veiled his ominous eyes.
The men, with the exception of the sentinels stationed on the rocky
ledge and the one who was guarding the unfortunate Collinson, were
drinking and gambling away their perspective gains around a small
pile of portmanteaus and saddle-bags, heaped in the centre of the
room. They contained the results of their last successes, but one
pair of saddle-bags bore the mildewed appearance of having been
cached, or buried, some time before. Most of their treasure was in
packages of gold dust; and from the conversation that ensued, it
appeared that, owing to the difficulties of disposing of it in the
mountain towns, the plan was to convey it by ordinary pack mule to
the unfrequented valley, and thence by an emigrant wagon, on the
old emigrant trail, to the southern counties, where it could be no
longer traced. Since the recent robberies, the local express
companies and bankers had refused to receive it, except the owners
were known and identified. There had been but one box of coin,
which had already been speedily divided up among the band. Drafts,
bills, bonds, and valuable papers had been usually intrusted to one
"Charley," who acted as a flying messenger to a corrupt broker in
Sacramento, who played the role of the band's "fence." It had been
the duty of Chivers to control this delicate business, even as it
had been his peculiar function to open all the letters and
documents. This he had always lightened by characteristic levity
and sarcastic comments on the private revelations of the contents.
The rough, ill-spelt letter of the miner to his wife, inclosing a
draft, or the more sentimental effusion of an emigrant swain to his
sweetheart, with the gift of a "specimen," had always received due
attention at the hands of this elegant humorist. But the operation
was conducted to-night with business severity and silence. The two
leaders sat opposite to each other, in what might have appeared to
the rest of the band a scarcely veiled surveillance of each other's
actions. When the examination was concluded, and, the more
valuable inclosures put aside, the despoiled letters were carried
to the fire and heaped upon the coals. Presently the chimney added
its roar to the moaning of the distant hillside, a few sparks
leaped up and died out in the midnight air, as if the pathos and
sentiment of the unconscious correspondents had exhaled with them.
"That's a d--d foolish thing to do," growled French Pete over his
"Why?" demanded Chivers sharply.
"Why?--why, it makes a flare in the sky that any scout can see, and
a scent for him to follow."
"We're four miles from any traveled road," returned Chivers
contemptuously, "and the man who could see that glare and smell
that smoke would be on his way here already."
"That reminds me that that chap you've tied up--that Collinson--
allows he wants to see you," continued French Pete.
"To see ME!" repeated Chivers. "You mean the Captain?"
"I reckon he means YOU," returned French Pete; "he said the man who
talked so purty."
The men looked at each other with a smile of anticipation, and put
down their cards. Chivers walked towards the door; one or two rose
to their feet as if to follow, but Riggs stopped them peremptorily.
"Sit down," he said roughly; then, as Chivers passed him, he added
to him in a lower tone, "Remember."
Slightly squaring his shoulders and opening his coat, to permit a
rhetorical freedom, which did not, however, prevent him from
keeping touch with the butt of his revolver, Chivers stepped into
the open air. Collinson had been moved to the shelter of an
overhang of the roof, probably more for the comfort of the guard,
who sat cross-legged on the ground near him, than for his own.
Dismissing the man with a gesture, Chivers straightened himself
before his captive.
"We deeply regret that your unfortunate determination, my dear sir,
has been the means of depriving US of the pleasure of your company,
and YOU of your absolute freedom; but may we cherish the hope that
your desire to see me may indicate some change in your opinion?"
By the light of the sentry's lantern left upon the ground, Chivers
could see that Collinson's face wore a slightly troubled and even
"I've bin thinkin'," said Collinson, raising his eyes to his captor
with a singularly new and shy admiration in them, "mebbee not so
much of WOT you said, ez HOW you said it, and it's kinder bothered
me, sittin' here, that I ain't bin actin' to you boys quite on the
square. I've said to myself, 'Collinson, thar ain't another house
betwixt Bald Top and Skinner's whar them fellows kin get a bite or
a drink to help themselves, and you ain't offered 'em neither. It
ain't no matter who they are or how they came: whether they came
crawling along the road from the valley, or dropped down upon you
like them rocks from the grade; yere they are, and it's your duty,
ez long ez you keep this yer house for your wife in trust, so to
speak, for wanderers.' And I ain't forgettin' yer ginerel soft
style and easy gait with me when you kem here. It ain't every man
as could walk into another man's house arter the owner of it had
grabbed a gun, ez soft-speakin', ez overlookin', and ez perlite ez
you. I've acted mighty rough and low-down, and I know it. And I
sent for you to say that you and your folks kin use this house and
all that's in it ez long ez you're in trouble. I've told you why I
couldn't sell the house to ye, and why I couldn't leave it. But ye
kin use it, and while ye're here, and when you go, Collinson don't
tell nobody. I don't know what ye mean by 'binding myself' to keep
your secret; when Collinson says a thing he sticks to it, and when
he passes his word with a man, or a man passes his word with him,
it don't need no bit of paper."
There was no doubt of its truth. In the grave, upraised eyes of
his prisoner, Chivers saw the certainty that he could trust him,
even far more than he could trust any one within the house he had
just quitted. But this very certainty, for all its assurance of
safety to himself, filled him, not with remorse, which might have
been an evanescent emotion, but with a sudden alarming and terrible
consciousness of being in the presence of a hitherto unknown and
immeasurable power! He had no pity for man who trusted him; he had
no sense of shame in taking advantage of it; he even felt an
intellectual superiority in this want of sagacity in his dupe; but
he still felt in some way defeated, insulted, shocked, and
frightened. At first, like all scoundrels, he had measured the man
by himself; was suspicious and prepared for rivalry; but the grave
truthfulness of Collinson's eyes left him helpless. He was
terrified by this unknown factor. The right that contends and
fights often stimulates its adversary; the right that yields leaves
the victor vanquished. Chivers could even have killed Collinson in
his vague discomfiture, but he had a terrible consciousness that
there was something behind him that he could not make way with.
That was why this accomplished rascal felt his flaccid cheeks grow
purple and his glib tongue trip before his captive.
But Collinson, more occupied with his own shortcomings, took no
note of this, and Chivers quickly recovered his wits, if not his
former artificiality. "All right," he said quickly, with a hurried
glance at the door behind him. "Now that you think better of it,
I'll be frank with you, and tell you I'm your friend. You
understand,--your friend. Don't talk much to those men--don't give
yourself away to them;" he laughed this time in absolute natural
embarrassment. "Don't talk about your wife, and this house, but
just say you've made the thing up with me,--with ME, you know, and
I'll see you through." An idea, as yet vague, that he could turn
Collinson's unexpected docility to his own purposes, possessed him
even in his embarrassment, and he was still more strangely
conscious of his inordinate vanity gathering a fearful joy from
Collinson's evident admiration. It was heightened by his captive's
"Ef I wasn't tied I'd shake hands with ye on that. You're the kind
o' man, Mr. Chivers, that I cottoned to from the first. Ef this
house wasn't HERS, I'd a' bin tempted to cotton to yer offer, too,
and mebbee made yer one myself, for it seems to me your style and
mine would sorter jibe together. But I see you sabe what's in my
mind, and make allowance. WE don't want no bit o' paper to shake
hands on that. Your secret and your folk's secret is mine, and I
don't blab that any more than I'd blab to them wot you've just told
Under a sudden impulse, Chivers leaned forward, and, albeit with
somewhat unsteady hands and an embarrassed will, untied the cords
that held Collinson in his chair. As the freed man stretched
himself to his full height, he looked gravely down into the bleared
eyes of his captor, and held out his strong right hand. Chivers
took it. Whether there was some occult power in Collinson's honest
grasp, I know not; but there sprang up in Chivers's agile mind the
idea that a good way to get rid of Mrs. Collinson was to put her in
the way of her husband's finding her, and for an instant, in the
contemplation of that idea, this supreme rascal absolutely felt an
embarrassing glow of virtue.
The astonishment of Preble Key on recognizing the gateway into
which the mysterious lady had vanished was so great that he was at
first inclined to believe her entry THERE a mere trick of his
fancy. That the confederate of a gang of robbers should be
admitted to the austere recesses of the convent, with a celerity
that bespoke familiarity, was incredible. He again glanced up and
down the length of the shadowed but still visible wall. There was
no one there. The wall itself contained no break or recess in
which one could hide, and this was the only gateway. The opposite
side of the street in the full moonlight stared emptily. No!
Unless she were an illusion herself and his whole chase a dream,
she MUST have entered here.
But the chase was not hopeless. He had at least tracked her to a
place where she could be identified. It was not a hotel, which she
could leave at any moment unobserved. Though he could not follow
her and penetrate its seclusion now, he could later--thanks to his
old associations with the padres of the contiguous college--gain an
introduction to the Lady Superior on some pretext. She was safe
there that night. He turned away with a feeling of relief. The
incongruity of her retreat assumed a more favorable aspect to his
hopes. He looked at the hallowed walls and the slumbering
peacefulness of the gnarled old trees that hid the convent, and a
gentle reminiscence of his youth stole over him. It was not the
first time that he had gazed wistfully upon that chaste refuge
where, perhaps, the bright eyes that he had followed in the quaint
school procession under the leafy Alameda in the afternoon, were at
last closed in gentle slumber. There was the very grille through
which the wicked Conchita--or, was it Dolores?--had shot her
Parthian glance at the lingering student. And the man of thirty-
five, prematurely gray and settled in fortune, smiled as he turned
away, and forgot the adventuress of thirty who had brought him
The next morning he was up betimes and at the college of San Jose.
Father Cipriano, a trifle more snuffy and aged, remembered with
delight his old pupil. Ah! it was true, then, that he had become a
mining president, and that was why his hair was gray; but he
trusted that Don Preble had not forgot that this was not all of
life, and that fortune brought great responsibilities and cares.
But what was this, then? He HAD thought of bringing out some of
his relations from the States, and placing a niece in the convent.
That was good and wise. Ah, yes. For education in this new
country, one must turn to the church. And he would see the Lady
Superior? Ah! that was but the twist of one's finger and the
lifting of a latch to a grave superintendent and a gray head like
that. Of course, he had not forgotten the convent and the young
senoritas, nor the discipline and the suspended holidays. Ah! it
was a special grace of our Lady that he, Father Cipriano, had not
been worried into his grave by those foolish muchachos. Yet, when
he had extinguished a snuffy chuckle in his red bandana
handkerchief, Key knew that he would accompany him to the convent
It was with a slight stirring of shame over his elaborate pretext
that he passed the gate of the Sacred Heart with the good father.
But it is to be feared that he speedily forgot that in the
unexpected information that it elicited. The Lady Superior was
gracious, and even enthusiastic. Ah, yes, it was a growing custom
of the American caballeros--who had no homes, nor yet time to
create any--to bring their sisters, wards, and nieces here, and--
with a dove-like side-glance towards Key--even the young senoritas
they wished to fit for their Christian brides! Unlike the
caballero, there were many business men so immersed in their
affairs that they could not find time for a personal examination of
the convent,--which was to be regretted,--but who, trusting to the
reputation of the Sacred Heart and its good friends, simply sent
the young lady there by some trusted female companion. Notably
this was the case of the Senor Rivers,--did Don Preble ever know
him?--a great capitalist in the Sierras, whose sweet young sister,
a naive, ingenuous creature, was the pride of the convent. Of
course, it was better that it was so. Discipline and seclusion had
to be maintained. The young girl should look upon this as her
home. The rules for visitors were necessarily severe. It was rare
indeed--except in a case of urgency, such as happened last night--
that even a lady, unless the parent of a scholar, was admitted to
the hospitality of the convent. And this lady was only the friend
of that same sister of the American capitalist, although she was
the one who had brought her there. No, she was not a relation.
Perhaps Don Preble had heard of a Mrs. Barker,--the friend of
Rivers of the Sierras. It was a queer combination of names. But
what will you? The names of Americanos mean nothing. And Don
Preble knows them not. Ah! possibly?--good! The lady would be
remembered, being tall, dark, and of fine presence, though sad. A
few hours earlier and Don Preble could have judged for himself,
for, as it were, she might have passed through this visitors' room.
But she was gone--departed by the coach. It was from a telegram--
those heathen contrivances that blurt out things to you, with never
an excuse, nor a smile, nor a kiss of the hand! For her part, she
never let her scholars receive them, but opened them herself, and
translated them in a Christian spirit, after due preparation, at
her leisure. And it was this telegram that made the Senora Barker
go, or, without doubt, she would have of herself told to the Don
Preble, her compatriot of the Sierras, how good the convent was for
Stung by the thought that this woman had again evaded him, and
disconcerted and confused by the scarcely intelligible information
he had acquired, Key could with difficulty maintain his composure.
"The caballero is tired of his long pasear," said the Lady Superior
gently. "We will have a glass of wine in the lodge waiting-room."
She led the way from the reception room to the outer door, but
stopped at the sound of approaching footsteps and rustling muslin
along the gravel walk. "The second class are going out," she said,
as a gentle procession of white frocks, led by two nuns, filed
before the gateway. "We will wait until they have passed. But the
senor can see that my children do not look unhappy."
They certainly looked very cheerful, although they had halted
before the gateway with a little of the demureness of young people
who know they are overlooked by authority, and had bumped against
each other with affected gravity. Somewhat ashamed of his useless
deception, and the guileless simplicity of the good Lady Superior,
Key hesitated and began: "I am afraid that I am really giving you
too much trouble," and suddenly stopped.
For as his voice broke the demure silence, one of the nearest--a
young girl of apparently seventeen--turned towards him with a quick
and an apparently irresistible impulse, and as quickly turned away
again. But in that instant Key caught a glimpse of a face that
might not only have thrilled him in its beauty, its freshness, but
in some vague suggestiveness. Yet it was not that which set his
pulses beating; it was the look of joyous recognition set in the
parted lips and sparkling eyes, the glow of childlike innocent
pleasure that mantled the sweet young face, the frank confusion of
suddenly realized expectancy and longing. A great truth gripped
his throbbing heart, and held it still. It was the face that he
had seen in the hollow!
The movement of the young girl was too marked to escape the eye of
the Lady Superior, though she had translated it differently. "You
must not believe our young ladies are all so rude, Don Preble," she
said dryly; "though our dear child has still some of the mountain
freedom. And this is the Senor Rivers's sister. But possibly--who
knows?" she said gently, yet with a sudden sharpness in her clear
eyes,--"perhaps she recognized in your voice a companion of her
Luckily for Key, the shock had been so sudden and overpowering that
he showed none of the lesser symptoms of agitation or
embarrassment. In this revelation of a secret, that he now
instinctively felt was bound up with his own future happiness, he
exhibited none of the signs of a discovered intriguer or unmasked
Lothario. He said quietly and coldly: "I am afraid I have not the
pleasure of knowing the young lady, and certainly have never before
addressed her." Yet he scarcely heard his companion's voice, and
answered mechanically, seeing only before him the vision of the
girl's bewitching face, in its still more bewitching consciousness
of his presence. With all that he now knew, or thought he knew,
came a strange delicacy of asking further questions, a vague fear
of compromising HER, a quick impatience of his present deception;
even his whole quest of her seemed now to be a profanation, for
which he must ask her forgiveness. He longed to be alone to
recover himself. Even the temptation to linger on some pretext,
and wait for her return and another glance from her joyous eyes,
was not as strong as his conviction of the necessity of cooler
thought and action. He had met his fate that morning, for good or
ill; that was all he knew. As soon as he could decently retire, he
thanked the Lady Superior, promised to communicate with her later,
and taking leave of Father Cipriano, found himself again in the
Who was she, what was she, and what meant her joyous recognition of
him? It is to be feared that it was the last question that
affected him most, now that he felt that he must have really loved
her from the first. Had she really seen him before, and had been
as mysteriously impressed as he was? It was not the reflection of
a conceited man, for Key had not that kind of vanity, and he had
already touched the humility that is at the base of any genuine
passion. But he would not think of that now. He had established
the identity of the other woman, as being her companion in the
house in the hollow on that eventful night; but it was HER profile
that he had seen at the window. The mysterious brother Rivers
might have been one of the robbers,--perhaps the one who
accompanied Mrs. Barker to San Jose. But it was plain that the
young girl had no complicity with the actions of the gang, whatever
might have been her companion's confederation. In the prescience
of a true lover, he knew that she must have been deceived and kept
in utter ignorance of it. There was no look of it in her lovely,
guileless eyes; her very impulsiveness and ingenuousness would have
long since betrayed the secret. Was it left for him, at this very
outset of his passion, to be the one to tell her? Could he bear to
see those frank, beautiful eyes dimmed with shame and sorrow? His
own grew moist. Another idea began to haunt him. Would it not be
wiser, even more manly, for him--a man over twice her years--to
leave her alone with her secret, and so pass out of her innocent
young life as chancefully as he had entered it? But was it
altogether chanceful? Was there not in her innocent happiness in
him a recognition of something in him better than he had dared to
think himself? It was the last conceit of the humility of love.
He reached his hotel at last, unresolved, perplexed, yet singularly
happy. The clerk handed him, in passing, a business-looking
letter, formally addressed. Without opening it, he took it to his
room, and throwing himself listlessly on a chair by the window
again tried to think. But the atmosphere of his room only recalled
to him the mysterious gift he had found the day before on his
pillow. He felt now with a thrill that it must have been from HER.
How did she convey it there? She would not have intrusted it to
Mrs. Barker. The idea struck him now as distastefully as it seemed
improbable. Perhaps she had been here herself with her companion--
the convent sometimes made that concession to a relative or well-
known friend. He recalled the fact that he had seen Mrs. Barker
enter the hotel alone, after the incident of the opening door,
while he was leaning over the balustrade. It was SHE who was alone
THEN, and had recognized his voice; and he had not known it. She
was out again to-day with the procession. A sudden idea struck
him. He glanced quickly at the letter in his hand, and hurriedly
opened it. It contained only three lines, in a large formal hand,
but they sent the swift blood to his cheeks.
"I heard your voice to-day for the third time. I want to hear it
again. I will come at dusk. Do not go out until then."
He sat stupefied. Was it madness, audacity, or a trick? He
summoned the waiter. The letter had been left by a boy from the
confectioner's shop in the next block. He remembered it of old,--a
resort for the young ladies of the convent. Nothing was easier
than conveying a letter in that way. He remembered with a shock of
disillusion and disgust that it was a common device of silly but
innocent assignation. Was he to be the ridiculous accomplice of a
schoolgirl's extravagant escapade, or the deluded victim of some
infamous plot of her infamous companion? He could not believe
either; yet he could not check a certain revulsion of feeling
towards her, which only a moment ago he would have believed
Yet whatever was her purpose, he must prevent her coming there at
any hazard. Her visit would be the culmination of her folly, or
the success of any plot. Even while he was fully conscious of the
material effect of any scandal and exposure to her, even while he
was incensed and disillusionized at her unexpected audacity, he was
unusually stirred with the conviction that she was wronging
herself, and that more than ever she demanded his help and his
consideration. Still she must not come. But how was he to prevent
her? It wanted but an hour of dusk. Even if he could again
penetrate the convent on some pretext at that inaccessible hour for
visitors,--twilight,--how could he communicate with her? He might
intercept her on the way, and persuade her to return; but she must
be kept from entering the hotel.
He seized his hat and rushed downstairs. But here another
difficulty beset him. It was easy enough to take the ordinary road
to the convent, but would SHE follow that public one in what must
be a surreptitious escape? And might she not have eluded the
procession that morning, and even now be concealed somewhere,
waiting for the darkness to make her visit. He concluded to patrol
the block next to the hotel, yet near enough to intercept her
before she reached it, until the hour came. The time passed
slowly. He loitered before shop windows, or entered and made
purchases, with his eye on the street. The figure of a pretty
girl,--and there were many,--the fluttering ribbons on a distant
hat, or the flashing of a cambric skirt around the corner sent a
nervous thrill through him. The reflection of his grave,
abstracted face against a shop window, or the announcement of the
workings of his own mine on a bulletin board, in its incongruity
with his present occupation, gave him an hysterical impulse to
laugh. The shadows were already gathering, when he saw a slender,
graceful figure disappear in the confectioner's shop on the block
below. In his elaborate precautions, he had overlooked that common
trysting spot. He hurried thither, and entered. The object of his
search was not there, and he was compelled to make a shamefaced,
awkward survey of the tables in an inner refreshment saloon to
satisfy himself. Any one of the pretty girls seated there might
have been the one who had just entered, but none was the one he
sought. He hurried into the street again,--he had wasted a
precious moment,--and resumed his watch. The sun had sunk, the
Angelus had rung out of a chapel belfry, and shadows were darkening
the vista of the Alameda. She had not come. Perhaps she had
thought better of it; perhaps she had been prevented; perhaps the
whole appointment had been only a trick of some day-scholars, who
were laughing at him behind some window. In proportion as he
became convinced that she was not coming, he was conscious of a
keen despair growing in his heart, and a sickening remorse that he
had ever thought of preventing her. And when he at last
reluctantly reentered the hotel, he was as miserable over the
conviction that she was not coming as he had been at her expected
arrival. The porter met him hurriedly in the hall.
"Sister Seraphina of the Sacred Heart has been here, in a hurry to
see you on a matter of importance," he said, eyeing Key somewhat
curiously. "She would not wait in the public parlor, as she said
her business was confidential, so I have put her in a private
sitting-room on your floor."
Key felt the blood leave his cheeks. The secret was out for all
his precaution. The Lady Superior had discovered the girl's
flight,--or her attempt. One of the governing sisterhood was here
to arraign him for it, or at least prevent an open scandal. Yet he
was resolved; and seizing this last straw, he hurriedly mounted the
stairs, determined to do battle at any risk for the girl's safety,
and to perjure himself to any extent.
She was standing in the room by the window. The light fell upon
the coarse serge dress with its white facings, on the single girdle
that scarcely defined the formless waist, on the huge crucifix that
dangled ungracefully almost to her knees, on the hideous, white-
winged coif that, with the coarse but dense white veil, was itself
a renunciation of all human vanity. It was a figure he remembered
well as a boy, and even in his excitement and half resentment
touched him now, as when a boy, with a sense of its pathetic
isolation. His head bowed with boyish deference as she approached
gently, passed him a slight salutation, and closed the door that he
had forgotten to shut behind him.
Then, with a rapid movement, so quick that he could scarcely follow
it, the coif, veil, rosary, and crucifix were swept off, and the
young pupil of the convent stood before him.
For all the sombre suggestiveness of her disguise and its
ungraceful contour, there was no mistaking the adorable little
head, tumbled all over with silky tendrils of hair from the hasty
withdrawal of her coif, or the blue eyes that sparkled with frank
delight beneath them. Key thought her more beautiful than ever.
Yet the very effect of her frankness and beauty was to recall him
to all the danger and incongruity of her position.
"This is madness," he said quickly. "You may be followed here and
discovered in this costume at any moment!" Nevertheless, he caught
the two little hands that had been extended to him, and held them
tightly, and with a frank familiarity that he would have wondered
at an instant before.
"But I won't," she said simply. "You see I'm doing a 'half-
retreat'; and I stay with Sister Seraphina in her room; and she
always sleeps two hours after the Angelus; and I got out without
anybody knowing me, in her clothes. I see what it is," she said,
suddenly bending a reproachful glance upon him, "you don't like me
in them. I know they're just horrid; but it was the only way I
could get out."
"You don't understand me," he said eagerly. "I don't like you to
run these dreadful risks and dangers for"--He would have said
"for me," but added with sudden humility--"for nothing. Had I
dreamed that you cared to see me, I would have arranged it easily
without this indiscretion, which might make others misjudge you.
Every instant that you remain here--worse, every moment that you
are away from the convent in that disguise, is fraught with danger.
I know you never thought of it."
"But I did," she said quietly; "I thought of it, and thought that
if Sister Seraphina woke up, and they sent for me, you would take
me away with you to that dear little hollow in the hills, where I
first heard your voice. You remember it, don't you? You were
lost, I think, in the darkness, and I used to say to myself
afterwards that I found you. That was the first time. Then the
second time I heard you, was here in the hall. I was alone in the
other room, for Mrs. Barker had gone out. I did not know you were
here, but I knew your voice. And the third time was before the
convent gate, and then I knew you knew me. And after that I didn't
think of anything but coming to you; for I knew that if I was found
out, you would take me back with you, and perhaps send word to my
brother where we were, and then"-- She stopped suddenly, with her
eyes fixed on Key's blank face. Her own grew blank, the joy faded
out of her clear eyes, she gently withdrew her hand from his, and
without a word began to resume her disguise.
"Listen to me," said Key passionately. "I am thinking only of YOU.
I want to, and WILL, save you from any blame,--blame you do not
understand even now. There is still time. I will go back to the
convent with you at once. You shall tell me everything; I will
tell you everything on the way."
She had already completely resumed her austere garb, and drew the
veil across her face. With the putting on her coif she seemed to
have extinguished all the joyous youthfulness of her spirit, and
moved with the deliberateness of renunciation towards the door.
They descended the staircase without a word. Those who saw them
pass made way for them with formal respect.
When they were in the street, she said quietly, "Don't give me your
arm--Sisters don't take it." When they had reached the street
corner, she turned it, saying, "This is the shortest way."
It was Key who was now restrained, awkward, and embarrassed. The
fire of his spirit, the passion he had felt a moment before, had
gone out of him, as if she were really the character she had
assumed. He said at last desperately:--
"How long did you live in the hollow?"
"Only two days. My brother was bringing me here to school, but in
the stage coach there was some one with whom he had quarreled, and
he didn't want to meet him with me. So we got out at Skinner's,
and came to the hollow, where his old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Barker,
There was no hesitation nor affectation in her voice. Again he
felt that he would as soon have doubted the words of the Sister she
represented as her own.
"And your brother--did you live with him?"
"No. I was at school at Marysville until he took me away. I saw
little of him for the past two years, for he had business in the
mountains--very rough business, where he couldn't take me, for it
kept him away from the settlements for weeks. I think it had
something to do with cattle, for he was always having a new horse.
I was all alone before that, too; I had no other relations; I had
no friends. We had always been moving about so much, my brother
and I. I never saw any one that I liked, except you, and until
yesterday I had only HEARD you."
Her perfect naivete alternately thrilled him with pain and doubt.
In his awkwardness and uneasiness he was brutal.
"Yes, but you must have met somebody--other men--here even, when
you were out with your schoolfellows, or perhaps on an adventure
Her white coif turned towards him quickly. "I never wanted to know
anybody else. I never cared to see anybody else. I never would
have gone out in this way but for you," she said hurriedly. After
a pause she added in a frightened tone: "That didn't sound like
your voice then. It didn't sound like it a moment ago either."
"But you are sure that you know my voice," he said, with affected
gayety. "There were two others in the hollow with me that night."
"I know that, too. But I know even what you said. You reproved
them for throwing a lighted match in the dry grass. You were
thinking of us then. I know it."
"Of US?" said Key quickly.
"Of Mrs. Barker and myself. We were alone in the house, for my
brother and her husband were both away. What you said seemed to
forewarn me, and I told her. So we were prepared when the fire
came nearer, and we both escaped on the same horse."
"And you dropped your shoes in your flight," said Key laughingly,
"and I picked them up the next day, when I came to search for you.
I have kept them still."
"They were HER shoes," said the girl quickly, "I couldn't find mine
in our hurry, and hers were too large for me, and dropped off."
She stopped, and with a faint return of her old gladness said,
"Then you DID come back? I KNEW you would."
"I should have stayed THEN, but we got no reply when we shouted.
Why was that?" he demanded suddenly.
"Oh, we were warned against speaking to any stranger, or even being
seen by any one while we were alone," returned the girl simply.
"But why?" persisted Key.
"Oh, because there were so many highwaymen and horse-stealers in
the woods. Why, they had stopped the coach only a few weeks
before, and only a day or two ago, when Mrs. Barker came down. SHE
Key with difficulty suppressed a groan. They walked on in silence
for some moments, he scarcely daring to lift his eyes to the
decorous little figure hastening by his side. Alternately touched
by mistrust and pain, at last an infinite pity, not unmingled with
a desperate resolution, took possession of him.
"I must make a confession to you, Miss Rivers," he began with the
bashful haste of a very boy, "that is"--he stammered with a half
hysteric laugh,--"that is--a confession as if you were really a
sister or a priest, you know--a sort of confidence to you--to your
dress. I HAVE seen you, or THOUGHT I saw you before. It was that
which brought me here, that which made me follow Mrs. Barker--my
only clue to you--to the door of that convent. That night, in the
hollow, I saw a profile at the lighted window, which I thought was
"I never was near the window," said the young girl quickly. "It
must have been Mrs. Barker."
"I know that now," returned Key. "But remember, it was my only
clue to you. I mean," he added awkwardly, "it was the means of my
"I don't see how it made you think of me, whom you never saw, to
see another woman's profile," she retorted, with the faintest touch
of asperity in her childlike voice. "But," she added, more gently
and with a relapse into her adorable naivete, "most people's
profiles look alike."
"It was not that," protested Key, still awkwardly, "it was only
that I realized something--only a dream, perhaps."
She did not reply, and they continued on in silence. The gray wall
of the convent was already in sight. Key felt he had achieved
nothing. Except for information that was hopeless, he had come to
no nearer understanding of the beautiful girl beside him, and his
future appeared as vague as before; and, above all, he was
conscious of an inferiority of character and purpose to this simple
creature, who had obeyed him so submissively. Had he acted wisely?
Would it not have been better if he had followed her own frankness,
"Then it was Mrs. Barker's profile that brought you here?" resumed
the voice beneath the coif. "You know she has gone back. I
suppose you will follow?"
"You will not understand me," said Key desperately. "But," he
added in a lower voice, "I shall remain here until you do."
He drew a little closer to her side.
"Then you must not begin by walking so close to me," she said,
moving slightly away; "they may see you from the gate. And you
must not go with me beyond that corner. If I have been missed
already they will suspect you."
"But how shall I know?" he said, attempting to take her hand. "Let
me walk past the gate. I cannot leave you in this uncertainty."
"You will know soon enough," she said gravely, evading his hand.
"You must not go further now. Good-night."
She had stopped at the corner of the wall. He again held out his
hand. Her little fingers slid coldly between his.
"Good-night, Miss Rivers."
"Stop!" she said suddenly, withdrawing her veil and lifting her
clear eyes to his in the moonlight. "You must not say THAT--it
isn't the truth. I can't bear to hear it from YOUR lips, in YOUR
voice. My name is NOT Rivers!"
"Not Rivers--why?" said Key, astounded.
"Oh, I don't know why," she said half despairingly; "only my
brother didn't want me to use my name and his here, and I promised.
My name is 'Riggs'--there! It's a secret--you mustn't tell it; but
I could not bear to hear YOU say a lie."
"Good-night, Miss Riggs," said Key sadly.
"No, nor that either," she said softly. "Say Alice."
She moved on before him. She reached the gate. For a moment her
figure, in its austere, formless garments, seemed to him to even
stoop and bend forward in the humility of age and self-
renunciation, and she vanished within as into a living tomb.
Forgetting all precaution, he pressed eagerly forward, and stopped
before the gate. There was no sound from within; there had
evidently been no challenge nor interruption. She was safe.
The reappearance of Chivers in the mill with Collinson, and the
brief announcement that the prisoner had consented to a
satisfactory compromise, were received at first with a half
contemptuous smile by the party; but for the commands of their
leaders, and possibly a conviction that Collinson's fatuous
cooperation with Chivers would be safer than his wrath, which might
not expend itself only on Chivers, but imperil the safety of all,
it is probable that they would have informed the unfortunate
prisoner of his real relations to his captor. In these
circumstances, Chivers's half satirical suggestion that Collinson
should be added to the sentries outside, and guard his own
property, was surlily assented to by Riggs, and complacently
accepted by the others. Chivers offered to post him himself,--not
without an interchange of meaning glances with Riggs,--Collinson's
own gun was returned to him, and the strangely assorted pair left
the mill amicably together.
But however humanly confident Chivers was in his companion's
faithfulness, he was not without a rascal's precaution, and
determined to select a position for Collinson where he could do the
least damage in any aberration of trust. At the top of the grade,
above the mill, was the only trail by which a party in force could
approach it. This was to Chivers obviously too strategic a
position to intrust to his prisoner, and the sentry who guarded its
approach, five hundred yards away, was left unchanged. But there
was another "blind" trail, or cut-off, to the left, through the
thickest undergrowth of the woods, known only to his party. To
place Collinson there was to insure him perfect immunity from the
approach of an enemy, as well as from any confidential advances of
his fellow sentry. This done, he drew a cigar from his pocket, and
handing it to Collinson, lighted another for himself, and leaning
back comfortably against a large boulder, glanced complacently at
"You may smoke until I go, Mr. Collinson, and even afterwards, if
you keep the bowl of your pipe behind a rock, so as to be out of
sight of your fellow sentry, whose advances, by the way, if I were
you, I should not encourage. Your position here, you see, is a
rather peculiar one. You were saying, I think, that a lingering
affection for your wife impelled you to keep this place for her,
although you were convinced of her death?"
Collinson's unaffected delight in Chivers's kindliness had made his
eyes shine in the moonlight with a doglike wistfulness. "I reckon
I did say that, Mr. Chivers," he said apologetically, "though it
ain't goin' to interfere with you usin' the shanty jest now."
"I wasn't alluding to that, Collinson," returned Chivers, with a
large rhetorical wave of the hand, and an equal enjoyment in his
companion's evident admiration of him, "but it struck me that your
remark, nevertheless, implied some doubt of your wife's death, and
I don't know but that your doubts are right."
"Wot's that?" said Collinson, with a dull glow in his face.
Chivers blew the smoke of his cigar lazily in the still air.
"Listen," he said. "Since your miraculous conversion a few moments
ago, I have made some friendly inquiries about you, and I find that
you lost all trace of your wife in Texas in '52, where a number of
her fellow emigrants died of yellow fever. Is that so?"
"Yes," said Collinson quickly.
"Well, it so happens that a friend of mine," continued Chivers
slowly, "was in a train which followed that one, and picked up and
brought on some of the survivors."
"That was the train wot brought the news," said Collinson,
relapsing into his old patience. "That's how I knowed she hadn't
"Did you ever hear the names of any of its passengers?" said
Chivers, with a keen glance at his companion.
"Nary one! I only got to know it was a small train of only two
wagons, and it sorter melted into Californy through a southern
pass, and kinder petered out, and no one ever heard of it agin, and
that was all."
"That was NOT all, Collinson," said Chivers lazily. "I saw the
train arrive at South Pass. I was awaiting a friend and his wife.
There was a lady with them, one of the survivors. I didn't hear
her name, but I think my friend's wife called her 'Sadie.' I
remember her as a rather pretty woman--tall, fair, with a straight
nose and a full chin, and small slim feet. I saw her only a
moment, for she was on her way to Los Angeles, and was, I believe,
going to join her husband somewhere in the Sierras."
The rascal had been enjoying with intense satisfaction the return
of the dull glow in Collinson's face, that even seemed to animate
the whole length of his angular frame as it turned eagerly towards
him. So he went on, experiencing a devilish zest in this
description of his mistress to her husband, apart from the pleasure
of noting the slow awakening of this apathetic giant, with a
sensation akin to having warmed him into life. Yet his triumph was
of short duration. The fire dropped suddenly out of Collinson's
eyes, the glow from his face, and the dull look of unwearied
"That's all very kind and purty of yer, Mr. Chivers," he said
gravely; "you've got all my wife's pints thar to a dot, and it
seems to fit her jest like a shoe I picked up t'other day. But it
wasn't my Sadie, for ef she's living or had lived, she'd bin just
The same fear and recognition of some unknown reserve in this
trustful man came over Chivers as before. In his angry resentment
of it he would have liked to blurt out the infidelity of the wife
before her husband, but he knew Collinson would not believe him,
and he had another purpose now. His full lips twisted into a suave
"While I would not give you false hopes, Mr. Collinson," he said,
with a bland smile, "my interest in you compels me to say that you
may be over confident and wrong. There are a thousand things that
may have prevented your wife from coming to you,--illness, possibly
the result of her exposure, poverty, misapprehension of your place
of meeting, and, above all, perhaps some false report of your own
death. Has it ever occurred to you that it is as possible for her
to have been deceived in that way as for you?"
"Wot yer say?" said Collinson, with a vague suspicion.
"What I mean. You think yourself justified in believing your wife
dead, because she did not seek you here; may she not feel herself
equally justified in believing the same of you, because you had not
sought her elsewhere?"
"But it was writ that she was comin' yere, and--I boarded every
train that come in that fall," said Collinson, with a new
irritation, unlike his usual calm.
"Except one, my dear Collinson,--except one," returned Chivers,
holding up a fat forefinger smilingly. "And that may be the clue.
Now, listen! There is still a chance of following it, if you will.
The name of my friends were Mr. and Mrs. Barker. I regret," he
added, with a perfunctory cough, "that poor Barker is dead. He was
not such an exemplary husband as you are, my dear Collinson, and I
fear was not all that Mrs. Barker could have wished; enough that he
succumbed from various excesses, and did not leave me Mrs. Barker's
present address. But she has a young friend, a ward, living at the
convent of Santa Luisa, whose name is Miss Rivers, who can put you
in communication with her. Now, one thing more: I can understand
your feelings, and that you would wish at once to satisfy your
mind. It is not, perhaps, to my interest nor the interest of my
party to advise you, but," he continued, glancing around him, "you
have an admirably secluded position here, on the edge of the trail,
and if you are missing from your post to-morrow morning, I shall
respect your feelings, trust to your honor to keep this secret,
and--consider it useless to pursue you!"
There was neither shame nor pity in his heart, as the deceived man
turned towards him with tremulous eagerness, and grasped his hand
in silent gratitude. But the old rage and fear returned, as
Collinson said gravely:--
"You kinder put a new life inter me, Mr. Chivers, and I wish I had
yer gift o' speech to tell ye so. But I've passed my word to the
Capting thar and to the rest o' you folks that I'd stand guard out
yere, and I don't go back o' my word. I mout, and I moutn't find
my Sadie; but she wouldn't think the less o' me, arter these years
o' waitin', ef I stayed here another night, to guard the house I
keep in trust for her, and the strangers I've took in on her
"As you like, then," said Chivers, contracting his lips, "but keep
your own counsel to-night. There may be those who would like to
deter you from your search. And now I will leave you alone in this
delightful moonlight. I quite envy you your unrestricted communion
with Nature. Adios, amigo, adios!"
He leaped lightly on a large rock that overhung the edge of the
grade, and waved his hand.
"I wouldn't do that, Mr. Chivers," said Collinson, with a concerned
face; "them rocks are mighty ticklish, and that one in partiklar.
A tech sometimes sends 'em scooting."
Mr. Chivers leaped quickly to the ground, turned, waved his hand
again, and disappeared down the grade.
But Collinson was no longer alone. Hitherto his characteristic
reveries had been of the past,--reminiscences in which there was
only recollection, no imagination, and very little hope. Under the
spell of Chivers's words his fancy seemed to expand; he began to
think of his wife as she might be now,--perhaps ill, despairing,
wandering hopelessly, even ragged and footsore, or--believing HIM
dead--relapsing into the resigned patience that had been his own;
but always a new Sadie, whom he had never seen or known before. A
faint dread, the lightest of misgivings (perhaps coming from his
very ignorance), for the first time touched his steadfast heart,
and sent a chill through it. He shouldered his weapon, and walked
briskly towards the edge of the thick-set woods. There were the
fragrant essences of the laurel and spruce--baked in the long-day
sunshine that had encompassed their recesses--still coming warm to
his face; there were the strange shiftings of temperature
throughout the openings, that alternately warmed and chilled him as
he walked. It seemed so odd that he should now have to seek her
instead of her coming to him; it would never be the same meeting to
him, away from the house that he had built for her! He strolled
back, and looked down upon it, nestling on the ledge. The white
moonlight that lay upon it dulled the glitter of lights in its
windows, but the sounds of laughter and singing came to even his
unfastidious ears with a sense of vague discord. He walked back
again, and began to pace before the thick-set wood. Suddenly he
stopped and listened.
To any other ears but those accustomed to mountain solitude it
would have seemed nothing. But, familiar as he was with all the
infinite disturbances of the woodland, and even the simulation of
intrusion caused by a falling branch or lapsing pine-cone, he was
arrested now by a recurring sound, unlike any other. It was an
occasional muffled beat--interrupted at uncertain intervals, but
always returning in regular rhythm, whenever it was audible. He
knew it was made by a cantering horse; that the intervals were due
to the patches of dead leaves in its course, and that the varying
movement was the effect of its progress through obstacles and
underbrush. It was therefore coming through some "blind" cutoff in
the thick-set wood. The shifting of the sound also showed that the
rider was unfamiliar with the locality, and sometimes wandered from
the direct course; but the unfailing and accelerating persistency
of the sound, in spite of these difficulties, indicated haste and
He swung his gun from his shoulder, and examined its caps. As the
sound came nearer, he drew up beside a young spruce at the entrance
of the thicket. There was no necessity to alarm the house, or call
the other sentry. It was a single horse and rider, and he was
equal to that. He waited quietly, and with his usual fateful
patience. Even then his thoughts still reverted to his wife; and
it was with a singular feeling that he, at last, saw the thick
underbrush give way before a woman, mounted on a sweating but still
spirited horse, who swept out into the open. Nevertheless, he
stopped in front of her, and called:--
"Hold up thar!"
The horse recoiled, nearly unseating her. Collinson caught the
reins. She lifted her whip mechanically, yet remained holding it
in the air, trembling, until she slipped, half struggling, half
helplessly, from the saddle to the ground. Here she would have
again fallen, but Collinson caught her sharply by the waist. At
his touch she started and uttered a frightened "No!" At her voice
"Sadie!" he gasped.
"Seth!" she half whispered.
They stood looking at each other. But Collinson was already
himself again. The man of simple directness and no imagination saw
only his wife before him--a little breathless, a little flurried, a
little disheveled from rapid riding, as he had sometimes seen her
before, but otherwise unchanged. Nor had HE changed; he took her
up where he had left her years ago. His grave face only broadened
into a smile, as he held both her hands in his.
"Yes, it's me--Lordy! Why, I was comin' only to-morrow to find ye,
She glanced hurriedly around her, "To--to find me," she said
"Sartain! That ez, I was goin' to ask about ye,--goin' to ask
about ye at the convent."
"At the convent?" she echoed with a frightened amazement.
"Yes, why, Lordy Sade--don't you see? You thought I was dead, and
I thought you was dead,--that's what's the matter. But I never
reckoned that you'd think me dead until Chivers allowed that it
must be so."
Her face whitened in the moonlight "Chivers?" she said blankly.
"In course; but nat'rally you don't know him, honey. He only saw
you onc't. But it was along o' that, Sade, that he told me he
reckoned you wasn't dead, and told me how to find you. He was
mighty kind and consarned about it, and he even allowed I'd better
slip off to you this very night."
"Chivers," she repeated, gazing at her husband with bloodless lips.
"Yes, an awful purty-spoken man. Ye'll have to get to know him
Sade. He's here with some of his folks az hez got inter trouble--
I'm forgettin' to tell ye. You see"--
"Yes, yes, yes!" she interrupted hysterically; "and this is the
"Yes, lovey, the Mill--my mill--YOUR mill--the house I built for
you, dear. I'd show it to you now, but you see, Sade, I'm out here
"Are YOU one of them?" she said, clutching his hand desperately.
"No, dear," he said soothingly,--"no; only, you see, I giv' my word
to 'em as I giv' my house to-night, and I'm bound to protect them
and see 'em through. Why, Lordy! Sade, you'd have done the same--
"Yes, yes," she said, beating her hands together strangely, "of
course. He was so kind to bring me back to you. And you might
have never found me but for him."
She burst into an hysterical laugh, which the simple-minded man
might have overlooked but for the tears that coursed down her
"What's gone o' ye, Sadie," he said in a sudden fear, grasping her
hands; "that laugh ain't your'n--that voice ain't your'n. You're
the old Sadie, ain't ye?" He stopped. For a moment his face
blanched as he glanced towards the mill, from which the faint sound
of bacchanalian voices came to his quick ear. "Sadie, dear, ye
ain't thinkin' anything agin' me? Ye ain't allowin' I'm keeping
anythin' back from ye?"
Her face stiffened into rigidity; she dashed the tears from her
eyes. "No," she said quickly. Then after a moment she added, with
a faint laugh, "You see we haven't seen each other for so long--
it's all so sudden--so unexpected."
"But you kem here, just now, calkilatin' to find me?" said
"Yes, yes," she said quickly, still grasping both his hands, but
with her head slightly turned in the direction of the mill.
"But who told ye where to find the mill?" he said, with gentle
"A friend," she said hurriedly. "Perhaps," she added, with a
singular smile, "a friend of the friend who told you."
"I see," said Collinson, with a relieved face and a broadening
smile, "it's a sort of fairy story. I'll bet, now, it was that old
Barker woman that Chivers knows."
Her teeth gleamed rigidly together in the moonlight, like a
death's-head. "Yes," she said dryly, "it was that old Barker
woman. Say, Seth," she continued, moistening her lips slowly,
"you're guarding this place alone?"
"Thar's another feller up the trail,--a sentry,--but don't you be
afeard, he can't hear us, Sade."
"On this side of the mill?"
"Yes! Why, Lord love ye, Sadie! t'other side o' the mill it drops
down straight to the valley; nobody comes yer that way but poor
low-down emigrants. And it's miles round to come by the valley
from the summit."
"You didn't hear your friend Chivers say that the sheriff was out
with his posse to-night hunting them?"
"No. Did you?"
"I think I heard something of that kind at Skinner's, but it may
have been only a warning to me, traveling alone."
"Thet's so," said Collinson, with a tender solicitude, "but none o'
these yer road-agents would have teched a woman. And this yer
Chivers ain't the man to insult one, either."
"No," she said, with a return of her hysteric laugh. But it was
overlooked by Collinson, who was taking his gun from beside the
tree where he had placed it, "Where are you going?" she said
"I reckon them fellers ought to be warned o' what you heard. I'll
be back in a minit."
"And you're going to leave me now--when--when we've only just met
after these years," she said, with a faint attempt at a smile,
which, however, did not reach the cold glitter of her eyes.
"Just for a little, honey. Besides, don't you see, I've got to get
excused; for we'll have to go off to Skinner's or somewhere, Sadie,
for we can't stay in thar along o' them."
"So you and your wife are turned out of your home to please
Chivers," she said, still smiling.
"That's whar you slip up, Sadie," said Collinson, with a troubled
face; "for he's that kind of a man thet if I jest as much as hinted
you was here, he'd turn 'em all out o' the house for a lady.
Thet's why I don't propose to let on anything about you till to-
"To-morrow will do," she said, still smiling, but with a singular
abstraction in her face. "Pray don't disturb them now. You say
there is another sentinel beyond. He is enough to warn them of any
approach from the trail. I'm tired and ill--very ill! Sit by me
here, Seth, and wait! We can wait here together--we have waited so
long, Seth,--and the end has come now."
She suddenly lapsed against the tree, and slipped in a sitting
posture to the ground. Collinson cast himself at her side, and put
his arm round her.
"Wot's gone o' ye, Sade? You're cold and sick. Listen. Your hoss
is just over thar feedin'. I'll put you back on him, run in and
tell 'em I'm off, and be with ye in a jiffy, and take ye back to
"Wait," she said softly. "Wait."
"Or to the Silver Hollow--it's not so far."
She had caught his hands again, her rigid face close to his, "What
hollow?--speak!" she said breathlessly.
"The hollow whar a friend o' mine struck silver. He'll take yur
Her head sank against his shoulder. "Let me stay here," she
answered, "and wait."
He supported her tenderly, feeling the gentle brushing of her hair
against his cheek as in the old days. He was content to wait,
holding her thus. They were very silent; her eyes half closed, as
if in exhaustion, yet with the strange suggestion of listening in
the vacant pupils.
"Ye ain't hearin' anythin', deary?" he said, with a troubled face.
"No; but everything is so deathly still," she said in a frightened
It certainly was very still. A singular hush seemed to have slid
over the landscape; there was no longer any sound from the mill;
there was an ominous rest in the woodland, so perfect that the tiny
rustle of an uneasy wing in the tree above them had made them
start; even the moonlight seemed to hang suspended in the air.
"It's like the lull before the storm," she said with her strange
But the non-imaginative Collinson was more practical. "It's mighty
like that earthquake weather before the big shake thet dried up the
river and stopped the mill. That was just the time I got the news
o' your bein' dead with yellow fever. Lord! honey, I allus allowed
to myself thet suthin' was happenin' to ye then."
She did not reply; but he, holding her figure closer to him, felt
it trembling with a nervous expectation. Suddenly she threw him
off, and rose to her feet with a cry. "There!" she screamed
frantically, "they've come! they've come!"
A rabbit had run out into the moonlight before them, a gray fox had
dashed from the thicket into the wood, but nothing else.
"Who's come?" said Collinson, staring at her.
"The sheriff and his posse! They're surrounding them now. Don't
you hear?" she gasped.
There was a strange rattling in the direction of the mill, a dull
rumble, with wild shouts and outcries, and the trampling of feet on
its wooden platform. Collinson staggered to his feet; but at the
same moment he was thrown violently against his wife, and they both
clung helplessly to the tree, with their eyes turned toward the
ledge. There was a dense cloud of dust and haze hanging over it.
She uttered another cry, and ran swiftly towards the rocky grade.
Collinson ran quickly after her, but as she reached the grade he
suddenly shouted, with an awful revelation in his voice, "Come
back! Stop, Sadie, for God's sake!" But it was too late. She had
already disappeared; and as he reached the rock on which Chivers
had leaped, he felt it give way beneath him.
But there was no sound, only a rush of wind from the valley below.
Everything lapsed again into its awful stillness. As the cloud
lifted from where the mill had stood, the moon shone only upon
empty space. There was a singular murmuring and whispering from
the woods beyond that increased in sound, and an hour later the dry
bed of the old mill-stream was filled with a rushing river.
Preble Key returned to his hotel from the convent, it is to be
feared, with very little of that righteous satisfaction which is
supposed to follow the performance of a good deed. He was by no
means certain that what he had done was best for the young girl.
He had only shown himself to her as a worldly monitor of dangers,
of which her innocence was providentially unconscious. In his
feverish haste to avert a scandal, he had no chance to explain his
real feelings; he had, perhaps, even exposed her thwarted impulses
to equally naive but more dangerous expression, which he might not
have the opportunity to check. He tossed wakefully that night upon
his pillow, tormented with alternate visions of her adorable
presence at the hotel, and her bowed, renunciating figure as she
reentered the convent gate. He waited expectantly the next day for
the message she had promised, and which he believed she would find
some way to send. But no message was forthcoming. The day passed,
and he became alarmed. The fear that her escapade had been
discovered again seized him. If she were in close restraint, she
could neither send to him, nor could he convey to her the
solicitude and sympathy that filled his heart. In her childish
frankness she might have confessed the whole truth, and this would
not only shut the doors of the convent against him, under his
former pretext, but compromise her still more if he boldly called.
He waylaid the afternoon procession; she was not among them.
Utterly despairing, the wildest plans for seeing her passed through
his brain,--plans that recalled his hot-headed youth, and a few
moments later made him smile at his extravagance, even while it
half frightened him at the reality of his passion. He reached the
hotel heart-sick and desperate. The porter met him on the steps.
It was with a thrill that sent the blood leaping to his cheeks that
he heard the man say:--
"Sister Seraphina is waiting for you in the sitting-room."
There was no thought of discovery or scandal in Preble Key's mind
now; no doubt or hesitation as to what he would do, as he sprang up
the staircase. He only knew that he had found her again, and was
happy! He burst into the room, but this time remembered to shut
the door behind him. He looked eagerly towards the window where
she had stood the day before, but now she rose quickly from the
sofa in the corner, where she had been seated, and the missal she
had been reading rolled from her lap to the floor. He ran towards
her to pick it up. Her name--the name she had told him to call
her--was passionately trembling on his lips, when she slowly put
her veil aside, and displayed a pale, kindly, middle-aged face,
slightly marked by old scars of smallpox. It was not Alice; it was
the real Sister Seraphina who stood before him.
His first revulsion of bitter disappointment was so quickly
followed by a realization that all had been discovered, and his
sacrifice of yesterday had gone for naught, that he stood before
her, stammering, but without the power to say a word. Luckily for
him, his utter embarrassment seemed to reassure her, and to calm
that timidity which his brusque man-like irruption might well
produce in the inexperienced, contemplative mind of the recluse.
Her voice was very sweet, albeit sad, as she said gently:--
"I am afraid I have taken you by surprise; but there was no time to
arrange for a meeting, and the Lady Superior thought that I, who
knew all the facts, had better see you confidentially. Father
Cipriano gave us your address."
Amazed and wondering, Key bowed her to a seat.
"You will remember," she went on softly, "that the Lady Superior
failed to get any information from you regarding the brother of one
of our dear children, whom he committed to our charge through a--a
companion or acquaintance--a Mrs. Barker. As she was armed with
his authority by letter, we accepted the dear child through her,
permitted her as his representative to have free access to his
sister, and even allowed her, as an unattended woman, to pass the
night at the convent. We were therefore surprised this morning to
receive a letter from him, absolutely forbidding any further
intercourse, correspondence, or association of his sister with this
companion, Mrs. Barker. It was necessary to inform the dear child
of this at once, as she was on the point of writing to this woman;
but we were pained and shocked at her reception of her brother's
wishes. I ought to say, in justice to the dear child, that while
she is usually docile, intelligent, and tractable to discipline,
and a devote in her religious feelings, she is singularly
impulsive. But we were not prepared for the rash and sudden step
she has taken. At noon to-day she escaped from the convent!"
Key, who had been following her with relief, sprang to his feet at
this unexpected culmination.
"Escaped!" he said. "Impossible! I mean," he added, hurriedly
recalling himself, "your rules, your discipline, your attendants
are so perfect."
"The poor impulsive creature has added sacrilege to her madness--a
sacrilege we are willing to believe she did not understand, for she
escaped in a religious habit--my own."
"But this would sufficiently identify her," he said, controlling
himself with an effort.
"Alas, not so! There are many of us who go abroad on our missions
in these garments, and they are made all alike, so as to divert
rather than attract attention to any individuality. We have sent
private messengers in all directions, and sought her everywhere,
but without success. You will understand that we wish to avoid
scandal, which a more public inquiry would create."
"And you come to me," said Key, with a return of his first
suspicion, in spite of his eagerness to cut short the interview and
be free to act,--"to me, almost a stranger?"
"Not a stranger, Mr. Key," returned the religieuse gently, "but to
a well-known man--a man of affairs in the country where this
unhappy child's brother lives--a friend who seems to be sent by
Heaven to find out this brother for us, and speed this news to him.
We come to the old pupil of Father Cipriano, a friend of the Holy
Church; to the kindly gentleman who knows what it is to have dear
relations of his own, and who only yesterday was seeking the
"Enough!" interrupted Key hurriedly, with a slight color. "I will
go at once. I do not know this man, but I will do my best to find
him. And this--this--young girl? You say you have no trace of
her? May she not still be here? I should have some clue by which
to seek her--I mean that I could give to her brother."
"Alas! we fear she is already far away from here. If she went at
once to San Luis, she could have easily taken a train to San
Francisco before we discovered her flight. We believe that it was
the poor child's intent to join her brother, so as to intercede for
her friend--or, perhaps, alas! to seek her."
"And this friend left yesterday morning?" he said quickly, yet
concealing a feeling of relief. "Well, you may depend on me! And
now, as there is no time to be lost, I will make my arrangements to
take the next train." He held out his hand, paused, and said in
almost boyish embarrassment: "Bid me God speed, Sister Seraphina!"
"May the Holy Virgin aid you," she said gently. Yet, as she passed
out of the door, with a grateful smile, a characteristic reaction
came over Key. His romantic belief in the interposition of
Providence was not without a tendency to apply the ordinary rules
of human evidence to such phenomena. Sister Seraphina's
application to him seemed little short of miraculous interference;
but what if it were only a trick to get rid of him, while the girl,
whose escapade had been discovered, was either under restraint in
the convent, or hiding in Santa Luisa? Yet this did not prevent
him from mechanically continuing his arrangements for departure.
When they were completed, and he had barely time to get to the
station at San Luis, he again lingered in vague expectation of some
The appearance of a servant with a telegraphic message at this
moment seemed to be an answer to this instinctive feeling. He tore
it open hastily. But it was only a single line from his foreman at
the mine, which had been repeated to him from the company's office
in San Francisco. It read, "Come at once--important."
Disappointed as it left him, it determined his action; and as the
train steamed out of San Luis, it for a while diverted his
attention from the object of his pursuit. In any event, his
destination would have been Skinner's or the Hollow, as the point
from which to begin his search. He believed with Sister Seraphina
that the young girl would make her direct appeal to her brother;
but even if she sought Mrs. Barker, it would still be at some of
the haunts of the gang. The letter to the Lady Superior had been
postmarked from "Bald Top," which Key knew to be an obscure
settlement less frequented than Skinner's. Even then it was hardly
possible that the chief of the road agents would present himself at
the post-office, and it had probably been left by some less known
of the gang. A vague idea, that was hardly a suspicion, that the
girl might have a secret address of her brother's, without
understanding the reasons for its secrecy, came into his mind. A
still more vague hope, that he might meet her before she found her
brother, upheld him. It would be an accidental meeting on her
part, for he no longer dared to hope that she would seek or trust
him again. And it was with very little of his old sanguine quality
that, travel-worn and weary, he at last alighted at Skinner's. But
his half careless inquiry if any lady passengers had lately arrived
there, to his embarrassment produced a broad smile on the face of
"You're the second man that asked that question, Mr. Key," he said.
"The second man?" ejaculated Key nervously.
"Yes the first was the sheriff of Sierra. He wanted to find a
tall, good-looking woman, about thirty, with black eyes. I hope
that ain't the kind o' girl you're looking arter--is it? for I
reckon she's gin you both the slip."
Key protested with a forced laugh that it was not, yet suddenly
hesitated to describe Alice; for he instantly recognized the
portrait of her friend, the assumed Mrs. Barker. Skinner continued
in lazy confidence:--
"Ye see they say that the sheriff had sorter got the dead wood on
that gang o' road agents, and had hemmed 'em in somewhar betwixt
Bald Top and Collinson's. But that woman was one o' their spies,
and spotted his little game, and managed to give 'em the tip, so
they got clean away. Anyhow, they ain't bin heard from since. But
the big shake has made scoutin' along the ledges rather stiff work
for the sheriff. They say the valley near Long Canyon's chock full
o' rock and slumgullion that's slipped down."
"What do you mean by the big shake?" asked Key in surprise.
"Great Scott! you didn't hear of it? Didn't hear of the 'arthquake
that shook us up all along Galloper's the other night? Well," he
added disgustedly, "that's jist the conceit of them folks in the
bay, that can't allow that ANYTHIN' happens in the mountains!"
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