In the Carquinez Woods
Part 2 out of 3
brought her the day before--a certain discarded gown of Miss
Nellie Wynn, which he had hurriedly begged from her under the
pretext of clothing the wife of a distressed overland emigrant
then on the way to the mines. Although he had satisfied his
conscience with the intention of confessing the pious fraud to
her when Teresa was gone and safe from pursuit, it was not
without a sense of remorse that he witnessed the sacrilegious
transformation. The two women were nearly the same height and
size; and although Teresa's maturer figure accented the outlines
more strongly, it was still becoming enough to increase his
Of this becomingness she was doubtless unaware at the moment that
he surprised her. She was conscious of having "a change," and
this had emboldened her to "do her hair" and otherwise compose
herself. After their greeting she was the first to allude to the
dress, regretting that it was not more of a rough disguise, and
that, as she must now discard the national habit of wearing her
shawl "manta" fashion over her head, she wanted a hat. "But you
must not," she said, "borrow any more dresses for me from your
young woman. Buy them for me at some shop. They left me enough
money for that." Low gently put aside the few pieces of gold she
had drawn from her pocket, and briefly reminded her of the
suspicion such a purchase by him would produce. "That's so," she
said, with a laugh. "Caramba! what a mule I'm becoming! Ah!
wait a moment. I have it! Buy me a common felt hat--a man's
hat--as if for yourself, as a change to that animal," pointing to
the fox-tailed cap he wore summer and winter, "and I'll show you
a trick. I haven't run a theatrical wardrobe for nothing." Nor
had she, for the hat thus procured, a few days later, became, by
the aid of a silk handkerchief and a bluejay's feather, a
fascinating "pork pie."
Whatever cause of annoyance to Low still lingered in Teresa's
dress, it was soon forgotten in a palpable evidence of Teresa's
value as a botanical assistant. It appeared that during the
afternoon she had not only duplicated his specimens, but had
discoverd one or two rare plants as yet unclassified in the flora
of the Carquinez Woods. He was delighted, and in turn, over the
campfire, yielded up some details of his present life and some of
his earlier recollections.
"You don't remember anything of your father?" she asked. "Did he
ever try to seek you out?"
"No! Why should he?" replied the imperturbable Low; "he was not
"No, he was a beast," responded Teresa promptly. "And your
mother--do you remember her?"
"No, I think she died."
"You THINK she died? Don't you know?"
"Then you're another!" said Teresa. Notwithstanding this
frankness, they shook hands for the night: Teresa nestling like a
rabbit in a hollow by the side of the campfire; Low with his feet
towards it, Indian-wise, and his head and shoulders pillowed on
his haversack, only half distinguishable in the darkness beyond.
With such trivial details three uneventful days slipped by.
Their retreat was undisturbed, nor could Low detect, by the least
evidence to his acute perceptive faculties, that any intruding
feet had since crossed the belt of shade. The echoes of passing
events at Indian Spring had recorded the escape of Teresa as
occurring at a remote and purely imaginative distance, and her
probable direction the county of Yolo.
"Can you remember," he one day asked her, "what time it was when
you cut the riata and got away?"
Teresa pressed her hands upon her eyes and temples.
"About three, I reckon."
"And you were here at seven; you could have covered some ground
in four hours?"
"Perhaps--I don't know," she said, her voice taking up its old
quality again. "Don't ask me--I ran all the way."
Her face was quite pale as she removed her hands from her eyes,
and her breath came as quickly as if she had just finished that
race for life.
"Then you think I am safe here?" she added, after a pause.
"Perfectly--until they find you are NOT in Yolo. Then they'll
look here. And THAT'S the time for you to go THERE." Teresa
"It will take them some time to search Yolo--unless," she added,
"you're tired of me here." The charming non sequitur did not,
however, seem to strike the young man. "I've got time yet to
find a few more plants for you," she suggested.
"And give you a few more lessons in cooking."
The conscientious and literal Low was beginning to doubt if she
were really practical. How otherwise could she trifle with such
It must be confessed that that day and the next she did trifle
with it. She gave herself up to a grave and delicious languor
that seemed to flow from shadow and silence and permeate her
entire being. She passed hours in a thoughtful repose of mind
and spirit that seemed to fall like balm from those steadfast
guardians, and distill their gentle ether in her soul; or
breathed into her listening ear immunity from the forgotten past,
and security for the present. If there was no dream of the
future in this calm, even recurrence of placid existence, so much
the better. The simple details of each succeeding day, the
quaint housekeeping, the brief companionship and coming and going
of her young host--himself at best a crystallized personification
of the sedate and hospitable woods--satisfied her feeble
cravings. She no longer regretted the inferior position that her
fears had obliged her to take the first night she came; she began
to look up to this young man--so much younger than herself--
without knowing what it meant; it was not until she found that
this attitude did not detract from his picturesqueness that she
discovered herself seeking for reasons to degrade him from this
A week had elapsed with little change. On two days he had been
absent all day, returning only in time to sup in the hollow tree,
which, thanks to the final removal of the dead bear from its
vicinity, was now considered a safer retreat than the exposed
camp-fire. On the first of these occasions she received him with
some preoccupation, paying but little heed to the scant gossip he
brought from Indian Spring, and retiring early under the plea of
fatigue, that he might seek his own distant camp-fire, which,
thanks to her stronger nerves and regained courage, she no longer
required so near. On the second occasion, he found her writing a
letter more or less blotted with her tears. When it was
finished, she begged him to post it at Indian Spring, where in
two days an answer would be returned, under cover, to him.
"I hope you will be satisfied then," she added.
"Satisfied with what?" queried the young man.
"You'll see," she replied, giving him her cold hand. "Good-night."
"But can't you tell me now?" he remonstrated, retaining her hand.
"Wait two days longer--it isn't much," was all she vouchsafed to
The two days passed. Their former confidence and good fellowship
were fully restored when the morning came on which he was to
bring the answer from the post-office at Indian Spring. He had
talked again of his future, and had recorded his ambition to
procure the appointment of naturalist to a Government Surveying
Expedition. She had even jocularly proposed to dress herself in
man's attire and "enlist" as his assistant.
"But you will be safe with your friends, I hope, by that time,"
"Safe with my friends," she repeated in a lower voice. "Safe
with my friends--yes!" An awkward silence followed; Teresa broke
it gayly: "But your girl, your sweetheart, my benefactor--will
SHE let you go?"
"I haven't told her yet," said Low, gravely, "but I don't see why
she should object."
"Object, indeed!" interrupted Teresa in a high voice and a sudden
and utterly gratuitous indignation; "how should she? I'd like to
see her do it!"
She accompanied him some distance to the intersection of the
trail, where they parted in good spirits. On the dusty plain
without a gale was blowing that rocked the high tree-tops above
her, but, tempered and subdued, entered the low aisles with a
fluttering breath of morning and a sound like the cooing of
doves. Never had the wood before shown so sweet a sense of
security from the turmoil and tempest of the world beyond; never
before had an intrusion from the outer life--even in the shape of
a letter--seemed so wicked a desecration. Tempted by the
solicitation of air and shade, she lingered, with Low's herbarium
slung on her shoulder.
A strange sensation, like a shiver, suddenly passed across her
nerves, and left them in a state of rigid tension. With every
sense morbidly acute, with every faculty strained to its utmost,
the subtle instincts of Low's woodcraft transformed and possessed
her. She knew it now! A new element was in the wood--a strange
being--another life--another man approaching! She did not even
raise her head to look about her, but darted with the precision
and fleetness of an arrow in the direction of her tree. But her
feet were arrested, her limbs paralzyed, her very existence
suspended, by the sound of a voice:--
It was a voice that had rung in her ears for the last two years
in all phases of intensity, passion, tenderness, and anger; a
voice upon whose modulations, rude and unmusical though they
were, her heart and soul had hung in transport or anguish. But
it was a chime that had rung its last peal to her senses as she
entered the Carquinez Woods, and for the last week had been as
dead to her as a voice from the grave. It was the voice of her
The wind was blowing towards the stranger, so that he was nearly
upon her when Teresa first took the alarm. He was a man over six
feet in height, strongly built, with a slight tendency to a
roundness of bulk which suggested reserved rather than impeded
energy. His thick beard and mustache were closely cropped around
a small and handsome mouth that lisped except when he was
excited, but always kept fellowship with his blue eyes in a
perpetual smile of half-cynical good-humor. His dress was
superior to that of the locality; his general expression that of
a man of the world, albeit a world of San Francisco, Sacramento,
and Murderer's Bar. He advanced towards her with a laugh and an
"YOU here!" she gasped, drawing back.
Apparently neither surprised nor mortified at this reception, he
answered frankly, "Yeth. You didn't expect me, I know. But
Doloreth showed me the letter you wrote her, and--well--here I
am, ready to help you, with two men and a thpare horthe waiting
outside the woodth on the blind trail."
"You--YOU--here?" she only repeated.
Curson shrugged his shoulders. "Yeth." Of courth you never
expected to thee me again, and leatht of all HERE. I'll admit
that; I'll thay I wouldn't if I'd been in your plathe. I'll go
further, and thay you didn't want to thee me again--anywhere.
But it all cometh to the thame thing; here I am. I read the
letter you wrote Doloreth. I read how you were hiding here,
under Dunn'th very nothe, with his whole pothe out, cavorting
round and barkin' up the wrong tree. I made up my mind to come
down here with a few nathty friends of mine and cut you out under
Dunn'th nothe, and run you over into Yuba--that'th all."
"How dared she show you my letter--YOU of all men? How dared she
ask YOUR help?" continued Teresa, fiercely.
"But she didn't athk my help," he responded coolly. "D--d if I
don't think she jutht calculated I'd be glad to know you were
being hunted down and thtarving, that I might put Dunn on your
"You lie!" said Teresa, furiously; "she was my friend. A better
friend than those who professed--more," she added, with a
contemptuous drawing away of her skirt as if she feared Curson's
"All right. Thettle that with her when you go back," continued
Curson philosophically. "We can talk of that on the way. The
thing now ith to get up and get out of thethe woods. Come!"
Teresa's only reply was a gesture of scorn.
"I know all that," continued Curson half soothingly, "but they're
"Let them wait. I shall not go."
"What will you do?"
"Stay here--till the wolves eat me."
"Teresa, listen. D--- it all--Teresa--Tita! see here," he said
with sudden energy. "I swear to God it's all right. I'm willing
to let by-gones be by-gones and take a new deal. You shall come
back as if nothing had happened, and take your old place as
before. I don't mind doing the square thing, all round. If
that's what you mean, if that's all that stands in the way, why,
look upon the thing as settled. There, Tita, old girl, come."
Careless or oblivious of her stony silence and starting eyes, he
attempted to take her hand. But she disengaged herself with a
quick movement, drew back, and suddenly crouched like a wild
animal about to spring. Curson folded his arms as she leaped to
her feet; the little dagger she had drawn from her garter flashed
menacingly in the air, but she stopped.
The man before her remained erect, impassive, and silent; the
great trees around and beyond her remained erect, impassive, and
silent; there was no sound in the dim aisles but the quick
panting of her mad passion, no movement in the calm, motionless
shadow but the trembling of her uplifted steel. Her arm bent and
slowly sank, her fingers relaxed, the knife fell from her hand.
"That'th quite enough for a thow," he said, with a return to his
former cynical ease and a perceptible tone of relief in his
voice. "It'th the thame old Theretha. Well, then, if you won't
go with me, go without me; take the led horthe and cut away.
Dick Athley and Petereth will follow you over the county line.
If you want thome money, there it ith." He took a buckskin purse
from his pocket. "If you won't take it from me--he hesitated as
she made no reply--"Athley'th flush and ready to lend you thome."
She had not seemed to hear him, but had stooped in some
embarrassment, picked up the knife and hastily hid it, then with
averted face and nervous fingers was beginning to tear strips of
loose bark from the nearest trunk.
"Well, what do you thay?"
"I don't want any money, and I shall stay here." She hesitated,
looked around her, and then added, with an effort, "I suppose you
meant well. Be it so! Let by-gones be by-gones. You said just
now, 'It's the same old Teresa.' So she is, and seeing she's the
same she's better here than anywhere else."
There was enough bitterness in her tone to call for Curson's
"That be d--d," he responded quickly. "Jutht thay you'll come,
She stopped his half-spoken sentence with a negative gesture.
"You don't understand. I shall stay here."
"But even if they don't theek you here, you can't live here
forever. The friend that you wrote about who wath tho good to
you, you know, can't keep you here alwayth; and are you thure you
can alwayth trutht her?"
"It isn't a woman; it's a man." She stopped short, and colored
to the line of her forehead. "Who said it was a woman?" she
continued fiercely, as if to cover her confusion with a burst of
gratuitous anger. "Is that another of your lies?"
Curson's lips, which for a moment had completely lost their
smile, were now drawn together in a prolonged whistle. He gazed
curiously at her gown, at her hat, at the bow of bright ribbon
that tied her black hair, and said, "Ah!"
"A poor man who has kept my secret," she went on hurriedly--"a
man as friendless and lonely as myself. Yes," disregarding
Curson's cynical smile, "a man who has shared everything--"
"Naturally," suggested Curson.
"And turned himself out of his only shelter to give me a roof and
covering," she continued mechanically, struggling with the new
and horrible fancy that his words awakened.
"And thlept every night at Indian Thpring to save your reputation,"
said Curson. "Of courthe."
Teresa turned very white. Curson was prepared for an outburst of
fury--perhaps even another attack. But the crushed and beaten
woman only gazed at him with frightened and imploring eyes. "For
God's sake, Dick, don't say that!"
The amiable cynic was staggered. His good-humor and a certain
chivalrous instinct he could not repress got the better of him.
He shrugged his shoulders. "What I thay, and what you DO,
Teretha, needn't make us quarrel. I've no claim on you--I know
it. Only--" a vivid sense of the ridiculous, powerful in men of
his stamp, completed her victory--"only don't thay anything about
my coming down here to cut you out from the--the--THE SHERIFF."
He gave utterance to a short but unaffected laugh, made a slight
grimace, and turned to go.
Teresa did not join in his mirth. Awkward as it would have been
if he had taken a severer view of the subject, she was mortified
even amidst her fears and embarrassment at his levity. Just as
she had become convinced that his jealousy had made her over-
conscious, his apparent good-humored indifference gave that over-
consciousness a guilty significance. Yet this was lost in her
sudden alarm as her companion, looking up, uttered an
exclamation, and placed his hand upon his revolver. With a
sinking conviction that the climax had come, Teresa turned her
eyes. From the dim aisles beyond, Low was approaching. The
catastrophe seemed complete.
She had barely time to utter an imploring whisper: "In the name
of God, not a word to him." But a change had already come over
her companion. It was no longer a parley with a foolish woman;
he had to deal with a man like himself. As Low's dark face and
picturesque figure came nearer, Mr. Curson's proposed method of
dealing with him was made audible.
"Ith it a mulatto or a Thircuth, or both?" he asked, with
Low's Indian phlegm was impervious to such assault. He turned to
Teresa, without apparently noticing her companion. "I turned
back," he said quietly, "as soon as I knew there were strangers
here; I thought you might need me." She noticed for the first
time that, in addition to his rifle, he carried a revolver and
hunting knife in his belt.
"Yeth," returned Curson, with an ineffectual attempt to imitate
Low's phlegm; "but ath I didn't happen to be a sthranger to this
lady, perhaps it wathn't nethethary, particularly ath I had two
"Waiting at the edge of the wood with a led horse," interrupted
Low, without addressing him, but apparently continuing his
explanation to Teresa. But she turned to Low with feverish
"That's so--he is an old friend--" she gave a quick, imploring
glance at Curson--"an old friend who came to help me away--he is
very kind," she stammered, turning alternately from the one to
the other; "but I told him there was no hurry--at least to-day--
that you--were--very good--too, and would hide me a little
longer, until your plan--you know YOUR plan," she added, with a
look of beseeching significance to Low--"could be tried." And
then, with a helpless conviction that her excuses, motives, and
emotions were equally and perfectly transparent to both men, she
stopped in a tremble.
"Perhapth it 'th jutht ath well, then, that the gentleman came
thtraight here, and didn't tackle my two friendth when he pathed
them," observed Curson, half sarcastically.
"I have not passed your friends, nor have I been near them," said
Low, looking at him for the first time, with the same
exasperating calm, "or perhaps I should not be HERE or they
THERE. I knew that one man entered the wood a few moments ago,
and that two men and four horses remained outside."
"That's true," said Teresa to Curson excitedly--"that's true. He
knows all. He can see without looking, hear without listening.
He--he--" she stammered, colored, and stopped.
The two men had faced each other. Curson, after his first good-
natured impulse, had retained no wish to regain Teresa, whom he
felt he no longer loved, and yet who, for that very reason
perhaps, had awakened his chivalrous instincts. Low, equally on
his side, was altogether unconscious of any feeling which might
grow into a passion, and prevent him from letting her go with
another if for her own safety. They were both men of a certain
taste and refinement. Yet, in spite of all this, some vague
instinct of the baser male animal remained with them, and they
were moved to a mutually aggressive attitude in the presence of
One word more, and the opening chapter of a sylvan Iliad might
have begun. But this modern Helen saw it coming, and arrested it
with an inspiration of feminine genius. Without being observed,
she disengaged her knife from her bosom and let it fall as if by
accident. It struck the ground with the point of its keen blade,
bounded and rolled between them. The two men started and looked
at each other with a foolish air. Curson laughed.
"I reckon she can take care of herthelf," he said, extending his
hand to Low. "I'm off. But if I'm wanted SHE'LL know where to
find me." Low took the proffered hand, but neither of the two
men looked at Teresa. The reserve of antagonism once broken, a
few words of caution, advice, and encouragement passed between
them, in apparent obliviousness of her presence or her personal
responsibility. As Curson at last nodded a farewell to her, Low
insisted upon accompanying him as far as the horses, and in
another moment she was again alone.
She had saved a quarrel between them at the sacrifice of herself,
for her vanity was still keen enough to feel that this exhibition
of her old weakness had degraded her in their eyes, and, worse,
had lost the respect her late restraint had won from Low. They
had treated her like a child or a crazy woman, perhaps even now
were exchanging criticisms upon her--perhaps pitying her! Yet
she had prevented a quarrel, a fight; possibly the death of
either one or the other of these men who despised her, for none
better knew than she the trivial beginning and desperate end of
these encounters. Would they--would Low ever realize it, and
forgive her? Her small, dark hands went up to her eyes and she
sank upon the ground. She looked through tear-veiled lashes upon
the mute and giant witnesses of her deceit and passion, and tried
to draw, from their immovable calm, strength and consolation as
before. But even they seemed to stand apart, reserved and forbidding.
When Low returned she hoped to gather from his eyes and manner
what had passed between him and her former lover. But beyond a
mere gentle abstraction at times he retained his usual calm. She
was at last forced to allude to it herself with simulated
"I suppose I didn't get a very good character from my last
place?" she said, with a laugh.
"I don't understand you," he replied, in evident sincerity.
She bit her lip and was silent. But as they were returning home,
she said gently, "I hope you were not angry with me for the lie I
told when I spoke of 'your plan.' I could not give the real
reason for not returning with--with--that man. But it's not all
a lie. I have a plan--if you haven't. When you are ready to go
to Sacramento to take your place, dress me as an Indian boy,
paint my face, and let me go with you. You can leave me--there--
"It's not a bad idea," he responded gravely. "We will see."
On the next day, and the next, the rencontre seemed to be
forgotten. The herbarium was already filled with rare specimens.
Teresa had even overcome her feminine repugnance to "bugs" and
creeping things so far as to assist in his entomological
collection. He had drawn from a sacred cache in the hollow of a
tree the few worn text-books from which he had studied.
"They seem very precious," she said, with a smile.
"Very," he replied gravely. "There was one with plates that the
ants ate up, and it will be six months before I can afford to buy
Teresa glanced hurriedly over his well-worn buckskin suit, at his
calico shirt with its pattern almost obliterated by countless
washings, and became thoughtful.
"I suppose you couldn't buy one at Indian Spring?" she said
For once Low was startled out of his phlegm. "Indian Spring!" he
ejaculated; "perhaps not even in San Francisco. These came from
"How did you get them?" persisted Teresa.
"I bought them for skins I got over the ridge."
"I didn't mean that--but no matter. Then you mean to sell that
bearskin, don't you?" she added.
Low had, in fact, already sold it, the proceeds having been
invested in a gold ring for Miss Nellie, which she scrupulously
did not wear except in his presence. In his singular
truthfulness he would have frankly confessed it to Teresa, but
the secret was not his own. He contented himself with saying
that he had disposed of it at Indian Spring.
Teresa started, and communicated unconsciously some of her
nervousness to her companion. They gazed in each other's eyes
with a troubled expression.
"Do you think it was wise to sell that particular skin, which
might be identified?" she asked timidly.
Low knitted his arched brows, but felt a strange sense of relief.
"Perhaps not," he said carelessly; "but it's too late now to mend
That afternoon she wrote several letters, and tore them up. One,
however, she retained, and handed it to Low to post at Indian
Spring, whither he was going. She called his attention to the
superscription, being the same as the previous letter, and added,
with affected gayety, "But if the answer isn't as prompt, perhaps
it will be pleasanter than the last." Her quick feminine eye
noticed a little excitement in his manner and a more studious
attention to his dress. Only a few days before she would not
have allowed this to pass without some mischievous allusion to
his mysterious sweetheart; it troubled her greatly now to find
that she could not bring herself to this household pleasantry,
and that her lip trembled and her eye grew moist as he parted
The afternoon passed slowly; he had said he might not return to
supper until late, nevertheless a strange restlessness took
possession of her as the day wore on. She put aside her work,
the darning of his stockings, and rambled aimlessly through the
woods. She had wandered she knew not how far, when she was
suddenly seized with the same vague sense of a foreign presence
which she had felt before. Could it be Curson again, with a word
of warning? No! she knew it was not he; so subtle had her sense
become that she even fancied that she detected in the invisible
aura projected by the unknown no significance or relation to
herself or Low, and felt no fear. Nevertheless she deemed it
wisest to seek the protection of her sylvan bower, and hurried
But not so quickly nor directly that she did not once or twice
pause in her flight to examine the new-comer from behind a
friendly trunk. He was a stranger--a young fellow with a brown
mustache, wearing heavy Mexican spurs in his riding-boots, whose
tinkling he apparently did not care to conceal. He had perceived
her, and was evidently pursuing her, but so awkwardly and timidly
that she eluded him with ease. When she had reached the security
of the hollow tree and pulled the curtain of bark before the
narrow opening, with her eye to the interstices, she waited his
coming. He arrived breathlessly in the open space before the
tree where the bear once lay; the dazed, bewildered, and half-
awed expression of his face, as he glanced around him and through
the openings of the forest aisles, brought a faint smile to her
saddened face. At last he called in a half-embarrassed voice:--
The smile faded from Teresa's cheek. Who was "Miss Nellie?" She
pressed her ear to the opening. "Miss Wynn!" the voice again
called, but was lost in the echoless woods. Devoured with a new
gratuitous curiosity, in another moment Teresa felt she would
have disclosed herself at any risk, but the stranger rose and
began to retrace his steps. Long after his tinkling spurs were
lost in the distance, Teresa remained like a statue, staring at
the place where he had stood. Then she suddenly turned like a
mad woman, glanced down at the gown she was wearing, tore it from
her back as if it had been a polluted garment, and stamped upon
it in a convulsion of rage. And then, with her beautiful bare
arms clasped together over her head, she threw herself upon her
couch in a tempest of tears.
When Miss Nellie reached the first mining extension of Indian
Spring, which surrounded it like a fosse, she descended for one
instant into one of its trenches, opened her parasol, removed her
duster, hid it under a bowlder, and with a few shivers and cat-
like strokes of her soft hands not only obliterated all material
traces of the stolen cream of Carquinez Woods, but assumed a
feline demureness quite inconsistent with any moral dereliction.
Unfortunately, she forgot to remove at the same time a certain
ring from her third finger, which she had put on with her duster
and had worn at no other time. With this slight exception, the
benignant fate which always protected that young person brought
her in contact with the Burnham girls at one end of the main
street as the returning coach to Excelsior entered the other, and
enabled her to take leave of them before the coach office with a
certain ostentation of parting which struck Mr. Jack Brace, who
was lingering at the doorway, into a state of utter bewilderment.
Here was Miss Nellie Wynn, the belle of Excelsior, calm, quiet,
self-possessed, her chaste cambric skirts and dainty shoes as
fresh as when she had left her father's house; but where was the
woman of the brown duster, and where the yellow-dressed
apparition of the woods? He was feebly repeating to himself his
mental adjuration of a few hours before when he caught her eye,
and was taken with a blush and a fit of coughing. Could he have
been such an egregious fool, and was it not plainly written on
his embarrassed face for her to read?
"Are we going down together?" asked Miss Nellie with an
exceptionally gracious smile.
There was neither affectation nor coquetry in this advance. The
girl had no idea of Brace's suspicion of her, nor did any uneasy
desire to placate or deceive a possible rival of Low's prompt her
graciousness. She simply wished to shake off in this encounter
the already stale excitement of the past two hours, as she had
shaken the dust of the woods from her clothes. It was
characteristic of her irresponsible nature and transient
susceptibilities that she actually enjoyed the relief of change;
more than that, I fear, she looked upon this infidelity to a past
dubious pleasure as a moral principle. A mild, open flirtation
with a recognized man like Brace, after her secret passionate
tryst with a nameless nomad like Low, was an ethical equipoise
that seemed proper to one of her religious education.
Brace was only too happy to profit by Miss Nellie's condescension;
he at once secured the seat by her side, and spent the four hours
and a half of their return journey to Excelsior in blissful but
timid communion with her. If he did not dare to confess his past
suspicions, he was equally afraid to venture upon the boldness he
had premeditated a few hours before. He was therefore obliged to
take a middle course of slightly egotistical narration of his own
personal adventures, with which he beguiled the young girl's ear.
This he only departed from once, to describe to her a valuable
grizzly bearskin which he had seen that day for sale at Indian
Spring, with a view to divining her possible acceptance of it
for a "buggy robe;" and once to comment upon a ring which she
had inadvertently disclosed in pulling off her glove.
"It's only an old family keepsake," she added, with easy
mendacity; and affecting to recognize in Mr. Brace's curiosity a
not unnatural excuse for toying with her charming fingers, she
hid them in chaste and virginal seclusion in her lap, until she
could recover the ring and resume her glove.
A week passed--a week of peculiar and desiccating heat for even
those dry Sierra table-lands. The long days were filled with
impalpable dust and acrid haze suspended in the motionless air;
the nights were breathless and dewless; the cold wind which
usually swept down from the snow line was laid to sleep over a
dark monotonous level, whose horizon was pricked with the eating
fires of burning forest crests. The lagging coach of Indian
Spring drove up at Excelsior, and precipitated its passengers
with an accompanying cloud of dust before the Excelsior Hotel.
As they emerged from the coach, Mr. Brace, standing in the
doorway, closely scanned their begrimed and almost unrecognizable
faces. They were the usual type of travelers: a single
professional man in dusty black, a few traders in tweeds and
flannels, a sprinkling of miners in red and gray shirts, a
Chinaman, a negro, and a Mexican packer or muleteer. This latter
for a moment mingled with the crowd in the bar-room, and even
penetrated the corridor and dining-room of the hotel, as if
impelled by a certain semi-civilized curiosity, and then strolled
with a lazy, dragging step--half impeded by the enormous leather
leggings, chains, and spurs, peculiar to his class--down the main
street. The darkness was gathering, but the muleteer indulged in
the same childish scrutiny of the dimly lighted shops, magazines,
and saloons, and even of the occasional groups of citizens at the
street corners. Apparently young, as far as the outlines of his
figure could be seen, he seemed to show even more than the usual
concern of masculine Excelsior in the charms of womankind. The
few female figures about at that hour, or visible at window or
veranda, received his marked attention; he respectfully followed
the two auburn-haired daughters of Deacon Johnson on their way to
choir meeting to the door of the church. Not content with that
act of discreet gallantry, after they had entered he managed to
slip unperceived behind them.
The memorial of the Excelsior gamblers' generosity was a modern
building, large and pretentious, for even Mr. Wynn's popularity,
and had been good-humoredly known, in the characteristic language
of the generous donors, as one of the "biggest religious bluffs"
on record. Its groined rafters, which were so new and spicy that
they still suggested their native forest aisles, seldom covered
more than a hundred devotees, and in the rambling choir, with its
bare space for the future organ, the few choristers, gathered
round a small harmonium, were lost in the deepening shadow of
that summer evening. The muleteer remained hidden in the
obscurity of the vestibule. After a few moments' desultory
conversation, in which it appeared that the unexpected absence of
Miss Nellie Wynn, their leader, would prevent their practicing,
the choristers withdrew. The stranger, who had listened eagerly,
drew back in the darkness as they passed out, and remained for a
few moments a vague and motionless figure in the silent church.
Then coming cautiously to the window, the flapping broad-brimmed
hat was put aside, and the faint light of the dying day shone in
the black eyes of Teresa! Despite her face, darkened with dye
and disfigured with dust, the matted hair piled and twisted
around her head, the strange dress and boyish figure, one swift
glance from under her raised lashes betrayed her identity.
She turned aside mechanically into the first pew, picked up and
opened a hymn-book. Her eyes became riveted on a name written on
the title-page, "Nellie Wynn." HER name, and HER book. The
instinct that had guided her here was right; the slight gossip of
her fellow-passengers was right; this was the clergyman's
daughter, whose praise filled all mouths. This was the unknown
girl the stranger was seeking, but who in turn perhaps had been
seeking Low--the girl who absorbed his fancy--the secret of his
absences, his preoccupation, his coldness! This was the girl
whom to see, perhaps in his arms, she was now periling her
liberty and her life unknown to him! A slight odor, some faint
perfume of its owner, came from the book; it was the same she had
noticed in the dress Low had given her. She flung the volume to
the ground, and, throwing her arms over the back of the pew
before her, buried her face in her hands.
In that light and attitude she might have seemed some rapt
acolyte abandoned to self-communion. But whatever yearning her
soul might have had for higher sympathy or deeper consolation, I
fear that the spiritual Tabernacle of Excelsior and the Reverend
Mr. Wynn did not meet that requirement. She only felt the dry,
oven-like heat of that vast shell, empty of sentiment and beauty,
hollow in its pretense and dreary in its desolation. She only
saw in it a chief altar for the glorification of this girl who
had absorbed even the pure worship of her companion, and
converted and degraded his sublime paganism to her petty creed.
With a woman's withering contempt for her own art displayed in
another woman, she thought how she herself could have touched him
with the peace that the majesty of their woodland aisles--so
unlike this pillared sham--had taught her own passionate heart,
had she but dared. Mingling with this imperfect theology, she
felt she could have proved to him also that a brunette and a
woman of her experience was better than an immature blonde. She
began to loathe herself for coming hither, and dreaded to meet
his face. Here a sudden thought struck her. What if he had not
come here? What if she had been mistaken? What if her rash
interpretation of his absence from the wood that night was simple
madness? What if he should return--if he had already returned?
She rose to her feet, whitening yet joyful with the thought. She
could return at once; what was the girl to her now? Yet there
was time to satisfy herself if he were at HER house. She had
been told where it was; she could find it in the dark; an open
door or window would betray some sign or sound of the occupants.
She rose, replaced her hat over her eyes, knotted her flaunting
scarf around her throat, groped her way to the door, and glided
into the outer darkness.
It was quite dark when Mr. Jack Brace stopped before Father
Wynn's open door. The windows were also invitingly open to the
wayfarer, as were the pastoral counsels of Father Wynn, delivered
to some favored guest within, in a tone of voice loud enough for
a pulpit. Jack Brace paused. The visitor was the convalescent
sheriff, Jim Dunn, who had publicly commemorated his recovery by
making his first call upon the father of his inamorata. The
Reverend Mr. Wynn had been expatiating upon the unremitting heat
of a possible precursor of forest fires, and exhibiting some
catholic knowledge of the designs of a Deity in that regard, and
what should be the policy of the Legislature, when Mr. Brace
concluded to enter. Mr. Wynn and the wounded man, who occupied
an arm-chair by the window, were the only occupants of the room.
But in spite of the former's ostentatious greeting, Brace could
see that his visit was inopportune and unwelcome. The sheriff
nodded a quick, impatient recognition, which, had it not been
accompanied by an anathema on the heat, might have been taken as
a personal insult. Neither spoke of Miss Nellie, although it was
patent to Brace that they were momentarily expecting her. All of
which went far to strengthen a certain wavering purpose in his
"Ah, ha! strong language, Mr. Dunn," said Father Wynn, referring
to the sheriff's adjuration, "but 'out of the fullness of the
heart the mouth speaketh.' Job, sir, cursed, we are told, and
even expressed himself in vigorous Hebrew regarding his birthday.
Ha, ha! I'm not opposed to that. When I have often wrestled
with the spirit I confess I have sometimes said, 'D--n you.'
Yes, sir, 'D--n you.'"
There was something so unutterably vile in the reverend
gentleman's utterance and emphasis of this oath that the two men,
albeit both easy and facile blasphemers, felt shocked; as the
purest of actresses is apt to overdo the rakishness of a gay
Lothario, Father Wynn's immaculate conception of an imprecation
was something terrible. But he added, "The law ought to
interfere with the reckless use of camp-fires in the woods in
such weather by packers and prospectors."
"It isn't so much the work of white men," broke in Brace, "as it
is of Greasers, Chinamen, and Diggers, especially Diggers.
There's that blasted Low, ranges the whole Carquinez Woods as if
they were his. I reckon he ain't particular just where he throws
"But he's not a Digger; he's a Cherokee, and only a half-breed at
that," interpolated Wynn. "Unless," he added, with the artful
suggestion of the betrayed trust of a too credulous Christian,
"he deceived me in this as in other things."
In what other things Low had deceived him he did not say; but, to
the astonishment of both men, Dunn growled a dissent to Brace's
proposition. Either from some secret irritation with that
possible rival, or impatience at the prolonged absence of Nellie,
he had "had enough of that sort of hog-wash ladled out to him for
genuine liquor." As to the Carquinez Woods, he [Dunn] "didn't
know why Low hadn't as much right there as if he'd grabbed it
under a preemption law and didn't live there." With this hint at
certain speculations of Father Wynn in public lands for a
homestead, he added that "If they [Brace and Wynn] could bring
him along any older American settler than an Indian, they might
rake down his [Dunn's] pile." Unprepared for this turn in the
conversation, Wynn hastened to explain that he did not refer to
the pure aborigine, whose gradual extinction no one regretted
more than himself, but to the mongrel, who inherited only the
vices of civilization. "There should be a law, sir, against the
mingling of races. There are men, sir, who violate the laws of
the Most High by living with Indian women--squaw men, sir, as
they are called."
Dunn rose with a face livid with weakness and passion. "Who
dares say that? They are a d--d sight better than sneaking
Northern Abolitionists, who married their daughters to buck
niggers like--" But a spasm of pain withheld this Parthian shot
at the politics of his two companions, and he sank back
helplessly in his chair.
An awkward silence ensued. The three men looked at each other in
embarrassment and confusion. Dunn felt that he had given way to
a gratuitous passion; Wynn had a vague presentiment that he had
said something that imperiled his daughter's prospects; and Brace
was divided between an angry retort and the secret purpose
already alluded to.
"It's all the blasted heat," said Dunn, with a forced smile,
pushing away the whisky which Wynn had ostentatiously placed
"Of course," said Wynn hastily; "only it's a pity Nellie ain't
here to give you her smelling-salts. She ought to be back now,"
he added, no longer mindful of Brace's presence; "the coach is
over-due now, though I reckon the heat made Yuba Bill take it
easy at the up grade."
"If you mean the coach from Indian Spring," said Brace quietly,
"it's in already; but Miss Nellie didn't come on it."
"May be she got out at the Crossing," said Wynn cheerfully; "she
"She didn't take the coach at Indian Spring," returned Brace,
"because I saw it leave, and passed it on Buckskin ten minutes
ago, coming up the hills."
"She's stopped over at Burnham's," said Wynn reflectively. Then,
in response to the significant silence of his guests, he added,
in a tone of chagrin which his forced heartiness could not
disguise, "Well, boys, it's a disappointment all round; but we
must take the lesson as it comes. I'll go over to the coach
office and see if she's sent any word. Make yourselves at home
until I return."
When the door had closed behind him, Brace arose and took his hat
as if to go. With his hand on the lock, he turned to his rival,
who, half hidden in the gathering darkness, still seemed unable
to comprehend his ill-luck.
"If you're waiting for that bald-headed fraud to come back with
the truth about his daughter," said Brace coolly, "you'd better
send for your things and take up your lodgings here."
"What do you mean?" said Dunn sternly.
"I mean that she's not at the Burnhams'; I mean that he either
does or does not know WHERE she is, and that in either case he is
not likely to give you information. But I can."
"Then, where is she?"
"In the Carquinez Woods, in the arms of the man you were just
defending--Low, the half-breed."
The room had become so dark that from the road nothing could be
distinguished. Only the momentary sound of struggling feet was
"Sit down," said Brace's voice, "and don't be a fool. You're too
weak, and it ain't a fair fight. Let go your hold. I'm not
lying--I wish to God I was!"
There was silence, and Brace resumed, "We've been rivals, I know.
May be I thought my chance as good as yours. If what I say ain't
truth, we'll stand as we stood before; and if you're on the
shoot, I'm your man when you like, where you like, or on sight if
you choose. But I can't bear to see another man played upon as
I've been played upon--given dead away as I've been. It ain't on
"There," he continued, after a pause, "that's right, now steady.
Listen. A week ago that girl went down just like this to Indian
Spring. It was given out, like this, that she went to the
Burnhams'. I don't mind saying, Dunn, that I went down myself,
all on the square, thinking I might get a show to talk to her,
just as YOU might have done, you know, if you had my chance. I
didn't come across her anywhere. But two men that I met thought
they recognized her in a disguise going into the woods. Not
suspecting anything, I went after her; saw her at a distance in
the middle of the woods in another dress that I can swear to, and
was just coming up to her when she vanished--went like a squirrel
up a tree, or down like a gopher in the ground, but vanished."
"Is that all?" said Dunn's voice. "And just because you were a
d--d fool, or had taken a little too much whisky, you thought--"
"Steady. That's just what I said to myself," interrupted Brace
coolly, "particularly when I saw her that same afternoon in
another dress, saying 'Good-by' to the Burnhams, as fresh as a
rose and as cold as those snow-peaks. Only one thing--she had a
ring on her finger she never wore before, and didn't expect me to
"What if she did? She might have bought it. I reckon she hasn't
to consult you," broke in Dunn's voice sternly.
"She didn't buy it," continued Brace quietly. "Low gave that Jew
trader a bearskin in exchange for it, and presented it to her. I
found that out two days afterwards. I found out that out of the
whole afternoon she spent less than an hour with the Burnhams. I
found out that she bought a duster like the disguise the two men
saw her in. I found the yellow dress she wore that day hanging
up in Low's cabin--the place where I saw her go--THE RENDEZVOUS
WHERE SHE MEETS HIM. Oh, you're listenin', are you? Stop! SIT
"I discovered it by accident," continued the voice of Brace when
all was again quiet; "it was hidden as only a squirrel or an
Injin can hide when they improve upon nature. When I was
satisfied that the girl had been in the woods, I was determined
to find out where she vanished, and went there again.
Prospecting around, I picked up at the foot of one of the biggest
trees this yer old memorandum-book, with grasses and herbs stuck
in it. I remembered that I'd heard old Wynn say that Low, like
the d--d Digger that he was, collected these herbs; only he
pretended it was for science. I reckoned the book was his and
that he mightn't be far away. I lay low and waited. Bimeby I
saw a lizard running down the root. When he got sight of me he
"D--n the lizard! What's that got to do with where she is now?"
"Everything. That lizard had a piece of sugar in his mouth.
Where did it come from? I made him drop it, and calculated he'd
go back for more. He did. He scooted up that tree and slipped
in under some hanging strips of bark. I shoved 'em aside, and
found an opening to the hollow where they do their housekeeping."
"But you didn't see her there--and how do you know she is there
"I determined to make it sure. When she left to-day, I started
an hour ahead of her, and hid myself at the edge of the woods.
An hour after the coach arrived at Indian Spring, she came there
in a brown duster and was joined by him. I'd have followed them,
but the d--d hound has the ears of a squirrel, and though I was
five hundred yards from him he was on his guard."
"Guard be blessed! Wasn't you armed? Why didn't you go for
him?" said Dunn, furiously.
"I reckoned I'd leave that for you," said Brace coolly. "If he'd
killed me, and if he'd even covered me with his rifle, he'd been
sure to let daylight through me at double the distance. I
shouldn't have been any better off, nor you either. If I'd
killed HIM, it would have been your duty as sheriff to put me in
jail; and I reckon it wouldn't have broken your heart, Jim Dunn,
to have got rid of TWO rivals instead of one. Hullo! Where are
"Going?" said Dunn hoarsely. "Going to the Carquinez Woods, by
God! to kill him before her. I'LL risk it, if you daren't. Let
me succeed, and you can hang ME and take the girl yourself."
"Sit down, sit down. Don't be a fool, Jim Dunn! You wouldn't
keep the saddle a hundred yards. Did I say I wouldn't help you?
No. If you're willing, we'll run the risk together, but it must
be in my way. Hear me. I'll drive you down there in a buggy
before daylight, and we'll surprise them in the cabin or as they
leave the wood. But you must come as if to arrest him for some
offense--say, as an escaped Digger from the Reservation, a
dangerous tramp, a destroyer of public property in the forests, a
suspected road agent, or anything to give you the right to hunt
him. The exposure of him and Nellie, don't you see, must be
accidental. If he resists, kill him on the spot, and nobody'll
blame you; if he goes peaceably with you, and you once get him in
Excelsior jail, when the story gets out that he's taken the belle
of Excelsior for his squaw, if you'd the angels for your posse
you couldn't keep the boys from hanging him to the first tree.
He walked to the window, and looked out cautiously.
"If it was the old man coming back and listening," he said, after
a pause, "it can't he helped. He'll hear it soon enough, if he
don't suspect something already."
"Look yer, Brace," broke in Dunn hoarsely. "D--d if I understand
you or you me. That dog Low has got to answer to ME, not to the
LAW! I'll take my risk of killing him, on sight and on the
square. I don't reckon to handicap myself with a warrant, and I
am not going to draw him out with a lie. You hear me? That's me
all the time!"
"Then you calkilate to go down thar," said Brace contemptuously,
"yell out for him and Nellie, and let him line you on a rest from
the first tree as if you were a grizzly."
There was a pause. "What's that you were saying just now about a
bearskin he sold?" asked Dunn slowly, as if reflecting.
"He exchanged a bearskin," replied Brace, "with a single hole
right over the heart. He's a dead shot, I tell you."
"D--n his shooting," said Dunn. "I'm not thinking of that. How
long ago did he bring in that bearskin?"
"About two weeks, I reckon. Why?"
"Nothing! Look yer, Brace, you mean well--thar's my hand. I'll
go down with you there, but not as the sheriff. I'm going there
as Jim Dunn, and you can come along as a white man, to see things
fixed on the square. Come!"
Brace hesitated. "You'll think better of my plan before you get
there; but I've said I'd stand by you, and I will. Come, then.
There's no time to lose."
They passed out into the darkness together.
"What are you waiting for?" said Dunn impatiently, as Brace, who
was supporting him by the arm, suddenly halted at the corner of
"Some one was listening--did you not see him? Was it the old
man?" asked Brace hurriedly.
"Blast the old man! It was only one of them Mexican packers
chock-full of whisky, and trying to hold up the house. What are
you thinking of? We shall be late."
In spite of his weakness, the wounded man hurriedly urged Brace
forward, until they reached the latter's lodgings . To his
surprise, the horse and buggy were already before the door.
"Then you reckoned to go, any way?" said Dunn, with a searching
look at his companion.
"I calkilated SOMEBODY would go," returned Brace, evasively,
patting the impatient Buckskin; "but come in and take a drink
before we leave."
Dunn started out of a momentary abstraction, put his hand on his
hip, and mechanically entered the house. They had scarcely
raised the glasses to their lips when a sudden rattle of wheels
was heard in the street. Brace set down his glass and ran to the
"It's the mare bolted," he said, with an oath. "We've kept her
too long standing. Follow me," and he dashed down the staircase
into the street. Dunn followed with difficulty; when he reached
the door he was already confronted by his breathless companion.
"She's gone off on a run, and I'll swear there was a man in the
buggy!" He stopped and examined the halter-strap, still fastened
to the fence. "Cut! by God!"
Dunn turned pale with passion. "Who's got another horse and
buggy?" he demanded.
"The new blacksmith in Main Street; but we won't get it by
borrowing," said Brace.
"How then?" asked Dunn savagely.
"Seize it, as the sheriff of Yuba and his deputy, pursuing a
confederate of the Injin Low--THE HORSE THIEF!"
The brief hour of darkness that preceded the dawn was that night
intensified by a dense smoke, which, after blotting out horizon
and sky, dropped a thick veil on the high road and the silent
streets of Indian Spring. As the buggy containing Sheriff Dunn
and Brace dashed through the obscurity, Brace suddenly turned to
"Some one ahead!"
The two men bent forward over the dashboard. Above the steady
plunging of their own horse-hoofs they could hear the quicker
irregular beat of other hoofs in the darkness before them.
"It's that horse thief!" said Dunn, in a savage whisper. "Bear
to the right, and hand me the whip."
A dozen cuts of the cruel lash, and their maddened horse,
bounding at each stroke, broke into a wild canter. The frail
vehicle swayed from side to side at each spring of the elastic
shafts. Steadying himself by one hand on the low rail, Dunn drew
his revolver with the other. "Sing out to him to pull up, or
we'll fire. My voice is clean gone," he added, in a husky whisper.
They were so near that they could distinguish the bulk of a
vehicle careering from side to side in the blackness ahead. Dunn
deliberately raised his weapon. "Sing out!" he repeated
impatiently. But Brace, who was still keeping in the shadow,
suddenly grasped his companion's arm.
"Hush! It's NOT Buckskin," he whispered hurriedly.
"Are you sure?"
"DON'T YOU SEE WE'RE GAINING ON HIM?" replied the other
contemptuously. Dunn grasped his companion's hand and pressed it
silently. Even in that supreme moment this horseman's tribute to
the fugitive Buckskin forestalled all baser considerations of
pursuit and capture!
In twenty seconds they were abreast of the stranger, crowding his
horse and buggy nearly into the ditch; Brace keenly watchful,
Dunn suppressed and pale. In half a minute they were leading him
a length; and when their horse again settled down to his steady
work, the stranger was already lost in the circling dust that
followed them. But the victors seemed disappointed. The
obscurity had completely hidden all but the vague outlines of the
"He's not our game, anyway," whispered Dunn. "Drive on."
"But if it was some friend of his," suggested Brace uneasily,
"what would you do?"
"What I SAID I'd do," responded Dunn savagely. "I don't want
five minutes to do it in, either; we'll be half an hour ahead of
that d--d fool, whoever he is. Look here; all you've got to do
is to put me in the trail to that cabin. Stand back of me, out
of gun-shot, alone, if you like, as my deputy, or with any number
you can pick up as my posse. If he gets by me as Nellie's lover,
you may shoot him or take him as a horse thief, if you like."
"Then you won't shoot him on sight?"
"Not till I've had a word with him."
"I've chirped," said the sheriff gravely. "Drive on."
For a few moments only the plunging hoofs and rattling wheels
were heard. A dull, lurid glow began to define the horizon.
They were silent until an abatement of the smoke, the vanishing
of the gloomy horizon line, and a certain impenetrability in the
darkness ahead showed them they were nearing the Carquinez Woods.
But they were surprised on entering them to find the dim aisles
alight with a faint mystic Aurora. The tops of the towering
spires above them had caught the gleam of the distant forest
fires, and reflected it as from a gilded dome.
"It would be hot work if the Carquinez Woods should conclude to
take a hand in this yer little game that's going on over on the
Divide yonder," said Brace, securing his horse and glancing at
the spires overhead. "I reckon I'd rather take a back seat at
Injin Spring when the show commences."
Dunn did not reply, but, buttoning his coat, placed one hand on
his companion's shoulder, and sullenly bade him "lead the way."
Advancing slowly and with difficulty the desperate man might have
been taken for a peaceful invalid returning from an early morning
stroll. His right hand was buried thoughtfully in the side
pocket of his coat. Only Brace knew that it rested on the handle
of his pistol.
From time to time the latter stopped and consulted the faint
trail with a minuteness that showed recent careful study.
Suddenly he paused. "I made a blaze hereabouts to show where to
leave the trail. There it is," he added, pointing to a slight
notch cut in the trunk of an adjoining tree.
"But we've just passed one," said Dunn, "if that's what you are
looking after, a hundred yards back."
Brace uttered an oath, and ran back in the direction signified by
his companion. Presently he returned with a smile of triumph.
"They've suspected something. It's a clever trick, but it won't
hold water. That blaze which was done to muddle you was cut with
an axe; this which I made was done with a bowie-knife. It's the
real one. We're not far off now. Come on."
They proceeded cautiously, at right angles with the "blazed"
tree, for ten minutes more. The heat was oppressive; drops of
perspiration rolled from the forehead of the sheriff, and at
times, when he attempted to steady his uncertain limbs, his hands
shrank from the heated, blistering bark he touched with ungloved
"Here we are," said Brace, pausing at last. "Do you see that
biggest tree, with the root stretching out halfway across to the
"No, it's further to the right and abreast of the dead brush,"
interrupted Dunn quickly, with a sudden revelation that this was
the spot where he had found the dead bear in the night Teresa
"That's so," responded Brace, in astonishment.
"And the opening is on the other side, opposite the dead brush,"
"Then you know it?" said Brace suspiciously.
"I reckon!" responded Dunn, grimly. "That's enough! Fall back!"
To the surprise of his companion, he lifted his head erect, and
with a strong, firm step walked directly to the tree. Reaching
it, he planted himself squarely before the opening.
"Halloo!" he said.
There was no reply. A squirrel scampered away close to his feet.
Brace, far in the distance, after an ineffectual attempt to
distinguish his companion through the intervening trunks, took
off his coat, leaned against a tree, and lit a cigar.
"Come out of that cabin!" continued Dunn, in a clear, resonant
voice. "Come out before I drag you out!"
"All right, 'Captain Scott.' Don't shoot, and I'll come down,"
said a voice as clear and as high as his own. The hanging strips
of bark were dashed aside, and a woman leaped lightly to the
Dunn staggered back. "Teresa! by the Eternal!"
It was Teresa! the old Teresa! Teresa, a hundred times more
vicious, reckless, hysterical, extravagant, and outrageous than
before. Teresa, staring with tooth and eye, sunburnt and
embrowned, her hair hanging down her shoulders, and her shawl
drawn tightly around her neck.
"Teresa it is! the same old gal! Here we are again! Return of
the favorite in her original character! For two weeks only!
Houp la! Tshk!" and, catching her yellow skirt with her fingers,
she pirouetted before the astounded man, and ended in a pose.
Recovering himself with an effort, Dunn dashed forward and seized
her by the wrist.
"Answer me, woman! Is that Low's cabin?"
"Who occupies it besides?"
"And who else?"
"Well," drawled Teresa slowly, with an extravagant affectation of
modesty, "nobody else but us, I reckon. Two's company, you know,
and three's none."
"Stop! Will you swear that there isn't a young girl, his--his
sweetheart--concealed there with you?"
The fire in Teresa's eye was genuine as she answered steadily,
"Well, it ain't my style to put up with that sort of thing; at
least, it wasn't over at Yolo, and you know it, Jim Dunn, or I
wouldn't be here."
"Yes, yes," said Dunn hurriedly. "But I'm a d--d fool, or worse,
the fool of a fool. Tell me, Teresa, is this man Low your lover?"
Teresa lowered her eyes as if in maidenly confusion. "Well, if
I'd known that YOU had any feeling of your own about it--if you'd
"Answer me, you devil!"
"And he has been with you here--yesterday--to-night?"
"Enough." He laughed a weak, foolish laugh, and, turning pale,
suddenly lapsed against a tree. He would have fallen, but with a
quick instinct Teresa sprang to his side, and supported him
gently to a root. The action over, they both looked astounded.
"I reckon that wasn't much like either you or me," said Dunn
slowly, "was it? But if you'd let me drop then you'd have
stretched out the biggest fool in the Sierras." He paused, and
looked at her curiously. "What's come over you; blessed if I
seem to know you now."
She was very pale again, and quiet; that was all.
"Teresa! d--n it, look here! When I was laid up yonder in
Excelsior I said I wanted to get well for only two things. One
was to hunt you down, the other to marry Nellie Wynn. When I
came here I thought that last thing could never be. I came here
expecting to find her here with Low, and kill him--perhaps kill
her too. I never once thought of you; not once. You might have
risen up before me--between me and him--and I'd have passed you
by. And now that I find it's all a mistake, and it was you, not
her, I was looking for, why--"
"Why," she interrupted bitterly, "you'll just take me, of course,
to save your time and earn your salary. I'm ready."
"But I'M not, just yet," he said faintly. "Help me up."
She mechanically assisted him to his feet.
"Now stand where you are," he added, "and don't move beyond this
tree till I return."
He straightened himself with an effort, clenched his fists until
the nails were nearly buried in his palms, and strode with a
firm, steady step in the direction he had come. In a few moments
he returned and stood before her.
"I've sent away my deputy--the man who brought me here, the fool
who thought you were Nellie. He knows now he made a mistake.
But who it was he mistook for Nellie he does not know, nor shall
ever know, nor shall any living being know, other than myself.
And when I leave the wood to-day I shall know it no longer. You
are safe here as far as I am concerned, but I cannot screen you
from others prying. Let Low take you away from here as soon as
"Let him take me away? Ah, yes. For what?"
"To save you," said Dunn. "Look here, Teresa! Without knowing
it, you lifted me out of hell just now, and because of the wrong
I might have done her--for HER sake, I spare you and shirk my duty."
"For her sake!" gasped the woman--"for her sake! Oh, yes! Go on."
"Well," said Dunn gloomily, "I reckon perhaps you'd as lieve left
me in hell, for all the love you bear me. And may be you've
grudge enough agin me still to wish I'd found her and him together."
"You think so?" she said, turning her head away.
"There, d--n it! I didn't mean to make you cry. May be you
wouldn't, then. Only tell that fellow to take you out of this,
and not run away the next time he sees a man coming."
"He didn't run," said Teresa, with flashing eyes. "I--I--I sent
him away," she stammered. Then, suddenly turning with fury upon
him, she broke out, "Run! Run from you! Ha, ha! You said just
now I'd a grudge against you. Well, listen, Jim Dunn. I'd only
to bring you in range of that young man's rifle, and you'd have
dropped in your tracks like--"
"Like that bar, the other night," said Dunn, with a short laugh.
"So THAT was your little game?" He checked his laugh suddenly--a
cloud passed over his face. "Look here, Teresa," he said, with
an assumption of carelessness that was as transparent as it was
utterly incompatible with his frank, open selfishness. "What
became of that bar? The skin--eh? That was worth something?"
"Yes," said Teresa quietly. "Low exchanged it and got a ring for
me from that trader Isaacs. It was worth more, you bet. And the
ring didn't fit either--"
"Yes," interrupted Dunn, with an almost childish eagerness.
"And I made him take it back, and get the value in money. I hear
that Isaacs sold it again and made another profit; but that's
like those traders." The disingenuous candor of Teresa's manner
was in exquisite contrast to Dunn. He rose and grasped her hand
so heartily she was forced to turn her eyes away.
"Good-by!" he said.
"You look tired," she murmured, with a sudden gentleness that
surprised him; "let me go with you a part of the way."
"It isn't safe for you just now," he said, thinking of the
possible consequences of the alarm Brace had raised.
"Not the way YOU came," she replied; "but one known only to
He hesitated only a moment. "All right, then," he said finally,
"let us go at once. It's suffocating here, and I seem to feel
this dead bark crinkle under my feet."
She cast a rapid glance around her, and then seemed to sound with
her eyes the far-off depths of the aisles, beginning to grow pale
with the advancing day, but still holding a strange quiver of
heat in the air. When she had finished her half-abstracted
scrutiny of the distance, she cast one backward glance at her own
cabin and stopped.
"Will you wait a moment for me?" she asked gently.
"Yes--but--no tricks, Teresa! It isn't worth the time."
She looked him squarely in the eyes without a word.
"Enough," he said; "go!"
She was absent for some moments. He was beginning to become
uneasy, when she made her appearance again, clad in her old faded
black dress. Her face was very pale, and her eyes were swollen,
but she placed his hand on her shoulder, and bidding him not to
fear to lean upon her, for she was quite strong, led the way.
"You look more like yourself now, and yet--blast it all!--you
don't either," said Dunn, looking down upon her. "You've changed
in some way. What is it? Is it on account of that Injin?
Couldn't you have found a white man in his place?"
"I reckon he's neither worse nor better for that," she replied
bitterly; "and perhaps he wasn't as particular in his taste as a
white man might have been. But," she added, with a sudden spasm
of her old rage, "it's a lie; he's NOT an Indian, no more than I
am. Not unless being born of a mother who scarcely knew him, of
a father who never even saw him, and being brought up among white
men and wild beasts--less cruel than they were--could make him one!"
Dunn looked at her in surprise not unmixed with admiration. "If
Nellie," he thought, "could but love ME like that!" But he only
"For all that, he's an Injin. Why, look at his name. It ain't
Low. It's L'Eau Dormante, Sleeping Water, an Injin name."
"And what does that prove?" returned Teresa. "Only that Indians
clap a nick-name on any stranger, white or red, who may camp with
them. Why, even his own father, a white man, the wretch who
begot him and abandoned him,--HE had an Indian name--Loup Noir."
"What name did you say?"
"Le Loup Noir, the Black Wolf. I suppose you'd call him an
Indian, too? Eh! What's the matter? We're walking too fast.
Stop a moment and rest. There--there, lean on me!"
She was none too soon; for, after holding him upright a moment,
his limbs failed, and stooping gently she was obliged to support
him half reclining against a tree.
"Its the heat!" he said. "Give me some whisky from my flask.
Never mind the water," he added faintly, with a forced laugh,
after he had taken a draught at the strong spirit. "Tell me more
about the other water--the Sleeping Water--you know. How do you
know all this about him and his--father?"
"Partly from him and partly from Curson, who wrote to me about
him," she answered with some hesitation.
But Dunn did not seem to notice this incongruity of correspondence
with a former lover. "And HE told you?"
"Yes; and I saw the name on an old memorandum book he has, which
he says belonged to his father. It's full of old accounts of
some trading post on the frontier. It's been missing for a day
or two, but it will turn up. But I can swear I saw it."
Dunn attempted to rise to his feet. "Put your hand in my
pocket," he said in a hurried whisper. "No, there!--bring out a
book. There, I haven't looked at it yet. Is that it?" he added,
handing her the book Brace had given him a few hours before.
"Yes," said Teresa, in surprise. "Where did you find it?"
"Never mind! Now let me see it, quick. Open it, for my sight is
failing. There--thank you--that's all!"
"Take more whisky," said Teresa, with a strange anxiety creeping
over her. "You are faint again."
"Wait! Listen, Teresa--lower--put your ear lower. Listen! I
came near killing that chap Low to-day. Wouldn't it have been
He tried to smile, but his head fell back. He had fainted.
For the first time in her life Teresa lost her presence of mind
in an emergency. She could only sit staring at the helpless man,
scarcely conscious of his condition, her mind filled with a
sudden prophetic intuition of the significance of his last words.
In the light of that new revelation she looked into his pale,
haggard face for some resemblance to Low, but in vain. Yet her
swift feminine instinct met the objection. "It's the mother's
blood that would show," she murmured, "not this man's."
Recovering herself, she began to chafe his hands and temples, and
moistened his lips with the spirit. When his respiration
returned with a faint color to his cheeks, she pressed his hands
eagerly and leaned over him.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Of what?" he whispered faintly.
"That Low is really your son?"
"Who said so?" he asked, opening his round eyes upon her.
"You did yourself, a moment ago," she said quickly. "Don't you
"You did. Is it not so?"
He smiled faintly. "I reckon."
She held her breath in expectation. But only the ludicrousness
of the discovery seemed paramount to his weakened faculties.
"Isn't it just about the ridiculousest thing all round?" he said,
with a feeble chuckle. "First YOU nearly kill me before you know
I am Low's father; then I'm just spoilin' to kill him before I
know he's my son; then that god-forsaken fool Jack Brace mistakes
you for Nellie and Nellie for you. Ain't it just the biggest
thing for the boys to get hold of? But we must keep it dark
until after I marry Nellie, don't you see? Then we'll have a
good time all round, and I'll stand the drinks. Think of it,
Teresha! You don' no me, I do' no you, nobody knowsh anybody
elsh. I try kill Lo'. Lo' wants kill Nellie. No thath no ri--'"
but the potent liquor, overtaking his exhausted senses,
thickened, impeded, and at last stopped his speech. His head
slipped to her shoulder, and he became once more unconscious.
Teresa breathed again. In that brief moment she had abandoned
herself to a wild inspiration of hope which she could scarcely
define. Not that it was entirely a wild inspiration; she tried
to reason calmly. What if she revealed the truth to him? What
if she told the wretched man before her that she had deceived
him; that she had overheard his conversation with Brace; that she
had stolen Brace's horse to bring Low warning; that, failing to
find Low in his accustomed haunts, or at the campfire, she had
left a note for him pinned to the herbarium, imploring him to fly
with his companion from the danger that was coming; and that,
remaining on watch, she had seen them both--Brace and Dunn--
approaching, and had prepared to meet them at the cabin? Would
this miserable and maddened man understand her self-abnegation?
Would he forgive Low and Nellie?--she did not ask for herself.
Or would the revelation turn his brain, if it did not kill him
outright? She looked at the sunken orbits of his eyes and hectic
on his cheek, and shuddered.
Why was this added to the agony she already suffered? She had
been willing to stand between them with her life, her liberty,
and even--the hot blood dyed her cheek at the thought--with the
added shame of being thought the cast-off mistress of that man's
son. Yet all this she had taken upon herself in expiation of
something--she knew not clearly what; no, for nothing--only for
HIM. And yet this very situation offered her that gleam of hope
which had thrilled her; a hope so wild in its improbability, so
degrading in its possibility, that at first she knew not whether
despair was not preferable to its shame. And yet was it
unreasonable? She was no longer passionate; she would be calm
and think it out fairly.
She would go to Low at once. She would find him somewhere--and
even if with that girl, what mattered?--and she would tell him
all. When he knew that the life and death of his father lay in
the scale, would he let his brief, foolish passion for Nellie
stand in the way? Even if he were not influenced by filial
affection or mere compassion, would his pride let him stoop to a
rivalry with the man who had deserted his youth? Could he take
Dunn's promised bride, who must have coquetted with him to have
brought him to this miserable plight? Was this like the calm,
proud young god she knew? Yet she had an uneasy instinct that
calm, proud young gods and goddesses did things like this, and
felt the weakness of her reasoning flush her own conscious cheek.
She started. Dunn was awake, and was gazing at her curiously.
"I was reckoning it was the only square thing for Low to stop
this promiscuous picnicking here and marry you out and out."
"Marry me!" said Teresa in a voice that, with all her efforts,
she could not make cynical.
"Yes," he repeated, "after I've married Nellie; tote you down to
San Angeles, and there take my name like a man, and give it to
you. Nobody'll ask after TERESA, sure--you bet your life. And
if they do, and he can't stop their jaw, just you call on the old
man. It's mighty queer, ain't it, Teresa, to think of your being
It seemed here as if he was about to lapse again into unconsciousness
over the purely ludicrous aspect of the subject, but he haply
recovered his seriousness. "He'll have as much money from me as he
wants to go into business with. What's his line of business,
Teresa?" asked this prospective father-in-law, in a large, liberal way.
"He is a botanist!" said Teresa, with a sudden childish animation
that seemed to keep up the grim humor of the paternal suggestion;
"and oh, he is too poor to buy books! I sent for one or two for
him myself, the other day--" she hesitated--"it was all the money
I had, but it wasn't enough for him to go on with his studies."
Dunn looked at her sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks, and became
thoughtful. "Curson must have been a d--d fool," he said finally.
Teresa remained silent. She was beginning to be impatient and
uneasy, fearing some mischance that might delay her dreaded, yet
longed-for meeting with Low. Yet she could not leave this sick
and exhausted man, HIS FATHER, now bound to her by more than mere
"Couldn't you manage," she said gently, "to lean on me a few
steps further, until I could bring you to a cooler spot and
He nodded. She lifted him almost like a child to his feet. A
spasm of pain passed over his face. "How far is it?" he asked.
"Not more than ten minutes," she replied.
"I can make a spurt for that time," he said coolly, and began to
walk slowly but steadily on. Only his face, which was white and
set, and the convulsive grip of his hand on her arm betrayed the
effort. At the end of ten minutes she stopped. They stood
before the splintered, lightning-scarred shaft in the opening of
the woods, where Low had built her first camp-fire. She
carefully picked up the herbarium, but her quick eye had already
detected in the distance, before she had allowed Dunn to enter
the opening with her, that her note was gone. Low had been there
before them; he had been warned, as his absence from the cabin
showed; he would not return there. They were free from
interruption--but where had he gone?
The sick man drew a long breath of relief as she seated him in
the clover-grown hollow where she had slept the second night of
her stay. "It's cooler than those cursed woods," he said. "I
suppose it's because it's a little like a grave. What are you
going to do now?" he added, as she brought a cup of water and
placed it at his side.
"I am going to leave you here for a little while," she said
cheerfully, but with a pale face and nervous hands. "I'm going
to leave you while I seek Low."
The sick man raised his head. "I'm good for a spurt, Teresa,
like that I've just got through, but I don't think I'm up to a
family party. Couldn't you issue cards later on?"
"You don't understand," she said. "I'm going to get Low to send
some one of your friends to you here. I don't think he'll
begrudge leaving HER a moment for that," she added to herself
"What's that you're saying?" he queried, with the nervous
quickness of an invalid.
"Nothing--but that I'm going now." She turned her face aside to
hide her moistened eyes. "Wish me good luck, won't you?" she
asked, half sadly, half pettishly.
She came and bent over him. He suddenly raised his hands, and,
drawing her face down to his own, kissed her forehead.
"Give that to HIM," he whispered, "from ME."
She turned and fled, happily for her sentiment, not hearing the
feeble laugh that followed, as Dunn, in sheer imbecility, again
referred to the extravagant ludicrousness of the situation. "It
is about the biggest thing in the way of a sell all round," he
repeated, lying on his back, confidentially to the speck of
smoke-obscured sky above him. He pictured himself repeating it,
not to Nellie--her severe propriety might at last overlook the
fact, but would not tolerate the joke--but to her father! It
would be one of those characteristic Californian jokes Father
Wynn would admire.
To his exhaustion fever presently succeeded, and he began to grow
restless. The heat too seemed to invade his retreat, and from
time to time the little patch of blue sky was totally obscured by
clouds of smoke. He amused himself with watching a lizard who
was investigating a folded piece of paper, whose elasticity gave
the little creature lively apprehensions of its vitality. At
last he could stand the stillness of his retreat and his supine
position no longer, and rolled himself out of the bed of leaves
that Teresa had so carefully prepared for him. He rose to his
feet stiff and sore, and, supporting himself by the nearest tree,
moved a few steps from the dead ashes of the camp-fire. The
movement frightened the lizard, who abandoned the paper and fled.
With a satirical recollection of Brace and his "ridiculous"
discovery through the medium of this animal, he stooped and
picked up the paper. "Like as not," he said to himself, with
grim irony, "these yer lizards are in the discovery business.
P'r'aps this may lead to another mystery," and he began to unfold
the paper with a smile. But the smile ceased as his eye suddenly
caught his own name.
A dozen lines were written in pencil on what seemed to be a blank
leaf originally torn from some book. He trembled so that he was
obliged to sit down to read these words:--
"When you get this keep away from the woods. Dunn and another
man are in deadly pursuit of you and your companion. I overheard
their plan to surprise you in our cabin. DON'T GO THERE, and I
will delay them and put them off the scent. Don't mind me. God
bless you, and if you never see me again think sometimes of
His trembling ceased; he did not start, but rose in an abstracted
way, and made a few deliberate steps in the direction Teresa had
gone. Even then he was so confused that he was obliged to refer
to the paper again, but with so little effect that he could only
repeat the last words, "think sometimes of Teresa." He was
conscious that this was not all; he had a full conviction of
being deceived, and knew that he held the proof in his hand, but
he could not formulate it beyond that sentence. "Teresa"--yes,
he would think of her. She would explain it. And here she was
In that brief interval her face and manner had again changed.
Her face was pale and quite breathless. She cast a swift glance
at Dunn and the paper he mechanically held out, walked up to him,
and tore it from his hand.
"Well," she said hoarsely, "what are you going to do about it?"
He attempted to speak, but his voice failed him. Even then he
was conscious that if he had spoken he would have only repeated,
"think sometimes of Teresa." He looked longingly but helplessly
at the spot where she had thrown the paper, as if it had
contained his unuttered words.
"Yes," she went on to herself, as if he was a mute, indifferent
spectator--"yes, they're gone. That ends it all. The game's
played out. Well!" suddenly turning upon him, "now you know it
all. Your Nellie WAS here with him, and is with him now. Do you
hear? Make the most of it; you've lost them--but here I am."
"Yes," he said eagerly--"yes, Teresa."
She stopped, stared at him; then taking him by the hand led him
like a child back to his couch. "Well," she said, in half-savage
explanation, "I told you the truth when I said the girl wasn't at
the cabin last night, and that I didn't know her. What are you
glowerin' at? No! I haven't lied to you, I swear to God, except
in one thing. Did you know what that was? To save him I took
upon me a shame I don't deserve. I let you think I was his
mistress. You think so now, don't you? Well, before God to-day--
and He may take me when He likes--I'm no more to him than a
sister! I reckon your Nellie can't say as much."
She turned away, and with the quick, impatient stride of some
caged animal made the narrow circuit of the opening, stopping a
moment mechanically before the sick man, and again, without
looking at him, continuing her monotonous round. The heat had
become excessive, but she held her shawl with both hands drawn
tightly over her shoulders. Suddenly a wood-duck darted out of
the covert blindly into the opening, struck against the blasted
trunk, fell half stunned near her feet, and then, recovering,
fluttered away. She had scarcely completed another circuit
before the irruption was followed by a whirring bevy of quail, a
flight of jays, and a sudden tumult of wings swept through the
wood like a tornado. She turned inquiringly to Dunn, who had
risen to his feet, but the next moment she caught convulsively at
his wrist; a wolf had just dashed through the underbrush not a
dozen yards away, and on either side of them they could hear the
scamper and rustle of hurrying feet like the outburst of a summer
shower. A cold wind arose from the opposite direction, as if to
contest this wild exodus, but it was followed by a blast of
sickening heat. Teresa sank at Dunn's feet in an agony of terror.
"Don't let them touch me!" she gasped; "keep them off! Tell me,
for God's sake, what has happened!"
He laid his hand firmly on her arm, and lifted her in his turn to
her feet like a child. In that supreme moment of physical
danger, his strength, reason, and manhood returned in their
plenitude of power. He pointed coolly to the trail she had
quitted, and said,
"The Carquinez Woods are on fire!"
The nest of the tuneful Burnhams, although in the suburbs of
Indian Spring, was not in ordinary weather and seasons hidden
from the longing eyes of the youth of that settlement. That
night, however, it was veiled in the smoke that encompassed the
great highway leading to Excelsior. It is presumed that the
Burnham brood had long since folded their wings, for there was no
sign of life nor movement in the house as a rapidly-driven horse
and buggy pulled up before it. Fortunately, the paternal Burnham
was an early bird, in the habit of picking up the first stirring
mining worm, and a resounding knock brought him half dressed to
the street door. He was startled at seeing Father Wynn before
him, a trifle flushed and abstracted.
"Ah ha! up betimes, I see, and ready. No sluggards here--ha,
ha!" he said heartily, slamming the door behind him, and by a
series of pokes in the ribs genially backing his host into his
own sitting-room. "I'm up, too, and am here to see Nellie.
She's here, eh--of course?" he added, darting a quick look at
But Mr. Burnham was one of those large, liberal Western husbands
who classified his household under the general title of "woman
folk," for the integers of which he was not responsible. He
hesitated, and then propounded over the balusters to the upper
story the direct query--
"You don't happen to have Nellie Wynn up there, do ye?"
There was an interval of inquiry proceeding from half a dozen
reluctant throats, more or less cottony and muffled, in those
various degrees of grievance and mental distress which indicate
too early roused young womanhood. The eventual reply seemed to
be affirmative, albeit accompanied with a suppressed giggle, as
if the young lady had just been discovered as an answer to an
"All right," said Wynn, with an apparent accession of boisterous
geniality. "Tell her I must see her, and I've only got a few
minutes to spare. Tell her to slip on anything and come down;
there's no one here but myself, and I've shut the front door on
Brother Burnham. Ha, ha!" and suiting the action to the word, he
actually bundled the admiring Brother Burnham out on his own
doorstep. There was a light pattering on the staircase, and
Nellie Wynn, pink with sleep, very tall, very slim, hastily
draped in a white counterpane with a blue border and a general
classic suggestion, slipped into the parlor. At the same moment
her father shut the door behind her, placed one hand on the knob,
and with the other seized her wrist.
"Where were you yesterday?" he asked.
Nellie looked at him, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Here."
"You were in the Carquinez Woods with Low Dorman; you went there
in disguise; you've met him there before. He is your clandestine
lover; you have taken pledges of affection from him; you have--"
"Stop!" she said.
"Did he tell you this?" she asked, with an expression of disdain.
"No; I overheard it. Dunn and Brace were at the house waiting
for you. When the coach did not bring you, I went to the office
to inquire. As I left our door I thought I saw somebody
listening at the parlor windows. It was only a drunken Mexican
muleteer leaning against the house; but if HE heard nothing, I
did. Nellie, I heard Brace tell Dunn that he had tracked you in
your disguise to the woods--do you hear? that when you pretended
to be here with the girls you were with Low--alone; that you wear
a ring that Low got of a trader here; that there was a cabin in
"Stop!" she repeated.
Wynn again paused.
"And what did YOU do?" she asked.
"I heard they were starting down there to surprise you and him
together, and I harnessed up and got ahead of them in my buggy."
"And found me here," she said, looking full into his eyes.
He understood her and returned the look. He recognized the full
importance of the culminating fact conveyed in her words, and was
obliged to content himself with its logical and worldly
significance. It was too late now to take her to task for mere
filial disobedience; they must become allies.
"Yes," he said hurriedly; "but if you value your reputation, if
you wish to silence both these men, answer me fully."
"Go on," she said.
"Did you go to the cabin in the woods yesterday?"
"Did you ever go there with Low?"
"No; I do not know even where it is."
Wynn felt that she was telling the truth. Nellie knew it; but as
she would have been equally satisfied with an equally efficacious
falsehood, her face remained unchanged.
"And when did he leave you?"
"At nine o'clock, here. He went to the hotel."
"He saved his life, then, for Dunn is on his way to the woods to
The jeopardy of her lover did not seem to affect the young girl
with alarm, although her eyes betrayed some interest.
"Then Dunn has gone to the woods?" she said thoughtfully.
"He has," replied Wynn.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"I want to know what you are going to do?"
"I WAS going back to bed."
"This is no time for trifling, girl."
"I should think not," she said, with a yawn; "it's too early, or
Wynn grasped her wrist more tightly. "Hear me! Put whatever
face you like on this affair, you are compromised--and compromised
with a man you can't marry."
"I don't know that I ever wanted to marry Low, if you mean him,"
she said quietly.
"And Dunn wouldn't marry you now."
"I'm not so sure of that, either."
"Nellie," said Wynn excitedly, "do you want to drive me mad?
Have you nothing to say--nothing to suggest?"
"Oh, you want me to help you, do you! Why didn't you say that
first? Well, go and bring Dunn here."
"Are you mad? The man has gone already in pursuit of your lover,
believing you with him."
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