On the Frontier
Part 2 out of 3
Mrs. Tucker lifted up her abstracted pretty lids. "I once drove
fifty--at home," she returned simply.
"Good! and I dare say you did it then for fun. Do it now for
something real and personal, as we lawyers say. You will have
relays and a plan of the road. It's rough weather for a pasear,
but all the better for that. You'll have less company on the
"How soon can I go?" she asked.
"The sooner the better. I've arranged everything for you already,"
he continued with a laugh. "Come now, that's a compliment to you,
isn't it?" He smiled a moment in her steadfast, earnest face, and
then said, more gravely, "You'll do. Now listen."
He then carefully detailed his plan. There was so little of
excitement or mystery in their manner that the servant, who
returned to light the gas, never knew that the ruin and bankruptcy
of the house was being told before her, or that its mistress was
planning her secret flight.
"Good afternoon; I will see you to-morrow then," said Poindexter,
raising his eyes to hers as the servant opened the door for him.
"Good afternoon," repeated Mrs. Tucker quietly answering his look.
"You need not light the gas in my room, Mary," she continued in the
same tone of voice as the door closed upon him; "I shall lie down
for a few moments, and then I may run over to the Robinsons for the
She regained her room composedly. The longing desire to bury her
head in her pillow and "think out" her position had gone. She did
not apostrophize her fate, she did not weep; few real women do in
the access of calamity, or when there is anything else to be done.
She felt that she knew it all; she believed she had sounded the
profoundest depths of the disaster, and seemed already so old in
her experience that she almost fancied she had been prepared for
it. Perhaps she did not fully appreciate it; to a life like hers
it was only an incident, the mere turning of a page of the
illimitable book of youth; the breaking up of what she now felt had
become a monotony. In fact, she was not quite sure she had ever
been satisfied with their present success. Had it brought her all
she expected? She wanted to say this to her husband, not only to
comfort him, poor fellow, but that they might come to a better
understanding of life in the future. She was not perhaps different
from other loving women who, believing in this unattainable goal of
matrimony, have sought it in the various episodes of fortune or
reverses, in the bearing of children, or the loss of friends. In
her childless experience there was no other life that had taken
root in her circumstances and might suffer transplantation; only
she and her husband could lose or profit by the change. The
"perfect" understanding would come under other conditions than
She would have gone superstitiously to the window to gaze in the
direction of the vanished ship, but another instinct restrained
her. She would put aside all yearning for him until she had done
something to help him, and earned the confidence he seemed to have
withheld. Perhaps it was pride--perhaps she never really believed
his exodus was distant or complete.
With a full knowledge that to-morrow the various ornaments and
pretty trifles around her would be in the hands of the law, she
gathered only a few necessaries for her flight and some familiar
personal trinkets. I am constrained to say that this self-
abnegation was more fastidious than moral. She had no more idea of
the ethics of bankruptcy than any other charming woman; she simply
did not like to take with her any contagious memory of the chapter
of the life just closing. She glanced around the home she was
leaving without a lingering regret; there was no sentiment of
tradition or custom that might be destroyed; her roots lay too near
the surface to suffer from dislocation; the happiness of her
childless union had depended upon no domestic centre, nor was its
flame sacred to any local hearthstone. It was without a sigh that,
when night had fully fallen, she slipped unnoticed down the
staircase. At the door of the drawing-room she paused and then
entered with the first guilty feeling of shame she had known that
evening. Looking stealthily around she mounted a chair before her
husband's picture, kissed the irreproachable moustache hurriedly,
said, "You foolish darling, you!" and slipped out again. With this
touching indorsement of the views of a rival philosopher, she
closed the door softly and left her home forever.
The wind and rain had cleared the unfrequented suburb of any
observant lounger, and the darkness, lit only by far-spaced, gusty
lamps, hid her hastening figure. She had barely crossed the second
street when she heard the quick clatter of hoofs behind her; a
buggy drove up to the curbstone, and Poindexter leaped out. She
entered quickly, but for a moment he still held the reins of the
impatient horse. "He's rather fresh," he said, eying her keenly;
"are you sure you can manage him?"
"Give me the reins," she said simply.
He placed them in the two firm, well-shaped hands that reached from
the depths of the vehicle, and was satisfied. Yet he lingered.
"It's rough work for a lone woman," he said, almost curtly. "I
can't go with you, but, speak frankly, is there any man you know
whom you can trust well enough to take? It's not too late yet;
think a moment!"
He paused over the buttoning of the leather apron of the vehicle.
"No, there is none," answered the voice from the interior; "and
it's better so. Is all ready?"
"One moment more." He had recovered his half-bantering manner.
"You HAVE a friend and countryman already with you, do you know?
Your horse is Blue Grass. Good night."
With these words ringing in her ears she began her journey. The
horse, as if eager to maintain the reputation which his native
district had given his race, as well as the race of the pretty
woman behind him, leaped impatiently forward. But pulled together
by the fine and firm fingers that seemed to guide rather than check
his exuberance, he presently struck into the long, swinging pace of
his kind, and kept it throughout without "break" or acceleration.
Over the paved streets the light buggy rattled, and the slender
shafts danced around his smooth barrel, but when they touched the
level high-road, horse and vehicle slipped forward through the
night, a swift and noiseless phantom. Mrs. Tucker could see his
graceful back dimly rising and falling before her with tireless
rhythm, and could feel the intelligent pressure of his mouth until
it seemed the responsive grasp of a powerful but kindly hand. The
faint glow of conquest came to her cold cheek; the slight stirrings
of pride moved her preoccupied heart. A soft light filled her
hazel eyes. A desolate woman, bereft of husband and home, and
flying through storm and night, she knew not where, she still
leaned forward towards her horse. "Was he Blue Grass, then, dear
old boy?" she gently cooed at him in the darkness. He evidently
WAS, and responded by blowing her an ostentatious equine kiss.
"And he would be good to his own forsaken Belle," she murmured
caressingly, "and wouldn't let any one harm her?" But here,
overcome by the lazy witchery of her voice, he shook his head so
violently that Mrs. Tucker, after the fashion of her sex, had the
double satisfaction of demurely restraining the passion she had
To avoid the more traveled thoroughfare, while the evening was
still early, it had been arranged that she should at first take a
less direct but less frequented road. This was a famous pleasure-
drive from San Francisco, a graveled and sanded stretch of eight
miles to the sea and an ultimate "cocktail," in a "stately
pleasure-dome decreed" among the surf and rocks of the Pacific
shore. It was deserted now, and left to the unobstructed sweep of
the wind and rain. Mrs. Tucker would not have chosen this road.
With the instinctive jealousy of a bucolic inland race born by
great rivers, she did not like the sea; and again the dim and
dreary waste tended to recall the vision connected with her
husband's flight, upon which she had resolutely shut her eyes. But
when she had reached it the road suddenly turned, following the
trend of the beach, and she was exposed to the full power of its
dread fascinations. The combined roar of sea and shore was in her
ears; as the direct force of the gale had compelled her to furl the
protecting hood of the buggy to keep the light vehicle from
oversetting or drifting to leeward, she could no longer shut out
the heaving chaos on the right from which the pallid ghosts of dead
and dying breakers dimly rose and sank as if in awful salutation.
At times through the darkness a white sheet appeared spread before
the path and beneath the wheels of the buggy, which, when withdrawn
with a reluctant hiss, seemed striving to drag the exhausted beach
seaward with it. But the blind terror of her horse, who swerved at
every sweep of the surge, shamed her own half-superstitious fears,
and with the effort to control his alarm she regained her own self-
possession, albeit with eyelashes wet not altogether with the salt
spray from the sea. This was followed by a reaction, perhaps
stimulated by her victory over the beaten animal, when for a time,
she knew not how long, she felt only a mad sense of freedom and
power; oblivious of even her sorrows, her lost home and husband,
and with intense feminine consciousness she longed to be a man.
She was scarcely aware that the track turned again inland until the
beat of the horse's hoofs on the firm ground and an acceleration of
speed showed her she had left the beach and the mysterious sea
behind her, and she remembered that she was near the end of the
first stage of her journey. Half an hour later the twinkling
lights of the roadside inn where she was to change horses rose out
of the darkness.
Happily for her, the ostler considered the horse, who had a local
reputation, of more importance than the unknown muffled figure in
the shadow of the unfurled hood, and confined his attention to the
animal. After a careful examination of his feet and a few comments
addressed solely to the superior creation, he led him away. Mrs.
Tucker would have liked to part more affectionately from her four-
footed compatriot, and felt a sudden sense of loneliness at the
loss of her new friend, but a recollection of certain cautions of
Captain Poindexter's kept her mute. Nevertheless, the ostler's
ostentatious adjuration of "Now then, aren't you going to bring out
that mustang for the Senora?" puzzled her. It was not until the
fresh horse was put to, and she had flung a piece of gold into the
attendant's hand, that the "Gracias" of his unmistakable Saxon
speech revealed to her the reason of the lawyer's caution.
Poindexter had evidently represented her to these people as a
native Californian who did not speak English. In her inconsistency
her blood took fire at this first suggestion of deceit, and burned
in her face. Why should he try to pass her off as anybody else?
Why should she not use her own, her husband's name? She stopped
and bit her lip.
It was but the beginning of an uneasy train of thought. She
suddenly found herself thinking of her visitor, Calhoun Weaver, and
not pleasantly. He would hear of their ruin tomorrow, perhaps of
her own flight. He would remember his visit, and what would he
think of her deceitful frivolity? Would he believe that she was
then ignorant of the failure? It was her first sense of any
accountability to others than herself, but even then it was rather
owing to an uneasy consciousness of what her husband must feel if
he were subjected to the criticisms of men like Calhoun. She
wondered if others knew that he had kept her in ignorance of his
flight. Did Poindexter know it, or had he only entrapped her into
the admission? Why had she not been clever enough to make him
think that she knew it already? For the moment she hated
Poindexter for sharing that secret. Yet this was again followed by
a new impatience of her husband's want of insight into her ability
to help him. Of course the poor fellow could not bear to worry
her, could not bear to face such men as Calhoun, or even Poindexter
(she added exultingly to herself), but he might have sent her a
line as he fled, only to prepare her to meet and combat the shame
alone. It did not occur to her unsophisticated singleness of
nature that she was accepting as an error of feeling what the world
would call cowardly selfishness.
At midnight the storm lulled and a few stars trembled through the
rent clouds. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and
her country instincts, a little overlaid by the urban experiences
of the last few years, came again to the surface. She felt the
fresh, cool radiation from outlying, upturned fields, the faint,
sad odors from dim stretches of pricking grain and quickening leaf,
and wondered if at Los Cuervos it might be possible to reproduce
the peculiar verdure of her native district. She beguiled her
fancy by an ambitious plan of retrieving their fortunes by farming;
her comfortable tastes had lately rebelled against the homeless
mechanical cultivation of these desolate but teeming Californian
acres, and for a moment indulged in a vision of a vine-clad cottage
home that in any other woman would have been sentimental. Her
cramped limbs aching, she took advantage of the security of the
darkness and the familiar contiguity of the fields to get down from
the vehicle, gather her skirts together, and run at the head of the
mustang, until her chill blood was thawed, night drawing a modest
veil over this charming revelation of the nymph and woman. But the
sudden shadow of a coyote checked the scouring feet of this swift
Camilla, and sent her back precipitately to the buggy. Nevertheless,
she was refreshed and able to pursue her journey, until the cold
gray of early morning found her at the end of her second stage.
Her route was changed again from the main highway, rendered
dangerous by the approach of day and the contiguity of the
neighboring rancheros. The road was rough and hilly, her new horse
and vehicle in keeping with the rudeness of the route--by far the
most difficult of her whole journey. The rare wagon tracks that
indicated her road were often scarcely discernible; at times they
led her through openings in the half-cleared woods, skirted
suspicious morasses, painfully climbed the smooth, dome-like hills,
or wound along perilous slopes at a dangerous angle. Twice she had
to alight and cling to the sliding wheels on one of those
treacherous inclines, or drag them from impending ruts or immovable
mire. In the growing light she could distinguish the distant, low-
lying marshes eaten by encroaching sloughs and insidious channels,
and beyond them the faint gray waste of the Lower Bay. A darker
peninsula in the marsh she knew to be the extreme boundary of her
future home: the Rancho de los Cuervos. In another hour she began
to descend to the plain, and once more to approach the main road,
which now ran nearly parallel with her track. She scanned it
cautiously for any early traveler; it stretched north and south in
apparent unending solitude. She struck into it boldly, and urged
her horse to the top of his speed, until she reached the cross road
that led to the rancho. But here she paused and allowed the reins
to drop idly on the mustang's back. A singular and unaccountable
irresolution seized her. The difficulties of her journey were
over; the rancho lay scarcely two miles away; she had achieved the
most important part of her task in the appointed time, but she
hesitated. What had she come for? She tried to recall Poindexter's
words, even her own enthusiasm, but in vain. She was going to take
possession of her husband's property, she knew, that was all. But
the means she had taken seemed now so exaggerated and mysterious for
that simple end that she began to dread an impending something, or
some vague danger she had not considered, that she was rushing
blindly to meet. Full of this strange feeling she almost
mechanically stopped her horse as she entered the cross road.
From this momentary hesitation a singular sound aroused her. It
seemed at first like the swift hurrying by of some viewless courier
of the air, the vague alarm of some invisible flying herald, or
like the inarticulate cry that precedes a storm. It seemed to rise
and fall around her as if with some changing urgency of purpose.
Raising her eyes she suddenly recognized the two far-stretching
lines of telegraph wire above her head, and knew the aeolian cry of
the morning wind along its vibrating chords. But it brought
another and more practical fear to her active brain. Perhaps even
now the telegraph might be anticipating her! Had Poindexter
thought of that? She hesitated no longer, but laying the whip on
the back of her jaded mustang again hurried forward.
As the level horizon grew more distinct, her attention was
attracted by the white sail of a small boat lazily threading the
sinuous channel of the slough. It might be Poindexter arriving by
the more direct route from the steamboat that occasionally lay off
the ancient embarcadero of the Los Cuervos Rancho. But even while
watching it her quick ear caught the sound of galloping hoofs
behind her. She turned quickly and saw she was followed by a
horseman. But her momentary alarm was succeeded by a feeling of
relief as she recognized the erect figure and square shoulders of
Poindexter. Yet she could not help thinking that he looked more
like a militant scout, and less like a cautious legal adviser, than
With unaffected womanliness she rearranged her slightly disordered
hair as he drew up beside her. "I thought you were in yonder
boat," she said.
"Not I," he laughed; "I distanced you by the high road two hours,
and have been reconnoitring, until I saw you hesitate at the cross
"But who is in the boat?" asked Mrs. Tucker, partly to hide her
"Only some early Chinese market gardener, I dare say. But you are
safe now. You are on your own land. You passed the boundary
monument of the rancho five minutes ago. Look! All you see before
you is yours from the embarcadero to yonder Coast Range."
The tone of half-raillery did not, however, cheer Mrs. Tucker. She
shuddered slightly and cast her eyes over the monotonous sea of
tule and meadow.
"It doesn't look pretty, perhaps," continued Poindexter, "but it's
the richest land in the State, and the embarcadero will some day be
a town. I suppose you'll call it Blue Grassville. But you seem
tired!" he said, suddenly dropping his voice to a tone of half-
Mrs. Tucker managed to get rid of an impending tear under the
pretense of clearing her eyes. "Are we nearly there?" she asked.
"Nearly. You know," he added with the same half-mischievous, half-
sympathizing gayety, "it's not exactly a palace you're coming to.
Hardly. It's the old casa that has been deserted for years, but I
thought it better you should go into possession there than take up
your abode at the shanty where your husband's farm-hands are. No
one will know when you take possession of the casa, while the very
hour of your arrival at the shanty would be known; and if they
should make any trouble--"
"If they should make any trouble?" repeated Mrs. Tucker, lifting
her frank, inquiring eyes to Poindexter.
His horse suddenly rearing from an apparently accidental prick of
the spur, it was a minute or two before he was able to explain. "I
mean if this ever comes up as a matter of evidence, you know. But
here we are!"
What had seemed to be an overgrown mound rising like an island out
of the dead level of the grassy sea now resolved itself into a
collection of adobe walls, eaten and incrusted with shrubs and
vines, that bore some resemblance to the usual uninhabited-looking
exterior of a Spanish-American dwelling. Apertures that might have
been lance-shaped windows or only cracks and fissures in the walls
were choked up with weeds and grass, and gave no passing glimpse of
the interior. Entering a ruinous corral they came to a second
entrance, which proved to be the patio or courtyard. The deserted
wooden corridor, with beams, rafters, and floors whitened by the
eternal sun and wind, contained a few withered leaves, dryly
rotting skins, and thongs of leather, as if undisturbed by human
care. But among these scattered debris of former life and
habitation there was no noisome or unclean suggestion of decay. A
faint, spiced odor of desiccation filled the bare walls. There was
no slime on stone or sun-dried brick. In place of fungus or
discolored moisture the dust of efflorescence whitened in the
obscured corners. The elements had picked clean the bones of the
crumbling tenement ere they should finally absorb it.
A withered old peon woman, who in dress, complexion, and fibrous
hair might have been an animated fragment of the debris, rustled
out of a low vaulted passage and welcomed them with a feeble
crepitation. Following her into the dim interior Mrs. Tucker was
surprised to find some slight attempt at comfort and even adornment
in the two or three habitable apartments. They were scrupulously
clean and dry, two qualities which in her feminine eyes atoned for
poverty of material.
"I could not send anything from San Bruno, the nearest village,
without attracting attention," explained Poindexter; "but if you
can manage to picnic here for a day longer, I'll get one of our
Chinese friends here," he pointed to the slough, "to bring over,
for his return cargo from across the bay, any necessaries you may
want. There is no danger of his betraying you," he added, with an
ironical smile; "Chinamen and Indians are, by an ingenious
provision of the statute of California, incapable of giving
evidence against a white person. You can trust your handmaiden
perfectly--even if she can't trust YOU. That is your sacred
privilege under the constitution. And now, as I expect to catch
the up boat ten miles from hence, I must say 'good-by' until to-
morrow night. I hope to bring you then some more definite plans
for the future. The worst is over." He held her hand for a
moment, and with a graver voice continued, "You have done it very
well--do you know--very well!"
In the slight embarrassment produced by his sudden change of manner
she felt that her thanks seemed awkward and restrained. "Don't
thank me," he laughed, with a prompt return of his former levity,
"that's my trade. I only advised. You have saved yourself like a
plucky woman--shall I say like Blue Grass? Good-by!" He mounted
his horse, but, as if struck by an after-thought, wheeled and drew
up by her side again. "If I were you I wouldn't see many strangers
for a day or two, and listen to as little news as a woman possibly
can." He laughed again, waved her a half-gallant, half-military
salute, and was gone. The question she had been trying to frame,
regarding the probability of communication with her husband,
remained unasked. At least she had saved her pride before him.
Addressing herself to the care of her narrow household, she
mechanically put away the few things she had brought with her, and
began to readjust the scant furniture. She was a little
discomposed at first at the absence of bolts, locks, and even
window-fastenings until assured, by Concha's evident inability to
comprehend her concern, that they were quite unknown at Los
Cuervos. Her slight knowledge of Spanish was barely sufficient to
make her wants known, so that the relief of conversation with her
only companion was debarred her, and she was obliged to content
herself with the sapless, crackling smiles and withered
genuflexions that the old woman dropped like dead leaves in her
path. It was staring noon when, the house singing like an empty
shell in the monotonous wind, she felt she could stand the solitude
no longer, and, crossing the glaring patio and whistling corridor,
made her way to the open gateway.
But the view without seemed to intensify her desolation. The broad
expanse of the shadowless plain reached apparently to the Coast
Range, trackless and unbroken save by one or two clusters of
dwarfed oaks, which at that distance were but mossy excrescences on
the surface, barely raised above the dead level. On the other side
the marsh took up the monotony and carried it, scarcely interrupted
by undefined water-courses, to the faintly marked out horizon line
of the remote bay. Scattered and apparently motionless black spots
on the meadows that gave a dreary significance to the title of "the
Crows" which the rancho bore, and sudden gray clouds of sand-pipers
on the marshes, that rose and vanished down the wind, were the only
signs of life. Even the white sail of the early morning was gone.
She stood there until the aching of her straining eyes and the
stiffening of her limbs in the cold wind compelled her to seek the
sheltered warmth of the courtyard. Here she endeavored to make
friends with a bright-eyed lizard, who was sunning himself in the
corridor; a graceful little creature in blue and gold, from whom
she felt at other times she might have fled, but whose beauty and
harmlessness solitude had made known to her. With misplaced
kindness she tempted it with bread-crumbs, with no other effect
than to stiffen it into stony astonishment. She wondered if she
should become like the prisoners she had read of in books, who
poured out their solitary affections on noisome creatures, and she
regretted even the mustang, which with the buggy had disappeared
under the charge of some unknown retainer on her arrival. Was she
not a prisoner? The shutterless windows, yawning doors, and open
gate refuted her suggestion, but the encompassing solitude and
trackless waste still held her captive. Poindexter had told her it
was four miles to the shanty; she might walk there. Why had she
given her word that she would remain at the rancho until he
The long day crept monotonously away, and she welcomed the night
which shut out the dreary prospect. But it brought no cessation of
the harassing wind without, nor surcease of the nervous irritation
its perpetual and even activity wrought upon her. It haunted her
pillow even in her exhausted sleep, and seemed to impatiently
beckon her to rise and follow it. It brought her feverish dreams
of her husband, footsore and weary, staggering forward under its
pitiless lash and clamorous outcry; she would have gone to his
assistance, but when she reached his side and held out her arms to
him it hurried her past with merciless power, and, bearing her
away, left him hopelessly behind. It was broad day when she awoke.
The usual night showers of the waning rainy season had left no
trace in sky or meadow; the fervid morning sun had already dried
the patio; only the restless, harrying wind remained.
Mrs. Tucker arose with a resolve. She had learned from Concha on
the previous evening that a part of the shanty was used as a tienda
or shop for the laborers and rancheros. Under the necessity of
purchasing some articles, she would go there and for a moment
mingle with those people, who would not recognize her. Even if
they did, her instinct told her it would be less to be feared than
the hopeless uncertainty of another day. As she left the house the
wind seemed to seize her as in her dream, and hurry her along with
it, until in a few moments the walls of the low casa sank into the
earth again and she was alone, but for the breeze on the solitary
plain. The level distance glittered in the sharp light, a few
crows with slant wings dipped and ran down the wind before her, and
a passing gleam on the marsh was explained by the far-off cry of a
She had walked for an hour, upheld by the stimulus of light and
morning air, when the cluster of scrub oaks, which was her
destination, opened enough to show two rambling sheds, before one
of which was a wooden platform containing a few barrels and bones.
As she approached nearer, she could see that one or two horses were
tethered under the trees, that their riders were lounging by a
horse-trough, and that over an open door the word Tienda was rudely
painted on a board, and as rudely illustrated by the wares
displayed at door and window. Accustomed as she was to the poverty
of frontier architecture, even the crumbling walls of the old
hacienda she had just left seemed picturesque to the rigid angles
of the thin, blank, unpainted shell before her. One of the
loungers, who was reading a newspaper aloud as she advanced, put it
aside and stared at her; there was an evident commotion in the shop
as she stepped upon the platform, and when she entered, with
breathless lips and beating heart, she found herself the object of
a dozen curious eyes. Her quick pride resented the scrutiny and
recalled her courage, and it was with a slight coldness in her
usual lazy indifference that she leaned over the counter and asked
for the articles she wanted.
The request was followed by a dead silence. Mrs. Tucker repeated
it with some hauteur.
"I reckon you don't seem to know this store is in the hands of the
sheriff," said one of the loungers.
Mrs. Tucker was not aware of it.
"Well, I don't know any one who's a better right to know than
Spence Tucker's wife," said another with a coarse laugh. The laugh
was echoed by the others. Mrs. Tucker saw the pit into which she
had deliberately walked, but did not flinch.
"Is there any one to serve here?" she asked, turning her clear eyes
full upon the bystanders.
"You'd better ask the sheriff. He was the last one to SARVE here.
He sarved an attachment," replied the inevitable humorist of all
"Is he here?" asked Mrs. Tucker, disregarding the renewed laughter
which followed this subtle witticism.
The loungers at the door made way for one of their party, who was
half dragged, half pushed into the shop. "Here he is," said half a
dozen eager voices, in the fond belief that his presence might
impart additional humor to the situation. He cast a deprecating
glance at Mrs. Tucker and said, "It's so, madam! This yer place is
attached; but if there's anything you're wanting, why I reckon,
boys,"--he turned half appealingly to the crowd,--"we could oblige
a lady." There was a vague sound of angry opposition and
remonstrance from the back door of the shop, but the majority,
partly overcome by Mrs. Tucker's beauty, assented. "Only,"
continued the officer explanatorily, "ez these yer goods are in the
hands of the creditors, they ought to be represented by an
equivalent in money. If you're expecting they should be charged--"
"But I wish to PAY for them," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, with a
slight flush of indignation; "I have the money."
"Oh, I bet you have!" screamed a voice, as, overturning all
opposition, the malcontent at the back door, in the shape of an
infuriated woman, forced her way into the shop. "I'll bet you have
the money! Look at her, boys! Look at the wife of the thief, with
the stolen money in diamonds in her ears and rings on her fingers.
SHE'S got money if WE'VE none. SHE can pay for what she fancies,
if we haven't a cent to redeem the bed that's stolen from under us.
Oh yes, buy it all, Mrs. Spencer Tucker! buy the whole shop, Mrs.
Spencer Tucker, do you hear? And if you ain't satisfied then, buy
my clothes, my wedding ring, the only things your husband hasn't
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker coldly, turning towards
the door. But with a flying leap across the counter her relentless
adversary stood between her and retreat.
"You don't understand! Perhaps you don't understand that your
husband not only stole the hard labor of these men, but even the
little money they brought here and trusted to his thieving hands.
Perhaps you don't know that he stole my husband's hard earnings,
mortgaged these very goods you want to buy, and that he is to-day a
convicted thief, a forger, and a runaway coward. Perhaps, if you
can't understand ME, you can read the newspaper. Look!" She
exultingly opened the paper the sheriff had been reading aloud, and
pointed to the displayed headlines. "Look! there are the very
words, 'Forgery, Swindling, Embezzlement!' Do you see? And
perhaps you can't understand this. Look! 'Shameful Flight.
Abandons his Wife. Runs off with a Notorious--'"
"Easy, old gal, easy now. D--n it! Will you dry up? I say.
It was too late!
The sheriff had dashed the paper from the woman's hand, but not
until Mrs. Tucker had read a single line, a line such as she had
sometimes turned from with weary scorn in her careless perusal of
the daily shameful chronicle of domestic infelicity. Then she had
coldly wondered if there could be any such men and women; and now!
The crowd fell back before her; even the virago was silenced as she
looked at her face. The humorist's face was as white, but not as
immobile, as he gasped, "Christ! if I don't believe she knew
nothin' of it!"
For a moment the full force of such a supposition, with all its
poignancy, its dramatic intensity, and its pathos, possessed the
crowd. In the momentary clairvoyance of enthusiasm they caught a
glimpse of the truth, and by one of the strange reactions of human
passion they only waited for a word of appeal or explanation from
her lips to throw themselves at her feet. Had she simply told her
story they would have believed her; had she cried, fainted, or gone
into hysterics, they would have pitied her. She did neither.
Perhaps she thought of neither, or indeed of anything that was then
before her eyes. She walked erect to the door and turned upon the
threshold. "I mean what I say," she said calmly. "I don't
understand you. But whatever just claims you have upon my husband
will be paid by me, or by his lawyer, Captain Poindexter."
She had lost the sympathy but not the respect of her hearers. They
made way for her with sullen deference as she passed out on the
platform. But her adversary, profiting by the last opportunity,
burst into an ironical laugh.
"Captain Poindexter, is it? Well, perhaps he's safe to pay YOUR
bill, but as for your husband's--"
"That's another matter," interrupted a familiar voice with the
greatest cheerfulness; "that's what you were going to say, wasn't
it? Ha! ha! Well, Mrs. Patterson," continued Poindexter, stepping
from his buggy, "you never spoke a truer word in your life. One
moment, Mrs. Tucker. Let me send you back in the buggy. Don't
mind ME. I can get a fresh horse of the sheriff. I'm quite at
home here. I say, Patterson, step a few paces this way, will you?
A little further from your wife, please. That'll do. You've got a
claim of five thousand dollars against the property, haven't you?"
"Well, that woman just driving away is your one solitary chance of
getting a cent of it. If your wife insults her again, that chance
is gone. And if YOU do--"
"As sure as there is a God in Israel and a Supreme Court of the
State of California, I'll kill you in your tracks! . . . Stay!"
Patterson turned. The irrepressible look of humorous tolerance of
all human frailty had suffused Poindexter's black eyes with
mischievous moisture. "If you think it quite safe to confide to
your wife this prospect of her improvement by widowhood, you may!"
Mr. Patterson did not inform his wife of the lawyer's personal
threat to himself. But he managed, after Poindexter had left, to
make her conscious that Mrs. Tucker might be a power to be placated
and feared. "You've shot off your mouth at her," he said
argumentatively, "and whether you've hit the mark or not you've had
your say. Ef you think it's worth a possible five thousand dollars
and interest to keep on, heave ahead. Ef you rather have the
chance of getting the rest in cash, you'll let up on her." "You
don't suppose," returned Mrs. Patterson contemptuously, "that she's
got anything but what that man of hers--Poindexter--lets her have?"
"The sheriff says," retorted Patterson surlily, "that she's
notified him that she claims the rancho as a gift from her husband
three years ago, and she's in POSSESSION now, and was so when the
execution was out. It don't make no matter," he added, with gloomy
philosophy, "who's got a full hand as long as WE ain't got the
cards to chip in. I wouldn't 'a' minded it," he continued
meditatively, "ef Spence Tucker had dropped a hint to me afore he
put out." "And I suppose," said Mrs. Patterson angrily, "you'd
have put out too?" "I reckon," said Patterson simply.
Twice or thrice during the evening he referred, more or less
directly, to this lack of confidence shown by his late debtor and
employer, and seemed to feel it more keenly than the loss of
property. He confided his sentiments quite openly to the sheriff
in possession, over the whiskey and euchre with which these
gentlemen avoided the difficulties of their delicate relations. He
brooded over it as he handed the keys of the shop to the sheriff
when they parted for the night, and was still thinking of it when
the house was closed, everybody gone to bed, and he was fetching a
fresh jug of water from the well. The moon was at times obscured
by flying clouds, the avant-couriers of the regular evening shower.
He was stooping over the well, when he sprang suddenly to his feet
again. "Who's there?" he demanded sharply.
"Hush!" said a voice so low and faint it might have been a whisper
of the wind in the palisades of the corral. But, indistinct as it
was, it was the voice of the man he was thinking of as far away,
and it sent a thrill of alternate awe and pleasure through his
He glanced quickly around. The moon was hidden by a passing cloud,
and only the faint outlines of the house he had just quitted were
visible. "Is that you, Spence?" he said tremulously.
"Yes," replied the voice, and a figure dimly emerged from the
corner of the corral.
"Lay low, lay low, for God's sake," said Patterson, hurriedly
throwing himself upon the apparition. "The sheriff and his posse
are in there."
"But I must speak to you a moment," said the figure.
"Wait," said Patterson, glancing towards the building. Its blank,
shutterless windows revealed no inner light; a profound silence
encompassed it. "Come quick," he whispered. Letting his grasp
slip down to the unresisting hand of the stranger, he half-dragged,
half-led him, brushing against the wall, into the open door of the
deserted bar-room he had just quitted, locked the inner door,
poured a glass of whiskey from a decanter, gave it to him, and then
watched him drain it at a single draught. The moon came out, and,
falling through the bare windows full upon the stranger's face,
revealed the artistic but slightly disheveled curls and moustache
of the fugitive, Spencer Tucker.
Whatever may have been the real influence of this unfortunate man
upon his fellows, it seemed to find expression in a singular
unanimity of criticism. Patterson looked at him with a half-
dismal, half-welcoming smile. "Well, you are a h-ll of a fellow,
Spencer Tucker passed his hand through his hair and lifted it from
his forehead, with a gesture at once emotional and theatrical. "I
am a man with a price on me!" he said bitterly. "Give me up to the
sheriff, and you'll get five thousand dollars. Help me, and you'll
get nothing. That's my d----d luck, and yours too, I suppose."
"I reckon you're right there," said Patterson gloomily. "But I
thought you got clean away. Went off in a ship--"
"Went off in a boat to a ship," interrupted Tucker savagely; "went
off to a ship that had all my things on board--everything. The
cursed boat capsized in a squall just off the Heads. The ship,
d--n her, sailed away, the men thinking I was drowned, likely,
and that they'd make a good thing off my goods, I reckon."
"But the girl, Inez, who was with you, didn't she make a row?"
"Quien sabe?" returned Tucker, with a reckless laugh. "Well, I
hung on like grim death to that boat's keel until one of those
Chinese fishermen, in a 'dug-out,' hauled me in opposite Saucelito.
I chartered him and his dug-out to bring me down here."
"Why here?" asked Patterson, with a certain ostentatious caution
that ill-concealed his pensive satisfaction.
"You may well ask," returned Tucker, with an equal ostentation of
bitterness, as he slightly waved his companion away. "But I
reckoned I could trust a white man that I'd been kind to, and who
wouldn't go back on me. No, no, let me go! Hand me over to the
Patterson had suddenly grasped both the hands of the picturesque
scamp before him, with an affection that for an instant almost
shamed the man who had ruined him. But Tucker's egotism whispered
that this affection was only a recognition of his own superiority,
and felt flattered. He was beginning to believe that he was really
the injured party.
"What I HAVE and what I have HAD is yours, Spence," returned
Patterson, with a sad and simple directness that made any further
discussion a gratuitous insult. "I only wanted to know what you
reckoned to do here."
"I want to get over across the Coast Range to Monterey," said
Tucker. "Once there, one of those coasting schooners will bring me
down to Acapulco, where the ship will put in."
Patterson remained silent for a moment. "There's a mustang in the
corral you can take--leastways, I shan't know that it's gone--until
to-morrow afternoon. In an hour from now," he added, looking from
the window, "these clouds will settle down to business. It will
rain; there will be light enough for you to find your way by the
regular trail over the mountain, but not enough for any one to know
you. If you can't push through to-night, you can lie over at the
posada on the summit. Them greasers that keep it won't know you,
and if they did they won't go back on you. And if they did go back
on you, nobody would believe them. It's mighty curious," he added,
with gloomy philosophy, "but I reckon it's the reason why
Providence allows this kind of cattle to live among white men and
others made in his image. Take a piece of pie, won't you?" He
continued, abandoning this abstract reflection and producing half a
flat pumpkin pie from the bar. Spencer Tucker grasped the pie with
one hand and his friend's fingers with the other, and for a few
moments was silent from the hurried deglutition of viand and
sentiment. "YOU'RE a white man, Patterson, anyway," he resumed.
"I'll take your horse, and put it down in our account, at your own
figure. As soon as this cursed thing is blown over, I'll be back
here and see you through, you bet. I don't desert my friends,
however rough things go with me."
"I see you don't," returned Patterson, with an unconscious and
serious simplicity that had the effect of the most exquisite irony.
"I was only just saying to the sheriff that if there was anything I
could have done for you, you wouldn't have cut away without letting
me know." Tucker glanced uneasily at Patterson, who continued, "Ye
ain't wanting anything else?" Then observing that his former
friend and patron was roughly but newly clothed, and betrayed no
trace of his last escapade, he added, "I see you've got a fresh
"That d----d Chinaman bought me these at the landing; they're not
much in style or fit," he continued, trying to get a moonlight view
of himself in the mirror behind the bar, "but that don't matter
here." He filled another glass of spirits, jauntily settled
himself back in his chair, and added, "I don't suppose there are
any girls around, anyway."
"'Cept your wife; she was down here this afternoon," said Patterson
Mr. Tucker paused with the pie in his hand. "Ah, yes!" He essayed
a reckless laugh, but that evident simulation failed before
Patterson's melancholy. With an assumption of falling in with his
friend's manner, rather than from any personal anxiety, he
"That man Poindexter was down here with her. Put her in the
hacienda to hold possession afore the news came out."
"Impossible!" said Tucker, rising hastily. "It don't belong--that
is--" he hesitated.
"Yer thinking the creditors 'll get it, mebbe," returned Patterson,
gazing at the floor. "Not as long as she's in it; no sir! Whether
it's really hers, or she's only keeping house for Poindexter, she's
a fixture, you bet. They're a team when they pull together, they
The smile slowly faded from Tucker's face, that now looked quite
rigid in the moonlight. He put down his glass and walked to the
window as Patterson gloomily continued, "But that's nothing to you.
You've got ahead of 'em both, and had your revenge by going off
with the gal. That's what I said all along. When folks--
especially women folks--wondered how you could leave a woman like
your wife, and go off with a scallawag like that gal, I allers said
they'd find out there was a reason. And when your wife came
flaunting down here with Poindexter before she'd quite got quit of
you, I reckon they began to see the whole little game. No sir! I
knew it wasn't on account of the gal! Why, when you came here to-
night and told me quite nat'ral-like and easy how she went off in
the ship, and then calmly ate your pie and drank your whiskey after
it, I knew you didn't care for her. There's my hand, Spence;
you're a trump, even if you are a little looney, eh? Why, what's
Shallow and selfish as Tucker was, Patterson's words seemed like a
revelation that shocked him as profoundly as it might have shocked
a nobler nature. The simple vanity and selfishness that made him
unable to conceive any higher reason for his wife's loyalty than
his own personal popularity and success, now that he no longer
possessed that eclat, made him equally capable of the lowest
suspicions. He was a dishonored fugitive, broken in fortune and
reputation--why should she not desert him! He had been unfaithful
to her from wildness, from caprice, from the effect of those
fascinating qualities; it seemed to him natural that she should be
disloyal from more deliberate motives, and he hugged himself with
that belief. Yet there was enough doubt, enough of haunting
suspicion that he had lost or alienated a powerful affection, to
make him thoroughly miserable. He returned his friend's grasp
convulsively and buried his face upon his shoulder. But he was not
above feeling a certain exultation in the effect of his misery upon
the dog-like, unreasoning affection of Patterson, nor could he
entirely refrain from slightly posing his affliction before that
sympathetic but melancholy man. Suddenly he raised his head, drew
back, and thrust his hand into his bosom with a theatrical gesture.
"What's to keep me from killing Poindexter in his tracks?" he said
"Nothin' but HIS shooting first," returned Patterson, with dismal
practicality. "He's mighty quick, like all them army men. It's
about even, I reckon, that he don't get ME first," he added in an
"No!" returned Tucker, grasping his hand again. "This is not your
affair, Patterson; leave him to me when I come back."
"If he ever gets the drop on me, I reckon he won't wait," continued
Patterson lugubriously. "He seems to object to my passin'
criticism on your wife, as if she was a queen or an angel."
The blood came to Spencer's cheek, and he turned uneasily to the
window. "It's dark enough now for a start," he said hurriedly,
"and if I could get across the mountain without lying over at the
summit, it would be a day gained."
Patterson arose without a word, filled a flask of spirit, handed it
to his friend, and silently led the way through the slowly falling
rain and the now settled darkness. The mustang was quickly secured
and saddled, a heavy poncho afforded Tucker a disguise as well as a
protection from the rain. With a few hurried, disconnected words,
and an abstracted air, he once more shook his friend's hand and
issued cautiously from the corral. When out of earshot from the
house he put spurs to the mustang, and dashed into a gallop.
To intersect the mountain road he was obliged to traverse part of
the highway his wife had walked that afternoon, and to pass within
a mile of the casa where she was. Long before he reached that
point his eyes were straining the darkness in that direction for
some indication of the house which was to him familiar. Becoming
now accustomed to the even obscurity, less trying to the vision
than the alternate light and shadow of cloud or the full glare of
the moonlight, he fancied he could distinguish its low walls over
the monotonous level. One of those impulses which had so often
taken the place of resolution in his character suddenly possessed
him to diverge from his course and approach the house. Why, he
could not have explained. It was not from any feeling of jealous
suspicion or contemplated revenge--that had passed with the
presence of Patterson; it was not from any vague lingering
sentiment for the woman he had wronged--he would have shrunk from
meeting her at that moment. But it was full of these and more
possibilities by which he might or might not be guided, and was at
least a movement towards some vague end, and a distraction from
certain thoughts he dared not entertain and could not entirely
dismiss. Inconceivable and inexplicable to human reason, it might
have been acceptable to the Divine omniscience for its predestined
He left the road at a point where the marsh encroached upon the
meadow, familiar to him already as near the spot where he had
embarked from the Chinaman's boat the day before. He remembered
that the walls of the hacienda were distinctly visible from the
tules where he had hidden all day, and he now knew that the figures
he had observed near the building, which had deterred his first
attempts at landing, must have been his wife and his friend. He
knew that a long tongue of the slough filled by the rising tide
followed the marsh, and lay between him and the hacienda. The
sinking of his horse's hoofs in the spongy soil determined its
proximity, and he made a detour to the right to avoid it. In doing
so, a light suddenly rose above the distant horizon ahead of him,
trembled faintly, and then burned with a steady lustre. It was a
light at the hacienda. Guiding his horse half abstractedly in this
direction, his progress was presently checked by the splashing of
the animal's hoofs in the water. But the turf below was firm, and
a salt drop that had spattered to his lips told him that it was
only the encroaching of the tide in the meadow. With his eyes on
the light, he again urged his horse forward. The rain lulled, the
clouds began to break, the landscape alternately lightened and grew
dark; the outlines of the crumbling hacienda walls that enshrined
the light grew more visible. A strange and dreamy resemblance to
the long blue-grass plain before his wife's paternal house, as seen
by him during his evening rides to courtship, pressed itself upon
him. He remembered, too, that she used to put a light in the
window to indicate her presence. Following this retrospect, the
moon came boldly out, sparkled upon the overflow of silver at his
feet, seemed to show the dark, opaque meadow beyond for a moment,
and then disappeared. It was dark now, but the lesser earthly star
still shone before him as a guide, and pushing towards it, he
passed in the all-embracing shadow.
As Mrs. Tucker, erect, white, and rigid, drove away from the
tienda, it seemed to her to sink again into the monotonous plain,
with all its horrible realities. Except that there was now a new
and heart-breaking significance to the solitude and loneliness of
the landscape, all that had passed might have been a dream. But as
the blood came back to her cheek, and little by little her tingling
consciousness returned, it seemed as if her life had been the
dream, and this last scene the awakening reality. With eyes
smarting with the moisture of shame, the scarlet blood at times
dyeing her very neck and temples, she muffled her lowered crest in
her shawl and bent over the reins. Bit by bit she recalled, in
Poindexter's mysterious caution and strange allusions, the
corroboration of her husband's shame and her own disgrace. This
was why she was brought hither--the deserted wife, and abandoned
confederate! The mocking glitter of the concave vault above her,
scoured by the incessant wind, the cold stare of the shining pools
beyond, the hard outlines of the Coast Range, and the jarring
accompaniment of her horse's hoofs and rattling buggy wheels
alternately goaded and distracted her. She found herself repeating
"No! no! no!" with the dogged reiteration of fever. She scarcely
knew when or how she reached the hacienda. She was only conscious
that as she entered the patio the dusty solitude that had before
filled her with unrest now came to her like balm. A benumbing
peace seemed to fall from the crumbling walls; the peace of utter
seclusion, isolation, oblivion, death! Nevertheless, an hour
later, when the jingle of spurs and bridle were again heard in the
road, she started to her feet with bent brows and a kindling eye,
and confronted Captain Poindexter in the corridor.
"I would not have intruded upon you so soon again," he said
gravely, "but I thought I might perhaps spare you a repetition of
the scene of this morning. Hear me out, please," he added, with a
gentle, half-deprecating gesture, as she lifted the beautiful scorn
of her eyes to his. "I have just heard that your neighbor, Don
Jose Santierra, of Los Gatos, is on his way to this house. He once
claimed this land, and hated your husband, who bought of the rival
claimant, whose grant was confirmed. I tell you this," he added,
slightly flushing as Mrs. Tucker turned impatiently away, "only to
show you that legally he has no rights, and you need not see him
unless you choose. I could not stop his coming without perhaps
doing you more harm than good; but when he does come, my presence
under this roof as your legal counsel will enable you to refer him
to me." He stopped. She was pacing the corridor with short,
impatient steps, her arms dropped, and her hands clasped rigidly
before her. "Have I your permission to stay?"
She suddenly stopped in her walk, approached him rapidly, and
fixing her eyes on his, said,--
"Do I know ALL, now--everything?"
He could only reply that she had not yet told him what she had
"Well," she said scornfully, "that my husband has been cruelly
imposed upon--imposed upon by some wretched woman, who has made him
sacrifice his property, his friends, his honor--everything but me?"
"Everything but whom?" gasped Poindexter.
Poindexter gazed at the sky, the air, the deserted corridor, the
stones of the patio itself, and then at the inexplicable woman
before him. Then he said gravely, "I think you know everything."
"Then if my husband has left me all he could--this property," she
went on rapidly, twisting her handkerchief between her fingers, "I
can do with it what I like, can't I?"
"You certainly can."
"Then sell it," she said, with passionate vehemence. "Sell it--
all! everything! And sell these." She darted into her bedroom,
and returned with the diamond rings she had torn from her fingers
and ears when she entered the house. "Sell them for anything
they'll bring, only sell them at once."
"But for what?" asked Poindexter, with demure lips but twinkling
"To pay the debts that this--this--woman has led him into; to
return the money she has stolen!" she went on rapidly, "to keep him
from sharing her infamy! Can't you understand?"
"But, my dear madam," began Poindexter, "even if this could be
"Don't tell me 'if it could'--it MUST be done. Do you think I
could sleep under this roof, propped up by the timbers of that
ruined tienda? Do you think I could wear those diamonds again,
while that termagant shop-woman can say that her money bought them?
No. If you are my husband's friend you will do this--for--for his
sake." She stopped, locked and interlocked her cold fingers before
her, and said, hesitating and mechanically, "You meant well,
Captain Poindexter, in bringing me here, I know! You must not
think that I blame you for it, or for the miserable result of it
that you have just witnessed. But if I have gained anything by it,
for God's sake let me reap it quickly, that I may give it to these
people and go! I have a friend who can aid me to get to my husband
or to my home in Kentucky, where Spencer will yet find me, I know.
I want nothing more." She stopped again. With another woman the
pause would have been one of tears. But she kept her head above
the flood that filled her heart, and the clear eyes fixed upon
Poindexter, albeit pained, were undimmed.
"But this would require time," said Poindexter, with a smile of
compassionate explanation; "you could not sell now, nobody would
buy. You are safe to hold this property while you are in actual
possession, but you are not strong enough to guarantee it to
another. There may still be litigation; your husband has other
creditors than these people you have talked with. But while nobody
could oust you--the wife who would have the sympathies of judge and
jury--it might be a different case with any one who derived title
from you. Any purchaser would know that you could not sell, or if
you did, it would be at a ridiculous sacrifice."
She listened to him abstractedly, walked to the end of the
corridor, returned, and without looking up, said,--
"I suppose you know her?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"This woman. You have seen her?"
"Never, to my knowledge."
"And you are his friend! That's strange." She raised her eyes to
his. "Well," she continued impatiently, "who is she? and what is
she? You know that surely?"
"I know no more of her than what I have said," said Poindexter.
"She is a notorious woman."
The swift color came to Mrs. Tucker's face as if the epithet had
been applied to herself. "I suppose," she said in a dry voice, as
if she were asking a business question, but with an eye that showed
her rising anger,--"I suppose there is some law by which creatures
of this kind can be followed and brought to justice--some law that
would keep innocent people from suffering for their crimes?"
"I am afraid," said Poindexter, "that arresting her would hardly
help these people over in the tienda."
"I am not speaking of them," responded Mrs. Tucker, with a sudden
sublime contempt for the people whose cause she had espoused: "I am
talking of my husband."
Poindexter bit his lip. "You'd hardly think of bringing back the
strongest witness against him," he said bluntly.
Mrs. Tucker dropped her eyes and was silent. A sudden shame
suffused Poindexter's cheek; he felt as if he had struck that woman
a blow. "I beg your pardon," he said hastily, "I am talking like a
lawyer to a lawyer." He would have taken any other woman by the
hand in the honest fullness of his apology, but something
restrained him here. He only looked down gently on her lowered
lashes, and repeated his question if he should remain during the
coming interview with Don Jose: "I must beg you to determine
quickly," he added, "for I already hear him entering the gate."
"Stay," said Mrs. Tucker, as the ringing of spurs and clatter of
hoofs came from the corral. "One moment." She looked up suddenly,
and said, "How long had he known her?" But before he could reply
there was a step in the doorway, and the figure of Don Jose
Santierra emerged from the archway.
He was a man slightly past middle age, fair and well shaven,
wearing a black broadcloth serape, the deeply embroidered opening
of which formed a collar of silver rays around his neck, while a
row of silver buttons down the side seams of his riding trousers,
and silver spurs, completed his singular equipment. Mrs. Tucker's
swift feminine glance took in these details, as well as the deep
salutation, more formal than the exuberant frontier politeness she
was accustomed to, with which he greeted her. It was enough to
arrest her first impulse to retreat. She hesitated and stopped as
Poindexter stepped forward, partly interposing between them,
acknowledging Don Jose's distant recognition of himself with an
ironical accession of his usual humorous tolerance. The Spaniard
did not seem to notice it, but remained gravely silent before Mrs.
Tucker, gazing at her with an expression of intent and unconscious
"You are quite right, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with ironical
concern, "it is Mrs. Tucker. Your eyes do NOT deceive you. She
will be glad to do the honors of her house," he continued, with a
simulation of appealing to her, "unless you visit her on business,
when I need not say I shall be only too happy, to attend you, as
Don Jose, with a slight lifting of the eyebrows, allowed himself to
become conscious of the lawyer's meaning. "It is not of business
that I come to kiss the Senora's hand to-day," he replied, with a
melancholy softness; "it is as her neighbor, to put myself at her
disposition. Ah! the what have we here for a lady?" he continued,
raising his eyes in deprecation of the surroundings; "a house of
nothing, a place of winds and dry bones, without refreshments, or
satisfaction, or delicacy. The Senora will not refuse to make us
proud this day to send her of that which we have in our poor home
at Los Gatos, to make her more complete. Of what shall it be? Let
her make choice. Or if she would commemorate this day by accepting
of our hospitality at Los Gatos, until she shall arrange herself
the more to receive us here, we shall have too much honor."
"The Senora would only find it the more difficult to return to this
humble roof again, after once leaving it for Don Jose's hospitality,"
said Poindexter, with a demure glance at Mrs. Tucker. But the
innuendo seemed to lapse equally unheeded by his fair client and
the stranger. Raising her eyes with a certain timid dignity which
Don Jose's presence seemed to have called out, she addressed herself
"You are very kind and considerate, Mister Santierra, and I thank
you. I know that my husband"--she let the clear beauty of her
translucent eyes rest full on both men--"would thank you too. But
I shall not be here long enough to accept your kindness in this
house or in your own. I have but one desire and object now. It is
to dispose of this property, and indeed all I possess, to pay the
debt of my husband. It is in your power, perhaps, to help me. I
am told that you wish to possess Los Cuervos," she went on, equally
oblivious of the consciousness that appeared in Don Jose's face,
and a humorous perplexity on the brow of Poindexter. "If you can
arrange it with Mr. Poindexter, you will find me a liberal vendor.
That much you can do, and I know you will believe I shall be
grateful. You can do no more, unless it be to say to your friends
that Mrs. Belle Tucker remains here only for that purpose, and to
carry out what she knows to be the wishes of her husband." She
paused, bent her pretty crest, dropped a quaint curtsey to the
superior age, the silver braid, and the gentlemanly bearing of Don
Jose, and with the passing sunshine of a smile disappeared from the
The two men remained silent for a moment, Don Jose gazing
abstractedly on the door through which she had vanished, until
Poindexter, with a return of his tolerant smile, said, "You have
heard the views of Mrs. Tucker. You know the situation as well as
"Ah, yes; possibly better."
Poindexter darted a quick glance at the grave, sallow face of Don
Jose, but detecting no unusual significance in his manner,
continued, "As you see, she leaves this matter in my hands. Let us
talk like business men. Have you any idea of purchasing this
"Of purchasing, ah, no."
Poindexter bent his brows, but quickly relaxed them with a smile of
humorous forgiveness. "If you have any other idea, Don Jose, I
ought to warn you, as Mrs. Tucker's lawyer, that she is in legal
possession here, and that nothing but her own act can change that
Irritated at the shrug which accompanied this, Poindexter continued
haughtily, "If I am to understand, you have nothing to say--"
"To say, ah, yes, possibly. But"--he glanced toward the door of
Mrs. Tucker's room--"not here." He stopped, appeared to recall
himself, and with an apologetic smile and a studied but graceful
gesture of invitation, he motioned to the gateway, and said, "Will
"What can the fellow be up to?" muttered Poindexter, as with an
assenting nod he proceeded to remount his horse. "If he wasn't an
old hidalgo, I'd mistrust him. No matter! here goes!"
The Don also remounted his half-broken mustang; they proceeded in
solemn silence through the corral, and side by side emerged on the
open plain. Poindexter glanced around; no other being was in
sight. It was not until the lonely hacienda had also sunk behind
them that Don Jose broke the silence.
"You say just now we shall speak as business men. I say no, Don
Marco; I will not. I shall speak, we shall speak, as gentlemen."
"Go on," said Poindexter, who was beginning to be amused.
"I say just now I will not purchase the rancho from the Senora.
And why? Look you, Don Marco;" he reined in his horse, thrust his
hand under his serape, and drew out a folded document: "this is
With a smile, Poindexter took the paper from his hand and opened
it. But the smile faded from his lips as he read. With blazing
eyes he spurred his horse beside the Spaniard, almost unseating
him, and said sternly, "What does this mean?"
"What does it mean?" repeated Don Jose, with equally flashing eyes,
"I'll tell you. It means that your client, this man Spencer
Tucker, is a Judas, a traitor! It means that he gave Los Cuervos
to his mistress a year ago, and that she sold it to me--to me, you
hear!--ME, Jose Santierra, the day before she left! It means that
the coyote of a Spencer, the thief, who bought these lands of a
thief, and gave them to a thief, has tricked you all. Look," he
said, rising in his saddle, holding the paper like a baton, and
defining with a sweep of his arm the whole level plain, "all these
lands were once mine, they are mine again to-day. Do I want to
purchase Los Cuervos? you ask, for you will speak of the BUSINESS.
Well, listen. I HAVE purchased Los Cuervos, and here is the deed."
"But it has never been recorded," said Poindexter, with a
carelessness he was far from feeling.
"Of a verity, no. Do you wish that I should record it?" asked Don
Jose, with a return of his simple gravity.
Poindexter bit his lip. "You said we were to talk like gentlemen,"
he returned. "Do you think you have come into possession of this
alleged deed like a gentleman?"
Don Jose shrugged his shoulders. "I found it tossed in the lap of
a harlot. I bought it for a song. Eh, what would you?"
"Would you sell it again for a song?" asked Poindexter.
"Ah! what is this?" said Don Jose, lifting his iron-gray brows;
"but a moment ago we would sell everything, for any money. Now we
would buy. Is it so?"
"One moment, Don Jose," said Poindexter, with a baleful light in
his dark eyes. "Do I understand that you are the ally of Spencer
Tucker and his mistress, that you intend to turn this doubly
betrayed wife from the only roof she has to cover her?"
"Ah, I comprehend not. You heard her say she wished to go.
Perhaps it may please ME to distribute largess to these cattle
yonder, I do not say no. More she does not ask. But YOU, Don
Marco, of whom are you advocate? You abandon your client's
mistress for the wife, is it so?"
"What I may do you will learn hereafter," said Poindexter, who had
regained his composure, suddenly reining up his horse. "As our
paths seem likely to diverge, they had better begin now. Good
"Patience, my friend, patience! Ah, blessed St. Anthony, what
these Americans are! Listen. For what YOU shall do, I do not
inquire. The question is to me what I"--he emphasized the pronoun
by tapping himself on the breast--"I, Jose Santierra, will do.
Well, I shall tell you. To-day, nothing. To-morrow, nothing. For
a week, for a month, nothing! After, we shall see."
Poindexter paused thoughtfully. "Will you give your word, Don
Jose, that you will not press the claim for a month?"
"Truly, on one condition. Observe! I do not ask you for an equal
promise, that you will not take this time to defend yourself." He
shrugged his shoulders. "No! It is only this. You shall promise
that during that time the Senora Tucker shall remain ignorant of
Poindexter hesitated a moment. "I promise," he said at last.
"Good. Adios, Don Marco."
"Adios, Don Jose."
The Spaniard put spurs to his mustang and galloped off in the
direction of Los Gatos. The lawyer remained for a moment gazing on
his retreating but victorious figure. For the first time the old
look of humorous toleration with which Mr. Poindexter was in the
habit of regarding all human infirmity gave way to something like
bitterness. "I might have guessed it," he said, with a slight rise
of color. "He's an old fool; and she--well, perhaps it's all the
better for her!" He glanced backwards almost tenderly in the
direction of Los Cuervos, and then turned his head towards the
As the afternoon wore on, a creaking, antiquated ox-cart arrived at
Los Cuervos, bearing several articles of furniture, and some
tasteful ornaments from Los Gatos, at the same time that a young
Mexican girl mysteriously appeared in the kitchen, as a temporary
assistant to the decrepit Concha. These were both clearly
attributable to Don Jose, whose visit was not so remote but that
these delicate attentions might have been already projected before
Mrs. Tucker had declined them, and she could not, without marked
discourtesy, return them now. She did not wish to seem
discourteous; she would like to have been more civil to this old
gentleman, who still retained the evidences of a picturesque and
decorous past, and a repose so different from the life that was
perplexing her. Reflecting that if he bought the estate these
things would be ready to his hand, and with a woman's instinct
recognizing their value in setting off the house to other
purchasers' eyes, she took a pleasure in tastefully arranging them,
and even found herself speculating how she might have enjoyed them
herself had she been able to keep possession of the property.
After all, it would not have been so lonely if refined and gentle
neighbors, like this old man, would have sympathized with her; she
had an instinctive feeling that, in their own hopeless decay and
hereditary unfitness for this new civilization, they would have
been more tolerant of her husband's failure than his own kind. She
could not believe that Don Jose really hated her husband for buying
of the successful claimant, as there was no other legal title.
Allowing herself to become interested in the guileless gossip of
the new handmaiden, proud of her broken English, she was drawn into
a sympathy with the grave simplicity of Don Jose's character, a
relic of that true nobility which placed this descendant of the
Castilians and the daughter of a free people on the same level.
In this way the second day of her occupancy of Los Cuervos closed,
with dumb clouds along the gray horizon, and the paroxysms of
hysterical wind growing fainter and fainter outside the walls; with
the moon rising after nightfall, and losing itself in silent and
mysterious confidences with drifting scud. She went to bed early,
but woke past midnight, hearing, as she thought, her own name
called. The impression was so strong upon her that she rose, and,
hastily enwrapping herself, went to the dark embrasures of the
oven-shaped windows, and looked out. The dwarfed oak beside the
window was still dropping from a past shower, but the level waste
of marsh and meadow beyond seemed to advance and recede with the
coming and going of the moon. Again she heard her name called, and
this time in accents so strangely familiar that with a slight cry
she ran into the corridor, crossed the patio, and reached the open
gate. The darkness that had, even in this brief interval, again
fallen upon the prospect she tried in vain to pierce with eye and
voice. A blank silence followed. Then the veil was suddenly
withdrawn; the vast plain, stretching from the mountain to the sea,
shone as clearly as in the light of day; the moving current of the
channel glittered like black pearls, the stagnant pools like molten
lead; but not a sign of life nor motion broke the monotony of the
broad expanse. She must have surely dreamed it. A chill wind
drove her back to the house again; she entered her bedroom, and in
half an hour she was in a peaceful sleep.
The two men kept their secret. Mr. Poindexter convinced Mrs.
Tucker that the sale of Los Cuervos could not be effected until the
notoriety of her husband's flight had been fairly forgotten, and
she was forced to accept her fate. The sale of her diamonds, which
seemed to her to have realized a singularly extravagant sum,
enabled her to quietly reinstate the Pattersons in the tienda and
to discharge in full her husband's liabilities to the rancheros and
his humbler retainers.
Meanwhile the winter rains had ceased. It seemed to her as if the
clouds had suddenly one night struck their white tents and stolen
away, leaving the unvanquished sun to mount the vacant sky the next
morning alone, and possess it thenceforward unchallenged. One
afternoon she thought the long sad waste before her window had
caught some tint of gayer color from the sunset; a week later she
found it a blazing landscape of poppies, broken here and there by
blue lagoons of lupine, by pools of daisies, by banks of dog-roses,
by broad outlying shores of dandelions that scattered their lavish
gold to the foot of the hills, where the green billows of wild oats
carried it on and upwards to the darker crest of pines. For two
months she was dazzled and bewildered with color. She had never
before been face to face with this spendthrift Californian Flora,
in her virgin wastefulness, her more than goddess-like prodigality.
The teeming earth seemed to quicken and throb beneath her feet; the
few circuits of a plough around the outlying corral were enough to
call out a jungle growth of giant grain that almost hid the low
walls of the hacienda. In this glorious fecundity of the earth, in
this joyous renewal of life and color, in this opulent youth and
freshness of soil and sky, it alone remained, the dead and sterile
Past, left in the midst of buoyant rejuvenescence and resurrection,
like an empty churchyard skull upturned on the springing turf. Its
bronzed adobe walls mocked the green vine that embraced them, the
crumbling dust of its courtyard remained ungerminating and
unfruitful; to the thousand stirring voices without, its dry lips
alone remained mute, unresponsive and unchanged.
During this time Don Jose had become a frequent visitor at Los
Cuervos, bringing with him at first his niece and sister in a
stately precision of politeness that was not lost on the proud Blue
Grass stranger. She returned their visit at Los Gatos, and there
made the formal acquaintance of Don Jose's grandmother, a lady who
still regarded the decrepit Concha as a giddy muchacha, and who
herself glittered as with the phosphorescence of refined decay.
Through this circumstance she learned that Don Jose was not yet
fifty, and that his gravity of manner and sedateness was more the
result of fastidious isolation and temperament than years. She
could not tell why the information gave her a feeling of annoyance,
but it caused her to regret the absence of Poindexter, and to
wonder, also somewhat nervously, why he had lately avoided her
presence. The thought that he might be doing so from a recollection
of the innuendoes of Mrs. Patterson caused a little tremor of
indignation in her pulses. "As if--" but she did not finish the
sentence even to herself, and her eyes filled with bitter tears.
Yet she had thought of the husband who had so cruelly wronged her
less feverishly, less impatiently than before. For she thought she
loved him now the more deeply, because, although she was not
reconciled to his absence, it seemed to keep alive the memory of
what he had been before his one wild act separated them. She had
never seen the reflection of another woman's eyes in his; the past
contained no haunting recollection of waning or alienated
affection; she could meet him again, and, clasping her arms around
him, awaken as if from a troubled dream without reproach or
explanation. Her strong belief in this made her patient; she no
longer sought to know the particulars of his flight, and never
dreamed that her passive submission to his absence was partly due
to a fear that something in his actual presence at that moment
would have destroyed that belief forever.
For this reason the delicate reticence of the people at Los Gatos,
and their seclusion from the world which knew of her husband's
fault, had made her encourage the visits of Don Jose, until from
the instinct already alluded to she one day summoned Poindexter to
Los Cuervos, on the day that Don Jose usually called. But to her
surprise the two men met more or less awkwardly and coldly, and her
tact as hostess was tried to the utmost to keep their evident
antagonism from being too apparent. The effort to reconcile their
mutual discontent, and some other feeling she did not quite
understand, produced a nervous excitement which called the blood to
her cheek and gave a dangerous brilliancy to her eyes, two
circumstances not unnoticed nor unappreciated by her two guests.
But instead of reuniting them, the prettier Mrs. Tucker became, the
more distant and reserved grew the men, until Don Jose rose before
the usual hour, and with more than usual ceremoniousness departed.
"Then my business does not seem to be with HIM?" said Poindexter,
with quiet coolness, as Mrs. Tucker turned her somewhat mystified
face towards him. "Or have you anything to say to me about him in
"I am sure I don't know what you both mean," she returned with a
slight tremor of voice. "I had no idea you were not on good terms.
I thought you were! It's very awkward." Without coquetry and
unconsciously she raised her blue eyes under her lids until the
clear pupils coyly and softly hid themselves in the corners of the
brown lashes, and added, "You have both been so kind to me."
"Perhaps that is the reason," said Poindexter, gravely. But Mrs.
Tucker refused to accept the suggestion with equal gravity, and
began to laugh. The laugh, which was at first frank, spontaneous,
and almost child-like, was becoming hysterical and nervous as she
went on, until it was suddenly checked by Poindexter.
"I have had no difficulties with Don Jose Santierra," he said,
somewhat coldly ignoring her hilarity, "but perhaps he is not
inclined to be as polite to the friend of the husband as he is to
"Mr. Poindexter!" said Mrs. Tucker quickly, her face becoming pale
"I beg your pardon!" said Poindexter, flushing; "but--"
"You want to say," she interrupted coolly, "that you are not
friends, I see. Is that the reason why you have avoided this
house?" she continued gently.
"I thought I could be of more service to you elsewhere," he replied
evasively. "I have been lately following up a certain clue rather
closely. I think I am on the track of a confidante of--of--that
A quick shadow passed over Mrs. Tucker's face. "Indeed!" she said
coldly. "Then I am to believe that you prefer to spend your
leisure moments in looking after that creature to calling here?"
Poindexter was stupefied. Was this the woman who only four months
ago was almost vindictively eager to pursue her husband's paramour!
There could be but one answer to it--Don Jose! Four months ago he
would have smiled compassionately at it from his cynical pre-
eminence. Now he managed with difficulty to stifle the bitterness
of his reply.
"If you do not wish the inquiry carried on," he began, "of course--"
"I? What does it matter to me?" she said coolly. "Do as you
Nevertheless, half an hour later, as he was leaving, she said, with
a certain hesitating timidity, "Do not leave me so much alone here,
and let that woman go."
This was not the only unlooked-for sequel to her innocent desire to
propitiate her best friends. Don Jose did not call again upon his
usual day, but in his place came Dona Clara, his younger sister.
When Mrs. Tucker had politely asked after the absent Don Jose, Dona
Clara wound her swarthy arms around the fair American's waist and
replied, "But why did you send for the abogado Poindexter when my
"But Captain Poindexter calls as one of my friends," said the
amazed Mrs. Tucker. "He is a gentleman, and has been a soldier and
an officer," she added with some warmth.
"Ah, yes, a soldier of the law, what you call an oficial de
policia, a chief of gendarmes, my sister, but not a gentleman--a
camarero to protect a lady."
Mrs. Tucker would have uttered a hasty reply, but the perfect and
good-natured simplicity of Dona Clara withheld her. Nevertheless,
she treated Don Jose with a certain reserve at their next meeting,
until it brought the simple-minded Castilian so dangerously near
the point of demanding an explanation which implied too much that
she was obliged to restore him temporarily to his old footing.
Meantime she had a brilliant idea. She would write to Calhoun
Weaver, whom she had avoided since that memorable day. She would
say she wished to consult him. He would come to Los Cuervos; he
might suggest something to lighten this weary waiting; at least she
would show them all that she had still old friends. Yet she did
not dream of returning to her Blue Grass home; her parents had died
since she left; she shrank from the thought of dragging her ruined
life before the hopeful youth of her girlhood's companions.
Mr. Calhoun Weaver arrived promptly, ostentatiously, oracularly,
and cordially, but a little coarsely. He had--did she remember?--
expected this from the first. Spencer had lost his head through
vanity, and had attempted too much. It required foresight and
firmness, as he himself--who had lately made successful
"combinations" which she might perhaps have heard of--well knew.
But Spencer had got the "big head." "As to that woman--a devilish
handsome woman too!--well, everybody knew that Spencer always had a
weakness that way, and he would say--but if she didn't care to hear
any more about her--well, perhaps she was right. That was the best
way to take it." Sitting before her, prosperous, weak,
egotistical, incompetent, unavailable, and yet filled with a vague
kindliness of intent, Mrs. Tucker loathed him. A sickening
perception of her own weakness in sending for him, a new and aching
sense of her utter isolation and helplessness, seemed to paralyze
"Nat'rally you feel bad," he continued, with the large air of a
profound student of human nature. "Nat'rally, nat'rally you're
kept in an uncomfortable state, not knowing jist how you stand.
There ain't but one thing to do. Jist rise up, quiet like, and get
a divorce agin Spencer. Hold on! There ain't a judge or jury in
California that wouldn't give it to you right off the nail, without
asking questions. Why, you 'ld get it by default if you wanted to;
you 'ld just have to walk over the course! And then, Belle," he
drew his chair still nearer her, "when you've settled down again--
well!--I don't mind renewing that offer I once made ye, before
Spencer ever came round ye--I don't mind, Belle, I swear I don't!
Honest Injin! I'm in earnest, there's my hand!"
Mrs. Tucker's reply has not been recorded. Enough that half an
hour later Mr. Weaver appeared in the courtyard with traces of
tears on his foolish face, a broken falsetto voice, and other
evidence of mental and moral disturbance. His cordiality and
oracular predisposition remained sufficiently to enable him to
suggest the magical words "Blue Grass" mysteriously to Concha, with
an indication of his hand to the erect figure of her pale mistress
in the doorway, who waved to him a silent but half-compassionate
At about this time a slight change in her manner was noticed by the
few who saw her more frequently. Her apparently invincible
girlishness of spirit had given way to a certain matronly
seriousness. She applied herself to her household cares and the
improvement of the hacienda with a new sense of duty and a settled
earnestness, until by degrees she wrought into it not only her
instinctive delicacy and taste, but part of her own individuality.
Even the rude rancheros and tradesmen who were permitted to enter
the walls in the exercise of their calling began to speak
mysteriously of the beauty of this garden of the almarjal. She
went out but seldom, and then accompanied by the one or the other
of her female servants, in long drives on unfrequented roads. On
Sundays she sometimes drove to the half-ruined mission church of
Santa Inez, and hid herself, during mass, in the dim monastic
shadows of the choir. Gradually the poorer people whom she met in
these journeys began to show an almost devotional reverence for
her, stopping in the roads with uncovered heads for her to pass, or
making way for her in the tienda or plaza of the wretched town with
dumb courtesy. She began to feel a strange sense of widowhood,
that, while it at times brought tears to her eyes, was, not without
a certain tender solace. In the sympathy and simpleness of this
impulse she went as far as to revive the mourning she had worn for
her parents, but with such a fatal accenting of her beauty, and
dangerous misinterpreting of her condition to eligible bachelors
strange to the country, that she was obliged to put it off again.
Her reserve and dignified manner caused others to mistake her
nationality for that of the Santierras, and in "Dona Bella" the
simple Mrs. Tucker was for a while forgotten. At times she even
forgot it herself. Accustomed now almost entirely to the accents
of another language and the features of another race, she would sit
for hours in the corridor, whose massive bronzed inclosure even her
tasteful care could only make an embowered mausoleum of the Past,
or gaze abstractedly from the dark embrasures of her windows across
the stretching almarjal to the shining lagoon beyond that
terminated the estuary. She had a strange fondness for this
tranquil mirror, which under sun or stars always retained the
passive reflex of the sky above, and seemed to rest her weary eyes.
She had objected to one of the plans projected by Poindexter to
redeem the land and deepen the water at the embarcadero, as it
would have drained the lagoon, and the lawyer had postponed the
improvement to gratify her fancy. So she kept it through the long
summer unchanged save by the shadows of passing wings or the lazy
files of sleeping sea-fowl.
On one of these afternoons she noticed a slowly moving carriage
leave the high road and cross the almarjal skirting the edge of the
lagoon. If it contained visitors for Los Cuervos they had
evidently taken a shorter cut without waiting to go on to the
regular road which intersected the highway at right angles a mile
farther on. It was with some sense of annoyance and irritation
that she watched the trespass, and finally saw the vehicle approach
the house. A few moments later the servant informed her that Mr.
Patterson would like to see her alone. When she entered the
corridor, which in the dry season served as a reception hall, she
was surprised to see that Patterson was not alone. Near him stood
a well-dressed handsome woman, gazing about her with good-humored
admiration of Mrs. Tucker's taste and ingenuity.
"It don't look much like it did two years ago," said the stranger
cheerfully. "You've improved it wonderfully."
Stiffening slightly, Mrs. Tucker turned inquiringly to Mr.
Patterson. But that gentleman's usual profound melancholy appeared
to be intensified by the hilarity of his companion. He only sighed
deeply and rubbed his leg with the brim of his hat in gloomy
"Well! go on, then," said the woman, laughing and nudging him. "Go
on--introduce me--can't you? Don't stand there like a tombstone.
You won't? Well, I'll introduce myself." She laughed again, and
then, with an excellent imitation of Patterson's lugubrious
accents, said, "Mr. Spencer Tucker's wife that IS, allow me to
introduce you to Mr. Spencer Tucker's sweetheart that WAS! Hold
on! I said THAT WAS. For true as I stand here, ma'am--and I
reckon I wouldn't stand here if it wasn't true--I haven't set eyes
on him since the day he left you."
"It's the Gospel truth, every word," said Patterson, stirred into a
sudden activity by Mrs. Tucker's white and rigid face. "It's the
frozen truth, and I kin prove it. For I kin swear that when that
there young woman was sailin' outer the Golden Gate, Spencer Tucker
was in my bar room; I kin swear that I fed him, lickered him, give
him a hoss and set him in his road to Monterey that very night."
"Then, where is he now?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly facing them.
They looked at each other, and then looked at Mrs. Tucker. Then
both together replied slowly and in perfect unison, "That's--what--
we--want--to--know." They seemed so satisfied with this effect
that they as deliberately repeated, "Yes--that's--what--we--want--
Between the shock of meeting the partner of her husband's guilt and
the unexpected revelation to her inexperience, that in suggestion
and appearance there was nothing beyond the recollection of that
guilt that was really shocking in the woman--between the
extravagant extremes of hope and fear suggested by their words,
there was something so grotesquely absurd in the melodramatic
chorus that she with difficulty suppressed a hysterical laugh.
"That's the way to take it," said the woman, putting her own good-
humored interpretation upon Mrs. Tucker's expression. "Now, look
here! I'll tell you all about it." She carefully selected the
most comfortable chair, and sitting down, lightly crossed her hands
in her lap. "Well, I left here on the 13th of last January on the
ship Argo, calculating that your husband would join the ship just
inside the Heads. That was our arrangement, but if anything
happened to prevent him, he was to join me in Acapulco. Well! He
didn't come aboard, and we sailed without him. But it appears now
he did attempt to join the ship, but his boat was capsized. There,
now, don't be alarmed! he wasn't drowned, as Patterson can swear
to--no, catch HIM! not a hair of him was hurt; but I--I was bundled
off to the end of the earth in Mexico, alone, without a cent to
bless me. For true as you live, that hound of a captain, when he
found, as he thought, that Spencer was nabbed, he just confiscated
all his trunks and valuables and left me in the lurch. If I hadn't
met a man down there that offered to marry me and brought me here,
I might have died there, I reckon. But I did, and here I am. I
went down there as your husband's sweetheart, I've come back as the
wife of an honest man, and I reckon it's about square!"
There was something so startlingly frank, so hopelessly self-
satisfied, so contagiously good-humored in the woman's perfect
moral unconsciousness, that even if Mrs. Tucker had been less
preoccupied her resentment would have abated. But her eyes were
fixed on the gloomy face of Patterson, who was beginning to unlock
the sepulchres of his memory and disinter his deeply buried
"You kin bet your whole pile on what this Mrs. Capting Baxter--ez
used to be French Inez of New Orleans--hez told ye. Ye kin take
everything she's unloaded. And it's only doin' the square thing to
her to say, she hain't done it out o' no cussedness, but just to
satisfy herself, now she's a married woman and past such
foolishness. But that ain't neither here nor there. The gist of
the whole matter is that Spencer Tucker was at the tienda the day
after she sailed and after his boat capsized." He then gave a
detailed account of the interview, with the unnecessary but
truthful minutiae of his class, adding to the particulars already
known that the following week he visited the Summit House and was
surprised to find that Spencer had never been there, nor had he
ever sailed from Monterey.
"But why was this not told to me before?" said Mrs. Tucker,
suddenly. "Why not at the time? Why," she demanded almost
fiercely, turning from the one to the other, "has this been kept
"I'll tell ye why," said Patterson, sinking with crushed submission
into a chair. "When I found he wasn't where he ought to be, I got
to lookin' elsewhere. I knew the track of the hoss I lent him by a
loose shoe. I examined; and found he had turned off the high road
somewhere beyond the lagoon, jist as if he was makin' a bee line
"Well," said Mrs. Tucker, breathlessly.
"Well," said Patterson, with the resigned tone of an accustomed
martyr, "mebbe I'm a God-forsaken idiot, but I reckon he DID come
yer. And mebbe I'm that much of a habitooal lunatic, but thinking
so, I calkilated you'ld know it without tellin'."
With their eyes fixed upon her, Mrs. Tucker felt the quick blood
rush to her cheeks, although she knew not why. But they were
apparently satisfied with her ignorance, for Patterson resumed,
yet more gloomily:--
"Then if he wasn't hidin' here beknownst to you, he must have
changed his mind agin and got away by the embarcadero. The only
thing wantin' to prove that idea is to know how he got a boat,
and what he did with the hoss. And thar's one more idea, and ez
that can't be proved," continued Patterson, sinking his voice
still lower, "mebbe it's accordin' to God's laws."
Unsympathetic to her as the speaker had always been and still
was, Mrs. Tucker felt a vague chill creep over her that seemed
to be the result of his manner more than his words. "And that
idea is . . . ?" she suggested with pale lips.
"It's this! Fust, I don't say it means much to anybody but me.
I've heard of these warnings afore now, ez comin' only to folks ez
hear them for themselves alone, and I reckon I kin stand it, if
it's the will o' God. The idea is then--that--Spencer Tucker--WAS
DROWNDED in that boat; the idea is"--his voice was almost lost in a
hoarse whisper--"that it was no living man that kem to me that
night, but a spirit that kem out of the darkness and went back into
it! No eye saw him but mine--no ears heard him but mine. I reckon
it weren't intended it should." He paused, and passed the flap of
his hat across his eyes. "The pie, you'll say, is agin it," he
continued in the same tone of voice,--"the whiskey is agin it--a
few cuss words that dropped from him, accidental like, may have
been agin it. All the same they mout have been only the little
signs and tokens that it was him."
But Mrs. Baxter's ready laugh somewhat rudely dispelled the
infection of Patterson's gloom. "I reckon the only spirit was that
which you and Spencer consumed," she said, cheerfully. "I don't
wonder you're a little mixed. Like as not you've misunderstood his
plans." Patterson shook his head. "He'll turn up yet, alive and
kicking! Like as not, then, Poindexter knows where he is all the
"Impossible! He would have told me," said Mrs. Tucker, quickly.
Mrs. Baxter looked at Patterson without speaking. Patterson
replied by a long lugubrious whistle.
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker, drawing back with cold
"You don't?" returned Mrs. Baxter. "Bless your innocent heart!
Why was he so keen to hunt me up at first, shadowing my friends and
all that, and why has he dropped it now he knows I'm here, if he
didn't know where Spencer was?"
"I can explain that," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, hastily, with a
blush of confusion. "That is--I--"
"Then mebbe you kin explain too," broke in Patterson with gloomy
significance, "why he has bought up most of Spencer's debts
himself, and perhaps you're satisfied it ISN'T to hold the whip
hand of him and keep him from coming back openly. Pr'aps you know
why he's movin' heaven and earth to make Don Jose Santierra sell
the ranch, and why the Don don't see it all."
"Don Jose sell Los Cuervos! Buy it, you mean?" said Mrs. Tucker.
"I offered to sell it to him."
Patterson arose from the chair, looked despairingly around him,
passed his hand sadly across his forehead, and said: "It's come! I
knew it would. It's the warning! It's suthing betwixt jim-jams
and doddering idjiocy. Here I'd hev been willin' to swear that
Mrs. Baxter here told me SHE had sold this yer ranch nearly two
years ago to Don Jose, and now you--"
"Stop!" said Mrs. Tucker, in a voice that chilled them.
She was standing upright and rigid, as if stricken to stone. "I
command you to tell me what this means!" she said, turning only her
blazing eyes upon the woman.
Even the ready smile faded from Mrs. Baxter's lips as she replied
hesitatingly and submissively: "I thought you knew already that
Spencer had given this ranch to me. I sold it to Don Jose to get
the money for us to go away with. It was Spencer's idea--"
"You lie!" said Mrs. Tucker.
There was a dead silence. The wrathful blood that had quickly
mounted to Mrs. Baxter's cheek, to Patterson's additional
bewilderment, faded as quickly. She did not lift her eyes again to
Mrs. Tucker's, but, slowly raising herself from her seat, said, "I
wish to God I did lie; but it's true. And it's true that I never
touched a cent of the money, but gave it all to him!" She laid her
hand on Patterson's arm, and said, "Come! let us go," and led him a
few steps towards the gateway. But here Patterson paused, and
again passed his hand over his melancholy brow. The necessity of
coherently and logically closing the conversation impressed itself
upon his darkening mind. "Then you don't happen to have heard
anything of Spencer?" he said sadly, and vanished with Mrs. Baxter
through the gate.
Left alone to herself, Mrs. Tucker raised her hands above her head
with a little cry, interlocked her rigid fingers, and slowly
brought her palms down upon her upturned face and eyes, pressing
hard as if to crush out all light and sense of life before her.
She stood thus for a moment motionless and silent, with the rising
wind whispering without and flecking her white morning dress with
gusty shadows from the arbor. Then, with closed eyes, dropping her
hands to her breast, still pressing hard, she slowly passed them
down the shapely contours of her figure to the waist, and with
another cry cast them off as if she were stripping herself of some
loathsome garment. Then she walked quickly to the gateway, looked
out, returned to the corridor, unloosening and taking off her
wedding-ring from her finger as she walked. Here she paused, then
slowly and deliberately rearranged the chairs and adjusted the gay-
colored rugs that draped them, and quietly re-entered her chamber.
Two days afterwards the sweating steed of Captain Poindexter was
turned loose in the corral, and a moment later the captain entered
the corridor. Handing a letter to the decrepit Concha, who seemed
to be utterly disorganized by its contents, and the few curt words
with which it was delivered, he gazed silently upon the vacant
bower, still fresh and redolent with the delicacy and perfume of
its graceful occupant, until his dark eyes filled with unaccustomed
moisture. But his reverie was interrupted by the sound of jingling
spurs without, and the old humor struggled back in his eyes as Don
Jose impetuously entered. The Spaniard started back, but instantly
"So I find you here. Ah! it is well!" he said passionately,
producing a letter from his bosom. "Look! Do you call this honor?
Look how you keep your compact!"
Poindexter coolly took the letter. It contained a few words of
gentle dignity from Mrs. Tucker, informing Don Jose that she had
only that instant learned of his just claims upon Los Cuervos,
tendering him her gratitude for his delicate intentions, but
pointing out with respectful firmness that he must know that a
moment's further acceptance of his courtesy was impossible.
"She has gained this knowledge from no word of mine," said
Poindexter, calmly. "Right or wrong, I have kept my promise to
you. I have as much reason to accuse you of betraying my secret in
this," he added coldly, as he took another letter from his pocket
and handed it to Don Jose.
It seemed briefer and colder, but was neither. It reminded
Poindexter that as he had again deceived her she must take the
government of her affairs in her own hands henceforth. She
abandoned all the furniture and improvements she had put in Los
Cuervos to him, to whom she now knew she was indebted for them.
She could not thank him for what his habitual generosity
impelled him to do for any woman, but she could forgive him for
misunderstanding her like any other woman, perhaps she should say,
like a child. When he received this she would be already on her
way to her old home in Kentucky, where she still hoped to be able
by her own efforts to amass enough to discharge her obligations to
"She does not speak of her husband, this woman," said Don Jose,
scanning Poindexter's face. "It is possible she rejoins him, eh?"
"Perhaps in one way she has never left him, Don Jose," said
Poindexter, with grave significance.
Don Jose's face flushed, but he returned carelessly, "And the
rancho, naturally you will not buy it now?"
"On the contrary, I shall abide by my offer," said Poindexter,
Don Jose eyed him narrowly, and then said, "Ah, we shall consider
He did consider it, and accepted the offer. With the full control
of the land, Captain Poindexter's improvements, so indefinitely
postponed, were actively pushed forward. The thick walls of the
hacienda were the first to melt away before them; the low lines of
corral were effaced, and the early breath of the summer trade winds
swept uninterruptedly across the now leveled plain to the
embarcadero, where a newer structure arose. A more vivid green
alone marked the spot where the crumbling adobe walls of the casa
had returned to the parent soil that gave it. The channel was
deepened, the lagoon was drained, until one evening the magic
mirror that had so long reflected the weary waiting of the Blue
Grass Penelope lay dull, dead, lustreless, an opaque quagmire of
noisome corruption and decay to be put away from the sight of man
forever. On this spot the crows, the titular tenants of Los
Cuervos, assembled in tumultuous congress, coming and going in
mysterious clouds, or laboring in thick and writhing masses, as if
they were continuing the work of improvement begun by human agency.
So well had they done the work that by the end of a week only a few
scattered white objects remained glittering on the surface of the
quickly drying soil. But they were the bones of the missing
outcast, Spencer Tucker!
. . . . . .
The same spring a breath of war swept over a foul, decaying
quagmire of the whole land, before which such passing deeds as
these were blown as vapor. It called men of all rank and condition
to battle for a nation's life, and among the first to respond were
those into whose boyish hands had been placed the nation's honor.
It returned the epaulets to Poindexter's shoulder with the addition
of a double star, carried him triumphantly to the front, and left
him, at the end of a summer's day and a hard-won fight, sorely
wounded, at the door of a Blue Grass farmhouse. And the woman who
sought him out and ministered to his wants said timidly, as she
left her hand in his, "I told you I should live to repay you."
LEFT OUT ON LONE STAR MOUNTAIN.
There was little doubt that the Lone Star claim was "played out."
Not dug out, worked out, washed out, but PLAYED out. For two years
its five sanguine proprietors had gone through the various stages
of mining enthusiasm; had prospected and planned, dug and doubted.
They had borrowed money with hearty but unredeeming frankness,
established a credit with unselfish abnegation of all responsibility,
and had borne the disappointment of their creditors with a cheerful
resignation which only the consciousness of some deep Compensating
Future could give. Giving little else, however, a singular
dissatisfaction obtained with the traders, and, being accompanied
with a reluctance to make further advances, at last touched the
gentle stoicism of the proprietors themselves. The youthful
enthusiasm which had at first lifted the most ineffectual trial, the
most useless essay, to the plane of actual achievement, died out,
leaving them only the dull, prosaic record of half-finished
ditches, purposeless shafts, untenable pits, abandoned engines, and
Back to Full Books