The Argonauts of North Liberty
Part 2 out of 2
in the pueblo and along the route. Demorest was not displeased to
part with him before the arrival of his wife, and thus spare her
the awkwardness of a repetition of Ezekiel's effrontery in her
presence. Nor was he willing to have the impediment of a guest in
the house to any explanation he might have to seek from her, or to
the confidences that hereafter must be fuller and more mutual.
For with all his deep affection for his wife, Richard Demorest
unconsciously feared her. The strong man whose dominance over men
and women alike had been his salient characteristic, had begun to
feel an undefinable sense of some unrecognized quality in the woman
he loved. He had once or twice detected it in a tone of her voice,
in a remembered and perhaps even once idolized gesture, or in the
accidental lapse of some bewildering word. With the generosity of
a large nature he had put the thought aside, referring it to some
selfish weakness of his own, or--more fatuous than all--to a
possible diminution of his own affection.
He was standing on the steps ready to receive her. Few of her
appreciative sex could have remained indifferent to the tender and
touching significance of his silent and subdued welcome. He had
that piteous wistfulness of eye seen in some dogs and the husbands
of many charming women--the affection that pardons beforehand the
indifference it has learned to expect. She approached him smiling
in her turn, meeting the sublime patience of being unloved with
the equally resigned patience of being loved, and feeling that
comforting sense of virtue which might become a bore, but never a
self-reproach. For the rest, she was prettier than ever; her five
years of expanded life had slightly rounded the elongated oval of
her face, filled up the ascetic hollows of her temples, and freed
the repression of her mouth and chin. A more genial climate had
quickened the circulation that North Liberty had arrested, and
suffused the transparent beauty of her skin with eloquent life. It
seemed as if the long, protracted northern spring of her youth had
suddenly burst into a summer of womanhood under those gentle skies;
and yet enough of her puritan precision of manner, movement, and
gesture remained to temper her fuller and more exuberant life and
give it repose. In a community of pretty women more or less given
to the license and extravagance of the epoch, she always looked
like a lady.
He took her in his arms and half-lifted her up the last step of the
veranda. She resisted slightly with her characteristic action of
catching his wrists in both her hands and holding him off with an
awkward primness, and almost in the same tone that she had used to
Edward Blandford five years before, said:
"There, Dick, that will do."
Demorest's dream of a few days' conjugal seclusion and confidences
with his wife was quickly dispelled by that lady. "I came down
with Rosita Pico, whose father, you know, once owned this
property," she said. "She's gone on to her cousins at Los Osos
Rancho to-night, but comes here to-morrow for a visit. She knows
the place well; in fact, she once had a romantic love affair here.
But she is very entertaining. It will be a little change for us,"
she added, naively.
Demorest kept back a sigh, without changing his gentle smile. "I'm
glad for your sake, dear. But is she not a little flighty and
inclined to flirt a good deal? I think I've heard so."
"She's a young girl who has been severely tried, Richard, and
perhaps is not to blame for endeavoring to forget it in such
distraction as she can find," said Mrs. Demorest, with a slight
return of her old manner. "I can understand her feelings
perfectly." She looked pointedly at her husband as she spoke, it
being one of her late habits to openly refer to their ante-nuptial
acquaintance as a natural reaction from the martyrdom of her first
marriage, with a quiet indifference that seemed almost an
indelicacy. But her husband only said: "As you like, dear,"
vaguely remembering Dona Rosita as the alleged heroine of a
forgotten romance with some earlier American adventurer who had
disappeared, and trying vainly to reconcile his wife's sentimental
description of her with his own recollection of the buxom, pretty,
laughing, but dangerous-eyed Spanish girl he had, however, seen but
She arrived the next day, flying into a protracted embrace of Joan,
which included a smiling recognition of Demorest with an unoccupied
blue eye, and a shake of her fan over his wife's shoulder. Then
she drew back and seemed to take in the whole veranda and garden in
another long caress of her eyes. "Ah-yess! I have recog-nized it,
mooch. It es ze same. Of no change--not even of a leetle. No,
she ess always--esso." She stopped, looked unutterable things at
Joan, pressed her fan below a spray of roses on her full bodice as
if to indicate some thrilling memory beneath it, shook her head
again, suddenly caught sight of Demorest's serious face, said: "Ah,
that brigand of our husband laughs himself at me," and then herself
broke into a charming ripple of laughter.
"But I was not laughing, Dona Rosita," said Demorest, smiling
sadly, however, in spite of himself.
She made a little grimace, and then raised her elbows, slightly
lifting her shoulders. "As it shall please you, Senor. But he is
gone--thees passion. Yess--what you shall call thees sentiment of
lof--zo--as he came!" She threw her fingers in the air as if to
illustrate the volatile and transitory passage of her affections,
and then turned again to Joan with her back towards Demorest.
"Do please go on--Dona Rosita," said he, "I never heard the real
story. If there is any romance about my house, I'd like to know
it," he added with a faint sigh.
Dona Rosita wheeled upon him with an inquiring little look. "Ah,
you have the sentiment, and YOU," she continued, taking Joan by the
arms, "YOU have not. Eet ess good so. When a--the wife," she
continued boldly, hazarding an extended English abstraction, "he
has the sentimente and the hoosband he has nothing, eet is not
good--for a-him--ze wife," she concluded triumphantly.
"But I have great appreciation and I am dying to hear it," said
Demorest, trying to laugh.
"Well, poor one, you look so. But you shall lif till another
time," said Dona Rosita, with a mock courtesy, gliding with Joan
The "other time" came that evening when chocolate was served on the
veranda, where Dona Rosita, mantilla-draped against the dry, clear,
moonlit air, sat at the feet of Joan on the lowest step. Demorest,
uneasily observant of the influence of the giddy foreigner on his
wife, and conscious of certain confidences between them from which
he was excluded, leaned against a pillar of the porch in half
abstracted resignation; Joan, under the tutelage of Rosita, lit a
cigarette; Demorest gazed at her wonderingly, trying to recall, in
her fuller and more animated face, some memory of the pale, refined
profile of the Puritan girl he had first met in the Boston train,
the faint aurora of whose cheek in that northern clime seemed to
come and go with his words. Becoming conscious at last of the eyes
of Dona Rosita watching him from below, with an effort he recalled
his duty as her host and gallantly reminded her that moonlight and
the hour seemed expressly fitted for her promised love story.
"Do tell it," said Joan, "I don't mind hearing it again."
"Then you know it already?" said Demorest, surprised.
Joan took the cigarette from her lips, laughed complacently, and
exchanged a familiar glance with Rosita. "She told it me a year
ago, when we first knew each other," she replied. "Go on, dear,"
Thus encouraged, Dona Rosita began, addressing herself first in
Spanish to Demorest, who understood the language better than his
wife, and lapsing into her characteristic English as she appealed
to them both. It was really very little to interest Don Ricardo--
this story of a silly muchacha like herself and a strange
caballero. He would go to sleep while she was talking, and to-
night he would say to his wife, "Mother of God! why have you
brought here this chattering parrot who speaks but of one thing?"
But she would go on always like the windmill, whether there was
grain to grind or no. "It was four years ago. Ah! Don Ricardo did
not remember the country then--it was when the first Americans
came--now it is different. Then there were no coaches--in truth
one travelled very little, and always on horseback, only to see
one's neighbors. And suddenly, as if in one day, it was changed;
there were strange men on the roads, and one was frightened, and
one shut the gates of the pateo and drove the horses into the
corral. One did not know much of the Americans then--for why?
They were always going, going--never stopping, hurrying on to the
gold mines, hurrying away from the gold mines, hurrying to look for
other gold mines: but always going on foot, on horseback, in queer
wagons--hurrying, pushing everywhere. Ah, it took away the breath.
All, except one American--he did not hurry, he did not go with the
others, he came and stayed here at Buenaventura. He was very
quiet, very civil, very sad, and very discreet. He was not like
the others, and always kept aloof from them. He came to see Don
Andreas Pico, and wanted to beg a piece of land and an old
vaquero's hut near the road for a trifle. Don Andreas would have
given it, or a better house, to him, or have had him live at the
casa here; but he would not. He was very proud and shy, so he took
the vaquero's hut, a mere adobe affair, and lived in it, though a
caballero like yourself, with white hands that knew not labor, and
small feet that had seldom walked. In good time he learned to ride
like the best vaquero, and helped Don Andreas to find the lost
mustangs, and showed him how to improve the old mill. And his
pride and his shyness wore off, and he would come to the casa
sometimes. And Don Andreas got to love him very much, and his
daughter, Dona Rosita--ah, well, yes truly--a leetle.
"But he had strange moods and ways, this American, and at times
they would have thought him a lunatico had they not believed it to
be an American fashion. He would be very kind and gentle like one
of the family, coming to the casa every day, playing with the
children, advising Don Andreas and--yes--having a devotion--very
discreet, very ceremonious, for Dona Rosita. And then, all in a
moment, he would become as ill, without a word or gesture, until he
would stalk out of the house, gallop away furiously, and for a week
not be heard of. The first time it happened, Dona Rosita was
piqued by his rudeness, Don Andreas was alarmed, for it was on an
evening like the present, and Dona Rosita was teaching him a little
song on the guitar when the fit came on him. And he snapped the
guitar strings like thread and threw it down, and got up like a
bear and walked away without a word."
"I see it all," said Demorest, half seriously: "you were coquetting
with him, and he was jealous."
But Dona Rosita shook her head and turned impetuously, and said in
English to Joan:
"No, it was astutcia--a trick, a ruse. Because when my father have
arrived at his house, he is agone. And so every time. When he
have the fit he goes not to his house. No. And it ees not until
after one time when he comes back never again, that we have
comprehend what he do at these times. And what do you think? I
shall tell to you."
She composed herself comfortably, with her plump elbows on her
knees, and her fan crossed on the palm of her hand before her, and
"It is a year he has gone, and the stagecoach is attack of
brigands. Tiburcio, our vaquero, have that night made himself a
pasear on the road, and he have seen HIM. He have seen, one, two,
three men came from the wood with something on the face, and HE is
of them. He has nothing on his face, and Tiburcio have recognize
him. We have laugh at Tiburcio. We believe him not. It is
improbable that this Senor Huanson--"
"Senor who?" said Demorest.
"Huanson--eet is the name of him. Ah, Carr!--posiblemente it is
nothing--a Don Fulano--or an apodo--Huanson."
"Oh, I see, JOHNSON, very likely."
"We have said it is not possible that this good man, who have come
to the house and ride on his back the children, is a thief and a
brigand. And one night my father have come from the Monterey in
the coach, and it was stopped. And the brigands have take from the
passengers the money, the rings from the finger, and the watch--
and my father was of the same. And my father, he have great
dissatisfaction and anguish, for his watch is given to him of an
old friend, and it is not like the other watch. But the watch he
go all the same. And then when the robbers have made a finish
comes to the window of the coach a mascara and have say, 'Who is
the Don Andreas Pico?' And my father have say, 'It is I who am Don
Andreas Pico.' And the mask have say, 'Behold, your watch is
restore!' and he gif it to him. And my father say, 'To whom have I
the distinguished honor to thank?' And the mask say--"
"Johnson," interrupted Demorest.
"No," said Dona Rosita in grave triumph, "he say Essmith. For this
Essmith is like Huanson--an apodo--nothing."
"Then you really think this man was your old friend?" asked
"And that he was a robber even when living here--and that it was
not your cruelty that really drove him to take the road?"
Dona Rosita shrugged her plump shoulders. "You will not
comprehend. It was because of his being a brigand that he stayed
not with us. My father would not have object if he have present
himself to me for marriage in these times. I would not have
object, for I was young, and we have knew nothing. It was he who
have object. For why? Inside of his heart he have feel he was a
"But you might have reformed him in time," said Demorest.
She again shrugged her shoulders. "Quien sabe." After a pause she
added with infinite gravity: "And before he have reform, it is bad
for the menage. I should invite to my house some friend. They
arrive, and one say, 'I have not the watch of my pocket,' and
another, 'The ring of my finger, he is gone,' and another, 'My
earrings, she is loss.' And I am obliged to say, 'They reside now
in the pocket of my hoosband; patience! a little while--perhaps to-
morrow--he will restore.' No," she continued, with an air of
infinite conviction, "it is not good for the menage--the necessity
of those explanation."
"You told me he was handsome," said Joan, passing her arm
carelessly around Dona Rosita's comfortable waist. "How did he
"As an angel! He have long curls to his back. His moustache was
as silk, for he have had never a barber to his face. And his eyes--
Santa Maria!--so soft and so--so melankoly. When he smile it is
like the moonlight. But," she added, rising to her feet and
tossing the end of her lace mantilla over her shoulder with a
little laugh--"it is finish--Adelante! Dr-rrive on!"
"I don't want to destroy your belief in the connection of your
friend with the road agents," said Demorest grimly, "but if he
belongs to their band it is in an inferior capacity. Most of them
are known to the authorities, and I have heard it even said that
their leader or organizer is a very unromantic speculator in San
But this suggestion was received coldly by the ladies, who
superciliously turned their backs upon it and the suggester. Joan
dropped her voice to a lower tone and turned to Dona Rosita. "And
you have never seen him since?"
"I should--at least, I wouldn't have let it end in THAT way," said
Joan in a positive whisper.
"Eh?" said Dona Rosita, laughing. "So eet is YOU, Juanita, that
have the romance--eh? Ah, bueno! 'you have the house--so I gif to
you the lover also.' I place him at your disposition." She made a
mock gesture of elaborate and complete abnegation. "But," she
added in Joan's ear, with a quick glance at Demorest, "do not let
our hoosband eat him. Even now he have the look to strangle ME.
Make to him a little lof, quickly, when I shall walk in the
garden." She turned away with a pretty wave of her fan to
Demorest, and calling out, "I go to make an assignation with my
memory," laughed again, and lazily passed into the shadow. An
ominous silence on the veranda followed, broken finally by Mrs.
"I don't think it was necessary for you to show your dislike to
Dona Rosita quite so plainly," she said, coldly, slightly accenting
the Puritan stiffness, which any conjugal tete-a-tete lately
revived in her manner.
"I show dislike of Dona Rosita?" stammered Demorest, in surprise.
"Come, Joan," he added, with a forgiving smile, "you don't mean to
imply that I dislike her because I couldn't get up a thrilling
interest in an old story I've heard from every gossip in the pueblo
since I can remember."
"It's not an old story to HER," said Joan, dryly, "and even if it
were, you might reflect that all people are not as anxious to
forget the past as you are."
Demorest drew back to let the shaft glance by. "The story is old
enough, at least for her to have had a dozen flirtations, as you
know, since then," he returned gently, "and I don't think she
herself seriously believes in it. But let that pass. I am sorry I
offended her. I had no idea of doing so. As a rule, I think she
is not so easily offended. But I shall apologize to her." He
stopped and approached nearer his wife in a half-timid, half-
tentative affection. "As to my forgetfulness of the past, Joan,
even if it were true, I have had little cause to forget it lately.
Your friend, Corwin--"
"I must insist upon your not calling him MY friend, Richard,"
interrupted Joan, sharply, "considering that it was through YOUR
indiscretion in coming to us for the buggy that night, that he
She stopped suddenly, for at that moment a startled little shriek,
quickly subdued, rang through the garden. Demorest ran hurriedly
down the steps in the direction of the outcry. Joan followed more
cautiously. At the first turning of the path Dona Rosita almost
fell into his arms. She was breathless and trembling, but broke
into a hysterical laugh.
"I have such a fear come to me--I cry out! I think I have seen a
man; but it was nothing--nothing! I am a fool. It is no one
"But where did you see anything?" said Joan, coming up.
Rosita flew to her side. "Where? Oh, here!--everywhere! Ah, I am
a fool!" She was laughing now, albeit there were tears glistening
on her lashes when she laid her head on Joan's shoulder.
"It was some fancy--some resemblance you saw in that queer cactus,"
said Demorest, gently. "It is quite natural, I was myself deceived
the other night. But I'll look around to satisfy you. Take Dona
Rosita back to the veranda, Joan. But don't be alarmed, dear--it
was only an illusion."
He turned away. When his figure was lost in the entwining foliage,
Dona Rosita seized Joan's shoulder and dragged her face down to a
level with her own.
"It was something!" she whispered quickly.
"Nonsense," groaned Joan, nevertheless casting a hurried glance
"Have no fear," said Dona Rosita quickly, "he is gone--I saw him
pass away--so! But it was HE--Huanson. I recognize him. I forget
"Are you sure?"
"Have I the eyes? the memory? Madre de Dios! Am I a lunatico too?
Look! He have stood there--so."
"Then you think he knew you were here?"
"And that he came here to see you?"
Dona Rosita caught her again by the shoulders, and with her lips
to Joan's ear, said with the intensest and most deliberate of
"What in Heaven's name brought him here then?"
"Are you crazy?"
"You! you! YOU!" repeated Dona Rosita, with crescendo energy. "I
have come upon him here; where he stood and look at the veranda,
absorrrb of YOU. You move--he fly."
"Ah, yes! I have said I give him to you. And he came, Bueno,"
murmured Dona Rosita, with a half-resigned, half-superstitious
"WILL you be quiet!"
It was the sound of Demorest's feet on the gravel path, returning
from his fruitless search. He had seen nothing. It must have been
Dona Rosita's fancy.
"She was just saying she thought she had been mistaken," said Joan,
quietly. "Let us go in--it is rather chilly here, and I begin to
feel creepy too."
Nevertheless, as they entered the house again, and the light of the
hall lantern fell upon her face, Demorest thought he had never but
once before seen her look so nervously and animatedly beautiful.
The following day, when Mr. Ezekiel Corwin had delivered his
letters of introduction, and thoroughly canvassed the scant
mercantile community of San Buenaventura with considerable success,
he deposited his carpet-bag at the stage office in the posada, and
found to his chagrin that he had still two hours to wait before the
coach arrived. After a vain attempt to impart cheerful but
disparaging criticism of the pueblo and its people to Senor Mateo
and his wife--whose external courtesy had been visibly increased by
a line from Demorest, but whose confidence towards the stranger had
not been extended in the same proportion--he gave it up, and threw
himself lazily on a wooden bench in the veranda, already hacked
with the initials of his countrymen, and drawing a jack-knife from
his pocket, he began to add to that emblazonry the trade-mark of
the Panacea--as a casual advertisement. During its progress,
however, he was struck by the fact that while no one seemed to
enter the posada through the stage office, the number of voices in
the adjoining room seemed to increase, and the ministrations of
Mateo and his wife became more feverishly occupied with their
invisible guests. It seemed to Ezekiel that consequently there
must be a second entrance which he had not seen, and this added to
the circumstance that one or two lounging figures who had been
approaching unaccountably disappeared before reaching the veranda,
induced him to rise and examine the locality. A few paces beyond
was an alley, but it appeared to be already blocked by several
cigarette-smoking, short-jacketed men who were leaning against its
walls, and showed no inclination to make way for him. Checked, but
not daunted, Ezekiel coolly returned to the stage office, and
taking the first opportunity when Mateo passed through the rear
door, followed him. As he expected, the innkeeper turned to the
left and entered a large room filled with tobacco smoke and the
local habitues of the posada. But Ezekiel, shrewdly surmising that
the private entrance must be in the opposite direction, turned to
the right along the passage until he came unexpectedly upon the
corridor of the usual courtyard, or patio, of every Mexican
hostelry, closed at one end by a low adobe wall, in which there was
a door. The free passage around the corridor was interrupted by
wide partitions, fitted up with tables and benches, like stalls,
opening upon the courtyard where a few stunted fig and orange trees
still grew. As the courtyard seemed to be the only communication
between the passage he had left and the door in the wall, he was
about to cross it, when the voices of two men in the compartment
struck his ears. Although one was evidently an American's, Ezekiel
was instinctively convinced that they were speaking in English only
for greater security against being understood by the frequenters of
the posada. It is unnecessary to say that this was an innocent
challenge to the curiosity of Ezekiel that he instantly accepted.
He drew back carefully into the shadow of the partition as one of
the voices asked--
"Wasn't that Johnson just come in?"
There was a movement as if some one had risen to look over the
compartment, but the gathering twilight completely hid Ezekiel.
"He's late. Suppose he don't come--or back out?"
The other man broke into a grim laugh. "I reckon you don't know
Johnson yet, or you'd understand this yer little game o' his is
just the one idea o' his life. He's been two years on that man's
track, and he ain't goin' to back out now that he's got a dead sure
thing on him."
"But why is he so keen about it, anyway? It don't seem nat'ral for
a business man built after Johnson's style, and a rich man to boot,
to go into this detective business. It ain't the reward, we know
that. Is it an old grudge?"
"You bet!" The speaker paused, and then in a lower voice, which
taxed Ezekial's keen ear to the uttermost, resumed: "It's said up
in Frisco that Cherokee Bob knew suthin' agin Johnson way back in
the States; anyhow, I believe it's understood that they came across
the plains together in '50--and Bob hounded Johnson and blackmailed
him here where he was livin', even to the point of makin' him help
him on the road or give information, until one day Johnson bucked
against it--kicked over the traces--and swore he'd be revenged on
Bob, and then just settled himself down to that business. Wotever
he'd been and done himself he made it all right with the sheriff
here; and I've heard ez it wasn't anything criminal or that sort,
but that it was o' some private trouble that he'd confided to that
hound Bob, and Bob had threatened to tell agen him. That's the
grudge they say Johnson has, and that's why he's allowed to be the
head devil in this yer affair. It's an understood thing, too, that
the sheriff and the police ain't goin' to interfere if Johnson
accidentally blows the top of Bob's head off in the scrimmage of a
"And I reckon Bob wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing to him
when he finds out that Johnson has given him away?"
"I reckon," said the other, sententiously, "for it's Johnson's
knowledge of the country and the hoss-stealers that are in with
Bob's gang of road agents that made it easy for him to buy up and
win over Bob's friends here, so that they'd help to trap him."
"It's pretty rough on Bob to be sold out in that way," said the
second speaker, sympathizingly.
"If they were white men, p'rhaps," returned his companion,
contemptuously, "but this yer's a case of Injin agen Injin, ez the
men are Mexican half-breeds just as Bob's a half Cherokee. The
sooner that kind o' cross cattle exterminate each other the better
it'll be for the country. It takes a white man like Johnson to set
'em by the ears."
A silence followed. Ezekiel, beginning to be slightly bored with
his cheaply acquired but rather impractical information, was about
to slip back into the passage again when he was arrested by a laugh
from the first speaker.
"What's the matter?" growled the other. "Do you want to bring the
whole posada out here?"
"I was only thinkin' what a skeer them innocent greenhorn
passengers will get just ez they're snoozing off for the night, ten
miles from here," responded his friend, with a chuckle. "Wonder ef
anybody's goin' up from here besides that patent medicine softy."
Ezekiel stopped as if petrified.
"Ef the ---- fools keep quiet they won't be hurt, for our men will
be ready to chip in the moment of the attack. But we've got to let
the attack be made for the sake of the evidence. And if we warn
off the passengers from going this trip, and let the stage go up
empty, Bob would suspect something and vamose. But here's
The door in the adobe wall had suddenly opened, and a figure in a
serape entered the patio. Ezekiel, whose curiosity was whetted
with indignation at the ignominious part assigned to him in this
comedy, forgot even his risk of detection by the newcomer, who
advanced quickly towards the compartment. When he had reached it
he said, in a tone of bitterness:
"The game is up, gentlemen, and the whole thing is blown. The
scoundrel has got some confederate here--for he's been seen openly
on the road near Demorest's ranch, and the band have had warning
and dispersed. We must find out the traitor, and take our
precautions for the next time. Who is that there? I don't know
He was pointing to Ezekiel, who had started eagerly forward at the
first sound of his voice. The two occupants of the compartment
rose at the same moment, leaped into the courtyard, and confronted
Ezekiel. Surrounded by the three menacing figures he did not
quail, but remained intently gazing upon the newcomer. Then his
mouth opened, and he drawled lazily:
"Wa'al, ef it ain't Squire Blandford, of North Liberty, Connecticut,
I'm a treed coon. Squire Blandford, how DO you do?"
The stranger drew back in undisguised amazement; the two men
glanced hurriedly at each other; Ezekiel alone remained cool,
smiling, imperturbable, and triumphant.
"Who are YOU, sir? I do not know you," demanded the newcomer,
"Like ez not," said Corwin dryly, "it's a matter o' four year sense
I lived in your house. Even Dick Demorest--you knew Dick?--didn't
know me; but I reckon that Mrs. Blandford as used to be--"
"That's enough," said Blandford--for it was he--suddenly mastering
both himself and Corwin by a supreme emphasis of will and gesture.
"Wait!" Then turning to the two others who were discreetly
regarding the blank adobe wall before them, he said: "Excuse me for
a few minutes, gentlemen. There is no hurry now. I will see you
later;" and with an imperative wave of his hand motioned Ezekiel to
precede him into the passage, and followed him.
He did not speak until they entered the stage office, when, passing
through it, he said peremptorily: "Follow me." The few loungers,
who seemed to recognize him, made way for him with a singular
deference that impressed Ezekiel, already dominated by his manner.
The first perception in his mind was that Blandford had in some
strange way succeeded to Demorest's former imperious character.
There was no trace left of the old, gentle subjection to Joan's
prim precision. Ezekiel followed him out of the office as
unresistingly as he had followed Demorest into the stables on that
eventful night. They passed down the narrow street until Blandford
suddenly stopped short and turned into the crumbling doorway of one
of the low adobe buildings and entered an apartment. It seemed to
be the ordinary living-room of the house, made more domestic by the
presence of a silk counterpaned bed in one corner, a prie Dieu and
crucifix, and one or two articles of bedchamber furniture. A woman
was sitting in deshabille by the window; a man was smoking on a
lounge against the wall. Blandford, in the same peremptory manner,
addressed a command in Spanish to the inmates, who immediately
abandoned the apartment to the seeming trespasser.
Motioning his companion to a seat on the lounge just vacated,
Blandford folded his arms and stood erect before him.
"Well," he said, with quick, business conciseness, "what do you
Ezekiel was staggered out of his complacency.
"Wa'al," he stammered, "I only reckoned to ask the news, ez we are
"How much do you want?" repeated Blandford, impatiently.
Ezekiel was mystified, yet expectant. "I can't say ez I exakly
understand," he began.
"How--much--money--do--you--want," continued Blandford, with frigid
accuracy, "to get up and get out of this place?"
"Wa'al, consideren ez I'm travellin' here ez the only authorized
agent of a first-class Frisco Drug House," said Ezekiel, with a
mingling of mortification, pride, and hopefulness, "unless you're
travellin' in the opposition business, I don't see what's that to
Blandford regarded him searchingly for an instant. "Who sent you
"Dilworth & Dusenberry, Battery Street, San Francisco. Hev their
card?" said Ezekiel, taking one from his waistcoat pocket.
"Corwin," said Blandford, sternly, "whatever your business is here
you'll find it will pay you better, a ---- sight, to be frank with
me and stop this Yankee shuffling. You say you have been with
Demorest--what has HE got to do with your business here?"
"Nothin'," said Ezekiel. "I reckon he wos ez astonished to see me
ez you are."
"And didn't he send you here to seek me?" said Blandford,
"Considerin' he believes you a dead man, I reckon not."
Blandford gave a hard, constrained laugh. After a pause, still
keeping his eyes fixed on Ezekiel, he said:
"Then your recognition of me was accidental?"
"Wa'al, yes. And ez I never took much stock in the stories that
you were washed off the Warensboro Bridge, I ain't much astonished
at finding you agin."
"What did you believe happened to me?" said Blandford, less
Ezekiel noticed the softening; he felt his own turn coming. "I
kalkilated you had reasons for going off, leaving no address behind
you," he drawled.
"What reasons?" asked Blandford, with a sudden relapse of his
"Wa'al, Squire Blandford, sens you wanter know--I reckon your
business wasn't payin', and there was a matter of two hundred and
fifty dollars ye took with ye, that your creditors would hev liked
to hev back."
"Who dare say that?" demanded Blandford, angrily.
"Your wife that was--Mrs. Demorest ez is--told it to her mother,"
returned Ezekiel, lazily.
The blow struck deeper than even Ezekiel's dry malice imagined.
For an instant, Blandford remained stupefied. In the five years'
retrospect of his resolution on that fatal night, whatever doubt
of its wisdom might have obtruded itself upon him, he had never
thought of THIS. He had been willing to believe that his wife had
quietly forgotten him as well as her treachery to him, he had
passively acquiesced in the results of that forgetfulness and his
own silence; he had been conscious that his wound had healed sooner
than he expected, but if this consciousness had enabled him to
extend a certain passive forgiveness to his wife and Demorest, it
was always with the conviction that his mysterious effacement had
left an inexplicable shadow upon them which their consciences alone
could explain. But for this unjust, vulgar, and degrading
interpretation of his own act of expiation, he was totally
unprepared. It completely crushed whatever sentiment remained of
that act in the horrible irony of finding himself put upon his
defence before the world, without being able now to offer the real
cause. The anguish of that night had gone forever; but the
ridiculous interpretation of it had survived, and would survive it.
In the eyes of the man before him he was not a wronged husband, but
an absconding petty defaulter, whom he had just detected!
His mind was quickly made up. In that instant he had resolved upon
a step as fateful as his former one, and a fitting climax to its
results. For five years he had clearly misunderstood his attitude
towards his treacherous wife and perjured friend. Thanks to this
practical, selfish machine before him, he knew it now.
"Look here, Corwin," he said, turning upon Ezekiel a colorless
face, but a steady, merciless eye. "I can guess, without your
telling me, what lies may be circulated about me by the man and
woman who know that I have only to declare myself alive to convict
them of infamy--perhaps even of criminality before the law. You
are not MY friend, or you would not have believed them; if you are
THEIRS, you have two courses open to you now. Keep this meeting to
yourself and trust to my mercy to keep it a secret also; or, tell
Mrs. Demorest that you have seen Mr. Johnson, who is not afraid
to come forward at any moment and proclaim that he is Edward
Blandford, her only lawful husband. Choose which course you like--
it is nothing more to me."
"Wa'al, I reckon that, as far as I know Mrs. Demorest," said
Ezekiel, dryly, "it don't make the least difference to her either;
but if you want to know my opinion o' this matter, it is that
neither you nor Demorest exactly understand that woman. I've known
Joan Salisbury since she was so high, but if ye expected me to tell
you wot she was goin' to do next, I'd be able to tell ye where the
next flash o' lightnin' would strike. It's wot you don't expect of
Joan Salisbury that she does. And the best proof of it is that she
filed papers for a divorce agin you in Chicago and got it by
default a few weeks afore she married Demorest--and you don't know
Blandford recoiled. "Impossible," he said, but his voice too
plainly showed how clearly its possibility struck him now.
"It's so, but it was kept secret by Deacon Salisbury. I overheerd
it. Wa'al, that's a proof that you don't understand Joan, I
reckon. And considerin' that Demorest HIMSELF don't know it, ez I
found out only the other day in talking to him, I kalkilate I'm
safe in sayin' that you're neither o' you quite up to Deacon
Salisbury's darter in nat'ral cuteness. I don't like to obtrude my
opinion, Squire Blandford, ez we're old friends, but I do say, that
wot with Demorest's prematooriness and yer own hangfiredness, it's
a good thing that you two worldly men hev got Joan Salisbury to
stand up for North Liberty and keep it from bein' scandalized by
the ungodly. Ef it hadn't been for her smartness, whar y'd both be
landed now? There's a heap in Christian bringin' up, and a power
in grace, Squire Blandford."
His hard, dry face was for an instant transfigured by a grim fealty
and the dull glow of some sectarian clannishness. Or was it
possible that this woman's personality had in some mysterious way
disturbed his rooted selfishness?
During his speech Blandford had walked to the window. When Corwin
had ceased speaking, Blandford turned towards him with an equally
changed face and cold imperturbability that astonished him, and
held out his hand. "Let bygones be bygones, Corwin--whether we
ever meet again or not. Yet if I can do anything for you for the
sake of old times, I am ready to do it. I have some power here and
in San Francisco," he continued, with a slight touch of pride,
"that isn't dependent upon the mere name I may travel under. I
have a purpose in coming here."
"I know it," said Ezekiel, dryly. "I heard it all from your two
friends. You're huntin' some man that did you an injury."
"I'm hunting down a dog who, suspecting I had some secret in
emigrating here, tried to blackmail and ruin me," said Blandford,
with a sudden expression of hatred that seemed inconsistent with
anything that Ezekiel had ever known of his old master's character--
"a scoundrel who tried to break up my new life as another had
broken up the old." He stopped and recovered himself with a short
laugh. "Well, Ezekiel, I don't know as his opinion of me was any
worse than yours or HERS. And until I catch HIM to clear my name
again, I let the other slanderers go."
"Wa'al, I reckon you might lay hands on that devil yet, and not far
away, either. I was up at Demorest's to-day, and I heard Joan and
a skittish sort o' Mexican young lady talkin' about some tramp that
had frightened her. And Miss Pico said--"
"What! Who did you say?" demanded Blandford, with a violent start.
"Wa'al, I reckoned I heerd the first name too--Rosita."
A quick flush crossed Blandford's face, and left it glowing like a
"Is SHE there?"
"Wa'al, I reckon she's visitin' Joan," said Ezekiel, narrowly
attentive of Blandford's strange excitement; "but wot of it?"
But Blandford had utterly forgotten Ezekiel's presence. He had
remained speechless and flushed. And then, as if suddenly dazzled
by an inspiration, he abruptly dashed from the room. Ezekiel heard
him call to his passive host with a Spanish oath, but before he
could follow, they had both hurriedly left the house.
Ezekiel glanced around him and contemplatively ran his fingers
through his beard. "It ain't Joan Salisbury nor Dick Demorest ez
giv' him that start! Humph! Wa'al--I wanter know!"
Mrs. Demorest was so fascinated by the company of Dona Rosita Pico
and her romantic memories, that she prevailed upon that heart-
broken but scarcely attenuated young lady to prolong her visit
beyond the fortnight she had allotted to communion with the past.
For a day or two following her singular experience in the garden,
Mrs. Demorest plied her with questions regarding the apparition she
had seen, and finally extorted from her the admission that she
could not positively swear to its being the real Johnson, or even
a perfectly consistent shade of that faithless man. When Joan
pointed out to her that such masculine perfections as curling raven
locks, long silken mustachios, and dark eyes, were attributes by no
means exclusive to her lover, but were occasionally seen among
other less favored and even equally dangerous Americans, Dona
Rosita assented with less objection than Joan anticipated.
"Besides, dear," said Joan, eying her with feline watchfulness, "it
is four years since you've seen him, and surely the man has either
shaved since, or else he took a ridiculous vow never to do it, and
then he would be more fully bearded."
But Dona Rosita only shook her pretty head. "Ah, but he have an
air--a something I know not what you call--so." She threw her
shawl over her left shoulder, and as far as a pair of soft blue
eyes and comfortably pacific features would admit, endeavored to
convey an idea of wicked and gloomy abstraction.
"You child," said Joan,--"that's nothing; they all of them do that.
Why, there was a stranger at the Oriental Hotel whom I met twice
when I was there--just as mysterious, romantic, and wicked-looking.
And in fact they hinted terrible things about him. Well! so much
so, that Mr. Demorest was quite foolish about my being barely civil
to him--you understand--and--" She stopped suddenly, with a
heightened color under the fire of Rosita's laughing eyes.
"Ah--so--Dona Discretion! Tell to me all. Did our hoosband eat
Joan's features suddenly tightened to their old puritan rigidity.
"Mr. Demorest has reasons--abundant reasons--to thoroughly
understand and trust me," she replied in an austere voice.
Rosita looked at her a moment in mystification and then shrugged
her shoulders. The conversation dropped. Nevertheless, it is
worthy of being recorded that from that moment the usual familiar
allusions, playful and serious, to Rosita's mysterious visitor
began to diminish in frequency and finally ceased. Even the news
brought by Demorest of some vague rumor in the pueblo that an
intended attack on the stage-coach had been frustrated by the
authorities, and that the vicinity had been haunted by incognitos
of both parties, failed to revive the discussion.
Meantime the slight excitement that had stirred the sluggish life
of the pueblo of San Buenaventura had subsided. The posada of
Senor Mateo had lost its feverish and perplexing dual life; the
alley behind it no longer was congested by lounging cigarette
smokers; the compartment looking upon the silent patio was
unoccupied, and its chairs and tables were empty. The two deputy
sheriffs, of whom Senor Mateo presumably knew very little, had
fled; and the mysterious Senor Johnson, of whom he--still
presumably--knew still less, had also disappeared. For Senor
Mateo's knowledge of what transpired in and about his posada, and
of the character and purposes of those who frequented it, was
tinctured by grave and philosophical doubts. This courteous and
dignified scepticism generally took the formula of quien sabe to
all frivolous and mundane inquiry. He would affirm with strict
verity that his omelettes were unapproachable, his beds miraculous,
his aguardiente supreme, his house was even as your own. Beyond
these were questions with which the simply finite and always
discreet human intellect declined to grapple.
The disturbing effect of Senor Corwin upon a mind thus gravely
constituted may be easily imagined. Besides Ezekiel's inordinate
capacity for useless or indiscreet information, it was undeniable
that his patent medicines had effected a certain peaceful
revolutionary movement in San Buenaventura. A simple and
superstitious community that had steadily resisted the practical
domestic and agricultural American improvements, succumbed to the
occult healing influences of the Panacea and Jones's Bitters. The
virtues of a mysterious balsam, more or less illuminated with a
colored mythological label, deeply impressed them; and the
exhibition of a circular, whereon a celestial visitant was
represented as descending with a gross of Rogers' Pills to a
suffering but admiring multitude, touched their religious
sympathies to such an extent that the good Padre Jose was obliged
to warn them from the pulpit of the diabolical character of their
heresies of healing--with the natural result of yet more
dangerously advertising Ezekiel. There were those too who spoke
under their breath of the miraculous efficacy of these nostrums.
Had not Don Victor Arguello, whose respectable digestion, exhausted
by continuous pepper and garlic, failed him suddenly, received an
unexpected and pleasurable stimulus from the New England rum, which
was the basis of the Jones Bitters? Had not the baker, tremulous
from excessive aguardiente, been soothed and sustained by the
invisible morphia, judiciously hidden in Blogg's Nerve Tonic? Nor
had the wily Ezekiel forgotten the weaker sex in their maiden and
maternal requirements. Unguents, that made silken their black but
somewhat coarsely fibrous tresses, opened charming possibilities to
the Senoritas; while soothing syrups lent a peaceful repose to many
a distracted mother's household. The success of Ezekiel was so
marked as to justify his return at the end of three weeks with a
fresh assortment and an undiminished audacity.
It was on his second visit that the sceptical, non-committal policy
of Senor Mateo was sorely tried. Arriving at the posada one night,
Ezekiel became aware that his host was engaged in some mysterious
conference with a visitor who had entered through the ordinary
public room. The view which the acute Ezekiel managed to get of
the stranger, however, was productive of no further discovery than
that he bore a faint and disreputable resemblance to Blandford, and
was handsome after a conscious, reckless fashion, with an air of
mingled bravado and conceit. But an hour later, as Corwin was
taking the cooler air of the veranda before retiring to one of the
miraculous beds of the posada, he was amazed at seeing what was
apparently Blandford himself emerge on horseback from the alley,
and after a quick glance towards the veranda, canter rapidly up the
street. Ezekiel's first impression was to call to him, but the
sudden recollection that he parted from his old master on
confidential terms only three days before in San Francisco, and
that it was impossible for him to be in the pueblo, stopped him
with his fingers meditatively in his beard. Then he turned in to
the posada, and hastily summoned Mateo.
The gentleman presented himself in a state of such profound
scepticism that it seemed to have already communicated itself to
his shoulders, and gave him the appearance of having shrugged
himself into the room.
"Ha'ow long ago did Mr. Johnson get here?" asked Corwin, lazily.
"Ah--possibly--then there has been a Mr. Johnson?" This is a
polite doubt of his own perceptions and a courteous acceptance of
"Wa'al, I guess so. Considerin' I jest saw him with my own eyes,"
"Ah!" Mateo was relieved. Might he congratulate the Senor Corwin,
who must be also relieved, and shake his respected hand. Bueno.
And then he had met this Senor Johnson? doubtless a friend? And he
was well? and all were happy?
"Look yer, Mattayo! What I wanter know ez THIS. When did that
man, who has just ridden out of your alley, come here? Sabe that--
it's a plain question."
Ah surely, of the clearest comprehension. Bueno. It may have been
last week--or even this week--or perhaps yesterday--or of a
possibility to-day. The Senor Corwin, who was wise and omniscient,
would comprehend that the difficulty lay in deciding WHO was that
man. Perhaps a friend of the Senor Corwin--perhaps only one who
LOOKED like him. There existed--might Mateo point out--a doubt.
Ezekiel regarded Mateo with a certain grim appreciation. "Wa'al,
is there anybody here who looks like Johnson?"
Again there were the difficulty of ascertaining perfectly how the
Senor Johnson looked. If the Senor Johnson was Americano,
doubtless there were other Americanos who had resembled him. It
was possible. The Senor Corwin had doubtless observed for a little
space a caballero who was here, as it were, in the instant of the
appearance of Senor Johnson? Possibly there was a resemblance, and
Corwin had certainly noticed this resemblance, but it did not suit
his cautious intellect to fall in with any prevailing scepticism of
his host. Satisfied in his mind that Mateo was concealing
something from him, and equally satisfied that he would sooner or
later find it out, he grinned diabolically in the face of that
worthy man, and sought the meditation of his miraculous couch.
When he had departed, the sceptic turned to his wife:
"This animal has been sniffing at the trail."
"Truly--but Mother of God--where is the discretion of our friend.
If he will continue to haunt the pueblo like a lovesick chicken, he
will get his neck wrung yet."
Following out an ingenious idea of his own, Ezekiel called the next
day on the Demorests, and in some occult fashion obtained an
invitation to stay under their hospitable roof during his sojourn
in Buenaventura. Perfectly aware that he owed this courtesy more
to Joan than to her husband, it is probable that his grim enjoyment
was not diminished by the fact; while Joan, for reasons of her own,
preferred the constraint which the presence of another visitor put
upon Demorest's uxoriousness. Of late, too, there were times when
Dona Rosita's naive intelligence, which was not unlike the
embarrassing perceptions of a bright and half-spoiled child, was in
her way, and she would willingly have shared the young lady's
company with her husband had Demorest shown any sympathy for the
girl. It was in the faint hope that Ezekiel might in some way
beguile Rosita's wandering attention that she had invited him. The
only difficulty lay in his uncouthness, and in presenting to the
heiress of the Picos a man who had been formerly her own servant.
Had she attempted to conceal that fact she was satisfied that
Ezekiel's independence and natural predilection for embarrassing
situations would have inevitably revealed it. She had even gone so
far as to consider the propriety of investing him with a poor
relationship to her family, when Dona Rosita herself happily
stopped all further trouble. On her very first introduction to
him, that charming young lady at once accepted him as a lunatic
whose brains were turned by occult, scientific, and medical study!
Ah! she, Rosita, had heard of such cases before. Had not a
paternal ancestor of hers, one Don Diego Castro, believed he had
discovered the elixir of youth. Had he not to that end refused
even to wash him the hand, to cut him the nail of the finger and
the hair of the head! Exalted by that discovery, had he not been
unsparingly uncomplimentary to all humanity, especially to the
weaker sex? Even as the Senor Corwin!
Far from being offended at this ingenious interpretation of his
character, Ezekiel exhibited a dry gratification over it, and even
conceived an unwholesome admiration of the fair critic; he haunted
her presence and preoccupied her society far beyond Joan's most
sanguine expectations. He sat in open-mouthed enjoyment of her at
the table, he waylaid her in the garden, he attempted to teach her
English. Dona Rosita received these extraordinary advances in a no
less extraordinary manner. In the scant masculine atmosphere of
the house, and the somewhat rigid New England reserve that still
pervaded it, perhaps she languished a little, and was not averse to
a slight flirtation, even with a madman. Besides, she assumed the
attitude of exercising a wholesome restraint over him. "If we are
not found dead in our bed one morning, and extracted of our blood
for a cordial, you shall thank to me for it," she said to Joan.
"Also for the not empoisoning of the coffee!"
So she permitted him to carry a chair or hammock for her into the
garden, to fetch the various articles which she was continually
losing, and which he found with his usual penetration; and to
supply her with information, in which, however, he exercised an
unwonted caution. On the other hand, certain naive recollections
and admissions, which in the quality of a voluble child she
occasionally imparted to this "madman" in return, were in the
proportion of three to one.
It had been a hot day, and even the usual sunset breeze had failed
that evening to rock the tops of the outlying pine-trees or cool
the heated tiles of the pueblo roofs. There was a hush and latent
expectancy in the air that reacted upon the people with feverish
unrest and uneasiness; even a lull in the faintly whispering garden
around the Demorests' casa had affected the spirits of its inmates,
causing them to wander about in vague restlessness. Joan had
disappeared; Dona Rosita, under an olive-tree in one of the
deserted paths, and attended by the faithful Ezekiel, had said it
was "earthquake weather," and recalled, with a sign of the cross, a
certain dreadful day of her childhood, when el temblor had shaken
down one of the Mission towers. "You shall see it now, as he have
left it so it has remain always," she added with superstitious
"That's just the lazy shiftlessness of your folks," responded
Ezekiel with prompt ungallantry. "It ain't no wonder the Lord
Almighty hez to stir you up now and then to keep you goin'."
Dona Rosita gazed at him with simple childish pity. "Poor man; it
have affect you also in the head, this weather. So! It was even
so with the uncle of my father. Hush up yourself, and bring to me
the box of chocolates of my table. I will gif to you one. You
shall for one time have something pleasant on the end of your
tongue, even if you must swallow him after."
Ezekiel grinned. "Ye ain't afraid o' bein' left alone with the
ghost that haunts the garden, Miss Rosita?"
"I'll find Mrs. Demorest and send her to ye," said Ezekiel,
"Eh, to attract here the ghost? Thank you, no, very mooch."
Ezekiel's face contracted until nothing but his bright peering gray
eyes could be seen. "Attract the ghost!" he echoed. "Then you
kalkilate that it's--" he stopped, insinuatingly.
Rosita brought her fan sharply over his knuckles, and immediately
opened it again over her half-embarrassed face. "I comprehend not
anything to 'ekalkilate.' WILL you go, Don Fantastico; or is it
for me to bring to you?"
Ezekiel flew. He quickly found the chocolates and returned, but
was disconcerted on arriving under the olive-tree to find Dona
Rosita no longer in the hammock. He turned into a by-path, where
an extraordinary circumstance attracted his attention. The air
was perfectly still, but the leaves of a manzanita bush near the
misshapen cactus were slightly agitated. Presently Ezekiel saw the
stealthy figure of a man emerge from behind it and approach the
cactus. Reaching his hand cautiously towards the plant, the
stranger detached something from one of its thorns, and instantly
disappeared. The quick eyes of Ezekiel had seen that it was a
letter, his unerring perception of faces recognized at the same
moment that the intruder was none other than the handsome,
reckless-looking man he had seen the other day in conference with
But Ezekiel was not the only witness of this strange intrusion. A
few paces from him, Dona Rosita, unconscious of his return, was
gazing in a half-frightened, breathless absorption in the direction
of the stranger's flight.
"Wa'al!" drawled Ezekiel lazily.
She started and turned towards him. Her face was pale and alarmed,
and yet to the critical eye of Ezekiel it seemed to wear an
expression of gratified relief. She laughed faintly.
"Ef that's the kind o' ghost you hev about yer, it's a healthy
one," drawled Ezekiel. He turned and fixed his keen eyes on
Rosita's face. "I wonder what kind o' fruit grows on the cactus
that he's so fond of?"
Either she had not seen the abstraction of the letter, or his
acting was perfect, for she returned his look unwaveringly. "The
fruit, eh? I have not comprehend."
"Wa'al, I reckon I will," said Ezekiel. He walked towards the
cactus; there was nothing to be seen but its thorny spikes. He was
confronted, however, by the sudden apparition of Joan from behind
the manzanita at its side. She looked up and glanced from Ezekiel
to Dona Rosita with an agitated air.
"Oh, you saw him too?" she said eagerly.
"I reckon," answered Ezekiel, with his eyes still on Rosita. "I
was wondering what on airth he was so taken with that air cactus
Rosita had become slightly pale again in the presence of her
friend. Joan quietly pushed Ezekiel aside and put her arm around
her. "Are you frightened again?" she asked, in a low whisper.
"Not mooch," returned Rosita, without lifting her eyes.
"It was only some peon, trespassing to pick blossoms for his
sweetheart," she said significantly, with a glance towards Ezekiel.
"Let us go in."
She passed her hand through Rosita's passive arm and led her
towards the house, Ezekiel's penetrating eyes still following
Rosita with an expression of gratified doubt.
For once, however, that astute observer was wrong. When Mrs.
Demorest had reached the house she slipped into her own room, and,
bolting the door, drew from her bosom a letter which SHE had picked
from the cactus thorn, and read it with a flushed face and eager
It may have been the effect of the phenomenal weather, but the next
day a malign influence seemed to pervade the Demorest household.
Dona Rosita was confined to her room by an attack of languid
nerves, superinduced, as she was still voluble enough to declare,
by the narcotic effect of some unknown herb which the lunatic
Ezekiel had no doubt mysteriously administered to her with a view
of experimenting on its properties. She even avowed that she must
speedily return to Los Osos, before Ezekiel should further
compromise her reputation by putting her on a colored label in
place of the usual Celestial Distributer of the Panacea. Ezekiel
himself, who had been singularly abstracted and reticent, and had
absolutely foregone one or two opportunities of disagreeable
criticism, had gone to the pueblo early that morning. The house
was comparatively silent and deserted when Demorest walked into his
It was a pretty room, looking upon the garden, furnished with a
singular mingling of her own inherited formal tastes and the more
sensuous coloring and abandon of her new life. There were a great
many rugs and hangings scattered in disorder around the room, and
apparently purposeless, except for color; there was a bamboo lounge
as large as a divan, with two or three cushions disposed on it, and
a low chair that seemed the incarnation of indolence. Opposed to
this, on the wall, was the rigid picture of her grandfather, who
had apparently retired with his volume further into the canvas
before the spectacle of this ungodly opulence; a large Bible on a
funereal trestle-like stand, and the primmest and barest of
writing-tables, before which she was standing as at a sacrificial
altar. With an almost mechanical movement she closed her portfolio
as her husband entered, and also shut the lid of a small box with a
slight snap. This suggested exclusion of him from her previous
occupation, whatever it might have been, caused a faint shadow of
pain to pass across his loving eyes. He cast a glance at his wife
as if mutely asking her to sit beside him, but she drew a chair to
the table, and with her elbow resting on the box, resignedly
awaited his speech.
"I don't mean to disturb you, darling," he said, gently, "but as we
were alone, I thought we might have one of our old-fashioned talks,
"Don't let it be so old-fashioned as to include North Liberty
again," she interrupted, wearily. "We've had quite enough of that
since I returned."
"I thought you found fault with me then for forgetting the past.
But let that pass, dear; it is not OUR affairs I wanted to talk to
you about now," he said, stifling a sigh, "it's about your friend.
Please don't misunderstand what I am going to say; nor that I
interpose except from necessity."
She turned her dark brown eyes in his direction, but her glance
passed abstractedly over his head into the garden.
"It's a matter perfectly well known to me--and, I fear, to all our
servants also--that somebody is making clandestine visits to our
garden. I would not trouble you before, until I ascertained the
object of these visits. It is quite plain to me now that Dona
Rosita is that object, and that communications are secretly carried
on between her and some unknown stranger. He has been here once or
twice before; he was here again yesterday. Ezekiel saw him and saw
"Together?" asked Mrs. Demorest, sharply.
"No; but it was evident that there was some understanding, and that
some communication passed between them."
"Well?" said Mrs. Demorest, with repressed impatience.
"It is equally evident, Joan, that this stranger is a man who does
not dare to approach your friend in her own house, nor more openly
in this; but who, with her connivance, uses us to carry on an
intrigue which may be perfectly innocent, but is certainly
compromising to all concerned. I am quite willing to believe that
Dona Rosita is only romantic and reckless, but that will not
prevent her from becoming a dupe of some rascal who dare not face
us openly, and who certainly does not act as her equal."
"Well, Rosita is no chicken, and you are not her guardian."
There was a vague heartlessness, more in her voice than in her
words, that touched him as her cold indifference to himself had
never done, and for an instant stung his crushed spirit to revolt.
"No" he said, sternly, "but I am her father's FRIEND, and I shall
not allow his daughter to be compromised under my roof."
Her eyes sprang up to meet his in hatred as promptly as they once
had met in love. "And since when, Richard Demorest, have you
become so particular?" she began, with dry asperity. "Since you
lured ME from the side of my wedded husband? Since you met ME
clandestinely in trains and made love to ME under an assumed name?
Since you followed ME to my house under the pretext of being my
husband's friend, and forced me--yes, forced me--to see you
secretly under my mother's roof? Did you think of compromising ME
then? Did you think of ruining my reputation, of driving my
husband from his home in despair? Did you call yourself a rascal
then? Did you--"
"Stop!" he said, in a voice that shook the rafters; "I command you,
She had gradually worked herself from a deliberately insulting
precision into an hysterical, and it is to be feared a virtuous,
conviction of her wrongs. Beginning only with the instinct to
taunt and wound the man before her, she had been led by a secret
consciousness of something else he did not know to anticipate his
reproach and justify herself in a wild feminine abandonment of
emotion. But she stopped at his words. For a moment she was even
thrilled again by the strength and imperiousness she had loved.
They were facing each other after five years of mistaken passion,
even as they had faced each other that night in her mother's
kitchen. But the grave of that dead passion yawned between them.
It was Joan who broke the silence, that after her single outburst
seemed to fill and oppress the room.
"As far as Rosita is concerned," she said, with affected calmness,
"she is going to-night. And you probably will not be troubled any
longer by your mysterious visitor."
Whether he heeded the sarcastic significance of her last sentence,
or even heard her at all, he did not reply. For a moment he turned
his blazing eyes full upon her, and then without a word strode from
She walked to the door and stood uneasily listening in the passage
until she heard the clatter of hoofs in the paved patio, and knew
that he had ordered his horse. Then she turned back relieved to
It was already sunset when Demorest drew rein again at the entrance
of the corral, and the last stroke of the Angelus was ringing from
the Mission tower. He looked haggard and exhausted, and his horse
was flecked with foam and dirt. Wherever he had been, or for what
object, or whether, objectless and dazed, he had simply sought to
lose himself in aimlessly wandering over the dry yellow hills or in
careering furiously among his own wild cattle on the arid, brittle
plain; whether he had beaten all thought from his brain with the
jarring leap of his horse, or whether he had pursued some vague and
elusive determination to his own door, is not essential to this
brief chronicle. Enough that when he dismounted he drew a pistol
from his holster and replaced it in his pocket.
He had just pushed open the gate of the corral as he led in his
horse by the bridle, when he noticed another horse tethered among
some cotton woods that shaded the outer wall of his garden. As he
gazed, the figure of a man swung lightly from one of the upper
boughs of a cotton-wood on the wall and disappeared on the other
side. It was evidently the clandestine visitor. Demorest was
in no mood for trifling. Hurriedly driving his horse into the
enclosure with a sharp cut of his riata, he closed the gate upon
him, slipped past the intervening space into the patio, and then
unnoticed into the upper part of the garden. Taking a narrow by-
path in the direction of the cotton woods that could be seen above
the wall, he presently came in sight of the object of his search
moving stealthily towards the house. It was the work of a moment
only to dash forward and seize him, to find himself engaged in a
sharp wrestle, to half draw his pistol as he struggled with his
captive in the open. But once in the clearer light, he started,
his grasp of the stranger relaxed, and he fell back in bewildered
"Edward Blandford! Good God!"
The pistol had dropped from his hand as he leaned breathless
against a tree. The stranger kicked the weapon contemptuously
aside. Then quietly adjusting his disordered dress, and picking
the brambles from his sleeve, he said with the same air of disdain,
"Yes! Edward Blandford, whom you thought dead! There! I'm not a
ghost--though you tried to make me one this time," he said,
pointing to the pistol.
Demorest passed his hand across his white face. "Then it's you--
and you have come here for--for--Joan?"
"For Joan?" echoed Blandford, with a quick scornful laugh, that
made the blood flow back into Demorest's face as from a blow, and
recalled his scattered senses. "For Joan," he repeated. "Not
The two men were facing each other in irreconcilable yet confused
antagonism. Both were still excited and combative from their late
physical struggle, but with feelings so widely different that it
would have been impossible for either to have comprehended the
other. In the figure that had apparently risen from the dead to
confront him, Demorest only saw the man he had unconsciously
wronged--the man who had it in his power to claim Joan and exact a
terrible retribution! But it was part of this monstrous and
irreconcilable situation that Blandford had ceased to contemplate
it, and in his preoccupation only saw the actual interference of a
man whom he no longer hated, but had begun to pity and despise.
He glanced coolly around him. "Whatever we've got to say to each
other," he said deliberately, "had better not be overheard. At
least what I have got to say to you."
Demorest, now as self-possessed as his adversary, haughtily waved
his hand towards the path. They walked on in silence, without even
looking at each other, until they reached a small summer-house that
stood in the angle of the wall. Demorest entered. "We cannot be
heard here," he said curtly.
"And we can see what is going on. Good," said Blandford, coolly
following him. The summer-house contained a bench and a table.
Blandford seated himself on the bench. Demorest remained standing
beside the table. There was a moment's silence.
"I came here with no desire to see you or avoid you," said
Blandford, with cold indifference. "A few weeks ago I might
perhaps have avoided you, for your own sake. But since then I have
learned that among the many things I owe to--to your wife is the
fact that five years ago she secretly DIVORCED ME, and that
consequently my living presence could neither be a danger nor a
menace to you. I see," he added, dryly, with a quick glance at
Demorest's horror-stricken face, "that I was also told the truth
when they said you were as ignorant of the divorce as I was."
He stopped, half in pity of his adversary's shame, half in surprise
of his own calmness. Five years before, in the tumultuous
consciousness of his wrongs, he would have scarcely trusted himself
face to face with the cooler and more self-controlled Demorest. He
wondered at and partly admired his own coolness now, in the
presence of his enemy's confusion.
"As your mind is at rest on that point," he continued, sarcastically,
"I don't suppose you care to know what became of ME when I left
North Liberty. But as it happens to have something to do with my
being here to-night, and is a part of my business with you, you'll
have to listen to it. Sit down! Very well, then--stand up! It's
your own house."
His half cynical, wholly contemptuous ignoring of the real issue
between them was more crushing to Demorest than the keenest
reproach or most tragic outburst. He did not lift his eyes as
Blandford resumed in a dry, business-like way:
"When I came across the plains to California, I fell in with a man
about my own age--an emigrant also. I suppose I looked and acted
like a crazy fool through all the journey, for he satisfied himself
that I had some secret reason for leaving the States, and suspected
that I was, like himself--a criminal. I afterwards learned that he
was an escaped thief and assassin. Well, he played upon me all the
way here, for I didn't care to reveal my real trouble to him, lest
it should get back to North liberty--" He interrupted himself with
a sarcastic laugh. "Of course, you understand that all this while
Joan was getting her divorce unknown to me, and you were marrying
her--yet as I didn't know anything about it I let him compromise me
to save her. But"--he stopped, his eye kindled, and, losing his
self-control in what to Demorest seemed some incoherent passion,
went on excitedly: "that man continued his persecution HERE--yes,
HERE, in this very house, where I was a trusted and honored guest,
and threatened to expose me to a pure, innocent, simple girl who
had taken pity on me--unless I helped him in a conspiracy of
cattle-stealers and road agents, of which he was chief. I was such
a cursed sentimental fool then, that believing him capable of doing
this, believing myself still the husband of that woman, your wife,
and to spare that innocent girl the shame of thinking me a villain,
I purchased his silence by consenting. May God curse me for it!"
He had started to his feet with flashing eyes, and the indication
of an overmastering passion that to Demorest, absorbed only in the
stupefying revelation of his wife's divorce and the horrible doubt
it implied, seemed utterly vacant and unmeaning.
He had often dreamed of Blandford as standing before him,
reproachful, indignant, and even desperate over his wife's
unfaithfulness; but this insane folly and fury over some trivial
wrong done to that plump, baby-faced, flirting Dona Rosita, crushed
him by its unconscious but degrading obliteration of Joan and
himself more than the most violent denunciation. Dazed and
bewildered, yet with the instinct of a helpless man, he clung only
to that part of Blandford's story which indicated that he had come
there for Rosita, and not to separate him from Joan, and even
turned to his former friend with a half-embarrassed gesture of
apology as he stammered--
"Then it was YOU who were Rosita's lover, and you who have been
here to see her. Forgive me, Ned--if I had only known it." He
stopped and timidly extended his hand. But Blandford put it aside
with a cold gesture and folded his arms.
"You have forgotten all you ever knew of me, Demorest! I am not in
the habit of making clandestine appointments with helpless women
whose natural protectors I dare not face. I have never pursued an
innocent girl to the house I dared not enter. When I found that I
could not honorably retain Dona Rosita's affection, I fled her
roof. When I believed that even if I broke with this scoundrel--as
I did--I was still legally if not morally tied to your wife, and
could not marry Rosita, I left her never to return. And I tore my
heart out to do it."
The tears were standing in his eyes. Demorest regarded him again
with vacant wonder. Tears!--not for Joan's unfaithfulness to him--
but for this silly girl's transitory sentimentalism. It was
And yet what was Joan to Blandford now? Why should he weep for the
woman who had never loved him--whom he loved no longer? The woman
who had deceived him--who had deceived them BOTH. Yes! for Joan
must have suspected that Blandford was living to have sought her
secret divorce--and yet she had never told him--him--the man for
whom she got it. Ah! he must not forget THAT! It was to marry him
that she had taken that step. It was perhaps a foolish caution--a
mistaken reservation; but it was the folly--the mistake of a loving
woman. He hugged this belief the closer, albeit he was conscious
at the same time of following Blandford's story of his alienated
affection with a feeling of wonder and envy.
"And what was the result of this touching sacrifice?" continued
Blandford, trying to resume his former cynical indifference. "I'll
tell you. This scoundrel set himself about to supplant me. Taking
advantage of my absence, his knowledge that her affection for me
was heightened by the mystery of my life, and trusting to profit by
a personal resemblance he is said to bear to me, he began to haunt
her. Lately he has grown bolder, and he dared even to communicate
with her here. For it is he," he continued, again giving way to
his passion, "this dog, this sneaking coward, who visits the place
unknown to you, and thinks to entrap the poor girl through her
memory of me. And it is he that I came here to prevent, to expose--
if necessary to kill! Don't misunderstand me. I have made myself
a deputy of the law for that purpose. I've a warrant in my pocket,
and I shall take him, this mongrel, half-breed Cherokee Bob, by
fair means or foul!"
The energy and presence of his passion was so infectious that it
momentarily swept away Demorest's doubts of the past. "And I will
help you, before God, Blandford," he said eagerly. "And Joan
shall, too. She will find out from Rosita how far--"
"Thank you," interrupted Blandford, dryly; "but your wife has
already interfered in this matter, to my cost. It is to her, I
believe, I owe this wretch's following Rosita here. She already
knows this man--has met him twice in San Francisco; he even boasts
of YOUR jealousy. You know best how far he lied."
But Demorest had braced himself against the chill sensation that
had begun to creep over him as Blandford spoke. He nerved himself
and said, proudly, "I forbade her knowing him on account of his
reputation solely. I have no reason to believe she has ever even
wished to disobey me."
A smile of scorn that had kindled in Blandford's eyes, darkened
with a swift shadow of compassion as he glanced at Demorest's hard,
ashen face. He held out his hand with a sudden impulse. "Enough,
I accept your offer, and shall put it to the test this very night.
I know--if you do not--that Rosita is to leave here for Los Osos an
hour from now in a private carriage, which your wife has ordered
especially for her. The same information tells me that this
villain and another of his gang will be in wait for the carriage
three miles out of the pueblo to attack it and carry off the young
"Are you mad!" said Demorest, in unfeigned amazement. "Do you
believe them capable of attacking a private carriage and carrying
off a solitary, defenceless woman? Come, Blandford, this is a
school-girl romance--not an act of mercenary highwaymen--least of
all Cherokee Bob and his gang. This is some madness of Rosita's,
surely," he continued with a forced laugh.
"Does this mean that you think better of your promise?" asked
"I said I was at your service," said Demorest, reproachfully.
"Then hear my plan to prevent it, and yet take that dog in the act,"
said Blandford. "But we must first wait here till the last moment
to ascertain if he makes any signal to show that his plan is altered,
or that he has discovered he is watched." He turned, and in his
preoccupation laid his hand for an instant upon Demorest's shoulder
with the absent familiarity of old days. Unconscious as the action
was, it thrilled them both--from its very unconsciousness--and
impelled them to throw themselves into the new alliance with such
feverish and excited activity in order to preclude any dangerous
alien reflection, that when they rose a few moments later and
cautiously left the garden arm-in-arm through the outer gates, no
one would have believed they had ever been estranged, least of all
the clever woman who had separated them.
It was nearly nine o'clock when the two friends, accompanied by the
sheriff of the county, left San Buenaventura turnpike and turned
into a thicket of alders to wait the coming of the carriage they
were to henceforth follow cautiously and unseen in a parallel trail
to the main road. The moon had risen, and with it the long
withheld wind that now swept over the distant stretch of gleaming
road and partly veiled it at times with flying dust unchecked by
any dew from the clear cold sky. Demorest shivered even with his
ready hand on his revolver. Suddenly the sheriff uttered an
exclamation of disgust.
"Blasted if thar ain't some one in the road between us and their
"It's one of their gang--scouting. Lie close."
"Scout be darned. Look at him bucking round there in the dust. He
can't even ride! It's some blasted greenhorn taking a pasear on a
hoss for the first time. Damnation! he's ruined everything.
They'll take the alarm."
"I'll push on and clear him out," said Blandford, excitedly. "Even
if they're off, I may yet get a shot at the Cherokee."
"Quick then," said Demorest, "for here comes the carriage." He
pointed to a dark spot on the road occasionally emerging from the
driven dust clouds.
In another moment Blandford was at the heels of the awkward
horseman, who wheeled clumsily at his approach and revealed the
lank figure of Ezekiel Corwin!
"You here!" said Blandford, in stupefied fury.
"Wa'al, yes, squire," said Ezekiel lazily, in spite of his uneasy
seat. "I kalkilated ef there was suthin' goin' on, I'd like to see
"You cursed prying fool! you've spoiled all. There!" he shouted
despairingly, as the quick clatter of hoofs rang from the arroyo
behind them, "there they go! That's your work, blockhead! Out of
my way, or by God--" but the sentence was left unfinished as,
joined by the sheriff, who had galloped up at the sound of the
robbers' flight, he darted past the unconcerned Ezekiel. Demorest
would have followed, but Blandford, with a warning cry to him to
remain and protect the carriage, halted him at the side of Corwin
as the vehicle now rapidly approached.
But Ezekiel was before him even then, and as the driver pulled up,
that inquiring man tumbled from his horse, ran to the door and
opened it. Demorest rode up, glanced into the carriage, and fell
back in blank amazement.
It was his wife who was sitting there alone, pale, erect, and
beautiful. By some illusion of the moonlight, her face and figure,
covered with soft white wrappings for a journey, looked as he
remembered to have seen her the first night they had met in the
Boston train. The picture was completed by the traveling bag and
rug that lay on the seat before her. Another terrible foreboding
seized him; his brain reeled. Was he going mad?
"Joan!" he stammered. "You? What is the meaning of this?"
Ezekiel whom but for his dazed condition he might have seen violently
contorting his features in Joan's face, presumably in equal
astonishment--broke into a series of discordant chuckles.
"Wa'al, ef that ain't Deacon Salisbury's darter all over. Ha! Here
are ye two men folks makin' no end o' fuss to save that Mexican gal
with pistols and ambushes and plots and counterplots, and yer's Joan
Salisbury shows ye the way ha'ow to do it. And so, ma'am, you
succeeded in fixin' it up with Dona Rosita to take her place and just
sell them robbers cheap! Wa'al, ma'am, yer sold this yer party,
too--for"--he advanced his face close to hers--"I never let on a
word, though I knew it, and although they nearly knocked me off my
hoss in their fuss and fury. Ha! ha! They wanted to know what I
was doin' here, he-he! Tell 'em, Joan, tell 'em."
Demorest gazed from one to another with a troubled face, yet one on
which a faint relief was breaking.
"What does he mean, Joan? Speak," he said, almost imploringly.
Joan, whose color was slightly returning, drew herself up with her
old cold Puritan precision.
"After the scene you made this morning, Richard, when you chose to
accuse your wife of unfaithfulness to her friend, her guest, and
even your reputation, I resolved to go myself with Dona Rosita to
Los Osos and explain the matter to her father. Some rumor of the
ridiculous farce I have just witnessed reached us through Ezekiel,
and frightened the poor girl so that she declined--and properly, too
to face the hoax which you and some nameless impersonator of a
disgraced fugitive have gotten up for purposes of your own! I wish
you joy of your work! If the play is over now, I presume I may be
allowed to proceed on my journey?"
"Not yet," said Demorest slowly, with a face over which the chasing
doubts had at last settled in a grayish pallor. "Believe what you
like, misunderstand me if you will, laugh at the danger you perhaps
comprehend better than I do, but upon this road, wherever or to
whatever it was leading you--to-night you go no further!"
"Then I suppose I may return home," she said coldly. "Ezekiel will
accompany me back to protect me from--robbers. Come, Ezekiel.
Mr. Demorest and his friends can be safely trusted to take care of--
And as the grinning Ezekiel sprang into the carriage beside her, she
pulled up the glass in the fateful and set face of her once trusting
husband; the carriage turned and drove off, leaving him like a statue
in the road.
. . . . . .
The bell of the North Liberty Second Presbyterian Church had just
ceased ringing. But in the last five years it had rung out the bass
viol and harmonium, and rung in an organ and choir; and the old
austere interior had been subjected at the hands of the rising
generation to an invasion of youthful warmth and color. Nowhere was
this more apparent than in the choir itself, where the bright spring
sunshine, piercing a newly-opened stained-glass window, picked out
the new spring bonnet of Mrs. Demorest and settled upon it during the
singing of the hymn. Perhaps that was the reason why a few eyes were
curiously directed in that direction, and that even the minister
himself strayed from the precise path of doctrine to allude with
ecclesiastical vagueness to certain shining examples of the Christian
virtues that were "again in our midst." The shrewd face and white
eyelashes of Ezekiel Corwin, junior partner in the firm of Dilworth &
Dusenberry, of San Francisco, were momentarily raised towards the
choir, and then relapsed into an expression of fatigued self-
When the service was over a few worshipers lingered near the choir
staircase, mindful of the spring bonnet.
"It looks quite nat'ral," said Deacon Fairchild, "ter see Joan
Salisbury attendin' the ministration of the Word agin. And I ain't
sorry she didn't bring that second husband of hers with her. It
kinder looks like old times--afore Edward Blandford was gathered to
"That's so," replied his auditor meekly, "and they do say ez ha'ow
Demorest got more powerful worldly and unregenerate in that heathen
country, and that Joan ez a professin' Christian had to leave him.
I've heerd tell thet he'd got mixed up, out thar, with some
half-breed outlaw, of the name o' Johnson, ez hez a purty, high-
flyin' Mexican wife. It was fort'nit for Joan that she found a
friend in grace in Brother Corwin to look arter her share in the
property and bring her back tu hum."
"She's lookin' peart," said Sister Bradley, "though to my mind that
bonnet savors still o' heathen vanities."
"Et's the new idees--crept in with that organ," groaned Deacon
Fairchild; "but--sho--thar she comes."
She shone for an instant--a charming vision--out of the shadow of the
choir stairs, and then glided primly into the street.
The old sexton, still in waiting with his hand on the half-closed
door, paused and looked after her with a troubled brow. A singular
and utterly incomprehensible recollection and resemblance had just
crossed his mind.
Back to Full Books