Treasure and Trouble Therewith
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan
and PG Distributed Proofreaders
TREASURE _and_ TROUBLE THEREWITH
_A TALE OF CALIFORNIA_
BY GERALDINE BONNER
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER
WHO, HIMSELF A WRITER, TRAINED ME IN THE WORK HE LOVED. WHAT MERIT THE
READER MAY FIND IN THESE PAGES IS THE RESULT OF THAT TRAINING, UNDERTAKEN
WITH A FATHER'S PRIDE, CARRIED ON WITH A FATHER'S BELIEF AND
I. HANDS UP
II. THE TULES
III. MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
IV. THE DERELICT
V. THE MARKED PARAGRAPH
VII. THE PICAROON
VIII. THOSE GIRLS OF GEORGE'S
IX. GREEK MEETS GREEK
X. MICHAELS THE MINER
XI. THE SOLID GOLD NUGGET
XII. A KISS
XIII. FOOLS IN THEIR FOLLY
XIV. THE NIGHT RIDER
XV. THE LAST DINNER
XVI. THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
XVII. THE WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
XIX. HALF TRUTHS AND INFERENCES
XX. MARK PAYS A CALL
XXI. A WOMAN SCORNED
XXII. THEREBY HANGS A TALE
XXIII. THE CHINESE CHAIN
XXIV. LOVERS AND LADIES
XXV. WHAT JIM SAW
XXVI. PANCHA WRITES A LETTER
XXVII. BAD NEWS
XXVIII. CHRYSTIE SEES THE DAWN
XXIX. LORRY SEES THE DAWN
XXX. MARK SEES THE DAWN
XXXII. THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT
XXXIII. THE MORNING THAT CAME
XXXV. THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
XXXVI. THE SEARCH
XXXVII. HAIL AND FAREWELL
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
He ... heard the feller at the wheel say, "Hands up!" _Frontispiece_
"Oh, silly, unbelieving child!" came his voice
As it came it sent up a hoarse cry for food
The ghost of a smile touched her lips
TREASURE _and_ TROUBLE THEREWITH
The time was late August some eleven years ago. The place that part of
central California where, on one side, the plain unrolls in golden
levels, and on the other swells upward toward the rounded undulations of
It was very hot; the sky a fathomless blue vault, the land dreaming in
the afternoon glare, its brightness blurred here and there by shimmering
heat veils. Checkered by green and yellow patches, dotted with the black
domes of oaks, it brooded sleepily, showing few signs of life. At long
intervals ranch houses rose above embowering foliage, a green core in the
midst of fields where the brown earth was striped with lines of fruit
trees or hidden under carpets of alfalfa. To the west the foothills rose
in indolent curves, tan-colored, as if clothed with a leathern hide.
Their hollows were filled with the darkness of trees huddled about hidden
streams, ribbons of verdure that wound from the mountains to the plain.
Farther still, vision faint, remote and immaculate, the white peaks of
the Sierra hung, a painting on the drop curtain of the sky.
Across the landscape a parent stem of road wound, branches breaking from
it and meandering thread-small to ranch and village. It was white-dusted
here, but later would turn red and crawl upward under the resinous
dimness of pine woods to where the mining camps clung on the lower wall
of the Sierra. Already it had left behind the region of farms in
neighborly proximity and the little towns that were threaded along it
like beads upon a string. Watching its eastward course, one would have
noticed that after it crested the first rise it ran free of habitation
Along its empty length a dust cloud moved, a tarnishing spot on the
afternoon's hard brightness. This spot was the one point of energy in the
universal torpor. From it came the rhythmic beat of flying hoofs and the
jingle of harness. It was the Rocky Bar stage, up from Shilo through
Plymouth, across the Mother Lode and then in a steep, straining grade on
to Antelope and Rocky Bar, camps nestling in the mountain gorges. It was
making time now against the slow climb later, the four horses racing, the
reins loose on their backs.
There was only one passenger; the others had been dropped at towns along
the route. He sat on the front seat beside Jim Bailey the driver, his
feet on a pine box and a rifle across his knees. He and Jim Bailey knew
each other well, for he had often come that way, always with his box and
his rifle. He was Wells Fargo's messenger and his name was Danny Leonard.
In the box at his feet were twelve thousand dollars in coin to be
delivered that night to the Greenhide Mine at Antelope.
With nothing of interest in sight, talk between them was desultory. Jim
Bailey thought they'd take on some men at Plymouth when they stopped
there to victual up. The messenger, squinting at the swimming yellow
distance, yawned and said it might be a good thing, nobody knew when
Knapp and Garland would get busy again. They'd failed in the holdup of
the Rockville stage last spring and it was about time to hear from
them--the road after you passed Plymouth was pretty lonesome. Jim Bailey
snorted contemptuously and spat over the wheel--he guessed Knapp and
Garland weren't liable to bother _him_.
After this the conversation dropped. The stifling heat, the whirling dust
clouds broken by whiffs of air, dry as from a kiln and impregnated with
the pungent scent of the tarweed, made the men drowsy. Jim Bailey nodded,
the reins drawing slack between his fingers. Leonard slipped the rifle
from his knees to the floor and relaxed against the back of the seat.
Through half-shut lids he watched the whitened crests of the Sierra
brushed on the turquoise sky.
The horses clattered down a gulley and galloped across a wooden bridge
that spanned a dead watercourse. The ascent was steep and they took it
at a rush, backs humped, necks stretched, hoofs clattering among
A sudden breeze carried their dust ahead, and for a moment the prospect
was obscured, the trees that filled the gulley, bunched at the summit
into a thicket, just discernible in foggy outline. The horses had gained
the level, Jim Bailey, who knew the road in his sleep, had cheered them
with a familiar chirrup, when the leaders stopped, recoiling in a clatter
of slackened harness on the wheelers. The stage came to a halt so violent
that Jim Bailey lurched forward against the splashboard, the reins jerked
out of his hands. He did not know what had happened, could see nothing
but the horses' backs, jammed together, lines and traces slapping about
Afterward, describing it at Mormons Landing, he laid it all to the dust.
In that first moment of surprise he hadn't made out the men, and anyway
who'd have expected it--on the open road in the full of the afternoon?
You couldn't put any blame on him, sprawled on his knees, the whole thing
coming so quick. When he picked himself up he looked into the muzzle of a
revolver and saw behind it a head, only the eyes showing between the hat
brim and a gunny sack tied round the lower part of the face.
After that it all went so swift you couldn't hardly tell. He didn't even
then know there were two of them--heard the feller at the wheel say,
"Hands up," and thought that was all there was to it--when the one at the
horses' heads fired. Leonard had given an oath and reached for his gun,
and right with that the report came, and Leonard heaved up with a sort of
grunt, and then settled and was still. The other feller came along down
through the dust, and Jim Bailey, paralyzed, with his hands up, knew
Knapp and Garland had got him at last.
The one at the wheel kept him covered while the other pulled out the box.
He could see him plain, all but his face, a big powerful chap, shoulders
on him like a prize fighter's, and freckled hands covered with red hair.
He got the box out with a jerk and dropped it, and then, snatching up a
stick, struck the near wheeler a blow on the flank and jumped back into
The horses started, mad, like they were locoed; it was a wonder the stage
wasn't upset, racing this way and that, up the bank and down on the other
side. Jim Bailey crawled out on the axle, picked up the dragging reins
and got back just in time to keep Leonard from bouncing out. He heaved
him up and held him round the body, and when he got the horses going
straight, took a look at him. That first time he thought he was dead,
white as chalk and with his eyes turned up. But after a spell of going he
decided there was life in him yet, and holding him with one arm,
stretched the other over the splashboard, shaking the reins on the
wheelers' backs, and the way those horses buckled to their work was worth
gettin' held up to see.
Half an hour later the Rocky Bar stage came like a cyclone into Mormons
Landing, Jim Bailey hopping like a grasshopper on the front seat, and on
his arm Danny Leonard, shot through the lung. They drew up in front of
the Damfino Saloon, and Mormons Landing, dead among its deserted ditches,
knew again a crowded hour of glorious life. Everybody came running and
lined up along the sidewalk, later to line up along the Damfino Bar. The
widow woman who ran the eating house put Danny Leonard in her own bed and
sent one of her sons, aged six, to San Marco for a doctor, and the other,
aged eight, to Jackson for the sheriff.
Before night fell the news had flashed through the countryside. On ranch
piazza and in cabin doorway, in the camps along the Mother Lode and the
villages of the plain, men were telling one another how Knapp and
Garland had held up the Rocky Bar stage and got away with twelve
thousand dollars in gold.
The place of the holdup was on the first upward roll of the hills.
Farther back, along more distant slopes, the chaparral spread like a dark
cloth but here there was little verdure. The rainless California summer
had scorched the country; mounded summit swelled beyond mounded summit
all dried to a uniform ochre. But if you had stood on the rise where the
stage stopped and faced toward the west, you would have seen, stretching
to the horizon, a green expanse that told of water.
This was the tules, a vast spread of marsh covered with bulrushes, flat
as a floor, and extending from a distant arm of the bay back into the
land. It was like a wedge of green thrust through the yellow, splitting
it apart, at one end meeting the sky in a level line, at the other
narrowing to a point which penetrated the bases of the hills. From these
streams wound down ravine and rift till their currents slipped into the
brackish waters of the marsh. Such a stream, dried now to a few stagnant
pools, had worn a way along the gulley where the holdup had occurred.
Down this gulley, the box between them, the bandits ran. Alders and bay
grew thick, sun spots glancing through their leaves, boughs slapping and
slashing back from the passage of the rushing bodies, stones rolling
under the flying feet. The heat was suffocating, the narrow cleft holding
it, the matted foliage keeping out all air. The men's faces were
empurpled, the gunny sacks about their necks were soaked with sweat. They
spoke little--a grunt, a muttered oath as a stone turned. Doubled under
the branches, crashing through a covert with closed eyes and warding arm,
they fled, now and then pausing for a quick change of hands on the box or
the sweep of a sleeve across a dripping brow. Nearly a half hour from the
time they had started they emerged into brighter light, the trees growing
sparse, the earth moist, a soft coolness rising--the creek's conjunction
with the tules.
The sun was sloping westward, the sky infinitely blue and clear, golden
light slanting across the plain's distant edges. Before them, silent, not
a breath stirring the close-packed growth, stretched the marshes. They
were miles in extent; miles upon miles of these level bulrush spears
threaded with languid streams, streams that curved and looped, turned
back upon themselves, narrowed into gleaming veins, widened to miniature
lakes on whose bosom the clouds, the birds and the stars were mirrored.
They were like a crystal inlay covering the face of the tules with an
intricate, shining pattern. No place was ever more deserted, alien,
uninhabitable, making no compromise with the friendly, fruitful land.
Against the muddy edge a rotten punt holding a pole swung deliberate from
a stake. The men put the box in, then followed, and the elder, standing
in the stern, took the pole and, pushing against the bank, drove the boat
into deep water. It floated out, two ripples folding back oily sleek from
its bow. After the Indian fashion, the man propelled it with the pole,
prodding against the bottom. He did it skillfully, the unwieldly hulk
making a slow, even progress. He also did it with a singular absence of
sound, the pole never grating on the gunnel, feeling quietly along the
soft mud of the shores, rising from the water, held suspended, then
slipping in again as noiseless as the dip of the dragon flies.
No words passed between them. Sliding silent over the silent stream, they
were like a picture done in a few strong colors, violent green of the
rushes, violent blue of the sky. Their reflection moved with them, two
boats joining at the water line, in each boat two figures, every fold of
their garments, every shade and high light, minutely and dazzlingly
Highwayman is a word of picturesque suggestion, but there was nothing
picturesque about them. They looked like laborers weather-worn from wind
and sun; the kind of men that crowd the streets of new camps and stand
round the cattle pens at country fairs. Knapp, sitting in the bow, was
younger than the other--under thirty probably. He was a big-boned,
powerful animal, his thick, reddish hair growing low on his forehead, his
face, with its wide nose and prominent jaw, like the study of a face left
in the rough. In his stolid look there was something childlike, his eyes
following the flight of a bird in the air, then dropping to see its
reflection in the water.
Garland was older, fully fifty, burly, thickset, strong as an ox. His hat
lay in the bottom of the boat and his head, covered with curly, grizzled
hair, was broad and well-shaped. A corresponding grizzle of beard clothed
his chin and fringed a straight line of lip. The rest of his face showed
the skin sun-dried and lined less from age than a life in the open.
Wrinkles radiated from the corners of his eyes, and one, like a fold in
the flesh, crossed his forehead in a deep-cut crease. His clothes were of
the roughest, a dirty collarless shirt with a rag of red bandanna round
the neck, a coat shapeless and dusty, and overalls grease and
mud-smeared with the rubbing of his hands. His boots were the iron-hard
clouts of the rancher, his hat a broken black felt, sweat-stained and
torn. Passing him on the road, you would have set him down as a farm hand
out of a job.
The boat had passed beyond the shelter of the hills to where the tules
widened. Pausing, he glanced about. Far to the right he could see a small
white square--the lodge of a sportsman's club which in the duck shooting
season would disgorge men and dogs into the marsh. It was closed now, but
on the plain beyond there were ranches. He dropped to his knees, shipped
the pole, and drew from the bottom of the boat a piece of wood roughly
shaped into a paddle. Here in the heart of the tules, where a head moving
over the bulrush floor might be discerned, sound would not carry far. He
dipped in the paddle, the long spray of drops hitting the water with a
dry, running patter.
The man in front moved and looked ahead.
"We'd ought to be near there."
"A few yards over to the right," came the answer, and with it the boat
took a sharp turn to the left, nosing along the bank, then stole down a
waterway, a crystal channel between ramparts of green. This looped at a
right angle, shone with a sudden glaze of sun, slipped into shadow and,
rounding a point, an island with a bare, oozy edge came into view.
A deep stroke of the paddle sent the boat forward, its bow burrowing into
the mud, and Knapp jumped out and beached it. The place was a small
islet, one side clear, a wall of rushes, thick as grass, clothing the
other. Over the water line the earth was hard, its surface cracked and
flaked by the sun. On this open space lay two battered kerosene oil cans,
their tops torn away, and a pile of stones. The hiding place was not a
new one and the properties were already prepared.
With a knife and chisel they broke open the box. The money was in small
canvas sacks, clean as if never used before and marked with a stenciled
"W. F. & Co." They took it out and looked at it; hefted its weight in
their hands. It represented the first success after several failures, one
brought to trial, others frustrated in the making or abandoned after
warnings from the ranchers and obscure townsfolk who stood in with them.
Knapp had been discouraged. Now he took a handful and spread it on his
palm, golden eagles, heavy, shining, solid. Swaying his wrist, he let the
sun play on them, strike glints from their edges, burnish their surface.
"Twelve thousand," he murmured. "We ain't but once before got that much."
The elder, pulling the gunny sack from his neck, dropped it into one of
the oil cans, pressing it against the sides like a lining.
"I can get the ranch now; six thousand'll cover everything."
"Are you honestly calculatin' to do that?" Knapp had reached for the
other can. With arm outstretched, he looked at Garland, gravely curious.
"I am. I told you so before. I had a look at it again last week. They'll
sell for four thousand, and it'll take five hundred to put it into shape.
I'll bank the rest."
"And you'll quit?"
"Certain. I've had enough of the road."
The younger man pondered, watching the hands of his partner fitting the
money bags into the can. "Mebbe you got the right idea," he muttered.
"It's the right idea for me. I'm not what I once was, I'm old. It's time
for me to lay off and rest. I can't keep this up forever and now I got
the chance to get out and I'm goin' to."
He had filled his can and rose, taking off his coat and throwing it on
the ground. Picking up the knife and chisel he went back to where the
bulrushes began and crushed in among them. Knapp, packing the other can,
could hear the sound of his heavy movements, the hacking of the knife at
the bulrush stalks and then the thud of falling earth. When he had filled
his can he saw that there were two sacks left over. He took them up and,
looking about, caught sight of a newspaper protruding from the pocket of
Garland's coat. He pulled it out, calling as he did so:
"There's two sacks I can't get in. I'm goin' to put 'em in this here
paper you got."
A grunt of acquiescence came from the bulrushes, the hacking of the
knife, the thuds going on. Knapp unfolded the paper, set the sacks in it,
and, gathering it about them, placed it on the top of his can. He heaved
the whole up and crashed through the rushes to where Garland had already
cleared a space and was digging a hole in the mud. When it was finished,
the cans--the newspaper bundle on top--were lowered into it, and earth
and roots replaced. No particular attempt was made at concealment; the
cache was as secure against intrusion as if it were on the crest of the
Sierra, and within the week they would be back to empty it. The box was
filled with stones and sunk in the stream.
Then they rested, prone on the ground, at first talking a little. There
was a question about the messenger; Knapp had shot and was casually
confident he had only winged him. The matter seemed to give him no
anxiety, and presently, his head burrowed into his arm, he fell asleep,
a great, sprawled figure with the sun making his red hair shine like a
Garland lay on his back, his coat for a pillow, smoking a blackened pipe
and thinking. He saw the sky lose its blue, and fade to a thin, whitish
transparency, then flush to rose, bird specks skimming across it. He saw
the tules grow dark, black walls flanking paths incredibly glossy,
catching here and there a barring of golden cloud. He felt the breath of
the marshes chill and salt-tainted, and watched the first star, white as
a diamond, prick through the vault.
Then he rose and shook his partner, waking him with voluble profanity.
The night had come, the dark that was to hide their stealthy exit. They
went different ways; Knapp by a series of trails and planks to the south
bank and thence across country, footing it through the night to his lair
near Stockton. Garland would move north to friends of his up toward the
mining camps along the Feather. They made a rendezvous for a night six
days distant. Then they would carry away the money to places of safety
which they went to prepare.
The sky was star-strewn as Garland's punt slipped away from the island.
It was intensely still, a whisper of water round the moving prow, the
sibilant dip of the paddle the only sounds. He could see the water as a
pale, winding shimmer ahead, dotted with star reflections like small,
scattered flowers. Once, rising to make sure of his course, he saw the
tiny yellow light in a ranch house far away. He stood for a moment
looking at it, and when he crouched again the light had kindled his
imagination. Its spark glowed wide till it showed the ranch kitchen,
windows open to the blue night, earth smells floating in, the table with
its kerosene lamp, the rancher reading the paper, his dog sleeping at
his feet, peaceful, unguarded, secure.
Conscious of distance to be traversed before he became a creature of wary
instincts and watchful eyes, he let his thoughts have way. They slipped
about and touched the future with a sense of ease, then veered to the
past. Here they steadied, memories rising photographically distinct like
a series of pictures, detached yet revealing an underlying thread of
First it was his youth in the Southwest when he had been Tom Michaels, a
miner, well paid, saving his wages. Then his marriage with Juana Ramirez,
the half-breed girl at Deming, and the bit of land he had bought--with a
mortgage to pay--in the glaring, green river valley. Glimpses of their
life there, children and work--stupefying, tremendous work--to keep them
going and to meet the interest; he had been a giant in those days.
And even so he hadn't been able to do it. Six years after they took
possession they moved out, ruined. He remembered it as if it had been
yesterday--the adobe house with its flat roof and strings of red peppers
hanging on the walls, the cart piled high with furniture, Juana on the
front seat and Pancha astride of the mule. Juana had grown old in those
six years, fat and shapeless, but she had been dog-loyal, dog-loving, his
woman. Never a word of complaint out of her--even when the two children
died she had just covered her head with the blanket and sat by the
hearth, stoical, dry-eyed, silent.
He could see now that it was his dream of making money--big money--that
had been wrong. If he'd been content with a wage and a master he'd have
done better by her, but from the start he'd wanted his freedom, balked at
being roped and branded with the herd. That was why he drifted back to
mining, not a steady job, though he could have got it, but as a
prospector, leaving Arizona and moving to California. There were years of
it; he knew the mineral belt from the Panamint mountains to the Kootenai
country. Juana and Pancha plodded from town to town, seeing him at
intervals, always expecting to hear he'd struck "the ledge," and be
hardly able to scrape a living for them from the bottom of his pan.
One picture stood out clearer than the rest, ineffaceable, to be carried
to his grave--the day he came back and heard that Juana was dead. He had
left them at a place in Inyo, a scattering of houses on the edge of the
desert. Pancha saw him coming, and her figure, racing to meet him in a
blown flutter of cotton skirt, was as plain before his eyes as if she
were running toward him now along the shining water path. She was twelve,
brown as a nut, and scarecrow-thin, with a tangle of black hair, and
narrow, dark eyes. He could recall the feel of her little hard hand
inside his as she told him, excited at imparting such news, pushing the
hair off her dirty face to see how he took it.
It had crushed the heart in him and some upholding principle of hope and
resolution broke. He found a place for Pancha with Maria Lopez, the
Mexican woman who ran the Buon Gusto restaurant at Bakersfield and
agreed to look after the girl for pay. Then he went back to the open,
not caring much, the springs of his soul gone dry. He had no energy for
the old life and did other things, anything to make his own food and
Pancha's keep--herded sheep, helped on the cattle ranges, tended store,
hung on the fringes of the wilderness, saw men turn to savages and
At long intervals he went down to the settlements and saw Pancha, growing
into a gawky girl, headstrong, and with the wildness of her mother's
people cropping out. She hated Maria Lopez and the work in the restaurant
and wanted him to take her to the mountains. When she was sixteen a spell
of illness laid him up and after that he had difficulty in getting work.
Two months passed without a payment and when he finally got down to
Bakersfield he found that Pancha had gone, run away with a traveling
company of actors. Maria Lopez and he had a fight, raged at one another
in mutual fury, and then he started out to find his girl, not knowing
when he did what he would do with her.
She solved that problem; she insisted on staying with the actors. She
liked the life, she could sing, they told her she had a future. She had
fixed and settled everything, even to her name; she would retain that of
Lopez, which she was already known by in Bakersfield. There was nothing
for it but to let her have her way; a man without home, money or
prospects has no authority. But the sense of his own failure, of the
hopelessness of his desire to shelter and enrich her, fell on his
conscience like a foot on a spark and crushed it out. He returned to the
mountains, his hand against all men, already an outlaw, love for his own
all that was left of the original man. That governed him, gave him the
will to act, stimulated his brain, and lent his mind an unfailing
cunning. The meeting with Knapp crystallized into a partnership, but when
Garland the bandit rose on the horizon, no one, least of all Pancha, knew
he was Michaels the miner.
He stood up in the boat and again reconnoitered; he was near the shore.
The country slept under the stars, gray rollings of hills and black
blotches of trees, very still in its somber repose. Dropping back to the
seat, he plied the paddle with extraordinary softness, wary, listening,
alert. Soon, in a week or two, if he could settle the sale, he would be
on his way to San Francisco to tell Pancha he had sold his claim at last
and had bought the ranch. Under his caution the pleasure of this thought
pervaded him with an exquisite satisfaction. He could not forbear its
indulgence and, leaning on the paddle, allowed himself a last, delightful
vision--the ranch house piazza with Pancha--her make-up off--sitting on
the steps at his feet.
That night he slept in the cowshed of an abandoned ranch. A billet of
wood under his head, his repose was deep and dreamless, but in the dawn's
light he woke, suddenly called out of slumber by a thought. It floated on
the surface of his conciousness, vaguely disturbing, then took slow shape
and he sat up feeling in the pockets of his coat. The paper was gone;
Knapp saying he had taken it was not a dream. For a space he sat, coming
to clearer recollection, his partner's voice calling, vaguely heard, its
request unheeded in his preoccupation. He gave a mutter of relief, and
dropping back settled himself into comfort. The paper was as safe there
as in his own pocket and he'd have it again inside of a week. With the
first light in his eyes, he lapsed off again for another hour.
MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
A few miles below where the stage was held up a branch road breaks from
the main highway and cuts off at right angles across the plain. This is a
ranchers' road. If you follow it southward you come to the region of vast
holdings, acres of trees in parallel lines as straight as if laid with a
tape measure, great, fawn-colored fields, avenues of palm and oleander
leading to white houses where the balconies have striped awnings and
people sit in cushioned wicker chairs.
The other end of it runs through lands of decreasing cultivation
till--after it passes Tito Murano's cottage--it dips to the tules and
that's the end of it. To be sure, a trail--a horse path--breaks away and
makes a detour round the head of the marshes, but this is seldom used, a
bog in winter and in summer riven with dried water-courses and overgrown
with brambles. To get around the tules comfortably you have to strike
farther in and that's a long way.
The last house before you get to Tito Murano's, which doesn't count, is
the Burrage Ranch. In the white mansions among the fruit trees the
Burrage Ranch doesn't count much either. It is old and small, fifty
acres, a postage stamp of a ranch. There is no avenue to the house,
which is close to the road behind a picket fence, and instead of
encircling balconies and striped awnings, it has one small porch with a
sagging top, over which climbs a rose that stretches long festoons to
the gable. In its yard grow two majestic live oaks, hoary giants with
silvered limbs reaching out in a thick-leaved canopy and casting a great
spread of shade.
Old Man Burrage had had the ranch a long time as they reckon time in
California. In his youth he had seen the great epoch in Virginia City,
figured in it in a humble capacity, and emerged from its final _débâcle_
with twenty thousand dollars. He should have emerged with more and that
he didn't made him chary of mining. Peace and security exerted their
appeal, and after looking about for a few reflective years, he had
married the prettiest waitress in the Golden Nugget Hotel in Placerville
and settled down to farming. He had settled and settled hard, settled
like a barnacle, so firm and fast that he had never been able to pull
himself loose. Peace he had found but also poverty. If the mineral vein
was capricious, so were the elements, insect pests and the fruit market.
Thirty years after he had bought the ranch he was still there and still
poor with his wife Mary Ellen, his daughter Sadie and his son Mark.
Mark's advent had followed the decease of two older boys and his mother
had proclaimed his preciousness by christening him Marquis de Lafayette.
Her other sons had borne the undistinguished appellations of relatives,
but this one, her consolation and her Benjamin, would be decked with the
flower of her fancy. Of the original bearer of the name she knew nothing.
Waiting on table at the Golden Nugget and later bearing children and
helping on the ranch had not left her time for historical study. When her
son, waking to the blight she had so innocently put upon him, asked her
where she had found the name, she had answered, "In a book," but beyond
that could give no data. When, unable to bear his shame, he had
abbreviated it to "Mark D.L." she had been hurt.
Otherwise he had not disappointed her. When she had crowned him with a
title she had felt that a high destiny awaited him and the event proved
it. After a youth on the ranch, Mark, at sixteen, grew restive, at
seventeen announced that he wanted an education and at eighteen packed
his grip and went to work his way through Stanford University. Old Man
Burrage made himself a bore at the crossroads store and the county fair
telling how his boy was waiting on table down to Stanford and doing
typewriting nights. Some boy, that!
When Mark came home on his vacations it was like the return of Ulysses
after his ten years' wandering--they couldn't look at him enough, or get
enough time to listen. His grammar was straightened out, his chin smooth,
the freckles gone from his hands, and yet he was just the same--no fancy
frills about _him_, Old Man Burrage bragged to his cronies. And then came
the coping stone--he told them he was going to be a lawyer. Some of the
neighbors laughed but others grew thoughtful and nodded commendingly.
Even on the balconies of the white houses in the wicker chairs under the
awnings Mark and his aspirations drew forth interested comment. Most of
these people had known him since he was a shock-headed, barefoot kid, and
when they saw him in his store clothes and heard his purified grammar,
they realized that for youth in California belongs the phrase "the world
is my oyster."
Now Mark had graduated and was studying in a large law office in San
Francisco. He was paid twenty dollars a week, was twenty-four years old,
rather silent, five-feet-ten and accounted good-looking. At the time this
story opens he was spending his vacation--pushed on to the summer's end
by a pressure of work in the office--on the ranch with his parents.
It was late afternoon, on the day following the holdup, and he was
sitting in the barn doorway milking the brown cow. The doorway was
shadowed, the blackness of the barn's interior behind it, the scent of
clean hay drifting out and mingling with the scents of baked earth and
tarweed that came from the heated fields. With his cheek against the
cow's side he could see between the lower limbs of the oaks the country
beyond, rust-colored and tan, streaked with blue shadows and the mottled
blackness below the trees. Turning a little further he could look down
the road with the eucalyptus tall on either side, the yellow path barred
by their shade. From the house came a good smell of hot bread and a sound
of voices--Mother and Sadie were getting ready for supper. At intervals
Mother's face, red and round below her sleeked, gray hair, her spectacles
up, her dress turned in at the neck, appeared at the window to take a
refreshing peep at her boy milking the brown cow.
The milk sizzed and foamed in the pail and the milker, his forehead
against the cow's warm pelt, watched it rise on the tin's side. It made a
loud drumming which prevented his hearing a hail from the picket fence.
The hail came again in a husky, dust-choked voice:
"Hello, can you give me a drink?"
This time Mark heard and wheeled on the stool. A tramp was leaning
against the fence looking at him.
Tramps are too familiar in California for curiosity or interest, also
they are unpopular. They have done dreadful things--lonely women in
outlying farms have guns and dogs, the one loaded, the other cultivated
in savagery against the visits of the hobo.
Mark rose unwelcoming, but the fellow did look miserable. He was gaunt
and dirty, long ragged locks of hair falling below the brim of his torn
straw hat, an unkempt straggle of beard growing up his cheeks. His
clothes hung loose on his lean frame, and he looked all the same color,
dust-brown, his hair, his shirt, his coat, even his face, the tan lying
dark over a skin that was sallow. Only his eyes struck a different note.
They were gray, very clear in the sun-burned face, the lids long and
heavy. Their expression interested Mark; it was not the stone-hard, evil
look of the outcast man, but one of an unashamed, smoldering resentment.
The same quality was in his manner. The request for water was neither
fawningly nor piteously made. It was surly, a right churlishly
demanded. Mark moved to the pump and filled the glass standing there.
The tramp leaning on the pickets looked at him, his glance traveling
morose over the muscular back and fine shoulders, the straight nape,
the dark head with its crown of thick, coarse hair. As Mark advanced
with the glass he continued his scrutiny, when, suddenly meeting the
young man's eyes, his own shifted and he said in that husky voice,
hoarse from a parched throat:
"It's the devil walking in the heat on these rotten dusty roads."
The other nodded and handed him the glass. He drained it, tilting his
head till the sinews in his haggard throat showed below his beard. Then
he handed it back with a muttered thanks.
"Been walking far?" said Mark.
The tramp moved away from the pickets, jerking his head toward the road
behind him. For the first time Mark noticed that he had a basket on his
arm, containing a folded blanket.
"From the fruit farms down there. I've been working my way up fruit
picking. But it's a dog's job; better starve while you're about it. Thank
you. So long."
It was evident he wanted no further parley, for he started off down the
road. Mark stood looking after him. He noticed that he was tall and
walked with a long stride, not the lazy shuffle of the hobo. Also he had
caught a quality of education in the husky voice. Under its coarsened
inflections there was an echo of something cultured, not fitting with his
present appearance, a voice that might once have known very different
conditions. Possibly a dangerous chap, Mark thought; had an ugly look, a
secret, forbidding sort of face. When the educated kind dropped they were
apt to fall further and come down harder than the others. He threw the
glass into the bushes and went in to wash up. Before he was called to
supper he had forgotten all about the man.
In the cool of the evening the Burrages sat on the porch, rather crowded
for the space was small. Mark, on the bottom step, smoked a pipe and
watched the eucalyptus leaves printed in pointed black groupings against
the Prussian-blue sky. This was the time when the family, released from
its labors, sat back comfortably and listened to the favored one while he
told of the city by the sea. Old Man Burrage had a way of suddenly asking
questions about people he had known in the brave days of the Comstock,
some dead now, others trailing clouds of glory eastward this many years.
Tonight he was minded to hear about the children of George Alston whom
Mark had met. Long ago in Virginia City Old Man Burrage had often seen
George Alston, talked with him when he was manager of the Silver Queen
and one of the big men of that age of giants. Mother piped up
there--_she_ wasn't going to be beaten. Many's the time she'd waited on
George Alston when he and the others would come riding over the Sierras
on their long-tailed horses--a bunch of them together galloping into
Placerville like the Pony Express coming into Sacramento.
"And some of 'em," said the old woman, rocking in easeful reminiscence,
"would be as fresh with me as if I'd given 'em encouragement. But George
Alston, never--he'd treat me as respectful as if I was the first lady in
the land. Halting behind to have a neighborly chat and the rest of them
throwin' their money on the table and off through the dining room
hollerin' for their horses."
Her son, on the lower step, stirred as if uncomfortable. These memories,
once prone to rouse a tender amusement, now carried their secret sting.
"He was the real thing," the farmer gravely commented. "There wasn't many
Sadie, who was not interested in a man dead ten years ago, pushed the
conversation on to her own generation.
"His daughters are grown up. They must be young ladies now."
"Yes--Miss Chrystie's just eighteen, came of age this summer. The other
one's a few years older."
"Up in Virginia," said the farmer, "George Alston was a bachelor. Every
woman was out with her lariat after him but he give 'em all the slip.
And afterward, when he went back East to see his folks, a little girl in
his home town got him--a girl a lot younger than him. She died after a
There was regret in his tone, not so much for the untimely demise of the
lady as for the fact that George Alston had not found his mate in
"What are they like?" said Sadie--"pretty?"
Mark had his back toward her. She could see the shape of it, pale in its
light-colored shirt, against the dark filigree of shrubs at the bottom
of the steps. His answer sounded indifferent between puffs of his pipe:
"Yes, I guess so. Miss Chrystie's a big, fine sort of girl, with yellow
hair and lots of color. She's nearly as tall as I am. The other, Miss
Lorry--well, she's small."
"They'd ought to have a heap of money," said the farmer. "But when he
died I heard he hadn't cut up as rich as you'd think. Folks said he was
"They've got enough--four hundred thousand each."
"Well, well, well," said Mother with a lazy laugh, "that'd do _me_."
Her husband wouldn't have it.
"Lord, that's small for him," he mourned. "But I'm not surprised. He
wouldn't 'a' stood for what some of the rest of 'em did."
"Is the house grand?" asked Sadie.
"I suppose it is; it's big enough, lots of bay windows and rooms and
piazzas. It's on Pine Street, near town, with a garden round it full of
palms and trees."
"Do they have parties there?"
"No--at least I never heard of any. They're quiet sort of girls, don't go
out much. Just live there with an old lady--Mrs. Tisdale--some relative
of their mother's."
Sadie was disappointed. Having been led to expect so much from these
children of wealth, she felt cheated and was inclined to criticize. She
rather grumbled about their being so quiet. Mother disagreed:
"It sounds as if they were nice and genteel. Not the flashy, fashionable
kind. And their mother dying when they were so young--that makes a
"It was Crowder got you acquainted with them?" said the old man.
Charlie Crowder was a college chum of Mark's who had spent several
vacations on the ranch and who was regarded by the Burrages as a fount of
wisdom. Mark from the steps said yes, Crowder had taken him to the house.
There was a pause after this, the parents sunk in gratified musings. The
farmer, the simple, unaspiring male, saw no further than the fact of Mark
a guest in George Alston's home, but Mother had far-reaching fancies,
glimpsed future possibilities. It was she who broke the silence,
observing casually as if all doors must be open to her brilliant son,
"I'm glad you know them, honey. There's no better companions for a young
man making his way, than quiet, refined girls."
Sadie saw it as astonishing. She could hardly encompass the thought of
her brother, a few years ago working on the ranch like a hired man, now
moving in the glittering spheres that she read about in the Sunday
edition of the _Sacramento Courier._
"Do you go there often?" she asked.
"Oh, now and again. I haven't much time for calling."
It was Mark who turned the conversation, difficult at first. The farmer
was tractable, but Mother and Sadie showed a tendency to cling to the
Alston sisters. He finally diverted their attention by telling them
about Pancha Lopez, the greaser girl, who was the new leading woman at
the Albion Opera House, and a friend of Charlie Crowder's. Mother forgot
"You don't know _her_, do you, Mark?" she said uneasily.
"No, Mother, I've only seen her act."
The farmer stirred and rumbled warningly out of the darkness,
"And you don't want to, son. A hard-working boy don't want to waste his
time lallygaggin' round with actresses."
When they dispersed for the night, Mother noticed that Mark was
abstracted, almost as if he was depressed. No one else saw it; eyes and
tongues were heavy at bedtime on the ranch. Sadie, dragging up the stairs
to be awake tomorrow at sunrise, might have been depressed but she
wasn't. And the farmer and his wife, creaking about in their stuffy room
over the kitchen, their old bones stiff with fatigue, were elated.
A part of the attic, lighted by one window in the gable, had been Mark's
den since he was eight. Here was the table with its hacked edge where he
had done his "homework" when he went to the public school up the road,
his shelf of books, the line of pegs for his clothes, the rifle his
father had given him when he shot fifty rabbits in one month. He lit the
lamp and looked about, his eyes seeing it as mean and unlovely, and his
heart reproaching him that he should see it so.
He sat down by the table and tried to read, but the book fell to his
knees and he stared, thought-tranced, at the pegs along the wall. What he
thought of was the eldest Alston girl, Lorry, the one he had described as
"small." Usually he did not permit himself to do this, but tonight the
talk on the porch, his people's naive pleasure that he should know one so
fine and far-removed, called up her image--dominant, imperious, not to be
denied. With the lamplight gilding his brooding face, the back-growing
crest of dark hair, the thick eyebrows, the resolute mouth, lip pressed
on lip in an out-thrust curve, he sat motionless, seeing her against the
background of her home.
Details of its wealth came to him, costly elegancies of her
surroundings--the long parlor with its receding vista to a dining room
where silver shone grandly, rich, still curtains, pictures, statues; the
Chinese servants offering delicate food, coming at the touch of a bell,
opening doors, carrying trays. It was not really as imposing as Mark
thought. There were people who sniffed at the Alstons' way of living, in
that queer, old-fashioned house far down town with the antiquated,
lumbering furniture their father had bought when he married. But Mark had
not the advantage of a comparative standard. Her setting gained its
splendor not only from his inexperience, but by comparison with his own.
He saw their two homes in contrast, just as he saw her in contrast with
the other girls he had known, her fortune in contrast with his twenty
dollars a week. It brought him a new, sharp pain, pain that he should
have seen the difference, that he had acknowledged it, that what had once
seemed good and fitting now looked poor and humble. He loved his people
and hugged the love to him with a fierce loyalty, but it could not hide
the fact that they were not as her people. It was the first jar to his
glad confidence, the first blow in his proud fight for power and place,
the first time the thought of his poverty had come with a humiliating
sting. He was sore and angry with himself and would have liked to be
angry with her. But he couldn't--she was so sweet!
The tramp walked down the road, first on the grizzled grass, then, the
earth under it baked to an iron hardness, back on the softened dust. He
passed Tito Murano's cottage with dogs and chickens and little Muranos
sporting about the kitchen door and then noticed a diminishing of trees
and a sudden widening of the prospect. From here the road dwindled to a
trail that sloped to the marsh which spread before him. He sat down on a
bank by the roadside and looked at it.
Under the high, unsullied heavens it lay like an unrolled map,
green-painted, divisions and subdivisions marked by the fine tracings of
streams. His eye traveled down its length to where in a line,
ruler-straight, it met the sky, then shifted to its upper end, a jagged
point reaching to the hills. He had heard of it on the ranches where he
had been picking fruit--"It's easy traveling till you reach the tules,
but it's some pull round _them_." He gauged the distance round the point,
and oaths, picturesque and fluent, came from him. He had sixteen dollars
in the lining of his coat, and for days as he tramped and worked, he saw
this hoard expended in San Francisco--a bath, clean linen, and a dinner,
a dinner in a rôtisserie with a pint of red wine and a cigar. He saw no
further than that--sixteen dollars' worth of comfort and good living.
Now he was like a child deprived of its candy. He ached with fatigue, his
feet were blistered, his throat dry as a kiln. Throwing off his hat, he
leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and cursed the marsh as if it
were a living thing, cursed it with a slow, unctuous zest, spat out upon
it the venom and wrath that had accumulated within him.
Seeing him thus, his hat off, sullen indifference replaced by a malign
animation, he was a very different being from the man who had accosted
Mark. A dangerous chap beyond doubt, dangerous from a dark soul and a
stored power of malevolence. His face, vitalized with rage, was handsome;
a narrow forehead, the hair receding from the temples, a high-bridged
nose with wide-cut nostrils, lips thin and fine, moving flexibly as they
muttered. It matched with what the voice had told Mark, was not the face
of the brutalized hobo or low-bred vagrant, but beneath its hair and dirt
showed as the mask of a man who might have fallen from high places. Even
his curses went to prove it. They were not the dull profanities of the
loafer, but were varied, colorful, imaginative, such curses as might come
from one who had read and remembered.
Suddenly they stopped and his glance deflected, alert and
apprehensive--his ear had caught a low crooning of song. It came from a
small boy who, a little wooden boat in his hand, was advancing up the
slope. This was Tito Murano, Junior, Tito's first-born, nine years old,
softly footing it home after a joyous hour along the edge of the tules.
Tito's mother was Irish, but the Latin strain had flowered forth strong
in her son. He was bronze-brown, with a black bullet head and eyes like
shoe buttons. A pair of cotton trousers and a rag of shirt clothed him
and his feet were bare and caked with mud. A happy day behind him and the
prospect of supper made his heart light and he gave forth its joy in
fresh, bird-sweet carolings.
He did not see the tramp and a sharp, "Hey, there, kid," made him halt,
startled, gripping the treasured boat against his breast. Then he made
out the man, and stood staring, poised to run.
"Is there any way of getting across this infernal place?" The tramp's
hand swept the prospect.
Bashfulness held Tito speechless, and he stood rubbing one foot across
The man's eyes narrowed with a curious, ugly look.
"Are you deaf?" he said very quietly.
A muttered negative came from the child. The question contained a quality
of scorn that he felt and resented.
"I want to cross the marsh, get to the railway. What's the best
way to go?"
Tito's arm made a sweeping gesture round the head of the tules.
"That. There's a trail. You go round."
"Good God--that's _miles_. How do people go, the people here, when they
want to get to the other side?"
"That way." Tito repeated his gesture. "But they don't go often, and they
The man gave a groaning oath, picked up his hat, then cast it from him
with fury, and, planting his elbows on his knees, dropped his forehead on
his hands. Tito was sorry for him, and advanced charily, his heart full
"The duck shooters have laid planks," he murmured encouragingly.
The man raised his head.
Tito indicated the marsh.
"All along. They lay 'em when they come to shoot and then they let 'em
lay. Nobody don't ever go there 'cept the duck shooters."
"You mean I can get across by the planks?"
Tito forgot his bashfulness and drew nearer. He was emboldened by the
thought that he could help the tramp, give assistance as man to man.
"_You_ couldn't. It's all mud and water, and turns too, like you was
goin' round in rings. But _I_ could--I bin acrost, right over to the
Ariel Club." He pointed to a small white square on the opposite
side. "That's where. The railroad's a ways beyont that, but it ain't
The man looked and nodded, then smiled, a slight curling of his lip, a
slight contraction of the skin round his eyes.
"If you show me the way I'll give you a quarter," he said, turning the
smile on Tito.
Tito did not like the smile; it suggested a dog's lifted lip when
contemplating battle. Also he had been forbidden to go into the marsh;
some of the streams were deep, the mud treacherous. But a quarter had
seldom crossed his palm. He saw himself spending it at the crossroads
store, and, tucking his boat up under his arm, said manfully:
"All right--I'll get you over before sundown."
They started, the child running fleet-footed ahead, the man following
with long strides. There was evidently a way and Tito knew it. His black
head bobbed along in front, now a dark sphere glossed by the sunlight,
now an inky silhouette against the white shine of water. There were
creeks to jump and pools to wade--the duck shooters' planks only spanned
the deep places--and the way was hard.
Once the tramp stopped, surly-faced, and measured the distance to the
Ariel Club house. It seemed but little nearer. He told Tito so, and the
child, pausing to look back, cheered him with heartening phrases. But it
was a hard pull, crushing through the dense growth, staggering on the
slippery ooze, and he began to mutter his curses again. Tito, hearing
them, made no reply, a little scared in the sun-swept loneliness with the
swearing in his ears.
Finally the man, floundering on a bank of mud, slipped and fell to his
knees. He groveled, his hands caked, and when he rose a fearful stream of
profanity broke from him. Tito stopped, chilled, peering back between the
rushes. If it had been a rancher or one of the boys he would have
laughed. But he had no inclination to laugh at the staggering figure,
with the haggard, sweat-beaded face and furious eyes.
"I said it was long, but we're gettin' there. We're halfway acrost now,"
his little pipe, mellow-sweet, was in strange contrast with what had
"You're a liar, a damnable liar. You've led me into the middle of
this--place that you don't know any more of than I do."
His eyes, ranging about in helpless desperation, saw, some distance
beyond, a rise of dry ground. The sight appeared to divert him, and he
stood looking at it. He had the appearance of having forgotten Tito, and
the child, uneasy at this sudden stillness as he was ready to be at
anything the tramp did, said with timid urgence:
"Say, come on. I got to get home for supper or I'll get licked."
For answer the man moved in an opposite direction, to where the stream
widened. He saw there was deep water between him and the dry place, but
he wanted to get there, rest, smoke, unroll his blanket and sleep. Tito's
"You're goin' the wrong way," he pleaded. "You can't get round there,
it's all water."
Suddenly the man turned on him savagely. His brooding eyes widened and
their look, a threatening glare, made the boy's heart quail.
"Get out," he shouted, "get out, I'm done with you. You're a fakir."
Tito retreated, crushing the rushes under his naked feet, his face
"But I was takin' you. I sure was--"
"Get out. You don't know anything about it. You're a liar."
"I do. I was takin' you straight--and you promised me a quarter."
"To hell with you and your quarter. Didn't you hear me say get out?"
The thought of the quarter gave Tito a desperate courage; his voice rose
in a protesting wail:
"But I done half already--you're halfway acrost. You'd oughter give me a
dime. I've done more than a dime's worth."
The tramp, with a smothered ejaculation, bent and picked up a bit of
iron, relic of some sportsman's passage. Tito saw the raised hand and
ducked, hearing the missile hurtle over his head and plop into the water
behind him. It frightened him, but not so much as the man's face. Like a
small, terrified animal he bent and fled. The breaths came quick from
his laboring breast, and as he ran, his head low, the rushes swaying
together over his wake, sobs burst from him, not alone for fear, but for
his lost quarter.
The sun was the dazzling core of a golden glow when he crept on to the
dry ground, mud-soaked, tear-streaked, his wooden boat still in his hand.
His terror was over and he padded home in deep thought, inventing a lie.
For if his parents knew of his wanderings he would be beaten and sent to
bed without supper.
The tramp picked his way round to the stream that separated him from the
desired ground, slipped out of his clothes and, putting them in the
basket, plunged in the current. On the opposite bank he stood up, a lean,
shining shape, the sunlight gilding his wet body, till it looked like a
statue of brass. The bath refreshed him; he would eat some fruit he had
in his basket, take a smoke, and rest there for the night.
Still wet, he pulled on his clothes, stretched out, and drawing a pear
from the basket began to eat it. As he did so his glance explored the
place and brought up on a mark at the water's edge. It interested him,
and still gnawing the pear, he crawled down to it--a footprint, large and
as clearly impressed as if cast in plaster. Not far from it was a
triangular indentation, its point driven deep--the mark of a boat's prow.
Both looked fresh, the uppressed outlines of mud crisp and flakey, which
would happen quickly under such a sun. Among his fellow vagrants he had
learned a good deal about the tules, one fact, corroborated by the child,
that at this season no one ever disturbed their loneliness. Still
squatting he glanced about--at the foot of the rush wall behind him were
two burnt matches. Men had recently been there, come in a boat, and
smoked; there were no traces of a fire.
To perceptions used to the open dealings of an unobservant honesty, it
would have signified nothing. But to his, trained for duplicity, learned
in the ways of a world where concealments were a part of life, it carried
a meaning. His face took on an animal look of cunning, his movements
became alert and stealthy. Rising to his feet, he moved about, staring,
studying, saw other footprints and then a break in the rushes at the
back. He went there, parted the broken spears and came on a space where
some were cut away, the ground disturbed, and still moist.
Half an hour later, the sun, sending its last long shafts across the
marsh, played on a strange picture--a tramp, white-faced, with trembling
hands, and round him, on the ground, about his sprawled legs, falling
from his shaking fingers, yellow in the yellow light, gold, gold, gold!
THE MARKED PARAGRAPH
The first half of the night he spent moving the money to the marshes'
edge. Its weight was like the weight of millstones but disposed about
him, in the basket, in the gunny sacks slung from his shoulders, in the
newspaper carried in his hands, he dragged it across. When he reached the
bank he fell like one dead. Outstretched beside his treasure he lay on
his back and looked with half-closed eyes at the black vault and the cold
Before the dawn came he wrapped part of it in the paper and buried it
among the sedge; the rest he put in his basket and his pockets. Early
morning saw him, an inconspicuous, frowsy figure, slouching up to a way
station on the line to Sacramento.
In the train he found a newspaper left by a departed traveler, and on its
front page, featured with black headlines, the latest news of the Knapp
and Garland holdup. After he had read it he sat very still. He knew what
he had found and was relieved. It cleared the situation if it added to
its danger. But he was intrigued by the difficulty of disposing of the
money. To bank it was out of the question; he must rouse no curiosity and
he could give no references. To leave it on the marshes' edge was
impracticable. He had heard of men who kept their loot buried, but he
feared the perils of a cache, to be dug and redug, ungettable, in a
solitary place, hard to find and dangerous to visit. He must put it
somewhere not too remote, secure against discovery, where he could come
and go unnoticed and free from question. By the time the train reached
Sacramento he had formulated a plan.
He knew the city well, had footed the streets of its slums before he went
South. In a men's lodging house, kept by a Chinese, he engaged a room,
left what gold he had there--he had to take his chance against theft--and
in the afternoon took a down train to the marsh. He was back with the
rest of the money that night, buying a secondhand suitcase on his way
from the depot. In this he packed it, still in the canvas sacks, the
newspaper folded over it. He saw to it that the suitcase had a lock, and
lead-heavy he laid it flat under the bed.
The next morning he rose, nerved to a day of action. He was out early,
his objective the small, mean stores of the poorer quarter. In these he
bought shoes, the coarse brogans of the workman, and a hat, a rusty,
sweat-stained Stetson. A barber's shop in a basement was his next point
of call. Here he was shaved and his hair cut. When he emerged into the
light of day the tramp had disappeared. The ragged growth gone, the proud
almost patrician character of his face was strikingly apparent. It
matched so illy with his wretched clothes that passersby looked at him.
He saw it and slunk along the walls, his hat on his brows, uneasily aware
of the glances of women which usually warmed him like wine. At a
secondhand dealer's, a dark den with coats and trousers hanging in layers
about the entrance, he bought a suit of clothes and an overcoat. Carrying
these in a bundle he went back to his room and put them on.
The transformation was now complete. He studied himself in the blotched
and wavy mirror and nodded in grave approval. He might have been an
artisan, a small clerk, or a traveling salesman routed through the
Half an hour later saw him at the desk of the Whatcheer House. This was a
third-rate men's hotel, a decent enough place where the transient male
population from the interior met the restless influx from the coast. Here
floated in, lodged a space, then drifted out a tide of men, seekers of
work, of pleasure, of change, of nothing at all. The majority were of the
world's rovers impelled by an unquenchable wanderlust, but among them
were the industrious and steady, quartered in the city or shifting to a
new center of activity. He registered as Harry Romaine of Vancouver and
described himself as a traveling man who would use Sacramento as a base
of operations. He took a room in the back--No. 19--said he would probably
keep it all winter and paid a month's rent in advance.
By afternoon he had the money there and with it a chisel and hammer. It
was intensely hot, the sun beating on the wall and sloping in through the
one window. Complete silence from the rooms on either side reassured him,
and in the scorching stillness he worked with a noiseless, capable speed.
In one corner under the bed he pulled up the carpet and pried loose the
boards. Some of the money went there, some below the pipes in the
cupboard under the stationary washstand, the rest behind a piece of the
Before he replaced the boards in the corner cache--the largest and least
difficult to disturb--he glanced about for anything overlooked or
forgotten for which the hole would be a convenient hiding-place. On the
floor, outspread and crumpled, lay the newspaper. The outer sheets were
brown and disintegrated from contact with the mud, but the two inner ones
were whole and clean. Probably it would be better to take no chances and
hide it; someone might notice it and wonder how it came to be in such a
state. He picked it up, looked it over, and saw it was the _Sacramento
Courier_ of August 25. That would make it only three days old, the issue
of the day before the holdup. If anything was needed to convince him that
the cache was Knapp and Garland's this was it. He opened it on the table
to fold, brushing out the creases, when suddenly his hand dropped and his
glance became fixed. A marked paragraph had caught his attention.
The light was growing dim and he took the paper to the window. The
paragraph was at the end of a column, was encircled by two curved
pencil strokes, and on the edge of clean paper below it was written,
also in pencil, "Hello, Panchita. Ain't you the wonder. Your best
beau's proud of you."
He pulled a chair to the window, folded back the page and read the
marked item. The column was headed "C. C.'s San Francisco Letter," was
dated August 21, and was mainly concerned with social and business news
of the coast city. That part of it outlined by the pencil strokes ran
As to matters theatrical there's nothing new in sight, except that Pancha
Lopez--our Pancha--made a hit this week in "The Zingara," the gypsy
operetta produced on Sunday night at the Albion. I can't tell much about
"The Zingara"--maybe it was good and maybe it wasn't. I couldn't reckon
with anything but Pancha; she was the whole show. She's never done
anything so well, was as dainty as a pink, as brilliant as a humming
bird, danced like a fairy, and sang--well, she sang way beyond what she's
led us to expect of her. Can I say more? The public evidently agrees with
me. The S.R.O. sign has been out at the cozy little home of comic opera
ever since Sunday. C.C., who can't keep away from the place, has seen so
many dress shirt fronts and plush cloaks that he's rubbed his eyes and
wondered if he hasn't made a mistake and it's the grand opera season come
early with a change of dates. But he hasn't. Pacific and Van Ness avenues
are beginning to understand that we've got a little song bird right here
in our midst that they can hear for half a dollar and who gives them more
for that than the Metropolitans do for a V. Saluda, Pancha! Here's
looking at you. Some day the East is going to call you and you're going
to make a little line of footsteps across the continent. But for our
sakes postpone it as long as you can. Remember that you belong to us,
that we discovered you and that we can't get on without you.
He read it twice and then studied the penciled words, "Hello, Panchita!
Ain't you the wonder. Your best beau's proud of you." In the dying light
he murmured them over as if their sound delighted him and as he murmured
a slight, sardonic smile broke out on his face.
His sense of humor, grim and cynical, was tickled. He, the picaroon,
companion of rogues and small marauders, had seen many and diverse love
affairs. On the shady bypaths he had followed, edging along the rim of
the law, he had met all sorts of couples, men and women incomprehensibly
attracted, ill-assorted, mysterious, picturesque. This seemed to him one
of the most piquant combinations he had ever encountered--a bandit and a
comic opera singer. It amused him vastly and he crooned over the paper,
grinning in the dusk. The fellow had evidently marked the item and
written his congratulations, intending to send it to her, then needed it
to wrap round the money, and confident in the security of his cache, left
it there against his return. That thought increased his amusement, and he
laughed, a low, smothered chuckle.
It was dark and he rose and lit the lamp. Then he tore out the piece of
the paper and put it in the pocket of his suitcase. The rest he folded
and placed in the hole under the money. As he knelt, fitting the boards
back, he thought of the singing woman, Pancha Lopez. The beloved of a
highwayman, with a Spanish name, he pictured her as a dark, flashing
creature, coarsely opulent and mature. It was evident that she too
belonged to the world of rogues and social pirates, and he laughed again
as he saw himself, swept back by a turn of fate, into the lives of the
outlawed. He must see Pancha Lopez; she promised to be interesting.
A week later, at eleven at night, a large audience was crowding out of
the Albion Opera House. If you know San Francisco--the San Francisco of
before the fire--you will remember the Albion. It stood on one of those
thoroughfares that slant from the main stem of Market Street near Lotta's
Fountain. That part of the city is of dubious repute; questionable back
walls look down on the alley that leads to the stage door, and after
midnight there is much light of electricity and gas and much unholy noise
round its darkened bulk.
But that is not the Albion's fault. It did not plant itself in the
Tenderloin; it was the Tenderloin that grew. Since it first opened its
doors as a temple of light opera--fifty cents a seat and a constant
change of bill--its patrons have been, if not fashionable, always
respectable. Smoking was permitted, also the serving of drinks--the seat
in front had a convenient shelf for the ladies' lemonade and the
gentleman's beer--but even so, no one could say that a strict decorum did
not prevail in the Albion's audiences even as it did in the Albion's
A young man with a cheerful, ugly face stood in a side aisle, watching
the crowd file out. He had a kindly blue eye, a merry thick-lipped mouth,
and blonde hair sleeked back across his crown, one lock, detached from
the rest, falling over his forehead. He had a way of smoothing back this
lock with his palm but it always fell down again and he never seemed to
resent it. Of all that pertained to his outward appearance, he was
indifferent. Not only his patience with the recalcitrant lock, but his
clothes showed it--dusty, carelessly fitting, his collar too large for
his neck, his cravat squeezed up into a tight sailor's knot and shifted
to one side. He was Charlie Crowder, not long graduated from Stanford and
now a reporter on the _Despatch_, where he was regarded with interest as
a promising young man.
His eye, exploring the crowd, was the journalist's, picking salient
points. It noted fur collars and velvet wraps, the white gloss of shirt
bosoms, women's hair, ridged with artificial ripples--more of that kind
in the audience than he'd seen yet. "The Zingara" had made a hit; he'd
just heard at the box office that they would extend the run through the
autumn. It pleased him for it verified his prophecy on the first night
and it was a bully good thing for Pancha.
He stepped out of a side entrance, edged through the throngs on the
pavement, dove up an alley and reached the stage door. A single round
lamp burned over it and already dark shapes were issuing forth, mostly
women, Cinderellas returned to their dingy habiliments. There was a great
chatter of feminine voices as they skirmished off, some in groups, some
alone, some on the arms of men who emerged from the darkness with
Crowder crossed the back of the large stage where supers were pulling
scenery about; weights and ropes, forest edges, bits of sky and parlor
ceilings, hanging in layers from the flies. The brick wall at the back
was whitewashed and against it a line of men and girls passed scurrying
to the exit, throwing remarks back and forth, laughing, pulling on their
coats. Some of them hailed him and got a cheery word in reply. Then,
skirting the wings, he turned down a passage and brought up at a door on
which a small star was drawn in chalk. He knocked, and a woman's voice
called from inside:
"Who is it?"
"Your faithful press agent."
The woman's voice answered:
"Enter Charlie, rear, smiling."
He opened the door, went in. The place was the Albion's best dressing
room. It was small, with white-washed walls, and lighted by a gas jet
inclosed in a wire shield. A mirror, its frame dotted with artificial
flowers, bits of ribbon, notes and favors, surmounted the dressing table.
This was a litter of paint pots, hair pins, toilet articles, powder rags,
across which, like a pair of strayed snakes, lay two long braids of black
hair. A powerful scent of cosmetics and stale perfumery mingled with the
faint, thrilling breath of roses.
Seated in front of the glass in a soiled red satin kimono embroidered in
storks, was Pancha Lopez, leading woman of the Albion. She was wiping off
her make-up, a large jar of cold cream on the table before her, a grease
rag in her hand. The kimono, falling richly, outlined a thin, lithe body,
flat-backed, muscular and supple. The make-up still on her face turned
her brown skin to a meerschaum pallor and the dusky brick-red of her
cheeks to an unnatural rose. A long neck upheld a small, finely shaped
head, the hair now drawn back and twisted in a tight knot to which the
two long braids had been pinned. The Indian strain in her revealed itself
in the flattened cheek-bones, the wide-cut, delicate nostrils and the
small, high-set eyes as clearly black and white as if made of enamel.
They were now outlined and elongated with lamp black which still clung to
her lashes in flakes. She was twenty-two years old, and had been on the
stage for six years.
After a glance over her shoulder and a flashing smile she returned to her
work, pushing her hair still further off her forehead with one hand, and
sweeping the greasy cloth over her face with the other.
"Well," said Crowder, standing beside her and looking at her reflection,
"how's the baby-grand Patti tonight?"
"Fine!" She drew down her upper lip and slowly rubbed round her mouth,
Crowder, as if fascinated, watching the process in the mirror. "Just sit
down on something. Hang up my costume and take that chair if there isn't
any other. I got to get this thing off before I can talk comfortably."
Her costume, a glittering heap of red and orange, lay across a chair,
the pile surmounted by an open cardboard box whence the heads of roses
protruded from tissue paper. He feared to touch that, and finding
another chair against the wall, drew it to the side of the dressing
table and sat down.
"Have you been in front?" she asked, rubbing along her jaw.
"Yes, it's packed. But I only came in just before the curtain. How was
She threw a radiant look at him.
"Ate it up, dearie. Couldn't get enough. Six encores for my Castanet
song. Oh, Charlie," she dropped the hand with its rag to the edge of the
table and looked at him, solemnly earnest, "you don't know how I
feel--you don't know. It's hard to believe and yet it's true. I can see
the future stretching up like a ladder, and me mounting, step by step, on
rungs made of gold."
Pancha Lopez, unlettered, almost illiterate, child of the mountains and
the ditches, wandering vagabond of the stage, would sometimes indulge in
unexpected felicities of phrase. Her admirers said it was another
expression of that "temperament" with which she was endowed. Crowder, who
knew her better than most, set it down to the Indian blood. From that
wild blend had come all that lifted her above her fellows, her flashes of
deep intelligence, her instinct for beauty, her high-mettled, invincible
spirit. He even maintained to his friend Mark Burrage--Mark was the only
person he ever talked her over with--that it was the squaw in her which
had kept her pure, made her something more than "a good girl," a proud
virgin, self-sufficing, untamable, jealous of her honor as a vestal.
"That's what you ought to see," he said in answer to her serious eyes.
"Haven't I always said it? Didn't I tell you so up there in Portland when
we first met and you were doing a turn between six saxaphone players and
a bunch of trained cockatoos?"
She nodded, laughing, and returned to her rubbing.
"You surely did, and fanned up the flame that was just a tiny spark
then. Dear old press agent, I guess I'll have to change your name to
"A. 1. Have you read the last blast I've given out?" She shook her head
and he thrust his hand into his overcoat pocket. "I've brought it along,
though I thought your father might have sent it to you."
"Pa's in the mountains." Drawing down her upper lip she pressed on her
cheeks with painted finger tips, scrutinizing her face in the mirror. "I
haven't heard from him for weeks. He's off on the lode somewhere."
"Then he hasn't seen it. It's the best I've done yet, and it's true,
He had drawn from his pocket a paper which he now opened. As he folded it
back, Pancha took out her hairpins and shook down her hair. It extended
to her shoulders, a thick, curly bush, through which she pulled the comb
with short, quick sweeps.
"Read that," said the young man and handed her the paper. "_Sacramento
Courier_--'C. C's San Francisco Letter.'"
She took it and read while he watched her with twinkling eyes. They were
great pals, these two; had been since they met in Portland, five years
ago. He was on his way to Stanford, and had seen her doing a singing and
dancing act in a wretched vaudeville company. That vision of a girlhood,
beset and embattled, the pitifulness of its acquired hardness, had called
to his western chivalry and made him her champion. Ever since he had
helped and encouraged, his belief and friendship a spur to the ruthless
energy, the driving ambition, that had landed her in the Albion six
As she read she began to smile, then squeals of delight broke from her.
"You old press agent!" she cried, hitting at him with the comb and still
reading, and then: "You pet, you precious pet!"
She finished on a little cry and cast the paper to the floor.
"Oh, Charlie, oh, my good, _dear_ Charlie!" Her face was suddenly stirred
with an upswelling of emotion. No other man in her hard and sordid
experience had been to her what Charlie Crowder had, never a lover,
always a friend.
"Now, Pancha," he said pleadingly, "don't look at me like that or I'll
burst into sobs."
She rose and, putting her hands on his shoulders, kissed him on the
forehead with a sexless tenderness. Her eyes were wet and to hide it she
turned to where her costume lay on the chair. Crowder had nothing to
say; these bursts of gratitude from his friend made him embarrassed.
"Look," she cried suddenly and snatched up the box of roses, "even a
Johnny at the stage door. That's going some," and thrusting her hand
into the box, she plucked up by their heads a handful of blossoms. Their
pure sweet breath flowed out on the coarse scents with which the small
Crowder affected a shocked surprise.
"What's this? A lover at last and I kept in ignorance."
"This is his first appearance, not a yap till tonight. And look at the
yap." She dropped the box and took out from under the paper a card which
she held toward him, "Some style about _that_ yap."
It was the square of pasteboard furnished by the florist. On it was
written in a small, upright hand, "Let me offer you these roses, sweet as
your voice, delicate as your art, and lovely as yourself. An admirer."
Crowder raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes in exaggerated
"Well, well, well! I must look into this. Who _is_ the gentleman ?"
"I haven't a guess." She took the card and dwelt on it delightedly.
"Ain't it stylish writing--scratchy and yet you can read it? And the
words, they're almost poetry. I never got flowers before with a sentiment
as swell as that."
"Don't you honest know who it is?" said Crowder, impressed by the flowery
profusion of "the sentiment."
"Not me. Jake brought 'em in after the second curtain. They were left by
a messenger boy. Whoever he is he certainly does things in a classy way.
Maybe he's a newspaper man to write like that."
Crowder opined he was not. He could hardly imagine one of his
fellows--even secure in his anonymity--permitting his pen such
"When you break through the dark secret let me know. Then I'll come round
and cast my searchlight eye over him and see if he's a proper companion
for little Panchita."
"No fear," she cried, throwing the card back in the box. "Little
Panchita's got a searchlight eye of her own. Believe _me_, it's a good,
trained, old eye. Now skiddoo. I've got to slip into my togs and then me
for home and a glass of milk. If he comes to the surface with another
gasp I'll tell you."
When he had gone she dropped the kimono and put on a blouse and skirt,
both old and shabby. Her actions were quick and harmonious, no
unnecessary moves made, the actions of one trained to an economy of time
and labor. On a wall hook behind a curtain she hung her gypsy dress,
touching it lightly, flicking off dust, settling the folds. Poverty had
taught her this care, as ambition was teaching her a thrift that made her
associates call her mean.
What they thought was a matter of indifference to her. Before she had
reached the Albion she knew herself superior and had plans that stretched
far. About these she was secret. Not one, not even her father, knew the
amount of money she had saved, or that, when she had accumulated enough,
she intended going East and to Europe. She felt her powers and dreamed of
a future on stages far finer than the Albion's. Once she had thought her
father could help her. Two years ago he _had_ sold a prospect for four
thousand dollars, but he had lost the money in an unlucky mining venture
in Oregon. That ended all hopes of his assistance. Even if he did make
another strike he needed what he got for himself; he was getting on, he
wanted to buy a ranch and settle down. If she was to reach the summit of
her desire--and she would reach it or die--she must do it herself. So she
worked doggedly, nursed her voice, hoarded her earnings and said nothing.
She was ready to leave, her hat, a little black velvet toque, pulled down
over her hair, a long shaggy ulster clothing her to the ankles. As she
went to the dressing table to put out the light she saw her image in the
glass and paused, eyeing it. So far her appearance had had no value for
her save as a stage asset. Now she looked at herself with a new, critical
interest. Behind the footlights she was another person, blossomed into an
exotic brilliance, took on fire and beauty with the music and excitement.
Might not a man seeing her there be disappointed when he met her as she
really was? She studied her face intently, viewing it at different
angles, judging it by the standards of her world. By these she found it
wanting, and with a wistful sigh she stretched out her hand and turned
off the light.
It was nearly midnight when she walked down the side streets that led to
the car line which took her home. Overhead the fog hung, covering the
city with a luminous rack which here and there parted, showing segments
of dark, star-dotted sky. Passing men looked at her, some meeting a
defiant stare, others a face so chastely unresponsive that they averted
their eyes as if rebuked. On the car she took an outside seat, for she
loved the swift passage through the night with the chill air on her face.
The grip man knew her and smiled a greeting, and as she mounted the step
she answered cheerily. Now and then as the car stopped he spoke to her,
leaning over his lever, and she twisted round to reply, friendly, frank,
intimate. Until she came to San Francisco his class was the best she had
It was part of her economy to live in the Mission. She had two rooms
there in the old Vallejo Hotel, a hostelry once fashionable, now fallen
on dreary days. It fronted on a wide street where new business buildings
rose beside gabled houses, detached and disconsolate in the midst of
withered lawns. The Vallejo was a connecting link between these samples
of the new and the old. It belonged to the ornate bay-windowed period of
the seventies. Each of its "front suites" had the same proud bulge, and
its entrance steps were flanked by two pillars holding aloft ground glass
globes upon which its name was painted in black. Tall buildings were
unknown in those days; the Vallejo boasted only three stories and its
architect had never dreamed of such an effete luxury as an elevator.
Built on the filled-in ground of Mission Creek, it had developed a
tendency to sag in the back, and when you walked down the oil-clothed
hall to the baths, you were conscious of a list to starboard.
The Vallejo patrons did not mind these drawbacks, or if they did, thought
of the low rates and were uncomplaining. All things considered, you got a
good deal for your money. The place was quiet and respectable; even in
its downfall it clung desperately to its traditions. It took no
transients, required a certain standard of conduct in its lodgers, and
still maintained a night clerk in the office of its musty front hall.
Pancha thought it quite regal. If it was a proud elevation for her to
reign at the Albion, it was a corresponding one for her to have two rooms
to herself in a real hotel. As she ascended the stairs--her apartment was
on the second floor--she looked about her, taking in satisfactory
details, the worn moquette carpet, the artificial palm on a pedestal in
the corner, the high, gilt-topped mirror at the turn on the stairs. It
all seemed to her what she would have called "refined"; she need never be
ashamed to have a visitor come there.
In her parlor she lit the light and surveyed her surroundings with an
increasing satisfaction. It was a startlingly ugly room, but she thought
it a bower of elegance. What gave her authority on the stage, what had
already lifted her above the mass, seemed to fall from her with her
costume. That unwavering sense of beauty and grace, that instinctive
taste which lent her performance poetry and distinction, left her at the
wings. Now her eye dwelt, complacent, on the red plush chairs, the
coarse lace curtains, the sofa pillows of etched leather and dissonant
colors, the long mirror between the windows, and each and all received
her approval. As she had thought on the stairs, she thought again--no
one would be ashamed to receive a visitor, no matter how stylish, in
such a room.
She put her roses in a vase and then fetched a bottle of milk from the
window sill and a box of crackers from the bureau drawer. Setting these
on the marble-topped table beside the droplight she sat and ate. It was
too cold to take off her coat and from its pocket she drew the card that
had come with the flowers. As she sipped and munched, the shadows of the
room hovering on the light's circular edge, she read over the words,
murmuring them low, her voice lingering on them caressingly.
It was the first knock at the door of her dreams, the first prismatic ray
of romance that had penetrated the penumbra of brutal realities in which
she had lived.
The Argonaut Hotel--all San Franciscans will remember it--had, like the
Vallejo, started life with high expectations and then declined. But not
to so complete a downfall. Fashion had left it, but it still did a good
business, was patronized by commercial travelers and old customers from
the interior, and had a solid foundation of residentials, married couples
beaten by the servant question and elderly men with no ties. Its position
had been against it--on that end of Montgomery Street where the land
begins to rise toward Telegraph Hill, with the city's made ground behind,
and in front "the gore" where Dr. Coggeswell's statue used to stand.
People who lived there were very loyal to it--not much style, but
comfort, quiet and independence.
Three days before the events in the last chapter a man entered its office
and asked for rooms. He was an impressive person, of the kind who usually
went to the Palace or the St. Francis. Ned Murphy, the clerk, sized him
up as an Easterner or maybe a foreigner. There was something
foreign-looking about him--you couldn't just tell what; it might be the
way he wore his hair, brushed back straight from his forehead, or an
undemocratic haughtiness of bearing. He looked as if he was used to the
best, and he acted that way; had to be shown four suites before he was
satisfied and then took the most expensive, second floor front, two rooms
and bath, and you could see he didn't think much of it. Ned Murphy lived
up to him with an unbroken spirit, languidly whistled as he slid the
register across the counter, looked up the hall with a bored air, and
then winked at the bell boy holding the bags. But when the stranger had
followed the boy up the stairs--the Argonaut had no elevator--he pulled
the register round and eagerly read the entry--"Boyé Mayer, New York." A
foreign name all right; you couldn't fool him.
He told the switchboard girl, who had been taking it all in from her
desk, and she slid over to size up the signature. She thought he mightn't
be foreign--just happened to have that sort of name--he didn't talk with
any dialect. When the bell boy came back they questioned him, but he was
grouchy--feller'd only given him a dime. And say, one of them suit cases
was all battered and wore out, looked like the kind the hayseeds have
when they come up from the country.
In his room the man went to the window, hitched back the lace curtains
and threw up the sash. Life in the open had made these shut-in places
stifling, and he drew in the air with a deep relish. Evening was falling,
a belated fog drifting in, wreathing in soft whorls over the hills,
feeling its way across their summits and through their hollows. It made
the prospect depressing, everything enveloped in a universal, dense
whiteness. He surveyed it, frowning--the looming shapes of the high land
beyond, the line of one-story hovels sprawled on the gore. To the right
the street slanted upward toward Telegraph Hill whence smaller streets
would decline to the waterfront and the Barbary Coast. He knew that
section well and smiled a little as he thought of it and of himself, a
ragged vagrant, exploring its byways.
His thoughts stopped at that memory--the lowest point of his fall--hung
there contemplative and then turned backward. They passed beyond his
arrival in California, his days of decay before that, the first gradual
disintegration, back over it all to the beginning.
Thirty-six years ago he had been born in New York, a few months after
the arrival of his parents. They were Austrians, his father an officer
in the Royal Hungarian Guards, his mother a dancer at the Grand Opera
House in Vienna. When Captain Ruppert Heyderich, of a prosperous
Viennese family, had, in a burst of passionate chivalry, married Kathi
Mayer, end coryphée on the second row, he had deserted the army, his
country and his world and fled to America. Captain Heyderich had not
committed so radical a breach of honor and convention without something
to do it on, and the early part of the romance had moved smoothly in a
fitting environment. Their only child, Lothar, could distinctly recall
days of affluence in an apartment on the Park. He had had a governess,
he had worn velvet and furs.
Then a change came; the governess disappeared, also the velvet and furs,
and they began moving. There was a period when to move was a feature of
their existence, each habitat showing a decrease in size and splendor.
Lothar was nine, a lanky boy with his hair worn _en brosse,_ in baggy
knickerbockers and turn-over white collars, when they were up on the West
Side in six half-lighted rooms, with a sloppy Hungarian servant to do all
the work. That was the time when his father taught languages and his
mother dancing. But _he_ went to a private school. Captain Heyderich
never got over his European ideas.
Those lean years came to a sudden end; Captain Heyderich's mother died in
Vienna and left him a snug little fortune. They moved once more, but this
time it was a hopeful, jubilant move, also a long one--to Paris. They
settled there blithely in an apartment on the Rue Victor Hugo, Lothar,
placed at a Lycée, coming home for weekends. He remembered the apartment
as ornate and over-furnished, voluble guests coming and going, a great
many parties, his mother, elaborately dressed, always hurrying off to
meet people in somebody's else house or hurrying home to meet them in her
own. Several times Austrian relations visited them, and Lothar had a
lively recollection of a fight one Sunday evening, when an uncle, a
large, bearded man, had accused his mother of extravagance and she had
flown into a temper and made a humiliating scene.
He was seventeen when his father died, and it was discovered that very
little money was left. Some of the relations came from Vienna and there
was a family conclave at which it was suggested to Lothar that he return
to Vienna with them and become a member of the clan. Separation from his
mother was a condition and he refused. He did this not so much from love
of her as from fear of them. They represented a world of which he was
already shy, of high standards, duties rigorously performed, pledges to
thrift and labor. Life with Kathi was more to his taste. He loved its
easy irresponsibility, its lack of routine, its recognition of amusement
as a prime necessity. He delivered his dictum, his mother wept triumphant
tears, and the relations departed washing their hands of him.
After that they went to London and Lothar made his first attempts at
work. They were fitful; the grind of it irked him, the regular hours wore
him to an ugly fretfulness. He tried journalism--could have made his
place for he was clever--but was too unreliable, and dropped to a space
writer, drifting from office to office. In his idle hours, which were
many, he gambled. That was more to his taste, done in his own way, at his
own time--no cramping restrictions to bind and stifle him. He was often
lucky and developed a passion for it.
He was twenty-three when they returned to New York, Kathi having begged
some more money from Vienna. She was already a worn, old witch of a
woman, dressed gayly in remnants of past grandeur and always painting
her face. She and her son held together in a partnership strained and
rasping, but unbreakable, united by the mysterious tie of blood and a
deep-rooted moral resemblance. They led a wandering life, following
races, hanging on the fringes of migrating fashion, sometimes hiding
from creditors, then reestablished by a fortunate coup. But in those
days he was still careful to pick his steps along the edges of the law,
just didn't go over though it was perilous balancing. When she died he
was relieved and yet he grieved for her. He felt free, no longer
subject to her complaints and bickerings, but in that freedom there was
a chill, empty loneliness--no one was beside him in that gingerly
picking of his steps.
It was when he was twenty-seven--not quite lost--that the news came from
Vienna of an unexpected legacy. His uncle, dying at the summit of a
successful career, had relented and left him fifty thousand dollars. He
assured himself he would be careful--poverty had taught him--and at first
he tried. But the habits of "the years that the locust had eaten" were
too strong. Augmented by several successful speculations it lasted him
for six years. At the end of that time he was ruined, worn in body,
warped in mind, his mold finally set.
After that he ceased to pick his way along the edges of the law, he
slipped over. He followed many lines of endeavor, knew the back waters
and hinterlands of many cities, ceased to be Lothar Heyderich and was
known by other names. It was in Chicago, the winter before this story
begins, that an attack of pneumonia brought him to the public ward of a
hospital. Before his discharge, a doctor--a man who had noticed and been
interested in him--gave him a word of warning:
"A warm climate--no more lake breezes for you. If you stay here and keep
on swinging round the circle it won't be long before you swing back here
to us--swing back to stay. Do you get me?"
He did, his face gone gray at this sudden vision of the end of all
things. The doctor, in pity for what he was now and evidently once had
been, gave him his fare to California.
It had been hell there. The climate had done its work, he was well, but
he had felt himself more a pariah than ever before. He had seemed like a
fly crawling over a glass shield under which tempting dainties are
clearly visible and maddeningly unattainable. A man wanted money in
California--with money could lead the life, half vagabondage, half lazy
luxury, that was meat to his longing. Never had he been in a place that
allured him more and that held him more contemptuously at arm's length.
He had sunk to his lowest depth in this tantalizing paradise, tramped the
streets of cattle towns, herded with outcasts lower than himself. In Los
Angeles he had washed dishes in a cafeteria, in Fresno polished the
brasses in a saloon. And all around him was plenty, an unheeding prodigal
luxuriance, Nature rioting in a boundless generosity. Her message came to
him from sky and earth, from sweep of flowered land, from embowered
village and thronging town--that life was good, to savor it, plunge in
it, live it to the full. At times he felt half mad, struggling to exist
in the midst of this smiling abundance.
When he began that upward march through the state he had no purpose, his
mind was empty as a dried nut, the terrible lethargy of the tramp was
invading him. From down-drawn brows he looked, morose, at a world which
refused him entrance, and across whose surface he would drift aimless as
a leaf on the wind. Then, the strength regained by exercise and air, the
few dollars made by fruit picking, gave a fillip to his languishing
spirit and an objective point rose on his vision. He would go to San
Francisco--something might turn up there--and with his hoarded money buy
cleanliness and one good meal. It grew before him, desirable, dreamed of,
longed for--the bath, the restaurant, the delicate food, the bottle of
wine. He was obsessed by it; the deluge could follow.
The wind, blowing through the open casement, brought him back to the
present. The night had fallen, the street below a misty rift, its lights
smothered in swimming vapor. There was brightness about it, blotted and
obscured but gayly intentioned, even the sheds on the gore sending out
golden gushes that suffused the milky currents with a clouded glow. He
lighted the gas and looked at his watch--nearly seven. He would go out
and dine--that dinner at last--and afterward drop in at the Albion and
see Pancha Lopez, "the bandit's girl."
THOSE GIRLS OF GEORGE'S
The Alstons were finishing dinner. From over the table, set with the
glass and silver that George Alston had bought when he came down from
Virginia City, the high, hard light of the chandelier fell on the three
females who made up the family. It was devastating to Aunt Ellen
Tisdale's gnarled old visage--she was over seventy and for several years
now had given up all tiresome thought processes--but the girls were so
smoothly skinned and firmly modeled that it only served to bring out the
rounded freshness of their youthful faces.
The Alstons were conservative, clung to the ways of their parents. This
was partly due to inheritance--mother and father were New Englanders--and
partly to a reserved quality, a timid shyness, that marked Lorry who, as
Aunt Ellen ceased to exert her thought processes and relapsed into a
peaceful torpor, had assumed the reins of government. They conformed to
none of those innovations which had come from a freer intercourse with
the sophisticated East. The house remained as it had been in their
mother's lifetime, the furniture was the same and stood in the same
places, the table knew no modern enhancement of its solidly handsome
fittings. Fong, the Chinese cook--he had been with George Alston before
he married--ruled the kitchen and the two "second boys." No women
servants were employed; women servants had not been a feature of domestic
life in Bonanza days.
That was why the house was lit by chandeliers instead of lamps, that was
why dinner was at half past six instead of seven, that was why George
Alston's daughters had rather "dropped out." They would not move with the
times, they would not be brought up to date. Friends of their mother's
had tried to do it, rustled into the long drawing-room and masterfully
attempted to assist and direct. But they had found Lorry unresponsive,
listening but showing no desire to profit by the chance. They asked her
to their houses--replenished, modern, object lessons to rich young
girls--and hinted at a return of hospitalities. It had not been a
success. She was disappointing, no snap, no go to her; the young men who
sat beside her at dinner were bored, and the house on Pine Street had not
opened its doors in reciprocal welcome. By the time she was twenty they
shrugged their shoulders and gave her up--exactly like Minnie, only
Minnie had always had George to push her along.
As the women friends of Minnie did their duty, the men friends of
George--guardians of the estate--did theirs. They saw to it that the
investments were gilt-edged, and the great ranch in Mexico that George
had bought a few years before his death was run on a paying basis. At
intervals they asked their wives with sudden fierceness if they had
called on "those girls of George's," and the wives, who had forgotten all
about it, looked pained and wanted to know the reason for such an
unnecessary question. Within the week, impelled by a secret sense of
guilt, the ladies called and in due course Lorry returned the visits. She
suffered acutely in doing so, could think of nothing to say, was
painfully conscious of her own dullness and the critical glances that
wandered over her best clothes.
But she did not give much thought to herself. That she lacked charm, was
the kind to be overlooked and left in corners, did not trouble her.
Since her earliest memories--since the day Chrystie was born and her
mother had died--she had had other people and other claims on her mind.
Her first vivid recollection--terrible and ineffaceable--was of her
father that day, catching her to him and sobbing with his face pressed
against her baby shoulder. It seemed as if the impression made then had
extended all through her life, turned her into a creature of poignant
sympathies and an unassuagable longing to console and compensate. She had
not been able to do that for him, but she had been able to love--break
her box of ointment at his feet.
From that day the little child became the companion of the elderly man,
her soft youth was molded to suit his saddened age, her deepest desire
was a meeting of his wishes. Chrystie, whose birth had killed her
mother, became their mutual joy, their shared passion. Chrystie-worship
was inaugurated by the side of the blue and white bassinet, the nursery
was a shrine, the blooming baby an idol installed for their devotion.
When George Alston died, Lorry, thirteen years old, had dedicated
herself to the service, held herself committed to a continuance of the
rites. He had left her Chrystie and she would fulfill the trust even as
he would have wished.
Probably it was this enveloping idolatry that had made Christie so unlike
parents and sister. She was neither retiring nor serious, but social and
pleasure-loving, ready to dance through life as irresponsibly enjoying as
a mote in a sunbeam. And now Lorry had wakened to the perplexed
realization that it was her affair to provide the sunbeam and she did not
know how to do it. They were rich, they had a fine house, but nothing
ever happened there and it was evident that Chrystie wanted things to
happen. It was a situation which Lorry had not foreseen and before which
she quailed, feeling herself inadequate. That was why, at twenty-three, a
little line had formed between her eyebrows and her glance dwelt
anxiously on Chrystie as an obligation--her great obligation--that she
was not discharging worthily.
The glare of the chandelier revealed the girls as singularly
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