The twins of table mount.., p.1
The Twins of Table Mountain, and Other Stories, p.1
Produced by Donald Lainson
THE TWINS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN AND OTHER STORIES
By Bret Harte
I. THE TWINS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN
II. AN HEIRESS OF RED DOG
III. THE GREAT DEADWOOD MYSTERY
IV. A LEGEND OF SAMMTSTADT
V. VIEWS FROM A GERMAN SPION
THE TWINS OF TABLE MOUNTAIN.
A CLOUD ON THE MOUNTAIN.
They lived on the verge of a vast stony level, upheaved so far abovethe surrounding country that its vague outlines, viewed from the nearestvalley, seemed a mere cloud-streak resting upon the lesser hills. Therush and roar of the turbulent river that washed its eastern base werelost at that height; the winds that strove with the giant pines thathalf way climbed its flanks spent their fury below the summit; for, atvariance with most meteorological speculation, an eternal calm seemedto invest this serene altitude. The few Alpine flowers seldomthrilled their petals to a passing breeze; rain and snow fell alikeperpendicularly, heavily, and monotonously over the granite bowldersscattered along its brown expanse. Although by actual measurement aninconsiderable elevation of the Sierran range, and a mere shoulder ofthe nearest white-faced peak that glimmered in the west, it seemedto lie so near the quiet, passionless stars, that at night it caughtsomething of their calm remoteness.
The articulate utterance of such a locality should have been a whisper;a laugh or exclamation was discordant; and the ordinary tones of thehuman voice on the night of the 15th of May, 1868, had a grotesqueincongruity.
In the thick darkness that clothed the mountain that night, the humanfigure would have been lost, or confounded with the outlines of outlyingbowlders, which at such times took upon themselves the vague semblanceof men and animals. Hence the voices in the following colloquy seemedthe more grotesque and incongruous from being the apparent expressionof an upright monolith, ten feet high, on the right, and another mass ofgranite, that, reclining, peeped over the verge.
"I lost the trail, and climbed up the slide."
Here followed a stumble, the clatter of stones down the mountain-side,and an oath so very human and undignified that it at once relieved thebowlders of any complicity of expression. The voices, too, were closetogether now, and unexpectedly in quite another locality.
"Looey Napoleon's declared war agin Germany."
Notwithstanding this exclamation, the interest of the latter speaker wasevidently only polite and perfunctory. What, indeed, were the politicalconvulsions of the Old World to the dwellers on this serene, isolatedeminence of the New?
"I reckon it's so," continued the first voice. "French Pete and thatthar feller that keeps the Dutch grocery hev hed a row over it; emptiedtheir six-shooters into each other. The Dutchman's got two balls inhis leg, and the Frenchman's got an onnessary buttonhole in hisshirt-buzzum, and hez caved in."
This concise, local corroboration of the conflict of remote nations,however confirmatory, did not appear to excite any further interest.Even the last speaker, now that he was in this calm, dispassionateatmosphere, seemed to lose his own concern in his tidings, and to haveabandoned every thing of a sensational and lower-worldly character inthe pines below. There were a few moments of absolute silence, and thenanother stumble. But now the voices of both speakers were quite patientand philosophical.
"Hold on, and I'll strike a light," said the second speaker. "I broughta lantern along, but I didn't light up. I kem out afore sundown, and youknow how it allers is up yer. I didn't want it, and didn't keer to lightup. I forgot you're always a little dazed and strange-like when youfirst come up."
There was a crackle, a flash, and presently a steady glow, which thesurrounding darkness seemed to resent. The faces of the two men thusrevealed were singularly alike. The same thin, narrow outline of jaw andtemple; the same dark, grave eyes; the same brown growth of curly beardand mustache, which concealed the mouth, and hid what might have beenany individual idiosyncrasy of thought or expression,--showed them tobe brothers, or better known as the "Twins of Table Mountain." A certainanimation in the face of the second speaker,--the first-comer,--acertain light in his eye, might have at first distinguished him; buteven this faded out in the steady glow of the lantern, and had novalue as a permanent distinction, for, by the time they had reachedthe western verge of the mountain, the two faces had settled into ahomogeneous calmness and melancholy.
The vague horizon of darkness, that a few feet from the lantern stillencompassed them, gave no indication of their progress, until their feetactually trod the rude planks and thatch that formed the roof of theirhabitation; for their cabin half burrowed in the mountain, and halfclung, like a swallow's nest, to the side of the deep declivity thatterminated the northern limit of the summit. Had it not been for thewindlass of a shaft, a coil of rope, and a few heaps of stone andgravel, which were the only indications of human labor in that stonyfield, there was nothing to interrupt its monotonous dead level. And,when they descended a dozen well-worn steps to the door of their cabin,they left the summit, as before, lonely, silent, motionless, its longlevel uninterrupted, basking in the cold light of the stars.
The simile of a "nest" as applied to the cabin of the brothers was nomere figure of speech as the light of the lantern first flashed upon it.The narrow ledge before the door was strewn with feathers. A suggestionthat it might be the home and haunt of predatory birds was promptlychecked by the spectacle of the nailed-up carcasses of a dozen hawksagainst the walls, and the outspread wings of an extended eagleemblazoning the gable above the door, like an armorial bearing. Withinthe cabin the walls and chimney-piece were dazzlingly bedecked with theparty-colored wings of jays, yellow-birds, woodpeckers, kingfishers, andthe poly-tinted wood-duck. Yet in that dry, highly-rarefied atmosphere,there was not the slightest suggestion of odor or decay.
The first speaker hung the lantern upon a hook that dangled from therafters, and, going to the broad chimney, kicked the half-dead embersinto a sudden resentful blaze. He then opened a rude cupboard, and,without looking around, called, "Ruth!"
The second speaker turned his head from the open doorway where he wasleaning, as if listening to something in the darkness, and answeredabstractedly,--
"I don't believe you have touched grub to-day!"
Ruth grunted out some indifferent reply.
"Thar hezen't been a slice cut off that bacon since I left," continuedRand, bringing a side of bacon and some biscuits from the cupboard, andapplying himself to the discussion of them at the table. "You're gettin'off yer feet, Ruth. What's up?"
Ruth replied by taking an uninvited seat beside him, and resting hischin on the palms of his hands. He did not eat, but simply transferredhis inattention from the door to the table.
"You're workin' too many hours in the shaft," continued Rand. "You'realways up to some such d--n fool business when I'm not yer."
"I dipped a little west to-day," Ruth went on, without heeding thebrotherly remonstrance, "and struck quartz and pyrites."
"Thet's you!--allers dippin' west or east for quartz and the color,instead of keeping on plumb down to the 'cement'!"*
* The local name for gold-bearing alluvial drift,--the bed of a prehistoric river.
"We've been three years digging for cement," said Ruth, more inabstraction than in reproach,--"three years!"
"And we may be three years more,--may be only three days. Why, youcouldn't be more impatient if--if--if you lived in a valley."
Delivering this tremendous comparison as an unanswerable climax, Randapplied himself once more to his repast. Ruth, after a moment's pause,without speaking or looking up, disengaged his hand from under his chin,and slid it along, palm uppermost, on the table beside his brother.Thereupon Rand slowly reached forward his left hand, the right beingengaged in conveying victual to his mouth, and laid it on his brother'spalm. The act was evidently an habitual, half mechanical one; for ina few moments the hands were as gently disengaged, without comment orexpression. At last Rand leaned back in his chair, laid down his knifeand fork, and, complacently loosening the belt that held his revolver,threw it and the weapon on his bed. Taking out his pipe, and chippingsome tobacco on the table, he said carelessly, "I came a piece throughthe woods with Mornie just now."
The face that Ruth turned upon his brother was very distinct in itsexpression at that moment, and quite belied the popular theory thatthe twins could not be told apart. "Thet gal," continued Rand, withoutlooking up, "is either flighty, or--or suthin'," he added in vaguedisgust, pushing the table from him as if it were the lady in question."Don't tell me!"
Ruth's eyes quickly sought his brother's, and were as quickly averted,as he asked hurriedly, "How?"
"What gets me," continued Rand in a petulant non sequitur, "is that YOU,my own twin-brother, never lets on about her comin' yer, permiskus like,when I ain't yer, and you and her gallivantin' and promanadin', andswoppin' sentiments and mottoes."
Ruth tried to contradict his blushing face with a laugh of worldlyindifference.
"She came up yer on a sort of pasear."
"Oh, yes!--a short cut to the creek," interpolated Rand satirically.
"Last Tuesday or Wednesday," continued Ruth, with affectedforgetfulness.
"Oh, in course, Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday! You've so many folksclimbing up this yer mountain to call on ye," continued the ironicalRand, "that you disremember; only you remembered enough not to tell me.SHE did. She took me for you, or pretended to."
The color dropped from Ruth's cheek.
"Took you for me?" he asked, with an awkward laugh.
"Yes," sneered Rand; "chirped and chattered away about OUR picnic, OURnose-gays, and lord knows what! Said she'd keep them blue-jay's wings,and wear 'em in her hat. Spouted poetry, too,--the same sort o' rot youget off now and then."
Ruth laughed again, but rather ostentatiously and nervously.
"Ruth, look yer!"
Ruth faced his brother.
"What's your little game? Do you mean to say you don't know what thetgal is? Do you mean to say you don't know thet she's the laughing-stockof the Ferry; thet her father's a d----d old fool, and her mother's adrunkard and worse; thet she's got any right to be hanging round yer?You can't mean to marry her, even if you kalkilate to turn me out to doit, for she wouldn't live alone with ye up here. 'Tain't her kind. Andif I thought you was thinking of--"
"What?" said Ruth, turning upon his brother quickly.
"Oh, thet's right! holler; swear and yell, and break things, do! Tearround!" continued Rand, kicking his boots off in a corner, "just becauseI ask you a civil question. That's brotherly," he added, jerking hischair away against the side of the cabin, "ain't it?"
"She's not to blame because her mother drinks, and her father's ashyster," said Ruth earnestly and strongly. "The men who make her thelaughing-stock of the Ferry tried to make her something worse, andfailed, and take this sneak's revenge on her. 'Laughing-stock!' Yes,they knew she could turn the tables on them."
"Of course; go on! She's better than me. I know I'm a fratricide, that'swhat I am," said Rand, throwing himself on the upper of the two berthsthat formed the bedstead of the cabin.
"I've seen her three times," continued Ruth.
"And you've known me twenty years," interrupted his brother.
Ruth turned on his heel, and walked towards the door.
"That's right; go on! Why don't you get the chalk?"
Ruth made no reply. Rand descended from the bed, and, taking a piece ofchalk from the shelf, drew a line on the floor, dividing the cabin intwo equal parts.
"You can have the east half," he said, as he climbed slowly back intobed.
This mysterious rite was the usual termination of a quarrel between thetwins. Each man kept his half of the cabin until the feud was forgotten.It was the mark of silence and separation, over which no words ofrecrimination, argument, or even explanation, were delivered, untilit was effaced by one or the other. This was considered equivalent toapology or reconciliation, which each were equally bound in honor toaccept.
It may be remarked that the floor was much whiter at this line ofdemarcation, and under the fresh chalk-line appeared the faint evidencesof one recently effaced.
Without apparently heeding this potential ceremony, Ruth remainedleaning against the doorway, looking upon the night, the bulk of whoseprofundity and blackness seemed to be gathered below him. The vaultabove was serene and tranquil, with a few large far-spaced stars; theabyss beneath, untroubled by sight or sound. Stepping out upon theledge, he leaned far over the shelf that sustained their cabin,and listened. A faint rhythmical roll, rising and falling in longundulations against the invisible horizon, to his accustomed ears toldhim the wind was blowing among the pines in the valley. Yet, minglingwith this familiar sound, his ear, now morbidly acute, seemed to detecta stranger inarticulate murmur, as of confused and excited voices,swelling up from the mysterious depths to the stars above, and againswallowed up in the gulfs of silence below. He was roused from aconsideration of this phenomenon by a faint glow towards the east, whichat last brightened, until the dark outline of the distant walls of thevalley stood out against the sky. Were his other senses participating inthe delusion of his ears? for with the brightening light came the faintodor of burning timber.
His face grew anxious as he gazed. At last he rose, and re-entered thecabin. His eyes fell upon the faint chalk-mark, and, taking his softfelt hat from his head, with a few practical sweeps of the brim hebrushed away the ominous record of their late estrangement. Going to thebed whereon Rand lay stretched, open-eyed, he would have laid his handupon his arm lightly; but the brother's fingers sought and clasped hisown. "Get up," he said quietly; "there's a strange fire in the Canyonhead that I can't make out."
Rand slowly clambered from his shelf, and hand in hand the brothersstood upon the ledge. "It's a right smart chance beyond the Ferry, and apiece beyond the Mill, too," said Rand, shading his eyes with his hand,from force of habit. "It's in the woods where--" He would have addedwhere he met Mornie; but it was a point of honor with the twins, afterreconciliation, not to allude to any topic of their recent disagreement.
Ruth dropped his brother's hand. "It doesn't smell like the woods," hesaid slowly.
"Smell!" repeated Rand incredulously. "Why, it's twenty miles in abee-line yonder. Smell, indeed!"
Ruth was silent, but presently fell to listening again with his formerabstraction. "You don't hear anything, do you?" he asked after a pause.
"It's blowin' in the pines on the river," said Rand shortly.
"You don't hear anything else?"
Rand, who had been listening with an intensity that distorted the leftside of his face, interrupted him impatiently.
"Like a woman sobbin'?"
"Ruth," said Rand, suddenly looking up in his brother's face, "what'sgone of you?"
Ruth laughed. "The fire's out," he said, abruptly re-entering the cabin."I'm goin' to turn in."
Rand, following his brother half reproachfully, saw him divest himselfof his clothing, and roll himself in the blankets of his bed.
Rand hesitated. He would have liked to ask his brother another question;but there was clearly nothing to be done but follow his example.
"Good-night, Ruthy!" he said, and put out the light. As he did so, theglow in the eastern horizon faded, too, and darkness seemed to well upfrom the depths below, and, flowing in the open door, wrapped them indeeper slumber.
THE CLOUDS GATHER.
Twelve months had elapsed since the quarrel and reconciliation, duringwhich interval no reference was made by either of the brothers to thecause which had provoked it. Rand was at work in the shaft, Ruth havingthat morning undertaken the replenishment of the larder with gamefrom the wooded skirt of the mountain. Rand had taken advantage of hisbrother's absence to "prospect" in the "drift,"--a proceeding utterly atvariance with his previous condemnation of all such speculative essay;but Rand, despite his assumption of a superior practical nature, was notabove certain local superstitions. Having that morning put on his grayflannel shirt wrong side out,--an abstraction recognized among theminers as the sure forerunner of divination and treasure-discovery,--hecould not forego that opportunity of trying his luck, withouthazarding a dangerous example. He was also conscious of feeling"chipper,"--another local expression for buoyancy of spirit, not commonto men who work fifty feet below the surface, without the stimulus ofair and sunshine, and not to be overlooked as an important factor infortunate adventure. Nevertheless, noon came without the discovery ofany treasure. He had attacked the walls on either side of the lateral"drift" skilfully, so as to expose their quality without destroyingtheir cohesive integrity, but had found nothing. Once or twice,returning to the shaft for rest and air, its grim silence had seemed tohim pervaded with some vague echo of cheerful holiday voices above. Thisset him to thinking of his brother's equally extravagant fancy ofthe wailing voices in the air on the night of the fire, and of hisattributing it to a lover's abstraction.
"I laid it to his being struck after that gal; and yet," Rand continuedto himself, "here's me, who haven't been foolin' round no gal, and dogmy skin if I didn't think I heard one singin' up thar!" He put his footon the lower round of the ladder, paused, and slowly ascended a dozensteps. Here he paused again. All at once the whole shaft was filled withthe musical vibrations of a woman's song. Seizing the rope that hungidly from the windlass, he half climbed, half swung himself, to thesurface.
The voice was there; but the sudden transition to the dazzling levelbefore him at first blinded his eyes, so that he took in only by degreesthe unwonted spectacle of the singer,--a pretty girl, standing on tiptoeon a bowlder not a dozen yards from him, utterly absorbed in tying agayly-striped neckerchief, evidently taken from her own plump throat, tothe halliards of a freshly-cut hickory-pole newly reared as a flag-staffbeside her. The hickory-pole, the halliards, the fluttering scarf,the young lady herself, were all glaring innovations on the familiarlandscape; but Rand, with his hand still on the rope, silently anddemurely enjoyed it.
For the better understanding of the general reader, who does not live onan isolated mountain, it may be observed that the young lady's positionon the rock exhibited some study of POSE, and a certain exaggeration ofattitude, that betrayed the habit of an audience; also that her voicehad an artificial accent that was not wholly unconscious, even in thislofty solitude. Yet the very next moment, when she turned, and caughtRand's eye fixed upon her, she started naturally, colored slightly,uttered that feminine adjuration, "Good Lord! gracious! goodness me!"which is seldom used in reference to its effect upon the hearer, andskipped instantly from the bowlder to the ground. Here, however, shealighted in a POSE, brought the right heel of her neatly-fitting leftboot closely into the hollowed side of her right instep, at the samemoment deftly caught her flying skirt, whipped it around her ankles,and, slightly raising it behind, permitted the chaste display of an inchor two of frilled white petticoat. The most irreverent critic of the sexwill, I think, admit that it has some movements that are automatic.
"Hope I didn't disturb ye," said Rand, pointing to the flag-staff.
The young lady slightly turned her head. "No," she said; "but I didn'tknow anybody was here, of course. Our PARTY"--she emphasized the word,and accompanied it with a look toward the further extremity of theplateau, to show she was not alone--"our party climbed this ridge,and put up this pole as a sign to show they did it." The ridiculousself-complacency of this record in the face of a man who was evidentlya dweller on the mountain apparently struck her for the first time. "Wedidn't know," she stammered, looking at the shaft from which Rand hademerged, "that--that--" She stopped, and, glancing again towards thedistant range where her friends had disappeared, began to edge away.
"They can't be far off," interposed Rand quietly, as if it were the mostnatural thing in the world for the lady to be there. "Table Mountainain't as big as all that. Don't you be scared! So you thought nobodylived up here?"
She turned upon him a pair of honest hazel eyes, which not onlycontradicted the somewhat meretricious smartness of her dress, but wasutterly inconsistent with the palpable artificial color of her hair,--anobvious imitation of a certain popular fashion then known in artisticcircles as the "British Blonde,"--and began to ostentatiously resume apair of lemon-colored kid gloves. Having, as it were, thus indicated herstanding and respectability, and put an immeasurable distance betweenherself and her bold interlocutor, she said impressively, "Weevidently made a mistake: I will rejoin our party, who will, of course,apologize."
"What's your hurry?" said the imperturbable Rand, disengaging himselffrom the rope, and walking towards her. "As long as you're up here, youmight stop a spell."
"I have no wish to intrude; that is, our party certainly has not,"continued the young lady, pulling the tight gloves, and smoothing theplump, almost bursting fingers, with an affectation of fashionable ease.
"Oh! I haven't any thing to do just now," said Rand, "and it's aboutgrub time, I reckon. Yes, I live here, Ruth and me,--right here."
The young woman glanced at the shaft.
"No, not down there," said Rand, following her eye, with a laugh. "Comehere, and I'll show you."
A strong desire to keep up an appearance of genteel reserve, and anequally strong inclination to enjoy the adventurous company of thisgood-looking, hearty young fellow, made her hesitate. Perhaps sheregretted having undertaken a role of such dignity at the beginning: shecould have been so perfectly natural with this perfectly natural man,whereas any relaxation now might increase his familiarity. And yet shewas not without a vague suspicion that her dignity and her gloveswere alike thrown away on him,--a fact made the more evident whenRand stepped to her side, and, without any apparent consciousness ofdisrespect or gallantry, laid his large hand, half persuasively, halffraternally, upon her shoulder, and said, "Oh, come along, do!"
The simple act either exceeded the limits of her forbearance, or decidedthe course of her subsequent behavior. She instantly stepped back asingle pace, and drew her left foot slowly and deliberately after her;then she fixed her eyes and uplifted eyebrows upon the daring hand,and, taking it by the ends of her thumb and forefinger, lifted it, anddropped it in mid-air. She then folded her arms. It was the indignantgesture with which "Alice," the Pride of Dumballin Village, received theloathsome advances of the bloated aristocrat, Sir Parkyns Parkyn, andhad at Marysville, a few nights before, brought down the house.
This effect was, I think, however, lost upon Rand. The slight color thatrose to his cheek as he looked down upon his clay-soiled hands was dueto the belief that he had really contaminated her outward superfineperson. But his color quickly passed: his frank, boyish smile returned,as he said, "It'll rub off. Lord, don't mind that! Thar, now--come on!"
The young woman bit her lip. Then nature triumphed; and she laughed,although a little scornfully. And then Providence assisted her with thesudden presentation of two figures, a man and woman, slowly climbing upover the mountain verge, not far from them. With a cry of "There's Sol,now!" she forgot her dignity and her confusion, and ran towards them.
Rand stood looking after her neat figure, less concerned in the adventof the strangers than in her sudden caprice. He was not so young andinexperienced but that he noted certain ambiguities in her dress andmanner: he was by no means impressed by her dignity. But he could nothelp watching her as she appeared to be volubly recounting her lateinterview to her companions; and, still unconscious of any improprietyor obtrusiveness, he lounged down lazily towards her. Her humor hadevidently changed; for she turned an honest, pleased face upon him, asshe girlishly attempted to drag the strangers forward.
The man was plump and short; unlike the natives of the locality, he wasclosely cropped and shaven, as if to keep down the strong blue-blacknessof his beard and hair, which nevertheless asserted itself over his roundcheeks and upper lip like a tattooing of Indian ink. The woman at hisside was reserved and indistinctive, with that appearance of being anunenthusiastic family servant peculiar to some men's wives. When Randwas within a few feet of him, he started, struck a theatrical attitude,and, shading his eyes with his hand, cried, "What, do me eyes deceiveme!" burst into a hearty laugh, darted forward, seized Rand's hand, andshook it briskly.
"Pinkney, Pinkney, my boy! how are you? And this is your little 'prop'?your quarter-section, your country-seat, that we've been trespassing on,eh? A nice little spot, cool, sequestered, remote,--a trifle unimproved;carriage-road as yet unfinished. Ha, ha! But to think of our makinga discovery of this inaccessible mountain, climbing it, sir, for twomortal hours, christening it 'Sol's Peak,' getting up a flag-pole,unfurling our standard to the breeze, sir, and then, by Gad, winding upby finding Pinkney, the festive Pinkney, living on it at home!"
Completely surprised, but still perfectly good-humored, Rand shook thestranger's right hand warmly, and received on his broad shoulders awelcoming thwack from the left, without question. "She don't mind herfriends making free with ME evidently," said Rand to himself, as hetried to suggest that fact to the young lady in a meaning glance.
The stranger noted his glance, and suddenly passed his hand thoughtfullyover his shaven cheeks. "No," he said--"yes, surely, I forget--yes, Isee; of course you don't! Rosy," turning to his wife, "of course Pinkneydoesn't know Phemie, eh?"
"No, nor ME either, Sol," said that lady warningly.
"Certainly!" continued Sol. "It's his misfortune. You weren't with meat Gold Hill.--Allow me," he said, turning to Rand, "to present Mrs. SolSaunders, wife of the undersigned, and Miss Euphemia Neville, otherwiseknown as the 'Marysville Pet,' the best variety actress known on theprovincial boards. Played Ophelia at Marysville, Friday; domestic dramaat Gold Hill, Saturday; Sunday night, four songs in character, differentdress each time, and a clog-dance. The best clog-dance on the PacificSlope," he added in a stage aside. "The minstrels are crazy to get herin 'Frisco. But money can't buy her--prefers the legitimate drama tothis sort of thing." Here he took a few steps of a jig, to which the"Marysville Pet" beat time with her feet, and concluded with a laughand a wink--the combined expression of an artist's admiration for herability, and a man of the world's scepticism of feminine ambition.
Miss Euphemia responded to the formal introduction by extending her handfrankly with a re-assuring smile to Rand, and an utter obliviousness ofher former hauteur. Rand shook it warmly, and then dropped carelessly ona rock beside them.
"And you never told me you lived up here in the attic, you rascal!"continued Sol with a laugh.
"No," replied Rand simply. "How could I? I never saw you before, that Iremember."
Miss Euphemia stared at Sol. Mrs. Sol looked up in her lord's face, andfolded her arms in a resigned expression. Sol rose to his feet again,and shaded his eyes with his hand, but this time quite seriously, andgazed at Rand's smiling face.
"Good Lord! Do you mean to say your name isn't Pinkney?" he asked, witha half embarrassed laugh.
"It IS Pinkney," said Rand; "but I never met you before."
"Didn't you come to see a young lady that joined my troupe at Gold Hilllast month, and say you'd meet me at Keeler's Ferry in a day or two?"
"No-o-o," said Rand, with a good-humored laugh. "I haven't left thismountain for two months."
He might have added more; but his attention was directed to MissEuphemia, who during this short dialogue, having stuffed alternately herhandkerchief, the corner of her mantle, and her gloves, into her mouth,restrained herself no longer, but gave way to an uncontrollable fitof laughter. "O Sol!" she gasped explanatorily, as she threw herselfalternately against him, Mrs. Sol, and a bowlder, "you'll kill me yet!O Lord! first we take possession of this man's property, then we claimHIM." The contemplation of this humorous climax affected her so thatshe was fain at last to walk away, and confide the rest of her speech tospace.
Sol joined in the laugh until his wife plucked his sleeve, and whisperedsomething in his ear. In an instant his face became at once mysteriousand demure. "I owe you an apology," he said, turning to Rand, but in avoice ostentatiously pitched high enough for Miss Euphemia to overhear:"I see I have made a mistake. A resemblance--only a mere resemblance,as I look at you now--led me astray. Of course you don't know any younglady in the profession?"
"Of course he doesn't, Sol," said Miss Euphemia. "I could have told youthat. He didn't even know ME!"
The voice and mock-heroic attitude of the speaker was enough to relievethe general embarrassment with a laugh. Rand, now pleasantly consciousof only Miss Euphemia's presence, again offered the hospitality of hiscabin, with the polite recognition of her friends in the sentence, "andyou might as well come along too."
"But won't we incommode the lady of the house?" said Mrs. Sol politely.
"What lady of the house"? said Rand almost angrily.
"Why, Ruth, you know!"
It was Rand's turn to become hilarious. "Ruth," he said, "is shortfor Rutherford, my brother." His laugh, however, was echoed only byEuphemia.
"Then you have a brother?" said Mrs. Sol benignly.
"Yes," said Rand: "he will be here soon." A sudden thought dropped thecolor from his cheek. "Look here," he said, turning impulsively uponSol. "I have a brother, a twin-brother. It couldn't be HIM--"
Sol was conscious of a significant feminine pressure on his right arm.He was equal to the emergency. "I think not," he said dubiously, "unlessyour brother's hair is much darker than yours. Yes! now I look at you,yours is brown. He has a mole on his right cheek hasn't he?"
The red came quickly back to Rand's boyish face. He laughed. "No, sir:my brother's hair is, if any thing, a shade lighter than mine, and narymole. Come along!"
And leading the way, Rand disclosed the narrow steps winding down to theshelf on which the cabin hung. "Be careful," said Rand, taking the nowunresisting hand of the "Marysville Pet" as they descended: "a step thatway, and down you go two thousand feet on the top of a pine-tree."
But the girl's slight cry of alarm was presently changed to one ofunaffected pleasure as they stood on the rocky platform. "It isn't ahouse: it's a NEST, and the loveliest!" said Euphemia breathlessly.
"It's a scene, a perfect scene, sir!" said Sol, enraptured. "I shalltake the liberty of bringing my scene-painter to sketch it some day.It would do for 'The Mountaineer's Bride' superbly, or," continuedthe little man, warming through the blue-black border of his face withprofessional enthusiasm, "it's enough to make a play itself. 'The Cot onthe Crags.' Last scene--moonlight--the struggle on the ledge! The Ladyof the Crags throws herself from the beetling heights!--A shriek fromthe depths--a woman's wail!"
"Dry up!" sharply interrupted Rand, to whom this speech recalled hisbrother's half-forgotten strangeness. "Look at the prospect."
In the full noon of a cloudless day, beneath them a tumultuous sea ofpines surged, heaved, rode in giant crests, stretched and lost itselfin the ghostly, snow-peaked horizon. The thronging woods choked everydefile, swept every crest, filled every valley with its dark-greentilting spears, and left only Table Mountain sunlit and bare. Here andthere were profound olive depths, over which the gray hawk hung lazily,and into which blue jays dipped. A faint, dull yellowish streak markedan occasional watercourse; a deeper reddish ribbon, the mountain roadand its overhanging murky cloud of dust.
"Is it quite safe here?" asked Mrs. Sol, eying the little cabin. "I meanfrom storms?"
"It never blows up here," replied Rand, "and nothing happens."
"It must be lovely," said Euphemia, clasping her hands.
"It IS that," said Rand proudly. "It's four years since Ruth and I tookup this yer claim, and raised this shanty. In that four years we haven'tleft it alone a night, or cared to. It's only big enough for two, andthem two must be brothers. It wouldn't do for mere pardners to live herealone,--they couldn't do it. It wouldn't be exactly the thing for manand wife to shut themselves up here alone. But Ruth and me knoweach other's ways, and here we'll stay until we've made a pile. Wesometimes--one of us--takes a pasear to the Ferry to buy provisions; butwe're glad to crawl up to the back of old 'Table' at night."
"You're quite out of the world here, then?" suggested Mrs. Sol.
"That's it, just it! We're out of the world,--out of rows, out ofliquor, out of cards, out of bad company, out of temptation. Cussednessand foolishness hez got to follow us up here to find us, and there's toomany ready to climb down to them things to tempt 'em to come up to us."
There was a little boyish conceit in his tone, as he stood there, notaltogether unbecoming his fresh color and simplicity. Yet, when hiseyes met those of Miss Euphemia, he colored, he hardly knew why, and theyoung lady herself blushed rosily.
When the neat cabin, with its decorated walls, and squirrel and wild-catskins, was duly admired, the luncheon-basket of the Saunders party wasre-enforced by provisions from Rand's larder, and spread upon theledge; the dimensions of the cabin not admitting four. Under the potentinfluence of a bottle, Sol became hilarious and professional. The "Pet"was induced to favor the company with a recitation, and, under the pleaof teaching Rand, to perform the clog-dance with both gentlemen. Thenthere was an interval, in which Rand and Euphemia wandered a little waydown the mountain-side to gather laurel, leaving Mr. Sol to his siestaon a rock, and Mrs. Sol to take some knitting from the basket, and sitbeside him.
When Rand and his companion had disappeared, Mrs. Sol nudged hersleeping partner. "Do you think that WAS the brother?"
Sol yawned. "Sure of it. They're as like as two peas, in looks."
"Why didn't you tell him so, then?"
"Will you tell me, my dear, why you stopped me when I began?"
"Because something was said about Ruth being here; and I supposed Ruthwas a woman, and perhaps Pinkney's wife, and knew you'd be putting yourfoot in it by talking of that other woman. I supposed it was for fear ofthat he denied knowing you."
"Well, when HE--this Rand--told me he had a twin-brother, he looked sofrightened that I knew he knew nothing of his brother's doings with thatwoman, and I threw him off the scent. He's a good fellow, but awfullygreen, and I didn't want to worry him with tales. I like him, and Ithink Phemie does too."
"Nonsense! He's a conceited prig! Did you hear his sermon on the worldand its temptations? I wonder if he thought temptation had come up tohim in the person of us professionals out on a picnic. I think it waspositively rude."
"My dear woman, you're always seeing slights and insults. I tell youhe's taken a shine to Phemie; and he's as good as four seats and abouquet to that child next Wednesday evening, to say nothing of theeclat of getting this St. Simeon--what do you call him?--Stalactites?"
"Stylites," suggested Mrs. Sol.
"Stylites, off from his pillar here. I'll have a paragraph in the paper,that the hermit crabs of Table Mountain--"
"Don't be a fool, Sol!"
"The hermit twins of Table Mountain bespoke the chaste performance."
"One of them being the protector of the well-known MornieNixon," responded Mrs. Sol, viciously accenting the name with herknitting-needles.
"Rosy, you're unjust. You're prejudiced by the reports of the town.Mr. Pinkney's interest in her may be a purely artistic one, althoughmistaken. She'll never make a good variety-actress: she's too heavy.And the boys don't give her a fair show. No woman can make a debut in myversion of 'Somnambula,' and have the front row in the pit say to her inthe sleepwalking scene, 'You're out rather late, Mornie. Kinder forgotto put on your things, didn't you? Mother sick, I suppose, and you'regoin' for more gin? Hurry along, or you'll ketch it when ye get home.'Why, you couldn't do it yourself, Rosy!"
To which Mrs. Sol's illogical climax was, that, "bad as Rutherford mightbe, this Sunday-school superintendent, Rand, was worse."
Rand and his companion returned late, but in high spirits. There wasan unnecessary effusiveness in the way in which Euphemia kissedMrs. Sol,--the one woman present, who UNDERSTOOD, and was to bepropitiated,--which did not tend to increase Mrs. Sol's good humor.She had her basket packed all ready for departure; and even the earnestsolicitation of Rand, that they would defer their going until sunset,produced no effect.
"Mr. Rand--Mr. Pinkney, I mean--says the sunsets here are so lovely,"pleaded Euphemia.
"There is a rehearsal at seven o'clock, and we have no time to lose,"said Mrs. Sol significantly.
"I forgot to say," said the "Marysville Pet" timidly, glancing at Mrs.Sol, "that Mr. Rand says he will bring his brother on Wednesday night,and wants four seats in front, so as not to be crowded."
Sol shook the young man's hand warmly. "You'll not regret it, sir: it'sa surprising, a remarkable performance."
"I'd like to go a piece down the mountain with you," said Rand, withevident sincerity, looking at Miss Euphemia; "but Ruth isn't here yet,and we make a rule never to leave the place alone. I'll show you theslide: it's the quickest way to go down. If you meet any one who lookslike me, and talks like me, call him 'Ruth,' and tell him I'm waitin'for him yer."
Miss Phemia, the last to go, standing on the verge of the declivity,here remarked, with a dangerous smile, that, if she met any one whobore that resemblance, she might be tempted to keep him with her,--aplayfulness that brought the ready color to Rand's cheek. When sheadded to this the greater audacity of kissing her hand to him, theyoung hermit actually turned away in sheer embarrassment. When he lookedaround again, she was gone, and for the first time in his experience themountain seemed barren and lonely.
The too sympathetic reader who would rashly deduce from this any newlyawakened sentiment in the virgin heart of Rand would quite misapprehendthat peculiar young man. That singular mixture of boyish inexperienceand mature doubt and disbelief, which was partly the result of histemperament, and partly of his cloistered life on the mountain, made himregard his late companions, now that they were gone, and his intimacywith them, with remorseful distrust. The mountain was barren and lonely,because it was no longer HIS. It had become a part of the great world,which four years ago he and his brother had put aside, and in which, astwo self-devoted men, they walked alone. More than that, he believedhe had acquired some understanding of the temptations that assailedhis brother, and the poor little vanities of the "Marysville Pet" weretransformed into the blandishments of a Circe. Rand, who would havesuccumbed to a wicked, superior woman, believed he was a saint inwithstanding the foolish weakness of a simple one.
He did not resume his work that day. He paced the mountain, anxiouslyawaiting his brother's return, and eager to relate his experiences. Hewould go with him to the dramatic entertainment; from his example andwisdom, Ruth should learn how easily temptation might be overcome. But,first of all, there should be the fullest exchange of confidencesand explanations. The old rule should be rescinded for once, the olddiscussion in regard to Mornie re-opened, and Rand, having convinced hisbrother of error, would generously extend his forgiveness.
The sun sank redly. Lingering long upon the ledge before their cabin, itat last slipped away almost imperceptibly, leaving Rand still wrapped inrevery. Darkness, the smoke of distant fires in the woods, and the faintevening incense of the pines, crept slowly up; but Ruth came not. Themoon rose, a silver gleam on the farther ridge; and Rand, becominguneasy at his brother's prolonged absence, resolved to break anothercustom, and leave the summit, to seek him on the trail. He buckled onhis revolvers, seized his gun, when a cry from the depths arrested him.He leaned over the ledge, and listened. Again the cry arose, and thistime more distinctly. He held his breath: the blood settled around hisheart in superstitious terror. It was the wailing voice of a woman.
"Ruth, Ruth! for God's sake come and help me!"
The blood flew back hotly to Rand's cheek. It was Mornie's voice. Byleaning over the ledge, he could distinguish something moving along thealmost precipitous face of the cliff, where an abandoned trail, longsince broken off and disrupted by the fall of a portion of the ledge,stopped abruptly a hundred feet below him. Rand knew the trail, adangerous one always: in its present condition a single mis-stepwould be fatal. Would she make that mis-step? He shook off a horribletemptation that seemed to be sealing his lips, and paralyzing hislimbs, and almost screamed to her, "Drop on your face, hang on to thechaparral, and don't move!"
In another instant, with a coil of rope around his arm, he was dashingdown the almost perpendicular "slide." When he had nearly reached thelevel of the abandoned trail, he fastened one end of the rope to ajutting splinter of granite, and began to "lay out," and work hisway laterally along the face of the mountain. Presently he struck theregular trail at the point from which the woman must have diverged.
"It is Rand," she said, without lifting her head.
"It is," replied Rand coldly. "Pass the rope under your arms, and I'llget you back to the trail."
"Where is Ruth?" she demanded again, without moving. She was trembling,but with excitement rather than fear.
"I don't know," returned Rand impatiently. "Come! the ledge is alreadycrumbling beneath our feet."
"Let it crumble!" said the woman passionately.
Rand surveyed her with profound disgust, then passed the rope around herwaist, and half lifted, half swung her from her feet. In a few momentsshe began to mechanically help herself, and permitted him to guide herto a place of safety. That reached, she sank down again.
The rising moon shone full upon her face and figure. Through his growingindignation Rand was still impressed and even startled with the changethe few last months had wrought upon her. In place of the silly,fanciful, half-hysterical hoyden whom he had known, a matured woman,strong in passionate self-will, fascinating in a kind of wild, savagebeauty, looked up at him as if to read his very soul.
"What are you staring at?" she said finally. "Why don't you help me on?"
"Where do you want to go?" said Rand quietly.
"Where! Up there!"--she pointed savagely to the top of themountain,--"to HIM! Where else should I go?" she said, with a bitterlaugh.
"I've told you he wasn't there," said Rand roughly. "He hasn'treturned."
"I'll wait for him--do you hear?--wait for him; stay there till hecomes. If you won't help me, I'll go alone."
She made a step forward but faltered, staggered, and was obliged to leanagainst the mountain for support. Stains of travel were on her dress;lines of fatigue and pain, and traces of burning passionate tears, wereon her face; her black hair flowed from beneath her gaudy bonnet; and,shamed out of his brutality, Rand placed his strong arm round her waist,and half carrying, half supporting her, began the ascent. Her headdropped wearily on his shoulder; her arm encircled his neck; her hair,as if caressingly, lay across his breast and hands; her grateful eyeswere close to his; her breath was upon his cheek: and yet his onlyconsciousness was of the possibly ludicrous figure he might present tohis brother, should he meet him with Mornie Nixon in his arms. Not aword was spoken by either till they reached the summit. Relieved atfinding his brother still absent, he turned not unkindly toward thehelpless figure on his arm. "I don't see what makes Ruth so late," hesaid. "He's always here by sundown. Perhaps--"
"Perhaps he knows I'm here," said Mornie, with a bitter laugh.
"I didn't say that," said Rand, "and I don't think it. What I meantwas, he might have met a party that was picnicking here to-day,--Sol.Saunders and wife, and Miss Euphemia--"
Mornie flung his arm away from her with a passionate gesture. "THEYhere!--picnicking HERE!--those people HERE!"
"Yes," said Rand, unconsciously a little ashamed. "They came hereaccidentally."
Mornie's quick passion had subsided: she had sunk again wearily andhelplessly on a rock beside him. "I suppose," she said, with a weaklaugh--"I suppose, they talked of ME. I suppose they told you how, withtheir lies and fair promises, they tricked me out, and set me before anaudience of brutes and laughing hyenas to make merry over. Did they tellyou of the insults that I received?--how the sins of my parents wereflung at me instead of bouquets? Did they tell you they could havespared me this, but they wanted the few extra dollars taken in at thedoor? No!"
"They said nothing of the kind," replied Rand surlily.
"Then you must have stopped them. You were horrified enough to know thatI had dared to take the only honest way left me to make a living. I knowyou, Randolph Pinkney! You'd rather see Joaquin Muriatta, the Mexicanbandit, standing before you to-night with a revolver, than the helpless,shamed, miserable Mornie Nixon. And you can't help yourself, unless youthrow me over the cliff. Perhaps you'd better," she said, with a bitterlaugh that faded from her lips as she leaned, pale and breathless,against the bowlder.
"Ruth will tell you--" began Rand.
Rand turned away.
"Stop!" she said suddenly, staggering to her feet. "I'm sick--for allI know, dying. God grant that it may be so! But, if you are a man, youwill help me to your cabin--to some place where I can lie down NOW, andbe at rest. I'm very, very tired."
She paused. She would have fallen again; but Rand, seeing more in herface than her voice interpreted to his sullen ears, took her sullenlyin his arms, and carried her to the cabin. Her eyes glanced around thebright party-colored walls, and a faint smile came to her lips as sheput aside her bonnet, adorned with a companion pinion of the brightwings that covered it.
"Which is Ruth's bed?" she asked.
Rand pointed to it.
"Lay me there!"
Rand would have hesitated, but, with another look at her face, complied.
She lay quite still a moment. Presently she said, "Give me some brandyor whiskey!"
Rand was silent and confused.
"I forgot," she added half bitterly. "I know you have not that commonestand cheapest of vices."
She lay quite still again. Suddenly she raised herself partly on herelbow, and in a strong, firm voice, said, "Rand!"
"If you are wise and practical, as you assume to be, you will do what Iask you without a question. If you do it AT ONCE, you may save yourselfand Ruth some trouble, some mortification, and perhaps some remorse andsorrow. Do you hear me?"
"Go to the nearest doctor, and bring him here with you."
Her voice was strong, confident, steady, and patient. "You can safelyleave me until then."
In another moment Rand was plunging down the "slide." But it was pastmidnight when he struggled over the last bowlder up the ascent, draggingthe half-exhausted medical wisdom of Brown's Ferry on his arm.
"I've been gone long, doctor," said Rand feverishly, "and she looked SOdeath-like when I left. If we should be too late!"
The doctor stopped suddenly, lifted his head, and pricked his ears likea hound on a peculiar scent. "We ARE too late," he said, with a slightprofessional laugh.
Indignant and horrified, Rand turned upon him.
"Listen," said the doctor, lifting his hand.
Rand listened, so intently that he heard the familiar moan of the riverbelow; but the great stony field lay silent before him. And then, borneacross its bare barren bosom, like its own articulation, came faintlythe feeble wail of a new-born babe.
The doctor hurried ahead in the darkness. Rand, who had stoppedparalyzed at the ominous sound, started forward again mechanically; butas the cry arose again more distinctly, and the full significance ofthe doctor's words came to him, he faltered, stopped, and, with cheeksburning with shame and helpless indignation, sank upon a stone besidethe shaft, and, burying his face in his hands, fairly gave way to aburst of boyish tears. Yet even then the recollection that he had notcried since, years ago, his mother's dying hands had joined his andRuth's childish fingers together, stung him fiercely, and dried histears in angry heat upon his cheeks.
How long he sat there, he remembered not; what he thought, he recallednot. But the wildest and most extravagant plans and resolves availed himnothing in the face of this forever desecrated home, and this shamefulculmination of his ambitious life on the mountain. Once he thought offlight; but the reflection that he would still abandon his brother toshame, perhaps a self-contented shame, checked him hopelessly. Could heavert the future? He MUST; but how? Yet he could only sit and stare intothe darkness in dumb abstraction.
Sitting there, his eyes fell upon a peculiar object in a crevice ofthe ledge beside the shaft. It was the tin pail containing his dinner,which, according to their custom, it was the duty of the brother whostaid above ground to prepare and place for the brother who workedbelow. Ruth must, consequently, have put it there before he left thatmorning, and Rand had overlooked it while sharing the repast of thestrangers at noon. At the sight of this dumb witness of their mutualcares and labors, Rand sighed, half in brotherly sorrow, half in aselfish sense of injury done him.
He took up the pail mechanically, removed its cover, and--started; foron top of the carefully bestowed provisions lay a little note, addressedto him in Ruth's peculiar scrawl.
He opened it with feverish hands, held it in the light of the peacefulmoon, and read as follows:
DEAR, DEAR BROTHER,--When you read this, I shall be far away. I gobecause I shall not stay to disgrace you, and because the girl that Ibrought trouble upon has gone away too, to hide her disgrace and mine;and where she goes, Rand, I ought to follow her, and, please God, Iwill! I am not as wise or as good as you are, but it seems the best Ican do; and God bless you, dear old Randy, boy! Times and times againI've wanted to tell you all, and reckoned to do so; but whether you wassitting before me in the cabin, or working beside me in the drift, Icouldn't get to look upon your honest face, dear brother, and say whatthings I'd been keeping from you so long. I'll stay away until I've donewhat I ought to do, and if you can say, "Come, Ruth," I will come; but,until you can say it, the mountain is yours, Randy, boy, the mine isyours, the cabin is yours, ALL is yours. Rub out the old chalk-marks,Rand, as I rub them out here in my--[A few words here were blurred andindistinct, as if the moon had suddenly become dim-eyed too]. God blessyou, brother!
P.S.--You know I mean Mornie all the time. It's she I'm going to seek;but don't you think so bad of her as you do, I am so much worse thanshe. I wanted to tell you that all along, but I didn't dare. She's runaway from the Ferry half crazy; said she was going to Sacramento, andI am going there to find her alive or dead. Forgive me, brother! Don'tthrow this down right away; hold it in your hand a moment, Randy, boy,and try hard to think it's my hand in yours. And so good-by, and Godbless you, old Randy!
From your loving brother,
A deep sense of relief overpowered every other feeling in Rand's breast.It was clear that Ruth had not yet discovered the truth of Mornie'sflight: he was on his way to Sacramento, and before he could return,Mornie could be removed. Once despatched in some other direction, withRuth once more returned and under his brother's guidance, the separationcould be made easy and final. There was evidently no marriage as yet;and now, the fear of an immediate meeting over, there should be none.For Rand had already feared this; had recalled the few infelicitousrelations, legal and illegal, which were common to the adjoiningcamp,--the flagrantly miserable life of the husband of a San Franciscoanonyma who lived in style at the Ferry, the shameful carousals and moreshameful quarrels of the Frenchman and Mexican woman who "kept house"at "the Crossing," the awful spectacle of the three half-bred Indianchildren who played before the cabin of a fellow miner and townsman.Thank Heaven, the Eagle's Nest on Table Mountain should never be pointedat from the valley as another--
A heavy hand upon his arm brought him trembling to his feet. He turned,and met the half-anxious, half-contemptuous glance of the doctor.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he said dryly; "but it's about time you orsomebody else put in an appearance at that cabin. Luckily for HER, she'sone woman in a thousand; has had her wits about her better than somefolks I know, and has left me little to do but make her comfortable. Butshe's gone through too much,--fought her little fight too gallantly,--isaltogether too much of a trump to be played off upon now. So rise upout of that, young man, pick up your scattered faculties, and fetch awoman--some sensible creature of her own sex--to look after her; for,without wishing to be personal, I'm d----d if I trust her to the likesof you."
There was no mistaking Dr. Duchesne' s voice and manner; and Randwas affected by it, as most people were throughout the valley of theStanislaus. But he turned upon him his frank and boyish face, and saidsimply, "But I don't know any woman, or where to get one."
The doctor looked at him again. "Well, I'll find you some one," he said,softening.
"Thank you!" said Rand.
The doctor was disappearing. With an effort Rand recalled him. "Onemoment, doctor." He hesitated, and his cheeks were glowing. "You'llplease say nothing about this down there"--he pointed to thevalley--"for a time. And you'll say to the woman you send--"
Dr. Duchesne, whose resolute lips were sealed upon the secrets of halfTuolumne County, interrupted him scornfully. "I cannot answer for thewoman--you must talk to her yourself. As for me, generally I keepmy professional visits to myself; but--" he laid his hand on Rand'sarm--"if I find out you're putting on any airs to that poor creature,if, on my next visit, her lips or her pulse tell me you haven't beenacting on the square to her, I'll drop a hint to drunken old Nixon wherehis daughter is hidden. I reckon she could stand his brutality betterthan yours. Good-night!"
In another moment he was gone. Rand, who had held back his quick tongue,feeling himself in the power of this man, once more alone, sank on arock, and buried his face in his hands. Recalling himself in a moment,he rose, wiped his hot eyelids, and staggered toward the cabin. It wasquite still now. He paused on the topmost step, and listened: therewas no sound from the ledge, or the Eagle's Nest that clung to it. Halftimidly he descended the winding steps, and paused before the doorof the cabin. "Mornie," he said, in a dry, metallic voice, whoseonly indication of the presence of sickness was in the lowness of itspitch,--"Mornie!" There was no reply. "Mornie," he repeated impatiently,"it's me,--Rand. If you want anything, you're to call me. I am justoutside." Still no answer came from the silent cabin. He pushed open thedoor gently, hesitated, and stepped over the threshold.
A change in the interior of the cabin within the last few hours showeda new presence. The guns, shovels, picks, and blankets had disappeared;the two chairs were drawn against the wall, the table placed by thebedside. The swinging-lantern was shaded towards the bed,--the object ofRand's attention. On that bed, his brother's bed, lay a helpless woman,pale from the long black hair that matted her damp forehead, and clungto her hollow cheeks. Her face was turned to the wall, so that thesoftened light fell upon her profile, which to Rand at that momentseemed even noble and strong. But the next moment his eye fell upon theshoulder and arm that lay nearest to him, and the little bundle, swathedin flannel, that it clasped to her breast. His brow grew dark ashe gazed. The sleeping woman moved. Perhaps it was an instinctiveconsciousness of his presence; perhaps it was only the current ofcold air from the opened door: but she shuddered slightly, and, stillunconscious, drew the child as if away from HIM, and nearer to herbreast. The shamed blood rushed to Rand's face; and saying half aloud,"I'm not going to take your precious babe away from you," he turned inhalf-boyish pettishness away. Nevertheless he came back again shortly tothe bedside, and gazed upon them both. She certainly did look altogethermore ladylike, and less aggressive, lying there so still: sickness, thatcheap refining process of some natures, was not unbecoming to her. Butthis bundle! A boyish curiosity, stronger than even his strong objectionto the whole episode, was steadily impelling him to lift the blanketfrom it. "I suppose she'd waken if I did," said Rand; "but I'd like toknow what right the doctor had to wrap it up in my best flannel shirt."This fresh grievance, the fruit of his curiosity, sent him away again tomeditate on the ledge. After a few moments he returned again, opened thecupboard at the foot of the bed softly, took thence a piece of chalk,and scrawled in large letters upon the door of the cupboard, "If youwant anything, sing out: I'm just outside.--RAND." This done, he took ablanket and bear-skin from the corner, and walked to the door. But herehe paused, looked back at the inscription (evidently not satisfied withit), returned, took up the chalk, added a line, but rubbed it outagain, repeated this operation a few times until he produced the politepostscript,--"Hope you'll be better soon." Then he retreated to theledge, spread the bear-skin beside the door, and, rolling himself ina blanket, lit his pipe for his night-long vigil. But Rand, althougha martyr, a philosopher, and a moralist, was young. In less than tenminutes the pipe dropped from his lips, and he was asleep.
He awoke with a strange sense of heat and suffocation, and withdifficulty shook off his covering. Rubbing his eyes, he discovered thatan extra blanket had in some mysterious way been added in the night; andbeneath his head was a pillow he had no recollection of placing therewhen he went to sleep. By degrees the events of the past night forcedthemselves upon his benumbed faculties, and he sat up. The sun wasriding high; the door of the cabin was open. Stretching himself, hestaggered to his feet, and looked in through the yawning crack at thehinges. He rubbed his eyes again. Was he still asleep, and followed bya dream of yesterday? For there, even in the very attitude he rememberedto have seen her sitting at her luncheon on the previous day, with herknitting on her lap, sat Mrs. Sol Saunders! What did it mean? or had shereally been sitting there ever since, and all the events that followedonly a dream?
A hand was laid upon his arm; and, turning, he saw the murky black eyesand Indian-inked beard of Sol beside him. That gentleman put his fingeron his lips with a theatrical gesture, and then, slowly retreating inthe well-known manner of the buried Majesty of Denmark, waved him, likeanother Hamlet, to a remoter part of the ledge. This reached, he graspedRand warmly by the hand, shook it heartily, and said, "It's all right,my boy; all right!"
"But--" began Rand. The hot blood flowed to his cheeks: he stammered,and stopped short.
"It's all right, I say! Don't you mind! We'll pull you through."
"But, Mrs. Sol! what does she--"
"Rosey has taken the matter in hand, sir; and when that woman takes amatter in hand, whether it's a baby or a rehearsal, sir, she makes itbuzz."
"But how did she know?" stammered Rand.
"How? Well, sir, the scene opened something like this," said Solprofessionally. "Curtain rises on me and Mrs. Sol. Domesticinterior: practicable chairs, table, books, newspapers. Enter Dr.Duchesne,--eccentric character part, very popular with theboys,--tells off-hand affecting story of strange woman--one 'moreunfortunate'--having baby in Eagle's Nest, lonely place on 'peaksof Snowdon,' midnight; eagles screaming, you know, and far downunfathomable depths; only attendant, cold-blooded ruffian, evidentlyfather of child, with sinister designs on child and mother."
"He didn't say THAT!" said Rand, with an agonized smile.
"Order! Sit down in front!" continued Sol easily. "Mrs. Sol--highlyinterested, a mother herself--demands name of place. 'Table Mountain.'No; it cannot be--it is! Excitement. Mystery! Rosey rises tooccasion--comes to front: 'Some one must go; I--I--will go myself!'Myself, coming to center: 'Not alone, dearest; I--I will accompany you!'A shriek at right upper center. Enter the 'Marysville Pet.' 'Ihave heard all. 'Tis a base calumny. It cannot be HE--Randolph!Never!'--'Dare you accompany us will!' Tableau.
"Is Miss Euphemia--here?" gasped Rand, practical even in hisembarrassment.
"Or-r-rder! Scene second. Summit of mountain--moonlight Peaks of Snowdonin distance. Right--lonely cabin. Enter slowly up defile, Sol, Mrs. Sol,the 'Pet.' Advance slowly to cabin. Suppressed shriek from the'Pet,' who rushes to recumbent figure--Left--discovered lying besidecabin-door. ''Tis he! Hist! he sleeps!' Throws blanket over him, andretires up stage--so." Here Sol achieved a vile imitation of the "Pet's"most enchanting stage-manner. "Mrs. Sol advances--Center--throws opendoor. Shriek! ''Tis Mornie, the lost found!' The 'Pet' advances: 'Andthe father is?'--'Not Rand!' The 'Pet' kneeling: 'Just Heaven, I thankthee!' No, it is--'"
"Hush!" said Rand appealingly, looking toward the cabin.
"Hush it is!" said the actor good-naturedly. "But it's all right, Mr.Rand: we'll pull you through."
Later in the morning, Rand learned that Mornie's ill-fated connectionwith the Star Variety Troupe had been a source of anxiety to Mrs. Sol,and she had reproached herself for the girl's infelicitous debut.
"But, Lord bless you, Mr. Rand!" said Sol, "it was all in the way ofbusiness. She came to us--was fresh and new. Her chance, looking atit professionally, was as good as any amateur's; but what with herrelations here, and her bein' known, she didn't take. We lost money onher! It's natural she should feel a little ugly. We all do when we getsorter kicked back onto ourselves, and find we can't stand alone. Why,you wouldn't believe it," he continued, with a moist twinkle of hisblack eyes; "but the night I lost my little Rosey, of diphtheria in GoldHill, the child was down on the bills for a comic song; and I had todrag Mrs. Sol on, cut up as she was, and filled up with that much of OldBourbon to keep her nerves stiff, so she could do an old gag with meto gain time, and make up the 'variety.' Why, sir, when I came to thefront, I was ugly! And when one of the boys in the front row sang out,'Don't expose that poor child to the night air, Sol,'--meaning Mrs.Sol,--I acted ugly. No, sir, it's human nature; and it was quite naturalthat Mornie, when she caught sight o' Mrs. Sol's face last night, shouldrise up and cuss us both. Lord, if she'd only acted like that! But theold lady got her quiet at last; and, as I said before, it's all right,and we'll pull her through. But don't YOU thank us: it's a little matterbetwixt us and Mornie. We've got everything fixed, so that Mrs. Sol canstay right along. We'll pull Mornie through, and get her away from this,and her baby too, as soon as we can. You won't get mad if I tell yousomething?" said Sol, with a half-apologetic laugh. "Mrs. Sol wasrather down on you the other day, hated you on sight, and preferredyour brother to you; but when she found he'd run off and left YOU,you,--don't mind my sayin',--a 'mere boy,' to take what oughter beHIS place, why, she just wheeled round agin' him. I suppose hegot flustered, and couldn't face the music. Never left a word ofexplanation? Well, it wasn't exactly square, though I tell the old womanit's human nature. He might have dropped a hint where he was goin'.Well, there, I won't say a word more agin' him. I know how you feel.Hush it is."
It was the firm conviction of the simple-minded Sol that no one knewthe various natural indications of human passion better than himself.Perhaps it was one of the fallacies of his profession that theexpression of all human passion was limited to certain conventionalsigns and sounds. Consequently, when Rand colored violently, becameconfused, stammered, and at last turned hastily away, the good-heartedfellow instantly recognized the unfailing evidence of modesty andinnocence embarrassed by recognition. As for Rand, I fear his shamewas only momentary. Confirmed in the belief of his ulterior wisdom andvirtue, his first embarrassment over, he was not displeased with thishalfway tribute, and really believed that the time would come whenMr. Sol should eventually praise his sagacity and reservation,and acknowledge that he was something more than a mere boy. He,nevertheless, shrank from meeting Mornie that morning, and was glad thatthe presence of Mrs. Sol relieved him from that duty.
The day passed uneventfully. Rand busied himself in his usualavocations, and constructed a temporary shelter for himself and Solbeside the shaft, besides rudely shaping a few necessary articles offurniture for Mrs. Sol.
"It will be a little spell yet afore Mornie's able to be moved,"suggested Sol, "and you might as well be comfortable."
Rand sighed at this prospect, yet presently forgot himself in thegood humor of his companion, whose admiration for himself he began topatronizingly admit. There was no sense of degradation in accepting thefriendship of this man who had traveled so far, seen so much, and yet,as a practical man of the world, Rand felt was so inferior to himself.The absence of Miss Euphemia, who had early left the mountain, was asource of odd, half-definite relief. Indeed, when he closed his eyes torest that night, it was with a sense that the reality of his situationwas not as bad as he had feared. Once only, the figure of hisbrother--haggard, weary, and footsore, on his hopeless quest, wanderingin lonely trails and lonelier settlements--came across his fancy; butwith it came the greater fear of his return, and the pathetic figure wasbanished. "And, besides, he's in Sacramento by this time, and likeas not forgotten us all," he muttered; and, twining this poppy andmandragora around his pillow, he fell asleep.
His spirits had quite returned the next morning, and once or twice hefound himself singing while at work in the shaft. The fear that Ruthmight return to the mountain before he could get rid of Mornie, andthe slight anxiety that had grown upon him to know something of hisbrother's movements, and to be able to govern them as he wished, causedhim to hit upon the plan of constructing an ingenious advertisement tobe published in the San Francisco journals, wherein the missing Ruthshould be advised that news of his quest should be communicated to himby "a friend," through the same medium, after an interval of two weeks.Full of this amiable intention, he returned to the surface to dinner.Here, to his momentary confusion, he met Miss Euphemia, who, in absenceof Sol, was assisting Mrs. Sol in the details of the household.
If the honest frankness with which that young lady greeted him was notenough to relieve his embarrassment, he would have forgotten it inthe utterly new and changed aspect she presented. Her extravagantwalking-costume of the previous day was replaced by some bright calico,a little white apron, and a broad-brimmed straw-hat, which seemed toRand, in some odd fashion, to restore her original girlish simplicity.The change was certainly not unbecoming to her. If her waist was notas tightly pinched, a la mode, there still was an honest, youthfulplumpness about it; her step was freer for the absence of her high-heelboots; and even the hand she extended to Rand, if not quite so small asin her tight gloves, and a little brown from exposure, was magnetic inits strong, kindly grasp. There was perhaps a slight suggestion of thepractical Mr. Sol in her wholesome presence; and Rand could not helpwondering if Mrs. Sol had ever been a Gold Hill "Pet" before hermarriage with Mr. Sol. The young girl noticed his curious glance.
"You never saw me in my rehearsal dress before," she said, with a laugh."But I'm not 'company' to-day, and didn't put on my best harness toknock round in. I suppose I look dreadful."
"I don't think you look bad," said Rand simply.
"Thank you," said Euphemia, with a laugh and a courtesy. "But this isn'tgetting the dinner."
As part of that operation evidently was the taking-off of her hat,the putting-up of some thick blond locks that had escaped, and therolling-up of her sleeves over a pair of strong, rounded arms, Randlingered near her. All trace of the "Pet's" previous professionalcoquetry was gone,--perhaps it was only replaced by a more natural one;but as she looked up, and caught sight of Rand's interested face, shelaughed again, and colored a little. Slight as was the blush, it wassufficient to kindle a sympathetic fire in Rand's own cheeks, which wasso utterly unexpected to him that he turned on his heel in confusion. "Ireckon she thinks I'm soft and silly, like Ruth," he soliloquized, and,determining not to look at her again, betook himself to a distant andcontemplative pipe. In vain did Miss Euphemia address herself to theostentatious getting of the dinner in full view of him; in vain didshe bring the coffee-pot away from the fire, and nearer Rand, with theapparent intention of examining its contents in a better light; in vain,while wiping a plate, did she, absorbed in the distant prospect, walkto the verge of the mountain, and become statuesque and forgetful. Thesulky young gentleman took no outward notice of her.
Mrs. Sol's attendance upon Mornie prevented her leaving the cabin, andRand and Miss Euphemia dined in the open air alone. The ridiculousnessof keeping up a formal attitude to his solitary companion caused Randto relax; but, to his astonishment, the "Pet" seemed to have becomecorrespondingly distant and formal. After a few moments of discomfort,Rand, who had eaten little, arose, and "believed he would go back towork."
"Ah, yes!" said the "Pet," with an indifferent air, "I suppose you must.Well, good-by, Mr. Pinkney."
Rand turned. "YOU are not going?" he asked, in some uneasiness.
"I'VE got some work to do too," returned Miss Euphemia a little curtly.
"But," said the practical Rand, "I thought you allowed that you werefixed to stay until to-morrow?"
But here Miss Euphemia, with rising color and slight acerbity of voice,was not aware that she was "fixed to stay" anywhere, least of all whenshe was in the way. More than that, she MUST say--although perhaps itmade no difference, and she ought not to say it--that she was not inthe habit of intruding upon gentlemen who plainly gave her to understandthat her company was not desirable. She did not know why she saidthis--of course it could make no difference to anybody who didn't, ofcourse, care--but she only wanted to say that she only came herebecause her dear friend, her adopted mother,--and a better woman neverbreathed,--had come, and had asked her to stay. Of course, Mrs. Sol wasan intruder herself--Mr. Sol was an intruder--they were all intruders:she only wondered that Mr. Pinkney had borne with them so long. She knewit was an awful thing to be here, taking care of a poor--poor, helplesswoman; but perhaps Mr. Rand's BROTHER might forgive them, if hecouldn't. But no matter, she would go--Mr. Sol would go--ALL would go;and then, perhaps, Mr, Rand--
She stopped breathless; she stopped with the corner of her apron againsther tearful hazel eyes; she stopped with--what was more remarkable thanall--Rand's arm actually around her waist, and his astonished, alarmedface within a few inches of her own.
"Why, Miss Euphemia, Phemie, my dear girl! I never meant anything likeTHAT," said Rand earnestly. "I really didn't now! Come now!"
"You never once spoke to me when I sat down," said Miss Euphemia, feeblyendeavoring to withdraw from Rand's grasp.
"I really didn't! Oh, come now, look here! I didn't! Don't! There's adear--THERE!"
This last conclusive exposition was a kiss. Miss Euphemia was not quickenough to release herself from his arms. He anticipated that act a fullhalf-second, and had dropped his own, pale and breathless.
The girl recovered herself first. "There, I declare, I'm forgetting Mrs.Sol's coffee!" she exclaimed hastily, and, snatching up the coffee-pot,disappeared. When she returned, Rand was gone. Miss Euphemia busiedherself demurely in clearing up the dishes, with the tail of hereye sweeping the horizon of the summit level around her. But no Randappeared. Presently she began to laugh quietly to herself. This occurredseveral times during her occupation, which was somewhat prolonged. Theresult of this meditative hilarity was summed up in a somewhat graveand thoughtful deduction as she walked slowly back to the cabin: "I dobelieve I'm the first woman that that boy ever kissed."
Miss Euphemia staid that day and the next, and Rand forgot hisembarrassment. By what means I know not, Miss Euphemia managed torestore Rand's confidence in himself and in her, and in a little rambleon the mountain-side got him to relate, albeit somewhat reluctantly, theparticulars of his rescue of Mornie from her dangerous position on thebroken trail.
"And, if you hadn't got there as soon as you did, she'd have fallen?"asked the "Pet."
"I reckon," returned Rand gloomily: "she was sorter dazed and crazedlike."
"And you saved her life?"
"I suppose so, if you put it that way," said Rand sulkily.
"But how did you get her up the mountain again?"
"Oh! I got her up," returned Rand moodily.
"But how? Really, Mr. Rand, you don't know how interesting this is. It'sas good as a play," said the "Pet," with a little excited laugh.
"Oh, I carried her up!"
"In your arms?"
Miss Euphemia paused, and bit off the stalk of a flower, made a wryface, and threw it away from her in disgust.
Then she dug a few tiny holes in the earth with her parasol, and buriedbits of the flower-stalk in them, as if they had been tender memories."I suppose you knew Mornie very well?" she asked.
"I used to run across her in the woods," responded Rand shortly, "a yearago. I didn't know her so well then as--" He stopped.
"As what? As NOW?" asked the "Pet" abruptly. Rand, who was coloringover his narrow escape from a topic which a delicate kindness of Sol hadexcluded from their intercourse on the mountain, stammered, "as YOU do,I meant."
The "Pet" tossed her head a little. "Oh! I don't know her at all--exceptthrough Sol."
Rand stared hard at this. The "Pet," who was looking at him intently,said, "Show me the place where you saw Mornie clinging that night."
"It's dangerous," suggested Rand.
"You mean I'd be afraid! Try me! I don't believe she was SO dreadfullyfrightened!"
"Why?" asked Rand, in astonishment.
Rand sat down in vague wonderment.
"Show it to me," continued the "Pet," "or--I'll find it ALONE!"
Thus challenged, he rose, and, after a few moments' climbing, stood withher upon the trail. "You see that thorn-bush where the rock has fallenaway. It was just there. It is not safe to go farther. No, really! MissEuphemia! Please don't! It's almost certain death!"
But the giddy girl had darted past him, and, face to the wall ofthe cliff, was creeping along the dangerous path. Rand followedmechanically. Once or twice the trail crumbled beneath her feet; butshe clung to a projecting root of chaparral, and laughed. She had almostreached her elected goal, when, slipping, the treacherous chaparral sheclung to yielded in her grasp, and Rand, with a cry, sprung forward.
But the next instant she quickly transferred her hold to a cleft inthe cliff, and was safe. Not so her companion. The soil beneath him,loosened by the impulse of his spring, slipped away: he was falling withit, when she caught him sharply with her disengaged hand, and togetherthey scrambled to a more secure footing.
"I could have reached it alone," said the "Pet," "if you'd left mealone."
"Thank Heaven, we're saved!" said Rand gravely.
"AND WITHOUT A ROPE," said Miss Euphemia significantly.
Rand did not understand her. But, as they slowly returned to the summit,he stammered out the always difficult thanks of a man who has beenphysically helped by one of the weaker sex. Miss Euphemia was quick tosee her error.
"I might have made you lose your footing by catching at you," she saidmeekly. "But I was so frightened for you, and could not help it."
The superior animal, thoroughly bamboozled, thereupon complimented heron her dexterity.
"Oh, that's nothing!" she said, with a sigh. "I used to do theflying-trapeze business with papa when I was a child, and I've notforgotten it." With this and other confidences of her early life, inwhich Rand betrayed considerable interest, they beguiled the tediousascent. "I ought to have made you carry me up," said the lady, with alittle laugh, when they reached the summit; "but you haven't known me aslong as you have Mornie, have you?" With this mysterious speech she badeRand "good-night," and hurried off to the cabin.
And so a week passed by,--the week so dreaded by Rand, yet passed sopleasantly, that at times it seemed as if that dread were only a trickof his fancy, or as if the circumstances that surrounded him weredifferent from what he believed them to be. On the seventh day thedoctor had staid longer than usual; and Rand, who had been sitting withEuphemia on the ledge by the shaft, watching the sunset, had barelytime to withdraw his hand from hers, as Mrs. Sol, a trifle pale andwearied-looking, approached him.
"I don't like to trouble you," she said,--indeed, they had seldomtroubled him with the details of Mornie's convalescence, or even herneeds and requirements,--"but the doctor is alarmed about Mornie, andshe has asked to see you. I think you'd better go in and speak to her.You know," continued Mrs. Sol delicately, "you haven't been in theresince the night she was taken sick, and maybe a new face might do hergood."
The guilty blood flew to Rand's face as he stammered, "I thought I'd bein the way. I didn't believe she cared much to see me. Is she worse?"
"The doctor is looking very anxious," said Mrs. Sol simply.
The blood returned from Rand's face, and settled around his heart. Heturned very pale. He had consoled himself always for his complicityin Ruth's absence, that he was taking good care of Mornie, or--whatis considered by most selfish natures an equivalent--permitting orencouraging some one else to "take good care of her;" but here wasa contingency utterly unforeseen. It did not occur to him that this"taking good care" of her could result in anything but a perfectsolution of her troubles, or that there could be any future to hercondition but one of recovery. But what if she should die? A suddenand helpless sense of his responsibility to Ruth, to HER, brought himtrembling to his feet.
He hurried to the cabin, where Mrs. Sol left him with a word of caution:"You'll find her changed and quiet,--very quiet. If I was you, Iwouldn't say anything to bring back her old self."
The change which Rand saw was so great, the face that was turned to himso quiet, that, with a new fear upon him, he would have preferred thesavage eyes and reckless mien of the old Mornie whom he hated. With hishabitual impulsiveness he tried to say something that should expressthat fact not unkindly, but faltered, and awkwardly sank into the chairby her bedside.
"I don't wonder you stare at me now," she said in a far-off voice. "Itseems to you strange to see me lying here so quiet. You are thinking howwild I was when I came here that night. I must have been crazy, I think.I dreamed that I said dreadful things to you; but you must forgive me,and not mind it. I was crazy then." She stopped, and folded the blanketbetween her thin fingers. "I didn't ask you to come here to tell youthat, or to remind you of it; but--but when I was crazy, I said so manyworse, dreadful things of HIM; and you--YOU will be left behind to tellhim of it."
Rand was vaguely murmuring something to the effect that "he knew shedidn't mean anything," that "she musn't think of it again," that "he'dforgotten all about it," when she stopped him with a tired gesture.
"Perhaps I was wrong to think, that, after I am gone, you would care totell him anything. Perhaps I'm wrong to think of it at all, or to carewhat he will think of me, except for the sake of the child--his child,Rand--that I must leave behind me. He will know that IT never abusedhim. No, God bless its sweet heart! IT never was wild and wicked andhateful, like its cruel, crazy mother. And he will love it; and you,perhaps, will love it too--just a little, Rand! Look at it!" She triedto raise the helpless bundle beside her in her arms, but failed. "Youmust lean over," she said faintly to Rand. "It looks like him, doesn'tit?"
Rand, with wondering, embarrassed eyes, tried to see some resemblance,in the little blue-red oval, to the sad, wistful face of his brother,which even then was haunting him from some mysterious distance. Hekissed the child's forehead, but even then so vaguely and perfunctorily,that the mother sighed, and drew it closer to her breast.
"The doctor says," she continued in a calmer voice, "that I'm not doingas well as I ought to. I don't think," she faltered, with something ofher old bitter laugh, "that I'm ever doing as well as I ought to, andperhaps it's not strange now that I don't. And he says that, in caseanything happens to me, I ought to look ahead. I have looked ahead.It's a dark look ahead, Rand--a horror of blackness, without kind faces,without the baby, without--without HIM!"
She turned her face away, and laid it on the bundle by her side. It wasso quiet in the cabin, that, through the open door beyond, the faint,rhythmical moan of the pines below was distinctly heard.
"I know it's foolish; but that is what 'looking ahead' always meant tome," she said, with a sigh. "But, since the doctor has been gone, I'vetalked to Mrs. Sol, and find it's for the best. And I look ahead, andsee more clearly. I look ahead, and see my disgrace removed far awayfrom HIM and you. I look ahead, and see you and HE living togetherhappily, as you did before I came between you. I look ahead, and seemy past life forgotten, my faults forgiven; and I think I see you bothloving my baby, and perhaps loving me a little for its sake. Thank you,Rand, thank you!"
For Rand's hand had caught hers beside the pillow, and he was standingover her, whiter than she. Something in the pressure of his handemboldened her to go on, and even lent a certain strength to her voice.
"When it comes to THAT, Rand, you'll not let these people take the babyaway. You'll keep it HERE with you until HE comes. And something tellsme that he will come when I am gone. You'll keep it here in the pure airand sunlight of the mountain, and out of those wicked depths below; andwhen I am gone, and they are gone, and only you and Ruth and babyare here, maybe you'll think that it came to you in a cloud on themountain,--a cloud that lingered only long enough to drop its burden,and faded, leaving the sunlight and dew behind. What is it, Rand? Whatare you looking at?"
"I was thinking," said Rand in a strange altered voice, "that I musttrouble you to let me take down those duds and furbelows that hang onthe wall, so that I can get at some traps of mine behind them." Hetook some articles from the wall, replaced the dresses of Mrs. Sol, andanswered Mornie's look of inquiry.
"I was only getting at my purse and my revolver," he said, showing them."I've got to get some stores at the Ferry by daylight."
Mornie sighed. "I'm giving you great trouble, Rand, I know; but it won'tbe for long."
He muttered something, took her hand again, and bade her "good-night."When he reached the door, he looked back. The light was shining fullupon her face as she lay there, with her babe on her breast, bravely"looking ahead."
THE CLOUDS PASS.
It was early morning at the Ferry. The "up coach" had passed, withlights unextinguished, and the "outsides" still asleep. The ferryman hadgone up to the Ferry Mansion House, swinging his lantern, and had foundthe sleepy-looking "all night" bar-keeper on the point of withdrawingfor the day on a mattress under the bar. An Indian half-breed, porterof the Mansion House, was washing out the stains of recent nocturnaldissipation from the bar-room and veranda; a few birds were twitteringon the cotton-woods beside the river; a bolder few had alighted uponthe veranda, and were trying to reconcile the existence of so muchlemon-peel and cigar-stumps with their ideas of a beneficent Creator.A faint earthly freshness and perfume rose along the river banks. Deepshadow still lay upon the opposite shore; but in the distance, fourmiles away, Morning along the level crest of Table Mountain walked withrosy tread.
The sleepy bar-keeper was that morning doomed to disappointment; forscarcely had the coach passed, when steps were heard upon the veranda,and a weary, dusty traveller threw his blanket and knapsack to theporter, and then dropped into a vacant arm-chair, with his eyes fixedon the distant crest of Table Mountain. He remained motionless for sometime, until the bar-keeper, who had already concocted the conventionalwelcome of the Mansion House, appeared with it in a glass, put it uponthe table, glanced at the stranger, and then, thoroughly awake, criedout,--
"Ruth Pinkney--or I'm a Chinaman!"
The stranger lifted his eyes wearily. Hollow circles were around theirorbits; haggard lines were in his checks. But it was Ruth.
He took the glass, and drained it at a single draught. "Yes," he saidabsently, "Ruth Pinkney," and fixed his eyes again on the distant rosycrest.
"On your way up home?" suggested the bar-keeper, following the directionof Ruth's eyes.
"Been upon a pasear, hain't yer? Been havin' a little tear roundSacramento,--seein' the sights?"
Ruth smiled bitterly. "Yes."
The bar-keeper lingered, ostentatiously wiping a glass. But Ruth againbecame abstracted in the mountain, and the barkeeper turned away.
How pure and clear that summit looked to him! how restful and steadfastwith serenity and calm! how unlike his own feverish, dusty, travel-wornself! A week had elapsed since he had last looked upon it,--a week ofdisappointment, of anxious fears, of doubts, of wild imaginings, ofutter helplessness. In his hopeless quest of the missing Mornie, hehad, in fancy, seen this serene eminence haunting his remorseful,passion-stricken soul. And now, without a clew to guide him to herunknown hiding-place, he was back again, to face the brother whom he haddeceived, with only the confession of his own weakness. Hard as it wasto lose forever the fierce, reproachful glances of the woman he loved,it was still harder, to a man of Ruth's temperament, to look againupon the face of the brother he feared. A hand laid upon his shoulderstartled him. It was the bar-keeper.
"If it's a fair question, Ruth Pinkney, I'd like to ask ye how long yekalkilate to hang around the Ferry to-day."
"Why?" demanded Ruth haughtily.
"Because, whatever you've been and done, I want ye to have a squareshow. Ole Nixon has been cavoortin' round yer the last two days,swearin' to kill you on sight for runnin' off with his darter. Sabe?Now, let me ax ye two questions. FIRST, Are you heeled?"
Ruth responded to this dialectical inquiry affirmatively by putting hishand on his revolver.
"Good! Now, SECOND, Have you got the gal along here with you?"
"No," responded Ruth in a hollow voice.
"That's better yet," said the man, without heeding the tone ofthe reply. "A woman--and especially THE woman in a row of thiskind--handicaps a man awful." He paused, and took up the empty glass."Look yer, Ruth Pinkney, I'm a square man, and I'll be square with you.So I'll just tell you you've got the demdest odds agin' ye. Pr'aps yeknow it, and don't keer. Well, the boys around yer are all sidin' withthe old man Nixon. It's the first time the old rip ever had a hand inhis favor: so the boys will see fair play for Nixon, and agin' YOU. ButI reckon you don't mind him!"
"So little, I shall never pull trigger on him," said Ruth gravely.
The bar-keeper stared, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, thar'sthat Kanaka Joe, who used to be sorter sweet on Mornie,--he's an uglydevil,--he's helpin' the old man."
The sad look faded from Ruth's eyes suddenly. A certain wild Berserkerrage--a taint of the blood, inherited from heaven knows what Old-Worldancestry, which had made the twin-brothers' Southwestern eccentricitiesrespected in the settlement--glowed in its place. The barkeeper notedit, and augured a lively future for the day's festivities. But it fadedagain; and Ruth, as he rose, turned hesitatingly towards him.
"Have you seen my brother Rand lately?"
"He hasn't been here, or about the Ferry?"
"You haven't heard," said Ruth, with a faint attempt at a smile, "ifhe's been around here asking after me,--sorter looking me up, you know?"
"Not much," returned the bar-keeper deliberately. "Ez far ez I knowRand,--that ar brother o' yours,--he's one of yer high-toned chaps ezdoesn't drink, thinks bar-rooms is pizen, and ain't the sort to comeround yer, and sling yarns with me."
Ruth rose; but the hand that he placed upon the table, albeit a powerfulone, trembled so that it was with difficulty he resumed his knapsack.When he did so, his bent figure, stooping shoulders, and haggard face,made him appear another man from the one who had sat down. There was aslight touch of apologetic deference and humility in his manner as hepaid his reckoning, and slowly and hesitatingly began to descend thesteps.
The bar-keeper looked after him thoughtfully. "Well, dog my skin!"he ejaculated to himself, "ef I hadn't seen that man--that same RuthPinkney--straddle a friend's body in this yer very room, and dare awhole crowd to come on, I'd swar that he hadn't any grit in him. Thar'ssomething up!"
But here Ruth reached the last step, and turned again.
"If you see old man Nixon, say I'm in town; if you see that ------------" (I regret to say that I cannot repeat his exact, and briefcharacterization of the present condition and natal antecedents ofKanaka Joe), "say I'm looking out for him," and was gone.
He wandered down the road, towards the one long, straggling street ofthe settlement. The few people who met him at that early hour greetedhim with a kind of constrained civility; certain cautious souls hurriedby without seeing him; all turned and looked after him; and a fewfollowed him at a respectful distance. A somewhat notorious practicaljoker and recognized wag at the Ferry apparently awaited his coming withsomething of invitation and expectation, but, catching sight of Ruth'shaggard face and blazing eyes, became instantly practical, and by nomeans jocular in his greeting. At the top of the hill, Ruth turned tolook once more upon the distant mountain, now again a mere cloud-lineon the horizon. In the firm belief that he would never again see the sunrise upon it, he turned aside into a hazel-thicket, and, tearing out afew leaves from his pocket-book, wrote two letters,--one to Rand, andone to Mornie, but which, as they were never delivered, shall not burdenthis brief chronicle of that eventful day. For, while transcribing them,he was startled by the sounds of a dozen pistol-shots in the directionof the hotel he had recently quitted. Something in the mere soundprovoked the old hereditary fighting instinct, and sent him to his feetwith a bound, and a slight distension of the nostrils, and sniffing ofthe air, not unknown to certain men who become half intoxicated bythe smell of powder. He quickly folded his letters, and addressedthem carefully, and, taking off his knapsack and blanket, methodicallyarranged them under a tree, with the letters on top. Then he examinedthe lock of his revolver, and then, with the step of a man ten yearsyounger, leaped into the road. He had scarcely done so when he wasseized, and by sheer force dragged into a blacksmith's shop at theroadside. He turned his savage face and drawn weapon upon his assailant,but was surprised to meet the anxious eyes of the bar-keeper of theMansion House.
"Don't be a d----d fool," said the man quickly. "Thar's fifty agin' youdown thar. But why in h-ll didn't you wipe out old Nixon when you hadsuch a good chance?"
"Wipe out old Nixon?" repeated Ruth.
"Yes; just now, when you had him covered."
The bar-keeper turned quickly upon Ruth, stared at him, and thensuddenly burst into a fit of laughter. "Well, I've knowed you two weretwins, but damn me if I ever thought I'd be sold like this!" And heagain burst into a roar of laughter.
"What do you mean?" demanded Ruth savagely.
"What do I mean?" returned the barkeeper. "Why, I mean this. I mean thatyour brother Rand, as you call him, he'z bin--for a young feller, anda pious feller--doin' about the tallest kind o' fightin' to-day that'sbeen done at the Ferry. He laid out that ar Kanaka Joe and two of hischums. He was pitched into on your quarrel, and he took it up for youlike a little man. I managed to drag him off, up yer in the hazel-bushfor safety, and out you pops, and I thought you was him. He can't befar away. Halloo! There they're comin'; and thar's the doctor, trying tokeep them back!"
A crowd of angry, excited faces, filled the road suddenly; but beforethem Dr. Duchesne, mounted, and with a pistol in his hand, opposed theirfurther progress.
"Back in the bush!" whispered the barkeeper. "Now's your time!"
But Ruth stirred not. "Go you back," he said in a low voice, "find Rand,and take him away. I will fill his place here." He drew his revolver,and stepped into the road.
A shout, a report, and the spatter of red dust from a bullet near hisfeet, told him he was recognized. He stirred not; but another shout, anda cry, "There they are--BOTH of 'em!" made him turn.
His brother Rand, with a smile on his lip and fire in his eye, stood byhis side. Neither spoke. Then Rand, quietly, as of old, slipped his handinto his brother's strong palm. Two or three bullets sang by them;a splinter flew from the blacksmith's shed: but the brothers, hardgripping each other's hands, and looking into each other's faces with aquiet joy, stood there calm and imperturbable.
There was a momentary pause. The voice of Dr. Duchesne rose above thecrowd.
"Keep back, I say! keep back! Or hear me!--for five years I've workedamong you, and mended and patched the holes you've drilled througheach other's carcasses--Keep back, I say!--or the next man that pullstrigger, or steps forward, will get a hole from me that no surgeon canstop. I'm sick of your bungling ball practice! Keep back!--or, by theliving Jingo, I'll show you where a man's vitals are!"
There was a burst of laughter from the crowd, and for a moment the twinswere forgotten in this audacious speech and coolly impertinent presence.
"That's right! Now let that infernal old hypocritical drunkard, MatNixon, step to the front."
The crowd parted right and left, and half pushed, half dragged Nixonbefore him.
"Gentlemen," said the doctor, "this is the man who has just shot at RandPinkney for hiding his daughter. Now, I tell you, gentlemen, and I tellhim, that for the last week his daughter, Mornie Nixon, has been undermy care as a patient, and my protection as a friend. If there's anybodyto be shot, the job must begin with me!"
There was another laugh, and a cry of "Bully for old Sawbones!" Ruthstarted convulsively, and Rand answered his look with a confirmingpressure of his hand.
"That isn't all, gentlemen: this drunken brute has just shot at agentleman whose only offence, to my knowledge, is, that he has, for thelast week, treated her with a brother's kindness, has taken her into hisown home, and cared for her wants as if she were his own sister."
Ruth's hand again grasped his brother's. Rand colored and hung his head.
"There's more yet, gentlemen. I tell you that that girl, Mornie Nixon,has, to my knowledge, been treated like a lady, has been cared for asshe never was cared for in her father's house, and, while that fatherhas been proclaiming her shame in every bar-room at the Ferry, has hadthe sympathy and care, night and day, of two of the most accomplishedladies of the Ferry,--Mrs. Sol Saunders, gentlemen, and Miss Euphemia."
There was a shout of approbation from the crowd. Nixon would haveslipped away, but the doctor stopped him.
"Not yet! I've one thing more to say. I've to tell you, gentlemen, on myprofessional word of honor, that, besides being an old hypocrite, thissame old Mat Nixon is the ungrateful, unnatural GRANDFATHER of the firstboy born in the district."
A wild huzza greeted the doctor's climax. By a common consent the crowdturned toward the Twins, who, grasping each other's hands, stood apart.The doctor nodded his head. The next moment the Twins were surrounded,and lifted in the arms of the laughing throng, and borne in triumph tothe bar-room of the Mansion House.
"Gentlemen," said the bar-keeper, "call for what you like: the MansionHouse treats to-day in honor of its being the first time that RandPinkney has been admitted to the bar."
It was agreed, that, as her condition was still precarious, the newsshould be broken to her gradually and indirectly. The indefatigableSol had a professional idea, which was not displeasing to the Twins. Itbeing a lovely summer afternoon, the couch of Mornie was lifted out onthe ledge, and she lay there basking in the sunlight, drinking in thepure air, and looking bravely ahead in the daylight as she had in thedarkness, for her couch commanded a view of the mountain flank. And,lying there, she dreamed a pleasant dream, and in her dream saw Randreturning up the mountain-trail. She was half conscious that he had goodnews for her; and, when he at last reached her bedside, he began gentlyand kindly to tell his news. But she heard him not, or rather in herdream was most occupied with his ways and manners, which seemed unlikehim, yet inexpressibly sweet and tender. The tears were fast coming inher eyes, when he suddenly dropped on his knees beside her, threw awayRand's disguising hat and coat, and clasped her in his arms. And by thatshe KNEW it was Ruth.
But what they said; what hurried words of mutual explanation andforgiveness passed between them; what bitter yet tender recollectionsof hidden fears and doubts, now forever chased away in the rain of tearsand joyous sunshine of that mountain-top, were then whispered;whatever of this little chronicle that to the reader seems strange andinconsistent (as all human record must ever be strange and imperfect,except to the actors) was then made clear,--was never divulged by them,and must remain with them forever. The rest of the party had withdrawn,and they were alone. But when Mornie turned, and placed the baby in itsfather's arms, they were so isolated in their happiness, that the lowerworld beneath them might have swung and drifted away, and left thatmountain-top the beginning and creation of a better planet.
"You know all about it now," said Sol the next day, explaining theprevious episodes of this history to Ruth: "you've got the whole plotbefore you. It dragged a little in the second act, for the actorsweren't up in their parts. But for an amateur performance, on the whole,it wasn't bad."
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Rand impulsively, "how we'd have got onwithout Euphemia. It's too bad she couldn't be here to-day."
"She wanted to come," said Sol; "but the gentleman she's engaged to cameup from Marysville last night."
"Gentleman--engaged!" repeated Rand, white and red by turns.
"Well, yes. I say, 'gentleman,' although he's in the variety profession.She always said," said Sol, quietly looking at Rand, "that she'd nevermarry OUT of it."
The Twins of Table Mountain, and Other Stories by Bret Harte / Western have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes