Found at blazing star, p.6
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       Found at Blazing Star, p.6
 

          
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respectable-looking house, and was ushered into a privatedrawing-room. Instinctively he felt that the room was only temporarilyinhabited; an air peculiar to the best lodgings, and when the dooropened upon a tall lady in deep mourning, he was still more convinced ofan incongruity between the occupant and her surroundings. With a smilethat vacillated between a habit of familiarity and ease, and a recentrestraint, she motioned him to a chair.

  "Miss Mortimer" was still young, still handsome, still fashionablydressed, and still attractive. From her first greeting to the end of theinterview Cass felt that she knew all about him. This relieved him fromthe onus of proving his identity, but seemed to put him vaguely at adisadvantage. It increased his sense of inexperience and youthfulness.

  "I hope you will believe," she began, "that the few questions I haveto ask you are to satisfy my own heart, and for no other purpose."She smiled sadly as she went on. "Had it been otherwise, I should haveinstituted a legal inquiry, and left this interview to some one cooler,calmer, and less interested than myself. But I think, I KNOW I can trustyou. Perhaps we women are weak and foolish to talk of an INSTINCT, andwhen you know my story you may have reason to believe that but littledependence can be placed on THAT; but I am not wrong in saying,--am I?"(with a sad smile) "that YOU are not above that weakness?" She paused,closed her lips tightly, and grasped her hands before her. "You say youfound that ring in the road some three months before--the--the--you knowwhat I mean--the body--was discovered?"

  "Yes."

  "You thought it might have been dropped by some one in passing?"

  "I thought so, yes--it belonged to no one in camp."

  "Before your cabin or on the highway?"

  "Before my cabin."

  "You are SURE?" There was something so very sweet and sad in her smilethat it oddly made Cass color.

  "But my cabin is near the road," he suggested.

  "I see! And there was nothing else; no paper nor envelope?"

  "Nothing."

  "And you kept it because of the odd resemblance one of the names bore toyours?"

  "Yes."

  "For no other reason

  "None." Yet Cass felt he was blushing.

  "You'll forgive my repeating a question you have already answered, butI am so anxious. There was some attempt to prove at the inquest that thering had been found on the body of--the unfortunate man. But you tell meit was not so?"

  "I can swear it."

  "Good God--the traitor!" She took a hurried step forward, turned to thewindow, and then came back to Cass with a voice broken with emotion. "Ihave told you I could trust you. That ring was mine!"

  She stopped, and then went on hurriedly. "Years ago I gave it to a manwho deceived and wronged me; a man whose life since then has been ashame and disgrace to all who knew him. A man who, once, a gentleman,sank so low as to become the associate of thieves and ruffians; sankso low, that when he died, by violence--a traitor even to them--his ownconfederates shrunk from him, and left him to fill a nameless grave.That man's body you found!"

  Cass started. "And his name was--?"

  "Part of your surname. Cass--Henry Cass."

  "You see why Providence seems to have brought that ring to you," shewent on. "But you ask me why, knowing this, I am so eager to know ifthe ring was found by you in the road, or if it were found on his body.Listen! It is part of my mortification that the story goes that this manonce showed this ring, boasted of it, staked, and lost it at a gamblingtable to one of his vile comrades."

  "Kanaka Joe," said Cass, overcome by a vivid recollection of Joe'smerriment at the trial.

  "The same. Don't you see," she said, hurriedly, "if the ring had beenfound on him I could believe that somewhere in his heart he still keptrespect for the woman he had wronged. I am a woman--a foolish woman, Iknow--but you have crushed that hope forever."

  "But why have you sent for me?" asked Cass, touched by her emotion.

  "To know it for certain," she said, almost fiercely. "Can you notunderstand that a woman like me must know a thing once and forever? Butyou CAN help me. I did not send for you only to pour my wrongs in yourears. You must take me with you to this place--to the spot where youfound the ring--to the spot where you found the body--to the spotwhere--where HE lies. You must do it secretly, that none shall know me."

  Cass hesitated. He was thinking of his companions and the collapse oftheir painted bubble. How could he keep the secret from them?

  "If it is money you need, let not that stop you. I have no right toyour time without recompense. Do not misunderstand me. There has been athousand dollars awaiting my order at Bookham's when the ring should bedelivered. It shall be doubled if you help me in this last moment."

  It was possible. He could convey her secretly there, invent some storyof a reward delayed for want of proofs, and afterward share that rewardwith his friends. He answered promptly, "I will take you there."

  She took his hands in both of hers, raised them to her lips, and smiled.The shadow of grief and restraint seemed to have fallen from her face,and a half-mischievous, half-coquettish gleam in her dark eyes touchedthe susceptible Cass in so subtle a fashion that he regained the streetin some confusion. He wondered what Miss Porter would have thought. Butwas he not returning to her, a fortunate man, with one thousand dollarsin his pocket! Why should he remember he was handicapped, by a prettywoman and a pathetic episode? It did not make the proximity lesspleasant as he helped her into the coach that evening, nor did therecollection of another ride with another woman obtrude itself uponthose consolations which he felt it his duty, from time to time, tooffer. It was arranged that he should leave her at the "Red Chief"Hotel, while he continued on to Blazing Star, returning at noon to bringher with him when he could do it without exposing her to recognition.The gray dawn came soon enough, and the coach drew up at "Red Chief"while the lights in the bar-room and dining-room of the hotel werestill struggling with the far flushing east. Cass alighted, placed MissMortimer in the hands of the landlady, and returned to the vehicle. Itwas still musty, close, and frowzy, with half-awakened passengers.There was a vacated seat on the top, which Cass climbed up to, andabstractedly threw himself beside a figure muffled in shawls and rugs.There was a slight movement among the multitudinous enwrappings, andthen the figure turned to him and said, dryly, "Good morning!" It wasMiss Porter!

  "Have you been long here?" he stammered.

  "All night."

  He would have given worlds to leave her at that moment. He would havejumped from the starting coach to save himself any explanation of theembarrassment he was furiously conscious of showing, without, as hebelieved, any adequate cause. And yet, like all inexperienced, sensitivemen, he dashed blindly into that explanation; worse, he even told hissecret at once, then and there, and then sat abashed and consciencestricken, with an added sense of its utter futility.

  "And this," summed up the young girl, with a slight shrug of her prettyshoulders, "is YOUR MAY?"

  Cass would have recommenced his story.

  "No, don't, pray! It isn't interesting, nor original. Do YOU believeit?"

  "I do," said Cass, indignantly.

  "How lucky! Then let me go to sleep."

  Cass, still furious, but uneasy, did not again address her. When thecoach stopped at Blazing Star she asked him, indifferently: "When doesthis sentimental pilgrimage begin?"

  "I return for her at one o'clock," replied Cass, stiffly.

  He kept his word. He appeased his eager companions with a promise offuture fortune, and exhibited the present and tangible reward. By acircuitous route known only to himself, he led Miss Mortimer to the roadbefore the cabin. There was a pink flush of excitement on her somewhatfaded cheek.

  "And it was here?" she asked, eagerly.

  "I found it here."

  "And the body?"

  "That was afterward. Over in that direction, beyond the clump ofbuckeyes, on the Red Chief turnpike."

  "And any one coming from the road we left just now and goingto--to--that place, would have to cros
s just here? Tell me," she said,with a strange laugh, laying her cold nervous hand on his, "wouldn'tthey?"

  "They would."

  "Let us go to that place."

  Cass stepped out briskly to avoid observation and gain the woods beyondthe highway. "You have crossed here before," she said. "There seems tobe a trail."

  "I may have made it: it's a short cut to the buckeyes."

  "You never found anything else on the trail?"

  "You remember, I told you before, the ring was all I found."

  "Ah, true!" she smiled sweetly; "it was THAT which
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