Puslapio vaizdai

conscientiously did he fulfill his various obli- | gations, that it was nearly one o'clock before he reached his rude hut on the hill-side, a rough cabin of pine logs, so unpretentious and wild in exterior as to be but a slight improvement on nature. The vines clambered unrestrainedly over the bark-thatched roof; the birds occupied the crevices of the walls, the squirrel ate his acorns on the ridgepole without fear and without reproach.

Softly drawing the wooden peg that served as a bolt, Gabriel entered with that noiselessness and caution that was habitual to him. Lighting a candle by the embers of a dying fire, he carefully looked around him. The cabin was divided into two compartments by the aid of a canvas stretched between the walls, with a flap for the doorway. On a pine table lay several garments apparently belonging to a girl of seven or eight-a frock grievously rent and torn, a frayed petticoat of white flannel already patched with material taken from a red shirt, and a pair of stockings so excessively and sincerely darned, as to have lost nearly all of their original fabric in repeated bits of relief that covered almost the entire structure. Gabriel looked at these articles ruefully, and, slowly picking them up, examined each with the greatest gravity and concern. Then he took off his coat and boots, and having in this way settled himself into an easy dishabille, he took a box from the shelf, and proceeded to lay out thread and needles, when he was interrupted by a child's voice from behind the canvas screen. "Is that you, Gabe ?"



Oh, Gabe, I got tired and went to bed." "I see you did," said Gabriel dryly, picking up a needle and thread that had apparently been abandoned after a slight excursion into the neighborhood of a rent and left hopelessly sticking in the petticoat.

"Yes, Gabe; they're so awfully old!" "Old!" repeated Gabe reproachfully. "Old! Lettin' on a little wear and tear, they're as good as they ever were. That petticoat is stronger," said Gabriel, holding up the garment and eying the patches with a slight glow of artistic pride-" stronger, Olly, than the first day you put it on."

"But that's five years ago, Gabe." "Well," said Gabriel, turning round and addressing himself impatiently to the screen, "Wot if it is-"

[blocks in formation]

three fingers of the best sacking around the waist? You'll just ruin me in clothes."

Olly laughed from behind the screen. Finding, however, no response from the grim worker, presently there appeared a curly head at the flap, and then a slim little girl, in the scantiest of nightgowns, ran, and began to nestle at his side, and to endeavor to inwrap herself in his waistcoat.

"Oh, go 'way!" said Gabriel with a severe voice and the most shameless signs of relenting in his face. "Go away! What do you care? Here I might slave myself to death to dress you in silks and satins, and you'd dip into the first ditch or waltz through the first underbrush that you kem across. You haven't got no sabe in dress, Olly. It ain't ten days ago as I iron-bound and copper-fastened that dress, so to speak, and look at it now! Olly, look at it now!" And he held it up indignantly before the maiden,

Olly placed the top of her head against the breast of her brother as a point d'appui, and began to revolve around him, as if she wished to bore a way into his inmost feelings.

"Oh, you ain't mad, Gabe!" she said, leaping first over one knee and then over the other without lifting her head. "You ain't mad!"

Gabriel did not deign to reply, but continued mending the frayed petticoat in dignified silence.

"Who did you see down town?" said Olly, not at all rebuffed.

"No one," said Gabriel, shortly.

"You did! You smell of linnyments and peppermint," said Olly, with a positive shake of the head. "You've been to Briggs' and the new family up the gulch."

"Yes," said Gabriel, "that Mexican's legs. is better, but the baby's dead. Jest remind me, to-morrow, to look through mother's things for suthin' for that poor woman."


Gabe, do you know what Mrs. Markle says of you?" said Olly, suddenly raising her head.

"No," replied Gabriel, with an affectation of indifference that, like all his affectations, was a perfect failure.

"She says," said Olly, "that you want to be looked after yourself more'n all these people. She says you're just throwing yourself away on other folks. She says I ought to have a woman to look after me."

Gabriel stopped his work, laid down the petticoat, and taking the curly head of Olly. between his knees, with one hand beneath her chin and the other on top of her head,

turned her mischievous face toward his. "Olly, he said seriously, "when I got you outer the snow at Starvation Camp; when I toted you on my back for miles till we got into the valley; when we lay by thar for two weeks, and me a felling trees and picking up provisions here and thar, in the wood or the river, wharever thar was bird or fish, I reckon you got along as well-I won't say better-ez if you had a woman to look arter you. When at last we kem here to this camp, and I built this yer house, I don't think any woman could hev done better. If they could, I'm wrong, and Mrs. Markle's right."

Olly began to be uncomfortable. Then the quick instincts of her sex came to her relief, and she archly assumed the aggressive. "I think Mrs. Markle likes you, Gabe." Gabriel looked down at the little figure in alarm. There are some subjects whereof the youngest of womankind has an instinctive knowledge that makes the wisest of us tremble.

"Go to bed, Olly," said the cowardly Gabriel.

But Olly wanted to sit up, so she changed the subject.

"The Mexican you're tendin' isn't a Mexican, he's a Chileno; Mrs. Markle says so."


[ocr errors]

Maybe; it's all the same. I call him a Mexican. He talks too straight, anyway," said Gabriel, indifferently.

"Did he ask you any more questions about-about old times?" continued the girl.

"Yes; he wanted to know everything that happened in Starvation Camp. He was reg'larly took with poor Gracey; asked a heap o' questions about her-how she acted, and seemed to feel as bad as we did about never hearing anything from her. I never met a man, Olly, afore, as seemed to take such an interest in other folk's sorrers as he did. You'd have tho't he'd been one of the party. And he made me tell him all about Dr. Devarges."

"And Philip?" queried Olly.


"No," said Gabriel, somewhat curtly. Gabriel," said Olly suddenly, "I wish you didn't talk so to people about those days."

"Why?" asked Gabriel, wonderingly. "Because it ain't good to talk about. Gabriel, dear," she continued, with a slight quivering of the upper lip, "sometimes I think the people round yer look upon us sorter queer. That little boy that came

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

Hush," interrupted Gabriel, sternly, as an angry flush came into his sunburned cheek, "I'll jest bust that boy if I see him round yer agin."

"But, Gabriel," persisted Olly," nobody"— "Will you go to bed, Olly, and not catch your death yer on this cold floor asking ornery and perfectly ridickulus questions ? said Gabriel, briskly, lifting her to her feet. "Thet Markle girl ain't got no sense anyway -she's allers leading you round in ditches, ruinin' your best clothes, and keepin' me up half the night mendin' on 'em."

Thus admonished, Olly retreated behind the canvas screen, and Gabriel resumed his needle and thread. But the thread became entangled, and was often snappishly broken, and Gabriel sewed imaginary, vindictive stitches in the imaginary calves of an imaginary youthful emigrant until Olly's voice again broke the silence.

"O, Gabe!"

"Yes," said Gabriel, putting down his work despairingly.

"Do you think that Philip-ate Grace ?" Gabriel rose swiftly, and disappeared behind the screen. As he did so, the door softly opened, and a man stepped into the cabin. The new-comer cast a rapid glance around the dimly lighted room, and then remained motionless in the door-way. From behind the screen came the sound of voices. The stranger hesitated, and then uttered a slight cough.


In an instant Gabriel re-appeared. The look of angry concern at the intrusion turned to one of absolute stupefaction as he examined the stranger more attentively. new-comer smiled faintly, yet politely, and then, with a slight halt in his step, moved toward a chair, into which he dropped with a deprecating gesture.

"I shall sit-and you shall pardon me. You have surprise! You have surprise! Yes? Five, six hour ago you leave me very sick on a bed-where you are so kind-so good. Yes? Ah? You see me here now, and you say crazy! Mad!"

He raised his right hand with the fingers upward, twirled them to signify Gabriel's supposed idea of a whirling brain, and smiled again

"Listen. Comes to me an hour ago a message most important. Most necessary it is I go to-night-now, to Marysville. You see. Yes? I rise and dress myself. Ha! I have great strength for the effort. I am better. But I say to myself, 'Victor, you shall first pay your respects to the good Pike who have been so kind, so good. shall press the hand of the noble grand miner who have recover you.' Bueno, I am here!"


He extended a thin, nervous brown hand, and for the first time since his entrance concentrated his keen black eyes, which had roved over the apartment and taken in its minutest details, upon his host. Gabriel, lost in bewilderment, could only gasp:

"But you ain't well enough, you know. You can't walk yet. You'll kill yourself!" The stranger smiled.

"Yes?-you think-you think? Look now! Waits me, outside, the horse of the livery stable man. How many miles you think to the stage town? Fifteen." (He emphasized them with his five uplifted fingers.) "It is nothing. Two hour comes the stage and I am there. Ha!"

Even as he spoke, with a gesture, as if brushing away all difficulties, his keen eyes were resting upon a little shelf above the chimney, whereon stood an old-fashioned daguerreotype case open. He rose, and with a slight halting step and an expression of pain, limped across the room to the shelf, and took up the daguerreotype.


"What have we ?" he asked.

"It is Gracie," said Gabriel, brightening "Taken the day we started from St.


"How long?"

"Six years ago. She was fourteen then," said Gabriel, taking the case in his hand and brushing the glass fondly with his palm. "Thar warn't no puttier gal in all Missouri," he added, with fraternal pride, looking down upon the picture with moistened eyes. "Eh -what did you say?"

The stranger had uttered a few words hastily in a foreign tongue. But they were apparently complimentary, for when Gabriel looked up at him with an inquiring glance, he was smiling and saying, "Beautiful! Angelic! Very pretty!" with eyes still fixed upon the picture. "And it is like-ah, I see the brother's face, too," he said, gravely, comparing Gabriel's face with the picture. Gabriel looked pleased. Any nature less simple than his would have detected the polite fiction. In the square, honest face

[blocks in formation]

"It was nigh on a month afore I got back. When I did, the snow was gone, and there warn't no track or trace of anybody. Then I heer'd the story I told ye-thet a relief party had found 'em all dead-and thet among the dead was Grace. How that poor child ever got back thar alone (for thar warn't no trace or mention of the man she went away with) is what gets me. And that there's my trouble, Mr. Ramirez! To think of thet pooty darlin' climbing back to the old nest and findin' no one thar! To think of her comin' back, as she allowed, to Olly and me, and findin' all her own blood gone, is suthin thet, at times, drives me almost mad. She didn't die of starvation; she didn't die of cold. Her heart was broke, Mr. Ramirez; her little heart was broke!"

The stranger looked at him curiously, but did not speak. After a moment's pause, he lifted his bowed head from his hands, wiped his eyes with Olly's flannel petticoat, and

went on:

"For more than a year I tried to get sight o' that report. Then I tried to find the Mission or the Presidio that the relief party started from, and may be see some of that party. But then kem the gold excitement, and the Americans took possession of the Missions and Presidios, and when I got to San-San-San-"

"Geronimo," interrupted Ramirez, hastily. "Did I tell?" asked Gabriel, simply; "I disremember that."

Ramirez showed all his teeth in quick assent, and motioned him with his finger to go on.

"When I got to San Geronimo, there was nobody, and no records left. Then I put a notiss in the San Francisco paper for Philip Ashley-that was the man as helped her

[blocks in formation]


Anywhere," repeated Gabriel, smiling. "Adios," said the stranger, going to the door.

"Adios," repeated Gabriel. "Must you go to-night? What's your hurry? You're sure you feel better now?"

"Better?" answered Ramirez, with a singular smile. "Better! Look, I am so strong!"

He stretched out his arms, and expanded his chest, and walked erect to the door. "You have cured my rheumatism, friend Gabriel. Good-night."


The door closed behind him. In another moment he was in the saddle, and speeding so swiftly, that, in spite of mud and darkness, in two hours he had reached the mining town where the Wingdam and Sacramento stage-coach changed horses. next morning, while Olly and Gabriel were eating breakfast, Mr. Victor Ramirez stepped briskly from the stage that drew up at the Marysville Hotel and entered the hotel office. As the clerk looked up inquiringly, Mr. Ramirez handed him a card:

"Send that, if you please, to Miss Grace Conroy."



MR. RAMIREZ followed the porter upstairs and along a narrow passage until he reached a larger hall. Here the porter indicated that he should wait until he returned, and then disappeared down the darkened vista of another passage. Mr. Ramirez had ample time to observe the freshness of the boarded partitions and scant details of the interior of the International Hotel; he even had time to attempt to grapple the foreign mystery of the notice conspicuously on the wall, "Gentlemen are requested not to sleep on the stairs," before his companion re-appeared. Beckoning to Mr. Ramirez, with an air of surly suspicion, the porter led him along the darkened passage until he paused before a door at its further extremity, and knocked gently. Slight as was the knock, it had the mysterious effect of causing all the other doors along the passage to open, and a

There was the sound of light footsteps within, and the door opened. The porter lingered long enough to be able to decide upon the character and propriety of the greeting, and then sullenly retired. The door closed, and Mr. Ramirez found himself face to face with the occupant of the

[blocks in formation]

Ramirez's dark face grew darker. There was a long pause. Suddenly the lady lightened the shadow that seemed to have fallen upon their interview with both her teeth and eyes, and, pointing to a chair, said:

"Sit down, Victor, and tell me why you have returned so soon."

Victor sat sullenly down. The lady looked all deprecation and submissiveness, but said nothing.

Ramirez would, in his sullenness, have imitated her, but his natural impulsiveness was too strong, and he broke out:

"Look! From the book of the hotel it is better you should erase the name of Grace Conroy, and put down your own!" "And why, Victor?"

[blocks in formation]

"I have at last located the mine. I followed the deseno-the description of the spot and all its surroundings-which was in the paper that I-I-found. Good! It is true!-ah, you begin to be interested!-it is true, all true of the locality. See! Of the spot, I do not know. Of the mine, it has not yet been discovered!"

"It is called 'One Horse Gulch;' why? who knows? It is a rich mining camp. All around are valuable claims; but the mine on the top of the little hill is unknown, unclaimed! For why? You understand, it promises not as much as the other claims on the surface. It is the same—all as described here."

He took from his pocket an envelope, and drew out a folded paper (the paper given to Grace Conroy by Dr. Devarges), and pointed to the map.

"The description here leads me to the head waters of the American River. I follow the range of foot-hills, for I know every foot, every step, and I came one day last week to 'One Horse Gulch.' See, it is the gulch described here-all the same."

He held the paper before her, and her thin, long fingers closed like a bird's claw over its corners.

"It is necessary I should stay there four or five days to inquire. And yet how? I am a stranger, a foreigner; the miners have suspicion of all such, and to me they do not talk easily. But I hear of one Gabriel Conroy, a good man, very kind with the sick. Good! I have sickness-very sudden, very strong! My rheumatism takes me here." He pointed to his knee. "I am helpless as a child. I have to be taken care of at the house of Mr. Briggs. Comes to me here Gabriel Conroy, sits by me, talks to me, tells me everything. He brings to me his little sister. I go to his cabin on the hill. I see the picture of his sister. Good. You understand? It is all over!"


"Eh? She asks why, this woman," said Victor, appealing to the ceiling. "Is it more you ask? Then listen: The house of Gabriel Conroy is upon the land, the very land, you understand? of the grant made by the Governor to Dr. Devarges. He is this Gabriel, look! he is in possession!"

"How? Does he know of the mine ?" "No! It is accident-what you call Fate!"

She walked to the window, and stood for a few moments looking out upon the falling rain. The face that looked out was so old,

so haggard, so hard and set in its outlines, that one of the loungers on the sidewalk, glancing at the window to catch a glimpse of the pretty French stranger, did not recognize her. Possibly the incident recalled her

to herself, for she presently turned with a smile of ineffable sweetness, and, returning to the side of Ramirez, said, in the gentlest of voices :

"Then you abandon me?"

Victor did not dare to meet her eyes. He looked straight before him, shrugged his shoulders, and said:

"It is Fate!"

She clasped her thin fingers lightly before her, and, standing in front of her companion, so as to be level with his eyes, said: "You have a good memory, Victor." He did not reply.

"Let me assist it. It is a year ago that I received a letter in Berlin, signed by a Mr. Peter Dumphy, of San Francisco, saying that he was in possession of important papers regarding property of my late husband, Dr. Paul Devarges, and asking me to communicate with him. I did not answer his letter; I came. It is not my way to deliberate or hesitate-perhaps a wise man would. I am only a poor, weak woman, so I came. know it was all wrong. You, sharp, bold, cautious men would have written first. Well, I came!"


Victor winced slightly, but did not speak. "I saw Mr. Dumphy in San Francisco. He showed me some papers that he said he had found in a place of deposit, which Dr. Devarges had evidently wished preserved. One was a record of a Spanish grant, others indicated some valuable discoveries. He referred me to the Mission and Presidio of San Ysabel that had sent out the relief party for further information. He was a trader-a mere man of business-it was a question of money with him; he agreed to assist me for a percentage! Is it not so?"

Victor raised his dark eyes to hers and nodded.

"I came to the Mission. I saw you the Secretary of the former Comandante-the only one left who remembered the expedition, and the custodian of the Presidio records. You showed me the only copy of the report; you, too, would have been cold and business-like, until I told you my story. You seemed interested. You told me about the young girl, this mysterious Grace Conroy, whose name appeared among the dead, who, you said you thought, was an impostor! Did you not?"

« AnkstesnisTęsti »