A Phyllis of the Sierras
IT WAS a little after daybreak next morning that Mainwaring awoke from the first unrefreshing night he had passed at The Lookout. He was so feverish and restless that he dressed himself at sunrise, and cautiously stepped out upon the still silent veranda. The chairs which he and Louise Macy had occupied were still, it seemed to him, conspicuously confidential with each other, and he separated them, but as he looked down into the Great Canyon at his feet he was conscious of some undefinable change in the prospect. A slight mist was rising from the valley, as if it were the last of last night’s illusions; the first level sunbeams were obtrusively searching, and the keen morning air had a dryly practical insistence which irritated him, until a light footstep on the farther end of the veranda caused him to turn sharply.
It was the singular apparition of a small boy, bearing a surprising resemblance to Minty Sharpe, and dressed in an unique fashion. On a tumbled sea of blond curls a “chip” sailor hat, with a broad red ribbon, rode jauntily. But here the nautical suggestion changed, as had the desire of becoming a pirate which induced it. A red shirt, with a white collar, and a yellow plaid ribbon tie, that also recalled Minty Sharpe, lightly turned the suggestion of his costume to mining. Short black velvet trousers, coming to his knee, and ostentatiously new short-legged boots, with visible straps like curling ears, completed the entirely original character of his lower limbs.
Mainwaring, always easily gentle and familiar with children and his inferiors, looked at him with an encouraging smile. Richelieu—for it was he—advanced gravely and held out his hand, with the cameo ring apparent. Mainwaring, with equal gravity, shook it warmly, and removed his hat. Richelieu, keenly observant, did the same.
“Is Jim Bradley out yet?” asked Richelieu, carelessly.
“No; I think not. But I’m Frank Mainwaring. Will I do?”
Richelieu smiled. The dimples, the white teeth, the dark, laughing eyes, were surely Minty’s?
“I’m Richelieu,” he rejoined with equal candor.
“Yes. That Frenchman—the Lord Cardinal—you know. Mar saw Forrest do him out in St. Louis.”
“Yes, in the theayter.”
With a confused misconception of his meaning, Mainwaring tried to recall the historical dress of the great Cardinal and fit it to the masquerader—if such he were—before him. But Richelieu relieved him by adding,—
“Oh, that’s your name!” said Mainwaring, cheerfully. “Then you’re Miss Minty’s brother. I know her. How jolly lucky!”
They both shook hands again. Richelieu, eager to get rid of the burden of his sister’s message, which he felt was in the way of free-and-easy intercourse with this charming stranger, looked uneasily towards the house.
“I say,” said Mainwaring, “if you’re in a hurry, you’d better go in there and knock. I hear some one stirring in the kitchen.”
Richelieu nodded, but first went back to the steps of the veranda, picked up a small blue knotted handkerchief, apparently containing some heavy objects, and repassed Mainwaring.
“What! have you cut it, Richelieu, with your valuables? What have you got there?”
“Specimins,” said Richelieu, shortly, and vanished.
He returned presently. “Well, Cardinal, did you see anybody?” asked Mainwaring.
“Mrs. Bradley; but Jim’s over to the mill. I’m goin’ there.”
“Did you see Miss Macy?” continued Mainwaring, carelessly.
“No. She’s philanderin’ with Captain Greyson.”
“Philandering with Greyson?” echoed Mainwaring, in wonder.
“Yes; on horseback on the ridge.”
“You mean she’s riding out with Mr.—with Captain Greyson?”
“Yes; ridin’ and philanderin’,” persisted Richelieu.
“And what do you call philandering?”
“Well; I reckon you and she oughter know,” returned Richelieu, with a precocious air.
“Certainly,” said Mainwaring, with a faint smile. Richelieu really was like Minty.
There was a long silence. This young Englishman was becoming exceedingly uninteresting. Richelieu felt that he was gaining neither profit nor amusement, and losing time. “I’m going,” he said.
“Good morning,” said Mainwaring, without looking up.
Richelieu picked up his specimens, thoroughly convinced of the stranger’s glittering deceitfulness, and vanished.
It was nearly eight o’clock when Mrs. Bradley came from the house. She apologized, with a slightly distrait smile, for the tardiness of the household. “Mr. Bradley stayed at the mill all night, and will not be here until breakfast, when he brings your friend Mr. Richardson with him”—Mainwaring scarcely repressed a movement of impatience— “who arrives early. It’s unfortunate that Miss Sharpe can’t come to-day.”
In his abstraction Mainwaring did not notice that Mrs. Bradley slightly accented Minty’s formal appellation, and said carelessly,—
“Oh, that’s why her brother came over here so early!”
“Did you see him?” asked Mrs. Bradley, almost abruptly.
“Yes. He is an amusing little beggar; but I think he shares his sister’s preference for Mr. Bradley. He deserted me here in the veranda for him at the mill.”
“Louise will keep you company as soon as she has changed her dress,” continued Mrs. Bradley. “She was out riding early this morning with a friend. She’s very fond of early morning rides.”
“And philandering,” repeated Mainwaring to himself. It was quite natural for Miss Macy to ride out in the morning, after the fashion of the country, with an escort; but why had the cub insisted on the “philandering”? He had said, “And philandering,” distinctly. It was a nasty thing for him to say. Any other fellow but he, Mainwaring, might misunderstand the whole thing. Perhaps he ought to warn her—but no! he could not repeat the gossip of a child, and that child the brother of one of her inferiors. But was Minty an inferior? Did she and Minty talk together about this fellow Greyson? At all events, it would only revive the awkwardness of the preceding day, and he resolved to say nothing.
He was rewarded by a half-inquiring, half-confiding look in Louise’s bright eyes, when she presently greeted him on the veranda. “She had quite forgotten,” she said, “to tell him last night of her morning’s engagement; indeed, she had half forgotten it. It used to be a favorite practice of hers, with Captain Greyson; but she had lately given it up. She believed she had not ridden since—since—”
“Since when?” asked Mainwaring.
“Well, since you were ill,” she said frankly.
A quick pleasure shone in Mainwaring’s cheek and eye; but Louise’s pretty lids did not drop, nor her faint, quiet bloom deepen. Breakfast was already waiting when Mr. Richardson arrived alone.
He explained that Mr. Bradley had some important and unexpected business which had delayed him, but which, he added, “Mr. Bradley says may prove interesting enough to you to excuse his absence this morning.” Mainwaring was not displeased that his critical and observant host was not present at their meeting. Louise Macy was, however, as demurely conscious of the different bearing of the two compatriots. Richardson’s somewhat self-important patronage of the two ladies, and that Californian familiarity he had acquired, changed to a certain uneasy deference towards Mainwaring; while the younger Englishman’s slightly stiff and deliberate cordiality was, nevertheless, mingled with a mysterious understanding that appeared innate and unconscious. Louise was quick to see that these two men, more widely divergent in quality than any two of her own countrymen, were yet more subtly connected by some unknown sympathy than the most equal of Americans. Minty’s prophetic belief of the effect of the two women upon Richardson was certainly true as regarded Mrs. Bradley. The banker—a large material nature—was quickly fascinated by the demure, puritanic graces of that lady, and was inclined to exhibit a somewhat broad and ostentatious gallantry that annoyed Mainwaring. When they were seated alone on the veranda, which the ladies had discreetly left to them, Richardson said,—
“Odd I didn’t hear of Bradley’s wife before. She seems a spicy, pretty, comfortable creature. Regularly thrown away with him up here.”
Mainwaring replied coldly that she was “an admirable helpmeet of a very admirable man,” not, however, without an uneasy recollection of her previous confidences respecting her husband. “They have been most thoroughly good and kind to me; my own brother and sister could not have done more. And certainly not with better taste or delicacy,” he added, markedly.
“Certainly, certainly,” said Richardson, hurriedly. “I wrote to Lady Mainwaring that you were taken capital care of by some very honest people; and that—”
“Lady Mainwaring already knows what I think of them, and what she owes to their kindness,” said Mainwaring, dryly.
“True, true,” said Richardson, apologetically. “Of course you must have seen a good deal of them. I only know Bradley in a business way. He’s been trying to get the Bank to help him to put up some new mills here; but we didn’t see it. I dare say he is good company—rather amusing, eh?”
Mainwaring had the gift of his class of snubbing by the polite and forgiving oblivion of silence. Richardson shifted uneasily in his chair, but continued with assumed carelessness:—
“No; I only knew of this cousin, Miss Macy. I heard of her when she was visiting some friends in Menlo Park last year. Rather an attractive girl. They say Colonel Johnson, of Sacramento, took quite a fancy to her—it would have been a good match, I dare say, for he is very rich—but the thing fell through in some way. Then, they say, she wanted to marry that Spaniard, young Pico, of the Amador Ranche; but his family wouldn’t hear of it. Somehow, she’s deuced unlucky. I suppose she’ll make a mess of it with Captain Greyson she was out riding with this morning.”
“Didn’t the Bank think Bradley’s mills a good investment?” asked Mainwaring quietly, when Richardson paused.
“Not with him in it; he is not a business man, you know.”
“I thought he was. He seems to me an energetic man, who knows his work, and is not afraid to look after it himself.”
“That’s just it. He has got absurd ideas of co-operating with his workmen, you know, and doing everything slowly and on a limited scale. The only thing to be done is to buy up all the land on this ridge, run off the settlers, freeze out all the other mills, and put it into a big San Francisco company on shares. That’s the only way we would look at it.”
“But you don’t consider the investment bad, even from his point of view?”
“And you only decline it because it isn’t big enough for the Bank?”
“Richardson,” said Mainwaring, slowly rising, putting his hands in his trousers pockets, and suddenly looking down upon the banker from the easy level of habitual superiority, “I wish you’d attend to this thing for me. I desire to make some return to Mr. Bradley for his kindness. I wish to give him what help he wants—in his own way—you understand. I wish it, and I believe my father wishes it, too. If you’d like him to write to you to that effect—”
“By no means, it’s not at all necessary,” said Richardson, dropping with equal suddenness into his old-world obsequiousness. “I shall certainly do as you wish. It is not a bad investment, Mr. Mainwaring, and as you suggest, a very proper return for their kindness. And, being here, it will come quite naturally for me to take up the affair again.”
“And—I say, Richardson.”
“As these ladies are rather short-handed in their domestic service, you know, perhaps you’d better not stay to luncheon or dinner, but go on to the Summit House—it’s only a mile or two farther—and come back here this evening. I shan’t want you until then.”
“Certainly!” stammered Richardson. “I’ll just take leave of the ladies!”
“It’s not at all necessary,” said Mainwaring, quietly; “you would only disturb them in their household duties. I’ll tell them what I’ve done with you, if they ask. You’ll find your stick and hat in the passage, and you can leave the veranda by these steps. By the way, you had better manage at the Summit to get some one to bring my traps from here to be forwarded to Sacramento to-morrow. I’ll want a conveyance, or a horse of some kind, myself, for I’ve given up walking for a while; but we can settle about that to-night. Come early. Good morning?”
He accompanied his thoroughly subjugated countryman—who, however, far from attempting to reassert himself, actually seemed easier and more cheerful in his submission—to the end of the veranda, and watched him depart. As he turned back, he saw the pretty figure of Louise Macy leaning against the doorway. How graceful and refined she looked in that simple morning dress! What wonder that she was admired by Greyson, by Johnson, and by that Spaniard!—no, by Jove, it was she that wanted to marry him!
“What have you sent away Mr. Richardson for?” asked the young girl, with a half-reproachful, half-mischievous look in her bright eyes.
“I packed him off because I thought it was a little too hard on you and Mrs. Bradley to entertain him without help.”
“But as he was our guest, you might have left that to us,” said Miss Macy.
“By Jove! I never thought of that,” said Mainwaring, coloring in consternation. “Pray forgive me, Miss Macy—but you see I knew the man, and could say it, and you couldn’t.”
“Well, I forgive you, for you look really so cut up,” said Louise, laughing. “But I don’t know what Jenny will say of your disposing of her conquest so summarily.” She stopped and regarded him more attentively. “Has he brought you any bad news? if so, it’s a pity you didn’t send him away before. He’s quite spoiling our cure.”
Mainwaring thought bitterly that he had. “But it’s a cure for all that, Miss Macy,” he said, with an attempt at cheerfulness, “and being a cure, you see, there’s no longer an excuse for my staying here. I have been making arrangements for leaving here to-morrow.”
“Do you think it soon, Miss Macy?” asked Mainwaring, turning pale in spite of himself.
“I quite forgot—that you were here as an invalid only, and that we owe our pleasure to the accident of your pain.”
She spoke a little artificially, he thought, yet her cheeks had not lost their pink bloom, nor her eyes their tranquillity. Had he heard Minty’s criticism he might have believed that the organic omission noticed by her was a fact.
“And now that your good work as Sister of Charity is completed, you’ll be able to enter the world of gayety again with a clear conscience,” said Mainwaring, with a smile that he inwardly felt was a miserable failure. “You’ll be able to resume your morning rides, you know, which the wretched invalid interrupted.”
Louise raised her clear eyes to his, without reproach, indignation, or even wonder. He felt as if he had attempted an insult and failed.
“Does my cousin know you are going so soon?” she asked finally.
“No, I did not know myself until to-day. You see,” he added hastily, while his honest blood blazoned the lie in his cheek, “I’ve heard of some miserable business affairs that will bring me back to England sooner that I expected.”
“I think you should consider your health more important than any mere business,” said Louise. “I don’t mean that you should remain here,” she added with a hasty laugh, “but it would be a pity, now that you have reaped the benefit of rest and taking care of yourself, that you should not make it your only business to seek it elsewhere.”
Mainwaring longed to say that within the last half hour, living or dying had become of little moment to him; but he doubted the truth or efficacy of this timeworn heroic of passion. He felt, too, that anything he said was a mere subterfuge for the real reason of his sudden departure. And how was he to question her as to that reason? In escaping from these subterfuges—he was compelled to lie again. With an assumption of changing the subject, he said calmly, “Richardson thought he had met you before—in Menlo Park, I think.”
Amazed at the evident irrelevance of the remark, Louise said coldly, that she did not remember having seen him before.
“I think it was at a Mr. Johnson’s—or with a Mr. Johnson—or perhaps at one of those Spanish ranches—I think he mentioned some name like Pico!”
Louise looked at him wonderingly for an instant, and then gave way to a frank, irrepressible laugh, which lent her delicate but rather set little face all the color he had missed. Partially relieved by her unconcern, and yet mortified that he had only provoked her sense of the ludicrous, he tried to laugh also.
“Then, to be quite plain,” said Louise, wiping her now humid eyes, “you want me to understand that you really didn’t pay sufficient attention to hear correctly! Thank you; that’s a pretty English compliment, I suppose.”
“I dare say you wouldn’t call it ‘philandering’?”
“I certainly shouldn’t, for I don’t know what ‘philandering’ means.”
Mainwaring could not reply, with Richelieu, “You ought to know”; nor did he dare explain what he thought it meant, and how he knew it. Louise, however, innocently solved the difficulty.
“There’s a country song I’ve heard Minty sing,” she said. “It runs—
‘Come, Philander, let us be a-marchin’,
Have you been listening to her also?”
“No,” said Mainwaring, with a sudden incomprehensible, but utterly irrepressible, resolution; “but I’m ’a-marchin’,’ you know, and perhaps I must ‘choose my true love now or never.’ Will you help me, Miss Macy?”
He drew gently near her. He had become quite white, but also very manly, and it struck her, more deeply, thoroughly, and conscientiously sincere than any man who had before addressed her. She moved slightly away, as if to rest herself by laying both hands upon the back of the chair.
“Where do you expect to begin your ‘sarchin’’?” she said, leaning on the chair and tilting it before her; “or are you as vague as usual as to locality? Is it at some ‘Mr. Johnson’ or ‘Mr. Pico,’ or—”
“Here,” he interrupted boldly.
“I really think you ought to first tell my cousin that you are going away to-morrow,” she said, with a faint smile. “It’s such short notice. She’s just in there.” She nodded her pretty head, without raising her eyes, towards the hall.
“But it may not be so soon,” said Mainwaring.
“Oh, then the ‘sarchin’’ is not so important?” said Louise, raising her head, and looking towards the hall with some uneasy but indefinable feminine instinct.
She was right; the sitting-room door opened, and Mrs. Bradley made her smiling appearance.
“Mr. Mainwaring was just looking for you,” said Louise, for the first time raising her eyes to him. “He’s not only sent off Mr. Richardson, but he’s going away himself to-morrow.”
Mrs. Bradley looked from the one to the other in mute wonder. Mainwaring cast an imploring glance at Louise, which had the desired effect. Much more seriously, and in a quaint, business-like way, the young girl took it upon herself to explain to Mrs. Bradley that Richardson had brought the invalid some important news that would, unfortunately, not only shorten his stay in America, but even compel him to leave The Lookout sooner than he expected, perhaps to-morrow. Mainwaring thanked her with his eyes, and then turned to Mrs. Bradley.
“Whether I go to-morrow or next day,” he said with simple and earnest directness, “I intend, you know, to see you soon again, either here or in my own home in England. I do not know,” he added with marked gravity, “that I have succeeded in convincing you that I have made your family already well known to my people, and that”—he fixed his eyes with a meaning look on Louise— “no matter when, or in what way, you come to them, your place is made ready for you. You may not like them, you know: the governor is getting to be an old man—perhaps too old for young Americans—but they will like you, and you must put up with that. My mother and sisters know Miss Macy as well as I do, and will make her one of the family.”
The conscientious earnestness with which these apparent conventionalities were uttered, and some occult quality of quiet conviction in the young man’s manner, brought a pleasant sparkle to the eyes of Mrs. Bradley and Louise.
“But,” said Mrs. Bradley, gayly, “our going to England is quite beyond our present wildest dreams; nothing but a windfall, an unexpected rise in timber, or even the tabooed hotel speculation, could make it possible.”
“But I shall take the liberty of trying to present it to Mr. Bradley tonight in some practical way that may convince even his critical judgment,” said Mainwaring, still seriously. “It will be,” he added more lightly, “the famous testimonial of my cure which I promised you.”
“And you will find Mr. Bradley so sceptical that you will be obliged to defer your going,” said Mrs. Bradley, triumphantly. “Come, Louise, we must not forget that we have still Mr. Mainwaring’s present comfort to look after; that Minty has basely deserted us, and that we ourselves must see that the last days of our guest beneath our roof are not remembered for their privation.”
She led Louise away with a half-mischievous suggestion of maternal propriety, and left Mainwaring once more alone on the veranda.
He had done it! Certainly she must have understood his meaning, and there was nothing left for him to do but to acquaint Bradley with his intentions to-night, and press her for a final answer in the morning. There would be no indelicacy then in asking her for an interview more free from interruption than this public veranda. Without conceit, he did not doubt what the answer would be. His indecision, his sudden resolution to leave her, had been all based upon the uncertainty of his own feelings, the propriety of his declaration, the possibility of some previous experience of hers that might compromise him. Convinced by her unembarrassed manner of her innocence, or rather satisfied of her indifference to Richardson’s gossip, he had been hurried by his feelings into an unexpected avowal. Brought up in the perfect security of his own social position, and familiarly conscious—without vanity—of its importance and power in such a situation, he believed, without undervaluing Louise’s charms or independence, that he had no one else than himself to consult. Even the slight uneasiness that still pursued him was more due to his habitual conscientiousness of his own intention than to any fear that she would not fully respond to it. Indeed, with his conservative ideas of proper feminine self-restraint, Louise’s calm passivity and undemonstrative attitude were a proof of her superiority; had she blushed overmuch, cried, or thrown herself into his arms, he would have doubted the wisdom of so easy a selection. It was true he had known her scarcely three weeks; if he chose to be content with that, his own accessible record of three centuries should be sufficient for her, and condone any irregularity.
Nevertheless, as an hour slipped away and Louise did not make her appearance, either on the veranda or in the little sitting-room off the hall, Mainwaring became more uneasy as to the incompleteness of their interview. Perhaps a faint suspicion of the inadequacy of her response began to trouble him; but he still fatuously regarded it rather as owing to his own hurried and unfinished declaration. It was true that he hadn’t said half what he intended to say; it was true that she might have misunderstood it as the conventional gallantry of the situation, as—terrible thought!—the light banter of the habitual love-making American, to which she had been accustomed; perhaps even now she relegated him to the level of Greyson, and this accounted for her singular impassiveness—an impassiveness that certainly was singular now he reflected upon it—that might have been even contempt. The last thought pricked his deep conscientiousness; he walked hurriedly up and down the veranda, and then, suddenly re-entering his room, took up a sheet of note-paper, and began to write to her:—
“Can you grant me a few moments’ interview alone? I cannot bear you should think that what I was trying to tell you when we were interrupted was prompted by anything but the deepest sincerity and conviction, or that I am willing it should be passed over lightly by you or be forgotten. Pray give me a chance of proving it, by saying you will see me.
But how should he convey this to her? His delicacy revolted against handing it to her behind Mrs. Bradley’s back, or the prestidigitation of slipping it into her lap or under her plate before them at luncheon; he thought for an instant of the Chinaman, but gentlemen—except in that “mirror of nature” the stage—usually hesitate to suborn other people’s servants, or entrust a woman’s secret to her inferiors. He remembered that Louise’s room was at the farther end of the house, and its low window gave upon the veranda, and was guarded at night by a film of white and blue curtains that were parted during the day, to allow a triangular revelation of a pale blue and white draped interior. Mainwaring reflected that the low inside window ledge was easily accessible from the veranda, would afford a capital lodgment for the note, and be quickly seen by the fair occupant of the room on entering. He sauntered slowly past the window; the room was empty, the moment propitious. A slight breeze was stirring the blue ribbons of the curtain; it would be necessary to secure the note with something; he returned along the veranda to the steps, where he had noticed a small irregular stone lying, which had evidently escaped from Richelieu’s bag of treasure specimens, and had been overlooked by that ingenuous child. It was of a pretty peacock-blue color, and, besides securing a paper, would be sure to attract her attention. He placed his note on the inside ledge, and the blue stone atop, and went away with a sense of relief.
Another half hour passed without incident. He could hear the voices of the two women in the kitchen and dining-room. After a while they appeared to cease, and he heard the sound of an opening door. It then occurred to him that the veranda was still too exposed for a confidential interview, and he resolved to descend the steps, pass before the windows of the kitchen where Louise might see him, and penetrate the shrubbery, where she might be induced to follow him. They would not be interrupted nor overheard there.
But he had barely left the veranda before the figure of Richelieu, who had been patiently waiting for Mainwaring’s disappearance, emerged stealthily from the shrubbery. He had discovered his loss on handing his “fire assays” to the good-humored Bradley for later examination, and he had retraced his way, step by step, looking everywhere for his missing stone with the unbounded hopefulness, lazy persistency, and lofty disregard for time and occupation known only to the genuine boy. He remembered to have placed his knotted bag upon the veranda, and, slipping off his stiff boots slowly and softly, slid along against the wall of the house, looking carefully on the floor, and yet preserving a studied negligence of demeanor, with one hand in his pocket, and his small mouth contracted into a singularly soothing and almost voiceless whistle—Richelieu’s own peculiar accomplishment. But no stone appeared. Like most of his genus he was superstitious, and repeated to himself the cabalistic formula: “Losin’s seekin’s, findin’s keepin’s”—presumed to be of great efficacy in such cases—with religious fervor. He had laboriously reached the end of the veranda when he noticed the open window of Louise’s room, and stopped as a perfunctory duty to look in. And then Richelieu Sharpe stood for an instant utterly confounded and aghast at this crowning proof of the absolute infamy and sickening enormity of Man.
There was his stone—his, Richelieu’s, own specimen, carefully gathered by himself and none other—and now stolen, abstracted, “skyugled,” “smouged,” “hooked” by this “rotten, skunkified, long-legged, splay-footed, hoss-laughin’, nigger-toothed, or’nary despot” And, worse than all, actually made to do infamous duty as a “love token”—a “candy-gift!”—a “philanderin’ box” to his, Richelieu’s, girl—for Louise belonged to that innocent and vague outside seraglio of Richelieu’s boyish dreams—and put atop of a letter to her! and Providence permitted such an outrage! “Wot was he, Richelieu, sent to school for, and organized wickedness in the shape of gorilla Injins like this allowed to ride high horses rampant over Californey!” He looked at the heavens in mute appeal. And then—Providence not immediately interfering—he thrust his own small arm into the window, regained his priceless treasure, and fled swiftly.
A fateful silence ensued. The wind slightly moved the curtain outward, as if in a playful attempt to follow him, and then subsided. A moment later, apparently re-enforced by other winds, or sympathizing with Richelieu, it lightly lifted the unlucky missive and cast it softly from the window. But here another wind, lying in wait, caught it cleverly, and tossed it, in a long curve, into the abyss. For an instant it seemed to float lazily, as on the mirrored surface of a lake, until, turning upon its side, it suddenly darted into utter oblivion.
When Mainwaring returned from the shrubbery, he went softly to the window. The disappearance of the letter and stone satisfied him of the success of his stratagem, and for the space of three hours relieved his anxiety. But at the end of that time, finding no response from Louise, his former uneasiness returned. Was she offended, or—the first doubt of her acceptance of him crossed his mind!
A sudden and inexplicable sense of shame came upon him. At the same moment, he heard his name called from the steps, turned—and beheld Minty.
Her dark eyes were shining with a pleasant light, and her lips parted on her white teeth with a frank, happy smile. She advanced and held out her hand. He took it with a mingling of disappointment and embarrassment.
“You’re wondering why I kem on here, arter I sent word this morning that I kelkilated not to come. Well, ’twixt then and now suthin’ ’s happened. We’ve had fine doin’s over at our house, you bet! Pop don’t know which end he’s standin’ on; and I reckon that for about ten minutes I didn’t know my own name. But ez soon ez I got fairly hold o’ the hull thing, and had it put straight in my mind, I sez to myself, Minty Sharpe, sez I, the first thing for you to do now, is to put on yer bonnet and shawl, and trapse over to Jim Bradley’s and help them two womenfolks get dinner for themselves and that sick stranger. And,” continued Minty, throwing herself into a chair and fanning her glowing face with her apron, “yer I am!”
“But you have not told me what has happened,” said Mainwaring, with a constrained smile, and an uneasy glance towards the house.
“That’s so,” said Minty, with a brilliant laugh. “I clean forgot the hull gist of the thing. Well, we’re rich folks now—over thar’ on Barren Ledge! That onery brother of mine, Richelieu, hez taken some of his specimens over to Jim Bradley to be tested. And Bradley, just to please that child, takes ’em; and not an hour ago Bradley comes running, likety switch, over to Pop to tell him to put up his notices, for the hull of that ledge where the forge stands is a mine o’ silver and copper. Afore ye knew it, Lordy! half the folks outer the Summit and the mill was scattered down thar all over it. Richardson—that stranger ez knows you—kem thar too with Jim, and he allows, ef Bradley’s essay is right, it’s worth more than a hundred thousand dollars ez it stands!”
“I suppose I must congratulate you, Miss Sharpe,” said Mainwaring with an attempt at interest, but his attention still preoccupied with the open doorway.
“Oh, they know all about it!” said Minty, following the direction of his abstracted eyes with a slight darkening of her own, “I jest kem out o’ the kitchen the other way, and Jim sent ’em a note; but I allowed I’d tell you myself. Specially ez you are going away to-morrow.”
“Who said I was going away to-morrow?” asked Mainwaring, uneasily.
“Ah—she did? But I may change my mind, you know!” he continued, with a faint smile.
Minty shook her curls decisively. “I reckon she knows,” she said dryly, “she’s got law and gospel for wot she says. But yer she comes. Ask her! Look yer, Loo,” she added, as the two women appeared at the doorway, with a certain exaggeration of congratulatory manner that struck Mainwaring as being as artificial and disturbed as his own, “didn’t Sir Francis yer say he was going to-morrow?”
“That’s what I understood!” returned Louise, with cold astonishment, letting her clear indifferent eyes fall upon Mainwaring. “I do not know that he has changed his mind.”
“Unless, as Miss Sharpe is a great capitalist now, she is willing to use her powers of persuasion,” added Mrs. Bradley, with a slight acidulous pointing of her usual prim playfulness.
“I reckon Minty Sharpe’s the same ez she allus wos, unless more so,” returned Minty, with an honest egotism that carried so much conviction to the hearer as to condone its vanity. “But I kem yer to do a day’s work, gals, and I allow to pitch in and do it, and not sit yer swoppin’ compliments and keeping him from packin’ his duds. Onless,” she stopped, and looked around at the uneasy, unsympathetic circle with a faint tremulousness of lip that belied the brave black eyes above it, “onless I’m in yer way.”
The two women sprang forward with a feminine bewildering excess of protestation; and Mainwaring, suddenly pierced through his outer selfish embarrassment to his more honest depths, stammered quickly—
“Look here, Miss Sharpe, if you think of running away again, after having come all the way here to make us share the knowledge of your good fortune and your better heart, by Jove! I’ll go back with you.”
But here the two women effusively hurried her away from the dangerous proximity of such sympathetic honesty, and a moment later Mainwaring heard her laughing voice, as of old, ringing in the kitchen. And then, as if unconsciously responding to the significant common sense that lay in her last allusion to him, he went to his room and grimly began his packing.
He did not again see Louise alone. At their informal luncheon the conversation turned upon the more absorbing topic of the Sharpes’ discovery, its extent, and its probable effect upon the fortunes of the locality. He noticed, abstractedly, that both Mrs. Bradley and her cousin showed a real or assumed scepticism of its value. This did not disturb him greatly, except for its intended check upon Minty’s enthusiasm. He was more conscious, perhaps,—with a faint touch of mortified vanity,—that his own contemplated departure was of lesser importance than this local excitement. Yet in his growing conviction that all was over—if, indeed, it had ever begun—between himself and Louise, he was grateful to this natural diversion of incident which spared them both an interval of embarrassing commonplaces. And, with the suspicion of some indefinable insincerity—either of his own or Louise’s—haunting him, Minty’s frank heartiness and outspoken loyalty gave him a strange relief. It seemed to him as if the clear cool breath of the forest had entered with her homely garments, and the steadfast truth of Nature were incarnate in her shining eyes. How far this poetic fancy would have been consistent or even coexistent with any gleam of tenderness or self-forgetfulness in Louise’s equally pretty orbs, I leave the satirical feminine reader to determine.
It was late when Bradley at last returned, bringing further and more complete corroboration of the truth of Sharpe’s good fortune. Two experts had arrived, one from Pine Flat and another from the Summit, and upon this statement Richardson had offered to purchase an interest in the discovery that would at once enable the blacksmith to develop his mine. “I shouldn’t wonder, Mainwaring,” he added cheerfully, “if he’d put you into it, too, and make your eternal fortune.”
“With larks falling from the skies all round you, it’s a pity you couldn’t get put into something,” said Mrs. Bradley, straightening her pretty brows.
“I’m not a gold-miner, my dear,” said Bradley, pleasantly.
“Nor a gold-finder,” returned his wife, with a cruel little depression of her pink nostrils, “but you can work all night in that stupid mill and then,” she added in a low voice, to escape Minty’s attention, “spend the whole of the next day examining and following up a boy’s discovery that his own relations had been too lazy and too ignorant to understand and profit by. I suppose that next you will be hunting up a site on the other side of the Canyon, where somebody else can put up a hotel and ruin your own prospects.”
A sensitive shadow of pain quickly dimmed Bradley’s glance—not the first or last time evidently, for it was gradually bringing out a background of sadness in his intelligent eyes. But the next moment he turned kindly to Mainwaring, and began to deplore the necessity of his early departure, which Richardson had already made known to him with practical and satisfying reasons.
“I hope you won’t forget, my dear fellow, that your most really urgent business is to look after your health; and if, hereafter, you’ll only remember the old Lookout enough to impress that fact upon you, I shall feel that any poor service I have rendered you has been amply repaid.”
Mainwaring, notwithstanding that he winced slightly at this fateful echo of Louise’s advice, returned the grasp of his friend’s hand with an honest pressure equal to his own. He longed now only for the coming of Richardson, to complete his scheme of grateful benefaction to his host.
The banker came fortunately as the conversation began to flag; and Mrs. Bradley’s half-coquettish ill-humor of a pretty woman, and Louise’s abstracted indifference, were becoming so noticeable as to even impress Minty into a thoughtful taciturnity. The graciousness of his reception by Mrs. Bradley somewhat restored his former ostentatious gallantry, and his self-satisfied, domineering manner had enough masculine power in it to favorably affect the three women, who, it must be confessed, were a little bored by the finer abstractions of Bradley and Mainwaring. After a few moments, Mainwaring rose and, with a significant glance at Richardson to remind him of his proposed conference with Bradley, turned to leave the room. He was obliged to pass Louise, who was sitting by the table. His attention was suddenly arrested by something in her hand with which she was listlessly playing. It was the stone which he had put on his letter to her.
As he had not been present when Bradley arrived, he did not know that this fateful object had been brought home by his host, who, after receiving it from Richelieu, had put it in his pocket to illustrate his story of the discovery. On the contrary, it seemed that Louise’s careless exposure of his foolish stratagem was gratuitously and purposely cruel. Nevertheless, he stopped and looked at her.
“That’s a queer stone you have there,” he said, in a tone which she recognized as coldly and ostentatiously civil.
“Yes,” she replied, without looking up; “it’s the outcrop of that mine.” She handed it to him as if to obviate any further remark. “I thought you had seen it before.”
“The outcrop,” he repeated dryly. “That is—it—it—it is the indication or sign of something important that’s below it—isn’t it?”
Louise shrugged her shoulders sceptically. “It don’t follow. It’s just as likely to cover rubbish, after you’ve taken the trouble to look.”
“Thanks,” he said, with measured gentleness, and passed quietly out of the room.
The moon had already risen when Bradley, with his brierwood pipe, preceded Richardson upon the veranda. The latter threw his large frame into Louise’s rocking-chair near the edge of the abyss; Bradley, with his own chair tilted against the side of the house after the national fashion, waited for him to speak. The absence of Mainwaring and the stimulus of Mrs. Bradley’s graciousness had given the banker a certain condescending familiarity, which Bradley received with amused and ironical tolerance that his twinkling eyes made partly visible in the darkness.
“One of the things I wanted to talk to you about, Bradley, was that old affair of the advance you asked for from the Bank. We did not quite see our way to it then, and, speaking as a business man, it isn’t really a matter of business now; but it has lately been put to me in a light that would make the doing of it possible—you understand? The fact of the matter is this: Sir Robert Mainwaring, the father of the young fellow you’ve got in your house, is one of our directors and largest shareholders, and I can tell you—if you don’t suspect it already—you’ve been lucky, Bradley—deucedly lucky—to have had him in your house and to have rendered him a service. He’s the heir to one of the largest landed estates in his country, one of the oldest county families, and will step into the title some day. But, ahem!” he coughed patronizingly, “you knew all that! No? Well, that charming wife of yours, at least, does; for she’s been talking about it. Gad, Bradley, it takes those women to find out anything of that kind, eh?”
The light in Bradley’s eyes and his pipe went slowly out together.
“Then we’ll say that affair of the advance is as good as settled. It’s Sir Robert’s wish, you understand, and this young fellow’s wish,—and if you’ll come down to the Bank next week we’ll arrange it for you; I think you’ll admit they’re doing the handsome to you and yours. And therefore,” he lowered his voice confidentially, “you’ll see, Bradley, that it will only be the honorable thing in you, you know, to look upon the affair as finished, and, in fact, to do all you can”—he drew his chair closer— “to—to—to drop this other foolishness.”
“I don’t think I quite understand you!” said Bradley, slowly.
“But your wife does, if you don’t,” returned Richardson, bluntly; “I mean this foolish flirtation between Louise Macy and Mainwaring, which is utterly preposterous. Why, man, it can’t possibly come to anything, and it couldn’t be allowed for a moment. Look at his position and hers. I should think, as a practical man, it would strike you—”
“Only one thing strikes me, Richardson,” interrupted Bradley, in a singularly distinct whisper, rising, and moving nearer the speaker; “it is that you’re sitting perilously near the edge of this veranda. For, by the living God, if you don’t take yourself out of that chair and out of this house, I won’t be answerable for the consequences!”
“Hold on there a minute, will you?” said Mainwaring’s voice from the window.
Both men turned towards it. A long leg was protruding from Mainwaring’s window; it was quickly followed by the other leg and body of the occupant, and the next moment Mainwaring come towards the two men, with his hands in his pockets.
“Not so loud,” he said, looking towards the house.
“Let that man go,” said Bradley, in a repressed voice. “You and I, Mainwaring, can speak together afterwards.”
“That man must stay until he hears what I have got to say,” said Mainwaring, stepping between them. He was very white and grave in the moonlight, but very quiet; and he did not take his hands from his pockets. “I’ve listened to what he said because he came here on my business, which was simply to offer to do you a service. That was all, Bradley, that I told him to do. This rot about what he expects of you in return is his own impertinence. If you’d punched his head when he began it, it would have been all right. But since he has begun it, before he goes I think he ought to hear me tell you that I have already offered myself to Miss Macy, and she has refused me! If she had given me the least encouragement, I should have told you before. Further, I want to say that, in spite of that man’s insinuations, I firmly believe that no one is aware of the circumstance except Miss Macy and myself.”
“I had no idea of intimating that anything had happened that was not highly honorable and creditable to you and the young lady,” began Richardson hurriedly.
“I don’t know that it was necessary for you to have any ideas on the subject at all,” said Mainwaring, sternly; “nor that, having been shown how you have insulted this gentleman and myself, you need trouble us an instant longer with your company. You need not come back. I will manage my other affairs myself.”
“Very well, Mr. Mainwaring—but—you may be sure that I shall certainly take the first opportunity to explain myself to Sir Robert,” returned Richardson as, with an attempt at dignity, he strode away.
There was an interval of silence.
“Don’t be too hard upon a fellow, Bradley,” said Mainwaring as Bradley remained dark and motionless in the shadow. “It is a poor return I’m making you for your kindness, but I swear I never thought of anything like—like—this.”
“Nor did I,” said Bradley, bitterly.
“I know it, and that’s what makes it so infernally bad for me. Forgive me, won’t you? Think of me, old fellow, as the wretchedest ass you ever met, but not such a cad as this would make me!” As Mainwaring stepped out from the moonlight towards him with extended hand, Bradley grasped it warmly.
“Thanks—there—thanks, old fellow! And, Bradley—I say—don’t say anything to your wife, for I don’t think she knows it. And, Bradley—look here—I didn’t like to be anything but plain before that fellow; but I don’t mind telling you, now that it’s all over, that I really think Louise—Miss Macy—didn’t altogether understand me either.”
With another shake of the hand they separated for the night. For a long time after Mainwaring had gone, Bradley remained gazing thoughtfully into the Great Canyon. He thought of the time when he had first come there, full of life and enthusiasm, making an ideal world of his pure and wholesome eyrie on the ledge. What else he thought will, probably, never be known until the misunderstanding of honorable and chivalrous men by a charming and illogical sex shall incite the audacious pen of some more daring romancer.
When he returned to the house, he said kindly to his wife, “I have been thinking to-day about your hotel scheme, and I shall write to Sacramento to-night to accept that capitalist’s offer.”