THE broad plaza of the Mission de la Concepcion had been baking in the day-long sunlight. Shining drifts from the outlying sand dunes, blown across the ill-paved roadway, radiated the heat in the faces of the few loungers like the pricking of liliputian arrows, and invaded even the cactus hedges. The hot air visibly quivered over the dark red tiles of the tienda roof as if they were undergoing a second burning. The black shadow of a chimney on the whitewashed adobe wall was like a door or cavernous opening in the wall itself; the tops of the olive and pear trees seen above it were russet and sere already in the fierce light. Even the moist breath of the sea beyond had quite evaporated before it crossed the plaza, and now rustled the leaves in the Mission garden with a dry, crepitant sound.
Nevertheless, it seemed to Cissy Appleby, as she crossed the plaza, a very welcome change from West Woodlands. Although the late winter rains had ceased a month ago,—a few days after the revivalist preacher had left,—the woods around the chapel were still sodden and heavy, and the threatened improvement in its site had not taken place. Neither had the preacher himself alluded to it again; his evening sermon—the only other one he preached there—was unexciting, and he had, in fact, left West Woodlands without any display of that extraordinary exhortatory faculty for which he was famous. Yet Cissy, in spite of her enjoyment of the dry, hot Mission, remembered him, and also recalled, albeit poutingly, his blunt suggesting that she was “pining for it.” Nevertheless, she would like to have sung for him here—supposing it was possible to conceive of a Sidon Brotherhood Chapel at the Mission. It was a great pity, she thought, that the Sidon Brotherhood and the Franciscan Brotherhood were not more brotherly towards each other. Cissy belonged to the former by hereditary right, locality, and circumstance, but it is to be feared that her theology was imperfect.
She entered a lane between the Mission wall and a lighter iron fenced inclosure, once a part of the garden, but now the appurtenance of a private dwelling that was reconstructed over the heavy adobe shell of some forgotten structure of the old ecclesiastical founders. It was pierced by many windows and openings, and that sunlight and publicity which the former padres had jealously excluded was now wooed from long balconies and verandas by the new proprietor, a well to do American. Elisha Braggs, whose name was generously and euphoniously translated by his native neighbors into “Don Eliseo,” although a heretic, had given largess to the church in the way of restoring its earthquake-shaken tower, and in presenting a new organ to its dilapidated choir. He had further endeared himself to the conservative Spanish population by introducing no obtrusive improvements; by distributing his means through the old channels; by apparently inciting no further alien immigration, but contenting himself to live alone among them, adopting their habits, customs, and language. A harmless musical taste, and a disposition to instruct the young boy choristers, was equally balanced by great skill in horsemanship and the personal management of a ranche of wild cattle on the inland plains.
Consciously pretty, and prettily conscious in her white-starched, rose-sprigged muslin, her pink parasol, beribboned gypsy hat, and the long mane-like curls that swung over her shoulders, Cissy entered the house and was shown to the large low drawing-room on the ground-floor. She once more inhaled its hot potpourri fragrance, in which the spice of the Castilian rose-leaves of the garden was dominant. A few boys, whom she recognized as the choristers of the Mission and her fellow-pupils, were already awaiting her with some degree of anxiety and impatience. This fact, and a certain quick animation that sprang to the blue eyes of the master of the house as the rose-sprigged frock and long curls appeared at the doorway, showed that Cissy was clearly the favorite pupil.
Elisha Braggs was a man of middle age, with a figure somewhat rounded by the adipose curves of a comfortable life, and an air of fastidiousness which was, however, occasionally at variance with what seemed to be his original condition. He greeted Cissy with a certain nervous overconsciousness of his duties as host and teacher, and then plunged abruptly into the lesson. It lasted an hour, Cissy tactfully dividing his somewhat exclusive instruction with the others, and even interpreting it to their slower comprehension. When it was over, the choristers shyly departed, according to their usual custom, leaving Cissy and Don Eliseo—and occasionally one of the padres to more informal practicing and performance. Neither the ingenuousness of Cissy nor the worldly caution of aunt Vashti had ever questioned the propriety of these prolonged and secluded seances; and the young girl herself, although by no means unaccustomed to the bashful attentions of the youth of West Woodlands, had never dreamed of these later musical interviews as being anything but an ordinary recreation of her art. The feeling of gratitude and kindness she had for Don Eliseo, her aunt’s friend, had never left her conscious or embarrassed when she was alone with him. But to-day, possibly from his own nervousness and preoccupation, she was aware of some vague uneasiness, and at an early opportunity rose to go. But Don Eliseo gently laid his hand on hers and said:—
“Don’t go yet; I want to talk to you.” His touch suddenly reminded her that once or twice before he had done the same thing, and she had been disagreeably impressed by it. But she lifted her brown eyes to his with an unconsciousness that was more crushing than a withdrawal of her hand, and waited for him to go on.
“It is such a long way for you to come, and you have so little time to stay when you are here, that I am thinking of asking your aunt to let you live here at the Mission, as a pupil, in the house of the Senora Hernandez, until your lessons are finished. Padre Jose will attend to the rest of your education. Would you like it?”
Poor Cissy’s eyes leaped up in unaffected and sparkling affirmation before her tongue replied. To bask in this beloved sunshine for days together; to have this quaint Spanish life before her eyes, and those soft Spanish accents in her ears; to forget herself in wandering in the old-time Mission garden beyond; to have daily access to Mr. Braggs’s piano and the organ of the church—this was indeed the realization of her fondest dreams! Yet she hesitated. Somewhere in her inherited Puritan nature was a vague conviction that it was wrong, and it seemed even to find an echo in the warning of the preacher: this was what she was “pining for.”
“I don’t know,” she stammered. “I must ask auntie; I shouldn’t like to leave her; and there’s the chapel.”
“Isn’t that revivalist preacher enough to run it for a while?” said her companion, half-sneeringly.
The remark was not a tactful one.
“Mr. Seabright hasn’t been here for a month,” she answered somewhat quickly. “But he’s coming next Sunday, and I’m glad of it. He’s a very good man. And there’s nothing he don’t notice. He saw how silly it was to stick the chapel into the very heart of the woods, and he told them so.”
“And I suppose he’ll run up a brand-new meeting-house out on the road,” said Braggs, smiling.
“No, he’s going to open up the woods, and let the sun and light in, and clear out the underbrush.”
“And what’s that for?”
There was such an utter and abrupt change in the speaker’s voice and manner—which until then had been lazily fastidious and confident—that Cissy was startled. And the change being rude and dictatorial, she was startled into opposition. She had wanted to say that the improvement had been suggested by her, but she took a more aggressive attitude.
“Brother Seabright says it’s a question of religion and morals. It’s a scandal and a wrong, and a disgrace to the Word, that the chapel should have been put there.”
Don Eliseo’s face turned so white and waxy that Cissy would have noticed it had she not femininely looked away while taking this attitude.
“I suppose that’s a part of his sensation style, and very effective,” he said, resuming his former voice and manner. “I must try to hear him some day. But, now, in regard to your coming here, of course I shall consult your aunt, although I imagine she will have no objection. I only wanted to know how you felt about it.” He again laid his hand on hers.
“I should like to come very much,” said Cissy timidly; “and it’s very kind of you, I’m sure; but you’ll see what auntie says, won’t you?” She withdrew her hand after momentarily grasping his, as if his own act had been only a parting salutation, and departed.
Aunt Vashti received Cissy’s account of her interview with a grim satisfaction. She did not know what ideas young gals had nowadays, but in her time she’d been fit to jump outer her skin at such an offer from such a good man as Elisha Braggs. And he was a rich man, too. And ef he was goin’ to give her an edication free, it wasn’t goin’ to stop there. For her part, she didn’t like to put ideas in young girls’ heads,—goodness knows they’d enough foolishness already; but if Cissy made a Christian use of her gifts, and ’tended to her edication and privileges, and made herself a fit helpmeet for any man, she would say that there were few men in these parts that was as “comf’ble ketch” as Lish Braggs, or would make as good a husband and provider.
The blood suddenly left Cissy’s cheeks and then returned with uncomfortable heat. Her aunt’s words had suddenly revealed to her the meaning of the uneasiness she had felt in Braggs’s house that morning—the old repulsion that had come at his touch. She had never thought of him as a suitor or a beau before, yet it now seemed perfectly plain to her that this was the ulterior meaning of his generosity. And yet she received that intelligence with the same mixed emotions with which she had received his offer to educate her. She did not conceal from herself the pride and satisfaction she felt in this presumptive selection of her as his wife; the worldly advantages that it promised; nor that it was a destiny far beyond her deserts. Yet she was conscious of exactly the same sense of wrong-doing in her preferences—something that seemed vaguely akin to that “conviction of sin” of which she had heard so much—as when she received his offer of education. It was this mixture of fear and satisfaction that caused her alternate paling and flushing, yet this time it was the fear that came first. Perhaps she was becoming unduly sensitive. The secretiveness of her sex came to her aid here, and she awkwardly changed the subject. Aunt Vashti, complacently believing that her words had fallen on fruitful soil, discreetly said no more.
It was a hot morning when Cissy walked alone to chapel early next Sunday. There was a dry irritation in the air which even the northwest trades, blowing through the seaward gorge, could not temper, and for the first time in her life she looked forward to the leafy seclusion of the buried chapel with a feeling of longing. She had avoided her youthful escort, for she wished to practice alone for an hour before the service with the new harmonium that had taken the place of the old accordion and its unskillful performer. Perhaps, too, there was a timid desire to be at her best on the return of Brother Seabright, and to show him, with a new performance, that the “heavenly gift” had not been neglected. She opened the chapel with the key she always carried, “swished” away an intrusive squirrel, left the door and window open for a moment, until the beating of frightened wings against the rafters had ceased, and, after carefully examining the floor for spiders, mice, and other creeping things, brushed away a few fallen leaves and twigs from the top of the harmonium. Then, with her long curls tossed over her shoulders and hanging limply down the back of her new maple-leaf yellow frock,—which was also a timid recognition of Brother Seabright’s return,—and her brown eyes turned to the rafters, this rustic St. Cecilia of the Coast Range began to sing. The shell of the little building dilated with the melody; the sashes of the windows pulsated, the two ejected linnets joined in timidly from their coign of vantage in the belfry outside, and the limp vines above the porch swayed like her curls. Once she thought she heard stealthy footsteps without; once she was almost certain she felt the brushing of somebody outside against the thin walls of the chapel, and once she stopped to glance quickly at the window with a strange instinct that some one was looking at her. But she quickly reflected that Brother Seabright would come there only when the deacons did, and with them. Why she should think that it was Brother Seabright, or why Brother Seabright should come thus and at such a time, she could not have explained.
He did not, in fact, make his appearance until later, and after the congregation had quite filled the chapel; he did not, moreover, appear to notice her as she sat there, and when he gave out the hymn he seemed to have quietly overlooked the new harmonium. She sang her best, however, and more than one of the audience thought that “little Sister Appleby” had greatly improved. Indeed, it would not have seemed strange to some—remembering Brother Seabright’s discursive oratory—if he had made some allusion to it. But he did not. His heavy eyes moved slowly over the congregation, and he began.
As usual he did not take a text. But he would talk to them that morning about “The Conviction of Sin” and the sense of wrong-doing that was innate in the sinner. This included all form of temptation, for what was temptation but the inborn consciousness of something to struggle against, and that was sin! At this apparently concise exposition of her own feelings in regard to Don Eliseo’s offer, Cissy felt herself blushing to the roots of her curls. Could it be possible that Brother Seabright had heard of her temptation to leave West Woodlands, and that this warning was intended for her? He did not even look in her direction. Yet his next sentence seemed to be an answer to her own mental query.
“Folks might ask,” he continued, “if even the young and inexperienced should feel this—or was there a state of innocent guilt without consciousness?” He would answer that question by telling them what had happened to him that morning. He had come to the chapel, not by the road, but through the tangled woods behind them (Cissy started)—through the thick brush and undergrowth that was choking the life out of this little chapel—the wilderness that he had believed was never before trodden by human feet, and was known only to roaming beasts and vermin. But that was where he was wrong.
In the stillness and listening silence, a sudden cough from some one in one of the back benches produced that instantaneous diversion of attention common to humanity on such occasions. Cissy’s curls swung round with the others. But she was surprised to see that Mr. Braggs was seated in one of the benches near the door, and from the fact of his holding a handkerchief to his mouth, and being gazed at by his neighbors, it was evident that it was he who had coughed. Perhaps he had come to West Woodlands to talk to her aunt! With the preacher before her, and her probable suitor behind her, she felt herself again blushing.
Brother Seabright continued. Yes, he was wrong, for there before him, in the depths of the forest, were two children. They were looking at a bush of “pizon berries,”—the deadly nightshade, as it was fitly called,—and one was warning the other of its dangerous qualities.
“But how do you know it’s the ‘pizon berry’?” asked the other.
“Because it’s larger, and nicer, and bigger, and easier to get than the real good ones,” returned the other.
And it was so. Thus was the truth revealed from the mouths of babes and sucklings; even they were conscious of temptation and sin! But here there was another interruption from the back benches, which proved, however, to be only the suppressed giggle of a boy—evidently the youthful hero of the illustration, surprised into nervous hilarity.
The preacher then passed to the “Conviction of Sin” in its more familiar phases. Many brothers confounded this with discovery and publicity. It was not their own sin “finding them out,” but others discovering it. Until that happened, they fancied themselves safe, stilling their consciences, confounding the blinded eye of the world with the all-seeing eye of the Lord. But were they safe even then? Did not sooner or later the sea deliver up its dead, the earth what was buried in it, the wild woods what its depths had hidden? Was not the foolish secret, the guilty secret, the forgotten sin, sure to be disclosed? Then if they could not fly from the testimony of His works, if they could not evade even their fellow-man, why did they not first turn to Him? Why, from the penitent child at his mother’s knee to the murderer on the scaffold, did they only at the last confess unto Him?
His voice and manner had suddenly changed. From the rough note of accusation and challenge it had passed into the equally rough, but broken and sympathetic, accents of appeal. Why did they hesitate longer to confess their sin—not to man—but unto Him? Why did they delay? Now—that evening! That very moment! This was the appointed time! He entreated them in the name of religious faith, in the name of a human brotherly love. His delivery was now no longer deliberate, but hurried and panting; his speech now no longer chosen, but made up of reiterations and repetitions, ejaculations, and even incoherent epithets. His gestures and long intonations which began to take the place of even that interrupted speech affected them more than his reasoning! Short sighs escaped them; they swayed to and fro with the rhythm of his voice and movements. They had begun to comprehend this exacerbation of emotion—this paroxysmal rhapsody. This was the dithyrambic exaltation they had ardently waited for. They responded quickly. First with groans, equally inarticulate murmurs of assent, shouts of “Glory,” and the reckless invocation of sacred names. Then a wave of hysteria seemed to move the whole mass, and broke into tears and sobs among the women. In her own excited consciousness it seemed to Cissy that some actual struggle between good and evil—like unto the casting out of devils—was shaking the little building. She cast a hurried glance behind her and saw Mr. Braggs sitting erect, white and scornful. She knew that she too was shrinking from the speaker,—not from any sense of conviction, but because he was irritating and disturbing her innate sense of fitness and harmony,—and she was pained that Mr. Braggs should see him thus. Meantime the weird, invisible struggle continued, heightened and, it seemed to her, incited by the partisan groans and exultant actions of those around her, until suddenly a wild despairing cry arose above the conflict. A vague fear seized her—the voice was familiar! She turned in time to see the figure of aunt Vashti rise in her seat with a hysterical outburst, and fall convulsively forward upon her knees! She would have rushed to her side, but the frenzied woman was instantly caught by Deacon Shadwell and surrounded by a group of her own sex and became hidden. And when Cissy recovered herself she was astonished to find Brother Seabright—with every trace of his past emotion vanished from his hard-set face—calmly taking up his coherent discourse in his ordinary level tones. The furious struggle of the moment before was over; the chapel and its congregation had fallen back into an exhausted and apathetic silence! Then the preacher gave out the hymn—the words were singularly jubilant among that usually mournful collection in the book before her—and Cissy began it with a tremulous voice. But it gained strength, clearness, and volume as she went on, and she felt thrilled throughout with a new human sympathy she had never known before. The preacher’s bass supported her now for the first time not unmusically—and the service was over.
Relieved, she turned quickly to join her aunt, but a hand was laid gently upon her shoulder. It was Brother Seabright, who had just stepped from the platform. The congregation, knowing her to be the niece of the hysteric woman, passed out without disturbing them.
“You have, indeed, improved your gift, Sister Cecilia,” he said gravely. “You must have practiced much.”
“Yes—that is, no!—only a little,” stammered Cissy.
“But, excuse me, I must look after auntie,” she added, drawing timidly away.
“Your aunt is better, and has gone on with Sister Shadwell. She is not in need of your help, and really would do better without you just now. I shall see her myself presently.”
“But you made her sick already,” said Cissy, with a sudden, half-nervous audacity. “You even frightened me.”
“Frightened you?” repeated Seabright, looking at her quickly.
“Yes,” said Cissy, meeting his gaze with brown, truthful eyes. “Yes, when you—when you—made those faces. I like to hear you talk, but”—she stopped.
Brother Seabright’s rare smile again lightened his face. But it seemed sadder than when she had first seen it.
“Then you have been practicing again at the Mission?” he said quietly; “and you still prefer it?”
“Yes,” said Cissy. She wanted to appear as loyal to the Mission in Brother Seabright’s presence as she was faithful to West Woodlands in Mr. Braggs’s. She had no idea that this was dangerously near to coquetry. So she said a little archly, “I don’t see why you don’t like the Mission. You’re a missionary yourself. The old padres came here to spread the Word. So do you.”
“But not in that way,” he said curtly. “I’ve seen enough of them when I was knocking round the world a seafaring man and a sinner. I knew them—receivers of the ill-gotten gains of adventurers, fools, and scoundrels. I knew them—enriched by the spoils of persecution and oppression; gathering under their walls outlaws and fugitives from justice, and flinging an indulgence here and an absolution there, as they were paid for it. Don’t talk to me of them—I know them.”
They were passing out of the chapel together, and he made an impatient gesture as if dismissing the subject. Accustomed though she was to the sweeping criticism of her Catholic friends by her West Woodlands associates, she was nevertheless hurt by his brusqueness. She dropped a little behind, and they separated at the porch. Notwithstanding her anxiety to see her aunt, she felt she could not now go to Deacon Shadwell’s without seeming to follow him—and after he had assured her that her help was not required! She turned aside and made her way slowly towards her home.
There she found that her aunt had not returned, gathering from her uncle that she was recovering from a fit of “high strikes” (hysterics), and would be better alone. Whether he underrated her complaint, or had a consciousness of his masculine helplessness in such disorders, he evidently made light of it. And when Cissy, afterwards, a little ashamed that she had allowed her momentary pique against Brother Seabright to stand in the way of her duty, determined to go to her aunt, instead of returning to the chapel that evening, he did not oppose it. She learned also that Mr. Braggs had called in the morning, but, finding that her aunt Vashti was at chapel, he had followed her there, intending to return with her. But he had not been seen since the service, and had evidently returned to the Mission.
But when she reached Deacon Shadwell’s house she was received by Mrs. Shadwell only. Her aunt, said that lady, was physically better, but Brother Seabright had left “partkler word” that she was to see nobody. It was an extraordinary case of “findin’ the Lord,” the like of which had never been known before in West Woodlands, and she (Cissy) would yet be proud of one of her “fammerly being speshally selected for grace.” But the “workin’s o’ salvation was not to be finicked away on worldly things or even the affections of the flesh;” and if Cissy really loved her aunt, “she wouldn’t interfere with her while she was, so to speak, still on the mourners’ bench, wrastlin’ with the Sperret in their back sittin’-room.” But she might wait until Brother Seabright’s return from evening chapel after service.
Cissy waited. Nine o’clock came, but Brother Seabright did not return. Then a small but inconsequent dignity took possession of her, and she slightly tossed her long curls from her shoulders. She was not going to wait for any man’s permission to see her own aunt. If auntie did not want to see her, that was enough. She could go home alone. She didn’t want any one to go with her.
Lifted and sustained by these lofty considerations, with an erect head and slightly ruffled mane, well enwrapped in a becoming white merino “cloud,” the young girl stepped out on her homeward journey. She had certainly enough to occupy her mind and, perhaps, justify her independence. To have a suitor for her hand in the person of the superior and wealthy Mr. Braggs,—for that was what his visit that morning to West Woodlands meant,—and to be personally complimented on her improvement by the famous Brother Seabright, all within twelve hours, was something to be proud of, even although it was mitigated by her aunt’s illness, her suitor’s abrupt departure, and Brother Seabright’s momentary coldness and impatience. Oddly enough, this last and apparently trivial circumstance occupied her thoughts more than the others. She found herself looking out for him in the windings of the moonlit road, and when, at last, she reached the turning towards the little wood and chapel, her small feet unconsciously lingered until she felt herself blushing under her fleecy “cloud.” She looked down the lane. From the point where she was standing the lights of the chapel should have been plainly visible; but now all was dark. It was nearly ten o’clock, and he must have gone home by another road. Then a spirit of adventure seized her. She had the key of the chapel in her pocket. She remembered she had left a small black Spanish fan—a former gift of Mr. Braggs lying on the harmonium. She would go and bring it away, and satisfy herself that Brother Seabright was not there still. It was but a step, and in the clear moonlight.
The lane wound before her like a silver stream, except where it was interrupted and bridged over by jagged black shadows. The chapel itself was black, the clustering trees around it were black also; the porch seemed to cover an inky well of shadow; the windows were rayless and dead, and in the chancel one still left open showed a yawning vault of obscurity within. Nevertheless, she opened the door softly, glided into the dark depths, and made her way to the harmonium. But here the sound of footsteps without startled her; she glanced hurriedly through the open window, and saw the figure of Elisha Braggs suddenly revealed in the moonlight as he crossed the path behind the chapel. He was closely followed by two peons, whom she recognized as his servants at the Mission, and they each carried a pickaxe. From their manner it was evident that they had no suspicion of her presence in the chapel. But they had stopped and were listening. Her heart beat quickly; with a sudden instinct she ran and bolted the door. But it was evidently another intruder they were watching, for she presently saw Brother Seabright quietly cross the lane and approach the chapel. The three men had disappeared; but there was a sudden shout, the sound of scuffling, the deep voice of Brother Seabright saying, “Back, there, will you! Hands off!” and a pause. She could see nothing; she listened in every pulse. Then the voice of Brother Seabright arose again quite clearly, slowly, and as deliberately as if it had risen from the platform in the chapel.
“Lish Barker! I thought as much! Lish Barker, first mate of the Tamalpais, who was said to have gone down with a boat’s crew and the ship’s treasure after she struck. I thought I knew that face today.”
“Yes,” said the voice of him whom she had known as Elisha Braggs,— “yes, and I knew your face, Jim Seabright, ex-whaler, slaver, pirate, and bo’s’n of the Highflyer, marooned in the South Pacific, where you found the Lord—ha! ha!—and became the psalm-singing, converted American sailor preacher!”
“I am not ashamed before men of my past, which every one knows,” returned Seabright slowly. “But what of yours, Elisha Barker—yours that has made you sham death itself to hide it from them? What of yours—spent in the sloth of your ill-gotten gains! Turn, sinner, turn! Turn, Elisha Braggs, while there is yet time!”
“Belay there, Brother Seabright; we’re not inside your gospel-shop just now! Keep your palaver for those that need it. Let me pass, before I have to teach you that you haven’t to deal with a gang of hysterical old women to-night.”
“But not until you know that one of those women,—Vashti White,—by God’s grace converted of her sins, has confessed her secret and yours, Elisha Barker! Yes! She has told me how her sister’s husband—the father of the young girl you are trying to lure away—helped you off that night with your booty, took his miserable reward and lived and died in exile with the rest of your wretched crew,—afraid to return to his home and country—whilst you—shameless and impenitent—lived in slothful ease at the Mission!”
“Liar! Let me pass!”
“Not until I know your purpose here to-night.”
“Then take the consequences! Here, Pedro! Ramon! Seize him. Tie him head and heels together, and toss him in the bush!”
The sound of scuffling recommenced. The struggle seemed fierce and long, with no breath wasted in useless outcry. Then there was a bright flash, a muffled report, and the stinging and fire of gunpowder at the window.
Transfixed with fear, Cissy cast a despairing glance around her. Ah, the bell-rope! In another instant she had grasped it frantically in her hands.
All the fear, indignation, horror, sympathy, and wild appeal for help that had arisen helplessly in her throat and yet remained unuttered, now seemed to thrill through her fingers and the tightened rope, and broke into frantic voice in the clanging metal above her. The whole chapel, the whole woodland, the clear, moonlit sky above was filled with its alarming accents. It shrieked, implored, protested, summoned, and threatened, in one ceaseless outcry, seeming to roll over and over—as, indeed, it did—in leaps and bounds that shook the belfry. Never before, even in the blows of the striking surges, had the bell of the Tamalpais clamored like that! Once she heard above the turmoil the shaking of the door against the bolt that still held firmly; once she thought she heard Seabright’s voice calling to her; once she thought she smelled the strong smoke of burning grass. But she kept on, until the window was suddenly darkened by a figure, and Brother Seabright, leaping in, caught her in his arms as she was reeling fainting, but still clinging to the rope. But his strong presence and some powerful magnetism in his touch restored her.
“You have heard all!” he said.
“Then for your aunt’s sake, for your dead father’s sake, forget all! That wretched man has fled with his wounded hirelings—let his sin go with him. But the village is alarmed—the brethren may be here any moment! Neither question nor deny what I shall tell them. Fear nothing. God will forgive the silence that leaves the vengeance to His hands alone!” Voices and footsteps were heard approaching the chapel. Brother Seabright significantly pressed her hand and strode towards the door. Deacon Shadwell was first to enter.
“You here—Brother Seabright! What has happened?”
“God be praised!” said Brother Seabright cheerfully, “nothing of consequence! The danger is over! Yet, but for the courage and presence of mind of Sister Appleby a serious evil might have been done.” He paused, and with another voice turned half-interrogatively towards her. “Some children, or a passing tramp, had carelessly thrown matches in the underbrush, and they were ignited beside the chapel. Sister Appleby, chancing to return here for—”
“For my fan,” said Cissy with a timid truthfulness of accent.
“Found herself unable to cope with it, and it occurred to her to give the alarm you heard. I happened to be passing and was first to respond. Happily the flames had made but little headway, and were quickly beaten down. It is all over now. But let us hope that the speedy clearing out of the underbrush and the opening of the woods around the chapel will prevent any recurrence of the alarm of to-night.”
That the lesson thus reiterated by Brother Seabright was effective, the following extract, from the columns of the Whale Point Gazette, may not only be offered as evidence, but may even give the cautious reader further light on the episode itself:—
STRANGE DISCOVERY AT WEST WOODLANDS.
The improvements in the clearing around the Sidon Chapel at West Woodlands, undertaken by the Rev. James Seabright, have disclosed another link in the mystery which surrounded the loss of the Tamalpais some years ago at Whale Mouth Point. It will be remembered that the boat containing Adams & Co.’s treasure, the Tamalpais’ first officer, and a crew of four men was lost on the rocks shortly after leaving the ill-fated vessel. None of the bodies were ever recovered, and the treasure itself completely baffled the search of divers and salvers. A lidless box bearing the mark of Adams & Co., of the kind in which their treasure was usually shipped, was yesterday found in the woods behind the chapel, half buried in brush, bark, and windfalls. There were no other indications, except the traces of a camp-fire at some remote period, probably long before the building of the chapel. But how and when the box was transported to the upland, and by whose agency, still remains a matter of conjecture. Our reporter who visited the Rev. Mr. Seabright, who has lately accepted the regular ministry of the chapel, was offered every facility for information, but it was evident that the early settlers who were cognizant of the fact—if there were any—are either dead or have left the vicinity.