[Frontispiece: Looking up at her I felt she had won.]
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
THE COAST OF CHANCE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
GROSSET & DUNLAP
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
PROLOGUE—THE CITY I THE BASKET OF MUSHROOMS II THE EVIDENCE III THE RUMORS IV THE FIRST DAY IN COURT V THE SECOND DAY IN COURT VI THE SPANISH WOMAN'S HOUSE VII THE REFUGE VIII THE LAST DAY OF THE TRIAL IX THE CONCEALMENT X A LIGHT IN THE DARK XI THE LUGGER EPILOGUE—TWO YEARS
Looking up at her I felt she had won. . . . . . Frontispiece
"What's the matter, child?" father said.
I tried to make myself look as pretty as possible.
[Transcriber's note: A fourth illustration was missing from the book.]
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
The city is always gray. Even in March, the greenest month of all, when the Presidio, and the Mission Hills, and the islands in the bay are beautiful with spring, there's only such a little bit of green gets into the city! It lies in the lap of five hills, climbing upward toward their crests where the trees are all doubled and bent by the trade-wind. It seems to give its own color to the growing things in it. The cypress hedges are dusty black; the eucalyptus trees are gray as the house fronts they knock against, and even the plaza grass looks dark and old, as if it had been the same grass always, and never came up new in the spring.
But for the most part there are no trees, and only the finest places have gardens. There are only rows and rows of houses painted gray, with here and there a white one, or a glass conservatory front. But the fog and dust all summer gray these, too, and when the trade-winds blow hard it takes the smoke out over the east bay, and makes that as gray as the city.
And yet the city doesn't look sad. The sky is too blue, and the bay is too blue around it; and the flying fog, and the wind, and the strong tide flowing in and out of the bay are like restless, eager creatures that never sleep or grow tired. When I was a very little child the fierceness of it frightened me. All the noises of the city made one harsh, threatening voice to my ears; and the perilous water encompassing far as eye could reach; and the high hills running up into the sky now blinded by dust, now buried in fog, now drenched in rain, were overpowering and terrifying to me. Beyond that general seeming of terror there is little I remember of the early city, except the glimmer of white tent tops against gray fog or blue water, the loud voices in the streets, and a vague, general impression of rapid and violent changes of place and circumstance. Through their confusion three figures only, move with any clearness,—my tall, teasing, father, my grim nurse Abby, and my pale-haired mother. Indeed, the first distinct incident that stands forth from that dim background is the death of my mother.
It was a puzzle for a child. One day she was there, ill in bed, but visible, palpable, able to speak, to smile, to kiss,—the next, she had disappeared. They said she had gone away, but I knew that was nonsense; for when people went away it was in the daytime with bags and umbrellas, and every one knew they were going, and where they went, but with my mother it was different. One day she was there,—the next she was not, nor in any of the rooms of the house could she be found. It was long before I ceased to expect her back; long before I ceased, by some process of child's reasoning, to blame her departure on the gray unaccountable city. For as early as I can recall a coherent sequence of impressions the city appeared to me strange and unaccountable. There was a secret shut away from me behind every closed house front; the eucalyptus trees seemed to whisper "mystery" above my head; and at night, when the fog came heaping in, thicker than feather-beds, across the Mission, and streaming down the long hills on the heels of the wind, it brought an army of ghosts to inhabit the dark places beyond the safety of the lighted window-pane. Though I had lived among the seven hills almost all my life; and though in ways it had grown familiar, and even dear to me, yet I never seemed to grow quite used to the city. It had strange tricks of deception that were enough to unsettle the finest faith. For when I looked at it from the windows of my room under the roof it was as flat as a plate, visible in its entirety from end to end, and it was as easy to find Telegraph Hill or the Plaza upon it as it was to pick up a block from the carpet. But, when I went abroad in it, it hid away from me. It would never show me more than one street at a time, and never by any chance would it reveal to me, through the tall houses, in what part of it I was walking.
But by the time I was old enough to play in the garden by myself, and make friends through the hedge with Hallie Ferguson, who lived a block below us, I had come to accept this trick of the city as somewhat less extraordinary. It was developing other characteristics not so fearful to my mind and of far greater fascination; and I spent hours, when I could not be out of doors, watching it from the windows of my room. Father had built what was at the time one of the finest houses in San Francisco. It had a glass conservatory at the side, and a garden with a lawn and palm in the corner; and on rainy nights when the wind was high, and the house was shaking, I could hear the long palm-fingers tap-tapping on my window glass. The house stood half-way up Washington Street Hill, on what was then the western skirts of the city, and from my window under the roof I could look down over the whole city to the east water front, with Rincon Hill misty on the south, and Telegraph bold on the north of it. By leaning far out of the window, as Hallie and I sometimes did when a ship was coming in, we could see northward as far as North Beach, and Alcatraz Island; and from Abby's room across the hall we could continue the panorama around to Russian Hill, whose high crown cut off the Golden Gate. It was a favorite game of ours, hanging out the window, with our heads in the palm leaves, to pretend stories of what we saw going on in the city beneath.
All sorts of strange and interesting things went on in the city. We could see the signals run up on Telegraph Hill when a ship was sighted. And then the "express" would go dashing furiously down some street below us, the pony at gallop; and the line would form in front of the post-office and stretch like a black snake up Washington Street. Or we watched the yellow omnibuses laboring down Washington Street like clumsy beetles. It seemed to me that a city was the most delightful and absorbing plaything a child could have, and it was a hard arbitrary blow of fate that took me from it to the convent school at Santa Clara.
But if to leave the city was hard, it was terrible indeed to leave the house, the familiar rooms, the familiar footsteps and voices that I loved, and listened for. I had never been away from father and Abby in my life, and though Hallie Ferguson and Estrella Mendez went also, I was very homesick.
There was nothing at all interesting at the convent,—nothing but pepper trees, and nun's black hoods, and books. Even when we walked out there were only the dreary Santa Clara flats with the mountains so distant on the horizon that their far-awayness made me want to cry. The only nice thing about the convent was the vacation that took us away from it, back, out of the burning summer valley to the bay, the rows of gray-faced houses, the shipping and the wind. Each time I came back it was with the rapture one must feel returning to some long left, beloved place and finding it unchanged.
The palm, the cypress hedges, the sunny conservatory, the low, long rooms beyond it, the dark hall, and narrow, precipitous stair were always adorably the same. But around them the city was growing with such speed that each time I returned I had to learn to know it afresh. Already there were several blocks of houses beyond ours, and the second year I came home from the convent Hallie Ferguson told me her father was going to move because there was a gambling-house going up across the street from them, "and build," Hallie expressed it, "in a more fashionable neighborhood."
It was at the foot of Chestnut Street Hill their new house was building, and that vacation we used often to walk over with Abby—Estrella, Hallie and I—across the city and across the North Beach district—to play in the building house. It was going up with the same furious speed that was accomplishing the whole city. It seemed that we had hardly stopped looking through the skeleton supports at the bay before the plaster was drying on the solid walls; that we had hardly ceased walking on the great naked flooring beams before the smooth floor itself was palpitating under the feet of the dancers at the housewarming.
I remember sitting up with Hallie through the earlier part of that evening, and with a sort of worship, looking for the first time at women with uncovered necks and arms emerging white as wax from their diaphanous or glittering gowns. To me they were radiant, transported to a sphere of existence beyond my own, something I never would attain to. I recall them as a vague, dreamlike spectacle. In all of it there is but one incident that I remember clearly; and that is, when whirling out of the crowd and into an empty space, that the dancers had left clear for a moment, came a couple—a large blond girl and a young man, a boy, hardly as old as she, but so handsome, so dark, so full of life, and a sparkling sort of mischief, that it made one feel quite gay just to look at him. As they danced past the place where Hallie and I were sitting he was holding his partner's gauzy train in his long, fine fingers, and they went by us laughing.
"Who is that?" I whispered.
"That's Johnny Montgomery," Hallie whispered back.
"Why don't you know?" Hallie cried. She dearly loved to give information. "The Montgomerys were one of the very best families here; and he's the last of them. Old lady Montgomery died the year we went away to school, and he had heaps of money—but he lost it."
My sole performance in this line had been the dropping of a two-bit piece down a crack in the board walk, and before I had time to ask how Johnny Montgomery had managed to lose sight of "heaps," Mr. Ferguson came up and asked, "Don't you little girls want some ice-cream?" so I forgot to say any more about it.
That same season there was another notable occasion, when Hallie led me to the bedroom of her grown-up sister, and exhibited to me with awe-struck pride the dress her sister was to wear to the Sumner Light Guards' ball that night. It was a blue tulle with a fine frost of spangles over the bodice, and it seemed too dazzling to belong to a creature less wonderful than a fairy. But when Hallie went on, in a cautious whisper lest we be discovered, to confide to me that when she was grown up and out of school her mother had promised to give her a party, and that, since I was her best friend, of course she was going to invite me first of all, I began to realize that I, too, might some day grow up into a young lady, and be laced into a gown perhaps as beautiful as the one spread out on the bed before us.
Such a dazzling idea gave me an entirely new set of fancies, and was a pleasant book companion and bedfellow to take back to the convent. Hallie, who was a year older and half a head taller than I, had already begun to lengthen her dresses, and do up her hair, and I found it humiliating to be so small that at sixteen I had still to wear mine down my back in long curls, and my skirts above my ankles. The only thing that comforted me was that whenever father came to see me he always said:
"Child, how tall you are! You're almost a woman!" and though he was the one person who seemed to think so it was quite sufficient for me. When my graduation day came I was much excited to think how absolutely grown-up I would appear to him in my first long frock, but when I came to him after the exercises were over, he looked at me as if he were sad, and said, "Child, how little you are!"
That was a dreadful disappointment to me, but when I reminded him how he had always told me I was tall, he laughed, and said: "You were tall for a school-girl, but you're very little to be the mistress of a house."
That puzzled me; but on the way home, driving up through the valley, he told me more about what he meant. He said, "Now that you have stopped being a child you are going to be a very gay young lady; going to have fine gowns, and dance about like a butterfly; and you're going to keep on being my little girl; but at the same time I am afraid you will have to be a little lady of the house, too, and take care of me, and Abby—now that Abby's rheumatism is so bad—and go to call on the ladies who were your mother's friends, and are going to be yours. Do you think you are tall enough to do all that?"
I was so surprised and so happy that I hugged him right there in the buggy, and said: "Do you really mean it?"
Father laughed, just as he does to cover up being rather serious, and said: "You are your mother's daughter, for she was a little fair woman, but there was never anything too big for her to manage."
I was happier than ever to hear him say that—he so seldom spoke of mother—and the idea of a whole house to manage, and of sitting at the foot of the table, and calling on grown-up married women seemed to me as merry and exciting as going to parties, and having beaus.
I had not been in the city for a year, spending my last vacations at the ranch at Menlo Park; and though I knew from what Hallie had told me, that the city was very different, yet when I got out of the buggy in front of the house the look of the street startled me. For a moment even the house seemed strange. But that was only because the other houses were all about it. As far as one looked up the hill there was nothing but thick houses, and queer little shops were crowding up the block so close that we had the appearance of being almost down-town. Even inside the house looked different, but quite beautifully different, done over with lovely, fresh papers, and Japanese mattings; but what touched and pleased me most of all was to find the picture of mother, which had used to hang over father's dressing-table, now in my room, above my bed. "You need it now more than I do," he said, and though I couldn't see just why I needed it, I loved to look at it. The amusing part of it was that mother in the picture was holding me—a little me—a baby two years old. Myself would never look out at me. But mother looked always, with the same half-brave, half-timid glance, when, sitting on the bed, I made her my confidences.
With all my new responsibilities, and my new clothes I felt as if I had somehow been "done over" too. Yet it was surprising how quickly I became used to the patter of my long petticoats around my feet as I walked, the weight of all my hair upon my head, and my stately pouring of the tea at the foot of the dinner-table. Father's friends were always coming in and out, and staying to luncheon or dinner, and with their high silk hats, their elegant bows to me, and their laughing at things I said which were not in the least funny, at first they confused me not a little. But I grew accustomed to them, too; I grew even to like them, especially Mr. Dingley, father's greatest friend, who was the district attorney. He was a big, dark man, with a broad face, and a frown that never came out of his forehead. He looked frightfully severe, but I soon found out he was really quite easy-going, much more so than father, and often I could get around Mr. Dingley when father, for all his being pleasant, wouldn't have given an inch. But father said he had to be very stern, or other people would spoil me. By that he meant not so much Mr. Dingley, who was the same to everybody, as Senora Mendez, who had been mother's greatest friend. She had been a New England girl, who, in the early days of California, had married a Spanish gentleman. She was lovely to me. It was at her house that I went to my first ball. Except the Fergusons', hers was the only house in the city with rooms large enough to dance in, and that ball is still the most dazzling I can remember. I wore a rose-colored tulle skirt with a peasant waist of rose-colored satin, and father, for a great surprise, had given me a pair of pink silk stockings. No other girl in town had such a beautiful thing, and in the dressing-room they would not let me go down until I had shown them. The lighted dancing-rooms, and all the strange people, and my tall partners made me nearly die of shyness, but I danced two large holes in the toes of my lovely stockings, and afterward father teased me, and said he found he had suddenly become very popular with the young men. He had never been so called upon in his life.
But most of our parties were not such elegant affairs, though sometimes they were even more fun, like the Fergusons' calico ball, where I wore my grandmother's gingham, and prunella shoes; or the party the Sumner Light Guards gave, which was the prettiest of all on account of the young men's uniforms, and the way we sat around the little refreshment tables between dances with our mothers and our partners, the band playing all the time, and every one so gay.
I sometimes went to as many as four parties a week, so that in the morning it was all I could do to be up in time to see breakfast on the table. I found out that being a housekeeper meant more than long petticoats, and pouring tea. It meant being all over the house before ten in the morning, for, as Abby said, a house has a lot of strings to it, and unless you keep them all tied up tight something's going to sag. But I enjoyed my authority of the house, and my liberty abroad seemed like license to me. I felt launched on a wide sea of life.
The city itself was changed to my new horizon. It was larger, more complicated, with more masts in the harbor, new streets and horse-car lines, and every one moved about in it like the pieces of a Chinese puzzle. The friends who had lived close about us had all moved westward or southward with the trend of the city, and between Telegraph and Chestnut Street Hills there were some very, fine houses. I was often running over there to see Hallie or Estrella, and my shortest way lay past the convent that stood a little apart in the middle of the settlement. Next to it, but facing on another street, was a house which had been built at the same time as the convent. The convent wall came up at its back. On the other three sides was a high fence. Over the fence only the upper story could be seen, and it had a look so still and closed up, that it brought back to me that feeling of mystery the city used to give me as a child. But I never noticed or wondered about it particularly until one day when I saw an open carriage waiting in front of the steps.
While I was looking a woman came out of the gate, and got into the carriage. She was Spanish, I saw at a glance, and big, and all in sweeping black, but instead of being dark she was tawny, with a wonderful glow of copper-colored hair through her black lace veil, and in all my life I had never seen a creature move so gracefully as she. It was like watching a beautiful cat. I asked Estrella Mendez who she was, and Estrella blushed, and said she did not know. And when I asked was she sure, because I knew the woman was Spanish, Estrella got quite angry, and said she wasn't supposed to know all the Spanish people in the city, and especially if they didn't have husbands. That surprised me, for the woman had looked quite like a great lady, and when I went home I spoke to father about it.
He said he feared Estrella was right—we none of us knew the Spanish woman. "But," I told him, "she looks like a queen; and she has a beautiful carriage." He laughed and said yes, she had money, and a good deal of influence in high places, but the women she knew were not the sort of people I would care about; and he finished by saying I was a silly child to go staring at strange "greasers."
I did hate to have father laugh at me, but I couldn't help looking at her slyly when now and then I saw her about the city. She was like no other Spanish woman I had ever seen. Most of them are as white as callas, powdered over the lashes; but you could see the strong bloom of her skin even through the thick coat of rice powder she wore, and her lashes were lovely. I noticed that because she kept them half down, and looked out through them. But the most fascinating thing about her was the way she moved, like something flowing; and once in a shop I heard her speak, and her voice was so attractive, sweet and rather thick, with such a gracious, petting sound to it! But she was always alone. With it all she seemed to be mysterious, like her quiet closed-up house. I got to making up stories about her, and sometimes in my room, in front of my mirror, I practised looking out through my lashes. But it was a nuisance, for though they weren't short they curled back so suddenly that it didn't look right; and my hair being blond and flying into corkscrews, and my being so little, and forgetting not to step on my flounces when I tried to "sweep," altogether made it rather a failure, in spite of the black lace shawl.
But though I thought about her I didn't say anything more to father or Abby, because questions that hadn't bothered them when I was little seemed to worry them now. Father was for ever talking of the things I must not do. One was not to be about in our neighborhood alone. It was changing. And above all never to go over to Dupont Street, for that, he said was getting to be notorious, and he hated to have it so near. It was only a block below us, but it seemed to me very quiet, and though Mr. Rood's gambling-house was on the corner there was never any noise there, only such fine young men, and some that I knew, all the time going in and out of it.
But that pleased father least of anything, and he asked me how would I like to move over to the North Beach district, where all my friends were. Talking it over with Hallie and Estrella I liked the idea very much. But when I came home again to the old house, with the long windows, and the palm, and the long steps up to the conservatory, and all the rooms I knew, the very idea that I could have thought for a moment of going away from it gave me a lump in my throat.
So I had to tell father that I couldn't. He pinched my cheek, and said: "Next year, then;" and so we stayed on. This was in February, 1865.
THE BASKET OF MUSHROOMS
The seventh of May was my father's birthday. I always planned some little surprise for him beside his present, and this morning I had got up very early, before any one else was stirring, to slip down to the Washington Street market for some fine fresh mushrooms. He was extravagantly fond of them, but we seldom had them because Abby was getting too old to be up for early marketing, and father always said that mushrooms should come in with the dew to be good.
I had bought a little straw basket, green and red, and lined it with leaves; and now I put on my white flounced gown and my flat green hat, so that when I should come in with my basket as they sat at breakfast it would seem like a little fete. Then I went a-tiptoe down the stairs that would creak, for I could hear Lee, the China boy, stirring in the kitchen, and it would have spoiled everything to be caught going out with my empty basket. When I had let myself into the street I felt very naughty and festive in my furbelows at such an hour of the morning. The city seemed so dim and still and empty that the rustle of my petticoats sounded loud as I walked along.
The Washington Street market was fully six blocks away, and they seemed the longer for being so quiet. When I got there the men were still taking the crates off the carts, and the stalls were not set out yet. It took me a long time to find what I wanted, so that when I came out the wagons were clattering on Montgomery Street, and in one or two shops the shutters were already down. That made me hurry, for I was afraid of being late. I flew along with my basket in one hand and my flounces in the other. The sunlight had caught the gilt ball on the flagstaff of the Alta California building, and the sky that had been misty was now broad blue above the gray housetops. In my flurry I found myself on Dupont Street before I knew it; but after all it was the shortest way, and everything was quiet, not a blind turned. The houses on either hand were locked and silent, and nothing moved in the steep little street but the top of the green-leafed tree half-way up the block.
I was walking on the upper side of the street, and drawing near the corner. I was opposite Mr. Rood's gambling-house, which was shuttered tight, and looked as blank as the rest, with only the slatted half-doors of the bar and the dark spaces above and below them to suggest that it had an inside. I was just thinking I heard people talking there, when suddenly a sharp splitting noise seemed to ring inside my head, the slatted doors flew open and a man fell out backward. He fell in a heap on the sidewalk; and over him, almost upon him, leaped another man, with such a rush, such a face, and such a wild look, that he filled the street with terror.
I stood there, staring stupidly, too stunned to realize what had happened. He saw me, and for an instant he stood, with the pistol smoking in his hand—the handsomest man I ever saw in my life, and the most terrible. Then he flung the pistol into the street and ran.
He ran down Dupont, and disappeared into Washington; and all the while I stood there, listening to the terrible loud clatter his feet made in the silence. I looked across the street, and blue smoke was drifting out of the slatted door over the man who lay still. Then there seemed to come over me at once the meaning of the horrible thing that had happened, and I ran.
I heard a shutter flung open in the street behind me. I saw a glitter near the curb, a flash of steel, a shine of mother-of-pearl, and that was the pistol he had flung away. I felt suffocating, and my feet seemed weighted with lead as if I were running in a dream. And, strange enough, what filled me with the wildest terror was not the sight of the thing that lay still on the pavement under the drifting smoke, but the sound of those furiously running feet, dying away and away into the sleepy city. I felt as if I myself were a criminal pursued, as if the house was the one refuge that would save me, and with a thousand horrors at my heels I burst in upon father just sitting down with Mr. Dingley, in the quiet, sunny dining-room.
At sight of me both jumped up.
"What's the matter, child?" father said.
I looked around, and realized I was still clutching my basket, though all the mushrooms had fallen out, and my foot was through a torn flounce, and my hat hanging on my neck. My mouth was dry. For a moment I couldn't get a word off my tongue; and then, "He fell, he fell!" I said, and, "He is gone!"
"Where was it?" The words seemed to be in Mr. Dingley's voice, yet came as if from, far off.
"Mr. Rood's gambling-house!" I gasped, and felt the top of my head getting cold and the floor beginning to move under me. I had a dim impression of Mr. Dingley rushing out of the room with his napkin still in his hand; then I found myself sitting on the sofa, with a stinging taste of brandy on my tongue, and heard father's voice saying, "Can't you tell me, child?"
"Oh," I said, "he's dead!" And then I poured all the story out in a breath. I saw father's face growing more and more keen and grave and I could feel his fingers gently around my arm as if he feared my turning faint again. Indeed the room around me seemed unreal, but what had happened in the street was still fearfully clear. It was cut into my mind as if it were still before my eyes, the toppling lurch of the falling body, the silk hat rolling into the gutter, and then that fine terrible gentleman that had sprung out after. The moment had stamped him as clear in my memory as years could have done. I could tell how very tall he was, how dark, how his brows made one black bar across his forehead, how his eyes were set deeply under them, how his chin was wide and keen and his left cheek flicked by a white scar near the mouth. At the time in my furious excitement I only knew that I must tell some one everything, or the thing would kill me. But whether it was father's strange stern face, his seeming so calm and going out so quietly, and yet in such haste; or whether it was some memory of the hunted look of the man who had flung away the pistol, I wished I had not described him so exactly. It would have been easy enough to have said I could not remember him clearly.
I was so stunned by what had happened before my eyes that I could not even formulate in my thoughts what it had been. The very impression of terror that remained with me was confused, and mixed with wounding pity. For though he had looked so wild I could not remember that he had seemed ferocious or afraid. The look I remembered had not been fear of what was going to happen to him, but horror of what had been done—and horror at sight of me.
Voices in the street, sounding unwontedly loud and excited, reached me. People were hurrying past the house—all hurrying downward in the same direction. I saw Lee run across the yard and stand peering out of the side gate. I put my hands over my ears, and up and down, up and down I walked; and back and forth Abby followed me with a little plaid shawl she was trying to put over my shoulders.
It did not seem possible that Mr. Dingley and father could be gone longer than half an hour, but the hands of the clock went to nine and then to ten before I heard them on the steps. I made a dash ahead of Abby, and opened the door. "Did he get away?" The words flew off my tongue before I could think. I knew it had been a dreadfully wrong thing to say. "I mean the other man—is he dead?" I gasped. Father had quickly closed the front door behind him, for there seemed to be quite a crowd in the street, and there in the half dark I could see his face, and Mr. Dingley's, only as palish spots in the gloom. The thought came to me, "Of course he isn't going to tell me anything. He is going to say it is nothing I ought to hear about, and that I must go up-stairs."
"Ellie," he began—then he caught sight of Abby in the dining-room door. He held out his hand to me. "Come into the study, Ellie, Mr. Dingley wants to ask you a question."
It was all so unexpected and so startling to be called into the study where only men went and only business was talked about; and to hear it was Mr. Dingley, not father, who wished to ask me a question, that I wanted to shrink away and escape from the very facts I had been so anxious to know a few minutes before. But father held me by the hand, and I had to drag my feet down the long dark passage that leads to the study, hearing Mr. Dingley striding at my heels.
It was a small room, full of a great litter of papers, and smelling faintly of tobacco and Russia leather. I sat down in the leather armchair that was drawn up to the table. Just opposite me was a window looking directly into the green branches of a weeping willow; and at intervals the wind blew the leaves against the glass with a sound like "Hush!" Up to that moment I had had no memory connected with that room—only the general sense of awe it had given me as a child. But as soon as I was in that chair, facing that window, hearing the "Hush, hush," of the weeping leaves, in a quick distinct flash I saw myself, a naughty child, sitting up in that chair, in anguish of mind over a stolen jam pot, and my mother's face pulled to great gravity, no doubt to keep from laughing at the sight of me. I seemed to hear her voice again, "The truth, Ellie, remember nothing but good ever comes of the truth."
It flitted through my mind as a little, sweet memory, having nothing to do with what was happening at the moment, for the thought in my mind was all, "What has become of the man with the revolver?"
Father had sat down opposite me on a corner of the table, but Mr. Dingley walked to the fireplace, turned his back to it, put his hands behind his coat-tails, buried his big chin deep in his collar, and in just the same cheerful voice he used when he asked me how many hearts I had broken, "Now, Miss Ellie," he said, "what makes you think that the man who came second out of that door had a revolver in his hand?"
I looked at him in astonishment, his question seemed so silly. "Why, because I saw it."
He gave his head a brisk shake. "Yes, but what makes you know you saw it?"
"Because I heard it strike the ground." I was growing more and more bewildered.
"You heard it strike the ground," Mr. Dingley repeated slowly, "but"— Then with a sudden pouncing forward motion of his head and shoulders, he shot the words at me, "I thought you said he had it in his hand."
"Yes," I stammered, "but that was before."
Mr. Dingley was watching me steadily.
"Now, Miss Ellie, aren't you a little confused on that point?"
I was indeed; but it was his manner that was doing it. He seemed to snatch the words out of my mouth, and turn them into another meaning. "But it was there! you saw it yourselves!" I appealed to him.
Father and Mr. Dingley glanced at each other, and a strange thought came to me with a rush of relief. "Wasn't he dead, had he gone away, didn't you find anything?"
The answering look of their faces made my heart go down like lead. "We found everything as you told us except the revolver. There was no revolver there."
I sat clutching the arms of the chair, staring hard at Mr. Dingley, who seemed suddenly to have become a stranger to me. "Then some one must have picked it up."
"But, Miss Ellie, you say that the street was absolutely deserted when this thing occurred; and when I reached the spot there was a woman looking out of a window, and some laborers running up from Sutter Street, but no one had yet reached the place. Now, how could—"
Father struck in, "No, Jim, you'll only frighten her!" In a lower voice he said something that sounded like, "Not on the stand yet." Then, leaning toward me, across the table, resting on his elbow until his face was level with my own, "I know you must have been much frightened at what you saw, child, and it's possible you may have been a little hysterical, isn't it? It's possible you might have fancied a revolver in his hand, isn't it, when there was none there?"
He said this very slowly and gently, as if he were trying to soothe me, but looking straight into his eyes I saw a sharp anxious light there, and the conviction came to me that he very much wanted me to have been mistaken. Mr. Dingley, from the fireplace, was watching me hard, as if he were trying, with that incredulous look of his, to force it on me that I must be mistaken. And then the thought floated through my mind that in some way it would be better for that handsome, terrible man if I could say I hadn't seen a revolver. I tried to make myself believe that they were right; I shut my eyes. The picture came to me as if it were before me still, and nothing in it was more clear than that thing of steel and pearl. "I wasn't hysterical," I said, "I saw it plainly."
"Could you take your oath in court?" father said in a stern voice.
Father dropped my hand and leaned back. He looked puzzled. Mr. Dingley came close to him and said something so low that I couldn't catch it. But father answered in his usual voice as if he had forgotten I was there, "No, Jim, if she says so then she did—be sure of that!" He listened again while Mr. Dingley murmured to him, and the look of their faces, the lowered, hushed tones of their voices, made me feel, more than words could have done, that they were talking about something very serious. All the while Mr. Dingley was speaking father slowly nodded. "I have no doubt you could, Jim," he said at last, "and it's very good of you to offer, but we can't suppress evidence because it happens—" He dropped his voice and I lost the last word.
Mr. Dingley looked silently down for a moment, and I thought he was going to say something more, but finally he only, shrugged. "Well, what time do you want to go down, then?" he said.
Father looked at his watch. "We might as well get this business over as soon as possible. Ellie—" His voice sounded so sharply on my name that I jumped up, all of a nervous tremble. "Go up-stairs and put on your bonnet, I want you to come with me."
I felt that my voice was woefully unsteady.
"Won't you please tell me what is happening and where we are going?"
"Martin Rood has been shot; he is dead. A man has been arrested, corresponding to your description, and we are going down to the prison to see if you can identify him." I stared at father, and my only feeling was one of vague, incredulous wonder. Martin Rood, the fine sleek gentleman whom I had seen swinging out of his gambling-house in the late afternoons—could that have been he, that huddled heap of clothes in the gutter?
"Quickly, Ellie," father's voice reminded me. I went stumbling up-stairs in a burning excitement. I think I had some wild notion of locking myself into my room and defying the house, for the idea of facing that terrible man with his wild terror-stricken face threw me into a panic. But Abby screamed at me that I was treading on my ruffle as I came up-stairs, and captured me; and I let her put another gown on me and my turban and a heavy veil without lifting a finger to help her, as if I had been a child. I knew father was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs, and there was no escape, I must go down. When I got into the hall I saw that Mr. Dingley's buggy was standing in front of the house, though it was but a few blocks down Washington Street to the prison on Kearney.
But we did not drive as I had expected straight down Washington, making instead a detour of several blocks, and finally, by means of a little alleyway, coming to the back door of the prison.
The only people in sight were a couple of policemen, but, Mr. Dingley on one side and father on the other, fairly lifted me out by the arms, and hurried me into the building, as if they were afraid of being caught by some one. The first thing I was aware of was the cold gray light falling on us from high overhead, and a faint sickly odor, very faint but very penetrating, the like of which I had never breathed before. We were standing in a flagged hall, looking up through a great well, past gallery after gallery, to a skylight covering the top of the roof. It was the sunshine filtering through the dull, thick, greenish glass which gave that cold, sad-colored light. Within the galleries I caught glimpses of men at work at desks; and over the railings lounged figures, peered faces, disheveled, sodden, disreputable; and sometimes near these a policeman's star twinkled. I saw it all in one upward glance, for I was hurried on. Our steps clattered over the flags of the hall, and then, turning to the right, we began to go down-stairs. I took tighter hold on father's arm, for we seemed to be descending into a dungeon. That sickly, acrid odor grew heavier, making me think of caged animals, and yet, what made it worse, it wasn't quite like an animal either.
The hall we came out into was smaller and darker than the one above it, and empty except for a policeman standing by a door. To him Mr. Dingley handed his card, and, after a few minutes, we were admitted to a small office. It was divided in half by a railing; on the inner side was a desk, at which a man with a star on his coat was writing under the light of a green-shaded lamp. He came forward, opened a gate in the railing for us to enter, shook hands with Mr. Dingley and father, and then was introduced to me. His name did not reach me, but I understood the words "Chief of Police." Then all three talked together in low voices, while I sat where I had been bidden, in a chair close to the railing. Once or twice the man with the star glanced at me, and then, presently, they all looked at me, and I couldn't distinguish one face from another. My head was whirling so with excitement I felt as if I were living in a dream. Yet when the man with the star began speaking I heard him with curious distinctness.
"All that is necessary for you to do, Miss Fenwick, is to tell me whether you recognize the person you saw this morning."
I sat forward on the edge of my chair. I tried to draw a deep breath, but the sickly atmosphere seemed choking me. There was the tread of feet outside the door; it opened and two officers came in, stopping one on each side of the doorway; and then, with a queer shock, I saw not the one man I had expected, but a file of men, shuffling one behind the other, and linked together by what seemed a long steel chain, from wrist to wrist, into the seeming of a single thing. This thing halted opposite the railing, and faced about before me, where it appeared to me as a line of heads and moving arms and legs and shuffling feet. But among them all I saw only one individual. It was absurd if they had expected to confuse me with these other creatures. I saw him instantly and I knew him past hope of mistaking. His clothes were all torn and disordered; there was a cut on his forehead and a bloodstained bandage showed on his wrist beneath his sleeve; and the bitter way he held his head up and stared straight past me at the wall made him seem quite grim and yet, somehow, very forlorn. A lump rose in my throat. I heard the Chief of Police saying, "Is there any person here you recognize?" I swallowed hard and opened my lips, but the only sound that came was like a sob.
Quickly the prisoner turned his eyes on me. There crossed his face again a look like the faint shadow of that look which had transfixed me, as he burst out of the door. But in a moment it was gone, and he smiled. Such a smile, so warm and kind, as if he were reassuring and encouraging me to go on! It transformed him from a terrifying presence into something beautiful. It made me forget the others and the room and, curiously, in their place, came the confusing memory of a ball-room and a slim boy with black brows whirling down the polished floor with his splendid partner, both in a gale of laughter. Those long white hands, now linked together with a chain,—hadn't I seen them holding up a woman's filmy draperies?
"Speak, Ellie," my father's voice said. "Can't you tell us?"
It brought me back from my fancies with a great start, and before I knew what I was saying I had stammered out, "Yes." The next moment I realized they were all waiting, waiting for and looking at me; and it seemed as if I could not go on with the truth. It was only the thought that everything depended on me, and that, whatever I said, father would believe it, that nerved me to get through with it.
"He is that one," I said, "the fourth from the end."
The Chief of Police looked at me sternly. "You are sure of that?"
"Quite sure." I was surprised at how steady; my voice had grown.
The Chief of Police said something in a lifted voice, the line of prisoners filed out with one of the policemen, and left the man I had pointed out alone in front of me. It was then I noticed how his hands were awkwardly carried in front of him, held by two steel bands around his wrists, with a chain like a bracelet-chain swinging between. The sight of it affected me strangely. I had a new bracelet which also had two bands with a chain between, but they were of gold, and both were worn on the one hand.
The Chief of Police came and stood beside me, and said, "Look at this person, Miss Fenwick;" and I had been looking at him all the time, as if by doing that I could make him understand how terribly I wished I had never seen him. "Can you take your oath—could you take your oath in open court that he is the man?"
The Chief's voice sounded solemn, and those words "oath" and "open court" made me feel frightened. But I saw he held up his hand, palm out, and mechanically I held up mine. "Yes," I repeated after him, "I can take my oath in open court." My voice sounded very loud to me, and clear, and not at all like my own.
There was a pause, and now they were no longer looking at me, but at the man standing alone in the middle of the room, as if the chain between his wrists had made him different from them, as if he wasn't a man at all, but a stone. Yet I couldn't look at him like that. He was not at all dreadful to look at, only so alone and fiercely proud and wretched looking that something ached inside of me just to see his face.
Then the Chief of Police nodded at the policeman and said, "That will do." But before the man could move forward the prisoner had walked straight up to the rail, and standing there scarcely two feet from me, in such a low voice that only I could hear, "I am sorry I frightened you this morning," he said. "If I had known you were passing I should have managed it differently."
This all happened so quickly that I had hardly seen how dark his eyes were before father thrust between us, and I heard his voice, sounding very low, and saying something about infernal impudence and not presuming to come near me. The policeman touched the dark man's elbow. He started, half-turned on the man, made a movement with his hands; but then he felt the jerk of the chain. The blood rushed to his face. With the policeman holding his arm he walked away across the room, and I wondered what sort of place he was being taken to. It wasn't until the door had closed upon him that I realized how angry father was. Mr. Dingley was saying that prisoners ought not to be permitted to speak without permission, but the Chief leaned over his desk, smiling at me, and asked, "What did the prisoner say to you?"
"He apologized for frightening me," I answered.
Still smiling, as if he were coaxing a child, "Exactly what words did he use, Miss Fenwick?"
I could have repeated them exactly, but I hesitated, for the last words he had let slip had sounded oddly in my mind—"If I had known you were there I should have managed it differently." He seemed to make himself so absolutely responsible for what had happened! And when I thought how Mr. Dingley had twisted my words about I was afraid—afraid that if I repeated the ones that this man had spoken they would somehow get twisted into a meaning—perhaps not the true one—that would be bad for him. I was so upset, I said, and so startled by the man's speaking to me at all I hardly thought I could repeat them word for word.
Father put my coat around me and said, "I hope that is all," very coldly.
"Yes," the Chief said, "except that this young lady must understand that she is not to speak of what she saw this morning."
"Remember, Ellie," father said, "if your friends talk to you about it, you have heard and seen nothing."
I murmured, "Of course," and followed father out of the prison with a very strong conviction that nothing was real.
As we walked home again all the familiar surroundings seemed dreamlike to me—the Plaza, with its high iron railing, and the shops facing upon it, and our own green palm farther up the street, fluttering on the sky. Father himself, so silent and walking on without ever turning his head to look at me, seemed quite a different person from the father who had gone with me the day before, merrily, to buy my bracelet. The thought of the man with the dark eyes and the chain between his wrists filled all my mind. Who could he be? The sense of warmth that had come with his smile, and that very curious sensation I had had when he had come up close to the bar and spoken to me, were with me yet. His voice had been pleading and deferential, surely nothing in it to resent. The memory of his face made me forget the chain between his wrists; as if he himself had been greater than any of the people around him.
We had reached our own door, but before father could put his key in the lock, the door opened from within, and there in the hall stood Hallie Ferguson, her new blue bonnet on one side, her face crimson with haste and excitement.
"Oh, Ellie," she gasped, "have you heard? I've been waiting the longest time for you. Isn't it awful? Johnny Montgomery has shot Martin Rood, and they say it's about the Spanish Woman."
Hallie's facts dashed so coldly and so suddenly upon the warm fancies which had been taking possession of my mind, that for the moment I could only stupidly gaze at her. Then, without any reason that I could account for, I burst into tears.
I cried all the while father carried me upstairs. I cried convulsively while Abby was getting me to bed, and, wound up in the sheets with my face hidden in the pillow, I cried inconsolably for a long time. That aching sensation in my throat would not wash away with tears. Vaguely I heard the doctor explaining to father how my present condition was due "to severe nervous strain, and the subconscious effort of the constitution to combat it." I knew it was nothing of the sort, but just the plain fact that Johnny Montgomery, seen once dancing at a ball, and ever after to me the model of all romantic heroes, was a murderer. It was dreadful to think that it was through me he had been taken, because I had remembered so well his beautiful black eyebrows, and the little white scar near his mouth; but nothing that had followed had been so terrible as that first sight of him, when he rushed out of the door, with all the horror of what had just happened, in his face; or so cruel as the thought that he could have done such a thing. But why did his look, both then and later, come back to me accusing and reproachful? How could I help what I had done? I had had to tell the truth, and surely he must know that nothing but good ever comes of that, no matter how hard it seems. I agonized through the early evening hours, and fell asleep not with a sense of being drifted deliciously away, but of sinking down under deep exhaustion.
When I awakened the next morning I was astonished to find myself feeling quite differently—a little tired and languid—but the aching misery, the black hopelessness, that had fallen on me the night before had quite evaporated, left perhaps in that bottomless pit of sleep into which I had sunk.
It seemed now, in the broad daylight, as if I had made too much of everything that had happened; as if Hallie must be mistaken. It could not have been Johnny Montgomery who had shot a man, or, if he had, it must have been an accident. And, even suppose he had meant to kill him, what possible difference could it make to me?
Here Abby knocked at the door, and, showing a rather forbidding face around it, said that Hallie was down-stairs; but that if I was going to have any more conniption fits I would better stay where I was. She left a glass of milk and a clean tucker and sleeves on my chair. I swallowed the milk, and hurried into my clothes, but I descended rather slowly to the hall. I had always confided in Hallie, and I knew she would probably expect to hear all about it from the moment I had seen him. I hated to think of the questions I would have to answer; yet I would have to face them sometime, and it was better to get it over at once.
When I reached the sitting-room door I was decidedly dashed at sight of Estrella Mendez's red pelisse behind Hallie's blue hat ribbons. Two of them were a little too much for me, and I was all ready for flight when Hallie pounced upon me. She is such an imposing person, wears so many tucks and ruffles in her clothes, such bows on her hats, and can spread her skirts about and rustle so, that I always feel like the merest child beside her.
"You poor little Ellie," she began, "how pale you look still! I am afraid I frightened you to death yesterday."
I murmured something about being much upset.
"Yes, your father said you were not at all well. He gave me such a scolding for pouncing out on you like that!" She laughed her deep throaty chuckle. "But I supposed of course you had heard, it happened so close to you. Didn't you even hear the shot?"
I must have gaped at her. Could it be she didn't know that I had seen it? Didn't know what I had been through? I recalled confusedly the warning of the Chief of Police and father not to say anything of what I had seen. This was what they meant; this was the meaning of the carriage, the alley and the back door of the prison; all my part in the business had been kept secret. I wondered what in the world Hallie could have thought of my behavior last night, but I was greatly relieved to think of the fusillade of questions I had escaped. I managed to get out something about father's having heard a shot.
"Of course I know that," Hallie said, pulling me down on the sofa beside her. She was too full of her subject to notice how oddly I must have looked. "It's all in the paper, how they found him—Mr. Rood, I mean."
"It's here," Estrella said, sitting down on the other side of me, and unfolding the crumpled sheet she had been carrying rolled up in her hand. She and Hallie held it stretched out in front of me.
The sight of Johnny Montgomery's name staring at me from the page made my heart beat a little. But when I began reading down the column I couldn't seem to make sense of it. The only thing that stood out in the jumble was a name nearly at the bottom of the sheet, Carlotta Valencia. It gave me a queer little stir of feeling, merely seeing that name under his. Keeping my finger on it, "Who is that?" I asked.
"Oh, don't you know?" Hallie demanded, looking surprised, but delighted at the chance of giving more information. "That is the Spanish Woman." Estrella crossed her arms on her waist, and drew herself up, exactly as her mother does when she thinks some one is beneath her. "You see," Hallie went on, explaining a little more to me, "she was—well, a sort of friend of Mr. Rood's, and the paper says she feels dreadfully about him!" Estrella sniffed.
"But," I cried, "you said last night that the shooting had been over her."
"Yes, I know!" Hallie leaned forward impressively and seized a hand of each of us. "It's perfectly true—at least it's what my father said when the news came. He said, 'That confounded Valencia woman is at the bottom of this, depend upon it.' But your father was very angry that I had spoken of it, so of course I'm telling you this in strictest confidence. The paper," Hallie went on, we both listening with open eyes, "doesn't say the Spanish Woman had anything to do with the shooting. So you see, no one does know exactly what it's about. It's really the most mysterious thing! They found Mr. Rood lying there quite dead," she continued breathlessly, "and they went to Johnny Montgomery's house, but he wasn't there. Then some one told Mr. Dingley they had seen a man run down Washington Street, so they followed that trail, and finally they got him in a house down on the water front, in a bad part of the city. My father said it would have made things better for him if he had given himself up quietly; but he barricaded the house, and almost escaped out of a back window. They had a dreadful fight before they got him even then. He is so strong, father says, that he just threw the men right and left as if he had been a madman."
Hallie is wonderful when she is telling news. She never says unkind things about anybody, and she is always so excited over what has happened that she makes it sound like a romance. But now I was too anxious to enjoy it. I felt I had to ask one question more, though every word that came out of my mouth was a possible slip or lie. "But, if they found Mr. Rood in the street with nobody near him, what makes them think it was Mr. Montgomery who shot him?"
"That is the very queerest part of it," Hallie declared, nodding until her green feathers nodded again, "but he was suspected immediately. What they say is—" she lowered her voice impressively—"that some one saw him do it."
I fairly cowered in my chair. "But he can't have meant to kill him," I urged. "Why, his family was one of the best in the city. Just think, Hallie, your mother knew his mother well, and he used to play with Estrella's brothers."
Estrella flushed. "He hasn't been in our house since he was a little boy," she said angrily. "I wouldn't think of bowing to him on the street. He hasn't been received in good society for a long time."
Hallie sagely shook her head. "Yes, but I guess it's because he didn't care to go, and lots of very nice girls have always been in love with Johnny Montgomery. Lily West kept his picture in a satin case hidden among her party clothes for ever so long. And do you know, when Laura Burnet heard about Johnny's arrest last night, she fainted flat on the floor."
Hallie's bolt upright impressiveness seemed to demand some comment, but I could not manage a sound; for at her words there rushed back to me, with humiliating clearness, my own hysterics of the night before. Was it possible that Hallie thought I was in love with him, too? My cheeks burned and burned.
"Were you ever introduced to him, Ellie?" Estrella asked, looking at me curiously.
"No, she has never met him," Hallie promptly took the response out of my mouth; "but she saw him once—don't you remember, Ellie, at my sister Adelaide's coming-out ball?"
I said, yes, I remembered it.
"He danced most of that evening with Laura Burnet," Hallie pursued, "and she was perfectly wild about him. My brother Tom saw him kiss her in the conservatory," Hallie chuckled at that memory, "and for a while it was said that they were engaged, though she was three years older than he was. But he was terribly in debt then, and of course she had lots of money." Hallie sighed, and added, "Isn't it awful he should have ended in this way? Adelaide always said there was no one who could put your shawl around you so beautifully as he."
It seemed terrible to me that they could sit there talking of how badly he had been thought of by society, and how beautifully he had put women's shawls around them, when he was in prison waiting to be tried for his life. I was glad when the girls went and I could think about it by myself.
I felt sick and bruised. All suggestions that Hallie had innocently let fall put such an ugly face upon his actions. I didn't want to believe that hateful gossip. His smile had been so charming and kind. There was something about him that made him seem of so much greater importance than any one else I had known; that made every little look and motion of his memorable and eloquent. And when he had looked straight into my eyes I had felt the warm flowing of the blood in my veins. Had it been these strange qualities of his that had made nice girls fall in love with him? I peeped into my mirror to see if my face looked as queer as my feelings felt. I whispered the words again, "To fall in love." What could that be like? To make Laura Burnet faint away at just the news of his arrest—what a great and terrible feeling it must be! When I thought of him as a person who could inspire such emotions he gathered a halo of mystery and power; but when I remembered Hallie's saying how he had been engaged to Laura for the sake of her money, he seemed to me the merest wretch. I told myself there was no need of my worrying about it, as he was in prison and my part was done. It couldn't possibly interest me any further. All the same I couldn't get it out of my head.
Father came home to luncheon that day, bringing Senora Mendez with him. He looked worried and tired, but I had never seen her so sweet, and so very gay.
She said I had been in the house too much, looked pale, and that she was going to take me shopping. As we got up from the table she lingered a moment, saying something to father about taking some one's mind off something. And father said, yes until we can tell which way it will go. So I supposed they were talking business.
Senora Mendez is such a great grand sort of lady that usually one is a little in awe of her; but to-day she made me feel very much at home, as we drove down the street in her big open carriage. She never once mentioned the shooting, and I didn't have courage to speak of it myself. But we heard of it all around us. In the first shop we went into a woman just behind me said in a loud voice, "Do the rebels think they can shoot us all down as Wilkes Booth shot the president?" And then, again, at another shop where we were looking at lace, the clerk said, "This is a terrible thing for the city, Madam, the loss of such a valuable citizen." But Senora Mendez seemed not to hear him, and went on explaining to me the difference between honiton and thread, and showing me how beautiful embroidered net looked over pale blue silk, until I felt quite cheerful just through listening to her and looking at the pretty things. She wound up by buying me a lovely pair of thread lace sleeves, and swept me out in the wake of her train feeling almost happy again.
Just as we had got into the carriage two gentlemen with silk hats, very elegant indeed, came up and talked over the carriage door with her. The one with yellow gloves said, "This is a bad business. It's a good thing poor old lady Montgomery never lived to see this day." And the other said, "I wonder what the effect on the city will be?"
Senora Mendez said she hoped the effect would be a law requiring our young men to settle disputes with their fists instead of firearms, and that it was a shame nice boys would brawl in gambling-houses. She smiled and looked most easy and pleasant over it, and all the way up the street she chatted right along as if nothing serious had ever happened. But when we stopped at the house, just as I was leaving the carriage, she quickly took my face between her hands and kissed me hard on the forehead. "You poor little motherless duck," she said, and left me with the impression there had been tears in her eyes.
I wondered why she should feel so suddenly sorry for me; nevertheless I felt cheered and consoled—hadn't she spoken kindly of Johnny Montgomery as a nice boy? But it was the last good word I was to hear of him for a week. I needed the memory of that cheer and consolation through the next hard days.
For now that I was recovered from the shock of the first day I began to realize that the shooting of Martin Rood was not at all an ordinary shooting. It had stirred up great excitement. Only one month had passed since the president's assassination; the feeling against the Southerners was still very bitter, and not only were all the Montgomerys dyed-in-the-wool Alabamians, but some of the relatives had fought on the Southern side. Rumors flew about the city of a mob attacking the prison. There was a guard of soldiers around it the first night, and when they took him from there to the jail on Broadway, it was in the middle of an armed escort. All sorts of stories as to what had caused the shooting were abroad, but the one thing the reports agreed upon was the fact that the quarrel had been of long standing. This was very exciting to hear about, yet I didn't enjoy talking of it as the other girls did.
Only when I was alone, with hot cheeks and anxious eyes, I read through the long accounts that filled the papers, hoping to find some word in his favor. It seemed to me that the whole city was against Johnny Montgomery. The Bulletin had stories of another shooting down South, though it appeared that that time he had been the one who was shot at; and of how he had lost his money in land speculations of a doubtful character. The Alta California called him a rebel, and said that his career had been "a demoralizing influence to the youth of the city." Though, on the other hand, it called Mr. Rood our esteemed and lamented citizen, which was puzzling to me, for he was only a gambling-house keeper whom none of the best men in town was friendly with. But the papers spoke very warmly of him; called Mrs. Rood, Senior, his sorrowing mother, and then they mentioned the Spanish Woman. They said she had been in love with Rood, and that he had expected to marry her. That recalled a memory of what father had told me when I first asked him about the Spanish Woman—that she had money, and influence in high places—and I wondered what that influence could do to Johnny Montgomery's case. Altogether I was much disturbed. I hated to ask questions of father, he had been so distressed over my part in the affair; and besides he had been very busy that week, so many men interviewing him when he was at home—Mr. Dingley, and others who were not elegant, but very businesslike—that I hardly saw him except at meals. Once or twice I had caught him, when he thought I wasn't looking, watching me with an anxious and harassed expression; but most of the time he was preoccupied.
On the morning of the fourth day after the shooting, as I sat at breakfast, I took up the paper and read that the trial of the People Versus John Montgomery was set for the last week of May. I glanced down the column and a sentence caught my eye. "It is said the prosecution is in possession of sensational evidence which will materially affect the aspect of the case." I sat for some minutes with the paper in my hand, listening to it rustle, gathering my courage.
"Father," I finally said, "do you think that Mr. Montgomery is really wicked?"
He looked over at me with that smile of his which is most serious. "My dear child, I am not Almighty God."
"But you know what I mean," I protested. "The papers have been saying such nice things about Mr. Rood, but you yourself once said he was an 'insidious and pernicious influence in the community'; and the papers are printing such dreadful things about Johnny Montgomery! They are telling all sorts of stories about him—that he has been in shooting scrapes and dishonorable business deals, and—and horrible things," I ended rather uncertainly.
"Oh, no doubt he hasn't been such a bad fellow," father said, passing his cup for coffee. "As far as his land operations are concerned, I know for a fact that the 'dishonorable dealing' the Bulletin talks about was all on the side of the men who got his money. But you see he would go into the deal in spite of the advice of the executor of the estate, antagonized all his father's friends—plucked the Roman senators by the beards, as it were;—so of course they were ready to believe the worst of him. Then he went badly into debt, and accumulated too many creditors to be popular. But Rood, you see, always had money, always kept his escapades quiet, and was very liberal to the city. He has given a deal to different public institutions. They can't do otherwise than praise him."
He took up his letters and began to open them with a paper-knife.
"But," I said, "they say Mr. Montgomery has been engaged to a girl for her money."
Father threw back his head and laughed—I can never tell when I am going to amuse him.
"Engaged to a girl for her money? That's the worst thing on his list, I suppose, eh, Ellie?" Before he finished the sentence he was almost grave again. "I know where you got that information." He shook the paper-knife at me. "Women's gossip is an invention of the devil! Don't listen to it! The poor fellow has enough real counts to be accused on, God knows!"
He said the last words with such an emphasis as did away with all the comfort his explanation had brought me. I did not dare to press him further; I was afraid I might hear worse.
He sat a moment frowning down at the tablecloth; then, "How would you like to go down to the ranch for a week or so?" he inquired.
"Alone?" I asked.
"Well, I will go down with you, and stay as long as I can. Abby, of course, will be there all the while. The colts are to be broken in next week—that will be worth seeing; and no doubt the flowers will be beautiful."
I said I would like to—though indeed I did not at all care. I was not thinking of flowers. After father had left the house I went up-stairs to my room; and, first locking the door and drawing the curtains close because I did not want even my climbing white rose to see me, I took out my new bracelet, and clasped it—one gold band around each wrist with its chain swinging between—and closed my eyes and, holding my wrists out, drew them apart until the chain jerked and stopped them—to see just how it felt!
THE FIRST DAY IN COURT
As father had said, the breaking of the colts was well worth seeing. The first day I arrived at the ranch, clinging to the top rail of the corral, I watched the glossy huddled flanks and shoulders and tossing heads of the youngsters crowding together in the middle of the inclosure, quivering with apprehension of the man approaching with his rope; until, the man being unendurably near, one and another would break and wheel, and trot with high head, whinnying, around the corral close to the fence. Then, when Perez had one fast, one end of his rope around the glossy neck, and slowly working toward him, hand over hand, finally touched the velvety head, how the creature started, swerved, tried to back, and felt the jerk of the halter. It made me think of the way the prisoner had started when the policeman touched his arm. At first their nervous, proud, restive airs reminded me constantly of that strange person; and not only the colts, but some times it was some drifting shadow of cloud, some color or some sound, that inexplicably brought him up to mind; and I would plague myself with wondering what was going on in the city, and what was to become of him. But as the days passed and no newspapers came from the city—at least I saw none—and no letters to remind me of what was happening there, I recalled him less and less distinctly. He remained in my mind but as a sort of dream; things about me reminded me only of themselves, and I became absorbed in picking out a new saddle-horse, and searching the meadows over to see if the Mariposa lilies were coming up this year in their accustomed places.
Splendid fields, in early spring filled with wild flowers, stretched down toward the bay, but close around the house were the somber and, to me, more beautiful groves of oaks. To wander away until I had lost sight of the house in their olive glooms and saw nothing around me but dark trunks, crooked elbows of boughs and sweeping leaves, was my delight. I loved to crown myself with their white beards of moss, and fancy I was walking through a cathedral aisle, a princess going to be married. But, whereas I had never needed to imagine a bride-groom before—myself and the crown had been enough—now my imagination insistently placed a figure walking beside me, or coming to meet me under the solemn roof of branches. I had to abandon my crown, and run races with myself before I could leave the figure behind.
On the whole it was safer, I found, just now not to imagine too much, but instead, while father was there, to take long rides with him into the San Mateo Hills; and, after he had gone, shorter excursions in the vicinity of the town. Or else to walk with Abby in the morning down the broad Embarcadero Road to the little wharf on the bay. It was charming enough there when all was idle, with white adobe huts, and dark faces sleeping in the sun, and the lap of the tide on the breakwater. But when a ship was coming in, or was loading to get out, the Embarcadero filled the eye,—carts backing up with vegetables; casks being rolled out on the wharf with a hollow and reverberating sound; hallooings from the boat; and then round she would swing, with a tremendous snapping of canvas, while the shadow of her brown sails, patched with red, floated over all.
The country, and especially the country in spring, seems to have a way of making the place where one has lived before very unreal and far distant. Two weeks of such dreamy living drifted the city, and the violent things that had been done there, so far behind me that I could think of them without a tremor. I could even think of my own part in them as if it had happened in a play.
Then one evening, just before dark, a boy on a heavily lathered horse rode up to the piazza steps, and, like the messenger in a novel, handed me a letter. It was from father. "Have everything in readiness to start to-morrow morning," he wrote. "I shall expect you at the house at six-thirty to-morrow night without fail." This letter threw me into a flutter of excitement. I was accustomed to short-notice orders from father, orders that carried no explanations; but they had always been sent through the mails. A messenger meant great need of haste. I recognized him as father's office-boy. Was my father ill, I asked.
No, he was in excellent health.
I thought, "Perhaps he has been suddenly called out of the city and wants to see me before he leaves home." It surely couldn't be that this summons had anything to do with Johnny Montgomery's case. Having to rush off at such short notice I was luckily too busy to have time to worry about it; coming up through the valley Perez let me drive a good deal, and the horses were so spirited I needed all my wits to keep them from running away. But when we began to wind in and out among the tall round hills to the south of the city a nervousness came upon me, and I kept wondering what could be wanted of me. By the time we reached the house on Washington Street I could scarcely sit still.
Father was standing in the door to welcome me. I fairly flew up the steps. "What is the matter?" I asked, almost before I hugged him.
"By, and by we will talk about that," he said. "Now, come in and see what a fine host I am." But as I passed him, I heard him saying to Perez, "Before you put up the horses I want you to take this note out to Mr. James Dingley, at his house, and wait for an answer."
It was a charming table, lit with candles, and there was a delicious dinner, but I was too excited to eat. The glass of wine that father made me drink only seemed to make my thoughts spin faster, wondering what could be going on since by father's manner, and the message he had given Perez I felt sure it must be something unusual. When dessert had been put on, and Lee had gone out, leaving us alone there opposite each other, I thought, "Now it's coming."
Father had set down his coffee-cup untasted. "I have had to send for you, Ellie," he said, "because of a matter connected with the trial."
My heart was beating quickly, and in spite of myself my voice trembled.
"When does it begin?" I asked.
"It began last week," father answered, "but there has been no evidence of any consequence yet."
He was silent for a moment, looking thoughtfully at the dancing flames of the candles. "I suppose you know," he went on, "that, in trials there is usually plenty of circumstantial evidence, but eye witnesses are rare and their testimony most valuable?"
I nodded. This feeling of suspense was intolerable.
"I very much hoped that yours would not be necessary. Mr. Dingley was of that opinion. But a new development has suddenly arisen, and now I am afraid you will have to be state's witness—the most important one they will have."
There are no words to tell of the panic I was in. Father's face, wrinkled with anxiety, was watching me. "I would give anything to keep you out of it," he said.
I tried to make my voice steady. "And will I have to tell them whether or not I think him guilty?"
He put his hand over mine. "God bless the child, no! You will have to tell them only exactly what you saw, all that you saw, and just how you saw it."
I could breathe again. After that one awful moment, when the whole weight of the trial seemed on my shoulders, anything was a relief. "But, father," I said; "do you really think that he is guilty?"
Father gave me an odd look. "Aren't you the one person in this city best qualified to answer that question?"
I stared at him. I felt as if I had been suddenly set up in a high tower, above all other people in the world, and that I was going to fall. I had known in a blind sort of way what I had seen, and, also, that no one else had seen it; but I had not realized the terrible isolation, the responsibility of such knowledge. "Oh," I cried, "I only wish I had never gone near Dupont Street. I am so sorry I have made you unhappy!"
"Well, my dear child, this is no time for regretting what has been done. We must think of ourselves only as two citizens of the state, and be ready to do all we can in that cause. You know it will not be easy, it will be made as difficult as possible for you to answer straightly." He had hold of both my hands now, was looking hard into my face. "And a young good-looking prisoner will make it harder yet." His eyes seemed to go straight to my thoughts. "Ellie, I can depend upon you, can't I?"
I was glad I could say, in quite a steady voice, "Oh, yes, yes!"
He smiled. "Of course I should have known without asking. Now don't fret about it. To bed, to bed, to bed! We shall have to be up early to-morrow if we are to be in court by nine o'clock."
He was smiling, as he said this, with his old gaiety, but I suspected he was only putting it on to cheer me, as I now understand Senora Mendez had done when she had taken me shopping.
After I got up-stairs I couldn't sleep. At about ten o'clock I heard the door-bell ring, then long heavy steps going down the hall, and the shutting of a door which I guessed to be the door of the study. That was odd; father seldom had visitors so late. I tossed and tossed. I kept trying to picture the court room. I saw it as a vast place, with a cold chilly light, like the hall of the prison, filled with a surging mob of people; serried rows of lawyers all in white wigs—the memory of some English pictures—and a terrible judge in a black gown, calling out my name. Suppose, even with the best I could do, I should make a mistake; forget something, or, what would be much worse, remember something wrongly!
I realized that I was hearing voices with remarkable clearness. I was able to recognize father's and Mr. Dingley's, and they seemed to be talking just beneath my window. Then it occurred to me that, since the evening was mild, the window of the study, which was just beneath my room, must be open. The sound of those voices worried me; Mr. Dingley's was louder than common, and there were times when both seemed to speak at once. I got up softly and going to my window very noiselessly closed it. Then, so that I should not be quite stifled for air, I set the door into the hall wide. It opened outward, so that I had to step out on the landing. Just as I did so, I heard the study door flung open, quick steps in the hall, and there, from that part of the hall directly beneath the landing, Mr. Dingley's voice:
"Oh, that's just your supersensitive conscience! There was no need of bringing the child up to town. There's enough circumstantial evidence to convict ten men of whatever guilt there is."
Then father—"Yes, and I thought you had enough to convict one—that is I did last week. But this new development,—this Valencia woman, puts another face on the business."
"Come, now, Fred, the poor woman is really mighty upset over Rood's death! All she says is that she doesn't really believe the boy did it."
"And for that reason, and that reason alone," father broke in, "she is going to throw all her influence with the defense—thousands of dollars spent, and Lord knows what wires pulled, to get him off. Man, you can't believe it! Don't you know she's going to fight us every inch of the way? You'll need every scrap of testimony you can dig up! And such an important piece as—" They were advancing up the hall. I shrank back and closed the door.
Faintly I heard the voices in the hall going on a few moments longer, then the front door shut with a deep sound, and the house was still. I got back into bed but it was not to sleep.
It seemed that since I had been away from the city this strange thing had happened: the Spanish Woman, whom the papers had described as mourning for Rood, had taken up the defense of Montgomery. I couldn't understand it. It would seem that I ought to have been glad—I, who had been so anxious to find a champion for him—but queerly enough the only feeling that came was one of fear, as if, instead of saving, she had been dragging him into worse danger. I lay, staring now at the ceiling, now at the window, where, toward dawn, a paling light began to shine. I no longer felt the nervous anxieties that had kept me awake through the earlier part of the night. I was calmed by one great dread,—the thought of the Spanish Woman! Her presence rose up and possessed my imaginary court room, obliterating the figures of the judge and the lawyers, until it seemed that she and I and the prisoner were the only persons in the room, and that the one person she was fighting in all the city was myself.
The next morning when I came in to breakfast father laid his hand on my cheek, which felt very burning, and said, "You are not fit to answer one question." My throat was dry, and it was hard work to swallow things, but he stood over me and made me eat a good breakfast. After that he had me go over the story of what I had seen on the morning I had been coming home with my basket of mushrooms. When that was done, "Now remember," he said, "all you will have to do will be to tell that same story, and to answer to the best of your recollection all questions put to you. If you are careful to do that they can't confuse you." Abby had fetched my turban, with a dark veil, which I had to put over my face before I went into the street. There a carriage was waiting.
As we drove it seemed to me there were more people in the street than usual; and when we reached the jail there was a dense crowd in front of it, and policemen were striking with their clubs to make a passage through. But our carriage drove, as Mr. Dingley's had done before, around the building and through the little alley to the back entrance. Even here some people were gathered; and as I stepped to the pavement a woman called out in a shrill voice, "Ain't that Carlotta Valencia?" Father seized me, and almost lifted me up the steps and into the high, coldly lit hall.
To-day, however, it was not empty. A continuous stream of men, some of them escorting ladies, were hurrying in the front door, and across the echoing flags, and up the stairs. Following them, we were upon the first balcony and in front of the door which was kept a-swing by the people going in. Father stopped and said something to a policeman who seemed to be on guard in the hall. He pointed at a door next to the one which was so constantly opening and shutting.
"This way," father said, and I found myself, much to my surprise, not in a crowded court room, but in a small box of a place, hardly large enough to hold the six chairs that furnished it, and with only one other person in it besides ourselves. "This is the witness room," father explained. "We await our summons here."
I took one of the six chairs. The room was a dreary little place, with a high, dingy ceiling, one small window, placed far up the wall, and a small air-tight stove with no fire in it. I looked at the one other occupant with a greater interest, now that I knew that he must be a witness. He was a dark, slick, Mexican-looking man, who dangled his hat nervously from his fingers, and kept glancing at the door. Presently it opened, a policeman put his head in And said, "Witness Manuel Gora." The Mexican jumped and shuffled hastily out. Father took the Alta California from his coat pocket, and I sat trying to make out the pattern in the old carpet at my feet.
I had distinguished a dead-looking rose and some faded out sunflowers when I heard the click of the door, and a waft of perfume touched the stale air, and made it like a garden. I looked up. There she stood in the doorway, the Spanish Woman.
She was all in black, her face wax-white, a little black hat on her wonderful golden-red hair, and in her breast a tuberose. It was the intoxicating sweetness of that which had breathed upon me first, and now kept on breathing upon me, while she watched me through her eyelashes. From sheer fright I kept looking at her—I couldn't help it—until I felt father's hand touch mine. That seemed to break the spell. I looked down at the carpet again and felt the color rushing to my face. I heard the rustle of her dress, a soft, silky, indefinite sound. She had come forward into the room, had taken one of the chairs, I knew—I heard the subsiding of her draperies—and then I felt her watching me. Her presence was like a great light in a closet. It was oppressive. I began to breathe quickly, and the odor of her flower was making my head ache.
I heard the crackle of father's paper as he rolled it; then his voice, low and speaking close to me, "Mr. Dingley said you were to be called after Gora. We would better go into the court now, so as not to be hurried."
Somehow I had a fancy he would not have suggested our going into court so soon if the Spanish Woman had not come into the witness room. I followed him down the hall, not daring to turn my head, though I thought I heard the door open again after we had closed it, and then the rustle of her dress; but it did not seem to be following us, but to grow fainter, as if she had turned in another direction.
We joined the crowd of people hastening toward the swinging door. As we came up to it I heard from within a high-lifted resonant voice that I thought I recognized as Mr. Dingley's speaking with pauses and rising inflections, as if addressing an audience. It ceased just as we entered the court.
The room was large, though not nearly so large as I had imagined, and quite cheerful in color. I had an impression of yellowish pine walls and plenty of light, a continuous though not loud murmur of voices and the incessant flutter of the movement of a crowd. There were no serried ranks of judges and barristers in black gowns, indeed at first sight my confused eyes saw nothing but the crowd. And such a well-dressed, holiday-looking gathering! I saw girls whom I knew, their gowns making bright spots of color among the men's dark coats. It looked more like an afternoon concert than a trial. Every place seemed to be taken, and men and women, standing up, lined the walls. But a police officer said seats had been reserved for us, and led us to two on the side aisle near the front, and quite under the shadow of the balcony. Once I had sat down among the crowd I ceased to notice it, and began to take in what was directly before me.