An Illustrated Monthly
Vol. 5, Issue. 29.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SIERRAS
BY IZA DUFFUS HARDY.
Barbara Thorne sat leaning her head on her hand, looking at a photograph that lay on the table beneath her eyes. She had not intended to look for that when she pulled out a dusty drawer full of old letters, papers, and account-books to arrange and set in order. But when in the course of her rummaging and tidying she found that picture in her hand, she paused in her task. The neglected drawer stood open, with its dusty packets and rolls of faded papers. Barbara had forgotten it and all else around her.
She sat there lost in memory, her eyes fixed upon the "counterfeit presentment" of the face that once had been all the world to her. She did not often think of Oliver Desmond now; to think of him meant only pain—pain of outraged pride and wounded love. She had outgrown the time when she could not tear her thoughts from him, when his face was in her "mind's eye" by night and day, and yet she shrank with a shuddering revolt of anguish from those pictures of the past which she could not banish. For the memory that was the locked-up skeleton of her life—that rattled its dead bones to-day as Oliver Desmond's pictured eyes smiled into hers—was a cruel memory indeed, of grief and wrong and bitter humiliation, of broken troth and shattered faith, insulted love, and crushed and martyred pride. The blow that had rankled like iron in her heart for years was base and cowardly as a stab in the back from the hand that should have shielded and cherished her.
How strange it seemed to her to-day to think she had outlived it all—the love, the anguish, the bitterness, which once had seemed undying! There was nothing to disturb her reverie; she was alone, had been alone all day, and yet not lonely, albeit this solitary Californian ranch, in a secluded valley amongst the foot-hills of the Sierras, was a lonesome-looking place enough. But Barbara had been too busy all day to sit down and realize the loneliness. She lived on the Saucel Ranch with her married brother and his wife, she and her sister-in-law doing all the housework between them—servants or "helps" being unattainable luxuries in those parts. Mr. and Mrs. Thorne had gone out for all the day and all the night; a nervous woman might well have shrunk from being thus left alone and unprotected in such a place; but if Barbara had ever been troubled with the nineteenth century malady of "nerves," she had lived it down since she had taken up her abode on the Saucel Ranch. Her hands were always full. Even now, her day's task done, she had set herself to "improve the shining hour" by "tidying-up" the bureau drawer, in which she had come across the photograph of Oliver Desmond.
It was rarely indeed that Barbara Thorne indulged in reverie by day; the night was her time for silence and thought; but now she was so lost in the train of memories aroused by the sight of his portrait—memories which had lost their sharpest sting, and only hurt her now with a dull ache—she had even forgotten that an hour ago she had been looking out for somebody—somebody who would never allow the long, lonely day to pass without coming to see her!
Through the open window a flood of sunlight poured in and turned Barbara's fair hair to gold. Far off, above and beyond the sombre masses of the evergreen pine forests, a jagged range of mountain peaks, like tossing billows frozen at their height, shone in snowy silhouette against a sky of deep and vivid, cloudless blue.
The scene was fair, but Barbara's eyes were not lifted to dwell on its beauty; they were brooding on the face of the man she had loved, and—had she ever hated him? Did she hate him now? She did not hear a sound or a step, till a shadow fell across the sunlight, and a man stood on the threshold of the long French window, which was open down to the ground.
Barbara turned with a start, and made a hasty, involuntary movement to push the photograph aside as she sprang up—a movement that, slight, swift, and momentary as it was, yet did not pass unnoticed by the visitor's eye. What, indeed, was ever known to escape the eagle eye of Rick Jeffreys—better known in the neighbourhood of Eden City (which was the flattering appellation bestowed by its builders on the nearest settlement) as "Colonel Jeff"?
He was a tall man, of massive and powerful build, with somewhat harsh features, black hair and beard just touched with grey, and a sallow complexion sunburnt as brown as a berry. According to the prevalent fashion in those latitudes, he wore truculent-looking boots up to his knees, and a big sombrero hat slouched over his brow. There was a stern, hard expression about his face, except when he smiled or looked at Barbara Thorne. He did not look stern now, as she came quickly to meet him, and welcomed him with a smile that was perhaps less bright, a blush that was certainly deeper than usual. He spoke no word of greeting at first, only looked at her as if her face were a magnet that drew and held his eyes, then put his arm gently round her waist and bent his dark head to her fair one, and kissed her with infinite tenderness.
Barbara yielded to his caress with the soft yielding of a woman who loves. She did not belong to the class of those who, deceived by one, distrust all thenceforth—who hate all men for one false one's sake. And the time had come which she had never thought to see, when she—even she, Barbara Thorne, the deserted, slighted, jilted, held up to the insult of the world's pity—yet trusted, loved again. For this man's devotion had been balm to her bruised spirit—a healing balsam poured into the still smarting wounds of her once crushed and outraged pride.
"All alone, my little lady?" he said, softly.
"Yes; Tom and Hatty went off this morning."
"Oh, no; I've had plenty to keep me brisk and busy."
Colonel Jeff cast a glance at the table, at the photograph which lay there face upwards. "And who have you there?" he inquired, but not suspiciously. Barbara conquered a foolish impulse to put out her hand to intercept his as he went to pick up the portrait.
He glanced at it, first easily, then keenly, and his dark brows lowered ominously. Colonel Jeff did not look like a person to offend—if one had the choice.
"You are thinking of that blackguard still?" he said; and in his tone anger and pain struggled equally matched.
"I found that photograph by chance while I was looking over a drawer full of old papers," she replied, answering the spirit rather than, the letter of his words.
"And you were looking at it as if—as if—it was all the world to you!" he retorted.
"My looks belied me, then. It is a memory only—and a painful one," she said, with the slightest shade of a tremor in her sweet voice.
"Only a memory?" fixing the stern questioning of his piercing eyes upon her.
"If it were more, should I be what I am to you?" she replied, meeting his look frankly.
"What are you to me?" he demanded. The words might have sounded brutal had the tone been different, but though they were harshly spoken, they bore no suggestion of denial or rebuff, no faintest hint of insulting disclaimer. "You know," he continued, "we both know, that you're the one woman in the world to me—but what more? What beyond that? Are you the woman who cares for me?"
"For you more than for all the world beside."
"More than for——?" He cast a frowning glance at the photograph.
"Immeasurably more," she answered steadily, and the unconquerable truth in her forced her to add the word, "to-day!"
"To-day?" he echoed, with mingled anger and reluctant admiration. "Barbara, you are too honest to deny——" He paused with a quick indrawing of the breath and setting of the teeth.
"To deny the past?" her soft voice interposed as he paused. "Yes! I could never deny it! You know, Rick, you always knew, that I could not give you my yesterdays!"
"Barbara, I am jealous of those yesterdays," he said, after a silence.
"Why begrudge the yesterdays," she pleaded, "when all the to-morrows are yours?"
His dark eyes kindled with a deep and tender glow.
"All? All? None to share with me, or rob me? All mine?" He framed her delicate fair face between his big brown hands, and held it thus gently upturned to his as he gazed intently into it. "Barbara," he added, "do you know it would be a bad thing for any man who came between me and you?"
"No one could," she assured him earnestly.
Colonel Jeff clasped her in his strong arms.
"Is that so, indeed, my darling? my Barbara! my own one love," he whispered, pressing her to his heart.
"You must not be jealous of the past, dear Rick," she murmured.
"Forgive me my blundering roughness," he entreated her. "I ought not to have spoken so to you. Forgive me if I have hurt you, Barbara!"
"It did hurt me a little," she admitted. "Let us leave the dead bones to rest in their grave."
"I will never dig them up again," he promised her. "But put that away," he added, pushing the portrait aside. "It's very like him, and I hate to see it near you!"
Colonel Jeff had known Oliver Desmond, at least by sight and passing acquaintance, and he knew—as who did not?—Barbara Thorne's story; who had not heard the story of the bride deserted at the very altar, waiting in her bridal dress amongst the assembled party of her own and his friends—waiting for the bridegroom who never came?
Sometimes even now, when the memory of that horrible day came over Barbara, she shivered and turned sick and cold at heart. Only since she had known Rick Jeffreys loved her she had thought of it less; the scar of the old wound had ceased to throb.
At first she had thought Oliver Desmond was dead; felt sure that nothing but death could have kept him from her at that hour! But afterwards she and all the world—their world—learnt that he had left her for another; the one palliation of the cruel wrong and insult he had inflicted on his innocent and trusting betrothed being that it was no new love, but the resurrection of an old, supposed-to-be-dead passion that had lured him from her. Then they heard now and again rumours of Oliver Desmond's career. It seemed to be a downward one. They heard of his drinking and gambling, sinking from bad to worse; of losses, of utter ruin. Now for years they had heard nothing of him at all; he had sunk out of knowledge, gone down under the storm of not unmerited misfortune; and his world knew him no more.
Their little differences made up, Rick Jeffreys spent a happy hour with Barbara, stayed until the golden haze of sunset was stealing soft and slow over the shadows of the sombre pine forest and the azure radiance of the sky; then he had an appointment to meet an old comrade in Eden City, and he tore himself reluctantly away from the Saucel Ranch—ready at the last moment to throw over his engagement and stay, if Barbara had urged him.
The shades of evening had closed when Barbara, having watched her stalwart lover out of sight, went into the kitchen, on domestic cares intent. It was very dark there, and she set the outer-door, which led into the court-yard, wide open to let in such light as there was, while she put a fresh log on the low wood fire, and prepared to light the lamp and make herself some tea. She was thus engaged when she heard a step outside the open door—not the quick, confident step of a friendly visitor, but a hurried yet hesitating tread—a tread that suggested skulking and hanging about.
It was a late hour for tramps, and Barbara, brave woman though she was, looked round a little anxiously, to see who the stranger might be. She had but just caught a glimpse of an evidently tired and travel-worn wayfarer—a haggard, dishevelled figure—when he spoke, raising his hat as he did so, with the courteous gesture of a gentleman. "Excuse me, madam, but can you give me a cup of water and a piece of bread, and shelter for an hour?"
As he spoke, Barbara glanced up with a start. That voice, it struck upon her ear like an echo from the past. And even in the deepening twilight there seemed to be something familiar in the outlines of face and form.
"Who—who are you?" she faltered.
It was his turn to start as he heard her voice, and gazed with sudden searching into her pale face in the gloaming. Then she knew him—knew, and yet could hardly believe her eyes, her ears, her instincts—could not realize that in this rough, disordered, unkempt figure, with the torn clothes and the dark stains on his ragged sleeve, she saw the handsome, graceful, debonair lover of her girlhood, the recreant bridegroom who had left her on the very threshold of the altar!
"Oliver!" she said, in a low and trembling tone.
And as the last faint glimmer of the dying day rested on her face he knew her too.
"Barbara!" he ejaculated, as if with a gasp, fairly staggered by the recognition. "Is it—can it be—Barbara?"
"Am I so changed?" she rejoined, with a touch of bitterness in her tone.
"I—I didn't know—in this light," he stammered. "If—if I had known——" He seemed for the moment more agitated than she. She stood stunned, silent, gazing at him as if in a dream. "I won't intrude on you, Barbara," he said, in a low, unsteady voice. "I didn't know you lived here. It isn't to you that I should have come."
"Oliver!" she exclaimed suddenly, waking up as he made a movement to turn away. "Stay! Did you ask for food and shelter?"
"I ask nothing from you," he replied, painfully.
"Come in," she said, firmly, no longer faltering or tremulous, but with an almost imperious gesture motioning him to enter. "You are tired?" as she noticed his stiff and dragging step. "Sit down while I get a light." She struck a match and lit the lamp. In its yellowish glare she saw that the stains upon his sleeve were red. "What is the matter? You have had some accident," she said, with a scrutinizing but not ungentle glance.
"Only a scratch," he answered, in a mechanical way, as if thinking of something else. "But my coat was nearly torn off my back scrambling through the chaparral yonder." He had not taken the chair she pointed out to him, but stood—leaning with the heaviness of fatigue against the shelf that served as a table—looking at her in the lamp-light. She saw how pale and haggard and half-famished-looking he was, and turned promptly to set out the supper.
"Wait, Barbara," he said, abruptly, and evidently with an effort. "Don't be doing anything for me till you know what you're doing. Those d—— hounds of the Vigilance Committee are after me; they're on my track now. They'll string me up to the nearest tree if they catch me; it's my life that's in your hands at this minute. I know too well I don't deserve of you that you should save it. And on the whole, Barbara," he added, with a touch of the light and half-mocking coolness she remembered of old, yet with more of bitterness now, "I don't know that it's worth saving."
Barbara turned even paler than she had been as she listened to his words. "What is it you have done?" she asked.
"Oh, I've not killed anyone. Better for me if I had! One may shoot a man, but to take a horse is a hanging matter here."
"Tell me about it, Oliver," she said, preserving her self-possession, for she was no fragile flower to wilt and droop before the first breath of danger—no, nor the last.
"It's soon told," he answered. "I had bad luck—I was cleaned out, not a red cent in my pockets—and so I hired out to a farmer away in Pine Valley. We had words one day, and he refused to pay me my wages—so I took a horse out of his stables and rode off."
"It was madness, Oliver," she said; for she knew as well as he did that for the horse-stealer, in those parts and at that time, there was scant mercy and short shrift: it was danger to be accused, death to be detected.
"The horse was worth no more than my fair wages," he rejoined. "I was warned that they were after me, but I thought I'd got a good start of them. They were too sharp for me, though—they cut across by Devil's Ford, and were after me in full chase. They sent a hail of bullets after me; I sent all I had back—I winged one of them—I fancy he was the leader, and while they picked him up I got ahead; but, unluckily, before I was out of shot-range my horse was shot under me. I got clear of the saddle and bolted into the scrub. I gave them the slip for the time. I've been crawling like a dog through the chaparral—but you know as well as I do, those fellows are like blood-hounds on the scent. I was pretty nearly dead-beat when I caught sight of this place. I little thought it was you that I should find here."
"What is to be done?" she said, not helplessly wondering, but actively thinking. "First of all, you must eat and drink. Then—we must see what is the safest thing for you."
She set bread and meat and milk on the table; and Desmond fell to the simple meal as if half famished.
"My brother's horse is in the stable," said Barbara, thoughtfully. "He's fast, is old Sultan, and might take you safe—if we only knew from which quarter they'd be coming; and I'd take the risk with Tom."
"You must risk nothing for me," he rejoined. "I see, Barbara, you are what you always were—the salt of the earth! I deserve of you that you should shut your door on me now—that when they come this way after me you should send them on my trail. But—you won't do it?"
"No," she replied, slowly. "I will not do it."
He leant forward, resting his arm on the table, and looked at her. The oil-lamp that stood between them shed a circle of light in which he saw her face, unshrinking, steadfast, wrought up to high resolve.
"You were always too good for me, Barbara," he said. "Are you such an angel as to have forgiven me?"
"What has that to do with it?" she rejoined, coldly. "Enough that if I can help you now, I will."
She was looking at him as intently as he at her. She saw how changed was the face of the idol of her girlhood—poor shattered idol with the feet of clay—base metal she had taken for pure gold! It was not only that he was older—he had aged more than she—but a subtler change had passed over him; he was hardened, embittered, coarsened, undefinably deteriorated. She saw the colour mount in his haggard cheek at her calm words.
"Coals of fire," he said, with a touch of bitter mockery that disguised pain. "Well, if it's a comfort to you to know it, Barbara, they burn."
"Which way are they most likely to come?" she asked, putting personal questions determinedly aside.
"They'd probably skirt the wood; but yet there's no knowing but what they might make their way down the gulch and round by the creek yonder."
"Whichever way you go," she said, in deep consideration, "you might run right into the jaws of danger. And if they found you with another horse, and that horse discovered not to be yours, it might be worse for you—if they refused to believe it had been freely lent to you."
"They'd not be likely to waste much time on inquiries," he observed, drily. "It's not their way to make allowance for priest or prayer. Perhaps I had better lie low for a time until the heat of the chase is over. Who is here with you, Barbara?"
"No one to-day. My brother and his wife are out until to-morrow."
"You are alone?" he said, with a softening of tender respect in his tone. "Forgive my intrusion. You must not risk the least trouble for me. I'll feel like a king after this rest and refreshment here, and be ready to go on my way."
They were still discussing the best course to be adopted when a faint sound in the distance struck on their ears—a sound so faint and far that, had it not been for the wonderful clearness and stillness of the dry, crisp, dewless air, it could not have reached them.
"Hark! What is that?" said Desmond, holding his breath.
"We can see the road better from the upstairs windows—come!" she exclaimed, springing to her feet. She hastily closed the outer door into the court-yard, which still stood open, and ran upstairs, followed by Desmond. From the highest window of the house—a sort of landing or look-out at the top of the stairs—they had a view of the windings of the white road between wood and hillside.
The night had fallen like a dark mantle over the land; but the sky was clear; the moon had risen; and in the dusk they could just distinguish the pale, dim line of the road between the shadows of the trees—could even discern upon it, though some distance off as yet, what looked at first like a dark, blurred, swift moving spot, then resolved itself into a group of mounted men riding straight for the Saucel Ranch.
"There they are," said Oliver Desmond in a low voice; but he was suddenly and strangely calm now the danger was at his door. "They're coming here. There's a handy tree I see over yonder, just outside your gates," he added, with the frequent tendency of men who are used to carry their lives in their hands to "jest upon the axe which kills them." Barbara clasped and wrung her hands.
"Too late to fly!" she said. "Before we could get Sultan out of the stable and saddle him they'll be here! There's no time for escape. You must hide!"
"If they've got dogs, I'm a dead man," he rejoined, staring at the fast nearing horsemen; "and I shall be dangling from that tree before an hour has passed!"
Barbara flew to the nearest door and opened it, then the next, and the next, glancing in wild and eager haste into each room to see in which any hiding-place might be found—although she knew too well the simple arrangements of the ranch offered no facilities for concealment. No secret chambers, no sliding panels, no dark recesses nor trap-doors in this plain wooden "frame" house. The outhouses? No, they would probably be the first places searched; the natural idea of the pursuers would be that he might have sought refuge there unknown to the inmates of the house. There were no cellars, no possible safe hiding-places on the lower floor; on the upper floor there were but three rooms—Mr. and Mrs. Thorne's room, Barbara's room, and the "guest-room." All were plainly furnished with bare necessaries: no "old oak chests," no tapestries nor hanging draperies, no curtained recesses, no place to hide a good-sized dog, much less a full-grown man. Barbara's was the only one of the bedrooms that could boast of a cupboard—a long, narrow cupboard which she used as a wardrobe, and kept her dresses there hung on pegs. This was the only place.
There was not a moment to lose in talk. Barbara had hardly time to go downstairs, look round the kitchen, and assure herself that there were no traces of Desmond's presence to be detected there, when the trampling of horses sounded close at hand. She heard some of the party ride to the front, some to the back, and she knew they were surrounding the house, before there was a sharp, imperative knock on the front door. Barbara opened it. She stood there—a candle she had just lighted in her hand—a graceful, composed figure, with a placid, inquiring look.
The men who were gathered on the threshold looked somewhat taken aback by the appearance of a lady then and there.
"Excuse our intrusion, madam," said the foremost; "but we have called to inquire if there is anyone in this house but the members of your own family?"
"No one," she replied; and the feeble flicker of the candle showed the look of innocent, yet naturally somewhat anxious and surprised, inquiry on her serene, fair face.
"Has any stranger been here?"
"Miss Thorne," said another of the group—in whom she recognised a prominent citizen of Eden, with whom she had, however, but a very slight acquaintance, and who now came forward, doffing his hat with a deferential bow—"perhaps we had better speak to your brother."
"My brother is out. I represent the family at present, and can answer any question you may wish to ask. I presume, gentlemen, you come on business?"
"On business, lady, with which we would not trouble you, if it were not that we must ascertain whether the person of whom we are in search is here. We have ordered a search of the outhouses, where a tramp might take shelter. Meanwhile, with your permission, we will look over the house. A man might enter by one of the upper windows without your suspecting it."
"Indeed, I trust not," said Barbara.
"We have reason to believe that the man we want came this way, and he would be likely to try to gain entrance and get refuge here."
"I hope he will not. But you are most welcome to look round."
Barbara, gracious and self-possessed, accompanied them, in hostess-wise, from room to room on the ground floor. The kitchen looked cheerful with the lighted lamp and stove, the kettle singing merrily on the fire; one cup, saucer, and plate were set out upon the table, with a cake. Evidently Miss Thorne had been busy preparing her modest tea when their arrival interrupted her. The whole party were crossing the hall to the parlour when they heard the clatter of galloping horses' hoofs, and two horsemen dashed into the court-yard, hastily dismounted, and entered the house. And one of these was no other than Colonel Jeff! He and his companion were evidently expected by the "Vigilance" party, who received them quietly, as a matter of course, and indeed an awaited addition to their ranks, one of the men from Eden City observing as he nodded a greeting, "Guessed you wouldn't keep us waiting long."
The Colonel looked at Barbara; she paled a little as she met his gaze, albeit there was no shadow of suspicion in it, only a tender and respectful solicitude lest she should be alarmed or agitated by this invasion. But she compelled herself to return his look calmly and gently, and he was reassured by her tranquillity.
"Any traces?" he demanded, turning to the one who was apparently the leader of the committee.
"Not yet. We're going through the house."
"Upstairs?" added Colonel Jeff, inquiringly, briefly glancing at Barbara, and indicating the staircase at the end of the long hall.
"Are merely three sleeping-rooms," she replied—"my brother's, my own, and our guest-room."
"I perceive that anyone might gain access to your upper rooms by the roof of the lean-to or by the balcony," observed the leader. "By your leave, madam, we will go up and look round. It will be to your advantage also to be assured that there is no one lurking about."
Barbara's heart sank, but she saw it would be fatal to offer any objection. "Certainly," she said, and led the way towards the staircase. The gentleman from Eden City, to whom all the Thornes were known, although not intimately, here put in a suggestion that perhaps it would be more agreeable to the lady's feelings if they were to depute one, or say two gentlemen, to accompany her upstairs. The suggestion was accepted; two searchers were by unanimous vote regarded as sufficient; and Colonel Jeff and his friend were deputed to go up with Miss Thorne and examine the bedrooms.
Barbara was cold and sick with terror, but she kept her self-possession, and tried to cling to one frail straw of hope—that they might by some providential chance overlook the door of the cupboard (which was papered like the walls of the room) and pass it by. She trembled lest Oliver, hearing the tramp of his enemies' steps approaching, should attempt to make his escape by the windows, in which case he would fall straight into the hands of the detachment who were surrounding the house and searching the grounds. Yet—if they should detect and open the cupboard, and she should see him caught like a rat in a trap, dragged out to his death! There was no time for thought; the moment was imminent; in another minute the die of Oliver Desmond's fate would be cast for life or death. Yet a moment to breathe was hers. She turned to Mr. Thorne's room first.
"Allow me," said Colonel Jeff, taking the candle from her hand as she threw open the door and drew back. He stepped in past her and held up the light. His eagle eye swept the room—searched every corner; he saw there was no hiding-place there. His comrade stood back respectfully on the threshold, apparently considerate of the lady's feelings, deeming it sufficient for one to enter the room, and regarding Colonel Jeff as competent to conduct the search alone.
They came next to the spare-room, and again the Colonel was the one to enter and look carefully round. Was it not partly in his liege lady's own interests, and for her sake, he was assuring himself that no dangerous intruder lurked in her home and she might sleep in peace?
Then was the turn of Barbara's own room—the sacred temple that enshrined his treasure!
This time he had kept the candle in his hand. Barbara had made no offer to take it back; she feared the trembling of her hand might betray her. Wrought up to a pitch of suspense at which every nerve quivered like a tense chord, she yet by a desperate effort controlled her features and steadied her step, but she felt she could not keep her fingers from trembling. Colonel Jeff's comrade remained as before, standing in the open doorway, while the Colonel, accompanied by Barbara, stepped into the room.
As he strode forward she kept near him; it seemed that she could not let him move an arm's length from her. It took all her self-command to refrain from flinging herself between him and the cupboard door. Wild thoughts of appealing to his mercy shot like lightning through her brain. If only his comrade on the threshold had not been there watching! With that man looking on, the frail, frail hope would be lost if she betrayed any sign of fear or agitation.
Colonel Jeff stood casting his keen glance, around. Barbara stood like a statue, all her life in her strained eyes, as she followed his glance.
Colonel Jeff's eye fell on the cupboard door. He moved towards it. As he did so, he chanced to turn his look on Barbara's face and met her eyes. A swift and sudden change passed for a moment over his own rough-hewn features; his dark eyes blazed upon her with an instant's startled, piercing scrutiny; he set his hand on the cupboard door. And still Barbara stood paralyzed, rooted to the ground as if the unveiled horror of the Gorgon's stare had struck her to stone.
Her lips moved, but no sound came from them. In the whirl of thought that dazed her she remembered that she did not know, she had never asked, if Desmond was armed! A desperate man turns at bay, and sells his life dearly. What if Oliver had a knife or pistol clutched now, this moment, in his hand? What if he shot or stabbed Rick Jeffreys before the Colonel could draw his own weapon? There would be a moment's horror—and Rick, her own true, loyal lover, stricken down at her feet, and Oliver, whom she once had loved—was it a century ago?—dragged out and murdered before her eyes!
She felt the springs of life stop at her heart as Rick Jeffreys opened the cupboard door. He raised the flickering candle. For one terrible moment, in which Barbara tasted the bitterness of death, he stood looking in.
Then he deliberately drew back, closed the door, turned and crossed the room to his waiting comrade on the threshold. He did not cast even an instant's glance at Barbara as he passed her.
"Is there any loft?" he demanded, in his usual deep, harsh tone, looking around the passage as if to complete the search.
Barbara heard a voice, that seemed to her not her own, issue from her parted lips, saying, "No, there is no loft."
They saw there was not, and proceeded downstairs. She followed them with trembling limbs. She was almost fainting, but followed because she dared not stay behind. The ominous silence in which Rick Jeffreys had passed her seemed fraught with something worse than even the horror she had dreaded.
The Vigilance Committee did not waste their time, but being assured that the fugitive they sought was not lurking in or about the ranch, they promptly went on their way—the leader, before they departed, however, pausing to express his regret for any inconvenience they might have occasioned the lady by their unexpected inroad.
Colonel Jeff was the last to speak.
"I will make my apologies later," he said, as he took his leave. Barbara caught the sinister gleam of his eye as he spoke, and she knew that "later" time would be soon.
Barely an hour had passed since the tramp of the horses of the departing Vigilantes had died away into the silence of the windless night, when another knock summoned Barbara to the front door.
"I knew you would come back," she said, as the big, powerful form of Colonel Jeff towered upon the threshold, tall and dark against the background of the darkness.
"You knew me well enough for that?" he rejoined, grimly.
She closed the door, and turned towards the parlour.
"In here," she said, quietly.
He looked at her with a kind of fierce astonishment. Into his dark eyes, that seemed to burn black with smouldering fury, there leapt a flash of reluctant admiration, that shook and thrilled him with a passion more of bitter wrath than of love. Instead of being crushed with shame and humiliation, drooping in fear and beseeching, this woman faced him like a queen.
"It is not with you that I have come to speak," he said, his deep voice a trifle huskier than usual. "I have saved you from open shame and public scandal. That's enough between you and me. I've nothing more to do with you, but I've an account to settle with your lover. I deal with him first, and alone. Where is he?"
"Wait," she said, as he made a movement to turn to the door. "He is no lover of mine."
"You will tell me, I suppose," he retorted, "that he was hidden there"—he ground his teeth upon the word as if he would crush it—"without your knowledge and consent?"
"I shall not tell you that."
"No, you dare not. I saw your face. I read it in your eyes before I opened that door. You dare not tell me you did not know of his presence?"
"No, I dare tell you the truth—that I did!" she replied, meeting the fiery glance of his sombre eyes fearlessly. In the midst of his concentrated rage—and Colonel Jeff in wrath was well known to be dangerous—he could not help admiring this frail, fair, delicate woman's dauntless courage. "I had no chance of speaking to you alone," she continued, "or I would have told you—explained to you——"
"I want no explanation," he said, harshly, bitterly; "I know enough."
"Stay!" she exclaimed, lifting her fair head with a royal gesture. "That man, the man whom I helped to a hiding-place to save his life—for you know they would have killed him, they came here for his death——"
"And if they did," he interposed, "what is his life or death to you?"
"That man," she continued, waving his interruption aside, "did me a cruel wrong—you know it well. He killed my love for him. Love once dead rises no more. I have no grain of love left for the man who insulted, wronged, deserted me. But I tell you now that he wronged me less than you do if you say to me that you 'know enough!' You do not know enough. You must know all. Rick, you have said you loved me. You have made me love you. You shall hear me now!" She spoke not pleadingly, but with passionate resolution.
"What have you to say?" he rejoined, sternly still, but less bitterly.
"That if you love me you must trust me! If you love me you must respect me! The woman who could turn a helpless, hunted fugitive—even a stranger—from her doors would be unworthy of love or respect."
"This man was no stranger!"
"He came to me as one, not dreaming that I lived here. Would you ask me, because he was not a stranger, to revenge myself for a wrong of years ago by refusing to him the help I would have given to any stranger? You could not think that I would stoop to so base a revenge as to hand him over to death when I would have given up no other man who stood in his place? I would not turn a dog away that came to me for help and shelter. He came here, not knowing whose house this was—came to ask for food and help because he was exhausted, famishing. It was as much a surprise to him to find me here as it was to me to see who the man was who asked me for shelter. And I promised it to him, and I kept my word. He told me what he had done, and that the Vigilance Committee were on his track. I've lived here long enough to know what that means! I would not see the man who appealed to me to save him lawlessly murdered. He has done wrong; he deserves punishment; but he does not deserve the fate they would have dealt to him."
"They'd have strung him up on that big tree outside your gate," said Colonel Jeff, grim still, but relenting, "and serve him right!"
"I did not think he deserved death," rejoined Barbara, firmly; "I risked—more than my life"—her voice quivered for the first time—"to save him."
"You did," he said; "you risked having your good name dragged in the gutter, for the sake of that worthless scamp."
"I risked more than that," she returned in a lower tone.
"More than that?" He shot a keen, questioning glance at her from under his dark, heavy brows.
"Yes—I risked—and have I lost?—your faith?"
He paused a moment before he answered: "Barbara, when a man loves as I do, he loves to the end of life—and after!"
A light kindled in her steadfast, questioning eyes.
"Then I have not lost your love, Rick?"
"I love you always."
"But—your faith?" she urged. "One is worthless to me without the other."
"Do you say that my love is worthless, Barbara?"
"If it is given without your trust, it is the setting without the jewel. Trust me, Rick—or, leave me!"
"I trust you, my love," he replied, catching her hands and holding them fast and close in his strong clasp. "Who could look in those eyes of yours and doubt that you're true and pure as truth itself? But, my darling, you've been foolish—with a woman's noble folly! Rash and reckless—with an angel's courage! You have ventured too much—in such a cause. These matters are not for women. Our Vigilante justice may be rough and ready, but it fits the time and place. Anyhow, we keep the neighbourhood so that the worst class of characters give it a wide berth. You should not have crossed its path, my Barbara. It was not safe for you; and for all that you have hazarded, he is not safe; they'll get him yet."
"No, they will not; you will not betray him?"
"No. To betray him would be betraying you! Not for his sake, but for yours, I'll hold my tongue. But what will he do? He cannot stay here."
"He need not. He can have my brother's horse, my brother's overcoat and hat. He can take the trail up the gully under cover of the night, or with the first streak of dawn."
"But your brother? Tom Thorne's a pretty hard citizen; what will he say?"
"I don't know. And, Rick, I don't care! I've taken this on myself, and I'll see it through. I know Tom may be hard—and Hatty, too. The worst they can do is to turn me out of the house. And if they do——"
"You'll come to mine! Be mistress of all I have—queen of my home—my wife!"
* * * * *
As the first pale pearly streak of dawn was stealing over the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras, Oliver Desmond bowed his head—as he had never bent it to mortal man—before the woman who had risked so much for his safety, and raised her hand to his lips, as if it were the hand of a shrined saint. And Colonel Jeff stood by, grim and silent. For good or ill, Rick Jeffreys was thorough. He had promised, and he would keep his word.
"You are the best and bravest of women," Desmond said. "Forget that I have ever crossed your path. I shall cross it no more. But I shall never forget."
Barbara is Colonel Jeff's happy and idolized wife to-day; and between her and her husband there is no forbidden subject—not even that of Oliver Desmond. For the faith between them is perfect; Rick knows that whoever may have ruled her yesterdays—he and he only holds Barbara's heart to-day, and the shadow of Oliver Desmond has passed from off her life for ever. It was long after that eventful night that they heard how his ill-starred career had come to an untimely close; but his last words to Barbara were true; he crossed her path no more—and I for my part think that he never forgot.
The Royal Humane Society.
CAPTAIN BRYAN MILMAN.
The following is a narrative of an escape from peril, and the rescue of five lives by individual gallantry, rarely equalled, and never exceeded, in the records of high and noble daring. It is from the pen of Captain Bryan Milman (now General Milman), of the 5th Fusiliers, in a letter addressed to his father, Major-General Milman, late of the Coldstream Guards:
"Mahebourg, Island of Mauritius,
"June 30, 1848.
"The following account of an almost miraculous escape that I and five other officers have had from drowning will interest you all, I have no doubt. The names of the others are Colquitt, Bellew, Fitzgerald, Home (all of the 5th Fusiliers), and Palmer, a commissariat officer, in whose boat we were at the time of the accident. Colquitt and Fitzgerald are in the first battalion, and had come down here to stay with me and Bellew. On the 25th we made a boating party, for them to visit one of our detachments about fifteen miles from hence, at Grand River, south-east. We left this about eleven a.m., and after reaching our destination all safe, left it about three o'clock p.m. for home, the weather then looking anything but promising. When about four miles from home and from the shore, we were overset by a squall. It came upon us so suddenly that we had no time to do anything; torrents of rain fell at the same time, and there we were, drifting along on the side of the boat (which luckily did not sink) without a chance of assistance, and the night setting in. This happened about half-past five o'clock, and at this season it is dark at six. We drifted in this way for about two hours, and at last grounded in about seven feet of water. It was very nearly dark, and all that we could see were the tops of the mountains in the horizon. We supposed we were about two miles from shore. All of us but myself had stripped on being upset, as I knew, if we came to a swim, that I could take my clothes off in a moment. As it turned out, I think I was lucky in this, for they perhaps, though wet, kept me a little warmer than my companions. Nothing seemed to give us a chance of being saved, except holding on till daylight, and as it was terribly cold, this seemed next to impossible. At last it struck me I might be able to swim ashore to procure assistance, and I got permission from the others to do so. Our boatman, a Creole, who also said he would go, started with me to make the attempt. I left them with a hearty 'God bless you!' from all. After swimming some time, I lost sight of the boatman, and was left to myself. I swam back a little, shouting as loud as I could; but getting no answer, and feeling for my own sake that I must push on, I turned my head towards the mountain tops (my only guides), and struck out my best. I must have been swimming for more than an hour when I landed. I found myself a little tired, and very much benumbed, barefooted, en chemise, and not able to see ten yards before me, it was so dark. My first impulse was to fall on my knees and thank Providence; after which, curious to say, my military schooling came to my aid in the 'extension motions,' which brought some little feeling into my limbs, and enabled me to continue my work. After feeling my way for about half an hour along the shore, shouting all the time, I came to a cottage, where I was hospitably received. They told me that they had heard my cries some time, but fancied I was some drunken man returning home, or else they would have come out to my assistance. The poor black gave me some dry clothes, and made me a cup of tea, and then conducted me to the proprietor of the estate, who lived close by, and had the nearest pirogue (a small boat like a canoe, dug out of a solid trunk of a large tree) in the neighbourhood. M. Chiron, the name of the proprietor, a man of colour, as soon as I explained my situation and my want of a boat to go and assist the others, immediately offered to go himself, and his son also insisted on going with him. I jumped at the offer, of course, and we immediately walked down to where his pirogue was moored, and started, myself at the bottom to serve as guide. By the blessing of Providence, after about an hour's search, we heard the cries from the wreck. I think I never felt so happy or so light-hearted in my life as I did at this moment; for there were so many chances against us finding it. We could not see many yards from our own boat. It was then about eleven o'clock, so that my companions had been exposed on the boat for upwards of five hours. Luckily, with great care, we got them safely into the pirogue, without capsizing her; and by twelve o'clock we were safely housed under M. Chiron's hospitable roof, who fed, clothed, and lodged us for the night. In the morning, the unfortunate Creole boatman was found dead, from cold and cramp, about half a mile from the place he was supposed to have landed at. The kindness, hospitality, and truly courageous assistance afforded us by M. Chiron, at the risk of his own life and that of his son, are deserving of all praise. It was a service of danger to go out even at all in a pirogue on such a rough night: much more to go and seek for five drowning men three miles at sea. He wished his son not to go; but the latter would not allow his father to go without him. Constantly during our long search, when the son was getting tired of pulling the boat, the father would cry out and encourage him, saying 'Courage, mon fils.'
(Signed) "BRYAN MILMAN,
"Capt. 5th Fusiliers."
GENERAL SIR CHARLES CRAUFURD FRASER, K.C.B., V.C.
"The Army List makes no allusion to the gallant way in which Major Charles Craufurd Fraser, of the 7th Hussars, won the Victoria Cross—that coveted and hardly-won decoration which, to the honour of England, graces not a few of the breasts of humble privates as well as generals. The London Gazette, however, tells us that the Victoria Cross was awarded to Charles Craufurd Fraser 'for conspicuous and cool gallantry on the 31st December, 1858, in having volunteered, at great personal risk, and under a sharp fire of musketry, to swim to the rescue of Captain Stisted and some men of the 7th Hussars, who were in imminent danger of being drowned in the River Raptee, while in pursuit of the rebels. Major Fraser succeeded in this gallant service, although at the time partially disabled, not having recovered from a severe wound received while leading a squadron in a charge against some fanatics in the action of Nawabgunge on the 13th of June, 1858.'"
LORD CHARLES BERESFORD, R.N.
"Lord Charles Beresford, R.N., on September 18th, 1883, at Liverpool, saved Mr. Richardson, who accidentally fell into the Mersey. Lord Charles jumped overboard and supported him in the water until assistance came. It may be mentioned that a strong tide was running at the time. Lord Charles is also the holder of the Bronze Clasp, for saving, in conjunction with John Harry, ship's corporal of H.M.S. Galatea, a marine named W. James, at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, October 6th, 1868. Lord Charles jumped overboard with heavy shooting clothes and pockets filled with gun and cartridges. Harry assisted Lord Charles to support the man until a boat arrived."
BRAM STOKER, M.A.
"On September 14th, 1882, a man jumped overboard from a steamboat, and after being seized hold of by Mr. Stoker he persistently kept his face under water. Mr. Stoker then divested himself of some of his clothing and jumped in after him, and sustained the man until a boat came to them. The man was insensible. Mr. Stoker, a surgeon, brother to Mr. Bram Stoker, did his utmost to try and restore the man, but unfortunately failed."
"On August 16th, 1885, Mr. William Terriss saved a boy off the North Foreland, off Deal. Three lads were bathing near the shore, and one of them was seized with cramp. Mr. Terriss jumped overboard from a boat, with all his clothes on, and saved the boy. He was presented with the Royal Humane Society's Medal by H. Irving, Esq., in the presence of the whole of the Lyceum employees."
MISS MARY COLLIER.
"On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 19th, 1891, Miss Mary Collier, daughter of Mr. Simon Collier, shoe manufacturer, of Northampton, was out bathing with her sister and some friends. The party had been amusing themselves with a life-buoy, and one of them called attention to the distance two children, aged respectively eleven and fifteen, were out. Miss Collier exclaimed: 'Why, they are drowning,' and at once took the buoy and went out to them. She succeeded in reaching them just as they were going down for the third time, locked in each other's arms. They seized hold of the buoy, and Miss Collier attempted to swim back to the shore; but the tide was going out, and the current too strong, and they were observed to be drifting farther away. At length the cries of her companions reached the ears of those on the beach, and the machine attendant on horseback dashed off to the rescue. After swimming his horse a considerable distance he reached the scene of danger. Miss Collier at once seized on a chain attached to the collar, and the horse's head being with difficulty set towards the shore, the whole party were dragged through the water, the two children holding on to the buoy, through which Miss Collier had thrust her spare arm. After going some distance, the rider called to them that his horse's feet touched the bottom, and soon they were dragged ashore, amid intense excitement among the large crowd who had assembled and witnessed the rescue. A sum of money was collected on the spot to reward the plucky rider for his conduct, and we are glad to say Miss Collier was none the worse for the excitement and exertion."
JAMES WILLOUGHBY JARDINE.
"A boy, R. H. Anderson, ten years of age, was trying to swim, but the current took him out of his depth, when he lost presence of mind and began to sink. Jardine pluckily swam to the drowning boy, reached him and held him up as best he could, but the current carried them towards the opposite point, and finally a boat picked them up."
ALBERT ERNEST DEACON, Aged 14.
"Albert Ernest Deacon, of 25, Canterbury Road, a youth only fourteen years of age, gallantly rescued two other boys from drowning on Thursday, July 16th, 1891. It appears that on the day named Deacon and some of his companions had been bathing, and had just come ashore and commenced to dress, when their attention was called to two boys struggling in the water. The other boys on the beach, regarding him as the best swimmer, shouted out, 'Go for them.' He immediately divested himself of the only garment he had on, and, plunging into the water, succeeded in bringing Walter Marsh within reach of Albert Nicholls, who was walking out waist-deep to meet him. He then at once swam off to the rescue of the other boy, George Hook, who had sunk twice, and brought him ashore also. Both boys were greatly exhausted, more especially Hook, and fears were at first entertained for his recovery. However, Dr. Wheeler, who was sent for and promptly attended, put into exercise the remedies usual in such cases, which happily had the desired effect. The conduct of Albert Ernest Deacon in such an emergency was highly praiseworthy. Bronze Medal awarded to Deacon; Vellum Testimonial to Nicholls."
"Mr. Sydney Graves is the grandson of the late Henry Graves, the famous art publisher, of Pall Mall. It was whilst at Ventnor on August 28th, 1888, that he distinguished himself and made good his claim to the Bronze Medal of the Royal Humane Society by rendering material assistance, with others, in saving life at sea. He was bathing and had returned to his machine. The sea was very rough. An exclamation from a little boy on the shore told him that somebody was drowning. He saw two men about fifty yards away struggling in the water, and he at once swam out, carrying with him a rope which was thrown to him. The rope he gave to one of the men—a boatman; the other swimmer was already under water. Mr. Graves got him up and helped both men ashore. The Medal was presented at the annual festival of the Otter Swimming Club, of which—at that time—Mr. Graves was the youngest member. He was under fifteen years of age when he won the Medal."
CHARLES WICKENDEN, Aged 10.
"On Tuesday, the 14th July, 1891, some boys were bathing in a place called the 'Salts' on the 'Brook,' Snodland, Kent, when William Hodges, aged eleven years, got out of his depth. It being evident that the boy was drowning, one of the party ran for assistance, and fortunately soon met Charles Wickenden, a lad ten years of age. Wickenden, without the slightest hesitation, plunged into the water, and after a severe struggle, during which he was pulled under twice, succeeded in bringing the unfortunate boy to land. He was unconscious, but the other boys held him head downwards to get rid of the water and rubbed him, and fortunately succeeded in bringing him back to consciousness again. He was afterwards taken to Dr. Palmer, who gave it as his opinion that the boy had had a narrow escape. The conduct of Wickenden, who bravely, at great peril to himself, attempted successfully to save the life of a playmate, cannot be too highly commended."
"Harry Foote, a schoolboy, aged thirteen, saved W. Saxon, five years old, on August 10th, 1891. The boy fell off the quay whilst playing. Harry Foote ran to the place and jumped off the quay with all his clothes on, and succeeded in bringing him to a landing place, a distance of twelve yards. There were ten feet of water and the tide was running swiftly."
MISS ANNIE E. MACAULAY.
"John Martin, a child five years of age, was bathing with other boys much older than himself, when he was carried out of his depth and they could render him no assistance. Miss Macaulay went to the rescue and, with some difficulty, got the boy safely out. She received the Vellum Testimonial from the Society."
"Frank Lines, a little boy aged eight, saved James Cochrane on the 28th December, 1891, in Broadwater, Brocket Park, Hatfield. Cochrane ran after a ball on the ice, and when forty-five yards from the bank the ice broke. He managed, however, to cling to the edge for some time. The other boys who were present ran away, but Frank Lines crawled to the hole, and with the aid of a stick got Cochrane out. The ice again gave way and Cochrane fell in once more; but still his little rescuer made another attempt, and finally saved him."
"DEAR SIR,—I enclose, with pleasure, the photo. of my dog 'Prince.' I need hardly say how proud I feel to think that it will be inserted in the well-known STRAND MAGAZINE. I am sorry that I could not send it before; but, as I had to have his photo. taken, I have been forced to wait. 'Prince' is a thoroughbred (absolutely pure) black retriever, and is nearly three years old. His photo. is taken in the act of 'Toeing the line,' a trick that I have taught him. He retrieves perfectly, and is a remarkably rapid swimmer. Three weeks ago he jumped from a height of 30 ft., with 14 ft. to clear, into one of the dry docks, which had about 6 ft. to 8 ft. of water in it. In saving the lives of the men he was of great assistance to me by diving under the water and lifting the feet of the second officer out of the quicksand. Throughout the whole affair he displayed great intelligence. I forgot to mention that the collar he is wearing was presented by the brother of the captain who, unfortunately, was drowned; and on the plate are engraved these words: 'Presented to "Prince" for his gallant behaviour, October 22nd, 1892, by J. J. W.'
"FRANK DAVID PENGELLY."
Shafts from an Eastern Quiver.
XI.—IN QUEST OF THE LOST GALLEON.
BY CHARLES J. MANSFORD, B.A.
"Hassan," I said to our guide as he rested before us in the shade of the tent, "what was it those coolies lying under the trees yonder told you about Formosa?"
"The sahib shall hear," replied the Arab. "They wish to persuade the Englishmen to hire their junk to visit the island, for they learnt from me that we have met with many strange experiences during our wanderings. They declare that what may be seen in one part of it is almost beyond belief."
"Never mind what they say," I expostulated, "go on and tell us about the island. There ought to be some story concerning it to interest us, considering that the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the Chinese have all possessed it in turn. It is quite notorious for the shipwrecks on its coast, not to mention the pirates who have held it at different times, and the savage tribes said to inhabit its wildest parts."
"Ye shall hear the story, strange indeed as it is," responded the Arab; "and, besides, it partly concerns a Feringhee sailor."
"Well, go on with your yarn, Hassan," said Denviers. "What a nigger you are for trying to excite our interest before you really tell us anything."
"The sahib does not give his slave a chance to continue, but makes always a most indifferent listener," replied the Arab gravely; "and yet the great Mahomet has said that he who is impatient——"
"The story!" I interposed. "Go on, Hassan, you can tell us about Mahomet some other day." Thus abjured, the Arab, after being silent for a few minutes, related to us the strange events which followed the quest of the lost galleon.
Soon after our adventure with the Hunted Tribe of Three Hundred Peaks we left Siam, and sailing through the China Sea made for Hong Kong. Thence we set out to traverse a part of the coast of China, and at this time our tent was pitched not far from Swatow. There Hassan held a conversation with some coolies, when, from the various excited exclamations and gestures both of them and the Arab, my interest was roused sufficiently to question our guide, as narrated. As it afterwards transpired, the coolies had moved away a little only to await our decision, and were resting patiently meanwhile under the shade of a huge umbrella in addition to that afforded by the pine clump.
"Many years ago," began Hassan, "when the far-off people of Spain ruled a great continent, a galleon laden heavily with treasure wrung from the natives set out to return with its great store under the command of Don Luego, a grandee, whose name was a terror to all those who came under the Spaniard's sway. The riches which the vessel carried were almost incredible, yet Don Luego had no word of praise or thanks for the sailors who toiled to convey it home across the stormy seas.
"More than one brave sailor was hung at the yard-arm for venturing to utter incautious expressions against the Spaniard's despotic rule, but at last some of the crew grew strangely silent, and took to watching Luego and conspiring together under the hatches. Among these men was one who had been put in chains several times, and whom the constant fear of death nerved on to lead his disaffected comrades against the commander.
"One morning all hands were piped on deck to witness the execution of a seaman, and Jose, the leader of the discontented part of the crew, was told off to assist. With a stern-set countenance he stepped forward, pulled the rope from his comrade's neck, and struck the fell Spaniard full in the face with it.
"'Mutiny!' gasped the astonished Don Luego; then, turning to the other seamen, he cried, 'Seize him and swing the two together from the yard-arm!'
"A number of the sailors ran forward, eager to gain favour with their commander by obeying his orders, while the rest hurriedly gathered round the doomed men, and, drawing their keen knives, prepared to defend them. Don Luego unsheathed his sword and rushed forward with a fierce cry, while the mutineers fought hand-to-hand with the other seamen. It was a desperate fray, for the men who had revolted knew their fate if once they became overpowered. On the mutineers pressed over the slippery decks, until at last their disheartened opponents ceased fighting and surrendered.
"Deserted by his men, Don Luego stood alone with his blood-red sword still gripped in his hand, for he expected no mercy from the sailors whom he had driven into rebellion. The chief mutineers gathered in a group and eagerly discussed the fate to be awarded to their defeated commander. Most of them were in favour of putting him to death in the same manner in which he had doomed his seamen; but Jose, who now headed them, proposed another plan, which eventually was agreed upon. A quantity of provisions and water were got ready, and then Don Luego was seized and disarmed in spite of his struggles. The seamen lowered him in a boat over the side of the galleon, and then, cutting the ropes, cast the fierce commander adrift at the mercy of wind and wave. They watched him as the boat was seen to rise at times on the crest of a huge wave, and saw that he shook at them threateningly his disarmed hand. At last they lost sight of him, and gathered together once more to consider their own plans and what to do with the treasure of the galleon.
"Jose, who seemed to be above the lust for gold which sprang up in the hearts of the other sailors, assumed the command, and bade the men prepare to return to Spain. He thought it best to throw himself and his crew on the mercy of the King, and, delivering up the treasure, to tell of the cruelties of Don Luego. With some reluctance the seamen agreed, and so they took their course homeward. Three days afterwards a sailor on the look-out descried several Spanish caracks to leeward, to which they signalled, and having joined company sailed on together. All the vessels carried bombards and cannons, yet within a week the whole of them, save one, had struck their colours, and nailed to the mast of each was the flag of the capturing enemy, who belonged to the sahibs' nation. The single vessel not taken was the galleon which Jose commanded, and after it, as it fled through the waves with every stitch of canvas spread, went one of the Feringhee ships.
"It was a long stern chase, for the enemy was determined to capture the galleon, yet so well were the vessels matched in speed that they swept on without any perceptible difference being made in the distance which separated them. Through all their course nothing seemed to hinder the relentless pursuit of the treasure-ship. Many times Jose cried out to his men to turn the vessel about to grapple with the other for the mastery, but they would not obey, for the Spaniards knew too well how the Feringhees could fight. A violent storm came on in which both ships were partly disabled, but still they went on as best they could before a driving wind, until they were carried from west to east and then driven north into a sea which none of them had seen before.
"Then the Spanish galleon began to slacken and the English ship to draw nearer and nearer by degrees, until one stormy evening the towering crests of the volcanic range which runs through Formosa were visible, although the sailors knew not what the land was named. Jose called upon his men to run the vessel towards it, and as the pursuers drew still closer in the gloom he determined to be revenged, even at the cost of every Spaniard's life, for the dogged way in which the enemy had hunted him down. He chose, as well as he could distinguish it, that part of the coast which seemed the most rock-bound, and then, slackening his vessel's speed, lured on the other for a time, then suddenly sped ahead as though making for a known harbour. Deceived by this, the ship which chased him followed on, and before even Jose himself was aware of the outlying reefs of coral, they struck almost together. The next minute Spaniard and Feringhee were struggling for their lives, while tremendous seas were sweeping over the two ill-fated vessels.
"The English ship went down, leaving only part of her mast to be seen, to which for a time a few seamen clung until one by one the waves swept them off, and out of the entire crew only a solitary sailor was left there. The Spanish galleon struck nearer to the coast, and at low water its hull could long afterwards be seen, but not a man aboard was saved. The Feringhee sailor clung to the mast all through that dreary night. Next morning, seizing a floating spar, he struck out for the shore and battled with the seething waters until, almost unconscious, he was flung high on the coral beach. Towards sunset the seaman rose, and struggling forward to the entrance of one of the caves before him, he flung himself down to sleep.
"The coolies say that the sailor afterwards explored a part of the roast and then set about making his presence known to any vessel which might chance to pass the island. Getting possession of part of the broken mast of one of the ships, he raised it on the beach, and hoisted to the top of it the tattered flag of the English vessel, which chanced to be flung up by the waves. For weeks and months his signal passed unnoticed; and meanwhile the sailor made a raft, and at low water reached the hulk of the Spanish ship several times, from which by degrees he carried away the treasure. This he hid in the cave which he occupied, hoping that one day he would be rescued. He found arms and ammunition in the galleon in abundance, and well it was for him that he secured them and made them serviceable in case of need.
"Lying before the cave one day he saw the dusky forms of several savages appear, at which the sailor immediately seized the nearest Spanish musket and prepared to defend himself. In a moment they discovered him and cast a shower of spears towards the entrance of the cave. The Feringhee shouldered his loaded muskets in turn and picked the savages off one at a time in quick succession, and despite their onsets he managed for a time to keep them at bay. At last they gathered together and made a desperate attack upon the cave, while the undaunted sailor clubbed them with the butt of a musket as fast as they came upon him. Then they withdrew and left him to pass the night watching and waiting for the assault to be renewed, but this was not attempted. Next day one of the savages appeared alone and unarmed, making signs which indicated that the tribe desired peace.
"Not only was this goodwill maintained, but the chief of the fierce islanders, full of admiration for the sailor's bravery, treated him with marked respect, and when more than a year had passed, during which no vessel apparently sighted the fluttering flag at the top of the broken mast, the seaman became almost reconciled to his strange fate, and took the chief's daughter as his wife. Watching from the beach one day, long after this, the sailor saw a vessel, and climbing up the mast seized the flag and raised frantic cries for rescue; for on seeing a ship once more his old longing to leave the island at once returned. Anxiously he watched, and then saw a flag run up to the mast of the ship, which told him that his signal had been observed—then the dull roar of cannon rang out over the waters. The vessel tacked and soon bore down towards the island, the sailor madly waving the tattered flag and uttering exclamations of delight, for he was almost beside himself at the near prospect of rescue.
"The vessel was brought to at some little distance from the island and a boat sent out, which was carefully steered through the breakers. Forgetting the treasure which he had concealed in the cave, and the friendly treatment which he had so long received from the tribe who knew of its whereabouts, the sailor rushed into the surf, and throwing himself into the boat bade the men pull back to the ship. When he was standing on the deck of the latter he recognised fully his own position. Above him floated the Spanish flag, fierce glances of hatred from all the crew were turned upon him, and to complete his discomfiture the commander who came forward to meet him was none other than Don Luego, of whom every Feringhee sailor had heard.
"Cast adrift by the crew of the galleon which he had commanded, Don Luego had been rescued and carried to Spain by a trading vessel, by which he chanced to be observed after suffering terrible privations at sea. He made his way into the King's presence, told his own tale of the mutiny of his sailors, and persuaded the monarch to put him in command of a fast vessel with which to return and, hunting them down, to restore the great treasure to the Spanish coffers. Strange rumours were heard by him when again in the southern seas of the galleon having been seen flying before the wind with another vessel pursuing it. After cruising about for a considerable time he had quite unknowingly come within sight of the island where the English vessel and the Spanish galleon had both been wrecked.
"Pretending that hostilities had long ceased between the two nations, Don Luego endeavoured to get the rescued man to relate the story of his shipwreck; but the seaman, conscious of his danger, gave evasive answers, and asked to be landed upon the island once more. The Spaniard's suspicions were aroused, and he determined to keep the sailor on board as his prisoner while a number of men were sent ashore to see if anything could be discovered. They soon come back and reported that upon the beach they had seen portions of wreckage which had evidently formed part of a Spanish galleon. The Feringhee seaman was strictly questioned by the commander, but at first would say nothing. Stung at length by Don Luego's taunts, he pointed towards the tattered flag which still floated from the broken mast, and declared that it waved over a treasure belonging no longer to Spain but to him.
"Don Luego responded by threatening the hardy sailor with death unless he pointed out where the contents of the lost galleon were concealed. The seaman suddenly sprang forward, wrenched the sword from his interrogator's hand, and, cutting a way through the surprised Spaniards, flung himself headlong from the vessel's side, and struck out for the shore.
"'Shoot him, men!' cried Don Luego, as the sailor's head emerged for a minute from the water, and instantly a volley from a hundred muskets whistled round the swimmer's head. He dived at once and swam under water, only coming up to take breath occasionally. A second and a third time the muskets were discharged, and then the savages—who had meanwhile gathered in a threatening band at the water's edge, on hearing the strange reports ring out—saw the sailor flung upon the coral beach. They bent over him, then raised a wild cry for vengeance, for the waves had cast at their feet the blood-stained body of the lifeless seaman.
"Landing from their boats, the Spaniards tried to force the natives from the shore, but were driven back time after time at the point of the savages' spears, till disheartened they leapt into their boats again and made for the vessel. Foremost among the wild horde which fought so desperately to avenge the murdered sailor was the daughter of the chief—for among this tribe the women fight in battle no less than the men. Her spear it was which pierced the traitorous Don Luego through as he led on the Spaniards.
"Soon after the ship sailed away the savages took up their dead, and carrying the sailor's body away they placed it in some secret spot, whither also they conveyed the treasure which he had hidden near the shore. There it is said to remain still, for though many daring explorers have set out to find it, none have ever returned to speak of their success, so the coolies say. Yet they would gladly convey the sahibs to the island and help them to overcome the savage tribe still living there, for they are bold seamen, and do not fear fighting whatever enemies may appear."
"I daresay," commented Denviers, with a glance of amusement at the coolies still shading themselves with the umbrella, "they would willingly go with us until the first savage appeared, then they would jump into the junk and make off, leaving us to defend ourselves as best we knew how. I have not the slightest objection to setting out for Formosa, but we will see to the craft ourselves and not trust to them. What is your opinion, Harold?"
"Let us go, by all means," I answered. "Between us we can manage the junk very well, and if we act cautiously we may come across this strangely hidden treasure; at all events, we might try."
Hassan was accordingly dispatched to the coolies to tell them what course we had decided to follow, and after some bargaining the junk was placed at our disposal. Before many hours had passed we were on our way to Formosa, little knowing what a strange adventure was in store for us, or how perilous a task we had so lightly undertaken. Before commencing our journey we carefully questioned the coolies as to where it was rumoured the treasure had been secreted, and, learning this, provided ourselves with everything we thought necessary for the enterprise. Our tent and possessions were left in charge of a wealthy mandarin, whom we fortunately met at Swatow, while we looked to the state of our weapons, for we fully expected to need them in the adventure before us.
"I think these Formosans are altogether too friendly, Harold," said Denviers, as we eventually reached the rough coast to which we had been directed, and our boat was being dragged through the blinding surf by a dozen fierce-looking savages.
"The sahibs need not fear," interposed Hassan, as he overheard this remark; "it is necessary that we should be led by them, for not otherwise could we see Wimpai, who is their head-man, so the coolies told me."
"I expect we could have managed very well without seeing him," I replied. "Would it not have been possible to have found the sailor's treasure, wherever it is hidden, without landing at a spot where these savages were evidently on the look-out?"
"Not so, by Mahomet!" answered the Arab. "The sahibs would certainly be slain if they attempted to do so without Wimpai permitted them."
"Well, come on then," said Denviers, as he made his way through the wreckage and huge fragments of coral lying on the beach: "I daresay we shall get out of this adventure as safely as we have others. Our new acquaintances are certainly making themselves quite at home with our possessions, before being invited even," he added, as four of them placed on their heads some pieces of cloth and a native basket filled with handsome beads, which Hassan had advised us to bring in order to propitiate Wimpai.
"They seem to consider us their prisoners," I remarked, as the savages marched on the right and left of us, while we strode on with our rifles shouldered.
"I don't relish the look of their knives," commented Denviers; "they are likely to do us far more harm with them than with the clumsy matchlocks which they now carry instead of spears. What a splendid set of fellows they are!"
The savages who inhabited this part of Formosa, so much avoided on account of its dangerous coral reefs, wore only a blue loin-cloth. Their hair was adorned with a number of brightly-coloured feathers, while across the shoulder of each passed a strip of scarlet cloth, reaching to the waist, supporting a plaited loop, into which was thrust the long-bladed knife which my companion mentioned. For some time the tangled pathway which we traversed wound up the steep side of a mountain spur, running almost down to the edge of the raised coral beach. Forcing our way through the screw-pine, which obstructed us, we were soon passing under the shade of some bamboos and banyans, when Denviers motioned to some trees a little way ahead, and suddenly exclaimed:—
"Look out, Harold! These savage niggers mean mischief!"
I glanced carefully to where my companion directed me, and saw a number of matchlocks pointed at us, while the heads of those who held them peered cautiously forth. We raised our rifles to defend ourselves, for we were completely covered by the shining barrels of the enemy, and for a moment fully expected that the lighted port-fires would be applied to their old-fashioned weapons. Seeing that we were closely guarded by the others from any attempt to escape, the savages came out from their lurking-places and advanced to meet us.
"It looks as if Hassan's incredible yarn is going to turn out true after all," said Denviers to me, aside; "at all events, there are several women carrying arms among those in front."
Upon getting close to us the savages passed on one side, and giving a fierce yell of triumph as they did so, turned and followed behind, while our guides or captors still inclosed us, except one of them who led the way. The burden-bearers soon after this disappeared, and we saw no more of the presents which we had brought.
"I expect we are in for it," said Denviers, as the savage led us towards a narrow gap in the heart of the mountain up which we had been toiling. Through this a number of the men passed in single file, and we were bidden to follow them. We halted irresolutely and turned round, only to see the wild horde pressing on behind, impatient at our delay.
"We must go on," said Denviers, "for we are completely surrounded."
The Arab pressed forward, anxious to be the first to test whatever danger confronted us, but my companion prevented this, and Hassan was compelled to take second place, while I followed him. We were absolutely in the dark before we had proceeded a dozen yards through the cleft in the mountain side, and then our worst fears were realized.
I heard a warning cry from Denviers, followed by Hassan's fierce answer, as the savages gathered closely about us where the passage or cave mist have widened out, and then I felt the grip of a hand upon my throat and saw even in the gloom the fierce glitter of my enemy's eyes. With a thud I brought my rifle down, and the blow evidently told, for my throat was released, while the one who had attacked me fell heavily to the ground.
Of all the adventures which we had met with, that one, during those few minutes of desperate fighting for our lives in the blackness about us, seemed the most weird and exciting. Once I heard the ring of the Arab's sword as it struck against the side of the rocky excavation, and a call to Mahomet for help came from his lips, while through it all Denviers was cheering us madly on in the blind conflict with our foes. I felt my rifle wrenched at last from my hands, and drawing a pistol from my belt thrust it between the glaring eyes of a savage and fired, sending him down at my feet. In a second that weapon too was snatched from me, and feeling hastily for the other I found it gone! Still another savage faced me, and I struck blindly at him with my fist, dealing a stunning blow which sent him spinning and laid my knuckles bare. With all my might I struggled to keep off the rope or thong which I felt was being bound about me, but the odds were too great, and with my arms lashed tightly to my sides I was dragged forward, wondering what fate was in store and why the savages did not kill us outright with their knives. Evidently that was not their purpose, for as soon as I was helplessly bound no more blows were rained upon me, nor did my captors attempt to inflict further injuries.
How long I was hauled through the gloomy passage in the mountain would be difficult to conjecture, but eventually a stifling heat seemed to penetrate to where I was being hurried along, and a dull red glow appeared ahead which lit up the scene, showing what had happened and where we were. Denviers and Hassan were both bound, the latter having one of his arms left loose, from which circumstance I concluded that it was broken, and this was subsequently found to be true.
The glowing mass ahead increased in its intensity, and cast strange shadows of the savages upon the jagged walls of rock which inclosed us on each side and rose to a height of more than twenty feet at the point we had then reached. We drew near to each other as we emerged into the lighter part of the mountain passage, and the savages ceased to drag us along, since they could watch our movements.
"We ought to be glad these niggers didn't try conclusions with their knives in that fight in the dark," said Denviers, as I got close to him and the Arab. Then, observing the latter's injured arm, he added: "You seem to have got the worst of the encounter with one of them, Hassan——"
"Not so, by the Koran!" answered the Arab, promptly. "He who dealt that blow felt the edge of my sword, and lived but a second after he did it."
"Where are we being taken to, do you think, Hassan?" I asked, looking in surprise at the changing colours of the walls of the passage, which just there were tinted a bluish-grey, then crimsoned a little further on, until the long cave seemed to terminate in an enormous hollow surrounded by blood-red rocks which rose precipitously upwards.
"The sahib will soon see for himself," answered the Arab. "The savage tribe has chosen a safe retreat where none would expect to find living people, for, see! before us is the jagged side of a crater!"
We emerged from the cave to observe in front of us the cause of the intense heat which had been so oppressive while we were in it. A white cloud of smoke rose from the funnel-like hollow, and occasionally flickering red flames shot up and turned this to the same hue, while at times the cloud wore a blue colour, matching the changing tints of the lake of fire below. Round the interior of the great crater in which we were ran a rugged path of broken masses of rock, between which streams of lava lay, and over them we had to pass. Even as we went along, scarcely able to breathe, we saw a huge fragment of rock crash down into the depths below. This was followed by a grinding sound and a rumble like thunder; then high above us shot a shower of red-hot lava and stones, while we crouched under a projecting shelf of black basalt, and forgot that we were prisoners in the midst of such an impressive scene. When the stream of fire which darted upwards had somewhat subsided, our captives urged us forward, and on we went, tumbling and slipping over the dangerous rocks, which threatened every instant to give way beneath our feet. Even the savages became exceedingly cautious as we wound our way around the crater, and seemed to be getting nearer and nearer still to the molten fire below.
As he turned round for a moment to see if we were following, the foremost of our captors missed his footing, and, bound as we were, none of us could make an attempt to save him. Uttering an appalling cry of horror, he fell head first into the roaring furnace! We flung ourselves upon our faces and tried to shut out that weird scream of terror; then Denviers, prone as he was, worked his body forward upon a loose, overhanging rock, and stared down into the red sea of fire below.
"The sahib is mad! Come back, come back!" cried Hassan, excitedly; whereupon the savages, looking more like demons than men, as their faces were lighted up by the glow of the lambent flames, seized hold of my companion and dragged him from threatening death.
"He has not fallen right in," said Denviers to me, calmly, as though his own danger had been a mere nothing; "the man is clinging to a projecting crag just above the flames. Hassan," he cried to our guide, "tell these savages if they will unbind me I think I can save him."
Half stupefied with fear and horror, our captors unbound the long rope which held my companion's arms to his sides, and at once he made a loop at one end of it and advanced again upon the projecting rock. Quickly the rope was lowered and, leaning right over, Denviers managed to reach the almost senseless man, for we saw him hauling the rope slowly in, and finally the head of the savage appeared before us, while the loose rock which upheld rescuer and rescued swayed ominously upon the solid mass which supported it. Scarcely were the two of them dragged back from the rock when over it went, and again a fierce shower of fire shot up, from which with much difficulty we protected ourselves.
The savage lay scorched and motionless for several minutes, then, struggling to his feet, he took one of the knives which another proffered and cut Hassan's bonds as well as my own. Again we moved forward and, conscious that this unexpected rescue of their companion had won for us the goodwill of all, we passed on, hoping that when we faced Wimpai, their chief, it would be turned to good account. Freed from our bonds so unexpectedly, we went on with more confidence than before, and at last saw another huge cavern facing us, upon entering which we found ourselves in the presence of the savage chief.
We were not able to observe what the entire number of the savages was, since the cave into which we went led to several others where we caught glimpses of many of the wild tribe. We estimated that those among whom we were amounted to about five hundred, more than a half of whom were female warriors. Our appearance was the signal for the savages to raise excited cries, which continued till we stood before Wimpai, who was partly surrounded by a number of his armed women. The chief of our captors, who had received several severe burns and injuries through his fall, pressed forward, and telling first of our fight in the rocky passage, afterwards spoke of his own rescue by Denviers, so we learnt from Hassan. Wimpai rose and leant upon his spear when the savage had concluded his account, and was evidently perplexed as to what course to pursue.
Hassan managed to explain our purpose in visiting the chief, and with an immobile countenance asked for us to be shown the hidden treasure, a request which brought forth a shrill laugh from those around. We could not understand what passed between Wimpai and the Arab, but the latter succeeded in producing a favourable effect by his persuasive words, for he turned to us eventually, saying:—
"Wimpai declares that between his tribe and those who carry the dragon banner to war there has been of late much fighting, which is the reason his people have sought this strange shelter."
"I should have thought these niggers could tell the difference between us and Chinamen," interposed Denviers.
"That is so," responded the Arab; "but the sahib forgets that in the memory of every wild tribe those who have injured them are never forgotten. Finding that we were not like the people with whom they have recently been fighting, those who took us prisoners thought we were the descendants of the fell Spaniards whom their traditions recall. I have told Wimpai that ye are of the same nation as the Feringhee sailor who married the daughter of one of their chiefs so long ago, and he promises that we shall see the treasure, and may take as much of it as we can bear away. Even now a boat is being got ready for us to enter, and a warrior woman is to accompany us down the strange stream which leads to the place where the contents of the galleon have long been hidden."