THE PORT OF ADVENTURE
Charles Norris Williamson
Alice Muriel Williamson
Published in Great Britain under the title: The Love Pirate.
BY THE SAME AUTHORS
LORD LOVELAND DISCOVERS AMERICA ROSEMARY IN SEARCH OF A FATHER LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR THE LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR THE GUESTS OF HERCULES THE PRINCESS VIRGINIA THE GOLDEN SILENCE THE CAR OF DESTINY THE MOTOR MAID THE CHAPERON SET IN SILVER THE HEATHER MOON
THREE FRIENDS IN CALIFORNIA
I. IN A GARDEN II. NICK III. THE ANNIVERSARY IV. A GIRL IN MOURNING V. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT VI. WHEN THE TABLES WERE TURNED VII. A POLICE MYSTERY VIII. THE GOLD BAG COMEDY IX. THE LAST ACT OF THE GOLD BAG COMEDY X. WHEN ANGELA WENT SIGHTSEEING XI. THE MAN AT THE WHEEL XII. THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY OF MAKE-BELIEVE XIII. FOR THE SAKE OF DRAMATIC EFFECT XIV. THE MYSTERY OF SAN MIGUEL XV. THE WISE BIRD IN THE DARK XVI. ANGELA AT HER WORST XVII. SEVENTEEN-MILE DRIVE XVIII. LA DONNA E MOBILE XIX. THE CITY OF ROMANCE XX. THE DOOR WITH THE RED LABEL XXI. "WHO IS MRS. MAY?" XXII. THE BOX OF MYSTERY XXIII. THE HAPPY VALLEY XXIV. THE BEST THING IN HER LIFE XXV. THE BROKEN MELODY XXVI. AN INVITATION FROM CARMEN XXVII. SIMEON HARP XXVIII. THE DARK CLOUD IN THE CRYSTAL XXIX. THE PARTING OF THE WAYS XXX. THE MAKING OF A GENTLEMAN XXXI. THE BREAKING OF THE SPELL XXXII. AN END—AND A BEGINNING
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Nick thought her adorable in her gray motor bonnet"
"Santa Barbara Mission, with its history and romance"
"Angela was enchanted with the peninsula of Monterey"
"They weren't trees, but people, either nymphs or witches"
"The world was a sea, billowing with mountains"
On a great ship a woman sailed away from the Old World, wishing to forget. In her mind was the thought of a far-off place toward which she was travelling. There were no figures in this mental picture. She painted it as a mere flowery background; for she was very tired of people.
In the New World, a man lived and worked, and dreamed—when he had time.
Between this woman and this man lay six thousand miles of land and sea. They were two, among many millions, and they did not know of each other's existence. There was no visible reason why they ever should know, or why they should ever meet. Yet, sometimes when the moon shone on the sea, the woman said to herself that the bright path paving the water with gold seemed to lead on and on beyond the horizon, as if it might go all the way to the Golden Gate. And the Golden Gate is the Port of Adventure, where every unexpected thing can happen.
IN A GARDEN
"I wonder what makes Nick so late?" Carmen Gaylor thought, hovering in the doorway between the dim, cool hall and the huge veranda that was like an out-of-doors drawing-room.
Though she spoke English well—almost as well as if she had not been born in Spain and made her greatest successes in the City of Mexico—Carmen thought in Spanish, for her heart was Spanish, and her beauty too.
She was always handsome, but she was beautiful as she came out into the sunset gold which seemed meant for her, as stage lights are turned on for the heroine of a play; and there was something about Carmen which suggested strong drama. Even the setting in which she framed herself was like an ideal scene for a first act.
The house was not very old, and not really Spanish, but it had been designed by an architect who knew Carmen, with the purpose of giving a Spanish effect. He had known exactly the sort of background to suit her, a background as expensive as picturesque; a millionaire husband had paid for it. There were many verandas and pergolas, but this immense out-of-doors room had wide archways instead of pillars, curtained with white and purple passion flowers; and the creamy stucco of the house-wall, and the ruddy Spanish tiles, which already looked mellow with age, were half hidden with climbing roses and grapevines.
Three shallow steps of pansy-coloured bricks went all the length of the gallery, descending to a terrace floored with the same brick, which held dim tints of purple, old rose, gray and yellow, almost like a faded Persian rug.
When Carmen had looked past the fountain across the lawn, down the path cut between pink oleanders, where the man she expected ought to appear, she trailed her white dress over terrace and grass to peer under the green roof of the bamboo forest. It was like a temple with tall pillars of priceless jade that supported a roof of the same gray-green, starred in a vague pattern with the jewels of sunset. Carmen did not see the beauty of the magic temple, though she was conscious of her own. She hated to think that Nick Hilliard should keep her waiting, and there was cruelty in the clutch she made at a cluster of orange blossoms as she passed a long row of trees in terra-cotta pots on the terrace. Under the bamboos she scattered a handful of creamy petals on the golden brown earth, and rubbed them into the ground with the point of her bronze shoe. Then she held up her hand to her face, to smell the sweetness crushed out of the blossoms.
Why didn't Nick come?
There was a short cut leading from the land which she had selected off her own immense ranch to sell to Nick Hilliard, and this way he sometimes took if he were in a hurry. But she knew that he loved the path between the pink walls of oleander, and preferred to come by it, though it was longer. He ought to have been with her at least ten minutes ago, for she had asked him to come early. She had said in the letter which she gave old Simeon Harp to take to Nick, "This is your last night. There are a great, great many things I want to talk to you about." But there was only one thing about which she wished Nick Hilliard to talk to her, and there were two reasons why she expected him to talk of it to-night.
One reason was, because he was going East, and planned to be gone a month, a dreadful plan which she feared and detested. The second reason concerned the anniversary of a certain event. Some people would have called the event a tragedy, but to Carmen it had made life worth living. Other people's tragedies were shadowy affairs to her, if she had not to suffer from them.
It was one of her pleasures to dress beautifully, in a style that might have seemed exaggerated on a different type of woman, and would have been extravagant for any except the mistress of a fortune. But never had Carmen taken more pains than to-night, when she expected only one guest. Her white chiffon and silver tissue might have been a wedding gown. She adored jewellery, and had been almost a slave to her love for it, until she began to value something else more—something which, unfortunately, her money could not buy, though she hoped and prayed her face might win it. She had quantities of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies—her favourite stones—but instinct had told her that even one would spoil the effect she wished to make to-night. She wore only a long rope of pearls, which would have suited a bride; and as she stood in the shadow of her bamboo temple, the pearls drank iridescent lights: green from the jade-coloured trees, pink from roses trailing over arbours, and gold from the California poppies thick among the grass.
Of course, any one of many reasonable things might have happened to delay Nick. He was busy, busier even than when he had been foreman of the Gaylor ranch a year ago, but Carmen could not bear to think that he would let mere reasonable things keep him away from her, just this night of all others. For exactly a year—a year to-day, a year this morning, so it was already more than a year—she had ceased to be a slave, and she had had everything she wanted, except one thing. Perhaps she had that too, yet she was not sure: and she could hardly wait to be sure. Nobody but Nick could make her so, and he ought to be in joyful haste to do it. He was not cold blooded. One could not look at Nick and think him that, yet to her he sometimes seemed indifferent. Carmen made herself believe that it was his respect which held him back. How desperately she wanted to know! Yet there was a strange pleasure in not knowing, such as she might never feel again, when she was sure.
Suddenly, far off, there was a rustling in the bamboo forest. A figure like a shadow, but darker than other shadows, moved in the distance. Carmen's heart jumped. She took a step forward, then stopped. It was not Nick Hilliard after all, but old Simeon Harp, the squirrel poisoner, coming from the direction of Nick's ranch, bringing her a message, maybe. She felt she could not possibly bear it if Nick were not coming, and she hated him at the bare thought that he might send an excuse at the last moment.
"What is it, Sim?" she called out sharply, as the queer, gnarled figure of the old man hobbled nearer.
"Nothing, my lady," Simeon Harp answered in the husky voice of one who is or has been a drunkard. "Nothing, only I was over at Nick's finishin' up a bit of my work, and he said, would I tell you he was sorry to be late. He's had somebody with him all afternoon, and no time to pack till just now. But he'll be along presently."
Harp was an Englishman, with some fading signs about him of decent birth, decent education and upbringing, but such signs were blurred and almost obliterated by the habits which had degraded him. He would have been dead or in prison or the poorhouse years ago if Carmen had not chosen to rescue him, more through a whim than from genuine charity. Her mother's people had been English, and somehow she had not cared to see an Englishman thrown to the dogs in this country which was not hers nor his. In days when her word was law for the infatuated and brutal man whose death anniversary it now was, this bit of human driftwood—failure, drunkard, rascal—had been found trespassing on the ranch. If Carmen had not chosen to show her power over old "Grizzly Gaylor" by protecting the poor wretch, Harp would have met the fate he probably deserved. But she had amused herself, and saved him. Sick and forlorn, he had been nursed back to something like health in the house of one among many gardeners. Since then he had been her slave, her dog. He called her "my lady," and she rather liked the name. She liked the worshipping admiration in the red-lidded eyes which had once been handsome, and she believed, what he often said, that there was nothing on earth he wouldn't do for her. Once or twice the thought had pierced her brain like a sharp needle, that perhaps he had already done a thing for her—a great thing. But it was better not to know, not even to guess. Fortunately the idea had apparently never occurred to any one else, and of course it never could now. Yet there had been a very curious look in Simeon Harp's eyes a year ago when—— ... Not that it proved anything. There was always a more or less curious look in his eyes. He was altogether a curious person, perhaps a little mad, or, at any rate, vague. Especially was he vague about his reasons for leaving his native land to emigrate to America. He said it was so long ago, and he had gone through so much, that he had forgotten. There are some things it is as well to forget. Since Carmen had known him, Simeon Harp had tried his luck as a water diviner, but failing, sometimes when he most wished to succeed, in that profession, he had now definitely settled down as squirrel poisoner to the neighbourhood. Those pests to farmers and ranchmen, ground squirrels, had given the strange old man a chance to build up a reputation of a sort. As a squirrel poisoner he was a brilliant success.
"Who gave you permission to call Mr. Hilliard 'Nick'?" Carmen asked, not very sternly, for she was pleased to have news from the other ranch. After all, if Nick had had a visitor he might not be to blame.
"Why, everybody calls him 'Nick'," explained Simeon, huskily. "But I won't, if it isn't your will, my lady."
"Oh, I don't care, if he doesn't. Only——" she broke off, slightly confused. Even to this old wretch she could not say, "It isn't suitable that you should use my future husband's Christian name as if he were down on the same level with a man like you." She could not be sure that Nick would be her husband, though it seemed practically certain. Besides, if Hilliard was "Nick" to everybody, it was a token of his popularity; and Nick himself was the last man to forget that he had risen to his present place by climbing up from the lowest rung of the ladder—the ladder of poverty. She could not imagine his "putting on airs," as he would call it, though she thought it might be better if he were less of the "hail-fellow-well-met," and more of the master in manner among his own cattlemen, and particularly with the wild riff-raff that had rushed to his land with the oil boom.
"Who was with him—some man, I suppose?" she asked of the squirrel poisoner, who stood quietly adoring her with eyes dimmed by drink and years. He had so settled down on his rheumatic old joints that he had become dwarfish in stature as well as gnarled in shape, and looked a gnomelike thing, gazing up at the tall young woman.
"Oh, yes, it was a man, of course," Simeon assured her. "There couldn't be any women for him who knows you, it seems to me, my lady. And you were never as handsome as you are this night. It warms the heart to set eyes on you, like the wine you give me on your birthdays, to drink your health."
Carmen was pleased with praise, even a squirrel poisoner's praise. She could never have too much.
"You needn't wait for my birthday," she laughed. "I don't mean to have another for a good long time, Sim! You can have some of that wine to-night."
"Thank you, my lady. It's an anniversary, too," he mumbled, lowering his husky voice for the last words. But Carmen heard them. "You remember that!" she exclaimed, without stopping to think, or perhaps she would not have spoken.
"Oh, yes, my lady, I remember," he said. "There's reasons—several good reasons—why I shan't forget that as long as I live. You see, things was gettin' pretty bad for you, and so——"
"Don't let's talk of it, Sim!" she broke in sharply.
"No, my lady, we won't," he agreed. "I was only goin' to say, things bein' so bad made what happened a matter for rejoicin' and not sorrow, to those who wish you well. That's all—that's all, my lady."
"Thank you, Sim. I know you're fond of me—and grateful," Carmen said. "Things were bad. I don't pretend to grieve. I shouldn't even have worn mourning, if Madame Vestris, the great palmist in San Francisco, hadn't told me it would bring me ill luck not to. I'm glad the year's up. I hate black! This is a better anniversary than a silly old birthday, Sim!"
"Yes, and that reminds me, my lady," said Simeon, "that I've put together enough perfect skins of the squirrels I've killed without the dope to make the grand automobile coat I've been promisin' you so long. Got the last skin cured to-day, as it happened. Maybe, that'll bring you good luck!"
"Oh, I hope so!" she cried.
"Here's Nick—Mr. Hilliard," Harp announced, nodding his gray head in the direction of the oleander path, to which Carmen's back was turned as she stood.
She wheeled quickly, and saw a tall young man coming toward her, with long strides. Instantly, she forgot Simeon Harp, and did not even see him as he hobbled away, pulling on to his head the moth-eaten cap of squirrel fur which he always wore, summer and winter, as if for a sign of his trade.
Nick Hilliard snatched off his sombrero as he came swinging along the oleander path. He was tall, fully six feet in height, and looked taller than he was, being lean and hard, with long straight legs which could carry him very fast over great stretches of country. Also he had a way of holding his head high, a way which a man gets if he is in the habit of gazing toward far horizons. He had a well-cut nose, a good chin, and a mouth that meant strength of purpose, though some of his friends laughed at him for a "womanish" curve of the upper lip. Luckily Nick did not mind being laughed at by his friends. His face was almost as brown as his hair, for the sun had darkened the one and bleached the other; but the hair was nice hair, with a glow of auburn in it, which contrasted not uninterestingly with his black, straight brows. It was, however, the brilliance of the brook-brown eyes which made Nick a handsome man, and not merely a "good-looking fellow." It was because of his eyes that women turned in the street for another glance when he went into Bakersfield or Fresno; but Nick never knew that they turned. He liked pretty girls, and enjoyed their society, but was too busy to seek it, and had had little of it in his life. It did not occur to him that he had qualities to attract women. Indeed, he wasted few thoughts upon himself as an individual; not enough, perhaps; for he gave his whole attention to his work. Work was what he liked best, even without the ultimate success it brought, but lately he had begun to long for a change. He had a strong wish to go East, and a reason for the wish.
Carmen held out both hands, and enjoyed seeing how white they looked in Nick's sunburned, slightly freckled ones. He shook hers, frankly, warmly, and apologized for his "rig," which was certainly far from conventional. "I'm ashamed of myself for blowin' in on you this way," he said, "especially as you're so mighty fine. I hope you'll excuse me, for you know I pull out to-night, and Jim Beach is bringin' the buggy along here for me, with my grip in it. If I'd piked back home afterward, my visit with you'd have been a cut game."
"Ah, I'm glad you arranged not to go back," said Carmen. "I want you to stay with me as long as you can. I like you in those clothes." She smiled at him as if she would like him in anything; but Nick was thinking about Jim Beach, wondering if the boy would have trouble with the flea-bitten gray, which he himself had newly broken to harness.
"All the same," Carmen went on, "though I like them, you haven't got much vanity if you mean to wear those things to travel East, and land in New York."
"Why, what's the matter with 'em, Mrs. Gaylor?" Nick asked. He spoke carelessly, in the matter of accent as well as of his feeling about the clothes. He cut off his words in a slipshod way, as if he had never had time to think much about the value or beauty of the English language. Still, though his speech was not that of a cultivated man, it did not grate on the ear. His voice was singularly pleasant, even sweet, with something of boyish gaiety in it.
"The things are all right, Nick, and you're all right in them. You needn't worry," said Carmen. "Only—well, I don't believe there'll be anything else like them—or like you either—in New York."
Nick looked himself over indifferently. He wore a "soft" white shirt, with a low collar turned over a black scarf tied anyhow. There was a leather belt round his waist, which obviated the need of a waistcoat or suspenders. His short coat and trousers were of navy blue serge. Everything he had on was neat and of good material, but Carmen smiled when she thought of this tall, belted figure, hatted with a gray sombrero on the back of its head, arriving at one of the best hotels in New York. Nick was pretty sure to go to one of the best hotels. He wanted to see life, no doubt, and get his money's worth. Her smile was as tender as Carmen's smile could be, however, and she was pleased that he was not "dressing up" to make an impression on pretty women in the East.
"I don't care what anybody thinks about me in New York," said he. "As long as you excuse me for not having on my Sunday-go-to-meeting rags to dine with you, I don't mind the rest."
"I thought you were never coming," she said, changing the subject.
"So did I, by George! I thought the fellow'd never go."
"Was it a deputation to say good-bye?"
"Lord, no, Mrs. Gaylor! It was a chap you don't know, I guess. I only ran up against him lately, since I sold my gusher to the United Oil Company. He's their lawyer—and does some work for the railroad too. Smart sort of man he seems to be, though kind of stiff when you first know him: between forty and forty-five, maybe: name's Henry Morehouse, a brother of a bank manager in San Francisco."
"James Morehouse the banker is a very rich, important man," said Carmen, somewhat impressed by the idea of Nick's new friend who had stayed too long. "I've never met his family myself. You know how close I was kept till a year ago. But I've heard of them. They're in with the Falconer set and that lot, so it shows they're smart. What does Henry Morehouse want, making up to you, Nick?"
"It was oil business brought us together and he seemed to take a sort of likin' to me. We care about some o' the same things—books and that. Now he's going East—maybe on more oil business. Anyhow, he proposes we share a stateroom on the Limited, and he's been recommendin' his hotel in New York. I was kind of plannin' to be a swell, and hang out at the Waldorf-Astoria, to see the nobs at home. But his place sounds nice, and I like bein' with him pretty well. He's lit up with bright ideas and maybe he'll pass on some to me. His business won't keep him long, he thinks; and he's promised his brother James to look after a lady who's landing from Europe about the time we're due in New York. He'll meet her ship; and if she doesn't want to stay East any length of time, he'll bring her back to California. She means to settle out here."
Carmen's face hardened into anxious lines, though she kept up a smile of interest. She looked older than she had looked when she held out her hands to Nick. She had been about twenty-six then. Now she was over thirty.
"Is the lady young or old?" she asked.
"I don't know anything about her," Nick answered with a ring of truthfulness in his voice which Carmen's keen ears accepted. "All I can tell you is, that she's a Mrs. May, a relation or friend of Franklin Merriam the big California millionaire who died East about ten years ago—about the time I was first cowpunching on your ranch."
"Oh, the Franklin Merriam who made such stacks of money irrigating desert land he owned somewhere in the southern part of the State!" Carmen sighed with relief. "I've heard of him of course. He must have been middle-aged when he died, so probably this woman's old or oldish."
"I suppose so," Nick readily agreed. "Great king, isn't it mighty sweet here to-night? It looks like heaven, I guess, and you're like—like——"
"If this is heaven, am I an angel? Do I seem like that to you?"
"Well, no—not exactly my idea of an angel, somehow: though I don't know," he reflected aloud. "You're sure handsome enough—for anything, Mrs. Gaylor. But I've always thought of angels lily white, with moonlight hair and starry eyes."
"You're quite poetical!" retorted Carmen, piqued. "But other men have told me my eyes are stars."
He looked straight into them, and at the hot pomegranate colour which blazed up in her olive cheeks, like a reflection of the sunset. And Carmen looked back at him with her big, splendid eyes.
It was a man's look he gave her, a man's look at a woman; but not a man's look at the woman he wants.
"No," he answered. "They're not stars. They're more like the sun at noon in midsummer, when so many flowers are pourin' out perfume you can hardly keep your senses."
Carmen was no longer hurt. "That's the best compliment I ever had, and I've had a good many," she laughed. "Besides—coming from you, Nick! I believe it's the first you ever paid me right out in so many words."
"Was it a compliment?" Nick asked doubtfully and boyishly. "Well, I'm real glad I was smart enough to bring one off. I spoke out just what came into my mind, and I'd have felt mighty bad if you'd been cross."
"I'm not cross!" she assured him. "I'd rather be a woman—for you—than an angel. Angels are cold, far-off, impossible things that men can't grasp. Besides, their wings would probably moult."
Nick laughed, a pleasant, soft laugh, half under his breath. "Say, I don't picture angels with wings! The sort that flits into my mind when I'm tired out after a right hard day and feel kind of lonesome for something beautiful, I don't know hardly what—only something I've never had—that sort of angel is a woman, too, and not cold, though far above me, of course. She has starry eyes and moonlight hair—lots of it, hanging down in waves that could almost drown her. But I guess, after all—as you say—that sort's not my line. I'll never come in the light she makes with her shining, and if I should by accident, she wouldn't go shooting any of her starry glances my way."
Carmen was vexed again. "I didn't know you were so sentimental, Nick!"
He looked half ashamed.
"Well, I didn't know I was, either, till it popped out," he grinned. "But I suppose 'most every man has sentimental spells. Maybe, even, he wouldn't be worth his salt if he hadn't. Sometimes I think that way. But my spells don't come on often. When they do, it's generally nights in spring—like this, when special kinds of night-thoughts come flyin' along like moths—thoughts about past and future. But lately, since that blessed little oil town has been croppin' up like a bed of mushrooms round my big gusher—or rather, the company's gusher, as it is now—I've had my mind on that more than anything else, unless it's been my ditches. Gee! there's as much romance about irrigation in this country, I guess, as there is about angels which you can see only in dreams; for you see every day, when you're wide awake, the miracle of your ditches. You just watch your desert stretches or your meanest grazin' meadows turn into fairyland. I say, Mrs. Gaylor, have you ever read a mighty fine book—old but good and fresh as to-morrow's bread—called The Arabian Nights?"
"I don't know. I dare say I read some of it when I was a little girl," replied Carmen, wondering what Nick was leading up to. "It's for children, isn't it?"
"I reckon it's for every one with the right stuff in 'em," said Nick. "Anyhow, I haven't grown up enough to get beyond it. I don't mean ever to turn the boy that lives inside of me out-of-doors. If I ever do anything to make him so mad that he quits, I'll be finished—dried up. That book, The Arabian Nights, has got a dead clinch on me. You know, when I run into Bakersfield, I like to have a browse in the bookstores. It sort of rests me, and seein' the pictures in that book made me buy it—a birthday present for my affectionate self——"
"Your birthday!" Carmen broke in, tired of this book talk, but not tired of anything that concerned him. "You never told me. That was bad of you. How old, Nick? I'm not sure to a year or so."
"Twenty-nine. Quite some age, isn't it? But there's lots I want to do before I'm old. I don't know, though, as I mean ever to be old."
"Of course, you never will be." Carmen agreed with him aloud, but she was thinking in an undertone: "Only twenty-nine, and I'm thirty-three. He won't be old ever, or for a long time, but I will. I'm that kind, I'm afraid. My mother was. I've got no time to lose; but to-day's mine. Nick must love me really, though maybe he's too used to me to know it, without being stirred up by something unusual. But I'll try my hardest to make him know it to-night."
"Go on about your 'Arabian Nights,'" she said, to give herself time for the arranging of her tactics.
"Oh, well, all I really began to say was this: I was reading the story of Aladdin and an enchanted cave of jewels he dropped into. There was a magic ring and a lamp in the story too, that you could rub and get pretty near anything you wanted; so I was thinking this irrigation business of ours in California is like rubbing that lamp. It throws open doors of dark caves in deserts, and gives up enchanted gardens full of jewelled fruit and flowers. Then rub the smoky old lamp again and you get a spout of oil—another gift, which makes you feel as if a genie'd chucked it to you. Look at my gusher, for instance! Just think, Mrs. Gaylor, if you don't mind my talking this way about, myself—you sold me my land, sliced it right off your own ranch—let me have it darn cheap, too, when the boss died——"
"I wanted to keep you as near as possible, Nick, when people began to be silly and say I oughtn't to have a young man like you on the place as foreman, with me alone, and Eld gone. I needed you badly, and I'd have been glad to give you land for nothing if you'd have taken it. Gracious! I've got so much left I don't know what to do with it, or wouldn't if you weren't where you can advise me."
"That's your generous way of puttin' things," said Nick. "And it was walkin' along toward you, brought up these fairy-book thoughts so strong. My land's all right, though my house is a shack and I haven't got any flower-garden except in my head. But over here is another world; and I was sayin' to myself, how I owe the biggest things of my life to you. True, I was taking out my wages in calves while the boss was alive, and he was lettin' me put my brand on 'em by the hundred. But square as he was with me, he'd never have sold the land for the price you did. Not only that, but when I struck oil, a month or so after he went, look what happened. I hadn't the capital to do any good. 'Twas you put the money in my hand for the well-sinking and——"
"But you insisted on mortgaging every acre you bought—your cattle and everything you had, to me; so that took away the credit," cried Carmen, touched by his gratitude, and happy in the renewed assurance that this man was hers. "Besides, all you did and spent seemed likely to harm more than help, when everybody said you wouldn't get enough oil to pay for sinking your wells. It was only when the gusher burst out by accident and took every one by surprise that your troubles were over."
"If there's any such thing as accident," Nick mumbled, his eyes far away from Carmen. "The longer I live, the more I think there isn't. It's all arranged by Something Big up there beyond where the sun's sinking and the moon's rising. But maybe you'll say that's sentimental, like the angel-thought. I don't mean it that way, though I've got an almighty lot to thank the Something for—as well as to thank you."
"It wasn't I who took the gusher off your hands, anyhow, and saved you the expense of coping with it," said Carmen. "So I suppose you think it was Heaven sent you those men to buy what oil land you wanted to sell, and start Lucky Star City."
"I guess that's Who it was. Not that I deserve any special kindness from that quarter," Nick laughed. "My mother used to talk a lot about those things, you know, and though I was only a little shaver when she died, I've remembered most all that was connected with her."
Carmen did not speak. She knew the history of Nick's terrible childhood and early youth. Long ago he had told her how his grandfather, a California pioneer of good Southern family, a successful judge, had turned an only son away, penniless, because the boy of twenty chose to take for a wife a pretty little dressmaker, of no family at all; how the couple had gone East, to live on a few hundred dollars left to the boy by an aunt; how he had hoped and expected to succeed in New York as a journalist and writer; how he had failed and starved with his bride; how he had faded out of life while Nick was a baby; how the girl-widow had taken in sewing to support her child, and when she couldn't get that, had washed or scrubbed; and how, as Nick became a wise, worried old man of four or five years, he had been able to help earn the family living by selling the newspapers which had refused his dead father's contributions. Nick had not enlarged upon his adventures after this stage of his youthful career, merely sketching them in the baldest manner, when it had been necessary to present his credentials to the "boss"—"old Grizzly Gaylor." But in one way or other it had leaked out that the boy had learned to read and write and cipher at a night school in New York, not having time for such "frills" as schooling by day. And Carmen could not help knowing that he had gone on studying, and thinking out his own rather queer ideas about heaven and earth, ever since, in spite of the most strenuous interruptions—for she had been ashamed occasionally by happening to discover how much Nick knew. He had read everybody and everything from Plato to Schopenhauer, whereas it bored Carmen unspeakably to read anything except novels, and verses which she liked sometimes in magazines, because their pathos or passion might have been written round her.
She knew how Nick, as a little boy, had swept shops and found all sorts of odd jobs; how he had been errand boy, and district messenger in a uniform of which he had been proud because it made him feel "almost like a soldier"; how after his mother's death he had got his long-cherished wish to "go West," by working on the railway and eventually becoming a brakesman. After that short experience "cowpunching" days had come, and after several years in a subordinate position on Eldridge Gaylor's ranch he had at twenty-five been made foreman. But by this time he was already a familiar figure in her life—the life which she had chosen, and hated after it was chosen, except for Nick Hilliard, who had always loomed large in it, though she saw little of him until a year ago.
Except perhaps with the old man she had married for his money and hated for his brutality, Carmen believed that Nick Hilliard's "ways" and good looks had helped, even more than his courage and cleverness, to win him success and recognition. With Eldridge Gaylor it had been different. He thought of no man's pleasant looks or ways, though even upon the corrugated iron of his nature, a woman's beauty had had influence, and he had married Carmen off the comic opera stage, in the City of Mexico, where he had gone to see a great bullfight ten years ago. When he had brought her home to his famous ranch, willing for a while to be her slave and give her everything she wanted, she had found Nick a cowpuncher among other cowpunchers. And she had seen how he made "old Grizzly" respect him. But his promotion had come through a row and an attempt at murdering the "boss" by a drunken foreman driven mad by a blow from the short whip Gaylor carried about the ranch. Nick had saved his employer's life, risking his own—for he was unarmed at the moment; and to his surprise the reward had been the discharged foreman's place. Carmen shivered a little even now, remembering that night, and how she had worshipped Nick for his bravery. She had never since ceased to worship him, though he had done a great many things which irritated her extremely, such as saving "old Grizzly's" life once again: but those years were past.
As she wondered whether Nick would like her to talk with him about his mother, or whether that subject was too delicate to pursue, a musical Japanese gong sounded from a side gallery.
"Oh, it must be half-past seven," she said. "I ordered dinner early, so we could talk afterward by moonlight (I love talking in moonlight!) before the time for you to go. You can give me your arm, if you like, Nick."
Of course, Nick "liked," though he had never taken a lady to dinner in that way before, and he felt proud, if a little awkward, as a bare, creamy arm laid itself on his coat-sleeve.
Slowly and without speaking, they walked along a flower-bordered path that skirted the lawn on one side, and on the other a canal full to the brim of glittering water, which reflected the sky and the two figures.
It was a place and an hour made for love.
They did not dine in the house, though one of the show rooms was a huge dining-hall like a glorified refectory in an old Spanish mission. After the beginning of April, and sometimes long before, Carmen seldom took a meal indoors, unless she was attacked by one of her fierce fits of depression, and had a whim to hate the sun.
She and Nick mounted the steps, passed the fountain which spouted diamond spray through a round head made of some flowering water-plant, went on round a corner, Carmen's dress brushing fallen camellia petals or pink shells of broken roses, and so came to another veranda. This was pergola as well. It had no roof but beams of old Spanish chestnut, so draped with wistaria and roses that the whole out-of-doors room was canopied with leaves and hanging clusters of flowers. Only a faint filtering of sun or moonshine could steal through, and such rays as penetrated seemed to be dyed pink and purple by draining through the flowers.
Suspended from the beams were big iridescent pearl-shells, known in southern California as "abalone," and in the rainbow-tinted half-globes gleamed electric lights, subdued by dull gold glass; but neither these nor the tall shaded lamps on the low wall of the terrace, nor the hidden electric bulbs in the fountain basin, were allowed to shine out yet. As Carmen said, she liked to talk by moonlight; and now, over in the east, behind magnolia and palm trees, the moon had been born while the sun died in the west.
If it had been her wedding-night dinner Carmen could not have been more careful in ordering the different dishes and planning the decorations of the table. Usually whether she were alone or had guests (as she had sometimes, though "society" had never taken her up), she left everything to her Chinese head-cook, who was a worthy rival of any Parisian chef; and the beautifying of her table to the artistic Japanese youth whose one business in life was to think out new flower-combinations. This, however, was not only the anniversary of the day which had given her freedom, but she hoped it might be one to remember for a sweeter reason. Besides, Nick Hilliard was to be enchanted, to be made conscious of himself and her, as the only man, the only woman, worth thinking of in the world.
The air was sweet with the fragrance of orange-blossoms, and the deep-red velvet roses which were Carmen's own flowers. Nick was a water drinker by preference and because he was an open-air man, also because it had been necessary for him to set an example; but to-night Carmen made him sip a little iced champagne, and she drank to the success of his first visit East since boyhood—to his safe and speedy home-coming.
"Because this is home, Nick; your home," she said. "It would kill me if you saw any place you liked better, and if you made up your mind that you wanted to sell out and live in New York."
"No fear," said Nick. "No man ever left paradise unless he was driven out by flaming swords."
"Then you won't be gone long?" she asked, playing with the abalone chowder on her plate.
"Not more than a month anyhow; maybe a few days less if I get homesick; though it would hardly be worth while to go so far for a shorter time, after staying West so many years without a single break. First, I count on poking round in some of our old haunts—poor mother's and mine—and then, when I am way down in the dumps I'll yank myself up again with a little fun—theatres and roof-gardens and such-like."
"You've seen good plays in San Francisco," said Carmen.
"Yes, San Franciso's a great place. Only I haven't had time to go there once in a blue moon. And just now it's those old associations pulling—something seems drawing and drawing me to the East. It's like a voice calling my name—'Nick—Nick, I want you. Come!' Funny, isn't it?"
Carmen was not sure that it was funny. For she was superstitious beyond all things; and at that moment it happened that she could hear the moaning note of doves—a sound which she believed always brought her bad luck.
"What kind of a voice is it?" she asked, laughing rather shrilly. "Not a woman's, I hope?"
"I guess it's that angel's I was telling you about." Nick smiled.
Carmen motioned the Chinese butler to fill her guest's glass, which he had hardly touched.
"Don't let's talk any more of angels," she said. "Let's talk of me, and you. Nick, do you know what to-night is? A year since I was free. 'At the end of a year' I always said to myself. 'Twelve long months of hypocritical respect paid to the memory of a person who was more brute than man. But not a day more, when the twelve months are over. Then—happiness—new life!' Don't you consider I'm justified in feeling like that?"
Nick thought for a moment, not looking at Carmen. He gazed out through the torn curtain of roses into the silver of the moonlight, over the wide lawn with its fountains, toward the walls of trees which screened from sight the rolling billows of the ranch-meadows with their cattle, their shining, canal-like irrigation-ditches, their golden grain, their alfalfa, their fruit and flowers. All this wealth and much more old Grizzly Gaylor had given the pretty young singer in exchange for her beauty and the pleasure of snatching her away from other men. Despite the "boss's" notorious failings, it grated on Hilliard to hear Carmen rejoice aloud because her husband was underground, and she was free of him now that his back was turned forever.
"Probably you're right," Nick said. "Yet—it kind of rubs me up the wrong way to listen to you talkin' like that, in particular just this very night."
"Why in particular this very night?" she asked sharply.
"Well—I guess it's only conventional, because, why are twelve months more important than fourteen or any other number? But it's the feeling of an anniversary, I suppose. A year ago to-day he breathed his last—and he didn't want to die. It sort of seems as if to-day ought to be sacred to him, no matter what he was. And—maybe I'm a dashed hypocrite and don't know it, but it doesn't suit my ideas of you to get the feeling that you set up to-night as festival. I expect I'm wrong, though, and you ought to be lecturin' me instead of me you."
"I don't want to lecture you, Nick, whether you understand me or not," said Carmen. But the dinner and the meaning of the feast were spoilt for her in an instant. She could have bitten her tongue out because it had spoken the wrong words—words which jarred on Nick at the very moment when she most wished to charm him. She knew, with a heavy weight of premonition, that this moonlight talk she had planned would give her nothing worth having now. To try to make Nick feel her power would do more harm than good, because the night had suddenly become haunted by the spirit of the dead man. "I'm punished," she thought, superstitiously. But she exerted herself to be cheerful, lest Nick should go East disgusted with her. And that would be the end of all.
A GIRL IN MOURNING
Angela May sat in her chair on the promenade-deck of the Adriatic and felt peacefully conscious that she was resting body and brain.
The ship was not crowded, for it was spring, and the great tide of travel had turned in the opposite direction—toward Europe. On either side of her chair were several which were unoccupied, and a soothing silence hovered round her, through which she could listen to the whisper of the sea as the ship glided on to the land of hope.
Loneliness gave a real joy to Angela; for, young as she was, she had lived through an ordeal, and had taken a step which meant high nervous tension leading up to a supreme decision. She was glad all was over, and well over; desperately glad that her courage had not failed.
"Oh, how thankful I am!" she said again and again, under her breath. Still, she vaguely envied some of the family parties on the ship, who appeared happy and united. Not that she wanted them to talk to her. Witty, lively people could be very nice when you were in the mood for them, but agonizing when you were not; and since it wasn't permissible to cover human beings up like canaries when you had tired of them, or send them away like children when they had prattled enough, Angela cuddled down among her cushions and rugs, glad to be let alone for the first time in her life. But there was a young mother with a small imp of a curly-haired girl, who fascinated her, and made her think. Once, when the imp fell on the deck, to be caught up and kissed until a wail ended in a laugh, Angela said to herself, "If my mother had been like that, everything would have been different for me."
Saunterers for exercise or flirtation often turned for a glance at Angela. What they saw was a slim girl, with pearly fair skin, big gray eyes, quantities of wavy hair of so pale a yellow-brown that it was like gold under the mourning hat she wore. Her low black collar made the slender throat that rose out of it white as a lily. The oval of her face was perfect, and when she read or closed her eyes, as she sometimes did, the long lashes, many shades darker than her hair, and the delicate arch of the brown eyebrows, gave her the soft, sweet look of a child asleep.
Always the glances were more admiring than curious; but they were curious, too, for every one was wondering who she was. In spite of her youth, there was something of pride and distinction about her which made it seem that she could not be an ordinary sort of person you had never heard of; a mere Miss Smith or Mrs. Brown. Yet all the "swells" on board had been duly accounted for and recognized. She was not one of them.
"What a pretty girl!" people said. "And she seems to be travelling alone, unless her friends are too sick to come out of their cabins. Apparently she hasn't even brought a maid—yet what lovely clothes she has, though so simple, and all black. Perhaps she's in mourning for her father or her mother, or some near relation. She's too young to be a widow!"
Angela did not much mind these glances, or this gentle curiosity, for no normal woman objects to being thought pretty. But it was delightful to feel sure that no one knew who she was. If she were on the passenger-list as the Princess di Sereno she would be more stared at and bothered than that poor, fat Duchess of Dorsetshire, who was too near-sighted to recognize her at a distance, thank goodness. Each glance thrown her way would have been an annoyance, for there would have been nothing flattering in any spice of interest her title gave. Some silly creatures might have stared at her because she was a princess; but—far worse—others would have looked because they knew all about her.
These would have buzzed: "Why, that's the Princess di Sereno, don't you know, the only child of the California millionaire who died about ten years ago, so suddenly while his wife and little daughter were in Europe! The girl married that Roman prince, Paolo di Sereno, who used to make such a sensation going about in an aeroplane, and gambling high at Monte Carlo—awfully handsome man, a lot older than she. He must have been nearly forty, and she seventeen, when she married him. Her mother made the match, of course: girl just out of school—the wedding wasn't six weeks after she was presented in England. The prince met her there, has English relations, like most of the Roman nobility. But the interesting part of the story is this: they never lived together as husband and wife. The bride either found out some secret the prince had kept from her (which is what people believe), or else there was a mysterious row the first hour after the wedding. Anyhow, something happened; he went off the same day and left her with her mother. Afterward, he came back; but it was an open secret that the two were no more than strangers, or, you might say, polite acquaintances, though they lived at opposite ends of his palace in Rome, which her money restored, and his country place near Frascati. There was never the least scandal, only wild curiosity. Now she has cut the whole thing. Apparently couldn't stand the empty sort of life, or else he did something worse than usual, at which she drew the line."
Angela did not much care whether people in Rome knew the truth or not. That no longer greatly mattered to her, because she meant never, never to go back to Rome, or to see Paolo di Sereno, or any of his friends—who had never really been her friends. But she did not want people on the ship to know, because she was tired of being talked about, and her hope was to begin a new and different life. For herself, she had nothing to conceal; but, she had never felt any pride or pleasure in being a princess, and after the flatteries and disillusions, the miseries and foolish extravagances of the last hateful, brilliant six years, everything connected with them, and the historic title her dead father's money had bought, was being eagerly obliterated by Franklin Merriam's daughter. She knew little about her forebears on her father's side, except that they were English, whereas Paolo had centuries behind him crammed full of glorious ancestors whose deeds were celebrated on tapestries of great beauty and value. Her one tolerable memory of Paolo was that he had never touched her hand since their marriage; but the memory of her father was sacred. She adored him, and was never weary of recalling things he had said to her, pleasures he had planned for her as a child, and, above all, his stories of California, whither she was now bound.
Angela had taken the name of "Mrs. May"; May, because May was her birth-month, and also her middle name given by her father, whereas Angela had been her mother's choice. Therefore she was just superstitious enough to feel that "May" might bring happiness, since her father's memory was the single unshadowed spot in her life of twenty-three years. A brilliant life it would have seemed to most women, one to be envied; but Angela could not see why.
The lashes which shaded her slate-gray eyes had that upward curl which shows an undying sense of humour, and she had been a merry little girl, with flashes of wit which had enchanted Franklin Merriam before she was snatched away to Europe at eleven, never to see him again. Even at school where she had been "dumped" (as Mrs. Merriam's intimate enemies put it), Angela had kept the girls laughing. Now, though she had imagined her gay spirit dead with childhood, she began to be visited by its ghost. She amused herself on shipboard with a thousand things, and a thousand thoughts which made her feel the best of "chums" with her new friend and companion, Angela May. "I've come back from twenty-three to seventeen," she thought, and pretended that there had never been an Angela di Sereno, that scornful young person who had forbidden the prince to come near her on learning that there was another whom he should have married instead of Millionaire Merriam's daughter.
When she was a little girl in Boston (where Mrs. Merriam had insisted upon living), Angela used to sit on her father's knee; and as he curled her yellow hair over his fingers he wove romances of the Golden West, reluctantly deserted for his wife's sake; and though many illusions had broken like bright bubbles, this ideal still glittered before Angela's eyes. She had been promised by her father that she should visit California with him, when "Mother brought her back from Europe"; but he had died, and mother had not brought her back; so now she was going to make the pilgrimage alone. Not only did she intend to see the places her father had described, but when she had seen all and could choose, she meant to buy land and make a home for herself, her first real home.
Wherever she decided to live, the house must be like the one where her father had been born—long and low built of adobe; there must be a patio, with a fountain in the middle; and the rooms must be kept cool by the roof of a veranda, shading the windows like a great overhanging eyelid. Lovely flowers she would have, of course, but the garden must be as unlike an Italian garden as possible. Italy was beautiful, but she did not wish to be reminded of that country, or any other in Europe where she had wandered in search of forgetfulness.
She had little fear that ghosts of the past would come to haunt her in her new home, for though the Prince di Sereno had once cared for her in his way, she had struck at his pride and made him hate her in the end. At last he had been glad to let her go out of his life, for she had made arrangements by which he kept more than half her money. There was no danger that he would try to snatch her back again; and as for European friends and acquaintances, it was unlikely that such worldly persons would care to come to the place she meant to select. It would be far from the paths of tourists.
The eight-day voyage passed pleasantly for Angela. She had spoken to no one except stewards and stewardesses for, taking her meals on deck, she had not come into contact with other passengers. The mourning she wore for her mother, who had died four months before in London, seemed to set her apart from others, though had it not been for the cause of her mourning, probably she would not now be on her way to America. It was a few weeks after Mrs. Merriam's death, when she had recovered from the shock which was hardly sorrow, that Angela said to herself: "Now she is beyond being grieved by anything I do, and I can go away—for good." For the girl had been under the frail cold woman's sway, as the strong man, Franklin Merriam, had been in his time; and Mrs. Merriam had derived such pleasure from having a daughter who was a Princess di Sereno that Angela could hardly have found courage to deprive her of it.
At home, both in the country and at her palace in Rome, the Princess had been waited on by two French maids, one of whom dressed her, while the other kept her belongings in order. When she travelled, as she often did, one or both went with her; to Egypt; to Algeria; to Russia; to Paris; or to England. But "Mrs. May" had no maid; and, landing in New York, it seemed that she was the only person who did not meet with a welcome from friends on the dock.
Suddenly, she ceased to enjoy her isolation. For the first time since leaving Rome "on a long visit to relatives in America" (according to newspaper paragraphs), the Princess di Sereno did not hug her loneliness and her secret. She hardly knew what to do as she stood under the big letter "M" waiting to have her luggage examined. Her fellow "M's" as well as all the other letters appeared to be having desperate trouble with the custom-house men, who clawed out the contents of their trunks and then calmly left the cowed owners to stuff everything back as best they could.
Angela's heart beat fast when her turn came, and she wished for long-nosed, hard-voiced Josephine as a bulwark; but the ordeal was not as bad as she expected. She looked at her inquisitor with the air of a hunted child who had got lost and hardly hoped ever to be found; so the protective instincts were aroused, and the wind was tempered to the shorn lamb. In half an hour after the ship had docked, Mrs. May was inquiring of a large, obliging Irishman (who had a vast store of knowledge concerning all useful subjects) how on earth she was to secure a cab.
Her hotel was decided upon, and rooms engaged. An old friend of Mrs. Merriam, a cosmopolitan American woman, had once praised the Hotel Valmont, Angela had remembered; and driving from Twenty-third Street up into the Forties, New York was almost as strange to her as if she had never seen it before. Indeed, she had seen little of it, for the Merriams had lived in Boston, and Angela was only eleven when she bade her father and America good-bye. How vividly that day came back to her now! She could see her father, and feel his kisses as he said, "Never mind, little girl. When mother brings you back then we'll have the time of our lives—just you and I—in California together."
But that day did not bear thinking of. And, by and by, rattling through the bright, busy streets, in the vivifying sunshine, she began to feel happy again, as well as very young and eager.
"This is the gate of my future, and I'm driving into it," she thought.
The Hotel Valmont, which Mrs. Corning had said was small, loomed imposing to Angela's eyes, as her taxicab stopped before the ever-revolving glass wheel of the Fifth Avenue door. The building towered to a height of sixteen or seventeen storeys at least, and appeared only a lesser mountain among mountains.
A polite man in livery bowed her through the swift whirl of the glass wheel, and she found herself in a large hall with floor and walls of marble. Formally cut laurel-trees grew in huge pots, and the gilded ceiling was higher than those of the Palazzo di Sereno.
There were many desks, and she explained to one of a dozen clerks that she was Mrs. A.V. May, who had cabled for a bedroom and sitting-room.
She was expected, and her suite was ready. Would she kindly register? And the young man, admiring the face framed in gold hair and black straw, pushed forward a ponderous volume that lay open on the counter. As Angela pulled off her glove and took the pen, she laid down a gold chain-bag which she always carried hanging on her arm. Angela was used to it, and she had no idea that it might be considered ostentatious in travelling. It was convenient as well as pretty, which was all she thought of; nor did she notice that several persons grouped near the desks looked at her, and at the bag, which was edged with diamonds and sapphires.
A diamond or two, and a sapphire or two, sparkled and gleamed on her fingers as she wrote; but except for her rings and a small, plain brooch, she had no jewellery which was meant to show. Under the black chiffon of her blouse, however, there was a glimmer of pearls which she wore night and day for safety.
"Mrs. A. V. May," she wrote, then paused before giving herself a habitation. Everybody else on the page was placed as well as named. London was as good a background as any for an unknown Mrs. May, so she provided herself with it, and then, moving her arm abruptly, her gold bag fell on the floor. Naturally, a man who had been leaning on the counter, looking at Angela, sprang to pick it up. But another man was before him. Pulling off a wide-brimmed gray hat which had been pushed to the back of his head, he held out the gold bag a little awkwardly.
"I guess you dropped this, lady," he said.
Angela was on the point of laughing. She was used to dropping her bag a dozen times a day, and having some one pick it up for her, but it had been funny to see it snapped away by this tall, oddly clad fellow, from under the dapper gentleman's rather sharp nose. Of course, she did not laugh, but smiled gratefully instead, and she could not help staring a little at the retriever of her lost property. So, also, did the other and smaller man stare. This person was well dressed, and had a slight, pointed moustache, like a German officer's.
"Yes. It's mine. Thank you very much," said Angela. And she thought: "What an extraordinary-looking man. But how handsome! He might be dressed for a play—only, somehow, he doesn't look like an actor. Whatever he is, he's the real thing."
The wide gray sombrero remained in the young man's hand. He was so tall that he made most of those standing near look insignificant. Yet they, on the other hand, made him conspicuous.
It was a long way up to his face, but when Angela's eyes had climbed to that height, she saw that it was attractive, and the eyes splendid, even compelling, so that it was difficult to remove hers at once and discreetly from their influence.
The type of man was new to her, and the look which he gave her was new, somehow. His was a wild, uncivilized kind of handsomeness, she thought, like that of a noble, untamed creature of the forest, changed by enchantment into a man and thrust into modern clothes. Yet the look he gave her was not uncivilized, only surprised, rather boyish, and as if the brilliant eyes had suddenly lit upon something good which they had been seeking. Very odd, and a little exciting, Angela found the look.
If the young man's clothes were modern, they were far from being fashionable; not at all the sort of clothes to suit the background of a marble hall in a New York hotel. His shirt was of some soft white material which did not seem to be starched, and a low collar was turned down over a black, loosely tied cravat like a sailor's. Instead of a waistcoat he wore a leather belt, of the sort in which one would quite expect to see a knife or revolver sticking out. His blue serge suit was of a country cut, the trousers rather short and tight for the long, straight legs; and the shoes were wide in the toe, thick in the sole.
All these details Angela noted in one quick glance; and admiring the tall brown eccentricity as she might have admired a fine bronze statue out of place, in the wrong surroundings, she wondered from what sort of niche the statue had transplanted itself. In her mind there was no room whatever for the little man with the pointed moustache, so she forgot his existence.
"Mighty pleased to—do any service for you, lady," stammered the bronze statue, and though his voice was pleasant, it had not the cultured accent to which Angela was accustomed. Besides, it was quaint to be addressed as "lady." London cabbies and beggars called one "lidy"; but they were a law unto themselves. Still it sounded rather nice as he said it: "pleased to do any service for you, lady."
She nodded politely as she moved away, following the bellboy who had the key of her rooms, and as she reached the lift, something made her glance back. The sombrero was on the dark head again, and the head was bent over the hotel register, where Mrs. May had written her name. The man was either looking at that or writing his own. Angela inclined to the latter supposition. Probably this wild creature of forests had just arrived in New York from somewhere very far away, perhaps from her father's Golden West, the country of the sun. As the lift flashed her with horrifying swiftness up to the twelfth floor, she still seemed to hear the echo of the pleasant voice, saying "Pleased to do any service for you, lady." A few minutes later, however, she forgot the incident of the dropped bag in admiring her pretty suite of white and green rooms, the bath, and the cedar-lined wardrobes in the wall, which she remembered as typically American. She felt like a child examining a new playhouse. Suddenly she was sure that she would get on well with Americans, that she would like them, and they her, though until to-day she had been afraid that her country-people, in their own land, would seem to her like strangers. Although she had not made up her mind how long she would stay in New York before going West, she unpacked a great many things without stopping to think that perhaps she was giving herself useless trouble. Then, when she had scattered quantities of dresses, petticoats, hats, and cloaks in both rooms, she paused bewildered. Everything she had taken out on shipboard looked wrinkled and rather haggard. She wished, after all, that she had brought Josephine, though she had not been fond of her, or of the others. She did not know what to do with the things, and never could she get them all back again when it should be time to leave the hotel! It was as Josephine had prophesied. How the Frenchwoman would enjoy saying, "It is as I warned Madame la Princesse!"
"Perhaps a servant of the hotel would help me," she thought; and a call through the telephone brought to the door a tall, dark, Irish girl, who would have been pretty if her eyes and cheeks had not been stained with crying. At first glance Angela was interested, for she was beginning to be happy, and could not bear to think that any one who came near her was miserable. At all times, too, she had quick sympathies, and could read the secrets of sad or happy eyes in a flash, as she passed them in the street, though less sensitive persons saw nothing noteworthy; and often she longed to hurry back to some stranger, as if a voice had cried after her which she could not let cry in vain. Now, as she talked to the maid about the unpacking, unspoken sympathy went out from her in a magnetic current which the Irish girl felt. Her tear-blurred blue eyes fixed themselves on the young lady in black, and she had a strong, exciting impression that some blessing hovered near her, which she could take hold of if only she had courage.
"Indeed, miss, I'll love to help you," she said. "'Twill be a rale pleasure—and not many comes my way, these days."
"I'm sorry for that," Angela told her. "Perhaps you're homesick. I think you must have come not long ago from a green island which every one loves."
"You're right, miss." The Irish eyes brimmed over. "And I'm homesick enough to die, but not so much fur Oireland, as fur a place I niver set eyes on."
Angela was interested. "You're homesick for a place you never set eyes on? Then some one you love must be there."
This time the tears could not be kept back. The young woman had begun her work of gathering up Angela's belongings, and lest the tears should fall on a lace nightgown she was folding, she laid it on a chair, to search wildly for her handkerchief. "Do excuse me, if ye can, miss," she choked. "I've no right to make a fool o' meself in front of you, but you're that kind, I got filled up like. It's the State of Oregon I'm thinkin' of, for the man I crossed the say to marry is there, and now I don't know when we shall ever see one another."
"Oregon's a long way off," said Angela. "I know that, though I've lived in Europe most of my life. Only the other day I looked at it on the map."
"Have ye got that map by you, miss?"
"Yes. We'll find it presently, in this mass of books in my cabin trunk. But I was going to say, though Oregon's ever so far West, the man you came from Ireland to marry will surely send for you. Then how happy you'll be, by and by."
"A long by and by, I'm afraid, miss."
"Oh, why? Isn't there money enough?" Angela began to plan how she might make the course of true love run smooth; though in these days she was not as rich as she had been.
"There was, to begin with," the girl answered. "You see, miss, he sent for me to meet him in New York, and 'twas he paid me way over. He'd bought land in Oregon, and irritated it, as they calls it—and was doin' wonderful. The idea was he should meet me at the ship, and we'd get married and go West, man and wife. But his partner cheated him out of his eyes, and the trick only come out when I was on the water. So instead o' findin' me Tim I found a letter. The poor boy's had to start all over again; and I tuk service, waitin' till he can scrape up the money to fetch me out."
"I may be going quite near Oregon myself before long," said Angela impulsively. "Do you think you could learn to be my maid, and would you like to go with me?"
"Like it!" the girl echoed, turning white and then red. "'Twould be heaven. I'm not too happy here. The housekeeper's got a 'clow' on me. And indade, I've done a bit of maidin' to a lady in the ould country. I'd work early and late to please ye, miss!"
"I feel sure you would," Angela said. "But you know, if you're going to be my maid, you must give up calling me 'miss,' for I am—Mrs. May."
"I beg your pardon, I'm sure, ma'am. But 'twas because ye look so young, it never entered me head ye could be married, and perhaps even a widow."
Angela did not speak, and at once the girl made sure that she had hit upon the truth with her last words. The lovely lady was in black for her husband, to whom she must have been married when almost a child. "My name's Kate McGinnis, ma'am," she went quickly on, "and though I've got no recommendations in writin', because I thought to take a husband and not service, I can get a good word from the priest, and——"
"Your face tells me enough," Angela broke in. "I know you're a good girl, and that you'll be a comfort to me on the journey. But if you go, you mustn't expect to get out to Oregon immediately. I mean to travel to California, and I should like you to stay with me until I settle somewhere. Then I'll send you to the place where your fiance lives."
"That's what I'd like best of anything," exclaimed Kate. "Tim ain't ready yet, but he will be soon—now the worry about payin' the big price of me railway ticket will be off our minds. Oh, but doesn't it seem too good to be true?"
"Why not say too good not to be true?" asked Angela, whose optimism to-day was ready to triumph over past stumbling-blocks. "It's settled, then—if the hotel will let you off."
"I've giv' in me notice, miss—madam, I mean," replied the girl hastily. "There's some things I don't think Tim would like about me bein' in a hotel, and I was lookin' out for a private place. Me time's up here day after to-morrow. But, oh, ma'am, there's a thing I haven't told ye—indade, 'twas because I forgot, not that I meant to desave. Maybe, when ye know what it is ye'll change yer mind about havin' me—and I couldn't blame ye."
Angela's clear eyes looked full into the clear eyes of the Irish girl. "I don't believe you can have anything to tell me which will make me want not to have you. Is it serious?"
"Yes, ma'am, very serious." Kate paused, swallowing heavily. "It's—it's a cat."
"A cat!" Angela burst out laughing. "How can a cat come between us?"
"A black cat, ma'am named Timmy after me own Tim, who give him to me, a kitten, three years ago, before he left the ould country. I promised be this and be that I'd niver part with the crature till Tim and me was made wan, and I niver have. Neither will I, if I have to starve. But I pay fur his kape in the hotel, out o' me wages, as if he was a Christian, and so he is, pretty near. There's nothin' he doesn't know; but I don't suppose ye'd allow him to travel in the trains—and I couldn't lave him."
To have a travelling cat, and a maid named McGinnis! The idea was preposterous, but Angela was in a mood to do preposterous things, and enjoy doing them. "I like you for your loyalty," she said, "and I shall like Timmy, too. Cats are misunderstood people. They can be splendid friends. And black cats are supposed to bring luck."
"I should love to have Timmy bring you some, ma'am," said Kate. "Not that ye need it, of course."
"But I do," Angela answered. "As for you, I shall call you by your first name. Kate, as if you were a French maid. I like it better than McGinnis."
"Thank you, so do I, ma'am. But it's me Tim has the fine name, which he'll give me when the right time comes. It's Moriarty, and to my mind there's none with more music in it. Oh, if ye only knew how happy ye've made me! I was afraid me name would be as black in yer eyes as the cat, so that's why I broke it to ye gently, and now I'm rewarded for everything."
Angela laughed again. "I fancied I was all alone in the world," she said to herself, "and here I am collecting a family."
She had luncheon brought to her own sitting-room, when Kate had put away everything and gone. Quantities of flowers she ordered, too—American Beauty roses, which looked extraordinarily intelligent and companionable, she thought. Then, most of the afternoon she spent in poring over maps, planning what she called her "pilgrimage"; and a little before six she was ready to go down and buy her ticket West, at the travel bureau which, she heard, existed in the hotel. Afterward she meant to take a stroll, and see Fifth Avenue by sunset.
Not once since entering her rooms had she consciously remembered the "bronze statue." In the marble hall, however, she recalled him, and thought most likely he was out amusing himself and seeing New York. But no; there he was, sitting rather dejectedly in a large rocking-chair; and as her eyes found him, his found her. Instantly his whole aspect changed. The statue came to life. His listless expression brightened to the puzzling intentness with which he had looked at her in the morning. As she passed near him, on her way to the travel bureau, he got up and stood like a soldier at attention. Seeing this Angela went by quickly without seeming to glance at him, for she was afraid that he meant to speak, and she hoped that he would not, for she did not want to snub him. She need not have feared, however. He made no sign, but looked at her as if she were a passing queen, for whom it was a man's duty and pleasure to get to his feet.
Angela would have bowed in recognition of the morning's courtesy, but dared not, lest after all he should be encouraged to speak; for his type was so new to her that she did not understand it in the least. It was, however, rather an agreeable mystery, and she saw him feature by feature, without appearing to lift her eyes. It was too bad that he had been foolish enough to discard his becoming costume of the morning for a conventional suit of clothes, which, it was painfully certain, he must have bought ready-made. The things did not fit too well, though they had probably cost a good deal, and they were astonishingly like advertisements of men's clothes which Angela had seen in American magazines on shipboard. They did their best to give him his money's worth, by spoiling his splendid looks and turning him into something different from what nature had intended. His broad shoulders were increased in size by the padded cutaway coat, until they seemed out of proportion. His collar was an inch too high, and he was evidently wretched in it. Also he had the look in his eyes of a man whose boots are so tight that he wishes to die. His fancy waistcoat and maroon necktie must have been forced upon him by a ruthless salesman who would stop at no crime in the way of trade, and the consciousness of these atrocities and the largeness of his scarf-pin had reduced the poor fellow to the depths of gloom. In one hand he held a pair of yellowish kid gloves which hung limp and feeble, like the dead bodies of small animals, and on the floor near his feet, as if drawing attention to the brilliance of his patent-leather shoes, was the latest extravagance in silk hats.
"My spoilt statue!" Angela thought. "I believe he is as sorry for himself as I am for him. Who knows, though? Perhaps I'm mistaken, and he's as proud as Punch. In that case, I give him up!"
But she would not have believed any one who had told her that she, and she alone, was the cause of the tragic change. He had wished to appear well in her eyes, and had gone about it in the way that seemed best.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT
Walking down Fifth Avenue, after buying tickets via Washington and New Orleans to Los Angeles, "Mrs. May" happened to see a poster advertising a recital by a violinist she had always contrived to miss. At once she decided to go; and as it was for that night, there was just time to hurry back to the hotel, dine, and dress. She was lucky enough to get a box, in which she sat hidden behind curtains, and the evening would have been a success if the carriage ordered to take her home had not been delayed by a slight accident. She had to wait for it, and was much later than she had expected to be in getting back to the hotel. Theatres were over; suppers were being eaten in the Louis Seize restaurant, into which Angela could see as she got into the lift; and upstairs shoes had already been put outside bedroom doors. In front of the one next her own, she saw two pairs which made her smile a little, for, though she could not be certain, she fancied that she recognized them. One pair was stout, unfashionable, made for country wear; the other looked several sizes smaller, glittered with the uncompromising newness of patent leather, and was ultra "smart" in shape.
"Poor statue!" she said to herself. "If they're his, how dreadfully the new ones must have hurt him!"
Then she went into her own room, where Kate presently came to undress her with affectionate if inexperienced hands.
Angela was still excited by all the events of the day, her first in her own country since childhood, and fancied that she would not be able to sleep. But soon she forgot everything and lay dead to the world, very still, very white in the light that stole through the window, very beautiful, drowned in the waves of her hair. Then, at last, she began to dream of Italy; that she was there; that she had never come away; and that there was no escape. She moaned faintly in her sleep, and roused herself enough to know that she was dreaming; tried to wake and succeeded, breathing hard after her fight to conquer the dream.
"It's not true!" she told herself, pressing her face caressingly against the pillow because it was an American pillow, not an Italian one in the Palazzo di Sereno, and because it made her feel safe.
So she lay for a minute or two, comforting herself with the thought that all bad and frightening things were left behind in the past, with a door, double-locked by a golden key, shut forever between it and her. Nothing disagreeable could happen now. And she was falling asleep once more, when a slight noise made her heart jump. Then she and her heart both kept very still, for it seemed that the noise was in the room, not far from her bed.
It came again, and Angela realized that it was at one of the two windows, both of which were open.
At her request, Kate had pulled the dark blinds halfway up, and Angela would have laughed at the suggestion that a thief could creep into a room on the twelfth story. Nevertheless, the night glow of the great city silhouetted the figure of a man black against the shining of the half-raised window-panes. It was kneeling on the wide stone sill outside, and slowly, with infinite caution, was pushing the heavy window-sash up higher, so that it might be possible to crawl underneath and slip into the room.
As she stared, incredulous at first, then driven to believe, Angela guessed how the seeming miracle had been performed. The man had crept along the cornice which belted the wall, on a level a few feet lower than the line of the window-sills. She remembered noticing this as one suddenly recalls some forgotten detail in a photograph. A clever thief might make the perilous passage, helping himself along by one window-sill after another until he reached the one he wanted.
Angela turned sick, her first thought being of the immense drop from her window to the ground. "If he should fall!" were the words that sprang to her lips. Then she remembered that it would be better for her if he should fall. He meant to rob and perhaps to murder her. She ought to wish that he might slip. But she seemed to hear a crash, to see a sight of horror, and could not make the wish.
She lay motionless, her thoughts confused by the knocking of her heart. If she jumped out of bed and ran across the room to the telephone, the man could see her. Then, knowing that she was awake, and caution on his part unnecessary, he would fling up the window, jump in, and choke her into silence.
"What can I do?" she asked herself. In two or three minutes more the slow, stealthy lifting of the window-sash would be finished, and the thief would be in the room.
Her rings, and her gold bag with a good deal of money in it, lay on the dressing-table. If only he would be satisfied with these, she might lie still and let him act; but her watch was under the pillow, and her pearls were round her throat. The pearls were worth far more than the bag, and the black shadow out there must know that she had many things worth taking, or it would not be at her window now.
"What can I do?"
Suddenly she thought of a thing she could do; and without stopping to ask whether there were something else better, she leaned out of bed and knocked on the door between her room and the next. The door was fastened, but, rapping with one hand, with the other she slipped back the bolt. "Quick—quick—help!" she called. "A thief is getting in at my window."
There was a faint click, the switching on of electric light, the swift pushing back of a bolt, and the door flew open. The shoes she had seen in the hall had told her the truth. It was the man she expected who stood for the fifth part of a second in the doorway of her darkened room, then, lithe and noiseless as an Indian, made for the window. The thief was taken completely by surprise. When Angela suddenly cried out, he had been in the act of letting himself down to the floor, by slipping under the window-sash, raised just high enough for him to squeeze through. He had half turned on the wide ledge, so as to get his legs through first and land on his knees; therefore, he was seized at a disadvantage. The most agile gymnast could not have pulled himself back from under the window-frame, balanced his body steadily again on the stone ledge outside, and have begun to crawl away toward safety, all in those few seconds before the cry and its answer. He did his snaky, practised best, but it was not quite good enough. The man from the next room was too quick for him, and he was caught like a rat in a trap.
Angela sat up in bed, watching. The thing did not seem real at all. It was but a scene in a play; the black figure, dragged along the floor like a parcel, then jerked to its feet to have both arms pinioned behind its back; and in a brief moment, with scarce a sound. The light from the next room let her see the two men clearly: the tall one in pajamas, as he must have sprung out of bed at her call: the little one in black, with a mask of crape or some thin material over the upper part of his face. Now, in the silent struggle, the mask had become disarranged, to show a small, light, pointed moustache. She recognized it, and knew in an instant why she had been thought worth robbing. This was the creature who had tried to pick up her gold bag; he had seen her rings, and perhaps had spied the pearls.
"Take care!" she gasped a warning. "He may have a revolver!" As she spoke, she sank back on the pillows, feeling suddenly limp and powerless, as she lay drowned in the long waves of hair that flowed round her like moonlight.
"The little sneak won't get to draw it if he has," said the tall man, in a tone so quiet that Angela was struck with surprise. It seemed wonderful that one who had just fought as he had could have kept control of breath and head. His voice did not even sound excited, though here was trembling. "Don't be scared," he went on. "The mean galoot! A prairie-dog could tear him to pieces."
"I'm not frightened—now," she answered. "Oh, thank you for coming. You've saved my life. Can't I help? I might go to the telephone and call——"
"No. Do nothing of the sort," her neighbour commanded. "There must be no ructions in your room. I'm going to take this thing to my quarters. The story'll be, he was getting into my window when I waked up and nabbed him."
"Oh!" exclaimed Angela, roused to understanding and appreciation. "For me, that would be good—but for you——"
"For me, it's all right, too. And you don't come on in this act, lady."
"He'll tell," she said.
"I guess not. Not unless he's in a hurry to see what it's like down where he goes next. If he so much as peeps while I'm in reach, I'll shake him till his spine sticks out of his head like a telegraph-pole. Or if he waits till he thinks I can't get at him, I'll scatter him over the landscape with my gun, if I fire across a court-room. He sees I'm the kind of man to keep my word." These threats were uttered in the same quiet voice, and the speaker went on in a different tone, "I'll tell you what you can do, lady, if you don't mind. I hate to trouble you; but maybe 'twould be best for me not to try it with one hand, and him in the other. If you'd slip into my room and push up the window nearest this way a few inches higher, it would bear me out better when I say he came through there."
Angela sat up again, and reached out for her white silk dressing-gown, which lay across the foot of the bed. Wrapping it hastily round her, she ran into her neighbour's room. As she flashed by him, where he stood holding his captive, he thought more and more of his angel vision with the moonlight hair, and it seemed a strange, almost miraculous coincidence that he should behold it in real life, after describing his dreams to Carmen Gaylor.
"The nearest window," Angela repeated, respecting the man's shrewdness and presence of mind. The nearest window was the one to open, because the thief had come crawling along in that direction on the cornice, and soon it would be found out which room he had occupied, since he must be staying in the hotel.
She pushed up the heavy sash, already raised some inches, and turning, saw that the silent, sulky prisoner had been dragged in by her champion.
"Thank you, lady," said the latter, briskly. "Now, you just go back to sleep and forget this—cut it out. The rest's my business."
"But—how can I let you have all this trouble on your shoulders?" stammered Angela. "You'll have to bear witness against him. There'll be a trial or something. You may be delayed, kept from doing things you want to do——"
"You can sure bet there's nothing on God's earth I want to do so much as keep a lady out of this business," her neighbour assured her. "Now go back to your room, please, and lock your door."
Their eyes met, and Angela felt herself thrill with admiration of this new type which had set her wondering. The forest creature turned into a man, was a man indeed!
"Good night, then," she said. "I can't thank you enough—for everything."
She flitted away, her small bare feet showing white and pink under the lace of night-dress and dressing-gown. She locked her door obediently, as she had been told, but she did not go back to bed, or try to forget. There was a big easy chair not far from the door she had just closed, and she subsided into it, limply, realizing that she had gone through a strenuous experience. Huddled there, a minute later she heard her neighbour's voice speaking through the telephone, and was consumed with curiosity as to how he was keeping the wriggling prisoner quiet.
"He must have contrived to tie the wretch somehow," she told herself. "Or perhaps he's strong enough to hold him with one hand. He's the sort of man who would always think of an expedient and know how to carry it out."
It seemed dreamlike, that such a scene as her imagination, pictured was really passing in the next room, where all was so quiet save for the calm voice talking at the telephone, and Angela could not help listening anxiously, hoping to catch a few words.
After the first murmur at the telephone, through the thick mahogany door, there fell a silence more exciting to the listener than the indistinct sounds had been. Then suddenly there was a stirring, and the mumble of several heavy, hushed voices. After that, dead silence again, which remained unbroken. Evidently the police had been sent for; had come; had listened to the story of the attempted theft as told by the thief's captor. Angela was sure his version had not been contradicted, or she would certainly have heard a shot. The forest creature would have kept his word! But he had not been tempted; and the thief had been carried away. Angela wondered whether her neighbour had gone too—or whether he remained in the next room, taking his own advice to her, and "trying to forget." She would not be surprised if he were able to sleep quite calmly.
WHEN THE TABLES WERE TURNED
Next morning Angela said nothing to Kate of what had happened in the night. Her thoughts were full of the affair, but since the true version was to be suppressed, it would be better to have no confidant. She asked, however, to see a morning paper, and when it came was disappointed to find no paragraph concerning the thief at the Hotel Valmont. She did not know anything about the making of newspapers, but took it for granted that the story had been too late for press, and became very eager to meet her neighbour, that she might hear all at first hand from him.
She passed him hurriedly the day before, her head bent, because she was afraid he meant to speak, and she would have to snub him. But now the tables were turned. She dressed and went down early, making an excuse to glance over a quantity of magazines and papers in the big hall, hoping that he might appear. But he did not. It was almost, she told herself, as if he were punishing her for avoiding him yesterday, by paying her back in her own coin. Not that she believed he was really doing so. Yet it was extremely aggravating that he should keep out of the way. He ought to have understood that she would want to know what happened after the first chapter of the story was brought to a close by the shutting of the door.
Because she was waiting for him (whether she acknowledged this or not) and because he did not come, Angela thought of the man every moment, without being able to put him out of her mind. He had shown such astonishing tact as well as pluck last night, and was so good-looking, that his very lack of cultivation made him more interesting as a study. She would have liked to ask the hotel people about him; whence he came and what was his name; but, of course, she did nothing of the sort. All she did was to make various pretexts for lingering in the hall till nearly luncheon time; and then the arrival of evening papers partly explained to her mind the mystery of the man's absence. Also they made her a present of his name, and a few other personal items.
"Nick Hilliard of California Makes Hotel Thief Feel Small," was the heading of a conspicuous half-column which caught her eye.
The said thief, it seemed, was known to friends and enemies as "Officer Dutchy." He had "worked" with success in Chicago and the Middle West, but was a comparative stranger in New York. He "claimed" to have been an officer in the German army, but probably lied, though he had evidently been a soldier at one time. He had numerous aliases, and spoke with a German accent. His name appeared on the register of the Valmont as Count von Osthaven, and he admitted an attempt to enter the room occupied by Mr. Hilliard, having reached it by a daring passage along a stone cornice, from his own window, four rooms to the left, on the twelfth storey.
The case against "Officer Dutchy" would be an interesting one, as his previous career was—according to the reporter—full of "good stories." Mr. Hilliard was hoping, however, that it might be hurried on and off, taking up as little time as possible, as he had use for every moment other than hanging about a court-room giving evidence. Born in New York, he had gone West while a boy, and had never since been in the East till a day or two ago, when he had arrived from the neighbourhood of Bakersfield, California, with the avowed intention of enjoying himself. Naturally he did not want to have his enjoyment curtailed by business.
Angela felt guilty. It was her fault that the poor young man's holiday was spoiled. She ought not to have let him take her burdens on his shoulders; but it was too late to repent now. She could not come forward and tell the real story, for that would do him harm, since it would differ from his version. She could atone only by showing her gratitude in some way. Because he came from California, she longed to show how friendly and kind she could be to a man of her father's country—a man worthy of that country and its traditions she began to think.
She lunched in a quiet corner of the restaurant; but Mr. Nickson Hilliard of California did not show himself, and at last Angela went up to her own rooms disappointed. Hardly had she closed the door, however, when a knock sent her flying to open it again. A bellboy had brought a note, and she sprang to the conclusion that it must be from Mr. Hilliard. He had found out her name, and had written to tell what had happened behind the closed door—the loose end of the story which the newspapers had not got, never would get, from any one concerned. But the bright pink of excitement and interest which had sprung to her face died away, as she opened the envelope and glanced down the first page of the letter, which was headed, "Doctor Beal's Nursing Home." She read:
I am requested by Mr. Henry Morehouse of San Francisco to express his regret at not being able to meet your ship and offer his services as he hoped to do, at the request of his elder brother, Mr. James Morehouse, of the Fidelity Trust Bank, San Francisco. Mr. H. Morehouse was coming East on law business, when his brother suggested that he make himself useful to you, and he was looking forward to doing so, having known the late Mr. Franklin Merriam. On starting, however, Mr. Morehouse was far from well, and found himself so much worse on reaching New York, that he was obliged to consult a doctor. The result was an immediate operation of appendicitis. This was performed successfully yesterday and Mr. Morehouse feels strong enough to express (through me) his regret, wishing to explain why he failed, in case his brother may have let you know that he intended to meet you.
(Nurse in Doctor Beal's Private Hospital).
Mr. James Morehouse (in whose bank there were funds for "Mrs. May") had not informed her of his brother's intentions, and though she was sorry to hear of the poor man's sufferings, she could not regret his failure to meet her at the ship. She did not wish to be helped, nor told how to see things, nor be personally conducted to California. She enjoyed being free, and vague, able to stop as long or as short a time as she liked on the way. She wanted to see only places which she wanted to see, not places which she ought to want to see; for there was sure to be a difference.
* * * * *
Nevertheless, she wrote a gracious answer to the letter, and ordered flowers sent to Doctor Beal's Nursing Home, for Mr. Henry Morehouse. Then she proceeded to forget him, unconscious of the direct influence his illness was to have upon her future. She thought far more about Mr. Nickson Hilliard, whom she had avoided yesterday, and who seemed to avoid her to-day. The fact that the letter which had brought colour to her face was from a strange, unwanted Mr. Morehouse, vexed the Princess unreasonably with Nickson Hilliard, who ought to have written, if he could not call, to tell his story; and when she heard nothing from him, saw nothing of him, it was in resentment that she left New York next morning. Though it was entirely subconscious, the real thought in her mind was:
"Since he didn't choose to take the chance when he had it, now he shan't have it at all!"
For a woman of twenty-three is very young. It is annoying to be cut off in the midst of an adventure, by the hero of the adventure, when you have flattered yourself that the poor fellow was yearning to know you. If Angela was unjust to Hilliard she was not an isolated instance; for all women are unjust to all men, especially to those in whom they are beginning to take an interest. Angela did not know that she was interested in Nickson Hilliard, and would have laughed if any one had suggested the idea, from a personal point of view; but in her social reign as the Princess di Sereno, she had been a good deal spoiled—by every one except the Prince. Vaguely, and like a petted child, she had taken it for granted that all men were glad to be "nice" to her, and she thought the "forest creature" was showing himself a backwoods creature—rude and unenlightened.
Angela loved the sea, and chose to travel on it whenever she could. The trip from New York to New Orleans was even more interesting than she had expected from tales of her father's, for the ship steamed along the coast, in blue and golden weather, turning into the Gulf of Mexico after rounding the long point of Florida. Cutting the silk woof of azure, day by day, a great longing to be happy knocked at Angela's heart, like something unjustly imprisoned, demanding to be let out. She had never felt it so strongly before. It must be, she thought, the tonic of the air, which made her conscious of youth and life, eager to have things happen, and be in the midst of them. But Kate was a comfort, almost a friend. And Timmy the cat was a priceless treasure.
No town in America, perhaps, could have contrasted more sharply with New York than New Orleans. Angela felt this, even as the ship moved slowly along the great canal and slipped into the dark, turbid gold of the Mississippi River. The drowsy landscape on either side was Southern landscape, and among live-oaks draped with mourning flags of moss, and magnolia-trees gemmed with buds, there were planters' houses which seemed all roof and balcony. Buzzards flew up suddenly, out of rice-fields, as the ship rounded a curve—creatures big and long-legged as the storks of Holland and Algeria. The wharf, when the ship docked at last, was filled with bales of cotton, and it was as if all the negroes in America must have come down to meet the boat. She might have been walking into an old story of Cable's, in the days "befoh the wah."