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now the more deeply, because, although she was not reconciled to his
absence, it seemed to keep alive the memory of what he had been before
his one wild act separated them. She had never seen the reflection of
another woman's eyes in his; the past contained no haunting
recollection of waning or alienated affection; she could meet him
again, and, clasping her arms around him, awaken as if from a troubled
dream without reproach or explanation. Her strong belief in this made
her patient; she no longer sought to know the particulars of his
flight, and never dreamed that her passive submission to his absence
was partly due to a fear that something in his actual presence at that
moment would have destroyed that belief forever.

For this reason the delicate reticence of the people at Los Gatos, and
their seclusion from the world which knew of her husband's fault, had
made her encourage the visits of Don José, until from the instinct
already alluded to she one day summoned Poindexter to Los Cuervos, on
the day that Don José usually called. But to her surprise the two men
met more or less awkwardly and coldly, and her tact as hostess was
tried to the utmost to keep their evident antagonism from being too
apparent. The effort to reconcile their mutual discontent, and some
other feeling she did not quite understand, produced a nervous
excitement which called the blood to her cheek and gave a dangerous
brilliancy to her eyes, two circumstances not unnoticed nor
unappreciated by her two guests. But instead of reuniting them, the
prettier Mrs. Tucker became, the more distant and reserved grew the
men, until Don José rose before his usual hour, and with more than
usual ceremoniousness departed.

"Then my business does not seem to be with _him_!" said Poindexter,
with quiet coolness, as Mrs. Tucker turned her somewhat mystified face
towards him. "Or have you anything to say to me about him in private?"

"I am sure I don't know what you both mean," she returned with a slight
tremor of voice. "I had no idea you were not on good terms. I thought
you were! It's very awkward." Without coquetry and unconsciously she
raised her blue eyes under her lids until the clear pupils coyly and
softly hid themselves in the corners of the brown lashes, and added,
"You have both been so kind to me."

"Perhaps that is the reason," said Poindexter, gravely. But Mrs. Tucker
refused to accept the suggestion with equal gravity, and began to
laugh. The laugh, which was at first frank, spontaneous, and almost
child-like, was becoming hysterical and nervous as she went on, until
it was suddenly checked by Poindexter.

"I have had no difficulties with Don José Santierra," he said, somewhat
coldly ignoring her hilarity, "but perhaps he is not inclined to be as
polite to the friend of the husband as he is to the wife."

"Mr. Poindexter!" said Mrs. Tucker quickly, her face becoming pale
again.

"I beg your pardon!" said Poindexter, flushing; "but" -

"You want to say," she interrupted coolly, "that you are not friends, I
see. Is that the reason why you have avoided this house?" she continued
gently.

"I thought I could be of more service to you elsewhere," he replied
evasively. "I have been lately following up a certain clue rather
closely. I think I am on the track of a confidante of - of - that woman."

A quick shadow passed over Mrs. Tucker's face. "Indeed!" she said
coldly. "Then I am to believe that you prefer to spend your leisure
moments in looking after that creature to calling here?"

Poindexter was stupefied. Was this the woman who only four months ago
was almost vindictively eager to pursue her husband's paramour! There
could be but one answer to it - Don José! Four months ago he would have
smiled compassionately at it from his cynical preeminence. Now he
managed with difficulty to stifle the bitterness of his reply.

"If you do not wish the inquiry carried on," he began, "of course" -

"I? What does it matter to me?" she said coolly. "Do as you please."

Nevertheless, half an hour later, as he was leaving, she said, with a
certain hesitating timidity, "Do not leave me so much alone here, and
let that woman go."

This was not the only unlooked-for sequel to her innocent desire to
propitiate her best friends. Don José did not call again upon his usual
day, but in his place came Doña Clara, his younger sister. When Mrs.
Tucker had politely asked after the absent Don José, Doña Clara wound
her swarthy arms around the fair American's waist and replied, "But why
did you send for the _abogado_ Poindexter when my brother called?"

"But Captain Poindexter calls as one of my friends," said the amazed
Mrs. Tucker. "He is a gentleman, and has been a soldier and an
officer," she added with some warmth.

"Ah, yes, a soldier of the law, what you call an _oficial de policia_,
a chief of _gendarmes_, my sister, but not a gentleman - a _camarero_ to
protect a lady."

Mrs. Tucker would have uttered a hasty reply, but the perfect and
good-natured simplicity of Doña Clara withheld her. Nevertheless, she
treated Don José with a certain reserve at their next meeting, until it
brought the simple-minded Castilian so dangerously near the point of
demanding an explanation which implied too much that she was obliged to
restore him temporarily to his old footing. Meantime she had a
brilliant idea. She would write to Calhoun Weaver, whom she had avoided
since that memorable day. She would say she wished to consult him. He
would come to Los Cuervos; he might suggest something to lighten this
weary waiting; at least she would show them all that she had still old
friends. Yet she did not dream of returning to her Blue Grass home; her
parents had died since she left; she shrank from the thought of
dragging her ruined life before the hopeful youth of her girlhood's
companions.

Mr. Calhoun Weaver arrived promptly, ostentatiously, oracularly, and
cordially, but a little coarsely. He had - did she remember? - expected
this from the first. Spercer had lost his head through vanity, and had
attempted too much. It required foresight and firmness, as he
himself - who had lately made successful "combinations" which she might
perhaps have heard of - well knew. But Spencer had got the "big head."
"As to that woman - a devilish handsome woman too! - well, everybody knew
that Spencer always had a weakness that way, and he would say - but if
she didn't care to hear any more about her - well, perhaps she was
right. That was the best way to take it." Sitting before her,
prosperous, weak, egotistical, incompetent, unavailable, and yet filled
with a vague kindliness of intent, Mrs. Tucker loathed him. A sickening
perception of her own weakness in sending for him, a new and aching
sense of her utter isolation and helplessness, seemed to paralyze her.

"Nat'rally you feel bad," he continued, with the large air of a
profound student of human nature. "Nat'rally, nat'rally you're kept in
an uncomfortable state, not knowing jist how you stand. There ain't but
one thing to do. Jist rise up, quiet like, and get a divorce agin
Spencer. Hold on! There ain't a judge or jury in California that
wouldn't give it to you right off the nail, without asking questions.
Why, you'd get it by default if you wanted to; you'd just have to walk
over the course! And then, Belle," he drew his chair still nearer her,
"when you've settled down again - well! - I don't mind renewing that
offer I once made ye, before Spencer ever came round ye - I don't mind,
Belle, I swear I don't! Honest Injin! I'm in earnest, there's my hand."

Mrs. Tucker's reply has not been recorded. Enough that half an hour
later Mr. Weaver appeared in the courtyard with traces of tears on his
foolish face, a broken falsetto voice, and other evidence of mental and
moral disturbance. His cordiality and oracular predisposition remained
sufficiently to enable him to suggest the magical words "Blue Grass"
mysteriously to Concha, with an indication of his hand to the erect
figure of her pale mistress in the doorway, who waved to him a silent
but half compassionate farewell.

At about this time a slight change in her manner was noticed by the few
who saw her more frequently. Her apparently invincible girlishness of
spirit had given way to a certain matronly seriousness. She applied
herself to her household cares and the improvement of the _hacienda_
with a new sense of duty and a settled earnestness, until by degrees
she wrought into it not only her instinctive delicacy and taste, but
part of her own individuality. Even the rude _rancheros_ and tradesmen
who were permitted to enter the walls in the exercise of their calling
began to speak mysteriously of the beauty of this garden of the
_almarjal_. She went out but seldom, and then accompanied by one or the
other of her female servants, in long drives on unfrequented roads. On
Sundays she sometimes drove to the half ruined mission church of Santa
Inez, and hid herself, during mass, in the dim monastic shadows of the
choir. Gradually the poorer people whom she met in these journeys began
to show an almost devotional reverence for her, stopping in the roads
with uncovered heads for her to pass, or making way for her in the
_tienda_ or _plaza_ of the wretched town with dumb courtesy. She began
to feel a strange sense of widowhood, that, while it at times brought
tears to her eyes, was not without a certain tender solace. In the
sympathy and simpleness of this impulse she went as far as to revive
the mourning she had worn for her parents, but with such a fatal
accenting of her beauty, and dangerous misinterpreting of her condition
to eligible bachelors strange to the country, that she was obliged to
put it off again. Her reserved and dignified manner caused others to
mistake her nationality for that of the Santierras, and in "Doña Bella"
the simple Mrs. Tucker was for a while forgotten. At times she even
forgot it herself. Accustomed now almost entirely to the accents of
another language and the features of another race, she would sit for
hours in the corridor, whose massive bronzed enclosure even her
tasteful care could only make an embowered mausoleum of the Past, or
gaze abstractedly from the dark embrasures of her windows across the
stretching _almarjal_ to the shining lagoon beyond that terminated the
estuary. She had a strange fondness for this tranquil mirror, which
under sun or stars always retained the passive reflex of the sky above,
and seemed to rest her weary eyes. She had objected to one of the plans
projected by Poindexter to redeem the land and deepen the water at the
_embarcadero_, as it would have drained the lagoon, and the lawyer had
postponed the improvement to gratify her fancy. So she kept it through
the long summer unchanged save by the shadows of passing wings or the
lazy files of sleeping sea-fowl.

On one of these afternoons she noticed a slowly moving carriage leave
the highroad and cross the _almarjal_ skirting the edge of the lagoon.
If it contained visitors for Los Cuervos they had evidently taken a
shorter cut without waiting to go on to the regular road which
intersected the highway at right angles a mile farther on. It was with
some sense of annoyance and irritation that she watched the trespass,
and finally saw the vehicle approach the house. A few moments later the
servant informed her that Mr. Patterson would like to see her alone.
When she entered the corridor, which in the dry season served as a
reception hall, she was surprised to see that Patterson was not alone.
Near him stood a well-dressed handsome woman, gazing about her with
good-humored admiration of Mrs. Tucker's taste and ingenuity.

"It don't look much like it did two years ago," said the stranger
cheerfully. "You've improved it wonderfully."

Stiffening slightly, Mrs. Tucker turned inquiringly to Mr. Patterson.
But that gentleman's usual profound melancholy appeared to be
intensified by the hilarity of his companion. He only sighed deeply and
rubbed his leg with the brim of his hat in gloomy abstraction.

"Well! go on, then," said the woman, laughing and nudging him. "Go
on - introduce me - can't you? Don't stand there like a tombstone. You
won't? Well, I'll introduce myself." She laughed again, and then, with
an excellent imitation of Patterson's lugubrious accents, said, "Mr.
Spencer Tucker's wife that _is_, allow me to introduce you to Mr.
Spencer Tucker's sweetheart that _was_! Hold on! I said _that was_. For
true as I stand here, ma'am - and I reckon I wouldn't stand here if it
wasn't true - I haven't set eyes on him since the day he left you."

"It's the gospel truth, every word," said Patterson, stirred into a
sudden activity by Mrs. Tucker's white and rigid face. "It's the frozen
truth, and I kin prove it. For I kin swear that when that there young
woman was sailin' outer the Golden Gate, Spencer Tucker was in my
bar-room; I kin swear that I fed him, lickered him, give him a hoss and
set him in his road to Monterey that very night."

"Then, where is he now?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly facing them.

They looked at each other, and then looked at Mrs. Tucker. Then both
together replied slowly and in perfect unison,
"That's - what - we - want - to - know." They seemed so satisfied with this
effect that they as deliberately repeated,
"Yes - that's - what - we - want - to - know."

Between the shock of meeting the partner of her husband's guilt and the
unexpected revelation to her inexperience, that in suggestion and
appearance there was nothing beyond the recollection of that guilt that
was really shocking in the woman - between the extravagant extremes of
hope and fear suggested by their words, there was something so
grotesquely absurd in the melodramatic chorus that she with difficulty
suppressed an hysterical laugh.

"That's the way to take it," said the woman, putting her own
good-humored interpretation upon Mrs. Tucker's expression. "Now, look
here! I'll tell you all about it," She carefully selected the most
comfortable chair, and sitting down, lightly crossed her hands in her
lap. "Well, I left here on the 13th of last January on the ship Argo,
calculating that your husband would join the ship just inside the
Heads. That was our arrangement, but if anything happened to prevent
him, he was to join me at Acapulco. Well! he didn't come aboard, and we
sailed without him. But it appears now he did attempt to join the ship,
but his boat was capsized. There now, don't be alarmed! he wasn't
drowned, as Patterson can swear to - no, catch _him_! not a hair of him
was hurt. But _I_ - _I_ was bundled off to the end of the earth in
Mexico alone, without a cent to bless me. For true as you live, that
hound of a captain, when he found, as he thought, that Spencer was
nabbed, he just confiscated all his trunks and valuables and left me in
the lurch. If I had not met a man down there that offered to marry me
and brought me here, I might have died there, I reckon. But I did, and
here I am. I went down there as your husband's sweetheart, I've come
back as the wife of an honest man, and I reckon it's about square!"

There was something so startlingly frank, so hopelessly self-satisfied,
so contagiously good-humored in the woman's perfect moral
unconsciousness, that even if Mrs. Tucker had been less preoccupied her
resentment would have abated. But her eyes were fixed on the gloomy
face of Patterson, who was beginning to unlock the sepulchers of his
memory and disinter his deeply buried thoughts.

"You kin bet your whole pile on what this Mrs. Capting Baxter - ez used
to be French Inez of New Orleans - hez told ye. Ye kin take everything
she's onloaded. And it's only doin' the square thing to her to say, she
hain't done it out o' no cussedness, but just to satisfy herself, now
she's a married woman and past such foolishness. But that ain't neither
here nor there. The gist of the whole matter is that Spencer Tucker was
at the _tienda_ the day after she sailed and after his boat capsized."
He then gave a detailed account of the interview, with the unnecessary
but truthful minutiae of his class, adding to the particulars already
known that the following week he visited the Summit House and was
surprised to find that Spencer had never been there, nor had he ever
sailed from Monterey.

"But why was this not told to me before?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly.
"Why not at the time? Why," she demanded almost fiercely, turning from
the one to the other, "has this been kept from me?"

"I'll tell ye why," said Patterson, sinking with crashed submission
into a chair. "When I found he wasn't where he ought to be, I got to
lookin' elsewhere. I knew the track of the hoss I lent him by a loose
shoe. I examined, and found he had turned off the highroad somewhere
beyond the lagoon, jist as if he was makin' a bee line here."

"Well," said Mrs. Tucker breathlessly.

"Well," said Patterson, with the resigned tone of an accustomed martyr,
"mebbe I'm a God-forsaken idiot, but I reckon he _did_ come yer. And
mebbe I'm that much of a habitooal lunatic, but thinking so, I
calkilated you'd know it without tellin'."

With their eyes fixed upon her, Mrs. Tucker felt the quick blood rush
to her cheeks, although she knew not why. But they were apparently
satisfied with her ignorance, for Patterson resumed, yet more gloomily:

"Then if he wasn't hidin' here beknownst to you, he must have changed
his mind agin and got away by the _embarcadero_. The only thing wantin'
to prove that idea is to know how he got a boat, and what he did with
the hoss. And thar's one more idea, and ez that can't be proved,"
continued Patterson, sinking his voice still lower, "mebbe it's
accordin' to God's laws."

Unsympathetic to her as the speaker had always been and still was, Mrs.
Tucker felt a vague chill creep over her that seemed to be the result
of his manner more than his words. "And that idea is - ?" she suggested
with pale lips.

"It's this! Fust, I don't say it means much to anybody but me. I've
heard of these warnings afore now, ez comin' only to folks ez hear them
for themselves alone, and I reckon I kin stand it, if it's the will o'
God. The idea is then - that - Spencer Tucker - _was drownded_ in that
boat; the idea is" - his voice was almost lost in a hoarse
whisper - "that it was no living man that kem to me that night, but a
spirit that kem out of the darkness and went back into it! No eye saw
him but mine - no ears heard him but mine. I reckon it weren't intended
it should." He paused, and passed the flap of his hat across his eyes.
"The pie, you'll say, is agin it," he continued in the same tone of
voice, - "the whiskey is agin it - a few cuss words that dropped from
him, accidental like, may have been agin it. All the same they mout
have been only the little signs and tokens that it was him."

But Mrs. Baxter's ready laugh somewhat rudely dispelled the infection
of Patterson's gloom. "I reckon the only spirit was that which you and
Spencer consumed," she said, cheerfully. "I don't wonder you're a
little mixed. Like as not you've misunderstood his plans."

Patterson shook his head. "He'll turn up yet, alive and kicking! Like
as not, then, Poindexter knows where he is all the time."

"Impossible! He would have told me," said Mrs. Tucker, quickly.

Mrs. Baxter looked at Patterson without speaking. Patterson replied by
a long lugubrious whistle.

"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker, drawing back with cold
dignity.

"You don't?" returned Mrs. Baxter. "Bless your innocent heart! Why was
he so keen to hunt me up at first, shadowing my friends and all that,
and why has he dropped it now he knows I'm here, if he didn't know
where Spencer was?"

"I can explain that," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, hastily, with a blush of
confusion. "That is - I" -

"Then mebbe you kin explain too," broke in Patterson with gloomy
significance, "why he has bought up most of Spencer's debts himself,
and perhaps you're satisfied it _is n't_ to hold the whip hand of him
and keep him from coming back openly. Pr'aps you know why he's movin'
heaven and earth to make Don José Santierra sell the ranch, and why the
Don don't see it all."

"Don José sell Los Cuervos! Buy it, you mean?" said Mrs. Tucker. "_I_
offered to sell it to him."

Patterson arose from the chair, looked despairingly around him, passed
his hand sadly across his forehead, and said: "It's come! I knew it
would. It's the warning! It's suthing betwixt jim-jams and doddering
idjiocy. Here I'd hev been willin' to swear that Mrs. Baxter here told
me _she_ had sold this yer ranch nearly two years ago to Don José, and
now you" -

"Stop!" said Mrs. Tucker, in a voice that chilled them.

She was standing upright and rigid, as if stricken to stone. "I command
you to tell me what this means!" she said, turning only her blazing
eyes upon the woman.

Even the ready smile faded from Mrs. Baxter's lips as she replied
hesitatingly and submissively: "I thought you knew already that Spencer
had given this ranch to me. I sold it to Don José to get the money for
us to go away with. It was Spencer's idea" -

"You lie!" said Mrs. Tucker.

There was a dead silence. The wrathful blood that had quickly mounted
to Mrs. Baxter's cheek, to Patterson's additional bewilderment, faded
as quickly. She did not lift her eyes again to Mrs. Tucker's, but,
slowly raising herself from her seat, said, "I wish to God I did lie;
but it's true. And it's true that I never touched a cent of the money,
but gave it all to him!" She laid her hand on Patterson's arm, and
said, "Come! let us go," and led him a few steps toward the gateway.
But here Patterson paused, and again passed his hand over his
melancholy brow. The necessity of coherently and logically closing the
conversation impressed itself upon his darkening mind. "Then you don't
happen to have heard anything of Spencer?" he said sadly, and vanished
with Mrs. Baxter through the gate.

Left alone to herself, Mrs. Tucker raised her hands above her head with
a little cry, interlocked her rigid fingers, and slowly brought her
palms down upon her upturned face and eyes, pressing hard as if to
crush out all light and sense of life before her. She stood thus for a
moment motionless and silent, with the rising wind whispering without
and flecking her white morning dress with gusty shadows from the arbor.
Then, with closed eyes, dropping her hands to her breast, still
pressing hard, she slowly passed them down the shapely contours of her
figure to the waist, and with another cry cast them off as if she were
stripping herself of some loathsome garment. Then she walked quickly to
the gateway, looked out, returned to the corridor, unloosening and
taking off her wedding-ring from her finger as she walked. Here she
paused, then slowly and deliberately rearranged the chairs and adjusted
the gay-colored rugs that draped them, and quietly reëntered her
chamber.

Two days afterwards the sweating steed of Captain Poindexter was turned
loose in the corral, and a moment later the captain entered the
corridor. Handing a letter to the decrepit Concha, who seemed to be
utterly disorganized by its contents and the few curt words with which
it was delivered, he gazed silently upon the vacant bower, still fresh
and redolent with the delicacy and perfume of its graceful occupant,
until his dark eyes filled with unaccustomed moisture. But his reverie
was interrupted by the sound of jingling spurs without, and the old
humor struggled back into his eyes as Don José impetuously entered. The
Spaniard started back, but instantly recovered himself.

"So, I find you here. Ah! it is well!" he said passionately, producing
a letter from his bosom. "Look! Do you call this honor? Look how you
keep your compact!"

Poindexter coolly took the letter. It contained a few words of gentle
dignity from Mrs. Tucker, informing Don José that she had only that
instant learned of his just claims upon Los Cuervos, tendering him her
gratitude for his delicate intentions, but pointing out with respectful
firmness that he must know that a moment's further acceptance of his
courtesy was impossible.

"She has gained this knowledge from no word of mine," said Poindexter,
calmly. "Right or wrong, I have kept my promise to you. I have as much
reason to accuse you of betraying my secret in this," he added coldly,
as he took another letter from his pocket and handed it to Don José.

It seemed briefer and colder, but was neither. It reminded Poindexter
that as he had again deceived her she must take the government of her
affairs in her own hands henceforth. She abandoned all the furniture



Online LibraryBret HarteFrontier Stories → online text (page 23 of 32)