Copyright
Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 42 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 42 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" Will you go to bed, OUy, and not catch
your death yer on this cold floor asking
ornery and perfectly ridickulus questions ?"
said Gabriel, briskly, Ufting her to her feet
" Thet Markle girl ain't got no sense anyway
— she's allers leading you round in ditches,
ruinin' your best clothes, and keepin' me up
half the night mendin' on *em."

Thus admonished, OUy retreated behind
the canvas screen, and Gabriel resumed his
needle and thread. But the thread became
entangled, and was often snappishly broken,
and Gabriel sewed imaginary, vindictive
stitches in the imaginary calves of an imag-
inary youthful emigrant until OUy's voice
again broke the sUence.

"O, Gabe!"

"Yes," said Gabriel, putting down his
work despairingly.

" Do you think— that PhUip— ate Grace ? "

Gabriel rose swiftiy, and disappeared be-
hind the screen. As he did so, the door
softly opened, and a man stepped into the
cabin. The new-comer cast a rapid glance
around the dimly lighted room, and then
remained motionless in the door-way. From
behind the screen came the sound of voices.
The stranger hesitated, and then uttered a
slight cough.

In an instant Gabriel re-appeared. The
look of angry concern at the intrusion turned
to one of absolute stupefaction as he exam-
ined the stranger more attentively. The
new-comer smUed faintly, yet politely, and
then, with a slight halt in his step, moved
toward a chair, into which he dropped" with
a deprecating gesture.

" I shall sit — and you shall pardon me.
You have surprise I Yes ? Five, six hour
ago you leave me very sick on a bed — where
you are so kind — so good. Yes? Ah?
You see me here now, and you say crazy I
Mad!"

He raised his right hand with the fingers
upward, twirled them to signify Gabriel's
supposed idea of a whirling brain, and smiled
agam



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY,



247



'' Listen. Comes to me an hour ago a
message most important Most necessary
it is I go to-night — now, to Marysville. You
see. Yes ? I rise and dress myself. Ha !
I have great strength for the effort. I am
better. But I say to myself, * Victor, you
bhall first pay your respects to the good Pike
who have been so kind, so good. You
shall press the hand of the noble grand
miner who have recover you.* Bucno^ I am
here!"

He extended a thin, nervous brown hand,
and for the first time since his entrance
concentrated his keen black eyes, which had
roved over the apartment and taken in its
minutest details, upon his host Gabriel, lost
in bewilderment, could only gasp :

'^But you ain't well enough, you know.
You can't walk yet You'll kill yourself I"

The stranger Smiled.

"Yes? — you think — you think? Look
now I Waits me, outside, the horse of the
lively stable man. How many miles you
think to the stage town ? Fifteen." (He
emphasized them with his five uplifted fin-
gers,) " It is nothing. Two hour comes
the stage and I am there. Ha ! "

Even as he spoke, with a gesture, as if
brushing away all difficulties, his keen eyes
were resting upon a Uttle shelf above the
chimney, whereon stood an old-fashioned
daguerreotype case open. He rose, and with
a slight halting step and an expression of
pain, limped across the room to the shelf, and
took up the daguerreotype.

** What have we ?" he asked.

" It is Gracie," said Gabriel, brightening
up. '' Taken the day we started firom St.
Jo."

"How long?"

"Six years ago. She was fourteen then,"
said Gabriel, taking the case in his hand
and brushing the glass fondly with his palm.
" Thar wam't no puttier gal m all Missouri,"
he added, with fraternal pride, looking down
upon the picture with moistened eyes. " Eh
—what did you say?"

The stranger had uttered a few words
hastily in a foreign tongue. But they were
apparently compUmentary, for when Gabriel
looked up at him with an inquiring glance,
he was smiling and saying, '^ Beautiful !
Angdic I Very pretty ! " with eyes still fixed
upon the picture. " And it is like — ah, I
see the brother's face, too," he said, gravely,
comparing Gabriers face with the picture.
Gabriel looked pleased. Any natiure less
simple than his would have detected the
pohte fiction. In the square, honest face



of the brother there was not the faintest
suggestion of the delicate, girhsh, poetical
oval before him.

" It is precious," said the stranger ; ** and
it is all, ha?"

" All," echoed Gabriel, inquiringly.

" You have nothing more ? "

« No."

" A Hne of her writing, a letter, her private
papers would be a treasure, eh ? "

** She left nothing," said Gabriel, simply,
" but her clothes. You know she put on a
boy's suit — Johnny's clothes — when she left.
Thet's how it alius puzzled me thet they knew
who she was, when they came across the
poor child dead."

The stranger did not speak, and Gabriel
went on :

" It was nigh on a month afore I got back.
When I did, the snow was gone, and there
wam't no track or trace of anybody. Then
I heer'd the story I told ye — thet a relief
party had found 'em all dead — and thet
among the dead was Grace. How that
poor child ever got back thar alone (for thar
wam't no trace or mention of the man she
went away with) is what gets me. And that
there's my trouble, Mr. Ramirez ! To think
of thet pooty darlin' climbing back to the
old nest and findin' no one thar! To think
of her comin' back, as she allowed, to OUy
and me, and findin' all her own blood gone,
is suthin thet, at times, drives me almost
mad. She didn't die of starvation ; she didn't
die of cold. Her heart was broke, Mr. Rami-
rez ; her little heart was broke ! "

The stranger looked at him curiously, but
did not speak. After a moment's pause, he
lifted his bowed head fi'om his hands, wiped
his eyes with Olly's flannel petticoat, and
went on : •

*• For more than a year I tried to get sight
o' that report. Then I tried to find the
Mission or the Presidio that the relief party
started fix)m, and may be see some of that
party. But then kem the gold excitement,
and the Americans took possession of the
Missions and Presidios, and when I got to
San— San— San "

" Geronimo," interrupted Ramirez, hastily.

" Did I tell?" asked Gabriel, simply; "I
disremember that"

Ramirez showed all his teeth in quick
assent, and motioned him with his finger to
go on.

" When I got to San Geronimo, there was
nobody, and no records left. Then I put a
notiss m the San Francisco paper for Philip
Ashley — that was the man as helped her



Digitized by



Google



248



GABRIEL CONROY.



away — to communicate with me. But thar
weren't no answer."

Ramirez rose.

** You are not rich, friend Gabriel ?"

" No," said Gabriel.

" But you expect — ah — ^you expect ?"

" Well, I reckon some day to make a strike
like the rest"

" Anywhere, my friend ? "

" Anywhere," repeated Gabriel, smiling.

''''AdioSy^ said the stranger, going to the
door.

^^Adios," repeated Gabriel. " Must you
go to-night ? What's your hurry ? You're
sure you feel better now ? "

"Better?" answered Ramirez, with a
singular smile. " Better 1 Look, I am so
strong ! "

He stretched out his arms, and expanded
his chest, and walked erect to the door.

" You have cured my rheumatism, friend
Gabriel. Good-night."

The door closed behind him. In another
moment he was in the saddle, and speeding
so swiftly, that, in spite of mud and dark-
ness, in two hours he had reached the min-
ing town where the Wingdam and Sacra-
mento stage-coach changed horses. The
next morning, while Oily and Gabriel were
eating breakfast, Mr. Victor Ramirez stepped
briskly from the stage that drew up at the
Marysville Hotel and entered the hotel office.
As the clerk looked up inquiringly, Mr.
Ramirez handed him a card :

" Send that, if you please, to Miss Grace
Conroy."

CHAPTER XI.
MADAME DEVARGES.

Mr. Ramirez followed the porter upstairs
and along a narrow passage until he reached
a larger hall. Here the porter indicated
that he should wait until he returned, and
then disappeared down the darkened vista
of another passage. Mr. Ramirez had ample
time to observe the freshness of the boarded
partitions and scant details of the interior
of the International Hotel; he even had
time to attempt to grapple the foreign mys-
tery of the notice conspicuously on the wall,
" Gentlemen are requested not to sleep on
the staire," before his companion re-appeared.
Beckoning to Mr. Ramwez, with an air of
surly suspicion, the porter led him along the
darkened passage until he paused before a
door at its further extremity, and knocked
gentiy. Slight as was the knock, it had the
mysterious effect of causing all the other
doors along the passage to open, and a



masculine head to appear at each opening.
Mr. Ramirez's brow darkened quickly. He
was suffidendy conversant with the condi-
tions of that eariy civilization to know that,
as a visitor to a lady, he was die object of
every other man's curious envy and aggres-
sive suspicion.

There was the sound of light footsteps
within, and the door opened. The porter
lingered long enough to be able to decide
upon the character and propriety of the
greeting, and then sullenly retired. The
door closed^ and Mr. Ramirez found him-
self face to face with the occupant of the
room.

She was a small, slight blonde, who, when
the smile that had lit her mouth and eyes as
she opened the door, faded suddenly as she
closed it, might have passed for a plain,
indistinctive woman. But for a certain dan-
gerous submissiveness of manner — which I
here humbly submit is alwa3rs to be feared
in an all-powerful sex — and an address that
was rather more deprecatory than occasion
called for, she would hardly have awakened
the admiration of our sex, or the fears of her
own.

As Ramirez advanced, with both hands
impulsively extended, she drew back shyly,
and, pointing to the ceiling and walls, said,
quietly :

"Cloth and paper!"

Ramirez's daric &ce grew darker. There
was a long pause. Suddenly the lady light-
ened the shadow that seemed to have fallen
upon their interview with both her teeth and
eyes, and, pointing to a chair, said :

" Sft down, Victor, and tell me why you
have returned so soon."

Victor sat sullenly down. The lady
looked all deprecation and submissiveness,
but said nothing.

Ramirez would, in his sullenness, have
imitated her, but his natural impulsiveness
was too strong, and he broke out :

" Look 1 From the book of the hotel it
is better you should erase the name of Grace
Conroy, and put down your own !"

"And why, Victor?"

"She asks why," said Victor, appealing
to the ceiling. " My God ! Because one
hundred miles from here live the brother
and sister of Grace Conroy. I have seen
him!"

" Well."

"Well," echoed Victor. "Is it well?
Listen. You shall hear if it is well."

He drew his chair beside her, and went
on in a low, earnest voice:



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY.



249



** I have at last located the mine. I fol-
lowed the desena — the description of the
^KX and all its surroundings— which was in
the paper that I — 1 — found. Good ! It is
true !— ah, you begin to be interested ! — it is
true, all true of the locality. See ! Of the
spot, I do not know. Of the mine, it has
not yet been discovered ! "

** It is called 'One Horse Gulch;* why?
who knows? It is a rich mining camp.
All around are valuable claims; but the
mine on the top of the litde hill is unknown,
unclaimed ! For why ? You understand,
it promises not as much as the other claims
on the sur^e. It is the same — all as de-
scribed here."

He took from his podcet an envelope,
and drew out a folded paper (the paper
given to Grace Conroy by Dr. bevarges),
and pointed to the map.

'*The description here leads me to the
head waters of the American River. I fol-
low the range of fbot-hilb, iix I know every
foot, every step, and I came one day last
week to *One Horse Gulch.' See, it is the
gulch descTtbed here— ^ the same.''

He held the paper before her, and her
thin, long fingers closed like a bird's claw
over its comers.

^ It is necessary I should stay there four
or five da3rs to inquire. And yet how ? I
am a stranger, a foreigner; the miners have
sospidon of aU such, and to me they do not
talk easily. But I hear of <me Gabriel Con-
roy, a good man, very kind with the sick.
Good! I have sickness— very sudden, very
strcmg ! My rheumatism takes me here."
He pointed to his knee. " I am helpless as
a child. I have to be taken care of at the
house of Mr. Briggs. Comes to me here
Gabrid Conroy, sits by me, talks to me, tells
me everything. He brings to me ^is little
sister. I go to his cabin on the hill. I see
the picture of his sister. Good. You under-
stand? It is all over!"
"Why?"

" Eh ? She asks why, this woman,'* said
Victor, appealing to the ceiling. '* Is it more
you ask? Then listen: The house of Gabriel
Conroy is upon the land, the very land, you
understand ? of the grant made by the Gov-
ernor to Dr. Devarges. He is this Gabriel,
look ! he is in possession!"
" How ? Does he know of the mine ? "
"No! It is accident — what you call
Fate!"

She walked to the window, and stood for
a few moments looking out upon the falling
rain. The foot that looked out was so old,



so haggard, so hard and set in its outlines,
that one of the loungers on the sidewalk,
glancing at the window to catch a glimpse
of the pretty French stranger, did not recog-
nize her. Possibly the incident recalled her
to herself, for she presentiy turned ^th a
smile of inefifable sweetness, and, returning
to the side of Ramirez, said, in the gendest
of voices :

" Then you abandon me ?"

Victor did not dare to meet her eyes. He
looked straight before him, shrugged his
shoulders, and said :

"It is Fate!"

She clasped her thin fingers lightly before
her, and, standing in front of her companion^
so as to be level with his eyes, said :

" You have a good memory, Victor."

He did not repljr.

" Let me assist it It is a year ago that I
received a letter in ^rlin, signed by a Mr.
Peter Dumphy, of San Fftincisco, saying
that he was in possession of important papers
regarding property of my late husband. Dr.
Paul Devarges, and asking me to communi-
< cate with him. I did not answer his letter;
I came. It is not my way to deliberate or
hesitate — perhaps a wise man would. I am
only a poor, weak woman, so I came. I
know it was all wrong. You, sharp, bold,
cautious men would have written first. Well,
I came!"

Victor winced dighdy, but did not speak.

*• I saw Mr. Dumphy in San Francisco. He
showed me some papers that he said he had
found in a place of deposit, which Dr. De-
varges had evidentiy wished preserved. One
was a record of a Spanish grant, others indi-
cated some valuable discoveries. He refer-
red me to the Mission and Presidio of San
Ysabel that had sent out the relief party for
fiirther information. He was a trader — a
mere man of business — it was a question of
money with him ; he agreed to assist me for
^, percentage/ Is it not so ?"

Victor raised his dark eyes to hers and
nodded.

" I came to the Mission. I saw^^w — ^the
Secretary of the former Comandant^— the
only one left who remembered the expedi-
tion, and the custodian of the Presidio
records. You showed me the only copy of
the report ; you^ too, would have been cold
and business-like, until I told you my story.
You seemed interested. You told me about
the young girl, this m)rsterious Grace Con-
roy, whose name appeared among the dead,
who, you said you thought, was an impos-
tor! Did you not?"



Digitized by



Google



250



GABRIEL CONROY.



Victor nodded.

" You told me of her agony on reading
the report 1 Of her fainting, of the discovery
of her condition by the women, of the Co-
mandante's pity, of her mysterious disap-
X)earance, of the Comandantes reticence,
of your own suspicions of the birth of a child I
Did you not, Victor?"

He endeavored to take her hand. Without
altering her gentie manner, she withdrew her
hand quietiy, and went on :

" And then you told me of your finding
that paper on the floor where they loosened
her dress — ^the paper you now hold in your
hand. You told me of your reasons for con-
cealing and withholding it And then, Vic-
tor, you proposed to me a plan to secure my
own again — to personate this girl — to out-
imposture this impostiu'e. You did not ask
me for a percentage ! You did not seek to
make money out of my needs ; you asked
only for my love! Well, well I perhaps I
was a fool, a weak woman. It was a tempt-
ing bribe ; possibly I listened more to the
promptings of my heart than my interest I
promised you my hand and my fortune when
we succeeded. You come to me now and
ask to be relieved of that obligation. No !
no ! you have said enough."

The now frightened man had seized her
by the hand and thrown himself on his knees
before her in passionate contrition ; but, with
a powerful ^ort, she had wrested herself
fiiee.

"No, no!" she continued, in the same
deprecatory voice. "Go to this brother,
whom the chief end of your labors seems to
have been to discover. Go to him now.
Restore to him the paper you hold in your
hand. Say that you stole it from his sister,
whom you suspected to have been an im-
postor, and that you knew to be the mother
of an illegitimate child. Say that in doing
this, you took the last hope from the
wronged and cast-off wife who came thou-
sands of miles to claim something from the
man who should have supported her. Say
this, and that brother, if he is the good and
kind man you represent him to be, he will
rise up and bless ^you ! You have only to
tell him further, that this paper cannot be
of any use to him, as this property legally
belongs to his sister's child, if living. You
have only to hand him the report which
declares both of his sisters to be dead, and
leaves his own identity in doubt, to show
him what a blessing has fallen upon him."

" Forgive me," gasped Victor, with a pain-
ful blending of shame and an awesome ad-



miration of the woman before him ; " forgive
me, Julie ! I am a coward ! a slave ! ao
ingrate! I will do anything, Julie; any-
thing you say."

Madame Devarges was too sagacious to
press her victory further; perhaps she was
too cautious to exasperate the already incau-
tiously demonstrative man before her. She
said "Hush," and permitted him at the
same time, as if unconsciously, to draw her
beside him.

" Listen, Victor. What have you to fear
from this man ? " she asked, after a pause.
" What would his evidence weigh against
me, when he is in unlawful possession of
my property, my legally declared property,
if I choose to deny his relationship ? Wlio
will identify him as Gabriel Conroy, when
his only surviving relative dare not come
forward to recognize him ; when, if she did,
you could swear that she came to you under
another name ? What would this brother's
self-interested evidence amount to opposed
to yours, that I was the Grace Conroy who
came to the Mission, to the proof of my
identity offered by one of the survivors, Peter
Dumphy?"

'* Dumphy!" echoed Ramirez, in amaze-
mo^

*^es, Dumphy I "g^peated Madame De-
varges. '*When he found that, as the
divorced wife of Dr. Devarges, I could make
no legal claim, and I told him of your plan,
he offered hiniself as witness of my identity.
Ah, Victor 1 I have not been idle while you
have found only obstacles."

"Forgive mel" He caught and kissed
her hands passionately. " I fly now. Good-
bye."

"Where are you going?" she asked,
rising.

« To *jOne Horse Gulch/" he answered

" No I*^ Sit down. Listen. You must go
to San Francisco and inform Dumphy of
your discovery. It will be necessary, per-
haps, to have a lawyer ; but we must first
see how strong we stand. You must find
out the whereabouts of this girl, Grace, at
once. Go to San Francisco, see Dumphy«
and return to me here ! "

" But you are alone here and unprotectea
These men!"

The quick suspicions of a jealous naturt.
flashed in his eyes.

" Believe me, they are less dangerous to
our plans than women ! Do you not trust me,
Victor ? " she said, with a dazzling smile.

He would have thrown himself at her
feet, but she restrained him with an aich



Digitized by



Google



GABRIEL CONROY.



25^



look at the wall, and 2c precautionary up-
lifted finger.

" Good ; go now. Stay. This Gabriel —
is he married ? *'

"No."

" Good-bye."

The door dosed upon his dark, eager face,
and he was gone. «

A moment later there was a sharp ringing
of the bell of No. 92, the next room to that
occupied by Mme. Devarges.

The truculent porter knocked at the door,
and entered this room respectfully. There
was no suspicion attached to the character
oiits occupant He was well known as Mr.
Jack Hamlin, a gambler.

" Why the devil did you keep me wait-
ing ?" said Jack, reaching from the bed, and
wrathfully clutching his boot-jack.

The man murmured some apology.

" Bring me some hot water."

The porter was about to hurriedly with-
draw, when Jack stopped him with an oath.

** You've been long enough coming with-
out shooting oflf like that Who was that
man that just left the next room ? "

"I don't know, sir."

**Find out, and let me know."

He flung a gold piece at the man, beat
Qp his pilk>w, and turned his face to the
waD. The porter still lingered, and Jack
^ed sharply round.

" Not gone yet ? What the devil—"

" Beg your pardon, sir ; do you know any-
thing about her?"

^ No," said Jack, raising himself on his
elbow ; " but if I catch you hanging round
that door, as you were five minutes ago,
111—"

Here Mr. Hamlin dropped his voice, and
intimated that he would forcibly dislodge
certain vital and necessary organs fi-om the
porter's body.

**Go."

After the door closed again, Mr. HamUn
lay silent for an hour. At the end of that
time he got up and began to dress himself
slowly, singing softly to himself the while, as
was his invariable custom, in that sweet tenor
for which he was fisunous. When he had thus
waihlcd through his toilet, replacing a small
ivory-handled pistol in his waistcoat pocket
to one of his most heart-breaking notes, he
put his hat on his handsome head, perhaps
a trifle more on one side than usual, and
stepped into the hall. As he sharply shut
his door and locked it, the slight concussion
of the thin partitions caused the door of his
^ neighbor's room to start ajar, and Mr.



Hamlin, looking up mechanically, saw the
lady standing by the bureau with her hand-
kerchief to her eyes. Mr. Hamlin instantly
stopped his warbling, and walked gravely
down-stairs. At the foot of the steps he
met the porter.

The man touched his hat

" He doesn't belong here, sir."

"Who doesn't belong here?" asked Mr.
Hamlin, coldly.

" That man."

"What man?"

" The man you asked about"

Mr. Hamlin quietly took out a cigar, lit
it, and, after one or two puflfs, looked fixedly
in the man's eye, and said :

" I haven't asked you about any man."

" I thought, sir—"

" You shoiddn't begin to drink so early
in the day, Michael," said Mr. Hamlin,
quietly, without withdrawing his black eyes
from the man's face. " You can't stand it
on an empty stomach. Take my advice
and wait till after dinner."

CHAPTER XII.
MRS. MARKLE.

Olly's allusion to Mrs. Markle and her
criticism had recurred to Gabriel more or
less uneasily through the night, and as he
rose betimes the next morning and stood
by the table on which lay his handiwork, a
grim doubt of his proficiency in that branch
of domestic economy began to oppress him.

" Like as not, I ain't doin' my duty to that
child," he said softly to himself, as he picked
up the garments one by one, and deposited
them b^ide the bedside of the still sleeping
Oily. " Them clothes are — ^leavin' out the
stren'th and sayin' nothin' o' durabihty as
material — a trifle old-fashioned and onbe-
comin'. Not as you requires anything o'
the kind, bless your pooty face," he said,
apostrophizing the dewy curls and slumber-
flushed cheek of the unconscious child;
" but mebbe it does sorter provoke remarks
fix)m the other children. And the settle-
ment's gettin* crowded. Three new families
in six months is rather too— too — " con-
sidered Gabriel, hesitating for a word;
" rather too popylating ! And, Mrs. Markle "
— Gabriel flushed even in the stillness and
solitude of his own cabin — ^** to think of that
litde gal, not nine years old, speakin' o' that
widder in that way. It beats everything.



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 42 of 163)