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THE BLACK PEARL

by

MRS. WILSON WOODROW

Author of "Sally Salt," "The New Missioner," Etc.

Illustrated







[Illustration: "'I'm feelin' particularly good right now.'" (Page 181)]





New York and London
D. Appleton and Company
1912
Copyright, 1912, by
D. Appleton and Company
Published August, 1912
Printed in the United States of America





LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"'I'm feelin' particularly good right now'" - (Frontispiece)

"I'll show you what I'll do'" 102

"There stood the Black Pearl alone" 244

"Holding cautiously to a little branch, she bent over him" 302




THE BLACK PEARL

CHAPTER I


It was just at sunset that the train which had crawled across the desert
drew up, puffing and panting, before the village of Paloma, not many
miles from the Salton Sea. After a moment's delay, one lone passenger
descended. Paloma was not an important station.

Rudolf Hanson, the one passenger, whom either curiosity or business had
brought thither, stood on the platform of the little station looking
about him. To the right of him, beyond the village, blooming like an
oasis from the irrigation afforded by the artesian wells, rose the
mountains, the foothills green and dimpled, the slopes with their massed
shadows of pines and oaks climbing upward and gashed with deep purple
cañons, and above them the great white, solemn peaks, austere and
stately guardians of the desert which stretched away and away, its
illimitable distances lost at last in the horizon line.

Hanson, of the far west, was used to magnificent scenic effects, but the
desert that sparkled like the gold of man's eternal quest, that lay with
its sentinel hills enfolded and encompassed in color, colors that
seemed as if some spinner of the sunset courts wove forever fresh
combinations and sent these ethereal tapestries out to float over the
wide spaces of the wilderness - this caused him to catch his breath and
exclaim.

It was truly a sight to take any man's breath away; but even such a view
could only arrest Hanson's interest temporarily. He was hungry, and the
station agent, a weedy youth, was making a noisy closing up.
Intentionally noisy, for when one is the agent of a small desert
station, the occasional visitor is apt to whet one's curiosity to razor
edge.

Roused by these sounds, and by his growing hunger, which the cool purity
of the air only augmented, Hanson turned to the boy.

"Where's a place to stay?" he asked.

"There ain't but one," replied the youth; "the San Gorgonio hotel. You
walk right up this street until you come to it, on the left side. It's
got a sign out, electric," he added with some pride. He looked curiously
at Hanson, standing tall and straight with his ruddy, good-looking face,
keen, quick, gray eyes and curling light hair. "Going to be here long?"
he asked tentatively.

"I don't know," returned Hanson idly. "Guess not. No string on me,
though, even if I'd choose to put in a month or so here. This way, you
say?" He lifted his suit case and began to walk in the direction the
station agent had indicated.

"Say," the latter called after him, "you don't want to miss the show
to-night."

"What show?" Hanson turned, interest amounting almost to eagerness in
his tone.

"Benefit." The boy rolled the word unctuously under his tongue. "I guess
maybe you saw why in the papers. The river got on a tear and cut into a
nice little town here on the desert, drowned some of the folks and did a
lot of damage generally, so we're raising some money to send to 'em."

The stranger's interest had increased perceptibly. "Sounds good to me,"
he said heartily. "What's your features?"

"Just one," the other answered impressively. "We don't need no more in
this part of the world, if we got her."

"Her!" cried Hanson, and now his cold eyes were alight. "Who the hell is
her?"

"Why, the Black Pearl!" as if surprised that anyone should be unaware of
the fact. "'Course we got a few thousand square miles of desert waiting
to be reclaimed, and any amount of mountains full of ore, but to us
they's small potatoes and few in a hill beside the Black Pearl."

Hanson swore softly and ecstatically. "If that ain't that good old blind
luck of mine hitting me again after all these years," he muttered. "Say,
son, I'm making no secret of my business. Don't have to. I am a
theatrical manager - vaudeville. Got great backing this year and am out
for new features. Set my heart on the Black Pearl and got to figuring on
her. Sweeney had her on his circuit last winter. Well, Sweeney, let me
tell you, is pretty shrewd. He knows a good thing when he's got it, so
I thought there was no show for me. Presently, I hear that she's
scrapped with Sweeney and is off to the desert like a flash. So she's
really here?"

"Sure," said the boy.

"So," continued Hanson, who was loquacious by nature, but sufficiently
shrewd and experienced only to let himself be so when he thought it
worth his while, "I begin to figure on my chances. I learn that
Sweeney's trying to coax her back by letter, so I says to myself:
'Rudolf, you just chassez down to Paloma and see what you can do,' but
honest, son," he put his suit case down in the road and pushed his hat
back on his head and put his hands on his hips, "honest to God, I didn't
expect anything like this, the first night I got here, too."

His companion shifted his quid of tobacco to the other side of his mouth
and nodded understandingly.

Hanson's eyes were fixed ruminatively but unseeingly upon the golden
desert, its sand dunes touched with a deep rose soon to be eclipsed by
the jealous tyrian purples which were beginning to mass themselves
gorgeously beneath the oranges and flame of the setting sun.

"Gee whiz!" he muttered, "and I was figuring that if I hung round here a
week or so and played my hand all right, I'd maybe get her to do a few
steps for me in the parlor. Oh, Lordy! And now I got a chance to see her
before the footlights and size up her capacity for getting over them."

The station agent looked puzzled and a little offended. "There won't be
any footlights," he said; "and you're mistaken if you think she's up to
any rough work like climbing over them, any way."

Hanson laughed loudly. "That's all right, son, you ain't on to the shop
talk, that's all. But now, where is this show and what time does it
begin?"

"Oh, in an hour or so, whenever Pearl's minded, and it's to be held at
Chickasaw Pete's place - saloon. You see," apologetically, "we ain't a
very big community, and that's the only place where there's a decent
floor for her to dance on."

Hanson raised his brows and laughed. "Well" - he pulled out his watch and
looked at it - "I've got time to wash the upper crust of sand off anyway,
and get a bite or so first. I suppose I'll see you later. Up this way,
you say?"

The agent nodded assent. "It's a good betting proposition," he mused.
"He knows what he wants and he usually gets it, I'm thinking, or there's
something to pay. But what'll the Pearl do? I guess she's the biggest
gamble any man could tackle."

As his new acquaintance had predicted, Hanson had no difficulty in
finding the San Gorgonio, a small hostelry not by any means so gorgeous
as its name implied, being merely an unpretentious frame building with a
few palms in the enclosure before it, and there he speedily got a room
and some supper. It might be deemed significant that he gave more time
and attention to his toilet than his food, but that may have been
because he believed in the value of a pleasing appearance as well as in
a winning address when transacting business with a woman. In any event,
his motives, whatever they might be, were quite justifiable, as he
undoubtedly possessed a bold and striking type of good looks which had
never failed of receiving a due appreciation from most women.

Assured, aggressive, his customary good humor heightened by the
comforting sense of his luck being with him, he finally emerged into the
open air to discover that the stars were out and that it might be later
than he thought. The air, infinitely pure, infinitely fresh, exhaled
from the vast, breathing desert, and the delicious aromatic desert odors
touched him like a caress. He drew them in in great draughts. The air
seemed to him a wonderful, potent ichor infusing him with a new and
vigorous life. Hanson was sure of himself always, but now, in this
awakened sense of such power and dominance as he had never known, he
threw back his head and laughed aloud.

"Gosh!" he muttered, "I feel like all I got to do was to reach up and
pull down a few of those stars and use them for poker chips." He exulted
like a sleek and lordly animal in this thrilling vitality, this
imperious and insistent demand for conquest.

Chickasaw Pete's place, as he soon discovered, was no more pretentious
in appearance than the San Gorgonio. It also was a long, low frame
building with some great cottonwood trees before it and a few palms with
their infinite and haunting suggestions of the tropics.

It was with a sense of mounting excitement which still held that strong
element of exultation that Hanson crossed the porch, opened the door and
walked in. He saw before him a long room well lighted with electricity
and with a shining polished floor. The bar ran along one side, and
behind it lounged a short, stout, round-faced man with very black hair
and eyes and a perpetual smile. This was the bar-keeper, known
familiarly as Jimmy. At the rear of the room, covering about half of the
floor, were rows and rows of chairs, occupied by both men and women,
strong, sun-burned looking people in the main, but with the invariable
and unmistakable sprinkling of "lungers" in various stages of recovery.

Hanson saw his friend, the station agent, leaning across the bar talking
to Jimmy, and knew from the interested glances cast in his direction
that he was the topic of conversation.

At the opposite end of the room was a piano. A young man sat before it
facing the wall, while beside him there stood a woman intently tuning a
violin which she held tucked under her chin. Approaching middle age, she
was rather stout, with a sallow, discontented face, which yet held some
traces of its former evanescent prettiness. Both lashes and brows of her
faded light eyes were heavily blackened, and the rouge which lay thickly
on her cheeks only served to accentuate their haggard lines. The hair,
dark at the roots, was blondined to a canary color where it rolled back
under her hat, large and black, of a dashing Gainsborough style and
covered with faded red roses. For the rest, her costume consisted of a
white shirt waist, a wine-colored skirt and shoes with very high heels
which were conspicuously, and no doubt uncomfortably, run over.

Her violin finally tuned to her satisfaction, she bent her head to speak
to the young man at the piano. He turned to answer her, and for a moment
his delicate, sad face was outlined against the wall behind him. Then,
with an emphatic little nod, he began to play and the woman lifted her
violin and swung in with him.

The only virtue she possessed as a violinist was that she kept good
time, but although it was extremely unlikely that any member of that
audience recognized the fact, the boy was a musician by the divine right
of gift, a gift bestowed at birth. A wheezy old piano, and yet he drew
from it sweet and thrilling notes; a hackneyed, cheap waltz measure, and
yet he invested it with the glamour of romance.

A ripple stirred all those waiting people, as a wind stirs a field of
wheat, a movement of settling and attention. Hanson, who had been
careful to secure a seat in the front row of chairs, was conscious that
his heart was beating faster.

"This is where she whirls in through that door by the piano," he
muttered to himself with the acumen born of long knowledge of the stage
and its conventions. He had a swift mental vision of a graceful painted
creature, all undulating movement, alluring smiles, twinkling feet and
waving arms. This passed with a slight shock as a girl entered the door
by the piano, as he had foreseen, and walked indifferently to the
center of the room, and then, without a bow to her audience, began,
still with an air of languor and absorption, to take vague, sliding
steps, gradually falling in with the waltz rhythm, but, even so, the
movement was without any definite form, certainly not enough to call it
a dance.

As she swayed about, listless, apparently indifferent to any effect she
might be producing, Hanson had a full opportunity to study her, and, in
that concentrated attention, the man and the manager were fused. He was
at once the cynical showman discounting every favorable impression and
the most critical and disillusioned of audiences.

In this dancer he saw a woman who was like the desert willow and younger
than he had supposed; straight and supple, with a body of such
plasticity, such instant response to the directing will of its possessor
as only comes from the constant and arduous exercises begun in early
childhood.

"Been trained for it since she was born, almost," was Hanson's first
unspoken comment.

She wore a soft, clinging frock of scarlet crêpe. It was short enough to
display her ankles, slender for a dancer, and her arched feet in
heelless black slippers. In contrast to her red frock was a string of
sparkling green stones which fell low on her breast. Her long, brown
fingers blazed with rings, and in her ears, swinging against her olive
cheeks, were great hoops of dull gold. Her black shining hair was
gathered low on her neck, her unsmiling lips were scarlet as a
pomegranate flower, and exquisitely cut; and the fainter, duskier
pomegranate bloom on her oval cheeks faded into delicate stains like
pale coffee beneath her long, narrow eyes.

"She ain't done a thing yet; she ain't even showed whether she can dance
a few bars or not, but, Lord! how she has got over!" was Hanson's
unspoken comment. "Clean to the back seats. There's nobody else here."

Although still aimlessly moving with the rhythm of the waltz she no
longer merely followed the music. She and it were one now. And Hanson, a
connoisseur, familiar with the best, at least in his part of the world,
recognized the artist whose technique is so perfect that it is absorbed,
assimilated and forgotten; but its essence remains, nevertheless, a sure
foundation upon which to build securely future combinations and
improvisations.

The Black Pearl was generous to-night. She was the program - its one
feature. She gave the audience its money's worth, judged by their
standards, which were measured by time; and yet, when she finished, she
gave one no idea of having exhausted her repertoire. In fact, she could
not have defined that repertoire. Dancing was her expression, and the
Black Pearl was conscious of infinite and unsounded phases of self.

Most of the features of the program were familiar to Hanson by her
reputation. They included some old Spanish dances, some gypsy ones and
others manifestly her own. But dancer though she was by nature and
training, her personality dominated and eclipsed her art.

Hanson was not imaginative, but as he watched her he seemed to be gazing
at some gorgeous cactus blossom opening its scentless petals to the
burning sun. Beneath and beyond her stretched the gray wastes of the
desert turning to gold under her feet, but still untrammeled and
merciless, holding strange secrets close to its savage heart; now,
exerting all its magic of illusion in delicate and exquisite mirages,
all of its luring fascination which has drawn men to it from the
beginning of the world; and now revealing itself desolate and unashamed
in all of its repulsive, stark aridity.

The Pearl certainly made no effort to attract. If a glance from those
narrow eyes enthralled, it stung too. It was the flame of wine in the
blood, the flick of a whip on the raw, which roused in a man's heart, in
Hanson's at least, the passionate disposition to conquer and subdue.

Finally she gave a slight signal to the musicians, her steps slowed, the
music stopped, and she went over and sat down beside the woman, who had
placed her violin on the piano, and then flung herself into a chair,
where she sat, carefully dabbing her warm brow with her handkerchief.

The vague pictures which Hanson had been seeing vanished. "Gee! She got
me going!" he said to himself, half dazedly, "hypnotized me sure." This,
the manager. But the man exulted: "She ain't easy. She ain't easy."

The moment the Pearl stopped dancing the audience was on its feet
applauding, and then, to a man, it eddied about her, casting banknotes
into her lap. These she lifted in handfuls and gave to two men who had
sat down beside her to count, while a third bent over them watching the
operation.

Hanson, although he had drawn nearer her, still stood on the edge of the
crowd, leaning against the bar. "So that's the Black Pearl!" he said
presently to the bar-keeper.

"That's her," responded Jimmy equably. "Can't be beat. What'll you
have?"

"Nothing, just yet. Say, those stones around her neck look good to me."
Hanson narrowed his eyes.

"Good!" Jimmy laughed shortly, a characteristic, mirthful little
chuckle. "I guess so. Bob Flick, up there beside Pearl, counting that
money, he gave 'em to her after she found him when he'd been lost on the
desert about three days. I'll tell you about it when I got more time."

Hanson had been conscious from time to time of the close but furtive
scrutiny of the man whom the bar-keeper had designated as Bob Flick, and
now he, in turn, made Flick an object of observation.

He saw a tall man of noticeable languor and deliberation of movement,
doubtless so long studied that it had become natural. His face, with
regular, rather aquiline features, was devoid of expression, almost
mask-like, while the deep lines about the mouth and eyes showed that he
lived much in the hard, brilliant, western sunlight.

Hanson was quick enough to size up a man and a situation. "I'll make a
note to look out for you," he thought, "just about as cold and just
about as deadly as a rattler."

"Say," he turned to Jimmy again, "I want to meet her. I'm a theatrical
manager, always looking out for new turns. Heard of this Black Pearl and
thought I'd run down and sign her up if I could."

"She does go traveling once in a while," returned Jimmy dubiously, "but
it's all in the mood she's in whether she'll let you even talk to her.
You might as well count on the desert out there as the Pearl."

"I suppose she's out for big money?" queried Hanson.

"She'll get all she can, I guess," Jimmy chuckled. "But," he added
boastfully, "she can make big money by staying right here. Look at what
she's pulled in to-night. And there's her father, old Gallito, he's got
more than one good 'prospect,' and is foreman beside of one of the big
mines in the mountains. And her mother, there, that played the violin,
she's got some nice irrigated land, and even Hughie, that played, he
makes money playing for dances in the different towns. Oh, they're smart
folks."

"Is Hughie the brother?" asked Hanson, looking at the boy, who sat
listlessly at the piano.

"No. Adopted." Jimmy spoke briefly. "Born blind, but let me tell you, he
sees considerable more than those of us who have eyes."

"Well, the Pearl's a certain winner," said the manager earnestly, "a
flower of the desert, a what-you-may-call-'em, a cactus bloom."

"Correct, and don't forget the spines," chuckled Jimmy. "Looks as if
they were all out to-night, too. Kind of sulky, ain't she? Well, did you
say you was waitin' to be introduced? I'll take you up and ask her. Like
as not, she'll turn you down. She ain't looked at you once, I notice. I
been watching her."

"So've I," said Hanson good humoredly, "but you're wrong, son" - there
was a brief, triumphant flash of his light eyes - "she's looked at me
twice, took me all in, too. Numbered the hairs of my head and the size
of my shoes. Threw a search light on my heart and soul. Gee! It felt
like the violet rays. Now, look here, friend, I ain't going to take
chances on a turn-down, nor of your Mr. Bob Flick having fun all night
shooting holes in the floor while this little Johnny Tenderfoot does his
imitation Black Pearl dancing. Listen," he tapped the bar sharply, "when
I meet the Black Pearl, it's because she requested an introduction. You
take me up to that old lion tamer, her mother."

Jimmy threw him a glance of ungrudging admiration. "You ain't so dumb,"
he vouchsafed. "Say, have one on me."

"A little later," replied the other. "Never drink during business
hours."

A small table had been placed before Mrs. Gallito, upon which were two
glasses, one of beer for herself, and one of lemonade for her daughter.

As Jimmy performed the introduction, she put down her beer from which
she had been somewhat thirstily drinking and received Hanson with a
perfunctory bow and a brief mechanical smile. "Think of settling here?"
she asked politely.

"No, I'm just down for a few days," replied Hanson genially. He had
drawn a chair up and seated himself on the other side of the table,
directly opposite Mrs. Gallito and her daughter.

The surprise of the glance she threw at him was heightened by a quick
curiosity. "Just prospecting?" she asked. "I saw at once that you
weren't a 'lunger.' I didn't think you were an engineer, so I made up my
mind that you were looking for land."

"None of them," returned Hanson, smiling, and hastened to inform her of
his real calling. Immediately she relaxed, her smile became genuine, the
bored and constrained politeness vanished from her manner.

"Well, that is certainly nice," she exclaimed with real animation and
cordiality. "I'm always glad to meet any of the profession. No folks
like your own folks, you know." She bridled a little.

"That's so," agreed Hanson heartily. "I knew the minute that I saw you
that you belonged."

She lifted her head with a gesture of pride, the glow and color came
back into her face, giving it a transitory appearance of youth, and
restoring, for a fugitive moment, something of its vanishing beauty.

"Born to it," she said. "My mother and her mother, and my father and his
father, and, 'way back on both sides, was all circus people. Yes, I was
born in the sawdust - rode - drove - tight-rope - trapeze - learned dancing
on the side - ambitious, you know. Say, you must have heard of my
mother - greatest bare-back rider ever in the ring. Isobel Montmorenci.
English, you know. I wasn't so shy myself, Queenie Madrew."

"Gee! Well, you were some. Shake." Hanson extended his hand, which Mrs.
Gallito shook warmly. "And I do remember your mother. I should say so.
First time I went to the circus, I was about ten years old - ran off you
know. Knew well enough what I'd get when I turned up at home. Pop laying
for me with a strap. Goodness! It takes me right back. It's all a kind
of jumble, sawdust ring and animals and clowns and all; but what I do
remember plain is Isobel Montmorenci, her and a big black horse she was
riding."

"Cæsar!" cried Mrs. Gallito excitedly. "Lord! don't I remember! I
learned to ride on him."

"Yes," mused the manager, "all I recall of that circus is her and my two
nickels. I broke my bank to get 'em. They seemed a fortune to me; but
even then I was a shrewd kid and meant to get my money's worth.
Well - the first one I laid out in a great tall glass of lemonade. Say,
that was the first time I came up against the disillusions of life.
Nothing but a little sweetened water. The next nickel went for peanuts,
and they were too stale for even a kid to chew."

"Ain't that just like a young one at the circus!" Mrs. Gallito laughed
loudly.

"What's the joke, mom?" drawled a lazy, sliding, soft voice on the
other side of her.

"A circus story, honey. Oh!" as the sudden formal silence recalled her
to her duty. "I forget. You two ain't been introduced, have you? Pearl,
make you acquainted with Mr. Hanson. He's in the show business."

Pearl bowed without lifting her eyes, giving Hanson ample opportunity to


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