Copyright
Nancy Mann Waddel Woodrow.

The Black Pearl online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hidin', big as you are. You got your man all picked out right now, and
you mean to marry him whether he thinks so or not, and he can't get away
from you no more'n a cat can from a mouse.'"

"No more than I can from you," José sprang to his feet with light
agility and, leaning forward, made as if about to imprint a kiss upon
her forehead.

But he had reckoned without his host. Mrs. Nitschkan's arm shot out
before he saw it, and he was sent staggering halfway across the room. "A
poor, perishin' brother tried that on me once," she remarked casually.
"It was in Willy Barker's drug store over to Mt. Tabor. Celora was with
me - she was about four - and I just set her down on the counter and said,
'Now, Celora, set good and quiet and watch Mommie go for the masher real
pretty.'"

"I don't see why you got to be so rough on the boys, Sadie," deplored
Mrs. Thomas, rocking slowly back and forth in a large chair. "'Course we
know they're devils and all, but if it wasn't for their goin's on,
trying to snatch a kiss now and then, life would seem awful tame for us
poor, patient women. And even the worst of 'em's better'n none at all.
Look at me! I had the luck to get a cross-grained, cranky one, as you
know. Poor Seth!" She drew a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her
eyes. "But you got to admit, Sadie, that even he was white enough to up
and die before I got too old for other gentlemen to take notice of me."

"What'd you want 'em to take notice of you for?" asks Mrs. Nitschkan
abstractedly, her mind on her flies.

"It's easy enough for you to talk that way," Mrs. Thomas spoke with some
heat. "You got the what-you-may-callems - accomplishments - that gets
their notice. You're apt to skin 'em at cards, you can easy out-shoot
'em, and there ain't a lady miner in the mountains that can pass off a
salted property as cute as you."

"What's the use of livin' in a world of tenderfoots if you don't use
'em?" growled Mrs. Nitschkan.

"'Course. And don't think I'm blaming you, Sadie; I ain't." Mrs. Thomas
spoke more gently. "All I'm sayin' is that you can't understand the
women that's born feeling the need of a strong right arm to lean on, and
has nothing but a nice complexion and a loving heart to offer. The
game's a hard one for them, 'cause there're so many others in the field.
It ain't always a complexion; sometimes it's a head of hair, or eyes,
but whatever it is, competition's keen. I leave it to you, Mr. José, if
a lady can say to a gentleman the first time she meets him, 'I got a
dandy temper,' or 'I can bake a pie that'll coax the coyotes down from
the hills.' No, you got to let the hair or complexion do its work first
and sort o' insinuate the rest as acquaintance grows."

"There's a man comin' up here to-morrow, Marthy, but he won't know
whether you got a strand of hair or a tooth in your head; he'll never
see you."

"Maybe he can't help it - not if I stand right in his way," said Mrs.
Thomas, with a coy glance from under her lashes at José.

"Oh, yes, he can," returned Mrs. Nitschkan. "No matter who's in the way
he can't see but one person, and that's that sulky Pearl; for it's good
old Bob Flick, one of the best ever."

Two or three times Bob Flick had come up and remained several days, and
on these occasions Pearl had roused somewhat from her indifference to
life. On his last visit, late in September, he had succeeded in
persuading her to ride again, and had sent down to the desert for a
horse for her. She would not admit at first that she enjoyed being in
the saddle again, but to his unexpressed satisfaction it was obvious
that she did.

The crystalline, amber air was like wine; the mountains were a mosaic of
color; the trees burned red and yellow, glowing torches of autumn, and
accentuating all their ephemeral and regal splendor; among them, yet
never of them, were the green austere pines marching in their serried
ranks, on, on up the hillsides to timber line.

One day, as Pearl and Flick rode among the hills, a flood of sunlight
falling about them, crimson and yellow leaves blowing on the wind, she
expressed, for the first time, an interest in the desert and a desire to
see it again.

"I'll have to go back sometime, Bob, I suppose," she said, "if it's only
to see Lolita."

"I nearly brought her up with me," he said. "I thought maybe she'd stand
it all right for a day or two; then I got afraid she'd sicken right away
in this rare air, and I didn't dare."

"I guess so," sighed Pearl; "but, goodness! I'd sure like to see her
again. I'd most give anything to hear her say, 'mi jasmin, Pearl, mi
corazon.'"

"We understand each other, you and me and Lolita," returned Flick. "We
all got the South in us, I reckon that's why."

"Maybe," she answered. "Yes, I'd like to see Lolita and mother. She
won't leave her chickens and melons and sweet potatoes and all long
enough to come up here, and, oh, there's times when I feel like I'd most
give my eyes to see the desert again; but I couldn't stand it yet, Bob,
not yet."

A shade had fallen over her face as she spoke and, to divert her, he
began to speak of José. "Doesn't he make you laugh?" he asked. "He keeps
everybody else on the broad grin."

"Men," she said scornfully. "I think he works a charm on you that you
all put yourselves in danger for a thing like that. Sometimes he makes
me laugh - a little; but if I had my way I would waste no time in putting
him in prison where he belongs. What is it you see in him?"

"I don't believe women do like José much," reflected Flick.

"Except Nitschkan," replied Pearl. "She says she's trying to reform him
and save his soul; but it mostly consists in getting him to do all the
odd jobs she can think of, and Mrs. Thomas is trying to flirt with him."

"I guess you don't like him, because you don't see him as he is,"
ruminated Bob Flick. "He's not afraid of anything; he'll take chances,
just without thinking of them, that I don't believe another man on earth
would. He's always good-natured and amusing, and look how he can cook,
Pearl," turning in his saddle, "just think of that! Why, he could take
a piece of sole leather and make it taste like venison."

But even this list of perfections failed to arouse any enthusiasm for
José in Pearl, or to convince her that the proper place for him was not
within the sheltering walls of a prison.

"Well, if you don't care much for José, how about Seagreave?" There was
a touch of anxiety in his glance as he asked this question. The jealousy
which he could never succeed in overcoming, and yet of which he was
continually ashamed, bit like acid into his heart as he thought of
Seagreave's fair youthfulness; the charm of his long, clear, blue eyes;
the winning sweetness of his nature.

Pearl drew her brows together a little, her eyes gloomed through her
long, silky, black lashes. "I don't like queer people," she said
petulantly. "He always seems to be mooning about something, and most of
the time he acts like you weren't on the earth." An expression of
surprise and resentment grew upon her face and darkened it. Then, with a
gesture of annoyance, she threw up her head, dismissing the subject from
her mind. A vision of Hanson rose before her and her heart turned to the
memory of his ruddy good looks, his gay, bold eyes, his magnetic
vitality.

"Say, Bob," she began, a little hesitatingly, "does that Mrs. Hanson
still live around here?"

He nodded. "I got a letter from her the other day. She wanted me to
attend to a little mining business down in the desert. She's pretty
shrewd in business, too."

"Why couldn't she attend to her own business?" asked Pearl sharply.
"What's she bothering you, a stranger, for?"

"Because her father died not long ago and she inherited some property
and she's got to go East to see about it. I shouldn't wonder if she's
already started."

She repressed a sudden start and looked quickly at him, but he was
gazing out over the ranges and did not see her, which, she reflected,
was an excellent thing, considering the wild and daring idea which had
flashed across her mind. If Hanson but knew that his wife had left
Colina no power on earth could prevent him from immediately journeying
thither. Should she mention the fact in a letter to her mother? She
debated this for a day or two, the temptation to do so was almost
overmastering, but her pride finally triumphed in the struggle, and she
left the matter on the knees of the gods.

Yet, in the depths of her wild heart, she knew that he would come, that
he must long have awaited just such an opportunity, and she had no doubt
that he kept himself informed of the movements of the woman who bore his
name. Her spirits rose in the contemplation of glorious moments when she
should live to the full again, when she should feel herself to be as a
quickened and soaring flame of passion and intrigue. And what an
opportunity! Her father was down at the Mont d'Or all day. Hughie, of
course, was about most of the time, but she would not meet Hanson in the
cabin, but out in the golden October weather among the pines. Bob Flick
was returning to the desert the next day, so she had nothing to fear
from him.

Several days, almost a week, passed, and then a letter from Hanson,
telling her of Mrs. Hanson's departure, and assuring her that he meant
to come to Colina, that he would not stop to consider any risks he might
be taking, and that he was equally indifferent to her possible
prohibition. He was coming, coming on the morning train the next
Thursday, and this was Saturday.

She drew a long breath and pressed the letter to her heart. She would
never yield to him, never; not so long as that barrier to a marriage
between himself and herself - Mrs. Hanson - remained a legal wall between
them, but, oh! if she was to live, she must see him now and again, at
long, long intervals; but nevertheless occasionally.

The listless melancholy of months fell from her, and those about her,
noting the change, laid it to Bob Flick's influence and to the fact that
she was almost continually in the saddle; also Hughie and Gallito
congratulated themselves that she was speedily forgetting Hanson. Her
whole demeanor had changed, she even condescended to banter José, and
she took his jibes in good part; and in the evenings when José and
Gallito, Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas, had sat down to the silence of
their cards, and Hughie played softly on the piano in a dim corner, she
talked to Seagreave; in fact, their conversations became more prolonged
every evening.

One morning, a few days before Hanson arrived, she had chosen to stroll
up the mountainside, instead of riding as usual. Absorbed in her glowing
anticipations, she had walked almost above timber line, then, presently,
just as she realized that she was growing tired, the trail had led her
to an ideal and natural resting place, a little chamber of ease. It was
an open space where the pine needles lay thick upon the ground, so thick
that Pearl's feet sank deeply into them as she entered. All about it
were gnarled and stunted pine trees, bent and twisted by the high
mountain winds, until they appeared as strange, Japanese silhouettes
against the deep, blue sky. It was delightfully warm here, where the sun
fell so broadly, and Pearl threw herself down upon the pine needles. The
wind sighed softly through the forest, barely penetrating her retreat,
and finally, under the spell of the soft and dreamy atmosphere, she fell
asleep. After a time she wakened, and slowly opening her eyes saw to her
surprise that Seagreave was sitting a few feet away from her. He held a
book in his hand, but he was not reading, neither was he looking at her,
but out through a break in the trees at innumerable blue ranges,
floating, unsubstantial as mist in a flood of sunshine.

She sat up, and he, hearing her move, turned quickly and met her eyes.

"I came here to read," he said, in smiling explanation. "I often come,
and, seeing you here and asleep, I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind if
I stayed and kept away the bears and mountain lions."

She was still a little dazed. "Why, why," rubbing her eyes, "I must
have been asleep. It is so pleasant here."

He turned quickly. "You find it pleasant?" he said, "then the mountains
must be beginning to exert their spell upon you."

"I don't know," she answered slowly; "I don't hate them like I used to;
but I'll never really care for them. I love the desert."

"You must tell me what you find in the desert," he said. She looked out
broodingly at the ranges, the strange sphynx look in her eyes, but she
did not answer him. At last she withdrew her gaze from the hills and
glanced rather contemptuously at the book in his hands. "Don't you ever
work?" she asked abruptly. "You're a man."

"Sometimes I work down in the mines, if I want to," he replied
carelessly; "but I rarely want to. Sometimes, too, I write a little."

"But don't you want to work all the time with your hands or your head,
like other men do?" she persisted.

"No," he returned. "To what profit would it be?" There was just a trace
of bitterness in his voice.

"But you are strong and a man," she spoke now with unveiled scorn. "You
wouldn't be content always to sit up in a mountain cabin by the fire
like an old woman."

"Wouldn't I?" he asked. "Why not?" The bitterness was more apparent now,
and a shadow had fallen over his face. Pearl realized that, for the
moment, at least, he had forgotten her presence, and in truth, his mind
had traveled back over the years and he was living over again the
experience which had made him a wanderer on the earth and finally a
recluse in the lonely and isolated mountains.

It was a more or less conventional story. All events which penetrate
deeply into human experience are. They are vital and living, because
universal; therefore we call them conventional. Seagreave had been left
an orphan at an early age, and as he inherited wealth and was born of a
line of gentlemen and scholars who had given the world much of service
in their day, his material environment offered him no obstacles to be
overcome. There were no barriers between him and any normal desires and
ambitions, nothing to excite his emulation with suggestions that there
were forbidden and therefore infinitely desirable gardens in which he
might wander a welcome guest. But life sets a premium on hard knocks. It
is usually the bantling which is cast upon the rocks who wins most of
the prizes, having acquired in a hard school powers of resistance and
endurance.

Seagreave's pleasant experiences continued through youth into manhood.
When quite young he became engaged to a charming girl about his own age
whom his guardians considered eminently suitable. Among many
friendships, he had one so congenial that he fancied no circumstance
could arise which could strain or break this tie.

And then, on the very eve of his marriage, his sweetheart had eloped
with this friend of his boyhood, and he had not only this wound of the
heart to endure, but also the consciousness that he was pilloried as a
blind fool by all of his acquaintances.

Consequently he had, in his first young bitterness and heartbreak, taken
a sort of gloomy satisfaction in living remote from his fellow beings
and burying himself in the wilds, ever strengthening his capacity to do
without the ordered and cultivated life of which he had been a part, and
which had seemed essential to his well-being; and he had no
disillusionizing past experiences to teach him the philosophy that time
assuages all griefs, and that it is the part of common sense to take
life as you find it.

Gradually his new manner of living, of wandering whither he would
without ties or responsibilities, became a habit to him. He lost
interest in the world of achievement as well as in the world of manners,
but so insidious was this change, this shifting of the point of view,
that he had never fully realized it until now when, in some way, some
indefinite, goading and not altogether pleasant way, Pearl was bringing
a faint realization of his acquired habit of mind home to him.

As Pearl watched him and wondered what remembrance it was that clouded
his face, her interest in him increased. "I wonder - " she said, and
hesitated.

Her words recalled him to himself immediately; with a little gesture of
impatience as if annoyed at his own weakness, he put from him these
morbid memories of the past. "You wonder - what?" he asked.

She flushed slightly at the thought that he might think her guilty of an
intrusive curiosity, but she could not stop now. She must know more.
Her craving intelligence demanded some explanation. "José," she said
doubtfully and almost involuntarily.

A smile of pure amusement rippled about his mouth. "Yes," he said,
"José. What about him?"

Speech came readily enough to her now. "You know what José is,"
accusingly. "You know the big reward that is offered for him, and yet
you keep him in your cabin and treat him almost like a brother."

"Quite like a brother," he said; "why not? Who would have the heart to
put Pan in prison? Do you think shutting José up behind bars would make
him any better? At any rate, he is safe to do no mischief here, and he
is happy. Would you want us to give him up?"

"I!" She looked at him in surprise and shook her head. "But then we are
different, my father and me. He likes bad company, and I guess I take
after him. But you, they call you Saint Harry, you are respectable."

"Not I," he said earnestly; "you must not accuse me of such things. Look
yonder at that long mountain trail, leading up to the peaks. There are
mile-stones in it. So it is in life. When we have stopped trying to make
people measure up to our standard we have passed one; when we have gone
beyond forgiveness and learned that there is never anything to forgive
we have passed another, and when we have ceased from all condemnation we
have progressed a little farther."

She made no response to this. In that sunwarmed silence the wind
whispered softly through the pines, a sound like the monotonous, musical
murmur of distant seas. "But you will forget all that," she said
suddenly. "You will go back to the world. I know."

He smiled invincibly. "How do you know?"

She tapped her breast lightly with her jewel-encrusted hand. "From
myself. Oh, how I have hated life since I came here, but now I love it
again, I want it." She threw wide her arms and smiled radiantly, but not
at him, rather at the vision of life her imagination conjured. "I want
to dance, dance, dance, I want to live."

"And you will dance for us here in the mountains before you go away?" he
asked, with interest. "Good dancing is very rare and very beautiful.
There are very few great dancers."

"Yes, only a few," she said briefly. He could not know that she was one
of them, of course, but nevertheless it piqued her vanity that he did
not divine it or take it for granted. She resolved then and there to
show him how she could dance, and as she decided this, a subtle, wicked
smile crept about her lips. Since he was so sure that he would never
return to the world, the world should come to him.

"But you haven't said yet that you would dance for us," he said.

"Yes," the same smile still lingering in her eyes and on her lips, "yes,
I will. The camp have sent half a dozen invitations for me to do so,
through Hughie. They have a dance once a week in the town hall, don't
they? When is the next one?"

"I think I heard Hughie say next Thursday night. He always helps out
the orchestra when he is here, doesn't he?"

Next Thursday night! Her eyes widened. That was the evening of the day
that Rudolf was coming. Perhaps - perhaps, he would stay over and see
her, it was not much of a risk he would be taking in doing so. Her
father would not go down to see her dance, he would prefer to sit over
his cards with José, and no one else knew Hanson. Oh, what a prospect!
She almost clapped her hands with joy.

The wind sent a shower of pine needles over them, and Seagreave looked
up, scanning the sky with a keen glance. "It will soon be time for the
snow to fly," he said.

She looked at him incredulously. "Why, it is mild as summer."

"Yes, but this is October, and October in the mountains. Perhaps in only
a few days now the ground will all be covered with snow."

"I hope I shall be away before that time," shivering a little.

"But think what you will miss. Think how beautiful it will be; all
still, just a great, white silence; the snow with its wonderful shadows,
and sometimes, when the air is very clear, I seem to hear the chiming of
great bells."

She shivered again and rose. "I don't believe I'd like it," she said. "I
think it would frighten me."

He walked down the hill with her to Gallito's cabin, but on their way
they spoke little. Her mind was full of Hanson's coming, and of the
revelation of dancing which she meant to show him and, incidentally,
Saint Harry. It was not until later in the day that she remembered how
impersonal, according to her standards, her conversation with Seagreave
had been. Not once, either by word or look had he told her that she was
beautiful and to be desired. A new experience for her; never before had
she encountered such an attitude in any man. It must be, therefore, that
there was some other woman in his life; but where? Certainly not here in
Colina or she would have heard of it, and he had been in the mountains
two years without leaving them. Surely he, too, must have known
unhappiness in love. At intervals during the day she built up various
hypotheses explaining the circumstances of his grief, and she also let
her imagination dwell upon the woman, picturing her appearance and
wondering about her disposition.

That evening at supper she arranged with Hugh that she was to accept the
standing invitation of the camp, and that she would dance for them the
following Thursday evening, and with an entire return of enthusiasm
talked music and different steps to him until José and Mrs. Thomas,
rendered more expeditious even than usual by their interest in the
topic, had cleared away all traces of the meal and moved the table back
against the wall. Then Hugh began to play.

"Wait a minute," Pearl cried to him, "until I get my dancing slippers
and my _manton de Manila_." She vanished through the doorway leading to
her room and reappeared presently, a fan in her hand and a gorgeous
fringed, silken shawl thrown about her; it was white and embroidered in
flowers of all colors. "Ready," she called over her shoulder to Hugh.

Then she also began, but not at once to dance; instead, she executed a
series of postures; almost without apparent transition she melted from
one pose to another of plastic grace, her body the mere, boneless,
obedient servant of her directing will.

These she followed with some wonderfully rapid exercises. Sometimes she
stood perfectly still and one saw only the marvelous play of her body
muscles, plainly visible, as no corsets had ever fettered her unmatched
lines. Again, holding the body motionless, she moved only the arms, now
with a slow and alluring rhythm, and again with incredible rapidity,
showing to the full the flexibility and liquidity of the wrist movements
for which she was later to be so famous. Then holding the body and arms
quite still she danced only with her legs, and then arms, legs, body
married in a faultless rhythm, she whirled like a cyclone about the
room.

Her father and José sat and smoked and watched her every movement with
keen, critical eyes. Were they not Spaniards who had danced all through
their childhood and youth, as naturally as they breathed? About
Gallito's mouth played the bleak smile which in him betokened content,
while José could barely wait for her to finish her preliminary exercises
before he besought her to let him join her. Even Mrs. Nitschkan laid
down some fishing tackle with which she was engrossed and Mrs. Thomas
looked on admiringly and half jealously.

"Dios," cried José plaintively, "Hughie's music invites me, even if the
Señorita does not."

Pearl smiled complaisantly upon him. "The Jota!" she said, and
immediately he joined her, making no bad second. Together they danced
until Seagreave came down from his cabin, and then, flushed and
laughing, she flung herself into a chair and refused to go on, although
he begged her to do so.

"Say, Sadie," breathed Mrs. Thomas, "don't you believe I could learn to
do that?"

"No," returned her friend, looking up from an earnest contemplation of
various hooks, "I don't believe that no woman that's been married and
had children and sorrows and buried a husband and is as heavy as a


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 10 of 20)