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hippopotamus, and stumbles and interferes with both feet like Mis'
Evans's old horse, Whitey, can learn something where the trick of it is
keepin' up in the air most of the time."

"You needn't hurt a person's feelings by being so harsh." Mrs. Thomas's
eyes filled with tears. "Oh, jus' take in Mr. Seagreave," she whispered;
"I haven't seen him look at a lady that way yet."

"Cert'ny not at you. He ain't seem' no miner's wives," returned Mrs.
Nitschkan cruelly.

"Father," cried Pearl joyously to Gallito, "I have lost nothing. I am
not even tired, nor stiff. If anything, I am better than ever. Isn't it
so? No," as Seagreave still continued to urge José and her to dance,
"no," she lifted her narrow, glittering eyes to his, all the old
challenge in them again, the pale coffee stains beneath them had
deepened, her cheeks held the flush of a crimson rose, "not until
Thursday night, then I shall dance the desert for you, and not alone the
desert," she flashed her man-compelling, provocative smile straight into
his eyes, "I shall bring the world to you, and then you will find how
tired you are of these old mountains."

He smiled at her serenely, remotely, as one of the high gods might have
smiled upon a lovely, earthly Bacchante. What had the vain and fleeting
world to offer him who had so long ignored it?

Then, while Hugh still continued to play, Seagreave followed her to a
shadowy seat near a window, whither she had withdrawn to be out of the
warmth of the fire, and together they sat there talking until the moon
dropped behind the mountain.

José, having finished his game of cards with Gallito and the two women,
who had now left the table and were examining Pearl's _manton de
Manila_, sent his twinkling, darting glance in their direction.
"Caramba!" he cried softly, "but she has the sal Andaluz, she can dance!
I have seen many, but not such another." And then he crossed his arms
and bent his body over them and rocked back and forth in soundless and
apparently inexhaustible mirth in which Gallito finally joined him.

"I don't know what you are laughing at, José," he said; "but it is very
funny."

"I laugh that the Devil has chosen you as an instrument, my Francisco,"
he said.

"Because I give you shelter?" asked Gallito, lighting another
cigarette.

"Because the Devil schemes always how he can lure Saint Harry from his
ice peak. He has not succeeded with cards, nor with wine, nor even with
me, for I have tried to tempt him to plan with me those little robberies
which for amusement I dream of, here in these damnable solitudes. But
before he was a saint he had a wild heart, had Harry. You have but to
look at him to know that. Have you forgotten that he has not always
lived in these mountains? Do you not recall that he was middle-weight
champion of Cape Colony, that he was a scout all through the Boer war?
That he also saw service in India and has certain decorations to show
for it? Saint Harry! ha, ha, ha!

"The one thing he could not resist was any kind of a mad adventure, all
the chances against him and all the hounds on top of him, and he pitting
his wits against them and scheming to outwit them. A petticoat could
never hold him. Oh, yes," in answer to Gallito's upraised brows, "there
have been one or two, here and there, but they meant little to him, as
any one might see. But, as you know and I know, Gallito, the Devil often
wins by persistence; he never gives up. So, although Saint Harry's case
is a puzzling one, the Devil is not discouraged. He looks about him and
says, 'My friend, Gallito, my old and tried friend, has a daughter,
beautiful as a flower, graceful as a fountain. I will bring her here and
then Saint Harry will scramble off his ice peak fast enough.'"

"Your foolish wits run away with you," growled Gallito.

"My legs must run away with me now," said José, rising and stretching
his arms and yawning. "But tell me first why was your daughter sad when
she first came here?"

"Because she had fallen in love with a damned rascal," said Gallito
bitterly, "after the manner of women."

"After the manner of women," José nodded, and whispered behind his hand,
so that the two mountain ladies might not overhear him. "Believe it or
not, many have loved me. But women like extremes, too; if they love
rascals, they also adore saints. They see the saint standing there in
his niche, so calm, so peaceful and composed, entirely forgetful of
them, and this they cannot endure. Their brains are on fire; they spend
their time scheming and planning how they can claw him down from his
pedestal. They burn candles and pray to all the saints in Paradise to
help them, and they offer hostages to the Devil, too. They do not really
know the difference between devil and angel or between good and bad; but
they cannot bear it that the saint is indifferent to them. That is
something that drives them mad. Ah, it is a strong saint that can stand
firm in his niche against their wiles."

"It is an experience that you will never suffer from, José."

"But who can say?" exclaimed José, and speaking with gravity. "Some day
I shall devote myself to good works and to making my peace with the
church, and who knows, I may yet be a saint. But one thing I am sure
of, I shall never leave my niche for a woman."

"You know nothing, José."

"I know that I will never waste my cooking on a woman. I will enter a
monastery of fat monks first and cook for them. They will appreciate it.
But to return to Saint Harry and your daughter now - "

"Come," said Gallito harshly, pushing back his chair, "it is time you
went home. The ladies," indicating Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas, who
had been getting on their capes and hoods, "are waiting for you to
escort them."




CHAPTER X


As the day drew near upon which Pearl expected to meet Hanson again all
things seemed, as if by some special arrangement with the Fates, to
accommodate themselves to her plans. She had intended to ask Seagreave
for the use of his private parlor among the pines, intimating that she
desired to retire thither to practice some new steps, and, lo! the night
before, after discussing weather probabilities with her father and José,
he had decided to spend the greater part of the day in the village
laying in a full stock of winter provisions.

Hughie also would be in the village, making arrangements for the event
of the evening and seeing that the piano was properly installed and
tuned. Gallito would of course be at the Mont d'Or, and as for José, he
had announced his intention of assisting Mrs. Thomas in the making of
some delicate and elaborate cakes, difficult of composition and of which
Pearl was especially fond, and also of constructing certain delicious
pastries. No one could think of José as merely cooking; the results of
his genius justified the use of such high-sounding words as "composing"
or "constructing." Thus, his morning would be fully occupied.

Propitious Fates! Her pathway was smoothed before her; yet, alas! such
is the perversity of the human mind, that as the morning dawned, as the
minutes ticked themselves away on the clock, as the hour drew near when
she should again meet Hanson, after all these months of separation, her
spirit grew heavier instead of lighter. There was a return of
listlessness and an indifference to his coming which constantly
increased. She even felt indifferent to her own appearance.

At last, reluctantly, she threw a lace scarf about her head and,
wrapping a long, crimson cloak about her, she left the cottage and took
her way slowly up the hill.

As it was yet far too early for her rendezvous she turned aside from the
main road and followed the narrow mountain trail which led to the cabin
occupied by Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas. The gypsy, in her usual
careless, almost masculine attire, stood in the door of her cabin gazing
out at the mountains in all their mellow and triumphant glory, the
evanescent glory of late autumn. A pick and fishing rod lay across the
door sill and a lean, flea-bitten dog dozed at her feet. Her arms were
akimbo and a pipe was thrust between her teeth.

Her quick ear caught the sound of Pearl's approach and suddenly her
blue, twinkling gaze dropped from the hills to the trail which led to
her door. Seeing who her visitor was, a smile of blended curiosity and
welcome crossed her face. "Howdy, Pearl," she called jovially, "come and
set a spell." She removed the pick and fishing rod and dragged the dog
out of the way. Through the open doorway Mrs. Thomas and José might be
seen in the room beyond, bending over a table, evidently deeply
engrossed in the composition of some cakes.

"I can only stay a minute; I got a notion to walk this morning." There
was a cool deviltry in the slanting gaze with which she surveyed the
other woman.

"Seagreave, I'll bet," returned Mrs. Nitschkan frankly. "It ain't in
either you or Marthy Thomas to let a man alone. What possesses you,
anyway?"

Pearl continued to regard her with that subtle, burning, mocking look.
"Your kind can never know," she taunted.

"Mebbe," said Mrs. Nitschkan laconically, "but you're different from
Marthy. She's just mush. She'll be thinkin' now that she's cracked about
José. If it wasn't him it would be your father, and if there wasn't no
man up here at all, she'd hoist that crêpe veil on her head, stick a red
or blue bow at her neck and go swingin' down to camp, tryin' to persuade
herself an' me that all she went for was a package of tea or some bacon.
But you're different, always a yellin' about bein' free and yet always a
tryin' to get tangled up."

Again Pearl laughed wickedly. "You tramp woman! Why would you rather
hunt bear or mountain lions than shoot squirrels? Because there's danger
in it." She laughed mirthlessly. "I guess it's for the same reason that
I got to hunt the biggest game there is - man, and he hunts me."

Mrs. Nitschkan relighted her pipe. "Bob Flick's your best bet," she
remarked impersonally.

"Talk about guns and fishing rods and dogs, something you know about,"
said Pearl scornfully, touching the dozing dog lightly with her foot. He
growled angrily, resenting the liberty.

"You better leave Flip alone," cautioned Mrs. Nitschkan; "he's liable to
bite anybody but me. Always be kind to dumb animals, 'specially cross
dogs. And, say, Pearl, I been running the cards this morning. It was
such a dandy day that I didn't know whether I'd do some assessment work
or spend the day fishin'; the cards decided in favor of fishin'. I had
to get some light so's I could tell how to go ahead. How any one can get
along without a pack of cards! It's sure a lamp to the feet. If you wait
a minute I'll run 'em for you."

She vanished inside and returned immediately with a board and a
well-worn pack of cards. These she shuffled and, after Pearl had cut
them several times, she began to lay them out in neat rows on the board
on her knee, uttering a strange, crooning sound the while and studying
each card as it fell with the most absorbed interest.

"Um-mmm!" with a heavy sigh and shaking her head forebodingly. "You
better go home, girl, as fast as you can and shut yourself up in the
cabin all day. Did you ever see anything like that?" pointing to the
cards. "Trouble, trouble, nothin' but trouble. If it ain't actual murder
an' death, it's too near it to be any joke. Look how them spades turns
up every whipstitch. How can folks doubt!"

But the cards of evil omen lying there on the board before had roused
all of Pearl's inherent superstition and stirred her swift anger against
Mrs. Nitschkan. "Parrot-croaker!" she exclaimed angrily, and followed
this with a string of Spanish oaths and expletives. "Trouble is over for
me."

Mrs. Nitschkan was on her feet in a minute. The board and the cards fell
unheeded to the ground. Her small, quick eyes began to roll ominously
and show red, and her relaxed figure became immediately tense and alert
as that of a panther on guard.

"Trouble's just beginnin' for you," her voice was a mere guttural growl.
"A little more sass from you, you double-j'inted jumpin'-jack dancer,
and I'll jerk you to the edge of that cliff yonder and throw you down.
I'm feelin' particularly good right now," rolling up her sleeves and
showing the great knots of swelling muscles on her arms. "Get out of my
way."

With one big sweep of her arm she brushed her companion aside as if she
had been a fly; but with incredible rapidity Pearl recovered herself and
sprang directly before her.

"Then get me out," she taunted, "try it, try it. I'd slip through your
fingers like oil. It's no good to flash your over-sized man-muscles on
me; I'm made of whip-cord and whalebone. Do you get that?"

Mrs. Nitschkan's courage sprang from a sense of trained and responsive
muscles and of tremendous physical strength, but at the sound of that
cool voice, those mocking, unwavering eyes, there swept over her an awe
of the slighter woman's far higher courage. It was an almost
superstitious fear and respect which chilled the hot blood of her
passion, the instinctive obedience of the flesh to the indomitable
spirit. Reluctantly, against her will and in spite of her anger, the
fighting gipsy paid deference to the steel-like, unflinching quality of
the Pearl, when, rising above her slender physique, she faced unafraid
the brute strength which threatened her, and dominated the situation by
sheer consciousness of power.

The gypsy, chilled and subdued, confused by forces she could not
understand, fell back a step or two and Pearl seized this opportunity to
slip away, calling a careless good-by over her shoulder.

But the depression which had touched her from the time she wakened now
lay heavier on her spirit. Her mind reverted to the cards of ill omen
and she shivered with a faint chill of apprehension. And as she walked
on it seemed to her that the atmosphere was in tune with her mood.

The air was soft, and yet sharp enough to quicken the color in her
cheeks, but still indefinably wistful. The song of the wind among the
pines, that mountain wind which never ceases to blow, had a sort of
sighing pensiveness in its falling cadences. The deep, blue sky dreamed
over the russet tree tops and the yellow leaves filled the forest with
their flying gold.

And the spirit of the year seemed to have entered into Pearl. She was as
wistful as the day, as pensive as the sighing wind. She arrived early at
her destination. The sun lay warm in her little bower of encircling
pines and she sat down on a fallen log to await Hanson's coming. He
could not take her by surprise for, through a little opening in the
trees, she could see the trail, it was in plain view.

Sitting down then to wait, she rested her elbow on her knee and her chin
in the palm of her hand. It seemed as if the power of anticipation were
gone from her. She wondered dully at her own languor, not only of body,
but of mind. In a few moments she would see again the man whom she had
passionately loved, and in parting from whom she had not dreamed it to
be within human possibility so to suffer, and yet, at the prospect of
meeting him again, her heart throbbed not one beat faster. She could not
even look forward to dancing that night with any excitement or pleasure.
She wondered what Seagreave would think of her when he saw her; she
would be a vision far more brilliant than any spirit of the autumn
woods, and she would wear her emeralds again, the emeralds for which Bob
Flick had squandered a fortune. She put up her hand and touched them
where they hung about her neck, concealed under her gown, for she wore
them night and day, never allowing them to leave her person. Good old
Bob! Seagreave had said there were only a few great dancers. Well, she
would show him. She could dance; no matter how critical he was, he would
have to admit that. And then her heart seemed suddenly to run down with
a queer, cold little thrill.

There was Hanson ascending the trail. He was only a few feet away, and
even as she jumped to her feet he saw her and waved his hand. He paused
a moment for breath and then hurried on.

"Pearl!" he cried, and caught her in his arms, covering her face with
kisses and crushing her against his heart. It seemed hours to her, but
it was really only a moment before she pushed him from her, slipped from
his arms, and stood panting and flushed before him.

"Pearl, O Pearl!" he cried again, and would once more have caught her
deftly to him, but again she slipped from him. "Sit down," she cried
petulantly, motioning to the fallen log. "You're out of breath, you've
had a long climb." She herself sat down and he followed her example,
encircling her with his arms; a tiny frown showed itself in her forehead
and she bent slightly forward as if to evade his clasp, folding her arms
about her knees.

"Gee! You bet it was a climb," he said, wiping his brow and still
breathing a little hard. "But I'd have climbed right on up to heaven if
you'd been there waiting for me. Lord, Pearl! if I'd had to wait much
longer to see you it would have finished me, I do believe. Oh,
sweetheart, you're lovelier than ever, and you're not going to punish
either of us any more, I can tell you that. You're coming down with me
and we're going to live, Pearl, live, just as I told you we would, down
there in the palms in the desert. Now I'm telling you again among the
pines, and this time you're going to listen and come. I guess we've both
of us pretty well found out that it's no use our trying to live apart
any longer."

Her crimson cloak had fallen from her shoulders, and Hanson, holding her
hand in his, had pushed up her sleeve and was kissing her arm, as he
talked, up as far as her elbow and down again to the tips of her
fingers. She did not even attempt to draw her hand away, she was still
in that state of apathy, where all her senses seemed dulled; and so she
let him babble on, murmuring his adoration and his rose-colored dreams
of the future.

"By George!" he exclaimed, in sheer, sincere amazement. "To think of
you, the Black Pearl, spending all these months up here in these dead
old mountains without even a moving-picture show to look at. You got an
awful will, girl."

She gazed with somber eyes beyond him. Life, did he say "life"? That was
what she asked, what she demanded, life as glorious and as rich in color
as a full-blown rose. And only a little while ago she had dreamed that
she could find it with him, that _that_ was what he offered to her. She
remembered the question that Harry Seagreave had asked her. "What does
life mean to you?" Ah, since that first night in the mountains life
seemed to have expanded into infinite horizons before her widening
vision. She dreamed over them, forgetful for the moment of the man
beside her, until he, turning in the full tide of his talk, pressed his
lips ardently, passionately to hers.

Taken by surprise, she uttered one of her fluent Spanish oaths and,
springing to her feet, stood with her body slightly bent forward, her
hands on her hips, gazing at him with her narrow, gleaming eyes. Her
apathy was gone, she was alive now to her finger tips.

He rose, too. "Honey, what is it?" he questioned dazedly. "What's got
you now?"

"Don't touch me," she said tensely. "Don't dare to touch me."

He looked at her unbelievingly and then fell back a pace or two. "My
Lord! What's the matter with you?" he cried.

"I don't know," she muttered wildly. Her eyes still measured him, his
bold, obvious good looks, his ruddy self-complacency, his habitual and
shallow geniality, the satisfied vanity of a mouth steadily becoming
looser; the depiction of years of self-indulgence in the little veins on
his highly colored cheeks; the sagging lines of his well-set-up figure,
ever taking on more flesh.

So she saw him, not perhaps as he was, but in the light of her own harsh
and unmodified criticism, and mercilessly she reflected upon him all the
scorn she felt for herself. She did not consider or even remember that
with what strength of affection he possessed he had loved her; that,
after his constitution he had given her of his best, all he had to give,
in fact; that for her he had more than once faced danger, and just to
see her again was even now facing it, fearlessly.

He had grown to expect from her an infinite variety of moods, but
something in her pose, her expression, frightened him now. "Honey, what
are you driving at?" he asked, a little tremulously, and stretched out
his hand to lay it on her shoulder.

But again an oath whipped from her lips, her glance darkened. She drew
back from him with the horse-shoe frown showing plainly on her forehead.

He looked at her, his whole face broken up, his mouth trembling,
something like tears in his eyes. "Why, Pearl," he faltered, "ain't you
glad to see me? Why, here I been waiting all these damned, dreary
months, never thinking of any one but you, never even looking at another
woman, just dreaming of the moment when I could put my arms around you
again and know that you loved me and were mine."

A hard and bitter smile showed on her mouth. "Yours! Loved you!" she
cried. "My God! You!"

Her unmistakable, unconcealed scorn was like a dagger thrust in the
heart, and that stab of pain stirred his anger and restored him to
himself. His face went almost purple, his cold eyes blazed. "Say," he
cried roughly, "what are you driving at, anyway? Come down to cases
now." He caught her by the wrist. "What did you let me come up here for?
Just to make a monkey of me? Have you been treasuring spite against me
all these months, and is this your way of getting even?"

She dragged her hand away from him and stepped back. "I let you come, if
you want to know it, because I thought I was in love with you. Lord,
think of it!" she laughed drearily. "I haven't fooled you any worse than
I have myself."

He rubbed his hand across his eyes. "It ain't true," he said loudly,
positively, defiantly.

"Hush," she exclaimed, darting forward. "What was that?" There was a
sound as if some one had trod the underbrush not many feet away. She
listened intently a moment, a wild fear at her heart that Seagreave
might have returned unexpectedly. It was probably some animal, for there
was no further sound. "Oh," she cried, in involuntary relief, "it must
have been José!"

A gleam came into his eyes, a light of triumph as at the remembrance of
some potent weapon of which he had been carelessly forgetful. "And who
is José?" he asked.

She lifted her startled gaze to his, the question recalled to her her
own unthinking speech. "Oh, one of the miners," she said indifferently.

He knew her too well to fancy that he could trap her into any new
admissions, and he had no wish to arouse her suspicions. Therefore he
dropped the subject, especially as he felt fully answered.

He leaned against a tree and, drawing a cigar from his pocket, lighted
it, although the hand with which he did so trembled. "I guess some
explanations are in order between you and me," he said. "I guess it's
about time that you began to get it into your head that you can't make a
fool of me all the time. I'm ready and willing to admit that there was
some excuse for you down in the desert. I made a bad break there, which
I'm freely conceding was no way to treat a lady. But that don't explain
or excuse the way you've treated me this morning," he laughed bitterly.
"There's no way to explain it unless living here in the mountains has
gone to your head or unless there's another man. Is there?" his eyes
pierced her. "Is there?"

She looked back at him with a hard, inscrutable smile, but she did not
answer.

Another man! He couldn't, wouldn't believe it. Why, it was only
yesterday that they two had met and loved in the desert. Again he fell
to pleading. "Oh, Pearl, be like what you were again. Don't stand off
from me that way, honey. It ain't in you to be so cruel and hard. Come
back to me, here in my arms. Have your spells; treat me like you please;
but come back to me. Oh, honey, come."

She looked beyond him, not at him, and then ground a little heap of
freshly fallen pine needles beneath her heel.

"What's the use?" she said curtly. "It's over. We can quit right here,
Rudolf. I'm done with you, for good."

His outstretched arms fell by his side, his jaw set. "I guess that's
right," he said viciously. "Any bigger fool than me could see that; and
I'm not going to waste any more time crawling around on my hands and
knees after you; I can tell you that. But you can't fool me on the other
man proposition."

"I'm not trying to," she interjected cruelly.


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 11 of 20)