Copyright
Nancy Mann Waddel Woodrow.

The Black Pearl online

. (page 13 of 20)
Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 13 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


steal them just for the pleasure of keeping himself in practice."

"How you love beauty," he said.

"But they are valuable," she said. "Oh, yes, I love them, too. I love to
let them fall through my fingers, to pour them from one hand to another.
Sometimes, when I am all alone here in the cabin, I sit and I open my
little black leather bag and take them out and hold them in the palm of
my hand, and I turn them this way and that way just to catch the light,
and there is nothing so beautiful; in all the world there is nothing so
beautiful as jewels, except," she caught herself quickly, "the desert,
of course."

He sighed a little and stirred restlessly, the very mention of the
desert made him vaguely uneasy. He had listened to the call of the
mountains and obeyed it, and from that moment the desert, like the
world, had no place in his thoughts; but since the night that Pearl had
danced it had remained in his mind, and had become to him as a far
horizon. The desert has ever been a factor in the consciousness of man,
not to be excluded, and although Seagreave did not realize it, the
moment had come in which he must reckon with it. He felt the fascination
and repulsion of its impenetrable mystery, of its stark and desolate
wastes, whose spell is yet so potent in the imagination of man, that
many have found in its barren horror the very heart of beauty. He
wondered if the uncontaminated winds which blew from out the ages across
the vast, empty spaces murmured a message of greater import than that
whispered to him among the mountain tops, if the wings of light which
beat unceasingly above its shifting sands lifted the soul to some
undreamed of realm of eternal morning. Something that slept deep within
him stirred faintly; the old passion to adventure, to explore rose in
his heart, his restless, reckless heart, which had, so he believed,
found peace.

The shadow deepened in his eyes, but he suddenly roused from this
momentary abstraction to find that Pearl was still speaking.

"Yes, I love them because they are so beautiful, but I love them, too,
because they are valuable."

"Well, there is no question about your making all the money you wish,"
he said, a slight weariness in his tone, "thousands and thousands. The
world will fling it at you. It will cover you with jewels."

She smiled, a faint, secretive smile of triumph. Ah, so he recognized
that. She had made him feel and admit that she was one of the few great
dancers.

Then, she, too, sighed. "If only," she said, forgetful of him and
following out her train of thought aloud, "if only when I get what I
want, I wouldn't always want something else! Did you ever feel if you
could just be free, really free, you wouldn't want anything else in the
world?"

"How could any one be more free than you are?" he laughed down at her.

"I know, I know," she agreed, still speaking wistfully, "but I'd like to
be free of myself; myself is so strange, and there's so many of me."
Then the veil of her instinctive reticence fell over her again and she
began to talk of her recent attempts to get about on snow-shoes, José
and Hugh having been her instructors, so far. Harry immediately offered
his services, and she accepted them, agreeing to go out with him the
next morning.

And as they talked José glanced at them from time to time, a touch of
malicious laughter in his odd glancing eyes; there were few things that
escaped José.

That evening, after Seagreave had gone home, when José and Gallito and
Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Nitschkan had sat late over their cards, Gallito
had risen after a final game, mended the fire, poured himself a glass of
cognac, lighted another cigarette and, stretching himself in an
easy-chair, entered into one of those confidential talks which he
occasionally permitted himself with his chosen cronies. The earlier part
of the evening José and Pearl had danced for a time together, and then
Pearl had danced for a time alone and in a manner to please even her
father's critical taste. Now, in commenting on this, he remarked:

"You see the change in my daughter. She is now cheerful, obedient and
industrious. When she came she was none of those things. She is, you
see, a good girl at heart, but her mother had almost ruined her. If men
but had the time they should always bring up the children of the family.
It is only in that way that they can ever be a credit to one."

Mrs. Thomas, who had been bending over the stove brewing a pot of coffee
which she and Mrs. Nitschkan drank at all hours of the day and night,
raised herself at the utterance of these revolutionary sentiments and
looked at Gallito in grieved and bewildered surprise; but Mrs.
Nitschkan, who had been pouring cream into the cup of steaming coffee
which José had just handed to her, first took a long draught and then
remarked with cool impartiality:

"The trouble with you, Gallito, is that you can't bear for nobody, man,
woman, child or devil, to get ahead of you. I guess I know somep'n'
about the bringin' up of young ones myself."

Here Mrs. Thomas sighed and shook her head with that exasperated
incomprehension which all women displayed when the subject of Mrs.
Nitschkan's children came up for discussion. Educators discourse much
upon the proper environment and training of the young of the human
species, but theories aside, practical results seem rather in favor of
casting the bantling on the rocks. For, in spite of Mrs. Nitschkan's
joyous lack of responsibility, her daughters had grown up the antitheses
of herself, thoroughly feminine little creatures, already famous for
those womanly accomplishments for which their mother had ever shown a
marked distaste, while the sons were steady, hard-working, reputable
young fellows, always to be depended upon by their employers.

"It's nothing but your pizen luck, Sadie," murmured Mrs. Thomas.

"We must allow that Providence has been kinder to you than most,"
remarked Gallito sardonically.

"It's a reward," said Mrs. Nitschkan with calm assurance, refilling her
pipe with more care than she had ever bestowed upon her children. "It's
'cause I ain't ever shirked an' left the Lord to do all my work for me."

At this Mrs. Thomas, too overcome to speak, tottered feebly back from
the stove and fell weakly into a chair.

"No, sir," continued the gypsy with arrogant virtue, "the trouble with
all the parents I know, includin' present company, is that they're too
easy. I don't work no claim expectin' to get nothin' out of it, do I?
And I don't bring a lot of kids into the world and spend years teachin'
'em manners - "

She was interrupted here by a brief and scornful laugh from Mrs. Thomas,
who, on observing that her friend was gazing at her earnestly and
ominously, hastily converted it into a fit of coughing.

"Spend years teachin' 'em manners an' sacrifice myself to stay at home
and punish 'em when I might be jantin' 'round myself, not to have 'em
turn out a credit to me."

There was a finality about the statements which seemed to admit of no
further discussion, but after José had escorted the two women to their
cabin, he had returned for one of those midnight conferences with
Gallito over which they loved to linger, and the Spaniard had again
expressed his satisfaction in Pearl's changed demeanor.

José's laughter pealed to the roof. "You have eyes but for mines and
cards, Gallito. Though the world changes under your nose, you do not see
it. The moles of the earth - they are funny!"

"Bah!" casting at him a scornful glance from under his beetling brows,
"your eyes see so far, José, that you see all manner of things which do
not exist."

"I have far sight and near sight and the sight which comes to the
seventh child," returned José with pride. "Therefore, seeing what I see,
I say my prayers each day, now."

A bleak smile wrinkled Gallito's parchment-like cheeks. "And to whom do
you pray, José, your patron saint, or rather sinner, the Devil?"

José looked shocked. "You are a blasphemer, Gallito," he reproved, and
then added piously, "I say my prayers each day that I may, by example,
help Saint Harry."

"And why is Harry in need of your example?" said Gallito, holding up his
glass between himself and the fire and watching the deep reflections of
ruby light in the amber liquid.

"It goes against me to see an unequal struggle," sighed José. "He is
hanging on desperately to his ice-peak, but the Devil has almost
succeeded in clawing him off."

Gallito frowned. "This talk of yours is nonsense, José; but if there is
anything in it, Harry may understand that any interest he may have in my
daughter can lead to nothing. She is a dancer before she is anything
else, it is in her blood. Harry does not and never can understand her;
only one of her own kind can do that. He is by nature a religious; his
cabin is the cell of a monk."

Again José's eerie, malicious laughter echoed through the room.

"Aye, laugh," growled Gallito; "but you see my daughter for the first
time. You think because she smiles at Harry that she loves him; you
think because she is the only woman he talks to that he loves her; you
do not know her. She is young, she is beautiful and a dancer. She has
had many lovers ever since she put her hair up, and learned how she
could make a fool of a man with her eyes and her smile, and she has made
them pay toll. She always did that from the first." There was a note of
fierce pride in his harsh, brief laughter. "Yes, she would smile and
promise anything with her eyes, but she gave nothing. It is
strange" - the old Spaniard, his austere spirit mellowed by his excellent
cognac, fell into a mood of confidential musing, an indulgence which he
rarely permitted himself - "that Hugh, the child of a woman I never saw,
reaches my heart more than my own daughter does. But Pearl is a study to
me. I say to myself, 'She cares for nothing but money, applause,
admiration,' and yet, even while I say it, I am not sure; I do not know,
I do not know."

Again he admired the glints of firelight reflected in his cognac glass.
"But this I do know, José, she is an actress before she is anything
else."

José leered knowingly. "You think only of your daughter," he said. "What
about Saint Harry? He has mad blood in him, too. It is only a few years
that he has been a saint; before that the Devil held full sway over him.
And," he added pensively, after a moment's cogitation, "there are many
lessons one learns from the Devil."

"You should know," returned Gallito, with his twisting, sardonic smile.

"Ah, the Devil is not all bad," said José defensively. "One can learn
from him the lesson of perseverance, and perseverance is a virtue."

Gallito waved his hand with a polite gesture. "You know more of him and
his lessons than I, José. I am always ready to grant that." He took
another sip of cognac, blew a succession of smoke wreaths toward the
ceiling, and again resumed his midnight philosophizings. "What puzzles
me, José, is what is going to become of us in Heaven. We shall never be
content. Content is a lesson that no one has ever learned. Look at Saint
Harry. He has Heaven right here. His time to himself, enough to live on
without working, no women to bother him, your cooking; and it may be on
that that you will win an entrance to Heaven; it will certainly be on
nothing else. But, if, as you say, he is interested in my daughter, he
is throwing away all chance of keeping Paradise."

"Do we not all do that?" said José dismally. "It is because a man cannot
conceive of a Heaven without a woman in it. He thinks in spite of all
experience to the contrary that she is what makes it Heaven."

"Yes, experience counts for nothing," Gallito sighed for himself and his
brothers.

But if Seagreave sat silent and absorbed when he came to Gallito's cabin
in the evening, it did not bother Pearl. She was an expert in such
symptoms. Sometimes he talked to her in a rather constrained fashion,
but for the most part he sat on the other side of the room, listening to
Hugh's music.

One evening when he sat listening he suddenly lifted his eyes and gazed
at the Pearl, who sat almost the length of the room away from him. The
cabin was lighted only by the great log fire, and the leaping, ardent
flames of the pine, mingled with the soft, glowing radiance of burning
birch, invested the room and its occupants with that atmosphere of
mystery and glamour, essential in flame-illumined shadow. And Hugh was
playing the music the masters dreamed in the twilight hours when silence
and shadow permitted them, even wooed them to a more intimate revelation
of the heart than the definite splendors of daylight inspired.

Beyond the zone of the firelight, the room was all in a warm gloom, rich
and dim. Pearl and Hugh had gathered fir branches, even some young
trees, and had placed them about the walls, and in the warmth their
aromatic, delicious odor permeated and pervaded the cabin, and one
discerning those half-defined branches might easily imagine that the
walls stretched away into the dim forest.

Pearl lay back in an easy chair, her narrow, half-closed eyes on the
leaping flames. The wind, low to-night, the wind of eternity which blows
ever in the mountains, sang about the cabin and blended with Hugh's
music like a faint violin obligato. But even in this soft twilight of
blending and mingling and harmonizing, with pine branches above and
beyond her and shadowed gloom about her, Pearl never for a moment seemed
the spirit of the forest.

With its dim depths for a background, she shone on it, as brilliant and
distinct from it as a flashing jewel on the breast of a nun. Her crimson
frock caught a deeper warmth from the firelight, her black hair shone
like a bird's wing, the jewels on her fingers sent out sparkles of light
and flame. As Saint Harry continued to gaze at her the forest with all
its haunting, dreaming witchery vanished, the high invitation of the
mountains, "Come ye apart," ceased to echo in his ears. The world
environed, encompassed her; he seemed to discern the yearning of her
spirit for it, the airy rush of her winged feet toward it; and yet her
eyes, those eyes which sometimes held the look of having gazed for ages
on time's mutations, were turned toward the desert. Then Seagreave's
moment of vision passed and he turned to Hugh with an odd sinking of the
heart.

Hugh had ceased to play and sat silent now on his piano stool with that
motionless, concentrated air of his, as if listening to something afar.

"Hughie," said Seagreave softly, "what _are_ you and your sister,
anyway?"

Hugh laughed and, leaning his elbow on the keys, rested his cheek on
his palm. "I am a little brother of the wind," he said. "I was just
listening to it singing to me out there; and Pearl, well, Pearl is a
daughter of fire."

"What is it that you hear that I don't?" asked Harry. "I listen to the
wind, too, sometimes for hours, up there in my cabin; but it's only a
falling, sighing thing to me, sometimes a rising, shrieking one. What is
this gift of music?"

"I don't know," said Hugh simply, "but if you will wait a moment, I will
play you the song the wind is singing through the pines to-night. It is
just a little, sad one."

Again he sat immobile, listening for a while and then began to play so
plaintive and wistful a melody that Harry felt the old sorrow wake and
stir within his heart and demand a reckoning of the forgetful years. Not
realizing that he did so, he arose and began to pace up and down the
room, nor remembered where he was until he looked up to see Pearl
watching him, surprise and even a slight curiosity upon her face.

"Forgive me," he said, stopping before her, "for walking up and down
that way as if I were in my own cabin, but something in Hugh's music set
me to dreaming."

"You didn't look as if they were happy dreams," she said.

"Didn't I?" he spoke as lightly as he could; then he changed the
subject. "Do you know that the crust on the snow is thicker than it has
been yet? How would you like to go out on your snow-shoes to-morrow
morning?"

She looked her pleasure. "That will be fine," she cried eagerly.

She was up betimes the next day, anxious to see whether more snow had
fallen during the night; but none had. To her joy, it was one of those
brilliant mornings when the sky seems a dome of sapphire sparkles, and
the crust of the snow with the sun on it is like white star-dust
overlaid with gold. The radiance would have been unbearable had not the
bare, black trees veiled the sky with their network of branches and
twigs and the pines softened the snow with their shadows.

Pearl had rapidly acquired proficiency in her new accomplishment, and
she and Seagreave had covered several miles when, on their return, they
paused to rest a bit in the little bower of stunted pines. Here
Seagreave cut some branches from the trees for them to sit on and,
gathering some dry, fallen boughs and cones, built a fire.

They enjoyed this a few moments in silence and then Pearl spoke. "Why,"
she asked with her usual directness, "why did you get up and walk up and
down the room last night when Hughie was playing? What was it in his
music that made you forget all of us and even, as you said, forget that
you were not in your own cabin?"

"That was stupid of me and rude, too," he said compunctiously.
"Something that he was playing called up so vivid a memory that I forgot
everything."

There was a quick gleam in her eyes; she was resentful of memories that
could make him forget her very presence, hers. "What was it you were
thinking of?" she asked. Her voice was low.

He looked out over the snow before he answered. "A girl," he said, and
cast another handful of pine cones upon the fire.

She did not speak nor move, and yet her whole being was instinct with a
sudden tense attention. "Yes, a girl," she said insistently. "What was
she like?" the words leaped from her, voicing themselves almost without
her volition.

He sighed and appeared to speak with some effort. "It was long ago," he
said. "She was like violets or white English roses."

"And did you love her?" she asked, that soft tenseness still in her
voice, "and did she love you?"

"I suppose every man has his ideal of woman, perhaps unconsciously to
himself, and she was mine."

He sighed again and she glanced quickly at him from the corners of her
eyes with a half scornful smile upon her lips. She knew that she did not
suggest violets, shy and fragrant and hidden under their own green
leaves; neither was there anything in the mountains to suggest the
gardens in which roses grew. But he had left the violets and English
roses long ago, because of that spirit of restlessness within him, and
finally he had come to these wild, savage mountains and was content
here, where it was difficult even to picture the calm and repose of the
gardens he had left. He had said that he did not know why he had come,
but Pearl did. She never doubted it. It was the call of her heart across
the world to him, seeking him, reaching him, drawing him to her.

"And does it make you unhappy to think of her now?" she asked still
softly.

"No," he said, "no, not now. But last night something in the music
caused the years to drop away and I was back there again and she rose
before me. Really, I felt her very presence. I saw her as plainly as I
see you now."

Pearl rose and shook the snow from her cloak. "Forget it," she said
scornfully. The little horse-shoe frown showed between her brows, and
her eyes as she looked at him were full of a sparkling disdain. "That
girl wasn't worth that," she snapped her fingers. "And here you've been
loping over the globe for years, because she turned you down. I should
think you'd feel like a fool." She spoke quite fearlessly, although
Seagreave had thrown up his head and stood looking at her with a white
face and compressed lips. "But that ain't the reason," she went on
shrewdly. "I know men. You like to think you quit things because of the
girl," she laughed that low, harsh, unpleasant laugh of hers. "You quit
'em because you got lazy, and anything like a responsibility was a bore.
That's straight."

Without another glance at him, she sped down the hill, like an arrow
shot from a bow.




CHAPTER XII


As that long, white winter slowly wore away there were many in the camp
who, although they had endured the strain of a wearing monotony through
many previous seasons, nevertheless suffered greatly from it; and, in
consequence, as the clock of the year began to indicate spring an almost
riotous joy was felt and expressed when it was announced through the
camp that the Black Pearl had again consented to dance for them.

It was considered a truly fitting celebration of the fact that there had
already been one great thaw, and, although there was every possibility
of things freezing up again, yet nevertheless spring had at last loosed
her hounds and they were hard on winter's traces. In fact, one belated
train, after hours spent on the road, had succeeded in pushing through,
an evidence that they all would soon be running with their accustomed,
if rather erratic regularity, and there was naturally a tremendous
excitement and jollification in the camp at this arrival of the first
mail bearing news from the outside world.

The messages for Pearl included a letter from her mother and one from
Bob Flick, but none from Hanson. Bob Flick announced that his patience
was worn thin and that he would be up on the first train bearing
passengers. Mrs. Gallito's letter was full of commiserations for her
daughter on her enforced detention, and she evidently regarded the
nature of that durance as particularly vile.

"Pearl, how you been standing it up in that God-forsaken hole where you
can't even keep warm is what beats me. Seems to me I went to church
once, oh, just for a lark, and the preacher talked about some plagues of
Egypt, all different kinds, you know. It was real interesting. I always
remembered it. But in looking back over plagues I've seen, the very
worst of all was snow. I'm afraid, when I see you again, you'll be all
skin and bone and shadow. I do hope you won't be sick like poor Hanson.
I had an awful sad letter from him; seems he took cold and's been at
death's door."

Pearl rustled the paper impatiently. She was not interested in this
news. Hanson occupied her thoughts so little that she did not even pause
to wonder how he was. The very sight of his name in the letter stirred a
vague irritation in her. Absorbed in her love for Seagreave, Hanson had
become to her as a forgotten episode.

However, her mother dropped the subject and took up the more interesting
one of Lolita. "That bird certainly has mourned for you, Pearl. I guess
she'd have just about pined away if it hadn't been for Bob Flick."

But Pearl was not the only recipient of letters from the outside world;
all of the little group, with the exception of José, had received their
quota, even Mrs. Nitschkan. But the bulk of the mail, which Gallito
brought up from the village postoffice and gravely distributed, fell to
Mrs. Thomas. Almost without exception, these envelopes were addressed in
straggling, masculine characters which suggested painful effort and
seemed to indicate that the writers were more used to the pick and
shovel than to the pen. But although Mrs. Thomas had to spell out the
contents of each missive with more or less difficulty, her giggles,
blushes and occasional exclamations showed how much pleasure they
afforded her.

Mrs. Nitschkan, however, after glancing carelessly at the large, yellow
envelope which was addressed to her in a clerkly hand, cast it
carelessly aside and went on assiduously cleaning and oiling her gun.
But the sight of it aroused Mrs. Thomas's curiosity, and after glancing
at it once or twice over the top of her own letters, she could not
forbear to ask:

"Ain't you going to read your letter, Sadie?"

"Mebbe. Sometime. By an' by. When I get good an' ready," returned the
gypsy indifferently and abstractedly, squinting with one eye down the
barrel of her gun. "What do I want with letters? I got two bear an' a
mountain lion before the snow flew."

Mrs. Thomas laid aside her letters for the moment, and, lifting a large
pot of coffee from the stove, poured out a cupful for her friend and
then one for herself. "Here, Sadie," she coaxed, "rest yourself with a
cup of coffee. I'll set down the sugar and cream an' whilst you're
drinking it, open your letter. Come now, do. Maybe it's from a
gentleman."

"It sure is," replied Mrs. Nitschkan, laying her gun carefully across


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 13 of 20)