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"She's gone to their heads worse'n wine," muttered the sheriff. "I
suppose it's now she's goin' to ask 'em to stand by her, an' with
leaders like Gallito an' Bob Flick an' Harry Seagreave to line 'em up
an' carry things with a rush, where in hell are we?"

But the dramatic appeal he had anticipated was not made. The Pearl,
after one recall after another, had thrown a final kiss to her
appreciative audience, had retired to her dressing room and positively
refused to appear again.

The sheriff sat down limply for a moment. "I'm beat," he said to the man
who had shared his fears, "just beat. The Lord is sure on our side
to-night. Gosh! They had the whole thing in their own hands and didn't
know it. Well, the rest is pie. All we got to do is to take 'em all nice
an' quiet now, and probably not a gun drawed." He moved about giving his
orders to different men about the hall.

Slowly the good-humored, laughing crowd filed out. The presence of the
sheriff and the various deputies aroused no suspicion. It was but
natural that any one who could get there from the surrounding camps
should be present.

About half of the people had passed through the narrow door when Pearl
made her appearance at the back of the hall. She had thrust her arms
into a long, fur-lined crimson cloak, but it fell open from the neck
down, revealing her crimson and gold frock and gleaming emeralds. A
black lace mantilla was thrown over her head and half over her face,
showing only her sparkling eyes. She began taking various gay, little
steps, still full of that joy of movement which had possessed her all
evening.

Those who remained in the hall began to laugh and applaud. She danced a
moment in response to it, and then, pausing, suddenly bowed low and
shook her head definitely. Then she wrapped her cloak closely about her,
turning up its wide, fur-lined collar, and, linking her arm with
Hughie's, came down the room with him still taking those irrepressible
little steps. Just as she reached the door she whisked a handkerchief
from a pocket in her cloak and held it to her nose. A waft of exquisite
perfume filled the air, but the eyes of the two deputies who guarded the
door were fixed with an almost stunned astonishment upon the jewels
which covered her bare hands.

The sheriff had given orders that the Pearl and Hughie, Mrs. Thomas and
Mrs. Nitschkan were to be allowed to pass, were, in fact, to be got out
of the hall just as quickly as possible; but these orders had not been
clearly understood and the two deputies at the door halted Pearl, Hughie
and Mrs. Thomas, who was close to them.

Before either Pearl or Hughie could protest Seagreave, who had been
about ten feet behind them, was at their side. "Let them pass," he said.
"Those are your orders."

"I hadn't heard it," said the other man, "and I'm not taking my orders
from you."

But the words were scarcely out of his mouth before Seagreave's arm,
that "left" which had floored many an opponent in the old days of his
middle-weight championship, shot out in a hook, lightning-like, to the
right side of the jaw of the nearest deputy. The man reeled under that
impact and went crashing over against his companion, bringing them both
in a heap to the floor. At the same moment Pearl, grasping Hughie's arm,
pulled him about the two who lay half stunned and was out of the door
like a flash.

Mrs. Thomas, who had been taken into the confidence of the group only so
far as to have it impressed upon her that she uttered the word José at
her peril, and that the bandit's name was now Pedro, had not been quick
enough to follow Pearl and Hugh in their flight through the door and now
stood helplessly gazing about her, confused, almost dazed, by the whole
situation.

The sheriff, whose attention had meanwhile been occupied by Mrs.
Nitschkan, who was creating a lusty disturbance in the middle of the
floor, ran forward, shouting orders. "Let 'em go, I tell you!" to those
who would have pursued the Pearl. "Where's your heads? I told you that
this hall had got to be cleared, and cleared quick, of the women. As for
you, Seagreave," catching Harry by the arm, "don't try to wriggle
through that door. You're under arrest."

"Look here, sheriff, it's snowing heavily. Hugh's blind, as you know,
and can't possibly drive my horse up the hill. I drove Miss Gallito down
in my cart and was to drive her back. You know there's no earthly way
for me to escape, so if you let me drive those two up the hill, I'll
either come back here or you can get me in my cabin."

"So that's your game, son!" the sheriff smiled cynically. "To stir the
boys up now. It's too late. They're all safe home, with their boots off,
and their wives talkin' to them. Even the girl couldn't make 'em forget
the honor of capturing Crop-eared José here in Colina, so run along, run
along. The girl's too pretty to be hurt with a frisky horse. My Lord!"
striding down the hall again, "you fools stop scrapping with that
termagant and put her out, put her out, I say."

"Try it yourself," called Nitschkan tauntingly, enjoying to the full her
"hour of glorious strife," and resisting with perfect ease the vague and
chivalrous efforts of half a dozen deputies to hustle her from the hall.
"Any more of you try to mix it up with me and I'll put you all down for
the count."

"Oh, Sadie, Sadie," cried Mrs. Thomas, running down the hall toward her
friend, "it do beat the dogs how you act. These gentlemen'll think
you're no lady. Do behave more refined."

But Mrs. Nitschkan paid no heed to her pleadings. "Who's this José
you're all talking about?" she cried. "I know Pedro, but no José."

Then she wasted no more breath in words, but gave herself strictly to
the business of the moment, prolonging the straggle far beyond the
patience of the sheriff and his men. But ultimately numbers prevailed,
and, although she resisted to the last moment, giving no quarter and
asking none, she was finally landed outside and the door locked upon
her.

Swearing volubly, the sheriff turned his attention to that far end of
the hall where the deputies who had not been engaged in the struggle
with Mrs. Nitschkan stood guard over Gallito and Flick, who had ranged
themselves before the crimson curtain of Pearl's dressing room. Two men,
three, counting José behind the curtain, against at least twenty!
Hanson, from the back of the hall, yielded to his inclination to laugh.

"They lined up just as I expected," muttered the sheriff as he advanced
down the room, "and it's a lot of good it's going to do them. Say," he
called to Flick and Gallito, "it ain't no use drawing your guns, boys. I
guess you two old hands got sense enough to see that. So all you got to
do is to hand over the prisoner. We'll tend to the rest of you later."

"I guess you're all right" - Bob Flick's soft voice had a carrying
quality which caused his words to be heard all over the hall - "but we
all, Gallito and myself here, feel kind of puzzled. Of course, we see
right from the first what the game was and that you were after us,
but we ain't wise yet."

[Illustration: "There stood the Black Pearl alone."]

"Is that so?" sneered the sheriff. "Well, you soon will be. You step
aside from that curtain, and, Bob Flick, my men have orders to wing you
and Gallito both the minute you even start to throw your hands back."

Gallito shrugged his shoulders and threw up his hands and Flick
laughingly waved his in the air.

"I guess you're right there, Bill," he said. "You sure got the argument
of numbers. But say, boys, honest, what bug you all got in your heads?
You see in this land of the free you can't subject me and my friend
Gallito to such indignities as you're a heaping on us. As far as I can
make out, you're only laying up trouble for yourself, and also" - here
there rang a peculiarly menacing note through his soft, southern
voice - "if I'm correct, you're accusing Miss Pearl Gallito of being a
suspicious character, and I'm assuring you now, boys, that either in the
desert or here in the mountains that that's the sort of thing you've got
to answer for."

"Stop your kidding, Bob," said the sheriff, impatiently. He took a rapid
stride forward and with one quick sweep of the arm ripped back the
curtain.

Then he fell back staring, dumb with surprise. For there stood the Black
Pearl alone, a man's coat buttoned across her bare chest, and beneath it
the froth of her rose-colored silk petticoats. She stood nonchalantly
enough, her head thrown back, her hands on her hips, surveying the group
of men with a quick, disdainful smile, and then laughed insolently
across them at Hanson.

"My Lord!" cried the sheriff, recovering himself, "how did you get here?
Why, you just went out of the door."

"Gee! José dressed up in her clothes and made a getaway," called a
shrill voice from the rear.

The sheriff swore audibly and violently as he ran to the door. "Here,
three of you boys," he ordered, "stay here and hold these prisoners. It
ain't ten minutes since the others left and there's no chance on earth
for 'em to escape. We'll have 'em before you know it. Come on, the rest
of you."




CHAPTER XIII


The morning dawned, but the Sheriff and his aids, their numbers
considerably increased by the various masculine inhabitants of Colina
who had joyously proffered their assistance - welcoming anything that
promised a little excitement after the wearing monotony of the
winter - were still seeking José, who seemed to have vanished in some
manner only to be explained as miraculous.

Gallito, Bob Flick, Pearl and Hugh, Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas had
all been taken to the village hotel and were there under guard, while
Seagreave, also under guard, was permitted to remain temporarily, at
least, in his cabin.

The reason for this was that the sheriff was beginning to turn over
certain rather vexing questions in his mind. Suppose, for instance, José
should really have made his escape, impossible as that feat appeared,
what definite, tangible proof had he that the crop-eared bandit had
really been harbored by Gallito? Only some vague statements made by a
woman to Hanson, a woman who thought that she had overheard a
conversation or several conversations between Gallito and Bob Flick.
There had undoubtedly been some one, some one whose interest it was not
to be caught, as the events of the previous night showed, but the
explanation they had all given, Flick, Gallito, Hugh, Seagreave and the
women, had struck the sheriff as extremely plausible, far more
plausible, in fact, than Hanson's story that Crop-eared José had been
secreted for months at a time in Gallito's cabin.

The explanation which Gallito and all of his group had given was this. A
younger brother of Gallito, Pedro by name, had been visiting him for
some time. This youth had led a somewhat irregular life both in Spain
and in this country, and had become involved in several more or less
serious affairs; more, so Gallito averred, from a certain wildness and
recklessness of nature than from any criminal instincts. Several of his
companions had been arrested and, fearing that he would be also, he had
fled to Colina and begged Gallito to shelter him until it was safe for
him to go to work in one of the mines.

The night before he had been very anxious to see Pearl dance in public,
and, not daring to sit in the audience for fear of being recognized by
some chance wayfarer, he had gained Pearl's consent to watch the
entertainment from the safe seclusion of her dressing room.

Both Flick and Seagreave, who were in Gallito's confidence, believed
that the boy's fears were greatly exaggerated, but when they saw the
sheriff and all of his deputies in the hall their curiosity was aroused.
Flick had then gone over to speak to Hanson and Hanson's conversation
had convinced him that Pedro was really in danger and would be arrested
before the evening was over. They then devised the plan of having him
escape in Pearl's dancing dress and long cloak, meaning to drive him up
the hill and let him take his chances of eluding his would-be captors in
the forest surrounding Gallito's cabin. But he had slipped out of the
cart a short distance up the hill. Seagreave believed that there were a
pair of snow-shoes in the bottom of the cart, which had disappeared.
That was all any of them could say.

But when Seagreave pointed out to the sheriff that if no one remained in
either his or Gallito's cabin, it was extremely likely that both
dwellings would be looted before nightfall, also that without the fires
made and kept up the provisions would freeze and that with a guard over
him, he would be as easy to lay hands on as if he were down at the hotel
with the rest, the sheriff gravely considered the matter and was
disposed to yield the point. As Seagreave remarked, he certainly had not
mastered the art of flying and he knew no other way by which he might
escape. "Poor Pedro!" he sighed.

"You bet it's poor Pedro," said the sheriff grimly. "Why, you know as
well as I do, Seagreave, that there ain't no way on God's green earth
for that boy to make a getaway. Of course, he's given us a lot of
bother, what with that damned snow falling again last night and covering
up any tracks he might make, but we're bound to get him. Why, a little
army, if it had enough ammunition, could hold Colina against the world.
When you got a camp that's surrounded by cañons about a thousand foot
deep, how you going to get into it, if the folks inside don't want you?
Now, take that, boy! How's he going to strike the main roads and the
bridges in the dead of night, especially when the bridges is all so
covered over with drifts that you can't see 'em by day? And, anyway, the
crust of the snow won't hold him in lots of places. 'Course he may
flounder 'round some, but there's no possible chance for him, and I'm
thinking that the coyotes'll get him before we do."

To this Seagreave agreed, and after the sheriff had further relieved his
feelings by some vitriolic comments upon Hanson, he granted him
permission to look after the two cabins, and indifferently ordered the
deputy in charge to go down the hill and get his breakfast at the hotel,
remarking with rough humor that he'd leave Seagreave the prisoner of the
mountain peaks and he guessed they'd keep him safe all right.

So the two men, their appetites sharpened by a night spent in searching
for the fugitive, took their way down toward the village, and it was not
long thereafter that Pearl, having secured permission to go up to the
cabin and make some changes in her clothing, wearily climbed the hill.
The lacks in her costume had been temporarily supplied by the
inn-keeper's wife, but these makeshifts irked her fastidious spirit.

She had suggested that Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas go with her, but
they were too thoroughly enjoying the limelight in which they found
themselves to consider trudging up to their isolated cabin. Mrs. Thomas,
in a pink glow of excitement, cooed and smiled and fluttered her lashes
at half a dozen admirers, while Mrs. Nitschkan recounted to an
interested group just where and how she had shot her bears.

"Say, have you took in the sheriff?" Mrs. Thomas found occasion to
whisper to Mrs. Nitschkan. "He's an awful good looker, an' I think he
got around that hall so stylish last night."

"What eyes he's got ain't for you," answered the gypsy cruelly. "He's
kept his lamps steady on Pearl."

"That's all you know about it," returned Mrs. Thomas with some spirit.
"He sat beside me at the table this morning and squeezed my hand twice
when I passed him the flap-jacks. He's a real man, he is, an' likes a
woman to be a woman, an' not a grizzly bear like you or a black panther
like that Pearl."

Pearl's progress up the hill was necessarily slow. The wagons had cut
the snow into great ruts which made walking difficult, and where it was
smoother it was exceedingly slippery. But her weariness soon vanished
under the stimulus of the fresh morning air. Even the exertion of
dancing the evening before and the night of excitement which followed
had left no trace. She was, indeed, a tireless creature and supple as a
whalebone. So, after a few moments' exercise in the exhilaratingly pure
air, the sparkle returned to her eye, the color to her cheek, and her
step had regained its usual light buoyancy.

Although March had come with its thaws, there was no suggestion of
spring in the landscape. From the white, monotonous expanse of snow rose
bleak, skeleton shapes of trees lifting bare, black boughs to the
snow-sodden clouds. Upon either side of the road lay a forest of
desolation - varied only by the sad, dull green of the wind-blown
pines - which stretched away and away until it became a mere blue shadow
as unsubstantial as smoke on the mountain horizon; and yet spring, still
invisible and to be denied by the doubting, was in the air, with all its
soft intimations of bud and blossom and joyous life; and spring was in
Pearl's heart as she hastened up the hill toward Seagreave. It brushed
her cheek like a caress, it touched her lips like a song.

When she was about a quarter of a mile up from the village she crossed a
little bridge which spanned a deep and narrow crevasse, a gash which
cleft the great mountain to its foundation. Pearl lingered here a moment
to rest, and, leaning her arms on the railing, looked down curiously
into the mysterious depths so far below.

The white walls of the sharp, irregular declivity reflected many cold,
prismatic lights, and down, far down where the eye could no longer
distinguish shapes and outlines, there lay a shadow like steam from some
vast, subterranean cauldron, blue, dense, impenetrable. It fascinated
Pearl and she stood there trying to pierce the depths with her eye,
until at last, recalled to herself by the chill in the wind, she again
turned and hastened up the hill. But before seeking Seagreave and asking
him to share his breakfast with her, she followed the instincts of her
inherent and ineradicable coquetry and, stopping at her father's cabin,
made a toilet, slipping into one of her own gowns and rearranging her
hair. Then, throwing a long cape about her and adjusting her mantilla,
she closed the door behind her and turned into the narrow trail which
led at sharp right angles to the road to Saint Harry's cabin. It was,
Pearl reflected, almost like walking through the tunnel of a mine; the
snow walls on either side of her were as high as her head. Occasionally
the green fringes of a pine branch tapped her cheek sharply with their
rusty needles. Then the tunnel widened to a little clearing where stood
the cabin, picturesque with the lichened bark of the trees on the
rough-hewn logs.

Seagreave had evidently seen her coming, for before she lifted her hand
to knock he threw open the door. "Ah," he cried, a touch of concern in
his voice, "I was just going down to the other cabin to make up the
fires before you came. If you stopped there you must have found it cold,
and you did stop," his quick eye noting the change she had effected in
her costume.

"Yes," she smiled, "they wouldn't let me come up the hill in José's coat
and my rose petticoats, and I felt like a miner in the clothes they lent
me." She had entered the cabin and had taken the chair he had pushed up
near the crackling, blazing fire of logs which he had just finished
building to his satisfaction. The bond of sympathy between Seagreave and
José was probably that they both performed all manual tasks with a sort
of beautiful precision. Gallito had characterized Harry's cabin as the
cell of a monk. It was indeed simple and plain to austerity, and yet it
possessed the beauty of a prevailing order and harmony. Shelves his own
hands had made lined the rough walls and were filled with books; beside
the wide fireplace was an open cupboard, displaying his small and
shining store of cooking utensils. For the rest a table or two and a few
chairs were all the room contained.

It was the first time Pearl had ever been in the cabin, and, although
she maintained the graceful languor of her pose, lying back a little
wearily in her chair, yet her narrow, gleaming eyes pierced every corner
of the room, with avid eagerness absorbing the whole, and then returning
for a closer and more penetrating study of details, as if demanding from
this room where he lived and thought a comprehensive revelation of him,
a key to that remote, uncharted self which still evaded her.

Seagreave himself, whose visible presence was, for the time, outside the
field of her conjecture, was busy preparing her breakfast, and now,
after laying the cloth, he placed a chair for her at the table and
announced that everything was ready. He seated himself opposite her and
Pearl's heart thrilled at the prospect of this intimate _tête-a-tête_,
the color rose on her cheek, her lashes trembled and fell.

"Where's José?" she said hastily, to cover her slight, unusual
embarrassment. "Tell me quick how you managed it. Neither Bob nor Pop
could tell me because someone was always with us."

"Ah," he said, "the gods were with us, but it was a wild chance, I
assure you. Fortunately, it was still snowing. Hugh and José were
already in the cart and everyone else had hastened home as fast as he or
she could go. The boys would not have waited for me if I had not dashed
out just when I did, and I was glad enough to escape, for I was afraid
they would make some mistake in the road, Hugh not being able to see,
and José familiar with the village only through our description of it. I
wasted no time in jumping into the cart and then drove like Jehu to the
Mont d'Or, fortunately on our way up the hill."

"The Mont d'Or!" she interjected in surprise. "But why did you stop
there?"

He shrugged his shoulders significantly. "It is José's shelter. He had
the keys of the engine room. Your father had sent them to him, and with
them he let himself in, and then locked the door behind him. We got a
fair start, of course, but it was only a few moments after we reached
here that three or four of the deputies were on our heels."

"Ah," she cried, "they thought you had driven him here."

"Naturally, and it is unnecessary to say that they spent several hours
in searching, not only this cabin, but your father's and Mrs.
Nitschkan's to boot, and also the stable yonder." He pointed to a little
shed farther up the hill where he kept his horse and cart. He held out
his coffee cup for her to refill and laughed heartily. "I have no doubt
that they will return at intervals during the day to see if there isn't
some tree-top or ledge of rock that they may have overlooked; but at
present they are too busy exploring every nook and cranny of the various
mines, especially the Mont d'Or."

She put down the coffee pot with a clatter and threw herself back in her
chair with a gesture of intense disappointment. "Then surely they will
find José!" she cried.

"Oh, you do not know," he exclaimed. "Wait; it was stupid of me not to
have explained. Your father is a wonderful man. He overlooks nothing. He
foresaw that in spite of all precautions, José - and other friends of
his," there was a trace of hesitation in his tones in speaking to her of
her father's chosen companions, "might be trapped here in the winter
time when they could not escape over the one or two secret trails which
he knows and which he has shown José. So, long ago, working secretly and
overtime in the Mont d'Or, he hollowed out a small chamber. It is above
one of the unworked stopes and its entrance defies detection."

"But are you sure?" she interjected earnestly. "Have you seen it
yourself?"

"Yes, I was with José the first time Gallito showed it to him. Then he,
your father, took us over the other parts of the mine and brought us
back to the same spot to see if we could discover the hiding place for
ourselves. I assure you we could not. Neither José nor myself liked
being baffled in that way, for it seemed to us that we went over every
inch of the ground, and your father stood there laughing at us in that
sarcastic way of his. Finally we gave up the search and Gallito marked
it, so that it might be found in a hurry. It is above one's head and the
wall is too smooth to climb in order to reach it - "

"How can José get in then?" interrupted Pearl.

"José has a key to your father's locker, and in that locker he keeps a
rope ladder. José throws up the ladder and the hooks catch on a dark,
narrow little ledge; climbing up to this, he finds a small opening; he
wriggles into this and finds himself in a small chamber which your


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 15 of 20)