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"don't mind your Pop. The strain on him's been awful. It's been hard on
all of us. You sure gave us some terrible days, not knowing whether you
were alive or dead, but we all kind of figured from the direction that
the snow-slide took that it missed the cabin, and we wouldn't believe
anything else but that you were as much alive as ever and as anxious to
see us as we were to see you. And, Pearl, listen," striving to divert
her gaze from those dim, blue ranges, "we ain't been idle. There's some
great news for you. You tell her, Gallito."

"Yes," the Spaniard's tone softened a little and he lifted his head with
a touch of pride, "it sure is great news. I been in correspondence with
Sweeney and he opened up the matter of a contract again. I been
dickering with him just the same as if we knew that you were safe and
alive. I wouldn't let myself think anything else; and the result,
Pearl," he paused, his eyes scanning her face, "the result is that he's
just doubled his offer of last year and will play you over a circuit
twice as big, the cities only. How does that strike you?"

But there was no answering enthusiasm on Pearl's face, not even a gleam
of interest. Gallito and Flick looked at each other in dismay. Her
indifference was genuine, they saw that clearly. There was no affected
disdain in her manner of receiving the news. It was simply a matter
which did not touch her at all.

Seeing this, a slow, burning flush crept up into her father's face, his
jaws worked. "Pearl, did you hear?" he demanded, "because if you didn't,
you'd better pay attention, and pay attention quick. I've accepted for
you, given my word to Sweeney that if you were alive you'd take this
offer. And now you and me are going to leave Colina within a few hours,
and you're going to leave for good. Understand?"

She smiled in slow, indifferent scorn and answered nothing, and her
attitude maddened Gallito. "What do you mean by acting this way?" he
cried. "Let's get down to it. Why weren't you down at the gully last
night? Wouldn't he let you?" Again he pointed an accusing finger at
Seagreave, who stood a little apart watching the scene with folded arms.
"Pearl, you answer me, for I'm going to ask you that question straight
out now. Ain't you just as good as when you came?"

But Pearl's seven or seventeen devils were in full possession of her
now, and one of them, the demon of silence, stood her in good stead, for
she knew intuitively that this attitude of non-explanation would prove
far more irritating to her inquisitors than the vials of her wrath
poured freely upon them.

But Gallito was in a white fury by this time. "By God!" he cried again,
"you will answer me. You will tell me, and tell me now."

"I'll be hanged first," she flashed the words at him as a snake darts
its fangs.

"And I'll be hanged if you'll ask her such questions before me," cried
Seagreave, speaking for the first time.

Her father looked at him with a slow and bitter smile, then he gave a
little nod of acrid comprehension. "You keep out of this, Harry
Seagreave," he said, in a low, cold, deadly voice. "This is between the
girl and me. Pearl, you come with me - now. We leave Colina, as I told
you, within a few hours. You come now." He took a step or two down the
hill as if expecting that she would follow him.

A wailing wind blew down from the peaks. The mocking bark of a coyote
sounded near at hand in those wild solitudes, a bird flew from one tree
to another, and the sound of a breaking twig was like a pistol shot.

Moments passed and still Pearl had not obeyed her father's command. It
was not repeated, which was characteristic of Gallito. He merely waited
until at last she lifted her eyes and unwaveringly met his. "I'm not
going," she said clearly.

Harry made a quick, impetuous step toward her, but before he could reach
her, her father had caught her by the wrist again and swept her aside.

"Look here, Gallito," cried Seagreave, "since she won't explain, you've
got to listen to me. I - "

"I've told you to keep out of this, Seagreave," interrupted Gallito, in
his harsh, grating voice. "I'll deal with you later."

But at the sound of Seagreave's voice the color had come back to Pearl's
cheek, the light to her eyes. Hands on hips, she swung her skirts and
surveyed Bob Flick and her father with a scornful, slanting gaze. "I
didn't know that there was anybody in the world that would dare ask me
such questions, even you, Pop. And making arrangements with Sweeney
without waiting to consult me! And ordering me to leave Colina on two
or three hours' notice! Dios!" She spread her hands out on either side
of her as if pushing away an impossible thing. "I can hardly believe it.
I didn't answer you, Pop, nor you, Bob, because I was trying hard to
take things in. But now," she turned to Seagreave, her head lifted
higher yet in the glory of joy and pride, "I'm not going to leave
Colina - yet, and I'm not going to sign up with Sweeney; am I, Harry?"

Seagreave passed her father and was beside her in two strides. "You're
going to do as you please," he said.

She leaned toward him, smiling, her fugitively sweet, tantalizing smile;
and, oblivious of the others, Seagreave caught her to him as if he would
hold her against the world.

And, seeing this, Bob Flick turned and walked down the hill with never a
backward glance.

Not so Gallito; his eyes had darkened, those fierce hawk's eyes; his
face was livid. "Pearl," his voice grated in his throat, "you can't make
a fool of both me and yourself like this. You are a fool of a woman like
all the rest, and because I have the bad luck to be your father I must
save you from your own madness. You've got your big chance, the chance
you've been waiting for, and you're not going to throw it away now, just
because you been staying up in that cabin alone with him until you've
lost your wits about him." He indicated Seagreave with a contemptuous
jerk of the thumb.

"Seagreave," in cold fury, "you're a damned thief to take advantage of
her this way. Now, Pearl, you come on."

He seized her by the wrist and would have drawn her roughly from Harry's
encircling arm. She resisted, and Harry, in the strength of his
indignation, unloosed the old man's grasp and drew her hastily away. But
the touch of his hands had roused in Gallito fresh rage, and with almost
unbelievable quickness he lifted his heavy, gnarled stick and swung it
above Seagreave's head. Harry leaped back, near, perilously near, the
edge of the ravine. The soft, moist earth crumbled beneath his feet; for
a second he tottered on the edge, and then went down like a shot.

Pearl stood arrested in that first, quick rush of hers, frozen, gazing
in wild unbelief at the spot where Harry had disappeared. As for
Gallito, he also gazed almost uncomprehendingly, until the expression of
surprise on his livid face gave way to a saturnine and vindictive
satisfaction.

"He did it himself," he muttered, "the fool! I never touched him." Then,
shrugging his shoulders and spreading out his hands as if well content
to leave the matter to fate, he turned and began to walk down the hill,
still muttering as he went.

This roused Pearl from her momentary trance. "Father," she cried wildly,
"you must help me. You tried to hurt him and now you've got to help me.
We must get him. Father, father," she babbled, running after him, "you
must stay, you must help me, you must. You can't go and leave him. Oh,
stay, stay, and I'll do anything, anything in the world. I'll sign the
contract. I'll do anything."

But Gallito went on as if he did not hear her. His own belief was that
Harry was done for. There was not one chance in a thousand that he was
alive, one chance in a million, considering the depth of the ravine.
Well, better so. His conscience was clear. He had not struck him, but
had merely lifted his stick in self-defense after Seagreave had laid
hands on him. As for Pearl, she would eventually turn to him and agree
to his wishes, there was nothing else for her to do. In the meantime, by
leaving her to herself, he avoided the unpleasant sound and sight of her
grief and reproaches. Therefore, in spite of her passionate pleading, he
went on.

And Pearl, finally realizing that she could hope nothing from him,
turned and ran back to the ravine. There she threw herself flat on the
ground and, groaning and sobbing, drew herself to the edge of the cliff
and gazed down into those depths of purple shadow. Much of the snow
still lingered, and for a moment in the white, dazzling glare of the
sunlight on the steep walls, she could see nothing. Then, as her eye
became accustomed to those flashing refractions of light, she gave a
loud, sobbing cry, her whole body became strangely limp and inert. For
one dreadful moment she feared that she was going to faint. Then she
drew on all the strength of her will and was herself again, ready in
that moment of poignant relief to dare anything, do anything to save
him.

For quite plainly she saw Harry. Instead of whirling down into those
impenetrable depths and being buried in the mass of snow at the bottom,
he had been caught almost miraculously on the out-curving trunks of two
or three young pine trees growing close together and springing from a
narrow out-cropping ledge of rock. It was not so very far down, at most
not more than thirty feet. "Harry," she cried, "Harry," sending her
voice ringing down the chasm; but he did not even stir at the sound,
only the narrow walls gave back the echoes. The silence struck the chill
of a new terror to her heart, and she sprang to her feet, gazing wildly
about her in every direction.

"I must have help. I must have help," she muttered. But, oh, it would
take so long to get men from the camp, and all the time she would be
gone he would be lying there silent and motionless, perhaps - no, she
shuddered, she would not even think the word.

Once more she sent her seeking, despairing gaze over the hillside, and
then uttered a sharp, muffled exclamation, for, rising above the jagged
walls of the ravine, and not many feet away, climbing, agilely and
rapidly, she saw a man. A moment more and she bent forward in a state
half of relief and half of superstitious terror, muttering a prayer,
almost believing that it was a vision; and then, with a relief beyond
all speech, she saw that it was José. She could not be mistaken.

He had pulled himself over the cliff by this time and had cautiously
risen to his feet. Up and down the hill and in every direction he sent
his sweeping, careful gaze, his far-sighted eyes taking in every detail
of the landscape. Then he came toward Pearl, over the bare, brown
earth, running low.

"Oh, José, José," she cried, almost hysterical in her relief, "Harry is
down there," pointing to the cliff, "hurt, and you must help me get him
up, you must."

"Carramba! So that was the noise and screaming I heard in my rock cell
yonder, just as I was about to creep out and take a little air. I would
not have dared to come so far if I had not seen you here alone." He
threw himself on the ground and looked over the cliff. "Saints and
devils! It is true. Poor Harry! But you and I cannot get him up alone."

"But we can, we must," she cried imperatively. "Go to his cabin quickly
and bring some ropes. There is plenty of strong rope there. You can run
more quickly than I. Go."

"But the risk." José shook his head dubiously. "I shall be in full sight
all the way."

"What of it?" she cried frantically. "The moments pass and we are doing
nothing. No one will see you. Oh, go." Then, as he still hesitated, a
sudden thought struck her. She tore open the neck of her gown and drew
out the little black leather bag of loose stones. "Look!" she pulled it
open and held it out to him that he might see the gleaming jewels
inside. "There, will that make it worth your while? They are yours,
José, if you will only go."

With a low exclamation of surprise and admiration, José bent over them.
Then he looked at Pearl, his eyes alive with darting gleams of avarice.
He would have risked his life any time, almost without a thought, in
order to gain them, and here without his even lifting a finger, they had
fallen into his hands, straight out of heaven. It was evidently a reward
for the patience with which he had borne the long days that he had lain
hidden in Gallito's rock-hewn chamber in the Mont d'Or.

"It shall never be said of Crop-eared José that he left a friend in
distress," he exclaimed virtuously, and, stuffing the little bag in his
pocket, sped up the hill.

Uttering broken expressions of relief, Pearl again threw herself flat on
the ground and gazed over the edge of the cliff. And, as she lay thus,
moaning out passionately tender words which Harry, lying motionless and
unconscious, could not hear, a sudden thought struck her. She would go
to him. She looked down, far down where those rocky walls lost
themselves in indefinite hazes and shuddered; but another glance at
Harry and courage flowed to her again. She saw where, on the narrow
projecting ledge and on the trunks of those up-springing pines, she
could get a foothold near him, if it were but possible for her to climb
down. Scanning the wall closely, it seemed to her rough and jagged
enough for her to do so with comparative safety.

Just as she reached this decision, she heard a faint holloo from the
same direction in which José had come and, turning her head quickly, she
saw Mrs. Nitschkan hastening over the hill toward her.

"Gosh a'mighty!" exclaimed the gypsy, when she had come within speaking
distance. "What kind of a howdy-do is this? I brought up a bite for José
to eat and, although I've stood down there whistling my head off, he
never poked his head out of the ground, the jack-rabbit! And the next
thing I see is you lying flat in the mud."

"Oh, Nitschkan!" Tears of relief were streaming down Pearl's face.
"Thank God that you've come. Harry fell over the cliff. We can see him,
and José's gone to the cabin to get ropes."

With many exclamations of surprise Mrs. Nitschkan peered over the edge
of the ravine. "Saved by them little sticks of pine trees and a piece of
rock no wider than my foot! Ain't that the workings of Providence for
you!"

"Is he - is he - do you think he is - " Pearl's voice broke in anguish.

"No, I don't. He ain't lookin' that way," said Mrs. Nitschkan, with such
force and heartiness that Pearl was immediately reassured. "He's jus'
got the sense knocked out of him. I don't jus' see yet how we're goin'
to get the ropes fastened to him, so's he can be drug up."

"I'm going down to him. I'll fasten them."

"You! And yet I don't know but what it ain't best. It'll take all the
strength José and I've got to draw him up careful and not go bumping him
too much against the rocks."

Pearl took off her shoes, then, shutting her lips tightly and reassuring
herself with the knowledge that the rock was rough and she was
sure-footed, she lowered herself over the side of the ravine and
reached for a foothold. Presently she found it, and then another.
Slowly, with cut and bleeding hands, she made her way down. Half way,
perhaps, she grasped a little bush which seemed to spring securely from
the cliff and held tightly to this until she could grasp another jutting
point of rock and then another bush, until at last, with a great sobbing
sigh, she found her feet planted on what seemed sure ground. It was the
trunks and the outspreading branches of the same pine trees which held
Seagreave. She took a second to draw a long breath, and then, holding
cautiously to a little branch, she bent over him.

With infinite tenderness she attempted to straighten out one leg which
was doubled beneath him, but he moaned and sighed so that she desisted,
seeing from the limp way that it lay that it was broken. He had
evidently fallen on his back; and like a dagger zig-zagging its way
through her heart was the thought, "What if that, too, were broken?"

Oh, how should they get him up without injuring him further and cruelly
hurting him with the ropes. And he must be so cold. She shivered herself
in the damp, icy air of this ravine. She called up to Mrs. Nitschkan to
swing down to her her long cape, which she had discarded before
beginning her climb. The gypsy did so carefully, but just as she let the
end of it go a gust of wind swept it in slow circles down the ravine.

Mrs. Nitschkan uttered more or less profane exclamations of disgust; but
Pearl said nothing. After her first feeling of intense disappointment,
a new idea had come to her, and she hastened to act upon
it. As quickly as she could with her torn fingers she unfastened her
gown and slipped out of it, and then, unheeding Mrs. Nitschkan, who was
scolding her like a magpie, she threw it over Seagreave, tucking it
about him as best she could. The breath of the snow-damp air upon her
shoulders and arms was like a bath of ice water, but she scarcely
noticed it, for she heard Mrs. Nitschkan welcoming José.

[Illustration: "Holding cautiously to a little branch, she bent over
him."]

He and the gypsy immediately began swinging great coils of rope over the
cliff.

"Can you get the ropes under him, Pearl, and tie 'em in a kind of
cradle?" called Mrs. Nitschkan.

"Of course," she answered, "if you and José will tell me how."

Then, under their direction, she managed to bind the ropes securely
about Seagreave, moaning and weeping herself at the pain she evidently
caused him, although he did not so far recover consciousness as to
realize what was happening to him. When she had finished, she caught
another swinging end of rope which they threw her and climbed up the
cliff. She took a moment or two to get her breath, and then slowly and
with all the care possible under the circumstances, they drew Seagreave
up.

"Dios!" cried José, panting, "it is well that you two are so strong,
because we have yet to get him to the cabin. Fortunately I, also, have
great strength."

After some discussion it was finally decided that Pearl was to hasten on
ahead and build up the fires and heat water, while Mrs. Nitschkan and
José carried Harry up the hill.

It was for them a slow and difficult progress, but the cabin was finally
reached and the gypsy and José laid him on his bed, undressed him and
examined his injuries.

Presently Mrs. Nitschkan came into the outer room, where Pearl cowered
beside the fire, her hands over her face. She caught imploringly at the
other woman's skirt. "Oh, Nitschkan, what is it? Will he live? Tell me,
tell me, quick."

"Things might be better and they might be worse, but," with rough good
will, "you ain't no call to wear mourning yet. His back ain't hurt
serious, but his left leg and his right arm are both broken and he's an
awful lot cut and bruised, especially about the back and the head. I can
set a leg myself, as good as most, and many a one have I done, but those
that I've set 'em for don't always seem to have as good use of their
limbs after as before. So if you want him as good as new again, you'd
better have a doctor."

"Yes," agreed José, who had come into the room. "They are bad breaks. I,
too, can set a leg or an arm, but, as you say, Nitschkan, those for whom
I have done it have usually been ungrateful enough not to use them
right."

Pearl staggered to her feet. "I will go," she said, "if you two will
only stay here and look after him, while I am gone. Oh dear José,
promise me that you will not leave Nitschkan alone. You can hide here
in the cabin when you see me coming with the doctor."

José's fingers touched the little black bag in his pocket. "Saints and
devils!" he cried, expanding his chest, "only a dog would refuse you. Of
course I will stay."




CHAPTER XVI


For the first few weeks after Harry's accident Pearl's consciousness of
the external events in the world beyond the confines of the four walls
of the cabin seemed obliterated. She could never remember afterward
whether the rain fell or the days were flooded with sunshine. All of her
energies and interests were absorbed in one issue - his recovery.
Fortunately, his injuries proved more painful than dangerous, and were
necessarily slow in the mending; but the nursing was arduous, and Pearl
might have found it difficult indeed had it not been for the assistance
of the two mountain women and José.

It would be another matter to define correctly the motives that impelled
that debonair bandit to stand by her side so manfully in the face of
Gallito's wrath and reiterated prohibitions. It might have been a
conscientious wish to earn the jewels, over the possession of which he
had not ceased to gloat, or it might have been an impish desire to annoy
Gallito. Again, it might have been gratitude toward Seagreave, sympathy
with the Pearl, or, as easily the revolt of José's volatile nature
against the monotony of life in the narrow confines of his rock chamber.

But to José's danger, as to the passing days, Pearl was alike oblivious,
and it was not until Harry was able to sit up again for brief periods,
that she became aware of times and seasons, of other persons and of the
world of human interests and reactions. She awoke to a realization of
these facts with a sort of wonder. She looked abroad over the hillsides
and saw a new world. The long-awaited spring had sped up from the
valleys of mist, and at the wave of her white wand the mountains had
bloomed with a delicate iridescence - the luster on young leaves and
shining blades of grass. It was then that she also began to apprehend
something of the nature of José's difficulties.

"I must be more virtuous than I thought," he explained to her one day,
not without a touch of complacence, "for if the Devil were truly my
friend, he would fly away with your father. Those hawk's eyes of his are
ever on me and he orders me daily not to leave the mine. If I could but
cook for him," he added mournfully, "he would soon see reason, for,"
with customary boastfulness, "I have yet to see the man whose opinions I
could not change with a single dish. I, Crop-eared José, have won
freedom more than once on an omelette, and have gained the sympathy and
interest of those set against me, with a single sauce. See, he even
threatens me because I am true to my friends, but," and here he adopted
his most wheedling tone, "if you only would make up with him, and I
could but cook him one supper, here in this cabin, and let him win two
or three games at cards from me, all would be well again."

"Ah, if I only could," sighed Pearl, "but he wouldn't listen to me
unless I consented to leave Harry and sign with Sweeney. You know how
set he is, when he makes his mind up. No, he won't listen to me unless I
give in about this contract."

José nodded without speaking. For once he appeared to be turning
something over in his mind. In truth, he was; he felt now that his
comfort and safety very largely depended upon a reconciliation between
Pearl and her father, and he was prepared to take long chances in an
attempt to effect this. Therefore he informed Gallito that from certain
remarks Pearl had made from time to time, he, José, was convinced that
her heart was greatly softened toward her father, and that for his part
he was also convinced that she desired nothing more than to see Gallito
again.

The old Spaniard knew José too well to put much faith in any of his
utterances, but, nevertheless, inspired by a vague hope that Pearl might
have repented her decision and wearied of her bargain, he climbed the
hill to Seagreave's cabin the next afternoon to see her.

Harry had been sitting up longer than usual that day, and José and Pearl
had helped him back to his couch in the inner room, where he now lay
asleep, and Pearl had resumed her seat in the open door, where she sat
gazing out at the wonderful panorama spread before her and idly enjoying
the sight, the sound, the fragrance of early summer. Blue ranges, an
infinite succession of them, stretching away to an illimitable and
expanding horizon, floating in faint pearl hazes, but the hills near at
hand were vividly green, their varied monotony of tone broken here and
there by great waves of pink and blue wild flowers. Birds were flying
from tree to tree, calling and singing, and there fell pleasantly upon
Pearl's ears the ripple and splash of the mountain brook. The joy in her
heart at Harry's recovery mingled pleasantly with nature's joy in her
prodigal, flowering summer.

But all this harmonious blending of natural sounds and sights was broken
by the sudden, harsh intrusion of human discord. Hearing footsteps near


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 18 of 20)