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note the incredible length, as it seemed to him, of the upcurling lashes
upon her smooth cheeks. But just as he bent forward to speak to her, she
half-turned from him and said something to one of the men beside her.

The manager's quickness saved him. He was perfectly aware of all those
jealous masculine eyes, flickering now with repressed and delighted
laughter over his discomfiture. He recovered himself in a moment and
slipped easily and with unabated geniality into a conversation with Mrs.
Gallito.

"Funny you should marry out of the profession," deftly catching up his
threads.

"She didn't," again that soft, sliding voice. "Pop was born in the
sawdust, too."

Without a change of expression in his face, Hanson waited imperturbably
for Mrs. Gallito's answer. Since his eyes were fixed on the red spark at
the end of his cigarette, who could see the quick flash in them?

Mrs. Gallito took a hasty gulp of beer. "It's just like Pearl says," she
murmured. "Her pop came of a long line of circus people, same as me, but
he broke clean away from it, couldn't bear the life." There was
unabated wonder in her tones. "I guess," resignedly, "it's the Spanish
of him."

"Say," cried Hanson, and now his voice rang with a new note in it,
something of gay, masterful, masculine dominance, "say, what you ladies
drinking beer and lemonade for? It's got to be wine to-night. Hey,
Jimmy. Wine for this table, and treat the house. Wine, understand? Got
enough to float 'em?"

"Hold on a minute, Jimmy." Hanson heard Bob Flick's voice for the first
time, soft as the Pearl's, liquidly southern, gentle, even apologetic.
"I'm sorry, stranger" - he leaned forward courteously to Hanson - "we all
would enjoy accepting your hospitality, but you see, it ain't
etiquette."

A silence that could be felt had fallen upon the room. Mrs. Gallito,
pale under her paint, was nervously biting her handkerchief and glancing
from one man to the other, while the Pearl leaned back in her chair as
lazily, languidly, scornfully indifferent as ever.

Then Hanson laughed, and a little thrill went over the room. The new man
was game. "Ain't that just your ruling, stranger?" he asked pleasantly.
"Since we've not been introduced, I can't call your name. But I hold
that it is etiquette. Jimmy, get on your job. The occasion when I first
set my eyes upon the Black Pearl has got to be honored."

"Hold on just a moment, Jimmy." It was Flick now. "You see," again to
Hanson, his voice more apologetic than ever, "you being new here,
naturally don't understand. It ain't etiquette on a Benefit night, when
Miss Pearl Gallito, whose name you have, most unfortunately, just
miscalled, condescends to dance. I'm afraid I got to ask you to take
back your order and to apologize to Miss Gallito."

Hanson was on his feet in a minute. "I'm sure ready now and always to
apologize my humblest to Miss Gallito, although I don't know what's the
offense. But the order stands."

"Oh, Pearl," wailed her mother, "you raise mischief wherever you go. You
know Bob wouldn't go on so if you'd ask him to stop. You just like to
raise the devil."

Then, for the first time, the Pearl's face became animated. It broke
into brilliance, her eyes gleamed, she showed her white teeth when she
laughed.

"Quit your fooling, both of you," she said composedly, rising to her
feet. "I ain't going to have tales flying all over the desert about the
ructions stirred up the night I danced for the benefit of the flood
sufferers. Shake hands, you two," imperiously. "Go on, do what I tell
you. That's right," as the two men perfunctorily shook hands. "Bob don't
mean a thing, Mr. Hanson. It's just his temper, and there ain't going to
be any wine, because I'm going home, but - " and here she smiled into his
eyes - "you can walk a piece of the way with me, if you want to. Come on,
mother and Hughie. Good-night, Bob."




CHAPTER II


Hanson had decided that the best way to gain certain information he
desired was to seek the bar-keeper, who, after his constitution,
gossiped as naturally and as volubly as a bird sings; so, quite early
the next morning, he sauntered into Chickasaw Pete's place.

Jimmy, who was industriously polishing the bar and singing the while one
of the more lugubrious and monotonous hymns, looked up with his
customary little chuckle.

"Feeling fine, ain't you?" he said derisively. "Want to start right out
and corral the whole desert, don't you? Think you can travel right over
to San Bernardino yonder? Looks about three miles off, don't he?"

"Me?" said Hanson, expanding his chest. "I feel like I was about
sixteen. Like I was home in Kaintucky, jumping a six-bar fence after a
breakfast of about fifty buckwheat cakes and syrup."

"That's the way it takes them all; but you just wait until about noon,
and you won't feel so gay," warned Jimmy. "What are you doin' to-day,
anyway, hunting more trouble?"

"Not me," cried the other. "I came here to the desert pearl fishing."

"That's a good one." Jimmy's chuckle expanded into a series. "But you
ain't the only one. There's Bob Flick, for instance, as you discovered
last night."

The smile went out of Hanson's eyes, his face set. He ceased to lounge
against the bar and involuntarily straightened himself:

"What about Bob Flick?" he asked.

"Lots about Bob." Jimmy's tone was equable, but he shot Hanson a quick
glance. "He was our faro dealer for a while, but he's interested in
mines now. He's dead sure. Come to think of it, he's a lot of dead
things," he mused; "but don't ever confuse him with a dead one." Delight
at his own wit expressed itself in mirthful chuckles. "He's dead game,
and he's a dead shot, two important things for a man that's playing to
win when in certain localities, and he's dead certain that he's the
God-appointed guardeen of the Black Pearl."

"What's she got to say about it?" growled Hanson.

The bar-keeper shrugged his shoulders. "Ask me what the desert out
there's thinking, and I'll tell you what's going on inside the Pearl's
head. Say," animatedly, "I told you to ask me about those emeralds last
night, didn't I?"

The manager laughed shortly. "I saw 'em close, son, after I left you. I
know stones. Square cut emeralds. Lord! They sure cost some good man his
pile, and he was no piker, either."

"Bob Flick," said Jimmy, with a glow of local pride. "Kind of thank
offering, when the Pearl found him in the desert after he'd been lost
three days. Bob was new to this country then and reckless, like a
tenderfoot is, and the first thing he did was to go and get lost. Well,
they had several searching parties looking for him, but the Pearl, she
got on her horse and went after him alone, and, by George! she found
him, lying about gone in a dry arroyo.

"Bob said he'd been wandering round crazy as a loon, seeing three big
lions with eyes like coals of fire stalking him night and day, and him
always trying to dodge 'em. He says at last they came nearer and nearer
until he stumbled and fell, and then he felt their hot breath on his
cheek, and he knew nothing more until he finally realized that some one
was trying to pour water down his throat and he kind of half come to
himself; and suddenly, he said, that awful gray desert, worse than any
hell a man ever feared, seemed all kind and tender like a mother, and
then, some way, it burst into bloom, and that bloom was the Black Pearl
bending over him. Oh, you ought to hear him tell it! Well - she got him
up on her horse and got him home, and her and her mother nursed him back
to health. And since that time Bob ain't never felt the same about the
desert. You couldn't drive him away now.

"When he was well enough to travel, he went to 'Frisco and ordered a
jeweler there to get him the handsomest string of matched emeralds that
money could buy. The fellow was a year matching them, had to make two
trips to the other side. They do say," Jimmy lowered his voice
cautiously, "that Bob's father was a rich man and left him a nice little
fortune, and that he blew every cent of it in on those stones. The
Pearl certainly likes jewels. All the rings and things that she wears
were given her by the boys."

"Umm-m-hum. Great story!" he nodded perfunctorily. "Guess I'll take a
walk." He strolled toward the door.

"Bet I know which way you're going," chuckled Jimmy, as he disappeared.

The unspoken surmise was perfectly correct. Hanson took his way slowly
and with apparent abstraction in the direction of the Gallito home, and
it was not until he was at the very gate that he paused and looked up
with a start of well simulated surprise.

The house stood beyond a garden of brilliant flowers, and in the shadow
of the long porch - a porch facing the desert and not the mountains - sat
Pearl, swinging back and forth in a rocking chair and talking
impartially to the blind boy, who sat on the step beneath her, and a
gorgeous crimson and green parrot, which walked back and forth in its
pigeon-toed fashion on the arm of her chair, muttering, occasionally
screaming, and sometimes inclining its head to be scratched.

"Good morning," called Hanson in his blithest, most assured fashion.
"Can I come in?"

"Sure," drawled the Pearl. "Hughie and I were just waiting for company,
weren't we, Hughie?"

The boy tossed his head impatiently, but made no answer. From the moment
Hanson had spoken he had assumed an air of immobile and concentrated
attention, tense as that of an Indian listening and sighting in a
forest, or of a highly trained dog on guard.

"Take you at your word," laughed Hanson, and swung up the path, a big,
dominant presence, as vital as the morning. "Howdy," he shook hands with
Pearl and then turned to the boy, but Hugh drew quickly away from that
extended hand, quite as if he saw it before him.

Hanson raised his eyebrows in involuntary surprise, but his good humor
was unabated. "What's the good word with Hughie?" he asked genially. "I
can't call you anything else, because I don't know your last name."

"My name is Hugh Braddock," said the boy coldly.

Again Hanson lifted his brows, this time humorously, as at a child's
unexpected rebuff, and looked at Pearl, and again he experienced a
feeling of surprise, for she was gazing at Hugh with a puzzled frown,
which held a faint touch of apprehension.

"Then," Hanson looked from one to the other, but spoke to Pearl, "you
ain't brother and sister?"

"No," said Pearl, and it disturbed Hanson more than he would have
dreamed to notice the change in voice and manner. The warm, provocative,
inherent coquetry was gone from both smile and eyes; instead of a soft,
alluring girl ready to play with him a baffling, blood-stirring game of
flirtation, she was again the sphynx of last night, whose unrevealing
eyes seemed to have looked out over the desert for centuries, until its
infinite heart was as an open page to her, and she repressed in the
scarlet curves of her mouth its eternal, secret enigma.

"We are brother and sister." Hugh edged along the step until he could
lay his head against Pearl's knee. "But we're not blood relations, if
you're curious to know." The insolence of his tone was barely veiled.
"My mother was a circus woman that Mrs. Gallito knew. She deserted me
when I was a baby, and Mrs. Gallito has been all the mother I ever had
or wanted, and Pearl the only sister. I was born blind."

"Oh, Hughie," remonstrated Pearl, "you've got no call to say that. He
don't see with his eyes," she turned to Hanson, "but I never saw anybody
that could see so much."

"How's that?" asked Hanson easily. He was used from long experience to
the temperamental, emotional people of the stage, and he had no
intention of being daunted by any moods these two might exhibit.

"Hughie, what color are Mr. Hanson's clothes?" asked Pearl.

Still with a petulant, disdainful expression, the boy leaned forward and
ran his long, slender fingers with their cushioned tips over Hanson's
coat. "Brown," he replied indifferently.

"He can tell you the color of every flower in the garden, just by
touching them," explained Pearl. "He knows all the different kinds of
birds just by the whirr of their wings. He can tell the color of every
dress I wear. He - "

But Hugh had risen. "I don't like you to tell strangers about me," he
cried with passionate petulance, "and you know it. I'm going to find
mother."

"Well, tell her that Mr. Hanson's here," called Pearl after him,
unaffected by his outburst. "He hasn't taken a shine to you," she
remarked frankly to Hanson.

Again he was disturbed to notice that she seemed to give this obvious
fact some weight. She had rested her chin on her hand and was gazing
meditatively at the gay garden. A shadow of disappointment was on her
face, and more than a touch of it in her voice.

"That don't bother me," affirmed Hanson confidently. "All that I'm
caring about is whether some one else shares his opinion." His bold, gay
eyes looked straight into hers.

"I wonder who?" drawled Pearl. The gleam of her eyes shining through
narrowed lids and black, tangled lashes flicked him like the tang of a
whip. "Maybe you mean Lolita?"

The parrot, which had perched on her shoulder and was tweaking her ear,
now hearing its name, looked up, fluttered its wings, and called out in
a gruff, masculine voice: "Mi jasmin, Pearl. Mi corazon."

"He's talking for me, sure," said Hanson, who knew enough Spanish to
make out.

"Oh, damn," said the parrot disgustedly; "why the hell can't you shut
up?"

Hanson gave a great burst of laughter. "Lolita and Hughie are well
matched when it comes to politeness."

"They got the artistic temperament, and me, too, and mom, also," said
Pearl. "That's what the newspaper boys always wrote about me when I was
on the road."

The manager did not miss the opening. "Look here," he said earnestly;
"ain't you tired loafing around here? I guess you know what I'm in
Paloma for. I've made no secret of it. Now all you got to do is to show
me your contract with Sweeney and I'll double what he gave you, play you
over a bigger circuit, and advertise you, so's before your contract with
me's expired you'll be asked to do a few turns on the Metropolitan Opera
stage of New York City, New York."

"Love me to-day," sang Lolita, meltingly, if with grating harshness.

"That's right, Lolita, sing your pretty song," coaxed Pearl. "Come on,
I'll sing with you." She lifted her languorous eyes and sang softly,
almost under her breath, but straight at Hanson:

"Love me to-day,
Love me an hour;
Love is a flower,
Fading alway."

The blood surged to his temples at the direct challenge, he half rose
and leaned toward her. Then, as she laughed at him, he sat down. "Treble
Sweeney's offer, by God!" he said hoarsely. "Cash down beforehand." He
brought his fist down on the arm of the chair with a crash.

"Oh, I ain't ready to make any plans yet," Pearl announced
indifferently. "I want to talk things over with Pop first. He'll be down
from the mines before long, maybe to-day."

She sat for a few moments in silence, her eyes fixed on the far purple
hazes of the desert. "Oh, I wish there weren't so many of me," she said
at last and wistfully. "After I'm 'out' a while, I'll get to longing so
for the desert that I'm likely to raise any kind of a row and break any
old contract just to get here. I can't breathe. I feel as if everything,
buildings and people and all, were crowding me so's if I didn't have a
place to stand; and then, after I'm here a while, I got to see the
footlights, I got to hear them clapping, I got to dance for the big
crowds. Oh, Lord! life's awful funny, always trying to chain you up to
one thing or another. But I won't be tied. I got to be free, and I will
be free." She threw out her arms with a passionate gesture.

"You'd be free with me," he cried.

But, if she heard him, she gave no indication of having done so. "Can
you ride?" she asked presently.

"You bet," said Hanson eagerly. "I was born in Kaintucky. Just tell me
where I can get a horse here, and - "

"I'll lend you one of mine, and we'll have some rides. I'll take you out
on the desert. It ain't safe to go alone. You see those sand hills
yonder? Do you think you could walk out to them and back?"

"Sure," said Hanson confidently and looking at her in some surprise.

Pearl laughed. "Oh, Lolita!" she cried; "a tenderfoot is sure funny. The
chances are, Mr. Hanson, that if you started to walk around those dunes
you'd never get back. Goodness! ain't that mirage pretty?"

The desert, which had lain vast, dun-colored and unbroken before their
eyes, had vanished; instead, a sapphire sea sparkled in the sunshine,
its white-capped waves breaking upon the beach. Upon one side of it
spread a city with white domes and fairy towers, and palm trees
uplifting their graceful fronds among them.

Hanson rubbed his eyes and looked again. It was the first time that he
had ever seen one of these miracles of illusion, and he became so
absorbed in it that he failed to notice that some one else had entered
the gate and was making a leisurely progress toward the house.

It was Bob Flick, and Rudolf Hanson could not repress a slight scowl at
this unexpected appearance of one whom he was constrained to regard as
more or less of an enemy, and certainly this morning as a blot upon the
landscape.

Without a smile, but politely enough, Flick greeted him, after speaking
to Pearl, who looked at the newcomer with a sort of resigned
resentfulness. Lolita, however, made up what was lacking in cordiality.
With a loud squawk of welcome she flew to Flick's shoulder, uttering
gutteral and incoherent expressions doubtless meant to convey
endearment.

"Call Mom, Bob," commanded Pearl lazily, and Flick obediently stepped
inside of the door in search of Mrs. Gallito. She must have been near at
hand, for she and Flick emerged before the manager could do more than
give Pearl a glance of eloquent disappointment, which she returned with
teasing mockery.

Mrs. Gallito had evidently been making a toilet, and it is to be
regretted for her own sake that she might not have reserved all of her
appearances for the evening, for this brilliant desert sunshine was
pitiless in revealing those artificial aids with which she strove to
recreate and hold her vanished youth and bloom.

Bob Flick she evidently regarded as a matter of course, but at the sight
of Hanson she showed unmistakable pleasure.

"Hughie told me you were here," she said, sitting down beside him and
patting somewhat anxiously the mass of canary-colored puffs on the back
of her head; "and I been hurrying to get out before you got away."

"I wouldn't have thought of going before you came," Hanson assured her.
She smiled and bridled a little, evidently well pleased.

"Has Pearl told you that her Pop'll probably be down to-day?" she leaned
across Hanson to speak to Flick.

"No, is that so?" he asked in his smooth, pleasant tones.

"Where are the mines that Mr. Gallito is interested in?" asked Hanson,
determined to keep in the conversation.

"Up in Colina." It was Mrs. Gallito that spoke.

An up-darting gleam of suddenly aroused interest and curiosity flashed
for a moment in Bob Flick's eyes. Was it possible that at the mention of
that name Hanson had started and that something which might have been
taken for the shadow of dismay had overfallen his face?

"Fine mining camp," Flick commented. "You know it at all, Mr. Hanson?"

Hanson had scratched a match to light his cigarette, but now he lifted
his eyes and looked across its tiny flare straight at Flick. "No," he
said indifferently, "never was in it in my life."

His tone and manner were both open and convincing, and yet the ruddy
color, as Flick noticed with merciless satisfaction, had not returned to
his face.

"He's an awful queer man," confided Mrs. Gallito in a low voice to
Hanson. "I suppose," with a sigh, "it's the Spanish of him. Just think,"
she spoke as one who has never overcome an unmitigated wonder, "born in
the sawdust same as me; his folks from way back all in the business, and
him with no use for it. Never rested till he got away from it. Why, he
didn't even want me to train Pearl, but," and here triumph rang in her
tones, "he couldn't help that. She took to it like a duck takes to
water. Always ready for it, never cried or complained at the long
hours."

"She's sure got cause to be grateful to you." Hanson spoke sincerely.

"I wouldn't have known what else to do with a child," said Mrs. Gallito
simply. "I always saw them trained that way. But her Pop didn't stand
for it."

During this conversation Pearl and Flick had risen and, with Lolita
still on Flick's shoulder, had sauntered down through the garden.

Seeing this, Rudolf, with his customary philosophy, made the best of the
situation. "Well," with rather vague gallantry, "I don't see how he can
stay away from a home like this."

"It's the Spanish of him." This was Mrs. Gallito's explanation of all
the eccentricities in which her husband might indulge. "And," with
unwonted optimism, "maybe it's a blessing, too, 'cause he's awful queer.
And, anyway, he's what they call a man's man. Why, you might think he
lived all by himself up there in Colina; but he don't. He's got more old
Spaniards around" - she raised her eyes - "and they're the awfullest!
Cut-throats and pirates, I call 'em. They come up from the coast. And
it's funny, too," she exclaimed in a sort of querulous wonder, "because
Gallito's awful respectable himself."

"That is queer, isn't it?" His tone was politely interested, but his
errant glance strayed to where Pearl and Flick stood gazing over the
vast spaces of the desert, flooded with illimitable sunshine.

But Mrs. Gallito needed only a modicum of interest upon which to launch
her confidences. "Yes, he certainly is queer, and Pearl's like him in
lots of ways. Neither of them can stand anything holding them. They're
always wanting to be free, and they both got the strongest wills."

"And does he ever bring his cut-throat friends here?" asked Hanson.

"My, no!" cried Mrs. Gallito. "It wouldn't be safe."

"I should think it would be as safe here as in the mountains."

"He don't keep 'em there long, if they're wanted bad," whispered Mrs.
Gallito. "He knows more than one secret trail over the mountains."

Hanson was beginning to show a more genuine interest now and, spurred on
by this flattering appreciation of her revelations, Mrs. Gallito went
on.

"If you won't ever tell," she bent toward him after glancing about her
cautiously, "I'll tell you something. Of course, I'd never mention it if
I didn't feel that you're as safe as a church and one of our very best
friends."

"You haven't got a better in the world," he fervently assured her, his
curiosity really aroused now.

"Well," glowing with the importance of her news, "did you ever hear of
Crop-eared José?"

It was with difficulty that Hanson repressed a long, low whistle. "I
should say," he answered. "He's been wanted by the police of several
States for some time, and since that last big robbery they've had
sheriffs and their parties scouring the mountains."

For once Mrs. Gallito really had a piece of news which was sure to
command the most flattering attention.

Crop-eared José was a famous and slippery bandit, and his latest exploit
had been the robbery of an express car and subsequent vanishing with a
sum approximating thirty thousand dollars. It was supposed that he had
jumped the train while it was making its slow progress across the
mountains at night and had lain on the top of the car until what he
regarded as the proper moment for action had arrived. He had then
slipped down, forced the lock on the door, held up both messengers,
making one tie and gag the other, under his direction, and then himself
performed that office for the first with his own skillful hands. After
that, to open the safe, take the money and drop from the train was mere
child's play to so accomplished a professional as José.

"Gallito's got him." Mrs. Gallito enjoyed to the full the sensation she
had created, and then a sudden revulsion of fright shook her. "But, for
goodness' sake, Mr. Hanson, don't let on I told you. I - I wish I hadn't
spoke," she whispered.

"Trust me," comfortingly. "Now don't give it another thought. I'll
forget it on the spot, if you say so."

"Gallito'd kill me" - she still shook and looked at him fearfully.

"Oh, come now," his tone was infinitely reassuring, "forget it; I have
already. Such things don't interest me."

"Love me to-day,
Love me an hour;"


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 2 of 20)