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sang Lolita, and his eyes turned to the two at the gate, still
chaperoned by the faithful parrot. In them was a flash like fire on
steel, as they rested on Bob Flick. Then he turned again to Mrs.
Gallito. "Forget it," he said again, as he rose to take his leave; "and
believe that I have, too."

But his musings on his way back to the hotel would certainly not have
proved calming to that lady could she have but known them.

"Gosh!" he muttered, "and I thought it had broke, this blessed blind
luck of mine, when I heard 'em mention Colina; but it's holding after
all, it's holding. I guess what I know now about the whereabouts of
Crop-eared José just about offsets anything Pop Gallito may know about
me and anything that Mr. Bob Flick can discover."




CHAPTER III


Pearl's father came the next day, an older man than Hanson had imagined
and of a different type. There was no smack of the circus ring about
him, no swagger of the footlights; nor any hint of the emotional, gay
temperament supposed to be the inheritance of southern blood. He was a
saturnine, gnarled old Spaniard with lean jaws and beetling brows. His
skin was like parchment. It clung to his bones and fell in heavy
wrinkles in the hollows of his cheeks and about his mouth; and his dark
eyes, fierce as a wild hawk's, were as brilliant and piercing as in
youth.

Little resemblance between him, gaunt and stark and seamed as a desert
rock, and his tropical blossom of a daughter, and yet, indubitably,
Pearl was the child of her father. The secretiveness, the concentrated
will, the unfettered individuality of spirit, which protected its own
defiant isolation at all costs, the subtlety, the ability to seek
sanctuary in indefinitely maintained silence, these were their traits in
common.

Hanson, Gallito met with grave and impersonal courtesy which, the former
was relieved to feel, held a real indifference. There were many moths
ever circling about this glowing flame of a daughter. Gallito accepted
that, met them, observed them, and assumed those introspective
meditations in which he seemed ever absorbed.

There was evidently an understanding between Pearl and himself, but no
show of affection, and what small tenderness of nature the Spaniard
possessed appeared to be bestowed upon Hugh.

Grim and silent, sipping a little cognac from a glass on a table by his
side, the old man would sit on the porch for an hour at a time listening
to the boy playing the piano in the room within.

Flick and himself also seemed on fair terms of friendship and would hold
apparently endless discussions concerning various mining properties. It
was understood that Gallito had come down now to give his opinion on
some claim that Flick had recently staked, and they two, usually
accompanied by Hughie, would ride off over the desert and be gone two or
three days at a time.

Hanson, finding that the theatrical tie, "we be brothers of one blood,"
had not that potency for Mr. Gallito that it exercised for his wife, and
that it was not for him as for her the open sesame to confidence and
friendship, speedily ceased to strike this note and approached him on
the ground of pure business. The offer he had made to Pearl he repeated
to her father.

And Gallito had gazed out over the desert and considered the matter with
due deliberation. "Sweeney's been writing to me considerable," he said
at last. "He's made a good deal better proposition that he did last
year."

"I told your daughter I'd double any offer Sweeney made," Hanson said,
and then expatiated on the advantage of the wider circuit and increased
advertising that he proposed to give.

Gallito nodded without comment. Again he seemed to turn the matter over
in his mind. "I'll write to Sweeney," he said finally, "and get him to
give me a statement in writing of just what he proposes to do, a
complete outline of his plans down."

The manager could not restrain the question which rose to his lips: "But
your daughter, is she willing that you should make all these
arrangements?"

Gallito looked at him sharply from under his beetling brows. There was
surprise in his glance and a touch of cynical scorn: "She knows that I
look out for her interests."

Another query crossed Hanson's mind, one he had no disposition to voice.
Was the understanding between father and daughter, and this apparent and
most uncharacteristic submission to his judgment on her part, based on a
common passion, acquisitiveness? He thought of Pearl's jewels. More than
once he had seen her lift her fingers and caress the gems on her hand,
just as the Spaniard sat and shook his buttons and nuggets of gold
together, pouring them from one palm to another, his frowning gaze fixed
on the ground before him.

"Yes, I'll write to Sweeney," continued Gallito. "It'll take a few days,
though, before I can get his answer." He looked at the other man
questioningly. "It might be a week in all. I don't want to keep you
here that time. I could write you."

"Nothing to do just now," said Rudolf easily. "Left things in good
hands, business running easily. Came down here to stay a while, needed a
vacation. And, Lord! This air makes a man feel like he never wanted to
leave."

To this Gallito made no comment and, as there was nothing further to
say, the subject was, for the time, dropped between them.

Hanson had made known his reasons, obvious reasons, for his presence in
Paloma, so, as he would have expressed it, he let it go at that and left
the observer to draw any conclusions he pleased as to his almost
constant presence at the Gallito home, and yet, after all, his visits
were only a little more frequent than those of a number of others, and
no more so at all than those of Bob Flick.

There were long evenings when Hughie played the piano, and when Pearl,
now and then, touched the guitar, when Mrs. Gallito indulged in her
querulous monotonous reminiscences, while Gallito and various men sat
and smoked cigarettes about the card table; but always, no matter who
came or went, there was Flick, silent, impassive, polite, but, as Hanson
realized with growing irritation, ever watchful.

Gallito sat down to his cards in the evening as regularly as he went to
bed exactly at twelve o'clock; and not cards alone. When he came
"inside" there were brought forth from various nooks of obscurity in his
dwelling other gambling devices, among them a faro layout, a keno
goose, and a roulette wheel.

Undoubtedly, the play ran high in the Gallito cabin, but although Hanson
sometimes sat in at this or that game, more often he sat talking to
Pearl in the soft shadow of the porch. To her he made no secret of his
infatuation, but it seemed to him that when with her they were ever more
constantly and more irritatingly interrupted. Either Mrs. Gallito, or
Hughie, or some of the visitors would join them and Hanson realized that
his opportunities for speech with Pearl were becoming increasingly rare.

The only times when he could really see her alone were on the occasions
of some morning rides together, which they had begun to take.

As for her, she was still repelling, still alluring, still drawing him
on, but how much of it was a game which she played both by nature and
practice with consummate skill, or how much he might have caught her
fancy or touched her heart, he had no way of determining, and this
tormented him and yet daily, hourly, heightened his infatuation.

And he was still further goaded by the knowledge that he was, in a
measure, under surveillance, which he was sure was instituted by Gallito
and Flick and connived at by Hughie; a watchfulness so subtle that it
convinced him even while he doubted. He felt often as if he were stalked
by some stealthy and implacable animal. This situation, imaginary or
real, began to affect his nerves and he would undoubtedly have left had
it not been for his mounting passion for Pearl, a passion fanned always
to a more ardent flame by her tantalizing coquetries.

Then, too, he felt that, although Bob Flick and Gallito had probably
acquired some information about himself which he would gladly have
withheld, still they did not hold all the winning cards. The ace of
trumps, as he exultantly told himself, is bound to take any trick, and
the ace of trumps he felt that he possessed in the information which
Mrs. Gallito had so obligingly furnished him. In other words, his ace
was Crop-eared José, and his ace was not destined to be unsupported by
other trump cards.

Only the evening before, he and Mrs. Gallito had sat alone for a few
moments on the porch gazing out over the wonder and glory of the desert
flooded in moonlight, and the patient, flattering interest with which he
invariably received her confidences had gained its reward, for she had
leaned toward him and whispered with many cautious backward glances:

"He's up there in the mountains yet."

"Who?" asked Hanson, attempting to conceal his eagerness under an air of
mystification.

"Crop-eared José," she answered, "and Gallito's going to keep him there
for several months yet."

"Is he?" and again Hanson strove to speak with disarming indifference.
"How do you know?"

"I heard him and Bob Flick planning it," she answered. "They don't think
it's safe to try and get him out of the country now." Then, having
delivered herself of her burden of important news, she suffered one of
her quick revulsions of fright, and clapped her hand to her mouth and
turned white.

"Oh, Lordy!" she cried. "Lordy! Ain't I the leaky vessel, though! Oh,
say, Mr. Hanson," she clutched his arm like a terrified child, "promise
me you won't give me away."

"Sure," soothingly. "Why, Mrs. Gallito, you got to believe that
everything that you tell me just goes in one ear and out of the other.
But look here, just to take your mind off of this, I wish you'd do me a
little favor."

"'Deed I will," she fervently assured him. "What is it?"

"Why, Miss Pearl and I are going riding to-morrow morning, and I
particularly want to talk business to her. You know how anxious I am to
get her signed up. Well, I wish you'd manage to keep Hughie from butting
in as usual?"

"Is that all?" she cried. "'Course I'll keep Hughie at home. I didn't
realize how he was tagging round after you and Pearl. I want him to help
me, anyway. We got to patch up my chicken house and yard so's to keep
the coyotes out some way or other."

True to her word, she kept Hugh so busily employed the next morning that
to Hanson's infinite relief he and Pearl were able to ride off alone.

"I'm going to take you to a palm grove to-day," said Pearl, as they
started off.

She was in the gayest of humors, and for a time she bantered and
coquetted with him with an unrestrained and childlike enjoyment in her
mood, taking his ardent lovemaking as a matter of course; but,
gradually, as they rode, she became more quiet and fell into silence,
the Sphynx expression appearing on her face.

Suddenly she leaned forward in her saddle and looked at him. There was a
hint of laughter in her glance, and yet behind it a certain serious
scrutiny.

"I'm wondering a lot about you, do you know it?" she drawled softly.

"Turn about's fair play, then, honey," he answered. "You keep me
guessing all the time. But what is it now?"

She did not answer him immediately, but rode on in silence as if
cogitating whether or no she would reply to his question, and in some
way he received the impression that it was not the first time she had
mentally debated the matter. But finally she decided to speak, and again
she turned in her saddle and regarded him with that piercing scrutiny
which reminded him uncomfortably of her father.

"Say," she began, with apparent irrelevance, "what you been doing,
anyway?"

"Me!" cried Hanson. "You know. Been falling in love with you as hard as
I could, and" - his voice ringing with a passionate sincerity - "that's
God's truth, Pearl."

She looked up at him, her wild eyes melting, her delicately cut lips
upcurling in a smile; then her head drooped, her whole body expressed a
soft yielding.

Hanson grew white, almost he stretched out his arms as if to clasp her,
when she threw up her head with a low laugh, a tinkle of mockery
through it, like the jangled strings of her guitar.

"But I mean it," she insisted, and now he saw that she had something
really on her mind, something she had determined to say to him. "Listen
to me," imperiously, "and stop looking at me as if you were looking
through me and still didn't see me."

"I'm seeing your eyes, Pearl," he muttered, "and they drown me. And I'm
seeing your lips and they draw me like a magnet does a needle; but if
they drew me through hell, I'd go."

"Listen," she spoke more imperiously than before. "Have you noticed how
Pop's been watching you - looking slantwise out of the corners of his
eyes whenever you come around."

"I sure have," replied Hanson, "being as I'm not blind. But what of it?
I supposed he treated every one that came around you like that."

"No," she shook her head thoughtfully. "I been studying over it, but I
can't quite make it out. Pop don't pay much attention to men that ain't
his kind, and you're not. And Bob Flick is always jealous, of course,
but he doesn't usually take it out watching folks like a ferret does a
rat hole. No, it isn't that."

"Well, what do you put it down to?" Rudolf tried to speak easily.

Pearl paid no particular heed to this question. "And it's not all
Hughie," she mused. "Of course," and here he saw an expression of real
regret, almost worry, on her face, "of course it's bad for all of us
when Hughie takes a dislike to any one."

Hanson's sense of injury was inflamed. "But why the devil," he cried,
"should Hughie's unreasoning cranks count with commonsense people? I
can't understand," with wondering impatience, "why you all act like you
do about that boy!"

"We've all learned that Hughie knows things that we don't know."

"Umph!" the exclamation was disgustedly incredulous. "And so, simply
because Hughie chooses to take a dislike to me, I'm to be watched like a
criminal and treated, even by you, with suspicion."

"No," she said, "I've been studying over it, but I can't quite make it
out. Pop don't pay much attention, usually. But," she spoke slowly, "I
thought maybe you'd tell me this morning."

"Well, there's nothing to tell," he affirmed obstinately.

She looked out over the desert for a moment. "Bob Flick hit the trail
last night," she spoke casually.

"To go where?"

"I don't know. I wish I did. But I kind of feel, I can't help but feel,
that it had something to do with you, and I wanted to tell you, to let
you know, so that you can clear out if you've a mind to."

"I've no cause to clear out," said Hanson. "Gee!" his bold eyes looked
gaily into hers, "you all seem determined to make me out bad, don't you?
But if that's your way of trying to get rid of me, it don't go. When you
tell me that you won't sign up with me, and are going back to Sweeney,
for just half of what I offer you, then I'll know that you want to get
rid of me, and I'll clear out."

"But I ain't told you that yet," the corners of Pearl's mouth were
dimpling.

"No, and, by George, until you do I stay right here."

"Look!" she cried with a change in her voice. They had entered a cañon,
where palms grew and involuntarily they drew up their horses to gaze at
the sight before them. The stately, exotic palms lifted their shining
green fronds to the blue, intense, illimitable sky, flooded with the
gold of sunshine, and beyond them was the background of the mountains,
their dark wooded slopes climbing upward until they reached the white,
dazzling peaks of snow.

The sharp and apparently impossible contrasts, the magic illusions of
color made it a land of remote enchantment, even to the most
unimaginative. And to Hanson the world outside became as unreal as a
dream that is past. Here was beauty, and the wide, free spaces of
nature, where every law of man seemed puny, ineffectual and void. In
this unbounded, uncharted freedom the shackles of conventionality fell
from him. Here was life and here was love. He was a primitive man, and
here, before him in visible form, stood the world's desire. Barriers
there were none. A man and woman, both as vital as the morning, and love
between them. The craving heart of the eternal man rose up in Hanson,
imperatively urging him to claim his own.

He drew his hand across his brow almost dazedly. "Whew!" he muttered,
"I kind of remember when I was a kid that my mother used to tell me
about the Garden of Eden. I thought it was a pipe dream, but, George!
it's true - it's true, and I can't quite believe it."

The Pearl stood leaning against a great palm tree. She seemed hardly to
hear him. Her eyes were on the waving, shimmering horizon line of the
desert. Her face held a sort of wistful dreaming.

"'The Garden of Eden!'" she repeated. "I've heard of it, too. It was a
place where you were always happy, but" - still wistfully - "I haven't
found that place yet." She turned her vaguely troubled eyes on him and
then sighed and drooped against the tree.

"You can have things as you please, if you'll come to me." His speech
was rapid, hard-breathing; it was as if he hardly knew what he was
saying, but was talking merely to relieve the tension. "I'm boss and I
can manage that you shall dance when you please, and come back here for
a little breathing spell whenever you want. But," with an impatient
gesture, "I ain't here to talk business. That's what I came to Paloma
for - business. That's all I was before I met you, just a cold, hard
business proposition. I guess I was pretty hard-headed. They seemed to
think so in my line, anyway. I thought I knew it all." He gave a short
laugh. "I'm not so young. I thought I knew life pretty well - had kind of
wore it out, in fact. I thought I'd loved more than one woman; but I
know now that I've never loved, never lived before, that I've just woke
up, here in this Garden of Eden.

"Pearl," the beads of sweat stood out on his brow, "I ain't made you
out. I know you're one thing one hour and another the next. I'm no vain
boy. I can't tell whether you've been drawing me on one minute and
holding me back the next just because you got to annex the scalp of
every man your sweet eyes fall on. That's all right, honey, I ain't
blaming you; but there's been moments lately, Pearl, when I've thought
that maybe you might care, moments when I been plumb crazy with joy. You
ain't let 'em last very long, honey," with a strained smile, "but they
most made up for the black question mark that came after 'em." He drew
out his handkerchief and wiped his wet brow with a trembling hand.

She threw back her head and smiled into his eyes through her narrowed
lids. She held out her hands to him; and with one step Hanson lifted her
clear off the ground, gathering her up in his arms, holding her against
his heart and kissing her scarlet mouth.

And she wound her arms about his neck and returned those kisses.

"Put me down," she said at last, and Hanson did so, although he still
held her close to his heart with one arm.

"Pearl!" he cried aloud, and it was like some strong affirmation of
life. He lifted his eyes, bold and unafraid, as an eagle's, to the
sun-flooded, brazen, blue heavens. Time stood still. He had drunk at a
new fountain - love, and, although his thirst was still unquenched, he
was eternal youth. The heart of life breathed through him. He looked
upon the sky, a man unconquered, unbeaten, undaunted by life. He was
its master. Did she ask the snow peaks yonder? He would gather them as
footstools for her little feet. Was it gold she desired? It should be as
dust for her hands to scatter to the winds. Was it name, place, state,
she asked? They should be plucked forthwith from a supine world and
offered her as a nosegay.

Again, confidently now, he stooped and kissed her lips. It seemed to him
that roses and stars fell about them. "You love me, Pearl," he had
cried, in incredulous joy, "you love me."

For answer she smiled sweetly, ardently into his eyes: "'Love me
to-day,'" she sang, nestling close to his heart.




CHAPTER IV


It was almost a week before Bob Flick returned, and during that time
Pearl saw Hanson almost constantly, although to do so she had
continually to match her quickness and subtlety against that of her
father and Hughie; but even while she and her father met each other with
move and counter-move, check and checkmate, it was characteristic of
both of them that Hanson's obvious infatuation and her equally obvious
return of it were never mentioned between them.

With Hughie it was different, and Pearl met his petulant remonstrance,
his boyish withdrawal of the usual confiding intimacy which existed
between them, with laughter and caresses. As for Mrs. Gallito, she alone
was unchanged, apparently quite oblivious to storm conditions in the
mental atmosphere. But this was not unusual; when matters of importance
were transacted in the Gallito household Mrs. Gallito did not count.

But these disturbing conditions could not daunt Pearl's high spirits;
she was like flame, and the light of her eye, the glow on her cheek, the
buoyancy of her step were not all due to the ardor of her loving and the
joy of being ardently loved. There was also the zest of intrigue.

And, oh! what a mad and splendid game she and Hanson played together!
He rose to her every soaring audacity; they took almost impossible
chances as lightly as a hunter takes a hurdle. The lift of her eyelash,
an imperceptibly significant gesture, a casual word spoken in
conversation, these Hanson met with an incredible quickness of
understanding. It was a game at which he was master, and which he had
played many times before, but never had his intuitions been so keen, his
always rapid comprehension been so stimulated.

Beneath the eye of another master of intrigue, Gallito, watchful as a
spider, they met and loved until, it seemed to Hanson, that the whole,
wide desert rang with their glorious laughter. And through it all
Francisco Gallito sat and smoked and sipped his cognac imperturbably;
apparently unruffled by defeat, a defeat - the Pearl with subtle
femininity saw to that - which was not without its elements of ignominy.

But now Bob Flick had returned and had sat late with Gallito the night
before, talking, although Mrs. Gallito, who tendered this information to
her daughter, had not been able to overhear any part of their
conversation, in spite of her truly persistent efforts to do so. These
circumstances, and results which would probably ensue when a definite
course of action had been decided upon, occupied the Pearl's thoughts as
she stood at the gate gazing out on the gray wastes spread before her in
the broad morning sunshine. Lolita was perched on the fence beside her,
swaying back and forth, muttering to herself and occasionally dipping
down perilously in a curious effort to see the garden upside down
through the fence palings.

Pearl turned at last from her contemplation of the subject which
absorbed her attention, and smiled as her glance fell upon the gaudy
tail, the only part of Lolita now visible, although, even then, the
horse-shoe frown, which showed faintly on her smooth forehead, a
facsimile of the one graven deep on her father's wrinkled brow, did not
disappear.

"They've got it in for us, Lolita - Rudolf and me." She laughed outright
now. Pearl's laughter was ever a disagreeable surprise; low, harsh,
unpleasantly vibrant, and in strange dissonance to her soft, contralto
voice. "Lay you any odds you say, Lolita, that it's poor old Bob that's
got to be the goat."

The parrot swung back to a normal position with surprising rapidity.
"Bob, Bob," she croaked. "Mi jasmin, Pearl, mi corazon," and she gazed
at her mistress with wrinkled, cynical eyes.

"Yes, Bob's got to do the telling." Pearl confided more to Lolita than
she ever did in her fellow beings. "Oh, Rudolf, this is where you get
knifed! They've been laying for you right from the first. When Bob's got
to do a thing, he never wastes any time; he'll be along sure this
morning. I guess we'll just wait right here and catch him."

Lolita hopped clumsily on to Pearl's shoulder and tweaked her ear. "Hell
and damnation!" she muttered, and then sang:

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

Pearl shrugged impatiently. "Shut up!" she cried, and resting her chin
in her cupped hands gazed over the sparkling, shimmering plain, where
all unshadowed day-beams seemed to gather as pure light and then, as if
fused in some magic alembic, became color. There, the ineffable command:


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 3 of 20)