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"Let there be light!" included all. It is only in the silence and light
of the desert that men may fully realize that the universe is one, that
light is music and music is color and color is fragrance,
undifferentiated in the eternal harmony of beauty.

Pearl's eyes drank the desert, unconsciously seeking there in its
haunting enigmas and unsolved mysteries an answer to the enigma of self.
Like life, like truth, like love, like all realities viewed from the
angle of human vision, the desert is a paradox. Its vast emptiness is
more than full; its unashamed sterility is but the simile for unmeasured
fecundity.

For an hour thus she leaned and gazed, Lolita restlessly walking back
and forth, singing and croaking, until, at last, as Pearl had predicted,
Bob Flick appeared, a fact not unheralded by Lolita's cries; but Pearl
did not alter her languid pose, nor even turn her head to greet him. She
was watching a whirling column of sand, polished and white as a colossal
marble pillar.

"It's kind of early for them to begin, ain't it, Bob?" she remarked
casually.

"Yes." He paused by the gate, leaning one arm on it, and in the swift
glance she cast at him from the corners of her eyes she could see that
his expressionless face looked worn, the lines about the mouth seemed
to have deepened and the eyes were heavy, as if he had not slept.

Lolita had, as usual, perched upon his shoulder, and was murmuring in
his ear.

"Say, Pearl," Flick spoke again after an interval of silence, "I wish
you'd take a walk with me. I - I got something on my mind that I want to
talk about."

"All right," she acquiesced readily, the nicker of a smile about her
lips quickly suppressed. "I'll be ready in a minute, as soon as I get my
hat."

They walked through the village, the great broken wall of the mountains
rising before them, deceptively near, and yet austerely remote, dazzling
snow domes and spires crowning the rock-buttressed slopes and appearing
sometimes to float, as unsubstantial clouds, in an atmosphere of all
commingling and contrasting blues and purples. Presently they turned
into a lane of mesquite trees. The growth of these trees was thick on
either side and the branches arched above their heads. They had stepped
in a footfall's space into a new world. It was one of those surprising,
almost unbelievable contrasts in which the desert abounds.

A moment before they had gazed upon the mountains, spectacularly vivid
in the clear atmosphere, white peaks and azure skies, green foothills,
serrated with black shadows. Behind them the sun-flooded white glare of
the great, waste place and behold! all these vanished as they set their
feet in this garden inclosed, this bower as green and quiet as the lane
of a distant and far softer and more fertile country.

Pearl never made any conventional attempts at conversation, and for a
time they walked in silence through those fairy aisles where the light
fell golden-green and the sun only filtered in tiny broken disks through
the delicate lace of the mesquite leaves. Then Flick spoke:

"Pearl, I got something to say to you, and it's about the hardest thing
I ever tried to do, because I know," his mouth twisted a little, "that
you're not going to like me any better for it."

"What do you do it for then, Bob?" she asked, and there was more than a
half impatient mockery in her tone, there was wonder.

"I got to," he said doggedly. "I guess there's no sense in it, but,
whether you like it or not, I always got to do what seems the best thing
for you."

It was an inflexible attitude, an ideal of conduct unfalteringly held,
and uncompromisingly adhered to, and she knew it. Therefore, she
shrugged her shoulders resignedly, the faint horse-shoe frown again
appearing in her forehead. "Well - go on, then," her voice as resigned as
her shoulders, "and get it over."

"It's this - " he hesitated and looked down at her a moment, and the
tenderness his glance expressed she did not lift her eyes to see and
would not have noticed if she had; "Pearl, Hanson ain't on the level."

She laughed that slightly grating, almost unpleasant, laugh of hers.
"It's no secret to me, Bob, that several of you are thinking that."

"We got cause to," he answered moodily; and then, as if struck by
something in her words, he looked at her quickly. "Has your Pop told you
anything?" There was surprise in both glance and voice.

"Not a thing," she assured him, scornfully amused by the question, "but
there are some things that don't have to be told. Do you suppose I
haven't caught on to the way you've all been acting?"

Again he looked his surprise. "We all been acting?" he repeated.

"Yes. I've seen things and I've felt them. Oh, you might just as well
out with it, Bob. What is it all about?"

He stared unseeing down the sun-sifted dusk of the green lane. Here the
desert silence was like a benediction of peace, broken now and then by
the faint, shrill note of an insect, or the occasional soft, mournful
plaint of a dove.

"Pearl, you can laugh at me if you want to, and say I'm jealous. That's
true, I am. I can't help it; but this time it wasn't all that. I got to
size up men quick; that was my business for a good many years, and the
first minute I set eyes on Hanson I knew he wasn't straight. And then,
Hughie - "

"And so you stirred up Pop to watch him?" she broke in quick as a flash.

"No," he answered patiently, "no, but Hughie's feelings got so strong
about him that your Pop kind of woke up and got to studying him, and
then he saw what - what neither of you tried to hide," there was
bitterness in his tone, "and then he kind of remembered something he'd
heard up in Colina, and - "

"And so you've been up to Colina tracking round after a woman." Her
verbal strokes were swift and hard as a flail. And again Flick started
in surprise. His cheeks flushed faintly, his jaw set.

"What you mean, Pearl? Has he been having me trailed? I don't believe
it."

"No," she drawled, taking a malicious amusement in this unwonted
perturbation on his part, "he hasn't. You slipped away so quiet and easy
that you didn't stop to say good-by, even to me. Were you afraid I'd put
him on to it?"

She did not hesitate to plant her banderillos where they would sting
most, and Flick winced at this imputation which struck so near home.
"How did you know about the woman, then?" he asked quickly.

Pearl lifted her head and laughed aloud, and, at the unwonted sound
breaking the desert silence, three pairs of brilliant eyes gazing
through the screening mesquite branches vanished and the gray, shadowy
figures of three coyotes disappeared as noiselessly as they had come.

"How did I know about the woman?" She repeated the question and
considered it, still with amused scorn, as if debating whether she would
enlighten him or not. "Well - " drawling aggravatingly, "I knew you and
Pop had the knife ready for Ru - Mr. Hanson." Flick's mouth twisted
again. "That wasn't very hard to see. So when you hit the trail, Bob, I
gave him the chance to clear out. I did so, tipped him off, you know.
Now I guess if he'd been wanted bad for anything that would - well, put
him behind the bars, say, he'd have gotten out pretty quick. And,
anyway, if he'd been wanted like that he wouldn't have stayed here so
long, for they wouldn't have had any trouble in nailing a man as well
known as him before, so, you see, I knew it wasn't any of the usual
things. But," and here she stopped and, looking up into his face, spoke
more emphatically, "I gave him the chance, too, to tell me all about
himself and he didn't take it. Now, there isn't a man living that
wouldn't have taken it - under the circumstances - " she spoke with a
deliberately cruel emphasis, and Flick's shoulders contracted a little
as the dart pricked him - "unless it was some mix-up about a woman."

"It's about a woman, all right," grimly.

"What about her?" Pearl's voice cut the air like the swift, downward
stroke of a whip.

"She's his wife," returned Flick. "She's been living up near Colina. She
owns a part of a mine there and has been managing it."

Pearl took this in silence; and they had walked a dozen yards or so
before they spoke again.

"Well, what of it?" she said at last, carelessly, almost gaily.
"Divorces are easy."

His expressionless face showed a cynical amusement, with just a hint of
triumph in the lighting of his eye. He shook his head. "I talked to
her," he said. "She's a good, decent woman, but she ain't quite straight
in her head when it comes to Hanson. He lied to her right along about
the others, even from the first; played fast and loose with her, and
finally eloped with one of his burlesque head-liners. She took it. What
else was there for her to do? But she spends about all of her time
watching her fences to see that there's no divorce in question. He's
done everything, tried to buy her off more than once, but it's no good.
Every place he goes she follows him up sooner or later, and she writes
him letters, too, every once in so often, offering to come back to him.
And he can't get anything on her, for she lives as straight as a string.
Oh, no, Pearl, Mr. Rudolf Hanson'll never marry again as long as that
lady's living, or I miss my guess."

It was evidently with difficulty that Pearl had controlled herself, her
brow had darkened and her upper lip had curled back from her white teeth
in a particularly unpleasant and disfiguring fashion. Again they walked
in one of those silences in which she was wont to entrench herself, and
then she looked up at him with a faintly scornful smile. "Well, you've
sure done your duty, Bob, and I guess you've got just about as much
thanks as folks usually do for that."

He drew his hand across his brow and looked before him a little
drearily. "I didn't expect anything else," he said simply. "I knew what
I'd get. But whether you like it or not," and here he caught her
shoulder, his eyes holding hers, "as I told you before, I always got to
do what seems the best for you, no matter what's the cost."

Her face did not soften. She merely accepted this as she did all else
that he had to give her, himself included.

They had reached the end of a long alley, and now they turned and
retraced their steps, but they had traversed almost half of the distance
they had come before Pearl spoke again. "Well, now you've told me, what
else are you and Pop planning to do?"

He weighed his answer for a few moments. "I guess nothing," he said at
last. "I guess we'll leave it to you to send him about his business."

She stopped in the path and looked at him; her blue cotton gown fell in
long lines of grace about her slender figure. "If you and Pop want to
know what I'm going to do," she said, "I'll tell you. I'm going to
accept Rudolf's offer and go out on the road, that's what. You know by
this time that I can take care of myself."

He pondered this seriously, but without a change in the expression of
his face. "Would you go with him," he asked, "if Sweeney offers you as
much or more money?"

"Sweeney won't offer me more money. I know Sweeney and his limits,"
significantly, "and you won't make up the balance of what Sweeney lacks,
either, do you hear? Now you, and Pop, too, can just keep your hands
off. I manage this affair myself."

Flick merely shrugged his shoulders, and they walked on without further
speech on the matter. Presently Bob's keen eyes descried some one
walking down the mesquite avenue toward them. "Why, it's Hughie!" he
exclaimed.

Even as he spoke the boy stopped and listened intently. He stood
motionless, waiting until they drew nearer, and then he lifted his head,
which he had bent sidewise the better to hear their almost soundless
footsteps.

Pearl, seeing that her interview with Flick was soon to be interrupted,
stopped short in the path and laid one hand detainingly upon his arm.
"Bob," she said, in her softest tone, "Bob, you and I have been pals for
a good while; you aren't going against me now?"

He stopped, obedient to her touch, and looked at her unwillingly. He
could always hold to his resolution in the face of her anger, but to
withstand her when she chose to coax! That was another and more
difficult matter. But if he met her gaze reluctantly there was no
wavering in either his glance or his voice.

"I'm going to save you from Hanson, Pearl," he paused for the fraction
of a second, "by any means I got to use."

She flashed one swift, violent glance of resentment, and then
immediately controlled herself, as she could always do when she chose
and when she was playing to win; so now she cast down her eyes and
sighed.

The motes of the glancing sunbeams fell over her like a shower of gold,
spangling the blue cotton frock until it appeared a more regal vesture
than purple and ermine; her head was bent, her body drooped like a lily
in the noonday heat, her whole attitude was soft, and forlorn and
appealing, as if she, this wilful, untamed creature, subdued herself to
accept a wounding decree, and bore it with all the pathos of unmurmuring
resignation.

Flick's heart smote him, he longed to clasp her to his breast and give
her everything she impossibly craved. And now it was he who sighed, and
then clinched his hands as if to steel his resolution.

She heard the sigh: she saw from the quick movement of his hands, the
sudden, involuntary straightening of the shoulders that the struggle was
on, so she lifted her eyes half wistfully, half doubtingly to his and
thus gazed a moment and then smiled her faintly crooked heart-shattering
smile:

"You and I have been friends too long for us to begin to quarrel now,
isn't that so, Bob?" Again she laid her hand on his arm.

He caught it in both of his and pressed it hard. "I guess you know we'll
never quarrel, Pearl. I guess you know that, no matter what you say or
do, it'll never make any difference to me."

"'Course I know it. And you're not going against me now, Bob, either,
are you?" She lifted his hand, and with one of her rare, caressing
gestures laid it against her cheek for a moment and, turning her face a
little, lightly brushed his palm with her lips.

He shivered and quickly drew his hand away. There was silence between
them for a few moments and then he sighed again and more heavily than
ever. "Oh, Pearl," he cried, "what do you want to make things so hard
for? Let that dog - " he checked himself hastily, seeing her expression.
"I beg your pardon, you don't look at him that way. Let Hanson go. I
know you about as well as anybody in the world, don't I?"

"Better," she nodded her head affirmatively, answering without
hesitation.

"Well, won't you believe me when I tell you that you couldn't be happy
with him. Won't you listen to me, Pearl?"

She looked at him a little slyly out of the corners of her eyes, a
little one-sided, cynical smile on her lips. "We're always so dead sure
what's going to make other people happy, ain't we, Bob? Always can see
what's good for them so much better than they ever can see for
themselves."

Flick looked away from her, down the long, shaded alley; once or twice
he swallowed hard. "It ain't easy to say what I got to," a faint flush
on his cheek, "'cause I hate to talk that-a-way to a lady, especially to
you, Pearl; but I know you; and you can't be happy, you just naturally
can't, with a man that's married for keeps to one woman, and
that'll - God, Pearl! It hurts me to talk like this to you - that'll throw
you over when he's tired of you just like he's thrown over several
others."

She caught his arm and shook it violently, as if she scarcely knew what
she did. "Throw me over! Me! the Black Pearl!" she cried hoarsely, and
broke into a torrent of Spanish oaths. "Dios!" she paused at last,
panting for breath, "you must be crazy to talk to me like that, Bob
Flick."

"I told you how I hated it," he answered, with that sad, unaltered
patience with which he always took her unspared blame, "but I had to do
it. You got to know these things, Pearl, and it's better for me to tell
you than for your Pop to try."

"He wouldn't have gotten very far," she muttered.

"That's just it. You'd both have got to scrapping and screaming at each
other and nothing told."

"Better nothing told, as far as you are concerned," she flashed at him
fiercely, and then lapsed into sullen silence.

"Hello! Hello!" Hughie's voice came to them from a side avenue or
narrower path down which he had wandered.

"Hello, yourself," Flick answered. "We'll wait for you right here."

"Bob." Pearl's soft voice held no evidence of rancor. "Tell me something
quick, before he reaches us. Tell me true, and I'll be good friends,
honest, I will."

"You know I'll tell you anything I can."

"Then - then - is she - that woman in Colina - pretty? As pretty as I am?"

He smiled bitterly. "No one's as pretty as you, Pearl. No, she ain't
pretty."

"Well, what does she look like?" impatiently.

"Nothing much. Why, I don't know, just looks like most every other woman
you see."

"Oh, Bob, quick! Is she little or big? Is she kind of saucy and quick,
or is she quiet and slow? Quick, now, Hughie's almost here."

"Why - why," he rubbed his hand across his brow, "she's kind of - kind of
motherly."

Pearl threw back her head and laughed, then she took a few dancing steps
up and down the road.

"It's Pearl and Bob," called Hughie. "I knew it a while back when I
stopped to listen, and then I heard a bird note down yonder," with a
wave of his hand toward the direction in which he had come, "and I
wanted to hear it closer, so I didn't wait for you. I can always tell
you two by the sound of your footsteps. Pearl walks in better rhythm
than you do, Bob."

"Of course. What do you expect?" It was Flick who spoke. "What are you
doing so far away from home, anyway, Hughie?"

The boy's wistful, delicate face clouded. "I had to go somewhere," he
said. "That Hanson has been there all morning, and mother has been
sitting with her head so close to his, talking, talking."

Pearl laughed a single note, like her father's. "Poor Rudolf!" she
muttered, "the men are all jealous of him, even Hugh."

Fortunately, the boy did not hear her, although Bob Flick did, as she
intended he should.

"I do love mother," Hugh added plaintively, "but I can't love the people
she mostly likes, so I came as far away as I could, and here," his face
was irradiated in one of its quick changes, "I've been walking up and
down and hearing and seeing things; listening to the quail and the
doves; and a while ago there was a humming-bird; and did you ever smell
the desert as sweet as it is this morning?" He lifted his head and
sniffed ecstatically. "I've been turning the whole morning into music.
It's all gold and green and gay with little silver trumpets through it,
and now and again the moan of the doves. I'm going to work it out as
soon as we get home. That is," he shrugged his shoulders impatiently,
"if that Hanson has gone. He stops all the music and the color." This
was Hugh's invariable plaint when any one was about whom he disliked.

"Oh, forget him," cried Pearl. "Don't be a cross, Hughie." She spoke
with a half impatient, half teasing tenderness. It was remarkable that
she showed no resentment toward the boy for the difficulties in which
she found herself entangled, although his intuitions and the almost
superstitious respect which they were accorded in the Gallito household
might be said to have caused the disturbing investigations into Hanson's
past. That Pearl herself disregarded these intuitions in this case was
to those about her the strongest proof of her infatuation; but she never
dreamed of blaming the boy or harboring rancor against him for this
mischief he had done. On the contrary, she accepted it fatalistically.
He never could account himself for these instinctive likes and dislikes
of his; therefore, they were to be accepted and borne with as something
of him, and yet apart from him; and that was all there was to it.

"I'll tell you what to do, Hugh. You help me work out some new dances,"
she cried. "A lot has been coming to me. One shall be 'Night on the
Desert.' We can get some great effects. Something really artistic for
the big cities, not the old waltz things we have to do for the desert
and mountain villages. We might try that 'Desert Morning' that you've
just been planning to compose, and I've been thinking of another one - a
Cactus Blossom Dance. Something like this." She began to dance.

"Tell me the steps, Pearl; tell me the steps," called the boy
impatiently. "Oh, that's a great idea!" His face was flushed; and then
suddenly it fell. "Oh!" he cried despairingly to Flick, "she always gets
all sorts of ideas for new dances when she's in love - always. I never
knew it fail."

He flung himself away pettishly, and started off alone. Hugh never had
any difficulty about direction. In a locality with which he was familiar
he would walk about with the utmost confidence. Occasionally he would
stop, rap his leg sharply with one hand, listen a moment, and then,
apparently satisfied, walk on. Those who pressed him for an explanation
of this merely received the vague and unilluminating reply that he could
feel the earth that way and tell from the sound of it, probably meaning
the vibration, just where he was.

Pearl and Flick followed him in a more leisurely way, although no word
was spoken between them until they reached home. Pearl's eyes scanned
the house, but it was evident that Hanson had gone, for her mother sat
in a rocking-chair before the window, her head tilted back, fast asleep.

"What do you suppose your Pop'll say to your signing up with Hanson?"
asked Flick, as they passed through the gate.

"I suppose we'll have a row that'll make the house rock," she answered
indifferently, dismissing him with a nod.




CHAPTER V


Hanson had learned of Flick's return to Paloma almost as soon as the
Pearl, although from a different source; Jimmy, the bar-keeper, having
informed him of the fact. He had sauntered into Chickasaw Pete's place
as was his wont, soon after breakfast on the same morning that Pearl had
walked in the mesquite alleys with Flick. This he selected as the most
agreeable place in which he could while away the time until a suitable
hour for either seeking Pearl, or else hastening to keep an appointment
with her. And Jimmy, with the same instinct that a squirrel hides nuts,
hoarded such chance bits of gossip as came his way and brought them out
one by one for the delectation of those with whom he conversed.

"Hello, Paloma Morning Journal!" called Hanson as he entered the door,
his large, genial presence radiating optimism and good cheer. "How many
big black headlines this morning?"

Jimmy's smile made creases in his round, red cheeks above his white
linen jacket. "Pretty shy of headlines," he chuckled. "Nothing but a few
personals."

"No murders, no lynchings, nor merry cowboys on bucking broncos shooting
up the town?" exclaimed Hanson, in affected dismay. "My! My! What is
the West coming to? I'm afraid you ain't serving them the right kind of
poison, Jimmy."

"It's so bad I won't touch it myself." Jimmy defended himself with
professional pride. "Have some?"

"Not I. I got to be going, anyway."

Seeing that Hanson was about to follow this intention, Jimmy drew forth
his first nut. "Bob Flick got back last night," he said, and then,
abashed by the meagerness of this bit of information, attempted to
enhance its value. "I'd like to know," leaning his elbow on the bar and
his chin in his hand, "I'd like to know where he went and what he went
for."

Hanson did not alter his lounging pose and yet, indefinably, his
attitude became more tense, as if, in a quick riveting of attention,
every sense had become alert. "He's doing a good mining business, ain't
he?" he spoke carelessly. "I should think there would be a good many
things that would take him out of Paloma."

"Oh, 'course," conceded Jimmy, "but don't you know how you kind of feel
things sometimes. Well, you listen to me, there's something queer about
this trip." He half closed his eyes and shook his head mysteriously.

"Come, now, Jimmy," Hanson's tone was bantering; he rapped on the bar in
playful emphasis, but there was anxiety in his glance. "You're just
trying to work up a little excitement. A show down now, a show down."

"Kid me all you please," chuckled Jimmy, with imperturbable good humor,
"but, take it from me, something special's been doing. Bob's not one to
talk about his or any one's else business, but if he's going off on any
little trip he's likely to mention it. And, when he comes back, he'll


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 4 of 20)