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tell you this or that he's seen or heard, just like other folks. But
this time, not a word. Glum as an oyster. You just bet," Jimmy
emphasized the statement with a series of nods, "that somethin's going
on. Him and Gallito have had their heads too close. And that old fox is
usually up to some mischief."

"What kind?" asked Hanson quickly.

"I don't know," answered Jimmy, and Hanson saw to his relief that the
bar-keeper was sincere, and that he was to his own manifest regret as
ignorant as he appeared. "But," he added shrewdly, "you been taking up a
good deal of the Pearl's time and attention, and Bob ain't going to
stand that from anybody very long."

"He ain't, ain't he?" the insolence of Hanson's tone was touched with
triumph.

"No," said Jimmy simply, "he ain't; and so I kind of feel that this trip
of his had something to do with you. And, say, Mr. Hanson," there was a
touch of embarrassment in his voice, "you and me's been pretty good
friends since you been here, and I thought I'd just give you the tip."

Hanson did not answer for a second, and then he looked up with one of
his most open and genial smiles. "Thanks, Jimmy," he said heartily.
"Always glad to get the straight tip. I've been so anxious since I've
been here to sign up with the Black Pearl that maybe, considering Mr.
Bob Flick, I haven't been very discreet in the way I've been chasing
there." He leaned his elbow on the bar and assumed a more confidential
manner. "But, say, it's funny the way every one speaks the same about
Gallito. Hints everywhere, but no facts. What is it about him, anyway?"
He either could not or did not conceal that he awaited a reply with
eagerness.

"I wish I knew." Jimmy spoke with the utmost sincerity. "Folks whisper
and shake their heads, but there's nothing to lay a finger on. I've
tried to pump Mrs. Gallito more than once, but if she knows anything she
keeps it dark. She's afraid of me, anyway. She always says: 'Oh, Jimmy,
you're such a gossip!' Me!" He was really injured. "I guess if everybody
did as little gossiping as I do this world would be a heap sight better
place."

"Sure," agreed Hanson cordially; and this time his smile was genuinely
expressive of his thankful and undisguised relief. By what seemed to him
an almost incredible piece of good luck, considering the mutual
predilection of Mrs. Gallito and Jimmy for gossip, his secret was still
intact.

He straightened up involuntarily, and stood a moment deep in thought,
his unseeing gaze fixed on a row of bottles on a shelf behind Jimmy. He
picked up an apple which Jimmy had left on the bar and turned it around
in his hands, apparently considering the effect of its scarlet stripes
on a green surface. Then he threw back his shoulders and laughed aloud.
"Bill Jones left a peckful of luscious apples in ye editorial sanctum
to-day," he said gaily. "Come again, Bill," and laying the fruit down,
turned away, Jimmy's delighted chuckles following him to the door and
beyond.

Outside, he hesitated a moment, and then turned in the direction of the
little railroad station. Seeing him, the weedy youth who acted as agent
brought his chair, tilted back at an almost impossible angle, to the
earth, took his feet down from a table, laid aside an old and battered
magazine and expressed devout gratitude to heaven that any one should
relieve what he was pleased to term his solitary confinement.

Hanson took the chair pushed toward him and for nearly an hour discussed
events in the outside world, and the various phases of his profession in
what the agent found a most entertaining manner. Finally he looked at
his watch, murmured something about an engagement and rose to go.
"Well," he said at parting, "I expect the next time I see you I'll be
buying a ticket."

"Going to leave us soon?" asked the youth regretfully.

"Not to-day," smiled the manager, "but soon. Oh, by the way, now I think
of it - is there a train goes straight from here to Colina?"

"Not straight. You got to change twice; once at the junction and once at
the branch."

"And what kind of a place is there to stay at? Any hotel?"

"I don't know. Not much of one, I guess. Gallito would know. But he's
got his own cabin, ain't he? That's so. Why don't you ask Bob Flick?
He's just been up there. I sold him a ticket the other day, and he got
back on the train yesterday evening. Thanks," taking the cigar Hanson
offered. "So long."

With his suspicions thus definitely confirmed, Hanson wasted no time in
following his inclinations and seeking the Pearl in her own home, but
his delay had cost him a word with her, and he did not arrive at the
Gallito house until after she and Bob Flick had left. This was the first
untoward event in a successful morning, but he concealed his chagrin
and, with his usual adaptability to circumstances, exerted himself to be
agreeable to Mrs. Gallito, not without hope of gaining more or less
valuable information.

Mrs. Gallito was in one of her sighing moods. In spite of all the
methods of protection which she and Hughie had utilized the coyotes
still continued to commit their depredations upon her chicken yard and
daily to make way with her choicest "broilers" and "fryers." Also she
had shipped several large consignments of sweet potatoes to the eastern
markets and, instead of their being, as usual, snapped up by epicures at
enormous prices, they had fallen, through competition with other
shippers, almost to the price of the ordinary variety - desert sweet
potatoes, too.

Life, she averred, was hard, almost a failure. Sometimes things went
sort of smooth and you thought it wasn't so bad, and then everything
went wrong.

"Oh, not everything," said Hanson, with a rather perfunctory attempt at
consolation.

"Yes, sir, everything" - dolefully she creaked back and forth in her
rocking-chair - "everything. Here's Gallito, the luckiest man at cards
ever was, and he's been losing steady for three nights, and he's getting
blacker and sourer and stiller every minute. Oh, if him and Pearl would
only talk when things go wrong with 'em. It would seem so natural
and - and - humanlike."

"Back in the old sawdust days," she continued reminiscently, "when
things went wrong in the circus, everybody'd be screaming at each other,
calling names and threatening, and often as not throwing anything that
came handy. They'd get it all out of their systems that way, and there
was nothing left to curdle. But to sit and glower and think and think!
Oh, it's awful! Why, even Hughie, he'll talk and pound the piano like he
was going to break the poor thing to pieces; but this Spanish way of
Pearl and her father! Oh, my!" Mrs. Gallito shook her head and carefully
wiped a tear from her eye, before it could make a disfiguring rivulet
down the paint and powder on her cheek.

"It can't be so much fun, all things considered," conceded Hanson.

"Fun!" Mrs. Gallito merely looked at him. "When I think of what life
used to be! Lots of work, but just as much excitement. Why, I was awful
pretty, Mr. Hanson," a real flush rose on her faded cheek, "and I had
lots of admiration, 'deed I did."

"You don't need to tell me that," said Hanson. "I guess I got eyes."

"And when I married Gallito," she went on, "I was awful happy. I guess
I was soft, but I always wanted to love some one and be loved a whole
lot, and I thought that was what was going to happen, but it didn't. I
often wonder what he married me for. But," her voice was poignant with
wistfulness, "I would have liked to have been loved, I would."

Hanson nodded understandingly and without speaking, this time, an
expression of real sympathy in his eyes. She was weak and silly. She was
dyed and painted and powdered almost to the point of being grotesque,
and yet, in voicing the universal longing, she became real, and human,
and touching.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Hanson giving Mrs. Gallito an
opportunity to recover her self-control, while he devoted his attention
to Lolita, who had sidled up to him and was gazing at him evilly, ready
to nip him malevolently should he attempt the familiarity of scratching
her head.

Mrs. Gallito, alive to the courtesies of the occasion, had succeeded in
choking back her sobs, and now she endeavored to turn the conversation
into less personal channels. "Bob Flick got back yesterday."

"Where's he been traveling?" asked the manager easily. "He can't have
gone so very far, hasn't been gone long enough."

Mrs. Gallito leaned forward carefully. "He's been to Colina and, Mr.
Hanson, I think his trip had something to do with you. Him and Gallito
talked late last night. I tried my best to hear what they were saying,"
naïvely, "but I couldn't for a long while, and then Gallito said out
loud: 'Who's going to tell her, you or me?'

"And Bob kind of waited a minute and then he said: 'Me. You'd only stir
her up and make her obstinate. But, God!' he said, sighing awful heavy,
'I wish I didn't have to.'"

"I'll bet he does," muttered Hanson, and throwing back his head laughed
aloud.

She looked at him doubtfully, as if surprised at his manner of receiving
her information. "Is it funny?" she asked.

"Not for Bob," still vindictively amused.

"I suppose something's gone wrong with her contract with Sweeney, and he
can hold her to it, or else have the law on her," ventured Mrs. Gallito.
"That's all I can think of to stir them up so."

"I guess that must be it," agreed Hanson. "Eh, Lolita?"

"Here comes Gallito now." She leaned forward suddenly, shielding her
eyes with her hand. "Yes, it's him, sure. Why, I thought he'd gone to
the mines and wouldn't be back to-day."

Gallito was riding slowly toward the house, his head bent, his frowning
gaze fixed before him. Nevertheless, he had seen his wife's guest, and,
after taking his horse back to the stable, he made his appearance on the
porch. He shook hands with Hanson with his usual punctilious courtesy,
and then, turning to Mrs. Gallito, remarked without ceremony:

"Mr. Hanson and I have business matters to discuss and you have duties
within; but first bring the small table, the cognac and some glasses."

His wife wasted no time in doing his bidding, setting forth the articles
required with a timid and practiced celerity. But even after the brandy
had been tasted and praised by Hanson, and his appreciation of it
accepted with a grave Spanish bow by Gallito, the latter had made no
move to open the conversation, but had insisted upon his guest trying
his cigarettes and giving an opinion upon their merits.

Again Hanson was complaisant, extolling them as worthy to accompany the
cognac, and after that a silence fell between them. Gallito sat puffing
his cigarette, watching with half closed eyes the smoke wreaths curl
upward, while Hanson waited patiently, smoking his cigarette in turn
with an admirable show of indifference.

"The old fox!" thought he scornfully. "Does he hope to bluff me into
giving myself away?"

Finally Gallito spoke, directly and to the point, surprising the other
man, in spite of himself, by a most unexpected lack of diplomatic
subterfuge and subtlety.

"I received a letter from Sweeney yesterday," he drew it slowly from his
pocket, "and he doubles his offer to my daughter, making her salary,
practically, what you are willing to pay her. Now, Mr. Hanson, your
offer is very fine. I appreciate it; my daughter appreciates it; but she
cannot accept it. She treated Sweeney badly, very badly. She is an
untaught child, headstrong, wilful," his brow darkened, "but she must
learn that a contract is a contract." He took another sip of cognac.
"She will go back to Sweeney."

He slightly shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands as if to
say: "I deprecate this for your sake, but the question is definitely
settled; I beg you, therefore, to advance no useless counter-arguments."

But Hanson ignored this unspoken request. "I'm sorry you feel that way
about it," he said, "but your daughter is of age. I guess I'll wait and
see what she has to say about this." He spoke pleasantly, almost
carelessly, no hint of a threat in his tone, at least.

Gallito looked at him from under his brows in surprise, then he laughed,
one single, menacing note. "My daughter will say what I have said."

"I'm not so sure," returned Hanson, and had some difficulty in
restraining himself from speaking violently. Then he forced the issue.

"Look here, Gallito," he cried, "what's all this about, anyway? I came
down here to the desert anxious to secure the Black Pearl as a new
attraction for my vaudeville houses. I see her and I know that she's all
to the good. So, banking on my own judgment, I make her an offer that's
more than generous, just because I've the courage of my convictions and
am willing to back my enthusiasms. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose,"
he snapped his fingers lightly, "but I'm always ready to take the
chances.

"Well - what happens? In the first place, instead of jumping at my offer,
like any sensible man would - I'm talking plain now, Gallito - you got to
drag Sweeney into the game, which, look at it any way you please,
wasn't particularly square. Pah!" scornfully, pitching his cigarette
with a single muscular sweep of the arm into the heart of the garden,
"you don't know it or you wouldn't have been talking to me like you
have, but I've got Sweeney pigeon-holed, know all his resources, and
know positively that he can't come up to my offer. I tell you what,
Gallito, it's cards on the table now, and," he tapped the table between
them with his knuckles, "I'm politely requesting you to draw your nigger
from the woodpile."

Gallito's glance was like the stab of a poignard. "But this is strange
talk." He drew back haughtily. "I do not have to make explanations. I
have my daughter's interests at heart."

"Yes, I know," interrupted Hanson, "but the black man, the black man.
Out with him."

Gallito's face had grown livid, his mouth had tightened until it was
drawn and pinched. "Have it, then," he growled. "Sweeney's straight.
Sweeney hasn't left one wife in Colina while he eloped with one of his
head-liners. He's not in one scrape after another with a woman, until
he's a joke in the coast newspapers, and every woman he features in his
shows has got a black smirch on her - "

"By God, you've got your nerve," cried Hanson violently, interrupting
him.

Gallito made a deprecating motion with his hands, as if to say: "Don't
mention it, I beg of you," and then carefully selected another cigarette
from the box between them. "My nerve is something that rarely deserts
me, Mr. Hanson," he replied, "but I wish to finish what I was saying.
My daughter has a future. She will not only be a great dancer, but she
has the making of a great actress in her, too. And Dios!" he still
maintained his cold restraint, but now, in spite of himself, his tones
vibrated with passion, "just at the beginning of her career, to be made
cheap by you, or any like you - "

He lifted his hooded hawk's eyes and looked at Hanson, who in turn
looked boldly back at him with something indefinable yet unmistakable,
something that was not only defiance, but also a threat in the blaze of
his angry eyes.

And Gallito caught it and raised his brows ever so slightly, pondering
surprisedly for a moment, and then resolutely putting the matter aside
for the present. But Hanson continued to gaze across the table at him.

"Read me my pedigree, ain't you?" he snarled. "All right. Now just let
me tell you something, Gallito. I take my answer from your daughter, and
from no one else. Understand?"

"No," returned Gallito, "I do not understand."

Hanson controlled himself with difficulty. For a moment it was on the
tip of his tongue to tell Gallito that the latter's connivance in the
escape of the notorious Crop-eared José was known to him; also, he was
perfectly cognizant of the present whereabouts of that much-desired
person, and that he, Hanson, had but to step to the telegraph office and
send a wire to Los Angeles, and not only José, but Gallito would be in
custody before night. An admirable method for securing Gallito's
consent to his daughter's acceptance of this professional engagement
which Hanson offered. But, carefully considered, it had its flaws, and
Hanson was not the man to overlook them. Indeed, he sat there in a
baffled and furious silence, going over them mentally and viewing them
from every possible angle.

In the first place, it was extremely doubtful if, after communicating
his knowledge to Gallito, he would ever be permitted to reach the
telegraph station, and, in the second place, he would, he was convinced,
have not only Gallito, but the, to him, more formidable Bob Flick to
deal with. Therefore, and most reluctantly, he decided to keep his
information and his threats to himself for the present and, certainly,
until he was better able to enforce the latter.

But, as he told himself, twisting his shoulders irritably, there was
something about this old Spaniard which got on his nerves. A quality of
composed patience, as if he, at least, never doubted the successful
outcome of his plans; a rock-like imperturbability against which
violence or vituperation shattered itself and fell harmless.

"Look here, Gallito," again he adopted a conciliatory manner, leaning
his elbows on the table, as if prepared for a long discussion, after
first helping himself to another glass of cognac and a fresh cigarette,
"what's the use of a row, anyway? Now, why can't we come to some
agreement. What you say about your daughter's abilities is all true,
every word of it. That's the reason I'm so keen to get her. I know, and
I'm frank enough to confess it, that out here in the desert, with not
much to think about, on a vacation, and all, why - I kind of lost my head
about her. She's a beautiful woman, Gallito, no need to tell you that.
But you know, and I know, that a man can always shut down on that sort
of thing if he's got to. My reputation ain't what it ought to be, no one
knows that better than I, or feels it more; but, honest to God, Gallito,
I ain't as black as I've been painted. No man is, probably. Now, what I
got to say is this - "

"No need to say it, Mr. Hanson," interrupted Gallito, who had been
twisting his mouth wryly during these remarks.

Again Hanson concealed his rising anger, although the color rose in his
cheeks. "Now just let me talk a minute, Gallito." He spread out his
hands placatingly. "The proposition I'm going to make you is this: Miss
Gallito tells me that her mother traveled with her when she was younger,
and even now, when she can spare the time from her farming, she goes out
on the road with the young lady. Now, why not have a purely business
arrangement. Let Miss Pearl sign up with me, and then we'll coax her
mother to go with her. I should think that would satisfy you. It ought
to satisfy any one, for a girl's mother to go with her."

"Of course," the Spaniard bowed with stately courtesy, but not before
had his smile been so sardonic. "As you say, every one should be
satisfied with such an arrangement and, let me say, it is one that would
greatly please me, but as I told you before, Mr. Hanson, it cannot be.
My daughter must keep her contract with Sweeney."

At white heat, Hanson rose and pushed back his chair. "Hell!" he cried.
"What am I up against, anyway! Give some people the earth and it
wouldn't suit 'em. But you can take this from me, Gallito," he leaned
forward and pounded his fist on the table, "I don't take my answer from
you. We'll see what the Black Pearl has got to say. The Black Pearl
smirched by going out with me!" He laughed aloud.

He fell back frightened as Gallito half rose from his chair, and then,
to his unbounded surprise, the Spaniard sat down again and softly rubbed
his hands together. Hanson had a fleeting and most disturbing impression
of the old man gloating over some secret and pleasant prospect.

Lolita had balanced herself on the edge of the table and Gallito bent
forward and scratched her head, making little clucking noises in his
throat the while: "Our guest is a great poker player, Lolita, he
understands how to make a bluff, but," again that single grating note of
a laugh, "assure him, my Lolita, that he will be cold-decked."

Again Hanson was almost betrayed into making his threat then and there.
He leaned forward and shook his forefinger under the Spaniard's eyes,
his face was purple, but just in time he remembered himself, closed his
mouth and drew back.

"Bob, Bob," croaked Lolita, "mi jasmin Pearl, mi corazon."

"A most intelligent bird, you see, Mr. Hanson," observed Gallito, with
saturnine politeness.

Hanson turned away impatiently. "I will see your daughter this
afternoon," he said.

Gallito had begun to roll a fresh cigarette, but now, checking himself
abruptly, he threw a long comprehensive glance at the cloudless brazen
sky, and then, squinting his eyes, studied for a second or two the
equally brazen desert.

"I think not, Mr. Hanson," he said, with assured finality in his voice.
"I do not think you will see my daughter to-day. What? Going so soon?
Another glass of cognac? No. Adios, then. Adios."




CHAPTER VI


Hanson walked away, more disturbed in mind by his interview with Gallito
than he would have thought possible an hour or two earlier. Something in
the finality of the Spaniard's voice when making those last predictions,
his evidently sincere belief that his daughter would not appear under
Hanson's management, had impressed the latter in spite of himself,
causing him seriously to question the extent of his influence over
Pearl, a weakness which he had not previously permitted himself.

He strove with all the force of his optimistic will to throw off the
depression which deepened with each moment, assuring himself that he was
tired, that all morning he had played a part, every faculty on the
alert; and that this growing dissatisfaction and unrest were only the
evidence of a natural reaction.

He attempted to buttress his hope with mental argument, logical, even
final, but singularly unconvincing where Pearl was concerned, as
anything logical and final must ever be. He tried to recall in detail
stories he had heard of her avarice and her coquetries; he thought of
her jewels, her name, her wiles. Who was she to object to past
peccadillos on his part? Then, uncomforted, he sought to reassure
himself with the remembrance of her love for him, ardent and beautiful
as the sun on the desert, but her image rose on the dark of his mind
like a flame, veering and capricious, or as the wind, lingering,
caressing, yet ever fleeing.

He was tormented by the remembrance also of strange phases of her which
he divined but could not analyze. Again, he would in fancy look deep
into her dark eyes, demanding that his imagination revive for him those
moments when his heart had thrilled to the liquid languor of her gaze,
and instead he saw only the world-weariness of that sphynx glance which
seemed to brood on uncounted centuries, and far back in her eyes,
illusive and brief as the faint, half seen shadow on a mirror, he
discerned mockery and disdain.

He took off his hat, baring his brow to the air, and drew long breaths,
unpleasantly conscious of an increasing heaviness and sultriness in the
air, according well with the oppression of his thoughts. When he arrived
at the San Gorgonio, he was glad to take refuge in his room and there,
to relieve the tension of nerves strung almost unbearably high, he
walked back and forth and, after his fashion, swore volubly and
unintermittently.

At last, having exhausted his vocabulary as well as his breath, he
turned to the window, struck by some impending change in the atmosphere
which had now revealed itself by a slight obscuring of the light in the
room. He looked out curiously, half fearfully, dimly but rebelliously
aware that the world, his human world of personal desires and
activities, as well as all external nature was threatened by vast,
unseen, menacing forces. The great, gray desert lay in crouching
stillness, a silence which filled the soul of man with horror. The sun,
crimson as blood, hung in a sky over which seemed to have been drawn a
veil of golden mist.

"Must be something doing," muttered Hanson, and even as he spoke his eye
was taken by a movement on the horizon line, a billowing as if the
desert were rising like the sea. And truly it did. It lifted in waves
that mounted almost to the sky and swept forward with a savage eagerness
as if to bear down upon and engulf and obliterate the little oasis of a
village with its green productive fields, and reduce it again to the


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 5 of 20)