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wastes of desolation from which it had been so painfully redeemed by
man.

For nearly three days the storm lasted, raging by day and by night. The
trees bowed to earth and lifted themselves to bow again with the sound
of many waters in their leaves; and in the voice of the wind every
savage, primeval menace alternated with every wail of human grief and
anguish which has echoed through the ages. All desolation in the heart
of man, "I am without refuge!" shrieked in its high cries, and, as if
failing to find adequate expression in these, it summoned its chorus of
demons and rang with the despairing fury of all damned and discordant
things, until one bowed and covered the ears and muttered a prayer.

And the sand! It sifted constantly through doors and windows, and seemed
to fall in a fine continuous shower from the very roof. It covered
everything with a white rime; it sifted into the hair, the eyes;
breathing was difficult, the air was so chokingly full of it.

The rooms, too, were ever paced by the restless feet of the wind,
curtains swayed as if shaken by ghostly fingers; rugs and carpets rose
and fell upon the floor, and, whether one sat alone or with others, the
air seemed full of stealing presences, sad, and sometimes terrible; and
of immemorial whispers that would not be stilled.

The desert knows no time, its past and present are one, a thousand years
is as a single day, and when it chooses to find its voice all yesterdays
and all to-morrows blend.

Some day, when grief and horror shall be abandoned by man as utterly as
his dreams of cave-life; when his remembrances of wrestling with the
forces of nature or commerce shall seem as remote as his warfare with
beasts, and tribes as savage as beasts; when he lifts his dull eyes and
dares to dream only joy and beauty, then he will know that the gray
cries of the wind are but the emphasis to the singing of the sunlight,
that the black storm-clouds are but the contrast Beauty offers to deepen
and heighten the effect of her more ethereal hues, blue and rose and
pearl.

Hanson had stood the storm badly; inactivity was always a hardship to
him, also he was unused to such discomfort as he had to endure; and his
depression and unrest induced by the suspense he suffered in
continually wondering how Pearl would take Bob Flick's news were
greatly increased by the fact that he could get no word to her, nor
receive any from her.

But on the third night the storm stilled and in the morning the desert
showed herself sparkling like an enchantress, exhibiting all of her
marvelous illusions of color and wrapped in a golden garment of
sunshine. She smiled with all the allurement of a radiant and beautiful
woman.

Early in the morning, just as Hanson was preparing to send a note to
Pearl, he received one from her, asking him to meet her again within an
hour or two, amid the palms. She did not suggest his riding thither with
her. The note was brief, a mere line, and, study it as he would, he
found nothing in it to indicate what her attitude was toward him,
therefore it did not allay his nervousness in the least as to how she
would meet him. But with the passage of the storm his nerves had
recovered their normal tone, and with the brilliance and freshness of
the morning much of his optimism had returned.

He reached the approach to the foothills where the palms lifted their
stately and magnificent height, long before Pearl, and there, walking
restlessly back and forth, he watched the road with straining eyes. And
then he saw her, at first a mere speck in the distance; then she became
more and more distinct, for she rode fast. She waved her hand to him as
she came nearer and his heart rose in a great bound. Slackening the
speed of her horse, she leaped from the saddle while it was still going,
ran by its side, throwing the bridle over her arm, stopped, laughing
and breathless, and cast herself into Hanson's waiting arms.

"Pearl, Pearl," he cried, in a low voice, holding her close against him
and kissing her upturned face again and again. "Oh, Pearl, it's been a
thousand years in hell since I saw you last."

She laughed and, gazing eagerly into her care-free eyes and
unreproachful face, his heart rose again in a great sigh of relief.
"That's the way a tenderfoot always feels about a sand-storm," she said.
"Well, we sure gave you some nice theatrical effects, didn't we? It's
the biggest I've seen for many a long day. But you were bound to see
something like that before you went away." She spoke with a fatalism
approaching Bob Flick's. "The desert never lets you go and forget her."
Her eyes dreamed a moment.

"She's like you in that, Pearl. My heavens! I wish you could see
yourself this morning. Beautiful ain't the word."

"Am I beautiful, Rudolf?" She lifted her head from his shoulder and
looked at him with a soft, childlike expression, as if longing for his
praise.

"I guess you know it," he said adoringly, stroking her shining black
hair, "but if you weren't, if you were as ugly as sin, it wouldn't make
any difference, you'd get us all just the same. All women like you got
to do is to look at a man and he'll follow you like a sheep. I don't
know what it is, magnetism or something."

"But I'm glad I'm not as ugly as sin," she murmured, in smiling content.
"And I'm glad you're not, too." She reached up her arm and touched his
hair caressingly. "I love that little touch of reddish gold in your
hair, and, yes, just that sprinkling of gray, and I love your blue eyes.
I can't bear dark men. I am so dark myself."

"You sure are, Pearl, thank the Lord! I never was very poetic, but I
never see one of these desert nights sparkling with their big stars,
twice as big as natural, that I don't think of you."

She smiled, delighted at his praise.

"But, goodness!" he went on, "when ain't I thinking of you? I tell you,
you been on my mind steady these last few days. Your Pop was so dead
sure when I talked to him that you'd have nothing more to do with me
that it got to worrying me, and I thought maybe you'd hold it against me
that I hadn't told you about - about my being already tied up." He
scanned her face as if fearful of seeing it cloud and change.

It did. The laughter faded from her eyes, her brow darkened. "I wish you
had told me," she said, "then I'd been a little better prepared for Pop
and Bob; but I guess they got as good as they gave."

"I know I ought to have told you, Pearl," he said miserably, "and I
meant to, honey, but" - gathering her more closely in his arms - "I just
couldn't spoil those first few days; and, anyway, you drove everything
but you out of my head. I just determined every time it came into my
mind to tell you, that I wasn't going to spoil Paradise with any
recollections of hell. Maybe I was all wrong, but that was the way I
felt."

"No, you were all right, Rudolf," she wound her arms about his neck.
"When the storm came it broke swift and sudden like the sand storm, and
we didn't live it all over beforehand, getting ready for it, and
deciding how we'd meet it when it came, and all that. We just enjoyed
ourselves. Lived and loved up to the moment when it broke, and that was
the best way."

"Gee! was there ever a woman like you!" lifting his glad, gay gaze to
the sky. "Why, Pearl, it most frightens me when I think how happy me and
you are going to be together."

"Are we?" nestling closer to him. "How?"

"How?" he repeated. "Why, we're going to be together first and last;
ain't that enough? It is for me. But" - with drooping head and affectedly
humble and dejected mien - "it couldn't be expected to be enough for you,
could it?"

"Hardly," she looked up at him through her long lashes.

"Well, since that ain't enough for you," still with affected
resignation, "let me tell you this: You're going to dance to bigger
crowds and higher class ones than you ever saw before, because you're
going to be advertised proper, see?" And then, sketching out plans with
his former bold, optimistic confidence, "We're going to travel on the
other side and travel in style, too, a big touring automobile. I guess
you can show those foreign managers something new in the dancing line.
How would you like to see your name all over London and Paris? The Black
Pearl! Eh?"

She slipped away from him and took a few buoyant dancing steps. "Fine!"
she laughed. "It sure sounds good to me." Floating nearer to him, she
pinched his arm. "Ain't you the spellbinder!"

He caught her with one arm. "Oh, Pearl," his voice falling to
seriousness, "you don't know how happy you make me. Honest, I've been so
plum scared these last few days, I been almost crazy. I didn't know, you
see, just how much influence your Pop and Flick might have over you, and
I got locoed for fear you wouldn't see me and give me a chance to
explain."

"Pop and Bob Flick kindly took the bother of explaining things off your
shoulders, didn't they?" with a short, vindictive laugh.

"Darn 'em," bitterly. "I don't want to say anything about your Pop, but
Flick's a sneaking coyote, and sooner or later he'll pay for snooping
into my business. Oh, I've cursed myself more than once for letting him
tell you, but I never loved a woman before, Pearl, and I couldn't take
the chances, honest I couldn't. I hadn't the nerve." There was a
passionate sincerity in his voice.

"They've been telling me you've loved many a woman." Her eyes gloomed
and she slashed her skirt savagely with the riding crop she held.

"You know," he whispered, "you know. I've been a fool. There have been
many others, Pearl, I ain't going to deceive you, but - there's never
been but one."

She softened and smiled at him, then her face darkened again. "But
there's one that stands in the way - yet," she said gloomily.

"In the way? What do you mean?" uncomprehendingly.

"Why, that woman up in Colina? Don't she stand between you and me, now,
for a while?"

"Not much, she don't," emphatically, "not her!"

A light flared in Pearl's eyes. "I knew Pop and Bob were up to some of
their tricks! They been doing their best to ram it home that she'll die
before she lets you get a divorce."

"You bet she will," muttered Hanson, with concentrated bitterness, and
stifled some maledictions under his breath. "I've tried every way,
turned every trick known to sharp lawyers for the last six years, trying
to get free; but she's got money, you see, and she can keep her eye on
me, so, in one way or another, she's balked me every time."

Pearl threw herself from him and looked at him with wild eyes. "Then how
are you going to get free now?" she cried. "What are your plans? Why is
she going to come around now, if she never has before?"

"She ain't, honey, the devil take her!" He caught her back in his arms
and held her as if he would never release her. "But what difference does
that make to us?" he pleaded ardently. "We're going to let the whole lot
of them go hang and live our lives as we choose."

"Then Pop and Bob were right; and I never believed them, not for a
moment. I thought you were too smart to stay caught in a trap like that.
I thought you were so quick and keen to plan and were so full of ideas
that you could get around any situation." Again she flung herself away
from him and, with her face turned from him, stood looking out over the
desert.

He bent toward her and, throwing his arms about her, again endeavored to
draw her back into his embrace, but she resisted.

"Pearl," he cried roughly, "what do you mean? You don't mean to say that
you got any foolish ideas about it making any difference whether a
preacher says a few words over us or not? Why, you can't feel that way.
You've seen too much of life, and your folks have always been show
people. They didn't hold any such ideas. Anyway, you got brains to think
for yourself. What joke you playing on me, honey? Oh, don't hold me off
like that, lift your head and look at me. I know you're going to laugh
in about a minute and then I'll know it's all a joke." Again he tried to
put his arm about her and again she threw him off.

"Let me alone," she cried harshly. "I'm thinking. Let me alone."

"Pearl," he besought wildly; his face had suddenly grown flabby and
white, his voice was broken with his desperate pleading. "Honey, you
don't want time to think. Why, there's nothing to think about. We're
going off on the train this afternoon to be happy together, and we don't
give a cent for anything else. We'd be married if we could. My Lord! I
should say so! But since we can't, we'll make the best of it."

He paused and looked at her, but there was something inflexible in her
attitude, some almost threatening aloofness that made him hesitate to
clasp her as he longed to do for fear he should meet another and final
rebuff. He waited a moment or two, but, as she did not speak, he began
again.

"I know you're joking, Pearl, but it's awful hard on me" - he wiped the
sweat from his brow. "You haven't got any such fool ideas. Of course you
haven't. They're for dead ones, old maid country school teachers, and
preachers and things like that, hypocrites that have got to make their
living by playing the respectable game. But we're not that kind, Pearl,
we're alive, and we're not afraid. We're going to be happier than two
people ever were in this world. Pearl, speak to me. I don't wonder that
your mother complains about the way you shut yourself up and never say a
word. Speak to me. Tell me what you're thinking."

"I'm thinking a lot of things," she answered, but without turning her
head to look at him, "and I ain't through yet. Now I've got to studying
on this matter, I'm a-going to think it out here and now."

"But what is there to think about?" in a sort of exasperated despair.
"Oh, Pearl, how can you be so cruel! I know you ain't got any of the
fool ideas of the dead ones I was talking about. You couldn't have; not
with Isobel Montmorenci for a grandmother, and Queenie Madrew for a
mother, and the same kind on your Pop's side of the house. You didn't
have any Sunday-school bringing up and I know it. Then what you playing
with me like a cat does with a mouse for? It ain't fair, Pearl, it ain't
fair."

She turned and faced him now with an impatient gesture of the hands.
Some expression on her face, the set of her mouth, the horse-shoe frown
on her forehead gave her a fleeting resemblance to her father, a
resemblance that momentarily chilled his blood.

"For goodness' sake keep quiet a minute," she cried irritably. "You gave
me a jolt a while ago, telling me you couldn't get free, and I want a
minute or two to take it in."

"But you don't think hard of me for that," he implored. "Oh, Pearl - "
but she had again turned to her contemplation of the desert, and
realizing that further speech might bring her swift anger upon him he
walked hastily away.

Several yards from her he paused and again wiped his brow. "Oh, God!" he
muttered, lifting his face to the sky, "what does a man know about
women, anyway?"

As for Pearl, she scarcely knew that he had ceased to speak to her. She
had been thinking, as she averred, thinking back over the years. She had
been dancing professionally ever since she had been a child. As a slim,
tall, young girl, still in skirts to her shoe tops, her mother had
traveled with her, and, although this evidence of chaperonage irked her,
she had with her quick intelligence early seen its value. All about her
she saw the struggling flotsam of feminine youth, living easily,
luxuriously to-day, careless of any less prosperous morrows, and, when
those swift, inevitable morrows came, she had seen the girlish, exotic
queens of an hour, haggard, stripped of their transient splendor,
uncomprehending, almost helpless.

She saw readily enough that it was not only her superior talents and
training, the hard work and hard study which she gave to her profession
which set her above the butterflies and apart from them, but her
mother's constant presence during those early years was of almost equal
value.

All this she realized at an age when strong impressions are indelibly
retained. Her value, the tremendous value of an unsmirched virtue, a
woman's greatest asset in a world of desire and barter, became to her a
possession she cherished above her jewels, above the money she could
earn and save and the greater sums she dreamed of earning or winning by
any means - all means but one.

Her observations of the women about her who gave all for so little, her
meditations upon them, and the conclusions she drew from their maimed
lives only emphasized the resisting force of her nature. She was not
born to be a leaf in the current, whirled by the force of waters into a
safe haven or an engulfing whirlpool as chance might decide; she must
dominate the currents.

And with the temptations of her youth, and her ardent emotional
temperament, would also come the remembrance of those haggard girls with
their pinched blue lips, the suffering in their eyes, their delicate
faces aged and yellowed and lined and spoiled, weeping with shaking
sobs, telling her pitiful stories, and begging her for money, for a word
with the management. And, when they had gone, she had turned to her
looking-glass and gazed at herself with conscious pride and delight.
Contempt, not pity, stirred her heart for the draggled butterflies whose
gauzy irridescence was but for a moment; and before her mirror she
constantly renewed her vows that never would she barter her bloom, her
freshness, her exquisite grace for what those girls had to show.

She had seen a great French actress roll across the desert in her
private car, to meet in every city the adulation of thousands and it had
stimulated her ambition enormously. She was by nature as insatiable as
the horse-leech's daughter; she would take all - love, money, jewels in
return for her barren coquetries. The fact that she was "straight," as
she phrased it, gave her sufficient excuse for her arrogant domination.

Unfortunately for Hanson, there was no particular temptation in what he
could offer in the way of professional advancement. She was perfectly
cognizant of her own ability, aware that its resources were scarcely
developed. Already her field widened continually. She was in perpetual
demand with her public, and therefore with her managers.

But she loved Hanson. In all of the love affairs in which she had been
involved she had never really cared before, and now only her strong will
kept this attraction from proving overmastering. And here came the
struggle. The right or the wrong of the matter, the morals of it, did
not touch her. It was the clash of differing desires, a clash between
passion and this secret, long-cherished pride of virtue.

"Honey, honey," he was back at her side again; his voice was hoarse and
ragged, but for that very reason it moved her. All at once the
primitive woman, loving, yielding, glad and proud to yield, stirred in
her, rose and dominated her hard ambition. She lifted her head a little
and, still with it turned from him, looked at the pagan glory of the
day. Her eyes closed with the delight of that moment. She felt her
resistance breaking down, the weakening and softening of her
resolutions. Was she at last to know the splendor of loving and giving?

"Ain't you played with me long enough, Pearl?" his voice was in her ear,
a broken, husky whisper. "What's the use? Why, of course," grasping at
his usual self-confidence, "I'm a fool to get scared this way. You've
showed me that you care, you have, honey; and I guess," with a nervous
laugh, "the Black Pearl hasn't got any damn fool scruples such as I've
been frightening myself out of my skin by attributing to her."

Imperceptibly, almost, her whole body stiffened. Her soft, relaxed,
yielding attitude was gone. But she remained silent, the same ominous,
brooding silence that the desert had held before the storm, had Hanson
but noticed. He did not. He was still pleading: "Why all the time you
been keeping me on the anxious seat, I been telling myself that the
Black Pearl - "

"Yes, the Black Pearl," she interrupted him with her low, unpleasant
laugh. "Don't you care a little that I got that name, Rudolf?"

"Care!" He wound his arms about her now and buried his face in the great
waves of her inky, shining hair, wildly kissing the nape of her neck;
but with a deft twist of her lithe body she slipped almost away from
him, although his arms still held her. "Care? Of course I care. But
what's that got to do with it when I love you like I do? Pearl, if you
were a good deal blacker than you're painted it wouldn't make any
difference to me."

He strove to draw her nearer to him, but again she slipped away, this
time escaping the circle of his eager arms. For the first time her face
was turned toward him, but her eyes were cast down, her long lashes
sweeping her cheeks. "But I must be pretty bad to get called the Black
Pearl," she said in that same low voice; all of its sliding, drawling
inflections were gone; it was strangely tense.

"I guess so, damn it!" he cried; "but I'm past caring, Pearl. I got a
hunger and thirst for you, honey, such as men die of out there in the
desert. Before God, I don't care anything about your past or your
present, if you'll only love me for a while."

With that low, harsh laugh of hers that sounded in his ears afterward
like the first muttering menace of the sand wind over the desert, the
storm broke. Her eyes had an odd green glitter, her face was white, a
dusky white, and her upper lip was drawn back from her teeth at each
corner of the mouth.

"You fool!" Her voice was a muffled scream. "Oh, you fool! Sweeney could
have told you better, any man on the desert could have told you better.
The Black Pearl! Why, I've been called the Black Pearl since I was a
baby, almost. It's my hair and my skin and my eyes."

[Illustration: "'I'll show you what I'll do.'"]

He didn't believe her, but he saw his blunder at once; cursed himself
for it, and, mad to retrieve himself, began incoherent explanations and
excuses. "Of course," he stammered, "of course, I - I - was just fooling,
you know. But, well, what does it matter, anyway? Oh, Pearl, girl! Don't
look at me like that. Don't!"

"I'll do worse than look at you, if you come any nearer me," she
threatened. "Do you think I ride all over the desert where I've a mind
to without protection? I guess not." She lifted her skirt with a quick
movement and drew a long knife, keen as a stiletto, from her boot.

Hanson went a little whiter, but he was no coward. "Come on then, finish
it for me," he said. "Your eyes are doing it anyway. Oh, Pearl!" he fell
again to desperate pleading, "you won't turn me down just for a
mistake?"

"Me, the Black Pearl, held cheap!" she muttered and raised her stag-like
head superbly, "and by you! You that pick up women and drop them when
you're tired of them. Me, the Black Pearl." She turned quickly and ran
to her waiting horse, loosening the tether with quick, nervous fingers.
Hanson followed her.

"Pearl, you ain't going to leave me?"

But she was already in the saddle.

He caught at her bridle and held her so. "Pearl, I made a mistake" - he
was talking wildly, rapidly - "but you ain't going to throw me down just
for that - you can't. Think how happy we've been this last week - think
how we've loved each other. Why, you can't turn me down, just for one
break, you can't."

"Can't I?" she said, her teeth still showing in that unpleasant way.
"Can't I? Well - if you don't get out of my way I'll show you what I'll
do. Slash you across your lying face." Her arm was already uplifted,
riding crop in hand. "Let me go!" Her voice was so low that he hardly
heard it, but full of a thousand threats. Then, swerving her horse
quickly to one side, she jerked the bridle from his slack fingers and
was off across the desert.




CHAPTER VII


It was about an hour after Pearl had ridden away to meet Hanson among
the palms that Bob Flick joined Mr. Gallito, who sat, as usual, upon the
porch of his home, smoking innumerable cigarrettes. He was his composed
and imperturbable self, exhibiting outwardly, at least, no trace of
anxiety, but Flick looked worn, almost haggard.

Gallito had just told him of Pearl's early departure and also of the
fact that she had left no word intimating when she might return or in
what direction she was riding; but when Flick expressed regret that this
had been permitted, he merely lifted his shaggy brows. "What is done is
done," he said. "She slipped away before either Hugh or myself knew that
she was gone, and what could we or you, for that matter, have done to


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 6 of 20)