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prevent her?"

"I wish I'd been here," muttered Flick uneasily. "I'd have done
something." But his tone did not bear out the confidence of his words.

"I am too old and, I hope, too wise," returned the Spaniard, "to attempt
to tame the whirlwind. But cheer up, my friend. Although she rode off to
meet this Hanson, without a doubt, still, the day is not over."

"You know what she is when her head is set," murmured Flick.

"I! Have I not cause?" exclaimed Gallito, a depth of meaning in his
tone. "Who so much? But, nevertheless, she has not gone for good. She
would not leave without some of her clothes, especially her dancing
dresses and slippers, if she went with him. And her jewels, oh,
certainly, not without her jewels!" he smiled wisely. "There are, as you
know, certain ornaments about which she has her superstitions; she will
not dance without her emeralds. Oh, no, console yourself, as I do. She
has not gone for good."

But Flick was not so easily reassured. "I almost wish she had," he said
gloomily. "If she don't go to-day, she will to-morrow or next day."

"In that case they will not go far," returned Gallito and rubbed his
hands. His reply had been quick and sharp as the beat of a hammer on an
anvil; but now he spoke more softly: "But will she go at all, my friend?
You, like myself, have ever played for high stakes. Then you know and I
know that this is a world where a man may never look ahead and calculate
and say, 'because there is this combination of circumstances, these
results will certainly follow,'" he emphasized his words by tapping on
the table with his long, gnarled forefinger. "The wise man never
predicts, because he is always aware of that interfering something which
we call the unexpected." He blew great wreaths of smoke from his mouth
and watched them float out on the sun-gilded air. "We know that my
daughter is as obstinate as a pig and as wilful as a burro, therefore we
conclude that she will follow her mad heart and go with this fellow. But
there we take no account of the unexpected, eh, Lolita!" welcoming the
parrot who waddled out of the open door and came clucking and muttering
across the porch toward the two men.

Flick stirred uneasily. He was in no mood to stand Gallito's
philosophizing, and the Spaniard, seeing it, smiled as he scratched
Lolita's head. "Two people can not be thrown much together and not show
to each other what is in them," he continued. "You know that my daughter
is proud," he lifted his own head haughtily here, "and you know that
above everything her pride lies in the fact that no man can scorn her.
But this that Hanson does not believe."

This roused Flick to a sudden interest, some light came into his heavy
eyes, a dull flush rose on his cheek. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"This: Yesterday morning when that hound sat there and talked to me
there was something I said which made him forget himself in anger, and
he said: 'Me! The Black Pearl smirched by me!'"

"He said that?" Flick's tones had never been more drawlingly soft, but
there was a quality in them, an electric and ominous vibration, which
boded ill for Hanson.

Gallito nodded. "It is in his mind. It is his thought about her. If he
said it to me when he forgot himself he will surely say it to her."

"And you let him say it, Gallito? You let him go away safe after saying
it?" Flick looked at him amazed.

"I think far ahead," replied the older man. "It is the custom of a
lifetime. To act on the moment is to continually regret. Do you think I
want my daughter's tears and reproaches for the rest of my life? No, I
wish to spend my old age free of women and their mischief. This Hanson
must talk, talk, talk. Therefore, if you give him rope enough he will
hang himself before any woman's eyes."

"But when?" asked Flick, and that vibration still lingered in his voice.
"I am not so patient as you, Gallito."

The Spaniard made no reply to this and silence fell between them for a
few minutes.

"Oh!" said Flick, as if suddenly remembering something, something in
which he was not particularly interested, but which would serve as a
topic of conversation during these tense moments of waiting; "Nitschkan
is up at Colina, and Mrs. Thomas."

"Nitschkan!" A faintly humorous smile crept from Gallito's mouth up to
his eyes.

He was genuinely interested if Flick was not. "What is she doing there?"

"She came up to look after those prospects of hers, nurse them along a
little, I guess, and to hunt and fish some, I guess, particularly hunt
and fish. She says she's going to take a bear-skin or so back with her."

"She sure will, if she says so," returned Gallito confidently.

"Of course, she got wise to José right away." Flick spoke rather
anxiously.

"Of course, being Nitschkan." Gallito's tone was quite composed and
equable. "Well, she's safe, and she'll keep him in order if anybody
can." Again that grimly humorous smile played about his mouth. "Why did
she bring Mrs. Thomas?"

Flick laughed. "To keep her in order, too. Mrs. Thomas is big and
pretty, with no mind of her own, and she got tangled up in some fool
love affair that her friends didn't approve of, so when Nitschkan
started off on this last gipsy expedition of hers they sent Mrs. Thomas
with her."

Gallito was about to answer and then, suddenly, he seemed to stiffen,
his hand, which was conveying a match to his cigarette, remained
motionless, the flame of the match flared up and then went out in a gust
of wind. "Look, Bob, look," he said, in a low voice. "What do you see
out there?"

Flick's eyes, keener even than his, swept the desert. "By George!" he
whispered huskily; "it's her, her alone, and coming like the wind."

"I hope," cried Gallito and gnawed his lip, "that she has done nothing
that will get us into trouble."

"I hope to God she has," said Flick. "The desert'll take care that she
gets into no trouble. It'll be as silent as the grave. Just another case
of a reckless tenderfoot getting lost out there in the sand, that's
all."

It was indeed Pearl, and, as Flick had said, coming like the wind. She
pulled her horse up as she neared the gate and, when she reached it,
stopped him abruptly, slipped down from the saddle, threw the bridle
over the fence paling and ran toward the two men on the porch. Her face
had changed but little since she had left Hanson among the palms. Even
her wild ride had failed to bring back its color, and the curl of her
upper lip still revealed her teeth.

She stood for a moment before them, slashing her skirt with her riding
crop, then she cast it from her and sank down on the porch as if
suddenly exhausted. Bob Flick quickly poured out a glass of her father's
cognac and held it to her lips. She took a sip of it and it seemed to
revive her.

"He thought that I," her voice was hoarse and labored, "he thought that
I was like those other women that he has picked up and got tired of and
left, Selma Le Grand, and Fanny Estrel, and others. I wonder where he
thinks that I've been living that I wouldn't know about them. Fanny
Estrel! I went to see her once in vaudeville, and, before I'd hardly got
my seat, someone next me began to whisper that she used to be one of
Hanson's head-liners and that he was crazy about her once. And there she
was, old, and fat and tired, playing in an ingénue sketch in a cheap
house!" She laughed harshly. "That's what he was offering me," with a
flare of passion, "and I was too green to know it!"

"And he, where is he?" asked her father, speaking more quickly than was
his wont and eyeing her closely.

"Out there, I suppose, I don't care. Oh, no," meeting his eye and
catching his unspoken question. "He's safe enough; don't worry."

"Shall I make him shoot, Pearl?" asked Flick softly. "He won't have
much chance with me, you know. I'll get him in Pete's place and pick a
quarrel. He'll understand. You won't be in it."

"No, you won't, Bob, although I can see how you're wanting to," she said
decisively. "The Black Pearl!" she broke out presently. "My name's an
awful good advertisement. It gives me a reputation for being worse than
I am." She laughed cynically. "But he believed it." Her whole face
darkened again.

"He needn't go away believing it, Pearl." Once more Flick spoke softly,
persuasively, and once more her father looked at her hopefully.

She looked quickly from one to the other as if about to accede, and
then, dropping her head on her arms crossed on her knees, she fell into
wild and tempestuous weeping. "No," she cried, "no, promise me you
won't, Bob. Oh, Oh, Oh!" she wailed and rocked back and forth. "What
shall I do? What shall I do?"

At last she lifted her heavy eyes and looked at the two men. "I want to
go away from here, quick," she said, "quick."

"With Sweeney," said her father, well pleased.

"No." She threw out her hands as if putting the thought from her with
abhorrence. "No, I can't dance and I won't. I never want to dance again.
I never will dance again," passionately.

"But that is a feeling which will soon pass away, my daughter," urged
her father.

"No, no," she wailed. "And anyway, I would never be safe from Ru - from
him, that way. He would follow me about and try to meet me. He would. I
know he would."

Gallito drew back and looked at her with uplifted head. "Afraid! You?"
he asked in surprise.

"No," she flashed at him scornfully, lifting her head, but again she
dropped it brokenly on her arms. "I'm afraid of myself," she cried,
suffering causing her to break down those barriers of self-repression
which she usually erected between herself and everyone about her. "I'm
afraid of myself, because I love him. Yes, I do. I love him just as much
as ever - and I hate him, hate him, hate him." She hissed the words. Once
more she sobbed wildly and then she broke into speech again. "Oh, I want
to go somewhere and hide; somewhere where he'll never find me, where
I'll be safe from him."

"What's the matter with Colina?" said Bob Flick suddenly. "He'll never
come there. A good reason why!"

Pearl became perfectly still. It was evident that the suggestion had
reached her, and that she was thinking it over. Her father, too,
considered the matter. "Excellent," he cried; "excellent."

And Pearl looked up eagerly. "But when can we go, when?" she cried and
stretched out an imploring hand to touch his knee. "To-morrow? No,
to-day. You said yesterday, father, that you would be going back at
once. Oh, to-day! The afternoon train - " She looked eagerly from one man
to another.

"Yes, to-day," agreed Bob Flick. "You can go as well to-day as
to-morrow, Gallito."

The Spaniard had been thinking with thrust-out jaw and narrowed eyes,
now he threw out his hands and lifted his brows. "Have it so, then," he
said. "The train leaves this afternoon. Go, Pearl, and pack your things.
I promised Hughie that he should go back with me, but he had better wait
a few days until his mother can get her sister to stay with her. You had
better tell him, Pearl."

After she had gone into the house the two men sat in silence for a few
minutes and then Flick lifted his relieved face to the sky. "If there's
any God up there," he said, "I'm thanking him for that unexpected you
were talking about, Gallito."

"Ah, that unexpected!" returned Gallito. "It is more comforting than
many religions. More than once when I have been in a tight place I have
relied on it and not vainly. You will go with us this afternoon, Bob?"

Flick hesitated a moment. "I can't," he said. "I've got a lot to do at
the mines here, but I can come up soon if you think it will be all
right."

The old man smiled in his most saturnine fashion and sighed dismally. "I
will make a special offering to the church if you come often," he said.
"I can see black days ahead of us. She does not like the mountains."

"Oh, she'll not stay long," Flick consoled him. "The summer, perhaps;
but she will be ready to sign up with Sweeney before fall. She can't
stay off the stage longer than that. You'll see."

Gallito sighed again and pessimistically shook his head. He was far
from anxious to assume the responsibility of restoring his daughter's
spirits, and had hoped that Flick would relieve him of that duty, but,
since that was not to be, he accepted the situation with what philosophy
and fortitude he could muster and hurried the feminine preparations for
departure so successfully that he and Pearl actually got away on the
afternoon train.

This fact was communicated to Hanson by Jimmy early that evening. Hanson
had returned to the San Gorgonio before noon and had remained in his
room until nightfall. As the day wore on and he recovered in some
measure his self-control, he began to view the situation in a different
light from that in which it had first appeared to him, although, in
strict adherence to fact, he could not be said to have viewed it in any
light at all in that first hour or two. It was all dense darkness to
him, a black despair not unmingled with anger and a sense of injury. But
as he sat alone in his room with its windows looking out over the
desert, his naturally confident and optimistic spirit gradually asserted
itself. Again and again, and each time more positively, he assured
himself that all was not lost yet by any means. He had been unfortunate
enough, yes, and fool enough, to make a bad break; a break that he, with
all of his experience, should have known better than to make to any
woman. Yet he felt that, even admitting that, he could not justly blame
himself. The Pearl had not only surprised but frightened him by the way
she had taken a fact which he thought she fully understood - that
marriage was out of the question for him. He was so crazy about her
that he had lost his head, that was the long and short of the matter,
and had made a fool of himself and hash of the situation; but
temporarily, only temporarily. For, and to this belief he clung more and
more hopefully, the Pearl was too deeply in love with him definitely to
close the affair between them for just one break. He would not, could
not believe that. It was true enough that he had aroused her passionate
and violent anger, but the more violent the anger the sooner it will
evaporate, and strange and complex as the Pearl was, she was yet a
woman; and no woman on earth could long hold resentment against the man
she loved. She had, he was able to convince himself, regretted her mad
action in first threatening and then riding away from him long before
she had reached home; and, without doubt, it was only that high and
haughty pride of hers which kept her from returning to him before she
had traversed half the distance. But the course of action he had decided
upon was sure to win. He would give her a few hours to get over her
anger, to regret it and to reproach herself for causing him pain, and
then he would give her a little more time to long and ache for him to
return to her. He would wait until evening, and then he would go boldly
to the Gallito house and, no matter what efforts were made to frustrate
their meeting, he would see her alone. Ah, and she would fly to him, if
he knew her aright. All the opposition in the world could not keep them
apart, it would only strengthen her determination. And then, how he
would beg her forgiveness, how he would plead his love, with passionate
and irresistible eloquence; and, if he knew the heart of woman, she
would yield.

But when the moment came for acting upon this decision he found that it
took a certain amount of courage, considerable, in fact, to face not
only a woman who had left him in hot anger that morning, but a gnarled
and thorny father and also the soft-spoken Bob Flick; and he decided to
stop at Pete's place and brace up his courage with a drink.

Jimmy could hardly wait to serve him. He was like a busy and important
bird, hopping about on a bough and, literally, he twittered with
excitement.

"Well," he exclaimed, "where you been keeping yourself, and why wasn't
you down to see 'em off?"

A cold chill ran over Hanson. His impulse was to cry, "Who? What do you
mean?" But with an effort he resisted the inclination. Resolutely, he
held himself in check, and, although the hand with which he lifted the
glass to his lips trembled a little, he drank off the whisky before he
spoke.

"Couldn't make it," he said. "Who went beside - " he paused inviting
Jimmy's further confidence.

"Just Pearl and her father," returned Jimmy volubly. "I guess that was
the reason Bob went to Colina last week to kind of arrange for Pearl
going up to make a visit to the old man. But shucks!" he broke off,
"what am I telling you this for, when you know more than I do?" His
bright, beady eyes rested on Hanson's with pleased and eager
anticipation as he awaited further revelations.

"Nothing more to tell," replied the other disappointedly. "It's all
just as you say. Well, I got to go up and see Mrs. Gallito. I'm off
myself early to-morrow morning. See you before that though. So long."

He walked away, feeling dazed for the moment and beaten. Not at once did
he turn his steps in the direction of the Gallito home, but continued to
tramp up and down the road, and presently, as the cool, fresh air
restored his spirit, he was able to think clearly again. His world was
in chaos, but, even so, he still held some winning cards. He had no
intention, he gritted his teeth as he made this vow, of dropping out of
the game. He meant to play it to a finish. Those cards! He ran over his
hand mentally. There was that commanding trump - his knowledge, his
unsuspected knowledge of the whereabouts of Crop-eared José. Then his
next biggest trump - and here his heart lifted with a thrill - was the
fact that Pearl loved him. Yes, in spite of her anger, in spite of the
fact that she had rushed off to Colina, where she knew he could not
follow her, she loved him; and his desire for her was but increased by
the dangers and difficulties with which she surrounded herself. But he
must keep in touch with her, and the question as to how this might best
be accomplished rose in his mind. Mrs. Gallito was the almost immediate
answer, and he determined, no matter what objections might be raised, to
communicate with Pearl through that available source. Of one thing was
he convinced and that was that not for long would Pearl linger in the
gloomy mountains which he knew she abhorred. She belonged to the desert
or to the world of men and admiration, the world of light and color and
music. He couldn't see her in the mountains, he shivered a little at the
thought of her among them; the cold, silent, austere mountains, so alien
to this flower of the cactus.

His first poignant disappointment over, and his plan of action decided
upon, he wasted no time in seeking Mrs. Gallito. He found her, to his
satisfaction, quite alone, Hughie having, as she told him, gone to spend
the evening with some friends. She had, before his arrival, been reading
the Sunday supplement of an eastern newspaper, gazing with longing eyes
at the portraits of the daughters of fashion and intently studying some
of the elaborate and intricate coiffures presented, in the hope that she
might achieve the same effects.

"Why, Mr. Hanson!" she cried in surprise at the sight of him. "I thought
you'd gone sure, and Oh, mercy!" putting her hands to her head, "I ain't
on my puffs."

"I wouldn't ever have known it," said Hanson truthfully. "The fact is
I'm not noticing anything much, Mrs. Gallito, I got a lot on my mind."
He sighed unfeignedly and she noticed that he looked both tired and
worried. "And say, I wish you'd sit down and talk to me a little."

She still stood looking at him hesitatingly, a distressed expression on
her face. "I - I don't know as I'd better," she faltered. "Gallito, he
said, the very last thing he said, was that if you come around - Oh, Mr.
Hanson," she sat down weakly in her chair and began to cry. "I thought
you was just about the nicest man I'd met for many a day, and here I
find you're a dreadful scamp. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I guess all men are
alike!"

Hanson bent forward earnestly. He had an end to gain and he meant to
gain it. "Now look here, Mrs. Gallito," he said. "You don't want to
condemn me unheard. You're not that kind of a lady. I knew that the
first minute I set eyes on you. Now understand I'm not trying to
persuade you that I'm any better than I am, but I just want you to
believe that I'm not quite so black as I'm painted, not as black as your
husband and Bob Flick want to paint me, anyway."

She twisted a fold of her dress, already half-persuaded and yet still a
little doubtful. "But you never gave us a hint that you were married,"
she ventured timidly.

"Honest to God, I forget it myself," he asserted devoutly. "How can a
man be always thinking to tell everyone he meets that he's still in a
legal tie-up, when the only way he can remember it himself is by coming
across his marriage certificate, now and then? Why, it's a good ten
years since me and that woman parted. You don't call that married?"

His positive personality exerted its usual influence over Mrs. Gallito.
"'Course not," she agreed, although she still sat with downcast eyes and
pleated her dress.

"I'm a pretty lonely man," pathos in his voice, "and I'd kind of gotten
into the way of putting home and happiness and all like that away from
me; and then I came here and saw Pearl," he was sincere enough now, "and
honest, Mrs. Gallito, it was all up with me then, right from the first
minute, and I was so plumb crazy about her that I guess I lost my head.
I knew all the time that I ought to tell you and her just how I was
fixed, I knew it, but, someways, try as I would, I couldn't. I didn't
have the nerve, so I just waited and let the cards fall as they would.
Maybe I was a fool and a coward. The way things have turned out, it sure
looks like I was, but I just couldn't help it."

"I guess you ain't any different from most men," she answered, weakly
sympathetic, "but you see Pearl has her notions, and they're mighty
strong ones. It's the way she's been brought up," this with some pride.
"You see, me and her pop started out with the idea that we wasn't going
to have the Pearl live one of those hand to mouth lives that we'd seen
girls in the circus that didn't have much training or much ability live.
We saw right from the first that she was awful smart and awful pretty,
and her Pop he had the knack of making money and holding on to it. Well,
when he saw that she had her head set on the stage and we couldn't keep
her off it, it's in her blood, you see, why her Pop says: 'Well, there's
one thing, till she's of age, legal, on or off the stage, she's going to
have a mother's care and a father showing up every now and then
unexpected.' He's got awful Spanish ideas, you know. 'I don't want her
kept innocent,' he says. 'My Lord, no. It's the innocent ones that have
got to pay, and pay big in a world of bad knowledge where ignorance is
not forgave and is punished worse than any crime. Let her see the seamy
side,' he says, 'she's no fool. Let her see what those who thinks to
live easy and gives themselves away easy gets.'

"And Pearl saw right off. You see, she ain't so soft-hearted like me,"
again she wiped the furtive tear from her eye. "Pearl's hard. She ain't
no conscience about some things. She'll lead a man on and on, when she
don't care beans for him, and take all he'll give her, not money, you
know, but awful handsome presents. I've seen her let some poor boy that
was crazy about her blow in all the dust that he'd saved for a year. Oh,
yes, she's like her father in more'n one way, both awful ambitious and
terrible fond of making money. Why," she added naïvely, "I've seen Pearl
look at a bank note like I never saw her look at a love letter."

"Well, she won't make much money up in those mountains, not dancing,
anyway," he laughed briefly and unmirthfully.

"It surprised me a lot, her going," admitted Mrs. Gallito; "she hates
the mountains."

"Then she won't stay long," put in Hanson quickly.

Mrs. Gallito was uncertain about this. "But," she confided presently,
"she took on awful to her father and Bob Flick. I didn't dare come out,
but I heard her through the door there. 'Where can I go,' she cried,
'where he won't come?' And she kept on saying she'd got to go somewhere
where you would never find her, because she didn't dare trust herself,
and she cried right out: 'I love him, I love him.'"

With these words, the confirmation of his hope, Hanson's blithe
self-confidence returned. He threw back his head and straightened his
shoulders, the light of an exultant purpose flashing in the steel of his


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 7 of 20)