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frowned ominously. "That's enough of your talk, José," she said
peremptorily. "It sounds like blasphemin' to me, talkin' about the Devil
that light way. Remember one of the reasons I come here. Gallito, you'd
better lay out the cards and let's get down to our game. What's the
limit?"

"Does Mrs. Thomas play as high as you?" asked Gallito.

"I don't care much for a tame game," said Mrs. Thomas modestly, with
lowered lids. "They're too many long, sad winters in the mountains when
gentl - , I mean friends, can't cross the trails to see you, an' you got
to fill up your heart with cards and religion and things like that."

José had paused to watch, with a keen appreciation, the grace of Pearl's
movements. "Caramba!" he muttered. "How sprang that flower of Spain from
such a gnarled old tree as you, Gallito? Dios! But she is salado!"

Gallito frowned a little, which did not in the least disconcert José,
and, rising, he moved a small table forward, opened it and then going to
a cupboard in the wall drew from it a short, squat bottle, four glasses
and a pack of cards. "Your room is just beyond this," he said, turning
to Pearl. "José says that you will find everything ready for you. You
must be tired. You had better go to bed."

Pearl twitched her shoulders impatiently. "I am not sleepy," she said
sullenly. She threw herself in the chair that Gallito had vacated and
lay there watching the fire with somber, wild eyes.

José threw another log on the fire and then the two men and two women
sat down to their cards. A clock ticked steadily, monotonously, on the
mantel-piece, but whether an hour or ten minutes passed while she sat
there watching the brilliant, soaring flame of the pine logs Pearl could
not have told, when suddenly the stillness of the night was broken by
the sound of someone whistling along the road. It seemed a long way off
at first, but gradually came nearer and nearer, tuneful and clear as the
song of a bobolink.

"Saint Harry, by all the saints or devils!" cried José with a burst of
his shrill laughter. "Ah, Francisco, the devil is a shrewd fellow; when
he can't manage a job himself, he always gets a woman to help him." His
glancing, twinkling eyes sought Pearl, who had barely turned her head as
her father rose to open the door for the newcomer, exclaiming with some
show of cordiality:

"Ah, Seagreave, come in, come in."

"Thanks," said an agreeable voice. "I got home late and found that José
had made preparations to lighten my loneliness. Then I saw the light in
your window and thought I would come down. You see I suspected pleasant
company."

He advanced into the room and then, seeing Pearl, who had twisted about
in her chair and was gazing at him with the first show of interest she
had yet exhibited, he paused and looked rather hesitatingly at Gallito.

"We have a guest," said José softly and in Spanish.

"My daughter has returned with me," said Gallito. "Pearl, this is Mr.
Seagreave."

"Saint Harry," said José more softly still.

Mr. Seagreave bowed, although one who knew him well might have seen that
his astonishment increased rather than abated at the sight of Pearl. As
for her, she merely nodded and let her lashes lie the more wearily and
indifferently upon her cheek.

"Really, I wouldn't have intruded," said Seagreave in his pleasant
English voice. "I had an idea from your telegram, Gallito, that Hughie
was coming with you. Sha'n't I go?"

For answer Gallito pushed forward a chair and threw another log upon the
fire. "My daughter is tired," he said. "She will soon retire; but when a
man has been from home for a fortnight, and in the desert!" he raised
his brows expressively, "Pah! He wishes to hear of everything which has
happened during his absence and particularly, Mr. Seagreave, do I wish
to talk to you about that lower drift. José tells me that you have
examined it."

Thus urged, Seagreave sat down. He was tall and slight and fair, so very
fair that his age was difficult to guess. His hair, with a silvery sheen
on it, swept in a wing across his forehead, and he had a habit of
pushing it back from his brow; his eyes were of a vivid blue, peculiarly
luminous, and his features, which were regular, showed a fine finish of
modeling. His age, as has been said, was a matter of conjecture, but
judging from his appearance he might have been anywhere from twenty to
forty.

"Don't let me interrupt your game," he said. "It is early yet, and if
Miss Gallito isn't too tired, and if she will let me, I will talk to her
while you play."

José smiled to himself and picked up the cards. The game went on.
Seagreave, receiving no encouragement from Pearl, made no attempt at
conversation, until at last, stirred by some impulse of curiosity, she
lifted her eyes. It was this question of age she wished to decide. In
that first, quick glance of hers she had taken it for granted that he
was twenty, but in a second stolen look she had noted certain lines
about the mouth and eyes which added years to his blonde youthfulness.
Then her quick ear had caught José's "Saint Harry," and to her, who knew
many men, those lines about mouth and eyes did not suggest a past of
saintship.

Her surreptitious glance encountered that of Seagreave, for he, too, had
withdrawn his eyes from the fire for a moment to let his puzzled gaze
rest upon her. He had known vaguely that Gallito had a daughter, and he
remembered in the same indefinite way that some one had told him that
she was an actress, but, even so, he could not reconcile this - his mind
sought a simile to express her - this exotic, with Gallito, these two
mountain women, a mountain cabin, and an equally unpretentious home in
the desert. She lay listlessly in her chair, a long and slender shape in
a dull black gown which fell about her in those statuesque folds which
all drapery assumed immediately she donned it; beneath it showed her
feet in black satin slippers and the gleam of the satin seemed repeated
in her blue-black hair. Her cheek was unwontedly pale. A monotone she
appeared, half-within and half-without the zone of the firelight; but
the individuality of her could not be thus subdued. It found expression
in the concentration of light and color focused in the splendid rings
which sparkled on the long, brown fingers of both her hands.

Her narrow eyes met his sombrously. On either side it was a glance of
curiosity, of scrutiny. She, as usual, made no effort to begin a
conversation, and he, searching for a polite commonplace, said
presently:

"Have you ever been in Colina before?"

"Often, but not in the last two years," she answered tonelessly, "not
since you've been here, I guess. I hate the mountains."

"I have been here nearly two years," he vouchsafed, "and I feel as if I
would never go away. But you live in the desert, don't you?"

"Sometimes, that is, when I'm not out on the road. The desert is the
place. You can breathe there, you can live there," there was a
passionate vibration in her voice, "but these old, cold mountains make
you feel all the time as if they were going to fall on you and crush
you."

"Do they make you feel that way?" He pulled his chair nearer to her so
that his back was turned to the two men, and José, who saw everything,
smiled faintly, mordaciously. "How strange!" It was not a conventional
expression, he seemed really to find it strange, unbelievably so.

"And you, how do they make you feel?" she asked wearily, a touch of
scorn in her glance.

A light seemed to glow over his face. "Ah, I do not know that I can tell
you," he said, and she was conscious of some immediate change in him,
which she apprehended but could never have defined. It was as if he had
withdrawn mentally to incalculable distances.

Pearl did not notice his evasion; she was not interested in his view of
the mountains. What she instinctively resented, even in her dulled
state, was his impersonal attitude toward herself. She was not used to
it from any man. She did not understand it. She wondered, without any
particular interest in the matter, but still following her instinctive
and customary mode of thought, if he had not noticed that she was
beautiful. Was he so stupid that he did not think her so? But there was
no hint in his manner or look in his eyes of an intention on his part of
playing the inevitable game, even a remembrance of it seemed as lacking
as desire. The game of challenge and elusion on her part, of perpetual
and ever more ardent advance on his. He was interested, she knew that,
but, as she felt with a surge of surprise, not in the way she had always
encountered and had learned to expect.

"Isn't it strange," she realized that he was speaking again, "that I
haven't been drawn to the desert, because so many have had to turn to
it? I have only seen it from traveling across it, and then it repelled
me, perhaps it frightened me." He seemed to consider this.

For the moment Pearl forgot the inevitable game. "Frightened you!" she
cried. "It is the mountains that frighten me; but the desert is always
different. It - " she struggled for expression, "it is always you."

Something in this seemed to strike him. "Perhaps I have that to learn."
Again he meditated a few moments, then looked up with a smile. "You must
tell me all that you find in the desert and I will tell you all that I
find in the mountains. It will be jolly to talk to a woman again." He
spoke with a satisfaction thoroughly genuine.

She glanced at him suspiciously. She was uncertain how to meet this
frank acceptance of comradeship, free yet from the intrusion of sex.
"Maybe," she acquiesced a little doubtfully. Then she drew her brows
together. "I don't want to learn anything about the mountains," she
cried, all the heaviness and the dumb revolt of her spirit finding a
voice. "And I don't want ever to go back to the desert again; and I
don't even want to dance," looking at him in a sort of wild wonder as if
this were unbelievable, "not even to dance."

He realized that she was suffering from some grief against which she
struggled, and which she refused to accept. "You will not feel so
always," he said. "It is because you are unhappy now."

There was consolation in his sincerity, in his sympathy, in his entire
belief in what he was saying, and it was with difficulty that she
repressed an outburst of her sullen sorrow. "Yes," her mouth worked, "I
am unhappy, and I won't be, I won't be. I never was before. It is all in
here, like a dead weight, a drag, a cold hand clutching me." She pressed
both hands to her heart. Then she drew back as if furious at having so
far revealed herself.

"That heals." He leaned forward to speak. "I am telling you the truth!
That heals and is forgotten. I know that that is so."

"I know who you are," she said suddenly. "I have been trying to think
ever since I heard him," she nodded toward José, bent over his cards,
"say 'Saint Harry.' I remember now. I have heard Hughie often speak of
you. They say that you are good, that if any one is sick you nurse him,
and that if any one is broke you help him. They all come to you."

"Yes, 'Saint Harry'!" he laughed. "Oh, it's funny, but let them call me
any name they please as long as it amuses them. What difference does it
make? I am glad Hughie is coming up, I want some music. He puts the
mountains into music for me."

"And for me." She smiled and then sighed bitterly, gazing drearily into
the fire, now a bed of glowing embers. Then latent and feminine
curiosity stirred in her thoughts and voiced itself. "Why are you here?"
she said. "Why does a man like you stay here?"

His elbow rested on the arm of his chair, his chin in his hand, his gaze
too upon the fading embers. "I don't know," he said in a low voice, "I
had to come."

"Where from?" she still followed her instinct of curiosity.

"From the husks" - he turned his head and smiled at her - "from a far
country where I had wasted my substance in riotous living."

She frowned a little. She was not used to this type of man, nor had she
met any one who used hyperbole in conversation. At first she fancied
that he might be chaffing her, but she was too intelligent to harbor
that idea, so convincing was his innate sincerity; but nevertheless, she
meant to go cautiously.

Again she questioned him: "From what far country?"

He had fallen to musing again, and it is doubtful if he heard her. He
saw before him immense, primeval forests, black, shadowy; vast, sluggish
rivers, above which hung a thick and fever-laden air; trees from whose
topmost branches swung gorgeous, ephemeral flowers; and then long
stretches of yellow beach, where a brazen ocean tumbled and hissed. Then
many cities, squalid and splendid, colorful and fantastic as the
erection of a dream, and through all these he saw himself ever passing,
appearing and reappearing, and ever scattering his substance, not the
substance of money alone; that was still left him; but the substance of
youth, of early promise, of illusion and hopes.

Pearl waited a long time, it seemed to her, for him to speak. At last
she broke the silence. "And then?" she said.

He roused from his preoccupations and brushed back the wing of hair from
his brow. "I realized that I was living, had always lived on husks, and
that was what caused the restless fever in my blood, my heart was
always restless; and then I began to dream down there in the tropics,
really dream at night of these mountains just as you see them here, and
in the day time I thought of them and longed for them, as a man whose
throat is dry with thirst longs for cool water. Then, presently, I began
to have brief, fleeting visions of them by day. And gradually the
longing for the hills became so intense that I started out in search of
them. I traveled about a good bit, and then drifted here. The place
suited me, so I stayed."

She looked at him puzzled and half-fearfully, wondering if he was quite
sane. "And will you stay here always?" she asked.

"Oh, as to that, I can't say. Perhaps. I hope so. Life is full here."

"Full!" she interrupted him. "And life! You call this life?" She laughed
in harsh scorn.

"Don't you?" He looked at her with those blue, clear eyes that seemed to
see through her and around her and beyond her.

"I!" Her glance was full of resentful passion; tightly she closed her
lips; but there was something about him which seemed to force her to
reveal herself and, presently, she began again. "I am like a coyote with
a broken paw. It goes off by itself and hides until it can limp around.
But life, real life, is all out there." She threw out her hands as
indicating the world beyond the mountains. "If you call this life,
you've never lived."

He ignored this, smiling faintly.

"What is real life to you?" he asked.

So compelling was his manner, for no one could shock Seagreave and no
one could force him to condemn, that she almost said, "To love and be
loved." But she resisted her impulse to voice this. "Until a little
while before I came here, life meant to dance. I know, though, what it
is to get tired of the very things you think you love the most. After
I've stayed a while in the desert, I've just got to see the lights of
the city streets, to smell the stage, and to dance to the big audiences;
but after a bit, the buildings and the people begin to crowd on me and
push me and I feel as if I couldn't breathe, then I've just got to get
back to the desert again."

"Dancing is your expression," he said. "All of life is love and
expression." And now there was a falling note in his voice which her ear
was quick to catch. Almost she cried:

"Love! And yet you live here alone!"

"Yes," he went on, "we must have both. They are as necessary to us as
breath. Without them - " he stopped, evidently embarrassed, as if
suddenly aware that he had been talking more to himself than to her and
that in thus forgetting her, he had been more self-revealing than he
would have wished.

She shook her head, plainly puzzled. "But you are young," she said, and
stole another glance at him, adding a little shyly, "at least not very
old, and I feel, I am sure that you too have a broken paw, but when that
is well you will go back to your own country, to cities again. You
couldn't stand it here always."

He looked at her, an enigmatic smile on his lips. "Couldn't I?" he
said. Glancing again at her as he rose, he saw that she seemed weary,
her lashes lay long on her pale cheek. "Oh," with a touch of compunction
in his tone, "I have, as usual, talked far too much. You are tired and
we must go. José," lifting his voice, "as soon as you finish that game."

"The Devil is indeed at your elbow," cried José, flinging down his
cards, "and prompts all you say. We have just this moment finished a
game and Gallito is the winner."

Gallito smiled with bleak geniality. "Has José been wise?" he asked,
rising and replenishing the dying fire.

"Fairly so," Seagreave smiled, "as far as he knows how to be. He has
been up to some of his antics, though. They are beginning to say that
this hillside is haunted."

While Gallito talked to Seagreave and Mrs. Nitschkan and José argued
over certain rules of the game they had been playing, Mrs. Thomas sidled
up to Pearl and stood looking at her with the absorbed unconsciousness
of an admiring child.

"I s'pose," she began, swaying back and forth bashfully and touching the
pink bow at her throat, "that it does look kind of queer to any one
that's so up on the styles as you are to see me wearing a pink bow at my
neck and a crêpe veil down my back?"

Pearl looked up in wearied surprise. "It does seem queer," she said
indifferently.

"'Course I know it ain't just citified," Mrs. Thomas hastened to
affirm; "but the veil and the bow together's got a meaning that I think
is real sweet." She waited a moment, almost pathetically anxious for
Pearl to see the symbolism of her two incongruous adornments, but her
listener was too genuinely bored and also too self-absorbed to make the
attempt. "It's this," said Mrs. Thomas, determined to explain. "The pink
bow kind o' shows that I'm in the world again and," bridling
coquettishly, "open to offers, while this crêpe veil shows that I ain't
forgot poor Seth in his grave and can afford to mourn for him right."

But Pearl had not waited to hear all of these explanations. Without a
word to the rest of the parting guests, and with a mere inclination of
the head toward Seagreave, she had slipped away.

Alone in her small, bare room, undressing by the light of a single
candle, the brief interest and curiosity which Seagreave had aroused in
her faded from her mind. For hours she lay sleepless upon her bed,
listening to the rushing mountain stream not far from the cabin, its
arrowy plunge and dash over the rocks softened by distance to a low,
perpetual purr, and hearing the mountain wind sigh through the pines
about the cabin: but not always did her great, dark eyes stare into the
blackness; sometimes she buried her head in the pillow and moaned, and
at last she wept, permitting herself the flood of tears that she had
held in check all day. "Rudolf, Rudolf," was the name upon her lips.




CHAPTER IX


Within a few days Hughie came up to Colina, and through the long, chilly
evenings near the peaks the little, isolated group met in Gallito's
cabin. It was understood in the village that Gallito did not care to
have his seclusion invaded, and this unspoken desire was universally
respected; indeed, it was not questioned. In the solitary places are
many eccentrics; they have escaped the melting pot of the city, and in
the freedom of the desert and the mountains have achieved an unfettered
and unquestioned individuality.

Those who had business dealings with the old Spaniard knew that he was
to be found in places more easy of access than his lonely cabin among
the rocks and trees; at the mine, for instance, of which he was foreman,
the Mont d'Or; or, on an occasional Friday evening, in the village
saloon, where he mingled with the miners, engaging in the eternal and
interminable discussions of local mining affairs. He also kept a horse
in the village, a fiery, blooded creature, which he exercised every few
days, taking long rides over the various mountain trails. He was
universally respected, as his judgment of mines was known to be sound,
and his ventures unusually lucky; but no one was ever rash enough to
encroach upon the reserve which he invariably maintained.

So, with small fear of embarrassing interruptions, although Gallito saw
that all prudence was observed and every precaution taken, he and José,
Mrs. Nitschkan and Mrs. Thomas sat over their cards, while Hughie played
upon the piano and Harry Seagreave listened, with his eyes closed, to
the music. He sometimes brought Pearl a cluster of the exquisite wild
flowers which now covered the mountains, but he rarely made any but the
briefest attempts at conversation with her, and after the first evening
she showed no disposition to have him do so.

Instead of rousing from the depression which had overfallen her, she
seemed, for a time, to sink the more deeply into it. Silent, listless,
almost sullen, she passed her days. There was but little incentive for
her to go down into the village, and she took small interest in the
miners' wives who dwelt there. For a time she was curious to see Mrs.
Hanson, but, learning through Hughie that that lady lived up near her
mine on a mountainside two miles out of the village, and only
occasionally, and at irregular intervals, visited the camp, Pearl
realized the difficulties in the way of catching a glimpse of her and
contented herself with Bob Flick's description of her.

Her mother wrote to her about once a week, brief, ill-spelled letters,
always with an ardent inclosure from Hanson, and Pearl would lie out on
the hillside during the long summer days reading, and re-reading them,
and at night she slept with them next her heart. For the first few
months Hanson was content to write to her and to extract what comfort he
could from her notes to her mother. These he invested with cryptic and
hidden meanings endeavoring to find a veiled message for himself in
every line. But presently, growing impatient, he began to beg her for a
word, only a word, but sent directly from her to him; yet, although the
summer had waned to autumn, she remained obdurate, her will and her
pride still stronger than her love.

Sometimes in the evening Hugh would beg her to dance, but she always
refused. The desire for that spontaneous and natural form of expression
was gone from her; and once when Hugh had persisted in urging her, she
had left the room, nor appeared again all evening, so that it became a
custom not to mention her dancing to her.

"Gosh a'mighty!" cried Mrs. Nitschkan robustly, looking up from a book
of flies over which she had been poring, "think of getting a man on the
brain like that."

José, who had been putting away the supper dishes, assisted by Mrs.
Thomas, who had regarded the opportunity as propitious for certain
elephantine coquetries, stopped to regard the gypsy with that peering
mixture of amusement and curiosity which she ever evoked in him.

"But, Nitschkan," he asked, "were you never crazy about a man?"

"Marthy Thomas knows more about such goin's on than me," she returned
equably; "but since you ask me, I was crazy once about Jack, and another
awful pretty girl had him. But that wasn't all." She slapped her knee
in joyous and triumphant remembrance, and the cabin echoed with her
laughter.

"Ah!" José hastily put away his last dish and sat cross-legged on the
hearth at her feet, looking up into her face with impish interest. "How
did you manage him or her?"

"You can't manage a her no more'n you can manage a cat," bluntly. "You
can't make a cat useful, and you can't make it mind; but,"
significantly, "you can manage a dog and train him, too. I had to learn
that girl that'd corraled Jack that a pretty face and ruffled petticoats
may catch a man, but they can't always hold him."

"What can hold 'em?" interrupted Mrs. Thomas, sighing heavily. "Not
always vittles, and cert'ny not a loving heart."

Mrs. Nitschkan snapped her book impatiently. "Now, Marthy, don't you
stir me up with that talk of yours, like men was the only prize packages
in life. I can't see what these home-body women love to fool 'emselves
so for. You're just like my Celora, Marthy. 'Mommie,' she says to me
once, 'I wonder when the right man'll come along and learn me to love
him?' Well, I happened to be makin' a dog whip jus' when she spoke, and
I says, 'Celora, if you give me much of that talk I'll give you a


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Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 9 of 20)