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BETH NORVELL

A Romance of the West

by

RANDALL PARRISH

Author of "When Wilderness Was King," "My Lady of the North," "Bob
Hampton of Placer," Etc.

With Frontispiece in Color by N. C. Wyeth







[Frontispiece: The woman never changed her posture, never seemed to
realize the approach of dawn; but Winston roused up, lifting his head
to gaze wearily forward.]




A. L. Burt Company
Publishers - - - - New York
Copyright
A. C. McClurg & Co.
1907
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
All Rights Reserved
Published September 21, 1907
Second Edition October 5, 1907
Third Edition, October 10, 1907
Fourth Edition, December 2, 1907
Fifth Edition, December 12, 1907





CONTENTS


I A CHANCE MEETING
II OUT WITH A ROAD COMPANY
III A BREAKING OF ICE
IV A NEW DEAL OF THE CARDS
V IN OPEN REBELLION
VI THE "LITTLE YANKEE" MINE
VII A DISMISSAL
VIII "HE MEANS FIGHT"
IX THE FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
X A NEW ALLIANCE
XI HALF-CONFIDENCES
XII THE COVER OF DARKNESS
XIII TWO WOMEN
XIV UNDERGROUND
XV THE PROOF OF CRIME
XVI A RETURN TO THE DAY
XVII A COUNCIL OF WAR
XVIII THE CONFESSION
XIX THE POINT OF VIEW
XX THE GAME OF FOILS
XXI UNDER ARREST
XXII THE INTERVENTION OF SWANSON
XXIII A NEW VOLUNTEER
XXIV AN AVOWAL OF LOVE
XXV THE PROOF OF LOVE
XXVI BENEATH THE DARKNESS
XXVII THE SHADOW OF CRIME
XXVIII ACROSS THE DESERT TO THE END
XXIX THE SUMMIT OF SUCCESS
XXX THE MISSION OF A LETTER




BETH NORVELL

A TALE OF THE WEST


CHAPTER I

A CHANCE MEETING

There were nine altogether in the party registering. This number
included the manager, who, both on and off the stage, quite
successfully impersonated the villain - a rather heavy-jawed,
middle-aged fellow, of foreign appearance, with coarse, gruff voice;
three representatives of the gentler sex; a child of eight, exact
species unknown, wrapped up like a mummy; and four males. Beyond doubt
the most notable member of the troupe was the comedian "star," Mr. T.
Macready Lane, whose well-known cognomen must even now awaken happy
histrionic memories throughout the western circuit. The long night's
ride from their previous stand, involving as it did two changes of
trains, had proven exceedingly wearisome; and the young woman in the
rather natty blue toque, the collar of her long gray coat turned up in
partial concealment of her face, was so utterly fatigued that she
refused to wait for a belated breakfast, and insisted upon being at
once directed to her room. There was a substantial bolt decorating the
inside of the door, but, rendered careless by sheer exhaustion of both
mind and body, she forgot everything except her desire for immediate
rest, dropped her wraps upon the only chair visible, and flung herself,
fully dressed, upon the bed. Her cheek had barely pressed the hard
pillow before she was sleeping like a tired child.

It must have been an hour later when Winston drove in from Flat Rock,
shook the powdery snow from off his long fur overcoat, his cheeks still
tingling from the sharp wind, and, with fingers yet stiffened by cold,
wrote his name carelessly across the lower line of the dilapidated
hotel register.

"Can you let me have the same room, Tom?" he questioned familiarly of
the man ornamenting the high stool behind the desk.

The latter, busy with some figures, nodded carelessly, and the last
arrival promptly picked up his valise from the floor and began climbing
the stairs, whistling softly. He was a long-limbed, broad-chested
young fellow, with clean-shaven face, and a pair of dark-gray eyes that
looked straight ahead of him; and he ran up the somewhat steep steps as
though finding such exercise a pleasure. Rounding the upper railing,
he stopped abruptly before Number Twenty-seven, flung open the door,
took a single step within, and came to a sudden pause, his careless
whistling suspended in breathless surprise. With that single glance
the complete picture became indelibly photographed upon his
memory, - the narrow, sparsely furnished room with roughly plastered
walls; the small, cheap mirror; the faded-green window curtain, torn
half in two; the sheet-iron wash-stand; the wooden chair, across which
rested the gray coat with the blue toque on top; and the single cot bed
bearing its unconscious occupant.

Somehow as he gazed, his earliest conscious emotion was that of
sympathy - it all appeared so unspeakably pathetic, so homesick, so
dismally forlorn and barren. Then that half-upturned face riveted his
attention and seemed to awaken a vague, dreamy memory he found himself
unable to localize; it reminded him of some other face he had known,
tantalizing from its dim indistinctness. Then this earlier impression
slightly faded away, and he merely beheld her alone, a perfect stranger
appropriating little by little her few claims to womanly beauty. There
was no certain guessing at her age as she lay thus, one hand pressed
beneath her cheek, her eyes closed, the long, dark lashes clearly
outlined against the white flesh, her bosom rising and falling with the
steady breathing of absolute exhaustion. She appeared so extremely
tired, discouraged, unhappy, that the young man involuntarily closed
his teeth tightly, as though some wrong had been personally done to
himself. He marked the dense blackness of her heavy mass of hair; the
perfect clearness of her skin; the shapeliness of the slender,
outstretched figure; the narrow boot, with its high-arched instep,
peeping shyly beneath the blue skirt; the something rarely interesting,
yet which scarcely made for beauty, revealed unconsciously in the
upturned face with its rounded chin and parted lips.

There was no distinct regularity of features, but there was
unquestionably character, such character as we recognize vaguely in a
sculptured face, lacking that life-like expression which the opened
eyes alone are capable of rendering. All this swept across his mind in
that instant during which he remained irresolute from surprise. Yet
Winston was by nature a gentleman; almost before he had grasped the
full significance of it all he stepped silently backward, and gently
closed the door. For an uncertain moment he remained there staring
blankly at the wood, that haunting memory once again mocking every vain
attempt to associate this girl-face with some other he had known
before. Finally, leaving valise and overcoat lying in the hall, he
retraced his way slowly down the stairs.

"Tom," and the young man leaned against the rough counter, his voice
grown graver, "there chances to be a woman at present occupying that
room you just assigned me."

"No! Is that so?" and the clerk swung easily down from his high stool,
drawing the register toward him. "Must be one of the troupe, then.
Let's see - Number Twenty-seven, was n't it? Twenty-seven - oh, yes,
here it is. That's a fact," and his finger slowly traced the line as
he spelled out the name, "'Miss Beth Norvell.' Oh, I remember her
now - black hair, and a long gray coat; best looker among 'em. Manager
said she 'd have to be given a room all to herself; but I clean forgot
I assigned her to Twenty-seven. Make much of a row?"

The other shook his head, bending down so as to read the name with his
own eyes. There was nothing in the least familiar about the sound of
it, and he became faintly conscious of an undefined feeling of
disappointment. Still, if she was upon the stage, the name quite
probably was an assumed one; the very utterance of it left that
impression. He walked over toward the cigar stand and picked out a
weed, thinking gravely while he held a flaming match to the tip.
Somehow he was not altogether greatly pleased with this information; he
should have preferred to discover her to be some one else. He glanced
at the clerk through the slight haze of blue smoke, his increasing
curiosity finding reluctant utterance.

"What troupe is it?" he questioned with seeming carelessness.

"'Heart of the World,'" answered Tom with some considerable increase of
enthusiasm. "A dandy play, and a blamed good company, they tell me.
Got some fine press notices anyhow, an' a carload o' scenery. Played
in Denver a whole month; and it costs a dollar and a half to buy a
decent seat even in this measly town, so you can bet it ain't no slouch
of a show. House two-thirds sold out in advance, but I know where I
can get you some good seats for just a little extra. Lane is the star.
You 've heard of Lane, have n't you? Funniest fellow you ever saw;
makes you laugh just to look at him. And this - this Miss Norvell, why
she's the leadin' lady, and the travellin' men tell me she's simply
immense. There's one of their show bills hanging over there back of
the stove."

Winston sauntered across to the indicated red and yellow abomination,
and dumbly stood staring at it through the blue rings of his cigar. It
represented a most thrilling stage picture, while underneath, and in
type scarcely a shade less pronounced than that devoted to the eminent
comedian T. Macready Lane, appeared the announcement of the great
emotional actress, Miss Beth Norvell, together with several quite
flattering Western press notices. The young man read these slowly,
wondering why they should particularly interest him, and on a sudden
his rather grave face brightened into a smile, a whimsical thought
flashing into his mind.

"By Jove, why not?" he muttered, as if arguing the matter out with
himself. "The report has gone East, and there is nothing more to be
accomplished in Flat Rock for at least a month. This snow will have to
melt away before they can hope to put any miners to work, and in the
meanwhile I might just as well be laying up experiences on the road as
wasting my substance in riotous living at Denver. It ought to prove a
great lark, and I 've always had ambition to have a try at something of
the kind. Well, here 's my chance; and besides, I can't help believing
that that girl might prove interesting; her face is, anyhow."

He walked back to where Tom still hung idly over the cigar case.

"Who is running this show outfit?"

"That big fellow writing at the table. His name 's Albrecht,"
suspiciously. "But see here, I tell you there ain't any use of your
hittin' him for 'comps'; he 's tighter than a drum."

"'Comps'? Oh, ye of little faith!" exclaimed Winston genially. "It is
n't 'comps' I 'm after, Tommy, it's a job."

Albrecht looked up from his writing, scowling somewhat under his
heavily thatched brows, and revealing a coarse face, with little
glinting eyes filled with low cunning. At that first glance Winston
instinctively disliked the fellow; yet he put his case in a few brief
sentences of explanation, and, as the other listened, the managerial
frown slightly relaxed.

"Actor?" he questioned laconically, when the younger man paused, his
glance wandering appreciatively over the sturdy, erect figure.

"Well, hardly that; at least, merely in an amateur way," and the
applicant laughed lightly. "You see, I imagined you might possibly
make use of me in some minor capacity until I learn more about the
business. I don't care very much regarding pay, but I desire to get a
taste of the life."

"Oxactly, mein frient." And the worthy Albrecht became almost briskly
cordial in manner. Perhaps here was an "angel" waiting to be plucked
in the holy name of art; at least, he appeared well dressed, looked
intellectually promising, and expressed himself as totally indifferent
regarding salary. Such visitors were indeed few and far between, and
the astute manager sufficiently understood his business to permit his
heavy features to relax into a hearty, welcoming smile. "Oxactly,
young man. Sit down, und I vill see yoost vat vos pest for us both.
You vould be an actor; you haf the ambition. Ah! I see it in your
eyes, and it gif me great bleasure. But, young man, it vos unfortunate
dot I haf not mooch just now to gif you, yet the vay vill open if you
only stays mit me. Sure; yaw, I, Samuel Albrecht, vill make of you a
great actor. I can see dot in your face, und for dot reason I vill now
gif you the chance. You begin at the pottom, but not for long; all I
vants now vos a utility man - some one to take small barts, understudy,
und be ready to help out mit der scenery und der trunks. I could not
bay moch monies for dot," and he spread his beringed hands
deprecatingly, "but it vos only der first step on der ladder of fame.
Every day I teach you de great art of de actor. You come with me dot
way, mein frient?"

"Certainly; that will be perfectly satisfactory."

"Ah," delightedly, "you vos a goot poy, villin' to learn, I see. Next
season, who knows, you might be leading man if you vork hardt. I bay
you now after one veek's trial, when I know petter vot you are vort,
hey?"

Winston carelessly nodded his acceptance of these rather indefinite
terms, his hands thrust into his pockets, his gray eyes smiling their
appreciation of the situation. Albrecht was deliberately looking him
over, as he might a horse he had just purchased.

"You are kinder slim to look at," he confessed at last, thoughtfully.
"Are you bretty strong?"

The younger man silently held forth his right arm to the inspection of
the other, who fingered the iron rigidity of muscle under the cloth
with evident respect.

"God of Yacob!" the manager muttered in unconcealed surprise, "it is
vonderful, and you such a slender young man to look at. I vos most
afraidt you could not do mein vork, but it is all right. You vill eat
mit us at the long table," he waved his hand indefinitely toward the
dining-room, "at 12:30, and then I valk mit you over py der Obera
House, und show you vat der is to be done mit dot scenery und dem
trunks. Mein Gott! it vos vonderful dot muscles vot you haf got - you
vould make a great Davy Crockett ven I learns you de business, mein
frient."

The manager's appreciation of his new acquisition was so clearly
evident that Winston felt compelled to notice it.

"I am rejoiced you appear so well satisfied," he said, rising to his
feet.

"Satisfied! Mein Gott," and the overjoyed Albrecht cordially clasped
the hand of his new recruit. "It vos a great season of luck for me,
mein frient. Dot Meess Norvell, she makes me mooch monies vile I shows
her how to be an actress, - oh, it vos yoost beautiful to see her
act, - und now you comes mit me also, und cares nottings for vot I bay
you, und I can see you haf der actor genius. Mein Gott! it vos too
goot to be true."

Winston broke away gladly, and drifted back toward the cigar stand,
where the mystified Tommy yet stood staring at him.

"Well, did you get it?" the latter questioned, grinning.

"Thomas," returned the other loftily. "You can hand me out another
cigar, and I will thank you not to be quite so familiar in the future.
I am now general utility man with the 'Heart of the World' company, and
consequently entitled to greater respect."




CHAPTER II

OUT WITH A ROAD COMPANY

Miss Norvell failed to appear at the noon meal, though Winston met the
other members of the company. He found them genial enough, even
somewhat boisterous, with the single exception of Mr. Lane, who
maintained a dignified and rather gloomy silence, such as became one of
his recognized professional standing, after having favored the newcomer
with a long, impertinent stare, apparently expressing disapproval. The
manager was outwardly in most excellent humor, narrating several
stories, at which all, excepting the reserved comedian, laughed quite
heartily. At the conclusion of the repast, Albrecht condescended to
purchase his new recruit a cigar, and then walked beside him toward the
Opera House, where the necessary instructions in new duties promptly
began. If Winston had previously imagined his earlier steps toward
histrionic honors were destined to be easy ones, he was very soon
undeceived under the guidance of the enthusiastic manager. It proved a
strenuous afternoon, yet the young fellow had the right stuff in him to
make good, that stubborn pride which never surrenders before
difficulties; he shut his teeth, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and went
earnestly to work.

It was a small, cheaply built theatre, having restricted stage space,
while a perfect riff-raff of trunks and detached pieces of canvas
scenery littered the wings. At first sight it appeared a confused
medley of odds and ends, utterly impossible to bring into any
conformity to order, but Albrecht recognized each separate piece of
luggage, every detached section of canvas, recalling exactly where it
properly belonged during the coming performance. For more than an hour
he pranced about the dirty stage, shouting minute directions, and
giving due emphasis to them by growling German oaths; while Winston,
aided by two local assistants, bore trunks into the various
dressing-rooms, hung drop curtains in designated positions, placed set
pieces conveniently at hand, and arranged the various required
properties where they could not possibly be overlooked during the rush
of the evening's performance. Thus, little by little, order was
evolved from chaos, and the astute manager chuckled happily to himself
in quick appreciation of the unusual rapidity with which the newly
engaged utility man grasped the situation and mastered the confusing
details. Assuredly he had discovered a veritable jewel in this fresh
recruit. At last, the affairs of principal importance having been
attended to, Albrecht left some final instructions, and departed for
the hotel, feeling serenely confident that this young man would carry
out his orders to the letter.

And Winston did. He was of that determined nature which performs
thoroughly any work once deliberately undertaken; and, although the
merest idle whim had originally brought him to this position of utility
man in the "Heart of the World" company, he was already beginning to
experience a slight degree of interest in the success of the coming
show, and to feel a faint _esprit de corps_, which commanded his best
efforts. Indeed, his temporary devotion to the preparation of the
stage proved sufficiently strong to obscure partially for the time
being all recollection of that first incentive which had suggested his
taking such a step - the young lady discovered asleep in Number
Twenty-seven. The remembrance of her scarcely recurred to him all
through the afternoon, yet it finally returned in overwhelming rush
when, in the course of his arduous labors, he raised up a small leather
trunk and discovered her name painted plainly upon the end of it. The
chalk mark designating where it belonged read "Dressing-room No. 2,"
and, instead of rolling it roughly in that direction, as he had rolled
numerous others, the new utility man lifted it carefully upon his
shoulder and deposited it gently against the farther wall. He glanced
with curiosity about the restricted apartment to which Miss Beth
Norvell had been assigned. It appeared the merest hole of a place,
narrow and ill-ventilated, the side walls and ceiling composed of rough
lumber, and it was evidently designed to be lit at night by a single
gas jet, inclosed within a wire netting. This apartment contained
merely a single rude chair, of the kitchen variety, and an exceedingly
small mirror cracked across one corner and badly fly-specked. Numerous
rusty spikes, intended to hold articles of discarded clothing,
decorated both side walls and the back of the door. It was dismally
bare, and above all, it was abominably dirty, the dust lying thick
everywhere, the floor apparently unswept for weeks. With an
exclamation of disgust Winston hunted up broom and dust-rag, and gave
the gloomy place such a cleansing as it probably had not enjoyed since
the house was originally erected. At the end of these arduous labors
he looked the scene over critically, the honest perspiration streaming
down his face, glancing, with some newly awakened curiosity, into the
surrounding dressing-rooms. They were equally filthy and unfit for
occupancy, yet he did not feel called upon to invade them with his
cleansing broom. By four o'clock everything was in proper position,
the stage set in perfect order for the opening act, and Winston
returned with his report to the hotel, and to the glowing Albrecht.

Miss Norvell joined the company at the supper table, sitting between
the manager and Mr. T. Macready Lane, although Winston was quick to
observe that she gave slight attention to either, except when addressed
directly. She met the others present with all necessary cordiality and
good-fellowship, yet there appeared a certain undefined reserve about
her manner which led to an immediate hush in the rather free
conversation of what Albrecht was pleased to term the "training table,"
and when the murmur of voices was resumed after her entrance, a
somewhat better choice of subjects became immediately noticeable.
Without so much as either word or look, the silent influence of the
actress was plainly for refinement, while her mere presence at the
table gave a new tone to Bohemianism. Winston, swiftly realizing this,
began observing the lady with a curiosity which rapidly developed into
deeper interest. He became more and more attracted by her unique
personality, which persistently appealed to his aroused imagination,
even while there continued to haunt him a dim tantalizing remembrance
he was unable wholly to master. He assuredly had never either seen or
heard of this young woman before, yet she constantly reminded him of
the past. Her eyes, the peculiar contour of her face, the rather odd
trick she had of shaking back the straying tresses of her dark, glossy
hair, and, above all, that quick smile with which she greeted any flash
of humor, and which produced a fascinating dimple in her cheek, all
served to puzzle and stimulate him; while admiration of her so apparent
womanliness began as instantly to replace the vague curiosity he had
felt toward her as an actress. She was different from what he had
imagined, with absolutely nothing to suggest the glare and glitter of
the footlights. Until this time he had scarcely been conscious that
she possessed any special claim to beauty; yet now, her face, illumined
by those dark eyes filled with quick intelligence, became most
decidedly attractive, peculiarly lovable and womanly. Besides, she
evidently possessed a rare taste in dress, which met with his masculine
approval. Much of this, it is true, he reasoned out later and slowly,
for during that first meal only two circumstances impressed him
clearly - the depth of feeling glowing within those wonderfully
revealing eyes, and her complete ignoring of his presence. If she
recognized any addition to their number, there was not the slightest
sign given. Once their eyes met by merest accident; but hers
apparently saw nothing, and Winston returned to his disagreeable labors
at the Opera House, nursing a feeling akin to disappointment.

Concealed within the gloomy shadows of the wings, he stood entranced
that night watching her depict the character of a wife whose previous
happy life had been irretrievably ruined by deceit; and the force, the
quiet originality of her depiction, together with its marvellous
clearness of detail and its intense realism, held him captive. The
plot of the play was ugly, melodramatic, and entirely untrue to nature;
against it Winston's cultivated taste instantly revolted; yet this
woman interpreted her own part with the rare instinct of a true artist,
picturing to the very life the particular character intrusted to her,
and holding the house to a breathless realization of what real artistic
portrayal meant. In voice, manner, action, in each minute detail of
face and figure, she was truly the very woman she represented. It was
an art so fine as to make the auditors forget the artist, forget even
themselves. Her perfect workmanship, clear-cut, rounded, complete,
stood forth like a delicate cameo beside the rude buffoonery of T.
Macready Lane, the coarse villany of Albrecht, and the stiff mannerisms
of the remainder of the cast. They were automatons as compared with a


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