Fiction - A Hero In Spite Of Himself (4)
THE ENGINEER’S REPORT.
Colonel Sloane was in his private room upstairs, and alone. He received the engineer with eager and anxious good nature.
“Well?” he said quickly, when they had shaken hands.
Melvin walked to the door, closed it after a hasty inspection of the lobby, and then replied in his most subdued tones:—
“I have been all over the place, and inspected everything.”
“Good. Is it all right?”
“You shall decide for yourself,” said Melvin, producing two folded papers from his pocket. “I want you in the first place to examine these reports—number one and two. Here is number one; please look at it.”
Sloane took the paper and looked at it. It was a shortish document, written in a small and beautiful caligraphy, and began as follows:—
“At the request of the vendor and projectors of the Speranza Gold and Silver Mining Company, I have made a careful examination of the ground covered by the claim, and of the two principal mines, now out of working order. I regret to say, however, that the practicabilities of the claim have been much exaggerated, and that I cannot conscientiously recommend the formation of the Company on such a basis——”
The Colonel paused and glared.
“Why what the thunder is all this?” he cried. “This ain’t your report, is it?”
Melvin smiled peculiarly.
“It is report number one. Perhaps before finishing it you had better glance at number two.”
And he handed over the second paper. Scowling savagely, the Colonel opened it and glanced it down.
“At the request of the vendor and projectors of the Speranza Gold and Silver Mining Company, I have paid a second visit to the locale of the mine, at Speranza, Silverado, Mexico, and have made a careful inspection of the two principal mines (now out of gear, but readily to be put in full working order) and the entire property. The result, I am glad to say, is eminently satisfactory. The principal mine alone possesses capabilities which are practically inexhaustible, and its practicabilities particularly as regards water supply, are simply superb. Appended will be found, in a simple estimate, the result of—”
Here the Colonel paused again, and fixed his eyes upon Melvin, who had quietly seated himself and was writing, with the same cold, peculiar smile as before. His face was colourless. His thin lips firmly set, and altogether, he looked eminently disagreeable.
“Guess you’re having a joke at my expense,” cried Sloane. “Just you explain.”
“With pleasure. It rests entirely with you which of those two reports goes in.”
“If you agree to my conditions, Colonel, I send in report number two. In case of your not agreeing, I hold to report number one.”
“Well, what is the condition?” growled the other. “If it’s square, I’m agreeable.”
“You must promise, then, to put no obstacles in the way of my marriage to your daughter. Understand me clearly—I love her, and must marry her.”
Colonel Sloane paced up and down the room. With the clear eye of a man of the world he saw that Melvin was pertinacious, and if thwarted, might become spiteful. Personally, he rather disliked the Irishman, whom he knew to be thoroughly unscrupulous and disloyal, but he did not dare to offend him. Rapidly determining the matter in his own mind, he resolved to temporise as far as possible.
“As I told you before, Melvin, it all rests with Angy herself. I am not going to force her wishes in any way.”
“I suppose not,” replied Melvin. “All I want you to promise is not to oppose my suit for her hand.”
“That you may depend on.”
“And, at the same time, not to encourage any other person.”
“Don’t you fret on that score,” answered the Colonel, bluffly. “Angy’s a child, and don’t know a man from a painted picture.”
“Are you quite sure of that?” asked the Irishman, quickly. “I think you are rather mistaken, and it was on that very subject I wanted to speak to you.”
Melvin thereupon informed his companion of poor Angela’s secret meetings with the Englishman, lending to his narration, as he did so, the distempered colouring of a jealous mind. Sloane was staggered, and could scarcely believe his ears. When the truth dawned upon him, he rapped out a succession of oaths, not without coarse reference to his daughter’s pretty eyes.
“She’s a cat, then, like her mother!” he exclaimed. “But I’ll teach her! I’ll bring her to her senses! Just you leave her to me!”
“I must entreat you,” interposed Melvin, “to act cautiously, and, above all, not to let her know that I informed you of the truth.”
“Who is the man?” demanded Sloane, striking the table violently with his fist. “Tell me that! is he a gentleman?”
“Not at all. Sure he’s quite a common person, and poor into the bargain!”
“D—— his impudence! What’s his name?”
“Kelso. I found out that for you.”
“Where does he live?”
“I know that, too. Up at Pleasure Bay, in a cottage close to the Vanderbilt House. I think your best plan is not to say a word to her, but to go direct to him. If you like, I’ll go with you.”
Without replying, the Colonel seized his hat, and the two descended to the front door, where they called up a carriage and drove off at once to Pleasure Bay. Sloane was savage, feeling thoroughly aggrieved, and Melvin watched his anger with ill-concealed delight.
As bad or good luck would have it, they found the object of their search seated in front of the cottage, before his easel, quietly painting. Alighting from the carriage, the Colonel strode up, followed by Melvin. For a moment he could not speak for agitation, but stood panting close to the artist’s shoulder.
“Good morning,” said Jack, looking up for a moment, and then leisurely proceeding with his painting. He recognised Sloane, and was wondering on what errand he had come.
“Your name, sir, is Kelso?” Jack nodded. “Mine is Colonel Sloane.” Jack nodded again. “I daresay you know me; at any rate you are acquainted with my daughter, Miss Angela Sloane. Guess I’ve come here to ask you if you call yourself a gentleman, carrying on games with a young lady unknown to her father?”
“So, so,” thought Jack, “the cat is out of the bag.” Then he replied, still painting, “I am certainly acquainted with Miss Sloane.”
“Then how dare you, sir,” thundered the parent—“how dare you meet my daughter without my permission? I’ll have you to know, young man, that these things may do with Britishers, but they won’t do in the States. Why, for less than you’ve done, I’ve seen a man bowie-knifed and shot dead with a Winchester rifle, down South.”
Jack put down his brush, rose, and quietly faced the Colonel. His powerful, swarthy, yet refined face was a strong contrast to the coarse and flaming lineaments of his opponent.
“Before you say any more,” said Jack, “may I ask you—who is this gentleman?”
He looked quietly at Melvin, who scowled back at him with savage dislike.
“That gentleman, sir, is my friend, and my daughter’s friend, Mr. Kyrle Melvin. I’ve brought him with me to hear me tell you my opinion of your conduct, and to bear witness that I’ve warned you. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know you. Guess you may be some counter-jumper out of a linen store, for all I know. But if you don’t let my daughter alone, look out for snakes, that’s all.”
“Excuse me if I put another question. Has the young lady herself informed you of our acquaintance, or has some other person been good enough to play the spy?”
Here he looked again, very contemptuously, at Melvin, who forthwith bristled up and said beneath his set teeth:—
“I am no spy, you blackguard! I am a gentleman, and I’ll have ye know——”
“Keep a civil tongue in your head,” said Jack with sudden sharpness. “You are not Miss Sloane’s father, nor her relation; and I am not disposed to listen to impertinent remarks from you.”
Melvin grew livid, showing his teeth, like a snarling dog, but the Englishman’s broad shoulders and powerful frame daunted him, and he saw that he had better not encroach too far.
Jack turned again to the Colonel.
“I am very sorry, Colonel Sloane, if my conduct has given you offence. I have the greatest respect for Miss Sloane, and I am far from disputing your right to exercise supervision over her. At the same time, I have done nothing of which I am ashamed, and as for your daughter, she is entirely blameless in the matter. We met quite accidentally in New York, and were introduced at the house of a mutual friend. Afterwards, still by the purest accident, we met here at Long Branch. That is all.”
There was a quiet dignity in the young man’s manner which was not without its effect on the Colonel, who, with all his faults, knew a gentleman, when he saw one.
“Very well, sir,” was his reply. “All I want now is your promise to give up my daughter’s acquaintance.”
“I cannot promise to do that,” said Kelso quietly, “unless at Miss Sloane’s own request.”
“What!” cried Sloane, flaming again. “Take care, sir! I was born in the South, and I was raised in the South, and I can bite as well as bark, you bet. I forbid you to meet my daughter.”
“Very sorry,” returned Jack, “but I can’t oblige you in this matter.”
“What! you refuse to get along when I tell you. Melvin, d’ye hear him? You’re my witness that I’ve given him fair warning.”
“Of course,” said Melvin. “Sure he’s nothing but a beggarly adventurer, after all.”
“Mr. Kyrle Melvin,” cried Jack, “I must again request you to mind your own business. This gentleman is Miss Sloane’s father, I shall listen to all he says with the utmost respect, but if you are not quiet, I may possibly—throw you into the river.”
The Irishman retreated a step, looking vivid again, and making a nervous motion with his hands towards his waistband —which had a curious resemblance to the gesture of a person down South, when argument grows warm and they feel for their six-shooters. But fortunately, he carried no weapon—except his own venomous tongue.
“Come away,” he cried to the Colonel. “Sure it’s no use talking!”
He plucked Sloane by the arm, and drew him towards the carriage. For the moment, the Colonel hesitated, brandishing his malacca cane, and in the act, it seemed, to take condign vengeance on the irritating Britisher. But discretion triumphed over ill-temper, and, after another rapid oath, he suffered himself to be led away—leaving Jack Kelso master of the field of battle.
During the brief drive home, Sloane kept sullen silence; but as they approached the hotel he took from his pocket the two reports which Melvin had handed him in the morning. Then, with an awkward assumption of good humour, he clapped his companion on the shoulder.
“It’s a bargain, Kyrle Melvin,” he cried. “I’m going to print the second report and burn the first one, and—I guess you’re to be my son-in-law!”
At the door, however, they parted, Melvin walking away full of a kind of sickly rapture. Then striding upstairs, Sloane sent for his daughter, and loosened on her all the thunders of his paternal wrath. Utterly taken by surprise, Angela cowered before the storm.
The scene was not a pleasant one, but, fortunately there were no witnesses. The Colonel was one of those men who bully the weaker sex, and favour them, on state occasions, with the ugliest language at their command. It was not the first time, indeed, that the poor girl had been regaled with the vocabulary which, many years before, had dazed and frightened her mother, and perhaps assisted that timid creature into an early grave. Sloane’s habitual good-humour, indeed, was very superficial. He could treat a woman or a dog well enough, till he got out of temper; then the weaker creature was sure to suffer, even to the extent of a kick or a blow. My reader can understand, therefore, that Angela had a righteous horror of her father when he was “put out.”
She bore it all in abject silence till the tyrant, desisting from his general abuse, informed her that she must forthwith make up her mind to marry his friend, Mr. Kyrle Melvin, and dismiss the infernal Britisher from her mind altogether. Then her tears welled forth, and she found speech.
“Oh, papa!” she cried, sobbing wildly. “I can’t! It will kill me! Do not ask me to marry Mr. Melvin! I dislike him so much.”
The Colonel answered with an oath.
“You’ve got to do it, that’s all,” he added. “I know what’s good for you, and Melvin’s my choice. He’ll just suit me for a son-in-law.”
BOOK II.—CHAPTER II.
THE GAME PREPARES FOR FLIGHT.
The new turn things had taken was appalling to Angela, who remained dumbfounded, unable either to think or act. Had she been endowed with half the spirit or determination of her friend Isabel Raymond, she would have been able to concoct some device and outwit them all; but hers was more by nature a clinging and timid temperament; from childhood upwards she had looked for support from without rather than from within; at school she had attached herself to Isabel Raymond; at Long Branch to Jack Kelso—simply because both of these natures were in exact contradiction to her own. Now she was utterly helpless and forlorn.
Had Isabel been at hand to think and plan for her, Angela would have possessed sufficient courage to carry out these plans, no matter how daring they might be; but she was now literally thrown upon her own resources, and she found that she had none, to speak of.
It was perfectly clear to her that her father, once having given forth his verdict, meant to abide by it. It was also perfectly clear to her that rather than marry Melvin she would leap from one of the high windows of the hotel and dash her brains out upon the ground. This was the only alternative poor Angela could think of, and this was so dreadful to her that it cost her hours of agony and tears.
If she disliked Melvin before, she grew now to positively hate him, for she knew that it was he who had played a treacherous part and brought her to all this trouble. Oh! if she could only tell Jack, but that was impossible, for the poor girl was now a complete prisoner.
True, she was not confined to her room, but whenever she was out of it Melvin followed her as persistently as her shadow. If she walked on the parade he was beside her; if she called upon Isabel Raymond he called too, and sat by smiling while the interview lasted; and when it was over he accompanied Miss Sloane back to her hotel.
At length Angela hit upon what she believed to be a brilliant idea. She one day paid a visit to Isabel, and when she was leaving she shook hands warmly with her friend. When she left Isabel found that a piece of paper had been artfully slipped in her palm; she opened it and read:—
“I am a prisoner. For heaven’s sake, think of some way out of this, or I shall die.”
“Poor little Angy,” she said; “so she is being bullied is she? I thought as much when I saw that evil-looking gentleman continually by her side. Well, I must think for her, I suppose, as I used to do in the old days at Sunbury, and help her if I can.”
Truth to tell, the idea of becoming mixed up in this little episode was by no means unpleasant to our heroine, for she loved a dash of romance. Besides, she had quite made up her mind as to which of the two men it would be best for her friend to marry. She, too, had taken the most intense and unaccountable dislike to Melvin, while to Jack, to whom she had been introduced by Angela one day on the parade, her heart went out at once. So she set to work to think of the best means of rescuing her friend from the one man and giving her to the other.
The result of these reflections:—
Miss Raymond’s victoria pulled up one day before the door of the Washington House. Miss Raymond was going to alight when she saw Angela in walking costume, accompanied, as usual, by Melvin, coming out of the hotel.
“I was just coming to see you,” said Isabel, blandly.
“And I,” cried Angela, “was just coming to see you!”
“Were you? Then you are free for an hour. Step in, dearest, and come for a drive. I am sure Mr. Melvin will excuse you for once.”
And before that gentleman could speak a word Angela had been pulled into the victoria, which immediately started off at a brisk pace. The whole thing occurred so suddenly that Melvin was dumbfounded, and before he could make up his mind to follow, the victoria was out of sight.
“That girl, Miss Raymond, is a devil, and means mischief,” he said. “But, by St. Patrick! she must be sharp indeed if she can outwit me!”
The first thing Isabel did upon getting clear of the hotel was to burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, while Angela, trembling violently, began to cry.
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Isabel. “Didn’t you want to come, Angy?”
“Yes, of course I did,” returned Angela, drying her eyes; “only it was so sudden. It has made me tremble so.”
“Well, it was rather sudden,” returned Isabel. “It was your walking costume suggested it to me, dear.”
“What, hadn’t you planned it?”
“Not at all. Most likely if I had done so it wouldn’t have turned out so well. I intended to make a call upon you, my darling, and I had brought a little note to give you somehow or other, but this is much better. However, we must make the most of our opportunity, for Mr. Melvin won’t let us have another drive together, I can tell you!”
Then the two girls fell to talking, and Isabel soon discovered that the case was a more serious one than she had imagined; above all, Angela’s horror of her father made Isabel heartsick.
“How old are you, Angela?” she asked.
“Ah! then he has got some legal right over you still. Well, I know what I should do under the circumstances.”
This bold announcement fairly staggered poor Angela.
“Run away!” she said. “With Jack?”
“No,” returned Isabel; “run away without Jack. By yourself—and hide. Then, when you are twenty-one you can defy him. Good gracious,” continued Isabel, suddenly kindling up with enthusiasm, “it would be splendid; and it would give them all the fright they richly deserve for persecuting you. Will you run away, Angy?—Do—I will help you, I will indeed!”
But Angela shook her head.
“You have no idea how I am watched, Isabel. Besides, even if I managed to get away, papa would be sure to find me, and then——”
“But I say he shall not find you,” continued Isabel, warming up to her work, “that is if you will trust entirely to me, and follow my advice in every way.”
After a little more talk Angela was persuaded to leave her salvation in the hands of her friend. Thus, having shifted her troubles from her own shoulders to those of another, Angela felt as if they were disposed of altogether, and she thereupon made a proposal which amazed even her friend.
“Let us go and see Jack,” she said.
Isabel fairly groaned.
“The audacity of these timid people,” she said. “My dear Angela, do you know what would happen if you did go and see Jack?”
“You would be locked up in your room and not allowed to see a single soul until you had become Mrs. Melvin.”
“Yes, if they knew, but who is to tell them?”
“Mr. Melvin is sure to know,” returned Isabel. “My dear Angela, do you take that man to be a fool; because I don’t. Since he is deprived of the pleasure of watching you to-day, he will watch the one person in the world whom he wishes you not to meet. Now, Angela, if you are to be guided by me in one thing, you must be guided in all. Avoid Mr. Kelso for some time.”
Though this arrangement was by no means pleasant to her Angela consented to abide by it; “since,” she avowed frankly, “in this case, as in every other, her dear Isabel knew best.”
BOOK II.—CHAPTER III.
“Where’s Angy?” said Colonel Sloane one morning as he was about to sit down to breakfast. “That is,” he added, in answer to the astonished look on the waiter’s face, “where’s my daughter? Ain’t she come down yet?”
The waiter did not know, but he sent the chambermaid to inquire. That person returned with the message that Miss Sloane was not in her room, but was probably out walking.
“All right,” said the Colonel, and he sat down alone to his meal.
It did not occur to the Colonel that there was any thing unusual in this proceeding on the part of his daughter; at all events, he did not couple it with defiance of himself. His wife had been submissive to his every look; he had no reason to believe that his daughter was not the same. So he ate his breakfast with an appetite. Afterwards, he went to his study and was soon deep in his calculations.
About an hour after breakfast Melvin arrived, being shown to the Colonel’s room, and after a few commonplaces, he asked after Miss Sloane.
“Angy?” said the Colonel. “Ah, that reminds me! She was up and out before I breakfasted.”
“Up and out!” exclaimed Melvin, whose face at once grew pale with apprehension. “Where has she gone to?”
“Heavens alive, man, I don’t know!”
“Then I do. She has gone to meet that blackguard Englishman—Kelso!”
The Colonel set his teeth and clenched his fist.
“Angy’s no fool,” he said. “She’s got an inkling of what might happen if she began to defy me.”
He rang the bell furiously. “See if Miss Sloane has come in yet,” he said to the man who answered it; “and if she has, send her here to me.”
In five minutes the man returned. “Miss Sloane is not in the house, sir,” said he, “but the chambermaid found this on her dressing-table. It is addressed to you.”
Pale and trembling, the Colonel took the note which the servant held forth.
“You may go,” he said. He saw that the servant was endowed with large curiosity, and was, therefore, inclined to linger.
The moment he was gone the Colonel tore open the note and read as follows:—
“MY DEAR FATHER,—I am going away. By the time you read this I shall be in a place as secure as the grave, where neither you nor any one will be able to find me. Therefore, do not weary yourself with a search which will be useless. If I seem undutiful I am very, very sorry. But indeed, my dear father, it is your harshness and cruelty which have driven me to this dreadful step. My days, darkened as they were by the presence of a man whose very name I loathed, were becoming unsupportable to me. The thought of the future which you had planned for me filled me with a horror even worse than death. I saw no escape but the one I have chosen. Do not be very angry with me. Heaven willing, we shall soon meet again, and then you must try and forgive your sorrowful but loving child,
The letter was written hurriedly in pencil, and blotted as if with many tears. The Colonel crumpled it in his hand, muttering a savage oath; then he flung the paper at Melvin.
“Read that,” he said.
Melvin obeyed. When he had finished, he, too became livid with rage.
“’Tis as I suspected,” he cried; “she has outwitted us and gone off with that cursed scoundrel!”
“What!” cried the Colonel, “do you dare to hint that my child has gone away with a man?”
“No,” returned Melvin, “sure I don’t hint it—I say it. Come to his house and you’ll find he’s gone!”
Five minutes later the two men were driving furiously along the road in the Colonel’s dogcart. As they drew near to the cottage they were astonished to see Jack Kelso lying on the lawn by the river.
The Colonel looked at Melvin; but Melvin was not to be outdone.
“It’s a ruse,” said he; “sure he’s got her hid away safe enough, and he’s stopped behind himself to hoodwink you.”
In a moment the Colonel was out of the dogcart and by the young man’s side.
“Now,” he cried, flourishing his whip, “you infernal scoundrel. Tell me where my daughter is, or by God, I’ll thrash you within an inch of your life!”
In a moment Kelso was upon his feet. Utterly amazed at this sudden attack, he stared in wonder at his panting and purple antagonist.
The coolness of his manner so irritated the Colonel that he rapped out a few more round oaths.
“Where is she?” he cried. “Tell me where my daughter is, or by thunder——”
He raised the whip threateningly and made one step forward. Before it could descend, however, the whip was quietly wrenched from his grasp.
“Now,” said Kelso, coolly, “perhaps you’ll talk like a rational being. In the first place, what do you want?”
“I want my daughter!”
“Then, why in heaven’s name do you come to me?”
At this cool question the Colonel grew livid.
“Why do I come to you?” he said. “Because it wasn’t to go with you that she left her home last night, was it? If it hadn’t been for you, you puppy, she would have been as obedient as her mother was, and——”
“And most probably would have reaped the same reward,” said Kelso, quietly. “Oh, you need not double your fist, Colonel. I know more of you than you fancy, and if I have spared you, it has been for her sake, not your own. If your daughter has fled your roof, she has made a lucky escape from a tyrant.
You may believe me or not, but I tell you I knew nothing of her projected flight, and I am equally ignorant as to her present whereabouts. You are at liberty to search my house if you wish; but I warn you not to treat me to too much of your company, or we may quarrel in a manner which will not be acceptable to you.”
He flung the whip carelessly towards its owner and moved away.
The Colonel hesitated; then he, too, turned. He was quite convinced by the young man’s manner that he knew nothing whatever of Angela; so, at least, he told Melvin as the two drove back to the hotel.
For the next few days the Colonel and Melvin scoured the district, but found no trace of the missing girl. She had disappeared as entirely as if she had jumped into the water and left not so much as a ripple to mark the spot.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER IV.
While Colonel Sloane was heaping expletives upon the head of innocent Jack Kelso, Angela was contentedly eating her luncheon within a very few yards of her father’s door. At her friend’s suggestion, she had flown for refuge to the one place where her father would not be likely to search for her, to no other place, in fact, than the suite of rooms dedicated to the sole and unconditional use of Isabel Raymond.
“Come to me, Angela,” said Isabel, after having carefully thought the matter over. “I will smuggle you in in the middle of the night, and not a soul will trace you. Your father will scour the country, I’ve no doubt, and if you were within a hundred miles most probably he would find you; but he will never search my rooms. It is the one safe place I can think of.”
So Angela yielded to her friend’s persuasion and the thing was done.
“And I think it has been very well done,” said Isabel, as she sat lunching in her rooms the next morning watching her friend, who was eating her cold chicken with an appetite, and sipping her champagne with the air of a young connoisseur. “You are none the worse of the adventure, so far, are you, Angela?”
Angela shook her head.
“I am a great deal the better of it,” she said. “I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. It’s like being at a picnic, or travelling the country in a caravan. Does any one know I am here?”
“No one but Hammond, my maid, and she is as true as steel. It was absolutely necessary for me to tell her; otherwise you would have starved.”
“I wish you had told Jack.”
“Even the incomparable ‘Jack’ may be enlightened in time,” said she.
Angela leapt delightedly to her feet.
“You will really tell him?” she cried. “Oh, Isabel, why wouldn’t you tell him before, and let him help us? I never could understand why you persisted in keeping our plans a secret from Jack.”
“I will tell you. Because he would have done us irreparable harm.”
“Isabel!” cried Angela, with tears in her eyes. “You surely don’t mean to say that you believe Jack capable of betraying me?”
“Not willfully, my darling; but unintentionally he might have done us a great deal of harm. Before we acted I, not wishing our scheme to fail, thought it all out, and came to these conclusions: firstly, that on discovery of your flight your father would immediately conclude that you had eloped with Mr. Kelso; secondly, that his first care would be to seek out Mr. Kelso and demand from him an explanation. Now, by keeping Mr. Kelso in ignorance of the whole matter we have not only spared him the pain of having to tell a string of falsehoods, but we have also enabled him to exhibit genuine surprise when he hears of your flight. His manner, far more than his words, will convince your father of his innocence, and he will, therefore, cease to direct his suspicions towards Mr. Kelso.”
“But you said you meant to tell him?”
“So I do. After your father’s interview with him is over I shall find a means of conveying to him your whereabouts. We may want his assistance, and if he comes out of the interview as well as I fancy, your father won’t suspect him again.”
“Shall you tell anyone else, Isabel?”
“Yes, dear; the General and Mrs. Collier.”
At this Angela began to tremble.
“Don’t be afraid, Angy,” said Isabel; “they won’t betray you. Besides, I am not going to tell them yet.”
“And have you got your reasons for that?” said Angela, who was becoming very much impressed by the wonderful management of her friend. “Oh, Isabel, how clever you are. Do tell me what reason you have got for not telling your guardians now?”
“The very same reason as I had for not telling Mr. Kelso. I am just afraid your father may call here, knowing that I am your friend, and I want my dear guardians to be so profoundly astonished at the whole story that the Colonel’s suspicions, if he has any, will be disarmed again.”
“But you, Isabel? Suppose he asks if you know anything about my running away?”
Isabel laughed and shrugged her shoulders. “My dear Angela,” said she, “I am afraid I am turning out almost as bad as poor Miss Romney prophesied. I intend to look innocently into your father’s face and tell a deliberate fib.”
There was a tap at the door; then came the maid’s voice softly through the keyhole—
“Miss Raymond, if you please.”
Isabel unlocked the door, and the maid entered.
“Colonel Sloane and Mr. Melvin,” said she. “They have both asked for you, and I took them to the drawing-room, pretending I thought you were there. Both the General and Mrs. Collier are there. What shall I do, miss?”
Angela, white as a sheet, leapt up trembling. She had been as brave as a lion when she thought all was safe; but at the first scent of danger she lost her head. She clung sobbing round her friend’s neck.
“Isabel,” she cried, “they have come because they know I am here. But you won’t give me up? I shall die if you let them marry me to that man.”
Isabel soothed her gently. “Angela, darling, it is all right,” she said. “They have come to ask me if I know anything about you, that is all. Isn’t it natural your father should seek information from your dearest friend. But surely, Angela, you can trust me!”
Thus she left Angela to the tender mercies of Hammond, while she herself went off to face the enraged father.
About an hour later Isabel returned to her friend, but not alone.
“Angela, darling,” she said, “I have brought Mrs. Collier to see you. Both she and the General know everything, and are quite on our side.”
Mrs. Collier, who was a good-hearted, motherly woman, came forward and took Angela in her arms.
“You have nothing to fear from us, my dear,” she said. “For my part, I am very glad that you ran away, and that dear Isabel has protected you. Such cruelty I never heard of. As for that Melvin, I should be very sorry to give him a dumb animal, much more a wife.”
After a little more conversation, Mrs. Collier took her leave, and the two girls were left alone. Thereupon Isabel gave Angela an account of what had happened, softening as much as possible her father’s relentless anger.
“The interview with Mr. Kelso is over,” she said. “I elicited that from Mr. Melvin. Now, I think, we may make a ‘confidant’ of Jack.”
Then Isabel fidgetted about a bit, as if she had more to say, and yet dreaded to say it.
Presently she spoke.
“It is absolutely necessary that we make another confidant.”
Angela opened her eyes.
“My dear Isabel,” said she; “we have made three or four already. If we go on like this, our whereabouts will soon be known all over the place.”
“Angy dear, don’t be unreasonable,” returned Isabel. “Whom have I told? The General and Mrs. Collier; but that was absolutely necessary, since they would have been certain to have found us out, and that would have been worse. By telling them we have made them our friends.”
“Well, if you want another confidant, there’s Jack.”
“Not the least use in the world.”
“Then why do you propose to tell him?”
Partly to comfort him, and partly to comfort you dear. If I leave him in his present state of ignorance he will be so anxious to find you that he will become even a greater nuisance than your father; and if you are not allowed to hold any communion with him I expect you will begin to pine away. There is one man whom I should like to tell, and who could really be of use to us, if he would.”
“Who is that?”
In a moment Angela was upon her feet.
“Isabel,” she cried, “not so much as one word to Colonel Fotheringay, if you love me. He is my father’s most intimate friend. The first thing he would do would be to tell my father.”
“You mistake, Angy. It would be the very thing he would not do, if I asked him.”
“Ah, Isabel, you don’t know him.”
“Perhaps I know him better than you, dear.”
Angela looked at her, and a new light came into her eyes. She began to understand.
“Dear Isabel,” she said, “is it possible?”
“It is more than possible; it is certain,” returned Isabel, blushing as vividly as a weaker woman would have done. “Yes, Angela, dear,” she continued, “I may as well tell you the truth. I knew Colonel Fotheringay years ago when you and I were at Sunbury. I think I loved him then—I am sure I love him now.”
“And you will marry him.”
“I think so; nay, I hope so, dear. He has asked me, and I have said ‘Yes.’ And we none of us know what is going to happen in this world, do we, Angy? Sometimes our most cherished hopes are blighted.”
“Ah, but yours must not be, Isabel. You are so good; you deserve to be very, very happy.”
Thereupon Angela, who loved a little sentiment, began to cry and kiss her friend, while Isabel, not sorry at the opportunity of being a little foolish for once, cried and kissed again.
The next afternoon Isabel strolled out to take a walk on the Parade. As she expected, she came upon Fotheringay. There was no opportunity for kissing in so public a place, but he held her hand long and lovingly in his, and looked tenderly into her eyes.
“My darling,” he whispered, “you look pale; has anything happened to trouble you?”
“Nothing,” returned Isabel; “that is, not much. Come along to a less crowded place. I want to tell you something.”
Fotheringay obeyed; not, however, without some inward apprehension. He lived in a constant state of dread, and was always on the alert lest Isabel should hear something disadvantageous concerning him.
They reached a quiet part of the Parade and sat down. Isabel turned to him and asked—
“Can you keep a secret, Charles?”
“If you ask me, my darling—yes.”
“Then I do ask you. I want to confide in some one whom I can trust, therefore I come to you. For I do trust you,” she continued; “I could not love you else.”
He pressed her hand fondly.
“You know that Angela Sloane has run away?”
Fotheringay nodded. When Isabel was beside him he was not much interested in Angela Sloane.
“Well, I advised her to run away. I am at present hiding her from her father, who is a brute.”
Thereupon Isabel grew eloquent, and told Fotheringay the whole story, not sparing Colonel Sloane in the recounting of it. When she had done, Fotheringay laughed heartily. The idea of Angela being in the Ocean House while her father was scouring the country for her, tickled him immensely. When his hilarity had somewhat cooled down, Isabel said—
“And now, Charles, I want you to help us.”
“With all my heart, my darling; but how?”
“In the first place, I want you to see Mr. Kelso, and tell him that Angela is well and in safe hands. You may even tell him where she is; but he must not come to see her, for I am sure he will be watched. If he wishes to write to Angela you may bring the letter.”
“Convert myself into a postman,” said Fotheringay. “Après?”
“I want you to keep a keen watch upon the movements of Colonel Sloane and Mr. Melvin, and report to me.”
“Good. You want me to be a friend in the enemy’s camp. My darling, all your instructions shall be obeyed to the letter; but——”
“Let us, as Mr. Podsnap would say, put Miss Sloane behind us for a little, and talk of ourselves. You have promised, my love, to become my wife?”
“A promise, after all is said and done, is an unsubstantial thing. When shall it become a fact?”
There was a long silence.
“You don’t answer me, my darling. Say, when will you become my wife?”
“I—I don’t know.”
Her manner was so strange that he looked uneasily at her.
“Isabel,” he exclaimed, “what is the matter? Have you changed towards me?”
“In what way do you mean?”
“Have you ceased to care for me?”
“No; it is not that.”
“Then, what is it, my darling? Speak!”
She raised her earnest eyes to his face.
“Will you do something for me?”
“Anything—everything, my darling!”
“Do not be rash in promising,” she said. “Well, I want you, for my sake, to give up this Colonel Sloane and all his set.”
Fotheringay stared at her in blank amazement.
“Isabel!” he exclaimed, “you don’t know what you are saying.”
“Is the request so dreadful, then?”
“Why have you made it?”
“Because I am your promised wife. The more I hear of this Colonel Sloane, the more I believe the dreadful reports concerning him. If he is not fit to hold the sacred place of father, he is not worthy to be your friend.”
“You are quite right,” said Fotheringay, who by this time had recovered himself. “He is not fit to be the friend of any honest man.”
“Then, why is he yours!”
“Well, that is a different matter. We are bound together by business, not friendship. You see we are both speculators; his private life is nothing to me, nor is mine to him. We are business men; voila tout.”
“But your name is coupled with his, people say——”
“My dear Isabel,” interrupted Fotheringay, “what don’t people say, tell me that? We public men, you know, are never allowed to sleep on beds of roses. If we listen to what the world says we shall never have a happy half hour in our lives.”
But although his manner was light while he was with Isabel, his face grew very dark the moment he was alone.
“I am a scoundrel!” he said, “an infernal scoundrel! By Jove, I felt very much like going on my knees to her this afternoon and confessing the whole thing!”
BOOK II.—CHAPTER V.
A THUNDER CLAP.
About this time the mining prospectus appeared with results which satisfied the minds even of the most sanguine. The bait was so tempting that it was swallowed by a public which is only too easily gulled; shares were bought up rapidly, and everything was progressing with the most praiseworthy smoothness. There was only one thing now which troubled the mind of Colonel Sloane.
That one thing was the extraordinary behaviour of Fotheringay.
Apparently there was nothing to cause that young gentleman the least uneasiness. So far, his every wish seemed on the point of being realised; his wedding day had even been fixed, and was rapidly approaching. Isabel was more loving and tender than she had ever been; nay, more, she had on his account almost quarrelled hopelessly with her guardians, who, from the first, had bitterly resented the idea of her marriage with an adventurer. But Isabel, who never did things by halves, had fought her hero’s battles bravely, until she had succeeded in winning over her guardians to her side. The resplendent promise of the mining prospectus settled the business, and convinced them that Fotheringay, instead of being an adventurer, was a rich and prosperous man.
Still, as I have said, Fotheringay was far from experiencing the happiness warranted by such a run of good fortune. His friends found him a dull companion, and thought he was becoming spoiled with overmuch success. Colonel Sloane, who watched him with the eye of a hawk, saw something which he did not like.
“Treachery,” said he to himself, “or I’m a nigger! Well, I’ll keep him in hand till he’s married the heiress and paid me the notes of hand I hold, then he may go to the devil. Guess it’ll take some of his fortune to pay me the little sums I’ve advanced him to make the show he’s made.”
So the Colonel, for his own sake, affected to be ignorant of the alteration which was so clearly visible, and when it was forced upon him he laughed and vowed it was the fear of marriage which was preying upon his friend.
“Guess the best of us quake before a woman,” said he, “and Fotheringay, with all his swagger, don’t seem to have more pluck than the rest. He’ll be all right after the wedding-day.”
And the general impression was that Colonel Sloane was right, although, as the marriage day drew nearer, Fotheringay’s depression increased. At last one day he called upon the Colonel.
“Look here, Colonel,” he said, “I’m about sick of this.”
“Of what?” asked the Colonel sharply.
“Of this playing the villain! I’ve done a good many ugly deeds since I met you, but this marriage is about the ugliest of all.”
The Colonel laughed. It suited him just then to be good-humoured.
“Deuced good thing for you, and not a bad thing for her,” said he.
“Suppose I refuse to go on with it? What then?”
“Why, then,” said the Colonel, who turned livid at the very idea, “look out for squalls. Come, Fotheringay,” he continued, “let’s understand one another. You have given me your notes of hand for a goodish sum, now, haven’t you?”
“I have,” returned Fotheringay; “but when you accepted them you knew that they were not worth the paper they were written upon.”
“Right,” assented the Colonel, “but if I’d thought ’twas always going to be so, do you think I’d have taken them? Not such a fool, my friend. I knew you were a likely chap to marry, and I’d made up my mind you should marry an heiress, and so you will.”
Fotheringay laughed, took a few turns about the room, and then departed, leaving the Colonel extremely uneasy in his mind. The fact was that so long as Fotheringay remained single, the Colonel felt that he had the weaker hand. His bills would remain as they were—valueless. To threaten exposure would be useless. Fotheringay might snap his fingers and laugh in his face. But Fotheringay a bachelor and Fotheringay married to Miss Raymond, the heiress, were two different persons; the latter gentleman would have a character to lose, or, rather, his wife would think so, and she would sooner part with her money than her husband’s good name.
This was the view Colonel Sloane took, and with this view he did everything in his power to hasten on the marriage.
Meanwhile our hero was eaten up with remorse. His love for Isabel, deep and strong as it was, seemed to be transforming him; he felt that she was dearer to him than his very life, yet he knew that in marrying her he was doing her a fatal injury. But how could he tell her? How could he bear to see the love that now shone in her eyes turn to hatred and loathing? If she knew all she would despise him, as she would have every right to do, and would never look into his face again.
Therefore he feared to speak, but let the time go on.
One evening they were sitting lovingly together when Isabel broke the silence.
“Yes, my darling.”
“Does it not seem strange? In six days you and I will be man and wife!”
He rose to his feet, and gazed wildly into her face.
“Six days, did you say?” he exclaimed; “only six days?”
“Only six days,” she repeated. “Charles, you speak as if you were sorry our wedding-day is so near. It was not always so,” she continued, assuming an air of offended dignity. “It was you yourself who pressed for an early marriage, and I consented.”
In a moment he took her in his arms.
“Isabel, my darling—my love,” he said, “don’t heed my wild words; above all, never imagine they sprang from any lack of love. Perhaps I regretted the ending of our happy days. But they will not end—they shall not end!”
“Why should they?” murmured Isabel, clinging to him and looking sweetly into his face.
He bent down and kissed her.
“My darling,” he murmured, “my better angel, God grant you may ever be able to look at me with love and trust as you do now!”
The girl gazed upon him in wonder. He seemed suddenly to be transformed. Never, she thought, had she seen him look so brightly handsome; and, alas! never had she loved him so well. When he was gone she threw herself on her sofa and cried for hours.
The next day he came again. His face was very pale, but strangely resolved.
“Isabel,” he said, “I am going to make a strange request. I wonder if you will grant it?”
“Tell me what it is, and I will say.”
“I want you to postpone our wedding.”
“To postpone our wedding? Why do you wish that?”
He hesitated; then he looked steadily at her.
“Do you want me to tell you?”
“Then I will tell you. I ask you to put off the wedding—to cancel our engagement—to try to forget if you can that I ever crossed your path.”
“Oh, Charles, what do you mean?”
“I mean that if you marry me you will marry a scoundrel. I am utterly unworthy the love of a good woman—as unworthy as I am of the respect of honest men!”
He paused for a moment, trembling under her wild and wondering gaze; then he continued—
“When you first met me I was a shabby, our-at-elbows fellow, without a sixpence in the world, but I had a good name and a clear conscience. Now I have neither. You think I am a rich man. Sham! I haven’t a sixpence in the world.”
“No money!” said Isabel, smiling, and she pointed to his hands. The very jewels glittering there seemed to prove that he had spoken untruly.
Fotheringay looked at them curiously.
“False!” said he, “not diamonds and emeralds, but paste, and worth very little more than the gold they are set in; but, such as they are, they belong to my master.”
“Yes; to the devil to whom I sold myself some years ago. Isabel, you once asked me what Colonel Sloane was to me, and I answered that he was nothing to me. I lied. He is my master. He bought me body and soul, and set me up a glittering sham to dazzle the eyes of the world, and lure innocent victims into his grasp. I have been his tool—his cat’s- paw. I led the life he planned for me without many conscience qualms until I met you again; then one look into your eyes made me feel that I was damned!”
He paused and looked at her. She was deathly pale but quite calm. She had fallen into a chair but she never once took her eyes from his face.
“If all this is true,” she said, “why did you not avoid me? Why, for pity’s sake, why did you make me care for you as I do?”
“Because I was and am a scoundrel; nothing can alter that. To do myself justice, I must confess that I did intend to avoid you at first; then I found that Sloane was spreading his net for you, and that unless you became my victim you would certainly become his. Thus was the case put to me: ‘Marry her,’ said Sloane, ‘or leave her to me. I don’t care which of the two you do, my friend, because in either case a good part of the lady’s dollars will line my pockets.’”
“How could that be?”
“Why, thus; in case of my refusing to deceive you as a lover, the Colonel, introduced to you by his daughter, would never have rested until he had the bulk of your fortune invested in mines; whereas in the case of our marriage——”
“It would have taken the half of your fortune to clear off my liabilities to Colonel Sloane.”
Isabel said nothing; she sank back upon the sofa, her face grew deathly pale, her eyes closed.
“Give me some water,” she said, feebly.
Eagerly he brought it, and with a cry of agony, he took her hand, but she motioned him away.
“I am not well,” she moaned; “do not touch me.”
She sipped the water, which revived her a little; then she opened her eyes and looked at the tormentor.
“Why are you lingering?” she said; “there is nothing more to be said, I suppose, and I wish to be alone.”
In a moment he was beside her.
“Isabel, my darling,” he cried, “are we to part like this?”
“I suppose so. Where is the use of our protracting an interview which can bring us nothing but pain. Oh,” she cried, suddenly, in a wild paroxysm of anguish, “in all my worst fears I never pictured this. I thought you had been unfortunate, but I believed you had a noble soul, and, above all, I felt you loved me.”
“I did; and God knows I do,” said Fotheringay.
For a moment her face brightened; then all the light faded from it, and she shook her head.
“He urged you to marry me and you consented,” she said. “It was my fortune——”
“Before God, no!” exclaimed Fotheringay vehemently. “He urged me to marry you—yes. I consented— yes; but why? I argued thus: by paying court to Miss Raymond I can keep her from Sloane; by throwing dust in his eyes I can save her. Then, God help me, the devil stepped in and completed the task. I found one day that I loved you over much.”
“Yes, loved you with an intensity which startled me, I could not draw back now. My mad passion swept me onward. I yielded, and now this is the end.”
There was a long pause.
“Isabel, can you forgive me?”
For answer she uttered a wild cry, and covered her face with her hands.
“May God forgive you!” she moaned, “for you have broken my heart.”
That same evening the General and Mrs. Collier on returning to their hotel, heard with amazement, that the marriage of their ward was not to be.
A dreadful scene had that morning been enacted between Colonel Fotheringay and Isabel, during which, attracted by a scream, Angela had rushed into the room to find her friend lying in a dead faint upon the floor and the young man standing helplessly by. With the assistance of a servant, Isabel had been carried to her room and supplied with restoratives, and upon coming to herself she had informed poor little frightened Angela that during that interview she and her fiancée had agreed to break with each other for ever. More than this she would not tell. Even when Mrs. Collier came begging for an explanation, Isabel shook her head.
“It is enough, is it not,” she said, “that the marriage is not to be? Give me a promise that neither you nor the General will make any communication whatever to Colonel Fotheringay.”
After some hesitation the lady promised, and nothing more was said.
But, somehow, little whispers were blown about, and it soon became generally known in Long Branch, that owing to some quarrel about settlements the wedding was not to take place.
Meanwhile, Isabel lay for two days in a state of utter prostration. On the third day she rose, looking the ghost of her old self, donned a loose gown, and came out of her bed-room. The first thing she did was to sit down to her writing- desk. This was what she wrote—
“You say that you are poor—that through poverty you have been led to do evil, almost commit crime. This must not be. My fortune is my own, to dispose of as I will. The half of it I give to you. I shall send the necessary instructions to my lawyers to-night. As for myself, I do not suppose you will ever see me again. As soon as possible I shall leave Long Branch, which to me is associated with so much misery and so much happiness.
Having written and addressed this, she sealed it, and gave it to her maid.
“Take this at once,” she said, “ and if there is an answer bring it to me.”
In a trice the maid was off. In less than half an hour she returned with a reply. With trembling fingers Isabel took it.
“Did you see Colonel Fotheringay?” she said.
“Yes, madam. I was just in time.”
“In time for what?”
“To catch him, madam. He was going away, and by this time he is into the train, I should think. He had written this letter to you, and was going to post it; but after he had read yours, he opened this again, added a few lines and gave it to me.”
With a horrible sickening fear at her heart Isabel tore open the envelope and read as follows:—
“MY DARLING ISABEL,—Business calls me to a distant part of the country. I go, knowing it will be better for you that I shall never cross your path again. You know I am a villain. Forget me. As for myself, I shall watch over you and love you till death.
“Your generosity, my darling, your self-sacrifice and goodness heighten my contempt for the miserable part I have played. As for touching a farthing of your money that is out of the question. One thing only shall I cling to in this miserable life—my love for you. Farewell, my better angel; farewell, for ever!
Having read this, Isabel kissed it passionately; then she sobbed as if her heart would break.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER VI.
A GLEAM OF HOPE.
Having left Isabel in the safe custody of her friend and her servant, Fotheringay, who on that dreadful day had seemed like a man demented, had walked straight to Colonel Sloane and made him acquainted with all that had taken place.
At first the Colonel, beside himself with rage, was about to spring upon his accomplice and pin him by the throat; a moment of self-repression, and he was almost himself again.
“After all,” he said, “there’s not much harm done; you’ve made a fool of yourself, that’s all; but if the girl loves you she’ll patch it up. The sooner you get her to do it the better for you!”
Fotheringay shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s no good for you to threaten,” he said, “because two can play at that little game. Now I’ve made a clean breast of it to Miss Raymond I feel better, and I tell you what it is, I’ve a deuced good mind to make a clean breast of it to the public, too!”
At this the Colonel turned livid.
“What do you mean?” he roared.
“Just what I say,” returned Fotheringay, with most exasperating calmness. “There’s no need to excite yourself. Now I’ve a strong suspicion that this business of ours is about the ugliest I’ve ever been connected with. If we go on we shall sow misery broadcast like a pestilence, and I mean to stop in time.”
Suddenly a ray of light dawned upon the Colonel’s mind. He turned as calmly as he could to Fotheringay.
“Look here, young man,” said he, “your little talk with the heiress has about turned your brain. Guess we are neither of us fit to meet just now; but just you keep cool till the evening and I’ll see you again.”
Taking the hint, Fotheringay retired, while the Colonel hurried off to consult in this dire extremity Mr. Kyrle Melvin.
The next morning the two gentlemen called upon Fotheringay. The Colonel had regained his usual calmness, while his friend was all suavity and smiles.
“Colonel Fotheringay,” said Melvin, “ our friend Sloane has brought me here to have a little talk with you about this mining business. He tells me you have been using threats of a very disagreeable nature.”
“I threatened to expose a gigantic swindle to the public,” said Fotheringay, airily. “Well?”
“Well, my dear Colonel,” said Melvin, slyly, “suppose there was no swindle to expose; suppose we had been playing a little comedy just to try you?”
“Suppose I am as gigantic a fool as you are a scoundrel,” returned Fotheringay. “Well, my friend, go on.”
Melvin turned rather white, and he shot towards Fotheringay a look that was not reassuring. Then he continued, after a quiet look at Sloane—
“The fact is, my dear Colonel, Sloane and I have within the last few days received a little surprise which we meant to keep from you for a time. We have, in fact, made a new discovery about the mine.”
Here he paused, partly to give Fotheringay a means of speaking, partly to watch the effect which his own words had produced. Fotheringay was silent; his face was a blank. He made a motion with his hand that Melvin might proceed.
“Well,” continued Melvin, who seemed to grow more nervous as he proceeded, “I am aware that when we started this concern we all agreed that it was not quite so good a thing as we could wish. Now, however, I have reason to believe that the value of the mine surpasses our most sanguine hopes, and that we have not put out an exaggerated prospectus after all, but an under-estimate.”
“Be good enough to make your meaning clear,” said he.
“Why, darn you, hasn’t he done so?” thundered the Colonel. “Fresh gold has been found in our mine—that’s his meaning; and what we feared was a bogus thing has turned up trumps—there!”
Still, Fotheringay was incredulous; but after a while, so specious were their arguments, he almost began to believe them.
“You can put my words to the proof,” said Melvin, “if you wish. I am going down to make another inspection of the mine. Come with me and judge for yourself.”
Fotheringay, knowing his men, asked for a few hours to turn this proposition over. Having got their consent to this, he set himself to think.
Naturally, his first thought was of Isabel. She had taken his confession as he thought she would take it. She had dismissed him. This was a wrench to him, but he bore it like a man, happy in the knowledge of one thing—that he had done his duty to her. Then he thought of Sloane and Melvin. Was their story true, or was it merely an invention to silence him for the time being? He rather suspected this. Still, on the other hand, it might be true; and, if so, his worldly as well as his moral position would be considerably changed for the better.
“At all events,” he thought, “I can do no harm in inspecting the place and judging for myself.”
Meanwhile, another of our characters, almost as important in his way as Fotheringay himself, was making a hurried exit from Long Branch.
“Luke,” said Mr. Kelso one morning, “pack up my traps.”
“All of them, sir?” returned Luke, “I mean yours and mine?”
“No, mine. I am going away—you will remain here. I may be gone for some weeks, but you won’t stir unless I bid you.”
“I shall communicate with you regularly. I wish you to communicate with me. I want you to mount guard over Miss Sloane and Miss Raymond—to protect them if need be; and to keep a sharp watch upon our other friends.”
“And, remember, be cautious; make no false step now or we may lose the game. Watch and wait has been our motto, and we must carry it to the end.”
“Yes, sir. When do you start, sir?”
Having thus set Luke to work, Kelso left the cottage and walked into Long Branch. He had been forbidden by Isabel to visit Angela, but he took some comfort in walking for a time before the hotel where he knew she was safely lodged. Then he walked boldly up, handed a note to the waiter, and departed. The envelope was addressed to Miss Raymond, but it contained a letter for Angela.
Having accomplished this task, he walked back to his cottage. Here he found everything in readiness for his departure.
“You will report to me every day all that takes place, Luke.”
“I will sir.”
“If my absence is commented upon, say I have gone to England; say anything, in fact, but the truth.”
That evening Kelso quitted Long Branch, leaving Luke Stafford the sole occupant of the cottage.
BOOK II—CHAPTER VII.
A CURIOUS RAILWAY JOURNEY.
On a dark afternoon in the month of September 18--, the so-called express train from Canaan City consisting of a weather-beaten engine and a few almost empty cars, approached the station of Abraham’s Town, on the borders of Texas and Silverado. I may remark, en passant, that the Canaan and Abraham’s Town Grand Junction line was only seventy miles long, and, being a strict monopoly, charged the general public at the rate of fivepence a mile for passenger transit.
As Abraham’s Town drew near, the prospect from the cars, which had hitherto consisted almost entirely of open grass and prairie, grew wilder and rougher, deepening into dangerous caverns, spanned by dizzy bridges, and rising in the distance to ranges of low russet-coloured mountains.
Now, curiously enough, in the entire train there were only two human beings besides the engine-driver and the conductor. One was no other than our old friend Jack Kelso, dressed in a rough shooting suit, with wide-awake hat and high boots, and having by him, along with his other light traps, a double-barrelled gun, a sleeping-rug covered with indiarubber, and a fishing-rod. His companion, or rather the individual who sat silent at some distance from him, was a tall, powerfully-built, portly man of about forty, with a sunburnt, open face, light blue eyes, longish hair, and a red beard which swept his breast. His attire was simple, consisting of a sombrero, a red woollen shirt, buckskin trousers, and high boots. A casual observer, looking at his face, would have thought its chief characteristic to be genial good nature, that of a man at peace with all the world; yet, strange to say, this burly, smiling fellow carried, in addition to three large pistols and a long knife in his belt, a Winchester repeating rifle across his knees.
From time to time the conductor, a sly and wiry person of familiar manners, appeared in the car and looked at the armed man with obvious admiration; but, although they were obviously acquainted, little or no conversation took place between them. The journey had already occupied some hours, and not a word had been spoken. Kelso, for his part, being too much interested in the prospect, and too little attracted by his solitary fellow-passenger, to break the ice; but, at last, as the train began to toil slowly up the steep incline towards the mountains, he left his seat and took another near to the stranger.
The stout man looked at him gently, smiled as if at his own sweet thoughts, but said nothing.
“Not much traffic on this line, sir,” said Jack. “Shouldn’t care to be one of the shareholders, if it’s a company.”
The man smiled again, opened his mouth as if to speak, and then, thinking better of it, closed his mouth once more. This was not encouraging; but the man looked so amiable that Jack resolved to try again.
“Going far, sir? Excuse my curiosity, but as we’re the only two passengers——”
Here, to Jack’s great astonishment, the man suddenly smacked his thigh with his powerful hand, and gave a hearty laugh.
“Why, look yer, that’s what it is, stranger,” he cried, beaming. “Only two passengers, you and me, and both a-going on to Abraham’s Town. Darn me if it ain’t as good as a play.”
Jack failed to perceive any particular humour in the idea, but answered the other’s smile with the view of being sociable.
“It is singular,” he remarked, “that there is so little traffic, for the district seems populous enough.”
A sudden thought seemed to strike the other, and he cried, leaning towards Kelso—
“Look yer, stranger, d’ye mean to tell me that you don’t know?”
“Know what, sir?”
“Why, that it’s an off day for the public on the Canaan and Abraham’s Town Grand Junction line?”
Jack shook his head.
“Wal, now, it warn’t square of the booking-clerk up to Canaan City not to inform yer. You’re a Britisher, I calkilate?”
“Yes, an Englishman.”
“Give us your fist,” cried the stranger, reaching out a fist of iron and giving a hearty hand shake. “I’m a Britisher myself, tho’ I left the old country when I was a boy. Perhaps you’ve heard o’ me? No? What, never heard of Dunn Smith, of Speranza Town?”
“I’m quite a stranger, you see,” returned Jack, seeing that Mr. Dunn Smith looked a little disappointed.
“Wal, Dunn Smith’s my name, and I’m sheriff of Speranza Town. I ain’t one to boast, but I’m well know’d in these parts as a civil, God-fearing chap that has killed his seventy-sixth man—each man clean dead—and never draw’d on a man without giving him first chance. It’s true! Seventy-six white men, not counting niggers or Injins. I can show you the record.”
Jack stared. Was it possible that the good-tempered looking man was a lunatic afflicted with homicidal mania? He was amused, but a little concerned, as he glanced at the formidable weapons Mr. Smith was displaying.
“But, as I was saying, it warn’t square to start you from Canaan City without giving you the wink; and you unarmed, too; for so far as I see, you don’t carry no weapon.”
Jack smiled, and drew from his breast a small revolver, Tranter’s patent, which he had brought all the way from London.
Mr. Dunn Smith took the weapon and placed it in his large palm, smilingly.
“This yer little toy,” he remarked, “is the style o’ shooter we give childer to play with and gals to carry in their pockets down Speranza way. It might suit a Lillipootian colony, where the people ain’t grow’d up, but I reckon it won’t do for Silverado.”
And he handed it back contemptuously enough for Jack to put back in his pocket.
“It’s the custom, then, to go armed in this district?” Jack asked, after a slight pause.
“Some does and some don’t. Women don’t nor yet childer.”
“At any rate,” cried Jack, laughing, “you are tolerably well protected.”
Mr. Dunn Smith’s face darkened a little.
“Don’t you make no mistake young man. There’s twelve on ‘em waiting for me at Abraham’s Station, and if I come out o’ this day’s work, it won’t be without scoring ‘eighty’ on my record. But just you take my advice. Directly we run in aside the office, you get under the seat till it’s all over, for it’ll be hailing hell before you can count ‘one, two, three,’ and as it ain’t a free fight, and no concern of yours, what you’ll want is cover.”
Jack began, though rather dimly, to understand.
“Do you mean that there is going to be a fight of some sort?” he inquired.
“That’s what I do mean, just. I got wind of it in Canaan. ‘Dunn,’ they sez, ‘they’re on the war-path. Jim Searle and his brother and ten more are to wait for you at Abraham’s Station and finish you off.’ You see, they was three brothers—Jim, Bill, and Ned—and they was the curse o’ my district, ’specially Ned and Bill. Property warn’t safe, and ladies couldn’t go about respected when Ned Searle was about. At last things grew so bad that I had to do something; for Ned sent me a message telling me to move up town,* and went about threatening to have my life. Wal, you see, Ned was game enough, but he could no more shoot than a fly. At last we went up to Sampson’s bar, and he drew on me like greased lightning; but, bless yer life, his bullets went foolin’ about somewhar and killed a poor Injin woman, and then, when he’d amoosed himself in that way, I added him to my record.”
“Killed him, do you mean?” asked Jack.
“Wal, something of that sort,” returned Mr. Smith, with a thoughtful nod. “It had to be done, d’ye see. Naterally, Ned’s brothers—one o’ them a first-rate shot and a God-fearing man like myself—was annoyed. So they went on the war-path, and this very moment they’re waiting for me, I guess, at Abraham’s Station, with ten more that they’ve paid to do my business, every one o’ them armed with Winchesters and long shooters.”
The subject was growing really interesting. Jack surveyed his new acquaintance once more, critically. He was certainly a fine fellow, not at all bloodthirsty in appearance. His blue eye was clear as a child’s, but steady as a hawk’s also, for that matter.
“And I calkilate,” continued Mr. Smith, “that that yer is the reason why the traffic to-day is temporary suspended. The public know it’s no consarn of their’s, and stops at home.”
“Wouldn’t it have been wise,” said Jack, “seeing the odds so much against you, to remain for the time being in Canaan?”
Mr. Dunn Smith flushed and seemed astonished.
“What! stay foolin’ in Canaan when they was waiting for me down at home? Guess you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I had to tramp it all the way, I wouldn’t miss the fight for a thousand dollars.”
Here the conductor appeared, carrying a bottle and a glass.
“Dunn,” he said, “have a drink. The station’s in sight, and we shall be thar in another quarter of an hour.”
“Thank’ee, Tom,” replied the hero shaking his head, “but I won’t taste till the fight’s over. When I’ve tasted I shoot careless, and that won’t do to-day.”
So saying, he quietly examined his pistols, and saw that they were in working order, opened his repeating rifle, and saw that, too, was ready.
“Twelve to one,” said Jack, “is not fair odds.”
Mr. Dunn Smith laughed. The conductor joined in, full of admiration.
“Tom, the gentleman is a stranger hereabouts, and thinks I can’t shoot straight.”
The joke so tickled the conductor that he was fairly convulsed with laughter.
“Tell him,” continued the warrior, “how I cleared Greg Harris’s theayter at Santa Fe.”
Thus prompted, Tom launched out into an excited description of how, about a year before, Mr. Dunn Smith had spent his holidays at the city named, and how, having got into disgrace with the gambling fraternity he was marked out for punishment by certain desperadoes of the place. There was a rude theatrical performance in a place which was half drinking and gaming saloon, half temple of the drama, and as it was known that Smith was going to attend, half a dozen men, armed with rifles, were posted in different parts of the house. At a given signal between the acts, the audience cleared out, leaving Smith, armed only with pistols, in the pit, or parterre. The place was lit by a couple of oil lamps swung over the stage, and others placed round the auditorium. Suddenly those in the auditorium were extinguished, and the enemy opened fire. In a moment Smith fired a double shot at the stage lamps, and extinguished both, leaving the place in total darkness. Bullets rained around him, but, crouching down, he watched the flashes of the rifles from circle and gallery, and by those momentary gleams saw his enemies. In a few minutes four were killed or desperately wounded, while the others crept away, and Dunn Smith was left master of the field.
A whistle from the engine showed that the station was near. Glancing out, Kelso saw that they were passing through a narrow mountain gulch, by the side of a shallow and brawling river. The sun was beginning to set, lighting up the scene with savage splendour.
Mr. Smith rose to his feet, rifle in hand.
“Now for it,” he said. “Take my advice, young man, and keep under cover.”
As he spoke, the train went slower and slower, and finally drew up in front of a wooden house, behind which rose a steep crag, or bluff, covered with trees.
Without a moment’s hesitation Mr. Smith opened the carriage door, and leaped out.
* Idiomatic, for quit the district.
BOOK II.—CHAPTER VIII.
THE BATTLE OF ABRAHAM’S TOWN.
There was a momentary pause, then a shrill whistle, then bang! bang! went half a dozen guns simultaneously. A bullet whizzed through the carriage window, and flattened itself on the woodwork on the opposite side. The conductor threw himself upon his face. Jack Kelso, thinking discretion the better part of valour, crouched down in the shelter of the door.
Then ensued such a fusillade as is seldom heard save on the field of battle. From the windows of the wooden house, from the adjoining heights, bullets came like hail, many of them pattering on the carriage and on the wooden platform. With oaths and execrations, three or four men rushed out of ambush, firing as they came. Bang! bang! bang! went Dunn Smith’s rifle in reply.
Presently the sounds of firing ceased, and Jack ventured to peep out. Then he saw a horrible sight—a number of men in red shirts and top boots lying dead on the platform, and Dunn Smith standing bareheaded under shelter of the shed, wrapping a handkerchief round his right hand, which had been riddled by a ball. The moment after Smith sprang away and rushed up into the woods. Bang! bang! bang! came from that direction. Then there was an ominous silence, lasting for several minutes.
Grasping his revolver, Kelso leapt out of the carriage, and looked round him. Then he saw the head of the engine- driver slowly raised from under the engine, grimy and grinning. Finally, the conductor stepped down, looking scared and nervous.
“Guess it’s all over now,” said Tom glancing at the dead bodies.
As he spoke, Mr. Dunn Smith reappeared, bleeding from the hand, but otherwise uninjured. A seraphic smile irradiated his features. But just then, Kelso, looking towards the end of the shed, saw what the other could not see—the head and arms of a bearded man, armed with a rifle, and pointing the weapon with the view of sending Mr. Smith to the great majority.
Almost instinctively, and entirely without reflection, Kelso raised his pistol and fired. There was a yell, and the ruffian, winged in the arm, dropped his rifle and took to his heels.
Mr. Smith looked round coolly. He saw the retreating figure, raised his left arm, and covered the figure; then, with a smile he lowered his weapon and did not fire.
“’Tain’t quite square,” he said, “to take a man in the rear, anyhow. Young man,” he added, turning to Jack, “give us your fist again. It was Ned Searle himself, and he can shoot—so I should have got pepper if it hadn’t been for that little toy of your’n.”
He walked over to the dead men, and looked down upon them composedly.
“That’s Ned’s brother, Jim,” he said, pointing to a powerful figure extended on his back, shot through the heart. “Poor Jim! We’ve had many a drink together. And this is Charley Harris; and that Long Bill from Kansas; and t’other, a stranger, I opiniate. Tom, if you’re agreeable, I’ll have a drink now.”
The conductor ran into the carriage and re-appeared, carrying the bottle and glass. Mr. Smith took a glass of spirits, then another; and Kelso, on the conductor’s invitation, followed suit.
“How many do you make it, Mr. Dunn?” asked Tom obsequiously.
“Six—four yer, and two more up among the trees. That totals eighty-two, I reckon. And I never draw’d fust on any one of ‘em.”
The battle being now entirely over, a number of people—men, women, and children—who had been hiding in the vicinity, now crowded on the platform and warmly congratulated the victor. It was clear that he was a favourite. It was a surprise, indeed, to Kelso, who was quite unsophisticated in such matters, to see Smith stoop down to a little girl (whom he addressed by name) kiss her quite paternally, and pulling out a package of sweetmeats from his pocket, place it in her hands.
Followed by the crowd, they walked out of the station and entered the town, a long, rambling street of wooden houses, extending right along the ravine. At last, Dunn Smith halted before a door over which was the rudely painted inscription “Sherman’s Hotel.” Inside there was a bar, nearly deserted, with a thin, white-bearded elderly man, the hotel- keeper, in attendance. Dunn walked in and shook this worthy by the hand. Kelso and Tom followed, and the population swarmed at the door.
“Welcome back, sheriff,” said the hotel-keeper. “You ain’t home too soon, neither. Jim Searle and his gang have been having a high time ever since you went to Canaan.”
“Wal,” returned Smith, smiling, “they won’t have high times no more. Has Mrs. Smith sent over the trap and the mare to meet me?”
“Yes, sheriff; and more’n that, the missus druv it over herself, and is waiting yer to see you.”
As he spoke, there sailed from the interior of the hotel a little woman attired in the height of some bygone fashion—a showy mantle, a silk dress, and a hat with a red feather. She had black ringlets, and a sharp, rather pretty face, a little faded. It was clear at a glance that she was Smith’s senior by several years; but in her manner there was an affectation of juvenility, combined with no little pride in her personal attractions.
“So you’ve come home at last,” she said, in a high shrill voice and with a toss of the head. “I admire that you didn’t stop altogether, and look arter another wife, up at Canaan.”
Mr. Smith winked at Kelso, and replied, good-humouredly—
“All right, Saireh!”
“But it ain’t all right,” was the retort. “You’d tire out the patience of a saint, you would, fooling about with them shooters like a big babby, instead of stopping quite at home with your lawful wife. Have you brought me them things, I want to know?”
“They’re coming on by the cars to-morrow, Saireh. This yer is a partickler friend of mine—let me introduce him. Mr. ——, Mr.——”
“Kelso,” suggested Jack.
“Mr. Kelso, this is Mrs. Dunn Smith.”
Jack bowed, and Mrs. Smith saluted him with an air of genteel patronage.
“Guess you’ve come to a God-forgotten place,” she said. “Have you come to settle?”
Jack explained that he was a gentleman travelling partly for amusement, partly for the purpose of looking at the gold and silver mines in the vicinity. This clearly raised him in the lady’s estimation.
“Reckon you’re the first man,” she cried, with a giggle, “who ever came down here for pleasure. Much o’ that, you bet. It’s heart-breaking to a woman ’customed to good society and hops twice a week in her own city.”
It was quite clear that, in her own domestic sphere Mrs. Dunn Smith was the master. In her presence her husband was gentle as a lamb. It was obvious too, that he held her physical charms in no little admiration.
Presently the company were shown into a large room adjoining the bar, and here they found a repast ready. It was plain, but acceptable, consisting of cold capons, ham, bread, and biscuits, with spirits and water to wash them down. For Mrs. Dunn Smith there was hot coffee, of which, on her invitation, Kelso partook. The conductor sat down with the party, and, after everything was served, the hotel-keeper joined the circle, too.
The conversation was peculiar, consisting entirely of sanguinary reminiscences, in most of which the good-humoured sheriff figured as a hero. The incidents of the day had almost exhausted Jack Kelso’s capacity for astonishment, but he listened with no little interest. When he was tired of listening he conversed genteelly with the lady of the party, whose talk was chiefly of the gaieties of Canaan, where, if her own report could be trusted, she had been a conspicuous belle. Naturally, perhaps, she felt that, in uniting her lot to that of her husband, she had thrown herself away.
Presently, the sheriff turned to Kelso, and said, with a peculiar twinkle in his blue eye—
“Guess I heard you say you wanted to look at them mines?”
“Yes,” replied Jack, “I am rather curious about them. Are they far from here?”
“Not very far—close along o’ my house. I’ve heard tell they’re to be worked again, by a New York Company?”
“That is so,” said Jack; and the other, as if greatly tickled, laughed loudly.
“Don’t you be a fool, Dunn!” cried his partner. “Larfing and fooling about is all you’re fit for, I reckon.”
“’Twould make a cat laugh, Saireh, to think of the last chaps as worked that claim. Why, when they struck ore they couldn’t get water, and when they found water, they were fur away from the gold. Shall we take a few shares in that thar company, Saireh?”
All laughed, now, as at an excellent joke. Mrs. Dunn Smith tossed her curls contemptuously.
“I hope, though,” continued Smith, looking more serious, and again addressing Jack, “you haven’t put any of your dollars in that consarn?”
“Suppose, for argument’s sake, that I had?”
“Suppose, for argyment’s sake, that you’re a-going to blow out your brains, or go into a ’sylum for lunatics? I’ve known poor critters do that along of mines, I have. Ask Mr. Sherman, here. He can tell you!”
“Wal,” said the hotel-keeper, philosophically, “there’s mines and mines, d’ye see; but, taking the rough with the smooth, darn’d if I wouldn’t rather put my dollars in a bag and sink ’em down to the bottom of the sea.”
The sheriff greeted this sally with an approving nod.
“You’re right, Dan’l,” he cried. “As for Mr. Kelso, here (and here’s his health, for one of the right sort!) he’s a young man, I reckon, with a good deal to larn. However, I don’t forget he could shoot straight enough with his leetle toy to nick Ned Searle just as he was a-going to settle me, and I hope, therefore, he’ll take advice from them as knows.”
“Tell me about these mines,” said Kelso, eagerly. “I am really anxious about them.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” replied the sheriff. “Arter you’ve rested yer to-night, I’ll drive you over with me in the trap, and you can see and judge for yourself. I can’t say fairer nor that—and you can make my house your home as long as you’re inclined to stay; that is, if the missus has no objection.”
Mrs. Dunn Smith was good enough to say that she had no particular objection, if the stranger cared for such poor entertainment as her house could afford; and it was forthwith settled that Kelso should be driven over to Speranza in the morning.
A Hero In Spite Of Himself
continued (Book II: Chapter 9 to 15)