An Episode of West Woodlands by Bret Harte

I.

The rain was dripping monotonously from the scant eaves of the little church of the Sidon Brethren at West Woodlands. Hewn out of the very heart of a thicket of buckeye spruce and alder, unsunned and unblown upon by any wind, it was so green and unseasoned in its solitude that it seemed a part of the arboreal growth, and on damp Sundays to have taken root again and sprouted. There were moss and shining spots on the underside of the unplaned rafters, little green pools of infusoria stood on the ledge of the windows whose panes were at times suddenly clouded by mysterious unknown breaths from without or within. It was oppressed with an extravagance of leaves at all seasons, whether in summer, when green and limp they crowded the porch, doorways, and shutters, or when penetrating knot-holes and interstices of shingle and clapboard, on some creeping vine, they unexpectedly burst and bourgeoned on the walls like banners; or later, when they rotted in brown heaps in corners, outlined the edges of the floor with a thin yellow border, or invaded the ranks of the high-backed benches which served as pews.

There had been a continuous rustling at the porch and the shaking out of waterproofs and closing of umbrellas until the half-filled church was already redolent of damp dyes and the sulphur of India rubber. The eyes of the congregation were turned to the door with something more than the usual curiosity and expectation. For the new revivalist preacher from Horse Shoe Bay was coming that morning. Already voices of authority were heard approaching, and keeping up their conversation to the very door of the sacred edifice in marked contrast with the awed and bashful whisperings in the porch of the ordinary congregation. The worshipers recognized the voices of Deacons Shadwell and Bradley; in the reverential hush of the building they seemed charged with undue importance.

"It was set back in the road for quiet in the Lord's work," said Bradley.

"Yes, but it oughtn't be hidden! Let your light so shine before men, you know, Brother Bradley," returned a deep voice, unrecognized and unfamiliar—presumably that of the newcomer.

"It wouldn't take much to move it—on skids and rollers—nearer to the road," suggested Shadwell tentatively.

"No, but if you left it stranded there in the wind and sun, green and sappy as it is now, ye'd have every seam and crack startin' till the ribs shone through, and no amount of calkin' would make it watertight agin. No; my idea is—clear out the brush and shadder around it! Let the light shine in upon it! Make the waste places glad around it, but keep it THERE! And that's my idea o' gen'ral missionary work; that's how the gospel orter be rooted."

Here the bell, which from the plain open four-posted belfry above had been clanging with a metallic sharpness that had an odd impatient worldliness about it, suddenly ceased.

"That bell," said Bradley's voice, with the same suggestion of conveying important truths to the listening congregation within, "was took from the wreck of the Tamalpais. Brother Horley bought it at auction at Horse Shoe Bay and presented it. You know the Tamalpais ran ashore on Skinner's Reef, jest off here."

"Yes, with plenty of sea room, not half a gale o' wind blowing, and her real course fifty miles to westward! The whole watch must have drunk or sunk in slothful idleness," returned the deep voice again. A momentary pause followed, and then the two deacons entered the church with the stranger.

He appeared to be a powerfully-built man, with a square, beardless chin; a face that carried one or two scars of smallpox and a deeper one of a less peaceful suggestion, set in a complexion weather-beaten to the color of Spanish leather. Two small, moist gray eyes, that glistened with every emotion, seemed to contradict the hard expression of the other features. He was dressed in cheap black, like the two deacons, with the exception of a loose, black alpaca coat and the usual black silk neckerchief tied in a large bow under a turndown collar,—the general sign and symbol of a minister of his sect. He walked directly to the raised platform at the end of the chapel, where stood a table on which was a pitcher of water, a glass and hymnbook, and a tall upright desk holding a Bible. Glancing over these details, he suddenly paused, carefully lifted some hitherto undetected object from the desk beside the Bible, and, stooping gently, placed it upon the floor. As it hopped away the congregation saw that it was a small green frog. The intrusion was by no means an unusual one, but some odd contrast between this powerful man and the little animal affected them profoundly. No one—even the youngest—smiled; every one—even the youngest—became suddenly attentive. Turning over the leaves of the hymnbook, he then gave out the first two lines of a hymn. The choir accordion in the front side bench awoke like an infant into wailing life, and Cissy Appleby, soprano, took up a little more musically the lugubrious chant. At the close of the verse the preacher joined in, after a sailor fashion, with a breezy bass that seemed to fill the little building with the trouble of the sea. Then followed prayer from Deacon Shadwell, broken by "Amens" from the preacher, with a nautical suggestion of "Ay, ay," about them, and he began his sermon.

It was, as those who knew his methods might have expected, a suggestion of the conversation they had already overheard. He likened the little chapel, choked with umbrage and rotting in its dampness, to the gospel seed sown in crowded places, famishing in the midst of plenty, and sterile from the absorptions of the more active life around it. He pointed out again the true work of the pioneer missionary; the careful pruning and elimination of those forces that grew up with the Christian's life, which many people foolishly believed were a part of it. "The WORLD must live and the WORD must live," said they, and there were easy-going brethren who thought they could live together. But he warned them that the World was always closing upon—"shaddering"—and strangling the Word, unless kept down, and that "fair seemin' settlement," or city, which appeared to be "bustin' and bloomin'" with life and progress, was really "hustlin' and jostlin'" the Word of God, even in the midst of these "fancy spires and steeples" it had erected to its glory. It was the work of the missionary pioneer to keep down or root out this carnal, worldly growth as much in the settlement as in the wilderness. Some were for getting over the difficulty by dragging the mere wasted "letter of the Word," or the rotten and withered husks of it, into the highways and byways, where the "blazin'" scorn of the World would finish it. A low, penitential groan from Deacon Shadwell followed this accusing illustration. But the preacher would tell them that the only way was to boldly attack this rankly growing World around them; to clear out fresh paths for the Truth, and let the sunlight of Heaven stream among them.

There was little doubt that the congregation was moved. Whatever they might have thought of the application, the fact itself was patent. The rheumatic Beaseleys felt the truth of it in their aching bones; it came home to the fever and ague stricken Filgees in their damp seats against the sappy wall; it echoed plainly in the chronic cough of Sister Mary Strutt and Widow Doddridge; and Cissy Appleby, with her round brown eyes fixed upon the speaker, remembering how the starch had been taken out of her Sunday frocks, how her long ringlets had become uncurled, her frills limp, and even her ribbons lustreless, felt that indeed a prophet had arisen in Israel!

One or two, however, were disappointed that he had as yet given no indication of that powerful exhortatory emotion for which he was famed, and which had been said to excite certain corresponding corybantic symptoms among his sensitive female worshipers. When the service was over, and the congregation crowded around him, Sister Mary Strutt, on the outer fringe of the assembly, confided to Sister Evans that she had "hearn tell how that when he was over at Soquel he prayed that pow'ful that all the wimmen got fits and tremblin' spells, and ole Mrs. Jackson had to be hauled off his legs that she was kneelin' and claspin' while wrestling with the Sperit."

"I reckon we seemed kinder strange to him this morning, and he wanted to jest feel his way to our hearts first," exclaimed Brother Jonas Steers politely. "He'll be more at home at evenin' service. It's queer that some of the best exhortin' work is done arter early candlelight. I reckon he's goin' to stop over with Deacon Bradley to dinner."

But it appeared that the new preacher, now formally introduced as Brother Seabright, was intending to walk over to Hemlock Mills to dinner. He only asked to be directed the nearest way; he would not trouble Brother Shadwell or Deacon Bradley to come with him.

"But here's Cissy Appleby lives within a mile o' thar, and you could go along with her. She'd jest admire to show you the way," interrupted Brother Shadwell. "Wouldn't you, Cissy?"

Thus appealed to, the young chorister—a tall girl of sixteen or seventeen—timidly raised her eyes to Brother Seabright as he was about to repeat his former protestation, and he stopped.

"Ef the young lady IS goin' that way, it's only fair to accept her kindness in a Christian sperit," he said gently.

Cissy turned with a mingling of apology and bashfulness towards a young fellow who seemed to be acting as her escort, but who was hesitating in an equal bashfulness, when Seabright added: "And perhaps our young friend will come too?"

But the young friend drew back with a confused laugh, and Brother Seabright and Cissy passed out from the porch together. For a few moments they mingled with the stream and conversation of the departing congregation, but presently Cissy timidly indicated a diverging bypath, and they both turned into it.

It was much warmer in the open than it had been in the chapel and thicket, and Cissy, by way of relieving a certain awkward tension of silence, took off the waterproof cloak and slung it on her arm. This disclosed her five long brown cable-like curls that hung down her shoulders, reaching below her waist in some forgotten fashion of girlhood. They were Cissy's peculiar adornment, remarkable for their length, thickness, and the extraordinary youthfulness imparted to a figure otherwise precociously matured. In some wavering doubt of her actual years and privileges, Brother Seabright offered to carry her cloak for her, but she declined it with a rustic and youthful pertinacity that seemed to settle the question. In fact, Cissy was as much embarrassed as she was flattered by the company of this distinguished stranger. However, it would be known to all West Woodland that he had walked home with her, while nobody but herself would know that they had scarcely exchanged a word. She noticed how he lounged on with a heavy, rolling gait, sometimes a little before or behind her as the path narrowed. At such times when they accidentally came in contact in passing, she felt a half uneasy, physical consciousness of him, which she referred to his size, the scars on his face, or some latent hardness of expression, but was relieved to see that he had not observed it. Yet this was the man that made grown women cry; she thought of old Mrs. Jackson fervently grasping the plodding ankles before her, and a hysteric desire to laugh, with the fear that he might see it on her face, overcame her. Then she wondered if he was going to walk all the way home without speaking, yet she knew she would be more embarrassed if he began to talk to her.

Suddenly he stopped, and she bumped up against him.

"Oh, excuse me!" she stammered hurriedly.

"Eh?" He evidently had not noticed the collision. "Did you speak?"

"No!—that is—it wasn't anything," returned the girl, coloring.

But he had quite forgotten her, and was looking intently before him. They had come to a break in the fringe of woodland, and upon a sudden view of the ocean. At this point the low line of coast-range which sheltered the valley of West Woodlands was abruptly cloven by a gorge that crumbled and fell away seaward to the shore of Horse Shoe Bay. On its northern trend stretched the settlement of Horse Shoe to the promontory of Whale Mouth Point, with its outlying reef of rocks curved inwards like the vast submerged jaw of some marine monster, through whose blunt, tooth-like projections the ship-long swell of the Pacific streamed and fell. On the southern shore the light yellow sands of Punta de las Concepcion glittered like sunshine all the way to the olive-gardens and white domes of the Mission. The two shores seemed to typify the two different climates and civilizations separated by the bay.

The heavy, woodland atmosphere was quickened by the salt breath of the sea. The stranger inhaled it meditatively.

"That's the reef where the Tamalpais struck," he said, "and more'n fifty miles out of her course—yes, more'n fifty miles from where she should have bin! It don't look nat'ral. No—it—don't—look—nat'ral!"

As he seemed to be speaking to himself, the young girl, who had been gazing with far greater interest at the foreign-looking southern shore, felt confused and did not reply. Then, as if recalling her presence, Brother Seabright turned to her and said:—

"Yes, young lady; and when you hear the old bell of the Tamalpais, and think of how it came here, you may rejoice in the goodness of the Lord that made even those who strayed from the straight course and the true reckoning the means of testifying onto Him."

But the young are quicker to detect attitudes and affectation than we are apt to imagine; and Cissy could distinguish a certain other straying in this afterthought or moral of the preacher called up by her presence, and knew that it was not the real interest which the view had evoked. She had heard that he had been a sailor, and, with the tact of her sex, answered with what she thought would entertain him:—

"I was a little girl when it happened, and I heard that some sailors got ashore down there, and climbed up this gully from the rocks below. And they camped that night—for there were no houses at West Woodlands then—just in the woods where our chapel now stands. It was funny, wasn't it?—I mean," she corrected herself bashfully, "it was strange they chanced to come just there?"

But she had evidently hit the point of interest.

"What became of them?" he said quickly. "They never came to Horse Shoe Settlement, where the others landed from the wreck. I never heard of that boat's crew or of ANY landing HERE."

"No. They kept on over the range south to the Mission. I reckon they didn't know there was a way down on this side to Horse Shoe," returned Cissy.

Brother Seabright moved on and continued his slow, plodding march. But he kept a little nearer Cissy, and she was conscious that he occasionally looked at her. Presently he said:—

"You have a heavenly gift, Miss Appleby."

Cissy flushed, and her hand involuntarily went to one of her long, distinguishing curls. It might be THAT. The preacher continued:—

"Yes; a voice like yours is a heavenly gift. And you have properly devoted it to His service. Have you been singing long?"

"About two years. But I've got to study a heap yet."

"The little birds don't think it necessary to study to praise Him," said the preacher sententiously.

It occurred to Cissy that this was very unfair argument. She said quickly:—

"But the little birds don't have to follow words in the hymn-books. You don't give out lines to larks and bobolinks," and blushed.

The preacher smiled. It was a very engaging smile, Cissy thought, that lightened his hard mouth. It enabled her to take heart of grace, and presently to chatter like the very birds she had disparaged. Oh yes; she knew she had to learn a great deal more. She had studied "some" already. She was taking lessons over at Point Concepcion, where her aunt had friends, and she went three times a week. The gentleman who taught her was not a Catholic, and, of course, he knew she was a Protestant. She would have preferred to live there, but her mother and father were both dead, and had left her with her aunt. She liked it better because it was sunnier and brighter there. She loved the sun and warmth. She had listened to what he had said about the dampness and gloom of the chapel. It was true. The dampness was that dreadful sometimes it just ruined her clothes, and even made her hoarse. Did he think they would really take his advice and clear out the woods round the chapel?

"Would you like it?" he asked pleasantly.

"Yes."

"And you think you wouldn't pine so much for the sunshine and warmth of the Mission?

"I'm not pining," said Cissy with a toss of her curls, "for anything or anybody; but I think the woods ought to be cleared out. It's just as it was when the runaways hid there."

"When the RUNAWAYS HID THERE!" said Brother Seabright quickly. "What runaways?"

"Why, the boat's crew," said Cissy.

"Why do you call them runaways?"

"I don't know. Didn't YOU?" said Cissy simply. "Didn't you say they never came back to Horse Shoe Bay. Perhaps I had it from aunty. But I know it's damp and creepy; and when I was littler I used to be frightened to be alone there practicing."

"Why?" said the preacher quickly.

"Oh, I don't know," hurried on Cissy, with a vague impression that she had said too much. "Only my fancy, I guess."

"Well," said Brother Seabright after a pause; "we'll see what can be done to make a clearing there. Birds sing best in the sunshine, and YOU ought to have some say about it."

Cissy's dimples and blushes came together this time. "That's our house," she said suddenly, with a slight accent of relief, pointing to a weather-beaten farmhouse on the edge of the gorge. "I turn off here, but you keep straight on for the Mills; they're back in the woods a piece. But," she stammered with a sudden sense of shame of forgotten hospitality, "won't you come in and see aunty?"

"No, thank you, not now." He stopped, turning his gaze from the house to her. "How old is your house? Was it there at the time of the wreck?"

"Yes," said Cissy.

"It's odd that the crew did not come there for help, eh?"

"Maybe they overlooked it in the darkness and the storm," said Cissy simply. "Good-by, sir."

The preacher held her hand for an instant in his powerful, but gently graduated grasp. "Good-by until evening service."

"Yes, sir," said Cissy.

The young girl tripped on towards her house a little agitated and conscious, and yet a little proud as she saw the faces of her aunt, her uncle, her two cousins, and even her discarded escort, Jo Adams, at the windows, watching her.

"So," said her aunt, as she entered breathlessly, "ye walked home with the preacher! It was a speshal providence and manifestation for ye, Cissy. I hope ye was mannerly and humble—and profited by the words of grace."

"I don't know," said Cissy, putting aside her hat and cloak listlessly. "He didn't talk much of anything—but the old wreck of the Tamalpais."

"What?" said her aunt quickly.

"The wreck of the Tamalpais, and the boat's crew that came up the gorge," repeated the young girl.

"And what did HE know about the boat's crew?" said her aunt hurriedly, fixing her black eyes on Cissy.

"Nothing except what I told him."

"What YOU told him!" echoed her aunt, with an ominous color filling the sallow hollows of her cheek.

"Yes! He has been a sailor, you know—and I thought it would interest him; and it did! He thought it strange."

"Cecilia Jane Appleby," said her aunt shrilly, "do you mean to say that you threw away your chances of salvation and saving grace just to tell gossiping tales that you knew was lies, and evil report, and false witnesses!"

"I only talked of what I'd heard, aunt Vashti," said Cecilia indignantly. "And he afterwards talked of—of—my voice, and said I had a heavenly gift," she added, with a slight quiver of her lip.

Aunt Vashti regarded the girl sharply.

"And you may thank the Lord for that heavenly gift," she said, in a slightly lowered voice; "for ef ye hadn't to use it tonight, I'd shut ye up in your room, to make it pay for yer foolish gaddin' TONGUE! And I reckon I'll escort ye to chapel tonight myself, miss, and get shut o' some of this foolishness."

II.

The broad plaza of the Mission de la Concepcion had been baking in the day-long sunlight. Shining drifts from the outlying sand dunes, blown across the ill-paved roadway, radiated the heat in the faces of the few loungers like the pricking of liliputian arrows, and invaded even the cactus hedges. The hot air visibly quivered over the dark red tiles of the tienda roof as if they were undergoing a second burning. The black shadow of a chimney on the whitewashed adobe wall was like a door or cavernous opening in the wall itself; the tops of the olive and pear trees seen above it were russet and sere already in the fierce light. Even the moist breath of the sea beyond had quite evaporated before it crossed the plaza, and now rustled the leaves in the Mission garden with a dry, crepitant sound.

Nevertheless, it seemed to Cissy Appleby, as she crossed the plaza, a very welcome change from West Woodlands. Although the late winter rains had ceased a month ago,—a few days after the revivalist preacher had left,—the woods around the chapel were still sodden and heavy, and the threatened improvement in its site had not taken place. Neither had the preacher himself alluded to it again; his evening sermon—the only other one he preached there—was unexciting, and he had, in fact, left West Woodlands without any display of that extraordinary exhortatory faculty for which he was famous. Yet Cissy, in spite of her enjoyment of the dry, hot Mission, remembered him, and also recalled, albeit poutingly, his blunt suggesting that she was "pining for it." Nevertheless, she would like to have sung for him HERE—supposing it was possible to conceive of a Sidon Brotherhood Chapel at the Mission. It was a great pity, she thought, that the Sidon Brotherhood and the Franciscan Brotherhood were not more brotherly TOWARDS EACH OTHER. Cissy belonged to the former by hereditary right, locality, and circumstance, but it is to be feared that her theology was imperfect.

She entered a lane between the Mission wall and a lighter iron fenced inclosure, once a part of the garden, but now the appurtenance of a private dwelling that was reconstructed over the heavy adobe shell of some forgotten structure of the old ecclesiastical founders. It was pierced by many windows and openings, and that sunlight and publicity which the former padres had jealously excluded was now wooed from long balconies and verandas by the new proprietor, a well to do American. Elisha Braggs, whose name was generously and euphoniously translated by his native neighbors into "Don Eliseo," although a heretic, had given largess to the church in the way of restoring its earthquake-shaken tower, and in presenting a new organ to its dilapidated choir. He had further endeared himself to the conservative Spanish population by introducing no obtrusive improvements; by distributing his means through the old channels; by apparently inciting no further alien immigration, but contenting himself to live alone among them, adopting their habits, customs, and language. A harmless musical taste, and a disposition to instruct the young boy choristers, was equally balanced by great skill in horsemanship and the personal management of a ranche of wild cattle on the inland plains.

Consciously pretty, and prettily conscious in her white-starched, rose-sprigged muslin, her pink parasol, beribboned gypsy hat, and the long mane-like curls that swung over her shoulders, Cissy entered the house and was shown to the large low drawing-room on the ground-floor. She once more inhaled its hot potpourri fragrance, in which the spice of the Castilian rose-leaves of the garden was dominant. A few boys, whom she recognized as the choristers of the Mission and her fellow-pupils, were already awaiting her with some degree of anxiety and impatience. This fact, and a certain quick animation that sprang to the blue eyes of the master of the house as the rose-sprigged frock and long curls appeared at the doorway, showed that Cissy was clearly the favorite pupil.

Elisha Braggs was a man of middle age, with a figure somewhat rounded by the adipose curves of a comfortable life, and an air of fastidiousness which was, however, occasionally at variance with what seemed to be his original condition. He greeted Cissy with a certain nervous overconsciousness of his duties as host and teacher, and then plunged abruptly into the lesson. It lasted an hour, Cissy tactfully dividing his somewhat exclusive instruction with the others, and even interpreting it to their slower comprehension. When it was over, the choristers shyly departed, according to their usual custom, leaving Cissy and Don Eliseo—and occasionally one of the padres to more informal practicing and performance. Neither the ingenuousness of Cissy nor the worldly caution of aunt Vashti had ever questioned the propriety of these prolonged and secluded seances; and the young girl herself, although by no means unaccustomed to the bashful attentions of the youth of West Woodlands, had never dreamed of these later musical interviews as being anything but an ordinary recreation of her art. The feeling of gratitude and kindness she had for Don Eliseo, her aunt's friend, had never left her conscious or embarrassed when she was alone with him. But to-day, possibly from his own nervousness and preoccupation, she was aware of some vague uneasiness, and at an early opportunity rose to go. But Don Eliseo gently laid his hand on hers and said:—

"Don't go yet; I want to talk to you." His touch suddenly reminded her that once or twice before he had done the same thing, and she had been disagreeably impressed by it. But she lifted her brown eyes to his with an unconsciousness that was more crushing than a withdrawal of her hand, and waited for him to go on.

"It is such a long way for you to come, and you have so little time to stay when you are here, that I am thinking of asking your aunt to let you live here at the Mission, as a pupil, in the house of the Senora Hernandez, until your lessons are finished. Padre Jose will attend to the rest of your education. Would you like it?"

Poor Cissy's eyes leaped up in unaffected and sparkling affirmation before her tongue replied. To bask in this beloved sunshine for days together; to have this quaint Spanish life before her eyes, and those soft Spanish accents in her ears; to forget herself in wandering in the old-time Mission garden beyond; to have daily access to Mr. Braggs's piano and the organ of the church—this was indeed the realization of her fondest dreams! Yet she hesitated. Somewhere in her inherited Puritan nature was a vague conviction that it was wrong, and it seemed even to find an echo in the warning of the preacher: this was what she was "pining for."

"I don't know," she stammered. "I must ask auntie; I shouldn't like to leave her; and there's the chapel."

"Isn't that revivalist preacher enough to run it for a while?" said her companion, half-sneeringly.

The remark was not a tactful one.

"Mr. Seabright hasn't been here for a month," she answered somewhat quickly. "But he's coming next Sunday, and I'm glad of it. He's a very good man. And there's nothing he don't notice. He saw how silly it was to stick the chapel into the very heart of the woods, and he told them so."

"And I suppose he'll run up a brand-new meeting-house out on the road," said Braggs, smiling.

"No, he's going to open up the woods, and let the sun and light in, and clear out the underbrush."

"And what's that for?"

There was such an utter and abrupt change in the speaker's voice and manner—which until then had been lazily fastidious and confident—that Cissy was startled. And the change being rude and dictatorial, she was startled into opposition. She had wanted to say that the improvement had been suggested by HER, but she took a more aggressive attitude.

"Brother Seabright says it's a question of religion and morals. It's a scandal and a wrong, and a disgrace to the Word, that the chapel should have been put there."

Don Eliseo's face turned so white and waxy that Cissy would have noticed it had she not femininely looked away while taking this attitude.

"I suppose that's a part of his sensation style, and very effective," he said, resuming his former voice and manner. "I must try to hear him some day. But, now, in regard to your coming here, of course I shall consult your aunt, although I imagine she will have no objection. I only wanted to know how YOU felt about it." He again laid his hand on hers.

"I should like to come very much," said Cissy timidly; "and it's very kind of you, I'm sure; but you'll see what auntie says, won't you?" She withdrew her hand after momentarily grasping his, as if his own act had been only a parting salutation, and departed.

Aunt Vashti received Cissy's account of her interview with a grim satisfaction. She did not know what ideas young gals had nowadays, but in HER time she'd been fit to jump outer her skin at such an offer from such a good man as Elisha Braggs. And he was a rich man, too. And ef he was goin' to give her an edication free, it wasn't goin' to stop there. For her part, she didn't like to put ideas in young girls' heads,—goodness knows they'd enough foolishness already; but if Cissy made a Christian use of her gifts, and 'tended to her edication and privileges, and made herself a fit helpmeet for any man, she would say that there were few men in these parts that was as "comf'ble ketch" as Lish Braggs, or would make as good a husband and provider.

The blood suddenly left Cissy's cheeks and then returned with uncomfortable heat. Her aunt's words had suddenly revealed to her the meaning of the uneasiness she had felt in Braggs's house that morning—the old repulsion that had come at his touch. She had never thought of him as a suitor or a beau before, yet it now seemed perfectly plain to her that this was the ulterior meaning of his generosity. And yet she received that intelligence with the same mixed emotions with which she had received his offer to educate her. She did not conceal from herself the pride and satisfaction she felt in this presumptive selection of her as his wife; the worldly advantages that it promised; nor that it was a destiny far beyond her deserts. Yet she was conscious of exactly the same sense of wrong-doing in her preferences—something that seemed vaguely akin to that "conviction of sin" of which she had heard so much—as when she received his offer of education. It was this mixture of fear and satisfaction that caused her alternate paling and flushing, yet this time it was the fear that came first. Perhaps she was becoming unduly sensitive. The secretiveness of her sex came to her aid here, and she awkwardly changed the subject. Aunt Vashti, complacently believing that her words had fallen on fruitful soil, discreetly said no more.

It was a hot morning when Cissy walked alone to chapel early next Sunday. There was a dry irritation in the air which even the northwest trades, blowing through the seaward gorge, could not temper, and for the first time in her life she looked forward to the leafy seclusion of the buried chapel with a feeling of longing. She had avoided her youthful escort, for she wished to practice alone for an hour before the service with the new harmonium that had taken the place of the old accordion and its unskillful performer. Perhaps, too, there was a timid desire to be at her best on the return of Brother Seabright, and to show him, with a new performance, that the "heavenly gift" had not been neglected. She opened the chapel with the key she always carried, "swished" away an intrusive squirrel, left the door and window open for a moment, until the beating of frightened wings against the rafters had ceased, and, after carefully examining the floor for spiders, mice, and other creeping things, brushed away a few fallen leaves and twigs from the top of the harmonium. Then, with her long curls tossed over her shoulders and hanging limply down the back of her new maple-leaf yellow frock,—which was also a timid recognition of Brother Seabright's return,—and her brown eyes turned to the rafters, this rustic St. Cecilia of the Coast Range began to sing. The shell of the little building dilated with the melody; the sashes of the windows pulsated, the two ejected linnets joined in timidly from their coign of vantage in the belfry outside, and the limp vines above the porch swayed like her curls. Once she thought she heard stealthy footsteps without; once she was almost certain she felt the brushing of somebody outside against the thin walls of the chapel, and once she stopped to glance quickly at the window with a strange instinct that some one was looking at her. But she quickly reflected that Brother Seabright would come there only when the deacons did, and with them. Why she should think that it was Brother Seabright, or why Brother Seabright should come thus and at such a time, she could not have explained.

He did not, in fact, make his appearance until later, and after the congregation had quite filled the chapel; he did not, moreover, appear to notice her as she sat there, and when he gave out the hymn he seemed to have quietly overlooked the new harmonium. She sang her best, however, and more than one of the audience thought that "little Sister Appleby" had greatly improved. Indeed, it would not have seemed strange to some—remembering Brother Seabright's discursive oratory—if he had made some allusion to it. But he did not. His heavy eyes moved slowly over the congregation, and he began.

As usual he did not take a text. But he would talk to them that morning about "The Conviction of Sin" and the sense of wrong-doing that was innate in the sinner. This included all form of temptation, for what was temptation but the inborn consciousness of something to struggle against, and that was sin! At this apparently concise exposition of her own feelings in regard to Don Eliseo's offer, Cissy felt herself blushing to the roots of her curls. Could it be possible that Brother Seabright had heard of her temptation to leave West Woodlands, and that this warning was intended for her? He did not even look in her direction. Yet his next sentence seemed to be an answer to her own mental query.

"Folks might ask," he continued, "if even the young and inexperienced should feel this—or was there a state of innocent guilt without consciousness?" He would answer that question by telling them what had happened to him that morning. He had come to the chapel, not by the road, but through the tangled woods behind them (Cissy started)—through the thick brush and undergrowth that was choking the life out of this little chapel—the wilderness that he had believed was never before trodden by human feet, and was known only to roaming beasts and vermin. But that was where he was wrong.

In the stillness and listening silence, a sudden cough from some one in one of the back benches produced that instantaneous diversion of attention common to humanity on such occasions. Cissy's curls swung round with the others. But she was surprised to see that Mr. Braggs was seated in one of the benches near the door, and from the fact of his holding a handkerchief to his mouth, and being gazed at by his neighbors, it was evident that it was he who had coughed. Perhaps he had come to West Woodlands to talk to her aunt! With the preacher before her, and her probable suitor behind her, she felt herself again blushing.

Brother Seabright continued. Yes, he was WRONG, for there before him, in the depths of the forest, were two children. They were looking at a bush of "pizon berries,"—the deadly nightshade, as it was fitly called,—and one was warning the other of its dangerous qualities.

"But how do you know it's the 'pizon berry'?" asked the other.

"Because it's larger, and nicer, and bigger, and easier to get than the real good ones," returned the other.

And it was so. Thus was the truth revealed from the mouths of babes and sucklings; even they were conscious of temptation and sin! But here there was another interruption from the back benches, which proved, however, to be only the suppressed giggle of a boy—evidently the youthful hero of the illustration, surprised into nervous hilarity.

The preacher then passed to the "Conviction of Sin" in its more familiar phases. Many brothers confounded this with DISCOVERY AND PUBLICITY. It was not their own sin "finding them out," but others discovering it. Until that happened, they fancied themselves safe, stilling their consciences, confounding the blinded eye of the world with the all-seeing eye of the Lord. But were they safe even then? Did not sooner or later the sea deliver up its dead, the earth what was buried in it, the wild woods what its depths had hidden? Was not the foolish secret, the guilty secret, the forgotten sin, sure to be disclosed? Then if they could not fly from the testimony of His works, if they could not evade even their fellow-man, why did they not first turn to Him? Why, from the penitent child at his mother's knee to the murderer on the scaffold, did they only at THE LAST confess unto Him?

His voice and manner had suddenly changed. From the rough note of accusation and challenge it had passed into the equally rough, but broken and sympathetic, accents of appeal. Why did they hesitate longer to confess their sin—not to man—but unto Him? Why did they delay? Now—that evening! That very moment! This was the appointed time! He entreated them in the name of religious faith, in the name of a human brotherly love. His delivery was now no longer deliberate, but hurried and panting; his speech now no longer chosen, but made up of reiterations and repetitions, ejaculations, and even incoherent epithets. His gestures and long intonations which began to take the place of even that interrupted speech affected them more than his reasoning! Short sighs escaped them; they swayed to and fro with the rhythm of his voice and movements. They had begun to comprehend this exacerbation of emotion—this paroxysmal rhapsody. This was the dithyrambic exaltation they had ardently waited for. They responded quickly. First with groans, equally inarticulate murmurs of assent, shouts of "Glory," and the reckless invocation of sacred names. Then a wave of hysteria seemed to move the whole mass, and broke into tears and sobs among the women. In her own excited consciousness it seemed to Cissy that some actual struggle between good and evil—like unto the casting out of devils—was shaking the little building. She cast a hurried glance behind her and saw Mr. Braggs sitting erect, white and scornful. She knew that she too was shrinking from the speaker,—not from any sense of conviction, but because he was irritating and disturbing her innate sense of fitness and harmony,—and she was pained that Mr. Braggs should see him thus. Meantime the weird, invisible struggle continued, heightened and, it seemed to her, incited by the partisan groans and exultant actions of those around her, until suddenly a wild despairing cry arose above the conflict. A vague fear seized her—the voice was familiar! She turned in time to see the figure of aunt Vashti rise in her seat with a hysterical outburst, and fall convulsively forward upon her knees! She would have rushed to her side, but the frenzied woman was instantly caught by Deacon Shadwell and surrounded by a group of her own sex and became hidden. And when Cissy recovered herself she was astonished to find Brother Seabright—with every trace of his past emotion vanished from his hard-set face—calmly taking up his coherent discourse in his ordinary level tones. The furious struggle of the moment before was over; the chapel and its congregation had fallen back into an exhausted and apathetic silence! Then the preacher gave out the hymn—the words were singularly jubilant among that usually mournful collection in the book before her—and Cissy began it with a tremulous voice. But it gained strength, clearness, and volume as she went on, and she felt thrilled throughout with a new human sympathy she had never known before. The preacher's bass supported her now for the first time not unmusically—and the service was over.

Relieved, she turned quickly to join her aunt, but a hand was laid gently upon her shoulder. It was Brother Seabright, who had just stepped from the platform. The congregation, knowing her to be the niece of the hysteric woman, passed out without disturbing them.

"You have, indeed, improved your gift, Sister Cecilia," he said gravely. "You must have practiced much."

"Yes—that is, no!—only a little," stammered Cissy.

"But, excuse me, I must look after auntie," she added, drawing timidly away.

"Your aunt is better, and has gone on with Sister Shadwell. She is not in need of your help, and really would do better without you just now. I shall see her myself presently."

"But YOU made her sick already," said Cissy, with a sudden, half-nervous audacity. "You even frightened ME."

"Frightened you?" repeated Seabright, looking at her quickly.

"Yes," said Cissy, meeting his gaze with brown, truthful eyes. "Yes, when you—when you—made those faces. I like to hear you talk, but"—she stopped.

Brother Seabright's rare smile again lightened his face. But it seemed sadder than when she had first seen it.

"Then you have been practicing again at the Mission?" he said quietly; "and you still prefer it?"

"Yes," said Cissy. She wanted to appear as loyal to the Mission in Brother Seabright's presence as she was faithful to West Woodlands in Mr. Braggs's. She had no idea that this was dangerously near to coquetry. So she said a little archly, "I don't see why YOU don't like the Mission. You're a missionary yourself. The old padres came here to spread the Word. So do you."

"But not in that way," he said curtly. "I've seen enough of them when I was knocking round the world a seafaring man and a sinner. I knew them—receivers of the ill-gotten gains of adventurers, fools, and scoundrels. I knew them—enriched by the spoils of persecution and oppression; gathering under their walls outlaws and fugitives from justice, and flinging an indulgence here and an absolution there, as they were paid for it. Don't talk to me of THEM—I know them."

They were passing out of the chapel together, and he made an impatient gesture as if dismissing the subject. Accustomed though she was to the sweeping criticism of her Catholic friends by her West Woodlands associates, she was nevertheless hurt by his brusqueness. She dropped a little behind, and they separated at the porch. Notwithstanding her anxiety to see her aunt, she felt she could not now go to Deacon Shadwell's without seeming to follow him—and after he had assured her that her help was not required! She turned aside and made her way slowly towards her home.

There she found that her aunt had not returned, gathering from her uncle that she was recovering from a fit of "high strikes" (hysterics), and would be better alone. Whether he underrated her complaint, or had a consciousness of his masculine helplessness in such disorders, he evidently made light of it. And when Cissy, afterwards, a little ashamed that she had allowed her momentary pique against Brother Seabright to stand in the way of her duty, determined to go to her aunt, instead of returning to the chapel that evening, he did not oppose it. She learned also that Mr. Braggs had called in the morning, but, finding that her aunt Vashti was at chapel, he had followed her there, intending to return with her. But he had not been seen since the service, and had evidently returned to the Mission.

But when she reached Deacon Shadwell's house she was received by Mrs. Shadwell only. Her aunt, said that lady, was physically better, but Brother Seabright had left "partkler word" that she was to see nobody. It was an extraordinary case of "findin' the Lord," the like of which had never been known before in West Woodlands, and she (Cissy) would yet be proud of one of her "fammerly being speshally selected for grace." But the "workin's o' salvation was not to be finicked away on worldly things or even the affections of the flesh;" and if Cissy really loved her aunt, "she wouldn't interfere with her while she was, so to speak, still on the mourners' bench, wrastlin' with the Sperret in their back sittin'-room." But she might wait until Brother Seabright's return from evening chapel after service.

Cissy waited. Nine o'clock came, but Brother Seabright did not return. Then a small but inconsequent dignity took possession of her, and she slightly tossed her long curls from her shoulders. She was not going to wait for any man's permission to see her own aunt. If auntie did not want to see her, that was enough. She could go home alone. She didn't want any one to go with her.

Lifted and sustained by these lofty considerations, with an erect head and slightly ruffled mane, well enwrapped in a becoming white merino "cloud," the young girl stepped out on her homeward journey. She had certainly enough to occupy her mind and, perhaps, justify her independence. To have a suitor for her hand in the person of the superior and wealthy Mr. Braggs,—for that was what his visit that morning to West Woodlands meant,—and to be personally complimented on her improvement by the famous Brother Seabright, all within twelve hours, was something to be proud of, even although it was mitigated by her aunt's illness, her suitor's abrupt departure, and Brother Seabright's momentary coldness and impatience. Oddly enough, this last and apparently trivial circumstance occupied her thoughts more than the others. She found herself looking out for him in the windings of the moonlit road, and when, at last, she reached the turning towards the little wood and chapel, her small feet unconsciously lingered until she felt herself blushing under her fleecy "cloud." She looked down the lane. From the point where she was standing the lights of the chapel should have been plainly visible; but now all was dark. It was nearly ten o'clock, and he must have gone home by another road. Then a spirit of adventure seized her. She had the key of the chapel in her pocket. She remembered she had left a small black Spanish fan—a former gift of Mr. Braggs lying on the harmonium. She would go and bring it away, and satisfy herself that Brother Seabright was not there still. It was but a step, and in the clear moonlight.

The lane wound before her like a silver stream, except where it was interrupted and bridged over by jagged black shadows. The chapel itself was black, the clustering trees around it were black also; the porch seemed to cover an inky well of shadow; the windows were rayless and dead, and in the chancel one still left open showed a yawning vault of obscurity within. Nevertheless, she opened the door softly, glided into the dark depths, and made her way to the harmonium. But here the sound of footsteps without startled her; she glanced hurriedly through the open window, and saw the figure of Elisha Braggs suddenly revealed in the moonlight as he crossed the path behind the chapel. He was closely followed by two peons, whom she recognized as his servants at the Mission, and they each carried a pickaxe. From their manner it was evident that they had no suspicion of her presence in the chapel. But they had stopped and were listening. Her heart beat quickly; with a sudden instinct she ran and bolted the door. But it was evidently another intruder they were watching, for she presently saw Brother Seabright quietly cross the lane and approach the chapel. The three men had disappeared; but there was a sudden shout, the sound of scuffling, the deep voice of Brother Seabright saying, "Back, there, will you! Hands off!" and a pause. She could see nothing; she listened in every pulse. Then the voice of Brother Seabright arose again quite clearly, slowly, and as deliberately as if it had risen from the platform in the chapel.

"Lish Barker! I thought as much! Lish Barker, first mate of the Tamalpais, who was said to have gone down with a boat's crew and the ship's treasure after she struck. I THOUGHT I knew that face today."

"Yes," said the voice of him whom she had known as Elisha Braggs,—"yes, and I knew YOUR face, Jim Seabright, ex-whaler, slaver, pirate, and bo's'n of the Highflyer, marooned in the South Pacific, where you found the Lord—ha! ha!—and became the psalm-singing, converted American sailor preacher!"

"I am not ashamed before men of my past, which every one knows," returned Seabright slowly. "But what of YOURS, Elisha Barker—YOURS that has made you sham death itself to hide it from them? What of YOURS—spent in the sloth of your ill-gotten gains! Turn, sinner, turn! Turn, Elisha Braggs, while there is yet time!"

"Belay there, Brother Seabright; we're not INSIDE your gospel-shop just now! Keep your palaver for those that need it. Let me pass, before I have to teach you that you haven't to deal with a gang of hysterical old women to-night."

"But not until you know that one of those women,—Vashti White,—by God's grace converted of her sins, has confessed her secret and yours, Elisha Barker! Yes! She has told me how her sister's husband—the father of the young girl you are trying to lure away—helped you off that night with your booty, took his miserable reward and lived and died in exile with the rest of your wretched crew,—afraid to return to his home and country—whilst you—shameless and impenitent—lived in slothful ease at the Mission!"

"Liar! Let me pass!"

"Not until I know your purpose here to-night."

"Then take the consequences! Here, Pedro! Ramon! Seize him. Tie him head and heels together, and toss him in the bush!"

The sound of scuffling recommenced. The struggle seemed fierce and long, with no breath wasted in useless outcry. Then there was a bright flash, a muffled report, and the stinging and fire of gunpowder at the window.

Transfixed with fear, Cissy cast a despairing glance around her. Ah, the bell-rope! In another instant she had grasped it frantically in her hands.

All the fear, indignation, horror, sympathy, and wild appeal for help that had arisen helplessly in her throat and yet remained unuttered, now seemed to thrill through her fingers and the tightened rope, and broke into frantic voice in the clanging metal above her. The whole chapel, the whole woodland, the clear, moonlit sky above was filled with its alarming accents. It shrieked, implored, protested, summoned, and threatened, in one ceaseless outcry, seeming to roll over and over—as, indeed, it did—in leaps and bounds that shook the belfry. Never before, even in the blows of the striking surges, had the bell of the Tamalpais clamored like that! Once she heard above the turmoil the shaking of the door against the bolt that still held firmly; once she thought she heard Seabright's voice calling to her; once she thought she smelled the strong smoke of burning grass. But she kept on, until the window was suddenly darkened by a figure, and Brother Seabright, leaping in, caught her in his arms as she was reeling fainting, but still clinging to the rope. But his strong presence and some powerful magnetism in his touch restored her.

"You have heard all!" he said.

"Yes."

"Then for your aunt's sake, for your dead father's sake, FORGET all! That wretched man has fled with his wounded hirelings—let his sin go with him. But the village is alarmed—the brethren may be here any moment! Neither question nor deny what I shall tell them. Fear nothing. God will forgive the silence that leaves the vengeance to His hands alone!" Voices and footsteps were heard approaching the chapel. Brother Seabright significantly pressed her hand and strode towards the door. Deacon Shadwell was first to enter.

"You here—Brother Seabright! What has happened?"

"God be praised!" said Brother Seabright cheerfully, "nothing of consequence! The danger is over! Yet, but for the courage and presence of mind of Sister Appleby a serious evil might have been done." He paused, and with another voice turned half-interrogatively towards her. "Some children, or a passing tramp, had carelessly thrown matches in the underbrush, and they were ignited beside the chapel. Sister Appleby, chancing to return here for"—

"For my fan," said Cissy with a timid truthfulness of accent.

"Found herself unable to cope with it, and it occurred to her to give the alarm you heard. I happened to be passing and was first to respond. Happily the flames had made but little headway, and were quickly beaten down. It is all over now. But let us hope that the speedy clearing out of the underbrush and the opening of the woods around the chapel will prevent any recurrence of the alarm of to-night."


That the lesson thus reiterated by Brother Seabright was effective, the following extract, from the columns of the "Whale Point Gazette," may not only be offered as evidence, but may even give the cautious reader further light on the episode itself:—

STRANGE DISCOVERY AT WEST WOODLANDS.—THE TAMALPAIS MYSTERY AGAIN.

The improvements in the clearing around the Sidon Chapel at West Woodlands, undertaken by the Rev. James Seabright, have disclosed another link in the mystery which surrounded the loss of the Tamalpais some years ago at Whale Mouth Point. It will be remembered that the boat containing Adams & Co.'s treasure, the Tamalpais' first officer, and a crew of four men was lost on the rocks shortly after leaving the ill-fated vessel. None of the bodies were ever recovered, and the treasure itself completely baffled the search of divers and salvers. A lidless box bearing the mark of Adams & Co., of the kind in which their treasure was usually shipped, was yesterday found in the woods behind the chapel, half buried in brush, bark, and windfalls. There were no other indications, except the traces of a camp-fire at some remote period, probably long before the building of the chapel. But how and when the box was transported to the upland, and by whose agency, still remains a matter of conjecture. Our reporter who visited the Rev. Mr. Seabright, who has lately accepted the regular ministry of the chapel, was offered every facility for information, but it was evident that the early settlers who were cognizant of the fact—if there were any—are either dead or have left the vicinity.