A Blue Grass Penelope, by Bret Harte
She was barely twenty-three years old. It is probable that up to that
age, and the beginning of this episode, her life had been uneventful.
Born to the easy mediocrity of such compensating extremes as a small
farmhouse and large lands, a good position and no society, in that vast
grazing district of Kentucky known as the "Blue Grass" region, all the
possibilities of a Western American girl's existence lay before her. A
piano in the bare-walled house, the latest patented mower in the
limitless meadows, and a silk dress sweeping the rough floor of the
unpainted "meeting-house," were already the promise of those
possibilities. Beautiful she was, but the power of that beauty was
limited by being equally shared with her few neighbors. There were
small, narrow, arched feet besides her own that trod the uncarpeted
floors of outlying log cabins with equal grace and dignity; bright,
clearly opened eyes that were equally capable of looking unabashed upon
princes and potentates, as a few later did, and the heiress of the
county judge read her own beauty without envy in the frank glances and
unlowered crest of the blacksmith's daughter. Eventually she had
married the male of her species, a young stranger, who, as schoolmaster
in the nearest town, had utilized to some local extent a scant capital
of education. In obedience to the unwritten law of the West, after the
marriage was celebrated the doors of the ancestral home cheerfully
opened, and bride and bridegroom issued forth, without regret and
without sentiment, to seek the further possibilities of a life beyond
these already too familiar voices. With their departure for California
as Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Tucker, the parental nest in the Blue Grass
meadows knew them no more.
They submitted with equal cheerfulness to the privations and excesses
of their new conditions. Within three years the schoolmaster developed
into a lawyer and capitalist, the Blue Grass bride supplying a grace
and ease to these transitions that were all her own. She softened the
abruptness of sudden wealth, mitigated the austerities of newly
acquired power, and made the most glaring incongruity picturesque. Only
one thing seemed to limit their progress in the region of these
possibilities. They were childless. It was as if they had exhausted the
future in their own youth, leaving little or nothing for another
generation to do.
* * * * *
A southwesterly storm was beating against the dressing-room windows of
their new house in one of the hilly suburbs of San Francisco, and
threatening the unseasonable frivolity of the stucco ornamentation of
cornice and balcony. Mrs. Tucker had been called from the contemplation
of the dreary prospect without by the arrival of a visitor. On entering
the drawing-room she found him engaged in a half admiring, half
resentful examination of its new furniture and hangings. Mrs. Tucker at
once recognized Mr. Calhoun Weaver, a former Blue Grass neighbor; with
swift feminine intuition she also felt that his slight antagonism was
likely to be transferred from her furniture to herself. Waiving it with
the lazy amiability of Southern indifference, she welcomed him by the
familiarity of a Christian name.
"I reckoned that mebbee you opined old Blue Grass friends wouldn't
naturally hitch on to them fancy doins," he said, glancing around the
apartment to avoid her clear eyes, as if resolutely setting himself
against the old charm of her manner as he had against the more recent
glory of her surroundings, "but I thought I'd just drop in for the sake
of old times."
"Why shouldn't you, Cal?" said Mrs. Tucker with a frank smile.
"Especially as I'm going up to Sacramento to-night with some
influential friends," he continued, with an ostentation calculated to
resist the assumption of her charms and her furniture. "Senator Dyce of
Kentucky, and his cousin Judge Briggs; perhaps you know 'em, or maybe
Spencer—I mean Mr. Tucker—does."
"I reckon," said Mrs. Tucker smiling; "but tell me something about the
boys and girls at Vineville, and about yourself. You're looking well,
and right smart too." She paused to give due emphasis to this latter
recognition of a huge gold chain with which her visitor was somewhat
"I didn't know as you cared to hear anything about Blue Grass," he
returned, a little abashed. "I've been away from there some time
myself," he added, his uneasy vanity taking fresh alarm at the faint
suspicion of patronage on the part of his hostess. "They're doin' well
though; perhaps as well as some others."
"And you're not married yet," continued Mrs. Tucker, oblivious of the
innuendo. "Ah Cal," she added archly, "I am afraid you are as fickle as
ever. What poor girl in Vineville have you left pining?"
The simple face of the man before her flushed with foolish
gratification at this old-fashioned, ambiguous flattery. "Now look yer,
Belle," he said, chuckling, "if you're talking of old times and you
think I bear malice agin Spencer, why"—
But Mrs. Tucker interrupted what might have been an inopportune
sentimental retrospect with a finger of arch but languid warning. "That
will do! I'm dying to know all about it, and you must stay to dinner
and tell me. It's right mean you can't see Spencer too; but he isn't
back from Sacramento yet."
Grateful as a tête-à-tête with his old neighbor in her more
prosperous surroundings would have been, if only for the sake of later
gossiping about it, he felt it would be inconsistent with his pride and
his assumption of present business. More than that, he was uneasily
conscious that in Mrs. Tucker's simple and unaffected manner there was
a greater superiority than he had ever noticed during their previous
acquaintance. He would have felt kinder to her had she shown any "airs
and graces," which he could have commented upon and forgiven. He
stammered some vague excuse of preoccupation, yet lingered in the hope
of saying something which, if not aggressively unpleasant, might at
least transfer to her indolent serenity some of his own irritation. "I
reckon," he said, as he moved hesitatingly toward the door, "that
Spencer has made himself easy and secure in them business risks he's
taking. That 'ere Alameda ditch affair they're talking so much about is
a mighty big thing, rather too big if it ever got to falling back on
him. But I suppose he's accustomed to take risks?"
"Of course he is," said Mrs. Tucker gayly. "He married me."
The visitor smiled feebly, but was not equal to the opportunity offered
for gallant repudiation. "But suppose you ain't accustomed to risks?"
"Why not? I married him," said Mrs. Tucker.
Mr. Calhoun Weaver was human, and succumbed to this last charming
audacity. He broke into a noisy but genuine laugh, shook Mrs. Tucker's
hand with effusion, said, "Now that's regular Blue Grass and no
mistake!" and retreated under cover of his hilarity. In the hall he
made a rallying stand to repeat confidentially to the servant who had
overheard them, "Blue Grass all over, you bet your life," and, opening
the door, was apparently swallowed up in the tempest.
Mrs. Tucker's smile kept her lips until she had returned to her room,
and even then languidly shone in her eyes for some minutes after, as
she gazed abstractedly from her window on the storm-tossed bay in the
distance. Perhaps some girlish vision of the peaceful Blue Grass plain
momentarily usurped the prospect; but it is to be doubted if there was
much romance in that retrospect, or that it was more interesting to her
than the positive and sharply cut outlines of the practical life she
now led. Howbeit she soon forgot this fancy in lazily watching a boat
that, in the teeth of the gale, was beating round Alcatraz Island.
Although at times a mere blank speck on the gray waste of foam, a
closer scrutiny showed it to be one of those lateen-rigged Italian
fishing-boats that so often flecked the distant bay. Lost in the sudden
darkening of rain, or reappearing beneath the lifted curtain of the
squall, she watched it weather the island, and then turn its laboring
but persistent course toward the open channel. A rent in the
Indian-inky sky, that showed the narrowing portals of the Golden Gate
beyond, revealed, as unexpectedly, the destination of the little craft,
a tall ship that hitherto lay hidden in the mist of the Saucelito
shore. As the distance lessened between boat and ship, they were again
lost in the downward swoop of another squall. When it lifted, the ship
was creeping under the headland towards the open sea, but the boat was
gone. Mrs. Tucker in vain rubbed the pane with her handkerchief, it had
vanished. Meanwhile the ship, as she neared the Gate, drew out from the
protecting headland, stood outlined for a moment with spars and canvas
hearsed in black against the lurid rent in the horizon, and then seemed
to sink slowly into the heaving obscurity beyond. A sudden onset of
rain against the windows obliterated the remaining prospect; the
entrance of a servant completed the diversion.
"Captain Poindexter, ma'am!"
Mrs. Tucker lifted her pretty eyebrows interrogatively. Captain
Poindexter was a legal friend of her husband, and had dined there
frequently; nevertheless she asked, "Did you tell him Mr. Tucker was
not at home?"
"Did he ask for me?"
"Tell him I'll be down directly."
Mrs. Tucker's quiet face did not betray the fact that this second
visitor was even less interesting than the first. In her heart she did
not like Captain Poindexter. With a clever woman's instinct, she had
early detected the fact that he had a superior, stronger nature than
her husband; as a loyal wife, she secretly resented the occasional
unconscious exhibition of this fact on the part of his intimate friend
in their familiar intercourse. Added to this slight jealousy there was
a certain moral antagonism between herself and the captain which none
but themselves knew. They were both philosophers, but Mrs. Tucker's
serene and languid optimism would not tolerate the compassionate and
kind-hearted pessimisms of the lawyer. "Knowing what Jack Poindexter
does of human nature," her husband had once said, "it's mighty fine in
him to be so kind and forgiving. You ought to like him better, Belle."
"And qualify myself to be forgiven," said the lady pertly. "I don't see
what you're driving at, Belle; I give it up," had responded the puzzled
husband. Mrs. Tucker kissed his high but foolish forehead tenderly, and
said, "I'm glad you don't, dear."
Meanwhile her second visitor had, like the first, employed the interval
in a critical survey of the glories of the new furniture, but with
apparently more compassion than resentment in his manner. Once only had
his expression changed. Over the fireplace hung a large photograph of
Mr. Spencer Tucker. It was retouched, refined, and idealized in the
highest style of that polite and diplomatic art. As Captain Poindexter
looked upon the fringed hazel eyes, the drooping raven mustache, the
clustering ringlets, and the Byronic full throat and turned-down collar
of his friend, a smile of exhausted humorous tolerance and affectionate
impatience curved his lips. "Well, you are a fool, aren't you?" he
apostrophized it half audibly.
He was standing before the picture as she entered. Even in the trying
contiguity of that peerless work he would have been called a
fine-looking man. As he advanced to greet her, it was evident that his
military title was not one of the mere fanciful sobriquets of the
locality. In his erect figure and the disciplined composure of limb and
attitude there were still traces of the refined academic rigors of West
Point. The pliant adaptability of Western civilization, which enabled
him, three years before, to leave the army and transfer his executive
ability to the more profitable profession of the law, had loosed sash
and shoulder-strap, but had not entirely removed the restraint of the
one, nor the bearing of the other.
"Spencer is in Sacramento," began Mrs. Tucker in languid explanation,
after the first greetings were over.
"I knew he was not here," replied Captain Poindexter gently, as he drew
the proffered chair towards her, "but this is business that concerns
you both." He stopped and glanced upwards at the picture. "I suppose
you know nothing of his business? Of course not," he added
reassuringly, "nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly." He said this so
kindly, and yet so positively, as if to promptly dispose of that
question before going further, that she assented mechanically. "Well,
then, he's taken some big risks in the way of business, and—well,
things have gone bad with him, you know. Very bad! Really, they
couldn't be worse! Of course it was dreadfully rash and all that," he
went on, as if commenting upon the amusing waywardness of a child; "but
the result is the usual smash-up of everything, money, credit, and
all!" He laughed and added, "Yes, he's got cut off—mules and baggage
regularly routed and dispersed! I'm in earnest." He raised his eyebrows
and frowned slightly, as if to deprecate any corresponding hilarity on
the part of Mrs. Tucker, or any attempt to make too light of the
subject, and then rising, placed his hands behind his back, beamed
half-humorously upon her from beneath her husband's picture, and
repeated, "That's so."
Mrs. Tucker instinctively knew that he spoke the truth, and that it was
impossible for him to convey it in any other than his natural manner;
but between the shock and the singular influence of that manner she
could at first only say, "You don't mean it!" fully conscious of the
utter inanity of the remark, and that it seemed scarcely less
cold-blooded than his own.
Poindexter, still smiling, nodded.
She arose with an effort. She had recovered from the first shock, and
pride lent her a determined calmness that more than equaled
Poindexter's easy philosophy.
"Where is he?" she asked.
"At sea, and I hope by this time where he cannot be found or followed."
Was her momentary glimpse of the outgoing ship a coincidence or only a
vision? She was confused and giddy, but, mastering her weakness, she
managed to continue in a lower voice:
"You have no message for me from him? He told you nothing to tell me?"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing," replied Poindexter. "It was as much as
he could do, I reckon, to get fairly away before the crash came."
"Then you did not see him go?"
"Well, no," said Poindexter. "I'd hardly have managed things in this
way." He checked himself and added, with a forgiving smile, "but he was
the best judge of what he needed, of course."
"I suppose I will hear from him," she said quietly, "as soon as he is
safe. He must have had enough else to think about, poor fellow."
She said this so naturally and quietly that Poindexter was deceived. He
had no idea that the collected woman before him was thinking only of
solitude and darkness, of her own room, and madly longing to be there.
He said, "Yes, I dare say," in quite another voice, and glanced at the
picture. But as she remained standing, he continued more earnestly, "I
didn't come here to tell you what you might read in the newspapers
to-morrow morning, and what everybody might tell you. Before that time
I want you to do something to save a fragment of your property from the
ruin; do you understand? I want you to make a rally, and bring off
something in good order."
"For him?" said Mrs. Tucker, with brightening eyes.
"Well, yes, of course—if you like—but as if for yourself. Do you know
the Rancho de los Cuervos?"
"It's almost the only bit of real property your husband hasn't sold,
mortgaged, or pledged. Why it was exempt, or whether only forgotten, I
"I'll tell you why," said Mrs. Tucker, with a slight return of color.
"It was the first land we ever bought, and Spencer always said it
should be mine and he would build a new house on it."
Captain Poindexter smiled and nodded at the picture. "Oh, he did say
that, did he? Well, that's evidence. But you see he never gave you
the deed, and by sunrise tomorrow his creditors will attach
"Unless"—repeated Mrs. Tucker, with kindling eyes.
"Unless," continued Captain Poindexter, "they happen to find you in
"I'll go," said Mrs. Tucker.
"Of course you will," returned Poindexter, pleasantly. "Only, as it's a
big contract to take, suppose we see how you can fill it. It's forty
miles to Los Cuervos, and you can't trust yourself to steamboat or
stage-coach. The steamboat left an hour ago."
"If I had only known this then!" ejaculated Mrs. Tucker.
"I knew it, but you had company then," said Poindexter, with ironical
gallantry, "and I wouldn't disturb you." Without saying how he knew it,
he continued, "In the stage-coach you might be recognized. You must go
in a private conveyance and alone; even I cannot go with you, for I
must go on before and meet you there. Can you drive forty miles?"
Mrs. Tucker lifted up her abstracted pretty lids. "I once drove
fifty—at home," she returned simply.
"Good! And I dare say you did it then for fun. Do it now for something
real and personal, as we lawyers say. You will have relays and a plan
of the road. It's rough weather for a pasear, but all the better for
that. You'll have less company on the road."
"How soon can I go?" she asked.
"The sooner the better. I've arranged everything for you already," he
continued with a laugh. "Come now, that's a compliment to you, isn't
it?" He smiled a moment in her steadfast, earnest face, and then said,
more gravely, "You'll do. Now listen."
He then carefully detailed his plan. There was so little of excitement
or mystery in their manner that the servant, who returned to light the
gas, never knew that the ruin and bankruptcy of the house was being
told before her, or that its mistress was planning her secret flight.
"Good afternoon. I will see you to-morrow then," said Poindexter,
raising his eyes to hers as the servant opened the door for him.
"Good afternoon," repeated Mrs. Tucker, quietly answering his look.
"You need not light the gas in my room, Mary," she continued in the
same tone of voice as the door closed upon him; "I shall lie down for a
few moments, and then I may run over to the Robinsons for the evening."
She regained her room composedly. The longing desire to bury her head
in her pillow and "think out" her position had gone. She did not
apostrophize her fate, she did not weep; few real women do in the
access of calamity, or when there is anything else to be done. She felt
that she knew it all; she believed she had sounded the profoundest
depths of the disaster, and seemed already so old in her experience
that she almost fancied she had been prepared for it. Perhaps she did
not fully appreciate it. To a life like hers it was only an incident,
the mere turning of a page of the illimitable book of youth; the
breaking up of what she now felt had become a monotony. In fact, she
was not quite sure she had ever been satisfied with their present
success. Had it brought her all she expected? She wanted to say this to
her husband, not only to comfort him, poor fellow, but that they might
come to a better understanding of life in the future. She was not
perhaps different from other loving women, who, believing in this
unattainable goal of matrimony, have sought it in the various episodes
of fortune or reverses, in the bearing of children, or the loss of
friends. In her childless experience there was no other life that had
taken root in her circumstances and might suffer transplantation; only
she and her husband could lose or profit by the change. The "perfect"
understanding would come under other conditions than these.
She would have gone superstitiously to the window to gaze in the
direction of the vanished ship, but another instinct restrained her.
She would put aside all yearning for him until she had done something
to help him, and earned the confidence he seemed to have withheld.
Perhaps it was pride—perhaps she never really believed his exodus was
distant or complete.
With a full knowledge that to-morrow the various ornaments and pretty
trifles around her would be in the hands of the law, she gathered only
a few necessaries for her flight and some familiar personal trinkets. I
am constrained to say that this self-abnegation was more fastidious
than moral. She had no more idea of the ethics of bankruptcy than any
other charming woman; she simply did not like to take with her any
contagious memory of the chapter of the life just closing. She glanced
around the home she was leaving without a lingering regret; there was
no sentiment of tradition or custom that might be destroyed; her roots
lay too near the surface to suffer dislocation; the happiness of her
childless union had depended upon no domestic center, nor was its flame
sacred to any local hearthstone. It was without a sigh that, when night
had fully fallen, she slipped unnoticed down the staircase. At the door
of the drawing-room she paused, and then entered with the first guilty
feeling of shame she had known that evening. Looking stealthily around,
she mounted a chair before her husband's picture, kissed the
irreproachable mustache hurriedly, said, "You foolish darling, you!"
and slipped out again. With this touching indorsement of the views of a
rival philosopher, she closed the door softly and left her home
The wind and rain had cleared the unfrequented suburb of any observant
lounger, and the darkness, lit only by far-spaced, gusty lamps, hid her
hastening figure. She had barely crossed the second street when she
heard the quick clatter of hoofs behind her; a buggy drove up to the
curbstone, and Poindexter leaped out. She entered quickly, but for a
moment he still held the reins of the impatient horse. "He's rather
fresh," he said, eying her keenly: "are you sure you can manage him?"
"Give me the reins," she said simply.
He placed them in the two firm, well-shaped hands that reached from the
depths of the vehicle, and was satisfied. Yet he lingered.
"It's rough work for a lone woman," he said, almost curtly, "I can't
go with you, but, speak frankly, is there any man you know whom you can
trust well enough to take? It's not too late yet; think a moment!"
He paused over the buttoning of the leather apron of the vehicle.
"No, there is none," answered the voice from the interior; "and it's
better so. Is all ready?"
"One moment more." He had recovered his half bantering manner. "You
have a friend and countryman already with you, do you know? Your
horse is Blue Grass. Good-night."
With these words ringing in her ears she began her journey. The horse,
as if eager to maintain the reputation which his native district had
given his race, as well as the race of the pretty woman behind him,
leaped impatiently forward. But pulled together by the fine and firm
fingers that seemed to guide rather than check his exuberance, he
presently struck into the long, swinging pace of his kind, and kept it
throughout without "break" or acceleration. Over the paved streets the
light buggy rattled, and the slender shafts danced around his smooth
barrel, but when they touched the level high road, horse and vehicle
slipped forward through the night, a swift and noiseless phantom. Mrs.
Tucker could see his graceful back dimly rising and falling before her
with tireless rhythm, and could feel the intelligent pressure of his
mouth until it seemed the responsive grasp of a powerful but kindly
hand. The faint glow of conquest came to her cold cheek; the slight
stirrings of pride moved her preoccupied heart. A soft light filled her
hazel eyes. A desolate woman, bereft of husband and home, and flying
through storm and night, she knew not where, she still leaned forward
towards her horse. "Was he Blue Grass, then, dear old boy?" she gently
cooed at him in the darkness. He evidently was, and responded by
blowing her an ostentatious equine kiss. "And he would be good to his
own forsaken Belle," she murmured caressingly, "and wouldn't let any
one harm her?" But here, overcome by the lazy witchery of her voice, he
shook his head so violently that Mrs. Tucker, after the fashion of her
sex, had the double satisfaction of demurely restraining the passion
she had evoked.
To avoid the more traveled thoroughfare, while the evening was still
early, it had been arranged that she should at first take a less direct
but less frequented road. This was a famous pleasure-drive from San
Francisco, a graveled and sanded stretch of eight miles to the sea, and
an ultimate "cocktail," in a "stately pleasure-dome decreed" among the
surf and rocks of the Pacific shore. It was deserted now, and left to
the unobstructed sweep of the wind and rain. Mrs. Tucker would not have
chosen this road. With the instinctive jealousy of a bucolic inland
race born by great rivers, she did not like the sea; and again, the dim
and dreary waste tended to recall the vision connected with her
husband's flight, upon which she had resolutely shut her eyes. But when
she had reached it the road suddenly turned, following the trend of the
beach, and she was exposed to the full power of its dread fascinations.
The combined roar of sea and shore was in her ears. As the direct force
of the gale had compelled her to furl the protecting hood of the buggy
to keep the light vehicle from oversetting or drifting to leeward, she
could no longer shut out the heaving chaos on the right, from which the
pallid ghosts of dead and dying breakers dimly rose and sank as if in
awful salutation. At times through the darkness a white sheet appeared
spread before the path and beneath the wheels of the buggy, which, when
withdrawn with a reluctant hiss, seemed striving to drag the exhausted
beach seaward with it. But the blind terror of her horse, who swerved
at every sweep of the surge, shamed her own half superstitious fears,
and with the effort to control his alarm she regained her own
self-possession, albeit with eyelashes wet not altogether with the salt
spray from the sea. This was followed by a reaction, perhaps stimulated
by her victory over the beaten animal, when for a time, she knew not
how long, she felt only a mad sense of freedom and power, oblivious of
even her sorrows, her lost home and husband, and with intense feminine
consciousness she longed to be a man. She was scarcely aware that the
track turned again inland until the beat of the horse's hoofs on the
firm ground and an acceleration of speed showed her she had left the
beach and the mysterious sea behind her, and she remembered that she
was near the end of the first stage of her journey. Half an hour later
the twinkling lights of the roadside inn where she was to change horses
rose out of the darkness.
Happily for her, the hostler considered the horse, who had a local
reputation, of more importance than the unknown muffled figure in the
shadow of the unfurled hood, and confined his attention to the animal.
After a careful examination of his feet and a few comments addressed
solely to the superior creation, he led him away. Mrs. Tucker would
have liked to part more affectionately from her four-footed compatriot,
and felt a sudden sense of loneliness at the loss of her new friend,
but a recollection of certain cautions of Captain Poindexter's kept her
mute. Nevertheless, the hostler's ostentatious adjuration of "Now then,
aren't you going to bring out that mustang for the Señora?" puzzled
her. It was not until the fresh horse was put to, and she had flung a
piece of gold into the attendant's hand, that the "Gracias" of his
unmistakable Saxon speech revealed to her the reason of the lawyer's
caution. Poindexter had evidently represented her to these people as a
native Californian who did not speak English. In her inconsistency her
blood took fire at this first suggestion of deceit, and burned in her
face. Why should he try to pass her off as anybody else? Why should she
not use her own, her husband's name? She stopped and bit her lip.
It was but the beginning of an uneasy train of thought. She suddenly
found herself thinking of her visitor, Calhoun Weaver, and not
pleasantly. He would hear of their ruin to-morrow, perhaps of her own
flight. He would remember his visit, and what would he think of her
deceitful frivolity? Would he believe that she was then ignorant of the
failure? It was her first sense of any accountability to others than
herself, but even then it was rather owing to an uneasy consciousness
of what her husband must feel if he were subjected to the criticisms of
men like Calhoun. She wondered if others knew that he had kept her in
ignorance of his flight. Did Poindexter know it, or had he only
entrapped her into the admission? Why had she not been clever enough to
make him think that she knew it already? For the moment she hated
Poindexter for sharing that secret. Yet this was again followed by a
new impatience of her husband's want of insight into her ability to
help him. Of course the poor fellow could not bear to worry her, could
not bear to face such men as Calhoun, or even Poindexter (she added
exultingly to herself), but he might have sent her a line as he fled,
only to prepare her to meet and combat the shame alone. It did not
occur to her unsophisticated singleness of nature that she was
accepting as an error of feeling what the world would call cowardly
At midnight the storm lulled and a few stars trembled through the rent
clouds. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and her country
instincts, a little overlaid by the urban experiences of the last few
years, came again to the surface. She felt the fresh, cool radiation
from outlying, upturned fields, the faint, sad odors from dim stretches
of pricking grain and quickening leaf, and wondered if at Los Cuervos
it might be possible to reproduce the peculiar verdure of her native
district. She beguiled her fancy by an ambitious plan of retrieving
their fortunes by farming; her comfortable tastes had lately rebelled
against the homeless mechanical cultivation of these desolate but
teeming Californian acres, and for a moment indulged in a vision of a
vine-clad cottage home that in any other woman would have been
sentimental. Her cramped limbs aching, she took advantage of the
security of the darkness and the familiar contiguity of the fields to
get down from the vehicle, gather her skirts together, and run at the
head of the mustang, until her chill blood was thawed, night drawing a
modest veil over this charming revelation of the nymph and woman. But
the sudden shadow of a coyote checked the scouring feet of this swift
Camilla, and sent her back precipitately to the buggy. Nevertheless,
she was refreshed and able to pursue her journey, until the cold gray
of early morning found her at the end of her second stage.
Her route was changed again from the main highway, rendered dangerous
by the approach of day and the contiguity of the neighboring
rancheros. The road was rough and hilly, her new horse and vehicle in
keeping with the rudeness of the route—by far the most difficult of
her whole journey. The rare wagon tracks that indicated her road were
often scarcely discernible; at times they led her through openings in
the half-cleared woods, skirted suspicious morasses, painfully climbed
the smooth, domelike hills, or wound along perilous slopes at a
dangerous angle. Twice she had to alight and cling to the sliding
wheels on one of those treacherous inclines, or drag them from
impending ruts or immovable mire. In the growing light she could
distinguish the distant, low-lying marshes eaten by encroaching sloughs
and insidious channels, and beyond them the faint gray waste of the
Lower Bay. A darker peninsula in the marsh she knew to be the extreme
boundary of her future home: the Rancho de los Cuervos. In another hour
she began to descend to the plain, and once more to approach the main
road, which now ran nearly parallel with her track. She scanned it
cautiously for any early traveler; it stretched north and south in
apparent unending solitude. She struck into it boldly, and urged her
horse to the top of his speed, until she reached the cross-road that
led to the rancho. But here she paused and allowed the reins to drop
idly on the mustang's back. A singular and unaccountable irresolution
seized her. The difficulties of her journey were over; the rancho lay
scarcely two miles away; she had achieved the most important part of
her task in the appointed time; but she hesitated. What had she come
for? She tried to recall Poindexter's words, even her own enthusiasm,
but in vain. She was going to take possession of her husband's
property, she knew, that was all. But the means she had taken seemed
now so exaggerated and mysterious for that simple end, that she began
to dread an impending something, or some vague danger she had not
considered, that she was rushing blindly to meet. Full of this strange
feeling, she almost mechanically stopped her horse as she entered the
From this momentary hesitation a singular sound aroused her. It seemed
at first like the swift hurrying by of some viewless courier of the
air, the vague alarm of some invisible flying herald, or like the
inarticulate cry that precedes a storm. It seemed to rise and fall
around her as if with some changing urgency of purpose. Raising her
eyes she suddenly recognized the two far-stretching lines of telegraph
wire above her head, and knew the aeolian cry of the morning wind along
its vibrating chords. But it brought another and more practical fear to
her active brain. Perhaps even now the telegraph might be anticipating
her! Had Poindexter thought of that? She hesitated no longer, but
laying the whip on the back of her jaded mustang, again hurried
As the level horizon grew more distinct, her attention was attracted by
the white sail of a small boat lazily threading the sinuous channel of
the slough. It might be Poindexter arriving by the more direct route
from the steamboat that occasionally laid off the ancient embarcadero
of the Los Cuervos Rancho. But even while watching it her quick ear
caught the sound of galloping hoofs behind her. She turned quickly and
saw she was followed by a horseman. But her momentary alarm was
succeeded by a feeling of relief as she recognized the erect figure and
square shoulders of Poindexter. Yet she could not help thinking that he
looked more like a militant scout, and less like a cautious legal
adviser, than ever.
With unaffected womanliness she rearranged her slightly disordered hair
as he drew up beside her. "I thought you were in yonder boat," she
"Not I," he laughed; "I distanced you by the highroad two hours, and
have been reconnoitering, until I saw you hesitate at the cross-roads."
"But who is in the boat?" asked Mrs. Tucker, partly to hide her
"Only some early Chinese market gardener, I dare say. But you are safe
now. You are on your own land. You passed the boundary monument of the
rancho five minutes ago. Look! All you see before you is yours from the
embarcadero to yonder Coast Range."
The tone of half raillery did not, however, cheer Mrs. Tucker. She
shuddered slightly and cast her eyes over the monotonous sea of tule
"It doesn't look pretty, perhaps," continued Poindexter, "but it's the
richest land in the State, and the embarcadero will some day be a
town. I suppose you'll call it Blue Grassville. But you seem tired!" he
said, suddenly dropping his voice to a tone of half humorous sympathy.
Mrs. Tucker managed to get rid of an impending tear under the pretense
of clearing her eyes. "Are we nearly there?" she asked.
"Nearly. You know," he added, with the same half mischievous, half
sympathizing gayety, "it's not exactly a palace you're coming
to,—hardly. It's the old casa that has been deserted for years, but
I thought it better you should go into possession there than take up
your abode at the shanty where your husband's farm-hands are. No one
will know when you take possession of the casa, while the very hour
of your arrival at the shanty would be known; and if they should make
"If they should make any trouble?" repeated Mrs. Tucker, lifting her
frank, inquiring eyes to Poindexter.
His horse suddenly rearing from an apparently accidental prick of the
spur, it was a minute or two before he was able to explain. "I mean if
this ever comes up as a matter of evidence, you know. But here we are!"
What had seemed to be an overgrown mound rising like an island out of
the dead level of the grassy sea now resolved itself into a collection
of adobe walls, eaten and incrusted with shrubs and vines, that bore
some resemblance to the usual uninhabited-looking exterior of a
Spanish-American dwelling. Apertures that might have been lance-shaped
windows or only cracks and fissures in the walls were choked up with
weeds and grass, and gave no passing glimpse of the interior. Entering
a ruinous corral they came to a second entrance, which proved to be the
patio or courtyard. The deserted wooden corridor, with beams,
rafters, and floors whitened by the sun and wind, contained a few
withered leaves, dryly rotting skins, and thongs of leather, as if
undisturbed by human care. But among these scattered débris of former
life and habitation there was no noisome or unclean suggestion of
decay. A faint spiced odor of desiccation filled the bare walls. There
was no slime on stone or sun-dried brick. In place of fungus or
discolored moisture the dust of efflorescence whitened in the obscured
corners. The elements had picked clean the bones of the old and
crumbling tenement ere they should finally absorb it.
A withered old peon woman, who in dress, complexion, and fibrous hair
might have been an animated fragment of the débris, rustled out of a
low vaulted passage and welcomed them with a feeble crepitation.
Following her into the dim interior, Mrs. Tucker was surprised to find
some slight attempt at comfort and even adornment in the two or three
habitable apartments. They were scrupulously clean and dry, two
qualities which in her feminine eyes atoned for poverty of material.
"I could not send anything from San Bruno, the nearest village, without
attracting attention," explained Poindexter; "but if you can manage to
picnic here for a day longer, I'll get one of our Chinese friends
here," he pointed to the slough, "to bring over, for his return cargo
from across the bay, any necessaries you may want. There is no danger
of his betraying you," he added, with an ironical smile; "Chinamen and
Indians are, by an ingenious provision of the statute of California,
incapable of giving evidence against a white person. You can trust your
handmaiden perfectly—even if she can't trust you. That is your
sacred privilege under the constitution. And now, as I expect to catch
the up boat ten miles from hence. I must say 'good-by' until to-morrow
night. I hope to bring you then some more definite plans for the
future. The worst is over." He held her hand for a moment, and with a
graver voice continued, "You have done it very well—do you know—very
In the slight embarrassment produced by his sudden change of manner she
felt that her thanks seemed awkward and restrained. "Don't thank me,"
he laughed, with a prompt return of his former levity; "that's my
trade. I only advised. You have saved yourself like a plucky
woman—shall I say like Blue Grass? Good-by!" He mounted his horse,
but, as if struck by an after-thought, wheeled and drew up by her side
again. "If I were you I wouldn't see many strangers for a day or two,
and listen to as little news as a woman possibly can." He laughed
again, waved her a half gallant, half military salute, and was gone.
The question she had been trying to frame, regarding the probability of
communication with her husband, remained unasked. At least she had
saved her pride before him.
Addressing herself to the care of her narrow household, she
mechanically put away the few things she had brought with her, and
began to read just the scant furniture. She was a little discomposed at
first at the absence of bolts, locks, and even window-fastenings until
assured, by Concha's evident inability to comprehend her concern, that
they were quite unknown at Los Cuervos. Her slight knowledge of Spanish
was barely sufficient to make her wants known, so that the relief of
conversation with her only companion was debarred her, and she was
obliged to content herself with the sapless, crackling smiles and
withered genuflexions that the old woman dropped like dead leaves in
her path. It was staring noon when, the house singing like an empty
shell in the monotonous wind, she felt she could stand the solitude no
longer, and, crossing the glaring patio and whistling corridor, made
her way to the open gateway.
But the view without seemed to intensify her desolation. The broad
expanse of the shadowless plain reached apparently to the Coast Range,
trackless and unbroken save by one or two clusters of dwarfed oaks,
which at that distance were but mossy excrescences on the surface,
barely raised above the dead level. On the other side the marsh took up
the monotony and carried it, scarcely interrupted by undefined
water-courses, to the faintly marked-out horizon line of the remote
bay. Scattered and apparently motionless black spots on the meadows
that gave a dreary significance to the title of "the Crows" which the
rancho bore, and sudden gray clouds of sandpipers on the marshes, that
rose and vanished down the wind, were the only signs of life. Even the
white sail of the early morning was gone.
She stood there until the aching of her straining eyes and the
stiffening of her limbs in the cold wind compelled her to seek the
sheltered warmth of the courtyard. Here she endeavored to make friends
with a bright-eyed lizard, who was sunning himself in the corridor; a
graceful little creature in blue and gold, from whom she felt at other
times she might have fled, but whose beauty and harmlessness solitude
had made known to her. With misplaced kindness she tempted it with
bread-crumbs, with no other effect than to stiffen it into stony
astonishment. She wondered if she should become like the prisoners she
had read of in books, who poured out their solitary affections on
noisome creatures, and she regretted even the mustang, which with the
buggy had disappeared under the charge of some unknown retainer on her
arrival. Was she not a prisoner? The shutterless windows, yawning
doors, and open gate refuted the suggestion, but the encompassing
solitude and trackless waste still held her captive. Poindexter had
told her it was four miles to the shanty; she might walk there. Why had
she given her word that she would remain at the rancho until he
The long day crept monotonously away, and she welcomed the night which
shut out the dreary prospect. But it brought no cessation of the
harassing wind without, nor surcease of the nervous irritation its
perpetual and even activity wrought upon her. It haunted her pillow
even in her exhausted sleep, and seemed to impatiently beckon her to
rise and follow it. It brought her feverish dreams of her husband,
footsore and weary, staggering forward under its pitiless lash and
clamorous outcry; she would have gone to his assistance, but when she
reached his side and held out her arms to him it hurried her past with
merciless power, and, bearing her away, left him hopelessly behind. It
was broad day when she awoke. The usual night showers of the waning
rainy season had left no trace in sky or meadow; the fervid morning sun
had already dried the patio; only the restless, harrying wind
Mrs. Tucker arose with a resolve. She had learned from Concha on the
previous evening that a part of the shanty was used as a tienda or
shop for the laborers and rancheros. Under the necessity of
purchasing some articles, she would go there and for a moment mingle
with those people, who would not recognize her. Even if they did, her
instinct told her it would be less to be feared than the hopeless
uncertainty of another day. As she left the house the wind seemed to
seize her as in her dream, and hurry her along with it, until in a few
moments the walls of the low casa sank into the earth again and she
was alone, but for the breeze on the solitary plain. The level distance
glittered in the sharp light, a few crows with slant wings dipped and
ran down the wind before her, and a passing gleam on the marsh was
explained by the far-off cry of a curlew.
She had walked for an hour, upheld by the stimulus of light and morning
air, when the cluster of scrub oaks, which was her destination, opened
enough to show two rambling sheds, before one of which was a wooden
platform containing a few barrels and bones. As she approached nearer,
she could see that one or two horses were tethered under the trees,
that their riders were lounging by a horse-trough, and that over an
open door the word Tienda was rudely painted on a board, and as
rudely illustrated by the wares displayed at door and window.
Accustomed as she was to the poverty of frontier architecture, even the
crumbling walls of the old hacienda she had just left seemed
picturesque to the rigid angles of the thin, blank, unpainted shell
before her. One of the loungers, who was reading a newspaper aloud as
she advanced, put it aside and stared at her; there was an evident
commotion in the shop as she stepped upon the platform, and when she
entered, with breathless lips and beating heart, she found herself the
object of a dozen curious eyes. Her quick pride resented the scrutiny
and recalled her courage, and it was with a slight coldness in her
usual lazy indifference that she leaned over the counter and asked for
the articles she wanted.
The request was followed by a dead silence. Mrs. Tucker repeated it
with some hauteur.
"I reckon you don't seem to know this store is in the hands of the
sheriff," said one of the loungers.
Mrs. Tucker was not aware of it.
"Well, I don't know any one who's a better right to know than Spence
Tucker's wife," said another with a coarse laugh. The laugh was echoed
by the others. Mrs. Tucker saw the pit into which she had deliberately
walked, but did not flinch.
"Is there any one to serve here?" she asked, turning her clear eyes
full upon the bystanders.
"You'd better ask the sheriff. He was the last one to sarve here. He
sarved an attachment," replied the inevitable humorist of all
"Is he here?" asked Mrs. Tucker, disregarding the renewed laughter
which followed this subtle witticism.
The loungers at the door made way for one of their party, who was half
dragged, half pushed into the shop. "Here he is," said half a dozen
eager voices, in the fond belief that his presence might impart
additional humor to the situation. He cast a deprecating glance at Mrs.
Tucker and said, "It's so, madam! This yer place is attached; but if
there's anything you're wanting, why I reckon, boys,"—he turned half
appealingly to the crowd, "we could oblige a lady." There was a vague
sound of angry opposition and remonstrance from the back door of the
shop, but the majority, partly overcome by Mrs. Tucker's beauty,
assented. "Only," continued the officer explanatorily, "ez these yer
goods are in the hands of the creditors, they ought to be represented
by an equivalent in money. If you're expecting they should be
"But I wish to, pay for them," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, with a slight
flush of indignation; "I have the money."
"Oh, I bet you have!" screamed a voice, as, overturning all opposition,
the malcontent at the back door, in the shape of an infuriated woman,
forced her way into the shop. "I'll bet you have the money! Look at
her, boys! Look at the wife of the thief, with the stolen money in
diamonds in her ears and rings on her fingers. She's got money if
we've none. She can pay for what she fancies, if we haven't a cent
to redeem the bed that's stolen from under us. Oh yes, buy it all, Mrs.
Spencer Tucker! buy the whole shop, Mrs. Spencer Tucker, do you hear?
And if you ain't satisfied then, buy my clothes, my wedding ring, the
only things your husband hasn't stolen."
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker coldly, turning towards the
door. But with a flying leap across the counter her relentless
adversary stood between her and retreat.
"You don't understand! Perhaps you don't understand that your husband
not only stole the hard labor of these men, but even the little money
they brought here and trusted to his thieving hands. Perhaps you don't
know that he stole my husband's hard earnings, mortgaged these very
goods you want to buy, and that he is to-day a convicted thief, a
forger, and a runaway coward. Perhaps, if you can't understand me,
you can read the newspaper. Look!" She exultingly opened the paper the
sheriff had been reading aloud, and pointed to the displayed headlines.
"Look! there are the very words, 'Forgery, Swindling, Embezzlement!' Do
you see? And perhaps you can't understand this. Look! 'Shameful Flight.
Abandons his Wife. Runs off with a Notorious'"—
"Easy, old gal, easy now. D—n it! Will you dry up? I say. Stop!"
It was too late! The sheriff had dashed the paper from the woman's
hand, but not until Mrs. Tucker had read a single line, a line such as
she had sometimes turned from with weary scorn in her careless perusal
of the daily shameful chronicle of domestic infelicity. Then she had
coldly wondered if there could be any such men and women. And now! The
crowd fell back before her; even the virago was silenced as she looked
at her face. The humorist's face was as white, but not as immobile, as
he gasped, "Christ! if I don't believe she knew nothin' of it!"
For a moment the full force of such a supposition, with all its
poignancy, its dramatic intensity, and its pathos, possessed the crowd.
In the momentary clairvoyance of enthusiasm they caught a glimpse of
the truth, and by one of the strange reactions of human passion they
only waited for a word of appeal or explanation from her lips to throw
themselves at her feet. Had she simply told her story they would have
believed her; had she cried, fainted, or gone into hysterics, they
would have pitied her. She did neither. Perhaps she thought of neither,
or indeed of anything that was then before her eyes. She walked erect
to the door and turned upon the threshold. "I mean what I say," she
said calmly. "I don't understand you. But whatever just claims you have
upon my husband will be paid by me, or by his lawyer, Captain
She had lost the sympathy but not the respect of her hearers. They made
way for her with sullen deference as she passed out on the platform.
But her adversary, profiting by the last opportunity, burst into an
"Captain Poindexter, is it? Well, perhaps he's safe to pay your bill;
but as for your husband's"—
"That's another matter," interrupted a familiar voice with the greatest
cheerfulness; "that's what you were going to say, wasn't it? Ha! ha!
Well, Mrs. Patterson," continued Poindexter, stepping from his buggy,
"you never spoke a truer word in your life.—One moment, Mrs. Tucker.
Let me send you back in the buggy. Don't mind me. I can get a fresh
horse of the sheriff. I'm quite at home here." Then, turning to one of
the bystanders, "I say, Patterson, step a few paces this way, will you?
A little further from your wife, please. That will do. You've got a
claim of five thousand dollars against the property, haven't you?"
"Well, that woman just driving away is your one solitary chance of
getting a cent of it. If your wife insults her again, that chance is
gone. And if you do"—
"As sure as there is a God in Israel and a Supreme Court of the State
of California, I'll kill you in your tracks!…. Stay!"
Patterson turned. The irrepressible look of humorous tolerance of all
human frailty had suffused Poindexter's black eyes with mischievous
moisture. "If you think it quite safe to confide to your wife this
prospect of her improvement by widowhood, you may!"
Mr. Patterson did not inform his wife of the lawyer's personal threat
to himself. But he managed, after Poindexter had left, to make her
conscious that Mrs. Tucker might be a power to be placated and feared.
"You've shot off your mouth at her," he said argumentatively, "and
whether you've hit the mark or not you've had your say. Ef you think
it's worth a possible five thousand dollars and interest to keep on,
heave ahead. Ef you rather have the chance of getting the rest in cash,
you'll let up on her." "You don't suppose," returned Mrs. Patterson
contemptuously, "that she's got anything but what that man of
hers—Poindexter—lets her have?" "The sheriff says," retorted
Patterson surlily, "that she's notified him that she claims the
rancho as a gift from her husband three years ago, and she's in
possession now, and was so when the execution was out. It don't make
no matter," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "who's got a full hand as
long as we ain't got the cards to chip in. I wouldn't 'a' minded it,"
he continued meditatively, "ef Spence Tucker had dropped a hint to me
afore he put out." "And I suppose," said Mrs. Patterson angrily, "you'd
have put out too?" "I reckon," said Patterson simply.
Twice or thrice during the evening he referred, more or less directly,
to this lack of confidence shown by his late debtor and employer, and
seemed to feel it more keenly than the loss of property. He confided
his sentiments quite openly to the sheriff in possession, over the
whiskey and euchre with which these gentlemen avoided the difficulties
of their delicate relations. He brooded over it as he handed the keys
of the shop to the sheriff when they parted for the night, and was
still thinking of it when the house was closed, everybody gone to bed,
and he was fetching a fresh jug of water from the well. The moon was at
times obscured by flying clouds, the avant-couriers of the regular
evening shower. He was stooping over the well, when he sprang suddenly
to his feet again. "Who's there?" he demanded sharply.
"Hush!" said a voice so low and faint it might have been a whisper of
the wind in the palisades of the corral. But, indistinct as it was, it
was the voice of a man he was thinking of as far away, and it sent a
thrill of alternate awe and pleasure through his pulses.
He glanced quickly round. The moon was hidden by a passing cloud, and
only the faint outlines of the house he had just quitted were visible.
"Is that you, Spence?" he said tremulously.
"Yes," replied the voice, and a figure dimly emerged from the corner of
"Lay low, lay low, for God's sake," said Patterson, hurriedly throwing
himself upon the apparition. "The sheriff and his posse are in there."
"But I must speak to you a moment," said the figure.
"Wait," said Patterson, glancing toward the building. Its blank,
shutterless windows revealed no inner light; a profound silence
encompassed it. "Come quick," he whispered. Letting his grasp slip down
to the unresisting hand of the stranger, he half dragged, half led him,
brushing against the wall, into the open door of the deserted bar-room
he had just quitted, locked the inner door, poured a glass of whiskey
from a decanter, gave it to him, and then watched him drain it at a
The moon came out, and falling through the bare windows full upon the
stranger's face, revealed the artistic but slightly disheveled curls
and mustache of the fugitive, Spencer Tucker.
Whatever may have been the real influence of this unfortunate man upon
his fellows, it seemed to find expression in a singular unanimity of
criticism. Patterson looked at him with a half dismal, half welcoming
smile. "Well, you are a h—ll of a fellow, ain't you?"
Spencer Tucker passed his hand through his hair and lifted it from his
forehead, with a gesture at once emotional and theatrical. "I am a man
with a price on me!" he said bitterly. "Give me up to the sheriff, and
you'll get five thousand dollars. Help me, and you'll get nothing.
That's my d—d luck, and yours too, I suppose."
"I reckon you're right there," said Patterson gloomily. "But I thought
you got clean away,—went off in a ship"—
"Went off in a boat to a ship," interrupted Tucker savagely; "went off
to a ship that had all my things on board—everything. The cursed boat
capsized in a squall just off the Heads. The ship, d—n her, sailed
away, the men thinking I was drowned, likely, and that they'd make a
good thing off my goods, I reckon."
"But the girl, Inez, who was with you, didn't she make a row?"
"Quien sabe?" returned Tucker, with a reckless laugh. "Well, I hung
on like grim death to that boat's keel until one of those Chinese
fishermen, in a 'dug-out,' hauled me in opposite Saucelito. I chartered
him and his dug-out to bring me down here."
"Why here?" asked Patterson, with a certain ostentatious caution that
ill concealed his pensive satisfaction.
"You may well ask," returned Tucker, with an equal ostentation of
bitterness, as he slightly waved his companion away. "But I reckoned I
could trust a white man that I'd been kind to, and who wouldn't go back
on me. No, no, let me go! Hand me over to the sheriff!"
Patterson had suddenly grasped both the hands of the picturesque scamp
before him, with an affection that for an instant almost shamed the man
who had ruined him. But Tucker's egotism whispered that this affection
was only a recognition of his own superiority, and felt flattered. He
was beginning to believe that he was really the injured party.
"What I have and what I have had is yours, Spence," returned
Patterson, with a sad and simple directness that made any further
discussion a gratuitous insult. "I only wanted to know what you
reckoned to do here."
"I want to get over across the Coast Range to Monterey," said Tucker.
"Once there, one of those coasting schooners will bring me down to
Acapulco, where the ship will put in."
Patterson remained silent for a moment. "There's a mustang in the
corral you can take—leastways, I shan't know that it's gone—until
to-morrow afternoon. In an hour from now," he added, looking from the
window, "these clouds will settle down to business. It will rain; there
will be light enough for you to find your way by the regular trail over
the mountain, but not enough for any one to know you. If you can't push
through to-night, you can lie over at the posada on the summit. Them
greasers that keep it won't know you, And if they did they won't go
back on you. And if they did go back on you, nobody would believe them.
It's mighty curious," he added, with gloomy philosophy, "but I reckon
it's the reason why Providence allows this kind of cattle to live among
white men and others made in his image. Take a piece of pie, won't
you?" he continued, abandoning this abstract reflection and producing
half a flat pumpkin pie from the bar. Spencer Tucker grasped the pie
with one hand and his friend's fingers with the other, and for a few
moments was silent from the hurried deglutition of viand and sentiment.
"You're a white man, Patterson, any way," he resumed. "I'll take your
horse, and put it down in our account at your own figure. As soon as
this cursed thing is blown over, I'll be back here and see you through,
you bet! I don't desert my friends, however rough things go with me."
"I see you don't," returned Patterson, with an unconscious and serious
simplicity that had the effect of the most exquisite irony. "I was only
just saying to the sheriff that if there was anything I could have done
for you, you wouldn't have cut away without letting me know." Tucker
glanced uneasily at Patterson, who continued, "Ye ain't wanting
anything else?" Then observing that his former friend and patron was
roughly but newly clothed, and betrayed no trace of his last escapade,
he added, "I see you've got a fresh harness."
"That d—d Chinaman bought me these at the landing. They're not much in
style or fit," he continued, trying to get a moonlight view of himself
in the mirror behind the bar, "but that don't matter here." He filled
another glass of spirits, jauntily settled himself back in his chair,
and added, "I don't suppose there are any girls around, anyway."
"'Cept your wife; she was down here this afternoon," said Patterson
Mr. Tucker paused with the pie in his hand. "Ah, yes!" He essayed a
reckless laugh, but that evident simulation failed before Patterson's
melancholy. With an assumption of falling in with his friend's manner,
rather than from any personal anxiety, he continued, "Well?"
"That man Poindexter was down here with her. Put her in the hacienda
to hold possession afore the news came out."
"Impossible!" said Tucker, rising hastily. "It don't belong—that
"Yer thinking the creditors'll get it, mebbe," returned Patterson,
gazing at the floor. "Not as long as she's in it; no sir! Whether it's
really hers, or she's only keeping house for Poindexter, she's a
fixture, you bet. They are a team when they pull together, they are!"
The smile slowly faded from Tucker's face, that now looked quite rigid
in the moonlight. He put down his glass and walked to the window as
Patterson gloomily continued: "But that's nothing to you. You've got
ahead of 'em both, and had your revenge by going off with the gal.
That's what I said all along. When folks—specially women
folks—wondered how you could leave a woman like your wife, and go off
with a scallawag like that gal, I allers said they'd find out there was
a reason. And when your wife came flaunting down here with Poindexter
before she'd quite got quit of you, I reckon they began to see the
whole little game. No, sir! I knew it wasn't on account of the gal!
Why, when you came here to-night and told me quite nat'ral-like and
easy how she went off in the ship, and then calmly ate your pie and
drank your whiskey after it, I knew you didn't care for her. There's my
hand, Spence; you're a trump, even if you are a little looney, eh? Why,
Shallow and selfish as Tucker was, Patterson's words seemed like a
revelation that shocked him as profoundly as it might have shocked a
nobler nature. The simple vanity and selfishness that made him unable
to conceive any higher reason for his wife's loyalty than his own
personal popularity and success, now that he no longer possessed that
éclat, made him equally capable of the lowest suspicions. He was a
dishonored fugitive, broken in fortune and reputation—why should she
not desert him? He had been unfaithful to her from wildness, from
caprice, from the effect of those fascinating qualities; it seemed to
him natural that she should be disloyal from more deliberate motives,
and he hugged himself with that belief. Yet there was enough doubt,
enough of haunting suspicion, that he had lost or alienated a powerful
affection, to make him thoroughly miserable. He returned his friend's
grasp convulsively and buried his face upon his shoulder. But he was
above feeling a certain exultation in the effect of his misery upon the
dog-like, unreasoning affection of Patterson, nor could he entirely
refrain from slightly posing his affliction before that sympathetic but
melancholy man. Suddenly he raised his head, drew back, and thrust his
hand into his bosom with a theatrical gesture.
"What's to keep me from killing Poindexter in his tracks?" he said
"Nothin' but his shooting first," returned Patterson, with dismal
practicality. "He's mighty quick, like all them army men. It's about
even, I reckon, that he don't get me first," he added in an ominous
"No!" returned Tucker, grasping his hand again. "This is not your
affair, Patterson; leave him to me when I come back."
"If he ever gets the drop on me, I reckon he won't wait," continued
Patterson lugubriously. "He seems to object to my passin' criticism on
your wife, as if she was a queen or an angel."
The blood came to Spencer's cheek, and he turned uneasily to the
window. "It's dark enough now for a start," he said hurriedly, "and if
I could get across the mountain without lying over at the summit, it
would be a day gained."
Patterson arose without a word, filled a flask of spirit, handed it to
his friend, and silently led the way through the slowly falling rain
and the now settled darkness. The mustang was quickly secured and
saddled; a heavy poncho afforded Tucker a disguise as well as a
protection from the rain. With a few hurried, disconnected words, and
an abstracted air, he once more shook his friend's hand and issued
cautiously from the corral. When out of earshot from the house he put
spurs to the mustang, and dashed into a gallop.
To intersect the mountain road he was obliged to traverse part of the
highway his wife had walked that afternoon, and to pass within a mile
of the casa where she was. Long before he reached that point his eyes
were straining the darkness in that direction for some indication of
the house which was to him familiar. Becoming now accustomed to the
even obscurity, less trying to the vision than the alternate light and
shadow of cloud or the full glare of the moonlight, he fancied he could
distinguish its low walls over the monotonous level. One of those
impulses which had so often taken the place of resolution in his
character suddenly possessed him to diverge from his course and
approach the house. Why, he could not have explained. It was not from
any feeling of jealous suspicion or contemplated revenge—that had
passed with the presence of Patterson; it was not from any vague
lingering sentiment for the woman he had wronged—he would have shrunk
from meeting her at that moment. But it was full of these and more
possibilities by which he might or might not be guided, and was at
least a movement towards some vague end, and a distraction from certain
thoughts he dared not entertain and could not entirely dismiss.
Inconceivable and inexplicable to human reason, it might have been
acceptable to the Divine omniscience for its predestined result.
He left the road at a point where the marsh encroached upon the meadow,
familiar to him already as near the spot where he had debarked from the
Chinaman's boat the day before. He remembered that the walls of the
hacienda were distinctly visible from the tules where he had hidden
all day, and he now knew that the figures he had observed near the
building, which had deterred his first attempts at landing, must have
been his wife and his friend. He knew that a long tongue of the slough
filled by the rising tide followed the marsh, and lay between him and
the hacienda. The sinking of his horse's hoofs in the spongy soil
determined its proximity, and he made a detour to the right to avoid
it. In doing so, a light suddenly rose above the distant horizon ahead
of him, trembled faintly, and then burned with a steady lustre. It was
a light at the hacienda. Guiding his horse half abstractedly in this
direction, his progress was presently checked by the splashing of the
animal's hoofs in the water. But the turf below was firm, and a salt
drop that had spattered to his lips told him that it was only the
encroaching of the tide in the meadow. With his eyes on the light, he
again urged his horse forward. The rain lulled, the clouds began to
break, the landscape alternately lightened and grew dark; the outlines
of the crumbling hacienda walls that enshrined the light grew more
visible. A strange and dreamy resemblance to the long blue-grass plain
before his wife's paternal house, as seen by him during his evening
rides to courtship, pressed itself upon him. He remembered, too, that
she used to put a light in the window to indicate her presence.
Following this retrospect, the moon came boldly out, sparkled upon the
overflow of silver at his feet, seemed to show the dark, opaque meadow
beyond for a moment, and then disappeared. It was dark now, but the
lesser earthly star still shone before him as a guide, and pushing
towards it, he passed in the all-embracing shadow.
As Mrs. Tucker, erect, white, and rigid, drove away from the tienda,
it seemed to her to sink again into the monotonous plain, with all its
horrible realities. Except that there was now a new and heart-breaking
significance to the solitude and loneliness of the landscape, all that
had passed might have been a dream. But as the blood came back to her
cheek, and little by little her tingling consciousness returned, it
seemed as if her life had been the dream, and this last scene the
awakening reality. With eyes smarting with the moisture of shame, the
scarlet blood at times dyeing her very neck and temples, she muffled
her lowered crest in her shawl and bent over the reins. Bit by bit she
recalled, in Poindexter's mysterious caution and strange allusions, the
corroboration of her husband's shame and her own disgrace. This was why
she was brought hither—the deserted wife, the abandoned confederate!
The mocking glitter of the concave vault above her, scoured by the
incessant wind, the cold stare of the shining pools beyond, the hard
outlines of the Coast Range, and the jarring accompaniment of her
horse's hoofs and rattling buggy-wheels, alternately goaded and
distracted her. She found herself repeating "No! no! no!" with the
dogged reiteration of fever. She scarcely knew when or how she reached
the hacienda. She was only conscious that as she entered the patio
the dusky solitude that had before filled her with unrest now came to
her like balm. A benumbing peace seemed to fall from the crumbling
walls; the peace of utter seclusion, isolation, oblivion, death!
Nevertheless, an hour later, when the jingle of spurs and bridle were
again heard in the road, she started to her feet with bent brows and a
kindling eye, and confronted Captain Poindexter in the corridor.
"I would not have intruded upon you so soon again," he said gravely,
"but I thought I might perhaps spare you a repetition of the scene of
this morning. Hear me out, please," he added, with a gentle, half
deprecating gesture, as she lifted the beautiful scorn of her eyes to
his. "I have just heard that your neighbor, Don José Santierra, of Los
Gatos, is on his way to this house. He once claimed this land, and
hated your husband, who bought of the rival claimant, whose grant was
confirmed. I tell you this," he added, slightly flushing as Mrs. Tucker
turned impatiently away, "only to show you that legally he has no
rights, and you need not see him unless you choose. I could not stop
his coming without perhaps doing you more harm than good; but when he
does come, my presence under this roof as your legal counsel will
enable you to refer him to me." He stopped. She was pacing the corridor
with short, impatient steps, her arms dropped, and her hands clasped
rigidly before her. "Have I your permission to stay?"
She suddenly stopped in her walk, approached him rapidly, and fixing
her eyes on his, said:
"Do I know all, now—everything?"
He could only reply that she had not yet told him what she had heard.
"Well," she said scornfully, "that my husband has been cruelly imposed
upon—imposed upon by some wretched woman, who has made him sacrifice
his property, his friends, his honor—everything but me!"
"Everything but whom?" gasped Poindexter.
Poindexter gazed at the sky, the air, the deserted corridor, the stones
of the patio itself, and then at the inexplicable woman before him.
Then he said gravely, "I think you know everything."
"Then if my husband has left me all he could—this property," she went
on rapidly, twisting her handkerchief between her fingers, "I can do
with it what I like, can't I?"
"You certainly can."
"Then sell it," she said, with passionate vehemence. "Sell it—all!
everything! And sell these." She darted into her bedroom, and returned
with the diamond rings she had torn from her fingers and ears when she
entered the house. "Sell them for anything they'll bring, only sell
them at once."
"But for what?" asked Poindexter, with demure lips but twinkling eyes.
"To pay the debts that this—this—woman has led him into; to return
the money she has stolen!" she went on rapidly; "to keep him from
sharing infamy! Can't you understand?"
"But, my dear madam," began Poindexter, "even if this could be done"—
"Don't tell me 'if it could'—it must be done. Do you think I could
sleep under this roof, propped up by the timbers of that ruined
tienda? Do you think I could wear those diamonds again, while that
termagant shop-woman can say that her money bought them? No! If you are
my husband's friend you will do this—for—for his sake." She stopped,
locked and interlocked her cold fingers before her, and said,
hesitating and mechanically, "You meant well, Captain Poindexter, in
bringing me here, I know! You must not think that I blame you for it,
or for the miserable result of it that you have just witnessed. But if
I have gained anything by it, for God's sake let me reap it quickly,
that I may give it to these people and go! I have a friend who can aid
me to get to my husband or to my home in Kentucky, where Spencer will
yet find me, I know. I want nothing more." She stopped again. With
another woman the pause would have been one of tears. But she kept her
head above the flood that filled her heart, and the clear eyes fixed
upon Poindexter, albeit pained, were undimmed.
"But this would require time," said Poindexter, with a smile of
compassionate explanation; "you could not sell now, nobody would buy.
You are safe to hold this property while you are in actual possession,
but you are not strong enough to guarantee it to another. There may
still be litigation; your husband has other creditors than these people
you have talked with. But while nobody could oust you—the wife who
would have the sympathies of judge and jury—it might be a different
case with any one who derived title from you. Any purchaser would know
that you could not sell, or if you did, it would be at a ridiculous
She listened to him abstractedly, walked to the end of the corridor,
returned, and without looking up, said:
"I suppose you know her?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"This woman. You have seen her?"
"Never, to my knowledge."
"And you are his friend! That's strange." She raised her eyes to his.
"Well," she continued impatiently, "who is she? and what is she? You
know that surely."
"I know no more of her than what I have said." said Poindexter. "She is
a notorious woman."
The swift color came to Mrs. Tucker's face as if the epithet had been
applied to herself. "I suppose," she said in a dry voice, as if she
were asking a business question, but with an eye that showed her rising
anger,—"I suppose there is some law by which creatures of this kind
can be followed and brought to justice—some law that would keep
innocent people from suffering for their crimes?"
"I am afraid," said Poindexter, "that arresting her would hardly help
these people over in the tienda."
"I am not speaking of them," responded Mrs. Tucker, with a sudden
sublime contempt for the people whose cause she had espoused; "I am
talking of my husband."
Poindexter bit his lip. "You'd hardly think of bringing back the
strongest witness against him," he said bluntly.
Mrs. Tucker dropped her eyes and was silent. A sudden shame suffused
Poindexter's cheek; he felt as if he had struck that woman a blow. "I
beg your pardon," he said hastily; "I am talking like a lawyer to a
lawyer." He would have taken any other woman by the hand in the honest
fullness of his apology, but something restrained him here. He only
looked down gently on her lowered lashes, and repeated his question if
he should remain during the coming interview with Don José. "I must beg
you to determine quickly," he added, "for I already hear him entering
"Stay," said Mrs. Tucker, as the ringing of spurs and clatter of hoofs
came from the corral. "One moment." She looked up suddenly, and said,
"How long had he known her?" But before he could reply there was a step
in the doorway, and the figure of Don José Santierra emerged from the
He was a man slightly past middle age, fair, and well shaven, wearing a
black broadcloth serape, the deeply embroidered opening of which
formed a collar of silver rays around his neck, while a row of silver
buttons down the side seams of his riding-trousers, and silver spurs
completed his singular equipment. Mrs. Tucker's swift feminine glance
took in these details, as well as the deep salutation, more formal than
the exuberant frontier politeness she was accustomed to, with which he
greeted her. It was enough to arrest her first impulse to retreat. She
hesitated and stopped as Poindexter stepped forward, partly interposing
between them, acknowledging Don José's distant recognition of himself
with an ironical accession of his usual humorous tolerance. The
Spaniard did not seem to notice it, but remained gravely silent before
Mrs. Tucker, gazing at her with an expression of intent and unconscious
"You are quite right, Don José," said Poindexter, with ironical
concern, "it is Mrs. Tucker. Your eyes do not deceive you. She will
be glad to do the honors of her house," he continued, with a simulation
of appealing to her, "unless you visit her on business, when I need not
say I shall be only too happy to attend you, as before."
Don José, with a slight lifting of the eyebrows, allowed himself to
become conscious of the lawyer's meaning. "It is not of business that I
come to kiss the Señora's hand to-day," he replied, with a melancholy
softness; "it is as her neighbor, to put myself at her disposition. Ah!
what have we here fit for a lady?" he continued, raising his eyes in
deprecation of the surroundings; "a house of nothing, a place of winds
and dry bones, without refreshments, or satisfaction, or delicacy. The
Señora will not refuse to make us proud this day to send her of that
which we have in our poor home at Los Gatos, to make her more complete.
Of what shall it be? Let her make choice. Or if she would commemorate
this day by accepting of our hospitality at Los Gatos, until she shall
arrange herself the more to receive us here, we shall have too much
"The Señora would only find it the more difficult to return to this
humble roof again, after once leaving it for Don José's hospitality,"
said Poindexter, with a demure glance at Mrs. Tucker. But the innuendo
seemed to lapse equally unheeded by his fair client and the stranger.
Raising her eyes with a certain timid dignity which Don José's presence
seemed to have called out, she addressed herself to him.
"You are very kind and considerate, Mister Santierra, and I thank you.
I know that my husband"—she let the clear beauty of her translucent
eyes rest full on both men—"would thank you too. But I shall not be
here long enough to accept your kindness in this house nor in your own.
I have but one desire and object now. It is to dispose of this
property, and indeed all I possess, to pay the debt of my husband. It
is in your power, perhaps, to help me. I am told that you wish to
possess Los Cuervos," she went on, equally oblivious of the
consciousness that appeared in Don José's face, and a humorous
perplexity on the brow of Poindexter. "If you can arrange it with Mr.
Poindexter, you will find me a liberal vendor. That much you can do,
and I know you will believe I shall be grateful. You can do no more,
unless it be to say to your friends that Mrs. Belle Tucker remains here
only for that purpose, and to carry out what she knows to be the wishes
of her husband." She paused, bent her pretty crest, dropped a quaint
curtsey to the superior age, the silver braid, and the gentlemanly
bearing of Don José, and with the passing sunshine of a smile
disappeared from the corridor.
The two men remained silent for a moment, Don José gazing abstractedly
on the door through which she had vanished, until Poindexter, with a
return of his tolerant smile, said, "You have heard the views of Mrs.
Tucker. You know the situation as well as she does."
"Ah, yes; possibly better."
Poindexter darted a quick glance at the grave, sallow face of Don José,
but detecting no unusual significance in his manner, continued, "As you
see, she leaves this matter in my hands. Let us talk like business men.
Have you any idea of purchasing this property?"
"Of purchasing? ah, no."
Poindexter bent his brows, but quickly relaxed them with a smile of
humorous forgiveness. "If you have any other idea, Don José, I ought to
warn you, as Mrs. Tucker's lawyer, that she is in legal possession
here, and that nothing but her own act can change that position."
Irritated at the shrug which accompanied this, Poindexter continued
haughtily, "If I am to understand, you have nothing to say"—
"To say, ah, yes, possibly. But"—he glanced toward the door of Mrs.
Tucker's room—"not here." He stopped, appeared to recall himself, and
with an apologetic smile and a studied but graceful gesture of
invitation, he motioned to the gateway, and said, "Will you ride?"
"What can the fellow be up to?" muttered Poindexter, as with an
assenting nod he proceeded to remount his horse. "If he wasn't an old
hidalgo, I'd mistrust him. No matter! here goes!"
The Don also remounted his half-broken mustang; they proceeded in
solemn silence through the corral, and side by side emerged on the open
plain. Poindexter glanced round; no other being was in sight. It was
not until the lonely hacienda had also sunk behind them that Don José
broke the silence.
"You say just now we shall speak as business men. I say no, Don Marco;
I will not. I shall speak, we shall speak, as gentlemen."
"Go on," said Poindexter, who was beginning to be amused.
"I say just now I will not purchase the rancho from the Señora. And
why? Look you, Don Marco;" he reined in his horse, thrust his hand
under his serape, and drew out a folded document: "this is why."
With a smile, Poindexter took the paper from his hand and opened it.
But the smile faded from his lips as he read. With blazing eyes he
spurred his horse beside the Spaniard, almost unseating him, and said
sternly, "What does this mean?"
"What does it mean?" repeated Don José, with equally flashing eyes;
"I'll tell you. It means that your client, this man Spencer Tucker, is
a Judas, a traitor! It means that he gave Los Cuervos to his mistress a
year ago, and that she sold it to me—to me, you hear!—me, José
Santierra, the day before she left! It means that the coyote of a
Spencer, the thief, who bought these lands of a thief and gave them to
a thief, has tricked you all. Look," he said, rising in his saddle,
holding the paper like a bâton, and defining with a sweep of his arm
the whole level plain, "all these lands were once mine, they are mine
again to-day. Do I want to purchase Los Cuervos? you ask, for you will
speak of the business. Well, listen. I have purchased Los Cuervos,
and here is the deed."
"But it has never been recorded," said Poindexter, with a carelessness
he was far from feeling.
"Of a verity, no. Do you wish that I should record it?" asked Don José,
with a return of his simple gravity.
Poindexter bit his lip. "You said we were to talk like gentlemen," he
returned. "Do you think you have come into possession of this alleged
deed like a gentleman?"
Don José shrugged his shoulders, "I found it tossed in the lap of a
harlot. I bought it for a song. Eh, what would you?"
"Would you sell it again for a song?" asked Poindexter.
"Ah! what is this?" said Don José, lifting his iron-gray brows; "but a
moment ago we would sell everything, for any money. Now we would buy.
Is it so?"
"One moment, Don José," said Poindexter, with a baleful light in his
dark eyes. "Do I understand that you are the ally of Spencer Tucker and
his mistress, that you intend to turn this doubly betrayed wife from
the only roof she has to cover her?"
"Ah, I comprehend not. You heard her say she wished to go. Perhaps it
may please me to distribute largess to these cattle yonder, I do not
say no. More she does not ask. But you, Don Marco, of whom are you
advocate? You abandon your client's mistress for the wife, is it so?"
"What I may do you will learn hereafter," said Poindexter, who had
regained his composure, suddenly reining up his horse. "As our paths
seem likely to diverge, they had better begin now. Good morning."
"Patience, my friend, patience! Ah, blessed St. Anthony, what these
Americans are! Listen. For what you shall do, I do not inquire. The
question is to me what I"—he emphasized the pronoun by tapping himself
on the breast—"I, José Santierra, will do. Well, I shall tell you.
To-day, nothing. To-morrow, nothing. For a week, for a month, nothing!
After, we shall see."
Poindexter paused thoughtfully. "Will you give your word, Don José,
that you will not press the claim for a month?"
"Truly, on one condition. Observe! I do not ask you for an equal
promise, that you will not take this time to defend yourself." He
shrugged his shoulder. "No! It is only this. You shall promise that
during that time the Señora Tucker shall remain ignorant of this
Poindexter hesitated a moment. "I promise," he said at last.
"Good. Adios, Don Marco."
"Adios, Don José"
The Spaniard put spurs to his mustang and galloped off in the direction
of Los Gatos. The lawyer remained for a moment gazing on his retreating
but victorious figure. For the first time the old look of humorous
toleration with which Mr. Poindexter was in the habit of regarding all
human infirmity gave way to something like bitterness. "I might have
guessed it," he said, with a slight rise of color. "He's an old fool;
and she—well, perhaps it's all the better for her!" He glanced
backwards almost tenderly in the direction of Los Cuervos, and then
turned his head towards the embarcadero.
As the afternoon wore on, a creaking, antiquated oxcart arrived at Los
Cuervos, bearing several articles of furniture, and some tasteful
ornaments from Los Gatos, at the same time that a young Mexican girl
mysteriously appeared in the kitchen, as a temporary assistant to the
decrepit Concha. These were both clearly attributable to Don José,
whose visit was not so remote but that these delicate attentions might
have been already projected before Mrs. Tucker had declined them, and
she could not, without marked discourtesy, return them now. She did not
wish to seem discourteous; she would like to have been more civil to
this old gentleman, who still retained the evidences of a picturesque
and decorous past, and a repose so different from the life that was
perplexing her. Reflecting that if he bought the estate these things
would be ready to his hand, and with a woman's instinct recognizing
their value in setting off the house to other purchasers' eyes, she
took a pleasure in tastefully arranging them, and even found herself
speculating how she might have enjoyed them herself had she been able
to keep possession of the property. After all, it would not have been
so lonely if refined and gentle neighbors, like this old man, would
have sympathized with her; she had an instinctive feeling that, in
their own hopeless decay and hereditary unfitness for this new
civilization, they would have been more tolerant of her husband's
failure than his own kind. She could not believe that Don José really
hated her husband for buying of the successful claimant, as there was
no other legal title. Allowing herself to become interested in the
guileless gossip of the new handmaiden, proud of her broken English,
she was drawn into a sympathy with the grave simplicity of Don José's
character, a relic of that true nobility which placed this descendant
of the Castilians and the daughter of a free people on the same level.
In this way the second day of her occupancy of Los Cuervos closed, with
dumb clouds along the gray horizon, and the paroxysms of hysterical
wind growing fainter and fainter outside the walls; with the moon
rising after nightfall, and losing itself in silent and mysterious
confidences with drifting scud. She went to bed early, but woke past
midnight, hearing, as she thought, her own name called. The impression
was so strong upon her that she rose, and, hastily enwrapping herself,
went to the dark embrasures of the oven-shaped windows, and looked out.
The dwarfed oak beside the window was still dropping from a past
shower, but the level waste of marsh and meadow beyond seemed to
advance and recede with the coming and going of the moon. Again she
heard her name called, and this time in accents so strangely familiar
that with a slight cry she ran into the corridor, crossed the patio,
and reached the open gate. The darkness that had, even in this brief
interval, again fallen upon the prospect she tried in vain to pierce
with eye and voice. A blank silence followed. Then the veil was
suddenly withdrawn; the vast plain, stretching from the mountain to the
sea, shone as clearly as in the light of day; the moving current of the
channel glittered like black pearls, the stagnant pools like molten
lead; but not a sign of life nor motion broke the monotony of the broad
expanse. She must have surely dreamed it. A chill wind drove her back
to the house again; she entered her bedroom, and in half an hour she
was in a peaceful sleep.
The two men kept their secret. Mr. Poindexter convinced Mrs. Tucker
that the sale of Los Cuervos could not be effected until the notoriety
of her husband's flight had been fairly forgotten, and she was forced
to accept her fate. The sale of her diamonds, which seemed to her to
have realized a singularly extravagant sum, enabled her to quietly
reinstate the Pattersons in the tienda and to discharge in full her
husband's liabilities to the rancheros and his humbler retainers.
Meanwhile the winter rains had ceased. It seemed to her as if the
clouds had suddenly one night struck their white tents and stolen away,
leaving the unvanquished sun to mount the vacant sky the next morning
alone, and possess it thenceforward unchallenged. One afternoon she
thought the long sad waste before her window had caught some tint of
grayer color from the sunset; a week later she found it a blazing
landscape of poppies, broken here and there by blue lagoons of lupine,
by pools of daisies, by banks of dog-roses, by broad outlying shores of
dandelions that scattered their lavish gold to the foot of the hills,
where the green billows of wild oats carried it on and upwards to the
darker crests of pines. For two months she was dazzled and bewildered
with color. She had never before been face to face with this
spendthrift Californian Flora, in her virgin wastefulness, her more
than goddess-like prodigality. The teeming earth seemed to quicken and
throb beneath her feet; the few circuits of a plow around the outlying
corral was enough to call out a jungle growth of giant grain that
almost hid the low walls of the hacienda. In this glorious fecundity
of the earth, in this joyous renewal of life and color, in this opulent
youth and freshness of soil and sky, it alone remained, the dead and
sterile Past, left in the midst of buoyant rejuvenescence and
resurrection, like an empty churchyard skull upturned on the springing
turf. Its bronzed adobe walls mocked the green vine that embraced them,
the crumbling dust of its courtyard remained ungerminating and
unfruitful; to the thousand; stirring voices without, its dry lips
alone remained mute, unresponsive, and unchanged.
During this time Don José had become a frequent visitor at Los Cuervos,
bringing with him at first his niece and sister in a stately precision
of politeness that was not lost on the proud Blue Grass stranger. She
returned their visit at Los Gatos, and there made the formal
acquaintance of Don José's grandmother, a lady who still regarded the
decrepit Concha as a giddy muchacha, and who herself glittered as
with the phosphorescence of refined decay. Through this circumstance
she learned that Don José was not yet fifty, and that his gravity of
manner and sedateness was more the result of fastidious isolation and
temperament than years. She could not tell why the information gave her
a feeling of annoyance, but it caused her to regret the absence of
Poindexter, and to wonder, also somewhat nervously, why he had lately
avoided her presence. The thought that he might be doing so from a
recollection of the innuendoes of Mrs. Patterson caused a little tremor
of indignation in her pulses. "As if"—but she did not finish the
sentence even to herself, and her eyes filled with bitter tears.
Yet she had thought of the husband who had so cruelly wronged her less
feverishly, less impatiently than before. For she thought she loved him
now the more deeply, because, although she was not reconciled to his
absence, it seemed to keep alive the memory of what he had been before
his one wild act separated them. She had never seen the reflection of
another woman's eyes in his; the past contained no haunting
recollection of waning or alienated affection; she could meet him
again, and, clasping her arms around him, awaken as if from a troubled
dream without reproach or explanation. Her strong belief in this made
her patient; she no longer sought to know the particulars of his
flight, and never dreamed that her passive submission to his absence
was partly due to a fear that something in his actual presence at that
moment would have destroyed that belief forever.
For this reason the delicate reticence of the people at Los Gatos, and
their seclusion from the world which knew of her husband's fault, had
made her encourage the visits of Don José, until from the instinct
already alluded to she one day summoned Poindexter to Los Cuervos, on
the day that Don José usually called. But to her surprise the two men
met more or less awkwardly and coldly, and her tact as hostess was
tried to the utmost to keep their evident antagonism from being too
apparent. The effort to reconcile their mutual discontent, and some
other feeling she did not quite understand, produced a nervous
excitement which called the blood to her cheek and gave a dangerous
brilliancy to her eyes, two circumstances not unnoticed nor
unappreciated by her two guests. But instead of reuniting them, the
prettier Mrs. Tucker became, the more distant and reserved grew the
men, until Don José rose before his usual hour, and with more than
usual ceremoniousness departed.
"Then my business does not seem to be with him!" said Poindexter,
with quiet coolness, as Mrs. Tucker turned her somewhat mystified face
towards him. "Or have you anything to say to me about him in private?"
"I am sure I don't know what you both mean," she returned with a slight
tremor of voice. "I had no idea you were not on good terms. I thought
you were! It's very awkward." Without coquetry and unconsciously she
raised her blue eyes under her lids until the clear pupils coyly and
softly hid themselves in the corners of the brown lashes, and added,
"You have both been so kind to me."
"Perhaps that is the reason," said Poindexter, gravely. But Mrs. Tucker
refused to accept the suggestion with equal gravity, and began to
laugh. The laugh, which was at first frank, spontaneous, and almost
child-like, was becoming hysterical and nervous as she went on, until
it was suddenly checked by Poindexter.
"I have had no difficulties with Don José Santierra," he said, somewhat
coldly ignoring her hilarity, "but perhaps he is not inclined to be as
polite to the friend of the husband as he is to the wife."
"Mr. Poindexter!" said Mrs. Tucker quickly, her face becoming pale
"I beg your pardon!" said Poindexter, flushing; "but"—
"You want to say," she interrupted coolly, "that you are not friends, I
see. Is that the reason why you have avoided this house?" she continued
"I thought I could be of more service to you elsewhere," he replied
evasively. "I have been lately following up a certain clue rather
closely. I think I am on the track of a confidante of—of—that woman."
A quick shadow passed over Mrs. Tucker's face. "Indeed!" she said
coldly. "Then I am to believe that you prefer to spend your leisure
moments in looking after that creature to calling here?"
Poindexter was stupefied. Was this the woman who only four months ago
was almost vindictively eager to pursue her husband's paramour! There
could be but one answer to it—Don José! Four months ago he would have
smiled compassionately at it from his cynical preeminence. Now he
managed with difficulty to stifle the bitterness of his reply.
"If you do not wish the inquiry carried on," he began, "of course"—
"I? What does it matter to me?" she said coolly. "Do as you please."
Nevertheless, half an hour later, as he was leaving, she said, with a
certain hesitating timidity, "Do not leave me so much alone here, and
let that woman go."
This was not the only unlooked-for sequel to her innocent desire to
propitiate her best friends. Don José did not call again upon his usual
day, but in his place came Doña Clara, his younger sister. When Mrs.
Tucker had politely asked after the absent Don José, Doña Clara wound
her swarthy arms around the fair American's waist and replied, "But why
did you send for the abogado Poindexter when my brother called?"
"But Captain Poindexter calls as one of my friends," said the amazed
Mrs. Tucker. "He is a gentleman, and has been a soldier and an
officer," she added with some warmth.
"Ah, yes, a soldier of the law, what you call an oficial de policia,
a chief of gendarmes, my sister, but not a gentleman—a camarero to
protect a lady."
Mrs. Tucker would have uttered a hasty reply, but the perfect and
good-natured simplicity of Doña Clara withheld her. Nevertheless, she
treated Don José with a certain reserve at their next meeting, until it
brought the simple-minded Castilian so dangerously near the point of
demanding an explanation which implied too much that she was obliged to
restore him temporarily to his old footing. Meantime she had a
brilliant idea. She would write to Calhoun Weaver, whom she had avoided
since that memorable day. She would say she wished to consult him. He
would come to Los Cuervos; he might suggest something to lighten this
weary waiting; at least she would show them all that she had still old
friends. Yet she did not dream of returning to her Blue Grass home; her
parents had died since she left; she shrank from the thought of
dragging her ruined life before the hopeful youth of her girlhood's
Mr. Calhoun Weaver arrived promptly, ostentatiously, oracularly, and
cordially, but a little coarsely. He had—did she remember?—expected
this from the first. Spercer had lost his head through vanity, and had
attempted too much. It required foresight and firmness, as he
himself—who had lately made successful "combinations" which she might
perhaps have heard of—well knew. But Spencer had got the "big head."
"As to that woman—a devilish handsome woman too!—well, everybody knew
that Spencer always had a weakness that way, and he would say—but if
she didn't care to hear any more about her—well, perhaps she was
right. That was the best way to take it." Sitting before her,
prosperous, weak, egotistical, incompetent, unavailable, and yet filled
with a vague kindliness of intent, Mrs. Tucker loathed him. A sickening
perception of her own weakness in sending for him, a new and aching
sense of her utter isolation and helplessness, seemed to paralyze her.
"Nat'rally you feel bad," he continued, with the large air of a
profound student of human nature. "Nat'rally, nat'rally you're kept in
an uncomfortable state, not knowing jist how you stand. There ain't but
one thing to do. Jist rise up, quiet like, and get a divorce agin
Spencer. Hold on! There ain't a judge or jury in California that
wouldn't give it to you right off the nail, without asking questions.
Why, you'd get it by default if you wanted to; you'd just have to walk
over the course! And then, Belle," he drew his chair still nearer her,
"when you've settled down again—well!—I don't mind renewing that
offer I once made ye, before Spencer ever came round ye—I don't mind,
Belle, I swear I don't! Honest Injin! I'm in earnest, there's my hand."
Mrs. Tucker's reply has not been recorded. Enough that half an hour
later Mr. Weaver appeared in the courtyard with traces of tears on his
foolish face, a broken falsetto voice, and other evidence of mental and
moral disturbance. His cordiality and oracular predisposition remained
sufficiently to enable him to suggest the magical words "Blue Grass"
mysteriously to Concha, with an indication of his hand to the erect
figure of her pale mistress in the doorway, who waved to him a silent
but half compassionate farewell.
At about this time a slight change in her manner was noticed by the few
who saw her more frequently. Her apparently invincible girlishness of
spirit had given way to a certain matronly seriousness. She applied
herself to her household cares and the improvement of the hacienda
with a new sense of duty and a settled earnestness, until by degrees
she wrought into it not only her instinctive delicacy and taste, but
part of her own individuality. Even the rude rancheros and tradesmen
who were permitted to enter the walls in the exercise of their calling
began to speak mysteriously of the beauty of this garden of the
almarjal. She went out but seldom, and then accompanied by one or the
other of her female servants, in long drives on unfrequented roads. On
Sundays she sometimes drove to the half ruined mission church of Santa
Inez, and hid herself, during mass, in the dim monastic shadows of the
choir. Gradually the poorer people whom she met in these journeys began
to show an almost devotional reverence for her, stopping in the roads
with uncovered heads for her to pass, or making way for her in the
tienda or plaza of the wretched town with dumb courtesy. She began
to feel a strange sense of widowhood, that, while it at times brought
tears to her eyes, was not without a certain tender solace. In the
sympathy and simpleness of this impulse she went as far as to revive
the mourning she had worn for her parents, but with such a fatal
accenting of her beauty, and dangerous misinterpreting of her condition
to eligible bachelors strange to the country, that she was obliged to
put it off again. Her reserved and dignified manner caused others to
mistake her nationality for that of the Santierras, and in "Doña Bella"
the simple Mrs. Tucker was for a while forgotten. At times she even
forgot it herself. Accustomed now almost entirely to the accents of
another language and the features of another race, she would sit for
hours in the corridor, whose massive bronzed enclosure even her
tasteful care could only make an embowered mausoleum of the Past, or
gaze abstractedly from the dark embrasures of her windows across the
stretching almarjal to the shining lagoon beyond that terminated the
estuary. She had a strange fondness for this tranquil mirror, which
under sun or stars always retained the passive reflex of the sky above,
and seemed to rest her weary eyes. She had objected to one of the plans
projected by Poindexter to redeem the land and deepen the water at the
embarcadero, as it would have drained the lagoon, and the lawyer had
postponed the improvement to gratify her fancy. So she kept it through
the long summer unchanged save by the shadows of passing wings or the
lazy files of sleeping sea-fowl.
On one of these afternoons she noticed a slowly moving carriage leave
the highroad and cross the almarjal skirting the edge of the lagoon.
If it contained visitors for Los Cuervos they had evidently taken a
shorter cut without waiting to go on to the regular road which
intersected the highway at right angles a mile farther on. It was with
some sense of annoyance and irritation that she watched the trespass,
and finally saw the vehicle approach the house. A few moments later the
servant informed her that Mr. Patterson would like to see her alone.
When she entered the corridor, which in the dry season served as a
reception hall, she was surprised to see that Patterson was not alone.
Near him stood a well-dressed handsome woman, gazing about her with
good-humored admiration of Mrs. Tucker's taste and ingenuity.
"It don't look much like it did two years ago," said the stranger
cheerfully. "You've improved it wonderfully."
Stiffening slightly, Mrs. Tucker turned inquiringly to Mr. Patterson.
But that gentleman's usual profound melancholy appeared to be
intensified by the hilarity of his companion. He only sighed deeply and
rubbed his leg with the brim of his hat in gloomy abstraction.
"Well! go on, then," said the woman, laughing and nudging him. "Go
on—introduce me—can't you? Don't stand there like a tombstone. You
won't? Well, I'll introduce myself." She laughed again, and then, with
an excellent imitation of Patterson's lugubrious accents, said, "Mr.
Spencer Tucker's wife that is, allow me to introduce you to Mr.
Spencer Tucker's sweetheart that was! Hold on! I said that was. For
true as I stand here, ma'am—and I reckon I wouldn't stand here if it
wasn't true—I haven't set eyes on him since the day he left you."
"It's the gospel truth, every word," said Patterson, stirred into a
sudden activity by Mrs. Tucker's white and rigid face. "It's the frozen
truth, and I kin prove it. For I kin swear that when that there young
woman was sailin' outer the Golden Gate, Spencer Tucker was in my
bar-room; I kin swear that I fed him, lickered him, give him a hoss and
set him in his road to Monterey that very night."
"Then, where is he now?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly facing them.
They looked at each other, and then looked at Mrs. Tucker. Then both
together replied slowly and in perfect unison,
"That's—what—we—want—to—know." They seemed so satisfied with this
effect that they as deliberately repeated,
Between the shock of meeting the partner of her husband's guilt and the
unexpected revelation to her inexperience, that in suggestion and
appearance there was nothing beyond the recollection of that guilt that
was really shocking in the woman—between the extravagant extremes of
hope and fear suggested by their words, there was something so
grotesquely absurd in the melodramatic chorus that she with difficulty
suppressed an hysterical laugh.
"That's the way to take it," said the woman, putting her own
good-humored interpretation upon Mrs. Tucker's expression. "Now, look
here! I'll tell you all about it," She carefully selected the most
comfortable chair, and sitting down, lightly crossed her hands in her
lap. "Well, I left here on the 13th of last January on the ship Argo,
calculating that your husband would join the ship just inside the
Heads. That was our arrangement, but if anything happened to prevent
him, he was to join me at Acapulco. Well! he didn't come aboard, and we
sailed without him. But it appears now he did attempt to join the ship,
but his boat was capsized. There now, don't be alarmed! he wasn't
drowned, as Patterson can swear to—no, catch him! not a hair of him
was hurt. But I—I was bundled off to the end of the earth in
Mexico alone, without a cent to bless me. For true as you live, that
hound of a captain, when he found, as he thought, that Spencer was
nabbed, he just confiscated all his trunks and valuables and left me in
the lurch. If I had not met a man down there that offered to marry me
and brought me here, I might have died there, I reckon. But I did, and
here I am. I went down there as your husband's sweetheart, I've come
back as the wife of an honest man, and I reckon it's about square!"
There was something so startlingly frank, so hopelessly self-satisfied,
so contagiously good-humored in the woman's perfect moral
unconsciousness, that even if Mrs. Tucker had been less preoccupied her
resentment would have abated. But her eyes were fixed on the gloomy
face of Patterson, who was beginning to unlock the sepulchers of his
memory and disinter his deeply buried thoughts.
"You kin bet your whole pile on what this Mrs. Capting Baxter—ez used
to be French Inez of New Orleans—hez told ye. Ye kin take everything
she's onloaded. And it's only doin' the square thing to her to say, she
hain't done it out o' no cussedness, but just to satisfy herself, now
she's a married woman and past such foolishness. But that ain't neither
here nor there. The gist of the whole matter is that Spencer Tucker was
at the tienda the day after she sailed and after his boat capsized."
He then gave a detailed account of the interview, with the unnecessary
but truthful minutiae of his class, adding to the particulars already
known that the following week he visited the Summit House and was
surprised to find that Spencer had never been there, nor had he ever
sailed from Monterey.
"But why was this not told to me before?" said Mrs. Tucker, suddenly.
"Why not at the time? Why," she demanded almost fiercely, turning from
the one to the other, "has this been kept from me?"
"I'll tell ye why," said Patterson, sinking with crashed submission
into a chair. "When I found he wasn't where he ought to be, I got to
lookin' elsewhere. I knew the track of the hoss I lent him by a loose
shoe. I examined, and found he had turned off the highroad somewhere
beyond the lagoon, jist as if he was makin' a bee line here."
"Well," said Mrs. Tucker breathlessly.
"Well," said Patterson, with the resigned tone of an accustomed martyr,
"mebbe I'm a God-forsaken idiot, but I reckon he did come yer. And
mebbe I'm that much of a habitooal lunatic, but thinking so, I
calkilated you'd know it without tellin'."
With their eyes fixed upon her, Mrs. Tucker felt the quick blood rush
to her cheeks, although she knew not why. But they were apparently
satisfied with her ignorance, for Patterson resumed, yet more gloomily:
"Then if he wasn't hidin' here beknownst to you, he must have changed
his mind agin and got away by the embarcadero. The only thing wantin'
to prove that idea is to know how he got a boat, and what he did with
the hoss. And thar's one more idea, and ez that can't be proved,"
continued Patterson, sinking his voice still lower, "mebbe it's
accordin' to God's laws."
Unsympathetic to her as the speaker had always been and still was, Mrs.
Tucker felt a vague chill creep over her that seemed to be the result
of his manner more than his words. "And that idea is—?" she suggested
with pale lips.
"It's this! Fust, I don't say it means much to anybody but me. I've
heard of these warnings afore now, ez comin' only to folks ez hear them
for themselves alone, and I reckon I kin stand it, if it's the will o'
God. The idea is then—that—Spencer Tucker—was drownded in that
boat; the idea is"—his voice was almost lost in a hoarse
whisper—"that it was no living man that kem to me that night, but a
spirit that kem out of the darkness and went back into it! No eye saw
him but mine—no ears heard him but mine. I reckon it weren't intended
it should." He paused, and passed the flap of his hat across his eyes.
"The pie, you'll say, is agin it," he continued in the same tone of
voice,—"the whiskey is agin it—a few cuss words that dropped from
him, accidental like, may have been agin it. All the same they mout
have been only the little signs and tokens that it was him."
But Mrs. Baxter's ready laugh somewhat rudely dispelled the infection
of Patterson's gloom. "I reckon the only spirit was that which you and
Spencer consumed," she said, cheerfully. "I don't wonder you're a
little mixed. Like as not you've misunderstood his plans."
Patterson shook his head. "He'll turn up yet, alive and kicking! Like
as not, then, Poindexter knows where he is all the time."
"Impossible! He would have told me," said Mrs. Tucker, quickly.
Mrs. Baxter looked at Patterson without speaking. Patterson replied by
a long lugubrious whistle.
"I don't understand you," said Mrs. Tucker, drawing back with cold
"You don't?" returned Mrs. Baxter. "Bless your innocent heart! Why was
he so keen to hunt me up at first, shadowing my friends and all that,
and why has he dropped it now he knows I'm here, if he didn't know
where Spencer was?"
"I can explain that," interrupted Mrs. Tucker, hastily, with a blush of
confusion. "That is—I"—
"Then mebbe you kin explain too," broke in Patterson with gloomy
significance, "why he has bought up most of Spencer's debts himself,
and perhaps you're satisfied it is n't to hold the whip hand of him
and keep him from coming back openly. Pr'aps you know why he's movin'
heaven and earth to make Don José Santierra sell the ranch, and why the
Don don't see it all."
"Don José sell Los Cuervos! Buy it, you mean?" said Mrs. Tucker. "I
offered to sell it to him."
Patterson arose from the chair, looked despairingly around him, passed
his hand sadly across his forehead, and said: "It's come! I knew it
would. It's the warning! It's suthing betwixt jim-jams and doddering
idjiocy. Here I'd hev been willin' to swear that Mrs. Baxter here told
me she had sold this yer ranch nearly two years ago to Don José, and
"Stop!" said Mrs. Tucker, in a voice that chilled them.
She was standing upright and rigid, as if stricken to stone. "I command
you to tell me what this means!" she said, turning only her blazing
eyes upon the woman.
Even the ready smile faded from Mrs. Baxter's lips as she replied
hesitatingly and submissively: "I thought you knew already that Spencer
had given this ranch to me. I sold it to Don José to get the money for
us to go away with. It was Spencer's idea"—
"You lie!" said Mrs. Tucker.
There was a dead silence. The wrathful blood that had quickly mounted
to Mrs. Baxter's cheek, to Patterson's additional bewilderment, faded
as quickly. She did not lift her eyes again to Mrs. Tucker's, but,
slowly raising herself from her seat, said, "I wish to God I did lie;
but it's true. And it's true that I never touched a cent of the money,
but gave it all to him!" She laid her hand on Patterson's arm, and
said, "Come! let us go," and led him a few steps toward the gateway.
But here Patterson paused, and again passed his hand over his
melancholy brow. The necessity of coherently and logically closing the
conversation impressed itself upon his darkening mind. "Then you don't
happen to have heard anything of Spencer?" he said sadly, and vanished
with Mrs. Baxter through the gate.
Left alone to herself, Mrs. Tucker raised her hands above her head with
a little cry, interlocked her rigid fingers, and slowly brought her
palms down upon her upturned face and eyes, pressing hard as if to
crush out all light and sense of life before her. She stood thus for a
moment motionless and silent, with the rising wind whispering without
and flecking her white morning dress with gusty shadows from the arbor.
Then, with closed eyes, dropping her hands to her breast, still
pressing hard, she slowly passed them down the shapely contours of her
figure to the waist, and with another cry cast them off as if she were
stripping herself of some loathsome garment. Then she walked quickly to
the gateway, looked out, returned to the corridor, unloosening and
taking off her wedding-ring from her finger as she walked. Here she
paused, then slowly and deliberately rearranged the chairs and adjusted
the gay-colored rugs that draped them, and quietly reëntered her
Two days afterwards the sweating steed of Captain Poindexter was turned
loose in the corral, and a moment later the captain entered the
corridor. Handing a letter to the decrepit Concha, who seemed to be
utterly disorganized by its contents and the few curt words with which
it was delivered, he gazed silently upon the vacant bower, still fresh
and redolent with the delicacy and perfume of its graceful occupant,
until his dark eyes filled with unaccustomed moisture. But his reverie
was interrupted by the sound of jingling spurs without, and the old
humor struggled back into his eyes as Don José impetuously entered. The
Spaniard started back, but instantly recovered himself.
"So, I find you here. Ah! it is well!" he said passionately, producing
a letter from his bosom. "Look! Do you call this honor? Look how you
keep your compact!"
Poindexter coolly took the letter. It contained a few words of gentle
dignity from Mrs. Tucker, informing Don José that she had only that
instant learned of his just claims upon Los Cuervos, tendering him her
gratitude for his delicate intentions, but pointing out with respectful
firmness that he must know that a moment's further acceptance of his
courtesy was impossible.
"She has gained this knowledge from no word of mine," said Poindexter,
calmly. "Right or wrong, I have kept my promise to you. I have as much
reason to accuse you of betraying my secret in this," he added coldly,
as he took another letter from his pocket and handed it to Don José.
It seemed briefer and colder, but was neither. It reminded Poindexter
that as he had again deceived her she must take the government of her
affairs in her own hands henceforth. She abandoned all the furniture
and improvements she had put in Los Cuervos to him, to whom she now
knew she was indebted for them. She could not thank him for what his
habitual generosity impelled him to do for any woman, but she could
forgive him for misunderstanding her like any other woman, perhaps she
should say, like a child. When he received this she would be already on
her way to her old home in Kentucky, where she still hoped to be able
by her own efforts to amass enough to discharge her obligations to him.
"She does not speak of her husband, this woman," said Don José,
scanning Poindexter's face. "It is possible she rejoins him, eh?"
"Perhaps in one way she has never left him, Don José," said Poindexter,
with grave significance.
Don José's face flushed, but he returned carelessly, "And the rancho,
naturally you will not buy it now?"
"On the contrary, I shall abide by my offer," said Poindexter, quietly.
Don José eyed him narrowly, and then said, "Ah, we shall consider of
He did consider it, and accepted the offer. With the full control of
the land, Captain Poindexter's improvements, so indefinitely postponed,
were actively pushed forward. The thick walls of the hacienda were
the first to melt away before them; the low lines of corral were
effaced, and the early breath of the summer trade winds swept
uninterruptedly across the now leveled plain to the embarcadero,
where a newer structure arose. A more vivid green alone marked the spot
where the crumbling adobe walls of the casa had returned to the
parent soil that gave it. The channel was deepened, the lagoon was
drained, until one evening the magic mirror that had so long reflected
the weary waiting of the Blue Grass Penelope lay dull, dead,
lusterless, an opaque quagmire of noisome corruption and decay to be
put away from the sight of man forever. On this spot the crows, the
titular tenants of Los Cuervos, assembled in tumultuous congress,
coming and going in mysterious clouds, or laboring in thick and
writhing masses, as if they were continuing the work of improvement
begun by human agency. So well had they done the work that by the end
of a week only a few scattered white objects remained glittering on the
surface of the quickly drying soil. But they were the bones of the
missing outcast, Spencer Tucker!
The same spring a breath of war swept over a foul, decaying quagmire of
the whole land, before which such passing deeds as these were blown as
vapor. It called men of all rank and condition to battle for a nation's
life, and among the first to respond were those into whose boyish hands
had been placed the nation's honor. It returned the epaulets to
Poindexter's shoulder with the addition of a double star, carried him
triumphantly to the front, and left him, at the end of a summer's day
and a hard-won fight, sorely wounded, at the door of a Blue Grass
farmhouse. And the woman who sought him out and ministered to his wants
said timidly, as she left her hand in his, "I told you I should live to