Slike strani
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

LD SAM carefully closed the broken-down prospector, gnarled and cripcabin door, and peered around pled with rheumatism and decrepit with him in the dim light of the dy- age, and had given him not only food and ing fire.

shelter, but a companionship and trust"You here, Jack?” he asked.

fulness such as Sam had never known. “Yes, Sam," came from a shadowy bulk What if the neighbors did say he was a near the window that unfolded itself into counterfeiter, an escaped convict, or even the semblance of a man and came forward a murderer in hiding? To Sam he was to meet the newcomer. “Wait till I strike a paragon of learning and manly virtue, a light,” he added in a soft, drawling and he loved and trusted him with dogvoice. "Did you get the papers and maga- like devotion. For ten years Sam had zines for me?”

formed the only link between Jack and "I got one of every kind they had in civilization. Together they eked a living town,” replied Sam. “They ought to last out of the little garden on the bank of the you for a few days."

river. Jack did the greater part of the Jack laughed as he untied the roll of work, and Sam carried the fruit and vegepapers. In the flickering light his eyes- tables to a little mining town five miles the deep, warm eyes of a dreamer, shone away. eager with anticipation.

"I got three dollars for the garden sass “They told me at the store that they at the store to-day,” announced Sam, as were going to begin work on the road he deposited the money on the table. along here in a day or so," announced Sam "Well, you know where it is when you as he began puttering about the cook need any; just help yourself,” said Jack, stove.

as he placed the money inside the clock. “That so?” asked Jack, reflectively, and Sam grinned sheepishly. There had been he forgot the papers and fell into a a time when every cent he could lay his brown study.

hands on went for drink, but not for "That road has menaced my seclusion worlds would he have touched that money. for a long time," he mused aloud.

With his trust and kindness, Jack had “Never you mind,” said Sam, who was bound him to himself, body and soul. always on the alert to catch the slightest

over, the dishes sound from Jack; “you don't need to let cleared away, and the chores done, he any of those fresh city guys come around came in and took his place beside Jack in here in their automobiles pestering you. front of the fire. "How you feeling toAs long as I'm around I'll send them night?” he asked anxiously. about their business in short order, and “Not so very good, Sam. My arms have you can bet on that."

had that dumb feeling all day to-day Sam had long known that a mystery again. I wonder if it can be some kind hung about this man, "Jack the Recluse." of paralysis coming on me.”

Sam rose the neighbors called him. Rumors of and got down a bottle from the shelf. various kinds reached his ears, and he “Let me rub it with this liniment. Last was made the object of all sorts of ques- time you said you thought it did them tions in regard to Jack, but he always good.” Jack smiled indulgently, as he maintained a stolid indifference and pre- bared his arm, and let Jack rub on the tended to know even less than he really burning liquid. did. Jack had taken him in,

old "You ain't reading much this evening,"

a poor

After supper


[ocr errors]


commented Sam.

all the creeds in the universe. I came to “No, Sam, this road business has set the conclusion that it was for me to do me thinking. I suppose you have often away with myself, somehow, and leave her wondered why I lived out here like this?” free to marry him. That was the only

Sam was startled. In all the ten years thing that would save her from worse. of his life with Jack, never before had he I took a boat and went out on the river one heard him make any allusion to his past. wild night. I had thought over all the

“Yes, sir-no, sir," he stammered in different ways, and concluded that that his confusion. “I don't care. I know would cause her the least trouble. My they say all sorts of things around here, overturned boat would be found in the but I never took no stock in any of it." morning and that would be all. I had the Sam was anxious to make Jack feel that courage to tip the boat over, but someway he, at least, was loyal to him, whatever I couldn't drown—it just wasn't to be. his crime.

I was washed up on a little sand-bar near “It was all on account of a woman, the shore, and waded out. Somehow I Sam.”

couldn't try it again. I knew they would Sam sniffed. His knowledge of women find the overturned boat and think that was exceedingly slight, and his opinion of my body had been swept out to sea. It the sex anything but flattering.

wasn't right, Sam, but some way, I just “Women is the root and branch of all couldn't try it again. I cut through the evil,” he announced with the air of know- country and came up here, and I've got ledge and finality of one who

a little out of life, for I always have the Clearly the matter was beyond the dispute memory of the days when Barbara and I of any sensible person.

were happy. Sometimes I think I did "She was my wife,” continued Jack, right, Sam, and sometimes I think I may smiling at the interruption. “I was the be doing her the greatest wrong in the superintendent of a mill down near the werld. I haven't heard of her since-I mouth of this very river, many miles from couldn't bear to know." here. She was the daughter of one of Sam rubbed the arm, and there was a the owners. I made up my mind the day hint of tears in his watery old eyes. He I first saw her that she was the girl I was full of resentment at that woman for was going to marry.

She seemed to care spoiling a life as good as Jack's. How for me, too, in those days. Her father could a woman not care for him!-and didn't like it much, but Barbara always yet, that was the way of women-vamhad her way, and so we were married. We pires, all of them. He tried to think of got along all right for about a year, and something to say—something that would then a new man came to town to take comfort the man he worshipped, but he charge of the office. He was handsome could think of nothing but maledictions and dashing and seemed to take a notion against his wife, and so both were silent, to Barbara from the start. At first she gazing into the fire. didn't seem to much attention to him, but I saw after a while that she liked to Soon the road through the gap was comtalk to him and liked to have him around. pleted and became a very popular route Things got pretty bad. It was eating my for tourists going by automobile from heart out, but I didn't say anything to Juniper to Canon City, and Jack, though her for fear it would only make matters at first in a constant state of suspense, be

Then I heard they were planning came accustomed to the huge machines to run away together. At first all I could speeding past his very door, and found think of was killing them both, but I much amusement in sitting by the window thought it all out and found that I loved watching them. her too much for that—that poor little One afternoon, sitting alone in the Barbara must be happy at any cost, and gathering dusk—Sam had gone to town if I could not make her happy, I would and would not be home until late-Jack not stand in her way. Happiness is the was thrown into a panic at the sight of best thing in the world, Sam. There is a woman and little girl coming up the more religion in simple happiness than path toward the

[ocr errors]



house. When they



knocked, he wis still undecided as to "It stole my husband from me," she whether he would let them in or keep still answered sadly. and make them think that there was no “Is that so ?” said Jack, with a catch in ore at home. The temptation was too his voice. The conversation was taking strong, however—it had been ten years a turn that alarmed him. “I knew a man since Jack had talked to a woman, and that was drowned in the river, too, down then, teo, they might be in want. With near the mouth,” he ventured, unable to the impulse strong upon him, he threw resist the temptation to draw her on. open the door and stood face to face with "Did you? What was his name?" his wife. He shrank back into the gloom “James McDonald," he said, watching of the doorway, but there was no recogni- her closely. tion on her face, and he soon recovered "James McDonald," she cried, "that himself. Of course she would not know was my husband. Did you know him ?” him, thinking him dead, and with those "He was a friend of mine." ragged clothes, and with such a growth of The little girl put down her cup and shaggy hair all over his face.

came over to where he was sitting. “Could you give my little girl a cup of "Did you know my papa ?" she asked, hot milk?" asked the lady sweetly. “Our looking up at him with serious eyes that machine has broken down, and it will take he saw were like his own. the men some time to fix it. The little Her papa! For an instant Jack did not girl is so tired and cold.”

take in the full import of the words. He "Come in," said Jack, in a


put his arm around her and drew her strangely unlike his own. “We're all out close. of oil,” he murmured apologetically. He "Is this Jim McDonald's child ?” he was afraid of the light, afraid, too, that demanded of his wife. this dream might fade, “but I guess you The woman nodded. A mist was in her can manage to see by the firelight.”

eyes. "Yes," returned the woman, "it seems “What's her name?” he asked in a tense so cozy just as it is.” She tossed aside her whisper. rich fur coat and seated herself in Jack's "Nancy!” Nancy was his mother's chair. She was a handsome, middle-aged name. woman, but with much of the charm and In an ecstacy of tenderness he hugged sweetness of her girlhood still clinging the child close to him. “Tell me about about her.

papa,” she pleaded, her head pillowed With fingers that trembled, Jack heated against his ragged jumper. the milk for the little girl, who had seated “Nancy," broke in her mother, seeing herself demurely in a chair opposite her that the man was confused, "you must mother.

not bother this man after he has been so "I'm sorry I haven't got a bite of cake

kind to us. I have always taught her to or something like that to offer you,” said love her father," she explained. “I could he. “Won't you have some milk, too,” he not do otherwise, loving him so myself.” asked, half-timidly, as he held the glass Jack trembled with the intensity of his toward his wife.

feelings. Had his sacrifice, then, been "Yes,” she said, "I think it would rest vain ? Had Barbara not won the happi

ness he had sought for her at such a cost? Jack seated himself on a box in the Had these withered, fruitless years been shadows and watched her gloatingly as for nothing, and most of all, did Barbara she sipped the milk.

love him still? He longed to tell her all, "I hate to hear that river,” cried the to confess everything, but he looked at the woman, turning toward him suddenly. marks of luxury and refinement so evident

"It does make quite a noise by here," on her and on the child, and glanced he admitted; "but I am used to it-I around his bare, crude little home, and redon't even hear it any more. But why

frained. Could he ask her to come back should you hate to hear it ?” he asked, af- to this ? Could he take away the advanter a pause, during which he had turned tages and comforts of life from his child ? her words over and over in his mind. He was an old man, now, almost penniless,

me, too.”

[ocr errors]

and his chance in the world was gone. her back, then he staggered to the fire and Then, too, he thought of the scandal and sank reeling into the chair she had just talk the affair would create and probably vacated. He had let them go unknowing cling to them all the rest of their lives. —but he must tell her, he must let her No, he would not tell her. Besides, she be the judge, that was the only reparation had formed other ties. At the thought his

in his power. heart grew cold within him. Had he Three hours afterwards, Sam, returning wronged this woman that he loved better from town, found him still in his chair. than anything on earth-was he wronging Something unusual in his quietness

— her now?

alarmed Sam, and he spoke to him. He “You—you married again?” he asked, shook him, and Jack opened his eyes and after a long pause.

looked at him beseechingly. Then Sam “Yes," she answered.

knew that the fear that had haunted him “Tom LeRoy?”

so long had come true—Jack was hope"No," she answered quickly. "Why did lessly paralyzed. you ask that?”

For days, Sam tended him with the "Heard something to the effect once," gentle patience of a woman. Jack recorreplied Jack.

ered so that he could sit by the window "Did-did James tell you— did he think once more, but he never spoke again. He anything like that,” she cried breathlessly. would sit for hours with a look of dumb

"I can't just remember where I heard agony in his eyes. At last he made it it.”

known to Sam that he wished pencil and "Oh, if James ever thought anything paper. After that, for a long time, every like that!” she cried. "My foolishness has day he would make pathetic efforts to use hung over my head all these years.

his useless hands. Then he would give pleased and flattered to see how jealous I it up, and the tears would course down was making him—but I never cared for his withered cheeks. Sam knew that there any one but him—I can never forget.” was something on his mind, that he

Your husband," asked Jack, "hasn't wanted to write a letter, but he knew no he helped you forget?”

way to help him. He never knew what "My husband; yes, he is good to us. We the shock had been that brought on the have everything we want—but what we stroke, never knew of his wife's visit or want most.”

the agony that Jack was suffering every "But we must go,” she added, rising. hour of the day. "It has seemed good to talk to some one When at last the end came, and the who knew Jim. I would like to stay long, silent anguish was over, Sam found longer, but my husband would be im- among his things a paper leaving everypatient if he had to wait for us.” The thing to him, but aside from that, there little girl came, and putting her arms was nothing to give the slightest clue to about his neck, kissed him good-by. "I his identity or to that of his people. love you," she said, “because you knew Just “Jack the Recluse” was written on my papa.” He turned quickly back into the headboard where they buried him in the room so that they might not see his the little graveyard overlooking the river blinding tears. Twice he started to call —with only Sam to moạrn.

I was

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]





of her gray

HE COLONEL'S paper dropped himself indispensable as courier, guide,

by a scant inch, but enough so and, on occasion, porter.
that he could glance over its Irene's frank acceptance of cousinhood

charmed him in Paris; through Germany Irene's head was still bent over her the delightful comradeship it afforded was book. In her green dress she made him intoxicating; in the Alps it was now winthink of freshly unfolded ferns in some, now tantalizing. By the time they shaded nook by the side of a rock. When reached Rome it had become a detested she stirred it was as if a passing breeze barrier. Under the level gaze had stopped to caress them with a soft eyes his nascent loverlike demonstrations touch.

slunk back abashed. Tony, raking on the lawn from under- “Cousin, damn it, damn it!” he would neath his downcast lids, cast long and exclaim after a particularly trying season sympathetic gleams of light from his dark when beyond the reach of feminine ears. eyes, but Tony when he loved a maid The Colonel was an honorable man, a poured out his soul in the burning lan- man of his word, and he had an innate guage of his native land. The big fellow feeling that he was bound to stand by the on the porch sat helpless, stricken dumb, pact of kinship he had established. Had fluctuating between his desire to lay his she failed to keep it by but the flicker of heart at the feet of this calm, self-con- her dark lashes, he would have realized tained young woman and his unconquer- his opportunity. The slightest bit of coable fear lest some manifestation of his quetry would have released him and put feeling hetray his carefully guarded secret. him on a footing with other men. He

The Colonel, distinctly the outcome of would have become at once a suitor. his big, forceful, out-door life, was not He writhed helplessly in his bondage, all habitually vacillating. As a poor boy, he the while conscious that his schemes and had wrestled with crude nature, pitted his maneuvres were of no avail, that he was brains against others, and had won out. being out-flanked, out-generaled; that if He had promised himself to be a power he disposed his forces in open conflict he in his community and had made good. would be completely routed. A man of Wealthy, distinguished above his fellows, energy and decision he became a man of when the necessity for struggle no longer straw in all that concerned Irene. The existed, he found himself solitary. He slightest breath of her displeasure would determined on a holiday. As his battle- have bowled him over. field had been the broad, new, unworked Finally he persuaded the two ladies to portions of his own land, he turned to return to America and pass a winter in the Old World as affording the greatest California. In the place of his simple contrast and entertainment.

bachelor housekeeping, he set up an elaboIt was in Paris that Irene floated out rate establishment for their entertainof space into the line of his vision. Since ment. At the present moment between his then, life had been measured by the length studies of the stock market he was workof time between her appearances.

ing out a new plan of attack. He pulled He nursed the slender relationship be- at his mustache, ran his fingers through tween himself and her Lady Mother till his hair, cleared his throat, cast a furtive it assumed gigantic proportions. He fol- glance at the bowed head and fell back on lowed the two ladies over Europe, making the stock market with precipitate haste.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »