"Because you are foolish, I suppose, being born that way and unable to escape your heritage. For my part, I shall sleep in a bed; like a Christian," said the Major rather testily.
"Even Christian cannot sleep sometime," returned Wampus, leaning back in his seat and puffing a cloud of smoke into the clear night air. "For me, I am good Christian; but I am not martyr."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded the Major.
"Do you sometime gamble?" inquired Wampus softly.
"Not often, sir."
"But sometime? Ah! Then I make you a bet. I bet you ten dollar to one cent you not sleep in your bed to-night."
The Major coughed. Then he frowned.
"Is it so bad as that?" he asked.
"I think he is."
"I'll not believe it!" exclaimed Major Doyle. "This hotel isn't what you might call first-class, and can't rank with the Waldorf-Astoria; but I imagine the beds will be very comfortable."
"Once," said Wampus, "I have imagination, too. Now I have experience; so I sleep in automobile."
The Major walked away with an exclamation of impatience. He had never possessed much confidence in the Canadian's judgment and on this occasion he considered the fellow little wiser than a fool.
Wampus rolled himself in a rug and was about to stretch his moderate length upon the broad double seat when a pattering of footsteps was heard and Beth came up to the car. She was wrapped in a dark cloak and carried a bundle of clothing under one arm and her satchel in the unoccupied hand. There was a new moon which dimly lighted the scene, but as all the townspeople were now in bed and the hotel yard deserted there was no one to remark upon the girl's appearance.
"Wampus," she said, "let me into the limousine, please. The night is so perfect I've decided to sleep here in the car."
The chauffeur jumped down and opened the door.
"One moment an' I make up the beds for all," he said.
"Never mind that," Beth answered. "The others are all asleep, I'm sure."
Wampus shook his head.
"They all be here pretty soon," he predicted, and proceeded to deftly prepare the interior of the limousine for the expected party. When Beth had entered the car Wampus pitched the lean-to tent and arranged the cots as he was accustomed to do when they "camped out."
Scarcely had he completed this task when Patsy and Myrtle appeared. They began to explain their presence, but Wampus interrupted them, saying:
"All right, Miss Patsy an' Miss Myrtle. Your beds he made up an' Miss 'Lizbeth already asleep in him."
So they crept inside with sighs of relief, and Wampus had just mounted to the front seat again and disposed himself to rest when Uncle John trotted up, clad in his trousers and shirt, with the balance of his apparel clasped in his arms. He looked at the tent with pleased approval.
"Good boy, Wampus!" he exclaimed. "That room they gave me is an inferno. I'm afraid our young ladies won't sleep a wink."
"Oh, yes," returned Wampus with a nod; "all three now inside car, safe an' happy."
"I'm glad of it. How was your own room, Wampus?"
"I have not seen him, sir. But I have suspect him; so I sleep here."
"You are a wise chauffeur—a rare genus, in other words. Good night, Wampus. Where's the Major?"
"In hotel. Sir, do the Major swear sometime?"
Uncle John crept under the tent.
"If he does," he responded, "he's swearing this blessed minute. Anyhow, I'll guarantee he's not asleep."
Wampus again mounted to his perch.
"No use my try to sleep 'til Major he come," he muttered, and settled himself to wait.
It was not long.
Presently some one approached on a run, and a broad grin overspread the chauffeur's features. The Major had not delayed his escape long enough to don his trousers even; he had grabbed his belongings in both arms and fled in his blue and white striped undergarments.
Wampus leaped down and lifted the flap of the tent. The Major paused long enough in the moonlight to stare at the chauffeur and say sternly:
"If you utter one syllable, you rascal, I'll punch your head!"
Wampus was discreet. He said not a word.
"So this is California!" exclaimed Patsy gleefully, as the automobile left Parker and crossed the Arizona line.
"But it doesn't look any different," said Myrtle, peering out of the window.
"Of course not," observed Uncle John. "A State boundary is a man-made thing, and doesn't affect the country a bit. We've just climbed a miniature mountain back in Arizona, and now we must climb a mate to it in California. But the fact is, we've entered at last the Land of Enchantment, and every mile now will bring us nearer and nearer to the roses and sunshine."
"There's sunshine here now," declared the Major. "We've had it right along. But I haven't seen the roses yet, and a pair of ear muffs wouldn't be uncomfortable in this cutting breeze."
"The air is rather crisp," admitted Uncle John. "But we're still in the mountainous district, and Haggerty says—"
The Major coughed derisively and Mumbles barked and looked at Uncle John sagaciously.
"Is that a rabbit or a squirrel? Something has caught the eye of our Mumbles," interrupted the Major, pointing vaguely across the mesa.
"I wonder if Mumbles could catch 'em," remarked the Major, with complacence.
"He says that every mile we travel brings us nearer the scent of the orange blossoms and the glare of the yellow poppies," persisted Uncle John. "You see, we've taken the Southern route, after all, for soon we shall be on the Imperial road, which leads to San Diego—in the heart of the gorgeous Southland."
"What is the Imperial road?" inquired Beth.
"The turnpike through Imperial Valley, said to be the richest bit of land in all the world, not excepting the famous Nile banks of Egypt. There is no railway there yet, but the Valley is settling very fast, and Haggerty says—"
"How remarkable!" exclaimed the Major, gazing straight ahead. And again Mumbles, curled in Patsy's lap, lifted his shaggy head and gave a wailing bark.
Uncle John frowned, but was loyal to Haggerty.
"He says that if America was now unknown to all the countries of the world, Imperial would soon make it famous. They grow wonderful crops there—strawberries and melons the year around, as well as all the tropical and semi-tropical fruits and grains, flowers and vines known to any country yet discovered."
"Do we go to Imperial?" asked Myrtle, eagerly.
"I think not, my dear; we just skirt the edge of the Valley. It's rather wild and primitive there yet; for although many settlers are flocking to that favored district Imperial is large enough to be an empire by itself. However, we shall find an ideal climate at Coronado, by the edge of the blue Pacific, and there and at Los Angeles we shall rest from our journey and get acquainted with the wonders of the Golden State. Has the trip tired you, girls?"
"Not me," answered Beth, promptly. "I've enjoyed every mile of the way."
"And so have I," added Patsy; "except perhaps the adventure with the remittance men. But I wouldn't care to have missed even that, for it led to our acquaintance with old Dan'l."
"For my part," said Myrtle softly, "I've been in a real fairyland. It has seemed like a dream to me, all this glorious journey, and I shall hate to wake up, as I must in time."
"Don't worry just yet about the awakening, dear," returned Patsy, leaning over to kiss her little friend. "Just enjoy it while you can. If fairylands exist, they were made for just such as you, Myrtle."
"One of the greatest marvels of our trip," said the Major, with a smile, "is the improvement in our dear little invalid. It isn't the same Myrtle who started out with us, believe me. Can't you all see the change?"
"I can feel it," returned Myrtle, happily. "And don't you notice how well I walk, and how little use I have now for the crutches?"
"And can you feel the rosy cheeks and bright eyes, too?" asked Uncle John, regarding her with much satisfaction.
"The trip was just the thing for Myrtle," added Patsy. "She has grown stronger every day; but she is not quite well yet, you know, and I depend a good deal upon the genial climate of California to insure her complete recovery."
Uncle John did not reply. He remembered the doctor's assertion that a painful operation would be necessary to finally restore Myrtle to a normal condition, and his kindly heart disliked to reflect upon the ordeal before the poor girl.
Haggerty proved a prophet, after all. Each mile they covered opened new vistas of delight to the eager travelers. The air grew more balmy as they left the high altitudes and came upon the level country to the north, of the San Bernardino range of mountains, nor was it long before they sighted Imperial and sped through miles of country carpeted with the splendid yellow poppies which the State has adopted as the emblems of California. And behind this golden robe loomed the cotton fields of Imperial, one of the most fascinating sights the traveler may encounter. They made a curve to the right here, and headed northerly until they came to Salton. Skirting the edge of the curious Salton Sea they now headed directly west toward Escondido, finding the roads remarkably good and for long stretches as smooth and hard as an asphalt boulevard. The three days it took them to cross the State were days of wonder and delight.
It was not long before they encountered the roses and carnations growing on every side, which the Major had persistently declared to be mythical.
"It seems all wrong," asserted Patsy's father, moodily, "for such delicate flowers to be growing out of doors in midwinter. And look at the grass! Why, the seasons are changed about. It's Springtime just now in California."
"The man at the last stop we made told me his roses bloomed the year round," said Patsy, "And just smell the orange blossoms, will you! Aren't they sweet, and don't they remind you of brides?"
From Escondido it was a short run to the sea and their first glimpse of the majestic Pacific was from a high bluff overhanging the water. From this point the road ran south to San Diego, skirting the coast along a mountain trail that is admitted to be one of the most picturesque rides in America.
Descending the hills as they neared San Diego they passed through fields of splendid wild flowers so extensive and beautiful that our girls fairly gasped in wonder. The yellow and orange poppies predominated, but there were acres of wild mustard throwing countless numbers of gorgeous saffron spikes skyward, and vistas of blue carconnes, white daisies and blood-red delandres. The yucca was in bloom, too, and added its mammoth flower to the display.
They did not halt at San Diego, the southernmost city of California, from whence the Mexican line is in plain sight, but drove to the bay, where Wampus guided the limousine on to the big ferryboat bound for Coronado. They all left the car during the brief voyage and watched the porpoises sporting in the clear water of the bay and gazed abstractedly at the waving palms on the opposite shore, where lies nestled "the Crown of the Pacific"—Coronado.
THE SILENT MAN
Even the Major smiled benignantly when he reached his appointed room in the magnificent Hotel del Coronado, which is famed throughout the world.
"This," said he, "reminds me of New York; and it's the first thing that has, since I left home."
"Why, Daddy, it isn't like New York at all," protested Patsy, standing beside him at the broad window overlooking the ocean. "Did you ever see a palm tree waving in New York; or daisy bushes as tall as a man; or such masses of roses and flowering vines? And then just notice the mountains over there—they're in Mexico, I'm told—and this great headland in the other direction; it's called Point Loma. Oh, I never imagined any place could be so beautiful!"
The others were equally excited, and Uncle John said, smiling broadly:
"Well, we're here at last, my dears, and I'm sure we are already well paid for our trip across the continent. What pleasant rooms these are. If the hotel table is at all to be compared with the house itself we shall have a happy time here, which means we will stay as long as possible."
But the table was another surprise, for the meals were equal to any served in the great Eastern metropolis. Uncle John complimented the landlord, a cheery faced, fat little man who had at one time managed a famous New York hotel and had brought his talents and experience to far California.
"I'm sorry," said this gentle boniface, "that I could not reserve better rooms for you—for there are some choice views from some locations. I had a corner suite saved for your party, a suite I consider the most desirable in the hotel; but an eccentric individual arrived yesterday who demanded the entire suite, and I had to let him have it. He will not stay long, and as soon as he goes you shall have the rooms."
"Who is he?" asked Uncle John.
"A rich miner; a most melancholy and peculiar person, by the way," replied landlord Ross. "I believe his name is Jones."
Mr. Merrick started.
"Jones, and a miner?" he said. "What's his other name—Anson?"
"We'll look and see," replied Mr. Ross, turning to the hotel register. "No; not Anson. He is registered as C.B. Jones, of Boston."
"Oh; that's not the Jones at all," said Uncle John, disappointed.
"It's the Jones who is our guest," replied the landlord, smiling.
Meantime the three girls had gone for a walk along the coast. The beach is beautiful at Coronado. There is a high sea wall of rock, and the path runs along its edge almost the length of the promontory. The rocks are sloping, however, and it is not very difficult to climb down them to where the waves break against the wall.
Near the hotel they met straggling groups, strolling in either direction, but half a mile away the promenade was practically deserted. It was beginning to grow dark, and Beth said, regretfully:
"We must get back, girls, and dress for dinner—an unusual luxury, isn't it? Our trunks arrived at the hotel two weeks ago, and are now in our rooms, doubtless, awaiting us to unpack them."
"Don't let's return just yet," begged Myrtle. "I want to see the sun set."
"It will be gorgeous," said Patsy, glancing at the sky; "but we can see it from our windows, and as we're a long way from the hotel now I believe Beth's suggestion is wise."
So they began to retrace their steps. Myrtle still walked with some difficulty, and they had not proceeded far when Beth exclaimed:
"Look at that man down there!"
Her companions followed her direction and saw standing upon a huge pile of rocks at the water's edge a slight, solitary figure. Something in the poise, as he leaned forward staring at the darkened waves—for the sun was low and cast shadows aslant the water—struck Myrtle as familiar.
"Oh, girls!" she exclaimed; "it's the Grand Canyon man."
"Why, I believe it is," agreed Patsy. "What is he doing?"
"Nothing," said Beth, briefly. "But he is going to do something, I think."
While they stared at him from their elevation the man straightened an instant and cast a hasty glance to either side. The place seemed to him deserted, for he failed to observe the group of three intently watching his motions from the high bank overhead. Next moment he turned back to the water and leaned over the edge of rock again.
"Don't!" cried Myrtle, her clear voice ringing over the lap of the waves; "please don't!"
He swung around and turned his gaunt features upward to where the young girl leaned upon her crutches, with clasped hands and a look of distress upon her sweet face.
"Don't!" she repeated, pleadingly.
He passed his hand over his eyes with a very weary gesture and looked at Myrtle again—this time quite steadily. She was trembling in every limb and her cheeks were white with fear.
Slowly—very slowly—the man turned and began to climb the rocks; not directly upward to where the girls stood, but diagonally, so as to reach the walk some distance ahead of them. They did not move until he had gained the path and turned toward the hotel. Then they followed and kept him in sight until he reached the entrance to the court and disappeared within.
"I wonder," said Patsy, as they made their way to their rooms, "whether he really was thinking of plunging into the ocean; or whether that time at the Grand Canyon he had a notion of jumping into the chasm."
"If so," added Beth, "Myrtle has saved his life twice. But she can't be always near to watch the man, and if he has suicidal intentions, he'll make an end of himself, sooner or later, without a doubt."
"Perhaps," said Myrtle, hesitatingly, "I am quite wrong, and the strange man had no intention of doing himself an injury. But each time I obeyed an impulse that compelled me to cry out; and afterward I have been much ashamed of my forwardness."
They did not see the melancholy man at dinner; but afterward, in the spacious lobby, they discovered him sitting in a far corner reading a magazine. He seemed intent on this occupation and paid no attention to the life around him. The girls called Uncle John's attention to him, and Mr. Merrick at once recognized him as the same individual they had met at the Grand Canyon.
"But I am not especially pleased to encounter him again," he said with a slight frown; "for, if I remember aright, he acted very rudely to Myrtle and proved unsociable when I made overtures and spoke to him."
"I wonder who he is?" mused Patsy, watching the weary, haggard features as his eyes slowly followed the lines of his magazine.
"I'll inquire and find out," replied her uncle.
The cherubic landlord was just then pacing up and down the lobby, pausing here and there to interchange a word with his guests. Uncle John approached him and said:
"Can you tell me, Mr. Ross, who the gentleman is in the corner?"
The landlord looked around at the corner and smiled.
"That," said he, "is the gentleman we spoke of this afternoon—Mr. C.B. Jones—the man who usurped the rooms intended for you."
"Rooms?" repeated Uncle John. "Has he a large party, then?"
"He is alone; that is the queer part of it," returned the landlord. "Nor has he much baggage. But he liked the suite—a parlor with five rooms opening out of it—and insisted upon having them all, despite the fact that it is one of the most expensive suites in the hotel. I said he was eccentric, did I not?"
"You were justified," said Mr. Merrick, thought fully. "Thank you, sir, for the information."
Even as he rejoined the girls, who were seated together upon a broad divan, the man arose, laid down his magazine and came slowly down the room, evidently headed for the elevator. But with a start he recognized the girl who had accosted him on the beach, and the others with her, and for an instant came to a full stop before the group, his sad eyes fixed intently upon Myrtle's face.
The situation was a bit awkward, and to relieve it Uncle John remarked in his cheery voice:
"Well, Mr. Jones, we meet again, you see."
The man turned slowly and faced him; then bowed in a mechanical way and proceeded to the elevator, into which he disappeared.
Naturally Uncle John was indignant.
"Confound the fellow!" he exclaimed. "He's worse than a boor. But perhaps his early education was neglected."
"Did you call him Mr. Jones, sir?" asked Myrtle in a voice that trembled with excitement.
"Yes, my dear; but it is not your Uncle Anson. I've inquired about him. The Joneses are pretty thick, wherever you go; but I hope not many are like this fellow."
"Something's wrong with him," declared Patsy. "He's had some sad bereavement—a great blow of some sort—and it has made him somber and melancholy. He doesn't seem to know he acts rudely. You can tell by the man's eyes that he is unhappy."
"His eyes have neither color nor expression," remarked Beth. "At his best, this Mr. Jones must have been an undesirable acquaintance."
"You can't be sure of that," returned Patsy; "and I'm positive my theory is correct. More and more am I inclined to agree with Myrtle that he is disgusted with life, and longs to end it."
"Let him, then," retorted Uncle John. "I'm sure such a person is of no use to the world, and if he doesn't like himself he's better out of it."
That kindly Mr. Merrick should give vent to such a heartless speech proved how much annoyed he had been by Mr. Jones' discourtesy.
"He might be reclaimed, and—and comforted," said Myrtle, softly. "When I think of the happiness you have brought into my life, sir, I long to express my gratitude by making some one else happy."
"You're doing it, little one," he answered, pinching her cheek. "If we've brought a bit of sunshine into your life we've reaped an ample reward in your companionship. But if you can find a way to comfort that man Jones, and fetch him out of his dumps, you are certainly a more wonderful fairy than I've given you credit for."
Myrtle did not reply to this, although it pleased her. She presently pleaded weariness and asked permission to return to her room. Beth and Patsy wanted to go into the great domed ballroom and watch the dancing; so Myrtle bade them good night and ascended by the elevator to her floor.
Softly stepping over the thick carpets, which deadened the sound of the crutches—now becoming scarcely necessary to her—the young girl passed along the corridor, passing angles and turns innumerable on her way to her room. Some erratic architect certainly concocted the plan of the Hotel del Coronado. It is a very labyrinth of passages connecting; its nine hundred rooms, and one has to have a good bump of location to avoid getting lost in its mazes.
Near one of the abrupt turns a door stood ajar, and in passing Myrtle glanced in, and then paused involuntarily. It was a small parlor, prettily furnished, and in a big chair reclined a man whose hands were both pressed tight against his face, thus covering it completely. But Myrtle knew him. The thin frame, as well as the despairing attitude, marked him as the man who had come so strangely into her life and whose personality affected her so strangely. She now stood in the dimly lighted corridor looking in upon him with infinite pity, and as she looked her glance fell upon the table beside him, where something bright glittered beneath the electric lamps.
Her heart gave a sudden thump of mingled fear and dismay. She knew intuitively what that "something" was. "Let him," Uncle John had said; but Myrtle instantly determined not to let him.
She hesitated a moment; but seeing that the man remained motionless, his eyes still covered, as if lost to all his surroundings, she softly crept forward and entered the room. She held the crutches under her arms, but dared not use them for fear of making a noise. Step by step she stole forward until the table was within reach. Then she stretched out her hand, seized the revolver, and hid it in the folds of her blouse.
Turning for a final glance at the man she was startled to find he had removed his hands and was steadfastly regarding her.
Myrtle leaned heavily on her crutches. She felt faint and miserable, like a criminal caught in the act. As her eyes fell before the intent gaze her face turned scarlet with humiliation and chagrin. Still, she did not attempt to escape, the idea not occurring to her; so for a time the tableau was picturesque—the lame girl standing motionless with downcast eyes and the man fixedly staring at her.
"Three times!" he slowly said, in a voice finally stirred by a trace of emotion. "Three times. My child, why are you so persistent?"
Myrtle tried to be brave and meet his gaze. It was not quite so difficult now the silent man had spoken.
"Why do you force me to be persistent?" she asked, a tremor in her voice. "Why are you determined to—to—"
Words failed her, but he nodded to show he understood.
"Because," said he, "I am tired; very tired, my child. It's a big world; too big, in fact; but there's nothing in it for me any more."
There was expression enough in his voice now; expression of utter despondency.
"Why?" asked Myrtle, somewhat frightened to find herself so bold.
He did not answer for a long time, but sat reading her mobile face until a gentler look came into his hard blue eyes.
"It is a story too sad for young ears," he finally replied. "Perhaps, too, you would not understand it, not knowing or understanding me. I'm an odd sort of man, well along in years, and I've lived an odd sort of life. But my story, such as it is, has ended, and I'm too weary to begin another volume."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Myrtle, earnestly. "Surely this cannot be the fulfillment and end of your life. If it were, why should I come into your life just now?"
He stared at her with a surprised—an even startled—look.
"Have you come into my life?" he inquired, in a low, curious tone.
"Haven't I?" she returned. "At the Grand Canyon—"
"I know," he interrupted hastily. "That was your mistake; and mine. You should not have interfered. I should not have let you interfere."
"But I did," said Myrtle.
"Yes. Somehow your voice sounded like a command, and I obeyed it; perhaps because no living person has a right to command me. You—you took me by surprise."
He passed his hand over his eyes with that weary gesture peculiar to him, and then fell silent.
Myrtle had remained standing. She did not know what to do in this emergency, or what more to say. The conversation could not be ended in this summary fashion. The hopeless man needed her in some way; how, she did not know. Feeling weak and very incompetent to meet the important crisis properly, the girl crept to a chair opposite the man and sank into it. Then she leaned her chin upon her hand and looked pleadingly at her strange acquaintance. He met her eyes frankly. The hard look in his own seemed to have disappeared, dispelled by a sympathy that was new to him.
And so they sat, regarding one another silently yet musingly, for a long time.
"I wish," said Myrtle once, in her softest, sweetest tones, "I could help you. Some one helped me when I was in great trouble, so I want to help you."
He did not reply, and another period of silence ensued. But his next speech showed he had been considering her words.
"Because you have suffered," he said, "you have compassion for others who suffer. But your trouble is over now?"
"Almost," she said, smiling brightly.
He sighed, but questioned her no farther.
"A while ago," she volunteered, "I had neither friends nor relatives." He gave her a queer look, then. "I had no money. I had been hurt in an accident and was almost helpless. But I did not despair, sir—and I am only an inexperienced girl.
"In my darkest hour I found friends—kind, loving friends—who showed me a new world that I had not suspected was in existence. I think the world is like a great mirror," she continued, meditatively, "and reflects our lives just as we ourselves look upon it. Those who turn sad faces toward the world find only sadness reflected. But a smile is reflected in the same way, and cheers and brightens our hearts. You think there is no pleasure to be had in life. That is because you are heartsick and—and tired, as you say. With one sad story ended you are afraid to begin another—a sequel—feeling it would be equally sad. But why should it be? Isn't the joy or sorrow equally divided in life?"
"No," he replied.
"A few days ago," she continued earnestly, "we were crossing the Arizona deserts. It was not pleasant, but we did not despair, for we knew the world is not all desert and that the land of roses and sunshine lay just beyond. Now that we're in California we've forgotten the dreary desert. But you—Why, sir, you've just crossed your desert, and you believe all the world is bitter and cruel and holds no joy for you! Why don't you step out bravely into the roses and sunshine of life, and find the joy that has been denied you?"
He looked into her eyes almost fearfully, but it seemed to her that his own held a first glimmer of hope.
"Do you believe there can be joy for me anywhere in the world?" he asked.
"Of course. I tell you there's just as much sweet as there is bitter in life. Don't I know it? Haven't I proved it? But happiness doesn't chase people who try to hide from it. It will meet you halfway, but you've got to do your share to deserve it. I'm not preaching; I've lived this all out, in my own experience, and know what I'm talking about. Now as for you, sir, I can see very plainly you haven't been doing your duty. You've met sorrow and let it conquer you. You've taken melancholy by the hand and won't let go of it. You haven't tried to fight for your rights—the rights God gave to every man and expects him to hold fast to and take advantage of. No, indeed!"
"But what is the use?" he asked, timidly, yet with an eager look in his face. "You are young, my child; I am nearly old enough to have been your father. There are things you have not yet learned; things I hope you will never learn. An oak may stand alone in a field, and be lonely because it cannot touch boughs with another. A flower may bloom alone in a garden, and wither and die for want of companionship. God's wisdom grouped every living thing. He gave Adam a comrade. He created no solitary thing. But see, my child: although this world contains countless thousands, there is not one among them I may call my friend."
"Oh, yes; just one!" said Myrtle quickly. "I am your friend. Not because you want me, but because you need me. And that's a beginning, isn't it? I can find other friends for you, among my friends, and you will be sure to like them because I like them."
This naive suggestion did not affect him as much as the fact that this fair young girl had confessed herself his friend. He did not look at Myrtle now; he stared straight ahead, at the wall paper, and his brow was furrowed as if he was thinking deeply.
Perhaps any other man would have thanked the girl for her sympathy and her proffered friendship, or at the least have acknowledged it. But not so this queer Mr. Jones; eccentric, indeed, as the shrewd landlord had described him. Nor did Myrtle seem to expect an acknowledgment. It was enough for her that her speech had set him thinking along new lines.
He sat musing for so long that she finally remembered it was growing late, and began to fear Patsy and Beth would seek their rooms, which connected with her own, and find her absent. That would worry them. So at last she rose softly, took her crutches and turned to go.
"Good night, my—friend," she said.
"Good night, my child," he answered in a mechanical tone, without rousing from his abstraction.
Myrtle went to her room and found it was not so late as she had feared. She opened a drawer and placed the revolver in it, not without a little shudder.
"At any rate," she murmured, with satisfaction, "he will not use this to-night."
ON POINT LOMA
Next morning a beautiful bunch of roses was brought to Myrtle's room—roses so magnificent that it seemed impossible they could be grown out of doors. But there are few hothouses in California, and the boy who brought the flowers confided to her the information that they were selected from more than five hundred blooms. She ran to show them to Patsy and Beth, who were amazed not only by the roses but by the fact that the queer Mr. Jones had sent them to Myrtle. There was no card or note accompanying the gift, but after the younger girl had related her conversation with Mr. Jones the previous evening, they could not doubt but he had sent the flowers.
"Perhaps," reflected Patsy, "we've been misjudging him. I never beheld such a stolid, unimpressive countenance in my life; but the man must have a soul of some sort, or he would not think of sending flowers to his new friend."
"It's a pretty idea," said Beth. "He wanted to assure Myrtle that he appreciated her kindness."
"I'm sure he likes me," declared Myrtle, simply. "He wasn't a bit cross when I ran in and took away his pistol, or when I preached to him. I really gave him a good talking to, and he didn't object a bit."
"What he needs," commented Beth, "is to get away from himself, and mingle with people more. I wonder if we could coax him to join us in our ride to Point Loma."
"Would we care to ask him?" said Patsy. "He's as sour and crabbed in looks as he is in disposition, and has treated Uncle John's advances shamefully. I'd like to help Myrtle bring the old fellow back to life; but perhaps we can find an easier way than to shut him up with us in an automobile."
"He wouldn't go, I'm sure," declared Myrtle. "He has mellowed a little—a very little—as these roses prove. But he treated me last night just as he does Mr. Merrick, even after our conversation. When I said 'Good night' I had to wait a long time for his answer. But I'd like you to meet him and help cheer him up; so please let me introduce him, if there's a chance, and do be nice to him."
"I declare," cried Patsy, laughing, "Myrtle has assumed an air of proprietorship over the Sad One already."
"She has a right to, for she saved his life," said Beth.
"Three times," Myrtle added proudly. "He told me so himself."
Uncle John heard the story of Myrtle's adventure with considerable surprise, and he too expressed a wish to aid her in winning Mr. Jones from his melancholy mood.
"Every man is queer in one way or another," said he, "and I'd say the women were, too, if you females were not listening. I also imagine a very rich man has the right to be eccentric, if it pleases him."
"Is Mr. Jones rich, then?" inquired Beth.
"According to the landlord he's rich as Croesus. Made his money in mining—manipulating stocks, I suppose. But evidently his wealth hasn't been a comfort to him, or he wouldn't want to shuffle off his mortal coil and leave it behind"
They did not see the object of this conversation before leaving for the trip to Point Loma—a promontory that juts out far into the Pacific. It is reached by a superb macadamized boulevard, which passes down the north edge of the promontory, rounds the corner where stands the lighthouse, and comes back along the southern edge, all the time a hundred feet or more in elevation above the ocean.
The view from the Point is unsurpassed. Wampus stopped his car beside a handsomely appointed automobile that was just then deserted.
"Some one is here before us," remarked Patsy. "But that is not strange. The wonder is that crowds are not here perpetually."
"It is said," related the Major, who had really begun to enjoy California, "that the view from this Point includes more varied scenery than any other that is known in the world. Here we see the grand San Bernardino range of mountains; the Spanish Bight on the Mexican shore; the pretty city of San Diego climbing its hills, with the placid bay in front, where float the warships of the Pacific Squadron; the broad stretch of orange and lemon groves, hedged with towering palm trees; Santa Catalina and the Coronado Islands; the blue Pacific rolling in front and rugged Loma with its rocky cliffs behind. What more could we ask to see from any one viewpoint?"
"Don't forget the monster hotel, with its hundred towers and gables, dominating the strip of land between the bay and the ocean," added Beth. "How near it seems, and yet it is many miles away."
Some one had told them that moonstones were to be found on the beach at the base of the cliff; so they all climbed down the steep path, followed by Mumbles, who had not perceptibly grown in size during the trip but had acquired an adventurous disposition which, coupled with his native inquisitiveness, frequently led him into trouble.
Now, when they had reached the narrow beach, Mumbles ran ahead, passed around the corner of a cliff that almost touched the water, and was presently heard barking furiously.
"Sounds as if he scented game," said Patsy.
"A turtle, perhaps, or a big fish washed ashore," suggested the Major.
But now the small dog's voice changed suddenly and became a succession of yelps expressing mingled pain and terror.
"Oh, he's hurt!" cried Myrtle; and they all hurried forward, Uncle John leading them on a run, and passed around the big rock to rescue their pet.
Some one was before them, however. The foolish dog had found a huge crab in the sand and, barking loudly, had pushed his muzzle against the creature, with the result that the crab seized his black nose in a gripping claw and pinched as hard as it was able. Mumbles tried to back away, madly howling the while; but the crab, although the smaller antagonist, gripped a rock with its other claw and held on, anchoring the terrified dog to the spot.
But help was at hand. A tall, thin man hurried to the rescue, and just as Uncle John came in sight, leading his procession, a knife severed the crab's claw and Mumbles was free. Seeing his mistress, the puppy, still whining with pain, hurried to her for comfort, while Uncle John turned to the man and said:
"Thank you, Mr. Jones, for assisting our poor beast. Mumbles is an Eastern dog, you know, and inexperienced in dealing with crabs."
Mr. Jones was examining the claw, the despoiled owner of which had quickly slid into the water.
"It is a species of crawfish," he observed, meditatively. Then, seeing the girls approach, he straightened up and rather awkwardly lifted his hat.
The gesture surprised them all. Heretofore, when they had met, the man had merely stared and turned away, now his attempt at courtesy was startling because unexpected.
Myrtle came close to his side.
"How nice to find you here, Mr. Jones," she said brightly. "And oh, I must thank you for my lovely roses."
He watched her face with evident interest and it seemed that his own countenance had become less haggard and sad than formerly.
"Let me introduce my friends," said the girl, with sudden recollection of her duty. "This is Mr. Merrick, my good friend and benefactor; and this is Major Doyle and his daughter Miss Patricia Doyle, both of whom have the kindest hearts in the world; Miss Beth De Graf, Mr. Merrick's niece, has watched over and cared for me like a sister, and—oh, I forgot; Miss Patsy is Mr. Merrick's niece, too. So now you know them all."
The man nodded briefly his acknowledgment.
"You—you are Mr. Jones, I believe, of—of Boston?"
"Once of Boston," he repeated mechanically. Then he looked at her and added: "Go on."
"Why—what—I don't understand," she faltered. "Have I overlooked anyone?"
"Only yourself," he said.
"Oh; but I—I met you last night."
"You did not tell me your name," he reminded her.
"I'm Myrtle," she replied, smiling in her relief. "Myrtle Dean."
"Myrtle Dean!" His voice was harsh; almost a shout.
"Myrtle Dean. And I—I'm from Chicago; but I don't live there any more."
He stood motionless, looking at the girl with a fixed expression that embarrassed her and caused her to glance appealingly at Patsy. Her friend understood and came to her rescue with some inconsequent remark about poor Mumbles, who was still moaning and rubbing; his pinched nose against Patsy's chin to ease the pain.
Mr. Jones paid little heed to Miss Doyle's observation, but as Myrtle tried to hide behind Beth Mr. Merrick took the situation in hand by drawing the man's attention to the scenery, and afterward inquiring if he was searching for moonstones.
The conversation now became general, except that Mr. Jones remained practically silent He seemed to try to interest himself in the chatter around him, but always his eyes would stray to Myrtle's face and hold her until she found an opportunity to turn away.
"We've luncheon in the car," announced Uncle John, after a time. "Won't you join us, Mr. Jones?"
"Yes," was the unconventional reply. The man was undoubtedly abstracted and did not know he was rude. He quietly followed them up the rocks and when they reached the automobile remained by Myrtle's side while Wampus brought out the lunch basket and Beth and Patsy spread the cloth upon the grass and unpacked the hamper.
Mr. Jones ate merely a mouthful, but he evidently endeavored to follow the conversation and take an interest in what was said. He finally became conscious that his continuous gaze distressed Myrtle, and thereafter strove to keep his eyes from her face. They would creep back to it, from time to time; but Beth, who was watching him curiously, concluded he was making a serious effort to deport himself agreeably and credited him with a decided improvement in manners as their acquaintance with him progressed.
After luncheon, when their return by way of Old Town and the Spanish Mission was proposed, Mr. Jones said, pointing to the car that stood beside their own:
"This is my automobile. I drive it myself. I would like Myrtle Dean to ride back with me."
The girl hesitated, but quickly deciding she must not retreat, now she had practically begun the misanthrope's reformation, she replied:
"I will be very glad to. But won't you take one of my friends, also? That will divide the party more evenly."
He looked down at his feet, thoughtfully considering the proposition.
"I'll go with you," said Beth, promptly. "Get into the front seat with Mr. Jones, Myrtle, and I'll ride behind."
The man made no protest. He merely lifted Myrtle in his arms and gently placed her in the front seat. Beth, much amused, took the seat behind, unassisted save that the Major opened the door for her. Mr. Jones evidently understood his car. Starting the engines without effort he took his place at the wheel and with a nod to Mr. Merrick said:
"Lead on, sir; I will follow."
Wampus started away. He was displeased with the other car. It did not suit him at all. And aside from the fact that the sour-faced individual who owned it had taken away two of Wampus' own passengers, the small shaggy Mumbles, who had been the established companion of Uncle John's chauffeur throughout all the long journey, suddenly deserted him. He whined to go with the other car, and when Patsy lifted him aboard he curled down beside the stranger as if thoroughly satisfied. Patsy knew why, and was amused that Mumbles showed his gratitude to Mr. Jones for rescuing him from the crab; but Wampus scowled and was distinctly unhappy all the way to Old Town.
"Him mebbe fine gentleman," muttered the Canadian to the Major; "but if so he make a disguise of it. Once I knew a dog thief who resemble him; but perhaps Mumble he safe as long as Miss Myrtle an' Miss Beth they with him."
"Don't worry," said the Major, consolingly. "I'll keep my eye on the rascal. But he's a fine driver, isn't he?"
"Oh, that!" retorted Wampus, scornfully. "Such little cheap car like that he drive himself."
At Old Town Mr. Jones left them, saying he had been to the Mission and did not care for it. But as he drove his car away there was a gentler and more kindly expression upon his features than any of them had ever seen there before, and Myrtle suspected her charm was working and the regeneration really begun.
A TALE OF WOE
That evening after dinner, as Mr. Merrick sat alone in the hotel lobby, the girls having gone to watch the Major bowl tenpins, Mr. Jones approached and sat down in the chair beside him.
Uncle John greeted the man with an attempt at cordiality. He could not yet bring himself to like his personality, but on Myrtle's account and because he was himself generous enough to wish to be of service to anyone so forlorn and unhappy, he treated Mr. Jones with more respect than he really thought he deserved.
"Tell me, Mr. Merrick," was the abrupt request, "where you found Myrtle Dean."
Uncle John told him willingly. There was no doubt but Myrtle had interested the man.
"My girls found her on the train between Chicago and Denver," he began. "She was on her way to join her uncle in Leadville."
"What is her uncle's name?"
"Anson Jones. But the child was almost helpless, ill and without friends or money. She was not at all sure her uncle was still in Leadville, in which case she would be at the mercy of a cold world. So I telegraphed and found that Anson Jones had been gone from the mining camp for several months. Do you know, sir, I at first suspected you might be the missing uncle? For I heard you were a miner and found that your name is Jones. But I soon discovered you are not Anson Jones, but C.B. Jones—which alters the case considerably."
Mr. Jones nodded absently.
"Tell me the rest," he said.
Uncle John complied. He related the manner in which Beth and Patsy had adopted Myrtle, the physician's examination and report upon her condition, and then told the main points of their long but delightful journey from Albuquerque to San Diego in the limousine.
"It was one of the most fortunate experiments we have ever tried," he concluded; "for the child has been the sweetest and most agreeable companion imaginable, and her affection and gratitude have amply repaid us for anything we have done for her. I am determined she shall not leave us, sir. When we return to New York I shall consult the best specialist to be had, and I am confident she can be fully cured and made as good as new."
The other man had listened intently, and when the story was finished he sat silent for a time, as if considering and pondering over what he had heard. Then, without warning, he announced quietly:
"I am Anson Jones."
Uncle John fairly gasped for breath.
"You Anson Jones!" he exclaimed. Then, with plausible suspicion he added: "I myself saw that you are registered as C.B. Jones."
"It is the same thing," was the reply. "My name is Collanson—but my family always called me 'Anson', when I had a family—and by that name I was best known in the mining camps. That is what deceived you."
"But—dear me!—I don't believe Myrtle knows her uncle's name is Collanson."
"Probably not. Her mother, sir, my sister, was my only remaining relative, the only person on earth who cared for me—although I foolishly believed another did. I worked for success as much on Kitty's account—Kitty was Myrtle's mother—as for my own sake. I intended some day to make her comfortable and happy, for I knew her husband's death had left her poor and friendless. I did not see her for years, nor write to her often; it was not my way. But Kitty always knew I loved her."
He paused and sat silent a moment. Then he resumed, in his quiet, even tones:
"There is another part of my story that you must know to understand me fully; to know why I am now a hopeless, desperate man; or was until—until last night, perhaps. Some years ago, when in Boston, I fell in love with a beautiful girl. I am nearly fifty, and she was not quite thirty, but it never occurred to me that I was too old to win her love, and she frankly confessed she cared for me. But she said she could not marry a poor man and would therefore wait for me to make a fortune. Then I might be sure she would marry me. I believed her. I do not know why men believe women. It is an absurd thing to do. I did it; but other men have been guilty of a like folly. Ah, how I worked and planned! One cannot always make a fortune in a short time. It took me years, and all the time she renewed her promises and kept my hopes and my ambitions alive.
"At last I won the game, as I knew I should do in time. It was a big strike. I discovered the 'Blue Bonnet' mine, and sold a half interest in it for a million. Then I hurried to Boston to claim my bride.... She had been married just three months, after waiting, or pretending to wait, for me for nearly ten years! She married a poor lawyer, too, after persistently refusing me because I was poor. She laughed at my despair and coldly advised me to find some one else to share my fortune."
He paused again and wearily passed his hand over his eyes—a familiar gesture, as Myrtle knew. His voice had grown more and more dismal as he proceeded, and just now he seemed as desolate and unhappy as when first they saw him at the Grand Canyon.
"I lived through it somehow," he continued; "but the blow stunned me. It stuns me yet. Like a wounded beast I slunk away to find my sister, knowing she would try to comfort me. She was dead. Her daughter Myrtle, whom I had never seen, had been killed in an automobile accident. That is what her aunt, a terrible woman named Martha Dean, told me, although now I know it was a lie, told to cover her own baseness in sending an unprotected child to the far West to seek an unknown uncle. I paid Martha Dean back the money she claimed she had spent for Myrtle's funeral; that was mere robbery, I suppose, but not to be compared with the crime of her false report. I found myself bereft of sweetheart, sister—even an unknown niece. Despair claimed me. I took the first train for the West, dazed and utterly despondent. Some impulse led me to stop off at the Grand Canyon, and there I saw the means of ending all my misery. But Myrtle interfered."
Uncle John, now thoroughly interested and sympathetic, leaned over and said solemnly:
"The hand of God was in that!"
Mr. Jones nodded.
"I am beginning to believe it," he replied. "The girl's face won me even in that despairing mood. She has Kitty's eyes."
"They are beautiful eyes," said Uncle John, earnestly. "Sir, you have found in your niece one of the sweetest and most lovely girls that ever lived. I congratulate you!"
Mr. Jones nodded again. His mood had changed again since they began to speak of Myrtle. His eyes now glowed with pleasure and pride. He clasped Mr. Merrick's hand in his own as he said with feeling:
"She has saved me, sir. Even before I knew she was my niece I began to wonder if it would not pay me to live for her sake. And now—"
"And now you are sure of it," cried Uncle John, emphatically. "But who is to break the news to Myrtle?"
"No one, just yet," was the reply. "Allow me, sir, if you please, to keep her in ignorance of the truth a little longer. I only made the discovery myself today, you see, and I need time to think it all out and determine how best to take advantage of my good fortune."
"I shall respect your wish, sir," said Mr. Merrick.
The girls came trooping back then, and instead of running away Anson Jones remained to talk with them.
Beth and Patsy were really surprised to find the "Sad One" chatting pleasantly with Uncle John. The Major looked at the man curiously, not understanding the change in him. But Myrtle was quite proud of the progress he was making and his improved spirits rendered the girl very happy indeed. Why she should take such an interest in this man she could not have explained, except that he had been discouraged and hopeless and she had succeeded in preventing him from destroying his life and given him courage to face the world anew. But surely that was enough, quite sufficient to give her a feeling of "proprietorship," as Patsy had expressed it, in this queer personage. Aside from all this, she was growing to like the man who owed so much to her. Neither Patsy nor Beth could yet see much to interest them or to admire in his gloomy character; but Myrtle's intuition led her to see beneath the surface, and she knew there were lovable traits in Mr. Jones' nature if he could only be induced to display them.
After that evening the man attached himself to the party on every possible occasion. Sometimes in their trips around Coronado he rode in their automobile, at other times he took Myrtle, and perhaps one other, in his own car. Every day he seemed brighter and more cheerful, until even Major Doyle admitted he was not a bad companion.
Three weeks later they moved up to Los Angeles, taking two days for the trip and stopping at Riverside and Redlands on the way. They established their headquarters at one of the handsome Los Angeles hotels and from there made little journeys through the surrounding country, the garden spot of Southern California. One day they went to Pasadena, which boasts more splendid residences than any city of its size in the world; at another time they visited Hollywood, famed as "the Paradise of Flowers." Both mountains and sea were within easy reach, and there was so much to do that the time passed all too swiftly.
It was on their return from such a day's outing that Myrtle met with her life's greatest surprise. Indeed, the surprise was shared by all but Uncle John, who had religiously kept the secret of Mr. Jones' identity.
As they reached the hotel this eventful evening Mr. Merrick said to the girls:
"After you have dressed for dinner meet us on the parlor floor. We dine privately to-night."
They were mildly astonished at the request, but as Uncle John was always doing some unusual thing they gave the matter little thought. However, on reaching the parlor floor an hour later they found Mr. Merrick, the Major and Mr. Jones in a group awaiting them, and all were garbed in their dress suits, with rare flowers in their buttonholes.
"What is it, then?" asked Patsy. "A treat?"
"I think so," said Uncle John, smiling. "Your arm, please, Miss Doyle."
The Major escorted Beth and Mr. Jones walked solemnly beside Myrtle, who still used crutches, but more as a matter of convenience than because they were necessary. At the end of a corridor a waiter threw open the door of a small but beautiful banquet room, where a round table, glistening with cut glass and silver, was set for six. In the center of the table was a handsome centerpiece decorated with vines of myrtle, while the entire room was filled with sprays of the dainty vines, alive with their pretty blue flowers.
"Goodness me!" exclaimed Patsy, laughing gleefully. "This seems to be our little Myrtle's especial spread. Who is the host, Uncle John?"
"Mr. Jones, of course," announced Beth, promptly.
Myrtle blushed and glanced shyly at Mr. Jones. His face was fairly illumined with pleasure. He placed her in the seat of honor and said gravely:
"This is indeed Myrtle's entertainment, for she has found something. It is also partly my own thanksgiving banquet, my friends; for I, too, have found something."
His tone was so serious that all remained silent as they took their seats, and during the many courses served the conversation was less lively than on former occasions when there had been no ceremony. Myrtle tried hard to eat, but there was a question in her eyes—a question that occupied her all through the meal. When, finally, the dessert was served and the servants had withdrawn and left them to themselves, the girl could restrain her curiosity no longer.
"Tell me, Mr. Jones," she said, turning to him as he sat beside her; "what have you found?"
He was deliberate as ever in answering.
"You must not call me 'Mr. Jones,' hereafter," said he.
"Why not? Then, what shall I call you?" she returned, greatly perplexed.
"I think it would be more appropriate for you to call me 'Uncle Anson.'"
"Uncle Anson! Why, Uncle Anson is—is—"
She paused, utterly bewildered, but with a sudden suspicion that made her head whirl.
"It strikes me, Myrtle," said Uncle John, cheerfully, "that you have never been properly introduced to Mr. Jones. If I remember aright you scraped acquaintance with him and had no regular introduction. So I will now perform that agreeable office. Miss Myrtle Dean, allow me to present your uncle, Mr. Collanson B. Jones."
"Collanson!" repeated all the girls, in an astonished chorus.
"That is my name," said Mr. Jones, the first smile they had seen radiating his grim countenance. "All the folks at home, among them my sister Kitty—your mother, my dear—called me 'Anson'; and that is why, I suppose, old Martha Dean knew me only as your 'Uncle Anson.' Had she told you my name was Collanson you might have suspected earlier that 'C.B. Jones' was your lost uncle. Lost only because he was unable to find you, Myrtle. While you were journeying West in search of him he was journeying East. But I'm glad, for many reasons, that you did not know me. It gave me an opportunity to learn the sweetness of your character. Now I sincerely thank God that He led you to me, to reclaim me and give me something to live for. If you will permit me, my dear niece, I will hereafter devote my whole life to you, and earnestly try to promote your happiness."
During this long speech Myrtle had sat wide eyed and white, watching his face and marveling at the strangeness of her fate. But she was very, very glad, and young enough to quickly recover from the shock.
There was a round of applause from Patsy, Beth, the Major and Uncle John, which served admirably to cover their little friend's embarrassment and give her time to partially collect herself. Then she turned to Mr. Jones and with eyes swimming with tears tenderly kissed his furrowed cheek.
"Oh, Uncle Anson; I'm so happy!" she said.
Of course Myrtle's story is told, now. But it may be well to add that Uncle Anson did for her all that Uncle John had intended doing, and even more. The consultation with a famous New York specialist, on their return a month later, assured the girl that no painful operation was necessary. The splendid outing she had enjoyed, with the fine air of the far West, had built up her health to such an extent that nature remedied the ill she had suffered. Myrtle took no crutches back to New York—a city now visited for the first time in her life—nor did she ever need them again. The slight limp she now has will disappear in time, the doctors say, and the child is so radiantly happy that neither she nor her friends notice the limp at all.
Patsy Doyle, as owner of the pretty flat building on Willing Square, has rented to Uncle Anson the apartment just opposite that of the Doyles, and Mr. Jones has furnished it cosily to make a home for his niece, to whom he is so devoted that Patsy declares her own doting and adoring father is fairly outclassed.
The Major asserts this is absurd; but he has acquired a genuine friendship for Anson Jones, who is no longer sad but has grown lovable under Myrtle's beneficent influence.