"He is not my husband," said Angela.
The young woman froze.
"We are friends."
The scandalized muscles relaxed. There was a high nobility in friendship. The chambermaid herself had a friend, who talked a great deal about Plato, in the cheap edition.
"And will you please say I shall be ready in twenty minutes?"
Standing on the hotel veranda together, after luncheon, "Mrs. Mill and Mr. Hayward"—he restored to calmness—could look thousands of feet down to the floor of the valley. Exactly how many thousands of feet there were Angela refused to be told, for the distance seemed illimitable, and cold facts might dwarf imagination. They saw the Yosemite Falls, a quivering white vein on a dark wall a million miles away. Mirror Lake was a splinter of glass on a pavement of green tiles. Nevada and Vernal Falls were pale yet bright as streaks of stardrift, in the blue haze of distance.
If it had not been for the episode of Mrs. Hilliard and Mr. May, Nick might have felt tempted to try his fate, and dare the dash across the "dead line," that evening of moonlight on the mountain-top. But it might, he thought, seem like presuming on what had happened; and having come, more or less safely, round an awkward turning, he was thankful to find himself on a narrow ledge of security. The moonshine, that turned mountains to marble and sky to pearl, was cold as it was pure; and in its bleaching radiance Angela seemed less woman than spirit. He dared not let that angel know how hot was his heart.
"I'll wait till we're among the Big Trees," he said to himself. "They're great, as great as the mountains in their way, but they're friendly and kind, as if they might help. That's where I'll risk it all: in the Mariposa Forest, the place I like better than any other in the world. So whatever happens, we shall have seen the best there is together, and all that will be mine to remember, if I lose everything else."
The next day was a day of forest and flowers.
They were not travelling this time in an ordinary stage, for Nick had secured a buckboard for themselves alone, with a driver who knew the country, with its beauties and legends, as well as he knew his big muscular gray horses.
Those never-ending, cathedral-forests of America's. National Park were wilder than any that Angela had imagined. She hardly believed that the great redwoods which she was to see to-morrow could be grander than these immense fluted columns of cedar and pine. In the arms of the biggest and most virile trees, many slender sapling shapes, storm-broken, or tired of facing life alone, lay helplessly. But the driver's heart was proof against a romantic view of this situation, as sketched by Angela. "It oughtn't to be allowed," he said, sternly. "Think of the danger in fire. That's what is called by the foresters, 'extra hazard,' as I guess Mr. Hilliard knows."
Oh, yes, Nick knew. But, seeing with Angela's eyes, he envied the lover-trees their peril. He, a lonely tree, had already taken fire, but he would gladly risk the "extra hazard." What if—and his thoughts ran ahead to the day in the redwoods, that day set apart by his mind as the clou of the excursion—what if the thing her eyes seemed to say to him should be true? What if she could love him, and give up her world, that world which he saw vaguely, as a dazzling vision? What if, to-morrow, she too should know the thrill of "extra hazard"?
No wonder, then, as he dreamed, that the glacier meadows encircled by green walls of forest primeval should seem like fairy rings, visible to mortal eyes only as a special privilege. In the sunlight-gold, the sheets of azaleas, cyclamen, and violets, were embroidered tapestries of pink and purple; the bright rivulets of melting snow that bathed the wild flowers' roots became a network of diamonds.
Here and there, under the huge coniferous trees, lay patches of snow still unmelted, though the month was June. Indian fire glowed red on the white expanse, blood on marble, and scarlet snow-plant sent up lurid spouts like flaming fountains. The tree-shadows were painted pools of lupin, azure lakes; or they were purple seas of larkspur. Mountain-roses and wild lilac tangled in a maze of pink and white and gold. Bear-clover crowned the bald gray heads of rocks, or shone out like star-white strawberry blossoms from under a thicket of deer-bush. Wild asters burned rosily, like small Catherine wheels half extinguished. Small, mottled tiger lilies blazed among the pale young fronds of growing bracken: the air was scented with wild roses and the spicy fragrance of manzanita trees—the breath of California. But loveliest and strangest of all things were the gardens chosen for their own by the mariposa lilies. The trembling winged flowers hovered airily just above the earth, like a flock of alighting butterflies; and overhead poised real butterflies, of the self-same delicate tints hardly strong enough to be named as colours; silvery white, faint lilac, and a sunrise-hint of rose. Ground butterflies and air butterflies seemed kin to one another, those rooted to the ground longing for wings, those to whom earth offered no permanent foothold envying their half-sister's rest and peace.
Here in the mountains it was spring, though down below in the valleys full summer had come; and toward evening Angela and Nick descended once again to the summer world.
The valley of Wawona was laid out on the plan of those fairy rings, alias glacier meadows, which they had seen in higher places, only this was a fairy ring on a grander scale. It seemed so hidden by a belt of mountains that its green lawns, its gardens, its fountains and flowers might have been originally discovered only by some happy accident. But the discoverer being of a practical turn of mind, he or his descendants had built a delightful though unobtrusive hotel on a spot which might still have been warm from the fairies. On the veranda of the hotel was Kate, beaming with smiles of welcome as the buckboard coming down from Glacier Point brought her mistress in sight.
"Oh, it was a lovely place!" said Kate. And sure, how happy she and Timmy were to be there at last. She had arrived hours ago, and was nicely rested, yes, thank you, ma'am.
There were saucers of white violets, and vases of iris and Washington lilies in Mrs. May's bedroom. Here were no embarrassing complications connected with "Mr." May and "Mrs." Hilliard. All was peace; and as the dust which had turned Angela's golden hair to silver was being brushed away by Kate, the tale of the maid's adventures was unfolded. Yet Angela, smiling gently, as she inhaled the sweetness of violets, hardly listened. She was glad that Kate was almost well and that Timmy was restored to the bosom of his family. But it seemed to her that no one except herself had had any adventures worth the name. No one else could ever have adventures half as good! Even she—no, not for her could their like come again. She began to grudge the passing of the hours, wishing that she had the power to stop all the clocks of the world.
THE BROKEN MELODY
"I want to write things in my diary," said Angela. "Now, lest I forget or they change colour. I want to write here, so that afterward, when I read the page I may see the pictures."
They were in the palace of the giant redwoods, she and Nick, and several robins and chipmunks. They had been there all day, and soon it would be sunset. Then the moon would come to light them home. They would leave the palace, and the Best Day would end.
They had lunched and dined with a huge fallen log for a table, and squirrels for their honoured guests. Now they had come back (carrying out a plan made in the morning) to sit under the Grizzly Giant, king of the great Sequoias, and there watch the sun setting. The Giant seemed to know all they were doing and saying. Not only that, but what they were thinking, too. He had great deep-set black eyes, which some foolish people might mistake for knot-holes, and with these he looked down gravely, perhaps benevolently, on the dark head and the golden one.
That was his human aspect; but he had others, and it was about one of them that Angela wished to write—just a few words which she might like to read again some day.
In the gray suede receptacle which had temporarily and publicly superseded the gold bag, she carried a small book. It was one of three volumes. Two had been filled since her arrival in America, but this was just begun. There was not much in it yet. It began with El Portal. Where would it stop? Already she was wondering. Maybe she would never write any more after to-day. Or the story might go on for a little, and end when this trip with her "trail guide" ended. Or it might continue, more perfunctorily, just long enough to lay the foundation of her new house, the plans of which were now materializing in an architect's brain. Her interest in those plans had fallen asleep. Everything outside this vast cathedral of a thousand fluted red columns seemed far away and unreal. The heart of the world was throbbing here, like the music of a muffled organ, with only Nick Hilliard and herself for audience.
"I didn't know you kept a diary," said Nick. "Somehow you don't seem the sort who would."
"I don't 'keep' one," Angela explained. "When I was a little girl and went abroad with my mother, I used to write things about the days to please my father at home. I loved him very much. But—he never saw the book. After he died I wrote no more, until—I came to California. Now" (she spoke hastily), "I write about things, not people. I make pictures for myself to look at afterward; for I can't bear to think that my impressions may grow dim, even when I'm old."
"I suppose I mustn't ask to see what you write to-day?" Nick ventured. By and by he meant to ask a thing so much bolder and bigger that he wished to try his feet on the difficult path.
"I must read it myself before I can judge," Angela smiled, surprised at the suggestion from one who never put himself forward; who had never begged for concession or favour since offering himself as "trail guide." "Now don't speak to me for a while. I want to call the whole day back."
But though his lips were closed his eyes were not; and they seldom wandered from the bent head—gold against a dark tree-trunk; and the cameo profile—ivory-white upon a red-brown background.
Angela was sitting under the generous shade of the Grizzly Giant. Nick lay resting on his elbow, just near enough to touch with his shoulder the soles of her small, dusty shoes, crossed one over the other.
After all, it was not as easy to write as Angela had expected, with Nick lying silent, and so close to her that it seemed, if she should listen, she might hear his thoughts, like the ticking of a watch under a pillow.
She began by noting down commonplace things, as though by way of sorting out her impressions.
"We left Kate this morning at Wawona. What dear people keep that hotel! In Europe one never thinks about hotel-keepers. If everything is right, one simply takes them for granted, as one breathes good air. It's different here in the West of America. They—these charming, kind people—lent us their own 'buckboard'—a glorified one; and their two horses, Cash and Credit, who are famous. Darling animals they are, and understand every word that's said to them. When they die, generations of California horses ought to be named Cash and Credit to preserve their memory.
"We started early, just after the morning had been born, so as to miss nothing. And first of all we had a quick rush through the flowery valley of Wawona—a kind of prelude to the music of the great redwoods. And I think it helped me to appreciate and understand them. We saw Stellar Lake, named by inspiration, for it looks a blue sky half full of stars; and I had my first sight of a fish hatchery. I'd no notion it could be so exciting to watch the career of trout from the egg stage up to rainbow maturity. Never shall I forget grabbing a handful of tiny wriggling fish out of the trough of water where they lived, and holding them in the hollow of my palm for an instant! They looked like big silver commas, and interrogation points, oh, but punctuations of all kinds; and they felt like iced popcorn. I don't think I shall ever eat trout again. It would be so treacherous, now that I seem to have known the creatures from the cradle to the grave.
"But about the Big Trees, which at this present moment are to me the most important things on earth. I've seen a good deal of the earth, but nothing so good, nothing so glorious. No wonder Mr. Hilliard says, 'Why need people build churches in this part of the world, when they have the redwood cathedral built by God, full of the sound of His organ music?'
"All through the Yosemite there is music. You hear the forest talking, and think it is the river. You hear the river, and think it is the wind giving a signal to the trees, that they may begin speaking; for trees and river and wind have lived so long together—like people married happily since early youth—that thoughts and words and tones have come to be the same. But among the redwoods is the noblest music of all, different from that of any other trees. And only think, yesterday I hardly believed they could be taller and grander than some of the others I had seen, all those great conifers that would have been gods in Greece! Even this morning, driving through forests that line the way to the Sequoias, I still believed that—poor me! The big sugar-pines and the yellow-pines loomed so huge, towering above delicate birches and a hundred other lovely creatures, which they guarded as Eastern men guard the beauties of their harems. But the moment I saw the two first giants—the 'Sentinels'—stand on the threshold of their palace, or cathedral, whichever it is (but it's both, and more) I knew how mistaken I'd been about the others. These are super-trees.
"We drove on slowly, along a wide aisle paved with gold and sprinkled with gold-dust. The pillars holding up the sky-roof are fluted deeply and regularly; and they are rose-red, these tree columns, seeming to glow with inward fire—the never-dying fire of life which keeps their hearts alive when common trees perish. Theirs is no ruined cathedral or palace. All is perfect now, as in its beginning; walls and dome of blue which can never crumble; and the doors are never shut, though jealousy guarded by the Sentinels.
"In some of the trees are shrines. At first glance they appear to be empty shrines, but they are not empty, really. What one finds there depends upon one's self. I wish I could live in this palace for weeks. I should make wonderful discoveries.
"In old houses, whose roofs are supported by great beams of oak, I know they call the stoutest and most important the 'king beam,' for without him the roof would fall. Just so, the Grizzly Giant is the king tree of the Mariposa Forest. There are other trees more beautiful and graceful, yet he is indisputably, undisputedly king, among lesser royalties and royal highnesses. All are crowned. These Sequoias aren't clothed with green, like other trees, but crowned with it, having also, here and there upon their breasts, green decorations and medals. Their bark folds and drapes them in mantles of royal purple, and their high crowns mingle gold with green. The Grizzly Giant's crown is of a strange shape, and very wonderful. He is alive, and looks at you, but he does not wish you to know that; so, if you are too curious, he often pretends to be a castle, ornamented with quantities of fantastic gargoyles. The castle has a theatre, into which you can see; and it is fitted up with extraordinary scenery. There is a museum of strange statues, too; headless torsos, and arms thicker through than a man is long.
"The princes and princesses, who are the Grizzly Giant's family and help him reign over his subjects, have to go and stand at a good distance, or they would lose their majesty in comparison with him. When we had left the horses (near a fascinating log-cabin in the woods), and Mr. Hilliard had arranged for their comfort, we walked about, picking out the princes and princesses and knowing quite well from the look of them which was which. Some of the trees are commandingly masculine; others, though as immense, graciously feminine.
"It sounds rather confusing to call the trees sometimes columns of a cathedral or palace, sometimes royal people; but any one who has come to visit them even once would understand. If I were to be here longer, I should see them in a great many other different phases, I'm sure. And I may perhaps see them again. But nothing will ever be the same. I have had such thoughts to-day! I wanted to put each idea, small and big, on paper, to remember; but I find that they won't let themselves be written down. They are as intangible as the incense in this cathedral, as impossible to put in black and white as it would be to jot down in notes the music that pours out from the pipes of the unseen organ, or to paint the light that streams through the cathedral windows. And what a magical light it is! There are other trees in this forest, besides the Sequoias; but it is on the redwoods alone that the light concentrates, just as limelight is turned upon the leading characters of a stage drama. They burn with their own ruddy fire, while their neighbour trees (overgrown with golden-green moss that makes sleeves for outstretched arms, and gold embroidery for dark drapery) gleam out among the redwoods' flaming pillars like lighted candelabra. I shall see those lights behind my eyelids to-night, as I saw the sunset light on Stonehenge; the moon touching the Giralda of Seville; and my first alpenglow. But what Stonehenge is to England, the Giralda to Spain, and the Alps to Switzerland, that, I think, is the Mariposa Forest of giant Sequoias to California.
"If I had been an atheist, I believe I should suddenly have been taught the lesson of God among the great redwoods. And nobody could be heavy-hearted here, or frivolous. I feel that the same light which burns like fire in these trees burns in my veins; a vast wave of life, vitalizing all creation and making it kin. I am a poor relation of these wonderful giants. Also I am a cousin of the robins and chipmunks that shared our picnic luncheon, and the dinner we finished a little while ago. I am nearer than I was yesterday to all humanity, and to——"
Angela's pencil stopped its weaving back and forth across the small white pages, pausing as if of its own accord. She looked at the last words she had written and shut the book. Yes, she was near to all humanity; but nearer than any to one who was all the world to her. Suddenly she felt, with poignant intensity, the nearness not only of his body to hers, but the nearness of their souls. Her spirit and his touched in the silence of the forest. She did not look at him yet, but she knew that he was looking at her, and that his heart was in the look, calling to hers. And she could not shut her ears to the call.
So she sat for a long moment, her eyes clinging for safety to the little volume in her hands. Her fingers pressed it tightly, almost spasmodically, and upon them she seemed to feel, even to see, Nick Hilliard's hands, brown and strong. It was only her fancy; but it was not fancy that they burned to clasp hers. She felt that longing of his, so vital, so passionate, creating the picture it desired. Always before, when the thought had flashed into her mind, "He is beginning to love me," she had thrust it away, shutting her mind against it. But that was before her spirit was keyed to the high music of river and forest in the Yosemite Valley. Since then she had passed from the twilight of little society shams and convenient, conventional self-deceivings into the glory where only Truth was visible or audible.
At last she was forced to lift her eyes, compelled by his. She tried to look past him, straight into the sunset, a furnace that burned up human misgivings. But her gaze was stopped on the way by Hilliard's.
"May I read what you've written?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, and gave him the book. While he read, she drew in deep breaths, gathering strength against an emergency, if an emergency were to come. But she hoped it would not. She wanted, oh, so much! to keep him for a comrade—for the comrade who had made this day the best day of her life. She did not want to stop playing, because if it had come to earnest, deep realities, as she was afraid it must come now, there would be no place for Nick Hilliard in her future—the future of Paolo di Sereno's disillusioned wife. "Still, here under these trees, I could tell him everything better than I could tell it anywhere else, and make him understand, and even forgive," she thought. "Without fear, I could let him know that I care for him, and that he has been the only man, except father, who has meant anything great to the real me. Almost, I wish he would speak—if he does love me. And I know he does."
But he lay reading the fancies she had written about the forest, and she could not guess how he was summoning his courage, as a general, surprised, summons his forces to battle. She did not know how deep was his humility in thoughts of her, any more than she realized how utterly her first point of view had changed toward him, the "forest creature," the "interesting, picturesque figure." So entirely was he a man, and the one man, that she had forgotten her old impersonal frame of mind.
He came to the last sentence in the book, broken short, where her pencil had stopped of itself.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm glad you feel those things about the forest. It's always been like that to me—sacred. If anything great and wonderful were to happen, I'd rather have it happen here than anywhere else. Would you?"
Yes, it was coming! Suddenly she half wanted it to come—this crisis in their lives; yet something made her push it away, just for a little while; not to have the end quite so soon, no matter how beautiful an end.
"Oh, wait!" she exclaimed. "Don't let's talk of ourselves yet—not for a few minutes. Wait with me, and neither of us will say one word till the sun has set and the light has changed."
"Till the light has changed," Nick echoed, a shadow falling over his face. He raised himself higher on his elbow, his shoulder still touching her foot, and they looked toward the west.
The forest seemed to have been lit up for some great religious festival. Each towering tree was a Titanic candle, with a flame at the top, against the far-off sky. The deep-red, fluted trunks gleamed with a pale luminous rose, and long straight avenues of fire-dust stretched away to the end of the world. A flood of golden flame poured through the forest, like a tidal wave out of the sun. Then came an ebb, a pause. The wave receded. A faint purple haze, like smoke from burning heliotropes, crept along the ground. The torch of sunset broke into a million stars; blazing golden spiders swung from glittering webs among the treetops; the melting crowns of the redwoods dripped rubies. Red meteors fell and burst, and the wild glory faded suddenly into a subdued, reminiscent glow. It was as if a cupful of ruddy wine had been drunk at a gulp, leaving but a few drops to stain the crystal. The rosy radiance ran along the horizon, and all that lived of the sunset clung to the far edge of the world or caught the gold horns of the Grizzly Giant's crown, which, like a high mountain summit, could hold the light of day while night purpled the plain below.
All day a concert of birds had filled the upper chambers of the trees with silver pipings, but now not a bird voice spoke. There was silence, except for a faint mysterious stirring, as of dryads beginning to wake and dress for their night-flitting when a moonbeam should tap on their shut doors. The lilac haze floated up from the ground, and slowly, very slowly, turned to silver touched with rose. Like a veil it spread among the trees tangling among their sharp branches, its lacy mesh tearing, to leave dark jagged holes. But unseen hands mended the rent and wove the veil into a curtain that screened the distance and was pinned up with stars.
The whole forest rustled with mystery in the strange pulsing luminance that was neither sunset nor moonrise, but the memory of one, and a hope of the other—the kind of light that a blind man might see in dreams.
"Now—Angela," Nick half whispered, in awe at the name on his lips, the name of a goddess uttered by a mortal. (Extra hazard!—extra hazard!) At last he laid his hand on hers, warm and close, and her lips opened to break the spell, when a voice called to Nick in the distance:
"Nick! Nick Hilliard, where are you?"
Angela drew away quickly, the spell broken indeed. He sprang to his feet, his face, that had been pale, flushing.
"It's Mrs. Gaylor's voice," he said, astonished and incredulous, as if at the call of a ghost.
AN INVITATION FROM CARMEN
Carmen had been following from San Francisco, a day late, because once, in losing the trail, she had lost twenty-four hours. To-day she had arrived at Wawona in the afternoon, and learning that Mr. Nickson Hilliard had gone to the Mariposa Grove, she asked for a carriage to take her there too.
"You'll reach the woods just about the time he's coming away," she was advised. "He ought to be back by ten o'clock at latest, maybe earlier." But Carmen insisted. She could not wait. Business made it necessary for her to see Mr. Hilliard as soon as possible, without wasting a moment. She looked sallow and hollow-eyed; for she had been travelling hard. Long ago now she had put away her widow's weeds; yet in the warm June sunlight she had the aspect of a mourner. It was as if she had drunk the blackness of night, and it ran in her veins. In full sunshine she seemed to bleed shadow.
The name of Gaylor was well known in California; and here at Wawona—far from the Gaylor ranch as it was—those with whom she spoke were aware of her importance. Carmen had no fear that she would be gossiped about and misunderstood. She was Mrs. Eldridge Gaylor, the rich widow of old Grizzly Gaylor. Everyone knew that Nick Hilliard, of Lucky Star Gusher fame, had been her husband's foreman, and that the land which had made his fortune had been sold to him by her. No one would doubt her or laugh behind her back when she stated that the need of a business discussion with Hilliard was pressing. People would think that perhaps another gusher had started into being, or that some question of investments must be decided. But even if her coming "made talk," Carmen was in no mood to care. In her mind a searchlight shone fiercely upon three figures: her own, Nick Hilliard's, Angela May's. Others were as shadows. A buckboard and horses, with a good driver, were found for Mrs. Gaylor after a slight delay. But she had been wandering on foot among the great redwoods for half an hour when Nick heard her voice calling his name.
Mrs. May had not been mentioned at the hotel. Carmen had been informed simply that Mr. Hilliard was showing a friend through the forest, and that they had gone out in the morning with the intention of staying to see the sunset. But Carmen had found in the visitor's book the name of "Mrs. May and maid." She had been certain of finding them there, for she knew only too well that all three, with a "black cat for luck," had left San Francisco together.
Every day since Theo Dene had told her of Angela May's existence she had "cut the cards," and had invariably come upon a "fair woman" close to the King of Hearts. Madame Vestris also had seen the "fair woman" in the crystal, and had described her. "She is beautiful and young, and stands in the sunshine," said the seeress, in whose visions Carmen had implicit faith; "but suddenly she is blotted out of my sight, as if by a dark cloud that swallows her up."
"Does she come back into the crystal?" Carmen had asked, eagerly.
"No. I can see you now. But she doesn't come back."
"And Nick? Do you find him?"
Madame Vestris knew very well who "Nick" was.
During the last three or four years she had replied to a great many questions about Nick Hilliard, and her answers had brought her a goodly number of ten-dollar bills. For crystal-gazing her charge was ten dollars: with a trance in addition, twenty-five.
"I see a man standing beside you. But he is in deep shadow. I can't make out who it is."
Carmen revived. "It must be Nick. There's no other man I can think of I would let come near me."
When she called to Hilliard in the Mariposa Grove, and his answering call told her where to look, Carmen was even more anxious to see what Mrs. May was like than to meet Nick himself, though it seemed years since the night when she bade him good-bye, full of hope, believing he would come back to her.
The two were standing under the Grizzly Giant when she came up to them, Nick a few steps in advance, because he had started to meet his old friend, and a sickly pang shot through Carmen's heart as she saw Angela, tall and white in the rose-and-silver twilight. She had to admit the enemy's beauty; and with a sharp stab of pain she remembered Nick's description of "the angel of his dreams." Yes, this white, slender creature was like a man's idea of an angel. Here was Nick's ideal made human. Carmen wished that the Grizzly Giant might fall on the angel and crush her to death, a lingering death of agony; because nothing less could satisfy a woman's longing for revenge. Nor was death enough to atone Carmen would have chosen to see Angela die disfigured, so that Nick should remember her hideous through the years to come. Desiring this eagerly, and all other evils, Mrs. Gaylor was, nevertheless, polite and pleasant to Mrs. May. She came out from the tragic shadow which had enveloped her like a mourning mantle, and wondered at herself, hearing the sweet tones of her own voice. She began by explaining to Nick that she had not been well; that her doctor had recommended her to try a change of air, and that she had thought of the Yosemite. "I've always wanted to see the valley ever since you came back and talked so much about it," she went on.
"Then, when I got to Wawona I heard you were there. I was surprised! Do you realize, you only wrote to me once, and never told me any of your plans? I should have thought you were in New York to this day if I hadn't run up to the Falconers' place on the McCloud River not very long ago, and found out that you'd been in Santa Barbara. I suppose this lady is Mrs. May, a friend of that fascinating Miss Dene? She, or some of the people up there, told me that you'd promised to show her round California."
As Carmen waited to be introduced, she glanced sharply from one to the other, to see if they looked self-conscious, but they wore an air of innocence that made Carmen long to strike Nick and trample on the woman. How dared they act as if she had no right to resent their being here together? Yet she did not want them to know, just now, that she did resent it.
Angela was almost as keenly interested in Carmen as Carmen was in her; and though Mrs. Gaylor was not at her best, she was excited; her eyes shone, and dusk softened her hard look of fatigue. Angela thought Nick's old friend one of the handsomest women she had ever seen. Also, she was jealous, more sharply and consciously jealous than when Theo Dene had gossiped about Mrs. Gaylor and Nick Hilliard, on the way back from Santa Barbara Mission. Angela had never before known the sting of jealousy; had never thought, till that day, that she could feel so mean a passion; yet now she suffered as Nick once had suffered, and was ashamed to suffer.
A few minutes ago she had been sure that Hilliard loved her, and she had keyed herself to tell him nobly why he must forget her, why she must forget him. But, having seen, Carmen, she began to wonder if Nick did care, and whether after all, he had meant to speak of his love, here in the forest. Perhaps she had been conceited, and mistaken about his feelings. Maybe Nick had merely been chivalrous and kind, like all California men, and wanted nothing of her except friendship. Maybe if he had meant to tell her anything, it had been about this beautiful Mrs. Gaylor.
Nick introduced them to each other, rather shyly and formally, and they were both extremely polite, even complimentary. Carmen said that she hoped Mrs. May wouldn't think it very queer of her, hurrying out to meet Mr. Hilliard the moment she heard he was near. Of course, she might have waited for him to come back to Wawona, they said he would be back by ten. But she was so impulsive! And she had wished to see the redwoods by sunset and moonrise. She knew Mr. Hilliard wouldn't want to bother about bringing her here next day, after he had just seen the trees himself, and for the second time, too. This had been too good a chance to lose. The trees were wonderful, weren't they? Would Mrs. May and Nick mind stopping a little longer now that she had come, and letting her see the moon rise? There was a sort of quiver over the sky as if it would appear soon.
All three sat down, but not in the place where Nick and Angela had sat together. He could not have endured that. While Carmen talked and the others answered—when they must—the moon-dawn came; and never would the Princess di Sereno forget the drift of stars behind the trees, and the fleecy moon-surf that beat on the high branches. Yet the music of the forest was silent for her, and the charm was broken.
"What are you going to do to-morrow?" Carmen asked. And Angela answered before Nick could speak: "Oh, my trip is over. There's nothing more to do but to go back—by a different way, of course. I have still to see Inspiration Point, of which I've heard so much. I'm looking forward to that."
"When you say 'go back,' do you mean San Francisco or the East?" Carmen tried to make her voice sound indifferent, though polite.
"To San Francisco, for a while. I'm not going East, I hope. I've bought land near Monterey. I mean to build and make a home for myself in California."
Carmen's one lingering hope died. She had thought it just possible that this affair had been a travelling flirtation; that Nick, though infatuated, would return to his old allegiance when this witch-light, this will-o'-the-wisp, this love pirate, had gone. But the love pirate intended to drop anchor in California waters, it seemed! Luckily for Carmen that the daylight had faded. Changes on a woman's face, if bent a little, could not be seen in the dusk.
"I wish you'd give me a chance to prove that California women are just as glad as California men to be nice to strangers," she went on. "Your home isn't ready yet, so you've nothing to tie you down. Won't you come and see my home? It's very pretty, if I do say so myself; and it might give you one or two ideas. Try and help me persuade her, Nick. You see, Mrs. May, I feel almost as if I knew you. They could talk of nobody else at Rushing River Camp! And meeting you in this wonderful forest makes me sure we ought to be friends, as if it was meant, you know."
"You're very kind," said Angela, feeling distinctly guilty, because she did not like Carmen, and admired her only because she could not help it.
"I told you Mrs. Gaylor would want you to come to her house!" exclaimed Nick, trying to be cordial and forget his bitter disappointment.
He too was feeling guilty. He had been even more sorry than surprised to see Carmen, and wished her a hundred miles away. Something told him that, if she had not interrupted him just at the critical moment, when hour and place and mood had seemed propitious, Angela would have been kind. Such a moment as Carmen Gaylor had spoiled might never come again. But he felt that he was cruel and ungrateful to his loyal friend, his benefactress. It was not her fault, he reminded himself, that she had appeared at the wrong time. She could not have guessed that he loved Mrs. May. He ought to be flattered because poor Carmen had started out to meet him in the forest, instead of waiting at Wawona. The sound of her voice, with its deep contralto, reminded him how much he owed to Mrs. Gaylor. Her friendship and generosity had made him rich. If it had not been for her he would never have owned or been able to sell the Lucky Star gusher. And, after all, there would be other moments. Because Mrs. Gaylor had inadvertently robbed him of this chance with Angela, there was no reason to feel so gloomily sure that he would never have another. He would make one for himself! And now here was his kind friend, inviting Mrs. May to visit her, mostly to please him, of course. How like her! If only his angel would accept, he might be able to "cross the dead line" by and by, in his own country, and that would be the next best after the Mariposa Forest.
Carmen bit her lip. So they had talked her over together, these two, and Nick had told this woman that she would be invited to visit the Gaylor ranch! Well, she would let them believe that she was good-naturedly playing into their hands. She wanted, yet hated, to have them think that.
"Why, of course, Nick knows how delighted I am to get pleasant visitors," she forced herself to say. "I haven't many—and I get few other pleasures. I'm awfully lonesome on my big ranch. Come for as long as you can—but even a few days will be better than nothing, if you can't spare more. Nick can show you his gusher—or rather the gusher that was his; and Lucky Star City, which you'll think queer and interesting, I expect, just as Nick does—though it seems vulgar and hideous to me. By the way, Nick, there's a new school-teacher at Lucky Star. Oh, there's lots of news since you went away! I shall have heaps to tell you. Won't you come and visit me, and be shown around by Nick, Mrs. May?"
Angela was torn between several emotions, none of which she was able clearly to define. If she refused, it might seem ungracious, because already, half in earnest, half in play, she had partly promised Nick to go some time and have a glimpse of Lucky Star ranch and city. Yet, less than ever did she wish to be indebted for hospitality to Mrs. Gaylor.
"Could I go for a day?" she inquired.
"You could for two days and a night," said Carmen, "if you couldn't give us more time. You see, you'd have to travel all night from San Francisco to Bakersfield, or rather to Kern—which is the same thing. And my place is a good long drive from there, even in a motor, which I could easily hire."
"You needn't do that. I've bought one," Nick cut in eagerly. "She's in San Francisco. I was looking forward to showing her to you. But now I can do better. If Mrs. May consents, I'll ship the auto by train in advance and send the shuvver—my assistant, I mean—on ahead, so as to look the car over and see that she's ready to run us all out to your ranch after we arrive at Bakersfield in the morning. Now, aren't you surprised at my news, Mrs. Gaylor—that I've got an automobile of my own? Or did they tell you that, among other things, at River Camp?"
"Yes, they told me," answered Carmen, with the same praiseworthy calmness which she had been admiring in herself, and wondering at, as if it were a marvellous performance on the stage by an actress.
"Anyhow, I expect my yellow car will excite more interest at Lucky Star than a new schoolmistress," said Nick, laughing, almost light-hearted again. But he did not give more than a thought to the schoolmistress. Of what possible importance could she be to him?
"Will you run over from Kern to the Gaylor ranch in his yellow car?" asked Carmen, softly and kindly, seeing that the enemy hesitated.
"Yes—thank you both. I will go," Angela said.
"Then I'm rewarded for my long drive this afternoon." And indeed Carmen felt rewarded. She thought of the crystal, and how Madame Vestris had seen the "fair woman" blotted out of the sunshine by a dark cloud. And after that she had not come into the crystal again. Carmen had been there with a man standing by her side.
"But what should I have done if the hateful creature had refused to visit me?" Carmen thought. "Everything depended on that."
Next day they took the long drive together, Mrs. Gaylor, Angela, and Nick, and Angela's maid—for Carmen had not brought Mariette to the Yosemite. Mariette was too talkative, and had been sent home from San Francisco. Carmen did not wish Nick to find out how hurried this journey of hers had been lest he should suspect that it was made in quest of him! She wanted him to believe that she had been travelling leisurely for the benefit of her health, as she had taken pains to explain.
Nothing could spoil the azure mystery of Inspiration Point: nothing could dim the brightness of the Bridal Veil, seen from a new point of view. So near that a strong wind might have driven the spray into their faces, they saw the white folds of the waterfalls, embroidered with rainbows, and the dark rocks behind its rushing flood, stained deep red, and gold and blue, as if generations of rainbows had dried there. Nothing could stifle the thrill of that wild drive, down steep roads that tied themselves ribbonlike, round the mountain-side, and seemed to flutter, as ribbons might flutter, over precipices. Yet the magic of four days ago was dead. Carmen, sitting between Nick and Angela, had killed it. Neither rivers nor trees sang their old song; and the white witch of the Bridal Veil had turned her face away.
Nick's detective in San Francisco had no news; at all events no news with which he could be induced to part. "Wait a few days longer," he said. "That's the only favour I ask. Maybe by that time we shall both know where the poison-oak came from, who posted the box, who sent it, and why, and all the rest there is to know."
"Haven't you any suspicions yet?" Nick asked impatiently.
"I don't go so far as to say that."
"What—that you have, or you haven't?"
"That I haven't."
"You mean you do suspect some one?"
"Well, my mind's beginning to hover."
"Tell me where."
"No. I won't tell you that, Mr. Hilliard."
"Not while I'm hovering. Not till there's something to light on. I may be doing an innocent person a big injustice."
And Nick could squeeze no more hints from Max Wisler. Herein lay one secret of the man's success; he had his own methods, and no one could persuade or bribe him to depart from them. This caused him to be respected. And Nick had to leave San Francisco with Mrs. Gaylor and Angela, tingling with unsatisfied curiosity. Mrs. May had forbidden him to speak to Carmen of the mysterious box, having grown sensitive on the subject. More than once she had asked herself if it were possible that some one very, very far away—some one whose photograph was in the Illustrated London News—hated her enough to do her an injury: some one she had believed to be completely indifferent in these days. The thing savoured of the Latin mind, she could not help thinking, rather than the Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps Princess di Sereno was not quite forgotten in Italy, after all. And Mrs. May could imagine a motive, for in San Francisco she had been able to find a duplicate of that illustrated paper. There were three photographs in it: one rather bad one of herself, taken years ago in Rome; one of Paolo, dressed as an aeronaut; and one of a certain handsome young woman, very becomingly dressed to accompany the Prince for a flight in his new aeroplane.
Angela was not happy in this expedition to the Gaylor ranch, though she reassured herself from time to time, by saying that it was better to accept than refuse the invitation; and she was to be Mrs. Gaylor's guest only for a day, part of another, and one night. Still, she was vaguely troubled. The warm consciousness of being surrounded by kindness which had made the California sunshine doubly bright, was chilled. This visit would be like other visits which she had made in the past, before she was "Mrs. May, whom nobody knows." In Rome, in Paris, in London, Princess di Sereno had been obliged sometimes to go to houses of women whom she disliked or distrusted, and to have them in hers. Such obligations had been part of the inevitable disagreeableness of daily existence for the wife of Paolo di Sereno; but going to Mrs. Gaylor was the first false note in the music of this free, new world. Angela consoled herself by thinking of Lucky Star Ranch. She would like to see Nick Hilliard's home.
* * * * *
"Simeon, she's here," said Carmen, in a low voice, to the old squirrel poisoner.
They stood together in the grove of bamboos, where they had talked about Nick, and about "old Grizzly Gaylor," on the May night when Nick was leaving for New York. Counting by time, that was not long ago. But Carmen's whole outlook on life was changed. She felt and looked years older.
"That's all right then, my lady," Simeon Harp answered. "The whole thing's all right. Don't you worry."
"Oh, I do worry. Every minute I'm in hell," she groaned. "Oh, Simeon, what will become of me?"
"You'll be happy, and marry the man you love, my lady," the old man soothed her, the red-rimmed eyes, which had once been handsome, sending out a faint gleam of the one emotion that still burned in the ashes of his wrecked soul: devotion to the woman who had saved his life, who had given him a roof and food, and—above all—drink.
"I can never be happy again, whatever happens," Carmen said, with anguish. "He loves some one else. He doesn't care for me."
"He'll learn to care. This slip of a thing that's come between you and 'im, my lady, will fly away out of his mind like a bit of thistledown. When I'm done with her—she's got rid of for good."
"Oh, but the horror of it—the getting rid of her! It don't weaken one bit, Simeon. I've brought her here for that, just that, and it shall be done. In some moods, for a minute or two, I rejoice in the thought of it. I want it. I'd even like to be there and see. Madame Vestris says that in my last incarnation I was a Roman Empress—that I used to go to the gladiator shows, and turn my thumb down, as a sign that the wounded ones who failed in the fight were to be killed by their conquerors in the arena. And that, once when I hated a Christian girl, I went to see her killed by lions. She—Madame Vestris—watched the whole scene in her crystal. Very likely it's true, what she says. I believe in her. She's wonderful. But I'm softer in this incarnation than in the last, I guess. It frightens me and turns me sick when I think how I shall dream and wake up nights afterward—even if I'm married to Nick. Oh, it's awful! But it's the only way. He was meant for me! He's mine. She'll have to go. And I don't care how much I suffer, if only I have him for my husband in the end."
"You'll have him," said Simeon Harp. "It's going to be. And there ain't no need for you to dream bad dreams. You ain't doing the thing. It's me. It was me thought of it. It's me who'll carry it out."
"Supposing you fail?" she whispered.
"I won't, if you'll do your part. Just the little part, my lady; we can't get on without your doin'. You send her there, to the right place; that's all. For the rest you can count on me."
"Oh!" Carmen shuddered, and put her hands before her face. "To think it's for to-day—to-day! If only the other thing had gone through all right, and she'd been made so hideous that he couldn't look at her, this horror might have been saved. I'd have wanted no more. Once he'd seen her face, that he thinks so angelic, red, and swollen and hardly human, he could never have felt the same toward her again. And it wouldn't have hurt her much in the end. But evidently she isn't the kind that's affected by that stuff. I know there are some who aren't. Those two haven't spoken about the box to me, Simeon. I was afraid at first Nick might suspect, and be watching. But that's nonsense, of course. And she wouldn't be here now if the idea had crossed his mind."
"Nobody'll ever know," said Simeon. "I went such a long way. I changed trains three times and walked miles in between. Besides, when I posted the box I was wearin' something different from what I ever wear here. I was another man to look at."
"Oh, yes, I'm sure you did your part well," Carmen said quickly. "It was Fate interfered. I felt it would. All the cards near me were black just then. I don't know what I should do without you, Simeon—good old watch-dog! You shall be rich the rest of your life if you win me happiness."
"I've got all I want," the squirrel poisoner answered. "It's a pleasure to me to serve you. You don't need to offer no rewards, except to keep me near you, my lady, and give me my bite and sup. You ought to know that by this time—anyhow since a year ago."
"I know! And you're clever, as well as faithful. I should never have thought of as good a way as—as this. No one could possibly prove it was anything but an accident. Did you—see her, Simeon?"
"Yes; I wasn't far off when Nick's big yeller automobile spilt you both out at the door. To my idea, she ain't nothing to you. I was never one for blondes."
"If you could see Nick's eyes when he looks at her! Those are the times when I feel like the Roman Empress. I was glad he wouldn't stay to lunch. Though I asked, I don't think I could have stood having him. I'd have done something desperate, maybe, and spoilt everything. She's lying down now. I made her promise she would till half an hour before lunch. Nick's coming for us, with his auto, at five. He wanted it to be earlier, but I told him she was tired, and it would be too hot for her to walk around Lucky Star in the glare, where there aren't any trees. It's all got to happen and be over with before five, Simeon. She'll never see Nick's ranch she talks so much of." Again Carmen shivered, and her eyes were wide and staring, curiously glazed. She knew that she was looking almost plain to-day, and had been actually terrified by her own face in the glass before she came out to keep the appointment with Simeon Harp. But it did not matter what she looked like before Simeon. When Nick came and saw her again next time there would be reason why he would have no eyes for her. And later, when all this was over, she would come back into her beauty again. She must!
"What time are you having lunch, my lady?" Simeon inquired in a matter-of-fact tone, his harsh voice sounding just as usual.
"And you'll send her out?"
"At half-past two."
"Right, my lady. That'll bring her to the place I want about three or a little after."
"Yes. You're sure nothing can go wrong?"
"Sure as ever I was about a squirrel."
"Oh!" Carmen shivered, and turning away from him without another word she went back to the house.
No one had seen them talking together; and even if they had been seen it would not have mattered. Mrs. Gaylor often chatted with the old squirrel poisoner, who was known to be devoted to her; a harmless creature who hurt nobody—except himself and the squirrels.
THE DARK CLOUD IN THE CRYSTAL
When the musical gong sounded for luncheon, and Carmen came down from her room at one o'clock, she found her guest already in the garden, as lovely a garden as Angela had seen in her sleep. For a minute Carmen stood on a step of the brick terrace, looking at the slender figure in white. Angela did not hear the faint rustling of muslin. Her back was half turned to the house, and she was watching the aerial architecture of the fountain, delicate domes and pinnacles built of crystal. Carmen thought reluctantly that Mrs. May looked very young in her white frock, not more than eighteen or nineteen. She wondered if the love pirate enjoyed life very much, and whether she really cared for Nick and wanted to marry him or whether she was only flirting. Then the profile at which Carmen had been gloomily gazing turned into a full face. Angela smiled at Mrs. Gaylor. "You must have hypnotized me," she said. "Suddenly I felt I was being looked at by some one. Have you been taking a nap, too?"
"No," said her hostess. "I knew I couldn't go to sleep. I'm glad if you rested. You look very fresh."
Angela could not conscientiously return the compliment. Mrs. Gaylor might have been travelling for a week instead of one night.
Luncheon was in the pergola, where Carmen and Nick had dined together the night he went away; the night—as she expressed it to herself of late—when she had lost him. Angela had never seen a more beautiful place, and said so, trying to make conversation; for now that Nick was not with them she felt ill at ease with Mrs. Gaylor. "What a garden!" she exclaimed. "The other night in the Yosemite I dreamed of just such a garden—and I think, at the end of the dream there was a woman in it—rather like you. You must be very happy here."
"Yes, I'm happy enough," said Carmen. "Oh! I mustn't forget to tell you—Nick came back. Did you hear his automobile?"
"No. I must have been asleep."
"I thought you were. Besides, your room's on the other side of the house."
"It's beautifully quiet and cool. Did Mr. Hilliard come to change the plan for this afternoon?"
"Yes. He turned round before getting home, because he'd remembered something he had to do at six, something important, business with the men who've bought his gusher. They're to look at another one—smaller, but pretty good—and see if they want to buy it too; a new gusher that's burst out on the land Nick kept for his own. So he thought perhaps we wouldn't mind going over to look at the place a good deal earlier, after all, in spite of the heat. He won't let you be exposed to the sun more than he can help."
"I don't mind the heat, if you don't," said Angela.
"Oh, as for me, I'm half Spanish, you know. I'm like a salamander. Nick'll come back between half-past two and three—soon after his lunch. He might almost as well have stayed with us. But, of course, as he's been away from home so long, he wants to have a look around and be sure that everything's all right for a stranger to see. I don't wonder! I told him we'd meet him at the east gate. It's a short cut, and though it isn't much of a walk for us, and is in shade over half the way, it cuts off more than two miles of bad road for him—road that's just being made. I thought you'd rather like a stroll through the bamboo grove, which everybody admires so much. The only part of the walk that will be hot is going across a bit of disused pasture land. But we'll take green-lined parasols. I have a lot of them about the house, for visitors. We ought to start by two-thirty; and by three-fifteen, with the motor, we can be coming in sight of the Lucky Star Gusher, like a huge black geyser. You know Nick's land was once part of mine, so his place is no distance, really. I hope you don't dislike walking?"
"No, indeed. I'm very fond of it. I can easily do ten miles."
"Well, you will have only a short mile to meet Nick and his motor this afternoon. I dare say I shall pick up a little by half-past two. I thought maybe lunch would make me feel better, but it doesn't. Just the other way! I can't eat. I've got one of the horrid headaches that turn me almost into a lunatic once in a blue moon."
"I'm so sorry," said Angela. "Hadn't you better send Mr. Hilliard word that we can't come to-day? You know, there's most of to-morrow——"
"Oh, no," Carmen broke in hastily. "I wouldn't disappoint him for anything in the world. A cup of black coffee will do me good."
But apparently it had no such effect. And at two o'clock Mrs. Gaylor said that she feared she must not venture out, after all, in the hot sun. If she tried she might faint, and that would be silly. "I'm so sorry, but you'll have to go alone," she finished, "and when I've had a little rest, I'll come after you in a carriage, in time to bring you home. That will save Nick motoring here and back, and give him a chance to keep his engagement at six, with those men, and no danger of a breakdown with his car. He might burst a tire on that stony road, you see, and be delayed. Those men are important to him."
Angela was genuinely sympathetic, and strove to regret that Mrs. Gaylor could not be with her. But she could not feel as sorry as she wished to feel. There was a spice of danger in being alone with Nick, danger that he might take up the thread dropped in the Mariposa Forest—if, indeed, he really cared to take it up. That was the question. Perhaps, even if he loved her, he would not think it best to tell her so under his own roof, where she would have to run away from him to escape, if she did not choose to listen. Whether he loved her or not, it must come to the same in the end. But she could not help longing to know the truth. The one thing she did already know was that she was deliciously frightened, yet glad that she was to see Nick's ranch without Mrs. Gaylor.
At half-past two she started out, Carmen giving her explicit directions, which she could not mistake, because, after passing through the bamboos, the way was straight as far as that stretch of disused pasture land of which mention had been made.
"You'll be in shade of the orange-trees till you come to a big gate in a fence," Carmen explained. "Shut it after you, please, because dogs might stray into the garden if you left it open. No cattle graze on that part of the ranch any more. They're going to irrigate there and to plant alfalfa, the soil's likely to be so good. But I've been weak enough to let gipsies camp on the place once or twice, and there might be some there now, with their dogs and horses, for all I know. As you go out of the gate you'll see a kind of track worn in the grass; and all you've got to do is to follow it for about three quarters of a mile, till you come to a new road that's just been finished. When the rest of it's made right, motors won't have any trouble between Nick's ranch and mine."
Angela said that she understood her instructions perfectly, and took the green-lined parasol which her hostess had found for her. Its outer covering was scarlet, and it was rather big and heavy. Angela made up her mind that she would not use it except for the hottest part of the walk, going across the disused pasture land.
"You'll really be able to come on about five?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, I shall be a different woman by that time." The contralto voice dropped oddly and suddenly with these words: an effect of the headache, of course. And the pallor of the dark face was almost ghastly. Angela thought that her hostess looked very ill. "You may expect me," Carmen finished.
"I know Mr. Hilliard would be disappointed if you didn't come. Good-bye till five, then."
Angela turned away; and Mrs. Gaylor, who had brought her guest as far as the beginning of the bamboo grove; stood watching the white figure flit farther and farther away, among the intricate green pillars of the temple. Then, when the elusive form became ghostlike in the distance, Carmen went back to the house. She walked slowly and with dignified composure while it was possible that she might be seen by some servant. But once in her room, with the door locked, she tottered to the bedside and flung herself down on her knees.
"O God—O God!" she gasped, her face hidden.
Then, lifting her eyes, with a look of horror, she whispered, "No, not God—devil. He's the only one I can ever pray to now."
Her eyes, glazed and staring, saw again the white figure passing from sunshine into shadow. So it had been in Madame Vestris's crystal. How soon would the dark cloud blot it out of sight now—and forever?
Angela had some difficulty in opening the gate that led from an orange plantation into the disused pasture, for the fence was high and strong, and the gate, apparently, not often used. As for the pasture, it went billowing away mile after mile, seemingly, though at a distance she could see a wire fence, a long vanishing line. And beyond that—safety shut away by the wire, she was glad to think—a large number of cattle grazing. They were so far off that their forms were all massed together, and they seemed very quiet. Nevertheless, she was glad that a wire fence separated them from her, for though she was not a coward and would not have stopped now if there had been no fence, there was something rather terrifying about a great drove of cattle in a lonely place.
"They're much too far off to see my red-covered sunshade," she thought. "But even if they did see it, and didn't like it, they wouldn't jump over a fence to get at me, I suppose!"
She walked on, along the track worn by the passing of feet, which had thinned and flattened the grass. She could not see the new road of which Carmen had spoken, but she must reach it sooner or later, going this way. For the present, several low hills, like grass-sown waves, billowed between her and it. But by and by, perhaps, she would hear the "teuf-teuf" of Nick's motor coming along the new road, to fetch her and Carmen. Would he be glad or sorry when he found that she was alone? She hoped that he would be glad, but Mrs. Gaylor was so beautiful that it was hard to be sure. Suddenly, just as she reached the top of one of the billowing hills and caught sight of a rough road about half a mile away, she started at a sharp sound like a shot. It seemed to come from the direction of the cattle, and she turned to look toward them, vaguely disturbed. As she looked, her unformed fears turned to keen and definite terror. The shot, whether or no it had struck one of their number, had, in an instant, stirred the drove in panic. Their comfortable peace was broken. Horns tossed, dark forms reared, and hoofs descended on shining backs. A bull bellowed wildly. Others followed suit. There was a dreadful roaring, and a rushing of hoofs that sounded in Angela's horrified ears like the beginning of an earthquake. The whole troop, hundreds of horned heads and humpy backs, massed and seethed together. It was as if an irresistible force from behind impelled them all forward in a pack. She stood still and watched the black wave of cattle, fascinated, appalled, her heart beating thickly. No, they could not stop now. Nothing could stop them, except some great obstacle which they could not pass. And, when they came to that obstacle, many would be killed by others' trampling hoofs. They would fall and die, and their brothers would beat them down, not knowing, blind and mad and merciless. It was a stampede. She had read of such things happening among wild cattle in the West. Poor creatures, poor stupid brutes, how sorry, how sickeningly sorry she was for them! Who could have fired the shot, and why? Men on horses were in sight now—two, she thought—no, three, galloping fast, but far behind the drove. They could do no good. Only the fence would stop the rush, she told herself, through the poundings of her heart. Then—then—it was as if a loud voice cried the question in her ears—Would the fence stop it?
If not—"May God help me!" she heard herself saying. For an instant she stared at the oncoming black wave which swept on, faster and faster toward her, so incredibly, terribly fast now that in another second she knew they would break down the line of wire fence. The cattle, those that were not trampled to death, would soon pour through the gap, would sweep on and on, overwhelming this hill where she stood.
Strange, some lines of a poem were saying themselves in Angela's head. She had read them lately, since she came to America, the story of a stampede and a girl. Laska—yes, that was the name—loved a man, and saved him from the rush of wild cattle by covering his body with hers, protecting it with her bleeding flesh from the blows of the iron hoofs.
Nick had given her the book. She had been in a train when she read the story of Laska. She saw herself sitting safely and cosily in a stateroom, all panelled satinwood and green velvet. Now——
Blindly she started to run. It was useless, she knew, for the fence was certain to go, and she could no more outrun that black billow of death than she could outrace one of Paolo di Sereno's aeroplanes. Yet instinct made her run toward the far-off road, away from the plunging, bellowing cattle. She thought of Hilliard, and how he would hate to hear of the death she had died. He would give his life for hers, as Laska had given her life for her lover.
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
Just as Nick was finishing a somewhat hurried and sketchy luncheon a telegram was handed to him. It was from Max Wisler, the San Francisco detective, and it said laconically, "Don't let A. M. visit C. G."
As Nick read, the blood rushed to his forehead, and he sprang to his feet, knocking over the chair in which he had been sitting.
Max Wisler had not been told by him that Mrs. May was to visit Mrs. Gaylor; but that must be what he meant. It had not occurred to Nick that it could be necessary to mention Angela's brief stay, in telling Wisler that he himself was "running up to Lucky Star." The detective must have found out in some ferreting way of his own. And he had telegraphed, "Don't let A. M. visit C. G." What could be his reason? Then suddenly a dreadful explanation flashed into Nick's head; flashed there and stayed, as if printed in letters of blood on his brain.
Wisler had been right after all. He had found out who sent the box of poison oak. Those hateful questions of his, so much resented, had been justified. There could be no other explanation. Nothing else could excuse this warning. It seemed too hideous to be true that Wisler had telegraphed because there was danger for Angela, and yet——
Nick did not wait to finish out the sentence in his mind. The Japanese servant, who was cook and valet and chamberman, had brought the telegram and the last luncheon dish at the same time. Now he was providing Billy the chauffeur with something to eat. But Nick did not wait or even think about Billy. The engagement with Mrs. Gaylor and Angela was for five o'clock, but that made no difference to Nick, with the telegram in his hand. Knowing what he knew—for he did know now, as if he had seen all Wisler's proofs—he would not trust Angela alone with Carmen for a single hour. He was going this instant to snatch her away, with no matter what excuse. He would think of something to satisfy Angela, for she must not find out the truth if he could help it—anyhow, not while she was under Carmen's roof; it would shock and distress her too much. The principal thing was to get her out of the place quickly and quietly. As for Carmen—he could not decide yet how he should deal with Carmen. Loyal as he was by nature, and as he had shown himself to Wisler, modest as to his own deserts, and slow to fancy himself valued by any woman, he could not now help seeing, as Wisler had seen the one motive which could have tempted Carmen Gaylor to send Angela May a box of poison-oak. Many little things came back, in a flood of disturbing memory; things to which Nick had attached no importance at the time, or had misunderstood, owing to his humility, where women were concerned, and his chivalrous, almost exaggerated respect for his employer's wife and widow—the generous, disinterested friend that he had thought her. "What a fool—what a double-dyed fool!" he anathematized himself, as he got the motor ready to start, while Billy still ate apple-pie and cream on the kitchen veranda. In spite of Wisler's catechism he had let Angela accept Carmen's invitation, had even urged her to accept. If anything hideous happened it would be his fault. But no, surely nothing would happen. It was too bad to be true. If Carmen had committed the crime of sending the poison-oak, it must have been in a fit of madness, after hearing things—stupid things—from Miss Dene. By this time she must have repented. She could not be a woman and harm a guest—such a guest as Angela May and in her own house.
And yet it was odd—he had dimly thought it odd, even in his ignorance—that Carmen should have followed them out to the Big Trees from Wawona, there to make a "dead set" at Mrs. May. She had said that her choice of the Yosemite for rest and change of air was a coincidence; that she had not known he was in the neighbourhood until she heard the news at Wawona. But suddenly Nick ceased to believe that story. She had gone because he was there—with Angela May.
As he thought these things he was starting the car, getting into the car, driving the car away from the house, to the Gaylor ranch. There was no bad patch of road. That was an invention of Carmen's for the plausibility of the plan she had sketched out to Angela. The road had been finished months ago, and Nick flew along it in the Bright Angel at a pace which might have got him into trouble with the police if there had been any police to spy upon him. The way ran through disused pasture land which was to be irrigated, enriched, and grown with alfalfa; and at a turn in the road he came upon a sight which flashed to his eyes like a spurt of vitriol. He saw the wild cattle break through the fence—the new "bunch" which Carmen had just got from Arizona. He saw them struggling, and trampling each other down, and sweeping through the gap like a wave through a broken dyke. He saw a figure in white running toward him, and knew it was Angela May—knew that she must die unless he could be in time to save her.
Nick turned the car, and sent it leaping off the road, to bound over the rough hummocks, billowing under the heat-baked grass. He looked like a dead man, with only his eyes and hands—his strong, firm hands—alive. The motor rocked on the green waves as if in a stormy sea, and groaned like a wounded bull—one of those who had died there at the broken fence, with their hearts' blood in their mouths.
It was almost on her now—the wild black wave—with death in its wake and death in its gift; but he reached her first, and leaning out while the car swerved—as many a time he had leaned from his galloping bronco in cowboy days, to pick up a hat or a handkerchief—he caught Angela up beside him. Then with a twist of the steering-wheel he gave the Bright Angel a half-turn that sent her flying along in front of the cattle, almost underneath the tossing horns and plunging hoofs. Thus he shot past the surging line of them, since he could not turn round sharply to run before the wave without risk of upsetting. As the automobile dashed past, the cattle surged on irresistibly; but Nick and Angela in the car were beyond the reach of hoofs and horns.
Three mounted cowboys saw the race won, and yelled a wild yell of triumph, but their duty was to the cattle. They went about their business knowing that the car was safe; and Nick neither saw the men nor consciously heard their shouts.
Angela was half fainting. Holding her up, he steered as he could, slowing down now lest the jumping springs of the car should break. He drove away from, not toward, Mrs. Gaylor's house. He would not take Angela back to Carmen even for a moment. Yet as she was alone and swooning she could not go to his house. He caught at the idea of a quick run into Bakersfield in search of a doctor. But when he saw at last that Angela was slowly coming to herself, drawing deep, sobbing breaths, her eyelashes trembling on wet cheeks, he eased the car down on a quiet stretch of road, under the shade of young walnut-trees and oaks. There he stopped for a while, in the cool tree shadows.
"You're safe, precious one, safe," he whispered, as he might have soothed a child. "There's nothing to be afraid of now."
Angela opened her eyes and looked at him through her lashes as she had never looked before. "I—thought of you then," she murmured. "I thought of you—I wanted you. Just when I expected to die."
Her eyes, her voice, her words, broke down the last barrier that held him back; and he would have been more or less than man if he had not poured out, in a torrent, all his love and worship in a flood of words.
"Darling—heart's dearest—do you think I'd have let you die so? I must have felt—I must have heard you call me. It had to be. I'd feel a thought of yours across the world," he stammered. "If I were in my grave and you wanted me, my spirit would come back into my body to serve you. How I love you, love you, dear! It can't be that such love can leave you cold. I'm not of your world, but come down to mine, or help me to come into yours. Give me a little love, just a little love, and I'll give you my soul."
"Don't—oh, don't!" faltered Angela. She raised her head from his arm and sat up, leaning away from him.
"I know I'm a wretch!" he said. "I ought to be shot for speaking of myself, when you're all broken to pieces. The words came. I've been keeping them back day by day, but that's no excuse. Forgive me!"
"No—you mustn't use the word forgive—when you've just saved my life! It's only this—I can't let you go on."
"Not now. I know. But some time——"
"No. Not ever. Don't think I couldn't care for you. It isn't that. I could. I——But I mustn't care. It's all impossible! I ought to have told you long ago. The only thing is to forget—for us both. Oh, if I could have kept you for my friend! But I feel now that's impossible, too. After this, we can't be friends, can we?"
"No, we can't be friends," he echoed, very pale, suddenly weary and almost broken by the strain he had endured. "But are you sure——"
"Sure. The more I care, the more sure. Oh, Nick, my dear, my dear, I wish you had let me die!"
He looked at her strangely and very sadly, after his first start and stiffening of the muscles. "Would that have been better than caring for me?" he asked in a voice so low that she could just catch the words.
"Yes, it would have been much better," she answered, covering her face with her hands to hide the tears that burned her eyes. She was too weak for the explanation she would have given at sunset among the redwoods. This was no time, and she was in no state for explanations. She could only feel and hide from him what she felt, or part of it; for if he but half guessed how she loved him and wanted his love, she would be in his arms, his lips on hers. There was no thought in her mind how terribly he might be misunderstanding.
His lips were white. "Very well," he said. "It's better for me that you've been frank. All the same and all the more I want you to forgive me for speaking at a time like this. I won't offend you again. Only I don't take back anything. So now you know. Don't try to talk, and I won't talk much to you. I don't think I could if I would. I'm going to drive you to Bakersfield. But shall I take you to a kind old doctor I know, who can give you something to pick you up, or would you rather I'd drop you at a hotel? For—I can't explain, so please don't ask—but I mustn't let you go to Mrs. Gaylor's again. There's a good reason why. Maybe you'll know some time, but I don't believe it can ever be from me. I'll fetch your maid and your baggage when you're settled somewhere. And if you're strong enough, the best thing will be to start for San Francisco to-night. When you're there, see Mr. Morehouse, and let him take good care of you. For it's true, as you said; you and I can't go on being friends."
Angela opened her lips to answer him, but could not. He started the car once more, and drove on faster.
"I'll go to a hotel, thank you, not to a doctor," she said when she could speak.
* * * * *
Soon the news of the stampede among the new bunch of steers from Arizona found its way to the house, and Carmen was told what had happened. The rush of the cattle had been stopped by the time she heard of it, but only at the brink of the big irrigation canal. Two fences had been broken down and a good many animals killed. Others had had to be shot.
"Anybody hurt?" Carmen asked in a queer, dry voice. She seemed to take little interest in the fate of the new cattle, though they had been a costly purchase.
So far as was known, nobody had been hurt. But it was too soon to be sure yet. And there was no one who could tell up to that moment how the stampede had been started. But some of the boys talked about a gun going off mysteriously. And a lady had been seen in the disused pasture. The boys had seen her running, and afterward being caught up by a man in a big yellow motor, what man they weren't sure—they'd been going too fast and were too far off—but he was like Nick Hilliard.
And it was then that Simeon Harp came on to the terrace where Carmen was standing to hear the story. Seeing his face she knew that things had gone utterly wrong, and that all hope was lost.
"Nick will know what I did!" she told herself, as the death-stab of failure struck her in the heart. "Maybe he knows already. If that woman has told him how I sent her out alone, and how I lied about his plans being changed, and the men he had to meet, then he must guess. They're sure to compare notes, and he'll suspect about the poison-oak."
The ice of despair was a frozen dagger in her breast. Even before the chance came for a talk with Simeon Harp she made up her mind what to do. It would be a cruel wrench, but there was nothing else. She could not face Nick's look of loathing, even though gratitude for the past should close his lips upon his knowledge, and upon his secret thoughts of her. To go away, far away, this very hour, before he could come, would be a confession of guilt and of utter defeat; but to Carmen, crushed and hopeless and ashamed, it was the only thing to do. She would go and never come back. She would live in the East, or, better still, in Europe, and sell the hateful ranch. She had received many tempting offers since her husband's death, and through her lawyers she would accept one that was still open. Life here would be too hateful with Nick for a silent enemy; Nick married by and by, perhaps, to the other woman.
The excitement of her decision kept Carmen from a physical collapse. Quickly, if a little confusedly, she thought out a plan. There would, of course, be a question of insurance for the dead and injured cattle, she said to the elderly foreman who had taken Nick's place on the ranch. She would go to San Francisco at once. No use to point out that it was unnecessary. She wished to go. That was enough. And she gave directions to every one what was to be done in her absence, for she might be away some days. She would not take her maid. She preferred to travel alone. And when some question was asked later by one of the house servants about the guest, Mrs. May, Carmen answered: "She has been suddenly called away from here by telegram. I don't think she'll be coming back to the house. There'll be a message for that Irish girl of hers by and by, I expect. Anyhow, I can't trouble about them now. Their affairs must take care of themselves."
Mariette, Carmen's French maid, hurriedly and sulkily packed enough things to last her mistress for a week; and by the time the trunk and bag were ready the carriage was waiting to take Mrs. Gaylor into Bakersfield. Everybody knew that no train would leave Kern for San Francisco until night, but the imperious lady was in no mood to receive extraneous information. She had said something about seeing a lawyer in Bakersfield. If she chose to waste hours there it was her business, not that of the household.
But driving to the town, Carmen decided not to go to San Francisco by that night's train. She had had time to reflect a little, not only upon what had happened, but upon what was likely to happen. If Angela May suspected the truth—and Carmen's conscience told her that this was more than probable—she would not go back to the ranch. Nick would not let her go there, even if she wished it. He would send for or fetch the Irish maid and the luggage, while Mrs. May—already engaged to marry him, perhaps—waited at his place, or at a Bakersfield hotel. In any case it was almost certain that "the woman" (as Carmen called Angela always, in her mind) would travel to San Francisco that night. And it seemed likely to Mrs. Gaylor that Nick would go with her and the maid. Carmen could not risk an encounter in the train.
Arrived at Bakersfield, fortunately without meeting Nick in his motor, she hired a large automobile. And at the hour when Hilliard was being informed that Mrs. Gaylor had gone away for a few days, on business which had come up suddenly, she was travelling swiftly by road to San Francisco.
The car she had engaged was a powerful touring automobile, with side-curtains of canvas, and these she ordered to be kept down; for she had some wild fear that Nick might discover her plan, try to follow and find her during her journey, necessarily much longer by motor than by train. Always by daylight she was peeping out, nervously, from under her thick veil, but the Bright Angel never flashed into sight. She knew at last that it would not come, that Nick did not mean to follow; that she would not see him again this side the grave; for she did not intend ever to return to the Gaylor ranch. Where she would live she did not know yet, though she thought vaguely of some great city in Europe—Paris, perhaps, where there would be plenty of excitement which might help her to forget. Meanwhile, the thing was to get away—away, not only from California, but even from America—as quickly as possible, it hardly mattered how, for luckily—the one piece of luck she had left!—there was plenty of money. And the ranch could take care of itself.
The day Carmen reached San Francisco a ship happened to be sailing for Japan. She was able to engage a cabin, and went on board almost at the last moment. Among others who arrived very late was a bent old man, with a worn face which had once been handsome. Carmen did not see him till the third day out. Then, from the deck sacred to second-class passengers, a pair of dark blue, red-rimmed eyes looked up at her as she leaned listlessly on the rail, gazing down.
Madame Vestris had seen in the crystal a man standing beside her, a man in shadow. After all, it was not Nick Hilliard but Simeon Harp.
THE MAKING OF A GENTLEMAN
One evening, when July was beginning, Nick Hilliard sat on the veranda of his plain little house, which he had grown to love. Swinging back and forth in a big rocking-chair, he smoked a pipe and thought very hard. As he thought and smoked, he looked dreamily at a young owl in a big cage; the owl he had sent home from Paso Robles.
If he had been thinking about it, he could have seen, dark against the pale fire of the desert sky, the source of his fortune; the great gusher throwing up its black spout of oil, like tons upon tons of coal. For the famous Lucky Star oil supply showed no sign yet of giving out, though it had been playing like a huge geyser for many months; and already, since its mysterious birth, many younger brothers had been born, small and insignificant comparatively, but money-makers. If Nick's thought had not drawn down a curtain in front of his eyes, he must have seen, across a blue lake and a black desert created by a rain of oil, a forest of derricks, like a scattered group of burnt fir-trees with low-hung bare branches. But instead of these his mind's eye saw a new road, shaded by walnuts and oaks, that marched in long straight lines between rough pasture and irrigated land. He saw in the tree-shadows a yellow motor-car drawn up by the side of the road, and in it a beautiful, pale girl, hatless, with disordered golden hair and a torn white dress. He saw a man with the girl, and heard her say that it would have been better to die than let herself care for him.
"Yet she did care for me," Nick told himself obstinately. "There's no getting over that. She said, 'You mustn't think I don't care.'" And even if she hadn't said it, there was that look in her eyes. Could he ever forget the look, or cease to thrill at the memory? No; he knew that he could not, till the hour of his death. "It was because I'm not of her world, that she couldn't bear to let herself go, and love me as she was beginning to love me, I know," he thought, as he had thought countless times before, in the weeks since he had quietly let her go out of his life. "I'm not what she's been brought up to call a gentleman," his mind went on drearily preaching to him. "I suppose I can't realize the bigness and deepness of the gulf between us, as she sees it. I've only my own standards to judge by. Hers are mighty different. I knew there was a gulf, but I hoped love would bridge it. She thought no bridge could be strong enough for her to walk on to me. I wonder if she thinks the same yet, or if the feeling I have sometimes, that she's calling to me from far off, means anything? I told her that day I'd feel her thinking of me across the world. Well—what if she's thinking of me now?"
Nick had often debated this subject, and looked at it from every point of view; for after the first blow over the heart, a dim, scarcely perceptible light of hope had come creeping back to him. Knowing from her words, and better still from her eyes, that Angela had cared a little, at least enough to suffer, Nick had wondered whether he might not make himself more acceptable to her than he had been.
He did not disparage himself with undue humility in asking this question. He knew that he was a man, and that honour and strength and cleanness of living counted for something in this world. But if he could become more like the men she knew—in other words, a gentleman fit to mate with a great lady—what then?
For Nick was aware that his manners were not polished. In what Mrs. May would call "society," no doubt he would be guilty of a thousand mistakes, a thousand awkwardnesses. If he did anything rightly it would be by instinct—instinct implanted by generations of his father's well-born, well-bred ancestors—rather than from knowledge of what was conventionally the "proper thing." If Angela had let love win, perhaps she might often have been humiliated by his ignorances and stupidities, Nick reminded himself; and for him that would have been worse than death, even as for her, according to her admission, it would have been worse than death to go on caring for him. Perhaps she had been wise. Maybe he was "impossible." But, if ever she suffered a moment's regret, now that they were parted, and if he could yet find a way of happiness for both, better than cold wisdom, was there no hope? It was of a way to reach her that he was thinking to-night; and abruptly the big chair ceased to swing and creak. "I'll go and see that chap they call the Dook!" Nick mumbled on a sudden resolution, and knocked out the ashes from his pipe.
A minute later he was strolling through the hot purple twilight toward Lucky Star City, one of the queerest little towns on earth. It had not, however, the remotest conception that it was queer. On the contrary, it thought itself a gay and pleasant place, singularly up-to-date, and lacking nothing except water, which was now worth a good deal more than the fortune-giving oil of which it had too much.
The rough, mostly unpainted, wooden houses, shops, and hotels composing Lucky Star City were so near the great oil gusher which accounted for the town's existence that the front rank of frame buildings was peppered all over with a jetty spray. This disfigurement had come when the gusher was at its highest, and its black, blowing spume had been borne by the wind for long distances. The earth seemed to have gone into mourning and to be spread with a pall almost as far as the boundary of the ranch which Nick had retained for himself; yet there was a strong dividing-line. He had kept some pasture land, for he loved cattle; but his great pleasure had been in irrigation; and literally he had made the desert "blossom as a rose." Even the smell was different when he turned his back upon his own fragrant alfalfa fields, and drew in breaths laden with the fumes of crude petroleum. But he was used to the scent of oil and hardly noticed it.
He skirted round the desert lake and steered clear of another lesser lake, formed entirely of petroleum from the great gusher. By day its greasy blackness glared in hideous contrast to the blue though brackish water; but now night lent its ugliness a strange disguise. All the faint twilight that remained glimmered on the gloss of its surface like phosphorus in the palm of a negro's hand; and as Nick passed on toward the town, stars shone out in its dark mirror. He could hear the thick splash of the gusher that rose and fell, like the beating of a giant's heart, and from the brightly lighted town sounds of laughter and fiddling came to him.
Lucky Star City had no suburbs. The whole place had grown up in less than a year, and, in fact, such buildings as had existed for six months were known as "old." There was but one street, though a few ambitious landowners had run up houses in "gardens" at a short but haughty distance from the "business part"; and at night the town was seen at its best. The three two-storeyed, verandaed hotels—one painted white, another green, the third and noisiest not painted at all—blazed with lights. The drug store, the jewellery store (for there was a jewellery store, and a prosperous one), the grocery store—combining a large trade in candy—the post office, and the dry-goods store—where two extremes were made to meet with a display of hats and shoes in the same window—were every one open and crowded. Men in shirt-sleeves, and men in khaki, men of almost all conditions and nations, sat or lounged on the hotel verandas making music or listening to it, swapping stories and yelling with laughter. Away in the distance at one end of the long street—which had no pavement but yellow sand—there was a shooting gallery, and every second or two was marked off with a shot, or a shout of applause or derision. At the other end, equally far away from the populous centre of shops, was a variety theatre, a mere shanty, run up in a day; and as Nick took his way toward the green-painted hotel he could hear the shrill squalling of a woman's untrained voice, shrieking out the latest comic song.
"Hello, Nick!" "How go things, High-pockets?" friendly voices saluted Hilliard as he marched through the cigarette-strewn sand. And he had a laughing word for each one. Everybody who was anybody had a nickname at Lucky Star City, and Hilliard was rather pleased with "High-pockets" —bestowed upon him because of his height and his long straight legs. "The Dook" was the sobriquet of the person he had come to see; and it was by this name that Nick inquired for him, gravely, of the landlord.
The man addressed chuckled. "I guess he's gone over to Meek's to try and borrow some cash off his dear country-man. I seen him strollin' down that way. Hope Meek'll fork out. The Dook owes me two weeks' board, and I've give him notice to pay up or quit. London hotels may hand out free meals to the nobility and gentry for the sake o' the ad. But this ain't London. Nope!"
"Is he nobility?" inquired Nick.
"Blamed if I know. Puts on airs enough. Ain't got much else to put on now, I guess. No one never told me you and he was chums."
"No more we are. I never had a word with him; but I'm lookin' for a few," said Nick. "If he can make good, we may do some business together."
"Huh!" grunted the landlord of the emerald-painted hotel, which had received its colour in honour and subtle advertisement of the owner's name—Green. "I don't see you two swappin' canteens any, Nick, but it ain't for me to bust into your game; and I guess if you sling him a roll o' your good greenbacks, I'll contrive to switch some o' 'em off the line into my pocket. That's to say, if you give him a job he can stick to his bunk and his grub in my hotel."
Mr. Green was just about to round off his ultimatum with a spurt of tobacco-juice aimed at a passing cat, when he checked himself hastily at sight of a woman. What became of the tobacco-juice was a mystery or a conjuring trick, but the cat's somewhat blunted sensibilities, and the lady's—not yet blunted—were spared.
"Who's that?" Nick inquired in a low, respectful voice, when Green had touched the place where his hat would have been if he had had it on, and the young woman, bowing with stiff politeness, had gone by.