"Considering who asked the question, it would be cruel not to tell you it was Jack," he replied.
All laughed, and Miss Jenvie said: "Is it true, did you and Jack first meet underground?"
"Indeed we did," said Sedgwick, "and we were neither of us handsomely attired. I thought he was a gnome; he thought me a Chinese dragon."
Then Miss Grace interposed; "Mr. Sedgwick," said she, "is not Texas a land where there are a great many cattle?"
"Millions of them," was the reply.
"And is not that the region where the cowboy is also found?" she continued.
"There are a few there, surely," said Sedgwick, and looking across the table he saw a smile on Jack's face.
"They are good riders and good shots, are they not?" Grace asked.
"Some of them ride well, and nearly all of them shoot well," said Sedgwick.
"I would like to go there," said Grace, impetuously; "it must be a jolly life." Then looking at her mother, she laughed gaily and said: "If ever one of those cowboys, with broad hat and jingling spurs, comes this way, you had better lock the doors, mamma, if you want to keep me."
Sedgwick kept a steady face, but his heart was throbbing so that he feared the company would hear it.
Then Jenvie asked Sedgwick if mining in Nevada was not mostly carried on by rough and rude men.
Sedgwick's face became grave in a moment, as he said: "We must judge men by the motives behind their lives, if we would get at what they really are. There are married men and single men at work in the mines. The married men have wives and little children to support. They wish to have their dear ones fed and clothed as well as other generous people feed and clothe their families. They want their children educated. They have, moreover, all around them examples of rich men who a year or five years previous were as humble and poor as they now are. The young men have hopes quite as sweet, purposes quite as high. This one is to build up a little fortune for some one he loves; this one has a home in his mind's eye which he means to purchase; this one has relatives whom he dreams of making happy, while others have visions of honors and fame, so soon as something which is in their thoughts shall materialize.
"Then the occupation itself and the results have a tendency, I think, to exalt men. To begin with, the work is a steady struggle against nature's tremendous forces. The rock has to be blasted, the waters controlled, the consuming heat tempered, the swelling clay confined, and to do this men have to employ great agents. A silver mine generally has Desolation placed as a watch above it. To work it everything has to be carried to it. The forest away off on some mountain side has to be felled and hauled to the spot. For many months the great Bonanza has received within it monthly 3,000,000 feet of timbers, machinery equal to that in the holds of mighty steamships has to be set in place and motion; drills are kept at work 2,000 feet underground, from power supplied on the surface; hundreds of men have to be daily hoisted from and lowered into the depths; there has to be a precision and continuity that never fail, and the men who plan and carry on that work emerge from it after a few years stronger, brighter, clearer-brained and braver men than they ever would have been except for that discipline.
"Then what they produce is something which makes the labor of every other man more profitable, for it is something which is the measure of values, something which all races of men recognize at once, something indestructible and peculiarly precious, which can be drawn into a thread-like silk, or hammered into a leaf so thin that a breath will carry it away; it is the very spirit of the rock, the part that is imperishable. Moreover, it is labor made immortal, for, tried by fire, it grows bright and loses no grain of its weight. Could we find a piece of the beaten gold that overlaid the temple of Israel's greatest king, it would, to-day, represent the labor of one of those miners that toiled in Ophir and fell back to dust thirty generations before the Christ was born.
"Moreover, it is and has been from the first one of the measures of the civilization of nations. Where gold and silver are in general circulation among the people they are always prosperous, their children are always educated, and the advance is so marked that it can be measured by decades of years. A nation's decay or enlightenment can be traced by the decreasing or increasing volume of gold and silver in circulation.
"Miners thus engrossed, producing such a substance, and carrying such hopes and aspirations in their souls, as a rule, grow stronger, more manly and more true.
"I do not say that there are not many rough characters among them. I do not say that when the influence of true women is in great part withdrawn from any class of men, they do not more and more gravitate toward savagery, for they but follow a natural law; but the tenderest, truest, bravest, best, most generous and most just men I have ever known have been miners in the far West of the United States."
While talking, Sedgwick had seemed to forget where he was, but as he ceased he glanced across the table and noticed a look of full appreciation on Rose's face, and smiling, he added: "I was talking for Jack's sake, Miss Rose."
It was a pleasant dinner, and a pleasant evening followed. There was a running fire of conversation, broken only when the young ladies sang or played. When Sedgwick first heard Grace sing, he sat, as he said afterward, "in mortal terror lest wings should spread out from her white shoulders and she should disappear through the ceiling."
In point of fact, she sang well, but she was not nearly ethereal enough to want to give up the substantial earth to take to the ether.
But amid all the contending emotions, Sedgwick kept a furtive watch upon the two old men. They were exceedingly gracious, but they gave Sedgwick the impression that they were striving too hard to be agreeable.
Jack was in the seventh heaven. He tried to conceal his joy, but every moment he would glance at Rose Jenvie with a look in his eyes which was enough to show any miner where his bonanza was. Sedgwick was wildly smitten, himself, but he kept his wits about him enough to watch and try to fathom what in the bearing of the old men for some inexplainable reason disturbed him.
When the company separated and sought their respective apartments, Jack went to his own room, threw off his coat, put on slippers and lighted a cigar, crossed the hall, first tapped upon the door of Sedgwick's room, then pushed it open, walked in, closed the door, and then burst out with "Jim, is she not a glory of the earth?"
"I think she is, indeed," was the reply. Sedgwick was thinking of Grace.
"Is there another such girl in all the world, Jim?" said Jack.
"I don't believe there is, old boy; not another one," said Sedgwick.
"What a queenly head she has! What a throat of snow! What an infinite grace! 'Whether she sits or stands or walks or whatever thing she does,' she is divine," said Jack.
"She impressed me just that way," said Sedgwick.
"Not too short, not too tall, with just enough flesh and blood to keep one in mind that while she is divine, she is still a woman," said Jack.
"Only base metal enough to hold the precious metal in place," said Sedgwick.
So Jack rattled on in the very ecstasy of his love, and so Sedgwick, quite as deeply involved, replied; the one talking of Rose, the other of Grace.
At length, however, Sedgwick roused himself and said: "Jack, old boy, tell me how the old men received you."
"With open arms," said Jack. "My step-father grasped both my hands, said he was hasty in banishing me as he did, that his heart had been filled with remorse ever since, that he had sought in vain to find me. And old man Jenvie, with a hearty welcome and jolly laugh, declared that I served him exactly right when I floored him; that it had made a better man of him ever since, and that he was glad to welcome me back to England."
Sedgwick listened, and when Jack ceased speaking there was silence for a full minute, until Jack said:
"What are you thinking of, Jim?"
"Nothing much," said Sedgwick; "only, Jack, I have changed my mind. I will stay and help you through the wedding; only hurry it along as swiftly as you conveniently can."
"There is something on your mind, Jim," said Jack. "What is it, old friend?"
"Nothing, Jack; nothing but a mean suspicion, for which I can give myself no tangible excuse for entertaining," asked Sedgwick.
"Suspicion, Jim! Which way do the indications lead?" asked Jack.
"I will tell you, old friend. In Nevada we would say that these old men are too infernally gushing in their welcome to you. I fear there is something wrong behind it all; though, as I said, it is a mere suspicion which I cannot explain to myself; only, Jack, I will stay to the wedding, and be sure to give no hint to any soul in England that I have more than money enough to make a brief visit, and then to return to America. And do not permit what I have said to worry you, for I have no backing for my impressions."
Then Jack went to his room to sleep and to dream of Rose Jenvie, and Jim went to bed, not to sleep, but to think of Grace Meredith.
WAYS THAT ARE DARK.
As we know, Sedgwick went first with Browning to the hamlet in Devonshire where Jack's early home had been. Browning was recognized, of course. An old friend of Hamlin's was at the church, spoke to Jack, and witnessed Sedgwick's encounter with the bull. He knew under what circumstances young Browning left home, and so on that Sunday evening he wrote to Hamlin that his step-son was in Devonshire, told him of the episode at the church, and informed the old man that the companion of his son, though a quiet and refined-appearing man enough, must be a prize-fighter in disguise. He further stated that Jack had told him that he and his friend had been working in the mines at Virginia City, Nevada, for three or four years. He added the strong suspicion that the complexion of the men indicated that they had not been in the mines at all. (His idea of a miner was a coal-miner, and not one from the Comstock mine, where there is no coal dust, and where the thermometer indicates a tropical climate always.)
This letter reached Hamlin early on Monday. Being a half banker and half broker himself, he turned at once to the page in the bank directory, giving American banks and their London connections. He found the Nevada branch bank and California branch bank of Virginia City, and what banks in London they drew upon, and hastened first to the Nevada bank's London agency. He could obtain no news there. Then he sought the other, and knowing the management, he explained to one of the directors that his son was on the way home, was already in England, and asked him confidentially, both as a father and a brother banker, whether any credit had come for the boy. The director ran over his correspondence, and, looking up with a smile, said:
"Is your son's name John Browning? If it is, he has bills of exchange upon us for L100,000."
The old man was paralyzed. "It cannot be possible," he said. "Great heavens! L100,000!"
"Those are the figures sent us," said the cashier, "and we received a mighty invoice of Nevada bullion by the last ship from New York. There is no mistake."
Then an effort was made to see if another man named Sedgwick had any credit, but nothing was found. Enjoining upon the banker the utmost secrecy in regard to his being at the bank, the old man went away.
The question with him was what to do. His business was not very prosperous, because he had not capital enough. Then, too, he was in debt to Jenvie. He wanted the lion's share of that money, and, more than ever, he wanted Jack to marry Grace.
Then what did Jack mean by bringing a prize-fighter home with him? He was worried. Finally he determined to consult with Jenvie, his partner. He knew he did not like Jack, and he had, moreover, received hints from him that he was getting along well in making a match between Rose and a rich broker named Arthur Stetson, who had met her and been carried away by her beauty.
So, calling Jenvie into their most private office, Hamlin bolted the door to prevent interruption, read him the letter received from Devonshire, and told him of the astounding discovery he had made at the —— bank. The question was, what course to take.
"I believe Rose likes Jack," said Jenvie. "She grieved exceedingly when he went away, though she hid it so superbly that only her mother knew about it, and she has rejected every suitor since except Stetson, and I fear when the climax comes she will reject him. The chances are, when Jack comes they will rush into each other's arms. At the same time, I do not want him for a son-in-law. But I would like to get some of the money into the firm, for we need more capital badly."
They plotted all that day, and next morning decided that on the arrival of Jack they would welcome him; let the matter between him and Rose take its course, but in case of an engagement would prevent an immediate marriage, if possible, and see, in the meantime, what could be done toward working Jack for a part, at least, of his money. With that arrangement decided upon, when a message came from Hamlin's home that Jack had returned and had gone to the hotel, they were ready, and in company went to greet him and escort him home.
Sedgwick had to be invited also, and that suited them, for they both desired to know what kind of a man he was. Both were satisfied, too, that he had no money, or he would have obtained a credit where Jack had obtained his exchange. When, at the first dinner, Grace had drawn from him that he had been in Texas and had seen cowboys, they both guessed where he had caught the trick which he had put in practice in Devonshire, and, thenceforth, save as a careless friend that careless Jack had picked up, they dropped Sedgwick from their calculations.
How Jack got his money was the greatest mystery; and so a few days after his coming, his father said to him: "Jack, I hope you have come home to stay. Look around and find some business that you think will suit you, and I will buy it for you if it does not take too much money."
"Thanks, father," said Jack; "much obliged, but I have a few pounds of my own."
"How much are miner's wages in Virginia City?" asked the old man.
"Four dollars a day; about twenty-four pounds a month," said Jack.
"And what are the expenses?" was the next question.
"Four shillings a day for board; three pounds per month for a room, and clothes and cigars to any amount you please," said Jack.
"Why, you could not have saved more than L150 or L160 per annum at those rates," said the old man.
"No," said Jack; "a good many may not do as well as that; but I had a few pounds which were invested by a friend in Con-Virginia when it was three dollars a share, and it was sold when it was worth a good bit more."
The old man had learned the secret. He asked one more question. "Did your friend Sedgwick do as well as you did?"
Jack thought of Sedgwick's injunction, so answered:
"He made a good bit of money, something like L20,000, but he turned it over to his father in Ohio. I think the plan is to buy a place near the old home. He only brought a few hundred pounds with him. Indeed, he only ran over to oblige me. We were old friends; at one time we worked on the same shift in the mine."
The old man was satisfied. Moreover, he saw his opportunity.
"What a wonderful business that mining is," he said. "Stetson, the broker over the way, is promoting a mining enterprise in South Africa. According to the showing, it is an immense property. Here is the prospectus of the company. Put it in your pocket, and at your leisure run over it."
Jack carelessly put the pamphlet in his pocket. That evening he was with Rose and remained pretty late. When he sought his room he could not sleep, so he ran over the statement. It was a captivating showing. The mine was called the "Wedge of Gold." It was located in the Transvaal. The main ledge was fully sixteen feet wide, with an easy average value of six pounds per ton in free gold, besides deposits and spurs that went much higher. The vein was exposed for several hundred feet, and opened by a shaft 300 feet deep, with long drifts on each of the levels. The country was healthy, supplies cheap, plenty of good wood and water, and the only thing needed was a mill for reducing the ore. The incorporation called for 150,000 shares of stock of the par value of one pound per share, and the pamphlet explained that 50,000 shares were set aside to be sold to raise means for a working capital, to build the mill, etc.
Browning read the paper over twice, then tumbled into bed, and his dreams were all mixed up; part of the time he was counting gold bars, part of the time it seemed to him that Rose was near him, but when he spoke to her, every time she vanished away. Between the visions he made the worst kind of a night of it, and next morning told Jim that he was more beat out than ever he was when he came off shift on the Comstock.
HOW MINERS ARE CAUGHT.
Browning and Sedgwick had been in England two weeks. The question of the marriage of Browning and Rose Jenvie had been discussed and decided upon. Neither Hamlin nor Jenvie had interposed any objection to the marriage except on the point of time. They asked, at first, that it be postponed for six months, as Jenvie insisted that he wanted to be certain that Rose had not been carried away by a mere impulse on seeing once more an old friend who had long been absent. Hamlin agreed with him that the young people must be sure not to make any mistake. Jack was impetuous, and Rose, while making no pronounced opposition, quietly said that no tests were necessary; that she and Jack had been separated for a long time and knew their own minds. Sedgwick, when called in, refused to express an opinion, it being a matter too sacred to permit of any outside interference.
Finally a compromise was made, the time reduced one-half, and the date fixed for the first of September, it being then nearly the first of June. Jack had only agreed to the postponement on the condition that Sedgwick should not desert him, but wait for the wedding. He consented, saying carelessly that two or three months would not much matter to him, but the truth was that the delay urged by the old men strengthened his suspicion that all was not just right. "Those old chaps are too sweet by half," he said to himself. "There is some game on hand to get the best of generous, simple-hearted, unsuspecting Jack, sure, and while I cannot fathom it I will keep watch."
Then, there was the enchantment that Grace Meredith had woven around his life. Every morning she greeted him with a smile, a welcome word and a hand clasp that set his blood tingling. Her breath was in the air that he breathed, and when at night the hand-clasp and the smile were repeated, and the good-nights spoken, it all fell upon him like a benediction; and, going to his apartment, he would ask himself what his life would be were the smile, the word, and the hand-clasp to be his no more.
After a few days there came a change in Grace. She was as cordial as ever, as gently considerate as ever, but she seemed to lose vivacity. She was often lost in revery; a sadder smile seemed to give expression to her face; she did not laugh with the old ringing laugh; there seemed to come in her look when she suddenly encountered Sedgwick, something which was the opposite of a blush—as opposite as the white rose is to the blush rose.
In those days the steady conscience of Sedgwick was undergoing many self-questionings. Should he offer his love and be rejected, what then? Should the impossible happen and he should be accepted, what then? Should he carry the petted London girl to his home and friends in the Miami Valley, would there not be reproaches felt even if not spoken? Thus he vexed himself day after day; night after night he tossed restlessly, and saw no way to break the entanglement that had entwined his life. But he kept watch of Jack and the old men.
Meanwhile, Jack had read over and over the prospectus of the "Wedge of Gold" Mining Company. It was the lamp and he was the moth that was circling around it with constantly lessening circles. His father, to whom he had applied for information, told him that he believed the shares were going at one pound, but that they threatened to be higher within a week, and Jenvie, taking up the conversation, explained that, with a mill built, the mine would easily pay sixty per cent on the investment annually, which would throw the shares up to at least twenty pounds. At the same time both the old men referred Jack to Stetson for full particulars, as they had no direct interest in the property.
After a few days more, the mail from South Africa brought a glowing account of further developments in "The Wedge of Gold," which account found its way into the papers, and one was put where Jack would read it. He had not consulted with Sedgwick. His idea was to make an investment, and when the profits began to come in, to divide with him.
So one morning he went to the office of Stetson and said to the young man: "I have concluded to take the working capital stock of the 'Wedge of Gold;'" and sitting down he gave his check for L50,000. The stock for him would be ready, he was informed, the next day, so soon as it could be properly transferred.
He went out. The real owner of the property was sent for; the property was bought for L2,000; the deed, which had been put in escrow, and which on its face called for L150,000, was taken up, releasing the stock, and then the old men and the young man rubbed their hands and said to each other that it had been a good day's work.
Sedgwick and Browning had now been several days in London. Every day they had been riding and driving—seeing the sights. One morning at breakfast Jack mentioned that it was Tuesday; that next day would be the annual celebrated Derby Wednesday; that he had made arrangements for as many to go as could get away. The number was finally limited to four—Grace and Rose, Jack and Jim.
This was talked over, and so soon as the arrangements were determined upon, Jack proposed that when the race should be over, instead of coming back to London, they should go on beyond Surrey, down to the seashore in Sussex, where an old uncle of Rose's resided, for a few days' visit. This was, after some discussion, agreed upon; whereupon Jack rose and went out to make a few needed little preparations; the young ladies followed to do some shopping, while Sedgwick went to his room to write some letters.
He finished his letters and was going out, when he met Mrs. Hamlin in the hall. She greeted him and asked him to sit down a moment, saying she wanted to talk with him. He swung a chair around for Mrs. Hamlin, and when she was seated he took another chair opposite, saying: "Is there anything particular this morning, madam, which you desire to talk about?" The old lady looked at him a moment, then said:
"Mr. Sedgwick, I have noticed that since you came to my house you seem to be worried, as though this London roar and confusion oppressed you; and I have seen a look on your face sometimes, which, it seemed to me, if set to words would say: 'I would give anything in the world to be out of this and back once more free in my native land.' It worries me, and I want to ask you if something cannot be done to make your life here more pleasant."
"Why, my dear madam," said Sedgwick, "I never was half so kindly entertained before as I have been in your house. There is nothing lacking, nothing; and when I think of ever returning all this kindness my gratitude is made bankrupt."
"Still, you have something on your mind. Is it a business trouble? Will you not test our friendship in real truth?" asked the lady.
Sedgwick looked at her seriously a moment, and said: "I have something, but it is not business, that distresses me. But, were I to tell you, it would test your friendship indeed."
"Well," responded the lady, "I want to know it. I hope we can help you."
"Mrs. Hamlin," said Sedgwick, "I was reared a farmer's son. I was a wild boy, I guess. I left school with education not yet completed—left under a cloud, but no disgrace attached to my leaving. I went to Texas and was a cowboy for a year. From there I wandered west, learned the occupation of mining; for four years almost every day I have been underground. I met Jack: we were friends; how close at last you do not know. We started east; he accompanied me to my childhood's home. After a brief visit I came with him to his. I have been three weeks under your roof; I am bound by a promise to remain until Jack's marriage, and, in the meantime, in spite of myself, I, the farmer, the cowboy, and the miner, have dared to look upon your daughter, and my soul is groveling at her feet. I love her with such intensity that I have feared sometimes I should break down and beseech her to have pity on me. Now you have it all. Tell me, I pray, how I can be true to myself and to the hospitality which you have extended me until Jack shall be married and I can return to my native land!"
When he once had begun, his words were poured out in a torrent; his face was pale; he trembled, and his breath came in half gasps.
Mrs. Hamlin was silent a moment. Then, looking up, she said: "Have you spoken of this to Jack?"
"Not one word," he replied.
"Or to Grace?"
"O, Mrs. Hamlin, believe me, not one word."
The lady leaned her head upon her hand for a few moments. Then, looking up, she said: "You ask me what to do. I cannot help you. But my judgment would be that you go directly to Grace and ask her help. I have not the slightest idea of her sentiments toward you, but if she does not care for you and thinks she never can, she will frankly tell you. If she does love you, she is probably suffering more than you are."
"O, Mrs. Hamlin," said Sedgwick, "are you willing that I shall speak to her, that I shall tell her how much she is to me?"
"Quite willing," was the answer; spoken after a moment's thought. "Believe me, I never suspected anything of this kind, never in the least, or I should not have stopped you here; but if Grace loves you I shall be most glad. And one thing more. Should Grace be willing to accept your attentions, for the present, please, do not speak to Mr. Hamlin or to Jack. I have my special reasons for making this request. I ask it because Mr. Hamlin is peculiar, and Grace is my child, in fact, while he is but her step-father."
Then she arose, held out her hand and smiled. Then her face became grave, and she leaned over the young man, kissed his forehead, and left the hall.
When the door closed Sedgwick put his hands before his eyes as though to ward off a great light; and when he removed them his lips were moving and his face wore a softened and exalted look, such as Saul's might have worn after he saw the "great light."
Dinner was hardly over that evening when Jack disappeared. He spent nearly all his evenings with Rose, and so his absence was not remarked. Mr. Hamlin had been called away to Scotland for two or three days on business. Mrs. Hamlin, Grace and Sedgwick passed into the parlor. After a little conversation, Sedgwick asked Grace to sing, and as she went to the piano Mrs. Hamlin arose and left the room.
Grace struck the instrument softly, and in a moment began to sing. The piece she selected was the old one beginning:
"Could you come back to me, Douglas, Douglas, In the old likeness that I knew, I would be so faithful, so loving, Douglas, Douglas, Douglas, tender and true."
There was a strange thrill in the voice of Grace as the song progressed, and when she reached the fourth stanza and sang:
"I never was worthy of you, Douglas, Not half worthy the like of you; Now, all men beside seem to me like shadows,— I love you, Douglas, tender and true,"
the last words ended in a tone very much like a sob, and the singing ceased.
Sedgwick had risen, and walked to the side of Grace while she sang. When she ceased he said:
"That is a very touching song, Miss Grace. Your voice vibrates in it as though your heart were heavy."
"It is," she frankly answered.
He bent and took an unresisting hand and said: "If you are in trouble, may I not try to be your comforter?"
She rose from the piano, and looking up clear and brave into the eyes of the young man, said: "You are most kind, but I cannot tell you why my heart is heavy."
He looked down into her eyes for a moment and then said: "My heart is likewise heavy, Miss Grace; may I tell you why?"
"Surely," she answered, "if you have a sorrow, and if there is any balm in this household, it shall be yours."
He took her other hand, and drawing her gently toward him, said: "Come near to me Miss Grace. I am involved in a trouble which I never dreamed of when I came here. Mine has been a harsh life, but I have always tried to meet my fate resignedly. Now I am overborne. Since the first hour I met you, first looked into your divine face, first felt your hand-clasp and heard your voice, my heart has been on fire. You have become my divinity. I worship you. Oh, Grace, can you give me a thread, be it ever so slight, out of which I may weave a hope that some time you will bend, and sanctify my life by becoming my wife?"
As he spoke, over the pale face of Grace Meredith an almost imperceptible glow spread, as when an incandescent lamp is lighted under a translucent shade; her eyes grew moist, her lips quivered, she trembled in every limb, and, suddenly dropping on her knees, drew his hands to her lips, kissed them, and murmured: "O! my king!"
He caught her to him and cried: "Is it true? Is it true? Do you really care for me?"
She looked up and said: "O, my blind darling, you are so very, very blind! My soul has been calling to your soul since the first hour you came."
Half an hour later Grace looked up and with a ravishing smile, said: "Do you know, dearest, I believe all my heavy-heartedness is gone."
At last Sedgwick said: "My beautiful, what will your friends say to your marrying a rough miner?"
"What," replied she, "will your friends say if you prove foolish enough to marry a simple English girl, whose horizon is bounded by Devonshire and London?"
His response was: "My adored one!"
Then she crept nearer him, and with serious accent said: "My love, if happily our lives shall be united, whom will it be for, our friends or ourselves? I will tell you. If ever I shall be permitted to become so blessed as to be your wife, it will be with the thought in my heart that we are all in all to each other in this world, and in the world to come."
"In this world and in the world to come," he repeated; and then, with bowed head, in a whisper, he added: "May I be worthy of such a blessing, and God spare to me my idol, that I may praise Him evermore."
And then they began to talk in earnest. One hour like that is due to every mortal; no mortal can have more than one such an hour, no matter how long may be his life.
Later they came directly to the subject of their marriage. They agreed that, if possible, it should be on the same day that Jack and Rose should be married. But Sedgwick mentioned Mrs. Hamlin's desire that for the present no one should know of his love or of hers (if it should be returned), and said he believed it best not to mention their relations until the wedding day of Rose and Jack drew near.
Grace agreed with him, except that Rose must be told, saying she would find it out even if the attempt were made to conceal it from her, and added: "Jack and Rose are completely absorbed in each other. They will be with each other most of the time. My father is absent all day, and until late at night. My mother is good, and will not much disturb us. I can look in your eyes every day, kiss you sometimes, and feel your presence like a robust spirit near me all the time." Then, suddenly pausing for an instant, she again broke out with, "Oh, how happy I am; it seems as though my heart would break with its ecstasy!" and, springing up, she ran to the piano, and sang a song which filled the room with melody, and caused a linnet that was asleep on her perch to awaken and join her trills to the song.
GOING TO EPSOM DOWNS.
The next morning early the young couples started for Epsom Downs. Browning had engaged a carriage to take them, and they started a little after daylight. Early as it was, the procession which annually empties London to witness the great race was in motion. There had been a slight shower the previous evening; every bit of herbage was fresh and beautiful; the day was perfect and the ride delicious. When part of the distance had been traveled, Browning, looking back, said: "Grace, I believe I see your destiny coming."
"In what form?" asked Grace, laughing.
"In a typical cowboy," said her foster brother.
Then all looked, and sure enough there, two hundred yards away, was the broad hat, the nameless grace, the erect form, the man straight as a line from his head to his stirrups, the Mexican saddle, the woven-hair bridle with Spanish bit; all complete except the horse. That was not a steed of the plains, but a magnificent hunter. The girls clapped their hands in delight, and Grace wished he would "hurry up," so that they might get a nearer view.
Just then a cry arose in the rear, and a horse attached to a broken vehicle was seen coming, running away in the very desperation of fear.
The carriage was driven to the side of the road, and both men sprang out. A dense crowd of vehicles, many of them containing women and children, were just in front, and the thought of that mad horse dashing among them was sickening. But Sedgwick cried out: "Look, ladies, quick!"
What they saw was the hunter under a dead run, his rider urging him on apparently, and working something in his right hand. The harnessed horse was a good one, but the hunter was gaining upon him, and just as the mad runaway was almost opposite the ladies, the right arm of the rider of the hunter made a quick curve, the looped end of a rope darted out like a bird of prey from the hand; the loop went over the runaway's head; the hunter was brought almost to a dead stop; the other animal went up into the air, then fell to his knees, then over on his side. Sedgwick and Browning sprang to him, unfastened him from the wreck, got the reins and secured his head, then took off the lariat, let him up, and tied him to the hedge by the roadside.
Browning first turned to the stranger who was coiling up his lariat on the saddle's horn, and said: "That was a good morning's work, my friend; had that mad horse crashed into the vehicles ahead, he would have killed some one."
"I wur afeerd of that, stranger, and that's what made me think he orter be stopped," said the horseman.
Sedgwick wheeled quickly round when he heard the man's voice, and, looking up, cried: "Hello, Jordan, how did you leave the boys on the Brazos?"
The man gave one look; then, springing from his horse, he rushed to Sedgwick, and throwing both arms around him broke out with: "Why, Jim; bless my broad-horned heart, but I'm glad ter see yo'! How in kingdom cum did yo' get heah?" Then he caught both his hands and wrung them, all the time exclaiming: "Blame me, but I'm glad. This is the fust luck I've had in the Kingdom. Jim, is it sho nuff you?" And he danced like a lunatic. And Sedgwick, if not quite so demonstrative, was quite as much rejoiced.
When they quieted down a little, Sedgwick said: "Jordan, I have some friends here whom I want to present to you."
His face sobered in a moment. "I forgot, Jim," he said, "thet any one war heah savin' ourselves. They must think us two 'scaped lunertics."
"That's all right, Jordan," said Sedgwick, and he formally presented his friend to the ladies and to Browning.
The ladies told him how grateful they were that he was near to prevent any damage by the fleeing horse, and how glad they were to see the actual picture of how a wild horse is caught.
Jordan blushed like a girl. "It war nothin', ladies," he said; "only it seemed like it war necessawy sunthin' should be done, and right soon. So I interfeerd as well's I could."
"Where the mischief did you get that rig, Jordan?" asked Sedgwick.
"I brung it with me from ther old ranch; that is, all but the hoss. I didn't know but I mighter want ter ride, and I knowd I couldn't sit an English saddle a minit."
"And why did you come away, Jordan?" asked Sedgwick.
His face saddened for a moment, and then he smiled and said: "I got tired of ranchin', sold out; but why I come here I've no idee, 'cept it might o' been to stop that thar hoss."
"It was a good idea, anyway, and we are all glad you came," said Rose. "We started to see the great race, and we have seen a greater one," and she smiled as she spoke, until the dark man again colored and said: "Indeed, Miss, it war nothin'."
But the procession grew denser every moment; so Jordan mounted his horse again and rode beside the carriage, and a running conversation was kept up all the way to the great race track.
Jordan was exceedingly interested in the colts as they were brought upon the track.
"They is thoroughbreds, shore. They is beauties," he kept exclaiming; and as they were stripped for the race, he picked out the one he thought ought to win, and offered to wager hats with Sedgwick and Browning and gloves with the ladies that his favorite would win.
And the colt he set his heart upon came near winning; he was third among the eighteen starters, and to the last Jordan insisted that he would have won if he had been well ridden.
"He orter won," Jordan said. "The trouble war, his jockey lacks two things; he don't understand hoss character, 'nd he lacks pluck. He never interested ther colt in him, never rubbed his nose and whispered inter his ear thet his heart would be broke if ther colt didn't win; so ther colt only ran ter please hisself 'nd never thought o' pleasin' his rider. Then, from the fust, ther rider believed he wouldn't be nearer nor third, 'nd ter do anything a man's got ter believe he ken make it. Menny a grand hoss's repertation has ben ruined by ther fool man as has hed him in charge, and this war ther case ter-day."
Then he was absorbed in thought for a moment, then went on again as though he had not ceased: "It wer ther same with men. Ez often ez ever ther best men don't win ther prize; meny er blood man hez been distanced by er mustang."
The race over, they all had dinner together, and with beautiful tact the ladies kept Jordan talking most of the time, and enjoyed his quaint sayings exceedingly.
He had been three months from the United States; had made one trip to Scotland, one to Wales, one to Paris, and his impressions of the different points and the people he had seen were most vivid and unique.
His talk ran a little in this vein: "Yo' see, up in ther Highlands, I looked fur the lakes and mountains that yo' read to us about, Jim. There is some fine lakes, but mountains! sho, we can beat 'em in America, all holler. And ez to broad rivers, why, ther Mississippi cud take um all in, and wouldn't know she had a reinforcement; while pour 'um into ther Colorado gorge and they'd be spray afore they reached ther bottom. I looked for ther pituresk Highland heroes in ther tartans and with ther bag-pipes; but they tho't, I reckon, that I war James Fitz, and wur all ambushed. But I did see some pretty girls thar, 'an some powerful fine black cattle. They war fine—good for twelve hundred pounds neat.
"The blamd'st thing I seen war in Wales. I didn't see that, but hearn. That war the language. It's a jor-breaker, if you har me. I don't see how the children up thar learn it so blam'd young.
"Paris is a grand place, a genuine daisy; but I believe it is wickeder'n Santa Fe wuz when the rush war to New Mexico."
Grace explained to Jordan that they were going down to Sussex to visit some relatives of Rose, and begged him to go along, and bespoke for him a hearty welcome.
"I'm greatly obleeged, Miss," said Jordan, "but I must beg yo' ter 'scuse me. I must see my hoss home. I've been ridin' him and teachin' him a few things, like startin' and stoppin', for a month. He war wild when I tuk him fust, but since he and I got 'quainted, we agree zactly, and I told ther men as own him he should be home ter night, and I must take him. I wouldn't send him by the are-apparent hisself. Besides, my society accomplishments war neglected some'at when I war young, and I would rather break y'r heart, Miss, by declinin' ter go, than hev it broke by my arkerdness 'mong y'r friends."
But he told Sedgwick where he was stopping in London, and it was agreed that on the return of the party to the great city they should see more of each other. So Jordan returned to London, and the young people took the train for a little town on the coast, not far from Brighton, in Sussex.
They found the uncle and aunt of Rose. A great welcome was given them, and four or five days were delightfully whiled away.
A regiment of English regulars was stationed there. Our party made the acquaintance of the officers and their families, and one day a horseback ride into the country was proposed for the next morning.
It taxed the capacity of the place to supply the necessary animals, and one of the horses brought up, though a magnificent and powerful fellow, was but half broken at best, and he snorted and blowed, and reared and pawed, and took on a great deal.
The company were looking at him, and each selecting the horse that suited him best, when Miss Rose said: "What a pity that Mr. Jordan did not come along! He would have selected that wild horse."
The colonel of the regiment, a portly man, and a little inclined to be pompous, in a peculiarly English tone said: "Possibly, you know, our young American friend would like to mount him."
Sedgwick affected not to notice the tone or the accent, and answered simply: "I have ridden worse-looking horses. If I had a Mexican saddle, or one of your military saddles, I believe I should like to ride him; but I am a little afraid of these things you call saddles."
Strangely enough, the officer thought the objection to the saddle was meant merely as an excuse to avoid riding the horse, and so he spoke up quickly, saying: "The gentleman shall be accommodated. I always have an extra saddle with me; he shall have that," and gave his servant directions to go and bring the saddle and bridle. When they were brought, Sedgwick looked at them, said they would answer admirably, and throwing the trappings over his left arm, went up to the snorting horse, petted and soothed him, rubbed his nose, and talked low to him a moment; then slipped the bridle on, then gently pushed the saddle and trappings over his back; made all secure, and then, without assistance, mounted him talking softly to him all the time.
The horse made a few bounds, but quickly subsided. They were enough, however, to show the onlookers that the man on the horse was sufficient for the task he had undertaken. Riding back, Sedgwick dismounted, still talking low to the horse and patting his neck, for, as he explained, "The colt has a lovely, honest face and head; he is only timid, and does not yet quite understand what is wanted of him, or whether it will do for him to give us his entire confidence."
The officer who had sent for the saddle had watched everything; so when Sedgwick dismounted he held out his hand and said, heartily: "I beg your pardon, Mr. Sedgwick, I was mistaken in you. You do more than ride. When mounted, you and the horse together make a centaur."
With a celestial smile, Miss Jenvie said: "I beg your pardon, Mr. Sedgwick. Mr. Jordan is not needed, except as a pleasant addition to our company."
They all mounted and rode away. It was a jolly party. Grace and Rose rode with two of the officers; two of the officers' wives were escorted by Sedgwick and Browning.
As they rode, Sedgwick kept patting his horse, and in a little while so won his confidence that he was able to rub his whip all about his head.
They stopped at a roadside inn for luncheon, and returned in the cool of the afternoon.
By this time Sedgwick's horse had apparently given his rider his full faith, and Sedgwick, in sharp contrast with the other gentlemen, sat him in true cowboy style. They were riding at a brisk pace, when the hat of one of the ladies was caught in a flurry of wind and carried twenty or thirty yards to the rear. The others began to pull in their horses, when Sedgwick, like a flash, whirled his horse about, and, calling to him, the horse sprang forward at full speed. All turned, and the ladies screamed, as they thought Sedgwick was falling. He had ridden, not directly for the hat, but to one side until close upon it, then, turning his horse, he went down at the same moment, seized the plume of the hat, regained his upright attitude, and came smiling back, though the horse, not accustomed to such performances, was snorting and bounding like a deer.
All hands were delighted, and Grace shot out to Sedgwick such a look of pride and love that his heart beat a tattoo for a quarter of an hour.
The officer who owned the saddle was most profuse in his expressions of delight. "Give up America, my friend," he said; "come and be an Englishman and join my regiment. We will get you a commission, and supply every chance for promotion."
Sedgwick thanked him, and assured him that he would duly consider the offer.
The old English Colonel took a great fancy to Sedgwick. After dinner, the day of the ride, he sought him out, and they conversed together for two or three hours; or, rather, the Colonel talked and Sedgwick listened. The Colonel had been sent on many a service by his government; he was a keen observer, had good descriptive powers, and was an interesting talker. Moreover, he liked to hear himself converse.
Having visited South Africa a few months before, he described the country minutely, its topography, its flora and fauna, its geological presentations, and expatiated upon its promising future. Sedgwick was very greatly interested, and with his retentive memory the facts were fixed upon his mind.
As they were about separating, Sedgwick said: "You ask me to leave my native land and make this my country. I understand you, and appreciate the offer, but you do not comprehend the Great Republic at all. England, at the beginning of this century, was well-nigh the anchor of civilization. By the end of the next century England will be in cap and slippers, and her children across the sea will have to be her protector. The American who gives up his native land for any other is a renegade son."
Next morning Jack and Rose went out for a walk along the beach. Out in the little bay a man and a woman were sailing and enjoying themselves, for the sound of their laughter came across the water to the shore. Jack was just remarking to Rose that they in the boat were carrying a good deal of sail, when a sudden squall upset the boat. The man was not a swimmer, but as he came to the surface he managed to seize upon the overturned boat and support himself.
When the accident happened, Browning shouted to some boatmen farther up the beach to come with a boat quickly, and, throwing off coat, vest and shoes, he plunged in and swam toward where the boat capsized. Rose was left on the beach, wringing her hands and crying. The accident was not far from shore, and Jack was a strong swimmer. He reached the spot in time to grasp the arm of the woman as she came to the surface. She was half smothered by the water, and completely rattled, for the fear of death was full upon her, so she madly clung to Browning. He made the best struggle that he could, but the woman carried him under before the boat arrived. As the two rose to the surface, the boatmen managed to seize them and draw them into the boat, but the woman was senseless, and Browning was almost so, and fearfully exhausted.
As the boat was rowed to the shore and Rose saw Browning lying limp and helpless in it, she went off in a dead faint, and was so upset and nervous that it was determined to return to London that evening. When out of sight of the place and of the sea, she rapidly recovered, and was soon her old self, but she reproached Jack, and with an adorable smile told him she never would have believed that he would, on the very first opportunity, go off, half kill himself for another woman, and compel her to make such a spectacle of herself down on the beach before all those villagers.
The old days began again in London; Browning and Rose were all in all to each other, and Sedgwick and Grace were likewise in the seventh heaven of love's ecstasy.
In Nevada parlance, Sedgwick would have wagered two to one with Browning, on the measure of their respective happiness.
The happy couples visited every point of interest in and about London.
One day they went through Westminster Abbey. Sedgwick hardly spoke during the visit, and as they entered the carriage to return home, Rose said: "Mr. Sedgwick, I am disappointed; I thought our great national chamber of death would greatly interest you."
"So did I," said Browning, "but I suppose a foreigner cannot understand just how English-born people feel toward that spot."
Sedgwick smiled faintly, and said: "You mistake me, Miss Rose, and you too, Jack. That Abbey is the only thing I have seen in England that I am jealous or envious of. I see your great works and say to myself, 'We will rival all that.' I read your best books and say of myself, 'they are a part of our inheritance as well as yours.' But that Abbey is a monument, sufficient to itself, it seems to me, to make every Englishman afraid to ever falter in manhood or to fail in honor. It is filled with lessons of splendor. There slumber great kings and princes, and queens who were beautiful in life, but there under the seal of death a higher royalty is recognized—the royalty of great hearts and brains; the royalty that comes to the soldier when in the face of death he saves his country; the royalty of the statesman who turns aside the sword and opens new paths and possibilities to his countrymen; the royalty of the poet when he sets immortal thoughts to words, which once spoken, go sounding down the ages in music forever. And these should have their final couches spread beside the couches of kings, for each when called can answer, 'I, too, was royal.'
"And when other nations dispute for recognition with Englishmen, your countrymen have but to point to that consecrated spot and say: 'There is our country's record. It is chiseled there by the old sculptor, Death; go and study it; it will carry you through thirty generations of men; from it you will learn how Englishmen were strong enough, while subduing the world, to subdue themselves; to create to themselves laws and a literature of their own, until they at last held aloft the banners of civilization when nearly all the world beside was dark; there is the record of England's soldiers, statesmen, poets, scholars; read the immortal list, and then if you will, come back and renew the argument.'
"That pile ought to be enough to make every Englishman a true man, a brave man, a gentleman, for to me the names there make the most august scroll ever written.
"Listening within those walls, it seemed to me I could hear mingling all the voices of the mighty dead; the battle-cry of soldiers, the appeals of statesmen; the edicts of kings; the hymns of churchmen, the rhythm of immortal numbers as from poets' harps they were flung off; the glory of a thousand years shone before my eyes; the splendor of almost everything that is immortal in English history was before me.
"That place ought to impress all who visit it with what mortals must do, if they would embalm their memories upon the world.
"You are right to reverence and to feel a solemn joy at that place; it is one of the few real splendors of this old world."
"Forgive me, Mr. Sedgwick," said Rose; "I should have known your thoughts." While she was speaking, Grace, under the lap-robe, pressed her lover's hand.
TWO KINDS OF SORROW.
But as June wore away, one day when Jack visited the office of his step-father, he found Stetson there, and was informed by him that some evil-disposed persons were 'bearing' the stock of the Wedge of Gold Company, which was most unfortunate, as it interfered with the arrangements in progress for building the mill.
Browning did not know enough about stocks to see through the deception, but bluntly asked what could be done to stop the injury. "The true way," said Stetson, "would be to go on the market and take all the stock offered until the bear movement should be broken."
Browning had heard about Captain Kelly "bearing" the bonanza stocks, and how the bonanza firm had taken all he offered, so he said: "Why do you not go out and put a stopper on the beggars?" Stetson explained that he had not the money. "Why, we can fix that," said Jack. So he wrote a note to the —— Bank to honor the orders of Jenvie & Hamlin until further instructions, turned the check over to Hamlin and told him to manage it. The days went by. There was an excursion of the young people to Wales, and another to Scotland, and besides Jack had gone down to Devonshire, bonded the place he liked, paid L1,000 down, and was to meet the remainder of the obligation—L9,000—when the titles were all looked up and transferred to him. Meanwhile, June and the better part of July were gone when one morning Jack went to the bank and drew a check for a few pounds which he needed for spending money. The cashier as he paid the check, informed Browning that the directors would be glad to see him in the private office of the bank. A messenger showed him the way, and he was there informed that the house of Jenvie & Hamlin had been drawing so heavily upon his order that only some L12,000 remained to his credit. The news was a paralyzer, but Jack was a game man and said: "That is all right," talked pleasantly for a few minutes, then withdrew, and going directly to his step-father's office, demanded an explanation.
The old men informed him that they had tried to hold up the stock of the "Wedge of Gold," but their efforts had proved of no use. The shares had run down to almost nothing. They had even used the reserve fund intended for the building of the mill, and it looked, they said, as though they could never realize enough to get even.
"Has the stock recently bought been placed to my credit?" asked Jack. He was told that it had been. "And how much is it?" he demanded. They informed him that it amounted to 83,000 shares, which, with the 50,000 shares first bought by him, gave him 133,000 shares, or the entire stock except 17,000 shares.
Jack was lost in thought a few minutes, then said: "I want all the papers except the 17,000 shares, and I want with them your own and Stetson's resignation as officers of the company."
The papers were given him, and taking the bundle he carried it to his own bank and deposited it, then went home.
He repaired directly to Jim's apartment, found him, and said: "Jim, my heart is broken. You have stood by me so far, help me now to arrange things so that I can say good-bye to Rose"—here he broke down and sobbed—"and then go back to America."
"Why, old friend," said Sedgwick, "if you and Rose are all right, what can so upset you?"
"Why, bless my soul, Jim, I'm ruined; my fortune is nearly all gone," he answered.
Then Sedgwick drew from him all the dismal story.
When he had finished, Sedgwick said: "Get me that prospectus, Jack: I want to see it before I make up my mind." Jack complied, and Sedgwick read it carefully through. The statement of the mine, the description of its development, and of the value of the ore, had been prepared by an expert so eminent that he could not afford to sell his name to bolster up a fraud.
When Sedgwick had finished reading he sat in thought for a few minutes, and then said: "Jack, go and find the man from whom this property was purchased, get all the facts that you can, even if you have to get him drunk; then come to me to-morrow, and by that time we will think something out. By the way, first run over to Rose, tell her you have been called away on business and may not be home until late, so that she will not expect you."
Jack left his friend and met Rose in the hall. She had just come in to visit Grace. He caught her up as men sometimes do children, kissed her and said gaily: "Don't look for me to-night, sweetheart. I'm going to be engaged until late."
She twined both her arms around one of his arms and said teasingly: "Are not you and I engaged, and is not ours a prior engagement?"
"O, yes," he said, "but this other engagement is with a man."
"So is mine," she said.
"And sometimes I think he is not much of a man, either," said Jack.
"Don't you dare to slander him," said Rose. "I know him better than he knows himself, and I will not permit one word to be breathed against him."
"He ought to be most proud of so lovely a champion. He must be the most blessed man of all the earth," said Jack, looking fondly down upon her. Then he added: "Are you very sure that nothing could ever come between his love and you?"
"Why, Jack, how serious you are," the fair girl said. "Nothing, nothing, can ever come to break my admiration for him. Death itself can but suspend life for a little while. My Jack and myself will be loving each other when this world shall be worn out and be floating in space, as does a dead swan upon a lake."
Browning bent and kissed her again, said softly "Amen," and went out.
The day wore away, and when dinner was announced, Browning had not returned. Sedgwick went with Grace to the sitting room and remained for a few minutes. Grace chided him upon being moody, and with all her caressing ways tried to exorcise the evil spirit that was upon him, but with poor success. Finally he asked her to excuse him, telling her he was absorbed in a little matter not strictly his own, which he would tell her all about after awhile.
She listened, and when he had finished, she put her arms around his neck, and said:
"You see when confidence is withheld from me, I become violently angry, and punish the culprit by going away." Then she kissed him, arose, backed to the door, reached behind her, opened it, passed out, then kissing her hand to him, closed the door.
Sedgwick went out, and at once repaired to the hotel where Jordan stopped when in the city. He had been out of town following some whim, and Sedgwick had not seen him since Derby Day.
Reaching the hotel, he learned that Jordan had returned, and soon found him.
Jordan met him joyfully, explained why he had been away, that he was thinking all the way home from the Derby that if he remained he might be a burden to Sedgwick and his new friends; that the best thing to do was to take no chances, and so he had been making the tour of Ireland.
Of that country he had much to say. "Yo' oughter go thar, Jim," he said. "Thar's a people wot ken look poverty in ther face 'nd laff it ter scorn; whar three squar meals a day ken be made on hope; whar wit grows on ther bushes; whar ther air ez filled with songs 'nd full hearts fill ther vacancy made by empty stomachs. It's ther most pathetic spot on earth, Jim. A race lives ther filled with energy and hope, a race as is generous and brave, 'nd warm-hearted, holdin' within 'em vitality enough ter found a dozen empires, but chained by poverty 'nd superstition, 'nd hate of the bruiser on this side of ther channel; nussin' impossible dreams 'ev a nationality which ther kentry couldn't support ef once obtained; proud ez Lucifer of a past which hez little in it 'cept wrong 'nd tyranny 'nd sufferin'; all ther exertions confined in a narrer groove, all ther work of no avail because uv indirection; clingin' ter homes which keeps 'em helpless 'nd only accomplishin' somethin' when transplanted to other fields, 'nd then carryin' on ther world's work, fiten' ther world's battles, sailin' ther world's ships, workin' ther world's mines, subduen' ther world's wildernesses, runnin' ther world's primaries, 'nd bein' ther world's perlicemen. I tell yo', Jim, it war pitiful.
"When I told 'em I war an American, they opened ther arms ter me ter once, 'nd took me in. What questions they asked! And when I told 'em about ther broad acres in Texas, how they cud go thar and each in a few months or years own his own farm half a mile squar, how ther eyes flashed 'nd ther faces glowed! It teched my heart, Jim, ter see 'em, 'nd made a old fool uv me in one place, shore.
"I stopped in a house one night whar ther war ther old man 'nd woman, a grown-up son 'nd a girl who war, maybe, eighteen year old. Thet girl, Jim, war fine. Blue eyes 'nd har that war the color which ware 'twixt a brown and a flaxen, with er blush rose shadin'; a clear-cut face like that of a Greek stater; dainty form 'nd limbs; the roundest arms yo' ever seen 'nd a hand like Aferdites. I noticed, too—axidentally in course, that ther thick brogans on her feet were little 'nd shapely ef ther war thick brogans. But, finest of all war her complexion. Ther warm air as blows over the Gulf Stream are good ter all complexions in Ireland, but it had done extra fur thet girl. It war perfect.
"Then, over all, she hed a proud, shy, dainty way 'bout her which war exquisite.
"We had a jolly evenin' together. I told 'em 'bout America; they told me all 'bout Ireland from ther time of ther Irish kings. They fired jokes at each other that would sell for forty dollars apiece in Texas, and they war ez thick ez though jokes growed on trees.
"At last ther boy wanted his sister to sing, but she got rosy red, 'nd told him ter be quiet. I told her ef she'd sing I'd make her a present, 'nd finally she giv in. Her brother played ther flute, 'nd she sung 'Tara's Harp,' not scientific, but jest nateral 'nd sweet as iver a bobolink sang.
"When she finished I gin her a new guinea. She didn't want ter take it, but I flung it inter her lap, 'nd then it war passed from hand ter hand ez a curiosity. Ther mother war last. She looked it over and then sed: 'It's a beauty, shore, 'nd now, Nora, give it back ter ther gentleman.' I sed: 'I don't want it. I want Nora ter have it.'
"'Shore nuff?' sed ther mother.
"'Shore,' sed I.
"'Then, Nora,' sed ther mother, 'kiss the gentleman for the gift.' Would yer believe it, Jim, thet shy girl come and put her arms around my neck and kissed me.
"Blast me, but it took me back, but I rallied 'nd said:
"'Nora, I'd give another guinea for another kiss like thet,' 'nd then she come back agin a-sayin': 'Yo ken hev another without any mo' guinea,' 'nd kissed me agin, 'nd ther whole family laffed.
"Next mornin' when I come outer my room I found Nora alone. Ther father and brother hed gone ter ther field, and ther mother war cookin' my breakfast.
"Nora greeted me cordial like, 'nd I sed: 'Nora, ef I war young agin I'd camp right here 'nd make love ter yo'.'
"'Out wid yer,' she answered. 'It's a cousin I hev in America, 'nd she writes me how foine the land war, but says ivery American is a mortal liar when he talks ter ther girls.'
"'The cousin slanders us,' said I.
"'She does not,' said Nora.
"'And how can I prove it?' said I.
"'Yez might make love ter me,' she said
"'I'm too old, Nora,' I answered.
"'Couldn't yez wait and let me tell yez thet?' she asked.
"'I'd rether own it then ter hev yo' tell me,' I answered.
"'O, it's makin' fun of me yez are,' said she. 'I know how far away yez are from the loikes of me and will forgit me to-morry, but I'm glad yez come, for it gave me a breath of the joy of the great world outside. Here hearts be breaking continually, for our lives are narrowed down to a mere fight for food. It's jist slavery from the cradle ter ther grave, and slavery over which there shines no star of hope.'
"Jest then ther mother called us to breakfast. After breakfast I went ter my room and put ten L10 notes in a envelope, wrote a line thet it war to take the whole family ter America; told 'em ter go ter Texas, and find the old neighbors, given' 'em a lot 'o names; told 'em not ter stay a minit in ther cities; then went out and handin' Nora the letter ez I bid her good-bye, told her it war a real love letter, shore nuff, which she must not read till I war out o' sight; thet she might give me ther answer when I cum back, and then I started straight for England.
"I kep thinkin' all thet day, it war sich a girl as thet who after awhile become the mother of Pat Cleburne or may be Phil Sheridan."
A moment later he looked up and said:
"But I wanted ter see yo', Jim, to tell yo' all the boys remember yo', and all allow yo' were the dol-durndest tenderfoot thet ever crossed a hoss or fired a rope or a gun."
"Where can we find a quiet place, Jordan?" Sedgwick asked.
"I know a boss ranch," said Jordan, "whar we can have a private room and talk all we wanter, only a few steps away."
They found it a drinking house with private rooms in the rear.
When seated there, Sedgwick soon learned that Jordan had sold everything in Texas—stock and land—and had converted all into money in bank—some $35,000—and was, to use his own words, "makin' a tower."
"But how came yo' here, Jim?" asked Jordan.
Then Sedgwick told him of his life since the day he left Texas; how he formed a friendship for Browning; how the deal in stocks originated, and how it resulted.
The Texan went into raptures. "Yo' don't tell me?" he said: "Half a milliun! dod rot it, but thet's good; thet's immense! how it would tickle ther boys out thar to know it! And yo' give the ole man a cool $100,000? What did they think of yo' then? Har, waiter, give us a quart of y'r—whatyer call it? O, yes, Widder Clicko (Cliquot); durned if we don't sellerbrate."
They drank their wine, lighted their cigars, and settled down for a talk.
All the old times in Texas had been discussed when Sedgwick said: "Jordan, I thought you were prosperous and happy, and much loved by all who knew you in Texas. What possessed you to sell out and leave?"
"I war prosperous," said Jordan, "doin' fust-class; war contented, and I don't believe I hed a enemy in the hull State.
"I hed ther ranch, ther cattle, ther mustangs; didn't owe a dollar, and hed money in ther bank. I hed been doin' right pert, and the property war a-raisin' every day. Do yo' know the blamed igiots was a-talkin' o' sendin' me to ther Legislature. But after awhile something happened. A lot o' ther boys cum in one day and said: 'Jordan, it's a blasted shame the way the childer is growin' up yere. We orter 'av a school.' 'All right,' says I, 'school goes.' So they agreed ter build a school house and ter hire a teacher for six months. I flung in more'n my shere, and then ther question was whar to build ther school house. I spoke up and I says: 'Why not put it down in the angle of my best section?' Yo' know whar ther section lines cross thar. It leaves a corner in ther field which is a sharp pint in ther road, and broadens as it runs back. 'Well,' they said, 'but whar'll the teacher board?'
"Well, yo' know it's only six hundred yards up ter my place; so I says: 'I han't chick or child, but I'm bound ter stay by ther school; send ther teacher up yere. He can do chores enough for his board, if he is techy at all on that pint.'
"The school house went up in short order, and one of the Kinsley boys came by on a Saturday, and he says, says he: 'Jordan, ther school'll be open Monday mornin,' and the teacher'll be down for supper on Monday night.' 'Send him 'long,' says I. I thought he gin a queer kind o' a igiotic laugh, but he said, 'All right,' and rid along. I went in through ther kitchen and told Aunt Sue—yo' remember our old unbleached cook—that ther school master war a-comin' to board on Monday night, and she must spread herself.
"Her nose went up inter ther air, and she said: 'H'm, guess what we gets every day's good 'nuff for one o' doze poor white trash teachurs.'
"Well, 'long 'bout five o'clock Monday evenin' I war readin' ther paper, when I hearn a knock at ther door, and same time I hearn Bolus—thet's the big collie, yo' remember—kinder whinin' as though he war glad, and bangin the door with his tail. I thought maybe some of ther boys is cum back; maybe it's Jim Sedgwick, and I gets up and goes and throws ther door open, and was jest openin' my mouth to say 'Hello!' when I got paralyzed.
"Thar war standin thar a little woman in a black frock thet fitted her like a prayer on a nun's lips. She had on a white collar, and when she looked up at me yo' never seen sich a majestical pair o' eyes, and I said ter myself, 'Blast my broad horns, but I never seen so takin' a face in all my life.'
"Jest pale sorter, barrin' a little flush that creeped up over her face, as yo' might expect would cum ter thet stater—whatyer call it in ther play?—Gal—, O, yes, Galerteer, thet's it—when weakenen' to thet feller's pleadin', she shakes ther stone and begins ter warm up ter his prayer. She had sorrerful eyes ter look inter, 'cept when she smiled, and then, Jim, hed yer seen thet smile once you'd never sarched fur no more bernanzers.
"Her nose was straight ez a blood hoss's fore-arm, teeth perfect, and white as ther starlight; her har war between yaller and tawny, and lots of it. Jest then ther sun shone agin it, and my thot war, 'A smoked topaz ez big ez a dinner bucket war fused and then spun inter threads ter make thet har.'
"And when she looked up and said, inquirin' like, 'Mr. Jordan?' her voice war sweeter'n yo' ever hearn a turtle dove when callin' her mate ter breakfast.
"'Thet's me,' sez I.
"She held out her hand thet war soft an' white an' shapely, an' warm, and sed:
"'I am Mrs. Margaret Hazleton, ther teacher in ther school, and I was directed here.'
"I thot I should o' drop through ther floo', but I braced up—waiter, another bottle—ez I war sayin', I braced up and said, 'Bless me, madam, I war expectin' ther teacher'd be a man; but walk right in, we'll do ther best we ken for yer.'
"I called Aunt Sue, and told her to show ther lady whar ter dump her fixins,' and der yo' believe it, thet dog Bolus, thet war generally mighty questionin' 'bout strangers, set down 'nd thumped ther floo' like he war tickled ter death.
"Aunt Sue had cooked prairie chickens, pertaters, hed made hot bread 'n coffee, 'n fried bernanners, and opened can fruit, and brot out ther honey 'nd two kinds o' pickles, an' ther supper war fine.
"Ther little woman praised it, gentle like, jest enough an' not o'erdoin' it, till Aunt Sue's face war bigger'n a full mune, and filled with satisfaction ter ther very corners.
"All ther time ther lady kep talkin' 'bout Texas, askin' questions, 'bout ther sile, ther climate, and ther productions, and in course I talked and did my best a-entertainin' o' her till nine o'clock, when she got up and sed she'd bid me good-night.
"Aunt Sue give her the best room, in course—thet one beyond ther parlor. Yo' know I hed it furnished up kinder gorgus with a carpet from Shreveport, and spring bed and wash-stand and picters from Galveston, and I felt more satisfaction thinkin' mout be she'd be comfortable, than I ever hed before since I'd fixed it up.
"When she war gone, I sed: 'Boys, but we is in fur it,' but Aunt Sue spoke up, and says she: 'Der am white folks and white folks; but dis one's a born lady, sho.'
"And the cowboys said, 'Shore,' and I was shore myself.
"She war up and out d'rectly in the mornin', fixed her own lunchen, talked clever a few words to Aunt Sue, petted ther dog a little, and asked him questions as though he'd been a kid; stopped on the way out ter tie up a rose bush, 'nd so she came and went ev'ry day, and though I didn't realize it then, ther house war brighter when she war ther, and darker when she war gone.
"Once Aunt Sue hed fever from Friday ter Sunday night, and without any fuss thet thar woman did the cookin', and doctored Sue as tho' cookin' 'nd doctorin' war her regular perfession.
"We found out after a little thet she war a widder, husband dead two year.
"After 'bout a week Aunt Sue says ter me one day: 'Mr. Jordan, yo' jest cum har!' I followed her ter the woman's room. Der yer believe it, she'd downed all ther flash picters that ther impenitent thief at Galveston hed coaxed me inter buyin', and in place hed hung up some small engravins, not gaudy-like, but jest catchin'; hed taken' off all the sassy trimmin's from ther curtains, and the hull room war changed, just ez tho' er benediction had been pernounced thar. It war all kinder toned down, ez tho' a woman hed slipped a gray ulster over a red frock.
"It made me feel kinder cheap like, and I sed ter myself, says I: 'Thet's good taste!' I knowed it in er minit, tho' I'd never seen it afore.
"Next Sunday in church we found out she could sing, and after thet she sung for us o' nites, playing a gitaw same time. Then arter awhile she got ter readin' ter us. Yo' remember how yo' read, Jim? Well, yer readin' war like a grand organ, hern were like ther blendin' o' flutes and harps.
"Well, ther weeks went by, and sech a feelin' cum over me ez I'd never 'sperienced afore. I thot first 'twar hay fever comin' on. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep. I war restless when thet woman war gone. I war skeery like when she war round; and war given to havin' little hot spells and then chills, and I said, 'I know it's ther blasted malarier.'
"So I took k'neen and juniper tea, and fancied I hed night sweats—jest the cussedest time, Jim, thet yo' ever seen.
"One day when I war a-sittin' in ther house and a-mopin', Aunt Sue cum in and looked hard at me, and says she: 'Mr. Jordan, does yo' know what's der matter wid ye?'
"I told her I didn't; thet I'd give a band o' cattle ter find out.
"'Laws,' says she, 'I'd tell cheaper'n dat, only yo'd think I is sassy.'
"I said: 'Aunty, yo' goahead. If yo's sassy, I's too sick to care.'
"'Why, bless yo' soul, honey,' says she, 'yo's jest ded in lub wid the schoolma'm, Mrs. Margaret. I noze. I's been dar myself.'
"'O, git out,' says I.
"She went out laffin', but at ther door she stopped a second and says:
"'Dat's it, sho, Mr. Jordan,' and after ther door closed I hearn her ha-hain'.
"Then I did some thinkin' for the next half hour, and I said ter myself, 'It's thet, sho nuff.'
"The school term war ter close next day, and ther teacher had made her 'rangements ter leave right away for her home up No'th—Ierway, I b'lieve. The contract war for $100 er month, but when we met ter fix up ther money I told ther trustees that some o' ther neighbors hed been thet pleased with ther school thet they had put up a little extry puss o' money, enough ter pay ther teacher's board and give her $150 extry. It war a bald-headed pervarication, Jim, but I thot it jestifiable under the sarcumstances, inasmuch as I put up ther hull money myself.
"I war fur gone. She closed ther school next evenin'; cum up ter ther house; wus goin' ter remain till the train cum by fur ther No'th at 11:15 next day. We hed supper and breakfast as usual. After breakfast ther boys all went off ter ther wo'k, and Aunt Sue went ter a neighbor's to borrer some bakin' powder. I was sittin' on ther verandy when the schoolma'm cum out, and walkin' close up, says she: 'Mr. Jordan'—waiter, bring me a brandy smash—'Mr. Jordan,' says she, 'I want to thank you for all your gentle and generous kindness to me. Except for your thoughtful consideration I should have had a much harder time here. I thank you with all my heart.'"
Sedgwick noticed that he had repeated the exact words without a mistake in pronunciation. They had evidently been burned into his very soul.
He drank the brandy, and then with a husky voice went on:
"'Yo' break me all up, Mrs. Hazelton,' says I. 'We is such rough folks down har. Yo' have been er providence ter ther place.'
"She blushed a little at that, and said: 'You are too kind.'
"'Not a blamed bit,' says I, and then realizin' it war my only chance, I blurted out: 'I'll be mighty sorrerful when yo' is gone. I don't know how others as knows how does it, but I want ter tell yer thet because of yer the flowers is brighter, the birds sing sweeter, the sunshine is clearer, the sky more smilin', and I cud get down and crawl on the ground yo' has walked over, that bad do I worship yer. And if yo' cud stay and marry me and civilize me, I'd try to brush up and be a decenter man than I ever war; leastways, I'd clar ev'ry rock and thorn outer yer path.'
"Do yo' b'lieve it, Jim, I wus perspirin' wus'n ther buckskin stallion did when yo'got thro' with him that fust mornin', and was tremblin' like a sick gal.
"She looked down compassionate like, got white about ther lips, 'nd her voice shook er little as she sed:
"'I can't do that, Mr. Jordan; there's much that I cannot tell, why I cannot, no matter; but I thank you with all my heart and soul, not only for your kindness to me, but for this last most generous offer.'
"Then she went on and talked, and cud yo' 'av hearn her, it would ha' made yo' think she war the prettiest and sweetest, and most compassionate woman as ever a-come ter bless ther world. She seemed ter me like a fur off priestess ministerin' to a sinner.
"After awhile I said:
"'Mrs. Hazelton, o' course yo' is pore, or yo' wouldn't a-come down yere a-teachin' school among these barbarians; thet is, pore ez fur ez money goes. I've been lucky. I've $4,000 in ther bank which I've no need of. If you'll let me give you thet, no one'd ever know it, and the reckerlection uv it, 'nd ther thot thet it may be doin' yo' some good'll give me heaps more pleasure than keepin' of it would.'
"You see, Jim, I war fur gone. But she wouldn't hev it, tho' ther tears jumped ter her eyes when I offered it, and she remarked she b'lieved I war the best man in ther world. I told her if she ever needed a friend and didn't send fer me, I should feel slighted.
"Then I hitched up and druv her down ter the station. She sat side o' me, Jim—waiter, more brandy—in course. Lookin' down, I cud see her smooth cheek and clear-cut profile, and thinkin' I war takin' my last looks, thar was sich a feelin' of all-goneativeness cum over me thet, do yo' know, if I cud ha' got outer one side, I b'lieve I would a-bawled like er hungry calf.
"We shook hands at ther station, and, not mindin' ther crowd, she reached up both her arms, put 'em around my neck, drew my head down 'nd kissed me squar on the mouth.
"It perty nigh smothered me, and I said in a low voice: 'Mrs. Hazleton, let me give yer ther money. I positively has no use in the world fur it.'
"She give me a sad smile, shook her head and jumped on ther train. As it pulled out uv ther station she nodded, wavin' her hankerchiv 'nd dropped it axidently. I picked it up. I've got it till yet. I'll allers hev it.
"Thet war ther end. Bolus wouldn't eat fur three days, then he cut me dead and went off ter a neighbor's whar ther war a white woman, and would niver cum back.
"I stood it three months. I thot I should die uv the blues.
"One day a man from ther No'th stopped off at ther ranch fur the night. After supper he said he war a-lookin fur a stock ranch fur his son. I said, 'Why not buy mine?'
"Then he asked all 'er 'bout it; how many acres; how much stock; 'bout the water, and what my price war.
"I told him $30,000. In the mornin' he gits a hoss, rode round with ther boys, and when he cum back, went down inter his pocket, drew out er wallet, and counted out thirty $1,000 gold notes, saying: 'I will take ther place.'
"'It's a go,' says I.
"We went ter town and hed ther papers fixed up. That war last February. Then I started out, went slow round ter New York, then over here; I've been up to Scotland, over to Wales; been to France once; jest cum over from Ireland, and ev'ry day I ride 'bout twenty miles in this 'ere town, and I've never found any end to it yet, 'cept when I went on ther keers' 'nd thet day I went ter ther races. I believe it's bigger'n all Texas, and its very size worries me."
"What have you marked out for the future?" asked Sedgwick.
"Not a blamed thing," was the response.
"How would you like to take a trip with me?" asked Sedgwick.
"I'll go ter any place yo' say, Jim; I don't keer how fur," said the candid man.
"Do not promise too quickly," said Sedgwick. "I am thinking of starting for South Africa in two or three days."
"South Africa goes, if yo' say so," said Jordan; "I'm yours truly, blast my broad-horned heart if I ain't."
"Well, old friend, it is growing late. If you will be here to-morrow morning at eight I will tell you all that is on my mind," said Sedgwick, rising.
"I'll be har," said Jordan.
Sedgwick stopped to settle the bill, but Jordan pushed him aside, saying, "Not to any particular extent, if we knows ourself." He tossed a tip to the waiter, paid the bill, and was going to add a shilling for the young woman who was the cashier, when, glancing up at her, he changed his mind and made it a guinea, because, as he explained, "Her hand war sunthin' like Maggie's."
The friends separated at the door.
It was eleven p.m. when Sedgwick reached the Hamlin house. He would not have gone at that hour, except that he had been given a pass-key on the first day he was there, with a request never to fail to come in, no matter how late he might be detained. Moreover, he wanted to see Jack.
Before he could open the door, it was swung back by Grace. She explained that she was on the watch so that she might form an idea of what hours Sedgwick was in the habit of keeping, and to tell him how very angry she still was. Then she gave him a smile such as an angel might, and was gone.
Sedgwick went at once to Browning's room, but he was still out. He crossed over to his own, threw off his coat, put on a smoking-jacket and slippers, and lighting a cigar, sat down to think.
Before very long Browning came in. "I found him," he said. "He was shy about giving me the facts, but I ginned him up to the confessional point. He told me all the truth at last.
"He received but L2,000 for the mine, and he does not believe that a share of it was ever sold to any one but me. He was paid the L2,000 on the day I bought the first 50,000 shares. My money paid for the mine; then I bought it over again. I furnished the purchase money, and then I bought it again, paying an advance of 500 per cent. And the job was put up by the old duffers; Stetson was only let in to clear the old chaps when the truth should be known. And then Stetson wants to marry my Rose.
"But the man told me that the mine was just as described, only a nasty road would have to be built to it that would probably cost L80,000 or L100,000, and the mill would have to be built. It looks to me like a total loss, Jim; but the swindle is so manifest that I believe we can make the conspirators disgorge at least the last half that they robbed me of."
The room was still for many minutes. Then Sedgwick said: "Jack, I thought those old men meant mischief to you when I first saw them. It was because of that—at least, in part that—that I remained. But one is your step-father—another the step-father of your affianced bride, and the other a mere stool-pigeon. There must be no scandal if we can help it. I believe the object on the part of Jenvie was to keep you from marrying Rose; what your step-father means I cannot understand. But anyway, if we can help it, there must be no scandal. We shared alike in Nevada. I have as much money left as both of us need. We share alike still. But no matter about that."
"But I have been a hopeless idiot to let these men rob me," said Jack, "and except for Rose, I would pull out for America to-morrow. I would, by Jove!"
"Your mistake was entirely natural," said Sedgwick. "Had my father wanted all my money, he could have got it for the asking. Do not talk about going to America; that would be 'conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman'; it would be a cowardly desertion in the face of the enemy. Then, you have never been very well since your ducking down on the Sussex coast; and, besides, you have entered into obligations here so sacred that you must not permit a little whim, or even a great disappointment, to lead you to think about trying to break them. Let us go to sleep now. To-morrow we will talk over this matter more fully. I want a few more hours to think and to make up my mind what is best to do." Jack returned to his room, and the lights were put out.
TEARS AND ORANGE FLOWERS.
In the morning Sedgwick got a cup of coffee early, and was just going out, when Grace came running up to him in the hall.
"I believe you were running away," she said gaily, and, seizing his arm, declared that he was her prisoner.
He told her that it was true he was running away, but would be back before very long, and would then, he thought, explain everything.
"Then I am still very angry," said she. "I am going to my room to make a calculation how much I am being slighted, and to consult the fates as to what penalties shall be prescribed before you can possibly hope for forgiveness." Then she smiled, stretched out her hand to be kissed by him, then opened the door and said softly, "Do not be too long away."
Sedgwick went again to Jordan's hotel; found him and told him briefly all that had happened; all about Browning, the love affairs of both, and how Jack had been taken in on the mine; ran over the prospectus of the "Wedge of Gold," and explained that he meant to visit the property; that if it could be made available with the means he had, he intended to improve it and bring Jack's shares up to cost; that no one but his Grace and her mother was to know when he went away, that he was not going to America, and that he wanted some one with him who understood gold quartz.
Jordan listened with increasing interest as the story was told, interrupting only when Sedgwick spoke of his love for Grace Meredith, and when he explained how Jack had been swindled.
To the first he joyfully responded: "I am glad, old boy, blast my broad-horned heart if I aint! She's a daisy; she's a real woman; and I thank God she found yo' and tuk pity on yo'."
To the other he said: "Well, the dod-durned, Newgate, Rotten Row, British thieves! How I would like to 'ave 'em in Texas for one short quarter of a hour!"
His enthusiasm was at its height at the close of Sedgwick's story. He cried out:
"It'll be glorious, Jim. Ef the mine can be worked up, we'll make it, sho'." Then after a pause, he said slowly as to himself, in a low tone: "It'll take me outer myself, maybe; that'll be wo'th mo' to me than a gold mine."
"But it is a tough time of year," said Sedgwick. "The Red Sea and the ocean beyond will be like furnaces at this season."
"Red Sea, ocean, furnace, everything, goes," said Jordan. "I enlist fo' ther wah."
Another meeting was arranged for that afternoon, and Sedgwick returned to the Hamlin home.
He went direct to Browning's room, tapped on Jack's door, and then walked in. Jack was leaning upon the table, thinking, and was so engrossed that he did not hear the tap or the opening of the door.
He started up as Sedgwick laid his hand on his shoulder, and said: "I don't believe, Jim, that I heard you come in."
"That's all right," said Sedgwick, "but, Jack, you must hear me now." Then sitting down close beside his friend, Sedgwick went on:
"I have thought this business all out, Jack. I believe the prime motive for this swindle was to separate you and Rose, and prevent your marriage. The first thing to do then, is to secure that matter. You must see Rose, and if she is willing, you must be married to-morrow. I think she will consent, and that her mother will approve it when she shall have been told the truth. This must be, Jack; first, because those old scoundrels will continue to plot against the marriage until they know it is of no more use; and second, I want to go away to-morrow evening."
"It cannot be," said Browning. "They took all my money. They left me but a beggarly L12,500."
"How much did you keep thinking through so long a time would be sufficient to accumulate before you could come back and 'try to steal Rose Jenvie?'" asked Sedgwick.