"I shall have to testify. I will take you to the witness room and you can wait for me there," he explained to me.
"Oh, no," I said, "let me stay here. I am afraid to be alone." I suppose the thought of the Spanish Woman occurred to him, for he did not insist, but really I was not afraid of anything except of having to leave the court room before I knew what the end was to be.
By the time I had got back to my seat they had already called another witness, and such a queer little, compact, positive-looking woman, with a very gay, very best hat, was sitting in the witness-box looking, possibly as I had looked, like a queer, scared animal in a pen.
She told how on the morning of May the seventh she had been awakened by a pistol shot, had looked out of the window and seen a woman running down the street. Questioned as to this woman's personal appearance, she said she could not tell, but that she wore a white dress. In what direction did she run? The woman thought south, yes, she was sure it was south. At this I saw father shake his head, for our house was north of Mr. Rood's gambling place, and I noticed that Johnny Montgomery, who had been very calm while I was talking, had now grown nervous and jerked about in his chair.
Father was the next witness, and when he came back again he really tried to insist that we should go home. But, for the first time in my life, I stood out against him. I said I could not go until I knew at least what was going to become of Johnny Montgomery. Father gave me such a strange look, neither angry nor sad—something which I did not at all understand. He didn't urge me further, he hardly looked at me, but I was conscious of his set profile while I listened to a disagreement between Mr. Dingley's associate and Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson waved his arms a good deal, but the little man kept saying, "I insist, your Honor!" And finally the judge seemed to decide it in a way that pleased Mr. Dingley's man; though Mr. Dingley himself seemed not to be interested, paying no attention at all to the little man, who kept leaning over and speaking excitedly to him, and the court crier was calling for "Latovier."
A pale, indefinite-looking creature rose up from somewhere out of the crowd and shuffled slowly toward the witness-box. "There he is," I heard the whispers around me. "Why, don't you know? That's the man who was shipped off. They only got him back yesterday. He's supposed to know—"
I felt in my heart that something decisive was coming, and I had a premonition it was going to be something bad; the man appeared so wretchedly nervous as he sat there in the witness-box. He kept glancing at Johnny Montgomery, shuffling his feet and shifting his hat from hand to hand and what they got out of him came not at all as a story, but only with very many questions.
It seemed he had a little gunsmith's shop, not very well known, to which, he admitted, gentlemen such as the prisoner there, hardly ever came. But he said that on a certain night, perhaps two months ago, the prisoner and another man had come into the shop and looked a long time and bargained for the very best pistol he had in the place. It was a mother-of-pearl handle, he said, with trimmings of steel, and quite small. He had told them that it was hardly the weapon for a man to carry, and Johnny Montgomery had answered him that he did not mean to carry it long.
At this there was quite an uproar in the court, the lawyers shouting, the clerk trying to call order, and a great commotion in the press about the door. But I do not remember being afraid, only the inconvenience of having father keep his arm around my shoulders while I was trying to see how Johnny Montgomery looked. Finally quiet was restored, and then the man who had gone into the gunsmith's with Johnny testified; and after another pause, with all my expectations strained to tighter pitch than I could bear, came the general uprising which meant the court dismissed, that it was noon.
Father, looking down at me, said, "Now what do you propose to do? Are you going home with me?"
"Please," I said, "do this one thing for me. I have done everything you have wished so far. I can not endure not to know the worst or the best that can happen. I must hear the end. Let us come back here again this afternoon."
I was so excited that I didn't care what father thought of me. But all he said was, "Well!" And, "Then we will go over to the restaurant across the street for luncheon instead of going home."
It was a help not to have to step out of the excitement of the proceedings. It was that which kept me up, which carried me along. "There she is; that's the girl who saw it!" The voices whispering behind me gave me a sad stir of feeling, but it was better than being left to think. It spurred me; and the clatter of dishes and the crowd which filled the restaurant, talking all at once, yet with no distinct words audible, all helped to bridge over the chasm of the waiting. I could see Laura Burnet sitting at a near table with her thick veil raised only a little above her nose, just enough to let her drink a cup of tea. Some of father's friends and one or two of the young men I knew stopped at our table to shake hands, but very little was said, and of the trial nothing at all. For all their trying to be easy and natural, I could see that my presence embarrassed them. I could see them glancing at me as if they wondered what sort of person I could be—as though I had become something different from a girl by answering questions in the witness-box. By two o'clock we were back in court again; and how changed everything seemed! All that desultory feeling of the morning was gone, and as I looked about over the faces I could see how every one's mind was fixed on the same thing. A woman whom I did not know, jostling at my shoulder as I went in, confided to me that what she wanted was, "To hear Dingley tear the defense to pieces." I wondered if the only people in the room who didn't want to hear that were myself and the Spanish Woman.
But it was Mr. Jackson who got up first. Though I had heard all the evidence that morning it had come out in such little bits and patches with such disagreements of lawyers between, and I had myself been so in the midst of it that I had no idea as to how it would sum up; and I had been waiting anxiously to hear what this man, whom father said was such a fine lawyer, would say.
He began with a sort of oration, all about the Montgomery family, and what a fine family, they had been, how much they had done for the city! Then he talked about Johnny, and he drew a very beautiful picture of him, speaking of his great promise and fine character and then of the blow which was being struck at his brilliant career; and it was somehow awful to have to listen to it, for even supposing it were true, this seemed scarcely the time for saying it. I could see Johnny's face getting more and more set-looking and grim, as if he hated listening to the words that were pouring over his head.
Then, in some way I couldn't follow, Mr. Jackson got from that to talking about courts and evidence, and corroborating testimony; and though for a while I couldn't make out what he was driving at, presently it began to appear to me that he was trying to prove that all the witnesses on the state's behalf had been lying. He was wonderfully clever in his way of making the testimony seem improbable. He pulled even mine to pieces, pointing out the revolver's not being where I said it had fallen. He declared there was a plot against the prisoner; that the gunsmith who had testified about the buying of the pistol had been bribed to do so; and he appealed to the feelings of humanity and justice in the jury.
He spoke beautifully. It made one's heart beat to hear just the tone of his voice, even though one couldn't quite understand what he was saying. And yet it was strange I thought that with everything he said he did not bring forward, or even try to bring forward, one single direct proof to show that Johnny Montgomery was innocent.
I was in a very confused state of mind indeed when Mr. Dingley got to his feet. Though I had never heard him speak in a court I had read in the newspapers that he was "Our golden-tongued orator," and father had been used to say that, "Dingley was a whirlwind." But now, when he rose, and turned toward the jury-box and began, his voice sounded stiff and cold, as if he brought it out with a great effort. He didn't shake his finger at the jury, as Mr. Jackson had done, nor fling out his hands, nor lift his arms in the air and bring them down as if he were bringing the world down on one's head. He simply stood there, and in a matter of fact, even voice gathered up the evidence of the different witnesses as one would beads in the hand, and strung them together; and I saw a long chain of evidence winding around Johnny Montgomery. As he went on measuring it out, for the first time I understood how heavily my testimony counted. It seemed to do away with the whole defense. In spite of Mr. Dingley the case seemed to be proving itself, and as he went on he warmed to the very sound of his own argument; his voice began to ring out more and I lost sight and memory of everything that Mr. Jackson had said.
All heads were craning toward him as he stood with his back to all of us, talking at the men in the jury-box as if they were the only people in the world. The Spanish Woman was leaning forward, her elbow on her knee, her head drooped, her hand hiding the lower part of her face, but looking out from under her eyebrows like a picture I had once seen of a prophetess. I felt that we were being wound up every moment more and more tense, and when Mr. Dingley stopped, he left us at the highest pitch possible for human beings to bear. When he sat down again he gave a quick glance behind and around him and, as for a moment it lingered on the Spanish Woman, I thought it seemed a little defiant.
I hardly realized what was happening in the room around me. The judge was reading something endless to the jury, not one word of which my ears could take. Then that sound ceased, and presently I noticed that the jurymen were leaving the room.
With the closing of the door upon them the aspect of things behind the railings changed, the judge getting up, walking restlessly back and forth in front of his platform for a minute, then going back to his writing; the clerk of the court keeping on with his, and most of the lawyers going out. Mr. Dingley passed us with just a bend of the head, and father glanced after him and made a little sound in his throat, a sort of meditative "h'm" of surprise. But the crowd kept very quiet; as the minutes passed the room grew more and more still. A sense of nervousness was over all. Every time a door opened there was a rumor that the jury was coming back.
"Well, it may be five minutes, and it may be all night," I heard Mr. Ferguson saying to father. "That pistol disappearing is going to give him a chance." Father answered, "That was a guilty man's defense, just the same."
But I seemed to have forgotten there were such things as guilt or innocence. I kept watching Johnny Montgomery, who was sitting almost alone, with his head a little bent forward, looking at the table in front of him. The light fell strongly on his face, making it almost seem to shine, and I looked at the little white seam of the scar on his cheek that had helped to identify him, at his black, brooding eyebrows, and the long lock of hair falling over his forehead, and I thought, so softly that it scarcely dared to be a thought, "Perhaps I shall never see any of these again." I felt very quiet, as though I should never want to laugh or cry again.
I lost all track of time; but the light was falling in the room and that bright look it had given Johnny's face was turning gray, when, quite suddenly, he gave a shiver, and pulled himself up in his chair, nervously drawing in his shoulders. I looked quickly at the judge's desk and saw a man standing beside it and offering a paper. It glimmered faintly white as he held it up. I saw the judge lean over, stretching out his fine, plump hand to take it, and I heard him say: "Is this your verdict?"
Then instantly the room heard and knew. And almost at the same time I felt myself lifted to my feet and heard father saying, in a voice I should have never dared to question, "Quick, your coat!"
I fumbled wildly for the sleeves. I no longer knew what I was doing, nor why, but obeyed him blindly. I felt there was some reason for this haste, but even as I tried to follow him out it seemed the whole room had risen, and a voice somewhere in front of us was speaking—had spoken.
There was a moment of dreadful silence, and then all about me broke out quick whispers, suddenly, like a refrain. Not once but over and over, I heard them around me.
"Murder—yes, yes, murder!"
"Oh, no, guilty in the second degree."
A woman near me fainted, and I wished I could have lost consciousness so as to be rid of those terrible words, but I could not even cry. I raised my hand to my throat and pressed it there hard, because there seemed to be constriction there.
The police were thick about the door, but even they, struggling with the hoodlums who had crowded the back of the room, couldn't get a passage open, and the large sergeant of police lifted me up as if I had been a child and carried me out, and set me down on the sidewalk. There I stood in the lovely, mild twilight, looking at the familiar surroundings as if I had never seen them before. Among the vehicles that filled the street I noticed the Spanish Woman's carriage, with its beautiful nervous horses. Father put my arm through his and said, "Do you think you can get across the street?"
"Oh, yes," I said, surprised that he should suppose I could not, since, except for that queer feeling of not having any emotions at all, I felt quite well.
He took me over to the restaurant. "But I am not hungry," I said. And father answered, "Probably not." Then, turning to the waiter, "A glass of brandy, please, and call me a carriage."
I sat down at a table near the window, and pushing aside the curtain a little, looked out at the court-house entrance on the other side of the street. In front of it a little group of men in uniform was waiting. I could see the last of the sunlight catch on their side-arms and bayonets. A good many people were coming out, and more were gathering in from Kearney Street, and up from Montgomery. The police kept shaking their clubs and trying to make them walk away. But in spite of all they could do the crowd gathered and gathered, and made a sort of narrow lane down the steps and across the sidewalk. Presently the Spanish Woman's carriage drew up just opposite this narrow way, and down the steps she came, like a queen, with her black veil sweeping over her face, stepped in and was carried quickly down the street. But as she passed I saw that her head was bent and that she was holding a handkerchief in front of her face.
I swallowed the brandy in a few gulps, scarcely knowing what it was, and kept watching the prison door, for I had the greatest longing to see Johnny Montgomery again. But presently our carriage came, so I had to go out and get into it. Just as we were making the turn across the street, I was face to face with the prison door, and at that moment they brought him out.
The guard passed close to us, and I saw his face as white and set as if he were already dead. "I have killed him," I thought, though that thought did not bring me any special feeling.
For a few moments we seemed to be caught in the crowd, the driver couldn't get forward with the horses, and I could turn my head and watch the little escort moving off down the street.
It was after sunset now, just beginning to be dusky. The sad gray twilight was over everything, and as the figures retreated they merged into a single dark mass in the throat of the street. As this mass reached Jackson Street corner, there was an outcry. In the peaceful stillness of the evening it came with a shrill, terrifying sound. The crowd at the corner broke and scattered before a rush of horsemen. They seemed to come from all sides, and meet in the middle of the street. Then we couldn't see the guard, but shots rang out, yells, and then more firing; and the mounted men swept on across the street. Men on foot were running after them and firing. In their wake a wounded horse was rolling on the ground and there was something else sprawled away from it that might have been a man. I had just a glimpse before the crowd closed in upon it.
"Stay where you are," father said, and jumping out of the carriage, he ran up the street. Other men were running past.
The horrible thought of the vigilance committee turned me sick. I called to the driver to go forward, but, already the crowd was swarming on both sides and our progress up the street was very slow. As we drew near the place a man in the uniform of the guards, with blood running down his face, went staggering by, another man supporting him; and I heard him groaning out: "I don't see how it happened, my God, I don't see how it happened!"
Another man, a young man, with his coattails flying and his silk hat knocked over his eyes, burst out of the crowd close beside the carriage. I recognized the dandy, Jack Tracy. He was so near I could have touched him, and for one moment I forgot all about being a lady. I grasped him, by the sleeve. "Tell me, for Heaven's sake, what has happened!"
He fairly glared at me, so excited that I believe he didn't recognize me. "They've got him—the Mexicans! He's gone!"
It took a deal more running back and forth, and questioning and explaining, before I could come at any understanding of what had happened. And even when I had heard as much as any one knew it was strangely little—simply that a body of Mexican horsemen had swept out upon the guard from apparently all points of the compass, had overpowered them, leaving one dead and one of their own number wounded, and swept on. After they had gone it was discovered that the prisoner had vanished too. The cry had been that the horsemen had taken him; but some of the guard who had followed the riders a little way declared that he had not been among them, and one man insisted that he had seen Johnny Montgomery dart in at the door of one of the small houses on Jackson Street. This was immediately surrounded by police and searched, but nothing was discovered; and all the while I sat faint and trembling in the carriage, with a conviction that I ought to be horrified, and yet with an ungovernable feeling of relief. The only thoughts in my mind were, "He is safe!" and "He is free!" If only for a moment, at least it would be a moment!
Half an hour passed before the street could be cleared, and we could get across. Meanwhile in the fast-gathering dark, I kept hearing voices speaking with that stern ring they have when men are excited and talking among themselves, and hoofs of horses clattering off in the direction the Mexicans had taken.
Every moment my heart was in my mouth, lest suddenly should come the cry that Johnny Montgomery was found; but he seemed to have vanished as completely as if he had been made invisible; and presently a hateful thought crept into my mind: "What if it is the Spanish Woman who has played the enchantress?" The rumor was abroad that the sortie had been planned by some of Johnny Montgomery's friends—they were such wild fellows that their doing the thing would not seem extraordinary.
Yet the other explanation seemed so much more probable to me, so burningly evident. It came upon me with the shock of conviction, as if the Spanish Woman herself had whispered it in my ear, and I was afraid to look at any one lest he should read my thought in my conscious face. I kept my head bent and held my trembling lips tight, glad that the dark covered my agitations.
But later, at home, sitting on the edge of my bed, I told mother all about it. I did not form the words aloud, but when I sat there looking up at her pictured face I knew she understood every idea that went through my mind. My thoughts went back over the incidents of the trial. Each little separate memory struck the same note—the attempt to get him out of prison, the attempt to make way with witnesses, and finally this successful snatching of him from the law—it was the Spanish Woman who had been responsible each time, and now it was she. Oh, I understood now why Johnny Montgomery had smiled at me as I was giving my testimony! I had thought it had been to encourage me to go on, but it must have been a mere mockery, since he knew that, no matter what story I told, he was safe.
But, had he known it? When I recalled his white, set face I doubted. Yet at any rate, even in spite of him, she had saved him. He was gone, gone to her perhaps, and I was left with the mere comfort of having done what I thought was right. It was cold comfort when every feeling in me had been outraged by the doing, and now the forlorn doubt continually stirred as to the certainty that what I had done was right, if, as the Spanish Woman said, love was a woman's only virtue.
I was horrified to find myself, without apparent reason or any evident leading up to it, with that word on my lips. Love? Why, what had that to do with me? I looked in a fright at mother, as if I expected her to answer the question; but that timid look of hers seemed to have only a reflection of my own fear in it. With a sudden feeling of weakness and helplessness I hid my face in my hands.
From that moment I began to understand what father had meant the day he had said that I would need mother's picture now. It comforted me that she was there watching me and seeming to understand, never looking angrily at me no matter what foolish or frightening things I had to tell her, and there were so many in those days that followed—dreadful days for me! The very girls, my friends, even while with round, awed eyes they admired me for my heroic performance on the witness-stand, yet, for that very reason seemed to set me a little apart from themselves. And then the talk about the search for Johnny Montgomery, full of the cruel eagerness of men hunting a man!
The word had been that, of course, he would be retaken immediately. But the hours slipped away, and the days, and still there was no trace of him. The whole city was searched, and I discovered then that the Spanish Woman was far from escaping public suspicion. Detectives went in and out of her house, ransacking its remotest, most cunningly concealed places. She herself was closely questioned, but nothing could be elicited.
If I had needed any reassurance that she alone was responsible for Johnny's disappearance, this effacement of the means by which she had accomplished her object would have convinced me. Whatever creatures they were who had effected her purpose for her, they were apt pupils in her art of disappearance, and even those who had failed here, were still completely hers. The Mexican who had been wounded by the guard had closed his teeth and died without a word, not even a confession to the priest. The horsemen, it was said, had swept straight through the city in the direction of the Mission, and it was supposed they had disbanded there and scattered through the ranches, where it was impossible to trace them. But the belief was general that the prisoner had not gone with them, that the sortie had only been a blind for his escape in some less obvious direction, abetted by the half darkness.
That week the city was under strict surveillance and I went seldom upon the street. For after my first relief at his escape was over, I was in constant dread lest he be retaken or shot; and when I did have to be out I went shrinkingly, dreading lest I see his face, haggard and ghostly, gazing down at me from some window, or glimpse him retreating up some evil alley.
"Oh, you are too good for this!" my heart accused him. "To think of you slinking and hiding! I could forgive you anything, even killing him—yes or even wanting to kill him—but not this running away! What power is it that this woman has over you, when a little while before you seemed so brave?"
The fear that it was because he loved her went through me, the bitterest thought of all. Against it I treasured the one sentence he had spoken to me, the only words I had ever heard him speak, and the looks he had given—the gentleness which had consorted oddly with his dark face and great strength, and that first shocked, reproachful gaze which so haunted me; and then the way he had helped me, smilingly, over the hard places in my testimony against him! How that had moved me!
Yet what were a few, frail glances beside the thing he had done for the Spanish Woman? I saw her once driving upon the street. The glint of her splendid hair made a crown around her head. She leaned back in the carriage, smiling, looking happy and triumphant; and it was a strange thought that these days so dreadful for me were good days for some one else.
By the end of the week the theory that Johnny was hidden in the city was abandoned, and search was directed toward the mining-camps, whence from time to time came reports that he had been seen. But all of these turned out to be false leads, and the idle talk about it swung into just the channel that I had feared—how that of course he had been guilty since he had tried to escape and had succeeded.
Whatever chance there had been for him before, chance of appeal or chance of pardon, was gone now. It was as if he had sunk into a deep pit, out of which he would never rise. I told myself that I must not think about it, that surely he could not be anything to me any more; and yet my mind turned to nothing else but the memory of him, and seemed to fix and fasten upon the thought. I knew that father saw I brooded. Whether he knew why, I did not like to think; but he used to take me out upon long drives, among the hills across the bay, and out to the Presidio to see the military maneuvers; so that he kept me with him much of the time. And he would urge me to go about to see the girls I knew; but Hallie was the only one I went to see at all.
She had been very tactful after the first outburst of enthusiasm over me upon the witness-stand; and as soon as she understood how I hated and couldn't endure any allusions to it, had never mentioned it to me again, though I used sometimes to catch her looking at me in a way which made me know she was sympathetic and curious; and that made a bond between us.
I was fond of the Fergusons' house itself. It had a charming garden, planted with roses, with big, blue Chinese jars at the elbows of the paths and on the porch, and a dear little upper balcony—just such a one as Leonore walks out upon in Il Trovatore—which overlooked the convent and its gardens. Sitting here with Hallie one late afternoon, while sunlight was still among the housetops, but with the convent garden in shadow so deep it looked like a reflection in water, I saw the procession of nuns, slim, black figures and bending heads, winding slowly through it. The sight touched me with a very melancholy yet not quite unhappy feeling.
"What would you think, Hallie," I asked, "if I should become a nun?"
"A nun!" Hallie almost shrieked. "Ellie Fenwick, what are you thinking of? Why, you would have to cut off all your lovely hair!"
"Yes," I said, "one of the sisters there told me that she had hair as long as mine when she was a girl, and yet she doesn't look unhappy now. And then everything is so peaceful over there, the garden is so quiet, and they are so calm! I think I should love to; and oh, dear, Hallie, you don't know! I am very unhappy!"
Hallie put her arm around me and said firmly, "You will do no such thing! You will come to Estrella's party to-night and forget all about convents and such hateful things! Of course, I know what the matter is; and it's very lovely and awfully romantic, but really I'm afraid that he is quite gone, dear. Don't you think you could think of some one else?"
I said I couldn't bear to, that I didn't want to go to Estrella's party, that I hated the thought of the people I would have to meet. But Hallie can be very persuading, and when I left her my resolution had weakened considerably.
"Why not go?" I argued with myself on my way home. "I will have to begin this sort of thing again sometime—that is, supposing I don't go into the convent, and I am afraid father wouldn't like me to do that. At least while I am making up my mind about it anything will be better than brooding over this thing, which I can't help."
When I reached home I felt restless and the house seemed very small. Rather diffidently I broached the subject of Estrella's ball to father; but he was quite delighted.
"Excellent," he said, hurried off a boy to the Mendez house with word that I was coming, sent out for flowers and made a lovely little fuss about me. I tried to make myself look as pretty as possible in a pale tulle, with little rosy wreaths upon it, and the high old tortoise-shell comb, that had been mother's, in my hair. The excitement gave me more color than I had had for weeks. I thought, "Even if I am not happy, at least I can be excited."
Father looked so tired that when he left me at the Mendez house I asked why need he come back for me, why not just send the carriage. He wouldn't hear of that, and then Senora Mendez said why shouldn't I stay at their house all night? So it was agreed, and Estrella, looking like a little dancer, in a yellow gown sown [Transcriber's note: sewn?] with twinkling spangles, came running and hurried me up-stairs to take off my cloak.
The ball was a large one—one of those affairs that is so big it makes you feel lost. I danced, danced madly; but a forlorn conviction kept growing on me that I did not have that same joyful feeling that I could dance on air which other parties had brought me. Every young man who looked at me was not a possible sweetheart, yet more looked at me than ever did before. I had a little crowd around me, and lots of pretty things were said to me, and I was not so afraid to reply as I had been. When Senor Mendez, Estrella's father, who is fat, but dances like thistledown, took me for a turn around the room, "You are having quite a success, eh, my child?" he said. "The young men are beginning to wake up. You are coming out."
That was all very pleasing and my wits were never any too sharp at a dance, being in a dreamy and delicious state of obedience to the music and the swimming atmosphere, so that I did not keenly take note of why Laura Burnet did not return my bow. Jack Tracy took me in to supper, and fussed until he found seats for us in the big hall beyond the supper-room. It appeared he was wanting to propose to me again; and, as I was ready for anything as far as only making proposals went, I did not try to stop him. Behind us a curtain hung, the only thing between us and the ball-room, but the orchestra was still playing softly and there was hardly any one in that room, so I thought no one could overhear us.
In the midst of it, Aleppo Mendez put his head in the door and asked what had Jack done with his partner's program? Jack, not discovering it in his pocket, very much vexed at being interrupted, went to look for it with Aleppo in the supper-room, and I was left alone.
For a few moments I sat listening to the music. Then this ended with a soft chord, and on the other side of the curtain I heard the quick rustling of a girl's frock, and a girl's voice, "Just wait, I must put one more hair-pin in it or it never will stay up."
I recognized Estrella's tones. There was a little pause, and then, evidently resuming the main thread of her discourse she went on, "Of course, as I was saying, it was awfully brave of her to do it, but how could she! Why, if I had been in such a position just thinking what it would have meant to him, I know I couldn't have made a sound!"
"Well, if I could I wouldn't have!" It was Laura speaking with great bitterness. "It wasn't as if she had to tell. She was the only one in the city who saw it. No one would have known anything if only she had held her tongue!"
"Oh, but," Estrella broke in, in a deprecating voice, "it was an awful thing he did!"
"Oh, was it?" Laura retorted scornfully, "Lots of men do the same thing and aren't so very bad; and lots more would do it if they dared. Just because he is handsomer and braver and has a higher temper than most, lots of people hate him. And because Ellie Fenwick is little and looks young, and every one was saying how pale and pathetic she looked and how convincing it was, the way she told her story, oh, I heard the talk all around the court room!—she just worked on the sympathies of the jury! It wasn't justice that convicted him! It was Ellie Fenwick!"
I sat perfectly still, grasping my cold little ice-cream plate in one hand, not hearing anything more, not even seeming to think, until I heard Jack Tracy's voice beside me.
"Good Heavens! what's the matter?" And then, calling out in absurd alarm, "Don't faint, don't faint!"
"I am not going to faint," I said, though I had a very strange feeling of floating, and his face looked a little misty to me. "I want to go home. Get me a carriage!"
"But you're ill! Let me call Estrella."
I caught hold of his sleeve. "Don't say a word to her! Don't dare, promise me!" I shook his sleeve fiercely. He looked quite scared. "Get me a carriage," I said, "and mind you don't say anything to any one until I have gone. Then you can tell Estrella that I was feeling ill and decided to go home."
A LIGHT IN THE DARK
Fortunately it was late, after midnight, and a few early ones, dragged away by their fathers and mothers, were already going; and muffled in my long cloak and lace scarf I managed to slip out in the wake of a group of these—hoping they would not notice my being alone—and into my carriage, evading Jack's insistence that he must see me home by shutting the door in his face.
As the carriage went laboring off down the dark hill I crouched in a heap on the seat. If Estrella and Laura had seized me by the shoulders and bodily thrust me out of doors I could not have felt more utterly an outcast. "Does every one feel like that about me, even my friends?" I thought.
All my life I had been taught, and had believed, that only good came of telling the truth. Well, now the opportunity to prove that had come. I had done what had been demanded of me, and every one looked upon me as though I were inhuman. Had all the laws of the universe been suddenly turned upside down? Ought my lips to have been sealed instinctively by what I saw? Ought I to have been struck dumb on the witness-stand? Was it true, the terrible injustice of Laura's words, that because of me—not alone the story I had told, but my looks, my misery, my very pity for him—he had been convicted?
I was recalled to my surroundings by the rocking of the carriage. Great rains, which had fallen lately, had left the roads gullied, and rough as the sea. The moon would not rise until after one o'clock, and what made our progress really dangerous, something had gone wrong with the carriage lights. They dwindled and went out when we were but a block on our way, and no scratching of matches would make them stay lighted for a minute. At the foot of the hill the driver brought the horses to a halt, and informed me that the road ahead looked impassable.
I peered out of the window.
An unbuilt space was on my right, and across the dark expanse, and across the street which cut the other side of it I looked to the long roofs and walls of the convent, all a dull monotone scarcely distinguishable from the night. Only on the corner a solitary street lamp illuminated a little space of the wall and made a pool of light on the pavement beneath.
The silence was broken by the sound of voices talking—the jargon of peons, I thought—and I remembered that I was alone, and driving across a lonely part of the city. The voices seemed to be approaching down Powell Street, even now perhaps under the very convent walls. They sounded loud and jovial.
"Can't you turn into the sand-lot, and make a cross-cut to Mason Street?" I whispered to the driver.
Muttering that sand was "decenter than mud at least," he remounted his box and swung the horses about. In the mud the wheels and hoofs made only a soft "squshing" sound. We turned away into the dark, unlighted space without the approaching group being any the wiser of our presence.
But, as we went, I saw, suddenly emerging from behind the convent wall and coming out into the pool of light, the swinging serapes and great shadowy hats of the Mexicans. They were crossing Lombard, they were keeping straight on down Powell, probably for some of the North Beach resorts; but, as with voluble talk and laughter they passed the opposite curb, I noticed a singular thing—one man who dropped out of the group silently as if unobserved by his companions. He seemed to make one step from the lighted street into the shadow, and was swallowed up in it as completely as if he had plunged into a forest. He had entered that very tract that I had entered!
I put my head out of the window and spoke softly to the driver. "Stop! Keep perfectly still until he gets by."
The hackman seemed to understand what I wanted, and drew up the team, and we waited. I heard footsteps. They seemed to be coming straight toward the carriage. No, they were passing to the left of it. It was probable that this person was quite unconscious of our presence, but my heart was beating so hard it seemed to me he surely must hear it.
The footsteps stopped. I hardly dared to breathe. Then I heard the rough sound of a match; there came a small blue spurt, and suddenly in the little upthrown illumination I saw the lips holding tightly the cigarette; a little higher the flame stretched, and I saw the eyes and the black bar of the brows. I almost screamed. At the same instant he looked up and saw me.
It was just for an instant we gazed at each other thus. Then the match went out, the light of the cigarette failed, and I saw it drop like a glow-worm to the ground. I was looking again into nothing but impenetrable dark. Could it have been real—that glimpse of him—or only a picture on the night?
I leaned forward through the window and called softly into the blackness: "Come here!" I had the scared, shamed, unreal feeling of a child playing at conjurer who hopes, yet knows no miracle can happen. The shock was the greater then when, after a moment's interval, a formless bulk shadowed my window. I shrank back in the surprise and joy and fear of knowing him there.
"What can I do for you?" a voice asked, proceeding from the shadow, as courteously, as formally, as if it were speaking in the lighted ball-room I had just quitted.
"Oh, get in, get into the carriage!" I cried, for it seemed to me that all the city was spying on him, and the risk he ran was more than I could bear. He hesitated one more heart-breaking instant. Then, I thought, he drew back. I reached out blindly toward him and clasped his wrist.
My fingers were astonished at the great pulse that throbbed under them like a heart, sending a thrilling through my veins. Then I felt the downward sway of the carriage, and the sweeping of a serape over my feet; and I had released his wrist and knew he was sitting opposite me. I leaned out of the still open door and spoke to the cabman. "Drive over to Washington Square, and then around the Square."
Extraordinary as this direction was, he made no demur, only a sort of grunt, deep in his coat-collar, and almost before I was in my seat again the wheels were turning, and I saw the arm of my otherwise indistinguishable companion move darkly against the paler square of glass as he closed the carriage door, and shut us up alone together in the dark. He himself was scarcely separable from it, but I seemed to know how hard he was looking at me.
"Where were you going?" I said.
"Nowhere that you may go. Tell me quickly what you want of me."
It was strange that he, who so long had been a speechless figure—our only communication by looks—now had become a disembodied voice, like himself, quick, strong and imperious. There were a dozen questions which, over and over in imaginary interviews, I had asked him, all my anxieties and wonders and terrors about him; why he had said those first words of his to me in the police station; why he had encouraged me so recklessly with my testimony, and then fled, and of all those other puzzling inconsistencies in his behavior. But now that my opportunity and he were both here there boiled up in my brain my latest, most bitter perplexity of all, the one that had been presented to me tonight, not a question but a confession. Before I realized what I was saying I was telling him, very incoherently, how terribly I felt about having had to give my evidence, and why it had seemed the only thing to do. "But I know you do not think so," I said. "You think it strange and cruel of me that I did not keep silent."
His voice sounded very calm, almost casual. "I think nothing of the sort. You did quite right, and I am glad there is one woman who can speak the truth."
This was utterly different from anything that I had ever expected! "But," I stammered, "from the way you looked at me first when—when you ran out at the door, and then again when, I had to tell them who you were! I thought—"
I heard the sweep of his serape as he leaned forward toward me. "I hated, for your own sake, that you should see anything so hideous. When I came out of that door and saw you there on the other side of the street, do you know what you seemed to me? You seemed to me like the reminder of everything good I had ever hoped for or believed in, looking at me across that distance, horrified at me. It was that I could not bear." His voice sounded harsh and uncertain, but it was better to hear than the even off-hand tone he had used at first.
"I hated to see you have to go through that sordid business in the police station," he said, "hated to have you dragged through the court, to think you had to touch such things, even to know that they exist. I could not forgive myself! But what are you doing here alone at this hour of the night?" He broke off suddenly. The half stern, half protecting note made my heart beat.
"I was at a ball," I stammered. "I came away suddenly because—because I couldn't bear it. I heard them talking behind the curtains. They said it was I who had convicted you."
A touch came on my hand as if it had been the point of a finger, "Believe me, that is nonsense. It was I who convicted myself."
I turned toward him. I would have given anything, in that moment, for a glimpse of his face.
"If you did anything at all toward that end," he went on steadily, "remember you only helped me toward what I really wanted to do."
I kept my eyes fixed on that space of darkness from which his voice came. "If you wanted to convict yourself then why did you try to escape?"
There was quite an interval while I waited, trembling on the brink of the mystery. When at last he spoke his voice sounded a note of reserve. The unconscious intimateness was gone.
"Whatever my motive in convicting myself has been, let me assure you it has put me so far away from you that I am hardly worthy even to speak to you. But I feared you had been troubled about giving your evidence, and I am glad of this one chance to tell you that you have helped rather than hurt me. But now it is all over; you will not have to worry or think about it any more, for what I am going to do now will put me quite out of your sight."
He said it with such a sad, reckless gaiety, and it sounded so final that it seemed to me the world had come to an end with it; and, without any understanding of how or why it happened, I found myself crying, with my face in my hands. My ears were filled with the sound of my own sobs, but through them I could hear him begging me to stop, and, though he did not touch me, I could feel him now close beside me on the same seat and bending above me.
"The thing isn't worth it," I heard him say, "I deserve it all—everything! You are too good to waste any pity on me! But I love you for it. I have loved you since the moment I saw you staring at me as if I were the devil. I loved you when you came to the prison and pointed me out for what I was, the man with the pistol. I will never forget you."
At that I cried all the harder, but now there was a curious feeling of comfort in it. All the misery I had kept shut up in my thoughts for so many weeks seemed to be running out with my tears.
"What can I do to make you feel differently about it?" He was pleading.
"Don't do what you are going to do," I whispered, muffled up in my handkerchief.
He made a queer little sound in his throat—amusement or despair, I couldn't tell which. "Don't you know I can't stay here? Whether I shot the man or not I am forfeit. I have to go. But before I do I want to tell you one thing. You won't believe it, but here it is—I didn't shoot Rood!"
A great weight seemed to slip from my heart. I dropped my hands and looked up, and instead of darkness, there was his face above me, great, shadowy hollows for the eyes, and a soft, gray shadow for the mouth. His hat was thrown aside and I could see a faint light on his forehead.
It seemed like a miracle in the first, wondering moment. The next I understood what had happened. The quarter moon was rising, and everything was filmed with her dim silver. For a little I looked up at him quite contentedly, with a feeling of peace at my heart that I had not felt since I had first seen him. "Of course I believe you," I said. "I was only so frightened because in the court you wouldn't speak, and no one would speak for you and explain how it happened. It made it seem as if you were the one. That was why every one thought so."
He smiled rather grimly. "Yes, that is what I supposed."
"But now you will go back, you will tell them how it really happened, you will be proved innocent?"
"I can't be proved innocent," he answered harshly. "There is nothing here for me." Yet all the while he looked at me so wistfully that it was hard to understand.
"But there is I," I said. "Doesn't it matter to you that I care?"
He did not move or speak, only kept looking down at me with those dark hollows of his eyes, not a glimmer of light moved in them that I could see, and, listening to the deep come-and-go of his breathing I felt frightened.
"No, I never thought, I never dreamed such a thing was possible," he said at last, in a queer, shocked, half-awed voice. "You don't know what you are talking about, child," and he leaned forward, resting his elbow on his knee and his forehead in his hand.
"But I do know! I care terribly. All these days when I haven't known what had become of you I have been understanding it, and I am glad I said it," I put my hand on his, which rested on the seat beside me.
He shook it off, pushed it away from him. "No, don't do that," he said quickly. "Don't tell me that it is so. You are too good for it!" Then he said slowly, measuring every word as if he meant I should clearly understand: "This comes too late for me. I have gone too far in the wrong direction, and now I am going away with the Spanish Woman."
"No, no, no!" I cried vehemently. "You must not! You are too good for that!"
"No, that is all I am good for now. And she has done everything for me. The sortie at the court house was hers. She has kept me hidden in her house all these days; and, when that was searched, in the convent garden. She has chartered a lugger to take us to Mexico. It is lying out in the bay, now, on the other side of Chestnut Street Hill. She has slipped me out of her house with a group of her peons for a screen. I am going aboard now. She is coming out at dawn." He lifted his head and looked at me again, smiling a little, "And if your conscience can keep you from reporting this before eight o'clock this morning we shall be safe."
He said it in a monotonous, dull tone, as if there were no longer any question about it, as if for some reason the thing were irrevocable! And yet I couldn't understand why. There was no reason in it at all that one could see. I had the dreadful sense of fighting something invisible.
"But all that she has done for you," I insisted, "hasn't made any one happy. It has only kept making things worse and worse for you and every one else, and finally it has made you a coward."
How that made him wince! "That's not quite the fact, that's too ugly," he said quickly. "I can't let you think that; it isn't all my weakness. It is partly that I owe it to her. I am bound to do this, just as you were bound to speak the truth in court. You won't understand it I know, for to you the world is black and white, and each incident stands by itself. But as a man lives these incidents are interwoven like the links of a chain, each one depending on the others, so that sometimes what appears to be a bad thing is really the only decent thing if one knows the circumstances."
"But it is because you are only looking at a little string of wrong things, that the last one of them looks right, because it's like the others," I said. "If you go back to the big wrong that started them all and straighten it out, you will see that everything that follows will straighten itself."
He threw back his head, looking down at me with an expression I could not make out, astonished, incredulous, and half ashamed. "Out of the mouths of babes—" I thought that was what he said very softly. Then, "And this great wrong, Miss Fenwick?"
I was conscious that somehow I had gained an advantage, and I kept my eyes upon him as if in such a fashion I could hold it tight. "You must tell them how Martin Rood really died."
"Ah, never!" The word rang with such unexpected finality that all my hope went tumbling at the sound.
"Oh, he loves her, he loves her!" I thought and my pleading became the pleading of despair. "Yes, yes, you will go back, if not for my sake then for your own, and tell them what you have told me, and the rest of it; and I know everything will come out right."
He still kept gazing at me with that puzzling expression, only now there seemed to be more of tenderness than of incredulity in it. "You seem to have great faith in things coming out right."
"Oh, but it's true," I urged. "They will, if only you will go back and face the thing."
Slowly he shook his head. "Yes, it may be true. It may even be workable in some cases, but I have got too far away from what is right ever to get back. If I should try I would only succeed in doing some one else still greater wrong—a wrong that even you, with all your awful sense of justice, could not ask me to do."
He turned from me, and sat for a little while gazing straight before him, and I looked at his stern profile set against the window glass, saw the shift of expression upon it, and knew that he was thinking. At last, turning to me again, as if there had been no interval between his words, "But this much I can do," he said. "Even if I can not quite get back to the great wrong, I will go back as far as I can in honor to set this thing right. I will give myself up—" He waited a moment, then added: "On one condition; that you will promise never to say a word of what I have told you to-night."
"But," I protested, "then how will they ever know you are innocent?"
"Oh, but then you will be—" I began, with a wail.
"Wait, don't speak, don't answer until I have asked you another question," and the strong touch of his hand held me quiet. "Suppose I can't make it come out right—don't you think it is better to make a strike to get as near to the right as I can, instead of going on, getting deeper and deeper into the wrong?"
"Yes," I whispered. "Don't you?"
"I don't know," he said slowly. "I only know that since I have seen you I can't go on. After being with you only for this little while, after what you have told me, I can't go to her."
We faced each other in silence. My hands were clasped tightly in my lap but my heart went out to him in gratitude and thankfulness.
Then, bending a little toward me, "Now, have I your word?" he gently asked.
I could have promised him more than my word in that moment.
He smiled. "I know that I can trust you. I have seen that you have a loyal heart; but this promise shan't cost you anything. I shall answer no questions. Now, I shall have to send a message to Senora Valencia."
"Oh, do not," I begged. "She will stop you from going back. You don't know what she is capable of; she can do anything!"
"No one can undo what you have done," he said. "She will not stop me. I must send her a word to tell her she is to go away on the lugger without me."
"But why?" I cried. "I am afraid to have you go near the house. I know I shall never see you again."
"Come, you must be brave. I am only going to write a line and slip it under the gate. We must not be cruel if we are righteous, you know."
I hardly understood his scruple, but the determination of his voice made me feel that it was right. Thus reassured the practical question rose as to what there was he could write with or upon. We should have to be quick, for already, the first pale change, which is scarcely dawn but only that fading of the deepest blue of night, was in the sky. He fumbled in all his pockets, and in the folds of his sash. We explored the seat and the floor of the carriage. In my eagerness my cloak slipped from my shoulders, and as he drew it up around me again, with nervous fingers fastening the clasps across the bosom, "What is that?" he asked suddenly.
I put my hand down and it touched a stiff little edge of paper thrusting from my girdle. I drew it out. It was my dance program. I had quite forgotten about it. One side of it was scrawled thickly with names, but most of the other side was clear, and the little white pencil was still fastened to it.
He took it from me, and holding it on the palm of his hand, "I wonder if you have any idea what thing you are asking me to do?" he said.
I did not speak, because I felt that if I opened my mouth it would be to say something weak and foolish, and when I had put the card into his hand I had seen him hesitate; so I knew that he needed all my strength. He bent his head and began to write slowly and laboriously because of the swinging of the carriage; and, letting down the window, I put my head out and addressed the driver who was hunched up like a shivering bird on his high seat.
"Drive to the Senora Valencia's house." For perhaps an hour he had been jogging us around and around the Square, and one would have thought that this order would have come upon him as a surprise. But he only turned his head slowly toward me, and then as slowly back again, with a movement that made me think of a mechanical toy, then he guided the horses' heads from Washington Square into Lombard Street.
I had sunk back into my corner and covered my eyes with my hand. "Do you want to read what I have written?" I heard Johnny ask.
I shook my head. I felt that I had made him do something terrible, as he said, I did not know how terrible. I did not even look when the carriage stopped, when I heard him getting out. But even from where I sat I could hear the beat of the brass knocker. A moment passed, with fear thick at my heart; then he was back again. He gave the direction to the driver before he got in, and the cab turned and was rattling down the street, with a speed that suggested that the hackman was at last stirred to excitement by the name of our final destination. We two looked into each other's face.
"You would better drop me at Montgomery," Johnny said.
"No," I answered, "I am going to take you all the way." He frowned. I thought he was going to object. "Let me stay with you as long as I can," I begged. "It will make it easier for me."
Still with his eyes on me his lips moved with some word. Not a sound came through but I thought he had said my name. And all the while through the cold, gray twilight we were driving downward through the city. The farther we went the more a strange and calm feeling settled upon me, and the more I forgot everything in the world but him. It seemed as if for ever we would continue to drive on together with this wonderful quietness between us.
But the carriage was drawing up. I looked at him anxiously. "What is the matter? Why are we stopping?"
His face was strange. "Don't you know? It is the prison."
He half rose, his hand was on the door, he had turned his back on me. A sudden anguish went through me, keen as physical pain. Something that was not my mind at all seemed to be acting for me. I caught hold of his arm with I don't know what impulse to pull him back.
He turned, looking at me with smiling eyes, gently unclasped my fingers, bent his head and touched them with his lips. "Don't spoil it," he said, "and remember your word."
I watched him walking down the half block to the prison door, a figure tall and solitary, and in spite of his gay Mexican trappings, with an air of somber resolution. So I saw him pass the lone, gray house fronts, and be swallowed up in the great entrance of the prison.
As he disappeared the desire to run after him, to cry out to him, to cry out to all the ears of the court the story he had told me, rushed over me, an insane impulse. "What would that do but make everything worse, even harder for him to bear? Haven't I made things hard enough for him already?" I who had said I loved him, that I believed in his innocence, had yet virtuously urged him to go back and give himself up—to what? Why, my poor little coward mind was even afraid to name what that thing was!
The Spanish Woman had not been afraid, no, not of anything! She had risked everything that she had to save him in the best way that she knew. Was I, as she had so bitterly told me, only a creature of words with no deeds to make them good? It was all very well to say things would turn out right; but now I saw that they would not unless I made them; and how was that to be managed if he wouldn't speak, and I was in his confidence and couldn't?
I puzzled it over as my carriage rattled slowly back up Montgomery Avenue. Suddenly from what had been absolutely sterile cogitation, there sprang up the full flower of an idea. All that he had said that evening had carried the same perplexing undercurrent of a thing that he could not speak of, and always it seemed to point to the Spanish Woman. "She knows!" I thought triumphantly, "and if she knows, why, she must not go away until she has told me." The whole thing opened before me complete, unexpected, a deliverance.
I looked out of the window. Faintest, earliest dawn was already beginning. There was but one thing to do. Johnny had told me that the Spanish Woman was going aboard the lugger at dawn. I directed the driver to drive to the Black Point wharf.
He peered at me as if he thought me crazy. "That feller gave me a gold piece, ye know," he said, "or I wouldn't have taken ye as far as this."
"Go on," I said, and queerly enough I didn't feel at all afraid of the man. "Go on, and my father, Mr. Fenwick, will give you more when you take me home; and besides you are doing a service for the city."
Muttering that it was the weirdest go that he had ever struck, he clucked to the weary horses, and after a little more of cobblestones, began the struggle through the sand.
Those terrible sand-hills! We labored in them like a snail. They seemed to hang on the wheels, and to heap themselves in front of us; but the increasing light came on wings and what exact moment in all this long, gray and golden approach of the sun was to be considered dawn? At last we were over the hilltop, and floundering down the other side, the trees and gardens of houses overlooking the water front upon my left-hand, upon the other, sand and sea. Straight below, running out from the shore, was the little disused wharf. One or two Italian fishing-boats rocked in its shadow, but no vessel was in sight.
Could it be that I was too late? I thought, in an agony of uncertainty, as the carriage drew up at the pier. Thrusting my head and as much of my body as possible out of the carriage window I looked out the gray, winding channel toward the Heads. Not a sail in sight! This was encouraging, for I knew, that even starting with the grayest light, there would not have been time for the vessel to have vanished out at sea. Through the other window Chestnut Street Hill, a great rounding mass, rose bluffly out of the water, shouldering the city out of sight. Near its base tall eucalyptus trees swayed against the blue bay; and through their shifting leaves and branches I was able to make out the masts and sails of the lugger lying close under the hill. It was so well hidden that had I not been expecting to see it, I must certainly have passed it over altogether, taking the masts for tree boles, and the furled canvas for the light acacia bark.
I drew my cloak closer around my shoulders, pulled up the carriage blinds on each side, allowing only a crack wide enough for me to look through, and settled myself to the hard task of waiting, of being at once patient and vigilant. There was not an instant when I dared relax my watch, first at this window, now at that, for who could tell by which way the Spanish Woman would approach—through the sand-hills, driven up in her carriage, or, what was more probable, on foot over the tree-guarded slopes of the hill. The blink of an eyelash might lose her!
The dull gray light that had chilled shore and sea began to take on a warmer glint. I knew the east was growing rosy. And still she did not come. The fishing-boats began to go out, and at my back I heard the first murmur of the city stirring out of sleep. Two of the fishermen, Italians, stood on the wharf and stared at my carriage curiously, but I hardly noticed them. I felt as if I were outside of all the world, and everything usual that could happen.
The wind was freshening, picking up whitecaps on the bay, and presently I noticed that the lugger had shifted her position, had moved out a little from under the lea of the hill, and I saw they were running up sail on board. One large flapping white wing, and then another, rose and spread beyond the trees. I could even hear the piping sound of the sailors' voices; and then, with a veering and a tilting, and finally with a graceful bowing motion, she stood away from the hill and began to go out to sea.
Beautiful sight that it was I looked at it with despair. I could not believe it. How had the Spanish Woman got on board without my seeing her? Could she have slipped along through the bewildering shadows and so evaded me; or had she gone on board even before I had come? but, no, that couldn't be, for then the lugger could have sailed immediately, I thought, as I stood on the step of the carriage and watched the ship carrying my last hope swing round and dip her nose deep in the channel tide.
"There is only one chance," I said to myself. "Perhaps she will have left some word for him behind her at the house."
The thought had no sooner come into my mind than it possessed me with the conviction that this must be so. For when I remembered her looks and her words to me as she talked of him I felt sure that nothing could make her quite desert him, even though he had disappointed her. The idea of her house which a little while ago had terrified me, came now like an inspiration. I did not know what I should do or say when I reached it, "But something will tell me what to do when I am there," I thought, as we retraced our way over the floundering track of the hills.
When, for the second time that morning, I found myself in front of the Spanish Woman's gate, I sprang out of the carriage without a moment's hesitation. I told the man to drive back to our house on Washington Street and tell Mr. Fenwick there that I wanted him.
There I stood in the chill daylight, shivering in my pale blue cloak, impetuously clanging the brazen lion's head upon its clapper. The outer door opened to me noiselessly as it had done before, shutting as silently after. But the garden, which had seemed picturesque and dreamy under the kind sunlight, now looked ghastly, disheveled, crumbling, as if it had been deserted for at least a hundred years. The inner door was a long time in opening. Just as I was beginning to despair it swung a cautious crack. I saw the glimmer of eyes, then immediately it was opened wide by a woman, the same maid whom I had seen brushing out the Spanish Woman's hair.
"The Senora Valencia?" I asked, feeling the mockery of my question, but pressing forward in terror lest she should not let me in. Her face had a set appearance. She looked as if she hated me, but she admitted me readily enough, closing the door quickly upon me. There, just within the threshold of the house, she held out to me a white envelope.
The outside was blank, enigmatic as the servant's face, but from it I pulled a folded sheet of paper scrawled in that bold hand, which, like all other attributes of that woman, was unforgettable. Within the paper was a card. Upon the card I read:
"You see, he understands me perfectly. He wishes to be rid of me and he has chosen the one way possible. I give you back his words."
No signature, and the card was my dance program still with its little pencil. On the back I read the farewell Johnny Montgomery had made her. It was in Spanish. "I am in love with another woman. Go away without me. I am going back."
I stood crumpling the thing in my clenched hand and the first thought came trembling in words: "Oh, cruel, cruel! How could he say it!" When I remembered her passionate face and wild will I wondered what love had done with her when first she had read that card. If a girl like Laura Burnet had fainted at a lesser shock, what had a creature like the Spanish Woman done? And then the next thought came, wiping out the memory of the first. "But there is nothing here to help Johnny Montgomery—nothing at all!"
The maid's voice broke upon my bewilderment, harsh and grating. "Will the Senorita walk up-stairs?"
I turned to her in increasing amazement. What might this mean? Was I after all to find my mystery's clew?
"The Senora's room," the woman explained, going before, and I followed up the stair.
I thought I could have told without previous knowledge that the house had been deserted by its mistress. The rooms which had been warm as with the heat of life were now deathly cold, as if they had been closed for a long time. The sweet, thick perfume which had pervaded them had failed, leaving only a dank smell of old weighty hangings; the very mysteriousness seemed to have disappeared out of the passageways and doors, every turn and unexpected opening and winding of which I remembered through sheer terror.
At the door of the private sala there was no pause; the maid did not knock. No need, was there, at the door of an empty room? She led me straight across the anteroom and there in front of the curtain stood the impassive major-domo, the man who had led me there the first time. He was as still as a bronze. He did not even seem to see me, but stretching out his hand gathered up the velvet folds and drew the curtain a little to one side.
There breathed upon me across the threshold, wonderfully fresh and living, like a human presence, that strong perfume of the Spanish Woman's flower. I stood fixed in astonishment. There at the far end of the room she was, the Spanish Woman herself.
She was seated, yet not as she had been the first time I had seen her, in her low combing chair; but full facing me on a great high-backed seat like a throne, her feet on a footstool, a table at her right on which her hand rested over some white thing, like a folded paper. Her gown, too dull for gold, too shining for anything else, streamed down on each side to the floor. Her whole look was as if she had dressed and seated herself and made ready for some great thing. Her head was flung back, resting against the cushion and she was looking straight at me. She did not speak. I felt she was waiting, and that I must begin.
I walked slowly across the room, not knowing what to say to her, but when I had covered half the distance some shaft of sunrise slanting into the room lighted her face with its pale reflection and I saw her eyes. They were half closed, and behind her thick, long lashes they gleamed mistily like silver. My knees doubled up under me and I went down on them in sheer weakness, for I knew that she was dead.
For a moment I could think of nothing and the room like a wheel went around me; but I kept saying, "No, no! I will not, I must not faint!" and after a few moments I moved forward, still, I think, on my knees, and looked at the paper under her hand. I was too weak to get to my feet. I reached up and took it. I looked at the Spanish Woman. I looked at the fine, firm, foreign handwriting.
"On the day of May the seventh, 1865, in the presence of John Montgomery and my peon, Victor Perez, I, Carlotta Valencia, shot and killed Martin Rood in his gambling-house on Dupont and Washington Streets. Signed, Carlotta Valencia. Victor Perez."
On the table, almost hidden by her hand, I saw the thing which I had seen once before lying in the gutter on Dupont Street—the pearl-handled revolver.
I sat there at her feet, and, looking up at her, I felt as if she had won, though now I knew it was quite the other way. But she looked so calm, so mighty, so indifferent, sitting up there above me, that she made death seem a little thing, and she herself not even wicked. Then the room swam away from me as in a dream.
The next thing I was conscious of was a broken foreign voice speaking; and I found myself covered up with a great coat lying on a sofa in the down-stairs sala; and there, strangely seen among its velvet and gilding, was father with his hair tossed on end and his clothes huddled upon him, and Mr. Dingley, very white and drawn, and the peon Perez, who was talking. I listened to his voice going on as if it were part of a dream.
Yes, he said, it was true there had been bad blood between the two men. First it had been the young man's debts, and then it had been the Senora. The Senora had told the young man she would give up Rood; but of course that was impossible, Perez said, with a shrug, as where was the money to come from he should like to know? But she was constantly afraid lest young Montgomery might find it out. Therefore, Perez said, when he had seen Montgomery going into Rood's place at two o'clock on the morning of the shooting he went at once to his mistress and told her. Taking Perez with her, she had hurried to the gambling-house with the purpose of somehow separating the two, and there in the bar the quarrel had taken place.
It seemed that the truth of Rood's position as "protector" to the Senora had reached Montgomery, and he had come to tax Rood with it, and Rood had told him. He told him even before the Senora's face, and Montgomery had said he was done with the whole crew of them. He was going to get out of it, he was going away. Then the Senora had clung to Montgomery, telling him she would do anything to keep him with her; and Rood had turned upon him. It was then that the Senora had shot Rood. He had been standing so near the swinging door that at the shot, to their horror, he had fallen backward through it.
Before any one could think, the peon went on, Montgomery had snatched the revolver from her, saying: "I shot him," and had rushed out into the street, and after a moment's waiting the Senora had run out, and seeing the revolver picked it up. Yes, he said, she had worn a white dress and undoubtedly it was she and not the Senorita Fenwick that the woman who had looked out the window had seen. But she had not run down the street, as this witness had said, who, like all women, only remembered what she wished to believe, but back into the gambling-house, and through there into an alley at the rear, from which they entered a house the Senora was familiar with, and remained there until the afternoon when the excitement had somewhat subsided. Then they had gone quietly back to the Senora's house.
Yes, the pistol was the Senora's. Mr. Montgomery had bought it for her a little while before. Yes, the Senora had made sure to save Mr. Montgomery and but for the Senorita Fenwick it would have been. For she had many friends, friends of power, he said. At that Mr. Dingley grew paler, and started to speak, but then he seemed to change his mind. Father looked at him, and I wondered then had the trouble been that Mr. Dingley had been one of those friends of hers. When the police came and we left the place, Mr. Dingley and father separated without a word, and father took me home alone in the carriage.
All the experiences which I had gone through with, with such apparent lack of feeling, seemed to take their revenge on me at once. For a while I was very ill, delirious with fever; and when I was myself again and the doctor would let me be talked to, the new trial was all over, and Johnny Montgomery had been acquitted a week ago. It was Hallie, all smiles, with her hands full of roses, who brought this news in to me; and in a few days, she said, Jack Tracy had told her, Montgomery was going to leave the city. This set me wondering whether that night in the carriage and everything we had told each other then had been no more than part of my fever visions.
At last I gathered courage enough to ask father if Johnny Montgomery had inquired about me. Father looked annoyed, and said, "Yes," that he had been sending every day, and that he had asked if he might see me when I was able, but, father said, he had thought it best to refuse. That made me so miserable I began to be ill again, and the doctor was afraid I would have a relapse; so finally father gave his permission for me to see Johnny.
It was strange and unreal to think that it was actually he, gaunt and white and serious-looking, standing beside my bed and gazing down at me with timid eyes. We were both so glad to see each other we were a little afraid. The shadow of things that had happened was over us still and made us grave.
I must have looked very thin, for he took my hand as if he thought it would break and his voice was hardly above a whisper. He said whatever good came of him and whatever happiness he had hereafter he would owe to me, and that would be more than owing me his life; but father was right in saying that a man with the reputation he held in this city had no right to see or speak with me. He had only come to thank me and to say good-by. He was going away to South America.
"But father does not know you," I said, "and I am sure you are quite a different man from what any one here thinks you. And if you go away it will break my heart."
At that he looked happier and said if I felt that way he would go just the same, but it would make him want to come back again. And then, perhaps, he might be more the sort of man my father would give his daughter to. A friend of his father's, he said, had offered him an overseer's place in his mine in South America; and would I forget all about him in two years, he wanted to know?
"Two years will seem a very long time," I said, "but I shall remember you and wait for you for ever."
He smiled and said, "Those two years will be almost for ever to me, but I have bought my chance dear, and even the hope of such happiness is more than I deserve."
And then I called father and told him. He was very grave, and said to Johnny, "It depends on you; if you can show yourself a different sort of man and wipe out the record you have made for yourself, well, then, I suppose she will be of age, and it will be your own affair—but I hope she will forget you." That was absurd!
So I kissed Johnny good-by—though father didn't like that at all—for it would help to make the two years shorter.