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- The Argonauts of North Liberty - 19/19 -


remain and protect the carriage, halted him at the side of Corwin as the vehicle now rapidly approached.

But Ezekiel was before him even then, and as the driver pulled up, that inquiring man tumbled from his horse, ran to the door and opened it. Demorest rode up, glanced into the carriage, and fell back in blank amazement.

It was his wife who was sitting there alone, pale, erect, and beautiful. By some illusion of the moonlight, her face and figure, covered with soft white wrappings for a journey, looked as he remembered to have seen her the first night they had met in the Boston train. The picture was completed by the traveling bag and rug that lay on the seat before her. Another terrible foreboding seized him; his brain reeled. Was he going mad?

"Joan!" he stammered. "You? What is the meaning of this?"

Ezekiel whom but for his dazed condition he might have seen violently contorting his features in Joan's face, presumably in equal astonishment--broke into a series of discordant chuckles.

"Wa'al, ef that ain't Deacon Salisbury's darter all over. Ha! Here are ye two men folks makin' no end o' fuss to save that Mexican gal with pistols and ambushes and plots and counterplots, and yer's Joan Salisbury shows ye the way ha'ow to do it. And so, ma'am, you succeeded in fixin' it up with Dona Rosita to take her place and just sell them robbers cheap! Wa'al, ma'am, yer sold this yer party, too--for"--he advanced his face close to hers--"I never let on a word, though I knew it, and although they nearly knocked me off my hoss in their fuss and fury. Ha! ha! They wanted to know what I was doin' here, he-he! Tell 'em, Joan, tell 'em."

Demorest gazed from one to another with a troubled face, yet one on which a faint relief was breaking.

"What does he mean, Joan? Speak," he said, almost imploringly.

Joan, whose color was slightly returning, drew herself up with her old cold Puritan precision.

"After the scene you made this morning, Richard, when you chose to accuse your wife of unfaithfulness to her friend, her guest, and even your reputation, I resolved to go myself with Dona Rosita to Los Osos and explain the matter to her father. Some rumor of the ridiculous farce I have just witnessed reached us through Ezekiel, and frightened the poor girl so that she declined--and properly, too to face the hoax which you and some nameless impersonator of a disgraced fugitive have gotten up for purposes of your own! I wish you joy of your work! If the play is over now, I presume I may be allowed to proceed on my journey?"

"Not yet," said Demorest slowly, with a face over which the chasing doubts had at last settled in a grayish pallor. "Believe what you like, misunderstand me if you will, laugh at the danger you perhaps comprehend better than I do, but upon this road, wherever or to whatever it was leading you--to-night you go no further!"

"Then I suppose I may return home," she said coldly. "Ezekiel will accompany me back to protect me from--robbers. Come, Ezekiel. Mr. Demorest and his friends can be safely trusted to take care of-- your horse."

And as the grinning Ezekiel sprang into the carriage beside her, she pulled up the glass in the fateful and set face of her once trusting husband; the carriage turned and drove off, leaving him like a statue in the road.

. . . . . .

The bell of the North Liberty Second Presbyterian Church had just ceased ringing. But in the last five years it had rung out the bass viol and harmonium, and rung in an organ and choir; and the old austere interior had been subjected at the hands of the rising generation to an invasion of youthful warmth and color. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the choir itself, where the bright spring sunshine, piercing a newly-opened stained-glass window, picked out the new spring bonnet of Mrs. Demorest and settled upon it during the singing of the hymn. Perhaps that was the reason why a few eyes were curiously directed in that direction, and that even the minister himself strayed from the precise path of doctrine to allude with ecclesiastical vagueness to certain shining examples of the Christian virtues that were "again in our midst." The shrewd face and white eyelashes of Ezekiel Corwin, junior partner in the firm of Dilworth & Dusenberry, of San Francisco, were momentarily raised towards the choir, and then relapsed into an expression of fatigued self- righteousness.

When the service was over a few worshipers lingered near the choir staircase, mindful of the spring bonnet.

"It looks quite nat'ral," said Deacon Fairchild, "ter see Joan Salisbury attendin' the ministration of the Word agin. And I ain't sorry she didn't bring that second husband of hers with her. It kinder looks like old times--afore Edward Blandford was gathered to the Lord."

"That's so," replied his auditor meekly, "and they do say ez ha'ow Demorest got more powerful worldly and unregenerate in that heathen country, and that Joan ez a professin' Christian had to leave him. I've heerd tell thet he'd got mixed up, out thar, with some half-breed outlaw, of the name o' Johnson, ez hez a purty, high- flyin' Mexican wife. It was fort'nit for Joan that she found a friend in grace in Brother Corwin to look arter her share in the property and bring her back tu hum."

"She's lookin' peart," said Sister Bradley, "though to my mind that bonnet savors still o' heathen vanities."

"Et's the new idees--crept in with that organ," groaned Deacon Fairchild; "but--sho--thar she comes."

She shone for an instant--a charming vision--out of the shadow of the choir stairs, and then glided primly into the street.

The old sexton, still in waiting with his hand on the half-closed door, paused and looked after her with a troubled brow. A singular and utterly incomprehensible recollection and resemblance had just crossed his mind.


The Argonauts of North Liberty - 19/19

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