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- A First Family of Tasajara - 30/33 -

There seemed to be no reasonable excuse for refusing. She slipped quickly into the boat without waiting for his helping hand, avoiding that contact which only a moment ago she was trying to recall.

A few strokes brought them ashore. He continued his explanation with the hopeless frankness and persistency of youth and inexperience. "I only came here the day before yesterday. I would not have come, but Mr. Fletcher, who has a cottage on the other shore, sent for me to offer me my old place on the 'Clarion.' I had no idea of intruding upon your privacy by calling here without permission."

Mrs. Ashwood had resumed her conventional courtesy without however losing her feminine desire to make her companion pay for the agitation he had caused her. "We would have been always pleased to see you," she said vaguely, "and I hope, as you are here now, you will come with me to the hotel. My brother"--

But he still retained his hold of the boat-rope without moving, and continued, "I saw you yesterday, through the telescope, sitting in your balcony; and later at night I think it was your shadow I saw near the blue shaded lamp in the sitting-room by the window,--I don't mean the RED LAMP that you have in your own room. I watched you until you put out the blue lamp and lit the red one. I tell you this--because--because--I thought you might be reading a manuscript I sent you. At least," he smiled faintly, "I LIKED to think it so."

In her present mood this struck her only as persistent and somewhat egotistical. But she felt herself now on ground where she could deal firmly with him.

"Oh, yes," she said gravely. "I got it and thank you very much for it. I intended to write to you."

"Don't," he said, looking at her fixedly. "I can see you don't like it."

"On the contrary," she said promptly, "I think it beautifully written, and very ingenious in plot and situation. Of course it isn't the story I told you--I didn't expect that, for I'm not a genius. The man is not at all like my cousin, you know, and the woman--well really, to tell the truth, SHE is simply inconceivable!"

"You think so?" he said gravely. He had been gazing abstractedly at some shining brown seaweed in the water, and when he raised his eyes to hers they seemed to have caught its color.

"Think so? I'm positive! There's no such a woman; she isn't HUMAN. But let us walk to the hotel."

"Thank you, but I must go back now."

"But at least let my brother thank you for taking his place--in rescuing me. It was so thoughtful in you to put off at once when you saw I was surrounded. I might have been in great danger."

"Please don't make fun of me, Mrs. Ashwood," he said with a faint return of his boyish smile. "You know there was no danger. I have only interrupted you in a nap or a reverie--and I can see now that you evidently came here to be alone."

Holding the manuscript more closely hidden under the folds of her cloak, she smiled enigmatically. "I think I DID, and it seems that the tide thought so too, and acted upon it. But you will come up to the hotel with me, surely?"

"No, I am going back now." There was a sudden firmness about the young fellow which she had never before noticed. This was evidently the creature who had married in spite of his family.

"Won't you come back long enough to take your manuscript? I will point out the part I refer to, and--we will talk it over."

"There is no necessity. I wrote to you that you might keep it; it is yours; it was written for you and none other. It is quite enough for me to know that you were good enough to read it. But will you do one thing more for me? Read it again! If you find anything in it the second time to change your views--if you find"--

"I will let you know," she said quickly. "I will write to you as I intended."

"No, I didn't mean that. I meant that if you found the woman less inconceivable and more human, don't write to me, but put your red lamp in your window instead of the blue one. I will watch for it and see it."

"I think I will be able to explain myself much better with simple pen and ink," she said dryly, " and it will be much more useful to you."

He lifted his hat gravely, shoved off the boat, leaped into it, and before she could hold out her hand was twenty feet away. She turned and ran quickly up the rocks. When she reached the hotel, she could see the boat already half across the bay.

Entering her sitting-room she found that her brother, tired of waiting for her, had driven out. Taking the hidden manuscript from her cloak she tossed it with a slight gesture of impatience on the table. Then she summoned the landlord.

"Is there a town across the bay?"

"No! the whole mountain-side belongs to Don Diego Fletcher. He lives away back in the coast range at Los Gatos, but he has a cottage and mill on the beach."

"Don Diego Fletcher--Fletcher! Is he a Spaniard then?"

"Half and half, I reckon; he's from the lower country, I believe."

"Is he here often?"

"Not much; he has mills at Los Gatos, wheat ranches at Santa Clara, and owns a newspaper in 'Frisco! But he's here now. There were lights in his house last night, and his cutter lies off the point."

"Could you get a small package and note to him?"

"Certainly; it is only a row across the bay."

"Thank you."

Without removing her hat and cloak she sat down at the table and began a letter to Don Diego Fletcher. She begged to inclose to him a manuscript which she was satisfied, for the interests of its author, was better in his hands than hers. It had been given to her by the author, Mr. J. M. Harcourt, whom she understood was engaged on Mr. Fletcher's paper, the "Clarion." In fact, it had been written at HER suggestion, and from an incident in real life of which she was cognizant. She was sorry to say that on account of some very foolish criticism of her own as to the FACTS, the talented young author had become so dissatisfied with it as to make it possible that, if left to himself, this very charming and beautifully written story would remain unpublished. As an admirer of Mr. Harcourt's genius, and a friend of his family, she felt that such an event would be deplorable, and she therefore begged to leave it to Mr. Fletcher's delicacy and tact to arrange with the author for its publication. She knew that Mr. Fletcher had only to read it to be convinced of its remarkable literary merit, and she again would impress upon him the fact that her playful and thoughtless criticism--which was personal and confidential--was only based upon the circumstances that the author had really made a more beautiful and touching story than the poor facts which she had furnished seemed to warrant. She had only just learned the fortunate circumstance that Mr. Fletcher was in the neighborhood of the hotel where she was staying with her brother.

With the same practical, business-like directness, but perhaps a certain unbusiness-like haste superadded, she rolled up the manuscript and dispatched it with the letter.

This done, however, a slight reaction set in, and having taken off her hat and shawl, she dropped listlessly on a chair by the window, but as suddenly rose and took a seat in the darker part of the room. She felt that she had done right, that highest but most depressing of human convictions! It was entirely for his good. There was no reason why his best interests should suffer for his folly. If anybody was to suffer it was she. But what nonsense was she thinking! She would write to him later when she was a little cooler,--as she had said. But then he had distinctly told her, and very rudely too, that he didn't want her to write. Wanted her to make SIGNALS to him,--the idiot! and probably was even now watching her with a telescope. It was really too preposterous!

The result was that her brother found her on his return in a somewhat uncertain mood, and, as a counselor, variable and conflicting in judgment. If this Clementina, who seemed to have the family qualities of obstinacy and audacity, really cared for him, she certainly wouldn't let delicacy stand in the way of letting him know it--and he was therefore safe to wait a little. A few moments later, she languidly declared that she was afraid that she was no counselor in such matters; really she was getting too old to take any interest in that sort of thing, and she never had been a matchmaker! By the way now, wasn't it odd that this neighbor, that rich capitalist across the bay, should be called Fletcher, and "James Fletcher" too, for Diego meant "James" in Spanish. Exactly the same name as poor "Cousin Jim" who disappeared. Did he remember her old playmate Jim? But her brother thought something else was a deuced sight more odd, namely, that this same Don Diego Fletcher was said to be very sweet on Clementina now, and was always in her company at the Ramirez. And that, with this "Clarion" apology on the top of it, looked infernally queer.

Mrs. Ashwood felt a sudden consternation. Here had she--Jack's sister--just been taking Jack's probable rival into confidential correspondence! She turned upon Jack sharply:--

"Why didn't you say that before?"

"I did tell you," he said gloomily, "but you didn't listen. But what difference does it make to you now?"

"None whatever," said Mrs. Ashwood calmly as she walked out of the room.

Nevertheless the afternoon passed wearily, and her usual ride into the upland canyon did not reanimate her. For reasons known best to

A First Family of Tasajara - 30/33

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