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- FOUND AT BLAZING STAR - 3/8 -
prospector. He was struggling with his memory, when the dust was suddenly dispersed and he found himself again at the scene of the murder. He started: he had not put foot on the road since the inquest. There lacked only the helpless dead man and the contrasting figure of the alert young woman to restore the picture. The body was gone, it was true, but as he turned he beheld Miss Porter, at a few paces distant, sitting on her horse as energetic and observant as on the first morning they had met. A superstitious thrill passed over him and awoke his old antagonism.
She nodded to him slightly. "I came here to refresh my memory," she said, "as Mr. Hornsby thought I might be asked to give my evidence again at Blazing Star."
Cass carelessly struck an aimless blow with his pick against the sod and did not reply.
"And you?" she queried.
"I stumbled upon the place just now while prospecting, or I shouldn't be here."
"Then it was YOU made these holes?"
"No," said Cass, with ill-concealed disgust. "Nobody but a stranger would go foolin' round such a spot."
He stopped, as the rude significance of his speech struck him, and added surlily, "I mean--no one would dig here."
The girl laughed and showed a set of very white teeth in her square jaw. Cass averted his face.
"Do you mean to say that every miner doesn't know that it's lucky to dig wherever human blood has been spilt?"
Cass felt a return of his superstition, but he did not look up. "I never heard it before," he said, severely.
"And you call yourself a California miner?"
It was impossible for Miss Porter to misunderstand his curt speech and unsocial manner. She stared at him and colored slightly. Lifting her reins lightly, she said: "You certainly do not seem like most of the miners I have met."
"Nor you like any girl from the East I ever met," he responded.
"What do you mean?" she asked, checking her horse.
"What I say," he answered, doggedly. Reasonable as this reply was, it immediately struck him that it was scarcely dignified or manly. But before he could explain himself Miss Porter was gone.
He met her again that very evening. The trial had been summarily suspended by the appearance of the Sheriff of Calaveras and his posse, who took Joe from that self-constituted tribunal of Blazing Star and set his face southward and toward authoritative although more cautious justice. But not before the evidence of the previous inquest had been read, and the incident of the ring again delivered to the public.
It is said the prisoner burst into an incredulous laugh and asked to see this mysterious waif. It was handed to him. Standing in the very shadow of the gallows tree--which might have been one of the pines that sheltered the billiard room in which the Vigilance Committee held their conclave--the prisoner gave way to a burst of merriment, so genuine and honest that the judge and jury joined in automatic sympathy. When silence was restored an explanation was asked by the Judge. But there was no response from the prisoner except a subdued chuckle.
"Did this ring belong to you?" asked the Judge, severely, the jury and spectators craning their ears forward with an expectant smile already on their faces. But the prisoner's eyes only sparkled maliciously as he looked around the court.
"Tell us, Joe," said a sympathetic and laughter-loving juror, under his breath. "Let it out and we'll make it easy for you."
"Prisoner," said the Judge, with a return of official dignity, "remember that your life is in peril. Do you refuse?"
Joe lazily laid his arm on the back of his chair with (to quote the words of an animated observer) "the air of having a Christian hope and a sequence flush in his hand," and said: "Well, as I reckon I'm not up yer for stealin' a ring that another man lets on to have found, and as fur as I kin see, hez nothin' to do with the case, I do!" And as it was here that the Sheriff of Calaveras made a precipitate entry into the room, the mystery remained unsolved.
The effect of this freshly-important ridicule on the sensitive mind of Cass might have been foretold by Blazing Star had it ever taken that sensitiveness into consideration. He had lost the good humor and easy pliability which had tempted him to frankness, and he had gradually become bitter and hard. He had at first affected amusement over his own vanished day dream--hiding his virgin disappointment in his own breast; but when he began to turn upon his feelings he turned upon his comrades also. Cass was for a while unpopular. There is no ingratitude so revolting to the human mind as that of the butt who refuses to be one any longer. The man who rejects that immunity which laughter generally casts upon him and demands to be seriously considered deserves no mercy.
It was under these hard conditions that Cass Beard, convicted of overt sentimentalism, aggravated by inconsistency, stepped into the Red Chief coach that evening. It was his habit usually to ride with the driver, but the presence of Hornsby and Miss Porter on the box seat changed his intention. Yet he had the satisfaction of seeing that neither had noticed him, and as there was no other passenger inside, he stretched himself on the cushion of the back seat and gave way to moody reflections. He quite determined to leave Blazing Star, to settle himself seriously to the task of money getting, and to return to his comrades, some day, a sarcastic, cynical, successful man, and so overwhelm them with confusion. For poor Cass had not yet reached that superiority of knowing that success would depend upon his ability to forego his past. Indeed, part of his boyhood had been cast among these men, and he was not old enough to have learned that success was not to be gauged by their standard. The moon lit up the dark interior of the coach with a faint poetic light. The lazy swinging of the vehicle that was bearing him away--albeit only for a night and a day--the solitude, the glimpses from the window of great distances full of vague possibilities, made the abused ring potent as that of Gyges. He dreamed with his eyes open. From an Alnaschar vision he suddenly awoke. The coach had stopped. The voices of men, one in entreaty, one in expostulation, came from the box. Cass mechanically put his hand to his pistol pocket.
"Thank you, but I INSIST upon getting down."
It was Miss Porter's voice. This was followed by a rapid, half- restrained interchange of words between Hornsby and the driver. Then the latter said, gruffly,--
"If the lady wants to ride inside, let her."
Miss Porter fluttered to the ground. She was followed by Hornsby. "Just a minit, Miss," he expostulated, half shamedly, half brusquely, "ye don't onderstand me. I only--"
But Miss Porter had jumped into the coach.
Hornsby placed his hand on the handle of the door. Miss Porter grasped it firmly from the inside. There was a slight struggle.
All of which was part of a dream to the boyish Cass. But he awoke from it--a man! "Do you," he asked, in a voice he scarcely recognized himself,--"Do you want this man inside?"
Cass caught at Hornsby's wrist like a young tiger. But alas! what availed instinctive chivalry against main strength? He only succeeded in forcing the door open in spite of Miss Porter's superior strategy, and--I fear I must add, muscle also--and threw himself passionately at Hornsby's throat, where he hung on and calmly awaited dissolution. But he had, in the onset, driven Hornsby out into the road and the moonlight.
"Here! Somebody take my lines." The voice was "Mountain Charley's," the driver. The figure that jumped from the box and separated the struggling men belonged to this singularly direct person.
"You're riding inside?" said Charley, interrogatively, to Cass. Before he could reply Miss Porter's voice came from the window.
Charley promptly bundled Cass into the coach.
"And YOU?" to Hornsby, "onless you're kalkilatin' to take a little 'pasear' you're booked OUTSIDE. Get up."
It is probable that Charley assisted Mr. Hornsby as promptly to his seat, for the next moment the coach was rolling on.
Meanwhile Cass, by reason of his forced entry, had been deposited in Miss Porter's lap, whence, freeing himself, he had attempted to climb over the middle seat, but in the starting of the coach was again thrown heavily against her hat and shoulder; all of which was inconsistent with the attitude of dignified reserve he had intended to display. Miss Porter, meanwhile, recovered her good humor.
"What a brute he was, ugh!" she said, retying the ribbons of her bonnet under her square chin, and smoothing out her linen duster.
Cass tried to look as if he had forgotten the whole affair. "Who? Oh, yes I see!" he responded, absently.
"I suppose I ought to thank you," she went on with a smile, "but you know, really, I could have kept him out if you hadn't pulled his wrist from outside. I'll show you. Look! Put your hand on the handle there! Now, I'll hold the lock inside firmly. You see, you can't turn the catch!"
She indeed held the lock fast. It was a firm hand, yet soft--their
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