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- The Twins of Table Mountain - 10/26 -


"I know it's foolish; but that is what 'looking ahead' always meant to me," she said, with a sigh. "But, since the doctor has been gone, I've talked to Mrs. Sol, and find it's for the best. And I look ahead, and see more clearly. I look ahead, and see my disgrace removed far away from HIM and you. I look ahead, and see you and HE living together happily, as you did before I came between you. I look ahead, and see my past life forgotten, my faults forgiven; and I think I see you both loving my baby, and perhaps loving me a little for its sake. Thank you, Rand, thank you!"

For Rand's hand had caught hers beside the pillow, and he was standing over her, whiter than she. Something in the pressure of his hand emboldened her to go on, and even lent a certain strength to her voice.

"When it comes to THAT, Rand, you'll not let these people take the baby away. You'll keep it HERE with you until HE comes. And something tells me that he will come when I am gone. You'll keep it here in the pure air and sunlight of the mountain, and out of those wicked depths below; and when I am gone, and they are gone, and only you and Ruth and baby are here, maybe you'll think that it came to you in a cloud on the mountain,--a cloud that lingered only long enough to drop its burden, and faded, leaving the sunlight and dew behind. What is it, Rand? What are you looking at?"

"I was thinking," said Rand in a strange altered voice, "that I must trouble you to let me take down those duds and furbelows that hang on the wall, so that I can get at some traps of mine behind them." He took some articles from the wall, replaced the dresses of Mrs. Sol, and answered Mornie's look of inquiry.

"I was only getting at my purse and my revolver," he said, showing them. "I've got to get some stores at the Ferry by daylight."

Mornie sighed. "I'm giving you great trouble, Rand, I know; but it won't be for long."

He muttered something, took her hand again, and bade her "good- night." When he reached the door, he looked back. The light was shining full upon her face as she lay there, with her babe on her breast, bravely "looking ahead."

IV.

THE CLOUDS PASS.

It was early morning at the Ferry. The "up coach" had passed, with lights unextinguished, and the "outsides" still asleep. The ferryman had gone up to the Ferry Mansion House, swinging his lantern, and had found the sleepy-looking "all night" bar-keeper on the point of withdrawing for the day on a mattress under the bar. An Indian half-breed, porter of the Mansion House, was washing out the stains of recent nocturnal dissipation from the bar-room and veranda; a few birds were twittering on the cotton-woods beside the river; a bolder few had alighted upon the veranda, and were trying to reconcile the existence of so much lemon-peel and cigar-stumps with their ideas of a beneficent Creator. A faint earthly freshness and perfume rose along the river banks. Deep shadow still lay upon the opposite shore; but in the distance, four miles away, Morning along the level crest of Table Mountain walked with rosy tread.

The sleepy bar-keeper was that morning doomed to disappointment; for scarcely had the coach passed, when steps were heard upon the veranda, and a weary, dusty traveller threw his blanket and knapsack to the porter, and then dropped into a vacant arm-chair, with his eyes fixed on the distant crest of Table Mountain. He remained motionless for some time, until the bar-keeper, who had already concocted the conventional welcome of the Mansion House, appeared with it in a glass, put it upon the table, glanced at the stranger, and then, thoroughly awake, cried out,--

"Ruth Pinkney--or I'm a Chinaman!"

The stranger lifted his eyes wearily. Hollow circles were around their orbits; haggard lines were in his checks. But it was Ruth.

He took the glass, and drained it at a single draught. "Yes," he said absently, "Ruth Pinkney," and fixed his eyes again on the distant rosy crest.

"On your way up home?" suggested the bar-keeper, following the direction of Ruth's eyes.

"Perhaps."

"Been upon a pasear, hain't yer? Been havin' a little tear round Sacramento,--seein' the sights?"

Ruth smiled bitterly. "Yes."

The bar-keeper lingered, ostentatiously wiping a glass. But Ruth again became abstracted in the mountain, and the barkeeper turned away.

How pure and clear that summit looked to him! how restful and steadfast with serenity and calm! how unlike his own feverish, dusty, travel-worn self! A week had elapsed since he had last looked upon it,--a week of disappointment, of anxious fears, of doubts, of wild imaginings, of utter helplessness. In his hopeless quest of the missing Mornie, he had, in fancy, seen this serene eminence haunting his remorseful, passion-stricken soul. And now, without a clew to guide him to her unknown hiding-place, he was back again, to face the brother whom he had deceived, with only the confession of his own weakness. Hard as it was to lose forever the fierce, reproachful glances of the woman he loved, it was still harder, to a man of Ruth's temperament, to look again upon the face of the brother he feared. A hand laid upon his shoulder startled him. It was the bar-keeper.

"If it's a fair question, Ruth Pinkney, I'd like to ask ye how long ye kalkilate to hang around the Ferry to-day."

"Why?" demanded Ruth haughtily.

"Because, whatever you've been and done, I want ye to have a square show. Ole Nixon has been cavoortin' round yer the last two days, swearin' to kill you on sight for runnin' off with his darter. Sabe? Now, let me ax ye two questions. FIRST, Are you heeled?"

Ruth responded to this dialectical inquiry affirmatively by putting his hand on his revolver.

"Good! Now, SECOND, Have you got the gal along here with you?"

"No," responded Ruth in a hollow voice.

"That's better yet," said the man, without heeding the tone of the reply. "A woman--and especially THE woman in a row of this kind-- handicaps a man awful." He paused, and took up the empty glass. "Look yer, Ruth Pinkney, I'm a square man, and I'll be square with you. So I'll just tell you you've got the demdest odds agin' ye. Pr'aps ye know it, and don't keer. Well, the boys around yer are all sidin' with the old man Nixon. It's the first time the old rip ever had a hand in his favor: so the boys will see fair play for Nixon, and agin' YOU. But I reckon you don't mind him!"

"So little, I shall never pull trigger on him," said Ruth gravely.

The bar-keeper stared, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, thar's that Kanaka Joe, who used to be sorter sweet on Mornie,-- he's an ugly devil,--he's helpin' the old man."

The sad look faded from Ruth's eyes suddenly. A certain wild Berserker rage--a taint of the blood, inherited from heaven knows what Old-World ancestry, which had made the twin-brothers' Southwestern eccentricities respected in the settlement--glowed in its place. The barkeeper noted it, and augured a lively future for the day's festivities. But it faded again; and Ruth, as he rose, turned hesitatingly towards him.

"Have you seen my brother Rand lately?"

"Nary."

"He hasn't been here, or about the Ferry?"

"Nary time."

"You haven't heard," said Ruth, with a faint attempt at a smile, "if he's been around here asking after me,--sorter looking me up, you know?"

"Not much," returned the bar-keeper deliberately. "Ez far ez I know Rand,--that ar brother o' yours,--he's one of yer high-toned chaps ez doesn't drink, thinks bar-rooms is pizen, and ain't the sort to come round yer, and sling yarns with me."

Ruth rose; but the hand that he placed upon the table, albeit a powerful one, trembled so that it was with difficulty he resumed his knapsack. When he did so, his bent figure, stooping shoulders, and haggard face, made him appear another man from the one who had sat down. There was a slight touch of apologetic deference and humility in his manner as he paid his reckoning, and slowly and hesitatingly began to descend the steps.

The bar-keeper looked after him thoughtfully. "Well, dog my skin!" he ejaculated to himself, "ef I hadn't seen that man--that same Ruth Pinkney--straddle a friend's body in this yer very room, and dare a whole crowd to come on, I'd swar that he hadn't any grit in him. Thar's something up!"

But here Ruth reached the last step, and turned again.

"If you see old man Nixon, say I'm in town; if you see that ---- ---- ----" (I regret to say that I cannot repeat his exact, and brief characterization of the present condition and natal antecedents of Kanaka Joe), "say I'm looking out for him," and was gone.

He wandered down the road, towards the one long, straggling street of the settlement. The few people who met him at that early hour greeted him with a kind of constrained civility; certain cautious souls hurried by without seeing him; all turned and looked after him; and a few followed him at a respectful distance. A somewhat notorious practical joker and recognized wag at the Ferry


The Twins of Table Mountain - 10/26

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