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- The Twins of Table Mountain - 5/26 -
world and its temptations? I wonder if he thought temptation had come up to him in the person of us professionals out on a picnic. I think it was positively rude."
"My dear woman, you're always seeing slights and insults. I tell you he's taken a shine to Phemie; and he's as good as four seats and a bouquet to that child next Wednesday evening, to say nothing of the eclat of getting this St. Simeon--what do you call him?-- Stalactites?"
"Stylites," suggested Mrs. Sol.
"Stylites, off from his pillar here. I'll have a paragraph in the paper, that the hermit crabs of Table Mountain--"
"Don't be a fool, Sol!"
"The hermit twins of Table Mountain bespoke the chaste performance."
"One of them being the protector of the well-known Mornie Nixon," responded Mrs. Sol, viciously accenting the name with her knitting- needles.
"Rosy, you're unjust. You're prejudiced by the reports of the town. Mr. Pinkney's interest in her may be a purely artistic one, although mistaken. She'll never make a good variety-actress: she's too heavy. And the boys don't give her a fair show. No woman can make a debut in my version of 'Somnambula,' and have the front row in the pit say to her in the sleepwalking scene, 'You're out rather late, Mornie. Kinder forgot to put on your things, didn't you? Mother sick, I suppose, and you're goin' for more gin? Hurry along, or you'll ketch it when ye get home.' Why, you couldn't do it yourself, Rosy!"
To which Mrs. Sol's illogical climax was, that, "bad as Rutherford might be, this Sunday-school superintendent, Rand, was worse."
Rand and his companion returned late, but in high spirits. There was an unnecessary effusiveness in the way in which Euphemia kissed Mrs. Sol,--the one woman present, who UNDERSTOOD, and was to be propitiated,--which did not tend to increase Mrs. Sol's good humor. She had her basket packed all ready for departure; and even the earnest solicitation of Rand, that they would defer their going until sunset, produced no effect.
"Mr. Rand--Mr. Pinkney, I mean--says the sunsets here are so lovely," pleaded Euphemia.
"There is a rehearsal at seven o'clock, and we have no time to lose," said Mrs. Sol significantly.
"I forgot to say," said the "Marysville Pet" timidly, glancing at Mrs. Sol, "that Mr. Rand says he will bring his brother on Wednesday night, and wants four seats in front, so as not to be crowded."
Sol shook the young man's hand warmly. "You'll not regret it, sir: it's a surprising, a remarkable performance."
"I'd like to go a piece down the mountain with you," said Rand, with evident sincerity, looking at Miss Euphemia; "but Ruth isn't here yet, and we make a rule never to leave the place alone. I'll show you the slide: it's the quickest way to go down. If you meet any one who looks like me, and talks like me, call him 'Ruth,' and tell him I'm waitin' for him yer."
Miss Phemia, the last to go, standing on the verge of the declivity, here remarked, with a dangerous smile, that, if she met any one who bore that resemblance, she might be tempted to keep him with her,--a playfulness that brought the ready color to Rand's cheek. When she added to this the greater audacity of kissing her hand to him, the young hermit actually turned away in sheer embarrassment. When he looked around again, she was gone, and for the first time in his experience the mountain seemed barren and lonely.
The too sympathetic reader who would rashly deduce from this any newly awakened sentiment in the virgin heart of Rand would quite misapprehend that peculiar young man. That singular mixture of boyish inexperience and mature doubt and disbelief, which was partly the result of his temperament, and partly of his cloistered life on the mountain, made him regard his late companions, now that they were gone, and his intimacy with them, with remorseful distrust. The mountain was barren and lonely, because it was no longer HIS. It had become a part of the great world, which four years ago he and his brother had put aside, and in which, as two self-devoted men, they walked alone. More than that, he believed he had acquired some understanding of the temptations that assailed his brother, and the poor little vanities of the "Marysville Pet" were transformed into the blandishments of a Circe. Rand, who would have succumbed to a wicked, superior woman, believed he was a saint in withstanding the foolish weakness of a simple one.
He did not resume his work that day. He paced the mountain, anxiously awaiting his brother's return, and eager to relate his experiences. He would go with him to the dramatic entertainment; from his example and wisdom, Ruth should learn how easily temptation might be overcome. But, first of all, there should be the fullest exchange of confidences and explanations. The old rule should be rescinded for once, the old discussion in regard to Mornie re-opened, and Rand, having convinced his brother of error, would generously extend his forgiveness.
The sun sank redly. Lingering long upon the ledge before their cabin, it at last slipped away almost imperceptibly, leaving Rand still wrapped in revery. Darkness, the smoke of distant fires in the woods, and the faint evening incense of the pines, crept slowly up; but Ruth came not. The moon rose, a silver gleam on the farther ridge; and Rand, becoming uneasy at his brother's prolonged absence, resolved to break another custom, and leave the summit, to seek him on the trail. He buckled on his revolvers, seized his gun, when a cry from the depths arrested him. He leaned over the ledge, and listened. Again the cry arose, and this time more distinctly. He held his breath: the blood settled around his heart in superstitious terror. It was the wailing voice of a woman.
"Ruth, Ruth! for God's sake come and help me!"
The blood flew back hotly to Rand's cheek. It was Mornie's voice. By leaning over the ledge, he could distinguish something moving along the almost precipitous face of the cliff, where an abandoned trail, long since broken off and disrupted by the fall of a portion of the ledge, stopped abruptly a hundred feet below him. Rand knew the trail, a dangerous one always: in its present condition a single mis-step would be fatal. Would she make that mis-step? He shook off a horrible temptation that seemed to be sealing his lips, and paralyzing his limbs, and almost screamed to her, "Drop on your face, hang on to the chaparral, and don't move!"
In another instant, with a coil of rope around his arm, he was dashing down the almost perpendicular "slide." When he had nearly reached the level of the abandoned trail, he fastened one end of the rope to a jutting splinter of granite, and began to "lay out," and work his way laterally along the face of the mountain. Presently he struck the regular trail at the point from which the woman must have diverged.
"It is Rand," she said, without lifting her head.
"It is," replied Rand coldly. "Pass the rope under your arms, and I'll get you back to the trail."
"Where is Ruth?" she demanded again, without moving. She was trembling, but with excitement rather than fear.
"I don't know," returned Rand impatiently. "Come! the ledge is already crumbling beneath our feet."
"Let it crumble!" said the woman passionately.
Rand surveyed her with profound disgust, then passed the rope around her waist, and half lifted, half swung her from her feet. In a few moments she began to mechanically help herself, and permitted him to guide her to a place of safety. That reached, she sank down again.
The rising moon shone full upon her face and figure. Through his growing indignation Rand was still impressed and even startled with the change the few last months had wrought upon her. In place of the silly, fanciful, half-hysterical hoyden whom he had known, a matured woman, strong in passionate self-will, fascinating in a kind of wild, savage beauty, looked up at him as if to read his very soul.
"What are you staring at?" she said finally. "Why don't you help me on?"
"Where do you want to go?" said Rand quietly.
"Where! Up there!"--she pointed savagely to the top of the mountain,--"to HIM! Where else should I go?" she said, with a bitter laugh.
"I've told you he wasn't there," said Rand roughly. "He hasn't returned."
"I'll wait for him--do you hear?--wait for him; stay there till he comes. If you won't help me, I'll go alone."
She made a step forward but faltered, staggered, and was obliged to lean against the mountain for support. Stains of travel were on her dress; lines of fatigue and pain, and traces of burning passionate tears, were on her face; her black hair flowed from beneath her gaudy bonnet; and, shamed out of his brutality, Rand placed his strong arm round her waist, and half carrying, half supporting her, began the ascent. Her head dropped wearily on his shoulder; her arm encircled his neck; her hair, as if caressingly, lay across his breast and hands; her grateful eyes were close to his; her breath was upon his cheek: and yet his only consciousness was of the possibly ludicrous figure he might present to his brother, should he meet him with Mornie Nixon in his arms. Not a word was spoken by either till they reached the summit. Relieved at finding his brother still absent, he turned not unkindly toward the helpless figure on his arm. "I don't see what makes Ruth so late," he said. "He's always here by sundown. Perhaps--"
"Perhaps he knows I'm here," said Mornie, with a bitter laugh.
"I didn't say that," said Rand, "and I don't think it. What I
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