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- The Twins of Table Mountain - 6/26 -
meant was, he might have met a party that was picnicking here to- day,--Sol. Saunders and wife, and Miss Euphemia--"
Mornie flung his arm away from her with a passionate gesture. "THEY here!--picnicking HERE!--those people HERE!"
"Yes," said Rand, unconsciously a little ashamed. "They came here accidentally."
Mornie's quick passion had subsided: she had sunk again wearily and helplessly on a rock beside him. "I suppose," she said, with a weak laugh--"I suppose, they talked of ME. I suppose they told you how, with their lies and fair promises, they tricked me out, and set me before an audience of brutes and laughing hyenas to make merry over. Did they tell you of the insults that I received?--how the sins of my parents were flung at me instead of bouquets? Did they tell you they could have spared me this, but they wanted the few extra dollars taken in at the door? No!"
"They said nothing of the kind," replied Rand surlily.
"Then you must have stopped them. You were horrified enough to know that I had dared to take the only honest way left me to make a living. I know you, Randolph Pinkney! You'd rather see Joaquin Muriatta, the Mexican bandit, standing before you to-night with a revolver, than the helpless, shamed, miserable Mornie Nixon. And you can't help yourself, unless you throw me over the cliff. Perhaps you'd better," she said, with a bitter laugh that faded from her lips as she leaned, pale and breathless, against the bowlder.
"Ruth will tell you--" began Rand.
Rand turned away.
"Stop!" she said suddenly, staggering to her feet. "I'm sick--for all I know, dying. God grant that it may be so! But, if you are a man, you will help me to your cabin--to some place where I can lie down NOW, and be at rest. I'm very, very tired."
She paused. She would have fallen again; but Rand, seeing more in her face than her voice interpreted to his sullen ears, took her sullenly in his arms, and carried her to the cabin. Her eyes glanced around the bright party-colored walls, and a faint smile came to her lips as she put aside her bonnet, adorned with a companion pinion of the bright wings that covered it.
"Which is Ruth's bed?" she asked.
Rand pointed to it.
"Lay me there!"
Rand would have hesitated, but, with another look at her face, complied.
She lay quite still a moment. Presently she said, "Give me some brandy or whiskey!"
Rand was silent and confused.
"I forgot," she added half bitterly. "I know you have not that commonest and cheapest of vices."
She lay quite still again. Suddenly she raised herself partly on her elbow, and in a strong, firm voice, said, "Rand!"
"If you are wise and practical, as you assume to be, you will do what I ask you without a question. If you do it AT ONCE, you may save yourself and Ruth some trouble, some mortification, and perhaps some remorse and sorrow. Do you hear me?"
"Go to the nearest doctor, and bring him here with you."
Her voice was strong, confident, steady, and patient. "You can safely leave me until then."
In another moment Rand was plunging down the "slide." But it was past midnight when he struggled over the last bowlder up the ascent, dragging the half-exhausted medical wisdom of Brown's Ferry on his arm.
"I've been gone long, doctor," said Rand feverishly, "and she looked SO death-like when I left. If we should be too late!"
The doctor stopped suddenly, lifted his head, and pricked his ears like a hound on a peculiar scent. "We ARE too late," he said, with a slight professional laugh.
Indignant and horrified, Rand turned upon him.
"Listen," said the doctor, lifting his hand.
Rand listened, so intently that he heard the familiar moan of the river below; but the great stony field lay silent before him. And then, borne across its bare barren bosom, like its own articulation, came faintly the feeble wail of a new-born babe.
The doctor hurried ahead in the darkness. Rand, who had stopped paralyzed at the ominous sound, started forward again mechanically; but as the cry arose again more distinctly, and the full significance of the doctor's words came to him, he faltered, stopped, and, with cheeks burning with shame and helpless indignation, sank upon a stone beside the shaft, and, burying his face in his hands, fairly gave way to a burst of boyish tears. Yet even then the recollection that he had not cried since, years ago, his mother's dying hands had joined his and Ruth's childish fingers together, stung him fiercely, and dried his tears in angry heat upon his cheeks.
How long he sat there, he remembered not; what he thought, he recalled not. But the wildest and most extravagant plans and resolves availed him nothing in the face of this forever desecrated home, and this shameful culmination of his ambitious life on the mountain. Once he thought of flight; but the reflection that he would still abandon his brother to shame, perhaps a self-contented shame, checked him hopelessly. Could he avert the future? He MUST; but how? Yet he could only sit and stare into the darkness in dumb abstraction.
Sitting there, his eyes fell upon a peculiar object in a crevice of the ledge beside the shaft. It was the tin pail containing his dinner, which, according to their custom, it was the duty of the brother who staid above ground to prepare and place for the brother who worked below. Ruth must, consequently, have put it there before he left that morning, and Rand had overlooked it while sharing the repast of the strangers at noon. At the sight of this dumb witness of their mutual cares and labors, Rand sighed, half in brotherly sorrow, half in a selfish sense of injury done him.
He took up the pail mechanically, removed its cover, and--started; for on top of the carefully bestowed provisions lay a little note, addressed to him in Ruth's peculiar scrawl.
He opened it with feverish hands, held it in the light of the peaceful moon, and read as follows:
DEAR, DEAR BROTHER,--When you read this, I shall be far away. I go because I shall not stay to disgrace you, and because the girl that I brought trouble upon has gone away too, to hide her disgrace and mine; and where she goes, Rand, I ought to follow her, and, please God, I will! I am not as wise or as good as you are, but it seems the best I can do; and God bless you, dear old Randy, boy! Times and times again I've wanted to tell you all, and reckoned to do so; but whether you was sitting before me in the cabin, or working beside me in the drift, I couldn't get to look upon your honest face, dear brother, and say what things I'd been keeping from you so long. I'll stay away until I've done what I ought to do, and if you can say, "Come, Ruth," I will come; but, until you can say it, the mountain is yours, Randy, boy, the mine is yours, the cabin is yours, ALL is yours. Rub out the old chalk-marks, Rand, as I rub them out here in my--[A few words here were blurred and indistinct, as if the moon had suddenly become dim-eyed too]. God bless you, brother!
P.S.--You know I mean Mornie all the time. It's she I'm going to seek; but don't you think so bad of her as you do, I am so much worse than she. I wanted to tell you that all along, but I didn't dare. She's run away from the Ferry half crazy; said she was going to Sacramento, and I am going there to find her alive or dead. Forgive me, brother! Don't throw this down right away; hold it in your hand a moment, Randy, boy, and try hard to think it's my hand in yours. And so good-by, and God bless you, old Randy!
From your loving brother,
A deep sense of relief overpowered every other feeling in Rand's breast. It was clear that Ruth had not yet discovered the truth of Mornie's flight: he was on his way to Sacramento, and before he could return, Mornie could be removed. Once despatched in some other direction, with Ruth once more returned and under his brother's guidance, the separation could be made easy and final. There was evidently no marriage as yet; and now, the fear of an immediate meeting over, there should be none. For Rand had already feared this; had recalled the few infelicitous relations, legal and illegal, which were common to the adjoining camp,--the flagrantly miserable life of the husband of a San Francisco anonyma who lived in style at the Ferry, the shameful carousals and more shameful quarrels of the Frenchman and Mexican woman who "kept house" at "the Crossing," the awful spectacle of the three half-bred Indian children who played before the cabin of a fellow miner and
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