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- Openings in the Old Trail - 21/35 -
here together, me and Duffy. Now if anything happens to me Duffy will be left, and HE'S got the proofs."
Farendell seemed to recognize the fact with the same directness. "That's it, is it?" he said bluntly. "Well, how much do you want? Only, I warn you that I haven't much to give."
"Wotever you've got, if it was millions, it ain't enough to buy us up, and ye ought to know that by this time," responded Scranton, with a momentary flash in his eyes. But the next moment his previous passionless deliberation returned, and leaning his arm on the desk of the man before him he picked up a paperweight carelessly and turned it over as he said slowly, "The fact is, Mr. Farendell, you've been making us, me and Duffy, tired. We've bin watchin' you and your doin's, lyin' low and sayin' nothin', till we concluded that it was about time you handed in your checks and left the board. We ain't wanted nothin' of ye, we ain't begrudged ye nothin', but we've allowed that this yer thing must stop."
"And what if I refuse?" said Farendell.
"Thar'll be some cussin' and a big row from YOU, I kalkilate--and maybe some fightin' all round," said Scranton dispassionately. "But it will be all the same in the end. The hull thing will come out, and you'll hev to slide just the same. T'otherwise, ef ye slide out NOW, it's without a row."
"And do you suppose a business man like me can disappear without a fuss over it?" said Farendell angrily. "Are you mad?"
"I reckon the hole YOU'LL make kin be filled up," said Scranton dryly. "But ef ye go NOW, you won't be bothered by the fuss, while if you stay you'll have to face the music, and go too!"
Farendell was silent. Possibly the truth of this had long since been borne upon him. No one but himself knew the incessant strain of these years of evasion and concealment, and how he often had been near to some such desperate culmination. The sacrifice offered to him was not, therefore, so great as it might have seemed. The knowledge of this might have given him a momentary superiority over his antagonist had Scranton's motive been a purely selfish or malignant one, but as it was not, and as he may have had some instinctive idea of Farendell's feeling also, it made his ultimatum appear the more passionless and fateful. And it was this quality which perhaps caused Farendell to burst out with desperate abruptness,--
"What in h-ll ever put you up to this!"
Scranton folded his arms upon Farendell's desk, and slowly wiping his clean jaw with one hand, repeated deliberately, "Wall--I reckon I told ye that before! You've been making us--me and Duffy-- tired!" He paused for a moment, and then, rising abruptly, with a careless gesture towards the uncovered tray of gold, said, "Come! ye kin take enuff o' that to get away with; the less ye take, though, the less likely you'll be to be followed!"
He went to the door, unlocked and opened it. A strange light, as of a lurid storm interspersed by sheet-like lightning, filled the outer darkness, and the silence was now broken by dull crashes and nearer cries and shouting. A few figures were also dimly flitting around the neighboring empty offices, some of which, like Farendell's, had been entered by their now alarmed owners.
"You've got a good chance now," continued Scranton; "ye couldn't hev a better. It's a big fire--a scorcher--and jest the time for a man to wipe himself out and not be missed. Make tracks where the crowd is thickest and whar ye're likely to be seen, ez ef ye were helpin'! Ther' 'll be other men missed tomorrow beside you," he added with grim significance; "but nobody'll know that you was one who really got away."
Where the imperturbable logic of the strange man might have failed, the noise, the tumult, the suggestion of swift-coming disaster, and the necessity for some immediate action of any kind, was convincing. Farendell hastily stuffed his pockets with gold and the papers he had found, and moved to the door. Already he fancied he felt the hot breath of the leaping conflagration beyond. "And you?" he said, turning suspiciously to Scranton.
"When you're shut of this and clean off, I'll fix things and leave too--but not before. I reckon," he added grimly, with a glance at the sky, now streaming with sparks like a meteoric shower, "thar won't be much left here in the morning."
A few dull embers pattered on the iron roof of the low building and bounded off in ashes. Farendell cast a final glance around him, and then darted from the building. The iron door clanged behind him--he was gone.
Evidently not too soon, for the other buildings were already deserted by their would-be salvors, who had filled the streets with piles of books and valuables waiting to be carried away. Then occurred a terrible phenomenon, which had once before in such disasters paralyzed the efforts of the firemen. A large wooden warehouse in the centre of the block of offices, many hundred feet from the scene of active conflagration--which had hitherto remained intact--suddenly became enveloped in clouds of smoke, and without warning burst as suddenly from roof and upper story into vivid flame. There were eye-witnesses who declared that a stream of living fire seemed to leap upon it from the burning district, and connected the space between them with an arch of luminous heat. In another instant the whole district was involved in a whirlwind of smoke and flame, out of whose seething vortex the corrugated iron buildings occasionally showed their shriveling or glowing outlines. And then the fire swept on and away.
When the sun again arose over the panic-stricken and devastated city, all personal incident and disaster was forgotten in the larger calamity. It was two or three days before the full particulars could be gathered--even while the dominant and resistless energy of the people was erecting new buildings upon the still-smoking ruins. It was only on the third day afterwards that James Farendell, on the deck of a coasting steamer, creeping out through the fogs of the Golden Gate, read the latest news in a San Francisco paper brought by the pilot. As he hurriedly comprehended the magnitude of the loss, which was far beyond his previous conception, he experienced a certain satisfaction in finding his position no worse materially than that of many of his fellow workers. THEY were ruined like himself; THEY must begin their life afresh--but then! Ah! there was still that terrible difference. He drew his breath quickly, and read on. Suddenly he stopped, transfixed by a later paragraph. For an instant he failed to grasp its full significance. Then he read it again, the words imprinting themselves on his senses with a slow deliberation that seemed to him as passionless as Scranton's utterances on that fateful night.
"The loss of life, it is now feared, is much greater than at first imagined. To the list that has been already published we must add the name of James Farendell, the energetic contractor so well known to our citizens, who was missing the morning after the fire. His calcined remains were found this afternoon in the warped and twisted iron shell of his counting-house, the wooden frame having been reduced to charcoal in the intense heat. The unfortunate man seems to have gone there to remove his books and papers,--as was evidenced by the iron safe being found open,--but to have been caught and imprisoned in the building through the heat causing the metal sheathing to hermetically seal the doors and windows. He was seen by some neighbors to enter the building while the fire was still distant, and his remains were identified by his keys, which were found beneath him. A poignant interest is added to his untimely fate by the circumstance that he was to have been married on the following day to the widow of his late partner, and that he had, at the call of duty, that very evening left a dinner party given to celebrate the last day of his bachelorhood--or, as it has indeed proved, of his earthly existence. Two families are thus placed in mourning, and it is a singular sequel that by this untoward calamity the well-known firm of Farendell & Cutler may be said to have ceased to exist."
Mr. Farendell started to his feet. But a lurch of the schooner as she rose on the long swell of the Pacific sent him staggering dizzily back to his seat, and checked his first wild impulse to return. He saw it all now,--the fire had avenged him by wiping out his persecutor, Scranton, but in the eyes of his contemporaries it had only erased HIM! He might return to refute the story in his own person, but the dead man's partner still lived with his secret, and his own rehabilitation could only revive his former peril.
. . . . . .
Four years elapsed before the late Mr. Farendell again set foot in the levee of Sacramento. The steamboat that brought him from San Francisco was a marvel to him in size, elegance, and comfort; so different from the little, crowded, tri-weekly packet he remembered; and it might, in a manner, have prepared him for the greater change in the city. But he was astounded to find nothing to remind him of the past,--no landmark, nor even ruin, of the place he had known. Blocks of brick buildings, with thoroughfares having strange titles, occupied the district where his counting- house had stood, and even obliterated its site; equally strange names were upon the shops and warehouses. In his four years' wanderings he had scarcely found a place as unfamiliar. He had trusted to the great change in his own appearance--the full beard that he wore and the tanning of a tropical sun--to prevent recognition; but the precaution was unnecessary, there were none to recognize him in the new faces which were the only ones he saw in the transformed city. A cautious allusion to the past which he had made on the boat to a fellow passenger had brought only the surprised rejoinder, "Oh, that must have been before the big fire," as if it was an historic epoch. There was something of pain even in this assured security of his loneliness. His obliteration was complete.
For the late Mr. Farendell had suffered some change of mind with his other mutations. He had been singularly lucky. The schooner in which he had escaped brought him to Acapulco, where, as a returning Californian, and a presumably successful one, his services and experience were eagerly sought by an English party engaged in developing certain disused Mexican mines. As the post, however, was perilously near the route of regular emigration, as soon as he had gained a sufficient sum he embarked with some goods to Callao, where he presently established himself in business, resuming his REAL name--the unambitious but indistinctive one of "Smith." It is highly probable that this prudential act was also his first step towards rectitude. For whether the change was a question of moral ethics, or merely a superstitious essay in luck, he was thereafter strictly honest in business. He became prosperous. He had been sustained in his flight by the intention that, if he were successful elsewhere, he would endeavor to
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