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A week of ominous silence regarding the festival succeeded in Santa
Ana. The local paper gave the fullest particulars of the opening
of the hotel, but contented itself with saying: "The entertainment
concluded with a dance." Mr. Brooks, who felt himself compelled to
call upon his late charming partner twice during the week,
characteristically soothed her anxieties as to the result. "The
fact of it is, Mrs. Wade, there's really nobody in particular to
blame--and that's what gets them. They're all mixed up in it,
deacons and Sunday-school teachers; and when old Johnson tried to
be nasty the other evening and hoped you hadn't suffered from your
exertions that night, I told him you hadn't quite recovered yet
from the physical shock of having been run into by him and Mrs.
Stubbs, but that, you being a lady, you didn't tell just how you
felt at the exhibition he and she made of themselves. That shut
him up."

"But you shouldn't have said that," said Mrs. Wade with a
frightened little smile.

"No matter," returned Brooks cheerfully. "I'll take the blame of
it with the others. You see they'll have to have a scapegoat--and
I'm just the man, for I got up the dance! And as I'm going away, I
suppose I shall bear off the sin with me into the wilderness."

"You're going away?" repeated Mrs. Wade in more genuine concern.

"Not for long," returned Brooks laughingly. "I came here to look
up a mill site, and I've found it. Meantime I think I've opened
their eyes."

"You have opened mine," said the widow with timid frankness.

They were soft pretty eyes when opened, in spite of their heavy red
lids, and Mr. Brooks thought that Santa Ana would be no worse if
they remained open. Possibly he looked it, for Mrs. Wade said
hurriedly, "I mean--that is--I've been thinking that life needn't
ALWAYS be as gloomy as we make it here. And even HERE, you know,
Mr. Brooks, we have six months' sunshine--though we always forget
it in the rainy season."

"That's so," said Brooks cheerfully. "I once lost a heap of money
through my own foolishness, and I've managed to forget it, and I
even reckon to get it back again out of Santa Ana if my mill
speculation holds good. So good-by, Mrs. Wade--but not for long."
He shook her hand frankly and departed, leaving the widow conscious
of a certain sympathetic confidence and a little grateful for--she
knew not what.

This feeling remained with her most of the afternoon, and even
imparted a certain gayety to her spirits, to the extent of causing
her to hum softly to herself; the air being oddly enough the Julien
Waltz. And when, later in the day, the shadows were closing in
with the rain, word was brought to her that a stranger wished to
see her in the sitting-room, she carried a less mournful mind to
this function of her existence. For Mrs. Wade was accustomed to
give audience to traveling agents, tradesmen, working-hands and
servants, as chatelaine of her ranch, and the occasion was not
novel. Yet on entering the room, which she used partly as an
office, she found some difficulty in classifying the stranger, who
at first glance reminded her of the tramping miner she had seen
that night from her window. He was rather incongruously dressed,
some articles of his apparel being finer than others; he wore a
diamond pin in a scarf folded over a rough "hickory" shirt; his
light trousers were tucked in common mining boots that bore stains
of travel and a suggestion that he had slept in his clothes. What
she could see of his unshaven face in that uncertain light
expressed a kind of dogged concentration, overlaid by an assumption
of ease. He got up as she came in, and with a slight "How do,
ma'am," shut the door behind her and glanced furtively around the
room.

"What I've got to say to ye, Mrs. Wade,--as I reckon you be,--is
strictly private and confidential! Why, ye'll see afore I get
through. But I thought I might just as well caution ye agin our
being disturbed."

Overcoming a slight instinct of repulsion, Mrs. Wade returned, "You
can speak to me here; no one will interrupt you--unless I call
them," she added with a little feminine caution.

"And I reckon ye won't do that," he said with a grim smile. "You
are the widow o' Pulaski Wade, late o' Heavy Tree Hill, I reckon?"

"I am," said Mrs. Wade.

"And your husband's buried up thar in the graveyard, with a
monument over him setting forth his virtues ez a Christian and a
square man and a high-minded citizen? And that he was foully
murdered by highwaymen?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Wade, "that is the inscription."

"Well, ma'am, a bigger pack o' lies never was cut on stone!"

Mrs. Wade rose, half in indignation, half in terror.

"Keep your sittin'," said the stranger, with a warning wave of his
hand. "Wait till I'm through, and then you call in the hull State
o' Californy, ef ye want."

The stranger's manner was so doggedly confident that Mrs. Wade sank
back tremblingly in her chair. The man put his slouch hat on his
knee, twirled it round once or twice, and then said with the same
stubborn deliberation:--

"The highwayman in that business was your husband--Pulaski Wade--
and his gang, and he was killed by one o' the men he was robbin'.
Ye see, ma'am, it used to be your husband's little game to rope in
three or four strangers in a poker deal at Spanish Jim's saloon--I
see you've heard o' the place," he interpolated as Mrs. Wade drew
back suddenly--"and when he couldn't clean 'em out in that way, or
they showed a little more money than they played, he'd lay for 'em
with his gang in a lone part of the trail, and go through them like
any road agent. That's what he did that night--and that's how he
got killed."




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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