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"Yes," she said, with the sudden desperation of weakness; "I want
you to keep a secret."

"Yours?--yes!" he said promptly.

Whereat poor Mrs. Wade instantly burst into tears. Then, amidst
her sobs, she told him of the stranger's visit, of his terrible
accusations, of his demands, his expected return, and her own utter
helplessness. To her terror, as she went on she saw a singular
change in his kind face; he was following her with hard, eager
intensity. She had half hoped, even through her fateful instincts,
that he might have laughed, manlike, at her fears, or pooh-poohed
the whole thing. But he did not. "You say he positively recognized
your husband?" he repeated quickly.

"Yes, yes!" sobbed the widow, "and knew that daguerreotype!" she
pointed to the desk.

Brooks turned quickly in that direction. Luckily his back was
towards her, and she could not see his face, and the quick,
startled look that came into his eyes. But when they again met
hers, it was gone, and even their eager intensity had changed to a
gentle commiseration. "You have only his word for it, Mrs. Wade,"
he said gently, "and in telling your secret to another, you have
shorn the rascal of half his power over you. And he knew it. Now,
dismiss the matter from your mind and leave it all to me. I will
be here a few minutes before nine--AND ALONE IN THIS ROOM. Let
your visitor be shown in here, and don't let us be disturbed.
Don't be alarmed," he added with a faint twinkle in his eye, "there
will be no fuss and no exposure!"


It lacked a few minutes of nine when Mr. Brooks was ushered into
the sitting-room. As soon as he was alone he quietly examined the
door and the windows, and having satisfied himself, took his seat
in a chair casually placed behind the door. Presently he heard the
sound of voices and a heavy footstep in the passage. He lightly
felt his waistcoat pocket--it contained a pretty little weapon of
power and precision, with a barrel scarcely two inches long.

The door opened, and the person outside entered the room. In an
instant Brooks had shut the door and locked it behind him. The man
turned fiercely, but was faced by Brooks quietly, with one finger
calmly hooked in his waistcoat pocket. The man slightly recoiled
from him--not as much from fear as from some vague stupefaction.
"What's that for? What's your little game?" he said half
contemptuously.

"No game at all," returned Brooks coolly. "You came here to sell a
secret. I don't propose to have it given away first to any
listener."

"YOU don't--who are YOU?"

"That's a queer question to ask of the man you are trying to
personate--but I don't wonder! You're doing it d----d badly."

"Personate--YOU?" said the stranger, with staring eyes.

"Yes, ME," said Brooks quietly. "I am the only man who escaped
from the robbery that night at Heavy Tree Hill and who went home by
the Overland Coach."

The stranger stared, but recovered himself with a coarse laugh.
"Oh, well! we're on the same lay, it appears! Both after the
widow--afore we show up her husband."

"Not exactly," said Brooks, with his eyes fixed intently on the
stranger. "You are here to denounce a highwayman who is DEAD and
escaped justice. I am here to denounce one who is LIVING!--Stop!
drop your hand; it's no use. You thought you had to deal only with
a woman to-night, and your revolver isn't quite handy enough.
There! down!--down! So! That'll do."

"You can't prove it," said the man hoarsely.

"Fool! In your story to that woman you have given yourself away.
There were but two travelers attacked by the highwaymen. One was
killed--I am the other. Where do YOU come in? What witness can
you be--except as the highwayman that you are? Who is left to
identify Wade but--his accomplice!"

The man's suddenly whitened face made his unshaven beard seem to
bristle over his face like some wild animal's. "Well, ef you
kalkilate to blow me, you've got to blow Wade and his widder too.
Jest you remember that," he said whiningly.

"I've thought of that," said Brooks coolly, "and I calculate that
to prevent it is worth about that hundred dollars you got from that
poor woman--and no more! Now, sit down at that table, and write as
I dictate."

The man looked at him in wonder, but obeyed.

"Write," said Brooks, "'I hereby certify that my accusations
against the late Pulaski Wade of Heavy Tree Hill are erroneous and
groundless, and the result of mistaken identity, especially in
regard to any complicity of his in the robbery of John Stubbs,
deceased, and Henry Brooks, at Heavy Tree Hill, on the night of the
13th August, 1854.'"

The man looked up with a repulsive smile. "Who's the fool now,
Cap'n? What's become of your hold on the widder, now?"

"Write!" said Brooks fiercely.

The sound of a pen hurriedly scratching paper followed this first
outburst of the quiet Brooks.

"Sign it," said Brooks.

The man signed it.

"Now go," said Brooks, unlocking the door, "but remember, if you
should ever be inclined to revisit Santa Ana, you will find ME
living here also."

The man slunk out of the door and into the passage like a wild
animal returning to the night and darkness. Brooks took up the
paper, rejoined Mrs. Wade in the parlor, and laid it before her.

"But," said the widow, trembling even in her joy, "do you--do you
think he was REALLY mistaken?"

"Positive," said Brooks coolly. "It's true, it's a mistake that
has cost you a hundred dollars, but there are some mistakes that
are worth that to be kept quiet."

     .      .      .      .      .      .

They were married a year later; but there is no record that in
after years of conjugal relations with a weak, charming, but
sometimes trying woman, Henry Brooks was ever tempted to tell her
the whole truth of the robbery of Heavy Tree Hill.





Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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