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Falloner rose. The storm that had swept through him was over.
The quick determination, resolute purpose, and infinite patience
which had made him what he was were all there, and with it a
conscientiousness which his selfish independence had hitherto kept
dormant. He accepted the situation, not passively--it was not in
his nature--but threw himself into it with all his energy.

"You were quite right," he said, halting a moment beside her; "I
don't blame you, and let me hope that later you may think me less
to blame than you do now. Now, what's to be done? Clearly, I've
first to make it right with Tommy--I mean Jimmy--and then we must
make a straight dash over to the girl! Whoop!" Before she could
understand from his face the strange change in his voice, he had
dashed out of the room. In a moment he reappeared with the boy
struggling in his arms. "Think of the little scamp not knowing his
own brother!" he laughed, giving the boy a really affectionate, if
slightly exaggerated hug, and expecting me to open my arms to the
first little boy who jumps into them! I've a great mind not to
give him the present I fetched all the way from California. Wait a
moment." He dashed into the bedroom, opened his valise--where he
providentially remembered he had kept, with a miner's superstition,
the first little nugget of gold he had ever found--seized the tiny
bit of quartz of gold, and dashed out again to display it before
Jimmy's eager eyes.

If the heartiness, sympathy, and charming kindness of the man's
whole manner and face convinced, even while it slightly startled,
the young girl, it was still more effective with the boy. Children
are quick to detect the false ring of affected emotion, and Bob's
was so genuine--whatever its cause--that it might have easily
passed for a fraternal expression with harder critics. The child
trustfully nestled against him and would have grasped the gold, but
the young man whisked it into his pocket. "Not until we've shown
it to our little sister--where we're going now! I'm off to order a
sleigh." He dashed out again to the office as if he found some
relief in action, or, as it seemed to Miss Boutelle, to avoid
embarrassing conversation. When he came back again he was carrying
an immense bearskin from his luggage. He cast a critical look at
the girl's unseasonable attire.

"I shall wrap you and Jimmy in this--you know it's snowing
frightfully."

Miss Boutelle flushed a little. "I'm warm enough when walking,"
she said coldly. Bob glanced at her smart little French shoes, and
thought otherwise. He said nothing, but hastily bundled his two
guests downstairs and into the street. The whirlwind dance of the
snow made the sleigh an indistinct bulk in the glittering darkness,
and as the young girl for an instant stood dazedly still, Bob
incontinently lifted her from her feet, deposited her in the
vehicle, dropped Jimmy in her lap, and wrapped them both tightly in
the bearskin. Her weight, which was scarcely more than a child's,
struck him in that moment as being tantalizingly incongruous to the
matronly severity of her manner and its strange effect upon him.
He then jumped in himself, taking the direction from his companion,
and drove off through the storm.

The wind and darkness were not favorable to conversation, and only
once did he break the silence. "Is there any one who would be
likely to remember--me--where we are going?" he asked, in a lull of
the storm.

Miss Boutelle uncovered enough of her face to glance at him
curiously. "Hardly! You know the children came here from the
No'th after your mother's death, while you were in California."

"Of course," returned Bob hurriedly; "I was only thinking--you know
that some of my old friends might have called," and then collapsed
into silence.

After a pause a voice came icily, although under the furs: "Perhaps
you'd prefer that your arrival be kept secret from the public? But
they seem to have already recognized you at the hotel from your
inquiry about Ricketts, and the photograph Jimmy had already shown
them two weeks ago." Bob remembered the clerk's familiar manner
and the omission to ask him to register. "But it need go no
further, if you like," she added, with a slight return of her
previous scorn.

"I've no reason for keeping it secret," said Bob stoutly.

No other words were exchanged until the sleigh drew up before a
plain wooden house in the suburbs of the town. Bob could see at a
glance that it represented the income of some careful artisan or
small shopkeeper, and that it promised little for an invalid's
luxurious comfort. They were ushered into a chilly sitting-room
and Miss Boutelle ran upstairs with Jimmy to prepare the invalid
for Bob's appearance. He noticed that a word dropped by the woman
who opened the door made the young girl's face grave again, and
paled the color that the storm had buffeted to her cheek. He
noticed also that these plain surroundings seemed only to enhance
her own superiority, and that the woman treated her with a
deference in odd contrast to the ill-concealed disfavor with which
she regarded him. Strangely enough, this latter fact was a relief
to his conscience. It would have been terrible to have received
their kindness under false pretenses; to take their just blame of
the man he personated seemed to mitigate the deceit.

The young girl rejoined him presently with troubled eyes. Cissy
was worse, and only intermittently conscious, but had asked to see
him. It was a short flight of stairs to the bedroom, but before he
reached it Bob's heart beat faster than it had in any mountain
climb. In one corner of the plainly furnished room stood a small
truckle bed, and in it lay the invalid. It needed but a single
glance at her flushed face in its aureole of yellow hair to
recognize the likeness to Jimmy, although, added to that strange
refinement produced by suffering, there was a spiritual exaltation
in the child's look--possibly from delirium--that awed and
frightened him; an awful feeling that he could not lie to this
hopeless creature took possession of him, and his step faltered.
But she lifted her small arms pathetically towards him as if she
divined his trouble, and he sank on his knees beside her. With a
tiny finger curled around his long mustache, she lay there silent.
Her face was full of trustfulness, happiness, and consciousness--
but she spoke no word.

There was a pause, and Falloner, slightly lifting his head without
disturbing that faintly clasping finger, beckoned Miss Boutelle to
his side. "Can you drive?" he said, in a low voice.

"Yes."

"Take my sleigh and get the best doctor in town to come here at
once. Bring him with you if you can; if he can't come at once,
drive home yourself. I will stay here."

"But"--hesitated Miss Boutelle.

"I will stay here," he repeated.

The door closed on the young girl, and Falloner, still bending over
the child, presently heard the sleigh-bells pass away in the storm.
He still sat with his bent head, held by the tiny clasp of those
thin fingers. But the child's eyes were fixed so intently upon him
that Mrs. Ricketts leaned over the strangely-assorted pair and
said--

"It's your brother Dick, dearie. Don't you know him?"

The child's lips moved faintly. "Dick's dead," she whispered.

"She's wandering," said Mrs. Ricketts. "Speak to her." But Bob,
with his eyes on the child's, lifted a protesting hand. The little
sufferer's lips moved again. "It isn't Dick--it's the angel God
sent to tell me."

She spoke no more. And when Miss Boutelle returned with the doctor
she was beyond the reach of finite voices. Falloner would have
remained all night with them, but he could see that his presence in
the contracted household was not desired. Even his offer to take
Jimmy with him to the hotel was declined, and at midnight he
returned alone.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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