A Ward of the Golden Gate by Bret Harte
Although the rays of an unclouded sun were hot in the Santa Clara roads and byways, and the dry, bleached dust had become an impalpable powder, the perspiring and parched pedestrian who rashly sought relief in the shade of the wayside oak was speedily chilled to the bone by the northwest trade-winds that on those August afternoons swept through the defiles of the Coast Range, and even penetrated the pastoral valley of San Jose. The anomaly of straw hats and overcoats with the occupants of buggies and station wagons was thus accounted for, and even in the sheltered garden of "El Rosario" two young girls in light summer dresses had thrown wraps over their shoulders as they lounged down a broad rose-alley at right angles with the deep, long veranda of the casa. Yet, in spite of the chill, the old Spanish house and gardens presented a luxurious, almost tropical, picture from the roadside. Banks, beds, and bowers of roses lent their name and color to the grounds; tree-like clusters of hanging fuchsias, mound-like masses of variegated verbena, and tangled thickets of ceanothus and spreading heliotrope were set in boundaries of venerable olive, fig, and pear trees. The old house itself, a picturesque relief to the glaring newness of the painted villas along the road, had been tastefully modified to suit the needs and habits of a later civilization; the galleries of the inner courtyard, or patio, had been transferred to the outside walls in the form of deep verandas, while the old adobe walls themselves were hidden beneath flowing Cape jessamine or bestarred passion vines, and topped by roofs of cylindrical red tiles.
"Miss Yerba!" said a dry, masculine voice from the veranda.
The taller young girl started, and drew herself suddenly behind a large Castilian rose-tree, dragging her companion with her, and putting her finger imperatively upon a pretty but somewhat passionate mouth. The other girl checked a laugh, and remained watching her friend's wickedly leveled brows in amused surprise.
The call was repeated from the veranda. After a moment's pause there was the sound of retreating footsteps, and all was quiet again.
"Why, for goodness' sake, didn't you answer, Yerba?" asked the shorter girl.
"Oh, I hate him!" responded Yerba. "He only wanted to bore me with his stupid, formal, sham-parental talk. Because he's my official guardian he thinks it necessary to assume this manner towards me when we meet, and treats me as if I were something between his stepdaughter and an almshouse orphan or a police board. It's perfectly ridiculous, for it's only put on while he is in office, and he knows it, and I know it, and I'm tired of making believe. Why, my dear, they change every election; I've had seven of them, all more or less of this kind, since I can remember."
"But I thought there were two others, dear, that were not official," said her companion, coaxingly.
Yerba sighed. "No; there was another, who was president of a bank, but that was also to be official if he died. I used to like him, he seemed to be the only gentleman among them; but it appears that he is dreadfully improper; shoots people now and then for nothing at all, and burst up his bank--and, of course, he's impossible, and, as there's no more bank, when he dies there'll be no more trustee."
"And there's the third, you know--a stranger, who never appears?" suggested the younger girl.
"And who do you suppose he turns out to be? Do you remember that conceited little wretch--that 'Baby Senator,' I think they called him--who was in the parlor of the Golden Gate the other morning surrounded by his idiotic worshipers and toadies and ballot-box stuffers? Well, if you please, that's Mr. Paul Hathaway--the Honorable Paul Hathaway, who washed his hands of me, my dear, at the beginning!"
"But really, Yerba, I thought that he looked and acted"--
"You thought of nothing at all, Milly," returned Yerba, with authority. "I tell you he's a mass of conceit. What else can you expect of a Man--toadied and fawned upon to that extent? It made me sick! I could have just shaken them!"
As if to emphasize her statement, she grasped one of the long willowy branches of the enormous rose-bush where she stood, and shook it lightly. The action detached a few of the maturer blossoms, and sent down a shower of faded pink petals on her dark hair and yellow dress. "I can't bear conceit," she added.
"Oh, Yerba, just stand as you are! I do wish the girls could see you. You make the loveliest picture!"
She certainly did look very pretty as she stood there--a few leaves lodged in her hair, clinging to her dress, and suggesting by reflection the color that her delicate satin skin would have resented in its own texture. But she turned impatiently away-- perhaps not before she had allowed this passing vision to impress the mind of her devoted adherent--and said, "Come along, or that dreadful man will be out on the veranda again."
"But, if you dislike him so, why did you accept the invitation to meet him here at luncheon?" said the curious Milly.
"I didn't accept; the Mother Superior did for me, because he's the Mayor of San Francisco visiting your uncle, and she's always anxious to placate the powers that be. And I thought he might have some information that I could get out of him. And it was better than being in the convent all day. And I thought I could stand him if you were here."
Milly gratefully accepted this doubtful proof of affection by squeezing her companion's arm. "And you didn't get any information, dear?"
"Of course not! The idiot knows only the old tradition of his office--that I was a mysterious Trust left in Mayor Hammersley's hands. He actually informed me that 'Buena' meant 'Good'; that it was likely the name of the captain of some whaler, that put into San Francisco in the early days, whose child I was, and that, if I chose to call myself 'Miss Good,' he would allow it, and get a bill passed in the Legislature to legalize it. Think of it, my dear! 'Miss Good,' like one of Mrs. Barbauld's stories, or a moral governess in the 'Primary Reader.'"
"'Miss Good,'" repeated Milly, innocently. "Yes, you might put an e at the end--G-double-o-d-e. There are Goodes in Philadelphia. And then you won't have to sacrifice that sweet pretty 'Yerba,' that's so stylish and musical, for you'd still be 'Yerba Good.' But," she added, as Yerba made an impatient gesture, "why do you worry yourself about that? You wouldn't keep your own name long, whatever it was. An heiress like you, dear,--lovely and accomplished,--would have the best names as well as the best men in America to choose from."
"Now please don't repeat that idiot's words. That's what he says; that's what they all say!" returned Yerba, pettishly. "One would really think it was necessary for me to get married to become anybody at all, or have any standing whatever. And, whatever you do, don't go talking of me as if I were named after a vegetable. 'Yerba Buena' is the name of an island in the bay just off San Francisco. I'm named after that."
"But I don't see the difference, dear. The island was named after the vine that grows on it."
"You don't see the difference?" said Yerba, darkly. "Well, I do. But what are you looking at?"
Her companion had caught her arm, and was gazing intently at the house.
"Yerba," she said quickly, "there's the Mayor, and uncle, and a strange gentleman coming down the walk. They're looking for us. And, as I live, Yerb! the strange gentleman is that young senator, Mr. Hathaway!"
"Mr. Hathaway? Nonsense!"
"Look for yourself."
Yerba glanced at the three gentlemen, who, a hundred yards distant, were slowly advancing in the direction of the ceanothus-hedge, behind which the girls had instinctively strayed during their conversation.
"What are you going to do?" said Milly, eagerly. "They're coming straight this way. Shall we stay here and let them pass, or make a run for the house?"
"No," said Yerba, to Milly's great surprise. "That would look as if we cared. Besides, I don't know that Mr. Hathaway has come to see me. We'll stroll out and meet them accidentally."
Milly was still more astonished. However, she said, "Wait a moment, dear!" and, with the instinctive deftness of her sex, in three small tugs and a gentle hitch, shook Yerba's gown into perfect folds, passed her fingers across her forehead and over her ears, securing, however, with a hairpin on their passage three of the rose petals where they had fallen. Then, discharging their faces of any previous expression, these two charming hypocrites sallied out innocently into the walk. Nothing could be more natural than their manner: if a criticism might be ventured upon, it was that their elbows were slightly drawn inwards and before them, leaving their hands gracefully advanced in the line of their figures, an attitude accepted throughout the civilized world of deportment as indicating fastidious refinement not unmingled with permissible hauteur.
The three gentlemen lifted their hats at this ravishing apparition, and halted. The Mayor advanced with great politeness.
"I feared you didn't hear me call you, Miss Yerba, so we ventured to seek you. As the two girls exchanged almost infantile glances of surprise, he continued: "Mr. Paul Hathaway has done us the honor of seeking you here, as he did not find you at the convent. You may have forgotten that Mr. Hathaway is the third one of your trustees."
"And so inefficient and worthless that I fear he doesn't count," said Paul, "but," raising his eyes to Yerba's, "I fancy that I have already had the pleasure of seeing you, and, I fear, the mortification of having disturbed you and your friends in the parlor of the Golden Gate Hotel yesterday."
The two girls looked at each other with the same childlike surprise. Yerba broke the silence by suddenly turning to Milly. "Certainly, you remember how greatly interested we were in the conversation of a party of gentlemen who were there when we came in. I am afraid our foolish prattle must have disturbed you. I know that we were struck with the intelligent and eloquent devotion of your friends."
"Oh, perfectly," chimed in the loyal but somewhat infelix Milly, "and it was so kind and thoughtful of Mr. Hathaway to take them away as he did."
"I felt the more embarrassed," continued Hathaway, smiling, but still critically examining Yerba for an indication of something characteristic, beyond this palpable conventionality, "as I unfortunately must present my credentials from a gentleman as much of a stranger as myself--Colonel Pendleton."
The trade-wind was evidently making itself felt even in this pastoral retreat, for the two gentlemen appeared to shrink slightly within themselves, and a chill seemed to have passed over the group. The Mayor coughed. The avuncular Woods gazed abstractedly at a large cactus. Even Paul, prepared by previous experience, stopped short.
"Colonel Pendleton! Oh, do tell me all about him!" flashed out Yerba, suddenly, with clasped hands and eager girlish breath.
Paul cast a quick grateful glance at the girl. Whether assumed or not, her enthusiastic outburst was effective. The Mayor looked uneasily at Woods, and turned to Paul.
"Ah, yes! You and he are original co-trustees. I believe Pendleton is in reduced circumstances. Never quite got over that bank trouble."
"That is only a question of legislative investigation and relief," said Paul lightly, yet with purposely vague official mystery of manner. Then, turning quickly to Yerba, as if replying to the only real question at issue, he continued pointedly, "I am sorry to say the colonel's health is so poor that it keeps him quite a recluse. I have a letter from him and a message for you." His bright eyes added plainly--"as soon as we can get rid of those people."
"Then you think that a bill"--began the Mayor, eagerly.
"I think, my dear sir," said Paul plaintively, "that I and my friends have already tried the patience of these two young ladies quite enough yesterday with politics and law-making. I have to catch the six-o'clock train to San Francisco this evening, and have already lost the time I hoped to spend with Miss Yerba by missing her at the convent. Let me stroll on here, if you like, and if I venture to monopolize the attention of this young lady for half an hour, you, my dear Mr. Mayor, who have more frequent access to her, I know, will not begrudge it to me."
He placed himself beside Yerba and Milly, and began an entertaining, although, I fear, slightly exaggerated, account of his reception by the Lady Superior, and her evident doubts of his identity with the trustee mentioned in Pendleton's letter of introduction. "I confess she frightened me," he continued, "when she remarked that, according to my statement, I could have been only eighteen years old when I became your guardian, and as much in want of one as you were. I think that only her belief that Mr. Woods and the Mayor would detect me as an impostor provoked her at last to tell me your whereabouts."
"But why did they ever make you a trustee, for goodness' sake?" said Milly, naively. "Was there no one grown up at that time that they could have called upon?"
"Those were the early days of California," responded Paul, with great gravity, although he was conscious that Yerba was regarding him narrowly, "and I probably looked older and more intelligent than I really was. For, candidly," with the consciousness of Yerba's eyes still upon him, "I remember very little about it. I dare say I was selected, as you kindly suggest, 'for goodness' sake.'"
"After all," said the volatile Milly, who seemed inclined, as chaperone, to direct the conversation, "there was something pretty and romantic about it. You two poor young things taking care of each other, for of course there were no women here in those days."
"Of course there were women here" interrupted Yerba, quickly, with a half-meaning, half-interrogative glance at Paul that made him instinctively uneasy. "You later comers"--to Milly--"always seem to think that there was nothing here before you!" She paused, and then added, with a naive mixture of reproach and coquetry that was as charming as it was unexpected, "As to taking care of each other, Mr. Hathaway very quickly got rid of me, I believe."
"But I left you in better hands, Miss Yerba; and let me thank you now," he added in a lower tone, "for recognizing it as you did a moment ago. I'm glad that you instinctively liked Colonel Pendleton. Had you known him better, you would have seen how truthful that instinct was. His chief fault in the eyes of our worthy friends is that he reminds them of a great deal they can't perpetuate and much they would like to forget." He checked himself abruptly. "But here is your letter," he resumed, drawing Colonel Pendleton's missive from his pocket, "perhaps you would like to read it now, in case you have any message to return by me. Miss Woods and I will excuse you."
They had reached the end of the rose-alley, where a summer-house that was in itself a rose-bower partly disclosed itself. The other gentlemen had lagged behind. "I will amuse myself, and console your other guardian, dear," said the vivacious Milly, with a rapid exchange of glances with Yerba, "until this horrid business is over. Besides," she added with cheerful vagueness, "after so long a separation you must have a great deal to say to each other."
Paul smiled as she rustled away, and Yerba, entering the summer- house, sat down and opened the letter. The young man remained leaning against the rustic archway, occasionally glancing at her and at the moving figures in the gardens. He was conscious of an odd excitement which he could trace to no particular cause. It was true that he had been annoyed at not finding the young girl at the convent, and at having to justify himself to the Lady Superior for what he conceived to be an act of gratuitous kindness; nor was he blind to the fact that his persistence in following her was more an act of aggression against the enemies of Pendleton than of concern for Yerba. She was certainly pretty, he could not remember her mother sufficiently to trace any likeness, and he had never admired the mother's pronounced beauty. She had flashed out for an instant into what seemed originality and feeling. But it had passed, and she had asked no further questions in regard to the colonel.
She had hurriedly skimmed through the letter, which seemed to be composed of certain figures and accounts. "I suppose it's all right," she said; "at least you can say so if he asks you. It's only an explanation why he has transferred my money from the bank to Rothschild's agent years ago. I don't see why it should interest me now."
Paul made no doubt that it was the same transfer that had shipwrecked the colonel's fortune and alienated his friends, and could not help replying somewhat pointedly, "But I think it should, Miss Yerba. I don't know what the colonel explained to you-- doubtless, not the whole truth, for he is not a man to praise himself; but, the fact is, the bank was in difficulties at the time of that transfer, and, to make it, he sacrificed his personal fortune, and, I think, awakened some of that ill-feeling you have just noticed." He checked himself too late: he had again lost not only his tact and self-control, but had nearly betrayed himself. He was surprised that the girl's justifiable ignorance should have irritated him. Yet she had evidently not noticed, or misunderstood it, for she said, with a certain precision that was almost studied:--
"Yes, I suppose it would have been a terrible thing to him to have been suspected of misappropriating a Trust confided to him by parties who had already paid him the high compliment of confiding to his care a secret and a fortune."
Paul glanced at her quickly with astonishment. Was this ignorance, or suspicion? Her manner, however, suddenly changed, with the charming capriciousness of youth and conscious beauty. "He speaks of you in this letter," she said, letting her dark eyes rest on him provokingly.
"That accounts for your lack of interest then," said Paul gayly, relieved to turn a conversation fraught with so much danger.
"But he speaks very flatteringly," she went on. "He seems to be another one of your admirers. I'm sure, Mr. Hathaway, after that scene in the hotel parlor yesterday, you, at least, cannot complain of having been misrepresented before me. To tell you the truth, I think I hated you a little for it."
"You were quite right," returned Paul. "I must have been insufferable! And I admit that I was slightly piqued against you for the idolatries showered upon you at the same moment by your friends."
Usually, when two young people have reached the point of confidingly exchanging their first impressions of each other, some progress has been made in first acquaintance. But it did not strike Paul in that way, and Yerba's next remark was discouraging.
"But I'm rather disappointed, for all that. Colonel Pendleton tells me you know nothing of my family or of the secret."
Paul was this time quite prepared, and withstood the girl's scrutiny calmly. "Do you think," he asked lightly, "that even he knows?"
"Of course he does," she returned quickly. "Do you suppose he would have taken all that trouble you have just talked about if he didn't know it? And feared the consequences, perhaps?" she added, with a slight return of her previous expressive manner.
Again Paul was puzzled and irritated, he knew not why. But he only said pleasantly, "I differ from you there. I am afraid that such a thing as fear never entered into Colonel Pendleton's calculations on any subject. I think he would act the same towards the highest and the lowest, the powerful or the most weak." As she glanced at him quickly and mischievously, he added, "I am quite willing to believe that his knowledge of you made his duty pleasanter."
He was again quite sincere, and his slight sympathy had that irresistible quality of tone and look which made him so dangerous. For he was struck with the pretty, soothed self-complacency that had shone in her face since he had spoken of Pendleton's equal disinterestedness. It seemed, too, as if what he had taken for passion or petulance in her manner had been only a resistance to some continual aggression of condition. With that remainder held in check, a certain latent nobility was apparent, as of her true self. In this moment of pleased abstraction she had drawn through the lattice-work of one of the windows a spray of roses clinging to the vine, and with her graceful head a little on one side, was softly caressing her cheek with it. She certainly was very pretty. From the crown of her dark little head to the narrow rosetted slippers that had been idly tapping the ground, but now seemed to press it more proudly, with arched insteps and small ankles, she was pleasant to look upon.
"But you surely have something else to think about, Miss Yerba?" said the young man, with conviction. "In a few months you will be of age, and rid of those dreadfully stupid guardians; with your"--
The loosened rose-spray flew from her hand out of the window as she made a gesture, half real, half assumed, of imploring supplication. "Oh, please, Mr. Hathaway, for Heaven's sake don't you begin too! You are going to say that, with my wealth, my accomplishments, my beauty, my friends, what more can I want? What do I care about a secret that can neither add to them nor take them away? Yes, you were! It's the regular thing to say--everybody says it. Why, I should have thought 'the youngest senator' could afford to have been more original."
"I plead guilty to all the weaknesses of humanity," said Paul, warmly, again beginning to believe that he had been most unjust to her independence.
"Well, I forgive you, because you have forgotten to say that, if I don't like the name of Yerba Buena, I could so easily change that too."
"But you do like it," said Paul, touched with this first hearing of her name in her own musical accents, "or would like it if you heard yourself pronounce it." It suddenly recurred to him, with a strange thrill of pleasure, that he himself had given it to her. It was as if he had created some musical instrument to which she had just given voice. In his enthusiasm he had thrown himself on the bench beside her in an attitude that, I fear, was not as dignified as became his elderly office.
"But you don't think that is my name," said the girl, quickly.
"I beg your pardon?" said Paul, hesitatingly.
"You don't think that anybody would have been so utterly idiotic as to call me after a ground-vine--a vegetable?" she continued petulantly.
"Eh?" stammered Paul.
"A name that could be so easily translated," she went on, half scornfully, "and when translated, was no possible title for anybody? Think of it--Miss Good Herb! It is too ridiculous for anything."
Paul was not usually wanting in self-possession in an emergency, or in skill to meet attack. But he was so convinced of the truth of the girl's accusation, and now recalled so vividly his own consternation on hearing the result of his youthful and romantic sponsorship for the first time from Pendleton, that he was struck with confusion.
"But what do you suppose it was intended for?" he said at last, vaguely. "It was certainly 'Yerba Buena' in the Trust. At least, I suppose so," he corrected himself hurriedly.
"It is only a supposition," she said quietly, "for you know it cannot be proved. The Trust was never recorded, and the only copy could not be found among Mr. Hammersley's papers. It is only part of the name, of which the first is lost."
"Part of the name?" repeated Paul, uneasily.
"Part of it. It is a corruption of de la Yerba Buena,--of the Yerba Buena,--and refers to the island of Yerba Buena in the bay, and not to the plant. That island was part of the property of my family--the Arguellos--you will find it so recorded in the Spanish grants. My name is Arguello de la Yerba Buena."
It is impossible to describe the timid yet triumphant, the half- appealing yet complacent, conviction of the girl's utterance. A moment before, Paul would have believed it impossible for him to have kept his gravity and his respect for his companion under this egregious illusion. But he kept both. For a sudden conviction that she suspected the truth, and had taken this audacious and original plan of crushing it, overpowered all other sense. The Arguellos, it flashed upon him, were an old Spanish family, former owners of Yerba Buena Island, who had in the last years become extinct. There had been a story that one of them had eloped with an American ship captain's wife at Monterey. The legendary history of early Spanish California was filled with more remarkable incidents, corroborated with little difficulty from Spanish authorities, who, it was alleged, lent themselves readily to any fabrication or forgery. There was no racial pride: on the contrary, they had shown an eager alacrity to ally themselves with their conquerors. The friends of the Arguellos would be proud to recognize and remember in the American heiress the descendant of their countrymen. All this passed rapidly through his mind after the first moment of surprise; all this must have been the deliberate reasoning of this girl of seventeen, whose dark eyes were bent upon him. Whether she was seeking corroboration or complicity he could not tell.
"Have you found this out yourself?" he asked, after a pause.
"Yes. One of my friends at the convent was Josita Castro; she knew all the history of the Arguellos. She is perfectly satisfied."
For an instant Paul wondered if it was a joint conception of the two schoolgirls. But, on reflection, he was persuaded that Yerba would commit herself to no accomplice--of her own sex. She might have dominated the girl, and would make her a firm partisan, while the girl would be convinced of it herself, and believe herself a free agent. He had had such experience with men himself.
"But why have you not spoken of it before--and to Colonel Pendleton?"
"He did not choose to tell me," said Yerba, with feminine dexterity. "I have preferred to keep it myself a secret till I am of age."
"When Colonel Pendleton and some of the other trustees have no right to say anything," thought Paul quickly. She had evidently trusted him. Yet, fascinated as he had been by her audacity, he did not know whether to be pleased, or the reverse. He would have preferred to be placed on an equal footing with Josita Castro. She anticipated his thoughts by saying, with half-raised eyelids:--
"What do you think of it?"
"It seems to be so natural and obvious an explanation of the mystery that I only wonder it was not thought of before," said Paul, with that perfect sincerity that made his sympathy so effective.
"You see,"--still under her pretty eyelids, and the tender promise of a smile parting her little mouth,--"I'm believing that you tell the truth when you say you don't know anything about it."
It was a desperate moment with Paul, but his sympathetic instincts, and possibly his luck, triumphed. His momentary hesitation easily simulated the caution of a conscientious man; his knit eyebrows and bright eyes, lowered in an effort of memory, did the rest. "I remember it all so indistinctly," he said, with literal truthfulness; "there was a veiled lady present, tall and dark, to whom Mayor Hammersley and the colonel showed a singular, and, it struck me, as an almost superstitious, respect. I remember now, distinctly, I was impressed with the reverential way they both accompanied her to the door at the end of the interview." He raised his eyes slightly; the young girl's red lips were parted; that illumination of the skin, which was her nearest approach to color, had quite transfigured her face. He felt, suddenly, that she believed it, yet he had no sense of remorse. He half believed it himself; at least, he remembered the nobility of the mother's self-renunciation and its effect upon the two men. Why should not the daughter preserve this truthful picture of her mother's momentary exaltation? Which was the most truthful--that, or the degrading facts? "You speak of a secret," he added. "I can remember little more than that the Mayor asked me to forget from that moment the whole occurrence. I did not know at the time how completely I should fulfill his request. You must remember, Miss Yerba, as your Lady Superior has, that I was absurdly young at the time. I don't know but that I may have thought, in my youthful inexperience, that this sort of thing was of common occurrence. And then, I had my own future to make--and youth is brutally selfish. I was quite friendless and unknown when I left San Francisco for the mines, at the time you entered the convent as Yerba Buena."
She smiled, and made a slight impulsive gesture, as if she would have drawn nearer to him, but checked herself, still smiling, and without embarrassment. It may have been a movement of youthful camaraderie, and that occasional maternal rather than sisterly instinct which sometimes influences a young girl's masculine friendship, and elevates the favored friend to the plane of the doll she has outgrown. As he turned towards her, however, she rose, shook out her yellow dress, and said with pretty petulance:--
"Then you must go so soon--and this your first and last visit as my guardian?"
"No one could regret that more than I," looking at her with undefined meaning.
"Yes," she said, with a tantalizing coquetry that might have suggested an underlying seriousness. "I think you have lost a good deal. Perhaps, so have I. We might have been good friends in all these years. But that is past."
"Why? Surely, I hope, my shortcomings with Miss Yerba Buena will not be remembered by Miss Arguello?" sail Paul, earnestly.
"Ah! She may be a very different person."
"I hope not," said the young man, warmly. "But how different?"
"Well, she may not put herself in the way of receiving such point- blank compliments as that," said the young girl, demurely.
"Not from her guardian?"
"She will have no guardian then." She said this gravely, but almost at the same moment turned and sat down again, throwing her linked hands over her knee, and looked at him mischievously. "You see what you have lost, sir."
"I see," said Paul, but with all the gravity that she had dropped.
"No; but you don't see all. I had no brother--no friend. You might have been both. You might have made me what you liked. You might have educated me far better than these teachers, or, at least given me some pride in my studies. There were so many things I wanted to know that they couldn't teach me; so many times I wanted advice from some one that I could trust. Colonel Pendleton was very good to me when he came; he always treated me like a princess even when I wore short frocks. It was his manner that first made me think he knew my family; but I never felt as if I could tell him anything, and I don't think, with all his chivalrous respect, he ever understood me. As to the others--the Mayors--well, you may judge from Mr. Henderson. It is a wonder that I did not run away or do something desperate. Now, are you not a little sorry?"
Her voice, which had as many capricious changes as her manner, had been alternately coquettish, petulant, and serious, had now become playful again. But, like the rest of her sex, she was evidently more alert to her surroundings at such a moment than her companion, for before he could make any reply, she said, without apparently looking, "But there is a deputation coming for you, Mr. Hathaway. You see, the case is hopeless. You never would be able to give to one what is claimed by the many."
Paul glanced down the rose-alley, and saw that the deputation in question was composed of the Mayor, Mr. Woods, a thin, delicate- looking woman,--evidently Mrs. Woods,--and Milly. The latter managed to reach the summer-house first, with apparently youthful alacrity, but really to exchange, in a single glance, some mysterious feminine signal with Yerba. Then she said with breathless infelicity:--
"Before you two get bored with each other now, I must tell you there's a chance of you having more time. Aunty has promised to send off a note excusing you to the Reverend Mother, if she can persuade Mr. Hathaway to stay over to-night. But here they are. [To Yerba] Aunty is most anxious, and won't hear of his going."
Indeed, it seemed as if Mrs. Woods was, after a refined fashion, most concerned that a distinguished visitor like Mr. Hathaway should have to use her house as a mere accidental meeting-place with his ward, without deigning to accept her hospitality. She was reinforced by Mr. Woods, who enunciated the same idea with more masculine vigor; and by the Mayor, who expressed his conviction that a slight of this kind to Rosario would be felt in the Santa Clara valley. "After dinner, my dear Hathaway," concluded Mr. Woods, "a few of our neighbors may drop in, who would be glad to shake you by the hand--no formal meeting, my boy--but, hang it! They expect it."
Paul looked around for Yerba. There was really no reason why he shouldn't accept, although an hour ago the idea had never entered his mind. Yet, if he did, he would like the girl to know that it was for her sake. Unfortunately, far from exhibiting any concern in the matter, she seemed to be preoccupied with Milly, and only the charming back of her head was visible behind Mrs. Woods. He accepted, however, with a hesitation that took some of the graciousness from his yielding, and a sense that he was giving a strange importance to a trivial circumstance.
The necessity of attaching himself to his hostess, and making a more extended tour of the grounds, for a while diverted him from an uneasy consideration of his past interview. Mrs. Woods had known Yerba through the school friendship of Milly, and, as far as the religious rules of the convent would allow, had always been delighted to show her any hospitality. She was a beautiful girl-- did not Mr. Hathaway think so?--and a girl of great character. It was a pity, of course, that she had never known a mother's care, and that the present routine of a boarding-school had usurped the tender influences of home. She believed, too, that the singular rotation of guardianship had left the girl practically without a counseling friend to rely upon, except, perhaps, Colonel Pendleton; and while she, Mrs. Woods, did not for a moment doubt that the colonel might be a good friend and a pleasant companion of men, really he, Mr. Hathaway, must admit that, with his reputation and habits, he was hardly a fit associate for a young lady. Indeed, Mr. Woods would have never allowed Milly to invite Yerba here if Colonel Pendleton was to have been her escort. Of course, the poor girl could not choose her own guardian, but Mr. Woods said he had a right to choose who should be his niece's company. Perhaps Mr. Woods was prejudiced,--most men were,--yet surely Mr. Hathaway, although a loyal friend of Colonel Pendleton's, must admit that when it was an open scandal that the colonel had fought a duel about a notoriously common woman, and even blasphemously defended her before a party of gentlemen, it was high time, as Mr. Woods said, that he should be remanded to their company exclusively. No; Mrs. Woods could not admit that this was owing to the injustice of her own sex! Men are really the ones who make the fuss over those things, just as they, as Mr. Hathaway well knew, made the laws! No; it was a great pity, as she and her husband had just agreed, that Mr. Hathaway, of all the guardians, could not have been always the help and counselor--in fact, the elder brother--of poor Yerba! Paul was conscious that he winced slightly, consistently and conscientiously, at the recollection of certain passages of his youth; inconsistently and meanly, at this suggestion of a joint relationship with Yerba's mother.
"I think, too," continued Mrs. Woods, "she has worried foolishly about this ridiculous mystery of her parentage--as if it could make the slightest difference to a girl with a quarter of a million, or as if that didn't show quite conclusively that she was somebody!"
"Certainly," said Paul, quickly, with a relief that he nevertheless felt was ridiculous.
"And, of course, I dare say it will all come out when she is of age. I suppose you know if any of the family are still living?"
"I really do not."
"I beg your pardon," said Mrs. Woods, with a smile. "I forgot it's a profound secret until then. But here we are at the house; I see the girls have walked over to our neighbors'. Perhaps you would like to have a few moments to yourself before you dress for dinner, and your portmanteau, which has been sent for, comes from your hotel. You must be tired of seeing so many people."
Paul was glad to accept any excuse for being alone, and, thanking his hostess, followed a servant to his room--a low-ceilinged but luxuriously furnished apartment on the first floor. Here he threw himself on a cushioned lounge that filled the angle of the deep embrasure--the thickness of the old adobe walls--that formed a part of the wooden-latticed window. A Cape jessamine climbing beside it filled the room with its subtle, intoxicating perfume. It was so strong, and he felt himself so irresistibly overpowered and impelled towards a merely idle reverie, that, in order to think more clearly and shut out some strange and unreasoning enthrallment of his senses, he rose and sharply closed the window. Then he sat down and reflected.
What was he doing here? and what was the meaning of all this? He had come simply to fulfill a duty to his past, and please a helpless and misunderstood old acquaintance. He had performed that duty. But he had incidentally learned a certain fact that might be important to this friend, and clearly his duty was simply to go back and report it. He would gain nothing more in the way of corroboration of it by staying now, if further corroboration were required. Colonel Pendleton had already been uselessly and absurdly perplexed about the possible discovery of the girl's parentage, and its effect upon her fortunes and herself. She had just settled that of her own accord, and, without committing herself or others, had suggested a really sensible plan by which all trouble would be avoided in future. That was the common-sense way of looking at it. He would lay the plan before the colonel, have him judge of its expediency and its ethics--and even the question whether she already knew the real truth, or was self- deceived. That done, he would return to his own affairs in Sacramento. There was nothing difficult in this, or that need worry him, only he could have done it just as well an hour ago.
He opened the window again. The scent of the jessamine came in as before, but mingled with the cooler breath of the roses. There was nothing intoxicating or unreal in it now; rather it seemed a gentle aromatic stimulant--of thought. Long shadows of unseen poplars beyond barred the garden lanes and alleys with bands of black and yellow. A slanting pencil of sunshine through the trees was for a moment focussed on a bed of waxen callas before a hedge of ceanothus, and struck into dazzling relief the cold white chalices of the flowers and the vivid shining green of their background. Presently it slid beyond to a tiny fountain, before invisible, and wrought a blinding miracle out of its flashing and leaping spray. Yet even as he gazed the fountain seemed to vanish slowly, the sunbeam slipped on, and beyond it moved the shimmer of white and yellow dresses. It was Yerba and Milly returning to the house. Well, he would not interrupt his reflections by idly watching them; he would, probably, see a great deal of Yerba that evening, and by that time he would have come to some conclusion in regard to her.
But he had not taken into consideration her voice, which, always musical in its Southern intonation and quite audible in the quiet garden, struck him now as being full of joyous sweetness. Well, she was certainly very happy--or very thoughtless. She was actually romping with Milly, and was now evidently being chased down the rose-alley by that volatile young woman. Then these swift Camillas apparently neared the house, there was the rapid rustle of skirts, the skurrying of little feet on the veranda, a stumble, a mouse-like shriek from Milly, and her voice, exhausted, dying, happy, broken with half-hushed laughter, rose to him on the breath of the jessamine and rose.
Surely she was a child, and, if a child, how he had misjudged her! What if all that he had believed was mature deliberation was only the innocent imaginings of a romantic girl, all that he had taken seriously only a school-girl's foolish dream! Instead of combating it, instead of reasoning with her, instead of trying to interest her in other things, he had even helped on her illusions. He had treated her as if the taint of her mother's worldliness and knowledge of evil was in her pure young flesh. He had recognized her as the daughter of an adventuress, and not as his ward, appealing to his chivalry through her very ignorance--it might be her very childish vanity. He had brought to a question of tender and pathetic interest only his selfish opinion of the world and the weaknesses of mankind. The blood came to his cheeks--with all his experienced self-control, he had not lost the youthful trick of blushing--and he turned away from the window as if it had breathed a reproach.
But ought he have even contented himself with destroying her illusions--ought he not have gone farther and told her the whole truth? Ought he not first have won her confidence--he remembered bitterly, now, how she had intimated that she had no one to confide in--and, after revealing her mother's history, have still pledged himself to keep the secret from all others, and assisted her in her plan? It would not have altered the state of affairs, except so far as she was concerned; they could have combined together; his ready wit would have helped him; and his sympathy would have sustained her; but--
How and in what way could he have told her? Leaving out the delicate and difficult periphrase by which her mother's shame would have to be explained to an innocent school-girl--what right could he have assumed to tell it? As the guardian who had never counseled or protected her? As an acquaintance of hardly an hour ago? Who would have such a right? A lover--on whose lips it would only seem a tacit appeal to her gratitude or her fears, and whom no sensitive girl could accept thereafter? No. A husband? Yes! He remembered, with a sudden start, what Pendleton had said to him. Good Heavens! Had Pendleton that idea in his mind? And yet--it seemed the only solution.
A knock at his door was followed by the appearance of Mr. Woods. Mr. Hathaway's portmanteau had come, and Mrs. Woods had sent a message, saying that in view of the limited time that Mr. Hathaway would have with his ward, Mrs. Woods would forego her right to keep him at her side at dinner, and yield her place to Yerba. Paul thanked him with a grave inward smile. What if he made his dramatic disclosure to her confidentially over the soup and fish? Yet, in his constantly recurring conviction of the girl's independence, he made no doubt she would have met his brutality with unflinching pride and self-possession. He began to dress slowly, at times almost forgetting himself in a new kind of pleasant apathy, which he attributed to the odor of the flowers, and the softer hush of twilight that had come on with the dying away of the trade winds, and the restful spice of the bay-trees near his window. He presently found himself not so much thinking of Yerba as of seeing her. A picture of her in the summer-house caressing her cheek with the roses seemed to stand out from the shadows of the blank wall opposite him. When he passed into the dressing-room beyond, it was not his own face he saw in the glass, but hers. It was with a start, as if he had heard her voice, that he found upon his dressing-table a small vase containing a flower for his coat, with the penciled words on a card in a school-girl's hand, "From Yerba, with thanks for staying." It must have been placed there by a servant while he was musing at the window.
Half a dozen people were already in the drawing-room when Paul descended. It appeared that Mr. Woods had invited certain of his neighbors--among them a Judge Baker and his wife, and Don Caesar Briones, of the adjacent Rancho of Los Pajaros, and his sister, the Dona Anna. Milly and Yerba had not yet appeared. Don Caesar, a young man of a toreador build, roundly bland in face and murky in eye, seemed to notice their absence, and kept his glances towards the door, while Paul engaged in conversation with Dona Anna--if that word could convey an impression of a conventionality which that good-humored young lady converted into an animated flirtation at the second sentence with a single glance and two shakes of her fan. And then Milly fluttered in--a vision of school-girl freshness and white tulle, and a moment later--with a pause of expectation--a tall, graceful figure, that at first Paul scarcely recognized.
It is a popular conceit of our sex that we are superior to any effect of feminine adornment, and that a pretty girl is equally pretty in the simplest frock. Yet there was not a man in the room who did not believe that Yerba in her present attire was not only far prettier than before, but that she indicated a new and more delicate form of beauty. It was not the mere revelation of contour and color of an ordinary decollete dress, it was a perfect presentment of pure symmetry and carriage. In this black grenadine dress, trimmed with jet, not only was the delicate satin sheen of her skin made clearer by contrast, but she looked every inch her full height, with an ideal exaltation of breeding and culture. She wore no jewelry except a small necklace of pearls--so small it might have been a child's--that fitted her slender throat so tightly that it could scarcely be told from the flesh that it clasped. Paul did not know that it was the gift of the mother to the child that she had forsworn only a few weeks before she parted from her forever; but he had a vague feeling that, in that sable dress that seemed like mourning, she walked at the funeral of her mother's past. A few white flowers in her corsage, the companions of the solitary one in his button-hole, were the only relief.
Their eyes met for a single moment, the look of admiration in Paul's being answered by the naive consciousness in Yerba's of a woman looking her best; but the next moment she appeared preoccupied with the others, and the eager advances of Don Caesar.
"Your brother seems to admire Miss Yerba," said Paul.
"Ah, ye--es," returned Dona Anna. "And you?"
"Oh!" said Paul, gayly, "I? I am her guardian--with me it is simple egotism, you know."
"Ah!" returned the arch Dona Anna, "you are then already so certain of her? Good! I shall warn him."
A precaution that did seem necessary; as later, when Paul, at a signal from his hostess, offered his arm to Yerba, the young Spaniard regarded him with a look of startled curiosity.
"I thank you for selecting me to wear your colors," said Paul with a glance at the flowers in her corsage, as they sat at table, "and I think I deserve them, since, but for you, I should have been on my way to San Francisco at this moment. Shall I have an opportunity of talking to you a few minutes later in the evening?" he added, in a lower tone.
"Why not now?" returned Yerba, mischievously. "We are set here expressly for that purpose."
"Surely not to talk of our own business--I should say, of our family affairs," said Paul, looking at her with equal playfulness; "though I believe your friend Don Caesar, opposite, would be more pleased if he were sure that was all we did."
"And you think his sister would share in that pleasure?" retorted Yerba. "I warn you, Mr. Hathaway, that you have been quite justifying the Reverend Mother's doubts about your venerable pretensions. Everybody is staring at you now."
Paul looked up mechanically. It was true. Whether from some occult sympathy, from a human tendency to admire obvious fitness and symmetry, or the innocent love with which the world regards innocent lovers, they were all observing Yerba and himself with undisguised attention. A good talker, he quickly led the conversation to other topics. It was then that he discovered that Yerba was not only accomplished, but that this convent-bred girl had acquired a singular breadth of knowledge apart from the ordinary routine of the school curriculum. She spoke and thought with independent perceptions and clearness, yet without the tactlessness and masculine abruptness that is apt to detract from feminine originality of reflection. By some tacit understanding that had the charm of mutual confidence, they both exerted themselves to please the company rather than each other, and Paul, in the interchange of sallies with Dona Anna, had a certain pleasure in hearing Yerba converse in Spanish with Don Caesar. But in a few moments he observed, with some uneasiness, that they were talking of the old Spanish occupation, and presently of the old Spanish families. Would she prematurely expose an ignorance that might be hereafter remembered against her, or invite some dreadful genealogical reminiscence that would destroy her hopes and raze her Spanish castles? Or was she simply collecting information? He admired the dexterity with which, without committing herself, she made Don Caesar openly and even confidentially communicative. And yet he was on thorns; at times it seemed as if he himself were playing a part in this imposture of Yerba's. He was aware that his wandering attention was noticed by the quick-witted Dona Anna, when he regained his self-possession by what appeared to be a happy diversion. It was the voice of Mrs. Judge Baker calling across the table to Yerba. By one of the peculiar accidents of general conversation, it was the one apparently trivial remark that in a pause challenged the ears of all.
"We were admiring your necklace, Miss Yerba."
Every eye was turned upon the slender throat of the handsome girl. The excuse was so natural.
Yerba put her hand to her neck with a smile. "You are joking, Mrs. Baker. I know it is ridiculously small, but it is a child's necklace, and I wear it because it was a gift from my mother."
Paul's heart sank again with consternation. It was the first time he had heard the girl distinctly connect herself with her actual mother, and for an instant he felt as startled as if the forgotten Outcast herself had returned and taken a seat at the board.
"I told you it couldn't be so?" remarked Mrs. Baker, to her husband.
Everybody naturally looked inquiringly upon the couple, and Mrs. Baker explained with a smile: "Bob thinks he's seen it before; men are so obstinate."
"Pardon me, Miss Yerba," said the Judge, blandly, "would you mind showing it to me, if it is not too much trouble?"
"Not at all," said Yerba, smiling, and detaching the circlet from her neck. "I'm afraid you'll find it rather old-fashioned."
"That's just what I hope to find it," said Judge Baker, with a triumphant glance at his wife. "It was eight years ago when I saw it in Tucker's jewelry shop. I wanted to buy it for my little Minnie, but as the price was steep I hesitated, and when I did make up my mind he had disposed of it to another customer. Yes," he added, examining the necklace which Yerba had handed to him. "I am certain it is the same: it was unique, like this. Odd, isn't it?"
Everybody said it was odd, and looked upon the occurrence with that unreasoning satisfaction with which average humanity receives the most trivial and unmeaning coincidences. It was left to Don Caesar to give it a gallant application.
"I have not-a the pleasure of knowing-a the Miss Minnie, but the jewelry, when she arrives, to the throat-a of Miss Yerba, she has not lost the value--the beauty--the charm."
"No," said Woods, cheerily. "The fact is, Baker, you were too slow. Miss Yerba's folks gobbled up the necklace while you were thinking. You were a new-comer. Old 'forty-niners' did not hesitate over a thing they wanted."
"You never knew who was your successful rival, eh?" said Dona Anna, turning to Judge Baker with a curious glance at Paul's pale face in passing.
"No," said Baker, "but"--he stopped with a hesitating laugh and some little confusion. "No, I've mixed it up with something else. It's so long ago. I never knew, or if I did I've forgotten. But the necklace I remember." He handed it back to Yerba with a bow, and the incident ended.
Paul had not looked at Yerba during this conversation, an unreasoning instinct that he might confuse her, an equally unreasoning dread that he might see her confused by others, possessing him. And when he did glance at her calm, untroubled face, that seemed only a little surprised at his own singular coldness, he was by no means relieved. He was only convinced of one thing. In the last five minutes he had settled upon the irrevocable determination that his present relations with the girl could exist no longer. He must either tell her everything, or see her no more. There was no middle course. She was on the brink of an exposure at any moment, either through her ignorance or her unhappy pretension. In his intolerable position, he was equally unable to contemplate her peril, accept her defense, or himself defend her.
As if, with some feminine instinct, she had attributed his silence to some jealousy of Don Caesar's attentions, she more than once turned from the Spaniard to Paul with an assuring smile. In his anxiety, he half accepted the rather humiliating suggestion, and managed to say to her, in a lower tone:--
"On this last visit of your American guardian, one would think, you need not already anticipate your Spanish relations."
He was thrilled with the mischievous yet faintly tender pleasure that sparkled in her eyes as she said,--
"You forget it is my American guardian's first visit, as well as his last."
"And as your guardian," he went on, with half-veiled seriousness, "I protest against your allowing your treasures, the property of the Trust," he gazed directly into her beautiful eyes, "being handled and commented upon by everybody."
When the ladies had left the table, he was, for a moment, relieved. But only for a moment. Judge Baker drew his chair beside Paul's, and, taking his cigar from his lips, said, with a perfunctory laugh:--
"I say, Hathaway, I pulled up just in time to save myself from making an awful speech, just now, to your ward."
Paul looked at him with cold curiosity.
"Yes. Gad! Do you know who was my rival in that necklace transaction?"
"No," said Paul, with frigid carelessness.
"Why, Kate Howard! Fact, sir. She bought it right under my nose-- and overbid me, too."
Paul did not lose his self-possession. Thanks to the fact that Yerba was not present, and that Don Caesar, who had overheard the speech, moved forward with a suggestive and unpleasant smile, his agitation congealed into a coldly placid fury.
"And I suppose," he returned, with perfect calmness, "that, after the usual habit of this class of women, the necklace very soon found its way back, through the pawnbroker, to the jeweler again. It's a common fate."
"Yes, of course," said Judge Baker, cheerfully. "You're quite right. That's undoubtedly the solution of it. But," with a laugh, "I had a narrow escape from saying something--eh?"
"A very narrow escape from an apparently gratuitous insult," said Paul, gravely, but fixing his eyes, now more luminous than ever with anger, not on the speakers but on the face of Don Caesar, who was standing at his side. "you were about to say,"--
"Eh--oh--ah! this Kate Howard? So! I have heard of her--yees! And Miss Yerba--ah--she is of my country--I think. Yes--we shall claim her--of a truth--yes."
"Your countrymen, I believe, are in the habit of making claims that are more often founded on profit than verity," said Paul, with smileless and insulting deliberation. He knew perfectly what he was saying, and the result he expected. Only twenty-four hours before he had smiled at Pendleton's idea of averting scandal and discovery by fighting, yet he was endeavoring to pick a quarrel with a man, merely on suspicion, for the same purpose, and he saw nothing strange in it. A vague idea, too, that this would irrevocably confirm him in opposition to Yerba's illusions probably determined him.
But Don Caesar, albeit smiling lividly, did not seem inclined to pick up the gauntlet, and Woods interfered hastily. "Don Caesar means that your ward has some idea herself that she is of Spanish origin--at least, Milly says so. But of course, as one of the oldest trustees, you know the facts."
In another moment Paul would have committed himself. "I think we'll leave Miss Yerba out of the question," he said, coldly. "My remark was a general one, although, of course, I am responsible for any personal application of it."
"Spoken like a politician, Hathaway," said Judge Baker, with an effusive enthusiasm, which he hoped would atone for the alarming results of his infelicitous speech. "That's right, gentlemen! You can't get the facts from him before he is ready to give them. Keep your secret, Mr. Hathaway, the court is with you."
Nevertheless, as they passed out of the room to join the ladies, the Mayor lingered a little behind with Woods. "It's easy to see the influence of that Pendleton on our young friend," he said, significantly. "Somebody ought to tell him that it's played out down here--as Pendleton is. It's quite enough to ruin his career."
Paul was too observant not to notice this, but it brought him no sense of remorse; and his youthful belief in himself and his power kept him from concern. He felt as if he had done something, if only to show Don Caesar that the girl's weakness or ignorance could not be traded upon with impunity. But he was still undecided as to the course he should pursue. But he should determine that to- night. At present there seemed no chance of talking to her alone-- she was unconcernedly conversing with Milly and Mrs. Woods, and already the visitors who had been invited to this hurried levee in his honor were arriving. In view of his late indiscretion, he nervously exerted his fullest powers, and in a very few minutes was surrounded by a breathless and admiring group of worshipers. A ludicrous resemblance to the scene in the Golden Gate Hotel passed through his mind; he involuntarily turned his eyes to seek Yerba in the half-fear, half-expectation of meeting her mischievous smile. Their glances met; to his surprise hers was smileless, and instantly withdrawn, but not until he had been thrilled by an unconscious prepossession in its luminous depths that he scarcely dared to dwell upon. What mattered now this passage with Don Caesar or the plaudits of his friends? She was proud of him!
Yet, after that glance, she was shy, preoccupying herself with Milly, or even listening sweetly to Judge Baker's somewhat practical and unromantic reminiscences of the deprivations and the hardships of California early days, as if to condone his past infelicity. She was pleasantly unaffected with Don Caesar, although she managed to draw Dona Anna into the conversation; she was unconventional, Paul fancied, to all but himself. Once or twice, when he had artfully drawn her towards the open French window that led to the moonlit garden and shadowed veranda, she had managed to link Milly's arm in her own, and he was confident that a suggestion to stroll with him in the open air would be followed by her invitation to Milly to accompany them. Disappointed and mortified as he was, he found some solace in her manner, which he still believed suggested the hope that she might be made accessible to his persuasions. Persuasions to what? He did not know.
The last guest had departed; he lingered on the veranda with a cigar, begging his host and hostess not to trouble themselves to keep him company. Milly and Yerba had retired to the former's boudoir, but, as they had not yet formally bade him good night, there was a chance of their returning. He still stayed on in this hope for half an hour, and then, accepting Yerba's continued absence as a tacit refusal of his request, he turned abruptly away. But as he glanced around the garden before reentering the house, he was struck by a singular circumstance--a white patch, like a forgotten shawl, which he had observed on the distant ceanothus hedge, and which had at first thrilled him with expectation, had certainly changed its position. Before, it seemed to be near the summer-house; now it was, undoubtedly, farther away. Could they, or she alone, have slipped from the house and be awaiting him there? With a muttered exclamation at his stupidity he stepped hastily from the veranda and walked towards it. But he had scarcely proceeded a dozen yards before it disappeared. He reached the summer-house--it was empty; he followed the line of hedge--no one was there. It could not have been her, or she would have waited, unless he were the victim of a practical joke. He turned impatiently back to the house, reentered the drawing-room by the French window, and was crossing the half-lit apartment, when he heard a slight rustle in the shadow of the window. He looked around quickly, and saw that it was Yerba, in a white, loose gown, for which she had already exchanged her black evening dress, leaning back composedly on the sofa, her hands clasped behind her shapely head.
"I am waiting for Milly," she said, with a faint smile on her lips. He fancied, in the moonlight that streamed upon her, that her beautiful face was pale. "She has gone to the other wing to see one of the servants who is ill. We thought you were on the veranda smoking and I should have company, until I saw you start off, and rush up and down the hedge like mad."
Paul felt that he was losing his self-possession, and becoming nervous in her presence. "I thought it was you," he stammered.
"Me! Out in the garden at this hour, alone, and in the broad moonlight? What are you thinking of, Mr. Hathaway? Do you know anything of convent rules, or is that your idea of your ward's education?"
He fancied that, though she smiled faintly, her voice was as tremulous as his own.
"I want to speak with you," he said, with awkward directness. "I even thought of asking you to stroll with me in the garden."
"Why not talk here?" she returned, changing her position, pointing to the other end of the sofa, and drawing the whole overflow of her skirt to one side. "It is not so very late, and Milly will return in a few moments."
Her face was in shadow now, but there was a glow-worm light in her beautiful eyes that seemed faintly to illuminate her whole face. He sank down on the sofa at her side, no longer the brilliant and ambitious politician, but, it seemed to him, as hopelessly a dreaming, inexperienced boy as when he had given her the name that now was all he could think of, and the only word that rose to his feverish lips.
"I like to hear you say it," she said quickly, as if to gloss over his first omission of her formal prefix, and leaning a little forward, with her eyes on his. "One would think you had created it. You almost make me regret to lose it."
He stopped. He felt that the last sentence had saved him. "It is of that I want to speak," he broke out suddenly and almost rudely. "Are you satisfied that it means nothing, and can mean nothing, to you? Does it awaken no memory in your mind--recall nothing you care to know? Think! I beg you, I implore you to be frank with me!"
She looked at him with surprise.
"I have told you already that my present name must be some absurd blunder, or some intentional concealment. But why do you want to know now?" she continued, adding her faint smile to the emphasis.
"To help you!" he said, eagerly. "For that alone! To do all I can to assist you, if you really believe, and want to believe, that you have another. To ask you to confide in me; to tell me all you have been told, all that you know, think you know, or want to know about your relationship to the Arguellos--or to--any one. And then to devote myself entirely to proving what you shall say is your desire. You see, I am frank with you, Yerba. I only ask you to be as frank with me; to let me know your doubts, that I may counsel you; your fears, that I may give you courage."
"Is that all you came here to tell me?" she asked quietly.
"No, Yerba," he said, eagerly, taking her unresisting but indifferent hand, "not all; but all that I must say, all that I have the right to say, all that you, Yerba, would permit me to tell you now. But let me hope that the day is not far distant when I can tell you all, when you will understand that this silence has been the hardest sacrifice of the man who now speaks to you."
"And yet not unworthy of a rising politician," she added, quickly withdrawing her hand. "I agree," she went on, looking towards the door, yet without appearing to avoid his eager eyes, "and when I have settled upon 'a local habitation and a name' we shall renew this interesting conversation. Until then, as my fourth official guardian used to say--he was a lawyer, Mr. Hathaway, like yourself-- when he was winding up his conjectures on the subject--all that has passed is to be considered 'without prejudice.'"
"But Yerba"--began Paul, bitterly.
She slightly raised her hand as if to check him with a warning gesture. "Yes, dear," she said suddenly, lifting her musical voice, with a mischievous side-glance at Paul, as if to indicate her conception of the irony of a possible application, "this way. Here we are waiting for you." Her listening ear had detected Milly's step in the passage, and in another moment that cheerful young woman discreetly stopped on the threshold of the room, with every expression of apologetic indiscretion in her face.
"We have finished our talk, and Mr. Hathaway has been so concerned about my having no real name that he has been promising me everything, but his own, for a suitable one. Haven't you, Mr. Hathaway?" She rose slowly and, going over to Milly, put her arm around her waist and stood for one instant gazing at him between the curtains of the doorway. "Good night. My very proper chaperon is dreadfully shocked at this midnight interview, and is taking me away. Only think of it, Milly; he actually proposed to me to walk in the garden with him! Good night, or, as my ancestors--don't forget, my ancestors--used to say: 'Buena noche--hasta manana!'" She lingered over the Spanish syllables with an imitation of Dona Anna's lisp, and with another smile, but more faint and more ghostlike than before; vanished with her companion.
At eight o'clock the next morning Paul was standing beside his portmanteau on the veranda.
"But this is a sudden resolution of yours, Hathaway," said Mr. Woods. "Can you not possibly wait for the next train? The girls will be down then, and you can breakfast comfortably."
"I have much to do--more than I imagined--in San Francisco before I return," said Paul, quickly. "You must make my excuses to them and to your wife."
"I hope," said Woods, with an uneasy laugh, "you have had no more words with Don Caesar, or he with you?"
"No," said Paul, with a reassuring smile, "nothing more, I assure you."
"For you know you're a devilish quick fellow, Hathaway," continued Woods, "quite as quick as your friend Pendleton. And, by the way, Baker is awfully cut up about that absurd speech of his, you know. Came to me last night and wondered if anybody could think it was intentional. I told him it was d--d stupid, that was all. I guess his wife had been at him. Ha! ha! You see, he remembers the old times, when everybody talked of these things, and that woman Howard was quite a character. I'm told she went off to the States years ago."
"Possibly," said Paul, carelessly. After a pause, as the carriage drove up to the door, he turned to his host. "By the way, Woods, have you a ghost here?"
"The house is old enough for one. But no. Why?"
"I'll swear I saw a figure moving yonder, in the shrubbery, late last evening; and when I came up to it, it most unaccountably disappeared."
"One of Don Caesar's servants, I dare say. There is one of them, an Indian, prowling about here, I've been told, at all hours. I'll put a stop to it. Well, you must go then? Dreadfully sorry you couldn't stop longer! Good-by!"