Chapter XXXVII. The Man Was Insane
 

Neither Sibyl Andres nor her companion, the next morning, reopened their conversation of the night before. Each was preoccupied and silent, with troubled thoughts that might not be spoken.

Often, as the forenoon passed, Sibyl saw the man listening, as though for a step on the mountainside above. She knew, without being told, that the convict was expecting his master. It was, perhaps, ten o'clock, when they heard a sound that told them some one was approaching.

The man caught up his rifle and slipped a round of cartridges into the magazine; saying to the girl, "Go into the cabin and bar the door; quick, do as I say! Don't come out until I call you."

She obeyed; and the convict, himself, rifle in hand, disappeared in the heavy underbrush.

A few minutes later, James Rutlidge parted the bushes and stepped into the little open space in front of the cabin. The convict reappeared, his rifle under his arm.

The new-comer greeted the man whom Sibyl knew as Henry Marston, with, "Hello, George, everything all right? Where is she?"

"Miss Andres is in the cabin. When I heard you coming, I asked her to go inside, and took cover in the brush, myself, until I knew for sure that it was you."

Rutlidge laughed. "You are all right, George. But you needn't worry. Everything is as peaceful as a graveyard. They've found the horse, and they think now that the girl killed herself, or met with an accident while wandering around the hills in a state of mental aberration."

"You left the supplies at the same old place, I suppose?" said the convict.

"Yes, I brought what I could," Rutlidge indicated a pack which he had slipped from his shoulder as he was talking. "You better hike over there and bring in the rest to-night. If you leave at once, you will make it back by noon, to-morrow."

The girl in the cabin, listening, heard every word and trembled with fear. The convict spoke again.

"What are your plans, Mr. Rutlidge?"

"Never mind my plans, now. They can wait until you get back. You must start at once. You say Miss Andres is in the cabin?" He turned toward the door.

But the other said, shortly, "Wait a minute, sir. I have a word to say, before I go."

"Well, out with it."

"You are not going to forget your promise to me?"

"Certainly not, George. You are safe."

"I mean regarding Miss Andres."

"Oh, of course not! Why, what's the matter?"

"Nothing, only she is in my care until she is your wife."

James Rutlidge laughed. "I will take good care of her until you get back. You need have no fear. You're not doubting my word, are you?"

"If I doubted your word, I would take Miss Andres with me," answered the convict, simply.

James Rutlidge looked at him, curiously; "Oh, you would?"

"Yes, sir, I would; and I think I should tell you, too, that if you should forget your promise--"

"Well, what would you do if I should forget?"

The answer came deliberately; "If you do not keep your promise I will kill you, Mr. Rutlidge."

James Rutlidge did not reply.

Stepping to the cabin door, the convict knocked.

Sibyl's voice answered, "Yes?"

"You may come out now, please, Miss Andres."

As the girl opened the door, she spoke to him in a low tone. "Thank you, Mr. Marston. I heard."

"I meant you to hear," he returned in a whisper. "Do not be afraid." In a louder tone he continued. "I must go for supplies, Miss Andres. I will be back to-morrow noon."

He stepped around the corner of the cabin, and was gone.

Sibyl Andres faced James Rutlidge, without speaking. She was not afraid, now, as she had always been in his presence, until that day when he had so plainly declared himself to her and she met his advances with a gun. The convict's warning to the man who could send him back to prison for practically the remaining years of his life, had served its purpose in giving her courage. She did not believe that, for the present, Rutlidge would dare to do otherwise than heed the warning.

James Rutlidge regarded her with a smile of triumphant satisfaction. "Really," he said, at last, "you do not seem at all glad to see me."

She made no reply.

"I am frightfully hungry"--he continued, with a short laugh, moving toward her as she stood in the door of the cabin--"I've been walking since midnight I was in such a hurry to get here that I didn't even stop for breakfast."

She stepped out, and moved away from the door.

With another laugh, he entered the cabin.

Presently, when he had helped himself to food, he went back to the girl who had seated herself on a log, at the farther side of the little clearing. "You seem fairly comfortable here," he said.

She did not speak.

"You and my man get along nicely, I take it. He has been kind to you?"

Still she did not speak.

He spoke sharply, "Look here, my girl, you can't keep this up, you know. Say what you have to say, and let's get it over."

All the time, she had been regarding him intently--her wide, blue eyes filled with wondering pain. "How could you?" she said at last. "Oh, how could you do such a thing?"

His face flushed. "I did it because you have driven me mad, I guess. From the first time I saw you, I have wanted you. I have tried again and again, in the last three years, to approach you; but you would have nothing to do with me. The more you spurned me, the more I wanted you. Then this man, King, came. You were friendly enough, with him. It made me wild. From that day when I met you in the mountains above Lone Cabin, I have been ready for anything. I determined if I could not win you by fair means, I would take you in any way I could. When my opportunity came, I took advantage of it. I've got you. The story is already started that you were the painter's mistress, and that you have committed suicide. You shall stay here, a while, until the belief that you are dead has become a certainty; then you will go East with me."

"But you cannot do a thing so horrible!" she exclaimed "I would tell my story to the first people we met."

He laughed grimly, as he retorted with brutal meaning, "You do not seem to understand. You will be glad enough to keep the story a secret--when the time comes to go."

Bewildered by fear and shame, the girl could only stammer, "How could you--oh how could you! Why, why--"

"Why!" he echoed. Then, as he went a step toward her, he exclaimed, with reckless profanity, "Ask the God who made me what I am, why I want you! Ask the God who made you so beautiful, why!"

He moved another step toward her, his face flushed with the insane passion that mastered him, his eyes burning with the reckless light of one past counting the cost; and the girl, seeing, sprang to her feet, in terror. Wheeling suddenly, she ran into the cabin, thinking to shut and bar the door. She reached the door, and swung it shut, but the bar was gone. While he was in the cabin he had placed it out of her reach. Putting his shoulder to the door, the man easily forced it open against her lighter weight. As he crossed the threshold, she sprang to the farthest corner of the little room, and cowered, trembling--too shaken with horror to cry out. A moment he paused; then started toward her.

At that instant, the convict burst through the underbrush into the little opening.

Hearing the sound, Rutlidge wheeled and sprang to the open door.

The convict was breathing heavily from the exertion of a hard run.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Rutlidge, sharply. "What's the matter?"

"Some one is following my trail down from Granite Peak."

"Well, what are you carrying that rifle for?" said Rutlidge, harshly, with an oath.

"There may be others near enough to hear a shot," answered the convict. "Besides, Mr. Rutlidge, this is your part of the game--not mine. I did not agree to commit murder for you."

"Where did you see him?"

"A half mile beyond the head of the gulch, where we turn off to go to the supply point."

Rutlidge, rifle in hand, stepped from the house. "You stay here and take care of the girl--and see that she doesn't scream." With the last word he set out at a run.

The convict sprang into the cabin, where Sibyl still crouched in the corner. The man's voice was imploring as he said, "Miss Andres, Miss Andres, what is the matter? Did he touch you? Tell me, did he harm you?"

Sobbing, the girl held out her hands, and he lifted her to her feet. "You--you came--just in time, Mr. Marston."

An instant he stood there, then muttering something under his breath, he turned, caught up his rifle, and started toward the door.

But, as he reached the threshold, she cried out, "Mr. Marston, don't, don't leave me again."

The convict stopped, hesitated, then he said solemnly "Miss Andres, can you pray? I know you can. You are a good girl. If God can hear a prayer he will surely hear you. Come with me. Come--and pray girl--pray for me."

       *       *       *       *       *

The most charitable construction that can be put upon the action of James Rutlidge, just related, is to accept the explanation of his conduct that he, himself made to Sibyl. The man was insane--as Mr. Taine was insane--as Mrs. Taine was insane.

What else can be said of a class of people who, in an age wedded to materialism, demand of their artists not that they shall set before them ideals of truth and purity and beauty, but that they shall feed their diseased minds with thoughts of lust and stimulate their abnormal passions with lascivious imaginings? Can a class--whatever its pretense to culture may be--can a class, that, in story and picture and music and play, counts greatest in art those who most effectively arouse the basest passions of which the human being is capable, be rightly judged sane?

James Rutlidge was bred, born, and reared in an atmosphere that does not tolerate purity of thought. It was literally impossible for him to think sanely of the holiest, most sacred, most fundamental facts of life. Education, culture, art, literature,--all that is commonly supposed to lift man above the level of the beasts,--are used by men and women of his kind to so pervert their own natures that they are able to descend to bestial depths that the dumb animals themselves are not capable of reaching. In what he called his love for Sibyl Andres, James Rutlidge was insane--but no more so than thousands of others. The methods of securing the objects of their desires vary--the motive that prompts is the same--the end sought is identical.

As he hurriedly climbed the mountainside, out of the deep gorge that hid the cabin, the man's mind was in a whirl of emotions--rage at being interrupted at the moment of his triumph; dread lest the approaching one should be accompanied by others, and the girl be taken from him; fear that the convict would prove troublesome, even should the more immediate danger be averted; anger at himself for being so blindly precipitous; and a maddening indecision as to how he should check the man who was following the tracks that led from Granite Peak to the evident object of his search. The words of the convict rang in his ears. "This is your job. I did not agree to commit murder for you."

Murder had no place in the insanity of James Rutlidge To destroy innocence, to kill virtue, to murder a soul--these are commonplaces in the insane philosophy of his kind. But to kill--to take a life deliberately--the thought was abhorrent to him. He was not educated to the thought of taking life--he was trained to consider its perversion. The heroes in his fiction did not kill men--they betrayed women. The heroines in his stories did not desire the death of their betrayers--they loved them, and deserted their husbands for them.

But to stand idly aside and permit Sibyl Andres to be taken from him--to face the exposure that would inevitably follow--was impossible. If the man who had struck the trail was alone, there might still be a chance--if he could be stopped. But how could he check him? What could he do? A rifle-shot might bring a dozen searchers.

While these thoughts were seething in his hot brain, he was climbing rapidly toward the cliff at the head of the gorge, across which, he knew, the man who was following the tracks that led to the cabin below, must come.

Gaining the end of the ledge that leads across the face of that mighty wall of rock, less than a hundred feet to the other side, he stopped. There was no one in sight. Looking down, he saw, a thousand feet below the tops of the trees in the bottom of the gorge. Lifting his head, he looked carefully about, searching the mountainsides that slope steeply back from the rim of the narrow canyon. He looked up at the frowning cliff that towered a thousand feet above his head. He listened. He was thinking, thinking. The best of him and the worst of him struggled for supremacy.

A sound on the mountainside, above the gorge, and beyond the other end of the ledge, caught his ear. With a quick step he moved behind a projecting corner of the cliff. Rifle in hand, he waited.