Equally unprecedented and extravagant was the realization of the discovery in Mulrady’s shaft. It was alleged that a company, hastily formed in Sacramento, paid him a million of dollars down, leaving him still a controlling two-thirds interest in the mine. With an obstinacy, however, that amounted almost to a moral conviction, he refused to include the house and potato-patch in the property. When the company had yielded the point, he declined, with equal tenacity, to part with it to outside speculators on even the most extravagant offers. In vain Mrs. Mulrady protested; in vain she pointed out to him that the retention of the evidence of his former humble occupation was a green blot upon their social escutcheon.
“If you will keep the land, build on it, and root up the garden.” But Mulrady was adamant.
“It’s the only thing I ever made myself, and got out of the soil with my own hands; it’s the beginning of my fortune, and it may be the end of it. Mebbee I’ll be glad enough to have it to come back to some day, and be thankful for the square meal I can dig out of it.”
By repeated pressure, however, Mulrady yielded the compromise that a portion of it should be made into a vineyard and flower-garden, and by a suitable coloring of ornament and luxury obliterate its vulgar part. Less successful, however, was that energetic woman in another effort to mitigate the austerities of their earlier state. It occurred to her to utilize the softer accents of Don Cæsar in the pronunciation of their family name, and privately had “Mulrade” take the place of Mulrady on her visiting card. “It might be Spanish,” she argued with her husband. “Lawyer Cole says most American names are corrupted, and how do you know that yours ain’t?” Mulrady, who would not swear that his ancestors came from Ireland to the Carolinas in ’98, was helpless to refute the assertion. But the terrible Nemesis of an un-Spanish, American provincial speech avenged the orthographical outrage at once. When Mrs. Mulrady began to be addressed orally, as well as by letter, as “Mrs. Mulraid,” and when simple amatory effusions to her daughter rhymed with “lovely maid,” she promptly refused the original vowel. But she fondly clung to the Spanish courtesy which transformed her husband’s baptismal name, and usually spoke of him—in his absence—as “Don Alvino.” But in the presence of his short, square figure, his orange tawny hair, his twinkling gray eyes, and retrousse nose, even that dominant woman withheld his title. It was currently reported at Red Dog that a distinguished foreigner had one day approached Mulrady with the formula, “I believe I have the honor of addressing Don Alvino Mulrady?” “You kin bet your boots, stranger, that’s me,” had returned that simple hidalgo.
Although Mrs. Mulrady would have preferred that Mamie should remain at Sacramento until she could join her, preparatory to a trip to “the States” and Europe, she yielded to her daughter’s desire to astonish Rough-and-Ready, before she left, with her new wardrobe, and unfold in the parent nest the delicate and painted wings with which she was to fly from them forever. “I don’t want them to remember me afterwards in those spotted prints, ma, and like as not say I never had a decent frock until I went away.” There was something so like the daughter of her mother in this delicate foresight that the touched and gratified parent kissed her, and assented. The result was gratifying beyond her expectation. In that few weeks’ sojourn at Sacramento, the young girl seemed to have adapted and assimilated herself to the latest modes of fashion with even more than the usual American girl’s pliancy and taste. Equal to all emergencies of style and material, she seemed to supply, from some hitherto unknown quality she possessed, the grace and manner peculiar to each. Untrammeled by tradition, education, or precedent, she had the Western girl’s confidence in all things being possible, which made them so often probable. Mr. Mulrady looked at his daughter with mingled sentiments of pride and awe. Was it possible that this delicate creature, so superior to him that he seemed like a degenerate scion of her remoter race, was his own flesh and blood? Was she the daughter of her mother, who even in her remembered youth was never equipped like this? If the thought brought no pleasure to his simple, loving nature, it at least spared him the pain of what might have seemed ingratitude in one more akin to himself. “The fact is, we ain’t quite up to her style,” was his explanation and apology. A vague belief that in another and a better world than this he might approximate and understand this perfection somewhat soothed and sustained him.
It was quite consistent, therefore, that the embroidered cambric dress which Mamie Mulrady wore one summer afternoon on the hillside at Los Gatos, while to the critical feminine eye at once artistic and expensive, should not seem incongruous to her surroundings or to herself in the eyes of a general audience. It certainly did not seem so to one pair of frank, humorous ones that glanced at her from time to time, as their owner, a young fellow of five-and- twenty, walked at her side. He was the new editor of the “Rough- and-Ready Record,” and, having been her fellow-passenger from Sacramento, had already once or twice availed himself of her father’s invitation to call upon them. Mrs. Mulrady had not discouraged this mild flirtation. Whether she wished to disconcert Don Cæsar for some occult purpose, or whether, like the rest of her sex, she had an overweening confidence in the unheroic, unseductive, and purely platonic character of masculine humor, did not appear.
“When I say I’m sorry you are going to leave us, Miss Mulrady,” said the young fellow, lightly, “you will comprehend my unselfishness, since I frankly admit your departure would be a positive relief to me as an editor and a man. The pressure in the Poet’s Corner of the ‘Record’ since it was mistakingly discovered that a person of your name might be induced to seek the ‘glade’ and ‘shade’ without being ‘afraid,’ ‘dismayed,’ or ‘betrayed,’ has been something enormous, and, unfortunately, I am debarred from rejecting anything, on the just ground that I am myself an interested admirer.”
“It’s dreadful to be placarded around the country by one’s own full name, isn’t it?” said Mamie, without, however, expressing much horror in her face.
“They think it much more respectful than to call you ‘Mamie,’” he responded, lightly; “and many of your admirers are middle-aged men, with a mediæval style of compliment. I’ve discovered that amatory versifying wasn’t entirely a youthful passion. Colonel Cash is about as fatal with a couplet as with a double-barreled gun, and scatters as terribly. Judge Butts and Dr. Wilson have both discerned the resemblance of your gifts to those of Venus, and their own to Apollo. But don’t undervalue those tributes, Miss Mulrady,” he added, more seriously. “You’ll have thousands of admirers where you are going; but you’ll be willing to admit in the end, I think, that none were more honest and respectful than your subjects at Rough-and-Ready and Red Dog.” He stopped, and added in a graver tone, “Does Don Cæsar write poetry?”
“He has something better to do,” said the young lady, pertly.
“I can easily imagine that,” he returned, mischievously; “it must be a pallid substitute for other opportunities.”
“What did you come here for?” she asked, suddenly.
“To see you.”
“Nonsense! You know what I mean. Why did you ever leave Sacramento to come here? I should think it would suit you so much better than this place.”
“I suppose I was fired by your father’s example, and wished to find a gold mine.”
“Men like you never do,” she said, simply.
“Is that a compliment, Miss Mulrady?”
“I don’t know. But I think that you think that it is.”
He gave her the pleased look of one who had unexpectedly found a sympathetic intelligence. “Do I? This is interesting. Let’s sit down.” In their desultory rambling they had reached, quite unconsciously, the large boulder at the roadside. Mamie hesitated a moment, looked up and down the road, and then, with an already opulent indifference to the damaging of her spotless skirt, sat herself upon it, with her furled parasol held by her two little hands thrown over her half-drawn-up knee. The young editor, half sitting, half leaning, against the stone, began to draw figures in the sand with his cane.
“On the contrary, Miss Mulrady, I hope to make some money here. You are leaving Rough-and-Ready because you are rich. We are coming to it because we are poor.”
“We?” echoed Mamie, lazily, looking up the road.
“Yes. My father and two sisters.”
“I am sorry. I might have known them if I hadn’t been going away.” At the same moment, it flashed across her mind that, if they were like the man before her, they might prove disagreeably independent and critical. “Is your father in business?” she asked.
He shook his head. After a pause, he said, punctuating his sentences with the point of his stick in the soft dust, “He is paralyzed, and out of his mind, Miss Mulrady. I came to California to seek him, as all news of him ceased three years since; and I found him only two weeks ago, alone, friendless—an unrecognized pauper in the county hospital.”
“Two weeks ago? That was when I went to Sacramento.”
“It must have been very shocking to you?”
“I should think you’d feel real bad?”
“I do, at times.” He smiled, and laid his stick on the stone. “You now see, Miss Mulrady, how necessary to me is this good fortune that you don’t think me worthy of. Meantime I must try to make a home for them at Rough-and-Ready.”
Miss Mulrady put down her knee and her parasol. “We mustn’t stay here much longer, you know.”
“Why, the stage-coach comes by at about this time.”
“And you think the passengers will observe us sitting here?”
“Of course they will.”
“Miss Mulrady, I implore you to stay.”
He was leaning over her with such apparent earnestness of voice and gesture that the color came into her cheek. For a moment she scarcely dared to lift her conscious eyes to his. When she did so, she suddenly glanced her own aside with a flash of anger. He was laughing.
“If you have any pity for me, do not leave me now,” he repeated. “Stay a moment longer, and my fortune is made. The passengers will report us all over Red Dog as engaged. I shall be supposed to be in your father’s secrets, and shall be sought after as a director of all the new companies. The ‘Record’ will double its circulation; poetry will drop out of its columns, advertising rush to fill its place, and I shall receive five dollars a week more salary, if not seven and a half. Never mind the consequences to yourself at such a moment. I assure you there will be none. You can deny it the next day—I will deny it—nay, more, the ‘Record’ itself will deny it in an extra edition of one thousand copies, at ten cents each. Linger a moment longer, Miss Mulrady. Fly, oh fly not yet. They’re coming—hark! oh! By Jove, it’s only Don Cæsar!”
It was, indeed, only the young scion of the house of Alvarado, blue-eyed, sallow-skinned, and high-shouldered, coming towards them on a fiery, half-broken mustang, whose very spontaneous lawlessness seemed to accentuate and bring out the grave and decorous ease of his rider. Even in his burlesque preoccupation the editor of the “Record” did not withhold his admiration of this perfect horsemanship. Mamie, who, in her wounded amour propre, would like to have made much of it to annoy her companion, was thus estopped any ostentatious compliment.
Don Cæsar lifted his hat with sweet seriousness to the lady, with grave courtesy to the gentleman. While the lower half of this Centaur was apparently quivering with fury, and stamping the ground in his evident desire to charge upon the pair, the upper half, with natural dignity, looked from the one to the other, as if to leave the privilege of an explanation with them. But Mamie was too wise, and her companion too indifferent, to offer one. A slight shade passed over Don Cæsar’s face. To complicate the situation at that moment, the expected stagecoach came rattling by. With quick feminine intuition, Mamie caught in the faces of the driver and the expressman, and reflected in the mischievous eyes of her companion, a peculiar interpretation of their meeting, that was not removed by the whispered assurance of the editor that the passengers were anxiously looking back “to see the shooting.”
The young Spaniard, equally oblivious of humor or curiosity, remained impassive.
“You know Mr. Slinn, of the ‘Record,” said Mamie, “don’t you?”
Don Cæsar had never before met the Señor Esslinn. He was under the impression that it was a Señor Robinson that was of the “Record.”
“Oh, he was shot,” said Slinn. “I’m taking his place.”
“Bueno! To be shot too? I trust not.”
Slinn looked quickly and sharply into Don Cæsar’s grave face. He seemed to be incapable of any double meaning. However, as he had no serious reason for awakening Don Cæsar’s jealousy, and very little desire to become an embarrassing third in this conversation, and possibly a burden to the young lady, he proceeded to take his leave of her. From a sudden feminine revulsion of sympathy, or from some unintelligible instinct of diplomacy, Mamie said, as she extended her hand, “I hope you’ll find a home for your family near here. Mamma wants pa to let our old house. Perhaps it might suit you, if not too far from your work. You might speak to ma about it.”
“Thank you; I will,” responded the young man, pressing her hand with unaffected cordiality.
Don Cæsar watched him until he had disappeared behind the wayside buckeyes.
“He is a man of family—this one—your countryman?”
It seemed strange to her to have a mere acquaintance spoken of as “her countryman”—not the first time nor the last time in her career. As there appeared no trace or sign of jealousy in her questioner’s manner, she answered briefly but vaguely:
“Yes; it’s a shocking story. His father disappeared some years ago, and he has just found him—a helpless paralytic—in the Sacramento Hospital. He’ll have to support him—and they’re very poor.”
“So, then, they are not independent of each other always—these fathers and children of Americans!”
“No,” said Mamie, shortly. Without knowing why, she felt inclined to resent Don Cæsar’s manner. His serious gravity—gentle and high-bred as it was, undoubtedly—was somewhat trying to her at times, and seemed even more so after Slinn’s irreverent humor. She picked up her parasol, a little impatiently, as if to go.
But Don Cæsar had already dismounted, and tied his horse to a tree with a strong lariat that hung at his saddle-bow.
“Let us walk through the woods towards your home. I can return alone for the horse when you shall dismiss me.”
They turned in among the pines that, overcrowding the hollow, crept partly up the side of the hill of Mulrady’s shaft. A disused trail, almost hidden by the waxen-hued yerba buena, led from the highway, and finally lost itself in the undergrowth. It was a lovers’ walk; they were lovers, evidently, and yet the man was too self-poised in his gravity, the young woman too conscious and critical, to suggest an absorbing or oblivious passion.
“I should not have made myself so obtrusive to-day before your friend,” said Don Cæsar, with proud humility, “but I could not understand from your mother whether you were alone or whether my company was desirable. It is of this I have now to speak, Mamie. Lately your mother has seemed strange to me; avoiding any reference to our affection; treating it lightly, and even as to-day, I fancy, putting obstacles in the way of our meeting alone. She was disappointed at your return from Sacramento where, I have been told, she intended you to remain until you left the country; and since your return I have seen you but twice. I may be wrong. Perhaps I do not comprehend the American mother; I have—who knows?—perhaps offended in some point of etiquette, omitted some ceremony that was her due. But when you told me, Mamie, that it was not necessary to speak to her first, that it was not the American fashion—”
Mamie started, and blushed slightly.
“Yes,” she said hurriedly, “certainly; but ma has been quite queer of late, and she may think—you know—that since—since there has been so much property to dispose of, she ought to have been consulted.”
“Then let us consult her at once, dear child! And as to the property, in Heaven’s name, let her dispose of it as she will. Saints forbid that an Alvarado should ever interfere. And what is it to us, my little one? Enough that Doña Mameta Alvarado will never have less state than the richest bride that ever came to Los Gatos.”
Mamie had not forgotten that, scarcely a month ago, even had she loved the man before her no more than she did at present, she would still have been thrilled with delight at these words! Even now she was moved—conscious as she had become that the “state” of a bride of the Alvarados was not all she had imagined, and that the bare adobe court of Los Gatos was open to the sky and the free criticism of Sacramento capitalists!
“Yes, dear,” she murmured with a half childlike pleasure, that lit up her face and eyes so innocently that it stopped any minute investigation into its origin and real meaning. “Yes, dear; but we need not have a fuss made about it at present, and perhaps put ma against us. She wouldn’t hear of our marrying now; and she might forbid our engagement.”
“But you are going away.”
“I should have to go to New York or Europe first, you know,” she answered, naively, “even if it were all settled. I should have to get things! One couldn’t be decent here.”
With the recollection of the pink cotton gown, in which she had first pledged her troth to him, before his eyes, he said, “But you are charming now. You cannot be more so to me. If I am satisfied, little one, with you as you are, let us go together, and then you can get dresses to please others.”
She had not expected this importunity. Really, if it came to this, she might have engaged herself to some one like Slinn; he at least would have understood her. He was much cleverer, and certainly more of a man of the world. When Slinn had treated her like a child, it was with the humorous tolerance of an admiring superior, and not the didactic impulse of a guardian. She did not say this, nor did her pretty eyes indicate it, as in the instance of her brief anger with Slinn. She only said gently,—
“I should have thought you, of all men, would have been particular about your wife doing the proper thing. But never mind! Don’t let us talk any more about it. Perhaps as it seems such a great thing to you, and so much trouble, there may be no necessity for it at all.”
I do not think that the young lady deliberately planned this charmingly illogical deduction from Don Cæsar’s speech, or that she calculated its effect upon him; but it was part of her nature to say it, and profit by it. Under the unjust lash of it, his pride gave way.
“Ah, do you not see why I wish to go with you?” he said, with sudden and unexpected passion. “You are beautiful; you are good; it has pleased Heaven to make you rich also; but you are a child in experience, and know not your own heart. With your beauty, your goodness, and your wealth, you will attract all to you—as you do here—because you cannot help it. But you will be equally helpless, little one, if they should attract you, and you had no tie to fall back upon.”
It was an unfortunate speech. The words were Don Cæsar’s; but the thought she had heard before from her mother, although the deduction had been of a very different kind. Mamie followed the speaker with bright but visionary eyes. There must be some truth in all this. Her mother had said it; Mr. Slinn had laughingly admitted it. She had a brilliant future before her! Was she right in making it impossible by a rash and foolish tie? He himself had said she was inexperienced. She knew it; and yet, what was he doing now but taking advantage of that inexperience? If he really loved her, he would be willing to submit to the test. She did not ask a similar one from him; and was willing, if she came out of it free, to marry him just the same. There was something so noble in this thought that she felt for a moment carried away by an impulse of compassionate unselfishness, and smiled tenderly as she looked up in his face.
“Then you consent, Mamie?” he said, eagerly, passing his arm around her waist.
“Not now, Cæsar,” she said, gently disengaging herself. “I must think it over; we are both too young to act upon it rashly; it would be unfair to you, who are so quiet and have seen so few girls—I mean Americans—to tie yourself to the first one you have known. When I am gone you will go more into the world. There are Mr. Slinn’s two sisters coming here—I shouldn’t wonder if they were far cleverer and talked far better than I do—and think how I should feel if I knew that only a wretched pledge to me kept you from loving them!” She stopped, and cast down her eyes.
It was her first attempt at coquetry, for, in her usual charming selfishness, she was perfectly frank and open; and it might not have been her last, but she had gone too far at first, and was not prepared for a recoil of her own argument.
“If you admit that it is possible—that it is possible to you!” he said, quickly.
She saw her mistake. “We may not have many opportunities to meet alone,” she answered, quietly; “and I am sure we would be happier when we meet not to accuse each other of impossibilities. Let us rather see how we can communicate together, if anything should prevent our meeting. Remember, it was only by chance that you were able to see me now. If ma has believed that she ought to have been consulted, our meeting together in this secret way will only make matters worse. She is even now wondering where I am, and may be suspicious. I must go back at once. At any moment some one may come here looking for me.”
“But I have so much to say,” he pleaded. “Our time has been so short.”
“You can write.”
“But what will your mother think of that?” he said, in grave astonishment.
She colored again as she returned, quickly, “Of course, you must not write to the house. You can leave a letter somewhere for me—say, somewhere about here. Stop!” she added, with a sudden girlish gayety, “see, here’s the very place. Look there!”
She pointed to the decayed trunk of a blasted sycamore, a few feet from the trail. A cavity, breast high, half filled with skeleton leaves and pine-nuts, showed that it had formerly been a squirrel’s hoard, but for some reason had been deserted.
“Look! it’s a regular letter-box,” she continued, gayly, rising on tip-toe to peep into its recesses. Don Cæsar looked at her admiringly; it seemed like a return to their first idyllic love-making in the old days, when she used to steal out of the cabbage rows in her brown linen apron and sun-bonnet to walk with him in the woods. He recalled the fact to her with the fatality of a lover already seeking to restore in past recollections something that was wanting in the present. She received it with the impatience of youth, to whom the present is all sufficient.
“I wonder how you could ever have cared for me in that holland apron,” she said, looking down upon her new dress.
“Shall I tell you why?” he said, fondly, passing his arm around her waist, and drawing her pretty head nearer his shoulder.
“No—not now!” she said, laughingly, but struggling to free herself. “There’s not time. Write it, and put it in the box. There,” she added, hastily, “listen!—what’s that?”
“It’s only a squirrel,” he whispered reassuringly in her ear.
“No; it’s somebody coming! I must go! Please! Cæsar, dear! There, then—”
She met his kiss half-way, released herself with a lithe movement of her wrist and shoulder, and the next moment seemed to slip into the woods, and was gone.
Don Cæsar listened with a sigh as the last rustling ceased, cast a look at the decayed tree as if to fix it in his memory, and then slowly retraced his steps towards his tethered mustang.
He was right, however, in his surmise of the cause of that interruption. A pair of bright eyes had been watching them from the bough of an adjacent tree. It was a squirrel, who, having had serious and prior intentions of making use of the cavity they had discovered, had only withheld examination by an apparent courteous discretion towards the intruding pair. Now that they were gone he slipped down the tree and ran towards the decayed stump.