From the great plateau of the Snake River, at a point that is far from any main station, the stage-road sinks into a hollow which the winds might have scooped, so constantly do they pounce and delve and circle round the spot. Down in this pothole, where sand has drifted into the infrequent wheel tracks, there is a dead stillness while the perpetual land gale is roaring and troubling above.
One noon at the latter end of summer a wagon carrying four persons, with camp gear and provision for a self-subsisting trip, jolted down into this hollow, the horses sweating at a walk as they beat through the heavy sand. The teamster drew them up and looked hard at the singular, lonely place.
“I don’t see any signs of that old corral, do you?” objected the man beside him. He spoke low, as if to keep his doubts from their neighbors on the back seat. These, an old, delicate, reverend looking gentleman, and a veiled woman sitting very erect, were silent, awaiting some decision of their fellow travelers.
“There wouldn’t be much of anything left of it,” the teamster urged on the point in question; “only a few rails and wattles, maybe. Campers would have made a clean-up of them.”
“You think this is the place, do you not, Mr. Thane? This is Pilgrim Station?” The old gentleman spoke to the younger of the two men in front, who, turning, showed the three-quarter view of a tanned, immobile face and the keen side glance of a pair of dense black eyes,–eyes that saw everything and told nothing.
“One of our landmarks seems to be missing. I was just asking Kinney about it,” he said.
Mr. Kinney was not, it appeared, as familiar as a guide should be with the road, which had fallen from use before he came to that part of the country; but his knowledge of roads in general inclined him to take with allowance the testimony of any one man of merely local information.
“That fool Mormon at the ferry hain’t been past here, he said himself, since the stage was pulled off. What was here then wouldn’t be here now–not if it could be eat up or burnt up.”
“So you think this is the place?” the old gentleman repeated. His face was quite pale; he looked about him shrinkingly, with a latent, apprehensive excitement strangely out of keeping with the void stillness of the hollow,–a spot which seemed to claim as little on the score of human interest or association as any they had passed on their long road hither.
“Well, it’s just this way, Mr. Withers: here’s the holler, and here’s the stomped place where the sheep have camped, and the cattle trails getherin’ from everywheres to the water, and the young rabbit brush that’s sprung up since the plains was burnt over. If this ain’t Pilgrim Station, we’re lost pilgrims ourselves, I guess. We hain’t passed it; it’s time we come to it, and there ain’t no road but this. As I put it up, this here has got to be the place.”
“I believe you, Mr. Kinney,” the old man solemnly confirmed him. “Something tells me that this is the spot. I might almost say,” he added in a lower tone to his companion, while a slight shiver passed over him in the hot sunlight, “that a voice cries to us from the ground!”
Those in front had not heard him. After a pause Mr. Thane looked round again, smiled tentatively, and said, “Well?”
“Well, Daphne, my dear, hadn’t we better get out?” Mr. Withers conjoined.
She who answered to this pretty pagan name did so mutely by rising in her place. The wind had moulded her light-colored veil close to her half-defined features, to the outline of her cheeks and low-knotted hair; her form, which was youthful and slender, was swathed in a clinging raw-silk dust-cloak. As she stood, hesitating before summoning her cramped limbs to her service, she might have suggested some half-evolved conception of doubting young womanhood emerging from the sculptor’s clay. Personality, as yet, she had none; but all that could be seen of her was pure feminine.
Thane reached the side of the wagon before the veiled young woman could attempt to jump. She freed her skirts, stepped on the brake bar, and stooping, with his support made a successful spring to the ground. Mr. Withers climbed out more cautiously, keeping his hand on Thane’s arm for a few steps through the heavy sand. Thane left his fellow pilgrims to themselves apart, and returned to help the teamster take out the horses.
“It looks queer to me,” Mr. Kinney remarked, “that folks should want to come so far on purpose to harrer up their feelin’s all over again. It ain’t as if the young man was buried here, nor as if they was goin’ to mark the spot with one of them Catholic crosses like you see down in Mexico, where blood’s been spilt by the roadside. But just to set here and think about it, and chaw on a mis’able thing that happened two years and more ago! Lord! I wouldn’t want to, and I ain’t his father nor yet his girl. Would you?”
“Hardly,” said Thane. “Still, if you felt about it as Mr. Withers does, you’d put yourself in the place of the dead, not the living; and he has a reason for coming, besides. I haven’t spoken of it, because I doubt if the thing is feasible. He wants to see whether the water, of the spring can be brought into the hollow here–piped, to feed a permanent drinking trough and fountain. Good for evil, you see–the soft answer.”
“Well, that’s business! That gits down where a man lives. His cattle kin come in on that, too. There’s more in that, to my mind, than in a bare wooden cross. Pity there won’t be more teamin’ on this road. Now the stage has hauled off, I don’t expect as many as three outfits a year will water at that fountain, excusin’ the sheep, and they’ll walk over it and into it, and gorm up the whole place.”
“Well, the idea has been a great comfort to Mr. Withers, but it’s not likely anything more will ever come of it. From all we hear, the spring would have to run up hill to reach this hollow; but you won’t speak of it, will you, till we know?”
“Gosh, no! But water might be struck higher up the gulch–might sink a trench and cut off the spring.”
“That would depend on the source,” said Thane, “and on how much the old gentleman is willing to stand; the fountain alone, by the time you haul the stone here, will foot up pretty well into the thousands. But we’ll see.”
“Hadn’t you better stay round here with them till I git back?” Kinney suggested; for Thane had taken the empty canteens from the wagon, and was preparing to go with him to the spring. “You kin do your prospectin’ later.”
“They would rather be by themselves, I think,” said Thane. But seeing Mr. Withers coming towards him, as if to speak, he turned back to meet him.
“You are going now to look for the spring, are you not?” the old gentleman asked, in his courteous, dependent manner.
“Yes, Mr. Withers. Is there anything I can do for you first?”
“Nothing, I thank you.” The old gentleman looked at him half expectantly, but Thane was not equal, in words, to the occasion. “This is the place, Mr. Thane,” he cadenced, in his measured, clerical tones. “This is the spot that last saw my dear boy alive,–that witnessed his agony and death.” He extended a white, thin, and now shaking hand, which Thane grasped, uncovering his head. Mr. Withers raised his left hand; his pale eyes blinked in the sunlight; they were dim with tears.
“In memory of John Withers,” he pronounced, “foully robbed of life in this lonely spot, we three are gathered here,–his friend, his father, and his bride that should have been.” Thane’s eyes were on the ground, but he silently renewed his grasp of the old man’s hand. “May God be our Guide as we go hence to finish our separate journeys! May He help us to forgive as we hope to be forgiven! May He teach us submission! But, O Lord! Thou knowest it is hard.”
“Mr. Withers is a parson, ain’t he?” Kinney inquired, as he and Thane, each leading one of the team horses, and with an empty canteen swinging by its strap from his shoulder, filed down the little stony gulch that puckers the first rising ground to riverward of the hollow. “Thought he seemed to be makin’ a prayer or askin’ a blessin’ or somethin’, when he had holt of you there by the flipper; kind of embarrassin’, wa’n’t it?”
“That’s as one looks at it,” said Thane. “Mr. Withers is a clergyman; his manner may be partly professional, but he strikes one as always sincere. And he hasn’t a particle of self-consciousness where his grief for his son is concerned. I don’t know that he has about anything. He calls on his Maker just as naturally as you and I, perhaps, might take his name in vain.”
“No, sir! I’ve quit that,” Mr. Kinney objected. “I drawed the line there some years ago, on account of my wife, the way she felt about it, and the children growin’ up. I quit when I was workin’ round home, and now I don’t seem to miss it none. I git along jest as well. Course I have to cuss a little sometimes. But I liked the way you listened to the old man’s warblin’. Because talkin’ is a man’s trade, it ain’t to say he hasn’t got his feelin’s.”
As the hill cut off sounds of retreating voices and horseshoes clinking on the stones, a stillness that was a distinct sensation brooded upon the hollow. Daphne sighed as if she were in pain. She had taken off her veil, and now she was peeling the gloves from her white wrists and warm, unsteady hands. Her face, exposed, hardly sustained the promise of the veiled suggestion; but no man was ever known to find fault with it so long as he had hopes; afterwards–but even then it was a matter of temperament. There were those who remembered it all the more keenly for its daring deviations and provoking shortcomings.
It could not have been said of Daphne that her grief was without self-consciousness. Still, much of her constraint and unevenness of manner might have been set down to the circumstances of her present position. Why she should have placed herself, or have allowed her friends to place her, in an attitude of such unhappy publicity Thane had asked himself many times, and the question angered him as often as it came up. He could only refer it to the singularly unprogressive ideas of the Far West peculiar to Far Eastern people. Apparently they had thought that, barring a friend or two of Jack’s, they would be as much alone with their tragic memories in the capital city of Idaho as at this abandoned stage-station in the desert where their pilgrimage had ended. They had not found it quite the same. Daphne could, and probably did, read of herself in the “Silver Standard,” Sunday edition, which treats of social events, heralded among the prominent arrivals as “Jack Withers’s maiden widow.” This was a poetical flight of the city reporter. Thane had smiled at the phrase, but that was before he had seen Daphne; since then, whenever he thought of it, he pined for a suitable occasion for punching the reporter’s head. There had been more of his language; the paper had given liberally of its space to celebrate this interesting advent of the maiden widow with her uncle, “the Rev. Withers,” as the reporter styled him, “father of the lamented young man whose shocking murder, two years ago, at Pilgrim Station, on the eve of his return to home and happiness, cast such a gloom over our community, in which the victim of the barbarous deed had none but devoted friends and admirers. It is to be hoped that the reverend gentleman and the bereaved young lady, his companion on this sad journey, will meet with every mark of attention and respect which it is in the power of our citizens to bestow, during their stay among us.”
Now, in the dead, hot stillness, they two alone at last, Daphne sat beside her uncle in the place of their solemn tryst; and more than ever her excitement and unrest were manifest, in contrast to his mild and chastened melancholy. She started violently as his voice broke the silence in a measured, musing monotone:
“‘Drink, weary pilgrim, drink and pray For the poor soul of Sibyl Grey, Who built this cross and well.’
“These lines,” he continued in his ordinary prose accent, “gave me my first suggestion of a cross and well at Pilgrim Station, aided, perhaps, by the name itself, so singularly appropriate; not at all consistent, Mr. Thane tells me, with the usual haphazard nomenclature of this region. However, this is the old Oregon emigrant trail, and in the early forties men of education and Christian sentiment were pioneers on this road. But now that I see the place and the country round it, I find the Middle Ages are not old enough to borrow from. We must go back, away back of chivalry and monkish superstition, to the life-giving pools of that country where the story of man began; where water, in the language of its people, was justly made the symbol of their highest spiritual as well as physical needs and cravings. ‘And David longed, and said, Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Beth-lehem, that is at the gate!’ It is a far cry here to any gate but the gate of sunset, which we have been traveling against from morning to evening since our journey began, yet never approaching any nearer. But this, nevertheless, is the country of David’s well,–a dry, elevated plain, surrounded by mountains strangely gashed and riven and written all over in Nature’s characters, but except for the speech of a wandering, unlettered people, dumb as to the deeds of man. Mr. Thane tells me that if the wells on this road were as many as the deaths by violence have been, we might be pasturing our horses in green fields at night, instead of increasing their load with the weight of their food as well as our own. Yes, it is a ‘desolate land and lone;’ and if we build our fountain, according to my first intention, in the form of a cross, blessing and shadowing the water, it must be a rude and massive one, such as humble shepherds or herdsmen might accidentally have fashioned in the dark days before its power and significance were known. It will be all the more enduring, and the text shall be”–
“Uncle,” cried Daphne in a smothered voice, “never mind the text! I am your text! Listen to me! If your cross stood there now, here is the one who should be in the dust before it!” She pressed her open hand upon her breast.
The gesture, her emphasis, the extreme figure of speech she had used, were repellent to Mr. Withers over and above his amazement at her words. As he had not been observing her, he was totally unprepared for such an outburst.
“Daphne, my dear! Do I understand you? I cannot conceive”–
But Daphne could not wait for her meaning to sink in. “Uncle John,” she interrupted, taking a quick breath of resolution, “I have read somewhere that if a woman is dishonest, deep down, deliberately a hypocrite, she ought to be gently and mercifully killed; a woman not honest had better not be alive. Uncle, I have something to say to you about myself. Gently and mercifully listen to me, for it ought to kill me to say it!”
Mr. Withers turned apprehensively, and was startled by the expression of Daphne’s face. She was undoubtedly in earnest. He grew quite pale. “Not here, my dear,” he entreated; “not now. Let our thoughts be single for this one hour that we shall be alone together. Let it wait for a little, this woeful confession. I think you probably exaggerate your need of it, as young souls are apt to who have not learned to bear the pain of self-knowledge, or self-reproach without knowledge. Let us forget ourselves, and think of our beloved dead.”
“Uncle, it must be here and now. I cannot go away from this place a liar, as I came. Let me leave it here,–my cowardly, contemptible falsehood,–in this place of your cross. I am longing, like David, for that water they have gone to find, but I will not drink at Pilgrim Station, except with clean lips that have confessed and told you all.”
Mr. Withers shrank from these unrestrained and to him indecorous statements of feeling; they shocked him almost as much as would the spectacle of Daphne mutilating her beautiful hair, casting dust upon her head, and rending her garments before him. He believed that her trouble of soul was genuine, but his Puritan reserve in matters of conscience, his scholarly taste, his jealousy for the occasion which had brought them to that spot, all combined to make this unrestrained expression of it offensive to him. However, he no longer tried to repress her.
“Uncle, you don’t believe me,” she said; “but you must. I am quite myself.”
“Except for the prolonged nervous strain you have been suffering; and I am afraid I have not known how to spare you as I might the fatigue, the altitude perhaps, the long journey face to face with these cruel memories. But I will not press it, I will not press it,” he concluded hastily, seeing that his words distressed her.
“Press it all you can,” she said. “I wish you could press it hard enough for me to feel it; but I feel nothing–I am a stone. At this moment,” she reiterated, “I have no feeling of any kind but shame for myself that I should be here at all. Oh, if you only knew what I am!”
“It is not what you are, it is who you are, that brings you here, Daphne.”
“Yes, who I am! Who am I? What right had I to come here? I never loved him. I never was engaged to him, but I let you think so. When you wrote me that sweet letter and called me your daughter, why didn’t I tell you the truth? Because in that same letter you offered me his money–and–and I wanted the money. I lied to you then, when you were in the first of your grief, to get his money! I have been trying to live up to that He ever since. It has almost killed me; it has killed every bit of truth and decent womanly pride in me. I want you to save me from it before I grow any worse. You must take back the money. It did one good thing: it paid those selfish debts of mine, and it made mother well. What has been spent I will work for and pay back as I can. But I love you, uncle John; there has been no falsehood there.”
“This is the language of sheer insanity, Daphne, of mental excitement that passes reason.” Mr. Withers spoke in a carefully controlled but quivering voice–as a man who has been struck an unexpected and staggering blow, but considering the quarter it came from, is prepared to treat it as an accident. “The facts, John’s own words in his last letter to me, cannot be gainsaid. ‘I am coming home to you, dad, and to whom else I need not say. You know that I have never changed, but she has changed, God bless her! How well He made them, to be our thorn, our spur, our punishment, our prevention, and sometimes our cure! I am coming home to be cured,’ he said. You have not forgotten the words of that letter, dear? I sent it to you, but first–I thought you would not mind–I copied those, his last words. They were words of such happiness; and they implied a thought, at least, of his Creator, if not that grounded faith”–
“They were hopes, only hopes!” the girl remorsefully disclaimed. “I allowed him to have them because I wanted time to make up my wretched, selfish mind. I had never made him a single promise, never said one word that could give me the right to pose as I did afterwards, to let myself be grieved over as if I had lost my last hope on earth. I had his money all safe enough.”
“Daphne, I forbid you to speak in that tone! There are bounds even to confession. If you think well to degrade yourself by such allusions, do not degrade me by forcing me to listen to you. This is a subject too sacred to be discussed in its mercenary bearings; settle that question with yourself as you will, but let me hear no more of it.”
Daphne was silenced; for the first time in her remembrance of him she had seen her uncle driven to positive severity, to anger even, in opposition to the truth which his heart refused to accept. When he was calmer he began to reason with her, to uphold her in the true faith, against her seeming self, in these profane and ruthless disclosures.
“You are morbid,” he declared, “oversensitive, from dwelling too long on this painful chapter of your life. No one knows better than myself what disorders of the imagination may result from a mood of the soul, a passing mood,–the pains of growth, perhaps. You are a woman now; but let the woman not be too hard upon the girl that she was. After what you have been through quite lately, and for two years past, I pronounce you mentally unfit to cope with your own condition. Say that you did not promise him in words; the promise was given no less in spirit. How else could he have been so exaltedly sure? He never was before. You had never before, I think, given him any grounds for hope?”
“No; I was always honest before,” said Daphne humbly. “When I first refused him, when we were both such children, and he went away, I promised to answer his letters if he would let that subject rest. And so I did. But every now and then he would try me again, to see if I had changed, and that letter I would not answer; and presently he would write again, in his usual way. As often as he brought up the old question, just so often I stopped writing; silence was always my answer, till that last winter, when I made my final attempt to do something with my painting and failed so miserably. You don’t know, uncle, how hard I have worked, or what it cost me to fail,–to have to own that all had been wasted: my three expensive winters in Boston, my cutting loose from all the little home duties, in the hope of doing something great that would pay for all. And that last winter I did not make my expenses, even. After borrowing every cent that mother could spare (more than she ought to have spared; it was doing without a girl that broke her down) and denying myself, or denying her, my home visit at Christmas; and setting up in a studio of my own, and taking pains to have all the surroundings that are said to bring success,–and then, after all, to fail, and fail, and fail! And spring came, and mother looked so ill, and the doctor said she must have rest, total rest and change; and he looked at me as if he would like to say, ‘You did it!’ Well, the ‘rest’ I brought her was my debts and my failure and remorse; and I wasn’t even in good health, I was so used up with my winter’s struggle. It was then, in the midst of all that trouble and shame and horror at myself, his sweet letter came. No, not sweet, but manly and generous,–utterly generous, as he always was. I ought to have loved him, uncle dear; I always knew it, and I did try very hard! He did not feel his way this time, but just poured out his whole heart once for all; I knew he would never ask me again. And then the fatal word; he said he had grown rich. He could give me the opportunities my nature demanded. You know how he would talk. He believed in me, if nobody else ever did; I could not have convinced him that I was a failure.
“It was very soothing to my wounds. I was absolutely shaken by the temptation. It meant so much; such a refuge from self-contempt and poverty and blame, and such rest and comfort it would bring to mother! I hope that had something to do with it. You see I am looking for a loophole to crawl out of; I haven’t strength of mind to face it without some excuse. Well, I answered that letter; and I think the evil one himself must have helped me, for I wrote it, my first careful, deliberate piece of double-dealing, just as easily as if I had been practicing for it all my life. It was such a letter as any man would have thought meant everything; yet if I had wanted, I could have proved by the words themselves that it meant nothing that couldn’t be taken back.
“I said to myself, If I can stand it, if I can hold out as I feel now, I will marry him; then let come what may. I knew that some things would come, some things that I wanted very much.
“Then came the strange delay, the silence, the wretched telegrams and letters back and forth. Ah, dear, do I make you cry? Don’t cry for him; you have not lost him. Cry for me, the girl you thought was good and pure and true! You know what I did then, when your dear letter came, giving me all he had, calling me your daughter, all that was left you of John! I deceived you in your grief, hating myself and loving you all the time. And here I am, in this place! Do you wonder I had to speak?”
“Your words are literally as blows to me, Daphne,” Mr. Withers groaned, covering his face. After a while he said, “All I have in the world would have been yours and your mother’s had you come to me, or had I suspected the trouble you were in. I ought to have been more observant. My prepossessions must be very strong; doubtless some of the readier faculties have been left out in my mental constitution. I hear you say these words, but even now they are losing their meaning for me. I can see that your distress is genuine, and I must suppose that you have referred it to its proper cause; but I cannot master the fact itself. You must give me time to realize it. This takes much out of life for me.”
“Not my love for you, uncle John; there has been no falsehood there.”
“You could not have spared yourself and me this confession?” the old man queried. “But no, God forgive me! You must have suffered grievous things in your young conscience, my dear; this was an ugly spot to hide. But now you have fought your fight and won it, at the foot of the cross. To say that I forgive you, that we both, the living and the dead, forgive you, is the very least that can be said. Come here! Come and be my daughter as before! My daughter!” he repeated. And Daphne, on her knees, put her arms about his neck and hid her face against him.
“Thank Heaven!” he murmured brokenly, “it cannot hurt him now. He has found his ‘cure.’ As a candle-flame in this broad sunlight, so all those earthly longings”–The old gentleman could not finish his sentence, though a sentence was dear to him almost as the truth from which, even in his love of verbiage, his speech never deviated. “So we leave it here,” he said at last. “It is between us and our blessed dead. No one else need know what you have had the courage to tell me. Your confession concerns no other living soul, unless it be your mother, and I see no reason why her heart should be perturbed. As for the money, what need have I for more than my present sufficiency, which is far beyond the measure of my efforts or deserts? I beg you never to recur to the subject, unless you would purposely wish to wound me. This is a question of conscience purely, and you have made yours clean. Are you satisfied?”
“Yes,” said Daphne faintly.
“What is the residue? Or is it only the troubled waters still heaving?”
“Yes, perhaps so.”
“Well, the peace will come. Promise me, dear, that you will let it come. Do not give yourself the pain and humiliation of repeating to any other person this miserable story of your fault.”
“It was more than a fault; you know that, uncle. Your conscience could not have borne it for an hour.”
“Your sin, then. A habit of confession is debilitating and dangerous. God has heard you, and I, who alone in this world could have the right to reproach you, have said to you, Go in peace. Peace let it be, and silence, which is the safest seal of a true confession.”
“Do you mean that I am never to let myself be known as I am?” asked Daphne. Her face had changed; it wore a look of fright and resistance. “Why, that would mean that I am never to unmask; to go about all my life in my trappings of false widowhood. You read what that paper called me! I cannot play the part any longer.”
“Are you speaking with reference to these strangers? But this will soon be over, dear. We shall soon be at home, where no one thinks of us except as they have known us all their lives. It will be painful for a little while, this conspicuousness; but these good people will soon pass out of our lives, and we out of theirs. Idle speculation will have little to do with us, after this.”
“There will be always speculation,” implored the girl. “It will follow me wherever I go, and all my life I shall be in bondage to this wretched lie. Take back the money, uncle, and give me the price I paid for it,–my freedom, myself as I was before I was tempted!”
“Ah, if that could be!” said the old gentleman. “Is it my poor boy’s memory that burdens you so? Is it that which you would be freed from?”
“From doing false homage to his memory,” Daphne pleaded. “I could have grieved for him, if I could have been honest; as it is, I am in danger almost of hating him. Forgive me, uncle, but I am! How do you suppose I feel when voices are lowered and eyes cast down, not to intrude upon my ‘peculiar, privileged grief? ‘Here I and Sorrow sit!’ Isn’t it awful, uncle? Isn’t it ghastly, indecent? I am afraid some day I shall break out and do some dreadful thing,–laugh or say something shocking, when they try to spare my feelings. Feelings! when my heart is as hard, this moment, to everything but myself, myself! I am so sick of myself! But how can I help thinking about myself when I can never for one moment be myself?”
“This is something that goes deeper,” said Mr. Withers. “I confess it is difficult for me to follow you here; to understand how a love as meek as that of the dead, who ask nothing, could lay such deadly weights upon a young girl’s life.”
“Not his love–mine, mine! Is it truly in his grave? If it is not, why do I dare to profess daily that it is, to go on lying every day? I want back my word, that I never gave to any man. Can’t one repent and confess a falsehood? And do you call it confessing, when all but one person in the world are still deceived?”
“It is not easy for me to advise you, Daphne,” said Mr. Withers wearily. “Your struggle has discovered to me a weakness of my own: verily, an old man’s fond jealousy for the memory of his son. Almost I could stoop to entreat you. I do entreat you! So long as we defraud no one else, so long as there is no living person who might justly claim to know your heart, why rob my poor boy’s grave of the grace your love bestows, even the semblance that it was? Let it lie there like a mourning wreath, a purchased tribute, we will say,” the father added, with a smile of sad irony; “but only a rude hand would rob him of his funereal honors. There seems to be an unnecessary harshness in this effort to right yourself at the cost of the unresisting dead. Since you did not deny him living, must you repudiate him now? Fling away even his memory, that casts so thin a shade upon your life, a faint morning shadow that will shrink as your sun climbs higher. By degrees you will be free. And, speaking less selfishly, would there not be a certain indelicacy in reopening now the question of your past relations to one whose name is very seldom spoken? Others may not be thinking so much of your loss–your supposed loss,” the old gentleman conscientiously supplied–“as your sensitiveness leads you to imagine. But you will give occasion for thinking and for talking if you tear open now your girlhood’s secrets. Whom does it concern, my dear, to know where or how your heart is bestowed?”
Daphne’s cheeks and brow were burning hot; even her little ears were scarlet. Her eyes filled and drooped. “It is only right,” she owned. “It is my natural punishment.”
“No, no; I would not punish nor judge you. I love you too well. But I know better than you can what a safeguard this will be,–this disguise which is no longer a deception, since the one it was meant to deceive knows all and forgives it. It will rebuke the bold and hasty pretenders to a treasure you cannot safely part with, even by your own gift, as yet. You are still very young in some ways, my dear.”
“I am old enough,” said Daphne, “to have learned one fearful lesson.”
“Do I oppress you with my view? Do I insist too much?”
Perhaps nothing could have lowered the girl in her own eyes more than this humility of the gentle old man in the face of his own self-exposed weakness, his pathetic jealousy for that self above self,—the child one can do no more than grieve for this side the grave. She had come to herself only to face the consciousness of a secret motive which robbed her confession of all moral value. Repentance, that would annul her base bargain now that the costs began to outweigh the advantages, was gilt edged, was a luxury; she was ashamed to buy back her freedom on such terms.
“Let it be as you say,” she assented; “but only because you ask it. It will not be wrong, will it, if I do it for you?”
“I hope not,” returned Mr. Withers. “The motive, in a silence of this kind that can harm no one, must make a difference, I should say.”
So it was settled; and Daphne felt the weight of her promise, which the irony of justice had fastened upon her, as a millstone round her neck for life; she was still young enough to think that whatever is must last forever. They sat in silence, but neither felt that the other was satisfied. Mr. Withers knew that Daphne was not lightened of her trouble, nor was he in his heart content with the point he had gained. The unwonted touch of self-assertion it had called for rested uneasily on him; and he could not but own that he had made himself Daphne’s apologist, which no confessor ought to be, in this disguise by which he named the deception he was now helping her to maintain.
After a time, when Daphne had called his attention to the fact, he agreed that it was indeed strange their companions did not return; they had been gone an hour or more to find a spring said to be not half a mile away.
Daphne proposed to climb the grade and see if they were yet in sight, Mr. Withers consenting. Indeed, under the stress of his thoughts, her absence was a sensible relief.
From the hilltop looking down she could see the way they had gone; the crooked gulch, a garment’s crease in the great lap of the table-land, sinking to the river. She saw no one, heard no sound but the senseless hurry and bluster of the winds,–coming from no one knew where, going none cared whither. It blew a gale in the bright sunlight, mocking her efforts to listen. She waved her hand to her uncle’s lone figure in the hollow, to signify that she was going down on the other side. He assented, supposing she had seen their fellow travelers returning.
She had been out of sight some moments, long enough for Mr. Withers to have lapsed into his habit of absent musing, when Thane came rattling down the slope of the opposite hill, surprised to see the old gentleman alone. His long, black eyes went searching everywhere while he reported a fruitless quest for the spring. Kinney and he had followed the gulch, which showed nowhere a vestige of water, save in the path of the spring freshets, until they had come in sight of the river; and Kinney had taken the horses on down to drink, riding one and leading the other. It would be nearly three miles to the river from where Thane had left him, but that was where all the deceptive cattle trails were tending. Thane, returning, had made a loop of his track around the hollow, but had failed to round up any spring. Hence, as he informed Mr. Withers, this could not be Pilgrim Station. He made no attempt to express his chagrin at this cruel and unseemly blunder. The old gentleman accepted it with his usual uncomplaining deference to circumstances; still, it was jarring to nerves overstrained and bruised by the home thrust of Daphne’s defection. He fell silent and drew within himself, not reproachfully, but sensitively. Thane rightly surmised that no second invocation would be offered when they should come to the true Pilgrim Station; the old gentleman would keep his threnodies to himself after this.
It would have been noticeable to any less celestial-minded observer than Mr. Withers the diffidence with which Thane, in asking after Miss Daphne Lewis, pronounced that young person’s name. He did not wait for the old gentleman to finish his explanation of her absence, but having learned the way she had gone, dropped himself at a great pace down the gulch and came upon her unawares, where she had been sitting, overcome by nameless fears and a creeping horror of the place. She started to her feet, for Thane’s was no furtive tread that crashed through the thorny greasewood and planted itself, a yard at a bound, amongst the stones. The horror vanished and a flush of life, a light of joy, returned to her speaking face. He had never seen her so completely off her guard. He checked himself suddenly and caught his hat from his head; and without thinking, before he replaced it, he drew the back of his soft leather glove across his dripping forehead. The unconventional action touched her keenly. She was sensitively subject to outward impressions, and “the plastic” had long been her delight, her ambition, and her despair.
“Oh, if I could only have done something simple like that!” the defeated, unsatisfied artist soul within her cried. “That free, arrested stride, how splendid! and the hat crumpled in his hand, and his bare head and strong brows in the sunlight, and the damp points of hair clinging to his temples! No, he is not bald,–that was only a tonsure of white light on the top of his head; still, he must be hard on forty. It is the end of summer with him, too; and here he comes for water, thirsting, to satisfy himself where water was plentiful in spring, and he finds a dry bed of stones. Call it The End of Summer; it is enough. Ah, if I could ever have thought out an action as simple and direct as that–and drawn it! But how can one draw what one has never seen!”
Not all this, but something else, something more that Daphne could not have put into words, spoke in the look which Thane surprised. It was but a flash between long lashes that fell instantly and put it out; but no woman whose heart was in the grave ever looked at a living man in that way, and the living man could not help but know it. It took away his self-possession for a moment; he stood speechless, gazing into her face with a question in his eyes which five minutes before he would have declared an insult to her.
Daphne struggled to regain her mask, but the secret had escaped: shameless Nature had seized her opportunity.
“How did I miss you?” she asked with forced coolness, as they turned up the gulch together. For the moment she had forgotten about the spring.
Thane briefly explained the mistake that had been made, adding, “You will have to put up with another day of us, now,–perhaps two.”
“And where do you leave us, then?” asked Daphne stupidly.
“At the same place,–Decker’s Ferry, you know.” He smiled, indulgent to her crass ignorance of roads and localities. “Only we shall be a day longer getting there. We are still on the south side of the river, you remember?”
“Oh, of course!” said Daphne, who remembered nothing of the kind.
“It was a brutal fake, our springing this place on you for Pilgrim Station,” he murmured.
“It has all been a mistake,–our coming, I mean; at least I think so.”
It was some comfort to Thane to hear her say it,–he had been so forcibly of that opinion himself all along; but he allowed the admission to pass.
“It must have been a hard journey for you,” he exerted himself to say, speaking in a surface voice, while his thoughts were sinking test-pits through layers of crusted consciousness into depths of fiery nature underneath.
She answered in the same perfunctory way: “You have been very kind; uncle has depended on you so much. Your advice and help have been everything to him.”
He took her up with needless probity: “Whatever you do, don’t thank me! It’s bad enough to have Mr. Withers heaping coals of fire on my head. He gives me the place always, in regard to his son, of an intimate friend; which I never was, and God knows I never claimed to be! He took it for granted, somehow,–perhaps because of my letters at first, though any brute would have done as much at a time like that! Afterwards I would have set him right, but I was afraid of thrusting back the friendly imputation in his face. He credits me with having been this and that of a godsend to his son, when as a fact we parted, that last time, not even good friends. Perhaps you can forgive me for saying it? You see how I am placed!”
This iron apology which some late scruple had ground out of Thane seemed to command Daphne’s deepest attention. She gave it a moment’s silence, then she said, “There is nothing that hurts one, I think, like being unable to feel as people take for granted one must and ought to feel.” But her home application of it gave a slight deflection to Thane’s meaning which he firmly corrected.
“I felt all right; so did he, I dare say, but we never let each other know how we felt. Men don’t, as a rule. Your uncle takes for granted that I knew a lot about him,–his thoughts and feelings; that we were immensely sympathetic. Perhaps we were, but we didn’t know it. We knew nothing of each other intimately. He never spoke to me of his private affairs but once, the night before he started. It was at Wood River. Some of us gave him a little supper. Afterwards we had some business to settle and I was alone with him in his room. It was then I made my break; and–well, it ended as I say: we quarreled. It has hurt me since, especially as I was wrong.”
“What can men quarrel about when they don’t know each other well? Politics, perhaps?” Daphne endeavored to give her words a general application.
“It was not politics with us,” Thane replied curtly. Changing the subject, he said, “I wish you could see the valley from that hogback over to the west.” He pointed towards the spine of the main divide, which they would cross on their next day’s journey. “Will you come up there this evening and take a look at the country? The wind will die down at sunset, I think.”
There was a studied commonplaceness in his manner; his eyes avoided hers.
“Thanks; I should like to,” she answered in the same defensive tone.
“To go back to what we were saying,” Daphne began, when they were seated, that evening, on the hilltop. All around them the view of the world rose to meet the sky, glowing in the west, purple in the east, while the pale planets shone, and below them the river glassed and gleamed in its crooked bed. “I ask you seriously,” she said. “What was the trouble between you?” Doubtless she had a reason for asking, but it was not the one that she proceeded to give. “Had you–have you, perhaps–any claims in a business way against him? Because, if you had, it would be most unfair to his father”–The words gave her difficulty; but her meaning, as forced meanings are apt to be, was more than plain.
Thane was not deceived: a woman who yields to curiosity, under however pious an excuse, is, to say the least, normal. Her thoughts are neither in the heavens above nor in the grave beneath. His black eyes flashed with the provocation of the moment. It was instinct that bade him not to spare her.
“We quarreled,” he said, “in the orthodox way,–about a woman.”
“Indeed!” said Daphne. “Then you must pardon me.”
“And her name,” he continued calmly.
“I did not ask you her name.”
“Still, since we have gone so far”–
“There is no need of our going any farther.”
“We may as well,–a little farther. We quarreled, strangely enough, about you,–the first time he ever spoke of you. He would not have spoken then, I think, but he was a little excited, as well he might have been. Excuse me?” He waited.
“Nothing!” said Daphne. She had made an involuntary protesting sound.
“He said he hoped to bring you back with him. I asked how long since he had seen you; and when he told me five years, I remarked that he had better not be too sure. ‘But you don’t know her,’ he said; ‘she is truth itself, and courage. By as many times as she has refused to listen to me, I am sure of her now.’ I did not gather somehow that you were–engaged to him, else I hope I should not have gone so far. As it was, I kept on persisting–like a cynic who has no one of his own to be sure of–that he had better not be too sure! He might have seen, I thought then, that it was half chaff and half envy with me; but it was a nervous time, and I was less than sympathetic, less than a friend to him. And now I am loaded with friendship’s honors, and you have come yourself to prove me in the wrong. You punish me by converting me to the truth.”
“What truth?” asked Daphne, so low that Thane had to guess her question.
“Have you not proved to me that some women do have memories?”
Daphne could not meet his eyes; but she suspected him of something like sarcasm. She could not be sure, for his tone was agitating in its tenderness.
“All things considered,” she said slowly, “does it not strike you as rather a costly conversion?”
“I don’t say I was worth it, nor do I see just how it benefits me personally to have learned my lesson.”
He rose, and stood where he could look at her,–an unfair advantage, for his dark face, strong in its immobility, was in silhouette against the flush of twilight which illumined hers, so transparent in its sensitiveness.
“Is it not a good thing to believe, on any terms?” she tried to answer lightly.
“For some persons, perhaps. But my hopes, if I had any, would lie in the direction of disbelief.”
“Disbelief?” she repeated confusedly. His keen eyes beat hers down.
“In woman’s memory, constancy,–her constancy in youth, say? I am not talking of seasoned timber. I don’t deserve to be happy, you see, and I look for no more than my deserts.”
If he were mocking her now, only to test her! And if she should answer with a humble, blissful disclaimer? But she answered nothing, disclaimed nothing; suffered his suspicion,–his contempt, perhaps, for she felt that he read her through and through.
A widow is well, and a maid is well; but a maiden widow who trembles and looks down–in God’s creation, what is she?
On the north side of the Snake, after climbing out of the canon at Decker’s Ferry, the cross-roads branch as per sign-post: “Thirty miles to Shoshone Falls, one mile to Decker’s Ferry. Good road.” This last assertion must be true, as we have it on no less authority than that of Decker himself. Nothing is said of the road to Bliss,–not even that there is such a Bliss only sixteen miles away. Being a station on the Oregon Short Line, Bliss can take care of itself.
At these cross-roads, on a bright, windy September morning, our travelers had halted for reasons, the chief of which was to say good-by. They had slept over night at the ferry, parted their baggage in the morning, and now in separate wagons by divergent roads were setting forth on the last stage of their journey.
Daphne had left some necessary of her toilet at the ferry, and the driver of Mr. Withers’s team had gone back to ask the people at the ferry-house to find it. This was the cause of their waiting at the cross-roads. Mr. Withers and Daphne were on their devoted way like conscientious tourists, though both were deadly weary, to prostrate themselves before the stupendous beauty of the great lone falls at Shoshone. Thane, with Kinney’s team, was prosaically bound down the river to examine and report on a placer-mine. But before his business would be finished Mr. Withers and his niece would have returned by railroad via Bliss to Boise, and have left that city for the East; so this was likely to be a long good-by.
If anything could have come of Mr. Withers’s project of a memorial fountain at Pilgrim Station, there might have been a future to the acquaintance, for Thane was to have had charge of the execution of the design; but nature had lightly frustrated that fond, beneficent dream.
Mr. Kinney had offered the practical suggestion that the road should go to the fountain, since the fountain could not come to the road. Its course was a mere accident of the way the first wagon-wheels had gone. The wheels were few now, and with such an inducement might well afford to cross the gulch in a new place lower down. But Mr. Withers would have none of this dislocation of the unities. There was but one place–the dismal hollow itself, the scene of his heart’s tragedy–where his acknowledgment to God should stand; his mute “Thy will be done!”
Perhaps the whole conception had lost something of its hold on his mind by contact with such harsh realities as Daphne’s disavowals and his own consequent struggle with a father’s weakness. He had not in his inmost conscience quite done with that question yet.
Thane was touched by the meekness with which the old gentleman resigned his dream. The journey, he suspected, had been a disappointment in other ways,–had failed in impressiveness, in personal significance; had fallen at times below the level of the occasion, at others had overpowered it and swept it out of sight. Thane could have told him that it must be so. There was room for too many mourners in that primeval waste. Whose small special grief could make itself heard in that vast arid silence, the voice of which was God? God in nature, awful, inscrutable, alone, had gained a new meaning for Mr. Withers. Miles of desert, days of desert, like waves of brute oblivion had swept over him. Never before had he felt the oppression of purely natural causes, the force of the physical in conflict with the spiritual law. And now he was to submit to a final illustration of it, perhaps the simplest and most natural one of all.
Daphne was seated at a little distance on her camp-stool, making a drawing of the desert cross-roads with the twin sign-posts pointing separate ways, as an appropriate finish to her Snake River sketch-book. The sun was tremendous, the usual Snake River zephyr was blowing forty miles an hour, and the flinty ground refused to take the brass-shod point of her umbrella-staff. Mr. Kinney, therefore, sat beside her, gallantly steadying her heavy sketching-umbrella against the wind.
Mr. Withers, while awaiting the return of his own team from the ferry, had accepted a seat in Thane’s wagon. (It was a bag containing a curling-iron, lamp, and other implements appertaining to “wimples and crisping-pins,” that Daphne had forgotten, but she had not described its contents. One bag is as innocent as another, on the outside; it might have held her Prayer Book.)
Thane was metaphorically “kicking himself” because time was passing and he could not find words delicate enough in which to clothe an indelicate request,–one outrageous in its present connection, yet from some points of view, definitively his own, a most urgent and natural one.
“For one shall grasp, and one resign, And God shall make the balance good.”
To grasp is a simple act enough; but to do so delicately, reverently, without forcing one’s preferences on those of another, may not always be so simple. Thane was not a Goth nor a Vandal; by choice he would have sought to preserve the amenities of life; but a meek man he was not, and the thing he now desired was, he considered, well worth the sacrifice of such small pretensions as his in the direction of unselfishness.
The founding of a family in its earliest stages is essentially an egoistic and ungenerous proceeding. Even Mr. Withers must have been self-seeking once or twice in his life, else had he never had a son to mourn. So, since life in this world is for the living, and his own life was likely to go on many years after Mr. Withers had been gathered to the reward of the righteous, Thane worked himself up to the grasping-point at last.
He was never able to reflect with any pride on the way in which he did it, and perhaps it is hardly fair to report him in a conversation that would have had its difficulties for almost any man; but his way of putting his case was something like the following,–Mr. Withers guilelessly opening the way by asking, “You will be coming East, I hope, before long, Mr. Thane?”
“Possibly,” said Thane, “I may run on to New York next winter.”
“If you should, I trust you will find time to come a little further East and visit me? I could add my niece’s invitation to my own, but she and her mother will probably have gone South for her mother’s health. However, I will welcome you for us both,–I and my books, which are all my household now.”
“Thanks, sir, I should be very glad to come; though your books, I’m afraid, are the sort that would not have much to say to me.”
“Come and see, come and see,” Mr. Withers pressed him warmly. “A ripe farewell should always hold the seeds of a future meeting.”
“That is very kindly said,” Thane responded quickly; “and if you don’t mind, I will plant one of those seeds right now.”
“So do, so do,” the old gentleman urged unsuspiciously.
“Your niece”–Thane began, but could see his way no further in that direction without too much precipitancy. Then he backed down on a line of argument,–“I need not point out the fact,” etc.,–and abandoned that as beset with too many pitfalls of logic, for one of his limited powers of analysis. Fewest words and simplest would serve him best. “It is hardly likely,” then he said, “that your niece’s present state of feeling will be respected as long as it lasts; there will be others with feelings of their own. Her loss will hardly protect her all her life from–she will have suitors, of course! Nature is a brute, and most men, young men, are natural in that respect,–in regard to women, I mean. I don’t want to be the first fool who rushes in, but there will be a first. When he arrives, sir, will you let me know? If any man is to be heard, I claim the right to speak to her myself; the right, you understand, of one who loves her, who will make any sacrifice on earth to win her.”
Mr. Withers remained silent. He had a sense of suffocation, as of waves of heat and darkness going over him. The wind sang in his ears, shouted and hooted at him. He was stunned. Presently he gasped, “Mr. Thane! you have not surely profaned this solemn journey with such thoughts as these?”
“A man cannot always help his thoughts, Mr. Withers. I have not profaned my thoughts by putting them into words, till now. I cannot do them justice, but I have made them plain. This is not a question of taste or propriety with me, or even decency. It is my life,–all of it I shall ever place at the disposal of any woman. I am not a boy; I know what I want and how much I want it. The secret of success is to be in the right place at the right time: here is where I ask your help.”
“I do not question that you know what you want,” said Mr. Withers mildly,–“it is quite a characteristic of the men of this region, I infer,–nor do I deny that you may know the way of success in getting it; but that I should open the door to you–be your–I might say accomplice, in this design upon the affections of my niece–why, I don’t know how it strikes you, but”–
“It strikes me precisely as it does you,–my part of it,” said Thane impatiently. “But her part is different, as I see it. If she were sick, you would not put off the day of her recovery because neither you nor yours could cure her? Whoever can make her forget this shipwreck of her youth, heal her unhappiness, let him do so. Isn’t that right? Give him the chance to try. A man’s power in these things does not lie in his deserts. All I ask is, when other men come forward I want the same privilege. But I shall not be on the ground. When that time comes, sir, will you remember me?”
For once Mr. Withers seized the occasion for a retort; he advanced upon the enemy’s exposed position. “Yes, Mr. Thane, I will remember you,–better than you remember your friends when they are gone.”
Thane accepted the reproach as meekly as if his friendship for John Withers had been of the indubitable stuff originally that Mr. Withers had credited him with. He rather welcomed than otherwise an unmerited rebuke from that long-suffering quarter.
But though Thane was silenced as well as answered, there was conscience yet to deal with. Mr. Withers sat and meditated sorely, while the wind buffeted his gray hairs. Conscience demanded that he give up the secret of Daphne’s false mourning, which he would have defended with his life. “A silence that can harm no one.” “So long as we defraud no living person who might claim a right to know your heart.” The condition was plain; it provided for just such cases as the present. Then how could he hesitate? But he was human, and he did.
“I have gone too far, I see. Well, say no more about it,” said Thane. “Your generosity tempted me. From those who give easily much shall be asked. Forget it, sir, please. I will look out for myself, or lose her.”
“Stop a bit!” exclaimed Mr. Withers. He turned to Thane, placing his hand above his faded eyes to shade them from the glare, and looked his companion earnestly in the face. Thane sought for an umbrella, and raised it over the old gentleman’s head; it was not an easy thing to hold it steady in that wind.
“Thanks, thanks! Now I can look at you. Yes, I can look you in the eye, in more senses than one. Listen to me, Mr. Thane, and don’t mind if I am not very lucid. In speaking of the affairs of another, and a young woman, I can only deal in outlines. You will be able to surmise and hope the rest. I feel in duty bound to tell you that at the time of my son’s death there was a misunderstanding on my part which forced Miss Lewis into a false position in respect to her relations to my son. Too much was assumed by me on insufficient evidence,–a case where the wish, perhaps, was father to the thought. She hesitated at that sore time to rob me of an illusion which she saw was precious to me; she allowed me to retain my erroneous belief that my son, had he lived, would have enjoyed the blessing of her affection. As a fact, she had not given it to him,–could not have given it,–though she owns that her mind, not her heart, was wavering. Had she married him, other motives than love would have influenced her choice. So death has saved my dear boy from a cruel disappointment or a worse mistake, and her from a great danger. Had he lived, he must have had many hours of wretchedness, either with or without that dearest wish of his heart fulfilled.
“This she confessed to me not many days ago, after a long period of remorseful questioning; and I deem it my duty now, in view of what you have just told me, to acquaint you with the truth. I am the only one who knows that she was not engaged to my son, and never really loved him. The fact cut me so deeply, when I learned it first, that I persuaded her, most selfishly, to continue in the disguise she had permitted, sustained so long,–to rest in it, that my boy’s memory might be honored through this sacrifice of the truth. Weak, fond old man that I was, and worse! But now you have my confession. As soon as I can speak with her alone I will release her from that promise. She was fain to be free before all the world,–our little part of it,–but I fastened it on her. I see now that I could not have invented a crueler punishment; but it was never my purpose to punish her. I will also tell her that I have opened the true state of the case to you.”
“Would you not stop just short of that, Mr. Withers? To know she is free to listen to him,–that is all any man could ask.”
“Perhaps you are right; yes, she need not know that I have possessed you with her secret,–all of it that has any bearing on your hopes. I only thought it might save you, in her mind, from any possible imputation of–of want of respect for her supposed condition, akin to widowhood; but no doubt you will wait a suitable time.”
“I will wait till we meet in Boise.”
“In Boise!” the old gentleman cried, aghast.
“That will be three days from now,” answered Thane innocently. Did Mr. Withers imagine that he would wait three years!
“But what becomes of the–the placer-mine?”
“The placer-mine be–the placer-mine will keep! She is shutting up her book; the sketch is finished. Will you hold the umbrella, sir, or shall I put it down?”
Mr. Withers took hold of the umbrella handle; the wind shook it and nearly tugged it out of his grasp. “Put it down, if you please,” he murmured resignedly. But by this time Thane was half across the road to where Daphne, with penknife and finger-tips, was trying to strip the top layer of blackened sandpaper from her pencil-scrubber; turning her face aside, because, woman-like, she would insist on casting her pencil-dust to windward.
Thane smiled, and took the scrubber out of her hands, threw away the soiled sheet, sealed up the pad in a clean stamped envelope, which bore across the end the legend, “If not delivered within ten days, return to”–“Robert Henry Thane,” he wrote, with his address, and gave her back her property. It was all very childish, yet his hand trembled as he wrote; and Daphne looked on with the solemnity of a child learning a new game.
“May I see the sketch?” he asked.
They bent together over her book, while Daphne endeavored to find the place; the wind fluttered the leaves, and she was so long in finding it that Mr. Kinney had time to pack up her stool and umbrella, and cross the road to say good-by to Mr. Withers.
“Here it is,” said Thane, catching sight of the drawing. He touched the book-holder lightly on the arm, to turn her away from the sun. Her shadow fell across the open page; their backs were to the wagon. So they stood a full half-minute,–Thane seeing nothing, hearing his heart beat preposterously in the silence.
“Why don’t you praise my sign-posts?” asked Daphne nervously. “See my beautiful distance,–one straight line!”
“I have changed my plans a little,” said Thane. Daphne closed the book. “I shall see you again in Boise. This is good-by–for three days. Take care of yourself.” He held out his hand. “I shall meet your train at Bliss.”
“Bliss! Where is Bliss?”
“You never could remember, could you?” he smiled. The tone of his voice was a flagrant caress. The color flew to Daphne’s face. “Bliss,” said he, “is where I shall meet you again: remember that, will you?”
Daphne drew down her veil. The man returning from the ferry was in sight at the top of the hill. Mr. Withers was alighting from Thane’s wagon. She turned her gray mask towards him, through which he could discern the soft outline of her face, the color of her lips and cheeks, the darkness of her eyes; their expression he could not see.
“I shall meet you at Bliss,” he repeated, his fingers closing upon hers.
Daphne did not reply; she did not speak to him nor look at him again, though it was some moments before the wagon started.
Kinney and Thane remained at the cross-roads, discussing with some heat the latter’s unexpected change of plan. Mr. Kinney had a small interest in the placer-mine, himself, but it looked large to him just then. He put little faith in Thane’s urgent business (that no one had heard of till that moment) calling him to Boise in three days. Of what use was it going down to the placers only to turn round and come back again? So Thane thought, and proposed they drive forward to Bliss.
“Bliss be hanged!” said Mr. Kinney; which shows how many ways there are of looking at the same thing.
Thane’s way prevailed; they drove straight on to Bliss. And if the placer-mine was ever reported on by Thane, it must have been at a later time.