Chapter 3104290

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Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3104290
Full Date1896-12-19
Page Number9
Corrections1
Word Count3993
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Last Corrected2017-09-01
Newspaper TitleThe West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)
Trove TitleAn Angel of Mercy. A Christmas in California
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

[Published by Special Arrangement

x AN ANGEL OF MERCY."

WA CHRISTMAS IN CALIFORNIA.

^ By E'lith Stewart Drewry.

.Author of " Only an Actress," "The danc-

ing Doll," &a.

rCOPVEIGHTJ

* Where the deuce have we got to, I «rondar. Don. "We've missed the right -track somehow in the dark, old fellow,

.that's a fact.

It looked like it eartainlj. The creature go addie^sed, with an affectionate pat, .was :i line powerful horse, the speaker his rider, a tall, handsome fellow, somewhere over thirty, who, for all that he_ had ' '.roughed it for some years out West in

/California, did not find it especially ,agreeable to have missed the right (track, where 'one might traverse the [woods and open country for per jbaps forty or filby miles without sign of te " city " or human habitation. It was Snore unpleasant because a week ago {there had been heavy rains-for it was {December, Christmas Eve, indeed-and

)the winter in sub-tropical California is ing for an enforced night camp out.

' But there, close ahead was the gleam ' fcJL a light between the scattered trees,

¡and the sounds of men's voices, and some ¡laughter, both rough and rather boister- ous; also the wayfarer coidd discern the - ¡black outlines of one of the long, low, log

'built dwellings common to the country. The man rode slowly and cautiously forward and came to a fence broken in many places, as he saw bending from r£he saddle. The windowless dark side of t evidently old or neglected dwelling

before him, the light falling in the biess from round in the front; so rider moved along by the fence to front and paused with a soft ( ..Tiew-w."

! There was the wide, uncurtained open fwihdow, from which the light came, and

the rider could see right into the big

ire apartment. A large oil-lamp stood i" a long rough table, at which sat four Wen, all of whom were busy, it seemed, ftrith papers and some queer-looking Apparatus and tools which curiously ¡resembled engraver's implements. One ?nan appeared to be engaged in writing ."-copying, it seemed, some short sen- tence or words, perhaps, from a paper .beside him-copying the same words tinto several documents before him. This ¿man was gray-haired, and looked, thought (Se watcher, much superior to his three '^companions. '"A brokeu-dowu gentle - pnan, I should say." was the thought, -"'and by Jove, what oddly suspicious

¡movements. Ah! talking again. I «can hear the words. Still, Don, don't wtir?"

. " Got that big bond signed yet, Gar pway?" came from one to the elder man, fwho answered with a hoarse chuckle

v " Just fixed it off fine. Guess Senator John B. Harris would swear to the signa ^ifcure his own self."

A hoarse laugh went round, and then Another said:

' "We've most done this job then, eh? ,,And the whole bilin' of 'em have only i . jlgotíóbe floated in New Yark."

\ "Bight you are galoot,"returned Gar- way-then called out shai'ply-"Ain't cupper most ready, daughter?"

"-Yes, clear the table for me," called .lack a girl's voice that made the rider .start and thrill right through-it was ¡rich, musical-the tone, accent, and ,-intonations all those of culture.

" By heaven ! that's no common girl, Jill swear, as sure as my name is Maurice Audley," muttered the gently-born -w listener; "and that decides me to camp B here and chance it-gold and life, may be HT .-for I reckon I've happed on a darned ^p-sugly crib enough. Here goes then, Don." W Reckless, dare-devil fellow enough he ' was, carrying his life in his hand always,

?armed to the teeth, and ready to use his weapons ; the suggestion of romance, of -langer, and adventure at once fired his Wood and he dismounted promptily.

' There was, of course, a verandah along f&e front, and now, with Don's brown (muzzle at his shoulder, Audley passed ,'through the gateless fence, walked up to tfche closed house door under the verandah roof, and rapped on the panel. There ?was a startled quick exclamation from /the men within, and instantly the door was opened by the older man, and k . another with a hand lamp, which threw

;a glare full on the man and horse, as »Garway demanded rather roughly and with suspicious look :

"Who are you, sirree, and what's your .business ?"

This fashion of reception was so unlike ftite usual Western hospitality as to be ¿in. itself a suspicious feature, but Maurice ywas equal to the occasion.

"Simple enough, friend," he said, with las bright pleasing smile and voice, doff jhig his soft felt hat courteously. "I've Ihis moment got here, seeing a glint of , flight from yonder; lost my right track

an the woods hours ago, I reckon, being a "stranger in this part, though I've been ;years in the West."

Ç " Then, where do you hail from now,

ah, stranger ?"

L**The Sierra Nevada." This was tone. ^âoetd, if you could give me and my 'boree a rough camp-down till morning

A frmd » feed fd be thankful. I've been a

. f aflore at money-making out here," said HI betroth a half-laugh, half-sigh of weari

\iees, "and I am trying to make my way .a best I can to the old country. That's . ß> feet"-he paused ; he had caught sight

vpf a woman's garment within a door at

£heend of the entry and felt snre the

pwner of the voice was listening. Gar ¡way was clearly the " boss of the shanty," for the other men did not speak, but left at 'to him, though they all eyed the Englishman suspiciously.

" Look you here, stranger," said Gar rway, " we ain't inhospitable, but it's just Jihis. There'B been damned lumber thieves about lately, as would send on a ¡spy like, d'ye see, and the gang hiding

kround all the time."

' "You lying old rascal," thought ¡Maurice, but aloud, smiling

, " Oh, I'm no lumber thief. I reckon {you're sharp and could soon tell. But ¡ gmt me and Don here into an outhouse,

¡then. I'll be quite satisfied, And holt ?ane in too if you like " He laughed and 'flatted Don. " We're hungry and tired, you may bet your bottom dollar ; but, of course, if you don't wish to shel-

ter

But there he was arrested, by that Bame mellow and now resolute feminine Voice. " You shall have shelter whoever you are," it called, and from that said y door, straight in amongst the rough

lowering men, came a tall handsome

girl with flashing eyes and scornful

ups.

"How dare yon all-four to one at the worst-dream of turning a way- farer from the door into the woods such a night-Christmas Eve too? Shame on you all ! And '-the fearless gaze, free from any boldness, going lstraight to Audley's face-" anyone can Bee with half an eye that this gentleman is square, every inch. Dad Garway, hid him welcome, and see to him as his host. George, take the horse and attend to him »-and you, Philpot, help me set sup- per."

She swept all before her, for the time «at any rate, by sheer force of will, of

'superior mind and character, such as

often enables a woman of that stamp to bold a certain sway over rough, unkempt men, sometimes only temporary perhaps put always something of the power the human being has over brute creation. (Whether from policy or not, she gave the rood-looking stranger then no further lotice save a bow, but at once went back

to the kitchen regions. Mr. Garway showed that he had retained enough of original gentility to apologise, and amend gracefully his and his Mends' worse than ungracious conduct. Audley, of course, made light of it, and after seeing himself, witli the man called Philpot, to Don's comforts, was shown by Garway into his own little sleeping room " to get a wash and smarten up. ' lie said. Then he conducted the guest to the big keeping-room, which Audley

found somewhat transformed. There

was not a sign or vestige left of the papers aud odd implements he had seen on the rough-made red-wood table ; they aud the words he had heard might all have been a dream. Instead, the table wasspread wkhan ample supper. Thegirl came in, and now frankly shook hands with the guest she had befriended, .say- ing, with a smile that for the moment drove away a look of hard set endurance

about the whole face

"I must introduce myself, I see. I am Marie Calderon-Mr. Garway's step- daughter.''

"And I am Maurice Audley-at your service," said he, gallantly, taking a seat she indicated on her right at the table, which Garway headed. The other three men had already sat down and attacked the good things.

After a while, of course, endless ques- tions were asked-" the whence, whither, for what " - by the men, not by the young Spanish Californian-to judge by her surname-to whom Maurice would have infinitely preferred talking but for

cautions sake. He was sure he had

caught an odd warning look in those beautiful dark eyes when she greeted

him.

'?Had he been at the mines of Nevada ? ' one asked.

'. Yes. he had tried his luck there," he said carelessly, with a vexed shrug, " but hadn't struck luck, so he had finally concluded to get down to 'Frisco, and work his passage home.

'. Where was he bound for to-day theu, when he missed the track and wandered this way ?" Garway asked.

Audley said,

" To Silver Creek, where he could earn a few dollars to travel on with."

, '. You must be darned hard up, pard," said George, with a queer side look in his eyes, which the other caught.

" Ay, worse luck. Haven't even enough dollars to try fortune at euchre."

'.Stake that six-3hooter in yer belt, pard," said another.

But Maurice laughed carelessly and shook his head,

"No, no. I've got to travel on to-

morrow.

'. I reckon you'll be glad to go off to your room and turn in when supper's over," put in Marie Calderon, '. whilst the " boys' are doing a big whisky ?''

Again his keen senses detected a hint or warning behind the words, and he answered " that if he might be excused he would certainly rather retire, as he was very tired"-which was no more true than his poverty. The " boys" protested a little, but after supper was removed Garway generously (?) said they would let him off, and took him to a room across the entry, in which was a huge old settee with a thick ribosa or Mexican blanket on it.

"You won't mind camping here, I gue8S," he said. " Good-night, Mr. Audley. I hope you'll sleep well." ,

"Thanks, I'm sure to. Good-night, boss."

Garway nodded and went out. Audley heard him pause outside* and caH'out, " Marie, my dear, in twenty ininute3 yon can brew us a good stiff bowl of punch reg'lar Christmas punch mind, spiced up some-and then you can go to bed."

" Very well, all right," came the girl's voice, with a sort of dreamy monotony in it3 intonation ; and then Garway's he^vy step went into the sitting-room opposite, and the door was shut.

"By the Lord," muttered Maurice with flashing eyes, " I've had the luck to hop on a nice nest of forgers and general misereante. I verily believe it's the gang the New York police have ' wanted ' for so long ; but that poor girl isn't in with them, 111 swear, though she is obliged'to seem so. Sleep ! Not I, you old scoun- drel; never was further from it. by heaven. You bolted that doo. whilst you called out, and the window is fastened"-softly examining the rough framework-'. yes, screwed up." There ?was no inside bolt to the door. The man turned the little oil lamp very low, as one might to sleep by, and coolly stretched himself on the settee as if asleep, and too tired to even remove his long riding boots. His right hand under cover of the loose, short coat, was ready on the loaded derringer in his belt.

For about ten minutes he heard the deep, graa mutter of the four men's voices from the opposite room, then for awhile silence, which was broken by the clink of glasses as, evidently, Marie car- ried in the hot, highly-spiced punch

for the smell of it was unmistakable.

"Finished that-business?" he heard the girl say, with a reckless little laugh, and there was a quick, " Ah ! child, ye3, he's dead asleep by now, and still-. 'Get you, too, to bed."

" I'm going. Good night."

Five minutes later the door of the next room to Audley's was shut, and bolted within. He heard that with a curious sense of relief, and for quite an hour ne lay listening to the sounds from the keeping-room, which told that the bowl of punch was decidedly doing duty clink of glass, hoarse voices, and laugh- ter at times, which all presently sank first into guttural mutters, and finally

silence.

" Dead drunk by now, I reckon ?" he thought. "I'll do a doss for an hour or two, with my weather-eye cocked, though."

And his ears, too. How long a time passed in that light '. dog-sleep " he did not know, but it was still dark outside when he suddenly opened his eyes broad awake, with the consciousness that the outside bolt of his door was being softly withdrawn-then under his lids, feigning sleep, he saw the door move very slowly, open a few inches, and a beautiful but ghastly face was dimly visible.

At the apparition his blood gave a quick passionate bound, his heart throbbed, but he never moved a hair's breadth. The next moment the girl stole in and was bending over him, her soft, slender hand on Ids, thrilling his whole being, her deep whisper in his ear.

" Are you awake ?"

His dark eyes looked up straight and sleepless into hers. He said quietly, keeping her hand as he stood up. "I never suffered myself to even lose my- self till all was silent over -the way. Are you in danger? , For, by heaven,

" No, no, it" is you. For God's sake, come with me to the stable ! . You must fly at once," Marie said, grasping his hand. "They'll murder you directly they come to. II 1 explain while you mount. Come, be silent as death."

She caught up the lamp, and led the way out by the kitchen and back entry, he following noiselessly, but with a determined sternness settling about the lips, which she noticed directly they reached the out-house where Don was stabled, but mistook.

" Is your Don very tired ?" she said, as Audley roused the animal \ and began to saddle and bridle him with deft alert-

ness.

"No, not at all. Miss Calderon, "Neither of us was tired. I was sus-

picious from what I overheard, and re-

versed facts."

" Ah ! Listen then." She spoke low and quickly. "Those four miscreants are afraid you did overhear them ; think you may be a police-agent, and if not that, that you have gold on you; they wanted you away, too, to finish their I forgeries." i

"Yes-so I guessed, Mi = ' -"

" I aui just Maria, please r CJ-ai' way called to me I noticed ¡i.ii heard them arrange to go with you a little way in the morning, as if for friendliness, and murder and. rob you. I drugged the punch and they ai'e all lying like logs on the floor; but I am not'sure how long it will last, so there is no time to be lost. I'll just showyou the track to take. You will come to a river-cross it and keep south. I have wetted theil- pistols and rifles, and will try to put them on the wrong track. Here are ten dolllars-all I have, but- Why do you look "so, and don't take it and mount ?" she broke off with a quick change of manner " My--escape, I tell you !"

'. I mean to escape, but-'" said the mau coolly and immovably, "'not to leave you behind to the vengeance of such

devils us those.'' x

'. I am armed-I should shoot my3elf first,"' she said in a hurried desperate way. '' I don't care* to live. Go-go ! you must go! You have perhaps a

mother at home."

" I have a dear mother, to whom I will take you, as if you were my sister-who would never again speak to me if I could be dastard enough to save myself at a woman's cost," Audley said, with white stem lips. " I swear I will not stir a step without you, Marie. Come.

She looked at him-he looked at her as steadily and smiled a sweet ten-

der smile.

" You trust me, I know," hesaid simply; " women always do somehow,"

" God knows I do-utterly," she said, " but I am only-only-"

" A woman-who shall not perish, honour or life for my sake," said Audley, and at once swung her in his arms to the pummel of the saddle, mounted, and rode off; his right arm round the girl's form to secure her position.

" 5Tou will forgive, won't you ?" he said gently, .' but you left me no choice ;" -he felt her quiver with the sob he choked back-" and you must not think you are or will be a burthen to us-to us at home -if only because I have been very lucky out West, at the Nevada mines. N^ow tell me which track I am to go ; you know this part of the country. Ah, there

is a streak of dawn."

Marie pointed southward, but in a few minutes she had regained self-coinmand,

The chivalrous gentleman could not fail by his own perfect ease-if by nothing else-to put her at her ease in a painful position.

She directed her protector which way to steer through the belt of woods around, in which their track could best be lost, as the soft damp ground of earth and sodden undergrowth swelled up again after Don's feet liad passed on. Beyond the woods lay more open rolling country where, it being now daylight, Don's master started him into a steady gallop, which soon put some few miles between them and the place they had

left.

"A strangely-kept Christmas," said Maurice, grimly, then suddenly, "Ha, by heaven, what's that ?"

Both heard the sound, a faint, very distant shout borne on the wind ; both looked hack, and could just discern a speck, no more, far across the open prairie-;a moving speck.

" They're on our trail, and have also seen our speck," said Audley, coolly. "Now for a race, Don. Fear nothing, Marie ; where lies the river ?"

'. I fear nothing with you," she said ; then rapidly added: "Bide now south by west.' We must soon sight the tor- rent, and head for the Red Ford."

Don was off as' she spoke. '" There is an old wooden footbridge there, thrown over long ago by some squatters, and if we can get across it and break-"

" I see, I understand.'"

Then both settled down in silence to the grim raoe. If only the pursuers' weapons were still damp

" They are miles behind," he said.

On they came, a mere speck still, now seeming to gain down a slops, now lose in an ascent; now lost, now in view; a wild, faint halloo'sometimes coming on the wind as before. On swept Don, his splendid physique and condition scarcely conscious of the light extra weight, his broad chest and strong lungs unbreathéd as yet. On, on ! What if the ground was often heavy under the spurning hoofs-his master's touch and voice wei'e there to caress and urge. On ! on still! They are gaininr, behind-no, losing is it ? Is that the glint of the silver water at last-that the roar of the torrent swelled by the winter's rain ? What if the slender bridge be swept away-gone ?

What if

" Thank God ! the bridge-the bridge at last !" broke froin Marie suddenly, as they swept up a slope and down the descent towards the hoped for haven.

Ten minutes more and the rider reigned up his brave foam flecked horse at the

bank of Red Ford.

There roared and rushed the torrent, barely a foot beneath the shaky-looking narrow bridge of planks, with, a hand- rail on one side only.

Audley drew a long, deep breath. Would it bear them ? He lifted Marie down.

" Walk over," he said. " I and Don will follow on foot too, and then-*'

Marie obeyed at once; and crossed the little frail bridge swiftly in safety. Maurice, leading Don. then followed ; the horse trembling a little, but never even dragging, the girl watching in breathless, deadly anxiety, as the planks creaked and belged in the centre, but bore the strain. Master and horse were safe over at her side.

"Now to play Horatius Cocle3, and cut the bridge," said Audley, drawing his sharp, formidable bowie; "and if those galoots come up before I've done it, I must drive them off as they come near. A combined mob would crash this rotten structure at one."

He knelt on the bank and set to work ; the wood was so rotten where the water by the bank had constantly washed it, that the wonder was Don's weight had not broken it. He worked, cut and wrenched and tore up planks, and the shouts grew louder and nearer ; ÍÍ13 thud or horse's hoofs waa plain now. One last plank still. Nearer came the pursuers, in full view, yelling oaths like demons as they saw what the fugitives were about.

" Stop that-you ; yield, or we'll fire,' shouted Garway, levelling a rifle; it clicked harmlessly, and with a fieree roar he dashed it down as they all swept over' the brow of the slope, down the side, levelling revolvers that all snapped use- lessly. And at that moment, crash went the last plank into the torrent that, thirty feet wide, sefeed and tore away the broken débris before the very eyes of the mad. only half-sobered pursuerd on the opposite bank, powerless, utterly baffled. Their savage curses fell on empty air, for Audley, with one fierce : " You cursed scoundrels, look to your- selves !" swung" Marie up once more, sprang into the saddle and rode off at speed till thoy were beyond hearing the oaths and coarse taunts which followed

them.

?***.*#

Not long after, the New york authori- ties ' received au unsigned letter, whieh eventually led to the arrest and punish- ment of the long-wanted gaiisi of forgera before their last venture could b-j floated.

But long before the euluiiualiou ol' all this, Mrs. Audley had welcomed back her son and his precious charge, and not till then did Maurice suffer the lover tu supersede the brother by look or word.

" I loved you from the first, Marie," he said. " My darling, eau you love mu ? Will you be my wife ?"

"Yes, Maurice, for I-I think you stole my heart, too, when you' gave me jours," she whispered, softly, as he folded her very close to that loyal heart,

henceforth her life's shellal-.

de

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