|Home -> Post Printing and Binding Co. -> Their Mariposa Legend - Miss Hastings Bring it to an End|
|Miss Hastings Brings It to an End
Miss Hastings Brings It to an End
Centuries passed, and again, with the same sweet suddenness as in the days gone by, spring came to Catalina. Guests of the St. Catherine, lounging on its wide verandahs, gazed across a sunlit sea to where the faint cloud that was San Jacinto hovered, the merest ghost of a mountain, above the misty mainland. Along the broad board-walk leading down to Avalon benches, shaded by brightstriped awnings, flaunted an invitation to every passing tourist. Strings of Japanese lanterns bobbed merrily above the narrow village streets. Everywhere were laughter and movement and color from the bathing beaches, dotted with gay umbrellas - even to the last yacht anchored round the point.
To the man making slow progress down the crowded wharf from the afternoon boat this holiday world into which he thus suddenly stepped, presented an appearance so different from that he had pictured as almost to bewilder him. At sight of the jaunty little motorbus waiting to haul him up the winding grade to the hotel, he actually hesitated. Yet seldom before, to his knowledge, had he found it difficult to adapt himself to an unexpected situation.
"Hotel St. Catherine! Bus to the hotel, sir?"
Other guests, more certain of their intentions, pushed impatiently against him, and presently he found himself, wedged well toward the middle of the long seat, chugging comfortably up the hill. Still half-daunted, he gazed about him. It was all of it charming to be sure, fascinating even; yet, could this festive summering place be the Avalon of his dreams? Was this the quaint village of Spanish times, reaching back still further through dimly remembered Indian lore to a world lost now except to legend? Yet it was for the sake of a mere legend, a fanciful tale handed down in his family through many a generation, that he had made the long journey from New York to California, nor - and here he set his lips with dogged determination, did he intend to return until he had found that for which he searched.
It was now something over two years since Harrison Blair, then fresh from Yale, had astonished both those who wished him well and those who, for various envious reasons, did not, with the wholly unreasonable success of his first book. For, to those who did not understand, his sudden fame had seemed all the more surprising in that it rested upon nothing more substantial than a slender volume of Indian verse. So unusual, however, had been his treatment of this well-worn subject as to call forth more than a little comment from even the most conservative of critics. The Brush and Pen had hastened to confer upon him an honorary membership. Cadmon, magic weaver of Indian music, had written a warm letter of appreciation. And, most precious tribute of all, the Atlantic Monthly had become interested in his career.
To be sure, it was nothing more than might have been expected of a man whose undergraduate work in English had aroused the reluctant wonder of more than one instructor. Nevertheless, the fact that he pulled stroke on the 'varsity crew had somewhat blinded other contemporaries to his more scholarly attainments. Nor had anyone thought it probable, because of his father's wealth, that Blair, in any event, would feel called upon to do much more than make a frolic of life. No one, indeed, had been more taken aback than had his father to find him, a year after graduation, drudging over the assistant editor's desk of a struggling magazine the payroll of which, to put it mildly, offered no financial inducements.
"It's good practice for me, though, - quickest way to learn," was all he vouchsafed when the older man remonstrated.
Yet, had that same father, shrewd capitalist that he was, but taken the trouble to reason back from premises evident enough, he might have been the first to realize that this tall son of his, with the keen gray eyes and a face the strength of which was but increased by the high cheek bones and squarely molded chin, was scarcely the type of man to sit idly by enjoying the fruits of another's labor.
And now, after two years more of grinding apprenticeship, he had in mind something much bigger than the slender volume of verse, - an adventure into authorship more suited to his metal, - a story for which an intense personal sympathy would furnish fitting atmosphere, with the final spur to his ambition a letter from the Atlantic even at the moment stowed safely away in his pocket.
Some two hours later, after an unexpectedly excellent dinner in the luxurious dining room, he sauntered over to the hotel desk. There was no more than the faintest probability that a clerk of the St. Catherine would be able to tell him how to reach a secret cavern bower above the Bay of Moons; still, he had to enter an opening wedge somewhere. The one man on duty was for the moment occupied with another guest, and Blair, lighting his after-dinner cigar, prepared with leisurely patience to await his turn.
The guest happened to be a young woman, rather pretty, he casually decided, although her greatest claim to beauty lay more, perhaps, in the swift changes in expression of which her face was capable, than in any actual regularity of line. For lack of anything better to do, Blair watched idly her encounter with the clerk. There appeared to be some kind of misunderstanding.
"Awfully sorry it's happened that way, Miss Hastings," the man behind the desk was saying. He lifted with genuine reluctance the key she had just laid down. "We'd be mighty sorry to interfere with your work, but those small rooms always do go first. You know that yourself."
"I hadn't heard about it, though. I didn't know they were all gone." Her voice quivered with disappointment.
Blair, whose vocation taught him a certain technical sympathy, shot a swift glance at her. She couldn't be more than twenty-two or thereabouts, he decided less casually, and went on to observe her still further. She wore a shabby, broad-brimmed hat much faded as if from constant exposure to the sun, but the shadows in the coil of hair beneath were warmly golden.
"Couldn't you find a room down in the village somewhere, - at Mrs. Merrill's perhaps?" suggested the clerk.
"But Mrs. Merrill isn't here this spring." In spite of its quiver the voice was very sweet.
"No," she started to turn away, "I'll have to put it off again, I suppose. I've looked everywhere."
She took a step or two, hesitated, then returned to the desk.
"You're positive there isn't a single one of the small rooms left?" she pleaded. "I wouldn't care how far back it was, - anything would do. You can't think how I hate to give up. I had so hoped to finish it this time!"
The man shook his head.
"No, we're absolutely full just now. Later on there might be something, - after the season is over."
"But that will be after school begins," answered the girl bitterly. "I can't work at all then!" and catching up a bag fully as shabby as the hat, she hurried away.
"Who is she?" asked Blair abruptly, overlooking for the moment his original purpose in seeking the man.
"School-teacher from Pasadena," replied the clerk briefly. "Teaches art in some private school over there, I believe." He eyed Blair amusedly. "Think you've met her before somewhere?"
Blair allowed his annoyance to show. "No, never laid eyes on her till just now. But I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for her," he persisted. "She seemed so sort of cut up. What's the trouble?"
"I'm sorry for her myself," declared the man on the other side as he hung the returned key on its board. "This is the third time that poor little woman's had to leave before she could finish what she came for on account of the expense. But what can we do?" He shrugged his shoulders. "The St. Catherine isn't exactly a Y. W. C. A."
"What is it she's trying to do?"
Amusement deepened in the man's eyes.
"She's supposed to be painting Indians."
"Indians!" To the amazement of the other man Blair suddenly leaned forward, his eyes agleam with interest.
"But I didn't know there were any around here."
"Then how - ?"
"Makes 'em up out of her head, I guess. I never heard that she had even a model."
"But - but what I want to know is why she comes here at all?" The situation seemed to Blair to offer possibilities, yet he was thoroughly puzzled. "I met a fellow on the train who does that sort of thing, but he always goes to the desert to paint, - at least he said he did."
"Yes, they do mostly. Probably he meant Taos, - whole nest of artists at Taos."
"Well, but why in thunder then - ?"
The clerk smiled skeptically.
"Why, you see, it's something like this. Miss Hastings' bent on being an illustrator, pays better than teaching, I suppose, or - well, at any rate, that's what she's aiming for, - and she has an idea that if she can only get a series of pictures, - several of them on the same subject, you understand, - accepted by one of those Eastern magazines, she can soon work in with some big publisher and get an order. She told us all about it one night last winter when she was over."
"But in heaven's name, why Indians?" persisted Blair.
"Because she thinks she's found some good material here. She told me about that, too. Seems there's an old legend connected with Catalina, about an Indian princess and a cavern. The princess died of a broken heart or something of the sort, I believe she said. I never heard the particulars myself. Nobody else, either, seems to know anything about it. But Miss Hastings says there's quite a story, and she's got it all down pat from A to Z. She's using it for her series."
A porter brought up some newcomers and Blair stepped aside. But the moment his man was at leisure again he cornered him at once. An idea had come to him, an idea almost dazzling in its possibilities.
"You say she hasn't finished her series yet?"
"Beg pardon? Oh, the teacher?" The man shook his head. "Evidently not from what she said just now. She never stays long enough really to put it over. Every few months she bobs up over a week-end, but that doesn't give her time even to visit some of the places she's after. She never seems to get much more than started before she has to go home again."
For a moment Blair smoked in silence. Then:
"Look here," he cut in abruptly, "You split my suite and give her one of my rooms."
The man's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"Her? What do you mean?"
Blair made an impatient gesture.
"Why, this Miss - the teacher, you know. Didn't you just say you hadn't any room for her? Well, I've got three, you know."
"Yes, but that's altogether a different proposition. You made your reservation weeks ago."
"But you could still give her one of them, couldn't you?"
Clerks in large hotels listen with patience to a vast number of strange proposals, but at this from Blair, the man opposite eyed him in unflattering amazement.
"But you said, when you wired, you wanted the extra room to work in," he objected, "and you'll remember, Mr. Blair, that you were pretty emphatic about it, too, at the time. We went to all kinds of trouble to fix that up for you."
"I can get along all right without it, though," coolly observed his changeable guest, "and I'd rather she'd have it. It's possible to split suites here, isn't it?" he persisted. "They do at most hotels."
"It's possible, of course." Across the desk the eyes of the two men met squarely. "That part of it's easy enough. But why? and who's going to pay for it?"
"I'm going to pay for it! What did you suppose?" exploded Blair. "It's worth that and a lot more to me just now to keep her from getting away. Oh, I'm in earnest all right. I mean it! Look here! Can't you see how that woman can be a perfect gold mine to me? You know enough about my work to understand that I'm really out here after Indians myself, and she - well, I'll wager a cool thousand there isn't a spot on this whole island that ever dreamed of seeing an Indian that she doesn't know all about!"
The clerk nodded. "But - "
"But nothing!" Impatiently Blair brushed aside all objections. "Why, I hadn't the remotest idea how I was going to get started. It's a rattling piece of good luck, and we'll fix it up right now!"
"Yes, but - " Still the other man hesitated. "It sounds all right enough, - from your end of it especially, but you'd better see her first. She's a proud little piece, - doesn't like obligations of any kind, - and a stranger, - a man - I'm sorry to discourage you, but I don't believe she'll have a thing to do with it."
In Blair's eyes impatience threatened to become something more emphatic.
"It's a business proposition pure and simple," he argued. "She gives me all the information she's been able to get together, and I pay her expenses while she does it. That gives her a chance to finish her own work, don't you see? A mighty good proposition for her, too, I should say, and if she doesn't see it that way herself, - why, - well, she isn't as intelligent as she looks, that's all!"
"Providing you can persuade her it is just business. I'd advise you to talk with her first, just the same. And you'll have to be quick about it, too. She's planning to wait in the village tonight for the morning boat, and she'll be starting down about now."
Outside was one of those radiant nights intended for dreams and the makers of dreams. Over an ocean white with light long breakers rolled crests gleaming with silver that fell in soft thunder on the beach. Miss Hastings, hurrying along the board-walk to the village, glanced at them and looked quickly away.
"Oh, I say!" came a voice out of the darkness behind her, "if you don't mind, hold on there a minute, will you? Wait for me, please!" The voice was that of a man, pleasant, but exceedingly determined. Without so much as turning her head Miss Hastings quickened her steps.
But it was of no use. Whoever her pursuer might be, he was even then at her side.
"I beg your pardon," breathlessly he began again, "but I've been chasing you all the way down from the hotel. I want you to come right back there with me. I have a proposal to make to you."
Even in the darkness he could see how the girl's eyes blazed.
"I never listen - " she began hotly, "to proposals from people I don't know," she had meant to add, but he gave her no time.
"It will mean the biggest chance for your pictures you've ever had," he broke in. "Now, listen!"
And, to her complete surprise, Miss Hastings suddenly found herself doing that very thing.
"There are a lot of things I've got to find out right away," continued the astonishing stranger, "and the clerk up there tells me you're painting a series of Indian portraits."
The little art teacher gazed at him fascinated. What manner of man could this be, she wondered.
"I don't see the connection - " Coldness struggled with curiosity in her voice.
"Listen!" With uplifted, peremptory hand again he stopped her. Nor is it safe to say that any book agent, watching the door slowly closing upon him, ever talked faster, or more rigidly to the point, than did Blair within the next few minutes.
"Perhaps you won't understand it all right off. I wouldn't expect that. But it's this way. I'm representing Harper's, and Houghton and Mifflin, and Dodd and Mead, and - several other firms" (to satisfy his conscience Blair contended with himself that he might as well as not have been their representative - a mere oversight on their part ought not to be allowed to stand in his way), "and I'm out here to find the best illustrator I can lay hands on to do the pictures for some Indian stuff I'm getting into shape for one of 'em. I want to see your work. And, if I like it, I'll pay you well. And anyway, I'll pay every bit of the expense while you finish your series here if you'll tell me what you know about Wildenai!"
But, at the name, the girl beside him had given a low cry of utter amazement. She stopped short.
"Do you know it too, then?" she gasped. "How did you hear about it?"
"Oh, I've known it for years," replied Blair carelessly. "Some of it I've known all my life. But look here now. Is it a bargain? - about your helping me, I mean?"
Before he left her, an hour or so later, every detail had been arranged. Miss Hastings had meekly agreed to return to the hotel in the morning. Blair would pay her expenses and something he called a retaining fee besides. That would make an extra fifty dollars, - she smiled to herself in the dark, - a new winter suit at least, and perhaps one or two matinees if she managed! All this for the information she could give him about the island and its history. The various points in their contract spun dizzily in her dazed brain. No spot known to legend to which it was possible to conduct him should remain unvisited. Four hours out of every day were pledged without fail to his interests. The rest of the time she might have for her own work. It had all come about so unexpectedly, and was altogether so extraordinary that, after he had gone, his new employe, stretched uncomfortably upon a narrow cot in the tent of a fellow teacher, spent the remainder of the night in imaginary interviews with Eastern publishers regarding impossible royalties. She was far too excited to sleep.
And, for a week, the arrangement worked very well, - almost too well. Every day brought with it some new adventure, and every adventure became a pleasure.
Mounted at Blair's expense on more or less energetic ponies, for from the first he had insisted that horses were a necessary part of their business equipment, they cantered gaily along the shady canyon trails, or over the sunlit slopes sheeted in pale lavender wherever the wild lilacs were in bloom. Often, emerging from some thicket of dwarf oak they caught glimpses of a sapphire sea held between red, twisted branches of manzanita as in a frame. About them rang the music of the meadow larks. Merry shouts of bathers floated up from the beaches far below, mingled with the distant click of golf balls on the greens.
For the whole of a golden day they chartered a sailboat from one, Capt. Warren, and rounding the yellow headlands under his lazy guidance, they went to examine the Ning Po, the ancient Chinese barge stranded, no one knew how many hundreds of years before, among the rocks off the isthmus.
"Fascinating old place," observed Blair gazing, his eyes aglow with interest, around the mediaeval cabin. "Don't doubt a dozen murders at least were pulled off in this one room!"
"Oh yes, of course," eagerly echoed his assistant. "It's absolutely unique!"
Her gaze, as bright with interest as his own, rested upon Blair himself. She was considering, absent-mindedly, how becoming white trousers can be to most men, especially when they are reasonably dark themselves. But, - her glance travelled upward, - how unusually dark he was, and his hair, - yes, without question, the straightest and blackest she had ever seen. Yet it seemed in some indefinable way to become him, - to belong, as it were, to his type. Leaning her elbows meditatively upon the rusty anchor, her chin in her hands, she silently appraised him. He really was a handsome man, she decided, and clever, too, of the sort who does things in the world! A dreamy light grew within her eyes.
It was only two or three evenings later when, on their way back from the site of an historic Indian village on the other side of the island, they walked their horses slowly around the Wishbone Loop, the ostensible reason being that, as Blair had already discovered, it commanded the widest view of the ocean at sunset.
He was the first to speak when they struck again into the main trail.
"I wished for something about a rose, a wild rose, - want to guess?" He eyed her mischievously.
"Hush, - mustn't tell!" she laughed. "Your wish won't come true if you tell." Then, for no reason at all, she blushed.
Never, in truth, during her twenty-three years of working, and scrimping, and going without, had life shown to the little art teacher so fair and generous a side, seemed so extravagantly joyous an affair as during that magic week. The spending of money, it was easy to see, meant little or nothing to Blair. But that was the least of his attractions, for, to the girl herself, mere wealth for its own sake had never appealed. The charm lay rather in the genial broadness of his view of things, the strength of reasoning behind the few opinions he put forward, his reticence, and quiet modesty. In these dwelt the spell that swept her into an almost delirious enjoyment of his society. For, all unknown to herself, like many another woman in like condition, she had needed a change of people. In the cramped life of a private school men played but little part, and the men who were most worth while, almost no part at all. Instinctively, in time, she had wearied of little girls and their lessons. Sorely had she craved the stimulus which only the companionship of congenial men can give. Of this fact, however, she had been even less aware.
One crisp morning, seated in a diminutive wicker cart behind a discontented pony, they searched out Chicken John's cabin on the mesa behind the golf links.
"Not that it has anything to do with Indians," she apologized, "only I want you to see him. He's such a character, so nice and untidy and queer!"
As a result of this expedition they brought away with them what old John designated a "plump little fry" to be served at the cosy table for two in the sunniest window of the dining room, a luxury which Blair had likewise confiscated in the interests of business.
And so for seven glorious days they tramped the fragrant hills, or sailed a sea as softly blue as though fallen fresh that morning from the cloudless heaven above. In the warmth and glow of his friendship the starved heart of the little art teacher opened like some hot-house flower carried suddenly into the wide outdoors. And when at last the week drew to an end, their work, both his and hers, was still unfinished, so that there was nothing else to do but to live on through another fully as wonderful.
Blair himself took things much more for granted, and even when their talk strayed farthest afield it was plain to the girl that his mind never fully lost sight of the purpose for which he had come. His work stood always first, while, - she blushed to own it even to herself, - she had sometimes entirely forgotten her own.
At the end of the third week they had seen almost everything he considered essential and at times she sensed in his manner, even when he was least aware of it, a kind of repressed impatience. She knew what it meant and shivered. Presently he would leave her, and life would become again the same dull round of work. Only one spot of real importance remained unvisited, - the cavern bower above the Bay of Moons. Of this he had spoken frequently, and well she knew he held it the climax of his search.
But for reasons best known to herself Miss Hastings put off from day to day this final expedition until Blair began to chaff at the delay.
"That's really the one place I came to see!" he told her more than once. "After I've been there I think I can go."
"But we've planned Middle Ranch for today," she would answer evasively, or, "This is the best time to see Orazaba; it's so clear this morning. That's the mountain, you know, where the Indians carved out their ollas. Some of them are still there, only half cut away. It would be too bad for you to miss that."
At length, however, there came a day when excuses would do no longer.
"We've waited long enough," he declared that morning over their coffee, "Besides, I may have to go now in a few days."
And although at his words the sunshine of her new world faded suddenly away, yet the little teacher kept a brave front. She even laughed carelessly.
"Men are so impatient," she teased, "But we'll go today."
Nevertheless, it was not until the rose of sunset rested among the hills that at last they found themselves on the crest of the tall cliff which commanded so wide a stretch of the ocean and the shimmering valleys below.
"It reminds one of the Bay of Naples," observed Blair, pausing to scan the rocky coastline against which, far beneath them, the foaming breakers threw themselves. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked far out to sea. "What a wonderful place for a watch tower it would have made!"
"It had one once," softly replied the girl, "Wildenai's watch tower!"
Blair turned, their eyes met, and he smiled.
"It's been splendid to have you with me all these days," he said, "I've been wanting to tell you. You've been more of a help than you'll ever know." And then, after a pause, "It's because you care so much about the story yourself, I suppose, that you've been such an inspiration to me."
Something in the girl's heart seemed suddenly to snap.
"It's because I care more about your work, and - and you. You are so wonderful!" she broke forth impulsively, and stood before him crimson with confusion. For a second, which seemed to her an age, there was silence. Then he spoke and, in her bitter humiliation, his voice sounded strained and cold.
"Shall we go in?" he asked.
Silently he parted the tangle of manzanita that for centuries had veiled the secrets of the princess, and stood aside for her to enter. Wildly the little art teacher glanced about her. This moment to which she had so looked forward, and yet had dreaded as much because it meant the end, - this moment which might, nevertheless, have meant much to them both even though it were the end, she herself had spoiled! All its delicate beauty changed to a sordid suspicion, it lay in ruins now because of her thoughtless words. She dared not guess at what he must be thinking! For a desperate second she considered flight. Then proudly she raised her head. One more thing, at least, about her now he should learn!
"Did you know - ?" she began, then broke off irresolute.
Blair glanced at her and again their eyes met. This time he did not smile.
"Know what?" he asked.
She laughed with embarrassment.
"It really isn't of any interest to you, but - " and again she paused.
"Suppose you let me be the judge of that," he suggested stiffly. "You're making me horribly curious, you know. You can't very well drop the subject now." He was evidently making an effort at pleasantry.
She flushed brightly.
"Of course it couldn't be of the slightest importance to anyone except myself," she explained. Then, as if doubting her courage to continue long, she hurried on, "but one reason I take such an interest in - your work is because I'm a direct descendant of Lord Harold myself. He became the Duke of Norfolk afterward, you know, but Hastings was always the family name." She flashed him a haughty glance, a pride that changed to wideeyed surprise as she noted his amazement.
"Not really?" He had turned abruptly and in his eyes there was a curious expression, almost of alarm. "How extraordinary, - how perfectly extraordinary!"
"Why extraordinary?" That her cup of humiliation might brim to the full, resentment was added to confusion. "You consider me unworthy, then, of having had nobility among my ancestry? But, just the same, there was nothing strange about it. The colonies were chiefly English, you remember!" He smiled at her sarcasm. "The duke married one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting after he went home and there was a younger son, and he had a younger son, and after a long time one of them came over to Virginia just like anybody else. They have always been good, loyal, highly respected American citizens," she told him fiercely, "and I'm proud of them! Besides - " with reckless emphasis, "I've always felt so sorry for Wildenai."
But at this point, quite incomprehensibly, Blair broke into peals of laughter.
"And by and by, after a long, long time, one of these good, loyal, American citizens that we're both so proud of had a hot-tempered, most disloyal little daughter who intends to show her employer his proper place before she dismisses him! But why are you sorry for Wildenai?"
With mischievous eyes he searched her face.
She flushed, then, looking squarely at him, "Because she was impulsive like me, and just for that reason Lord Harold ran away and left her," she said. "He's the only one of them I never had any use for."
Blair wandered the length of the cavern and back before he replied.
"You think him a coward, I suppose." He still looked as though he wanted to laugh, yet something in his tone seared her outraged pride. He might as well have touched an iron to quivering flesh. "You ought to remember, however, - I mean every woman ought to remember, - that when a girl lets a man know that she cares for him she generally forfeits, then and there, whatever interest she may have had for him. Wildenai risked too much. Of course, in her case there was some excuse. She was only an untrained barbarian. But, under ordinary circumstances, I tell you there's nothing a man despises so much!"
What was done or said after that Miss Hastings never could have told. She was possessed of but one desire, - to get away, to go back to the hotel, - home, anywhere beyond the reach of his voice and his eyes. For the moment she hated him, and although Blair, conscience smitten at he knew not what, waited in the lobby a full hour before going in to dinner, she did not come down.
Up in her room, mechanically brushing her hair for the night, Miss Hastings stormily addressed the girl in the glass who stared so scornfully back at her.
"I tell you I don't care a thing about it! He probably thought he was justified in every word he said. He's probably smiling this very minute because he thinks he managed it so well! But he's a coward just the same, and I despise him, - I do despise him!" Her eyes brimming with tears, she fiercely repeated the word. "Well, he'll soon find out how much I really meant!"
Over and over she re-lived the short scene, - all of its humiliation, all of its hurt, seeking at every turn solace for her woman's pride.
"Naturally I wanted to help him all I could, to appear, at least, to be interested, especially when he was paying so much for it! It was only a business arrangement anyway," she continued bitterly, "nothing but business from start to finish, and if he doesn't know that yet, he'll find it out the very first thing tomorrow morning!"
And having tumbled into bed she lay staring into the dark, planning the details of a campaign warranted either to cure or kill the enemy. Outside, a mocking bird, perched provokingly near her window, kept the night ringing with music. Resolutely she closed her ears to his song. But presently, through the faint fragrance of oleanders, other sounds began to penetrate, - the strains of the waltz to which they had danced only the night before. The little art teacher turned wearily over and cried herself to sleep.
On the morning which followed she rose very early, however, much too early to breakfast with Blair at the little table in the sunny corner. Instead, she ordered some coffee and toast at Jim's Waffle Shop in the village and was hard at work sketching on the wharf before eight o'clock. She had suddenly remembered a promise to sketch Capt. Warren's dog holding the gaff, a feat of which both Pal and his master were justifiably proud. Indeed, so long had the arrangement been made and so entirely had it been neglected, that no one was more surprised than the Captain himself at her unexpected appearance.
"But Pal and me ought to be at the Tuna Club in fifteen minutes, to take a party o' members out fishin'," he demurred. "You can't paint Pal in no quarter of an hour!"
"I'm sorry to have had to put it off so long," replied Miss Hastings crisply, "but I'm planning to go home in a few days now, - this afternoon probably. It's the only chance I shall have." And she prepared to make good the belated promise with such determination that, after a wistful glance or two across the slapping white caps, the old skipper meekly succumbed.
It was here Blair found her an hour or so later. Unceremoniously he placed himself in front of her, his hands in his pockets, and gave vent to a low whistle.
"Well, of all the - !"
"Oh, is it you, Mr. Blair?" she inquired in cool, sweet tones. "I thought most probably you'd gone! Didn't you say yesterday you intended to as soon as you'd seen the cavern?" Then, after a pause during which Blair said nothing, "I've been getting dreadfully behind with my own work, so I thought, if you didn't mind, I'd try to catch up a little this morning."
"Certainly not. Take all the time you want! We've about finished anyway, I guess." His coolness matched her own.
Another silence during which she painted furiously.
"I'm making a sketch of Pal holding the gaff," she ventured at length when the strain had become too uncomfortable.
"So I see."
This second tentative effort at conversation having flickered and gone out she bent again to her work, while Blair remained, looking down at her, in his eyes mingled amusement and resentment. What had he done, he wondered, to account for such a change? Or, perhaps, it was something he had not done. He tried again.
"Aren't we going for our ride this morning? It's a glorious day, and I have the refusal of the two best horses."
"No, I think not, - not this morning, thank you," she answered. In her voice was the same crisp sweetness. "I haven't time!"
With a shrug of pure bewilderment he backed away, then lingered a moment longer to watch the sketch take shape beneath her hurrying brush. That was the particular moment Miss Hastings chose for the final reckless stab.
"You're standing in my light," she said. "If you'd just as soon, please do go away, Mr. Blair. It makes me nervous to have people looking over my shoulder when I'm trying to paint."
This was just a trifle more than Blair at the moment was prepared to stand. His eyes grew dark.
"Certainly," he replied icily. "So sorry to have bothered you at all. I only came down to tell you that I've decided to leave today. There's nothing more to keep me now, I think, and I'm rather anxious to get home. You'll find your check at the desk." And he sauntered away.
She did not go back to the hotel for luncheon. She had finished her sketch, yet, somehow, when the time came, she discovered that it would be quite impossible to enter the dining room. She found it equally impossible to take the afternoon boat herself. Instead, having clambered half way up the steep slope to the cavern, she watched from behind a flaming riot of wild nasturtians while, preceded by a hotel porter bearing bags and suit-cases, Blair boarded the Avalon for Los Angeles. He was going away, then, without even a word of farewell.
The heart of the little art teacher turned cold within her, so cold that she sank numbly into the red and gold tangle; nor did she look up again until the steamer, dipping below the horizon, had left only a trail of smoke to show where it disappeared. She had not believed that he would do quite that!
When evening came she went stoically in to dinner. There was no reason any longer for staying away. Sternly she kept her eyes from the vacant place opposite. Yet somehow she could not persuade herself that he was really gone. More than once she caught herself watching the door, half expecting to see him stroll in with apologies for tardiness and take his empty chair. When again the orchestra drifted suddenly into the waltz to which they had danced, she rose abruptly and left the room.
Well, she would go herself in the morning. She would settle everything and pack her things at once. She went to the desk to ask for the check. But there was nothing for her. No, the clerk assured her after much fumbling, Mr. Blair hadn't left anything, either in her box or his own. But, - the man stole a covert glance at her downcast face, - he was still holding his rooms. Probably he meant to attend to it when he returned.
That he might not see the wild joy that leaped to her eyes, Miss Hastings turned with startling suddenness and fled upstairs. Safe in her own room she flung herself with tears and laughter on the bed. So that was the hand he was playing, was it? - the dear, wicked, unmanageable - ! Of course he would have to be punished, - well punished! but - she laughed aloud for pure joy - the world was a radiant place once more, and nothing of any sort really mattered, because he was coming back.
But the next day went by, and the next, and he had not come. Day after day passed in an empty procession, yet no one of them brought that for which she waited. And there was nothing else to do. Work was out of the question. She could not sit still long enough. It became, instead, her sole occupation to linger each morning and afternoon on the verandah until the steamer from Los Angeles had rounded the point and crossed the bay in front of the hotel. Then, hidden behind the palms she would watch until the last straggling tourist had left the pier. But still he did not come.
Doubt in every tormenting guise assailed her. Perhaps he had changed his mind and decided later not to return. Yet the clerk had said he meant to come back! Perhaps her check, sent by mail, was even now in her box. But she had not the courage to go again to the desk. Driven by alternate hope and fear she lost color, and she could not sleep. During seven miserable nights she planned to go back to Pasadena by the morning boat, and as many times she put it off. Yet, if he did return to find her waiting, what, then, would she have given him the right to think? But, on the other hand, if she went she might never see him again!
On the eighth day she took herself grimly in hand. No longer would she humiliate herself by any further delay. Wildenai had not waited, and even a school teacher can be as proud as an Indian princess! That very afternoon she would finish her sketch of the cavern. Then tomorrow she would go back to Pasadena and the long gray round of work. Desolately she wandered up the secret trail to Wildenai's bower. Never had her sympathy for the deserted princess been so keen. Perhaps, she mournfully considered, if the spirit of the Indian maiden still lingered there it might feel sympathy for her as well. Perhaps she, too, would find comfort in the spot where that other woman had paid an equal price for her impulsiveness.
The shadows in the little cavern were dark and cool and, laying aside her box of colors, for a long time she sat quite motionless, staring out to where the gulls drifted and glinted against the blue. She heard after a while the whistle of the approaching steamer but gave no heed. Lying back against the moss she had almost dropped asleep when something in the corner opposite attracted her attention. She sat up nervously and stared into the shadows. Was it only that the darkness was deeper over there, or was that really something propped against the wall? And had it moved?
In the years that followed she never knew how long she sat there after the stones had been lifted away, holding in her lap those shreds of torn white doeskin. Still caught together, though in tatters, by long strings of shells and beads, they shone, a ghostly film of white from out the dimness. A breath, and the whole would have crumbled into dust. Yet the beads, she noticed, were still perfect as when strung by slim brown fingers centuries before. Only half believing it was not all of it a dream, she lifted them strand after strand. Then, suddenly, she gave a little cry. Somewhere from out the torn folds a slender chain had slipped. Trembling with a curiosity that bordered close on terror, she carried it to the light, and there it glowed, a glancing stream of crimson, in her hand.
"Wildenai's necklace!" she breathed, and hid her face.
There came the sound of a step outside. The manzanita branches were pushed impatiently aside and he stood before her.
The journey across the channel from Los Angeles had seemed twice as long as when he made it a few weeks before, and he had hurried all the way from the hotel straight to the little cavern. But now that he had found her again, there seemed to be plenty of time for everything, and he stood quite silent looking down at her. He was glad he had found her there, glad, in a curious, unreasoning way, for the quiet of the late afternoon, for the faint fragrance of the Mariposa lilies blooming just beyond the ledge. Yet he let her know nothing of this in what he said.
"So here you are, after all! I thought I should find you here."
She had not heard him come and was startled into a cry.
"You!" she gasped, and lifted eyes in which the telltale signs of tears were still quite evident, so evident that, with a woman's instinct to hide them, she caught up the necklace and held it toward him.
"See what I've found!" she exclaimed.
But he paid no heed. Instead, manlike, he proceeded, quite unconsciously, to say the one thing that could hurt her most.
"I looked for you at the hotel first, then I came on up here. I knew you wouldn't go till I came!"
The color that had flooded her face at the sound of his voice faded again. She was quite white as she asked quietly:
"How could you know I would stay?"
He laughed easily, settling himself confidently on the moss at her side.
"Because I hadn't paid you yet," he answered gaily. "Don't you think that was clever of me, Wildenai?"
"I would rather you did not call me that," she told him coldly, "It sounds irreverent." And she dropped her eyes, which had filled again miserably, to the film of white in her lap. Then, with a pitiful attempt to hurt him in return: "Of course you realize that I really don't know much about you. I don't want you to think that I distrusted you exactly - " she marvelled at herself that she could say such things to him, but went recklessly on. "The check wasn't there, - and so, well, it seemed wisest to wait. They said you were coming back, and I couldn't afford to lose it; so I stayed. Just a matter of business, you see!" She finished in a tone which, except for a suspicious tremble, was satisfactorily disagreeable.
But Blair's armor, since his return, seemed proof against such thrusts as she could give.
"Won't play Indian at all, then?" he retorted teasingly. "But of course not! How could you when you happen to come from the other side of the house? However," he continued whimsically, "there are such things as English roses, you know. I've always loved them, too, even when they were thorny!"
He pulled absently at a fern growing near, while, suddenly, for no particular reason, the color glowed again in the cheeks of the little art teacher. She smiled, half unwillingly.
"But don't pull up the wild flowers here," she warned him, "You'll have the forester after you! When did you get back?" she added. "Where have you been so long?" burned on her lips, but she scorned to ask it.
"About an hour ago," he replied amiably. "The boat was late."
"I was beginning to think you'd given up coming at all." She could not keep it back. "The duke never bothered to, you know."
But this blow, like the first, failed to reach any vulnerable spot. Blair did not flinch.
"No, naturally he didn't! He was English, and you can't depend upon the English, I've discovered. But there's not the slightest reason for linking me up with him. The princess never ran away now, did she? And I - " He paused, then without looking at her he began again.
"Seriously, I'm sorry if I seemed to be deserting. I - well, honestly, I didn't know what else to do. You suggested it yourself, you remember! And I'd promised my father to look after some business for him in Los Angeles while I was out here. You see, he - our family, have lived in the East for a long time now, but we used to own pretty much all of Los Angeles county some three centuries ago, when the Spanish were here, and - " Again he broke off abruptly. "Do you want to know about me?" he demanded.
Miss Hastings leaned breathlessly toward him. Her heart was beating wildly.
"Oh, please!" she begged.
"Perhaps I should have told you at the first," he began, "or at least after you told me who you were, but - anyway, I didn't. I'd never told anyone before and I didn't much suppose I ever would. There's a reason, though, why I'm particularly interested in this legend, too, a reason just as good as you've got. I'm - well, I'm one of Wildenai's great, great grandsons!"
And then, because she sat quite silent there in the shadows, and motionless except for fingering something white that lay in her lap, he waited uneasily. Was she angry again, he wondered, or perhaps she was only laughing!
She was the first to break the silence.
"Are you trying to be funny?" Her voice was very cold.
"Not at all," he answered hotly. "It must be all of ten generations back or even more, and of course it wasn't all Spanish afterward, but, just the same, I'm as much a descendant of the princess as you are of the duke, - always have been! I'm just as proud of it, too. Possibly you will remember that the Spanish beat the English to it, at least in California. Anyway," he finished bitterly, "what difference does it make? So far as I can see, it only gives us one more good subject to quarrel about!"
Then out of the dimness came a queer little sound, whether of tears or of laughter it was impossible to know. For the least part of a second a hand brushed his own.
"Oh, no!" she whispered, "Let's not do that. It wouldn't be right! And see," she laughed tremulously, "Isn't it strange I should have found it today, but," she lifted the white thing in her lap, "here is Wildenai's wedding dress - and the chain of garnets!"
The cavern was quite dark before they had finished talking about it, but at length they laid the poor little ghost of a garment reverently back among the stones and rose to go.
"But the necklace?" Blair asked, hesitating, "do you think we ought to leave that here?"
The girl considered a moment.
"It's really yours," she decided. "Nobody else could have the least claim to it."
"Except - " Suddenly his eyes shone with a strange expression before which the little art teacher instinctively shrank. He took a step toward her.
"I believe I'll give the garnets back," he announced. "I fancy that's what the princess would have liked to do if she'd had the chance. Besides," his eyes grew still darker, "they were meant in the first place for a wedding gift, and so if you - "
He would have clasped them about her neck, but Miss Hastings backed frantically away.
"No! - not for worlds," she cried. "You know you're only saying it because you think you can't get out of it!" And before he could realize just what was happening, she was gone.
The boat for Los Angeles was unusually crowded that night. For either this reason, or some other she would not acknowledge, Miss Hastings found herself pushed aside by more impatient passengers every time she attempted to enter the gangway.
"All aboard!" called a peremptory voice from somewhere on deck. She took a step forward, hesitated, drew back. The plank was hauled irrevocably away, and she turned to face Blair standing just behind her on the wharf.
"I was sure you wouldn't run away," he declared, "but if you had - !"
She let him lead her back along the broad boardwalk toward the hotel until they stood within the shadow of the huge boulder which for centuries has marked the outer boundary of the Bay of Moons. Beyond them the lights of the St. Catherine glimmered down the hill and on over the water, rimming with golden bubbles the outlines of the pier.
"Wildenai!" Out of the darkness his voice came to her, mocking, tender, wholly insistent. "Foolish, obstinate little lady! Can't you see how it's up to you, - up to the English to make amends? Honestly now, when he began it I don't imagine even that rascal Drake himself would have believed a family scrap could last the better part of four centuries. Don't you really think it's about time for you to call it off?"
And flinging her scruples to the winds, Miss Hastings suddenly decided that it was.