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Title: A Fortune Hunter; Or, The Old Stone Corral - A Tale of the Santa Fe Trail
Author: Carteret, John Dunloe
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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STONE CORRAL***


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A FORTUNE HUNTER;

OR,

THE OLD STONE CORRAL.

A Tale of the Santa Fe Trail.

by

JOHN DUNLOE CARTERET.



Cincinnati:
Printed for the Author.
1888.

Copyrighted, 1886.



CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER I.

    Nature's Blank Page--The Old Stone Corral--The Lost Treasure
    of Monteluma--Camp-fires--The Warlow and Moreland Families--The
    Camp on the Cottonwood--A Tale of the Camp-fire                    7


    CHAPTER II.

    Colonel Warlow's Story--Bruce Walraven--The Heiress of
    Monteluma--The Vale of Mexico--Bandits--The Rescue--The
    Web of Destiny                                                    19


    CHAPTER III.

    Breakfast on the Plains--Colonel Warlow's Story
    Continued--Bruce Walraven's Creed--Blood-drenched Malvern
    Hill--The Dim Crest of Orizaba--Roses and Thorns--The
    Wealth of Monteluma--A Cask of Gold--The Casket of
    Gems--The Overland Journey--A Dark Tragedy                        29


    CHAPTER IV.

    Colonel Warlow's Story Continued--Los Angeles--A Friend
    in Need--A Storm on the Pacific--Shipwreck--Under the
    Waves                                                             48


    CHAPTER V.

    Colonel Warlow's Story Continued--Alone--The Castaway--The
    Golden Gate to Home Sweet Home--Acapulco--Roger--The
    Isthmus of Panama                                                 57

    CHAPTER VI.

    Colonel Warlow's Story Continued--The Tropical Groves
    of Cuba--The Coffee Plantation--A Blooming Christmas--The
    Tomb of Columbus--The Roses and Passion-flowers of
    Cuba--The Warm Hearts of Home--Ah! Such a Day can never
    come Again--Snow-drifts, Sleigh-bells, and
    Sweethearts--Mary, etc.                                           71


    CHAPTER VII.

    Colonel Warlow's Story Concluded--The Wool-picking--The
    Squire's Harrow--Wedding Bells--Profit and Loss--The
    Spectre of the Stone Corral                                       79


    CHAPTER VIII.

    The Monotony of Frontier Life--New Homes--Voting
    Bonds--The Grasshopper Raid--Back to the Land of the
    Mother-in-law--Grim Famine's Shadow--The Flood--A
    Strange Weird Sight                                               87


    CHAPTER IX.

    A Raging Torrent--The Crows' Nest--An Aerial
    Family--"Kansis oR buST"                                         100


    CHAPTER X.

    The Picnic--A Biled Vest--A Dark-eyed Maid with her Sweet
    Guitar--Mora Estill--Fishing, etc., but Principally the
    Latter--"We have met before"--The Gray Spectre--The
    Mystery-wrapped Grave of the Hill-top--Rough as a
    Farmer--Transmigration of Souls                                  108


    CHAPTER XI.

    A Western Call--Mystery--The Call lengthens into a Western
    Visit--Spring Chicken and Mystery                                126

    CHAPTER XII.

    False Riches--A Young Fortune Hunter--The Santa Fe
    Trail--Searching for the Gold of Monteluma--The Serpent's
    Warning Rattle--The Stare of Death--The Gray Spectre             144


    CHAPTER XIII.

    A Western Wheat-field--A Visit to Estill's Ranch--A
    Skeleton in the Estill Closet--An Art Critic who was "Beef
    to the Heel"--Very Undairy-like--A Trace of Mystery              159


    CHAPTER XIV.

    Phantoms of the Past--That "Unspeakable" Rob Warlow--The
    Running-gears, if you please--The Clouds thicken--A
    Glimpse of the Past                                              179


    CHAPTER XV.

    The Mysterious Trail--The Secret Cell--A Voice from
    the Past--The Journal of Ivarene                                 194


    CHAPTER XVI.

    The Web of Mystery--The Gems of Monteluma--A Scene of
    Bewildering Beauty                                               203


    CHAPTER XVII.

    The Red Gold of Monteluma--My Father's Doubloons--The
    Phantom--A Million of Treasure                                   211


    CHAPTER XVIII.

    The Course of True Love--The Cattle-king's
    Daughter--Flirtation and Practicing--"Your Music makes me
    Home-sick"--A Dubious Compliment--A Western View of Classic
    Music--Schubert's Serenade, in which Rob has the "Cheek"
    to assert that he can recognize the very Bar in that
    Masterpiece, where the Old Man turns the Bull-dog loose--A
    Couple of Idiots--Where Grace's Fingers itch to pull
    Cliff's Ears--A Lover whose Lip hangs Very Low--That
    Contemptible Thing, a Fortune Hunter                             220


    CHAPTER XIX.

    A Strange Theory--Our Bodies may be tenanted by Souls
    that have lived before--Farewell, my Native Land--A
    Glimmering Circle of Phantom Warriors--A Haunted Spot--The
    Crossing of the Santa Fe and Abilene Trails--The
    Picnic--A Scene that was too Rich for my Blood                   239


    CHAPTER XX.

    My Long-lost Gold--A Hero who dripped at the Nose like a
    Hydrant--An Embarrassment of Riches--The Mirage--The Valley
    of the Smoky Hill--The Iron Mound and Soldier's Cap--The
    Mennonite Colony--A Gigantic Land-sale--Eagle Beak--The
    Wailing Wolf of the Hill-top--A Strange Creed--A Stately
    Mansion--The Grave-lights of Antelope Butte--A Comforting
    and Seductive Theory--We may be re-born and live again to
    enjoy the Happiness lost by Death                                259


    CHAPTER XXI.

    The Skeletons on Antelope Butte--The Serene Wedding Morn
    at the Stone Corral--We Live Again--Wedding
    Festivities--The End                                             285



A FORTUNE HUNTER:

OR,

THE OLD STONE CORRAL.



Chapter I.


The sinking sun threw its amber beams over the wide valley, rolling
hills, and the dim buttes, wreathed in the blue haze of distance and
looming with vague outlines in the wavering shimmer of the evening
mirage.

A silvery stream, half hidden by fringing trees, wound through the
prairie valley, but was lost to sight where a lofty butte shouldered
boldly down from the highland on the south, as if to catch a view of the
Eden-like landscape that dreamed below, while far away to the north a
line of galloping hills bounded the vision, their mantles of tender
green dappled by the shadow and sunshine of the fleecy clouds that
floated overhead. On the south the level prairie melted away into the
limitless distance, clothed in the tender grasses and flowers of early
spring-time, while on every hand stretched away the horizon-bound
prairies of the Western plains.

A wide meadow-land, made perfect by the hand of nature, but lacking that
soul and animation which human occupancy alone can impart to any scene.
No homes are visible; nothing but the blank page of nature, waiting to
be written over with the histories of the people, which, something
whispers to me, will soon invade this peaceful scene, over which now
broods the unnatural calm of utter solitude.

Out beyond that blue line of hills, which flame up in the east, is
raging the fierce conflict which we call civilization; but the shock and
din, the roar and turmoil of the mighty battle die fitfully away long
before reaching the quivering line of that dim horizon. I stand alone
upon the crest of a breeze-kissed hill, listening to the moan and
whisper of the wind sighing through the grasses at my feet, or the notes
of a meadow lark, thrilling and sweet, as it flits by.

To the westward, on a lofty knoll, are visible the broken arches and
ruined walls of the Old Stone Corral; rank vines now veil the loop-holes
where once had flashed forth the leaden death-messenger for many a
savage warrior that had tried to storm the impregnable inclosure, which
had been built as a place of refuge for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail,
that here crossed the Cottonwood on a stony ford. A giant elm, centuries
old, stood amid the ruins, its drooping boughs of feathery spray weeping
like a fountain of verdure over the spring that welled out from among
its roots, then went gurgling away, a purling brook, to join the narrow
stream in the valley.

The river here at the ruins had nearly encircled the hill on which they
stood, and after half embracing the knoll in its timber-fringed course
had wound away down the valley, but where the groves grew in masses of
darkest green, there the stream had widened to miniature lakelets that
flashed like silver in the slanting sunbeams.

On a low mound near by I see a great stone, like a rude monument, and
drawing near I can barely decipher this dim and weather-worn
inscription, carved on the red sandstone:

            Erected to the Memory
                     OF
    FIFTY-THREE VICTIMS OF THE CHEYENNES,
              AUGUST 22, 1849.
             NAMES ALL UNKNOWN.

Here is a dim, dark tragedy, buried within this grassy knoll, but within
these pages all the mystery which haunts the flower-bespangled hillock
will be cleared away. A difficult task indeed; but without those graves
my story would never have been written.

I stand silent and thoughtful, gazing out over the tranquil landscape,
which had once witnessed a scene of revolting horror here on this quiet
spot; but all is peaceful now, the only sign of life visible being the
long file of antelope that hurry by from the north. Halting on a lofty
headland, they pause a moment, stretching their graceful necks to gaze
back along their pathway, then with loud snorts wheeling and swiftly
fleeing away.

At this moment the distant sound of hoofs was heard, becoming
momentarily louder; then a group of riders dash up on their sleek,
superb horses, and draw rein at the rude monument.

"It must be here, Clifford, at this low mound," said one of the riders,
a graceful girl of seventeen, with nut-brown hair and blue eyes.

"Yes, Maud, I recognize the knoll from father's and Uncle Roger's
description. It was uncle who carved this inscription upon the stone,
little dreaming then that we should all come here a quarter of a century
later to secure a new home," replied a youth of near twenty years;
handsome, golden-haired, and symmetrical, with eyes of pansy blue, and a
look of pride and good birth about him which showed plain through the
dust and tan of a long journey.

"Ah, dear Bruce and Ivarene! how sad to end their romance with such a
tragedy!" said Maud tearfully, as Clifford dismounted; then, as he
helped her to alight, they stood for a moment in mute sorrow while
deciphering the inscription upon the stone.

"Maud, it is hard to believe that the heiress of grand old Monteluma,
with her millions of gold and gems at command, who wedded noble Bruce in
the great cathedral before the dignitaries and ambassadors of half
Christendom with a pomp and splendor new to even luxury-steeped Mexico,
is sleeping with her husband in the silence of this lonesome grave,"
Clifford said in a tone of deep sadness.

"Oh! how vivid the picture returns, of the silken and lace-robed
heiress, who threw back the gilded lattice of her window, and with
pearls glinting, and rubies burning in her raven hair, smiled as her
handsome lover, in his uniform of gray and gold lace, swung himself up
to her window by the passion-vines and fuchsias, that rained a shower of
purple, white, and rose on his sunny hair. I can almost see the
love-look in his blue eyes yet," said Maud with a flood of tears, as she
leaned against the rude monument and covered her face with her hands.

"I have sometimes fancied that they escaped; for there was no one left
but father to inquire, and you know how long he was covered with the
stones of that old wall, remaining delirious for months after Uncle
Roger found him," said Clifford, "and that million of their gold and
gems, with father's store of gold, I have often fancied, Maud, was
hidden near here; for there has never been a search made since the
terrible massacre."

"That looks so improbable, Clifford. If the savages murdered them for
plunder, as they certainly did, then it is idle to think that they would
have left anything of value behind. Even the jewels would have been
fought for, as savages are very fond of glitter and splendor," Maud
replied.

"Yes, that very disposition of theirs to wrangle over their booty has
given me a hope that the leader might have buried the gold, for the
reason that it would have been impossible to carry away a ton of coin
without first dividing it. I shall make the search at any rate, though
it does look like a forlorn hope," he added with a sigh.

"Miss Warlow, there seems to have been a great tragedy enacted here in
the past," said a young man of near Clifford's age, who had been
silently regarding them from a distance, in company with a
flaxen-haired girl, younger than Maud, who still sat upon her horse by
his side.

"Yes, Mr. Moreland, and it nearly concerns us; for our father, here on
this spot, once lost a great fortune, and at the same time those two
friends of whom we have been speaking. This all was long before Clifford
and I were born; but father has told us so often of the tragedy that the
names of Bruce and Ivarene Walraven are dear and sacred to us all," Maud
replied.

"Oh, Ralph! I wonder if Colonel Warlow would tell us the particulars of
that terrible affair?" said the younger girl.

"It would be doubly interesting here upon the closing scene of the
tragedy," the young man replied.

"Will you ask your father, Maud, to tell us to-night?" the young girl
inquired eagerly.

"Yes, Grace: it will help to while away our first Sabbath here, which
will be a lonesome day to-morrow," Maud made answer as they remounted
and rode down to the stream to water their horses.

"What a lovely camp-ground!" exclaimed Grace. "Shall we not stop here,
Ralph?"

"Yes, sister, if the others are willing. It is not only a fine camping
ground, but it is more: This is a grand home-land, or will be when we
select our 'claims,' Monday. I never before have seen a more beautiful
or fertile valley than this."

Soon a long line of white covered wagons and a comfortable carriage
appeared, coming down the Santa Fe trail, which wound its travel-worn
course over the hills from the north-east; and where solitude had
reigned but an hour before there now re-echoed the sounds of a busy
camp, and ruddy fires leaped and sparkled, about which female forms
flitted to and fro, preparing their evening meal. But while all was
bustle and animation within the camp, a solitary figure could be seen
standing at the long grave, bowed in an attitude of silent grief.

As he walked slowly back within the glare of the camp-fire, it was
apparent that he was a man past middle life, of grave and dignified
appearance; the lines of care, on his still handsome face, were deepened
as if by grief as he seated himself by a tree, away from the glare of
the light.

As he sat thus--lost in reverie--Maud came softly by, and, passing her
hand over his hair in a caressing way, said:--

"What a lovely country this is! I am charmed with it already."

"Yes, Maud, my daughter, it is a fertile and picturesque region; but it
will be hard to inure myself to living on this spot, for it is haunted
by very bitter memories."

"Oh, it is sad, indeed, to think of the fate of Bruce and his graceful
bride; but we will deck their grave with flowers, and I shall never
cease to grieve for them," she said, dropping a kiss on her father's
cheek, then hurrying away to the camp-fire.

He was roused from his gloomy reverie, a few minutes later, by his wife,
who came to his side, and, as her hand rested fondly on his shoulder,
she said, in a sweet voice of womanly sympathy, in which could be
traced a sub-tone of strength and resolution:--

"George, dear, this is no time for repining; instead we should feel
happy and grateful that we have found such a delightful country as this
in which to select our future home. Oh, this valley is more beautiful
than even my wildest dreams had ever pictured. I had felt apprehensive,
husband, that your impressions of this place had been colored by your
youthful enthusiasm of twenty, and own that I had made ample allowance
for the quarter of a century which has passed since then; but it is
certainly the most charming spot I have ever beheld."

"My dear, brave wife," he replied joyfully, "you lift a heavy burden
from my heart; we will select a home near here early Monday morning, and
begin building at once. I shall leave the selection with you, Mary,
however."

"Oh, we are too late," she replied, with a cheerful smile. "Robbie has
found the spot already; he has just returned from down the valley, where
Scott Moreland and himself had driven the stock, and they report having
found a perfect paradise. They are both boiling over with enthusiasm,
and are bareheaded, having left their hats hanging on trees to mark the
location of their respective 'claims,' and when I left the camp-fire
they were inveighing against the injustice of a law that would not
permit fifteen-year-old boys to take a 'homestead.'"

In a more cheerful mood the couple now sought the camp-fire, which was
surrounded by more than a dozen persons of both sexes, all animated and
happy over the termination of their long and toilsome journey.

The two who have just entered the circle are Colonel Warlow and his
wife, while the handsome youth of fifteen, with hazel eyes and auburn
hair, which has a faint tinge of red, that accounts for the reputation
he has earned within the Warlow circle, is Robbie, their youngest; while
that golden-haired young Adonis, who, in a fit of grave abstraction,
sits leaning against a tree, his white and tapering hands clasped about
his knee, the firelight glimmering over a small and well-shaped boot
resting on the round of his chair, is their oldest son, Clifford, whom
we have met before; while Maud, their only daughter, is easily
recognized as she flits about, busy and graceful.

Next we see the family of Squire Moreland, from the valley of the
Merrimac--the squire himself being a representative Puritan, plain and
grave; his wife, a type of the live and thorough-going New England
woman, deeply imbued with the "thingness of is," able to discuss apples
or algebra, beans or baptism, or in fact any subject down to zymology.
Then Ralph, principally to be recommended for being "general good
fellow." Next in their family is Scott, quiet and grave, addressed by
Rob Warlow as the "Young Squire;" and their only daughter, Grace, in
whose make-up there is more than a faint spice of the tomboy.

Colonel Warlow's family had left their old Missouri home, the tobacco
and hemp plantation on which the children had all been born, and,
having met the Morelands on their rout, bound for that indefinite
region "out West," they had journeyed on together to this spot,
attracted by Colonel Warlow's remembrance of its great beauty and
natural fertility, which had deeply impressed him when he was here a
quarter of a century before.

Learning, at Council Grove, that the valley was open to homestead entry,
they had hastened on, miles ahead of other settlements, to locate here
on a spot that was beyond the utmost limit of civilization.

Soon the hungry travelers were seated at the cloth that was spread on
the downy buffalo-grass, and were partaking of the broiled quail and
antelope steak, the appetizing odors of which now pervaded the whole
camp; but as the company ranged themselves about the tempting repast,
Maud and Grace retired to a seat by the fire, declaring as they did so,
that they would not sacrifice their precious lives by sitting at a table
with thirteen other sinners.

"Give us a song, then," cried some one from the table, at which Grace
sprang up and brought Maud's guitar from the carriage, and soon the
sweet strains,

    "Oft in the stilly night,
      Ere slumber's chains have bound me,
    Fond memory brings the light
      Of other days around me,"

re-echoed through the tranquil valley. As Maud's tender soprano mingled
with the luscious alto of Grace's voice the listeners almost forgot the
tempting feast spread before them, and cries of "Bravo!" "Encore!"
etc., greeted the close of the pathetic song, which was wholly lost, as
to its sentiment, upon the younger members of the company.

"Pass the hat," cried Bob, whereupon Grace handed her sunshade around
among the laughing group, but after inspecting the collection, she said
with an air of contempt:--

"A wish-bone and five bread-crusts! Why, a _prima donna_ would starve on
such a meagre salary. I've a notion to play Herodias's daughter and
dance off your heads;" and when Maud struck up a lively fandango, she
shook her curls in a threatening manner, and then whirled off into an
amazing waltz.

Jeers and hoots from the boys resounded at her last _pas seul_, and
Clifford's voice was heard in the gay tumult saying: "Mademoiselle dis
Grace must have learned her step at an Irish wake."

"Let us no longer serve an ungrateful public," said Maud, as they sat
down to the table, where their gayety chased away all traces of care or
sorrow. When the meal was finished, Maud and Grace begged Colonel Warlow
to relate his early history. Their request was eagerly seconded by the
other members of the company, who were anxious to learn the particulars
of that tragedy, hinted at by the inscription on the mound, and how he
came to be connected with the actors in that terrible drama, and to lose
a great fortune on that spot so long ago. Then the colonel, after
sitting for a few moments wrapped in serious thought, replied that it
was a long story, and would require more than one evening to relate all
the particulars of that great tragedy, that would always be fresh in his
memory as long as life endured.

The company reminded him that it would be rather lonesome on their first
Sabbath, and entreated him so eagerly that at length he consented; then,
as the firelight leaped and sparkled, and the beams of the rising moon
silvered the waters of the stream, moaning and fretting over the stony
ford, they all gathered about the colonel, still and expectant. The
quavering scream of a lone wolf died out on the hills in a plaintive
wail; then only the faint whisper of the wind sighing though the willow
was heard, and the colonel said:--



Chapter II.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY.


"When a boy of twenty I joined the army that soon invaded Mexico, and
carried victory with its banners into the Aztec capital--the
world-renowned halls of the Montezumas.

"It was before Vera Cruz--when our ranks were swept by the iron hail,
rained upon our storming columns by scores of cannon from San Juan de
Ulloa--that I first saw Bruce Walraven, whom I was thenceforth to regard
as a brother.

"An exploding shell had killed my horse, which had fallen upon me in
such a way that made it impossible for me to rise without assistance;
and while I was yet vainly struggling to extricate myself from the
dangerous position, a squadron of cavalry rushed by, charging a company
of Mexican infantry intrenched behind a light breastwork of sand-bags. I
held up my hand with an imploring gesture--a human voice was lost in the
wild thunder and roar of artillery--and the leader of the cavalry saw my
sad plight. He wavered a moment as though struggling with discipline;
but the sight of a fellow-soldier in distress seemed to outweigh all
else, even the pride of leading his men, for he dashed to my side and
helped me to rise; then, as a riderless horse galloped by, he caught its
dangling rein, and by his help, in a moment more I was again in the
saddle.

"By rapid riding we soon overtook the command, and were greeted by a
ringing cheer from the soldiers, who quickly showed their appreciation
of his humanity. Later in the war I would not have been so fortunate;
but we were new, as yet, to scenes of bloodshed and carnage, which
accounted for the laxity of discipline, but evidence of humanity, shown
in this incident.

"After the successful storming of the enemy's slight earthworks, which,
with their usual lack of military science, had been but half manned and
illy constructed, I had a long talk with young Lieutenant Walraven, and
in a short time I had managed to be exchanged into his company; and we
soon became inseparable companions, sharing the same blanket at night
and rude fare during the day, or riding side by side through the battles
of that glorious campaign, and finally reaching the valley of Mexico
safely.

"Here, while engaged in a slight skirmish with the enemy, Walraven was
wounded in the arm, and was immediately conveyed to the old hacienda of
Monteluma, near by. At his urgent request I was detailed to stay with
him as a guard. In the courts of that princely villa he rapidly
convalesced; and one day, while seated by the great fountain, where
myrtle and jasmine, oleander and roses, mingled their fragrance, he saw
two beautiful Spanish ladies loitering near, and being concealed by the
luxuriant foliage himself, he could see and hear all that passed
without being discovered.

"He always afterward declared to me that at first he had no intention of
playing the eavesdropper; but when he learned from their talk that it
was himself they were discussing, then the temptation became too great
to resist, so he sat very still while the following dialogue took place,
and which, with his usual boyish frankness, he related to me an hour
later. This was in Spanish; but Bruce was now quite proficient in that
language, and readily understood all that was said:--

"'But, Ivarene, my dear, it does not become Don Rozarro's daughter and
heiress--last, alas! of the proud line of Monteluma--to become
infatuated with the blue eyes and golden hair of this wounded soldier;
and if he is as handsome as a Norse king, to which you so foolishly
compare him, he still is no less our country's enemy,' said the elder
lady, who seemed to be a duenna, whose sole care consisted in keeping
the younger and more beautiful lady hidden from the eyes of her
unwelcome guests, but with what success you may readily perceive.

"'But, Labella, cousin dear, he is alone, wounded and ill in a foreign
land--no mother, sister, or sweetheart near to soothe his long days of
pain! (I wonder if he has a sweetheart in that cold Northland!) And
then, Labella, does not the good Book command us to do good to those who
hate us, and to love our enemies?' she replied with a mischievous
smile.

"'Oh, the command, my darling, does not apply to every sunny-haired
trooper who, invades our country--'

"'No--no; not every one, true!' retorted Ivarene, archly, to which the
duenna quickly replied:--

"'I fear, Ivarene, that your English education, and your much reading of
those Northern books, have turned your head.'

"Here the ladies passed on through a latticed arcade, and their voices
were lost in the distance; but my friend had seen and heard enough to
lose his heart completely, and in the evening, as we sat on the balcony
without, he was so quiet and thoughtful that I began to realize the fact
that he was deeply entangled in the meshes of love at first sight.

"Leaving him to his reflections, I walked to the edge of the balcony to
gaze out over the matchless landscape which the lofty mansion commanded.

"The tropic moon poured a flood of silvery radiance over the Vale of
Mexico, while low down on the horizon burned the fiery Southern Cross.
The bubbling domes of the great capital seemed to float upon the lakes
which environ its walls, and her myriad lights twinkled and flashed back
from their waters like stars on a frosty night.

"Old Chapultepec, with its castellated walls, towered out on the lofty
headland; and the dark forests of cypress, that had witnessed the
tragedies and pageants of Aztec splendor for a thousand years past,
clothed the base of the hill in a sombre mantle, peopled by the
spectres, I thought, of long dead princes and Montezumas that in the
dim past had lived their lives of inconceivable luxury in those ancient
groves.

"Over all loomed the old volcanoes, white and ghostly, with their
mantles of eternal snow and hearts of hidden fire. Shrouded in mystery,
they seemed a fit emblem of the Aztec past, whose buried histories still
haunt this ancient land.

"Near by, at the foot of the lofty terrace, the groves of olive and
orange were sombre in shade. In the soft wind the myrtle rustled
faintly, and on the roses at our feet the dew-drops glinted in fitful
splendor.

"In an angle of the old wall, where the murky shadows were deepest, the
glow-worms burned in the damp grass, and the fire-flies glimmered
incessantly. There I half fancied that I could see strange forms
hovering; and when a figure flitted out into the moonlight, then was
quickly lost again in the black shade of an aloe, I was startled for a
moment; but concluding it was one of the peons belonging to the estate,
I turned my eyes to again feast on the glorious view.

"There were numberless fountains pouring down their sheen of waters,
that, after flashing a moment in the moonlight, rippled away in
rivulets, which gurgled and sang as they leaped over the terraces in
mimic cascades, where they joined the waters of the fairy-like lakes
that slumbered in the grounds below. These tranquil sheets of water were
the reservoirs which served to irrigate the vast estate, and were decked
with floating gardens, on which were gilded arbors or lattices of
white, with beds of bright-hued tropic flowers.

"On every hand lay league upon league of land, all owned by the young
mistress of Monteluma. The long avenue of cypress only ending close to
the walls of the capital, the villages of peons, the pasturages where
the numerous flocks grazed, groves of orange and lemon, and the fields
of wheat,--all these I knew were the undisputed estate of our hostess,
of whom Bruce was now dreaming.

"I was aroused from my reverie by an exclamation from my companion, who
had now sprung up excitedly and was pointing down toward the entrance,
while he grasped the pistols that hung in his belt--weapons that were
never lost sight of in this turbulent country. As I looked toward the
spot where he was pointing I could see the long line of a hundred
steps--which led up to the only entrance to the hacienda--lined and
thronging with armed men:

"In a moment the situation flashed upon us: they were banditti or
marauders, emboldened by the unprotected state of the rich villa, and
were now attacking the great iron-studded door. If they effected an
entrance, I shuddered with apprehension to think of the fate of its
inmates; but we lost no time while we were thus speculating, but quickly
barring the door on the balcony we rushed down into the court, and while
I grasped the bell-rope and sent forth a wild alarm from the brazen bell
that hung in the lofty tower, Bruce hurried on through the long hall
toward the door of entrance.

"As he was fastening the chains and bars across the entrance a crowd of
frightened peons came flocking into the hall, and while we were hastily
arming them with the guns that hung upon the wall and directing them to
guard the upper windows and doors that opened out upon the lofty
balconies, the door of the great saloon was hurriedly thrown open, and
Senora Labella asked in a trembling voice the reason of the commotion.

"When she learned that the bandits were at the door she fled back into
the room, and as we followed, assuring her of our protection, we saw her
fly to where the young heiress stood, her arm yet resting upon the
gilded harp which she had but just that moment ceased playing, and the
light from the silver chandelier falling softly upon her raven hair and
the lustrous white silk that fell in graceful folds about her slender
form.

"While the excited duenna clung to the more youthful lady, and gave way
to incoherent cries of fear and moans of distress, we begged them to
retire to a tower of great strength, and we would surely repel the
attack; but Ivarene declared she would stay and help defend her
home--saying she would not have it said that the last Rozarro was the
first to flee from danger.

"After the senora had been given over to the care of a bevy of badly
frightened maids, Ivarene hurried fearlessly out into the hall and
showed Bruce where several loop-holes were concealed by slides of iron.
These commanded the entrance, and while we rained a galling fire upon
the enemy, she stood in an angle of the thick wall and reloaded the
guns for us, which we as rapidly discharged again with telling effect.
The blows upon the door soon ceased, and we could see the marauders
retreating down the steps; then, as a parting salute followed them, they
could be heard galloping swiftly away.

"When all was still again, we accompanied the brave young heiress back
to the saloon, where she thanked us earnestly for the rescue of her home
from the hands of the marauders. Of course, we quickly assured her that
the honors and glory of the occasion rested in her bravery and
resolution. When she gave her hand to my handsome, sunny-haired friend,
I think something stronger than admiration shone in his deep-blue eyes
as he gazed upon the beautiful creole face, now suffused with blushes
and lit by eyes of midnight blackness.

"The senora had now recovered from her agitation, and was voluble and
profuse in her thanks and compliments. At a sign from her the servants
brought great silver trays, loaded with cake of white and gold, with
decanters of ruby wine, glittering in the flasks of cut glass like
liquid fire. For an hour or more the dark-eyed young heiress sang songs
of Spain in a voice of cultured melody, while her white fingers swept
the gilded harp, that vibrated in tones of sweetest harmony under her
skillful touch.

"As a compliment to us she also sang several Scotch and English ballads,
and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that she had received an
education in England, and spoke our own tongue with remarkable fluency.

"From that night we were accorded all the privileges of honored guests
in the great hacienda."

Here the colonel paused, remarking that as the hour was growing late his
hearers would excuse him, which they promised to do providing he would
continue his narrative on the morrow. As the party arose from about the
camp-fire, Robbie said he felt heroic enough to eat several Mexicans,
not to mention such relishes as wine, cake, and peons, at which very
broad hint the tea-kettle was soon humming on the embers; and when the
cups of the soothing beverage were handed around, Grace passed a basket,
which, if not filled with such luxuries as those which had graced the
Mexican saloon, were at least very acceptable to our friends.

Scott, whose attention was divided between a chicken-bone and reverie,
suddenly inquired if they thought there would ever be another war with
Mexico. As the party broke up with a laugh at his expense, the quiet of
nature once more reigned over the valley, broken only by the hoarse
croak of the frogs in the dark pools and the shrill cry of the cicada in
the grass.

The moon threw a pale, silvery light upon the row of white tents, where
our friends were soon dreaming of the new homes that they would build in
this tranquil valley; yet no vision of the strange events which fate
held in store for them came to prepare them for the life of trial and
adventure which they were now entering upon.

One day more of quiet rest, then would begin a life new and strange for
them all. They had left their old selves forever behind; their past was
a blank; new faces and new friends awaited them here in their future
home, which had never been even claimed as the property of any man since
the dawn of creation.

Yes, fate is both unkind and compassionate in withholding a knowledge of
the blessings and trials that await them here; so they slumber on, while
unseen destiny begins to weave her web, checkered and mysterious as the
veil of moonlight that wavers through the willows.



Chapter III.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY--CONTINUED.


The morning of that Sabbath broke calm and serene. A warm haze brooded
over the valley or danced in lines of quivering heat across the green
prairies of the upland, and the dew had long since ceased to glitter on
the rank blue-stem grass when our friends awoke.

The breakfast which followed almost caused them to forget the fact that
they were out upon the borders of the "Great American Desert," and they
might have fancied that they were once more but picnicking under the
shade of their native groves; for it was a meal that had exhausted the
culinary art of both matrons. Wild mushrooms, stewed in sweet cream,
deliciously fragrant and hinting of the wild-wood near by, delicate
brook-trout from the stream, mingled their aroma with the elder-bloom
fritters which Maud was preparing; and on the snowy damask, spread on
the grass, Mrs. Moreland's golden honey-comb vied with the Warlow jelly
and crimson marmalade, while the coffee would make one dream of Araby
the blest.

An hour after the morning meal we find our friends seated under the
shade of the great elm among the ruins, the sunlight struggling faintly
through the verdant canopy and weaving a golden veil over the ashen
buffalo-grass, starred by daisies and violets. The spring welled out
with a sleepy murmur, and overhead an oriole, near its swinging nest,
caroled forth a stream of bubbling melody.

"A month passed," continued the colonel, "and we still lingered in the
stately mansion, daily and hourly meeting the young heiress, who was
always accompanied by her matronly kinswoman. But one morning, as Bruce
was loitering in the court, he glanced up and saw the smiling face of
Ivarene, framed by the passion-flowers, fuchsias, and jasmine which
festooned the walls within the court and wreathed the lattice above her
balcony.

"With an impulse which he could not resist our young hero swung himself
up by the vines, and stood, with his sunny hair and smiling blue eyes,
within the balcony. He wore the uniform of a captain of cavalry--soft
gray, with cords and lace of frosted gilt over the breast--top-boots,
embossed with gold, and a hat half concealed by the drooping plumes.

"She threw back the gilded jalousies which guarded her window, and,
smiling graciously, held out her hand, which he clasped with all the
rapture of an infatuated lover.

"She was robed in soft, rose-colored India muslin, embroidered in white
lilies, and over her breast and arms fell a cascade of lace, caught
lightly over her raven tresses, in that graceful manner which the ladies
of Spanish America wear the mantilla; gleaming through its filmy folds
could be seen the rubies which burned in her hair.

"Within that flower-entwined balcony was re-enacted that tender
scene--old as the dawn of creation, still ever new. How he told the
tale, or how she answered, I can not say, but may readily surmise from
the brilliant wedding which followed in the old cathedral a few months
later.

"Bruce had become very popular with the young officers of our army, and
I have often seen him riding about the city with McClellan, and--"

"What! not our 'Little Mac?'" cried Squire Moreland, springing to his
feet, transformed into an impetuous soldier by the magic of a name, and
while the others regarded him with amazement, as he paced back and forth
with clenched hands, he continued in a tone of repressed vehemence: "If
there is one name that would cause me to leap from the grave, it is that
of 'Little Mac,' the Giant of Antietam; and, as there is a God above, I
believe it was McClellan who led us to victory at Gettysburg. Oh, can I
ever forget that terrible day when the host of Lee beat and broke in
thunder over the hills like the ocean on a rocky shore, drenching our
ranks in a surf of blood--when reckless Longstreet charged like a
whirlwind through smoke and flame, while our columns staggered under the
shock? The scream of countless shells and the stunning belch and roar of
a thousand cannon mingled with the trample of the Southern cavalry as it
hurled its squadrons upon us like the throes of an earthquake, their
storm of rebel yells rising above the notes of Dixie and all the din of
conflict with the roar of a hurricane. Oh, Heaven! how then we longed
for one hour of 'Little Mac!' That day our Nation's fate trembled in
the balance; a few more shocks and all would be lost; then this fierce
army--another such the world has never seen--would sweep over the North
like an avalanche! Every moment hurried myriads into eternity, wringing
loving hearts and breaking many a home from Maine to Texas. But when the
word, like an electric shock, flashed along our hopeless ranks, '_Little
Mac has come_,' can I ever, ever, forget the shout of delight that burst
from the parched lips of threescore thousand men? the rapid rush of
marching ranks as they hurried to death, shouting, 'Little Mac, Little
Mac!' when squadrons flashed by to the cannon's mouth, shaking the earth
with their thunders of that mighty name? Oh! the wild delight and glory
of that hour, when the fierce but baffled hosts of Lee broke and fled!
But at the battle's close they claimed that it was only a ruse, and that
McClellan was not there. Yet I shall always believe he did lead us that
day; but, unwilling to impair the laurels of Meade, he has kept silent
all these years--only such a man is capable of that grand heroism. I
have interrupted you, Colonel. Please excuse me, and proceed with your
narrative."

After a moment's silence, the colonel said:

"Bruce Walraven was descended from a noble English family that had
settled in New York in the earliest colonial days, but their fortunes
had waned until himself and his sword were all that remained of that
once powerful house. He was an orphan, who had graduated with honor at
West Point Military Academy, and was utterly alone in the world, with
no one to love but Ivarene and myself, yet no brothers could have been
more deeply attached than we soon became to each other.

"I have never yet described him to you, from the fact that--that--Well,
I feel a strange reluctance to say that Clifford, here, is the very
image of that friend who died four years before my boy was born; but as
I look at my son now, I almost fancy that Bruce is with me again, and
that all my manhood's troubled years are only a fitful dream.

"Since his boyhood I have noticed Clifford's resemblance to Bruce, and
as my boy grew older he seemed to almost take the place of my lost
friend, which has resulted, you perceive, in a sort of companionship
between us which leads strangers to take us for brothers, instead of
father and son. But to my story again.

"The wedding-day dawned fair and serene, and at noon a company of young
cadets from Chapultepec, all of whom were sons of the highest Mexican
aristocracy, filed out on the avenue of cypresses that led to Monteluma,
their snow-white horses trapped with gold and purple, and their steel
helmets a mass of tossing plumes; their high top-boots of glossy black
were embossed with gilt, and on the breasts of their white tunics the
Mexican eagle flashed in silver, as two and two they galloped out to the
great hacienda.

"An hour later Ivarene entered her low, open carriage, which was richly
gilded and drawn by four white horses that were almost hidden by
garlands of bright-hued flowers. She wore a robe of white satin, while
a tiara and necklace of pearls glimmered through the filmy veil that
trailed like a mist about her form. Behind her, there rode in separate
carriages, each drawn by two white horses, her seven bridesmaids, who
were likewise dressed in white. Senora Labella sat by the side of
Ivarene, and a grand dame also occupied each carriage with a bridesmaid;
their sumptuous toilets of satin, velvet, and brocade were of purple and
cream-rose, emerald and lilac.

"As this brilliant company filed out on the avenue, four cadets riding
in double file between each carriage, flowers were strewn in the road by
long lines of peon children dressed in white. At the city gates a double
guard of Mexican and American soldiers, riding white horses and gorgeous
with military trappings, escorted them through the city to the grand
plaza, where the old cathedral was thronged with the proud and great of
two nations, while the ministers and foreign ambassadors of nearly all
of Europe and the Americas, waited in pomp of state with their wives and
daughters, all attired in the extreme of luxury. I shall not try to
depict the splendor of the final scene when the cardinal in his robes of
scarlet pronounced the solemn service, and pale, handsome Bruce, wearing
his uniform of a colonel, received his bride from the hand of Don
Hernando Rozarro, the Spanish ambassador.

"Haughty Santa Anna was there, and General Taylor looked happily on,
while all around were grouped our gallant officers, graceful and young,
whose names now thunder down the galleries of fame linked with Antietam,
Shiloh, and blood-drenched Malvern Hill. Grant and Lee, those slumbering
lions, that in after years were to shake the continent with appalling
conflict, now stood side by side, each carrying the wedding favor of
their friend.

"A scene of splendor ensued that recalled the old pageants of the
Montezumas, when a long line of gilded coaches and prancing white horses
filed out in the twilight, along the avenue returning to Monteluma. The
sun had set, but a parting gleam was yet crimsoning the snow on the
volcano of Toluco, while the sombre cypresses were aglow with the green
and rosy light of torches, carried by the double line of peons in their
ancient Aztec garb. Old Monteluma glimmered like a jewel from terrace to
turret with colored lights, while out upon the broad esplanades, where
thousands of the peons were feasting, the fountains flashed white and
misty, like the snow-storms of my Northern home.

"When Ivarene, leaning on Bruce's arm, walked up the long flight of
steps to the doorway of her old home, the marble beneath her feet was
hidden by the rose-leaves strewn by peon girls in white, while her train
was borne by four small Indian pages in feather costumes, gorgeous as
humming-birds. Within, the halls were blazing with light, and garlanded
by tropic flowers. Tables were loaded with gold, silver, and crystal;
wine flowed like water; while the viol and harp, gay dance and song,
caused the hours to speed swiftly by, and the tired but happy revelers
only sought their homes when the snowy summit of Popocatapetl was
flushed with rose, and bars of pale gold flashed out from behind the dim
crest of Orizaba.

"After a brief honey-moon, which was spent at La Puebla, Bruce and his
bride returned to Monteluma, and so urgent was the invitation which they
extended for me to make my home with them until I should decide to
return northward, that I immediately joined them in their princely
abode.

"My friend soon discovered that his rosy path was beset thickly with
thorns, for every day he was made aware of the aversion in which his
Mexican neighbors held him; their cold neglect cut deeper than their
swords. So it was with growing alarm that his wife beheld these
symptoms, for she well knew how the fine speeches and grave courtesy of
her countrymen often covered hearts of hate and tiger-like rage; and
when she saw the covert hostility of her former friends she became
apprehensive, indeed, for the safety of her husband.

"One day she startled us by proposing that we should all go North to her
husband's former home on the Hudson, and she then proceeded to say that
she had grown to view her native land with something of the feelings
with which it was regarded abroad. She had resided in England several
years, and now longed again for the life and freedom of the
Anglo-Saxons.

"Although Bruce was overjoyed at the prospect, he still said he would
not insist on taking her from her native land and kindred; but when she
said that her only relative living now was Labella, who was soon to
marry Herr Von Brunn, a merchant of the capital, and that she had
determined to sell Monteluma to an Englishman for seventy thousand
doubloons, or over a million dollars, then he reluctantly consented to
the change, only stipulating that the immediate park, grounds, and
mansion should be reserved, so that if she grew tired of her Northern
home they would find her old mansion awaiting their return.

"Kissing him tenderly, she declared he was a Rozarro in spirit, if not
in name. It was decided to leave the villa in charge of Labella, and in
a short time a sale of the estate was consummated for the sum of fifty
thousand doubloons, or seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in
gold--the mansion and park being reserved.

"Senora Labella was dowered by Ivarene with a gift of several thousand
doubloons on her wedding Von Brunn, after which event we set to work
earnestly preparing for our overland journey northward. A long train of
wagons were loaded with dry-goods for the markets of Northern Mexico.
The price of such articles there had been enhanced enormously by the
war, and Von Brunn shrewdly advised us to pursue this course. When
Ivarene kindly offered to loan me money to invest in this manner, I
gladly accepted fifty thousand dollars, with which I bought linen and
cotton goods at the port of Vera Cruz, which was then crowded by the
ships of all nations.

"I might be pardoned for digressing a moment while speaking of the
strange belief in a future state which Bruce entertained. There was a
vein of seriousness and grave, quiet religion running through the nature
of my friend, and often, while we were stretched on our blanket with no
canopy but the dewless Mexican sky, studded by the Southern Cross, and
bespangled by constellations that were new and strange to our
eyes--often, I say, he would talk of that weird belief, which then was
very enigmatical to me, but which in my maturer life has recurred with a
sweet solace to my declining years.

"Bruce believed that the soul was an individual, invisible as air and
imperishable as time itself, and that the spirit was a progressive,
rational being, which could never leave this earth until the great
Judgment-day, at which time our planet would be as unfit for a human
abode as the moon is at present.

"After death, which, he said, was only a wearing out of the outer
garment of the soul or spirit, the animating principle, or life, would
still inhabit the earth, invisible to human eyes, but yet an
intelligent, observing being; subtile as air, yet powerful as
electricity. Whenever the newly released soul chose to do so, it could
take on a new form by being re-born. He thought that before birth we
were possessed of a life akin to that of the vegetable kingdom, but at
birth a spirit that had lived before took possession of our bodies, and
used us as a habitation until our bodies became either worn through age,
or distasteful to the occupant--death ensuing in either case.

"His highest idea of heaven, he said, would be to have the power to live
again, and again meet those friends whom he had loved best in the prior
life, guided to them unerringly by the mystic ties of love and affinity.
Memory of the past life, he thought, was that sense which we call
instinct, conscience, or intuition, being only a feeble glimmer, as it
were, of the previous state in which we had lived.

"I remember well, the night before the battle of Churubusco, how Bruce
and I talked of these things; for he said, as we sat beneath a
palm-tree, while the tropic moon flooded the earth with a dreamy
splendor, that we were to fight the last great battle of the war on the
morrow--a conflict in which one or both of us might perish--and all that
reconciled him to such a fate was the belief that we should live again,
and meet each other in this world, which was the only heaven we were yet
fitted for.

"I would not have you entertain the thought for one instant that Bruce
was skeptical or irreligious. On the contrary, his fearless piety was
often commented upon; for I have seen him kneel on the bloody fields of
Cerro Gordo and Contreras, and thank God in a trembling voice for his
gracious preservation of my life and his own, while the rude soldiery
stood by with mute respect, remembering his reckless daring and
lion-like bravery in the hours of deadliest peril to which human life
can be exposed.

"No; his creed was a very strange one, though one that is old as history
itself; he appeared to differ from the general belief only in his
definition of heaven and its location. He often said that if a man
retrograded and became brutal he would meet his punishment in the next
life, for his brutal instincts would seek their affinity after death and
he could only be re-born as a brute, in which state he would remain
until his new life exhausted the brutal element from his soul.

"I fancy he imbibed his doctrines from his father, who had been an
officer in India. It might have been that the elder Walraven had there
caught glimpses of a belief somewhat akin to Buddhism. When I pressed
Bruce for his proof of this strange theory he referred me to the
Bible--Matthew xvi; 13, 14: 'When Jesus came to Cesarea Philippi, he
asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and
others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.' All of which goes to prove
how ancient the belief really is; for it is apparent that people
believed Christ to be the reincarnation of a spirit of one of those
people who had been dead many years.

"Ivarene soon became converted to Bruce's creed, while I often find
myself, even yet, taking solace in this strange belief.

"Early in the spring of 1848, the long caravan started northward, and
when we arrived at Chihuahua, a ready market was found for the goods,
after disposing of which I found that I had more than doubled the sum
invested; so when the debt was repaid to my kind benefactors, with the
addition of a liberal interest for the use of the money, there was
still left me, as clear profit, fifty thousand dollars in gold.

"We spent the winter in Santa Fe, but early the next spring resumed our
journey, I having in the meantime bought a few wagon-loads of wool to
take through to Independence, Missouri, which was then the eastern
terminus of the Santa Fe Trail; but the money which I had saved from my
speculation remained intact, and was deposited with fifty sacks of
doubloons (which were the property of Bruce and Ivarene) in a large
iron-bound cask of cypress-wood, each sack plainly marked with the name
of its owner, and the whole tightly packed in wool within the cask.

"This vast treasure, more than half a million of dollars in gold coin,
only represented a portion of my friend's wealth; for there were chests
of costly silks, brocades, velvets, and priceless laces, all the
accumulation of centuries of luxury and boundless riches; paintings by
Murillo and Velasquez, that for ages had adorned the long gallery at
Monteluma; books of vellum, and richly bound volumes from its
marble-paved library, together with a dozen wagon-loads of carved ebony,
mahogany, and rosewood furniture from the same stately home.

"I shall never forget that glorious scene, the last evening in
Chihuahua, when the sinking sun lit up the low room where we three sat,
with an open casket before us and the stone table ablaze with glimmering
gems.

"There were scores of great, pure diamonds, flashing back a quivering
glare of rainbow hues; rubies glowing like fire with rose and crimson
light; white, frosty pearls, glinting beside the baleful emeralds, that
emitted fitful gleams of green and gold. Over all flickered the wavering
shimmer of opal and blood-stones, mingling with the violet, lilac, and
purple rays of sapphires and amethysts.

"A great many of these gems had been purchased by my friends through the
advice and assistance of Von Brunn; but the most precious of the lot
were heir-looms, of which Ivarene was justly proud, and for an hour she
recounted their histories:--

"The great blood-stone had once shone in the war-club of an Aztec
prince, who was slain in battle by the first Baron of Monteluma, one of
those adventurous spirits that came over and shared the glory of the
conquest with Cortez.

"The carcanet of pearls was a gift from Queen Isabella to the bride of
the same brave knight.

"A diamond cross that had been bestowed by Leo X. upon a cardinal of the
house of Rozarro.

"A ruby dragon that carried in its mouth the Order of the Golden Fleece.
This was a mark of the highest honor that a Spanish king could confer
upon his subject, a viceroy of Mexico, also a member of the same
illustrious family at Monteluma.

"There was a chain of rose-colored coral, to which was attached an
enormous pearl of the same delicate hue; this bauble had been bestowed
by the Doge of Genoa upon Don Arven Rozarro while the latter was
ambassador of Spain at that superb though decaying city, and it was
through this elegant gift that the then all-powerful Spanish sword was
induced to interpose its terrible edge as a shield against the
aggressions of France.

"A pair of golden spurs, won long ago in the first Crusade by the Knight
of Rozarro, and ropes of pearls that had adorned many a proud but long
forgotten mistress of the great castle.

"All these were placed within the steel casket, and the only jewel that
Ivarene reserved for her personal use on the journey was a locket with a
long gold chain. This was the most precious _souvenir_ in the whole
collection, so she averred, for it was set in gems with the name of her
mother, and contained the miniature portraits of Bruce and Ivarene.

"The precious casket was kept in the large carriage, where Ivarene, her
two maids, and Bruce rode on cushioned seats, that were constructed so
as to serve as couches when the inmates of the vehicle became fatigued.
Everything that wealth and loving care could secure was provided by
Bruce to lessen the tedium of the journey.

"The gold was placed in a large, strong wagon, drawn by twelve mules,
and in addition to the treasure-cask, several barrels of wine and other
liquors were placed in the wagon for the purpose of warding off
suspicion. This vehicle was my special charge, and I carefully guarded
it at night, but spent a portion of the day in sleep.

"We arrived in Santa Fe in the fall of 1848, and early the following
spring our long caravan started out on the monotonous course across the
plains, by the route to Independence, Missouri, the quiet routine of
our journey only relieved by meeting with great trains of freighters on
the broad trail, or when Ivarene would take her guitar and sit out in
the starry evening playing the sweet airs of her home-land, old Spanish
ballads full of pathos and melody. Thus we journeyed until we reached
this very spot on the 22d of August, 1849. The night was dark and
cloudy, while a strange silence brooded over all nature, broken only by
the dismal howl of the wolf as it prowled on the lonely hills.

"We had remarked during the day that no teams were met--a most unusual
occurrence on that great thoroughfare, the Santa Fe Trail--and we
vaguely wondered why the corral should be silent and deserted; for it
was a camping place that was renowned all along the trail for its safety
and convenience.

"The corral was an inclosure of about an acre, surrounded by lofty stone
walls that were pierced by loop-holes on every side; two large doors, or
gates, opened to the north and south, which, after the teams of
freighters had been drawn inside, were locked in times of danger. This
fort-like corral had been built by the government as a place of refuge
for travelers, but our long journey had been so free from trouble that
we had become careless, and, as the night was very sultry and the air
oppressive, we preferred camping outside the walls on the level land,
where we are now sitting, near the bank of the Cottonwood.

"Ivarene had been feeling unwell that day, and we were all very
solicitous for her comfort and welfare at that time; for it was known
that an interesting event would soon occur, that would give my dear
friend Bruce the title of father. In deference to her condition the
usual noise and hilarity of the camp were not indulged in; but a sense
of coming disaster, a foreboding of some great calamity, seemed to weigh
on the spirits of our party on that fatal evening.

"How strange it is that when the sky is serene and clear we may feel the
approaching storm! Who can explain that shock of repulsion we feel when
we meet a secret foe? The same Providence whispered, that murky night,
of the danger and disaster lurking near.

"But each one tried to shake off the feeling of apprehension; and as a
storm was rising in the north-west we attributed our depression to that
state of the atmosphere which precedes the thunderstorm.

"I did not sleep for several hours after retiring to the wagon, but
remained wakeful and restless, listening to the jabbering of the wolves
and rumble of the distant thunder. The fitful slumber into which I at
length fell was pervaded by hideous dreams, and when I was awakened by
the yell of savages it seemed, for a moment, only the continuation of
the strange phantasms that had haunted my sleep.

"But I sprang out, a pistol in each hand, and was soon struggling in the
whirlpool of confusion and terror that prevailed around. The crack of
rifles and whistling of arrows, the shrieks of the wounded and dying,
the blood-chilling whoops of the Indians, all commingled with the
bellowing of the frightened cattle in hideous clamor.

"With a feeling of sickening dread I thought of Bruce and his wife as I
dashed toward their wagon. As I neared it a vivid flash of lightning
from the cloud which had arisen revealed a scene of such revolting
horror that its remembrance causes me yet to turn faint and dizzy. More
than a quarter of a century has rolled by, fraught with war and sorrow,
but that scene of woe is burned deep within my heart, to rankle long as
life endures."

Here the colonel's voice broke to a whisper, while the sobs of Maud and
Grace mingled with their mother's soft weeping. Then, after a moment of
silent anguish, while his hands hung clenched in an agony of intense
grief, with bowed head and a voice so husky that it was barely audible,
the colonel continued:--

"By the dazzling light I saw Ivarene kneeling in her white robe, a look
of imploring agony upon her pale, uplifted face. Over her, with a poised
tomahawk, glared a powerful, painted demon. Bruce, struggling in the
grasp of two hideous savages, was driving his glittering dirk into the
breast of one of his assailants. I fired at the heart of the wretch who
stood over Ivarene. With a dying yell he bounded into the air. Then, as
darkness was once again settling down over the scene, I felt the shock
of a stunning blow--then a long oblivion."

The colonel was too visibly affected to proceed further with the
narrative, and as he relapsed into silence the listeners slowly
dispersed, some to the duties of camp-life; others strolled out to the
long, grass-grown grave, leaving Colonel Warlow alone, lost in
meditation.



Chapter IV.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY--CONTINUED.


The listeners had seated themselves on the buffalo-robes which Scott
Moreland's thoughtfulness had provided, and the colonel resumed the
thread of his narrative.

"The blow was followed by unconsciousness, and when I awoke, as it were,
from a long and fevered sleep, I was seated in an easy-chair on a shaded
veranda, and before me stretched the limitless ocean, its restless waves
purling in foam on the sandy beach at my feet. Beside the porch on which
I was seated grew luxuriant lime and orange trees, loaded with fruit and
bloom, and the air was heavy with the sensuous odors of tropical
flowers.

"A ray of memory gleamed feebly across my confused and cloudy mind, and
I vaguely wondered why my hands should be so wasted and thin. Then a
wavering sensation swept over my mental faculties like a dark cloud. The
glimmer of memory once again struggled and flickered, then flashed forth
with a dazzling light, piercing through the fog and haze which had so
long obscured the light of reason, and I felt as if the sun had just
arisen.

"As I sat with closed eyes, gently rocking to and fro, I remembered
dimly, like some half-forgotten dream, my long journey across the
continent with Walraven, our camping beside the Kansas stream at the
Stone Corral; and then with surprise I looked out on the ocean before
me. Suddenly the memory of that night of horror came vividly to my mind,
and with a loud cry I sprang to my feet; but a firm hand was laid on my
shoulder, and a kind voice requested me to be calm, and pressed me to
drink the glass of wine which was held to my lips.

"I obeyed mechanically, and as I drained the cup of its sparkling
contents I glanced up at the bronzed though handsome stranger beside me,
who, with joy and gratification beaming in his blue eyes, said in answer
to my look of inquiry:--

"'Old boy, you will soon be yourself again; but you must not talk too
much, nor ask questions just now.'

"'But where am I, and what does it all mean?' I exclaimed in a dazed
sort of way.

"'You are near Los Angeles, and this is the Pacific Ocean which lies
before you,' he answered slowly.

"When he had made this strange statement, I felt a wavering sensation
once more cross my brain, as if madness were about to seize me.

"'You should not talk, nor think of the past,' said he anxiously, 'but
brace up and recover; then we will go up to the mines, and dig out
nuggets like nigger-heads.'

"'But at least tell me how I came here,' I entreated.

"'Well,' said he in a faltering manner, 'if you will be composed I will
do so; but you must not give way to your emotions.'

"I sank back in the chair, motioning for him to proceed, as the suspense
was unbearable; and he then related the following, in soothing tones,
like one who had long humored and tenderly nursed a suffering invalid:--

"'My name is Roger Coble, and my home is near Springfield, Ill., from
which place I started to the gold-fields of the Sacramento River, which
had thrown our quiet rural community into a great excitement by the
rumor of their fabulous richness. Our train had only traveled a few
days' drive westward from the Missouri, when we came to the Stone Corral
on the bank of the Cottonwood. There we found you, wounded and
delirious. I placed you on a canvas bed in one of my wagons, and brought
you on to Santa Fe.

"'As you were still delirious and in a helpless condition, I could not
bear the thought of leaving you at the latter place, but brought you
along with the train to this place, where we arrived last week, and I am
overjoyed to see you on your feet again.'

"'But what was the fate of Walraven and his wife?' I cried, in great
excitement.

"Seeing the wild look again coming into my eyes, he said, with a
saddened expression:--

"'Do not ask any more questions, my boy. When you become stronger I will
tell you all. But now, my friend, do try to think of pleasanter themes.
If you do not, you will surely relapse into your former deplorable
state.'

"Therefore I took his kindly advice, and ignored the past with all its
bitter memories, and listened with growing interest to his hopeful plans
for the future. As he told of the great gold-fields that had been
discovered in the newly acquired California, that were of such fabulous
richness, he said, that all the world was wild with excitement and
wonder, I began to feel the infection of his enthusiasm, and almost
forgot the fact that I was penniless and two thousand miles from home.

"The next day I felt still stronger; but the ugly wound on my head was
not yet entirely healed, being a painful reminder of the terrible blow
which I had received the night of the attack at the corral.

"As the days passed by I rapidly convalesced, and erelong was able to
walk through the orange-groves, or sail with Roger out on the tranquil
water; but whenever I had nerved myself up to the point of asking the
fate of my friends, to my horror I would find that same old sickening,
wavering sensation steal over my brain that I remembered so well, and I
would shudder to think that I stood, as it were, upon the brink of
madness.

"So in our long rambles on the sea-shore or drives on the beach, we
shunned all allusion to the fateful past, tacitly ignoring the
unexplained sequel to that terrible tragedy; but the suspense and strain
were so great that it is a blissful thing that events followed which
diverted my mind from the painful subject, or perhaps my reason may have
been utterly overthrown.

"Roger had disposed of his teams, and, after consulting me, procured
tickets to San Francisco, a small village that had sprung up on the
coast to the north, and as he gave me my ticket he said with a smile:--

"'We will be pards, George, and divide profit and loss up in the mines,
and when you strike it "rich," why, you can repay me; and as for
interest--guess we will smoke that out at your expense.'

"I replied, through my tears, that all the gold of this earth could not
repay his kindness and generosity.

"Before sailing on the _Lapwing_ I wrote to my friends in Missouri,
telling them briefly of the disaster which had befallen me, but that I
was with the best fellow alive; and in my letter to sister Amy I told
her how nobly Roger had cared for me in my direst hour of trial and
need, and I hinted that she must wait for me to bring him back, which I
would do when I had regained my lost fortune by working in the mines, to
which we were now just starting, full of hope and enthusiasm.

"Our first day out on the Pacific proved that body of water to be
woefully misnamed indeed; for the weather was just as vile and fickle as
I ever saw on the much maligned Atlantic. In the evening Roger and
myself were seated on deck, watching the sun set in a pile of black
clouds, which, as the broad streams of amber and violet flamed up from
behind the sombre mass, slowly changed to purple, rose, and crimson,
edged with gold.

"When the brilliant hues had faded, the dusky clouds rested on a sullen
sea, that was only ruffled by the fitful breeze, which rose and fell,
then died away, leaving a death-like calm, oppressive as it was
foreboding.

"The frightened sea-birds flew screaming by, flapping their broad white
wings, then fading swiftly away. The captain now came on deck, and, by
his quick orders and restless movements, we knew that he anticipated
danger from the storm which we could see rapidly rising, and the rigging
was soon in order to meet the heavy gale.

"A fiery moon rose in the pale eastern sky, and out to the south-west
hung the bow-shaped cloud, black as ebony, save when veined by the
blood-red lightning; but as the majestic mass towered to the zenith, it
changed to green, edged by a roll of fleecy white, which rose and fell
as if weaving a shroud for sea and sky.

"We lashed ourselves to the rigging, so we could get the full benefit,
as Roger said, of our first storm at sea. We had not long to wait, for
soon a wall of waves, like a troop of war-horses, came tossing their
snowy manes on the gale, and when the mad surge struck us the old ship
quivered in every timber. The clouds wrapped us about, and the blinding
spray and rain drenched the deck; the lightning glimmered fitfully
through the mist, or hissed in zigzag streams of molten gold along the
surging waves. A lull, then again the blinding flash, followed by the
bellowing thunder, crashing down, it seemed, to the caverns beneath, the
wind shrieking through the rigging, the tumult of waves, rising in
hoarse clamor and deafening roar--followed again by blinding stroke and
maddening crash.

"I have stood on old Chapultepec's crumbling wall, when mortar and
cannon hurled their iron hail; when screaming shells and belching roar
mingled with the shrieks of mangled and dying men, and the sullen boom
of exploding mines shocked and dulled the ear; but never had I known an
hour like this.

"The poor old vessel, like a hunted doe, bounded away, followed by all
the hounds of the gale, climbing the dizzy cliff or leaping the yawning
chasm, and throwing the foam from off her sides; then hiding in the
gorges below, where the glassy wall towered far above with combing
crest, scattering the spray out over the tossing sea. Again, as the ship
climbed the watery hill, she seemed to pause one brief moment on the
foamy height, then plunged into the swishing whirlpool beneath.

"The night wore on, yet still our vessel staggered along in her wild
flight; but the winds began to abate their fury somewhat, and the
flashes grew more dim and fitful until the storm rolled away to the
east. Then the moon peered with white face through the rift of clouds;
but as her spectral light only served to make more weird and appalling
the waste of heaving billows, she quickly hid behind her fleecy veil, as
if to shut the wild scene from view.

"Although the wind had died to a gentle gale, the frightened waves still
galloped madly along as though fleeing from a grizzly horror they dared
not face, and the ship labored like some jaded cavalry horse, that
staggers and reels after the fierce charge.

"The deck had been a scene of great confusion ever since the storm had
abated, and, although the waves and spray broke over the vessel, the
crew were rushing about wildly, and to our surprise we saw them
launching the boats; so we unlashed ourselves and hurried forward--only
to hear the despairing cry: 'The vessel is sinking!'

"I looked out upon the waves, which even now seemed nearer, and with a
clammy shudder comprehended what horror they were fleeing. Death rode
those cold waters, and every billow was a yawning grave.

"What a dread alternative--to cast ourselves out on that boiling,
foaming sea, with only a frail boat between us and eternity, or remain
on deck and feel the ship slowly settling under us!

"But the boats were quickly manned, and into them were thrown a few
casks of spirits and water, with a small quantity of food; then we
pushed off from the fast-sinking ship, and in a moment were riding the
waves.

"We had left a light burning on the vessel, to enable us to steer away
from it, and thus avoid being run down or ingulfed by the final
whirlpool of the wreck; and after tossing about on the troubled waters
for half an hour, trying to keep the boats together, we heard a loud
report, caused by the compressed air blowing up the deck of the vessel;
then the light on the old ship went out forever, and the sea closed over
her shattered form.

"It may have been an hour before dawn, when suddenly we found ourselves
among the breakers, and the coast looming dimly through the mist. Before
we had time to realize our situation our boat was capsized and we were
struggling with the waves.

"I shouted to Roger, but no answer. Then I saw a head appear above the
water, and swam toward it, hoping it was he; but the form was carried
around the headland by the rapid current, so I struck out for the
frowning cliff.

"Diving under the largest waves, I saw, to my great joy, that I was
gaining and soon was thrown on the rocks with terrible force; but I lost
my hold on the stony ledge that I had clutched, and was being carried
back to sea; but a thought struck me which I instantly recognized as
being the only chance of escape, and to which I am certain I owe the
preservation of my life: I dived to the bottom, and began walking toward
the cliff, which was not more than a rod away.

"Oh, the horror and agony of those few moments under the sea! The
seconds seemed to lengthen to hours. Brief as the time and short as the
distance may have been, I've traveled many a thousand miles through the
sandy deserts of the West and suffered less than in that one minute at
the bottom of the ocean."



Chapter V.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY--CONTINUED.


"Let me see--where was I?" said the colonel, who had paused to light his
pipe at this critical juncture of the narrative.

"Twenty thousand leagues under the sea," replied Grace Moreland, gaily.

"Well, I certainly could not have suffered more in the same time if I
had been," said he with a grim smile. "But just when I had given up all
hope, and thought my lungs would burst, I straightened up, determined to
come to the surface at any risk. Lo! I had been groping along in four
feet of water--and only a step from the shore!

"I had only time to plunge forward and clutch a jagged rock, when a
mighty wave swept in, nearly tearing me from my place; but this time I
held fast, and when the wave had receded I clambered up out of further
danger, and there I lay, too utterly exhausted to move until dawn.

"I had hoped that daylight would reveal the presence of my companion;
but the sun struggled up over a lone stretch of rocky, barren
shore--nothing living was visible. I strained my eyes, gazing out over
the long line of breakers. It was a fruitless quest; I was alone.

"Then I climbed up to the table-land. A sandy plain, broken by patches
of sage-brush and thickets of chapparal was before me, and out toward
the rising sun rose a lofty chain of mountains, as though to shut me out
from all the world.

"I walked around the promontory and along the coast for several miles,
still hoping I might find my friend; in vain. I shouted repeatedly; no
answer. So with a heavy heart I turned and walked inland.

"After assuaging my thirst at a cavity in the rocks, where the
rain-water had collected, and satisfying my hunger with the eggs of a
wild fowl, the nest of which I found near a sage-brush, I continued my
explorations inland toward a pass which seemed to open in the mountains
toward the east.

"As I neared the glen, trees, a brook, and a flock of sheep became
visible. Then, to my great delight, a house showed through the trees;
and when a woman appeared in the doorway, I hurried forward and
addressed her in Spanish, to which she replied in the same tongue.

"I told my story of shipwreck, and the kind-hearted peasant woman bade
me welcome to the humble dwelling, and proceeded to set before me a
repast of omelet and frijoles. While I was still seated at the table,
her husband, Pedro, came in from herding his flock, and we soon were on
our way to the village to make inquiries regarding my lost friend and
the crew of the _Lapwing_. But nothing could be learned of them; so I
retired to rest, and that night slept the dreamless sleep of sheer
exhaustion.

"In the morning I renewed the search, but with no better results; and
although I traveled along the coast for more than a score of miles,
nothing could be found but the bodies of three sailors that I recognized
as having been among the crew of the ill-fated ship. At last, weary and
heart-sore, I joined a party of miners, and proceeded to San Francisco;
but as my inquiries there also proved fruitless, I immediately went to
the diggings, where my fortunes soon mended, and I was able to send a
small purse to honest Pedro.

"During my stay in the mines I had frequent letters from home, and
sister Amy expressed great sorrow at the fate of my noble friend Roger;
but I wrote that it might yet be possible he was living, and we still
hoped on. The greatest comfort to me, however, were the letters from
Mary, who urged me to return and not wait to acquire more gold; and as
my luck was 'jes powerful,' as the miners averred, I found at the end of
two years I had saved $50,000, and deciding to 'let well-enough alone,'
set sail for home.

"As we were sailing out through the now world-renowned Golden Gate, the
captain, to whom I had just intrusted my money, remarked that I did not
seem to enter into the spirit of joy that pervaded the throng of
returning miners; and in reply to his look of inquiry and tone of
interest, I said that the last time I was on a ship I had witnessed a
terrible storm, in which the vessel was wrecked, the crew and a dear,
kind friend were lost, and I alone was saved; and now the sight of the
ocean, once again, recalled it all so vividly that I was sad and
grieved, even in the hour when I should rejoice that all my toil was
over. I was too affected to talk further, but looked wistfully out over
the cruel sea that had closed over Roger, my best and truest friend.

"The captain, after a few moments of silence, asked in a tone of
sympathy:--

"'What was the name of the vessel that was wrecked?'

"'The _Lapwing_,' I replied.

"'But the crew and passengers were saved,' said he quickly.

"'Saved!--Roger saved!' I shouted, dizzy with joy; then as I sank into a
seat, weak and unnerved, the officer continued:--

"'Yes, the crew was saved. They were picked up by a vessel bound for
Acapulco. You can learn the particulars by calling on the American
consul at that port, as I believe he took charge of them and assisted
them on to their respective destinations.'

"'I'll give you a thousand gold dollars to put me off at Acapulco,' I
cried impulsively.

"'Agreed,' said he, with a laugh. 'We always do stop there, and take a
day to revictual and water. No, my friend, keep your hard-earned
dollars; but if you find your gratitude burdensome, why, just name your
next boy after me;' then he left me with a good-natured smile.

"I will say that I found it a very pleasant way of discharging the debt
by naming my oldest son here after the good old sea-dog, Captain
Clifford; and some way I always associate the name with the thought of
that day when I heard the good news.

"How interminable seemed the long, bright days, as we sailed southward!
I paced the deck for hours, and grew morose and nervous, chafing under
the slowness of the stout craft. 'But all things have an end'--an adage,
by the way, which my dealings and travel in the tropics has led me to
doubt--and when, one evening, we sailed into the long-wished for harbor,
I was so impatient to land that only the thought of sharks prevented me
from swimming ashore.

"After night-fall, however, I found myself in a crooked, winding alley,
termed a street in the florid courtesy of that tropic land, and offering
a coin to a villainous-looking native--the only guide I could
procure--asked him to show me the way to the American consulate; and we
were soon _en route_ thitherward, I, meanwhile, taking the precaution to
cover my vile-looking guide with a pistol in one hand and a bowie-knife
in the other.

"For an age, it seemed, we tramped through the murky, unlighted streets,
until at last we arrived before a fortress-like building, at the gate of
which blinked one solitary lamp.

"At my request to see the consul, the servant informed me that 'his
worshipful master had driven out this morning to dine with the noble Don
Pablo de Zorilla, and that he would remain to the ball at the mansion of
that illustrious senor,' etc.

"I could barely refrain from kicking the miserable flunky, and the air
grew thick and maroon with the expressions in which my disappointment
found utterance. Telling the porter that I hoped his lazy master would
not stop the 'wheels of commerce' to-morrow to eat garlic and capsicum
with the aristocracy, I returned to the vessel."

"Next morning I called again at the consulate, and the scowling porter,
after conducting me to a room, said that his master was sleeping, but he
was instructed to say 'to the insolent American' that his excellency
'was too lazy to see me until he had slept off the effect of the garlic,
capsicum, and other kindred delicacies, of which he had been partaking.'
Then, grinning derisively, the servant left the room, banging the door
behind him.

"Well, I just stormed up and down that room for two long hours, fuming,
raving, and hurling invectives at all the tribe of official sluggards.
At length, hearing footsteps without, I clenched my hands in rage,
vowing wrath and vengeance on the insulting and self-sufficient officer;
but when the servant opened the door and announced, 'Senor Consul,' my
anger was all forgotten, and, instead of greeting that functionary with
a thwack on the ear, I sprang forward with a wild cry:--

"'Roger--Oh, Roger--am I dreaming?'

"'George--George--is it possible? Alive and well? I've mourned you as
dead for years. Thank God--at last!'

"As I stood there wringing his hand and gazing on his dear face through
my tears, it is needless to say all my belligerent designs oozed
magically away.

"We were soon interrupted, however, by the porter, who, at the first
strange demonstration on my part, had fled shrieking 'Murder! murder!'
his outcry bringing a whole brood of slipshod servants down upon my
devoted head. They came swarming in, armed with gridirons, tongs, and
gourds. One sallow, emaciated peon carried a crucifix, which he had
evidently snatched as he flew to the rescue. A burly fellow was just on
the eve of disemboweling me with a pot-metal poniard, when Roger
hastened to explain that we were old friends who had not met for years,
and as they retreated in a crestfallen manner, with many grunts and
shrugs, we both smiled at the ludicrous phase of our meeting; yes, I
believe that 'smiled' is a very mild term to apply to our hilarity on
that occasion.

"Reminding Roger that the vessel sailed at four P. M., and my stay
therefore was limited, I begged him to tell me the particulars of his
happy escape, and when we were comfortably seated on the easy-chairs in
the secluded court, he told briefly how he, with several others, clung
to the capsized boat, and had been rescued by a passing vessel, bound
southward. On reaching Acapulco he had called at the American consulate,
but found the consul prostrated with yellow-fever, and (as Roger had
passed through an attack of that dread scourge at New Orleans a few
years previous to this) he had volunteered to nurse the stricken
officer, who slowly recovered from the fearful malady.

"While that grateful invalid was convalescing, Roger had been intrusted
with the accumulated business of the post. Having discharged the duties
devolving on him to the satisfaction of his employer, that gentleman had
deputized him as vice-consul, and then returned to the States.

"Finally the consul resigned, and Roger, on his recommendation, was
appointed to the office as his successor, meantime receiving a hint from
the home government to make himself as agreeable as possible to the
natives.

"'Which you see, George,' said he with a merry smile, 'meant to acquire
a taste for "garlic and capsicum."'

"Then, at his request, I related my experience; how I had searched in
vain for him along the coast; had gone to the mines and made my 'pile,'
and on embarking for home had learned of the rescue of the crew and
passengers of the _Lapwing_; the long days of suspense that had
followed, and my impatience to learn something of his fate. I did not
omit telling how narrowly he escaped a sound flogging at my hands after
I had been kept waiting so long, which caused him great merriment.

"During our brief conversation I had been conscious of an undercurrent
of burning anxiety to learn the fate of Bruce Walraven and his wife. The
suspense and uncertainty which had haunted me for two long years--the
mystery of their fate--would now vanish forever, I knew; but I shrank
with a strange foreboding from asking the truth which my heart had so
long been vainly seeking. My dry lips and parched tongue could only
feebly articulate as I begged Roger to tell me the sequel of that
terrible tragedy at the Old Corral.

"With a look of pain on his handsome face, he said, in a faltering
voice:--

"'I was journeying along on the Santa Fe Trail from Independence,
Missouri, to California. Our large train had been delayed at Council
Grove by a rumor that the Cheyennes were on the war-path; but nothing
having been seen of the marauders, we started out, after a few days,
trusting to our numbers for defense, and when we arrived at the Stone
Corral, on the bank of the Cottonwood, a scene of revolting horror met
our startled sight--a scene that will live forever in my memory.

"'The stone walls of the corral had been hurled down, and near the side
of the stream were the charred and crisped remains of at least fifty
human victims, mingled with the irons of the wagons, which evidently had
been fired and the bodies thrown into the blaze.'

"'There were fifty-four persons in our train--How many bodies were
found?' I asked, breathlessly.

"'We counted the smouldering skeletons, and found that fifty-three
persons had fallen victims to the diabolical fury of the Indians.'

"'Oh, God--all gone!' I cried, hoarse with the misery of their certain
destruction--'gallant Bruce and beautiful, kind Ivarene! What a terrible
fate!'

"'We were burying the skeletons on a knoll a few hundred paces westward
from the Old Corral,' continued Roger, 'and were carrying stone from the
confused mass of its ruined wall to place about the long trench, in
which the remains were laid, when moans, like some one in pain, were
heard as if issuing from the earth.

"'The mournful scene through which we had just passed had so utterly
shocked and unnerved us, that it is little wonder we felt it might be
the spectres of the victims still haunting the scene of the awful
tragedy; but a moment's reflection set us to searching among the ruins,
which resulted in our finding you, wounded and delirious, buried under
the fallen wall.

"'Several large stones had rested against the lower part of the wall,
and thus, in a providential manner, shielded you from the avalanche of
stone which had fallen when the savages had thrown down the wall by
prying with the wagon tongues, that were still lying about as they had
left them.

"'We placed you on a canvas stretcher, and put you in one of my wagons.
As there was a physician in our train, you did not lack for medical
attention; but that dreadful gash on your head was very slow in healing.
As your mind was completely shattered, and you remained delirious all
the long journey to Santa Fe, we could not bear the thought of leaving
you there among strangers, but brought you on to Los Angeles with the
train.'

"'I never before have told you, Roger, that there was more than one
hundred thousand dollars in gold and gems with our train; but such was
the case;' and as he sprang up in amazement, I told him briefly the
history of Bruce and Ivarene, and how I had lost my fortune of fifty
thousand dollars in gold with that of my dear friends on that night of
horror and despair.

"'It is needless to say,' replied Roger, 'that no trace of the treasure
was found; but it seems incredible that so vast a sum could have been
carried away by the savages! Did you have any liquor with the train?' he
asked in a thoughtful manner.

"'Yes, several barrels of wine and brandy,' I answered.

"'Then that accounts for the blood on the grass, near several newly made
graves close by. The Indians had found the brandy, no doubt, and the
massacre ended in a drunken row among themselves, in which several of
them had died a violent death. It is a mystery, though,' he added, 'how
a pack of drunken, wrangling savages could have divided such an amount
of coin without leaving some trace. And, George, I would advise you to
make a systematic search on your return,' he continued; 'for it may have
been that the treasure was buried there.'"

"Did you ever make the search?" asked Clifford Warlow of his father, in
an eager tone.

"No; certainly not," replied the colonel; "it would have been folly to
suppose that the band of pilfering, murderous savages would have left
anything valuable behind."

But the answer did not satisfy his son, who looked out toward the knoll
where the Old Corral, with its broken walls, cast long shadows in the
slanting sunbeams; and as the colonel proceeded with his story it was
noticed, by more than one of the group, that Sabbath afternoon, that
Clifford remained lost in thought, and his eyes roamed from the speaker
out over the scene of that tragedy of bygone years.

"At the end of that mournful story," pursued the colonel, "I was pressed
by Roger to remain with him until the next vessel passed; but I
declined, thanking him, and telling him that Mary was waiting for me on
the banks of the Missouri, and I could tarry no longer than a few brief
hours, until the craft would sail. Then, as we stood on the ship,
whither he had accompanied me, I told him to remain in the cabin for a
moment until I could return. Then going to the captain, I asked him for
the money which I had deposited with him.

"The fifty thousand dollars was carried into the room where Roger was
waiting, and when the sailors had retired, I said, in answer to his look
of inquiry, that I was prepared to execute the compact which we entered
into at Los Angeles, to be 'pards,' and divide profit and loss; and I
tendered him there on the spot twenty-five thousand dollars, which was
one-half of my savings in the mines. Roger would not hear to the
proposition; he scouted the idea of 'robbing me of my hard earnings,'
and all my pleadings were in vain,--he was obdurate.

"I reminded him how I owed my life to his care and kindness; but my
entreaties all were unavailing, as he would only ridicule the offer,
saying that he had now more than enough for an old bachelor. So I
finally desisted, but told him that should he ever need assistance or
the services of a friend, to call on me, for I felt a debt of gratitude
which I could never repay him.

"I smile even yet to think how I blushed when I showed him Mary's
picture; and while he was looking with undisguised admiration at the
miniature of sister Amy, I told him how she had never ceased to regret
his sad fate, and that in her last letter, which I handed him, she had
written that she still vaguely hoped he might some time return; that he
may have escaped--'such things sometimes do occur--and she could yet
thank him for his care and tenderness to her brother.' When the dear
fellow beamed with such delight, I proceeded to say how delighted she
and my mother would be to have him make us a long visit soon, which he
readily promised to do within the year. As he still held the picture of
my beautiful sister, and seemed so reluctant to surrender it, I ignored
it entirely or pretended to do so, and as we proceeded with our talk, I
saw, with half an eye, that he furtively slipped it into his pocket, at
which I was so gratified, I had to pinch myself to keep from dancing a
jig of delight.

"It was hard indeed to part with Roger, and not before he again promised
to visit me within a year did I say farewell; then we were again sailing
out on our homeward voyage. We tarried but a short time on the Isthmus
of Panama; for, in fact, I had but an indifferent opinion of that little
neck of land, made up, it seemed, of snakes, centipedes, and bad smells.
Whew! it makes me faint, even yet, to remember how those nasty, vile,
old swamps radiated their bad odors! There had just been an earthquake
to roil up the concentrated filth which was packed away in those slimy
bayous, and as every whiff of wind came loaded with its own peculiar
stench, the variety became so wearying that I grew at length tired of
the 'nasal panorama,' and vainly yearned for the friendly precincts of a
glue factory.

"It always seemed to me that Nature had aimed to make a sea of the
isthmus, but had taken the flux or cholera, and left her work but half
completed."



Chapter VI.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY--CONTINUED.


"Our ship touched at Havana, and in company with several other
passengers, who lived in the Mississippi Valley, I decided to stop here
until a vessel sailed for New Orleans, which would not occur for ten
days yet; but years might be passed in that beautiful city of
enchantment, the 'Queen of the Antilles,' and we found our stay one
round of perpetual delight.

"A day was devoted to a sail around the sunlit harbor, environed by
mansions, castles, and palm-decked hills--the sapphire sky bounded only
by the purple mountains or pale-green sea. Then we visited Old Moro
Castle, its portcullis, donjon-keep, and 'sounding barbacan,' its gloomy
grandeur of turret and tower--

    'Its loop-holed grates, where captives weep,'--

all recalling the feudal days of Scotland and Spain. Next we drove
through the Prado of San Isabel, with its triumphal arches of snowy
marble, its rose-decked alamedas lined with palm, cypress, and magnolia,
its clear fountains foaming amid thickets of acacia and blooming
oleander; and then on to the great theater of Tacon, where the evening
was passed as if in fairy-land.

"Christmas-day we drove out to visit a coffee-plantation a dozen miles
from the city walls. The dew was still glittering on the foliage as we
whirled rapidly along in our easy volantas, and the air was rich with
the odor of orange-blossoms and a myriad of other tropic flowers. We
halted at the Bishop's Gardens for an hour, and I can but faintly
describe their gorgeous floral wealth. These gardens are centuries old,
dating back to the days of Charles V., when the Spanish banner of
crimson and gold waved around the world.

"There were palm, myrtle, and mangoe trees growing beside canals where
the clear rushing water rippled along over the bottom of gaily-colored
tiles. Then there were plantations of yucca, the broad-leaved
bread-fruit, lemons, guavas, and figs, with great basins of marble
brimming with water, on which floated lilies white as snow. But,
entrancing as were those avenues of whispering myrtle, orange, and pine,
we drove on through the warm sunlight until near noon, when we arrived
at our destination.

"The coffee-plantation contained a league of land--three miles
square--and was divided into innumerable plats by long avenues that cut
each other at right angles, like streets, extending through the
plantation. These avenues were lined on either side by palms of a
hundred different species, and in their great width of full fifty paces,
and three miles long, they were set in Bermuda-grass, mown like a carpet
of velvet. The squares, however, were carefully cultivated, and no weeds
were visible in the red, mellow soil.

"Next to the row of palms grew a line of orange-trees; then lemons,
almonds, pomegranates, and olives, followed by a row of evergreens of
infinite variety, the remainder of the square being planted to
coffee-trees.

"It was a sight never to be forgotten that unfolded to our view as we
drove down one of those long colonnades of palm, over which the
parasites trailed, linking tree to tree with garlands of scarlet, rose,
and golden blossoms--the snowy orange-flowers contrasting with its
coppery fruit--gloomy pine, spruce, and cypress, with glimpses between
of the coffee-trees loaded with their crimson berries.

"Thousands of birds flitted about, lending animation to the gorgeous
tropical scene,--gaudy parrots, white doves, orioles, and blue-birds;
while myriads of humming-birds of rose and emerald, gold and purple,
wove and flashed among the trees.

"We, who live in these dull northern climes, can not fancy the pictures
of life and color that adorn the forests of tropical America; but as I
sat that Christmas-day amid the Cuban groves, and ate the most luscious
fruits, fresh from the tree, the glorious sunlight sifting down through
the feathery, fern-like palm-leaves, and over all the cloudless blue of
the southern skies, I thought of the snow and ice which wrapped the
hills and meadows of my northern home. But a feeling of longing stole
over me for the brooks, bound by their crystal fetters and sheltered by
the oak-clad hills, the merry jingling sleigh-bells in the frosty air,
and, amid all this wealth of bloom and tropic life, my heart turned
back to the memory of rustic joys in my boyhood's home,--the roaring
fire on the hearth-stone, when the frost-rime crept over the
window-pane; the rushing of the storm-king, as he piled the ghostly
drift without, or fled shrieking by, shaking the gables in his wild
wrath. Then fancy came thronging on with dear faces of the home-folk
that I had not seen for years; and when I awoke, with a start, to the
thought that the ocean rolled between me and my distant home, do not
blame me that a tear-drop went trickling down through the sunlight of
that foreign tropic land.

"After loitering for a few hours among the coffee-trees, we ascended a
mountain to drink of the waters of a famous mineral spring, which gushes
from among the lofty cliffs; and as I stood on the verge of a precipice,
before me there spread a landscape of matchless grandeur,--the wide
savannas with their fields of cane, tobacco, and fruit, the dim city,
begirt with its walls and grim fortresses, and the blue harbor, crowded
with the ships of all nations; while far away to the north, stretching
out, it seemed, to eternity, lay the trackless ocean, dotted with white
winged ships and those gem-like islands, 'The Queen's Gardens.'

"Driving back to the city, we paid a moonlight visit to the tomb of
Columbus. I stood long and silently by the urn where rests all that
remains of the Great Mariner--all save the Columbian spirit, which will
pervade the people of America as long as this continent endures.

"Yes; you and I are actuated by the same spirit that guided the
illustrious pioneers out toward the setting sun--enterprise, ambition,
and energy. As I noted the humble monument, I bitterly recalled the
ingratitude and perfidy of Spain; but when there rose to my mind a
vision of the grand and powerful nations, the splendid cities and happy
homes of the thronging millions from Montreal to Buenos Ayres,--these, I
mused, are the monuments befitting the noble hero, and it matters not
that the lowly urn in the old cathedral holds the ashes of mortality.

"Coming forth into the mellow moonlight, I paused a moment to gather a
spray from the roses and passion-flowers, blooming in dew-drenched
clusters amid the orange and myrtle of the Paseo hard by; and as I stood
drinking, as it were, the odors of that perfume-laden air, afar off
could be heard the sullen boom of the breakers as the sea broke in
thunder on the walls of Moro Castle, while the faint, sweet notes of a
guitar floated out upon the night, mingling with the diapason of old
ocean's roar as it chanted its hymn of eternity on the rocky beach.

"Two weeks later I drove up to my father's gate, through the snow and
ice of a Northern winter. The white drift wrapped the hills and meadows,
and the gurgle of the brook in the sheltered valley sang faint and
muffled within its crystal prison; the dear old cedars bent low under
their white burden, and from the eaves of the time-worn, red brick
homestead, the icicles hung glittering like spears in the frosty light.

"When I left home four years before, I was a smooth-faced boy of twenty,
but while in the mines I had grown a beard like a Turk; and although in
San Francisco I had passed under the sway of the barber, who despoiled
me of more locks than Samson ever lost, yet enough remained to complete
my disguise; and I was smiling at the surprise I had in store for the
home-folks, when the door opened, and lo! Amy came flying down the path
with such an outcry that all the family came rushing upon the scene, Amy
saying, between smiles and tears:--

"'Oh, George, you thought we wouldn't know you; but I was watching, and
when you paused at the gate and looked so wistfully towards the house, I
knew--oh, it must be you!'

"Ah well--such a day will never come again! How I followed mother and
Amy about, or sat in the kitchen with father on one hand and Dick on the
other--all of us talking at once! Such a homecoming is known in all of
its keen delight by only the long-absent miner or returning soldier. And
the dinner which followed, where all the culinary treasures of earth,
sky, land, and sea were laid under contribution, was a meal which caused
me to say they certainly meant to stuff me as a curiosity, after the
manner of a taxidermist.

"'There must be some means devised to keep you at home hereafter,'
replied my mother.

"I said I was through with rambling; for I had brought enough money home
for the whole family--unless we indulged in such dinners every day.

"Dick replied with a laugh that 'wealthy people could certainly afford
salt for the potatoes.'

"'Oh, that is not a luxury, for I find it in both the fruit and coffee,'
replied my father.

"In the evening I took Dick's grays and sleigh to drive over to Mary's
home, and at starting was charged by Amy to be sure and bring Mary over
to the 'wool-picking' at Widow Hawley's--a semi-festive meeting of the
best society in that primitive but happy neighborhood. Promising to do
my best to meet Dick and her that evening at the designated place of
festivity, I touched the horses, and shot down the drive just in time to
dodge the slipper, which, with a gay laugh, she hurled at my back; and
as I rounded the curve of the stone wall into the highway, she and Dick
cheered me very encouragingly.

"As I drove along the sparkling, crusted road, the west was still
blushing faintly, and the moon peeped through the snowy tree-tops, that
drooped in feathery sprays of frost and ice, sweeping the drifts below
with their creaking, rattling branches, and the stars winked knowingly
in the clear, cold sky as my sleigh-bells awoke the jingling echoes
among the well-remembered hills that flanked the valley on either side.

"When I reached the door of Mary's dwelling the windows threw out a
ruddy light from the great fire-place, where the flames leaped and
crackled, and showers of sparks flashed up the wide chimney, while back
and forth in the flickering light tripped Mary, singing as she spun on
the roaring wheel.

"At my rap the wheel ceased its hum, a light footfall was heard,
and--well, I'll just close the door, as it was only a private
matter--but in a moment I was kissing her mother, who hugged me almost
as hard--that is, she and the old gentleman did--no--no--I mean to say
that Towser and all the rest of the--There--there I go again"--said the
colonel, joining in the merriment of his hearers, who were shouting with
laughter at the absurd flounders of the colonel's narrative; but when
the last giggle of Grace and Rob had subsided, and cries of "hear,
hear," resounded on every hand, then our friend Warlow resumed, as he
cast a fond look toward his wife, who had been busy at the camp-fire
preparing the evening meal while the shades of twilight were thickening
among the trees.

"I only wished to say that I was highly gratified with my reception on
that happy evening, and Mary and I were soon on the road to the
residence of Mrs. Hawley, where we found a merry throng of old friends;
and, after such a greeting as only one who meets his childhood's friends
after long years of absence can appreciate, we were allotted a quiet
corner, and our share of the evening's labor."

At this moment a summons to supper was heard, and the party adjourned to
the camp-fire, to discuss the savory prairie-chicken and quail on toast,
with which Mrs. Warlow celebrated the close of that Sabbath-day.



Chapter VII.

COLONEL WARLOW'S STORY--CONCLUDED.


An hour later the party sat under the drooping boughs of an elm, near
thickets of snowy elder and blooming wild-roses, which filled all the
air with their delicious fragrance; the shallow stream murmured and
gurgled along between its willow-fringed banks, glimmering like silver
under the beams of the rising moon.

At the request of the group, the colonel resumed, as follows:--

"When the wool had been allotted to the captains, in equal proportions,
the leaders divided the company in two parties. It was understood that
the side first finishing its task of picking the burrs and other foreign
matter from the fleeces of wool, should crown its captain and carry her
in triumph around the room on a chair; then she should be awarded the
honor of opening the ball, which was to follow in the wide kitchen.

"Mary and I were the last to finish, but were helped through our task by
several smiling friends. Then our captain--wild, saucy Peg
Sickle--bounded up with the cry, 'Crown the captain!' which was
re-echoed by her noisy followers, who proceeded, with ludicrous
ceremony, to carry the order into execution.

"The violins struck up a lively air, and the gay Peg, wearing her
towering head-dress of wool, led off in the inspiriting quadrille; but
the lively dance was watched ruefully through the open doorway by the
other party, who still were at their unfinished task; but our hilarity
was interrupted by cries of--

"'Fraud!--Shame!--Peggy has been hiding the fleece!'

"It transpired that the treacherous Peg had concealed nearly half the
wool allotted to our party, and it had been discovered, in its
hiding-place, under the bed; so poor Peg was dragged ignominiously from
the unfinished set, and made to abdicate her woolly crown, which was
quickly replaced by a diadem of cockle-burrs, with which her irate foes
decked her brow, with the taunting reminder that 'uneasy _lies_ the head
that wears a crown.'

"We slunk back to our unfinished task, as our opponents finished theirs,
and re-enacted the mummery; but we toiled faithfully, notwithstanding
their jeers, and soon were allowed to join the revelers.

"I noticed, with gratification, that Amy appeared to still be
heart-free; and as we were dancing together, later in the evening, I
told her of finding Roger at Acapulco, and when she almost cried with
delight at his escape, I began at once to build 'castles in Spain,' but
prudently omitted mentioning the incident of the picture.

"Dancing and singing continued until a late hour, relieved, however, by
huge baskets of hickory-nuts and apples, with supplementary pitchers of
cider. Of that ride home through the moonlight I'll say nothing, in
deference to that lady by the camp-fire yonder; but suffice it that she
was the heroine of that very happy occasion, and the 10th of May was set
for our wedding, which, in view of my four years' probation, I thought
an age to wait.

"Next day I bought the 'Nolan farm,' which was only three miles from
Mary's home, and at once proceeded to put the place in thorough repair.
The premises were rather tumble-down, and 'the bildin's a leetle
shackelty,' as the fox-hunting squire remarked; but I put such a force
of workmen on the old stone house and broken-backed barn that the place
was soon completely transformed.

"The fences were the most demoralized and dilapidated that I have ever
beheld. In fact, brother Dick asserted that the 'Nolan boys, Bill and
Ike, were never known to open a gap,' but rode their horses at the
rail-fence, knocking it down for rods; then half of the next day would
be devoted to repairing the unpicturesque nuisance--said repairs
consisting of a load of brush, dumped where the festive youths had made
the floundering leap.

"Often I would come upon an unsightly place in the fields--the squire's
'barrier,' a great thornbush, spiked to the earth with brambles and
thistle--and I would smile at the vision of the sport-loving farmer
unhitching his team amid-field to chase the venturesome coon or
stiff-legged deer that had caught his roving eye.

"My carpenters were finishing a stile and two large gates in front of
the house, which was temporarily occupied by its former owner, when
Master Dave Nolan, a scion of the old stock, came upon the scene. He
viewed the improvements with great displeasure, and, crawling under one
of the large gates, he said, as he wriggled out, lizard style:--

"'Gates is all nonsense; aint half as handy as a gap in the fence and a
slick rail!'

"The 10th of May found the house thoroughly renovated and furnished
newly throughout; so, after the wedding ceremony, when we had discussed
the dinner, Mary and I took a 'bridal tour' by going to our new home,
and in the evening our neighbors and relatives gathered in to give us a
house-warming.

"Soon after, I wrote Roger an invitation to spend the summer with us,
Mary and Amy adding a feminine postscript, in which they expressed their
valuation of one who had proved so noble a friend in my distress, and
earnestly begging him to give them an opportunity of thanking him
personally.

"To which he responded that he would 'do himself the honor' of paying
his respects in person the following July--a visit which terminated in a
wedding between my old friend and sister Amy. On their bridal day I gave
them the deed to the Maple Dale plantation, which adjoined our own, and
as I handed the astonished pair the papers I remarked that it was in
fulfillment of the contract which Roger and I had made at Los Angeles,
and they might charge it to 'Profit and Loss.'

"The newly-wedded pair left the plantation in charge of an overseer, and
returned to Acapulco; but Roger resigned his position after a few
months, and returned home to the quiet life of a planter.

"We enjoyed a long period of uninterrupted prosperity; but when the War
of the Rebellion began, I raised a company and joined the Southern army.
At the close of that terrible conflict all that was left me was my title
and family, with the wreck of my once comfortable fortune.

"I shall hurry over the history of the struggling years that followed;
how on returning from the war I found Mary and the children had fled to
the city, and how I gathered them once more together on the farm, where
the dear old homestead lay, a blackened ruin. But earnestly we tried to
retrieve the lost years.

"The county in which I lived was 'reconstructed,' and from the bonds
issued by the officers, and the taxes levied to run the costly, corrupt
machine, there followed wide-spread financial distress.

"A treasurer had been appointed to finger our money. He was a
hawk-nosed, black-haired little reprobate, named Toler, and the way he
tolled all the grists which came to his tax-mill led us to believe that
he was well named indeed. It was reported that he had once held the post
of sutler in a regiment of Eastern troops. Whether that was true or not,
he was undoubtedly the most subtle villain that ever sold scabby sheep
or slipped a flag-stone into a sack of bacon. Finally, this 'patriotic'
officer, having stuffed his 'grip-sack' with county funds, one dark
night took an excursion for his health, considerately leaving the
county, which he only refrained from stealing from the fact that it was
not portable.

"The reckless extravagance of that class of men, cursed and abhorred by
both parties, led eventually to wide-spread ruin and bankruptcy; but out
of the wreck of my once comfortable fortune I saved a few thousands,
and, hearing favorable reports from the fertile Kansas prairies, we
turned our steps westward toward the setting sun. Fate seemed to lead me
here; so I will begin the life-struggle over again on the spot where I
lost my friends and the gold doubloons here, near the shadows of the Old
Stone Corral."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the colonel had finished the long and eventful history of his past
life, a silence fell on the group--a silence tinged with sadness as they
thought of the fate of Walraven and his wife; and as the camp-fire
mingled its flickering light with the pale moonbeams, throwing an
uncertain, wavering shimmer over the tangled vines and milk-white
elder-blooms, a sense of their lone, isolated position slowly dawned
upon them. They were far out on the verge of an untried, mysterious
land, no evidences of civilization for miles around, and all the future,
with its trials and struggles, looming grimly on the morrow. Is it any
wonder that a feeling of dread, awe, and fear stole over the stoutest
heart at the thought of the direful, tragic past haunting the spot with
its painful memories, and the black veil of futurity hovering over
them--hiding the joys and fears, the tears and graves, that lay beyond?

The colonel sat gazing, sad and thoughtful, out toward the knoll, where,
resting in the moonlight, the victims of that horrible tragedy now slept
their sleep of eternity in the lone, grassy grave.

The winds whispered softly among the trees; a song-bird twittered
drowsily in its nest; then a long, mournful howl from a wolf on the
distant hills broke the silence of the summer night. Maud, looking
wistfully out to the west, where the great planets, those mute sentinels
of time, kept their watch in the sky, repeated the sweet, pathetic
"Dirge" of Tennyson:--

    "Round thee blow, self pleached deep,
    Bramble-roses, faint and pale,
    And long purples of the dale,--
        Let them rave;
    These in every shower creep
    Through the green that folds thy grave.
        Let them rave.

    Chanteth not the brooding bee
    Sweeter tones than calumny?"

A wild cry from Mrs. Moreland startled the group from their reverie and
broke in abruptly upon their musing. As they lifted their eyes or sprang
to their feet in dismay, she pointed, with trembling finger, to where
the uncertain moonlight flickered through the willows, and there they
beheld a sight which froze them with horror, and haunted them with its
mystery for long months thereafter.

But a few paces from where they sat stood the form of a strange, gray
figure, in a loose, long robe, its locks and flowing beard of snowy
white, its wildly gleaming eyes and snaggled fangs, showing dimly in
the spectral light. With a long, bony finger pointed at the group, the
figure stood for a brief moment; then, with a blood-chilling scream, it
faded away amid the shadows.

Clifford Warlow and Ralph Moreland sprang after the vanishing figure,
unheeding the wild shrieks of Maud and Grace, who begged them not to
follow the frightful apparition. As the young men disappeared among the
trees, Mrs. Warlow fell prone upon the earth with a low moan; and while
all of the party that remained forgot their terror in their efforts to
restore her from the death-like swoon in which she had fallen, the young
men returned, reporting a fruitless search.

It was now proposed, as Mrs. Warlow had revived, that the
boys--Clifford, Ralph, Scott, and Robbie--should make a more extended
search with the three dogs; but they could not force the terror-stricken
animals to leave the camp-fire, where they cowered trembling with fear.
So the search again proved unavailing.



Chapter VIII.


Those were busy days which followed--days all too short for the years of
labor that loomed so drearily before the pioneers; but they set to work
bravely, plowing, building, and planning, and the manifold cares of
their new, strange life left no time for repining over the events of the
past, or even to investigate the nature of that strange visitant which
had so startled them with its fleeting appearance.

Although a hurried search was made near the Old Corral, no trace of the
lost treasure could be discovered; and whenever the subject was
mentioned, or the hope expressed of the ultimate recovery of the
princely treasure, the colonel would discourage it as delusive and
visionary, and would say that the surest way to recover the lost fortune
was to extract the gold from the soil through the medium of the plow and
an application of good "horse sense" to their farming.

Several masons were employed from the nearest town, forty miles distant,
and, after tearing down the walls of the Old Corral, the stone was
utilized in building, first, a dwelling for Colonel Warlow in the grove
in the river's bend; next, a cottage for Clifford on the site of the old
stronghold, which had been entirely obliterated, save that portion which
had fallen over Colonel Warlow years ago, and which had so
providentially shielded him from death. The entire party had decided
that it should remain as a monument of the past, and accordingly the
stones which had been hurled down by the drunken fury of the Indians,
were replaced carefully; so the wall now appeared as it did a quarter of
a century before, on the night of that terrible tragedy.

Squire Moreland and his son Ralph also built, from the same confused
stone-heap, comfortable dwellings a mile down the valley, but situated
on the opposite side of the river from the Warlows; and, as all of the
buildings were located near natural timber, they presented a very
home-like appearance when completed.

But during all the while the plows were kept busily turning the fertile
valley sod, which was planted in corn and millet, thus providing feed
for the stock the ensuing winter.

Yet it must not be supposed by the reader that incessant toil alone
occupied the time of the settlers, to the exclusion of all pleasure; for
many were the pleasant fishing parties and excursions to the Sand Hills,
far off to the north-west, where the delicious sand-plums crimsoned the
low shrubs which clothed the hills, relieving, on these occasions, their
life of monotony.

An occasional antelope-hunt on the Flats to the south was indulged in by
the sporting members of the colony, varied by the excitement of a
wolf-chase or the sight of a stray buffalo.

Then the ceaseless tide of travel on the Santa Fe Trail, thronging with
settlers bound for the rich prairies to the south, was in itself a link
to the past and an endless source of interest to the colonists.

One of the first moves of the Warlow and Moreland families was to
organize a school district, a proceeding which is never omitted by the
first settler of the western prairies, who, the very day he "files,"
begins planning more or less secretly, to secure the location of a
school-house on his "claim."

So, according to pioneer traditions, the district was organized,
consisting of a territory ten miles square, and a meeting was called at
the house of Colonel Warlow, at which assemblage of the settlers it was
decided "to vote bonds to build a school-house immediately."

All the voters present agreed, with perfect unanimity, that "bonding"
was the only feasible method of accomplishing the object which they had
in view; but when it came to specifying the time for which the bonds
were to run, or, in other words, were to mature, then a stormy scene
ensued, and with varying degrees of eloquence the subject was hotly
discussed by the local orators.

It was proposed by one embryo politician--whose speeches were said by
Robbie to be longer than his furrows--"that the bonds be made payable in
one year," in which event the entire amount would have to be met by a
direct tax on all the assessible property in the district; and as the
lands of the settlers would not be subject to taxation for the period of
the next five years, the burden would fall upon the railroad land, which
constituted one-half of all the territory embraced within the limits of
the district; and the aforementioned "political economist" proceeded to
demonstrate to his hearers the beauty and fitness (?) of making a
company of friendly capitalists, who lived, as he averred, over in New
England, not only pay the two thousand dollars which was to build their
school-house, but, in addition to this, be taxed to maintain the school
for the next five years; and he closed his brilliant peroration by
asserting "that his policy was to make all bloated bondholders and
corporation scamps squeal when he had the _chaince_."

The squire and colonel both opposed the measure, the latter replying in
a speech of some length, in which he vigorously attacked the principles
advocated by the "_chaince orator_" saying that it would be both immoral
and unwise to take such a rascally advantage of a company that were
doing so much to help the State and develop its resources. Then he
warned his hearers of the consequences of so unjust a course, telling
them plainly it was little better than highway robbery, and the railroad
company would retaliate by raising the rates of shipping, whereby all
would suffer alike.

But his appeal was disregarded by the rampant majority, and, although he
pleaded with the audience to make the bonds payable in thirty years,
which, he said, was but equitable, the motion to make the bonds payable
in one year was sustained, and one ardent supporter of that _iniquitous_
measure, a man in a coon-skin cap, was heard to remark, as he mounted
his mule, which had one crank leg:--

"Good enough fur them railroad fellers; they just haint got no business
a-comin' out hyur with their bulljine a-spilin' of our freightin'."

Although the free discussion at the meeting led to a feeling of
animosity, the work of building was begun and rapidly pushed forward to
completion, soon as the bonds which had been voted for the purpose could
be disposed of to those same "bloated bondholders" of the East, and by
the middle of August, the large stone school-house, with a bell-tower
and rose window, crowned a knoll just across the river from the Old
Corral.

       *       *       *       *       *


THE GRASSHOPPER RAID.

A short time after the day on which the new school-house had been
dedicated by a public dinner, in which all the colonists participated, a
peculiar haziness was noticed in the air, and, on looking up at the sun,
swarms of gauzy-winged insects were seen floating southward on the light
breeze; but they were too high for Clifford and Rob--who stood in the
barn-yard wondering what they were--to conjecture the terrible import of
the phenomenon.

Thicker and more dense became the haze, now almost obscuring the sun, or
again thinning out to a silvery mist, which quickly changed to fleecy
clouds again, drifting overhead like the scud of a summer storm.

Mrs. Warlow, who stood on the latticed balcony that ran along the
eastern front of the dwelling, and on which there opened glass doors,
instead of windows, from the long range of dormer gables in the upper
story of that picturesque homestead, was looking out to the north, and
as she saw a dark, strange cloud quickly rising, she called to the boys
to come in at once as a storm was almost upon them.

As the boys glanced out towards the north-west they could see the
unnatural, black cloud stretching across the northern horizon, but
momentarily growing nearer, like a dense shadow on a summer landscape.

Their father, who had been reading on the porch, laid aside his paper on
hearing the unusual commotion, and stepped out in the yard.

"What can it be?" said Clifford anxiously.

"A dust-storm, probably," replied the colonel, as the weather had been
dry and parching hot for several weeks past.

On came the threatening cloud, filling the air from the earth to an
incredible height, and a low muffled roar grew louder every moment;
then, as the startled family sought the shelter of the dwelling, a
seething mass of insects filled the air.

"Grasshoppers! grasshoppers!" cried Rob, dancing about in wild
excitement.

"Locusts!" exclaimed the colonel in great consternation; but even then
no one but himself realized the terrible disaster and wide-spread ruin
which their visit portended; but as he said, gravely, that they were the
dreaded locusts or grasshoppers which often laid waste whole nations of
Spanish-America, devouring every vestige of the growing crops of those
countries and in one day leaving the land like a desert, then the
meaning of the appalling calamity slowly dawned upon them.

It was truly an awe-inspiring scene that met their sight, as they stood
by the wide windows and looked out on the storm of insect life that
raged by, darkening the sun itself as they swarmed along in countless
billions.

One who sees the feeble "hopper" spring aside from his path through the
Eastern meadows can but dimly comprehend the terrible sight--the cubic
miles of winged pests that rush by with a hurtling roar, filling the air
all that day like the drifting snow-flakes, through which the sunlight
dimly glimmered, or rolling by like the rack of some fierce storm.

As the dew-drop that glints quivering in the morning may be a thing of
beauty, but when multiplied by the waters of old ocean becomes grand and
imposing, so it was with this feeble insect when re-enforced by his
multitudinous kinsmen; and when our friends saw his hordes darkening the
sun, and earth and sky swarming with his hosts, they realized, as
Clifford said, "that neither corn nor cotton, but 'hopper,' was king,"
and thenceforth that once reviled insect was held in great respect,
though still regarded as an unmitigated nuisance by all the members of
our colony.

Next morning every tree, shrub, and building was covered by the insects
in huge, dark masses, which flew up in disgusting swarms as the settlers
walked along, and the fields of sod-corn were soon stripped clear of
every ear and blade by the winged pests, and all the vegetables, also,
fell victims to their rapacious appetites--save, perhaps, the warty old
radishes, that stood bravely up in the ruined garden, rejoicing in their
"strength." The woolly stems of the millet, likewise, defied their
insatiable appetites.

The grasshoppers hung about until late in the fall, as if loath to leave
such hospitable friends; and when it became apparent that the pests were
depositing their eggs in the ground, honey-combing the roads, fields,
and banks of the streams with their cells, then the outlook became truly
discouraging; for it was known that the young brood, which the next
summer's sun would hatch out, would work greater havoc and ruin than
that which the settler had just witnessed,--all of which disheartening
prospects only served still more to weaken the vertebræ of those
settlers not endowed by nature with spines like an oak-tree.

Accordingly, near the end of September, this faint-hearted class
inaugurated an hegira back to the Land of the Mother-in-law, and by
their haste it was to be inferred that the much-maligned lady of story
and song had changed her traditional spots, and now stood waiting to
receive them with open hand, on the digital members of which no longer
were visible the "claws" of malicious metaphor.

The long caravan, as it wended its eastward course, was headed by the
"chaince" orator, and the coon-skin cap and crank-legged mule, of
"bulljine" memory, guarded the rear of the retreating host.

It appeared as if the exodus of the settlers was regarded as a signal
of departure by the grasshoppers also; for one fine morning they rose up
in darkening swarms and departed to the south-west.

The Warlow and Moreland families, who had preferred to remain when their
more faint-hearted neighbors left, now proceeded to sow their fields in
wheat and rye, and the autumn rains and warm sunshine soon clothed the
fields with a rank growth of the cereals, which, with the millet,
prairie-hay, and the pasture the wheat-fields afforded, served to keep
their stock in good condition during the mild winter that followed.

Our friends devoted the early winter to building stone barns and
corrals, or pens for the stock, and so busy, indeed, were the energetic
settlers that they could scarcely realize that March was with them
again; but the way in which that wayward jade proceeded to demonstrate
the fact left no doubt in the minds of those who tried to withstand her
windy arguments. Although the weather was very dry, the wheat and rye
fields were green and rank; but when April passed, and had neglected to
shed the customary tears over the frolics of her wayward younger sister,
and the drouth still continued, even the stoical colonel became alarmed
and fearful for the future.

To add to the gloom of the outlook, the warm sunshine had so operated as
an incubator that the earth fairly squirmed with the newly hatched brood
of young grasshoppers; and as May came on still warm and dry, and the
young pests began their dread ravages on the tender young vegetables
and fields of grain, then grim famine, with all its horrors, stared the
settlers in the face.

But on May 16th, a change was noticed in the atmosphere. The barometer
denoted a rain; and as Rob limped about, he said that he could feel a
storm in his bones; but Clifford thought that was owing to his tight
boots.

A north-east wind began to blow, cold and chilly, and a mist wrapped the
earth in its foggy folds until all the hills grew faint and dim; then a
fine, drizzling rain followed, which before noon merged into a perfect
deluge, and the rivulets as they poured down from the highlands, mingled
their gurgling songs with the river's low bass, raging and roaring over
its rocky bed, all making sweet music to the ear of the anxious
colonist.

The Warlow homestead stood, as I have heretofore explained, in a grove
that grew in the river's bend; and as the house was situated on low
ground, some apprehension was felt by the family lest the river should
reach the dwelling; and as the barn was on still lower ground, on the
bank of the stream, it was suggested that the stock should be taken to
the upland pasture; a field that was inclosed with a fence of barbed
wire, and connected with the barn-yard by a lane.

Accordingly, Clifford and Rob drove the horses and mules, with the
cattle, up to the pasture, and after closing the gate started on their
return through the pouring rain; but when they reached the margin of
what was, but an hour before, a shallow, grass-bedded brook, babbling
away through the meadow, they found now a wide glassy stream, to wade
which they knew was impossible; so divesting themselves of their
superfluous clothing, they tied their boots up in bundles to throw
across.

Clifford's budget landed safely; but Rob was not so fortunate, he having
undershot the mark, and he cried:--

"There go my Sundiest boots!"

At the rueful outcry, Clifford turned, just in time to see the bobbing
bundle disappear in the muddy water.

The boys swam over safely (but Robbie's bundle was not recovered until
several days had elapsed, but then found to be sadly water-logged), and
as poor Rob stood shivering in the rain, Clifford gave him his overcoat.

"Oh, a fellow only needs a pair of sandals and a plantain-leaf to keep
off the dew in this dry region," said Rob, as he buttoned the welcome
garment around him.

The boys, after changing their wet garments when they reached home, went
down into the parlor where Maud sat, twanging her guitar and singing:--

    "Oh, gentle, gentle summer rain!
    Let not the drooping lily pine;"

But Rob interrupted, and with an air of tragedy, sang:--

    "Oh, cats and pitchforks cease to rain
    And trickle down my chilly spine."

Then, his mother coming in, he proceeded to tell about their "cruise,"
and the sad fate of his bundle.

"Oh, you might have been drowned in that horrid stream!" said Maud,
dropping her guitar in consternation.

"About the only way a fellow can escape such a fate out-doors to-day is
to jump into the river," said Clifford, in high good-humor. "Talk about
the 'dry belt,'" he continued; "I hope that geographical girdle will
soon prove all too short to span this western 'waste.'"

The colonel, who had just come in, said with an anxious face:--

"I am afraid the only dry belt left by morning will be the upstairs,
unless this flood ceases soon."

At this announcement Mrs. Warlow and Maud flew into a panic, saying they
would all be drowned; to which gloomy predictions the colonel and
Clifford replied with arguments to the effect that the house being of
stone would resist any flood, and all that was necessary to insure their
safety, would be to retire to the upper story of the dwelling in case
the water rose into the house; and the feminine portion of the household
was soon reassured, and busied themselves preparing an early supper,
while the stronger members of the family were busy carrying the
furniture up to that place of refuge.

The books, pictures, carpets, and other "household goods," were soon
beyond danger; but the old rosewood piano was a load which nearly defied
their united efforts, though it, too, was successfully drawn up the
stairway with the aid of block and tackle, and finally the store of
provisions--a very slender store indeed--was carried to the upper rooms.

After the hasty supper, Clifford and Bob went to the stream, lantern in
hand, to take a survey of the situation. They found the river lacked now
but a foot of reaching the upper bank, and as it was still raining in
torrents they realized the gravity of their position.

It was a strange, weird sight--the sullen, roaring stream; but yesterday
a silvery chain, scarce linking the shallow pools where pebbles and
shells had shown in the clear, quiet depths--now a mad, dark river,
boiling and swirling along in the red glare of the light.

When they had returned to the dwelling and reported the situation, the
colonel looked very grave, and they began to canvass the prospect of a
retreat. There was Clifford's dwelling, they remembered, at the Old
Corral, situated high and dry; but to reach it they would have to cross
a stream that was a foaming torrent, and the wild, swift river on the
south completely cut them off from retreat in that direction; while away
to the north stretched the limitless prairie, with not a habitation for
more than a score of miles to shelter them from the cold and driving
rain.



Chapter IX.


But when they thought of the wide valley and the vast quantity of water
necessary to raise one foot after the river left its banks, they
dismissed the thought of danger, and retired to rest.

The rain now poured down with greater fury than ever; the wind lashed
the roof with the limbs of the old elm that drooped over the chimneys
and gables of the dwelling; and the groaning and creaking added a
gruesome feeling to the drowsiness which the plashing rain-drops caused
to steal over the inmates of that danger-threatened household.

"It makes me think of spectres and shrieking ghosts," said Robbie, as he
drew the cover up closer, and cuddled down by Clifford.

"Yes; it recalls the lines of 'Tam O'Shanter,'" replied his older
brother, repeating a verse from that masterpiece of Burns:--

    "The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
    The rattling showers rose on the blast;
    The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed;
    Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellowed.
    That night a child might understand
    The devil had business on his hand."

"If the Old Gent ventures from his fireside to-night, he'll get his tail
wet," said Rob; then rolling over, the lad was soon in the "land of
Nod."

But Clifford lay for hours listening to the hoarse roar of wind, river,
trees, and pelting rain; but finally he was lulled to sleep, though even
in slumber he was weighed down and haunted by a sense of danger; and
when the clock chimed the hour of twelve he arose, and stole down the
stairs. As he reached the next to the last step his foot plashed in the
water. He knew at once that the river was now out over all the wide
valley, and had risen in a stealthy flow, invading the house, where it
was at least two feet deep.

Watching the water by the light which he had returned and procured, he
saw it was rising in an alarming manner; so he hastily dressed himself
and went to the window, and opening the sash, which was all in one piece
and hung on hinges, he looked out on the glaring, boiling flood below.
As he stood thus, looking down on the terrible, raging whirlpool, he was
rapidly revolving in his mind plans of escape from their perilous
position; but every avenue of retreat seemed closed. As he cast his eyes
about in despair, he started joyfully at the thought of the "Crows'
Nest" up in the great elm--a place which could be reached by a flight of
steps springing from the window ledge and leading far up into the forks
of the tree.

Smiling at the fact that he had not thought of it before, he sprang up
the stairs into the fanciful retreat, which Robbie in his boyish fancy
had planned and built in the top of the lofty tree, and which, on warm,
sultry days, had proved to be an aerial lounging-place as comfortable as
it was novel. It was a stout platform about eight feet square, railed
about, and provided with seats, hammocks, and even a rocking-chair. It
was with a feeling of relief that Clifford stood on the floor of the
lofty perch and glanced down at the glare of water.

Springing down the steps, which were also safely railed, he went to the
mark which he had made on the wall and found the water had risen a full
step, and, knowing there was no time to lose, he ran to the bed and
awakened Robbie, telling him of the situation, and in a few minutes that
resolute young chap was dressed and ready to lend a willing hand in the
plan which Clifford unfolded.

Taking a wagon-cover from one of the stow-aways which flanked the room,
and a piece of scantling from the same catch-all, the boys cut the ropes
from the wagon-sheet, and after tying the scantling securely to the
limbs above the platform, at a distance of six or seven feet overhead,
they next drew the canvas, tent-fashion, over it, then brought the ends
down in such a manner that the rain was excluded from the "Nest," and
tacking the sheet to the floor and making a flap for the doorway, the
interior was quite impervious to the rain, which still raged without.

Some blankets were next carried up and spread on the floor, and then two
beds were made hastily, and the busy fellows did not omit the pillows
and sheets; so the place wore a very cozy appearance. Then, when all was
complete, they awakened their parents and Maud, telling them of the safe
retreat into which they would be compelled to remove.

In a few moments they were all safely up in the "Nest," and then the
provisions and a few valuables were carried thither, Rob cautioning them
not to forget a jug of water. Then the boys went down to the hall
stairway and found that the water lacked but two feet of reaching the
upper floor.

Alarmed and in great suspense, Clifford stood watching the flood, and
was relieved to see that the water crept more slowly up the stair; then
Robbie, coming up, said that the rain was about over and the stars were
twinkling through the rifts above.

As the boys gazed at the water; a faint wet line became visible on the
wall just above the flood. Breathless with suspense, they watched until
the band widened; then Clifford shouted in wild excitement,
"Falling--falling!"

"She's falling, falling!" shrieked Rob as he flew up to the "Nest" with
the joyful news.

Yes; it was a blissful fact that the water was subsiding, and, that too,
at a rate which soon promised relief from the danger which had
threatened them with total ruin.

Clifford, ever thoughtful of the comfort of others, now built a fire in
the warming stove which stood in his room, and proceeded to make coffee
for the weary and chilly party that still remained up in their "Nest;"
and as the young man remembered Rob's caution regarding the water-jug,
he hastily tied a rope to a bucket, and reaching over the window-ledge,
soon secured a supply of the necessary fluid. A steaming hot cup of the
fragrant beverage was declared by the nestlings to be "prime and
delicious" in the extreme.

Warmed and refreshed now, the family looked out upon the strange scene
which began to emerge in the dawning light. The valley was submerged
from hill to hill; but they could see the cattle patiently grazing on
the highlands, and the poultry on the accustomed trees were roosting
serenely, far above the danger-line.

The surrounding country was quite rolling, and the stream headed among
the hills on the west, only a few miles distant; so after the rain
ceased, the flood subsided as rapidly as it had risen--a peculiarity of
all Western streams.

The family watched the water subside until all the old land-marks were
once more visible. The fields were still covered in shallow water; but
soon the wild river shrank back into its narrow channel once again.

There had been great anxiety felt for the safety of the Moreland family,
although it was known that their dwelling was situated on higher ground
than the Warlow house; yet no sign of life was visible at the homestead
of their neighbor, and when a loud halloo was heard from Ralph Moreland,
who had ridden over to the top of one of the hills which shouldered down
to the opposite side of the river, a glad cry in response was raised
from the inmates of the "Nest."

It was amusing to see the bewildered way in which he peered over, trying
to discover their whereabouts; and when he finally discovered the aerial
family, he eagerly asked after their welfare.

When he learned of their safety, he laughed in a relieved and hearty
way at their "elevated station in life."

In answer to their inquiries regarding his father's family, he said that
the water had not reached the dwelling; but he was too uneasy thinking
of their danger to wait longer than daylight to ride over, and, although
he did not mention the fact, they saw that his horse was wet to the
saddle-bow, and knew that he had swam a dangerous side-stream to gain
the hill.

Maud begged him not to return until the water subsided, and she kept
shouting their experience across the river, while the equally noisy
youth replied in tones like a fog-horn.

Mrs. Warlow and the colonel had now descended to the "lower regions," as
Clifford termed the first story of the dwelling, where he and Rob were
removing a mountain of mud from the floor, and their mother soon
prepared a breakfast which those hungry youths pronounced a royal
banquet.

But Maud still carried on her loud flirtation from the tree-top in tones
which, Rob said, "could be heard in the next county," and the way she
managed, with her lengthened description of their experience, to detain
Ralph until all danger of high water on his return had passed, showed
she felt a greater interest in the rider than in the high-toned subject.

After he had at length ridden away, Maud descended to the rooms below,
where her mother was, saying that "this inundation would be long
remembered, and would become legendary and traditional."

"Yes," replied Clifford, gravely, "Rob and I will carry the memory of
the event down to our 'remotest ancestors.'"

"Oh, I daresay it will lose nothing in the way of variations in the
transmission," said Maud; "but here, you superior being, bring me a pail
of water;" and Clifford marched off obediently to the muddy well.

"Why, madam," cried Rob, mockingly, as he scraped the mud from the
floor, "have you regained your voice? I was afraid it was utterly lost;"
and he giggled at the thought of how her tones had wandered away over
the prairie.

"More scrubbing and less sarcasm, young man!" she replied, with a blush,
as she vigorously attacked the wall, which was stained by the water, or
frescoed with mud and slime; but as the plastering was of hard coat, it
soon regained its wonted purity under the drenching which was
administered by the energetic and busy workers, and long before
night-fall the usual neatness and order reigned in the Warlow household.

The young brood of grasshoppers had all been swept away in the flood, or
perished in the long, cold storm. Pious Mrs. Warlow said, "The hand of
the Lord is revealed in freeing the land of those pests;" and indeed it
appeared the work of Providence, which had so effectually destroyed them
that no further trace was visible of the scourge which only a brief day
before had threatened both the Missouri and Arkansas valleys with famine
and desolation.

The weather, that for the past year had played the fickle jade, now
tried to atone for her folly, and often would she burst into tears of
remorse, and veil her face in summer clouds, at remembrance of the wild
tantrums which had marred her equinoctial history.

In the propitious rain and sunshine which followed, the fields of grain
emerged from their coat of rich sediment, and the lush, dank growth of
the cereals ripened into great level fields of waving grain, the bronze
and golden wheat and silvery sheen of barley and oats contrasting
happily with the long rows of corn and emerald millet.

How often it is thus, that misfortune, on reaching a climax of
superlative disaster, then assumes the form of diminutive comparison!

The migratory settlers, that had been sojourning in the Land of the
Mother-in-law, now returned, re-enforced by cousins to a remote degree,
and on their tattered old wagon-covers, on which had glared in letters
of blue, black, and red, the legend "Kansas or BusT," and which on their
subsequent flitting had been partially erased and the assertion "buStud
by--" printed instead, now there glared the dauntless assertion,
"kansiss is the bEsT lAnd unDur the suNn."



Chapter X.


One delightful day in June the Warlow and Moreland families, or the
younger members of those households, attended a picnic which was held in
a grove on the river seven miles below the Old Corral.

At an early hour Clifford, Maud, and Robbie drove down in their
three-seated carriage, drawn by Clifford's iron grays, and at Squire
Moreland's the party was re-enforced by Ralph, Grace, and Scott. Baskets
and fishing-lines were stowed away under the seats, and the frying-pan,
also, was given a place of honor in the same promiscuous stow-away.

The dew was sparkling like gems on the bearded wheat, so soon to fall
before the reaper's stroke, and the tender grass and softly-fluttering
trees were all bathed in the mellow sunlight, as they sped down the
winding road.

When our friends arrived at the grove they found that the platform,
which had been erected among the trees close to the river, was crowded
with a well-dressed throng, who were merrily dancing to the music of
violin, organ, and guitar. After the carriage-load had been deposited on
the platform, and Rob and Scott had returned from caring for the team,
the boys found Clifford, Grace, Ralph, and Maud busily improving the
shining moments in the mazes of a cotillion.

When the music ceased, Maud was requested by one of the amateur
musicians to second on the organ, which was a mere labor of love; and as
she acceded to the request, she saw Rob and Grace spinning away in a
waltz, dizzily gyrating about the platform with a full score of couples,
all equally giddy and alike bent on extracting the most enjoyment out of
the least possible time.

Clifford, who stood leaning against a tree, surveying the varied groups
with that mingling of interest, amusement, and indifference, which we
experience in viewing the movements of strangers who may soon become
acquaintance, and possibly friends, was accosted by a handsome young man
of near his own age, who greeted him very cordially.

The new-comer was Hugh Estill, the son of a wealthy ranchman who lived
near, or at least but a few miles further down the valley. The two young
men had become acquainted in a business way while Clifford had been
buying cattle at the Estill ranch some weeks before, and it was to young
Estill they owed the invitation to the picnic; so it was with a feeling
of gratitude, not unmixed with respect in remembrance of the lordly
ranch-house and its princely domain, that young Warlow shook hands and
thanked the young ranchman for his thoughtful remembrance of them on
this pleasant occasion.

Robbie had by this time surrendered his partner to a young cow-boy, a
son of the greatest "cattle king" in the valley, and as the young
"prince" led Miss Grace out through the changes of the quadrille he
seemed totally oblivious of the fact that his leather "leggins,"
jingling spurs, and silver-mounted revolver hanging from a
cartridge-belt, were not wholly in keeping with the festive occasion;
and as they paused in the dance, the bovine princeling, after blowing a
long breath and wiping his glowing brow on his sleeve, observed:--

"That was a terrible swell--the young blood with a biled vest, who just
waltzed with you. Ha! ha!--a wild rose in his button-hole! Guess I'll
have to get one also--by shot!"

But Miss Grace bluntly told him that a gourdvine would be far more
suitable.

Robbie, who was happily unconscious of the disparaging remarks which
were being made at the expense of his purple and fine linen, had joined
Clifford and been introduced to the new friend, who passed some
good-natured compliments on that urchin's dancing, to which Rob replied
that he was but re-dedicating his boots that so lately had been
resurrected; and he proceeded to tell in his inimitable manner of the
mishap that had carried his best and dearly-beloved boots to a watery
grave, from which they were at length "resurrected," all filled with mud
and sand. Laughing heartily, Hugh said he hoped he would shine as
brightly on the resurrection morn as those same "Sunday boots."

While Hugh and Bobbie had been engaged in the above frivolous and wholly
unprofitable conversation, Clifford was improving the time in furtively
staring at a radiant and superbly beautiful young lady who was playing
the guitar near Maud; and, indeed, young Warlow might have been excused
if we had detected him in the rude act, for it was a face which once
seen would never be forgotten.

Her eyes of softest blue were veiled by silken, jetty lashes, and a
wealth of raven-black hair rippled low on a face of creamy olive. An
expression of pride mingled with the spirited vivacity of her charming
face, which he thought was the most fascinating he had ever beheld.

Every detail of her dress, from the wide straw hat with its drooping
spray of lilies, the creamy grenadine with its tangled pattern of the
same snowy flowers and cascades of foamy lace, the cross and chain of
palest coral, with ribbons of the same faint rose-hue, evinced the taste
and refined instincts of a well-born and cultured lady.

There seemed to be the ineffable charm of grace and elegance in her very
attitude, as she stood by the organ and swept the guitar with white,
tapering fingers, while through all the melody there thrilled the sweet,
dripping notes, like the memory of some half-forgotten dream, which,
though elusive and vague, still haunts our waking hours through all the
turmoil of a busy day.

"Where have I seen that form and face before?" said Clifford, half
audibly, as the last faint notes died away, and he awoke from a reverie,
while a look of surprise and delight broke over his handsome face; then
turning to young Estill he said, in an eager tone:--

"Who is that divine young creature who played the guitar until she set
me to dreaming of old Spain?"

"Why, that musical divinity," said Estill, with a hearty laugh, "is my
only sister Morelia; or Mora, as we have become used to calling her. I
shall be pleased to present you, for I am truly relieved to find some
one who can appreciate her music, which always sounded to me very much
like cats fighting."

A moment later the young men were upon the platform, and young Estill
said, in his easy, good-humored way:--

"Sister Mora, let me present my friend, Mr. Warlow, on whom your music
has had the strange effect of setting him to dreaming, not of cats on
the roof, but of castles in Spain,--which I have by his own confession."

She gave young Warlow a fair, dimpled hand, on which flashed one ring of
rose-colored amethyst, and, after he had bowed very low, their eyes met
in a swift glance of half-puzzled recognition and surprise, while a
magnetic shock caused them both to tremble; but quickly recovering, she
said, with a smile, while toying with a bracelet of carved Neapolitan
coral:--

"My brother's criticisms are not of much value, for the sweetest sounds
to his ears are the bellowings of beef-cattle."

Then, as she and Clifford sauntered out to a seat under a tree, he
said:--

"How strange it is, Miss Estill, that I have never met you before, for
it seems as though I have known you for years!"

"Why, Mr. Warlow, I was just trying to recall the time and place where I
had seen you. It must have been while we were traveling that we have
been thrown together for a moment; yet I can not now remember the
circumstance," she replied, with a look of interest dawning in her blue
eyes.

"If we had I would not have forgotten such a pleasant incident, Miss
Estill. But I am puzzled to think why I remember even your tone and
manner so well, for I can't recall any chance meeting with you in the
past."

At that moment Grace and Hugh Estill came up, and proposed that they
should repair to the river, near by, and spend an hour fishing; so they
soon were seated under the shade of an enormous cottonwood-tree on the
banks of a deep pool, while Hugh and Grace, who had been introduced at
some former meeting, strayed along the stream in quest of a "better
place," which they did not discover in _sight or hearing_ of Miss Estill
and Clifford.

After casting their hooks into the quiet water, they sat down upon the
shady bank, and Miss Estill said:--

"Hugh has often spoken of you lately, and we had discussed the subject
of calling on your sister and Miss Moreland, but decided that we would
send you an invitation to our picnic, at which I hoped to become
acquainted with them." Then, seeing a shade of disappointment flit over
his face, she added, archly: "And you also. But I assure you that the
call will not be deferred a great while longer; for I am delighted to
find such charming girls for neighbors."

"The invitation was very kind and thoughtful of you, Miss Estill. We
had been longing to meet congenial companions, and hailed the news of
the picnic with all the delight of people who have been isolated from
society for a year or more. I hope you will believe it is no vain
compliment when I tell you that I have already met new friends here that
I value higher than any of my old ones," Clifford replied, as he knotted
a bunch of elder-bloom, snowy and fragrant, with the blossoms of the
wild heart's-ease, azure and gold, which grew on the sandy stretch at
their feet. Then, adding a fern-like tuft of meadow-fescue, he held it
toward Miss Estill, while a look of undisguised admiration shone in his
clear blue eyes, saying:--

"In memory of my deep gratitude."

Fastening the flowers among the meshes of lace on her breast, she busied
herself a moment with the fishing-tackle as she drew the hook from the
water with a dangerous movement. Then, with a smile dimpling her face,
she said:--

"If you feel such a deep sense of gratitude, Mr. Warlow, you may
discharge the debt by baiting my hook, which some wary turtle or other
aquatic creature, has been investigating."

With ready alacrity, Clifford performed the desired service; and as he
let go the hook, Miss Estill began a series of manoeuvres with the
fish-pole that were as womanly as they were threatening. Finally, after
the hook had performed for some time around his head with a dangerous
"s-w-i-s-h," it fortunately landed plump into the water, with a thud
and splash loud enough to scare all the fish upon dry land.

They stood a moment, silently watching the widening ripple; then, as
they seated themselves on the bank again, Miss Estill said, with a
smile:--

"You are very brave, indeed, Mr. Warlow, never to wince. But perhaps you
were not aware of the great risk a man runs who fishes with a woman. I
never should have forgiven myself if that awkward hook had caught in
your eye."

"Or my ear," he added, with such a look of comic distress that she
dropped her fish-pole into the water with a merry laugh; then, as he
joined in the merriment, the startled mocking-bird overhead hushed its
song, and flitted away to some quieter nook.

"Now, if we are not more careful, we will have to dine on humility
to-day," she said, as he recovered the fishing-tackle. "But do you
really grow lonesome in your new home, Mr. Warlow?" she added.

"Yes, indeed I did," said Clifford, with an emphasis on the past tense
that indicated the remoteness of those days. "But we were very busy
until recently, and I did not fully realize what a hermit I had become
until I came here into the crowd, and found myself growing hot and cold
by turns, my heart palpitating, and my hands and feet getting heavy.
Then I knew it would only be a matter of time when I should fly, like a
South Sea Islander, at very sight of a human face, much less the
presence of a fashionable young lady;" and he joined Miss Estill's
merriment at his charming candor, with an easy laugh.

"Oh, I appreciate the situation," she replied; "for when they sent me to
Cincinnati to the boarding-school, where all was so strange, and the
only ray of sunshine in the long weeks, months, and years was a flitting
call from my fashionable aunt, or the yearly visits to my Western home,
I felt desolate and miserable. Why, I was so shy, and possibly a bit
wild, that I gained the name of Antelope among my school-mates;" and
Miss Estill smiled somewhat sadly at remembrance of those past days.

"When you returned to your home, it certainly must have seemed lonely
after the life in that 'American Florence,'" said young Warlow.

"Oh, it was paradise! I could scarcely believe that the old days of
banishment were over; and indeed I half feared, sometimes, that they
would pack me off again. It was such a perfect joy to be back at the
dear old ranch once more with Hugh and my parents, that I vowed I should
never leave again. But when I had been back a year I did sometimes long
for a good, confidential chat with my girl friends, and would be a bit
lonesome while Hugh was away; but our life is one ceaseless round of
labor, toil, and care, so I have short time for repining. Would you
believe, Mr. Warlow, that more than half the time all the duties of
housekeeper, unaided, devolve upon me? Our house has been a constant
panorama of 'domestic' weddings since I returned from school; yes, and
for years before also. No sooner would we begin to appreciate some
household treasure--a Nora, Ruth, or Nelly, who had come from the East
to lessen our domestic burdens--than along would come some spruce
ranchman or handsome young homesteader, and--presto!--our domestic was
courted away in a twinkling to brighten a new home. And what with the
wedding which mamma always insists upon, and the bridal finery she
bestows, the burden is redoubled. My weary shoulders fairly ache as we
pass through the constant, or tri-yearly, recurrence of the same
experience. Hugh says that he believes the servant-girls of the East
have finally come to look upon our house as a matrimonial agency."

"Do you not think, Miss Estill, that the bright new homes, which are a
result of your charities, are sufficient reward for your domestic
martyrdom?"

"Oh, if you think our providing wives for the miscellaneous ranchers,
herders, and homesteaders could be called a charity, I will have to say
that our furthering of those matches has proved a mixed blessing indeed;
for I recall a world of conjugal infelicity which has followed those
hasty and ofttimes ill-assorted matches. 'Marry at pleasure,' etc., is a
maxim true as it is trite, Mr. Warlow."

"Yes; it is undeniable that unhappy matings do occur; but I can not see
how a lonesome bachelor, who eats his own vile cooking and goes through
the vain ceremony of laundry-work, could ever aggravate his deplorable
condition, Miss Estill."

"But the fact remains that he certainly does," she replied, with a low
gurgling laugh, like the ripple of some sweet, clear brook. "Why, Mr.
Warlow, I recall a scene of which I was the innocent witness one evening
last month. I was riding by the ranch of Mr. Blank, who had wooed and
won our cook after a courtship that was as brief as it was fervid. I
have reason to believe he pines for his former state of untrammeled
freedom; for, in some argument which they seemed to be discussing that
evening, she, his faithful helpmeet, hurled the milk-stool at his head.
I rode quickly away, mentally washing my hands of any further
matrimonial schemes.

"Mr. Warlow! a fish, a fish!" she cried in a low tone, and he turned his
eyes reluctantly to the sadly neglected fishing-tackle, which he had
"set" by thrusting the poles into the bank, and which they, in their
long and absorbing conversation, had totally forgotten. There he saw the
flash of a finny monster in the water, and the fish-pole violently
threshing in the air above the pond, and as he drew the glittering perch
from the pool, he found that it had become entangled in Miss Estill's
fish-line also.

"It is our fish, is it not?--and a good omen," he said, as he secured
the prize which fluttered at her feet.

"It is our 'luck,'" she replied gaily; "but we can boast of little skill
in angling;" at which they both laughed, low but heartily, at the
thought how far into foreign fields they had rambled, leaving their
fishing to chance, and in that merry glance was laid the foundation of
sympathy, appreciation, and friendship.

When they returned to the grove they were joined by Hugh, Grace, Maud,
and Ralph, whose success had been most woefully indifferent. Those
discomfited anglers looked with undisguised envy on the great
piscatorial prize, and while it was frying on the fire, which Scott and
Robbie kindled, they all lent a ready ear to the malicious story which
the latter urchin told--"That Cliff had brought a mackerel to the
picnic, and it was that same identical fish which they were frying."

When the cloth was spread on the grass, and the great fish, garnished
with elder-blooms and wild-roses, was given the place of honor at the
feast, Hugh Estill said:--

"Now, Mora, please pass the mackerel."

Only then was the fact made plain that Robbie was a boy, given to
telling "fish stories," and could be trusted and relied upon only at the
dinner-table.

Ah! it was a gleeful hour at that _al fresco_ meal,--the soft breeze
stirring the tree-tops, and the bright sunlight sifting down through the
fluttering leaves on the silver and crystal, the frosty cake and
quivering jelly, the crimson and gold, and, above all, the happy faces
of our young friends.

Dancing and an impromptu concert, followed by charades on a temporary
stage, served to pass away a few more blissful hours: then the revelers
broke into groups and couples, sauntering into shady nooks, and engaging
in those long and confidential chats which are totally devoid of
interest to any save themselves.

Miss Estill and young Warlow were seated upon a bank where the mingled
sunlight and pale shadows flickered softly over the lush and tender
sward, and their conversation steered away from the shoals and quagmires
of match-making and matrimony to the vague and mystic fields of
metaphysics.

"Do you know, Miss Estill, that I have--a dim impression, shall I call
it?--of having met you somewhere before?"

"Yes; I remember distinctly of your having not only met me, but also
kindly helping me catch a fish, before," she replied, archly.

Clifford said, in a laughing manner, that he was not so ungallant as to
forget that thrilling adventure, then he continued in an earnest tone:--

"I feel like we had met long years ago; and somehow, Miss Estill, it all
appears so natural to be with you, to hear your tones and see your face,
that it is like the return of some dear friend whom you have longed to
see for years."

"You almost make me believe in the theory of the transmigration of
souls, Mr. Warlow. How very possible it may have been that in some dim,
pre-historic age you and I were a pair of giant king-fishers, who to-day
were reunited on the banks of our favorite stream after the lapse of
untold ages!--and what is more natural than we should take to our
antediluvian occupation at once?" and she peered down into the pool with
a sidelong glance as though searching for her finny prey, while
Clifford shook with merriment at her happy imitation of that uncanny
bird.

"I never was a firm believer in Swedenborg; yet the thought haunts me
still that I certainly have met you before to-day, although, as you say,
it may have been in some previous happy state, Miss Estill."

"Now, to be frank, Mr. Warlow, I confess to being a bit superstitious,
which may be owing, however, to my living so isolated from society all
these years that I even welcomed company of a supernatural nature,
which, you know, is better than none."

"Why, it can not be that your vicinity is peopled by shrieking ghosts,
too?" said Clifford quickly, as the memory of the spectre of the Stone
Corral came to mind, which in the turmoil of their busy lives had been
nearly forgotten.

"I can not see why I should revert to such a subject to-day; but some
way the mention of transmigration of souls brought the remembrance of
the Gray Spectre to my mind," said she, glancing furtively over her
shoulder; then, as she caught young Warlow's amused look, she smiled
responsively, and continued:--

"You too have a skeleton in the family, I perceive; so let's unburden
our souls and exchange confidences."

"With all my heart," said Clifford; "I am glad we have such a mutual
bond of sympathy."

Then he told how the gray-robed figure had startled the group at the
camp-fire, and fled shrieking away, that memorable evening more than a
year before; and although all of their family had maintained an
apprehensive outlook for a second visit from his spookship, they never
had been molested further; and he concluded by saying:--

"But I hope, Miss Estill, your experience will throw some light on the
mystery."

"It is undoubtedly the same spectral being which has haunted our ranch
for the past twenty-five years, and which has eluded pursuit on every
occasion, although papa, Hugh, and several herders have endeavored, more
or less bravely, to trace it; but the mysterious apparition always
vanishes into the night without leaving a trace. Why, I have become so
fearful that, like the daughter of the bold Glengyle,--

    'Alone I dare not venture there,
    Where walks, they say, the shrieking ghost,'--

and I often fly at the sight of my own shadow," said Miss Estill. "One
evening, Mr. Warlow, I was riding by a peculiarly lonesome spot near
home,--a lofty hill on which there is the grave of a mysterious
relative, who died near a quarter of a century since, and of whose
history I can learn but little. Although Hugh and I often question our
parents about him, they seem to evade our inquiries. I had reached a
point close to the grave,--which is all overgrown with thistles,
notwithstanding the fact that I had repeatedly planted flowers and roses
there that had always refused to grow,--when that same hideous,
gray-robed creature emerged from the thicket about the grave, and as I
halted, frozen with horror at the sight, the gaunt wretch glared a
moment, then fled shrieking away in the darkling twilight. Oh, I never
paused to investigate, you may believe, but gave rein to my pony, which
was as badly frightened as myself, and flew home like the wind," said
Miss Estill with a shiver.

"Have you ever been up to the corral, Miss Estill?" Clifford asked.

"Not for three years, Mr. Warlow. Now, while we are speaking of
supernatural things, I must tell you how strangely I always felt at that
place. I can never go about the old ruin without being assailed by an
uncanny feeling--something like one might be expected to feel who walks
over her own grave, you know!" she added with a smile; then continuing
she said earnestly: "It always seems that something terrible haunts the
very air there, and I feel a weight of grief and misery that horrifies
me whenever I pass the spot. If I had lost my dearest friend there, I
should have very much the same sensation, I believe, at sight of the
ruin. I struggle with my memory to recall some event with which I seem
to have been connected there; but it is all in vain, for it is as
intangible as a moonbeam."

"That is very mysterious indeed, Miss Estill; for I often feel very much
that way myself there, but not in so marked a degree as when I pass that
great hill three miles up the valley, known as Antelope Butte. I am
often overpowered by a feeling of deepest melancholy and grief while
only passing that hill. The first time I saw the place I was shocked to
think how familiar it all seemed; for I found the spring near its base
just where my instinct seemed to tell me that the water bubbled forth
from the rocky cleft. But a feeling of unutterable longing and an
uncontrollable yearning to see some one, the name even of whom I can not
recall, always seizes me there, and I am both perplexed and horrified at
the sensation," Clifford replied.

Gradually the tone of their conversation lost its gloomy hue, and
rambled away into the realms of art, history, and song, of the fair
foreign lands beyond that blue, quivering horizon; and as Miss Estill
fluttered her fan of carved ivory and rose-plumes, talking in her sweet
vivacious way, the sunlight threw a halo about the golden hair and
Grecian face of the youth reclining on the bank, suffusing with rose the
handsome features that even a western sun in all its fierceness could
not rob of its fresh glow.

As the fastidious Miss Estill noted every detail of his faultless
attire, neither old nor new, from the tips of his shapely fingers to his
glossy boots bearing the undeniable stamp of gentleman, she thought how
utterly effete was the comparison, "Rough as a farmer;" and as
admiration shone in his boyish face, illuminated with those honest blue
eyes, fringed by their lashes of dead gold, is it any wonder that
romance threw its glamour over the scene, and they half forgot to roam
in fancy through foreign lands, thinking of the joyful present, which,
alas! we seldom value until it has become a sweet memory only.

The long shadows which stole down from the hill-tops warned our young
friends that they would soon part, and reluctantly they returned to the
platform, where preparations for starting were being made. Grace
Moreland and Hugh Estill still appeared to be deeply engrossed with each
other's society, and it was not remarkable that young Estill should
hover about the vivacious and bewitching Grace; for she was a sparkling,
graceful creature, the picture of innocence and youth, in her dress of
fleecy white.

As Clifford stood by Miss Estill at parting, he said, while his hand
rested on the mane of her creamy horse:--

"Ah, Miss Estill, I little thought what this morning held in store. This
has been a day that repays the many dark years of the past, and I shall
treasure its memory forever."

"Yes; a blissful day indeed, Mr. Warlow; and it almost makes me sad to
think I shall ever grow old," she replied, as she gave her hand, which
he held longer--yes, I shall have to confess the fact, much longer--than
the laws of conventionality demanded.

As the Warlow carriage drove up the broad valley, the coolness of
twilight was brooding over the prairies, and the twittering songsters
fluttered down from the highlands to the sheltering thickets which
belted the stream, and the fire-flies gemmed the dusky groves and
meadows when they alighted at their homes.



Chapter XI.


On a clear, serene Sabbath following the picnic, Miss Estill and Hugh
rode up to Squire Moreland's, excusing the call on that holy day by
saying that they were too busy to spare one day of six; and after dinner
at that hospitable home, they walked up to Colonel Warlow's, being
accompanied by Grace, Ralph, and Scott.

They paused at the great latticed and arched gate to glance into the
yard, which was inclosed by a low stone wall, over which the grapes and
wild-roses clambered in heavy clusters of tangled foliage. Two gaudy
peacocks were sunning their glittering plumage on the grass plat in
front of the long stone dwelling resting so cool under the great
elm--that same historical tree which had served as place of refuge
during the "flood"--drooping low over the quaint gables, dormer windows,
and chimneys wreathed by the transplanted wild vines which festooned the
rough walls.

The colonel was asleep in a hammock, which was slung in the latticed
porch, and his placid wife sat near, reading the Bible, as she rocked
softly in the easy-chair. Clifford, clad in a cool white suit, was
reading also; but I fear the work, in which he was so absorbed that he
had not seen the approaching guests, was not of such a sacred nature as
befitted the Lord's-day. Maud and Bob, swinging in a swing which was
fastened to the limbs of the great elm, were likewise perusing the pages
of some entertaining book, which Maud dropped with a little feminine
squeak of delight as she saw her friends; then she flew down the path,
and greeted the new-comers with unfeigned pleasure.

As she kissed Miss Estill and Grace in true girlish fashion, Rob, the
handsome rogue, came forward and gravely offered to salute the ladies in
the same manner; but his cordial advances were declined with thanks,
whereupon he turned to the young men of the party and kissed them
effusively, amid their merry peals of laughter at his sly way of
ridiculing the feminine mode of greeting.

Mrs. Marlow said in her low, sweet voice, as she led the guests into the
house, after they had been presented in due form by Clifford,--

"It is very kind of you, hunting us up this lonesome afternoon."

"We should have done so long before this if we had known what very
agreeable neighbors lived so near," replied young Estill.

"You will smile, possibly, at our thinking twelve miles a neighborly
distance, Mrs. Warlow, but I assure you it seems only a trifle when we
remember that for years we have considered the people of Abilene and
Lawrence our neighbors," said Miss Estill as she sank into an
easy-chair, after Maud had relieved her of the jaunty black hat with its
drooping white plume.

"We will freely forgive you, Miss Estill, if you will atone for your
past neglect," said Mrs. Warlow, with a pleased smile. "The lack of
society has been the greatest privation attending our Western life, and
but for the unvarying kindness and sympathy of Squire Moreland's family,
I fear we should have found it quite monotonous."

The room where they were seated was a wide, many-windowed apartment,
with cool lace curtains sweeping the dark, rich carpet. The walls were
graced by a few pictures and portraits, and on the brackets of walnut
and mahogany were vases of wild-flowers. A wide bay-window at one end
was half screened by the curtains of lace, and through their filmy
meshes could be seen the cherished geraniums and fuchsias that were so
dear to Maud as a memento of the old Missouri home. A great beveled
mirror, framed in heavy gilt moulding, reached from the mantel to the
ceiling; and strangest sight in this Western land was a wide fire-place;
but instead of the glowing coals and crackling flames which one always
associates with the hearth-stone, there were banks of blooming plants.
The rich old piano and Maud's guitar occupied one corner, and a low,
velvet divan the other, on each side of the mantel. It was a room which,
Miss Estill and her brother perceived, was redolent with the refinement
and harmony of the family, as simply elegant and devoid of sham and
pretense as its owners.

Miss Estill gave a sigh of gratification as her glance swept the
apartment, and rested out on the shady, well-kept lawn, where the hum of
bees and songs of wild-birds seemed so wholly in keeping with the tone
of happiness and industry which pervaded the Warlow household.

"How strange it seems that you have been here so short a time! It is
almost like enchantment--this evolving such a perfect home from the
wild, lonesome prairies and tangled woodland, where the wolf and buffalo
roamed unmolested not two short years ago."

"We have to thank nature for the trees and flowers, the vines also, Miss
Estill; but you see we had little else to occupy our time but the
improvements of our new home; though I believe we can truly say that we
have not been idle the past year," replied Clifford.

"It is wonderful what a change your taste and energy have made in that
brief time. We can not blame our Eastern friends, who never have beheld
a wide, desolate prairie transformed into such a charming home-land as
this in a short year, if they do vilify the average Kansan, and tax him
with boastfulness and other vices not akin to truth."

At request of her guests, Maud was soon seated at the rich, mellow-toned
piano, and the strains of "The Bridge" floated out through the open
windows, as her sweet contralto rose, freighted with the heart-throbs
and regret which thrill through the melody of that pathetic song.

"Ah! Tennyson never had heard this sad, weird poem when he gave the
title 'Lord of Human Tears' to Victor Hugo, or our own Longfellow would
have won it," said Miss Estill with a sigh.

"Yes; Longfellow is the poet that seems nearest in all our moments of
retrospection. I never stand at the crossing of the old Santa Fe and
Abilene Trails, on that hill yonder, without his lines recurring,--

    'Like an odor of brine from the ocean,
    Comes the thought of other years;'--

and I must tell you, Miss Estill, that whenever I meet you I feel that
same remembrance, vague and evanescent, of a time when you and I were
very happy, and were all--at least we were very great friends. But it is
so shadowy and indistinct that I can not grasp its meaning. It is like
the memory of some half-forgotten dream or the dim recollections of a
former life," replied young Warlow, in a low tone, as the pulsing waves
of music, the "Blue Danube," throbbed through the vines and lace
curtains of the bay-window where they sat.

"If you were less thrifty, Mr. Warlow, I would suspect you were too fond
of poetry to be practical. But I should not throw sarcastic stones at
your glass house, for it has been no longer than a month ago that mamma
scolded me roundly for forgetting the yeast in my batch of light bread.
I had to lay all the blame at the 'open door' of the 'Moated Grange,'
which I had been reading. Poor Mariana might well have said, after
looking on my leaden loaves:--

    'I am aweary, aweary,--
    I would that I were dead!'"

While Clifford was making some laughing reply to this bucket of poetical
cold water, he and Miss Estill were summoned to the piano, where our
young friends were floundering hopelessly through the intricacies of a
glee, in which Grace's alto would persist in getting all tangled up with
Hugh's baritone, and the cat-calls of Rob's bastard bass and Scott's
frantic tenor only served to heighten the confusion, that finally
collapsed in subdued shrieks of laughter. But when Miss Estill's dainty
fingers rippled over the guitar, and their voices blended with varying
degrees of melody as its twanging notes mingled with the mellow tones of
the piano, then something like harmony prevailed again. Yet she and
Clifford would still exchange amused glances whenever Rob gave vent to a
more pronounced caterwaul than usual, or Scott's gosling tenor squawked
a wild note of alarm.

"Miss Estill, I am longing to hear you render a Spanish solo; for I
never can help the picture of a Castilian maiden playing amid the courts
of the Alhambra, rising whenever you take the guitar," said young
Warlow, in a low tone.

"My broken Spanish would soon dispel the illusion," she replied, with a
soft blush; "but I will give you, instead, a poor translation of a
Mexican song;" and in a voice rich with melody and feeling, she sang:--

    "There blooms no rose upon the plain,
    But costs the night a thousand tears,"--

while the guitar rained a shower of soft-dripping music, veined with a
thrill of sadness. As her bosom rose and fell with the sweet strains,
the ruby heart which clasped the ruff at her slender throat flashed
rays of crimson and rose in the stray sunbeams that glinted through the
room.

Clifford remained rapt in a reverie as the dreamy music, with a low
minor ripple, died away, and the listeners sat in silence a moment,
paying a mute tribute to the graceful singer who now was idly toying
with the guitar.

One white arm was half revealed by the wide-flowing sleeve, with its
fall of creamy lace; a cluster of fuchsias drooped among the waves of
her hair, and the wide ruff gave a graceful finish to the close-fitting
riding-habit of black velvet which she wore.

Young Warlow was aroused by his mother saying:--

"Miss Estill, the colonel, my husband."

He turned quickly, and saw his father standing in the doorway, staring
as if he had seen a sheeted ghost. Yes; it was undeniable that the
courtly and urbane colonel was positively staring with a white face at
the beautiful guest, and as he came forward he said, in an agitated
voice:--

"Ivarene? No--no--impossible! Pardon, Miss Estill; but your face reminds
me so strongly of a dear, kind friend, 'who passed over the dark river
long years ago,' that I was quite unnerved;" and as he held her slender
hand he looked hungrily into the blue eyes that were regarding him with
a look of shy wonder. When Hugh was presented, the colonel glanced
keenly from the blonde, hazel-eyed young man back to the creole face of
the young lady, and he again murmured brokenly, and in an incredulous
tone, "Brother and sister? Strange--mystery!" and in the hearts of that
group for many a day echoed and re-echoed his words: "Mystery, mystery!"

A constraint seemed to fall immediately upon the inmates of the room,
and Maud, perceiving the traces of social frost in the atmosphere,
suggested that they should take a look at her flowers; and the guests
rose and followed in a confused group out into the flower-garden, that
was surrounded with a low stone wall.

The paths, which divided the small plat into four subdivisions, were
interrupted at their intersection by a circular path, where a succession
of terraces of the same figure rose to the height of half a dozen feet,
the whole forming a circular mound, crowned by a tiny latticed arbor,
which was reached by a flight of white stone steps, flanked by vases of
the same alabaster-like material.

The terraces were sodded with the dainty, short buffalo-grass, and each
offset was planted with a profusion of flowers, now beginning to unfold
their blossoms. This unique ornament was the work of Clifford and
Robbie, who had in their "idle" moments thus transformed the unsightly
pile of earth, which had resulted from excavating the cellar, into a
"hanging garden to please Maud," and she felt justly proud of the
compliments which the guests bestowed on the attractive feature of her
trim garden, with its wealth of lilies, roses, and gladioluses.

Although the group had emerged from the house in a confused manner, it
was remarkable how soon order was restored, and the young people paired
off into couples after the law of affinity--Maud and Ralph, Grace and
Hugh, leaving Clifford and Miss Estill to either mate with Rob and
Scott, or to choose each other for partners in the ramble; and it is
also strange how quickly they chose the latter alternative, and
sauntered away with appalling _sang-froid_, leaving those youths to
their own resources without even the ghost of an apology. But the
youngsters had ample revenge for this heartless, cold neglect, when, a
few moments later, Rob was seen leaning on Scott's arm in a languishing
manner, with a hollyhock perched daintily just above his nose, in
semblance of a most coquettish hat, his bob-tailed coat embellished with
an enormous petticoat of rhubarb-leaves, while Scott alternately cast
admiring glances upon his frail "lady," or fanned the mock beauty with a
catalpa-leaf fully half a yard broad.

And while Maud and Grace regarded their manoeuvres with furtive scorn
and ill-concealed disgust, this precious pair sauntered conspicuously
after their friends, who could see "Miss Rob" mince along with
exaggerated airs and graces, often pausing to sniff of the enormous
water-pot, carried in imitation of a lady's scent-bottle.

Finally the party eluded the persecution of this devoted couple by going
back into the house, and ascending to the "Crows' Nest" in the top of
the old elm; and as Maud recounted the thrilling adventure of the
"flood," she felt certain that Rob was too well acquainted with his
paternal discipline to venture upon any nonsense about the house. But
half an hour later, as they were strolling down to the boat, the party,
in turning an abrupt curve in the path, surprised the infatuated Scott
on his knees kissing the hand of the shy he-damsel, who, with affected
modesty, was hiding her face in the dainty fan and the last view our
friends caught of them while rowing up the river, the fascinating Rob
was sinking into the outstretched arms of his ostentatious lover.

Clifford rowed up the winding stream, which, although only a few feet
deep, was here several rods in width. As they passed along, an old
beaver, which had built a dam below, stuck its snout up through the
tangled grass that trailed into the water; then, after gazing a moment
at the intruders, it sank quietly from sight.

The pleasant ride suggested a boating song, and a concert followed,
which scared many a gray old musk-rat to his den, and the frightened
wild-fowls scurried with whizzing wings out from the dark, sedgy nooks,
shaded by the elms and willows, as the unwonted sounds floated out over
the water.

Our friends walked up to Clifford's dwelling, after landing and mooring
the boat to a tree, and while they rested on the pale ashen-green
buffalo-grass in the shadow of a mighty elm that smothered the gables of
the stone cottage with its wide-spread branches, Clifford pointed out
the stone wall, which was half concealed by the vines, where his father
had so narrowly escaped death a quarter of a century before; and as they
sat, he told of the terrible tragedy that had here been enacted, which
explained why Maud had so tenderly trained the roses over the ruined
wall--the wall that had sheltered their father on that tragic night.

At the close of the mournful story Miss Estill exclaimed:--

"Oh, what a cruel fate. Poor, ill-starred Ivarene! It was that
unfortunate bride that I so strangely resemble. But how mysterious that
it should be so! Now I do not wonder at your father's agitation at
meeting one who reminded him of his lost friend and benefactress. That
was why he gazed so pathetically into my eyes:--I recalled the days of
his youth, his lost fortune, and the tragic fate of his dear friends."

Hugh Estill said:--

"Oh, this is not the first time I have heard the particulars of that
tragedy. It was often talked of in the days of my boyhood; but I was a
child at the time when it was still fresh in the memory of the few
settlers in the upper valley of the Cottonwood. It was fully ten years
after the event that I heard the version from one of our herders, who
said it was whispered that white men were engaged in the massacre.
Father was unnecessarily irritated, I thought, when I repeated what the
fellow said, and he went so far as to discharge him, and forbade me ever
mentioning the subject again."

"Your parents were living on your ranch at that time?" said Clifford, in
a strange eager tone of inquiry.

"Yes; we have lived on the same place for the past twenty-seven years,
and both Mora and myself were born on the old ranch," replied Hugh.

After remaining rapt in silence a moment, Miss Estill said, as she and
Clifford stood apart from the others, while he stooped to gather a spray
of the sensitive-plant:--

"What is this strange, haunting sense of danger and grief that always
assails me on this spot? It is like the dim remembrance of some tragic
event connected with my own life--a half-forgotten night-mare, as it
were--the very elusiveness of which is distressing to me. I feel that
same sensation now which I mentioned having always felt on this spot,
when you told me how strangely you were affected when passing Antelope
Butte."

"I often experience that peculiar sentiment here, also, Miss Estill,--a
kind of perception or impression of some dire calamity with which not
only myself, but you likewise, have been connected here," Clifford
replied with troubled face.

"I am afraid we shall mould if we stay in this gloomy shade any longer,"
cried Grace, springing up with a little shiver; but the bright look
which young Estill beamed upon her showed plainly that he, at least, was
in no danger of such a blighting fate.

It was a beautiful scene that burst upon their view as they emerged from
under the low, sweeping boughs, and stood in the sunlight south of the
gothic cottage. Around the knoll, on which they were standing, purled
and gurgled the stream, fringed by feathery willows and stately elms,
and, after half embracing the hill in its tortuous folds, winding away
down the widening valley. Where the timber, which skirted the serpentine
river, grew in groves of deepest green, there the stream had expanded
into placid lakelets, which flashed like silver in the slanting
sunbeams.

On the south, in the smooth, level valley, were fields of ripening
grain,--wheat of coppery red or creamy gold, silvery sheen of rye and
oats, set in a frame of emerald where the wild prairies came sheer up to
the clear-cut fields, that were _innocent_ of fence or hedge. Then their
vision roamed out to the north, where the rolling hills melted away on
the dim horizon.

As they stood silently gazing on the tranquil landscape, the bell in the
latticed belfry of the Warlow homestead rang out in mellow clang, and
Maud said:--

"Let's return, for it is the supper-bell. I do hope, though, that mother
has prepared something more substantial for her guests than Clifford has
done for us this afternoon."

"Why, have we not reveled in mystery?" cried Grace.

"And feasted on landscape?" said Miss Estill.

"And did he not hospitably entertain us with legend, mellow and old?"
chimed Ralph.

"Sorry that I could not have treated you to fresher puns," retorted
Clifford, laughingly.

On rowing down the tranquil stream, and coming once more into the shady
yard of the Warlows, our young friends found the tea-table spread under
the boughs of the ever-serviceable elm, and Rob and Scott busy assisting
Mrs. Warlow with the evening meal.

As with deft fingers Maud culled choice bouquets from her garden, and
decked the table, she felt a thrill of pardonable pride in the snowy
damask, the crystal and silver that glittered with the polish of good
housewifery, and the tempting, dainty dishes which her mother had, with
true Western hospitality, prepared in honor of the guests.

Ah, hungry reader, I wish that you could have been there also; for my
mouth vainly waters, even yet, at the remembrance of asparagus and green
peas, spring-chicken smothered in cream (which I hasten to explain was
not the fowl of boarding-house memory and tradition, with which the
frosts of December had "monkeyed;" no barn-yard champion was it, with
cotton-like breast and sinewy limb, but a tender daughter of the
May-time, that had perished on the threshold of a bright young
pullethood), and frosty lemon-pie, just tinged with bronze, flanked by
the crimson moulds of plum-jelly.

An hour later, in the gloomy twilight, as the guests were taking leave,
Miss Estill said:--

"Your son has told me of the old tragedy that has saddened your life,
Colonel; but it is very strange that I should resemble that ill-fated
Mexican bride."

"Ah, Miss Estill, every hour you recall the memory of my lost friends;
just such a daughter might have blessed them, _if they had lived_," he
replied, with a sigh, as he searched the young face with his wistful
blue eyes.

"It is only a chance resemblance, of course--a mere coincidence," she
replied, in a tone of uneasiness. "My parents were living here at the
time of the massacre; but I never have heard of the dreadful occurrence
until to-day," she added.

"I would like very much to meet your father, and talk over the early
history of this country," said the colonel, eagerly. "I sometimes find
myself hoping that they might have escaped," he continued, in a
half-musing tone, like one whose mind is wholly engrossed by an
overmastering subject. She overlooked his incoherence, knowing well that
he referred to Bruce and Ivarene. "Since I have been here on the scene
of the tragedy, the thought often recurs that I took it for granted that
they perished, and have trusted too readily to circumstantial evidence
in confirmation of that belief."

"How strange it is that no trace of that enormous treasure of gold and
gems was ever obtained!" she replied. "But, then, the horde of
Cheyennes, which Hugh said to-day were reported as having been led by
white men, found it an easy task enough, no doubt, to carry away even
that great amount of coin after their murderous work."

"Ah! it is all a strange, dark mystery," he replied; "and to-day it is
more impenetrable than ever. But if I could see your father he might
remember."

Here the colonel paused abruptly, and threw up one hand with an
involuntary start, and Miss Estill saw by the faint light that he was
ashen pale. But as the others were now passing out through the gate, she
reluctantly shook hands with the colonel, who, she saw, was trembling
with repressed emotion; and then she took leave of the other members of
the family, vaguely wondering why the courtly old gentleman should be so
affected by events which had occurred more than a quarter of a century
before.

When, an hour later, Clifford returned from Squire Moreland's, whither
he had accompanied Miss Estill, he was accosted by Rob in the following
vein:--

"What's up, Cliff?"

"Up where?" replied his brother, evasively.

"On the porch, if you have eyes for anything less attractive than a
young lady with a mop of blue hair," said the indignant Rob.

"Oh--father and mother! Why, I can't see anything strange in our parents
sitting on the porch," replied his brother, in a tone of feigned
indifference.

"Well, but they have had their heads together and been plotting for an
hour; but Maud keeps up such an everlasting racket with her singing and
dish-clattering that I can't hear a word they say. That girl positively
is noisier than a fire-engine. Now, just listen at that!" as Maud's
voice sang in sweet crescendo:--

    "Stars are shining, Mollie darling." (Crash, rattle.)

_Mrs. Warlow._--"Do you think it possible that they were saved?"

_Maud_ (diminuendo).--

    "Through the mystic veil of night." (Rinkety-clink.)

_Colonel._--"She may be their daughter, who survived." (Splatter.)

_Maud_ (piano).--

    "No one listens but the flowers,
    As they hang their heads in shame." (Klinkety-klink.)

_Rob._--

    "Yes, Miss Maud, you noisy magpie.
    I hang ditto and the same."

_Clifford._--"If you don't keep quiet, I'll--"
(Klutter-terattle-tering.)

_Coffee-mill_, etc.--"Kr-rrrrr-r-rrr (Mollie) r-r-r (dar) rrrr-r-rrrr."

_Colonel._--"She is the very image of Ivarene; and I am almost converted
to Bruce's strange creed when I see them."

_Maud_ (at the well).--"Ke-pump, ke-pump, ke-pump!"

_Colonel._--"I saw them together to-day. I was perfectly bewildered; for
they are the very picture of Bruce and Ivarene on their wedding-day."

_Maud._--

    "Mollie, fairest, sweetest, dearest!
    Look up, darling, tell me this--"

_Rob._--

    "Miss Maud Warlow, you're a bull-frog,
    And I'd like to have a hook in your nose."

But, as his rhyme ended with such an ignominious fizzle, he hurried away
with a snort of disgust. Clifford lingered a moment, hoping to hear
more; but his parents rose soon after, and entered the house; so, in a
thoughtful mood, he went about his farm duties.

Out in the wheat a quail called "Bob White," while down in the pasture a
flock of prairie-chickens or grouse disturbed the twilight calm with
their melancholy "ku-boom;" but, as the evening faded into night, the
quiet of early slumber brooded over the Warlow household.



Chapter XII.


The week which followed brought sad tidings to the Warlow family. A
black-bordered letter came, bearing the post-mark of San Francisco; but
before it was opened the family knew its import.

Mrs. Warlow's only brother, William, had been in the mines for several
years, but since his health had failed he had been making the great
coast city his home; and, although grieved at the announcement of his
death, they were not unprepared for the sad news.

The lawyer wrote that he held a few thousand dollars of the deceased's
money, which was left by the will to Mrs. Warlow, and they were also
informed that the "Redwood" mine was left to Robbie, who was a great
favorite with his uncle; but this latter property was as yet
unproductive, though the attorney conveyed an intimation that it might
some day prove very valuable, as there were mines of fabulous richness
near by.

Soon the rumor went flying through the colony that the Warlows had
fallen heirs to an immense estate, and as usual the report lost nothing
by traveling; so our friends soon found themselves invested by the halo
of riches without any of its substantial benefits.

Speculations and conjectures were rife among the neighbors as to the
"best manner of investing their friend Warlow's fortune;" and, in fact,
it became impossible for any member of the colonel's family to meet an
acquaintance without being informed of some great opening for a
judicious investment, that was only waiting capital and enterprise to
develop the fact that there was "millions in it."

As Clifford paused one day to discuss the state of the weather in a
neighborly way with a male member of this well-meaning but misguided
class, he learned that all the vast tract of vacant land to the north,
which still belonged to the government, had been condemned as being,
"unfit for agricultural purposes," and would be "offered" at public sale
the following August at the local land-office.

When young Warlow parted with his informant the matter was dismissed;
but whenever he glanced away to the north or east at the billowy hills
and level, rich dales, he would begin planning how he could secure a
tract of the land before it passed into the hands of relentless
speculators; and one day he actually rode out over the fertile,
picturesque country for miles, and with a blush found himself dreaming
how that long, narrow valley should be sown to grain, and the galloping
hills, clothed with rich grasses, could provide pasturage for his vast,
imaginary flocks and herds.

Alas, that the lack of a few handfuls of "filthy lucre" only, stood
between himself and the ownership of the broad acres on every hand! With
a dreary sigh he realized, for the first time in his life, how bitter is
the lot of the poor but ambitious man, who sees the avenues to wealth
barred by his lack of capital.

As he stood on the spot where his father had lost his fortune so many
years before, Clifford thought how many hundred thousand acres of that
rolling, fertile country the lost wealth represented; and while his
horse grazed quietly near, the youth threw himself down in the cool
shadow of the ruined wall, dreaming and planning how he might recover
the vast wealth that he had long suspected was buried here near the
scene of the tragedy.

But when he calmly began to analyze the evidence on which his suspicions
were based, he was disappointed to see how visionary it all seemed in
the clear light of reason. But it was too dear and cherished a theory to
be relinquished without a mental struggle; so again he began to persuade
himself that those scheming white men, of whom young Estill had
spoken--those inhuman villains--might have secreted the gold from the
drunken Indians, and it might have been that the blood-stained,
avaricious leaders had died a violent death in those turbulent days, and
the great wealth was still sleeping, undisturbed, all these years, while
his father was suffering under the heavy load of poverty and fallen
fortune. As Clifford still mused, there flashed across his mind the
lines of Rokeby:--

    "Then dig and tomb your precious heap,
    And bid the dead your treasure keep."

Springing to his feet, young Warlow cried aloud in his excitement:--

"Ah! it is all clear now--the blood on the grass and the newly made
graves, of which Uncle Roger spoke! Yes, yes--they buried the dead and
the gold in the same grave, and then decoyed the savages away! It may be
that those bright doubloons, the red gold of the Walravens and my
father, are buried but a few steps from where I stand."

Flinging aside doubt and uncertainty, he hurried down the hill to the
spot where his father had said the treasure-laden vehicle had stood on
that fatal night, and long and eagerly young Warlow searched for a trace
of the graves. But it was all in vain; for the vast tide of travel that
had flowed for a quarter of a century over the spot had not only
obliterated all trace of those lowly mounds, but had also worn the
mellow soil into deep gullies, down the sloping sides of which the
knotted buffalo-grass crept like webs of pale-green lace.

In the old trail, where once the cannon of Phil Kearney had rumbled, as
with his army he hurried forward to Santa Fe, and along where Coronado,
Lee, Fremont, and Kit Carson had ridden, now the wild mignonette, in
spikes of purple, fragrant blossoms, grew, loading the sultry air with
their rich odors. The sensitive-rose, its fern-like foliage tufted with
rosy balls of gold-flecked down, closed its leaves as Clifford hurriedly
brushed by; but in the tangled thickets of wild indigo, now blooming in
sprays of violet and creamy flowers, or among the tall, lush, blue
stem-grass the young "fortune hunter" found no traces of the lost
wealth--no sunken graves were visible to tell of that tragedy of long
ago; so it was with a slow step and feeling of despondency that our
friend sought the shelter of his latticed porch.

While he sat, lost in speculation as to the best method of prosecuting
his search, which he was too resolute to give up easily, his eyes rested
on an implement that at a glance showed its adaptability for the very
purpose. It was a long rod of iron, tipped with twisted steel. He
remembered having had it made the year before for the men who were
searching for a vein of water before sinking his wells. As he seized it
eagerly, and started once again down the hill, he felt gratified and
elated to perceive how easily he could now test the earth to the depth
of five feet, and ascertain if there was any foreign substance in the
mellow, loamy soil, which throughout the valley was a bed of rich, black
loam, entirely free from stone or boulders.

He had but reached the spot near the river, when he saw his father
riding through the wheat-field toward where our young schemer stood; and
hastily tossing the iron rod into a thicket, Clifford met his father
with an assumption of careless indifference; for all his allusions in
the past to the lost fortune had only met with the sarcastic disapproval
of his parent, who, being an intensely practical man himself, could not
tolerate any thing so visionary as a search for the treasure seemed to
be; and young Warlow had decided to keep his investigations secret, thus
avoiding the censure and ridicule of the colonel. After a brief
discussion in regard to the condition of the ripening grain, Clifford
remarked:--

"It seems very strange, father, that no trace can be found of those
graves which Uncle Roger mentioned having seen near the Old Corral, when
he found you after the robbery and massacre."

"This is too busy a time for us to speculate on the past, my boy. The
wheat has ripened splendidly--I never saw a field to equal that valley
yonder--and we will have to start the header to-morrow; so if you will
ride out on to the Flats and engage three more teams, I will go down to
Squire Moreland's and tell them we shall begin early in the morning,"
said the colonel.

"But, father, first tell me as nearly as possible where those graves
were located; for I have a strange curiosity regarding them of late. It
must be near this very spot?"

"Yes, yes; near that old cottonwood-tree, or on the level space of sod
just this side. But Clifford," continued he in a tone of suspicion quite
foreign to the kindly colonel, "what nonsense are you meditating now?
You are not still counting on that lost fortune?"

"Well, father, there has been a growing belief in my mind of late that
the treasure is secreted near here. Think how impossible it would have
been for a leader of such a band as those savages were, to divide the
booty satisfactorily among the pack of drunken monsters. If the leader
had the acumen that I believe he possessed, he, no doubt, buried the
gold, at least, in one of those graves while the others were stupefied
by the liquor; and there is a chance that he may never have returned,
owing to the dangers to which such turbulent villains are always
exposed. I have thought this over carefully, until at last I am
convinced--"

"That your father has a damned fool for a son!" broke in the colonel
hotly, as he rode away.

After supper Clifford said he would go up to his house and spend the
night--an announcement which caused no surprise, as he frequently stayed
there; but on this occasion Robbie remarked to Maud:--

"Cliff must be _schooling his courage_ by staying of nights up at that
old spook-ranch; but a fellow who can stand that, could pop the question
to the witch of Macbeth without faltering."

"What do you mean by his popping the question, Rob?" said Maud, setting
her pail of foamy milk down on the cellar-steps, while she regarded the
handsome youth with a puzzled look from her round, blue eyes.

"Why just this," he replied, after "swigging" down a pint of fresh milk
from his own pail, and deliberately wiping his lips with his
shirt-sleeve; "Cliff has got more sand in his gizzard than most fellows;
but I guess he feels too poor, or something, to talk _marry_ to Mora
Estill, so he goes mooning off up there to that old spectre's nest--just
like fellows do in novels, you know," he added, lucidly.

But here the peremptory tones of his father called the young philosopher
to take the colts down to the lower pasture.

When Clifford arrived at his dwelling he prepared several stakes, and
fastened bits of white paper to their tops; then, securing the iron rod,
he placed it with the small sticks, which he had left in the porch, and
sought the dainty and comfortable bed which he owed to the thoughtful
kindness of Maud and his mother.

Sinking into a profound slumber, he was only awakened by the alarm which
sounded as the clock struck one. As its chime died away, he arose and
stole forth into the tranquil night.

A waning moon had risen, and in its faint light the water of the brook
glimmered coldly as it wimpled over the stony ford. The fluttering
leaves of the old cottonwood flashed like silver, and the hoary form of
the great tree, every limb of which seemed outlined in white, towered
vague and ghostly above the shadows cast by the more dense foliage of
ash and willows.

Clifford paused in the level glade where his father had said the graves
must have been when Roger Coble passed the spot twenty-six years before.
Thrusting the rod deep into the soft, loamy soil, young Warlow threw his
whole weight on the instrument, which penetrated to the depth of several
feet with little difficulty. On meeting with no obstruction, he withdrew
the rod; and after marking the spot with one of the stakes which he had
provided, he began again to prosecute the search one step further south.

The precaution of marking the place where he had sunk the rod was for
the purpose of systematizing the search, thus avoiding confusion. In
fact, these careful details were but an indication of the practical
nature of the young Fortune Hunter, which, even on this weird night,
strongly asserted its sway.

While the leaves murmured and whispered, as if striving to tell of the
tragedies that had marred this spot--of the mystery that seemed to haunt
the very air around--Clifford still pursued his investigations,
patiently and in silence, only pausing to draw a deeper breath or a sigh
of disappointment at each fruitless effort, as he toiled onward into the
deep shadows near the bank of the stream.

At length, tired and weary, our young friend stood on the verge of the
stream over the bank of which the dank grass trailed, and the rank vine
of the wild-gourd, with its silvery leaves, rioted in wildest luxuriance
and profusion.

Glancing up through the branches of the hoary old cottonwood, he could
see the glittering constellation of Scorpio far out on the south-western
horizon, the fiery star Antares, which forms its heart, glowing like a
ruby in the blue vault of heaven.

For a moment Clifford rested on the handle of the deep-sunken
instrument, and, lifting his heavy felt hat with its leathern band--a
badge of the ranchman throughout all the West--he drew a deep breath of
the cool air that swayed the wild hop-vines and pendulous branches of
the willows to and fro in the moonlight.

Around, a thousand wild-flowers distilled their odors. The
sensitive-plant nodded softly in dew-drenched sprays, its rosy balls
flecked with drops that glinted like gems, while all the air was heavy
with its perfume of spices and honey.

The foamy elder-blooms exhaled an odor of entrancing sweetness, and over
the senses stole the fragrance from pond-lilies and water-mint,
wild-hyacinths and mignonette.

A large prairie-owl flitted by, lending a note of discord to the
tranquillity which had reigned, with its dismal hoot, that mellowed away
into a plaintive shriek as it lit in some far-off, sombre nook.

Then again silence brooded over the valley, broken only by the croak of
frogs along the rush-lined shore, or the soft chirp of insects in the
grass; but suddenly the jabbering wail of a lone wolf, distant yet
distinct, pierced through the gloom, startling into silence all the
minor voices of the night, and adding with its wild echoes a double
sense of loneliness to the weird night.

Clifford turned to the iron rod, and with a few vigorous efforts sent it
deep into the yielding earth; and as the quiet of nature once more
reigned over the wild glade, he kept turning the handle mechanically,
and listening to the gruesome sound of the answering wolves--faint cries
that made him shudder--when, lo! the steel point grated harshly against
some obstruction beneath his feet.

Quickly withdrawing the rod, he seized the sharp spade and began
digging, throwing the black soil out of the pit with frantic haste as he
sank rapidly down into the earth at each stroke. As he neared the goal
he became dizzy and faint, his breath coming in quick gasps, and the
blinding sweat streaming from his face, from which it fell in great
drops like rain.

Pausing a moment, while the weird, horned moon peered through a rift in
the boughs overhead, and gleamed coldly on his upturned, haggard face,
he thought of the wealth that might lie below,--his father's lost
fortune; the wealth of Monteluma; its gems and red gold, with all the
power that great treasure represented; then, quivering with excitement,
he dashed the spade into the earth, and in a moment more the head of a
cask was dimly outlined at his feet.

Breathless and panting, he paused, leaning on his spade, while the hopes
and fears, which so often, often, assail us on the threshold of some
great enterprise, came thronging on with their mockery, causing him to
stand irresolute, as if fearing to solve the mystery; but at length,
after summoning all his strength, he struck the cask with his sharp
spade, and the head fell in with a dull crash.

As he stooped to peer down into the gloom below, a pair of fiery eyes
glared at him from the cavity, and, as he sprang back with a shudder, a
sharp, whizzing rattle in the cask announced the presence of that dread
reptile, the rattlesnake--a new and terrible danger, worse than the
sting of poverty with all its terrors.

As Clifford stood frozen with horror, the slimy monster rose from out
the cask, still sounding its angry alarm. A moment more, enraged and
writhing, it coiled at his feet, its head erected, slowly swaying to and
fro--a gigantic, threatening monster.

Its eyes glowed like coals of fire, and in the bright light shed by the
lantern Clifford could see it darting its tongue and glaring with a look
of indescribable ferocity and malignant hatred, to which nothing else in
the world can be compared. Those who have faced an angry rattlesnake,
and who still turn pale at its remembrance, or start from sleep with a
cry of fear at the returning vision of terrible danger, will recall the
awful rage and menace that glared from the eye of the angry serpent--a
glance that unnerves the bravest man in the world instantly. The reptile
only seemed to await a motion on Clifford's part to strike like a flash
of lightning. Then, with a clammy shudder, young Warlow thought of the
agony and speedy death that was certain to follow. At the tremor which
involuntarily shook his frame at the thought, the hideous serpent
crested its head and paused in its vibrations. "Now all is over," our
young friend thought, and breathlessly awaited the shock.

Instantly the face of Mora Estill rose before him, a fleeting vision of
loveliness; and with it came a realization of the love for her that had
rapidly grown into an all-absorbing passion in their short acquaintance.
He knew at once what had sent him out on this midnight search, and why
he had begun to wish for wealth so eagerly of late:--It was because be
craved fortune and a position which would equal that of the "Cattle
King's" daughter. Yet even in this moment of deadliest peril he thought,
with a grim smile, of the irony of fate--the reward of his first attempt
at "fortune hunting."

While death stared at him from those glaring eyes, and the moments
seemed to lengthen out to years, he thought of his friends at home, all
unconscious of the dire fate that he was facing; then a wild longing for
life seized him, and for the first time since the encounter he began to
plan a way of escape.

The spade on which his hand rested was sharp and bright; but to raise it
before the serpent could strike he knew was impossible; so he stood
immovably eying the formidable reptile, which at length slowly uncoiled
and glided away from his feet to an opposite corner of the pit. With a
sigh of relief Clifford saw that the danger was lessened, yet he began
to more fully realize the size of his deadly antagonist, which now
reached twice across the yard-wide pit.

In moments of great danger we are apt to think with lightning-like
rapidity, and quickly see any advantage that may arise. So it was with
Clifford, who remembered that the rattlesnake always throws itself into
a coil before striking; and as he saw it thus off its guard, with a
quick movement he struck a violent blow at the snake's head and pinioned
it to the earth--then throwing his full weight on the handle he felt the
bones crunch beneath the sharp blade, while the reptile madly threshed
its now headless body about and wrapped its jangling tail around his
boot.

Springing out of the pit, with a desperate leap, young Warlow disengaged
the writhing, heavy monster from his foot, and with the iron rod threw
it away into the grass; then sinking down upon the ground, unnerved and
exhausted, he lay, too weak to move for several minutes. But when he
remembered the unexplored cask, he sprang to his feet again, and after
listening cautiously a moment, and hearing no further evidence of
danger, he dropped lightly down into the pit, carelessly tramping on the
grim serpent-head that but a few moments before was so full of
threatening danger.

Anxiously he thrust the long rod down into the cask. No rattle
responded; but the despairing fact became apparent: the cask was empty!

With a sinking heart he groped about the bottom of the cask with the
rod, and when its iron point struck against a round object that rolled
over with a harsh sound on the bottom, he quickly thought of the casket
of gems, and reaching down, with a thrill of excitement he clutched the
mysterious, smooth object, and sprang out of the pit into the moonlight.

By the pale beams of the gibbous moon, now sinking low in the western
sky, but throwing a path of shimmering silver on the bosom of the
rippling brook, he saw--not the gems of Monteluma, but a human skull,
that, with its wide, eyeless sockets, seemed to glare derisively, and
with great white teeth laugh mockingly, at this ending of his "fortune
hunting." With a cry of despair, the disheartened youth dashed the
loathsome object to the earth; but, as if the sound of his voice had
evoked its former spirit, there glided from out the wavering shadows a
tall, gaunt form, gray-robed and silent, with tangled, flowing hair, and
burning eyes, its lips drawn back from its snaggled fangs in a horrid
look of hate and ferocity. With noiseless tread it seemed to float into
the moonlit space; then snatching the skull from the ground and clasping
it close to its breast, with an unearthly scream it faded away among the
whispering willows.



Chapter XIII.


On the morning following that Walpurga Night, Clifford came down to the
Warlow breakfast-table with a weary, feverish air, that caused his
father to say:--

"My boy, you are far from well, I fear! This first day of harvest will
be quite hard on all of us; the day promises to be hot and sultry; so
perhaps you had better rest in-doors. We might send Robbie over on the
Flats, and secure you a substitute until you are stronger."

At this poor Rob mumbled something about "a sixteen-year-old boy having
more legs than a centipede;" a remark which he was careful to address to
his plate, however, while Clifford replied:--

"Oh no, father; a cup of Maud's coffee will set me all right, I am
certain." Then, as he poured a quantity of yellow cream into the cup of
fragrant Rio, he added: "I was wakeful and did not rest well last
night;" all of which we know was correct, if somewhat evasive.

"Oh, Cliff! I had the most terrifying dreams last night, in which you
were, some way, always mixed up," said Maud wearily; "and although I
can't remember anything distinctly, I am so nervous that I shiver even
yet."

"So, madam, you feed the hungry harvester on Cold Shudder, garnished
with scrambled Night-mare," said Bob, with a glance of contempt at the
bacon and early potatoes, of which even his ravenous appetite was now
weary. Then, as he broke an egg that was shockingly overdone, he added
spitefully: "Why did you _boil_ your door-knobs?"

"I spent a weary, restless night, also," said Mrs. Warlow, ignoring
Robbie's sarcasm. "I was so vaguely uneasy about you, Clifford, that I
shall object to your staying alone at the corral hereafter."

"Alone, nothing!" said Rob. "I guess, by the way he goes fishing about
of late, he will soon find some one to keep him company," he added, with
a knowing giggle, at which Clifford tried to look unconcerned, while
Maud and her mother exchanged pleased and amused glances.

After breakfast Clifford drove the header to the wheat-field, which soon
presented an animated and busy scene. The great machine was pushed by
four horses, which were guided by young Warlow, who stood behind on a
small platform, and steered the ponderous reaper with one hand, while
with the other he held the lines. The elevator carried the heads of
wheat into a large wagon, which ran, barge-like, beside where a busy
loader arranged the load, until, towering like a hay-stack, the wagon
would hold no more. Then it was driven away to the rick-yard by the
careful driver, being succeeded by another team with military precision.
The flapping of the canvas elevator, and the rolling waves of wheat,
rippled and tossed by the summer breeze, made a scene that recalled a
sail on the sea; all of which was as gratifying to Clifford's sense of
the picturesque as the prospect for gain was encouraging.

When the evening came twenty acres of the heavy grain was stacked in six
trim ricks at the edge of the field. A square of golden straw remained
standing, to be either burned at the end of harvest, or turned under by
the plows to further enrich the soil. Ten more days of such labor would
be necessary, however, to finish the Warlow harvest, and no doubt long
before that time the picturesque side of the operation will be
appreciated best by those who view it at a safe distance.

In the cool twilight Clifford and Rob were riding homeward, the former
silent and abstracted, while the latter was calling "Bob White" to a
badly-deceived quail, that answered back from the stubble-field.
Finally, becoming tired of this, Rob turned a shrewd but freckled face
to his brother, and said:--

"What was the matter up there last night, Cliff? You have been grim as
an old mummy all day! I bet my boots _you_ saw something _too_; so out
with it."

"Why have you seen anything strange up there recently, Rob?" Clifford
replied, evasively.

"Now, don't give it away, Cliff, for the folks would raise an awful
racket if they found it out; but last week I saw that old gray demon--of
the camp-fire, you remember--by the corral. I was riding Pomp and
driving the cows home through the dusk, when, as I came along by the old
stone wall there, out popped that long-haired spook, and glared at me
like old Nick. Good Lord, Harry! but I dug out of that, my hair
bristling up mad-dog style, and Pomp wringing his tail till it cracked
like a whip-lash," he concluded, with a scared laugh.

"Well, I saw him, too, at the same place last night," said Clifford, in
a low tone as several harvesters came up. "But let's keep the matter
secret, Rob; for it will never do to let the neighbors know it, and be
ridiculed for our superstition. Then it would only make mother and Maud
uneasy. So let's watch and say nothing until we have unraveled the
mystery."

In the evening Clifford was starting up to his dwelling, on the plea
that the house at home was crowded with the workmen; but Rob insisted on
going along and sharing the watch, which on this and the succeeding
evening was unsuccessful, for no trace of the ghostly visitant was
found. As Clifford had quite enough of "fortune hunting" the night of
his first experience, he made no further investigations for the recovery
of the treasure.

The following Sabbath, which was the second after the Estill visit, the
younger members of the Moreland and Warlow families drove down to the
Estill ranch. As they dashed up to the great pile of creamy stone
buildings, smothered in elms and sheltered on the north by towering,
tree-clad cliffs, our young friends noticed with wonder the signs of age
which the vine-mantled and time-stained building presented.

It was a well-dressed, animated group that alighted from the handsome
Warlow carriage,--Maud in gray silk and dotted tulle; Grace in a "Dolly
Varden" costume, with her broad, white hat wreathed by daisies; Ralph in
superfine black, with lawn tie and white vest, his handsome face ruddy
with health and happy contentment; Scott, quiet and thoughtful, in
Puritan-gray; while Rob gloried in the splendor of spotless white, his
small, well-shaped boots glittering like jet. He had given just enough
cock to his jaunty straw hat to correspond well with the general air of
pertness conveyed by a slightly freckled nose, dimpled cheeks, dusky
with tan, and a pair of round, hazel eyes, that always danced with fun.
But it was golden-haired, pansy-eyed Clifford, with his Grecian face,
smooth, glossy cheeks, tinged with bronze, but fresh and boyish still,
who would rivet the gaze longest; for there was a look of pride and
strength about him which caused one to forget the _boutonnière_ of
fescue and lobelia, blue as his own eyes, and the rich-textured suit of
seal-brown, which he wore with the easy grace of a planter's son.

The long frontage of the stately mansion was broken by gables,
balconies, and quaint dormer windows, and on the broad platform, or
terrace, in front of the building a fountain flashed in the sunlight.
The terrace was walled with creamy stone, and railed about by a heavy
balustrade of white magnesian limestone. In the angles and at the top of
the steps were great vases of the same alabaster-like material, down the
sculptured sides of which trailed tangled masses of vines with their
blossoms, scarlet, gold, and blue.

As our friends drove up, they saw Miss Estill sitting on the
buffalo-grass which coated the lawn with its thick carpet of pale green.
She appeared to be twining a garland of flowers about the neck of a pet
antelope, as it stood with its head on her shoulder in an attitude of
docile affection.

As the young lady arose to greet the guests, the graceful animal bounded
away to the shrubbery, where, after peeping a moment with shy wonder at
the new-comers, it skurried off to the top of the cliff behind the
dwelling, snorting and stamping its foot angrily at the intrusion.

After greeting her friends cordially, Miss Estill led the way through a
tessellated hall, where the walls were frescoed and hung with elegant
paintings, past the winding stairs of dark, rich wood, and to a cool,
long room to the east, the floor of which was covered with India
matting, swept by the lace curtains that shaded the lofty windows from
the fierce sunlight. An air of quiet refinement and simple luxury
pervaded this apartment, which spoke volumes, in a mute way--all very
favorable to the Estill family.

When Mrs. Estill came into the room, Mora presented her new friends, who
were charmed by the elder lady's welcome; but when Clifford was
introduced she gave him a swift, searching glance from her keen, blue
eyes, that brought a flush to his face at her look of scrutiny and
valuation. She must have read him aright, however, for she gave her
hand to young Warlow in a very friendly way, and he thought he detected
a sub-tone of graciousness in her welcome to himself a shade deeper than
when she had addressed the others.

Mrs. Estill was a fair, dignified matron, whose flaxen hair was now
slightly tinged with gray; but as Clifford contrasted the creole
daughter with her, he failed to detect any resemblance between the two.

The elder lady must have divined his thoughts, or observed his look of
wonder at the strange dissimilarity existing between herself and her
only daughter, for she appeared to be embarrassed and constrained in her
attempts at entertaining the guests; but Mora was so animated and
vivacious that her mother's disquiet was unnoticed by all save Clifford,
who vaguely wondered at this show of uneasiness over such a trifle; yet
he had occasion before many weeks had elapsed to recall it all with a
strange significance.

When Mr. Estill came in, and Mora had presented her new friends, the
ruddy, genial old ranchman said with a smile:--

"Now this is something like civilized life once more! Why, it does my
very soul good to see young company about the old ranch--a sight that is
as rare as it is pleasant. I almost fancy myself back in the old home
again."

The visitors were soon chatting gaily with the courtly and entertaining
host, who proved to be a typical ranchman of the plains,--shrewd through
long dealings with a business class noted for sagacity and wealth;
urbane and refined in manner by having been thrown among bankers and
the leading men of the city for many years; and lastly, hospitable,
possibly owing to the fact that his hospitality had never been overtaxed
nor abused in that thinly settled country.

"Where could this creole daughter have sprung from? She looks as if she
might have stepped out of the Alhambra into this family of blonde
Saxons," said Clifford mentally, again contrasting Mora and her parents;
and while he noted the auburn hair, just tinged with gray, of Mr.
Estill, and the blue eyes of that courtly old gentleman, the contrast
with the creole daughter became so apparent that Clifford must have
betrayed his surprise, for he was soon aware that Mrs. Estill was
regarding him with an uneasy expression which only served to increase
his perplexity. "There is a skeleton in the domestic closet at Estill's
ranch," thought our young friend; "but what can the mystery be?"

His speculations were cut short, however, by Mr. Estill saying
that all the cow-boys were away with Hugh, shipping a "bunch of
steers,"--omitting the fact that the modest "bunch" consisted of two
long train-loads of sleek, fat beeves; and that the duties of hostler
devolved upon himself in their absence.

The young men thereupon arose and left the room with their host, who,
after the manner of Western people, believed in the maxim, "Love me,
love my dog," which finds expression in the care lavished upon the
horses of a welcome guest. This spirit often leads to a foundered nag,
however; but it would be a very ungrateful man, indeed, who would
grumble at such an evidence of esteem.

As they left the room to care for Clifford's team, Mora invited Maud and
Grace up to her boudoir, which, she said, was so seldom visited that the
spiders were more at home there than herself.

"You know about how much 'elegant leisure' falls to the lot of farmers
and ranch people," she added.

"Yes, indeed," replied Maud, ruefully; "what with baking, scouring, and
dairy-work, we have not much time for frivolous dissipation."

"Oh, what a lovely room!" screamed Grace in delight. "If I had such a
sweet boudoir I'd steal an hour at least every day to play the heroine,
even if the bread burned and the dishes went unwashed in consequence,"
she added, rapturously.

"When up here I often dream that I am a grand lady," said Mora, gaily;
"but when I catch a glimpse in the mirror of a frumpy, frouzy creature
with a towel over her head, then I awake to the sad reality that I am
only the slave of circumstances."

Grace would have been perfectly justified, however, in indulging in
day-dreams in such a place; for a more elegant apartment, or one where
greater taste was evinced in every detail of adornment, was rarely to be
seen in the West.

It was situated at the south end of the upper hall, and opened out upon
the balcony by a door of plate glass, thick and beveled, through which
could be seen the flashing fountain on the terrace below and a landscape
of surpassing beauty. The wooded stream wound away down the prairie
valley, which was dotted with innumerable ricks of wild-hay; the white
stone walls which fenced the ranch ran far out onto the highlands, dimly
defining the boundaries of the great estate.

The walls of the elegant apartment were draped with and paneled by
carmine and cream colored silk, relieved by lines of white. A carpet of
creamy velvet was strewn with moss-roses of the same shade of carmine,
with all the furniture upholstered to correspond. The walls were
graced--not crowded--by a tall beveled mirror of French plate and some
delicious paintings, framed in gilt. The low mantel was of Italian
marble, white, dappled and veined with red shading to faintest rose.
Vases of Sevres china, statuettes of bronze, and elegantly bound volumes
were seen on every hand. There was a table of mosaic, on which was a
basket of fancy-work, that, Miss Estill said, was destined never to be
finished. Through the draped doorway, on the east, could be seen the
snowy, lace-canopied bed of the mistress of all this splendor. The
sunlight, sifting through the tops of the elms which grew below the
terrace, shone in fitful bars of amber on a picture which was riveting
the attention of Maud, who sprang up from her velvet chair and cried
with enthusiasm:--

"Oh Grace! it is 'Sunset on the Smoky Hill,' don't you see the Iron
Mound looming up with vague mystery? The serpentine river, fringed by
trees, is the Saline; and there, winding down from the north, is the
stately Solomon; while here at our feet flows the Smoky Hill between its
timbered banks. See that white blot, far out to the east, rising in the
evening mirage,--it must be Fort Riley! There is Abilene; and all along
the wide prairie valley, flanked by bold grassy headlands, are white
villages and golden fields of wheat. Here, nestling down in the broad
valley among the groves at the base of the Iron Mound, is Salina--which
reminds me of Damascus, with its rivers of Abana and Pharpar. Out to the
south-west see that long line of purple, jagged buttes, over which
eternally hovers a smoky haze,--those are the Smoky Hills! Look at the
twilight stealing down through their gorges. Oh, it is like a glimpse of
heaven! Mora--Mora! who could have painted this?" she said, with tears
of genuine emotion. Then seeing Miss Estill blushing hotly, she and
Grace impulsively kissed the young artist--Maud saying with a little
quaver of emotion:--

"Mora Estill, you dear, gifted creature--do you know that you are a
genius?"

"I am not so certain of that, for I am often led to believe in Hugh's
criticisms. He says that my best pictures are very similar in appearance
to a newly flayed beef's-hide." Then, as the others gave vent to shrieks
of feminine amazement, Miss Estill continued merrily: "I had a letter
from him yesterday. He is at Kansas City, you know. Would you believe
it?--he sent an order for me to paint the sign for a butcher's shop. The
aggravating fellow charged me, carefully, to put a sufficient number of
limbs on the figure of a cow that was to adorn the sign. Then he
proceeded with a whole page of caution, in which he charged me to avoid
the fatal error of painting claws upon the animal's hoofs. There
followed a long homily, showing the dire results of such a slight
mistake--the innuendo and sarcasm, the cold suspicion and cruel neglect,
that would alight upon the head of a butcher who was suspected of making
beef of an animal that wore claws.

"This picture of Lake Inman," said Miss Estill, as the laughing group
moved forward to where a beautiful painting hung, "Hugh persists in
calling 'The Knot Hole;' and in his letter he said that as to the horns
of the animal which was to adorn the sign, they were a matter of
indifference to the public, and I could keep them for the trunks of the
'stately elms' in my next landscape, and I might transplant them with
great success to the shores of Lake Inman, which you see is badly in
need of shade."

"I'd just like to teach him," said Grace, inadvertently; but seeing the
amused look which Maud shot at Miss Estill she hesitated with a blush,
while Mora quickly exclaimed:--

"Oh, I believe he is beginning to learn of late; but I hope you will
give him a lesson in poetry, for I found an effusion among his papers,
where he had evidently forgotten it, that will bear a _great deal of
revision_;" and she took from a bronze cabinet a paper whereon was
written, in lame and halting couplets, an apostrophe "To My Love."

But the author had failed so signally to secure either rhyme or measure,
that the girls shrieked aloud as Mora read long verses of the most
trivial nonsense and doggerel, where "golden tresses," "had went," and
"blue eyes" were mingled with loving ardor, but very bad grammar.

As the verses progressed, the sentiment became more tender, but the
diction and measure were perfectly appalling in their untutored
originality. At each new limp or poetical hobble, the girls would laugh
gaily; but when Mora looked at Grace with a significant smile, the
application of the following lines was readily seen:--

    "My love she's golden hair and eyes
      Of deepest, finest blue.
    I love her better than ['Gooseberry pies!' cried Maud] any thing,
      My heart will always be true to you."

Although the author had promoted his lady love from the obscure position
of third person to the station of second person in the space of a
second, yet even this was not enough to induce Grace to remain longer;
for she fled away with burning blushes, while Mora still continued to
read lines, the syntax of which disclosed the revolting fact that their
author had throttled his own mother tongue, had slain persons without
regard to sex or condition, and, like a vandal, had cut off the feet of
his best subject at some critical moment.

At the close Miss Estill folded the paper, and as she placed it in a
cabinet she said, it would yet serve to pay off some old scores with
Hugh. She must have kept her word, for on his return he was immeasurably
shocked on opening his county paper to see, staring at him from the
first page: "A Poem To My Love. By H. E."

After Mr. Estill had praised the dappled Normans and cared for them in a
very hospitable manner, he led the young men out to a near-by pasture to
show them his Jersey cows. While they were admiring the graceful
animals, their host said:--

"For twenty-five years we had either depended on Texan cows for milk, or
had used the concentrated article without even once thinking of the
folly of such a course. We had so long been accustomed to seeing the
herders lasso the wild, infuriated creatures before milking them, that
we had actually forgotten there was any other way. It may have been
owing to our trusting the operation wholly to the cow-boys that no
progress was made in subduing the animals or reducing them to a domestic
state; but we never had thought it safe to allow a woman inside of the
corral since that morning, a score of years ago, when my wife had been
kicked insensible by a beast that she had attempted to milk. One
evening, after Mora had returned from Cincinnati, she witnessed the
usual proceedings in the milk-yard,--two broad-hatted and bespurred
herders lassoing a cow. Then, after tying her head to one post and
hind-foot to another, one of the valiant milk-men stripped a few streams
of the precious fluid into a cup, while his partner stood by, whip in
hand, ready to punish any movement on the part of the bellowing brute.
Only then did she realize how infamously undairy-like the affair really
was. When I met her a few moments later, she said with a shade of
contempt in her tone:--

"'Oh, why do you allow such barbarous work on the ranch?'

"'But, my dear,' I replied, 'there is no other way. Why, I would rather
tackle a mountain lion than one of those fiery creatures while she is
loose.'

"'Then, why not buy some Jerseys?' Mora said.

"Yes, indeed, why not? I thought, and so I lost no time over
deliberations, but wrote at once to Major Kingsbury, who sent me these
gentle creatures, which now we value above anything else on the ranch."

Nothing was said about the vast herds, the thousands of fat cattle
grazing out over the great pastures around; but the visitors were
impressed with the evidence of great wealth visible on every hand. The
capacious corral and innumerable ricks of prairie-hay bore mute
testimony to the thrift and opulence which reigned at the Estill ranch.

As Mr. Estill led the way back to the dwelling he said:--

"Hugh will be greatly disappointed when he learns that he has missed
your visit. I have been away with him for the last fortnight, and only
returned last evening, when I learned from my wife that--that--my
children had a very pleasant day up at your place." Then in a
constrained voice he added: "I would like to meet your father, Mr.
Warlow; for there is a subject which I would like very much to discuss
with him."

"My father expressed a wish to make your acquaintance also; for it
appears that he is anxious to discuss the early history of this country
with you," Clifford replied.

Mr. Estill seemed greatly agitated on hearing this; but when about to
reply, dinner was announced, and he arose and led the way into the long,
walnut-paneled dining-room. All this time Clifford was mutely wondering
why the wealthy old ranchman should be so anxious to meet his father.

"Can it be that the cattle-king is opposed to the intimacy growing up
between myself and his daughter?" young Warlow asked himself. Then he
thought of the friendly manner of his host, and rejected the idea at
once.

They were soon gaily chatting over the soup; but as Clifford's eye
glanced along the wall his attention was attracted by a painting, which
hung where the light fell upon it in such a way as to bring out every
detail with perfect clearness. In its foreground was a mammoth tree,
shading the gables of a stone cottage; a ruined wall, half smothered by
vines. Across the stream, which had half encircled the knoll where the
building stood, were fields of ripening grain, that rippled in the
billowy waves, stirred and tossed by the summer breeze, wheat of coppery
red or palest gold, the silvery sheen of rye and oats contrasting with
the tawny prairie and dark, green groves, through which shimmered the
brook and pools that he recognized as old friends.

As his eye sought the author of this delicate compliment, which was a
truthful picture of his place--the Old Corral--he caught Miss Estill's
amused look; for she had been watching the pleased surprise which had
grown upon his face as he realized what the picture really was. His
glance must have been very expressive in reply; for a blush swept over
her face, usually serene in its quiet dignity, or vivacious with
blithesome wit, and her blue eyes retreated behind their long lashes--a
guilty admission that she was the artist who had painted the scene.

This silent by-play was not unnoticed, quiet as it all seemed; for as
Clifford turned to take the plate of rare good things which the host
passed to him, he encountered the eyes of Mrs. Estill fixed upon him;
but the lady smiled with a look of such evident enjoyment of the
situation that he half forgot that Mr. Estill still held the plate,
which young Warlow seized with an air which was neither as graceful nor
self-possessed as a hero should have worn.

With ready tact Mrs. Estill came to the rescue by saying:--

"It all looks strange, no doubt, that I treat you to a ranch fare of
canned beef from St. Louis, and vegetables from Baltimore and Rochester,
but if it were not for our Jerseys we should have been compelled to call
on Chicago for condensed milk also. I never realized the absurdity of
this course until Mora told me of the luxuriant gardens and fields of
grain which you are raising in the upper valley. Why, Hugh says it is a
marvel how prosperous everything appears up there."

"We never before have regarded this as a farming country; it has
remained for your brave colony to explode that fallacy; and I hope your
prosperity may be as lasting as it is merited," said Mr. Estill.

An hour was spent in the parlor after dinner; then a long stroll
followed out among the cedars to the north of the dwelling. Here Mora
and Clifford soon found themselves deserted by their companions, and
were left to their own resources for entertainment.

They had been longing, no doubt, for this moment to arrive; so we will
not intrude--a proceeding that would be alike odious to the couple and
cruel to the reader; but when they emerged an hour later from the jungle
of evergreens, Mora was heard to say:--

"I can not imagine why mamma was so agitated when I told her. She never
was affected by anything before. But she positively forbade my
mentioning the subject again in her presence. When I begged her to tell
why she talked so strangely, she replied that the story of the old
tragedy had completely unnerved her; and then she again questioned me as
to every detail of that terrible affair."

"No doubt the remembrance of those early days, their danger and trials,
all recurred with painful minuteness as you related the story, Miss
Estill, for your parents were residing here at the time of that
sorrowful event," Clifford replied.

"No; I fear that there is some deeper reason yet; for when papa returned
from Abilene--whither he had been with Hugh shipping cattle--mother
sought an interview alone with him, and when I came into the room he
said that I must be very careful to avoid the subject in the future. My
parents never could be taxed with being sentimental--of that I am
certain. But what the mystery can be--for a mystery it certainly is--I
am at a loss to conjecture."

"The air seems full of mystery since you and my father met," replied
Clifford; "but I hope it will soon be all explained, Miss Estill."

"I was very glad to see you come to-day; for although papa only arrived
last night, he had concluded to go up to see Colonel Warlow at once.

"I can't guess why he seems so anxious about meeting him. I tried
bribery with a kiss; but he would not tell me why he was going--would
always evade my question by replying that it was business, only, that
prompted the visit."

"He must be very obdurate, indeed, not to yield on such terms," Clifford
replied, with a look which betrayed how willingly he would surrender at
such a proposition.

You have discovered, no doubt, that although our friend Warlow often
spoke with his eyes, yet he allowed the lady to do three-fourths of the
talking. This is a very dangerous experiment for an unfettered youth to
indulge in; for I have always observed that when a fluent,
silvery-tongued woman finds a ready listener, provided the victim be
young, handsome, and manly, she first becomes more fluent, then, when
answered in monosyllables, she shows her admiration of his "great
conversational powers," and proceeds to make herself irresistible and
captivating at once--all of which ends in chains and slavery for the
brilliant listener.

After a moment's silence, Miss Estill said:--

"I notice a strange change has come over you since we last met, Mr.
Warlow. Is it possible that you, also, have been seized by that strange
infection of mystery which seems to possess all my friends in the last
few weeks?"

"Why, Miss Estill, do you really think me changed?" Clifford replied,
with due regard to the three-fourths rule.

At that moment the other members of the party came up and proposed
returning, thus precluding Miss Estill's answer.

As the guests were taking their leave, Mr. Estill said, in reply to
their cordial invitations to visit them, that he would drive up the next
day in company with his wife, that he had business with Colonel Warlow,
and that himself and wife would call upon the Moreland family, if it
would be agreeable to that family to receive them.

On hearing nothing but great pleasure expressed at this announcement,
the matter was settled definitely in that way; then the guests took
their leave, and drove home through the cool twilight, vaguely wondering
what business Mr. Estill could have to transact with Colonel Warlow.



Chapter XIV.


Early next morning Clifford rode away, on the pretext that he was going
to buy cattle of a ranchman in the next county; but his absence was
mainly owing to the fact that he suspected the Estill visit was in some
way connected with his intimacy with Mora; so he had decided that he
would take himself off, and thereby avoid a disagreeable scene.

The cattle-king and his wife arrived at an early hour, although they had
called a moment at the Moreland homestead and given a promise that they
would stop for an early tea on their return homeward from the Warlows.
When they had been introduced by Maud, the colonel and Mr. Estill went
to the stable to care for the team, and when that important rite of
hospitality had been duly observed the gentlemen rejoined their wives in
the Warlow parlor.

Robbie was away in the fields with the farm men; Maud was busy with
household cares, on the plea of which she had absented herself from the
parlor. The kitchen, which was the scene of her culinary operations, was
situated in an ell of the building, and as she stood by a window that
looked directly through into one in the parlor, she could see and hear a
great deal that was transpiring therein.

An hour after the arrival of the guests she was standing by this open
window, putting the last touches of frosting on a cocoa-nut cake, and so
deeply, indeed, was she engrossed with her labors that she had failed to
observe what the situation really was in the parlor, until she heard a
hoarse cry:--

"Oh God! it is Bruce and Ivarene!" and as she glanced hastily into the
room she beheld a sight that perplexed and mystified her for long days
thereafter. Her father stood by the window holding a jeweled locket in
his hand; but at that moment he lowered the window-curtain, thus
shutting off all view of the parlor.

When, an hour later, Mrs. Warlow came into the kitchen, traces of tears
were visible on her usually placid face; and when Maud, unable any
longer to restrain her curiosity, eagerly asked the meaning of the
mysterious conclave in the parlor, her mother evaded answering; so Maud
wisely concluded to await her parents' confidence, which she felt
certain of sharing at the proper time.

At dinner Colonel Warlow ate but little of the tempting food; and the
guests, although they praised the roast-chicken with its savory
dressing, the delicate float and frosted cake, left their plates almost
untouched.

When the constrained and quiet meal was finished, and all had returned
to the parlor but Maud, Rob came back again to the table, and as that
youth, with an unappeasable appetite, helped himself to a plateful of
"stuffing" and gravy, he turned to his sister and said:--

"What's the matter now, Maud? The colonel seems to be all broke up; and
that old Lady Estill--by grab!--_she_ looked like death on a--a--white
pony! Mother, too, appeared as if she might have been sniffling; but
that's nothing but a common pastime with her. You know that all women,
more or less--yourself included, madam--are very much given to the
chicken-hearted habit of dribbling at the nose."

"Chicken-hearted, indeed! It is a great wonder, then, that you did not
devour us long ago, sir!" said Maud, with a great show of asperity, but
very glad to lead the subject into other channels and elude further
questioning; for she saw by her mother's manner that there was something
about the Estill visit which they wished, for unknown reasons, to keep
secret, and it was a matter of honor with the noble-hearted girl to help
them conceal what she herself was longing to know.

"Well, big guns of the Estill calibre don't _go off_ on slight
occasions," persisted Rob, with his mouth half-full of the adored
"stuffing," and as he reached for a tall glass of ruby-colored
plum-jelly, Maud quickly said:--

"Won't you have a bit of the cake, Rob?"

"Thanks--yes," said he, as he helped himself to the last solitary
quarter of that frosted dainty; "and I would be pleased to taste a
morsel of that chicken also," he mumbled.

"What choice, sir?" she asked sarcastically.

"The running-gears, if you please," he replied with polite gravity.

With a gesture of scorn and disgust, Maud passed him the carcass of the
fowl; then, after filling a large platter with crusts, bones, and
egg-shells, she placed them before him with the injunction to help
himself. Retiring to the window, she watched him devour cake, chicken,
jam, and potatoes with an appetite that knew no discrimination.

"I am afraid you have not done justice to my dishes," she said, as Rob
at length arose from the table.

"Oh, now don't give us any more sarcasm," said he, while picking his
teeth with a broom-split. "It is so long from breakfast to noon, Maud,
that I just get faint waiting on that slow old dinner-bell."

"No doubt; but you remember how ravenously hungry you were last week,
when the pup got the bell-rope in his mouth and summoned you in from the
field at nine in the morning," she retorted, laughingly.

"Well, that was a cloudy day," he said, good-naturedly; then, taking his
straw hat from its hook on the porch, he hurried away to the field.

After finishing her domestic duties, Maud joined the guests in the
parlor, with a faint hope of learning something further of the mystery
which seemed to enshroud their visit, of which she had got such a
tantalizing glimpse an hour before; but her expectations were, however,
sadly doomed to disappointment, for nothing was said that would throw
any light on the subject; and, after spending a while at the piano, she
invited the guests out to look at her flowers.

The party thereupon adjourned to the garden; and when they had admired
the flowers and shrubs, they sauntered on to the barn-yard, to look at
the peacocks and other fowls, of which Mrs. Warlow was justly proud.

"I should like to take a nearer view of your crops, Colonel. It has been
so long since I saw a well-conducted farm, that it appears quite a
novelty to me," said Mr. Estill, with evident interest.

In a few moments they all embarked in the boat, and were rowed up to
Clifford's dwelling; for if there was one thing of which the colonel was
vain it was his son's farming.

As they stood in the level valley south of the river, a scene of perfect
rural beauty was visible. On the north was Clifford's gothic cottage,
half hidden by the drooping elm; to the east, the chimneys and gables of
the Warlow homestead peeped above the trees; while out to the south, on
a green knoll, stood the stone school-house, with its tower and
rose-window.

The yellow wheat-stubble shone like gold beside the silvery oats, fast
ripening for the harvest; the rank corn stood in clean, dark rows--great
squares of waving green; scores of ricks were standing along the valley;
while the clank of the header and shouts of the workmen were borne on
the breeze from the neighboring field.

"Ah! this is a very home-like scene, indeed--a great contrast to the
one presented here just two years ago when last I visited this spot,"
said Mr. Estill. "My ranch, ten miles below here, was then the last
settlement on the frontier. There was not a human habitation in
sight--only antelope and buffalo to vary the monotony of perfect
solitude. In fact, there had never been an owner for the land nor a
furrow turned here since the dawn of creation. Marvelous change!" he
added.

After crossing the stream on a foot-log, which here formed a rustic
bridge, they all walked up to Clifford's dwelling, and while standing by
the vine-mantled wall of the Old Corral, the colonel said in a musing
tone:--

"If this inanimate ruin could but speak, we might learn the sequel to
that tragedy which has risen again, as it were, from the grave of the
past. The robbers were led by white men, who no doubt divided the
treasure among themselves while the savages were stupefied with liquor."

He was interrupted by a cry of wonder from Maud, who could not repress
her astonishment at his assertion that white men had led the Indians--a
fact which Hugh Estill seemed to have been aware of also, and which,
taken in connection with the incident of the miniature, led her to
believe that the Estills were in some way connected with the massacre.

"Maud, dear, will you go and see how Clifford's young catalpa-trees,
down the drive, are growing? and if they need cultivating again, we will
send one of the boys over with a plow soon," said Mrs. Warlow, with a
warning glance; and Miss Maud moved quickly away, somewhat chagrined at
her summary dismissal.

As she passed along, she was pondering over the strange fact that her
father had at last obtained a clue to the perpetrators of the outrage at
the corral; and she became so deeply engrossed with the thought that she
was quite unmindful which way her steps led, until her eye was attracted
to a place where the earth appeared to have been recently disturbed, and
she paused a moment, vaguely wondering what could have been buried
there.

The tall blue stem-grass was tangled and dead, while the square outlines
of a cavity showed through the mass of dead vines and leaves, which had
been suspiciously strewn over the place, with a view, it seemed, of
concealing all trace of the disturbance. She became also aware of a most
disgusting odor near the old cottonwood-tree; but, unmindful of this,
she raked away the grass and litter to examine more closely the cavity
in which the soil had been firmly trampled, but her curiosity was in no
wise abated when she discovered that it was Clifford's boot-tracks that
were visible in the soft, yielding earth.

"What has he buried here, that he seems so anxious to conceal?" she was
asking herself, when a puff of wind brought the odor with such added
strength that she nearly fainted, and was hastily retreating from the
proximity of that mysterious place, where she feared some strange, dead
thing was buried, when she saw the bloated and mottled form of that
hideous reptile which the reader may remember as having greeted a
"Young Fortune Hunter" one weird and murky night the week before.

With a stifled shriek, Maud fled by the vile-smelling and repulsive
object, which she saw at a glance was mangled and dead; then, as she
slowly returned and walked south of the reptile, she surveyed it
carefully, and saw, with a shudder, that it was a hideous rattlesnake,
with its head severed from the body. Appalled at the thought that it was
her brother who had slain this formidable monster, the bite of which,
while living, she knew meant certain death, she was retreating again
from the place, pale and trembling, but paused at the excavation, to
wonder, even then, what it meant, when her eye, which was scanning the
ground carefully, caught sight of a curious, small object lying at her
feet.

Stooping and picking it up, she was disgusted and surprised to see that
it was a human tooth. She was about to dash it down again, when a
thought seemed to occur that caused her to look carefully about for some
minutes; then, as nothing else was found, she stripped some leaves from
a grape-vine near, and, after wrapping them about the tooth, she put it
carefully away in her purse, and then returned to where her parents and
guests were embarking for home. As they rowed down the willow-fringed
stream, nothing was said concerning the strange discoveries that had
been made that day, and on arriving at the house, the visitors prepared
to take an early departure. As Mrs. Estill stepped into the carriage,
Mrs. Warlow gave a promise that she would drive down to the Estill ranch
one day that week.

Clifford returned late that evening with some animals which he had
bought; and, as all was hurry and bustle, and several laborers remained
over night, there was no chance for confidential conversation among the
younger members of the Warlow family. But the next morning broke with a
lowering sky, and the misty rain which followed precluded any effort at
farm-work; so the laborers went to their respective homes, leaving the
house to its customary quiet.

As Rob was plodding about in the rain and whistling shrill as a locust,
he was signaled by Maud, who stood out by the gate, and when the youth
joined her they held a low, hurried conversation for a few minutes; then
Bob darted down to the boat, and rowed rapidly up the stream.

He was gone but a few minutes, however, when he returned flushed and
excited, and placed something, which was wrapped in leaves, into Maud's
outstretched hand.

"How did you manage it?" she said in a low tone, as they paused under an
ash-tree near the river.

"Why, that was easy enough--I just put my boot on his snakeship's tail,
then taking hold of the rattles with a handful of leaves--and--here they
are. But--oh fury!--how it did smell, though!" he added in disgust.
"Fourteen rattles and a button! Don't that beat the snake-tale of the
oldest inhabitant, Maud?"

Then, without awaiting a reply, he added, out of breath with
excitement:--

"Cliff had a shocking time of it up there last Friday night, for this is
only a small part of his experience."

"Rob--what--oh, what can you mean?" cried Maud, in wildest excitement.

"Well, I don't know much; but this much I did learn by guessing at it
first, then making him own up; for Cliff is as close-mouthed as an
oyster. From what I could learn, it appears that, while prowling about
that night like a vagrant tom-cat, our good-looking brother ran into
that old spectre which shrieked so like a demon that night by the
camp-fire. This time, of course, it gave him the slip, as it always
does," he answered.

"You do not mean to say that horrible sight has been seen again, Rob?"

After cautioning her not to raise such a racket, Rob proceeded to tell
of his encounter, and also what he had learned of Clifford's experience
likewise.

"Oh, Rob--what a horribly unreal thing it all seems! But everywhere
there is so much of mystery that I am almost wild," she cried, with a
good deal of incoherence.

"Why was Clifford digging about the old cottonwood that night, Rob?" she
added, after a moment's pause; but, as her brother only expressed both
surprise and ignorance, she continued: "But this is not all, Robbie; for
I made a most startling discovery to-day--one which throws a gloomy
light on the old tragedy of Bruce and his wife."

"Why, thicker and thicker!" cried Rob. "But what kind of a mare's-nest
did you run into this time, Maud?" he added.

In reply, Maud told of seeing the locket, and of hearing her father
exclaim that it contained the pictures of Bruce and his wife, and the
strange assertion which he had made while the Estills were standing by
the ruined wall.

"But how did the locket ever get into the Estills' hands?" Rob said,
with a perplexed look; then, after a moment, he added, excitedly:--

"Oh, now I know what father and Mr. Estill were talking about in the
barn. I had just stepped into the upper hall-way to lay a fork on the
rack--you know how strict father always was about our putting everything
in its proper place--so, to save myself a blowing up, I went out of my
way and had left the fork there, and was about to hurry on to the well
for a jug of water, when I heard Mr. Estill say:--

"'This must be a matter of sacred confidence between us, Colonel; for if
it were known that any one of my people had participated in that affair,
or had been engaged in the murder, there are people who are malicious
enough, no doubt, to connect myself and wife with the crime; and for
that reason alone I have always kept the matter a profound secret, even
from Hugh and Mora. The locket was set with rubies and engraved with the
name which, you see, we have used, and have only shortened; but she has
never learned its origin, nor anything of the tragedy.'

"Then, after a moment, he continued, after father had said something
which I could not quite catch:--

"'If Olin Estill had only lived, the mystery might have been explained;
but I found him dead and mangled beyond all resemblance to a
human--nothing to identify his remains but the tattered clothing, which
I recognized; for the wolves had torn his limbs away, and left his
skeleton bleaching out on the prairie. Yet the strangest part of it all
is the mysterious resemblance of the faces in that miniature to Mora and
your son. Why, my wife was terribly agitated when she first met that boy
of yours; for he is the perfect counterpart of the picture of your
friend, who must have died years before either of those children were
born. Mora's resemblance to Ivarene--'

"About that time I grew weary of such rot, and did not pay any further
attention to what they said. How much more I might have heard I can't
guess; for I hurried away to the well, as I was mortal thirsty and
tired. I am sorry now that I didn't stay and hear it out, for there
certainly is something up."

While talking thus they had sauntered on into the house; and while they
stood by the parlor door Rob had made the concluding remark, which
Clifford chanced to overhear, as he came upon them silently through the
carpeted hall.

"Here, you young conspirators--out with it, and confess at once 'what's
up,' as this bold robber says with such an air of deep mystery,"
Clifford said, with a smile of curiosity.

Maud looked up with a flash of resentment in her honest Warlow eyes; for
she did not half like the idea of this Adonis-like brother keeping
anything from her. Thrusting her hand into her pocket, she drew out her
_porte-monnaie_, as he continued:--

"Well, Maud, did you learn anything yesterday?" while an anxious look
crept into his face.

"Yes, I learned this!" she replied, while holding out her hand, in
which, resting on a piece of muslin, was a human tooth, and that long,
reticulated tissue, which he saw at a glance was the rattles of the
enormous reptile he had encountered while digging for the treasure.

He looked at them in a startled, wondering way for a moment; then, as if
comprehending it all, he said:--

"Ah, yes--the rattles! But the tooth--that is the hardest part of all."

Maud and Rob could not restrain a smile at the ghastly pun; but the
former replied:--

"I found them where you had been digging, near the old cottonwood-tree.
We know about the rattlesnake and that gray-robed figure, which was the
same one that startled us by the camp-fire, I really believe. But that
human tooth?--I shall certainly go raving mad if you keep anything
further from me."

Clifford glanced from her pale face to that of Rob, which wore a look of
startled perplexity.

"I find it impossible to keep anything from your sharp eyes. So it is
myself, after all, who has to confess!" he said, seating himself on the
divan.

Then, while the rain lashed the windows and the chill wind wailed
through the tree-tops without, he told that story of midnight horror.
When he finished, Maud was pale and tearful, and Rob's hazel eyes were
round with mute astonishment.

"But Maud, did you learn the reason of Mr. Ess--that is Mora's
folks--well--why they came up yesterday?" Clifford managed at length to
say in a confused manner, that revealed a great deal of uneasiness on
his part, which was not at all lost on the sharp-eyed couple beside him.

Then, drying her tears, Maud told of the strange revelations which the
visit of the Estills had disclosed; and when she repeated the singular
conversation which Robbie had overheard in the barn, Clifford cried out
excitedly:--

"Ah! that was the mysterious kinsman who Mora said was buried on the
hill-top at Estill Ranch. He was one of the robbers who perpetrated the
outrage at the corral years ago. _A bandit and murderer!_ 'Tis no wonder
that nothing but nettles ever grow on that grave. It was through him,
Maud, that they obtained the locket, with its picture of Bruce and
Ivarene. But it can not be that Mr. Estill derived his great wealth from
the same source! If so, he never would have betrayed himself by showing
the pictures of the people that were murdered by his own kinsman. What,
then, became of the great treasure?" he sadly asked. But no one seemed
able to answer his question; for the whole affair had now assumed a tone
of mystery such as it had never worn before.



Chapter XV.


"Why should they have given 'her' the name which was on the locket? and
who was the mysterious female that never had learned of the tragical
circumstance?" said Maud, with a puzzled face.

"I am unable to answer your question, Maud," Clifford replied; but there
was something in his manner that led the sharp-eyed couple before him to
suspect he had detected some clue which had eluded them in their
investigations of the mystery.

"Cliff, what the deuce was that old skull doing in the cask?" said Rob,
innocently; but, seeing the look of amusement on his brother's face, he
added: "Or I mean to ask, how came it there?"

"To answer your first question I shall have to remind you that a dead
man's skull has a very limited field of action, confined principally to
the pastime of rolling over and rattling its teeth when touched; but how
or why it was there, seems only known to the ill-natured ophidian which
kept it such close company," Clifford replied, with his usual strain of
jocular sarcasm.

"Oh dear!" said Maud, drearily, while drumming on the misty window-pane.
"It is very exasperating to be shut up in a house on such a day, where
every closet is full of skeletons, and not dare to peep into one of
them," she added.

"But Cliff has been peeping, and with wonderful luck, too," Rob
observed, dryly.

"Oh, I am not the first fortune hunter who has found a skull or serpent
where he had hoped to find gold!" Clifford replied, with perfect good
nature.

"Oh, Clifford, I shudder to think of the danger you passed through on
that terrible night--all alone in that dismal place, fighting that
venomous monster, with death in its fangs, while the gray-robed demon
hovered near with its fiery eyes and blood-chilling scream," said Maud,
tearfully, while winding her arm about her brother's neck.

"Now, dear, soft-hearted Maud, you must remember that the path of those
who strive for pelf is thickly beset by demons and serpents, although
they may wear the human guise and lurk in the shadow of friendship.
Many, many are the skeletons of dead hopes and buried dreams that start
up as the graves of the past are disturbed," Clifford replied.

"But you shall never spend another night alone up at that ill-omened
dwelling, Clifford; for Rob shall go with you hereafter," she said,
while drying her tears.

"Well, but suppose I might choose some fair lady to grace my
spectre-haunted home--that would answer as well?" he replied, gaily.

"Oh! that would be a capital plan indeed; but I shall insist on the
right to choose her," his sister cried, with returning animation.

"Oh! you are growing very liberal, to say the least, Miss Maud. I guess
you will have to be satisfied with second choice," said Cliff.

After talking awhile over the mystery which had woven such a tangled web
about their home in the last few days, Maud exclaimed:--

"Robbie, dear, won't you go and ask father what name was engraved on the
locket? Also learn all that is possible, for I am just dying of
anxiety;" but as he began to smile with derision, she added, coaxingly:
"Now do go, Rob, please; that's a man; father never refuses you
anything."

"Catch me at it!" cried Rob, with a shrug. "I don't hanker much after
the dry job of pumping the colonel," he added, winking at Clifford
significantly.

"No, no, Maud, that would never do. Let us await the confidence of our
parents, and try, in the meantime, to pick up what facts we can. Who
knows," he added, "but we may stumble on to some great discovery?"

Little, indeed, did he suspect the great revelations which the day held
in store for them, and that events were about to transpire which would
change the tenor of their whole lives.

At Mrs. Warlow's entrance the conversation took on a less sombre hue,
and when she told of the news confirming the great land-sale which was
soon to be held at the land office--a fact which she had learned from
the Estills--it was proposed to take a drive out over the country
north-east, and find a section for Maud and Rob, which the colonel would
buy for their benefit at the sale.

Accordingly, after dinner, as the weather had cleared, the Warlow family
drove out and viewed a well-watered, rolling tract, equal in extent to
the farms of the colonel and Clifford. After an hour spent thus, it was
thought advisable to drive on westward and examine a country which, in
their busy farm-life, had never been viewed, save at a distance.

On arriving at a point about three miles west of their home, they drove
down into a narrow valley or glen, clothed with tall blue-stem and rank
sunflowers, now beginning to unfold their golden blossoms. This jungle
of vegetation was woven together by the slender, leafless tendrils of
the love-vine, which threw a veil of coppery red over the brilliant
green of the other vegetation.

While driving slowly through this almost impervious mass of vegetation,
they discovered a winding but well-beaten trail or pathway, leading on
down the valley, and which, out of pure curiosity, they followed until
it disappeared in a thicket of plum-trees at the base of a low cliff of
magnesian limestone.

As they paused at the scrubby grove, wondering what could have made the
path, Clifford sprang out of the carriage, saying he would like to
investigate the matter, and disappeared among the trees. He was gone so
long that, after they had called him repeatedly, Rob was on the point of
starting in search, when Clifford reappeared. As he sprang into the
carriage their questioning was forestalled by his saying that the path
was possibly made by wolves, and that he had been examining the cliff,
but had not succeeded in finding their den.

He appeared so pale and agitated, however, that Maud regarded him
suspiciously; and when the horses flew up the glen along the winding
pathway and through tangled thickets of blue-stem and sunflowers, she
managed to ask in a whisper:--

"What have you discovered, Cliff?"

"A clue to the old mystery--but wait," he whispered in reply; and in
silence they drove rapidly back to the Warlow homestead.

As the boys were leading the horses into the barn, Maud called for them
to assist her in nailing up some of the lattice which the wind had
shaken down in her arbor; and when they joined her a few minutes later
in the vine-clad bower, she cried in a low, eager tone:--

"Clifford--Clifford! what did you see in that thicket?"

"Yes, out with it--quick!" said Rob; "for I know by your looks that you
saw something queer up there."

"The pathway," said Clifford, hurriedly, "plunged into the thicket of
plums; then, after winding about in a mazy labyrinth, it led up to the
base of a low cliff of limestone, and there ended so abruptly that I was
puzzled to know what to make of it, but noticing that the heavy festoon
of grapevines that hung down from the soil above, looked as if they had
been disturbed, I hastily drew them aside. Imagine my surprise when a
rough door was revealed, hung in the face of the cliff. Drawing it
open, there was disclosed a low cell or cavern, which had been partly
carved out of the soft magnesian limestone. Peering into the room, I
became satisfied that it was empty of human occupants.

"The room was not more than a dozen feet square, the little furniture
which it contained being dilapidated beyond description. As I stepped
into the room to examine things more closely, the fact became very plain
that some one had occupied it recently, for the mouldy couch still
showed the imprint of a human form.

"Some broken utensils stood about on the hearth, where a fire-place had
been hewn out of the soft rock. The ashes and charred wood, the bones of
fish and birds, scattered about on the floor, confirmed the fact that it
was used, in a desultory manner, as a habitation.

"I was turning to leave, thinking perhaps that I had invaded the private
dwelling of some squatter, when my attention was arrested by seeing a
vial half concealed in a cleft in the rocky wall. Inly wondering why any
one should wish to conceal such a trifle, I drew it forth, rubbing the
grime and dust from it as I did so.

"What was my surprise to see that there was a paper within. In eager
haste I uncorked the bottle and drew out this document," said he,
holding up with trembling hands a sheet that was discolored with age and
blotted with mildew, but covered closely with writing, still faintly
legible. "I had only time to glance at the startling title when I heard
your voices calling, so I closed the door, drew the vines carefully
over the entrance, and joined you, feeling like one in a dream.

"Now let's hasten," he said, "and read this document, which will, I
believe, unveil the mystery of Bruce and Ivarene." Then, unrolling the
time-worn paper again, with bated breath and loudly beating heart, he
read aloud as follows:--

     SEPTEMBER 14, 1849,

     "NEAR THE STONE CORRAL, ON THE SANTA FE TRAIL.

     "This is written by Ivarene Walraven, late of the City of Mexico,
     who offers prayers that it may fall into hands of kindness, who
     will convey to my kinsman, Herr Von Brunn, of Vera Cruz--to him
     this missive, full of grief and misfortune.

     "We were attacked by savages on the night of August 22d, our
     servants slain, our wealth all gone, and our kind and tender
     friend, Senor Warlow, murdered. Bruce, my noble husband, he did me
     wrap within the folds of a serape, and dashed away out on the dark
     prairie with me in his arms, far, far away from the noise of murder
     and savagery. He watched by my side in the tall grass all that day
     next come; for I was ill to death's gate.

     "Then, near eventide, there came to us a hunter strange, who said
     he slay the bison-flesh for trailers by, and beg we go to his
     hidden cell in a cliffy rock. His evil eyes I much mistrust; but he
     seem friendly be, and food prepare for us when there we go. On
     morning rise my babe is born--a daughter sweet--and darling Bruce
     he tenderly nurses me while the hunter watches near the trail for
     wagons go by; but day by day nothing sees he; then Bruce he say,
     'I shall go myself to-morrow day.' The hunter frown when this he
     say. That morning, as the hunter go, he say, with cunning smile: 'A
     flask of wine for senora and senor.' Then leaves he it and go away
     as at all time. When him had disappeared, I scent a strangeness in
     the flask, and Bruce poured out a larger part; then broke he the
     glassen flask upon the floor. When a cup he bring, and say: 'What
     is the scent of this wine he gave?' I perceive the deadly loco's
     odor there, and say it poison is; it drives them mad for evermore.
     Bruce he frown, and meat and drink prepare; and when the hunter he
     return he say: 'The flask is broken all! give us wine some more.'
     But the hunter rudely began the meat to eat, waiting not at all.
     After him did partake in his rude way of the food he threw his coat
     by; then sat he strangely still awhile. Sprang he at length to his
     feet with loud shriek and cry, then rushed away into the night.
     'Ah! the wine I put into his food is poison be,' Bruce he say while
     bar the door. In the hunter's coat we find a little book for
     writing some, and one leaf did have these letter writ:--

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'EAGLE BEAK,--Take all the braves to Pawnee Rock, and there I will
     go soon. Several jugs of wine are ready for you to take along; but
     do not let them taste until there; I have put deadly loco in the
     wine, which will kill them all, or drive them mad; so there will be
     the less to share the cask of gold--'

            *       *       *       *       *

     "Then it was left unfinished, and another leaf had been torn--some
     out.

            *       *       *       *       *

     "SEPTEMBER 15th.

     "I shall write it more for Bruce; he go to the trail to watch for
     travelers go. I am all by me, and my blue-eyed, dark-haired
     daughter here, with barred door I am much secured; but lonely so
     for darling Bruce.

     "I try so hard to plainly use this English tongue, but strange it
     seems. My baby dear I deck with my mother's locket, where is the
     picture of dear Bruce and me--my dear mother's name on it: Morelia.
     Oh, time is lonely now while Bruce away. I will lay this aside, its
     vial in, and will write it again after I unbar the door and watch
     for him."



Chapter XVI.


"Oh! they were murdered by the wild hunter,--and this is all that
remains to tell the fate of our father's friends," cried Maud,
tearfully. "But do you think, Clifford--" She paused a moment, leaving
her question unfinished; then, springing to her feet in wildest
excitement, she exclaimed:--

"We have been blind--blind! but it is all clear now!" and as Rob stood
by, dumb with astonishment, she said, in a hoarse whisper, while she
wrung her hands in the intensity of her great emotion: "Bruce's
daughter--Morelia--Mora!"

"Yes, yes! I have suspected it since the day father called her Ivarene.
I always felt, from the moment that we met, as though I had known her
all my life. There seemed to be a look of recognition beaming from the
eyes of Mora Estill that has haunted me for months. My God! is it
possible I have only known her three short weeks? it seems like an
eternity," said Clifford, in a musing tone, while Rob exclaimed,
hurriedly:--

"That mad hunter was Olin Estill; and it was he who must have stolen
Mora at the cavern from Ivarene, and left her at the Estill Ranch before
he met his tragic fate. His is the haunted, lonesome grave on the
hill-top, of which Mora spoke."

"But, oh, what a terrible retribution!--his limbs torn away by
wrangling wolves, and his grinning skull left bleaching on the wild
prairie," said Maud, tearfully. "Dear Bruce and Ivarene," she continued,
with a sob--"must their history end in silence and oblivion?"

"Do you think, Maud, that the hunter, with all the devilish cunning of
madness, could have crept back and poisoned them, and then stolen the
child?"

"Ah! it is too sad to contemplate," she replied. "Their fate would have
been worse than death; for I now remember having read how ill-starred
Carlotta, Maximilian's unhappy empress, was poisoned by some terrible
Mexican drug, and all the world knows of her hopeless madness, which
will last until death."

"I shudder to think who that gray-robed, ghastly creature, with its
tangled locks and glassy eyes, may be," said Clifford, hoarse with
emotion.

"Not Bruce! Oh no, no! it can not be! Oh God! what a fate!" cried Maud,
with another flood of tears, as she thought of the hideous contrast with
the smiling, handsome lover in the flower-entwined balcony of Monteluma.

"I will go and take a more extended search up at that cavern," said
Clifford. "It may be possible to make some more discoveries. But let us
keep this matter secret, and when our parents are willing to give us
their confidence, then we will divulge it, but not before," to which the
others agreed; and while Maud was still cautioning him to be very
careful of danger, our young hero rode up by his dwelling, then galloped
rapidly along the winding pathway to the cliff where the cavern was
concealed.

Alighting, and securing his horse to a low plum-tree in the thicket, he
went to the door of the cell, and, finding all as he had left it, began
searching the room critically.

He was reasoning in his mind the probabilities of finding the treasure,
which the letter of the hunter led him to suspect was hidden near; for
he had got a very clear glimpse of that villain's nature, when he read
the part that was crossed out after he had written: "The fewer to share,
the greater the gain."

Clifford felt certain that Olin Estill had remained with the treasure
after he had induced his confederate in crime, Eagle Beak (who was, no
doubt, an Indian chief), to decoy the Indians away to Pawnee Rock. The
wretch must have decided to poison Eagle Beak when he marked the letter
over, and no doubt he had suppressed the fact of the wine being drugged,
so that his confederate would also drink of the liquor.

"Eagle Beak must have been a white man, disguised as an Indian, or he
would never have been able to read," thought Clifford; but as he knew a
great many half-breeds had become prominent Indian chiefs, he reconciled
this fact with the position which that marauder held. Allowing such to
have been the case, young Warlow knew that he could have been no match
in cunning deviltry for the educated scoundrel, Estill; so he must
certainly have fallen into the diabolical trap which the latter villain
had laid for him, and, with all his Indians, he had drunk himself to
madness and death from the flasks and jugs of drugged and poisoned
liquor. They had all shared a common fate long before reaching that
towering and legendary land-mark of Pawnee Rock. All the actors in that
dire tragedy had met with such swift retribution that no one was left,
in a few days after the robbery, to care for the great treasure.

"Yes; the mighty fortune of Monteluma, its red gold and gleaming gems,
is hidden away near by, only waiting to be restored to their rightful
heir, Mora Estill," said Clifford aloud, as he clenched his hand, and
the blood surged to his face in a crimson glow.

The gold, he believed, had been hastily buried near the Stone Corral by
the leaders while the savages were stupefied with liquor; but the casket
of gems, our hero believed, was concealed in the cavern; so it was with
a wildly beating heart that our young friend began searching the mouldy
pallet of straw, but nothing rewarded his scrutiny.

He had provided himself with a large dirk-knife, which his father had
carried in the turbulent mining days, and with the heavy metal handle of
the weapon Clifford proceeded to sound the walls of the cavern; but no
hollow echo replied, to betray the cavity which he hoped to discover.
The fire-place, chimney, and the ceiling, also were subjected to the
same scrutiny, but with no better result. Then he began near the door,
and sounded the solid floor until he arrived at the old couch; but the
stone seemed to be a solid sheet of limestone, on which the hilt of the
weapon rang with a clear, metallic clang, resonant but disheartening.

Hastily removing the old mattress, young Warlow resumed his
explorations; and as he vainly searched the floor his heart sank like
lead, and he paused to wipe the cold sweat from his face before
finishing the last remaining spot in one corner. A feeling of dread and
apprehension overcame him, and he shrank from the ordeal. Hope deferred
began to dampen the enthusiasm of our young "Fortune Hunter," and he
could scarcely summon his courage to the final test of searching that
one remaining spot; but, drawing a long sigh, he resumed the operation,
and the very first blow caused his brain to reel and the blood to bound
madly in his veins; for the hollow sound which the blow elicited proved
that the hidden cavity was reached at last.

The bottom of the cavern was thickly incrusted with filth and damp earth
at that place; but he dug with frantic energy, and soon the dim outline
of a square flag-stone was visible. Breathless and panting, young Warlow
pried at the stone, and as it slowly arose he closed his eyes, as if
fearing to glance down into the cavity below.

"Ah, if this is the casket of gems, Mora will be the greatest heiress in
all the land, and the gulf which the riches of the cattle-king made
between myself and her will only be widened by this great wealth,"
Clifford thought; and he now, for the first time, regretted having come
out on a search which might lead to his life-long misery.

For one moment the tempter whispered in his ear; but quickly the Warlow
honor triumphed, and he looked down resolutely into the cavity.

Yes! there was the casket, and beside it a roll of papers.

Fate had been fickle and cold so long; but now, when her smile was worse
than a frown, she could easily relent.

Catching up the papers and casket, he sprang across the room to the door
with a hoarse cry of delight. Upon the decayed old parchment he could
only discern one faint word, Monteluma; then the casket dropped from his
nerveless grasp and fell to the stone floor with a crash.

An exclamation of delight escaped him as the gems which had fallen upon
the floor, flashed back the sun-rays in scintillating splendor, and the
low, dull room was lit by a glare like the lightning-riven storm-cloud.

It was a scene of bewildering beauty--of fascinating splendor--that met
his gaze:--great diamonds, that shot broad flashes of rainbow light;
strands of pale pearls, glinting in fitful splendor; burning rubies,
that poured forth flames of crimson, which mingled with the rays shed by
the amethysts of rose, purple, and lilac; while the lurid, baleful fire
of opals and emeralds flickered and glimmered in the sunlight.

Stooping down, young Warlow gathered up the priceless gems, trembling
meanwhile at the strange, unreal event, and after securely placing them
again within the casket, and rearranging the room, he mounted his horse
and galloped back over the swelling hills.

As the hoofs of his gray Norman tore through the thickets of rank grass,
tangled and woven in a maze of golden, leafless tendrils by the slender
love-vine, or bruised the mignonette until all the moist, sultry air was
rich with its pungent fragrance, Clifford was revolving in his mind
several plans for concealing the mighty treasure of which he had just
become the guardian. He concluded that he must find a secure
hiding-place at his dwelling, where the casket might remain until the
proper moment should arrive when he could reveal the discovery, and
restore the property to its rightful owner.

On arriving at his dwelling, Clifford tied his horse in the stable, then
entered the house, locking the door and drawing the blinds, so as to be
safe from intrusion while he pondered over the situation.

The room was a tastefully-furnished apartment, carpeted with a rich,
dark carpet, a remnant of luxury that had once adorned the old
plantation home, and supplied with easy chairs, a book-case, well
filled, and some good paintings, which were gifts from his early
friends.

This room was the gathering-place for the men and boys of Clifford's
neighborhood on rainy days and lonesome Sundays, and here it was that he
spent most of his leisure time in reading or study.

At length he arose and went to the attic, from which place he soon
returned with a case of tools. Then, taking up the carpet in the corner
of the room, he sawed out a place in the floor large enough to admit the
strong, iron-bound chest, which he had dragged out from the adjoining
room.

After hastily tacking some cleats on the boards, which he had sawed out
of the floor, thus providing a lid for the cavity, he placed the chest
within the aperture. The bottom of the strong box rested on the earth
below, and its top came nearly even with the floor. In a small
compartment of this chest young Warlow placed the jewels; then he paused
awhile to look at the roll of parchments.

These documents proved to be the patents to the estate of Monteluma, and
Clifford could dimly see the signatures of Charles V and Philip II, with
the broad seal of the Spanish crown on the mildewed, discolored, yet
precious parchments.

There was, in addition, a large envelope, heavily sealed, on which the
superscription was quite dim. In the waning light young Warlow failed to
decipher it; but promising himself that he would soon examine this
mystery-hinting missive at greater leisure, he placed all the papers in
the chest, which he securely locked, closed the trap-door, and tacked
down the carpet; then, fastening up the house with great care, he
hurried down to his father's dwelling.



Chapter XVII.


Maud and Rob met Clifford at the gate, and as he passed under the
latticed arch where the trumpet-vine clambered with succulent ambition,
its sprays of flame-red bugles mottled with spots of velvety black, Maud
said eagerly:--

"I was growing uneasy about you, Cliff. Did you see nothing of that
strange, gray-robed creature up at the cell?"

"Nothing whatever; but I am led to believe that mysterious being often
stays there. We must keep a sharp watch on the place hereafter, and
perhaps we may unravel the mystery," he replied, anxious to lead the
subject away from his recent search.

As he stood, dreading further questioning, the supper-bell sounded, and
he quickly moved on into the house, determined that he would conceal his
discovery until he had made a search for the gold also.

The Warlow family retired early that night; but as the clock struck two
Clifford arose, and listening to be certain that Rob was safe in the
arms of Morpheus, he then stepped lightly out on to the veranda, and,
after pausing a moment at the foot of the steps to draw on his boots,
hurried down to the barn.

After saddling one of his Norman horses, he rode up to his dwelling,
where he secured the iron rod and spade with which he had prosecuted
his former search, and then galloped on down to the old cottonwood-tree.

Tying his horse to an ash-tree on the river bank, he began digging on
the very spot where he had unearthed the cask with all its attending
horrors. While throwing the soil out of the pit, he soon forgot the
dangers and disappointment which had attended that adventure, and in his
eagerness to reach the shattered cask, still remaining below him, he
labored with such energy that he soon reached the object of his search.

As he began to clear the dirt from the shattered cask, he often listened
to hear the warning rattle that would announce the presence of the mate
to that venomous reptile which he had slain here a few weeks previous;
but no trace of the serpent was found. While removing the last spadeful
of earth, the thought came to him like a flash of sunlight that the
snake had been placed within the cask for the very purpose of terrifying
and discouraging any one from searching deeper after he had unearthed
it.

He remembered having read of circumstances where reptiles had been found
imprisoned in rock, where they had survived the confinement of an era of
time to which twenty-seven years was a short period in comparison; so it
appeared that the snake might have been placed there when the cask was
buried, and had lived and developed into the enormous reptile which had
served to unnerve him and arrest his search on the first occasion.

It had occurred to him, before digging, that the cask had been buried
by the wretches who were engaged in the massacre at the corral, and that
the treasure was secreted just below the cask. This belief had resulted
from his successful search at the cavern, and had ripened now into
almost conviction; so he had resolved to search deeper on the same spot
where he had met with his first signal failure.

"How true it is that we should always look below the surface of
treachery, enmity, and failure for the true gold of success!" said young
Warlow, meanwhile removing the last stave of the old cask, and boring
down with the iron rod into the bottom of the pit.

As the instrument struck hard against some resisting object, but two
feet below, he felt the shock of a hot thrill of excitement; then
grasping his spade with trembling hands, he soon reached the goal of his
labors.

Another cask was revealed!

Yes; there was the treasure, he felt with all the conviction of
certainty, that he had so long vainly hoped to recover. He struck the
head of the cask several blows with his spade, and as the wood crushed
in, he paused with the same old feeling of vacillation and dread that
had seized him when the precious casket lay unopened before him at the
secret cavern,--the irresolute, wavering sensation, the fear of
disappointment, which so often assails us when fortune's phantom stands
dimly near, and we hesitate to grasp her beckoning hand, fearing vaguely
that a buffet may await us. It was in such a mood young Warlow stood,
while the hopes and fears coursed dreamily through his soul. The
sweat-drops rained from his brow, and fell trickling down through the
pale moonlight. At last, with shaking hand, he lit his lantern and
peered down into the cask below; and as he slowly cleared out the
fragments of the shattered head, he saw that there was a mass of fleecy
wool filling the cask completely. Tearing this aside with nerveless
fingers and panting haste, there was revealed row after row of deer-skin
bags, with the words,

    "George Warlow, 1849."

plainly lettered upon their sides. With his knife he quickly severed the
thong that bound one of them, and the dull, red gold gleamed back in the
flickering light!

"Oh God! at last--at last!" cried our hero (who certainly has earned his
title), as broken sobs shook his frame, and he leaned faint and dizzy
against the side of the pit. But while he stood, weak and panting, a
wild, frightened snort from his horse caused him to bound out of the
pit, and hurry forward to where he had fastened the animal. When he
reached the tree the usually quiet creature was found to be trembling
with fear or excitement. After caressing the sleek Norman for a moment,
and speaking in a soothing tone to quiet the creature, Clifford walked
back toward the pit; but as he came into the moonlight, he paused a
moment to take a full breath of the light breeze, which was rippling the
water and whispering among the trees.

Far down the valley he could trace the silvery veil of vapor, revealing
the course of the narrow stream, and among the dense shadows of willow
and vines the fire-flies wove their webs of glimmering light. The
midsummer night was still and tranquil, the silence only broken by the
moan of the brook and the chirp of insects; the heavy dew-drops on tree
and shrub glinted and flashed in the moonbeams that sifted through the
willows in a sheen of wavering silver.

The quavering scream of a wolf on some dismal hill-top--a sound heard
nightly all over the Western prairies, but one that never fails to send
a cold thrill of horror through the lone traveler--startled Clifford
from the momentary reverie into which he had fallen, and brought back
vividly the remembrance of that night of terror and danger, which now
seemed so long ago; and, as if the very thought had conjured up the
spirits of the past, that well-remembered spectre, gray-robed, with
snaky locks and glaring eyes, darted from among the shadows and with its
bony, talon-like fingers clutched at young Warlow's throat.

Not a sound came from the lips that were drawn back from its snaggled
fangs, but with its loathsome, grave-like breath full on his cheek, it
closed in a death grapple with the startled and horrified youth. A wild
struggle ensued; the rank vines and slender willows were trampled to the
earth; and soon the combatants stood on the banks of the stream, by a
deep, dark pool, and the fierce, unearthly creature, tried to force
Clifford's head beneath the water.

As the fiendish, murderous intention of his assailant became apparent,
young Warlow sprang back from the danger that yawned before him, and
tore loose from the fury-blinded wretch, which again darted at Clifford,
grappling with him in all the frenzy and desperation of a maniac.

The failing strength of the strange creature became more apparent every
moment; so Clifford determined to first exhaust it by a violent
struggle, then bind it with the lariat which hung at his saddle; and
soon it was an easy matter for our athletic and vigorous young hero to
drag the panting wretch to where his horse stood trembling with terror
and wild with fright. Clifford spoke in a soothing tone, and when the
horse became once more quiet, he reached for the lariat, while holding
the maniac with one hand; but with a desperate wrench the spectral being
tore loose from his grasp, and bounded away with a loud yell. Then, as
it fled swiftly away over the prairie, at every step it would shriek
like a mangled hound--the sound growing fainter, until at length it died
out in silence on the grassy hills.

With a prolonged shiver, Clifford started like one awakened from a
terrible night-mare; then remembering the new-found treasure, he hurried
back to the pit, and peered down--as though fearful that he should find
it all a dream.

But no--there was the red gold, resting where it had lain so long.

Clifford paused a moment, irresolute and uncertain what course to
pursue. How should he remove this vast treasure to a place of security?
he was asking himself, when there recurred to his mind the fact that
there was harness in his stable, and an old, stout sled there also. The
latter had been used in transporting stone from the old wall to build
his dwelling, and was admirably adapted to just such a purpose as
bearing up the heavy sacks of coin. So young Warlow lost no time in
hurrying down to the stable.

As he nervously harnessed the horse by the dim light of the lantern, he
was devoured with anxiety, lest something should occur that would yet
rob him of the fruits of his great discovery. "What if that uncanny
demon should return, and undo all his labor by some diabolical plan or
act?" he found himself saying in a half-audible tone, as with trembling
haste he hurried back to the treasure--and found all his fears were
groundless, for every thing remained as he had left it.

When he attempted to lift the sacks of coin he found that it was no
light task, for each one of the stout bags weighed fully forty pounds;
but with great difficulty he loaded ten of them on to the low vehicle,
then led the horse up to the dwelling, close to the door, where,
unhitching the animal and securing him to the stone post near by, he
proceeded to carry the sacks into the dwelling.

Five of the first were lettered with the name of his father. These he
placed by themselves. Then, taking up the carpet and the floor where he
had concealed the chest, he untied the remaining five sacks, and emptied
their glittering contents into the iron-bound box. When all this was
completed, he returned for another load, but not without again
entertaining grave fears for the safety of the precious cask, which he
found still undisturbed.

Four more loads of the coin emptied the cask. Then came the work of
refilling the pit, and obliterating all trace of the search. Then, after
returning the sled and harness to their accustomed places, Clifford sat
down, faint and weary, to feast his eyes on the grand sight, the
enormous wealth that was displayed by the lamp-light.

More than four hundred thousand dollars in gold lay in a glittering, red
mass before him! The coin almost filled the chest, while in the shallow
compartment were the gems, which he had taken from their casket, that he
might once more admire them and feast his eyes on their splendor.

The gems--he remembered having heard his father say--represented more
than half a million dollars; and he tried to realize what this vast
aggregation of wealth meant--this million of treasure that he had
restored to the light since the last sunrise; but only faintly could the
young "Fortune Hunter" comprehend the power and grandeur of the treasure
before him.

Out among the mass of red and yellow gold trailed a strand of frosty,
glimmering pearls. The great diamonds, that flashed their rivers of
light; and rubies, that mingled their rays of rose and crimson with the
green glint of emeralds; lurid opals, sapphires of sparkling blue or
violet red; amethysts of pink, purple, and lilac,--all spoke in proudest
tones of the wealth of Monteluma; and, with a weary sigh, Clifford
thought of the wide social gulf which now yawned between himself and the
heiress of all this splendor.

After securing all the treasure in the chest, and locking the door
securely behind, young Warlow rode stealthily homeward as the first
blush of crimson was mantling the eastern sky, and the great planets
were growing pale.



Chapter XVIII.


In the cool of the following evening we find Clifford swinging dreamily
in a hammock on the porch, while near by is ever-busy Maud, preparing a
basket of martynias for the pickle-jar. As she deftly snipped off the
curling ends of the green pods, locally known as "Devil Claws"--a very
appropriate name indeed, when applied to the mature fruit--she cast a
glance of suspicion toward her brother, and said:--

"I never like to see you so quiet, Clifford. I have always noticed that
silent people need watching. Now, here is Rob, for instance:--Just so
long as we can hear him whistling or singing, we rest contentedly; but
the very moment he becomes quiet--ah! look out! There is mischief on
hand every time; and we are likely to miss pie from the pantry soon, or
find that the rogue has filched a bowl of cream down cellar. No, sir;
you have been so suspiciously reticent to-day that I am led to think you
have learned something since we had our talk yesterday."

"I always endeavor to store up some treasure of wisdom daily, my
sister," Clifford replied, with lazy evasion, as he swung a polished
boot to and fro over the hammock's side, and turned a feverish face
toward Maud. Then, while a look of sarcasm gleamed in his half-closed
eyes, he added, as she continued to glance askance: "Who was the
philosopher, sage, or poet that said--or should have said, at
least--something about the moral obloquy of groping through life with a
cross eye?"

"Whoever that fellow was who strangled on such a proverb, I'll bet my
boots he never clanked round of nights, like a loose horse, all the
while fancying himself sly," said Rob, with a knowing chuckle, as he
cocked his head on one side to view the horse-hair bridle-rein which he
was braiding while seated on the edge of the porch.

A loud-mouthed clamor from the dogs precluded an answer to this thrust,
and as the group on the porch looked toward the gate, Grace, Ralph, and
Scott Moreland came into the yard, and they were all soon eagerly
discussing the plan of holding a picnic in the Warlow pasture, on the
opposite side of the river from the colonel's dwelling.

Before their neighbors left it was decided that the event should take
place the last of the following week; but in the excitement of agreeing
on a programme, and the wordy debate as to the propriety of including
dancing in the list of amusements, all the leisure time of the next two
days was consumed; so nothing more was said regarding the great
discoveries which the week had revealed.

Verbal and written invitations were sown broadcast throughout the
colony, bidding their friends to the picnic; and not many days had
elapsed before Clifford had ridden down to the Estill Ranch to deliver
the compliment in person to the members of that aristocratic household.

At the door he met Hugh, who was as cordial and genial as ever, and
entered into the scheme of the picnic with his customary zest of
pleasure, sharpened now, no doubt, with the desire to meet the
fascinating Grace once again.

The call lengthened out astonishingly, as Clifford strolled back and
forth on the star-lit terrace with the vivacious heiress of Monteluma
and Estill Ranch, who promised to come up with Hugh the next day, to
practice, with a dozen others, who were to meet at Moreland's, and agree
on the music for the entertainment.

"What a delightful evening this has been!" said Clifford at a very late
hour, as they walked down to the steps, at the base of which his horse
was tied.

"Oh, charming indeed! I And don't you think that we are progressing well
with our "practicing," for here we have had all the elements of a
flirtation without the aid of either a moon or a gate," she said gaily,
as he unfastened the chain at the steps, which served to bar the way at
the top of the stairs, which led down from the terrace.

A cool "Good evening, Miss Estill," was all the answer this sally
elicited from young Warlow, as he rode away, thinking gloomily that the
proud heiress meant to show him, under the cover of her levity, that she
was only amusing herself or "practicing" the arts of "flirtation" at his
expense; and he determined that when they met again he would show her
that he understood the hint, and would give her no further opportunity
to repulse his advances.

So, accordingly, it was with a great deal of hauteur he met Miss Estill
the following afternoon at Morelands'; but either that young lady was
too indifferent to notice his behavior or had been gratified at the
result of her light remark, for she was as gay and unchanged as ever.

All of our hero's stern resolves dissolved into smiles and admiration
while he stood talking with the charming young lady; but when the
wealthy, dissolute aristocrat, Major Stork, of Devondale, came up, and
proceeded to monopolize Miss Estill, Clifford froze up completely, and
became so polite and attentive to Grace that she at length declared she
would box his ears if he did not quit persecuting her so; which
persecutions consisted merely in keeping Hugh Estill away from her
side--a crime which Clifford told her, hotly, was worse than murder in
her eyes.

"Cliff Warlow, you are a booby!" said Miss Grace, with astonishing
candor; "and you needn't come round me with any of your second-hand
attentions; for I've got a pair of eyes in my head, and know how to use
them too. The idea of your being jealous of that hawk-billed old
reprobate. Why, it's perfectly absurd," she continued, casting a glance
of scorn toward the spot where the stately major and Miss Estill were
talking. "Oh, you should remember, Cliff, that a girl who is worth
having is not going to fall into a fellow's mouth like a ripe persimmon
whenever he shakes the tree."

Then in a tone of confidence she continued, with a look of wisdom, which
Clifford thought, with an ill-concealed smile, resembled that of a
prairie-owl: "Girls are very apt to pretend a great coldness toward a
fellow that they want to catch; that is, after they see they have made a
safe impression on him; and to see such a girl begin manoeuvring
around another fellow, one too that you know she can't care a straw for,
why, it always shows plain enough that it is only to decoy fellow number
one."

"There you are now far beyond my comprehension," Clifford interrupted,
with returning good humor; and as Hugh Estill joined them he added: "I
will now retire in favor of number one."

Emboldened by Grace's homily, young Warlow sought Miss Estill's side,
and in her vivacious friendliness he soon found the happiness that had
taken flight on the appearance of the major; but the returning bud of
confidence, which her smiles had called forth, was nipped by a most
untimely frost in the appearance of a new rival--John Downels, of
Diamond Springs.

Mr. Downels was a _debonair_, graceful specimen of the gilded youth of
New York, from whose make-up the last remaining trace of effeminacy had
been eliminated by a stern course of ranch-life in the West. He appeared
to be an old friend of Miss Estill, who presented him to Clifford; but
after a moment's civility, young Warlow took his leave and retired,
while the late comer devoted himself to the heiress.

While pretending to discuss music with Mrs. Warfield, Clifford watched
the pair furtively. He began to realize that now he had just cause for
uneasiness; for there was an air of culture and polished ease about the
blonde-haired young ranchman which made him very attractive, and young
Warlow became so absorbed and miserable that he only half realized what
he was saying.

"Do you think we shall have time at the picnic to sing all the songs on
the programme before dinner?" Mrs. Warfield inquired.

"Why, no; I believe it would be a better plan to dish it out by the
quart to the individual tables," he replied, absently; then seeing a
puzzled look sweep over her face, he hastened to add: "You know it would
be more liable to melt if it was in such small quantities."

The situation flashed at once upon the keen-eyed lady, and although
flirtation, jealousy, music, and ice-cream was a combination sufficient
to upset the gravity of a sexton, yet she replied in a tone of perfect
suavity while toying with her bracelet of jet and gold:

"A very good plan indeed, Mr. Warlow."

When evening came, and with its brooding shadows the company dispersed,
our hero returned home with a heavy heart. As he pondered over each word
and action of Miss Estill, he had to confess that there was nothing in
her demeanor towards him but friendly courtesy at all times. The only
way that he could interpret her remark on the terrace, regarding their
"flirtation" and "practicing," was that she had seen his growing
attachment for herself, and she had in that way shown him that it was
only a flirtation, and that his case was hopeless. "Yes; she was too
genuinely a lady to encourage his suit, then discard him at the last
moment," he concluded, despondently.

A miserable day followed a sleepless night, and Clifford busied himself
with the farm duties, trying vainly to forget the bewitching voice that
was ever haunting him, and which, as he drove the reaper over the wild
meadow, seemed to be singing above the clang and ring of the sickle the
sweet refrain,--

    "There blooms no rose upon the plain
    But costs the night a thousand tears,"--

in the tones of luscious melody that he never--no, never--could forget.

As he swung in the hammock again that evening, while Maud's guitar and
the sweet strains of "Silver Threads" lulled him into a drowsy reverie,
he remembered suddenly the incident of the "Moated Grange" which, Mora
laughingly said, had secured her such "a round scolding" because she had
neglected her household duties through too much reading of that
affecting poem. Why should she have felt such sympathy for the forlorn
Mariana, unless the pathetic cry,

    "'He cometh not--he cometh not,' she said,"

had found an echo in her heart also?

"Yes; she was heart-free, and waiting for some one to come and fill its
empty chambers with the treasures of his love," mentally concluded our
hero in a flash of joyful conviction. But again the doubt and
despondency prevailed; and in no very enviable mood he rode down to
Estill's ranch alone the next day, to join the company that were to
meet and practice for the coming musical festival, which now was the
all-absorbing theme of the colony.

As he rode slowly along, Maud and Ralph passed him in a gallop, flinging
back some gay badinage--something about "a laggard in love"--which he
affected not to understand; then, as he saw Hugh and Grace cantering up
the road behind, he put spurs to his horse, and arrived at the imposing
mansion just in time to see young Downels and the military Stork alight
from the latter's carriage, and, in the most amicable manner imaginable,
both seek the young hostess and rain a shower of compliments upon her
gracious head.

While these two devoted cavaliers, or rather charioteers--for they had
ridden over in the barouche of Devondale, a vehicle sumptuous and
costly--were engaged in a graceful skirmish of wit and verbiage with
Miss Estill, our hero, after bowing coldly, passed on to the piano,
where Mrs. Estill was chatting in a good-natured strain with a group of
friends.

"You are late, Mr. Warlow, and we have been waiting for some one to
'break the ice' at the piano," she said, with her pleasing smile, as she
shook hands with Clifford. "Let's see," she continued, "the quartette,
'My Native Hills,' is the first on the programme, I am very eager to
hear your tenor since Mrs. Warfield said you made her home-sick when you
sang it at the Moreland rehearsal," concluded the hostess, innocently.

"It would require a large bump of self-esteem to construe that into a
compliment," thought Clifford; but meeting Mrs. Warfield's amused look,
he said, with a smile:--

"I hope her longing for home was not of the same nature as that which a
hand-organ inspires, Mrs. Estill."

"No, indeed, Mr. Warlow; but you will excuse my faulty compliment, and
only remember that I've been totally isolated from society for a quarter
of a century, and am apt to say the wrong thing in the right place."

"There she goes again!" the face of Mrs. Warfield seemed to say; but
Clifford only answered with polite gravity:--

"Thank you, Mrs. Estill. I shall never forget that you are very kind;
and if Mrs. Warfield will promise not to leave at once we will proceed
with the singing," he added, with a twinkle of humor in his blue eyes.

"I will promise to stay as long as you are singing a tenor like an
alpine horn," replied Mrs. Warfield, graciously.

"Well! good-bye, then?" said Clifford, as he joined the singers; and
soon his voice was heard, clear and ringing, like the soft tones of a
church-bell in some quiet mountain valley--pealing out with soaring,
crystal notes, or floating down the wind with a vibrant, thrilling
sweetness, that caused even the garrulous major to pause and say at the
end:--

"Why, pon honah, Miss Estill, this young Warlow is a wonderful singah;
indeed he quite reminds me of Mario, the enchanting, velvet-toned
tennah, you know, whom I often have heard at the grand opera--aw--in
delightful Paree. What a pity that he is--aw--only a pooah homesteadah,
or was until of late, I heah."

"I am certain he is an earnest, industrious gentleman at all times,
Major," said Miss Estill, with just enough reproof in her tone to cause
the dissolute aristocrat to wince; then, pausing, only to see that her
arrow had hit the mark, she continued:--

"His father was a wealthy planter who was ruined financially by the war;
but we certainly respect the energy that has enabled him to repair his
fortunes and found such a delightful home, as you will find the Warlow
homestead to be. His example should encourage others to a similar
course, instead of remaining in the overcrowded East or South to
struggle along, hopelessly, amid the scenes of their misfortune."

"Ah! indeed--a plantah before the wah? Why, really, that is another
mattah, Miss Estill. My fathah was also a plantah; but when the wah
began he sold his niggahs and left Kentuckah, but finally returned and
located thah again."

"You appear so sad, Mr. Downels, that I fear you are not enjoying our
rehearsal," said Mora, ignoring the transaction in "niggahs," and
turning with a questioning look to young Downels, who stood by her side
yet, but seemingly lost in reverie since the music had ceased.

"Pardon the ungallantry, Miss Estill; but that song carried me back to
the Hudson, and I almost fancied myself rambling over the hills and
dales of my boyhood's home once again." But his sadness was seen to melt
into an amused smile as Grace sang in a rich brogue:--

    "Ould bachelor's hall--what a quare luking place it is!
      Kape me from sich all the days of me loife;
    Och! sure an' methinks what a burnin' disgrace it is,
      Niver at all to be takin a woife.

    Pots, dishes, and pans, and sich greasy commodities--
      Ashes and tater-skins kiver the floor;
    His cupboard's a store-house of comical oddities--
      Things that were niver heard tell of before!"

Several glees followed; then Miss Estill took her place at the
rich-toned piano, which was banked in a bed of wild-flowers, where the
flame-colored blossoms of the desert-sage and the golden sunflowers were
relieved by sprays of snow-powdered lace-plant and rose-colored
convolvuli, mingled with tufts of white and purple mignonette, which
grew in fragrant profusion over all the surrounding hills. As the grand
strains of Schubert's "Serenade" floated out through the open windows,
or reverberated along the arched and frescoed ceiling of the elegant
apartment, the listeners preserved an appreciative silence,--all the
more flattering when we remember that not a baker's dozen of the
audience understood a word of German.

"It was all very fine and grand, no doubt, but still perfect Greek, or
Dutch--which is about the same--to my poor, untutored ears," said Grace
at the close of the celebrated song, as she turned to Rob and spoke in
an undertone.

"Well, it was not all quite plain," returned that youth, with a droll
grimace; "but it was certainly p-r-r-r-r-rrretty." Then, as Grace
strangled and recovered from an effort at swallowing her own chin, he
added facetiously: "Didn't you recognize the place where the old fellow
shuffled out in his wooden shoes, and, after threatening the serenader
with 'a schlock on the coop,' finally turned the bull-dog loose?"

"No, I just did nothing of the kind; and I don't believe you understood
one word of that heathen gibberish either," said Grace, with a sniff of
suspicion.

"Oh, that only shows you can't interpret operatic music," Rob replied,
with a derisive grin.

"Rob Warlow, you horrible creature! I never know when you are in
earnest," she retorted, with a puzzled look, as she smoothed down the
fluffy ruffles of her white muslin gown.

"Why, no--honest injun!--any one can learn to understand this classic
music. It only requires a sufficient stretch of imagination, and then
all is clear as--mud. Now, when Maud is playing Mendelssohn's 'Wedding
March,' I can hear the cat squall like a panther when the baby pulls its
tail; and she--that is Mrs. 'Sohn--takes an awful tantrum when 'Sohn
wants her to get up of a cold morning and make a fire; and the way they
shout and gabble--all in Dutch--would scare a krout-barrel," said Rob,
with perfect gravity.

"Oh, humbug!" she replied with a shrug, as she flounced away to where
Maud stood examining a book of engravings.

"Cliff and Mora are acting like a couple of idiots, Maud," whispered
Grace, as she surveyed the elegant and finished picture, "The Carnival
in Venice," with a critical glance that reminded one of a wren; but as
Maud failed to reply to this personal comment, she continued in an
undaunted undertone:--

"I don't pretend to understand flirtations, but if I did, I'd say that
Mora Estill was a pronounced coquette. She bears all the ear-marks of a
born flirt, and the way she throws herself at the head of young
Downels--the sophisticated creature!--is just shameful. But still my
fingers itch none the less to pull Cliff's ears; for there he goes, with
his lip hanging so low you could step on it--and all on her account,
too."

"Well, Grace, let's reserve our sympathy and censure for the future,"
said Maud, in a tone meant to discourage any further discussion of the
subject; and as the supper-bell announced the unfashionable hour of six,
and the guests were preparing to follow Mrs. Estill and Major Stork into
the long, fresco-paneled dining-room, Grace ceased her comments, and
soon forgot all about her friends while leaning on the arm of Hugh
Estill and hurrying into the damask-draped and luxury-laden table.

However, she noticed that Clifford and Mrs. Warfield sat next to Mora
and young Downels when they were, at length, all seated, and that while
the latter couple were silent, the former kept up a semi-animated,
constrained run of small talk during the meal; but she soon became so
engrossed while listening to Hugh's not over-brilliant wit that all
else was devoid of interest.

When the many luxuries had been discussed, and the guests were loitering
in the parlor or sauntering out upon the terrace in groups of twos
and--well, twos also, I believe--Clifford walked out alone to the
fountain, and sat down on a stone seat near the basin, which was
brimming with water. Here the broad-leaved lilies floated, with their
blossoms of pale rose and cream, distilling an odor of entrancing
sweetness for yards around the cool, moss-set brim. As he sat lost in
bitter meditations, the twilight began to deepen, the cicadas tuned
their shrill pipes, and Venus shone out with unclouded splendor over the
tree-tops of the valley below, followed, as she has ever been, by an
ardent host of glittering stars and planets. That great midsummer
constellation, the Scorpion, seemed stinging the "milky way" with its
venomous tail, while the jeweled Sickle sank in the west--an omen that
the harvest-days were nearly ended. A shrill katydid, overhead in the
branches, heralded the coming frost, while a low ripple of voices
mingled with the faint notes of the piano and snatches of song from
within the house.

As Clifford sat, trailing a lily through the water, thinking, alas! of
the time when he had strolled here with Mora, only two short weeks
before, and how trustfully she had told him of "the mystery that seemed
haunting the very air of late," he found it hard to realize that another
had supplanted him, and that henceforth they were to be as strangers.
But slowly it began to dawn upon him that their paths had diverged
since that fatal night upon the star-lit terrace, when she so lightly
remarked upon their "practicing" and "flirtation," until now he felt
they were rapidly and surely becoming totally estranged.

"It is better that I should never, never look upon her fair, proud face
again; for when I meet her eyes--ah! what can it mean?--there seems such
a look of pleading, mingled with pride and--something that I can never
understand--that it totally unmans me, and I can not trust my lips to
speak a word for fear of betraying the secret of my love. No; she will
find that the Warlow pride will be a match for her own; for I would
rather tear my heart out and fling it at her feet, than have her spurn
my love, as only a proud creature like her can.

"To know that she looks upon me as a fortune hunter, and scans me with
those haughty--oh, lovely--violet eyes, classing me as 'poor and proud,'
but far beneath her caste,--oh, Heaven! it is more than I can or will
bear!" mentally exclaimed fiery young Warlow with a flash of hot
wrath,--which is about the best remedy known for a sore heart, I really
believe.

"A fortune hunter? Well, can't a fellow who has yearned all his life to
meet a high-bred, dainty, and elegant woman, dare to love her when he
does meet such an ideal, for fear of being called by that contemptible
name?" continued our hero, impatiently plucking another water-lily, and
beginning to pace up and down the path in nervous haste, and resuming
his meditations, saying, half audibly:--

"If she had only waited a few more days I could have shown her that
Colonel Warlow's son was not the poor homesteader--that pariah of the
cattle-king--which she seems to consider me in her high pride. But no;
she must throw cold water on a poor devil before he has made too big a
fool of himself to offend her pride by a declaration of his folly.

"But she has all the refined instincts of her class at any rate, and can
send a disheartened, despairing wretch like me on a life-long journey of
dreary longing, with a sweet graciousness that I must admire, though I
curse it ever so bitterly!" Then, as there rose vividly to his mind a
picture of that proud but vivacious face, lit by eyes of violet-blue,
and framed by the mass of raven, wavy hair; the coral, tender lips and
creamy, dimpled cheeks so soft and tinted; the graceful form, in its
filmy, flower-wrought robe of white,--he leaned against the elm-tree,
and covered his face with his hands as though to shut the lovely vision
from his sight, and murmured in tones of deepest agony:--

"Oh, Mora, Mora, my lost love! how can I give you up? It seems as if I
have loved you from eternity; and to lose you now is like the pangs of
death!"

Rousing himself as the sound of retreating wheels was heard below the
terrace, Clifford walked back to the hall-way, where he met several
departing guests; and as he came into the hall, with a slow leaden
step, he saw, with a start, that Miss Estill was standing alone by the
stairs, where she had turned after bidding some of the guests
good-night! When she saw his face, with its look of white, tense misery,
she said quickly:--

"Oh, Mr. Warlow! I have missed you for an hour. You are ill, I fear."

"Yes, Miss Estill, I am--sick of the world; but it is a very slight
matter--only a broken heart," young Warlow replied, in a low, husky
tone, while his eyes flashed like purple amethysts.

She turned deadly white, and gave him a look wherein he read a proud
pity, that sent a flash of hot indignation to his face; then he bowed
and walked away without glancing back.

As he came into the glare of the lighted parlor, Maud met him, and,
after giving him a glance of deep sympathy, she said with her accustomed
tact:--

"Clifford, you are no better, I fear; so let's return home. Most of the
guests are starting already, although it is only nine; but we have, like
them, also a long drive before us to-night."

So, bidding their hostess good-night, the Warlow and Moreland party
started toward the hall; but at the door Miss Estill met them, looking
pale and _distrait_, though regretful at their early departure.

She tarried a moment at the door, talking to Maud and Grace regarding
the details of the picnic; and as she stood under the full light of a
large lamp, held by a marble statue of Mercury, the wonderful grace and
beauty of her creole face came into dazzling relief, and Clifford
paused with a look of hungry longing on his face, while the remainder of
the group hurried on to where the carriage waited, leaving him alone
with Mora.

"I will say farewell here, Miss Estill. We shall meet at the picnic,
Friday, but there will be little chance to bid you adieu there. I start
for South America the next morning to stay indefinitely; so
good-bye--forever!"

Even now in this trying moment, while his heart turned cold with an
agony that not even death could equal, Clifford was true to the
instincts of a gentleman, and waited immovably for her to offer her
hand; but she only stood and toyed with her dainty fan, saying with the
same cold, proud look that she had given him once before that evening:--

"This is very sudden. Indeed you can not be in earnest; so I shall
reserve my adieus until the very last. I will try at the picnic to
persuade you to abandon such an unkind course, and remain with us."

"Very well, Miss Estill, but I had forgotten to tell you that I have a
disclosure to make at the picnic--one of grave import to you--and beg
for an hour of your time while there. I would prefer the morning, if you
please."

"With pleasure, certainly," she replied; but their talk was interrupted
by some guests preparing to depart; so young Warlow hurriedly said
good-night, and joined Maud and the others in the carriage.

Soon they were rapidly whirling homeward up the level, winding road;
but as no one seemed to be in a talking mood, the journey was rather a
silent one, the monotony only relieved by a scurrying flock of
wild-grouse or the dim and retreating form of a startled jack-rabbit,
looming large and indistinct upon the level prairie. In places the tall
blue-stem moved in the wind with a rolling, wave-like motion; then again
giving place to vistas of open glades, carpeted by the buffalo-grass,
that the rains and sun had bleached almost white.

A forecast of autumn was felt in the rising gales, which moaned
through the tall cottonwoods along the stream; the water flashed cold
and bright under the starlight, and the buffalo-birds--our Western
whip-poor-will--swooped down with a bellowing roar close to the heads of
our friends as they drove by, indicating that a rain was near at hand.



Chapter XIX.

A STRANGE THEORY.

"_OUR BODIES MAY BE TENANTED BY SOULS THAT HAVE LIVED BEFORE._"


A pouring rain from a vapor-laden sky, dull and gray, saluted Clifford
the next morning with a chill welcome; but still the general gloom that
pervaded all nature was in such perfect harmony with his mood that he
felt a grim satisfaction, in a cold, lethargic way, at the sympathy of
the elements.

"I am growing tired of this monotonous life," he said at breakfast, "and
have decided to commute my homestead and knock around in the world
awhile; so if Mr. Moreland, Ralph, and you, father, are willing to go to
Abilene as my witnesses, we will start Saturday morning. I can take the
train from there, and save another trip;" then seeing Maud's and his
mother's look of distress, he added: "I may not be gone long, so I'll
leave every thing as it is untill my return."

"Why, Clifford, my boy, what has come over you? This is wholly unlike
your nature. I had always felt so glad that you were not of a roving
disposition, and now you fly off at a tangent, and when we were not
looking for any thing of the kind either. It is very strange, indeed!"

Clifford made no reply, but rose from the table, followed by Rob, whose
face was momentarily growing longer and more doleful in its expression,
while Maud shot a warning look at her parents, and as the boy's
retreating footsteps grew fainter, she answered their questioning looks
by saying:--

"Poor Clifford! he is passing through that course of true love which is
said to never run smooth, and it is best not to interfere; but I hope at
the picnic to see him on better terms with Mora, which may change his
plans at once."

"Only a lovers' quarrel?" said Mrs. Warlow, with a troubled smile.

"No; I fear it is not so tangible as that," Maud replied. "Clifford
seems to have caught the impression, some way, that Mora regards him as
a mere fortune hunter, or looks down on him for his poverty; you know
that she will be equal heir with Hugh in the immense Estill estate,
which is said to be worth half a million, she being their only other
child," she added, while narrowly watching her parents' faces; but to
her wonder, her father and mother betrayed no surprise at this last
remark, which caused a doubt to enter her mind that they were aware of
the great discovery that Mora was the daughter of Bruce and Ivarene,
which she had until this moment believed was a fact revealed to them
when the Estills made their visit, more than a week before.

"Can it be that they are still ignorant of that fact?" Maud mentally
asked herself; and then she began to wonder why the Estills had shown
the locket, with its pictures of Bruce and his wife, and withheld from
her parents the more important secret that Mora was also the daughter of
those ill-fated friends; but her reflections were cut short by her
father saying, with a weary sigh:--

"Ah! this is the sting of poverty indeed! Oh, why should I have been so
ill-fated as to lose two fortunes in succession?"

"George, do not grieve over the past; that's beyond recall," Mrs. Warlow
said gently; then she added: "It is better that my children should
confine themselves to their own sphere; for you can see that if Miss
Estill loved my boy, as well she might, for himself alone, she would
never think of the difference in their wealth. It may save them a
life-time of misery; for without mutual love, matrimony would be a state
of abject servitude."

"Well, if Clifford sees fit to take a change of scene, it will serve to
cure him of his--attachment; and if Mora, in the meantime, discovers her
mistake in undervaluing Clifford--a fellow that any girl under the sun
might be proud of--why, it may all come out right yet," said Maud as she
rose from the table and began to polish and clean the great silver
coffee-urn, another relic of old plantation glory, but which had never
been considered too good for every-day service.

All day Clifford worked with a fever of energy to prepare for his
journey, which he was compelled to do; for the picnic was set for the
coming day, Friday, and he had to see the Morelands to secure their
attendance with him at the land-office as witnesses to prove his actual
residence and cultivation upon his homestead, which he had concluded to
commute, or in other words, pay the sum of two hundred dollars to the
government in lieu of five years of residence and cultivation thereon.
Having secured their testimony, or their willing promise to accompany
him to Abilene and there testify to his good faith, etc., he made
everything ready for his departure the next morning after the picnic.

When Maud and his mother questioned him regarding the destination and
duration of his trip, he said he would go South awhile, but evaded
telling them that he had determined to go to Buenos Ayres and remain
until he had made a fortune that would cause Miss Estill to regard him
as an equal.

He noticed the sadness, however, of the family, and when he met Rob's
look of grief his fortitude was sorely tried, and he regretted having
formed such a hasty resolution. But it was too late now to retreat, he
foolishly concluded; so, choking down a lump in his throat, he walked
out to take a last view of his farm. As he sauntered along in a listless
way, looking at the fields, every furrow of which he had turned over in
the past with such a deep pride of ownership; at the trees and deep
pools, that greeted him with the air of old friendship, he began to
realize how dear the place had become, and he wondered, in a
self-pitying way, how he could bear the existence that awaited him out
on the sky-begirt level and lonely pampas of the Rio La Plata.

When he came to the gothic dwelling, the circle of roses and trellises
of luxuriant vines, the sloping orchard and vineyard, they all seemed
to be still imbued with the strange thought which had ever haunted him
while he was busied there. "Here for the first time since eternity
began, I found a true home. All this is mine, and on this spot I shall
pass my life. What events will transpire here in the unknown future! I
shall know joy and sorrow here, but who will share it all with me?" As
these visions recurred, he thought bitterly that he never had counted
upon an hour of trial like the present. Then, throwing himself down in
the shade of the old wall, he cried aloud in anguish, as he buried his
face in the soft, matted buffalo-grass: "Oh, it is hard to part from all
this--and only for a woman who cares nothing for me!" But at length he
became calmer, and as a feeling of resentment towards the proud heiress
began to possess him, he arose and went into the house: then, after
taking the usual precautions against surprise, he raised the trap-door
and unlocked the treasure-chest.

On glancing at the heap of red gold mingled with the dazzling gems, he
took from the compartment the paper which he had almost forgotten having
never read; then breaking the seal, he found that it was the wills of
both Bruce and his wife on separate sheets of vellum, executed at Santa
Fe, devising all their estate each to the other, in case of either dying
during the long journey on which they were about starting.

"I will bring her here to-morrow. She shall read the pathetic Journal of
Ivarene and this will. I shall tell her of the long search after the
treasure, and her right to all this wealth; then, after restoring both
her name and fortune, there will be little left for me to do but to
slink away, while some long-necked aristocrat will step to the
foreground and carry off the prize," soliloquized our hero with bitter
sarcasm, as he placed the papers in an inner pocket of his drab coat,
and closed the chest with a vicious snap.

The rain had ceased long since, and a band of crimson and rose on the
western horizon gave a promise of fair weather on the morrow; but
Clifford lingered about the beloved place, feeling that this was his
farewell to a spot that had grown dear as life to him in the last year.
He found it hard to tear himself away; so he seated himself upon a
travel-worn ridge in the old trail, worn years ago by the wheels of the
freight wagons, but now carpeted thickly with the buffalo-grass, which
seems to delight in hiding just such an unsightly, trampled place with
its pale-green tendrils. As the shadows darkened among the trees, and
the gloom of a starless, fog-ladened night settled down with a palpable
silence, young Warlow became lost in thought.

The scene which followed was always a mystery to him; for he never knew
whether he had witnessed a supernatural sight or not. He often tried to
persuade himself that he had lapsed into a fit of transient slumber, and
the whole spectacle was only a vivid dream.

The time passed by unheeded, and it was near the hour of ten when his
fit of abstraction was broken by seeing a group of fire-flies flashing
about in an unnatural manner. He remembered, dimly, seeing great numbers
of these luminous insects congregating around the long grave, not fifty
paces away; and his blood grew cold as he saw, with a thrill of horror,
that the flashing, mazy clouds began to slowly resolve themselves into
the semblance of human forms, that leaped and danced in fiendish glee;
now bounding high into the murky air, or again brandishing weapons, that
resembled war-clubs and tomahawks, in a threatening and heart-sickening
manner.

While these mysterious forms gyrated about in their unearthly war-dance,
Clifford stood petrified with horror and astonishment, not unmixed with
a strange curiosity to see how it would terminate; and when the luminous
figures joined hands, and slowly paced about the grave, as though to the
chant of some wild and savage death-song, a dim and glimmering circle of
phantom warriors, Clifford could bear it no longer, but sprang to his
feet with a cry of horror, that was echoed by a shriek which he
instantly recognized as being the voice of Rob. As the skurrying hoofs
went tearing away, he shouted quickly:--

"Rob! Rob! wait,--it is Cliff! Come back like a man, and let's
investigate;" but he saw that at the first sound of their voices the
figures had flashed asunder like thistle-down before a breath, and now
were whirling and weaving in a bewildering maze of light that melted
away as he gazed, and separated into the innocent flitting forms of
fire-flies that were hieing off to the dark nooks along the stream.

As Rob came back, riding slowly and in an uncertain manner, Clifford
emerged from the gloom of the trees into the less ebon darkness of the
open ground; then Rob halted and said, in a shaky voice:--"I thought
that I had run afoul of the old devil himself when you yelled so! What
is the matter, anyway?"

Briefly as possible Clifford told of the strange sight which he had just
witnessed--a scene which he then thought was more like a fevered dream
than a reality.

"But how does it happen you were here?" he added.

"Why, we were uneasy about you, and I had come in search. I knew you
would be up here, for I saw you walking this way. I had just got here,
and was going to call you, when you yelled like a catamount down by the
old grave. What does it mean, Cliff? It makes me cold yet!" he added,
with chattering teeth.

"Well, it's something that can not be explained away," said Clifford,
while walking back beside Rob, who, too well bred to ride while another
walked, had dismounted, and was leading his horse. "There is only one
view that I can take of it, and that is a supernatural one," he
continued, as Rob linked his arm within his own, and they struck the
road homeward. "There is a belief gaining ground, Rob, that the
spirit--or the life principle, animation, or whatever it may be which
we call soul--after it is disembodied by death, may yet linger about in
some subtle, invisible form akin to electricity, and may become embodied
again by entering into the being of a new-born child,--which, if true,
may account for the strange resemblance we often see peering out of the
eyes and face of an infant that recalls some long-dead friend or
ancestor. It may be that the power which mind wields over matter would
enable the strong, magnetic spirits of those savage warriors, who, no
doubt, died terrible deaths of violence on this tragedy-haunted spot, to
attract the fire-flies, and mold them into a semblance of their former
bodies, or, at least, imprison them for a time within the spirit outline
of their former selves. This, alone, would enable them to become visible
to our eyes, proving what we already know, that without matter of a
living nature the spirit--or magnetism, which we call soul--would be
always as invisible as the air."

"Why, Cliff, you talk like a heathen!" replied Rob, vehemently, who,
though addicted to the vice of swimming on the Sabbath, 'hooking'
watermelons from the Mennonites, and hiding Easter eggs, was still
strictly orthodox to his boot-heels. "So you think," he continued, "that
a human soul may take the form of a panther or a pauper--whichever the
spirit most resembles--and be cast and recast over and over again, like
an old piece of boiler-iron, until at last it becomes--well, just what,
I'd like to know?"

"A good Christian being that progresses towards perfection, and learns
wisdom from his former mistakes, I guess," replied Clifford, as they
turned the horse into the pasture and sought the house. As they came
into the yard, he added: "If there is one spot on the continent that
should be haunted, it certainly is the old Stone Corral and the near-by
crossing of the Santa Fe and Abilene Trails; for there has been more
crime and cruel deviltry committed there than upon any other square mile
in the Western world."

The next morning broke with a cloudless sky, balmy and serene. A light
wind from the south-west lifted the ribbon of vapor along the
Cottonwood, and wafted the fresh and perfumed odors of wild hop-vine and
water-mint, desert-sage and sand-plum, over the garden and into the
Warlow breakfast-room, where Clifford was narrating to his horrified
parents and sister the particulars of that unreal and mystery-wrapped
scene which he had witnessed the night before.

"It all looks so unreal in this clear daylight that I am almost ashamed
to repeat it," said Clifford, with a nervous laugh; but the hearers knew
by the look of earnest gravity on his face that there could have been no
mistake or deception as to his witnessing a sight that ever was a
mystery to all.

"Well, this is a strange story indeed," said the colonel; "but, my boy,
you must have been asleep unconsciously, and when you awoke your mind
was in that abnormal state in which an optical illusion would have
seemed like reality. An illusion of this nature is very hard to combat,
from its very uncertainty; and we can only reason, from general
principles, that it was a half-waking dream."

The preparations for the picnic put an end to any further discussion,
and at ten the grounds were enlivened by a throng of people, all in
their happiest mood and best attire.

When the Estill carriage came on the ground, Clifford hurried forward
and assisted Miss Estill to alight; then, after shaking hands with Mrs.
Estill, who excused her husband's absence by saying that he had not
returned from the Comanche Pool, whither he had gone a week before, he
found a seat for the elder lady, and disappeared with Mora on the
pretext of boat-riding.

They walked in silence to where his boat was tied to the trunk of a
weeping elm. As Clifford helped her into the seat, her warm clasp sent a
thrill to his heart that caused a hot flush to mount to his face; but it
soon receded, leaving him paler and more care-worn than ever. But Mora
noticed that his cravat of dainty lawn was tied with that precision only
attained by a thorough man of fashion, and the spray of snowy
elder-bloom, late but fragrant, combined with a solitary pansy-shaped
flower, pale blue with a fleck of gold at the heart, into a
_boutonnière_ that denoted a taste refined and fastidious in its wearer.

They shot out into the narrow stream under Clifford's vigorous strokes,
and skimmed lightly along through the silver-linked pools, shaded by
trees that were smothered by poison-ivy and wild-grape vines, that
trailed in the water with their purple-laden tendrils of ripening fruit.
At length they reached the bank near young Warlow's dwelling, after a
journey which he thought had lasted for an age, but which, to be
correct, was just four minutes in duration. There had been an attempt on
her part at conversation, but seeing the far-away look in his eyes and
the expression of haggard misery on his white, handsome face, she became
more cold and reserved than ever, and sat with averted face, trailing a
gaudy cardinal-flower through the water.

On landing, he again encountered her hand, which did not fail to send an
electric shock through him, as he assisted her ashore, and for a moment
he thought that she held his hand longer than the occasion required, and
he raised his eyes to her face with a quick flash of joy; but the
downcast look and pale cheeks which he saw, sent the blood back to his
heart with a sickening chill, and they walked together in silence up
toward his dwelling.

When they reached the house he led the way to the spring and motioning
her to a seat under the shade of that giant elm, he drew the wills forth
and handed them to her saying:--

"Here, Miss Estill, is what makes you the greatest heiress in this
western land!" then, as she silently read them through and lifted a
puzzled face to his, he handed her the Journal of Ivarene, and watched
breathlessly, while she became flushed and pale by turns while perusing
the faded and time-worn paper.

"Ah! poor, ill-fated Ivarene! what could have become of her and that
helpless infant,--and brave Bruce too?" she cried, with tears in her
eyes.

"The parents were murdered, no doubt, by that mad hunter, and the child
was stolen and left at Estill's ranch along with a locket containing the
name of Morelia and the pictures of Bruce and Ivarene. The mysterious
kinsman buried on the hill-top was Olin Estill, who was only the mad
hunter in disguise, who stole that blue-eyed, dark-haired daughter,
named Morelia."

"Ah! you believe me to be the daughter of Bruce and his lovely wife!"
said Mora, springing to her feet, while tears rained from her eyes, and
her hands were wrung with deep emotion.

"Yes, I am certain that you are Morelia Walraven. I had suspected this
from the hour that father called you Ivarene, and I set to work
earnestly to recover the lost fortune, which I believed was buried near
this spot. I worked faithfully, Miss Estill, to restore it all to you,
knowing full well, all the while, that when found it would only widen
the gulf between me and the cattle-king's daughter an hundred-fold. I
will not dwell on the horrors of that fortune hunt, nor its perils, when
I fought that gray-robed demon, which glared at you upon the
grave-capped hill; how I struggled with that murderous spectre in the
darkness of midnight, after being greeted in a noisome pit by a gigantic
rattlesnake, which I slew as it writhed at my feet, with certain death
in its fangs; nor the horror I felt when it was dead, at length, to
grasp a human skull, that mocked me with eyeless sockets and grinning
teeth when I snatched it from the buried cask--hoping I had found the
casket of gems.

"But come with me, and I will show you that the Warlow honor and pride
is no vain boast; that the poor planter's son can face danger and death
for the sake of right alone."

Then, as she followed, pale and trembling, into the room, he threw back
the lid of the treasure-chest, and the red gold, the glorious rays from
frosty pearls, sparkling diamonds, blood-red rubies, and strange green
emeralds mingled, in a dazzling glare, with the sheen of fire-opals and
the glint of amethysts of purple, lilac, and rose.

"Here, Morelia Walraven, is your lost treasure, your million of gems and
gold, your proud name and ancestral hall, which I restore," as he handed
her the deed of Monteluma. "To-morrow I shall leave home and country,
friends dearer than life, to prove--to prove to you I am not that vile
thing which you take me for--a Fortune Hunter!"

She merely glanced at the pile of dazzling wealth; then raised her eyes
that glittered through her tears like the turquois among the gold, and
while he poured forth a torrent of hot words that seemed to come from
his very soul, her color came and went until a burning blush spread over
her face, and in a choking gasp she essayed to speak. When he had
ceased, she gazed a moment up into his face, seamed and drawn in lines
of white agony, then she cried out:--

"Oh! what do I care for all this dross, whose daughter I may be, or my
pride of ancestry? Clifford--oh, Clifford!--you shall never leave me. I
will die if you do. I love you! Oh, will I have to say it?--yes, I love
you better than all the world beside. No, no! you shall never leave me!"
she said, with her white arms about his neck and her soft, warm cheek
pressed close to his; and--and--well, I just skipped out there, leaving
them alone with a scene that was growing too unutterably "rich for my
blood," to use a Western phrase; but half an hour later, as they
strolled back to the boat I overheard him say:--

"But why, my love, did you look so proud and cold in the hall when I
came in at your house only the other night?"

"Proud and cold, indeed," she replied, with a gay laugh, as she shot a
look of mingled love and amazement into his beaming eyes. "Now, that
shows how well you can read a woman's heart, sir. Dear Clifford," she
added, tearfully, "do you know, you dear blind boy, that at that very
time I was wretched and miserable, and longed to kiss you and say that I
had waited for years for just such an ideal as you are?"

"It is not too late now for that!" he cried rapturously, as they passed
under the boughs of a drooping tree, then followed a sound so explosive
that I beat a hasty retreat from such a danger-fraught vicinity, and
never came near again until their boat touched shore. Maud came to them
as they landed, and said:--

"Where have you been, truants? I have missed you for an hour."

"In paradise," replied Clifford, with such a look of happy abandon that
Maud started joyfully; then Mora said, with a blush, as she clasped her
arms about the form of delighted Maud:--

"Yes, I have coaxed him to stay forever; but I had to propose to the
selfish being before he would promise at all."

Then Maud, seeing the tears of earnestness that began to start, kissed
her new sister and Clifford very tenderly, saying, between her smiles
and tears:--

"Oh, this is happiness indeed!" which sentiment seemed to be fully
shared by the radiant couple whom she addressed.

Maud was not long in finding an excuse to leave the lovers to
themselves; and when she had disappeared among the throng, they
sauntered on to a secluded seat, under a vine-canopied tree, where the
trailing bitter-sweet swept the closely-cropped grass with its graceful
tendrils, loaded with a burden of orange and pink berries. Here, secure
from intrusion, they could see the crowd of well-dressed people
loitering about in detached groups, but were far enough removed from
them to talk in that confidential strain peculiar to newly-mated young
people, with no fear of interruption.

"When shall we reveal to your parents the discoveries which I disclosed
to you to-day, Mora?" said Clifford, in a low tone.

"Let us be in no haste, Clifford," she replied; "for father is away, and
mother would be unnerved and agitated at the revelation. Then we will
have several guests to entertain for the next week, as Mrs. Potter and
Miss Hanford will remain with us after the picnic. So I believe it would
be best to defer it for a week or two."

"But what shall be done in the meantime with the treasure, Mora dear?
There is a million dollars in gold and gems lying there in that chest. I
tremble to think what the result might be if its existence were
suspected in such an unprotected spot."

"Well, sir, you must nerve yourself to the task of not only caring for
it, but of me also in the future," she replied, with a furtive caress;
and, judging from his looks, he appeared to be equal to the latter
responsibility at least.

"I have made arrangements to start to Abilene in the morning to commute
my homestead and secure a title to it before the great sale of public
lands Monday, which, it is said, will be sold at a very low figure," he
replied, returning her caress with compound interest.

"Clifford, it looks mercenary and not at all sentimental for us to talk
of business at such a time; but still we can love one another no less
for that. The time is very short before that sale. It is a critical
moment. I advise you to buy all the land that you can Monday; it will be
very valuable soon," she said, with that mingling of sentiment and
business peculiar to Western women.

"I shall invest what little I possess in that way, Mora; it is secure at
least. I have always longed to own more of the land to the north of the
corral; and this is, as you say, a golden opportunity to acquire it."

Then there was silence for a moment as Clifford sadly thought how little
he really had for investment compared to the hoard that was lying
useless in the chest. His father's gold was there still, but he had no
real claim upon it ("I must deliver it to-night," he mentally
concluded); and an involuntary sigh escaped him at the thought that
strangers yet might control all that rolling, fertile prairie to the
north, which he had vainly dreamed of owning.

As if divining his thoughts, Mora quickly said, as her hand sought his
own with a gentle clasp:--

"Why not use some of that idle treasure for this purpose, Clifford? If
it is mine, as it really seems to be, there will be no harm in investing
part of it in that way. The emergency is great for decision and swift
action, so I really believe you should take a large sum along for that
purpose, not less than fifty thousand dollars of the recovered treasure,
at least."

"You dear, clear-headed little woman!" he replied radiantly; "that is a
capital plan indeed; so, if you think it best, I will take that sum with
me, and invest it in land for your benefit."

"No, no; you misunderstand me, Clifford; it is for your benefit that I
made the suggestion. You may take it as a loan, and repay me some time
in the future," she added, demurely.

He was on the point of making some laughing rejoinder, when he started
at the recollection that it seemed like fate when he recalled the loan
of exactly fifty thousand dollars which Ivarene had tendered his
father, of which Mora was in total ignorance. Then, in a low tone, he
told her of the strange coincidence, where history was repeating itself;
but he had not finished the story when a summons to dinner was heard,
and he accompanied Mora to the Estill carriage, finishing the recital as
they walked slowly thither.

There were several guests clustered about the carriage, and Clifford
accepted an invitation to remain for dinner, which Mrs. Estill gave him,
and with Mora and young Downels, Miss Hanford and Mrs. Potter, Clifford
was soon busy helping to spread the dinner on the snowy cloth beneath
the shade of a dense-foliaged elm. When the hampers were unpacked and
they were all seated upon the grass about the cloth, it was evident that
the Estills could not be taxed with the sin of inhospitality, for they
had brought enough in their hampers for an extra dozen guests.

There was boned turkey, hinting of sweet marjoram, garnished with
quivering moulds of cherry-jelly; chicken salad, with sprays of parsley;
tankards of silver and glass, filled with creamy milk; tall glasses of
jelly--pink, amber, and crimson; pyramids of cake, bronzed and frosty,
that conveyed a faint suspicion they were only meant for show; great
baskets of silver, marvels of frostwork on flower and vine, piled high
with purple grapes, peaches of white and crimson, and golden
oranges,--all of which, alas! were the contribution of far-off
California.

Young Downels sat near Mora, who was as fascinating and gracious as
ever; but Clifford felt a contentment and trust too deep for jealousy,
and was gay and witty to such a degree that Downels began to have a
suspicion of the true situation, which was in no wise allayed when he
saw their eyes meet in a quick flash of love and admiration; so he
speedily transferred his attentions to Miss Hanford, who seemed not at
all averse to receiving them "_ad infinitum_."

An afternoon of unalloyed bliss followed, and when our hero placed Mora
in the carriage, he had given her a promise to ride down on his return
from Abilene, the following week; then, as the stately barouche rolled
away, he hurried homeward to complete his preparations for to-morrow's
journey.

At the supper-table, which was spread at a later hour than usual,
Colonel Warlow looked grave and care-worn, while his wife was sad and
thoughtful, remembering that Clifford was to leave them, perhaps
forever, and this was his last night under the home-roof, a delusion
which he was soon to dispel. Maud's face wore a look of cheerfulness
which puzzled her parents, who had not witnessed their son's
manoeuvres during the day; and Rob's eyes fairly danced with
suppressed excitement.



Chapter XX.


"My boy, it is a sad day for us all when you leave the home nest. We
shall miss you more than I can express," said the colonel at length.
"Ah! I had hoped to see you settled near us in our old age in this grand
country. Clifford, I have seen a great many regions on this continent
famous for their beauty and fertility, but this is the only place that I
have ever seen where I would be perfectly content to live and die. You
have yet to learn that 'distant hills' are no greener than those of
home, and you will travel the wide world over and find no other place to
compare with this, my son. I have been thinking to-day, Clifford,"
continued his father, as he pushed his plate of untasted food back on
the table and folded his napkin--"that if I had only a tithe of the
fortune that I once lost on this spot, it might be enhanced an
hundred-fold at the great land-sale Monday; for I learn by to-day's
_Times_ that the Mastodon Bank has failed, carrying down in its collapse
all the parties who had the lands condemned for sale, so now they are
unable to bid at the auction, and hundreds of thousands of acres will be
sold at a few cents an acre without competition. Oh, I realize that it
is bitter, indeed, to be poor, my boy, for it is only your ambition that
drives you from us," and, rising, he paced back and forth with bowed
head, while Mrs. Warlow's tears flowed unchecked as she thought of the
long, dreary years that might drag on before her beloved boy returned.

The Warlow family were never demonstrative. There was always a
matter-of-fact regard for each other; but this moment of sorrow brought
to the surface a depth of family affection of which Clifford had never
dreamed, and, as his father proceeded, he became more deeply affected
than he ever had been before.

He thought, "The old days of trial and poverty are over forever," and as
the realization of the great change, and his narrow escape from the
misery, of self-exile flashed upon him, he leaned his head upon his
hands, and a great sob shook his frame, while hot tears--yes, tears,
which danger and the despair of a hopeless love had failed to wring--now
fell in a torrent, as the storm of emotion, new and strange, surged in
his breast.

"Oh, Clifford--Clifford! I thought you were not going," cried Maud,
white with anguish.

"Cliff, I can't bear to see you leave," sobbed Robbie, while he clung to
Clifford with the desperation born of his grief at the very thought of
parting with his only brother.

"Clifford, what does this mean?" said Maud, seized by a nameless dread;
but Clifford only answered by pushing back the table, the cover of which
swept the floor and had concealed the object that was now revealed in
the lamp-light.

"Gold! gold!" cried Maud in amazement, as her eyes caught the glitter
of doubloons heaped upon the floor.

"Oh God!--my lost fortune!" said the colonel in a hoarse whisper, as he
knelt beside the half-emptied sacks, which he remembered at a glance.

"My brother--Clifford--you are a grand hero," shrieked Maud, wild with
excitement and relief, and then ensued a contest between herself and
mother who should first strangle our young friend in their embraces.

"Hero, nothing!" said Rob, who had just blown his nose upon the
table-cloth with a snort like a porpoise, and who was still blubbering
in a suspicious manner; "heroes don't drip at the nose like a hydrant;
but all the same he is a damn good fellow," he added, with a vigorous
slap on his brother's back.

"I have something else to show you over at my dwelling," said Clifford,
recovering from his emotion, and smiling up at Rob; "and, if you will
drive around there, I will row ahead and light the lamps;" then, without
waiting to explain, he hurried out into the night. Although they were
devoured by curiosity, they soon concealed the gold, and were driven
rapidly up to the corral.

"I bet my boot-heels that Cliff has got that old spook chained up here,
feeding him like a pauper," said Rob, in a tone of confidence, to
Maud--a remark which elicited no reply, however, for she was puzzling
over the strange discovery which she knew Clifford had made.

When they arrived at his dwelling he met them at the door, which he
closely locked behind them; then, going to the sunken chest, he threw
back the lid, and a wavering glare of gems and red gold flashed out with
a splendor which dazzled and almost blinded the astonished group.

"The treasure of Monteluma!" exclaimed the colonel, in a tone of deep
emotion.

"Oh, those frosty, glimmering pearls!" said Maud, exulting in the
splendor of the jewels that she loved so well, and had always dreamed of
owning.

"What a pile of lucre!" cried Rob, dancing about in delight. "Lordy! if
I owned all this tin, I'd make the shekels fly for awhile, you bet!
First, I'd swap that slow, flea-bitten broncho for Ed Porter's white
pony, if I had to give even _twenty dollars_ to boot; then next I'd have
me a brand-new hat--a broad brim, too--none of your flimsy old wool
things, but an eight-dollar sombrero, thick as a board, with a leather
band an inch wide; then two cravats--and--"

"And?" said Clifford with a quizzical smile, as Rob began to show signs
of an embarrassment of riches.

"Well, that's all, unless it is a pair of high-top boots, like Johnnie
Russell's--with stars and new moons of red and yellow leather on 'em."

"You are a reckless spendthrift, Rob. Thirty-five dollars gone already!"
said Clifford, laughingly, as his young brother's eyes continued to
gloat over the million of heaped-up riches in the chest.

"Clifford, my son, how did you find all this treasure? It seems like
enchantment," Mrs. Warlow asked, in an anxious tone.

"Mother, it is too long a story to relate now; but when I return from
Abilene I'll give all the particulars. It is ten now," he said, glancing
at his watch, "and we must start at six sharp, in the morning, so there
is but little time to spare."

"Yes," said the colonel, recovering from the stupor of amazement into
which he had fallen, "we will start to the land-office early in the
morning; for I have determined to invest twenty thousand of our
new-found money in land; it seems providential that it should come just
now. I had been grieving so much of late that this golden opportunity
would pass by; but, thank God! it will come out right yet."

Maud, ever tactful and alert, seeing that Clifford was unwilling to
explain the particulars of the discovery, hurried their departure for
home. When they had all driven away, young Warlow filled one of the
sacks with coin, and placed it in a trunk of clothing that was ready
packed, locked the door behind, and slowly rowed down; but he had
delayed long enough to be certain of finding that they had all retired
when he arrived home.

In the morning Colonel Warlow was too unwell to appear at the
breakfast-table, and finding that his indisposition was of too serious a
nature to admit of his traveling that day, Clifford received twenty
thousand dollars--nearly thirteen hundred Mexican doubloons--from his
father, with the instruction to invest it in land at his discretion. The
colonel told Clifford at parting to consider half of the money as his
own; so with a light heart the youth started out on his third essay at
"fortune hunting."

Accompanied by Squire Moreland and Ralph, who had unconsciously helped
to load the Warlow carriage with more than seventy thousand dollars in
gold, secreted in two innocent-looking trunks, Clifford took the winding
trail for Abilene just as the sun appeared above the rim of the eastern
hills. It was a cool, dry July morning, very favorable for producing
that Western phenomenon, the mirage; and as they emerged from the
corn-fields and tall thickets of blue-stem of the valley onto the
rolling uplands, carpeted with buffalo-grass, a scene of mysterious
grandeur burst upon their sight.

Objects that were miles away appeared close at hand, plain and distinct
in the pure, clear air; and although a lofty ridge twenty miles wide
interposed, all the valley of the Smoky Hill was rolled out like a map
before them. The winding river, fringed by trees and groves; the wide
prairie valley, flecked with white villages; a long train on the Union
Pacific, "fleeing like a dragon through the level fields and leaving a
breath of smoke behind," seemed but a few miles away.

The Iron Mound, sixty miles distant, loomed off to the north-west, and
far beyond appeared the faint outline of the Soldier's Cap--a towering
headland, that, like a giant's helmet, seemed to guard all the Saline
Valley, but now dwarfed, by the hundred miles which intervened, to a
mere dot upon the horizon.

The Smoky Hills flamed up in a long line of purple, jagged buttes on the
west, while to the south stretched away the fat prairies of the Russian
Mennonite colony, their quaint, old-world villages of thatch and
white-plastered adobe clustering thickly over the level plain that was
begemmed by lakes of waving water, or what appeared to be such, but
which in reality was only an optical illusion caused by a glare of
rarefied atmosphere. Soon these phantom lakes began to flood the prairie
with a wavering shimmer. Broad rivers became momentarily wider, until
all the landscape was submerged and the villages swam in a sea of water
a moment, sinking down at length like foundered ships, the white
buildings towering up strangely like masts, which, at last, all sank
from sight, leaving only a glare of silver behind.

Soon nature resumed her wonted aspect, though it seemed strangely unreal
to see the Iron Mound sink slowly as they ascended the ridge, until it
was lost to view, and what had been the Smoky Valley but a moment before
was now the rolling highland which they had to traverse for hours before
reaching their destination. For a space of twenty miles square, not a
solitary house was to be seen. In fact, after leaving the valley the
only sign of life visible was a distant herd along some timber-fringed
stream, by which the picturesque and fertile tract was threaded, or a
long line of antelope, that would cautiously keep to the highest ridges
as they loped away in single file.

The ridged and travel worn-trail, where in former years the herds of
Texas and New Mexico had been driven along to Abilene, was now disused
and lonely, as the traffic had been transferred to more western points;
so our friends were relieved on reaching their destination after a
monotonous drive of half a day.

Driving to a bank, Clifford deposited the unsealed bags of gold within
the safe of that institution, while his two companions were looking for
a hotel; then, next, young Warlow wrote a long and carefully worded
dispatch to the American minister at Mexico, inquiring for information
concerning Bruce Walraven and his wife, Herr Von Brunn and his wife
Labella, and also the status of Monteluma, with a request for an
immediate reply, that was no doubt facilitated by the information which
the banker telegraphed, at Clifford's request, for the privilege of
reference.

Without difficulty Clifford perfected the title to his homestead before
the land officers. Then, in a fever of restlessness, our hero passed the
intervening time until Monday morning, when he received a dispatch from
the minister at the City of Mexico, stating that no trace could be found
of either of the parties inquired for; that the old mansion of Monteluma
had been confiscated during the "French invasion," but the estate was
held by a wealthy foreign nobleman; that the agent of that nobleman was
absent at Durango, so no further particulars could be learned until his
return, etc.

"This is the last evidence in the proof that Mora is heiress to all the
new-found treasure," mentally exclaimed young Warlow as he hurried into
the land-office and elbowed his way through the dense throng of
spectators to the desk, where the receiver was gloomily saying, "that
the sale would be a failure, unless the agent of Lord Scholeigh arrived,
which was improbable now, owing to the storm near St. Louis, that had
prostrated the wires and stopped travel."

"Proceed with the sale, if you please; I would like to bid in a tract,"
said Clifford quietly. Then, after several tracts in small bodies had
been purchased by the bystanders, he began to bid in section after
section at fifty cents an acre; and when the amount ran up to ten,
twenty, and twenty-three thousand acres, the crowd began to grow
curious, and jostled each other to get a better view of the man who
could bid in so quietly a six-mile square tract without faltering; but
the grave-faced and gray-clad young ranchman, with no ornament about him
save a gold buckle to the collar of his brown flannel shirt, kept
steadily on, without any opposition, perfectly heedless of the scrutiny.

"He is a son of Colonel Warlow on the Cottonwood, who fell heir to a
cool million from California, the other day," said a man, in a tone just
loud enough to reach Clifford's ears, and the receiver wondered what the
handsome young man found to smile at as he bid in the last section of
sixty-nine thousand acres; but how should he know that Clifford was
amused at the remark, thinking that the small legacy had grown, like the
story of the "five black crows."

"Young man," said the receiver, in a tone of arrogant suspicion. "I
shall insist on some proof of your ability to pay such a large sum
before I proceed further."

"Very well, sir," replied Clifford, blowing a wreath of cigar-smoke into
the official's face as he coolly handed him his certificate of deposit,
subject to check of seventy thousand dollars, given Saturday evening
after the banker had counted the gold. Then, young Warlow began to
realize the prestige which wealth gives, as he saw the look of insolence
on the officer's face quickly give place to respectful wonder, as he
proceeded at once with the auction.

When the figures had reached a hundred thousand acres the crowd gave way
to cheers, which swelled to a perfect tumult when six townships--nearly
one hundred and thirty-nine thousand acres--were knocked down to the
young bidder, who refused to bid any further, and the sale closed.

Clifford wrote out a check for the sum of sixty-nine thousand one
hundred and twenty dollars, and received the receiver's certificate,
which entitled the purchaser to a deed for the tract. As the officer
closed the sale and the papers changed hands in the bank, a noted
"wheat-king" hurried in and told Clifford that the New York agent of
Lord Scholeigh was coming on a special train, fast as steam could carry
him, and requested our young friend to await the arrival, as the agent
had been detained by storms and wash-outs while _en route_ to the sale;
and the kingly real estate agent further intimated that a fine profit
on the purchase could be realized if Clifford was willing to sell.

So our hero consented to remain, and when the agent arrived he was
almost stunned by the offer of double the price he had paid; the agent
offering to take the entire tract at one dollar an acre. After some
deliberation Clifford consummated a sale of seventy-five thousand acres,
keeping a township, six miles square, for himself, and forty thousand
acres for his father; and finding that he had seventy-five thousand
dollars left. "Equal," the wheat-king said, "to the Dutchman's profit of
ten per schent."

Clifford found it was an easy matter to induce the receiver to accept
the agent's certified check on New York in exchange for his own. Then he
arranged to leave the bag of doubloons, sealed, and only left for safety
until he could return them to the chest; but the twenty-five thousand
dollars of profit he deposited with the bank, subject to check. Having
bought a heavy steel safe, with time-lock, and leaving orders for it to
be delivered at once, he returned home on Tuesday morning, proud and
happy over the result of his transaction.

When he arrived at home, he was met by Rob, who was pale and excited.
When Clifford had hurriedly asked after his father's welfare, Rob
replied that their parent was well, but a strange accident had occurred
out near the secret cavern. He proceeded to tell how the gray-robed
spectre had darted out from among the tall blue-stem, while one of
their workmen was mowing near there. The apparition had so startled the
horses that they became unmanageable, and when the strange figure, in a
reckless manner, had sprung at their heads, they had whirled, throwing
the crazied being under the sickle and mangling him so horribly that he
only lived a moment. His body was carried to the cell, where it was now
lying. This had occurred only a few hours before, and all the family
were up there awaiting Clifford's return.

Mounting a fresh horse, Clifford galloped rapidly up the winding
pathway, fearing--he hardly dared to think what. "Could it be that he
would soon stand beside the mangled form of Bruce Walraven, Mora's
father?" he was thinking as he dismounted at the well-remembered
plum-thicket, and hitched his horse to a tree.

A moment later Maud flew out with a low cry of delight, and while
embracing Clifford, she cried tearfully:--

"Oh, I am inexpressibly relieved. It is not Bruce, as we feared, but
it's that blood-stained Eagle Beak, Olin Estill's partner in crime and
final victim."

"Why, Maud! how do you know?" said he, breathless with suspense.

"They found a silver breastplate, such as were worn by chiefs in the
early days, and on the medal was an engraving of the beak of an eagle;
while on the reverse, now worn dim, was the name, 'Eagle Beak.' This
large plate was hung about his neck by a heavy chain of silver, which
was riveted so it is impossible to remove it without filing it through,
and the links have worn into the flesh--oh, horrible!" she replied, with
a shudder of disgust.

With reluctant steps Clifford sought the cavern, where his parents and
the Moreland family were grouped about the door; and after a few minutes
of greeting, he went in alone to where the corpse was lying cold and
still; and when he had removed the white sheet from its face, he stood
long and silently regarding the revolting picture of depravity and
ferocious cunning that even yet showed on every feature, frozen in the
rigid calm of death.

"No, thank God! this is not the face of noble Bruce; but still it is
that of a white man--some wretched desperado, who had fled from the
avenging arm of justice, and had gained sway over a band of savages as
brutal and vicious, but less daring and cunning than himself," thought
young Warlow. "This certainly is a sermon on the retribution which
Providence holds in store for those who perpetrate such crimes of
inhuman atrocity as this wretch is stained with," he said, as Maud came
into the cell.

They buried the remains upon a lofty hill near by, the top of which was
visible from their homes in the valley; no ceremony was observed, but
the horrible details of burial were delegated to a few workmen from the
hay-field, and by three that afternoon only a small mound of clay
remained to tell of a life that had been but a fever of bloody deeds.

Once--long years after--as Clifford stood in the twilight with Maud,
they heard the jabbering wail of a wolf on the grave-crowned hill, and
Clifford said:--

"If the departed soul does hover about the grave after death, seeking
re-embodiment, then Eagle Beak has surely been born again in the form of
a wolf; for he was the very incarnation, no doubt, of such a beast
during his existence here. I never pass by that thistle-grown and
nettle-hidden grave without a shudder; and often in the dismal night,
when just such a piercing howl resounds from that hill-top, I vaguely
fancy it is the soul of Eagle Beak mourning because of the limited
sphere of deviltry in which his 'wolf-life' constrains his savage
spirit."

"Oh, Clifford! will you never outgrow such idle fancies?" Maud
exclaimed.

"No, never so long as I meet foxes, jackals, and hyenas every day, that
are only veiled by a human form--very thinly disguised often--and it is
God's goodness, alone, that finally denies them that mask."

"Clifford, my brother, what a strange belief for 'Deacon' Warlow, pillar
of the Church, and first in all good deeds of Christian charity and
enterprise in his community, to entertain and express," she replied,
with a look of strange interest dawning in her beautiful but matronly
face.

"Well, Maud, I find abundant proof in the Bible to substantiate this
faith," he answered, gravely, "while our lives teem with the evidence of
its truth."

But I have digressed too long already, and will return to my theme.

As they drove back home from the death-haunted cell, Clifford told his
parents of his search for the treasure; how, after discovering the gems,
he had been convinced that the gold was also secreted near, and his
ultimate success in discovering it buried in the grave that Roger Coble
had noticed when he rescued his father after the massacre. The finding
of Ivarene's Journal, his engagement to Mora, and discovery that she was
the daughter of Bruce and his ill-fated wife, and the successful
speculation in which he had figured with such great profit at Abilene,
were left unrevealed, as Clifford thought his father was not strong
enough to bear the strain of such excitement yet.

With Maud he was not so reticent, and after supper he told of the
success at the land-office, and the use he had made at Mora's request of
part of the recovered treasure.

After Maud had expressed her unbounded joy at the substantial results of
that venture, Clifford noticed a shade of anxiety and sadness settle
down on her face, and he hastened to say, while reaching up to gather a
spray of trumpet-flowers that swung its blossoms of black, crimson, and
salmon in heavy festoons over the latticed gateway: "Maud, you dear,
unselfish creature, I know that you and Ralph are about to begin life
together, and, when father offered me half of the twenty thousand
dollars, I just mentally concluded to give you the benefit of it. It
seems to me you ought to keep the pot boiling with twenty thousand
acres of good land."

While Maud hung about his neck, her tearful face hidden on his shoulder,
her brother continued:--

"Poor Ralph will need a great deal of encouragement from you. I have
been in that very kind of a boat myself lately, and know how to
sympathize with him."

Soon he was galloping down to the Estill ranch; but I will not intrude
upon the privacy of that meeting between himself and Mora, only leaving
it all to the imagination of the reader. Mr. Estill had not returned
yet, so they still deferred making any explanation of the strange
discoveries made since his departure. It was agreed, however, to reveal
all on his return. Plans for the future were discussed as they strolled
out on the terrace; and before he left, young Warlow had won a promise
that their wedding-day would be an early one--some time in September,
Mora said.

"I have had such a strange dream, twice on successive nights, lately,
Clifford. It seemed as though I was Ivarene, and that I led a dual sort
of an existence, part of the time as myself, and at other times I was
that ill-fated Mexican bride, longing to meet Bruce once more. Some way,
Clifford, I never can reconcile myself to the belief that they are my
parents, and the suspense of this uncertainty is growing unbearable."

Clifford was very thoughtful for a long while after this; but at length
he begged her to await the return of Mr. Estill before they divulged
the secret. Then, after a lingering parting, he returned home to begin,
on the morrow, preparations for the new life that was before him.

Before leaving Abilene he had engaged a skillful stone-mason, who was to
begin enlarging his dwelling at once with a large force of workmen at
his command; and I will only briefly tell how soon the cottage grew into
a many-gabled mansion of red sandstone, with bay-windows and long wings,
terraces of stone, with balustrades of white magnesia, and marble vases
filled with blooming plants, that trailed down their sides with blossoms
of rose, creamy white and scarlet.

A thousand head of cattle were bought, and hurrying workmen were busy
stacking vast ricks of prairie-hay near the large barn that was rising
like magic under the trowels of a score of masons.

In these details I have anticipated somewhat, but will return to the
thread of my story.

The suspicions of the colonel and Mrs. Warlow were at once aroused by
seeing a force of workmen beginning to enlarge Clifford's dwelling; and
on perceiving this, Clifford hastened to reveal all the discoveries and
transactions of the past few weeks. The journal deeply afflicted his
father, who at once came to the same conclusion which the younger
members of the family had arrived at on reading that document,--that
Bruce and his wife had been murdered by Olin Estill, who had stolen
their child and had left it at the Estill ranch; that Mora was that
child, and that the family had raised her as their own daughter. When
Clifford told of his success in the land transaction and of wishing that
Maud should have the twenty thousand acres meant for himself, his
parents seemed both pleased and proud of his course, although his father
cautioned him against using any more of the treasure until Mr. Estill
was made aware of the discovery.

"Did not the Estills tell you that Mora was the daughter of Bruce and
Ivarene when they made their first visit here?" said Clifford, in
surprise.

"Why, no, indeed!" replied his father; "they told us of the part which
they feared their nephew took in the massacre. They believed he murdered
the originals of the pictures which he left at their house soon after
that tragedy, but he appeared to be insane and they never saw him alive
again. It was months after when his skeleton was found on the prairie,
barely recognizable, which they buried on a hill near the ranch."

"And that was all?" said Clifford, in a tone of anxiety. "But do you not
think that Mora is Bruce's daughter?"

"I have no doubt of it; for she is the perfect counterpart of Ivarene in
voice, face, and expression, although her eyes are blue while those of
Ivarene were black. Still the same look is there that I shall never
forget. Why, when I meet her gaze, it always seems that Ivarene is
trying to speak to me once more," said the colonel with deep emotion.

After this interview, Clifford lost no time in hurrying down to the
Estill ranch to seek an interview with Mora; and after they had met,
with all the demonstrations peculiar to lovers, he noticed a strange
look of trouble on her face, and when he tenderly asked its cause, she
faltered a moment, then bursting into tears, and hiding her face on his
breast, she confessed that the suspense of awaiting her father's return
had become at last unendurable, and she had told her mother all the
particulars of their engagement, the discovery of the treasure, their
subsequent use of a portion of it, and their well-founded belief that
she was the daughter of Bruce and Ivarene Walraven.

"She confessed, then, that it was true?" said Clifford, in a tone of
suspense.

"No, stranger still!" said Mora, as she raised a tear-stained face to
his--"no, Clifford, she seemed struck dumb with astonishment, and
reiterated the assertion solemnly that I was her only daughter, born
five years after that tragedy. I am convinced that it is true, Clifford;
nothing can convince me that she is trying to deceive us, for she is too
sincere to keep the truth from us now. Yes, I am an Estill; but she said
that my strange resemblance to the picture in the locket had always
perplexed her, and my father and they were very sensitive on the
subject. She saw you were startled by my lack of resemblance to any one
of the family, when you made your first visit here; but she is glad to
know that you are to be her son at last, Clifford." Had a thunderbolt
fallen at his feet, young Warlow could not have been more startled than
he was at this announcement. Then, after a moment of silence, he said:
"Ah! Mora darling, it does not matter whose daughter you may be, so
your heart is mine; but how strange it is that we should have arrived at
such a wrong conclusion!" Then, as he began to reflect, he found that
her mysterious resemblance to Ivarene was their strongest proof that she
was not an Estill.

An interview with Mrs. Estill followed, in which she gave a willing
assent to the lovers' union; then she again asserted, with truth and
sincerity stamped upon her face and tone, that Mora was her only
daughter, born of her own flesh and blood, but that there was a mystery
connected with her birth which she had never revealed to any one but her
husband.

"Mother! mother! what is it?" said Mora in great agitation, while
Clifford sprang up with a look of intense interest depicted upon his
face.

"It is a strange and unreal thing to relate in this enlightened and
skeptical age, and I should never divulge it but for the events of the
last few days; but Mora's unaccountable resemblance to the face in the
locket, which is that of Ivarene, is not the only mystery that surrounds
her birth. In the autumn of 1849, September 16th--I remember the date
perfectly--one of our herders came in at night very much terrified by a
sight which he had just witnessed. He had seen two mysterious lights
flitting about the base of Antelope Butte, several miles up the valley,
where he had been looking after our cattle that had become scattered
while we were at Fort Riley--driven to take refuge there from the
Cheyenne Indians that were raiding the frontier settlements during
August. Why I remember the date so distinctly is from the fact that we
had only returned that day, finding our cabin in ashes.

"Fearing it might be some signal of lurking savages, Mr. Estill and
myself ran with the herder to the bluff which overlooks the house on the
north, and saw a sight that was full of mystery; and which, in fact, was
never explained.

"There were two large blue lights, of such an unnatural color and
appearance as to attract instant attention, flitting about up the
valley. They would seem to skim along in long, undulating swells, like
the flight of swallows, often rising hundreds of feet in the air, but
always darting back to the base of the butte. We were relieved to know
it was not Indians, and thinking it was one of those gaseous or igneous
phenomena peculiar to water-courses, we did not investigate further, but
only regarded their appearance with curiosity.

"Their visits finally reached our premises, and I was horrified to see
them hovering about the house later in the season; but all our attempts
to approach them were frustrated, for they would recede as we advanced;
then we really began to feel how very unaccountable they were, and
became perplexed with the mystery. This state of affairs continued until
Christmas eve, 1852. As I was standing at a window with Hugh in my arms,
I saw the two lights come flitting down the valley together. When they
reached a point close to the house they halted, and, after hovering
about together for a while, the larger light darted off eastward, and
was never seen again. The lesser one remained flitting about the house,
or to and fro between here and Antelope Butte. Until, one night in May,
1854, the light, after hovering near by, disappeared forever. _That very
night Mora was born._ Seeing a resemblance in her childish face to that
within the locket--a likeness that has increased with her age, until now
she is the very image of poor, dead Ivarene--we named her Morelia
(shortened to Mora by her friends), a name that was engraved and set
with rubies upon the locket. We thought this the name, of course, of the
female face within the locket, but from the Journal of Ivarene it is
apparent that it was the name of her dead mother instead.

"This precious locket had been flung at my feet by Olin Estill, a
renegade nephew of my husband, whom he had discarded on account of his
vicious tendencies, and who had been leading a mysterious existence,
connected, I now fear, with a band of outlaws that committed the
massacre at the corral. He had been absent from our house several
months, until the day after our return he suddenly appeared at the
tent-door, and, after glaring at me a moment, had flung the locket at my
feet, then, with a blood-chilling shriek, had fled away. We never saw
him alive after that day; but his skeleton, torn asunder by wolves and
barely recognizable, was found months after, and buried upon a hill-top
near here."

"Did you never search Antelope Butte?" Clifford asked, with grave
thoughtfulness depicted in his face.

"No; we never did, although we once talked of doing so, but forgot it
soon in the anxiety and care of our life," she answered.

"I shall do so to-morrow," he said, "for I believe the mystery of their
fate is hidden there. Yes, Bruce and Ivarene must have died some
terrible death there at that bluff, and I shall never rest until the
cloud that wraps their fate is dispelled."

On his return home he related to his parents the story which Mrs. Estill
had told. When he had finished, his mother was pale with a strange
excitement; and his father exclaimed in a hoarse voice of agitation:--

"Clifford, you should make a careful search on Antelope Butte in the
morning. I fear that Bruce and Ivarene perished there."

"My son, I never have told you that only a few months before you were
born just such a light flashed into my room as the one that flitted
about the Estill ranch," said Mrs. Warlow, pale and trembling with
emotion. "It was on Christmas Eve, 1852, that I was sitting in the
firelit room waiting your father's return, when I saw a pale blue haze
dart past the window, hover a moment, then return; and as I raised the
sash I seemed to be smothered by a flash of thick, luminous fog, and
fell prostrated as by a stroke of lightning. I did not lose
consciousness, however, but called one of the negro women, who helped me
to a lounge, and lit the lamp. I was nervous about the occurrence; but
your father explained the phenomenon as being only a collection of
natural gas, generated in damp localities. The light flitted about for a
few months; but on the night of your birth, Clifford, it disappeared,
and was never seen again. How strange that one of those lights should
disappear from her house that night, and appear at mine, hundreds of
miles away! Then the similar circumstances under which those mysterious
halos vanished--the very night, it appears, of your birth and that of
Mora! She was born in May, 1854, so Mrs. Estill says."

"We must search Antelope Butte in the morning," said Clifford, trying to
conceal his agitation and to speak calmly; "for I fear that the final
tragedy of Bruce and Ivarene was enacted there. I dread the discovery
that we may make, while, at the same time, I long to unravel the dark
mystery which enwraps their fate." Then he hurriedly left the room and
sought slumber in the quiet of his own bed-chamber; but it was in vain,
for strange fancies kept him awake and thoughtful while the hours slowly
dragged by.

Since the night when he had seen that weird and unearthly phantom
war-dance around the long grave, Clifford had begun to entertain some
strange fancies, which slowly grew upon him as he reviewed the stories
which Mrs. Estill and his mother had told that evening, until finally he
said, as the gray of morning began to tinge the eastern sky with its
ashy pallor:--

"I am almost convinced that Bruce's theory is a true one. Father has
long believed me to be the reincarnation of the spirit of Bruce
Walraven. This, if true, will account for my strange resemblance to a
man who died, in all probability, long before I was born, and will also
account for the mysterious memories which always haunt me, like the
glimpses of a former life. Can it be possible that the soul, at will,
can take on a new body again after death, and profit by its past
mistakes? That would be a resurrection, indeed! Can it be that all the
air about us is peopled by the spiritual outlines of dead and
half-forgotten friends, only waiting their time to be re-born, and we
ourselves may be but bodies that are inhabited by the souls of people
who have lived before? If this theory is as correct as it is comforting,
then death has lost all its terrors; for what could inspire more delight
in the heart of an aged and care-worn person than the knowledge that,
after he had cast off his faded and wrinkled body, by that process which
we call death, he could walk again in all the freshness of youth and
beauty on earth, which, say what we may, is dearer than any other place
can ever be.

"This theory I shall put to the test to-day," our hero said; "for if the
remains of Bruce and Ivarene are found near Antelope Butte--as I am
convinced that they will be--then my conjectures are confirmed and the
mystery of eternity, which has mocked and puzzled man from his creation,
is revealed. It will prove that those mysterious lights were their
spirits still hovering about their grave, waiting their opportunity to
be re-born. This looks no more improbable than many of the mysteries of
science did a few years ago. But, then, life itself would still remain a
grand mystery, as would sight, sound, and hearing."

By this time he had arisen, and, after dressing, he seated himself
before the tall mirror.

"This strange belief has been growing upon me since I heard Mrs.
Estill's and mother's revelations until it has become almost conviction,
and if we find that on Antelope Butte, which I feel we will--then it
will convince me that Mora is--God how strange that sounds!--Ivarene
born again to enjoy the happiness which her untimely fate prevented her
securing in her brief life."

As he scanned his own reflection in the mirror, by the sunlight, which
now was flooding the eastern hills in its golden mantle, while a look of
growing wonder and strange curiosity came over his face, he exclaimed,
with a start: "Then Bruce Walraven is--myself!"

After a moment of serious reflection, he continued: "Well, there is
nothing so very improbable or uncanny in the thought, at last; for it is
just as probable that God may have given me a soul that had lived
before, as one that had not. No; human nature has too much wisdom to
ever have gained it by one life."

If our hero's theory was true, then Bruce could not have asked a better
fate than to live his life again as the handsome youth reflected there,
with his crisp golden hair, eyes of pansy blue, and the flush of young
manhood on his glossy cheeks.



Chapter XXI.


An hour later found the Warlow family at the foot of Antelope Butte,
whither they had all driven to make a search for--what they shrank from
saying. They had been there only a short time when they saw the Estill
carriage coming. When it drew near they discovered that it was Mrs.
Estill and Mora, who, when they were assisted to alight, said they had
seen the Warlow carriage with their field-glass, and suspecting the
meaning of its visit to the butte, they had hurried up to join the
search with their friends.

As Clifford, Rob, and Ralph were carefully searching the face of the
declivity, Mrs. Warlow told Mrs. Estill of the remarkable fact that she
had also seen that mystic light on the night it had disappeared from
Estill Ranch; then, as Mora drew near, she gave a circumstantial account
of the event, which caused her hearers to exchange looks of perplexed
amazement.

Mora became thoughtfully silent, and, leaving the others, she wandered
restlessly back and forth at the foot of the bluff, watching the
searchers intently.

She was startled at length by a cry of astonishment from Clifford, and
with the others she hastened up the steep acclivity to where he stood in
a recess of the cliff. When she reached his side he was leaning heavily
against the rocky wall, white and trembling.

"Oh, Clifford! speak! what is it?" she cried, breathless with a strange
dread.

He could only point to the face of the rock with an unsteady finger,
while the sweat-drops rained down from his white face, wrung by an agony
of emotion which he vainly strove to repress.

Sinking down upon the sloping mound, matted with grass, and kneeling
there at the foot of the cliff she read with a startled gaze the
inscription which was carved in faint, moss-grown letters, upon the
magnesian stone:--

"My Ivarene, my lost love, lies dead beside me with our little child,
cold and still, on her breast. I am wounded and dying; but death is
sweet now. We were coming here to watch for the trains when we were
assaulted by the strange hunter, who shot us both. My love only breathed
one breath. I carried her here. The child was pierced by the same shot.
My eyes are growing dim; but I welcome death. Oh, farewell, bright
world! I feel my life ebbing fast away, but would not stay without my
darling. I go to meet her where there will be no more parting. Oh, the
joy and bliss to see her smile again! It makes me long for death. We
shall live again! Bru--"

With a wild cry of agonized grief, Mora covered her face, while the
others read, with streaming eyes, that last message from the tomb. Then,
as they drew back and waited with broken sobs and smothered weeping,
Ralph and Robbie began tenderly to remove the _débris_ and soil which
time had formed into a mound below the inscription.

When, at last, there was revealed two skeletons, locked together in the
last clasp of love, which even death could not sever, Maud cried aloud
with a wail of anguish:--

"Oh, _can this be the last_ of beautiful Ivarene and dear, brave Bruce?"

Choking back their sobs, they all knelt in a circle, while Mrs. Warlow's
voice rose in a passionate, fervid prayer; then tenderly, with loving
care, they carried the remains down to the Warlow carriage, leaving Mora
and Clifford still lingering by the vacant mound.

They stood in silence a moment, the only sound the soft rustle of
wild-ivy that half draped the cliff in its mottled foliage of crimson,
green, and bronze; the radiant sunlight from the cloudless sky lit up
the sunflowers and gentian that grew in stunted clusters on the
hillside, while the sumac flaunted its plumes of scarlet, gold, and
purple along the rifts of the white, rocky wall.

Lifting their gaze from the open grave, their eyes met in a swift flash
of joy, while a half-puzzled look of delight and recognition struggled
over their faces; then, bounding lightly over the open grave, Clifford
whispered in a tone of unspeakable love and yearning:--

"Oh, Ivarene, my sweetheart of long ago, we meet at last!"

"Then it is as I have dreamed--and you are Bruce!" she answered, with a
sob of joy, while springing into his outstretched arms.

"Yes, love, I am convinced that we meet again after all these years of
waiting. Though to the world we may be only Mora and Clifford, yet,
darling, to each other we will ever be Ivarene and Bruce," he replied,
while raining kisses upon her upturned, radiant face.

Ah! how can I tell of the serene wedding morn that marked that happy day
when Clifford and Mora paced back and forth on the sunlighted terrace at
the Stone Corral, now no longer a modest cottage, but a stately though
quaint mansion of red sandstone. The tender, blue haze of Indian summer
brooded over the valley, where the fields of wheat shone dewy and green,
and the newly-mown meadows stretched away like a verdant carpet far out
onto the highlands, miles upon miles--all their own. The marble fountain
threw a glittering sheen of silver high in the air, while the breeze
swept the blossom-laden tendrils that trailed down the showy vases, and
swayed the limbs of the old elm to and fro about the gables of the
elegant home.

"Oh, Ivarene, dear love! how strange it is to take up the thread of our
happiness on the spot, almost where our lives went out in such black
despair just twenty-six years ago! I know why you wish to have our
bridal here, darling; for it was here, at the Old Corral, that our
former trials overwhelmed us, and it is doubly sweet to begin happiness
again on this spot."

"Bruce, my darling, I can remember nothing of the old life and its
trials, that ended at our grave on Antelope Butte; but my love for
you--ah! that can never perish. It has survived even the horrors of that
lonesome tomb. It is strange we only recognized each other at that empty
grave; but I had always felt such a longing to meet some one, that now I
know it was the spirit within me crying dumbly for you; and oh! the
unutterable content when at length I met you, and the joy of only being
with you now,--it is more than Eden!"

"Sweet Ivarene, do you ever ponder on what eternity means for us, now we
have its secret?--a limitless succession of life in all its phases; that
the grave is only the door to life again, when we can choose another
birth--passing through all the freshening scenes of infancy and youth;
growing up again as boy and girl; seeking each other out for another
union like this, where we shall always recognize each other, but forget
the old life,--it is _this_ which gives hope and zest to this happy day;
for we know that we shall really never be separated."

"We will pass a happy life together, my love; and from out our abundance
we can sweeten the lives of many others who have not been blessed with
great riches," he continued, in a tender tone.

"Yes, dear Bruce, and the treasure of Monteluma should be dedicated to
charity alone, for we have enough without it," she replied; then,
pointing to a newly-sodded grave at the foot of the lawn--a mound that
was marked by a marble slab on which only was engraved,

    "BRUCE AND IVARENE,"

she continued, with a smile of ineffable peace on her beaming face:
"That is for the eyes of the world, dear Bruce; but we know that we are
they, only masquerading under the names of Mora and Clifford."

At that moment Maud, Ralph, Hugh, and Grace came on to the terrace
above, and Hugh, in a voice husky with emotion, said:--

"Come, Mora and Clifford, the minister waits."

Tarrying a moment, while the others moved on along the terrace, the
happy pair stood gazing out over the tranquil valley, then, drawing
aside her veil, which trailed liked a mist down over her robe of
glistening satin, white as a snow-drift, she raised a radiant face to
his, and said:--

"My Bruce, we live again--we live again!"

Stooping, while their lips met, he murmured:--

"Yes, Ivarene, dear bride, and this--oh! this is heaven!"

A moment more, and they had disappeared within the flower-wreathed
doorway.





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