Kate was stirring early, but not as
early as her sister, who met her on the threshold
of her room. Her face was quite pale, and she
held a letter in her hand. “What does this
“What is the matter?”
asked Kate, her own color fading from her cheek.
“They are gone with
their horses. Left before day, and left this.”
She handed Kate an open letter.
The girl took it hurriedly, and read
“When you get this we shall
be no more; perhaps not even as much. Ned found
the trail yesterday, and we are taking the first advantage
of it before day. We dared not trust ourselves
to say ‘Good-by!’ last evening; we were
too cowardly to face you this morning; we must go as
we came, without warning, but not without regret.
We leave a package and a letter for your husband.
It is not only our poor return for your gentleness
and hospitality, but, since it was accidentally the
means of giving us the pleasure of your society, we
beg you to keep it in safety until his return.
We kiss your mother’s hands. Ned wants to
say something more, but time presses, and I only allow
him to send his love to Minnie, and to tell her that
he is trying to find the red snow.
“But he is not fit to travel,”
said Mrs. Hale. “And the trail it
may not be passable.”
“It was passable the day before
yesterday,” said Kate drearily, “for I
discovered it, and went as far as the buck-eyes.”
“Then it was you who told them
about it,” said Mrs. Hale reproachfully.
“No,” said Kate indignantly.
“Of course I didn’t.” She stopped,
and, reading the significance of her speech in the
glistening eyes of her sister, she blushed. Josephine
kissed her, and said
“It was treating us like
children, Kate, but we must make them pay for it hereafter.
For that package and letter to John means something,
and we shall probably see them before long. I
wonder what the letter is about, and what is in the
“Probably one of Mr. Lee’s
jokes. He is quite capable of turning the whole
thing into ridicule. I dare say he considers his
visit here a prolonged jest.”
“With his poor leg, Kate?
You are as unfair to him as you were to Falkner when
they first came.”
Kate, however, kept her dark eyebrows
knitted in a piquant frown.
“To think of his intimating
what he would allow Falkner to say! And yet
you believe he has no evil influence over the young
Mrs. Hale laughed. “Where
are you going so fast, Kate?” she called mischievously,
as the young lady flounced out of the room.
“Where? Why, to tidy John’s
room. He may be coming at any moment now.
Or do you want to do it yourself?”
“No, no,” returned Mrs.
Hale hurriedly; “you do it. I’ll look
in a little later on.”
She turned away with a sigh.
The sun was shining brilliantly outside. Through
the half-open blinds its long shafts seemed to be searching
the house for the lost guests, and making the hollow
shell appear doubly empty. What a contrast to
the dear dark days of mysterious seclusion and delicious
security, lit by Lee’s laughter and the sparkling
hearth, which had passed so quickly! The forgotten
outer world seemed to have returned to the house through
those open windows and awakened its dwellers from
The morning seemed interminable, and
it was past noon, while they were deep in a sympathetic
conference with Mrs. Scott, who had drawn a pathetic
word-picture of the two friends perishing in the snow-drift,
without flannels, brandy, smelling-salts, or jelly,
which they had forgotten, when they were startled
by the loud barking of “Spot” on the lawn
before the house. The women looked hurriedly at
“They have returned,” said Mrs. Hale.
Kate ran to the window. A horseman
was approaching the house. A single glance showed
her that it was neither Falkner, Lee, nor Hale, but
“Perhaps he brings some news
of them,” said Mrs. Scott quickly. So complete
had been their preoccupation with the loss of their
guests that they could not yet conceive of anything
that did not pertain to it.
The stranger, who was at once ushered
into the parlor, was evidently disconcerted by the
presence of the three women.
“I reckoned to see John Hale yer,” he
A slight look of disappointment passed
over their faces. “He has not yet returned,”
said Mrs. Hale briefly.
“Sho! I wanter know.
He’s hed time to do it, I reckon,” said
“I suppose he hasn’t been
able to get over from the Summit,” returned
Mrs. Hale. “The trail is closed.”
“It ain’t now, for I kem over it this
“You didn’t meet anyone?”
asked Mrs. Hale timidly, with a glance at the others.
A long silence ensued. The unfortunate
visitor plainly perceived an evident abatement of
interest in himself, yet he still struggled politely
to say something. “Then I reckon you know
what kept Hale away?” he said dubiously.
“Oh, certainly the stage robbery.”
“I wish I’d known that,”
said the stranger reflectively, “for I ez good
ez rode over jist to tell it to ye. Ye see John
Hale, he sent a note to ye ‘splainin’
matters by a gentleman; but the road agents tackled
that man, and left him for dead in the road.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Hale impatiently.
“Luckily he didn’t die,
but kem to, and managed to crawl inter the brush,
whar I found him when I was lookin’ for stock,
and brought him to my house ”
“You found him? Your house?”
interrupted Mrs. Hale.
“Inter my house,”
continued the man doggedly. “I’m Thompson
of Thompson’s Pass over yon; mebbe it ain’t
much of a house; but I brought him thar. Well,
ez he couldn’t find the note that Hale had guv
him, and like ez not the road agents had gone through
him and got it, ez soon ez the weather let up I made
a break over yer to tell ye.”
“You say Mr. Lee came to your
house,” repeated Mrs. Hale, “and is there
“Not much,” said the man
grimly; “and I never said Lee was thar.
I mean that Bilson waz shot by Lee and kem ”
said Kate, suddenly stepping between her sister and
Thompson, and turning upon her a white face and eyes
of silencing significance; “certainly don’t
you remember? that’s the story we
got from the Chinaman, you know, only muddled.
Go on sir,” she continued, turning to Thompson
calmly; “you say that the man who brought the
note from my brother was shot by Lee?”
“And another fellow they call
Falkner. Yes, that’s about the size of
“Thank you; it’s nearly
the same story that we heard. But you have had
a long ride, Mr. Thompson; let me offer you a glass
of whiskey in the dining-room. This way, please.”
The door closed upon them none too
soon. For Mrs. Hale already felt the room whirling
around her, and sank back into her chair with a hysterical
laugh. Old Mrs. Scott did not move from her seat,
but, with her eyes fixed on the door, impatiently
waited Kate’s return. Neither spoke, but
each felt that the young, untried girl was equal to
the emergency, and would get at the truth.
The sound of Thompson’s feet
in the hall and the closing of the front door was
followed by Kate’s reappearance. Her face
was still pale, but calm.
“Well?” said the two women in a breath.
“Well,” returned Kate
slowly; “Mr. Lee and Mr. Falkner were undoubtedly
the two men who took the paper from John’s messenger
and brought it here.”
“You are sure?” said Mrs. Scott.
“There can be no mistake, mother.”
“Then,” said Mrs.
Scott, with triumphant feminine logic, “I don’t
want anything more to satisfy me that they are perfectly
More convincing than the most perfect
masculine deduction, this single expression of their
common nature sent a thrill of sympathy and understanding
through each. They cried for a few moments on
each other’s shoulders. “To think,”
said Mrs. Scott, “what that poor boy must have
suffered to have been obliged to do that
to to Bilson isn’t
that the creature’s name? I suppose we
ought to send over there and inquire after him, with
some chicken and jelly, Kate. It’s only
common humanity, and we must be just, my dear; for
even if he shot Mr. Lee and provoked the poor boy
to shoot him, he may have thought it his duty.
And then, it will avert suspicions.”
“To think,” murmured Mrs.
Hale, “what they must have gone through while
they were here momentarily expecting John
to come, and yet keeping up such a light heart.”
“I believe, if they had stayed
any longer, they would have told us everything,”
said Mrs. Scott.
Both the younger women were silent.
Kate was thinking of Falkner’s significant speech
as they neared the house on their last walk; Josephine
was recalling the remorseful picture drawn by Lee,
which she knew was his own portrait. Suddenly
“But John will be here soon;
what are we to tell him? And then that package
and that letter.”
“Don’t be in a hurry to
tell him anything at present, my child,” said
Mrs. Scott gently. “It is unfortunate this
Mr. Thompson called here, but we are not obliged to
understand what he says now about John’s message,
or to connect our visitors with his story. I’m
sure, Kate, I should have treated them exactly as
we did if they had come without any message from John;
so I do not know why we should lay any stress on that,
or even speak of it. The simple fact is that
we have opened our house to two strangers in distress.
Your husband,” continued Mr. Hale’s mother-in-law,
“does not require to know more. As to the
letter and package, we will keep that for further
consideration. It cannot be of much importance,
or they would have spoken of it before; it is probably
some trifling present as a return for your hospitality.
I should use no indecorous haste in having it
The two women kissed Mrs. Scott with
a feeling of relief, and fell back into the monotony
of their household duties. It is to be feared,
however, that the absence of their outlawed guests
was nearly as dangerous as their presence in the opportunity
it afforded for uninterrupted and imaginative reflection.
Both Kate and Josephine were at first shocked and
wounded by the discovery of the real character of
the two men with whom they had associated so familiarly,
but it was no disparagement to their sense of propriety
to say that the shock did not last long, and was accompanied
with the fascination of danger. This was succeeded
by a consciousness of the delicate flattery implied
in their indirect influence over the men who had undoubtedly
risked their lives for the sake of remaining with
them. The best woman is not above being touched
by the effect of her power over the worst man, and
Kate at first allowed herself to think of Falkner
in that light. But if in her later reflections
he suffered as a heroic experience to be forgotten,
he gained something as an actual man to be remembered.
Now that the proposed rides from “his friend’s
house” were a part of the illusion, would he
ever dare to visit them again? Would she dare
to see him? She held her breath with a sudden
pain of parting that was new to her; she tried to
think of something else, to pick up the scattered threads
of her life before that eventful day. But in
vain; that one week had filled the place with implacable
memories, or more terrible, as it seemed to her and
her sister, they had both lost their feeble, alien
hold upon Eagle’s Court in the sudden presence
of the real genii of these solitudes, and henceforth
they alone would be the strangers there. They
scarcely dared to confess it to each other, but this
return to the dazzling sunlight and cloudless skies
of the past appeared to them to be the one unreal
experience; they had never known the true wild flavor
of their home, except in that week of delicious isolation.
Without breathing it aloud, they longed for some vague
denoument to this experience that should take them
from Eagle’s Court forever.
It was noon the next day when the
little household beheld the last shred of their illusion
vanish like the melting snow in the strong sunlight
of John Hale’s return. He was accompanied
by Colonel Clinch and Rawlins, two strangers to the
women. Was it fancy, or the avenging spirit of
their absent companions? but he too looked a stranger,
and as the little cavalcade wound its way up the slope
he appeared to sit his horse and wear his hat with
a certain slouch and absence of his usual restraint
that strangely shocked them. Even the old half-condescending,
half-punctilious gallantry of his greeting of his wife
and family was changed, as he introduced his companions
with a mingling of familiarity and shyness that was
new to him. Did Mrs. Hale regret it, or feel a
sense of relief in the absence of his usual seignorial
formality? She only knew that she was grateful
for the presence of the strangers, which for the moment
postponed a matrimonial confidence from which she shrank.
“Proud to know you,” said
Colonel Clinch, with a sudden outbreak of the antique
gallantry of some remote Huguenot ancestor. “My
friend, Judge Hale, must be a regular Roman citizen
to leave such a family and such a house at the call
of public duty. Eh, Rawlins?”
“You bet,” said Rawlins,
looking from Kate to her sister in undisguised admiration.
“And I suppose the duty could
not have been a very pleasant one,” said Mrs.
Hale, timidly, without looking at her husband.
“Gad, madam, that’s just
it,” said the gallant Colonel, seating himself
with a comfortable air, and an easy, though by no means
disrespectful, familiarity. “We went into
this fight a little more than a week ago. The
only scrimmage we’ve had has been with the detectives
that were on the robbers’ track. Ha! ha!
The best people we’ve met have been the friends
of the men we were huntin’, and we’ve generally
come to the conclusion to vote the other ticket!
Ez Judge Hale and me agreed ez we came along, the
two men ez we’d most like to see just now and
shake hands with are George Lee and Ned Falkner.”
“The two leaders of the party
who robbed the coach,” explained Mr. Hale, with
a slight return of his usual precision of statement.
The three women looked at each other
with a blaze of thanksgiving in their grateful eyes.
Without comprehending all that Colonel Clinch had
said, they understood enough to know that their late
guests were safe from the pursuit of that party, and
that their own conduct was spared criticism.
I hardly dare write it, but they instantly assumed
the appearance of aggrieved martyrs, and felt as if
“Yes, ladies!” continued
the Colonel, inspired by the bright eyes fixed upon
him. “We haven’t taken the road ourselves
yet, but pohn honor we wouldn’t
mind doing it in a case like this.” Then
with the fluent, but somewhat exaggerated, phraseology
of a man trained to “stump” speaking,
he gave an account of the robbery and his own connection
with it. He spoke of the swindling and treachery
which had undoubtedly provoked Falkner to obtain restitution
of his property by an overt act of violence under
the leadership of Lee. He added that he had learned
since at Wild Cat Station that Harkins had fled the
country, that a suit had been commenced by the Excelsior
Ditch Company, and that all available property of
Harkins had been seized by the sheriff.
“Of course it can’t be
proved yet, but there’s no doubt in my mind that
Lee, who is an old friend of Ned Falkner’s, got
up that job to help him, and that Ned’s off
with the money by this time and I’m
right glad of it. I can’t say ez we’ve
done much towards it, except to keep tumbling in the
way of that detective party of Stanner’s, and
so throw them off the trail ha, ha!
The Judge here, I reckon, has had his share of fun,
for while he was at Hennicker’s trying to get
some facts from Hennicker’s pretty daughter,
Stanner tried to get up some sort of vigilance committee
of the stage passengers to burn down Hennicker’s
ranch out of spite, but the Judge here stepped in and
“It was really a high-handed
proceeding, Josephine, but I managed to check it,”
said Hale, meeting somewhat consciously the first direct
look his wife had cast upon him, and falling back for
support on his old manner. “In its way,
I think it was worse than the robbery by Lee and Falkner,
for it was done in the name of law and order; while,
as far as I can judge from the facts, the affair that
we were following up was simply a rude and irregular
restitution of property that had been morally stolen.”
“I have no doubt you did quite
right, though I don’t understand it,”
said Mrs. Hale languidly; “but I trust these
gentlemen will stay to luncheon, and in the meantime
excuse us for running away, as we are short of servants,
and Manuel seems to have followed the example of the
head of the house and left us, in pursuit of somebody
When the three women had gained the
vantage-ground of the drawing-room, Kate said, earnestly,
“As it’s all right, hadn’t we better
tell him now?”
“Decidedly not, child,”
said Mrs. Scott, imperatively. “Do you suppose
they are in a hurry to tell us their whole story?
Who are those Hennicker people? and they were there
a week ago!”
“And did you notice John’s
hat when he came in, and the vulgar familiarity of
calling him ’Judge’?” said Mrs. Hale.
“Well, certainly anything like
the familiarity of this man Clinch I never saw,”
said Kate. “Contrast his manner with Mr.
At luncheon the three suffering martyrs
finally succeeded in reducing Hale and his two friends
to an attitude of vague apology. But their triumph
was short-lived. At the end of the meal they were
startled by the trampling of hoofs without, followed
by loud knocking. In another moment the door
was opened, and Mr. Stanner strode into the room.
Hale rose with a look of indignation.
“I thought, as Mr. Stanner understood
that I had no desire for his company elsewhere, he
would hardly venture to intrude upon me in my house,
and certainly not after ”
“Ef you’re alluding to
the Vigilantes shakin’ you and Zeenie up at
Hennicker’s, you can’t make me responsible
for that. I’m here now on business you
understand reg’lar business.
Ef you want to see the papers yer ken. I suppose
you know what a warrant is?”
“I know what you are,”
said Hale hotly; “and if you don’t leave
my house ”
“Steady, boys,” interrupted
Stanner, as his five henchmen filed into the hall.
“There’s no backin’ down here, Colonel
Clinch, unless you and Hale kalkilate to back down
the State of Californy! The matter stands like
this. There’s a half-breed Mexican, called
Manuel, arrested over at the Summit, who swears he
saw George Lee and Edward Falkner in this house the
night after the robbery. He says that they were
makin’ themselves at home here, as if they were
among friends, and considerin’ the kind of help
we’ve had from Mr. John Hale, it looks ez if
it might be true.”
“It’s an infamous lie!” said Hale.
“It may be true, John,”
said Mrs. Scott, suddenly stepping in front of her
pale-cheeked daughters. “A wounded man was
brought here out of the storm by his friend, who claimed
the shelter of your roof. As your mother I should
have been unworthy to stay beneath it and have denied
that shelter or withheld it until I knew his name and
what he was. He stayed here until he could be
removed. He left a letter for you. It will
probably tell you if he was the man this person is
“Thank you, mother,” said
Hale, lifting her hand to his lips quietly; “and
perhaps you will kindly tell these gentlemen that,
as your son does not care to know who or what the
stranger was, there is no necessity for opening the
letter, or keeping Mr. Stanner a moment longer.”
“But you will oblige me,
John, by opening it before these gentlemen,”
said Mrs. Hale recovering her voice and color.
“Please to follow me,” she said preceding
them to the staircase.
They entered Mr. Hale’s room,
now restored to its original condition. On the
table lay a letter and a small package. The eyes
of Mr. Stanner, a little abashed by the attitude of
the two women, fastened upon it and glistened.
Josephine handed her husband the letter.
He opened it in breathless silence and read
“We owe you no return for voluntarily
making yourself a champion of justice and pursuing
us, except it was to offer you a fair field and no
favor. We didn’t get that much from you,
but accident brought us into your house and into your
family, where we did get it, and were fairly
vanquished. To the victors belong the spoils.
We leave the package of greenbacks which we took from
Colonel Clinch in the Sierra coach, but which was
first stolen by Harkins from forty-four shareholders
of the Excelsior Ditch. We have no right to say
what you should do with it, but if you aren’t
tired of following the same line of justice that induced
you to run after us, you will try to restore it
to its rightful owners.
“We leave you another trifle
as an evidence that our intrusion into your affairs
was not without some service to you, even if the service
was as accidental as the intrusion. You will
find a pair of boots in the corner of your closet.
They were taken from the burglarious feet of Manuel,
your peon, who, believing the three ladies were alone
and at his mercy, entered your house with an accomplice
at two o’clock on the morning of the 21st, and
was kicked out by
“Your obedient servants,
“George Lee & Edward Falkner”
Hale’s voice and color changed
on reading this last paragraph. He turned quickly
towards his wife; Kate flew to the closet, where the
muffled boots of Manuel confronted them. “We
never knew it. I always suspected something that
night,” said Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Scott in the
“That’s all very well,
and like George Lee’s high falutin’,”
said Stanner, approaching the table, “but as
long ez the greenbacks are here he can make what capital
he likes outer Manuel. I’ll trouble you
to pass over that package.”
“Excuse me,” said Hale,
“but I believe this is the package taken from
Colonel Clinch. Is it not?” he added, appealing
to the Colonel.
“It is,” said Clinch.
“Then take it,” said Hale,
handing him the package. “The first restitution
is to you, but I believe you will fulfil Lee’s
instructions as well as myself.”
“But,” said Stanner, furiously
interposing, “I’ve a warrant to seize
that wherever found, and I dare you to disobey the
“Mr. Stanner,” said Clinch,
slowly, “there are ladies present. If you
insist upon having that package I must ask them to
withdraw, and I’m afraid you’ll find me
better prepared to resist a second robbery than
I was the first. Your warrant, which was taken
out by the Express Company, is supplanted by civil
proceedings taken the day before yesterday against
the property of the fugitive swindler Harkins!
You should have consulted the sheriff before you came
Stanner saw his mistake. But
in the faces of his grinning followers he was obliged
to keep up his bluster. “You shall hear
from me again, sir,” he said, turning on his
“I beg your pardon,” said
Clinch grimly, “but do I understand that at
last I am to have the honor ”
“You shall hear from the Company’s
lawyers, sir,” said Stanner turning red, and
noisily leaving the room.
“And so, my dear ladies,”
said Colonel Clinch, “you have spent a week
with a highwayman. I say A highwayman, for it
would be hard to call my young friend Falkner by that
name for his first offence, committed under great
provocation, and undoubtedly instigated by Lee, who
was an old friend of his, and to whom he came, no
doubt, in desperation.”
Kate stole a triumphant glance at
her sister, who dropped her lids over her glistening
eyes. “And this Mr. Lee,” she continued
more gently, “is he really a highwayman?”
“George Lee,” said Clinch,
settling himself back oratorically in his chair, “my
dear young lady, is a highwayman, but not of the
common sort. He is a gentleman born, madam, comes
from one of the oldest families of the Eastern Shore
of Maryland. He never mixes himself up with anything
but some of the biggest strikes, and he’s an
educated man. He is very popular with ladies
and children; he was never known to do or say anything
that could bring a blush to the cheek of beauty or
a tear to the eye of innocence. I think I may
say I’m sure you found him so.”
“I shall never believe him anything
but a gentleman,” said Mrs. Scott, firmly.
“If he has a defect, it is perhaps
a too reckless indulgence in draw poker,” said
the Colonel, musingly; “not unbecoming a gentleman,
understand me, Mrs. Scott, but perhaps too reckless
for his own good. George played a grand game,
a glittering game, but pardon me if I say an uncertain
game. I’ve told him so; it’s the only
point on which we ever differed.”
“Then you know him?” said
Mrs. Hale, lifting her soft eyes to the Colonel.
“I have that honor.”
“Did his appearance, Josephine,”
broke in Hale, somewhat ostentatiously, “appear
to er er correspond
with these qualities? You know what I mean.”
“He certainly seemed very simple
and natural,” said Mrs. Hale, slightly drawing
her pretty lips together. “He did not wear
his trousers rolled up over his boots in the company
of ladies, as you’re doing now, nor did he make
his first appearance in this house with such a hat
as you wore this morning, or I should not have admitted
There were a few moments of embarrassing silence.
“Do you intend to give that
package to Mr. Falkner yourself, Colonel?” asked
“I shall hand it over to the
Excelsior Company,” said the Colonel, “but
I shall inform Ned of what I have done.”
“Then,” said Mrs. Scott,
“will you kindly take a message from us to him?”
“If you wish it.”
“You will be doing me a great favor, Colonel,”
said Hale, politely.
Whatever the message was, six months
later it brought Edward Falkner, the reestablished
superintendent of the Excelsior Ditch, to Eagle’s
Court. As he and Kate stood again on the plateau,
looking towards the distant slopes once more green
with verdure, Falkner said
“Everything here looks as it
did the first day I saw it, except your sister.”
“The place does not agree with
her,” said Kate hurriedly. “That is
why my brother thinks of leaving it before the winter
“It seems so sad,” said
Falkner, “for the last words poor George said
to me, as he left to join his cousin’s corps
at Richmond, were: ’If I’m not killed,
Ned, I hope some day to stand again beside Mrs. Hale,
at the window in Eagle’s Court, and watch you
and Kate coming home!’”