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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Girl of the Golden West By David Belasco Characters: 34397

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

In the space of six months one can do little or much harm. The young bandit,-for he had kept his oath to his father,-flattered himself that he had done much. In all the mining camps of the Sierras the mere mention of the name of Ramerrez brought forth execrations. Not a stage started out with its precious golden freight without its passengers having misgivings that they would be held up before reaching Sacramento. Messengers armed with shotguns were always to be found at their post beside the drivers; yet, despite all precautions, not a week passed without a report that the stage out of this or that camp, had been attacked and the passengers forced to surrender their money and valuables. Under no circumstances, however, were any of Ramerrez's own countrymen molested. If, by any chance, the road agent made a mistake and stopped a party of native Californians or Mexicans, they were at once permitted to proceed on their way with the bandit-leader's profuse apologies.

But it was altogether different with Americans. The men of that race were compelled to surrender their gold; although so far as he was concerned, their women were exempt from robbery. As a matter of fact, he had few chances to show his chivalry, since few women were living, at that time, in the Sierras. Nevertheless, it happened in rare instances that a stage was held up which contained one or two of them, and they were never known to complain of his treatment. And so far, at least, he had contrived to avoid any serious bloodshed. Two or three messengers, it is true, had been slightly wounded; but that was the most that his worst enemies could charge against him.

As for Ramerrez's own attitude towards the life he was leading, it must be confessed that, the plunge once taken, his days and nights were too full of excitement and adventure to leave him time to brood. Somewhat to his own surprise, he had inherited his father's power of iron domination. Young as he was, not one of his father's seasoned band of cut-throats ever questioned his right or his ability to command. At first, no doubt, they followed him through a rude spirit of loyalty; but after a short time it was because they had found in him all the qualities of a leader of men, one whose plans never miscarried. Fully two-thirds of the present band were vassals, as it were, in his family, while all were of Spanish or Mexican descent. In truth, Ramerrez himself was the only one among them who had any gringo blood in his veins. And hence not a tale of the outlaw's doings was complete without the narrator insisting upon it that the leader of the band-the road agent himself-closely resembled an American. One and all of his victims agreed that he spoke with an American accent, while the few who had been able to see his features on a certain occasion when the red bandanna, which he wore about his face, had fallen, never failed to maintain that he looked like an American.

As a matter of fact, Ramerrez not only bore the imprint of his mother's race in features and in speech, but the more he made war upon them, the more he realised that it was without any real feeling of hostility. In spite of his early training and in spite of his oath, he could not share his father's bitterness. True, the gringos had wrecked the fortunes of his house; it was due to them that his sole inheritance was an outlaw's name and an outlaw's leadership. And yet, despite it all, there was another fact that he could not forget,-the fact that he himself was one half gringo, one half the same race as that of the unforgotten Girl whom he had met on the road to Sacramento. Indeed, it had been impossible to forget her, for she had stirred some depth in him, the existence of which he had never before suspected. He was haunted by the thought of her attractive face, her blue eyes and merry, contagious laugh. For the hundredth time he recalled his feelings on that glorious day when he had intercepted her on the great highway. And with this memory would come a sudden shame of himself and occupation,-a realisation of the barrier which he had deliberately put between the present and the past. Up to the hour when he had parted from her, and had remained spellbound, seated on his horse at the fork of the roads, watching the vanishing coach up to the last minute, he was still a Spanish gentleman, still worthy in himself,-whatever his father had done,-to offer his love and his devotion to a pure and honest girl. But now he was an outlaw, a road agent going from one robbery to another, likely at any time to stain his hand with the life-blood of a fellow man. And this pretence that he was stealing in a righteous cause, that he was avenging the wrongs that had been done to his countrymen,-why, it was the rankest hypocrisy! He knew in his heart that vengeance and race hatred had nothing whatever to do with it. It was because he loved it like a game, a game of unforeseen, unguessed danger. The fever of it was in his blood, like strong drink,-and with every day's adventure, the thirst for it grew stronger.

Yet, however personally daring, Ramerrez was the last person in the world to trust to chance for his operations, more than was absolutely necessary. He handled his men with shrewd judgment and strict discipline. Furthermore, never was an attack made that was not the outcome of a carefully matured plan. A prime factor in Ramerrez' success had from the first been the information which he was able to obtain from the Mexicans, not connected with his band, concerning the places that the miners used as temporary depositories for their gold; and it was information of this sort that led Ramerrez and his men to choose a certain Mexican settlement in the mountains as a base of operations: namely, the tempting fact that a large amount of gold was stored nightly in the Polka Saloon, at the neighbouring camp on Cloudy Mountain.

And there was still another reason.

Despite the fact that his heart had been genuinely touched by the many and unusual attractions of the Girl, it is not intended to convey the idea that he was austere or incapable of passion for anyone else. For that was not so. Although, to give the bandit his due, he had remained quite exemplary, when one considers his natural charm as well as the fascination which his adventurous life had for his country-women. Unfortunately, however, in one of his weak moments, he had foolishly permitted himself to become entangled with a Mexican woman-Nina Micheltore?a, by name-whose jealous nature now threatened to prove a serious handicap to him. It was a particularly awkward situation in which he found himself placed, inasmuch as this woman had furnished him with much valuable information. In fact, it was she who had called his attention to the probable spoils to be had in the American camp near by. It can readily be imagined, therefore, that it was not without a premonition of trouble to come that he sought the Mexican settlement with the intention of paying her a hundred-fold for her valuable assistance in the past and then be through with her for good and all.

The Mexican or greaser settlements had little in them that resembled their American neighbours. In the latter there were few women, for the long distance that the American pioneers had to travel before reaching the gold-fields of California, the hardships that they knew had to be encountered, deterred them from bringing their wives and daughters. But with the Mexicans it was wholly different. The number of women in their camps almost equalled that of the men, and the former could always be seen, whenever the weather permitted, strolling about or sitting in the doorways chatting with their neighbours, while children were everywhere. In fact, everything about the Mexican settlements conveyed the impression that they had come to stay-a decided contrast to the transient appearance of the camps of the Americans.

It was one evening late in the fall that Ramerrez and his band halted just outside of this particular Mexican settlement. And after instructing his men where they should meet him the following day, he sent them off to enjoy themselves for the night with their friends. For, Ramerrez, although exercising restraint over his band, never failed to see to it that they had their pleasures as well as their duties-a trait in his character that had not a little to do with his great influence over his men. And so it happened that he made his way alone up the main street to the hall where a dance was going on.

The scene that met his eyes on entering the long, low room was a gay one. It was a motley crowd gathered there in which the Mexicans, not unnaturally, predominated. Here and there, however, were native Californians, Frenchmen, Germans and a few Americans, the latter conspicuous by the absence of colour in their dress; for with the exception of an occasional coatless man in a red or blue shirt, they wore faded, old, black coats,-frequently frock-coats, at that,-which certainly contrasted unfavourably, at least so far as heightening the gaiety of the scene was concerned, with the green velvet jackets, brilliant waistcoats with gold filigree and silver buttons and red sashes of the Mexicans. That there was not a man present but what was togged out in his best and was armed, it goes without saying, even if the weapons of the Mexicans were in the form of murderous knives concealed somewhere about their persons instead of belts with guns and knives openly displayed, as was the case with the Americans.

At the time of the outlaw's entrance into the dance-hall the fandango was over. But presently the fiddles, accompanied by guitars, struck up a waltz, and almost instantly some twenty or more men and women took the floor; those not engaged in dancing surrounding the dancers, clapping their hands and shouting their applause. In order to see if the woman he sought was present, it was necessary for Ramerrez to push to the very front of the crowd of lookers-on, where he was not long in observing that nearly all the women present were of striking appearance and danced well; likewise, he noted, that none compared either in looks or grace with Nina Micheltore?a who, he had to acknowledge, even if his feelings for her were dead, was a superb specimen of a woman.

Good blood ran in the veins of Nina Micheltore?a. It is not in the province of this story to tell how it was that a favourite in the best circles of Monterey came to be living in a Mexican camp in the Sierras. Suffice it to say that her fall from grace had been rapid, though her dissolute career had in no way diminished her beauty. Indeed, her features were well-nigh perfect, her skin transparently clear, if dark, and her form was suppleness itself as she danced. And that she was the undisputed belle of the evening was made apparent by the number of men who watched her with eyes that marvelled at her grace when dancing, and surrounded her whenever she stopped, each pleading with her to accept him as a partner.

Almost every colour of the rainbow had a place in her costume for the occasion: The bodice was of light blue silk; the skirt orange; encircling her small waist was a green sash; while her jet-black hair was fastened with a crimson ribbon. Diamonds flashed from the earrings in her ears as well as from the rings on her fingers. All in all, it was scarcely to be wondered at that her charms stirred to the very depths the fierce passion of the desperate characters about her.

That Ramerrez dreaded the interview which he had determined to have with his confederate can easily be understood by anyone who has ever tried to sever his relations with an enamoured woman. In fact the outlaw dreaded it so much that he decided to postpone it as long as he could. And so, after sauntering aimlessly about the room, and coming, unexpectedly, across a woman of his acquaintance, he began to converse with her, supposing, all the time, that Nina Micheltore?a was too occupied with the worshippers at her shrine to perceive that he was in the dance-hall. But it was decidedly a case of the wish being father to the thought: Not a movement had he made since he entered that she was not cognisant of it and, although she hated to acknowledge it to herself, deep down in her heart she was conscious that he was not as thoroughly under the sway of her dark eyes as she would have wished. Something had happened in the last few weeks that had brought about a change in him, but just what it was she was unable to determine. There were moments when she saw plainly that he was much more occupied with his daring plans than he was with thoughts of her. So far, it was true, there had been no evidences on his part of any hesitation in confiding his schemes to her. Of that she was positive. But, on the other hand, she had undoubtedly lost some of her influence over him. It did not lessen her nervousness to realise that he had been in the hall for some time without making any effort to see her. Besides, the appointment had been of his own making, inasmuch as he had sent word by one of his band that she should meet him to-night in this place. Furthermore, she knew that he had in mind one of the boldest projects he had yet attempted and needed, to insure success, every scrap of knowledge that she possessed. In the meantime, while she waited for him to seek her out, she resolved to show him the extent of her power to fascinate others; and from that moment never had she seemed more attractive and alluring to her admirers, in all of whom she appeared to excite the fiercest of passions. In fact, one word whispered in an ear by those voluptuous lips and marvellously sweet, musical voice, and the recipient would have done her bidding, even had she demanded a man's life as the price of her favour.

It is necessary, however, to single out one man as proving an exception to this sweeping assertion, although this particular person seemed no less devoted than the other men present. He was plainly an American and apparently a stranger to his countrymen as well as to the Mexicans. His hair was white and closely cropped, the eyebrows heavy and very black, the lips nervous and thin but denoting great determination, and the face was tanned to the colour of old leather, sufficiently so as to be noticeable even in a country where all faces were tanned, swarthy, and dark. One would have thought that this big, heavy, but extremely-active man whose clothes, notwithstanding the wear and tear of the road, were plainly cut on "'Frisco patterns," was precisely the person calculated to make an impression upon a woman like Nina Micheltore?a; and, yet, oddly enough, he was the only man in the room whose attentions seemed distasteful to her. It could not be accounted for on the ground of his nationality, for she danced gladly with others of his race. Nor did it look like caprice on her part. On the contrary, there was an expression on her face that resembled something like fear when she refused to be cajoled into dancing with him. At length, finding her adamant, the man left the room.

But as time went by and still Ramerrez kept aloof, Nina Micheltore?a's excitement began to increase immeasureably. To such a woman the outlaw's neglect could mean but one thing-another woman. And, finally, unable to control herself any longer, she made her way to where the woman with whom Ramerrez had been conversing was standing alone.

"What has the Se?or been saying to you?" she demanded, jealousy and ungovernable passion blazing forth from her eyes.

"Nothing of interest to you," replied the other with a shrug of her shoulders.

"It's a lie!" burst from Nina's lips. "I heard him making love to you! I was standing near and heard every tone, every inflection of his voice! I saw how he looked at you!" And so crazed was she by jealousy that her face became distorted and almost ugly, if such a thing were possible, and her great eyes filled with hatred.

The other woman laughed scornfully.

"Make your man stay away from me then-if you can," she retorted.

At that the infuriated Nina drew a knife and cried:

"Swear to me that you'll not see him to-night, or-"

The sentence was never finished. Quick as lightning Ramerrez stepped in and caught Nina's up-raised arm. For one instant her eyes flashed fire at him; another, and submissive to his will, she slipped the knife somewhere in the folds of her dress and the attention that she had succeeded in attracting was diverted elsewhere. Those who had rushed up expecting a tragedy returned, once more, to their dancing.

"I have been looking for you, Nina," he said, taking her to one side. "I want to speak with you."

Nina laughed airily, but only another woman would have been able to detect the danger lurking in that laugh.

"Have you just come in?" she inquired casually. "It is generally not difficult to find me when there is dancing." And then with a significant smile: "But perhaps there were so many men about me that I was completely hidden from the view of the Se?or."

Ramerrez bowed politely his belief in the truth of her words; then he said somewhat seriou


"I see a vacant table over in the corner where we can talk without danger of being overheard. Come!" He led the way, the woman following him, to a rough table of pine at the farther end of the room where, immediately, a bottle and two glasses were placed before them. When they had pledged each other, Ramerrez went on to say, in a low voice, that he had made the appointment in order to deliver to her her share for the information that led to his successful holdup of the stage at a place known as "The Forks," a few miles back; and taking from his pocket a sack of gold he placed it on the table before her.

There was a silence in which Nina made no movement to pick up the gold; whereupon, Ramerrez repeated a little harshly:

"Your share."

Slowly the woman rose, picking up the sack as she did so, and with a request that he await her, she made her way over to the bar where she handed it to the Mexican in charge with a few words of instruction. In another moment she was again seated at the table with him.

"Why did you send for me to meet you here?" she now asked. "Why did you not come to my room-surely you knew that there was danger here?"

Carelessly, Ramerrez let his eyes wander about the room; no one was paying the slightest attention to them and, apparently, there being nothing to fear, he answered:

"From whom?"

For a brief space of time the woman looked at him as if she would ferret out his innermost thoughts; at length, she said with a shrug of the shoulders:

"Few here are to be thoroughly trusted. The woman you were with-she knows you?"

"I never met her but once before," was his laconic rejoinder.

Nina eyed him suspiciously; at last she was satisfied that he spoke the truth, but there was still that cold, abstracted manner of his to be explained. However, cleverly taking her cue from him she inquired in business-like tones:

"And how about The Polka Saloon-the raid on Cloudy Mountain Camp?"

A shade of annoyance crossed Ramerrez' face.

"I have decided to give that up-at least for a time."

Again Nina regarded him curiously; when she spoke there was a suspicious gleam in her eyes, though she said lightly:

"Perhaps you're right-it will not be an easy job."

"Far from it," quickly agreed the man. "But the real reason is, that I have planned to go below for a while."

The woman's eyes narrowed.

"You are going away then?"


"And what about me? Do I go with you?"

Ramerrez laughed uneasily.

"It is impossible. The fact is, it is best that this should be our last meeting." And seeing the change that came over her face he went on in more conciliatory tones: "Now, Nina, be reasonable. It is time that we understood each other. This interview must be final."

"And you came here to tell me this?" blazed the woman, scowling darkly upon him. And for the moment she looked all that she was reputed to be-a dangerous woman!

Receiving no answer, she spoke again.

"But you said that you would love me always?"

The man flushed.

"Did I say that once? What a memory you have!"

"And you never meant it?"

"I suppose so-at the time."

"Then you don't love me any more?"

Ramerrez made no answer.

For some moments Nina sat perfectly still. Her mind was busy trying to determine upon the best course to pursue. At length she decided to make one more attempt to see whether he was really in earnest. And if not…

"But to-night," she hazarded, leaning far over the table and putting her face close to his, her eyes the while flooded with voluptuousness, "you will come with me to my room?"

Ramerrez shook his head.

"No, Nina, all that is over."

The woman bit her lips with vexation.

"Are you made of stone? What is the matter with you to-night? Is there anything wrong with my beauty? Have you seen anyone handsomer than I am?"


"Then why not come? You don't hate?"

"I don't hate you in the least, but I won't go to your room."


There was a world of meaning in that one word. For a while she seemed to be reflecting; suddenly with great earnestness she said:

"Once for all, Ramerrez, listen to me. Rather than give you up to any other woman I will give you up to death. Now do you still refuse me?"

"Yes…" answered Ramerrez not unkindly and wholly unmoved by her threat. "We've been good pals, Nina, but it's best for both that we should part."

In the silence that ensued the woman did some hard thinking. That a man could ever tire of her without some other woman coming into his life never once entered into her mind. Something told her, nevertheless, that the woman with whom he had been conversing was not the woman that she sought; and at a loss to discover the person to whom he had transferred his affections, her mind reverted to his avowed purpose of withdrawing from the proposed Cloudy Mountain expedition. The more Nina reflected on that subject the more convinced she became that, for some reason or other, Ramerrez had been deceiving her. It was made all the more clear to her when she recalled that when Ramerrez' messenger had brought his master's message that she was to meet him, she had asked where the band's next rendezvous was to be, and that he, knowing full well that his countrywoman had ever been cognizant of his master's plans, had freely given the desired information. Like a flash it came to her now that no such meeting-place would have been selected for any undertaking other than a descent upon Cloudy Mountain Camp. Nor was her intuition or reasoning at fault: Ramerrez had not given up his intention of getting the miners' gold that he knew from her to be packed away somewhere in The Polka Saloon; but what she did not suspect, despite his peculiar behaviour, was that he had taken advantage of the proximity of the two camps to sever his relation, business and otherwise, with her. And yet, did he but know it, she was destined to play no small part in his life for the next few weeks!

Nina Micheltore?a had now decided upon her future course of action: She would let him think that his desire to break off all relations with her would not be opposed. Ever a keen judge of men and their ways, she was well aware that any effort to reclaim him to-night would meet with disaster. And so when Ramerrez, surprised at her long silence, looked up, he was met with a smiling face and the words:

"So be it, Ramerrez. But if anything happens, remember you have only yourself to blame."

Ramerrez was astounded at her cool dismissal of the subject. To judge by the expression on his face he had indeed obtained his release far easier than he had deemed it possible. As a matter of fact, her indifference so piqued him that before he was conscious of his words he had asked somewhat lamely:

"You wish me well? We part as friends?"

Nina regarded him with well-simulated surprise, and replied:

"Why, of course-the best of friends. Good luck, amigo!" And with that she rose and left him.

And so it was that later that evening after assuring herself that neither Ramerrez nor any of his band remained in the dance-hall, Nina, her face set and pale, exchanged a few whispered words with that same big man towards whom, earlier in the evening, she had shown such animosity.

The effect of these words was magical; the man could not suppress a grunt of intense satisfaction.

"She says I'm to meet her to-morrow night at the Palmetto Restaurant," said Ashby to himself after the woman had lost herself in a crowd of her own countrymen. "She will tell where I can put my hands on this Ramerrez. Bah! It's too good to be true. Nevertheless, I'll be on hand, my lady, for if anyone knows of this fellow's movements I'll wager you do."

At that moment Ashby, the Wells Fargo Agent, was nearer than ever before to the most brilliant capture of all his career.

Late the following afternoon, some five miles from the Mexican settlement, on a small tableland high above a black ravine which was thickly timbered with the giant trees of the Sierras, Ramerrez' band was awaiting the coming of the Maestro. It was not to be a long wait and they stood around smoking and talking in low tones. Suddenly, the sound of horses climbing was heard, and soon a horseman came in sight whose appearance had the effect of throwing them instantly into a state of excitement, one and all drawing their guns and making a dash for their horses, which were tied to trees. A moment later, however, another horseman appeared, and laughing boisterously at themselves they slid their guns back into their belts and retied their horses, for the man whom they recognised so quickly, the individual who saved the situation, as it were, was none other than Jose Castro, an ex-padrona of the bull-fights and the second in command to Ramerrez. He was a wiry, hard-faced and shifty-eyed Mexican, but was as thoroughly devoted to Ramerrez as he had been to the young leader's father. On the other hand, the man who had caused them to fear that a stranger had surprised them, and that they had been trapped, was Ramerrez or Johnson-the name that he had assumed for the dangerous work he was about to engage in-and they had failed to know him, dressed as he was in the very latest fashion prevailing among the Americans in Sacramento in '49. Nor was it to be wondered at, for on his head was a soft, brown hat-large, but not nearly the proportions of a sombrero; a plain, rough tweed coat and a waistcoat of a darker tan, which showed a blue flannel shirt beneath it; and his legs were encased in boots topped by dark brown leggings. In a word, his get-up resembled closely the type of American referred to disdainfully by the miners of that time as a Sacramento guy; whereas, the night before he had taken great pains to attire himself as gaudily as any of the Mexicans at the dance, and he had worn a short black jacket of a velvety material that was not unlike corduroy and covered with braid; his breeches were of the same stuff; above his boots were leather gaiters; and around his waist was a red sash.

It was now close to four o'clock in the afternoon and the band began their preparations for the raid. To the rear of the small, open space where they had been waiting was a fairly good-sized cave, in the opening of which they deposited various articles unnecessary for the expedition. It took only a short time to do this, and within half an hour from the time that their leader had so startled them by his strange appearance, the outlaws were ready to take the trail for Cloudy Mountain. One comprehensive glance the pseudo-American-and he certainly looked the part-shot at his picturesque, if rough-looking followers, not a few of whom showed red bandannas under their sombreros or around their necks-and then with a satisfied expression on his face-for he had a leader's pride in his men-he gave the signal and led the way along and down the steep trail from the tableland. And as from time to time he glanced back over his shoulders to where the men were coming along in single file, he could see that in every eye was a glint of exultation at the prospect of booty.

After they had gone about three miles they crossed the black ravine, and from there they began to ascend. Up and up they went, the path very hard on the horses, until finally they came to the top of a pass where it had been arranged that the band should await further instructions, none going on further save the two leaders. Here, saddle-girths and guns were inspected, the last orders given, and with a wave of the hand in response to the muttered wishes of good luck, Johnson,-for as such he will be known from this time on,-followed by Castro, made his way through the forest towards Cloudy Mountain.

For an hour or so Johnson rode along in that direction, checking the speed of his horse every time the sun came into view and showed that there was yet some time before sunset. Presently, he made a sign to Castro to take the lead, for he had never been in this locality before, and was relying on his subordinate to find a spot from which he could reconnoitre the scene of the proposed raid without the slightest danger of meeting any of the miners.

At a very sharp turn of the road to the left Castro struck off through the forest to the right and, within a few minutes, reached a place where the trees had thinned out and were replaced by the few scrubs that grew in a spot almost barren. A minute or so more and the two men, their horses tied, were able to get an uninterrupted view of Cloudy Mountain.

The scene before them was one of grandeur. Day was giving place to night, fall to winter, and yet at this hour all the winds were stilled. In the distance gleamed the snow-capped Sierras, range after range as far as the eye could see to the northwest; in the opposite direction there stood out against the steel-blue of the sky a succession of wooded peaks ever rising higher and higher until culminating in the faraway white mountains of the south; and below, they looked upon a ravine that was brownish-green until the rays of the departing orb touched the leaves with opal tints.

Now the fast-falling sun flung its banner of gorgeous colours across the western sky. Immediately a wonderful light played upon the fleecy cumuli gathered in the upper heavens of the east and changed them from pearl to brilliant scarlet. For a moment, also, the purple hills became wonderful piles of dull gold and copper; a moment more and the magic hand of the King of Day was withdrawn.

In front of them now, dark, gloomy and threatening rose Cloudy Mountain, from which the Mining Camp took its name; and on a plateau near its base the camp itself could plainly be seen. It consisted of a group of miners' cabins set among pines, firs and manzaneta bushes with two larger pine-slab buildings, and scattered around in various places were shafts, whose crude timber-hoists appeared merely as vague outlines in the fast-fading light. The distance to the camp from where they stood was not over three miles as the crow flies, but it appeared much less in the rarefied atmosphere.

As the two bandits stood on the edge of the precipice looking across and beyond the intervening gulch or ravine, here and there a light twinkled out from the cabins and, presently, a much stronger illumination shot forth from one of the larger and more pretentious buildings. Castro was quick to call his master's attention to it.

"There-that place with the light is The Palmetto Hotel!" he exclaimed. "And over there-the one with the larger light is The Polka Saloon!" For even as he spoke the powerful kerosene lamp of The Polka Saloon, flanked by a composition metal reflector, flashed out its light into the gloom enveloping the desolate, ominous-looking mountains.

Johnson regarded this building long and thoughtfully. Then his eyes made out a steep trail which zigzagged from The Polka Saloon up the barren slopes of the mountain until it reached a cabin perched on the very top, the steps and porch of which were held up by poles made of trees. There, also, a light could be seen, but dimly. It was a strange place for anyone to erect a dwelling-place, and he found himself wondering what manner of person dwelt there. Of one thing he was certain: whoever it was the mountains were loved for themselves, for no mere digger of gold would think of erecting a habitation in view of those strange, vast, and silent heights!

And as he meditated thus, he perceived that the far off Sierras were forming a background for a sinuous coil of smoke from the cabin. For some time he watched it curling up into the great arch of sky. It was as if he were hypnotised by it and, in a vague, shadowy way, he had a sense of being connected, somehow, with the little cabin and its recluse. Was this feeling that he had a premonition of danger? Was this a moment of foreboding and distrust of the situation yet to be revealed? For like most venturesome men he always had a moment before every one of his undertakings in which his instinct either urged him forward or held him back.

Suddenly he became conscious that his eyes no longer saw the smoke. He stared hard to glimpse it, but it was gone. And with a supreme effort he wrenched himself free from a sort of paralysis which was stealing away his senses.

Now the light in the cabin disappeared, and since the shades of night, for which he had been waiting, had fallen, he called to the impatient and wondering Castro, and together they went back to the trail.

But even as they crossed the gulch and reached the outskirts of the camp a great white moon rose from behind the Sierras. To Castro, hidden now in the pines, it meant nothing so long as it did not interfere with his purpose. As a matter of fact he was already listening intently to the bursts of song and shouts of revelry that came every now and then from the nearby saloon. But his master, unaccountably under the spell of the moon's mystery and romance, watched it until it shed its silvery and magic light upon the lone cabin on the top of Cloudy Mountain, which Fate had chosen for the decisive scene of his dramatic life.

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