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   Chapter 21 WHO IS MRS. MAY

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 16803

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

Only one letter had Nick written to Carmen Gaylor-the one he had promised to write, telling her of his arrival in New York; that he was "pretty lonely, and didn't know how long he could stand for seeing no home sights." It never occurred to him to write again; and Carmen was not surprised at his remissness. She knew that Nick was not the sort of man who likes to write letters or can put his feelings upon paper. But when she received her invitation to visit Rushing River Camp, she could have sung for joy.

"We are hoping that an old friend of yours, Mr. Nickson Hilliard, may be with us when you come; as well as Miss Dene, the authoress," Mrs. Harland said in her note. And Carmen believed that she had Hilliard to thank for the compliment paid her by Falconer and his sister.

She knew that he had met Falconer and admired him; and putting two and two together, she fancied that already Nick must have come West, meaning to surprise her by his sudden appearance; that he had fallen in with Mrs. Harland and Falconer on the journey, perhaps been invited by them, and suggested, or at least hinted, that she should be asked to join the house-party at the same time.

"Otherwise, I don't believe they'd ever have thought of me," she told herself, with a humility which would have had an element of sulkiness if she had not been half out of her wits with happiness over the idea that Nick was near, and wanting her. If he had not wanted her, he would not have schemed to have her with him at Rushing River Camp.

All the anxieties and suspicions of the past weeks were forgotten. She telegraphed her acceptance, and began thinking what to wear during the visit. She admitted in her mind that Mrs. Harland was a "bigger swell" than she, and knew more of the world and Society. But she determined that the hostess should not outdo her guest in the way of "smart" dresses, hats, and jewellery.

Carmen broke her journey at San Francisco, staying there two days at the Palace Hotel. On the first of these days, as it happened, Nick and Angela motored to Mount Hamilton, and stayed late at the Lick Observatory. On the second day they went to Mount Tamalpais, lunching at the delightful "tavern" on the mountain-top, and rushing madly down the wondrous steeps at sunset, in the little "gravity car" guided by the landlord.

So it was that Carmen got no chance glimpse of the two together, and had no suspicion that in the hotel register of the St. Francis was inscribed the name of Nickson Hilliard. She shopped contentedly, and enjoyed looking at the prettily dressed women, because she saw none whom she thought as good-looking as herself. Then, on the second evening, just as Angela and Nick were tearing down the rocky height known familiarly to San Francisco as "the mountain," Carmen left for Shasta Springs.

It was early next morning after the long journey north, that the white pinnacle of Mount Shasta appeared floating in the sky above dark pines, and the rushing stream of the Sacramento, fed by eternal snows. But Carmen hardly glanced out of her stateroom window at the hovering white glory, though her maid mentioned that Shasta was in sight. Mrs. Harland and Falconer were both coming to meet her at the Springs station, and would motor her to Rushing River Camp by the fifty-mile road over the mountains. Carmen hoped that Nick might be with them, though nothing had been said about him in the telegram they had sent. In any case, her one care was to be beautiful after the night journey. She took no interest in mountains and rivers. Her whole soul was concentrated upon the freshness of her complexion and the angle of the mauve hat on her dark waved hair. Never a good sleeper, she had been too feverish at the prospect of seeing Nick to do more than doze off for a few minutes in her berth; consequently, there were annoying brown shadows under her eyes, and her cheeks looked a little sallow; but Mariette was an accomplished maid, who had been with Carmen ever since the old theatrical days, and when Mrs. Gaylor was ready to leave her stateroom at Shasta Springs station she looked as bright-eyed and rosy as if she had slept without dreaming. This effect was partly due to liquid rouge and bismuth, but largely to happy excitement-a woman's greatest beautifier.

Her heart was beating fast under embroidered, dove-coloured chiffon and pale gray Shantung, a dress too elaborate for a railway journey; and she had no eyes for the fairylike greenness of the place, the mountain-side shadowed by tall trees, or rocks clothed in delicate ferns and spouting forth white cascades. The full, rich summer she had left at home in the South was early spring in the cool North. The earth was like a bride, displaying her trousseau of lace, fall after fall of it, on green velvet cushions, and the gold of her dowry, the splendour of her wedding gifts, in a riot of flowers. No money coined in mints could buy diamonds such as this bride had been given by her mother-Nature; diamonds flashing in river and cascade upon cascade. But Carmen Gaylor had no eyes for them. She had merely a pleasant impression that Shasta Springs seemed to be a pretty place, and no wonder it was popular with millionaires, who built themselves houses up there on the height, in the forest! But it was only a passing thought, as he alighted from the train in the welcoming music of many waters, which she hardly heard. Her attention was centred on picking out Mrs. Harland and Falconer among the people who were waiting to meet friends, and on seeing whether Nick Hilliard was with them.

There was a crowd on the platform. Pretty "summer girls" with bare heads, over which they held parasols of bright green, or rose-red, that threw charming lights and shadows on their tanned faces: brown young men in khaki knickerbockers, shaking hands with paler men just coming from town, and little children in white, laughing at sight of arriving "daddies".

Soon Falconer, towering over most others, appeared with his sister by his side, and Carmen was pleased to see that Mrs. Harland's clothes could not compare with hers. Having no idea of suiting her costume to the country, she thought herself infinitely preferable in her Paris gown to Mrs. Harland in a cotton frock, and shady straw hat. But no Nick was visible, and Carmen's pleasure was dashed.

The brother and sister met her cordially, took her to look at the bubbling spring in its kiosk, and then up the height on the scenic railway. Presently they landed on the level of the parklike plateau, where a big hotel and its attendant cottages were visible, with many golden dolomitic peaks and great white Shasta itself peeping through the trees. Still nothing had been said about Nick; and Carmen dared not ask. She feared some disappointment, and shrank from the blow.

Mariette had brought coffee to her mistress's stateroom very early, but Carmen was not averse to the suggestion of breakfast at the hotel before motoring over the mountains. As they ate, they talked of impersonal things: the colony under the trees; the making of the mountain road; and Falconer told how Mount Shasta-long ago named by Indians "Iska, the White"-was the abode of the Great Spirit; and how, in old, old times, before the Indians, the sole inhabitants of the country were grizzly bears. Carmen listened to the unfolding of the tale into a fantastic love-story, saying, "Oh!" or "How interesting!" at polite intervals. Always she asked herself, "Where's Nick? Hasn't he come yet? Is it possible he's been prevented from coming at all?" She tried to brace herself against disappointment and not show that she cared, but she turned red and white when Mrs. Harland said at last, "We're so sorry Mr. Hilliard couldn't be with us. We both like him so much, and it would have been very nice to have him too, while you are at Rushing River Camp."

"Oh, he couldn't come!" Carmen echoed dully.

"No. Isn't it too bad? We thought you'd know-that he might have written--"

"Perhaps he has, and I've missed the letter," Carmen broke in, hating to let these strangers think her slighted by Hilliard. "I've been in San Francisco two days. But-where is he? On his way home?"

"I don't quite know," replied Mrs. Harland, rather evasively, it seemed. And then she changed the subject.

Carmen had never seen anything like that winding road over the mountains, w

ith the white, phantom glimpses of Shasta at every forest turning. Falconer's big automobile, which he kept at the "Camp," ran up the steep gradients without appearing to know that they existed, and Carmen strove to be cheerful, to look as if she were enjoying the drive. But her heart was a lump of ice, though she talked and laughed a great deal, telling Mrs. Harland about the rich or important people she knew, instead of drinking in the sweet air, and giving her eyes to the wild loveliness. It was bad enough that Nick was not coming, but the air of reserve or uneasiness with which Mrs. Harland had said, "I don't quite know," touched the situation with mystery. She realized that, if there were anything to hide, she would not find it out from her host or hostess; but when on the veranda of the glorified log-house overhanging the river she saw Theo Dene, Carmen instantly said to herself with conviction, "If she knows, I'll get it out of her!"

And seeing Miss Dene at Rushing River Camp she was almost inclined to be glad that Nick was not there. She admired Theo's splendid red hair and dazzling skin. She saw that, though the young woman's clothes were simple, their simplicity was Parisian and expensive; and she saw also that Theo was a flirt-a "man-eater," as she put it to herself, her dark eyes meeting the green eyes in a first understanding glance.

Miss Dene was far from unwilling to be pumped. In fact, she meant to be pumped; and that afternoon, while Mrs. Harland was writing letters and Falconer was with his secretary, whom he could not escape even in the country, she invited Mrs. Gaylor to sit with her on the broad veranda, beneath which the river ran singing a never-ending song.

The two pretty women, the one dark the other fair, made a charming picture, and neither was oblivious of the fact; but it would not have occurred to Carmen that her self-appreciation might be put into words. However, she laughed when Theo said:

"What a shame there aren't any men to admire us! We're both looking too adorable, aren't we? I should love to snapshot you in that Indian hammock, though the picture would lose a lot without colour. And it's very unkind of you if you wouldn't like to have a picture of me in my green rocking-chair on the scarlet rug."

This gave Carmen a chance to touch upon the subject in her heart without, as she thought, arousing any suspicion.

"You look awfully pretty," she said; "and this balcony is lovely, hanging over the river. It's quite different from my home; though mine's nice, too. And we have got one man-Mr. Falconer."

"He's engaged," said Theo.

"Oh, is he? I didn't know that. Well, and Mr. Hilliard will come, perhaps. Have you met him?"

"Yes," replied Theo promptly; "at Santa Barbara. He was motoring with Mrs. May. I thought him one of the handsomest men I ever saw. But I'm afraid he isn't coming. She isn't either-of course."

Carmen's face crimsoned; then her colour died away and left her sickly white, all but the little pink spots of rouge she had put on in the morning.

"Motoring with Mrs. May!" she repeated, harshly, then controlled her voice by a violent effort. "Was Mrs. May expected here?"

"Was expected," Theo echoed with emphasis. She was enjoying herself thoroughly; literally enjoying "herself." This was almost as good as if Hilliard had not refused the invitation and Angela had not basely slipped out of the engagement after practically accepting. "She won't come. I suppose she thinks she's having more fun where she is. Though if Mr. Hilliard had come I haven't the ghost of a doubt that she would. Do you know Mr. Hilliard well?"

This in a tone as innocent as that of a little child talking of its dolls.

"Pretty well," answered Carmen, moistening her lips. "Who is Mrs. May? I heard of her once. She's a friend of the Morehouses."

"She's a new importation," replied Theo lightly. "So far as I can make out, she and Mr. Hilliard met in New York."

"Is she-pretty?"

"Yes, very. Fair hair and gray eyes that look dark. Mourning is becoming to her."

"Is she a widow?"

"She-gives that impression," Miss Dene smiled. This Carmen Gaylor was like a beautiful, fiery thundercloud. Teasing her was delightful. Theo felt as if she were in a play. It was a dreadful waste of good material not to have an audience. But she would "use the scene" afterward. She remembered hearing a great actress tell how she visited hospitals for consumptives, and even ran up to Davos one winter, when she was preparing to play La Dame aux Camélias. Theo would have done all that if she had been an actress. She was fond of realism in every form, and did not stick at gruesomeness.

"A grass widow?" exclaimed Carmen eagerly.

Theo shrugged her shoulders. "Really, I can't tell you."

Carmen supposed that she knew little of Mrs. May, and had met her for the first time at Santa Barbara with Nick. With Nick-motoring! The thought gave Carmen a strange sensation, as if her blood had turned to little cold, sharp crystals freezing in her veins.

"Not very young, I suppose?" she hazarded, her lips so dry that she had to touch them with her tongue. But that was dry, too.

"Oh, about twenty-three or four, and looks nineteen."

There was no hope, then! Nick was with a woman, beautiful, young, presumably a widow, and evidently in love with him, as Miss Dene said that she would be here at Rushing River Camp if Nick had come. A deadly sickness caught Carmen by the throat. Her love for Nick was one with her life, and had been for years. Always she had believed that some day she would be happy with Nick, would have him for her own. Anything else would be impossible-too bad to be true. Even when he went East without asking her to marry him, though she was free, she had assured herself that he loved her. Had he not as much as said that the anniversary of her husband's death was not a lucky night to choose for love-making? Carmen had made certain that she was the only woman in Nick's life; and he had laughed when she hinted that "some lovely lady" might persuade him to stay in New York.

"Where is Mrs. May now?" she asked sharply, past caring much whether or no Miss Dene saw her agony.

"In San Francisco-unless she's gone to the Yosemite Valley with Mr. Hilliard."

"With him! Why should she go everywhere with him?"

Theo laughed. "Because she likes his society, I suppose, and he likes hers. He is supposed to be her unpaid, amateur guide, I believe, and she trots her maid about with her, to play propriety. Also a cat. Don't you think a black cat a charmingly original chaperon?"

Carmen did not answer. Anguish and rage in her heart were like vitriol dashed on a raw wound. No wonder Nick had not written! And she had been happy, and trusting, while he forgot his debt of gratitude, and ignoring her existence, travelled about the country with another woman. Only this morning Carmen had dreamed of meeting him here, and that he had asked for her invitation, as a favour to himself. She could have screamed, and torn her flesh, in agony. She suffered too much. Some one else would have to pay for this! Nick would have to pay, and that woman, that love pirate sailing from strange seas to steal the treasure of others.

Her one uncontrollable impulse was to go and find them both, to do something to part them, she did not know what yet, but inspiration would come. She felt unable to bear any delay. Somehow, she must find an excuse to get away from this place. She would have to go San Francisco, or perhaps even to the Yosemite Valley, and find Nick and the woman together.

It occurred to her that she might contrive to telegraph to Simeon Harp, telling him to wire her that something had gone wrong on the ranch, that she must return home at once. Mariette could find out how to send telegrams from here-there was sure to be a way-and get the message off in secret.

* * *

That night a telegram came for Mrs. Gaylor, announcing that there had been a fire on the ranch. She was needed at home. She showed the bit of paper to Mrs. Harland and Falconer, and there was much sympathy and regret that her visit must be broken short.

Next morning she left, having been but twenty-four hours at Rushing River Camp. And late that night, she arrived in San Francisco. But she was in no hurry to obey the summons from the Gaylor ranch.

* * *

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