Although Mr. Underwood escaped the stroke which it was feared might follow th_xcitement of his final interview with Walcott, it was soon apparent that hi_ervous system had suffered from the shock. His physician became insistent i_is demands that he not only retire from business, but have an entire chang_f scene, to insure absolute relaxation and rest. This advice was earnestl_econded by Mr. Britton, not alone for the sake of his friend's health, bu_ore especially because he believed it unsafe for Mr. Underwood or Kate t_emain in that part of the country so long as Walcott had his liberty. Thei_ombined counsel and entreaties at length prevailed. A responsible man wa_ound to take charge, under Mr. Britton's supervision, of Mr. Underwood'_usiness interests. The Pines was closed, two or three faithful servants bein_etained to guard and care for the property, and early in April Mr. Underwood,
accompanied by his sister and daughter, left Ophir ostensibly for the South.
They remained south, however, only until he had recuperated sufficiently for _onger journey, and then sailed for Europe, but of this fact no one in Ophi_ad knowledge save Mr. Britton.
During the last days of Kate's stay in Ophir she watched in vain for anothe_limpse of her strange friend. On the morning of her departure, as the trai_as leaving the depot, she suddenly saw the olive-skinned messenger of forme_ccasions running alongside the Pullman in which she was seated. Catching he_ye, he motioned for her to raise the window; she did so, whereupon he tosse_ little package into her lap, pointing at the same time farther down th_latform, and lifting his ragged sombrero, vanished. An instant later th_eñora came into view, standing at the extreme end of the platform, a lac_antilla thrown about her head and shoulders, the ends of which she now wave_n token of farewell. Kate held up the little package with a smile; sh_esponded with a deprecatory gesture indicative of its insignificance, the_ith another wave of the lace scarf and a flutter of Kate's handkerchief, the_assed out of each other's sight.
Kate hastily undid the package; a little box of ebony inlaid with pear_lipped from the wrappings, which, upon touching a secret spring, opened,
disclosing a small cross of Etruscan gold of the most exquisite workmanship.
In her first letter to Mr. Britton Kate related the incident, and begged hi_o look out for the woman and render her any assistance possible.
To this Mr. Britton needed no urging. Since his first sight of her that nigh_n Mr. Underwood's office he had been looking for her, for a twofold purpose.
For a number of weeks he failed to get even a glimpse of her, nor could h_btain any clew to her whereabouts.
One night, well into the summer, he came upon her, unexpectedly, standing i_ront of a cheap restaurant, looking at the edibles displayed in the window.
She was not veiled, her face was pale and haggard, and there was no mistakin_he expression in her eyes as she finally turned away.
"My friend," said Mr. Britton, laying his hand gently on her shoulder, "ar_ou hungry?"
She shrank from him with a start till a glance in his face reassured her, an_he answered, with an expressive gesture,—
"Yes, Señor; I have had nothing to eat to-day, and but little yesterday."
"This is no fit place; come with me," Mr. Britton replied, leading the way tw_r three blocks down the street, to a first-class restaurant. He conducted he_hrough the ladies' entrance into a private box, where he ordered _ubstantial dinner for two.
"Señor," she protested, as the waiter left the box, "I have no money, no wa_o repay you for this, you understand?"
"I understand," he answered, quickly; "I want no return for this. Mis_nderwood wished me to find you, and help you, if I could."
"Yes, I know; you are the Señorita's friend."
"And your friend also, if I can help you."
"You saved his life that night, Señor; I do not forget," the woman said, wit_eculiar emphasis.
"Yes, I undoubtedly saved the scoundrel from a summary vengeance; possibly _ight not have done it, had I known what the alternative would be. Where i_hat man now?" he asked, with sudden directness.
"I do not know, Señor; he tells me nothing, but I have heard he went sout_ome time ago."
The entrance of the waiter with their orders put a temporary stop t_onversation. The woman ate silently, regarding Mr. Britton from time to tim_ith an expression of childlike wonder. When her hunger was appeased, and sh_eemed inclined to talk, he said,—
"Tell me something of yourself. When and where did you marry that man?"
"We were married in Mexico, seven years ago."
"Your home was in Mexico?"
"No, Señor, my father owned a big cattle ranch in Texas. Señor Walcott, as yo_all him here, worked for him. He wanted to marry me, but my father oppose_he marriage. We lived close to the line, so we went across one day and wer_arried. My father was very angry, but I was his only child, and by and by h_orgave and took us back."
"Do I understand you that Walcott is not this man's real name?" Mr. Britto_nterposed.
"His name is José Martinez, Señor."
"But is he not a half-breed? I have understood his father was an Englishman."
"His father was an Englishman, but no one ever knew who he was, yo_nderstand, Señor? Afterwards his mother married Pablo Martinez, and her chil_ook his name. That was why my father opposed our marriage."
"I understand," said Mr. Britton; "but he claims heavy cattle interests in th_outh; how did he come by them?"
"My father's, all of them;" she replied. "He and my father quarrelled soo_fter we went there to live. Then we came away north; we lived for a while i_his State,"—she paused and hesitated as though fearing she had said too much,
but Mr. Britton's face betrayed nothing, and she continued: "Then, in a yea_r so, we went south and he and my father quarrelled again. My father wa_ound dead on the plains, trampled by the cattle, but no one knew how it cam_bout. Then José took everything and told me I had nothing. He went nort_gain three years ago. A year later he came back and told me I was not hi_ife, that our marriage was void because it was not performed in this country.
I became very ill. He took me away among strangers and left me there, to die,
as he thought. But he was mistaken. I had something to live for,—to follo_im, as I have followed him and will follow him to the end."
The woman rose from the table; Mr. Britton rose also, and stood for a moment,
"He is a dangerous man," he said; "how is it that you do not fear him?"
She laughed softly. "He fears me, Señor; why should I fear him?"
"I understand," Mr. Britton said; "he fears you because you know him to be _riminal; because his freedom—perhaps his very life—is in your hands. Why ar_ou not in danger on that account? What is to hinder his taking a life s_nimical to his own?"
A cunning, treacherous smile crept over her face and a baleful light gleame_n her eyes, as she replied, "If I die at his hand my secret does not die wit_e. I have fixed that. If I die to-day, the world knows my secret to-morrow.
He knows it, Señor, and I am safe."
"Did it never occur to you," said Mr. Britton, slowly, "that for the safety o_thers your secret should be made known now?"
The woman's whole appearance changed; she regarded Mr. Britton with a look o_ingled anger and terror, as he continued:
"That man's life and freedom are a constant menace to other lives. Are yo_illing to take the responsibility of the results which may follow you_ithholding that secret, keeping it locked within your own breast?"
The woman looked quickly for a chance of escape, but Mr. Britton barred th_nly means of exit. Her expression was that of a creature brought to bay.
"I understand the meaning of your kindness to-night," she cried, fiercely.
"You are one of the 'fly' men, and you thought to buy my secret from me. Le_e tell you, you will never buy it, nor can you force it from me! So long a_e does me no harm I will never make it known, and if I die a natural death,
it dies with me!"
"You are mistaken," he replied, calmly; "I am no detective, no official of an_ort. My bringing you here to-night was of itself wholly disinterested, don_or the sake of a friend who wished me to help you. I have wished to meet yo_nd talk with you, as I was interested to learn your story, out of sympath_or you and a desire to help you, and also to shed new light on your husband'_haracter, of which I have made quite a study; but I am not seeking to forc_ou into making any disclosures against your will."
Her anger had subsided as quickly as it had been aroused.
"Pardon me, Señor," she said; "I was wrong. Accept my gratitude for you_indness; I will not forget."
"Don't mention it. If you need help at any time, let me know; I do not forge_hat you saved my friend's life. But one word in parting: don't think you_ecret will not become known. Those things always work themselves out, an_ustice will overtake that man yet. When it does, your own life may not be a_afe as you now think it is. If you need a friend then, come to me."
The woman regarded him silently for a moment. "Thank you, Señor," she said,
gently; "I understand. Justice will yet overtake him, as you say; and when i_oes," she added, significantly, "I will need no help."