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After Morengo

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BY L. H. CÜMMIN8. Early one morning in the month of June, I started froni the camp, mounted on one of the tougliest California musI tangs that ever climbed a mountain I trail. I was the leader of a party engaged by the stage agent to ferret out and bring within the grasp of justice, if possible, a notorious gang of road agents. We all entered into the spirit of the enterprise with a wil], for we had been longing for some kind of adventure, as fully a montli had passed since the " dry season " had set in, and, on account of the searcity of water, we were obliged to abandon our claims until the winter rains. So it was with joy we embraced the opportunity that now presented itself for consuming at least a portion of the long, tedious interval. We had been engaged in this most agreeable work for some weeks without many favorable resulta; and, on the morning referred to, I decided to try my luck unaccompanied by the other of the party. So I started out a day in advance ; and, in the afternoon, at the time mentioned, was winding my way along a narrow trail - having left the stage-road far behind - and, from the fresh imprints in the trail, I was convinced it liad been traversed but a short time before. I had never, at any previous time, penetrated so far into this forest of chaparral and incipient oaks ; it was the densest I had ever seen, and the trail that led into it was the most tortuous and serpertine I had ever traveled. But, as I liad never before struck a trail that did not leadto some place, I concluded that this one led somewhere also. This conclusión was soon verified, when a sudden turn brought me into a natural clearing, of some 500 or 600 yards in circumference, 1 in the center of whicli stood a house arid a barn. Now, thought I, my efforts have been rewarded with success ; here j is the rendezvous of the notorious Morengo gang. At that moment my mustang, whose best feelings were evidentlyaroused by the sight of the barn, gave vent to a very spirited and prolonged whinny. I had not sufficient time to turn and get under cover of the chaparral before a dog - a most savage and ferocious-looking brute - made his appearance, and, taking in the situation, was making a very straight Une in my ■ direction, when, to my great relief, and ; not less to my surprise, the door of the ■ house flew open and a lady appeared, whose quick order : "Tiger, Tiger! come back here, sir;" accompanied at the same time with an emphatic stamp of her foot, brought the enraged animal cowering Ijack. "Won't you come in, sir?" she said, ' addressiiig me ; "you must be very mueh : fatigued." And, in almost the same breath, cried: "Ah Toy, Ah Toy! come and put the gentleman's horse away." I immediately dismounted, ' and handed my horse over to the guileless j and inoffensive-looking MongoHan who j responded to the lady's cali. "Walk right in, sir," she said. I j tered and thanked her for her kindness. "You will please excuse me a moment, I sir," she said, gazing down at her soiled apron. "I hardly expected any one today," she continued, displaying just the least confusión while contemplating j what she doubtless thought her i sentable appearance. She withdrew into an adjoining room, and I took advantage of her absence by ! surveying the one in whicli I was sitting. I It was furnished in a manner uneommon j to that section of the country. where thero were evidences of the cate taste possessed by its fair mistress. ! The floor was carpeted ; the walls were covered with white muslin ; there were upholstered chairs and a sofa; on a small table in the centar of the room was ! a pile of books ; and in one corner was an open secretary. How remarkable, tliouglit I, to find : such a house and so lovely a creature - '■ for such she was - presiding over it in this isolated spot. But mythoughts were i soon disturbed by the reappearance of the principal object of my wonder. "Pardon me, please, for leaving you so long alone," she said, as she settled into a chair and smoothed down the waves of the rich dress which she had donned in her absence, and added : "You must have traveled a long distantie ' to-day." "Yes," said I, "I havo come all the way from. C ville." " Why, you must be cpiite exhausted," said she ; and. at the .same time rising and going to a door, " Ah Toy, Ah Toy ! " i she cried; "get some dinner for 'the gentleman." All my protestations were of no avail. While awaiting the preparation of dinner we conversed freely, and I discovered that she possessed, beside her personal cliarms, rare attractions of the mind, for she was wol] read and intelligent. I learned f rom lier that her fathci' was a min er, whose claim lay in the immodiate vicinity, and that he would be home in the evening. Dinner was soon in readiness, and I partook heartily, while my fair hostess presided over the table ; and, under the inüuence of the wine that she set before me, I grew more and more communicative. " What could have brought yon into such an out-of-the-way place as this ? " she asked, after the table had been cleared. I had evaded similar questions to this, bnt none so directly put. Yet, thought I, why should I not teil her the object of my trip? What harm could her knowing it do ? And it might be the meana of my gaining valuable information ; and the subtle influence wliich those dark, sparkling eyes exercised over me inspired mo with confidence in their possessor, and, lowering my voice, I began : " Have you ever heard of Morengo's band?" The dark eyes flashed with excitoment as she answered : " What, the stage-robbers? " " Yes," said I ; " then you havo heard of them?" " Yes, indeed," she replied, " I have heard a great deal of them ; " then added, arclily, " I hope you are not one of their nnmber." " On the other hand," said I, "I am after them." "Indeed!" she exclaimed, with increasing interest; and then, looking around in a frightened manner, asked : " But you don't think they live anywhere around here, do you ? " " I am convinced," I replied, lowering my voice still more, " that they do live in this neighborhood." Her alarm increased. CC TTTT1 1tT 1 TT1 w my sne exciaimeci, i nave oqph living here for seceral years, with no , other protection during the day than Tiger." I assured her that 1 really thought it must be an abandoned set of wretches who would harm a lady - and espeoially her. She appeared to take no notice of this little comjiliment, and I continued : " On the other hand, I understand, they are a [ very gallant band of rascáis, and scarce! ly ever reijuire ladies to surrender their j valuables when they attack a stage." This seemed to reassure her. " But," I went on, " you can doubtless better un! derstand this when I inforni you that it Í is a question which is the leader of the band, Morengo or his daughter Juan! ita." " Oh !" she exclaimed, " now you have ' aroused my curiosity. How romantic ! i Teil me all about her, jalease ; it is such ! a rare thing that we hear of romance in i this isolated región." Her graceful form inclined in her eagerness to catch every word I uttered, ! and her cheek flusbed with pleasure and excitement as I told her all I knew and had heard aboiit the remarkable woman, whose daring deeds exceeded those of i any of her father's followers, and that it i was affirmed that the most successful ! raids of the band were planned by her, I and she always assisted in their execu tion. Tiras employed in pleasant conversai tion the moments slipped away into ! hours, and every moment that passed I feit myself becoming more hopelessly en tangled in the meshes that the lovely woman before me was all unconsciously j weaving and throwing around me. As each successive hour passed I made up my mind to leave before another had, but as of ten failed in my resolution. The sun was now low and I essayed to depart, but was met with the words : Why, you surely won't go until papa comes home ; I am sure he would be glad to meet you." " You really must excuse me," said I; it is not in justice to the rest of the party. " - What party?" she broke in. " Why," I replied, remembering that I had not told her, " I am only one of a party of some ten or twelve." "Ah, yes," said she, eying mo closely, "I see. And all searching for Morengo ?" "Yes," I replied, "but I am a day in advance of them; and, as I said, it would really be unjust for me to remain idle here while they are pursuing their laborious search." "Then they will be here to-morrow?" she asked. "Yes," said I; "their intention was to follow the trail which broughtme here." "Well," said she, "you must stay until papa comes. I shall have to set table for tea." And, before I could interpose a word, she was away. As she i left the room I Tfiought bow many i charms she was the possessor of ; I ligent, beautiful, romantic, vivacious; ! of festhetic tastes, I was convinced ; and then looking round my eyes lit upon the books piled upon the table. I had a curiosity to see them more closely, so I walked over and on examining them found they were the works of authors j of renown, and, as I opened one after I another, I saw upon the fly leaf of a book of poems several stañzas, traeed in a most perfect hand. They attracted my attention, and I read them, and while I still held the book in my hand my fair hostess re-entered and approached the table by which I stood. "Pardon me, please," I began, " for examining your library uninvited ; but may I aak who the anthor is of these beautiful stanzas?" The color that rose to her cheek verified the conclusión I had arrived at, but she merely said : " Oh, no one in particular," and added quickly, " papa has just come ; he will be in in a moment." She had scarcely finished speaking when a tall, dark man with heavy brows, a full black board and flowing black hair, entered the room, and, after the formalities of an introduction were over, we sat down, and, as his daughter withdrew from the room, in a wibdtied tone he commenced : " Violet informs me that you are after Moreago." Violet! She bore the name of my favorito, flower; and, oh! how well it fitted her, thought I. " Yes, sir," I replied ; " and any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Am I on the right track?" "Yes," he answered, "I think you are." I listened intently. " But you should have left the trail," he continued, " some three miles back. There is a little clearing there. Didn't you see it as you carne along? " " Yes," I replied, " I reinember it." " Well, sir," he continued, " I have a suapioion, whioh I never have yct communicated to any living being, nofc even to my daughter, and that is that somcwhcre about that clearing Morengo and Lis men live." "But," said T, in surprise, " are yon not afraid of your lives, living in siich close proximity to such a desperate band?" " Did you ever hear," ho replied, significantly, " of Morongo attacking a house ? " No, I novar had. " And let him dare to attack this house," he contimied, with considerable spirit; "that girl of mine. and I could givo them a pretty rough deal, I reekon." "Why," Iexclaimed, "what eouldsho do?" " Do ! " he replied. " Well, now, she can swing a rifle just as lively as the next bushwhacker." I was astonished. "And I never saw a horse so fast," he added, with apparent pride, " that she couldn't lariat on the keen Jtunp." Tt is unnccessary to say I was amazed. A lady, thouglit I, wlio possesses so inany and sueh varied accomplishments - whose sweet voice I could now hear in the adjoining room as she hummed a familiar song while busying herself about her duties - was a wonder indeed. The door opened and supper was announced in readiness. After supper was over and the table vacated I again essayed to leave, whenthe father met me with the words : " Oh, you must stayover night. Your party wi'll be along in the morning, my daughter informs me, and you can join them then." It was just gotting dark, and I insisted on going, although my heart did not ; so my horse was ordered, and, as I took the proffered hand of the fair creature wto had in such a short time filched my heart from me, 1 gave it a pressure which brought the crimson dye to her fair cheek ; and the father, seizing my hand with a vise-like grasp, repeated the warm invitation of his daughter to come again, which I assured them I slioulcl. The moon was shilling brightly as I rode slowly, and, thought I, what can equal the hospitality of a Californian ? And as I was about to leave the clearing I took one last look at the house where my divinity dwelt, and was surprised at seeing a form approaehing me. Could it te she ? I stopped and waited. Sure enough, it was she. I dismounted, and, as the fair creature drew near, she said : " I forgot to caution you. It is a very dangerous road you have to travel, and es]Decially at night." I looked into the dark eyes before me. Could it be possible that I had awakened the same feelings in her beaat that she had in mine? " Do not give yourself a moment's alarm about my welfare," I replied. " I have traveled roads a thousand times more dangerous than this trail." " Oh," said she, " I do not apprehend any danger, but, you know, a word of warning is sometimes better than an ounce of -steel." And then added, archly: "Look out for Juanita Morengo ! " I laughed, and told her that I had never yet met a woman whom I thought could worst or take me at a disadvantage. With a merry little laugh ehe extended her hand, and, at the same time, handed me a note, requesting me to take it to C ville; "and promise me," she added, as sho looked me full in the eyes, " that you will not look at it till you arrive there. I think I can trust you." I promised by all that was holy that I would not viólate her trust, and at the samo time deposited the note in a pocket of my saddle-bags. I then raised to my lips the little hand that had laid so confidingly m mine and imprinted a kiss upon it, and was soon on my way again. I had proceeded thus about two miles, and as I neaied the clearing, which was now my objective point, I unwillingly expelled the pleasant thoughts from my mind and became more cautious. I entered the clearing by a sharp turn of the trail, and hearing a slight rustle in the undergrowth close by I stopped my horse and listened. All was silent. I had proceeded but alittlefartherwhen I suddenly heard a whizzing sound similar to that made by a wliip in cutting through the air, and at the same instant I feit my arms pinioned to my side as though a rope were wrappod around my body. Quickas a flash of lightning the thought struck me : "A lariat - I am lassoed," and at the same time made a desperate struggle to seize the knife which I carried in my belt to sever the strands of the lariat that encircled me, but in an instant I was unhorsed and lying prostrate on the ground. 7! saw a masked face above me, and a white hand pressing somethiug to my mouth and nostrils which had a decided odor of chloroform. The sun was high when I picked myself up and gazod in wonder around. Slowly, and one by one I recalled the incidents of the preceding day, but could not understand how I had arrived at this spot, for indeed C ville was in plain sight, and my mustang was picketed near by. My arms paincd me a little, and that palled to mind the lariat that liad been wrapped around them, and then I remembered being pulled from my horse and robbed- as I supposed. But, strange though it appeared, my horse, my revolvers, and the several slugs which were in my pocket, were all intact. I approached my horse to mount, but to my surprise and horror my saddle-bags were one. That night, as I was sitting sorrowfully in my cabin, there carne a knock at my door, and upon opening it one of the party entered. "Hallo," he exclaimed, " heard you got lariated last night." He then went on and told me what the party had accomplished, and to my amazement I found that they had been to exactly the same place I had. He described minutely the trail, the house, the barn, and everything on the premises, " but," said he, " there wasn't a soul there." "What," I exclaimed, "ao one there!" " No,'' he replied ; then very signiiicantly : " They must have got wind that we was comin', for things looked mighty like as if they'd just cleared out." I feit sick. " Who do you suppose lived there ? " I asked, with a sinking heart. " Why, Morengo, of course," was the confident answer. " What proof did you find?" I asked, quickly, grasping at a straw of hope. " Well," said he, " we found about a dozen mail-bags, and as many broten express boxes in the barn. Isn't that proof enough ? " I thougbt I was clreaming; I could not speak. Another knock at the door roused me somewhat, and another of the party entcred and said the agent would like to see me. I hastened to the stage-office, wli ere the remainder of the party were assembled. Not a word of greeting did I receive from one of them as I entered. The agent was the first to speak. " I believe you said you lost your saddle-bags yesterday ? " " Yes,"'l replied. " Well, the boys found a pair about throo miles this side of Morengo's. Are these yours ? " he asked, holding them np. I seized them, and plunged my hands into the pockets. The note was gone. Then said the agent, whilo his and the eyes of the whole party were fixed upon me : " Is this yours? " holding up an unsealed note. " Yes," said I, and, in a rage, demanded : " Who oponed this note ? " " Nobody," said one of the party ; "twa'n't sealed." I unfolded it (juickly and read these words, traced in the samo matchless hand that the stanzas I had read the previous day were : " Complinients of Juanita Morengo." As the agent saw tho different expressions of my face, he said : " This is very remarkable ! " I gazed blankly at the sheet ; again were the incidente of the previous day recalled; I remembered with a vivid distinctness the father's remark of his daughter's profieiency in the use of the lariat; I remembered the soft, white hand that had touched my face as I inhaled the fumes of the opiato ; I thought of the deserted house, tho mail bags, the expresa boxes. My eyes grew dim ; my knees shook; my lioart secmed to be forcing itself up into my throat ; I was suffocating. It was all plain now. Yet, as I staggered out into the open air, I repeated the words the agent had uttered : ' ' Yes - it - is - very - remarkable."


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Michigan Argus