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Mildred had hastened upstairs in alarm at the pandemonium of sound her own cry had aroused, for the baby’s screams also gave back a thousand echoes and these sent the little one into fresh paroxysms of terror.
“This won’t do, at all,” she said anxiously, when baby Jane had sobbed herself into a doze, with the bottle to comfort her. “If we scream again it will frighten the child to death.”
“Perhaps they have heard us,” suggested Inez, rocking Jane to and fro in her arms.
“Perhaps. Let us hope so,” sighed Mildred.
Presently she went over to the couch and examined the condition of the bedding. The linen sheets had withstood the years very well, but the blankets and coverlets had a musty smell. She spread some of these out to air and then went back and sat beside Inez.
Together they watched the light fade until the narrow space was full of creeping shadows. The air began to grow chilly, so Mildred arranged the couch and they laid baby Jane upon it, covered her snugly with a blanket and drew the silk curtain to shield her eyes from the glare of the candles. They had lighted several of these, placing them in heavy brass candlesticks which they found ranged upon the shelves. Each of the girls took a blanket and folded it about her and then they sat down together to await their fate as patiently as they could.
They both realized, by this time, that their dilemma was likely to prove serious. Not a sound from within the house penetrated the adobe walls of their prison. They were unable to tell if their whereabout had yet been discovered.
“I think it best to wait until morning before we make any further effort to be heard,” said Mildred. “Our cries would only distract baby and if our screams have not already attracted notice it would be folly to continue them. Anyway, let us try to be brave and patient. Something may happen to save us, before morning.”
Even by the flickering candle-light the place was awesome and uncanny. Inez crept closer to Mildred’s side, quite forgetting her former aversion for her companion. Because the sound of their own voices lent them a certain degree of courage they conversed together in low tones, talking on any subject that occurred to them.
At one time Inez broke an oppressive stillness by saying:
“Tell me about yourself—when you were a girl. And why did you leave here to go to New York?”
Mildred regarded the girl musingly. She felt a strong temptation to speak, to confide in some one.
“Will you keep my secret, Inez?” she asked.
“Yes; of course. I do not tell all I know,” was the reply.
“If you told, it would drive me away from here,” said Mildred.
Inez gave a start, remembering that a few hours ago she would have done anything to drive Mildred away. But, somehow, she had come to regard her companion in misfortune more favorably. A bond of sympathy had been established between them by this terrible experience they were now undergoing. Whatever their fate might be, Inez could not hate Mildred after this.
“I do not wish to drive you away,” she asserted in a positive voice. “I will not tell your secret.”
For a time Mildred mused silently, as if considering how to begin.
“My mother died when I was a baby,” said she. “She was a Travers and lived on a ranch near here.”
“I know the Travers Ranch,” said Inez quickly. “But no Travers have live there in a long time.”
“My mother lived there,” continued Mildred, “until she married my father. Indeed, she lived there several years after, for I was born in the ranch house. But my mother’s people—the Traverses—did not like my father, and when mother died he took me away to a house in Escondido. I think he was sent away, and the family sold the ranch and went back to England, where they had originally come from.
“In Escondido an old Mexican woman kept house for us. She was named Izbel.”
“Ah!” cried Inez, nodding her head wisely; “I know.” Then, as Mildred looked at her questioningly, she added: “Go on.”
“My father was away from home much of the time. He traveled, and sometimes he took me with him into Mexico, and we went as far south as Matanzas, and once to Mexico City. That was when I was quite small, and I do not remember much about it. But often we came here to visit Señor Cristoval, with whom he had some secret business. I have seen him give my father big bags of golden coins, although everyone said he was a miser. I remember that at one time my father hid in this very wall for a day and a night, and officers came to the house and searched it, saying they were looking for a smuggler and had traced him here.
“But Señor Cristoval laughed at them and told them to examine the house thoroughly. This they did, and went away satisfied. Afterward my father came out of the wall and took me across the country to San Bernardino, where we stayed at a friend’s house for several days. Finally Señor Cristoval came there to visit us and I heard him tell my father it would not be safe for him to return home and advised him to go far away. He also gave my father much money, and one curious thing which he said to him I never forgot. ‘I will keep your fortune safely until you need it,’ was his remark. ‘I will hide it where no one will ever find it, any more than they could find you.’”
“Ah! then he hid your father’s fortune in this place?” cried Inez eagerly. Then her face fell. “But, no,” she added. “We have look, and there is no fortune here.”
Mildred sighed and continued her tale.
“After this Señor Cristoval shook my father’s hand, and kissed me—for he was always fond of me—and went away. I never saw him again. My father and I traveled to New York and as I was then eleven years of age I became much troubled over our exile and begged to be told why it was not safe for us to stay in California. He explained to me that he had purchased laces and other goods in Mexico and brought them into the United States secretly, without paying the duty which the robbing government officials imposed. For that he said he was liable to be arrested and put in prison, and if I ever allowed the secret to escape me I would be the means of ruining him. I was a very sensitive child, and the importance of this great secret weighed upon me heavily. My father declared he had done no wrong, but I knew that the officers of the law were constantly searching for him and it so crushed me and destroyed my happiness that at twelve years of age I was as nervous, as suspicious and evasive as any old woman could be.”
She paused and gave a little shudder. Said Inez, who had listened intently:
“I know now who you are. Your name is Mildred Leighton.”
“You know that!” cried Mildred, amazed.
“Of course I know that, when I know your father was the great smuggler that the officers never could catch. I am told many stories about Leighton the smuggler, and old Izbel, who kept his house, is my aunt. Old Izbel say Señor Cristoval give Leighton the money to buy with, and Leighton give Señor Cristoval, who love money so much, half of all he make. But no one could ever prove that. Leighton was very clever man. No one could ever catch him.”
Inez spoke admiringly, as if Mildred’s father was a hero and Mildred had gained added prestige by being his daughter. But the other girl frowned and continued her story.
“In New York,” she said, “we lived in a boarding house and I was sent to school. My father was not kind to me any more. He grew cross and gloomy and often would say if I told his secret he would kill me. I did not tell; I kept the secret safe locked in my heart and suffered agonies of apprehension for his sake, for I still loved him fondly. He now bought a little ship and began to make sea voyages to and from Cuba. He would not let me go with him and he only swore when I tried to get him to give up the wicked and dangerous life he was leading. Often he denounced Cristoval, who had in his possession valuable goods and money belonging to my father but would not give them up because he knew my father dared not go to California to get them.
“For years father continued to smuggle without being suspected. Then one morning I received a note asking me to come to the prison to see him. They had caught him at last and seized his ship, and he said there had been a fight in which several of the government agents had been shot, and one killed. My father did not shoot, he told me, but they would blame him for everything.
“He stayed in the prison for a month, and every day I went to see him. Then came the trial and he was sentenced to prison for life. They—they proved that he ordered his men to shoot,” she added, lowering her head as if ashamed.
“Well, that was right,” maintained Inez, cheerfully. “If they try to arrest him, Leighton was right to shoot.”
“No, Inez, he was very wrong,” replied Mildred sadly. “I would never be allowed to see my father after he was taken away, so they let us talk for the last time. He told me they had taken away all his money and he had nothing to give me, but that if I could manage to get to California old Señor Cristoval owed him much money and—and other things, and perhaps he would give it to me, although he had refused to give it to my father. Afterward they took him away to Sing Sing prison, and that was the last I ever saw of him, for a year later he died.
“I do not suppose, Inez, any girl was ever left with such a heritage of shame and trouble. You think me hard and cold; but can you blame me? Always I think some one will discover my secret, that they will say I am the daughter of Leighton the smuggler and point the finger of shame at me.
“I was a friendless girl with no money. The people at the boarding house would not let me remain and I took my little bundle and wandered out into the street in search of home and employment. It was then that a kind lady, a Mrs. Runyon, had pity on me and put me into a school for nurses. I was fifteen years old and big and strong for my age. At seventeen I was nursing in a charity hospital, but my father’s disgrace had made me an outcast and prevented my obtaining situations with good families. Mrs. Runyon tried to help me but my story was too well known. I changed my name from Leighton to Travers, but even that did not bring me better luck.
“For two years longer I worked for a bare pittance, and then suddenly a ray of sunshine appeared. Miss De Graf came to the hospital where I was caring for an injured child and offered me a position with her cousin out here in California, where I had known the happiest days of my life. More than that, I found to my joy that I was coming directly to the old Cristoval house, for although Señor Cristoval was long since dead—as I had found out by writing him—I remembered the secret rooms and hoped I might find at least a part of my father’s fortune still hidden there.
“Well,” she added after a pause, “these are the rooms, and there is nothing of value left in them; this is the old Cristoval home, where my father was forced to hide from the law; this is the country where the officers hounded the hated smuggler like a dog and finally drove him away. And here is the girl, Inez, who has passed through all these scenes and to-day finds nothing in life worth living for.”
Inez took her hand, shyly but tenderly.
“Meeldred,” she said softly, “perhaps your life will end here. It will be strange, will it not, if that is so? But if we cannot get out, it makes a good story to die in this old den of the smuggler, your father. I will die with you; but I do not mind—much. But Mees Jane—”
She broke off with a wail of anguish and Mildred said hastily:
“Inez, we must save the baby! And, if we do, we shall also save ourselves. Come; you, at least, have much to live for. You will care for the baby after I have gone far away, and you will be glad, then, that the hated Mildred is out of your life.”
“But I do not hate you any more!” cried the Mexican girl protestingly. “I like you now, Meeldred. We will be friends, an’ we will be happy together, if—if—”
“If what, Inez?”
“If we live to get out of this wall.”
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