FOR a year Ogden Secor toiled at his lonely camp beside the big river.
His shovel and his pan and his crude rocker were his only companions. With the little money that had remained to him after his wasted days in Goliath he had purchased material and tools for the construction of a frail shack on his land close to his placer diggings, and had furnished it with such bare necessities as he could afford.
Once a week he walked the ten miles that lay between his camp and Goliath for a few hours with June Lathrop. These were red-letter days for them both--the sole bright spots in their lonely lives peopled by vain regrets.
At first lie had tried to wring from the girl an explanation of her refusal to listen to a suggestion of their marriage; but finding that the subject caused her only unhappiness, he desisted. The Q. P. knew him no more during these days, and the change that was wrought in him by abstinence and healthful, outdoor labor was little short of marvelous. He grew to take a keen pleasure in his physical fitness, and with renewed health of body came a return of his former mental efficiency--what the surgeons, tinkering with his hurt skull, had been unable to accomplish, nature did; slowly, it is true, but none the less effectively.
As his vigor of mind increased, his memory returned in part, so that he was constantly haunted by a growing conviction that somewhere, some place far from Goliath, he had known June Lathrop, and that she had been intimately associated with that other life that was once again taking concrete form in his recollections.
Not that he had ever entirely forgotten his past, for he had not. Rather, he recalled it as through a haze which confused and distorted details so that he was never quite sure of the true identity of what he saw back there in the years that were gone.
But after all else was plain the figure of the June Lathrop of the past still remained little else than an intangible blur. There was something needed to recall her more distinctly than his unaided memory could do--nor was that thing to be long wanting.
The gold that Secor washed from the gravel of the old river bar was barely sufficient to meet his daily needs. As a result his ranch--he always laughed as he referred to the bit of sage-brush desert as "my ranch"--was sold for taxes. The time was approaching when, if he would regain it, he must act; but having no money, he was forced to remain helpless as the time approached.
One day while he was in Goliath he mentioned the thing to June.
"Of course the land is not worth the taxes," he said; "but somehow I have grown attached to it--it's the only 'home' I have. I shall hate to see it go, but I'll be as well off, I suppose."
"Not worth the taxes?" she exclaimed. "Why, Ogden Secor, where have you been for the last six months? Didn't you know that the new government reclamation project is at last an assured fact, and that your land will jump from nothing an acre to something like a hundred dollars an acre overnight?"
Secor looked at her blankly.
"I didn't know it came as far down river as my holdings," he said.
"Why, your land is right in the center of it--there is every chance in the world that the new town will be located there, and if that happens you'll be wealthy."
He smiled ruefully.
"Not I," he said; "for I couldn't raise the money to redeem the ranch if my life depended on it."
"How much is necessary?" she asked.
He told her. The next day, Monday, she drew her savings from the bank and turned them over to Secor.
At first, when she had suggested this thing, he had refused flatly, but after talking with several men who were well posted, he had seen that there was no question but that the land would increase in value immensely and that he should be able to repay June in the near future.
The same day word came of the exact location of the proposed town--it brought definite information to the effect that a large portion of Secor's holdings would lie directly in the business center of the town, and the balance on the gentle rise back from the river that had been set apart for residential purposes.
June and Ogden were so elated they could scarcely contain themselves. Nothing would do but that they must celebrate with a dinner at the Short Line Hotel--the most pretentious hostelry of Goliath. At first June demurred, but Ogden was insistent, and so she asked for the afternoon and evening off.
They strolled together beside the little stream where he had wrung from her lips an avowal of the love she had no right to harbor for Ogden Secor. Once again he revived the subject that had long been taboo, urging her to forget whatever to him unfathomable scruples kept her from him; but she only shook her head sadly, and when he saw how unhappy it made her he tried to drop the subject, though he found it most difficult to drop.
As they approached the hotel where they were to hold their modest celebration the Limited from the East lay along the platform, up and down which the passengers were strolling. To reach the dining-room it was necessary to walk past a part of the long line of Pullmans and as they did so Secor was suddenly confronted by a trim little man with outstretched hand.
"My dear Secor," he exclaimed, "what in the world are you doing here? We have all wondered what could have become of you."
And then turning toward the open window of a drawing-room he called, "Oh, Sophia, see whom I have discovered!"
Sophia Welles Pursen looked from the window--she and the Rev. Mr. Pursen were on their bridal trip. She saw Ogden Secor and beside him she saw another whom she recognized. Coldly she barely inclined her head, turning away from the window immediately.
Then Mr. Pursen looked at Ogden Secor's companion for the first time. He, too, recognized her.
"My gracious!" he exclaimed. His eyes went wide in holy horror. "My gracious! Excuse me, Secor, but the train is about to start." And without a backward glance be hastened toward his car.
The sight of Sophia Welles and the Rev. Mr. Pursen, and the glances of contempt they had shot toward June Lathrop, had done in an instant what months of vain attempt at recollection had failed to do. With the suddenness of an unexpected slap in the face there returned to Ogden Secor the memory of the last time he had seen these three together.
As clearly as if it had been but yesterday he saw the figures about his bed as he lay propped up upon his pillows at St. Luke's.
He saw Sophia Welles and the Rev. Mr. Pursen. He saw Stickler, nervous and unstrung, and he saw Doarty, his heavy hand upon the arm of the girl from Farris's.
Slowly a dull red crept across his face. He turned toward June. The look of misery in her eyes showed that she realized that memory had returned.
"Now you understand at last," she said in a dull voice.
He took her by the arm and led her into the dining-room. She scarce realized what she was doing when she permitted herself to go with him. He found a table in a corner, seating himself across from her.
"The cad," he said--" the dirty, little, hypocritical cad!"
She looked at him in astonishment.
"You mean--" she started.
"I mean Pursen."
"But he was right--he couldn't recognize me," she replied wearily. Then she rose from the table. "I'll go now," she said "I don't know why I came in here--I must have been--stunned. I knew that you would find out some day--but I didn't know that it would be so dreadfully terrible."
Her lips trembled.
He reached across the table and forced her gently back into her chair.
"The only terrible thing about it," he said, "is that there should be such people as the Rev. and Mrs. Pursen in the world. That, and the fact that they have made you unhappy.
"You mean that you don't hate me, now that you remember?" she asked.
"I have guessed for a long time, June," he replied, "that there was something in your past life that you thought would make our marriage impossible if I knew of it. You have misjudged me. I do not care what you have been or what you have done. That is past--it can't be helped now, or undone. All I know is that I love you, and now that I know all there is to be known, there can be no further reason why you should hesitate longer."
The old smile lighted his face. "Oh, June," he said, "can't you see that it is only our love that counts? If you can forget what I have been--if you can forget the saloon brawls--if you can forget the chain-gang--what have you done that I may not forget? For you were but a young girl, while I was a strong man. Nothing that you may have been can exceed in ignominy the depth to which I sunk."
"You do not remember all, then," she said sadly. "You have forgotten what Doarty accused me of--giving the combination to the man who robbed the safe."
"I remember everything," he replied, "but I do not believe it--no, I do not want you even to deny it, for that would imply that I could believe it."
"I am glad that you don't believe it," she said, "for that, at least, was not true! But the rest is true--about Farris's."
He could not help wincing at that, for he was still a Puritan at heart.
"Let's not speak of it," he said. "It doesn't change my love for you. I am sorry that it had to be so, but it is, and we must make the best of it, just as we must make the best of the memory of what I became here in Goliath--the town drunkard. I want you, June, and now there is nothing more to keep you from me. Tell me, dear, that there is nothing more."
She was about to reply when a broad-shouldered man arose from a table behind them. As he approached June was the first to see his face. At sight of him she turned deathly pale--it was Doarty. He stepped to her side and laid his hand upon her shoulder.
"Well, Mag," he said, "I've had a devil of a time finding you; but I've got you at last."
Ogden Secor leaped to his feet.
"What does this mean?" he cried. "Who are you? What is it, June? What does he mean?"
Mr. Doarty did not recognize Mr. Ogden Secor, whom he had seen but once or twice and then under very different circumstances and in widely different apparel.
"It means, bo," said Mr. Doarty, "that your lady friend is under arrest for the murder of John Secor four years ago."