Read CHAPTER XIII - YOUNG LOVE’S DREAM of A Waif of the Mountains , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

That which in the nature of things was inevitable came to pass.  Lieutenant Russell, in the same moment that his eyes rested upon Nellie Dawson, was smitten, as hopelessly as ever ardent lover was smitten by the lady whom he worshiped.  The many things which the father had told him about his daughter naturally excited interest in her, but the young officer never dreamed of looking upon such marvelous beauty as that which met his gaze in that secluded canyon of the Sierras.  It required all his self-control from drawing attention to himself by his admiration of her.

“I never saw such a perfect combination of face, feature and figure,” he reflected when alone.  “It is an illustration of what nature can do when left to herself.  Then, too, she has a fund of knowledge that is amazing, when all the circumstances are considered.  I haven’t had much chance to converse with her, but I heard enough to know that she would shine by virtue of her mind among the most accomplished of her sisters, who have had every advantage that civilization can give.  She is a flower nourished on a mountain crag, exhaling all its fragrance, untainted by a poisonous breath from the outer world.  Who would have dared to say that amid this rough, uncouth people, such loveliness could take root and nourish?  And yet it is that loveliness which has permeated and regenerated the miners themselves.  But for her these nights would be spent in drinking, roistering, fighting and carousing.  It is her blessed influence, which unconsciously to herself has purified the springs of life.  Like the little leaven she has leavened the whole lump.”

The passing days increased his interest in her, until very soon he confessed to himself that he was deeply in love with Nellie Dawson.  She had become dearer to him than his own life.  He could not live without the hope of gaining and possessing her.  He would remain in New Constantinople and starve, even though a Golconda was discovered a few miles away.  He would linger, hopeful, buoyant and believing that the dream of his existence was to be crowned with perfect fruition.

But the sagacious lieutenant had learned to be observant and to note the most trifling things that escape the eyes of the majority of persons.  Thus it was that the secret which Wade Ruggles and Parson Brush believed was hidden, each from everyone except himself, became as clear as noonday to him.  He pitied them and yet he extracted a grim amusement from the fact.

“They are hopelessly infatuated with her; they are excessively jealous and would rather shoot me than have me win.  They are more than double her age, and yet they can see no incongruity in hoping to win her.  They will hope on until the awakening comes.  Then they will be my deadliest enemies.  I shouldn’t be surprised if I receive a call and warning from them, but neither they nor the whole world shall turn me from the prize which is more than all the gold, mined or unmined, in the Sierras.”

No one could have been more circumspect than the young man.  He treated Nellie Dawson with the chivalrous respect of a Crusader of the olden time.  He was always deferential, and, though he managed frequently to meet and chat with her, yet it invariably had the appearance of being accidental.  Fortunately his feeling of comradeship for Captain Dawson gave him a legitimate pretext for spending many evenings in his cabin, where it was inevitable that he should be thrown into the society of the daughter.

Wade Ruggles and the parson noted all this with growing resentment.  When it had continued for several weeks, the two friends had a conference over the situation.

“I tell you, parson, it won’t do to wait any longer,” observed Ruggles, puffing away at his pipe; “things is getting dangerous.”

“Do you think so?” asked his companion, who held precisely the same opinion, but disliked to admit it.

“There isn’t a particle of doubt of it.”

“Let me see, ­we agreed to give him warning didn’t we? ­just once.”

“Yes, ­it’s only fair that you should let a man know afore you hit him, so he can brace himself for the shock, as it were.”

“Well, if we are going to do it, there is no use of waiting.”

“No use!  It’ll git worse every day.  Let’s go over to his place now.”

“It isn’t likely we’ll find him there; he spends nearly every evening in the cabin of Captain Dawson.”

Neither fancied the task, and, had not their feelings been so wrought up, they never could have been induced to undertake it, but because of their misgivings, nothing could have dissuaded them from their purpose.

“When he comes to think soberly of it,” added Ruggles, “he’ll thank us for giving him warning in time.  If we wait much longer, it might be too late; we couldn’t scare him off the track, but now he’ll show his sense by stopping at once.”

The two passed out of the house and walked to the cabin of Lieutenant Russell.  Relieved, and yet in a certain sense dismayed, they found the young officer at home engaged in reading.  The instant he saw and admitted them, he knew the errand on which they had come.  Except for the grave question involved, that which followed would have been a delicious comedy.  The lieutenant could not have treated a brother with greater cordiality and never did host shine more brilliantly.  He fell to talking of war times, drew out Ruggles, interested the parson and gave some of his own stirring experiences.  They remained two hours and went away charmed, without having once referred to Nellie Dawson.  They voted the young man a good fellow, concluded they were mistaken about his admiring the young lady, and thought it lucky they had not made fools of themselves.

When they were clear of the house, Lieutenant Russell laughed heartily.

“Their faces gave them away; they were loaded and primed, but I drew their charges; to-night they will vote me one of the best fellows that ever lived; to-morrow they will begin to doubt, and by and by the sweetest privilege they can ask will be to shoot me.”

Perhaps the most curious feature of the tragical incidents that followed was the obtusiveness of Captain Dawson.  What every one else saw was veiled from him, until at times he almost seemed wilfully blind.  The two men had gone through many perilous experiences together, and sometimes alone.  It had been the fortune of the younger officer to serve the elder, more than once when in imminent danger and none could be more grateful than the captain.

As for Nellie Dawson herself, it is unlikely that for a time she suspected the truth in all its fulness.  She knew that hers was a peculiarly sweet enjoyment, while her deft fingers were busy with some needlework, to listen to the reminiscences of the two.  Sometimes she started with a shock of alarm, when the father pictured in his graphic way a situation from which it seemed no escape was open to him.  Forgetful for the moment of the fact that he was there before her, alive and well, she fairly held her breath, until the denouement came.  Not until then were her fears wholly relieved.

And when the parent rendered such glowing tributes to the bravery of the young officer, recalling events of so thrilling a nature that the lieutenant never would have dared to describe them in similar terms, how could the daughter help the kindling of admiration for the handsome young man?  How could she avoid feeling grateful, when she knew that he had risked his life for her parent, even on their late journey through the mountains?  In truth, everything tended to fan the flame that had already been kindled in both hearts.

It was late one night, after the tired Nellie had withdrawn, that the visitor made her the subject of the conversation, the approach being so tactful, that the captain had no suspicion of its object.

“Do you intend to spend all your life in this out of the way corner of the world?” was the question of the lieutenant.

“Probably I shall.  Just before I went to war, I became convinced that my duty to my daughter demanded I should move to the East, in order to give her the education she can never receive here.  However, when I went to the war, there was no place except this where I could leave her.  When I come back, I find her a young woman, with excellent book knowledge, thanks to Brush and the kind attention of the others.  Sometimes I think that she is so innocent and ignorant of evil, that it will be better for her to spend the rest of her life here.”

“It is a serious matter, but neither you nor she should be content to remain in this place for the rest of your lives.”

“Why not?  Does that which she can learn elsewhere outweigh that which she will never learn in this secluded settlement?  Is not the man or woman fortunate who never comes face to face with the ingratitude, the treachery, the selfishness, the baseness and the sin which are the accompaniments of civilization?  In this untainted mountain air, her nature will retain its freshness and purity; her life will be a well spring of happiness and goodness to all with whom she comes in contact; I shall never marry, and mean to keep her by me until in the order of nature I am called away.  That is the only boon that I ask from heaven.”

“But may not all this be hers and yours if the flower is transplanted from the wilderness into a more congenial soil?  Has she not already acquired that rugged strength which renders her nature secure against evil?  Is she not doubly panoplied in goodness by the training of her infancy and girlhood?”

“I would like to think so, but, lieutenant, I have lived a few years longer than you.  She might not be safe there; I know she is here.”