STORIES OF THE FOOT-HILLS
MARGARET COLLIER GRAHAM
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
By MARGARET COLLIER GRAHAM.
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.
|The Withrow Water Right|
|Alex Randall's Conversion|
|The Complicity of Enoch Embody|
|Colonel Bob Jarvis|
STORIES OF THE FOOT-HILLS.
THE WITHROW WATER RIGHT.
Lysander Sproul, driving his dun-colored mules leisurely toward the
mesa, looked back now and then at the winery which crowned its low hill
like a bit of fortification.
"If I'd really had any idee o' gettin' ahead o' him," he reflected, "or
circumventin' him an inch, I reckon I'd been more civil; it's no more 'n
fair to be civil to a man when you're gettin' the best of 'im; but I
hain't. I don't s'pose Indian Pete's yaller dog, standin' ahead there in
the road ready to bark at my team like mad, has any idee of eatin' a
mule, much less two, but all the same it's a satisfaction to him to be
sassy; an' seein' he's limited in his means of entertainin' hisself, I
don't begrudge him. And the Colonel don't begrudge me. When a man has
his coat pretty well wadded with greenbacks, he can stand a good deal o'
The ascent was growing rougher and more mountainous. Lysander put on the
brake and stopped "to blow" his team. Whiffs of honey-laden air came
from the stretch of chaparral on the slope behind him. He turned on the
high spring-seat, and, dangling his long legs over the wagon-box, sent a
far-reaching, indefinite gaze across the valley. There were broad acres
of yellowing vineyard, fields of velvety young barley, orange-trees in
dark orderly ranks, and here and there a peach orchard robbed of its
leaves,—a cloud of tender maroon upon the landscape. Lysander collected
his wandering glance and fixed it upon one of the pale-green
"It's about there, I reckon. Of course the old woman'll kick; but if the
Colonel has laid out to do it he'll do it, kickin' or no kickin'. If he
can't buy her out or trade her out, he'll freeze her out. Well, well, I
ain't a-carin'; she can do as she pleases."
The man turned and took off the brake, and the mules, without further
signal, resumed their journey. Boulders began to thicken by the
roadside. The sun went down, and the air grew heavy with the soft,
resinous mountain odors. Some one stepped from the shadow of a scraggy
buckthorn in front of the team.
"Is that you, Sandy?"
It was a woman's voice, but it came from a figure wearing a man's hat
and coat. Lysander stopped the mules.
"Why, Minervy! what's up?"
"Oh, nothin'. I just walked a ways to meet you." The woman climbed up
beside her husband. "You're later 'n I 'lowed you'd be. Something must
'a' kep' you."
"Yes, I come around by the winery. I saw Poindexter over t' the Mission,
an' he said the old Colonel wanted to see me."
"The old Colonel wanted to see you, Sandy?" The woman turned upon him
anxiously in the yellow twilight. The rakishness of her attire was
grotesquely at variance with her troubled voice and small, freckled
face. "What did he want with you?"
"Well, he said he wanted me to help him make a trade with the old
man,"—Lysander sent a short, explosive laugh through his nostrils; "an'
I told 'im I reckoned he knowed that the old woman was the old man, up
"Oh, I'm glad you give it to 'im that way, Sandy," said the woman
earnestly, rising to her habiliments. "Mother'll be prouder 'n a peacock
of you. I hope you held your head high and sassed him right and left."
Mrs. Sproul straightened her manly back and raised her shrill, womanish
voice nervously. "Oh, I hope you told him you'd stood at the cannon's
mouth before, an' wasn't afraid to face him or any other red-handed
destroyer of his country's flag. I hope you told him that, Sandy."
"Well, I wasn't to say brash," returned her husband slowly and
soothingly. "It wouldn't do, Minervy; it wouldn't do." Lysander uncoiled
his long braided lash and whipped off two or three spikes of the
withering, perfumed sage. "I talked up to 'im, though, middlin'
impident; but law! it didn't hurt 'im; he's got a hide like a
Mrs. Sproul drew a long, excited breath.
"I wish mother'd been along, Sandy; she'd 'a' told 'im a thing or two."
Lysander was discreetly silent. The sage and greasewood ended abruptly,
and a row of leafless walnut-trees stretched their gaunt white branches
above the road. Here and there an almond-tree, lured into premature
bloom by the seductive California winter, stood like a wraith by the
roadside. They could see the cabin now. A square of flaring and fading
light marked the open doorway. The mules quickened their pace, and the
wagon rattled over the stony road.
"Talk about increasin' the value o' this piece o' property!" the man
broke out contemptuously. "I told 'im it would take a good deal o' chin
to convince the old woman that anything would increase the value o' this
ranch o' hern, and danged if I didn't think she was right. I'd pegged
away at it two years, an' I couldn't."
"What did he say to that, Sandy?" demanded the woman, with admiring
"Say? Oh, he said the soil was good. An' I 'lowed it was,—what there
was of it; an' so was the boulders good, for boulders,—the trouble was
in the mixin'. 'Don't talk to me about your "decomposed granite,"' says
I: 'it's the granite what ain't decomposed that bothers me.' But
pshaw!"—and Lysander dropped his voice hopelessly,—"he ain't a-carin'.
I'd about as soon work the boulders as try to work him; he's harder'n
any boulder on the ranch."
The mules turned into a narrow road, and stopped before the stable, a
shackly, semi-tropical structure, consisting of four sycamore posts and
a brush-covered roof. The lower half of the firelit doorway beyond
suddenly darkened, and there was a swift, scurrying sound among the
bushes that intervened between the house and the shed. A succession of
heads, visible even in the deepening twilight by reason of a uniform
glimmering whiteness, appeared in the barnyard.
Mrs. Sproul ran over the number with a rapid maternal calculation.
"Where's the baby, Sheridan?"
Lysander climbed out of the wagon, and came around to his wife's side.
"Shan't I h'ist you down, Minervy?"
She gave him her hand, and stood beside him for an instant,
meditatively, after he had lifted her to the ground.
"I guess I won't say nothin' to mother till you come in, Sandy. Be as
spry as you can with the chores. Mebbe M'lissy'll milk the cow fer you."
She turned, and went up the walk toward the house, her mannish attire
and the glimmering white heads that encircled her faintly suggestive of
Jupiter and his attendant moons.
The sea-breeze had died away, and the wind was blowing in cooler gusts
from the mountain; breezes laden with the aromatic sweetness of the
bay-tree and the heavy scent of the shade-loving bracken wandered from
far up the cañon into the cabin and out again, only to find themselves
profaned and sordid with the smell of frying bacon.
A high, energetic voice was making itself heard even above the sizzle of
the meat and the voice of a crying baby.
"What under the sun makes ye set up that yell every night jest at
supper-time? Ye ain't a-lackin' anything, as I kin see, exceptin' a
spankin', and I'm too busy to give ye that. Hark! There comes your
mammy, now. Straighten up yer face and show 'er what a good boy you've
Thus adjured, the baby brought his vocalizing to that abrupt termination
indicative of feeling not so deep-seated as to be entirely beyond
control, and scrambled toward the door on all fours, breaking in upon
the approaching planetary system, a somewhat dimmed and bedraggled
comet. Mrs. Sproul picked him up, and looked around the room
"What's M'lissy doin', mother?"
"Dawdlin'," answered the old woman, with a curtness that was eloquent,
lifting the frying-pan from the stove, and shaking it into a more
"Is she upstairs?"
"I s'pose so. She gener'ly is, when there's anything doin' down."
Mrs. Sproul put her hand over the baby's mouth and called upward,
There was a sound of slow moving above, plainly audible through the
unplastered ceiling, leisurely sliding steps on the stairs, and Melissa
appeared in the doorway. She was still elevated above them by two or
three steps, and leaned against the casement, looking down into the
smoke and disorder of the room with a listless, irresponsible gaze. A
tall, unformed girl, with a braid of red hair hanging across her
shoulder, and ending in a heavy, lustrous curl upon the limp folds of
her blue cotton dress.
The baby had resumed a subdued but dismal proclamation of the grief from
which his mother's return had afforded him but a temporary relief, and
Mrs. Sproul elevated her thin, anxious voice coaxingly.
"Lysander's late, M'lissy, and I thought mebbe you'd milk the cow fer
"Why, yes, of course," answered the girl, with a soft, good-natured
drawl, descending the remaining steps slowly. "Where's the milk-pail,
"On top o' the chimbly," answered the old woman tartly, pointing with
the frying-pan to a bench in the corner. "If it'd 'a' been a snake,
it'd 'a' bit you."
The young girl crossed the room, and the satellites surrounding Mrs.
Sproul's chair, with an erratic change of orbit, transferred themselves
to the newcomer. The older sister took a handkerchief from the pocket
of her coat.
"You'd best tie this around your neck, M'lissy; it's gettin' chill."
The girl accepted it carelessly, and stood in the doorway tying the bit
of faded silk about her round, white throat.
"Where's the cow, mother?"
"She's staked on the 'fileree, t'other side of the barn. If ye don't
find her when ye git there, come an' ask." The old woman drawled the
last three words sarcastically.
Melissa smiled, showing a row of teeth, not small, but white and
"Oh, if she's got away, I know where she's gone."
"Yes, I'll bet you do. Some folks has a heap of onnecessary learnin'."
There was no demand upon Melissa's supply of undervalued information.
The cow was mooing reproachfully in a cropped circle of musky alfilaria
behind the shed. The moon had risen, and rested for an instant upon the
edge of Cucamonga, like a silver ball rolling down the mountain-side.
Melissa laid her arms on the spotted heifer's back, and gazed at the
landscape dreamily. Not discontent, nor longing, nor vague, troublesome
aspirations mirrored themselves in the girl's placid face. Gentle,
ease-loving natures, that might show in fair relief against a delicate
background of luxury, become dull and lifeless in contrast with the
coarser tints of poverty. In the parlance of those about her, Melissa
was "dawdlin',"—and those about us are likely to be just, for they
speak from the righteous standpoint of results.
The moon had floated high above Cucamonga,—so high that every nook and
fastness of the mountain lay revealed in her soft, nocturnal splendor;
even the tops of the mottled sycamores, far below in Sawpit Cañon, were
touched with a vague, ghostly light; and still the council that sat in
Lysander Sproul's kitchen was loud-voiced and shrill. The children,
huddled in a corner that they might whisper and giggle beyond the reach
of manual reproof, had fallen asleep, a confused heap of dejected
weariness. The baby's head hung at an alarming angle from his father's
arm, and even the acrid, high-pitched notes of his grandmother's voice
failed to disturb the sleep of bedraggled innocence.
"So he's a-wantin' to develop the cañon, is he? Time wuz when you'd 'a'
thought that cañon wuz good enough even fer him, from the lawin' and the
lyin' and the swearin' he done to git his clutches onto it. Well, if he
wants to improve it, why don't he improve it? Nobody's goin' to hender."
"That's what I told 'im," answered her son-in-law, taking the pipe from
his mouth, and sending a halo of blue smoke about the head of his
slumbering charge. "He said he wanted to improve the water. 'Nobody's
goin' to kick at that,' says I; 'if they do, they're fools. I think the
old lady'll tell you to go ahead. I shouldn't be s'prised, though,' says
I, 'if she'd add that the water o' Sawpit Cañon's good enough fer her
without any improvin'.'"
Mrs. Sproul glanced at her mother triumphantly.
"I told you Sandy talked up to him, mother. Oh, I do wish you'd 'a'
wore your uniform, Sandy; then you could 'a' rose up before him
proudly, an' told 'im you'd fought the battles of your country before"—
"Oh, shucks, Minervy!" interrupted the old woman dejectedly; "what does
Nate Forrester care for anybody's country? What else'd he say,
"He said—well"—the man hesitated, and hitched his high shoulders a
trifle uneasily—"he swore he hated to do business with a woman."
Spots of a deep, coppery red glowed through the tan of the old woman's
"He said that, did 'e, Lysander Sproul? Then he must 'a' found some
woman hard to cheat. Nate Forrester don't hate to do business with
nobody he can cheat. The next time you see 'im, tell 'im it's mut'chal."
"I told 'im that," answered Lysander grimly. "I told 'im he didn't hate
to do business with the hull female sect no worse than this partikiler
woman hated to do business with him; but I reckoned you wouldn't bother
'im if he wanted to go to work on the cañon,—that'd be onreasonable."
"He hain't no notion o' doin' that," asserted the old woman
contemptuously. "Ketch him improvin' anybody else's water right. We're
nothin' to him but sticks to boil his pot. What's he up to now?"
"Well," rejoined Lysander skeptically, "he said he wanted to divide
that upper volunteer barley-patch into ten-acre lots and put it onto the
market. An' he b'lieved he could double the water right by tunnelin'."
"Why don't he tunnel away, then? Nobody's a-carin'," demanded the old
"That's what I told 'im; and he 'lowed, of course, he wasn't a-goin' to
put money into another feller's water right. An' then he figured away,
showin' me how it'd increase the value o' this piece o' property; an' I
told 'im this property was 'way up now,"—Lysander sneered
audibly,—"consider'ble higher 'n most folks wanted to go; an' then he
went to blowin' about it, braggin' up the ranch, an' tellin' what a big
thing he done when he give it to you"—
The old woman broke in upon him fiercely.
"Did he say that, Lysander?" She turned, and bent upon her son-in-law a
quick, wrathful glance from under her shaggy brows; the muscles of her
weather-beaten face twitched nervously. "I'd 'a' give my right hand to
'a' heerd 'im. I'd like to have Colonel Nate Forrester try to say
anything to me about givin' anybody this ranch." She measured her words
bitingly. "I s'pose when a feller puts his pistol at yer head, and tells
you to hold up yer hands, and goes through yer pockets, if he happens to
overlook a ten-cent piece he gives ye that much, does 'e? That's the
way Colonel Nate Forrester give me this ranch. Loss Anjelus County
hadn't heerd o' him when I settled onto this claim, and it ain't heerd
no good of 'im sence."
The old woman's harsh, discordant voice rose higher with her wrath. The
baby stirred uneasily in his father's arms. Even Melissa raised her
eyes,—Melissa, who sat on the lowest step of the projecting staircase,
twisting and untwisting the faded blue silk handkerchief in her lap with
a gentle, listless monotony. It was impossible to tell whether ignorance
or indifference characterized the girl, so calm, so inert, so absent was
she, sitting in the half-shadow of the dimly lighted corner, her
lustrous auburn head outlined against the sombre-hued redwood of the
wall behind her.
There was a little hush in the room after the tempest.
"No, that's a fact,—that's a fact. Well—then—you see—" continued
Lysander, groping for his forgotten place in the recital. "Oh, yes,—I
got up and told 'im 'Addyoce,' as if I s'posed he was through, and
started off; an' he called me back, an' 'lowed mebbe the old folks
didn't have much loose change lyin' 'round to put into water
improvements; an' I told 'im I didn't know,—I reckoned you could
mortgage the ranch. From the way he talked, he'd make you a handsome
loan on it, and jump at the chance; an' after he'd hummed and hawed a
while, he offered to give you a clear title to Flutterwheel Spring if
you'd deed 'im your int'rest in the rest o' the cañon. I told 'im it
wasn't my funeral. I'd tell you what he said, an' you could do as you
The old woman fixed her small, shrewd eyes on her son-in-law.
"What else 'd he say, Lysander?"
"Nothin' much. Wanted me to use my influence with the old man!"
His mother-in-law gave a short, contemptuous sniff.
"I reckon he'd like to do business with the old man. What'd you tell
"I told 'im I'd be sure to put my influence where it'd do the most good,
an' I 'dvised him to see you. I 'lowed him an' you'd git on peaceable as
a meetin' to 'lect a preacher,"—Lysander rubbed his gnarled hand over
his face, as if to erase a lurking grin,—"but he didn't seem anxious."
"I reckon not. Is that all he said?"
"'Bout all. He said it was a damned good trade."
"Lysander!" Mrs. Sproul sprang up, placing herself between her husband
and the heap of slumbering innocents in the corner. "Lysander
Sproul,—and you a father! This comes of consortin' with the ungodly,
and settin' in the chair of the scorner."
"Oh, come now, Minervy, I was only quotin'." Lysander's eye twinkled,
but he spoke contritely, with generous consideration for his wife's
condition, which was imminently delicate.
"Oh, you're hystericky, Minervy. You'd best go to bed," observed her
mother. "You're all tuckered out with yer walk. I guess Lysander's told
all he knows, hain't you, Lysander?"
"'Bout all,—yes. He followed me out to the wagon, and hinted something
about Poindexter wantin' help if he went to work on the tunnel, and
'lowed I'd find it handier to have a job nearder home, now that the
grape-haulin' was over. But I told 'im there was no trouble about that.
The nearder home I got, the more work I found, gener'ly. Pay was kind o'
short, but then a man must be a trifle stickin' that wouldn't do his own
work fer nothin'."
Lysander got up and carried the baby into the adjoining room, bending
his lank form from habit rather than from necessity, as he passed
through the doorway.
Mrs. Sproul, tearfully resentful of the charge of hysterics,
investigated the sleeping children with a view to more permanent
disposal of them for the night, a process which resulted in much
whimpering, and a limp, somnolent sense of injury on the part of the
"I don't take much stock in Nate Forrester's trades," said the
grandmother, elevating her voice so that Lysander could hear; "there's
some deviltry back of 'em, gener'ly; the better they look, the more I'm
afraid of 'em. I don't purtend to know what he's drivin' at now, not
bein' the prince o' darkness, but I reckon he can wait till I do."
The next day Melissa turned her gray eyes with a vague, kindling
interest toward the "volunteer barley-patch." Two or three points of
white gleamed upon it in the afternoon sun. She mused upon them
speculatively for awhile, and then consulted Lysander.
"I reckon it's the survey stakes, M'lissy," he said kindly. "Forrester's
dividin' it up, as he said. I wouldn't say nothin' 'bout it to yer maw,
'f I was you; it'll only rile her up."
Melissa looked at the field in a quiet, dispassionate way.
"The land's his'n, ain't it, Lysander?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, the land's his'n, an' a good part o' the cañon, too,—all but
a little that b'longs to yer maw. But the hull thing used to be hern;
quite a spell back, though."
Lysander was hauling stones from a knoll near the house, and dumping
them on the edge of the cañon,—a leisurely process, carried on by means
of a sled, of unmistakable home manufacture, drawn by one of the
dun-colored mules. Melissa was helping him in a desultory, intermittent
fashion. There was a very friendly understanding between these two
peace-loving members of the family.
The young girl carried two or three speckled granite boulders and
dropped them into the rude vehicle, and then sat down on the edge of it
meditatively. The dark rim of her hat made a background for her head
with its little billows of richly tinted hair. Exertion had brought a
faint transitory pink to her fair, freckled face.
"Did Colonel Forrester steal the land and water from mother, Lysander?"
she asked, with the calm, unreasoning candor of youth.
Lysander straightened his lank form, and then betook himself to a seat
on a neighboring boulder, evidently of the opinion that the judicial
nature of the question before him demanded a sitting posture.
"I dunno about that, M'lissy," he said, shutting one eye and squinting
across the valley sagaciously. "The Soopreme Court of the State of
Californy said he didn't, an' yer maw says he did,—with regards to the
cañon, that is. The land,—well, she deeded him the land, but he sort o'
had the snap on her when she done it. You'll find, M'lissy," he added,
with a careful disavowal of prejudice, "that there's as much difference
of 'pinion about stealin' as there is about heaven."
There was a long, serene, comfortable silence. Even the mule seemed
dreamily retrospective. Bees reveled in the honeyed wealth of the
buckthorn, and chanted their content in drowsy monotony. The upland
lavished its spicy sweetness on the still, yellow air. A gopher peered
out of its freshly made burrow with quick, wary turns of its little
head, and dropped suddenly out of sight as Melissa spoke.
"How come mother to deed him the land, Sandy?"
The weight of decision being lifted from Lysander's shoulders, he got up
and resumed his work, evidently esteeming a mild form of activity
admissible in purely narrative discourse.
"Well, ye see, M'lissy, yer maw home-stidded the land and filed a claim
on the water in the cañon eight or ten years back, when neither of 'em
was worth stealin'; an' she 'lowed she done the thing up in good shape,
and had everything solid an' reg'lar, till Colonel Forrester come and
bought the Santa Elena ranch and a lot o' dry land j'inin' it, and
commenced nosin' around the cañon, an' hirin' men to overhaul the county
record; an' the fust thing you know, he filed a claim onto the water in
the cañon. Then you can guess what kind of a racket there was on hand."
Lysander paused, and sat down on a pile of stones, shaking his head in
vague, reminiscent dismay. The young girl turned and looked at him, a
sudden gleam of recollection widening her eyes.
"I b'lieve I remember 'bout that, Sandy," she said, with a little thrill
of animation in her voice.
"Like enough. You was quite a chunk of a girl then. Minervy an' me was
bee-ranchin' over t' the Verdugo, that spring. The rains was late and
lodged yer maw's barley, so as 't she didn't have half a crop; an' you
know yer paw's kind o'—kind o'—easy,"—having chosen the adjective
after some hesitation, Lysander lingered over it approvingly,—"and
bein' as she was dead set on fightin' the Colonel, she mortgaged the
ranch to raise the money for the lawsuit."
Lysander stopped again. Memories of that stormy time appeared to crowd
upon him bewilderingly. He shook his head in slow but emphatic denial of
his ability to do them dramatic justice in recital.
There was another long silence. The noonday air seemed to pulsate, as if
the mountain were sleeping in the sun and breathing regularly. The
weeds, which the weight of the sled had crushed, gave out a fragrance of
honey and tar. A pair of humming-birds darted into the stillness in a
little tempest of shrill-voiced contention, and the mule, aroused from
dejected abstraction by the intruders, shook his tassel-like tail and
Melissa got up and wandered toward the edge of the cañon, and Lysander,
aroused from the plentitude of his recollections by her absence,
completed his load and drove the dun-colored mule leisurely after her.
The stones fell over the precipice, breaking into the quiet of the
depths below with a long, resounding crash that finally rippled off into
silence, and the two sat down on the side of the empty sled and rode
back to the stone-pile.
"I've always thought," said Lysander, resuming his work and his
narrative with equal deliberation, "that there was a good deal missed by
yer maw bein' took down with inflammatory rheumatiz jest about the time
o' the trial o' that lawsuit. I dunno as it would 'a' made much
difference in the end, but it would 'a' made consider'ble as it went
along, and I think she'd 'a' rested easier if she'd 'a' had her say. Of
course they come up an' took down her testimony in writin'; but it was
shorthand, an' yer maw don't speak shorthand fer common. Well, of
course, the old Colonel got away with the jury, and then yer maw found
out that he'd bought the mortgage; an' about the time it was due he come
up here, as smooth as butter, an' offered to give her this little patch
o' boulders an' let her move the house onto it, an' give her share
'nough in the cañon to irrigate it, if she'd deed him the rest o' the
land, an' save him the trouble o' foreclosin'. So she done it. But I
don't think he enj'yed his visit, all the same. She wasn't sparin' o'
her remarks to 'im, an' I think some o' 'em must 'a' hurt his feelin's,
fer he hain't been here sence." Lysander chuckled with reminiscent
Melissa had walked around the sled, and stood facing him, with her hands
behind her. Her slight figure in its limp blue cotton drapery had the
scarred mountain-side for a background.
"I don't see yet as he done anything so awful mean," she protested
"Ner do I, M'lissy," acquiesced her brother-in-law. "But after the hull
thing was signed, sealed, and delivered,"—Lysander rested from his
labors again on the strength of these highly legal expressions,—"after
it was closed up, so to speak, it came to yer maw's ears, in some way,
that there was a mistake in the drawin' of that mortgage, an' this land
was left out of it, an' would 'a' been hern anyway; and somehow that
thing has stuck in her craw all these years, and sort o' soured her."
Melissa mused on the problem, wide-eyed and grave. The mule seemed to
await her verdict with humble resignation. Lysander sat on the side of
the sled and looked across the valley seaward, to where Catalina was
outlined against the horizon in soft, cloud-like gray.
"An' it was a mistake? she meant to put it in the mortgage?" queried the
"Yes, she meant to, so far as a person can be said to mean anything when
they're a-mortgagin' their homestead; usually they're out o' their
heads. But the law don't take no 'count o' that kind o' craziness. You
can do the foolest things, M'lissy, without the court seein' a crack in
your brain; but if you happen to get mad an' put a bullet through some
good-fer-nothin' loafer, then immedjitly yer insane. That's the law,
Melissa received this exposition of her country's code with wondering,
luminous eyes. It had a wild, unreasonable sound which was a sufficient
guarantee of its correctness. The doings of authorities were liable to
be misty by reason of elevation. The fault lay in her limited vision.
"I s'pose the law's right. An' the law said the cañon didn't belong to
mother. I think that ought to 'a' settled it. I don't see any good in it
all,—this talkin' so loud, an' scoldin', an' callin' people names. Do
"I hain't seen much good come of it," confessed the man reluctantly;
"but it's human to talk,—it's human, M'lissy. Some folks find it
relievin', an' it don't do any harm."
The young girl did not assent. Deep down in her placid, peace-loving
nature was the obstinate conviction that it did a great deal of harm.
She sat down in the velvety burr-clover, clasping her hands about her
"Is Flutterwheel Spring more 'n mother's share o' the cañon?" she
"Yes, I think it is. Of course I never measured the water, an' I didn't
admit it when Forrester said so; but I'd 'a' resked sayin' it was, if
anybody else'd asked me."
"Why wouldn't you say so to him?"
Lysander laughed, and flipped a pebble toward a gray squirrel, who gave
a little rasping, insulted bark, and whisked into his hole in high
"Well, because he ain't a-lackin' for information, an' I hain't got none
to spare, M'lissy."
The young girl rocked herself gently in the clover.
"I don't understand it," she said hopelessly. "It looks as if he was
tryin' to be fair, an' mother wouldn't let him. I should think she'd be
glad, even if he did used to be mean,—an' I can't see as he was any
meaner than the law 'lowed him to be. I s'pose the law's right. You went
to the war for the law, didn't you, Sandy?"
Her companion winced. There was one thing dearer to him than his
neutrality in the family feud.
"Mebbe I did, M'lissy,—mebbe I did," he answered, with a trifling
accession of dignity: "fer the law as I understood it. The law's all
right, but it ain't every judge nor every jury that knows what it is;
they think they do, but they're liable to be mistaken. Seems to me
they're derned liable to be mistaken!" he added, with some asperity.
And so the paths that to Melissa's straightforward consciousness seemed
so simple and direct ended, one and all, in hopeless confusion. Even
Lysander had failed her. The foundations of human knowledge were
certainly giving way when Lysander indulged in the mysterious.
Melissa turned and left him, walking absently up the little path that
led to the cañon. She had not noticed a speck crawling like an
overburdened insect along the winding road in the valley. Visible and
invisible by turns, as the sage-brush was sparse or high, and emerging
at last into permanent view where the wild growth came to an end and
Mrs. Withrow's "patch" began, it resolved itself, to Lysander's intent
and curious gaze, into a diminutive gray donkey, bearing a confused
burden of blankets and cooking utensils, and followed by a figure more
dejected, if possible, than the donkey himself.
"I'll be hanged if the old man hain't showed up!" said Lysander,
dropping down on the sled, and throwing back into the pile two boulders
he held, as if to indicate a general cessation of all logical sequence
and a consequent embargo on industry.
Evidently the old man was conscious that he "showed up" to poor
advantage, for he began prodding the donkey with a conscientious
absorption that filled that small brute with amazement, and made him
amble from one side of the road to the other, in a vain endeavor to look
around his pack and discover the reason for this unexpected turn in the
administration of affairs.
Lysander watched their approach with an expression of amused contempt.
The traveler started, in a clumsy attempt at surprise, when he was
opposite his son-in-law, and, giving the donkey a parting whack that
sent him and his hardware onward at a literally rattling pace, turned
from the road, and sidled doggedly through the tarweed toward the
Lysander folded his arms, and surveyed him in a cool, sidelong way that
was peculiarly withering.
"Well," he said, with a caustic downward inflection,—"well, it's you,
The newcomer admitted the gravity of the charge by an appealing droop of
his whole person.
"Yes," he answered humbly, "it's me,—an' I didn't want to come. I vum I
didn't. But Forrester made me. He 'lowed you wouldn't hev no objections
to my comin'—on business."
He braced himself on the last two words, and made a feeble effort to
look his son-in-law in the face. What he saw there was not encouraging.
It became audible in a sniff of undisguised contempt.
"Where'd you see Forrester?"
"At the winery. Ye see I was a-goin' over to the Duarte, an' I stopped
at the winery"—
"What'd you stop at the winery fer?" interrupted the younger man
"Why, I tole ye,—Forrester wanted to see me on business. I stopped to
see Forrester, Lysander. What else'd I stop fer? I was in a big hurry,
too, an' I vum I hated to stop, but I hed to. When a man like Forrester
wants to see you"—
"How'd you know he wanted to see you?" demanded Sproul.
The old man gave his questioner a look of maudlin surprise.
"Why, he tole me so hisself; how else'd I find it out? I was a-settin'
there in the winery on a kaig, an' he come an' tole me he wanted to see
me on business. 'Pears to me you're duller 'n common, Lysander." The
speaker began to gather courage from his own ready comprehension of
intricacies which evidently seemed to puzzle his son-in-law. "Why,
sho,—yes, Lysander, don't ye see?" he added encouragingly.
"Oh, yes, I see,—I see," repeated Lysander sarcastically. "It's as
clear as mud. Now, look here," he added, turning upon his visitor
sternly, "you let Forrester alone. You don't know any more about
business than a hog does about holidays, an' you know it, an' Forrester
knows it. You'll put your foot in it, that's what you'll do."
The old man looked pensively at one foot and then at the other, as if
speculating on the probable damage from such a catastrophe.
"I'm sure I dunno," he said plaintively. "Forrester 'peared to think I
ought to come; he tole me why, but I vum I've fergot." He took off his
hat and gazed into it searchingly, as if the idea that had mysteriously
escaped from his brain might have lodged in the crown.
Lysander fell to work with an energy born of disgust for another's
"Seein' I'm here, I reckon nobody'll objeck to my payin' my respecks to
the old woman," continued the newcomer, glancing from the crown of his
hat to Lysander's impassive face with covert inquiry.
"I guess if you c'n stand it, the rest of us'll have to," sneered his
son-in-law. "I've advised you over 'n' over again to steer clear of the
old woman; but there's no law agen a man courtin' his own wife, even if
she don't give 'im much encouragement."
The old man put on his hat, and shuffled uneasily toward the house.
Lysander stopped his work, and looked after him with a whimsical,
"You're a nice old customer, you are; an' Forrester's 'nother. I wish to
the livin' gracious the old woman'd send you a-kitin'; but she won't;
she'll bark at you all day, but she won't bite. Women's queer."
Mrs. Withrow was engaged in what she called "workin' the bread into the
pans." She received her dejected spouse with a snort of disapproval.
"When the donkey come a-clatterin' up to the door, I knowed there was
another follerin'," she said acridly. "Come in an' set down. I s'pose
you're tired: you mostly are."
The old man sidled sheepishly into the room and seated himself, and his
wife turned her back upon him and fell to kneading vigorously a mass of
dough that lay puffing and writhing on the floured end of a pine table.
"I jess come on Forrester's 'count," he began haltingly: "that is, he
didn't want me to come, but I wasn't goin' to do what Forrester said. I
ain't a-carin' fer Forrester. I wasn't goin' to take a trip 'way up here
jess because he wanted me to, so I didn't. I"—
"Shut up!" said his wife savagely, without turning her head.
The visitor obeyed, evidently somewhat relieved to escape even thus
ignominiously from the bog into which his loquacity was leading him.
The old woman thumped and pounded the mass of dough until the small
tenement shook. Then, after much shaping and some crowding, she
consigned her six rather corpulent loaves to "the pans," and turned on
her nominal lord.
He had fallen asleep, with his head dropped forward on his breast: his
hat had fallen off, and lay in his lap in a receptive attitude, as if
expecting that the head would presently drop into it.
Mrs. Withrow gave him a withering glance.
"Forrester sent you, did 'e? You miser'ble old jelly-fish! You're a nice
match fer Forrester, you are!"
She pushed her loaves angrily under the stove, to the discomfiture of
the cat, who, being thus rudely disturbed, yawned and stretched, and
curved its back to the limit of spinal flexibility, as it rubbed against
the old woman's knees.
The California winter had blossomed and faded. The blaze of the poppies
on the mesa had given place to the soft, smoky tint of the sage, and
almost insensibly the cloudless summer had come on.
Work had commenced in Sawpit Cañon. Unwillingly, and after much
wrangling, the old woman had yielded to the evident fairness of
Forrester's offer. Even in yielding, however, she had permitted herself
the luxury of defiance, and had refused to appear before a notary in the
valley to sign the deed. If it afforded her any satisfaction when that
official was driven to the door by Colonel Forrester, and entered her
kitchen, carrying his seal, and followed by an admiring and awestricken
group of children, she did not display it by the faintest tremor of her
grim countenance. She had held the end of the penholder gingerly while
she made her "mark," and it was when old Withrow had been banished from
the room, and the notary, in a bland, perfunctory way, had made her
acquainted with the contents of the document, and inquired whether she
signed the same freely and voluntarily, that she deigned to speak.
"Did Nate Forrester tell you to ask me that?" she demanded, darting a
quick glance through the open door at the Colonel, who sat in his
road-wagon under the trailing pepper-tree, flicking the flies from his
roadster's back. "Ef he did, you tell 'im fer me that the man don't live
that kin make me do what I don't want to. An' ef he thinks the two or
three kaigs of wine he's poured into that poor, miser'ble, sozzlin' old
man o' mine has had anything to do with me signin' this deed, he's a
bigger fool than I took 'im to be, an' that's sayin' a good deal."
And with this ample though somewhat novel declaration of freedom from
marital compulsion the notary was quite willing to consider the majesty
of the law satisfied, and proceeded to affix his seal on its imposing
star of gilded paper, a process which drew the children about him in a
rapidly narrowing circle from which he was glad to escape.
"Damn it," he said, as he climbed into the road-wagon and tucked the
robe about his legs,—"damn it, Colonel, I thought you were popular
with the gentler sex; but there certainly seems to be a coolness between
you and the old lady," and the two men drove off, laughing as they went.
The document they had left behind them, which made Mrs. Withrow the
owner of Flutterwheel Spring, "being the most southerly spring on the
west side of Sawpit Cañon," had lain untouched upon the table until
Lysander had taken it in charge, and it was this lofty indifference on
the part of his mother-in-law that had justified her in the frequent
boast that, "whatever she'd done, she hadn't stirred out of her tracks,
So at last the stillness of Sawpit Cañon was invaded. Poindexter had
come from San Gabriel Mission, and with him a young engineer from Los
Angeles,—a straight, well-made young fellow, whose blue flannel shirt
was not close enough at the collar to hide the line of white that
betokened his recent escape from civilization. There were half a dozen
workmen besides, and the muffled boom of blasting was heard all day
among the boulders. At night, the touch of a banjo and the sound of
men's voices singing floated down from the camp among the sycamores.
This camp was a bewildering revelation to Melissa, who carried milk to
the occupants every evening. The Chinese cook, who came to meet her and
emptied her pail, trotting hither and thither, and swearing all the time
with a cheerful confidence in the purity of his pigeon English, was not
to her half so much a foreigner and an alien as was either of the two
men who occupied the engineer's tent. They raised their hats when she
appeared among the mottled trunks of the sycamores. One of them—the
younger, no doubt—sprang to help her when her foot slipped in crossing
the shallow stream, and the generous concern he manifested for her
safety, and which was to him the merest commonplace of politeness, was
to Melissa a glimpse into Paradise.
"By Jove, she's pretty, Poindexter," he had said, as he came back and
picked up his banjo; "she has eyes like a rabbit."
And Poindexter had added up two columns of figures and contemplated the
result some time before he asked, "Who?"
"The milkmaid,—she of the bare feet and blue calico. I have explored
the dim recesses of her sunbonnet, and am prepared to report upon the
contents. The lass is comely."
But Poindexter had relapsed into mathematics, and grunted an
Melissa heard none of this. All that she heard was the faint, distant
strum of a banjo, and a gay young voice announcing to the rocks and
fastnesses of the cañon that his love was like a red, red rose. His
love! Melissa walked along the path beside the flume in vague
bewilderment. It was his love, then, whose picture she had seen pinned
to the canvas of the tent. The lady was scantily attired, and Melissa
had a confused idea that her heightened color might arise from this
fact. She felt her own cheeks redden at the thought.
Lysander was at work in the cañon some distance below the new tunnel,
"ditching" the water of Flutterwheel Spring to Mrs. Withrow's land.
"That long-legged tenderfoot thinks you're purty, M'lissy," he
announced, as he smoked his pipe on the doorstep one evening. "He come
down to the ditch this afternoon to see if I could sharpen a pick fer
'em, and he asked if you was my little dotter. I told 'im no, I was your
great-grandpap," and Lysander laughed teasingly.
Melissa was sitting on a low chair behind him, holding her newly arrived
niece in her arms. She bent over the little puckered face, her own
glowing with girlish delight. The baby stirred, and tightened its
wrinkles threateningly, and Melissa stooped to kiss the little moist
"I—I don't even know his name," she faltered.
"Nor me, neither," said Lysander. "Poindexter calls him 'Sterling,' but
I don' know if it's his first name or his last. Anyway, he seems to be a
The baby broke into a faint but rapidly strengthening wail.
"Come, now, Pareppy Rosy," said Lysander soothingly, "don't you be
jealous; your old pappy ain't a-goin' back on you as a musicianer. Give
'er to me, M'lissy."
Melissa laid the little warm, unhappy bundle in its father's arms, and
stood in the path in front of them, looking over the valley, until the
baby's cries were hushed.
"Was the pick much dull?" she asked, with a faint stirring of womanly
"Oh, yes," rejoined the unsuspecting Lysander; "they get 'em awful dull
up there in the rock. I had to bring it down to the forge, an' I guess
I'll git you to take it back to 'em in the morning. I've got through
with the ditch, and I want to go to makin' basins; them orange-trees
west o' the road needs irrigatin'."
"Yes, they're awful dry; they're curlin' a little," said the girl, with
waning interest. "I thought mebbe Mr. Poindexter done the singin'?" she
added, after a little silence.
Her brother-in-law hesitated, and then found his way back.
"No, I guess not; I s'pose he joins in now and then, but it's the
Easterner that leads off."
"Jee-ee-rusalem, my happy home!"
Lysander threw his head back against the casement of the door, and broke
into the evening stillness with his heavy, unmanageable bass. Mrs.
Sproul came to the door to "take the baby in out of the night air;" the
air indoors being presumably a remnant of midday which had been
carefully preserved for the evening use of infants.
The next morning Melissa carried the pick to the workmen at the tunnel.
A fog had drifted in during the night, and was still tangled in the tops
of the sycamores. The soft, humid air was sweet with the earthy scents
of the cañon, and the curled fallen leaves of the live oaks along the
flume path were golden-brown with moisture. Beads of mist fringed the
silken fluffs of the clematis, dripping with gentle, rhythmical
insistence from the trees overhead.
Melissa had set out at the head of a straggling procession, for the
children had clamored to go with her.
"You can go 'long," she said, with placid good nature, "if you'll set
down when you give out, and not go taggin' on, makin' a fuss."
In consequence of this provision various major-generals had dropped out
of the ranks, and were stationed at different points in the rear, and
only Melissa and Ulysses S. Grant were left. Even that unconquerable
hero showed signs of weakening, lagging behind to "sick" his yellow cur
into the wild-grape thickets in search of mountain lion and other
equally ambitious game.
Melissa turned in the narrow path, and waited for him to overtake her.
"I b'lieve you'd better wait here, 'Lyss," she said gravely. "You can go
up the bank there and pick some tunas. Look out you don't get a cactus
spine in your foot, though, for I hain't got anything to take it out
with exceptin' the pick,"—she smiled in the limp depths of her
sunbonnet,—"an' I won't have that when I come back."
The dog, returned from the terrors of his unequal chase at the sound of
Melissa's voice, looked and winked and wagged his approval, and the two
comrades darted up the bank with mingled and highly similar yaps of
Melissa quickened her steps, following the path until she heard the
sound of voices and the ring of tools in the depths below. Then she
turned, and made her way through the underbrush down the bank.
Suddenly she heard a loud, prolonged whistle and the sound of hurrying
feet. She stood still until the footsteps had died away. Then the sharp
report of an explosion shook the ground beneath her feet, and huge
pieces of rock came crashing through the trees about her. The girl gave
a shrill, terrified scream, and fell cowering upon the ground. Almost
before the echo had ceased, Sterling sprang through the chaparral, his
face white and his lips set.
"My God, child, are you hurt?" he said, dropping on his knees beside
"No, I ain't hurt," she faltered, "but I was awful scared. I didn't know
you was blastin' here; I thought it was on up at the tunnel."
"It was until this morning. We are going to put in a dam." He frowned
upon her, unable to free himself from alarm. "I did not dream of any one
being near. What brought you so far up the cañon?"
"I brung you the pick."
She stooped toward it, and two or three drops of blood trickled across
"You are hurt, see!" said Sterling anxiously.
The girl turned back her sleeve and showed a trifling wound.
"I must 'a' scratched it on the Spanish bayonet when I fell. It's no
difference. Nothin' struck me. Lysander's gettin' ready to irrigate; he
said if you wanted any more tools sharpened, I could fetch 'em down to
The young man showed a preoccupied indifference to her message.
Producing a silk handkerchief, fabulously fine in Melissa's eyes, he
bound up the injured wrist, with evident pride in his own deftness and
"Are you quite sure you are able to walk now?" he asked kindly.
"Why, I ain't hurt a bit; not a speck," reiterated the girl, her eyes
Her companion's face relaxed into the suggestion of a smile. He helped
her up the bank, making way for her in the chaparral, and tearing away
the tangled ropes of the wild-grape vines.
"Tell your father not to send you above the camp again," he said gently,
when she was safe in the path; "one of the men will go down with the
Melissa stood beside the flume a moment, irresolute. Her sunbonnet had
fallen back a little, disclosing her rustic prettiness.
"I'm much obliged to you," she said quaintly, exhausting her knowledge
of the amenities. "I'll send the hankecher back as soon as I can git it
washed and done up."
The young man smiled graciously, bowed, raised his hat, and waited until
she turned to go; then he bounded down the bank, crashing his way
through the underbrush with the pick.
None of the men below had heard the cry, and Poindexter refused to lash
himself into any retrospective excitement.
"Confound the girl!" fumed Sterling, vexed, after the manner of men,
over the smallest waste of emotion; "why must she frighten a fellow limp
by screaming when she wasn't hurt?"
"Possibly for the same reason that the fellow became limp before he knew
she was hurt," suggested Poindexter; "or she may have thought it an
eminently ladylike thing to do; she looks like a designing creature. If
the killed and wounded are properly cared for, suppose we examine the
result of the blast."
It was Saturday morning, and Lysander and Melissa were irrigating the
orange-trees. Old Withrow sat by the ditch at the corner of the orchard,
watching them with a feeble display of interest, while two or three of
the children climbed and tumbled over him as if he were some inoffensive
The old man had hung about the place longer than was his wont, filled
with a maudlin glee over his own importance as having been in some way
instrumental in the trade with Forrester; and he had followed Lysander
to the orchard this morning with a confused alcoholic idea that he ought
to be present when the water from Flutterwheel Spring was turned on
for the first time.
"You'll git a big head," he had said to his wife, as he started,—"a
deal bigger head 'n ever. I tole Forrester I'd tell ye it was a good
trade, an' I done what I said I'd do. Forrester knowed what he was doin'
when he got me"—
"G'long, you old gump!" his spouse had hurled at him wrathfully, ceasing
from a vigorous wringing of the mop to grasp the handle with a gesture
that was not entirely suggestive of industry.
The old man had put up his hand and wriggled in between Melissa and
Lysander with a cur-like movement that brought a grim smile to his
son-in-law's face, and made Melissa shrink away from him noticeably. Out
in the orchard, however, he ceased to trouble them, being content to
smoke and doze by the ditch, while the water ran in a gentle, eddying
current from one basin to another, guided now and then by Lysander's
The boom of the blasting could be heard up the cañon, fainter as the
afternoon sea-breeze arose, and Melissa, standing barefoot in the warm,
sandy soil, let the water swirl about her ankles as she mended the
basins, and thought of the tall young surveyor who had bound up her
"I'm a-goin' to take his hankecher to him to-morruh. Bein' it's Sunday
they won't be blastin'."
She leaned on her hoe and looked up the cañon, where the blue of the
distant mountains showed soft and smoky among the branches of the
"M'lissy!" Lysander called from the lower end of the row of
orange-trees, "hain't the ditch broke som'ers, or the water got into a
gopher-hole? There ain't no head to speak of."
The girl turned quickly and looked about her. The water had settled into
the loose soil of the basins, and was no longer running in the furrow.
She walked across, following the main ditch to the edge of the cañon,
looking anxiously for the break. The wet sand rippled and glistened in
the bottom of the ditch, but no water was to be seen. Lysander, tired of
waiting, came striding through the tarweed, with his hoe on his
"I guess it's broke furder on up the cañon, Sandy."
Melissa stepped back, as she spoke, to let him precede her on the narrow
path, and the two walked silently beside the empty ditch. Lysander's
face gathered gloom as they went.
"It's some deviltry, I'll bet!" he broke out, after a while. "Danged if
I don't begin to think yer maw's right!"
Melissa did not ask in what her mother was vindicated; she had a dull
prescience of trouble. Things seemed generally to end in that way. She
turned to her poor hopeless little dream again, and kept close behind
Lysander's lank form all the way to Flutterwheel Spring.
Alas! not to Flutterwheel Spring. Where the spray had whirled in a
fantastic spiral the day before, the moss was still wet, and the ferns
waved in happy unconsciousness of their loss; but the stream that had
flung itself from one narrow shelf of rock to another, in mad haste to
join the rush and roar of Sawpit Cañon, had utterly disappeared.
Lysander turned to his companion, his face ashen-gray under the week-old
stubble of his beard. Neither of them spoke. The calamity lay too near
the source of things for bluster, even if Lysander had been capable of
bluster. In swift dual vision they saw the same cruel picture: the
shriveling orange-trees, the blighted harvest of figs dropping withered
from the trees, the flume dry and useless, the horse-trough empty and
warping in the sun,—all the barren hopelessness of a mountain claim
without water, familiar to both. And through it all Melissa felt rather
than imagined the bitterness of her mother's wrath. Perhaps it was this
latter rather than the real catastrophe that whitened the poor young
face, turned toward Lysander in helpless dismay.
"Danged if I don't hate the job o' tellin' yer maw," said the man at
last, raking the dry boulders with his hoe aimlessly,—"danged if I
don't. I can't figger out who's done it, but one thing's certain,—it
beats the devil."
Lysander made the last statement soberly, as if this vindication of his
Satanic majesty were a simple act of justice. Seeming to consider the
phenomenon explained by a free confession of his own ignorance, he
ceased his investigation, and sat down on the edge of the ditch
"Don't le' 's tell mother right away, Sandy. Paw's fell asleep, an'
he'll think you turned the water off. Mebbe if we wait it'll begin to
run again." The hopefulness of youth crept into Melissa's quivering
Lysander shook his head dismally.
"I'm willin' enough to hold off, M'lissy, but I hain't got much hope.
There ain't any Moses around here developin' water, that I know of. The
meracle business seems to have got into the wrong hands this time;
danged if it hain't. It gets away with me how Forrester can dry up a
spring at long range that-a-way; there ain't a track in the mud around
here bigger 'n a linnet's,—not a track. It's pure deviltry, you can bet
on that." Lysander fell back on the devil with restful inconsistency,
and fanned himself with his straw hat, curled by much similar usage into
"I don't believe he done it," said Melissa, obstinately charitable. "I
don't believe anybody done it. I believe it just happened. I don't think
folks like them care about folks like us at all, or want to pester us. I
believe they just play on things and sing,"—the color mounted to her
face, until the freckles were drowned in the red flood,—"an' laugh, an'
talk, an' act pullite, an' that's all. I don't believe Colonel Forrester
hates mother like she thinks he does at all. I think he just don't
It was the longest speech Melissa had ever made. Her listener seemed a
trifle impressed by it. He rubbed his hair the wrong way, and distorted
his face into a purely muscular grin, as he reflected.
"I've a mind to go and see Poindexter," Lysander announced presently.
"Poindexter's a smart man, and I b'lieve he's a square man. 'T enny
rate, it can't do any good to keep it a secret. Folks'll find it out
sooner or later. You stay here a minute, M'lissy, and I'll go on up the
The young girl seated herself, with her back against a ledge of rocks,
and her bare feet straight out before her. She was used to waiting for
Lysander. Their companionship antedated everything else in Melissa's
memory, and she early became aware that Lysander's "minutes" were
fractions of time with great possibilities in the way of physical
comfort hidden in the depths of their hazy indefiniteness.
She took off her corded sunbonnet, and crossed her hands upon it in her
lap. The shifting sunlight that fell upon her through the moving leaves
of the sycamores lent a grace to the angularity of her attitude. She
closed her eyes and listened drearily to the sounds of the cañon. The
water fretting its way among the boulders below, the desultory gossip of
the moving leaves, the shrill, iterative chirp of a squirrel scolding
insistently from a neighboring cliff,—all these were familiar sounds to
Melissa, and had often brought her relief from the rasping discomfort of
family contention; but to-day she refused to be comforted. She had the
California mountaineer's worship of water, and the gurgle of the stream
among the sycamores filled her with vague rebellion.
"Why couldn't he 'a' let us alone?" she mused resentfully. "As long as
he had a share o' the spring it didn't show any signs o' dryin' up.
Mother never said nothin' about Flutterwheel to him; it was all his
doin's. But it's no use." She dropped her hands at her sides with a
little gesture of despair. "He never done it, but mother'll always think
so. She does hate him so—so—pizenous."
There was a sound of approaching footsteps, and the girl scrambled to
her feet. It was not Lysander coming at that businesslike pace.
Sterling, hurrying along the path, became conscious of her standing
there, in the rigid awkwardness of unculture, and touched his hat
"Your father says the spring has stopped flowing," he said, pushing
aside the ferns where the rocks were yet slimy and moss-grown. "It is
certainly very strange."
"Yes, sir," faltered the girl, rubbing the sole of one foot on the
instep of the other. "But Lysander ain't my father; he's my
brother-'n-law; he merried my sister."
"I beg your pardon," returned the young man absently, running his eye
along the stratum of rock in the ledge above them. "I believe he did
tell me he was not your father."
No one had ever begged Melissa's pardon before. She meditated a while as
to the propriety of saying, "You're welcome," but gave it up, wondering
a little that polite society had made no provision for such an
emergency, and stood in awkward silence, tying and untying her
Sterling pursued his investigations in entire forgetfulness of her
presence, until Poindexter appeared in the path. Lysander followed,
managing, by length of stride, to keep up with the engineer's brisk
There was much animated talk among the three men, which Melissa made no
attempt to follow. The two engineers smiled leniently at Lysander's
theory concerning Forrester, and fell into a discussion involving terms
which were incomprehensible to both their hearers. All that Melissa did
understand was the frank kindliness of the younger man's manner, and his
evident desire to allay their fears. Colonel Forrester, he assured
Lysander, was the kindest-hearted man in the world,—a piece of
information which seemed to carry more surprise than comfort to its
recipient. He would make it all right as soon as he knew of it, and they
would go down and see him at once; that is, Mr. Poindexter would go, and
he turned to Poindexter, who said, with quite as much kindliness, but a
good deal less fervor, that he was going down to Santa Elena that
evening to see the Colonel, and would mention the matter to him.
"Don't worry yourself, Sproul," he added guardedly. "If we find out that
the work in the cañon has affected the spring, I think it will be all
"I reckon you won't be back before Monday?" said Lysander, with
"Well, hardly; but that isn't very long."
"Folks can git purty dry in two days, 'specially temperance folks, and
some of our fam'ly 'll need somethin' to wet their whistles, for
there'll be a good deal o' talkin' done on the ranch between this and
Monday, if the water gives out." Lysander turned his back on Melissa,
who was pressing her bare foot in the soft wet earth at the bottom of
the ditch, and made an eloquent facial addition to his remarks, for the
benefit of the two men.
Sterling looked mystified, but his companion laughed.
"Oh, is that it? Well, turn some water from the sand-box into the old
flume and run it down to your new ditch until I get back. I presume the
ownership won't affect the taste. It isn't necessary to say anything
about it; that is, unless you think best." He looked toward Melissa
"M'lissy won't blab," returned her brother-in-law laconically.
The young girl blushed, in the security of her sunbonnet, at the
attention which this delicately turned compliment drew upon her, and
continued to make intaglios of her bare toes in the mud of the ditch.
It occurred to Sterling for the first time that she might represent a
personality. He went around the other two men, who had fallen into some
talk about the flume, and stood in the path beside her.
"I have not seen you since you were up the cañon," he said kindly. "I
hope your arm did not pain you."
Melissa shook her head without looking up.
"It was only a scratch; it didn't even swell up. I never said nothin'
about it," she added in a lower tone.
The young man entered into the situation with easy social grace, and
lowered his own voice.
"You didn't want to alarm your mother"—
"M'lissy," interrupted Lysander, "I guess I'll go on up to the sand-box
with Mr. Poindexter and turn on some water. I wish you'd go 'long down
to the orchard and look after the basins till I git back. I won't be
gone but a minute."
Sterling lifted his hat with a winsome smile that seemed to illuminate
the twilight of poor Melissa's wilted sunbonnet, and the three men
started up the cañon, the bay that they pushed aside on the path sending
back a sweet, spicy fragrance.
Melissa shouldered her hoe and proceeded homeward.
"He does act awful pullite," she mused, "an' he had on a ring: I didn't
know men folks ever wore rings. I wish I hadn't 'a' been barefooted."
Poor Melissa! Sterling remembered nothing at all about her except a
certain unconsciously graceful turn she had given her brown ankle as she
stood pressing her bare foot in the sand.
On Sunday morning the Withrow establishment wore that air of inactivity
which seems in some households intended to express a mild form of piety.
Mother Withrow, it is true, had not yielded to the general weakness, and
stood at the kitchen table scraping the frying-pan in a resounding way
that might have interfered with the matin hymn of a weaker-lunged man
than Lysander. That stentorian musician seemed rather to enjoy it, as
giving him something definite to overcome vocally, and roared forth his
determination to "gather at the river" from the porch, where he sat with
his splint-bottomed chair tipped back, and his eyes closed in a seeming
ecstasy of religious fervor.
Old Withrow sat on the step, with his chin in his hands, smoking, and
two dove-colored hounds stood, in mantel-ornament attitude, before him,
looking up with that vaguely expectant air which even a long life of
disappointment fails to erase from the canine countenance. Five or six
half-clad chickens, huddling together in the first strangeness of
maternal desertion, were drinking from an Indian mortar under the
hydrant, and mother Withrow, coming to the door to empty her dish-pan,
stood a moment looking at them.
"That there hydrant's quit drippin' again," she said gruffly, turning
toward the old man. "Them young ones turned it on to get a drink, and
then turned it clear off. 'Pears to me they drink most o' the time. I'd
think they come by it honestly, if 't wuzn't water. If you ain't too
tired holdin' your head up with both hands, s'posin' you stir your
stumps and turn it on a drop fer them chickens."
The old man got up with confused, vinous alacrity and started toward the
"There's no need o' savin' water on this ranch," he blustered feebly, "I
kin tell you that. You'd ought to go up to the spring and see what a
good trade you made. I'm a-goin' myself by 'n' by. I knowed"—
He broke off abruptly, as the old woman threw the dish-water dangerously
"If water's so plenty, some folks had ought to soak their heads," she
retorted, disappearing through the door.
The old man regulated the hydrant somewhat unsteadily, and returned to a
seat on the porch. Lysander's musical efforts had subsided to a not very
exultant hum at the first mention of the water supply. Evidently his
reflections on that subject were not conducive to religious enthusiasm.
Old Withrow assumed a confidential attitude and touched his son-in-law
on the knee.
"She's always so full of her prejudisms," he said, pointing toward the
kitchen door with his thumb. "Now 'f she'd go 'long o' me up to the
spring and see what a tremenjus flow o' water there is, she'd be pleased
as Punch. Now wouldn't she?"
Lysander brought his chair to the floor with a bang that made the loose
boards of the porch rattle.
"Come 'round the house, pap," he said anxiously.
The hounds followed, dejected, but hopeful, as became believers in
When the two men were out of hearing of the kitchen, Lysander took his
father-in-law by the shoulders and shook him, as if by shaking down the
loose contents of his brain he might make room for an idea.
"You want to shut up about the spring. It's give out,—dried up. The
blastin' and diggin' in the cañon done it, I s'pose, an'
Poindexter—that's the engineer—thinks Forrester'll make it all right;
but you don't want to be coaxin' the old woman up there, not if the
court knows herself, and you want to keep your mouth purty ginerally
shut. D' y' understand?"
The old man's face worked in a feeble effort at comprehension.
"Give out,—dried up? Oh, come now, Lysander," he faltered.
"Yes, dried up, and you want to do the same. Don't you think this 'ud be
a purty good time fer you to take a trip off somer's fer your health,
The old man stood a moment wrestling with the hopelessness of the
situation. Besotted as he was, he could still realize the calamity that
had overtaken them: could realize it without the slightest ability to
suggest a remedy. As the direfulness of it all crept over him, something
very like anger gleamed through the blear of his faded eyes.
"I'm a-goin' to see," he muttered sullenly, turning toward the cañon.
"Damn their blastin'! Forrester said it was a good trade. He'd ought to
A little later, Melissa started on her much dreamed of visit to the
camp. She had on her shoes now, and a comfortable sense of the
propriety of her appearance induced by this fact, and an excess of
starch in the skirt of her pink calico dress, brought a little flush of
expectation to her cheek. She had even looked longingly at her best hat
in its glory of green and purple millinery, and nothing but the absence
of any excuse to offer her mother and sister for such lavish personal
adornment had saved her from this final touch to the pathetic discord of
The silk handkerchief was in her pocket, properly "done up" and wrapped
in a bit of newspaper, and she had rehearsed her part in the dialogue
that a flattered imagination assured her must ensue upon its
presentation until she felt it hardly possible that she could blunder.
"Somehow you don't feel so bashful when you're all dressed up," she
reflected, contemplating the angular obtrusiveness of her drapery with
the satisfaction that fills the soul of the average débutante. "You
feel so kind o' sheepish when you're barefooted and your dress is all
Poor Melissa! how could she know that yesterday, in all the limp
forlornness that had made her hang her head when Sterling spoke to her,
she had been a part of the beauty of the cañon, while to-day, in all her
pink and rigid glory, she was a garish spot of discordant color in the
landscape? How, indeed, do any of us know that we are not at our worst
in our most triumphant moments?
The camp was well-nigh deserted, that morning. Poindexter had gone to
Santa Elena to consult his employer, and most of the workmen had
preferred the convivial joys of the Mexican saloon at San Gabriel to the
stillness of the cañon. Sterling had written a few letters after
breakfast, and then, taking his rifle from the rack, sauntered along the
little path that led from the camp to the tunnel. The Chinese cook was
dexterously slipping the feathers from a clammy fowl at the door of the
"Hello, John," the young man called cheerfully. "What for you cook
chicken? I go catchee venison for dinner."
The Chinaman smiled indulgently. Evidently the deer hunts of the past
had not been brilliantly successful.
"I fly one lit' chicken," he said composedly. "He no velly big. By 'm by
you bling labbit, I fly him too."
"Rabbit!" laughed back the hunter contemptuously, breaking his rifle and
peering into the breech to see that it was loaded. "I'll not waste a
cartridge on a rabbit, John."
He lapsed from pigeon English with an ease that betokened a newcomer.
The Chinaman looked after him pensively.
"Mist' Stellin' heap velly nice man," he said, with gentle
condescension; "all same he no sabe shoot. By 'm by he come home, he
heap likee my little flied looster."
He held his "little rooster" rigidly erect by its elongated legs, and
patiently picked the pin-feathers from its back. He had finished this
process, and, suspending it by one wing in an attitude of patient
suffering, was singeing it with a blazing paper, when Melissa appeared.
"What you want, gell?" he demanded autocratically, noticing that she
carried no pail.
"Where is the young man,—the tall one?" asked Melissa.
"Young man? Mist' Stellin'? He take 'im gun an' go catchee labbit."
He waved his torch in the direction of the path, and then dropped it on
the ground and stamped it out with his queerly shod foot.
Melissa hesitated a moment. She could not risk the precious handkerchief
in the hands of the cook. No one else was visible. Two or three workmen
were sleeping in the large tent under the wild grapevine. She could hear
them breathing in loud nasal discord. It was better to go on up the
cañon, she persuaded herself with transparent logic.
"It's purty hard walkin' when you've got your shoes on," she said,
justifying her course by its difficulties, with the touch of Puritanism
that makes the whole theological world kin, "but if I give it to him
myself I'll know he's got it."
She glanced in at the door of the engineer's tent, as she passed. The
banjo was there, a point of dazzling light to her eyes, but otherwise
the disorder was far from elegant; resulting chiefly from that reckless
prodigality in head and foot gear which seems to be a phase of masculine
"I don't see what they want of so many hats and shoes," commented
Melissa. "I sh'd think they could go barefooted sometimes, to rest their
feet; an' I didn't know folks' heads ever got tired." The thought
recalled her own disappointment in the matter of millinery. She put her
hand up to the broken rim of her hat. "I've a notion to take it off when
I ketch up to him," she soliloquized. "I would if my hair wasn't so
Old Withrow had preceded his daughter, stumbling along the flume path,
muttering sullenly. All his groundless elation had suddenly turned to
equally groundless wrath. Having allied himself in a stupid, servile way
with Forrester, he clung to the alliance and its feeble reflected glory
with all the tenacity of ignorance. There were not many connected links
of cause and effect in the old man's muddled brain, but the value of
water, for irrigating purposes only, had a firm lodgment there, along
with the advantages to be derived from friendliness with the owner of a
winery. There stirred in him a groveling desire to exonerate Forrester.
"They're blastin', be they? Forrester never said nothin' 'bout blastin'.
He'll give it to 'em when he knows it. He'll blast 'em!"
He staggered on past the cut-off that led to the camp, keeping well up
on the bank along the path beside the ditch that Lysander had dug from
Flutterwheel Spring. Once there, the sight of the ruin that had befallen
his plans seemed to strike him dumb for a little. The slime still clung
to the rocks, and a faint trickle of water oozed into the pool. He sat
down a moment, mumbling sullen curses, and then staggered to his feet
and wandered aimlessly up the cañon.
Sterling had idled along, crossing and recrossing the restless stream
that appeared to be hurrying away from the quiet of the mountains. He
was really not a very enthusiastic hunter, as the Chinaman had
discovered. He liked the faint, sickening odor of the brakes and the
honey-like scent of the wild immortelles that came in little warm gusts
from the cliffs above far better than the smell of powder. He stopped
where the men had been at work the day before, and looked about with
that impartial criticism that always seems easier when nothing is being
Some idea must have suggested itself suddenly, for he hurried across to
the opening of the tunnel and went in, leaving his rifle beside the
entrance. When he turned to come out, he heard a sound of muttered
curses, and in another instant he was confronted by the barrel of a gun
in the hands of a man he had never seen,—a man with wandering,
bloodshot eyes, which the change from the half-light of the tunnel's
mouth magnified into those of an angry beast.
"You've been a-blastin', have ye, an' a-dryin' up other folks's springs?
Damn ye, I'll blast ye!"
The old man was striving in vain to hold the rifle steadily, and
fumbling with the lock. Sterling did not stop to note that the weapon
was his own, and might easily be thrust aside. He did what most young
men would have done—drew his revolver from his pocket and fired.
The report echoed up and down the cañon. By the time it died away life
had changed for the younger man. Old Withrow had fallen forward, still
clutching the rifle, and was dead.
Melissa, standing among the sycamores below, had seen it all as a
sudden, paralyzing vision. She stood still a brief, terrified instant,
and then turned and ran down the cañon, keeping in the bed of the
stream, and climbing over the boulders.
She was conscious of nothing but a wild dismay that she had seen it. She
had a vague hope that she might run away from her own knowledge. The
swift, unreasoning notion had lodged itself in her brain that it would
be better if no one knew what had happened. Perhaps no one else need be
told. She avoided the camp, scrambling through the chaparral on the
opposite bank, and, reaching the flume path at last, hurried on
Suddenly Melissa stopped. It would not do to approach the house in that
way. She must rest a little and cool her flushed face before any one
should see her. She leaned against the timbers that supported the flume
across the gully, and fanned herself with her hat. The tumult of her
brain had not shaped itself into any plan. She only wished she had not
seen. It was such a dreadful thing to know, to tell. Insensibly she was
preparing herself to dissemble. She was cooling her cheeks, and getting
ready to saunter lazily toward the house and speak indifferently. She
did not realize that after that she could not tell. There would be an
instant in which to decide, and then a dreary stretch of dissimulation.
At this moment she heard the quick hoofbeats of a galloping horse on
the road that led down the mountain-side. He was going away! Then
certainly she must not speak. They would never find him, and she would
keep the secret forever. She listened until the hoof-beats died away.
The flush faded out of her poor little face, leaving it wan and
hopeless. After all, it was a dreary thing for him to ride away, and
leave her nothing but a dismal secret such as this. A shred of cloud
drifted across the sun, and the cañon suddenly became a cold, cheerless
place. She stepped into the path, and came face to face with Lysander.
"Have yuh seen anything of yer paw, M'lissy? Why, what ails yuh, child?
Y'r as white as buttermilk. Has anything bit yuh?"
"No," faltered the girl, looking down at her wretched finery; "my shoes
'a' been a-hurtin' my feet. I'm goin' back to the house to take 'em off.
"I wish y'd set right down here and take off y'r shoes, M'lissy," said
her brother-in-law anxiously. "We'll have to kind o' watch yer paw. I
had to tell 'im about the spring, an' he struck off right away an' said
he was goin' up there. I reckoned he'd go away an' furgit it, but he
hain't come back yit. I'm afraid he'll git to talkin' when he comes back
to the house, and tell yer maw. It won't do no good, an' there ain't no
use in her workin' herself up red-headed about it,—'t enny rate not
till Poindexter comes back. We must git hold o' yer paw before he gits
to see her, and brace 'im up ag'in. If you'll set here an' call to me if
you see 'im below, I'll go on up an' look fer 'im."
Melissa had stood quite still, looking down at the uncompromising lines
of her drapery. It was rapidly becoming a pink blur to her gaze. The
ghastliness of what she had undertaken to conceal came over her like a
chill, insweeping fog. She shivered as she spoke, trying in vain to
return Lysander's honest gaze.
"I'll come back an' set here when I've took off my shoes. You kin go on.
I'll come in a minute."
Lysander looked into her face an instant as he started.
"The seam o' yer stockin' 's got over the j'int, M'lissy," he said
kindly; "it's made you sick at yer stummick; y'r as white as taller."
Old Withrow entered his own house with dignity at last.
Strangely enough, when the spiritual and presumably the better part of
us is gone, the world stands in awe of what remains. If the bleared eyes
could have opened once more, and the dead man could have known that it
was for fear of him the children were gathered in a whispering,
awestricken group at the window, that respect for him caused the
lowering of voices and baring of heads on the part of the household and
curious neighbors, he would suddenly have found the world he had left a
stranger place than any world to come.
There was no great pretense of grief. Mother Withrow looked at the dead
face a while, supporting her elbow with one knotted hand, and grasping
her weather-beaten jaw with the other. Perhaps her silence would have
been the strangest feature of it all to him, if he could have known. If
the years hid any romance that had been theirs, and was now hers, the
old woman's face told no more of it than the flinty outside of a boulder
tells of the leaf traced within.
"He wuzn't no great shakes of a man," she said to Minerva, "but I don't
'low to have him stood up an' shot at by any o' Nate Forrester's crowd
without puttin' the law on the man that done it."
Lysander's attempt at concealment had melted away in the heat of the
excitement occasioned by the murder. The drying up of the spring had
been no secret in camp. The men who had carried Withrow's body to the
house had talked of it unrebuked. Mother Withrow had heard them with a
tightening of the muscles of her face and an increased angularity in her
tall figure, but she had proudly refrained from the faintest
manifestation of surprise. Nor had she asked any questions of Minerva
or Lysander. This unexpected reserve had been a great relief to the
latter, who found himself not only released from an unpleasant duty, but
saved from any reproaches for concealment.
The coroner had come up from Los Angeles, and there had been an inquest.
Sterling had not been present, having ridden to Los Angeles to give
himself up; but the men to whom he had told the story when he came to
the camp had testified, and there had been a verdict that deceased came
to his death from a wound made by a revolver in the hands of Frederick
Some of the jury still hung about the place with cumbrous attempts at
helpfulness, and Minerva moved tearfully to and fro in the kitchen,
wearing her husband's hat with a reckless assumption of masculine rights
and feminine privileges, while she set out a "bite of something" for the
coroner, who must ride back to Los Angeles in hot haste.
Ulysses had denied himself the unwonted pleasure of listening longer to
the men's whispered talk, to follow the stranger into the kitchen and
watch him eat; his curiosity concerning the habits of that dignitary
being considerably heightened by the official's haste, which pointed
strongly to a rapid succession of murders requiring his personal
attention, and marking him as a man of dark and bloody knowledge.
The hounds shared the boy's curiosity, and stood beside the table waving
their scroll-like tails, and watching with expectant eagerness the
unerring precision with which the stranger conveyed a knife-load of
"frijoles" from his plate to his mouth. When he had finished his repast,
gulping the last half-glass of buttermilk, and wiping the white beads
from his overhanging mustache with quick horizontal sweeps of his gayly
bordered handkerchief, he leaned back and flipped a bean at Ulysses,
whose expression of intent and curious awe changed instantly to the most
sheepish self-consciousness. The familiarity loosened his tongue,
however, and he asked, with a little explosive gasp,—
"Do yuh think they'll ketch 'im?"
"The man that shot gran'pap."
"They've got 'im now."
"Hev they? How'd they ketch 'im?"
"He gave himself up."
"Will they hang 'im?"
The coroner's eyes twinkled.
"Don't you think they'd ought to?"
"You bet!" Ulysses wagged his head with bloodthirsty vehemence.
The great man got up, laughing, and went toward the door, rubbing the
boy's hair the wrong way as he passed him. The hounds followed
languidly, and Ulysses darted up the creaking staircase, and tumbled
into the little attic room where Melissa sat gazing drearily out of the
"They've got 'im!'" he said breathlessly. "They're a-go'n' to hang 'im!"
The girl got up and backed toward the wall, gasping and dizzy.
"Who said so?" she faltered.
"The man downstairs,—the one that came from Loss Anglus."
Melissa put the palms of her outstretched hands against the wall behind
her to steady herself. In the half-light she seemed crowding away from
some terror that confronted her.
"I don't believe it. They won't do anything to him right away; it
wouldn't be fair. They don't know what paw done. I"—
Her voice broke. She looked about piteously, biting her lip and trying
to remember what she had said.
Ulysses was not a critical listener. He had enjoyed his little
sensation, and was ready for another. From the talk downstairs he knew
that Sterling had acknowledged the killing to the men at the camp. His
excitement made him indifferent as to the source of Melissa's
"I'm go'n' to the hangin'," he said, doggedly boastful.
Melissa looked at him vacantly.
"How'd they find out who done it?" she asked, dropping her hands and
turning toward the window.
"He told it hisself,—blabbed it right out to the men at the camp; then
he went on down to Loss Anglus, big as life, an' blowed about it there.
Melissa turned on him with a flash of contempt.
"You said they ketched him."
The boy felt his importance as the bearer of sensational tidings ebbing
"I don't care," he replied sullenly. "They'll hang 'im, anyway: the
cor'ner said so."
He clutched his throat with his thumbs and forefingers, thrusting out
his tongue and rolling his eyes in blood-curdling pantomime.
His companion turned away drearily. The boy's first words had called up
a vaguely outlined picture of flight, pursuit, and capture, possibly
violence. This faded away, leaving her brain numb under its burden of
uncertainty and deceit. She had an aching consciousness of her own
ignorance. Others knew what might happen to him, but she must not even
ask. She shrank in terror from what her curiosity might betray. She must
stand idly by and wait. Perhaps Lysander would know; if she could ask
any one, she could ask Lysander. There had sprung up in her mind a
shadowy, half-formed doubt concerning the wisdom of her silence. He had
told it himself, Ulysses had said; and this had chilled the little glow
at her heart that came from a sense of their common secret. If she could
only see him and ask what he would have her do; but that was
impossible. Perhaps, if he knew she had seen it, he might say she must
tell, even if—even if— She gave a little moan, and leaned her forehead
against the sash. Below she could hear the subdued voices of the men,
and the creaking of the kitchen floor as Minerva walked to and fro,
putting away the remnants of the coroner's repast. Already the children
were beginning to recover from their awestricken silence, and Melissa
could see them darting in and out among the fig-trees, firing pantomimic
revolvers at each other with loud vocal explosions.
The gap that the old man's death had made in the household was very
slight indeed; not half the calamity that the drying up of the spring
had been. Melissa acknowledged this to herself with the candor peculiar
to the very wise and the very ignorant, who alone seem daring enough to
look at things as they are.
"They hadn't ought to do anything to 'im; it ain't fair," she said to
herself stoutly; "an' he just stood up an' told on hisself because he
knowed he hadn't done anything bad. I sh'd think they'd be ashamed of
themselves to do anything to 'im after that."
"M'lissy!" Mrs. Sproul called from the foot of the stairs, her voice
dying away in a prolonged sniffle. "I wish 't you'd come down and help
Lysander hook up the team. He's got to go down t' the Mission, and it'll
be 'way into the night before he gets back."
The girl stood still a moment, biting her lip, and then hurried across
the floor and down the staircase as if pursued. Minerva had left the
kitchen, and there was no one to notice her unusual haste. Out at the
barn, Lysander, almost disabled by the accession of a stiff white shirt
and collar, was perspiring heavily in his haste to harness the mules.
"Minervy's got 'er heart set on havin' the Odd Fellers conduct the
funer'l," he said apologetically. "Strikes me kind o' onnecessary, but
't won't do no harm, I s'pose. She says yer paw was an Odd Feller 'way
back, but he ain't kep' it up. I dunno if they'll bury 'im or not."
The girl listened to him absently, straightening the mule's long ear
which was caught in the headstall, and fastening the buckles of the
harness. Her face was hidden by her drooping sunbonnet, and Lysander
could not see its pinched, quivering whiteness. They led the mules out
of the stable and backed them toward the wagon standing under a live
oak. Melissa bent over to fasten the tugs, and asked in a voice steadied
to lifeless monotony,—
"Do you think they'll do anything to him for it, Lysander?"
"I dunno, M'lissy," said the man. "He told the men at the camp it was
self-defense, and mebbe he can prove it; but bein' no witnesses, they
may lock 'im up fer a year or two, just to give 'im time to cool off.
It'll be good fer 'im. He oughtn't to be so previous with his firearms."
"But paw was—they don't know—mebbe"—panted the girl brokenly.
"Yes, yes, M'lissy, I don't doubt yer paw was aggravatin'; but we don't
know, and we'd better not take sides. The young feller ain't nothin' to
us, an' yer paw was—well, he was yer paw, we've got to remember
Lysander put his foot on the hub and mounted to the high seat,
gathering up the reins and putting on the brake. The mules started
forward, and then held back in a protesting way, and the wagon went
creaking and scraping through the sand down the mountain road.
In the days that passed wearisomely enough before the trial, Melissa
heard much that did not tend to soothe her harassed little soul.
Lysander, having taken refuge behind the assertion that it "wasn't
becomin' fer the fam'ly to take sides," bore his mother-in-law's
stinging sarcasms in virtuous silence.
"Seems to me it depends on which side you take," sneered the old woman.
"I don't see anything so very impullite in gettin' mad when yer pap's
shot down like a dog."
Lysander braced himself judicially.
"We don't none of us know nothin' about it," he contended. "If I'd 'a'
been there and 'a' seen the scrimmage, I'd 'a' knowed what to think. As
'tis, I dunno what to think, and there's no law that kin make you think
when you don't hev no fax to base your thinkun' on."
"Some folks lacks other things besides fax to base their thinkun' on,"
the old woman jerked out sententiously.
Lysander pressed the tobacco into his cob pipe, and scratched a match on
the sole of his boot.
"I think they've been middlin' fair," he said, between puffs, "fixin' up
that water business. It's my opinion the young feller's at the bottom of
it,—they say his father's well off; 't enny rate, it's fixed, an'
you're better off 'n you wuz,—exceptin', uv course, your affliction,
an' that can't be helped." The man composed his voice very much as he
would have straightened a corpse in which he had no personal interest.
"I'm in fer shuttin' up."
"They don't seem to want you to shut up," fretted his mother-in-law.
"They've s'peenied you."
"They're welcome to all I know; 'tain't much, an' 't won't help nor
hender, as I c'n see, but such as it is, they kin hev it an' welcome."
Lysander stood in the doorway, with his hat on the back of his head. He
tilted it over his eyes, as he made this avowal, and sauntered toward
the stable, with his head thrown back, peering from under the brim, as
if its inconvenient position were a matter entirely beyond his control.
Melissa was washing dishes at a table in the corner of the kitchen. She
hurried a little, trembling in her eagerness to speak to Lysander alone.
She carried the dishpan to the kitchen door to empty it, and the
chickens came scuttling with half-flying strides from the shade of the
geraniums where they were dusting themselves, and then fled with a
chorus of dismayed squawks as the dish-water splashed among them. The
girl hung the pan on a nail outside, and flung her apron over her head.
She could see Lysander's tilted hat moving among the low blue gums
beside the shed. She drew the folds of her apron forward to shade her
face, and went down the path with a studied unconcern that sat as ill
upon her as haste. Lysander was mending the cultivator; he looked up,
but not as high as her face.
"'Llo, M'lissy," he said, as kindly as was compatible with a rusty bit
of wire between his teeth.
The girl leaned against the shaded side of a stack of baled barley hay.
"Lysander," she began quaveringly, "Lysander, if you'd seen paw shot,
an' knowed all about it, could they make you tell—would you think you'd
ought to tell?" She hurried her questions as they had been crowding in
her sore conscience. "I mean, of course, if you'd seen it, Lysander."
Her brother-in-law straightened himself, and set his hat on the back of
his head without speaking. Melissa could feel him looking at her
"Of course, that's all I mean, Lysander,—just if you'd seen it; would
you tell?" she faltered.
"M'lissy," said the man impressively, "if I'd seen my own paw killed,
an' nobody asked me to tell, I'd keep my mouth most piously shut; that's
what I'd do."
"But if he was mad, Sandy, an' tried to kill somebody else, and,
oh,"—her voice broke into a piteous wail,—"if they wuz thinkun' o'
"They ain't a-goin' to hang nobody, M'lissy," said Lysander
confidently,—"hangin' has gone out o' fashion. And I don't think it's
becomin' fer the fam'ly to interfere, especially the women folks;
besides, we don't none of us know nothin' about it, you see. Don't you
fret about things you don't know nothin' about. The law'll have to take
its course, M'lissy. That young feller's goin' to git off
reasonable,—very reasonable, indeed, considerin'."
Melissa rubbed her feet in the loose straw, restless and uncomforted.
"When's the trial, Lysander?" she asked, after a little pause, during
which her companion resumed his encounter with the rusty wire he was
"The trial, M'lissy, is set for tuhmorruh," Lysander replied, a trifle
oracularly. "I'm a-goin' down because they've sent fer me; if they
hadn't 'a' sent, I wouldn't 'a' gone. I don't know nothin' exceptin'
that yer paw had one of his spells,"—inebriety was always thus
decorously cloaked in Lysander's domestic conversation,—"an' went off
up the cañon that mornin' r'arin' mad about the spring. Of course they
don't know that's all I know,—if they knowed it, perhaps they wouldn't
want me; but if they hadn't sent fer me, you can bet I'd stick at home
closer'n a scale-bug to an orange-tree, Melissy, perticular if I was a
young girl, an' didn't know nothin' whatever about the hull fracas. An'
young girls ain't expected to know about such things; it ain't proper
fer 'em, especially when they're members of the fam'ly."
This piece of highly involved wisdom quieted Melissa very much as a
handkerchief stuffed into a sufferer's mouth allays his pain. She went
about the rest of the day silent and distressed.
At daybreak the next morning, Lysander harnessed the dun-colored mules
and drove to Los Angeles.
The sun rose higher, and the warm dullness of a California summer day
settled down upon the little mountain ranch. Heat seemed to rise in
shimmering waves from the yellow barley stubble. The orange-trees cast
dense shadows with no coolness in them, and along the edge of the
orchard the broad leaves of the squash-vines hung in limp dejection upon
their stalks. The heated air was full of pungent odors: tar and honey
and spice from the sage and eucalyptus, with now and then a warmer puff
of some new wild fragrance from far up the mountain-side.
"We're a-goin' to have three hot days," said Mrs. Sproul, looking
anxiously over the valley from the shelter of her husband's hat.
"Sandy'll swelter, bein' dressed up so. I do hope they won't keep him
long. He don't know nothin' about it, noway. Seems to me they might 'a'
believed him, when he said so."
Mother Withrow had fallen into a silence full of the eloquence of
offended dignity, when Lysander disappeared. Like all tyrannical souls,
she was beginning to feel a bitterness worse than that of
opposition,—the bitterness of deceit. She knew that Lysander had
deceived her, and the knowledge was bearing its fruit of humiliation and
chagrin. The evident liberality of Forrester's course in deeding her a
share of the cañon, greater, it was said, than the loss occasioned by
the drying up of Flutterwheel Spring, had struck at the root of hatreds
and preconceptions that were far more vital to her than the mere
proprietorship of the water right. She felt hampered and defrauded by
the circumstances that forbade her to turn and fling the gift back in
his face. To this grim, gray-haired tyrant, dying of thirst seemed sweet
compared with the daily bitterness of hearing her enemy praised for his
generosity. She sat in the doorway fanning herself with her apron, and
made no reply to her daughter's anxious observation.
"I calc'lated to rub out a few things this mornin'," continued Mrs.
Sproul, "but somehow I don't feel like settlin' down to washin' or
anythin'; an' the baby's cross, bein' all broke out with the heat. I
wonder what's become of M'lissy."
"She's up in the oak-tree out at the barn," called William T. Sherman,
who with other fraternal generals was holding a council of war over a
gopher caught in a trap. "Letterlone; she's as cross as Sam Patch."
"M'lissy takes her paw's death harder 'n I calc'lated she'd do,"
commented Minerva, virtuously conventional; "she's a good deal upset."
The old woman sniffed audibly.
"I reckon you'll all live through it," she said frostily.
Melissa, swinging her bare feet from a branch of the dense live oak in
the barnyard, had watched Lysander's departure with wistful eagerness,
entirely unaware that he had divined her secret, and was mannishly
averse to having the "women folks" of his family mixed up in a murder
trial. Now that he was really gone, and she was left to the dreariness
of her own reflections, she grew wan and white with misery.
"I had ought to 'a' told it," she moaned. "If they don't hang 'im, they
may put 'im in jail, and that's awful." She thought of him, so straight
and lithe and gay, grown pale and wretched; manacled, according to
Ulysses's graphic description, with iron chains so heavy that he could
not rise; kept feebly alive on bread and water, and presided over by a
jailer whose ingenious cruelty knew no limit but the liveliness of the
boy's fiendish imagination.
"A year or two," Lysander had said, as if it were a trifle. She looked
back a year, and tried to measure the time, losing herself in the hazy
monotony of her past, and conscious only of the remoteness of certain
events that served as landmarks in her simple experience,—events not
yet two years distant.
"Orange-pickun' before last ain't nigh two years ago," she mused, "an'
't ain't a year yet sence Lysander hauled grapes from the Mission to the
winery; an' the year before that he was over to Verdugo at the
bee-ranch, an' come home fer the grape-haulin' at Santa Elena. That's
when Hooker was born; he'll be two years old this fall; it's ever so
long ago. He couldn't stand bein' in jail that long; some folks could,
but he couldn't. He sings, and laughs out loud, and goes tearin' around
so lively. It 'ud kill 'im."
She slipped down from the tree, and started toward the house. The path
was hot to her bare feet, and the wind came in heated gusts from the
mountains. The young turkeys panted, with uplifted wings, in the shade
of the dusty geraniums, whose scarlet blossoms were glowing in fierce
tropical enjoyment of the glaring sun. The hounds went languidly, with
lolling tongues, from one shaded spot to another, blinking their
comments on the weather at their human companions, and snapping in a
half-hearted way at unwary flies.
Mrs. Sproul and her mother were still seated on the little porch when
"Why don't you come in out of the heat, child?" called her sister, as
reproachfully as if Melissa were going in the opposite direction. "We
hain't had such a desert wind for more 'n a year. I keep thinkin' about
Lysander. I've heern of people bein' took down with the heat, and havin'
trouble ever afterward with their brains."
"Lysander ain't a-goin' to have any trouble with his brains," said her
Mrs. Sproul turned a highly insulted gaze upon the old woman's impassive
face, and tilted her husband's hat defiantly above her diminutive,
"Lysander kin have as much trouble with his brains as anybody," she
said, with bantam-like dignity, straightening her limp calico back, and
tightening her grasp on the baby in her arms.
The old woman elevated her shaggy brows, and made a half-mocking sound
in imitation of the spitting of an angry kitten.
Mrs. Sproul's pale blue eyes filled with indignant tears, and she turned
toward Melissa, who looked up from the step, a gleam of sisterly
sympathy lighting up the wan dejection of her young face.
"I wouldn't fret, Minervy," she said kindly; "Lysander don't mind the
heat. People never get sunstruck here; it's only back East. I don't
think it's so very warm, nohow."
"Oh, it's hot enough," sniffled Mrs. Sproul, relaxing her spine under
Melissa's sympathy; "but it ain't altogether the heat. I don't like
Lysander bein' mixed up with murderers and dangerous characters; not but
what he's able to pertect himself, havin' been through the war, but it
seems as if the harmlessest person wuzn't safe when folks go 'round
shootin' right an' left without no provocation whatever. I think we'll
all be safer when that young feller's locked up in San Quentin,—which
they'll do with him, Lysander thinks."
Mrs. Sproul drew a corner of her apron tight over her finger, and
carefully wiped a speck from the corner of the baby's eye, gazing
intently into the serene vacuity of its sleeping countenance as she
Melissa caught her breath, and turned and gazed fixedly through the
shimmering haze of the valley toward Los Angeles. The girl herself did
not know the resolution that was shaping itself from all the tangled
facts and fancies of her brain. Perhaps, if she had been held to strict
account, she would have said it was an impulse, "a sudden notion" in her
parlance, that prompted her to arise the next morning, before the
faintest thrill of dawn, and turn her steps toward the town in the
valley. It was not a hopeful journey, and she could not analyze the
motive that lashed her into making it; nevertheless she felt relieved
when the greasewood shut the cabin, with its trailing pepper-trees and
dusty figs and geraniums, from her sight, and she was alone on the
mountain road. It was not a pleasure to go, but it was an undeniable
hardship to stay. There had been no fog in the night, and from the warm
stillness of the early morning air the girl knew that the heat had not
abated. She was quite unmindful of the landscape, gray and brown and
black in the waning light of the misshapen and belated moon, and she was
far from knowing that the man she was making this journey to save would
have thought her a fitting central figure in the soft blur of the
Millet-like etching of which she formed a part.
She threw back her sunbonnet and trudged along, carrying her shoes tied
together by their leathern strings and hung across her arm,—an
impediment to progress, but a concession to urban prejudices which she
did not dream of disregarding. She meant to put them on in the seclusion
of the Arroyo Seco, where she could bathe her dusty feet and rest
awhile; but remembering the heat of yesterday, she wished to make the
most of the early morning, deadly still and far from refreshing though
it was. The sea-breeze would come up later, she hoped, not without
misgivings; and the grapes were beginning to turn in the vineyards along
the road; she would have something to eat with the bit of corn-bread in
her pocket. Altogether she was not greatly concerned about herself or
the difficulties of her journey, so absorbed was she in the vague
uncertainty that lay at its end.
The sun rose hot and pitiless, and the dust and stones of the road grew
more and more scorching to her feet. The leaves of the wild gourd, lying
in great star-shaped patches on the ground, drooped on their stems, and
the spikes of dusty white sage by the road hung limp at the ends, and
filled the air with their wilted fragrance. The sea-breeze did not come
up, and in its stead gusts of hot wind from the north swept through the
valley as if from the door of a furnace. People talked of it afterward
as "the hot spell of 18—," but in Melissa's calendar it was "the day I
walked to Loss Anjelus,"—a day so fraught with hopes and fears, so full
of dim uncertainties and dread and longing, that the heat seemed only a
part of the generally abnormal conditions in which she found herself.
It was afternoon before she reached the end of her journey, entering the
town between rows of low, soft-tinted adobes, on the steps of which
white-shirted men and dusky, lowbrowed women and children ate melons and
laughed lazily at their neighbors, showing their gleaming teeth. She
knew where the courthouse stood, its unblushing ugliness protected by
the rusty Frémont cannon, and made her way wearily toward it through the
more modern and busier streets.
The men who sat in front of the stores in various degrees of undress,
slapping each other resoundingly on their thinly clad backs, and
discussing the weather with passers-by in loud, jocular tones, were, to
Melissa's sober country sense, a light-minded, flippant crowd, to whom
life could have no serious aspect. She looked at them indifferently, as
they sat and joked, or ran in and out of open doors where there was a
constant fizz as of something perpetually boiling over, and made her way
among them, quite unmindful of her dusty shoes and wilted sunbonnet, and
yet vaguely conscious that at another time she might have cared.
At the door of the courthouse, two of this same loosely clad, noisy,
perspiring species were slapping their thighs and choking in hilarious
appreciation of something which a third was reading from an open paper.
The reader made way for Melissa, backing and reading at the same time,
and the sound of their strangely incongruous mirth followed her up the
narrow, unswept, paper-strewn staircase into the stifling heat of the
second floor. She stopped there an instant, leaning against the railing,
uncertain what to do.
One of a pair of double doors opened, and a young man, swinging an
official-looking document, crossed the hall as if he might be walking in
his sleep, and went into a room beyond; kicking the door open, catching
it with his foot, and kicking it to behind him with a familiarity that
betokened long acquaintance, and inspired Melissa with confidence in his
probable knowledge of the intricate workings of justice. She stood still
a moment, clutching the limp folds of her skirt, until the young man
returned; then she took a step forward.
"I've come to tell what I know about the shootin'. I saw it," she
The somnambulistic young man shut one eye, and inclined his ear toward
her without turning his head.
"Shooting? What shooting?"
"Up in Sawpit Cañon—Mr. Sterling done it—but I saw it—nobody knows
it, though." The words came in short, palpitating sentences that died
Her listener hesitated for an instant, scratching the blonde plush of
his cropped scalp with his lead-pencil. Then he stepped forward and
kicked one of the double doors open, holding it with his automatic foot.
"Bawb! oh, Bawb!" he called; "'m yer."
A short fat man, with an unbuttoned vest and a general air of excessive
perspiration, waddled past the bailiff and confronted Melissa. He smiled
when he saw her, displaying an upper row of teeth heavily trimmed with
gold, a style of personal adornment which impressed Melissa anew with
the vagaries of masculine city taste.
"Witness in the Withrow murder case, pros'cuting 'torney," said the
bailiff over his shoulder, by way of introduction, as he disappeared
through the door.
Melissa looked at the newcomer, trembling and dumb.
"Come in here, my girl," he said, steaming ahead of her through a door
in front of them; "come right in here. Is it pretty hot up your way?"
"Yes, sir," she quavered, not taking the chair he cleared for her. "I
come down to tell about the shootin': I'd ought to 'a' told before, but
I was scared. Mr. Sterling done it, but paw was mad; he picked up Mr.
Sterling's gun and tried to kill 'im,—I saw it all. I was hid in the
sycamores. You hadn't ought to hang 'im or do anything to 'im: he
couldn't help it."
The prosecuting attorney smiled his broad, gilt-edged, comfortable
smile, and laid his pudgy hand reassuringly on Melissa's shoulder.
"It's all right, my little girl," he said. "We're not going to hang Mr.
Sterling this time; he was discharged this afternoon; but he'll be
obliged to you, all the same. He's over at the hotel taking a nap. You
just run along home, and the next time don't be afraid to tell what you
The girl turned away silently, and went down the stairs and out into the
street. She stood still a moment on the hot pavement, looking in the
direction of the hotel in which the man for whom she had made her
fruitless journey was sleeping. Then she set her face patiently toward
home. The reflection from the pavement seemed to blind her; she felt
suddenly faint and tired, and it was with a great throb of relief that
she heard a familiar voice at her elbow, and turned with a little
tearless sob to Lysander.
The Worthingtons' private parlor in the Rideau House was hot and close,
although a fog had drifted in at nightfall and cooled the outside air.
Two of its occupants, however, were totally unmindful of the heat and
the mingled odors of upholstery, gas, and varnish that prevailed within
its highly decorated walls. The third, a compact, elderly,
prosperous-looking gentleman, whose face wore a slight cloud of ennui,
stood by the open window gazing out, not so much from a desire to see
what was going on outside as from a good-natured unwillingness to see
what was taking place within.
Mr. Frederick Sterling, a shade paler and several shades graver than of
old, was looking at the elderly gentleman's daughter in an unmistakable
way; and the daughter herself, a fair creature, with the fairness of
youth and health and plenty, was returning his gaze with one that was
"Do you mean to tell me, Frederick, that the poor thing walked all
that distance in that intolerable heat?"
The young man nodded dismally.
"That's what they say, Annette. It makes one feel like a beast."
"I don't see why you need say that, Frederick. I'm sure they ought to
have done something, after the awful danger you were in." The young
woman swept toward him, with one arm outstretched, and then receded, and
let her hand fall on the back of a chair, as her father yawned audibly.
"Of course there was danger, Annette; but that doesn't remove the fact
that I was a hot-headed idiot."
"You mustn't talk so. It is not polite to me. I am not going to marry an
"But you've promised."
The young people laughed into each other's eyes.
"Frederick," said the young girl, after a little silence, during which
they drifted into the rigid plush embrace of a sofa, "I'm going up to
see that girl and thank her."
The young man leaned forward and caught her wrists.
"Yes, I'm going to-morrow. Of course you can't go."
"Oh, good Lord, no," groaned her lover.
"But papa can. There will be plenty of time; we don't leave until
evening. And in spite of what her father did, I feel kindly toward the
girl. There must be some good in her; she seemed to want to do you
justice. How does she look, Frederick?"
The soft-voiced inquisitor drew her wrists from the young fellow's
grasp, and flattened his palms between hers by way of an anæsthetic.
"Did you ever see her?"
"Oh, yes, once or twice. A lank, forlorn, little red-headed
thing,—rather pretty. Oh, my God, Annette!"
The girl raised the tips of his imprisoned fingers to her lips.
"Couldn't you send her something, Frederick, some little keepsake,
something she would like, if she would like anything that wasn't too
The young fellow's face brightened.
"Annette, you are an angel."
"No, I'm not; there are no brunette angels. I am a very practical young
woman, and I'm going with you to buy something for that poor girl; men
don't know how to buy things." She dropped her lover's hands, and went
out of the room, returning with her hat and gloves, and, going to her
father's side, she said: "Papa, Frederick and I are going out for
awhile. He wants to get a little present for a poor young girl, the
daughter of that awful wretch who—that—you know. It seems she saw it
all, and came down to say that Frederick was not to blame. Of course it
was unnecessary, for the judge and every one saw at once that he did
perfectly right; but it was kind of her, and it was a very hot day.
Do you mind staying here alone?—or you can go with us, if you like."
"No, thank you; I don't mind, and I don't like," said the elderly
"And you'll not be lonely?"
"No, I think not; I've been getting acquainted with myself this trip,
and I find I'm a very interesting though somewhat unappreciated old
The young girl put down her laughing face, and her father swept a kiss
from it with his gray mustache. Then the two young creatures went out
into the lighted streets, laughing and clinging to each other in the
sweet, selfish happiness that is the preface to so large a part of the
They came back presently with their purchase, a somewhat obtrusively
ornate piece of jewelry, which Annette pronounced semi-barbarous;
being, she said, a compromise between her own severely classical taste
and that of Sterling, which latter, she assured her father, was entirely
She fastened the trinket at her throat, where it acquired a sudden and
hitherto unsuspected elegance in the eyes of her lover, and then
unclasped it, and held it at arm's-length in front of her before she
laid it in its pink cotton receptacle.
"I do hope she will be pleased, Frederick," she said, with a soft,
contented little sigh.
And the young man set his teeth, and smiled at her from the depths of a
self-abasement that made her content a marvel to him.
Annette went up to the mountains with her father the next day, stopping
the carriage under the pepper-trees in front of the Withrow cabin, and
stepping out a little bewildered by the meanness and poverty and squalor
of it all.
The children came out and stood in a jagged, uneven row before her, and
the hounds sniffed at her skirts and walked around her curiously. Mrs.
Sproul appeared in the doorway with the baby, shielding its bald head
from the sun with her husband's hat, and Lysander emerged from between
two dark green rows of orange-trees across the way, his hoe on his
"I want to see your daughter, the young girl,—the one that walked to
Los Angeles the other day," she said, looking at the woman.
"M'lissy?" queried Mrs. Sproul anxiously. "Lysander, do you know if
Her husband nodded backward.
"She's over in the orchard, lookin' after the water. I'll"—
The stranger took two or three steps toward him and put out her hand.
"May I go to her? Will you show me, please? I want to see her alone."
Lysander bent his tall figure and moved along the rows of orange-trees,
until he caught a glimpse of Melissa's blue drapery.
"She's right down there," he said, pointing between the smooth trunks
with his hoe. "It's rough walkin',—I've just been a-throwin' up a
furrow fer the irrigatin'; but I guess you c'n make it."
She went down the shaded aisle between the orange-trees, Mrs. Sproul
looking after her dubiously, as a person guilty of a serious breach of
decorum in asking to see any one alone.
Melissa leaned on her hoe, and watched her approach with listless
amazement. She took in every detail of her daintily clad
loveliness,—the graceful sway of her drapery as she walked, the cluster
of roses in her belt, and the wide hat with its little forest of curling
"You are Melissa?" The stranger put out her softly gloved hand, and
Melissa took it in limp, rustic acquiescence. "Mr. Sterling wished me
to come,—and I wanted to come myself,—to thank you for what you did;
it was very kind, and you were very brave to undertake it, and for one
you scarcely knew—it was very, very good of you."
Melissa colored to the little ripples of vivid hair about her temples.
"Is he gone away?" she asked, rubbing her hands up and down on the worn
handle of the hoe.
"No, but he is going this evening. Of course he could not stay. It would
be very painful for him, for all of you. Is there anything he can do for
you? He will be so glad if he can be of use to you in any way"— She
hesitated, watching the pained look grow in her listener's face.
"Ain't he never comin' back?" asked Melissa wistfully.
Annette opened her brown eyes wide, and fixed them on the girl's face.
"I don't know," she faltered.
"I'd like to keep his hankecher," Melissa broke out tremulously. "I hurt
my arm oncet up where they was blastin', and he tied it up fer me with
his hankecher. I was takin' it to 'im that Sunday. I had it all washed
and done up. I'd like to keep it, though,—if you think he wouldn't
care." Her eyes filled, and her voice broke treacherously. "That's all.
Tell 'im good-by."
Annette was gazing at her breathlessly. It came over her like a cloud,
the poverty, the hopelessness, the dreariness of it all. She made a
little impetuous rush forward.
"Oh, yes, yes," she said eagerly, through her tears; "and he is so
sorry, and he sent you these,"—she took the roses from her belt, her
lover's roses, and thrust them into Melissa's nerveless grasp,—"and
I—oh, I shall love you always!"
Then she turned, and hurried through the sun and shadow of the orchard
back to the carriage.
"I am ready to go now," she said, somewhat stiffly, to her father.
All the way down the dusty mountain road, over which Melissa had
traveled so patiently, she kept murmuring to herself, "Oh, the poor
thing,—the poor, poor thing!"
Some years afterwards, when Mr. Frederick Sterling's girth and dignity
had noticeably increased, he saw among his wife's ornaments a gaudy
trinket that brought a curious twinge of half-forgotten pain into his
consciousness. He was not able to understand, nor is it likely that he
will ever know, how it came there, or why there came over him at sight
of it a memory of sycamores and running water, and the smell of sage and
blooming buckthorn and chaparral.
ALEX RANDALL'S CONVERSION.
Mrs. Randall was piecing a quilt. She had various triangular bits of
calico, in assorted colors, strung on threads, and distributed in piles
on her lap. She had put on her best dress in honor of the minister's
visit, which was just ended. It was a purple, seeded silk, adorned with
lapels that hung in wrinkles across her flat chest, and she had spread a
gingham apron carefully over her knees, to protect their iridescent
She was a russet-haired woman, thin, with that blonde thinness which
inclines to transparent redness at the tip of the nose and chin, and the
hand that hovered over the quilt patches, in careful selection of colors
for a "star and chain" pattern, was of a glistening red, and coarsely
knotted at the knuckles, in somewhat striking contrast to her delicate
Her husband sat at a table in one corner of the spotless kitchen, eating
a belated lunch. He was a tall man, and stooped so that his sunburned
beard almost touched the plate.
"Mr. Turnbull was here," said Mrs. Randall, with an air of introducing a
subject rather than of giving information.
The man held a knife-load of smear-case in front of his mouth, and
grunted. It was not an interrogative grunt, but his wife went on.
"He said he could 'a' put off coming if he'd known you had to go to
Mr. Randall swallowed the smear-case. His bushy eyebrows met across his
face, and he scowled so that the hairs stood out horizontally.
"Did you tell him I could 'a' put off going to mill till I knowed he was
His thick, obscure voice seemed to tangle itself in the hay-colored
mustache that hid his mouth. His tone was tantalizingly free from anger.
"I wish you wouldn't, Elick," said his wife reproachfully; "not before
the children, anyway."
The children, a girl of seven and a boy of four, sat on the doorstep in
a sort of dazed inertia, occasioned by the shock of the household's
sudden and somewhat perplexing return to its week-day atmosphere just as
they had adjusted themselves to the low Sabbatic temperature engendered
by the minister's presence.
The girl had two tightly braided wisps of hair in varying hues of
corn-silk, curving together at the ends like the mandibles of a beetle.
She turned when her father spoke, and looked from him to her mother with
a round, blue-eyed stare from under her bulging forehead. The boy's
stolid head was thrown back a little, so that his fat neck showed two
sunburned wrinkles below his red curls. His gingham apron parted at the
topmost button, disclosing a soft, pathetic little back, and his small
trousers were hitched up under his arms, the two bone buttons which
supported them staring into the room reproachfully, as if conscious of
the ignominy of belonging to masculine garb under the feminine eclipse
of an apron.
Mrs. Randall bent a troubled gaze upon her offspring, as if expecting
to see them wilt visibly under their father's irreverence.
"Mary Frances," she said anxiously, "run away and show little brother
The girl got up and took her brother's hand.
"Come on, Wattie," she said in a small, superior way, very much as if
she had added: "These grown people have weaknesses which it is better
for us to pretend not to know. They are going to talk about them."
Mrs. Randall waited until the two little figures idled across the
dooryard before she spoke.
"I don't think you ought to act the way you do, Elick, just because you
don't like Mr. Turnbull; it ain't right."
The man dropped his chin doggedly, and fed himself without lifting his
elbows from the table.
"I can't always manage to be at home when folks come a-visiting," he
said in his gruff, tangled voice.
"You was at church on Sabbath when Mr. Turnbull gave out the pastoral
visitations: he knew that as well as I did. I couldn't say a word
to-day. I just had to set here and take it."
"No, you didn't, Matilda: you didn't have to stay any more than I did."
The woman's voice had a sharp reproof in it. He had touched the
Calvinistic quick. She might not reverence the man, but the minister was
"Well, I can't help it," persisted her husband obstinately. "You can
take what you please off him. I don't want him to say anything to me."
"Oh, he didn't say anything, Elick. What was there to say?"
"He doesn't gener'ly keep still because he has nothin' to say."
The man gave a muffled, explosive laugh, and pushed back his chair. Mrs.
Randall's eyelids reddened. She laid down her work and got up.
"I guess I'll take off this dress before I clear up the things," she
said, in a voice of temporary defeat.
Her husband picked up the empty water-pail as he left the kitchen, and
filled it at the well. When he brought it back there was no one
"Need any wood, Tildy?" he called toward the bedroom where she was
"No, I guess not." The voice was indistinct, but she might have had her
skirt over her head. Alex made a half-conciliatory pause. He preferred
to know that she was not crying.
"How you been feelin' to-day?"
She was not crying. The man gave his trousers a hitch of relief, and
went back to his work.
There had been a scandal in Alex Randall's early married life. The
scattered country community had stood aghast before the certainty of his
guilt, and there had been a little lull in the gossip while they waited
to see what his wife would do.
Matilda Hazlitt had been counted a spirited girl before her marriage,
and there were few of her neighbors who hesitated to assert that she
would take her baby and go back to her father's house. It had been a
nine-days' wonder when she had elected to believe in her husband. The
injured girl had been an adopted member of the elder Randall's
household, half servant, half daughter, and it was whispered that her
love for Alex was older than his marriage. Just how much of the
neighborhood talk had reached Matilda's ears no one knew. The girl had
gone away, and the community had accepted Alex Randall for his wife's
sake, but not unqualifiedly.
Mrs. Randall had never been very strong, and of late she had become
something of an invalid, as invalidism goes in the country, where women
are constantly ailing without any visible neglect of duty. It had "broke
her spirit," the women said. Some of the younger of them blamed her, but
in the main it was esteemed a wifely and Christian course that she
should make this pretense of confidence in her husband's innocence for
the sake of her child. No one wondered that it wore upon her health.
Alex had been grateful, every one acknowledged, and it was this fact of
his dogged consideration for Matilda's comfort that served more than
anything else to reinstate him somewhat in the good opinion of his
neighbors. There had been a good deal of covert sympathy for Mrs.
Randall at first, but as years went by it had died out for lack of
opportunity to display itself. True, the minister had made an effort
once to express to her his approval of her course, but it was not likely
that any one else would undertake it, nor that he would repeat the
attempt. She had looked at him curiously, and when she spoke the iciness
of her tone made his own somewhat frigid utterances seem blushingly warm
and familiar by contrast.
"It would be strange," she said, "if a wife should need encouragement to
stand by her husband when he is in trouble."
Alex had hated the minister ever since, and had made this an excuse for
growing neglect of religious duties.
"It is no wonder he dreads to go to preachin', with that awful sin on
his conscience," the women whispered to one another. They always
whispered when they spoke of sin, as if it were sleeping somewhere near,
and were liable to be aroused. Matilda divined their thoughts, and
fretted under Alex's neglect of public service. She wished him to carry
his head high, with the dignity of innocence. It appalled him at times
to see how perfectly she apprehended her own part as the wife of a man
wrongfully accused. He was not dull, but he had a stupid masculine
candor of soul that stood aghast before her unswerving hypocrisy. She
had never asked him to deny his guilt; she had simply set herself to
establish his innocence.
Small wonder that she was tried and hampered by his failure to "act like
other people," as she would have said if she had ever put her worry into
words. It had been one of many disappointments to her that he should go
to mill that day, instead of putting on his best coat and sitting in
sullen discomfort through the pastor's "catechising." She had felt such
pride in his presence at church on Sabbath; and then had come the
announcement, "Thursday afternoon, God willing, I shall visit the family
of Mr. Alexander Randall." How austerely respectable it had sounded! And
the people had glanced toward the pew and seen Alex sitting there, with
Wattie on his knee. And after all he had gone to mill, and left her to
be pitied as the wife of a man who was afraid to face the preacher in
his own house!
Matilda slipped the rustling splendor of her purple silk over her head,
and went back to the limpness of her week-day calico with a sigh.
When Alex came in for the milk-pail, she was standing by the stove,
turning the long strips of salt pork that curled and sizzled in the
skillet. Her shoulders seemed to droop a trifle more in her
working-dress, but her face was flushed from the heat of the cooking.
"There wasn't any call to get a warm supper for me, Tildy. I ain't
hungry to speak of."
"Well, I guess anyway I'd better make some milk gravy for the children;
I didn't have up a fire at noon, see'n' you was away. It ain't much
Her voice was resolutely cheerful, and Alex knew that the discussion was
ended. But after the supper things were cleared away, she said to Mary
Frances, "Can't you go and let your pa see how nice you can say your
And the child had gone outside where Alex was sitting, and had stood
with her hands behind her, her sharp little shoulders moving in unison
with her sing-song as she repeated the verses.
"'That man hath perfect blessedness
Who walketh not astray
In counsel of ungodly men,
Nor stands in sinners' way,
Nor sitteth in the scorner's chair:
But placeth his delight
Upon God's law, and meditates
On his law day and night.'"
The child caught her breath with a long sigh, and hurried on to the end.
"'In judgment, therefore, shall not stand
Such as ungodly are;
Nor in th' assembly of the just
Shall wicked men appear.
For why? The way of godly men
Unto the Lord is known;
Whereas the way of wicked men
Shall quite be overthrown.'"
Then she stood still, waiting for her father's praise.
He caught her thin little arm and drew her toward him, where she could
not look into his face.
"You say it very nice, Mary Frances,—very nice indeed."
And Mary Frances smiled, a prim little satisfied smile, and nestled her
slim body against him contentedly.
Ten years drifted away, and there was a new minister in the congregation
at Blue Mound. The Reverend Andrew Turnbull had died, and his successor
had come from a Western divinity school, with elocutionary honors thick
upon him. Under his genial warmth the congregation had thawed into a
staid enthusiasm. To take their orthodoxy with this generous coating of
zeal and kindliness and graceful rhetoric, and know that the bitterness
that proclaimed it genuine was still there, unimpaired and effective,
was a luxury that these devout natures were not slow to appreciate. A
few practical sermons delivered with the ardor and enthusiasm of a
really earnest youth stamped the newcomer as a "rare pulpiter," and a
fresh, bubbling geniality, as sincere as it was effusive, opened a new
world to their creed-encompassed souls. Not one of them thought of
resenting his youthful patronage. He was the ambassador of God to them,
and, while they would have been shocked beyond measure at his
appearance in the pulpit in a gray coat, they perceived no incongruity
between the brightness of his smile and the gloom of his theology.
This man came into Alex Randall's house with no odor of sanctity about
him, and with no knowledge of an unhappy past. Matilda had grown older
and stooped more, and her knot of sandy hair was less luxuriant than it
had once been, but there were no peevish, fretful lines on her face. It
began to grow young again now that she saw Alex becoming "such friends
with the minister." Mary Frances was a tall, round-shouldered girl,
teaching the summer school, and Wattie was a sturdy boy in
roundabouts, galloping over the farm, clinging horizontally to
half-broken colts, and suffering from a perpetual peeling of the skin
from his sunburned nose. Matilda was proud of her children. She hoped it
was not an ungodly pride. She knelt very often on the braided rug, and
buried her worn face in the side of her towering feather bed, while she
prayed earnestly that they might honor their father and their mother,
that their days might be long in the land which the Lord their God had
given them. If she laid a stress upon the word "father," was it to be
wondered at? And the children did honor their father so far as she knew.
If he would only join the church, and share with her the responsibility
of their precious souls! It had been hard for her, when Wattie was
baptized, to stand there alone and feel the pitying looks of the
congregation behind her. Her pulse quickened now at every announcement
of communion, and she listened with renewed hopefulness when Mr.
Anderson leaned forward in the pulpit and gave the solemn invitation to
those who had sat under the kindly influence of the gospel for many
years untouched to shake off their soul-destroying lethargy, and come
forward and enroll themselves on the Lord's side.
It was the Friday after one of these appeals that Alex came into the
kitchen and said awkwardly,—
"I guess I'll change my clothes, Matildy, and go over t' the church this
afternoon and meet the Session."
She felt the burden of years lifted from her shoulders. She said
"I'm real glad of it, Elick. You'll find two shirts in the middle
drawer. I think the under one's the best."
Matilda went back to her work, and thought how the stain would be wiped
away. "They'll have to give in that he's a good man now," she said to
herself. She fought with the smile that would curve her lips. The
minister would announce it on Sabbath. "By letter from sister
congregations," and then the names; and then, "On profession of faith,
Alexander Randall." She tried to stifle her pride. It must be pride, she
said,—it must be something evil that could make her so very, very
It was late when Alex came home, and he did the chores after supper.
Mary Frances and Wattie had gone to singing-school and Matilda was alone
in the kitchen when her husband came in. He sat down on the doorstep,
with his back to her and his head down, and stuck the blade of his
jack-knife into the pine step between his feet. There was a long
silence, and when he spoke his voice had a husky embarrassment.
"There's something I suppose I'd ought to have talked to you about all
this time, Matildy, but somehow I couldn't seem to do it. I had a talk
with Mr. Anderson, and he brought it up before the Session, and they
didn't seem to think anything more need to be said about it. It's all
dead and gone now, and of course you know I've been sorry time and time
and again. I don't suppose I ought to say it, but it wasn't altogether
my fault. She never did act right, but then, of course"—
The man heard his name in a quick gasp behind him. He turned and looked
up. Matilda was standing over him, with a white, distorted face.
"Do you mean—to tell me—that it was true?"
She got the words out with an effort. Her chin worked convulsively. She
looked an old, old woman.
The man lifted a dazed, questioning face to hers. He groped his way back
through twenty years. This woman had believed in him all the time! He
saw her take two or three steps backward and fall into a chair. They
sat there until the room grew dark. The wind began to blow through the
house, and Alex got up and put out the cat and shut the door. Then he
went to his wife's side.
"Don't you think you'd better go to bed, Matildy?"
She shook her head.
"I suppose there's such a thing as repentance," he went on, with a rasp
in his voice, "and a blotting out of sins, isn't there, Matildy?"
She put out her hand and pushed him away. He went into the bedroom and
shut the door. She could hear him pulling off his boots on the bootjack.
Then he walked about a little in his stocking feet, and presently the
bed-cord squeaked, and she knew he was in bed. Later, she could hear his
heavy breathing. She sat there in the dark until she heard Wattie
whistling; then she got up and lit a candle and opened the door softly.
The boy came loping up the path.
"Mary France's got a beau!" he broke out, with a little snort of
His mother laid her hand on his arm.
"Wattie," she said, "I want you to go out to the barn and harness up old
Doll and the colt. I want you to go with me and Mary Frances over to
The boy's mouth and eyes grew round.
"Yes, right away. I don't want you to ask any questions, Wattie. Mother
never yet told you to do anything wrong. Just go out and get the team,
and be as quiet as you can."
The boy "hunched" his shoulders, and started with long, soft strides
toward the barn. His mother heard him begin to whistle again and then
stop abruptly. She stood on the step until she heard voices at the gate,
and Mary Frances came up the walk between the marigolds and zinnias and
stood in the square of light from the door. She met her mother with a
pink, bashful face.
"I want you to go upstairs, Mary Frances, and get your other cloak and
my blanket shawl. Wattie's gone to fetch the horses. You and him and
me's goin' over to grandfather Hazlitt's."
"To grandfather Hazlitt's this time o' night! Is anybody sick?"
"No, there's nobody sick. I don't want you should ask any questions,
Mary Frances. Just get on your things, and do as mother says; and don't
make any more noise than you can help."
The young girl went into the house, and came out presently with her
mother's shawl and bonnet. They could hear the wagon driving around to
Matilda went into the kitchen and blew out the candle. Then she closed
the door quietly, and went down the walk with her daughter.
Matilda Randall was not at communion on the next Sabbath. She was "down
sick at her father's," the women said, and they thought it hard that she
should be absent when Alex joined the church.
"I don't doubt it's been quite a cross to her, the way he's held out,"
one of them remarked; "and it seems a pity she couldn't have been there
to partake with him the first time."
But the weary woman, lying so still in her old room in her father's
house, had a heavier cross.
Her mother tiptoed into the room, the morning after her arrival, and
stood beside her until she opened her eyes.
"Elick is outside, Matildy. Shall I tell him to come in?"
She shook her head, and closed her eyes again wearily.
The old woman went out, and confronted her gray-haired husband
"It beats me, Josiah, what he could 'a' said or done that she's took to
heart so, after what she's put up with all these years."
Mr. Anderson preached the funeral sermon very touchingly, when it was
all over. The tears came into his young eyes, and there were treacherous
breaks in his rhetoric as he talked.
"This sister in Israel, whose lovely and self-sacrificing life has just
ended so peacefully, lived to see the dearest wish of her heart
gratified,—the conversion of the husband of her youth to the faith of
her fathers. We are told that some have died of grief, but if this frail
heart ceased to beat from any excess of emotion, it must have been, my
friends, from the fullness of joy,—the joy 'that cometh in the
But Alex Randall knew better.
Señora Gonzales was leaning upon the corral gate in the shade of the
pomegranates, looking out over the lake. The lake itself was not more
placid than the señora's face under her black rebozo. Perhaps a long
life of leaning and gazing had given her those calm, slow-moving eyes,
full of the wisdom of unfathomable ignorance. The landscape on the
opposite shore was repeated in the water below, as if to save her the
trouble of raising her heavily fringed lids. To the southward a line of
wild geese gleamed snow-white, like the crest of a wave. Half a dozen
dogs were asleep in the smoothly swept dooryard behind her, and a young
Mexican, whose face was pitted by smallpox, like the marks of raindrops
in dry sand, leaned against the gnarled trunk of a trellised grapevine,
clasping his knees, and sending slow wreaths of smoke from his
cigarette. The barley in the field behind the house was beginning to
head, and every breath of wind stirred it in glistening waves. Beyond
the field shone a yellow mist of wild mustard. The California spring,
more languorous, even with its hint of moisture, than the cloudless
summer, sent a thousand odors adrift upon the air. Even the smell of
garlic hanging about the señora could not drown the scent of the
orange-blooms, and as for Ricardo's cigarette, surely no reasonable
mortal could object to that. Ricardo himself would have questioned the
sanity of any one who might have preferred the faint, musky fragrance of
the alfilaria to the soothing odor of tobacco. He closed his eyes in
placid unconsciousness of such vagaries of taste, and rocked himself
rhythmically, as if he were a part of the earth, and felt its motion.
A wagon was creaking along the road behind the house, but it did not
disturb him. There were always wagons now; Ricardo had grown used to
them, and so had the señora, who did not even turn her head. These
restless Americanos, who bought pieces of land that were not large
enough to pasture a goat, and called them ranchos—caramba! what fools
they were, always a-hurrying about!
The wagon had stopped. Well, it would be time enough to move when some
one called. A dust-colored hound that slept at the corner of the house,
stretched flat, as if moulded in relief from the soil upon which he lay,
raised his head and pricked up one ear; then arose, as if reluctantly
compelled to do the honors, and went slowly around the house.
"Of course they've got a dawg; forty of 'em, like enough!" It was a
girl's voice, pitched in a high, didactic key. "I guess I c'n make 'em
understand, pappy; I'll try, anyway."
She came around the house, and confronted Ricardo, who took his
cigarette from his mouth, and looked at her gravely without moving. The
señora turned her head slowly, and glanced over her shoulder.
The girl smiled, displaying two rows of sound teeth shut tightly
"How do you do?" she said, raising her voice still higher, and advancing
toward the señora with outstretched hand. "I suppose you're Mrs.
The señora disentangled one arm slowly from her rebozo, and gave the
newcomer a large, brown, cushiony hand.
"This is my fawther," continued the girl, waving her left hand toward
her companion; "sabby?"
The man stepped forward, and confronted the señora. She looked at him
gravely, and shook her head. He was a small, heavily bearded man, with
soft, bashful brown eyes, which fell shyly under the señora's placid
"She don't understand you, Idy," he said helplessly.
The girl caught his hand, and squeezed it reassuringly. "Never mind,
pappy," she said, lowering her voice; "I'll fetch her. Now, listen," she
went on, fixing her wide gray eyes on the señora, and speaking in a
loud, measured voice. "I—am—Idy Starkweather. This—is—my—fawther.
There! Now! Sabby?"
Evidently she considered failure to understand English a species of
physical disability which might be overcome by strong concentration of
The señora turned a bland, unmoved face upon her son. The eyes of the
newcomers followed her gaze. Ricardo held his cigarette between his
fingers, and blew a cloud of smoke above his head.
"She don' spik no Englis'," he said, looking at them mildly.
The girl flushed to the roots of her hay-colored frizz of hair. "You're
a nice one!" she said. "Why didn't you speak up?"
Ricardo gave her another gentle, undisturbed glance. "Ah on'stan' a
leetle Englis'; Ah c'n talk a leetle," he said calmly.
The girl hesitated an instant, letting her desire for information
struggle with her resentment. "Well, then," she said, lowering her voice
half sullenly, "my fawther here wants to ask you something. We live a
mile or so down the road. We've come out from Ioway this summer—me and
mother, that is; pappy here come in the spring, didn't you, pappy? An'
he bought the Slater place, an' there's ten acres of vineyard, an'
Barden,—he's the real 'state agent over t' Elsmore, you know 'im,—he
told my fawther they wuz all raisin-grapes, white muscat,—didn't he,
pappy?—an' my fawther here paid cash down fer the place, an' the
vineyard's comin' into bearin' next fall, an' Parker Lowe,—he has a
gov'ment claim on section eighteen, back of our ranch,—-maybe you know
'im,—he says they're every one mission grapes—fer makin' wine. He
helped set 'em out, an' he says they got the cuttin's from your folks;
but I thought he wuz sayin' it just to plague me, so my fawther here
thought he'd come an' ask. If they are wine-grapes, that felluh Barden
lied—didn't he, pappy?"
The Mexican gazed at her pensively through the smoke of his cigarette.
"Yass, 'm," he said slowly and softly—"yass, 'm; Ah gass he tell good
deal lies. Ah gass he don' tell var' much trut'."
"Then they are mission grapes?"
"Yass, 'm; dey all meession grapes; dey mek var' good wahn."
The girl's face flamed an angry red under her crimpled thatch of hair.
She put out her hand with a swift, protecting gesture, and caught her
The little man's cheeks were pale gray above his shaggy beard. He took
off his hat, and nervously wiped the damp hair from his forehead. His
daughter did not look at him. Ricardo could see the frayed plume on her
jaunty turban quiver.
"My fawther here's a temperance man, a prohibitionist: he don't believe
in wine; he hates it; he wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. That
felluh Barden knowed it—didn't he, pappy? He lied!" She spoke fiercely,
catching her breath between her sentences.
The Mexican threw away the end of his cigarette, and gazed after it with
"Some folks don' lak wahn," he said amiably. "Ah lak it var' well
mahse'f. Ah gass he al's tell var' big lies, Mist' Barrd'n."
The girl turned away, still grasping her father's arm. Then she came
back, with a sudden and somewhat bewildering accession of civility.
"Addyoce," she said, bowing loftily toward the señora. The plume in her
hat had turned in the afternoon breeze, and curved forward, giving her a
slightly martial aspect.
"Addyoce, Mr. Gonsallies. We're much obliged,—ain't we, pappy?
Ricardo touched his sombrero. "Good-evenin', mees," he said in his
soft, leisurely voice; "good-evenin', señor."
When the last ruffle of Miss Starkweather's green "polonay" had
disappeared around the corner of the adobe house, the señora drifted
slowly across the dooryard in her voluminous pink drapery, and sat down
beside her son. There was a thin stratum of curiosity away down in her
Latin soul. What had Ricardo done to make the señorita so very angry?
She was angry, was she not?
Oh, yes, she was very angry, but Ricardo had done nothing. Señor Barden
had sold her father ten acres of wine-grapes, and the old man did not
like wine; he liked raisins. Santa Maria! Did he mean to eat ten acres
of raisins? He need not drink his wine; he could sell it. But the
señorita was very angry; she would probably kill Señor Barden. She had
said she would kill him with a very long pole—ten feet. Ricardo would
not care much if she did. Señor Barden had called him a greaser. But as
for a man who did not like wine—caramba!
Parker Lowe's government claim was a fractional section, triangular in
shape, with its base on the grant line of Rancho la Laguna, and its apex
high up on the mountain-side. Parker's cabin was perched upon the
highest point, at the mouth of the cañon, in a patch of unconquerable
boulders. Other government settlers were wont to remark the remoteness
of his residence from the tillable part of his claim, but Parker
remained loyal to his own fireside.
"It's a sightly place," he asserted, "and nigh to the water, and it
ain't no furder goin' down to work than it would be comin' up fer a
drink, besides bein' down-grade. I lay out to quit workin' some o' these
days, but I don't never lay out to quit drinkin'."
This latter determination on Parker's part had come to be pretty well
understood, and the former would have obtained ready credence except for
the fact that one cannot very well quit what he has never begun. Without
risking the injustice of the statement that Parker was lazy, it is
perhaps safe to say that he belonged by nature to the leisure class,
and doubtless felt the accident of his birth even more keenly than the
man of unquenchable industry who finds himself born to wealth and
idleness. "Holdin' down a claim" had proved an occupation as well
adapted to his tastes as anything that had ever fallen to his lot, and
his bachelor establishment among the boulders was managed with an
economy of labor, and a resultant of physical comfort, hitherto unknown
in the annals of housekeeping. The house itself was of unsurfaced
redwood, battened with lath to keep out the winter rain. The furniture
consisted of a wide shelf upon which he slept, two narrower ones which
held the tin cans containing his pantry stores, a bench, a table which
"let down" against the wall by means of leathern hinges when not in use,
a rusty stove, and a much-mended wooden chair. From numerous nails in
the wall smoky ends of bacon were suspended by their original hempen
strings, and the size of the grease-spot below testified to the length
of the "side" which Parker had carried in a barley sack from Barney
Wilson's store at Elsmore, five miles away on the other side of the
lake. Parker surveyed these mural decorations with deep, inward
satisfaction not untinged with patriotism.
"There wa'n't many folks right here when I filed on to this claim," he
had been known to remark, "an' I may have trouble provin' up. But if the
Register of the General Land-Office wants to come an' take a look, he
c'n figger up from them ends o' bacon just about how long I've lived
here, an' satisfy himself that I've acted fair with the gover'ment,
which I've aimed to do, besides makin' all these improvements."
The improvements referred to were hardly such as an artist would have so
designated, but Parker surveyed them with taste and conscience void of
offense. The redwood shanty; a dozen orange-trees, rapidly diminishing
in size and number by reason of neglect and gophers; a clump of slender,
smoky eucalypti; a patch of perennial tomato-vines; and a few acres of
what Barney Wilson called "veteran barley,"—it having been sown once,
and having "volunteered" ever since,—constituted those additions to the
value of the land, if not to the landscape, upon which Parker based his
Since the Laguna Ranch had been subdivided, and settlers had increased,
and especially since Eben Starkweather had bought the Slater place, and
Ida Starkweather had invaded the foot-hills with her vigorous,
self-reliant, breezy personality, Parker had been contemplating further
improvements in his domicile—improvements which, in moments of
flattered hope, assumed the dignity of a lean-to, a rocking-chair, and a
box-spring mattress. The dreams which had led him to a consideration of
this domestic expansion he had confided to no one but Mose Doolittle,
who had a small stock-ranch high up on the mountain, and who found
Parker's cabin a convenient resting-place on his journeys up and down
"I tell ye," he had said to Mose, "that girl is no slouch. Her pa is an
infant in arms, a babe an' a suckling, beside her. Her ma is sickly; one
o' your chronics. Idy runs the ranch. I set here of evenin's, an' watch
'em through this yer field-glass. She slams around that place like a
house a-fire. It's inspirin' to see her. Give me a woman that makes
things hum, ever-ee time!"
"Somebody said she had a hell of a temper," ventured Mose, willing to be
the recipient of further confidences.
"Somebody lied. She's got spunk. When she catches anybody in a mean
trick she don't quote poetry to 'im; she gives 'im the straight goods.
Some folks call that temper. I call it sand. There'll be a picnic when
she gets hold o' Barden!"
Parker raised the field-glass again, and leveled it on the Starkweather
"There's the infant now, grubbin' greasewood. He's a crank o' the first
water; you'd ought to hear 'im talk. He went through the war, an' he's
short one lung, an' he's got the asmy so bad he breathes like a squeaky
windmill, an' he won't apply fer a pension because he says he was awful
sickly when he enlisted, an' he thinks goin' South an' campin' out saved
his life. That's what I call lettin' yer 'magination run away with ye."
"What does Idy think about it?" queried Mose innocently.
"Idy stands up fer her pa; that's what I like about 'er. I like a woman
that'll back a man up, right er wrong; it's proper an' female. It's
what made me take a shine to 'er."
"You wouldn't want her to back Barden up." Mose made the suggestion
preoccupiedly, with his eyes discreetly wandering over the landscape, as
if he had suddenly missed some accustomed feature of it.
Parker lowered the glass and glanced at him suspiciously. "No, sir-ee!
If there's any backin' done there, Barden'll do it. She'll make 'im
crawfish out o' sight when she ketches 'im. That's another thing I like
about 'er; she'll stand up fer a feller; that is, fer any feller that
b'longs to 'er—that is, I mean, fer a feller she b'longs to."
Mose got up and turned around, and brushed the burr-clover from his
"Well, I guess I must be movin'," he said, with a highly artificial
yawn. "Come here, you Muggins!" he called to his burro, which had
strayed into the alfilaria. "Give me an invite to the weddin', Parker.
I'll send you a fresh cow if you do."
Parker held the glass between his knees, and looked down at it with
"There's a good deal to be gone through with yet, Mose," he said
dubiously. "I set up here with this yer field-glass, workin' myself up
to it, an' then I go down there, an' she comes at me so brash I get all
rattled, an' come home 'thout 'complishin' anythin'. But I'll make it
yet," he added, with renewed cheerfulness. "She sewed a button on fer me
t' other day. Now, between ourselves, Mose, don't ye think that's kind
Hopeful! Mose would say it was final. No girl had ever sewed a button on
for him. When one did, he would propose to her on the spot. He wondered
what Parker was thinking of not to seize such an opportunity.
"That's what I had ought to 'a' done," acknowledged Parker, shaking his
head ruefully. "Yes, sir; that's what I'd ought to 'a' done. I had ought
to 'a' seized that opportunity an' pressed my suit."
"That's the idea, Park," said his companion gravely, as he bestrode
Muggins, and jerked the small dejected creature out into the trail.
"You'd ought to 'a' pressed your suit; there's nothin' a woman likes
better 'n pressin' your suit. Whoop-la, Muggins!"
Some time after Mose had disappeared up the cañon, Parker heard a loud
echoing laugh. He turned his head to listen, and then raised the glass
and leveled it on Starkweather's ranch.
"I thought at first that was Idy," he said to himself, "but it wa'n't.
She 's got a cheerful disposition, but I don't believe she'd laugh that
a-way when she's a-learnin' a bull calf to drink; that ain't what I call
a laughin' job. Jeemineezer! don't she hold that cantankerous little
buzzard's head down pretty. Whoa there, Calamity! don't you back into
the chicken corral. That's right, Idy, jam his head into the bucket, an'
set down on it—you're a daisy!"
On the strength of Mose's friendly encouragement, Parker betook himself
next day to where Eben Starkweather was trimming greasewood roots, and
moved about sociably from one hillock to another while his neighbor
worked. Nothing but the ardor of unspoken love would have reconciled
Parker to the exertion involved, for Eben worked briskly, in spite of
his singularity of lung and the disadvantages of "asmy," and the
greasewood was not very thick on the ground he had been clearing. The
grotesque gnarled roots were collected in little heaps, like piles of
discarded heathen images, and Eben hacked about among them, a very
mild-mannered but determined iconoclast.
"I'll have to keep at it pretty studdy," he explained apologetically to
his visitor, "fer they say we're like enough not to have any more rain,
and I'm calc'latin' to grub out the vineyard before the ground hardens
"Goin' to yank them vines all out, are ye?"
"That's the calc'lation."
Parker clasped one knee, and whetted his knife on the toe of his boot
"'Pears to me ye might sell off that vineyard, an' buy a strip t' other
side of ye, an' set out muscats."
"I couldn't sell that vineyard," said Eben. He had laid down his axe,
and was wiping his forehead nervously with an old silk handkerchief.
"Oh, I reckon ye could," said Parker easily; "ye got the whole place
The little man's bearded mouth twitched. When he spoke, his voice was
high and strained.
"I'd jest as soon keep a saloon; I'd jest as soon sell wine to a man
after it's made as before it's made." He wiped the moist inner band of
his hat, and then dropped his handkerchief into it, and put it on his
head. Parker could see his grimy hand tremble. "I didn't know what I was
buyin'," he went on, picking up his axe, "but I'd know what I was
Parker glanced at him as he fell to work. He was a crooked little man,
and one shoulder was higher than the other; there was nothing aggressive
in his manner. He had turned away as if he did not care to argue, did
not care even for a response. Perhaps no man on earth had less ability
to comprehend a timid soul lashed by conscience than Parker Lowe. "The
hell!" he ejaculated under his breath. Then he sat still a moment, and
drew a map of his claim, and the adjoining subdivision, on the ground
between his feet. The affectionate way in which the Starkweather ranch
line joined his own seemed suggestive.
"It 'pears to me," he broke out judicially, "that ye could argue this
thing out better 'n ye do. Now, if I was in your place, 'pears to me I'd
look at it this a-way. There's a heap o' churches in Ameriky, an', if I
remember right, they mostly use wine for communion. I hain't purtook for
some time myself, but I guess I've got it right. Now all the wine that
could be made out o' them grapes o' yourn wouldn't s'ply half the
churches in this country, not to mention Europe an' Asie, an' Afriky;
an' as long as that's the case, I don't see as you're called on to
know that your wine's used fer anything but religious purposes. Of
course you can conjure up all sorts o' turrible things about gettin'
drunk an' cavin' round, but that's what I call lettin' yer 'magination
run away with ye."
"Your 'magination don't have to run a great ways to see men gettin'
drunk," said Eben, with some relaxation of voice and manner. The absence
of conviction which Parker's logic displayed seemed a relief to him. His
fanaticism was personal, not polemical.
"What'd ye raise back in Ioway?" asked Parker, with seeming irrelevance.
"How'd ye reconcile that?"
"I didn't reconcile it; I couldn't. I sold out, an' come away."
Parker trimmed a ragged piece of leather from the sole of his boot, and
"Well, I try not to be an extremist," he said, with moderation. "That
Barden's the brazenest liar on this coast. He'd ought to be kicked by a
mule. I'd like to see Idy tackle 'im."
This suggestive combination of Barden's deserts with his daughter's
energy seemed to give Eben no offense.
"Idy's so mad with him she gets excited," he said mildly. "I can't make
'er see it's all fer the best. Sence I've found out about the vines,
I've been glad I bought 'em."
Parker stopped his amateur cobbling, and looked up.
"Ye don't mean it!" he said, with rising curiosity.
"Yes; I'm glad o' the chance to get red o' them. It's worth the money."
He turned to pick up another twisted root, displaying the patches on his
knees, and the hollowness of his sunken chest.
"The hell!" commented Parker, softly to himself, with a long, indrawn
"I guess I'll go down to the house," he said aloud, getting up by easy
stages. "I see the cow's pulled up her stake, an' 's r'airn round tryin'
to get to the calf. Mebby Idy'll need some help."
"She was calc'latin' to move 'er at noon," said Eben, shading his eyes,
and looking toward the house. "It must be 'long toward 'leven now. If
you're goin' down, you'd better stop an' have a bite o' dinner with us."
"Well, I won't kick if the women folks don't," answered Parker amiably;
"bachin' 's pretty slow. I've eat so much bacon an' beans I dunno
whether I'm a hog or a Boston schoolma'am."
Arrived at the corral, where the cow stood with uplifted head snuffing
the air, and gazing excitedly at her wild-eyed offspring, his composure
suddenly vanished. Miss Starkweather was holding the stake in one hand,
and winding the rope about her arm with the other.
"Hello!" she said, with a start, "where on earth 'd you spring from?"
"I see the cow was loose," ventured Parker, "an' I thought you mightn't
be able to ketch 'er."
"Well, it wouldn't be fer lack o' practice," responded the girl, with a
wide, good-natured smile. "She's yanked her stake out three times this
mornin', an' come cavin' around here as if she thought somebody wanted
to run away with 'er triflin' little calf. I guess she likes to have me
follerin' 'er 'round."
"She's got good taste," said Parker gallantly.
The girl laughed, and struck at him with the iron stake.
"Oh, taffy!" she said, looking at him coquettishly from under her frizz.
"Ain't you ashamed?"
"No," said Parker, waxing brave. "Gi' me the stake; mebbe I c'n fasten
'er so she'll stay."
"You're welcome to try,"—the girl slipped her arm out of the coil of
rope,—"but I don't b'lieve you can, unless you drill a hole in a
boulder, an' wedge the stake in."
Parker led away the cow, mooing with maternal solicitude, and Idy
returned to the house. When she reached the kitchen door, she turned and
called between the ringing blows of the axe,—
"Oh, Mr. Lowe, mother says won't ye come to dinner?"
"You bet!" answered Parker warmly.
Mrs. Starkweather sat on the doorstep picking a chicken, which seemed to
develop a prodigious accession of leg and neck in the process. She had
the set, impervious face of a nervous invalid, and her whole attitude,
the downward curve of her mouth, and the elevation of her brows, were
eloquent of injustice. The clammy, half-plucked fowl in her hand seemed
to share her expression of irreparable injury. She allowed her daughter
to climb over her without moving, and when Parker appeared she wiped one
long yellow hand on her apron, and gave it to him in a nerveless grasp.
"I hope you'll excuse me fer not gettin' up," she drawled; "I guess you
c'n get a-past me. Idy, come an' set a rocker fer Mr. Lowe."
"I've got my hands in the dough," called her daughter hilariously, from
the pantry; "Mr. Lowe'll have to set on his thumb till I get these
biscuits in the pan."
Parker's head swam. The domestic familiarity of it all filled him with
ecstasy. He got himself a chair, and inquired solicitously concerning
Mrs. Starkweather's health.
"Oh, I'm just about the same," complained his hostess; "not down sick,
but gruntin'. Folks that's up an' down like I am don't get nigh as much
sympathy as they 'd ought. I tell Starkweather, well folks like him an'
Idy ain't fittin' comp'ny fer an inv'lid."
"Mr. Starkweather's lookin' better 'n he did," said Parker, listening
rapturously to the thumps of the rolling-pin in the pantry. "I think
this climate agrees with 'im."
"Oh, he's well enough," responded Mrs. Starkweather dejectedly, "if he
didn't make 'imself so much extry work. Grubbin' out that vineyard, now!
I can't fer the life o' me see"—
"Maw!" called Idy warningly, opening the battened door with a jerk—"you
maw! look out, now!"
Mrs. Starkweather drooped her mouth, and raised her brows, with a sigh
of extreme and most self-sacrificial virtue.
"Oh, of course Idy fires up if anybody says anythin' ag'in' 'er fawther.
I guess that's always the way; them that does least fer their fam'lies
always gets the most credit. I think if some folks was thinkin' more
about their dooties an' less about their queer notions, some other folks
wouldn't be laid up with miseries in their backs."
Having thus modestly obscured herself and her sufferings behind a
plurality of backs, Mrs. Starkweather arose and dragged herself into the
"Gi' me the chicken," said Idy, slamming her biscuits into the oven, and
taking the hunchbacked and apparently shivering fowl from her mother. "I
ain't a-goin' to have anybody talkin' about pappy, an' you know it. If I
was a man, I'd get even with that lyin' Barden, or I'd know the reason
"That's just what I was sayin'," returned Mrs. Starkweather, with
malicious meekness. "If your fawther was the man he'd ought to be, he
wouldn't be rode over that way by nobody."
The girl's face flamed until it seemed that her blonde thatch of hair
would take fire.
"Pappy ain't to blame," she said angrily; "he can't help thinkin' the
way he does. There ain't no call to be mad with pappy; it's all that
miser'ble, lyin' Barden. It'll be a cold day fer him when I ketch 'im."
Parker gazed at her admiringly. She had laid the chicken on a corner of
the table, and was vigorously cutting it into pieces, cracking its
bones, and slashing into it with an energy that seemed to her lover
deliciously bloodthirsty and homicidal.
"Barden's got back from the East," he announced. "I see 'im over t'
Elsmore Saturday, tryin' to peek over the top of his high collar. You'd
ought to seen 'im; he's sweet pretty."
The girl refused to smile, but the blaze in her cheeks subsided a
"It's just as well fer him I didn't," she said, whetting her knife on
the edge of a stone jar. "He mightn't be so pretty after I'd got done
lookin' at 'im."
Parker laughed resoundingly, and the girl's face relaxed a little under
his appreciative mirth. When her father stepped upon the platform at
the kitchen door, she left the frying chicken to hiss and sputter in the
skillet, and went to meet him.
"Now, pappy," she said, taking hold of him with vigorous tenderness,
"I'll bet you've been workin' too hard. Here, let me fill that basin,
and when you've washed, you come in an' let Mr. Lowe give ye a pointer
on settin' 'round watchin' other folks work." She raised her voice for
Parker's benefit. "He come out here fer his health, an' he's gettin' so
fat an' sassy he has to live by 'imself."
Parker's appreciation of this brilliant sally seemed to threaten the
underpinning of the kitchen.
Eben smiled up into his daughter's face as he lathered his hairy hands.
"I wouldn't make out much at livin' by myself, Idy," he said gently.
"You ain't goin' to get a chance," rejoined his daughter, rushing back
to her sputtering skillet, and spearing the pieces of chicken
energetically; "you ain't goin' to get red o' me, no matter how sassy
you are; I'm here to stay."
"Hold on now," warned Parker; "mind what you're sayin'."
"I know what I'm sayin'," retorted the girl, tossing her head. "I'd just
like to see the man that could coax me away from pappy."
"You'd like to see 'im, would ye?" roared Parker, slapping his knee.
"Come, now, that's pretty good. Mebbe if you'd look, ye might ketch a
glimpse of 'im settin' 'round som'er's."
The girl lifted the skillet from the stove, and let the flame flare up
to hide her blushes.
"He wouldn't be settin' 'round," she asserted indignantly, jabbing the
fire with her fork. "He'd be up an' comin', you c'n bet on that."
"What's Idy gettin' off now?" drawled Mrs. Starkweather from the other
"Gettin' off her base," answered Parker jocosely. Nevertheless, the wit
of his inamorata rankled, and after dinner he went with Eben to the barn
to "hitch up."
"Idy wants to go over to Elsmore this afternoon," said Eben, "an' I
promised to go 'long; but I'd ought to stay with the grubbin'. If you
was calc'latin' to lay off anyhow, mebbe you wouldn't mind the ride. The
broncos hain't been used much sence I commenced on the greasewood, and
I don't quite like to have 'er go alone."
"She hadn't ought to go alone," broke in Parker eagerly. "That pinto o'
yourn's goin' to kick some o' ye into the middle o' next week, one o'
these days. I was just thinkin' I'd foot it over to the store fer some
bacon. Tell Idy to wait till I run up to the house an' get my gun."
Idy waited, rather impatiently, and rejected with contempt her escort's
proposal to take the lines.
"When I'm scared o' this team, I'll let ye know," she informed him,
giving the pinto a cut with the whip that sent his heels into the air.
"If ye don't like my drivin', ye c'n invite yerself to ride with
somebody else. I'm a-doin' this."
The afternoon was steeped in the warm fragrance of a California spring.
Every crease and wrinkle in the velvet of the encircling hills was
reflected in the blue stillness of the laguna. Patches of poppies blazed
like bonfires on the mesa, and higher up the faint smoke of the
blossoming buckthorn tangled its drifts in the chaparral. Bees droned in
the wild buckwheat, and powdered themselves with the yellow of the
mustard, and now and then the clear, staccato voice of the meadow-lark
broke into the drowsy quiet—a swift little dagger of sound.
"The barley's headin' out fast." Parker raised his voice above the
rattle of the wagon. "I wished now I'd 'a' put in that piece of
"Harvest's a poor time fer wishin'; it's more prof'table 'long about
seedin'-time," said Idy, with a smile that threatened the meshes of her
stylishly drawn veil.
Parker set one foot on the dashboard, and swung the other out of the
"I do a good deal o' wishin' now that ain't very prof'table—time o'
year don't seem to make much difference," he said plaintively.
"Well, I guess if I wanted anything I wouldn't wish fer it a great
while—not if I could set to work an' get it."
The vim of this remark seemed to communicate itself to the pinto through
the tightened rein, and sent him forward with accelerated speed.
Parker glanced at his companion from under the conical shapelessness of
his old felt hat, but she kept her eyes on the team, and gave him her
jaunty profile behind its tantalizing barrier of meshes and dots.
"Well, I'll bet if you wanted what I want you'd be 'most afraid to
mention it," he said, reaching down into the tall barley, and jerking up
a handful of the bearded heads.
"Well, now, I bet I wouldn't."
"S'posin' I wanted to get married?"
There was a silence so sudden that it had the effect of an explosion.
Then Miss Starkweather giggled nervously.
"That's just exactly what I do want," persisted Parker desperately,
turning his toe inward, and kicking the wagon-box.
There was another disheartening silence. Then the girl's color flamed up
under her rusty lace veil. She turned upon him witheringly.
"Well, what are ye goin' to do about it? Set 'round and wait till some
girl asks ye?"
Her voice had a fine sarcastic sting in it.
Parker whipped his brown overalls with a green barley-head.
"No; I ain't such a bloomin' idiot as I look."
"I don't know 'bout that," answered the young woman coolly.
Parker faced about.
"Now, look here, Idy," he said; "you'd ought to quit foolin'. You know
what I mean well enough; you're just purtendin'. You know I want to
"Me!" The girl lifted her brows until they disappeared under the edge of
her much-becurled bang. "Want to marry me! Great Scott!"
"I don't see why it's great Scott or great anything else," said Parker
Idy held the reins in her left hand, and smoothed her alpaca lap with
the whip handle, in maiden meditation.
"Well, I don't know as 't is so very great after all," she said, rubbing
the folds of her dress, and glancing at him in giggling confusion.
Parker made an experimental motion with his right arm toward the back of
the seat. The girl repelled him dexterously with her elbow.
"You drop that, Parker Lowe!" she said, with dignity. "I ain't so far
gone as all that. There's that Gonsallies felluh lookin' at us. You just
straighten up, or I'll hit ye a cut with this whip!"
Her lover gave a short, embarrassed laugh.
"Oh, come now, Idy; Ricardo don't understand United States."
"Well, I don't care whether he understands United States or not. I guess
idiots acts about the same in all languages. I'll bet a dollar he
understands what you're up to, anyway; so there."
She drove on, in rigid perpendicularity, past the adobe ranch-house of
the Gonzales family, and around the curve of the lake-shore, into the
sunshine of the wild mustard that fringed the road. Through it they
could see the pale sheen of the ripening barley-fields, broken here and
there by the darker green of alfalfa.
As the mustard grew taller and denser, Idy's spine relaxed sufficiently
to permit a covert, conciliatory glance toward her companion's arm,
which hung from the back of the seat in the disappointed attitude it had
assumed at her repulse.
"I s'pose you think I'm awful touchy," she broke out at last, "an' mebbe
I am; but before I promise to marry anybody, there's two things he's got
to promise me—he's got to sign the pledge, an' he's got to get even
with that felluh Barden."
Parker's face, which had brightened perceptibly at the first
requirement, clouded dismally at the second.
Idy dropped her chin on the silk handkerchief flaring softly at her
throat, and looked at him deliciously sidewise from under her
"I'll promise anything, Idy," he protested, fervently abject.
Half an hour later they drove into Elsmore with the radiance of their
betrothal still about them, and Idy drove the team up, with a skillful
avoidance of the curb, before the "Live and Let Live Meat-Market."
"I'm goin' to get some round steak," she said, giving the lines to
Parker, who sprang to the sidewalk, "an' then I'm goin' over to
Saunders's to look at jerseys. You c'n go where you please, but if I see
you loafin' 'round a saloon there'll be a picnic. If you tie the team,
you want to put a halter on the pinto—he's like me, he hates to be
tied; he pulls back. If you hain't got much to do, I think you'd better
make a hitchin'-post of yerself, and not tie 'im."
She stood up in the wagon, preening her finery, and looking down at her
lover before she gave him her hand.
"I won't be a hitchin'-post if you hate to be tied," he said, holding
out his hands invitingly.
As he spoke, the rider of a glittering bicycle glided noiselessly around
the corner, apparently steering straight for Eben's team of ranch-bred
broncos. The pinto snorted wildly, and dashed into the street, jerking
the reins from Parker's hand, and rolling him over in the dust. There
was the customary soothing yell with which civilization always greets a
runaway, and a man sprang from a doorway on the opposite side of the
street, and flung himself in front of the frightened horses. The pinto
reared, but the stranger's hand was on the bridle; a firm and skillful
hand it seemed, for the horses came down on quivering haunches, and then
stood still, striving to look around their blinders in search of the
modern centaur that had terrified them.
Idy had fallen back into the seat without a word or cry, and sat there
bolt upright, her face so white that it gleamed through the meshes of
"Well," she said, with a long panting breath, "that was a pretty close
call fer kingdom come, wasn't it?"
The stranger, who was stroking the pinto's nose, and talking to him
"Hello, Park!" he said as the latter came up. "Cold day, wasn't it? Got
your jacket pretty well dusted for once, I guess."
The crowd that had collected laughed, and two or three bareheaded men
began to examine the harness. While this was in progress, the
livery-stable keeper took a look at the pinto's teeth, and they all
confided liberally in one another as to what they had thought when they
first heard the racket. The young man who had stopped the team left them
in the care of a newcomer, and walked around beside Idy.
"Won't you come into the office and rest a little?" he asked.
"Oh, thanks, no," said the girl, with a shuddering, nervous laugh; "I
hain't done nothin' to make me tired. I think you're the one that
ought to take a rest. If it hadn't been fer you I'd been a goner, sure."
Her rescuer laughed again and turned away, moving his hand involuntarily
toward his head, and discovering that it was bare. The discovery seemed
to amuse him even more highly, and he made two or three strides to where
his hat lay in the middle of the street, and went across to his office,
dusting the hat with long, elaborate flirts of his gayly bordered silk
The knot of men began to disperse, and the boys, who lingered longest,
finally straggled away, stifling their regret that no one was mangled
beyond recognition. Parker climbed into the wagon, and drove over to
"I don't know as I'd better buy a jersey to-day," giggled Idy, as she
stepped from the wagon to the elevated wooden sidewalk. "I'm afraid it
won't fit. I feel as if I'd been scared out o' ten years' growth."
As they drove home in the chill, yellow evening, Idy turned to her
lover, and asked abruptly,—
"Who was that felluh?"
"The young felluh with the sandy mustache, the one that stopped the
Parker's manner had been evasive from the first, but at this the
evasiveness became a highly concentrated unconcern. He looked across the
lake, and essayed a yawn with feeble success.
"There was a good many standin' around when I got there. What sort o'
lookin' felluh was he?"
"I just told ye; with a sandy mustache, short, and middlin' heavy set."
"Sh-h-h!" said Parker, reaching for his gun. Idy stopped the horses.
A bronze ibis arose from the tules at the water's edge, and flapped
slowly westward, its pointed wings and hanging feet dripping with the
gold of the sunset. Parker laid down his gun.
"What did you want to shoot at that thing fer?" asked Idy. "They ain't
fit to eat."
"The wings is pretty. I thought you might like another feather in your
The girl gave him a look of radiant contempt, and he spoke again
hurriedly, anxious to prevent a relapse in the conversation.
"You was sayin' somethin' to-day about signin' the pledge, Idy: I've
been layin' off to sign the pledge this good while. The next time
there's a meetin' of the W. X. Y. Z. women, you fetch on one o' their
pledges, an' I'll put my fist to it."
"W. C. T. U.," corrected Idy, with emphasis.
"All right; W. C. T. me, if that suits you any better. It's a long time
since I learned my letters, an' I get 'em mixed. But I've made up my
mind on the teetotal business, and don't ye forget it."
"There ain't any danger of me forgettin' it," said the young woman
significantly. "What ye goin' to do about that other business?" she
added, turning her wide eyes upon him abruptly—"about gettin' even with
that cheatin' Barden?"
They had driven into the purple shadow of the mountains, and Parker
seemed to have left his enthusiasm behind him with the sunlight.
"I don't know," he said gloomily. "Do ye want me to kill 'im?"
"Kill him!" sneered the girl; "I want ye to get even with 'im!
'Tain't no great trick to kill a man; any fool can do that. I want ye to
get ahead of 'im!"
She glowed upon him in angry magnificence.
"Idy," said her lover, sidling toward her tenderly, "when you flare up
that a-way, you mustn't expect me to think about Barden. You look just
pretty 'nough to eat!"
A week later Eben began grubbing out the vineyard. The weather turned
suddenly warm, and the harvest was coming on rapidly. Parker Lowe had
gone to Temecula with Mose Doolittle, who was about to purchase a
machine, presumably feminine, which they both referred to familiarly as
"she," and styled more formally "a second-hand steam-thrasher." It was
Monday, and Idy was putting the week's washing through the wringer with
a loud vocal accompaniment of gospel hymn.
Eben had worked steadily since sunrise. The vines were young, and the
ground was not heavy, but the day was warm, and he wielded the mattock
rapidly, stooping now and then to jerk out a refractory root with his
hands. An hour before noon his daughter saw him coming through the
apricot orchard, walking wearily, with his soiled handkerchief pressed
to his lips. The girl's voice lost its song abruptly, and then broke out
again in a low, faltering wail. She bounded across the warm plowed
ground to his side.
"Pappy! O pappy!" she cried, breathing wildly, "what is it? Tell me,
can't you, pappy?"
The little man smiled at her with his patient eyes, and shook his head.
She put her hand under his elbow, and walked beside him, her arm across
his shoulders, her tortured young face close to his. When they reached
the kitchen door he sank down on the edge of the platform, resting his
head on his hand. The girl took off his weather-beaten hat, and
smoothed the wet hair from his forehead.
"O pappy! Poor, little, sweet old pappy!" she moaned, rubbing her cheek
caressingly on his bowed head.
Eben took the handkerchief from his lips, and she started back, crying
out piteously as she saw it stained with blood. He looked up at her, a
gentle, tremulous smile twitching his beard.
"Don't—tell—your—maw," he said, putting out his hand feebly.
The words seemed to recall her. She went hurriedly into the house and
close to the lounge where her mother was lying.
"Maw," she said quickly, "you must get up! Pappy's got a hem'ridge. I
want you to help me to get 'im to bed, an' then I'm goin' fer a doctor."
The woman got up, and followed her daughter eagerly.
"Why, Eben!" she said, when they reached the kitchen door. Her voice was
almost womanly; and a real anxiety seemed to have penetrated her
They got him to bed tenderly, and propped him up among the white
pillows. His knotted hands lay on the coverlet, gray and bloodless
under the stains of hard work. Idy bent over him, tucking him in with
little pats and crooning moans of sympathy. When she had finished, she
dropped her wet cheek against his beard.
"I'm goin' fer the doctor, pappy," she whispered; "I won't be gone but a
little while,"—then rushed down the path to the stable, and flung the
harness on the pinto.
The buggy was standing in the shed, and she caught the shafts and
dragged it out with superabundant energy, as if her anxiety found relief
in the exertion. A few minutes later she drove out between the rows of
pallid young eucalyptus-trees that led to the road, leaning eagerly
forward, her young face white and set beneath the row of knobby
protuberances that represented the morning stage of her much cherished
bang. It was thus that she drove into Elsmore, the rattling of the old
buggy and the spots of lather on the pinto's sides exciting a ripple of
curiosity, which furnished its own solution in the fact that it was
"that there Starkweather girl," who was generally conceded to be "a
She stopped her panting horse before the doctor's office, and sprang
"Are you the doctor?" she asked breathlessly, standing on the threshold,
with one hand on each side of the casing.
A man in his shirt-sleeves, who was writing at the desk, turned and
looked at her. It was the same man who had prevented the runaway. He
began to smile, but the girl's stricken face stopped him.
"Dr. Patterson has gone to the tin-mine," he said, getting up and coming
forward; "he will not be home till to-morrow."
Idy grasped the casing so tightly that her knuckles shone white and
"My fawther's got a hem'ridge," she said, swallowing after the words. "I
don't know what on earth to do."
"A hemorrhage!" said the young man with kindly sympathy. "Well, now,
don't be too much alarmed, Miss—"
"Starkweather," quavered Idy.
"Starkweather? Oh, it's Mr. Starkweather. Why, he's a friend of mine.
And so you're his daughter. Well, you mustn't be too much alarmed. I've
had a great many hemorrhages myself, and I'm good for twenty years
yet." He had taken his coat from a nail at the back of the room, and was
putting it on hurriedly. "Prop him up in bed, and don't let him talk,
and give him a spoonful of salt-and-water now and then. My horse is
standing outside, and I'll go right down to Maravilla and fetch a
doctor. I'll come up on the other side of the lake, and get there almost
as soon as you do—let me help you into your buggy. And drive right on
home, and don't worry."
He had put on his hat, and they stood on the sidewalk together.
Idy made a little impulsive stoop toward him, as if she would have taken
him in her arms.
"Oh!" she gasped, her eyes swimming, and her chin working painfully; "I
just think you're the very best man I ever saw in all my life!"
A moment later she saw him driving a tall black horse toward the lake at
a speed that brought her the first sigh of relief she had known, and
made her put up her hand suddenly to her forehead.
"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed under her breath—"if I didn't forget
to take down my crimps!"
Two or three times as she drove home through the warm odors of the
harvest noon her anxiety was invaded by the recollection of this man, to
whose promptness and decision her own vigorous nature responded with a
strong sense of liking; and this liking did not suffer any abatement
when he came into her father's sick-room with the doctor, and the
invalid looked at the stranger, and then at her, with a faint, troubled
"Don't try to speak, Mr. Starkweather," said the visitor cheerfully;
"I've made your daughter's acquaintance already. We want you to give
your entire attention to getting well, and let us do the talking."
He went out of the room, and strolled about the place while the doctor
made his call, and when it was over he went around to the kitchen, where
Idy was kindling a fire, and said:—
"Doctor Patterson thinks your father will be all right in a day or so,
Miss Starkweather. Be careful to keep him quiet. I'm going to drive
around to the station, so the doctor can catch the evening train, and
save my driving him down to Maravilla; and I'll go on over to Elsmore
and get this prescription filled, and bring the medicine back to you. Is
there anything else you'd like from town—a piece of meat to make
beef-tea, or anything?"
"Well, I wouldn't mind much if you would bring me a piece of beef,"
said Idy, pausing with a stick of redwood kindling across her knee. Then
she dropped it, and came forward. "We're ever so much obliged to
ye—pappy 'n' all of us. Seem 's if you always turn up. I think you've
been just awful good and kind—an' us strangers, too."
"Oh, you're not strangers," laughed the young man, lifting his hat;
"I've known your father ever since he came."
He went around the house, and got into the cart with the doctor.
"Starkweather's a crank," he said, as they drove off, "but he's the kind
of crank that makes you wish you were one yourself. When I see a man
like that going off with consumption, and a lot of loafers getting so
fat they crowd each other off the store boxes, I wonder what Providence
is thinking of."
"He works too hard," growled the doctor, with the savagery of science.
"What can Providence do with a man who grubs greasewood when he ought to
be in bed!"
It was moonlight when the stranger returned, and handed the packages to
Idy at the kitchen door.
"Pappy's asleep," she whispered, in answer to his inquiries; "he seems
to be restin' easy."
"Is there no one about the place but yourself and mother, Miss
Idy shook her head.
"Well, then, if you don't mind, I think I will put my horse in the barn,
and sleep in the shed here, on the hay. If you should need any one in
the night, you can call me. I haven't an idea but that your father will
be all right, but it's a little more comfortable to have some one within
"Well," said Idy, dropping her hands at her sides, and looking at him in
admiring bewilderment, "if you ain't just— Have you had anythin' to
eat?" she broke off, with sudden hospitality.
"Oh yes, thank you; I had dinner at Elsmore," laughed the young man,
backing out into the shadow. "Good-night."
Half a minute later she followed him down the walk, carrying a heavy
blanket over her arm. He had led his horse to the water-trough, and the
moonlight shone full upon him as he stood with one arm thrown over the
glossy creature's neck.
"I brought you this here blanket, Mr.—"
"Barden," supplied the young man, carelessly.
Idy sank back against the corral fence as if she were stunned.
"Barden!" she repeated helplessly. "Is your name Barden?"
She stood breathless a moment, and then burst out:—
"An' you're him! you—an' doin' this way, after the way you've
done—an' him sick—an' me talkin' to ye—an'—an'—everything!"
The two torrents of hate and gratitude had met, and were whirling her
The young man pushed his hat back on his head, and stared at her in
sturdy, unflinching amazement.
"My dear young lady, what on earth do you mean?" he asked quietly.
"I mean that I didn't know that you was him—the man that sold my
father this place, an' lied to him about the vineyard—told him they was
raisin-grapes, an' they wasn't—an' you knowed he was a temp'rance man,
a prohibitionist. An' him tryin' to grub 'em out, an' gettin' sick—an'
bein' so patient, an' never hurtin' nobody—" she ended in a wild,
angry sob that seemed to swallow up her voice.
"Miss Starkweather," said the young fellow steadily, "I certainly did
sell this place to your father, and if I told him anything about the
vineyard I most certainly told him they were raisin-grapes; and upon my
soul I thought they were. Aren't they?"
"No," sobbed Idy, "they ain't; they're wine-grapes! He was grubbin' 'em
out to-day. That's what hurt 'im—I'm afraid he'll die!"
"You mustn't be afraid of that. Dr. Patterson says he will get better.
But we must see that he doesn't do any more grubbing. When Slater gave
me this for sale," he went on, as if he were reflecting aloud, "he said
there were ten acres of vineyard. I can't swear that he told me what the
vines were, or that I asked him. But it never occurred to me that any
man—even an Englishman—would plant ten acres of wine-grapes when there
wasn't a winery within fifty miles of him."
Parker Lowe borrowed one of Mose Doolittle's mules Monday evening, and
rode from Temecula to Jake Levison's saloon at Maravilla. It was
understood when he left the thresher's camp that he would probably "make
a night of it," and Mose gave him a word of friendly warning and advice.
"You want to remember, Park, that the old man is down on the flowing
bowl; an' from what I've heard of the family I think it'll pay you to
keep yourself solid with the old man."
"I'm a-goin' up to the drug-store to get some liniment for Dave
Montgomery's lame shoulder," returned Parker, with a knowing wink at
his companion, as he flung himself into the saddle; "but I hain't signed
no pledge yet—not by a jugful," he called back, as the mule jolted
lazily down the road.
It was a warm night, and half a dozen loafers were seated on empty
beer-kegs in front of Levison's door when Parker rode up. Levison got
up, and began to disengage himself from the blacksmith's story as he saw
the newcomer dismount; but the blacksmith raised his voice insistently.
"'There don't no dude tell me how to pare a hoof,' says I; 'I'll do it
my way, or I don't do it;' an' I done it, an' him kickin' like a steer
all the time"—
"Who?" asked one of the other men.
"What was he doin' down here?"
"He came down for Doc Patterson. That teetotal wreck on the west side o'
the lake took a hem'ridge—I furget his name, somethin'-weather: pretty
dry weather, judgin' from what I hear."
"Yes, Starkweather; I guess he's pretty low."
Parker started back to the post where his mule was tied. Then he turned
and looked into the saloon. Levison had gone in and was wiping off the
"It won't take but a minute," he apologized to himself.
It took a good many minutes, however, and by the time the minutes
lengthened into hours Parker had ceased to apologize to himself, and
insisted upon taking the by-standers into his confidence.
"I'm—I'm goin' to sign the pledge," he said, with an unsteady wink,
"an' then I'm goin' to get merried,—yes, sir, boys; rattlin' nice girl,
too,—'way up girl, temperance girl. But there's many a cup 'twixt the
slip and the lip—ain't there, boys? Yes, sir, 'twixt the cup and the
slip—yes, sir—yes, sir—ee." Then his reflections driveled off into
stupor, and he sat on an empty keg with the conical crown of his old
felt hat pointed forward, and his hands hanging limply between his
When Levison was ready to leave he stirred Parker up with his foot, and
helped him to mount his mule. The patient creature turned its head
It was after daybreak when Parker rode into the Starkweather ranch, and
presented himself at the kitchen door. The night air had sobered him,
but it had done nothing more. Idy was standing by the stove with her
back toward him. She turned when she heard his step.
"Why, Park!" she said, with a start; then she put up her hand. "Don't
make a noise. Pappy's sick."
He came toward her hesitatingly.
"So I heard down at Maravilla last night, Idy."
Her face darkened.
"And you been all night gettin' here?"
He bent over her coaxingly.
"Well, you see, Idy"—
The girl pushed him away with both hands, and darted back out of reach.
"Parker Lowe," she said, with a gasp, "you've been drinkin'!"
Parker hung his head sullenly.
"No, I hain't," he muttered; "not to speak of. Whose horse is that out
'n the corral?"
The girl looked at him witheringly.
"I don't know as it's any of your pertic'lar business, but I don't mind
tellin' you that horse b'longs to a gentleman!"
"A gentleman," sneered Parker.
"Yes, a gentleman; if you don't know what that is you'd better look in
the dictionary. You won't find out by lookin' in the lookin'-glass, I
can tell you that."
"Oh, come now, Idy, you hadn't ought to be so mad; I hadn't signed the
He took a step toward her. The girl put out her hands warningly, and
then clasped her arms about herself with a shudder.
"Don't you come near me, Parker Lowe," she gasped. "What do I care about
the pledge! Didn't you tell me you'd stop drinkin'? Won't a man that
tells lies with his tongue tell 'em with his fingers? Do you suppose I'd
marry a man that 'u'd come to me smellin' of whiskey, an' him lyin'
sick in there? Can't you see that he's worth ten thousand such folks as
you an' me? I don't want a man that can't see that! I'm done with you,
Parker Lowe,"—her voice broke into a dry sob; "I want you to go away
and stay away! It ain't the drinkin'—it's him—can't you understand?"
And Parker, as he climbed toward his lonesome cabin, understood.
THE COMPLICITY OF ENOCH EMBODY.
The afternoon train wound through the waving barley-fields of the
Temecula Valley and shrieked its approach to the town of Muscatel. It
was a mixed train, and half a dozen passengers alighted from the rear
coach to stretch their legs while the freight was being unloaded.
Enoch Embody stood on the platform with the mail-bag in his hand, and
listened to their time-worn pleasantries concerning the population of
the city and the probable cause of the failure of the electric cars to
connect with the train.
Enoch was an orthodox Friend. There was a hint of orthodoxy all over his
thin, shaven countenance, except at the corners of his mouth, where it
melted into the laxest liberality.
A swarthy young man, with a deep scar across his cheek, swung himself
from the platform of the smoking-car, and came toward him.
"Is there a stopping-place in this burg?" he called out gayly.
"Thee'll find a hotel up the street on thy right," said Enoch.
The stranger looked at him curiously.
"By gum, you're a Quaker," he broke out, slapping Enoch's thin, high
shoulder. "I haven't heard a 'thee' or a 'thou' since I was a kid. It's
good for earache. Wait till I get my grip."
He darted into the little group of men and boys, who were listening with
the grim appreciation of the rural American to the badinage of the
conductor and the station agent, and emerged with a satchel and a roll
"Now, uncle, I'm ready. Shall we take the elevated up to the city?" he
asked, smiling with gay goodfellowship up into Enoch's mild, austere
The old man threw the mail-bag across his shoulder.
"I'll take thee as far as the store. Thee can see most of the city from
The young fellow laughed noisily, and hooked his arm through his
companion's gaunt elbow. Enoch glanced down at the grimy, broken-nailed,
disreputable hand on his arm, and a faint flush showed itself under the
silvery stubble on his cheeks.
"By gum, this town's a daisy," said the stranger, sniffing the
honey-laden breeze appreciatively and glancing out over the sea of wild
flowers that waved and shimmered under the California sun; "nice quiet
"Thee hears all the noise there is," answered Enoch gravely.
The young fellow gave a yell of delight and bent over as if the shaft of
Enoch's wit had struck him in some vital part. Then he disengaged his
arm and writhed in an agony of mirth.
"Holy Moses!" he gasped, "that's good. Hit 'im again, uncle."
Enoch stood still and looked at him, a mild, contemptuous sympathy
twinkling in his blue eyes.
"Is thee looking for a quiet place?" he asked.
The newcomer reduced his hilarity to an intermittent chuckle, and
resumed his affectionate grasp on Enoch's arm.
"That's about the size of it, uncle. I've knocked around a good deal,
and I'm suffering from religious prostration. I'm looking for a nice,
quiet, healthy place to take a rest—to recooperate my morals, so to
speak. Good climate, good water, good society. Everything they don't
have in—some places. What's the city tax on first-class residence
property close in?"
"I think thee'll find it within thy means," said Enoch dryly. "Has thee
"Well, you might say—yes," rejoined the stranger, "that is, I'm
married. My wife's not very well. I want to build a seven by nine
residence on a fashionable street and send for her. I'm going to draw up
the plans and specifications and bid on the contract myself, and I think
by rustling the foreman I can get everything but the telephone and the
hot water in before she gets here. Relic of the ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay?" he
asked, pointing to a vacant store building across the grass-grown
street; "or bought up by the government, maybe, to keep out competition
in the post-office business—hello, is this where you hang out?"
Enoch turned into the combined store and post-office, and the stranger
stood on the platform, bestowing his tobacco-stained smile generously
upon the bystanders.
"Thee'll find the hotel a little further up the street," said Enoch;
"there may be no one about; I think I saw Isaac and Esther Penthorn
driving toward Maravilla this afternoon. But they'll be back before
dark. Thee can make thyself at home."
"You're right I can," assented the newcomer with emphasis; "I see you've
caught on to my disposition. Isaac and Esther will find me as domestic
as a lame cat. Be it ever so homely there's no place like hum. By-by,
uncle; see you later."
He went up the street, walking as jauntily as his burden would permit,
and Enoch looked after with a lean, whimsical smile.
"Thee seems to have a good deal of cheek," he reflected, as he emptied
the mail-bag, "but thee's certainly cheerful."
Within a week every resident of Muscatel had heard the sound of Jerry
Sullivan's voice. It arose above the ring of his hammer as he worked at
the pine skeleton of his shanty, and the sage-laden breeze from the
mountains seemed a strange enough vehicle for the questionable
sentiments of his song. New and startling variations of street songs,
and other unfamiliar melodies came to Enoch's ears as he distributed the
mail, or held the quart measure under the molasses barrel, and
occasionally the singer himself dropped in to make a purchase and chat a
few moments with the postmaster concerning the progress of his house.
"The architect has rather slopped over on the plans," he said, when the
frame was up, "so I'm putting up a Queen Anne wood-shed for the present,
while he knocks a few bay windows out of the conservatory. 'A penny
saved 's a penny earned,' you know. That's the way I came to be a
millionaire—stopped drinking in my infancy and learned to chew, saved a
rattleful of nickels before I could walk—got any eighteen-carat nails,
uncle? I want to do a little finishing-work in the bath-room."
Enoch met his new friend's trifling, always with the same gentle
gravity; but something, perhaps that lurking liberality about the
corners of his mouth, seemed to inspire the young fellow with implicit
confidence in the old man's sympathy.
After the frame of Jerry's domicile was inclosed, a prodigious sawing
and hammering went on inside the redwood walls, and the bursts of music
were spasmodic, indicating a closer attention on the part of the workman
to nicety of detail in his work. He called to Enoch as he was passing
one day, and drew him inside the door mysteriously.
"Take a divan, uncle," he said airily, pushing a three-legged stool
toward his guest. "I've got something to show you,—something that's
been handed up to me from posterity. How does that strike you for a
starter in the domestic business?"
He drew forward an empty soap-box, fashioned into an old-time cradle,
and fitted with rude rockers at the ends.
"Happy thought—eh?" he rattled on, gleefully pointing to the stenciled
end, where everything but "Pride of the Family" had been carefully
erased. "How's this for a proud prospective paternal?"
He balanced himself on one foot and rocked the little craft, with all
its cargo of pathetic emptiness, gently to and fro.
Enoch's face quivered as if he had been stabbed.
The young fellow stepped back and surveyed his handiwork with jaunty
"I made that thing just as a bird builds its nest—by paternal instinct.
It's a little previous, and I'd just as soon you wouldn't mention it;
but I had to show it to somebody. Got any children?" he turned upon
"No. Not any—living."
The old man's voice wavered, and caught itself on the last word.
Jerry thrust the cradle aside hastily.
"Neither have I, uncle, neither have I," he said; "not chick nor child.
If you ain't too tired, let me show you over the house. I'm sorry the
elevator isn't running, so you could go up to the cupolo. This room's a
sort of e pluribus unum, many in one; kind of a boodwar and kitchen
combined. The other rooms ain't inclosed yet, but they're safe enough
outside. That's the advantage of this climate, you don't have to put
everything under cover. Ground-plan suit you pretty well?"
"I think thee's very cosy," Enoch said, smiling gravely; "when does thee
look for thy wife?"
"Just as soon as she's able," said Jerry, drawing an empty nail-keg
confidentially toward Enoch and seating himself; "you see"—
He stopped short. The cradle behind the old man was still rocking
"I guess it won't be very long," he added indifferently.
The south-bound train was late, and the few loafers who found their
daily excitement in its arrival had drifted away as it grew dark,
leaving no one but Enoch on the platform. When the train whistled the
station agent opened the office door and his kerosene lamp sent a shaft
of light out into the darkness.
There was the usual noisy banter among the trainmen, and none of them
seemed to notice the woman who alighted from the platform of the
passenger coach and came toward Enoch.
She stood in the light of the doorway, so that the old man could see her
tawdry dress and the travel-dimmed red and white of her painted face.
"Is there a man named Jerry Sullivan livin' in this town?" she asked.
Enoch was conscious of a vague disappointment.
"Yes," he said, half reluctantly, "he lives here. I suppose thee's his
The woman looked at him curiously. Then she laughed.
"Yes, I suppose I am," she said; "can you show me where he lives?"
"I can't show thee very well in the dark, but it isn't far. If thee'll
wait a minute, I'll take thy satchel and go with thee."
He brought the mail-bag and picked up the stranger's valise.
"Thy husband's been looking for thee," he said, as they went along the
path that led across a vacant lot to the street.
The woman did not reply at once. She seemed intent upon gathering her
showy skirts out of the dust. When she spoke, her voice trembled on the
verge of a laugh.
"That so? I've been lookin' for him, too. Thought I'd give him a
"He's got his house about finished."
The woman stopped in the path.
"His house," she sneered; "he must be rattled if he thinks I'll live in
a place like this—forty miles from nowhere."
They walked on in silence after that to the door of Jerry's shanty.
There was a light inside, and the smell of cooking mingled with the
resinous odor of the new lumber. Jerry was executing a difficult passage
in a very light opera to the somewhat trying accompaniment of frying
ham. The solo stopped abruptly when Enoch knocked.
"Come in," shouted the reckless voice of the singer, "let the good
angels come in, come in!"
Enoch opened the door.
"Good-evening, Jerry," he said gravely; "here is thy wife."
The young fellow crossed the floor at a bound with a smile that stayed
on his face after every vestige of joy had died out of it.
The woman gave him a coarse, triumphant stare.
"I heard you was lookin' for me," she said, with a chuckle, "but you
seemed kind o' s'prised after all."
Jerry stood perfectly still, with his hands at his sides. Behind him,
where the light fell full upon it, Enoch could see the cradle. The old
man placed the satchel on the step.
"I must go back and attend to the mail," he said, disappearing in the
A few hours later, just as Enoch had fitted the key in the store door
and turned down the kerosene lamp, preparatory to blowing it out, Jerry
appeared in the doorway.
"I've got to go away on the early train," he said, in a dull, husky
voice; "she's going with me. I don't know how long I'll be gone, and I
thought I'd like to leave the key of the house with you, if it won't be
too much trouble."
"It won't be any trouble, Jerry. I'll take care of it for thee," said
The hand that held out the key seemed to Enoch to be stretched toward
him across a chasm. He felt a yearning disgust for the man on the other
Jerry walked across the platform hesitatingly, and then came back.
"Would you mind locking up and coming outside, Mr. Embody?" he asked
humbly; "I'd like to have a little talk with you."
Enoch blew out the lamp and closed the door and locked it. He felt a
physical shrinking from the moral squalor into which he was being
"What is it, Jerry?" he asked kindly.
"I've been thinking," said the young man hurriedly, and in the same
level, monotonous voice, "that families sometimes come to these new
places without having any house ready, and of course it's a good deal of
expense for them to board, and I just wanted to say to you that if any
person—well, say a widow with a b—family—I wouldn't care to help a
man that could rustle for himself—but a woman, you know, if she's not
very strong, and has a—a—family—why, I'd just as soon you'd let her
have the house, and you needn't say anything about the rent: I'll fix
that when I come back. I haven't been to church and put anything in the
collection since I've been here,"—his voice gave a suggestion of the
old ring, and then fell back drearily,—"so I thought I'd hand you what
I'd saved up, and you can use it for charitable purposes—groceries and
little things that people might need, coming in without anything to
He handed Enoch a roll of money, and the old man put it into his pocket.
"I'll remember what thee says, Jerry. If any worthy family comes along,
I'll see that they do not want."
"If I can, I'll send you a little now and then," the young fellow went
on more cheerfully, "but I'd just as soon you wouldn't mention it. I'll
be back sometime, there's no doubt about that, but I can't say just
when. You can tell the folks that my—my wife," he choked on the word,
"didn't feel satisfied here. She thinks it won't agree with her. And I
guess it won't, she's very bad off"—he turned away lingeringly, and
then came back. "About the—the—crib," he faltered, "if they happen to
have a baby, I wouldn't mind them using it. Babies are pretty generally
respectable, no matter what their folks are. I was calculating," he
went on wistfully, "to get another box and hunt up some wheels, and I
thought maybe they could rig it up with a pink parasol and use it to
cart the baby 'round; you know if a woman isn't very strong, it might
save her a good deal—but then it's too late now;" he turned away
"I guess I can manage that for thee, Jerry," said Enoch; "I'm rather
handy with tools. Thee needn't worry."
The two men stood still a moment in the moonlight.
"Good-by, Mr. Embody," said Jerry.
He did not put out his hand. Enoch hesitated a little.
"Farewell," he said, and his voice was not quite natural.
The next morning, when Enoch opened the outside letter-box to postmark
the mail that had been dropped into it after the store was closed the
night before, he found but one letter. It was addressed to Mrs. Josie
Hart Sullivan, Pikeboro, Mo
"Are you the postmaster?"
Enoch dropped the tin scoop into the sugar-bin, and turned around. The
voice was timid, almost appealing, and Enoch glanced from the pale,
girlish face that confronted him to the bundle in her arms.
There was no mistaking the bundle. It was of that peculiar bulky
shapelessness which betokens a very small infant.
"Yes, I'm the postmaster," answered Enoch kindly; "is there anything I
can do for thee?"
The young creature looked down, and a faint color came into her
"I've just come in on the train," she faltered. "I thought you might be
able to tell me where to go. I haven't very much money. I was sick on
the way, and spent more than I expected. I—I"—she hesitated, and
glanced at Enoch with a little expectant gasp.
"Is thee alone?" inquired the old man.
"Yes. That is—only Baby. My husband has just—just"—her voice
fluttered and died away helplessly.
"Oh, thee's a widow," said Enoch gently.
"Yes." The poor young thing looked up with a smile of wistful gratitude.
"I'm not very strong. I heard this was a healthy place. They thought it
would be good for us—Baby and me. I'm Mrs. Josie Hart. Baby's name is
"Would thee be afraid to stay in a house alone?" inquired Enoch
The stranger gave him a look of gentle surprise.
"Why, no, of course not—not with Baby; he's so much company."
There was a note of profound compassion for his masculine ignorance in
her young voice.
The old man's mouth quivered into a smile. He went to the back of the
room, and took a key from a nail.
"I think I can find thee a real cosy little place," he said; "shan't I
carry the baby for thee?"
She hesitated, and looked up into his solemn, kindly face. Then she held
the precious bundle toward him.
"I guess I'll have to let you. I didn't really know it till I got here,
but I begin to feel, oh! so awful tired," she said, with a long, sighing
breath, as Enoch folded his gaunt arms about the baby.
They went up the street together, and Enoch unlocked Jerry's house and
showed the stranger in. She walked straight across the room to the
cradle. When she turned around her eyes were swimming.
"Oh, I think it's just lovely here," she said; "I feel better already.
This is such a nice little house, and so many wild flowers everywhere,
and they smell so sweet—I know Baby will like it."
She relieved Enoch of his burden and laid it on the bed.
The old man lingered a little.
"Thee needn't worry about provisions or anything," he said hesitatingly;
"some of the neighbors will come in and help thee get started. Thee'll
want to rest now. I guess I'll be going."
"Oh, you mustn't go without seeing Baby!" insisted the young mother,
beginning to unswathe the shapeless bundle on the bed.
Enoch moved nearer, and waited until the tiny crumpled bud of a face
appeared among the wrappings.
"Isn't he sweet?" pleaded the girl rapturously.
Enoch bent over and gazed into the quaint little sleeping countenance.
"He's a very nice baby," he said, with gentle emphasis.
"And so good," the girl-voice rippled on; "he never cried but once on
the way out here, and that time I didn't blame him one bit; I wanted to
cry myself,—we were so hot and tired and dusty. But he sleeps—oh, the
way he does sleep. There! did you notice him smile? I think he knows
my voice. He often smiles that way when I am talking to him."
She caught him out of his loosened sheath and held him against her
breast with the look on her face that has baffled the art of so many
It was thus that Enoch remembered her as he went down the street to the
"I would have taken her right home to Rachel," he said to himself, "but
women folks sometimes ask a good many unnecessary questions, and the
poor thing is tired."
So the little widow and her baby became the wards of the town of
Muscatel. After one or two unsuccessful attempts to learn the
particulars of her husband's last illness, the good women of the place
decided that her bereavement was too recent to be made a subject of
The baby, on the contrary, being a topic all the more absorbing by
reason of its newness, they held long and enthusiastic conferences with
the young mother concerning his care, clothing, and diet. With that
gentle receptivity which makes some natures the defenseless targets of
advice, the inefficient little mother felt herself at times between the
upper and the nether millstones of condensed milk and Caudle's food, but
her weak, appealing face always brightened into tremulous delight when
the rival factions united, as they invariably did, on the subject of the
baby's undoubted precocity in the matter of "noticing."
Enoch was called in many times to give counsel which seemed to gain from
his masculinity what it might be supposed to lack by reason of his
ignorance concerning the ailments and accomplishments of the small
stranger who held the heart of the community in his tiny purple fist. It
was to Enoch that the young mother brought her small woes, and it was
with Enoch that she left them.
The song of the hay-balers and the whir of the threshing-machine had
died out of the valley, and the raisin-making had come on. The trays
were spread in the vineyards, and the warm white air was filled with the
fruity smell of the grapes, browning and sweetening beneath the October
One drowsy afternoon Enoch was in the back room of the store, weighing
barley and marking the weight on the sacks. Suddenly there was a quick
step, and a voice in the outer room, and the old man turned slowly, with
the brush in his hand, and confronted a man in the doorway.
"Yes, uncle, here I am; slightly disfigured, but still in the ring.
How's the market? Long on barley, I see. I"—he broke off suddenly, and
assumed an air of the deepest dejection. "I've had a great deal of
trouble since I saw you, uncle. I've lost my wife."
He turned to the window and pretended to look through the cobwebbed
"She went off very sudden, but she was conscious to the last."
Enoch stood still and slowly stirred the paint in the paint-pot until
his companion turned and caught the glance of his keen blue eye.
"Does thee think she will stay lost, Jerry?" he asked quietly.
The young fellow came close to Enoch's side.
"You bet," he said, with low, husky intensity; "the law settled that.
She was a cursed fraud anyway," he went on, with hurrying wrath; "she
ran away with—I thought she was dead—I'll swear by"—
"Thee needn't swear, Jerry," interrupted Enoch quietly; "if thy word is
good for nothing, thy blasphemy will not help it any."
The young man's face relaxed. There was a little silence.
"Has thee been up to thy house?" asked Enoch presently.
"Yes, yes," said Jerry lightly; "I dropped right in on the family
circle. The widow seems to be a nice, tidy little person, and the
kid—did you ever see anything to beat that kid, uncle?"
Enoch had been appealed to on this subject before.
"He's a very nice baby," he said gravely.
"They seem to be settled rather comfortably, and I guess I'll get a tent
and pitch it on some of these vacant lots, and not disturb them. The
little woman isn't really well enough to move, and besides, the kid
might kick if he had to give up the cradle; perfect fit, isn't it?"
"Enoch," said Rachel Embody to her husband, as they drove their
flea-bitten gray mare to the Friends' meeting on First Day, "what does
thee think of Jerry Sullivan and the widow Hart marrying as they did?
Doesn't thee think it was a little sudden for both of them?"
Enoch slapped the lines on the gray's callous back.
"I don't know, Rachel," he said; "there are some subjects which I do not
find profitable for reflection."
Mrs. Wickersham helped her son from his bed to a chair on the porch, and
spread a patchwork quilt over his knees when he was seated.
"Don't you want something to put your feet on, Benny?" she asked
anxiously, with that hunger for servitude with which women persecute
their male sick.
The invalid looked down at his feet helplessly, and then turned his eyes
toward the stretch of barley-stubble below the vineyard. A stack of
baled hay in the middle of the field cast a dense black shadow in the
"No, I guess not," he said absently. "Has Lawson sent any word about the
"He said he'd come and look at it in a day or two."
Mrs. Wickersham stood behind her son, smoothing the loose wrinkles from
his coat with her hard hand. He was scarcely more than a boy, and his
illness had given him that pathetic gauntness which comes from the
wasting away of youth and untried strength.
"I wanted a little money before the twenty-fourth," he said, feeling one
feverish hand with the other awkwardly. "I can't seem to get used to
being sick. I thought sure I'd be ready for the hay-baling."
"The doctor says you're doing real well, Benny," asserted the woman
bravely. "I guess if it ain't very much you want, we can manage it."
"It's only five dollars."
Mrs. Wickersham went back to the kitchen and resumed her dish-washing.
Her daughter came out of the pantry where she had been putting away the
cups. She was taller than her mother, and looked down at her with
"Do you think that new medicine's helping Ben any?" she asked in an
"Oh, I don't know, Emmy," the poor woman broke out desperately;
"sometimes I think his cough's a little looser, but he's getting to have
that same look about the eyes that your pa had that last winter"—Mrs.
Wickersham left her work abruptly, and went and stood in the doorway
with her back toward her daughter.
The girl took up her mother's deserted task, and went on with it
"Shall I put on some potatoes for yeast?" she asked, after a little
"Yes, I guess you'd better," answered the older woman; "there's only the
best part of a loaf left, and Benny hadn't ought to eat fresh bread."
She came back to her work, catching eagerly at the homely suggestion of
"I'll finish them," she said, taking a dish out of her daughter's hand;
"you brighten up the fire and get the potatoes."
The girl walked away without looking up. When she came into the room a
little later with an armful of wood, Mrs. Wickersham was standing by the
"Emmy," she said in a whisper, taking hold of her daughter's dress and
drawing her toward her, "don't tell your brother I had to pay cash to
the balers. It took all the ready money I had in the house: I'd rather
he didn't know it."
"What's the matter, mother?" asked the girl, looking steadily into the
older woman's worried face.
"He wants five dollars next week," whispered Mrs. Wickersham, nodding
toward the door; "I hain't got it."
The girl threw the wood into the woodbox and stood gazing intently at
it. She had a quaint, oval face, and the smooth folds of her dark hair
made a triangle of her high forehead. Two upright lines formed
themselves in the triangle as she gazed. She turned away without
speaking, and took a pan from the shelf and went into the shed-room for
potatoes. When she came back, she walked to her mother's side, and said
in a low voice,—
"You needn't worry about the money any more, mother. I'll get it for
"Yes; I'm going over to Bassett's raisin-camp to pick grapes."
"Oh, I don't think I'd do that, Emmy!"
"Why, what's wrong about it?"
"There's nothing wrong about it, of course; I didn't mean that. Only it
seems so—so kind of strange. None of the women folks in our family's
ever done anything of that kind."
"Then the women folks in our family will have to begin. I can get a
dollar a day. The Burnham girls went, and they're as good as we are. I'm
going, anyway,"—the girl's red lips shut themselves in a narrow line.
"Oh, they're all good enough, Emmy," protested Mrs. Wickersham; "it's
nothing against them, only it's going out to work. You know the way men
folks feel—I don't know what your brother will say."
"You can tell him I've set my heart on it. They have great fun over
there. He wanted me to go camping to the beach with the same crowd of
young folks this summer. I'll not stay at night, mother; I'll walk home
every evening. It's no use saying anything, I'm going."
"Is Steve Elliott at the camp?" asked Benny, when his mother told him.
"She didn't say anything about him, Benny, but I suppose he is. Why?"
"I guess that explains it," said the invalid, smiling wistfully.
Nearly every available grape-picker in the little valley was at
Bassett's vineyard. There was a faint murmur of surprise when Em walked
into the camp on Monday morning.
"I thought you weren't coming, Em," said Irene Burnham, curving her
smooth, sunburned neck away from the tall young fellow who stood beside
"I changed my mind," said Em quietly.
"It's awful hot work," giggled Irene, "and I always burn so; I wish I
tanned. But I'm going to hold out the rest of this week, if I burn to a
"'Rene's after a new parasol," announced her brother teasingly; "she's
bound to save her complexion if it takes the skin off."
The young people gave a little shout of delight, and straggled down the
aisles of the vineyard. The thick growth had fallen away from the
gnarled trunks of the vines, and the grapes hung in yellowing clusters
to the warm, sun-dried earth. The trays were scattered in uneven rows on
the plowed ground between the vines, their burden turning to sweetened
amber in the sunshine. The air was heavy with the rich, fruity ferment
of the grapes. Bees were beginning to drone among the trays. The
mountains which hemmed in the little valley were a deep, velvety blue in
the morning light. Em looked at them with a new throb in her heart. She
did not care what was beyond them as she walked between the tangled
vine-rows. Stephen Elliott had left Irene, and walked beside her. The
valley was wide enough for Em's world,—a girl's world, which is hemmed
in by mountains always, and always narrow.
As the day advanced the gay calls of the grape-harvesters grew more and
more infrequent. The sky seemed to fade in the glare of the sun to a
pale, whitish blue. Buzzards reeled through the air, as if drunken with
sunlight. The ashen soil of the vineyard burned Em's feet and dazzled
her eyes. She stood up now and then and looked far down the valley where
the yellow barley-stubble shimmered off into haze. As she looked,
something straightened her lips into a resolute line and sent her back
to her work with softened eyes.
"Do you get very tired, Em?" her brother asked, as she sat in the
doorway at nightfall.
The girl leaned her head against the casement as if to steady her weary
"Not very," she said slowly and gravely; "it's a little warm at noon,
but I don't mind it."
"I thought sure I'd be up by this time," fretted the invalid, the
yearning in his heart that pain could not quench turning his sympathy to
"The doctor says you're getting on real well, Ben," said Em steadily.
The young fellow looked down at his wasted hands, gray and ghostly in
"Was 'Rene there?" he asked.
"It isn't like having your sister go out to work, Benny," said Mrs.
Wickersham soothingly; "just the neighbors, and real nice folks, too. I
wouldn't fret about it."
On Wednesday morning, as Em neared the camp, she saw the grape-pickers
gathered in a little group before the girls' tent. Steve Elliott
separated himself from the crowd, and came to meet her.
"We've struck, Em," he said, smiling down at her from the shadow of his
"Who's we?" asked Em gravely.
"All of us. They're paying a dollar and a quarter over at Briggs's; we
ain't a-goin' to stand it."
Em had stopped in the path. The young fellow stepped behind her, and she
"Why don't you all go over to Briggs's and go to work?" she asked,
without turning her head.
"Too far—the foreman'll come to time."
They came up to the noisy group, and Em seated herself on a pile of
trays and loosened the strings of her wide hat; she was tired from her
walk, and the pallor of her face made her lips seem redder.
Irene Burnham crossed over to the newcomer, shrugging herself with
"Isn't it just too mean, Em?" she panted; "I know they'll discharge us.
That means good-by to my new parasol; I've been dying for one all
summer, a red silk one"—
"Let up on the parasol racket, Sis," called one of the Burnham boys;
"business is business."
The hum of the young voices went on, mingled with gay, irresponsible
laughter. Em got up and began to tie her hat.
"Where are you going?" asked one of the girls.
"I'm going to work."
"To work! why, we've struck!"
"I haven't," said Em soberly. "I'm willing to work for a dollar a day."
There was a little cry of dismay from the girls; Steve Elliott's tanned
face flushed a coppery red.
"You ain't goin' back on us, Em?" he said angrily.
"I ain't going back on my word," answered the girl; "you needn't work if
you don't want to; this is a free country."
"It isn't, though,"' said Ike Burnham; "the raisin men have a
ring—there's no freedom where there's rings."
"I suppose they go into them because they want to," said Em, setting her
"They go into them because they'd get left if they didn't."
"Well, if I was a raisin man," persisted the girl quietly, "and wanted
to go into a ring, I'd do it; but if anybody undertook to boss me into
it, they'd have the same kind of a contract on hand that you've got."
She turned her back on the little group and started toward the vineyard.
Irene had drifted toward Steve Elliott's side and was smiling
expectantly up into his bronzed face. He broke away from her glance and
strode after the retreating figure.
"Em!" The girl turned quickly.
"Oh, Steve!" she cried, with a pleading sob in her voice.
"Em, you're making a fool of yourself!" he broke out cruelly.
The curve in the red lips straightened.
"Let me alone!" she gasped, putting up her hand to her throat. "If I'm
to be made a fool of, I'd rather do it myself. I guess I can stand it,
if you'll let me alone!"
When Bassett's foreman rode into the vineyard at noon to talk with the
strikers, he saw a wide brown hat moving slowly among the vine-rows.
"Who's that?" he asked, pointing with his whip.
"Em Wickersham," said one of the group sullenly.
The foreman turned his horse's head, and galloped down the furrow.
Em straightened herself, and pushed back her hat.
"You don't want to give up your job?"
The girl shaded her eyes with her hand. There was an unsteady movement
of her chin before she spoke.
"I'd like to work till Friday night," she said.
"Well, I'd like to keep you; but I don't know how it will be. I won't
stand any of their nonsense,"—he jerked his head toward the camp; "I'm
going to send over to Aliso Cañon for a wagon-load of pickers. I'm
pretty certain I can get them, but they'll all be men; you might find it
a little unpleasant."
"Who are they?" asked Em.
"Only a lot of ranchers picked up over the neighborhood," said the
foreman. "I think I can find enough men and boys who are through
harvesting. I'll try anyway."
"Will you be here all the time?" asked the girl.
"All of to-morrow and most of Friday," he answered, wondering a little.
"Well, I guess if you don't care, I'll stay; I guess they won't hurt
me,"—the wraith of a smile flitted across her face.
"All right." The foreman urged his horse forward.
"The Wickershams must be hard pressed," he said to himself; "the girl
looks pale. Confound those young rascals!"
Across at the camp Em could hear laughter and snatches of song. The soft
rustle of the grape-leaves in the tepid breeze seemed to emphasize the
stillness about her. Now and then a quail, tilting its queer little
crest, scurried across the furrows and whirred out of sight. Pink-footed
doves ran along the edge of the vineyard, mourning plaintively. The girl
worked on without faltering, looking down the valley now and then
through a blur that was not haze, and seeing always something there that
dulled the pain of her loneliness.
The day wore on. Em had eaten her lunch alone, in the shadow of the
cypress hedge. As the afternoon advanced and the sea-breeze wandered
over the mountains in fitful gusts, the campers trooped homeward, still
laughing and calling to each other with reckless shouts. Em straightened
her aching limbs, and watched them as they went. 'Rene's pink dress
fluttered close to the tallest form among them, loitering a little, and
standing out in silhouette against the afternoon sky at the end of the
straggling procession as it disappeared over the hilltop.
It was Friday evening, and Em laid five silver dollars on the kitchen
table beside her mother.
"You can give that to Ben," she said wearily.
Mrs. Wickersham glanced from the money to her daughter's dusty shoes,
and set, colorless face.
"Emmy, I'm afraid you've overdone," she said with a start.
"No, I haven't," answered the girl without flinching; "it's been a
little hard yesterday and to-day, and I'm tired, that's all. Don't tell
"Are you too tired to go to the church sociable this evening?" pursued
the mother anxiously.
"Yes, I believe I am."
"I saw Steve Elliott and 'Rene Burnham driving that way a few minutes
ago. I thought they was over at the camp." Mrs. Wickersham had resumed
her work and had her back toward her daughter.
"They weren't there to-day," said Em listlessly.
"Does she go with him much?"
There was a rising resentment in Mrs. Wickersham's voice. Em glanced at
"I don't know," she faltered.
"I don't see how she can act so!" the older woman broke out indignantly.
The girl's face turned a dull white; she opened her lips to breathe.
"I used to think she liked Benny," Mrs. Wickersham went on, speaking in
a heated undertone. "I should think she'd be ashamed of herself."
Em's voice came back.
"I don't believe Ben cares, mother," she said soothingly.
"I don't care if he doesn't, she'd ought to," urged Mrs. Wickersham,
with maternal logic.
There was a sound of strained, ineffectual coughing in the front room.
Mrs. Wickersham left her work and hurried away. When she came back Em
was sitting on the doorstep with her forehead in her hands.
"Benny's got a notion he could drive over to the store to-morrow," her
mother began excitedly; "he's got something in his head. He thinks if
Joe Atkinson would bring their low buggy—I'm sure I don't know what to
say;" the poor woman's voice trembled with responsibility.
Em got up with a quick, decisive movement.
"Don't say anything, mother. If Ben wants to go, he's got to go. I'll
run over to Atkinson's right away."
Mrs. Wickersham caught her daughter's arm.
"No, no; not to-night. He said in the morning, he must be better, don't
you think so, Emmy?" she pleaded.
"Of course," said Em fiercely. Then she turned and fastened a loosened
hairpin in her mother's disordered hair. Even a caress wore its little
mask of duty with Em. "Of course he's better, mother," she said more
It was Sunday, and the little valley was still with the stillness of
warm, drowsy, quiescent life. At noon, the narrow road stretching
between the shadowless barley-fields was haunted by slender, hurrying
spirals of dust, like phantoms tempted by the silence to a wild frolic
in the sunlight. The white air shimmered in wavy lines above the
stubble. Em shut her eyes as she came out of the little church, as if
the glare blinded her. Steve was waiting near the door, and a sudden,
unreasoning hope thrilled her heart. He was looking for some one. She
could hear the blood throbbing in her temples. He took a step forward.
Then a red silken cloud shut out her sun, and the riot died out of her
poor young heart. 'Rene was smiling up into his sunburned face from
the roseate glory of her new parasol. Em walked home through the
sunlight with the echo of their banter humming in her ears.
Ben sat on the porch watching for her, a feverish brightness in his
"Was 'Rene at church?" he asked eagerly.
Em stood behind his chair, looking down at the cords of his poor, wasted
neck. Her eyelids burned with hot, unshed tears.
"Did she look nice—did she have anything new?"
"Yes, she had a new parasol. She looked real pretty." The girl spoke
with dull, unfeeling gentleness. Ben tried to turn and look up into her
"She's been wanting it all summer. I told her 'way long in the spring
that I'd get it for her birthday. I wonder if she forgot it? I didn't
have any idea I'd be laid up this way."
Em stood perfectly still.
"I'll bet she was surprised, Em," he went on wistfully; "do you think
she'll come over and say anything about it?"
"She'd better," said Em, setting her teeth in her bright under lip.
The invalid gave a little, choking cough, and looked out across the
valley. A red spot was moving through the stubble toward the house. He
put up his hot hand and laid it on Em's cold fingers.
"Mother tried to fool me about the money," he said feebly, "but I think
I know where she got it. I don't mean to forget it either, Em. I'll pay
it back just as soon as I get up."
The girl dropped her cheek on his head with a little wailing sob.
"Yes, Ben, I ain't a bit afraid about my pay." Then she slipped her hand
from under his and went into the house.
The red spot was drawing nearer. Mrs. Wickersham glanced through the
open window at her son.
"Benny's looking brighter than I've seen him in a long time," she
thought. "I guess his ride yesterday done him good."
And in her little room Em sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the
wall through blinding tears.
"I wish I had it all to do over again," she said. "I'd do it all—even
if I knew—for Ben!"
COLONEL BOB JARVIS.
We were sojourning between Anaheim and the sea. There was a sunshiny
dullness about the place, like the smiles of a vapid woman. The bit of
vineyard surrounding our whitewashed cabin was an emerald set in the
dull, golden-brown plain. Before the door an artesian well glittered in
the sun like an inverted crystal bowl. Esculapius called the spot
Fezzan, and gradually I came to think the well a fountain, and the
sunburnt waste about us a stretch of yellow sand.
When I had walked to the field of whispering corn behind the house, and
through the straggling vines to the edge of the vineyard in front, I
came back to where my invalid sat beneath the feathery acacias, dreaming
in happy lonesomeness.
"Did you ever see such placid, bright, ethereal stillness?" I asked.
Esculapius took his cigar from his lips and looked at me pensively.
"It may be my misfortune, I hope it is not my fault, but I do not
remember to have seen stillness of any sort."
Esculapius has but one shortcoming—he is not a poet. I never wound him
by appearing to notice this defect, so I sat down on the dry burr-clover
and made no reply.
"You think it is still," he went on in a mannish, instructive way, "but
in fact there are a thousand sounds. At night, when it is really quiet,
you will hear the roar of the ocean ten miles away. Hark!"
Our host was singing far down in the corn. He was a minister, a
deep-toned Methodist, brimming over with vocal piety.
"Nearer the great white throne,
Nearer the jasper sea,"—
came to us in slow, rich cadences.
The fern-like branches above us stirred softly against the blue. Little
aromatic whiffs came from the grove of pale eucalyptus-trees near the
house. Esculapius diluted the intoxicating air with tobacco smoke and
remained sane, but as for me the sunshine went to my head, and whirled
and eddied there like some Eastern drug.
"My love," I said wildly, "if we stay here very long and nothing
happens, I shall do something rash."
The next morning a huge derrick frowned in the dooryard, and a
picturesque group of workmen lounged under the acacias. The well had
ceased to flow.
Esculapius called me to a corner of the piazza, and spoke in low,
"Something has happened," he said; "the well has stopped. I thought it
might relieve your feelings to get off that quotation about the golden
bowl and the wheel, and the pitcher, and the fountain, etc.; then, if it
is safe to leave you, I would like to go hunting."
I looked at him with profound compassion.
"I have forgotten the quotation," I said, "but I think it begins: 'The
grinders shall cease because they are few.' Perhaps you had better take
your shotgun, and don't forget your light overcoat. Good-by."
Then I took a pitcher and went down the walk to the disglorified well.
The musical drip on the pebbles was hushed; the charm of our oasis had
departed. In its place stood a length of rusty pipe full of standing
water. Some bits of maiden's-hair I had placed in reach of the cool
spray yesterday were already withered in the sun. I took the gourd from
its notch in the willows sadly. Some one had been before me and carved
"Ichabod" on its handle. I filled my pitcher and turned to go. A tall
form separated itself from the group of workmen and came gallantly
"Madame," said a rich, hearty voice, "if you'll just allow me, I'll
tackle that pitcher and tote it in for you. Jarvis is my name, Colonel
Bob Jarvis, well-borer. We struck a ten-inch flow down at Scranton's
last week, and rather knocked the bottom out of things around here."
"But the pitcher isn't at all heavy, Colonel Jarvis."
"Oh, never mind that: anything's too heavy for a lady; that's my
sentiments. You see, I'm a ladies' man,—born and brought up to it.
Nursed my mother and two aunts and a grandmother through consumption,
and never let one of 'em lift a finger. 'Robert,' my mother used to
say, in her thin, sickly voice, 'Robert, be true to God and the women;'
and, by godfrey, I mean to be."
I relinquished the pitcher instantly. Esculapius was right; something
had happened. The well was gone, but in its place I had found something
a thousand times more refreshing. When my husband returned, he found me
sitting breathless and absorbed under the acacias.
"Hush!" I said, with upraised finger; "listen!"
Our host and the colonel were talking as they worked at the well.
"We've had glorious meetings this week over at Gospel Swamp, Jarvis,"
the minister was saying. "I looked for you every night. If you could
just come over and hear the singing, and have some of the good brothers
and sisters pray with you, don't you think"—
"Why, God bless your soul, man!" interrupted the colonel; "don't you
know I'm religious? I'm with you right along, as to first principles,
that is; but, you see, I can't quite go the Methodist doctrine. I was
raised a Presbyterian, you know,—regular black-and-blue Calvinist,—and
what a fellow takes in with his mother's milk sticks by him. I'm
attached to the old ideas,—infant damnation, and total depravity, and
infernal punishment, and the interference of the saints. You fellows
over at the Swamp are loose! Why, by—the way, my mother used to say to
me, in her delicate, squeaky voice: 'Robert, beware of Methodists;
they're loose, my son, loose as a bag of bones.' No, indeed, I wouldn't
want you to think me indifferent to religion; religion's my forte. Why,
by—and by, I mean to start a Presbyterian church right here under your
"I'm glad of it," responded the minister warmly; "you've no idea how
glad I am, Jarvis."
"Why, man alive, that church is in my mind day and night. I want to get
about forty good, pious Presbyterian families to settle around here, and
I'll bore wells for 'em, and talk up the church business between times.
You saw me carrying that lady's pitcher for her this morning, didn't
you? Well, by—the way, that was a religious move entirely. I took her
man for a Presbyterian preacher the minute I struck the ranch; maybe
it's poor health gives him that cadaverous look, but you can't most
always tell. More likely it's religion. At any rate"—
Esculapius retreated in wild disorder, and did not appear again until
supper-time. When that meal was finished, Colonel Jarvis followed me as
I walked to the piazza.
"If it ain't presuming, madam," he said confidentially, "I'd like to ask
your advice. I take it you're from the city, now?"
"Yes," I answered, with preternatural gravity; "what makes you think
"Well, I knew it by your gait, mostly. A woman that's raised in the
country walks as if she was used to havin' the road to herself; city
women are generally good steppers. But that ain't the point. I'm engaged
to be married!"
My composure under this announcement was a good deal heightened by the
fact that Esculapius, who had sauntered out after us, whistling to
himself, became suddenly quiet, and disappeared tumultuously.
"Engaged to be married!" I said. "Let me congratulate you, Colonel. May
I hope to see the fortunate young lady?"
"That depends. You see, I'm in a row,—the biggest kind of a row, by—a
good deal; and I thought you might give me a lift. She's a 'Frisco lady,
you know; one of your regular high-flyers; black eyes, bangs, no end o'
spirit. You see, she was visitin' over at Los Nietos, and we made it up,
and when she went back to 'Frisco I thought I'd send her a ring; so I
bought this," fumbling in his pocket, and producing the most astounding
combination of red glass and pinchbeck; "and, by godfrey! she sent it
back to me. Now, I don't see anything wrong about that ring; do you?"
"It is certainly a little—well, peculiar, at least, for an engagement
ring; perhaps she would like something a trifle less showy. Ladies have
a great many whims about jewelry, you know."
"Exactly. That is just what I reflected. So I went and bought this"
(triumphantly displaying a narrow band); "now that's what I call
genteel; don't you? Well, if you'll believe it, she sent that back, too,
by—return mail. I wish I'd fetched you the letter she wrote; if it
wasn't the spiciest piece of literature I ever read by—anybody. 'She'd
have me understand she wasn't a barmaid nor a Quaker; and if I didn't
know what was due a lady in her position, I'd better find out before I
aspired to her hand,' et cetery. Oh, I tell you, she's grit; no end o'
mettle. So, you see, I've struck a boulder, and it gets me bad, because
I meant to see the parson through with his well here, and then go on to
'Frisco and get married. Now, if you'll help me through, and get me into
sand and gravel again, and your man decides to settle in these parts,
I'll guarantee you a number one well, good, even two-inch flow, and no
expense but pipe and boardin' hands. I'll do it, by—some means."
"Oh, no, Colonel," I said, struggling with a laugh; "I couldn't allow
that. It gives me great pleasure to advise you, only it's a very
delicate matter, you know—and—really" (I was casting about wildly for
an inspiration) "wouldn't it be better to go on to the city, as you
intended, and ask the lady to go with you and exercise her own taste in
selecting a ring?"
My companion took a step backward, folded his arms, and looked at me
"Well, if it don't beat all how a woman walks through a millstone! Now
that's what I call neat. Why, God bless you, madam, I've been boring at
that thing for a week steady, night and day, by—myself, and making no
headway. It makes me think of my mother. 'Robert,' she used to say (and
she had a very small, trembly voice),—'Robert, a woman's little finger
weighs more than a man's whole carcass;' and she was right. I'll
be—destroyed if she wasn't right!"
Esculapius laughed rather unnecessarily when I repeated this
conversation to him.
"I am willing to allow that it's funny," I said; "but after all there is
a rude pathos in the man, an untutored chivalry. Nearly every man loves
and reverences a woman; but this man loves and reverences women. It is
old-fashioned, I know, but it has a breezy sweetness of its own, like
the lavender and rosemary of our grandmothers; don't you think so?"
There was no reply. I imagine that Esculapius is sensible at times of
his want of ideality, and feels a delicacy in conversing with me. So I
went on musingly:—
"With such natures love is an instinct; and it is to instinct, after
all, that we must look for everything that is fresh and poetic in
humanity. We have all made this sacrifice to culture,—a sacrifice of
force to expression. Isn't it so, my love?"
Still no reply.
"I like to picture to myself the affection of which such a man is
capable, for no doubt he loves this girl of whom he speaks; not, of
course, as you—as you ought to love me, but with a rude, wild
sincerity, a sort of rugged grandeur. Imagine him betrayed by her. A man
of the world might grow white about the lips and sick at heart, but he
would find relief in cynicism and bitter words. This man would
act,—some wild, strange act of vengeance. The cultured nature is a
honeycomb: his is a solid mass; and masses give us our most picturesque
effects. Don't you think so, my dear?"
And still no reply.
"Well, my love?"
"Isn't it barbarous of you not to answer when I speak to you?"
"Possibly; at least it has that appearance, but there are mitigating
circumstances, my dear. I was asleep."
Two weeks later the colonel brought his wife to call upon me. She was a
showy, loud-voiced blonde, resplendently over-dressed. At the first
opportunity her husband motioned me aside.
"Isn't she about the gayest piece of calico you ever saw?" he asked,
with proud confidence. "Doesn't she lay over anything around here by a
"She is certainly a very striking woman," I said gravely, "and one who
does you great credit. But I am a little surprised, Colonel. No doubt it
was a mistake, but I got the impression in some way that the lady was a
The colonel's countenance fell. "Now, look here," he said, after a
little reflection; "I don't mind telling you, because you're up to the
city ways and you'll understand. The fact is, this isn't the one. You
see, I went on to 'Frisco as you advised, and planked down a check for
five hundred dollars the minute I got there. 'Now,' said I, 'Bob Jarvis
don't do things by halves; just you take that money, my girl, and get
yourself a ring that's equal to the occasion. I don't care if it's a
cluster of solitary diamonds as big as a section of well-pipe.' Now, I
call that square, don't you? Well, God bless your soul, madam, if she
didn't take that money and skip out with another fellow! Some
white-livered city sneak—beggin' your husband's pardon—who'd been
hangin' around for a year or more. Of course I was stuck when I heard of
it. It was this one told me. She's her sister. I could see that she felt
bad about it. 'It was a nasty, dirty trick,' she said; and I'll
be—demoralized if I don't think so myself, and said so at the time.
But, after all, it turned out a lucky thing for me. Now look at that,
I followed his gaze of admiring fondness to where Mrs. Jarvis was,
bridling and simpering under Esculapius's compliments.
"Isn't she a nosegay? But don't you be jealous, madam; she's just
wrapped up in me, and constant," he added, shaking his head
reflectively; "why, bless your soul, she's as constant as sin."
When I told Esculapius of this he sighed deeply.
"What is the matter?" I asked, with some anxiety.
He threw back his head and sent a little dreamy cloud of smoke up
through the acacias.
"I was thinking," he said, pensively, "what a 'wild, strange act of
vengeance' it was!"
I looked him sternly in the eye. "My dear," I said, "I don't think you
ought to distress yourself about that. I never should have reminded you
of it. You were dreaming, you know, and you are not responsible for what
you dream. Besides, dreams are like human nature, they always go by
He came up the mountain road at nightfall, urging his lean mustang
forward wearily, and coughing now and then—a heavy, hollow cough that
told its own story.
There were only two houses on the mesa stretching shaggy and sombre with
greasewood from the base of the mountains to the valley below,—two
unpainted redwood dwellings, with their clumps of trailing pepper-trees
and tattered bananas,—mere specks of civilization against a stern
background of mountain-side. The traveler halted before one of them,
bowing awkwardly as the master of the house came out.
"Mr. Brandt, I reckon."
Joel Brandt looked up into the stranger's face. Not a bad face,
certainly: sallow and drawn with suffering,—one of those hopelessly
pathetic faces, barely saved from the grotesque by a pair of dull,
wistful eyes. Not that Joel Brandt saw anything either grotesque or
pathetic about the man.
"Another sickly looking stranger outside, Barbara, wants to try the air
up here. Can you keep him? Or maybe the Fox's'll give him a berth."
Mrs. Brandt shook her head in a house-wifely meditation.
"No; Mrs. Fox can't, that's certain. She has an asthma and two
bronchitises there now. What's the matter with him, Joel?"
The stranger's harsh, resonant cough answered.
"Keep him?—to be sure. You might know I'd keep him, Joel; the night
air's no place for a man to cough like that. Bring him into the kitchen
The newcomer spread his bony hands over Mrs. Brandt's cheery fire, and
the soft, dull eyes followed her movements wistfully.
"The fire feels kind o' homey, ma'am; Californy ain't much of a place
for fires, it 'pears."
"Been long on the coast, stranger?" Joel squared himself
"'Bout a week. I'm from Indianny. Brice's my name—Posey Brice the boys
'n the glass-mill called me. I wuz blowed up in a glass-mill oncet." The
speaker turned to show an ugly scar on his neck. "Didn't know where I
wuz fer six weeks—thought I hadn't lit. When I come to, there wuz Loisy
potterin' over me; but I ain't been rugged sence."
The man's answer broke through the patient homeliness of his face at
once. He fumbled in his pocket silently, like one who has no common
disclosure to make.
"What d' ye think o' them, stranger?"
Joel took the little, rusty, black case in his hands reverently. A
woman's face, not grand, nor fair even, some bits of tawdry finery
making its plainness plainer; and beside it a round-eyed boy plumped
into a high chair, with two little feet sticking sturdily out in Joel's
Mrs. Brandt looked over her husband's shoulder with kindly curiosity.
"The boy favors you amazingly about the mouth; but he's got his mother's
eyes, and they're sharp, knowin' eyes, too. He's a bright one, I'll be
"Yours, I reckon?"
"Yes, that's Loisy an' the boy," fighting the conscious pride in his
voice like one who tries to wear his honors meekly.
He took the well-worn case again, gazing into the two faces an instant
with helpless yearning, and returned it to its place. The very way he
handled it was a caress, fastening the little brass hook with scrupulous
"I'll be sendin' fur 'em when I git red o' this pesterin' cough."
A very quiet, unobtrusive guest Mrs. Brandt found the man Brice; talking
little save in a sudden gush of confidence, and always of his wife and
child; choosing a quiet corner of the kitchen in the chill California
nights, where he watched his hostess's deft movements with wistful
"Try huntin', Brice; the doctors mostly say it's healthy."
And Brice tried hunting, as Joel advised, taking the gun from its crotch
over the door after breakfast, and wandering for hours in the yellow,
wine-like air of the mesa. He came in at noon and nightfall always
empty-handed, yet no one derided his failure. There was something about
the man that smothered derision.
"A sort o' thunderin' patience that knocks a fellow," Bert Fox put it.
Mrs. Brandt had always an encouraging word for the hunter.
"Greasewood's bad fer huntin'. Joel says it don't pay to look fer quail
in the brush when he does fetch 'em down."
"Like enough. I dunno, ma'am. Reckon I've had a good many shots at the
little wild critters, but they allus turn their heads so kind o'
innocent like. A man as has been blowed up oncet hisself ain't much at
separatin' fam'lies. But I s'pose it ain't the shootin' that's healthy,
And so the hunting came to an end without bloodshed. Whether the doctors
were right, or whether it was the mingled resin and honey of the sage
and chaparral, no one cared to ask. Certain it is that the "pesterin'
cough" yielded a little, and the bent form grew a trifle more erect.
"I think likely it's the lookin' up, ma'am. Mountains seem to straighten
a fellow some way. 'Pears to me somebody writ oncet uv liftin' his eyes
to the hills fer help. Mebbe not, though. I ain't much at recollectin'
verses. Loisy's a powerful hand that way."
Perhaps the man was right. It was the looking up.
He followed Joel from the table one morning, stopping outside, his face
full of patient eagerness.
"I'm gittin' right smart o' strength, neighbor. Ef there's odd jobs you
could gi' me; I'd be slow, mebbe, but seems like 'most anything 'ud be
better 'n settin' 'round."
Joel scratched his head reflectively. The big, brawny-handed fellow felt
no disposition to smile at his weak brother.
"Fox and I wuz sayin' yesterday we'd like to put another man on the
ditch; it'll be easy work fer a week, till we strike rock again. Then
there's the greasewood. It's always on hand. You might take it slow,
grubbin' when you wuz able. I guess we'll find you jobs enough, man."
The scarred, colorless face brightened.
"Thank ye, neighbor. Ef you'll be so kind, there's another little
matter. I'll have a trifle over when I've paid your woman fer her
trouble. I wuz thinkin' like enough you'd let me run up a shanty on yer
place here. Loisy wouldn't mind about style—just a roof to bring 'em
to. It's fer her and the boy, you know," watching Joel's face eagerly.
"Yes, yes, Brice; we'll make it all right. Just take things kind o'
easy. I'll be goin' in with wood next week, and I'll fetch you out a
load o' lumber. We'll make a day of it after 'while, and put up your
house in a jiffy."
And so Brice went to work on the ditch, gently at first, spared from the
heaviest work by strong arms and rough kindliness. And so, ere long,
another rude dwelling went up on the mesa, the blue smoke from its
fireside curling slowly toward the pine-plumed mountain-tops.
The building fund, scanty enough at best, was unexpectedly swelled by a
sudden and obstinate attack of forgetfulness which seized good Mrs.
"No, Brice, you haven't made me a spark o' trouble, not a spark. I'm
sure you've paid your way twice over bringin' in wood, and grindin'
coffee, an' the like. Many a man'd asked wages for the half you've done,
so I'm gettin' off easy to call it square." And the good lady stood her
"You've been powerful good to me, ma'am. We'll be watchin' our chance to
make it up to you,—Loisy an' me. I'll be sendin' fer Loisy d'reckly
"Yes, yes, man, and there'll be bits o' furniture and things to get.
Spread your money thin, and Mrs. Fox and me'll come in and put you to
rights when you're lookin' for her."
He brought the money to Joel at last, a motley collection of gold and
"Ef ye'll be so kind as to send it to 'er, neighbor,—Mrs. Loisy Brice,
Plattsville, Indianny. I've writ the letter tellin' her how to come.
There's enough fer the ticket and a trifle to spare. The boy's a master
hand at scuffin' out shoes an' things. You'll not make any mistake
sendin' it, will you?"
"No, no, Brice; it'll go straight as a rocket. Let me see now. The
letter'll be a week, then 'lowin' 'em a week to get started"—
"Loisy won't be a week startin', neighbor."
"Never you mind, man. 'Lowin' 'em a week to get off, that's two weeks;
then them emigrant trains is slow, say thirteen days on the
road,—that's about another fortnight,—four weeks; this is the fifth,
ain't it? Twenty-eight and five's thirty-three; that'll be the third o'
next month, say. Now mind what I tell you, Brice; don't look fer 'em a
minute before the third,—not a minute."
"'Pears like a long spell to wait, neighbor."
"I know it, man; but it'll seem a thunderin' sight longer after you
begin to look fer 'em."
"I reckon you're right. Say four weeks from to-day, then. Like enough
you'll be goin' in."
"Yes, we'll hitch up and meet 'em at the train,—you and me. The
women'll have things kind o' snug ag'in' we git home. Four weeks'll soon
slide along, man."
Joel went into the house smiling softly.
"I had to be almost savage with the fellow, Barbara. The anxious seat's
no place fer a chap like him; it'd wear him to a toothpick in a week."
"But she might get here before that, you know, Joel."
"I'll fix that with the men at the depot. If she comes sooner we'll have
her out here in a hurry. Wish to goodness she would."
The Southern winter blossomed royally. Bees held high carnival in the
nodding spikes of the white sage, and now and then a breath of perfume
from the orange groves in the valley came up to mingle with the wild
mountain odors. Brice worked every moment with feverish earnestness, and
the pile of gnarled roots on the clearing grew steadily larger. With all
her loveliness, Nature failed to woo him. What was the exquisite languor
of those days to him but so many hours of patient waiting? The dull eyes
saw nothing of the lavish beauty around him then, looking through it all
with restless yearning to where an emigrant train, with its dust and
dirt and noisome breath, crawled over miles of alkali, or hung from
"To-morrow's the third, neighbor. I reckon she'll be 'long now
"That's a fact; what a rattler time is!" The days had not been long to
Joel. "We'll go in to-morrow, and if they don't come you can stay and
watch the trains awhile. She won't know you, Brice; you've picked up
"I think likely Loisy'll know me if she comes."
But she did not come. Joel returned the following night alone, having
left Brice at cheap lodgings near the station. Numberless passers-by
must have noticed the patient watcher at the incoming trains, the homely
pathos of his face deepening day by day, the dull eyes growing a shade
duller, and the awkward form a trifle more stooped with each succeeding
disappointment. It was two weeks before he reappeared on the mesa,
walking wearily like a man under a load.
"I reckon there's something wrong, ma'am. I come out to see ef yer man
'ud write me a letter. I hadn't been long in Plattsville, but I worked
a spell fer a man named Yarnell; like enough he'd look it up a little. I
ain't much at writin', an' I'd want it all writ out careful like, you
know." The man's voice had the old, uncomplaining monotony.
Joel wrote the letter at once, making the most minute inquiries
regarding Mrs. Brice, and giving every possible direction concerning her
residence. Then Brice fell back into the old groove, working feverishly,
in spite of Mrs. Brandt's kindly warnings.
"I can't stop, ma'am; the settin' 'round 'ud kill me."
The answer came at last, a businesslike epistle, addressed to Joel. Mrs.
Brice had left Plattsville about the time designated. Several of her
neighbors remembered that a stranger, a well-dressed man, had been at
the house for nearly a week before her departure, and the two had gone
away together, taking the Western train. The writer regretted his
inability to give further information, and closed with kindly inquiries
concerning his former employee's health, and earnest commendation of
him to Mr. Brandt.
Joel read the letter aloud, something—some sturdy uprightness of his
own, no doubt—blinding him to its significance.
"Will you read it ag'in, neighbor? I'm not over-quick."
The man's voice was a revelation full of an unutterable hurt, like the
cry of some dumb wounded thing.
And Joel read it again, choking with indignation now at every word.
"Thank ye, neighbor. I'll trouble you to write a line thankin' him;
He got up heavily, staggering a little as he crossed the floor, and went
out into the yellow sunlight. There was the long, sun-kissed slope, the
huge pile of twisted roots, the rude shanty with its clambering vines.
The humming of bees in the sage went on drowsily. Life, infinitely
shrunken, was life still. A more cultured grief might have swooned or
cried out. This man knew no such refuge; even the poor relief of
indignation was denied to him. None of the thousand wild impulses that
come to men smitten like him flitted across his clouded brain. He only
knew to take up his burden dumbly and go on. If he had been wiser, could
he have known more?
No one spoke of the blow that had fallen upon him. The sympathy that met
him came in the warmer clasp of hard hands and the softening of rough
voices, none the worse certainly for its quietness. Alone with her
husband, however, good Mrs. Brandt's wrath bubbled incessantly.
"It's a crying, burning, blistering shame, Joel, that's what it is. I
s'pose it's the Lord's doings, but I can't see through it."
"If the Lord's up to that kind o' business, Barbara, I don't see no
further use fer the devil," was the dry response.
These plain, honest folk never dreamed of intruding upon their
neighbor's grief with poor suggestions of requital. Away in the city
across the mountains men babbled of remedies at law. But this man's hurt
was beyond the jurisdiction of any court. Day by day the hollow cough
grew more frequent, and the awkward step slower. Nobody asked him to
quit his work now. Even Mrs. Brandt shrank from the patient misery of
his face when idle. He came into her kitchen one evening, choosing the
old quiet corner, and following her with his eyes silently.
"Is there anything lackin', Brice?" The woman came and stood beside him,
the great wave of pity in her heart welling up to her voice and eyes.
"Nothin', ma'am, thank ye. I've been thinkin'," he went on, speaking
more rapidly than was his wont, "an' I dunno. You've knowed uv people
gettin' wrong in their minds, I s'pose. They wuz mostly smart, knowin'
chaps, wuzn't they?" the low, monotonous voice growing almost sharp with
eagerness. "I reckon you never knowed of any one not over-bright gittin'
out of his head, ma'am?"
"I wouldn't talk o' them things, Brice. Just go on and do your best, and
if there's any good, or any right, or any justice, you'll come out
ahead; that's about all we know, but it's enough if we stick to it."
"I reckon you're right, ma'am. 'Pears sometimes, though, as ef anything
'ud be better 'n the thinkin'."
It all came to an end one afternoon. Brice was at work on the ditch
again, preferring the cheerful companionship of Joel and Bert Fox to his
own thoughts, and Mrs. Brandt was alone in her kitchen. Two shadows fell
across the worn threshold, and a weak, questioning voice brought the
good woman to her door instantly.
"Good-day to you, ma'am. Is there a man named Brice livin' nigh here
It was a woman's voice,—a woman with some bits of tawdry ornament about
her, and a round-eyed boy clinging bashfully to her skirts.
Mrs. Brandt brought them into the house, urging the stranger to rest a
bit and get her breath.
"Thank you, ma'am; I'd like to be movin' on. Do you know if he's
well,—the man Brice? We're his wife an' boy."
The woman told her story presently, when Mrs. Brandt had induced her to
wait there until the men came home,—told it with no unnecessary words,
and her listener made no comment.
"My brother come a week afore we was leavin', an' he helped us off an'
come as fur as Omaha. He'd done well out in Nebrasky, an' he give me
right smart o' money when he left. I was took sick on the road,—I
disremember jest where,—an' they left me at a town with a woman named
Dixon. She took care o' me. I was out o' my head a long time, an' when I
come to I told 'em to write to Brice, an' they writ, an' I reckon they
took the name of the place from the ticket. I was weak like fer a long
spell, an' they kep' a writin' an' no word come, an' then I recollected
about the town,—it was Los Angeles on the ticket,—and then I couldn't
think of the place I'd sent the letters to before, an' the thinkin'
worrited me, an' the doctor said I mustn't try. So I jest waited, an'
when I got to Los Angeles I kep' a-askin' fer a man named Brandt, till
one day somebody said, 'Brandt? Brandt? 'pears to me there's a Brandt
'way over beyond the Mission.' And then it come to me all at oncet that
the place I'd writ to was San Gabriel Mission. An' I went there an'
they showed me your house. Then a man give us a lift on his team part o'
the way, an' we walked the rest. It didn't look very fur, but they say
mountains is deceivin'. There 's somethin' kind o' grand about 'em, I
reckon; it makes everything 'pear sort o' small."
Mrs. Brandt told Joel about it that evening.
"I just took the two of 'em up to the shanty, and opened the door, and
you'd a cried to see how pleased she was with everything. And I told her
to kindle a fire and I'd fetch up a bite o' supper. And when I'd carried
it up and left it, I just come back and stood on the step till I saw
Brice comin' home. He was walkin' slow, as if his feet was a dead
weight, and when he took hold o' the door he stopped a minute, lookin'
over the valley kind o' wishful and hopeless. I guess she heard him
come, for she opened the door, and I turned around and come in. 'Barbara
Brandt,' says I, 'you've seen your see. If God wants to look at that, I
suppose He has a right to; nobody else has, that's certain.'"