The Withrow Water Right

by Margaret Collier Graham

I.

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' thumpin'."

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 barley-fields.

"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 our way."

"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 hypothenuse."

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 eagerness.

"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?"

"Grammuzgotim."

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 been."

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 questioningly.

"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 aggravated sputter.

"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, "M'lissy!"

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 'im."

"Why, yes, of course," answered the girl, with a soft, good-natured drawl, descending the remaining steps slowly. "Where's the milk-pail, mother?"

"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 regular.

"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, Lysander?"

"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 cheeks.

"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 woman shrilly.

"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 pleased."

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 'im?"

"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 investigated.

"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."

II.

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 yawned humanly.

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 relish.

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 leniently.

"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 girl.

"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, M'lissy."

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 you, Sandy?"

"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 knees.

"Is Flutterwheel Spring more 'n mother's share o' the cañon?" she inquired.

"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 dudgeon.

"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 stone-pile.

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, is it?"

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 savagely.

"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 uselessness.

"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, irreverent grimace.

"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.

III.

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, nohow."

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 unintelligible reply.

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 silken head.

"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 powerful singer."

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 tact.

"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 release.

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 her.

"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 her hand.

"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 forge."

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 skill.

"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 widening.

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 tools."

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."

IV.

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 domestic animal.

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 hoe.

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 wounded arm.

"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 sycamores.

"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 shoulder.

"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 hopelessly.

"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 voice.

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 fantastic shapelessness.

"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 care!"

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 cañon."

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 lightly.

"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 bonnet-strings.

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 movements.

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 right."

"I reckon you won't be back before Monday?" said Lysander, with interrogative ruefulness.

"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 doubtfully.

"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.

V.

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 hydrant.

"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 near him.

"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 special providence.

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, pap?"

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 know."

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 her attire.

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 slimpsy."

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 kitchen tent.

"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 culture.

"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 awful red."

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 done.

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 breathlessly.

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'm tired."

"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."

VI.

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 Sterling.

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?"

"Ketch who?"

"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 window.

"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 information.

"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. He's cheeky."

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 away.

"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 that."

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.

VII.

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 curiously.

"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' hangin' 'im!"

"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 straightening.

"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 Melissa appeared.

"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 mother significantly.

Mrs. Sproul turned a highly insulted gaze upon the old woman's impassive face, and tilted her husband's hat defiantly above her diminutive, freckled countenance.

"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 spoke.

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 faltered.

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 away helplessly.

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 know."

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.

VIII.

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 equally unmistakable.

"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 idiot."

"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.

"You—angel!"

"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 dreadful?"

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 gentleman dryly.

"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 party."

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 world's misery.

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 savage.

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 shoulder.

"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 M'lissy's about?"

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 plumes.

"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.