Idy by Margaret Collier Graham

I.

Seņora Gonzales was leaning upon the corral gate in the shade of the pomegranates, looking out over the lake. The lake itself was not more placid than the seņora's face under her black rebozo. Perhaps a long life of leaning and gazing had given her those calm, slow-moving eyes, full of the wisdom of unfathomable ignorance. The landscape on the opposite shore was repeated in the water below, as if to save her the trouble of raising her heavily fringed lids. To the southward a line of wild geese gleamed snow-white, like the crest of a wave. Half a dozen dogs were asleep in the smoothly swept dooryard behind her, and a young Mexican, whose face was pitted by smallpox, like the marks of raindrops in dry sand, leaned against the gnarled trunk of a trellised grapevine, clasping his knees, and sending slow wreaths of smoke from his cigarette. The barley in the field behind the house was beginning to head, and every breath of wind stirred it in glistening waves. Beyond the field shone a yellow mist of wild mustard. The California spring, more languorous, even with its hint of moisture, than the cloudless summer, sent a thousand odors adrift upon the air. Even the smell of garlic hanging about the seņora could not drown the scent of the orange-blooms, and as for Ricardo's cigarette, surely no reasonable mortal could object to that. Ricardo himself would have questioned the sanity of any one who might have preferred the faint, musky fragrance of the alfilaria to the soothing odor of tobacco. He closed his eyes in placid unconsciousness of such vagaries of taste, and rocked himself rhythmically, as if he were a part of the earth, and felt its motion.

A wagon was creaking along the road behind the house, but it did not disturb him. There were always wagons now; Ricardo had grown used to them, and so had the seņora, who did not even turn her head. These restless Americanos, who bought pieces of land that were not large enough to pasture a goat, and called them ranchos—caramba! what fools they were, always a-hurrying about!

The wagon had stopped. Well, it would be time enough to move when some one called. A dust-colored hound that slept at the corner of the house, stretched flat, as if moulded in relief from the soil upon which he lay, raised his head and pricked up one ear; then arose, as if reluctantly compelled to do the honors, and went slowly around the house.

"Of course they've got a dawg; forty of 'em, like enough!" It was a girl's voice, pitched in a high, didactic key. "I guess I c'n make 'em understand, pappy; I'll try, anyway."

She came around the house, and confronted Ricardo, who took his cigarette from his mouth, and looked at her gravely without moving. The seņora turned her head slowly, and glanced over her shoulder.

The girl smiled, displaying two rows of sound teeth shut tightly together.

"How do you do?" she said, raising her voice still higher, and advancing toward the seņora with outstretched hand. "I suppose you're Mrs. Gonsallies."

The seņora disentangled one arm slowly from her rebozo, and gave the newcomer a large, brown, cushiony hand.

"This is my fawther," continued the girl, waving her left hand toward her companion; "sabby?"

The man stepped forward, and confronted the seņora. She looked at him gravely, and shook her head. He was a small, heavily bearded man, with soft, bashful brown eyes, which fell shyly under the seņora's placid gaze.

"She don't understand you, Idy," he said helplessly.

The girl caught his hand, and squeezed it reassuringly. "Never mind, pappy," she said, lowering her voice; "I'll fetch her. Now, listen," she went on, fixing her wide gray eyes on the seņora, and speaking in a loud, measured voice. "I—am—Idy Starkweather. This—is—my—fawther. There! Now! Sabby?"

Evidently she considered failure to understand English a species of physical disability which might be overcome by strong concentration of the will.

The seņora turned a bland, unmoved face upon her son. The eyes of the newcomers followed her gaze. Ricardo held his cigarette between his fingers, and blew a cloud of smoke above his head.

"She don' spik no Englis'," he said, looking at them mildly.

The girl flushed to the roots of her hay-colored frizz of hair. "You're a nice one!" she said. "Why didn't you speak up?"

Ricardo gave her another gentle, undisturbed glance. "Ah on'stan' a leetle Englis'; Ah c'n talk a leetle," he said calmly.

The girl hesitated an instant, letting her desire for information struggle with her resentment. "Well, then," she said, lowering her voice half sullenly, "my fawther here wants to ask you something. We live a mile or so down the road. We've come out from Ioway this summer—me and mother, that is; pappy here come in the spring, didn't you, pappy? An' he bought the Slater place, an' there's ten acres of vineyard, an' Barden,—he's the real 'state agent over t' Elsmore, you know 'im,—he told my fawther they wuz all raisin-grapes, white muscat,—didn't he, pappy?—an' my fawther here paid cash down fer the place, an' the vineyard's comin' into bearin' next fall, an' Parker Lowe,—he has a gov'ment claim on section eighteen, back of our ranch,—-maybe you know 'im,—he says they're every one mission grapes—fer makin' wine. He helped set 'em out, an' he says they got the cuttin's from your folks; but I thought he wuz sayin' it just to plague me, so my fawther here thought he'd come an' ask. If they are wine-grapes, that felluh Barden lied—didn't he, pappy?"

The Mexican gazed at her pensively through the smoke of his cigarette.

"Yass, 'm," he said slowly and softly—"yass, 'm; Ah gass he tell good deal lies. Ah gass he don' tell var' much trut'."

"Then they are mission grapes?"

"Yass, 'm; dey all meession grapes; dey mek var' good wahn."

The girl's face flamed an angry red under her crimpled thatch of hair. She put out her hand with a swift, protecting gesture, and caught her father's sleeve.

The little man's cheeks were pale gray above his shaggy beard. He took off his hat, and nervously wiped the damp hair from his forehead. His daughter did not look at him. Ricardo could see the frayed plume on her jaunty turban quiver.

"My fawther here's a temperance man, a prohibitionist: he don't believe in wine; he hates it; he wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. That felluh Barden knowed it—didn't he, pappy? He lied!" She spoke fiercely, catching her breath between her sentences.

The Mexican threw away the end of his cigarette, and gazed after it with pensive regret.

"Some folks don' lak wahn," he said amiably. "Ah lak it var' well mahse'f. Ah gass he al's tell var' big lies, Mist' Barrd'n."

The girl turned away, still grasping her father's arm. Then she came back, with a sudden and somewhat bewildering accession of civility. "Addyoce," she said, bowing loftily toward the seņora. The plume in her hat had turned in the afternoon breeze, and curved forward, giving her a slightly martial aspect.

"Addyoce, Mr. Gonsallies. We're much obliged,—ain't we, pappy? Addyoce."

Ricardo touched his sombrero. "Good-evenin', mees," he said in his soft, leisurely voice; "good-evenin', seņor."

When the last ruffle of Miss Starkweather's green "polonay" had disappeared around the corner of the adobe house, the seņora drifted slowly across the dooryard in her voluminous pink drapery, and sat down beside her son. There was a thin stratum of curiosity away down in her Latin soul. What had Ricardo done to make the seņorita so very angry? She was angry, was she not?

Oh, yes, she was very angry, but Ricardo had done nothing. Seņor Barden had sold her father ten acres of wine-grapes, and the old man did not like wine; he liked raisins. Santa Maria! Did he mean to eat ten acres of raisins? He need not drink his wine; he could sell it. But the seņorita was very angry; she would probably kill Seņor Barden. She had said she would kill him with a very long pole—ten feet. Ricardo would not care much if she did. Seņor Barden had called him a greaser. But as for a man who did not like wine—caramba!

II.

Parker Lowe's government claim was a fractional section, triangular in shape, with its base on the grant line of Rancho la Laguna, and its apex high up on the mountain-side. Parker's cabin was perched upon the highest point, at the mouth of the caņon, in a patch of unconquerable boulders. Other government settlers were wont to remark the remoteness of his residence from the tillable part of his claim, but Parker remained loyal to his own fireside.

"It's a sightly place," he asserted, "and nigh to the water, and it ain't no furder goin' down to work than it would be comin' up fer a drink, besides bein' down-grade. I lay out to quit workin' some o' these days, but I don't never lay out to quit drinkin'."

This latter determination on Parker's part had come to be pretty well understood, and the former would have obtained ready credence except for the fact that one cannot very well quit what he has never begun. Without risking the injustice of the statement that Parker was lazy, it is perhaps safe to say that he belonged by nature to the leisure class, and doubtless felt the accident of his birth even more keenly than the man of unquenchable industry who finds himself born to wealth and idleness. "Holdin' down a claim" had proved an occupation as well adapted to his tastes as anything that had ever fallen to his lot, and his bachelor establishment among the boulders was managed with an economy of labor, and a resultant of physical comfort, hitherto unknown in the annals of housekeeping. The house itself was of unsurfaced redwood, battened with lath to keep out the winter rain. The furniture consisted of a wide shelf upon which he slept, two narrower ones which held the tin cans containing his pantry stores, a bench, a table which "let down" against the wall by means of leathern hinges when not in use, a rusty stove, and a much-mended wooden chair. From numerous nails in the wall smoky ends of bacon were suspended by their original hempen strings, and the size of the grease-spot below testified to the length of the "side" which Parker had carried in a barley sack from Barney Wilson's store at Elsmore, five miles away on the other side of the lake. Parker surveyed these mural decorations with deep, inward satisfaction not untinged with patriotism.

"There wa'n't many folks right here when I filed on to this claim," he had been known to remark, "an' I may have trouble provin' up. But if the Register of the General Land-Office wants to come an' take a look, he c'n figger up from them ends o' bacon just about how long I've lived here, an' satisfy himself that I've acted fair with the gover'ment, which I've aimed to do, besides makin' all these improvements."

The improvements referred to were hardly such as an artist would have so designated, but Parker surveyed them with taste and conscience void of offense. The redwood shanty; a dozen orange-trees, rapidly diminishing in size and number by reason of neglect and gophers; a clump of slender, smoky eucalypti; a patch of perennial tomato-vines; and a few acres of what Barney Wilson called "veteran barley,"—it having been sown once, and having "volunteered" ever since,—constituted those additions to the value of the land, if not to the landscape, upon which Parker based his homestead rights.

Since the Laguna Ranch had been subdivided, and settlers had increased, and especially since Eben Starkweather had bought the Slater place, and Ida Starkweather had invaded the foot-hills with her vigorous, self-reliant, breezy personality, Parker had been contemplating further improvements in his domicile—improvements which, in moments of flattered hope, assumed the dignity of a lean-to, a rocking-chair, and a box-spring mattress. The dreams which had led him to a consideration of this domestic expansion he had confided to no one but Mose Doolittle, who had a small stock-ranch high up on the mountain, and who found Parker's cabin a convenient resting-place on his journeys up and down the trail.

"I tell ye," he had said to Mose, "that girl is no slouch. Her pa is an infant in arms, a babe an' a suckling, beside her. Her ma is sickly; one o' your chronics. Idy runs the ranch. I set here of evenin's, an' watch 'em through this yer field-glass. She slams around that place like a house a-fire. It's inspirin' to see her. Give me a woman that makes things hum, ever-ee time!"

"Somebody said she had a hell of a temper," ventured Mose, willing to be the recipient of further confidences.

"Somebody lied. She's got spunk. When she catches anybody in a mean trick she don't quote poetry to 'im; she gives 'im the straight goods. Some folks call that temper. I call it sand. There'll be a picnic when she gets hold o' Barden!"

Parker raised the field-glass again, and leveled it on the Starkweather homestead.

"There's the infant now, grubbin' greasewood. He's a crank o' the first water; you'd ought to hear 'im talk. He went through the war, an' he's short one lung, an' he's got the asmy so bad he breathes like a squeaky windmill, an' he won't apply fer a pension because he says he was awful sickly when he enlisted, an' he thinks goin' South an' campin' out saved his life. That's what I call lettin' yer 'magination run away with ye."

"What does Idy think about it?" queried Mose innocently.

"Idy stands up fer her pa; that's what I like about 'er. I like a woman that'll back a man up, right er wrong; it's proper an' female. It's what made me take a shine to 'er."

"You wouldn't want her to back Barden up." Mose made the suggestion preoccupiedly, with his eyes discreetly wandering over the landscape, as if he had suddenly missed some accustomed feature of it.

Parker lowered the glass and glanced at him suspiciously. "No, sir-ee! If there's any backin' done there, Barden'll do it. She'll make 'im crawfish out o' sight when she ketches 'im. That's another thing I like about 'er; she'll stand up fer a feller; that is, fer any feller that b'longs to 'er—that is, I mean, fer a feller she b'longs to."

Mose got up and turned around, and brushed the burr-clover from his overalls.

"Well, I guess I must be movin'," he said, with a highly artificial yawn. "Come here, you Muggins!" he called to his burro, which had strayed into the alfilaria. "Give me an invite to the weddin', Parker. I'll send you a fresh cow if you do."

Parker held the glass between his knees, and looked down at it with gratified embarrassment.

"There's a good deal to be gone through with yet, Mose," he said dubiously. "I set up here with this yer field-glass, workin' myself up to it, an' then I go down there, an' she comes at me so brash I get all rattled, an' come home 'thout 'complishin' anythin'. But I'll make it yet," he added, with renewed cheerfulness. "She sewed a button on fer me t' other day. Now, between ourselves, Mose, don't ye think that's kind o' hopeful?"

Hopeful! Mose would say it was final. No girl had ever sewed a button on for him. When one did, he would propose to her on the spot. He wondered what Parker was thinking of not to seize such an opportunity.

"That's what I had ought to 'a' done," acknowledged Parker, shaking his head ruefully. "Yes, sir; that's what I'd ought to 'a' done. I had ought to 'a' seized that opportunity an' pressed my suit."

"That's the idea, Park," said his companion gravely, as he bestrode Muggins, and jerked the small dejected creature out into the trail. "You'd ought to 'a' pressed your suit; there's nothin' a woman likes better 'n pressin' your suit. Whoop-la, Muggins!"

Some time after Mose had disappeared up the caņon, Parker heard a loud echoing laugh. He turned his head to listen, and then raised the glass and leveled it on Starkweather's ranch.

"I thought at first that was Idy," he said to himself, "but it wa'n't. She 's got a cheerful disposition, but I don't believe she'd laugh that a-way when she's a-learnin' a bull calf to drink; that ain't what I call a laughin' job. Jeemineezer! don't she hold that cantankerous little buzzard's head down pretty. Whoa there, Calamity! don't you back into the chicken corral. That's right, Idy, jam his head into the bucket, an' set down on it—you're a daisy!"

III.

On the strength of Mose's friendly encouragement, Parker betook himself next day to where Eben Starkweather was trimming greasewood roots, and moved about sociably from one hillock to another while his neighbor worked. Nothing but the ardor of unspoken love would have reconciled Parker to the exertion involved, for Eben worked briskly, in spite of his singularity of lung and the disadvantages of "asmy," and the greasewood was not very thick on the ground he had been clearing. The grotesque gnarled roots were collected in little heaps, like piles of discarded heathen images, and Eben hacked about among them, a very mild-mannered but determined iconoclast.

"I'll have to keep at it pretty studdy," he explained apologetically to his visitor, "fer they say we're like enough not to have any more rain, and I'm calc'latin' to grub out the vineyard before the ground hardens up."

"Goin' to yank them vines all out, are ye?"

"That's the calc'lation."

Parker clasped one knee, and whetted his knife on the toe of his boot reflectively.

"'Pears to me ye might sell off that vineyard, an' buy a strip t' other side of ye, an' set out muscats."

"I couldn't sell that vineyard," said Eben. He had laid down his axe, and was wiping his forehead nervously with an old silk handkerchief.

"Oh, I reckon ye could," said Parker easily; "ye got the whole place pretty reasonable."

The little man's bearded mouth twitched. When he spoke, his voice was high and strained.

"I'd jest as soon keep a saloon; I'd jest as soon sell wine to a man after it's made as before it's made." He wiped the moist inner band of his hat, and then dropped his handkerchief into it, and put it on his head. Parker could see his grimy hand tremble. "I didn't know what I was buyin'," he went on, picking up his axe, "but I'd know what I was sellin'."

Parker glanced at him as he fell to work. He was a crooked little man, and one shoulder was higher than the other; there was nothing aggressive in his manner. He had turned away as if he did not care to argue, did not care even for a response. Perhaps no man on earth had less ability to comprehend a timid soul lashed by conscience than Parker Lowe. "The hell!" he ejaculated under his breath. Then he sat still a moment, and drew a map of his claim, and the adjoining subdivision, on the ground between his feet. The affectionate way in which the Starkweather ranch line joined his own seemed suggestive.

"It 'pears to me," he broke out judicially, "that ye could argue this thing out better 'n ye do. Now, if I was in your place, 'pears to me I'd look at it this a-way. There's a heap o' churches in Ameriky, an', if I remember right, they mostly use wine for communion. I hain't purtook for some time myself, but I guess I've got it right. Now all the wine that could be made out o' them grapes o' yourn wouldn't s'ply half the churches in this country, not to mention Europe an' Asie, an' Afriky; an' as long as that's the case, I don't see as you're called on to know that your wine's used fer anything but religious purposes. Of course you can conjure up all sorts o' turrible things about gettin' drunk an' cavin' round, but that's what I call lettin' yer 'magination run away with ye."

"Your 'magination don't have to run a great ways to see men gettin' drunk," said Eben, with some relaxation of voice and manner. The absence of conviction which Parker's logic displayed seemed a relief to him. His fanaticism was personal, not polemical.

"What'd ye raise back in Ioway?" asked Parker, with seeming irrelevance.

"Corn."

"How'd ye reconcile that?"

"I didn't reconcile it; I couldn't. I sold out, an' come away."

Parker trimmed a ragged piece of leather from the sole of his boot, and whistled softly.

"Well, I try not to be an extremist," he said, with moderation. "That Barden's the brazenest liar on this coast. He'd ought to be kicked by a mule. I'd like to see Idy tackle 'im."

This suggestive combination of Barden's deserts with his daughter's energy seemed to give Eben no offense.

"Idy's so mad with him she gets excited," he said mildly. "I can't make 'er see it's all fer the best. Sence I've found out about the vines, I've been glad I bought 'em."

Parker stopped his amateur cobbling, and looked up.

"Ye don't mean it!" he said, with rising curiosity.

"Yes; I'm glad o' the chance to get red o' them. It's worth the money."

He turned to pick up another twisted root, displaying the patches on his knees, and the hollowness of his sunken chest.

"The hell!" commented Parker, softly to himself, with a long, indrawn whistle.

"I guess I'll go down to the house," he said aloud, getting up by easy stages. "I see the cow's pulled up her stake, an' 's r'airn round tryin' to get to the calf. Mebby Idy'll need some help."

"She was calc'latin' to move 'er at noon," said Eben, shading his eyes, and looking toward the house. "It must be 'long toward 'leven now. If you're goin' down, you'd better stop an' have a bite o' dinner with us."

"Well, I won't kick if the women folks don't," answered Parker amiably; "bachin' 's pretty slow. I've eat so much bacon an' beans I dunno whether I'm a hog or a Boston schoolma'am."

Arrived at the corral, where the cow stood with uplifted head snuffing the air, and gazing excitedly at her wild-eyed offspring, his composure suddenly vanished. Miss Starkweather was holding the stake in one hand, and winding the rope about her arm with the other.

"Hello!" she said, with a start, "where on earth 'd you spring from?"

"I see the cow was loose," ventured Parker, "an' I thought you mightn't be able to ketch 'er."

"Well, it wouldn't be fer lack o' practice," responded the girl, with a wide, good-natured smile. "She's yanked her stake out three times this mornin', an' come cavin' around here as if she thought somebody wanted to run away with 'er triflin' little calf. I guess she likes to have me follerin' 'er 'round."

"She's got good taste," said Parker gallantly.

The girl laughed, and struck at him with the iron stake.

"Oh, taffy!" she said, looking at him coquettishly from under her frizz. "Ain't you ashamed?"

"No," said Parker, waxing brave. "Gi' me the stake; mebbe I c'n fasten 'er so she'll stay."

"You're welcome to try,"—the girl slipped her arm out of the coil of rope,—"but I don't b'lieve you can, unless you drill a hole in a boulder, an' wedge the stake in."

Parker led away the cow, mooing with maternal solicitude, and Idy returned to the house. When she reached the kitchen door, she turned and called between the ringing blows of the axe,—

"Oh, Mr. Lowe, mother says won't ye come to dinner?"

"You bet!" answered Parker warmly.

Mrs. Starkweather sat on the doorstep picking a chicken, which seemed to develop a prodigious accession of leg and neck in the process. She had the set, impervious face of a nervous invalid, and her whole attitude, the downward curve of her mouth, and the elevation of her brows, were eloquent of injustice. The clammy, half-plucked fowl in her hand seemed to share her expression of irreparable injury. She allowed her daughter to climb over her without moving, and when Parker appeared she wiped one long yellow hand on her apron, and gave it to him in a nerveless grasp.

"I hope you'll excuse me fer not gettin' up," she drawled; "I guess you c'n get a-past me. Idy, come an' set a rocker fer Mr. Lowe."

"I've got my hands in the dough," called her daughter hilariously, from the pantry; "Mr. Lowe'll have to set on his thumb till I get these biscuits in the pan."

Parker's head swam. The domestic familiarity of it all filled him with ecstasy. He got himself a chair, and inquired solicitously concerning Mrs. Starkweather's health.

"Oh, I'm just about the same," complained his hostess; "not down sick, but gruntin'. Folks that's up an' down like I am don't get nigh as much sympathy as they 'd ought. I tell Starkweather, well folks like him an' Idy ain't fittin' comp'ny fer an inv'lid."

"Mr. Starkweather's lookin' better 'n he did," said Parker, listening rapturously to the thumps of the rolling-pin in the pantry. "I think this climate agrees with 'im."

"Oh, he's well enough," responded Mrs. Starkweather dejectedly, "if he didn't make 'imself so much extry work. Grubbin' out that vineyard, now! I can't fer the life o' me see"—

"Maw!" called Idy warningly, opening the battened door with a jerk—"you maw! look out, now!"

Mrs. Starkweather drooped her mouth, and raised her brows, with a sigh of extreme and most self-sacrificial virtue.

"Oh, of course Idy fires up if anybody says anythin' ag'in' 'er fawther. I guess that's always the way; them that does least fer their fam'lies always gets the most credit. I think if some folks was thinkin' more about their dooties an' less about their queer notions, some other folks wouldn't be laid up with miseries in their backs."

Having thus modestly obscured herself and her sufferings behind a plurality of backs, Mrs. Starkweather arose and dragged herself into the house.

"Gi' me the chicken," said Idy, slamming her biscuits into the oven, and taking the hunchbacked and apparently shivering fowl from her mother. "I ain't a-goin' to have anybody talkin' about pappy, an' you know it. If I was a man, I'd get even with that lyin' Barden, or I'd know the reason why."

"That's just what I was sayin'," returned Mrs. Starkweather, with malicious meekness. "If your fawther was the man he'd ought to be, he wouldn't be rode over that way by nobody."

The girl's face flamed until it seemed that her blonde thatch of hair would take fire.

"Pappy ain't to blame," she said angrily; "he can't help thinkin' the way he does. There ain't no call to be mad with pappy; it's all that miser'ble, lyin' Barden. It'll be a cold day fer him when I ketch 'im."

Parker gazed at her admiringly. She had laid the chicken on a corner of the table, and was vigorously cutting it into pieces, cracking its bones, and slashing into it with an energy that seemed to her lover deliciously bloodthirsty and homicidal.

"Barden's got back from the East," he announced. "I see 'im over t' Elsmore Saturday, tryin' to peek over the top of his high collar. You'd ought to seen 'im; he's sweet pretty."

The girl refused to smile, but the blaze in her cheeks subsided a little.

"It's just as well fer him I didn't," she said, whetting her knife on the edge of a stone jar. "He mightn't be so pretty after I'd got done lookin' at 'im."

Parker laughed resoundingly, and the girl's face relaxed a little under his appreciative mirth. When her father stepped upon the platform at the kitchen door, she left the frying chicken to hiss and sputter in the skillet, and went to meet him.

"Now, pappy," she said, taking hold of him with vigorous tenderness, "I'll bet you've been workin' too hard. Here, let me fill that basin, and when you've washed, you come in an' let Mr. Lowe give ye a pointer on settin' 'round watchin' other folks work." She raised her voice for Parker's benefit. "He come out here fer his health, an' he's gettin' so fat an' sassy he has to live by 'imself."

Parker's appreciation of this brilliant sally seemed to threaten the underpinning of the kitchen.

Eben smiled up into his daughter's face as he lathered his hairy hands.

"I wouldn't make out much at livin' by myself, Idy," he said gently.

"You ain't goin' to get a chance," rejoined his daughter, rushing back to her sputtering skillet, and spearing the pieces of chicken energetically; "you ain't goin' to get red o' me, no matter how sassy you are; I'm here to stay."

"Hold on now," warned Parker; "mind what you're sayin'."

"I know what I'm sayin'," retorted the girl, tossing her head. "I'd just like to see the man that could coax me away from pappy."

"You'd like to see 'im, would ye?" roared Parker, slapping his knee. "Come, now, that's pretty good. Mebbe if you'd look, ye might ketch a glimpse of 'im settin' 'round som'er's."

The girl lifted the skillet from the stove, and let the flame flare up to hide her blushes.

"He wouldn't be settin' 'round," she asserted indignantly, jabbing the fire with her fork. "He'd be up an' comin', you c'n bet on that."

"What's Idy gettin' off now?" drawled Mrs. Starkweather from the other room.

"Gettin' off her base," answered Parker jocosely. Nevertheless, the wit of his inamorata rankled, and after dinner he went with Eben to the barn to "hitch up."

"Idy wants to go over to Elsmore this afternoon," said Eben, "an' I promised to go 'long; but I'd ought to stay with the grubbin'. If you was calc'latin' to lay off anyhow, mebbe you wouldn't mind the ride. The broncos hain't been used much sence I commenced on the greasewood, and I don't quite like to have 'er go alone."

"She hadn't ought to go alone," broke in Parker eagerly. "That pinto o' yourn's goin' to kick some o' ye into the middle o' next week, one o' these days. I was just thinkin' I'd foot it over to the store fer some bacon. Tell Idy to wait till I run up to the house an' get my gun."

Idy waited, rather impatiently, and rejected with contempt her escort's proposal to take the lines.

"When I'm scared o' this team, I'll let ye know," she informed him, giving the pinto a cut with the whip that sent his heels into the air. "If ye don't like my drivin', ye c'n invite yerself to ride with somebody else. I'm a-doin' this."

The afternoon was steeped in the warm fragrance of a California spring. Every crease and wrinkle in the velvet of the encircling hills was reflected in the blue stillness of the laguna. Patches of poppies blazed like bonfires on the mesa, and higher up the faint smoke of the blossoming buckthorn tangled its drifts in the chaparral. Bees droned in the wild buckwheat, and powdered themselves with the yellow of the mustard, and now and then the clear, staccato voice of the meadow-lark broke into the drowsy quiet—a swift little dagger of sound.

"The barley's headin' out fast." Parker raised his voice above the rattle of the wagon. "I wished now I'd 'a' put in that piece of Harrington's."

"Harvest's a poor time fer wishin'; it's more prof'table 'long about seedin'-time," said Idy, with a smile that threatened the meshes of her stylishly drawn veil.

Parker set one foot on the dashboard, and swung the other out of the wagon nervously.

"I do a good deal o' wishin' now that ain't very prof'table—time o' year don't seem to make much difference," he said plaintively.

"Well, I guess if I wanted anything I wouldn't wish fer it a great while—not if I could set to work an' get it."

The vim of this remark seemed to communicate itself to the pinto through the tightened rein, and sent him forward with accelerated speed.

Parker glanced at his companion from under the conical shapelessness of his old felt hat, but she kept her eyes on the team, and gave him her jaunty profile behind its tantalizing barrier of meshes and dots.

"Well, I'll bet if you wanted what I want you'd be 'most afraid to mention it," he said, reaching down into the tall barley, and jerking up a handful of the bearded heads.

"Well, now, I bet I wouldn't."

"S'posin' I wanted to get married?"

There was a silence so sudden that it had the effect of an explosion. Then Miss Starkweather giggled nervously.

"That's just exactly what I do want," persisted Parker desperately, turning his toe inward, and kicking the wagon-box.

There was another disheartening silence. Then the girl's color flamed up under her rusty lace veil. She turned upon him witheringly.

"Well, what are ye goin' to do about it? Set 'round and wait till some girl asks ye?"

Her voice had a fine sarcastic sting in it.

Parker whipped his brown overalls with a green barley-head.

"No; I ain't such a bloomin' idiot as I look."

"I don't know 'bout that," answered the young woman coolly.

Parker faced about.

"Now, look here, Idy," he said; "you'd ought to quit foolin'. You know what I mean well enough; you're just purtendin'. You know I want to marry ye."

"Me!" The girl lifted her brows until they disappeared under the edge of her much-becurled bang. "Want to marry me! Great Scott!"

"I don't see why it's great Scott or great anything else," said Parker doggedly.

Idy held the reins in her left hand, and smoothed her alpaca lap with the whip handle, in maiden meditation.

"Well, I don't know as 't is so very great after all," she said, rubbing the folds of her dress, and glancing at him in giggling confusion.

Parker made an experimental motion with his right arm toward the back of the seat. The girl repelled him dexterously with her elbow.

"You drop that, Parker Lowe!" she said, with dignity. "I ain't so far gone as all that. There's that Gonsallies felluh lookin' at us. You just straighten up, or I'll hit ye a cut with this whip!"

Her lover gave a short, embarrassed laugh.

"Oh, come now, Idy; Ricardo don't understand United States."

"Well, I don't care whether he understands United States or not. I guess idiots acts about the same in all languages. I'll bet a dollar he understands what you're up to, anyway; so there."

She drove on, in rigid perpendicularity, past the adobe ranch-house of the Gonzales family, and around the curve of the lake-shore, into the sunshine of the wild mustard that fringed the road. Through it they could see the pale sheen of the ripening barley-fields, broken here and there by the darker green of alfalfa.

As the mustard grew taller and denser, Idy's spine relaxed sufficiently to permit a covert, conciliatory glance toward her companion's arm, which hung from the back of the seat in the disappointed attitude it had assumed at her repulse.

"I s'pose you think I'm awful touchy," she broke out at last, "an' mebbe I am; but before I promise to marry anybody, there's two things he's got to promise me—he's got to sign the pledge, an' he's got to get even with that felluh Barden."

Parker's face, which had brightened perceptibly at the first requirement, clouded dismally at the second.

Idy dropped her chin on the silk handkerchief flaring softly at her throat, and looked at him deliciously sidewise from under her overshadowing frizz.

"I'll promise anything, Idy," he protested, fervently abject.

Half an hour later they drove into Elsmore with the radiance of their betrothal still about them, and Idy drove the team up, with a skillful avoidance of the curb, before the "Live and Let Live Meat-Market."

"I'm goin' to get some round steak," she said, giving the lines to Parker, who sprang to the sidewalk, "an' then I'm goin' over to Saunders's to look at jerseys. You c'n go where you please, but if I see you loafin' 'round a saloon there'll be a picnic. If you tie the team, you want to put a halter on the pinto—he's like me, he hates to be tied; he pulls back. If you hain't got much to do, I think you'd better make a hitchin'-post of yerself, and not tie 'im."

She stood up in the wagon, preening her finery, and looking down at her lover before she gave him her hand.

"I won't be a hitchin'-post if you hate to be tied," he said, holding out his hands invitingly.

As he spoke, the rider of a glittering bicycle glided noiselessly around the corner, apparently steering straight for Eben's team of ranch-bred broncos. The pinto snorted wildly, and dashed into the street, jerking the reins from Parker's hand, and rolling him over in the dust. There was the customary soothing yell with which civilization always greets a runaway, and a man sprang from a doorway on the opposite side of the street, and flung himself in front of the frightened horses. The pinto reared, but the stranger's hand was on the bridle; a firm and skillful hand it seemed, for the horses came down on quivering haunches, and then stood still, striving to look around their blinders in search of the modern centaur that had terrified them.

Idy had fallen back into the seat without a word or cry, and sat there bolt upright, her face so white that it gleamed through the meshes of her veil.

"Well," she said, with a long panting breath, "that was a pretty close call fer kingdom come, wasn't it?"

The stranger, who was stroking the pinto's nose, and talking to him coaxingly, laughed.

"Hello, Park!" he said as the latter came up. "Cold day, wasn't it? Got your jacket pretty well dusted for once, I guess."

The crowd that had collected laughed, and two or three bareheaded men began to examine the harness. While this was in progress, the livery-stable keeper took a look at the pinto's teeth, and they all confided liberally in one another as to what they had thought when they first heard the racket. The young man who had stopped the team left them in the care of a newcomer, and walked around beside Idy.

"Won't you come into the office and rest a little?" he asked.

"Oh, thanks, no," said the girl, with a shuddering, nervous laugh; "I hain't done nothin' to make me tired. I think you're the one that ought to take a rest. If it hadn't been fer you I'd been a goner, sure."

Her rescuer laughed again and turned away, moving his hand involuntarily toward his head, and discovering that it was bare. The discovery seemed to amuse him even more highly, and he made two or three strides to where his hat lay in the middle of the street, and went across to his office, dusting the hat with long, elaborate flirts of his gayly bordered silk handkerchief.

The knot of men began to disperse, and the boys, who lingered longest, finally straggled away, stifling their regret that no one was mangled beyond recognition. Parker climbed into the wagon, and drove over to Saunders's store.

"I don't know as I'd better buy a jersey to-day," giggled Idy, as she stepped from the wagon to the elevated wooden sidewalk. "I'm afraid it won't fit. I feel as if I'd been scared out o' ten years' growth."

IV.

As they drove home in the chill, yellow evening, Idy turned to her lover, and asked abruptly,—

"Who was that felluh?"

"What felluh?"

"The young felluh with the sandy mustache, the one that stopped the team."

Parker's manner had been evasive from the first, but at this the evasiveness became a highly concentrated unconcern. He looked across the lake, and essayed a yawn with feeble success.

"There was a good many standin' around when I got there. What sort o' lookin' felluh was he?"

"I just told ye; with a sandy mustache, short, and middlin' heavy set."

"Sh-h-h!" said Parker, reaching for his gun. Idy stopped the horses.

A bronze ibis arose from the tules at the water's edge, and flapped slowly westward, its pointed wings and hanging feet dripping with the gold of the sunset. Parker laid down his gun.

"What did you want to shoot at that thing fer?" asked Idy. "They ain't fit to eat."

"The wings is pretty. I thought you might like another feather in your cap."

The girl gave him a look of radiant contempt, and he spoke again hurriedly, anxious to prevent a relapse in the conversation.

"You was sayin' somethin' to-day about signin' the pledge, Idy: I've been layin' off to sign the pledge this good while. The next time there's a meetin' of the W. X. Y. Z. women, you fetch on one o' their pledges, an' I'll put my fist to it."

"W. C. T. U.," corrected Idy, with emphasis.

"All right; W. C. T. me, if that suits you any better. It's a long time since I learned my letters, an' I get 'em mixed. But I've made up my mind on the teetotal business, and don't ye forget it."

"There ain't any danger of me forgettin' it," said the young woman significantly. "What ye goin' to do about that other business?" she added, turning her wide eyes upon him abruptly—"about gettin' even with that cheatin' Barden?"

They had driven into the purple shadow of the mountains, and Parker seemed to have left his enthusiasm behind him with the sunlight.

"I don't know," he said gloomily. "Do ye want me to kill 'im?"

"Kill him!" sneered the girl; "I want ye to get even with 'im! 'Tain't no great trick to kill a man; any fool can do that. I want ye to get ahead of 'im!"

She glowed upon him in angry magnificence.

"Idy," said her lover, sidling toward her tenderly, "when you flare up that a-way, you mustn't expect me to think about Barden. You look just pretty 'nough to eat!"

V.

A week later Eben began grubbing out the vineyard. The weather turned suddenly warm, and the harvest was coming on rapidly. Parker Lowe had gone to Temecula with Mose Doolittle, who was about to purchase a machine, presumably feminine, which they both referred to familiarly as "she," and styled more formally "a second-hand steam-thrasher." It was Monday, and Idy was putting the week's washing through the wringer with a loud vocal accompaniment of gospel hymn.

Eben had worked steadily since sunrise. The vines were young, and the ground was not heavy, but the day was warm, and he wielded the mattock rapidly, stooping now and then to jerk out a refractory root with his hands. An hour before noon his daughter saw him coming through the apricot orchard, walking wearily, with his soiled handkerchief pressed to his lips. The girl's voice lost its song abruptly, and then broke out again in a low, faltering wail. She bounded across the warm plowed ground to his side.

"Pappy! O pappy!" she cried, breathing wildly, "what is it? Tell me, can't you, pappy?"

The little man smiled at her with his patient eyes, and shook his head. She put her hand under his elbow, and walked beside him, her arm across his shoulders, her tortured young face close to his. When they reached the kitchen door he sank down on the edge of the platform, resting his head on his hand. The girl took off his weather-beaten hat, and smoothed the wet hair from his forehead.

"O pappy! Poor, little, sweet old pappy!" she moaned, rubbing her cheek caressingly on his bowed head.

Eben took the handkerchief from his lips, and she started back, crying out piteously as she saw it stained with blood. He looked up at her, a gentle, tremulous smile twitching his beard.

"Don't—tell—your—maw," he said, putting out his hand feebly.

The words seemed to recall her. She went hurriedly into the house and close to the lounge where her mother was lying.

"Maw," she said quickly, "you must get up! Pappy's got a hem'ridge. I want you to help me to get 'im to bed, an' then I'm goin' fer a doctor."

The woman got up, and followed her daughter eagerly.

"Why, Eben!" she said, when they reached the kitchen door. Her voice was almost womanly; and a real anxiety seemed to have penetrated her hysterical egoism.

They got him to bed tenderly, and propped him up among the white pillows. His knotted hands lay on the coverlet, gray and bloodless under the stains of hard work. Idy bent over him, tucking him in with little pats and crooning moans of sympathy. When she had finished, she dropped her wet cheek against his beard.

"I'm goin' fer the doctor, pappy," she whispered; "I won't be gone but a little while,"—then rushed down the path to the stable, and flung the harness on the pinto.

The buggy was standing in the shed, and she caught the shafts and dragged it out with superabundant energy, as if her anxiety found relief in the exertion. A few minutes later she drove out between the rows of pallid young eucalyptus-trees that led to the road, leaning eagerly forward, her young face white and set beneath the row of knobby protuberances that represented the morning stage of her much cherished bang. It was thus that she drove into Elsmore, the rattling of the old buggy and the spots of lather on the pinto's sides exciting a ripple of curiosity, which furnished its own solution in the fact that it was "that there Starkweather girl," who was generally conceded to be "a great one."

She stopped her panting horse before the doctor's office, and sprang out.

"Are you the doctor?" she asked breathlessly, standing on the threshold, with one hand on each side of the casing.

A man in his shirt-sleeves, who was writing at the desk, turned and looked at her. It was the same man who had prevented the runaway. He began to smile, but the girl's stricken face stopped him.

"Dr. Patterson has gone to the tin-mine," he said, getting up and coming forward; "he will not be home till to-morrow."

Idy grasped the casing so tightly that her knuckles shone white and polished.

"My fawther's got a hem'ridge," she said, swallowing after the words. "I don't know what on earth to do."

"A hemorrhage!" said the young man with kindly sympathy. "Well, now, don't be too much alarmed, Miss—"

"Starkweather," quavered Idy.

"Starkweather? Oh, it's Mr. Starkweather. Why, he's a friend of mine. And so you're his daughter. Well, you mustn't be too much alarmed. I've had a great many hemorrhages myself, and I'm good for twenty years yet." He had taken his coat from a nail at the back of the room, and was putting it on hurriedly. "Prop him up in bed, and don't let him talk, and give him a spoonful of salt-and-water now and then. My horse is standing outside, and I'll go right down to Maravilla and fetch a doctor. I'll come up on the other side of the lake, and get there almost as soon as you do—let me help you into your buggy. And drive right on home, and don't worry."

He had put on his hat, and they stood on the sidewalk together.

Idy made a little impulsive stoop toward him, as if she would have taken him in her arms.

"Oh!" she gasped, her eyes swimming, and her chin working painfully; "I just think you're the very best man I ever saw in all my life!"

A moment later she saw him driving a tall black horse toward the lake at a speed that brought her the first sigh of relief she had known, and made her put up her hand suddenly to her forehead.

"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed under her breath—"if I didn't forget to take down my crimps!"

Two or three times as she drove home through the warm odors of the harvest noon her anxiety was invaded by the recollection of this man, to whose promptness and decision her own vigorous nature responded with a strong sense of liking; and this liking did not suffer any abatement when he came into her father's sick-room with the doctor, and the invalid looked at the stranger, and then at her, with a faint, troubled smile.

"Don't try to speak, Mr. Starkweather," said the visitor cheerfully; "I've made your daughter's acquaintance already. We want you to give your entire attention to getting well, and let us do the talking."

He went out of the room, and strolled about the place while the doctor made his call, and when it was over he went around to the kitchen, where Idy was kindling a fire, and said:—

"Doctor Patterson thinks your father will be all right in a day or so, Miss Starkweather. Be careful to keep him quiet. I'm going to drive around to the station, so the doctor can catch the evening train, and save my driving him down to Maravilla; and I'll go on over to Elsmore and get this prescription filled, and bring the medicine back to you. Is there anything else you'd like from town—a piece of meat to make beef-tea, or anything?"

"Well, I wouldn't mind much if you would bring me a piece of beef," said Idy, pausing with a stick of redwood kindling across her knee. Then she dropped it, and came forward. "We're ever so much obliged to ye—pappy 'n' all of us. Seem 's if you always turn up. I think you've been just awful good and kind—an' us strangers, too."

"Oh, you're not strangers," laughed the young man, lifting his hat; "I've known your father ever since he came."

He went around the house, and got into the cart with the doctor. "Starkweather's a crank," he said, as they drove off, "but he's the kind of crank that makes you wish you were one yourself. When I see a man like that going off with consumption, and a lot of loafers getting so fat they crowd each other off the store boxes, I wonder what Providence is thinking of."

"He works too hard," growled the doctor, with the savagery of science. "What can Providence do with a man who grubs greasewood when he ought to be in bed!"

It was moonlight when the stranger returned, and handed the packages to Idy at the kitchen door.

"Pappy's asleep," she whispered, in answer to his inquiries; "he seems to be restin' easy."

"Is there no one about the place but yourself and mother, Miss Starkweather?"

Idy shook her head.

"Well, then, if you don't mind, I think I will put my horse in the barn, and sleep in the shed here, on the hay. If you should need any one in the night, you can call me. I haven't an idea but that your father will be all right, but it's a little more comfortable to have some one within call."

"Well," said Idy, dropping her hands at her sides, and looking at him in admiring bewilderment, "if you ain't just— Have you had anythin' to eat?" she broke off, with sudden hospitality.

"Oh yes, thank you; I had dinner at Elsmore," laughed the young man, backing out into the shadow. "Good-night."

Half a minute later she followed him down the walk, carrying a heavy blanket over her arm. He had led his horse to the water-trough, and the moonlight shone full upon him as he stood with one arm thrown over the glossy creature's neck.

"I brought you this here blanket, Mr.—"

"Barden," supplied the young man, carelessly.

Idy sank back against the corral fence as if she were stunned.

"Barden!" she repeated helplessly. "Is your name Barden?"

"Yes."

She stood breathless a moment, and then burst out:—

"An' you're him! you—an' doin' this way, after the way you've done—an' him sick—an' me talkin' to ye—an'—an'—everything!"

The two torrents of hate and gratitude had met, and were whirling her about wildly.

The young man pushed his hat back on his head, and stared at her in sturdy, unflinching amazement.

"My dear young lady, what on earth do you mean?" he asked quietly.

"I mean that I didn't know that you was him—the man that sold my father this place, an' lied to him about the vineyard—told him they was raisin-grapes, an' they wasn't—an' you knowed he was a temp'rance man, a prohibitionist. An' him tryin' to grub 'em out, an' gettin' sick—an' bein' so patient, an' never hurtin' nobody—" she ended in a wild, angry sob that seemed to swallow up her voice.

"Miss Starkweather," said the young fellow steadily, "I certainly did sell this place to your father, and if I told him anything about the vineyard I most certainly told him they were raisin-grapes; and upon my soul I thought they were. Aren't they?"

"No," sobbed Idy, "they ain't; they're wine-grapes! He was grubbin' 'em out to-day. That's what hurt 'im—I'm afraid he'll die!"

"You mustn't be afraid of that. Dr. Patterson says he will get better. But we must see that he doesn't do any more grubbing. When Slater gave me this for sale," he went on, as if he were reflecting aloud, "he said there were ten acres of vineyard. I can't swear that he told me what the vines were, or that I asked him. But it never occurred to me that any man—even an Englishman—would plant ten acres of wine-grapes when there wasn't a winery within fifty miles of him."

VI.

Parker Lowe borrowed one of Mose Doolittle's mules Monday evening, and rode from Temecula to Jake Levison's saloon at Maravilla. It was understood when he left the thresher's camp that he would probably "make a night of it," and Mose gave him a word of friendly warning and advice.

"You want to remember, Park, that the old man is down on the flowing bowl; an' from what I've heard of the family I think it'll pay you to keep yourself solid with the old man."

"I'm a-goin' up to the drug-store to get some liniment for Dave Montgomery's lame shoulder," returned Parker, with a knowing wink at his companion, as he flung himself into the saddle; "but I hain't signed no pledge yet—not by a jugful," he called back, as the mule jolted lazily down the road.

It was a warm night, and half a dozen loafers were seated on empty beer-kegs in front of Levison's door when Parker rode up. Levison got up, and began to disengage himself from the blacksmith's story as he saw the newcomer dismount; but the blacksmith raised his voice insistently.

"'There don't no dude tell me how to pare a hoof,' says I; 'I'll do it my way, or I don't do it;' an' I done it, an' him kickin' like a steer all the time"—

"Who?" asked one of the other men.

"Barden."

"What was he doin' down here?"

"He came down for Doc Patterson. That teetotal wreck on the west side o' the lake took a hem'ridge—I furget his name, somethin'-weather: pretty dry weather, judgin' from what I hear."

"Starkweather?"

"Yes, Starkweather; I guess he's pretty low."

Parker started back to the post where his mule was tied. Then he turned and looked into the saloon. Levison had gone in and was wiping off the counter expectantly.

"It won't take but a minute," he apologized to himself.

It took a good many minutes, however, and by the time the minutes lengthened into hours Parker had ceased to apologize to himself, and insisted upon taking the by-standers into his confidence.

"I'm—I'm goin' to sign the pledge," he said, with an unsteady wink, "an' then I'm goin' to get merried,—yes, sir, boys; rattlin' nice girl, too,—'way up girl, temperance girl. But there's many a cup 'twixt the slip and the lip—ain't there, boys? Yes, sir, 'twixt the cup and the slip—yes, sir—yes, sir—ee." Then his reflections driveled off into stupor, and he sat on an empty keg with the conical crown of his old felt hat pointed forward, and his hands hanging limply between his knees.

When Levison was ready to leave he stirred Parker up with his foot, and helped him to mount his mule. The patient creature turned its head homeward.

It was after daybreak when Parker rode into the Starkweather ranch, and presented himself at the kitchen door. The night air had sobered him, but it had done nothing more. Idy was standing by the stove with her back toward him. She turned when she heard his step.

"Why, Park!" she said, with a start; then she put up her hand. "Don't make a noise. Pappy's sick."

He came toward her hesitatingly.

"So I heard down at Maravilla last night, Idy."

Her face darkened.

"And you been all night gettin' here?"

He bent over her coaxingly.

"Well, you see, Idy"—

The girl pushed him away with both hands, and darted back out of reach.

"Parker Lowe," she said, with a gasp, "you've been drinkin'!"

Parker hung his head sullenly.

"No, I hain't," he muttered; "not to speak of. Whose horse is that out 'n the corral?"

The girl looked at him witheringly.

"I don't know as it's any of your pertic'lar business, but I don't mind tellin' you that horse b'longs to a gentleman!"

"A gentleman," sneered Parker.

"Yes, a gentleman; if you don't know what that is you'd better look in the dictionary. You won't find out by lookin' in the lookin'-glass, I can tell you that."

"Oh, come now, Idy, you hadn't ought to be so mad; I hadn't signed the pledge yet."

He took a step toward her. The girl put out her hands warningly, and then clasped her arms about herself with a shudder.

"Don't you come near me, Parker Lowe," she gasped. "What do I care about the pledge! Didn't you tell me you'd stop drinkin'? Won't a man that tells lies with his tongue tell 'em with his fingers? Do you suppose I'd marry a man that 'u'd come to me smellin' of whiskey, an' him lyin' sick in there? Can't you see that he's worth ten thousand such folks as you an' me? I don't want a man that can't see that! I'm done with you, Parker Lowe,"—her voice broke into a dry sob; "I want you to go away and stay away! It ain't the drinkin'—it's him—can't you understand?"

And Parker, as he climbed toward his lonesome cabin, understood.