Part 2 out of 4
responsibilities as a trader.
The intense disgust and discomfiture of her parents, who had
expected to more actively participate in their brother's fortune,
may be imagined. But it was not equal to their fury when
Josephine, instead of providing for them a separate maintenance out
of her abundance, simply offered to transfer them and her brother
to her own house on a domestic but not a business equality. There
being no alternative but their former precarious shiftless life in
their "played-out" claim in the valley, they wisely consented,
reserving the sacred right of daily protest and objurgation. In
the economy of Burnt Ridge Ranch they alone took it upon themselves
to represent the shattered domestic altar and its outraged Lares
and Penates. And so conscientiously did they perform their task as
even occasionally to impede the business visitor to the ranch, and
to cause some of the more practical neighbors seriously to doubt
the young girl's commercial wisdom. But she was firm. Whether she
thought her parents a necessity of respectable domesticity, or
whether she regarded their presence in the light of a penitential
atonement for some previous disregard of them, no one knew. Public
opinion inclined to the latter.
The black line of ridge faded out with her abstraction, and she
turned from the window and lit the lamp on her desk. The yellow
light illuminated her face and figure. In their womanly graces
there was no trace of what some people believed to be a masculine
character, except a singularly frank look of critical inquiry and
patient attention in her dark eyes. Her long brown hair was
somewhat rigidly twisted into a knot on the top of her head, as if
more for security than ornament. Brown was also the prevailing
tint of her eyebrows, thickly-set eyelashes, and eyes, and was even
suggested in the slight sallowness of her complexion. But her lips
were well-cut and fresh-colored and her hands and feet small and
finely formed. She would have passed for a pretty girl, had she
not suggested something more.
She sat down, and began to examine a pile of papers before her with
that concentration and attention to detail which was characteristic
of her eyes, pausing at times with prettily knit brows, and her
penholder between her lips, in the semblance of a pout that was
pleasant enough to see. Suddenly the rattle of hoofs and wheels
struck her with the sense of something forgotten, and she put down
her work quickly and stood up listening. The sound of rough voices
and her father's querulous accents was broken upon by a cultivated
and more familiar utterance: "All right; I'll speak to her at once.
Wait there," and the door opened to the well-known physician of
Burnt Ridge, Dr. Duchesne.
"Look here," he said, with an abruptness that was only saved from
being brusque by a softer intonation and a reassuring smile, "I met
Miguel helping an accident into your buggy. Your orders, eh?"
"Oh, yes," said Josephine, quietly. "A man I saw on the road."
"Well, it's a bad case, and wants prompt attention. And as your
house is the nearest I came with him here."
Certainly," she said gravely. "Take him to the second room beyond--
Steve's room--it's ready," she explained to two dusky shadows in
the hall behind the doctor.
"And look here," said the doctor, partly closing the door behind
him and regarding her with critical eyes, "you always said you'd
like to see some of my queer cases. Well, this is one--a serious
one, too; in fact, it's just touch and go with him. There's a
piece of the bone pressing on the brain no bigger than that, but as
much as if all Burnt Ridge was atop of him! I'm going to lift it.
I want somebody here to stand by, some one who can lend a hand with
a sponge, eh?--some one who isn't going to faint or scream, or even
shake a hair's-breadth, eh?"
The color rose quickly to the girl's cheek, and her eyes kindled.
"I'll come," she said thoughtfully. "Who is he?"
The doctor stared slightly at the unessential query. "Don't know,--
one of the river miners, I reckon. It's an urgent case. I'll go
and get everything ready. You'd better," he added, with an ominous
glance at her gray frock, "put something over your dress." The
suggestion made her grave, but did not alter her color.
A moment later she entered the room. It was the one that had
always been set apart for her brother: the very bed on which the
unconscious man lay had been arranged that morning with her own
hands. Something of this passed through her mind as she saw that
the doctor had wheeled it beneath the strong light in the centre of
the room, stripped its outer coverings with professional
thoughtfulness, and rearranged the mattresses. But it did not seem
like the same room. There was a pungent odor in the air from some
freshly-opened phial; an almost feminine neatness and luxury in an
open morocco case like a jewel box on the table, shining with
spotless steel. At the head of the bed one of her own servants,
the powerful mill foreman, was assisting with the mingled curiosity
and blase experience of one accustomed to smashed and lacerated
digits. At first she did not look at the central unconscious
figure on the bed, whose sufferings seemed to her to have been
vicariously transferred to the concerned, eager, and drawn faces
that looked down upon its immunity. Then she femininely recoiled
before the bared white neck and shoulders displayed above the
quilt, until, forcing herself to look upon the face half-concealed
by bandages and the head from which the dark tangles of hair had
been ruthlessly sheared, she began to share the doctor's unconcern
in his personality. What mattered who or what HE was? It was--a
The operation began. With the same earnest intelligence that she
had previously shown, she quickly and noiselessly obeyed the
doctor's whispered orders, and even half anticipated them. She was
conscious of a singular curiosity that, far from being mean or
ignoble, seemed to lift her not only above the ordinary weaknesses
of her own sex, but made her superior to the men around her.
Almost before she knew it, the operation was over, and she regarded
with equal curiosity the ostentatious solicitude with which the
doctor seemed to be wiping his fateful instrument that bore an odd
resemblance to a silver-handled centre-bit. The stertorous
breathing below the bandages had given way to a fainter but more
natural respiration. There was a moment of suspense. The doctor's
hand left the pulse and lifted the closed eyelid of the sufferer.
A slight movement passed over the figure. The sluggish face had
cleared; life seemed to struggle back into it before even the dull
eyes participated in the glow. Dr. Duchesne with a sudden gesture
waved aside his companions, but not before Josephine had bent her
head eagerly forward.
"He is coming to," she said.
At the sound of that deep clear voice--the first to break the hush
of the room--the dull eyes leaped up, and the head turned in its
direction. The lips moved and uttered a single rapid sentence.
The girl recoiled.
"You're all right now," said the doctor, cheerfully, intent only
upon the form before him.
The lips moved again, but this time feebly and vacantly; the eyes
were staring vaguely around.
"What's matter? What's all about?" said the man, thickly.
"You've had a fall. Think a moment. Where do you live?"
Again the lips moved, but this time only to emit a confused,
incoherent murmur. Dr. Duchesne looked grave, but recovered
"That will do. Leave him alone now," he said brusquely to the
But Josephine lingered.
"He spoke well enough just now," she said eagerly. "Did you hear
what he said?"
"Not exactly," said the doctor, abstractedly, gazing at the man.
"He said, 'You'll have to kill me first,'" said Josephine, slowly.
"Humph;" said the doctor, passing his hand backwards and forwards
before the man's eyes to note any change in the staring pupils.
"Yes," continued Josephine, gravely. "I suppose," she added,
cautiously, "he was thinking of the operation--of what you had just
done to him?"
"What I had done to him? Oh, yes!"
Before noon the next day it was known throughout Burnt Ridge Valley
that Dr. Duchesne had performed a difficult operation upon an
unknown man, who had been picked up unconscious from a fall, and
carried to Burnt Ridge Ranch. But although the unfortunate man's
life was saved by the operation, he had only momentarily recovered
consciousness--relapsing into a semi-idiotic state, which
effectively stopped the discovery of any clue to his friends or his
identity. As it was evidently an ACCIDENT, which, in that rude
community--and even in some more civilized ones--conveyed a vague
impression of some contributary incapacity on the part of the
victim, or some Providential interference of a retributive
character, Burnt Ridge gave itself little trouble about it. It is
unnecessary to say that Mr. and Mrs. Forsyth gave themselves and
Josephine much more. They had a theory and a grievance. Satisfied
from the first that the alleged victim was a drunken tramp, who
submitted to have a hole bored in his head in order to foist
himself upon the ranch, they were loud in their protests, even
hinting at a conspiracy between Josephine and the stranger to
supplant her brother in the property, as he had already in the
spare bedroom. "Didn't all that yer happen THE VERY NIGHT she
pretended to go for Stephen--eh?" said Mrs. Forsyth. "Tell me
that! And didn't she have it all arranged with the buggy to bring
him here, as that sneaking doctor let out--eh? Looks mighty
curious, don't it?" she muttered darkly to the old man. But
although that gentleman, even from his own selfish view, would
scarcely have submitted to a surgical operation and later idiocy as
the price of insuring comfortable dependency, he had no doubt
others were base enough to do it; and lent a willing ear to his
Josephine's personal knowledge of the stranger went little further.
Doctor Duchesne had confessed to her his professional disappointment
at the incomplete results of the operation. He had saved the man's
life, but as yet not his reason. There was still hope, however, for
the diagnosis revealed nothing that might prejudice a favorable
progress. It was a most interesting case. He would watch it
carefully, and as soon as the patient could be removed would take
him to the county hospital, where, under his own eyes, the poor
fellow would have the benefit of the latest science and the highest
specialists. Physically, he was doing remarkably well; indeed, he
must have been a fine young chap, free from blood taint or vicious
complication, whose flesh had healed like an infant's. It should be
recorded that it was at this juncture that Mrs. Forsyth first learnt
that a SILVER PLATE let into the artful stranger's skull was an
adjunct of the healing process! Convinced that this infamous
extravagance was part and parcel of the conspiracy, and was only
the beginning of other assimilations of the Forsyths' metallic
substance; that the plate was probably polished and burnished with a
fulsome inscription to the doctor's skill, and would pass into the
possession and adornment of a perfect stranger, her rage knew no
bounds. He or his friends ought to be made to pay for it or work it
out! In vain it was declared that a few dollars were all that was
found in the man's pocket, and that no memoranda gave any indication
of his name, friends, or history beyond the suggestion that he came
from a distance. This was clearly a part of the conspiracy! Even
Josephine's practical good sense was obliged to take note of this
singular absence of all record regarding him, and the apparent
obliteration of everything that might be responsible for his
Homeless, friendless, helpless, and even nameless, the unfortunate
man of twenty-five was thus left to the tender mercies of the
mistress of Burnt Ridge Ranch, as if he had been a new-born
foundling laid at her door. But this mere claim of weakness was
not all; it was supplemented by a singular personal appeal to
Josephine's nature. From the time that he turned his head towards
her voice on that fateful night, his eyes had always followed her
around the room with a wondering, yearning, canine half-
intelligence. Without being able to convince herself that he
understood her better than his regular attendant furnished by the
doctor, she could not fail to see that he obeyed her implicitly,
and that whenever any difficulty arose between him and his nurse
she was always appealed to. Her pride in this proof of her
practical sovereignty WAS flattered; and when Doctor Duchesne
finally admitted that although the patient was now physically able
to be removed to the hospital, yet he would lose in the change that
very strong factor which Josephine had become in his mental
recovery, the young girl as frankly suggested that he should stay
as long as there was any hope of restoring his reason. Doctor
Duchesne was delighted. With all his enthusiasm for science, he
had a professional distrust of some of its disciples, and perhaps
was not sorry to keep this most interesting case in his own hands.
To him her suggestion was only a womanly kindness, tempered with
womanly curiosity. But the astonishment and stupefaction of her
parents at this evident corroboration of suspicions they had as yet
only half believed was tinged with superstitious dread. Had she
fallen in love with this helpless stranger? or, more awful to
contemplate, was he really no stranger, but a surreptitious lover
thus strategically brought under her roof? For once they refrained
from open criticism. The very magnitude of their suspicions left
It was thus that the virgin Chatelaine of Burnt Ridge Ranch was
left to gaze untrammeled upon her pale and handsome guest, whose
silken, bearded lips and sad, childlike eyes might have suggested a
more Exalted Sufferer in their absence of any suggestion of a
grosser material manhood. But even this imaginative appeal did not
enter into her feelings. She felt for her good-looking, helpless
patient a profound and honest pity. I do not know whether she had
ever heard that "pity was akin to love." She would probably have
resented that utterly untenable and atrocious commonplace. There
was no suggestion, real or illusive, of any previous masterful
quality in the man which might have made his present dependent
condition picturesque by contrast. He had come to her handicapped
by an unromantic accident and a practical want of energy and
intellect. He would have to touch her interest anew if, indeed, he
would ever succeed in dispelling the old impression. His beauty,
in a community of picturesquely handsome men, had little weight
with her, except to accent the contrast with their fuller manhood.
Her life had given her no illusions in regard to the other sex.
She had found them, however, more congenial and safer companions
than women, and more accessible to her own sense of justice and
honor. In return, they had respected and admired rather than
loved her, in spite of her womanly graces. If she had at times
contemplated eventual marriage, it was only as a possible practical
partnership in her business; but as she lived in a country where
men thought it dishonorable and a proof of incompetency to rise by
their wives' superior fortune, she had been free from that kind of
mercenary persecution, even from men who might have worshiped her
in hopeless and silent honor.
For this reason, there was nothing in the situation that suggested
a single compromising speculation in the minds of the neighbors, or
disturbed her own tranquillity. There seemed to be nothing in the
future except a possible relief to her curiosity. Some day the
unfortunate man's reason would be restored, and he would tell his
simple history. Perhaps he might explain what was in his mind when
he turned to her the first evening with that singular sentence
which had often recurred strangely to her, she knew not why. It
did not strike her until later that it was because it had been the
solitary indication of an energy and capacity that seemed unlike
him. Nevertheless, after that explanation, she would have been
quite willing to have shaken hands with him and parted.
And yet--for there was an unexpressed remainder in her thought--
she was never entirely free or uninfluenced in his presence. The
flickering vacancy of his sad eyes sometimes became fixed with a
resolute immobility under the gentle questioning with which she had
sought to draw out his faculties, that both piqued and exasperated
her. He could say "Yes" and "No," as she thought intelligently,
but he could not utter a coherent sentence nor write a word, except
like a child in imitation of his copy. She taught him to repeat
after her the names of the inanimate objects in the room, then the
names of the doctor, his attendant, the servant, and, finally, her
own under her Christian prenomen, with frontier familiarity; but
when she pointed to himself he waited for HER to name him! In vain
she tried him with all the masculine names she knew; his was not
one of them, or he would not or could not speak it. For at times
she rejected the professional dictum of the doctor that the faculty
of memory was wholly paralyzed or held in abeyance, even to the
half-automatic recollection of his letters, yet she inconsistently
began to teach him the alphabet with the same method, and--in her
sublime unconsciousness of his manhood--with the same discipline as
if he were a very child. When he had recovered sufficiently to
leave his room, she would lead him to the porch before her window,
and make him contented and happy by allowing him to watch her at
work at her desk, occasionally answering his wondering eyes with a
word, or stirring his faculties with a question. I grieve to say
that her parents had taken advantage of this publicity and his
supposed helpless condition to show their disgust of his assumption,
to the extreme of making faces at him--an act which he resented with
such a furious glare that they retreated hurriedly to their own
veranda. A fresh though somewhat inconsistent grievance was added
to their previous indictment of him: "If we ain't found dead in our
bed with our throats cut by that woman's crazy husband" (they had
settled by this time that there had been a clandestine marriage),
"we'll be lucky," groaned Mrs. Forsyth.
Meantime, the mountain summer waxed to its fullness of fire and
fruition. There were days when the crowded forest seemed choked
and impeded with its own foliage, and pungent and stifling with its
own rank maturity; when the long hillside ranks of wild oats,
thickset and impassable, filled the air with the heated dust of
germination. In this quickening irritation of life it would be
strange if the unfortunate man's torpid intellect was not helped in
its awakening, and he was allowed to ramble at will over the ranch;
but with the instinct of a domestic animal he always returned to
the house, and sat in the porch, where Josephine usually found him
awaiting her when she herself returned from a visit to the mill.
Coming thence one day she espied him on the mountain-side leaning
against a projecting ledge in an attitude so rapt and immovable
that she felt compelled to approach him. He appeared to be dumbly
absorbed in the prospect, which might have intoxicated a saner
Half veiled by the heat that rose quiveringly from the fiery canyon
below, the domain of Burnt Ridge stretched away before him, until,
lifted in successive terraces hearsed and plumed with pines, it
was at last lost in the ghostly snow-peaks. But the practical
Josephine seized the opportunity to try once more to awaken the
slumbering memory of her pupil. Following his gaze with signs and
questions, she sought to draw from him some indication of familiar
recollection of certain points of the map thus unrolled behind him.
But in vain. She even pointed out the fateful shadow of the
overhanging ledge on the road where she had picked him up--there
was no response in his abstracted eyes. She bit her lips; she was
becoming irritated again. Then it occurred to her that, instead of
appealing to his hopeless memory, she had better trust to some
unreflective automatic instinct independent of it, and she put the
question a little forward: "When you leave us, where will you go
from here?" He stirred slightly, and turned towards her. She
repeated her query slowly and patiently, with signs and gestures
recognized between them. A faint glow of intelligence struggled
into his eyes: he lifted his arm slowly, and pointed.
"Ah! those white peaks--the Sierras?" she asked, eagerly. No
reply. "Beyond them?"
"The States?" No reply. "Further still?"
He remained so patiently quiet and still pointing that she leaned
forward, and, following with her eyes the direction of his hand,
saw that he was pointing to the sky!
Then a great quiet fell upon them. The whole mountain-side seemed
to her to be hushed, as if to allow her to grasp and realize for
the first time the pathos of the ruined life at her side, which IT
had known so long, but which she had never felt till now. The
tears came to her eyes; in her swift revulsion of feeling she
caught the thin uplifted hand between her own. It seemed to her
that he was about to raise them to his lips, but she withdrew them
hastily, and moved away. She had a strange fear that if he had
kissed them, it might seem as if some dumb animal had touched them--
or--IT MIGHT NOT. The next day she felt a consciousness of this
in his presence, and a wish that he was well-cured and away. She
determined to consult Dr. Duchesne on the subject when he next
But the doctor, secure in the welfare of his patient, had not
visited him lately, and she found herself presently absorbed in the
business of the ranch, which at this season was particularly
trying. There had also been a quarrel between Dick Shipley, her
mill foreman, and Miguel, her ablest and most trusted vaquero, and
in her strict sense of impartial justice she was obliged to side on
the merits of the case with Shipley against her oldest retainer.
This troubled her, as she knew that with the Mexican nature,
fidelity and loyalty were not unmixed with quick and unreasoning
jealousy. For this reason she was somewhat watchful of the two men
when work was over, and there was a chance of their being thrown
together. Once or twice she had remained up late to meet Miguel
returning from the posada at San Ramon, filled with aguardiente and
a recollection of his wrongs, and to see him safely bestowed before
she herself retired. It was on one of those occasions, however,
that she learned that Dick Shipley, hearing that Miguel had
disparaged him freely at the posada, had broken the discipline of
the ranch, and absented himself the same night that Miguel "had
leave," with a view of facing his antagonist on his own ground. To
prevent this, the fearless girl at once secretly set out alone to
overtake and bring back the delinquent.
For two or three hours the house was thus left to the sole
occupancy of Mr. and Mrs. Forsyth and the invalid--a fact only
dimly suspected by the latter, who had become vaguely conscious of
Josephine's anxiety, and had noticed the absence of light and
movement in her room. For this reason, therefore, having risen
again and mechanically taken his seat in the porch to await her
return, he was startled by hearing HER voice in the shadow of the
lower porch, accompanied by a hurried tapping against the door of
the old couple. The half-reasoning man arose, and would have moved
towards it, but suddenly he stopped rigidly, with white and parted
lips and vacantly distended eyeballs.
Meantime the voice and muffled tapping had brought the tremulous
fingers of old Forsyth to the door-latch. He opened the door
partly; a slight figure that had been lurking in the shadow of the
porch pushed rapidly through the opening. There was a faint outcry
quickly hushed, and the door closed again. The rays of a single
candle showed the two old people hysterically clasping in their
arms the figure that had entered--a slight but vicious-looking
young fellow of five-and-twenty.
"There, d--n it!" he said impatiently, in a voice whose rich depth
was like Josephine's, but whose querulous action was that of the
two old people before him, "let me go, and quit that, I didn't come
here to be strangled! I want some money--money, you hear!
Devilish quick, too, for I've got to be off again before daylight.
So look sharp, will you?"
"But, Stevy dear, when you didn't come that time three months ago,
but wrote from Los Angeles, you said you'd made a strike at last,
"What are you talking about?" he interrupted violently. "That was
just my lyin' to keep you from worryin' me. Three months ago--
three months ago! Why, you must have been crazy to have swallowed
it; I hadn't a cent."
"Nor have we," said the old woman, shrilly. "That hellish sister
of yours still keeps us like beggars. Our only hope was you, our
own boy. And now you only come to--to go again."
"But SHE has money; SHE'S doing well, and SHE shall give it to me,"
he went on, angrily. "She can't bully me with her business airs
and morality. Who else has got a right to share, if it is not her
Alas for the fatuousness of human malevolence! Had the unhappy
couple related only the simple facts they knew about the new guest
of Burnt Ridge Ranch, and the manner of his introduction, they
might have spared what followed.
But the old woman broke into a vindictive cry: "Who else, Steve--
who else? Why, the slut has brought a MAN here--a sneaking,
deceitful, underhanded, crazy lover!"
"Oh, has she?" said the young man, fiercely, yet secretly pleased
at this promising evidence of his sister's human weakness. "Where
is she? I'll go to her. She's in her room, I suppose," and before
they could restrain him, he had thrown off their impeding embraces
and darted across the hall.
The two old people stared doubtfully at each other. For even this
powerful ally, whose strength, however, they were by no means sure
of, might succumb before the determined Josephine! Prudence
demanded a middle course. "Ain't they brother and sister?" said
the old man, with an air of virtuous toleration. "Let 'em fight it
The young man impatiently entered the room he remembered to have
been his sister's. By the light of the moon that streamed upon the
window he could see she was not there. He passed hurriedly to the
door of her bedroom; it was open; the room was empty, the bed
unturned. She was not in the house--she had gone to the mill. Ah!
What was that they had said? An infamous thought passed through
the scoundrel's mind. Then, in what he half believed was an access
of virtuous fury, he began by the dim light to rummage in the
drawers of the desk for such loose coin or valuables as, in the
perfect security of the ranch, were often left unguarded. Suddenly
he heard a heavy footstep on the threshold, and turned.
An awful vision--a recollection, so unexpected, so ghostlike in
that weird light that he thought he was losing his senses--stood
before him. It moved forwards with staring eyeballs and white and
open lips from which a horrible inarticulate sound issued that was
the speech of no living man! With a single desperate, almost
superhuman effort Stephen Forsyth bounded aside, leaped from the
window, and ran like a madman from the house. Then the apparition
trembled, collapsed, and sank in an undistinguishable heap to the
When Josephine Forsyth returned an hour later with her mill
foreman, she was startled to find her helpless patient in a fit on
the floor of her room. With the assistance of her now converted
and penitent employee, she had the unfortunate man conveyed to his
room--but not until she had thoughtfully rearranged the disorder of
her desk and closed the open drawers without attracting Dick
Shipley's attention. In the morning, hearing that the patient was
still in the semiconscious exhaustion of his late attack, but
without seeing him, she sent for Dr. Duchesne. The doctor arrived
while she was absent at the mill, where, after a careful
examination of his patient, he sought her with some little
"Well?" she said, with eager gravity.
"Well, it looks as if your wish would be gratified. Your friend
has had an epileptic fit, but the physical shock has started his
mental machinery again. He has recovered his faculties; his memory
is returning: he thinks and speaks coherently; he is as sane as you
"And"--said Josephine, questioning the doctor's knitted eyebrows.
"I am not yet sure whether it was the result of some shock he
doesn't remember; or an irritation of the brain, which would
indicate that the operation had not been successful and that there
was still some physical pressure or obstruction there--in which
case he would be subject to these attacks all his life."
"Do you think his reason came before the fit or after?" asked the
"I couldn't say. Had anything happened?"
"I was away, and found him on the floor on my return," she
answered, half uneasily. After a pause she said, "Then he has
told you his name and all about himself?"
"Yes, it's nothing at all! He was a stranger just arrived from
the States, going to the mines--the old story; had no near
relations, of course; wasn't missed or asked after; remembers
walking along the ridge and falling over; name, John Baxter, of
Maine." He paused, and relaxing into a slight smile, added, "I
haven't spoiled your romance, have I?"
"No," she said, with an answering smile. Then as the doctor walked
briskly away she slightly knitted her pretty brows, hung her head,
patted the ground with her little foot beyond the hem of her gown,
and said to herself, "The man was lying to him."
On her return to the house, Josephine apparently contented herself
with receiving the bulletin of the stranger's condition from the
servant, for she did not enter his room. She had obtained no
theory of last night's incident from her parents, who, beyond a
querulous agitation that was quickened by the news of his return to
reason, refrained from even that insidious comment which she half
feared would follow. When another day passed without her seeing
him, she nevertheless was conscious of a little embarrassment when
his attendant brought her the request that she would give him a
moment's speech in the porch, whither he had been removed.
She found him physically weaker; indeed, so much so that she was
fain, even in her embarrassment, to assist him back to the bench
from which he had ceremoniously risen. But she was so struck with
the change in his face and manner, a change so virile and
masterful, in spite of its gentle sadness of manner, that she
recoiled with a slight timidity as if he had been a stranger,
although she was also conscious that he seemed to be more at his
ease than she was. He began in a low exhausted voice, but before
he had finished his first sentence, she felt herself in the
presence of a superior.
"My thanks come very late, Miss Forsyth," he said, with a faint
smile, "but no one knows better than yourself the reason why, or
can better understand that they mean that the burden you have so
generously taken on yourself is about to be lifted. I know all,
Miss Forsyth. Since yesterday I have learned how much I owe you,
even my life I believe, though I am afraid I must tell you in the
same breath that THAT is of little worth to any one. You have
kindly helped and interested yourself in a poor stranger who turns
out to be a nobody, without friends, without romance, and without
even mystery. You found me lying in the road down yonder, after a
stupid accident that might have happened to any other careless
tramp, and which scarcely gave me a claim to a bed in the county
hospital, much less under this kindly roof. It was not my fault,
as you know, that all this did not come out sooner; but while it
doesn't lessen your generosity, it doesn't lessen my debt, and
although I cannot hope to ever repay you, I can at least keep the
score from running on. Pardon my speaking so bluntly, but my
excuse for speaking at all was to say 'Good-by' and 'God bless
you.' Dr. Duchesne has promised to give me a lift on my way in his
buggy when he goes."
There was a slight touch of consciousness in his voice in spite of
its sadness, which struck the young girl as a weak and even
ungentlemanly note in his otherwise self-abnegating and
undemonstrative attitude. If he was a common tramp, he wouldn't
talk in that way, and if he wasn't, why did he lie? Her practical
good sense here asserted itself.
"But you are far from strong yet; in fact, the doctor says you
might have a relapse at any moment, and you have--that is, you SEEM
to have no money," she said gravely.
"That's true," he said, quickly. "I remember I was quite played
out when I entered the settlement, and I think I had parted from
even some little trifles I carried with me. I am afraid I was a
poor find to those who picked me up, and you ought to have taken
warning. But the doctor has offered to lend me enough to take me
to San Francisco, if only to give a fair trial to the machine he
has set once more a-going."
"Then you have friends in San Francisco?" said the young girl
quickly. "Those who know you? Why not write to them first, and
tell them you are here?"
"I don't think your postmaster here would be preoccupied with
letters for John Baxter, if I did," he said, quietly. "But here
is the doctor waiting. Good-by."
He stood looking at her in a peculiar, yet half-resigned way, and
held out his hand. For a moment she hesitated. Had he been less
independent and strong, she would have refused to let him go--have
offered him some slight employment at the ranch; for oddly enough,
in spite of the suspicion that he was concealing something, she
felt that she would have trusted him, and he would have been a help
to her. But he was not only determined, but SHE was all the time
conscious that he was a totally different man from the one she had
taken care of, and merely ordinary prudence demanded that she
should know something more of him first. She gave him her hand
constrainedly; he pressed it warmly.
Dr. Duchesne drove up, helped him into the buggy, smiled a good-
natured but half-perfunctory assurance that he would look after
"her patient," and drove away.
The whole thing was over, but so unexpectedly, so suddenly, so
unromantically, so unsatisfactorily, that, although her common
sense told her that it was perfectly natural, proper, business-
like, and reasonable, and, above all, final and complete, she did
not know whether to laugh or be angry. Yet this was her parting
from the man who had but a few days ago moved her to tears with a
single hopeless gesture. Well, this would teach her what to
expect. Well, what had she expected? Nothing!
Yet for the rest of the day she was unreasonably irritable, and,
if the conjointure be not paradoxical, severely practical, and
inhumanly just. Falling foul of some presumption of Miguel's,
based upon his prescriptive rights through long service on the
estate, with the recollection of her severity towards his
antagonist in her mind, she rated that trusted retainer with such
pitiless equity and unfeminine logic that his hot Latin blood
chilled in his veins, and he stood livid on the road. Then,
informing Dick Shipley with equally relentless calm that she might
feel it necessary to change ALL her foremen unless they could agree
in harmony, she sought the dignified seclusion of her castle. But
her respected parents, whose triumphant relief at the stranger's
departure had emboldened them to await her return in their porch
with bended bows of invective and lifted javelins of aggression,
recoiled before the resistless helm of this cold-browed Minerva,
who galloped contemptuously past them.
Nevertheless, she sat late that night at her desk. The cold moon
looked down upon her window, and lit up the empty porch where her
silent guest had mutely watched her. For a moment she regretted
that he had recovered his reason, excusing herself on the practical
ground that he would never have known his dependence, and he would
have been better cared for by her. She felt restless and uneasy.
This slight divergence from the practical groove in which her life
had been set had disturbed her in many other things, and given her
the first views of the narrowness of it.
Suddenly she heard a step in the porch. The lateness of the hour,
perhaps some other reason, seemed to startle her, and she half
rose. The next moment the figure of Miguel appeared at the
doorway, and with a quick, hurried look around him, and at the open
window, he approached her. He was evidently under great excitement,
his hollow shaven cheek looked like a waxen effigy in the mission
church; his yellow, tobacco-stained eye glittered like phosphorescent
amber, his lank gray hair was damp and perspiring; but more striking
than this was the evident restraint he had put upon himself,
pressing his broad-brimmed sombrero with both of his trembling
yellow hands against his breast. The young girl cast a hurried
glance at the open window and at the gun which stood in the corner,
and then confronted him with clear and steady eyes, but a paler
Ah, he began in Spanish, which he himself had taught her as a
child, it was a strange thing, his coming there to-night; but,
then, mother of God! it was a strange, a terrible thing that she
had done to him--old Miguel, her uncle's servant: he that had known
her as a muchacha; he that had lived all his life at the ranch--ay,
and whose fathers before him had lived there all THEIR lives and
driven the cattle over the very spot where she now stood, before
the thieving Americans came here! But he would be calm; yes, the
senora should find him calm, even as she was when she told him to
go. He would not speak. No, he--Miguel--would contain himself;
yes, he HAD mastered himself, but could he restrain others? Ah,
yes, OTHERS--that was it. Could he keep Manuel and Pepe and
Dominguez from talking to the milkman--that leaking sieve, that
gabbling brute of a Shipley, for whose sake she had cast off her
old servant that very day?
She looked at him with cold astonishment, but without fear. Was he
drunk with aguardiente, or had his jealousy turned his brain? He
continued gasping, but still pressing his hat against his breast.
Ah, he saw it all! Yes, it was to-day, the day he left. Yes, she
had thought it safe to cast Miguel off now--now that HE was gone!
Without in the least understanding him, the color had leaped to her
cheek, and the consciousness of it made her furious.
"How dare you?" she said, passionately. "What has that stranger to
do with my affairs or your insolence?"
He stopped and gazed at her with a certain admiring loyalty. "Ah!
so," he said, with a deep breath, "the senora is the niece of her
uncle. She does well not to fear HIM--a dog,"--with a slight
shrug,--"who is more than repaid by the senora's condescension. HE
dare not speak!"
"Who dare not speak? Are you mad?" She stopped with a sudden
terrible instinct of apprehension. "Miguel," she said in her
deepest voice, "answer me, I command you! Do you know anything of
It was Miguel's turn to recoil from his mistress. "Ah, my God! is
it possible the senora has not suspect?"
"Suspect!" said Josephine, haughtily, albeit her proud heart was
beating quickly. "I SUSPECT nothing. I command you to tell me
what you KNOW."
Miguel turned with a rapid gesture and closed the door. Then,
drawing her away from the window, he said in a hurried whisper,--
"I know that that man has not the name of Baxter! I know that he
has the name of Randolph, a young gambler, who have won a large sum
at Sacramento, and, fearing to be robbed by those he won of, have
walk to himself through the road in disguise of a miner. I know
that your brother Esteban have decoyed him here, and have fallen on
"Stop!" said the young girl, her eyes, which had been fixed with
the agony of conviction, suddenly flashing with the energy of
despair. "And you call yourself the servant of my uncle, and dare
say this of his nephew?"
"Yes, senora," broke out the old man, passionately. "It is because
I am the servant of your uncle that I, and I ALONE, dare say it to
you! It is because I perjured my soul, and have perjured my soul
to deny it elsewhere, that I now dare to say it! It is because I,
your servant, knew it from one of my countrymen, who was of the
gang,--because I, Miguel, knew that your brother was not far away
that night, and because I, whom you would dismiss, have picked up
this pocket-book of Randolph's and your brother's ring which he
have dropped, and I have found beneath the body of the man you sent
me to fetch."
He drew a packet from his bosom, and tossed it on the desk before
"And why have you not told me this before?" said Josephine,
Miguel shrugged his shoulders.
"What good? Possibly this dog Randolph would die. Possibly he
would live--as a lunatic. Possibly would happen what has happened!
The senora is beautiful. The American has eyes. If the Dona
Josephine's beauty shall finish what the silly Don Esteban's arm
have begun--what matter?"
"Stop!" cried Josephine, pressing her hands across her shuddering
eyes. Then, uncovering her white and set face, she said rapidly,
"Saddle my horse and your own at once. Then take your choice!
Come with me and repeat all that you have said in the presence of
that man, or leave this ranch forever. For if I live I shall go to
him tonight, and tell the whole story."
The old man cast a single glance at his mistress, shrugged his
shoulders, and, without a word, left the room. But in ten minutes
they were on their way to the county town.
Day was breaking over the distant Burnt Ridge--a faint, ghostly
level, like a funeral pall, in the dim horizon--as they drew up
before the gaunt, white-painted pile of the hospital building.
Josephine uttered a cry. Dr. Duchesne's buggy was before the door.
On its very threshold they met the doctor, dark and irritated.
"Then you heard the news?" he said, quickly.
Josephine turned her white face to the doctor's. "What news?" she
asked, in a voice that seemed strangely deep and resonant.
"The poor fellow had another attack last night, and died of
exhaustion about an hour ago. I was too late to save him."
"Did he say anything? Was he conscious?" asked the girl, hoarsely.
"No; incoherent! Now I think of it, he harped on the same string
as he did the night of the operation. What was it he said? you
"'You'll have to kill me first,'" repeated Josephine, in a choking
"Yes; something about his dying before he'd tell. Well, he came
back to it before he went off--they often do. You seem a little
hoarse with your morning ride. You should take care of that voice
of yours. By the way, it's a good deal like your brother's."
. . . . . .
The Chatelaine of Burnt Ridge never married.
THROUGH THE SANTA CLARA WHEAT
It was an enormous wheat-field in the Santa Clara valley,
stretching to the horizon line unbroken. The meridian sun shone
upon it without glint or shadow; but at times, when a stronger gust
of the trade winds passed over it, there was a quick slanting
impression of the whole surface that was, however, as unlike a
billow as itself was unlike a sea. Even when a lighter zephyr
played down its long level, the agitation was superficial, and
seemed only to momentarily lift a veil of greenish mist that hung
above its immovable depths. Occasional puffs of dust alternately
rose and fell along an imaginary line across the field, as if a
current of air were passing through it, but were otherwise
Suddenly a faint shout, apparently somewhere in the vicinity of the
line, brought out a perfectly clear response, followed by the
audible murmur of voices, which it was impossible to localize. Yet
the whole field was so devoid of any suggestion of human life or
motion that it seemed rather as if the vast expanse itself had
become suddenly articulate and intelligible.
"In the road."
One of the voices here indicated itself in the direction of the
line of dust, and said, "Comin'," and a man stepped out from the
wheat into a broad and dusty avenue.
With his presence three things became apparent.
First, that the puffs of dust indicated the existence of the
invisible avenue through the unlimited and unfenced field of grain;
secondly, that the stalks of wheat on either side of it were so
tall as to actually hide a passing vehicle; and thirdly, that a
vehicle had just passed, had lost a wheel, and been dragged partly
into the grain by its frightened horse, which a dusty man was
trying to restrain and pacify.
The horse, given up to equine hysterics, and evidently convinced
that the ordinary buggy behind him had been changed into some
dangerous and appalling creation, still plunged and kicked
violently to rid himself of it. The man who had stepped out of the
depths of the wheat quickly crossed the road, unhitched the traces,
drew back the vehicle, and, glancing at the traveler's dusty and
disordered clothes, said, with curt sympathy:--
"Spilt, too; but not hurt, eh?"
"No, neither of us. I went over with the buggy when the wheel
cramped, but SHE jumped clear."
He made a gesture indicating the presence of another. The man
turned quickly. There was a second figure, a young girl standing
beside the grain from which he had emerged, embracing a few stalks
of wheat with one arm and a hand in which she still held her
parasol, while she grasped her gathered skirts with the other, and
trying to find a secure foothold for her two neat narrow slippers
on a crumbling cake of adobe above the fathomless dust of the
roadway. Her face, although annoyed and discontented, was pretty,
and her light dress and slim figure were suggestive of a certain
The man's manner at once softened with Western courtesy. He swung
his broad-brimmed hat from his head, and bent his body with the
ceremoniousness of the country ball-room. "I reckon the lady had
better come up to the shanty out o' the dust and sun till we kin
help you get these things fixed," he said to the driver. "I'll
send round by the road for your hoss, and have one of mine fetch up
"Is it far?" asked the girl, slightly acknowledging his salutation,
without waiting for her companion to reply.
"Only a step this way," he answered, motioning to the field of
wheat beside her.
"What in THERE? I never could go in there," she said, decidedly.
"It's a heap shorter than by the road, and not so dusty. I'll go
with you, and pilot you."
The young girl cast a vexed look at her companion as the probable
cause of all this trouble, and shook her head. But at the same
moment one little foot slipped from the adobe into the dust again.
She instantly clambered back with a little feminine shriek, and
ejaculated: "Well, of all things!" and then, fixing her blue
annoyed eyes on the stranger, asked impatiently, "Why couldn't I go
there by the road 'n the wagon? I could manage to hold on and keep
"Because I reckon you'd find it too pow'ful hot waitin' here till
we got round to ye."
There was no doubt it was very hot; the radiation from the baking
roadway beating up under her parasol, and pricking her cheekbones
and eyeballs like needles. She gave a fastidious little shudder,
furled her parasol, gathered her skirts still tighter, faced about,
and said, "Go on, then." The man slipped backwards into the ranks
of stalks, parting them with one hand, and holding out the other as
if to lead her. But she evaded the invitation by holding her
tightly-drawn skirt with both hands, and bending her head forward
as if she had not noticed it. The next moment the road, and even
the whole outer world, disappeared behind them, and they seemed
floating in a choking green translucent mist.
But the effect was only momentary; a few steps further she found
that she could walk with little difficulty between the ranks of
stalks, which were regularly spaced, and the resemblance now
changed to that of a long pillared conservatory of greenish glass,
that touched all objects with its pervading hue. She also found
that the close air above her head was continually freshened by the
interchange of currents of lower temperature from below,--as if the
whole vast field had a circulation of its own,--and that the adobe
beneath her feet was gratefully cool to her tread. There was no
dust, as he had said; what had at first half suffocated her seemed
to be some stimulating aroma of creation that filled the narrow
green aisles, and now imparted a strange vigor and excitement to
her as she walked along. Meantime her guide was not conversationally
idle. Now, no doubt, she had never seen anything like this before?
It was ordinary wheat, only it was grown on adobe soil--the richest
in the valley. These stalks, she could see herself, were ten and
twelve feet high. That was the trouble, they all ran too much to
stalk, though the grain yield was "suthen' pow'ful." She could tell
that to her friends, for he reckoned she was the only young lady
that had ever walked under such a growth. Perhaps she was new to
Californy? He thought so from the start. Well, this was Californy,
and this was not the least of the ways it could "lay over" every
other country on God's yearth. Many folks thought it was the gold
and the climate, but she could see for herself what it could do with
wheat. He wondered if her brother had ever told, her of it? No,
the stranger wasn't her brother. Nor cousin, nor company? No; only
the hired driver from a San Jose hotel, who was takin' her over to
Major Randolph's. Yes, he knew the old major; the ranch was a
pretty place, nigh unto three miles further on. Now that he knew
the driver was no relation of hers he didn't mind telling her that
the buggy was a "rather old consarn," and the driver didn't know his
business. Yes, it might be fixed up so as to take her over to the
major's; there was one of their own men--a young fellow--who could
do anything that COULD be done with wood and iron,--a reg'lar
genius!--and HE'D tackle it. It might take an hour, but she'd find
it quite cool waiting in the shanty. It was a rough place, for they
only camped out there during the season to look after the crop, and
lived at their own homes the rest of the time. Was she going to
stay long at the major's? He noticed she had not brought her trunk
with her. Had she known the major's wife long? Perhaps she thought
of settling in the neighborhood?
All this naive, good-humored questioning--so often cruelly
misunderstood as mere vulgar curiosity, but as often the courteous
instinct of simple unaffected people to entertain the stranger by
inviting him to talk of what concerns himself rather than their own
selves--was nevertheless, I fear, met only by monosyllables from
the young lady or an impatient question in return. She scarcely
raised her eyes to the broad jean-shirted back that preceded her
through the grain until the man abruptly ceased talking, and his
manner, without losing its half-paternal courtesy, became graver.
She was beginning to be conscious of her incivility, and was trying
to think of something to say, when he exclaimed with a slight air
of relief, "Here we are!" and the shanty suddenly appeared before
It certainly was very rough--a mere shell of unpainted boards that
scarcely rose above the level of the surrounding grain, and a few
yards distant was invisible. Its slightly sloping roof, already
warped and shrunken into long fissures that permitted glimpses of
the steel-blue sky above, was evidently intended only as a shelter
from the cloudless sun in those two months of rainless days and
dewless nights when it was inhabited. Through the open doors and
windows she could see a row of "bunks," or rude sleeping berths
against the walls, furnished with coarse mattresses and blankets.
As the young girl halted, the man with an instinct of delicacy
hurried forward, entered the shanty, and dragging a rude bench to
the doorway, placed it so that she could sit beneath the shade of
the roof, yet with her back to these domestic revelations. Two or
three men, who had been apparently lounging there, rose quietly,
and unobtrusively withdrew. Her guide brought her a tin cup of
deliciously cool water, exchanged a few hurried words with his
companions, and then disappeared with them, leaving her alone.
Her first sense of relief from their company was, I fear, stronger
than any other feeling. After a hurried glance around the deserted
apartment, she arose, shook out her dress and mantle, and then
going into the darkest corner supported herself with one hand
against the wall while with the other she drew off, one by one, her
slippers from her slim, striped-stockinged feet, shook and blew out
the dust that had penetrated within, and put them on again. Then,
perceiving a triangular fragment of looking-glass nailed against
the wall, she settled the strings of her bonnet by the aid of its
reflection, patted the fringe of brown hair on her forehead with
her separated five fingers as if playing an imaginary tune on her
brow, and came back with maidenly abstraction to the doorway.
Everything was quiet, and her seclusion seemed unbroken. A smile
played for an instant in the soft shadows of her eyes and mouth as
she recalled the abrupt withdrawal of the men. Then her mouth
straightened and her brows slightly bent. It was certainly very
unmannerly in them to go off in that way. "Good heavens! couldn't
they have stayed around without talking? Surely it didn't require
four men to go and bring up that wagon!" She picked up her parasol
from the bench with an impatient little jerk. Then she held out
her ungloved hand into the hot sunshine beyond the door with the
gesture she would have used had it been raining, and withdrew it as
quickly--her hand quite scorched in the burning rays. Nevertheless,
after another impatient pause she desperately put up her parasol
and stepped from the shanty.
Presently she was conscious of a faint sound of hammering not far
away. Perhaps there was another shed, but hidden, like everything
else, in this monotonous, ridiculous grain. Some stalks, however,
were trodden down and broken around the shanty; she could move more
easily and see where she was going. To her delight, a few steps
further brought her into a current of the trade-wind and a cooler
atmosphere. And a short distance beyond them, certainly, was the
shed from which the hammering proceeded. She approached it boldly.
It was simply a roof upheld by rude uprights and crossbeams, and
open to the breeze that swept through it. At one end was a small
blacksmith's forge, some machinery, and what appeared to be part of
a small steam-engine. Midway of the shed was a closet or cupboard
fastened with a large padlock. Occupying its whole length on the
other side was a work-bench, and at the further end stood the
workman she had heard.
He was apparently only a year or two older than herself, and clad
in blue jean overalls, blackened and smeared with oil and coal-
dust. Even his youthful face, which he turned towards her, had a
black smudge running across it and almost obliterating a small
auburn moustache. The look of surprise that he gave her, however,
quickly passed; he remained patiently and in a half-preoccupied
way, holding his hammer in his hand, as she advanced. This was
evidently the young fellow who could "do anything that could be
done with wood and iron."
She was very sorry to disturb him, but could he tell her how long
it would be before the wagon could be brought up and mended? He
could not say that until he himself saw what was to be done; if it
was only a matter of the wheel he could fix it up in a few moments;
if, as he had been told, it was a case of twisted or bent axle, it
would take longer, but it would be here very soon. Ah, then, would
he let her wait here, as she was very anxious to know at once, and
it was much cooler than in the shed? Certainly; he would go over
and bring her a bench. But here she begged he wouldn't trouble
himself, she could sit anywhere comfortably.
The lower end of the work-bench was covered with clean and odorous
shavings; she lightly brushed them aside and, with a youthful
movement, swung herself to a seat upon it, supporting herself on
one hand as she leaned towards him. She could thus see that his
eyes were of a light-yellowish brown, like clarified honey, with a
singular look of clear concentration in them, which, however, was
the same whether turned upon his work, the surrounding grain, or
upon her. This, and his sublime unconsciousness of the smudge
across his face and his blackened hands, made her wonder if the man
who could do everything with wood and iron was above doing anything
with water. She had half a mind to tell him of it, particularly as
she noticed also that his throat below the line of sunburn
disclosed by his open collar was quite white, and his grimy hands
well made. She was wondering whether he would be affronted if she
said in her politest way, "I beg your pardon, but do you know you
have quite accidentally got something on your face," and offer her
handkerchief, which, of course, he would decline, when her eye fell
on the steam-engine.
"How odd! Do you use that on the farm?"
"No,"--he smiled here, the smudge accenting it and setting off his
white teeth in a Christy Minstrel fashion that exasperated her--no,
although it COULD be used, and had been. But it was his first
effort, made two years ago, when he was younger and more
inexperienced. It was a rather rough thing, she could see--but he
had to make it at odd times with what iron he could pick up or pay
for, and at different forges where he worked.
She begged his pardon--where--
WHERE HE WORKED.
Ah, then he was the machinist or engineer here?
No, he worked here just like the others, only he was allowed to put
up a forge while the grain was green, and have his bench in
consideration of the odd jobs he could do in the way of mending
tools, etc. There was a heap of mending and welding to do--she had
no idea how quickly agricultural machines got out of order! He had
done much of his work on the steam-engine on moonlit nights. Yes;
she had no idea how perfectly clear and light it was here in the
valley on such nights; although of course the shadows were very
dark, and when he dropped a screw or a nut it was difficult to
find. He had worked there because it saved time and because it
didn't cost anything, and he had nobody to look on or interfere
with him. No, it was not lonely; the coyotes and wild cats
sometimes came very near, but were always more surprised and
frightened than he was; and once a horseman who had strayed off the
distant road yonder mistook him for an animal and shot at him
He told all this with such freedom from embarrassment and with such
apparent unconsciousness of the blue eyes that were following him,
and the light, graceful figure,--which was so near his own that in
some of his gestures his grimy hands almost touched its delicate
garments,--that, accustomed as she was to a certain masculine
aberration in her presence, she was greatly amused by his naive
acceptance of her as an equal. Suddenly, looking frankly in her
face, he said:
"I'll show you a secret, if you care to see it."
Nothing would please her more.
He glanced hurriedly around, took a key from his pocket, and
unlocked the padlock that secured the closet she had noticed.
Then, reaching within, with infinite care he brought out a small
"There's an invention of my own. A reaper and thresher combined.
I'm going to have it patented and have a big one made from this
model. This will work, as you see."
He then explained to her with great precision how as it moved over
the field the double operation was performed by the same motive
power. That it would be a saving of a certain amount of labor and
time which she could not remember. She did not understand a word
of his explanations; she saw only a clean and pretty but
complicated toy that under the manipulation of his grimy fingers
rattled a number of frail-like staves and worked a number of wheels
and drums, yet there was no indication of her ignorance in her
sparkling eyes and smiling, breathless attitude. Perhaps she was
interested in his own absorption; the revelation of his preoccupation
with this model struck her as if he had made her a confidante of
some boyish passion for one of her own sex, and she regarded him
with the same sympathizing superiority.
"You will make a fortune out of it," she said pleasantly.
Well, he might make enough to be able to go on with some other
inventions he had in his mind. They cost money and time, no matter
how careful one was.
This was another interesting revelation to the young girl. He not
only did not seem to care for the profit his devotion brought him,
but even his one beloved ideal might be displaced by another. So
like a man, after all!
Her reflections were broken upon by the sound of voices. The young
man carefully replaced the model in its closet with a parting
glance as if he was closing a shrine, and said, "There comes the
wagon." The young girl turned to face the men who were dragging it
from the road, with the half-complacent air of having been
victorious over their late rude abandonment, but they did not seem
to notice it or to be surprised at her companion, who quickly
stepped forward and examined the broken vehicle with workmanlike
"I hope you will be able to do something with it," she said
sweetly, appealing directly to him. "I should thank you SO MUCH."
He did not reply. Presently he looked up to the man who had
brought her to the shanty, and said, "The axle's strained, but it's
safe for five or six miles more of this road. I'll put the wheel
on easily." He paused, and without glancing at her, continued,
"You might send her on by the cart."
"Pray don't trouble yourselves," interrupted the young girl, with a
pink uprising in her cheeks; "I shall be quite satisfied with the
buggy as it stands." Send her on in the cart, indeed! Really,
they were a rude set--ALL of them."
Without taking the slightest notice of her remark, the man replied
gravely to the young mechanic, "Yes, but we'll be wanting the cart
before it can get back from taking her."
"Her" again. "I assure you the buggy will serve perfectly well--
if this--gentleman--will only be kind enough to put on the wheel
again," she returned hotly.
The young mechanic at once set to work. The young girl walked
apart silently until the wheel was restored to its axle. But to
her surprise a different horse was led forward to be harnessed.
"We thought your horse wasn't safe in case of another accident,"
said the first man, with the same smileless consideration. "This
one wouldn't cut up if he was harnessed to an earthquake or a worse
driver than you've got."
It occurred to her instantly that the more obvious remedy of
sending another driver had been already discussed and rejected by
them. Yet, when her own driver appeared a moment afterwards, she
ascended to her seat with some dignity and a slight increase of
"I am very much obliged to you all," she said, without glancing at
the young inventor.
"Don't mention it, miss."
"Good afternoon." They all took off their hats with the same
formal gravity as the horse moved forward, but turned back to their
work again before she was out of the field.
The ranch of Major Randolph lay on a rich falda of the Coast Range,
and overlooked the great wheat plains that the young girl had just
left. The house of wood and adobe, buried to its first story in
rose-trees and passion vines, was large and commodious. Yet it
contained only the major, his wife, her son and daughter, and the
few occasional visitors from San Francisco whom he entertained, and
For the major's household was not entirely harmonious. While a
young infantry subaltern at a Gulf station, he had been attracted
by the piquant foreign accent and dramatic gestures of a French
Creole widow, and--believing them, in the first flush of his
youthful passion more than an offset to the encumbrance of her two
children who, with the memory of various marital infidelities were
all her late husband had left her--had proposed, been accepted, and
promptly married to her. Before he obtained his captaincy, she had
partly lost her accent, and those dramatic gestures, which had
accented the passion of their brief courtship, began to intensify
domestic altercation and the bursts of idle jealousy to which she
was subject. Whether she was revenging herself on her second
husband for the faults of her first is not known, but it was
certain that she brought an unhallowed knowledge of the weaknesses,
cheap cynicism, and vanity of a foreign predecessor, to sit in
judgment upon the simple-minded and chivalrous American soldier who
had succeeded him, and who was, in fact, the most loyal of
husbands. The natural result of her skepticism was an espionage
and criticism of the wives of the major's brother officers that
compelled a frequent change of quarters. When to this was finally
added a racial divergence and antipathy, the public disparagement
of the customs and education of her female colleagues, and the
sudden insistence of a foreign and French dominance in her
household beyond any ordinary Creole justification, Randolph,
presumably to avoid later international complications, resigned
while he was as yet a major. Luckily his latest banishment to an
extreme Western outpost had placed him in California during the
flood of a speculation epoch. He purchased a valuable Spanish
grant to three leagues of land for little over a three months' pay.
Following that yearning which compels retired ship-captains and
rovers of all degrees to buy a farm in their old days, the major,
professionally and socially inured to border strife, sought
surcease and Arcadian repose in ranching.
It was here that Mrs. Randolph, late relict of the late Scipion
L'Hommadieu, devoted herself to bringing up her children after the
extremest of French methods, and in resurrecting a "de" from her
own family to give a distinct and aristocratic character to their
name. The "de Fontanges l'Hommadieu" were, however, only known to
their neighbors, after the Western fashion, by their stepfather's
name,--when they were known at all--which was seldom. For the boy
was unpleasantly conceited as a precocious worldling, and the girl
as unpleasantly complacent in her role of ingenue. The household
was completely dominated by Mrs. Randolph. A punctilious Catholic,
she attended all the functions of the adjacent mission, and the
shadow of a black soutane at twilight gliding through the wild oat-
fields behind the ranch had often been mistaken for a coyote. The
peace-loving major did not object to a piety which, while it left
his own conscience free, imparted a respectable religious air to
his household, and kept him from the equally distasteful approaches
of the Puritanism of his neighbors, and was blissfully unconscious
that he was strengthening the antagonistic foreign element in his
family with an alien church.
Meantime, as the repaired buggy was slowly making its way towards
his house, Major Randolph entered his wife's boudoir with a letter
which the San Francisco post had just brought him. A look of
embarrassment on his good-humored face strengthened the hard lines
of hers; she felt some momentary weakness of her natural enemy, and
prepared to give battle.
"I'm afraid here's something of a muddle, Josephine," he began with
a deprecating smile. "Mallory, who was coming down here with his
daughter, you know"--
"This is the first intimation I have had that anything has been
settled upon," interrupted the lady, with appalling deliberation.
"However, my dear, you know I told you last week that he thought of
bringing her here while he went South on business. You know, being
a widower, he has no one to leave her with."
"And I suppose it is the American fashion to intrust one's
daughters to any old boon companions?"
"Mallory is an old friend," interrupted the major, impatiently.
"He knows I'm married, and although he has never seen YOU, he is
quite willing to leave his daughter here."
"Come, you know what I mean. The man naturally believes that my
wife will be a proper chaperone for his daughter. But that is not
the present question. He intended to call here; I expected to take
you over to San Jose to see her and all that, you know; but the
fact of it is--that is--it seems from this letter that--he's been
called away sooner than he expected, and that--well--hang it! the
girl is actually on her way here now."
"I suppose so. You know one thinks nothing of that here."
"Or any other propriety, for that matter."
"For heaven's sake, Josephine, don't be ridiculous! Of course it's
stupid her coming in this way, and Mallory ought to have brought
her--but she's coming, and we must receive her. By Jove! Here she
is now!" he added, starting up after a hurried glance through the
window. "But what kind of a d----d turn-out is that, anyhow?"
It certainly was an odd-looking conveyance that had entered the
gates, and was now slowly coming up the drive towards the house.
A large draught horse harnessed to a dust-covered buggy, whose
strained fore-axle, bent by the last mile of heavy road, had
slanted the tops of the fore-wheels towards each other at an
alarming angle. The light, graceful dress and elegant parasol of
the young girl, who occupied half of its single seat, looked
ludicrously pronounced by the side of the slouching figure and
grimy duster of the driver, who occupied the other half.
Mrs. Randolph gave a gritty laugh. "I thought you said she was
alone. Is that an escort she has picked up, American fashion, on
"That's her hired driver, no doubt. Hang it! she can't drive here
by herself," retorted the major, impatiently, hurrying to the door
and down the staircase. But he was instantly followed by his wife.
She had no idea of permitting a possible understanding to be
exchanged in their first greeting. The late M. l'Hommadieu had
been able to impart a whole plan of intrigue in a single word and
Happily, Rose Mallory, already in the hall, in a few words detailed
the accident that had befallen her, to the honest sympathy of the
major and the coldly-polite concern of Mrs. Randolph, who, in
deliberately chosen sentences, managed to convey to the young girl
the conviction that accidents of any kind to young ladies were to
be regarded as only a shade removed from indiscretions. Rose was
impressed, and even flattered, by the fastidiousness of this
foreign-appearing woman, and after the fashion of youthful natures,
accorded to her the respect due to recognized authority. When to
this authority, which was evident, she added a depreciation of the
major, I fear that some common instinct of feminine tyranny
responded in Rose's breast, and that on the very threshold of the
honest soldier's home she tacitly agreed with the wife to look down
upon him. Mrs. Randolph departed to inform her son and daughter of
their guest's arrival. As a matter of fact, however, they had
already observed her approach to the house through the slits of
their drawn window-blinds, and those even narrower prejudices and
limited comprehensions which their education had fostered. The
girl, Adele, had only grasped the fact that Rose had come to their
house in fine clothes, alone with a man, in a broken-down vehicle,
and was moved to easy mirth and righteous wonder. The young man,
Emile, had agreed with her, with the mental reservation that the
guest was pretty, and must eventually fall in love with him. They
both, however, welcomed her with a trained politeness and a
superficial attention that, while the indifference of her own
countrymen in the wheat-field was still fresh in her recollection,
struck her with grateful contrast; the major's quiet and unobtrusive
kindliness naturally made less impression, or was accepted as a
matter of course.
"Well," said the major, cheerfully but tentatively, to his wife
when they were alone again, "she seems a nice girl, after all; and
a good deal of pluck and character, by Jove! to push on in that
broken buggy rather than linger or come in a farm cart, eh?"
"She was alone in that wheat-field," said Mrs. Randolph, with grim
deliberation, "for half an hour; she confesses it herself--TALKING
WITH A YOUNG MAN!"
"Yes, but the others had gone for the buggy. And, in the name of
Heaven, what would you have her do--hide herself in the grain?"
said the major, desperately. "Besides," he added, with a
recklessness he afterwards regretted, "that mechanical chap they've
got there is really intelligent and worth talking to."
"I have no doubt SHE thought so," said Mrs. Randolph, with a
mirthless smile. "In fact, I have observed that the American
freedom generally means doing what you WANT to do. Indeed, I
wonder she didn't bring him with her! Only I beg, major, that you
will not again, in the presence of my daughter,--and I may even
say, of my son,--talk lightly of the solitary meetings of young
ladies with mechanics, even though their faces were smutty, and
their clothes covered with oil."
The major here muttered something about there being less danger in
a young lady listening to the intelligence of a coarsely-dressed
laborer than to the compliments of a rose-scented fop, but Mrs.
Randolph walked out of the room before he finished the evident
That night Rose Mallory retired to her room in a state of sell-
satisfaction that she even felt was to a certain extent a virtue.
She was delighted with her reception and with her hostess and
family. It was strange her father had not spoken more of MRS.
Randolph, who was clearly the superior of his old friend. What
fine manners they all had, so different from other people she had
known! There was quite an Old World civilization about them;
really, it was like going abroad! She would make the most of her
opportunity and profit by her visit. She would begin by improving
her French; they spoke it perfectly, and with such a pure accent.
She would correct certain errors she was conscious of in her own
manners, and copy Mrs. Randolph as much as possible. Certainly,
there was a great deal to be said of Mrs. Randolph's way of looking
at things. Now she thought of it calmly, there WAS too much
informality and freedom in American ways! There was not enough
respect due to position and circumstances. Take those men in the
wheat-field, for example. Yet here she found it difficult to
formulate an indictment against them for "freedom." She would like
to go there some day with the Randolphs and let them see what
company manners were! She was thoroughly convinced now that her
father had done wrong in sending her alone; it certainly was most
disrespectful to them and careless of him (she had quite forgotten
that she had herself proposed to her father to go alone rather than
wait at the hotel), and she must have looked very ridiculous in her
fine clothes and the broken-down buggy. When her trunk came by
express to-morrow she would look out something more sober. She
must remember that she was in a Catholic and religious household
now. Ah, yes! how very fine it was to see that priest at dinner in
his soutane, sitting down like one of the family, and making them
all seem like a picture of some historical and aristocratic
romance! And then they were actually "de Fontanges l'Hommadieu."
How different he was from that shabby Methodist minister who used
to come to see her father in a black cravat with a hideous bow!
Really there was something to say for a religion that contained so
much picturesque refinement; and for her part--but that will do. I
beg to say that I am not writing of any particular snob or feminine
monstrosity, but of a very charming creature, who was quite able to
say her prayers afterwards like a good girl, and lay her pretty
cheek upon her pillow without a blush.
She opened her window and looked out. The moon, a great silver
dome, was uplifting itself from a bluish-gray level, which she knew
was the distant plain of wheat. Somewhere in its midst appeared a
dull star, at times brightening as if blown upon or drawn upwards
in a comet-like trail. By some odd instinct she felt that it was
the solitary forge of the young inventor, and pictured him standing
before it with his abstracted hazel eyes and a face more begrimed
in the moonlight than ever. When DID he wash himself? Perhaps not
until Sunday. How lonely it must be out there! She slightly
shivered and turned from the window. As she did so, it seemed to
her that something knocked against her door from without. Opening
it quickly, she was almost certain that the sound of a rustling
skirt retreated along the passage. It was very late; perhaps she
had disturbed the house by shutting her window. No doubt it was
the motherly interest of Mrs. Randolph that impelled her to come
softly and look after her; and for once her simple surmises were
correct. For not only the inspecting eyes of her hostess, but the
amatory glances of the youthful Emile, had been fastened upon her
window until the light disappeared, and even the Holy Mission
Church of San Jose had assured itself of the dear child's safety
with a large and supple ear at her keyhole.
The next morning Major Randolph took her with Adele in a light
cariole over the ranch. Although his domain was nearly as large as
the adjoining wheat plain, it was not, like that, monopolized by
one enormous characteristic yield, but embraced a more diversified
product. There were acres and acres of potatoes in rows of endless
and varying succession; there were miles of wild oats and barley,
which overtopped them as they drove in narrow lanes of dry and
dusty monotony; there were orchards of pears, apricots, peaches,
and nectarines, and vineyards of grapes, so comparatively dwarfed
in height that they scarcely reached to the level of their eyes,
yet laden and breaking beneath the weight of their ludicrously
disproportionate fruit. What seemed to be a vast green plateau
covered with tiny patches, that headed the northern edge of the
prospect, was an enormous bed of strawberry plants. But everywhere,
crossing the track, bounding the fields, orchards, and vineyards,
intersecting the paths of the whole domain, were narrow irrigating
ducts and channels of running water.
"Those," said the major, poetically, "are the veins and arteries of
the ranch. Come with me now, and I'll show you its pulsating
heart." Descending from the wagon into pedestrian prose again, he
led Rose a hundred yards further to a shed that covered a wonderful
artesian well. In the centre of a basin a column of water rose
regularly with the even flow and volume of a brook. "It is one of
the largest in the State," said the major, "and is the life of all
that grows here during six months of the year."
Pleased as the young girl was with those evidences of the prosperity
and position of her host, she was struck, however, with the fact
that the farm-laborers, wine-growers, nurserymen, and all field
hands scattered on the vast estate were apparently of the same
independent, unpastoral, and unprofessional character as the men of
the wheat-field. There were no cottages or farm buildings that she
could see, nor any apparent connection between the household and the
estate; far from suggesting tenantry or retainers, the men who were
working in the fields glanced at them as they passed with the
indifference of strangers, or replied to the major's greetings or
questionings with perfect equality of manner, or even businesslike
reserve and caution. Her host explained that the ranch was worked
by a company "on shares;" that those laborers were, in fact, the
bulk of the company; and that he, the major, only furnished the
land, the seed, and the implements. "That man who was driving the
long roller, and with whom you were indignant because he wouldn't
get out of our way, is the president of the company."
"That needn't make him so uncivil," said Rose, poutingly, "for if
it comes to that you're the LANDLORD," she added triumphantly.
"No," said the major, good-humoredly. "I am simply the man driving
the lighter and more easily-managed team for pleasure, and he's the
man driving the heavier and more difficult machine for work. It's
for me to get out of his way; and looked at in the light of my
being THE LANDLORD it is still worse, for as we're working 'on
shares' I'm interrupting HIS work, and reducing HIS profits merely
because I choose to sacrifice my own."
I need not say that those atrociously leveling sentiments were
received by the young ladies with that feminine scorn which is only
qualified by misconception. Rose, who, under the influence of her
hostess, had a vague impression that they sounded something like
the French Revolution, and that Adele must feel like the Princess
Elizabeth, rushed to her relief like a good girl. "But, major,
now, YOU'RE a gentleman, and if YOU had been driving that roller,
you know you would have turned out for us."
"I don't know about that," said the major, mischievously; "but if
I had, I should have known that the other fellow who accepted it
wasn't a gentleman."
But Rose, having sufficiently shown her partisanship in the
discussion, after the feminine fashion, did not care particularly
for the logical result. After a moment's silence she resumed:
"And the wheat ranch below--is that carried on in the same way?"
"Yes. But their landlord is a bank, who advances not only the
land, but the money to work it, and doesn't ride around in a buggy
with a couple of charmingly distracting young ladies."
"And do they all share alike?" continued Rose, ignoring the
pleasantry, "big and little--that young inventor with the rest?"
She stopped. She felt the ingenue's usually complacent eyes
suddenly fixed upon her with an unhallowed precocity, and as
quickly withdrawn. Without knowing why, she felt embarrassed, and
changed the subject.
The next day they drove to the Convent of Santa Clara and the
Mission College of San Jose. Their welcome at both places seemed
to Rose to be a mingling of caste greeting and spiritual zeal, and
the austere seclusion and reserve of those cloisters repeated that
suggestion of an Old World civilization that had already fascinated
the young Western girl. They made other excursions in the
vicinity, but did not extend it to a visit to their few neighbors.
With their reserved and exclusive ideas this fact did not strike
Rose as peculiar, but on a later shopping expedition to the town of
San Jose, a certain reticence and aggressive sensitiveness on the
part of the shopkeepers and tradespeople towards the Randolphs
produced an unpleasant impression on her mind. She could not help
noticing, too, that after the first stare of astonishment which
greeted her appearance with her hostess, she herself was included in
the antagonism. With her youthful prepossession for her friends,
this distinction she regarded as flattering and aristocratic, and I
fear she accented it still more by discussing with Mrs. Randolph the
merits of the shopkeepers' wares in schoolgirl French before them.
She was unfortunate enough, however, to do this in the shop of a
"Oxcoos me, mees," he said gravely,--"but dot lady speeks Engeleesh
so goot mit yourselluf, and ven you dells to her dot silk is hallf
gotton in English, she onderstand you mooch better, and it don't
make nodings to me." The laugh which would have followed from her
own countrywomen did not, however, break upon the trained faces of
the "de Fontanges l'Hommadieus," yet while Rose would have joined
in it, albeit a little ruefully, she felt for the first time
mortified at their civil insincerity.
At the end of two weeks, Major Randolph received a letter from Mr.
Mallory. When he had read it, he turned to his wife: "He thanks
you," he said, "for your kindness to his daughter, and explains
that his sudden departure was owing to the necessity of his taking
advantage of a great opportunity for speculation that had offered."
As Mrs. Randolph turned away with a slight shrug of the shoulders,
the major continued: "But you haven't heard all! That opportunity
was the securing of a half interest in a cinnabar lode in Sonora,
which has already gone up a hundred thousand dollars in his hands!
By Jove! a man can afford to drop a little social ceremony on those
terms--eh, Josephine?" he concluded with a triumphant chuckle.
"He's as likely to lose his hundred thousand to-morrow, while his
manners will remain," said Mrs. Randolph. "I've no faith in these
sudden California fortunes!"
"You're wrong as regards Mallory, for he's as careful as he is
lucky. He don't throw money away for appearance sake, or he'd have
a rich home for that daughter. He could afford it."
Mrs. Randolph was silent. "She is his only daughter, I believe,"
she continued presently.
"Yes--he has no other kith or kin," returned the major.
"She seems to be very much impressed by Emile," said Mrs. Randolph.
Major Randolph faced his wife quickly.
"In the name of all that's ridiculous, my dear, you are not already
thinking of"--he gasped.
"I should be very loth to give MY sanction to anything of the kind,
knowing the difference of her birth, education, and religion,--
although the latter I believe she would readily change," said Mrs.
Randolph, severely. "But when you speak of MY already thinking of
'such things,' do you suppose that your friend, Mr. Mallory, didn't
consider all that when he sent that girl here?"
"Never," said the major, vehemently, "and if it entered his head
now, by Jove, he'd take her away to-morrow--always supposing I
didn't anticipate him by sending her off myself."
Mrs. Randolph uttered her mirthless laugh. "And you suppose the
girl would go? Really, major, you don't seem to understand this
boasted liberty of your own countrywoman. What does she care for
her father's control? Why, she'd make him do just what SHE wanted.
But," she added with an expression of dignity, "perhaps we had
better not discuss this until we know something of Emile's feelings
in the matter. That is the only question that concerns us." With
this she swept out of the room, leaving the major at first
speechless with honest indignation, and then after the fashion of
all guileless natures, a little uneasy and suspicious of his own
guilelessness. For a day or two after, he found himself, not
without a sensation of meanness, watching Rose when in Emile's
presence, but he could distinguish nothing more than the frank
satisfaction she showed equally to the others. Yet he found
himself regretting even that, so subtle was the contagion of his
It had been a warm morning; an unusual mist, which the sun had not
dissipated, had crept on from the great grain-fields beyond, and
hung around the house charged with a dry, dusty closeness that
seemed to be quite independent of the sun's rays, and more like a
heated exhalation or emanation of the soil itself. In its acrid
irritation Rose thought she could detect the breath of the wheat as
on the day she had plunged into its pale, green shadows. By the
afternoon this mist had disappeared, apparently in the same
mysterious manner, but not scattered by the usual trade-wind,
which--another unusual circumstance--that day was not forthcoming.
There was a breathlessness in the air like the hush of listening
expectancy, which filled the young girl with a vague restlessness,
and seemed to even affect a scattered company of crows in the field
beyond the house, which rose suddenly with startled but aimless
wings, and then dropped vacantly among the grain again.
Major Randolph was inspecting a distant part of the ranch, Mrs.
Randolph was presumably engaged in her boudoir, and Rose was
sitting between Adele and Emile before the piano in the drawing-
room, listlessly turning over the leaves of some music. There had
been an odd mingling of eagerness and abstraction in the usual
attentions of the young man that morning, and a certain nervous
affectation in his manner of twisting the ends of a small black
moustache, which resembled his mother's eyebrows, that had affected
Rose with a half-amused, half-uneasy consciousness, but which she
had, however, referred to the restlessness produced by the weather.
It occurred to her also that the vacuously amiable Adele had once
or twice regarded her with the same precocious, childlike curiosity
and infantine cunning she had once before exhibited. All this did
not, however, abate her admiration for both--perhaps particularly
for this picturesquely gentlemanly young fellow, with his gentle
audacities of compliment, his caressing attentions, and his
unfailing and equal address. And when, discovering that she had
mislaid her fan for the fifth time that morning, he started up with
equal and undiminished fire to go again and fetch it, the look of
grateful pleasure and pleading perplexity in her pretty eyes might
have turned a less conceited brain than his.
"But you don't know where it is!"
"I shall find it by instinct."
"You are spoiling me--you two." The parenthesis was a hesitating
addition, but she continued, with fresh sincerity, "I shall be
quite helpless when I leave here--if I am ever able to go by
"Don't ever go, then."
"But just now I want my fan; it is so close everywhere to-day."
"I fly, mademoiselle."
He started to the door.
She called after him:--
"Let me help your instinct, then; I had it last in the major's
"That was where I was going."
He disappeared. Rose got up and moved uneasily towards the window.
"How queer and quiet it looks outside. It's really too bad that he
should be sent after that fan again. He'll never find it." She
resumed her place at the piano, Adele following her with round,
expectant eyes. After a pause she started up again. "I'll go and
fetch it myself," she said, with a half-embarrassed laugh, and ran
to the door.
Scarcely understanding her own nervousness, but finding relief in
rapid movement, Rose flew lightly up the staircase. The major's
study, where she had been writing letters, during his absence, that
morning, was at the further end of a long passage, and near her own
bedroom, the door of which, as she passed, she noticed, half-
abstractedly, was open, but she continued on and hurriedly entered
the study. At the same moment Emile, with a smile on his face,
turned towards her with the fan in his hand.
"Oh, you've found it," she said, with nervous eagerness. "I was so
afraid you'd have all your trouble for nothing."
She extended her hand, with a half-breathless smile, for the fan,
but he caught her outstretched little palm in his own, and held it.
"Ah! but you are not going to leave us, are you?"
In a flash of consciousness she understood him, and, as it seemed
to her, her own nervousness, and all, and everything. And with it
came a swift appreciation of all it meant to her and her future.
To be always with him and like him, a part of this refined and
restful seclusion--akin to all that had so attracted her in this
house; not to be obliged to educate herself up to it, but to be in
it on equal terms at once; to know that it was no wild, foolish
youthful fancy, but a wise, thoughtful, and prudent resolve, that
her father would understand and her friends respect: these were the
thoughts that crowded quickly upon her, more like an explanation of
her feelings than a revelation, in the brief second that he held
her hand. It was not, perhaps, love as she had dreamed it, and
even BELIEVED it, before. She was not ashamed or embarrassed; she
even felt, with a slight pride, that she was not blushing. She
raised her eyes frankly. What she WOULD have said she did not
know, for the door, which he had closed behind her, began to shake
It was not the fear of some angry intrusion or interference surely
that made him drop her hand instantly. It was not--her second
thought--the idea that some one had fallen in a fit against it that
blanched his face with abject and unreasoning terror! It must have
been something else that caused him to utter an inarticulate cry
and dash out of the room and down the stairs like a madman! What
In her own self-possession she knew that all this was passing
rapidly, that it was not the door now that was still shaking, for
it had swung almost shut again--but it was the windows, the book-
shelves, the floor beneath her feet, that were all shaking. She
heard a hurried scrambling, the trampling of feet below, and the
quick rustling of a skirt in the passage, as if some one had
precipitately fled from her room. Yet no one had called to her--
even HE had said nothing. Whatever had happened they clearly had
not cared for her to know.
The jarring and rattling ceased as suddenly, but the house seemed
silent and empty. She moved to the door, which had now swung open
a few inches, but to her astonishment it was fixed in that
position, and she could not pass. As yet she had been free from
any personal fear, and even now it was with a half smile at her
imprisonment in the major's study, that she rang the bell and
turned to the window. A man, whom she recognized as one of the
ranch laborers, was standing a hundred feet away in the garden,
looking curiously at the house. He saw her face as she tried to
raise the sash, uttered an exclamation, and ran forward. But
before she could understand what he said, the sash began to rattle
in her hand, the jarring recommenced, the floor shook beneath her
feet, a hideous sound of grinding seemed to come from the walls, a
thin seam of dust-like smoke broke from the ceiling, and with the
noise of falling plaster a dozen books followed each other from the
shelves, in what in the frantic hurry of that moment seemed a
grimly deliberate succession; a picture hanging against the wall,
to her dazed wonder, swung forward, and appeared to stand at right
angles from it; she felt herself reeling against the furniture; a
deadly nausea overtook her; as she glanced despairingly towards the
window, the outlying fields beyond the garden seemed to be
undulating like a sea. For the first time she raised her voice,
not in fear, but in a pathetic little cry of apology for her
awkwardness in tumbling about and not being able to grapple this
new experience, and then she found herself near the door, which had
once more swung free. She grasped it eagerly, and darted out of
the study into the deserted passage. Here some instinct made her
follow the line of the wall, rather than the shaking balusters of
the corridor and staircase, but before she reached the bottom she
heard a shout, and the farm laborer she had seen coming towards her
seized her by the arm, dragged her to the open doorway of the
drawing-room, and halted beneath its arch in the wall. Another
thrill, but lighter than before, passed through the building, then
all was still again.
"It's over; I reckon that's all just now," said the man, coolly.
"It's quite safe to cut and run for the garden now, through this
window." He half led, half lifted her through the French window to
the veranda and the ground, and locking her arm in his, ran quickly
forward a hundred feet from the house, stopping at last beneath a
large post oak where there was a rustic seat into which she sank.
"You're safe now, I reckon," he said grimly.
She looked towards the house; the sun was shining brightly; a cool
breeze seemed to have sprung up as they ran. She could see a
quantity of rubbish lying on the roof from which a dozen yards of
zinc gutter were perilously hanging; the broken shafts of the
further cluster of chimneys, a pile of bricks scattered upon the
ground and among the battered down beams of the end of the veranda--
but that was all. She lifted her now whitened face to the man,
and with the apologetic smile still lingering on her lips, asked:--
"What does it all mean? What has happened?"
The man stared at her. "D'ye mean to say ye don't know?"
"How could I? They must have all left the house as soon as it
began. I was talking to--to M. l'Hommadieu, and he suddenly left."
The man brought his face angrily down within an inch of her own.
"D'ye mean to say that them d----d French half-breeds stampeded and
left yer there alone?"
She was still too much stupefied by the reaction to fully
comprehend his meaning, and repeated feebly with her smile still
faintly lingering: "But you don't tell me WHAT it was?"
"An earthquake," said the man, roughly, "and if it had lasted ten
seconds longer it would have shook the whole shanty down and left
you under it. Yer kin tell that to them, if they don't know it,
but from the way they made tracks to the fields, I reckon they did.
They're coming now."
Without another word he turned away half surlily, half defiantly,
passing scarce fifty yards away Mrs. Randolph and her daughter, who
were hastening towards their guest.
"Oh, here you are!" said Mrs. Randolph, with the nearest approach
to effusion that Rose had yet seen in her manner. "We were
wondering where you had run to, and were getting quite concerned.
Emile was looking for you everywhere."
The recollection of his blank and abject face, his vague outcry and
blind fright, came back to Rose with a shock that sent a flash of
sympathetic shame to her face. The ingenious Adele noticed it, and
dutifully pinched her mother's arm.
"Emile?" echoed Rose faintly--"looking for ME?"
Mother and daughter exchanged glances.
"Yes," said Mrs. Randolph, cheerfully, "he says he started to run
with you, but you got ahead and slipped out of the garden door--or
something of the kind," she added, with the air of making light of
Rose's girlish fears. "You know one scarcely knows what one does
at such times, and it must have been frightfully strange to YOU--
and he's been quite distracted, lest you should have wandered away.
Adele, run and tell him Miss Mallory has been here under the oak
all the time."
Rose started--and then fell hopelessly back in her seat. Perhaps
it WAS true! Perhaps he had not rushed off with that awful face
and without a word. Perhaps she herself had been half-frightened
out of her reason. In the simple, weak kindness of her nature it
seemed less dreadful to believe that the fault was partly her own.
"And you went back into the house to look for us when all was
over," said Mrs. Randolph, fixing her black, beady, magnetic eyes
on Rose, "and that stupid yokel Zake brought you out again. He
needn't have clutched your arm so closely, my dear,--I must speak
to the major about his excessive familiarity--but I suppose I shall
be told that that is American freedom. I call it 'a liberty.'"
It struck Rose that she had not even thanked the man--in the same
flash that she remembered something dreadful that he had said. She
covered her face with her hands and tried to recall herself.
Mrs. Randolph gently tapped her shoulder with a mixture of maternal
philosophy and discipline, and continued: "Of course, it's an
upset--and you're confused still. That's nothing. They say, dear,
it's perfectly well known that no two people's recollections of
these things ever are the same. It's really ridiculous the
contradictory stories one hears. Isn't it, Emile?"
Rose felt that the young man had joined them and was looking at
her. In the fear that she should still see some trace of the
startled, selfish animal in his face, she did not dare to raise her
eyes to his, but looked at his mother. Mrs. Randolph was standing
then, collected but impatient.
"It's all over now," said Emile, in his usual voice, "and except
the chimneys and some fallen plaster there's really no damage done.
But I'm afraid they have caught it pretty badly at the mission, and
at San Francisco in those tall, flashy, rattle-trap buildings
they're putting up. I've just sent off one of the men for news."
Her father was in San Francisco by that time; and she had never
thought of him! In her quick remorse she now forgot all else and
rose to her feet.
"I must telegraph to my father at once," she said hurriedly; "he is
"You had better wait until the messenger returns and hear his
news," said Emile. "If the shock was only a slight one in San
Francisco, your father might not understand you, and would be
She could see his face now--there was no record of the past
expression upon it, but he was watching her eagerly. Mrs. Randolph
and Adele had moved away to speak to the servants. Emile drew
"You surely will not desert us now?" he said in a low voice.
"Please don't," she said vaguely. "I'm so worried," and, pushing
quickly past him, she hurriedly rejoined the two women.
They were superintending the erection of a long tent or marquee in
the garden, hastily extemporized from the awnings of the veranda
and other cloth. Mrs. Randolph explained that, although all danger
was over, there was the possibility of the recurrence of lighter
shocks during the day and night, and that they would all feel much
more secure and comfortable to camp out for the next twenty-four
hours in the open air.
"Only imagine you're picnicking, and you'll enjoy it as most people
usually enjoy those horrid al fresco entertainments. I don't
believe there's the slightest real necessity for it, but," she
added in a lower voice, "the Irish and Chinese servants are so
demoralized now, they wouldn't stay indoors with us. It's a common
practice here, I believe, for a day or two after the shock, and it
gives time to put things right again and clear up. The old, one-
storied, Spanish houses with walls three feet thick, and built
round a courtyard or patio, were much safer. It's only when the
Americans try to improve upon the old order of things with their
pinchbeck shams and stucco that Providence interferes like this to
It was the fact, however, that Rose was more impressed by what
seemed to her the absolute indifference of Providence in the
matter, and the cool resumption by Nature of her ordinary
conditions. The sky above their heads was as rigidly blue as ever,
and as smilingly monotonous; the distant prospect, with its clear,
well-known silhouettes, had not changed; the crows swung on lazy,
deliberate wings over the grain as before; and the trade-wind was
again blowing in its quiet persistency. And yet she knew that
something had happened that would never again make her enjoyment of
the prospect the same--that nothing would ever be as it was
yesterday. I think at first she referred only to the material and
larger phenomena, and did not confound this revelation of the
insecurity of the universe with her experience of man. Yet the
fact also remained that to the conservative, correct, and, as she
believed, secure condition to which she had been approximating, all