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Susy, A Story of the Plains by Bret Harte

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SUSY, A STORY OF THE PLAINS

by

Bret Harte

From: "ARGONAUT EDITION" OF THE WORKS OF BRET HARTE, VOL. 7

P. F. COLLIER & SON

NEW YORK

SUSY, A STORY OF THE PLAINS

CHAPTER I.

Where the San Leandro turnpike stretches its dusty, hot, and
interminable length along the valley, at a point where the heat and
dust have become intolerable, the monotonous expanse of wild oats on
either side illimitable, and the distant horizon apparently remoter
than ever, it suddenly slips between a stunted thicket or hedge of
"scrub oaks," which until that moment had been undistinguishable
above the long, misty, quivering level of the grain. The thicket
rising gradually in height, but with a regular slope whose gradient
had been determined by centuries of western trade winds, presently
becomes a fair wood of live-oak, and a few hundred yards further at
last assumes the aspect of a primeval forest. A delicious coolness
fills the air; the long, shadowy aisles greet the aching eye with a
soothing twilight; the murmur of unseen brooks is heard, and, by a
strange irony, the enormous, widely-spaced stacks of wild oats are
replaced by a carpet of tiny-leaved mosses and chickweed at the
roots of trees, and the minutest clover in more open spaces. The
baked and cracked adobe soil of the now vanished plains is exchanged
for a heavy red mineral dust and gravel, rocks and boulders make
their appearance, and at times the road is crossed by the white
veins of quartz. It is still the San Leandro turnpike,--a few miles
later to rise from this canada into the upper plains again,--but it
is also the actual gateway and avenue to the Robles Rancho. When
the departing visitors of Judge Peyton, now owner of the rancho,
reach the outer plains again, after twenty minutes' drive from the
house, the canada, rancho, and avenue have as completely disappeared
from view as if they had been swallowed up in the plain.

A cross road from the turnpike is the usual approach to the casa or
mansion,--a long, low quadrangle of brown adobe wall in a bare but
gently sloping eminence. And here a second surprise meets the
stranger. He seems to have emerged from the forest upon another
illimitable plain, but one utterly trackless, wild, and desolate.
It is, however, only a lower terrace of the same valley, and, in
fact, comprises the three square leagues of the Robles Rancho.
Uncultivated and savage as it appears, given over to wild cattle and
horses that sometimes sweep in frightened bands around the very casa
itself, the long south wall of the corral embraces an orchard of
gnarled pear-trees, an old vineyard, and a venerable garden of
olives and oranges. A manor, formerly granted by Charles V. to Don
Vincente Robles, of Andalusia, of pious and ascetic memory, it had
commended itself to Judge Peyton, of Kentucky, a modern heretic
pioneer of bookish tastes and secluded habits, who had bought it of
Don Vincente's descendants. Here Judge Peyton seemed to have
realized his idea of a perfect climate, and a retirement, half-
studious, half-active, with something of the seignioralty of the old
slaveholder that he had been. Here, too, he had seen the hope of
restoring his wife's health--for which he had undertaken the
overland emigration--more than fulfilled in Mrs. Peyton's improved
physical condition, albeit at the expense, perhaps, of some of the
languorous graces of ailing American wifehood.

It was with a curious recognition of this latter fact that Judge
Peyton watched his wife crossing the patio or courtyard with her arm
around the neck of her adopted daughter "Suzette." A sudden memory
crossed his mind of the first day that he had seen them together,--
the day that he had brought the child and her boy-companion--two
estrays from an emigrant train on the plains--to his wife in camp.
Certainly Mrs. Peyton was stouter and stronger fibred; the wonderful
Californian climate had materialized her figure, as it had their
Eastern fruits and flowers, but it was stranger that "Susy"--the
child of homelier frontier blood and parentage, whose wholesome
peasant plumpness had at first attracted them--should have grown
thinner and more graceful, and even seemed to have gained the
delicacy his wife had lost. Six years had imperceptibly wrought
this change; it had never struck him before so forcibly as on this
day of Susy's return from the convent school at Santa Clara for the
holidays.

The woman and child had reached the broad veranda which, on one side
of the patio, replaced the old Spanish corridor. It was the single
modern innovation that Peyton had allowed himself when he had broken
the quadrangular symmetry of the old house with a wooden "annexe" or
addition beyond the walls. It made a pleasant lounging-place,
shadowed from the hot midday sun by sloping roofs and awnings, and
sheltered from the boisterous afternoon trade winds by the opposite
side of the court. But Susy did not seem inclined to linger there
long that morning, in spite of Mrs. Peyton's evident desire for a
maternal tete-a-tete. The nervous preoccupation and capricious
ennui of an indulged child showed in her pretty but discontented
face, and knit her curved eyebrows, and Peyton saw a look of pain
pass over his wife's face as the young girl suddenly and half-
laughingly broke away and fluttered off towards the old garden.

Mrs. Peyton looked up and caught her husband's eye.

"I am afraid Susy finds it more dull here every time she returns,"
she said, with an apologetic smile. "I am glad she has invited one
of her school friends to come for a visit to-morrow. You know,
yourself, John," she added, with a slight partisan attitude, "that
the lonely old house and wild plain are not particularly lively for
young people, however much they may suit YOUR ways."

"It certainly must be dull if she can't stand it for three weeks in
the year," said her husband dryly. "But we really cannot open the
San Francisco house for her summer vacation, nor can we move from
the rancho to a more fashionable locality. Besides, it will do her
good to run wild here. I can remember when she wasn't so
fastidious. In fact, I was thinking just now how changed she was
from the day when we picked her up"--

"How often am I to remind you, John," interrupted the lady, with
some impatience, "that we agreed never to speak of her past, or even
to think of her as anything but our own child. You know how it
pains me! And the poor dear herself has forgotten it, and thinks of
us only as her own parents. I really believe that if that wretched
father and mother of hers had not been killed by the Indians, or
were to come to life again, she would neither know them nor care for
them. I mean, of course, John," she said, averting her eyes from a
slightly cynical smile on her husband's face, "that it's only
natural for young children to be forgetful, and ready to take new
impressions."

"And as long, dear, as WE are not the subjects of this youthful
forgetfulness, and she isn't really finding US as stupid as the
rancho," replied her husband cheerfully, "I suppose we mustn't
complain."

"John, how can you talk such nonsense?" said Mrs. Peyton impatiently.
"But I have no fear of that," she added, with a slightly ostentatious
confidence. "I only wish I was as sure"--

"Of what?"

"Of nothing happening that could take her from us. I do not mean
death, John,--like our first little one. That does not happen to
one twice; but I sometimes dread"--

"What? She's only fifteen, and it's rather early to think about the
only other inevitable separation,--marriage. Come, Ally, this is
mere fancy. She has been given up to us by her family,--at least,
by all that we know are left of them. I have legally adopted her.
If I have not made her my heiress, it is because I prefer to leave
everything to YOU, and I would rather she should know that she was
dependent upon you for the future than upon me."

"And I can make a will in her favor if I want to?" said Mrs. Peyton
quickly.

"Always," responded her husband smilingly; "but you have ample time
to think of that, I trust. Meanwhile I have some news for you which
may make Susy's visit to the rancho this time less dull to her. You
remember Clarence Brant, the boy who was with her when we picked her
up, and who really saved her life?"

"No, I don't," said Mrs. Peyton pettishly, "nor do I want to! You
know, John, how distasteful and unpleasant it is for me to have
those dreary, petty, and vulgar details of the poor child's past
life recalled, and, thank Heaven, I have forgotten them except when
you choose to drag them before me. You agreed, long ago, that we
were never to talk of the Indian massacre of her parents, so that we
could also ignore it before her; then why do you talk of her vulgar
friends, who are just as unpleasant? Please let us drop the past."

"Willingly, my dear; but, unfortunately, we cannot make others do
it. And this is a case in point. It appears that this boy, whom we
brought to Sacramento to deliver to a relative"--

"And who was a wicked little impostor,--you remember that yourself,
John, for he said that he was the son of Colonel Brant, and that he
was dead; and you know, and my brother Harry knew, that Colonel
Brant was alive all the time, and that he was lying, and Colonel
Brant was not his father," broke in Mrs. Peyton impatiently.

"As it seems you do remember that much," said Peyton dryly, "it is
only just to him that I should tell you that it appears that he was
not an impostor. His story was TRUE. I have just learned that
Colonel Brant WAS actually his father, but had concealed his lawless
life here, as well as his identity, from the boy. He was really
that vague relative to whom Clarence was confided, and under that
disguise he afterwards protected the boy, had him carefully educated
at the Jesuit College of San Jose, and, dying two years ago in that
filibuster raid in Mexico, left him a considerable fortune."

"And what has he to do with Susy's holidays?" said Mrs. Peyton, with
uneasy quickness. "John, you surely cannot expect her ever to meet
this common creature again, with his vulgar ways. His wretched
associates like that Jim Hooker, and, as you yourself admit, the
blood of an assassin, duelist, and--Heaven knows what kind of a
pirate his father wasn't at the last--in his veins! You don't
believe that a lad of this type, however much of his father's ill-
gotten money he may have, can be fit company for your daughter? You
never could have thought of inviting him here?"

"I'm afraid that's exactly what I have done, Ally," said the smiling
but unmoved Peyton; "but I'm still more afraid that your conception
of his present condition is an unfair one, like your remembrance of
his past. Father Sobriente, whom I met at San Jose yesterday, says
he is very intelligent, and thoroughly educated, with charming
manners and refined tastes. His father's money, which they say was
an investment for him in Carson's Bank five years ago, is as good as
any one's, and his father's blood won't hurt him in California or
the Southwest. At least, he is received everywhere, and Don Juan
Robinson was his guardian. Indeed, as far as social status goes, it
might be a serious question if the actual daughter of the late John
Silsbee, of Pike County, and the adopted child of John Peyton was in
the least his superior. As Father Sobriente evidently knew
Clarence's former companionship with Susy and her parents, it would
be hardly politic for us to ignore it or seem to be ashamed of it.
So I intrusted Sobriente with an invitation to young Brant on the
spot."

Mrs. Peyton's impatience, indignation, and opposition, which had
successively given way before her husband's quiet, masterful good
humor, here took the form of a neurotic fatalism. She shook her
head with superstitious resignation.

"Didn't I tell you, John, that I always had a dread of something
coming"--

"But if it comes in the shape of a shy young lad, I see nothing
singularly portentous in it. They have not met since they were
quite small; their tastes have changed; if they don't quarrel and
fight they may be equally bored with each other. Yet until then, in
one way or another, Clarence will occupy the young lady's vacant
caprice, and her school friend, Mary Rogers, will be here, you know,
to divide his attentions, and," added Peyton, with mock solemnity,
preserve the interest of strict propriety. Shall I break it to
her,--or will you?"

"No,--yes," hesitated Mrs. Peyton; "perhaps I had better."

"Very well, I leave his character in your hands; only don't
prejudice her into a romantic fancy for him." And Judge Peyton
lounged smilingly away.

Then two little tears forced themselves from Mrs. Peyton's eyes.
Again she saw that prospect of uninterrupted companionship with
Susy, upon which each successive year she had built so many maternal
hopes and confidences, fade away before her. She dreaded the coming
of Susy's school friend, who shared her daughter's present thoughts
and intimacy, although she had herself invited her in a more
desperate dread of the child's abstracted, discontented eyes; she
dreaded the advent of the boy who had shared Susy's early life
before she knew her; she dreaded the ordeal of breaking the news and
perhaps seeing that pretty animation spring into her eyes, which she
had begun to believe no solicitude or tenderness of her own ever
again awakened,--and yet she dreaded still more that her husband
should see it too. For the love of this recreated woman, although
not entirely materialized with her changed fibre, had nevertheless
become a coarser selfishness fostered by her loneliness and limited
experience. The maternal yearning left unsatisfied by the loss of
her first-born had never been filled by Susy's thoughtless
acceptance of it; she had been led astray by the child's easy
transference of dependence and the forgetfulness of youth, and was
only now dimly conscious of finding herself face to face with an
alien nature.

She started to her feet and followed the direction that Susy had
taken. For a moment she had to front the afternoon trade wind which
chilled her as it swept the plain beyond the gateway, but was
stopped by the adobe wall, above whose shelter the stunted treetops--
through years of exposure--slanted as if trimmed by gigantic
shears. At first, looking down the venerable alley of fantastic,
knotted shapes, she saw no trace of Susy. But half way down the
gleam of a white skirt against a thicket of dark olives showed her
the young girl sitting on a bench in a neglected arbor. In the
midst of this formal and faded pageantry she looked charmingly
fresh, youthful, and pretty; and yet the unfortunate woman thought
that her attitude and expression at that moment suggested more than
her fifteen years of girlhood. Her golden hair still hung
unfettered over her straight, boy-like back and shoulders; her short
skirt still showed her childish feet and ankles; yet there seemed to
be some undefined maturity or a vague womanliness about her that
stung Mrs. Peyton's heart. The child was growing away from her,
too!

"Susy!"

The young girl raised her head quickly; her deep violet eyes seemed
also to leap with a sudden suspicion, and with a half-mechanical,
secretive movement, that might have been only a schoolgirl's
instinct, her right hand had slipped a paper on which she was
scribbling between the leaves of her book. Yet the next moment,
even while looking interrogatively at her mother, she withdrew the
paper quietly, tore it up into small pieces, and threw them on the
ground.

But Mrs. Peyton was too preoccupied with her news to notice the
circumstance, and too nervous in her haste to be tactful. "Susy,
your father has invited that boy, Clarence Brant,--you know that
creature we picked up and assisted on the plains, when you were a
mere baby,--to come down here and make us a visit."

Her heart seemed to stop beating as she gazed breathlessly at the
girl. But Susy's face, unchanged except for the alert, questioning
eyes, remained fixed for a moment; then a childish smile of wonder
opened her small red mouth, expanded it slightly as she said
simply:--

"Lor, mar! He hasn't, really!"

Inexpressibly, yet unreasonably reassured, Mrs. Peyton hurriedly
recounted her husband's story of Clarence's fortune, and was even
joyfully surprised into some fairness of statement.

"But you don't remember him much, do you, dear? It was so long ago,
and--you are quite a young lady now," she added eagerly.

The open mouth was still fixed; the wondering smile would have been
idiotic in any face less dimpled, rosy, and piquant than Susy's.
After a slight gasp, as if in still incredulous and partly
reminiscent preoccupation, she said without replying:--

"How funny! When is he coming?"

"Day after to-morrow," returned Mrs. Peyton, with a contented smile.

"And Mary Rogers will be here, too. It will be real fun for her."

Mrs. Peyton was more than reassured. Half ashamed of her jealous
fears, she drew Susy's golden head towards her and kissed it. And
the young girl, still reminiscent, with smilingly abstracted
toleration, returned the caress.

CHAPTER II.

It was not thought inconsistent with Susy's capriciousness that she
should declare her intention the next morning of driving her pony
buggy to Santa Inez to anticipate the stage-coach and fetch Mary
Rogers from the station. Mrs. Peyton, as usual, supported the young
lady's whim and opposed her husband's objections.

"Because the stage-coach happens to pass our gate, John, it is no
reason why Susy shouldn't drive her friend from Santa Inez if she
prefers it. It's only seven miles, and you can send Pedro to follow
her on horseback to see that she comes to no harm."

"But that isn't Pedro's business," said Peyton.

"He ought to be proud of the privilege," returned the lady, with a
toss of her head.

Peyton smiled grimly, but yielded; and when the stage-coach drew up
the next afternoon at the Santa Inez Hotel, Susy was already waiting
in her pony carriage before it. Although the susceptible driver,
expressman, and passengers generally, charmed with this golden-
haired vision, would have gladly protracted the meeting of the two
young friends, the transfer of Mary Rogers from the coach to the
carriage was effected with considerable hauteur and youthful dignity
by Susy. Even Mary Rogers, two years Susy's senior, a serious
brunette, whose good-humor did not, however, impair her capacity for
sentiment, was impressed and even embarrassed by her demeanor; but
only for a moment. When they had driven from the hotel and were
fairly hidden again in the dust of the outlying plain, with the
discreet Pedro hovering in the distance, Susy dropped the reins,
and, grasping her companion's arm, gasped, in tones of dramatic
intensity:--

"He's been heard from, and is coming HERE!"

"Who?"

A sickening sense that her old confidante had already lost touch
with her--they had been separated for nearly two weeks--might have
passed through Susy's mind.

"Who?" she repeated, with a vicious shake of Mary's arm, "why,
Clarence Brant, of course."

"No!" said Mary, vaguely.

Nevertheless, Susy went on rapidly, as if to neutralize the effect
of her comrade's vacuity.

"You never could have imagined it! Never! Even I, when mother told
me, I thought I should have fainted, and ALL would have been
revealed!"

"But," hesitated the still wondering confidante, "I thought that was
all over long ago. You haven't seen him nor heard from him since
that day you met accidentally at Santa Clara, two years ago, have
you?"

Susy's eyes shot a blue ray of dark but unutterable significance
into Mary's, and then were carefully averted. Mary Rogers, although
perfectly satisfied that Susy had never seen Clarence since,
nevertheless instantly accepted and was even thrilled with this
artful suggestion of a clandestine correspondence. Such was the
simple faith of youthful friendship.

"Mother knows nothing of it, of course, and a word from you or him
would ruin everything," continued the breathless Susy. "That's why
I came to fetch you and warn you. You must see him first, and warn
him at any cost. If I hadn't run every risk to come here to-day,
Heaven knows what might have happened! What do you think of the
ponies, dear? They're my own, and the sweetest! This one's Susy,
that one Clarence,--but privately, you know. Before the world and
in the stables he's only Birdie."

"But I thought you wrote to me that you called them 'Paul and
Virginie,'" said Mary doubtfully.

"I do, sometimes," said Susy calmly. "But one has to learn to
suppress one's feelings, dear!" Then quickly, "I do so hate deceit,
don't you? Tell me, don't you think deceit perfectly hateful?"

Without waiting for her friend's loyal assent, she continued
rapidly: "And he's just rolling in wealth! and educated, papa says,
to the highest degree!"

"Then," began Mary, "if he's coming with your mother's consent, and
if you haven't quarreled, and it is not broken off, I should think
you'd be just delighted."

But another quick flash from Susy's eyes dispersed these beatific
visions of the future. "Hush!" she said, with suppressed dramatic
intensity. "You know not what you say! There's an awful mystery
hangs over him. Mary Rogers," continued the young girl, approaching
her small mouth to her confidante's ear in an appalling whisper.
"His father was--a PIRATE! Yes--lived a pirate and was killed a
pirate!"

The statement, however, seemed to be partly ineffective. Mary
Rogers was startled but not alarmed, and even protested feebly.
"But," she said, "if the father's dead, what's that to do with
Clarence? He was always with your papa--so you told me, dear--or
other people, and couldn't catch anything from his own father. And
I'm sure, dearest, he always seemed nice and quiet."

"Yes, SEEMED," returned Susy darkly, "but that's all you know! It
was in his BLOOD. You know it always is,--you read it in the
books,--you could see it in his eye. There were times, my dear,
when he was thwarted,--when the slightest attention from another
person to me revealed it! I have kept it to myself,--but think,
dearest, of the effects of jealousy on that passionate nature!
Sometimes I tremble to look back upon it."

Nevertheless, she raised her hands and threw back her lovely golden
mane from her childish shoulders with an easy, untroubled gesture.
It was singular that Mary Rogers, leaning back comfortably in the
buggy, also accepted these heart-rending revelations with
comfortably knitted brows and luxuriously contented concern. If she
found it difficult to recognize in the picture just drawn by Susy
the quiet, gentle, and sadly reserved youth she had known, she said
nothing. After a silence, lazily watching the distant wheeling
vacquero, she said:--

"And your father always sends an outrider like that with you? How
nice! So picturesque--and like the old Spanish days."

"Hush!" said Susy, with another unutterable glance.

But this time Mary was in full sympathetic communion with her
friend, and equal to any incoherent hiatus of revelation.

"No!" she said promptly, "you don't mean it!"

"Don't ask me, I daren't say anything to papa, for he'd be simply
furious. But there are times when we're alone, and Pedro wheels
down so near with SUCH a look in his black eyes, that I'm all in a
tremble. It's dreadful! They say he's a real Briones,--and he
sometimes says something in Spanish, ending with 'senorita,' but I
pretend I don't understand."

"And I suppose that if anything should happen to the ponies, he'd
just risk his life to save you."

"Yes,--and it would be so awful,--for I just hate him!"

"But if I was with you, dear, he couldn't expect you to be as
grateful as if you were alone. Susy!" she continued after a pause,
"if you just stirred up the ponies a little so as to make 'em go
fast, perhaps he might think they'd got away from you, and come
dashing down here. It would be so funny to see him,--wouldn't it?"

The two girls looked at each other; their eyes sparkled already with
a fearful joy,--they drew a long breath of guilty anticipation. For
a moment Susy even believed in her imaginary sketch of Pedro's
devotion.

"Papa said I wasn't to use the whip except in a case of necessity,"
she said, reaching for the slender silver-handled toy, and setting
her pretty lips together with the added determination of
disobedience. "G'long!"--and she laid the lash smartly on the
shining backs of the animals.

They were wiry, slender brutes of Mojave Indian blood, only lately
broken to harness, and still undisciplined in temper. The lash sent
them rearing into the air, where, forgetting themselves in the
slackened traces and loose reins, they came down with a succession
of bounds that brought the light buggy leaping after them with its
wheels scarcely touching the ground. That unlucky lash had knocked
away the bonds of a few months' servitude and sent the half-broken
brutes instinctively careering with arched backs and kicking heels
into the field towards the nearest cover.

Mary Rogers cast a hurried glance over her shoulder. Alas, they had
not calculated on the insidious levels of the terraced plain, and
the faithful Pedro had suddenly disappeared; the intervention of six
inches of rising wild oats had wiped him out of the prospect and
their possible salvation as completely as if he had been miles away.
Nevertheless, the girls were not frightened; perhaps they had not
time. There was, however, the briefest interval for the most
dominant of feminine emotions, and it was taken advantage of by
Susy.

"It was all YOUR fault, dear!" she gasped, as the forewheels of the
buggy, dropping into a gopher rut, suddenly tilted up the back of
the vehicle and shot its fair occupants into the yielding palisades
of dusty grain. The shock detached the whiffletree from the
splinter-bar, snapped the light pole, and, turning the now
thoroughly frightened animals again from their course, sent them,
goaded by the clattering fragments, flying down the turnpike. Half
a mile farther on they overtook the gleaming white canvas hood of a
slowly moving wagon drawn by two oxen, and, swerving again, the
nearer pony stepped upon a trailing trace and ingloriously ended
their career by rolling himself and his companion in the dust at the
very feet of the peacefully plodding team.

Equally harmless and inglorious was the catastrophe of Susy and her
friend. The strong, elastic stalks of the tall grain broke their
fall and enabled them to scramble to their feet, dusty, disheveled,
but unhurt, and even unstunned by the shock. Their first
instinctive cries over a damaged hat or ripped skirt were followed
by the quick reaction of childish laughter. They were alone; the
very defection of Pedro consoled them, in its absence of any witness
to their disaster; even their previous slight attitude to each other
was forgotten. They groped their way, pushing and panting, to the
road again, where, beholding the overset buggy with its wheels
ludicrously in the air, they suddenly seized and shook each other,
and in an outburst of hilarious ecstasy, fairly laughed until the
tears came into their eyes.

Then there was a breathless silence.

"The stage will be coming by in a moment," composedly said Susy.
"Fix me, dear."

Mary Rogers calmly walked around her friend, bestowing a practical
shake there, a pluck here, completely retying one bow and restoring
an engaging fullness to another, yet critically examining, with her
head on one side, the fascinating result. Then Susy performed the
same function for Mary with equal deliberation and deftness.
Suddenly Mary started and looked up.

"It's coming," she said quickly, "and they've SEEN US."

The expression of the faces of the two girls instantly changed. A
pained dignity and resignation, apparently born of the most
harrowing experiences and controlled only by perfect good breeding,
was distinctly suggested in their features and attitude as they
stood patiently by the wreck of their overturned buggy awaiting the
oncoming coach. In sharp contrast was the evident excitement among
the passengers. A few rose from their seats in their eagerness; as
the stage pulled up in the road beside the buggy four or five of the
younger men leaped to the ground.

"Are you hurt, miss?" they gasped sympathetically.

Susy did not immediately reply, but ominously knitted her pretty
eyebrows as if repressing a spasm of pain. Then she said, "Not at
all," coldly, with the suggestion of stoically concealing some
lasting or perhaps fatal injury, and took the arm of Mary Rogers,
who had, in the mean time, established a touching yet graceful limp.

Declining the proffered assistance of the passengers, they helped
each other into the coach, and freezingly requesting the driver to
stop at Mr. Peyton's gate, maintained a statuesque and impressive
silence. At the gates they got down, followed by the sympathetic
glances of the others.

To all appearance their escapade, albeit fraught with dangerous
possibilities, had happily ended. But in the economy of human
affairs, as in nature, forces are not suddenly let loose without
more or less sympathetic disturbance which is apt to linger after
the impelling cause is harmlessly spent. The fright which the girls
had unsuccessfully attempted to produce in the heart of their escort
had passed him to become a panic elsewhere. Judge Peyton, riding
near the gateway of his rancho, was suddenly confronted by the
spectacle of one of his vacqueros driving on before him the two
lassoed and dusty ponies, with a face that broke into violent
gesticulating at his master's quick interrogation.

"Ah! Mother of God! It was an evil day! For the bronchos had run
away, upset the buggy, and had only been stopped by a brave
Americano of an ox-team, whose lasso was even now around their
necks, to prove it, and who had been dragged a matter of a hundred
varas, like a calf, at their heels. The senoritas,--ah! had he not
already said they were safe, by the mercy of Jesus!--picked up by
the coach, and would be here at this moment."

"But where was Pedro all the time? What was he doing?" demanded
Peyton, with a darkened face and gathering anger.

The vacquero looked at his master, and shrugged his shoulders
significantly. At any other time Peyton would have remembered that
Pedro, as the reputed scion of a decayed Spanish family, and
claiming superiority, was not a favorite with his fellow-retainers.
But the gesture, half of suggestion, half of depreciation, irritated
Peyton still more.

"Well, where is this American who DID something when there wasn't a
man among you all able to stop a child's runaway ponies?" he said
sarcastically. "Let me see him."

The vacquero became still more deprecatory.

"Ah! He had driven on with his team towards San Antonio. He would
not stop to be thanked. But that was the whole truth. He,
Incarnacion, could swear to it as to the Creed. There was nothing
more."

"Take those beasts around the back way to the corral," said Peyton,
thoroughly enraged, "and not a word of this to any one at the casa,
do you hear? Not a word to Mrs. Peyton or the servants, or, by
Heaven, I'll clear the rancho of the whole lazy crew of you at once.
Out of the way there, and be off!"

He spurred his horse past the frightened menial, and dashed down the
narrow lane that led to the gate. But, as Incarnacion had truly
said, "It was an evil day," for at the bottom of the lane, ambling
slowly along as he lazily puffed a yellow cigarette, appeared the
figure of the erring Pedro. Utterly unconscious of the accident,
attributing the disappearance of his charges to the inequalities of
the plain, and, in truth, little interested in what he firmly
believed was his purely artificial function, he had even made a
larger circuit to stop at a wayside fonda for refreshments.

Unfortunately, there is no more illogical sequence of human emotion
than the exasperation produced by the bland manner of the
unfortunate object who has excited it, although that very unconcern
may be the convincing proof of innocence of intention. Judge
Peyton, already influenced, was furious at the comfortable
obliviousness of his careless henchman, and rode angrily towards
him. Only a quick turn of Pedro's wrist kept the two men from
coming into collision.

"Is this the way you attend to your duty?" demanded Peyton, in a
thick, suppressed voice, "Where is the buggy? Where is my
daughter?"

There was no mistaking Judge Peyton's manner, even if the reason of
it was not so clear to Pedro's mind, and his hot Latin blood flew
instinctively to his face. But for that, he might have shown some
concern or asked an explanation. As it was, he at once retorted
with the national shrug and the national half-scornful, half-lazy
"Quien sabe?"

"Who knows?" repeated Peyton, hotly. "I do! She was thrown out of
her buggy through your negligence and infernal laziness! The ponies
ran away, and were stopped by a stranger who wasn't afraid of
risking his bones, while you were limping around somewhere like a
slouching, cowardly coyote."

The vacquero struggled a moment between blank astonishment and
inarticulate rage. At last he burst out:--

"I am no coyote! I was there! I saw no runaway!"

"Don't lie to me, sir!" roared Peyton. "I tell you the buggy was
smashed, the girls were thrown out and nearly killed"-- He stopped
suddenly. The sound of youthful laughter had come from the bottom
of the lane, where Susy Peyton and Mary Rogers, just alighted from
the coach, in the reaction of their previous constrained attitude,
were flying hilariously into view. A slight embarrassment crossed
Peyton's face; a still deeper flush of anger overspread Pedro's
sullen cheek.

Then Pedro found tongue again, his native one, rapidly, violently,
half incoherently. "Ah, yes! It had come to this. It seems he was
not a vacquero, a companion of the padrone on lands that had been
his own before the Americanos robbed him of it, but a servant, a
lackey of muchachas, an attendant on children to amuse them, or--why
not?--an appendage to his daughter's state! Ah, Jesus Maria! such a
state! such a muchacha! A picked-up foundling--a swineherd's
daughter--to be ennobled by his, Pedro's, attendance, and for whose
vulgar, clownish tricks,--tricks of a swineherd's daughter,--he,
Pedro, was to be brought to book and insulted as if she were of
Hidalgo blood! Ah, Caramba! Don Juan Peyton would find he could no
more make a servant of him than he could make a lady of her!"

The two young girls were rapidly approaching. Judge Peyton spurred
his horse beside the vacquero's, and, swinging the long thong of his
bridle ominously in his clenched fingers, said, with a white face:--

"Vamos!"

Pedro's hand slid towards his sash. Peyton only looked at him with
a rigid smile of scorn.

"Or I'll lash you here before them both," he added in a lower voice.

The vacquero met Peyton's relentless eyes with a yellow flash of
hate, drew his reins sharply, until his mustang, galled by the cruel
bit, reared suddenly as if to strike at the immovable American,
then, apparently with the same action, he swung it around on its
hind legs, as on a pivot, and dashed towards the corral at a furious
gallop.

CHAPTER III.

Meantime the heroic proprietor of the peaceful ox-team, whose valor
Incarnacion had so infelicitously celebrated, was walking listlessly
in the dust beside his wagon. At a first glance his slouching
figure, taken in connection with his bucolic conveyance, did not
immediately suggest a hero. As he emerged from the dusty cloud it
could be seen that he was wearing a belt from which a large dragoon
revolver and hunting knife were slung, and placed somewhat
ostentatiously across the wagon seat was a rifle. Yet the other
contents of the wagon were of a singularly inoffensive character,
and even suggested articles of homely barter. Culinary utensils of
all sizes, tubs, scullery brushes, and clocks, with several rolls of
cheap carpeting and calico, might have been the wares of some
traveling vender. Yet, as they were only visible through a flap of
the drawn curtains of the canvas hood, they did not mitigate the
general aggressive effect of their owner's appearance. A red
bandanna handkerchief knotted and thrown loosely over his shoulders,
a slouched hat pulled darkly over a head of long tangled hair,
which, however, shadowed a round, comfortable face, scantily and
youthfully bearded, were part of these confusing inconsistencies.

The shadows of the team wagon were already lengthening grotesquely
over the flat, cultivated fields, which for some time had taken the
place of the plains of wild oats in the branch road into which they
had turned. The gigantic shadow of the proprietor, occasionally
projected before it, was in characteristic exaggeration, and was
often obliterated by a puff of dust, stirred by the plodding hoofs
of the peaceful oxen, and swept across the field by the strong
afternoon trades. The sun sank lower, although a still potent
presence above the horizon line; the creaking wagon lumbered still
heavily along. Yet at intervals its belligerent proprietor would
start up from his slouching, silent march, break out into violent,
disproportionate, but utterly ineffective objurgation of his cattle,
jump into the air and kick his heels together in some paroxysm of
indignation against them,--an act, however, which was received
always with heavy bovine indifference, the dogged scorn of swaying,
repudiating heads, or the dull contempt of lazily flicking tails.

Towards sunset one or two straggling barns and cottages indicated
their approach to the outskirts of a country town or settlement.
Here the team halted, as if the belligerent-looking teamster had
felt his appearance was inconsistent with an effeminate
civilization, and the oxen were turned into an open waste opposite a
nondescript wooden tenement, half farmhouse and half cabin,
evidently of the rudest Western origin. He may have recognized the
fact that these "shanties" were not, as the ordinary traveler might
infer, the first rude shelter of the original pioneers or settlers,
but the later makeshifts of some recent Western immigrants who, like
himself, probably found themselves unequal to the settled habits of
the village, and who still retained their nomadic instincts. It
chanced, however, that the cabin at present was occupied by a New
England mechanic and his family, who had emigrated by ship around
Cape Horn, and who had no experience of the West, the plains, or its
people. It was therefore with some curiosity and a certain amount
of fascinated awe that the mechanic's only daughter regarded from
the open door of her dwelling the arrival of this wild and lawless-
looking stranger.

Meantime he had opened the curtains of the wagon and taken from its
interior a number of pots, pans, and culinary utensils, which he
proceeded to hang upon certain hooks that were placed on the outer
ribs of the board and the sides of the vehicle. To this he added a
roll of rag carpet, the end of which hung from the tailboard, and a
roll of pink calico temptingly displayed on the seat. The
mystification and curiosity of the young girl grew more intense at
these proceedings. It looked like the ordinary exhibition of a
traveling peddler, but the gloomy and embattled appearance of the
man himself scouted so peaceful and commonplace a suggestion. Under
the pretense of chasing away a marauding hen, she sallied out upon
the waste near the wagon. It then became evident that the traveler
had seen her, and was not averse to her interest in his movements,
although he had not changed his attitude of savage retrospection.
An occasional ejaculation of suppressed passion, as if the memory of
some past conflict was too much for him, escaped him even in this
peaceful occupation. As this possibly caused the young girl to
still hover timidly in the distance, he suddenly entered the wagon
and reappeared carrying a tin bucket, with which he somewhat
ostentatiously crossed her path, his eyes darkly wandering as if
seeking something.

"If you're lookin' for the spring, it's a spell furder on--by the
willows."

It was a pleasant voice, the teamster thought, albeit with a dry,
crisp, New England accent unfamiliar to his ears. He looked into
the depths of an unlovely blue-check sunbonnet, and saw certain
small, irregular features and a sallow check, lit up by a pair of
perfectly innocent, trustful, and wondering brown eyes. Their timid
possessor seemed to be a girl of seventeen, whose figure, although
apparently clad in one of her mother's gowns, was still undeveloped
and repressed by rustic hardship and innutrition. As her eyes met
his she saw that the face of this gloomy stranger was still
youthful, by no means implacable, and, even at that moment, was
actually suffused by a brick-colored blush! In matters of mere
intuition, the sex, even in its most rustic phase, is still our
superior; and this unsophisticated girl, as the trespasser
stammered, "Thank ye, miss," was instinctively emboldened to greater
freedom.

"Dad ain't tu hum, but ye kin have a drink o' milk if ye keer for
it."

She motioned shyly towards the cabin, and then led the way. The
stranger, with an inarticulate murmur, afterwards disguised as a
cough, followed her meekly. Nevertheless, by the time they had
reached the cabin he had shaken his long hair over his eyes again,
and a dark abstraction gathered chiefly in his eyebrows. But it did
not efface from the girl's mind the previous concession of a blush,
and, although it added to her curiosity, did not alarm her. He
drank the milk awkwardly. But by the laws of courtesy, even among
the most savage tribes, she felt he was, at that moment at least,
harmless. A timid smile fluttered around her mouth as she said:--

"When ye hung up them things I thought ye might be havin' suthing to
swap or sell. That is,"--with tactful politeness,--"mother was
wantin' a new skillet, and it would have been handy if you'd had
one. But"--with an apologetic glance at his equipments--"if it
ain't your business, it's all right, and no offense."

"I've got a lot o' skillets," said the strange teamster, with marked
condescension, "and she can have one. They're all that's left outer
a heap o' trader's stuff captured by Injuns t'other side of Laramie.
We had a big fight to get 'em back. Lost two of our best men,--
scalped at Bloody Creek,--and had to drop a dozen redskins in their
tracks,--me and another man,--lyin' flat in er wagon and firin'
under the flaps o' the canvas. I don't know ez they waz wuth it,"
he added in gloomy retrospect; "but I've got to get rid of 'em, I
reckon, somehow, afore I work over to Deadman's Gulch again."

The young girl's eyes brightened timidly with a feminine mingling of
imaginative awe and personal, pitying interest. He was, after all,
so young and amiable looking for such hardships and adventures. And
with all this, he--this Indian fighter--was a little afraid of HER!

"Then that's why you carry that knife and six-shooter?" she said.
"But you won't want 'em now, here in the settlement."

"That's ez mebbe," said the stranger darkly. He paused, and then
suddenly, as if recklessly accepting a dangerous risk, unbuckled his
revolver and handed it abstractedly to the young girl. But the
sheath of the bowie-knife was a fixture in his body-belt, and he was
obliged to withdraw the glittering blade by itself, and to hand it
to her in all its naked terrors. The young girl received the
weapons with a smiling complacency. Upon such altars as these the
skeptical reader will remember that Mars had once hung his "battered
shield," his lance, and "uncontrolled crest."

Nevertheless, the warlike teamster was not without embarrassment.
Muttering something about the necessity of "looking after his
stock," he achieved a hesitating bow, backed awkwardly out of the
door, and receiving from the conquering hands of the young girl his
weapons again, was obliged to carry them somewhat ingloriously in
his hands across the road, and put them on the wagon seat, where, in
company with the culinary articles, they seemed to lose their
distinctively aggressive character. Here, although his cheek was
still flushed from his peaceful encounter, his voice regained some
of its hoarse severity as he drove the oxen from the muddy pool into
which they had luxuriantly wandered, and brought their fodder from
the wagon. Later, as the sun was setting, he lit a corn-cob pipe,
and somewhat ostentatiously strolled down the road, with a furtive
eye lingering upon the still open door of the farmhouse. Presently
two angular figures appeared from it, the farmer and his wife,
intent on barter.

These he received with his previous gloomy preoccupation, and a
slight variation of the story he had told their daughter. It is
possible that his suggestive indifference piqued and heightened the
bargaining instincts of the woman, for she not only bought the
skillet, but purchased a clock and a roll of carpeting. Still more,
in some effusion of rustic courtesy, she extended an invitation to
him to sup with them, which he declined and accepted in the same
embarrassed breath, returning the proffered hospitality by
confidentially showing them a couple of dried scalps, presumably of
Indian origin. It was in the same moment of human weakness that he
answered their polite query as to "what they might call him," by
intimating that his name was "Red Jim,"--a title of achievement by
which he was generally known, which for the present must suffice
them. But during the repast that followed this was shortened to
"Mister Jim," and even familiarly by the elders to plain "Jim."
Only the young girl habitually used the formal prefix in return for
the "Miss Phoebe" that he called her.

With three such sympathetic and unexperienced auditors the gloomy
embarrassment of Red Jim was soon dissipated, although it could
hardly be said that he was generally communicative. Dark tales of
Indian warfare, of night attacks and wild stampedes, in which he had
always taken a prominent part, flowed freely from his lips, but
little else of his past history or present prospects. And even his
narratives of adventure were more or less fragmentary and imperfect
in detail.

"You woz saying," said the farmer, with slow, matter of fact, New
England deliberation, "ez how you guessed you woz beguiled amongst
the Injins by your Mexican partner, a pow'ful influential man, and
yet you woz the only one escaped the gen'ral slarterin'. How came
the Injins to kill HIM,--their friend?"

"They didn't," returned Jim, with ominously averted eyes.

"What became of him?" continued the farmer.

Red Jim shadowed his eyes with his hand, and cast a dark glance of
scrutiny out of the doors and windows. The young girl perceived it
with timid, fascinated concern, and said hurriedly:--

"Don't ask him, father! Don't you see he mustn't tell?"

"Not when spies may be hangin' round, and doggin' me at every step,"
said Red Jim, as if reflecting, with another furtive glance towards
the already fading prospect without. "They've sworn to revenge
him," he added moodily.

A momentary silence followed. The farmer coughed slightly, and
looked dubiously at his wife. But the two women had already
exchanged feminine glances of sympathy for this evident slayer of
traitors, and were apparently inclined to stop any adverse
criticism.

In the midst of which a shout was heard from the road. The farmer
and his family instinctively started. Red Jim alone remained
unmoved,--a fact which did not lessen the admiration of his feminine
audience. The host rose quickly, and went out. The figure of a
horseman had halted in the road, but after a few moments'
conversation with the farmer they both moved towards the house and
disappeared. When the farmer returned, it was to say that "one of
them 'Frisco dandies, who didn't keer about stoppin' at the hotel
in the settlement," had halted to give his "critter" a feed and
drink that he might continue his journey. He had asked him to come
in while the horse was feeding, but the stranger had "guessed he'd
stretch his legs outside and smoke his cigar;" he might have thought
the company "not fine enough for him," but he was "civil spoken
enough, and had an all-fired smart hoss, and seemed to know how to
run him." To the anxious inquiries of his wife and daughter he
added that the stranger didn't seem like a spy or a Mexican; was "as
young as HIM," pointing to the moody Red Jim, "and a darned sight
more peaceful-like in style."

Perhaps owing to the criticism of the farmer, perhaps from some
still lurking suspicion of being overheard by eavesdroppers, or
possibly from a humane desire to relieve the strained apprehension
of the women, Red Jim, as the farmer disappeared to rejoin the
stranger, again dropped into a lighter and gentler vein of
reminiscence. He told them how, when a mere boy, he had been lost
from an emigrant train in company with a little girl some years his
junior. How, when they found themselves alone on the desolate
plain, with the vanished train beyond their reach, he endeavored to
keep the child from a knowledge of the real danger of their
position, and to soothe and comfort her. How he carried her on his
back, until, exhausted, he sank in a heap of sage-brush. How he was
surrounded by Indians, who, however, never suspected his hiding-
place; and how he remained motionless and breathless with the
sleeping child for three hours, until they departed. How, at the
last moment, he had perceived a train in the distance, and had
staggered with her thither, although shot at and wounded by the
trainmen in the belief that he was an Indian. How it was afterwards
discovered that the child was the long-lost daughter of a
millionaire; how he had resolutely refused any gratuity for saving
her, and she was now a peerless young heiress, famous in California.
Whether this lighter tone of narrative suited him better, or whether
the active feminine sympathy of his auditors helped him along,
certain it was that his story was more coherent and intelligible and
his voice less hoarse and constrained than in his previous
belligerent reminiscences; his expression changed, and even his
features worked into something like gentler emotion. The bright
eyes of Phoebe, fastened upon him, turned dim with a faint moisture,
and her pale cheek took upon itself a little color. The mother,
after interjecting "Du tell," and "I wanter know," remained open-
mouthed, staring at her visitor. And in the silence that followed,
a pleasant, but somewhat melancholy voice came from the open door.

"I beg your pardon, but I thought I couldn�t be mistaken. It IS my
old friend, Jim Hooker!"

Everybody started. Red Jim stumbled to his feet with an
inarticulate and hysteric exclamation. Yet the apparition that now
stood in the doorway was far from being terrifying or discomposing.
It was evidently the stranger,--a slender, elegantly-knit figure,
whose upper lip was faintly shadowed by a soft, dark mustache
indicating early manhood, and whose unstudied ease in his well-
fitting garments bespoke the dweller of cities. Good-looking and
well-dressed, without the consciousness of being either; self-
possessed through easy circumstances, yet without self-assertion;
courteous by nature and instinct as well as from an experience of
granting favors, he might have been a welcome addition to even a
more critical company. But Red Jim, hurriedly seizing his
outstretched hand, instantly dragged him away from the doorway into
the road and out of hearing of his audience.

"Did you hear what I was saying?" he asked hoarsely.

"Well, yes,--I think so," returned the stranger, with a quiet smile.

"Ye ain't goin' back on me, Clarence, are ye,--ain't goin' to gimme
away afore them, old pard, are ye?" said Jim, with a sudden change
to almost pathetic pleading.

"No," returned the stranger, smiling. "And certainly not before
that interested young lady, Jim. But stop. Let me look at you."

He held out both hands, took Jim's, spread them apart for a moment
with a boyish gesture, and, looking in his face, said half
mischievously, half sadly, "Yes, it's the same old Jim Hooker,--
unchanged."

"But YOU'RE changed,--reg'lar war paint, Big Injin style!" said
Hooker, looking up at him with an awkward mingling of admiration and
envy. "Heard you struck it rich with the old man, and was Mister
Brant now!"

"Yes," said Clarence gently, yet with a smile that had not only a
tinge of weariness but even of sadness in it.

Unfortunately, the act, which was quite natural to Clarence's
sensitiveness, and indeed partly sprang from some concern in his old
companion's fortunes, translated itself by a very human process to
Hooker's consciousness as a piece of rank affectation. HE would
have been exalted and exultant in Clarence's place, consequently any
other exhibition was only "airs." Nevertheless, at the present
moment Clarence was to be placated.

"You didn't mind my telling that story about your savin' Susy as my
own, did ye?" he said, with a hasty glance over his shoulder. "I
only did it to fool the old man and women-folks, and make talk. You
won't blow on me? Ye ain't mad about it?"

It had crossed Clarence's memory that when they were both younger
Jim Hooker had once not only borrowed his story, but his name and
personality as well. Yet in his loyalty to old memories there was
mingled no resentment for past injury. "Of course not," he said,
with a smile that was, however, still thoughtful. "Why should I?
Only I ought to tell you that Susy Peyton is living with her adopted
parents not ten miles from here, and it might reach their ears.
She's quite a young lady now, and if I wouldn't tell her story to
strangers, I don't think YOU ought to, Jim."

He said this so pleasantly that even the skeptical Jim forgot what
he believed were the "airs and graces" of self-abnegation, and said,
"Let's go inside, and I'll introduce you," and turned to the house.
But Clarence Brant drew back. "I'm going on as soon as my horse is
fed, for I'm on a visit to Peyton, and I intend to push as far as
Santa Inez still to-night. I want to talk with you about yourself,
Jim," he added gently; "your prospects and your future. I heard,"
he went on hesitatingly, "that you were--at work--in a restaurant in
San Francisco. I'm glad to see that you are at least your own
master here,"--he glanced at the wagon. "You are selling things, I
suppose? For yourself, or another? Is that team yours? Come," he
added, still pleasantly, but in an older and graver voice, with
perhaps the least touch of experienced authority, "be frank, Jim.
Which is it? Never mind what things you've told IN THERE, tell ME
the truth about yourself. Can I help you in any way? Believe me, I
should like to. We have been old friends, whatever difference in
our luck, I am yours still."

Thus adjured, the redoubtable Jim, in a hoarse whisper, with a
furtive eye on the house, admitted that he was traveling for an
itinerant peddler, whom he expected to join later in the settlement;
that he had his own methods of disposing of his wares, and (darkly)
that his proprietor and the world generally had better not interfere
with him; that (with a return to more confidential lightness) he had
already "worked the Wild West Injin" business so successfully as to
dispose of his wares, particularly in yonder house, and might do
even more if not prematurely and wantonly "blown upon," "gone back
on," or "given away."

"But wouldn't you like to settle down on some bit of land like this,
and improve it for yourself?" said Clarence. "All these valley
terraces are bound to rise in value, and meantime you would be
independent. It could be managed, Jim. I think I could arrange it
for you," he went on, with a slight glow of youthful enthusiasm.
"Write to me at Peyton's ranch, and I'll see you when I come back,
and we'll hunt up something for you together." As Jim received the
proposition with a kind of gloomy embarrassment, he added lightly,
with a glance at the farmhouse, "It might be near HERE, you know;
and you'd have pleasant neighbors, and even eager listeners to your
old adventures."

"You'd better come in a minit before you go," said Jim, clumsily
evading a direct reply. Clarence hesitated a moment, and then
yielded. For an equal moment Jim Hooker was torn between secret
jealousy of his old comrade's graces and a desire to present them as
familiar associations of his own. But his vanity was quickly
appeased.

Need it be said that the two women received this fleck and foam of a
super-civilization they knew little of as almost an impertinence
compared to the rugged, gloomy, pathetic, and equally youthful hero
of an adventurous wilderness of which they knew still less? What
availed the courtesy and gentle melancholy of Clarence Brant beside
the mysterious gloom and dark savagery of Red Jim? Yet they
received him patronizingly, as one who was, like themselves, an
admirer of manly grace and power, and the recipient of Jim's
friendship. The farmer alone seemed to prefer Clarence, and yet the
latter's tacit indorsement of Red Jim, through his evident previous
intimacy with him, impressed the man in Jim's favor. All of which
Clarence saw with that sensitive perception which had given him an
early insight into human weakness, yet still had never shaken his
youthful optimism. He smiled a little thoughtfully, but was openly
fraternal to Jim, courteous to his host and family, and, as he rode
away in the faint moonlight, magnificently opulent in his largess to
the farmer,--his first and only assertion of his position.

The farmhouse, straggling barn, and fringe of dusty willows, the
white dome of the motionless wagon, with the hanging frying pans and
kettles showing in the moonlight like black silhouettes against the
staring canvas, all presently sank behind Clarence like the details
of a dream, and he was alone with the moon, the hazy mystery of the
level, grassy plain, and the monotony of the unending road. As he
rode slowly along he thought of that other dreary plain, white with
alkali patches and brown with rings of deserted camp-fires, known to
his boyhood of deprivation, dependency, danger, and adventure, oddly
enough, with a strange delight; and his later years of study,
monastic seclusion, and final ease and independence, with an easy
sense of wasted existence and useless waiting. He remembered his
homeless childhood in the South, where servants and slaves took the
place of the father he had never known, and the mother that he
rarely saw; he remembered his abandonment to a mysterious female
relation, where his natural guardians seemed to have overlooked and
forgotten him, until he was sent, an all too young adventurer, to
work his passage on an overland emigrant train across the plains; he
remembered, as yesterday, the fears, the hopes, the dreams and
dangers of that momentous journey. He recalled his little playmate,
Susy, and their strange adventures--the whole incident that the
imaginative Jim Hooker had translated and rehearsed as his own--rose
vividly before him. He thought of the cruel end of that pilgrimage,
which again left him homeless and forgotten by even the relative he
was seeking in a strange land. He remembered his solitary journey
to the gold mines, taken with a boy's trust and a boy's fearlessness,
and the strange protector he had found there, who had news of his
missing kinsman; he remembered how this protector--whom he had at
once instinctively loved--transferred him to the house of this
new-found relation, who treated him kindly and sent him to the
Jesuit school, but who never awakened in him a feeling of kinship.
He dreamed again of his life at school, his accidental meeting with
Susy at Santa Clara, the keen revival of his boyish love for his old
playmate, now a pretty schoolgirl, the petted adopted child of
wealthy parents. He recalled the terrible shock that interrupted
this boyish episode: the news of the death of his protector, and the
revelation that this hard, silent, and mysterious man was his own
father, whose reckless life and desperate reputation had impelled
him to assume a disguise.

He remembered how his sudden accession to wealth and independence
had half frightened him, and had always left a lurking sensitiveness
that he was unfairly favored, by some mere accident, above his less
lucky companions. The rude vices of his old associates had made him
impatient of the feebler sensual indulgences of the later companions
of his luxury, and exposed their hollow fascinations; his sensitive
fastidiousness kept him clean among vulgar temptations; his clear
perceptions were never blinded by selfish sophistry. Meantime his
feeling for Susy remained unchanged. Pride had kept him from
seeking the Peytons. His present visit was as unpremeditated as
Peyton's invitation had been unlooked for by him. Yet he had not
allowed himself to be deceived. He knew that this courtesy was
probably due to the change in his fortune, although he had hoped it
might have been some change in their opinion brought about by Susy.
But he would at least see her again, not in the pretty, half-
clandestine way she had thought necessary, but openly and as her
equal.

In his rapid ride he seemed to have suddenly penetrated the peaceful
calm of the night. The restless irritation of the afternoon trade
winds had subsided; the tender moonlight had hushed and tranquilly
possessed the worried plain; the unending files of wild oats, far
spaced and distinct, stood erect and motionless as trees; something
of the sedate solemnity of a great forest seemed to have fallen upon
their giant stalks. There was no dew. In that light, dry air, the
heavier dust no longer rose beneath the heels of his horse, whose
flying shadow passed over the field like a cloud, leaving no trail
or track behind it. In the preoccupation of his thought and his
breathless retrospect, the young man had ridden faster than he
intended, and he now checked his panting horse. The influence of
the night and the hushed landscape stole over him; his thoughts took
a gentler turn; in that dim, mysterious horizon line before him, his
future seemed to be dreamily peopled with airy, graceful shapes that
more or less took the likeness of Susy. She was bright, coquettish,
romantic, as he had last seen her; she was older, graver, and
thoughtfully welcome of him; or she was cold, distant, and severely
forgetful of the past. How would her adopted father and mother
receive him? Would they ever look upon him in the light of a suitor
to the young girl? He had no fear of Peyton,--he understood his own
sex, and, young as he was, knew already how to make himself
respected; but how could he overcome that instinctive aversion which
Mrs. Peyton had so often made him feel he had provoked? Yet in this
dreamy hush of earth and sky, what was not possible? His boyish
heart beat high with daring visions.

He saw Mrs. Peyton in the porch, welcoming him with that maternal
smile which his childish longing had so often craved to share with
Susy. Peyton would be there, too,--Peyton, who had once pushed back
his torn straw hat to look approvingly in his boyish eyes; and
Peyton, perhaps, might be proud of him.

Suddenly he started. A voice in his very ear!

"Bah! A yoke of vulgar cattle grazing on lands that were thine by
right and law. Neither more nor less than that. And I tell thee,
Pancho, like cattle, to be driven off or caught and branded for
one's own. Ha! There are those who could swear to the truth of
this on the Creed. Ay! and bring papers stamped and signed by the
governor's rubric to prove it. And not that I hate them,--bah! what
are those heretic swine to me? But thou dost comprehend me? It
galls and pricks me to see them swelling themselves with stolen
husks, and men like thee, Pancho, ousted from their own land."

Clarence had halted in utter bewilderment. No one was visible
before him, behind him, on either side. The words, in Spanish, came
from the air, the sky, the distant horizon, he knew not which. Was
he still dreaming? A strange shiver crept over his skin as if the
air had grown suddenly chill. Then another mysterious voice arose,
incredulous, half mocking, but equally distinct and clear.

"Caramba! What is this? You are wandering, friend Pancho. You are
still smarting from his tongue. He has the grant confirmed by his
brigand government; he has the POSSESSION, stolen by a thief like
himself; and he has the Corregidors with him. For is he not one of
them himself, this Judge Peyton?"

Peyton! Clarence felt the blood rush back to his face in
astonishment and indignation. His heels mechanically pressed his
horse's flanks, and the animal sprang forward.

"Guarda! Mira!" said the voice again in a quicker, lower tone. But
this time it was evidently in the field beside him, and the heads
and shoulders of two horsemen emerged at the same moment from the
tall ranks of wild oats. The mystery was solved. The strangers had
been making their way along a lower level of the terraced plain,
hidden by the grain, not twenty yards away, and parallel with the
road they were now ascending to join. Their figures were alike
formless in long striped serapes, and their features undistinguishable
under stiff black sombreros.

"Buenas noches, senor," said the second voice, in formal and
cautious deliberation.

A sudden inspiration made Clarence respond in English, as if he had
not comprehended the stranger's words, "Eh?"

"Gooda-nighta," repeated the stranger.

"Oh, good-night," returned Clarence. They passed him. Their spurs
tinkled twice or thrice, their mustangs sprang forward, and the next
moment the loose folds of their serapes were fluttering at their
sides like wings in their flight.

CHAPTER IV.

After the chill of a dewless night the morning sun was apt to look
ardently upon the Robles Rancho, if so strong an expression could
describe the dry, oven-like heat of a Californian coast-range
valley. Before ten o'clock the adobe wall of the patio was warm
enough to permit lingering vacqueros and idle peons to lean against
it, and the exposed annexe was filled with sharp, resinous odors
from the oozing sap of unseasoned "redwood" boards, warped and
drying in the hot sunshine. Even at that early hour the climbing
Castilian roses were drooping against the wooden columns of the new
veranda, scarcely older than themselves, and mingling an already
faded spice with the aroma of baking wood and the more material
fragrance of steaming coffee, that seemed dominant everywhere.

In fact, the pretty breakfast-room, whose three broad windows,
always open to the veranda, gave an al fresco effect to every meal,
was a pathetic endeavor of the Southern-bred Peyton to emulate the
soft, luxurious, and open-air indolence of his native South, in a
climate that was not only not tropical, but even austere in its most
fervid moments. Yet, although cold draughts invaded it from the
rear that morning, Judge Peyton sat alone, between the open doors
and windows, awaiting the slow coming of his wife and the young
ladies. He was not in an entirely comfortable mood that morning.
Things were not going on well at Robles. That truculent vagabond,
Pedro, had, the night before, taken himself off with a curse that
had frightened even the vacqueros, who most hated him as a
companion, but who now seemed inclined to regard his absence as an
injury done to their race. Peyton, uneasily conscious that his own
anger had been excited by an exaggerated conception of the accident,
was now, like most obstinate men, inclined to exaggerate the
importance of Pedro's insolence. He was well out of it to get rid
of this quarrelsome hanger-on, whose presumption and ill-humor
threatened the discipline of the rancho, yet he could not entirely
forget that he had employed him on account of his family claims, and
from a desire to placate racial jealousy and settle local differences.
For the inferior Mexicans and Indian half-breeds still regarded
their old masters with affection; were, in fact, more concerned for
the integrity of their caste than the masters were themselves, and
the old Spanish families who had made alliances with Americans, and
shared their land with them, had rarely succeeded in alienating
their retainers with their lands. Certain experiences in the
proving of his grant before the Land Commission had taught Peyton
that they were not to be depended upon. And lately there had been
unpleasant rumors of the discovery of some unlooked-for claimants to
a division of the grant itself, which might affect his own title.

He looked up quickly as voices and light steps on the veranda at
last heralded the approach of his tardy household from the corridor.
But, in spite of his preoccupation, he was startled and even
awkwardly impressed with a change in Susy's appearance. She was
wearing, for the first time, a long skirt, and this sudden maturing
of her figure struck him, as a man, much more forcibly than it would
probably have impressed a woman, more familiar with details. He had
not noticed certain indications of womanhood, as significant,
perhaps, in her carriage as her outlines, which had been lately
perfectly apparent to her mother and Mary, but which were to him
now, for the first time, indicated by a few inches of skirt. She
not only looked taller to his masculine eyes, but these few inches
had added to the mystery as well as the drapery of the goddess; they
were not so much the revelation of maturity as the suggestion that
it was HIDDEN. So impressed was he, that a half-serious lecture on
her yesterday's childishness, the outcome of his irritated
reflections that morning, died upon his lips. He felt he was no
longer dealing with a child.

He welcomed them with that smile of bantering approbation, supposed
to keep down inordinate vanity, which for some occult reason one
always reserves for the members of one's own family. He was quite
conscious that Susy was looking very pretty in this new and mature
frock, and that as she stood beside his wife, far from ageing Mrs.
Peyton's good looks and figure, she appeared like an equal
companion, and that they mutually "became" one another. This, and
the fact that they were all, including Mary Rogers, in their
freshest, gayest morning dresses, awakened a half-humorous, half-
real apprehension in his mind, that he was now hopelessly surrounded
by a matured sex, and in a weak minority.

"I think I ought to have been prepared," he began grimly, "for this
addition to--to--the skirts of my family."

"Why, John," returned Mrs. Peyton quickly; "do you mean to say you
haven't noticed that the poor child has for weeks been looking
positively indecent?"

"Really, papa, I've been a sight to behold. Haven't I, Mary?"
chimed in Susy.

"Yes, dear. Why, Judge, I've been wondering that Susy stood it so
well, and never complained."

Peyton glanced around him at this compact feminine embattlement. It
was as he feared. Yet even here he was again at fault.

"And," said Mrs. Peyton slowly, with the reserved significance of
the feminine postscript in her voice, "if that Mr. Brant is coming
here to-day, it would be just as well for him to see that SHE IS NO
LONGER A CHILD, AS WHEN HE KNEW HER."

An hour later, good-natured Mary Rogers, in her character of "a
dear,"--which was usually indicated by the undertaking of small
errands for her friend,--was gathering roses from the old garden for
Susy's adornment, when she saw a vision which lingered with her for
many a day. She had stopped to look through the iron grille in the
adobe wall, across the open wind-swept plain. Miniature waves were
passing over the wild oats, with glittering disturbances here and
there in the depressions like the sparkling of green foam; the
horizon line was sharply defined against the hard, steel-blue sky;
everywhere the brand-new morning was shining with almost painted
brilliancy; the vigor, spirit, and even crudeness of youth were over
all. The young girl was dazzled and bewildered. Suddenly, as if
blown out of the waving grain, or an incarnation of the vivid
morning, the bright and striking figure of a youthful horseman
flashed before the grille. It was Clarence Brant! Mary Rogers had
always seen him, in the loyalty of friendship, with Susy's
prepossessed eyes, yet she fancied that morning that he had never
looked so handsome before. Even the foppish fripperies of his
riding-dress and silver trappings seemed as much the natural
expression of conquering youth as the invincible morning sunshine.
Perhaps it might have been a reaction against Susy's caprice or some
latent susceptibility of her own; but a momentary antagonism to her
friend stirred even her kindly nature. What right had Susy to
trifle with such an opportunity? Who was SHE to hesitate over this
gallant prince?

But Prince Charming's quick eyes had detected her, and the next
moment his beautiful horse was beside the grating, and his ready
hand of greeting extended through the bars.

"I suppose I am early and unexpected, but I slept at Santa Inez last
night, that I might ride over in the cool of the morning. My things
are coming by the stage-coach, later. It seemed such a slow way of
coming one's self."

Mary Rogers's black eyes intimated that the way he had taken was the
right one, but she gallantly recovered herself and remembered her
position as confidante. And here was the opportunity of delivering
Susy's warning unobserved. She withdrew her hand from Clarence's
frank grasp, and passing it through the grating, patted the sleek,
shining flanks of his horse, with a discreet division of admiration.

"And such a lovely creature, too! And Susy will be so delighted!
and oh, Mr. Brant, please, you're to say nothing of having met her
at Santa Clara. It's just as well not to begin with THAT here, for,
you see" (with a large, maternal manner), "you were both SO young
then."

Clarence drew a quick breath. It was the first check to his vision
of independence and equal footing! Then his invitation was NOT the
outcome of a continuous friendship revived by Susy, as he had hoped;
the Peytons had known nothing of his meeting with her, or perhaps
they would not have invited him. He was here as an impostor,--and
all because Susy had chosen to make a mystery of a harmless
encounter, which might have been explained, and which they might
have even countenanced. He thought bitterly of his old playmate for
a brief moment,--as brief as Mary's antagonism. The young girl
noticed the change in his face, but misinterpreted it.

"Oh, there's no danger of its coming out if you don't say anything,"
she said, quickly. "Ride on to the house, and don't wait for me.
You'll find them in the patio on the veranda."

Clarence moved on, but not as spiritedly as before. Nevertheless
there was still dash enough about him and the animal he bestrode to
stir into admiration the few lounging vacqueros of a country which
was apt to judge the status of a rider by the quality of his horse.
Nor was the favorable impression confined to them alone. Peyton's
gratification rang out cheerily in his greeting:--

"Bravo, Clarence! You are here in true caballero style. Thanks for
the compliment to the rancho."

For a moment the young man was transported back again to his
boyhood, and once more felt Peyton's approving hand pushing back the
worn straw hat from his childish forehead. A faint color rose to
his cheeks; his eyes momentarily dropped. The highest art could
have done no more! The slight aggressiveness of his youthful finery
and picturesque good looks was condoned at once; his modesty
conquered where self-assertion might have provoked opposition, and
even Mrs. Peyton felt herself impelled to come forward with an
outstretched hand scarcely less frank than her husband's. Then
Clarence lifted his eyes. He saw before him the woman to whom his
childish heart had gone out with the inscrutable longing and
adoration of a motherless, homeless, companionless boy; the woman
who had absorbed the love of his playmate without sharing it with
him; who had showered her protecting and maternal caresses on Susy,
a waif like himself, yet had not only left his heart lonely and
desolate, but had even added to his childish distrust of himself the
thought that he had excited her aversion. He saw her more beautiful
than ever in her restored health, freshness of coloring, and mature
roundness of outline. He was unconsciously touched with a man's
admiration for her without losing his boyish yearnings and half-
filial affection; in her new materialistic womanhood his youthful
imagination had lifted her to a queen and goddess. There was all
this appeal in his still boyish eyes,--eyes that had never yet known
shame or fear in the expression of their emotions; there was all
this in the gesture with which he lifted Mrs. Peyton's fingers to
his lips. The little group saw in this act only a Spanish courtesy
in keeping with his accepted role. But a thrill of surprise, of
embarrassment, of intense gratification passed over her. For he had
not even looked at Susy!

Her relenting was graceful. She welcomed him with a winning smile.
Then she motioned pleasantly towards Susy.

"But here is an older friend, Mr. Brant, whom you do not seem to
recognize,--Susy, whom you have not seen since she was a child."

A quick flush rose to Clarence's cheek. The group smiled at this
evident youthful confession of some boyish admiration. But Clarence
knew that his truthful blood was merely resenting the deceit his
lips were sealed from divulging. He did not dare to glance at Susy;
it added to the general amusement that the young girl was obliged to
present herself. But in this interval she had exchanged glances
with Mary Rogers, who had rejoined the group, and she knew she was
safe. She smiled with gracious condescension at Clarence; observed,
with the patronizing superiority of age and established position,
that he had GROWN, but had not greatly changed, and, it is needless
to say, again filled her mother's heart with joy. Clarence, still
intoxicated with Mrs. Peyton's kindliness, and, perhaps, still
embarrassed by remorse, had not time to remark the girl's studied
attitude. He shook hands with her cordially, and then, in the quick
reaction of youth, accepted with humorous gravity the elaborate
introduction to Mary Rogers by Susy, which completed this little
comedy. And if, with a woman's quickness, Mrs. Peyton detected a
certain lingering glance which passed between Mary Rogers and
Clarence, and misinterpreted it, it was only a part of that
mystification into which these youthful actors are apt to throw
their mature audiences.

"Confess, Ally," said Peyton, cheerfully, as the three young people
suddenly found their tongues with aimless vivacity and inconsequent
laughter, and started with unintelligible spirits for an exploration
of the garden, "confess now that your bete noir is really a very
manly as well as a very presentable young fellow. By Jove! the
padres have made a Spanish swell out of him without spoiling the
Brant grit, either! Come, now; you're not afraid that Susy's style
will suffer from HIS companionship. 'Pon my soul, she might borrow
a little of his courtesy to his elders without indelicacy. I only
wish she had as sincere a way of showing her respect for you as he
has. Did you notice that he really didn't seem to see anybody else
but you at first? And yet you never were a friend to him, like
Susy."

The lady tossed her head slightly, but smiled.

"This is the first time he's seen Mary Rogers, isn't it?" she said
meditatively.

"I reckon. But what's that to do with his politeness to you?"

"And do her parents know him?" she continued, without replying.

"How do I know? I suppose everybody has heard of him. Why?"

"Because I think they've taken a fancy to each other."

"What in the name of folly, Ally"--began the despairing Peyton.

"When you invite a handsome, rich, and fascinating young man into
the company of young ladies, John," returned Mrs. Peyton, in her
severest manner, "you must not forget you owe a certain responsibility
to the parents. I shall certainly look after Miss Rogers."

CHAPTER V.

Although the three young people had left the veranda together, when
they reached the old garden Clarence and Susy found themselves
considerably in advance of Mary Rogers, who had become suddenly and
deeply interested in the beauty of a passion vine near the gate. At
the first discovery of their isolation their voluble exchange of
information about themselves and their occupations since their last
meeting stopped simultaneously. Clarence, who had forgotten his
momentary irritation, and had recovered his old happiness in her
presence, was nevertheless conscious of some other change in her
than that suggested by the lengthened skirt and the later and more
delicate accentuation of her prettiness. It was not her affectation
of superiority and older social experience, for that was only the
outcome of what he had found charming in her as a child, and which
he still good-humoredly accepted; nor was it her characteristic
exaggeration of speech, which he still pleasantly recognized. It
was something else, vague and indefinite,--something that had been
unnoticed while Mary was with them, but had now come between them
like some unknown presence which had taken the confidante's place.
He remained silent, looking at her half-brightening cheek and
conscious profile. Then he spoke with awkward directness.

"You are changed, Susy, more than in looks."

"Hush," said the girl in a tragic whisper, with a warning gesture
towards the blandly unconscious Mary.

"But," returned Clarence wonderingly, "she's your--our friend, you
know."

"I DON'T know," said Susy, in a still deeper tone, "that is--oh,
don't ask me! But when you're always surrounded by spies, when you
can't say your soul is your own, you doubt everybody!" There was
such a pretty distress in her violet eyes and curving eyebrows, that
Clarence, albeit vague as to its origin and particulars,
nevertheless possessed himself of the little hand that was
gesticulating dangerously near his own, and pressed it
sympathetically. Perhaps preoccupied with her emotions, she did not
immediately withdraw it, as she went on rapidly: "And if you were
cooped up here, day after day, behind these bars," pointing to the
grille, "you'd know what I suffer."

"But"--began Clarence.

"Hush!" said Susy, with a stamp of her little foot.

Clarence, who had only wished to point out that the whole lower end
of the garden wall was in ruins and the grille really was no
prevention, "hushed."

"And listen! Don't pay me much attention to-day, but talk to HER,"
indicating the still discreet and distant Mary, "before father and
mother. Not a word to her of this confidence, Clarence. To-morrow
ride out alone on your beautiful horse, and come back by way of the
woods, beyond our turning, at four o'clock. There's a trail to the
right of the big madrono tree. Take that. Be careful and keep a
good lookout, for she mustn't see you."

"Who mustn't see me?" said the puzzled Clarence.

"Why, Mary, of course, you silly boy!" returned the girl
impatiently. "She'll be looking for ME. Go now, Clarence! Stop!
Look at that lovely big maiden's-blush up there," pointing to a
pink-suffused specimen of rose grandiflora hanging on the wall.
"Get it, Clarence,--that one,--I'll show you where,--there!" They
had already plunged into the leafy bramble, and, standing on tiptoe,
with her hand on his shoulder and head upturned, Susy's cheek had
innocently approached Clarence's own. At this moment Clarence,
possibly through some confusion of color, fragrance, or softness of
contact, seemed to have availed himself of the opportunity, in a way
which caused Susy to instantly rejoin Mary Rogers with affected
dignity, leaving him to follow a few moments later with the captured
flower.

Without trying to understand the reason of to-morrow's rendezvous,
and perhaps not altogether convinced of the reality of Susy's
troubles, he, however, did not find that difficulty in carrying out
her other commands which he had expected. Mrs. Peyton was still
gracious, and, with feminine tact, induced him to talk of himself,
until she was presently in possession of his whole history, barring
the episode of his meeting with Susy, since he had parted with them.
He felt a strange satisfaction in familiarly pouring out his
confidences to this superior woman, whom he had always held in awe.
There was a new delight in her womanly interest in his trials and
adventures, and a subtle pleasure even in her half-motherly
criticism and admonition of some passages. I am afraid he forgot
Susy, who listened with the complacency of an exhibitor; Mary, whose
black eyes dilated alternately with sympathy for the performer and
deprecation of Mrs. Peyton's critical glances; and Peyton, who,
however, seemed lost in thought, and preoccupied. Clarence was
happy. The softly shaded lights in the broad, spacious, comfortably
furnished drawing-room shone on the group before him. It was a
picture of refined domesticity which the homeless Clarence had never
known except as a vague, half-painful, boyish remembrance; it was a
realization of welcome that far exceeded his wildest boyish vision
of the preceding night. With that recollection came another,--a
more uneasy one. He remembered how that vision had been interrupted
by the strange voices in the road, and their vague but ominous
import to his host. A feeling of self-reproach came over him. The
threats had impressed him as only mere braggadocio,--he knew the
characteristic exaggeration of the race,--but perhaps he ought to
privately tell Peyton of the incident at once.

The opportunity came later, when the ladies had retired, and Peyton,
wrapped in a poncho in a rocking-chair, on the now chilly veranda,
looked up from his reverie and a cigar. Clarence casually
introduced the incident, as if only for the sake of describing the
supernatural effect of the hidden voices, but he was concerned to
see that Peyton was considerably disturbed by their more material
import. After questioning him as to the appearance of the two men,
his host said: "I don't mind telling you, Clarence, that as far as
that fellow's intentions go he is quite sincere, although his
threats are only borrowed thunder. He is a man whom I have just
dismissed for carelessness and insolence,--two things that run in
double harness in this country,--but I should be more afraid to find
him at my back on a dark night, alone on the plains; than to
confront him in daylight, in the witness box, against me. He was
only repeating a silly rumor that the title to this rancho and the
nine square leagues beyond would be attacked by some speculators."

"But I thought your title was confirmed two years ago," said
Clarence.

"The GRANT was confirmed," returned Peyton, "which means that the
conveyance of the Mexican government of these lands to the ancestor
of Victor Robles was held to be legally proven by the United States
Land Commission, and a patent issued to all those who held under it.
I and my neighbors hold under it by purchase from Victor Robles,
subject to the confirmation of the Land Commission. But that
confirmation was only of Victor's GREAT-GRANDFATHER'S TITLE, and it
is now alleged that as Victor's father died without making a will,
Victor has claimed and disposed of property which he ought to have
divided with his SISTERS. At least, some speculating rascals in San
Francisco have set up what they call 'the Sisters' title,' and are
selling it to actual settlers on the unoccupied lands beyond. As,
by the law, it would hold possession against the mere ordinary
squatters, whose only right is based, as you know, on the
presumption that there is NO TITLE CLAIMED, it gives the possessor
immunity to enjoy the use of the property until the case is decided,
and even should the original title hold good against his, the
successful litigant would probably be willing to pay for
improvements and possession to save the expensive and tedious
process of ejectment."

"But this does not affect YOU, who have already possession?" said
Clarence quickly.

"No, not as far as THIS HOUSE and the lands I actually OCCUPY AND
CULTIVATE are concerned; and they know that I am safe to fight to
the last, and carry the case to the Supreme Court in that case,
until the swindle is exposed, or they drop it; but I may have to pay
them something to keep the squatters off my UNOCCUPIED land."

"But you surely wouldn't recognize those rascals in any way?" said
the astonished Clarence.

"As against other rascals? Why not?" returned Peyton grimly. "I
only pay for the possession which their sham title gives me to my
own land. If by accident that title obtains, I am still on the safe
side." After a pause he said, more gravely, "What you overheard,
Clarence, shows me that the plan is more forward than I had
imagined, and that I may have to fight traitors here."

"I hope, sir," said Clarence, with a quick glow in his earnest face,
"that you'll let me help you. You thought I did once, you
remember,--with the Indians."

There was so much of the old Clarence in his boyish appeal and
eager, questioning face that Peyton, who had been talking to him as
a younger but equal man of affairs, was startled into a smile, "You
did, Clarence, though the Indians butchered your friends, after all.
I don't know, though, but that your experiences with those
Spaniards--you must have known a lot of them when you were with Don
Juan Robinson and at the college--might be of service in getting at
evidence, or smashing their witnesses if it comes to a fight. But
just now, MONEY is everything. They must be bought OFF THE LAND if
I have to mortgage it for the purpose. That strikes you as a rather
heroic remedy, Clarence, eh?" he continued, in his old, half-
bantering attitude towards Clarence's inexperienced youth, "don't it?"

But Clarence was not thinking of that. Another more audacious but
equally youthful and enthusiastic idea had taken possession of his
mind, and he lay awake half that night revolving it. It was true
that it was somewhat impractically mixed with his visions of Mrs.
Peyton and Susy, and even included his previous scheme of relief for
the improvident and incorrigible Hooker. But it gave a wonderful
sincerity and happiness to his slumbers that night, which the wiser
and elder Peyton might have envied, and I wot not was in the long
run as correct and sagacious as Peyton's sleepless cogitations. And
in the early morning Mr. Clarence Brant, the young capitalist, sat
down to his traveling-desk and wrote two clear-headed, logical, and
practical business letters,--one to his banker, and the other to his
former guardian, Don Juan Robinson, as his first step in a resolve
that was, nevertheless, perhaps as wildly quixotic and enthusiastic
as any dream his boyish and unselfish heart had ever indulged.

At breakfast, in the charmed freedom of the domestic circle,
Clarence forgot Susy's capricious commands of yesterday, and began
to address himself to her in his old earnest fashion, until he was
warned by a significant knitting of the young lady's brows and
monosyllabic responses. But in his youthful loyalty to Mrs. Peyton,
he was more pained to notice Susy's occasional unconscious
indifference to her adopted mother's affectionate expression, and a
more conscious disregard of her wishes. So uneasy did he become, in
his sensitive concern for Mrs. Peyton's half-concealed
mortification, that he gladly accepted Peyton's offer to go with him
to visit the farm and corral. As the afternoon approached, with
another twinge of self-reproach, he was obliged to invent some
excuse to decline certain hospitable plans of Mrs. Peyton's for his
entertainment, and at half past three stole somewhat guiltily, with
his horse, from the stables. But he had to pass before the outer
wall of the garden and grille, through which he had seen Mary the
day before. Raising his eyes mechanically, he was startled to see
Mrs. Peyton standing behind the grating, with her abstracted gaze
fixed upon the wind-tossed, level grain beyond her. She smiled as
she saw him, but there were traces of tears in her proud, handsome
eyes.

"You are going to ride?" she said pleasantly.

"Y-e-es," stammered the shamefaced Clarence.

She glanced at him wistfully.

"You are right. The girls have gone away by themselves. Mr. Peyton
has ridden over to Santa Inez on this dreadful land business, and I
suppose you'd have found him a dull riding companion. It is rather
stupid here. I quite envy you, Mr. Brant, your horse and your
freedom."

"But, Mrs. Peyton," broke in Clarence, impulsively, "you have a
horse--I saw it, a lovely lady's horse--eating its head off in the
stable. Won't you let me run back and order it; and won't you,
please, come out with me for a good, long gallop?"

He meant what he said. He had spoken quickly, impulsively, but with
the perfect understanding in his own mind that his proposition meant
the complete abandonment of his rendezvous with Susy. Mrs. Peyton
was astounded and slightly stirred with his earnestness, albeit
unaware of all it implied.

"It's a great temptation, Mr. Brant," she said, with a playful
smile, which dazzled Clarence with its first faint suggestion of a
refined woman's coquetry; "but I'm afraid that Mr. Peyton would
think me going mad in my old age. No. Go on and enjoy your gallop,
and if you should see those giddy girls anywhere, send them home
early for chocolate, before the cold wind gets up."

She turned, waved her slim white hand playfully in acknowledgment of
Clarence's bared head, and moved away.

For the first few moments the young man tried to find relief in
furious riding, and in bullying his spirited horse. Then he pulled
quickly up. What was he doing? What was he going to do? What
foolish, vapid deceit was this that he was going to practice upon
that noble, queenly, confiding, generous woman? (He had already
forgotten that she had always distrusted him.) What a fool he was
not to tell her half-jokingly that he expected to meet Susy! But
would he have dared to talk half-jokingly to such a woman on such a
topic? And would it have been honorable without disclosing the
WHOLE truth,--that they had met secretly before? And was it fair to
Susy?--dear, innocent, childish Susy! Yet something must be done!
It was such trivial, purposeless deceit, after all; for this noble
woman, Mrs. Peyton, so kind, so gentle, would never object to his
loving Susy and marrying her. And they would all live happily
together; and Mrs. Peyton would never be separated from them, but
always beaming tenderly upon them as she did just now in the garden.
Yes, he would have a serious understanding with Susy, and that would
excuse the clandestine meeting to-day.

His rapid pace, meantime, had brought him to the imperceptible
incline of the terrace, and he was astonished, in turning in the
saddle, to find that the casa, corral, and outbuildings had
completely vanished, and that behind him rolled only the long sea of
grain, which seemed to have swallowed them in its yellowing depths.
Before him lay the wooded ravine through which the stagecoach
passed, which was also the entrance to the rancho, and there, too,
probably, was the turning of which Susy had spoken. But it was
still early for the rendezvous; indeed, he was in no hurry to meet
her in his present discontented state, and he made a listless
circuit of the field, in the hope of discovering the phenomena that
had caused the rancho's mysterious disappearance. When he had found
that it was the effect of the different levels, his attention was
arrested by a multitude of moving objects in a still more distant
field, which proved to be a band of wild horses. In and out among
them, circling aimlessly, as it seemed to him, appeared two horsemen
apparently performing some mystic evolution. To add to their
singular performance, from time to time one of the flying herd,
driven by the horsemen far beyond the circle of its companions,
dropped suddenly and unaccountably in full career. The field closed
over it as if it had been swallowed up. In a few moments it
appeared again, trotting peacefully behind its former pursuer. It
was some time before Clarence grasped the meaning of this strange
spectacle. Although the clear, dry atmosphere sharply accented the
silhouette-like outlines of the men and horses, so great was the
distance that the slender forty-foot lasso, which in the skillful
hands of the horsemen had effected these captures, was COMPLETELY
INVISIBLE! The horsemen were Peyton's vacqueros, making a selection
from the young horses for the market. He remembered now that Peyton
had told him that he might be obliged to raise money by sacrificing
some of his stock, and the thought brought back Clarence's
uneasiness as he turned again to the trail. Indeed, he was hardly
in the vein for a gentle tryst, as he entered the wooded ravine to
seek the madrono tree which was to serve as a guide to his lady's
bower.

A few rods further, under the cool vault filled with woodland
spicing, he came upon it. In its summer harlequin dress of scarlet
and green, with hanging bells of poly-tinted berries, like some
personified sylvan Folly, it seemed a fitting symbol of Susy's
childish masquerade of passion. Its bizarre beauty, so opposed to
the sober gravity of the sedate pines and hemlocks, made it an
unmistakable landmark. Here he dismounted and picketed his horse.
And here, beside it, to the right, ran the little trail crawling
over mossy boulders; a narrow yellow track through the carpet of
pine needles between the closest file of trees; an almost
imperceptible streak across pools of chickweed at their roots, and a
brown and ragged swath through the ferns. As he went on, the
anxiety and uneasiness that had possessed him gave way to a languid
intoxication of the senses; the mysterious seclusion of these
woodland depths recovered the old influence they had exerted over
his boyhood. He was not returning to Susy, as much as to the older
love of his youth, of which she was, perhaps, only an incident. It
was therefore with an odd boyish thrill again that, coming suddenly
upon a little hollow, like a deserted nest, where the lost trail
made him hesitate, he heard the crackle of a starched skirt behind
him, was conscious of the subtle odor of freshly ironed and scented
muslin, and felt the gentle pressure of delicate fingers upon his
eyes.

"Susy!"

"You silly boy! Where were you blundering to? Why didn't you look
around you?"

"I thought I would hear your voices."

"Whose voices, idiot?"

"Yours and Mary's," returned Clarence innocently, looking round for
the confidante.

"Oh, indeed! Then you wanted to see MARY? Well, she's looking for
me somewhere. Perhaps you'll go and find her, or shall I?"

She was offering to pass him when he laid his hand on hers to detain
her. She instantly evaded it, and drew herself up to her full
height, incontestably displaying the dignity of the added inches to
her skirt. All this was charmingly like the old Susy, but it did
not bid fair to help him to a serious interview. And, looking at
the pretty, pink, mocking face before him, with the witchery of the
woodland still upon him, he began to think that he had better put it
off.

"Never mind about Mary," he said laughingly. "But you said you
wanted to see me, Susy; and here I am."

"Said I wanted to see you?" repeated Susy, with her blue eyes lifted
in celestial scorn and wonderment. "Said I wanted to see you? Are
you not mistaken, Mr. Brant? Really, I imagined that you came here
to see ME."

With her fair head upturned, and the leaf of her scarlet lip
temptingly curled over, Clarence began to think this latest phase of
her extravagance the most fascinating. He drew nearer to her as he
said gently, "You know what I mean, Susy. You said yesterday you
were troubled. I thought you might have something to tell me."

"I should think it was YOU who might have something to tell me after
all these years," she said poutingly, yet self-possessed. "But I
suppose you came here only to see Mary and mother. I'm sure you let
them know that plainly enough last evening."

"But you said"--began the stupefied Clarence.

"Never mind what I said. It's always what I say, never what YOU
say; and you don't say anything."

The woodland influence must have been still very strong upon
Clarence that he did not discover in all this that, while Susy's
general capriciousness was unchanged, there was a new and singular
insincerity in her manifest acting. She was either concealing the
existence of some other real emotion, or assuming one that was
absent. But he did not notice it, and only replied tenderly:--

"But I want to say a great deal to you, Susy. I want to say that if
you still feel as I do, and as I have always felt, and you think you
could be happy as I would be if--if--we could be always together, we
need not conceal it from your mother and father any longer. I am
old enough to speak for myself, and I am my own master. Your mother
has been very kind to me,--so kind that it doesn't seem quite right
to deceive her,--and when I tell her that I love you, and that I
want you to be my wife, I believe she will give us her blessing."

Susy uttered a strange little laugh, and with an assumption of
coyness, that was, however, still affected, stooped to pick a few
berries from a manzanita bush.

"I'll tell you what she'll say, Clarence. She'll say you're
frightfully young, and so you are!"

The young fellow tried to echo the laugh, but felt as if he had
received a blow. For the first time he was conscious of the truth:
this girl, whom he had fondly regarded as a child, had already
passed him in the race; she had become a woman before he was yet a
man, and now stood before him, maturer in her knowledge, and older
in her understanding, of herself and of him. This was the change
that had perplexed him; this was the presence that had come between
them,--a Susy he had never known before.

She laughed at his changed expression, and then swung herself easily
to a sitting posture on the low projecting branch of a hemlock. The
act was still girlish, but, nevertheless, she looked down upon him
in a superior, patronizing way. "Now, Clarence," she said, with a
half-abstracted manner, "don't you be a big fool! If you talk that
way to mother, she'll only tell you to wait two or three years until
you know your own mind, and she'll pack me off to that horrid school
again, besides watching me like a cat every moment you are here. If
you want to stay here, and see me sometimes like this, you'll just
behave as you have done, and say nothing. Do you see? Perhaps you
don't care to come, or are satisfied with Mary and mother. Say so,
then. Goodness knows, I don't want to force you to come here."

Modest and reserved as Clarence was generally, I fear that
bashfulness of approach to the other sex was not one of these
indications. He walked up to Susy with appalling directness, and
passed his arm around her waist. She did not move, but remained
looking at him and his intruding arm with a certain critical
curiosity, as if awaiting some novel sensation. At which he kissed
her. She then slowly disengaged his arm, and said:--

"Really, upon my word, Clarence," in perfectly level tones, and
slipped quietly to the ground.

He again caught her in his arms, encircling her disarranged hair and
part of the beribboned hat hanging over her shoulder, and remained
for an instant holding her thus silently and tenderly. Then she
freed herself with an abstracted air, a half smile, and an unchanged
color except where her soft cheek had been abraded by his coat
collar.

"You're a bold, rude boy, Clarence," she said, putting back her hair
quietly, and straightening the brim of her hat. "Heaven knows where
you learned manners!" and then, from a safer distance, with the same
critical look in her violet eyes, "I suppose you think mother would
allow THAT if she knew it?"

But Clarence, now completely subjugated, with the memory of the kiss
upon him and a heightened color, protested that he only wanted to
make their intercourse less constrained, and to have their
relations, even their engagement, recognized by her parents; still
he would take her advice. Only there was always the danger that if
they were discovered she would be sent back to the convent all the
same, and his banishment, instead of being the probation of a few
years, would be a perpetual separation.

"We could always run away, Clarence," responded the young girl
calmly. "There's nothing the matter with THAT."

Clarence was startled. The idea of desolating the sad, proud,
handsome Mrs. Peyton, whom he worshiped, and her kind husband, whom
he was just about to serve, was so grotesque and confusing, that he
said hopelessly, "Yes."

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