Part 2 out of 3
"Of course," she continued, with the same odd affectation of
coyness, which was, however, distinctly uncalled for, as she eyed
him from under her broad hat, "you needn't come with me unless you
like. I can run away by myself,--if I want to! I've thought of it
before. One can't stand everything!"
"But, Susy," said Clarence, with a swift remorseful recollection of
her confidence yesterday, "is there really anything troubles you?
Tell me, dear. What is it?"
"Oh, nothing--EVERYTHING! It's no use,--YOU can't understand! YOU
like it, I know you do. I can see it; it's your style. But it's
stupid, it's awful, Clarence! With mamma snooping over you and
around you all day, with her 'dear child,' 'mamma's pet,' and 'What
is it, dear?' and 'Tell it all to your own mamma,' as if I would!
And 'my own mamma,' indeed! As if I didn't know, Clarence, that she
ISN'T. And papa, caring for nothing but this hideous, dreary
rancho, and the huge, empty plains. It's worse than school, for
there, at least, when you went out, you could see something besides
cattle and horses and yellow-faced half-breeds! But here--Lord!
it's only a wonder I haven't run away before!"
Startled and shocked as Clarence was at this revelation, accompanied
as it was by a hardness of manner that was new to him, the influence
of the young girl was still so strong upon him that he tried to
evade it as only an extravagance, and said with a faint smile, "But
where would you run to?"
She looked at him cunningly, with her head on one side, and then
"I have friends, and"--
She hesitated, pursing up her pretty lips.
"Yes,--an aunt by marriage. She lives in Sacramento. She'd be
overjoyed to have me come to her. Her second husband has a theatre
"But, Susy, what does Mrs. Peyton know of this?"
"Nothing. Do you think I'd tell her, and have her buy them up as
she has my other relations? Do you suppose I don't know that I've
been bought up like a nigger?"
She looked indignant, compressing her delicate little nostrils, and
yet, somehow, Clarence had the same singular impression that she was
The calling of a far-off voice came faintly through the wood.
"That's Mary, looking for me," said Susy composedly. "You must go,
now, Clarence. Quick! Remember what I said,--and don't breathe a
word of this. Good-by."
But Clarence was standing still, breathless, hopelessly disturbed,
and irresolute. Then he turned away mechanically towards the trail.
She was looking at him half reproachfully, half coquettishly, with
smiling, parted lips. He hastened to forget himself and his
troubles upon them twice and thrice. Then she quickly disengaged
herself, whispered, "Go, now," and, as Mary's call was repeated,
Clarence heard her voice, high and clear, answering, "Here, dear,"
as he was plunging into the thicket.
He had scarcely reached the madrono tree again and remounted his
horse, before he heard the sound of hoofs approaching from the road.
In his present uneasiness he did not care to be discovered so near
the rendezvous, and drew back into the shadow until the horseman
should pass. It was Peyton, with a somewhat disturbed face, riding
rapidly. Still less was he inclined to join or immediately follow
him, but he was relieved when his host, instead of taking the direct
road to the rancho, through the wild oats, turned off in the
direction of the corral.
A moment later Clarence wheeled into the direct road, and presently
found himself in the long afternoon shadows through the thickest of
the grain. He was riding slowly, immersed in thought, when he was
suddenly startled by a hissing noise at his ear, and what seemed to
be the uncoiling stroke of a leaping serpent at his side.
Instinctively he threw himself forward on his horse's neck, and as
the animal shied into the grain, felt the crawling scrape and jerk
of a horsehair lariat across his back and down his horse's flanks.
He reined in indignantly and stood up in his stirrups. Nothing was
to be seen above the level of the grain. Beneath him the trailing
riata had as noiselessly vanished as if it had been indeed a gliding
snake. Had he been the victim of a practical joke, or of the
blunder of some stupid vacquero? For he made no doubt that it was
the lasso of one of the performers he had watched that afternoon.
But his preoccupied mind did not dwell long upon it, and by the time
he had reached the wall of the old garden, the incident was
Relieved of Clarence Brant's embarrassing presence, Jim Hooker did
not, however, refuse to avail himself of that opportunity to expound
to the farmer and his family the immense wealth, influence, and
importance of the friend who had just left him. Although Clarence's
plan had suggested reticence, Hooker could not forego the pleasure
of informing them that "Clar" Brant had just offered to let him into
an extensive land speculation. He had previously declined a large
share or original location in a mine of Clarence's, now worth a
million, because it was not "his style." But the land speculation
in a country of unsettled titles and lawless men, he need not remind
them, required some experience of border warfare. He would not say
positively, although he left them to draw their own conclusions with
gloomy significance, that this was why Clarence had sought him.
With this dark suggestion, he took leave of Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins and
their daughter Phoebe the next day, not without some natural human
emotion, and peacefully drove his team and wagon into the settlement
of Fair Plains.
He was not prepared, however, for a sudden realization of his
imaginative prospects. A few days after his arrival in Fair Plains,
he received a letter from Clarence, explaining that he had not time
to return to Hooker to consult him, but had, nevertheless, fulfilled
his promise, by taking advantage of an opportunity of purchasing the
Spanish "Sisters'" title to certain unoccupied lands near the
settlement. As these lands in part joined the section already
preempted and occupied by Hopkins, Clarence thought that Jim Hooker
would choose that part for the sake of his neighbor's company. He
inclosed a draft on San Francisco, for a sum sufficient to enable
Jim to put up a cabin and "stock" the property, which he begged he
would consider in the light of a loan, to be paid back in
installments, only when the property could afford it. At the same
time, if Jim was in difficulty, he was to inform him. The letter
closed with a characteristic Clarence-like mingling of enthusiasm
and older wisdom. "I wish you luck, Jim, but I see no reason why
you should trust to it. I don't know of anything that could keep
you from making yourself independent of any one, if you go to work
with a LONG AIM and don't fritter away your chances on short ones.
If I were you, old fellow, I'd drop the Plains and the Indians out
of my thoughts, or at least out of my TALK, for a while; they won't
help you in the long run. The people who believe you will be
jealous of you; those who don't, will look down upon you, and if
they get to questioning your little Indian romances, Jim, they'll be
apt to question your civilized facts. That won't help you in the
ranching business and that's your only real grip now." For the
space of two or three hours after this, Jim was reasonably grateful
and even subdued,--so much so that his employer, to whom he confided
his good fortune, frankly confessed that he believed him from that
unusual fact alone. Unfortunately, neither the practical lesson
conveyed in this grim admission, nor the sentiment of gratitude,
remained long with Jim. Another idea had taken possession of his
fancy. Although the land nominated in his bill of sale had been,
except on the occasion of his own temporary halt there, always
unoccupied, unsought, and unclaimed, and although he was amply
protected by legal certificates, he gravely collected a posse of
three or four idlers from Fair Plains, armed them at his own
expense, and in the dead of night took belligerent and forcible
possession of the peaceful domain which the weak generosity and
unheroic dollars of Clarence had purchased for him! A martial camp-
fire tempered the chill night winds to the pulses of the invaders,
and enabled them to sleep on their arms in the field they had won.
The morning sun revealed to the astonished Hopkins family the
embattled plain beyond, with its armed sentries. Only then did Jim
hooker condescend to explain the reason of his warlike occupation,
with dark hints of the outlying "squatters" and "jumpers," whose
incursions their boldness alone had repulsed. The effect of this
romantic situation upon the two women, with the slight fascination
of danger imported into their quiet lives, may well be imagined.
Possibly owing to some incautious questioning by Mr. Hopkins, and
some doubts of the discipline and sincerity of his posse, Jim
discharged them the next day; but during the erection of his cabin
by some peaceful carpenters from the settlement, he returned to his
gloomy preoccupation and the ostentatious wearing of his revolvers.
As an opulent and powerful neighbor, he took his meals with the
family while his house was being built, and generally impressed them
with a sense of security they had never missed.
Meantime, Clarence, duly informed of the installation of Jim as his
tenant, underwent a severe trial. It was necessary for his plans
that this should be kept a secret at present, and this was no easy
thing for his habitually frank and open nature. He had once
mentioned that he had met Jim at the settlement, but the information
was received with such indifference by Susy, and such marked
disfavor by Mrs. Peyton, that he said no more. He accompanied
Peyton in his rides around the rancho, fully possessed himself of
the details of its boundaries, the debatable lands held by the
enemy, and listened with beating pulses, but a hushed tongue, to his
host's ill-concealed misgivings.
"You see, Clarence, that lower terrace?" he said, pointing to a far-
reaching longitudinal plain beyond the corral; "it extends from my
corral to Fair Plains. That is claimed by the sisters' title, and,
as things appear to be going, if a division of the land is made it
will be theirs. It's bad enough to have this best grazing land
lying just on the flanks of the corral held by these rascals at an
absurd prohibitory price, but I am afraid that it may be made to
mean something even worse. According to the old surveys, these
terraces on different levels were the natural divisions of the
property,--one heir or his tenant taking one, and another taking
another,--an easy distinction that saved the necessity of boundary
fencing or monuments, and gave no trouble to people who were either
kinsmen or lived in lazy patriarchal concord. That is the form of
division they are trying to reestablish now. Well," he continued,
suddenly lifting his eyes to the young man's flushed face, in some
unconscious, sympathetic response to his earnest breathlessness,
"although my boundary line extends half a mile into that field, my
house and garden and corral ARE ACTUALLY UPON THAT TERRACE OR
LEVEL." They certainly appeared to Clarence to be on the same line
as the long field beyond. "If," went on Peyton, "such a decision is
made, these men will push on and claim the house and everything on
"But," said Clarence quickly, "you said their title was only
valuable where they have got or can give POSSESSION. You already
have yours. They can't take it from you except by force."
"No," said Peyton grimly, "nor will they dare to do it as long as I
live to fight them."
"But," persisted Clarence, with the same singular hesitancy of
manner, "why didn't you purchase possession of at least that part of
the land which lies so dangerously near your own house?"
"Because it was held by squatters, who naturally preferred buying
what might prove a legal title to their land from these impostors
than to sell out their possession to ME at a fair price."
"But couldn't you have bought from them both?" continued Clarence.
"My dear Clarence, I am not a Croesus nor a fool. Only a man who
was both would attempt to treat with these rascals, who would now,
of course, insist that THEIR WHOLE claim should be bought up at
their own price, by the man who was most concerned in defeating
He turned away a little impatiently. Fortunately he did not observe
that Clarence's averted face was crimson with embarrassment, and
that a faint smile hovered nervously about his mouth.
Since his late rendezvous with Susy, Clarence had had no chance to
interrogate her further regarding her mysterious relative. That
that shadowy presence was more or less exaggerated, if not an
absolute myth, he more than half suspected, but of the discontent
that had produced it, or the recklessness it might provoke, there
was no doubt. She might be tempted to some act of folly. He
wondered if Mary Rogers knew it. Yet, with his sensitive ideas of
loyalty, he would have shrunk from any confidence with Mary
regarding her friend's secrets, although he fancied that Mary's dark
eyes sometimes dwelt upon him with mournful consciousness and
premonition. He did not imagine the truth, that this romantic
contemplation was only the result of Mary's conviction that Susy was
utterly unworthy of his love. It so chanced one morning that the
vacquero who brought the post from Santa Inez arrived earlier than
usual, and so anticipated the two girls, who usually made a youthful
point of meeting him first as he passed the garden wall. The letter
bag was consequently delivered to Mrs. Peyton in the presence of the
others, and a look of consternation passed between the young girls.
But Mary quickly seized upon the bag as if with girlish and
mischievous impatience, opened it, and glanced within it.
"There are only three letters for you," she said, handing them to
Clarence, with a quick look of significance, which he failed to
comprehend, "and nothing for me or Susy."
"But," began the innocent Clarence, as his first glance at the
letters showed him that one was directed to Susy, "here is"--
A wicked pinch on his arm that was nearest Mary stopped his speech,
and he quickly put the letters in his pocket.
"Didn't you understand that Susy don't want her mother to see that
letter?" asked Mary impatiently, when they were alone a moment
"No," said Clarence simply, handing her the missive.
Mary took it and turned it over in her hands.
"It's in a man's handwriting," she said innocently.
"I hadn't noticed it," returned Clarence with invincible naivete,
"but perhaps it is."
"And you hand it over for me to give to Susy, and ain't a bit
curious to know who it's from?"
"No," returned Clarence, opening his big eyes in smiling and
"Well," responded the young lady, with a long breath of melancholy
astonishment, "certainly, of all things you are--you really ARE!"
With which incoherency--apparently perfectly intelligible to
herself--she left him. She had not herself the slightest idea who
the letter was from; she only knew that Susy wanted it concealed.
The incident made little impression on Clarence, except as part of
the general uneasiness he felt in regard to his old playmate. It
seemed so odd to him that this worry should come from HER,--that she
herself should form the one discordant note in the Arcadian dream
that he had found so sweet; in his previous imaginings it was the
presence of Mrs. Peyton which he had dreaded; she whose propinquity
now seemed so full of gentleness, reassurance, and repose. How
worthy she seemed of any sacrifice he could make for her! He had
seen little of her for the last two or three days, although her
smile and greeting were always ready for him. Poor Clarence did not
dream that she had found from certain incontestable signs and
tokens, both in the young ladies and himself, that he did not
require watching, and that becoming more resigned to Susy's
indifference, which seemed so general and passive in quality, she
was no longer tortured by the sting of jealousy.
Finding himself alone that afternoon, the young man had wandered
somewhat listlessly beyond the low adobe gateway. The habits of the
siesta obtained in a modified form at the rancho. After luncheon,
its masters and employees usually retired, not so much from the
torrid heat of the afternoon sun, but from the first harrying of the
afternoon trades, whose monotonous whistle swept round the walls. A
straggling passion vine near the gate beat and struggled against the
wind. Clarence had stopped near it, and was gazing with worried
abstraction across the tossing fields, when a soft voice called his
It was a pleasant voice,--Mrs. Peyton's. He glanced back at the
gateway; it was empty. He looked quickly to the right and left; no
one was there.
The voice spoke again with the musical addition of a laugh; it
seemed to come from the passion vine. Ah, yes; behind it, and half
overgrown by its branches, was a long, narrow embrasured opening in
the wall, defended by the usual Spanish grating, and still further
back, as in the frame of a picture, the half length figure of Mrs.
Peyton, very handsome and striking, too, with a painted
picturesqueness from the effect of the checkered light and shade.
"You looked so tired and bored out there," she said. "I am afraid
you are finding it very dull at the rancho. The prospect is
certainly not very enlivening from where you stand."
Clarence protested with a visible pleasure in his eyes, as he held
back a spray before the opening.
"If you are not afraid of being worse bored, come in here and talk
with me. You have never seen this part of the house, I think,--my
own sitting-room. You reach it from the hall in the gallery. But
Lola or Anita will show you the way."
He reentered the gateway, and quickly found the hall,--a narrow,
arched passage, whose black, tunnel-like shadows were absolutely
unaffected by the vivid, colorless glare of the courtyard without,
seen through an opening at the end. The contrast was sharp,
blinding, and distinct; even the edges of the opening were black;
the outer light halted on the threshold and never penetrated within.
The warm odor of verbena and dried rose leaves stole from a half-
open door somewhere in the cloistered gloom. Guided by it, Clarence
presently found himself on the threshold of a low-vaulted room. Two
other narrow embrasured windows like the one he had just seen, and a
fourth, wider latticed casement, hung with gauze curtains, suffused
the apartment with a clear, yet mysterious twilight that seemed its
own. The gloomy walls were warmed by bright-fringed bookshelves,
topped with trifles of light feminine coloring and adornment. Low
easy-chairs and a lounge, small fanciful tables, a dainty desk,
gayly colored baskets of worsteds or mysterious kaleidoscopic
fragments, and vases of flowers pervaded the apartment with a
mingled sense of grace and comfort. There was a womanly refinement
in its careless negligence, and even the delicate wrapper of
Japanese silk, gathered at the waist and falling in easy folds to
the feet of the graceful mistress of this charming disorder, looked
a part of its refined abandonment.
Clarence hesitated as on the threshold of some sacred shrine. But
Mrs. Peyton, with her own hands, cleared a space for him on the
"You will easily suspect from all this disorder, Mr. Brant, that I
spend a greater part of my time here, and that I seldom see much
company. Mr. Peyton occasionally comes in long enough to stumble
over a footstool or upset a vase, and I think Mary and Susy avoid it
from a firm conviction that there is work concealed in these
baskets. But I have my books here, and in the afternoons, behind
these thick walls, one forgets the incessant stir and restlessness
of the dreadful winds outside. Just now you were foolish enough to
tempt them while you were nervous, or worried, or listless. Take my
word for it, it's a great mistake. There is no more use fighting
them, as I tell Mr. Peyton, than of fighting the people born under
them. I have my own opinion that these winds were sent only to stir
this lazy race of mongrels into activity, but they are enough to
drive us Anglo-Saxons into nervous frenzy. Don't you think so? But
you are young and energetic, and perhaps you are not affected by
She spoke pleasantly and playfully, yet with a certain nervous
tension of voice and manner that seemed to illustrate her theory.
At least, Clarence, in quick sympathy with her slightest emotion,
was touched by it. There is no more insidious attraction in the
persons we admire, than the belief that we know and understand their
unhappiness, and that our admiration for them is lifted higher than
a mere mutual instinctive sympathy with beauty or strength. This
adorable woman had suffered. The very thought aroused his chivalry.
It loosened, also, I fear, his quick, impulsive tongue.
Oh, yes; he knew it. He had lived under this whip of air and sky
for three years, alone in a Spanish rancho, with only the native
peons around him, and scarcely speaking his own tongue even to his
guardian. He spent his mornings on horseback in fields like these,
until the vientos generales, as they called them, sprang up and
drove him nearly frantic; and his only relief was to bury himself
among the books in his guardian's library, and shut out the world,--
just as she did. The smile which hovered around the lady's mouth at
that moment arrested Clarence, with a quick remembrance of their
former relative positions, and a sudden conviction of his
familiarity in suggesting an equality of experience, and he blushed.
But Mrs. Peyton diverted his embarrassment with an air of interested
absorption in his story, and said:--
"Then you know these people thoroughly, Mr. Brant? I am afraid that
WE do not."
Clarence had already gathered that fact within the last few days,
and, with his usual impulsive directness, said so. A slight
knitting of Mrs. Peyton's brows passed off, however, as he quickly
and earnestly went on to say that it was impossible for the Peytons
in their present relations to the natives to judge them, or to be
judged by them fairly. How they were a childlike race, credulous
and trustful, but, like all credulous and trustful people, given to
retaliate when imposed upon with a larger insincerity, exaggeration,
and treachery. How they had seen their houses and lands occupied by
strangers, their religion scorned, their customs derided, their
patriarchal society invaded by hollow civilization or frontier
brutality--all this fortified by incident and illustration, the
outcome of some youthful experience, and given with the glowing
enthusiasm of conviction. Mrs. Peyton listened with the usual
divided feminine interest between subject and speaker.
Where did this rough, sullen boy--as she had known him--pick up this
delicate and swift perception, this reflective judgment, and this
odd felicity of expression? It was not possible that it was in him
while he was the companion of her husband's servants or the
recognized "chum" of the scamp Hooker. No. But if HE could have
changed like this, why not Susy? Mrs. Peyton, in the conservatism
of her sex, had never been quite free from fears of her adopted
daughter's hereditary instincts; but, with this example before her,
she now took heart. Perhaps the change was coming slowly; perhaps
even now what she thought was indifference and coldness was only
some abnormal preparation or condition. But she only smiled and
"Then, if you think those people have been wronged, you are not on
our side, Mr. Brant?"
What to an older and more worldly man would have seemed, and
probably was, only a playful reproach, struck Clarence deeply, and
brought his pent-up feelings to his lips.
"YOU have never wronged them. You couldn't do it; it isn't in your
nature. I am on YOUR side, and for you and yours always, Mrs.
Peyton. From the first time I saw you on the plains, when I was
brought, a ragged boy, before you by your husband, I think I would
gladly have laid down my life for you. I don't mind telling you now
that I was even jealous of poor Susy, so anxious was I for the
smallest share in your thoughts, if only for a moment. You could
have done anything with me you wished, and I should have been
happy,--far happier than I have been ever since. I tell you this,
Mrs. Peyton, now, because you have just doubted if I might be 'on
your side,' but I have been longing to tell it all to you before,
and it is that I am ready to do anything you want,--all you want,--
to be on YOUR SIDE and at YOUR SIDE, now and forever."
He was so earnest and hearty, and above all so appallingly and
blissfully happy, in this relief of his feelings, smiling as if it
were the most natural thing in the world, and so absurdly
unconscious of his twenty-two years, his little brown curling
mustache, the fire in his wistful, yearning eyes, and, above all, of
his clasped hands and lover-like attitude, that Mrs. Peyton--at
first rigid as stone, then suffused to the eyes--cast a hasty glance
round the apartment, put her handkerchief to her face, and laughed
like a girl.
At which Clarence, by no means discomposed, but rather accepting her
emotion as perfectly natural, joined her heartily, and added:--
"It's so, Mrs. Peyton; I'm glad I told you. You don't mind it, do
But Mrs. Peyton had resumed her gravity, and perhaps a touch of her
"I should certainly be very sorry," she said, looking at him
critically, "to object to your sharing your old friendship for your
little playmate with her parents and guardians, or to your
expressing it to THEM as frankly as to her."
She saw the quick change in his mobile face and the momentary arrest
of its happy expression. She was frightened and yet puzzled. It
was not the sensitiveness of a lover at the mention of the loved
one's name, and yet it suggested an uneasy consciousness. If his
previous impulsive outburst had been prompted honestly, or even
artfully, by his passion for Susy, why had he looked so shocked when
she spoke of her?
But Clarence, whose emotion had been caused by the sudden recall of
his knowledge of Susy's own disloyalty to the woman whose searching
eyes were upon him, in his revulsion against the deceit was, for an
instant, upon the point of divulging all. Perhaps, if Mrs. Peyton
had shown more confidence, he would have done so, and materially
altered the evolution of this story. But, happily, it is upon these
slight human weaknesses that your romancer depends, and Clarence,
with no other reason than the instinctive sympathy of youth with
youth in its opposition to wisdom and experience, let the
opportunity pass, and took the responsibility of it out of the hands
of this chronicler.
Howbeit, to cover his confusion, he seized upon the second idea that
was in his mind, and stammered, "Susy! Yes, I wanted to speak to
you about her." Mrs. Peyton held her breath, but the young man went
on, although hesitatingly, with evident sincerity. "Have you heard
from any of her relations since--since--you adopted her?"
It seemed a natural enough question, although not the sequitur she
had expected. "No," she said carelessly. "It was well understood,
after the nearest relation--an aunt by marriage--had signed her
consent to Susy's adoption, that there should be no further
intercourse with the family. There seemed to us no necessity for
reopening the past, and Susy herself expressed no desire." She
stopped, and again fixing her handsome eyes on Clarence, said, "Do
you know any of them?"
But Clarence by this time had recovered himself, and was able to
answer carelessly and truthfully that he did not. Mrs. Peyton,
still regarding him closely, added somewhat deliberately, "It
matters little now what relations she has; Mr. Peyton and I have
complete legal control over her until she is of age, and we can
easily protect her from any folly of her own or others, or from any
of the foolish fancies that sometimes overtake girls of her age and
To her utter surprise, however, Clarence uttered a faint sigh of
relief, and his face again recovered its expression of boyish
happiness. "I'm glad of it, Mrs. Peyton," he said heartily. "No
one could understand better what is for her interest in all things
than yourself. Not," he said, with hasty and equally hearty loyalty
to his old playmate, "that I think she would ever go against your
wishes, or do anything that she knows to be wrong, but she is very
young and innocent,--as much of a child as ever, don't you think so,
It was amusing, yet nevertheless puzzling, to hear this boyish young
man comment upon Susy's girlishness. And Clarence was serious, for
he had quite forgotten in Mrs. Peyton's presence the impression of
superiority which Susy had lately made upon him. But Mrs. Peyton
returned to the charge, or, rather, to an attack upon what she
conceived to be Clarence's old position.
"I suppose she does seem girlish compared to Mary Rogers, who is a
much more reserved and quiet nature. But Mary is very charming, Mr.
Brant, and I am really delighted to have her here with Susy. She
has such lovely dark eyes and such good manners. She has been well
brought up, and it is easy to see that her friends are superior
people. I must write to them to thank them for her visit, and beg
them to let her stay longer. I think you said you didn't know
But Clarence, whose eyes had been thoughtfully and admiringly
wandering over every characteristic detail of the charming
apartment, here raised them to its handsome mistress, with an
apologetic air and a "No" of such unaffected and complete
abstraction, that she was again dumbfounded. Certainly, it could
not be Mary in whom he was interested.
Abandoning any further inquisition for the present, she let the talk
naturally fall upon the books scattered about the tables. The young
man knew them all far better than she did, with a cognate knowledge
of others of which she had never heard. She found herself in the
attitude of receiving information from this boy, whose boyishness,
however, seemed to have evaporated, whose tone had changed with the
subject, and who now spoke with the conscious reserve of knowledge.
Decidedly, she must have grown rusty in her seclusion. This came,
she thought bitterly, of living alone; of her husband's
preoccupation with the property; of Susy's frivolous caprices. At
the end of eight years to be outstripped by a former cattle-boy of
her husband's, and to have her French corrected in a matter of fact
way by this recent pupil of the priests, was really too bad!
Perhaps he even looked down upon Susy! She smiled dangerously but
"You must have worked so hard to educate yourself from nothing, Mr.
Brant. You couldn't read, I think, when you first came to us. No?
Could you really? I know it has been very difficult for Susy to get
on with her studies in proportion. We had so much to first
eradicate in the way of manners, style, and habits of thought which
the poor child had picked up from her companions, and for which SHE
was not responsible. Of course, with a boy that does not signify,"
she added, with feline gentleness.
But the barbed speech glanced from the young man's smoothly smiling
"Ah, yes. But those were happy days, Mrs. Peyton," he answered,
with an exasperating return of his previous boyish enthusiasm,
"perhaps because of our ignorance. I don't think that Susy and I
are any happier for knowing that the plains are not as flat as we
believed they were, and that the sun doesn't have to burn a hole in
them every night when it sets. But I know I believed that YOU knew
everything. When I once saw you smiling over a book in your hand, I
thought it must be a different one from any that I had ever seen,
and perhaps made expressly for you. I can see you there still. Do
you know," quite confidentially, "that you reminded me--of course
YOU were much younger--of what I remembered of my mother?"
But Mrs. Peyton's reply of "Ah, indeed," albeit polite, indicated
some coldness and lack of animation. Clarence rose quickly, but
cast a long and lingering look around him.
"You will come again, Mr. Brant," said the lady more graciously.
"If you are going to ride now, perhaps you would try to meet Mr.
Peyton. He is late already, and I am always uneasy when he is out
alone,--particularly on one of those half-broken horses, which they
consider good enough for riding here. YOU have ridden them before
and understand them, but I am afraid that's another thing WE have
got to learn."
When the young man found himself again confronting the glittering
light of the courtyard, he remembered the interview and the soft
twilight of the boudoir only as part of a pleasant dream. There was
a rude awakening in the fierce wind, which had increased with the
lengthening shadows. It seemed to sweep away the half-sensuous
comfort that had pervaded him, and made him coldly realize that he
had done nothing to solve the difficulties of his relations to Susy.
He had lost the one chance of confiding to Mrs. Peyton,--if he had
ever really intended to do so. It was impossible for him to do it
hereafter without a confession of prolonged deceit.
He reached the stables impatiently, where his attention was
attracted by the sound of excited voices in the corral. Looking
within, he was concerned to see that one of the vacqueros was
holding the dragging bridle of a blown, dusty, and foam-covered
horse, around whom a dozen idlers were gathered. Even beneath its
coating of dust and foam and the half-displaced saddle blanket,
Clarence immediately recognized the spirited pinto mustang which
Peyton had ridden that morning.
"What's the matter?" said Clarence, from the gateway.
The men fell apart, glancing at each other. One said quickly in
"Say nothing to HIM. It is an affair of the house."
But this brought Clarence down like a bombshell among them, not to
be overlooked in his equal command of their tongue and of them.
"Ah! come, now. What drunken piggishness is this? Speak!"
"The padron has been--perhaps--thrown," stammered the first speaker.
"His horse arrives,--but he does not. We go to inform the senora."
"No, you don't! mules and imbeciles! Do you want to frighten her to
death? Mount, every one of you, and follow me!"
The men hesitated, but for only a moment. Clarence had a fine
assortment of Spanish epithets, expletives, and objurgations,
gathered in his rodeo experience at El Refugio, and laid them about
him with such fervor and discrimination that two or three mules,
presumably with guilty consciences, mistaking their direction,
actually cowered against the stockade of the corral in fear. In
another moment the vacqueros had hastily mounted, and, with Clarence
at their head, were dashing down the road towards Santa Inez. Here
he spread them in open order in the grain, on either side of the
track, himself taking the road.
They did not proceed very far. For when they had reached the
gradual slope which marked the decline to the second terrace,
Clarence, obeying an instinct as irresistible as it was
unaccountable, which for the last few moments had been forcing
itself upon him, ordered a halt. The casa and corral had already
sunk in the plain behind them; it was the spot where the lasso had
been thrown at him a few evenings before! Bidding the men converge
slowly towards the road, he went on more cautiously, with his eyes
upon the track before him. Presently he stopped. There was a
ragged displacement of the cracked and crumbling soil and the
unmistakable scoop of kicking hoofs. As he stooped to examine them,
one of the men at the right uttered a shout. By the same strange
instinct Clarence knew that Peyton was found!
He was, indeed, lying there among the wild oats at the right of the
road, but without trace of life or scarcely human appearance. His
clothes, where not torn and shredded away, were partly turned inside
out; his shoulders, neck, and head were a shapeless, undistinguishable
mask of dried earth and rags, like a mummy wrapping. His left boot
was gone. His large frame seemed boneless, and, except for the
cerements of his mud-stiffened clothing, was limp and sodden.
Clarence raised his head suddenly from a quick examination of the
body, and looked at the men around him. One of them was already
cantering away. Clarence instantly threw himself on his horse, and,
putting spurs to the animal, drew a revolver from his holster and
fired over the man's head. The rider turned in his saddle, saw his
pursuer, and pulled up.
"Go back," said Clarence, "or my next shot won't MISS you."
"I was only going to inform the senora," said the man with a shrug
and a forced smile.
"I will do that," said Clarence grimly, driving him back with him
into the waiting circle; then turning to them he said slowly, with
deliberate, smileless irony, "And now, my brave gentlemen,--knights
of the bull and gallant mustang hunters,--I want to inform YOU that
I believe that Mr. Peyton was MURDERED, and if the man who killed
him is anywhere this side of hell, I intend to find him. Good! You
understand me! Now lift up the body,--you two, by the shoulders;
you two, by the feet. Let your horses follow. For I intend that
you four shall carry home your master in your arms, on foot. Now
forward to the corral by the back trail. Disobey me, or step out of
line and"-- He raised the revolver ominously.
If the change wrought in the dead man before them was weird and
terrifying, no less distinct and ominous was the change that, during
the last few minutes, had come over the living speaker. For it was
no longer the youthful Clarence who sat there, but a haggard,
prematurely worn, desperate-looking avenger, lank of cheek, and
injected of eye, whose white teeth glistened under the brown
mustache and thin pale lips that parted when his restrained breath
now and then hurriedly escaped them.
As the procession moved on, two men slunk behind with the horses.
"Mother of God! Who is this wolf's whelp?" said Manuel.
"Hush!" said his companion in a terrified whisper. "Have you not
heard? It is the son of Hamilton Brant, the assassin, the duelist,--
he who was fusiladed in Sonora." He made the sign of the cross
quickly. "Jesus Maria! Let them look out who have cause, for the
blood of his father is in him!"
What other speech passed between Clarence and Peyton's retainers was
not known, but not a word of the interview seemed to have been
divulged by those present. It was generally believed and accepted
that Judge Peyton met his death by being thrown from his half-broken
mustang, and dragged at its heels, and medical opinion, hastily
summoned from Santa Inez after the body had been borne to the
corral, and stripped of its hideous encasings, declared that the
neck had been broken, and death had followed instantaneously. An
inquest was deemed unnecessary.
Clarence had selected Mary to break the news to Mrs. Peyton, and the
frightened young girl was too much struck with the change still
visible in his face, and the half authority of his manner, to
decline, or even to fully appreciate the calamity that had befallen
them. After the first benumbing shock, Mrs. Peyton passed into that
strange exaltation of excitement brought on by the immediate
necessity for action, followed by a pallid calm, which the average
spectator too often unfairly accepts as incongruous, inadequate, or
artificial. There had also occurred one of those strange
compensations that wait on Death or disrupture by catastrophe: such
as the rude shaking down of an unsettled life, the forcible
realization of what were vague speculations, the breaking of old
habits and traditions, and the unloosing of half-conscious bonds.
Mrs. Peyton, without insensibility to her loss or disloyalty to her
affections, nevertheless felt a relief to know that she was now
really Susy's guardian, free to order her new life wherever and
under what conditions she chose as most favorable to it, and that
she could dispose of this house that was wearying to her when Susy
was away, and which the girl herself had always found insupportable.
She could settle this question of Clarence's relations to her
daughter out of hand without advice or opposition. She had a
brother in the East, who would be summoned to take care of the
property. This consideration for the living pursued her, even while
the dead man's presence still awed the hushed house; it was in her
thoughts as she stood beside his bier and adjusted the flowers on
his breast, which no longer moved for or against these vanities; and
it stayed with her even in the solitude of her darkened room.
But if Mrs. Peyton was deficient, it was Susy who filled the popular
idea of a mourner, and whose emotional attitude of a grief-stricken
daughter left nothing to be desired. It was she who, when the house
was filled with sympathizing friends from San Francisco and the few
near neighbors who had hurried with condolences, was overflowing in
her reminiscences of the dead man's goodness to her, and her own
undying affection; who recalled ominous things that he had said, and
strange premonitions of her own, the result of her ever-present
filial anxiety; it was she who had hurried home that afternoon,
impelled with vague fears of some impending calamity; it was she who
drew a picture of Peyton as a doting and almost too indulgent
parent, which Mary Rogers failed to recognize, and which brought
back vividly to Clarence's recollection her own childish
exaggerations of the Indian massacre. I am far from saying that she
was entirely insincere or merely acting at these moments; at times
she was taken with a mild hysteria, brought on by the exciting
intrusion of this real event in her monotonous life, by the
attentions of her friends, the importance of her suffering as an
only child, and the advancement of her position as the heiress of
the Robles Rancho. If her tears were near the surface, they were at
least genuine, and filmed her violet eyes and reddened her pretty
eyelids quite as effectually as if they had welled from the depths
of her being. Her black frock lent a matured dignity to her figure,
and paled her delicate complexion with the refinement of suffering.
Even Clarence was moved in that dark and haggard abstraction that
had settled upon him since his strange outbreak over the body of his
The extent of that change had not been noticed by Mrs. Peyton, who
had only observed that Clarence had treated her grief with a grave
and silent respect. She was grateful for that. A repetition of his
boyish impulsiveness would have been distasteful to her at such a
moment. She only thought him more mature and more subdued, and as
the only man now in her household his services had been invaluable
in the emergency.
The funeral had taken place at Santa Inez, where half the county
gathered to pay their last respects to their former fellow-citizen
and neighbor, whose legal and combative victories they had admired,
and whom death had lifted into a public character. The family were
returning to the house the same afternoon, Mrs. Peyton and the girls
in one carriage, the female house-servants in another, and Clarence
on horseback. They had reached the first plateau, and Clarence was
riding a little in advance, when an extraordinary figure, rising
from the grain beyond, began to gesticulate to him wildly. Checking
the driver of the first carriage, Clarence bore down upon the
stranger. To his amazement it was Jim Hooker. Mounted on a
peaceful, unwieldy plough horse, he was nevertheless accoutred and
armed after his most extravagant fashion. In addition to a heavy
rifle across his saddle-bow he was weighted down with a knife and
revolvers. Clarence was in no mood for trifling, and almost rudely
demanded his business.
"Gord, Clarence, it ain't foolin'. The Sisters' title was decided
"I knew it, you fool! It's YOUR title! You were already on your
land and in possession. What the devil are you doing HERE?"
"Yes,--but," stammered Jim, "all the boys holding that title moved
up here to 'make the division' and grab all they could. And I
followed. And I found out that they were going to grab Judge
Peyton's house, because it was on the line, if they could, and
findin' you was all away, by Gord THEY DID! and they're in it! And
I stoled out and rode down here to warn ye."
He stopped, looked at Clarence, glanced darkly around him and then
down on his accoutrements. Even in that supreme moment of
sincerity, he could not resist the possibilities of the situation.
"It's as much as my life's worth," he said gloomily. "But," with a
dark glance at his weapons, "I'll sell it dearly."
"Jim!" said Clarence, in a terrible voice, "you're not lying again?"
"No," said Jim hurriedly. "I swear it, Clarence! No! Honest Injin
this time. And look. I'll help you. They ain't expectin' you yet,
and they think ye'll come by the road. Ef I raised a scare off
there by the corral, while you're creepin' ROUND BY THE BACK, mebbe
you could get in while they're all lookin' for ye in front, don't
you see? I'll raise a big row, and they needn't know but what ye've
got wind of it and brought a party with you from Santa Inez."
In a flash Clarence had wrought a feasible plan out of Jim's
"Good," he said, wringing his old companion's hand. "Go back
quietly now; hang round the corral, and when you see the carriage
climbing the last terrace raise your alarm. Don't mind how loud it
is, there'll be nobody but the servants in the carriages."
He rode quickly back to the first carriage, at whose window Mrs.
Peyton's calm face was already questioning him. He told her briefly
and concisely of the attack, and what he proposed to do.
"You have shown yourself so strong in matters of worse moment than
this," he added quietly, "that I have no fears for your courage. I
have only to ask you to trust yourself to me, to put you back at
once in your own home. Your presence there, just now, is the one
important thing, whatever happens afterwards."
She recognized his maturer tone and determined manner, and nodded
assent. More than that, a faint fire came into her handsome eyes;
the two girls kindled their own at that flaming beacon, and sat with
flushed checks and suspended, indignant breath. They were Western
Americans, and not over much used to imposition.
"You must get down before we raise the hill, and follow me on foot
through the grain. I was thinking," he added, turning to Mrs.
Peyton, "of your boudoir window."
She had been thinking of it, too, and nodded.
"The vine has loosened the bars," he said.
"If it hasn't, we must squeeze through them," she returned simply.
At the end of the terrace Clarence dismounted, and helped them from
the carriage. He then gave directions to the coachmen to follow the
road slowly to the corral in front of the casa, and tied his horse
behind the second carriage. Then, with Mrs. Peyton and the two
young girls, he plunged into the grain.
It was hot, it was dusty, their thin shoes slipped in the crumbling
adobe, and the great blades caught in their crape draperies, but
they uttered no complaint. Whatever ulterior thought was in their
minds, they were bent only on one thing at that moment,--on entering
the house at any hazard. Mrs. Peyton had lived long enough on the
frontier to know the magic power of POSSESSION. Susy already was
old enough to feel the acute feminine horror of the profanation of
her own belongings by alien hands. Clarence, more cognizant of the
whole truth than the others, was equally silent and determined; and
Mary Rogers was fired with the zeal of loyalty.
Suddenly a series of blood-curdling yells broke from the direction
of the corral, and they stopped. But Clarence at once recognized
the well-known war-whoop imitation of Jim Hooker,--infinitely more
gruesome and appalling than the genuine aboriginal challenge. A
half dozen shots fired in quick succession had evidently the same
"Now is our time," said Clarence eagerly. "We must run for the
They had fortunately reached by this time the angle of the adobe
wall of the casa, and the long afternoon shadows of the building
were in their favor. They pressed forward eagerly with the sounds
of Jim Hooker's sham encounter still in their ears, mingled with
answering shouts of defiance from strange voices within the building
towards the front.
They rapidly skirted the wall, even passing boldly before the back
gateway, which seemed empty and deserted, and the next moment stood
beside the narrow window of the boudoir. Clarence's surmises were
correct; the iron grating was not only loose, but yielded to a
vigorous wrench, the vine itself acting as a lever to pull out the
rusty bars. The young man held out his hand, but Mrs. Peyton, with
the sudden agility of a young girl, leaped into the window, followed
by Mary and Susy. The inner casement yielded to her touch; the next
moment they were within the room. Then Mrs. Peyton's flushed and
triumphant face reappeared at the window.
"It's all right; the men are all in the courtyard, or in the front
of the house. The boudoir door is strong, and we can bolt them
"It won't be necessary," said Clarence quietly; "you will not be
"But are you not coming in?" she asked timidly, holding the window
Clarence looked at her with his first faint smile since Peyton's
"Of course I am, but not in THAT way. I am going in by THE FRONT
She would have detained him, but, with a quick wave of his hand, he
left her, and ran swiftly around the wall of the casa toward the
front. The gate was half open; a dozen excited men were gathered
before it and in the archway, and among them, whitened with dust,
blackened with powder, and apparently glutted with rapine, and still
holding a revolver in his hand, was Jim Hooker! As Clarence
approached, the men quickly retreated inside the gate and closed it,
but not before he had exchanged a meaning glance with Jim. When he
reached the gate, a man from within roughly demanded his business.
"I wish to see the leader of this party," said Clarence quietly.
"I reckon you do," returned the man, with a short laugh. "But I
kalkilate HE don't return the compliment."
"He probably will when he reads this note to his employer,"
continued Clarence still coolly, selecting a paper from his
pocketbook. It was addressed to Francisco Robles, Superintendent of
the Sisters' Title, and directed him to give Mr. Clarence Brant free
access to the property and the fullest information concerning it.
The man took it, glanced at it, looked again at Clarence, and then
passed the paper to a third man among the group in the courtyard.
The latter read it, and approached the gate carelessly.
"Well, what do you want?"
"I am afraid you have the advantage of me in being able to transact
business through bars," said Clarence, with slow but malevolent
distinctness, "and as mine is important, I think you had better open
the gate to me."
The slight laugh that his speech had evoked from the bystanders was
checked as the leader retorted angrily:--
"That's all very well; but how do I know that you're the man
represented in that letter? Pancho Robles may know you, but I
"That you can find out very easily," said Clarence. "There is a man
among your party who knows me,--Mr. Hooker. Ask him."
The man turned, with a quick mingling of surprise and suspicion, to
the gloomy, imperturbable Hooker. Clarence could not hear the reply
of that young gentleman, but it was evidently not wanting in his
usual dark, enigmatical exaggeration. The man surlily opened the
"All the same," he said, still glancing suspiciously at Hooker, "I
don't see what HE'S got to do with you."
"A great deal," said Clarence, entering the courtyard, and stepping
into the veranda; "HE'S ONE OF MY TENANTS."
"Your WHAT?" said the man, with a coarse laugh of incredulity.
"My tenants," repeated Clarence, glancing around the courtyard
carelessly. Nevertheless, he was relieved to notice that the three
or four Mexicans of the party did not seem to be old retainers of
the rancho. There was no evidence of the internal treachery he had
"Your TENANTS!" echoed the man, with an uneasy glance at the faces
of the others.
"Yes," said Clarence, with business brevity; "and, for the matter of
that, although I have no reason to be particularly proud of it, SO
ARE YOU ALL. You ask my business here. It seems to be the same as
yours,--to hold possession of this house! With this difference,
however," he continued, taking a document from his pocket. "Here is
the certificate, signed by the County Clerk, of the bill of sale of
the entire Sisters' title to ME. It includes the whole two leagues
from Fair Plains to the old boundary line of this rancho, which you
forcibly entered this morning. There is the document; examine it if
you like. The only shadow of a claim you could have to this
property you would have to derive from ME. The only excuse you
could have for this act of lawlessness would be orders from ME. And
all that you have done this morning is only the assertion of MY
legal right to this house. If I disavow your act, as I might, I
leave you as helpless as any tramp that was ever kicked from a
doorstep,--as any burglar that was ever collared on the fence by a
It was the truth. There was no denying the authority of the
document, the facts of the situation, or its ultimate power and
significance. There was consternation, stupefaction, and even a
half-humorous recognition of the absurdity of their position on most
of the faces around him. Incongruous as the scene was, it was made
still more grotesque by the attitude of Jim Hooker. Ruthlessly
abandoning the party of convicted trespassers, he stalked gloomily
over to the side of Clarence, with the air of having been all the
time scornfully in the secret and a mien of wearied victoriousness,
and thus halting, he disdainfully expectorated tobacco juice on the
ground between him and his late companions, as if to form a line of
demarcation. The few Mexicans began to edge towards the gateway.
This defection of his followers recalled the leader, who was no
coward, to himself again.
"Shut the gate, there!" he shouted.
As its two sides clashed together again, he turned deliberately to
"That's all very well, young man, as regards the TITLE. You may
have BOUGHT up the land, and legally own every square inch of
howling wilderness between this and San Francisco, and I wish you
joy of your d--d fool's bargain; you may have got a whole circus
like that," pointing to the gloomy Jim, "at your back. But with all
your money and all your friends you've forgotten one thing. You
haven't got possession, and we have."
"That's just where we differ," said Clarence coolly, "for if you
take the trouble to examine the house, you will see that it is
already in possession of Mrs. Peyton,--MY TENANT."
He paused to give effect to his revelations. But he was,
nevertheless, unprepared for an unrehearsed dramatic situation.
Mrs. Peyton, who had been tired of waiting, and was listening in the
passage, at the mention of her name, entered the gallery, followed
by the young ladies. The slight look of surprise upon her face at
the revelation she had just heard of Clarence's ownership, only gave
the suggestion of her having been unexpectedly disturbed in her
peaceful seclusion. One of the Mexicans turned pale, with a
frightened glance at the passage, as if he expected the figure of
the dead man to follow.
The group fell back. The game was over,--and lost. No one
recognized it more quickly than the gamblers themselves. More than
that, desperate and lawless as they were, they still retained the
chivalry of Western men, and every hat was slowly doffed to the
three black figures that stood silently in the gallery. And even
apologetic speech began to loosen the clenched teeth of the
"We--were--told there was no one in the house," he stammered.
"And it was the truth," said a pert, youthful, yet slightly affected
voice. "For we climbed into the window just as you came in at the
It was Susy's words that stung their ears again; but it was Susy's
pretty figure, suddenly advanced and in a slightly theatrical
attitude, that checked their anger. There had been a sudden ominous
silence, as the whole plot of rescue seemed to be revealed to them
in those audacious words. But a sense of the ludicrous, which too
often was the only perception that ever mitigated the passions of
such assemblies, here suddenly asserted itself. The leader burst
into a loud laugh, which was echoed by the others, and, with waving
hats, the whole party swept peacefully out through the gate.
"But what does all this mean about YOUR purchasing the land, Mr.
Brant?" said Mrs. Peyton quickly, fixing her eyes intently on
A faint color--the useless protest of his truthful blood--came to
"The house is YOURS, and yours alone, Mrs. Peyton. The purchase of
the sisters' title was a private arrangement between Mr. Peyton and
myself, in view of an emergency like this."
She did not, however, take her proud, searching eyes from his face,
and he was forced to turn away.
"It was SO like dear, good, thoughtful papa," said Susy. "Why,
bless me," in a lower voice, "if that isn't that lying old Jim
Hooker standing there by the gate!"
Judge Peyton had bequeathed his entire property unconditionally to
his wife. But his affairs were found to be greatly in disorder, and
his papers in confusion, and although Mrs. Peyton could discover no
actual record of the late transaction with Mr. Brant, which had
saved her the possession of the homestead, it was evident that he
had spent large sums in speculative attempts to maintain the
integrity of his estate. That enormous domain, although perfectly
unencumbered, had been nevertheless unremunerative, partly through
the costs of litigation and partly through the systematic
depredations to which its great size and long line of unprotected
boundary had subjected it. It had been invaded by squatters and
"jumpers," who had sown and reaped crops without discovery; its
cattle and wild horses had strayed or been driven beyond its ill-
defined and hopeless limits. Against these difficulties the widow
felt herself unable and unwilling to contend, and with the advice of
her friends and her lawyer, she concluded to sell the estate, except
that portion covered by the Sisters' title, which, with the
homestead, had been reconveyed to her by Clarence. She retired with
Susy to the house in San Francisco, leaving Clarence to occupy and
hold the casa, with her servants, for her until order was restored.
The Robles Rancho thus became the headquarters of the new owner of
the Sisters' title, from which he administered its affairs, visited
its incumbencies, overlooked and surveyed its lands, and--
occasionally--collected its rents. There were not wanting critics
who averred that these were scarcely remunerative, and that the
young San Francisco fine gentleman, who was only Hamilton Brant's
son, after all, yet who wished to ape the dignity and degree of a
large landholder, had made a very foolish bargain. I grieve to say
that one of his own tenants, namely, Jim Hooker, in his secret heart
inclined to that belief, and looked upon Clarence's speculation as
an act of far-seeing and inordinate vanity.
Indeed, the belligerent Jim had partly--and of course darkly--
intimated something of this to Susy in their brief reunion at the
casa during the few days that followed its successful reoccupation.
And Clarence, remembering her older caprices, and her remark on her
first recognition of him, was quite surprised at the easy
familiarity of her reception of this forgotten companion of their
childhood. But he was still more concerned in noticing, for the
first time, a singular sympathetic understanding of each other, and
an odd similarity of occasional action and expression between them.
It was a part of this monstrous peculiarity that neither the
sympathy nor the likeness suggested any particular friendship or
amity in the pair, but rather a mutual antagonism and suspicion.
Mrs. Peyton, coldly polite to Clarence's former COMPANION, but
condescendingly gracious to his present TENANT and retainer, did not
notice it, preoccupied with the annoyance and pain of Susy's
frequent references to the old days of their democratic equality.
"You don't remember, Jim, the time that you painted my face in the
wagon, and got me up as an Indian papoose?" she said mischievously.
But Jim, who had no desire to recall his previous humble position
before Mrs. Peyton or Clarence, was only vaguely responsive.
Clarence, although joyfully touched at this seeming evidence of
Susy's loyalty to the past, nevertheless found himself even more
acutely pained at the distress it caused Mrs. Peyton, and was as
relieved as she was by Hooker's reticence. For he had seen little
of Susy since Peyton's death, and there had been no repetition of
their secret interviews. Neither had he, nor she as far as he could
judge, noticed the omission. He had been more than usually kind,
gentle, and protecting in his manner towards her, with little
reference, however, to any response from her, yet he was vaguely
conscious of some change in his feelings. He attributed it, when he
thought of it at all, to the exciting experiences through which he
had passed; to some sentiment of responsibility to his dead friend;
and to another secret preoccupation that was always in his mind. He
believed it would pass in time. Yet he felt a certain satisfaction
that she was no longer able to trouble him, except, of course, when
she pained Mrs. Peyton, and then he was half conscious of taking the
old attitude of the dead husband in mediating between them. Yet so
great was his inexperience that he believed, with pathetic
simplicity of perception, that all this was due to the slow maturing
of his love for her, and that he was still able to make her happy.
But this was something to be thought of later. Just now Providence
seemed to have offered him a vocation and a purpose that his idle
adolescence had never known. He did not dream that his capacity for
patience was only the slow wasting of his love.
Meantime that more wonderful change and recreation of the Californian
landscape, so familiar, yet always so young, had come to the rancho.
The league-long terrace that had yellowed, whitened, and wasted for
half a year beneath a staring, monotonous sky, now under sailing
clouds, flying and broken shafts of light, and sharply defined lines
of rain, had taken a faint hue of resurrection. The dust that had
muffled the roads and byways, and choked the low oaks that fringed
the sunken canada, had long since been laid. The warm, moist breath
of the southwest trades had softened the hard, dry lines of the
landscape, and restored its color as of a picture over which a damp
sponge had been passed. The broad expanse of plateau before the
casa glistened and grew dark. The hidden woods of the canada,
cleared and strengthened in their solitude, dripped along the trails
and hollows that were now transformed into running streams. The
distinguishing madrono near the entrance to the rancho had changed
its crimson summer suit and masqueraded in buff and green.
Yet there were leaden days, when half the prospect seemed to be seen
through palisades of rain; when the slight incline between the
terraces became a tumultuous cascade, and the surest hoofs slipped
on trails of unctuous mud; when cattle were bogged a few yards from
the highway, and the crossing of the turnpike road was a dangerous
ford. There were days of gale and tempest, when the shriveled
stalks of giant oats were stricken like trees, and lay across each
other in rigid angles, and a roar as of the sea came up from the
writhing treetops in the sunken valley. There were long weary
nights of steady downpour, hammering on the red tiles of the casa,
and drumming on the shingles of the new veranda, which was more
terrible to be borne. Alone, but for the servants, and an
occasional storm-stayed tenant from Fair Plains, Clarence might
have, at such times, questioned the effect of this seclusion upon
his impassioned nature. But he had already been accustomed to
monastic seclusion in his boyish life at El Refugio, and he did not
reflect that, for that very reason, its indulgences might have been
dangerous. From time to time letters reached him from the outer
world of San Francisco,--a few pleasant lines from Mrs. Peyton, in
answer to his own chronicle of his half stewardship, giving the news
of the family, and briefly recounting their movements. She was
afraid that Susy's sensitive nature chafed under the restriction of
mourning in the gay city, but she trusted to bring her back for a
change to Robles when the rains were over. This was a poor
substitute for those brief, happy glimpses of the home circle which
had so charmed him, but he accepted it stoically. He wandered over
the old house, from which the perfume of domesticity seemed to have
evaporated, yet, notwithstanding Mrs. Peyton's playful permission,
he never intruded upon the sanctity of the boudoir, and kept it
He was sitting in Peyton's business room one morning, when
Incarnacion entered. Clarence had taken a fancy to this Indian,
half steward, half vacquero, who had reciprocated it with a certain
dog-like fidelity, but also a feline indirectness that was part of
his nature. He had been early prepossessed with Clarence through a
kinsman at El Refugio, where the young American's generosity had
left a romantic record among the common people. He had been pleased
to approve of his follies before the knowledge of his profitless and
lordly land purchase had commended itself to him as corroborative
testimony. "Of true hidalgo blood, mark you," he had said
oracularly. "Wherefore was his father sacrificed by mongrels! As
to the others, believe me,--bah!"
He stood there, sombrero in hand, murky and confidential, steaming
through his soaked serape and exhaling a blended odor of equine
perspiration and cigarette smoke.
"It was, perhaps, as the master had noticed, a brigand's own day!
Bullying, treacherous, and wicked! It blew you off your horse if
you so much as lifted your arms and let the wind get inside your
serape; and as for the mud,--caramba! in fifty varas your forelegs
were like bears, and your hoofs were earthen plasters!"
Clarence knew that Incarnacion had not sought him with mere
meteorological information, and patiently awaited further
developments. The vacquero went on:--
"But one of the things this beast of a weather did was to wash down
the stalks of the grain, and to clear out the trough and hollows
between, and to make level the fields, and--look you! to uncover the
stones and rubbish and whatever the summer dust had buried. Indeed,
it was even as a miracle that Jose Mendez one day, after the first
showers, came upon a silver button from his calzas, which he had
lost in the early summer. And it was only that morning that,
remembering how much and with what fire Don Clarencio had sought the
missing boot from the foot of the Senor Peyton when his body was
found, he, Incarnacion, had thought he would look for it on the
falda of the second terrace. And behold, Mother of God it was
there! Soaked with mud and rain, but the same as when the senor was
alive. To the very spur!"
He drew the boot from beneath his serape and laid it before
Clarence. The young man instantly recognized it, in spite of its
weather-beaten condition and its air of grotesque and drunken
inconsistency to the usually trim and correct appearance of Peyton
when alive. "It is the same," he said, in a low voice.
"Good!" said Incarnacion. "Now, if Don Clarencio will examine the
American spur, he will see--what? A few horse-hairs twisted and
caught in the sharp points of the rowel. Good! Is it the hair of
the horse that Senor rode? Clearly not; and in truth not. It is
too long for the flanks and belly of the horse; it is not the same
color as the tail and the mane. How comes it there? It comes from
the twisted horsehair rope of a riata, and not from the braided
cowhide thongs of the regular lasso of a vacquero. The lasso slips
not much, but holds; the riata slips much and strangles."
"But Mr. Peyton was not strangled," said Clarence quickly.
"No, for the noose of the riata was perhaps large,--who knows? It
might have slipped down his arms, pinioned him, and pulled him off.
Truly!--such has been known before. Then on the ground it slipped
again, or he perhaps worked it off to his feet where it caught on
his spur, and then he was dragged until the boot came off, and
behold! he was dead."
This had been Clarence's own theory of the murder, but he had only
half confided it to Incarnacion. He silently examined the spur with
the accusing horse-hair, and placed it in his desk. Incarnacion
"There is not a vacquero in the whole rancho who has a horse-hair
riata. We use the braided cowhide; it is heavier and stronger; it
is for the bull and not the man. The horse-hair riata comes from
over the range--south."
There was a dead silence, broken only by the drumming of the rain
upon the roof of the veranda. Incarnacion slightly shrugged his
"Don Clarencio does not know the southern county? Francisco Robles,
cousin of the 'Sisters,'--he they call 'Pancho,'--comes from the
south. Surely when Don Clarencio bought the title he saw Francisco,
for he was the steward?"
"I dealt only with the actual owners and through my bankers in San
Francisco," returned Clarence abstractedly.
Incarnacion looked through the yellow corners of his murky eyes at
"Pedro Valdez, who was sent away by Senor Peyton, is the foster-
brother of Francisco. They were much together. Now that Francisco
is rich from the gold Don Clarencio paid for the title, they come
not much together. But Pedro is rich, too. Mother of God! He
gambles and is a fine gentleman. He holds his head high,--even over
the Americanos he gambles with. Truly, they say he can shoot with
the best of them. He boasts and swells himself, this Pedro! He
says if all the old families were like him, they would drive those
western swine back over the mountains again."
Clarence raised his eyes, caught a subtle yellow flash from
Incarnacion's, gazed at him suddenly, and rose.
"I don't think I have ever seen him," he said quietly. "Thank you
for bringing me the spur. But keep the knowledge of it to yourself,
good Nascio, for the present."
Nascio nevertheless still lingered. Perceiving which, Clarence
handed him a cigarette and proceeded to light one himself. He knew
that the vacquero would reroll his, and that that always deliberate
occupation would cover and be an excuse for further confidence.
"The Senora Peyton does not perhaps meet this Pedro in the society
of San Francisco?"
"Surely not. The senora is in mourning and goes not out in society,
nor would she probably go anywhere where she would meet a dismissed
servant of her husband."
Incarnacion slowly lit his cigarette, and said between the puffs,
"And the senorita--she would not meet him?"
"And," continued Incarnacion, throwing down the match and putting
his foot on it, "if this boaster, this turkey-cock, says she did,
you could put him out like that?"
"Certainly," said Clarence, with an easy confidence he was, however,
far from feeling, "if he really SAID it--which I doubt."
"Ah, truly," said Incarnacion; "who knows? It may be another
"The senora's adopted daughter is called MISS PEYTON, friend Nascio.
You forget yourself," said Clarence quietly.
"Ah, pardon!" said Incarnacion with effusive apology; "but she was
born Silsbee. Everybody knows it; she herself has told it to
Pepita. The Senor Peyton bequeathed his estate to the Senora
Peyton. He named not the senorita! Eh, what would you? It is the
common cackle of the barnyard. But I say 'Mees Silsbee.' For look
you. There is a Silsbee of Sacramento, the daughter of her aunt,
who writes letters to her. Pepita has seen them! And possibly it
is only that Mees of whom the brigand Pedro boasts."
"Possibly," said Clarence, "but as far as this rancho is concerned,
friend Nascio, thou wilt understand--and I look to thee to make the
others understand--that there is no Senorita SILSBEE here, only the
Senorita PEYTON, the respected daughter of the senora thy mistress!"
He spoke with the quaint mingling of familiarity and paternal
gravity of the Spanish master--a faculty he had acquired at El
Refugio in a like vicarious position, and which never failed as a
sign of authority. "And now," he added gravely, "get out of this,
friend, with God's blessing, and see that thou rememberest what I
The retainer, with equal gravity, stepped backwards, saluted with
his sombrero until the stiff brim scraped the floor, and then
Left to himself, Clarence remained for an instant silent and
thoughtful before the oven-like hearth. So! everybody knew Susy's
real relations to the Peytons, and everybody but Mrs. Peyton,
perhaps, knew that she was secretly corresponding with some one of
her own family. In other circumstances he might have found some
excuse for this assertion of her independence and love of her
kindred, but in her attitude towards Mrs. Peyton it seemed
monstrous. It appeared impossible that Mrs. Peyton should not have
heard of it, or suspected the young girl's disaffection. Perhaps
she had,--it was another burden laid upon her shoulders,--but the
proud woman had kept it to herself. A film of moisture came across
his eyes. I fear he thought less of the suggestion of Susy's secret
meeting with Pedro, or Incarnacion's implied suspicions that Pedro
was concerned in Peyton's death, than of this sentimental
possibility. He knew that Pedro had been hated by the others on
account of his position; he knew the instinctive jealousies of the
race and their predisposition to extravagant misconstruction. From
what he had gathered, and particularly from the voices he had
overheard on the Fair Plains Road, it seemed to him that Pedro was
more capable of mercenary intrigue than physical revenge. He was
not aware of the irrevocable affront put upon Pedro by Peyton, and
he had consequently attached no importance to Peyton's own half-
scornful intimation of the only kind of retaliation that Pedro would
be likely to take. The unsuccessful attempt upon himself he had
always thought might have been an accident, or if it was really a
premeditated assault, it might have been intended actually for
HIMSELF and not Peyton, as he had first thought, and his old friend
had suffered for HIM, through some mistake of the assailant. The
purpose, which alone seemed wanting, might have been to remove
Clarence as a possible witness who had overheard their conspiracy--
how much of it they did not know--on the Fair Plains Road that
night. The only clue he held to the murderer in the spur locked in
his desk, merely led him beyond the confines of the rancho, but
definitely nowhere else. It was, however, some relief to know that
the crime was not committed by one of Peyton's retainers, nor the
outcome of domestic treachery.
After some consideration he resolved to seek Jim Hooker, who might
be possessed of some information respecting Susy's relations, either
from the young girl's own confidences or from Jim's personal
knowledge of the old frontier families. From a sense of loyalty to
Susy and Mrs. Peyton, he had never alluded to the subject before
him, but since the young girl's own indiscretion had made it a
matter of common report, however distasteful it was to his own
feelings, he felt he could not plead the sense of delicacy for her.
He had great hopes in what he had always believed was only her
exaggeration of fact as well as feeling. And he had an instinctive
reliance on her fellow poseur's ability to detect it. A few days
later, when he found he could safely leave the rancho alone, he rode
to Fair Plains.
The floods were out along the turnpike road, and even seemed to have
increased since his last journey. The face of the landscape had
changed again. One of the lower terraces had become a wild mere of
sedge and reeds. The dry and dusty bed of a forgotten brook had
reappeared, a full-banked river, crossing the turnpike and
compelling a long detour before the traveler could ford it. But as
he approached the Hopkins farm and the opposite clearing and cabin
of Jim Hooker, he was quite unprepared for a still more remarkable
transformation. The cabin, a three-roomed structure, and its
cattle-shed had entirely disappeared! There were no traces or signs
of inundation. The land lay on a gentle acclivity above the farm
and secure from the effects of the flood, and a part of the ploughed
and cleared land around the site of the cabin showed no evidence of
overflow on its black, upturned soil. But the house was gone! Only
a few timbers too heavy to be removed, the blighting erasions of a
few months of occupation, and the dull, blackened area of the site
itself were to be seen. The fence alone was intact.
Clarence halted before it, perplexed and astonished. Scarcely two
weeks had elapsed since he had last visited it and sat beneath its
roof with Jim, and already its few ruins had taken upon themselves
the look of years of abandonment and decay. The wild land seemed to
have thrown off its yoke of cultivation in a night, and nature
rioted again with all its primal forces over the freed soil. Wild
oats and mustard were springing already in the broken furrows, and
lank vines were slimily spreading over a few scattered but still
unseasoned and sappy shingles. Some battered tin cans and fragments
of old clothing looked as remote as if they had been relics of the
Clarence turned inquiringly towards the Hopkins farmhouse across the
road. His arrival, however, had already been noticed, as the door
of the kitchen opened in an anticipatory fashion, and he could see
the slight figure of Phoebe Hopkins in the doorway, backed by the
overlooking heads and shoulders of her parents. The face of the
young girl was pale and drawn with anxiety, at which Clarence's
simple astonishment took a shade of concern.
"I am looking for Mr. Hooker," he said uneasily. "And I don't seem
to be able to find either him or his house."
"And you don't know what's gone of him?" said the girl quickly.
"No; I haven't seen him for two weeks."
"There, I told you so!" said the girl, turning nervously to her
parents. "I knew it. He hasn't seen him for two weeks." Then,
looking almost tearfully at Clarence's face, she said, "No more have
"But," said Clarence impatiently, "something must have happened.
Where is his house?"
"Taken away by them jumpers," interrupted the old farmer; "a lot of
roughs that pulled it down and carted it off in a jiffy before our
very eyes without answerin' a civil question to me or her. But he
wasn't there, nor before, nor since."
"No," added the old woman, with flashing eyes, "or he'd let 'em have
what ther' was in his six-shooters."
"No, he wouldn't, mother," said the girl impatiently, "he'd CHANGED,
and was agin all them ideas of force and riotin'. He was for peace
and law all the time. Why, the day before we missed him he was
tellin' me California never would be decent until people obeyed the
laws and the titles were settled. And for that reason, because he
wouldn't fight agin the law, or without the consent of the law,
they've killed him, or kidnapped him away."
The girl's lips quivered, and her small brown hands twisted the
edges of her blue checked apron. Although this new picture of Jim's
peacefulness was as astounding and unsatisfactory as his own
disappearance, there was no doubt of the sincerity of poor Phoebe's
In vain did Clarence point out to them there must be some mistake;
that the trespassers--the so-called jumpers--really belonged to the
same party as Hooker, and would have no reason to dispossess him;
that, in fact, they were all HIS, Clarence's, tenants. In vain he
assured them of Hooker's perfect security in possession; that he
could have driven the intruders away by the simple exhibition of his
lease, or that he could have even called a constable from the town
of Fair Plains to protect him from mere lawlessness. In vain did he
assure them of his intention to find his missing friend, and
reinstate him at any cost. The conviction that the unfortunate
young man had been foully dealt with was fixed in the minds of the
two women. For a moment Clarence himself was staggered by it.
"You see," said the young girl, with a kindling face, "the day
before he came back from Robles, ther' were some queer men hangin'
round his cabin, but as they were the same kind that went off with
him the day the Sisters' title was confirmed, we thought nothing of
it. But when he came back from you he seemed worried and anxious,
and wasn't a bit like himself. We thought perhaps he'd got into
some trouble there, or been disappointed. He hadn't, had he, Mr.
Brant?" continued Phoebe, with an appealing look.
"By no means," said Clarence warmly. "On the contrary, he was able
to do his friends good service there, and was successful in what he
attempted. Mrs. Peyton was very grateful. Of course he told you
what had happened, and what he did for us," continued Clarence, with
He had already amused himself on the way with a fanciful conception
of the exaggerated account Jim had given of his exploits. But the
bewildered girl shook her head.
"No, he didn't tell us ANYTHING."
Clarence was really alarmed. This unprecedented abstention of
Hooker's was portentous.
"He didn't say anything but what I told you about law and order,"
she went on; "but that same night we heard a good deal of talking
and shouting in the cabin and around it. And the next day he was
talking with father, and wanting to know how HE kept his land
without trouble from outsiders."
"And I said," broke in Hopkins, "that I guessed folks didn't bother
a man with women folks around, and that I kalkilated that I wasn't
quite as notorious for fightin' as he was."
"And he said," also interrupted Mrs. Hopkins, "and quite in his
nat'ral way, too,--gloomy like, you remember, Cyrus," appealingly to
her husband,--"that that was his curse."
The smile that flickered around Clarence's mouth faded, however, as
he caught sight of Phoebe's pleading, interrogating eyes. It was
really too bad. Whatever change had come over the rascal it was too
evident that his previous belligerent personality had had its full
effect upon the simple girl, and that, hereafter, one pair of honest
eyes would be wistfully following him.
Perplexed and indignant, Clarence again closely questioned her as to
the personnel of the trespassing party who had been seen once or
twice since passing over the field. He had at last elicited enough
information to identify one of them as Gilroy, the leader of the
party that had invaded Robles rancho. His cheek flushed. Even if
they had wished to take a theatrical and momentary revenge on Hooker
for the passing treachery to them which they had just discovered,
although such retaliation was only transitory, and they could not
hold the land, it was an insult to Clarence himself, whose tenant
Jim was, and subversive of all their legally acquired rights. He
would confront this Gilroy at once; his half-wild encampment was
only a few miles away, just over the boundaries of the Robles
estate. Without stating his intention, he took leave of the Hopkins
family with the cheerful assurance that he would probably return
with some news of Hooker, and rode away.
The trail became more indistinct and unfrequented as it diverged
from the main road, and presently lost itself in the slope towards
the east. The horizon grew larger: there were faint bluish lines
upon it which he knew were distant mountains; beyond this a still
fainter white line--the Sierran snows. Presently he intersected a
trail running south, and remarked that it crossed the highway behind
him, where he had once met the two mysterious horsemen. They had
evidently reached the terrace through the wild oats by that trail.
A little farther on were a few groups of sheds and canvas tents in a
bare and open space, with scattered cattle and horsemen, exactly
like an encampment, or the gathering of a country fair. As Clarence
rode down towards them he could see that his approach was instantly
observed, and that a simultaneous movement was made as if to
anticipate him. For the first time he realized the possible
consequences of his visit, single-handed, but it was too late to
retrace his steps. With a glance at his holster, he rode boldly
forward to the nearest shed. A dozen men hovered near him, but
something in his quiet, determined manner held them aloof. Gilroy
was on the threshold in his shirtsleeves. A single look showed him
that Clarence was alone, and with a careless gesture of his hand he
warned away his own followers.
"You've got a sort of easy way of droppin' in whar you ain't
invited, Brant," he said with a grim smile, which was not, however,
without a certain air of approval. "Got it from your father, didn't
"I don't know, but I don't believe HE ever thought it necessary to
warn twenty men of the approach of ONE," replied Clarence, in the
same tone. "I had no time to stand on ceremony, for I have just
come from Hooker's quarter section at Fair Plains."
Gilroy smiled again, and gazed abstractedly at the sky.
"You know as well as I do," said Clarence, controlling his voice
with an effort, "that what you have done there will have to be
undone, if you wish to hold even those lawless men of yours
together, or keep yourself and them from being run into the brush
like highwaymen. I've no fear for that. Neither do I care to know
what was your motive in doing it; but I can only tell you that if it
was retaliation, I alone was and still am responsible for Hooker's
action at the rancho. I came here to know just what you have done
with him, and, if necessary, to take his place."
"You're just a little too previous in your talk, I reckon, Brant,"
returned Gilroy lazily, "and as to legality, I reckon we stand on
the same level with yourself, just here. Beginnin' with what you
came for: as we don't know where your Jim Hooker is, and as we ain't
done anythin' to HIM, we don't exackly see what we could do with YOU
in his place. Ez to our motives,--well, we've got a good deal to
say about THAT. We reckoned that he wasn't exackly the kind of man
we wanted for a neighbor. His pow'ful fightin' style didn't suit us
peaceful folks, and we thought it rather worked agin this new 'law
and order' racket to have such a man about, to say nuthin' of it
prejudicin' quiet settlers. He had too many revolvers for one man
to keep his eye on, and was altogether too much steeped in blood, so
to speak, for ordinary washin' and domestic purposes! His hull get
up was too deathlike and clammy; so we persuaded him to leave. We
just went there, all of us, and exhorted him. We stayed round there
two days and nights, takin' turns, talkin' with him, nuthin' more,
only selecting subjects in his own style to please him, until he
left! And then, as we didn't see any use for his house there, we
took it away. Them's the cold facts, Brant," he added, with a
certain convincing indifference that left no room for doubt, "and
you can stand by 'em. Now, workin' back to the first principle you
laid down,--that we'll have to UNDO what we've DONE,--we don't agree
with you, for we've taken a leaf outer your own book. We've got it
here in black and white. We've got a bill o' sale of Hooker's house
and possession, and we're on the land in place of him,--AS YOUR
TENANTS." He reentered the shanty, took a piece of paper from a
soap-box on the shell, and held it out to Clarence. "Here it is.
It's a fair and square deal, Brant. We gave him, as it says here, a
hundred dollars for it! No humbuggin', but the hard cash, by
Jiminy! AND HE TOOK THE MONEY."
The ring of truth in the man's voice was as unmistakable as the
signature in Jim's own hand. Hooker had sold out! Clarence turned
"We don't know where he went," continued Gilroy grimly, "but I
reckon you ain't over anxious to see him NOW. And I kin tell ye
something to ease your mind,--he didn't require much persuadin'.
And I kin tell ye another, if ye ain't above takin' advice from
folks that don't pertend to give it," he added, with the same
curious look of interest in his face. "You've done well to get shut
of him, and if you got shut of a few more of his kind that you trust
to, you'd do better."
As if to avoid noticing any angry reply from the young man, he
reentered the cabin and shut the door behind him. Clarence felt the
uselessness of further parley, and rode away.
But Gilroy's Parthian arrow rankled as he rode. He was not greatly
shocked at Jim's defection, for he was always fully conscious of his
vanity and weakness; but he was by no means certain that Jim's
extravagance and braggadocio, which he had found only amusing and,
perhaps, even pathetic, might not be as provocative and prejudicial
to others as Gilroy had said. But, like all sympathetic and
unselfish natures, he sought to find some excuse for his old
companion's weakness in his own mistaken judgment. He had no
business to bring poor Jim on the land, to subject his singular
temperament to the temptations of such a life and such surroundings;
he should never have made use of his services at the rancho. He had
done him harm rather than good in his ill-advised, and, perhaps,
SELFISH attempts to help him. I have said that Gilroy's parting
warning rankled in his breast, but not ignobly. It wounded the
surface of his sensitive nature, but could not taint or corrupt the
pure, wholesome blood of the gentleman beneath it. For in Gilroy's
warning he saw only his own shortcomings. A strange fatality had
marked his friendships. He had been no help to Jim; he had brought
no happiness to Susy or Mrs. Peyton, whose disagreement his visit
seemed to have accented. Thinking over the mysterious attack upon
himself, it now seemed to him possible that, in some obscure way,
his presence at the rancho had precipitated the more serious attack
on Peyton. If, as it had been said, there was some curse upon his
inheritance from his father, he seemed to have made others share it
with him. He was riding onward abstractedly, with his head sunk on
his breast and his eyes fixed upon some vague point between his
horse's sensitive ears, when a sudden, intelligent, forward pricking
of them startled him, and an apparition arose from the plain before
him that seemed to sweep all other sense away.
It was the figure of a handsome young horseman as abstracted as
himself, but evidently on better terms with his own personality. He
was dark haired, sallow cheeked, and blue eyed,--the type of the old
Spanish Californian. A burnt-out cigarette was in his mouth, and he
was riding a roan mustang with the lazy grace of his race. But what
arrested Clarence's attention more than his picturesque person was
the narrow, flexible, long coil of gray horse-hair riata which hung
from his saddle-bow, but whose knotted and silver-beaded terminating
lash he was swirling idly in his narrow brown hand. Clarence knew
and instantly recognized it as the ordinary fanciful appendage of a
gentleman rider, used for tethering his horse on lonely plains, and
always made the object of the most lavish expenditure of decoration
and artistic skill. But he was as suddenly filled with a blind,
unreasoning sense of repulsion and fury, and lifted his eyes to the
man as he approached. What the stranger saw in Clarence's blazing
eyes no one but himself knew, for his own became fixed and staring;
his sallow cheeks grew lanker and livid; his careless, jaunty
bearing stiffened into rigidity, and swerving his horse to one side
he suddenly passed Clarence at a furious gallop. The young American
wheeled quickly, and for an instant his knees convulsively gripped
the flanks of his horse to follow. But the next moment he recalled
himself, and with an effort began to collect his thoughts. What was
he intending to do, and for what reason! He had met hundreds of
such horsemen before, and caparisoned and accoutred like this, even
to the riata. And he certainly was not dressed like either of the
mysterious horsemen whom he had overheard that moonlight evening.
He looked back; the stranger had already slackened his pace, and was
slowly disappearing. Clarence turned and rode on his way.
Without disclosing the full extent of Jim's defection and desertion,
Clarence was able to truthfully assure the Hopkins family of his
personal safety, and to promise that he would continue his quest,
and send them further news of the absentee. He believed it would be
found that Jim had been called away on some important business, but
that not daring to leave his new shanty exposed and temptingly
unprotected, he had made a virtue of necessity by selling it to his
neighbors, intending to build a better house on its site after his
return. Having comforted Phoebe, and impulsively conceived further
plans for restoring Jim to her,--happily without any recurrence of
his previous doubts as to his own efficacy as a special Providence,--
he returned to the rancho. If he thought again of Jim's defection
and Gilroy's warning, it was only to strengthen himself to a clearer
perception of his unselfish duty and singleness of purpose. He
would give up brooding, apply himself more practically to the
management of the property, carry out his plans for the foundation
of a Landlords' Protective League for the southern counties, become
a candidate for the Legislature, and, in brief, try to fill Peyton's
place in the county as he had at the rancho. He would endeavor to
become better acquainted with the half-breed laborers on the estate
and avoid the friction between them and the Americans; he was
conscious that he had not made that use of his early familiarity
with their ways and language which he might have done. If,
occasionally, the figure of the young Spaniard whom he had met on
the lonely road obtruded itself on him, it was always with the
instinctive premonition that he would meet him again, and the
mystery of the sudden repulsion be in some way explained. Thus
Clarence! But the momentary impulse that had driven him to Fair
Plains, the eagerness to set his mind at rest regarding Susy and her
relatives, he had utterly forgotten.
Howbeit some of the energy and enthusiasm that he breathed into
these various essays made their impression. He succeeded in forming
the Landlords' League; under a commission suggested by him the
straggling boundaries of Robles and the adjacent claims were
resurveyed, defined, and mutually protected; even the lawless
Gilroy, from extending an amused toleration to the young administrator,
grew to recognize and accept him; the peons and vacqueros began to
have faith in a man who acknowledged them sufficiently to rebuild
the ruined Mission Chapel on the estate, and save them the long
pilgrimage to Santa Inez on Sundays and saints' days; the San
Francisco priest imported from Clarence's old college at San Jose,
and an habitual guest at Clarence's hospitable board, was grateful
enough to fill his flock with loyalty to the young padron.
He had returned from a long drive one afternoon, and had just thrown
himself into an easy-chair with the comfortable consciousness of a
rest fairly earned. The dull embers of a fire occasionally glowed
in the oven-like hearth, although the open casement of a window let
in the soft breath of the southwest trades. The angelus had just
rung from the restored chapel, and, mellowed by distance, seemed to
Clarence to lend that repose to the wind-swept landscape that it had
Suddenly his quick ear detected the sound of wheels in the ruts of
the carriage way. Usually his visitors to the casa came on
horseback, and carts and wagons used only the lower road. As the
sound approached nearer, an odd fancy filled his heart with
unaccountable pleasure. Could it be Mrs. Peyton making an
unexpected visit to the rancho? He held his breath. The vehicle
was now rolling on into the patio. The clatter of hoofs and a halt
were followed by the accents of women's voices. One seemed
familiar. He rose quickly, as light footsteps ran along the
corridor, and then the door opened impetuously to the laughing face
He came towards her hastily, yet with only the simple impulse of
astonishment. He had no thought of kissing her, but as he
approached, she threw her charming head archly to one side, with a
mischievous knitting of her brows and a significant gesture towards
the passage, that indicated the proximity of a stranger and the
possibility of interruption.
"Hush! Mrs. McClosky's here," she whispered.
"Mrs. McClosky?" repeated Clarence vaguely.
"Yes, of course," impatiently. "My Aunt Jane. Silly! We just cut
away down here to surprise you. Aunty's never seen the place, and
here was a good chance."
"And your mother--Mrs. Peyton? Has she--does she?"--stammered
"Has she--does she?" mimicked Susy, with increasing impatience.
"Why, of course she DOESN'T know anything about it. She thinks I'm
visiting Mary Rogers at Oakland. And I am--AFTERWARDS," she
laughed. "I just wrote to Aunt Jane to meet me at Alameda, and we
took the stage to Santa Inez and drove on here in a buggy. Wasn't
it real fun? Tell me, Clarence! You don't say anything! Tell me--
wasn't it real fun?"
This was all so like her old, childlike, charming, irresponsible
self, that Clarence, troubled and bewildered as he was, took her
hands and drew her like a child towards him.
"Of course," she went on, yet stopping to smell a rosebud in his
buttonhole, "I have a perfect right to come to my own home, goodness
knows! and if I bring my own aunt, a married woman, with me,--
although," loftily, "there may be a young unmarried gentleman alone
there,--still I fail to see any impropriety in it!"
He was still holding her; but in that instant her manner had
completely changed again; the old Susy seemed to have slipped away
and evaded him, and he was retaining only a conscious actress in his
"Release me, Mr. Brant, please," she said, with a languid affected
glance behind her; "we are not alone."
Then, as the rustling of a skirt sounded nearer in the passage, she
seemed to change back to her old self once more, and with a
lightning flash of significance whispered,--
"She knows everything!"
To add to Clarence's confusion, the woman who entered cast a quick
glance of playful meaning on the separating youthful pair. She was
an ineffective blonde with a certain beauty that seemed to be
gradually succumbing to the ravages of paint and powder rather than
years; her dress appeared to have suffered from an equally unwise
excess of ornamentation and trimming, and she gave the general
impression of having been intended for exhibition in almost any
other light than the one in which she happened to be. There were
two or three mud-stains on the laces of her sleeve and underskirt
that were obtrusively incongruous. Her voice, which had, however, a
ring of honest intention in it, was somewhat over-strained, and
evidently had not yet adjusted itself to the low-ceilinged,
"There, children, don't mind me! I know I'm not on in this scene,
but I got nervous waiting there, in what you call the 'salon,' with
only those Greaser servants staring round me in a circle, like a
regular chorus. My! but it's anteek here--regular anteek--Spanish."
Then, with a glance at Clarence, "So this is Clarence Brant,--your
Clarence? Interduce me, Susy."
In his confusion of indignation, pain, and even a certain conception
of the grim ludicrousness of the situation, Clarence grasped
despairingly at the single sentence of Susy's. "In my own home."
Surely, at least, it was HER OWN HOME, and as he was only the
business agent of her adopted mother, he had no right to dictate to
her under what circumstances she should return to it, or whom she
should introduce there. In her independence and caprice Susy might
easily have gone elsewhere with this astounding relative, and would
Mrs. Peyton like it better? Clinging to this idea, his instinct of
hospitality asserted itself. He welcomed Mrs. McClosky with nervous
"I am only Mrs. Peyton's major domo here, but any guest of her
DAUGHTER'S is welcome."
"Yes," said Mrs. McClosky, with ostentatious archness, "I reckon
Susy and I understand your position here, and you've got a good
berth of it. But we won't trouble you much on Mrs. Peyton's
account, will we, Susy? And now she and me will just take a look
around the shanty,--it is real old Spanish anteek, ain't it?--and
sorter take stock of it, and you young folks will have to tear
yourselves apart for a while, and play propriety before me. You've
got to be on your good behavior while I'm here, I can tell you! I'm
a heavy old 'doo-anna.' Ain't I, Susy? School-ma'ms and mother
superiors ain't in the game with ME for discipline."
She threw her arms around the young girl's waist and drew her
towards her affectionately, an action that slightly precipitated
some powder upon the black dress of her niece. Susy glanced
mischievously at Clarence, but withdrew her eyes presently to let
them rest with unmistakable appreciation and admiration on her
relative. A pang shot through Clarence's breast. He had never seen
her look in that way at Mrs. Peyton. Yet here was this stranger,
provincial, overdressed, and extravagant, whose vulgarity was only
made tolerable through her good humor, who had awakened that
interest which the refined Mrs. Peyton had never yet been able to
touch. As Mrs. McClosky swept out of the room with Susy he turned
away with a sinking heart.
Yet it was necessary that the Spanish house servants should not
suspect this treason to their mistress, and Clarence stopped their
childish curiosity about the stranger with a careless and easy
acceptance of Susy's sudden visit in the light of an ordinary
occurrence, and with a familiarity towards Mrs. McClosky which
became the more distasteful to him in proportion as he saw that it
was evidently agreeable to her. But, easily responsive, she became
speedily confidential. Without a single question from himself, or a
contributing remark from Susy, in half an hour she had told him her
whole history. How, as Jane Silsbee, an elder sister of Susy's
mother, she had early eloped from the paternal home in Kansas with
McClosky, a strolling actor. How she had married him and gone on
the stage under his stage name, effectively preventing any
recognition by her family. How, coming to California, where her
husband had become manager of the theatre at Sacramento, she was
indignant to find that her only surviving relation, a sister-in-law,
living in the same place, had for a money consideration given up all
claim to the orphaned Susy, and how she had resolved to find out "if
the poor child was happy." How she succeeded in finding out that
she was not happy. How she wrote to her, and even met her secretly
at San Francisco and Oakland, and how she had undertaken this
journey partly for "a lark," and partly to see Clarence and the
property. There was no doubt of the speaker's sincerity; with this
outrageous candor there was an equal obliviousness of any indelicacy
in her conduct towards Mrs. Peyton that seemed hopeless. Yet he
must talk plainly to her; he must say to her what he could not say
to Susy; upon HER Mrs. Peyton's happiness--he believed he was
thinking of Susy's also--depended. He must take the first
opportunity of speaking to her alone.
That opportunity came sooner than he had expected. After dinner,
Mrs. McClosky turned to Susy, and playfully telling her that she had
"to talk business" with Mr. Brant, bade her go to the salon and
await her. When the young girl left the room, she looked at
Clarence, and, with that assumption of curtness with which coarse
but kindly natures believe they overcome the difficulty of delicate
subjects, said abruptly:--
"Well, young man, now what's all this between you and Susy? I'm
looking after her interests--same as if she was my own girl. If
you've got anything to say, now's your time. And don't you shilly-
shally too long over it, either, for you might as well know that a
girl like that can have her pick and choice, and be beholden to no
one; and when she don't care to choose, there's me and my husband
ready to do for her all the same. We mightn't be able to do the
anteek Spanish Squire, but we've got our own line of business, and
it's a comfortable one."
To have this said to him under the roof of Mrs. Peyton, from whom,
in his sensitiveness, he had thus far jealously guarded his own
secret, was even more than Clarence's gentleness could stand, and
fixed his wavering resolution.