Part 3 out of 3
"I don't think we quite understand each other, Mrs. McClosky," he
said coldly, but with glittering eyes. "I have certainly something
to say to you; if it is not on a subject as pleasant as the one you
propose, it is, nevertheless, one that I think you and I are more
competent to discuss together."
Then, with quiet but unrelenting directness, he pointed out to her
that Susy was a legally adopted daughter of Mrs. Peyton, and, as a
minor, utterly under her control; that Mrs. Peyton had no knowledge
of any opposing relatives; and that Susy had not only concealed the
fact from her, but that he was satisfied that Mrs. Peyton did not
even know of Susy's discontent and alienation; that she had tenderly
and carefully brought up the helpless orphan as her own child, and
even if she had not gained her affection was at least entitled to
her obedience and respect; that while Susy's girlish caprice and
inexperience excused HER conduct, Mrs. Peyton and her friends would
have a right to expect more consideration from a person of Mrs.
McClosky's maturer judgment. That for these reasons, and as the
friend of Mrs. Peyton, whom he could alone recognize as Susy's
guardian and the arbiter of her affections, he must decline to
discuss the young girl with any reference to himself or his own
An unmistakable flush asserted itself under the lady's powder.
"Suit yourself, young man, suit yourself," she said, with equally
direct resentment and antagonism; "only mebbee you'll let me tell
you that Jim McClosky ain't no fool, and mebbee knows what lawyers
think of an arrangement with a sister-in-law that leaves a real
sister out! Mebbee that's a 'Sister's title' you ain't thought of,
Mr. Brant! And mebbee you'll find out that your chance o' gettin'
Mrs. Peyton's consent ain't as safe to gamble on as you reckon it
is. And mebbee, what's more to the purpose, if you DID get it, it
might not be just the trump card to fetch Susy with! And to wind
up, Mr. Brant, when you DO have to come down to the bed-rock and me
and Jim McClosky, you may find out that him and me have discovered a
better match for Susy than the son of old Ham Brant, who is trying
to play the Spanish grandee off his father's money on a couple of
women. And we mayn't have to go far to do it--or to get THE REAL
THING, Mr. Brant!"
Too heartsick and disgusted to even notice the slur upon himself or
the import of her last words, Clarence only rose and bowed as she
jumped up from the table. But as she reached the door he said, half
"Whatever are your other intentions, Mrs. McClosky, as we are both
Susy's guests, I beg you will say nothing of this to her while we
are here, and particularly that you will not allow her to think for
a moment that I have discussed MY relations to her with anybody."
She flung herself out of the door without a reply; but on entering
the dark low-ceilinged drawing-room she was surprised to find that
Susy was not there. She was consequently obliged to return to the
veranda, where Clarence had withdrawn, and to somewhat
ostentatiously demand of the servants that Susy should be sent to
her room at once. But the young girl was not in her own room, and
was apparently nowhere to be found. Clarence, who had now fully
determined as a last resource to make a direct appeal to Susy
herself, listened to this fruitless search with some concern. She
could not have gone out in the rain, which was again falling. She
might be hiding somewhere to avoid a recurrence of the scene she had
perhaps partly overheard. He turned into the corridor that led to
Mrs. Peyton's boudoir. As he knew that it was locked, he was
surprised to see by the dim light of the hanging lamp that a
duplicate key to the one in his desk was in the lock. It must be
Susy's, and the young girl had probably taken refuge there. He
knocked gently. There was a rustle in the room and the sound of a
chair being moved, but no reply. Impelled by a sudden instinct he
opened the door, and was met by a cool current of air from some open
window. At the same moment the figure of Susy approached him from
the semi-darkness of the interior.
"I did not know you were here," said Clarence, much relieved, he
knew not why, "but I am glad, for I wanted to speak with you alone
for a few moments."
She did not reply, but he drew a match from his pocket and lit the
two candles which he knew stood on the table. The wick of one was
still warm, as if it had been recently extinguished. As the light
slowly radiated, he could see that she was regarding him with an air
of affected unconcern, but a somewhat heightened color. It was like
her, and not inconsistent with his idea that she had come there to
avoid an after scene with Mrs. McClosky or himself, or perhaps both.
The room was not disarranged in any way. The window that was opened
was the casement of the deep embrasured one in the rear wall, and
the light curtain before it still swayed occasionally in the night
"I'm afraid I had a row with your aunt, Susy," he began lightly, in
his old familiar way; "but I had to tell her I didn't think her
conduct to Mrs. Peyton was exactly the square thing towards one who
had been as devoted to you as she has been."
"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't go over all that again," said Susy
impatiently. "I've had enough of it."
Clarence flashed, but recovered himself.
"Then you overheard what I said, and know what I think," he said
"I knew it BEFORE," said the young girl, with a slight supercilious
toss of the head, and yet a certain abstraction of manner as she
went to the window and closed it. "Anybody could see it! I know
you always wanted me to stay here with Mrs. Peyton, and be coddled
and monitored and catechised and shut up away from any one, until
YOU had been coddled and monitored and catechised by somebody else
sufficiently to suit her ideas of your being a fit husband for me.
I told aunty it was no use our coming here to--to"--
"To do what?" asked Clarence.
"To put some spirit into you," said the young girl, turning upon him
sharply; "to keep you from being tied to that woman's apron-strings.
To keep her from making a slave of you as she would of me. But it
is of no use. Mary Rogers was right when she said you had no wish
to please anybody but Mrs. Peyton, and no eyes for anybody but her.
And if it hadn't been too ridiculous, considering her age and yours,
she'd say you were dead in love with her."
For an instant Clarence felt the blood rush to his face and then
sink away, leaving him pale and cold. The room, which had seemed to
whirl around him, and then fade away, returned with appalling
distinctness,--the distinctness of memory,--and a vision of the
first day that he had seen Mrs. Peyton sitting there, as he seemed
to see her now. For the first time there flashed upon him the
conviction that the young girl had spoken the truth, and had
brusquely brushed the veil from his foolish eyes. He WAS in love
with Mrs. Peyton! That was what his doubts and hesitation regarding
Susy meant. That alone was the source, secret, and limit of his
But with the conviction came a singular calm. In the last few
moments he seemed to have grown older, to have loosed the bonds of
old companionship with Susy, and the later impression she had given
him of her mature knowledge, and moved on far beyond her years and
experience. And it was with an authority that was half paternal,
and in a voice he himself scarcely recognized, that he said:--
"If I did not know you were prejudiced by a foolish and indiscreet
woman, I should believe that you were trying to insult me as you
have your adopted mother, and would save you the pain of doing both
in HER house by leaving it now and forever. But because I believe
you are controlled against your best instinct by that woman, I shall
remain here with you to frustrate her as best I can, or until I am
able to lay everything before Mrs. Peyton except the foolish speech
you have just made."
The young girl laughed. "Why not THAT one too, while you're about
it? See what she'll say."
"I shall tell her," continued Clarence calmly, "only what YOU
yourself have made it necessary for me to tell her to save you from
folly and disgrace, and only enough to spare her the mortification
of hearing it first from her own servants."
"Hearing WHAT from her own servants? What do you mean? How dare
you?" demanded the young girl sharply.
She was quite real in her anxiety now, although her attitude of
virtuous indignation struck him as being like all her emotional
expression, namely, acting.
"I mean that the servants know of your correspondence with Mrs.
McClosky, and that she claims to be your aunt," returned Clarence.
"They know that you confided to Pepita. They believe that either
Mrs. McClosky or you have seen"--
He had stopped suddenly. He was about to say that the servants
(particularly Incarnacion) knew that Pedro had boasted of having met
Susy, when, for the first time, the tremendous significance of what
he had hitherto considered as merely an idle falsehood flashed upon
"Seen whom?" repeated Susy in a higher voice, impatiently stamping
Clarence looked at her, and in her excited, questioning face saw a
confirmation of his still half-formed suspicions. In his own abrupt
pause and knitted eyebrows she must have read his thoughts also.
Their eyes met. Her violet pupils dilated, trembled, and then
quickly shifted as she suddenly stiffened into an attitude of
scornful indifference, almost grotesque in its unreality. His eyes
slowly turned to the window, the door, the candles on the table and
the chair before it, and then came back to her face again. Then he
drew a deep breath.
"I give no heed to the idle gossip of servants, Susy," he said
slowly. "I have no belief that you have ever contemplated anything
worse than an act of girlish folly, or the gratification of a
passing caprice. Neither do I want to appeal to you or frighten
you, but I must tell you now, that I know certain facts that might
make such a simple act of folly monstrous, inconceivable in YOU, and
almost accessory to a crime! I can tell you no more. But so
satisfied am I of such a possibility, that I shall not scruple to
take any means--the strongest--to prevent even the remotest chance
of it. Your aunt has been looking for you; you had better go to her
now. I will close the room and lock the door. Meantime, I should
advise you not to sit so near an open window with a candle at night
in this locality. Even if it might not be dangerous for you, it
might be fatal to the foolish creatures it might attract."
He took the key from the door as he held it open for her to pass
out. She uttered a shrill little laugh, like a nervous, mischievous
child, and, slipping out of her previous artificial attitude as if
it had been a mantle, ran out of the room.
As Susy's footsteps died away, Clarence closed the door, walked to
the window, and examined it closely. The bars had been restored
since he had wrenched them off to give ingress to the family on the
day of recapture. He glanced around the room; nothing seemed to
have been disturbed. Nevertheless he was uneasy. The suspicions of
a frank, trustful nature when once aroused are apt to be more
general and far-reaching than the specific distrusts of the
disingenuous, for they imply the overthrow of a whole principle and
not a mere detail. Clarence's conviction that Susy had seen Pedro
recently since his dismissal led him into the wildest surmises of
her motives. It was possible that without her having reason to
suspect Pedro's greater crime, he might have confided to her his
intention of reclaiming the property and installing her as the
mistress and chatelaine of the rancho. The idea was one that might
have appealed to Susy's theatrical imagination. He recalled Mrs.
McClosky's sneer at his own pretensions and her vague threats of a
rival of more lineal descent. The possible infidelity of Susy to
himself touched him lightly when the first surprise was over;
indeed, it scarcely could be called infidelity, if she knew and
believed Mary Rogers's discovery; and the conviction that he and she
had really never loved each other now enabled him, as he believed,
to look at her conduct dispassionately. Yet it was her treachery to
Mrs. Peyton and not to himself that impressed him most, and perhaps
made him equally unjust, through his affections.
He extinguished the candles, partly from some vague precautions he
could not explain, and partly to think over his fears in the
abstraction and obscurity of the semi-darkness. The higher windows
suffused a faint light on the ceiling, and, assisted by the dark
lantern-like glow cast on the opposite wall by the tunnel of the
embrasured window, the familiar outlines of the room and its
furniture came back to him. Somewhat in this fashion also, in the
obscurity and quiet, came back to him the events he had overlooked
and forgotten. He recalled now some gossip of the servants, and
hints dropped by Susy of a violent quarrel between Peyton and Pedro,
which resulted in Pedro's dismissal, but which now seemed clearly
attributable to some graver cause than inattention and insolence.
He recalled Mary Rogers's playful pleasantries with Susy about
Pedro, and Susy's mysterious air, which he had hitherto regarded
only as part of her exaggeration. He remembered Mrs. Peyton's
unwarrantable uneasiness about Susy, which he had either overlooked
or referred entirely to himself; she must have suspected something.
To his quickened imagination, in this ruin of his faith and trust,
he believed that Hooker's defection was either part of the
conspiracy, or that he had run away to avoid being implicated with
Susy in its discovery. This, too, was the significance of Gilroy's
parting warning. He and Mrs. Peyton alone had been blind and
confiding in the midst of this treachery, and even HE had been blind
to his own real affections.
The wind had risen again, and the faint light on the opposite wall
grew tremulous and shifting with the movement of the foliage
without. But presently the glow became quite obliterated, as if by
the intervention of some opaque body outside the window. He rose
hurriedly and went to the casement. But at the same moment he
fancied he heard the jamming of a door or window in quite another
direction, and his examination of the casement before him showed him
only the silver light of the thinly clouded sky falling
uninterruptedly through the bars and foliage on the interior of the
whitewashed embrasure. Then a conception of his mistake flashed
across him. The line of the casa was long, straggling, and exposed
elsewhere; why should the attempt to enter or communicate with any
one within be confined only to this single point? And why not
satisfy himself at once if any trespassers were lounging around the
walls, and then confront them boldly in the open? Their discovery
and identification was as important as the defeat of their intentions.
He relit the candle, and, placing it on a small table by the wall
beyond the visual range of the window, rearranged the curtain so
that, while it permitted the light to pass out, it left the room in
shadow. He then opened the door softly, locked it behind him, and
passed noiselessly into the hall. Susy's and Mrs. McClosky's rooms
were at the further end of the passage, but between them and the
boudoir was the open patio, and the low murmur of the voices of
servants, who still lingered until he should dismiss them for the
night. Turning back, he moved silently down the passage, until he
reached the narrow arched door to the garden. This he unlocked and
opened with the same stealthy caution. The rain had recommenced.
Not daring to risk a return to his room, he took from a peg in the
recess an old waterproof cloak and "sou'wester" of Peyton's, which
still hung there, and passed out into the night, locking the door
behind him. To keep the knowledge of his secret patrol from the
stablemen, he did not attempt to take out his own horse, but trusted
to find some vacquero's mustang in the corral. By good luck an old
"Blue Grass" hack of Peyton's, nearest the stockade as he entered,
allowed itself to be quickly caught. Using its rope headstall for a
bridle, Clarence vaulted on its bare back, and paced cautiously out
into the road. Here he kept the curve of the long line of stockade
until he reached the outlying field where, half hidden in the
withered, sapless, but still standing stalks of grain, he slowly
began a circuit of the casa.
The misty gray dome above him, which an invisible moon seemed to
have quicksilvered over, alternately lightened and darkened with
passing gusts of fine rain. Nevertheless he could see the outline
of the broad quadrangle of the house quite distinctly, except on the
west side, where a fringe of writhing willows beat the brown adobe
walls with their imploring arms at every gust. Elsewhere nothing
moved; the view was uninterrupted to where the shining, watery sky
met the equally shining, watery plain. He had already made a half
circuit of the house, and was still noiselessly picking his way
along the furrows, muffled with soaked and broken-down blades, and
the velvety upspringing of the "volunteer" growth, when suddenly,
not fifty yards before him, without sound or warning, a figure rode
out of the grain upon the open crossroad, and deliberately halted
with a listless, abstracted, waiting air. Clarence instantly
recognized one of his own vacqueros, an undersized half-breed, but
he as instantly divined that he was only an outpost or confederate,
stationed to give the alarm. The same precaution had prevented each
hearing the other, and the lesser height of the vacquero had
rendered him indistinguishable as he preceded Clarence among the
grain. As the young man made no doubt that the real trespasser was
nearer the casa, along the line of willows, he wheeled to intercept
him without alarming his sentry. Unfortunately, his horse answered
the rope bridle clumsily, and splashed in striking out. The watcher
quickly raised his head, and Clarence knew that his only chance was
now to suppress him. Determined to do this at any hazard, with a
threatening gesture he charged boldly down upon him.
But he had not crossed half the distance between them when the man
uttered an appalling cry, so wild and despairing that it seemed to
chill even the hot blood in Clarence's veins, and dashed frenziedly
down the cross-road into the interminable plain. Before Clarence
could determine if that cry was a signal or an involuntary outburst,
it was followed instantly by the sound of frightened and struggling
hoofs clattering against the wall of the casa, and a swaying of the
shrubbery near the back gate of the patio. Here was his real
quarry! Without hesitation he dug his heels into the flanks of his
horse and rode furiously towards it. As he approached, a long
tremor seemed to pass through the shrubbery, with the retreating
sound of horse hoofs. The unseen trespasser had evidently taken the
alarm and was fleeing, and Clarence dashed in pursuit. Following
the sound, for the shrubbery hid the fugitive from view, he passed
the last wall of the casa; but it soon became evident that the
unknown had the better horse. The hoof-beats grew fainter and
fainter, and at times appeared even to cease, until his own approach
started them again, eventually to fade away in the distance. In
vain Clarence dug his heels into the flanks of his heavier steed,
and regretted his own mustang; and when at last he reached the edge
of the thicket he had lost both sight and sound of the fugitive.
The descent to the lower terrace lay before him empty and desolate.
The man had escaped!
He turned slowly back with baffled anger and vindictiveness.
However, he had prevented something, although he knew not what. The
principal had got away, but he had identified his confederate, and
for the first time held a clue to his mysterious visitant. There
was no use to alarm the household, which did not seem to have been
disturbed. The trespassers were far away by this time, and the
attempt would hardly be repeated that night. He made his way
quietly back to the corral, let loose his horse, and regained the
casa unobserved. He unlocked the arched door in the wall, reentered
the darkened passage, stopped a moment to open the door of the
boudoir, glance at the closely fastened casement, and extinguish the
still burning candle, and, relocking the door securely, made his way
to his own room.
But he could not sleep. The whole incident, over so quickly, had
nevertheless impressed him deeply, and yet like a dream. The
strange yell of the vacquero still rang in his ears, but with an
unearthly and superstitious significance that was even more
dreamlike in its meaning. He awakened from a fitful slumber to find
the light of morning in the room, and Incarnacion standing by his
The yellow face of the steward was greenish with terror, and his
lips were dry.
"Get up, Senor Clarencio; get up at once, my master. Strange things
have happened. Mother of God protect us!"
Clarence rolled to his feet, with the events of the past night
struggling back upon his consciousness.
"What mean you, Nascio?" he said, grasping the man's arm, which was
still mechanically making the sign of the cross, as he muttered
incoherently. "Speak, I command you!"
"It is Jose, the little vacquero, who is even now at the padre's
house, raving as a lunatic, stricken as a madman with terror! He
has seen him,--the dead alive! Save us!"
"Are you mad yourself, Nascio?" said Clarence. "Whom has he seen?"
"Whom? God help us! the old padron--Senor Peyton himself! He
rushed towards him here, in the patio, last night--out of the air,
the sky, the ground, he knew not,--his own self, wrapped in his old
storm cloak and hat, and riding his own horse,--erect, terrible, and
menacing, with an awful hand upholding a rope--so! He saw him with
these eyes, as I see you. What HE said to him, God knows! The
priest, perhaps, for he has made confession!"
In a flash of intelligence Clarence comprehended all. He rose
grimly and began to dress himself.
"Not a word of this to the women,--to any one, Nascio, dost thou
understand?" he said curtly. "It may be that Jose has been
partaking too freely of aguardiente,--it is possible. I will see
the priest myself. But what possesses thee? Collect thyself, good
But the man was still trembling.
"It is not all,--Mother of God! it is not all, master!" he
stammered, dropping to his knees and still crossing himself. "This
morning, beside the corral, they find the horse of Pedro Valdez
splashed and spattered on saddle and bridle, and in the stirrup,--
dost thou hear? the STIRRUP,--hanging, the torn-off boot of Valdez!
Ah, God! The same as HIS! Now do you understand? It is HIS
vengeance. No! Jesu forgive me! it is the vengeance of God!"
Clarence was staggered.
"And you have not found Valdez? You have looked for him?" he said,
hurriedly throwing on his clothes.
"Everywhere,--all over the plain. The whole rancho has been out
since sunrise,--here and there and everywhere. And there is
nothing! Of course not. What would you?" He pointed solemnly to
"Nonsense!" said Clarence, buttoning his coat and seizing his hat.
He ran down the passage, followed by Incarnacion, through the
excited, gesticulating crowd of servants in the patio, and out of
the back gate. He turned first along the wall of the casa towards
the barred window of the boudoir. Then a cry came from Incarnacion.
They ran quickly forward. Hanging from the grating of the window,
like a mass of limp and saturated clothes, was the body of Pedro
Valdez, with one unbooted foot dangling within an inch of the
ground. His head was passed inside the grating and fixed as at that
moment when the first spring of the frightened horse had broken his
neck between the bars as in a garrote, and the second plunge of the
terrified animal had carried off his boot in the caught stirrup when
The winter rains were over and gone, and the whole long line of
Californian coast was dashed with color. There were miles of yellow
and red poppies, leagues of lupines that painted the gently rounded
hills with soft primary hues, and long continuous slopes, like low
mountain systems, of daisies and dandelions. At Sacramento it was
already summer; the yellow river was flashing and intolerable; the
tule and marsh grasses were lush and long; the bloom of cottonwood
and sycamore whitened the outskirts of the city, and as Cyrus
Hopkins and his daughter Phoebe looked from the veranda of the
Placer Hotel, accustomed as they were to the cool trade winds of the
coast valleys, they felt homesick from the memory of eastern heats.
Later, when they were surveying the long dinner tables at the table
d'hote with something of the uncomfortable and shamefaced loneliness
of the provincial, Phoebe uttered a slight cry and clutched her
father's arm. Mr. Hopkins stayed the play of his squared elbows and
glanced inquiringly at his daughter's face. There was a pretty
animation in it, as she pointed to a figure that had just entered.
It was that of a young man attired in the extravagance rather than
the taste of the prevailing fashion, which did not, however, in the
least conceal a decided rusticity of limb and movement. A long
mustache, which looked unkempt, even in its pomatumed stiffness, and
lank, dark hair that had bent but never curled under the barber's
iron, made him notable even in that heterogeneous assembly.
"That's he," whispered Phoebe.
"Who?" said her father.
Alas for the inconsistencies of love! The blush came with the name
and not the vision.
"Mr. Hooker," she stammered.
It was, indeed, Jim Hooker. But the role of his exaggeration was
no longer the same; the remorseful gloom in which he had been
habitually steeped had changed into a fatigued, yet haughty,
fastidiousness more in keeping with his fashionable garments. He
was more peaceful, yet not entirely placable, and, as he sat down at
a side table and pulled down his striped cuffs with his clasped
fingers, he cast a glance of critical disapproval on the general
company. Nevertheless, he seemed to be furtively watchful of his
effect upon them, and as one or two whispered and looked towards
him, his consciousness became darkly manifest.
All of which might have intimidated the gentle Phoebe, but did not
discompose her father. He rose, and crossing over to Hooker's
table, clapped him heartily on the back.
"How do, Hooker? I didn't recognize you in them fine clothes, but
Phoebe guessed as how it was you."
Flushed, disconcerted, irritated, but always in wholesome awe of Mr.
Hopkins, Jim returned his greeting awkwardly and half hysterically.
How he would have received the more timid Phoebe is another
question. But Mr. Hopkins, without apparently noticing these
symptoms, went on:--
"We're only just down, Phoebe and me, and as I guess we'll want to
talk over old times, we'll come alongside o' you. Hold on, and I'll
The interval gave the unhappy Jim a chance to recover himself, to
regain his vanished cuffs, display his heavy watch-chain, curl his
mustache, and otherwise reassume his air of blase fastidiousness.
But the transfer made, Phoebe, after shaking hands, became
speechless under these perfections. Not so her father.
"If there's anything in looks, you seem to be prospering," he said
grimly; "unless you're in the tailorin' line, and you're only
showin' off stock. What mout ye be doing?"
"Ye ain't bin long in Sacramento, I reckon?" suggested Jim, with
"No, we only came this morning," returned Hopkins.
"And you ain't bin to the theatre?" continued Jim.
"Nor moved much in--in--gin'ral fash'nable sassiety?"
"Not yet," interposed Phoebe, with an air of faint apology.
"Nor seen any of them large posters on the fences, of 'The Prairie
Flower; or, Red-handed Dick,'--three-act play with five tableaux,--
just the biggest sensation out,--runnin' for forty nights,--money
turned away every night,--standin' room only?" continued Jim, with
"Well, I play Red-handed Dick. I thought you might have seen it and
recognized me. All those people over there," darkly indicating the
long table, "know me. A fellow can't stand it, you know, being
stared at by such a vulgar, low-bred lot. It's gettin' too fresh
here. I'll have to give the landlord notice and cut the whole
hotel. They don't seem to have ever seen a gentleman and a
"Then you're a play-actor now?" said the farmer, in a tone which did
not, however, exhibit the exact degree of admiration which shone in
"For the present," said Jim, with lofty indifference. "You see I
was in--in partnership with McClosky, the manager, and I didn't like
the style of the chump that was doin' Red-handed Dick, so I offered
to take his place one night to show him how. And by Jinks! the
audience, after that night, wouldn't let anybody else play it,--
wouldn't stand even the biggest, highest-priced stars in it! I
reckon," he added gloomily, "I'll have to run the darned thing in
all the big towns in Californy,--if I don't have to go East with it
after all, just for the business. But it's an awful grind on a
man,--leaves him no time, along of the invitations he gets, and what
with being run after in the streets and stared at in the hotels he
don't get no privacy. There's men, and women, too, over at that
table, that just lie in wait for me here till I come, and don't lift
their eyes off me. I wonder they don't bring their opery-glasses
Concerned, sympathizing, and indignant, poor Phoebe turned her brown
head and honest eyes in that direction. But because they were
honest, they could not help observing that the other table did not
seem to be paying the slightest attention to the distinguished
impersonator of Red-handed Dick. Perhaps he had been overheard.
"Then that was the reason ye didn't come back to your location. I
always guessed it was because you'd got wind of the smash-up down
there, afore we did," said Hopkins grimly.
"What smash-up?" asked Jim, with slightly resentful quickness.
"Why, the smash-up of the Sisters' title,--didn't you hear that?"
There was a slight movement of relief and a return of gloomy hauteur
in Jim's manner.
"No, we don't know much of what goes on in the cow counties, up
"Ye mout, considerin' it concerns some o' your friends," returned
Hopkins dryly. "For the Sisters' title went smash as soon as it was
known that Pedro Valdez--the man as started it--had his neck broken
outside the walls o' Robles Rancho; and they do say as this yer
Brant, YOUR friend, had suthin' to do with the breaking of it,
though it was laid to the ghost of old Peyton. Anyhow, there was
such a big skeer that one of the Greaser gang, who thought he'd seen
the ghost, being a Papist, to save his everlasting soul went to the
priest and confessed. But the priest wouldn't give him absolution
until he'd blown the hull thing, and made it public. And then it
turned out that all the dockyments for the title, and even the
custom-house paper, were FORGED by Pedro Valdez, and put on the
market by his confederates. And that's just where YOUR friend,
Clarence Brant, comes in, for HE had bought up the whole title from
them fellers. Now, either, as some say, he was in the fraud from
the beginnin', and never paid anything, or else he was an all-fired
fool, and had parted with his money like one. Some allow that the
reason was that he was awfully sweet on Mrs. Peyton's adopted
daughter, and ez the parents didn't approve of him, he did THIS so
as to get a holt over them by the property. But he's a ruined man,
anyway, now; for they say he's such a darned fool that he's goin' to
pay for all the improvements that the folks who bought under him put
into the land, and that'll take his last cent. I thought I'd tell
you that, for I suppose YOU'VE lost a heap in your improvements, and
will put in your claim?"
"I reckon I put nearly as much into it as Clar Brant did," said Jim
gloomily, "but I ain't goin' to take a cent from him, or go back on
The rascal could not resist this last mendacious opportunity,
although he was perfectly sincere in his renunciation, touched in
his sympathy, and there was even a film of moisture in his shifting
Phoebe was thrilled with the generosity of this noble being, who
could be unselfish even in his superior condition. She added
"And they say that the girl did not care for him at all, but was
actually going to run off with Pedro, when he stopped her and sent
for Mrs. Peyton."
To her surprise, Jim's face flushed violently.
"It's all a dod-blasted lie," he said, in a thick stage whisper.
"It's only the hogwash them Greasers and Pike County galoots ladle
out to each other around the stove in a county grocery. But,"
recalling himself loftily, and with a tolerant wave of his be-
diamonded hand, "wot kin you expect from one of them cow counties?
They ain't satisfied till they drive every gentleman out of the
darned gopher-holes they call their 'kentry.'"
In her admiration of what she believed to be a loyal outburst for
his friend, Phoebe overlooked the implied sneer at her provincial
home. But her father went on with a perfunctory, exasperating,
"That mebbee ez mebbee, Mr. Hooker, but the story down in our
precinct goes that she gave Mrs. Peyton the slip,--chucked up her
situation as adopted darter, and went off with a queer sort of a
cirkiss woman,--one of her own KIN, and I reckon one of her own
To this Mr. Hooker offered no further reply than a withering rebuke
of the waiter, a genteel abstraction, and a lofty change of subject.
He pressed upon them two tickets for the performance, of which he
seemed to have a number neatly clasped in an india-rubber band, and
advised them to come early. They would see him after the
performance and sup together. He must leave them now, as he had to
be punctually at the theatre, and if he lingered he should be
pestered by interviewers. He withdrew under a dazzling display of
cuff and white handkerchief, and with that inward swing of the arm
and slight bowiness of the leg generally recognized in his
profession as the lounging exit of high comedy.
The mingling of awe and an uneasy sense of changed relations which
that meeting with Jim had brought to Phoebe was not lessened when
she entered the theatre with her father that evening, and even Mr.
Hopkins seemed to share her feelings. The theatre was large, and
brilliant in decoration, the seats were well filled with the same
heterogeneous mingling she had seen in the dining-room at the Placer
Hotel, but in the parquet were some fashionable costumes and
cultivated faces. Mr. Hopkins was not altogether so sure that Jim
had been "only gassing." But the gorgeous drop curtain,
representing an allegory of Californian prosperity and abundance,
presently uprolled upon a scene of Western life almost as striking
in its glaring unreality. From a rose-clad English cottage in a
subtropical landscape skipped "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower." The
briefest of skirts, the most unsullied of stockings, the tiniest of
slippers, and the few diamonds that glittered on her fair neck and
fingers, revealed at once the simple and unpretending daughter of
the American backwoodsman. A tumult of delighted greeting broke
from the audience. The bright color came to the pink, girlish
cheeks, gratified vanity danced in her violet eyes, and as she
piquantly bowed her acknowledgments, this great breath of praise
seemed to transfigure and possess her. A very young actor who
represented the giddy world in a straw hat and with an effeminate
manner was alternately petted and girded at by her during the
opening exposition of the plot, until the statement that a "dark
destiny" obliged her to follow her uncle in an emigrant train across
the plains closed the act, apparently extinguished him, and left HER
the central figure. So far, she evidently was the favorite. A
singular aversion to her crept into the heart of Phoebe.
But the second act brought an Indian attack upon the emigrant train,
and here "Rosalie" displayed the archest heroism and the pinkest and
most distracting self-possession, in marked contrast to the giddy
worldling who, having accompanied her apparently for comic purposes
best known to himself, cowered abjectly under wagons, and was pulled
ignominiously out of straw, until Red Dick swept out of the wings
with a chosen band and a burst of revolvers and turned the tide of
victory. Attired as a picturesque combination of the Neapolitan
smuggler, river-bar miner, and Mexican vacquero, Jim Hooker
instantly began to justify the plaudits that greeted him and the
most sanguinary hopes of the audience. A gloomy but fascinating
cloud of gunpowder and dark intrigue from that moment hung about the
Yet in this sombre obscuration Rosalie had passed a happy six
months, coming out with her character and stockings equally
unchanged and unblemished, to be rewarded with the hand of Red Dick
and the discovery of her father, the governor of New Mexico, as a
white-haired, but objectionable vacquero, at the fall of the
Through this exciting performance Phoebe sat with a vague and
increasing sense of loneliness and distrust. She did not know that
Hooker had added to his ordinary inventive exaggeration the form of
dramatic composition. But she had early detected the singular fact
that such shadowy outlines of plot as the piece possessed were
evidently based on his previous narrative of his OWN experiences,
and the saving of Susy Peyton--by himself! There was the episode of
their being lost on the plains, as he had already related it to her,
with the addition of a few years to Susy's age and some vivid
picturesqueness to himself as Red Dick. She was not, of course,
aware that the part of the giddy worldling was Jim's own conception
of the character of Clarence. But what, even to her provincial
taste, seemed the extravagance of the piece, she felt, in some way,
reflected upon the truthfulness of the story she had heard. It
seemed to be a parody on himself, and in the laughter which some of
the most thrilling points produced in certain of the audience, she
heard an echo of her own doubts. But even this she could have borne
if Jim's confidence had not been given to the general public; it was
no longer HERS alone, she shared it with them. And this strange,
bold girl, who acted with him,--the "Blanche Belville" of the
bills,--how often he must have told HER the story, and yet how badly
she had learned it! It was not her own idea of it, nor of HIM. In
the last extravagant scene she turned her weary and half-shamed eyes
from the stage and looked around the theatre. Among a group of
loungers by the wall a face that seemed familiar was turned towards
her own with a look of kindly and sympathetic recognition. It was
the face of Clarence Brant. When the curtain fell, and she and her
father rose to go, he was at their side. He seemed older and more
superior looking than she had ever thought him before, and there was
a gentle yet sad wisdom in his eyes and voice that comforted her
even while it made her feel like crying.
"You are satisfied that no harm has come to our friend," he said
pleasantly. "Of course you recognized him?"
"Oh, yes; we met him to-day," said Phoebe. Her provincial pride
impelled her to keep up a show of security and indifference. "We
are going to supper with him."
Clarence slightly lifted his brows.
"You are more fortunate than I am," he said smilingly. "I only
arrived here at seven, and I must leave at midnight."
Phoebe hesitated a moment, then said with affected carelessness:--
"What do you think of the young girl who plays with him? Do you
know her? Who is she?"
He looked at her quickly, and then said, with some surprise:--
"Did he not tell you?"
"She WAS the adopted daughter of Mrs. Peyton,--Miss Susan Silsbee,"
he said gravely.
"Then she DID run away from home as they said," said Phoebe
"Not EXACTLY as they said," said Clarence gently. "She elected to
make her home with her aunt, Mrs. McClosky, who is the wife of the
manager of this theatre, and she adopted the profession a month ago.
As it now appears that there was some informality in the old
articles of guardianship, Mrs. Peyton would have been powerless to
prevent her from doing either, even if she had wished to."
The infelicity of questioning Clarence regarding Susy suddenly
flashed upon the forgetful Phoebe, and she colored. Yet, although
sad, he did not look like a rejected lover.
"Of course, if she is here with her own relatives, that makes all
the difference," she said gently. "It is protection."
"Certainly," said Clarence.
"And," continued Phoebe hesitatingly, "she is playing with--with--an
old friend--Mr. Hooker!"
"That is quite proper, too, considering their relations," said
"I--don't--understand," stammered Phoebe.
The slightly cynical smile on Clarence's face changed as he looked
into Phoebe's eyes.
"I've just heard that they are married," he returned gently.
Nowhere had the long season of flowers brought such glory as to the
broad plains and slopes of Robles Rancho. By some fortuitous chance
of soil, or flood, or drifting pollen, the three terraces had each
taken a distinct and separate blossom and tint of color. The
straggling line of corral, the crumbling wall of the old garden, the
outlying chapel, and even the brown walls of the casa itself, were
half sunken in the tall racemes of crowding lupines, until from the
distance they seemed to be slowly settling in the profundity of a
dark-blue sea. The second terrace was a league-long flow of gray
and gold daisies, in which the cattle dazedly wandered mid-leg deep.
A perpetual sunshine of yellow dandelions lay upon the third. The
gentle slope to the dark-green canada was a broad cataract of
crimson poppies. Everywhere where water had stood, great patches of
color had taken its place. It seemed as if the rains had ceased
only that the broken heavens might drop flowers.
Never before had its beauty--a beauty that seemed built upon a
cruel, youthful, obliterating forgetfulness of the past--struck
Clarence as keenly as when he had made up his mind that he must
leave the place forever. For the tale of his mischance and ill-
fortune, as told by Hopkins, was unfortunately true. When he
discovered that in his desire to save Peyton's house by the purchase
of the Sisters' title he himself had been the victim of a gigantic
fraud, he accepted the loss of the greater part of his fortune with
resignation, and was even satisfied by the thought that he had at
least effected the possession of the property for Mrs. Peyton. But
when he found that those of his tenants who had bought under him had
acquired only a dubious possession of their lands and no title, he
had unhesitatingly reimbursed them for their improvements with the
last of his capital. Only the lawless Gilroy had good-humoredly
declined. The quiet acceptance of the others did not, unfortunately,
preclude their settled belief that Clarence had participated in the
fraud, and that even now his restitution was making a dangerous
precedent, subversive of the best interests of the State, and
discouraging to immigration. Some doubted his sanity. Only one,
struck with the sincerity of his motive, hesitated to take his
money, with a look of commiseration on his face.
"Are you not satisfied?" asked Clarence, smiling.
"Nothin'. Only I was thinkin' that a man like you must feel awful
lonesome in Calforny!"
Lonely he was, indeed; but his loneliness was not the loss of
fortune nor what it might bring. Perhaps he had never fully
realized his wealth; it had been an accident rather than a custom of
his life, and when it had failed in the only test he had made of its
power, it is to be feared that he only sentimentally regretted it.
It was too early yet for him to comprehend the veiled blessings of
the catastrophe in its merciful disruption of habits and ways of
life; his loneliness was still the hopeless solitude left by
vanished ideals and overthrown idols. He was satisfied that he had
never cared for Susy, but he still cared for the belief that he had.
After the discovery of Pedro's body that fatal morning, a brief but
emphatic interview between himself and Mrs. McClosky had followed.
He had insisted upon her immediately accompanying Susy and himself
to Mrs. Peyton in San Francisco. Horror-stricken and terrified at
the catastrophe, and frightened by the strange looks of the excited
servants, they did not dare to disobey him. He had left them with
Mrs. Peyton in the briefest preliminary interview, during which he
spoke only of the catastrophe, shielding the woman from the
presumption of having provoked it, and urging only the importance of
settling the question of guardianship at once. It was odd that Mrs.
Peyton had been less disturbed than he imagined she would be at even
his charitable version of Susy's unfaithfulness to her; it even
seemed to him that she had already suspected it. But as he was
about to withdraw to leave her to meet them alone, she had stopped
"What would you advise me to do?"
It was his first interview with her since the revelation of his own
feelings. He looked into the pleading, troubled eyes of the woman
he now knew he had loved, and stammered:--
"You alone can judge. Only you must remember that one cannot force
an affection any more than one can prevent it."
He felt himself blushing, and, conscious of the construction of his
words, he even fancied that she was displeased.
"Then you have no preference?" she said, a little impatiently.
She made a slight gesture with her handsome shoulders, but she only
said, "I should have liked to have pleased you in this," and turned
coldly away. He had left without knowing the result of the
interview; but a few days later he received a letter from her
stating that she had allowed Susy to return to her aunt, and that
she had resigned all claims to her guardianship.
"It seemed to be a foregone conclusion," she wrote; "and although I
cannot think such a change will be for her permanent welfare, it is
her present WISH, and who knows, indeed, if the change will be
permanent? I have not allowed the legal question to interfere with
my judgment, although her friends must know that she forfeits any
claim upon the estate by her action; but at the same time, in the
event of her suitable marriage, I should try to carry out what I
believe would have been Mr. Peyton's wishes."
There were a few lines of postscript: "It seems to me that the
change would leave you more free to consult your own wishes in
regard to continuing your friendship with Susy, and upon such a
footing as may please you. I judge from Mrs. McClosky's
conversation that she believed you thought you were only doing your
duty in reporting to me, and that the circumstances had not altered
the good terms in which you all three formerly stood."
Clarence had dropped the letter with a burning indignation that
seemed to sting his eyes until a scalding moisture hid the words
before him. What might not Susy have said? What exaggeration of
his affection was she not capable of suggesting? He recalled Mrs.
McClosky, and remembered her easy acceptance of him as Susy's lover.
What had they told Mrs. Peyton? What must be her opinion of his
deceit towards herself? It was hard enough to bear this before he
knew he loved her. It was intolerable now! And this is what she
meant when she suggested that he should renew his old terms with
Susy; it was for HIM that this ill-disguised, scornful generosity in
regard to Susy's pecuniary expectations was intended. What should
he do? He would write to her, and indignantly deny any clandestine
affection for Susy. But could he do that, in honor, in truthfulness?
Would it not be better to write and confess all? Yes,--EVERYTHING.
Fortunately for his still boyish impulsiveness, it was at this time
that the discovery of his own financial ruin came to him. The
inquest on the body of Pedro Valdez and the confession of his
confidant had revealed the facts of the fraudulent title and forged
testamentary documents. Although it was correctly believed that
Pedro had met his death in an escapade of gallantry or intrigue, the
coroner's jury had returned a verdict of "accidental death," and the
lesser scandal was lost in the wider, far-spreading disclosure of
fraud. When he had resolved to assume all the liabilities of his
purchase, he was obliged to write to Mrs. Peyton and confess his
ruin. But he was glad to remind her that it did not alter HER
status or security; he had only given her the possession, and she
would revert to her original and now uncontested title. But as
there was now no reason for his continuing the stewardship, and as
he must adopt some profession and seek his fortune elsewhere, he
begged her to relieve him of his duty. Albeit written with a
throbbing heart and suffused eyes, it was a plain, business-like,
and practical letter. Her reply was equally cool and matter of
fact. She was sorry to hear of his losses, although she could not
agree with him that they could logically sever his present
connection with the rancho, or that, placed upon another and
distinctly business footing, the occupation would not be as
remunerative to him as any other. But, of course, if he had a
preference for some more independent position, that was another
question, although he would forgive her for using the privilege of
her years to remind him that his financial and business success had
not yet justified his independence. She would also advise him not
to decide hastily, or, at least, to wait until she had again
thoroughly gone over her husband's papers with her lawyer, in
reference to the old purchase of the Sisters' title, and the
conditions under which it was bought. She knew that Mr. Brant would
not refuse this as a matter of business, nor would that friendship,
which she valued so highly, allow him to imperil the possession of
the rancho by leaving it at such a moment. As soon as she had
finished the examination of the papers, she would write again. Her
letter seemed to leave him no hope, if, indeed, he had ever indulged
in any. It was the practical kindliness of a woman of business,
nothing more. As to the examination of her husband's papers, that
was a natural precaution. He alone knew that they would give no
record of a transaction which had never occurred. He briefly
replied that his intention to seek another situation was unchanged,
but that he would cheerfully await the arrival of his successor.
Two weeks passed. Then Mr. Sanderson, Mrs. Peyton's lawyer,
arrived, bringing an apologetic note from Mrs. Peyton. She was so
sorry her business was still delayed, but as she had felt that she
had no right to detain him entirely at Robles, she had sent to Mr.
Sanderson to TEMPORARILY relieve him, that he might be free to look
around him or visit San Francisco in reference to his own business,
only extracting a promise from him that he would return to Robles to
meet her at the end of the week, before settling upon anything.
The bitter smile with which Clarence had read thus far suddenly
changed. Some mysterious touch of unbusiness-like but womanly
hesitation, that he had never noticed in her previous letters, gave
him a faint sense of pleasure, as if her note had been perfumed. He
had availed himself of the offer. It was on this visit to
Sacramento that he had accidentally discovered the marriage of Susy
"It's a great deal better business for her to have a husband in the
'profesh' if she's agoin' to stick to it," said his informant, Mrs.
McClosky, "and she's nothing if she ain't business and profesh, Mr.
Brant. I never see a girl that was born for the stage--yes, you
might say jess cut out o' the boards of the stage--as that girl Susy
is! And that's jest what's the matter; and YOU know it, and I know
it, and there you are!"
It was with these experiences that Clarence was to-day reentering
the wooded and rocky gateway of the rancho from the high road of the
canada; but as he cantered up the first slope, through the drift of
scarlet poppies that almost obliterated the track, and the blue and
yellow blooms of the terraces again broke upon his view, he thought
only of Mrs. Peyton's pleasure in this changed aspect of her old
home. She had told him of it once before, and of her delight in it;
and he had once thought how happy he should be to see it with her.
The servant who took his horse told him that the senora had arrived
that morning from Santa Inez, bringing with her the two Senoritas
Hernandez from the rancho of Los Canejos, and that other guests were
expected. And there was the Senor Sanderson and his Reverence Padre
Esteban. Truly an affair of hospitality, the first since the padron
died. Whatever dream Clarence might have had of opportunities for
confidential interview was rudely dispelled. Yet Mrs. Peyton had
left orders to be informed at once of Don Clarencio's arrival.
As he crossed the patio and stepped upon the corridor he fancied he
already detected in the internal arrangements the subtle influence
of Mrs. Peyton's taste and the indefinable domination of the
mistress. For an instant he thought of anticipating the servant and
seeking her in the boudoir, but some instinct withheld him, and he
turned into the study which he had used as an office. It was empty;
a few embers glimmered on the hearth. At the same moment there was
a light step behind him, and Mrs. Peyton entered and closed the door
behind her. She was very beautiful. Although paler and thinner,
there was an odd sort of animation about her, so unlike her usual
repose that it seemed almost feverish.
"I thought we could talk together a few moments before the guests
arrive. The house will be presently so full, and my duties as
"I was--about to seek you--in--in the boudoir," hesitated Clarence.
She gave an impatient shiver.
"Good heavens, not there! I shall never go there again. I should
fancy every time I looked out of the window that I saw the head of
that man between the bars. No! I am only thankful that I wasn't
here at the time, and that I can keep my remembrance of the dear old
place unchanged." She checked herself a little abruptly, and then
added somewhat irrelevantly but cheerfully, "Well, you have been
away? What have you done?"
"Nothing," said Clarence.
"Then you have kept your promise," she said, with the same nervous
"I have returned here without making any other engagement," he said
gravely; "but I have not altered my determination."
She shrugged her shoulders again, or, as it seemed, the skin of her
tightly fitting black dress above them, with the sensitive shiver of
a highly groomed horse, and moved to the hearth as if for warmth;
put her slim, slippered foot upon the low fender, drawing, with a
quick hand, the whole width of her skirt behind her until it
clingingly accented the long, graceful curve from her hip to her
feet. All this was so unlike her usual fastidiousness and repose
that he was struck by it. With her eyes on the glowing embers of
the hearth, and tentatively advancing her toe to its warmth and
drawing it away, she said:--
"Of course, you must please yourself. I am afraid I have no right
except that of habit and custom to keep you here; and you know," she
added, with an only half-withheld bitterness, "that they are not
always very effective with young people who prefer to have the
ordering of their own lives. But I have something still to tell you
before you finally decide. I have, as you know, been looking over
my--over Mr. Peyton's papers very carefully. Well, as a result, I
find, Mr. Brant, that there is no record whatever of his wonderfully
providential purchase of the Sisters' title from you; that he never
entered into any written agreement with you, and never paid you a
cent; and that, furthermore, his papers show me that he never even
contemplated it; nor, indeed, even knew of YOUR owning the title
when he died. Yes, Mr. Brant, it was all to YOUR foresight and
prudence, and YOUR generosity alone, that we owe our present
possession of the rancho. When you helped us into that awful
window, it was YOUR house we were entering; and if it had been YOU,
and not those wretches, who had chosen to shut the doors on us after
the funeral, we could never have entered here again. Don't deny it,
Mr. Brant. I have suspected it a long time, and when you spoke of
changing YOUR position, I determined to find out if it wasn't I who
had to leave the house rather than you. One moment, please. And I
did find out, and it WAS I. Don't speak, please, yet. And now,"
she said, with a quick return to her previous nervous hilarity,
"knowing this, as you did, and knowing, too, that I would know it
when I examined the papers,--don't speak, I'm not through yet,--
don't you think that it was just a LITTLE cruel for you to try to
hurry me, and make me come here instead of your coming to ME in San
Francisco, when I gave you leave for that purpose?"
"But, Mrs. Peyton," gasped Clarence.
"Please don't interrupt me," said the lady, with a touch of her old
imperiousness, "for in a moment I must join my guests. When I found
you wouldn't tell me, and left it to me to find out, I could only go
away as I did, and really leave you to control what I believed was
your own property. And I thought, too, that I understood your
motives, and, to be frank with you, that worried me; for I believed
I knew the disposition and feelings of a certain person better than
"One moment," broke out Clarence, "you MUST hear me, now. Foolish
and misguided as that purchase may have been, I swear to you I had
only one motive in making it,--to save the homestead for you and
your husband, who had been my first and earliest benefactors. What
the result of it was, you, as a business woman, know; your friends
know; your lawyer will tell you the same. You owe me nothing. I
have given you nothing but the repossession of this property, which
any other man could have done, and perhaps less stupidly than I did.
I would not have forced you to come here to hear this if I had
dreamed of your suspicions, or even if I had simply understood that
you would see me in San Francisco as I passed through."
"Passed through? Where were you going?" she said quickly.
The abrupt change in her manner startled him to a recollection of
Susy, and he blushed. She bit her lips, and moved towards the
"Then you saw her?" she said, turning suddenly towards him. The
inquiry of her beautiful eyes was more imperative than her speech.
Clarence recognized quickly what he thought was his cruel blunder in
touching the half-healed wound of separation. But he had gone too
far to be other than perfectly truthful now.
"Yes; I saw her on the stage," he said, with a return of his boyish
earnestness; "and I learned something which I wanted you to first
hear from me. She is MARRIED,--and to Mr. Hooker, who is in the
same theatrical company with her. But I want you to think, as I
honestly do, that it is the best for her. She has married in her
profession, which is a great protection and a help to her success,
and she has married a man who can look lightly upon certain
qualities in her that others might not be so lenient to. His worst
faults are on the surface, and will wear away in contact with the
world, and he looks up to her as his superior. I gathered this from
her friend, for I did not speak with her myself; I did not go there
to see her. But as I expected to be leaving you soon, I thought it
only right that as I was the humble means of first bringing her into
your life, I should bring you this last news, which I suppose takes
her out of it forever. Only I want you to believe that YOU have
nothing to regret, and that SHE is neither lost nor unhappy."
The expression of suspicious inquiry on her face when he began
changed gradually to perplexity as he continued, and then relaxed
into a faint, peculiar smile. But there was not the slightest trace
of that pain, wounded pride, indignation, or anger, that he had
expected to see upon it.
"That means, I suppose, Mr. Brant, that YOU no longer care for her?"
The smile had passed, yet she spoke now with a half-real, half-
affected archness that was also unlike her.
"It means," said Clarence with a white face, but a steady voice,
"that I care for her now as much as I ever cared for her, no matter
to what folly it once might have led me. But it means, also, that
there was no time when I was not able to tell it to YOU as frankly
as I do now"--
"One moment, please," she interrupted, and turned quickly towards
the door. She opened it and looked out. "I thought they were
calling me,--and--I--I--MUST go now, Mr. Brant. And without
finishing my business either, or saying half I had intended to say.
But wait"--she put her hand to her head in a pretty perplexity,
"it's a moonlight night, and I'll propose after dinner a stroll in
the gardens, and you can manage to walk a little with me." She
stopped again, returned, said, "It was very kind of you to think of
me at Sacramento," held out her hand, allowed it to remain for an
instant, cool but acquiescent, in his warmer grasp, and with the
same odd youthfulness of movement and gesture slipped out of the
An hour later she was at the head of her dinner table, serene,
beautiful, and calm, in her elegant mourning, provokingly
inaccessible in the sweet deliberation of her widowed years; Padre
Esteban was at her side with a local magnate, who had known Peyton
and his wife, while Donna Rosita and a pair of liquid-tongued,
childlike senoritas were near Clarence and Sanderson. To the priest
Mrs. Peyton spoke admiringly of the changes in the rancho and the
restoration of the Mission Chapel, and together they had commended
Clarence from the level of their superior passionless reserve and
years. Clarence felt hopelessly young and hopelessly lonely; the
naive prattle of the young girls beside him appeared infantine. In
his abstraction, he heard Mrs. Peyton allude to the beauty of the
night, and propose that after coffee and chocolate the ladies should
put on their wraps and go with her to the old garden. Clarence
raised his eyes; she was not looking at him, but there was a slight
consciousness in her face that was not there before, and the
faintest color in her cheek, still lingering, no doubt, from the
excitement of conversation.
It was a cool, tranquil, dewless night when they at last straggled
out, mere black and white patches in the colorless moonlight. The
brilliancy of the flower-hued landscape was subdued under its
passive, pale austerity; even the gray and gold of the second
terrace seemed dulled and confused. At any other time Clarence
might have lingered over this strange effect, but his eyes followed
only a tall figure, in a long striped burnous, that moved gracefully
beside the soutaned priest. As he approached, it turned towards
"Ah! here you are. I just told Father Esteban that you talked of
leaving to-morrow, and that he would have to excuse me a few moments
while you showed me what you had done to the old garden."
She moved beside him, and, with a hesitation that was not unlike a
more youthful timidity, slipped her hand through his arm. It was
for the first time, and, without thinking, he pressed it impulsively
to his side. I have already intimated that Clarence's reserve was
at times qualified by singular directness.
A few steps carried them out of hearing; a few more, and they seemed
alone in the world. The long adobe wall glanced away emptily beside
them, and was lost; the black shadows of the knotted pear-trees were
beneath their feet. They began to walk with the slight affectation
of treading the shadows as if they were patterns on a carpet.
Clarence was voiceless, and yet he seemed to be moving beside a
spirit that must be first addressed.
But it was flesh and blood nevertheless.
"I interrupted you in something you were saying when I left the
office," she said quietly.
"I was speaking of Susy," returned Clarence eagerly; "and"--
"Then you needn't go on," interrupted Mrs. Peyton quickly. "I
understand you, and believe you. I would rather talk of something
else. We have not yet arranged how I can make restitution to you
for the capital you sank in saving this place. You will be
reasonable, Mr. Brant, and not leave me with the shame and pain of
knowing that you ruined yourself for the sake of your old friends.
For it is no more a sentimental idea of mine to feel in this way
than it is a fair and sensible one for you to imply that a mere
quibble of construction absolves me from responsibility. Mr.
Sanderson himself admits that the repossession you gave us is a fair
and legal basis for any arrangement of sharing or division of the
property with you, that might enable you to remain here and continue
the work you have so well begun. Have you no suggestion, or must it
come from ME, Mr. Brant?"
"Neither. Let us not talk of that now."
She did not seem to notice the boyish doggedness of his speech,
except so far as it might have increased her inconsequent and
nervously pitched levity.
"Then suppose we speak of the Misses Hernandez, with whom you
scarcely exchanged a word at dinner, and whom I invited for you and
your fluent Spanish. They are charming girls, even if they are a
little stupid. But what can I do? If I am to live here, I must
have a few young people around me, if only to make the place
cheerful for others. Do you know I have taken a great fancy to Miss
Rogers, and have asked her to visit me. I think she is a good
friend of yours, although perhaps she is a little shy. What's the
matter? You have nothing against her, have you?"
Clarence had stopped short. They had reached the end of the pear-
tree shadows. A few steps more would bring them to the fallen south
wall of the garden and the open moonlight beyond, but to the right
an olive alley of deeper shadow diverged.
"No," he said, with slow deliberation; "I have to thank Mary Rogers
for having discovered something in me that I have been blindly,
foolishly, and hopelessly struggling with."
"And, pray, what was that?" said Mrs. Peyton sharply.
"That I love you!"
Mrs. Peyton was fairly startled. The embarrassment of any truth is
apt to be in its eternal abruptness, which no deviousness of tact or
circumlocution of diplomacy has ever yet surmounted. Whatever had
been in her heart, or mind, she was unprepared for this directness.
The bolt had dropped from the sky; they were alone; there was
nothing between the stars and the earth but herself and this man and
this truth; it could not be overlooked, surmounted, or escaped from.
A step or two more would take her out of the garden into the
moonlight, but always into this awful frankness of blunt and
outspoken nature. She hesitated, and turned the corner into the
olive shadows. It was, perhaps, more dangerous; but less shameless,
and less like truckling. And the appallingly direct Clarence
"I know you will despise me, hate me; and, perhaps, worst of all,
disbelieve me; but I swear to you, now, that I have always loved
you,--yes, ALWAYS! When first I came here, it was not to see my old
playmate, but YOU, for I had kept the memory of you as I first saw
you when a boy, and you have always been my ideal. I have thought
of, dreamed of, worshiped, and lived for no other woman. Even when
I found Susy again, grown up here at your side; even when I thought
that I might, with your consent, marry her, it was that I might be
with YOU always; that I might be a part of YOUR home, your family,
and have a place with her in YOUR heart; for it was you I loved, and
YOU only. Don't laugh at me, Mrs. Peyton, it is the truth, the
whole truth, I am telling you. God help me!"
If she only COULD have laughed,--harshly, ironically, or even
mercifully and kindly! But it would not come. And she burst out:--
"I am not laughing. Good heavens, don't you see? It is ME you are
"YOU ridiculous?" he said in a momentarily choked, half-stupefied
voice. "You--a beautiful woman, my superior in everything, the
mistress of these lands where I am only steward--made ridiculous,
not by my presumption, but by my confession? Was the saint you just
now admired in Father Esteban's chapel ridiculous because of the
peon clowns who were kneeling before it?"
"Hush! This is wicked! Stop!"
She felt she was now on firm ground, and made the most of it in
voice and manner. She must draw the line somewhere, and she would
draw it between passion and impiety.
"Not until I have told you all, and I MUST before I leave you. I
loved you when I came here,--even when your husband was alive.
Don't be angry, Mrs. Peyton; HE would not, and need not, have been
angry; he would have pitied the foolish boy, who, in the very
innocence and ignorance of his passion, might have revealed it to
him as he did to everybody but ONE. And yet, I sometimes think you
might have guessed it, had you thought of me at all. It must have
been on my lips that day I sat with you in the boudoir. I know that
I was filled with it; with it and with you; with your presence, with
your beauty, your grace of heart and mind,--yes, Mrs. Peyton, even
with your own unrequited love for Susy. Only, then, I knew not what
"But I think I can tell you what it was then, and now," said Mrs.
Peyton, recovering her nervous little laugh, though it died a moment
after on her lips. "I remember it very well. You told me then that
I REMINDED YOU OF YOUR MOTHER. Well, I am not old enough to be your
mother, Mr. Brant, but I am old enough to have been, and might have
been, the mother of your wife. That was what you meant then; that
is what you mean now. I was wrong to accuse you of trying to make
me ridiculous. I ask your pardon. Let us leave it as it was that
day in the boudoir, as it is NOW. Let me still remind you of your
mother,--I know she must have been a good woman to have had so good
a son,--and when you have found some sweet young girl to make you
happy, come to me for a mother's blessing, and we will laugh at the
recollection and misunderstanding of this evening."
Her voice did not, however, exhibit that exquisite maternal
tenderness which the beatific vision ought to have called up, and
the persistent voice of Clarence could not be evaded in the shadow.
"I said you reminded me of my mother," he went on at her side,
"because I knew her and lost her only as a child. She never was
anything to me but a memory, and yet an ideal of all that was sweet
and lovable in woman. Perhaps it was a dream of what she might have
been when she was as young in years as you. If it pleases you still
to misunderstand me, it may please you also to know that there is a
reminder of her even in this. I have no remembrance of a word of
affection from her, nor a caress; I have been as hopeless in my love
for her who was my mother, as of the woman I would make my wife."
"But you have seen no one, you know no one, you are young, you
scarcely know your own self! You will forget this, you will forget
ME! And if--if--I should--listen to you, what would the world say,
what would YOU yourself say a few years hence? Oh, be reasonable.
Think of it,--it would be so wild,--so mad! so--so--utterly
In proof of its ludicrous quality, two tears escaped her eyes in the
darkness. But Clarence caught the white flash of her withdrawn
handkerchief in the shadow, and captured her returning hand. It was
trembling, but did not struggle, and presently hushed itself to rest
"I'm not only a fool but a brute," he said in a lower voice.
"Forgive me. I have given you pain,--you, for whom I would have
They had both stopped. He was still holding her sleeping hand. His
arm had stolen around the burnous so softly that it followed the
curves of her figure as lightly as a fold of the garment, and was
presumably unfelt. Grief has its privileges, and suffering
exonerates a questionable situation. In another moment her fair
head MIGHT have dropped upon his shoulder. But an approaching voice
uprose in the adjoining broad allee. It might have been the world
speaking through the voice of the lawyer Sanderson.
"Yes, he is a good fellow, and an intelligent fellow, too, but a
perfect child in his experience of mankind."
They both started, but Mrs. Peyton's hand suddenly woke up and
grasped his firmly. Then she said in a higher, but perfectly level
"Yes, I think with you we had better look at it again in the
sunlight to-morrow. But here come our friends; they have probably
been waiting for us to join them and go in."
. . . . . . .
The wholesome freshness of early morning was in the room when
Clarence awoke, cleared and strengthened. His resolution had been
made. He would leave the rancho that morning, to enter the world
again and seek his fortune elsewhere. This was only right to HER,
whose future it should never be said he had imperiled by his folly
and inexperience; and if, in a year or two of struggle he could
prove his right to address her again, he would return. He had not
spoken to her since they had parted in the garden, with the grim
truths of the lawyer ringing in his ears, but he had written a few
lines of farewell, to be given to her after he had left. He was
calm in his resolution, albeit a little pale and hollow-eyed for it.
He crept downstairs in the gray twilight of the scarce-awakened
house, and made his way to the stables. Saddling his horse, and
mounting, he paced forth into the crisp morning air. The sun, just
risen, was everywhere bringing out the fresh color of the flower-
strewn terraces, as the last night's shadows, which had hidden them,
were slowly beaten back. He cast a last look at the brown adobe
quadrangle of the quiet house, just touched with the bronzing of the
sun, and then turned his face towards the highway. As he passed the
angle of the old garden he hesitated, but, strong in his resolution,
he put the recollection of last night behind him, and rode by
without raising his eyes.
It was HER voice. He wheeled his horse. She was standing behind
the grille in the old wall as he had seen her standing on the day he
had ridden to his rendezvous with Susy. A Spanish manta was thrown
over her head and shoulders, as if she had dressed hastily, and had
run out to intercept him while he was still in the stable. Her
beautiful face was pale in its black-hooded recess, and there were
faint circles around her lovely eyes.
"You were going without saying 'goodby'!" she said softly.
She passed her slim white hand between the grating. Clarence leaped
to the ground, caught it, and pressed it to his lips. But he did
not let it go.
"No! no!" she said, struggling to withdraw it. "It is better as it
is--as--as you have decided it to be. Only I could not let you go
thus,--without a word. There now,--go, Clarence, go. Please!
Don't you see I am behind these bars? Think of them as the years
that separate us, my poor, dear, foolish boy. Think of them as
standing between us, growing closer, heavier, and more cruel and
hopeless as the years go on."
Ah, well! they had been good bars a hundred and fifty years ago,
when it was thought as necessary to repress the innocence that was
behind them as the wickedness that was without. They had done duty
in the convent at Santa Inez, and the monastery of Santa Barbara,
and had been brought hither in Governor Micheltorrenas' time to keep
the daughters of Robles from the insidious contact of the outer
world, when they took the air in their cloistered pleasance.
Guitars had tinkled against them in vain, and they had withstood the
stress and storm of love tokens. But, like many other things which
have had their day and time, they had retained their semblance of
power, even while rattling loosely in their sockets, only because no
one had ever thought of putting them to the test, and, in the strong
hand of Clarence, assisted, perhaps, by the leaning figure of Mrs.
Peyton, I grieve to say that the whole grille suddenly collapsed,
became a frame of tinkling iron, and then clanked, bar by bar, into
the road. Mrs. Peyton uttered a little cry and drew back, and
Clarence, leaping the ruins, caught her in his arms.
For a moment only, for she quickly withdrew from them, and although
the morning sunlight was quite rosy on her cheeks, she said gravely,
pointing to the dismantled opening:--
"I suppose you MUST stay now, for you never could leave me here
alone and defenseless."
He stayed. And with this fulfillment of his youthful dreams the
romance of his young manhood seemed to be completed, and so closed
the second volume of this trilogy. But what effect that fulfillment
of youth had upon his maturer years, or the fortunes of those who
were nearly concerned in it, may be told in a later and final