Part 4 out of 12
the back of her chair. Annixter could not but remark that,
spite of her more than fifty years, Annie Derrick was yet rather
pretty. Her eyes were still those of a young girl, just touched
with an uncertain expression of innocence and inquiry, but as her
glance fell upon him, he found that that expression changed to
one of uneasiness, of distrust, almost of aversion.
The night before this, after Magnus and his wife had gone to bed,
they had lain awake for hours, staring up into the dark, talking,
talking. Magnus had not long been able to keep from his wife the
news of the coalition that was forming against the railroad, nor
the fact that this coalition was determined to gain its ends by
any means at its command. He had told her of Osterman's scheme
of a fraudulent election to seat a Board of Railroad
Commissioners, who should be nominees of the farming interests.
Magnus and his wife had talked this matter over and over again;
and the same discussion, begun immediately after supper the
evening before, had lasted till far into the night.
At once, Annie Derrick had been seized with a sudden terror lest
Magnus, after all, should allow himself to be persuaded; should
yield to the pressure that was every day growing stronger. None
better than she knew the iron integrity of her husband's
character. None better than she remembered how his dearest
ambition, that of political preferment, had been thwarted by his
refusal to truckle, to connive, to compromise with his ideas of
right. Now, at last, there seemed to be a change. Long
continued oppression, petty tyranny, injustice and extortion had
driven him to exasperation. S. Behrman's insults still rankled.
He seemed nearly ready to countenance Osterman's scheme. The
very fact that he was willing to talk of it to her so often and
at such great length, was proof positive that it occupied his
mind. The pity of it, the tragedy of it! He, Magnus, the
"Governor," who had been so staunch, so rigidly upright, so loyal
to his convictions, so bitter in his denunciation of the New
Politics, so scathing in his attacks on bribery and corruption in
high places; was it possible that now, at last, he could be
brought to withhold his condemnation of the devious intrigues of
the unscrupulous, going on there under his very eyes? That
Magnus should not command Harran to refrain from all intercourse
with the conspirators, had been a matter of vast surprise to Mrs.
Derrick. Time was when Magnus would have forbidden his son to so
much as recognise a dishonourable man.
But besides all this, Derrick's wife trembled at the thought of
her husband and son engaging in so desperate a grapple with the
railroad--that great monster, iron-hearted, relentless,
infinitely powerful. Always it had issued triumphant from the
fight; always S. Behrman, the Corporation's champion, remained
upon the field as victor, placid, unperturbed, unassailable. But
now a more terrible struggle than any hitherto loomed menacing
over the rim of the future; money was to be spent like water;
personal reputations were to be hazarded in the issue; failure
meant ruin in all directions, financial ruin, moral ruin, ruin of
prestige, ruin of character. Success, to her mind, was almost
impossible. Annie Derrick feared the railroad. At night, when
everything else was still, the distant roar of passing trains
echoed across Los Muertos, from Guadalajara, from Bonneville, or
from the Long Trestle, straight into her heart. At such moments
she saw very plainly the galloping terror of steam and steel,
with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to
horizon, symbol of a vast power, huge and terrible; the leviathan
with tentacles of steel, to oppose which meant to be ground to
instant destruction beneath the clashing wheels. No, it was
better to submit, to resign oneself to the inevitable. She
obliterated herself, shrinking from the harshness of the world,
striving, with vain hands, to draw her husband back with her.
Just before Annixter's arrival, she had been sitting, thoughtful,
in her long chair, an open volume of poems turned down upon her
lap, her glance losing itself in the immensity of Los Muertos
that, from the edge of the lawn close by, unrolled itself,
gigantic, toward the far, southern horizon, wrinkled and serrated
after the season's ploughing. The earth, hitherto grey with
dust, was now upturned and brown. As far as the eye could reach,
it was empty of all life, bare, mournful, absolutely still; and,
as she looked, there seemed to her morbid imagination--diseased
and disturbed with long brooding, sick with the monotony of
repeated sensation--to be disengaged from all this immensity, a
sense of a vast oppression, formless, disquieting. The terror of
sheer bigness grew slowly in her mind; loneliness beyond words
gradually enveloped her. She was lost in all these limitless
reaches of space. Had she been abandoned in mid-ocean, in an
open boat, her terror could hardly have been greater. She felt
vividly that certain uncongeniality which, when all is said,
forever remains between humanity and the earth which supports it.
She recognised the colossal indifference of nature, not hostile,
even kindly and friendly, so long as the human ant-swarm was
submissive, working with it, hurrying along at its side in the
mysterious march of the centuries. Let, however, the insect
rebel, strive to make head against the power of this nature, and
at once it became relentless, a gigantic engine, a vast power,
huge, terrible; a leviathan with a heart of steel, knowing no
compunction, no forgiveness, no tolerance; crushing out the human
atom with sound less calm, the agony of destruction sending never
a jar, never the faintest tremour through all that prodigious
mechanism of wheels and cogs.
Such thoughts as these did not take shape distinctly in her mind.
She could not have told herself exactly what it was that
disquieted her. She only received the vague sensation of these
things, as it were a breath of wind upon her face, confused,
troublous, an indefinite sense of hostility in the air.
The sound of hoofs grinding upon the gravel of the driveway
brought her to herself again, and, withdrawing her gaze from the
empty plain of Los Muertos, she saw young Annixter stopping his
horse by the carriage steps. But the sight of him only diverted
her mind to the other trouble. She could not but regard him with
aversion. He was one of the conspirators, was one of the leaders
in the battle that impended; no doubt, he had come to make a
fresh attempt to win over Magnus to the unholy alliance.
However, there was little trace of enmity in her greeting. Her
hair was still spread, like a broad patch of back, and she made
that her excuse for not getting up. In answer to Annixter's
embarrassed inquiry after Magnus, she sent the Chinese cook to
call him from the office; and Annixter, after tying his horse to
the ring driven into the trunk of one of the eucalyptus trees,
came up to the porch, and, taking off his hat, sat down upon the
"Is Harran anywhere about?" he asked. "I'd like to see Harran,
"No," said Mrs. Derrick, "Harran went to Bonneville early this
She glanced toward Annixter nervously, without turning her head,
lest she should disturb her outspread hair.
"What is it you want to see Mr. Derrick about?" she inquired
hastily. "Is it about this plan to elect a Railroad Commission?
Magnus does not approve of it," she declared with energy. "He
told me so last night."
Annixter moved about awkwardly where he sat, smoothing down with
his hand the one stiff lock of yellow hair that persistently
stood up from his crown like an Indian's scalp-lock. At once his
suspicions were all aroused. Ah! this feemale woman was trying
to get a hold on him, trying to involve him in a petticoat mess,
trying to cajole him. Upon the instant, he became very crafty;
an excess of prudence promptly congealed his natural impulses.
In an actual spasm of caution, he scarcely trusted himself to
speak, terrified lest he should commit himself to something. He
glanced about apprehensively, praying that Magnus might join them
speedily, relieving the tension.
"I came to see about giving a dance in my new barn," he answered,
scowling into the depths of his hat, as though reading from notes
he had concealed there. "I wanted to ask how I should send out
the invites. I thought of just putting an ad. in the 'Mercury.'"
But as he spoke, Presley had come up behind Annixter in time to
get the drift of the conversation, and now observed:
"That's nonsense, Buck. You're not giving a public ball. You
MUST send out invitations."
"Hello, Presley, you there?" exclaimed Annixter, turning round.
The two shook hands.
"Send out invitations?" repeated Annixter uneasily. "Why must
"Because that's the only way to do."
"It is, is it?" answered Annixter, perplexed and troubled. No
other man of his acquaintance could have so contradicted Annixter
without provoking a quarrel upon the instant. Why the young
rancher, irascible, obstinate, belligerent, should invariably
defer to the poet, was an inconsistency never to be explained.
It was with great surprise that Mrs. Derrick heard him continue:
"Well, I suppose you know what you're talking about, Pres. Must
have written invites, hey?"
"Why, what an ass you are, Buck," observed Presley calmly.
"Before you get through with it, you will probably insult three-
fourths of the people you intend to invite, and have about a
hundred quarrels on your hands, and a lawsuit or two."
However, before Annixter could reply, Magnus came out on the
porch, erect, grave, freshly shaven. Without realising what he
was doing, Annixter instinctively rose to his feet. It was as
though Magnus was a commander-in-chief of an unseen army, and he
a subaltern. There was some little conversation as to the
proposed dance, and then Annixter found an excuse for drawing the
Governor aside. Mrs. Derrick watched the two with eyes full of
poignant anxiety, as they slowly paced the length of the gravel
driveway to the road gate, and stood there, leaning upon it,
talking earnestly; Magnus tall, thin-lipped, impassive, one hand
in the breast of his frock coat, his head bare, his keen, blue
eyes fixed upon Annixter's face. Annixter came at once to the
"I got a wire from Osterman this morning, Governor, and, well--
we've got Disbrow. That means that the Denver, Pueblo and Mojave
is back of us. There's half the fight won, first off."
"Osterman bribed him, I suppose," observed Magnus.
Annixter raised a shoulder vexatiously.
"You've got to pay for what you get," he returned. "You don't
get something for nothing, I guess. Governor," he went on, "I
don't see how you can stay out of this business much longer. You
see how it will be. We're going to win, and I don't see how you
can feel that it's right of you to let us do all the work and
stand all the expense. There's never been a movement of any
importance that went on around you that you weren't the leader in
it. All Tulare County, all the San Joaquin, for that matter,
knows you. They want a leader, and they are looking to you. I
know how you feel about politics nowadays. But, Governor,
standards have changed since your time; everybody plays the game
now as we are playing it--the most honourable men. You can't
play it any other way, and, pshaw! if the right wins out in the
end, that's the main thing. We want you in this thing, and we
want you bad. You've been chewing on this affair now a long
time. Have you made up your mind? Do you come in? I tell you
what, you've got to look at these things in a large way. You've
got to judge by results. Well, now, what do you think? Do you
Magnus's glance left Annixter's face, and for an instant sought
the ground. His frown lowered, but now it was in perplexity,
rather than in anger. His mind was troubled, harassed with a
But one of Magnus's strongest instincts, one of his keenest
desires, was to be, if only for a short time, the master. To
control men had ever been his ambition; submission of any kind,
his greatest horror. His energy stirred within him, goaded by
the lash of his anger, his sense of indignity, of insult. Oh for
one moment to be able to strike back, to crush his enemy, to
defeat the railroad, hold the Corporation in the grip of his
fist, put down S. Behrman, rehabilitate himself, regain his self-
respect. To be once more powerful, to command, to dominate. His
thin lips pressed themselves together; the nostrils of his
prominent hawk-like nose dilated, his erect, commanding figure
stiffened unconsciously. For a moment, he saw himself
controlling the situation, the foremost figure in his State,
feared, respected, thousands of men beneath him, his ambition at
length gratified; his career, once apparently brought to naught,
completed; success a palpable achievement. What if this were his
chance, after all, come at last after all these years. His
chance! The instincts of the old-time gambler, the most
redoubtable poker player of El Dorado County, stirred at the
word. Chance! To know it when it came, to recognise it as it
passed fleet as a wind-flurry, grip at it, catch at it, blind,
reckless, staking all upon the hazard of the issue, that was
genius. Was this his Chance? All of a sudden, it seemed to him
that it was. But his honour! His cherished, lifelong integrity,
the unstained purity of his principles? At this late date, were
they to be sacrificed? Could he now go counter to all the firm
built fabric of his character? How, afterward, could he bear to
look Harran and Lyman in the face? And, yet--and, yet--back
swung the pendulum--to neglect his Chance meant failure; a life
begun in promise, and ended in obscurity, perhaps in financial
ruin, poverty even. To seize it meant achievement, fame,
influence, prestige, possibly great wealth.
"I am so sorry to interrupt," said Mrs. Derrick, as she came up.
"I hope Mr. Annixter will excuse me, but I want Magnus to open
the safe for me. I have lost the combination, and I must have
some money. Phelps is going into town, and I want him to pay
some bills for me. Can't you come right away, Magnus? Phelps is
ready and waiting."
Annixter struck his heel into the ground with a suppressed oath.
Always these fool feemale women came between him and his plans,
mixing themselves up in his affairs. Magnus had been on the very
point of saying something, perhaps committing himself to some
course of action, and, at precisely the wrong moment, his wife
had cut in. The opportunity was lost. The three returned toward
the ranch house; but before saying good-bye, Annixter had secured
from Magnus a promise to the effect that, before coming to a
definite decision in the matter under discussion, he would talk
further with him.
Presley met him at the porch. He was going into town with
Phelps, and proposed to Annixter that he should accompany them.
"I want to go over and see old Broderson," Annixter objected.
But Presley informed him that Broderson had gone to Bonneville
earlier in the morning. He had seen him go past in his
buckboard. The three men set off, Phelps and Annixter on
horseback, Presley on his bicycle.
When they had gone, Mrs. Derrick sought out her husband in the
office of the ranch house. She was at her prettiest that
morning, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her innocent, wide-
open eyes almost girlish. She had fastened her hair, still
moist, with a black ribbon tied at the back of her head, and the
soft mass of light brown reached to below her waist, making her
look very young.
"What was it he was saying to you just now," she exclaimed, as
she came through the gate in the green-painted wire railing of
the office. "What was Mr. Annixter saying? I know. He was
trying to get you to join him, trying to persuade you to be
dishonest, wasn't that it? Tell me, Magnus, wasn't that it?"
His wife drew close to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"But you won't, will you? You won't listen to him again; you
won't so much as allow him--anybody--to even suppose you would
lend yourself to bribery? Oh, Magnus, I don't know what has come
over you these last few weeks. Why, before this, you would have
been insulted if any one thought you would even consider anything
like dishonesty. Magnus, it would break my heart if you joined
Mr. Annixter and Mr. Osterman. Why, you couldn't be the same man
to me afterward; you, who have kept yourself so clean till now.
And the boys; what would Lyman say, and Harran, and every one who
knows you and respects you, if you lowered yourself to be just a
For a moment, Derrick leaned his head upon his hand, avoiding her
gaze. At length, he said, drawing a deep breath: "I am troubled,
Annie. These are the evil days. I have much upon my mind."
"Evil days or not," she insisted, "promise me this one thing,
that you will not join Mr. Annixter's scheme."
She had taken his hand in both of hers and was looking into his
face, her pretty eyes full of pleading.
"Promise me," she repeated; "give me your word. Whatever
happens, let me always be able to be proud of you, as I always
have been. Give me your word. I know you never seriously
thought of joining Mr. Annixter, but I am so nervous and
frightened sometimes. Just to relieve my mind, Magnus, give me
"Why--you are right," he answered. "No, I never thought
seriously of it. Only for a moment, I was ambitious to be--I
don't know what--what I had hoped to be once--well, that is over
now. Annie, your husband is a disappointed man."
"Give me your word," she insisted. "We can talk about other
Again Magnus wavered, about to yield to his better instincts and
to the entreaties of his wife. He began to see how perilously
far he had gone in this business. He was drifting closer to it
every hour. Already he was entangled, already his foot was
caught in the mesh that was being spun. Sharply he recoiled.
Again all his instincts of honesty revolted. No, whatever
happened, he would preserve his integrity. His wife was right.
Always she had influenced his better side. At that moment,
Magnus's repugnance of the proposed political campaign was at its
pitch of intensity. He wondered how he had ever allowed himself
to so much as entertain the idea of joining with the others.
Now, he would wrench free, would, in a single instant of power,
clear himself of all compromising relations. He turned to his
wife. Upon his lips trembled the promise she implored. But
suddenly there came to his mind the recollection of his new-made
pledge to Annixter. He had given his word that before arriving
at a decision he would have a last interview with him. To
Magnus, his given word was sacred. Though now he wanted to, he
could not as yet draw back, could not promise his wife that he
would decide to do right. The matter must be delayed a few days
Lamely, he explained this to her. Annie Derrick made but little
response when he had done. She kissed his forehead and went out
of the room, uneasy, depressed, her mind thronging with vague
fears, leaving Magnus before his office desk, his head in his
hands, thoughtful, gloomy, assaulted by forebodings.
Meanwhile, Annixter, Phelps, and Presley continued on their way
toward Bonneville. In a short time they had turned into the
County Road by the great watering-tank, and proceeded onward in
the shade of the interminable line of poplar trees, the wind-
break that stretched along the roadside bordering the Broderson
ranch. But as they drew near to Caraher's saloon and grocery,
about half a mile outside of Bonneville, they recognised Harran's
horse tied to the railing in front of it. Annixter left the
others and went in to see Harran.
"Harran," he said, when the two had sat down on either side of
one of the small tables, "you've got to make up your mind one way
or another pretty soon. What are you going to do? Are you going
to stand by and see the rest of the Committee spending money by
the bucketful in this thing and keep your hands in your pockets?
If we win, you'll benefit just as much as the rest of us. I
suppose you've got some money of your own--you have, haven't you?
You are your father's manager, aren't you?"
Disconcerted at Annixter's directness, Harran stammered an
"It's hard to know just what to do. It's a mean position for me,
Buck. I want to help you others, but I do want to play fair. I
don't know how to play any other way. I should like to have a
line from the Governor as to how to act, but there's no getting a
word out of him these days. He seems to want to let me decide
for myself ."
"Well, look here," put in Annixter. "Suppose you keep out of the
thing till it's all over, and then share and share alike with the
Committee on campaign expenses."
Harran fell thoughtful, his hands in his pockets, frowning
moodily at the toe of his boot. There was a silence. Then:
"I don't like to go it blind," he hazarded. "I'm sort of sharing
the responsibility of what you do, then. I'm a silent partner.
And, then--I don't want to have any difficulties with the
Governor. We've always got along well together. He wouldn't
like it, you know, if I did anything like that."
"Say," exclaimed Annixter abruptly, "if the Governor says he will
keep his hands off, and that you can do as you please, will you
come in? For God's sake, let us ranchers act together for once.
Let's stand in with each other in ONE fight."
Without knowing it, Annixter had touched the right spring.
"I don't know but what you're right," Harran murmured vaguely.
His sense of discouragement, that feeling of what's-the-use, was
never more oppressive. All fair means had been tried. The wheat
grower was at last with his back to the wall. If he chose his
own means of fighting, the responsibility must rest upon his
enemies, not on himself.
"It's the only way to accomplish anything," he continued,
"standing in with each other . . . well, . . . go ahead and see
what you can do. If the Governor is willing, I'll come in for my
share of the campaign fund."
"That's some sense," exclaimed Annixter, shaking him by the hand.
"Half the fight is over already. We've got Disbrow you know; and
the next thing is to get hold of some of those rotten San
Francisco bosses. Osterman will----" But Harran interrupted him,
making a quick gesture with his hand.
"Don't tell me about it," he said. "I don't want to know what
you and Osterman are going to do. If I did, I shouldn't come
Yet, for all this, before they said good-bye Annixter had
obtained Harran's promise that he would attend the next meeting
of the Committee, when Osterman should return from Los Angeles
and make his report. Harran went on toward Los Muertos.
Annixter mounted and rode into Bonneville.
Bonneville was very lively at all times. It was a little city of
some twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, where, as yet, the
city hall, the high school building, and the opera house were
objects of civic pride. It was well governed, beautifully clean,
full of the energy and strenuous young life of a new city. An
air of the briskest activity pervaded its streets and sidewalks.
The business portion of the town, centring about Main Street, was
always crowded. Annixter, arriving at the Post Office, found
himself involved in a scene of swiftly shifting sights and
sounds. Saddle horses, farm wagons--the inevitable Studebakers--
buggies grey with the dust of country roads, buckboards with
squashes and grocery packages stowed under the seat, two-wheeled
sulkies and training carts, were hitched to the gnawed railings
and zinc-sheathed telegraph poles along the curb. Here and
there, on the edge of the sidewalk, were bicycles, wedged into
bicycle racks painted with cigar advertisements. Upon the
asphalt sidewalk itself, soft and sticky with the morning's heat,
was a continuous movement. Men with large stomachs, wearing
linen coats but no vests, laboured ponderously up and down.
Girls in lawn skirts, shirt waists, and garden hats, went to and
fro, invariably in couples, coming in and out of the drug store,
the grocery store, and haberdasher's, or lingering in front of
the Post Office, which was on a corner under the I.O.O.F. hall.
Young men, in shirt sleeves, with brown, wicker cuff-protectors
over their forearms, and pencils behind their ears, bustled in
front of the grocery store, anxious and preoccupied. A very old
man, a Mexican, in ragged white trousers and bare feet, sat on a
horse-block in front of the barber shop, holding a horse by a
rope around its neck. A Chinaman went by, teetering under the
weight of his market baskets slung on a pole across his
shoulders. In the neighbourhood of the hotel, the Yosemite
House, travelling salesmen, drummers for jewelry firms of San
Francisco, commercial agents, insurance men, well- dressed,
metropolitan, debonair, stood about cracking jokes, or hurried in
and out of the flapping white doors of the Yosemite barroom. The
Yosemite 'bus and City 'bus passed up the street, on the way from
the morning train, each with its two or three passengers. A very
narrow wagon, belonging to the Cole & Colemore Harvester Works,
went by, loaded with long strips of iron that made a horrible din
as they jarred over the unevenness of the pavement. The electric
car line, the city's boast, did a brisk business, its cars
whirring from end to end of the street, with a jangling of bells
and a moaning plaint of gearing. On the stone bulkheads of the
grass plat around the new City Hall, the usual loafers sat,
chewing tobacco, swapping stories. In the park were the
inevitable array of nursemaids, skylarking couples, and ragged
little boys. A single policeman, in grey coat and helmet, friend
and acquaintance of every man and woman in the town, stood by the
park entrance, leaning an elbow on the fence post, twirling his
But in the centre of the best business block of the street was a
three-story building of rough brown stone, set off with plate
glass windows and gold-lettered signs. One of these latter read,
"Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, Freight and Passenger
Office," while another much smaller, beneath the windows of the
second story bore the inscription, "P. and S. W. Land Office."
Annixter hitched his horse to the iron post in front of this
building, and tramped up to the second floor, letting himself
into an office where a couple of clerks and bookkeepers sat at
work behind a high wire screen. One of these latter recognised
him and came forward.
"Hello," said Annixter abruptly, scowling the while. "Is your
boss in? Is Ruggles in?"
The bookkeeper led Annixter to the private office in an adjoining
room, ushering him through a door, on the frosted glass of which
was painted the name, "Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles." Inside, a man in
a frock coat, shoestring necktie, and Stetson hat, sat writing at
a roller-top desk. Over this desk was a vast map of the railroad
holdings in the country about Bonneville and Guadalajara, the
alternate sections belonging to the Corporation accurately
Ruggles was cordial in his welcome of Annixter. He had a way of
fiddling with his pencil continually while he talked, scribbling
vague lines and fragments of words and names on stray bits of
paper, and no sooner had Annixter sat down than he had begun to
write, in full-bellied script, ANN ANN all over his blotting pad.
"I want to see about those lands of mine--I mean of yours--of the
railroad's," Annixter commenced at once. "I want to know when I
can buy. I'm sick of fooling along like this."
"Well, Mr. Annixter," observed Ruggles, writing a great L before
the ANN, and finishing it off with a flourishing D. "The lands"--
he crossed out one of the N's and noted the effect with a hasty
glance--"the lands are practically yours. You have an option on
them indefinitely, and, as it is, you don't have to pay the
"Rot your option! I want to own them," Annixter declared. "What
have you people got to gain by putting off selling them to us.
Here this thing has dragged along for over eight years. When I
came in on Quien Sabe, the understanding was that the lands--your
alternate sections--were to be conveyed to me within a few
"The land had not been patented to us then," answered Ruggles.
"Well, it has been now, I guess," retorted Annixter.
"I'm sure I couldn't tell you, Mr. Annixter."
Annixter crossed his legs weariedly.
"Oh, what's the good of lying, Ruggles? You know better than to
talk that way to me."
Ruggles's face flushed on the instant, but he checked his answer
and laughed instead.
"Oh, if you know so much about it--" he observed.
"Well, when are you going to sell to me?"
"I'm only acting for the General Office, Mr. Annixter," returned
Ruggles. "Whenever the Directors are ready to take that matter
up, I'll be only too glad to put it through for you."
"As if you didn't know. Look here, you're not talking to old
Broderson. Wake up, Ruggles. What's all this talk in
Genslinger's rag about the grading of the value of our lands this
winter and an advance in the price?"
Ruggles spread out his hands with a deprecatory gesture.
"I don't own the 'Mercury,'" he said.
"Well, your company does."
"If it does, I don't know anything about it."
"Oh, rot! As if you and Genslinger and S. Behrman didn't run the
whole show down here. Come on, let's have it, Ruggles. What
does S. Behrman pay Genslinger for inserting that three-inch ad.
of the P. and S. W. in his paper? Ten thousand a year, hey?"
"Oh, why not a hundred thousand and be done with it?" returned
the other, willing to take it as a joke.
Instead of replying, Annixter drew his check-book from his inside
"Let me take that fountain pen of yours," he said. Holding the
book on his knee he wrote out a check, tore it carefully from the
stub, and laid it on the desk in front of Ruggles.
"What's this?" asked Ruggles.
"Three-fourths payment for the sections of railroad land included
in my ranch, based on a valuation of two dollars and a half per
acre. You can have the balance in sixty-day notes."
Ruggles shook his head, drawing hastily back from the check as
though it carried contamination.
"I can't touch it," he declared. "I've no authority to sell to
"I don't understand you people," exclaimed Annixter. "I offered
to buy of you the same way four years ago and you sang the same
song. Why, it isn't business. You lose the interest on your
money. Seven per cent. of that capital for four years--you can
figure it out. It's big money."
"Well, then, I don't see why you're so keen on parting with it.
You can get seven per cent. the same as us."
"I want to own my own land," returned Annixter. "I want to feel
that every lump of dirt inside my fence is my personal property.
Why, the very house I live in now--the ranch house--stands on
"But, you've an option"
"I tell you I don't want your cursed option. I want ownership;
and it's the same with Magnus Derrick and old Broderson and
Osterman and all the ranchers of the county. We want to own our
land, want to feel we can do as we blame please with it. Suppose
I should want to sell Quien Sabe. I can't sell it as a whole
till I've bought of you. I can't give anybody a clear title.
The land has doubled in value ten times over again since I came
in on it and improved it. It's worth easily twenty an acre now.
But I can't take advantage of that rise in value so long as you
won't sell, so long as I don't own it. You're blocking me."
"But, according to you, the railroad can't take advantage of the
rise in any case. According to you, you can sell for twenty
dollars, but we can only get two and a half."
"Who made it worth twenty?" cried Annixter. "I've improved it up
to that figure. Genslinger seems to have that idea in his nut,
too. Do you people think you can hold that land, untaxed, for
speculative purposes until it goes up to thirty dollars and then
sell out to some one else--sell it over our heads? You and
Genslinger weren't in office when those contracts were drawn.
You ask your boss, you ask S. Behrman, he knows. The General
Office is pledged to sell to us in preference to any one else,
for two and a half."
"Well," observed Ruggles decidedly, tapping the end of his pencil
on his desk and leaning forward to emphasise his words, "we're
not selling NOW. That's said and signed, Mr. Annixter."
"Why not? Come, spit it out. What's the bunco game this time?"
"Because we're not ready. Here's your check."
"You won't take it?"
"I'll make it a cash payment, money down--the whole of it--
payable to Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles, for the P. and S. W."
"Third and last time."
"Oh, go to the devil!"
"I don't like your tone, Mr. Annixter," returned Ruggles,
flushing angrily. "I don't give a curse whether you like it or
not," retorted Annixter, rising and thrusting the check into his
pocket, "but never you mind, Mr. Ruggles, you and S. Behrman and
Genslinger and Shelgrim and the whole gang of thieves of you--
you'll wake this State of California up some of these days by
going just one little bit too far, and there'll be an election of
Railroad Commissioners of, by, and for the people, that'll get a
twist of you, my bunco-steering friend--you and your backers and
cappers and swindlers and thimble-riggers, and smash you, lock,
stock, and barrel. That's my tip to you and be damned to you,
Mr. Cyrus Blackleg Ruggles."
Annixter stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him,
and Ruggles, trembling with anger, turned to his desk and to the
blotting pad written all over with the words LANDS, TWENTY
DOLLARS, TWO AND A HALF, OPTION, and, over and over again, with
great swelling curves and flourishes, RAILROAD, RAILROAD,
But as Annixter passed into the outside office, on the other side
of the wire partition he noted the figure of a man at the counter
in conversation with one of the clerks. There was something
familiar to Annixter's eye about the man's heavy built frame, his
great shoulders and massive back, and as he spoke to the clerk in
a tremendous, rumbling voice, Annixter promptly recognised Dyke.
There was a meeting. Annixter liked Dyke, as did every one else
in and about Bonneville. He paused now to shake hands with the
discharged engineer and to ask about his little daughter, Sidney,
to whom he knew Dyke was devotedly attached.
"Smartest little tad in Tulare County," asserted Dyke. "She's
getting prettier every day, Mr. Annixter. THERE'S a little tad
that was just born to be a lady. Can recite the whole of 'Snow
Bound' without ever stopping. You don't believe that, maybe,
hey? Well, it's true. She'll be just old enough to enter the
Seminary up at Marysville next winter, and if my hop business
pays two per cent. on the investment, there's where she's going
"How's it coming on?" inquired Annixter.
"The hop ranch? Prime. I've about got the land in shape, and
I've engaged a foreman who knows all about hops. I've been in
luck. Everybody will go into the business next year when they
see hops go to a dollar, and they'll overstock the market and
bust the price. But I'm going to get the cream of it now. I say
two per cent. Why, Lord love you, it will pay a good deal more
than that. It's got to. It's cost more than I figured to start
the thing, so, perhaps, I may have to borrow somewheres; but then
on such a sure game as this--and I do want to make something out
of that little tad of mine."
"Through here?" inquired Annixter, making ready to move off.
"In just a minute," answered Dyke. "Wait for me and I'll walk
down the street with you."
Annixter grumbled that he was in a hurry, but waited,
nevertheless, while Dyke again approached the clerk.
"I shall want some empty cars of you people this fall," he
explained. "I'm a hop-raiser now, and I just want to make sure
what your rates on hops are. I've been told, but I want to make
sure. Savvy?" There was a long delay while the clerk consulted
the tariff schedules, and Annixter fretted impatiently. Dyke,
growing uneasy, leaned heavily on his elbows, watching the clerk
anxiously. If the tariff was exorbitant, he saw his plans
brought to naught, his money jeopardised, the little tad, Sidney,
deprived of her education. He began to blame himself that he had
not long before determined definitely what the railroad would
charge for moving his hops. He told himself he was not much of a
business man; that he managed carelessly.
"Two cents," suddenly announced the clerk with a certain surly
"Two cents a pound?"
"Yes, two cents a pound--that's in car-load lots, of course. I
won't give you that rate on smaller consignments."
"Yes, car-load lots, of course . . . two cents. Well, all
He turned away with a great sigh of relief.
"He sure did have me scared for a minute," he said to Annixter,
as the two went down to the street, "fiddling and fussing so
long. Two cents is all right, though. Seems fair to me. That
fiddling of his was all put on. I know 'em, these railroad
heelers. He knew I was a discharged employee first off, and he
played the game just to make me seem small because I had to ask
favours of him. I don't suppose the General Office tips its
slavees off to act like swine, but there's the feeling through
the whole herd of them. 'Ye got to come to us. We let ye live
only so long as we choose, and what are ye going to do about it?
If ye don't like it, git out.'"
Annixter and the engineer descended to the street and had a drink
at the Yosemite bar, and Annixter went into the General Store
while Dyke bought a little pair of red slippers for Sidney.
Before the salesman had wrapped them up, Dyke slipped a dime into
the toe of each with a wink at Annixter.
"Let the little tad find 'em there," he said behind his hand in a
hoarse whisper. "That'll be one on Sid."
"Where to now?" demanded Annixter as they regained the street.
"I'm going down to the Post Office and then pull out for the
ranch. Going my way?"
Dyke hesitated in some confusion, tugging at the ends of his fine
"No, no. I guess I'll leave you here. I've got--got other
things to do up the street. So long."
The two separated, and Annixter hurried through the crowd to the
Post Office, but the mail that had come in on that morning's
train was unusually heavy. It was nearly half an hour before it
was distributed. Naturally enough, Annixter placed all the blame
of the delay upon the railroad, and delivered himself of some
pointed remarks in the midst of the waiting crowd. He was
irritated to the last degree when he finally emerged upon the
sidewalk again, cramming his mail into his pockets. One cause of
his bad temper was the fact that in the bundle of Quien Sabe
letters was one to Hilma Tree in a man's handwriting.
"Huh!" Annixter had growled to himself, "that pip Delaney. Seems
now that I'm to act as go-between for 'em. Well, maybe that
feemale girl gets this letter, and then, again, maybe she don't."
But suddenly his attention was diverted. Directly opposite the
Post Office, upon the corner of the street, stood quite the best
business building of which Bonneville could boast. It was built
of Colusa granite, very solid, ornate, imposing. Upon the heavy
plate of the window of its main floor, in gold and red letters,
one read the words: "Loan and Savings Bank of Tulare County." It
was of this bank that S. Behrman was president. At the street
entrance of the building was a curved sign of polished brass,
fixed upon the angle of the masonry; this sign bore the name, "S.
Behrman," and under it in smaller letters were the words, "Real
As Annixter's glance fell upon this building, he was surprised to
see Dyke standing upon the curb in front of it, apparently
reading from a newspaper that he held in his hand. But Annixter
promptly discovered that he was not reading at all. From time to
time the former engineer shot a swift glance out of the corner of
his eye up and down the street. Annixter jumped at a conclusion.
An idea suddenly occurred to him. Dyke was watching to see if he
was observed--was waiting an opportunity when no one who knew him
should be in sight. Annixter stepped back a little, getting a
telegraph pole somewhat between him and the other. Very
interested, he watched what was going on. Pretty soon Dyke
thrust the paper into his pocket and sauntered slowly to the
windows of a stationery store, next the street entrance of S.
Behrman's offices. For a few seconds he stood there, his back
turned, seemingly absorbed in the display, but eyeing the street
narrowly nevertheless; then he turned around, gave a last look
about and stepped swiftly into the doorway by the great brass
sign. He disappeared. Annixter came from behind the telegraph
pole with a flush of actual shame upon his face. There had been
something so slinking, so mean, in the movements and manner of
this great, burly honest fellow of an engineer, that he could not
help but feel ashamed for him. Circumstances were such that a
simple business transaction was to Dyke almost culpable, a
degradation, a thing to be concealed.
"Borrowing money of S. Behrman," commented Annixter, "mortgaging
your little homestead to the railroad, putting your neck in the
halter. Poor fool! The pity of it. Good Lord, your hops must
pay you big, now, old man."
Annixter lunched at the Yosemite Hotel, and then later on, toward
the middle of the afternoon, rode out of the town at a canter by
the way of the Upper Road that paralleled the railroad tracks and
that ran diametrically straight between Bonneville and
Guadalajara. About half-way between the two places he overtook
Father Sarria trudging back to San Juan, his long cassock
powdered with dust. He had a wicker crate in one hand, and in
the other, in a small square valise, the materials for the Holy
Sacrament. Since early morning the priest had covered nearly
fifteen miles on foot, in order to administer Extreme Unction to
a moribund good-for-nothing, a greaser, half Indian, half
Portuguese, who lived in a remote corner of Osterman's stock
range, at the head of a canon there. But he had returned by way
of Bonneville to get a crate that had come for him from San
Diego. He had been notified of its arrival the day before.
Annixter pulled up and passed the time of day with the priest.
"I don't often get up your way," he said, slowing down his horse
to accommodate Sarria's deliberate plodding. Sarria wiped the
perspiration from his smooth, shiny face .
"You? Well, with you it is different," he answered. "But there
are a great many Catholics in the county--some on your ranch.
And so few come to the Mission. At High Mass on Sundays, there
are a few--Mexicans and Spaniards from Guadalajara mostly; but
weekdays, for matins, vespers, and the like, I often say the
offices to an empty church--'the voice of one crying in the
wilderness.' You Americans are not good churchmen. Sundays you
sleep--you read the newspapers."
"Well, there's Vanamee," observed Annixter. "I suppose he's
there early and late."
Sarria made a sharp movement of interest.
"Ah, Vanamee--a strange lad; a wonderful character, for all that.
If there were only more like him. I am troubled about him. You
know I am a very owl at night. I come and go about the Mission
at all hours. Within the week, three times I have seen Vanamee
in the little garden by the Mission, and at the dead of night.
He had come without asking for me. He did not see me. It was
strange. Once, when I had got up at dawn to ring for early
matins, I saw him stealing away out of the garden. He must have
been there all the night. He is acting queerly. He is pale; his
cheeks are more sunken than ever. There is something wrong with
him. I can't make it out. It is a mystery. Suppose you ask
"Not I. I've enough to bother myself about. Vanamee is crazy in
the head. Some morning he will turn up missing again, and drop
out of sight for another three years. Best let him alone,
Sarria. He's a crank. How is that greaser of yours up on
Osterman's stock range?"
"Ah, the poor fellow--the poor fellow," returned the other, the
tears coming to his eyes. "He died this morning--as you might
say, in my arms, painfully, but in the faith, in the faith. A
"A lazy, cattle-stealing, knife-in-his-boot Dago."
"You misjudge him. A really good fellow on better acquaintance."
Annixter grunted scornfully. Sarria's kindness and good-will
toward the most outrageous reprobates of the ranches was
proverbial. He practically supported some half-dozen families
that lived in forgotten cabins, lost and all but inaccessible, in
the far corners of stock range and canyon. This particular
greaser was the laziest, the dirtiest, the most worthless of the
lot. But in Sarria's mind, the lout was an object of affection,
sincere, unquestioning. Thrice a week the priest, with a basket
of provisions--cold ham, a bottle of wine, olives, loaves of
bread, even a chicken or two--toiled over the interminable
stretch of country between the Mission and his cabin. Of late,
during the rascal's sickness, these visits had been almost daily.
Hardly once did the priest leave the bedside that he did not slip
a half-dollar into the palm of his wife or oldest daughter. And
this was but one case out of many.
His kindliness toward animals was the same. A horde of mange-
corroded curs lived off his bounty, wolfish, ungrateful, often
marking him with their teeth, yet never knowing the meaning of a
harsh word. A burro, over-fed, lazy, incorrigible, browsed on
the hill back of the Mission, obstinately refusing to be
harnessed to Sarria's little cart, squealing and biting whenever
the attempt was made; and the priest suffered him, submitting to
his humour, inventing excuses for him, alleging that the burro
was foundered, or was in need of shoes, or was feeble from
extreme age. The two peacocks, magnificent, proud, cold-hearted,
resenting all familiarity, he served with the timorous,
apologetic affection of a queen's lady-in-waiting, resigned to
their disdain, happy if only they condescended to enjoy the grain
he spread for them.
At the Long Trestle, Annixter and the priest left the road and
took the trail that crossed Broderson Creek by the clumps of
grey-green willows and led across Quien Sabe to the ranch house,
and to the Mission farther on. They were obliged to proceed in
single file here, and Annixter, who had allowed the priest to go
in front, promptly took notice of the wicker basket he carried.
Upon his inquiry, Sarria became confused. "It was a basket that
he had had sent down to him from the city."
"Well, I know--but what's in it?"
"Why--I'm sure--ah, poultry--a chicken or two."
"Yes, yes, that's it, a fancy breed." At the ranch house, where
they arrived toward five o'clock, Annixter insisted that the
priest should stop long enough for a glass of sherry. Sarria
left the basket and his small black valise at the foot of the
porch steps, and sat down in a rocker on the porch itself,
fanning himself with his broad-brimmed hat, and shaking the dust
from his cassock. Annixter brought out the decanter of sherry
and glasses, and the two drank to each other's health.
But as the priest set down his glass, wiping his lips with a
murmur of satisfaction, the decrepit Irish setter that had
attached himself to Annixter's house came out from underneath the
porch, and nosed vigorously about the wicker basket. He upset
it. The little peg holding down the cover slipped, the basket
fell sideways, opening as it fell, and a cock, his head enclosed
in a little chamois bag such as are used for gold watches,
struggled blindly out into the open air. A second, similarly
hooded, followed. The pair, stupefied in their headgear, stood
rigid and bewildered in their tracks, clucking uneasily. Their
tails were closely sheared. Their legs, thickly muscled, and
extraordinarily long, were furnished with enormous cruel-looking
spurs. The breed was unmistakable. Annixter looked once at the
pair, then shouted with laughter.
"'Poultry'--'a chicken or two'--'fancy breed'--ho! yes, I should
think so. Game cocks! Fighting cocks! Oh, you old rat! You'll
be a dry nurse to a burro, and keep a hospital for infirm
puppies, but you will fight game cocks. Oh, Lord! Why, Sarria,
this is as good a grind as I ever heard. There's the Spanish
cropping out, after all."
Speechless with chagrin, the priest bundled the cocks into the
basket and catching up the valise, took himself abruptly away,
almost running till he had put himself out of hearing of
Annixter's raillery. And even ten minutes later, when Annixter,
still chuckling, stood upon the porch steps, he saw the priest,
far in the distance, climbing the slope of the high ground, in
the direction of the Mission, still hurrying on at a great pace,
his cassock flapping behind him, his head bent; to Annixter's
notion the very picture of discomfiture and confusion.
As Annixter turned about to reenter the house, he found himself
almost face to face with Hilma Tree. She was just going in at
the doorway, and a great flame of the sunset, shooting in under
the eaves of the porch, enveloped her from her head, with its
thick, moist hair that hung low over her neck, to her slim feet,
setting a golden flash in the little steel buckles of her low
shoes. She had come to set the table for Annixter's supper.
Taken all aback by the suddenness of the encounter, Annixter
ejaculated an abrupt and senseless, "Excuse me." But Hilma,
without raising her eyes, passed on unmoved into the dining-room,
leaving Annixter trying to find his breath, and fumbling with the
brim of his hat, that he was surprised to find he had taken from
his head. Resolutely, and taking a quick advantage of his
opportunity, he followed her into the dining-room.
"I see that dog has turned up," he announced with brisk
cheerfulness. "That Irish setter I was asking about."
Hilma, a swift, pink flush deepening the delicate rose of her
cheeks, did not reply, except by nodding her head. She flung the
table-cloth out from under her arms across the table, spreading
it smooth, with quick little caresses of her hands. There was a
moment's silence. Then Annixter said:
"Here's a letter for you." He laid it down on the table near
her, and Hilma picked it up. "And see here, Miss Hilma,"
Annixter continued, "about that--this morning--I suppose you
think I am a first-class mucker. If it will do any good to
apologise, why, I will. I want to be friends with you. I made a
bad mistake, and started in the wrong way. I don't know much
about women people. I want you to forget about that--this
morning, and not think I am a galoot and a mucker. Will you do
it? Will you be friends with me?"
Hilma set the plate and coffee cup by Annixter's place before
answering, and Annixter repeated his question. Then she drew a
deep, quick breath, the flush in her cheeks returning.
"I think it was--it was so wrong of you," she murmured. "Oh!
you don't know how it hurt me. I cried--oh, for an hour."
"Well, that's just it," returned Annixter vaguely, moving his
head uneasily. "I didn't know what kind of a girl you were--I
mean, I made a mistake. I thought it didn't make much
difference. I thought all feemales were about alike."
"I hope you know now," murmured Hilma ruefully. "I've paid
enough to have you find out. I cried--you don't know. Why, it
hurt me worse than anything I can remember. I hope you know
"Well, I do know now," he exclaimed.
"It wasn't so much that you tried to do--what you did," answered
Hilma, the single deep swell from her waist to her throat rising
and falling in her emotion. "It was that you thought that you
could--that anybody could that wanted to--that I held myself so
cheap. Oh!" she cried, with a sudden sobbing catch in her
throat, "I never can forget it, and you don't know what it means
to a girl."
"Well, that's just what I do want," he repeated. "I want you to
forget it and have us be good friends."
In his embarrassment, Annixter could think of no other words. He
kept reiterating again and again during the pauses of the
"I want you to forget it. Will you? Will you forget it--that--
this morning, and have us be good friends?"
He could see that her trouble was keen. He was astonished that
the matter should be so grave in her estimation. After all, what
was it that a girl should be kissed? But he wanted to regain his
"Will you forget it, Miss Hilma? I want you to like me."
She took a clean napkin from the sideboard drawer and laid it
down by the plate.
"I--I do want you to like me," persisted Annixter. "I want you
to forget all about this business and like me."
Hilma was silent. Annixter saw the tears in her eyes.
"How about that? Will you forget it? Will you--will--will you
She shook her head.
"No," she said.
"No what? You won't like me? Is that it?"
Hilma, blinking at the napkin through her tears, nodded to say,
Yes, that was it. Annixter hesitated a moment, frowning,
harassed and perplexed.
"You don't like me at all, hey?"
At length Hilma found her speech. In her low voice, lower and
more velvety than ever, she said:
"No--I don't like you at all."
Then, as the tears suddenly overpowered her, she dashed a hand
across her eyes, and ran from the room and out of doors.
Annixter stood for a moment thoughtful, his protruding lower lip
thrust out, his hands in his pocket.
"I suppose she'll quit now," he muttered. "Suppose she'll leave
the ranch--if she hates me like that. Well, she can go--that's
all--she can go. Fool feemale girl," he muttered between his
teeth, "petticoat mess."
He was about to sit down to his supper when his eye fell upon the
Irish setter, on his haunches in the doorway. There was an
expectant, ingratiating look on the dog's face. No doubt, he
suspected it was time for eating.
"Get out--YOU!" roared Annixter in a tempest of wrath.
The dog slunk back, his tail shut down close, his ears drooping,
but instead of running away, he lay down and rolled supinely upon
his back, the very image of submission, tame, abject, disgusting.
It was the one thing to drive Annixter to a fury. He kicked the
dog off the porch in a rolling explosion of oaths, and flung
himself down to his seat before the table, fuming and panting.
"Damn the dog and the girl and the whole rotten business--and
now," he exclaimed, as a sudden fancied qualm arose in his
stomach, "now, it's all made me sick. Might have known it. Oh,
it only lacked that to wind up the whole day. Let her go, I
don't care, and the sooner the better."
He countermanded the supper and went to bed before it was dark,
lighting his lamp, on the chair near the head of the bed, and
opening his "Copperfield" at the place marked by the strip of
paper torn from the bag of prunes. For upward of an hour he read
the novel, methodically swallowing one prune every time he
reached the bottom of a page. About nine o'clock he blew out the
lamp and, punching up his pillow, settled himself for the night.
Then, as his mind relaxed in that strange, hypnotic condition
that comes just before sleep, a series of pictures of the day's
doings passed before his imagination like the roll of a
First, it was Hilma Tree, as he had seen her in the dairy-house--
charming, delicious, radiant of youth, her thick, white neck with
its pale amber shadows under the chin; her wide, open eyes rimmed
with fine, black lashes; the deep swell of her breast and hips,
the delicate, lustrous floss on her cheek, impalpable as the
pollen of a flower. He saw her standing there in the
scintillating light of the morning, her smooth arms wet with
milk, redolent and fragrant of milk, her whole, desirable figure
moving in the golden glory of the sun, steeped in a lambent
flame, saturated with it, glowing with it, joyous as the dawn
Then it was Los Muertos and Hooven, the sordid little Dutchman,
grimed with the soil he worked in, yet vividly remembering a
period of military glory, exciting himself with recollections of
Gravelotte and the Kaiser, but contented now in the country of
his adoption, defining the Fatherland as the place where wife and
children lived. Then came the ranch house of Los Muertos, under
the grove of cypress and eucalyptus, with its smooth, gravelled
driveway and well-groomed lawns; Mrs. Derrick with her wide-
opened eyes, that so easily took on a look of uneasiness, of
innocence, of anxious inquiry, her face still pretty, her brown
hair that still retained so much of its brightness spread over
her chair back, drying in the sun; Magnus, erect as an officer of
cavalry, smooth-shaven, grey, thin-lipped, imposing, with his
hawk-like nose and forward-curling grey hair; Presley with his
dark face, delicate mouth and sensitive, loose lips, in corduroys
and laced boots, smoking cigarettes--an interesting figure,
suggestive of a mixed origin, morbid, excitable, melancholy,
brooding upon things that had no names. Then it was Bonneville,
with the gayety and confusion of Main Street, the whirring
electric cars, the zinc-sheathed telegraph poles, the buckboards
with squashes stowed under the seats; Ruggles in frock coat,
Stetson hat and shoe-string necktie, writing abstractedly upon
his blotting pad; Dyke, the engineer, big-boned. Powerful, deep-
voiced, good-natured, with his fine blonde beard and massive
arms, rehearsing the praises of his little daughter Sidney,
guided only by the one ambition that she should be educated at a
seminary, slipping a dime into the toe of her diminutive slipper,
then, later, overwhelmed with shame, slinking into S. Behrman's
office to mortgage his homestead to the heeler of the corporation
that had discharged him. By suggestion, Annixter saw S. Behrman,
too, fat, with a vast stomach, the check and neck meeting to form
a great, tremulous jowl, the roll of fat over his collar,
sprinkled with sparse, stiff hairs; saw his brown, round-topped
hat of varnished straw, the linen vest stamped with innumerable
interlocked horseshoes, the heavy watch chain, clinking against
the pearl vest buttons; invariably placid, unruffled, never
losing his temper, serene, unassailable, enthroned.
Then, at the end of all, it was the ranch again, seen in a last
brief glance before he had gone to bed; the fecundated earth,
calm at last, nursing the emplanted germ of life, ruddy with the
sunset, the horizons purple, the small clamour of the day lapsing
into quiet, the great, still twilight, building itself, dome-
like, toward the zenith. The barn fowls were roosting in the
trees near the stable, the horses crunching their fodder in the
stalls, the day's work ceasing by slow degrees; and the priest,
the Spanish churchman, Father Sarria, relic of a departed regime,
kindly, benign, believing in all goodness, a lover of his fellows
and of dumb animals, yet, for all that, hurrying away in
confusion and discomfiture, carrying in one hand the vessels of
the Holy Communion and in the other a basket of game cocks.
It was high noon, and the rays of the sun, that hung poised
directly overhead in an intolerable white glory, fell straight as
plummets upon the roofs and streets of Guadalajara. The adobe
walls and sparse brick sidewalks of the drowsing town radiated
the heat in an oily, quivering shimmer. The leaves of the
eucalyptus trees around the Plaza drooped motionless, limp and
relaxed under the scorching, searching blaze. The shadows of
these trees had shrunk to their smallest circumference,
contracting close about the trunks. The shade had dwindled to
the breadth of a mere line. The sun was everywhere. The heat
exhaling from brick and plaster and metal met the heat that
steadily descended blanketwise and smothering, from the pale,
scorched sky. Only the lizards--they lived in chinks of the
crumbling adobe and in interstices of the sidewalk--remained
without, motionless, as if stuffed, their eyes closed to mere
slits, basking, stupefied with heat. At long intervals the
prolonged drone of an insect developed out of the silence,
vibrated a moment in a soothing, somnolent, long note, then
trailed slowly into the quiet again. Somewhere in the interior
of one of the 'dobe houses a guitar snored and hummed sleepily.
On the roof of the hotel a group of pigeons cooed incessantly
with subdued, liquid murmurs, very plaintive; a cat, perfectly
white, with a pink nose and thin, pink lips, dozed complacently
on a fence rail, full in the sun. In a corner of the Plaza three
hens wallowed in the baking hot dust their wings fluttering,
And this was all. A Sunday repose prevailed the whole moribund
town, peaceful, profound. A certain pleasing numbness, a sense
of grateful enervation exhaled from the scorching plaster. There
was no movement, no sound of human business. The faint hum of
the insect, the intermittent murmur of the guitar, the mellow
complainings of the pigeons, the prolonged purr of the white cat,
the contented clucking of the hens--all these noises mingled
together to form a faint, drowsy bourdon, prolonged, stupefying,
suggestive of an infinite quiet, of a calm, complacent life,
centuries old, lapsing gradually to its end under the gorgeous
loneliness of a cloudless, pale blue sky and the steady fire of
an interminable sun.
In Solotari's Spanish-Mexican restaurant, Vanamee and Presley sat
opposite each other at one of the tables near the door, a bottle
of white wine, tortillas, and an earthen pot of frijoles between
them. They were the sole occupants of the place. It was the day
that Annixter had chosen for his barn-dance and, in consequence,
Quien Sabe was in fete and work suspended. Presley and Vanamee
had arranged to spend the day in each other's company, lunching
at Solotari's and taking a long tramp in the afternoon. For the
moment they sat back in their chairs, their meal all but
finished. Solotari brought black coffee and a small carafe of
mescal, and retiring to a corner of the room, went to sleep.
All through the meal Presley had been wondering over a certain
change he observed in his friend. He looked at him again.
Vanamee's lean, spare face was of an olive pallor. His long,
black hair, such as one sees in the saints and evangelists of the
pre-Raphaelite artists, hung over his ears. Presley again
remarked his pointed beard, black and fine, growing from the
hollow cheeks. He looked at his face, a face like that of a
young seer, like a half-inspired shepherd of the Hebraic legends,
a dweller in the wilderness, gifted with strange powers. He was
dressed as when Presley had first met him, herding his sheep, in
brown canvas overalls, thrust into top boots; grey flannel shirt,
open at the throat, showing the breast ruddy with tan; the waist
encircled with a cartridge belt, empty of cartridges.
But now, as Presley took more careful note of him, he was
surprised to observe a certain new look in Vanamee's deep-set
eyes. He remembered now that all through the morning Vanamee had
been singularly reserved. He was continually drifting into
reveries, abstracted, distrait. Indubitably, something of moment
At length Vanamee spoke. Leaning back in his chair, his thumbs
in his belt, his bearded chin upon his breast, his voice was the
even monotone of one speaking in his sleep.
He told Presley in a few words what had happened during the first
night he had spent in the garden of the old Mission, of the
Answer, half-fancied, half-real, that had come to him.
"To no other person but you would I speak of this," he said, "but
you, I think, will understand--will be sympathetic, at least, and
I feel the need of unburdening myself of it to some one. At
first I would not trust my own senses. I was sure I had deceived
myself, but on a second night it happened again. Then I was
afraid--or no, not afraid, but disturbed--oh, shaken to my very
heart's core. I resolved to go no further in the matter, never
again to put it to test. For a long time I stayed away from the
Mission, occupying myself with my work, keeping it out of my
mind. But the temptation was too strong. One night I found
myself there again, under the black shadow of the pear trees
calling for Angele, summoning her from out the dark, from out the
night. This time the Answer was prompt, unmistakable. I cannot
explain to you what it was, nor how it came to me, for there was
no sound. I saw absolutely nothing but the empty night. There
was no moon. But somewhere off there over the little valley, far
off, the darkness was troubled; that ME that went out upon my
thought--out from the Mission garden, out over the valley,
calling for her, searching for her, found, I don't know what, but
found a resting place--a companion. Three times since then I
have gone to the Mission garden at night. Last night was the
He paused, his eyes shining with excitement. Presley leaned
forward toward him, motionless with intense absorption.
"Well--and last night," he prompted.
Vanamee stirred in his seat, his glance fell, he drummed an
instant upon the table.
"Last night," he answered, "there was--there was a change. The
Answer was--" he drew a deep breath--"nearer."
"You are sure?"
The other smiled with absolute certainty.
"It was not that I found the Answer sooner, easier. I could not
be mistaken. No, that which has troubled the darkness, that
which has entered into the empty night--is coming nearer to me--
physically nearer, actually nearer."
His voice sank again. His face like the face of younger
prophets, the seers, took on a half-inspired expression. He
looked vaguely before him with unseeing eyes.
"Suppose," he murmured, "suppose I stand there under the pear
trees at night and call her again and again, and each time the
Answer comes nearer and nearer and I wait until at last one
night, the supreme night of all, she--she----"
Suddenly the tension broke. With a sharp cry and a violent
uncertain gesture of the hand Vanamee came to himself.
"Oh," he exclaimed, "what is it? Do I dare? What does it mean?
There are times when it appals me and there are times when it
thrills me with a sweetness and a happiness that I have not known
since she died. The vagueness of it! How can I explain it to
you, this that happens when I call to her across the night--that
faint, far-off, unseen tremble in the darkness, that intangible,
scarcely perceptible stir. Something neither heard nor seen,
appealing to a sixth sense only. Listen, it is something like
this: On Quien Sabe, all last week, we have been seeding the
earth. The grain is there now under the earth buried in the
dark, in the black stillness, under the clods. Can you imagine
the first--the very first little quiver of life that the grain of
wheat must feel after it is sown, when it answers to the call of
the sun, down there in the dark of the earth, blind, deaf; the
very first stir from the inert, long, long before any physical
change has occurred,--long before the microscope could discover
the slightest change,--when the shell first tightens with the
first faint premonition of life? Well, it is something as
illusive as that." He paused again, dreaming, lost in a reverie,
then, just above a whisper, murmured:
"'That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die,' . . .
and she, Angele . . . died."
"You could not have been mistaken?" said Presley. "You were sure
that there was something? Imagination can do so much and the
influence of the surroundings was strong. How impossible it
would be that anything SHOULD happen. And you say you heard
nothing, saw nothing."
"I believe," answered Vanamee, "in a sixth sense, or, rather, a
whole system of other unnamed senses beyond the reach of our
understanding. People who live much alone and close to nature
experience the sensation of it. Perhaps it is something
fundamental that we share with plants and animals. The same
thing that sends the birds south long before the first colds, the
same thing that makes the grain of wheat struggle up to meet the
sun. And this sense never deceives. You may see wrong, hear
wrong, but once touch this sixth sense and it acts with absolute
fidelity, you are certain. No, I hear nothing in the Mission
garden. I see nothing, nothing touches me, but I am CERTAIN for
Presley hesitated for a moment, then he asked:
"Shall you go back to the garden again? Make the test again?"
"I don't know."
"Strange enough," commented Presley, wondering.
Vanamee sank back in his chair, his eyes growing vacant again:
"Strange enough," he murmured.
There was a long silence. Neither spoke nor moved. There, in
that moribund, ancient town, wrapped in its siesta, flagellated
with heat, deserted, ignored, baking in a noon-day silence, these
two strange men, the one a poet by nature, the other by training,
both out of tune with their world, dreamers, introspective,
morbid, lost and unfamiliar at that end-of-the-century time,
searching for a sign, groping and baffled amidst the perplexing
obscurity of the Delusion, sat over empty wine glasses, silent
with the pervading silence that surrounded them, hearing only the
cooing of doves and the drone of bees, the quiet so profound,
that at length they could plainly distinguish at intervals the
puffing and coughing of a locomotive switching cars in the
station yard of Bonneville.
It was, no doubt, this jarring sound that at length roused
Presley from his lethargy. The two friends rose; Solotari very
sleepily came forward; they paid for the luncheon, and stepping
out into the heat and glare of the streets of the town, passed on
through it and took the road that led northward across a corner
of Dyke's hop fields. They were bound for the hills in the
northeastern corner of Quien Sabe. It was the same walk which
Presley had taken on the previous occasion when he had first met
Vanamee herding the sheep. This encompassing detour around the
whole country-side was a favorite pastime of his and he was
anxious that Vanamee should share his pleasure in it.
But soon after leaving Guadalajara, they found themselves upon
the land that Dyke had bought and upon which he was to raise his
famous crop of hops. Dyke's house was close at hand, a very
pleasant little cottage, painted white, with green blinds and
deep porches, while near it and yet in process of construction,
were two great storehouses and a drying and curing house, where
the hops were to be stored and treated. All about were evidences
that the former engineer had already been hard at work. The
ground had been put in readiness to receive the crop and a
bewildering, innumerable multitude of poles, connected with a
maze of wire and twine, had been set out. Farther on at a turn
of the road, they came upon Dyke himself, driving a farm wagon
loaded with more poles. He was in his shirt sleeves, his
massive, hairy arms bare to the elbow, glistening with sweat, red
with heat. In his bell-like, rumbling voice, he was calling to
his foreman and a boy at work in stringing the poles together.
At sight of Presley and Vanamee he hailed them jovially,
addressing them as "boys," and insisting that they should get
into the wagon with him and drive to the house for a glass of
beer. His mother had only the day before returned from
Marysville, where she had been looking up a seminary for the
little tad. She would be delighted to see the two boys; besides,
Vanamee must see how the little tad had grown since he last set
eyes on her; wouldn't know her for the same little girl; and the
beer had been on ice since morning. Presley and Vanamee could
not well refuse.
They climbed into the wagon and jolted over the uneven ground
through the bare forest of hop-poles to the house. Inside they
found Mrs. Dyke, an old lady with a very gentle face, who wore a
cap and a very old-fashioned gown with hoop skirts, dusting the
what-not in a corner of the parlor. The two men were presented
and the beer was had from off the ice.
"Mother," said Dyke, as he wiped the froth from his great blond
beard, "ain't Sid anywheres about? I want Mr. Vanamee to see how
she has grown. Smartest little tad in Tulare County, boys. Can
recite the whole of 'Snow Bound,' end to end, without skipping or
looking at the book. Maybe you don't believe that. Mother,
ain't I right--without skipping a line, hey?"
Mrs. Dyke nodded to say that it was so, but explained that Sidney
was in Guadalajara. In putting on her new slippers for the first
time the morning before, she had found a dime in the toe of one
of them and had had the whole house by the ears ever since till
she could spend it.
"Was it for licorice to make her licorice water?" inquired Dyke
"Yes," said Mrs. Dyke. "I made her tell me what she was going
to get before she went, and it was licorice."
Dyke, though his mother protested that he was foolish and that
Presley and Vanamee had no great interest in "young ones,"
insisted upon showing the visitors Sidney's copy-books. They
were monuments of laborious, elaborate neatness, the trite
moralities and ready-made aphorisms of the philanthropists and
publicists, repeated from page to page with wearying insistence.
"I, too, am an American Citizen. S. D.," "As the Twig is Bent
the Tree is Inclined," "Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again,"
"As for Me, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," and last of all, a
strange intrusion amongst the mild, well-worn phrases, two
legends. "My motto--Public Control of Public Franchises," and "
The P. and S. W. is an Enemy of the State."
"I see," commented Presley, "you mean the little tad to
understand 'the situation' early."
"I told him he was foolish to give that to Sid to copy," said
Mrs. Dyke, with indulgent remonstrance. "What can she understand
of public franchises?"
"Never mind," observed Dyke, "she'll remember it when she grows
up and when the seminary people have rubbed her up a bit, and
then she'll begin to ask questions and understand. And don't you
make any mistake, mother," he went on, "about the little tad not
knowing who her dad's enemies are. What do you think, boys?
Listen, here. Precious little I've ever told her of the railroad
or how I was turned off, but the other day I was working down by
the fence next the railroad tracks and Sid was there. She'd
brought her doll rags down and she was playing house behind a
pile of hop poles. Well, along comes a through freight--mixed
train from Missouri points and a string of empties from New
Orleans,--and when it had passed, what do you suppose the tad
did? SHE didn't know I was watching her. She goes to the fence
and spits a little spit after the caboose and puts out her little
head and, if you'll believe me, HISSES at the train; and mother
says she does that same every time she sees a train go by, and
never crosses the tracks that she don't spit her little spit on
'em. What do you THINK of THAT?"
"But I correct her every time," protested Mrs. Dyke seriously.
"Where she picked up the trick of hissing I don't know. No, it's
not funny. It seems dreadful to see a little girl who's as sweet
and gentle as can be in every other way, so venomous. She says
the other little girls at school and the boys, too, are all the
same way. Oh, dear," she sighed, "why will the General Office be
so unkind and unjust? Why, I couldn't be happy, with all the
money in the world, if I thought that even one little child hated
me--hated me so that it would spit and hiss at me. And it's not
one child, it's all of them, so Sidney says; and think of all the
grown people who hate the road, women and men, the whole county,
the whole State, thousands and thousands of people. Don't the
managers and the directors of the road ever think of that? Don't
they ever think of all the hate that surrounds them, everywhere,
everywhere, and the good people that just grit their teeth when
the name of the road is mentioned? Why do they want to make the
people hate them? No," she murmured, the tears starting to her
eyes, "No, I tell you, Mr. Presley, the men who own the railroad
are wicked, bad-hearted men who don't care how much the poor
people suffer, so long as the road makes its eighteen million a
year. They don't care whether the people hate them or love them,
just so long as they are afraid of them. It's not right and God
will punish them sooner or later."
A little after this the two young men took themselves away, Dyke
obligingly carrying them in the wagon as far as the gate that
opened into the Quien Sabe ranch. On the way, Presley referred
to what Mrs. Dyke had said and led Dyke, himself, to speak of the
P. and S. W.
"Well," Dyke said, "it's like this, Mr. Presley. I, personally,
haven't got the right to kick. With you wheat-growing people I
guess it's different, but hops, you see, don't count for much in
the State. It's such a little business that the road don't want
to bother themselves to tax it. It's the wheat growers that the
road cinches. The rates on hops ARE FAIR. I've got to admit
that; I was in to Bonneville a while ago to find out. It's two
cents a pound, and Lord love you, that's reasonable enough to
suit any man. No," he concluded, "I'm on the way to make money
now. The road sacking me as they did was, maybe, a good thing
for me, after all. It came just at the right time. I had a bit
of money put by and here was the chance to go into hops with the
certainty that hops would quadruple and quintuple in price inside
the year. No, it was my chance, and though they didn't mean it
by a long chalk, the railroad people did me a good turn when they
gave me my time--and the tad'll enter the seminary next fall."
About a quarter of an hour after they had said goodbye to the
one-time engineer, Presley and Vanamee, tramping briskly along
the road that led northward through Quien Sabe, arrived at
Annixter's ranch house. At once they were aware of a vast and
unwonted bustle that revolved about the place. They stopped a
few moments looking on, amused and interested in what was going
The colossal barn was finished. Its freshly white-washed sides
glared intolerably in the sun, but its interior was as yet
innocent of paint and through the yawning vent of the sliding
doors came a delicious odour of new, fresh wood and shavings. A
crowd of men--Annixter's farm hands--were swarming all about it.
Some were balanced on the topmost rounds of ladders, hanging
festoons of Japanese lanterns from tree to tree, and all across
the front of the barn itself. Mrs. Tree, her daughter Hilma and
another woman were inside the barn cutting into long strips bolt
after bolt of red, white and blue cambric and directing how these
strips should be draped from the ceiling and on the walls;
everywhere resounded the tapping of tack hammers. A farm wagon
drove up loaded to overflowing with evergreens and with great
bundles of palm leaves, and these were immediately seized upon
and affixed as supplementary decorations to the tri-coloured
cambric upon the inside walls of the barn. Two of the larger
evergreen trees were placed on either side the barn door and
their tops bent over to form an arch. In the middle of this arch
it was proposed to hang a mammoth pasteboard escutcheon with gold
letters, spelling the word WELCOME. Piles of chairs, rented from
I.O.O.F. hall in Bonneville, heaped themselves in an apparently
hopeless entanglement on the ground; while at the far extremity
of the barn a couple of carpenters clattered about the impromptu
staging which was to accommodate the band.
There was a strenuous gayety in the air; everybody was in the
best of spirits. Notes of laughter continually interrupted the
conversation on every hand. At every moment a group of men
involved themselves in uproarious horse-play. They passed
oblique jokes behind their hands to each other--grossly veiled
double-meanings meant for the women--and bellowed with laughter
thereat, stamping on the ground. The relations between the sexes
grew more intimate, the women and girls pushing the young fellows
away from their sides with vigorous thrusts of their elbows. It
was passed from group to group that Adela Vacca, a division
superintendent's wife, had lost her garter; the daughter of the
foreman of the Home ranch was kissed behind the door of the
Annixter, in execrable temper, appeared from time to time,
hatless, his stiff yellow hair in wild disorder. He hurried
between the barn and the ranch house, carrying now a wickered
demijohn, now a case of wine, now a basket of lemons and
pineapples. Besides general supervision, he had elected to
assume the responsibility of composing the punch--something
stiff, by jingo, a punch that would raise you right out of your
boots; a regular hairlifter.
The harness room of the barn he had set apart for: himself and
intimates. He had brought a long table down from the house and
upon it had set out boxes of cigars, bottles of whiskey and of
beer and the great china bowls for the punch. It would be no
fault of his, he declared, if half the number of his men friends
were not uproarious before they left. His barn dance would be
the talk of all Tulare County for years to come. For this one
day he had resolved to put all thoughts of business out of his
head. For the matter of that, things were going well enough.
Osterman was back from Los Angeles with a favourable report as to
his affair with Disbrow and Darrell. There had been another
meeting of the committee. Harran Derrick had attended. Though
he had taken no part in the discussion, Annixter was satisfied.
The Governor had consented to allow Harran to "come in," if he so
desired, and Harran had pledged himself to share one-sixth of the
campaign expenses, providing these did not exceed a certain
As Annixter came to the door of the barn to shout abuse at the
distraught Chinese cook who was cutting up lemons in the kitchen,
he caught sight of Presley and Vanamee and hailed them.
"Hello, Pres," he called. "Come over here and see how she
looks;" he indicated the barn with a movement of his head.
"Well, we're getting ready for you tonight," he went on as the
two friends came up. "But how we are going to get straightened
out by eight o'clock I don't know. Would you believe that pip
Caraher is short of lemons--at this last minute and I told him
I'd want three cases of 'em as much as a month ago, and here,
just when I want a good lively saddle horse to get around on,
somebody hikes the buckskin out the corral. STOLE her, by jingo.
I'll have the law on that thief if it breaks me--and a sixty-
dollar saddle 'n' head-stall gone with her; and only about half
the number of Jap lanterns that I ordered have shown up and not
candles enough for those. It's enough to make a dog sick.
There's nothing done that you don't do yourself, unless you stand
over these loafers with a club. I'm sick of the whole business--
and I've lost my hat; wish to God I'd never dreamed of givin'
this rotten fool dance. Clutter the whole place up with a lot of
feemales. I sure did lose my presence of mind when I got THAT
Then, ignoring the fact that it was he, himself, who had called
the young men to him, he added:
"Well, this is my busy day. Sorry I can't stop and talk to you
He shouted a last imprecation at the Chinaman and turned back
into the barn. Presley and Vanamee went on, but Annixter, as he
crossed the floor of the barn, all but collided with Hilma Tree,
who came out from one of the stalls, a box of candles in her
Gasping out an apology, Annixter reentered the harness room,
closing the door behind him, and forgetting all the
responsibility of the moment, lit a cigar and sat down in one of
the hired chairs, his hands in his pockets, his feet on the
table, frowning thoughtfully through the blue smoke.
Annixter was at last driven to confess to himself that he could
not get the thought of Hilma Tree out of his mind. Finally she
had "got a hold on him." The thing that of all others he most
dreaded had happened. A feemale girl had got a hold on him, and
now there was no longer for him any such thing as peace of mind.
The idea of the young woman was with him continually. He went to
bed with it; he got up with it. At every moment of the day he
was pestered with it. It interfered with his work, got mixed up
in his business. What a miserable confession for a man to make;
a fine way to waste his time. Was it possible that only the
other day he had stood in front of the music store in Bonneville
and seriously considered making Hilma a present of a music-box?
Even now, the very thought of it made him flush with shame, and
this after she had told him plainly that she did not like him.
He was running after her--he, Annixter! He ripped out a furious
oath, striking the table with his boot heel. Again and again he
had resolved to put the whole affair from out his mind. Once he
had been able to do so, but of late it was becoming harder and
harder with every successive day. He had only to close his eyes
to see her as plain as if she stood before him; he saw her in a
glory of sunlight that set a fine tinted lustre of pale carnation
and gold on the silken sheen of her white skin, her hair sparkled
with it, her thick, strong neck, sloping to her shoulders with
beautiful, full curves, seemed to radiate the light; her eyes,
brown, wide, innocent in expression, disclosing the full disc of
the pupil upon the slightest provocation, flashed in this
sunlight like diamonds.
Annixter was all bewildered. With the exception of the timid
little creature in the glove-cleaning establishment in
Sacramento, he had had no acquaintance with any woman. His world
was harsh, crude, a world of men only--men who were to be
combatted, opposed--his hand was against nearly every one of
them. Women he distrusted with the instinctive distrust of the
overgrown schoolboy. Now, at length, a young woman had come into
his life. Promptly he was struck with discomfiture, annoyed
almost beyond endurance, harassed, bedevilled, excited, made
angry and exasperated. He was suspicious of the woman, yet
desired her, totally ignorant of how to approach her, hating the
sex, yet drawn to the individual, confusing the two emotions,
sometimes even hating Hilma as a result of this confusion, but at
all times disturbed, vexed, irritated beyond power of expression.
At length, Annixter cast his cigar from him and plunged again
into the work of the day. The afternoon wore to evening, to the
accompaniment of wearying and clamorous endeavour. In some
unexplained fashion, the labour of putting the great barn in
readiness for the dance was accomplished; the last bolt of
cambric was hung in place from the rafters. The last evergreen
tree was nailed to the joists of the walls; the last lantern
hung, the last nail driven into the musicians' platform. The sun
set. There was a great scurry to have supper and dress.
Annixter, last of all the other workers, left the barn in the
dusk of twilight. He was alone; he had a saw under one arm, a
bag of tools was in his hand. He was in his shirt sleeves and
carried his coat over his shoulder; a hammer was thrust into one
of his hip pockets. He was in execrable temper. The day's work
had fagged him out. He had not been able to find his hat.
"And the buckskin with sixty dollars' worth of saddle gone, too,"
he groaned. "Oh, ain't it sweet?"
At his house, Mrs. Tree had set out a cold supper for him, the
inevitable dish of prunes serving as dessert. After supper
Annixter bathed and dressed. He decided at the last moment to
wear his usual town-going suit, a sack suit of black, made by a
Bonneville tailor. But his hat was gone. There were other hats
he might have worn, but because this particular one was lost he
fretted about it all through his dressing and then decided to
have one more look around the barn for it.
For over a quarter of an hour he pottered about the barn, going
from stall to stall, rummaging the harness room and feed room,
all to no purpose. At last he came out again upon the main
floor, definitely giving up the search, looking about him to see
if everything was in order.
The festoons of Japanese lanterns in and around the, barn were
not yet lighted, but some half-dozen lamps, with great, tin
reflectors, that hung against the walls, were burning low. A
dull half light pervaded the vast interior, hollow, echoing,
leaving the corners and roof thick with impenetrable black
shadows. The barn faced the west and through the open sliding
doors was streaming a single bright bar from the after-glow,
incongruous and out of all harmony with the dull flare of the
As Annixter glanced about him, he saw a figure step briskly out
of the shadows of one corner of the building, pause for the
fraction of one instant in the bar of light, then, at sight of
him, dart back again. There was a sound of hurried footsteps.
Annixter, with recollections of the stolen buckskin in his mind,
cried out sharply:
There was no answer. In a second his pistol was in his hand.
"Who's there? Quick, speak up or I'll shoot."
"No, no, no, don't shoot," cried an answering voice. "Oh, be
careful. It's I--Hilma Tree."
Annixter slid the pistol into his pocket with a great qualm of
apprehension. He came forward and met Hilma in the doorway.
"Good Lord," he murmured, "that sure did give me a start. If I
Hilma stood abashed and confused before him. She was dressed in
a white organdie frock of the most rigorous simplicity and wore
neither flower nor ornament. The severity of her dress made her
look even larger than usual, and even as it was her eyes were on
a level with Annixter's. There was a certain fascination in the
contradiction of stature and character of Hilma--a great girl,
half-child as yet, but tall as a man for all that.
There was a moment's awkward silence, then Hilma explained:
"I--I came back to look for my hat. I thought I left it here
"And I was looking for my hat," cried Annixter. "Funny enough,
They laughed at this as heartily as children might have done.
The constraint of the situation was a little relaxed and
Annixter, with sudden directness, glanced sharply at the young
woman and demanded:
"Well, Miss Hilma, hate me as much as ever?"
"Oh, no, sir," she answered, "I never said I hated you."
"Well,--dislike me, then; I know you said that."
"I--I disliked what you did--TRIED to do. It made me angry and
it hurt me. I shouldn't have said what I did that time, but it
was your fault."
"You mean you shouldn't have said you didn't like me?" asked
"Well, well,--I don't--I don't DISlike anybody," admitted Hilma.
"Then I can take it that you don't dislike ME? Is that it?"
"I don't dislike anybody," persisted Hilma.
"Well, I asked you more than that, didn't I?" queried Annixter
uneasily. "I asked you to like me, remember, the other day. I'm
asking you that again, now. I want you to like me."
Hilma lifted her eyes inquiringly to his. In her words was an
unmistakable ring of absolute sincerity. Innocently she
Annixter was struck speechless. In the face of such candour,
such perfect ingenuousness, he was at a loss for any words.
"Well--well," he stammered, "well--I don't know," he suddenly
burst out. "That is," he went on, groping for his wits, "I can't
quite say why." The idea of a colossal lie occurred to him, a
thing actually royal.
"I like to have the people who are around me like me," he
declared. "I--I like to be popular, understand? Yes, that's
it," he continued, more reassured. "I don't like the idea of any
one disliking me. That's the way I am. It's my nature."
"Oh, then," returned Hilma, "you needn't bother. No, I don't
"Well, that's good," declared Annixter judicially. "That's good.
But hold on," he interrupted, "I'm forgetting. It's not enough
to not dislike me. I want you to like me. How about THAT?"
Hilma paused for a moment, glancing vaguely out of the doorway
toward the lighted window of the dairy-house, her head tilted.
"I don't know that I ever thought about that," she said.
"Well, think about it now," insisted Annixter.
"But I never thought about liking anybody particularly," she
observed. "It's because I like everybody, don't you see?"
"Well, you've got to like some people more than other people,"
hazarded Annixter, "and I want to be one of those 'some people,'
savvy? Good Lord, I don't know how to say these fool things. I
talk like a galoot when I get talking to feemale girls and I
can't lay my tongue to anything that sounds right. It isn't my
nature. And look here, I lied when I said I liked to have people
like me--to be popular. Rot! I don't care a curse about
people's opinions of me. But there's a few people that are more
to me than most others--that chap Presley, for instance--and
those people I DO want to have like me. What they think counts.
Pshaw! I know I've got enemies; piles of them. I could name you
half a dozen men right now that are naturally itching to take a
shot at me. How about this ranch? Don't I know, can't I hear
the men growling oaths under their breath after I've gone by?
And in business ways, too," he went on, speaking half to himself,
"in Bonneville and all over the county there's not a man of them
wouldn't howl for joy if they got a chance to down Buck Annixter.
Think I care? Why, I LIKE it. I run my ranch to suit myself
and I play my game my own way. I'm a 'driver,' I know it, and a
'bully,' too. Oh, I know what they call me--'a brute beast, with
a twist in my temper that would rile up a new-born lamb,' and I'm
'crusty' and 'pig-headed' and 'obstinate.' They say all that, but
they've got to say, too, that I'm cleverer than any man-jack in
the running. There's nobody can get ahead of me." His eyes
snapped. "Let 'em grind their teeth. They can't 'down' me.
When I shut my fist there's not one of them can open it. No, not
with a CHISEL." He turned to Hilma again. "Well, when a man's
hated as much as that, it stands to reason, don't it, Miss Hilma,
that the few friends he has got he wants to keep? I'm not such
an entire swine to the people that know me best--that jackass,
Presley, for instance. I'd put my hand in the fire to do him a
real service. Sometimes I get kind of lonesome; wonder if you
would understand? It's my fault, but there's not a horse about
the place that don't lay his ears back when I get on him; there's
not a dog don't put his tail between his legs as soon as I come
near him. The cayuse isn't foaled yet here on Quien Sabe that
can throw me, nor the dog whelped that would dare show his teeth
at me. I kick that Irish setter every time I see him--but wonder
what I'd do, though, if he didn't slink so much, if he wagged his
tail and was glad to see me? So it all comes to this: I'd like
to have you--well, sort of feel that I was a good friend of yours
and like me because of it."
The flame in the lamp on the wall in front of Hilma stretched
upward tall and thin and began to smoke. She went over to where
the lamp hung and, standing on tip-toe, lowered the wick. As she
reached her hand up, Annixter noted how the sombre, lurid red of
the lamp made a warm reflection on her smooth, round arm.
"Do you understand?" he queried.
"Yes, why, yes," she answered, turning around. "It's very good
of you to want to be a friend of mine. I didn't think so,
though, when you tried to kiss me. But maybe it's all right
since you've explained things. You see I'm different from you.
I like everybody to like me and I like to like everybody. It
makes one so much happier. You wouldn't believe it, but you
ought to try it, sir, just to see. It's so good to be good to
people and to have people good to you. And everybody has always
been so good to me. Mamma and papa, of course, and Billy, the
stableman, and Montalegre, the Portugee foreman, and the Chinese
cook, even, and Mr. Delaney--only he went away--and Mrs. Vacca
and her little----"
"Delaney, hey?" demanded Annixter abruptly. "You and he were
pretty good friends, were you?"
"Oh, yes," she answered. "He was just as GOOD to me. Every day
in the summer time he used to ride over to the Seed ranch back of
the Mission and bring me a great armful of flowers, the prettiest
things, and I used to pretend to pay him for them with dollars
made of cheese that I cut out of the cheese with a biscuit
cutter. It was such fun. We were the best of friends."
"There's another lamp smoking," growled Annixter. "Turn it down,
will you?--and see that somebody sweeps this floor here. It's
all littered up with pine needles. I've got a lot to do. Good-
Annixter returned to the ranch house, his teeth clenched,
enraged, his face flushed.
"Ah," he muttered, "Delaney, hey? Throwing it up to me that I
fired him." His teeth gripped together more fiercely than ever.
"The best of friends, hey? By God, I'll have that girl yet.
I'll show that cow-puncher. Ain't I her employer, her boss?
I'll show her--and Delaney, too. It would be easy enough--and
then Delaney can have her--if he wants her--after me."
An evil light flashing from under his scowl, spread over his
face. The male instincts of possession, unreasoned, treacherous,
oblique, came twisting to the surface. All the lower nature of
the man, ignorant of women, racked at one and the same time with
enmity and desire, roused itself like a hideous and abominable
beast. And at the same moment, Hilma returned to her house,
humming to herself as she walked, her white dress glowing with a
shimmer of faint saffron light in the last ray of the after-glow.
A little after half-past seven, the first carry-all, bearing the
druggist of Bonneville and his women-folk, arrived in front of
the new barn. Immediately afterward an express wagon loaded down
with a swarming family of Spanish-Mexicans, gorgeous in red and
yellow colours, followed. Billy, the stableman, and his
assistant took charge of the teams, unchecking the horses and
hitching them to a fence back of the barn. Then Caraher, the
saloon-keeper, in "derby" hat, "Prince Albert" coat, pointed
yellow shoes and inevitable red necktie, drove into the yard on
his buckboard, the delayed box of lemons under the seat. It
looked as if the whole array of invited guests was to arrive in
one unbroken procession, but for a long half-hour nobody else
appeared. Annixter and Caraher withdrew to the harness room and
promptly involved themselves in a wrangle as to the make-up of
the famous punch. From time to time their voices could be heard
uplifted in clamorous argument.