Part 5 out of 12
"Two quarts and a half and a cupful of chartreuse."
"Rot, rot, I know better. Champagne straight and a dash of
The druggist's wife and sister retired to the feed room, where a
bureau with a swinging mirror had been placed for the convenience
of the women. The druggist stood awkwardly outside the door of
the feed room, his coat collar turned up against the draughts
that drifted through the barn, his face troubled, debating
anxiously as to the propriety of putting on his gloves. The
Spanish-Mexican family, a father, mother and five children and
sister-in-law, sat rigid on the edges of the hired chairs,
silent, constrained, their eyes lowered, their elbows in at their
sides, glancing furtively from under their eyebrows at the
decorations or watching with intense absorption young Vacca, son
of one of the division superintendents, who wore a checked coat
and white thread gloves and who paced up and down the length of
the barn, frowning, very important, whittling a wax candle over
the floor to make it slippery for dancing.
The musicians arrived, the City Band of Bonneville--Annixter
having managed to offend the leader of the "Dirigo" Club
orchestra, at the very last moment, to such a point that he had
refused his services. These members of the City Band repaired at
once to their platform in the corner. At every instant they
laughed uproariously among themselves, joshing one of their
number, a Frenchman, whom they called "Skeezicks." Their
hilarity reverberated in a hollow, metallic roll among the
rafters overhead. The druggist observed to young Vacca as he
passed by that he thought them pretty fresh, just the same.
"I'm busy, I'm very busy," returned the young man, continuing on
his way, still frowning and paring the stump of candle.
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"Ah, yes, in a way, that's so; and then, again, in a way, it
ISN'T. I know better."
All along one side of the barn were a row of stalls, fourteen of
them, clean as yet, redolent of new cut wood, the sawdust still
in the cracks of the flooring. Deliberately the druggist went
from one to the other, pausing contemplatively before each. He
returned down the line and again took up his position by the door
of the feed room, nodding his head judicially, as if satisfied.
He decided to put on his gloves.
By now it was quite dark. Outside, between the barn and the
ranch houses one could see a group of men on step-ladders
lighting the festoons of Japanese lanterns. In the darkness,
only their faces appeared here and there, high above the ground,
seen in a haze of red, strange, grotesque. Gradually as the
multitude of lanterns were lit, the light spread. The grass
underfoot looked like green excelsior. Another group of men
invaded the barn itself, lighting the lamps and lanterns there.
Soon the whole place was gleaming with points of light. Young
Vacca, who had disappeared, returned with his pockets full of wax
candles. He resumed his whittling, refusing to answer any
questions, vociferating that he was busy.
Outside there was a sound of hoofs and voices. More guests had
arrived. The druggist, seized with confusion, terrified lest he
had put on his gloves too soon, thrust his hands into his
pockets. It was Cutter, Magnus Derrick's division
superintendent, who came, bringing his wife and her two girl
cousins. They had come fifteen miles by the trail from the far
distant division house on "Four" of Los Muertos and had ridden on
horseback instead of driving. Mrs. Cutter could be heard
declaring that she was nearly dead and felt more like going to
bed than dancing. The two girl cousins, in dresses of dotted
Swiss over blue sateen, were doing their utmost to pacify her.
She could be heard protesting from moment to moment. One
distinguished the phrases "straight to my bed," "back nearly
broken in two," "never wanted to come in the first place." The
druggist, observing Cutter take a pair of gloves from Mrs.
Cutter's reticule, drew his hands from his pockets.
But abruptly there was an interruption. In the musicians' corner
a scuffle broke out. A chair was overturned. There was a noise
of imprecations mingled with shouts of derision. Skeezicks, the
Frenchman, had turned upon the joshers.
"Ah, no," he was heard to exclaim, "at the end of the end it is
too much. Kind of a bad canary--we will go to see about that.
Aha, let him close up his face before I demolish it with a good
stroke of the fist."
The men who were lighting the lanterns were obliged to intervene
before he could be placated.
Hooven and his wife and daughters arrived. Minna was carrying
little Hilda, already asleep, in her arms. Minna looked very
pretty, striking even, with her black hair, pale face, very red
lips and greenish-blue eyes. She was dressed in what had been
Mrs. Hooven's wedding gown, a cheap affair of "farmer's satin."
Mrs. Hooven had pendent earrings of imitation jet in her ears.
Hooven was wearing an old frock coat of Magnus Derrick's, the
sleeves too long, the shoulders absurdly too wide. He and Cutter
at once entered into an excited conversation as to the ownership
of a certain steer.
"Why, the brand----"
"Ach, Gott, der brendt," Hooven clasped his head, "ach, der
brendt, dot maks me laugh some laughs. Dot's goot--der brendt--
doand I see um--shoor der boole mit der bleck star bei der vore-
head in der middle oaf. Any someones you esk tell you dot is
mein boole. You esk any someones. Der brendt? To hell mit der
brendt. You aindt got some memorie aboudt does ting I guess
"Please step aside, gentlemen," said young Vacca, who was still
making the rounds of the floor.
Hooven whirled about. "Eh? What den," he exclaimed, still
excited, willing to be angry at any one for the moment. "Doand
you push soh, you. I tink berhapz you doand OWN dose barn, hey?"
"I'm busy, I'm very busy." The young man pushed by with grave
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"I know better. That's all rot."
But the barn was filling up rapidly. At every moment there was a
rattle of a newly arrived vehicle from outside. Guest after
guest appeared in the doorway, singly or in couples, or in
families, or in garrulous parties of five and six. Now it was
Phelps and his mother from Los Muertos, now a foreman from
Broderson's with his family, now a gayly apparelled clerk from a
Bonneville store, solitary and bewildered, looking for a place to
put his hat, now a couple of Spanish-Mexican girls from
Guadalajara with coquettish effects of black and yellow about
their dress, now a group of Osterman's tenants, Portuguese,
swarthy, with plastered hair and curled mustaches, redolent of
cheap perfumes. Sarria arrived, his smooth, shiny face
glistening with perspiration. He wore a new cassock and carried
his broad-brimmed hat under his arm. His appearance made quite a
stir. He passed from group to group, urbane, affable, shaking
hands right and left; he assumed a set smile of amiability which
never left his face the whole evening.
But abruptly there was a veritable sensation. From out the
little crowd that persistently huddled about the doorway came
Osterman. He wore a dress-suit with a white waistcoat and patent
leather pumps--what a wonder! A little qualm of excitement
spread around the barn. One exchanged nudges of the elbow with
one's neighbour, whispering earnestly behind the hand. What
astonishing clothes! Catch on to the coat-tails! It was a
masquerade costume, maybe; that goat Osterman was such a josher,
one never could tell what he would do next.
The musicians began to tune up. From their corner came a medley
of mellow sounds, the subdued chirps of the violins, the dull
bourdon of the bass viol, the liquid gurgling of the flageolet
and the deep-toned snarl of the big horn, with now and then a
rasping stridulating of the snare drum. A sense of gayety began
to spread throughout the assembly. At every moment the crowd
increased. The aroma of new-sawn timber and sawdust began to be
mingled with the feminine odour of sachet and flowers. There was
a babel of talk in the air--male baritone and soprano chatter--
varied by an occasional note of laughter and the swish of stiffly
starched petticoats. On the row of chairs that went around three
sides of the wall groups began to settle themselves. For a long
time the guests huddled close to the doorway; the lower end of
the floor was crowded! the upper end deserted; but by degrees
the lines of white muslin and pink and blue sateen extended,
dotted with the darker figures of men in black suits. The
conversation grew louder as the timidity of the early moments
wore off. Groups at a distance called back and forth;
conversations were carried on at top voice. Once, even a whole
party hurried across the floor from one side of the barn to the
Annixter emerged from the harness room, his face red with
wrangling. He took a position to the right of the door, shaking
hands with newcomers, inviting them over and over again to cut
loose and whoop it along. Into the ears of his more intimate
male acquaintances he dropped a word as to punch and cigars in
the harness room later on, winking with vast intelligence.
Ranchers from remoter parts of the country appeared: Garnett,
from the Ruby rancho, Keast, from the ranch of the same name,
Gethings, of the San Pablo, Chattern, of the Bonanza, and others
and still others, a score of them--elderly men, for the most
part, bearded, slow of speech, deliberate, dressed in broadcloth.
Old Broderson, who entered with his wife on his arm, fell in with
this type, and with them came a certain Dabney, of whom nothing
but his name was known, a silent old man, who made no friends,
whom nobody knew or spoke to, who was seen only upon such
occasions as this, coming from no one knew where, going, no one
cared to inquire whither.
Between eight and half-past, Magnus Derrick and his family were
seen. Magnus's entry caused no little impression. Some said:
"There's the Governor," and called their companions' attention to
the thin, erect figure, commanding, imposing, dominating all in
his immediate neighbourhood. Harran came with him, wearing a
cut-away suit of black. He was undeniably handsome, young and
fresh looking, his cheeks highly coloured, quite the finest
looking of all the younger men; blond, strong, with that certain
courtliness of manner that had always made him liked. He took
his mother upon his arm and conducted her to a seat by the side
of Mrs. Broderson.
Annie Derrick was very pretty that evening. She was dressed in a
grey silk gown with a collar of pink velvet. Her light brown
hair that yet retained so much of its brightness was transfixed
by a high, shell comb, very Spanish. But the look of uneasiness
in her large eyes--the eyes of a young girl--was deepening every
day. The expression of innocence and inquiry which they so
easily assumed, was disturbed by a faint suggestion of aversion,
almost of terror. She settled herself in her place, in the
corner of the hall, in the rear rank of chairs, a little
frightened by the glare of lights, the hum of talk and the
shifting crowd, glad to be out of the way, to attract no
attention, willing to obliterate herself.
All at once Annixter, who had just shaken hands with Dyke, his
mother and the little tad, moved abruptly in his place, drawing
in his breath sharply. The crowd around the great, wide-open
main door of the barn had somewhat thinned out and in the few
groups that still remained there he had suddenly recognised Mr.
and Mrs. Tree and Hilma, making their way towards some empty
seats near the entrance of the feed room.
In the dusky light of the barn earlier in the evening, Annixter
had not been able to see Hilma plainly. Now, however, as she
passed before his eyes in the glittering radiance of the lamps
and lanterns, he caught his breath in astonishment. Never had
she appeared more beautiful in his eyes. It did not seem
possible that this was the same girl whom he saw every day in and
around the ranch house and dairy, the girl of simple calico
frocks and plain shirt waists, who brought him his dinner, who
made up his bed. Now he could not take his eyes from her.
Hilma, for the first time, was wearing her hair done high upon
her head. The thick, sweet-smelling masses, bitumen brown in the
shadows, corruscated like golden filaments in the light. Her
organdie frock was long, longer than any she had yet worn. It
left a little of her neck and breast bare and all of her arm.
Annixter muttered an exclamation. Such arms! How did she manage
to keep them hid on ordinary occasions. Big at the shoulder,
tapering with delicious modulations to the elbow and wrist,
overlaid with a delicate, gleaming lustre. As often as she
turned her head the movement sent a slow undulation over her neck
and shoulders, the pale amber-tinted shadows under her chin,
coming and going over the creamy whiteness of the skin like the
changing moire of silk. The pretty rose colour of her cheek had
deepened to a pale carnation. Annixter, his hands clasped behind
him, stood watching.
In a few moments Hilma was surrounded by a group of young men,
clamouring for dances. They came from all corners of the barn,
leaving the other girls precipitately, almost rudely. There
could be little doubt as to who was to be the belle of the
occasion. Hilma's little triumph was immediate, complete.
Annixter could hear her voice from time to time, its usual
velvety huskiness vibrating to a note of exuberant gayety.
All at once the orchestra swung off into a march--the Grand
March. There was a great rush to secure "partners." Young
Vacca, still going the rounds, was pushed to one side. The gayly
apparelled clerk from the Bonneville store lost his head in the
confusion. He could not find his "partner." He roamed wildly
about the barn, bewildered, his eyes rolling. He resolved to
prepare an elaborate programme card on the back of an old
envelope. Rapidly the line was formed, Hilma and Harran Derrick
in the lead, Annixter having obstinately refused to engage in
either march, set or dance the whole evening. Soon the confused
shuffling of feet settled to a measured cadence; the orchestra
blared and wailed, the snare drum, rolling at exact intervals,
the cornet marking the time. It was half-past eight o'clock.
Annixter drew a long breath:
"Good," he muttered, "the thing is under way at last."
Singularly enough, Osterman also refused to dance. The week
before he had returned from Los Angeles, bursting with the
importance of his mission. He had been successful. He had
Disbrow "in his pocket." He was impatient to pose before the
others of the committee as a skilful political agent, a
manipulator. He forgot his attitude of the early part of the
evening when he had drawn attention to himself with his wonderful
clothes. Now his comic actor's face, with its brownish-red
cheeks, protuberant ears and horizontal slit of a mouth, was
overcast with gravity. His bald forehead was seamed with the
wrinkles of responsibility. He drew Annixter into one of the
empty stalls and began an elaborate explanation, glib, voluble,
interminable, going over again in detail what he had reported to
the committee in outline.
"I managed--I schemed--I kept dark--I lay low----"
But Annixter refused to listen.
"Oh, rot your schemes. There's a punch in the harness room that
will make the hair grow on the top of your head in the place
where the hair ought to grow. Come on, we'll round up some of
the boys and walk into it."
They edged their way around the hall outside "The Grand March,"
toward the harness room, picking up on their way Caraher, Dyke,
Hooven and old Broderson. Once in the harness room, Annixter
shot the bolt.
"That affair outside," he observed, "will take care of itself,
but here's a little orphan child that gets lonesome without
Annixter began ladling the punch, filling the glasses.
Osterman proposed a toast to Quien Sabe and the Biggest Barn.
Their elbows crooked in silence. Old Broderson set down his
glass, wiping his long beard and remarking:
"That--that certainly is very--very agreeable. I remember a
punch I drank on Christmas day in '83, or no, it was '84--anyhow,
that punch--it was in Ukiah--'TWAS '83--" He wandered on
aimlessly, unable to stop his flow of speech, losing himself in
details, involving his talk in a hopeless maze of trivialities to
which nobody paid any attention.
"I don't drink myself," observed Dyke, "but just a taste of that
with a lot of water wouldn't be bad for the little tad. She'd
think it was lemonade." He was about to mix a glass for Sidney,
but thought better of it at the last moment.
"It's the chartreuse that's lacking," commented Caraher, lowering
at Annixter. The other flared up on the instant.
"Rot, rot. I know better. In some punches it goes; and then,
again, in others it don't."
But it was left to Hooven to launch the successful phrase:
"Gesundheit," he exclaimed, holding out his second glass. After
drinking, he replaced it on the table with a long breath. "Ach
Gott!" he cried, "dat poonsch, say I tink dot poonsch mek some
demn goot vertilizer, hey?"
Fertiliser! The others roared with laughter.
"Good eye, Bismarck," commented Annixter. The name had a great
success. Thereafter throughout the evening the punch was
invariably spoken of as the "Fertiliser." Osterman, having spilt
the bottom of a glassful on the floor, pretended that he saw
shoots of grain coming up on the spot. Suddenly he turned upon
"I'm bald, ain't I? Want to know how I lost my hair? Promise
you won't ask a single other question and I'll tell you. Promise
your word of honour."
"Eh? What--wh--I--I don't understand. Your hair? Yes, I'll
promise. How did you lose it?"
"It was bit off."
The other gazed at him stupefied; his jaw dropped. The company
shouted, and old Broderson, believing he had somehow accomplished
a witticism, chuckled in his beard, wagging his head. But
suddenly he fell grave, struck with an idea. He demanded:
"Yes--I know--but--but what bit it off?"
"Ah," vociferated Osterman, "that's JUST what you promised not to
The company doubled up with hilarity. Caraher leaned against the
door, holding his sides, but Hooven, all abroad, unable to
follow, gazed from face to face with a vacant grin, thinking it
was still a question of his famous phrase.
"Vertilizer, hey? Dots some fine joke, hey? You bedt."
What with the noise of their talk and laughter, it was some time
before Dyke, first of all, heard a persistent knocking on the
bolted door. He called Annixter's attention to the sound.
Cursing the intruder, Annixter unbolted and opened the door. But
at once his manner changed.
"Hello. It's Presley. Come in, come in, Pres."
There was a shout of welcome from the others. A spirit of
effusive cordiality had begun to dominate the gathering.
Annixter caught sight of Vanamee back of Presley, and waiving for
the moment the distinction of employer and employee, insisted
that both the friends should come in.
"Any friend of Pres is my friend," he declared.
But when the two had entered and had exchanged greetings, Presley
drew Annixter aside.
"Vanamee and I have just come from Bonneville," he explained.
"We saw Delaney there. He's got the buckskin, and he's full of
bad whiskey and dago-red. You should see him; he's wearing all
his cow-punching outfit, hair trousers, sombrero, spurs and all
the rest of it, and he has strapped himself to a big revolver.
He says he wasn't invited to your barn dance but that he's coming
over to shoot up the place. He says you promised to show him off
Quien Sabe at the toe of your boot and that he's going to give
you the chance to-night!"
"Ah," commented Annixter, nodding his head, "he is, is he?"
Presley was disappointed. Knowing Annixter's irascibility, he
had expected to produce a more dramatic effect. He began to
explain the danger of the business. Delaney had once knifed a
greaser in the Panamint country. He was known as a "bad" man.
But Annixter refused to be drawn.
"All right," he said, "that's all right. Don't tell anybody
else. You might scare the girls off. Get in and drink."
Outside the dancing was by this time in full swing. The
orchestra was playing a polka. Young Vacca, now at his fiftieth
wax candle, had brought the floor to the slippery surface of
glass. The druggist was dancing with one of the Spanish-Mexican
girls with the solemnity of an automaton, turning about and
about, always in the same direction, his eyes glassy, his teeth
set. Hilma Tree was dancing for the second time with Harran
Derrick. She danced with infinite grace. Her cheeks were bright
red, her eyes half-closed, and through her parted lips she drew
from time to time a long, tremulous breath of pure delight. The
music, the weaving colours, the heat of the air, by now a little
oppressive, the monotony of repeated sensation, even the pain of
physical fatigue had exalted all her senses. She was in a dreamy
lethargy of happiness. It was her "first ball." She could have
danced without stopping until morning. Minna Hooven and Cutter
were "promenading." Mrs. Hooven, with little Hilda already
asleep on her knees, never took her eyes from her daughter's
gown. As often as Minna passed near her she vented an energetic
"pst! pst!" The metal tip of a white draw string was showing
from underneath the waist of Minna's dress. Mrs. Hooven was on
the point of tears.
The solitary gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville was in a
fever of agitation. He had lost his elaborate programme card.
Bewildered, beside himself with trepidation, he hurried about the
room, jostled by the dancing couples, tripping over the feet of
those who were seated; he peered distressfully under the chairs
and about the floor, asking anxious questions.
Magnus Derrick, the centre of a listening circle of ranchers--
Garnett from the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of the same
name, Gethings and Chattern of the San Pablo and Bonanza--stood
near the great open doorway of the barn, discussing the
possibility of a shortage in the world's wheat crop for the next
Abruptly the orchestra ceased playing with a roll of the snare
drum, a flourish of the cornet and a prolonged growl of the bass
viol. The dance broke up, the couples hurrying to their seats,
leaving the gayly apparelled clerk suddenly isolated in the
middle of the floor, rolling his eyes. The druggist released the
Spanish-Mexican girl with mechanical precision out amidst the
crowd of dancers. He bowed, dropping his chin upon his cravat;
throughout the dance neither had hazarded a word. The girl found
her way alone to a chair, but the druggist, sick from continually
revolving in the same direction, walked unsteadily toward the
wall. All at once the barn reeled around him; he fell down.
There was a great laugh, but he scrambled to his feet and
disappeared abruptly out into the night through the doorway of
the barn, deathly pale, his hand upon his stomach.
Dabney, the old man whom nobody knew, approached the group of
ranchers around Magnus Derrick and stood, a little removed,
listening gravely to what the governor was saying, his chin sunk
in his collar, silent, offering no opinions.
But the leader of the orchestra, with a great gesture of his
violin bow, cried out:
"All take partners for the lancers and promenade around the
However, there was a delay. A little crowd formed around the
musicians' platform; voices were raised; there was a commotion.
Skeezicks, who played the big horn, accused the cornet and the
snare-drum of stealing his cold lunch. At intervals he could be
"Ah, no! at the end of the end! Render me the sausages, you, or
less I break your throat! Aha! I know you. You are going to
play me there a bad farce. My sausages and the pork sandwich,
else I go away from this place!"
He made an exaggerated show of replacing his big horn in its
case, but the by-standers raised a great protest. The sandwiches
and one sausage were produced; the other had disappeared. In the
end Skeezichs allowed himself to be appeased. The dance was
Half an hour later the gathering in the harness room was
considerably reinforced. It was the corner of the barn toward
which the male guests naturally gravitated. Harran Derrick, who
only cared to dance with Hilma Tree, was admitted. Garnett from
the Ruby rancho and Gethings from the San Pablo, came in a little
afterwards. A fourth bowl of punch was mixed, Annixter and
Caraher clamouring into each other's face as to its ingredients.
Cigars were lighted. Soon the air of the room became blue with
an acrid haze of smoke. It was very warm. Ranged in their
chairs around the side of the room, the guests emptied glass
Vanamee alone refused to drink. He sat a little to one side,
disassociating himself from what was going forward, watching the
others calmly, a little contemptuously, a cigarette in his
Hooven, after drinking his third glass, however, was afflicted
with a great sadness; his breast heaved with immense sighs. He
asserted that he was "obbressed;" Cutter had taken his steer. He
retired to a corner and seated himself in a heap on his chair,
his heels on the rungs, wiping the tears from his eyes, refusing
to be comforted.
Old Broderson startled Annixter, who sat next to him, out of all
measure by suddenly winking at him with infinite craftiness.
"When I was a lad in Ukiah," he whispered hoarsely, "I was a
devil of a fellow with the girls; but Lordy!" he nudged him
slyly, "I wouldn't have it known!"
Of those who were drinking, Annixter alone retained all his wits.
Though keeping pace with the others, glass for glass, the punch
left him solid upon his feet, clear-headed. The tough, cross-
grained fibre of him seemed proof against alcohol. Never in his
life had he been drunk. He prided himself upon his power of
resistance. It was his nature.
"Say!" exclaimed old Broderson, gravely addressing the company,
pulling at his beard uneasily--"say! I--I--listen! I'm a devil
of a fellow with the girls." He wagged his head doggedly,
shutting his eyes in a knowing fashion. "Yes, sir, I am. There
was a young lady in Ukiah--that was when I was a lad of
seventeen. We used to meet in the cemetery in the afternoons. I
was to go away to school at Sacramento, and the afternoon I left
we met in the cemetery and we stayed so long I almost missed the
train. Her name was Celestine."
There was a pause. The others waited for the rest of the story.
"And afterwards?" prompted Annixter.
"Afterwards? Nothing afterwards. I never saw her again. Her
name was Celestine."
The company raised a chorus of derision, and Osterman cried
"Say! THAT'S a pretty good one! Tell us another."
The old man laughed with the rest, believing he had made another
hit. He called Osterman to him, whispering in his ear:
"Sh! Look here! Some night you and I will go up to San
Francisco--hey? We'll go skylarking. We'll be gay. Oh, I'm a--
a--a rare old BUCK, I am! I ain't too old. You'll see."
Annixter gave over the making of the fifth bowl of punch to
Osterman, who affirmed that he had a recipe for a "fertiliser"
from Solotari that would take the plating off the ladle. He left
him wrangling with Caraher, who still persisted in adding
chartreuse, and stepped out into the dance to see how things were
It was the interval between two dances. In and around a stall at
the farther end of the floor, where lemonade was being served,
was a great throng of young men. Others hurried across the floor
singly or by twos and threes, gingerly carrying overflowing
glasses to their "partners," sitting in long rows of white and
blue and pink against the opposite wall, their mothers and older
sisters in a second dark-clothed rank behind them. A babel of
talk was in the air, mingled with gusts of laughter. Everybody
seemed having a good time. In the increasing heat the
decorations of evergreen trees and festoons threw off a pungent
aroma that suggested a Sunday-school Christmas festival. In the
other stalls, lower down the barn, the young men had brought
chairs, and in these deep recesses the most desperate love-making
was in progress, the young man, his hair neatly parted, leaning
with great solicitation over the girl, his "partner" for the
moment, fanning her conscientiously, his arm carefully laid along
the back of her chair.
By the doorway, Annixter met Sarria, who had stepped out to smoke
a fat, black cigar. The set smile of amiability was still fixed
on the priest's smooth, shiny face; the cigar ashes had left grey
streaks on the front of his cassock. He avoided Annixter,
fearing, no doubt, an allusion to his game cocks, and took up his
position back of the second rank of chairs by the musicians'
stand, beaming encouragingly upon every one who caught his eye.
Annixter was saluted right and left as he slowly went the round
of the floor. At every moment he had to pause to shake hands and
to listen to congratulations upon the size of his barn and the
success of his dance. But he was distrait, his thoughts
elsewhere; he did not attempt to hide his impatience when some of
the young men tried to engage him in conversation, asking him to
be introduced to their sisters, or their friends' sisters. He
sent them about their business harshly, abominably rude, leaving
a wake of angry disturbance behind him, sowing the seeds of
future quarrels and renewed unpopularity. He was looking for
When at last he came unexpectedly upon her, standing near where
Mrs. Tree was seated, some half-dozen young men hovering uneasily
in her neighbourhood, all his audacity was suddenly stricken from
him; his gruffness, his overbearing insolence vanished with an
abruptness that left him cold. His old-time confusion and
embarrassment returned to him. Instead of speaking to her as he
intended, he affected not to see her, but passed by, his head in
the air, pretending a sudden interest in a Japanese lantern that
was about to catch fire.
But he had had a single distinct glimpse of her, definite,
precise, and this glimpse was enough. Hilma had changed. The
change was subtle, evanescent, hard to define, but not the less
unmistakable. The excitement, the enchanting delight, the
delicious disturbance of "the first ball," had produced its
result. Perhaps there had only been this lacking. It was hard
to say, but for that brief instant of time Annixter was looking
at Hilma, the woman. She was no longer the young girl upon whom
he might look down, to whom he might condescend, whose little,
infantile graces were to be considered with amused toleration.
When Annixter returned to the harness room, he let himself into a
clamour of masculine hilarity. Osterman had, indeed, made a
marvellous "fertiliser," whiskey for the most part, diluted with
champagne and lemon juice. The first round of this drink had
been welcomed with a salvo of cheers. Hooven, recovering his
spirits under its violent stimulation, spoke of "heving ut oudt
mit Cudder, bei Gott," while Osterman, standing on a chair at the
end of the room, shouted for a "few moments quiet, gentlemen," so
that he might tell a certain story he knew.
But, abruptly, Annixter discovered that the liquors--the
champagne, whiskey, brandy, and the like--were running low. This
would never do. He felt that he would stand disgraced if it
could be said afterward that he had not provided sufficient drink
at his entertainment. He slipped out, unobserved, and, finding
two of his ranch hands near the doorway, sent them down to the
ranch house to bring up all the cases of "stuff" they found
However, when this matter had been attended to, Annixter did not
immediately return to the harness room. On the floor of the barn
a square dance was under way, the leader of the City Band calling
the figures. Young Vacca indefatigably continued the rounds of
the barn, paring candle after candle, possessed with this single
idea of duty, pushing the dancers out of his way, refusing to
admit that the floor was yet sufficiently slippery. The druggist
had returned indoors, and leaned dejected and melancholy against
the wall near the doorway, unable to dance, his evening's
enjoyment spoiled. The gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville
had just involved himself in a deplorable incident. In a search
for his handkerchief, which he had lost while trying to find his
programme card, he had inadvertently wandered into the feed room,
set apart as the ladies' dressing room, at the moment when Mrs.
Hooven, having removed the waist of Minna's dress, was relacing
her corsets. There was a tremendous scene. The clerk was
ejected forcibly, Mrs. Hooven filling all the neighbourhood with
shrill expostulation. A young man, Minna's "partner," who stood
near the feed room door, waiting for her to come out, had invited
the clerk, with elaborate sarcasm, to step outside for a moment;
and the clerk, breathless, stupefied, hustled from hand to hand,
remained petrified, with staring eyes, turning about and about,
looking wildly from face to face, speechless, witless, wondering
what had happened.
But the square dance was over. The City Band was just beginning
to play a waltz. Annixter assuring himself that everything was
going all right, was picking his way across the floor, when he
came upon Hilma Tree quite alone, and looking anxiously among the
crowd of dancers.
"Having a good time, Miss Hilma?" he demanded, pausing for a
"Oh, am I, JUST!" she exclaimed. "The best time--but I don't
know what has become of my partner. See! I'm left all alone--
the only time this whole evening," she added proudly. "Have you
seen him--my partner, sir? I forget his name. I only met him
this evening, and I've met SO many I can't begin to remember half
of them. He was a young man from Bonneville--a clerk, I think,
because I remember seeing him in a store there, and he wore the
"I guess he got lost in the shuffle," observed Annixter.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He took his resolution in both
hands. He clenched his teeth.
"Say! look here, Miss Hilma. What's the matter with you and I
stealing this one for ourselves? I don't mean to dance. I don't
propose to make a jumping-jack of myself for some galoot to give
me the laugh, but we'll walk around. Will you? What do you
"I'm not so VERY sorry I missed my dance with that--that--little
clerk," she said guiltily. "I suppose that's very bad of me,
Annixter fulminated a vigorous protest.
"I AM so warm!" murmured Hilma, fanning herself with her
handkerchief; "and, oh! SUCH a good time as I have had! I was
so afraid that I would be a wall-flower and sit up by mamma and
papa the whole evening; and as it is, I have had every single
dance, and even some dances I had to split. Oh-h!" she breathed,
glancing lovingly around the barn, noting again the festoons of
tri-coloured cambric, the Japanese lanterns, flaring lamps, and
"decorations" of evergreen; "oh-h! it's all so lovely, just like
a fairy story; and to think that it can't last but for one little
evening, and that to-morrow morning one must wake up to the
every-day things again!"
"Well," observed Annixter doggedly, unwilling that she should
forget whom she ought to thank, "I did my best, and my best is as
good as another man's, I guess."
Hilma overwhelmed him with a burst of gratitude which he gruffly
pretended to deprecate. Oh, that was all right. It hadn't cost
him much. He liked to see people having a good time himself, and
the crowd did seem to be enjoying themselves. What did SHE
think? Did things look lively enough? And how about herself--
was she enjoying it?
Stupidly Annixter drove the question home again, at his wits' end
as to how to make conversation. Hilma protested volubly she
would never forget this night, adding:
"Dance! Oh, you don't know how I love it! I didn't know myself.
I could dance all night and never stop once!"
Annixter was smitten with uneasiness. No doubt this
"promenading" was not at all to her taste. Wondering what kind
of a spectacle he was about to make of himself, he exclaimed:
"Want to dance now?"
"Oh, yes!" she returned.
They paused in their walk, and Hilma, facing him, gave herself
into his arms. Annixter shut his teeth, the perspiration
starting from his forehead. For five years he had abandoned
dancing. Never in his best days had it been one of his
They hesitated a moment, waiting to catch the time from the
musicians. Another couple bore down upon them at precisely the
wrong moment, jostling them out of step. Annixter swore under
his breath. His arm still about the young woman, he pulled her
over to one corner.
"Now," he muttered, "we'll try again."
A second time, listening to the one-two-three, one-two-three
cadence of the musicians, they endeavoured to get under way.
Annixter waited the fraction of a second too long and stepped on
Hilma's foot. On the third attempt, having worked out of the
corner, a pair of dancers bumped into them once more, and as they
were recovering themselves another couple caromed violently
against Annixter so that he all but lost his footing. He was in
a rage. Hilma, very embarrassed, was trying not to laugh, and
thus they found themselves, out in the middle of the floor,
continually jostled from their position, holding clumsily to each
other, stammering excuses into one another's faces, when Delaney
He came with the suddenness of an explosion. There was a
commotion by the doorway, a rolling burst of oaths, a furious
stamping of hoofs, a wild scramble of the dancers to either side
of the room, and there he was. He had ridden the buckskin at a
gallop straight through the doorway and out into the middle of
the floor of the barn.
Once well inside, Delaney hauled up on the cruel spade-bit, at
the same time driving home the spurs, and the buckskin, without
halting in her gait, rose into the air upon her hind feet, and
coming down again with a thunder of iron hoofs upon the hollow
floor, lashed out with both heels simultaneously, her back
arched, her head between her knees. It was the running buck, and
had not Delaney been the hardest buster in the county, would have
flung him headlong like a sack of sand. But he eased off the
bit, gripping the mare's flanks with his knees, and the buckskin,
having long since known her master, came to hand quivering, the
bloody spume dripping from the bit upon the slippery floor.
Delaney had arrayed himself with painful elaboration, determined
to look the part, bent upon creating the impression, resolved
that his appearance at least should justify his reputation of
being "bad." Nothing was lacking--neither the campaign hat with
upturned brim, nor the dotted blue handkerchief knotted behind
the neck, nor the heavy gauntlets stitched with red, nor--this
above all--the bear-skin "chaparejos," the hair trousers of the
mountain cowboy, the pistol holster low on the thigh. But for
the moment this holster was empty, and in his right hand, the
hammer at full cock, the chamber loaded, the puncher flourished
his teaser, an army Colt's, the lamplight dully reflected in the
dark blue steel.
In a second of time the dance was a bedlam. The musicians
stopped with a discord, and the middle of the crowded floor bared
itself instantly. It was like sand blown from off a rock; the
throng of guests, carried by an impulse that was not to be
resisted, bore back against the sides of the barn, overturning
chairs, tripping upon each other, falling down, scrambling to
their feet again, stepping over one another, getting behind each
other, diving under chairs, flattening themselves against the
wall--a wild, clamouring pell-mell, blind, deaf, panic-stricken;
a confused tangle of waving arms, torn muslin, crushed flowers,
pale faces, tangled legs, that swept in all directions back from
the centre of the floor, leaving Annixter and Hilma, alone,
deserted, their arms about each other, face to face with Delaney,
mad with alcohol, bursting with remembered insult, bent on evil,
reckless of results.
After the first scramble for safety, the crowd fell quiet for the
fraction of an instant, glued to the walls, afraid to stir,
struck dumb and motionless with surprise and terror, and in the
instant's silence that followed Annixter, his eyes on Delaney,
muttered rapidly to Hilma:
"Get back, get away to one side. The fool MIGHT shoot."
There was a second's respite afforded while Delaney occupied
himself in quieting the buckskin, and in that second of time, at
this moment of crisis, the wonderful thing occurred. Hilma,
turning from Delaney, her hands clasped on Annixter's arm, her
eyes meeting his, exclaimed:
And that was all; but to Annixter it was a revelation. Never
more alive to his surroundings, never more observant, he suddenly
understood. For the briefest lapse of time he and Hilma looked
deep into each other's eyes, and from that moment on, Annixter
knew that Hilma cared.
The whole matter was brief as the snapping of a finger. Two
words and a glance and all was done. But as though nothing had
occurred, Annixter pushed Hilma from him, repeating harshly:
"Get back, I tell you. Don't you see he's got a gun? Haven't I
enough on my hands without you?"
He loosed her clasp and his eyes once more on Delaney, moved
diagonally backwards toward the side of the barn, pushing Hilma
from him. In the end he thrust her away so sharply that she gave
back with a long stagger; somebody caught her arm and drew her
in, leaving Annixter alone once more in the middle of the floor,
his hands in his coat pockets, watchful, alert, facing his enemy.
But the cow-puncher was not ready to come to grapples yet.
Fearless, his wits gambolling under the lash of the alcohol, he
wished to make the most of the occasion, maintaining the
suspense, playing for the gallery. By touches of the hand and
knee he kept the buckskin in continual, nervous movement, her
hoofs clattering, snorting, tossing her head, while he, himself,
addressing himself to Annixter, poured out a torrent of
"Well, strike me blind if it ain't old Buck Annixter! He was
going to show me off Quien Sabe at the toe of his boot, was he?
Well, here's your chance,--with the ladies to see you do it.
Gives a dance, does he, high-falutin' hoe-down in his barn and
forgets to invite his old broncho-bustin' friend. But his friend
don't forget him; no, he don't. He remembers little things, does
his broncho-bustin' friend. Likes to see a dance hisself on
occasion, his friend does. Comes anyhow, trustin' his welcome
will be hearty; just to see old Buck Annixter dance, just to show
Buck Annixter's friends how Buck can dance--dance all by hisself,
a little hen-on-a-hot-plate dance when his broncho-bustin' friend
asks him so polite. A little dance for the ladies, Buck. This
feature of the entertainment is alone worth the price of
admission. Tune up, Buck. Attention now! I'll give you the
He "fanned" his revolver, spinning it about his index finger by
the trigger-guard with incredible swiftness, the twirling weapon
a mere blur of blue steel in his hand. Suddenly and without any
apparent cessation of the movement, he fired, and a little
splinter of wood flipped into the air at Annixter's feet.
"Time!" he shouted, while the buckskin reared to the report.
"Hold on--wait a minute. This place is too light to suit. That
big light yonder is in my eyes. Look out, I'm going to throw
A second shot put out the lamp over the musicians' stand. The
assembled guests shrieked, a frantic, shrinking quiver ran
through the crowd like the huddling of frightened rabbits in
Annixter hardly moved. He stood some thirty paces from the
buster, his hands still in his coat pockets, his eyes glistening,
Excitable and turbulent in trifling matters, when actual bodily
danger threatened he was of an abnormal quiet.
"I'm watching you," cried the other. "Don't make any mistake
about that. Keep your hands in your COAT pockets, if you'd like
to live a little longer, understand? And don't let me see you
make a move toward your hip or your friends will be asked to
identify you at the morgue to-morrow morning. When I'm bad, I'm
called the Undertaker's Friend, so I am, and I'm that bad to-
night that I'm scared of myself. They'll have to revise the
census returns before I'm done with this place. Come on, now,
I'm getting tired waiting. I come to see a dance."
"Hand over that horse, Delaney," said Annixter, without raising
his voice, "and clear out."
The other affected to be overwhelmed with infinite astonishment,
his eyes staring. He peered down from the saddle.
"Wh-a-a-t!" he exclaimed; "wh-a-a-t did you say? Why, I guess
you must be looking for trouble; that's what I guess."
"There's where you're wrong, m'son," muttered Annixter, partly to
Delaney, partly to himself. "If I was looking for trouble there
wouldn't be any guess-work about it."
With the words he began firing. Delaney had hardly entered the
barn before Annixter's plan had been formed. Long since his
revolver was in the pocket of his coat, and he fired now through
the coat itself, without withdrawing his hands.
Until that moment Annixter had not been sure of himself. There
was no doubt that for the first few moments of the affair he
would have welcomed with joy any reasonable excuse for getting
out of the situation. But the sound of his own revolver gave him
confidence. He whipped it from his pocket and fired again.
Abruptly the duel began, report following report, spurts of pale
blue smoke jetting like the darts of short spears between the two
men, expanding to a haze and drifting overhead in wavering
strata. It was quite probable that no thought of killing each
other suggested itself to either Annixter or Delaney. Both fired
without aiming very deliberately. To empty their revolvers and
avoid being hit was the desire common to both. They no longer
vituperated each other. The revolvers spoke for them.
Long after, Annixter could recall this moment. For years he
could with but little effort reconstruct the scene--the densely
packed crowd flattened against the sides of the barn, the
festoons of lanterns, the mingled smell of evergreens, new wood,
sachets, and powder smoke; the vague clamour of distress and
terror that rose from the throng of guests, the squealing of the
buckskin, the uneven explosions of the revolvers, the
reverberation of trampling hoofs, a brief glimpse of Harran
Derrick's excited face at the door of the harness room, and in
the open space in the centre of the floor, himself and Delaney,
manoeuvring swiftly in a cloud of smoke.
Annixter's revolver contained but six cartridges. Already it
seemed to him as if he had fired twenty times. Without doubt the
next shot was his last. Then what? He peered through the blue
haze that with every discharge thickened between him and the
buster. For his own safety he must "place" at least one shot.
Delaney's chest and shoulders rose suddenly above the smoke close
upon him as the distraught buckskin reared again. Annixter, for
the first time during the fight, took definite aim, but before he
could draw the trigger there was a great shout and he was aware
of the buckskin, the bridle trailing, the saddle empty, plunging
headlong across the floor, crashing into the line of chairs.
Delaney was scrambling off the floor. There was blood on the
buster's wrist and he no longer carried his revolver. Suddenly
he turned and ran. The crowd parted right and left before him as
he made toward the doorway. He disappeared.
Twenty men promptly sprang to the buckskin's head, but she broke
away, and wild with terror, bewildered, blind, insensate, charged
into the corner of the barn by the musicians' stand. She brought
up against the wall with cruel force and with impact of a sack of
stones; her head was cut. She turned and charged again, bull-
like, the blood streaming from her forehead. The crowd,
shrieking, melted before her rush. An old man was thrown down
and trampled. The buckskin trod upon the dragging bridle,
somersaulted into a confusion of chairs in one corner, and came
down with a terrific clatter in a wild disorder of kicking hoofs
and splintered wood. But a crowd of men fell upon her, tugging
at the bit, sitting on her head, shouting, gesticulating. For
five minutes she struggled and fought; then, by degrees, she
recovered herself, drawing great sobbing breaths at long
intervals that all but burst the girths, rolling her eyes in
bewildered, supplicating fashion, trembling in every muscle, and
starting and shrinking now and then like a young girl in
hysterics. At last she lay quiet. The men allowed her to
struggle to her feet. The saddle was removed and she was led to
one of the empty stalls, where she remained the rest of the
evening, her head low, her pasterns quivering, turning her head
apprehensively from time to time, showing the white of one eye
and at long intervals heaving a single prolonged sigh.
And an hour later the dance was progressing as evenly as though
nothing in the least extraordinary had occurred. The incident
was closed--that abrupt swoop of terror and impending death
dropping down there from out the darkness, cutting abruptly
athwart the gayety of the moment, come and gone with the
swiftness of a thunderclap. Many of the women had gone home,
taking their men with them; but the great bulk of the crowd still
remained, seeing no reason why the episode should interfere with
the evening's enjoyment, resolved to hold the ground for mere
bravado, if for nothing else. Delaney would not come back, of
that everybody was persuaded, and in case he should, there was
not found wanting fully half a hundred young men who would give
him a dressing down, by jingo! They had been too surprised to
act when Delaney had first appeared, and before they knew where
they were at, the buster had cleared out. In another minute,
just another second, they would have shown him--yes, sir, by
jingo!--ah, you bet!
On all sides the reminiscences began to circulate. At least one
man in every three had been involved in a gun fight at some time
of his life. "Ah, you ought to have seen in Yuba County one
time--" "Why, in Butte County in the early days--" "Pshaw! this
to-night wasn't anything! Why, once in a saloon in Arizona when
I was there--" and so on, over and over again. Osterman solemnly
asserted that he had seen a greaser sawn in two in a Nevada
sawmill. Old Broderson had witnessed a Vigilante lynching in '55
on California Street in San Francisco. Dyke recalled how once in
his engineering days he had run over a drunk at a street
crossing. Gethings of the San Pablo had taken a shot at a
highwayman. Hooven had bayonetted a French Chasseur at Sedan.
An old Spanish-Mexican, a centenarian from Guadalajara,
remembered Fremont's stand on a mountain top in San Benito
County. The druggist had fired at a burglar trying to break into
his store one New Year's eve. Young Vacca had seen a dog shot in
Guadalajara. Father Sarria had more than once administered the
sacraments to Portuguese desperadoes dying of gunshot wounds.
Even the women recalled terrible scenes. Mrs. Cutter recounted
to an interested group how she had seen a claim jumped in Placer
County in 1851, when three men were shot, falling in a fusillade
of rifle shots, and expiring later upon the floor of her kitchen
while she looked on. Mrs. Dyke had been in a stage hold-up, when
the shotgun messenger was murdered. Stories by the hundreds went
the round of the company. The air was surcharged with blood,
dying groans, the reek of powder smoke, the crack of rifles. All
the legends of '49, the violent, wild life of the early days,
were recalled to view, defiling before them there in an endless
procession under the glare of paper lanterns and kerosene lamps.
But the affair had aroused a combative spirit amongst the men of
the assembly. Instantly a spirit of aggression, of truculence,
swelled up underneath waistcoats and starched shirt bosoms. More
than one offender was promptly asked to "step outside." It was
like young bucks excited by an encounter of stags, lowering their
horns upon the slightest provocation, showing off before the does
and fawns. Old quarrels were remembered. One sought laboriously
for slights and insults, veiled in ordinary conversation. The
sense of personal honour became refined to a delicate, fine
point. Upon the slightest pretext there was a haughty drawing up
of the figure, a twisting of the lips into a smile of scorn.
Caraher spoke of shooting S. Behrman on sight before the end of
the week. Twice it became necessary to separate Hooven and
Cutter, renewing their quarrel as to the ownership of the steer.
All at once Minna Hooven's "partner" fell upon the gayly
apparelled clerk from Bonneville, pummelling him with his fists,
hustling him out of the hall, vociferating that Miss Hooven had
been grossly insulted. It took three men to extricate the clerk
from his clutches, dazed, gasping, his collar unfastened and
sticking up into his face, his eyes staring wildly into the faces
of the crowd.
But Annixter, bursting with pride, his chest thrown out, his chin
in the air, reigned enthroned in a circle of adulation. He was
the Hero. To shake him by the hand was an honour to be struggled
for. One clapped him on the back with solemn nods of approval.
"There's the BOY for you;" "There was nerve for you;" "What's the
matter with Annixter?" "How about THAT for sand, and how was THAT
for a SHOT?" "Why, Apache Kid couldn't have bettered that."
"Cool enough." "Took a steady eye and a sure hand to make a shot
like that." "There was a shot that would be told about in Tulare
County fifty years to come."
Annixter had refrained from replying, all ears to this
conversation, wondering just what had happened. He knew only
that Delaney had run, leaving his revolver and a spatter of blood
behind him. By degrees, however, he ascertained that his last
shot but one had struck Delaney's pistol hand, shattering it and
knocking the revolver from his grip. He was overwhelmed with
astonishment. Why, after the shooting began he had not so much
as seen Delaney with any degree of plainness. The whole affair
was a whirl.
"Well, where did YOU learn to shoot THAT way?" some one in the
crowd demanded. Annixter moved his shoulders with a gesture of
"Oh," he observed carelessly, "it's not my SHOOTING that ever
worried ME, m'son."
The crowd gaped with delight. There was a great wagging of
"Well, I guess not."
"No, sir, not much."
"Ah, no, you bet not."
When the women pressed around him, shaking his hands, declaring
that he had saved their daughters' lives, Annixter assumed a pose
of superb deprecation, the modest self-obliteration of the
chevalier. He delivered himself of a remembered phrase, very
elegant, refined. It was Lancelot after the tournament, Bayard
receiving felicitations after the battle.
"Oh, don't say anything about it," he murmured. "I only did what
any man would have done in my place."
To restore completely the equanimity of the company, he announced
supper. This he had calculated as a tremendous surprise. It was
to have been served at mid-night, but the irruption of Delaney
had dislocated the order of events, and the tables were brought
in an hour ahead of time. They were arranged around three sides
of the barn and were loaded down with cold roasts of beef, cold
chickens and cold ducks, mountains of sandwiches, pitchers of
milk and lemonade, entire cheeses, bowls of olives, plates of
oranges and nuts. The advent of this supper was received with a
volley of applause. The musicians played a quick step. The
company threw themselves upon the food with a great scraping of
chairs and a vast rustle of muslins, tarletans, and organdies;
soon the clatter of dishes was a veritable uproar. The tables
were taken by assault. One ate whatever was nearest at hand,
some even beginning with oranges and nuts and ending with beef
and chicken. At the end the paper caps were brought on, together
with the ice cream. All up and down the tables the pulled
"crackers" snapped continually like the discharge of innumerable
The caps of tissue paper were put on--"Phrygian Bonnets,"
"Magicians' Caps," "Liberty Caps;" the young girls looked across
the table at their vis-a-vis with bursts of laughter and vigorous
clapping of the hands.
The harness room crowd had a table to themselves, at the head of
which sat Annixter and at the foot Harran. The gun fight had
sobered Presley thoroughly. He sat by the side of Vanamee, who
ate but little, preferring rather to watch the scene with calm
observation, a little contemptuous when the uproar around the
table was too boisterous, savouring of intoxication. Osterman
rolled bullets of bread and shot them with astonishing force up
and down the table, but the others--Dyke, old Broderson, Caraher,
Harran Derrick, Hooven, Cutter, Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast
from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and
Chattern of the Bonanza--occupied themselves with eating as much
as they could before the supper gave out. At a corner of the
table, speechless, unobserved, ignored, sat Dabney, of whom
nothing was known but his name, the silent old man who made no
friends. He ate and drank quietly, dipping his sandwich in his
Osterman ate all the olives he could lay his hands on, a score of
them, fifty of them, a hundred of them. He touched no crumb of
anything else. Old Broderson stared at him, his jaw fallen.
Osterman declared he had once eaten a thousand on a bet. The men
called each others' attention to him. Delighted to create a
sensation, Osterman persevered. The contents of an entire bowl
disappeared in his huge, reptilian slit of a mouth. His cheeks
of brownish red were extended, his bald forehead glistened.
Colics seized upon him. His stomach revolted. It was all one
with him. He was satisfied, contented. He was astonishing the
"Once I swallowed a tree toad." he told old Broderson, "by
mistake. I was eating grapes, and the beggar lived in me three
weeks. In rainy weather he would sing. You don't believe that,"
he vociferated. "Haven't I got the toad at home now in a bottle
And the old man, never doubting, his eyes starting, wagged his
head in amazement.
"Oh, yes," cried Caraher, the length of the table, "that's a
pretty good one. Tell us another."
"That reminds me of a story," hazarded old Broderson uncertainly;
"once when I was a lad in Ukiah, fifty years"
"Oh, yes," cried half a dozen voices, "THAT'S a pretty good one.
Tell us another."
"Eh--wh--what?" murmured Broderson, looking about him. "I--I
don't know. It was Ukiah. You--you--you mix me all up."
As soon as supper was over, the floor was cleared again. The
guests clamoured for a Virginia reel. The last quarter of the
evening, the time of the most riotous fun, was beginning. The
young men caught the girls who sat next to them. The orchestra
dashed off into a rollicking movement. The two lines were
formed. In a second of time the dance was under way again; the
guests still wearing the Phrygian bonnets and liberty caps of
pink and blue tissue paper.
But the group of men once more adjourned to the harness room.
Fresh boxes of cigars were opened; the seventh bowl of fertiliser
was mixed. Osterman poured the dregs of a glass of it upon his
bald head, declaring that he could feel the hair beginning to
But suddenly old Broderson rose to his feet.
"Aha," he cackled, "I'M going to have a dance, I am. Think I'm
too old? I'll show you young fellows. I'm a regular old ROOSTER
when I get started."
He marched out into the barn, the others following, holding their
sides. He found an aged Mexican woman by the door and hustled
her, all confused and giggling, into the Virginia reel, then at
its height. Every one crowded around to see. Old Broderson
stepped off with the alacrity of a colt, snapping his fingers,
slapping his thigh, his mouth widening in an excited grin. The
entire company of the guests shouted. The City Band redoubled
their efforts; and the old man, losing his head, breathless,
gasping, dislocated his stiff joints in his efforts. He became
possessed, bowing, scraping, advancing, retreating, wagging his
beard, cutting pigeons' wings, distraught with the music, the
clamour, the applause, the effects of the fertiliser.
"Nice eye, Santa Claus."
But Annixter's attention wandered. He searched for Hilma Tree,
having still in mind the look in her eyes at that swift moment of
danger. He had not seen her since then. At last he caught sight
of her. She was not dancing, but, instead, was sitting with her
"partner" at the end of the barn near her father and mother, her
eyes wide, a serious expression on her face, her thoughts, no
doubt, elsewhere. Annixter was about to go to her when he was
interrupted by a cry.
Old Broderson, in the midst of a double shuffle, had clapped his
hand to his side with a gasp, which he followed by a whoop of
anguish. He had got a stitch or had started a twinge somewhere.
With a gesture of resignation, he drew himself laboriously out of
the dance, limping abominably, one leg dragging. He was heard
asking for his wife. Old Mrs. Broderson took him in charge. She
jawed him for making an exhibition of himself, scolding as though
he were a ten-year-old.
"Well, I want to know!" she exclaimed, as he hobbled off,
dejected and melancholy, leaning upon her arm, "thought he had to
dance, indeed! What next? A gay old grandpa, this. He'd
better be thinking of his coffin."
It was almost midnight. The dance drew towards its close in a
storm of jubilation. The perspiring musicians toiled like galley
slaves; the guests singing as they danced.
The group of men reassembled in the harness room. Even Magnus
Derrick condescended to enter and drink a toast. Presley and
Vanamee, still holding themselves aloof, looked on, Vanamee more
and more disgusted. Dabney, standing to one side, overlooked and
forgotten, continued to sip steadily at his glass, solemn,
reserved. Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of
the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and Chattern of the
Bonanza, leaned back in their chairs, their waist-coats
unbuttoned, their legs spread wide, laughing--they could not tell
why. Other ranchers, men whom Annixter had never seen, appeared
in the room, wheat growers from places as far distant as Goshen
and Pixley; young men and old, proprietors of veritable
principalities, hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat lands, a
dozen of them, a score of them; men who were strangers to each
other, but who made it a point to shake hands with Magnus
Derrick, the "prominent man" of the valley. Old Broderson, whom
every one had believed had gone home, returned, though much
sobered, and took his place, refusing, however, to drink another
Soon the entire number of Annixter's guests found themselves in
two companies, the dancers on the floor of the barn, frolicking
through the last figures of the Virginia reel and the boisterous
gathering of men in the harness room, downing the last quarts of
fertiliser. Both assemblies had been increased. Even the older
people had joined in the dance, while nearly every one of the men
who did not dance had found their way into the harness room. The
two groups rivalled each other in their noise. Out on the floor
of the barn was a very whirlwind of gayety, a tempest of
laughter, hand-clapping and cries of amusement. In the harness
room the confused shouting and singing, the stamping of heavy
feet, set a quivering reverberation in the oil of the kerosene
lamps, the flame of the candles in the Japanese lanterns flaring
and swaying in the gusts of hilarity. At intervals, between the
two, one heard the music, the wailing of the violins, the
vigorous snarling of the cornet, and the harsh, incessant rasping
of the snare drum.
And at times all these various sounds mingled in a single vague
note, huge, clamorous, that rose up into the night from the
colossal, reverberating compass of the barn and sent its echoes
far off across the unbroken levels of the surrounding ranches,
stretching out to infinity under the clouded sky, calm,
Annixter, the punch bowl clasped in his arms, was pouring out the
last spoonful of liquor into Caraher's glass when he was aware
that some one was pulling at the sleeve of his coat. He set down
the punch bowl.
"Well, where did YOU come from?" he demanded.
It was a messenger from Bonneville, the uniformed boy that the
telephone company employed to carry messages. He had just
arrived from town on his bicycle, out of breath and panting.
"Message for you, sir. Will you sign?"
He held the book to Annixter, who signed the receipt, wondering.
The boy departed, leaving a thick envelope of yellow paper in
Annixter's hands, the address typewritten, the word "Urgent"
written in blue pencil in one corner.
Annixter tore it open. The envelope contained other sealed
envelopes, some eight or ten of them, addressed to Magnus
Derrick, Osterman, Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings, Chattern,
Dabney, and to Annixter himself.
Still puzzled, Annixter distributed the envelopes, muttering to
"What's up now?"
The incident had attracted attention. A comparative quiet
followed, the guests following the letters with their eyes as
they were passed around the table. They fancied that Annixter
had arranged a surprise.
Magnus Derrick, who sat next to Annixter, was the first to
receive his letter. With a word of excuse he opened it.
"Read it, read it, Governor," shouted a half-dozen voices. "No
secrets, you know. Everything above board here to-night."
Magnus cast a glance at the contents of the letter, then rose to
his feet and read:
Bonneville, Tulare Co., Cal.
By regrade of October 1st, the value of the railroad land you
occupy, included in your ranch of Los Muertos, has been fixed at
$27.00 per acre. The land is now for sale at that price to any
CYRUS BLAKELEE RUGGLES,
Land Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
Local Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
In the midst of the profound silence that followed, Osterman was
heard to exclaim grimly:
"THAT'S a pretty good one. Tell us another."
But for a long moment this was the only remark.
The silence widened, broken only by the sound of torn paper as
Annixter, Osterman, old Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings,
Chattern, and Dabney opened and read their letters. They were
all to the same effect, almost word for word like the Governor's.
Only the figures and the proper names varied. In some cases the
price per acre was twenty-two dollars. In Annixter's case it was
"And--and the company promised to sell to me, to--to all of us,"
gasped old Broderson, "at TWO DOLLARS AND A HALF an acre."
It was not alone the ranchers immediately around Bonneville who
would be plundered by this move on the part of the Railroad. The
"alternate section" system applied throughout all the San
Joaquin. By striking at the Bonneville ranchers a terrible
precedent was established. Of the crowd of guests in the harness
room alone, nearly every man was affected, every man menaced with
ruin. All of a million acres was suddenly involved.
Then suddenly the tempest burst. A dozen men were on their feet
in an instant, their teeth set, their fists clenched, their faces
purple with rage. Oaths, curses, maledictions exploded like the
firing of successive mines. Voices quivered with wrath, hands
flung upward, the fingers hooked, prehensile, trembled with
anger. The sense of wrongs, the injustices, the oppression,
extortion, and pillage of twenty years suddenly culminated and
found voice in a raucous howl of execration. For a second there
was nothing articulate in that cry of savage exasperation,
nothing even intelligent. It was the human animal hounded to its
corner, exploited, harried to its last stand, at bay, ferocious,
terrible, turning at last with bared teeth and upraised claws to
meet the death grapple. It was the hideous squealing of the
tormented brute, its back to the wall, defending its lair, its
mate and its whelps, ready to bite, to rend, to trample, to
batter out the life of The Enemy in a primeval, bestial welter of
blood and fury.
The roar subsided to intermittent clamour, in the pauses of which
the sounds of music and dancing made themselves audible once
"S. Behrman again," vociferated Harran Derrick.
"Chose his moment well," muttered Annixter. "Hits his hardest
when we're all rounded up having a good time."
"Gentlemen, this is ruin."
"What's to be done now?"
"FIGHT! My God! do you think we are going to stand this? Do
you think we CAN?"
The uproar swelled again. The clearer the assembly of ranchers
understood the significance of this move on the part of the
Railroad, the more terrible it appeared, the more flagrant, the
more intolerable. Was it possible, was it within the bounds of
imagination that this tyranny should be contemplated? But they
knew--past years had driven home the lesson--the implacable, iron
monster with whom they had to deal, and again and again the sense
of outrage and oppression lashed them to their feet, their mouths
wide with curses, their fists clenched tight, their throats
hoarse with shouting.
"Fight! How fight? What ARE you going to do?"
"If there's a law in this land"
"If there is, it is in Shelgrim's pocket. Who owns the courts in
California? Ain't it Shelgrim?"
"God damn him."
"Well, how long are you going to stand it? How long before
you'll settle up accounts with six inches of plugged gas-pipe?"
"And our contracts, the solemn pledges of the corporation to sell
to us first of all----"
"And now the land is for sale to anybody."
"Why, it is a question of my home. Am I to be turned out? Why,
I have put eight thousand dollars into improving this land."
"And I six thousand, and now that I have, the Railroad grabs it."
"And the system of irrigating ditches that Derrick and I have
been laying out. There's thousands of dollars in that!"
"I'll fight this out till I've spent every cent of my money."
"Where? In the courts that the company owns?"
"Think I am going to give in to this? Think I am to get off my
land? By God, gentlemen, law or no law, railroad or no
"This is the last. Legal means first; if those fail--the
"They can kill me. They can shoot me down, but I'll die--die
fighting for my home--before I'll give in to this."
At length Annixter made himself heard:
"All out of the room but the ranch owners," he shouted. "Hooven,
Caraher, Dyke, you'll have to clear out. This is a family
affair. Presley, you and your friend can remain."
Reluctantly the others filed through the door. There remained in
the harness room--besides Vanamee and Presley--Magnus Derrick,
Annixter, old Broderson Harran, Garnett from the Ruby rancho,
Keast from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo,
Chattern of the Bonanza, about a score of others, ranchers from
various parts of the county, and, last of all, Dabney, ignored,
silent, to whom nobody spoke and who, as yet, had not uttered a
But the men who had been asked to leave the harness room spread
the news throughout the barn. It was repeated from lip to lip.
One by one the guests dropped out of the dance. Groups were
formed. By swift degrees the gayety lapsed away. The Virginia
reel broke up. The musicians ceased playing, and in the place of
the noisy, effervescent revelry of the previous half hour, a
subdued murmur filled all the barn, a mingling of whispers,
lowered voices, the coming and going of light footsteps, the
uneasy shifting of positions, while from behind the closed doors
of the harness room came a prolonged, sullen hum of anger and
strenuous debate. The dance came to an abrupt end. The guests,
unwilling to go as yet, stunned, distressed, stood clumsily
about, their eyes vague, their hands swinging at their sides,
looking stupidly into each others' faces. A sense of impending
calamity, oppressive, foreboding, gloomy, passed through the air
overhead in the night, a long shiver of anguish and of terror,
In the harness room, however, the excitement continued unchecked.
One rancher after another delivered himself of a torrent of
furious words. There was no order, merely the frenzied outcry of
blind fury. One spirit alone was common to all--resistance at
whatever cost and to whatever lengths.
Suddenly Osterman leaped to his feet, his bald head gleaming in
the lamp-light, his red ears distended, a flood of words filling
his great, horizontal slit of a mouth, his comic actor's face
flaming. Like the hero of a melodrama, he took stage with a
great sweeping gesture.
"ORGANISATION," he shouted, "that must be our watch-word. The
curse of the ranchers is that they fritter away their strength.
Now, we must stand together, now, NOW. Here's the crisis, here's
the moment. Shall we meet it? I CALL FOR THE LEAGUE. Not next
week, not to-morrow, not in the morning, but now, now, now, this
very moment, before we go out of that door. Every one of us here
to join it, to form the beginnings of a vast organisation, banded
together to death, if needs be, for the protection of our rights
and homes. Are you ready? Is it now or never? I call for the
Instantly there was a shout. With an actor's instinct, Osterman
had spoken at the precise psychological moment. He carried the
others off their feet, glib, dexterous, voluble. Just what was
meant by the League the others did not know, but it was
something, a vague engine, a machine with which to fight.
Osterman had not done speaking before the room rang with
outcries, the crowd of men shouting, for what they did not know.
"The League! The League!"
"Now, to-night, this moment; sign our names before we leave."
"He's right. Organisation! The League!"
"We have a committee at work already," Osterman vociferated. "I
am a member, and also Mr. Broderson, Mr. Annixter, and Mr. Harran
Derrick. What our aims are we will explain to you later. Let
this committee be the nucleus of the League--temporarily, at
least. Trust us. We are working for you and with you. Let this
committee be merged into the larger committee of the League, and
for President of the League"--he paused the fraction of a second--
"for President there can be but one name mentioned, one man to
whom we all must look as leader--Magnus Derrick."
The Governor's name was received with a storm of cheers. The
harness room reechoed with shouts of:
"Magnus for President!"
"Derrick, our natural leader."
"Derrick, Derrick, Derrick for President."
Magnus rose to his feet. He made no gesture. Erect as a cavalry
officer, tall, thin, commanding, he dominated the crowd in an
instant. There was a moment's hush.
"Gentlemen," he said, "if organisation is a good word, moderation
is a better one. The matter is too grave for haste. I would
suggest that we each and severally return to our respective homes
for the night, sleep over what has happened, and convene again
to-morrow, when we are calmer and can approach this affair in a
more judicious mood. As for the honour with which you would
inform me, I must affirm that that, too, is a matter for grave
deliberation. This League is but a name as yet. To accept
control of an organisation whose principles are not yet fixed is
a heavy responsibility. I shrink from it--"
But he was allowed to proceed no farther. A storm of protest
developed. There were shouts of:
"No, no. The League to-night and Derrick for President."
"We have been moderate too long."
"The League first, principles afterward."
"We can't wait," declared Osterman. "Many of us cannot attend a
meeting to-morrow. Our business affairs would prevent it. Now
we are all together. I propose a temporary chairman and
secretary be named and a ballot be taken. But first the League.
Let us draw up a set of resolutions to stand together, for the
defence of our homes, to death, if needs be, and each man present
affix his signature thereto."
He subsided amidst vigorous applause. The next quarter of an
hour was a vague confusion, every one talking at once,
conversations going on in low tones in various corners of the
room. Ink, pens, and a sheaf of foolscap were brought from the
ranch house. A set of resolutions was draughted, having the
force of a pledge, organising the League of Defence. Annixter
was the first to sign. Others followed, only a few holding back,
refusing to join till they had thought the matter over. The roll
grew; the paper circulated about the table; each signature was
welcomed by a salvo of cheers. At length, it reached Harran
Derrick, who signed amid tremendous uproar. He released the pen
only to shake a score of hands.
"Now, Magnus Derrick."
"Gentlemen," began the Governor, once more rising, "I beg of you
to allow me further consideration. Gentlemen"
He was interrupted by renewed shouting.
"No, no, now or never. Sign, join the League."
"Don't leave us. We look to you to help."
But presently the excited throng that turned their faces towards
the Governor were aware of a new face at his elbow. The door of
the harness room had been left unbolted and Mrs. Derrick, unable
to endure the heart-breaking suspense of waiting outside, had
gathered up all her courage and had come into the room.
Trembling, she clung to Magnus's arm, her pretty light-brown hair
in disarray, her large young girl's eyes wide with terror and
distrust. What was about to happen she did not understand, but
these men were clamouring for Magnus to pledge himself to
something, to some terrible course of action, some ruthless,
unscrupulous battle to the death with the iron-hearted monster of
steel and steam. Nerved with a coward's intrepidity, she, who so
easily obliterated herself, had found her way into the midst of
this frantic crowd, into this hot, close room, reeking of alcohol
and tobacco smoke, into this atmosphere surcharged with hatred
and curses. She seized her husband's arm imploring, distraught
"No, no," she murmured; "no, don't sign."
She was the feather caught in the whirlwind. En masse, the crowd
surged toward the erect figure of the Governor, the pen in one
hand, his wife's fingers in the other, the roll of signatures
before him. The clamour was deafening; the excitement culminated
brusquely. Half a hundred hands stretched toward him; thirty
voices, at top pitch, implored, expostulated, urged, almost
commanded. The reverberation of the shouting was as the plunge
of a cataract.
It was the uprising of The People; the thunder of the outbreak of
revolt; the mob demanding to be led, aroused at last, imperious,
resistless, overwhelming. It was the blind fury of insurrection,
the brute, many-tongued, red-eyed, bellowing for guidance, baring
its teeth, unsheathing its claws, imposing its will with the
abrupt, resistless pressure of the relaxed piston, inexorable,
knowing no pity.
"No, no," implored Annie Derrick. "No, Magnus, don't sign."
"He must," declared Harran, shouting in her ear to make himself
heard, "he must. Don't you understand?"
Again the crowd surged forward, roaring. Mrs. Derrick was swept
back, pushed to one side. Her husband no longer belonged to her.
She paid the penalty for being the wife of a great man. The
world, like a colossal iron wedge, crushed itself between. She
was thrust to the wall. The throng of men, stamping, surrounded
Magnus; she could no longer see him, but, terror-struck, she
listened. There was a moment's lull, then a vast thunder of
savage jubilation. Magnus had signed.
Harran found his mother leaning against the wall, her hands shut
over her ears; her eyes, dilated with fear, brimming with tears.
He led her from the harness room to the outer room, where Mrs.
Tree and Hilma took charge of her, and then, impatient, refusing
to answer the hundreds of anxious questions that assailed him,
hurried back to the harness room.
Already the balloting was in progress, Osterman acting as
temporary chairman on the very first ballot he was made secretary
of the League pro tem., and Magnus unanimously chosen for its
President. An executive committee was formed, which was to meet
the next day at the Los Muertos ranch house.
It was half-past one o'clock. In the barn outside the greater
number of the guests had departed. Long since the musicians had
disappeared. There only remained the families of the ranch
owners involved in the meeting in the harness room. These
huddled in isolated groups in corners of the garish, echoing
barn, the women in their wraps, the young men with their coat
collars turned up against the draughts that once more made
For a long half hour the loud hum of eager conversation continued
to issue from behind the door of the harness room. Then, at
length, there was a prolonged scraping of chairs. The session
was over. The men came out in groups, searching for their
At once the homeward movement began. Every one was worn out.
Some of the ranchers' daughters had gone to sleep against their
Billy, the stableman, and his assistant were awakened, and the
teams were hitched up. The stable yard was full of a maze of
swinging lanterns and buggy lamps. The horses fretted, champing
the bits; the carry-alls creaked with the straining of leather
and springs as they received their loads. At every instant one
heard the rattle of wheels. as vehicle after vehicle disappeared
in the night.
A fine, drizzling rain was falling, and the lamps began to show
dim in a vague haze of orange light.
Magnus Derrick was the last to go. At the doorway of the barn he
found Annixter, the roll of names--which it had been decided he
was to keep in his safe for the moment--under his arm. Silently
the two shook hands. Magnus departed. The grind of the wheels
of his carry-all grated sharply on the gravel of the driveway in
front of the ranch house, then, with a hollow roll across a
little plank bridge, gained the roadway. For a moment the beat
of the horses' hoofs made itself heard on the roadway. It
ceased. Suddenly there was a great silence.
Annixter, in the doorway of the great barn, stood looking about
him for a moment, alone, thoughtful. The barn was empty. That
astonishing evening had come to an end. The whirl of things and
people, the crowd of dancers, Delaney, the gun fight, Hilma Tree,
her eyes fixed on him in mute confession, the rabble in the
harness room, the news of the regrade, the fierce outburst of
wrath, the hasty organising of the League, all went spinning
confusedly through his recollection. But he was exhausted. Time
enough in the morning to think it all over. By now it was
raining sharply. He put the roll of names into his inside
pocket, threw a sack over his head and shoulders, and went down
to the ranch house.
But in the harness room, lighted by the glittering lanterns and
flaring lamps, in the midst of overturned chairs, spilled liquor,
cigar stumps, and broken glasses, Vanamee and Presley still
remained talking, talking. At length, they rose, and came out
upon the floor of the barn and stood for a moment looking about
Billy, the stableman, was going the rounds of the walls, putting
out light after light. By degrees, the vast interior was growing
dim. Upon the roof overhead the rain drummed incessantly, the
eaves dripping. The floor was littered with pine needles, bits
of orange peel, ends and fragments of torn organdies and muslins
and bits of tissue paper from the "Phrygian Bonnets" and "Liberty
Caps." The buckskin mare in the stall, dozing on three legs,
changed position with a long sigh. The sweat stiffening the hair
upon her back and loins, as it dried, gave off a penetrating,
ammoniacal odour that mingled with the stale perfume of sachet
and wilted flowers.
Presley and Vanamee stood looking at the deserted barn. There
was a long silence. Then Presley said:
"Well ... what do you think of it all?"
"I think," answered Vanamee slowly, "I think that there was a
dance in Brussels the night before Waterloo."
In his office at San Francisco, seated before a massive desk of
polished redwood, very ornate, Lyman Derrick sat dictating
letters to his typewriter, on a certain morning early in the
spring of the year. The subdued monotone of his voice proceeded
evenly from sentence to sentence, regular, precise, businesslike.
"I have the honour to acknowledge herewith your favour of the
14th instant, and in reply would state----"
"Please find enclosed draft upon New Orleans to be applied as per
"In answer to your favour No. 1107, referring to the case of the
City and County of San Francisco against Excelsior Warehouse &
Storage Co., I would say----"
His voice continued, expressionless, measured, distinct. While
he spoke, he swung slowly back and forth in his leather swivel
chair, his elbows resting on the arms, his pop eyes fixed vaguely
upon the calendar on the opposite wall, winking at intervals when
he paused, searching for a word.
"That's all for the present," he said at length.
Without reply, the typewriter rose and withdrew, thrusting her
pencil into the coil of her hair, closing the door behind her,
When she had gone, Lyman rose, stretching himself putting up
three fingers to hide his yawn. To further loosen his muscles,
he took a couple of turns the length of he room, noting with
satisfaction its fine appointments, the padded red carpet, the
dull olive green tint of the walls, the few choice engravings--
portraits of Marshall, Taney, Field, and a coloured lithograph--
excellently done--of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado--the deep-
seated leather chairs, the large and crowded bookcase (topped
with a bust of James Lick, and a huge greenish globe), the waste
basket of woven coloured grass, made by Navajo Indians, the
massive silver inkstand on the desk, the elaborate filing
cabinet, complete in every particular, and the shelves of tin
boxes, padlocked, impressive, grave, bearing the names of
clients, cases and estates.
He was between thirty-one and thirty-five years of age. Unlike
Harran, he resembled his mother, but he was much darker than
Annie Derrick and his eyes were much fuller, the eyeball
protruding, giving him a pop-eyed, foreign expression, quite
unusual and unexpected. His hair was black, and he wore a small,
tight, pointed mustache, which he was in the habit of pushing
delicately upward from the corners of his lips with the ball of
his thumb, the little finger extended. As often as he made this
gesture, he prefaced it with a little twisting gesture of the
forearm in order to bring his cuff into view, and, in fact, this
movement by itself was habitual.
He was dressed carefully, his trousers creased, a pink rose in
his lapel. His shoes were of patent leather, his cutaway coat
was of very rough black cheviot, his double-breasted waistcoat of
tan covered cloth with buttons of smoked pearl. An Ascot scarf--
a great puff of heavy black silk--was at his neck, the knot
transfixed by a tiny golden pin set off with an opal and four
At one end of the room were two great windows of plate glass, and
pausing at length before one of these, Lyman selected a cigarette
from his curved box of oxydized silver, lit it and stood looking
down and out, willing to be idle for a moment, amused and
interested in the view.
His office was on the tenth floor of the EXCHANGE BUILDING, a
beautiful, tower-like affair of white stone, that stood on the
corner of Market Street near its intersection with Kearney, the
most imposing office building of the city.
Below him the city swarmed tumultuous through its grooves, the
cable-cars starting and stopping with a gay jangling of bells and
a strident whirring of jostled glass windows. Drays and carts
clattered over the cobbles, and an incessant shuffling of
thousands of feet rose from the pavement. Around Lotta's
fountain the baskets of the flower sellers, crammed with
chrysanthemums, violets, pinks, roses, lilies, hyacinths, set a
brisk note of colour in the grey of the street.
But to Lyman's notion the general impression of this centre of
the city's life was not one of strenuous business activity. It
was a continuous interest in small things, a people ever willing
to be amused at trifles, refusing to consider serious matters--
good-natured, allowing themselves to be imposed upon, taking life
easily--generous, companionable, enthusiastic; living, as it
were, from day to day, in a place where the luxuries of life were
had without effort; in a city that offered to consideration the
restlessness of a New York, without its earnestness; the serenity
of a Naples, without its languor; the romance of a Seville,
without its picturesqueness.
As Lyman turned from the window, about to resume his work, the
office boy appeared at the door.
"The man from the lithograph company, sir," announced the boy.
"Well, what does he want?" demanded Lyman, adding, however, upon
the instant: " Show him in."
A young man entered, carrying a great bundle, which he deposited
on a chair, with a gasp of relief, exclaiming, all out of breath:
"From the Standard Lithograph Company."
"Don't know," replied the other. "Maps, I guess."
"I don't want any maps. Who sent them? I guess you're
Lyman tore the cover from the top of the package, drawing out one
of a great many huge sheets of white paper, folded eight times.
Suddenly, he uttered an exclamation:
"Ah, I see. They ARE maps. But these should not have come here.
They are to go to the regular office for distribution." He wrote
a new direction on the label of the package: "Take them to that
address," he went on. "I'll keep this one here. The others go
to that address. If you see Mr. Darrell, tell him that Mr.
Derrick--you get the name--Mr. Derrick may not be able to get
around this afternoon, but to go ahead with any business just the
The young man departed with the package and Lyman, spreading out
the map upon the table, remained for some time studying it
It was a commissioner's official railway map of the State of
California, completed to March 30th of that year. Upon it the
different railways of the State were accurately plotted in
various colours, blue, green, yellow. However, the blue, the
yellow, and the green were but brief traceries, very short,
isolated, unimportant. At a little distance these could hardly
be seen. The whole map was gridironed by a vast, complicated
network of red lines marked P. and S. W. R. R. These
centralised at San Francisco and thence ramified and spread
north, east, and south, to every quarter of the State. From
Coles, in the topmost corner of the map, to Yuma in the lowest,
from Reno on one side to San Francisco on the other, ran the
plexus of red, a veritable system of blood circulation,
complicated, dividing, and reuniting, branching, splitting,
extending, throwing out feelers, off-shoots, tap roots, feeders--
diminutive little blood suckers that shot out from the main
jugular and went twisting up into some remote county, laying hold
upon some forgotten village or town, involving it in one of a
myriad branching coils, one of a hundred tentacles, drawing it,
as it were, toward that centre from which all this system sprang.
The map was white, and it seemed as if all the colour which
should have gone to vivify the various counties, towns, and
cities marked upon it had been absorbed by that huge, sprawling
organism, with its ruddy arteries converging to a central point.
It was as though the State had been sucked white and colourless,
and against this pallid background the red arteries of the
monster stood out, swollen with life-blood, reaching out to
infinity, gorged to bursting; an excrescence, a gigantic parasite
fattening upon the life-blood of an entire commonwealth.
However, in an upper corner of the map appeared the names of the
three new commissioners: Jones McNish for the first district,
Lyman Derrick for the second, and James Darrell for the third.
Nominated in the Democratic State convention in the fall of the
preceding year, Lyman, backed by the coteries of San Francisco
bosses in the pay of his father's political committee of
ranchers, had been elected together with Darrell, the candidate
of the Pueblo and Mojave road, and McNish, the avowed candidate
of the Pacific and Southwestern. Darrell was rabidly against the
P. and S. W., McNish rabidly for it. Lyman was supposed to be
the conservative member of the board, the ranchers' candidate, it
was true, and faithful to their interests, but a calm man,
deliberative, swayed by no such violent emotions as his
Osterman's dexterity had at last succeeded in entangling Magnus
inextricably in the new politics. The famous League, organised
in the heat of passion the night of Annixter's barn dance, had
been consolidated all through the winter months. Its executive
committee, of which Magnus was chairman, had been, through
Osterman's manipulation, merged into the old committee composed
of Broderson, Annixter, and himself. Promptly thereat he had
resigned the chairmanship of this committee, thus leaving Magnus
at its head. Precisely as Osterman had planned, Magnus was now
one of them. The new committee accordingly had two objects in
view: to resist the attempted grabbing of their lands by the
Railroad, and to push forward their own secret scheme of electing
a board of railroad commissioners who should regulate wheat rates
so as to favour the ranchers of the San Joaquin. The land cases
were promptly taken to the courts and the new grading--fixing the
price of the lands at twenty and thirty dollars an acre instead
of two--bitterly and stubbornly fought. But delays occurred, the
process of the law was interminable, and in the intervals the
committee addressed itself to the work of seating the "Ranchers'
Commission," as the projected Board of Commissioners came to be
It was Harran who first suggested that his brother, Lyman, be put
forward as the candidate for this district. At once the
proposition had a great success. Lyman seemed made for the
place. While allied by every tie of blood to the ranching
interests, he had never been identified with them. He was city-
bred. The Railroad would not be over-suspicious of him. He was
a good lawyer, a good business man, keen, clear-headed, far-
sighted, had already some practical knowledge of politics, having
served a term as assistant district attorney, and even at the
present moment occupying the position of sheriff's attorney.
More than all, he was the son of Magnus Derrick; he could be
relied upon, could be trusted implicitly to remain loyal to the
The campaign for Railroad Commissioner had been very interesting.
At the very outset Magnus's committee found itself involved in
corrupt politics. The primaries had to be captured at all costs
and by any means, and when the convention assembled it was found
necessary to buy outright the votes of certain delegates. The
campaign fund raised by contributions from Magnus, Annixter,
Broderson, and Osterman was drawn upon to the extent of five
Only the committee knew of this corruption. The League, ignoring
ways and means, supposed as a matter of course that the campaign
was honorably conducted.
For a whole week after the consummation of this part of the deal,