Jessica, the Heiress
by Evelyn Raymond
JESSICA, THE HEIRESS
Author of Jessica Trent, Jessica Trent's Inheritance, etc.
Whitman Publishing Co. Racine, Wisconsin
Copyright, 1904, by The Federal Book Company
Jessica, the Heiress
Printed by Western Printing &Lithographing Co. Racine, Wis.
Printed in U.S.A.
CHAPTER II. THE
HUSH OF ANXIETY
CHAPTER III. OLD
CHAPTER VII. A
THE FACE AT THE
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER X. ON
THE ROAD HOME
CHAPTER XI. THE
PASSING OF OLD
CHAPTER XII. THE
REBELLION OF THE
JESSICA GETS HER
THE CACTUS HEDGE
WHAT THE SABBATH
CHAPTER XX. THE
JESSICA, THE HEIRESS
CHAPTER I. JESSICA DISAPPEARS
Mrs. Benton and Jessica were upon the south porch of the Sobrante
ranch house, the former busy as usual, the latter idly enjoying her
charming surroundings as she swung to and fro in her hammock.
Mighty vines of pale yellow roses, intermingled with climbing
fuchsias, cast shade and sweetness over them; the porch was bordered by
a wide swath of calla lilies, also in full flower, while just beyond
these a great shrub of poinsettia dazzled the sight with its gleaming
When a momentary silence of the other's nimble tongue allowed her to
speak, Jessica exclaimed:
Aunt Sally, you're the only person I know who can do three things
at once. You sew as fast as you rock, and talk faster than either.
You're a very clever woman.
The old lady answered complacently, as she bit off a fresh needleful
of thread and looked at her companion over her spectacles:
Yes, dearie, I expect I am. I can do more'n that, too. I can keep
up a powerful thinking.
About what, pray?
How that life is a patchwork quilt. All the colors of the rainbow,
and some that any self-respectin' rainbow would scorn to own. Some
scraps so amazing homely you hate to put 'em in, but just have to, else
there wouldn't be blocks enough to square it out.
What sort of a scrap am I, Aunt Sally?
Huh! Fair to middlin'. Neither very light, nor very dark. You'd be
prettier, to my notion, if you'd fetch a needle and thread and sew a
seam with me, 'stead of swinging yourself dizzy out of pure laziness.
Now, Aunt Sally! I call that unkind! I hate to sew.
I believe you. You'll never put a stitch where a pin will do. But,
never mind. If everybody else sets out to spoil you, I don't know as
it's my call to interfere.
There was so much tenderness in the glance that accompanied these
words that nobody could resent them; least of all the girl, who now
sprang from the hammock and curled herself at the other's feet.
Tell me those powerful thoughts, auntie, dear.
Mrs. Benton sighed, but responded nothing loath:
There's your mother, Gabriella. Only child, left an orphan, raised
by a second cousin once removed, who'd more temper than sense, and when
your mother fell in love with your father, who'd more goodness than
cash, shut the door on them both forthwith. So off they come to
Californy and pitch their tent right here in the spot.
They couldn't have chosen a lovelier place, their daughter
answered, with a sweeping glance over the fair land which formed her
That's true enough. Then him getting that New York company to buy
Paraiso d'Oro Valley, so's a lot of folks that was down in the world
could come out here and live in it. Poor Cass'us dying, just as he'd
got things to his liking; the losing of the title deed and your
journeying to Los Angeles to get it back.
Not 'lost,' Aunt Sally. Poor Antonio hid it at El Desierto, in the
cave of the Three Rocks. He
Cat's foot! Don't you go to 'pooring' that snaky sneak, or you and
me'll fall out. I should hate that.
So should I. But you've set me thinking, too. How wonderful that
Mr. Ninian Sharp was, the newspaper man. If it hadn't been for him,
we'd never have won that battle. What could I have done, with Ephraim
Marsh in the hospital, and I knowing nothing about the city? That Mr.
Hale was another splendid man. I can understand how he had to keep his
word and do his best for the company which thought father had wronged
it; and I can also understand that he was as glad as we to find their
money safe with the poor banker who was killed, Luis Garcia's father.
'Pooring' again are you? Another scamp, too.
Oh, Aunt Sally! He'sdead! remonstrated Jessica, in awestruck
And a fine job he is. There's plenty of good-for-noughts still
living. A man that's been wicked all his life ain't apt to turn saint
at the end of it. I like folks that do their duty as they go along. If
the robber, Garcia, had got well he'd likely claimed our Luis and
reared him to be as bad as himself.
Aunt Sally, you're uncharitable this morning. What's made you so?
The plumb meanness of human natur'.
Your own? asked the girl teasingly.
No, saucebox. My boy, John's. His, and all the rest of 'em.
Oh! 'tisn't toward anybody, out and out. If it was I'd roll up my
sleeves and switch the lot of 'em, just as if they were the little
tackers they act like. It's them pesky hints and shrugged shoulders,
every time the Dutch Winklers or 'Forty-niner' is spoke of. I wish to
goodness that man'd come home and clear his name, or give me a chance
to do it. He no more stole that knitting-woman's money than I did.
Aunt Sally! Stole? Stole! My Ephraim! Why, you must be crazy!
There, it's out. Needn't hop up like that, mad as a hornet, at me.
I'm not the one hints and shrugs. It's the whole lot of your precious
'boys'boys; indeed! and needing spanking more'n they ever did in
Jessica's swift pacing of the wide porch came to a sudden halt, and
she dropped down again at Mrs. Benton's feet, feeling as if the floor
had given way beneath her tread.
This, then, was what my mother meant, that very day when I came
back, that Ephraim was happier where he was! The dear old fellow;
thrown to the street by his graceless Stiffleg; picked up with a leg
full of broken bones; a prisoner in a hospital all these weeks; giving
all his savings of years to us; and the 'boys' he's lived with since
before I was born accusing him oftheft! Aunt Sally, it's too
monstrous to be true!
'Tis, indeedy. Seem's if the Evil One had been let loose, here at
Sobrante, when the word of a half-witpoor half, at thatis held
proof against the entire life of an honest old man.
Aunt Sally was so deeply moved that, for once, she allowed herself a
moment's respite from unceasing industry, unconsciously holding a
patchwork block to her moist eyes, and slowly swaying the great rocker
as she sorrowfully reflected that:
I raised him the best I could, that boy John. I gave him a pill
once a week, regular, to keep his bile down. I washed him every
Saturday night and spanked him after I got through. I never let him eat
butter when he had gravy, and I made him say his prayers night and
morning. I had a notion that such wholesome rearin' would turn him out
a decent man; and now, just see!
In spite of her own distress, Jessica laughed.
Aunt Sally, if anybody but yourself hinted that John wasn't a
'decent' man you'd do something dreadful to punish the slanderer.
Suppose I should? Wouldn't I have a right? Ain't he my own?
Jessica smiled faintly, but sat for a long time silent. The
talkative woman in the rocker also kept silence, brooding over many
things. Finally she burst forth:
I don't see why it is that just as soon as a body gets into smooth
sailing, along comes a storm and upsets things again. There was your
mother, beginning to feel she could go ahead and do what her husband
wanted to, and now here's this bad feeling among her trusted hired men.
Suspicion is the pisenest yarb that grows. The folks that could suspect
old 'Forty-niner' of wrong things'll be plumb ready to watch out for
one another. Somebody'll be caught nappin', sure. 'Tisn't in human
natur' to walk upright all the time, and it's foolish to expect it.
Butshouldn't wonder if I'd be the next one accused. And it comin'
Christmas time too. Land! I'm so bestead I've sewed that patch in wrong
side up. What? Hey? You laughin'? I don't see anything funny in this
business, myself, said the old lady, fretfully.
You would if you could look in a glass! Your face is all streaked
purple and green, where you cried on your patch, explained Jessica,
whose grief had changed to amusement.
You don't say! I knew them colors'd run. John fetched the piece
from Marion, last time he went for the mail. Of the two stores there, I
don't know which is the worst. Their 'Merrimac' won't wash, and their
flannel shrinks, and their thread breaks every needleful. But, to
'Boston'dear me! Whatever did make me think of that place! Now I've
thought, it'll stick in my mind till it drives me wildor back there,
and that's about the same thing. To go live with that slimsy cousin of
mine, after being in the same house with your mother, is like falling
off a roof into a squashy mud puddle. That's all the sense and
substance there is to Sarah, that was a Harrison before she was a
Ma'sh. I warrant she's clean out of medicine an money, for she's a
regular squanderer when it comes to makin' rag rugs. I wish you could
see 'em! I just wish't you could. Such dogs and cats as she weaves into
'em would have druv' Noah plumb crazy if he had to take 'em into the
Ark. Their eyes are just round rings of white, with another round ring
of black in the middle
Aren't rings always round, auntie, dear?
No, they ain't. Not after they've been trod on! was the swift
retort, as the old lady pointed downwards toward the floor of the
Both stooped and rose again, astonishment deepening upon their faces
as Jessica held out her open palm with the injured trinket lying upon
Elsa Winkler's wedding ring! How came it here?
How indeed? I don't believe that woman's been on these premises
since I came.
Even if she had, Aunt Sally, why should she bring the ring with
her? It was always too small for her, and she never had it on except
during the marriage ceremony. I've often heard her laugh about it; how
Wolfgang bought a ring as big as his money would pay for, and let it go
at that. She didn't see what difference it made whether it went only on
the tip of her finger or all the way down it. But she must have been
here, even if we didn't know it. I'll take it straight to mother to
keep. Then, too, I've idled enough. I promised my dear I'd write all
her Christmas invitations for her, because she says it will save her
the trouble, and be such a help to my education.
Christmas! Well, well. Does seem as if I couldn't leave before
then, nohow. And hear me, Jessie, darlin', don't you let your poor ma
worry her head over your book learning. Being she was a schoolma'am
herself makes her feel as if she wasn't doing the square thing by you
letting you run wild, so to speak. If the Lord means you to get
schoolin' He'll put you in the right way of it, don't you doubt. Who
all does Gabriella set out to ask here to visit?
Mr. Hale, of course; and dear Mr. Sharp. I hope Ephraim will be
well enough to come, too. Then there are the Winklers, from the mine;
the McLeods, from their inn at Marion; and, maybewe've never had a
Christmas without himmaybe poor Antonio.
Well, all I say isif you ask him you needn't ask me. There
wouldn't be room on this whole ranch for the pair of us.
Then, of course, it's you first. Yet, it's all so puzzling to me.
If it's a time of 'peace and good will,' why do people keep on feeling
angry with one another?
Jessica Trent, dast you stand there and look me in the face and say
that you have forgive that sneaky snakey manager for cheating your
mother like he did?
He was sorry, Aunt Sally. Every letter he sends here tells that.
And he's punished, isn't he, even if the New York folks let him go
free, by his disappointment? I can fancy how dreadful it would seem,
did seem to think this beautiful ranch was one's own, and then suddenly
to learn that it was not.
Oh! Jessie! You try my soul with your forgivin' and forgivin'. Next
you know you'll be sorry for Ferd, the dwarf, though 'tis he himself
what's started all this bobery against 'Forty-niner,' and eggs them
silly Winklers on to be soso hateful. I'm glad that witless woman did
lose her ring, and I hope it'll never be straightened out. I guess I'm
out of conceit with everybody living, not exceptin' old Sally Benton,
With this home thrust at her own ill temper, the whimsical woman
betook herself and her dangling array of patchwork to Mrs. Trent's
sitting-room; there to discuss the prospects for holiday festivities
and to take account of stock, in the way of groceries on hand. Deep in
the subject of pies and puddings, they forgot other matters, till a
wild whoop outside the window disturbed them, and they beheld Ned and
Luis, painted in startling Indian fashion, mounted upon a highly
decorated horse, which had never been seen in the Sobrante stables.
Hi, there, mother! Your money or your life!
Moneylife! echoed Luis, clinging to his playmate's waist and
peeping over his shoulder.
The horse was rearing and plunging more dangerously each second, and
both women rushed to the rescue of the imperiled children, who realized
nothing of their danger, but shouted and screamed the louder the more
frantic their steed became. Mrs. Trent caught the bridle, and Aunt
Sally snatched first one, then the other, child from the creature's
back, who, as soon as he was relieved of his yelling burden, started at
a gallop across the garden, ruining its beds and borders on his way.
Oh, oh! Children, how could you? Whose horse is that? Where did you
get that paint? How shall I ever make you clean?
I'll tend to that part, Gabriella. You just call a boy to fix them
flower beds before the plants wither. Oh, you rascals! You won't forget
this morning's fun in a hurry, I warn you! You've been in John Benton's
paint pots again. Well, you like paint, you shall have it, and all you
want of it too. Red and yeller, green and pink, with a streak of blue.
H'm! You're a tasty lot, ain't you!
The lads squirmed and twisted, but Aunt Sally's grip merely
tightened upon them so that finally, they ceased struggling and allowed
her to lead them whither she would, which was to the small laundry,
that stood at some slight distance from the house. Here she sternly
regarded each bedaubed, but otherwise nude, little figure, with so
fierce an expression upon her usually pleasant face that the young
miscreants winced, and Ned cried out:
Quit a-talking eyes at me that way, Aunt Sally Benton! I don't like
Oh! you don't, eh? Well, what'd you disgrace yourselves this way
for, if 'twasn't to make folks stare? Where's your clothes?
I don't know.
Very well, then I'll help you to remember.
I won't be whipped! I'll tell my mother! shrieked Ned, retreating
toward the closed door of the building.
Won't be whipped, old Aunt Sally! added Luis, clasping his leader;
whereupon the customary scuffle ensued; for, no matter what their
business in hand, personal contact always insured a slight passage at
arms. At present, this diverted their thoughts from what might be in
store at the will of their mutual enemy, and it came with appalling
suddenness. Each small boy was lifted, bidden to shut his eyes and
mouth, then plunged downward into a barrel of some cold slippery stuff.
Here he was soused vigorously up and down, until every portion of his
skin was smeared with the stick mess; after which he was placed on his
feet and once more commanded:
Now, son, just you stand there and dreen a spell. Lucky I made that
barrel of soft soap last week. It's just the stuff to take this paint
off, and what drips from you to the old adobe floor won't hurt.
Pasqual's a master hand at scrubbin', and I'll give him the job of you
and the floor both. Reckon you'll wish you hadn't ever seen paint pots
time he gets through. Nowwhere's your clothes?
Ned was silent, but Luis guessed they's under a tree.
Well, son, Garcia, knowing it better than guessing 'bout now. Me
and Santa Claus is sort of partners, and he's due here soon. 'Twon't
take me a jerk of a lamb's tail to write and tell him how things stand
at Sobrante, and whose stockings'd better have switches 'stead of
goodies in 'em. Hear me? Where's your clothes?
A laugh caused Aunt Sally to glance through the window, where
Jessica was an amused spectator of the scene within. She now begged:
Don't be hard on the little tackers, auntie, dear. That was Prince,
Mr. Hale's horse, that Pedro has tended on the mesa all these days.
I'll find out how they came by it, and their clothes at the same time.
Tell mother, please, and with a merry nod to the unhappy urchins, so
shamfacedly dreening at Mrs. Benton's pleasure, she disappeared.
Disappeared not only from the window, but, apparently, from life, as
suddenly and completely as if the earth had opened and engulfed her.
CHAPTER II. THE HUSH OF ANXIETY
Mrs. Trent and Aunt Sally sat down alone to dinner. The little lads
were in their beds, recovering from the sound scrubbing Pasqual had
given them. Clothed in fresh nightgowns, and refreshed by generous
bowls of bread and milk, they had been left in a darkened room to
reflect upon the hard ways of transgressors. But reflection was unusual
work for their active brains, and they had promptly fallen asleep;
hence the profound peace which rested upon the house.
I wonder where Jessica is? She was to have written my letters for
me, but I haven't seen her since breakfast, said the mother, somewhat
Oh! she's around somewhere. Was at the laundry window while I was
tending to the children, and said she'd go find their clothes. In all
my born days I never saw two small heads could hatch the mischief Ned's
and Luis' can. It's out of one scrape into another, and seems if they
must break their necks some day.
Oh! don't forecast evil. Their pranks keep my nerves on tension all
the time, yet I shouldn't worry so. They always escape from harm. But
I'd like to know how they got that horse.
So would I. They must have had help painting it. Stands to reason
two midgets like them couldn't have kept a high-spirited creatur' quiet
while they wasted enough good paint on him to cover a meeting house.
John won't be pleased. He's so careful of his belongings, even I
never touch them without permission, said the ranch mistress, smiling
afresh at the memory of the ridiculous picture the boys had made.
Don't surprise me't you laugh, Gabriella, but you'd ought to put
the reins on tighter to them chaps, lest first you know they'll be
driving you, not you them. Do it already, seems if.
How can I be stern with Cassius' little son? Every day I see more
resemblance to his father in the childs face; yes, and in his nature,
too. Nobody was ever fonder of fun than my husband, yet surely there
never was a better man.
Oh! Neddy's all right. Trouble is to keep him from thinkin' so
himself. But, there. Why don't you eat your dinner? You haven't more'n
half touched it. It's a shame to waste good victuals, and these are
good. I fixed 'em myself.
The other smiled again at the complacency visible upon her friend's
face, which so innocently dsplayed the same feeling that had just been
deplored in Ned. However, Aunt Sally was too busy with her own food to
notice anything else, and it seemed long to her companion before she
had finished and risen, to call, sharply:
Pas-qual! Oh, Pasqual-ly! Why aren't you on hand to clear the
table? Don't you know I've gotand here followed a long list of things
to be done, more than many could accomplish in several days. Each had
some reference to the coming holidays, and the house boy understood
this. He entered, more willingly than usual, grinning with the
anticipation of the raisins he would have to stone, the nuts he must
crack, and the goodly samples of each that he would surreptitiously
Mrs. Trent asked him to put aside Miss Jessica's dinner, till she
came in, and to be sure that it was also kept nice and warm.
All right, lady. I'll do that good enough. Don't mind what I has to
do for 'Lady Jess'; and immediately seized the plate, which Aunt Sally
had already filled, to place it in the warming oven.
Then the mother went out, and among the adobe buildings, which
formed the boys quarters and the business part of the ranch, calling
gently, as she went, in the brooding sort of note which had long been a
signal between her and her child. But no Jessica responded; and, to her
fancy, it seemed that the whole place was strangely silent.
After all, that is not to be wondered at. The men are done with
dinner, and gone about their work. The boys are asleep, and only
Jessica would be anywhere near. What can keep her, I wonder? and with
this thought the lady again uttered the tender call which would summon
her daughter, if she were within hearing.
Then she returned to the house and tried to accept Aunt Sally's
theory that, likely some of them 'boys' is in trouble about his job,
and wants his 'captain' to go oversee. 'Mazin' strange, Gabriella, what
a influence that child has over 'em. They 'pear to think, the whole
lot of 'em, that she can straighten out all the kinks that get into
brains or business.
She is quick to understand, said the mother, proudly.
Course. Nothin' strange, is it, seeing who her folks was? Best go
take a nap, honey.
Oh, no! Thank you for suggesting it, but I'm too wakeful.
Well, then, I'll fetch them kerns and citron right out here on the
kitchen porch. The sun's off it now, and there ain't a prettier spot on
earth where to prepare Christmas fixin's. I'll fetch the raisins and
stone 'em myself. That Pasky boy'd eat more'n half of 'em, if I left
'em to him. Then we can visit right sociable; and I can free my mind.
The truth is, Gabriella Trent, that I ought to be harnessin' Rosetty
an' Balaam this minute, and be startin' for 'Boston.'
Oh, Aunt Sally! protested the ranch mistress, in real distress.
There, dearie, hush! Don't worry. I said 'I ought,' I didn't say I
was goin'. Seem's if I couldn't just tear myself away from Sobrante. If
Sarah Ma'sh, she that was a Harrison, and married Methuel, hasn't got
gumption enough to bile her own plum puddin', I 'most feel as if she'd
ought to go without. Though I don't know as that's real Christian in
Dear Mrs. Benton, I wish everybody was as sincere a Christian as
In her surprise, Aunt Sally tipped her rocker so far back that she
just escaped upset.
Why, Gabriella Trent! Me! Me! Don't say that, and make me feel
meaner'n dirt. It's you, honey, is that
Mrs. Trent laughed as she answered:
We make a mutual admiration society, don't we? But Aunt Sally, you
mustn't think of leaving Sobrante before the holidays are past. I can't
spare you. I need the help of your head, as well as your hands, and
what would Christmas be to the children, if you weren't here to cuddle
and scold them after their greediness has made them ill.
Well, well, child, say no more. Here I am, and here I'll stay, if
Sarah Ma'sh don't get a stiver of pudding or fowl. Here, honey, I
reckon you best slice this citron. You've got a dainty hand for such
work andmy sake's alive! That fruit cake'd ought to been made weeks
ago, if it was to get any sort of ripeness into it before it was et!
Hurry up, do. We haven't a minute to waste.
This adjuration had the good result of amusing Mrs. Trent so that,
for an hour at least, she forgot to be anxious over her daughter's
unexplained absence. Aunt Sally was a person who was always driven to
death by the mere thought of tasks for which there was, in reality,
ample time. But now that she had decided to remain at the ranch for a
further indefinite stay, her spirits rose and her brain busied itself
with a thousand plans for the comfort or amusement of the household,
over which she domineered, yet so ardently loved.
We haven't got much money for presents, I know. So I'll just get
out the piece-bag to-night, and press off them canton flannel scraps.
They'll make splended ducks for the youngsters
I fear that would be wasted labor, friend. The little lads have
outgrown homemade toys. Nothin that will not make a noise is acceptable
to them. I'd thought of sending over to Marion for drums and whistles,
if the stores there can furnish them.
Well, Gabriella Trent! I declare you are the benightenest woman
that ever set out to raise children! Drums! For them two? My, my! But
what won't a mother do for her little ones, I'd like to know!
The words were no sooner out of Mrs. Benton's mouth than she
regretted them. At the name of mother Mrs. Trent's forced gayety
vanished, and she lifted her eyes to her companion's face with a
Aunt Sally, what has happened to Jessica?
Nothing, honey. Nothing in the world. What a master hand you are to
The lady rose so hastily that the dish upon her lap slid to the
floor, and the other laughed:
There, Gabriel, you do beat all. If I'd dropped that dish 'twould
have upset, and every slice of citron in it rolled whithrety-yonder.
But for youit knew better; just slipped off as slick as could be,
landed right side up, and not a morsel scattered. Seem's if dirt nor
nothin' disorderly ever could come a-nigh you, honey.
Mrs. Trent did not even hear. Upon her face had grown a look that
hurt Aunt Sally to see; the more because the feeling it expressed was
continually increasing within her own heart.
Where could Jessica be? Many hours had passed since she vanished
from the laundry window, and if she had gone upon any errand for her
boys, she would have returned long since. Also, she would be swift to
restore the missing clothes of the little boys, as soon as found, for
she knew they would be prisoners within doors till she had done so.
Don't you worry, I tell you, Gabriella. I'll take the great horn
and blow a blast will fetch the whole kerboodle back here, hot foot. If
that don't, I'll ring the mission bell! That'll mean trouble, sure
enough, and its dreadful racket'll reach clear to Los Angeles, 'pears.
The mother crossed to the lattice and leaned against its post.
Something was wrong with her darling. She knew that as well as if she
had been told so by word of mouth, and a dreadful numbness stole over
her whole frame. As if in a dream, she saw Aunt Sally emerge from the
lean-to, where the great horn was kept, and raised the thing to her
lips; but the blast which followed seemed to have been ringing in her
ears forever. The silence that succeeded lasted but a moment, yet was
like an eternity. Then from one direction, and another, came the
ranchmen, understanding that there was need of their presence at the
house, and each quickly catching something of the fear so plainly
depicted upon the faces of the waiting women.
John Benton, where's 'Lady Jess'? demanded Aunt Sally, with
Why, mother, how should I know? I was off to the lemon house early,
fixing some shelves. I haven't seen her to-day and it makes it a long
Came Marty from his garden, a hoe over one shoulder and a mighty
vine of ripened tomatoes over the other, exclaiming:
How's this for a second year's growth? I thought you'd like 'em for
catsup, Aunt Sally, and what's the horn for?
George Ceomarty, where's the 'captain'?
I don't know.
You don't! You don't! indignantly.
No. How should I? Last I saw, she was sitting the porch along with
you. You needn't glare at me so, but say yourself: 'Where's the
Come, gardener, this ain't a time for foolin'.
He disdained to answer, reading the anxiety upon his mistress' face,
and feeling an unaccountable one growing in his own mind.
It was a relief to all when the figure of Sailor Samson came into
view, making for the cottage with those firm strides of his, that
seemed to cover the distance with incredible speed. He was always to be
depended upon in an emergency, and there was good cheer in his tones,
as, having been asked the same question which had greeted his mates, he
tossed back the light answer:
Why, I don't know just at this minute, but I'll wager wherever she
is, she's doing good to somebody, or finishing up some fellow's
neglected job. Why? Ain't scared of 'Lady Jess,' are you?
That's just what we are, herder. She's no hand to run off an' stay
off without tellin' where to; and if she couldn't find the children's
clothes she'd been back before now to say so. Somethin' dreadful has
happened to the precious girl, and you needn't say there hasn't!
wailed Mrs. Benton; adding in fresh dismay as the ranch mistress
quietly sank to the floor in a faint! There! Now I have done it! Oh!
that tongue of mine!
Yes, old woman! That tongue of yours' has wrought a heap of
mischief in its day, cried Samson, angrily, as he lifted the fallen
lady and carried her into the house.
But Aunt Sally was quite herself again, and put him coolly aside,
while she ministered to the unconscious ranch mistress, and, at the
same time, gave him a succinct history of the morning's events.
Everybody at Sobrante knew the deep devotion of Lady Jess to her
widowed mother, and the thoughtfulness with which she always sought to
prevent her loved one's worrying, and all realized that there might
be something seriously amiss in this protracted, unexplained absence.
However, and to a certain degree, the child was allowed to be
independent, and she was liable to reappear at any moment and to gibe
at their foolish fear for her. But to summon her, at once, was the
surest way of comforting Mrs. Trent, and Samson went out again to
distribute the assembled ranchmen into searching parties, with the
Don't scare the 'captain' when you find her, but just let her know
her mother needs her, and her dinner's drying up in the oven. Now
scatter; and don't you show a face back here without her in hand!
Can't all of us find her, herder. Ain't 'captains' enough to go
'round, said a cowboy, with an ill-attempt at playfulness, which was
instantly frowned down. For, though all assured themselves that there
was no substantial cause for alarm, and that women were nervous
cattle, always scared at shadders, they had already caught something
of this nervousness. Each felt that the best sight for his eyes at that
moment would be the gleam of a golden head, and the sweetest music his
ears could hear the sound of a young girl's laughter.
But, alas! Daylight gave place to the sudden night of that region,
where no lingering twilight is known; and still over the great ranch
there rested the terrible silence which had followed the loss of one
CHAPTER III. OLD CENTURY TAKES THE
The clatter of horse's hoofs on the dry sward made Pedro, the
shepherd, lift his eyes from his basket weaving, but only for an
instant. The sight of Samson, the herder, mounted upon the fleetest
animal of the Sobrante stables, was nothing compared to the working out
of the intricate pattern he had set himself to follow. Even the
centenarian, dwelling in his lofty solitude, knew that there was
approaching the blessed Navidad, whereon all good Christians exchanged
gifts, in memory of the great gift the Son of God; and what could he do
but put forth his utmost ingenuity to please his heart's dearest, even
Jessica of the sunny face?
Like Aunt Sally, at the ranch, he had, at last, caught a feeling of
haste and wished not to be disturbed; so he did not even look up again
when he was accosted.
Hello, old man! Hard at it, still?
No reply forthcoming, Samson shouted, as if the shepherd were deaf:
Where's Capt. Jess, abuleo (grandfather)?
The deferential title won the attention which the loud voice could
not gain, and Pedro glanced carelessly upon the mighty herder, a mere
youth of sixty summers, and replied, with equal carelessness:
Am I the nina's[A] keeper? But, no, then resumed his weaving.
In another instant the delicate, finely split rushes had been
snatched from the weaver's hands, and he exhorted:
By all that's great, old man! Tell me, has Jessica Trent passed
Why for? Once, but once, since the long journey and the finding of
that bad Antonio came she to Pedro's hut. Give back the basket. For
her, of the bright hair, it is; my finest, and, maybe, my last. Why
not? Yet still again I will keep the fiesta, si. The child. Many have I
loved, but none like my little maid. The basket.
This was a long speech for the silent dweller on the mesa, and there
was more of anger in his usually calm eyes than Samson had never seen
there, as he rose and extended his skinny hands for his treasure.
The herder restored it, his heart growing heavier as he did so.
Think fast, good Pedro. The old are wise, and hark ye! These many
hours the child is from home. The mistressyou love her?
She is my mistress, answered the shepherd, in a tone which
conveyed all his deep feeling. To him his mistress represented a
material Providence. From her hand came all the simple necessaries of
his life. From her, on the approaching nativity, would also come some
things which were not necessaries, but infinitely more precious to the
centenarian than such could be. On the nativity he would be sent, upon
the gentlest mount his lady owned, to the mission service which he
loved. Thereafter he would ride back to Sobrante, his own priest beside
him, to feast his fill on such food as he tasted but once a year. At
nightfall of that blessed day he would gather the ranchmen about him,
in that old corridor where once he had seen the ancient padres walk,
breviary in hand, and tell his marvelous tales of the days when the
land was new, when whole tribes of redfaces came to be taught at the
padres' feet, and when the things which now were had not been dreamed
of. Some who listened to these Christmas stories believed that the
secrets at which the shepherd hinted were vagaries of his enfeebled
mind, but others, and among them Samson, gave credence to them, and
yearly did their best to worm from him their explanation.
That mention of the mistress had touched him, also, to anxiety,
and he motioned the herder to repeat his statement. He then
straightened himself to almost the erectness of the younger man, and
begun at once to gather his rushes and rap them carefully in a
moistened cloth. With an expressive gesture toward his cabin, he
suggested that Samson was free to enter it and provide such
entertainment for himself as he chose, or could find. And so well did
the herder know the shepherd that he fully understood this significant
wave of the hand, and replied to it in words:
Thanks, old man, but some other time. At present I'm keener on the
scent for my captain than for even your good coffee. If she comes,
report, will you?
The other did not notice what he heard, but himself proceeded to the
cabin and safely deposited his handiwork within it. Then he came out
again, whistled for his dog, Keno, whose head he stroked for some time,
and into whose attentive ear he seemed to be whispering some
A shade of amusement, merging into wonder, crossed the herder's
countenance, and he communed with himself thus:
Blow my stripes, if Old Century isn't going to take the trail
himself! He's telling that canine what to do while he's gone, and,
ahoy, there! If the knowin' creatur' doesn't understand him! All right,
grand sir! Yet, not all so right, either. It takes a deal of business
to move Pedro off his mesa, and if he's riled enough to leave it now,
it's because he sees more danger to Lady Jess than even I do. Hello!
what's he waiting for?
Evidently for Samson to depart, which that gentleman presently did,
Old chap thinks the whole mesa belongs to him, and 'pears to
suspect I might rob him if he left me behind. Well, friend, I've no
call to tarry. Since my lady isn't here, I must seek her elsewhere,
and down the canyon Samson dashed, his sure-footed beast passing safely
where a more careful animal would have stumbled.
All this had happened soon after the dispersing of the ranchmen to
search for Jessica, and Samson had now taken that turn of the trail
which led to the miner's cabin.
'Tisn't likely she's there, though. She'd never travel afoot that
long distance, and Buster's in the stable.
The Winklers received him with gloom. The hilarious gayety that had
once distinguished their small household had vanished with the loss of
Elsa's money. Their son, and idol, had been defrauded of a rich future
for which they had toiled, and life now seemed to them but an irksome
round of humdrum duties, to be gotten through with as easily as
possible. Over the cabin hung an air of neglect which even Samson was
swift to note, and most significant of all, Elsa's knitting had fallen
to the floor and become the plaything of a kitten, which evoked no
reprimand, tangle the yarn as she would.
Hello, neighbors! Ain't lookin' over and above cheerful, are you?
Good-day, herder. How's all?
Glum, I should say. Where's Lady Jess?
Wolfgang elevated his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and made a
gesture of ignorance, but said no word.
Lost your tongues, mostly, hey? I saywhere's the captain?
Elsa lumbered forward to the doorway, and dully regarded the
visitor; then, after a time, replied:
Her brevity was another contrast to her former volubility, but it
was sufficient to thrill the questioner's heart with fresh dismay.
Has she been here to-day?
Elsa shook her head. Otto came out from the shed and glanced
disconsolately at Samson, then slowly returned whence he had come.
The herder's temper flamed, and, snapping his whip at the air, he
cried out, hotly:
Look at me, you passel of idiots! You think you know what trouble
is just because you've lost a handful of money? Well, you don't! You
haven't even guessed at it. Money! The world's full of that, but there
never was more than one Lady Jess, and I tell youI tell youshe's
He had spoken out at last the fear he had scarcely acknowledged, and
the shock of his own plain speech held him silent thereafter. His head
drooped, his great body settled in the saddle, as if the whole burden
of his sixty years had fallen upon him in that moment. His attitude,
even more than his words, conveyed his meaning to his hearers, and, in
a flash, the real values of what they had loved, and now lost, fell
into their rightful places.
Money? The little lady? Ah! what, after all, was the one compared
to the other?
Manyou lie! retorted Wolfgang, clinching his fist and advancing
with a threatening air. Elsa stepped to his side, her wide face turning
even paler than it had been, and a startled look dawning in her eyes.
Even Otto, the six-foot child, reappeared from his retreat and
regarded the horseman reproachfully.
As for him, he roused from his momentary despondency and glared upon
the trio of spectators as if they, and they alone, were to blame for
the calamity which had befallen.
Question and answer followed swiftly, and again Samson was off down
the slope, headed now for distant Marion, the least likely of all
places wherein his darling might be found. Once he was out of sight,
the Winkler household resolved itself into an additional search party;
and it was noticeable that, whereas formerly, when they were leaving
the home, they would carefully secure the cabin against intruders, they
now disdained any further preparation than kicking the kitten out of
doors, and removing the kettle of boiling stew from the fireplace to
the ground before the door. A fleeting smile did cross Elsa's face, as
she reflected that the meddler with her knitting would probably scald
itself in the pot, but she didn't care. Her whole mind was now set upon
Sobrante and its mistress, and so eager was she to reach the spot that
she set off on her long walk with an alacrity she had not shown since
the discovery of the robbery.
Wolfgang and Otto armed himself each with a sharp, iron-pointed
staff, and silently, with one accord, started toward El Desierto. Why,
even they could not have explained, beyond the fact that it seemed a
place for hiding things. It was a long walk, and so weary had the
little boy become by the time the deserted ranch was reached that
Wolfgang left it unfatherly to force a return trip on that same day,
although no signs of recent occupancy had rewarded their search.
So it was in every case. Jessica had simply and completely
disappeared, and there settled upon the home the darkest night it had
ever known. Even that on which its master had been brought back dead
did not equal in intensity of anguish the uncertainty which drove the
waiting mother frantic. At times she would call for a horse and ride
wildly to and fro, peering into every shadowed spot and call pitifully
upon her child, at others she would hasten to the house, eagerly
demanding of Aunt Sally, has she come?
Not yet, honey. Not quite yet. Just wait a spell, and you'll see
her all right. Best be here at home when she does come, Gabriella.
You'd hate to have anybody else the first to meet her, you know.
This advice, uttered in tones so gentle they were hardly
recognizable as Mrs. Benton's, would be followed for the moment, till
the torture of dreadful possibilities would send the distracted ranch
mistress again afield.
So the night wore away, and sunrise came, and still there was no
returning party that brought good cheer. Each tarried, for a brief
time, to attend to the live stock under his immediate care, and some
even to snatch a morsel of food, but mostly they were off and away
again, a flask of water and a bit of hardtack in pocket, oftener than
not forgetting even this meager nourishment.
By the end of the second day the sorrowful news had spread all over
the countryside, and other ranches were well-nigh as deserted as
Sobrante, while their forces joined in the apparently hopeless search.
By then, also, Mrs. Trent had resigned herself to a quiet acceptance
of the worst, and sat for hours at a time rigidly motionless, with only
her sense of hearing intensely alert, strained to its utmost for
whatever news might come. As each party came back to consult the
others, and for the refreshment that human nature could no longer do
without, it reported to the waiting woman, who received the message in
silence, yet with the courteous bow which acknowledged the other's
effort on her behalf.
Aunt Sally now rose to the occasion as only her great heart could
suggest. All the petty fussiness which had annoyed her neighbors
dropped away from her as she moved softly, keen-eyed and solicitous,
among them all. The steaming bowl of coffee and strengthening sandwich,
ready on the instant for each arrival the unshaken hopefulness of her
eyes, and her wordless control of the awestruck little boys, were
comforts scarcely realized in that dark time; yet comforts truly. Even
Gabriella could not refuse the nourishment so lovingly pressed upon
her, and mechanically drank the cup of broth which her friend had taken
care should be of the strongest. To one and all this homely ministering
angel affirmed, with unshaken persistence:
Jessica Trent is safe. Jessica Trent is coming back.
Meanwhile, old Pedro, for the first time in nearly a twelvemonth,
had turned his back upon the mesa which he loved and set out on a
toilsome path. In his hand he carried a curious, notched stick, upon
which he sometimes leaned, but oftener bore upon his shoulder, as it
were a precious possession that he must guard. Old as he was, his staff
was older still. It had come to him when the valley mission had been
abandoned, and the padre who bestowed it upon this, his faithful
servant, had also given into his keeping a valuable secret. This
metal-pointed rod was one thing Pedro never left behind him when he
journeyed from home.
Starting from the east side of the mesa, he dipped into the canyon;
not by the trail over which Jessica had ridden the ostrich on the day
of her eventful meeting with Morris Hale, but by the farther, ragged
wall where it seemed as if feet so old could never make their way. Yet
make it they did, as surely if not as swiftly as in their younger days.
There was not the slightest hesitation in their direction, though there
were indeed, frequent pauses during which the Indian's keen hearing was
strained for an expected sound. After each such halt Pedro would resume
his path, climbing over rocks which looked insurmountable and skirting
others by ledges less than a span's width. Over this part of the canyon
wall none of the Sobrante ranchmen had ever come; though below it,
along a smoother portion, ran the flume that watered the ranch in the
Darkness found the shepherd still among the overhanging crags, and
with true Indian stolidity he rested for the night. His blanket wrapped
around him, his staff on the safe inner side, he lay down upon a shelf
of stone and slept as peacefully as in his cabin on the level mesa,
from which two motives had driven him abroad.
Something had warned him that this approaching Christmastide might
be his last, and that the time of which he had often dreamed was to
come. He would now test the truth of the secret he had received, and,
if it proved what had been promised, would share it with his beloved
mistress, his priceless Navidad gift to her and hers.
Also sitting solitary at his basket, weaving on the isolated island,
Pedro had still observed much. Each trifle was an event to him, and of
late these trifles had gathered thick about him. With annoying
frequency Ferd, the dwarf, had invaded and contaminated his solitude.
The hints which the misshapen creature had dropped, though receiving no
outward attention, had, nevertheless, remained in the Indian's mind to
disturb it. It was to hunt for this wretched fellow, as well as to
prove his secret, that he was now in the canyon, believing that when
he was found, there would be Jessica also.
When morning came he rose and tightened his belt about him and set
out afresh. The long sleep had restored his vigor and his eye gleamed
with satisfaction. The muscles that had stiffened from long disusehe
would not have admitted that the stiffness came from agewere limber
as of old, and he felt that, after all, it was good to be once more
upon the trail. But even his confidence would have been rudely shaken
could he have foreseen the peril wherein that trail would end.
[A] Little one.
CHAPTER IV. DELIVERANCE
A second night of fruitless search upon the rocky wall passed before
the old Indian came to the spot which he had thought so near, full
twenty-four hours before. He had fed his hunger upon the few wild plums
he had found, and more than once he had descended to the flume to slake
his thirst; then reclimbed the height again, for there he knew lay the
road of his goal. Again and again he tapped the solid rock or the scant
earth about it for a response to that magical tip upon his rod; and
now, as the second day lightened the gulch, the response came.
The staff forsook his hand, as it had been a creature of volition,
and stood upright upon a smooth-faced bowlder. It needed all the man's
strength to wrest it thence, and, grasping it securely, he carefully
descended, for the last time, the precipitous wall. Always the staff
tugged at his grasp, seeking the earth, but he carried it still toward
a clump of gnarled trees which appeared to him like the faces of
long-lost friends. It seemed to him that in all the half century since
he looked upon them, neither branch nor twig had altered. So had they
been on that sad day when the last of the padres had brought him hither
and shown them to him. Beneath their roots lay the secret he had kept
But the cavewhat had become of that? And the stout shaft of hewn
timber which led below into the heart of earth?
Alas! I deceive myself. I have forgotten, for I am old; not young
as I seemed to me. I have come in vain, he complained, in his thought;
and with a gesture of despair, in his hunger and weariness, the
shepherd sank upon the ground and dropped his face on his breast.
Long he sat thus, till there came to him upon the silence the answer
no call could have awaked. He began to hear sounds. The creeping of
some heavy body amid the chaparral, coming nearer, more distinct. Some
wild shrubs sheltered him from sight, and, peering through their twigs,
he watched in breathless silence. Ah! Reward!
It was Ferd who approached, as cautiously as if he were conscious of
those gleaming eyes behind the mesquite, and who, turning in his path,
entered a point among the trees which even Pedro had not suspected of
leading any whither.
It was now the Indian's part to creep after this crawling creature;
and he did so as swiftly, almost as silently, as if he were the dwarf's
mere shadow. Always he kept a screen of leaves between them, less
needed soon, as the unconscious guide led the way out of the sunlight
into the depths of gloom. The cave at last!
But the half-wit, Ferd? Had he guessed its secret?
On and on, it seemed interminably. Now and then the dwarf would
pause and listen, but at every halt there was utter silence behind him.
Then onward again, and at length into a spacious place, around the
walls of which great jagged rocks made recesses of impenetrable gloom.
With one arm outstretched, feeling his way, and with his precious staff
secured against his back within his blanket, Pedro paused in such a
recess just in time, for the dwarf had struck a match and lighted a
lantern. This he swung round his head, peering in each direction, and
blinded, maybe, by the very rays with which he sought to disclose any
possible follower. Satisfied that he was alone, Ferd moved onward
again, and Pedro followed, hugging the chamber wall and screening
himself in every shadow.
But Ferd had no longer any fear of discovery or any thought of aught
save that which lay before him. The passage was higher now and he could
easily stand upright; the Indian also rising to his feet, though he had
to bow his head lest it should brush the ceiling.
The dwarf began to talk aloud, to himself, apparently; but after a
moment of this muttering, grew silent again. He had come to the mouth
of a black pit which seemed to descend into great depths. In reality
the depth was not so great; yet to anyone within it escape was
impossible without help from above. Into this hole Ferd peered, holding
the lantern so that its rays fell straight downward, and calling in a
Is the 'captain' ready yet?
Oh, Ferd! good Ferd! Please, please let me out! answered a voice
that thrilled old Pedro's heart with joy.
All right. The money first.
But I have no money. You must help me up!
Down there safe. Is you hungry?
No, Ferd. The food you took out of Aunt Sally's pantry kept me from
The dwarf threw himself backward, on the rocky floor above, and
laughed loudly, yet his mirth was shortlived. Pedro's hand was on his
throat before a movement had been heard, and Pedro's voice was calling
into the pit:
Here am I, Sunny Face. Wait. I come.
During all the hours of her imprisonment, Jessica's courage had not
faltered, but, at the sound of that blessed cry, it suddenly gave way
and she burst into a paroxysm of sobs and tears, which effectually
prevented her hearing the struggle that ensued in the gloom between the
shepherd and the hunchback. For though the lantern had not been
extinguished, as it rolled from its owner's hand, it had fallen upon
its one glass side and gave no light.
For a time, even the Indian feared the issue of that battle in the
dark and the abnormal strength of the dwarf's long arms; but the craft,
if not the whole vigor of his own youth remained with him, and at a
chance opportunity, he whipped off his blanket and smothered his
opponent's face therein.
The blanket was almost priceless, and, next to his staff, his
dearest possession; but when its heavy folds had subdued the other to
unconsciousness, he did not hesitate to tear it into strips. With these
Ferd was promptly bound, hand and foot. Then Pedro recovered the
lantern and again called to Lady Jess:
I find a way. Wait.
Oh, Pedro! I know your blessed voice! There's a rope somewhere. Ask
But the dwarf had almost immediately recovered his breath,
recognized his opponent, and now directed the search. With a few
superstitious ranchmen, he shared the belief that Old Century was under
supernatural protection, and that it was extremely dangerous to meddle
with one so guarded. Of all who might have traced him to that hidden
spot, here was the last he wished to meet; and now that he knew himself
beaten, he began to whimper and plead in a cowardly way:
Let me up, Pedro. Ferd'll take little lady out. Just fun, to make
big talk. Ferd never hurt the 'captain;' no Ferd is a good boy, Pedro.
Ferd is a good boy. Poor Ferd! Pedro, let poor Ferd go.
The only attention the shepherd vouchsafed the whiner was to put his
own foot under the inert body and roll it well back from the pit's
mouth. He had found the rope, a long and costly lariat which he
recognized as having once been the property of Jessica's father, and he
secured it about an upright timber that he tested and saw was still
firm. Then he took the handle of the lantern between his teeth and
slipped swiftly down the shaft.
As he reached the bottom Jessica threw herself upon his breast with
a fresh outburst of joy and tears. But he dared not tarry below even
with an apparently helpless enemy above, and, giving her the rope, he
tersely bade her:
With an intuition of his fear, she promptly obeyed him and stood
guard over the lariat lest Ferd should make a fresh attempt upon it.
Yet it seemed an interminable time that Pedro stayed below; and when at
last he came above, she held him fast, not willing again to let him go.
But he was in no haste. Allowing her to keep between himself and the
cavern's wall, even intrusting to her care the curious staff that now
persisted in dancing along the cavern's floor in an elfish way which
amazed the girl, he made a circuit of the place. At one spot he paused,
and a single grunt of satisfaction escaped him. Then he seized a loaf
of bread from a shelf-like niche and began to eat it eagerly. He even
pointed to another, lying in the same place, but Jessica shook her
No, no. I am not hungry. He gave me plenty of stuff to eat. Lots of
things that have been missing from the kitchen and puzzled Aunt Sally
so. Oh! Pedro, let us go! Shall I ever see her again? or my precious
mother? How long has it been? It seems forever. Come, come! Oh! come!
Wait, was the imperturbable answer, and the only one she could win
from him. She was alive and well. He had found her. There was no cause
for haste, nor had he ever hasted in his long life. The man who wastes
his time in hurry loses all. He had found what he sought. This was the
very pit, the forsaken shaft of which the padre told him. It led to
what no other person dreamed. Was he to be balked of his purpose, for
the child's whim? No. It was for her, even, that he tarried.
In his groping about the cave the lantern had revealed some loose
fragments of rock which he now pushed in front of the dwarf's body,
thus making him a more secure prisoner; and, satisfied that all was now
safe, he descended again into the old shaft, leaving Jessica in
Her impatience was almost unbearable, and escape seemed as distant
as ever, but there was nothing left except that waiting Pedro had so
It was rewarded, at last, by his call from the pit, and even his
calm voice was now shaken by excitement.
Come, Sunny Face!
Leaning over the edge of the hole, she saw him point toward the rope
and understood that he wished her to descend, but with a shiver of
distrust she declined.
This time the order was peremptory and she obeyed it, sliding
swiftly down, to be caught and safely deposited on the floor of the
shaft. Placing the lantern in her hand, the Indian began to gather a
strange collection of articles from one corner of the narrow chamber
and to display them to her. As each was held up, an exclamation of
surprise broke from her, but even she had grown mostly silent now, and
her interest prevented fear. When a goodly heap had been piled beside
her, she found her voice again, saying:
I reckon everything that's ever been lost from Sobrante since it
began is down here. Elsa's little leathern bags with their knitted
covers; Beppo's plumes; Marty's watch, that he thought he had lost in
the gulch; Wun Lung's carved image. Oh, Pedro! how dreadful and yet how
The shepherd allowed her rhapsodies to answer themselves. Though his
eyes betrayed his complacency, he had more serious work on hand, and,
pointing upward, he commanded:
Fetch the padre's staff.
Lady Jess now realized that obedience was the shortest road to
freedom, so climbed and descended the rope again, with the ease gained
by her gymnastic training under the boys' tuition. But she took into
the pit, beside the staff that curious basket which she had once seen
Ferd carrying up the canyon and over which she had, most fortunately,
just then stumbled.
See, Pedro! This will do to hold all those things!
The Indian saw, indeed, that this was a bit of his own handiwork
which had been missing from the mesa, for many moons. He nodded
gravely, but was more eager for the staff than for his lost property;
and, taking the lantern again to the inner wall of the shaft, he set
the rod upon its point. It remained motionless, exactly upright, where
he placed it; and now, truly, the old man paused to gaze upon it in
wordless delight. He was so rapt and still that the girl grew
frightened and awestruck, watching his odd behavior, and begged him:
Tell me what that means, Pedro! The thing is bewitched.
Ugh! said the Indian, arousing from his contemplation, and,
stooping began to dig amid the loose stones at his feet, with the only
tools at his commandhis own lean fingers. For these he sometimes
substituted a bit of rock, and to Jessica it seemed as if he would
never give over his strange task. When she had begun to really despair
of the liberation which had seemed so near a while ago, he ceased his
labor and stood upright, holding something shining toward the lantern's
light. To the girl it appeared as only another worthless stone, of a
pretty, reddish hue, but wholly unworthy the toil which had been spent
to secure it. She was further surprised, if anything could now surprise
her, to see the Indian place the fragment carefully within his shirt
front and tighten his belt afresh below it. Then he lifted the basket
she had filled with the articles they had found and motioned her
Now, we're really going, aren't we, Pedro?
Yes, Sunny Face. We go.
Indeed, he was as eager for departure as heretofore he had been
loath. Releasing the dwarf's feet from their bandages, he helped his
prisoner to them and gently propelled him forward by a kick of his own
moccasined toe. Thus compelled, Ferd led the way, the shepherd at his
heels, carrying the basket slung upon the staff over his shoulder, and
his free hand pressed closely against his breast where he had placed
the gleaming stone. Behind him walked impatient Jessica, with the
lantern, and in suchwise the little procession came swiftly and
silently to the end of the passage and stood once more under the free
air of heaven. Here they had to halt, for a moment, till their vision
became accustomed to the dazzling light; then with a cry of rapture,
the captain darted from her comrades and sped wildly down the rocky
CHAPTER V. JESSICA'S STORY
Though it had seemed as a lifetime to impatient Jessica that she had
been kept in the cave, after Pedro's arrival there, in reality it was
less than an hour; and it was yet early in the day when a cry she had
expected never to hear again, rang through the room where Gabriella
Trent was lying.
Mother! My mother! Where are you?
Another instant, and they were clasped in close embrace as if
nothing should ever separate them again. Words were impossible, at
first, and not till she saw that even joy was dangerous for her
overwrought patient did Aunt Sally, the nurse, interpose and bodily
lift the daughter from the parent's arms. All at once her own calmness
and courage forsook good Mrs. Benton, and now that she saw the lost
girl restored, visibly present in the flesh, anger possessed her till
she longed to shake, rather than caress, the little captain.
Well, Jessica Trent! These are pretty goings on, now ain't they?
Gabriella sat up and her child nestled against her, their hands
clasped and their eyes greedily fixed upon each other's countenance.
The unexpected brusqueness of the question was a relief to their high
tension, and Jessica laughed, almost hysterically, as she answered:
They didn't seem very 'pretty' to me, Aunt Sally.
What a sight you be! Where you been?
In the canyon cave.
Didn't know there was one.
What for? What made you stay? Didn't you know you'd raised the
whole countryside to hunt for you? Don't believe there's an able-bodied
man left on a single ranch within fifty miles; all off huntin' for you.
Youyou ought to be spanked!
Mrs. Benton! warned Gabriella, in a tone of such distress that the
reproved one promptly sank in a capacious heap on the floor and fell to
weeping with the same vigor that she applied to all things. Jessica,
too, began to cry softly, at intervals, with such shuddering bursts of
sobs, that the mother's tears, also, were soon dimming the eyes to
which they had been denied during all the past anxiety. However, this
simultaneous downpour was infinite relief to all; and presently the
mother rose and with the strength happiness gave to her slight figure,
carried her child away to rest.
You are safe. You are here. I see that you have suffered no hurt,
and bed is the place for you. When you have slept and rested you must
tell us all. Oh! my darling! Many hearts have ached for you, and I
thought my own was broken. But, thank God! thank God!
Aunt Sally followed them, and, as if she had been a new-born baby,
the two women washed and made ready for a long sleep the precious child
that had been given back to them from the grave. Then the mother sat
down to watch while Aunt Sally hurried to ring the ancient mission
bell, whose harsh clanging had been agreed upon among the searchers as
the signal of good news.
They all came flocking back, singly or in groups, from wherever the
summons, which could be heard for miles in that clear air, chanced to
find them. Impatience was natural enough, too, on their part, since to
their eager questions Mrs. Benton could not give answer beyond the
Yes, she's back, safe and sound. Says she's been in a cave, though
where it is or whether she's just flighty in her head, land knows.
She's sleepin' now, and it won't be healthy for any you lumberin' men
to be makin' a noise round the house before she wakes up, of her own
Nor when Pedro and the subdued dwarf came slowly over the road would
they make any further explanation. Indeed, they were both utterly
silent; the Indian forcing his captive before him into the deserted
office where he intrenched himself, with his basket and staff, until
such time as it should be his mistress' pleasure to receive him.
Thus, with time on her hands and nothing else to do, Aunt Sally
collared Wun Lung and withdrew to her kitchen, whence, presently, there
arose such various and appetizing odors that the weary ranchmen scented
a feast, and sought repose for themselves till it was ready. Samson and
John, however, were called upon for aid, and, whereas they were ordered
to dress six of the plumpest fowl in the hennery, they brought a
dozen, and for one likely shoat, they made ready two. Nor, when they
were upbraided for wastefulness, were they a whit abashed, but John
demanded, with unfilial directness:
Why, mother, what's got your common sense? Tisn't only our own
folks you're cookin' for, but fifty others, more or less. Do you s'pose
Cassius Trent would skimp victuals on such a day as this? My advice to
you is: Put on all the pork and bacon you've got, to bile; and roast
the lamb that was butchered for our mess; and set to bakin' biscuit by
the cartload, and
John Benton, hold your tongue, or I'll
No, you won't, mother! I've outgrown spankin' though I'd be most
willin' to submit if 'twould be any relief to your feelin's, or mine
either. I tell you this here's the greatest day ever shone on Sobrante
Ranch, not barrin' even the one when the 'captain' came home with the
title in her hand.
You misguided boy, don't I know it? Ain't I clean druv out my wits
a-thinkin' ever'thing over, and where in the name of natur' am I goin'
to do it all, with them horrid gasoline stoves no bigger'n an old
maid's thimble, and Pasqually gone off s'archin' with the rest, and
no'count the heft of the time and my sins!
Had to take breath, or bust, hadn't you? cried her disrespectful
son, catching the portly matron about the spot where her waist should
have been and hilariously whirling her about in a waltz which his own
lameness rendered the more grotesque. And where can you cook 'em? Why,
right square in them old ovens at the mission. Full now of saddles and
truck, but Samson and me'll clear 'em out lively. I'll make you a fire
in 'em, and they'll see cookin' like they haven't since the padres put
out their own last fires. They weren't any fools, them fellers. They
knew a good thing when they saw it, and if they tackled a job they did
it square. The ovens they built, just out of baked mud and a few
stones, are as tight to-day as they were a hundred years ago; and,
whew! won't old Pedro, that found her, relish his meat cooked in 'em?
Nor was Benton to be outdone in suggestion on the matter of
providing. Some of the searchers had brought back a quantity of game,
with which the country teemed, and which it had delayed them but little
to shoot. This was levied upon without ado, and in the preparation of
the great feast Aunt Sally's helpers forgot their fatigue, and were as
deftly efficient as women would have been.
Indeed, between sleep and labor, the hours of Jessica's unbroken
rest passed quickly, after all; and the good news having spread almost
as swiftly as the ill, the grounds were full of people when, at last,
she awoke. But, even yet, Mrs. Trent's consideration for others refused
a prior or full hearing of the story to which her faithful helpers had
as good a right as she, if not as intense an interest in it. She made
the child eat and drink, and went with her to her favorite rostrum when
addressing her company of soldierly boysthe horse block. Here the
girl stood up and told her simple tale.
You see, dear folks, it was just this way: Aunt Sally and I were on
the porch, and we found Elsa's ring, all crooked. We couldn't guess how
it came there, and I'd just been made pretty angry about the way you
felt toward 'Forty-niner.' Oh! it was dreadful, dreadful of you all,
and I never was so ashamed of my 'boys,' not in all my life.
Go on with the story, captain. Never mind us, cried somebody.
And a little way farther I found a piece of Elsa's knitted bag.
That made me think a lot. Then the tackers came, all paint, and with
Mr. Hale's horse, that had been on the mesa ever since he was here.
That made me think some more, and I told auntie if she wouldn't scold
the little ones I'd try to find their clothes. I didn't find them,
though, Aunt Sally.
Go on! Go on! What next? demanded an impatient listener.
Then I saw Ferd. Oh, mother! If I tell I'm afraid they'll hurt
He shall be protected, daughter, and you must tell, said the
mother, though she now shrank from the hearing.
I asked him about the horse and the children, and he said 'yes,' he
had fixed them. He had driven Prince down from the mesa, when Pedro
didn't see him, and had 'showed that old carpenter' something to pay
for kicks and hard words. He knew something I'd like to know. So I
asked him what, and he said it was Elsa's money. But if I didn't go
with him without saying anything to anybody he wouldn't tell me how to
find it. I begged to tell my mother, but he said her least of all. It
wouldn't take long, only a few rods up the canyon; so, of course, I
went. I thought I should be back long before dinner-time, and that
mother would tell me to do anything which would clear old Ephraim's
name from your cruel suspicions. And, oh, boys! You were wrong, you
were wrong! He never took a cent that wasn't his own, and Elsa's money
Absolute silence followed this announcement, then Samson's great
voice started the wild Hurrahs which made the wide valley ring. The
cheers were long and lusty, but when they subsided at last, Mrs. Trent
bade her daughter finish the tale.
It wasn't a little, but a long way up the canyon; yet I was so
eager to right Ephraim's wrong that I didn't feel afraid, though I
never have liked Ferd. He can't help being queer, maybe, with his queer
body to keep his half mind in
The hisses that interrupted her were almost as loud as the cheers
had been, and it would have fared ill with the dwarf had he at that
moment been visible. Fortunately, he was still under the surveillance
of the grim shepherd, in the locked office, and the majority of those
present were ignorant of his whereabouts.
Quit hindering the captain. Her story is what we want! cried
Marty. The dwarf can wait.
So we went on and on, and into a strange, dark tunnel, that scared
me a little, yet made me more curious than ever to see the end of it
all. The tunnel led to a cave, and in the cave there was a deep hole;
and before I knew what he was doing, Ferd had slung a lariat about me
and dropped me into it.
Again an interruption of groans and howls, that were promptly
suppressed by a wave of the mistress' white hand; then Jessica
As soon as he had put me there, he told me he would keep me till my
mother paid him great money to let me up. Yet he wouldn't even go to
her and ask for it. He said I must promise, and that she would do
anything I said. He told about a boy in 'Frisco, he'd heard the men
say, was taken from his folks and kept till they paid lots for his
releaseeven thousands of dollars! Antonio had taught him that money
was the best thing to have. He believed it. He took it whenever he
could find it. That's what made him take Elsa's, and blame it upon
Ephraim. And I wouldn't promise. How could I? My dear has no money to
give wicked men, and I knew the dear God would take me back to her when
He saw fit. As He did, indeed. For it must have been He who put it into
Pedro's heart to seek the cave just when I needed him most. Only the
Lord could see through all that darkness and lead the shepherd by that
She paused, and, turning to her mother, laid her sunny head upon the
shoulder that was shaken by such sobs as moved her faithful ranchmen to
thoughts of deep revenge. Eyes that had not wept for years grew dim,
and out of that circle of listening men rose a low and ominous sound.
Some, remembering their own idle talk of kidnaping and the like,
shuddered at the practical application the dwarf's dim mind had made of
their words; and various plans for punishment were forming when the
captain clapped her hands for fresh attention.
Hear me, 'boys.'Do you belong to me?
Ay, ay! Heart and soul!
Then you must mind me. You must let Ferd alone. You must do even
more to please meand teach him to be good, not bad.
None answered these clear, commanding sentences, which, as the
strangers present thought, came so oddly from such childish lips, and
they wondered at the effect produced upon the Sobrante men. These
glanced at one another in doubt, each questioning the decision of his
neighbor; and then again at the lovely girl who had never before seemed
so wholly angelic.
Will you do this?
Hold on, little one. Let the 'admiral' speak. Has she forgiven that
The unexpected question startled Mrs. Trent. She was a strictly
truthful woman, and found her answer difficult. She had never liked the
wretched creature who had just brought such misery to her, and she now
loathed him. She had already resolved that, while she would protect
Ferd from personal injury, she would see to it that he was put where he
could never again injure her or hers. Her momentary hesitation told.
The whole assemblage waited for her next word amid a silence that could
be felt, when, suddenly, there burst upon that silence a series of
ear-splitting shrieks which effectually diverted attention from the
perplexed ranch mistress.
CHAPTER VI. BEHIND LOCKED DOORS
The shrieks were uttered by Elsa Winkler, who frantically rushed to
the horse block, demanding: Where? Where?
Mrs. Trent gave one glance at the rough, unkempt woman, and sternly
Elsa, you forget yourself! Go back indoors, at once.
The unhappy creature shivered at this unfamiliar tone, yet abated
nothing of her outcry:
My money! My money! My money!
She had come to the ranch thinking only of Jessica's mysterious
absence, and meaning to do something, anything, which might help or
comfort the child's mother; but the long walk, for one so heavy and
unaccustomed to exercise, had made her physically ill by the time she
reached Sobrante. Which state of things was wholly satisfactory to Aunt
Sally, who, having received the visitor with dismay, now promptly
suggested bed and rest, saying:
You poor creatur'! You're clean beat out! If you don't take care,
you'll have a dreadful fit of sickness, and I don't know who'd wait on
you if you did. Not with all this trouble on hand. You go right
straight up into one them back chambers, where the bed is all made up
ready, and put yourself to bed, andstay there! Don't you dast get up
again till I say so; else I won't answer for the consequences. You're
as yeller as saffron, and as red as a beet. Them two colors mixed on a
human countenance meanssomethin'! To bed, Elsa Winkler; to bed right
away. I'll fetch you up a cup of tea and a bite of victuals. Don't
Butthe mistress! Elsa had panted. I come so long for to speak
her good cheer. I must see the mistress, then I rest.
The mistress isn't seeing anybody just now, except me anda few
others. You do as I say, or you'll never knit another wool shawl.
No, no. I knit no more, forever, is it? Not I. Why the reason? The
more one earns the more one may lose. Yes, yes, indeed. Yes.
That's the true word, Mrs. Benton had replied; and so being
you've no yarn to worry you, nor no mistress to see, off to bed, I say,
and don't you dast to get sick on my hands, I warn you!
So Elsa had obeyed the command, glad enough to rest and be idle for
a time. Aunt Sally had seen to it that the visitor was kept duly
alarmed concerning her red-and-yellow condition, nor had she given the
permission to arise when Wolfgang and Otto arrived from their fruitless
visit to El Desierto. They found the place crowded with returning
searchers, and joyfully hailed the good news of Jessica's safety. But
when there was added to this the information that their own property
had been found, they demanded to be taken to Elsa, and it was their
visit to her room which had sent her afield, half-clad, and with
thought for nothing but her lost treasure.
Even now, husband and son joined their entreaties to hers, though
Samson soon brought them to hear reason, and to withdraw from public
for the present, asking, indignantly:
Have you folks lost all your manners, as well as your dollars, up
there on the foothill? The idee of a woman screeching her lungs out
afore all the ranchers in Southern Californy! Your money? Well, what of
it? If it's found, it'll be give to you, and if it isn't you ain't the
first feller's been robbed. Besides, can't you smell? Don't you know
that you're interruptin' the prettiest spread ever was seen at old
Sobrante? Like chicken? Like roast pig? Like hot biscuit and plum sess?
Then go wash your face, and make your folks fix up and come enjoy
yourself. So far as I hear, it's old Pedro holds the cash, and you
might as well try to move the Sierras as him, if he ain't ready to
move. At this present writin' he's set himself guard over that
scalliwag, Ferd, and I ain't envying him his job, I ain't. Hurry up,
there won't be anything but necks and drumsticks left for you
Thus admonished and reassured, Wolfgang hurried his family away to
prepare for the feast, and the interruption they had caused to the
proceedings at the horse block effectually relieved Mrs. Trent from an
immediate answer to an awkward question, so she said:
Come, daughter. I see by Aunt Sally's manner that she wishes the
people would begin to eat. Every pair of hands, that belongs to us,
must help in serving these kind neighbors who have flocked to our aid.
Some of them have forty good miles to ride before they sleep, and they
must be fed first. I'll stand by the head table yonder, and name them,
and do you, for whom they left their business, wait upon them yourself.
That will show them your gratitude, and give them honor due.
So it was, and to every dish she brought, the little captain added a
graceful word of thanks, which seasoned the food better than even Aunt
Sally's wondrous skill had done; and many an encomium did the child
hear, in return, of that lost father who had made himself so
well-beloved in all that countryside.
When all was over and done, when the last neighbor had ridden
homeward, when everybody had had his fill, and more than his fill of
good things, and the rudely constructed tables had been removed from
the wide lawn, came Aunt Sally, beaming with happiness, and glanced
over the scene, till there broke from her lips the wondering question:
Can this be the same spot that was so dark and lonely yesterday?
I've had my heartstrings so stretched and tugged at, betwixt joy and
sorrow, that I don't know myself. II believe I'm tired! And if I am,
it's about the first time in my life. Well, well! Talking of
Christmasthis little supper we've just give is about equal to forty
Christmases in one. Seem's if.
Dear, kind, Aunt Sally, how shall I ever thank you for all you've
done for us? cried Mrs. Trent, appearing at her friend's side, and
impetuously clasping the portly matron. The embrace was so unexpected,
for the ranch mistress was never a demonstrative woman, that its
recipient was, for the instant, speechless; the next, she had turned
herself about and demanded:
Gabriella Trent, have you had a bite to eat?
No. Have you, Mrs. Benton?
Not a morsel. I'm as empty as a bubble. No more has the captain
touched a thing. She's here, there and everywhere, among her precious
'boys,' yet not a one of 'em has the decency to say: 'Share my supper,
Lady Jess.' If they were my 'boys,' I'd
No, you wouldn't, mother. And I'm glad to see you two women resting
a spell. Keep on sitting there. We're going to wait on you now, and
don't you believe we haven't put by the pick of the pies for you all!
The captain is fetchin' the tackers, and Pasqual's fetchin' the food.
But what about old Pedro and the coyote?
John, don't call names, 'specially hard ones. They always come home
to roost. But I'm glad you do some credit to your upraisin', and did
remember that somebody else, except yourself, might be hungry. Wait,
Gabriell'. Don't you worry about that Indian. I'll just step in and fix
You'd better not, mother. He's got all the company he wants at this
This was sufficient to spur Mrs. Benton's energy afresh. Curiosity
was her besetting sin, and she could not endure that anything should go
on about the ranch in which she had no hand. Rising rather hastily from
a chair that was much too frail for her weight, she and it came to
grief, and the fact diverted her attention for the time.
John was glad of this, though outwardly he sympathized with her
slight mishap, and facetiously offered her a dose of her own picra.
Mrs. Trent also rose, saying:
I will go to Pedro. Though I did try to thank him, when he first
came, I had but a moment to give him then, and I fear he will feel he
has been neglected. As if I could ever neglect one to whom I owe my
Mrs. Benton looked after her, and sighed.
There she goes again! and that woman hasn't tasted a mouthful in a
How long's a 'dog's age,' Aunt Sally? demanded Ned as he helped
himself to a buttered biscuit which Pasqual had just placed on the old
Age as long as a dog, commented Luis, seizing the biscuit from his
mate and running away with it. Of course, Ned gave chase, and the usual
battle ensued, after which they dropped down upon the spot where they
had fought, threw their arms around each other's necks, and munched the
biscuit together with an air of cherubic delight.
Everybody laughed at the pair, upon which Aunt Sally now descended
with a threatening mien and a plate of plum cake.
Ain't you ashamed of yourselves, you naughty children? Fighting
half your time. Here! Eat that and let your suppers stop. By the way,
how many suppers have you had already?
Six or seven, promptly replied Ned, who had eaten with whoever
Sixty-seven, echoed Luis.
Then to bed you go, this instant! And off they were marched,
without delay. Of course, this was another postponement of Mrs.
Benton's own meal, but she didn't mind that, so long as she had an
opportunity to deal with the small lads. Explaining to them, as she
undressed and bathed them: You'd go to wrack and ruin if 'twasn't for
me takin' a hand in your upbringin' now and then. You pull the wool
over Gabriella's eyes the worst ever was. My! What you doing now,
Pullin' wool, like you said! and wound the white blanket he had
caught from his cot the more tightly about Luis' head.
Meanwhile, the ranch mistress had gained the office and asked
admission at its locked door. When a long wait ensued, she reflected
rather anxiously upon what the men had often said, That Old Century is
as top-lofty as a king. Thinks he is a king, in his own rights, and his
having lived a hundred years makes him better'n anybody else.
This was quite true. Faithful and devoted to her as he was, the
shepherd exacted even from her the respect that was his due. On that
day he felt that much more than ordinary consideration was owing him;
yet he had been left for hours, unvisited by her for whom he had done,
and meant still to do, so much. Therefore, it was with a bearing full
of injured dignity that he at last slid the bolt and opened the door,
though he did not invite the visitor to enter, nor withdraw from the
I came to see about your supper, good Pedro. Do you know that it
has been cooked in the old mission oven? That should make it taste fine
to you. You must pardon my not being earlier, but there have been so
many, many guests. All gone now, save our own people.
Senorita, am I not also a guest, yes? Was one at Sobrante as old as
me? Should not I have ruled the feast?
Indeed, you should, my friend, if there had been any ruling
whatever. It was simply take and eat, and away to their distant homes.
You are already at home, nor have I, either, tasted food. Come now and
feast with me. I am hungry, and so should you be. You mustn't keep the
mistress waiting, you know!
Pedro's countenance had softened, and he had expended all his
sternness, but his caution remained. With a significant glance toward
his prisoner, the dwarf, he shook his head.
When he is safe, then will I break my fast. The senorita does me
That is what I should like to do, dear Pedro. But is not poor Ferd
safe in here? Can we not send him in some supper and turn the lock upon
She could not hide the repugnance she felt toward the miserable,
misshapen creature, now sleeping on the floor, and after one glance in
his direction looked swiftly away. But that glance had been sufficient
to startle her by its resemblance to another face she hoped never to
Pedro's keen old eyes noticed her surprise and dismay, and he smiled
The mistress sees. Slumber shows itthe likeness. One breed of
snakes were in the den. Fear both, watch both, for they are brothers.
This, then, explained many things; not the least, the wonderful
influence and control which Antonio had always maintained over his
half-witted left hand, as the boys called the unfortunate
AntonioFerdinandboth Bernalsbrothers? asked Mrs. Trent, in a
Si. Yes, indeed. In truth.
And all this time nobody knew or suspected it?
Senorita, the master knew. That was part of his great goodness to
the wicked one who would ruin him if he could. 'Ware Antonio'ware
Ferd. One is the shadow of the other. One thinks, the other works. When
Antonio went, Ferd stayed. No good, senorita. Watch him.
The lady sat down upon the nearest chair, and, as she did so, caught
sight of the basket upon the desk. It was filled to overflowing with
articles of various sorts, and beside it lay the curious metal-pointed
staff. Her impulse was to reach forward and take it, but the Indian
arrested her hand by an upward motion of his own. Then he opened it
himself and showed her, at the bottom, a number of leathern bags with
Pedro silently assented.
Oh, let us call her, and give it back to her at once.
Fools must learn. Let the miner come, and Samson.
Mrs. Trent stepped outside and dispatched a messenger for the two
men, who presently came; the one glum and offended, thinking in his
slow way that he had been made a jest of, and that the money his wife
so loved had not, after all, been found. The other, as always, proud
and alert to serve the admiral.
When they had entered the room, Wolfgang's eyes at once rested
greedily upon the basket, which Pedro had again closed, as if he
guessed what treasure lay within. Samson's glance went straight to the
sleeping dwarf, and an almost irresistible impulse to kick the inert
figure possessed him. But he restrained himself, and colored high when
he met the lady's own glance.
No, Samson, please. No violence. Yet it is Pedro's wise advice that
Ferd be placed under the charge of somebody who shall know at all times
just where he is and what he is about. Will you take that charge,
That ain't the kind of cattle I keep, 'admiral.'
I understand it isn't a pleasant task. That's not the question,
which is simply: Will you be responsible forFerdinand Bernal?
The mighty sailor fairly jumped, but his reply was: You could knock
me down with a feather!
Mrs. Trent laughed. Yes, it is strange. But look sharp. The
resemblance is strong. Pedro knows the relationship, and my husband
knew it. I did not, until just now. Something better may suggest itself
to you or me, but for the present, will you take charge of this unhappy
A delayed and most reluctant Yes came at last from the herder's
lips. If he had been asked to punish the dwarf the answer would have
been swift and eager; but take charge! That meant constant
association, decent treatment and responsibility for the most
slippery of human beings.
Then, please take him away at once.
Ferd had roused, and was sitting up; so that when Samson laid his
great hand on the lad's shoulder, the latter understood, in a dim way,
that he was now the herder's, rather than the shepherd's prisoner. Of
the two, he would have preferred the latter keeper; but he would bother
with neither very long.
It was a relief when the door closed upon the outgoing pair, and
Pedro rose and locked it. There was something preternaturally solemn
and mysterious in his manner as, placing a chair nearer to the desk for
Mrs. Trent, he motioned Wolfgang to take another opposite. Then,
standing between them he drew the basket toward himself, and keeping
one hand upon it, thrust the other within his shirt and drew from that
the reddish bit of rock which Jessica had seen him so careful of.
Holding it so that the last rays of the sun fell through the window
full upon it, he extended it on his open palm and demanded of the
CHAPTER VII. A ROYAL GIFT
Wolfgang took the bit of stone in his own fingers and examined it
critically. Always deliberate in his words and actions, he was now
doubly so, and Mrs. Trent grew impatient of a situation which seemed
unimportant, and that delayed for others, as well as herself, a much
But Pedro was not impatient. He stood with folded arms and
triumphant bearing, ready for the miner's reply, whether it came soon
or late; also, quite ready to disregard it should it be different from
Well, Wolfgang? asked the ranch mistress.
The miner heaved a prodigious sigh, and returned the ambiguous
That is what I have thought already, is it not?
What have you thought, good Wolfgang? demanded the lady, looking
toward the Indian's glowing eyes.
Copper. Copper, without alloy.
Ugh! grunted Pedro, with satisfaction, and taking the metal again
in his hand bowed low and gravely presented it to his mistress.
She received it without enthusiasm, wondering what significance
could attach to a bit of stone that might have been picked up anywhere.
Her husband had believed that everything valuable would, sooner or
later, be unearthed from the mountains of the State he so loyally
loved, but her own interest in the subject was slight. However, she
must say something grateful or again offend the dignity of her
Thank you, Pedro. It is very pretty. I will add it to the case of
minerals that your master arranged yonder.
The shepherd cast one contemptuous glance toward the shelves she
indicated, and straightened himself indignantly. He had loved and
revered her, ever since she came a bride to Sobrante, and had tended
him through a scourge of smallpox, unafraid and unscathed. Though she
was a woman, the sex of whose intelligence he had small opinion, he had
regarded her as an exception, and his disappointment was great.
Is it but a 'thank you,' si? Does not the senorita know what this
I confess that I do not, Pedro. Please explain.
Were the old padres wise, mistress?
So I have always understood.
Listen. From them it came; from the last who left the mission here
for anotherto me, his son and friend. Into the heart of the world we
went, and he showed me. Down low, so low none dream of it, lies that
will make you rich. Will there be anybody anywhere so rich as the
senorita and her little ones? No. But no, not one. This I give you. It
is for the Navidad, the last old Pedro will ever see. And the senorita
answers, 'thank you'!
He was deeply hurt, and his manner was now full of an eloquent
scorn. He was returning the stone to his breast, when she asked for it
again, saying, gently:
You are so old and wise, good Pedro, you must bear with my
ignorance and teach me. This is copper, you say. It is very pretty, but
how can it make me rich? I do not understand.
Wolfgang answered for the other, and his phlegmatic face had lost
its ordinary expression for one of keen delight.
It is true, what the old man tells you, mistress. He meanshe must
meansomewhere on your property lies a vein of this metal. The dead
master thought the coal was fine already. Ay, so, so. But copper!
Mistress Trent, when this vein is mined, what Pedro saysyes, yes. In
all this big country is not one so rich as he who owns a copper mine.
Ach, himmel! It is a queen he has made you, and you say, 'Thank you!'
He had fully caught the shepherd's enthusiasm and feeling, and for
the first time in his life looked upon the lady of Sobrante as a
But she was no longer dull. Even if it seemed an impossibility that
even this vein could be mined, since she had no money to waste in an
experiment so costly, still she realized, at last, what Pedro's will
had been. Catching his hand between her own soft palms, she pressed it
gratefully, and beamed upon him till he smiled again.
Whatever comes of it. Pedro, you have given us a royal
aguinaldo[B], and I do appreciate it. Come now, and share our rejoicing
over that greater good that you have brought to Sobrantethe salvation
of its little captain. For thatfor thatI have not even the 'thank
you'; my feeling is too deep.
Though he showed it little, the old man was almost as moved as she,
and he followed her as proudly as if he were the king his fellow
ranchmen called him. Yet even pride did not prevent his being cautious
still, and he carried the basket and staff away with him, though
Wolfgang protested, and asked, angrily now:
The money? Is it not my Elsa's, yes? Would you break her heart
already, and the little one so needing it?
Mrs. Trent laughed. She, too, wondered that the Indian had not at
once surrendered the other's property, but understood that he could not
be hurried. So she merely suggested that Wolfgang bring his family
around to the living room immediately after sunset, when, doubtless, he
would receive his own again.
At that time, also, she meant to have John Benton present, to hear
what Pedro had to say about this copper find, and to comfort him in his
disappointment, for between these two there had always been close
However, to her surprise, John attempted no comfort. He was
instantly and heartily on the shepherd's side, and demanded, excitedly:
Begging pardon for plain words, as you are a woman with growing
children, can you sit there calm as molasses and say 'you wish you
could do something about it,' yet say no more. 'Wish!' Why, land of
Goshen! this ain't a wishin' sort of business, this ain't! It's 'Hurray
for old Sobrante! Hurray, hurray, hurray!' Call 'em in, captain,
dearie! Call in the whole crowd! That was the luckiest gettin' lost
anybody ever had! Oh, won't somebody call 'em in?
To the group about the table it seemed that the sensible carpenter
had suddenly gone mad. Nobody had ever heard him so address the
mistress whom he loved, and his excited prancing around the room,
alternately hugging and examining the mineral in his hand, added to the
impression. While the captain departed to summon the other boys, Aunt
Sally attempted to reduce her hilarious son to sanity by a sharp box on
the ear, and the sharper reprimand:
You, John Benton! Do you mean to bring my gray hairs with sorrer to
the grave? What's the reason of these goings on, I'd like to know? I
never was so disgraced in all my life, never. Now, quit! Quit to once,
He paid no heed to her, but laid his hand on Pedro's shoulder and
shook it vigorously, demanding:
What kind of a feller are you, anyway? Why in the name of sense
didn't you tell this thing while the boss was alive? Shucks! Half of
you is Indian, and that means dirt. Known it all this time, and kept it
hid! You'd ought to be drawn and quartered, that's what you had!
Mrs. Benton advanced with threatening hand, and from force of habit
he retreated before her, and sank into the nearest chair; so that, when
his mates entered, they found him sitting with bent head and
down-hanging hands, as limp and inert as if his vitality had been
sapped by the news he had heard.
What's up? asked Marty, making his respectful salutation to the
mistress, but looking past her toward the carpenter, who, with another
change of mood, sprang again to his feet and waved the fragment of
mineral overhead, exclaiming:
This is 'up'! Copper's 'up'! Sobrante's 'up'! And lucky the men
that belong to it. Onlythat old villain, yonder, has known it even
since forever, and was mean enough to keep his secret. That's what he
is, that Pedro, yonder!
Yet, with another whimsical change, he seized the shepherd's hand
and wrung it till even that hardened member ached. But the Indian
remained as calm and undisturbed, amid the torrent of blame or praise,
as if he had been sitting alone at his weaving on the mesa. His soul
was satisfied at last. He had done that which he had pondered doing for
many years, without being able, heretofore, to bring his thought to
action. Surely he had known that, locked within his own breast, his
secret was worthless; yet he had clung to it tenaciously. Now he had
imparted it to others, and behold! all the world knew it, even so soon.
Well, that did not matter. It was no longer his. His part was ended.
Meanwhile, on his beloved upland, there was a faithful collie watching
for his return, and lambs bleating, needing his care. Suddenly he rose,
placed his cherished staff in Mrs. Trent's hands, and bowing low, said:
Keep this, as I have kept it, where none but you may find. At the
Navidad I come once more, the last. Adios.
His departure was so unexpected that, at first, they did not try to
prevent it, but Jessica was swift to follow and protest:
Not to-night, dear Pedro! Please not to-night. You have been so
good to me, you must stay and be glad with us this one night. In the
In the morning the sheep will need new pasture. Adios, nina.
Then, if go you must, it shall not be on foot. Wait! I know!
Prince, Mr. Hale's horse, that he left with you on the mesa. It is
here. The naughty children painted him, but I saw him in the corral,
just now, and you shall ride him home. That is if you will not stay,
even for me.
The Navidad. Till then, adios.
She had never heard him talk so much nor so well as since these few
hours among his friends. He seemed to be almost another Pedro than the
silent shepherd of the mesa, and as she followed him, taking his direct
way to the paddock, she wondered at the uprightness of his bearing and
the unconscious dignity which clothed him like a garment. Then she
remembered something elsehis blanket, and sprang to his side again,
Just one five minutes more, Pedro. Your blanket. You must have a
He hesitated and sighed. Then shook his head sadly. That which he
had torn, to bind the dwarf, had been a Navajo weave, so fine and
faultless that even he, the wonderful weaver, knew it for a marvel.
There could not be its mate in all that country, nor had been since the
old padres went and took with them, as he believed, all the wisdom of
Before he had caught and bridled the horse, Jessica was back, and
playfully enveloped in a wonderful piece of cloth that made the Indian
stare. If it were not the mate to his lost treasure, it was quite as
fine and soft, as generous in size, and far cleaner.
See, dear old fellow. This was my father's. My mother sends it to
you with her love. Put it on, so I may see how fine you look. Oh,
grand! When the children play 'Indian' why can't they copy you, and not
those dirty Diggers, that Ferd teaches them to be like! Pedro, you are
splendid, andI love you! I love you!
All at once, as she gazed upon him, there returned to her a memory
of that dark time in the cavern's pit, where he had found her, and
which, in the general rejoicing over her safety she had, for the
present, almost forgotten. By now, save for this old man, she might
have been dead.
He received the onslaught of her embrace exactly as he had accepted
the gift of the blanketin silence. There was a momentary lighting of
his somber eyes, but no word, as, putting her quietly down upon the
ground, he mounted the barebacked Prince and loped swiftly away into
the darkness and solitude.
Brighter by contrast was the room to which the little captain
returned, after Prince and his rider had vanished into the night, and
the circle of lamp-lighted faces gleamed with excitement. Everybody
seemed trying to outtalk his neighbor, and only one glowering
countenance showed dark by contrast; the face of Elsa Winkler, with its
eyes angrily fixed upon the basket which Mrs. Trent held on her lap,
quite forgetting what it contained in her listening to the others'
Suddenly, Samson brought his fist down upon the table, enforcing a
brief silence, while demanding:
What's amiss with using the capital on hand? There sits our
'admiral,' with money enough in that basket to start the whole
business. Set Wolfgang to manage, and the rest of us to dig and delve.
More'n one here has tried mining for a yellower metal than
thisholding up the bit of copper'twould do us proud to give the
first pick to Sobrante's fortune! Lads, what say?
Ay, and right off! That's what we say! cried somebody, but Mrs.
Trent lifted her hand, and they were silent.
She had become as interested now as any of the others; far more,
indeed, since if this amazing tale of Pedro's proved true she would be
able, at last, to fulfill her husband's interrupted life-work, and make
Sobrante a power for good in the world.
What does Elsa say? Will she lend us this money?
[B] Christmas box or gift.
CHAPTER VIII. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
All waited breathlessly for Elsa's answer. They knew her greed, or,
rather, why she hoarded her money so closely, and were not so
surprised, after all, when it came.
No, I cannot.
Can't? I should like to know why you can't? demanded John Benton,
indignantly, though Mrs. Trent protested against his urgency by a nod
of her head.
It is for the little one. It is mine. I want it already.
The ranch mistress at once extended the basket, but it was now the
carpenter's turn to object.
Please, 'admiral,' not so fast. Let her tell us, first, how much
money she lost.
Elsa caught her breath. To save her life she could not have stated
in exact figures the sum, because, though she had known to a dime
before the robbery, at, and after that time, she had recklessly tossed
aside the little that remained. This wasted portion belonged with the
whole amount, and being as truthful as she was penurious, she
hesitated. Her color came and went, as she looked anxiously into John's
face, realizing that he had laid a trap for her and caught her in it.
But the mistress confronted her, saying:
Never mind that, Elsa. I do not blame you for refusing to try
experiments with what you have so hardly earned and so nearly lost.
These are certainly your own little money bags, as I judge from their
knitted covers; but it is just possible there may have been other money
added to that was taken from you. So, tell me as nearly as you can,
what you had, and we will examine them all together.
This was wise, and commended itself even to the eager Elsa, who
stated promptly and proudly:
Three t'ousand of the dollars it was. All gold. Big gold and
littles ones. In them bags was lost entirely. In the othersI don't
know. Oh! I don't know. It was much, much!
It was Wolfgang's turn to interpose, and he did so, sternly:
Elsa, wife! Three thousand dollars, and I not know it! How dare
Ach! how not dare I? It was the new pick, or the new pushcart, or
the new everything, is it not so? Well, then, if one would save one
need not tell.
Mrs. Trent's face saddened, and, seeing this, Jessica impatiently
Oh, I hate money! It's always that which makes the trouble. It was
about money that those New York folks made such wicked charges against
my father. It was for a little money that you 'boys' were so quick to
ruin 'Forty-niner's' character. It was money, and the greed for it,
that changed Antonio from a good to a bad man.
Hold on, captain. There wasn't ever any 'change' in him. He was
born that way.
He was born a baby, wasn't he, John? All babies are good, I s'pose.
It's loving money has made Ferd do such dreadful things; and now, over
a little money, Wolfgang and Elsa are quarreling, though I never heard
them speak crossly to each other before. Oh, I hate it! Give it all
back to her, mother dear, and let us forget all that Pedro said. I, for
my part, hope his old copper mine will never be dug out.
Some who heard her laughed, but the mother grew even graver than at
first, and looked searchingly into her daughter's face. Again there
came to her mind the consciousness that the little girl was growing up
in a strange fashion; seeming both too wise and too simple for her
years. It could never be any different at Sobrante, where one and all
conspired to spoil her, though innocently enough, and from pure
affection. How could she, single-handed, combat these hurtful
The answer came swiftly enough in a second thought: Money.
If there were but a little more of that power for good as well as
evil in her possession she could send the child to some fine school and
have her educated properly. The separation would be like death in life
to herself, but what true mother ever thought of self where her child
was concerned? Certainly, not Gabriella Trent. It was with a little
sigh that she put her arm about Lady Jess and drew her to her side,
Here, daughter, you and John examine these bags together, while the
rest of us look on and tally for you. I want Elsa to have her own, at
They moved the books and papers from the table, and Jessica emptied
the contents of the bags into one gleaming heap near the big lamp,
whose light gave an added radiance to the coins, making more than one
pair of eyes sparkle and stare. None could remember ever to have seen
so large an amount displayed outside a bank window.
Even John's hands trembled slightly as he began to count the double
eagles first, pushing each five of these toward his small co-laborer
One hundred. Two hundred. Three hundredone thousand!
One thousand! echoed Jessica, in turn handing the pile to her
mother, while the others watched, counting each for himself in silence,
ready to check any blunder that might be made.
That is, the men were silent, but Elsa and Aunt Sally rather
disturbed the proceedings; the former, by eagerly reaching out for the
piles as each was arranged before the mistress, and being as regularly
rebuked by the latter.
There you go again, woman! How can they count right if you don't
have patience? Keep your hands still, do, said Mrs. Benton.
Keep your tongue, mother, too. Two thousand! rejoined John.
Twothousand! cried Jessica, tallying. But her voice had now lost
its impatience, and she began to have a very different feeling in
regard to this money, which looked so real, and was so much needed at
Sobrante. If Pedro's copper could be transmuted into shining golden
eagles, why, after all, she guessed she didn't hate it quite so much.
Threethousandandain't halftouched yet! gasped Samson,
throwing up his great hands in a gesture of astonishment.
Elsa was also gasping then, and the expression of her face was
changing into one from which Mrs. Trent involuntarily turned her eyes.
Cunning and avarice predominated, and in the woman's throat was a
curious clicking sound, as if she had lost and were trying to find her
voice. Which, when found, seemed not to belong to the good-natured
Elsa, so changed it was:
Ach, me! But I forgot already. I guessit was not three t'ousand;
it was two times so much. That was seven t'ousand, is it not? The money
of this Americait so confuse, yes, and she tapped her forehead with
one fat finger, while her eyes grew beady, and seemed to shrink in size
as they gazed upon the wealth she coveted.
But Wolfgang would have none of this. He was as honest as the sun,
and, till that moment, had supposed his wife to be of one mind with
him. Indeed, honest she had been, in thought and deed, until that
terrible temptation was spread before her.
Elsa! Elsa Winkler! Is it my wife you was and would lieliefor a
bit of that rubbish!
'Rubbish' is good, commented Marty, under his breath, but nobody
The woman cowered. Accustomed as she was to domineer over the
seemingly weak-willed man, there had been times, within her memory,
when he had thrown off her rule and asserted himself to a degree that
terrified her. She had stumbled upon one of those times now, and sank
back in her place with a deprecating gesture, advancing the flimsy
Are they not my bags, so? Sewed I them not with my own hands out of
the skin of the little kid was killed? The covers I knitted with
The miner raised his hand, and she dropped her eyes before him.
Give her what belongs, if you will, good lady, and let us be gone,
he said, pulling his forelock respectfully to Mrs. Trent.
Gone! Why no, Wolfgang, not to-night. It's a long way, and you
should wait till morning. Indeed, you should, she replied, at the same
time sending a questioning glance toward John Benton, and pushing
toward Elsa all the empty bags and three of the thousand dollar piles.
For the carpenter nodded swift acquiescence, on his part longing to
be rid of them miserly Dutchmen, barring the man.
Elsa rapidly recounted, and bestowed the eagles within their
receptacles, and these again, wrapped in a handkerchief, within her
bosom. Then, as coolly as if she had not made an unpleasant exhibition
of herself, she turned to her hostess and smiled:
I go now, mistress. I thank you already for one good time I have.
It is to buy the mine, one day, for my child. I must be going. Yes, I
must. The stew! Ach! how I forgot! The catit was a good stew, no? And
the cat has eat the stew!
Then you'd better stew the cat! suggested Marty, with a
facetiousness to which she paid no heed.
Holding out her hand for Otto to take it, she commanded:
Little heart, but come. It is in bed you should be, yes. Good-by,
all, adding in German, May you sleep well!
Wolfgang followed the retreating pair, but turned on the threshold
to make his obeisance to the ranch mistress, and to say, At your
service, good lady. My pick and my head. Then, bowing again toward all
the company, he disappeared.
Everybody felt the relief of their departure, and Aunt Sally
humorously threw a kiss after them, remarking, with a sniff:
Blessed be nothing, if somethin' is going to make a hog out of a
decent woman. That there Elsy'd been content with half she got if she
hadn't seen the rest that heap. I'm a good deal like Jessie, here. I
think money's the root of all evil.
That ain't an original observation, mother, though you do speak as
if it was. Money's the root of a pretty consid'able comfort, too; and
I'd like to know, for one, where in creation all this that's left came
from, returned John.
There's no doubt in my mind, that it came out of the Trent
pocketbook, every dollar of it! said Samson. But how it came into
Ferd's fist is more'n I can guess. Seems if even a half-wit would steal
from his own brother, and it must have passed through Antonio's hands
Antonio's brother! cried Marty, incredulously.
That's the true word. Pedro knew it, and the master knew it. The
'admiral' heard it, first, to-day; along with that other secret about
the copper. Ain't any harm in mentioning it, is there? said Samson.
The lady laughed, and answered:
Even if there were the harm is done, herder. But that's right. I
wish no secrets at Sobrante. I like to feel that we are all one family
in interests and affection, as my husband wished. And now remains this
gold. What is to be done with it? Where shall we bestow it that it may
be both safe and ready when needed?
Aunt Sally immediately went and closed the door and locked it; then
fastened the windows and pulled the shades over them. At which a shout
arose that the old lady heeded not a whit. She clasped her hands over
her breast and her round face turned pale, as she whispered shrilly
enough for all to hear:
We're undone! We're all undone! We're a passel of
foolsandand Oh, suz!
Down she dropped into a chair, and there was no more laughter. She
was not a timid woman, and her fright was evident. Her son stepped to
her side and laid his hand on her shaking shoulder, demanding:
What ails you, mother? What did you see? Why did you lock the
Quit chattering your teeth together. What did you see?
Oh, son! I seen aaghost!
Her courage began to return, and her anger to rise. She retorted
No trash! A ghost. A spirit! As sure as I'm a-settin' here this
minute; the spirit ofof
It aggravated John that she should pause and peep behind her, to be
sure the windows were still covered.
The spirit of what tomfoolery has possessed you, mother, I'd like
to know? What's the use of scarin' folks half to death? As if we hadn't
had enough things happen without your cuttin' up, too!
Hold your tongue, John Benton, you sassy boy. As sure as I'm alive,
I saw the ghost of Antonio Bernal peeking in at that open window afore
I shut it. He was so white I couldn't tell him from paper, and so thin
I 'peared to see clean through him.
Pshaw, mother! You're overtired, and for once in your life really
nervous. I reckon it's the sight of more money than ever come your way
before. Well, forget it. 'Tisn't yours nor mine. We've no cause to
worry. I'll step and get you a drink of water and then you'll feel all
right, and would better go to bed.
I don't want water, and I shan't go to bed. I shan't close my eyes
this night, John Benton, and you needn't touch to tell me so.
All right. Stay awake if you like. It's nothing to me, answered
the exasperated man, who, in spite of his strong common sense, had been
more startled than he cared to admit, even to himself. But, glancing at
Mrs. Trent and Jessica, he now felt that it would be wiser to express
his own fear, which was of nothing supernatural.
Mother's upset, 'admiral,' and don't you let her upset you, too.
The fact is, we're a very careless set at Sobrante, where everything
isor used to beall open and above board. It's a new thing for keys
to be turned on this ranch, and it's a new thing for us to go
suspecting one another of sneak notions. I, for one, am ashamed enough
of the way I've felt about old Ephraim Marsh, and if he don't show up
pretty soon, I'll make a special trip to Los Angeles to tell him so.
Even if I have to foot it the heft of the way.
Howsomever, all the world ain't as honest as them that had the
honor of knowin' Cassius Trent. There's been a power of strangers on
these premises durin' these last days; and it stands to reason that
among 'em one villain might have crept in. I ain't sayin' there was.
I'll never accuse nobody again'cept'cept
Here the honest fellow interrupted himself with a laugh; remembering
his ingrained suspicion of the two Bernals, which he would never even
try to overcome. But he went on again:
Mother thinks she's seen somethin', and like enough she has. There
might be some scamp hangin' around; and if there was, and he looked
through that window and saw all this gold, I don't wonder his face was
ghosty-lookin', norSomebody stop me talking and answer this: Where's
the safest place to stow that pile?
For a moment nobody replied. Mrs. Trent was wishing, most heartily,
that the money had never come into her possession, since she did not
know to whom she should restore it; and beginning to feel, with
Jessica, that money did carry discord and danger with it.
But the little captain was now all eagerness, and exclaimed:
Oh! how I wish I'd seen it! Aunt Sally, I never saw a ghost in all
my life, never! I thought they were just make-believes, but if you saw
one, of course they're true. Do you s'pose we could see it again if we
went out to look? Will you go with me?
I? I! Well, I guess not. Not a step will I step
But several steps I'll step, Mrs. Benton. I advise the money going
into the office safe, that old Ephraim uses when he's at home. One of
us better camp out on the lounge in the room there till we get rid of
whoever's cash that is. I'll bunk there myself, if you like, Mrs.
Trent, after I step outside and see if all's serene with my prisoner,
said Samson, cheerfully.
May I go with you, Samson? May I, mother? asked Jessica.
The mother's consent was somewhat reluctant, for now she could not
bear to have her darling out of sight. Yet if anybody on earth was to
be trusted with so precious a charge it was the herder. Besides, she
was annoyed at this talk of ghosts, and knew that the shortest way to
convince Jessica how nonsensical it was, would be by allowing her to go
out and seek for them herself.
But Samson answered cordially:
You do me proud, little one. Suppose you take your rifle, and then,
if we see any specter you can pin it to the mission wall, and we'll
have a show, charging ten pins' admission.
They went out, laughing and gay; the child clinging to the giant's
hand, and hoping that she might really see the phantom of Aunt Sally's
story, for she had no fear concerning it. They came back, five minutes
later, looking grave and seriously alarmed.
CHAPTER IX. THE PRISONER DISAPPEARS
What's happened? asked Mrs. Trent, foreboding fresh trouble,
since, of late, trouble had become so familiar a visitor.
Well, ma'am, the bird has flown.
Please explain, Samson, she anxiously urged.
That bird of dark plumageFerd, the dwarf. He's escaped, vamoosed,
took wings and flew.
Oh, Samson! I'm so sorry. I hoped you would look after him until I
could find some suitable institution in which to place him. It's time
he should be helped, for if he's so sharp to do evil, he must have
equal capacity for better things.
Yes, ma'am. So I allow; and I had them same hopes myself, not ten
minutes ago. I hadn't said a word to anybody, but after you gave him to
me, I remembered what the little captain had commanded, for it sort of
struck home, that did. I ain't overly saintlike, myself, but what of
goodness I'd catched from you all I meant to pass on to the coyoteI
mean, Ferdinand Bernal. I reckon it was his face, 'stead of a ghost's,
that Aunt Sally saw by the window.
I thought you locked him in some room?
Lock and double-locked. Bolted, besides. Worst is, all bolts and
locks are just as I left 'em. Had the key in my pocket and went in,
saluting, and there wasn't anybody to salute. Well, ma'am, if he's out,
and 'twas him saw that money, there'd better two of us sleep beside it,
rather than one. He's the uncanniest creature ever I met, and I hope
never to meet his mate.
Very well. I do not see what harm he can do, after all, except to
himself, now. Jessica, dear, please bring the key, and John can put
this money in the safe. If it weren't for Elsa's satisfaction, I should
regret that Pedro ever found it. Then we must all to sleep. It's been a
most eventful day, and we are tired.
Before long the whole household was asleep; but the last to seek her
rest was Mrs. Benton; nor did she do that until she had locked whatever
locks would fasten, peeped under every bed, and invaded the sacredness
of Wun Lung's heatheny den. Then she placed her Bible on one side her
bed, a broom and horsewhip on the other, and lay down to watch,
'Cause I'm goin' to watch, even if I am resting my body horizontal.
I'm so tired I can't set up straight, nohow, and I shan't wink a wink
till daylight comes and the rest are moving.
Having called out this valiant resolution to Mrs. Trent, in the
adjoining room, she instantly closed her heavy lids, and opened them no
more till a series of thumps upon her shoulders aroused her. Then she
realized that Ned and Luis were reminding her of yesterday's promise
that, if they'd eat no more plum cake overnight they should have some
for their breakfasts.
Land of love! What you doing? Is it daylight? Why, 'twas dark as
Egypt when I lay down, and ICan it be that IIhave overslept?
Plum cake, Aunt Sally, reminded Ned.
Plumsally! cried Luis, with a forcible whack. Which was instantly
returned, and with such added interest that he ran howling away,
leaving the disturbed matron to scold herself at leisure for her lapse
from duty, while she hurriedly dressed.
Naturally, she had to submit to some teasing on account of her
valiant resolution of the previous night that she wouldn't wink a
wink, but Mrs. Trent was delighted that the faithful woman had, at
last, enjoyed a needed rest. Besides, everything was bright at the
ranch on that happy morning. Even Wun Lung had caught the infection of
Christmas preparations, and was intent upon providing some dainties of
his own, against the approaching festival, which should so far outshine
the homelier pies and puddings of Mrs. Benton, as his own revered
country outshone, in his opinion, even this pleasant one in which, at
present, his lot was cast. He had also felt good-natured enough to put
aside a plentiful breakfast for his mateor foeof the kitchen; and
since it was such a time of happiness, Aunt Sally condescended not only
to eat it, but to pronounce it good.
Hearing this unexpected praise, the Chinaman wound and unwound his
precious queue, after a fashion he had of expressing satisfaction; and
smilingly advised Mrs. Benton to step black polch, where she would
find things to do.
So to the back porch the good lady retreated, carrying with her
great dishes of fruit to prepare, and not forgetting two enormous
slices of the rich plum cake she had promised the little boys, and
which would have made less active, hardily reared children ill.
Mrs. Trent had moved her sewing machine to the porch, and Jessica
sat near, with a little table before her, trying to write the Christmas
invitations that had been so delayed, and to express them after a style
which should not too painfully expose her own ignorance. The result was
not so bad, considering the slight training the child had had, and her
few years, yet it did not satisfy the mother, who felt that education
was the one good thing, and who longed to have her child's bright
intellect developed as it should be.
Poor Jessica had written and rewritten the note intended for Mr.
Hale a number of times, and still had it returned to her with many
corrections, after Mrs. Trent's reading of it, and now laid it aside
with a sigh of discouragement.
Can't that wait a while, mother? If I may write to my darling
Ninian Sharp, I'll get myself rested. He doesn't mind trifles like
wrong capitals in the right placesoh! dear, I meanI don't know what
I mean. But may I?
Certainly, dear. Though, first, come here and let me try the length
of this sleeve.
Lady Jess obeyed readily, for new clothes were rare events in her
simple life. This natty little Christmas frock was white, with
scarlet trimmings, and quite sufficiently in contrast with the plain
blue flannel ones of everyday use to captivate her fancy and make her
patient under the tedious process of fitting. Yet she was glad to
return to her table and her letter to Ninian Sharp, which she found no
difficulty in composing, since she was free to do as she chose.
And this was the epistle which, after some delay, reached the
newspaper man, at a time when he happened to need cheering up, and
brought new life and interest into his overworked brain:
MY VERY DEAR MISTER SHARP: My mother and the children and aunt
sally, and Me and all the rest the Boys, are well and send Their LUV.
We are Now Inviteing you To come and Spend the holidays at dear
Sobrante. everybody is Coming, most, and i Got lost and was found in a
Hole. The Hole is in the ground. there was Money in It, that the Boys
said my fortynineer stole and He Didn't. It was elsa winklers and
wolfgang was mad at her, and there was a Ghost, but it got away, else
samson and Me would have shot it against the mission cordiror wall and
had a nexibition. and ferd that was lock up got away two; and say,
please my dear mister sharp, Will you see if this stone that's in the
package is any good? Pedro, thats a hundred years, says it's copper and
copper is worth money. We need some money bad, and i hope it is, and I
don't no anybody as clever as you. so Please write write away and tell
us if you will come and tell ephraim Marsh, that the Boys will be at
marion railway station with a buckborde and horses enough. i am Making
something to put in everybodys stocking. i Began to make the things
after last Christmas, that ever was, and i Have more than twenty-five
presunts to Make and i Have got three done, one of Them is Yours. your
When the letters were completed, the little captain felt that she
needed recreation, and her mother agreed with her; but, unlike her
former habit, could not consent to the child's going anywhere alone.
The recent terrible experience had banished from Mrs. Trent's heart
that comfortable sense of security which had prevented life on the
isolated ranch from being a lonely one. She now felt, as Aunt Sally
Afraid of your own shadder, ain't you, Gabriell', and well you may
be. In the midst of life we are in the hands of them Bernals, and no
knowin'. That son John of mine may try to hoodwink me that 'twasn't no
ghost I saw last night, but ghost it was if ever one walked this earth.
It wasn't, so to speak, a spooky ghost, neither; it was an avaricious
one, and it wasn't after no folks, but 'twas after that money, sharp.
Ain't disappeared, for good, neither. Liable to spring up and out
anywhere happens; and you do well, Gabriell', not to trust our girl off
alone again. Not right to once. Where's she hankerin' to travel now?
She'd ought to be learnt to sew patchwork, instead of riding all over
the country, hitherty-yender, a bareback on a broncho or a burro. If
she was my girl
If she was your girl, dear Aunt Sally, you couldn't have been more
anxious than you were while she was lost. And the life is good for her.
It's right for all women to understand sewing and household arts, but
the captain isn't a woman yet, and I have faith she'll acquire all
fitting knowledge in due time. She's anxious to ride to Pedro's. She
says there was something different in his manner, last night, from
ordinary, and, indeed, I fancied so myself. She's gone to find which
one of the boys can best leave his work to ride with her.
It'll be John Benton, Gabriella Trent. You see if it ain't. That
man just sees the world through Jessica's eyes, and he's never got over
being jealous 'at he wasn't the one took her to Los Angeles that time.
If he had all the work in creation piled up before him, and she
happened to say 'Come,' some other whither, whither, 'twould be, and
not a minute's hesitation. Anyhow, it's Marty's day for mailridin', and
there he lopes this instant.
The ranchmen took turns in riding to the post, each esteeming it a
privilege, and finding nothing but pleasure in the sixty miles' gallop
to Marion and back. At that moment, indeed, Marty was swinging out of
sight on his own fine mount, the mailbag before him on his heavy
Mexican saddle, the wind created by the swift motion of the beast
raising the brim of his broad hat and thrilling him with that sense of
abounding life and freedom which comes so forcibly to men in the wide
spaces of the earth.
He was the youngest of the boys, even though past his first youth,
and the life of the ranchmen's quarters, where all liked and some
The women on the porch watched him till he became a mere speck in
the distance, and Aunt Sally sighed:
That George Cromarty is as likely a youth as ever I knew. He's that
good to his old mother, back in the East, I tell my own son John, he
ought to profit by such an example. I should hate to have anything
happen to him. Yes, indeedy, I should hate to have a single bad thing
happen to poor George Cromarty.
A little nervous shiver ran through Mrs. Trent's slender frame, yet
she turned upon her companion, as she threaded her needle, with a
Oh! you dear old croaker! Why can't you let well enough alone,
without mentioning more evil? You know the old saying that to speak of
trouble is to invite its visitation. Surely, there was nothing about
to-day's postman to suggest disaster. George is a typical ranchman, and
my husband used to point him out to visitors as what a man might be,
who grew up, or old, where 'there was room enough.' Big-hearted, full
of fun, tender as a woman, but intolerant of meanness and evil doing.
It would be a dark day for Sobrante if ill befell our 'Marty.'
Well, I don't know. Something's going to go wrong somewhere. I feel
it in my bones, seems if. There, I told you so! Yonder comes that lazy
boy of mine and Jessie. There's more things needing him here on this
place than you could shake a stick at, yet off he'll go traipsing just
at a nod from his captain.
Don't begrudge them their happiness, Aunt Sally. Certainly, after
grief, it is their due. Well, John, will you act escort for the little
lady of Sobrante? asked its mistress.
Will I not? And do me proud. She ain't to be trusted with any of
the flighty ones, Samson now, or
Mrs. Trent's laughterthat morning as heart-whole and free as a
girl'sinterrupted the ranchman's disparaging comments on his fellows,
sedate grayheads as most of them were; for well she understood the
universal devotion of all to their darling captain.
Oh, John, I can scarcely associate the idea of frivolity or
carelessness with our big Samson; but wait a moment, please, before you
start. There's such a store of good things left, though in fragments,
that I'd like to pack a basket for Pedro. I wish he did not insist upon
living so alone. He is so old and I feel, as the native Californians
used, that the older a person grew the more precious. I wish you'd try
to persuade him to let somebody else take his place with the sheep, and
to arrange his small affairs so that when he comes down for his Navidad
he will remain. There's enough to keep him busy and happy here.
I'll try, mistress. But he'll not be persuaded. Old Pedro wouldn't
think he could breathe down here in the valley, for long at a time.
Well, good-by. Ready, captain?
Ready, John, as soon as mother gets the basket. Quiet, Buster. I
believe you're more eager for a canter than I am, even.
Then when the basket had been handed up to John, the pair merrily
saluted the women on the porch and rode away; but Mrs. Benton called
shrilly after them:
Turn back and start over again! Turn back, I say! Both your horses
set off left feet first. That means bad luck as sure as you are born!
But nobody paid any heed to Aunt Sally's forecasts of evil, save to
laugh at them. Only Mrs. Trent again felt that nervous shiver seize
her, and but for shame's sake would have begged her daughter to defer
her ride until another day.
However, shame prevailed; or common sense, which is far better; and
well it wasor illthat the riders kept serenely on their way,
indifferent to signs and ignorant of what lay before them.
CHAPTER X. ON THE ROAD HOME
The train from Los Angeles rolled slowly up to the little station at
Marion and the asthmatic engine seemed to wheeze its relief that its
labor was ended, as an old man stepped from the last car and looked
eagerly along the platform. Then a certain degree of disappointment
overspread his fine face, and shouldering a heavy parcel, strapped
round with leather to give a holding place, he strode rather unsteadily
forward over the same sandy road, or street, which had tried Ninian
Sharp's patience on his first visit to the post town.
Yet, after a little, the man grew accustomed to his own stiffness of
limb and moved with a sort of halting swiftness which soon brought him
to the little hostelry of one Aleck McLeod, where a group of ranchmen
were sunning themselves while they waited the distribution of the mail.
It was noticeable that the porch was spotlessly clean and that none
of the idlers profaned its cleanliness by so much as one expectoration
of tobacco juice, though all were either smoking or chewing that weed.
They had far too great respect for Janet, Aleck's wife, and for the
labor that cleanliness meant in that waterless region. They were all
deep in the discussion of the late events at Sobrante and none heard
the old traveler's approach over the soft ground, till he stood close
beside them with his foot on the lower step.
But he heard them and their eager talk; and, pausing a bit, the more
completely to surprise them by an intended halloo, he forgot that and
all else save what they were saying.
It was ten to one she was never found. 'Pears like a miracle to me,
that old Pedro was led to find that very cave just when he did. My wife
claims it was a miracle, same as used to be in Bible days, and you
can't talk her out of it. You know how women are, said one ranchman,
who had aided in the search for Jessica.
Well, first and last, them Trents have done a heap for this section
of our 'native.' And they're square folks, every identical of them.
Even the little tacker, that boy Ned. There's more in his head than he
gets credit for, and one these days he'll show there is. He's a master
hand with a gun, baby as he is, and if he'd had one handy I wager he'd
have put some shot into the ugly carcass of that FerdBut he hadn't
the iron and he didn't, added another smoker.
It was a prime spread Mis' Trent gave us. Must have took about all
the provisions she had in store, but nothing was too good for them that
helped her in her trouble. Or tried to help, same thing; since it was
her own man, Pedro, found the child. Away down in the bottom of a pit
in the depth of an unknown cave! Think of it, somebody! It just makes
my hair rise on end, known' there is such a fool and scoundrel joined
in one dwarf's bodyHello! hello!
The last speaker's words ended in a sort of screech of astonishment
and recognition, as a hard hand was laid upon his shoulder, and Ephraim
Marsh demanded, fiercely:
What's that you say, neighbor?
Why, hello, Marsh! Where'd you drop from? cried one, rising and
extending a hand in greeting.
You're a sight to cure sick folks! shouted another, pressing to
Forty-niner's side, and slapping the veteran's shoulder in high good
But Ephraim had no feeling at present, save anxiety to know what
their discussion had meant; and, all talking, they laid a succinct
history of the last few days before him. He listened in increasing
alarm and amazement and his old limbs tottered beneath him, so that he
called out, hastily:
Give me a seat, somebody, quick, before I fall. IIto think of
my little gellmy own sweet-faced, lovin' little gellOh, I can't
believe it! I can't and I won't. It's some plaguey Californy yarn'
you're passin' the time with. Atlantic! But you might have chose a
likelier subject to fool over, you might.
But Aleck himself had seen the arrival through the window and came
out to greet him with the heartiness accorded all the Sobrante people,
and to assure him that the story was all true; and that, after all, it
were better that he had not been at home when the trouble came; for it
would have broke your heart, 'Forty-niner,' into more pieces than old
Stiffleg broke your bones, and it wouldn't have healed so soon,
neither. But, come in, come in, boy, and have a mouthful of dinner.
Janet has as fine a dish of haggis as ever I tasted in Aberdeen at
home, and it should relish to you, after all that hospital fare and so
on. Janet! Janet! Here's Ephraim Marsh! Come welcome him!
And Janet came quickly, like her husband cordial and sympathetic,
and led the deeply moved frontiersman into her own kitchen, where no
uninvited ranchman dared intrude, and there served him well with good
things, including the haggis. And as she served she talked in a wise,
womanly way that soothed his agitation and turned his thoughts from
enmity against the dwarf into thanksgiving that now all was well.
For since it is over and done with we can reckon the gain. The
sweet bit bairnie has won for herself fresh friends. In all the
countryside there was but one feeling, 'The child must be found.' No
other thing was of any moment, and found she was, by a man so much
older than any of the rest that nobody, not even you, can grudge him
the honor. More hot milk? Oat cake? Nothing? Well, well; for a man
that's traveling you've a small appetite. Must be off already and pack
your own bundle? Why, friend, you would better leave that till one the
boys rides up for the mail. Due before this, indeed, for Sobrante
ranchers are ever keen for their post stuff. No? A horse, then? Aleck
was going to do a bit of plowing with her, later on, but he'll eagerly
give over that for you.
But Ephraim felt that he could delay for nothing more, not even for
the arrival of a Sobrante messenger; and as for Jean, the sorrel
marehe and she were old acquaintances, and he declined her services
with a grim smile, saying:
Thank you, Janet, it's kindly offered, but I'm in haste and I'd
rather trust my own lame leg than her four lagging ones. Besides, if
Aleck has been afield in this search he'll be behindhand in his work,
and he's a hand to keep things up to the level line. Good-by, good-by.
Oh! wait a bit, though. I'd clean forgot that I put a scrap of white
Scotch linen and a yard or two of plaid bodice stuff in my pack for
you. This business of my captain getting lost has shaken my wits.
Though Janet protested against the trouble her face glowed at
prospect of her gifts, and as she assisted him to unstrap and refasten
his canvas sack, and even begged to be shown the simple remembrances he
had procured for everybody he knew at home; not least among them
being calicoes of brilliantly unwashable colors for Aunt Sally's
patchwork. Then he set off alone, staff in hand, stolidly yet swiftly
covering the ground with that halting stride of his that soon took him
out of sight.
The assembled ranchmen received their own mail matter, mounted and
rode away; and there settled over the little town that monotonous quiet
which would not be broken again until the arrival of the evening train,
when, possibly, some chance passenger might alight on the deserted
Meanwhile, Ephraim was passing over the level road toward home,
feeling keener delight and longing with each step's advance, and when
he came to a little branch trail, where a rude signpost stated the fact
that he had come Five miles from Marion, he made his first halt,
sitting to rest for a few moments under the eucalyptus trees bordering
the arroyo. The branch road led to and disappeared among a group of
buildings, some distance to the north, on the ranch of one Miguel
Solano, a friend of Antonio Bernal, and a Mexican of ill-repute. The
ranch was comparatively new and was rich in olive orchards and all the
conveniences for producing a fine quality of oil, and had been bought
and arranged by an easterner with all the accessories of profitable
farming. Death had put an end to the settler's industry, and the
property had come, at a low figure, into Solano's hands; whereupon
everything industrious lapsed, neglect and discomfort usurping the
place of thrifty comfort.
Gazing toward this place, Ephraim reflected that; If that Greaser
had half as much snap as he has wickedness he'd be a rich man. As 'tis,
honest folks sort of give Solano's a wide berth. I'm thirsty as a dog
and wouldn't mind havin' a drink out that artesian well they have
there, butAtlantic! There's somebody already stoopin' over it; looks
Then the old man stood up and shielded his eyes with his hand as he
peered into the distance, ending his scrutiny with a shake of his fist
in the direction he had gazed, and muttering aloud:
No, I'm better off here. Queer how you can recognize a snake, no
matter how far off! That's Ferd, the dwarf; and if I was near enough to
touch him I couldn't keep my fingers off his dirty throat, nohow, till
I'd choked the life out of him! Ugh! When I thinkBut I mustn't
think. I must just get up and jog on till I see a prettier sight than
that. If I can spy the hunchback at one mile off I can see my little
captain's bonny head at ten. Home, old 'Forty-niner'! Home's the word!
As if the thought of Jessica had put new strength into his body
Ephraim again shouldered his pack and started forward; but he had
proceeded a short distance only when he again halted and this time in
consternation. On the road before him, where it dipped slightly into a
hollow, lay the prostrate figure of a man, face downward in the dust;
and from the shrubbery near by came the helpless floundering of some
big animal and its occasional cry of distress, than which there is no
sound more pitiful in all the world.
Away flew the pack, and Ephraim bent over the man, gently turning
him over, and crying in fresh dismay:
It's Marty! George Cromarty, of all men, dead as a doornail!
Alas! Ephraim's home-coming was proving anything but the delight he
had anticipated. To be met first by the story of the trouble which had
visited Sobrante and now by this dreadful discovery almost unnerved
him; but he was a man of action and his hand flew to Marty's breast to
feel if his heart still beat. With the other hand he softly brushed the
dust from the rigid features and rubbed the colorless temples. After a
second or two his face brightened, and he cried aloud, as if the other
might hear and be cheered:
Well, you aren't a dead man, after all, Marty, my lad! But I'd give
a heap, this minute, for a bit of cold water to give you. And,
Atlantic! I believe I'm losing my wits. 'Course, he's got it himself,
handy. All the boys carry a flask in their pockets, even on the short
ride to post, but Marty, being teetotal, fills his with water and gets
laughed at for his notions. A mighty good notion it'll prove for him if
it saves his life, and here goes!
Raising Marty's lean body so that his head rested on the fallen
bundle, Ephraim secured the flask, found it full, and began to moisten
the white lips; then, cautiously, to force a few drops down the
stiffening throat. Success soon crowned his efforts since, fortunately,
the ranchman was merely stunned, not killed, by the ugly fall he had
taken when his horse so suddenly pitched forward and tossed him
overhead against the pile of rocks.
For it was a horse in agony which sent that moving appeal from the
thicket near by, and as soon as Forty-niner was sure that the man was
recovering, though he could not as yet speak, he sought the poor beast
and saw, to his distress, that for it there was no respite save in
Well, well, well! This is a bad job all round, but better a horse
than a man, and lucky for both I came when I did. If I had a gun I'd
end the misery of one, straight off. And maybe Marty has. I'll look and
Returning to the road he was greeted by a prolonged stare from the
dazed ranchman, who had, indeed, been able to drag his body to a
sitting posture, but vainly sought to understand what had happened.
Ephraim spoke to him, asking in a matter-of-fact tone:
Got a revolver with you, lad?
Eh? W-h-a-t? returned Marty, wonder drawing upon him at finding
who his companion was. YouEph?
Course. Who else! Been quite a spell since we two met, but better
late than never. Got a pistol, I say?
The sharpshooter hesitated, then gave an evasive answer:
Powerful long since I done any practicin', and feel like I better
try my hand.
At that instant there was another heavy floundering behind the
bushes and another brutish moan of pain. With this full consciousness
came to the injured ranchman and he tried to rise, crying in his own
Forty-niner gravely nodded.
He's hurt? demanded Marty, as if he defied the answer to be
Ephraim turned away his face. To them, horses were almost as human
beings, and the love of a master for his beast was something fraternal.
Help me to him, said the ranchman, staggering to his feet.
Better not, lad. Best trust to me, protested the elder man.
The look in Ephraim's eyes was all the answer needed to this fierce
question, and Marty turned away his own gaze as he faltered the next
Yes, mate, but take it like a man. Better him than you, andgive
me the gun.
Marty straightened and stiffened himself.
Help me to him. Something's wrong with my legs. I'll see for
myself. If it must be, I'll do it for myself.
The frontiersman understood the sentiment and respected it. He had
had to do a like hard duty for his own horseflesh before that, and he
had always felt it a sort of murder. He did not look at Marty's face as
he carefully guided his wavering steps into the thicket and the
presence of the suffering Comanche, where one look sufficed his master.
Oh, you poor fellow!
For an instant the tall head stooped to the level of the struggling
animal, and a strange, expressive look passed between the great equine
eyes and the misty ones of the man. Then Marty's hand went swiftly
around to his pocket, there was the click of a weapon, a flash and
report, and Comanche moved no more.
More shaken and ill from this deed than from his terrible fall,
Marty sat long in silence by Ephraim's side beneath the eucalyptus
trees; then suddenly rousing, exclaimed:
Now, to find out the cause!
It was not far to seek, though difficult to understand. Of all men
in that countryside, gay, big-hearted George Cromarty had most friends
and fewest enemies. He took life lightly, merrily, with a good word for
the virtues of others and silence for their vices; yet there before
them, unmistakably plain, was the trap that had been set for his life.
A pit had been dug across the whole width of the road, shallow, indeed,
but sufficiently deep to throw any horse passing over it. Its top had
been screened with interlacing twigs, over which had been scattered
soil and dust enough to hide them. One who rode with his eyes on the
ground, as Antonio used, might easily, perhaps, have discovered the
fiendish work; but he who rode with head upraised and his gaze on the
distance would ride to his ruin as Marty had done. To make the
treachery more secure, some sprays of wild grapes had been tightly
stretched beneath the whole, and this showed a deliberation of evil
that turned Ephraim sick, but the other man furious.
Who did that will pay the price! I swear it! he cried.
It surely was meant for a Sobrante man, for they're few besides who
ride this way, answered Forty-niner, thoughtfully. And, Atlantic!
Here's the mail pouch! Maybe 'twas robbery, pure and simple. Was it a
money day, for supplies or such?
Reckon it was. The mistress herself locked and gave the bag to me,
bidding me be careful. As if I was ever careless; but there was one
letter in it I heard about, that the little captain wrote to Ninian
Sharp. Wrote herself, an invite to the Christmas doings. Try it.
Examination proved that the bag had been tampered with, though the
lock was a spring and now securely fastened; but a small leather flap,
intended to cover the keyhole, had been torn from its fastenings and
lay on the ground. The pouch itself had been flung slightly out of the
way, under the bushes, as if the trespasser had satisfied himself with
and concerning it and had no further use for it.
Well, there used to be three keys to this concern. One the mistress
has; one the postmaster keeps at the office; and the other was
Antonio's, since he always was wanting to open and put something extra
in the bag after Mrs. Trent had done with it. I never liked the look of
that, and it's my opinion that it's the very key has unlocked this bag,
if unlocked it's been. Which is more'n likely.
Cromarty's head was again beginning to grow dizzy, and he sat again
upon the rock to recover himself, making no answer to Ephraim's words
than the exclamation:
How am I going to get that bag to post in time?
CHAPTER XI. THE PASSING OF OLD
Jessica and her escort, John Benton, rode swiftly up the canyon
trail and over the brow of the mesa toward the shepherd's cabin; but
they had not proceeded far along the upland before a sense of the
strangeness of things oppressed them both.
John's keen eye detected the neglect of the sheep, which were still
huddled in the corral, though long past their hour for pasturage; while
their bleating expressed hunger as well as dislike of their unusual
imprisonment. But Jessica saw first the abject attitude of the collie,
Keno, who came reluctantly to greet them with down-hanging head and
tail and a reproachful upward glance of his brown eyes.
Why, you poor doggie! What's happened you? You look as if you'd
been beaten. Where's your master, good Keno? Keno, where's Pedro?
The Indian was nowhere visible, and as if he fully understood the
question, the collie answered by a long, lugubrious whine.
Something's wrong. That's as plain as preachin'! cried John, and
hurried to the little house, whose door stood open, but about which
there was no sign of life.
He had tossed his bridle to the captain, meaning that if aught were
amiss within she should be detained for the present by holding the
horses. However, she saw through this ruse, and, leaping from Buster,
swiftly hobbled both animals and ran after the carpenter.
Keno kept close at her heels, the very presentment of canine misery,
and uttering at every few steps that doleful whine which was so unusual
to him. But, arrived at the cabin, he left her and with one bound had
reached the Indian's side, where he still sat beside his window, his
head against its casing and his blanketJessica's giftclosely
wrapped about him. He did not move when they entered, nor respond even
by objection to the collie's frantic blandishments, but John raised his
hand for silence, as she stood sorrowfully gazing downward upon the
face of death.
Yes, it was that. He had more than rounded his century of years, he
had lived uprightly, as the good padres had taught; he had bestowed
upon those he loved the secret of great wealth, and he had gone to keep
his precious Navidad in the home of eternal youth.
Jessica comprehended the truth at once, and her eyes filled with the
tears which, as yet, did not overflow; for as she gazed upon the
sleeper's face it filled her with amazement and something akin to
delight; and at last she exclaimed:
Why, how young and glad he looks! He's even nobler than he was when
he rode away from me last night, and I'd never seen him so dignified
and grand as he was then. It'sit's as if he had done with everything
is hard, like worries, and evil, and loneliness, andall.
Ay, lassie; he has done with allthat you or I know aught about;
and every inch a man he seems as he sits there in the majesty of
By then the child's tears had begun to flow, and she caught up
Pedro's hand with an outburst of grief and love.
Poor, poor Pedro! To have been here all alone when it came! What
shall I do without him who was always so good, so good to me? Oh, I
can't have it so, John! I can't, I can't!
He was wise enough to attempt no consolation, knowing well how small
a part of her life the venerable Indian had been and how easily youth
accustoms itself to such a loss. But, after he had allowed her to sob
for a time, he gently touched her shoulder, and said:
Come. Pedro has finished his work and has passed it on to us. Those
poor sheep must be cared for, and somebody must ride home at once; or,
rather, should ride at once to Marion to make the necessary
arrangements. I wish And he paused in perplexity, regarding her as
if in doubt what was best to be done.
They left the cottage with that quiet tread which seems natural in
the presence of those whom no sound can trouble, and, hand in hand,
walked sadly to the fold, where the penned sheep greeted them with
eager cries and restless movements.
Pedro used to say they talked and he knew what they said. I begin
to believe he did, for, listen! This sound isn't like that other first
one, which told us they were hungry. This says: 'I'm glad you've come!'
So it sounds to me, lassie; and I, too, am glad we came. It's
queer, though, how set you were on it, even against the mistress' wish
that you should wait.
Yes, John, I had to come. I just had to. And this is what I think:
When we've taken care of the sheep, we'll lay Pedro on his bed and lock
the door. Keno will keep guard, if we tell him; though whoever comes
here, anyway? Then you must ride to Marion to see aboutabouthere,
for a moment, grief interrupted her again, but she suppressed her tears
as soon as possible and went on quite calmlyabout what always has to
be at such a time. I rememberI remember it all when my fatherNo,
no, John, I'm not going to cry again. I won't make bad worse, never, if
I can help it. But this I say: You ride to Marion and send word to the
mission so that a priest may come; and do all the rest. I will ride
home and the boys will come up and fetch him to Sobrante. It must be in
the little old chapel that we never use, because my father said he
would not put to a common service a room that had once been given to
God. Pedro always loved it. It was there he used to say his 'devotions'
and there he must liein stateisn't that what they call it when
great folks die? Pedro was great. He had lived so very long and he had
always been so devout. What do you say?
What do I say, little captain, but that you've a long head on your
young shoulders, and I'm sorry this load of grief had to rest on it so
early. More than that; I undertook to be your guardeen to-day, and I've
no notion of shirking the jobeven now. I passed my word to the
'admiral' that I'd fetch you home safe, and so I will. It won't take
much longer and it's right. Home first, and Marion afterward.
Well, maybe, that is best; and surely it is pleasantest. I didn't
want to be selfish, but I'd rather you stayed with me. Are you ready?
Shall we leave him just as he is?
Just so. We'll close the window and the door, and thenhome.
But it was with widely different feelings that they cantered down
the canyon from those with which they had ridden up it, and when she
saw them returning so soon and so swiftly, Mrs. Trent went out to meet
them, saying nothing, indeed, yet asking the question with her eyes:
What trouble now?
Then John told their story speedily and suggested that some of the
men ride to the mesa and attend to what was needful. Also, repeated
Jessica's opinion about the chapel, with which the lady instantly
agreed; then, clasping her daughter's hand very close, returned with
her to the porch and began to fold away her sewing.
But both Aunt Sally, when she came and heard the news, and the
little girl asked:
Why do you put it away, mother, dear? If Pedro is happy now, as we
believe, why shouldn't we be, too? All the rest must have their
holiday, and I thinkI think he'd like to have me look nice. He always
Jessie is right, Gabriell'. Things do happen terrible upsettin'
lately, seems to me; but by the time you and me get to be a hundred
odd, I reckon we shan't care a mite whether folks wear red and white
dresses or horrid humbly ones. I'm goin' on just the same as ever, for
that's the only way I'll ever keep my common senses in this spooky
place. I knew when they two started off, left hoof foremost, they was
ridin', to trouble; and this morning my hen chicken crowed to beat any
rooster I ever heard, and that's a sure sign of death.
Aunt Sally, don't! protested Mrs. Trent, glancing anxiously at her
daughter's face. But she need not have feared; for the child smiled
back upon her, serene and happy, despite the traces of tears that still
marked her bright eyes.
It's all right, mother, dear; and I'm thinking how glad Pedro must
be now, to have found all those he'd so long outlived. He just went to
sleep, you see, alone, and waked up with them around him. I think it
was beautifulbeautiful; and his last deed was to find me and to tell
you how you could grow rich if you want to. Where are the little boys,
They presently appeared, in wild excitement, having been at the
men's quarters when John rode thither to impart his news and
directions; yet in this excitement was not a vestige of grief. They
seemed to feel relieved of some dread, and Ned more than once punched
Luis, whispering shrilly enough for all to hear:
We can do it now, and not get caught! Yes, siree! We can do it now!
Don't you tell!
And Luis responded by an ecstatic hug and the customary echo:
Do it now; don't you tell! Yes, siree!
John Benton had nearly covered the distance to Marion, when he
perceived two men slowly advancing toward him along the level road. For
a moment, engrossed by thoughts of recent happenings, he paid slight
attention to the fact, though idly wondering what strangers might be
having business, and on foot, with Sobrante, at which point the road
ended. But, as he drew nearer to them, something familiar in the
bearing of the taller man, and startling in the appearance of the
other, caused him to shield his eyes from the sunshine and peer
critically into the distance. Then he slapped his thigh so excitedly
that his horse suddenly stopped, reared and nearly unseated him.
Oh, you idiot! Can't a feller slap himself without your takin' it
to heart? If I ain't a blind man, and maybe I am, that's old
'Forty-niner' hoofing himself home, andWhew! That's Marty, limpin'
and leanin' alongside. Well, I 'low! More trouble and plenty of it.
Seems if all creation was just a-happenin' our way, blamed if it don't.
Giddap there, Moses!
In a few minutes he had reached the pedestrians and saluted them
with unfeigned astonishment, and Ephraim with great friendliness of
expression, but also the question:
What fresh calamities you two fetchin', now?
They told him, as briefly as possible, and he found his own
perplexity increased as he demanded:
What in creation is to be done? Here's Pedro gone and died in the
most unhandy place and time; and here be you two, with not a decent leg
between you, twenty miles from home, and one horse for the three of
At the word horse poor Marty winced, as from a personal blow,
while both he and Ephraim were greatly amazed at the news of the
shepherd's death. They began to feel, as John had said, that nothing
save disaster was meant for Sobrante folks; yet, after a moment,
Forty-niner perceived another side of the matter, and expressed
What's got into the pack of us? Seems if we'd lost our gumption.
After all, couldn't anything have happened likelier, so far forth as I
see. John Benton, you light off Moses and help this man into your
saddle. He'll ride home and I'll walk alongside, whilst you tramp on to
Marion. There's a mare there, named Jean. She was offered to me, but I
was in a hurry and didn't accept. However, the offer is due to hold
good for any of our folks. Light, I tell you. Marty's about played
Indeed, the respite came none too soon. The worst injury the
gardener had sustained was, apparently, of the head, and a terrible
dizziness rendered his progress on foot almost impossible. He would not
have been able to accomplish this much of the journey, save for the
continual help of Ephraim, who was himself burdened with the heavy pack
and unwilling to relinquish it.
John stepped down and swung his fellow ranchman up to Moses' back;
then placed the bundle before the rider, turned the animal's head
toward Sobrante, and chirruped:
Giddap! Home's the word!
Moses needed no second urging, but was off at a gallop, leaving the
others to discuss the situation a bit further, and Ephraim to follow at
There was little more to be said, however, and soon each was
pursuing diverging routes and each at his swiftest pace.
At Marion, John had the mail pouch unlocked and examined, and was
satisfied that some letters had been tampered with. These contained
orders for house supplies and had been accompanied by checks, as was
evident from the wording of the orders. The checks had been removed,
and this fact proved to the carpenter that the hand of Antonio Bernal
was in the matter, because the late manager might indorse them without
arousing the bank's suspicion, as nobody else could.
Yet there was one thing he did not mention, even to the postmaster;
and that was the package which Jessica's letter to Ninian Sharp had
spoken of. This had disappeared entirely. The fact troubled him more
than the loss of the checks, for he could stop the payment of these,
but whether the little captain had sent the whole of their only
specimen of the copper to her city friend or not was a serious
However, he did what he could; and almost for the first time in his
life used the telegraph as well as the post. To pay for his long and
rather ambiguous messages he borrowed money of the mystified Aleck
McLeod; and the local operator found himself busier than he had ever
been since the establishment of the office.
The other sad business that had brought him to the town was also
transacted; and by the time all was arranged John was very glad to
avail himself of Jean's services, slow though she was. Upon her sedate
back he arrived at Sobrante, just as the sun was setting, and found
that the household had temporarily forgotten their grief for Pedro in
their rejoicing over Ephraim.
It's an up and a down in this world, quoth Aunt Sally, spreading
and admiring the brilliant bits of calico which Forty-niner had given
her. Life ain't all catnip anyway you stew it. Them that laugh in the
morning gen'ally cry before night, and vicy-versy. But, Gabriella, do,
for goodness' sake, just fetch out that queer kind of stick that old
Indian made a sort of graven image of and show it to Mr. Ma'sh. It's a
curiosity, being so old, if it ain't no more. Worth cherishin', anyhow,
'count of him that give it. I always did admire keepsakes of the
Mrs. Trent smiled, though sadly, and Jessica asked:
May I get it, mother?
Surely. For safety I put it on the top of the tallest bookcase,
behind the files of newspapers. You'll likely have to take the little
library ladder to reach it; and when you've shown it, put it back in
exactly the same spot. It's doubly valuable now, and could not be
The little captain had scarcely once relinquished the hand of her
beloved sharpshooter, since he appeared before them all, and now led
him, as if he were another happy playmate, to the designated place. But
when she had reached it, mounted the ladder and carefully felt all over
the top of the case, even moving the files in order to examine it the
better, she could not find the metal-pointed staff.
Standing on the floor beneath, Ephraim watched her face growing
sober and disappointed, as she exclaimed:
It's gone! It's completely gone!
It has, dearie? Well, maybe your mother forgot and put it somewhere
else. The likeliest thing in the world to happen, with her mind so
upset as it has been. We'll go back and ask her. Don't fret. Probably
it wasn't of much account, anyway.
Oh! but, dear Ephraim, it was! It could point the way to our big
fortune that's to be dug out of the ground!
What? What is that you say, child? Nonsense. We don't live in the
days of witchcraft, and that's what such a performance would mean.
Yet when they had returned to Mrs. Trent and related their
misadventure he was startled by hearing that sensible woman tragically
exclaim, in contradiction to his own assertion:
Lost! Then Sobrante is certainly bewitched!
CHAPTER XII. THE REBELLION OF THE
Thank my stars, I haven't lost my faculty of doing two things to
once, nor seein' a dozen! cried Aunt Sally, as if in response to Mrs.
Trent's exclamation. Then she rose so hastily that her beloved pieces
fell on the floor and her spectacles slid from the end of her nose,
their habitual resting place. There never was witches on this ranch
before, and I reckon I can deal with a few of them that's here now.
Edward Trent, Luis Garcia! Where you goin' at? Hey? Hear me? Come right
straight back to me this minute, if you know what's good for
All were surprised by this outburst and awaited its result with
The two little boys had been suspiciously quiet on the farther end
of that long porch where the household practically lived. Mrs. Trent
had glanced their way, occasionally, but supposed them to be engrossed
by the patent whistle and top which had been found in Ephraim's pack,
neatly marked with their respective names. Yet one could not eat tops
nor whistles, and their elbows had been seen, from the rear, to move in
a suggestive manner.
They're eatin' somethin' all this time. I wonder what! had been
Mrs. Benton's private reflection. But when Jessica came back with her
report of the lost wand, the elbow action had suddenly ceased; and,
after what appeared to be a brief whispered consultation, they had
slunk away down the path, Ned trying to help Luis hide something within
his blouse, though not, apparently, succeeding.
At the sound of Aunt Sally's voice, indeed, they dropped the box
they had been secreting and burst into a paroxysm of giggling, as was
their customary receipt of her chiding. The giggle was always destined
to end in tears, but this never prevented its recurrence.
Neddy Trent! If that bad little Garcia boy is doing wrong, it's no
need you should be naughty, too. Come back here and show poor auntie
what you've got in your blouses.
Wheedling had no more effect than scolding, for with one hug of each
other's necks, the children scampered onward, leaving their spoils
Then Jessica followed to see what this might be, and exclaimed, in
Candy! Where did it come from?
Now, it happened that such sweets, except of homemade manufacture
and on rare occasions, were forbidden the lads, because they were
always made ill by them. That is, Luis suffered and Ned was not allowed
anything his playmate could not share. All the ranchmen knew Mrs.
Trent's wishes on the subject and heretofore none had ever gone against
them. Who had done it now?
Of course, suspicion instantly pointed to Forty-niner, who
indignantly denied that he had brought, or even thought of bringing,
anything home which his beloved mistress did not wish there.
Doesn't anybody trust me any more about anything? he concluded,
The accusation had come from Mrs. Benton, but Gabriella hastened to
soothe the sharpshooter, saying:
We're making mountains out of mole hills, I fear. There, Aunt
Sally, never mind. They have left so much behind them on the path that
they can hardly have eaten enough to harm them, anyway. Let them go,
But the good woman would not drop the subject. Her sharp eyes had
not been given her for nothing, and her son always asserted that if his
mother had been a man she would have made a first-class detective.
Panting and puffing in her haste and curiosity, she hurried to the
spilled confections and carefully picked them up; then returned to the
porch, significantly holding forth, upon her palm, a specimen of what
she had discovered.
Needn't tell me I didn't smell peppymint! Them's them peppymint
rounds with chocolate outsides that I never seen nobody eat, on this
ranch, 'cept Antonio Bernal. They ain't kept in the store to Marion,
and the storekeeper used to send for 'em to Los Angeles, 'specially for
his one customer. I know, Antonio offered me some, time and again, on
my other visits, but I always thanked him polite and said no. I never
did lay out to eat a snake's victuals, and that's what his'n was.
Oh, what a woman you are, Aunt Sally! laughed Ephraim.
Thank you. I hope I be; enough of one, anyhow, to see through a
millstone, when there's a hole in it. But you've come back so peart and
sassy, sharpshooter, I reckon I best go steep you a fresh dose of
picra. After I've learnt all them tackers can tell.
Please, don't be stern with them, Aunt Sally, protested the
mother. Whatever they've done is but natural. It would be too much to
expect them to refuse such a treat if it were offered them, and, maybe,
John brought it to them.
John? My boy, John? After the raisin' he had! Well, you're on the
wrong track there and I'm on the right one. Antonio Bernal, or some
feller sneak of his, has been here at Sobrante, and you needn't touch
to tell me he hasn't. Wait; I'll find out now! she ended, in triumph,
and again the others were obliged to laugh, though Mrs. Trent's brief
mirth closed with a sigh, which Jessica heard and understood.
Oh! don't you fear, mother, dear. Aunt Sally wouldn't hurt either
of them, really; and, indeed, I don't know who would keep them in order
if she didn't try. What mischief one can't think of the other does, and
I'll run after her and see the thing out. Who knows but that they can
tell us something about the missing staff?
The runaways had made a detour by way of the kitchen, and adjoining
the kitchen was the cold closet, which was the refuge they sought,
and where already were stored some of the Christmas goodies. This
closet had but one door and a securely shuttered window, and once the
door was gained by the pursuer she would have the small miscreants in a
trap. This she had seen and this it was which had given her that
The captain also gained the pantry door just after it had closed
behind Mrs. Benton and her prisoners, and to her repeated request to be
admitted, received the enigmatical answer:
Time enough when I've pumped these little cisterns dry.
Are the children in there with you?
You won't hurt them, will you? Please don't punish them to-day. I
can't bear it.
To which the grim jailer responded:
You go along back to 'Forty-niner,' Jessie darlin, and be happy.
We're all mighty comfortable in here and lots of good victuals, if so
be we get hungry. Plenty to drink, too, for I just brought in a crock
of fresh water to cool my eggs in. I've got my knittin' work and am as
happy as an oyster. Go back, for I ain't ready to talk yet. When I am
I'll come out and bring these naughty children with me.
So Jessica returned to her old friend's side; and in listening to
his talk about the hospital and the friends she had made there for
herself, as well as about Mr. Ninian Sharp and the lawyer, Morris Hale,
the evening quickly passed and bedtime came.
When the ranch mistress rose to say good-night, she went to the
still closed door of the closet, and asked:
Aren't you coming out now, Aunt Sally?
The old lady opened the door and pointed complacently to a distant
corner of the roomy apartment where, upon a pile of soft blankets that
had been stored within, lay the two little boys, sound asleep and the
picture of innocent comfort.
There, Gabriella, you see they're all right. I wouldn't hurt a hair
of their bonny heads, not for another ranch as fine as this one. But
here them and me stay till I worm the truth out of 'em about that candy
and that magic staff. Where that candy come from that there staff has
gone. You hear me and believe me. Oh, I know what I know! Good-night.
Don't you worry. Me and them is all right, as I said, and my head's
level. I went to sleep a-watchin' t'other time, but I shan't this.
There's more in my mind than nonsense. This chair is as comfortable as
a lounge. I slipped out and got it from the settin'-room when you all
was talkin' so lively, just now, and we're fixed. I may come out before
daylight and I may stay till doomsday; but come I shan't a single step,
not to please even you for whom I'd do and dare a good deal, and don't
you doubt it, but when my mind is sot it's sot, and sot it is this
minute, an don't you dast to let on to John Benton, or that sassy boy'd
plague the very life out of me, and you go right along to your own bed
and take Jessie with you, and
But Mrs. Trent stayed to hear no more. When Aunt Sally got started
on such a harangue as this, exhaustion of breath was her only limit.
The lady did not anticipate more than an hour's further imprisonment of
the children, if so long, and was sure that they would be even tenderly
cared for, no matter what their misdemeanors, if she did not herself
interfere. Yet daylight came and found the odd trio still behind that
closed door, and it opened only at breakfast time; when, leading two
very penitent-looking small boys and herself wearing the air of a Roman
conqueror, Mrs. Benton emerged from her seclusion upon an expectant
Well, Aunt Sally, haven't you 'wormed' them, as you promised? Poor
little tackers! they've lost their pride and spirit, and I love them.
Come to sister, darlings, and get your morning hugs! cried Jessica, as
they appeared. Ephraim, close at hand, winked at them solemnly and held
up behind Mrs. Benton's back two most alluring marbles. But they did
not wink in response, nor give more than a furtive smile, as they
reluctantly dragged along under their guardian's forcible guidance. Her
route was direct to the watering trough where, without ado, she
promptly stripped, bathed and rubbed dry, each shivering little figure.
Then she reclothed and led them back to the kitchen, placing them in
high chairs beside the big deal table, while she proceeded to cook
their oatmeal and serve it to them, with a
bad-as-you-are-you-shan't-starve sort of air which would have amused
Jessica, had she not so heartily pitied her playmates.
After a time she could endure the sight no longer, but sped to Ned's
chair and clasped him fondly in her arms.
What is the matter, brotherkin? Tell sister, do. Is it nothing but
that miserable candy? What else have you done to make auntie so angry
Ned's bosom heaved and a mighty sob burst forth. But he instantly
repressed this sign of weakness, though unfortunately, not soon enough
to prevent Luis from echoing it with redoubled intensity.
Now nothing so quickly restores the self-possession, even of
grown-ups, as the sight of another's collapse; and no sooner had Luis
given vent to his emotion than Ned's spirit returned to him. Throwing
back his pretty head, with an air of unconquerable resolution, he
reached forth and pounded his mate smartly on the back.
You, Luis Garcia, what you crying for? Isn't none of your staffs,
Ain't my old staffs, ain't, sobbed the echo, for such he was
Then you needn't cry, you needn't. I ain't crying, I ain't. Hate
old Aunt Sally. Hate 'Tonio. Hate Ferd. Hate everybody. Give me my
breakfast, old Aunt Sally Benton!
Hate Bentons! agreed Luis, and flung his arms about his little
tyrant's throat till he choked from outward expression whatever more
might have issued thence.
Ned! Why, Ned! I never, never knew you so naughty! Do tell me; what
Mrs. Benton glared at the culprit over her down-dropped spectacles
in a truly formidable manner, but the result was only a settled
stubbornness which nothing moved.
Seeing that pleading was hopeless, at present, and that Ned was in
one of his dogged fits, Jessica quietly walked away and began to help
in the preparation of the elder people's meal, as her mother liked to
have her do.
Meanwhile, Aunt Sally waited upon the children, piling their saucers
with the tasty porridge, moistened with Blandina's yellow cream and
plentifully sprinkled with sugar. They were healthy and unused to
grief, and the palatable food soon restored their good humor. They
seemed to forgive their venerable tormentor and fell to their
accustomed scrimmage with the utmost enjoyment; and this was pleasanter
for all concerned. However, even when they had eaten all they could and
were ready for outdoors and their morning fun, their plans were nipped
in the bud. Aunt Sally had a spare hand for each of them and conducted
them firmly to the dining room and a place upon its lounge, while the
family took their own food in what comfort they could.
This was not so great Mrs. Trent's eyes would wander to the unhappy
pairfor they were once more gloomy and unsubduedand old Ephraim
cast many glances thither, entreating by silent signals that they
should repent of whatever sin they had committed and be restored to
The meal past the family rose and, from her pocket, Mrs. Benton
produced two long strips of cloth, one of which she fastened about each
child's wrist, leaving its other end to tie to her own apron belt.
Then she turned to the mother, whose tears were beginning to fall,
and said, severely:
Gabriella, if I didn't love you as well as I love myself and
better, I'd let these children go and no more said. But they've done
that no punishin' won't reach, though maybe they'll give in after a
spell. I shan't hurt 'em nor touch to; but I shall keep 'em tied to me
till they tell me what I'm bound to know. So that's all. You've got
enough on your hands, with this funeral business and all that'll come,
and however we're goin' to feed another lot of visitors so soon after
them others, I declare I don't see. And me with these tackers tied to
my apron strings, the way they be!
Mrs. Trent rose and left the room and Jessica slowly followed.
Neither of them could quite understand Aunt Sally's present behavior,
nor why she should wish to bother herself with two such hindrances to
the labor which must be accomplished.
But Ephraim lingered. He simply could not endure the sight of the
little ones' unhappiness, and quietly slipping a knife from his pocket
he coolly cut their leading strings, caught them up in his strong arms
and limped away before their captor had discovered her loss.
But he put his head back inside the doorway to call out,
Begging pardon, Mrs. Benton, I'll 'spell' you on the 'worming out'
business and promise they shan't leave my care till I hand 'em back to
you thoroughly 'pumped.' Come along, laddies. I've a mind to visit
every spot on this blessed ranch andupon one conditionI've a mind
to take you with me. Want to hear?
Yes. What is it? demanded Ned, already very happy at the exchange
Only that you must explain what all this row and rumpus is about
with Aunt Sally.
Standing at the top of the steps, with one foot outstretched, old
Forty-niner paused and steadily regarded the small face above his
Ned returned the gaze with equal steadfastness, as if he were
pondering in his troubled mind the best course to pursue. Then, because
he might think more clearly so, he lifted his serious gaze to the
distance; and, at once, there burst from his quivering lips a cry of
Oh, I see him! I see him! He's coming, like he saidto kill meto
kill me! I dassentI dassent!
CHAPTER XIII. NED'S STORY
Eels couldn't have done that slicker! commented Ephraim, in
surprise. For, behold! his arms were empty and the flash of twinkling
legs along the garden path pointed whither his charges had fled. Here
they were and here they aren't, and whatever scared them that way is
more than I can see.
Indeed, though he shaded his eyes with his hand and made a prolonged
examination of the outlook, nothing different from ordinary was
visible; and, after a moment's reflection, he sought Aunt Sally and
Well, Mrs. Benton, I 'low I'm doomed to that dose of picra, for
Ephraim Ma'sh, where's them children?
That's just exactly what I'd like to know myself, neighbor.
Huh! You needn't go 'neighborin'' me, if that's all you're worth.
Tryin' fool capers like a boy, ain't you? Think it was terr'ble clever
to cut strings that I'd took the trouble to tie and then settin' them
youngsters free. Well, all I have to say is that you've done more harm
than you can undo in a hurry, and that's the true word, retorted the
indignant matron, beating a bowlful of eggs as she would have enjoyed
beating him just then.
Ephraim crossed the kitchen and laid one hand on her shoulder,
Come, Sally, let's quit chasing about the bush. There's something
more in this nonsense than appears, and if you're a true and loyal
friend to this family I'm another as good. Two heads are better than
one, you know
Even if one belongs to a silly old feller like you? H'm Ephraim,
you're right! There is somethin' more'n shows outside. That candy was a
bait, a trap, a lure, aanything you choose; and I do hope the little
fellers are safer'n I fear they be. If I catch 'em again, for their
goodMy suz! Here they're comin' back of their own free will and
wonder ain't ceased!
Indeed, as swiftly as they had scampered away, the lads were
returning and burst into the kitchen, crying with what little breath
they had left:
Aunt Sally, lock me up! Lock us up tight! Quickquick! I seen him!
He'll do it! My mother says Antonio always does do things, he does!
Lock up, quick!
Ned and the echo swung round behind the matron's capacious person
and rolled themselves in the folds of her full skirt, which performance
hid them from the view of anyone outside and as effectually interfered
with her movements.
But she had now caught something of their excitement, and their
appeal to her protection had promptly banished her last trace of anger
So I will, lambies, so I will. You just keep on a steppin'
backwards and I'll do it, too, and first we know we'll get to that nice
pantry where we stayed last night. I've got the key to that, even if
'tis rusty from not bein' often used, and I'll defy anybody to get it
away from me.
Still beating her eggs as if nothing uncommon were happening, the
housewife retreated toward the door in question, and slipping one hand
behind her opened it without turning her head. She was instantly
relieved of the drag upon her skirts, and quietly shut the door again
upon her self-imprisoned charges. Then she drew a long breath, and
Well, sharpshooter, what do you think of that?
Looks as if you couldn't have been so very hard on them, else
they'd never come back.
I ain't a-flatterin' myself. That was a 'Hobson's choice.' But
But they must have been badly frightened to have done it.
Yes, Ephraim, they are, and I am. I'm so stirred up I don't know
whether I've beat these eggs all one way, like I ought, or forty-'leven
different ones, like I ought not. I'm flustered. I'm completely
flustered, and that ain't often my case.
Picra! sympathetically suggested the old man.
Aunt Sally's eyes snapped, and she smiled grimly, as she retorted:
Picra's good for them 'at need it. That's you, not me. It ain't a
medicine for in'ards so much as 'tis for out'ards. I mean, it's better
for the body than 'tis for the mind, and it's my mind that's ailin' me!
Besides, doctors never take their own doses.
You know it yourself! I thought your mind was failing you, but
No such thing. I said, or I meant to say, I was troubled in it.
That's all; and if you're a mite of a man you'll try and help me
unravel this tangle and quit foolin'. Just step into that closet with
me and maybe the tackers'll tell you themselves. I'd rather you heard
it first hand, anyway.
Wun Lung, sifting flour in one part of the kitchen, and Pasqual
scrubbing a kneading board at the sink, both paused and eyed the
strange proceedings with curiosity if not displeasure; for not only had
the children been bestowed within the cold closet, but Aunt Sally and
Ephraim had, also, followed and locked themselves out of sight and
The pantry was absolutely dark, until Mrs. Benton found a candle and
lighted it; then she pointed to the chair she had occupied during the
night, mutely inviting Forty-niner to be seated. He declined the
proffered courtesy, so she sat down herself, and it amused him that she
had not once stopped that monotonous whisking of the eggs, though by
this time the dish was heaped with their frothy substance.
The cake you make of them should be light enough, he remarked,
with a smile.
You're right. There's such a thing as overbeatin'everything.
Well, laddies, we're all back in here together again, and auntie wants
you to tell Mr. Ma'sh where you got that candy; who give it to you;
what for; where you saw that sneaky snake, Antonio Bernal; what you've
done with the staff wand; and all the rest of it? 'Forty-niner' is a
man and a gentleman
Here the sharpshooter bowed profoundly, acknowledging the
compliment with a humorous expression; but the matron continued as if
she had not observed him:
You see, I know all about it, even if you wouldn't tell. I'm one
has eyes on the back of my head and on its top, too, I tell you, so you
needn't try to think I don't see what's going on, for I do.
The faces of her small listeners showed utter amazement; then with
one of his flashlike movements Ned sprang to the back of her chair and
passed his hand rapidly all over her gray curls.
Where are they, Aunt Sally? I can't find 'em. I never saw 'em in
all my life, and dodo, please, show them to me! he implored.
Luis scrambled up the other side, and echoed:
Never show 'em in m'life!
That's all right. I don't keep 'em in exhibition, but they're there
all the same.
Sally Benton! expostulated Ephraim. Don't tell them wrong
But it isn't a wrong story; it's a right one. If they're not real,
actual eyes, there's something in my head takes their place. Might as
well say 'eyes' as 'brains,' I judge. But, be you going to answer,
Edward Trent? I've got a prime lot of cookin' to do again, and no time
to waste. 'Cause if you ain't I'll just take Mr. Ma'sh with me and lock
you shavers in here alone, where you'll be safe, but sort of homesick.
I shan't leave no candle burnin', for you to set the house afire with.
So you best tell, right away, and then be let out to have a good time.
Luis began to whisper, and beg:
Tell her, Ned. Tell her. I hate the darkI do, I do!
Ned hesitated but a moment longer. He loved his playmate as his own
soul, and it altered nothing of this childish David-and-Jonathan
friendship that it was as full of fight as of affection. Patting Luis'
shoulder, he cried:
'Course I'll tell, though if she knows it all a'ready
But I don't know it, Ned. She wants you to tell me. I'm one of us,
you seejust we four, interposed the sharpshooter, hastily.
Wellwellwell, 'tisn't anyhow. Only I sawIsaw
Here the child paused and peered cautiously about.
Mr. Marsh promptly sat down upon the boards and motioned the lads to
come to him, and when they had done so, closed his arms around them,
with a comforting pressure, saying:
There now! We're as snug as bugs in a rug, and nobody in the wide
world dare harm you. Hurry up and talk fast, or you and I will never
get a taste of that fine poundcake Aunt Sally wants to make.
Another moment of hesitation, and then came Ned's triumphant
'Twasn't no ghost, anyhow.
Of course it wasn't, answered Forty-niner, promptly agreeing,
but considerably puzzled. He had not, as yet, heard from any of the
others about the vision which Mrs. Benton had seen beside the window.
'Twasn't nobody but 'Tonio himself.
That's exactly what I thought, he again agreed, and encouragingly
patted the boy's hand.
And he comeand he comeand he gave us onetwo boxes of that
nice, nice candy; and all we gave him was Pedro's old stick!
Aunt Sally's egg beater fell to the floor unheeded, this time she
really put her spectacles in their proper place and stared through them
at the narrator.
Ned warmed to his task and Luis cuddled beside him, complacently
adding his affirmative Yep, at fitting intervals.
And so he said it wasn't nothin'. And soand soI fell offen the
bookcase and made a noise; and my mother didn't hear it 'cause she was
asleep. Me and Luis was asleep, wasn't we, Luis?
And he waked us up through the window
Waked froo winder, yep.
And said: 'Go get that pointed stick, Ned Trent, and I'll give you
a dollar.' Didn't he?
Gimme dollar. Didn't gimme dollar. What's a dollar? asked the
Ned went on, unheeding:
And I said no. 'Twasn't my stick; 'twas my mother's.
Oh! Neddy, Neddy! if you'd only stuck to that! groaned Mrs.
Benton, wiping her face with her apron.
But being now fairly launched upon his narrative, and also feeling
wholly secure within the shelter of Forty-niner's arms, Ned paused no
more till he had completed it:
And then he gave us the candy, 'cause I didn't want dollars. You
can't eat dollars, can you? And the candy was like the kind my mother
never gives, and just for an old stick was older than Pedro. Huh! And
then hehehe made me put my hand on the top of my head
Hands on tops of heads! cried the echo, dramatically.
And swore a swore I'd never, never, honest Injun, tell a single
tell, else he'dhe'd kill me! Kill me right straight down dead! And
now I have and he will, and I forgot and you made me! I hate you, I
hate you! And won't you feel bad when I'm all deaded and you you done
it, 'stead of himandand
The sense of security had fled instantly, and completely. The memory
of Antonio's dark face as he had stood threateningly before the little
fellow, at midnight by the window, returned with all its vivid,
terrorizing power. Springing to the farthest reach of the room Ned
crouched there, wide-eyed and trembling, and, of course, Luis followed
To Forty-niner's reassuring words, and to Mrs. Benton's cajoling
ones, neither child paid any further heed. They had been trained to
believe that their promised word was the most sacred of all things, and
now they had not only been induced to break that, but to break it in
the face of Antonio Bernal's terrible threat.
The elders left them to themselves and regarded one another with
regretful eyes. Then Aunt Sally repeated in detail all that there was
to tell concerning the curious wand which had pointed the way to
wealth; and now Ephraim listened in vast respect. On the first recital,
so hurriedly given by Jessica, and when she had run to get the staff,
he had thought of the matter as one of the shepherd's pious
mummeries. It now assumed a graver aspect. The lost staff might
possess some magnetic quality which was invaluable, as Old Century
believed; but beyond all that was the uncomfortable reflection that
Antonio Bernal was somewhere in hiding about Sobrante, and that
doubtless it had been he, or his emissary, who had tampered with the
mail pouch and caused Marty's disaster.
Well, a man that hides must have somethin' to be ashamed of. And I
believe every single word that child has told, said Aunt Sally, in
conclusion of her long harangue.
H'm! I thought that 'snake' had had his fang extracted down there
at Los Angeles; but it seems he's the sort can grow a new one, when
needed. Well, I'm powerful glad I'm home again. It takes a lot of
honest men to keep watch of one thief, and I'll prove handy. I'm off. I
leave the lads with you. I'm going to find out three things: How Ferd,
the dwarf, managed to break jail that night and leave no sign; who
robbed that mail pouch; and where Antonio Bernal is at this precious
Here, at your service, amigo! cried a mocking voice, outside the
shuttered window. A voice that all recognized at once as belonging to
the late manager; yet, when Ephraim had hastily run out and around to
that side of the house, there was nobody within sight; and nothing to
be heard save the series of terrified shrieks which issued from the
room he had left.
CHAPTER XIV. TAKING THE DOCTOR'S
For almost the first time in his life Ninian Sharp was under the
doctor's hands; and that gentleman's verdict upon his patient's case
was simple and plain:
Nothing the matter with you but breakdown. The result of doing two
men's work instead of one. What you need, and all you need, is a
complete change of thought and scene. Go off on some ranch and take a
vacation. That's your medicine.
Thank you, doctor, but a prescription upon the nearest drug store
would be easier to fill. In the first place I should worry all the time
if I were idle, for 'hustling' has become my second nature. In the
secondwhere shall I go?
The physician shrugged his shoulders. He, also, was a busy man and
having finished his visit to his patient did not prolong it. He picked
up his hat, remarked that he didn't doubt so clever a young man could
find a fitting place, if he gave what was left of his mind to it, and
bowed himself out, leaving the leaven of his sensible advice to
accomplish its legitimate result.
As the doctor left the room the nurse entered, bearing with her a
telegram which had been delayed en route, and a letter. It was with
some reluctance that she delivered these to the man on the lounge, yet
realizing, at the same time, how much worse for him was absolute
cessation of all his ordinary interests. With a solicitous smile, she
Would you not better let me read these first? They are probably
Thank you, no. I'm not yet reduced to imbecility and prefer to
examine my own correspondence, returned the invalid, fretfully. Then
as if ashamed of his petulance, and with a return to his ordinary
manner, added: This telegram might as well have walked. Would have
saved time, judging by the date of it; and as for this letterthat,
certainly, has seen better days.
The nurse smiled again, indulgently, and busied herself in tidying
the apartment; an occupation which would have incensed Ninian, since
her idea of neatness seemed to him to be but the disarrangement of
the heaps of papers and manuscript sheets scattered everywhere about,
had he not been otherwise interested. A hasty examination of the
messages he had received evoked his exultant exclamation:
Hurrah! The very thing!
Good news? asked the attendant.
The best in the world. The doctor's prescription, filled to the
letter. A ranch and new business. Say, would you mind going out for a
bit? I'd like to get into some other togs and in a hurry. If I can,
I'll make the one o'clock train.
Theone o'clock train! gasped the bewildered nurse, believing
that her charge's brain had given away, even as the physician had
suggested it might do.
Exactly. Please don't be alarmed. Some country friends of mine have
invited me to visit them, and I judge they would be glad if I accepted
at once. Their invitation fits in excellently with my own needs and,
after I've dressed for the trip, I'd be grateful to you for packing a
few things, while I write to the bank and telephone to some other
places. Just touch that messenger call, will you, please?
Certainly, he did not now look very like a sick man, as he sprang up
and looked about him; save that he put his hand to his head because of
a momentary dizziness and seemed somewhat unsteady on his feet.
However, his eyes had lost their dullness and a faint color had come
into his cheeks; and the attendant saw no reason for opposing his
The letter was Jessica's, and its envelope had been mended by the
postmaster after he had taken it, torn, from the mail pouch. The
telegram was from Ephraim Marsh, and had been sent by the first
messenger to Marion after that scene in the pantry with Aunt Sally and
the little boys. It had been delayed by the curiosity of the operator,
but had reached Mr. Sharp at last; and its import was that:
If you're willing to use your brains for Sobrante folks, as you
used them once before, now's the time. There'll be a led horse at
Marion till you come, and the sooner the better. 'Forty-niner.'
A led horse. Why, he must have forgotten, if he ever knew, that
I've my own Nimrod here, that Mrs. Trent insisted upon my accepting,
when I left Sobrante before. The horse must go with me, of course, and
I flatter myself I can pick up a bit of instruction on riding among
those fine 'boys' of the little captain's. I'll send a return
messageno, I won't, either. I'll trust to luck and surprise them. Now
to get ready.
A feeling that he was going home possessed the young man, and all
his simple preparations strengthened rather than weakened him. Activity
was his habit, and an hour before the train left the city he had
completed his personal arrangements with his office, his bank and his
landlord. He had paid his nurse the same salary she would have received
had he required her services for the fortnight, as expected, and was
ready for what came next.
I feel as if I were entering upon a new life, instead of taking a
rest cure, he remarked to Mr. Hale, when that gentleman met him at the
station, and explained that a Christmas invitation had come for
himself, also. And I say we'll make it the jolliest holiday those
people down there ever knew. I sent a letter to your address, after I
'phoned, and made out a list of things I'd like you to see to. Presents
and so on; and I'll write as soon as I get there and let you know
what's up with the sharpshooter. Some trouble, of course, but reckon it
can't be much. Ha! we're off. Good-by. Forget nothing, add as much as
you please to my list and send the bills to me. Good-by.
The train rolled noiselessly away from the long platform, and the
reporter for the Lancet stowed himself comfortably away on his cushions
and slept as he had not slept before since this nervous illness
attacked him. Not once did he awake, till the conductor touched him on
the shoulder, and stated:
End of the line, sir. Time to leave.
Ninian sat up and shook himself, still feeling a bit dazed from his
heavy slumber, and had scarcely realized the fact of his arrival before
a man limped into the car and slapped him on the shoulder.
Well done, lad. Welcome to Sobrante!
Hello, Mr. Marsh! You here? Sobrante? I thought
Same thing. This is Marion; as near as we can get to our place on
the rails. Remember, don't you? Been sick, eh? You look rather peaked
and I 'low I'd ought
No apologies. Here I am, and am not ill now. Only been a little
overworked; and your telegram, as well as Miss Jessica's letter, came
in the nick of time. Not an hour after the doctor had ordered this very
medicine of change and recreation.
Ephraim looked sharply at his guest and reflected:
What our business needs is a clear head and a strong body, not an
overtaxed man, as this 'pears to be. Well, sick or well, I hope he can
see through some of our muddles, if not all; and half a loaf is better
than no bread. Then he gathered the traveler's belongings, and
remarked: I told Aleck to have a good supper ready. It's a fine night
and I thought we'd ride home afterwards. Unless
They left the car and Ninian answered the other's unspoken
No, I don't want to stay all night, good as Janet's beds are. I've
had a delicious sleep and feel like another man from this morning.
Hello! they've taken Nimrod out already, and evidently are waiting for
orders. I declare, the handsome beast looks as if he recognized this
place and was as glad to get back to it as I am.
Old Forty-niner left his guest's side and hurried to the spot
where a trainman held the spirited animal, stroking its neck and
speaking soothingly to it, to calm its excitement; and no sooner had
the ranchman's hand supplanted the trainman's than Nimrod ceased to
prance, and with a little final shiver, stood stock-still, uttering a
low whinny of delight.
That's the talk, you beauty! Welcome home, old boy! Well, well,
well! if you ain't a sight to cure the headache! Yes, yes; it's all
right. This is Marion. We've got to stop at Aleck's first. Remember
Aleck? Remember Janet and her sugar? Well, well, well!
Ninian approached, amazed and incredulous, inquiring:
Think that creature knows what you're saying?
Forty-niner turned upon the questioner indignantly.
That's a fool sort of question for a smart man to ask! 'Think' he
knows? No. There isn't any 'thinking' in this. I know he knows, and I
know he's just as glad to set foot on his mother earth, here in Marion,
as I was t'other day when I stepped off this same trainor its mate of
the morning. I wish all the men in the world were half as brainy as he
is. And I tell you what, stranger, you couldn't have done a thing would
make your own welcome so sure as fetching Nimrod with you. If you'd
left him behind some of us would have had our own opinion. Though I,
for one, didn't know he was yours till this very morning.
And the led horse you spoke about?
Ephraim looked up, surprised, answering, rather crisply:
At home. Why not? When I heard about Nimrod I wasn't silly enough
to bring another.
So if I hadn't brought him we'd been short a mount? insisted the
One of us would had to foot it to the ranch, and that one wouldn't
have been me. Huh! Does me good to hear your nonsense gabble again. I
declare it does. When did you get my telegraph?
Thismorning! Why, I sent it day before yesterday, no, the day
before that. Let me see; to-day's one, yesterdaythe funeral, twothe
oneyes, three days ago. John Benton himself gave it into the
telegraph man's hands. Himself.
They mounted and started toward McLeod's Inn, Ninian doing very
well, considering the impatience of his steed and his own limited
experience of the saddle, and the sharpshooter sitting as composedly
upon the back of as restless an animal as could readily be found. It
was a bay, and pranced and curveted to the extent that Nimrod seemed a
door-mouse beside it, and Ninian finally observed:
That's an undecided sort of beast you have, yourself. Seems to be
as much inclined to go backward as forward.
Hale's. Name Prince. Was on the mesa with Pedro till he died.
Pedro dead? I'm sorry. Was it his 'funeral' you meant?
Yes. Terrible pity he couldn't have held on till Christmas, his
Navidad, that always meant so much to him. But he couldn't. Things have
changed at Sobrante since you was here. I'm glad you've come. I'm
powerful glad you've come.
Any new trouble, Ephraim?
H'm! I should say. Ghosts, the women think, and scamps for certain.
But it's a long story, and here we are at Aleck's. We mustn't spoil
that good supper of his and talk will keep. We've thirty miles 'twixt
us and bed, 'less you change your mind and stop here, and that should
give time enough to turn a man's mind inside out.
Were you so certain of my coming that you ordered a special supper,
Sure. I took you to be a man and I put myself in your place. In
your place I should have come if I could; and if I couldn't I should
have sent word. Light.
Aleck came out to meet them, and Janet followed, of course. Where
one of that worthy couple was the other was sure to be; and both
extended to the city man such welcome as made him more impressed than
ever by that home feeling which had possessed him all day. He
returned their good wishes with heartiness and did full justice to his
supper, adding as a thankful tribute to Janet's fine cookery:
That's the first thing has passed my lips that hadn't the flavor of
ashes, since many a day. The doctor was right.
Glad to hear any doctor ever could be right, returned the
innkeeper, who had never been ill, and attributed his health to his
distrust of physicians. Fresh air, wholesome food and a clear
consciencethem's to long life what the three R's are to 'rithmetic.
Powerful sorry you can't pass the night. I'd admire to talk over the
political situation with an intelligent man.
The side glance toward himself with which the Scotchman said this
sent Ephraim off into a mighty guffaw, in which presently they all
joined; and in the midst of the merriment a stable boy led up the
horses, and the Sobrante-bound riders loped away. Yet, just before they
were out of hearing, Aleck's stentorian voice sent after them the
Keep a sharp lookout, by, and your hands on your guns. That spook's
hit the trail again! Watch out!
Ninian laughed, and Forty-niner tried to do so, but the most he
could accomplish was a feeble cackle, which, his companion fancied,
betrayed his age as nothing heretofore had done. It was a nervous,
irritated laugh, and was matched by the altered voice in which its
owner presently remarked:
If I can't stop this fool business any other way, I've a notion to
ride round the country and shoot right and left, everybody I see,
promiscuous. That's the sure and certain way to hit the spook, too.
Heigho! This grows exciting! Spooks? Mysteries? Mail robberies!
There was no answer from the sharpshooter, who had gotten his horse
into a steady trot and was putting the road behind him in a manner that
needed all Ninian's efforts to match. If Nimrod had been as little used
to the trail as his rider was to him the space between the two animals
would have widened irretrievably; but he was the better bred of the
two, and though he didn't waste his strength in a first spurt, as
Prince did, he fell into a steady, easy gait, that soon told to his
It was one of the perfect moonlight nights which come in that
cloudless region, when one can easily read fine print, if so
inclined, or see across country almost as well as in the day. The swift
motion, the exhilarating air, the sense of freedom from city walls and
cramped spaces, started the reporter into singing, and later into the
silence of wonder over the astonishing power of his own voice.
Hurrah! If that's my warble I never heard it before! It's a
marvelous atmosphere that makes a rag time tune sound like a
nightingale's music. If 'Forty-niner' would join itHello! what's
up? What inthe nameofall things!
CHAPTER XV. NINIAN'S GREETING
Suddenly, out of the moonlit distance before them, appeared a
strange vision. A horse and his rider, as spotlessly white and gleaming
as the snow on the distant mountaintops, moving toward them as swift as
the wind and in supernatural silence. The eyes of the steed and its
master glowed with a wicked light that startled both the old
frontiersman and the modern scribe, and set Prince and Nimrod into
paroxysms of terror.
Rearing, plunging and backing, Ninian's mount had him soon on the
ground; and though Ephraim stuck to his saddle like a burr; he could
not hold his horse and get at his revolver in that one instant of the
appearance and disappearance of this strange specter. It was
comingit was upon themit was gone; and the blast of cold air with
which it passed them set the horses shivering in an ague of fear, and
tied the men's tongues.
It seemed an age that they halted there in the open solitude,
silently stroking and soothing their frightened beasts, before either
could speak. Then Forty-niner found his voice and burst forth,
Ninian laughed; nervously, almost hysterically at first; then with
honest merriment, exclaiming:
Oh, what a chance was lost there, comrade!
Whoa, boy, whoa, I tell you! There, there, steady now. Well, you
needn't throw it in my teeth if it was! retorted the sharpshooter,
furiously. Hang new pants!
Ninian rolled on the ground and laughed afresh; then feebly
observed: That's what I generally do with mine. But pockets! What of
Huh! it's all very well for you to lie there and snicker. I lost
the chance of my life that time. What's the use of a repertation for
hittin' a pin at the distance I have if you can't hit a fool when he's
Referring to me? asked the reporter, sweetly.
Yes, if the coat fits. Drat that pocket!
Poor pocket! Who made it?
That pesky Sally Benton. The one was in burst right through, and
she sewed this one so tight at the topHuh! I believe she done it
To be sure she did. If I remember correctly that estimable woman
was opposed to bloodshed and preferred corporal punishment. I suppose
she feared you might do what you attempted to do and
Shut up your shallow talk, young man! ordered Ephraim, with so
much venom that the other realized his mirth was ill-timed and grew
What was the thing, anyway, Marsh?
That's more than I know, but just what I would have known if I'd
hit it with a bullet. That's the 'spook' Aleck warned us of. It's been
kitin' round the country ever since that first night after Pedro died.
Some say it's the ghost. It 'pears to be wrapped in a white blanket and
wears it same as he did. He had a white horse once that had outlived
all the horses ever was, I reckon; and the Simple Simons all about us
claim that it's the Indian's spirit on the Indian's horse, a-ridin'
round 'count of some trouble why he can't rest. There was a letter
thrown into our settin' room night before last, in poor printing
enough, too; and it said that Pedro had been banished from the happy
hunting grounds on account of a secret he'd told; and a warning
everybody not to touch to try and find the place the secret told about.
It scared the mistress pretty bad, though she didn't let on much. The
captain laughed, of course. She always laughs at everything; and Mrs.
Bentonwell, she just pinned the paper in her bosom, and says she:
'I'll know where that is when it's needed.' She's some sense, Sally
has, though nothing to boast of, and she's a mighty good sewer of
patchwork, though she's no good at pistol pockets. Well, shall we go
Ninian had remounted his horse, which still was restless and ill to
manage, and Prince was capering about in a fantastic fashion that,
however, was not greatly different from his behavior earlier in the
evening; and the reporter had satisfied himself that there was nothing
now to be seen of the apparition which had flashed upon them and
disappeared on the road back to Marion.
Yes, let's go on. And I hope the least that will happen will be the
arrival of that 'spook' at Aleck McLeod's cheerful inn. I'd give much
to see his face if it did appear.
Oh! it's been there already; last night. The kitchen window was
raised so softly none but Janet could have heard it, and before she
could get to it, a white, skinny hand came through and snatched up a
quail pie she'd baked for breakfast and off sooner'n she could catch
it. She was so mad about the pie that, for a minute, she forgot to be
scared; then it came over her that she'd been cookin' ghost's victuals,
and she shivered all the rest the night. She wouldn't ever let Aleck
far out of sight, she's so fond of him, but now he can't stir three
foot away. Every man I met has something fresh to tell of how his women
folks have been worried by the thing; and if somebody doesn't settle
his spookship mighty sudden, we'll have all the females in hysterics;
and something we've never needed in this valley yet, and that's a
doctor. There won't be a nerve left anywhere.
Ninian laughed again; adding, a moment later: Not just the sort of
place to send a nervous-prostration patient, is it, after all? But
what's your own speculation concerning the nuisance?
Let me tell you the whole business, so far forth as I've heerd it
since I came home. Then you can form your own mind on it and see how
best to help my folks out their troubles; 'cause I ain't trying to hide
that was my reason for wanting you to come. You'd helped us so much
with the title affair I knew you'd unravel this skein. But I'm powerful
glad to see you, all the same, and I do hope you'll get as much good
for yourself out the visit as I want the mistress to get.
The horses were now somewhat quieted by a long stretch of the level
road, over which they had been allowed to travel at their own pace, and
talking was easier. Ephraim gave in detail the story of Pedro's visit
and gift of the wand; of the many strange incidents of the last few
days; of Ned's serious illness, caused by fright, Aunt Sally declared,
but, as his mother thought, by too much rich food and an overdose of
candy; and how, though he had repeatedly been heard about the premises,
nobody had as yet actually seen Antonio Bernal. However, at present,
little was thought of but the suffering children; for Luis had remained
true to his character of echo and had himself, that very day, been
put to bed with the same high fever which was tormenting Ned.
You see, though it's getting Christmas time and everything ought to
be lovely, we're about as badly off as a family can be. All the same,
if anybody in this world can cheer the mistress it'll be yourself, Mr.
Sharp, and I'm powerful glad you've come.
For the rest of the ride they were mostly silent; each man revolving
in his mind the most plausible explanation of Antonio's behavior, in
his would-be mysterious hiding, and his terrorizing of the little lads.
Finally, Ninian expressed his own opinion:
It's perfectly natural he should drift back to Sobrante, even with
all the opprobrium that would attach to him there. It is his home. He
believed or pretended to believe, that it was also his birthright. He
knows nothing that would bring him a livelihood in the city
Except gambling, interrupted Ephraim, contemptuously.
If he tried his hand at that even, he'd fail. He hasn't the head to
plot deeply. His maneuvers are all childishly transparent, and this
last oneh'm! Have you connected his 'highness' with this spook
No, sir; and you needn't. That Antonio Bernal is the biggest coward
above ground. Why, bless me! even if he'd had gumption enough to
concoct such a scheme he wouldn't have the nerve to carry it out. He'd
be afraid of himself! Fact! No, siree. Top-lofty never had a hand in
this, answered the elder man.
Ninian said no more but kept his suspicions revolving in his own
mind; yet was far more absorbed in the possibility that Forty-niner
had suggested, of the copper vein in the canyon, than by anything else
he had heard. They had ridden on again, each silent, till the lights of
Sobrante came into view; then Ephraim remarked:
Reckon the little tackers ain't much better. The mistress don't
gen'ally keep lamps lit as late as this, 'less something's wrong. Oh! I
hope there's no more death and disappointment on our road. 'Twould
break Mrs. Trent's heart, indeed, if she lost Ned.
Ninian roused himself from his reverie, and answered, lightly:
For such a cheerful fellow as I remember you, even when you were
first laid up in hospital, you're degenerated sadly. What in the name
of common sense is the use of prognosticating evil, when good is just
as likely to come?
Huh! I'm consid'able older than you, young man, retorted the
All the more reason you should be more hopeful. What's happened to
you besides these external troubles? Something on your own account, eh?
If so, believe me you have my hearty sympathy and my right hand to help
you, if you need it.
Ephraim checked Prince so shortly that the animal reared on his
haunches, and pushing his hat from his brow regarded the visitor with a
sad but grateful countenance. Then he spoke, and his tones were husky
with subdued emotion:
Thanks, friend. I took to you the first time my old eyes lit on you
and I've leaned on you, in my mind, ever since. There is something 'at
worries me, but it's so slight I shan't put it into wordsyet. I've
got work to do still for them I love and that love me. Which I might
maybe sum up in one small personmy precious Lady Jess. God bless her!
Ay, God bless her! From the crown of her sunny head to the tips of her
dainty feet, she's the truest, squarest, tenderest creature the Lord
ever sent to lighten this dark world. They all love her, every one of
them rough, hard-handed sons of toil whom she calls her 'boys'; but
there isn't one, not one, can begin to love her as I do. Not one. It is
she that makes me still keep a little faithThere, there! what an
old fool I am! But, thanks, all the same, and don't you forget I'm your
own to command if need comes. Shake, neighbor, and may your age
beGiddap there, Prince! Let'son, lad; let's get on.
Ninian did get on, but again silently pondering that here again was
something mysterious in this honest octogenarian's mood. There was an
undercurrent of sorrow which, he was sure, was wholly distinct from the
anxieties of his mistress and her household, and he wondered what it
might be. Surely, for an old man, though wifeless and childless he had
much to make him happy. The devotion of the family in which he had
lived for so long, his comfortable home, his freedom from care
concerning his futureto the young man struggling amidst a crowd of
competitors to make a place for himself in the world, it seemed as if
the venerable sharpshooter had cause for nothing but rejoicing.
However, these might be mere imaginations, and best banished for the
Ephraim made straight for the house, and the sound of the horses'
footfalls brought figures flying to the open doors; most welcome of
these in the eyes of the two men, the small one of Jessica herself, her
head stretched forth as she peered into the night, and the lamplight
behind her making a radiance about her golden head and slender
gracefulness. But she poised there on the threshold only for an
instant, till she was sure what animals these were, then darted toward
them with uplifted hands and a cry of delight:
They've come! Oh, mother, they've come!they've come!
Another moment and the reporter had slipped from his saddle and had
caught up the little girl, more glad on his own part than he would have
once thought possible to have her once more beside him.
Yes, captain, here we are! But did you expect usor me? And how
could you tell that we were not strangers?
Why, don't you suppose I'd know the step of any horse for ours? And
though Nimrod is yours now I know him likelike a brother. Don't I,
dear fellow? and from Ninian's clasp she ran to embrace the down-bent
head of the thoroughbred.
On his side, Nimrod was equally rejoiced. His velvet nostrils
caressed the little girl's cheeks and flowing hair, while his dainty
forefoot gently pawed the ground in expression of delight and not
impatience. Prince stood looking on, unmoved. He was not Sobrante
raised and seemed to feel it; or so Jessica fancied, as she left off
petting Nimrod and passed to Prince's side, to stroke his head also,
and to murmur words of praise for good behavior in bringing Ephraim
Then Forty-niner led the beast away, while Jessica sped after
Ninian, who had been greetedalmost graspedby Aunt Sally. She had
drawn him indoors, laughing, crying, whispering, entreating, all in a
Oh, oh, oh, land of Goshen! My suz! If you ain't the gladdest sight
I've seen this dog's age! How are you, how are you? Slim? You certainly
do look slim, she declared, as she led him into the radiance of the
lamp and critically peered into his face, both through and above her
Well, my good friend, I never was anything but slim, as I remember.
And I have been just a bit ailing, if that's your meaning. However, I'm
all right now, most delighted to be here, and wholly at your service or
that of anybody else who needs me. How are the children? Ephraim said
that they were ill. And Mrs. Trent?
As if in answer to his questions, there was a patter of bare feet on
the stairs and in came Luis, his great dark eyes looking twice their
normal size and his voice shrill with excitement, as he tried to say:
NedNed's gone and gotand gotNed's gone got gone roof. Oh,
Mrs. Benton dropped Ninian's hand which she had continued to hold
and shake up and down, much in the manner of one pumping water, and
caught up the child to also shake him vigorously:
Hi! What's that you say? Don't you dare to tell auntie a story.
What's NeddyOh, my land! all the catnip's gone out of my life,
The reporter and Jessica looked at each other and burst into
laughter. It was impossible to help it, Aunt Sally's manner had been so
droll and yet so dramatic; and, oddly enough, over Ninian there stole
again the feeling that he had come home, and that the griefs and
perplexities of this household had become his own. With that his
merriment was over, for the fear Mrs. Benton's face had betrayed was
Jessica, also, had sobered instantly, and catching her guest's hand
hurried him impulsively upward, crying:
He's done it again! Oh, if mother sees him it will frighten her to
They reached the upper floor and the end of the hall which divided
it into two sections, and from whence a ladder ran upright to a
trapdoor opening on the sloping roof. The scuttle had been left open
for ventilation, and up this steep stairway Luis was pointing with wild
Again Aunt Sally caught and shook the little fellow, but he could
make no better business of talking than before. Jessica had not waited
for more than one glance into the empty chamber where the sick children
had been cared for, since it was more quiet than the customary bed-room
below; and that glance, added to Luis' gesticulations, told her story.
Oh, he's walking in his sleep again! He's gone on the roof!
The next the reporter realized she had climbed the ladder and
disappeared through the scuttle. He forgot that he was, or had been,
ill, and followed her, only to pause at the sight which met him as his
head protruded through the opening. It was a house of many gables, and
upon the peak of the farthest one poised Ned in his night-clothes,
slowly swinging his arms in the circular fashion children adopt
preparatory to a leap or spring.
One! counted the childish voice. Two!
Ninian closed his eyes, as if by so doing he might shut his ears to
the final Three! which would mark the fatal leap.
CHAPTER XVI. JESSICA GETS HER WISH
Ninian Sharp had closed his eyes against a catastrophe which,
seemingly, nothing less than a miracle could prevent. When he opened
them again the miracle had been performed.
Love had lent to Jessica a strength and swiftness almost incredible
even to her active body, and she had crossed the steep, slated roof
just in time to clasp Ned's feet and to drag him backward with her as
she rolled down upon the broader portion. Yet even here was imminent
danger, for the lad was struggling, in his sudden awakening, and the
pair were slipping hopelessly toward the eaves.
But now was the reporter's chance and the test of his athletic
training. He threw himself prone upon the slippery slates, worming his
lean person over them till he caught the girl's frock, and bidding her
hold fast! drew both the children slowly toward the scuttle. When his
feet had found the edge of this the danger was past; and they were
presently down upon the hall floor, laughing and sobbing together in
one excited group. That is, the sister was sobbing and Ninian was
laughing in a nervous way that had grown upon him with his illness, and
that told to Aunt Sally's keen ear how really frail he still was.
But Master Ned, the cause of all this emotion, looked calmly upon
the stranger, and demanded:
Where's that printing press you promised, hey? I can say five, ten
letters now, and I can spell cat backwards!
Is it possible? Before such erudition I bow my humble head!
laughed the visitor, grateful for any, even nonsensical, words that
would relieve the tension of the moment.
But here Aunt Sally caught up the boy and looked him over anxiously;
then joyfully declared:
He's got his senses back. Oh! Gabriella, where are you? Neddy's all
Oh, auntie, hush! There's no need to tell mother anything of this
last danger, and if you'll only please put Ned back to bed she won't
have to know.
Ain't goin' to bed. Been a-bed 'nough, protested the supposed
invalid. Want my clothes. Want to go downstairs and get my supper.
Get my supper, assented Luis, creeping forward from the corner
where he had hidden in fear of he knew not what.
Hello, echo! You on hand again? How's business? demanded Ninian,
drawing the child towards him.
First rate, answered Ned, for his comrade, who promptly echoed:
But now came the mother, hurrying up the stairs, with a bowl of
gruel she had gone to prepare, and interest in which had opportunely
prevented her knowing either of the reporter's arrival or her son's
peril. And the visitor sprang to his feet again, while she welcomed him
as cordially and gracefully as if she had been sitting in state,
expectant, within her own pretty parlor.
One flash of her eyes toward her boy, safe in Mrs. Benton's arms
again and carefully wrapped about in her capacious apron, relieved any
anxiety she might have felt in coming upon this unexpected group, and
she asked, with a little burst of laughter:
Is it possible that Ned was so quick to welcome you? Well, son, it
might have been more courteous to have gone downstairs; but I'm sure
our friend will pardon a little lad who's been ill. He's really better,
isn't he, Aunt Sally? He looks quite natural.
Yes, honey, he's better. I reckon he's passed the turnin' point
now, if nothin' new sets in. You take Mr. Sharp down into the
settin'-room, 'cause he's seen the children and I'll set with them a
spell. Wun Lung can get the supper well's I can, if he'll put his
heatheny mind to it. Eh? What is it, sonny?
Fortunately, Ned, like most sleepwalkers, was wholly unconscious of
his actions while in that abnormal state, and made no comments on
anything save his own reluctance to go to bed while so interesting a
gentleman was in the house; but was finally coaxed to do so by the
promise of Luis sharing his cot as well as his porridge; whereupon Mrs.
Trent kissed him good-night and invited the guest below.
His protestations against another supper, after the excellent one he
had taken at Aleck McLeod's, met with nothing but the hospitable
Oh! but you can surely manage a light refreshment, since you've
ridden thirty miles from Marion.
To which the little captain added her entreaties, saying:
I'm hungry, anyway. I'm always so, I guess, but I couldn't think of
breaking bread before you unless you share it.
Therefore sleepy Wun Lung came with the tray, and was gratified by
the friendly notice of the stranger; and Mrs. Trent made tea in the
little swinging kettle over her alcohol lamp, her daughter declaring
that it always tasted better served in that way. Ninian found that, in
spite of his protestations, the simple refreshments were very
acceptable, and the trio were quietly enjoying their reunion when
Jessica suddenly remembered Ephraim and sprang up to go in search of
Even if Mr. Sharp isn't hungry, dear old 'Forty-niner' is sure to
be. He'll be here soon, maybe, but I won't wait till the kettle is
cold. He's been sleeping at the 'house' ever since he got back and
might go straight to his room, if I don't prevent.
When she had gone Ninian observed upon the remarkable devotion
between the old sharpshooter and his small pupil, and the mother
assented; yet added, as an after-thought:
I sometimes regret it. Jessica is a child of impulsive, yet
absorbing affections. She can see no flaw in the character of anybody
she loves; andwell, none of us are perfect, and Ephraim grows old.
Still, when he entered, the lady greeted him with cordiality, and
served him promptly; and presently they were all talking eagerly of the
recent events at Sobrante. Of course, Pedro came in for a brief but
loving mention; and to the guest's inquiry as to what had been done
with the fine flock of sheep which the old man had herded, the mistress
I have sent them up into the mountains, with the herds of a
neighbor, for the present. Ephraim, here, petitioned for the post of
shepherd, but I dared not give it to him, and she looked deprecatingly
toward the sharpshooter.
No, she didn't, assented he. She could trust that Old Century,
but she couldn't trust me.
There was greater bitterness in the tone than he had ever manifested
before his small captain, and she was quick to notice and resent it.
Look here, you blessed old grumbler, you stop that, please. If not
'please,' stop it anyway, because I'm your commander. You know why, and
only why, my mother said 'no' to that bright scheme of yours. Then she
explained to Ninian, who was listening closely: You must understand
that shepherding is the very loneliest thing that has to be done on a
ranch. The shepherd is alone from week to week; on some ranches from
month to month. He hasn't a soul to speak to save when somebody chances
to cross his field, which isn't often. A lot of men go crazy, living
that way, and mother has always been afraid for even Pedro. I never was
for him, though, 'cause he always liked it and had lived sowell,
forever. But naughty old 'Forty-niner' felt it would be his 'duty' to
go up there away from all of us, and mother wouldn't let him, and
And so, my honored captain, you'll force me to be a mere hanger-on
Jessica held up her forefinger, warningly. That's enough, Ephraim.
I am 'She that must be obeyed,' Samson says, sometimes. And one of the
times is now. If you and mother aren't ashamed to disagree before my
dear Mr. Sharp, I'm ashamed to have you!
All laughed and none took offense at this plain talk which, jesting
though it seemed, covered a serious meaning, and soon Forty-niner
remarked, as if to close the subject:
Well, all's said and done; yet, still, I know if I'd been let to
have my way in this I'd have stopped a deal of mischief. It would be
better, seems to me, to have an old frontiersman living in Pedro's
cabin than a spook.
Mrs. Trent started, and, the guest fancied, shivered slightly. But
she rejoined, impatiently:
Oh, Mr. Marsh! that nonsense again, and from you!
So they say, ma'am.
Cried Jessica gayly:
The only thing Sobrante needed to make it as lovely as those old
English places one reads about in the story books was a 'ghost', and
now we've got it! Honest, and I do hope you'll see it for yourself. I
want to so much, and one night Samson and I chased it, butit got
away. The 'boys' say now that it has even taken to horseback. Don't you
wish you might be luckier than I, Mr. Ninian?
A glance flashed between the reporter and the sharpshooter, but not
quite swiftly enough to escape the girl's observation; and, after a
moment's pause, she exclaimed:
Why, I believe you have already seen it!
There was an awkward silence, which Mrs. Trent broke by the stern
reproof she managed to throw into one word: Jessica!
Yes, mother, I know. It's silly, and I will be careful not to
mention the delightful subject before the children.
What are you but a child yourself, my mature little woman?
demanded the visitor, playfully.
Why, I'm a little girl, of course; but one who always wanted to see
a fairy, till somebody told me there was none. Now I'm longing for this
'spook'that really is, 'cause so many, many have seen itand I'm not
even let to talk about him.
Mrs. Trent shook her head regretfully.
I'm afraid we've spoiled you among us, my darling. But, leaving
these unexplained things to explain themselves at their proper time,
suppose you go and see that all is ready in Mr. Sharp's room? Wun Lung
is still mooning by himself on the kitchen stoop and will do what you
They all do that, I infer, commented Ninian, as the child hastened
away, eager to serve all whom she loved.
Yes, they do. It's a delightful, but not, maybe, the wisest life
for any girl to live. No playmates except her two small brothers, and
no schooling that is at all regular or effective. I can't imagine what
Sobrante would be without her, and yet
She paused and Forty-niner took up her sentence:
It wouldn't be Sobrante, mistress. That's all. I, for one, couldn't
stay here and serve under any other body now except my captain; and so
saying, as if a shadow of the future fell upon him, the old man rose
and went out, quite forgetting to say good-night.
Meanwhile, Jessica had found Wun Lung and also found him more than
willing to go with her and perform even additional tasks, since by so
doing he might have the comfort and safety of human presence. Fragments
of talk had come to him in his kitchen concerning the apparitions which
had startled the whole countryside, during these past few days, and had
received the strongest confirmation from his housemate, Pasqual. The
latter believed, indeed, all that he himself heard and invented much
more. He had grown to be afraid of his own shadow and now resorted to
the men's quarters on each and every occasion that presented, feeling a
safety among them he could not feel at the house among a lot of
women. Of course, his defection from duty entailed endless conflicts
between himself and Aunt Sally, but since this resulted in nothing
worse to the delinquent than a loss of some dainty food, he could put
up with it. He was away now, bunking in Marty's room, and Wun Lung sat
alone, too afraid to go to bed, yet too uneasy to enjoy the beauty of
the night. His sharp, black eyes peered here and there and everywhere,
about the place; and when Jessica came running to him, in her noiseless
moccasins, he jumped so high that his queue flew out at a right angle
from his head, and he screeched:
Oh, mly flathe's, mly flathe's!
Lady Jess laughed aloud.
No, good Wun Lung. Not your fathers, nor even any of your
relatives, but only me. Having had supper, the next thing for our dear
Mr. Sharp is a bed and sleep. Come help me make it ready.
The Chinaman rose with alacrity, and soon had collected the bed
linen, towels and bucket of water, suggesting that Jessica should bring
a lighted candle.
Oh! we don't need a light, Wun Lung. It's as bright as day with the
shutters open, and we must be quick, anyway, for the dear man has been
ill and is tired.
The room was the same that Mr. Hale had found so delightful during
his own visit to the ranch, and the girl threw the shutters wide, to
let in the fresh air and moonlight while they arranged the place for
occupancy. She left the bed making to the longer and stronger arms of
her assistant, but herself attended to the pitchers and toilet things;
and while so engaged, with her back toward the open windows, was
suddenly startled by an ear-piercing shriek from the Chinaman.
Shriek? Not one, but many; prolonged, reiterated, till the whole
house seemed in an uproar; and facing swiftly about, to learn the cause
and still the clamor, Jessica found her lately expressed desire
completely gratified. For there, clearly distinct in the moonlight, not
ten paces from the window whence she gazed, was the phantom horse and
CHAPTER XVII. THE CACTUS HEDGE
The shrieks ended by Wun Lung's throwing himself face downward on
the floor, but they had roused the whole household, even the sleeping
children. Those in the room below had rushed to the stairs, wondering
what could possibly have happened to the Chinaman, whose outcries these
certainly were. The little lads had sprang from their cot, screaming on
their own account, and Mrs. Benton had awaked from the fortywinks she
was taking in her chair.
As a natural result of her sudden awakening she grasped the two
children who were clinging to her skirts and shook them soundly,
ordering them to shut up to once 'fore you scare folks to death.
They were not easily pacified and she thus, fortunately, had her
hands full, for the moment, else the fear-paralyzed Wun Lung might have
fared hardly. As it was, none but Jessica had a full, clear view of the
strange visitant, since the Chinaman had closed his eyes against it and
the others had not thought to look out of doors; but she saw it, and
with critical distinctness.
For an instant, indeed, her own nerves had thrilled and her heart
seemed to stand still; the next her overpowering desire to see the
spook for herself had conquered her terror and she gazed with all her
It certainly looks like Pedro, with his clothes all white. And the
horseit may be his that diedbutbut
The ghostly steed and its rider remained utterly motionless, as if
scrutinizing the house on their own part or waiting for somebody to
appear; then, as the little girl bounded to the open window the better
to gratify her curiosity, the animalif such it wasslowly wheeled
about and loped away. There was a sound of muffled footfalls on the
hard drive, and the vision had vanished.
Jessica still leaned from the casement watching and thinking more
rapidly than she had ever done before; but when convinced that the
apparition was really gone, she slowly retreated below stairs, passing
her mother and Ninian on the way, yet not pausing till she had gained
the side of the sharpshooter. Him she seized, exultantly exclaiming:
Well, Ephraim, I've seen your spectre!
And it's no more a 'ghost' than I am.
What do you mean? he demanded, hastily; ashamed of himself for
half regretting that the supernatural view of the matter might not be
the right one. It isn't? Well, what is it, then?
It's Antonio Bernal and his horse, Nero.
Huh! How do you fetch that? When both of them are black as my hat.
Her last, lingering uneasiness banished by his presence and the
sound of her own words, with firmer conviction she declared to him and
the others who had now gathered about her:
I 'fetch it' fast enough. This was the way dear old Pedro used to
ride; and this is the way your 'spook' sat his horse, she announced,
so vividly mimicking both men that all who had known them recognized
the likeness, and Ephraim exclaimed:
That's them to a t-i-o-n-tion! Can seem to see 'em right here
before me. Wellwhat next?
Pedro wore his blanket like a king. Antonio has covered his head
with that white thing, and even so wasn't half Pedro's height. I shall
not soon forget that splendid Old Century, the last time I saw him ride
away, that night. A hundred years old, yet as straight in his saddle as
Antonio Bernal was a magnificent horseman, darling, suggested Mrs.
Trent, from the chair into which she had sunk, as if weakened by the
series of startling events which had befallen her home.
Even so, mother, dear, he couldn't match old Pedro. Antonio sat
forward, so, with a careless sort of slouchjust like the 'spook'
What could possibly be his motive for such foolishness, daughter,
granting you are right?
The captain laughed.
Upon my word, mother, even you, as well as Ephraim, seem sorry it
isn't a truly ghost, after all.
No, no, indeed. I'm sorry, rather, to think it may be Antonio, as
you fancy, and that he still persists in troubling us, even by so silly
It hasn't been so silly, Mrs. Trent, if it has hoodwinked a lot of
sensible people, and you are rightthere must be a motive for it in
the actor's mind. I hope Jessica's judgment in the case is correct, for
back there in Los Angeles, we didn't find the manager a difficult
person to deal with, remarked Mr. Sharp.
The girl went on:
Then that horse. Don't you remember, mother, and you, Ephraim, the
curious little switch Nero used to give his tail whenever he was turned
around? Well, this 'spook' horse did just the same thing. Oh, I know, I
know I'm right!
But how could he turn a black horse snow white, even if you are? As
I remember Nero he wouldn't stand much nonsense, even from his own
master, said Forty-niner.
Pooh! If lack-wit Ferd could paint Prince, as he didanother
spirited horse, if you pleaseAntonio could do what he liked with
Nero. It's paint, of course, or something like it.
But the eyes? The eyes as we saw them on the road, a few hours
back, were all on fire. You could see them almost before you could make
out that it was a man on horseback was coming. Isn't that so, Sharp?
demanded Ephraim, persistent to the last.
Jessica turned upon him, triumphantly:
There! I knew from the way you two looked when we were talking a
little while ago that you'd seen something out of common! Do tell me
about it, please. Do, do!
Ninian laughed, glanced at his hostess' face, and replied:
That's a story will keep, and you should be in bed. I don't want to
have my coming harm you when I meant it to do you good. Even such a
courageous child as you ought to sleep a great deal.
She had been courageous, indeed, and had astonished him by a
coolness and readiness of observation which would have done credit to a
much older person. He began to realize how different she was from other
children of her age, and how the hardihood of her rearing had developed
qualities that were quite unchildlike. He wondered how she would adapt
herself to the habits and thoughts of other girls of her own age, and
was not surprised that Mrs. Trent craved such society for her. He
wished that he might see her placed in some good school, yet was
doubtful if just the right one could be selected for a pupil so
different from ordinary. However, that was not his affair, and to
relieve the family of his further presence at that late hour
undoubtedly was. So he bade them all good-night and went to his room,
and very shortly afterward everybody under that roof was sound asleep.
Oh, what a dreamless, delicious rest I've had! was the visitor's
waking thought. His next, that it must be very late and that he had put
his hostess to unnecessary trouble. Then he turned over for just one
more wink and slumbered on for another couple of hours. This time he
had dreams in plenty; and finally roused from one, of beautiful gardens
peopled by harmless spooks, to a sound of sweet music. By his watch
he saw that it was eleven o'clock and remembered that it was Sunday.
Also, the music was that of a familiar hymn, played upon a fine piano,
which was taken up and sung by a choir of mixed voices, from the
childish treble of the two little lads to the stentorian bass of
Samson, the mighty.
Hastily dressing, Ninian slipped quietly down the stairs and entered
the sunny parlor; where Jessica motioned to a chair which had evidently
been reserved for him, and softly approached him with an open hymn
It was Mrs. Trent at the piano and her rich soprano voice
faultlessly led her straggling chorus, filled for the most part by the
men grouped outside on the wide porch. He could see them through the
long, French windows, sitting or standing as each felt inclined, but
all with that earnest seriousness of demeanor which befitted the day
and the task. For task it evidently was to some of them; John Benton,
for example. He stood alone, at the most upright post attainable, his
book at arm's length, and his head moving from side to side, following
the lines, with a little upward toss of it as he reached the end of
each, while from his throat issued most startling tones.
Afterwards, Aunt Sally explained, for she had seen Ninian's amused
survey of her boy, that:
John can no more carry a tune than he can fly, and I'd rather hear
him sawin' his boards than tryin' to sing. But he feels it's his duty
to help the others along by singing at it and sort of keepin' Gabriell'
in countenance, seems if. Sweet, ain't it?
It had been sweet in the guest's opinionthe whole of the short
service; conducted with such simple dignity and reverence by the
Madonna-like ranch mistress; the music so well chosen, the few prayers
so feelingly offered, and the brief exhortation read from the words of
a famous divine who had the rare gift of touching men's hearts. And he
so expressed himself, as well as his surprise, over the belated
breakfast which Mrs. Benton served him when the service was over and
the household dispersed.
Yes, I think it's the nicest thing there is about this dear
Sobrante. There's always been the best sort of inflooence here and
that's why I like my boy, John, to belong. Cass'us, he used to hold the
meeting, and after he died I feared Gabriella wouldn't be equal to it.
But bless your soul! if down she didn't come that first Sunday 'at ever
was, and her not havin' left her bed sence it happened, and sent Wun
Lungy out to have the old mission bell rung, a signal. I'll ever forget
it to my dyin' day, I shan't. Her like a spirit all in white and a face
was both the saddest and the upliftedest ever I see; and them rough men
all crowdin' up to their places, so soft you'd thought they was
barefoot 'stead of heavy shod; and Jessie with her arms round the two
little ones, and her mother pitchin' the tune, same as usual,
andandI declare I can't keep the tears back yet, rememberin'.
Before she was done the whole kerboodle of us was sobbin' and cryin'
like a passel of young ones, and there was she, with her broken heart,
as calm and serene as an angel. Angel is what she is, mostly; with just
enough old human natur' in her to keep her from soarin' right away.
Gabriell's one them scurce kind makes you glad every time she does a
wrong or thoughtless thing, 'cause then you know she ain't quite
perfected yet, and you're surer of keepin' her 'on earth. My! the good
that woman does beats all. This very day, when she'd lots rather stay
to home and visit with you, she's give orders for Ephraim to have the
buck-board got ready to take her twenty miles to see a neighbor who's
sick. She's fixing a basket of things now, and is in a hurry. So that's
the reason she didn't come to keep you company herself. Have another
piece of chickendo.
Thank you, no. I've enjoyed my breakfast hugely, and feel as if I'd
never known a moment's illness.
There was the sound of wheels just then and Ninian strolled out to
offer his service as escort to the ranch mistress in case she might
desire it. But the offer was not made, though the lady greeted him with
evident pleasure, and even herself glanced toward the vehicle, as if
wishing he might ride with her. But there was Ephraim Marsh, in the
glory of a white shirt and brilliant necktie, brushed and speckless,
and beaming benevolently upon all less favored mortals. It was only
upon such errands of mercy that the mistress ever left her home, and
there was not a ranchman in her employ but esteemed it an honor to
drive for her whither she would.
Ninian saw the state of affairs plainly enough, and, possibly, so
did Forty-niner himself; who might, under some circumstances, have
sacrificed his pleasure for that of the young man. But not now. Ever
since he had returned from his long stay in the city, the sensitive old
fellow had felt a difference in his surroundings. There was nobody mean
enough to tell him of the base suspicions that his fellow workmen had
harbored about him, and they fancied that by treating him with more
than former friendliness they could offset the unknown injury they had
done him. It was this very effusiveness that had roused his suspicions
that something was wrong, and he saw in this solitary drive with his
beloved mistress a chance to unburden his mind and get her wise opinion
on the matter.
So he merely passed the time of day with the guest, helped the
lady to her place, and stepped up beside her; then chirruped to his
horse and was off.
But Ninian was not allowed much disappointment, for there was Lady
Jess, clasping his hand and looking up into his face with the brightest
of smiles, as she exclaimed: Just think of it, dear Mr. Sharp! We are
to have a long, delightful day together. Mother will not be home before
nightfall and I am to do everything I can to make you happy. As if I
wouldn't, even without being bidden! But what shall it be first? Where
would you like to walk or ride? Or would you rather rest and read?
First, I would like to walk around to that curious hedge yonder,
that you told me before had been planted by the old padres. Everything
about these ancient missions interests me.
Oh! I love them, too, and I'm so glad we live on one, or the place
where one used to be. That hedge is prickly-pear and was meant to keep
the Indians out of the inclosure, if they were ugly. But it's a hundred
years old, and Pedro could remember when it was ever so much smaller
It was a weird stretch of the repellent cactus, whose great gnarled
branches locked and intertwined themselves in a verdureless mass of
thorns and spikes which well might have daunted even an Indian. The
hedge was many feet in width and higher than Ninian's shoulder, still
green on top, but too unlovely to have been preserved for any reason
save its antiquity and history. One end of it was close to the kitchen
part of the house, and the other reached beyond the fall of the
farthest old adobe.
A formidable barrier, indeed! It reminds me of some of Dore's
fantastic pictures, said the reporter.
Doesn't it? My mother has books with his drawings in, and I have
thought that, too. It is a trouble sometimes, because anybody coming
across the field from yonder must go either way around the quarters or
all along the back of the house, before he can get in here; when if it
weren't there at all, it wouldn't be two steps. But we will never have
it cut down because my father said so. He wouldn't have anybody break a
single leaf, if he could help it, andoh, oh!
Mr. Sharp lifted his head from his close examination of a branch
that had particularly interested him and saw Jessica pointing in
astonishment at the very heart of the great hedge.
What is it? Something especially curious?
Curious! It'sit'sdreadful! You can see right through it!
Somebody has ruined it!
The reporter stooped and followed the direction of her guiding
finger and saw that a strange thing had indeed been done. For a
considerable length the terrible barrier had been literally tunneled,
though the fact was not easily discernible. Walls of the bare and
twisted branches were still left unbroken on either side, but a
sufficient space had been scooped out to admit the passage of a human
being should such desire a hiding place.
Oh! isn't that dreadful? Who could have done it, and why? cried
the captain, in distress; and her companion could only think of Aunt
Sally's declaration, made to him at breakfast, that Sobrante was
CHAPTER XVIII. WHAT THE SABBATH
Now I know how it was that Antonio disappeared that time when Aunt
Sally and Ephraim heard him outside the pantry window! cried Jessica,
exultingly; and seeing the gentleman's puzzled expression, told of the
scene within the cold closet and of the mocking answer Forty-niner
had received, when he said he was determined to find out Antonio's
retreat. Then she bade her friend stoop again and see for himself how
easy it was for one at the rear of the house, where the pantry was, to
slip into this cactus tunnel and be utterly hidden from anybody who
would search from that side.
They saw, also, that the broken branches had been thrown under the
open foundation of the kitchen, leaving no sign of the ruin that had
A clever scamp, indeed! And any other sort of plant would have
withered at the top and led to discovery. But not this; for the verdure
has evidently long been gone from this part of the hedge, observed
Oh, yes! This end has been dead for a great while, yet my mother
would not have it removed. It would have lasted maybe forever in just
that way; and Antonio knew how we prized it. Oh, dear! I do believe he
is as wicked as the 'boys' say, though I hate to think that of
anybody. Surely, you have had proof enough of his evil doings, even
without these later fantastic developments. You must never trust that
man, little girl, should he again try to make you.
I think he won't bother me. Why should he? asked she, in some
surprise, for her friend's tone had been most impressive. Why should
you imagine that?
I don't know myself, exactly why. It just 'happened' into my head.
By the way, captain, did you send me all of the specimen of copper that
Oh, no, indeed! My mother thought best not. We sent you only a
little bit, cut from the larger one Pedro dug. Let's go into the office
and I'll open the safe and show you the rest. Do you know anything
about such mines and stuff?
I do know something about ores and minerals, my dear, for before I
was a newspaper man I was a clerk in the office of an expert in such
matters. I should greatly like to see your sample, he answered,
So she led the way at once and took the key from a desk drawer,
which anybody might have opened, and Ninian remarked:
What an insecure place for a safe key! Yours is certainly a most
Oh, it's not a very safe safe, anyway, she answered, laughing;
and who would want to open it? It's Ephraim's really, though I don't
think he's ever been near it since he came home. Isn't it a great,
clumsy key? But my father told me that there are safes much, much
larger and stronger than this which are opened by very small keys. Odd,
isn't it? As she spoke she was down upon her knees in front of the
strong box and trying with all her small strength to turn the lock; and
after watching her for a moment the reporter laughed, and suggested:
Suppose you just merely pull at the knob. It looks to me as if the
thing were already opened, for the door isn't tight; or is that
protruding edge of it a part of the general crudeness?
Jessica obeyed, pulling with such unnecessary force that the safe
flew open and he fell backward, laughing.
But Mr. Sharp did not laugh. In view of what had been told him he
was afraid the thing had been tampered with, and watched in silence
while the little girl thrust her hand into the safe and felt all about,
her face lengthening as she did so; but again, suddenly brightening,
when she exclaimed:
Oh, my mother must have done that! There was all the money in here
that was left after Elsa got her own share. The first nights two of the
'boys' slept in the house to watch, 'cause mother was afraid we might
lose it again. Then, since 'Forty-niner' got home only he has slept
here, and he generally 'bunks' on the lounge in this very office.
That's what it is, what it must be. My mother has worried about
Antonio, and has taken the money and the piece of copper away and put
them somewhere else. Well, never mind. She'll show it to you as soon as
she comes back; and now, what shall we do next? Would you like to
Ninian passed his hand across his brow in mild perplexity. An
instant conviction had seized him that here was another feature of the
mysteries pervading this peaceful ranch; and though he as instantly
frowned upon his own suspicion, it would remain to torment him.
However, he said nothing further to disturb Jessica's composure, and
readily agreed that a ride would be delightful, though he added,
I'm so lame and stiff already from yesterday's horseback exercise
that I feel older than Ephraim. I expect a 'hair of the same dog' is
the best cure, and wish now I had made time, back there in town, to get
used to a saddle. I never found it convenient, though, and poor Nimrod
missed his outings even more than I did, I fancy. It certainly is a
glorious day for a canter, as almost all our days are.
It's nice, too, when the rains come. We do things indoors then that
we never do all the rest of the year. My mother plays and sings half
the time, 'cause then she can't go poking around all over the ranch,
like she does now. In the evenings the 'boys' all come in and tell
stories or do their best to amuse us. We were always happiest, too,
when Pedro came, and when my father was here he coaxed him and he came
often. Nowhe'll never come again! she finished, with an
irrepressible burst of grief, which she as quickly suppressed, for she
saw that it saddened her guest as well; and she had been reared in the
spirit of hospitality that makes the stranger glad even at the cost of
one's own impulses.
So she added, with a smile that seemed all the brighter because of
the tears still glistening on her long lashes:
I'll bring you some books out here and you can rest in the hammock
while I run and have the horses saddled. Buster isn't as fast as
Nimrod, but he'll go now and then as if he were a colt. I hope this
will be one of his fast times, don't you? I love to ride fast! Ninian
smiled rather grimly, answering:
Just at present, from the state of my poor muscles, I fancy I'd
prefer a gait as slow as Buster's ordinary one. But if I stay the week
out, I mean to learn a thing or two about that fine beast of mine.
A week or two! Why, you're to be here till after Christmas, anyway,
and that's a fortnight off. I wishoh, I wish you would live here
From his delightful resting place in a hammock that was stretched
just right, and which commanded one of the loveliest views in the
world, he looked afield and wished so too. Fond as he was of his own
active city life, this broad outlook appealed to him most strongly; yet
he shook off the longing that assailed him to pass his days in the
country and opened the book Jessica had brought. He was soon absorbed
in its pages and forgot the errand upon which the child had gone, till,
after a long time, as it proved, Ned stole bashfully up and pushed a
scrap of paper into his down-hanging hand.
Hello, youngster! cried the gentleman, sitting up. What's this?
The child's timidity banished at the first sound of the visitor's
voice. Mr. Sharp reading, with his spectacles on, and Mr. Sharp
speaking in that hail-fellow-well-met manner were two different people.
Besides that, Ned's shyness was not his strongest feature, though it
cropped out now and then to the astonishment of his family. Also, he
was fresh from the hands of Aunt Sally and his catechism lesson, into
which she had adroitly forced a hint of the conduct due toward a wise
man, that can write printin'. Supposing it to be a production of the
little fellow's own, Mr. Sharp delayed the reading of the crumpled
epistle he had received and continued his talk with its bearer; who
presently forgot his Sunday manners, and reproachfully demanded that
printing press you promised.
'Cause if I had it I'd be just as smart as you, you know.
Smartersyou! cried the echo, clasping Ned's neck with that choking
affection of his.
Ned turned upon his other self and pummeled him well, declaring:
No, you wouldn't neither, Luis Garcia! 'Twouldn't be your printing
press, and you can't spell cat backwards! So, there!
Cat backwards, dogboycat, gurgled Luis, in a rapture of mere
Ninian laughed at the comical pair, finding them infinitely
diverting; and was only brought back to his immediate duty by the
insistence of the small messenger, who demanded:
Why don't you read your letter? I should think anybody what makes
newspapers could read a little girl's letter.
That's a fact; I'll see if I can; and accordingly spread out the
scrap of wrapping paper, which had not been very smooth to start with
and had suffered further ill treatment at Ned's hand. The note required
a second reading before he could fully comprehend its meaning, which he
then found sufficiently startling to send him stableward in hot haste.
The message was from the little captain, and was worded thus:
dear mister sharp please excuse me i must go to a Dyeing man and i
Mustnt Tell Who cause if my mother was Home I Wood and she wood say
yes. She always helps dyeing folks and sick ones one the boys will go
and he can ride Moses or prince Which he likes. I guess marty so i Cant
right any more the paper is so littul and i cant Stay.
This had been written with a coarse blue pencil, evidently picked up
in the stable or workroom; and to the reporter's inquiries, put to the
first ranchman he met, there seemed no satisfactory answer. The man in
question had not seen Jessica since service, and the men's quarters to
which Ninian hurried, were almost deserted. Sunday was their own, so
the boys spent much of it afield, hunting or visiting on neighboring
ranches. Yet a further search revealed John Benton, in his own room,
reading; and to him the visitor again put the question of Jessica's
probable whereabouts, and showed the letter.
The carpenter was on his feet instantly, a look of apprehension
deepening the lines of his earnest face; and running to the door he
shouted to a stable boy who was crossing the space before the old
The youth paused, hesitated, yet came no nearer; and John repeated
his summons, with an imperative Here! Then muttered an explanation to
the reporter: Another of those no-account Greasers; same kind as the
Bernals and hired by top-lofty when, he was in charge. Works well
By this time Natan had slouched forward and stood stolidly awaiting
an expected as well as merited reproof, because of stalls imperfectly
cleaned and harnesses left in other than their own places; for John was
orderly to the last degree and a very martinet in disciplining his
subordinates. However, it was no neglect of duty that was now to be
scored, but a question was fairly hurled at the young groom and in a
voice sharp with anxiety:
Natan, did you saddle Buster just now?
But yes, answered the lad, greatly relieved.
Where is he? And Nimrod?
Nimrod is at the 'house' horse block, is it not? Si. Groomed to the
highest, and a beauty we're all glad to see back where he belongs.
Your opinion wasn't asked. Where is Buster?
Where the captain wills. I know not, I, with a shrug of his lean
Did she mount him?
Why else should he be saddled, no? returned the groom, with an
John's temper flamed and he turned away with a disgusted snort,
meaning to seek information elsewhere on a case he felt permitted no
delay. But Ninian was cooler, if equally suspicious that Natan was
concealing something that should be known; so, laying his hand not
unkindly upon the youth's shoulder, he said:
If you know anything of this, where Miss Jessica has gone and with
whom, or if alone, it will be worth your while to tell me and at once.
I'm pretty good pay for seasonable articles, he finished, in his
He had taken a dollar from his pocket and was carelessly tossing it
from hand to hand, nor was he disappointed when Natan fixed his black
eyes greedily upon the coin. Still the lad said nothing, only pondered
in his own dull mind which of two masters it would benefit him most to
serve; and annoyed by this hesitation, Ninian hazarded a guess:
Oh, well, if you prefer to work for Antonio Bernal, it's all one to
Natan's mouth flew open and his eyes grew wild:
You know it, then, already, you?
I know many things, was the sententious answer.
But it is a pity, yes. The so fine man and such a rider. He will
ride no more, poor Antonio, si.
Ninian's blood ran chill, yet he asked, still quietly, though
foreseeing evil he dared not contemplate:
Who brought the word?
Ferd, the dwarf, came the reply, as the dollar exchanged owners.
CHAPTER XIX. ANTONIO'S CONFESSION
These were the facts: Natan had been grooming the horses, Nimrod and
Buster, when suddenly and soundlessly there appeared before the window
in the stables' rear, the misshapen head and shoulders of typo
Ferdinand Bernal. He was mounted on a snow-white horse and seemed to
the superstitious stable boy to have risen out of the ground. Buster,
also, had appeared to be frightened for a few seconds, though he
speedily recovered his equine calmness and merely whinnied his delight,
while he attempted to secure another mouthful of alfalfa before the
bridle slipped into place over his head.
Natan, the little captain, whispered Ferd, through the narrow
Well, yes; the little captain, returned the other, in a louder
tone, and grinning at his own astuteness in discovering that this was a
white horse so very like the spook horse that it might be one and the
same. Some of Antonio's schemes he had fathomed, being himself a sort
of schemer in his own stupid way.
I want her. She must come. Antonio dies.
Antoniofiddles! retorted the other, contemptuously. Then saw, to
his surprise, that Ferd's head had dropped upon that of his strange
steed and that he was whimpering and sobbing in a pitiful fashion, well
calculated to deceive the unwary. It was at this juncture that,
fancying to see her beloved Buster made ready for her ride, Jessica ran
singing into the stable, and paused amazed at sight of Ferd, weeping,
and so oddly mounted. Horses there were galore in the Sobrante stables
and pastures, but never one like this; so white, so spirited, and yet
so marvelously marked. For even by the daylight, there in the slight
shadow of the wall, the animal's eyes glowed with an unearthly light,
terrifying to Natan and startling even to her fearless self. Indeed it
had not been until the moment of her appearance and Buster's whinnied
welcome, that Ferd's horse had turned its face toward them and revealed
his curious visage.
Why, Ferdinand Bernal! she cried, giving him his full title, and
thereby mystifying still further the wondering groom. I do believe
that's the very creature that's been scaring such a lot of people
everywhere! How came you by it and what ails its eyes?
Ferd lifted a face that was grimy with dirt and streaked with tears.
His misery was evident and needed no words to impress it upon the
tenderhearted girl, who ran to the window, begging:
What is the matter, Ferd? Poor Ferd! are you ill? In trouble?
The death. It is the accursed house. Where death comes oncehe is
always there. He told meyou must come. Come; now, right away, si.
Beforetoo late. He said it. Antonio, my brother.
You know that, thenabout your relationship? But what has happened
The dwarf glanced at Natan and motioned to her to send him away. For
reasons of his own, the groom was glad enough to obey, because dire had
been the threats of the mighty-fisted Samson, as well as the stern John
Benton, against any on that ranch who should be caught consorting with
that low-lived Ferd or the late manager. Besides, in spite of
Jessica's apparent indifference to the glowing eyes of the white horse
they infected him with a horrible fear; so he made his escape at the
first chance; leading Nimrod around to the house and tying him there to
await Ninian's pleasure, while he himself resorted to the most distant
and safest spot he could find. This had seemed, in his mind, the
mission corridor; but he found it already occupied by a party of the
ranchmen who had no desire for his society, and after a short delay
frankly told him so. It was in passing from this ancient structure to
his own room in another building that he had been intercepted by John,
and called to account.
Yet, sometime before this, Jessica had finished her interview with
the unhappy Ferd; had written her note of explanation to Ninian, though
keeping her destination secret, as the hunchback implored, in
accordance with Antonio's wish; had dispatched her message by Ned and
Luis; and, unknown to them, had rapidly ridden away in company with the
white horse and her treacherous guideto comfort the dying.
That death should have come again to the cabin on the mesa, whither
she was led, seemed natural enough to her; remembering with such keen
sorrow the passing of old Pedro.
And for once Antonio Bernal had told the truth. Lying helpless,
almost motionless, on the narrow bed in the shepherd's home, he greeted
his visitor with a pitiful smile on his white face, and a tone from
which the last vestige of his old bravado had departed: The Captain!
si. You did well to come, my Lady Jess. But you are not afraid?
Why should I be afraid, Antonio? You are ill, I see that. What's
wrong? What can I do to help you?
Nothing. There is nothing. I played my game and I lost. II saw
you last night at the window.
And I saw you; I knew you; but I did not know why you were fixed
like that and had painted your poor horse all white.
Ha! You saw that? You, when nobodyolderwell, I lost.
Are you hurt? What can have happened to you since then?
Shot. On the way here, fearing nothing, a passing horseman,
unknown, braver or quicker than the rest, thought he could rid the
country of its ghost. Ah, yes! it was merryfor a time. It is past.
Jessica was crying softly, unable to endure the sight of agony, even
his who had tried to injure her and hers. The sick man perceived this
and something of the affection he had once felt for his master's child,
before he had betrayed that master's trust, stirred him to speak and
thrilled him with compunction. He felt himself to be doomed; he had
already sent Ferd away again to summon a priest; and according to his
faith he meant to make his peace with the world; but these preparations
had been on his own account only. Now he began to feel something for
Suddenly she ceased crying and stood up to bend over him and beg
that she might be allowed to help him. A drink of watersome coffee?
You were always so fond of coffee, Antonio, and I know where Pedro kept
all his things. So many, many times we drank it here together, he and
I. And youhow came you here, Antonio?
Where better or nearer could I be? Pedro, the most obliging, yes.
Just when I needed his house he left it. Si. Why, but I am better
still, is it not, I?
Indeed his color had improved and his voice grown stronger since
Jessica's arrival; and he was able to take the cup of coffee which she
made him. This was more palatable than anything Ferd had prepared and
stimulated him still further. For a few moments after he had taken it
he felt so improved that he almost gave up the doing of that for which
he had summoned her. But a sudden return of pain again alarmed him, and
as soon as that spasm was past, he motioned her to the bedside.
In the cupboardlook, quick! he whispered, pointing to a set of
shelves built upon the wall and behind whose locked doors Pedro had
been accustomed to store his baskets.
Jessica tried the little door, which refused to open, and to her
inquiry for the key, Antonio pointed to his own pillow. After a slight
hesitation she approached and secured the key from beneath it; but when
she had opened the cupboard found that all the Indian's exquisite
weaving had been removed. In its place was the metal-pointed staff,
with its shank broken in half, and she exclaimed, indignantly:
Oh! how could you do that, Antonio? And how could you be so mean as
to take it from two children?
Ha! Once it was all minethis land. The copper in the canyon,
mine, also. Si. The padres' secret which the shepherd kept was
mineNo, no; not yet! he broke off, with a sudden, delirious
scream, fancying he saw the head of a man appearing without the door.
His outcry set Jessica shivering with fear at being alone in that
isolated spot with a possible madman; but a second glance into his
pallid face restored her natural courage and assured her that he was
powerless to injure her, even had he wished to do so. Just then, too,
Buster whinnied and she felt that he was company. It sounded as if he
had seen some stable companion of his own and had welcomed it; yet this
could not be, of course, since nobody knew of her whereabouts or would
be likely to come to the mesa now. Therefore, she did not follow
Antonio's glance doorward, but sought at once to relieve his distress.
Won't you drink another cup of coffee, Antonio? Or shall I make you
a bit of porridge? There's hot water still in the kettle and I know
how. I've made it for my mother, often, when she was ill; and the
little boys always have it. Oh, I can do it quite well!
She was so eager to serve him, and the pain had once more so greatly
lessened for the time being, that the late manager graciously
consented, and with such an absurd assumption of his old top-lofty
manner that Jessica laughed even while she hastened to put on the tiny
porringer and seek the meal. The little oil stove blazed merrily, and
so deft was she that, in a very few minutes more, she had a dish of the
steaming mush beside the cot and had thinned a cup of condensed milk
with which to make it the more palatable. Sugar there was in plenty,
for Pedro had loved sweets; so that nothing was wanted, save appetite,
to render the repast all that was desirable; yet when it was quite
ready Antonio could not take it.
The pain had returned and with added intensity; and it was due to
that fact that he no longer delayed the confession he had sent for her
Hark! Behold! I talk.
Yes, Antonio, I'm listening.
Well, Ihow begin? It is a story long, not pleasant.
Wait. Open your mouth and I will feed you. Yes, do.
His black eyes stared at her, astonished. In her place had anybody
done him the ill that he had done her, he would have let his enemy
starve and have rejoiced at a suffering well deserved. But this
childhe wished she would turn her face away, and not look upon him
with that innocent compassion. She was too like her dead father, and
his one best friend; whom in life he had really loved and in death had
not scrupled to despoil.
Come, Antonio, eat. Afterward you'll be stronger to talk, she
said, as coaxingly as if he had been her little brother, Ned; and thus
persuaded, he opened his mouth and received the morsel she forced upon
him. Thus it continued; she feeding, he resting and with halting
eagerness relating the story of his own misdeeds.
For I must go to pay the price. Si. But the poor lad, my half-wit
brother Ferd, ugly, sinful, desolatehe will be left alone. Is it not?
For him, if I restore all, there may still be kindness and a home at
Sobrante, that should all be hisif
No, Antonio; you know better. That is a poor, foolish notion that
has been put into your head. You know; for Mr. Hale, who is a lawyer
and understands everything like that, told you and us that you hadn't a
bit of right to a bit of land anywhere in this world. Unless, indeed,
you may have bought it since that little while ago in Los Angeles. And
if you have, where did you get the money?
Lo dicho dicho, he muttered the Spanish phrase: What I have said
I have said, and sighed profoundly, as one hopelessly aggrieved.
Jessica lost her temper. She forgot that he was ill and remembered
only that he was imputing treachery to her parents and to others whom
she loved, and retorted, warmly:
What you have 'said' doesn't make the truth, Senor Bernal. And if
you have anything to tell me I wish you would tell it now. I ought to
be at home with Mr. Sharp, who's come to make us a visit. My mother is
away, and it's rude to leave guests alone like that. I, who want to be
a perfect lady, do hate to be rude. So tell, please, and quick.
It was he, then, whom I saw on the road with old Ephraim, yes?
cried Antonio, in a voice which was certainly much stronger than it had
been when Lady Jess arrived.
Yes, it was he. Now begin, please. What first?
Neither the man on the bed nor the girl who listened to him so
intently suspected that other ears were as eager to hear this dying
confession. Yet so it was, and Buster's short whinny of welcome had
been a real one. For John, on Moses, and Ninian, on Nimrod, had lost
but little time in riding to the mesa; though because of the reporter's
poor horsemanship, the carpenter felt that they would really save time
by taking the longer level road around by the north, and not the narrow
canyon trail, which was dangerous for the inexperienced. This had
consumed some time, but each felt a thrill of relief, when they at last
arrived, to see Buster calmly nibbling at the dry herbage near the
Where Buster is Jessica is, this time, said the carpenter, softly.
And I was right. I'd heard of this spook being seen up here, and fool
folks layin' it to poor Old Century. That's why I came. We didn't make
any mistake, did we?
Then as they approached nearer to the house and quietly dismounted
to hobble their horses, he added:
Let's go up sly. Everything seems terrible still, and I'd like to
take a peek through that back window 'fore we let on we've come.
Ninian was not so cautious; or, rather, he was more anxious about
the little captain, and protested:
How do we know but that this silence means mischief? If he has sent
for her to harm her
Hark! She's all right. Thank God for that. I can hear her laughing,
and he's a coward. She isn't; and, anyway, he'd think twice 'fore he
hurt a hair of that child's head. Why, man, his life wouldn't be worth
a minute's purchase if he dared! He'd be hunted to his own destruction
so quick you couldn't say 'scat.' Humph! He may be after
mischief'cause he hasn't been after anything else since Cass'us
diedbut he'll keep within bounds. Now, this way. Lucky the grass is
thick; but even so, don't tread too heavy. Right behind that rear wall,
close against the east, is the place to hear all and not be seen.
Therefore, as noiselessly and hastily as possible, they placed
themselves within earshot of what was said within the house; and the
story they heard, reduced to simplest facts, was to the effect, as
Upon receiving his discharge from legal detention at Los Angeles,
Antonio had felt a homesick longing for his old haunts. He had returned
without telling anybody of his intention and had taken up his abode at
Solano's ranch, where his unfortunate brother and the only person for
whom he still cared was frequently to be found. There the dwarf had
joined him, though rambling away again, from time to time, on errands
of his own of which he neither spoke nor was questioned.
Money, money! That's the one thing, the only thing, no! Get money,
Ferd whenever, however, wherever you can and what you get you keep.
Hear me, had been Antonio's constant instruction during all the years
of the hunchback's life; and to the dwarf's limited understanding, his
adored brother typified incarnate wisdom.
He had anticipated high praise when, one day, he came back to
Solano's and reported his hiding of the little captain in the canyon
cave. The praise was not so ready at first, for Antonio was astute
enough to see whither such a hazardous scheme might lead; but the
approbation came unstained when, later, Ferd again appeared, describing
Pedro's behavior at the time of the rescue and of the curious action of
the ancient staff. Sent back alone to bring fresh specimens of the
mineral Pedro had unearthed, Ferd had suddenly turned stubborn and
refused to go more than halfway. Pedro had died suddenly, and Pedro's
ghost would haunt the spot; no, even Antonio should not compel him
thither. He would do anything, everything else, but go to the canyon
cave again he would not.
Indeed Antonio now felt that it was hardly necessary he should. The
poor lad's superstition had suggested a better way. With Solano's aid,
the deluded top-lofty hatched a notable scheme. He would himself
impersonate Old Century's uneasy spirit, which could not rest because
he had betrayed the secret of the ancient padres. Nero could be made as
white as any ghost horse by the application of a little paint; and shod
with rubber could pass over the sandy roads with almost as little noise
as any spectral steed. It was easy to bribe and terrify two small boys
into securing and restoring to him the pointed wand, even if by their
effort to obtain it they might happen to fall and break it. That
mattered little, however, since the point was all that he wanted; but
it was just as well to have that money he had seen through the window,
that night of his first appearance on Sobrante grounds. That, too, was
easy to get if one watched his opportunity in that cactus tunnel Ferd
had scooped for his brother's convenience. An unsuspecting, busy
household left many chances for entering an open-windowed room, and who
had ever been so familiar as he with the supposed safety secret place
in which the key was kept? With the money he had found also the bit of
copper Pedro had procured; and he knew enough of mining matters to
rejoice, indeed. He had meant to do great things. He would prosecute
his land claim to the uttermost; and there were plenty of unscrupulous
men who would undertake his cause for a share in the profits of a
copper mine. This very mesa would have been the scene of their first
operations. Here the mill would have been built, and here
But what the use? The hand of punishment is upon me, yes. The
money, it is there. Ferd shall tell of all the rest that he has put
somewhere, I know not. His poor brain cannot carry out the plan, and to
me it avails no more. Ay de mi! But Solanobeware. Of some things he
knows, and of more he suspects, is it not? Ah! I weary, I languish, I
die, I, Antonio Bernal, heir to wealth so boundless. It was so fine a
planso most wonderful and simple. The fools, how they feared! Oh! the
laughter I had! and the wild, rides on my so splendid ghost horse, yes.
But I dieI die; and the great big plan for the copper turned to
goldIwho else will have the so great intellect, you call it, to
make it real? Well, I have done. The staff I returnuseless, save to
me. The moneyI cannot carry whither I must ride on the white horse of
deathwhiter thanthe pity! The pity! Poor Antonio! Poor, poor
His long talk had, indeed, wearied him to faintness; but while his
own tears rained down his cheeks in his self-pity, even as Jessica's in
sympathetic sorrow, a cheerful and hearty voice cried through the
Don't fret yourself, top-lofty! There's one or two other smart men
left, my friend, to carry out that noble scheme of yours, and my name
ain't John Benton, if they don't do it! More'n that, I'll promise you a
few more years to spend in wickedness, if you like. On one condition.
Antonio's eyes almost leaped from his head in amaze at this
interruption and greater amazement at this astounding promise; and John
was swift to press his advantage:
I'll save your lifeon one condition!
CHAPTER XX. THE VERDICT
Benton! warned Ninian Sharp, aghast at the audacity of a man who
would trifle with the apparent death-hour of any man.
Oh! that's all right. Come around and in with me. I never yet heard
a voice as lusty as that from a dying man, and I've been acquainted
with Senor Bernal some little spell. He's scared nigh to deathit's
just possiblebut he ain't sick nor wounded to death, or I'm mistook.
Jessica met him at the door, and impulsively threw her arms about
them at her relief in their presence. She had not been afraid of
anything which could harm herself, but she had believed the man's own
statement that he was dying, and his suffering had been evidently
intense at times. She had been saddened and awe-stricken, and she now
shared Ninian's indignation at the carpenter's apparently heartless
promise. How was it possible for him to bestow life where death had set
Nothing abashed by the reproachful looks cast upon him, John walked
straight to the bed and demanded, in the most ordinary tone:
Where you hurt, neighbor?
Antonio caught at the straw the ranchman seemed to extend, and
feebly pointed to the wound in his back.
What followed astonished Ninian far more than it did Jessica, who
knew the carpenter's ways. As tenderly, perhaps, because of his greater
strength, the old man lifted the injured one and critically examined
his wound; his face growing graver as he did so, yet not losing its
expression of confidence and decision. When the examination was over,
he replaced Antonio on the hard pillow, which had been Pedro's one
luxury, and quietly replied to the poor fellow's unspoken question,
burning in his great dark eyes:
It's a bad job, my son. A mighty bad job, and a sneaky one. I've
seen such before in my time, and they didn't mean death. To some folks,
though, they meant what was worse.
Nobody would now have recognized the voice which uttered this
dictum, it had become so infinitely compassionate and gentle.
Antonio caught one meaning only: I will not die? I need not die? It
is you who will save me, yes? O'santos Dios!
He had half risen from the bed, but now sank back, exhausted by the
shock of emotion as well as by the physical effort; and Jessica sprang
forward, terrified by the sudden pallor of his swarthy face. But John
put her quietly aside and himself placed a flask to Antonio's lips,
You've done your part well, my noble little captain, and you've
done me proud. It's my place now.
The senor soon rallied, and again fixed his eyes imploringly on
Benton's face, as he sat on the edge of the bed beside him.
Yes, top-lofty, I promise to help you. But first you must help
yourself. You must pledge your word, the word of a dying man, that he
dare not break. You will restore everything that you have taken from
the mistress of Sobranteor anybody elseso far as it will hereafter
be in your power; you shall compel your Brother Ferd to guide a party
of prospectors to that secret spot in the canyon where that piece of
copper came from; and you shall do all that it is possible to do for
the good, and not the evil, of your neighbors. That all clear?
But, yes, yes! whispered Antonio, frantically. Haste! Oh, haste!
I'm a-hasting, but I ain't a-hurrin'. Which is a good thing for
you, 'cause so I can think this thing over. That ball in your back will
have to come out. I've taken some from folks myself, once or twice, but
this one is in a ticklish place. A doctor is what we want, and the
nearest one is ten miles away on Kimball's ranch. He'd rather potter
with his roses than other folks' bullets, and I'll have a tough piece
of work to drag him up here, especially to seeyou.
With an impressive emphasis on the word you John paused, and
waited some rejoinder. None came, and though Jessica again exclaimed
against the carpenter's contemptuous tone, Antonio neither resented it,
nor felt it undeserved. Then Benton continued:
Sharp, here, is a writin' fellow, and knows what's what every time.
In the jerk of a lamb's tail he'll draw up a paper which'll explain
what you promise, and you've got strength enough to sign your name to
it. The minute you do that I'm off for Kimball, and I'll fetch him up
here fast as horses can travelif I have to carry him on my back!
Quick! The paper! I signI live!
Quick it was, and though Ninian was no lawyer, he was always well
provided with pads and fountain pens. Also, he was clever enough to use
the longest and most impressive words wherever possible, and thus
convinced the senor that the document sounded legally important.
Indeed, the injured manager could scarcely wait to affix his signature,
so eager was he that John should be off on his errand of salvation.
An hour later the padre came, and Jessica led Ninian away, that the
pair might have the cottage to themselves. Then, when this visitation
was over, the good man lingered, that he might hear for himself the
doctor's opinion when he should arrive. He, too, had listened to
another confession from the truly repentant Antonio; but there was
still a sacred office to perform if this awaited opinion should be for
death, not life. But he had ridden far, and was tired, having come
directly from his own church service at the distant mission, and
Jessica's hospitality could not endure to see the look of weariness on
the old man's kindly face.
Beg pardon, Fra Sebastian, but would you like a cup of coffee?
Ah! my daughter, would I like the impossible? But, yes, I am
famished, indeed, for the good dinner of Marta, my housekeeper, he
answered, with a shrug of his plump shoulders.
Well, father, I cannot give you a dinner, but I can make you a pot
of fresh coffee; and in Pedro's little storeroom are cans of meat, and
beans and biscuit. Oh! I tell you! I'll bring the plates out
herethere are two whole onesand dear Mr. Sharp and you shall have a
Already, with the light-heartedness of childhood, she had almost
forgotten the sorrowful errand upon which she had come to the mesa.
Besides, to her, a thing that was possible was, also, probable, and
John would never have raised false hopes in Antonio's breast. She was
sure of that, and already the senor's recovery a matter of but a little
while. Moreover, to serve others was her dearest happiness, and though
Fra Sebastian's faith was different from her parents', she had been
trained to know all good people as the children of God. And he was
especially such, for his benefactions and self-sacrifices were
widespread, and he had been an honored guest at her father's table.
Oh! I am so happy to do anything for so holy a man, and I am so
gladso glad we came! she whispered to Ninian, tripping away to
relight the little stove and fill her kettle afresh.
But I must be allowed to help, too, my captain, he returned,
eagerly entering into the altered spirit of things; and so merry were
they over their preparations, so gay and bright the reverend guest
became, that Antonio was helped over his own tedious time of waiting,
and scarce knew how the time passed before John's return.
This was sooner than could have been anticipated. The physician was
already halfway on the road, intending a neighborly call at Sobrante,
when the carpenter met and literally collared him.
Come you must, Dr. Kimball. I shan't take 'no' for an answer, was
the decisive retort to the rose-grower's prompt refusal.
I shall do nothing of the sort. I'm not a practicing physician now,
and I never was a surgeon. As for that scalawag, Bernal, if he's got
himself shot, he's met exactly what he deserved. Giddap! he cried, to
his horse, and was dashing past, just as John's long arm reached out
and clutched the ranchman's coat.
It isn't so much for him as for our Lady Jess. You're not in such a
tearin' hurry, neighbor, and if you arewell, just let your hurry
Whereupon, in a few brief, telling sentences, Dr. Kimball was put in
possession of the facts Antonio had revealed, and had wheeled his horse
about, with a whimsical snarl:
Well, forge ahead. For anybody named Trent I'd break my own
resolutions a dozen times a day.
It is probable that the kind-hearted man would have gone anyway,
even if he had ridden some miles still farther on an opposite road. The
knowledge that somebody was suffering and needing him was an appeal to
his professional instinct he would scarcely have resisted, but he had
to make a protest first.
All merriment ceased when he entered the cabin on the mesa, and
Jessica instinctively sought the reporter's hand, needing his sympathy
during the anxious few minutes that ensued upon the doctor's arrival.
Fra Sebastian and John had followed the surgeon indoors, but Ferd, who
had brought the priest to the upland, still remained within the
deserted fold, whither he had retreated as soon as his errand was
accomplished. To him death of any sort, even that of an animal brought
a horrible fear, and nothing would induce him to leave his shelter;
till, when the conference was over, Jessica ran to him, exclaiming:
Cheer up, Ferd! Oh, Ferd! He's going to live, though, maybemaybe
he will never walk again. Come and see him, Ferd. He wants you. He
The dwarf came reluctantly, still adoring his brother and still
shrinking from him and the sight of his agony. The examination had been
painful, of course; and the condition upon which life might still
remain a bitter one. However, it waslife! And to Antonio, at that
present moment, that was all he craved.
We must make a litter or stretcher and take him to the valley. He
will need the closest care and watching. He couldn't stay up here, and
have a single chance of recovery. Let's see, there are five men of us,
counting the dwarf. We'll have to walk with the stretcher, and he shall
lead the horses, all but Buster, whom Jessica can ride. One at a time
he'll 'spell' us, and the one released will take his place at the
beasts, was the doctor's decision.
So it was done. A blanket was speedily fastened about two poles
drawn from the corral, and over these Pedro's hard mattress was laid;
and thus, placed as comfortably upon it as might be, Antonio was once
more conveyed to his old home at Sobrante.
And there, that Sunday night, was wild rejoicing and much
speculation concerning the outcome of his confession.
Sharp's the man to put the thing in trim. He's the very chap! He
knows all about minerals, and he says that this copper we've struck is
the very purest article he ever saw! Hurray! Hurray! Three cheers and a
tiger for the Sobrante Copper Mine! shouted the hilarious Marty.
Meanwhile, there had been short but heated discussion among her
loyal henchmen as to whether Mrs. Trent should be forced to receive and
care for, under her immediate roof, a man who had done her so much
injury; and the decision had been unanimous: No!
Even John, who had helped to bring him thither, joined his voice to
this assertion; and to the next question propounded, as to who would
attend him and where, had as loudly answered: I don't know.
Temporarily, the senor was resting in the household sitting-room,
but it was evident should not long remain there.
Where then? Hate him as we may, we can't let him die on our hands,
said Samson, looking as black as he could.
Don't you fret yourselves, 'boys,' said a cheerful voice near the
group. Mr. Ma'sh and me, or me and Mr. Ma'shfor I had to put it to
him pretty plain, 'fore he'd seed it rightme and him will take that
misguided creatur' into our hands, and
May the Lord have mercy on his soul! ejaculated Marty, fervently.
Me and Ephraim will 'tend him, turn and turn about, continued Mrs.
Benton, ignorant of Marty's irreverent remark. He's to be put into Mr.
Ma'sh's room at the quarters, and I'll take this first night's job. I
shall begin it with a dose of picra, and the first page of the
Westminster catechism; and if that don't put him in good shape for the
doctor and Ephraim, in the morning, my name ain't Sally Benton, nor
never was. The doctor, he's rode home for his instruments and such, and
hopes to get the bullet out in the course of time. But it's my opinion,
and his, too, I reckon, 'cause he didn't deny it when I put the
question plain, it's our opinion that Antonio Bernal will never walk
another step in his life. But he'll live. He'll live everlastin'. Them
old Californy folks always do. He'll simply be paralyzed from his waist
Despite their antipathy to him, a thrill of pity ran through every
one who heard her; and to most of those stalwart men it seemed that
this was a punishment they could not have endured. Death would have
been far preferable to them.
So it befell that the late manager's fate was in the hands of his
enemies, so to speak; and while Mrs. Benton and Forty-niner would
faithfully perform their duty toward him, they elected to do it along
lines of their own.
CHAPTER XXI. CONCLUSION
Events crowded one another at Sobrante.
Under the compulsion of his brother's will, so soon as that brother
was able to think of anything beyond his own suffering, Ferd led a
party of the ranchmen, with Ninian Sharp at their head, to the canyon
cave and the pit where the little captain had been imprisoned. They
shuddered as they beheld it; yet could but rejoice that Old Century had
sought her there, and had, so opportunely, revealed its precious
secret. They also took good care to blaze their path as they went, for
it was most intricate and bewildering. They had the curiosity to test
the powers of the wonderful staff, which John had carefully fitted with
a new top, and were amazed at its curious behavior, as it zigzagged
over the floor of the almost unsupported. Whatever the metal, or
compound of metals, on the point, it was certainly attracted by, and
indicated the presence of, copper in the earth beneath.
Returning to the house after this trip of exploration, Marty was
promptly mounted upon the ghost horse Nero, and sent to Marion with
telegrams for Ninian's expert friends in Los Angeles, and to bring back
the mail. The unhappy animal had been treated to a liberal bath of
gasoline and soap suds, and had come out of it a sort of mongrel; but
with the phosphorus gone from about his eyes and face, and with a
reasonable prospect that he might some day be restored to his original
ebony hue. Yet his spirit seemed broken, as if he had felt the disgrace
of the part he had been forced to play in the late escapades of Antonio
and his fellow-conspirators.
It's what one might call the irony of fate that the man who caused
the death of Comanche should thus be forced to supply Comanche's place
with his own beloved Nero, commented the reporter, as the messenger
Yes. Things generally do even up in this world, if a body has
patience to wait a spell, answered Samson. And though I've no love
for him, and wouldn't trust him across this plaza, without watchin', I
can't help pitying poor 'top-lofty,' and thinking he was more fool than
knave. The idee! Them plans and performances of his savor more of the
'middle ages,' that I've heard about, than of these days. But it just
takes my breath away to think of what Sobrante will be, some time, if
that 'find' in the canyon turns out what we imagine. Whybut there! No
use talking. Wait and see. How long you think before you get an answer
back from the town, tellin' what your friend'll do?
Oh! I expect Marty will bring that answer. He's to wait an hour or
two, you know, and give a chance. If Cornellthat's the expert's
nameis in the city, he'll probably come himself by the evening train.
In that case, you and I might drive over to meet him.
Wh-e-w! ejaculated the ex-sailor, astonished. You newspaper
fellows beat the world for hustling, don't you? So quick as that? H'm!
If you fly as much sail as that so sudden, looks like we'd reach port
ahead of time.
When a thing's to be donewhy, do it! If there's copper enough to
pay for mining, whymine it, answered the other, coolly.
Young man, mining costs money. Talkin' is cheap, retorted Samson,
Of course. One must put in a little capital if one expects to get
results, in any business. The money will be found easily enough. Trust
me to see to that. Or my friends and me.
Already the journalist was as eager as possible on this new matter.
His brief rest had restored his overtaxed nerves, and he was more than
ready to push any enterprise that commended itself to his keen
judgment. Now, all depended upon the expert's arrival at the ranch. He
would then be taken in person to examine the discovered vein, and on
his opinion great affairs would depend. Yet Ninian felt that even if
Henry Cornell's opinion was averse, he should not let the subject rest
there. He would consult with others. Mrs. Trent's interests must be
forwarded to the utmost, and no possible chance of her realizing a
fortune lost through any lukewarmness of his own.
Marty duly returned. He brought the expected message from the great
expert, and that gentleman would arrive at Marion by that very
evening's train. He brought, as well, several letters for the ranch
mistress, and these Jessica joyously carried to her as she sat quietly
sewing. Most of them were business communications, which were promptly
read and laid aside, to be answered at once; but there was one which
the mother dropped in her workbasket unopened, though it was the
thickest and plumpest of the lot, and, also, bore the postmark New
York. In ordinary, all New York mail was the most eagerly read of all
that came; and this fact caused Jessica to exclaim:
Why, mother, dear! Why don't you read it? Or are you like me when I
have something extra nice for dinner, leaving it to by and by?
Yes, darling, I'm leaving ita while. It will keep. I know what is
in it, or nearly so. It's not the first of the sort has come lately,
and I'll have courage soon.
Courage, mother? Do you need courage to read your letters? What
harm can come to us now, out of that far away city? My father's name is
cleared, we owe nobody, wewhy, we may be going to be very, very rich,
if things turn out as Mr. Ninian thinks they will turn out, andOh,
dear! I'm not saying it very clear, only seems to me we ought to be
perfectly, perfectly happy now; and if there's anything bad in the
letter, please give it to me, and let me burn it up right away.
For answer, the mother caught her daughter close within her arms,
kissed her passionately, and asked:
Oh, little captain! If you go so far from me, how shall I live?
Igo so farfrom you! repeated Lady Jess, in utter astonishment.
Why, what can you mean?
Mrs. Trent recovered her composure, even smiledif not very
gaylyand answered, tenderly: Whatever come, my sunshine, remember
that, of all things, your mother desires your welfare before her own.
But more than that I cannot tell you now. So, run to Aunt Sally, dear,
and ask if she can be spared from her nursing a few hours. I think one
of the other men will relieve Ephraim, if he is tired, in waiting upon
Antonio. I want she should help me get up an extra fine supper for Mr.
Ninian's friend. Ah! my child, how much we owe to that young man's
goodness and enterprise!
Indeed, indeed, we do. But seems to me we do nothing but cook here,
nowadays. It's always company, isn't it?
And glad I am of that. So long as the larder has anything in it, I
love to share it withfriends. Not strangers, who do not care, but
with anybody else, the best we have. If a luxury well; and if but a
crust, still well. Nowto Aunt Sally.
Jessica guessed that as soon as she was out of sight the
disagreeable letter from the other side of the continent would be
promptly read, and wondered not a little concerning its contents. And
she was right. Mrs. Trent had barely finished its perusal, when Mrs.
Benton appeared, but from her the mother had nothing to hide. She
looked up quietly, and said:
Another more urgent entreaty from old Cousin Margaret. She puts the
matter so strongly as my duty that I'm compelled to acknowledge she
Humph! She's been wrong enough, sometimes, returned Aunt Sally,
peevishly. That's when she got angry with you for marrying Cass'us.
That was mostly from indignation at losing me, her one loved
relative. There could never have been a kinder guardian
Nor a queerer, as I've gathered from your own talk. I never saw
Margaret Dalrymple, and I never want to. Anyhow, nothin' can be done at
present; but I've brought one comfortin' word across from the quarters
with me, Gabriella.
What's that, Aunt Sally? Is Antonio better?
Oh! bother Antonio. He'll get well, of course. That kind always
does. Of that I never had a misdoubt. The word is this, and I begin to
think that old Fra Sebastian may be a real Christian, after all. He not
only offers, but he says it must be this way: As soon as 'top-lofty'
can be safely moved, he wants him to the sannytarium to his mission.
Him and Ferd, the dwarf, likewise. He says them old Californys all
belong to him, and he will look after them. Antonio is to be in the
sanny-house, and Ferd is to be put into the mission school. Though he's
a man in years, he's a child in learning'cept evil. So Fra proposes
to oust the evil if he canI wager he'll find he's got a joband put
in good. He'll make Antonio earn his keep a-writin' up the books and
accounts, for, with all his silliness, he's a master hand at
figurin'for himself. So that settles them, and don't you dast say no
to the arrangement when it's perposed to you, Gabriella Trent, or I'll
never let you hear the last of it. It's the Lord's own way of disposing
things, and a better one than I could cipher out, if I do say it.
Certainly Mrs. Trent had no objection to make to so comfortable a
settlement of a perplexing question; and in due time the Bernals left
Sobrante forever; and of their lives at the mission those whom they had
known so long were henceforth to hear little, and care less,
according to the satisfied ranchmen.
Mr. Cornell, the expert, came, inspected, reserved his opinion, and
departed; but Ninian Sharp had gathered enough from the visitor's few
sentences, idly dropped, to feel quite convinced that the thing was
worth carrying farther. So he, too, left Sobrante; but, after a brief
sojourn in Los Angeles, reappeared, in company with Morris Hale and a
trio of prospectors, representing much capital. All this was very
exciting to the simple household; and Mrs. Trent, at least, felt
infinite relief when, on the eve of Navidad, there were left in it only
those two strangers, who had now become less strangers than familiar
Gathered about the fireside, which the first of the rainy nights
made doubly enticing, the New York lawyer discussed at length the
decision which the prospectors had made. They considered the mine well
worth working. In fact, I have reason to believe it will turn out one
of the richest in the whole country. They are willing to advance all
money needed upon certain conditions, and he named them.
These seemed extremely liberal and just to both sides, but Mrs.
Trent did not greatly surprise her listeners when she quietly
interposed a clause to the effect that:
My husband believed in profit-sharing. It was his ambition to put
Sobrante and its various interests into such an operation. I want all
our 'boys' to enjoy the benefits of that which God has given us. They
will contribute their labor and share in its results; share richly if I
can have my will.
Your will is doubtless law, madam, answered Mr. Hale, courteously.
And if the mine is worked, I want our dear friend, Ninian Sharp, to
come here and act as its manager, on behalf of the Sobrante side.
Heshe raised her hand gently, as he started to interrupthe must
be paid a much larger salary than he could earn upon the staff of the
Lancet, and would have, I hope, sufficient leisure time to use his pen
in other literary work, such as he tells me he has never had the chance
For the first time in his life, maybe, the alert reporter was taken
off guard, and hadn't a word to say, except the very ordinary one of
Thank you; but he said it, bending over the lady's hand, and with
such an expression of delight upon his thin, intellectual face, that no
greater eloquence was needed.
And now, said Aunt Sally, it's time to begin that there
decorating which Gabriell' thinks is a part of Christmas. Pasqually's
been real good. He's been up to the dreen, where you planted them calla
lilies, Jessie, and he's fetched a good many bushels. Seven hundred, I
guess he said. And he's cut poinsetty enough to turn us blind with its
redness; and my boy, John, hitched up and went along under the flume
and druv his pushcart back full of the biggest maidenhair ferns and
sweet brakes I ever see. So now, youngsters, set to and trim. Then
we'll hang up our stockings, every one; and I'll give you the nicest
Christmas dinner can be cooked, if I have to cuff Wun Lungy into
basting them turkeys as they ought to be basted. Come, Neddy; come,
little Echo; I saw Santy Claus' wifethat's me, shove a pan full of
gingerbread men into the wall oven, and if they're done, I'll give each
of you a soldier of dough to drive you to bed. Stockings first? Of
course, of course. Why, what would Christmas be without its stockings?
Here's a brand-new pair auntie's knit for you, one a piece; and if you
don't find 'em stuffed with rods in the morning, it won't be because
you don't deserve it, you precious, precious, naughty little lambs!
Off went the good creature, a boy on either arm, her patchwork
streaming behind her, her spectacles on the top of her head, and her
ruddy countenance as beaming as if she were, indeed, that mythical
personSanta Claus' wife.
Oh! what a Christmas followed! With everybody from far and near who
had any claim upon Sobrante hastening thither to share its open
hospitalities; Wolfgang and Elsa, with their little six-foot son; the
genial McLeods, Dr. Kimball and his sweet-faced invalid sister, Louise,
for whose benefit he had left their fine Boston home to live in this
lonely, lovely southland. These, and many more, not only came, but did
such justice to Mrs. Benton's and Wan Lung's cookery that, as she said,
Land suz! There ain't scraps enough left to make a decent soup,
even! But never mind, we had a royal time, every single soul of us.
Christmas is over, and I'm glad it's so well over. Now, we can settle
down and rest a spell.
Indeed, there was rest for the household itself, but for Ninian
Sharp and his coadjutors. The mining scheme was rapidly put into
practical operation; Mr. Hale lingering all that winter to further its
interests, and to enjoy what he had coveted early in his acquaintance
with it, a few months of ranch life at ideal Sobrante.
Then came the glorious springtime, when the mesa was alive with
flowers; the canyon was fragrant with perfume, and the whole
countryside became an earthly paradise. The springtime, when the
Easterner could no longer delay his homeward trip, nor Mrs. Trent the
revelation of what her New York letters had contained, though Jessica
had almost forgotten them.
One week before the lawyer was to leave them, mother and child sat,
hand in hand, beside the father's grave, whither the widow had
purposely withdrawn, as if the precious dust within might still support
and counsel her. Taking the little captain's hand in hers, and speaking
as calmly as if her heart were not desperately sad, she said:
My darling, when Mr. Hale goes home to New York you will go with
Mother! Oh! Why?
Because it is right. My Cousin Margaret, whose letters you have
seen me read, sometimes with ungrateful tears, offers you a home and an
education. She was a mother to me in my youth, and I owe her much. Now
that she is old and desolate, she begs for you. It may be that I should
still have declined to please her at so much pain tous, but the
discovery of this copper mine of ours, and the fact that you will one
day be one of America's richest daughters, forces me to comply.
But, why, mother? Why should that matter? I'd rather give it up.
Say no! Oh, please, say no!
I cannot now. I dare not. Upon your dear shoulders will rest a
great trust and responsibility. You must be fitted to discharge that
trust by the best education possible. This education you cannot gain
here. You must seek it elsewhere. We must not make it harder for each
other, this bitter parting, but we must bear it bravely forfather's
Thus ended Jessica's early childhood; and of what befell her in that
widely different life at school it must be left to another volume to